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This weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop at the Asheville Yoga Center, taught by Shala Worsley. The title of the workshop was “Juicy Assists and Advanced Teaching Techniques”…the title was what drew me at first, but when I read the workshop description, I was intrigued even more. We’d be focusing on using massage-based assisting techniques to help our students achieve that “feel good” aspect to a variety of poses. So the focus is really on helping the students feel good and “juicy”, rather than feeling like they’re being “fixed” in their poses. Assisting and adjusting students is something I have never really been comfortable with, as I’m always terrified I’ll hurt someone (I was adjusted in a pose almost 8 years ago, and I STILL have knee issues from it). When I attend classes, the teachers are always adjusting and assisting, and they seem so natural doing it, so at ease. I love getting adjusted/assisted, and I’ve longed for quite some time to feel comfortable being the adjustor/assistor. So I sucked it up, swallowed my insecurity, and jumped in head first. It was the best thing I’ve done for myself in a long time, let me tell you!

All weekend, I got the chance to work on a variety of bodies, getting feedback along the way about what felt good, what didn’t, getting ideas from watching the others doing assists/adjustments. My own body was compressed and kneaded to the point where I walked out of there today feeling like a wet noodle. I was completely exhausted but invigorated by all I learned from everyone.

Part of the workshop included learning some advanced teaching techniques, and the exercise we did to end today was one that really resonated with me, and I wanted to share it here. We had to structure a class around the theme of contentment (santosha, in Sanskrit). In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali states in sutra 2.42, “By contentment, supreme joy is gained.” Hmmm…how to structure a class around that….tough stuff!

It was suggested that we journal first, defining what contentment means to us. We only had a few minutes to journal, but here’s what I wrote:

“Contentment, to me, means being at peace with where I am in the present moment. If I’m not questioning my decisions, if I’m even able to make a decision and stick to it, then I’m content. If I’m not worrying about what people think of me, then I am content. If I’m able to respond to situations with a smile instead of anger or sadness, then I am content. If I’m able to love without judgment, and accept someone or something for who or what they are, without expectations, then I am content. And then…then I feel the joy of life.”

So many times, I go to a yoga class as a student and find myself getting frustrated when I can’t get into a pose the way I think I should. Or I’ll look around the room at all the flexible people, or the super strong people, and find myself wishing I could look like they do. Or I’ll key in on how wonderful a teacher is and wonder if I’m as good when I’m teaching my classes.

Those kinds of thoughts mean that I am not content. And I have those kinds of thoughts not just with my yoga, but with my running, with my professional career, my parenting skills, my friendships and other relationships. After doing this exercise today, I realize that the majority of the time, I’m ruining my ability to experience the joy of life. I’m not happy with what I have, because I am always wanting more or wanting something different.

So as I structured my class around the theme of contentment, I wanted to come up with a mantra. Some short phrase that I could repeat during the class that would remind people to be content with what IS at this very moment. So my mantra became, “Smile, accept what is, and feel the joy.” Simple words, right?

But ask yourself this. Last time you were in a yoga class, did you feel content? Did you accept where your body happened to be in each pose you did, or did you push yourself to do more than you should have? Conversely, did you back off out of fear, and end up walking away wishing you’d done more? More likely than not, you experienced contentment with some of your poses but not all of them. Which means you weren’t able to achieve the supreme joy that comes when we are truly content.

My goal right now is to repeat my mantra to myself both on and off my mat. If I repeat those words often enough, eventually I will believe them. And if I believe them, then maybe I can start to accept where I am in any situation presented to me and find that inner smile. God is with me all the time, so I need to trust that He would never put me in a situation I can’t handle successfully. I just need to stop reaching for the outcome that I think is the right one, and accept what outcome is given to me. It won’t be easy, but I’ve already seen the start.

As I said earlier, I’ve never been comfortable with adjusting or assisting students. And if I’m not comfortable, it definitely comes through in my touch…they can sense my fear, which does no one any good. But after 2.5 days of doing this, and getting honest feedback from the people I adjusted and assisted, I have a new confidence in myself. By the end of the weekend, I was adjusting without hesitation, and several people said they could tell a difference between the way my touch felt today compared to Friday evening.

My next task is to try and take this off the mat and into the other areas of my life where I lack contentment. I know I can do it. I just need to keep reminding myself that wherever I am at, I’m in the perfect place for me, at that given moment. Then…then I will feel the joy of life.

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“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

As many of you know, I participated in my third half-marathon this past weekend. The Savannah Rock & Roll Half-Marathon, which was an inaugural race. I was super excited to be participating in the very first Rock & Roll event to be held in Savannah, and to be able to go with a group of my running buddies. My only goal was to be able to run the whole thing from start to finish, without having to walk. I had to walk a bit in my first two half-marathons, due to some pretty bad IT Band issues, so I really wanted to be able to run the entire time for this event.

