Working with blockages in asana practice
by Tristan Dorling
I would like to ask you about something: Recently I started to have many aches and pains in my back, locations changing. I do not do any “violent” sport for the body that could justify this situation, but I always need to go to the osteopath to fix it. Is it possible that I hurt myself because I don’t understand correct alignments? As I am studying on my own, I make many mistakes but direct experience in the body is also an excellent teacher, I am reading many books to cross-reference information, it’s like a lab.
For example, I realized that while doing paschimotanasana, I should not pull on my lower back because I was hurting myself, and if I wasn’t limber enough from the legs then my lower back would compensate for me to be able to bend forward. Mistake! Now I protect it and work on the suppleness of my legs instead and keep my back straight while bending forward. The worst is that when I told my first “yoga teacher” about it, she said this pain in my lower back was a “good thing”… to me Yoga is not to be taken lightly, it is very subtle and precise, and I believe we can hurt ourselves severely if we do it the wrong way. On the other hand I do not understand because I simply follow more or less the same asana routine everyday since months. Halasana for example is so comfortable for me sometimes that I could fall asleep in this position even if it sounds crazy, which is not the case at all for other asanas. So why would I hurt myself now that I have more experience? It does not make sense to me.
So I am wondering, could these back aches and pain come from the release of obstructions? It does not make sense to me either but why not… Should I completely stop asanas practice when it happens? because it is a bit frustrating for me to interrupt practice, and I am not always patient, and sometimes I discover that other asanas can also help so…
Another question: Last year I started to do some gym workouts, because I thought it would help in yoga and in general. In fact I think it does not because the way of using the muscles seem to make them shrink instead of stretch (especially when I have sore muscles) and when I stop for a couple of days, I am more supple than ever in asanas. Is it possible?
Thank you again for your support.
Yes, a safe way to perform sitting toe touch, is to bend from the waist, keeping the back straight, so as not to put a strain on the lower back.
With your back pain, there are a number of aspects to it. The first is that if people practice sensibly, they hardly ever damage themselves doing asana practice. I have practices for 30 years with hundreds of people, and I have only known two or three people to hurt themselves in all that time. In each case it was minor and easily resolved. So, it is very unlikely that you have hurt yourself through asana practice.
Concerning the pain, if you sprained a muscle, tendon, or ligament, then the pain would be in one place. It would not move around your back. This would be true if you damaged yourself doing asana practice, or through exercise. So, it sounds very unlikely that you have damaged yourself at all.
Energetic blockages in the body can be painful when they are being cleared out and they can also move to different places in the body as the process of purification progresses. It sounds like that is far more likely to be the cause of the pain. If it is being caused by energetic blockages, then the pain will gradually go, as the body is purified. So practices are the answer. Not that you should necessarily increase the practices that you are doing to clear out any blockages. You can simply carry on with the practices that you are doing.
So I would say simply carry on as you are, putting up with the aches and pains if they are bearable. If they are not, then cut back on practice times accordingly.
With regard to exercise, it is true that exercise can reduce muscle length and shorten tendons. I have been a keen cyclist for many years, but cycling tends to reduce the length of the calf muscles, making it difficult to touch the toes. This can happen with other muscles when exercising the whole body. But it is not a serious issue. I used to do a lot of martial arts training and we had to develop muscle strength and flexibility at the same time. Dancers need both muscle strength and flexibility, so they are doing the same thing, developing both.
So the fact that exercising can reduce muscle length is not a reason not to exercise. It is better to exercise regularly and practice yoga. That way you can have the best of both worlds: Staying fit and flexible and cultivating ecstasy and bliss. The slight loss in flexibility is a small price to pay for staying active and healthy.
Also, asana practice actually has very little to do with becoming flexible. The idea that asana practice is mostly about developing flexibility, is one of the biggest myths in yoga in the West. Asana practice is actually mostly about purifying the nadis and chakras leading to a state of ecstasy. It achieves this by putting a gentle stretch on the nadis whenever we enter a pose. The slight stretch will increase the flow of prana through the nadi, also increasing the flow of prana through any chakra that the nadi is associated with. The prana will purify both the nadi and the chakra. This works regardless of the degree to which the body is flexible. As long as we enter a pose and go a little further than we are used to going, then the stretch, purification and openings will happen. So, asana practice has a lot more to do with enlightenment than with flexibility. It just looks like a flexibility practice!
There is an aspect of asana practice that is related to flexibility: The hips are opened up to make sitting cross legged easier for meditation and also some flexibility is given to the spine to make sure the spine can handle the energy involved with awakening. But apart from this, not much flexibility is needed for the practice of yoga.
So I would say to continue with the gym practice whenever you want and continue with asanas and sitting practices and everything will work out fine.