It suddenly clicked and all came together one night while searching on google. Obviously I learn almost everything I know from google, ha. It was actually a culmination of a few things. A long weekend intensive with a yoga teacher named Alex Crow, a new found love for barre classes, and a consultation with my midwife and a physiotherapist on my low back and pelvic pain. And just like that I realized - "holy crap, I'm working with an injury...and likely it's because of yoga". It couldn't be! How could the one thing that was always so good for me and I was always so good at be something that wasn't so good for me anymore?!? From there things changed - slowly but also fast. The way I practice and the way I teach is different and here is my story why.
My background and story is a little unique but honestly the end result of not being able to practice yoga (at least for the time being) because of a yoga related injury is pretty common. I have been lucky enough to have 4 healthy pregnancies in the last five years so I could not be more blessed. But with each baby weighing 8, 9 and 10lbs 6oz respectively (#4 is on the way and setup to be a Mac truck too) I have had some pretty heavy lifting all within a short period of time. This could be a part of what has resulted in an pregnancy related condition called Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (or SPD as we will call it). What happens is the pubic bone and pelvic region becomes unstable during pregnancy. Typically the pelvis is fixed and the stability of the muscles, tendons and ligaments around it are what keep it in place and healthy. Some of these being the gluts, hamstrings, quads, pelvic floor, psoas, etc... In a healthy and functioning body the pelvis stays fixed but when you are pregnant the body releases a hormone called relaxin which is used by the body to loosen up the hips for childbirth. If your body has too much relaxin and you do not have enough stability and strength in any of the spots listed above you could run into a diastases of your pubic bone and also debilitating sacroiliac pain in your low back. This is what I have. It started in a major way with my second baby and was so bad at the end of my third pregnancy that I would often fall to my knees when the stabbing pain would run into my SI joint. I thought this was maybe just part of pregnancy and eventually after months of recovery post birth the sharp SI joint pain would stop.
So - you are saying - well this isn't a yoga injury - this is a baby thing. Wrong though. Read on...
What happened when I would recover from the unstable pelvis is I would start to feel pain in my hip flexers and the front of my psoas. For a long time I knew it was an overstretched feeling. Like a rubber band had been stretched too far and then couldn't contract right. An ache with some sharp shooting pains. Why was I getting this? Well - the most likely reason was that after years of leaning into a yoga practice and practically nothing else I had created unstable and weak hip region that was overstretched and underworked.
One yoga teacher working on the changing landscape of yoga has some poignant things to say. Alex Audra says that the most common body we are seeing in a vinyasa yoga practice has “habitual actions that don’t serve us well and these are often exploited in the most common/repetitive vinyasa yoga sequences. For example, countless women who have practiced vinyasa yoga for more than a few years are discovering that they have minor to serious hip injuries (e.g. hip labrum tears or degeneration). There is even an injury that is often called "yoga butt" (upper hamstring tendon). Generally, someone who is genetically flexible (and many adept yoga students fit into the "hyper-mobile" category) is attracted to yoga and praised for their genetic capabilities...and often those same "strengths" are exploited (the student is encouraged to consistently go to her end range of motion during every asana) and eventually they become weaknesses.”
What we are realizing with todays practice and what I have realized first hand is that there is danger for the type of yogi that is like this. The type of yogi that wants to lean into an intense practice and likely also lean into their flexibility. I have a hypermobil body and even with all the awareness around that and being a teacher myself the poses that are taught have no choice but to exasperate that and almost certainly lead to injury. Additionally, as a teacher, I’m working with how to teach a class full of hypermobil bodies but also newer students, older students, and students who may in fact be the opposite of hypermobil or simply have a healthier range of motion in their body that, to them, appears like limitations in poses.
Is the practice I know and love bad for me?! There is a lot at stake for me when I ask that question. I own a studio, I'm a teacher and also and mostly a lover of asana. But, what is yoga to me? Is it a series of poses or is it all the "more" I learned to live my life by? Can I get rid of or maybe even change the poses that I believe are exasperating the problems of the hypermobil yogi? Do I dare touch the sacred movements that have been taught for years just because my gut tells me it's right?
I say yes. I try to teach differently now and I have a lot of reasons why and how I do it. I am working to bring stability and function are at the forefront of my sequencing and overpower any need to lead a student into any Instagram pose or advanced asana. I want the look of yoga (and by yoga I'm referring to asana) to change and I want other's to come along.
Stay tuned for more posts about my journey through SPD, the way I'm recovering, my philosophy on what yoga is and isn't and how I am trying to change the way I teach.