Some of yous who read the last blog may be wondering, so WTF Kumari, what did Tracy Rich do (specifically, actually, literally) to your Adho Mukha Svanasana that cures a bunion? And others are wanting to know what did she do to my downward facing dog. As we’ve grown accustomed to reading threads backwards – that’s how I’ll present:
She pushes my hips gently, straight back. This causes my weight to shift. My lower abdomen spontaneously retracts inward igniting bandha. She then instructs me to keep my head in line with my arms. To keep myself from turtling my neck inward I create one continuous line of energy from my crown to my heels by pressing my tongue behind my teeth on my upper palate, pulling my tailbone in the opposite direction as my hands. The arches of my feet spontaneously lift and I feel the rest of my sole spread and connect to the floor. I hold the pose a few minutes, breathing a steady soothing ujaiyi breath.
Search images Adho Mukha Svanasana looking for the photos where the belly is drawn in, limbs are straight but not hyper-extended, you’ll see what I mean.
Before I met Tracy I based my alignment on the instructions from “Light On Yoga.” Compare photos of BKS Iyengar in this pose. You’ll see his head is loosely hanging off of his neck, the crown of his head towards the floor. Also, he instructs moving the chest toward the thighs, essentially pinching the top of the pose like an old fashion clothespin. Sometimes his back body is very open and his chest looks like a barrel. This is not to say the instructions from the book are “wrong”, they are wrong for me. Why? Because as a hyper mobile person lacking stability in my pelvis I don’t resemble the barrel chested Iyengar, I look more like a hammock.
The hammock-y shape takes less arm strength and over stretches the ligaments my low back. Not advisable.
You really have to get down on the floor and try it for yourself to sense correct alignment. People stiff in the low back and backs of the legs often round their backs. They’d probably love to have my problem. But that would be naive. Neither is “better” than the other. One is a mistake to the left, one to the right, one is dexterous one is sinister – but they’re equally inefficient if our goal is strength and flexibility of the spine. Right? You’re looking for the sensation of traction. If you have no idea what that would feel like visit a studio with a rope wall. Try hanging from a wall in this pose. If you have the belt snugly against your hip crease you can learn both where you are and where you want to go.
Some people so enjoy the sensation of hanging they buy inversion tables or inversion boots. When I was in high school my very tall friend used to hold me upside by the ankles for the same sensation of release. Passive stretching softens fascial tissue but does not create muscle. When I get off of an inversion table my spine slumps back down to Earth. I gave up on hanging upside down because the net effect makes me shrink, not lift. Better posture engages the corset of muscles around my waist, narrowing and upward lifting.
Strive to build both: strength and flexibility.
Recently I’ve been using the primary series sequenced by Patabhi Jois to build strength and flexibility. This sequence got soundly de-bunked at my yoga teacher training for all the same reasons I’ve deferred it in the past:
1) Although it’s named “primary” it’s not appropriate for beginners
2) There’s an inordinate amount of forward folding
3) Some of the final versions of the poses are on par with competition level gymnastics and far beyond what a householder yogi even ought to be striving for. . . i.e. possibly arthritic causing, proceed with caution
None of what we said actually dissuaded me from my routine, and don’t let it dissuade you if the following are true:
1) You are NOT a beginner, you currently possess strength and body awareness and understand alignment
2) You add in your own back bend counter poses to offset the forward folds
3) You modify the final postures to anatomically average ones (I mean do the Cirque Du Soleil version if your body type warrants it, and not if you are pushing, striving or angling for ’em.)
One thing neither Iyengar nor Jois taught was particular emphasis on bunion curing poses. I had to discover that on my own, and you can too. When people ask me “What poses did you use?” The answer is “standing and seated.” Pretty much any standing pose can create muscular feet if you USE the pose to spread your toes, establish space between your toes and work at repositioning. Body weight needs to be moved back toward the largest bone in your foot, the heel and away from the small ones by discarding shoes that jack you up. Yes even some running shoes have high heels.
Once body weight is successfully righted, watch how you walk. Strive to push off on both 1st and 2nd toes. When you walk with your feet out at an angle you push off more on the edge of your toe than the tip. Over time you can see how this pattern would encourage a bunion. It’s the end result of your foot attempting to create a 6th toe to rebalance your weight. I ask myself “Would I drive a car with tires that point out to the sides?” Not even a little, right? I need my tires to both face straight ahead, just like my hips, knees and feet. That’s how we were born to walk. What else? Walk on unpaved ground, uneven ground barefoot to allow for natural stimulation and circulation. Around the house is a great start, but I bet it is a very even surface. Healthy feet want diversity.
Not convinced ? Imagine a cute little baby. Imagine putting gloves on this small child. Imagine the kid grows up wearing white cotton gloves, just like a Disney character or Bugs Bunny. The only time the person removed the gloves is in a yoga class. How much fine motor control do you think their hands will have? Imagine the pressure on those hands doing their first arm balance, hand stand or downward facing dog. Crazy right? Now imagine the person wears gloves most of the time but takes them off only at home, perhaps to touch smooth even surfaces but never to manipulate complex objects. I think you know what I’m getting at here.
We pride ourselves on being human, but we don’t always act that way. We sometimes sorta act like, robots if you know what I mean. We wear out our parts and hit up the AMA for fixing. They are happy enough to fix us. Don’t get me wrong. Plenty of times surgery is the right decision. Plenty of times. Most of the time it is if you have no intention of changing your habits or changing your life. Change sucks. Walking around barefoot makes you an oddity. Shame that. Do what you can. Wear shoes with as thin a sole as possible, a flexible sole to mimic walking barefoot. Wear shoes that attached wholly to your foot. Clogs and flip flops cause the toes to work in an unnatural manner.
An ounce of Prevention is worth a pound of Cure.
Now y’all play nice!