“Pain doesn’t mean the system has gone haywire. It means that the system is working. It’s sending you a message that you can’t afford to ignore anymore. So the question you need to ask yourself is, “What’s bugging me? What is really going on here?” And often this enquiry works in a really rapid manner. The pain (can be) gone instantly.” – Leslie Kaminoff
I ignored painful sensations in my practice, and…. I ended up injured – big surprise! I pulled both my hamstring tendons in the earlier years of my now 12 year practice – ouch! – due to poor alignment in a vigorous vinyasa practice. It took me years to recover mostly because I kept re-injuring myself due to over use as I wasn’t wise enough to recognize that I could fix the problem with some simple anatomical & alignment based changes. My system worked perfectly, but I was rejecting the fact the I had an injury to contend with! Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt, folks.
I did what I thought was best for a long time before finding great teachers like Ana Forrest, Leslie Kaminoff and Sadie Nardini who helped me to revaluate my practice and understand the importance of learning anatomy, working from my core (a opposed to extremities), and being extremely mindful. This has worked very well for me, and I have learned to manage my movement so that I don’t tend toward re-injury (which is quite easy to do with this particular injury).
On a recent trip to NYC, I had the great pleasure of practicing with Alison West, director of Yoga Union in NYC. She had a brilliant method for bringing awareness to how you use the gluteal fold in postures. You basically use yoga straps as tourniquets around the tops of your thighs so that you engage the quads with more efficiency and press the gluteal fold back into the strap so there is engagement at the sitting bones rather than a spreading apart which can lead to tendon tears.
Allow me to demonstrate….
1} Hold the strap in the middle to make each side even. Place the middle of the strap over the top of your thigh at the hip crease and press firmly down on each side
2} Cross the strap segments under the gluteal fold and pull up on each side tightly.
3} Tie the strap – tightly (it will feel uncomfortably tight) and tie into a bow knot (like you do on shoes, so it is easy to release).
4} Repeat on the other leg.
5} Yes, it gives you a total shelf butt, but you can sing “I like big butts and I can not lie” softly to yourself to lighten things up!
6} This method can be applied to a variety of postures, but I will use Virabhadrasana III as the example (as Alison did in class). On the standing leg, try to tighten the tourniquet by engaging the quads. On the lifted leg, press the gluteal fold up into the tourniquet.
6} From these two points of engagement, you should be more able to level the hips and find more support for the thoracic spine (lift low front ribs up).
Of course, at a certain point – like before your feet turn blue! – it’ll be time to release what binds you (literally & figuratively). The really great thing about this technique is that you will still experience the sensation of the tourniquet being around your leg long after it is gone which changes the way you move.
Anyone can do a yoga pose. And that’s fine. But turns out, there are ways of practicing that keep you accountable, so when your body sends you message that you can’t afford to ignore anymore, you pay attention.
Your connective tissues will thank you later.
I found a few good blog posts on the subject: