During my time with Ashtanga Yoga, I was taught about the concept yoga chikitsa, body therapy. I came to Yoga following surgery and repeated injury as my body tried to repair itself, so hearing about such a concept was like dangling a carrot in front of a donkey. It was explained to me that doing primary series would eventually lead me to a state of embodied Yoga therapy, the realisation of chikitsa in myself and then I could move on to the purification of the nervous system. The virtue of a daily practice was stated and I maintained my practice with dedication and passion.
Reflecting now, it is clear that I was chasing a promised land like a man dying of thirst chases drops of rain. I would receive small boosts but, even more injury. My teachers remained distant, physically and personally. I knew their names and heard their barking voices in my dreams, “ekam, dwe…” “one, two, three, four, five.” I received very little instruction unless I went to a specific workshop where my brain would drink in all the information it could handle. I wasn’t given instructions about how to navigate my body, but I wasn’t aware that I was missing that. I was throwing myself into the fire to get that healing, to get to the promised land. Teachers might interact with me by sitting on a forward bend and I would tough it out as one of the few men in the room, making sure I could go deeper and handle what was done to me by the instructor. This was usually when I would feel the tearing in muscles in my low back. My focus on the pose was to get through it, that the value was in getting past it as it was a step towards my ultimate healing.
I’m hoping you can see by this point that the bubble burst.
I had a big falling out with the system. I was more broken that ever, my low back completely unstable and my brain a mess from its sacrificial drive to the finish. This was a gap in my life that Forrest Yoga filled. My mind was blown in class when the word “Inhale” was followed by other words! I mean, gosh! I had spent years hearing the drawl of “inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale,” from a teacher that sounded like they bored themselves. I discovered a language and cueing that asked me to do things on each breath, to feel what I did and to target my experience inwards. It felt overwhelming. It felt new. It felt wonderful.
Yoga chikitsa has become something different. Rather than something you attain, it is now something to practice. It is something that can be employed in the short term, moment to moment in a pose rather than some distant entity that you might get the honour of interacting with. Forrest Yoga invites you to guide your attention in each breath, in every pose and is held by an intent to shape the therapeutics you are working. When you arrive in a class, you are able to ask about your injuries and hear from people with sound anatomical knowledge about injury modifications. The intent is set to focus on something as a theme. Then you are cued all the way through the class in each pose how to work that intent deeper and work your own therapy. Hands-on help is provided, not to push you deeper, but to work in a therapeutic way or to bring awareness to an area that is checked out. Now that is some empowering stuff! It is relatively easy, but also easy to miss!
Do this now:
Sit and deepen your breath. Sit with your back straight or with your back against a wall. Take 10 deep breaths.
Let your breath move your bones and feel where may be tight or sore.
Place your hands on that area or near it. What is the size and shape of this spot? What does it feel like?
(Now the best part)
Ask that spot what it needs. Be patient, be quiet and wait for a response. The answer may not be what you expect. Hollywood has really given intuition a big budget with walls opening and light pouring down and a divine telling you what to do. Chances are you might feel the urge to have a hot bath. Great! Do it.
Caroline Myss says in Anatomy of the Spirit that intuition is when you know you should do something but you don’t. So if you know that Yoga would be good for that area, but you haven’t done it, then do it!
Be prepared to ask more than once.
Yoga Therapy, chikitsa, isn’t a promised land. It isn’t a state of perfection to be reached. It is an application to be used in every moment, in each pose and at any time.