Yoga as Medicine.
I walk up to them as the sky bleeds in a thousand shades of flame. Silhouettes of muscled men in impossible poses, perfectly ripped women lifting effortlessly up and down from handstand, and me, mindfully stepping my way along the beach, into their field. I call out.
What do I feel in this moment? Admiration? Envy? Perhaps a little of both. There is no resentment here, however. I see the work they’ve put into their acrobatics, and the joy that it brings. To watch them is to watch art in motion, a mastery of the human form that leaves me smiling and ready to connect.
And yet, this is asana I will probably never get close to anymore, not since my injury, and perhaps never even if the injury hadn’t happened. It’s another level, one I’ve tasted in juicily held arm balances and the precious hovering of a solid handstand; I know enough of that to appreciate this beauty before me.
Some might consider what these guys are doing to be the epitome of yogasana. Once upon a time, this was my goal too. And yet when I look back on my yoga journey, I see more clearly than ever before how unpredictable and fluid the path is. From a history of competitive gymnastics and a level of flexibility to rival anyone in the room, through to a back injury that laid me in my bed for weeks, I’ve sat at both ends of the yin-yang scale.
Now, in a body full of strength and yet starting to feel the accumulation of 34 years of hard usage, the yoyo seems to be centering itself. Vinyasa is no longer a healthy option, the bending back and forth causing loud protest. Yin, while deliciously indulgent, leaves my ligaments melting, unsupportive of this central column that desperately asks for roots. My old favorites, the forward fold surrender and the delicious twist, feel enjoyably, subtly... wrong.
What did I do to injure my back, I hear you ask? Well, yoga.
Specifically, revolved bird of paradise. This, and variations of it, are fairly commonly taught in your average studio, along with a whole realm of fantastically named modern variations that are super fun… AND… often missing vital steps in their complicated and delicate performance. So common, in fact, that it caused confusion and resistance in our last advanced training to question them. I get it… it’s hard... when you’re on your mat and you’re feeling elated from all the breathing and the stretching and all you want to do is lift… that... leg… higher…
The doctor says that the injury was just the final straw - the underlying issue was there all along, probably since childhood, and throughout all my years aspiring to be an amateur breakdancer on the mat. I wonder, were these clues about my practice always present, and I just wasn’t paying enough attention to know them? Perhaps I was just too taken with my idea of what yoga should look like, too involved in following the class (and showing up for myself) that I didn’t pause to match the practice with my own body?
Yoga is always good, right?
Hmm. Actually, I’m not so sure. At its core, of course, yoga is the dissolving of the self into the divine. Beautiful. Epically powerful. And. That ‘dissolving’ has so many different modern forms that in my opinion, it’s necessary now to question that statement. I’ve been practicing for fifteen years, teaching for eight, including around 40 yoga teacher trainings, journeyed to the far reaches of emotion and mindspace… blah blah, point is, I feel familiar with subtle awareness. And even so, it’s taken me until the last year or two to tailor my practice in a way that can take my mis-aligned, painful physical situation and make it right within a couple of hours, every time.
As the sun goes down on silhouettes of superyogis and I turn for my slow walk home, I am left with a clear note of understanding. It’s not about whether something is good or bad, or someone is right or wrong for teaching it. In fact, it’s quite possible for a naturally balanced body to practice your average sequence and emerge a superhero every time. But, I realise, I must not be the only one out there for whom the regular formulae don’t quite fit.
So, my reflection is simply: enquire. Self-inquiry is at the heart of yoga, whether it be yogasana or any other form. Just because it’s in the sequence, doesn’t mean it’s right... for you. Just because you did it yesterday doesn’t mean your body’s ready for it today. If there’s imbalance, maybe you need more of one thing on one side than another. If there’s pain, probably something you’re doing isn’t quite fitting. Yoga is developing at such a rapid rate that the current understanding is vastly different from what it was even a hundred years ago - questioning lets us become part of its evolution. Feel, listen, stay aware.
Let thy yoga be thy medicine.
Want to find out more? Continue your education with Jiya:
Jiya is a deeply connected leader who roots her teaching in the healing energy of nature. Her teaching invites students to explore their own, unique unfolding, through profound awareness and trust in the wisdom of the Self. Through her studies with teachers and shamans across the world, Julia has developed a powerful sense of energetic connection and a strong set of philosophical and intuitive teachings, which she shares through creative hatha and yin yoga, sacred fire and medicine ceremonies, kirtan and healing therapies. Jiya is also a talented musician and sound healer, who seeks out native chants and medicine songs from around the world to complement her work.
Jiya is YA-certified at the ERYT-300 level and has facilitated both intensive and module-format teacher trainings at RYT-200 and RYT-300 levels for several years, through multiple schools. Following her degree in Physics at Imperial College, London, Julia worked as an Energy Consultant and part time copywriter and editor in London, UK, before moving to Central America in 2009 to pursue a life centered on yoga and holistic health. British by birth, Jiya is now based in Bali and teaches in Thailand, Australia, Mexico, Greece, USA, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Peru.