Saturday, October 15, 2016

Trying to exorcise a ghost with castor oil

Today is a rest day. THANK GOD! My body desperately needs a day off. No practice. No asana. Just relaxation and some healing.

I came here with the intent to do my yoga practice, and to ensure that I really listened to my body this time and didn't push beyond my limits so to avoid injury. The last two visits I had to Mysore I ended up going home with a very sore, most likely actually injured back. Especially the second time. I believe that my core wasn't strong enough to support a deep back bend and I allowed myself to be pushed too far. My sacrum (very lowest back) was KILLING me and it lasted for nearly a YEAR! I could barely teach, let alone do a proper yoga practice on my own. Each upward dog was so painful, like my bones were crushing against each other. It was suggested that maybe I had a small crack or chip in my vertebrates from them being pushed against each other with force, repeatedly.

This is one of the reasons I backed off my yoga practice for a while and got so involved in pilates. To come at my body and my yoga practice from a new angle. One that incorporates more abdominal strength, more recruitment of the back body muscles to open the front of the body (GLUTES!) I tried to "work through it" and take the "practice and all is coming" approach - but it wasn't working. So I had to reassess. My body healed (as they do) and I learned a LOT about the human body and more about practical anatomy than I ever learned through yoga trainings, how the body works, what is safe, what is not, how to get stronger and more open at the same time. I slowly started back into my yoga practice with a new mindset and a new connection with my body. It felt really good and really right. I may be doing a few things that are not super traditional in the yoga world, but it's right for me. And I know that in the past, past past, yoga was very tailored to each individual. So I feel ok about my personal modifications. Sharath doesn't like one of them, and I'm not going to argue with him. But I'll be honest, when I go home I'm going to do it my way again!!

I'll try to take a picture or a video of what I've been doing in my drop backs and in my entrance into kapotasana. I know it looks super weird but I have my reasons... Stay tuned!!! :)

Here's the funny thing. I've been really conscious of and careful of my back. Since that is where I have had the most obvious problems before.

But this visit (OF COURSE!) I have a whole new problem. Ugh. Surprise surprise, the universe always keeps you guessing!

A few weeks before I came to India, my left shoulder slowly started to hurt a little, then a little more, a little more, during my practice. It felt like chatturanga was the culprit. I stopped practicing for maybe one week to let it heal. It healed. I felt totally fine.

I feel like I know my shoulders pretty well, having been a swimmer, and going through a LOT of shoulder pain, injuries and problems during my swim career. I probably iced my shoulders at least a thousand times! I've had many instances of tendinitis in both shoulders and rotator cuff issues, simply from overuse. Swimming 20 hours a week can have that effect!

My shoulders are also very flexible, and generally unstable because of that. I knew that the pain I was feeling a while ago was just some inflammation, overuse, maybe tendititis, and I needed to back off. So I did. And it went away. Yay.

Then, just a few days before I came to India, my right shoulder had the same pain! What the?! I know I needed to practice daily and properly before showing up in India, so not to get my butt handed to me after the first few days here so I chugged along. Maybe I did half the jump backs for one or two days. BUT in retrospect I think I should have totally stopped practicing for a few days to let whatever aggravation was there, subside. I didn't.

I had a few days off maybe, during my travel and while I settled in to my new home in Mysore. When I began to practice here again though, I felt that little nagging pain still in my right shoulder. I practiced properly, lifting up to jump back, etc... for a few days. And, the pain grew more intense. I really tried to adjust my chatturanga, up dog and down dog transitions to lessen the pain. The pain was in the front and side of my shoulder - the anterior and lateral deltoid. They were doing too much work and maybe overstretching a bit. I started really recruiting the muscles in the back of the shoulder (posterior deltoid) and also the muscles in the upper back and those that support the shoulder blade (rhomboids, erector spinae, levator scap, trapezius, etc) so that my weight was more supported from the back body and less from the front shoulder. I also started not lowering as low in chatturanga and doing a little bend to go from updog to downdog which seemed to help. There was less pain while practicing.

But then, there seemed to be more pain after practice! Argh! I was back to icing my old shoulder injury again. I feel like it was the same thing I dealt with when I was 13, 14, 15, 16 yrs old, coming back to haunt me!!! Advil to take away inflammation. Pain oils and liniments gently massaged in, I was doing it all. Sigh. I know what I need at this point is probably a good week off. Or even two. Which is so against the ashtanga mindset of working through it all.

