The following essay is featured in the full prospectus, released Nov 1 in support of this IGG campaign to help fund publication.
[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n the morning of June 19th, 2013, Nancy Cochren, aged 32, was 38 weeks pregnant, and teaching yoga at the studio in Hamilton Ontario where she’d worked for seven years. She felt strong and supple, and almost ready for the enormous change ahead. She remembers the sweet feeling of squatting in malasana that morning, and the elation of side-lunges.
In the afternoon, her obstetrician at St. Joseph’s Hospital performed a stretch-and-sweep during her checkup, and accidentally broke her membrane. A gush of clear, sweet amnion splashed off the examination table and hit the floor. The doctor took her hand and said “Well. You’ll be having that baby now.” Continue reading “WAWADIA: Meeting Nancy Cochren (draft excerpt)”
Over the past fifty years, modern postural yoga (MPY) has improved the lives of countless people worldwide. It has awakened millions to the intimacy of embodiment and deep breathing, and the realization that mindful movement can both heal and evolve the spirit.
But people are also injuring themselves—and getting injured by their teachers—in asana studios around the world. Hard data on rates of injury is non-existent. Anecdotally, it would appear that people are being injured at a higher rate than either yoga marketing or its spiritual pedigree would suggest.
These injuries occur for many interweaving reasons. Obvious factors include prior conditioning, poor education in biomechanics, overbearing instruction, sacrificial attitudes towards pain, and group pressures to fulfill presumably shared spiritual ideals.
More subtly, many people are first driven to asana by feelings of inadequacy or the memory of trauma. These experiences can motivate the desire for bodily reclamation and redemption, but they can also acidify practice with anxiety and impulsiveness. Asana is a crucible in which some attempt to forge new selves, and in the process, burn their bodies and minds.
The body of modern yoga is a body of longing, possibility, and revelation. But it’s also a body of shame, confusion, and suffering. Injury can mark the place where these two bodies wrestle on the mat.
This dynamic is likely at play in any physical discipline through which a new self is sought—from ballet to Crossfit. But in asana culture the struggle is complicated by a diverse array of philosophical ideas and commitments. Whether ancient or modern, body-negative or body-positive, some ideas are communicated directly, while others are transferred through cultural osmosis.
The ideas that support asana form a double-edged sword. They can glorify injury as a necessary sacrifice to spiritual development—proof that the body is illusory, or subservient to the divine. Alternatively, they can help students recognize injury as an opportunity to change paths and self-perception.
Asana can injure. But it can also introduce us to the yoga of discovering what injury tells us about the world, and ourselves.
On November 1st I’ll be releasing a prospectus for the book slowly emerging from this project, in conjunction with a crowdfunding campaign. I’d like to preview a bit of that document here, and ask for responses to a strange question:
Do you sometimes have the feeling that there are two bodies on the mat: the body you have, and the body you fantasize about? Continue reading “WAWADIA Update #14: Practicing Yoga in the “False Body””
The Lion of Pune is dead. So many accolades have flooded the web. I’ll review some of these sentiments and their tensions, and then finish with a tribute of my own, which will be somewhat different. Continue reading “WAWADIA update 13 /// Learning With Iyengar, Learning Against Iyengar”
I’ve been asking a lot of questions in the course of conducting this project. The one question I’m most frequently asked in turn is: “What should we do as a culture to reduce incidence of injury?”
This is thorny. It immediately provokes a conversation about the pros and cons of tighter regulations for studios and training standards for teachers. In the seeming absence of any concrete external pressure to regulate from governmental agencies, it’s a conversation that quickly reveals the basically libertarian bias of yoga culture. For the most part, yoga’s primary stakeholders — senior teachers and prominent studio owners — are strongly resistant to the idea that an art form for personal growth should be subject to collective oversight. Perhaps North American yoga is so rooted in 1960s countercultural ideal of self-expression that talk of self-regulation will always be distasteful. And where’s the money in it, really? Continue reading “WAWADIA UPDATE #11 /// Methods to Reduce Injury: An Interview Subject Speaks Out”
[dropcap]Y[/dropcap]ou’ve probably seen this quote floating around.
Anyone can practice. Young man can practice. Old man can practice. Very old man can practice. Man who is sick, he can practice. Man who doesn’t have strength can practice. Except lazy people; lazy people can’t practice Ashtanga yoga. – Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
It sounds a lot like Jois might be citing Pancham Sinh’s 1914 translation of the Haṭhapradīpikā, 1.64:
Whether young, old or too old, sick or lean, one who discards laziness, gets success if he practises Yoga.
