It's been interesting...
So, I've been doing a mysore practice for about 6 weeks now and it's been interesting, educational, amazing...not necessarily in that order...
At first, it felt amazing, invigorating, dare I say, effortless...and then things began to happen.
I noticed that old injuries began to twinge and ache. My old hamstring tears began to cramp and burn, my shoulders started to feel tight and sore. All normal experiences one should expect when one returns to the mat. But then one morning my back seized up after doing drop backs with my teacher. I felt good while I was doing them, felt like I was getting deeper into the bend, my feet firmly planted on the floor, I felt strong. But after, I suddenly couldn't bend over to touch my toes, let alone do paschimottanasana. I struggled through the rest of the finishing asanas and as I drove home, I began to weep. I had done it again; I had pushed too hard and hurt myself...AGAIN!
My first yoga injury was a hamstring tear. I couldn't lift my leg up a step for a good month let alone do any asanas. After about 8 weeks, I started to swim, walk, lift weights, and gently stretch, but I stopped practicing...for almost a year. When I returned to my led classes, my teacher scolded me: "You should have come and practiced, no matter what." But I didn't feel comfortable coming to a led class and modifying every pose. My ego wouldn't allow for that, nor my competitive nature. If I were to practice ashtanga in a led class, I had to do every pose and as best as I could.
Okay, now I see the error in my ways...but besides acknowledging the absolute ridiculousness of my ego, what else was I missing...
I had read, in other blogs, that it is essential to keep up one's practice through injury. Instead of stopping completely, one should make adjustments to the practice, even it it means sitting or laying on your mat and just breathing ujjaya pranayama while sharing in the fellowship and community of the class. I'd seen others do that and I had felt a mixture of pity and awe for them; pity at their injury and how limiting it was to their practice and awe that they came to the shala anyway. But for me, the idea of being in class and not doing what was expected, what was being instructed, well that seemed impossible.
So, here I was again, with a possible injury, unsure just how serious it was and how I should proceed. But this time there was a difference: I wasn't taking led classes. Now, I was doing mysore and therefore, in control of what I would/could/should and wouldn't/couldn't/shouldn't do on my mat any given morning.
Well, I'm kind of a chicken and my ego was rearing it's ugly head again, so I didn't go back to my mysore class the next morning after 'hurting' my back, instead I swallowed another couple of naproxen and sat on my mat after a big breakfast and breathed, slowly...very slowly. As I relaxed into the breath, I began to gently go through surynamaskara A with knees bent, barely lifting in urdhva mukha svanasana, and doing chaturanga with knees on the floor. I skipped the standing postures and made a gesture toward each sitting asana without any vinyasa. I then lifted gently into setu bandha sarvangasana...my back quietly objecting. The next day my back felt a little better and I went to work. As a hospice RN, my work entails much lifting, repositioning, and caring for the very frail. It takes a toll on one's back. I came home stiff but got on my mat and repeated what I had done the day before adding a few more vinyasa's and doing the finishing postures minus urdhva dhanurasana. The next day, I went to work, came home, and rested. That night I decided: It was time to go back to the shala. I was not going to run away from my practice again, like I had all the other times before. This time I was going to try to practice through my discomfort/injury/whatever and learn from it.
Four days after doing 'something' to my back, I returned to my mysore class. I started slowly, gently, knees bent concentrating on my breath, my driste, my bandhas. I informed my teacher that I had 'tweaked' my back, that my old hamstring injuries were acting up. She smiled and said that's ok, be gentle. I completed my practice and felt better, tender, but better.
So, I kept coming to class and doing my practice. The pain in my upper lumbar/lower thoracic region began to dissipate and move: to my iliac crest, my SI joint, my hip...no matter...I still practiced. I acknowledged the discomfort then let it go. I softened my practice but I also surrendered myself to it as my teacher instructed me to do.
Two weeks later and the pain is gone. No more back spasms, no more roving pain around my hip and gluteus and all of this is happening as I practice, not because I stopped practicing.
So, this may be obvious to some, but it has been a revelation for me: "Practice and all is coming."
I think that the mysore system of practicing Ashtanga is absolutely essential to its therapeutic effect. Though I think that led classes have their usefulness ( I did only led classes for almost 10 years) I think that by limiting myself to only a led class practice became less beneficial, less therapeutic. Though the led classes taught me how to count the breath and do primary 'correctly', it disallowed the internal teaching that is indispensable to a safe, long, and healing Ashtanga practice.
That's has been the most interesting, amazing, and educational aspect of these past 6 weeks for me!