My hands are bound behind my back. I feel his hands on me, he's pressing me, pushing me. I say no and try to struggle free, my bodies limits are being tested without consent from me.
I'm being adjusted on the Mysore mat by a guest teacher – Ashtanga big kahuna – in Marichyasana A, but I can't help wondering, is this ok?
Practicing with Injury
You see I have an injury in my lower back, a bulging disc that plagues me everyday. I try to explain it hurts, that I can’t take hard adjustments and the teacher tells me to go deeper into it anyway.
The trouble is I have a searing pain across my lower back and as he pushes me further, it increases. I fight back the tears.
My memory rewinds to when the injury was at it’s worst. I'm in India and under the guidance of a different teacher, I was also told to push through my pain; that it’s just body karma. The trouble is…I don’t buy it.
It didn’t help me then and I’m not sure it can help me now. I recall hours of being in agony, shaking and crying through practice until I was unable to get up from the floor. It's made me cautious.
Why Push Through Pain?
So I ask him. Why? He said I have too much fear and not enough faith. He informs me that Pattabhi Jois used to advice him to practice through the pain, even if that meant that he couldn’t walk or sit or stand for weeks and months.
He seemed to think the fact I’d spent several months flat on the floor and three years of managing this injury with a careful, modified practice wasn’t enough to exorcise it.
I’m resistant to this advice, I confess. I’m just not convinced that anyone would know what is good for me, after seeing me practice for 30 minutes without knowing my body, my practice, or my history.
I’m no stranger to facing discomfort and struggle. I have learnt to make friends with my pain, but I am also mindful about tuning in, so I can differentiate between pain that is healing, and something that just feels far more damaging.
Injury and Your Body as a Teacher
The truth is this injury has been the greatest teacher. It has taught me when to strive, when to surrender and how to respect my body and its boundaries.
It seems that to have a long relationship with Ashtanga injury is inevitable but this doesn’t sit comfortably. As a teacher, I feel a duty of care to help students work with their bodies harmoniously, rather than making them feel beaten up and bullied.
I am an advocate of inviting healthy challenges in practice but confronting body karma, existing in a place of pain, doing things that have the appearance of aggravating or creating injury doesn’t make sense to me.
Yet I appreciate there are many approaches, many perspectives, and people out there that have had a different experience to me. So, I’m curious: what are your opinions on practising yoga asana through pain and injury?
Image credit: Kat Smith