In the Ashtanga practice, it is very common to hear about students that are suffering or had suffered injuries over the years.Often, this happens because somestudents push their bodies over their limits or when teachers/assistant teachers give them incorrect or too-strong adjustments in certain poses. Whatever the reason for these injuries, it’s important to know that they can and should be avoided.
If you are currently suffering pain or injury in your body, perhaps this is a good time and opportunity to take a new perspective your practice physically and mentally – review the way you approach each asana and transition to help you find different ways to move in/out and hold poses – in this manner, a key ingredient in your healing process is acceptance.
As one moves further along the Ashtanga Vinyasa practice, where we always have something waiting ahead (Primary Series, Secondary Series, and the latter Advanced sequences), one can easily become ambitious. If we are not aware of this, we allow ourselves to be more prone to injury. But to understand how to overcome ambition, we must first recognize its cause: desire is the cause of ambition (i.e. the desire to reach/achieve a certain asana), and if we feed this desire long enough, it will soon turn into greed. Greed, which is stronger than desire, can drive us to push even further on a physical level. If this greed is not managed, it can quickly evolve into obsession.
In any of these stages, the body will inevitably suffer from this way of practice from injuries or extreme exhaustion over a period of days, weeks, or even months. When this happens, it is important to pay attention to the subtle messages our body is telling us. Although our bodies have this amazing capacity to open, lengthen, twist, and fold, we must give our bodies and minds time and patience to allow these things to happen for them to digest all the physical and energetic movements we generate through the practice.
A sure sign that you may be pushing your body too far in a certain pose is when your breathing is compromised. Once the breathing stops, it is much better to take a step back and take a modification of the pose, or perhaps take a moment for the mind to calm down to be able to work along with the body and not ahead of the body.
A very useful tool in order to understand desire and how to gradually reduce it is meditation based on mindfulness. This practice allows you to clearly recognise the moment when the desire is arising, train your consciousness how to recognise this feeling, let that feeling pass, and eventually lessen and stop all the consecutive feelings to arise.
Desire is a part of our nature as humans; however, we can learn how to work on it, and how to reduce it, and train ourselves on being more mindful about it. Through this mindfulness,you allow yourself to quickly realise your feelings and emotions, and where your emotions come from and where they are driving you.
When we learn how to work on our desire in a healthy way (not by suppressing them), the appositive quality will start to arise: acceptance. Acceptance is a very important quality that we must cultivate as we practice as this will help you to recognise how far your body can go, how to work in certain poses or situations according to what your body allows you to do, and not according to what your mind wants you to do.
If you have an injury, acceptance will help you to heal faster as you will be able to understand that practice can be always adapted, that progress in the practice is not always linear, and that sometimes, taking a break and finding better ways to move can help the body to heal and open in a healthier way.
Practice with mindfulness and always respect your body’s limitations.