by Kara-Leah Grant, Musings from the Mat
Since I wrote about my experiences with pain in Bikram classes, I’ve been mindfully watching my yoga practice, and eventually tip-toed back into the Bikram room.
Here’s what happened.
First, some background. I’ve long had back issues, which you can read about here. Over the last two years, I’ve been going into Bikram classes pain-free, experiencing pain during class which starts at Pranayama Deep Breathing – the first postures in class, and then felt great afterwards with no pain.
I wrote about my experience in this article on yoga and injuries. A few people responded and said if Bikram Yoga is making your body hurt, don’t do it.
Yet I didn’t believe it was that simple.
I couldn’t assume that it was the Bikram Yoga per se causing the pain – after all, I’ve been doing Bikram Yoga for a decade or more and it hasn’t always caused this kind of pain. Maybe it was something to do with me and how I was approaching the yoga.
I got curious. I kept up my Ashtanga practice (very little pain there) and my home practice (no pain) and then after a few weeks, went back and did another Bikram Class.
This time, in Pranayama Deep Breathing, I noticed that I was holding tension in my right hip. I focused on releasing that tension and grounding down through the big toe mound of the right foot. I made it through both sets of that postures without any pain.
This was a revelation! My own pattern of holding was restricting the flow of energy in my body and causing the pain.
Unfortunately, the second postures of the class – Half-Moon Side-bending, Back-bending and Forward-bending – created more pain sensation in my body. My lower back felt heavy and compressed. However, it wasn’t as bad as it had been, and I continued throughout class to work on releasing the right hip and grounding through the big toes mounds.
This was progress.
Then, yesterday, in class again, I had the break-through I’d been waiting for.
It had been an intense week of psychological work around deep held belief patterns in relationship – I’ll never find a man who meets me as I am, I have to play small to be loved.
I’d come across an article online which made sense of my experience – Why it’s Crucial for Women to Heal the Mother-Wound – suddenly everything made sense. All the pieces of the puzzle dropped into place.
This often happens for me before physical break-throughs – there’s insights that arise and pennies that drop.
In class I enjoyed Pranayama Deep Breathing.
When we hit Half-Moon, I focused on the energetic alignment of the posture, tuning into the flow of prana in my body. I ground down through my legs and feet, releasing my hips and lower back, and felt an urge to lift up and out of the waist and my chest expanded forward and out a few millimetres. It felt like… a flower petal blooming… just like the Bikram dialogue suggests.
As I lifted up and out I felt a sense of pride in myself, a stepping forward into strength, like I was claiming my place in the world. I realised I’d been subtly holding energetically in the front of the chest, right at the bottom of the bra line.
Through out the posture, I focused on softening and opening through that part of the body. It felt like I was a flower opening under the sun… Maybe some of Bikram’s dialogue has more layers than we realise.
Best of all, I made it through the posture without triggering any back pain – none at all!
The rest of the standing series continued in bliss. I’d identified why I was creating pain in my body during class. My holding patterns had been blocking the flow of prana released through the posture, and because it was blocked, it created this heavy, compressed sensation that felt like pain.
My experience is proof that there is no cut and dried response to injury and pain in yoga class.
The causes of pain are many and varied – sometimes they’re purely physical and can be helped with alignment changes or postures changes or use of props.
Sometimes it’s about what’s going on in our psyche and that can be more difficult to work with as it requires a higher level of atunement. Sometimes we do need to back off, and change classes or styles or take a break completely.
There are no blanket rules though. The key element is not to make assumptions. Instead, get really curious about your experience and bring as much awareness to it as you can.
I didn’t stop going to Bikram classes even though during class I was in pain. I felt like over-all the classes were good for me, and the pain was something I could learn from. I focused on bringing higher levels of awareness to my experience, honing in on exactly what was going on so I could discern what was needed.
When did the pain start? What happened if I didn’t go deeply into the postures? Exactly what did the pain feel like? What relieved it? What did it feel like psychologically? What was going on for me emotionally?
Through this process I was able to figure out which postures were causing the pain, and then exactly what I was doing in the postures that was causing the pain. I kept meeting the situation fully, and adjusting my response as I took on board new data.
This is yoga – this discerning exploration of one’s own experience. And as it turns out, pain in class can be just another useful tool in helping to hone our discernment, and hone our yoga.