One of the unexpected pleasures of the research I’ve been doing into yoga injuries is that I’ve been drawn into conversations with many types of movement and bodywork folks. I’ve spoken to contact improv people, movement trainers, Rolfers, osteopaths, and dancers. They often have marginal relationships to asana, and I’ve found that their lack of investment in the practice often gives them some startling insight.
I recently spoke with Andréa de Keijzer, a 28 year-old dancer and visual artist living in Montreal. In November 2013, after 4 years of hip pain, she underwent debridement surgery for a labral tear in her left hip. (Photo above by Jeannette Ulate.) She expects to be diagnosed with the same injury on the right side, where she has been feeling an identical pain over the past few months. What I find really valuable about her thoughts on asana is that she approached the practice through this awakened lens of injury, and immediately saw that she was being asked to do similar movements — perhaps embodying similar ideals — to those that had been asked to do in dance, which mixed in with anatomical factors such as FAI (femoroacetabular impingement), probably contributed to the development of her condition. Continue reading “WAWADIA update #9 /// Pain and Performance in Dance (and Asana): a conversation”
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his post may not seem directly related to yoga injury. I’m including it in this series because it explores a personal experience of what is perhaps the stickiest subject in the yoga injury discussion: how pranic and biomedical visions of the body collide, interact, and may in time come to uneasy resolution.
How far do we trust our intuitive sensibility to reveal our internal states? Is “listening to ourselves” enough? How do we know when we are in pain, and what kind of pain it is? Do insights into sensations described through the ancient language of energy, chakras, “openings” and “blockages” map onto the material reality of the flesh? In what way? How do they lead towards or away from newer kinds of knowledge? When is the yogic paradigm helpful in understanding the material facts of injury, disease, and wellness? When it isn’t, how do we turn to newer sources of knowledge? When we do seek elsewhere, what of these older ways do we bring with us?
As a rule, I try to avoid the low-hanging fruit on the ever-blooming tree of yoga idiocy. But every once in a while my news feed is smeared with dreck that so astounds me with its orgasmic smugness and contempt for critical thinking that I have two choices: punch back, or gnaw my arm off. And if I gnaw my arm off – oh no! How will I ever again do one-armed peacock and snap selfies at the same time?
On Tuesday of this week, the Ashtanga Picture Project published a (unconsciously, I hope) tone-deaf piece of body-shaming snark called “The Myth of the Unattainable Pose”, featuring a fine selection of impossibly beautiful Ashtanga selfies, some pithy hits from a Pattabhi Jois Quote Generator, and all the reasoning power of a gerbil on a wheel. If common sense is prana, this blog is doing some serious retention on the exhale. Continue reading “Anything Is Possible? Um, No. /// A Yoga Selfie Blog Fail”
My colleague Diane Bruni opened the first What Are We Actually Doing in Asana? event on 5/29 with a personal story of injury, confusion, recovery, and innovation.
Diane taught the very first ashtanga class in Toronto over twenty years ago, and has been a fixture of the yoga scene here ever since. I first walked into her now-famous now-ex-studio in 2005. I saw her name outside, on a rain-soaked poster, next to a class called “Ashtanga Level 2”. I unrolled a borrowed mat in a packed and steamy room.
I was struck not only by her creative intensity, but by the way in which the entire two-and-a-half hours was an immersive ritual of pulsing breath. Nothing was static, no movement was overly-defined. Nobody seemed to know what was coming next, and yet it all seemed to make primal sense. I don’t think I ever heard her use the words “pose” or “posture.” Every instruction pointed towards values like “grace, fluidity, circularity and resilience,” as she recently told Priya Thomas.
Quivering in a pool of blissful/shocked sweat in the dressing room afterwards, I said to a guy covered in mantra tattoos, “So is this ashtanga yoga? I thought that there was a fixed way of doing things.” The guy snapped out his wet towel, folded it neatly, and smiled. “That’s Diane. She knows the ashtanga sequences like no one else. She’s studied with the masters. But now she’s doing her own thing. She knows that yoga means change.” Continue reading “WAWADIA update #6 /// “I Was Addicted to Practice”: A Senior Teacher Changes Her Path”