As much as I hate to admit it, I have injured myself while practicing yoga. In fact, I've injured myself in yoga a few times. My most recent injury happened during an Iyengar workshop. For a few weeks I'd been anticipating this workshop. You see, I recently increased the physical distance from my teacher-of-four-years by about 3000 miles and I was anxious to see if this "new" teacher might fill part of the void I was experiencing. I was an eager student - eager to learn and eager to practice. I'd directed the energy of many yoga practices towards finding a New Zealand teacher. And I did! - but then again, you have to be careful what you wish for (see Left Wanting).
Towards the end of the workshop the teacher called everyone to my mat in order to show an example of the upcoming posture. Hooray! I love being an example in a class, receiving personal attention and personalized adjustments (yes, I am the student at the front of any class wildly waving a hand with an answer). Laying in a supine position (on my back) with my feet firmly planted into the wall, I was asked to push into the wall and lift my pelvis. At the height of this lift a block was placed under my sacral plate. Now, here is where it gets personal: my sacral plate is loose and moveable. It shifts out of alignment very, very easily. Placing a hard surface under my sacral plate moves this joint out of alignment. I know this, but still allowed the block to be placed and the pose to happen. This is posing at its very best (or worst!). And today I await my appointment with the physio...no running, no walking, no sitting comfortably, no asana practice.
So why did I do it? This is the $64,000 question.
I recently read an excellent blog post by Frank Forencich of Exuberant Animal that held this quote:
"The unexamined race is not worth running, the unexamined discipline is not worth practicing."
At the beginning of each practice I sit down, align with my breath, and close my eyes. I center myself on my breath. I take an inventory of the thoughts in my mind, observing when they come and when they go, paying attention to the tone of each thought. Then, I scan my body, again as an observer, taking note of how each part of the body feels. Opening my practice in this way allows me to acknowledge my state of being and soften into a state of grace and compassion. Then, I set an intention. I ask myself, "Towards what would I like to move my energy today?" I try to be very specific because if I don't know where I'm going, any road will get me there.
So I begin each practice with direction and intention. Throughout the practice I hold this intention in my mind's eye, returning to it throughout the session. When I notice my attention wavering, I ask myself if this focus is in service to my intention. When I notice that I am over-efforting I ask if this effort is in service to my intention. When I am dreading the next pose I ask myself if this attitude is in service to my intention. And breath by breath I direct energy towards a specific purpose.
When my intention is honest and true my practice is fulfilling. I feel rejuvenated, light, happy, and peacefully optimistic. I am doing yoga. When my intention is misplaced my brow furrows, my mind evaluates and my body aches. Sometimes, I injure myself. I am simply posing. If I don't have intention for my practice I often feel confused and muddled on my mat. I lose track of which sun salutation I am on or forget to practice on the left side. My mind is scattered. My thoughts go wild. My body follows suit and I am left wondering, "What is the point?"
The point is, without examination, growth does not happen. Without examination, my practice is pointless. If I notice an ill-suited intention for practice or recognize my willy-nilly nature I can feel for what is underneath, I can search for what is hidden. And then, again, I come into the practice of yoga, learning about myself, growing larger within.
I've examined and re-examined my mistake with the bridge and the block. I seized the opportunity to examine my practice and its purpose. I've mulled over my quest for a teacher. The pose was my teacher. With grace and humility, I've learned and I've grown. With grace and humility, I was reminded what I already know about ME and my practice. Breath by breath, I find the teacher within.
And this is why I practice.