The old Ice Pack on the shoulder routine!

My housemate Lucy said she had the same shoulder pains and she kept practicing (like youre supposed to) and it went away in a year. A YEAR?! I do not plan on having the pain for one year! HA! Even then two weeks it's been going on is too long.

The unfortunate thing is that I am only here for one month. I'm halfway through now. I am not going to stop practicing. So I'm doing everything I can to minimize the pain and the damage. I don't think there's anything major going on. No tear or displacement of anything. Just plain inflammation. A learning experience??

Sharath talked a lot about pain in the past conference. And his main suggestion was OIL BATH. (he also said in conference not to take notes or post anywhere on social media what he was saying. He said if people want to know what he has to say, they can come here to India. I hope I'm not disobeying by sharing this!!)

I tried a few oil baths the last few times I was here but never really followed up on it or made it a weekly ritual, like it's supposed to be for an ashtanga yogi. I always found it kind of yucky and boring and cold and never felt like it did anything. Personally.

But, I was feeling worse and worse each day this week. More stiff and more stiff from one day to the next. Sharath helped me with my backbends almost every day (which I'm grateful for, as most people only get help from the assistants) and it was obvious to me and him that I was getting worse. He seemed a little perplexed and he asked if I was "fearing?" I said to him that I was feeling very tired and very stiff. The first time he dropped me back, I walked easily my hands to my feet and then he easily attached my hands to my ankles in backbending. The next day I walked all the way in and touched my heels. And he said "That's my foot" and laughed. Oops! I moved my hand and grabbed my own foot. But it was hard to get there. The next day he said walk, walk, walk, and I only made it 3 inches from my foot. Struggle! Back felt stiff and shoulders felt tight. Very bad lady!! He looked me in the face (literally one inch from my face) and said "Take oil bath!". I think he said it three times. He really meant it. OK OK I'll do an oil bath! At this point I'm ready to try anything and personal advice from my guru is much appreciated.

CASTOR OIL, ready to be heated and slathered on!

He talked about it also in conference. In our practice and in our lives we build up a lot of heat. Too much heat can lead to pain and inflammation. HA! YES! ME! So an oil bath can release the excess heat. Traditionally castor oil is used. But other kinds of oil work too.

It's not an actual bath, in oil, which sounds kinda nice. But rather, you heat up a bottle of oil (otherwise it's too sticky) and then you slather it all over your body. You rub it into your skin, massaging, especially at the joints or any sore spots. It draws out the heat and the pain, absorbs into your skin and your muslces and joints, and can make you more flexible as well.

You are supposed to build up to a longer oil bath. You can catch a cold or get sick if you leave it on for too long on your first few tries. In the beginning you might just leave it on 10 minutes, but eventually maybe 1hr or more. This is where I always just felt cold and gross and bored! Standing in a shower, sort of wet, maybe a few mosquitoes buzzing around, doing nothing! Yuck! Then to get the oil off is a feat in itself. Sharath talked about some powders that you can mix together and make a paste, to get it off more easily. I didn't understand what they were called. I used my Indian sandalwood soap and after tons of lathering it all seemed to wash off. Using really hot water is also key to getting to oil to absorb into you.

The one thing I didn't do is the oil on the head and scalp. I'm so scared my hair will be oily for weeks! HAHA! I will do it next week because I know the head is key to getting the heat out. I think I can be a little hot headed sometimes (haha) so I probably need it!

I'm doing a little prayer that this rest day, along with the oil bath, will get rid of some of the inflammation (OR ALL OF IT?! ...wishful thinking...).

Back to practice tomorrow. My alarm is set for 245am. I'll be leaving my house to walk to the shala at 330am. Ew. Mondays are rough! I'll see how the practice feels, it's a led primary. Then I think I'll probably go and talk to Sharath personally in the afternoon during his office hours to see what he has to say and if he has any other suggestions.

Quite the alarm schedule.
Funny thing is that today (Sunday) I woke up by 4am and was wide awake and raring to go by 5!!!

Anyways - I'll let you all know the 'results' of my oil bath! And I promise to do it properly and for longer next weekend. Hair and brain included.

A delicious lunch that I had at "Three Sisters" with a few new friends. LOVE their cooking! You sit in a little hallway room thing, on rattan rugs, and eat with your hand... But it is made with such love and skill! Healthy, tasty, vegetarian yogi food. My fave when I come here!!

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