Playing Your Intelligent Edge

What is playing your intelligent edge in asana practice? First, we must define “edge.” The intelligent edge in any given asana is a place of simultaneous challenge and ease. It embodies the yogic concept of sukha, or ease, and sthira, fufilling, steady, conscious engagement.

The edge is also where the things that don’t serve us can be cut away and released. The edge is a place where light severs the unnecessary from the essential.

I’ve seen students assume a yoga pose without energy, engagement or focus. They are assuming the shape of the pose without energy, concentration or application of their whole being. The next step for such a student is to begin applying the complimentary opposites of reaching, pushing, grounding and pulling within the context of the particular pose. Finally, the great potent elixir of the the diaphragmatic breath is injected as the catalyst of consciousness.

Sustaining the pose at the edge, in a sweet fire is where we will make progress, both physical, mental and emotional. This edge is a crucible for human development.

Michael Lee, the yogi who originated Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy (PRYT), had a very deep experience of the edge many years ago that led him to the basis for PRYT. While being assisted in Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) by a friend, Michael felt that he was ready to release the pose. His friend encouraged him to persist for awhile longer. As the pose became more challenging to his endurance edge, Michael deepened his breath and witnessed strange noises coming involuntarily from his mouth. When his persistence met the limit of his endurance his hip felt like a “volcanic eruption.” His body vibrated as tears poured down his cheeks. Michael had broken through fears that had haunted his subconscious since childhood.

I had a similar experience in Ustrasana/Camel Pose years ago when my marriage was unraveling. The deep heart opening of Camel Pose allowed me to release the anguish and fear that had built up over an intense period of turbulence in that relationship.

I’m not saying that all of our edge experiences will deliver us to such complete redemption, but these emotional releases are not uncommon. As we practice working with our minds and bodies on that edge, we will be transformed. This is where our issues will arise and resolve. By bravely persisting at the edge of our endurance, suspended between pleasure and pain, asana facilitates our rebirth, bit by bit.

Depending on our own issues and constitution, the poses that challenge us the most will lead us to our moments of transformation. As we listen and dialogue with our bodies in practice, we accept the challenges that yoga or union with the divine presents to us. Because we trust our practice and the assurance of our own loving kindness, we know beyond doubt that we can trust this process of transformation. It is a psycho-physical therapeutic method of achieving permanent human change.

One thing to notice about asana practice is poses we avoid. Our aversion to those poses is a message that those poses are just what we need to process our deep, perhaps unspoken issues. These intuitive promptings will lead us to experiences of liberation as we address the edge and play with the spirit of faith and expectation.

Though these kinds of experiences sometimes occur spontaneously during our daily practice, the help of a trusted teacher or yoga therapist can help us reach deeper states of liberation in a more concerted way.

Either way, whether these achievements come upon us during the solitary moments of our personal practice, during a class or a private session, know that you are being guided by the infinite loving consciousness that resides in us and binds us all together in pursuit of our full human potential which is our birthright.

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Healing a Groin Injury

From time to time physically active people, despite their best efforts, get injured. The occasional loss of concentration or an out break of ego that says, “I’ll bet I can do that”, or “Let me push past my body’s warning signals,” may very well lead to injuries of varying intensity and damage. Sometimes injuries can take us by surprise. On rare occasion a teacher performs an aggressive adjustment and causes injury. I’ve been there, too. Boy talk about learning to deal with anger and resentment.

Often, many injuries defy conventional medical methods like pain medications and physical therapy. They take time, experimentation and persistence. Without consistent work some injuries can become chronic and debilitating.

Let me tell you a dirty little secret about yoga teachers: Many of them are among the walking wounded. Chronic, nagging injury can become a feature of teaching yoga if we are not conscious and tuned-in when we demand so much of our bodies. Yoga means union. An injury is a message from your body that you are not balanced harmoniously in union. Pain is the body‘s way of asking for extraordinary care and loving attention.

Las Spring I attended a fellow-teacher’s class. He had us doing repetitions of deep squats. During the set I could really feel fatigue weakening my groin muscles (psoas, quadriceps and iliopsoas) but I decided to push myself a bit. That was ego, not the pursuit of union that prompted me to act so unskillfully. The next day I felt searing pain in my left groin, (most of my injuries seem occur on my left side.) The pain woke me at night, forced me to sleep in a very particular position, rendered me unable to sit in my regular meditation pose and drove me to get creative about just how to get into my car lest lowering myself into the seat shoot pain through my groin. Though this was mostly muscle pain, my inguinal ligament also suffered enough strain to start hurting frequently. I was angry at the teacher, but the truth of it is that the injury was my own damn fault. I behaved unconsciously. Pain pointed that out for me very quickly.

