When I started my yoga practice in early 2004, I attacked it as an all-out assault. I bought yoga books (actually, reading some), subscribed to Yoga Journal, browsed the Internet for insight and resources, hunted down a convenient studio to start taking classes. I started up a blog. It’s a method that I have used to get up to speed in a craft, an expertise or a career.
I was embarrassed at how far out of shape I was and how it interfered with my practice. Impatient, I went to the gym to do aerobic exercises and lift weights to speed up the process of regaining stamina and strength. With a boot camp mentality, I thought it was only a matter of time before the extra sit-ups would do the trick. While weightlifting one night, I tweaked a muscle in my lower back. It didn’t seem too bad at the time. I backed off my weightlifting for a week. Then, I started up again and hurt my lower back even worse. I had to give up asana practice all together for a couple of months as I tried to heal my back pain.
I consulted with an acupuncturist who helped me a lot over the next six months. He told me that in Chinese medicine, excess energy, or chi, tends to built up in the major joints (hips, shoulders) and the therapeutic needle work is meant to unblock these energy points. In my case, I must have the equivalent of a car bomb because my hips, shoulders and ankles are major obstacles in my practice.
Because I was no longer going to class, I had to focus on my home practice. Fortunately, I did not stop meditating and breath work so I still had a daily practice. I eventually focused on poses that helped strengthen my back, holding each one for longer periods, 30 seconds plus. It’s similar to the approach that Paul Grilley recommends, yin yoga.
I had to slow down to my asana practice to a pace that my 55-year-old body could accept because the process was just as much about tearing down rigid crusts as building strength. It made me listen more closely to where the resistance was in my body. And it was not one big correction of the imbalances in my body, but a drawn-out series of micro-corrections that happens only when the body is ready for each step. Even after I returned to the yoga studio, I continued in a restorative, healing approach in my home practice.
Even now, I may shift my stance in Warrior to more evenly balance my weight on both legs, and the next day my thighs ache as if I had jogged for 30 minutes.