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Pain, what is it good for..

Dear Friend,


Spring is in the air and also some optimism regarding coming back (slowly) to normalcy. Keeping my fingers crossed :)


Just a few words on the current war in Ukraine:

These acts of violence in Europe are tremendously saddening. I am deeply wishing that this violence will end soon and people in Ukraine can get back to living a peaceful life.

Violence is one of the main causes of human suffering according to yoga philosophy (ahiṃsā). It is obviously harmful to the people who are directly hurt by it but also to those who use violence to get what they want.

More on that on the next Masterclass!


I would like to share with you some of my thoughts and reflections on my own personal journey on the path of yoga.



Pain


Years ago, in the early stage of my yoga journey, I was exploring different styles of yoga. I attended different classes and developed a taste for what I liked, what made me feel better, what spoke to me. Looking back, this process of exploration was very educational, in many ways. It expanded my horizons and eventually led me to focus on an approach and tools that served me best.


There was one class that was extremely popular in the local yoga studio where I was practicing at the time. It was usually filling fast based on the first-come-first-serve concept as there were no booking systems back then. I came extra early one day and was able to join that class and that's how I was first introduced to the "Ashtanga" style of yoga. The teacher was a very cool and charismatic guy who had a story on how he got to yoga which he was always happy to share.


He was living in Australia when a friend asked him as a favor to stash a bag full of Ecstasy tablets for a couple of days while he takes care of some business. For whatever reason he agreed to do it. To make a long story short, he was caught and went to prison for 2 years.

In Australia prisons are not so bad and feel like a single room in a cheap hostel (that's what he said..).


Coincidentally, a few days before he was caught he went to try a yoga class for the first time with a teacher named Matthew Sweeney (well-known in the Ashtanga circles). Matthew apparently took a liking to him so he gifted him his book which was a detailed guidebook of the Ashtanga-Vinyasa yoga system. He took this book with him to prison and came out two years later mastering all the postures and transitions.

That's his story :)


Back to my first Ashtanga class with this teacher..


It was a blast! So much exciting stuff was going on! Lots of different postures and movements, and different things to pay attention to. It was a real challenge for my body that was definitely not a typical "Ashtanga body". I was sweating a lot. It also felt like a group bonding experience where everyone is doing the same thing on que, following a familiar sequence, breathing and sweating together. I felt like a choreographed group dance or ritual.

When I came home after class my endorphins were still running high, I had to go back for more.


I continued going to this class every week. The teacher liked to demonstrate the more challenging poses and was encouraging people to do them, giving an impression that they have significant upsides and benefits. Some of these poses included a variation of the Lotus Pose. There wasn't much explanation on how to do it but when I looked around it seemed that everyone was doing it with ease. I was trying my best crossing my legs in Lotus and with time it seemed like I was getting closer and closer. I did notice there is some pain around my knee but the teacher kept on saying that pain can be a sign of progress, that we all have "Karma" to deal with and that's how it can manifest.



 

       How to investigate pain in our body in a safe and intelligent way?

  • Very broadly - if it's a sharp pain it's probably damaging, if it's dull there is a good chance that it is ok (there are exceptions so be cautious!)

  • If the pain is in the joint (knee, shoulder, ankle, etc..) it is probably a good idea to back off, if it's in a muscle it is more likely to be ok (but not always!)

  • Avoid any pain in your lower back, knee and shoulder!

  • Do maximum 80% of your maximum! It can be a bit tricky to find that spot sometime, if that is the case you can to go to a 100% and then back off a little.

  • Pay close attention to sensations of stretching, contracting, releasing, elongating, different forms of movement and so on. Learn from experience how things feel in your body and develop a mind-body connection that will lead you to wiser decisions.

  • Be aware if you are driven by ambition, an urge to please or fulfil expectations, competitive fire or any other motivation that is not conducive to yoga practice. Being aware of these forces within us can be very rewarding and serve us in other walks of life as well.

 


Injury


There is always that moment that seems like the big bang but in retrospective there were many moments that led to that point. Very often we are unaware of the gradual progression that leads to a certain point. For me it was one class where I thought I finally cracked it, felt like like my lotus was finally blooming.

I did crack it but not in the way I thought I cracked it.


That day I was able to do a full lotus and hold it for a few breath. There was significant pain and I was certain it's an obstacle I needed to overcome with liberation waiting on the other side. Walking back from class felt a bit clumsy and when I arrived home and sat down I realized that something was seriously wrong with my knee, it was really swollen. When I tried to get up again I was unable to put weight on my foot. The pain was getting worse by the minute and my knee was swelling up.


I still wasn't convinced that it was connected to the forceful attempt at the lotus pose, I trusted the teacher and myself and believed strongly that getting hurt in yoga is impossible. After a few days I started connecting the dots and doubt was creeping in. I went through the proper channels, saw some professionals but to be honest none of them was very helpful. I ended up letting time do most of the healing.


The weeks passed by and things started to get better. After one Month I was able to walk without pain and do some simple movements, gradually I found my way to back to yoga. Looking back I feel really blessed that I didn't give up on yoga but instead decided to use this event as a learning experience and evolve from it. I even went back to the same class with that same teacher but I was very different and my experience as a yoga students was no longer the same. 


As terrible as it may sound - this injury was a blessing in disguise and was a huge factor in my journey as a yoga practitioner and student. However, there are probably better ways to arrive at that place without the pain and struggles of an injury.



What changed after that?


1. I changed my perspective on pain and started investigating deeply all uncomfortable sensations. I learned from close observation what are sensations that are useful and what are ones that are not.

Although I gained much experience with that over the years, this is still a work in progress..


2. I started going deeper into the essence of yoga and its core purpose. I realized very quickly that being able to perform certain positions or movements was definitely not what yoga is about, so, naturally, I let that go and shifted my focus to other aspects of the practice. Yoga postures and movements are essentially a form of mindfulness practice, it is about developing the capacity to pay attention with equanimity which is a non-judgmental, curious, open-hearted attitude.

To be honest - challenging the body in an intelligent way without being ambitious or driven to perform can be a profound experience. BUT, the attitude has to be the right one in order for yoga to have a positive effect.


3. I stopped following instructions blindly not for lack of trust or paranoia but rather for the purpose of taking ownership of my practice. I use the same approach with any health and wellbeing issue I face. I am now the CEO of my physical-mental-health-and-wellbeing, a very open-minded and inclusive CEO, one that never runs away from the role of the decision-maker, grateful for all professionals that give me wonderful suggestions, making sure I pay close attention to the effects they have on my body and mind.


An important side-note: To be perfectly honest I can never be perfect, no one can. Sometimes I do a bit too much or make a wrong movement and end up having some pain for a while. I do make sure I use that as a learning experience and continue to fine tune my practice and adapt it what is appropriate.


4. I study the human anatomy from any perspective that can be useful, whether Western or Eastern, modern or ancient. That is in addition to gaining experiential knowledge which is probably the most important one.

Moving the body intelligently in space is such a valuable skill which doesn't only give us benefits when we practice yoga but more so every time we move in our daily life.



A final thought:

If you ever feel pain during or after your practice - share this with the teacher!

Not only that you will reduce the chances of this pain getting worse, but you will also do that teacher a great service giving them an opportunity to learn and evolve and be more useful to you and others in the future.

Every good yoga teacher is highly interested in your wellbeing and would like nothing more than for you to come out of a yoga practice feeling happy physically, mentally and spiritually.



Thank you all for coming to yoga and allowing me to be of service to you!


Looking forward to practicing with you as the plants around us become more green and the flowers start to bloom.


With love and gratitude,

Oren



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