Now that I have more time on my hands during the holidays, I have been able to get to some leisurely reading. Among the books I have picked up are Benjamin Lorr’s “Hell Bent” a book that is critical of the Bikram Choudury teacher training program. The writer is in a seminar called the “Back Bending Club” with one of Bikram’s senior students. They are training for a “yoga competition.” Here is an excerpt:
“The women are doing backbends so severe their ribs are popping out of place. The chiropractor pops them back in and the women return for more backbends. I know this because as one of the only people with a car, I drive them to and from the studio when it happens.”
Excerpt From: Benjamin Lorr. “Hell-Bent.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/jrm0E.l
If you are having to go to a doctor regularly for you to maintain your practice, my guess is that your practice is too Rajasic. Rajas are one of the three Gunas of yoga that corresponds to frenetic, firey energy. Your practice may not so intense that your chiropractor is factored into your commute home from the studio, but if you have elements of recurring pain that you know is stemming from your asana practice, it is time to reevaluate.
Yoga practice should be intelligent. You should be discovering how your body works (Swadhayaya) instead of pushing your body until you have to visit a doctor just to function properly. Intelligent practice would be recognizing that your ribs are being damaged, questioning yourself why you are doing poses to perform in a competition, and realize that your true nature is to do yoga to gain health to help others, instead of boasting in a contest.
When you are injuring your body for the sake of a yoga competition, you are not adhering to the Yamas and Niyamas. The rib-maligned students from the excerpt were not practicing Ahimsa (non harming), Aparigraha (non greediness), and Santosa (contentment). They were mired in the Kleshas or the obstacles to yoga because their intent was to win a contest, rather than to remove the fog that is covering their true being.
A good way to bring your practice from Rajasic to Sattvic (balanced) is to focus on one clan of poses every week. For example, the first week of the month do Utthistha Sthithi (standing poses), the second week do Paschima Pratana Sthithi (forward bends), the third do Purva Pratana Sthithi (backbends), the fourth miscellaneous poses, and the fifth week Visranta Karaka Sthithi (restorative poses) and Pranayama. In many ways you satisfy Rajasic tendencies by getting deeper into poses that you avoid or don’t have time to do in your practice. By changing the type of poses each you do each week, you move towards Sattvas by having a sense of balance in your practice.
An important part of this cycle is the restorative week. This is where you can move toward the higher limbs of yoga aside from asana. By doing Pranayama (regulation of prana via the breath), you can cultivate Pratyahara (detachment from the senses), and Dharana (concentration).
In restorative week you can also hold poses longer which cultivates other parts of your practice, mainly patience and forebearance. You can work at “building time” in Sirsasana (head pose), Supta Virasana (reclined hero pose), and Baddha Konasana (bound angle pose). Working to build time is very different than trying to attain a backbend at the expense of your ribcage.
There is a time and a place for Rajas. During the holidays, we tend to lean towards Tamas, or dull lethargy. The reason why I am posting this topic is because once the New Year celebration is over, many people will return to the gyms and the studios with zealous enthusiasm. Just remember that jumping into a Rajasic practice after a period of Tamas is a good recipe for injury.