Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year

Last night Scott and I went out for a walk (at 7:30, I'm not 35, after all). It had been days since I'd gone outside. This "vacation" has been punctuated by long stretches of in-home activity - sorting, going to the dump (that's the extremely appreciated friend-with-a-car part of our experience), trying to find a place to live (do not get me started), getting party-wall permit letters done... I could go on.

And while I really needed some fresh air, alas, it was raining last night (sometimes freezing, sometimes regular). Not good weather for pain. (Apparently, it's really bad weather for osteoarthritis - which my husband has in his right large toe - to a rather extensive degree. We were out for 90 minutes and, by the time we got back, he was all but hobbled. I reviewed his foot with shock. I made him drink cherry juice and I rubbed it (yoga therapy style).) This morning when we woke up, it was way improved - far less inflamed. The sun is out in force today, miraculously for this time of year. It's dry and cold again.

I too began very stiff and sore today, particularly in my hips (the original seat of my pain, starting 20 years ago - but much less painful than the rest of my back most of the time, these days).

I swigged a ginger shot. Went into the yoga room, wherein I sat for a while, wondering what would come of my session. Some days are very fortunate. Some days I realize things (big and important, small and intriguing, part of a larger, emerging whole). My mind drifted first to self-inquiry. The stream of my consciousness: Why am I in pain, in my hips, of all places? and then Ah, Kristin, remember when you hated standing poses? (Ed. note: In the old days, during the first week of every month - the standing pose focus week in the Iyengar system - I'd be in semi-regular hip misery.) Then I thought about how so many yoga practitioners believe that being able to do a pose automatically imparts the benefits of that pose. I could do any damn standing pose proficiently - and I really believed I was feeling its benefit - but it would hurt me a good 50 per cent of the time (to say nothing of potential micro injuries).

Then it struck me. Standing poses are the way of the future.* But, as I know (and have been reflecting in my practice methods), sometimes I cannot do the full physical expressions of some of those asanas (the more weight bearing ones) without producing joint and myofascial pain thereafter. Sure, sometimes I'm fine, after the fact, but I often feel on the edge (which is unsettling and not the point of bodywork, IMO).

Increasingly, I've been doing standing poses at my rope wall. I can happily manage bearing @ 75% of my body weight on my hips, without running risk of causing pain, as long as I can keep my back hip open and as long as I can defer about 25 per cent of the weight of the front leg to the wall-attached rope at which I'm perched (traction allows for this).

I did many side-angle standing poses this way today. Because I could control the minutest of actions, I was able to have a really rich experience. I felt my musculature from foot to head on a number of occasions. I moved things around from the inside which allows for a lot of shifting, very little of which expresses itself in movement of the muscles and bones. When I did a supported backbend, instead of keeping my legs in my "regular" position, I extended them slowly in different directions, lengthened them to straight and observed how the movement (and limiters of that movement) interacted. My brain talked to my body. Increasingly I wonder if this sensation is straight-up neurochemical or meta. You know, energetic, for the Californians among us. I happen to feel that it matters not and, either way, I am privileged to have this awareness.

And then I went to my next thought wave: What is the relationship between pain and mobility?

Hear me out. In yoga, we talk a lot about quantifying pain as a mechanism by which we can ascertain safety in the pose. That's a post in itself, so I won't dwell here, but today I want to consider this question through the prism of myofascial and/or arthritic pain. All you need to do is pull up a website and you'll see pretty pictures articulating the simple (and hurtful) mechanism of joint and bone degeneration which drags muscles and nerves along for the ride. People with arthritis experience pain at a most interior (amorphous) level, sometimes extremely and relentlessly.  I posit that, when the arthritic person doesn't engage the affected area(s) in very frequent targeted activity, inflammation catalyses a decrease in one's mobility as pertains to one's previous full range of motion. But to move, except very consciously, can also bring pain. The less refined one's movement (and this is defined entirely by the individual), the more the muscles and bones have to work with brute strength - and if they misfunction just slightly - nerve compression can be the result.

Sort of sounds like you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't.

But I believe that's a flawed perspective. What careful movement does is maintain mobility. And stability is in mobility. Incremental improvement and the delayed onset of serious symptomology are prime features of mobility. Mobility isn't a "nice to have" - it's core.

Yoga is the most profoundly personal thing I have ever experienced. I am a constant student in that I am always learning and in that I am sincere. Mind you, I spent a very long time being sincere and yet I couldn't quantify what was happening in my body. Ironically, though I was probably seeking contentment, pain has been the self-awareness tipping point for me - particularly given its phased onset. It's compelled me to move my practice out of my extrinsic body and into the crevices.  

So, if I must sometimes incur pain to be agile (and I speak of this as an intermittent outcome of a mindful practice) that's a trade-off I'm willing to make. Strangely, it's empowering. Because it makes me feel like my pain is meaningful, maybe even slightly volitional. It makes me feel like it's for the greater good.

*In truth, one doesn't need a degree in yoga to know that standing poses are indicated for arthritis / musculoskeletal conditions. But, really, it eventually becomes very clear that any number of poses which might, theoretically, be good, can actually be very harmful (likely because of how they're being performed but sometimes because a pose is not warranted).


  1. I love reading your posts on yoga or bodywork, but I feel that you are on a grad school level and I'm not even in kindergarden. I envy your magnificent understanding of your body and how it functions.

    1. What she said! ;-) (thanks Marie!)

    2. Hey Marie (and Frances): No envy required because, I promise you, that's not how it works! I'm going to write a post soon about WHY we are all beginners, every time we step on the mat. It's a popular concept that a lot of practitioners bandy around but don't really delve into. My perspective on this is more practical than metaphysical. Thank you for your kind words...

    3. I will look forward to it! You may remember that I commented on one of your previous posts to say that I'd love it if you did an instructional video. I know that this is the last thing you need with your complicated and busy life, but if you ever decide to do this in the future, I am sure there would be a following. Subscription video service?

  2. I love your posts on yoga and bodywork too. I don't even mind that I'm in kindergarten as Marie puts it so well. We do need pain to become agile, in so many ways.

    1. I really hope that, as I continue to write these yoga posts, I'm able to articulate how we are all in kindergarten (and prepping for our PhD dissertations) - simultaneously. What's so fascinating about practice is that it facilitates the experience one's own multidimensionality. Really, the only pre-requisite is commitment to the process. (Which can be the hardest thing to find, in truth.)

  3. I'm able to do simple routines of standing and sitting on chair poses as I work on my pain issues of neck and knee. They help a lot!

    Trying to remain hopeful that I'll eventually find my way back to the typical one hour yoga session of upright and floor poses that I was doing just one year ago. (I love the floor stretches so much!)

    Really enjoy your yoga thoughts...
    Happy New Year!