Most long-term, fit yogis love a challenging and dynamic yoga practice. But it is also fair to say that many do get injured from time to time. Donna Farhi hurt her neck as a young student while practising a headstand and still suffers with neck pain on occasion. As a teacher of teachers. her particular style is now mainly focussed on the therapeutic and she always advises her students to be responsible, offering many remedial-type options. Human pretzel, Simon Borg-Olivier also seriously hurt his neck years ago during a mis-timed dynamic yoga vault and does various movements and exercises daily to alleviate the resulting stiffness. A few years ago, when I met Shandor Remete at a workshop in Sydney, he was nursing a particularly nasty shoulder injury. The details are fuzzy now but as I recall, he had been practising back bends and flips and all of a sudden, his rotator cuff just kind of… snapped, leaving him with a useless, dangling arm for a few months! The stories go on and you can take a flick through Alix Johnson’s 2004 book “Yoga: The Essence of Life” for a few more tales of woe. The one thing that these mature yogis with their acquired wisdom realised though, was that swallowing your yoga ego and introducing a bit of Nanna to your daily practice will have a profound healing effect. It might also mean that your dynamic practice lasts longer without serious incident.
Keeping Joints Mobile
Perhaps because most yoga teachers tend to have more movement and flexibility than the average desk-bound person, it can be hard to understand as a beginning teacher how a “normal” person does experience certain poses. As an extremely active woman generally, when yoga’s Grand Dame Eve Gryzybowski first discovered her painful hip was the result of osteoarthritis about 15 years ago, she was devastated. However, she began to undertake the gentle “Nannary” yoga practice of “pawanmuktasana”, and had to admit; “it did make me feel better”. Pawanmuktasana translates to mean “wind releasing poses” and the series incorporates gentle movements and stretches that nearly anyone can – and probably should, do daily. Donna Farhi firmly believes that a salute to the sun is not a suitable warm-up for the average person and I tend to agree with this. Once upon a time I had a strong and regular yoga practice, but maintaining a strong practice safely means actually having the time to devote to it. Unfortunately, this is just not possible for people with young children and work commitments and so it becomes necessary, instead, to do the best you can with the time that you have. This means letting go perhaps of the desire to “achieve” something. A real ego challenge!
In the end though, isn’t a functional, healthy body that can get out of bed in the morning and do the things it needs to do without hurting more desirable than a body that can do fabulous things but is constantly injured and sore? As a fairly small person, lugging around two normal-sized young boys gave me all the insight I needed to know how a person with constantly sore, stiff back feels. And when I did find the precious time to practise, more often than not, it was a 30-minute yoga nidra that hit the right spot!
The point is, we are not ancient, bendy Indians who do physical work all day, who squat to eat, to go to the toilet and to chat generally on street corners with friends. Our bodies are different in the 21st century – mainly because we sit on chairs and use technology. The wisdom of our more experienced teachers should be heeded because just like Nanna, they have expert knowledge to share. Even Simon Borg Olivier’s dynamic and intense teaching style has mellowed in the past few years to become far more inclusive and empathetic on a physical level.
As most people who attend my classes know, Nanna always makes an entrance, does a few warm-ups, some gentle stretches and movements and then bids her farewells and leaves the room – because we all love a challenge that we are ready for. And if 10-15 minutes is all the time I have for myself, I’ll pick Nanna any day. She knows me well and always makes me feel better!