However, over the past month, I’ve experienced minor injuries with my left leg (sartorius muscle, piriformis, and the inside of my left calf) that made me wonder if I’d be able to meet my goal. I purchased compression sleeves, saw my chiropractor, and got a deep tissue massage that focused on my legs. The day before the race, I was pretty bruised up from all the digging and prodding, so I resigned myself to just taking it for what it was. I’d do the best I could, and if that meant walking some, then so be it.

On race day morning, I took a couple of ibuprofen, put on my compression sleeves, and warmed up all my trouble spots as best I could. I was as ready as I was going to be, so I just programmed my Garmin to beep me every mile, as a reminder to check my pace on a regular basis. Amazingly, I was not nervous at all…I was truly just ready to get it over with, come what may.

It was great to be in the same corral as my running buddies. This is the first time I’ve ever had that luxury, and it really made a difference for me to start with people I actually know. There were six of us in total who started together, but three were pretty quickly ahead of the rest of us. I stuck with the other two through mile 4 or 5, and at that point, I started to back off the pace a little. I was feeling some pain in my left piriformis, and I knew that if I wanted to meet my goal, I should probably slow down a little.

Around mile 6, I noticed the pain again, and that started the worry. I started wondering if I could actually do this after all, and started to have a mini anxiety attack. I recognized it immediately, and something clicked in me mentally. This little voice piped up and said, “Melanie, are you gonna give in this easily and just forget about your goal? You’ll never forgive yourself if you just give up…if you want this, what are you gonna do to make it happen?” So I just started taking deep breaths, slow and steady, and kept repeating to myself, “You can do this…you’ve got this…slow down and just focus on what’s important.” I kept saying that over and over in my head until I believed it.

From that point on, whenever the pain would return, I just kept doing my breathing and repeating those words. It really helped, as all of a sudden, I stopped caring about how fast (or slow, in my case) I was going or about how many people were passing me. At that point, it stopped being a competition and started being about meeting my intention. Which was to finish the race, no matter what, without having to walk. If that meant slowing down, then so be it. No matter how long it took, I was going to run this whole thing just like I planned!

Before I knew it, I was at mile 11.5 and was feeling OK. I couldn’t believe it. At that point, I knew I was going to meet my goal and so I just kept going, slow and steady. At mile 12, I picked up the pace a little more, and when I saw the finish line, I kicked in to high gear and busted my butt to cross the finish line. Not only did I meet my goal of running the entire thing without having to walk, but I also ended up beating my best time by 8 minutes! Talk about ecstatic…I started crying right after I got my medal!

My running coach, my chiropractor, my massage therapist, and my dedication to following their plans were crucial to me being able to finish the race. But yoga played just as big a role in helping me meet my goal.

Because of my regular yoga practice, I was able to turn to my breath when things got stressful. And repeating positive, encouraging words gave me the confidence to believe that I was going to do what I set out to do, no matter what. I believe my steady breath helped me maintain the pace that was right for my body, as every time I checked my Garmin, I was pretty darn close to where I needed to be. The few times I noticed I was going too fast were the times I noticed I was feeling pain, and I immediately slowed my pace. In past races, I have given in to the negative thoughts that creep in to my head when things start to get tough or seem impossible. But not this time.

So when I run from now on, I am going to make sure I continue to practice my yoga right along with it. Even if it’s just a training run, I will try and remember to find my breath when it gets tough, and to encourage myself with positive words. Maybe if I do this enough, it will spill over into my regular life a bit more. With the right mental attitude, who knows what I can achieve? I can’t wait to find out!

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been feeling some tightness in my hip and butt area after runs, but nothing out of the ordinary at first. I’m always tight in the hips, so I started trying to make sure I added more hip openers in my yoga practice, as well as trying to remember to use “The Stick” after my runs.

But after my speed work run last Tuesday morning, I really started to feel some pain in my left hip. By Wednesday morning, I was limping around, due to a rather uncomfortable “pain in my butt.” In addition, I’ve been having recurring pain on the inside of my calf on that same leg. It’s the leg I always have issues with, and it could be due the mild case of scoliosis that I have.

My first emotions were frustration and anger, because I’ve got my half-marathon this Saturday. It’s my third half-marathon, and I have only one goal: to be able to run the whole thing. In my first two half-marathons, I was working through a pretty bad IT Band injury, so I was forced to walk almost 4 miles in my first, and about 2 miles in my second. I’ve worked long and hard to get through all that, and now here I am injured again! WTF?!