After several weeks of pain and anger I started to ask myself, “Okay when are going to quit the pity party, and what are you going to do to get better?” This is what I’ve come up with so far.

I began listening to my body more attentively. I’ve tried to watch each breath from ebb to flow as I practice. Experimenting, I worked with various poses to see what felt good. When I found a pose that felt safe and sound, I sustained the posture, attuned my attention even more acutely while I breathed deeply into the injury to use the massaging quality of the breath. I performed micro-movements within each pose to find the “sweet spot” of union where energy flows unimpeded and pain fades away. I never cease to marvel at the results of yoga asana performed with love and attention.

I began in Warrior I with the left leg in back: The left foot is placed between 45 and 90 degrees in relationship to the foreleg. To ground the foot effectively I pushed the outside rim of the foot into the floor by recruiting the long muscle on the on the outside of the calf, the fibularis longus. (A look at a good anatomy book will be most enlightening.) The right leg is bent according to your ability with the knee directly above the ankle. I centered my torso over the pelvis leaning neither toward the front nor back. The arms reach up actively. The simultaneous grounding and reaching (complimentary opposites) pulls and lengthens the quads and iliopsoas muscles. With deep breaths into my belly I could feel how the fingers of the breath massage and pull on the muscles with its rhythm. I slowly explored any micro-movements that made the pose feel centered in the sweet spot of prana flow. I kept grounding and reaching with determination until I felt fatigued. I slowly and mindfully came out of the pose and practice on the other side.

Warrior I can also be modified with a twist which will further lengthen the iliopsoas muscles.

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You can also practice Warrior I with the heel off the ground balancing on the ball of the rear foot. Remember, gentle persistent practice is the path to strength and recovery.

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Also, explore Reverse Warrior with all the same instructions as above.

Next, I got down on the ground in Child’s Pose. I found that the compression of the groin in Child’s Pose caused intolerable pain. I couldn’t maintain the pose. So, I grounded my hands into the floor to take just a wee bit of weight off the groin and was able to modulate the sensation to a tolerable level. This is where the breath works magic. Breathing deeply into my belly I could feel the penetrating massage directed perfectly into the pain. No massage therapist can do this.

Remember, your breath is your own personal massage therapist. As such, your breath helps you realize the most intimate knowledge of your condition and the unrivaled technical expertise in how to help you heal.

From there I thought a counter pose would be in order. I used a modified Camel Pose. (Note: Take this very slow. Opening the iliopsoas region after a deep compression can feel tender).Instead of standing on my knees in full camel, I simply leaned back from Rock Pose with knees bent, grounded my hands and pushed my booty off my legs, extended my pelvis forward a bit and arched my back to lengthen the iliopsoas region. Then, I sent the inhalation deeply into the sacrum and navel. This feels absolutely delicious. Again, the expanding breath opens the iliopsoas in a uniquely healing way.IMG_0534

I repeated Child’s Pose and Modified Camel Pose twice. I found that this alternating repetition massaged most of the pain out of my groin. My intuition was right on!

Next, I alternated between Swan Pose and the first stage of Pigeon. As with Child’s Pose and Modified Camel Pose, the alternate compression and lengthening reduces pain and massages in healing via the breath. Repeat this sequence as well if it feels good. As you progress you may also use full Camel Pose for further extension of the affected muscles.IMG_0531

When my forehead lay on the floor in both swan and Child’s Pose I focused the on Ajna Chakra brow point between the eyes. I envisioned drawing healing power from the earth and sending it to the injury site. This may sound a little “woo woo” or flaky, but any intention toward healing will be rewarded if practiced with persistence.

As I have been exploring this sequence my pain is greatly reduced, I can sleep in whatever position like, my regular sitting meditation pose is comfortable again and I can get into the car without having to hold on the door like an invalid. I look forward to complete recovery as I continue this sequence, and I’ve accomplished this without drugs or other risky procedures.

Remember, these are just guidelines. Your injury may be very different from mine. When you get past the acute period of pain, begin exploring your pain with some of these poses and see what happens. You may very well discover other poses that work well with your individual condition.

If and when youinjure yourself, listen to your intuition as it relates to your yoga practice. The answers are there. You have the capability to develop and direct your Prana (Universal Life Force) to heal yourself from injury and pain. Who knows what we can accomplish as we continue to reach into the rarely explored world of our own fathomless energy.

I would dearly love to hear your experiences in overcoming injury or disease with the help of your yoga practice.

Namaste