Sunday, October 28, 2018

Ashtanga Yoga? Well, Watch Your Knees!

Today is October 28, 2018. I am about to start my practice and I want to have 45 practices until the end of the year in order to complete 50% of daily yoga.

Having everyday yoga practice is not that hard. What is hard  is letting go of ideas and convictions around what practice should look. I do not expect something from the practice. I just do it with a smile, when possible.

The main reason we struggle to develop a daily yoga practice is because we are holding on to our imagination and expectation, some idealized version of what experience of the practice should look like.

Ashtanga is really nothing special, it is a simple tool intended to support us as a human being and makes us a little more happy. If we really want a consistent daily yoga practice, we need to let go of the idea that the practice is just another exercise routine. It is actually a moving meditation. Our daily yoga practice needs to overcome our laziness, illness, injury, and fatigue.

Maybe you're thinking that I, as an ashtangi, a spiritual seeker on the Path, am supposed to be an example or composure and serenity, a person of exquisite poise and understated elegance radiating love and compassion. Maybe you're thinking I should be beyond or above the range of merely physical human experience, someone who lives untouched by the petty challenges and annoyances of daily life. If you think that, you are so wrong.

I struggle. I am fucked up just as you are. This practice is a product of my will and self-determination. I have no reliance on or cooperation with God, teachers, gurus, swamis or any other agent, only authority is myself.

Let’s face it. It is a hard practice with a ton of misconceptions, fears and intimidation but ashtanga was never meant to be easy. The same sequences are practiced each day, I hear people say they need variety, but if you pay attention, the practice feels completely new and different every single time you practice it.

Many people blame Ashtanga for injuries, the truth is ashtanga yoga heals. Rather than blaming ashtanga, let’s find out why the injury occurs, and make necessary modifications. 

Is Ashtanga bad for knees?

No, it is not, but goal oriented practice is. We have to be very careful. Arddha Baddha Padmottanasana, Janu sirsansana C, Mukha Eka Pada Paschimottonasana just to name some of the knee-dangerous asanas that have been injuring students due to stubborn attempts to get into the pose with a no-pain-no-gain attitude.

Ashtanga Yoga is physically demanding and so dangerous for anyone who cannot do lotus properly. It is so often connected with things like knee-pain and inflammation. The knee is most vulnerable when it is bent with an external rotation of the hip when the front of the thigh moves to the outside of the hip.

Generally speaking, one of the most vulnerable components of Ashtanga yoga is repeated pressure on the lateral knee ligaments since the practice sequence repeats almost daily. For the students who are not so flexible, the practice can cause the repetitive stress syndrome.

I’ve heard from and worked with a number of physical therapy (physiotherapy) patients who suffered MCL, LCL or other knee injuries that began in their Ashtanga practice. Usually, this was from a Mysore-style practice, sometimes from teacher adjustments. I’ve also fielded many email inquiries from students about Ashtanga and knee pain. - Dr. Ariele Foster, Yoga Anatomy Academy

In the beginning of my ashtanga yoga practice after just a couple of months of practice, I have thorned left knee's lateral collateral ligament (LCL) which connects the outer thigh bone to the outer shin bone. That happened 10 years ago and still, I have a problem with the above-mentioned asanas.

Regarding Astanga being a balanced practice, the first series (primary) has a lot of forwarding folding in it. The vinyasas become the counterpose and are peppered through the practice. But this works solely in the Sagittal plane. Some dedicated and skilled Astanga teachers are increasingly questioning the balance of the series in light of growing scientific knowledge, and encouraging variations, making up their own sequences sometimes. – Ruth H., yoga therapy practitioner, trained in Ashtanga Yoga

Over the years, I have learned that Ashtanga Yoga is not defined as the mastery of asanas although for many, many practitioners the goal of Ashtanga is binding the hands in Marichyasana D in order to progress through primary series or standing up from a backbend in order to move to intermediate series.

Frankly speaking, goals like this are very harmful. I just like many other practitioners will never be able to bind in Marichyasana D. People will compromise their knees in order to get into the posture. So Marichyasana D becomes the source of a medial meniscus tear.

As Pattabhi Jois used to say, “Health will result from good yoga, ill-health will result from bad yoga.” Clearly, the goal-oriented Ashtanga practice is a bad yoga.

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