I spoke with my running coach, who suggested I see my chiropractor immediately. He was able to see me first thing Friday morning, and he was able to determine that my issue is my piriformis muscle, in terms of the pain in my butt.

The piriformis is a small muscle located deep in the hip, directly underneath the gluteus maximus. It also happens to sit right on top of the sciatic nerve. It’s responsible for aiding in external rotation (turning out) of the hip joint. When issues arise with the piriformis muscle, it’s important to determine the cause. If you simply treat the symptoms without knowing the cause, you’ll simply keep having issues over and over again.

My chiropractor was able to help me determine what it was I was doing to cause the issue, and he showed me some good stretches I can do at home to work out the tightness. Unfortunately, because the piriformis sits so deep within the hip, it is a very tough muscle to get to in terms of stretching. So I will need to be diligent in making sure I stretch this area after every run, and I need to make sure I hold the stretches for this muscle for a minimum of 45 seconds…holding for any amount of time less than that would really not do much good.

There are a variety of good stretches you can find out there on the Internet to stretch the piriformis. However, if you’ve got active piriformis issues going on with your body right now (Piriformis Syndrome), then there are some important things you need to keep in mind. My chiropractor let me know that several of the exercises I’d been doing to stretch my hip/butt area were actually causing me more harm than good, and I was completely in shock! It just goes to show you that just because I’m a yoga teacher, I still have much to learn about various conditions. Because I was so unaware of the harm I was causing myself, I wanted to pass on what I learned so that if you’re suffering from the same thing, you can be aware of what NOT to do.

  • I frequently do Butterfly Pose in my stretching routine and yoga practice. I usually do the variation where I fold forward. However, when you’re working through an active case of Piriformis Syndrome, the folding forward is not recommended. That’s because it stretches the sciatic nerve, which already has a lot of pressure on it due to the inflamed piriformis muscle. So the better option would be to avoid folding forward and instead, add resistance to the inner thighs with the elbows. Or, the supine (lying down) version is also a great option.
  • Sitting at a desk or in a car with the legs apart and externally rotated are also situations that can cause contraction in the piriformis for extended periods of time, which irritates the sciatic nerve. I realized that I do this both at my desk at work, and while I’m driving. So that’s a bad habit I need to break pronto!

If you’re looking for some good stretches to add to your routine that target the piriformis, here are some great ones to try:

  • Pigeon Pose. Avoid folding forward if you’ve got an active case of Piriformis Syndrome going on.
  • Cow Face Pose (you can do it without the arm option). Don’t fold forward if you’ve got an active case of Piriformis Syndrome going on.
  • Wall Hip Stretch. The instructions in this link say to hold for 30 seconds, but I recommend at least 45 seconds.
  • Figure 4. Again, the instructions in this link say to hold for 30 seconds, but my chiropractor recommended at least 45 seconds for this one.

Some great articles I found about Piriformis Syndrome can be found at the following URLs:

http://www.yogatuneup.com/blog/2010/07/28/piriformis-syndrome/

http://www.thestretchinghandbook.com/archives/piriformis-syndrome.php

Let me just say that if you have Piriformis Syndrome, or think you do, it’s very important to check in with a professional before you arbitrarily start trying to treat it by yourself. You need to figure out what it is that is causing the issue to begin with, so that you can fix it. It is not a condition found only in athletes, as many may assume. I chose to go to a sports chiropractor, as he’s helped me without fail so far with every issue I’ve had over the past year. If you don’t know who to go to, ask your primary care doctor for a referral. He may send you to a sports chiropractor or a physical therapist, or perhaps even an orthopaedic physician.

Now that I know what caused my issues, I need to work really hard to stop sitting in ways that contract my piriformis for long periods of time. And I need to make sure that until I’m through these issues, I do the RIGHT stretches. It will take some time, as I am pretty darn tight there, so I need to be patient and work through it. And I need to make sure I listen to my body and rest when it needs to rest. The biggest thing I need to do is to listen to the advice I give to my yoga students. I actually need to start practicing what I preach. Imagine that!

Perhaps this is a lesson to me. I could choose to look at all these injuries I’ve suffered over the past couple of years and ask, “Why me??” But instead, I choose to think God is putting these obstacles in my path in order to make me a better student, which in turn, makes me a better teacher. With every issue thrown my way, I research it to death, until I feel like I’ve got all the information I need so that I can keep it from happening again. Inevitably, I end up passing on that info to my students, to my running buddies who are going through the same types of things, and to anyone else who cares to know. Hey, if I can help just one person avoid having to go through an injury by sharing what I’ve learned, then every bit of pain I’ve gone through myself is worth it.

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