Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Can but Shouldn't

I spent several years learning arm balances, mostly, if I am honest, to impress other people. They make my wrists hurt. They make me grumpy. Have a look at this photo of me doing bakasana (crane or crow pose) a couple of months ago; you can see the frown even in this teensy little pic.

So why do them if I hate them? Well, actually I don't anymore. When I had my yoga consultation at KYM, my teacher asked me not to do arm balances. At least not every day (they are very clever, they never outright ban things, knowing of course the appeal of the forbidden.) Apparently, women (especially those over 30, sigh) are not ideally designed to take so much weight in the arms, and our joints degrade over time, no matter how strong and flexible the musculature is.

The other day, I was chatting to my friend Ann, who is also a yoga teacher and one I really admire. She mentioned that she thought if I came back to a regular power or vinyasa yoga practice, I would hate it, because my practice is so focused on the breath now. Bah! I thought to myself. How would she know? So I tried a podcast vinyasa class at home. There were arm balances. I kept being instructed to move when I was halfway through a breath. It made me grumpy. It made my wrists hurt. In fact, just to make myself feel better, I ended up doing my regular practice, so I could feel my breath moving me.

I was able to do all the poses, but the question is: should I have? More and more, I believe yoga is a tool, not an end in itself, and the postures serve the breath, not the other way around. A competitive, goal-driven practice often distracts us from our inner worlds, and can sometimes lead to physical injury or emotional upset. Just as with all things in life, you need to do it the right way for you - there is nothing wrong with a rigourous practice, as long as it is making you feel better (honestly) and serving to lengthen and smooth the breath (again - being honestly aware of your breath). Its the honesty that's the bummer - my ego loves doing the flashy poses, but really, for me right now, they are not necessary. And I feel much better than I did before, both physically and emotionally.

2 comments:

Cupcakes & Yoga said...

Apparently, women (especially those over 30, sigh) are not ideally designed to take so much weight in the arms, and our joints degrade over time, no matter how strong and flexible the musculature is.

Wow! I strongly disagree with this. I like to think that if you don't use it, you lose it. If you don't take care of your bones then of course it's going to degrade over time but I don't think arm balances will cause it. That's just me tho.

Nadine Fawell said...

Mmm, you definitely have a point. Perhaps the folks at KYM just err on the side of caution. I suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome from too many years in front of a computer, pre-teaching, and so for me, most arm balances are really not the best idea, because they exacerbate my existing wrist injury. I do like vasisthasana, pinca mayurasana and the ilk though!