I almost didn't practice tonight. I did my Ashtanga practice this morning, so I didn't really need the movement that much. Though it did feel like I needed something. Enter the ever-wise Nicole. She's a scary insightful teacher and bodyworker who teaches her own version of Forrest Yoga. I say "her own version" because I think it's very different from a "typical" Forrest yoga class. Mostly, I think, in that it's a lot "softer" than a typical Forrest class. Oh she knows how to kick your ass, but I think she understands that you can get people to work more and to work more intelligently by giving them options. She's well known for saying at the beginning of her classes that if you feel like you need to do something completely different from what she is offering to go ahead and do that (within reason, lol). "If your body feels like it needs a 90 minute savasana then go ahead and do that."
Anyways, I was rolling my right glute around on a tennis ball in the lobby of the studio trying to work out a new kink that my body has given me. She asked if I was coming to class and I said that I wasn't sure because I already practiced in the morning. She said, "if you feel like you just want to be in a space with other people and just stretch, you know you can do that in my class." Ok. Didn't take much convincing :-)
My practice ended up being really good. I didn't do any mind-blowing poses--I'm sure to the outside eye it probably looked like I was just laying around on the floor. But it was all super deep internal stuff; just being still in a pose and working slowly and super consciously to engage and release certain muscles in my body. As I mentioned earlier, I have a new body tweak that I am very grateful for: cramped/pinched piriformis on the right side. Brief anatomy aside: the piriformis from about the middle/bottom of your sacrum, across the length of one side of the glute and connects to the top of the femur (thigh) bone. It's purpose is to externally rotate your thigh (turn it away from the mid-line of your body) and to lift it out to the side (a.k.a, "abduct"). When it's tight, it can squeeze the sciatic nerve and literally be a "pain in the ass." (sorry, I couldn't resist the pun, lol). Anyways, that muscle has been feeling pinched ever since I resisted an adjustment during my Ashtanga practice on Monday morning. It's not causing a ton of pain, just feeling pinched and tight. It's also serving at least 2 larger purposes:
(1) It's drawing my attention away from my low back/SI joints. After last week's body work session, I am truly realizing that the majority of the pain and discomfort I feel in that area now is psycho-somatic--where the muscles are still gripping and feeling pain-type sensations in the area that was hurt, even though there is no more strain. Apparently (and kind of obviously, lol) this is very common in areas of chronic injury/pain. The big revelation for me came during the last body work session. We discovered that the intense pain/electric-jolt type sensations that I usually feel whenever someone works on that area disappear or become greatly reduced when I touch/work on the area. Basically, my body is still protecting that area. Marie said that because the area's had pain for an extended period of time, my attention is always there, so part of me is always protecting it. The other indication came when I was working on the area at home. I realized that the "electric" sensation that I did feel when I was working on it was very similar to the sensation I felt when Marie first worked on my hip flexors. The muscles were tight, so my body jumped at her touch. Same thing when I worked on the area. Not pain, not "injury." Tight muscles. That's much more manageable :-) So, realizing all this I'm starting to practice less gingerly (as I would for an injury) and more consciously--being aware of really relaxing the muscles when they don't need to be working and not tightening up in defense all the time. Right, back to the new piriformis tweak. With my attention diverted to a new location in the same general area, the "pain" I usually feel in my SI joint is minimal. Yet another good indication of the pain being psycho-somatic. The rest of the "pain" that I feel there right now is the result of changing things around in that area. Nicole said that now the SI joints will probably feel tender because I'm literally "re-wiring" the area, and that I will probably experience a light feeling of compression due to re-positioning the sacrum and spine. But, it's all just a result of the work...like having sore muscles after a good work-out; the tenderness eventually leaves and you are left with stronger muscles :-)
(2) The new tweak is making me stop gripping the glute muscles all the time and how to use the legs and core more. Because, right now, every time I attempt to grip the glute muscles, I get a twinge in the tush :-) (again, couldn't resist, lol). I spent the whole class period working super consciously and paying attention to the sensation that I was experiencing in that area so that I could learn how to use other parts of my body to accomplish the same actions in the basic poses that I do nearly everyday. The majority of my practice this evening focused first on opening and releasing the glute muscles in restorative/yin poses. I kept my feet on the ground during the abdominal work section and just focused on engaging the correct muscles (a.k.a the abs and the inner line of the legs...not the glutes and the back, lol) without actually doing the movement associated with abdominal exercises. Surprise! You can "do" abs without doing a single crunch :-) When I finally got up to move, my entire focus was on engaging the muscles of the legs (quads, hamstrings, inner leg muscles) and lifting through the core and really using the breath to move and open--and stop using and gripping the glute muscles in every pose. I don't think I truly realized how much I do it until I got not-so-pleasant sensations every time I did it, lol! I'm even engaging them in downward facing dog--when your glute muscles have nothing to do! Also, the whole dropping the tailbone action (to lessen the curve of your lower back and stretch the hip flexor area) is very hard to do when you're squeezing your glutes! Oddly enough, after all this work tonight, it actually feels like my torso got taller!
It's wildly fascinating and kind of fun to work this deeply--talk about doing something to clear and focus your mind! It's really cool to work on this level--to zone in so much that you can feel and access different muscles and feel which parts of your body feel kind of "dead," or "dull." And it's always fun to actually feel your breath moving through your muscles (well, at least some of them, lol). At one point, I swear I could actually feel the pulse of my body. Very cool.
During the philosophy reading of my homework, the person who did the translation for the Yoga Sutras that we are reading talks about actually starting to "welcome" pain, because it is a teacher. I feel like I'm really starting to understand that: my body is trying to guide me into correct movement and alignment by giving me "tweaks" and "issues" to work with and explore. If this new "tweak" is still here come this weekend during teacher training, I will definitely be grateful. Friday is Urdhva Dhanurasana day (Upward facing bow pose in English; "wheel" in any class non-Ashtanga based class). This is a pose where I know I grip the glutes and it's very hard to me to access the other muscles that support the same action in the pose as the glutes (but without the restriction that comes with gripping your butt). I would definitely appreciate such clear inner guidance :-)