This week we passed the midpoint of the yoga teacher training (YYT) at Thrive Yoga. On Wednesday, Pierre Couvillon flew in from Indiana to deliver a double whammy: Sanskrit and ayurveda. With utmost patience he coaxed and prodded us to give up clinging to our tortured pronunciation of asanas and the Yoga Sutras. Who knew that a language class could be as grueling, focused and liberating as our first taste of leading a yoga session, as we did on Monday. Certainly in two days, we were not going to master Sanskrit, but Pierre’s enthusiasm for the lanugage and his understanding of the surprising logic and consistency of Sanskrit let us appreciate the value to digging a little deeper, and he has made available audio files that will allow us to finetune our ears and minds.
Repeat, repeat, repeat. Connect your vocal chords with the nadis spiraling up the spine.
I went to my fourth class on Tuesday evening at Thrive, with Pierre again. I kept trying to throttle back on my practice, to keep from overreaching and getting ahead of my recovery. For the first time, I did some jump-backs and jump-forwards in my vinyasa, but only after warmly up thoroughly. I did notice a touch of stiffness and discomfort in my injured knee. I have to be careful when getting into kneeling positions, like hero’s pose (Virasana) and even child’s pose (Balasana) because my body weight rests heavily on my knees.
Pierre will not be back at Thrive for a while. His nomadic journey will bring him back to the DC area in February. He’s helped me feel more at ease with my injury and inviting me accept the healing process as a renewed exploration of my body: “With the breath, everything you do can be yoga.”
I was finally able to fit in a yoga class at Thrive with Pierre Couvillion this evening. My first class since mid-August and almost two months after my knee operations. I forced myself to go by packing my kit and rolling up my mat this morning before I left for work and giving my wife instructions to take it to the studio when she went to her class in the afternoon. I knew I had to put some kind of imperative in the formula because I was building up all kinds of resistance to the yoga class and even going to the gym, even though I can feel the adverse effects that their absence is having on my body and temperament.
Pierre led a pretty straight forward class that was good for me because it was am all-levels class that emphasized grounding in the basics of good form and breath. I did not do anything crazy — no jump-backs or jump-throughs, no wheels or advanced inversions. I just wanted to feel easy and comfortable in my asanas, and focus on my knees to make sure that they were solid and fully engaged. Pierre led us through some fundamental variations in standing poses that reinforced the tracking of the leg muscles. I think the factor that had deteriorated the most during the break was balance.
In preparation for the class, I had a session of acupuncture in the morning that was supposed to help break up some of the scar tissue in my knee.
I am slowly working my way back to practicing yoga. My orthopedic surgeon has given me a thumbs up on my recovery, and does not need to see me again. I have been putting in a daily average of 30 minutes walking and 30 minutes stationary bike for about a month. I’ve gone back to climb the eight flights of stairs of my office building. I’ve been doing some of the rehab exercises. I had a session of acupuncture on my knee today, and I’ll get a massage tomorrow, so I’ve been lavishing care on my body.
If I do a lot of walking, I will have a little discomfort in my knee the following day and it will feel stiff. I’ve also noticed recently that I have a lot of discomfort in my right sit bone, probably due to the hamstring. I can’t take sitting down for a long time.
I am aiming to start up yoga class again next Tuesday at Thrive Yoga. Pierre Couvillion will teach that evening. Although it’s a relatively advanced, all-levels, vinyasa flow class, I would prefer to have the watchful eye of a yoga therapist watching as I move through the poses. He told me he could indicate modifications of those poses that might be risky for me.
I really miss the community of the yoga studio, and also the disciplined structure that a regular practice builds into my life. Even though I should have more “free time,” I don’t seem to get a lot more done. I really miss the big muscle movements from the vinyasa. Aerobic exercise or weight lifting does not provide the same kind of satisfaction.
I got to the gym twice this weekend, and put in two sessions of 60-minutes each on the stationary bike and another 25 minutes on the elliptical trainer. I lifted some weights, enough to make me sore two days later. During the week, I was able to do a few short sessions of rehab.
Earlier in the week, I got my sutures removed and the doc said that everything looked fine and to come back in three weeks. He suggested that I do some physical therapy to get back up to speed.
I also checked in with Pierre Couvillion who recommended that I take at least a month, maybe two, to ease myself back into yoga. Is he being overly cautious? Or am I just an ingrained overachiever who always has to push harder and farther.
I sought out a conversation with Pierre Couvillion, a wandering yoga instructor and bodyworker, about my knee injury. Pierre has been filling some teaching holes at Thrive Yoga due to the August vacation absences. I wanted the opinion of someone who understood yoga and bodywork with a non-medical outlook to balance against what my doctor and acupuncturist told me. He recommended going ahead with the surgery because Western medicine deals more effectively with meniscus tears than other health alternatives.
Although I can trace my injury to the Rumbaugh workshop (part 1, part 2) a month ago because that’s when it started to hurt, I can not say that it was the cause of the injury. At no time did I sense a jab of pain or feel that I had gone too far. It was only the next day that I notice a minor ache in my knee. It was two weeks after the event that the injury got in the way of my yoga practice. Pierre told me that injuries often happen at workshops because the “glow of a extraordinary teacher” frequently blind us to the limits of our bodies. I know that I was physically tired towards the end of the weekend, which is a double edge sword: the fatigue breaks down resistance in the body, but it can make me insensitive to the natural limits.
I’ve made major changes to my life style in the past five years. When I finished my Masters degree in May 2003, I was in sad shape. Working full time and getting a graduate degree, I smoked, ate poorly and was sedentary during work hours and at home. I was at least 30, maybe even 40 at times, pounds overweight. This blog documents my long slog back into a healthy life style. I’ve only been running since October last year. I’ve tried to increase my exercise regime’s intensity gradually, both with the practice of yoga and running. That’s why I adopted Chirunning, because it tried to reduce the heel’s impact on the ground. But I could have abused my meniscus over the past year or worn it down over the past five years, or it could have been a problem that was just waiting for the right trigger to set it off, like a piece of paper that had been folded repeatedly in the same place and finally tore apart. Although I’ve tried to prevent myself from doing harmful things, like fit into lotus pose before my body was ready, I am still laboring with the body with tight hips that has sat in front of a computer for 20 years (if I had sat crosslegged on the ground all my life, I probably would not have this problem). My tight hips are going to stress my knees automatically, and I noticed that as my legs gradually moved closer to resting on the ground in easy pose, it increased the torque on the knees. I am one month short of being 59 years old, after all, and the body starts breaking down at this stage.
There are lots of adjustments that can be done to protect the knees, but when you have a torn meniscus, there’s no way around it.
What I am trying to say is that my injury did not happen because I was a bad yogi who was misusing his body. It’s not my fault. I think I was especially at risk because my tightly wound muscles were loosening a different speeds.