Poolsisia… Silioposa… Liopoasis… Ever heard of these words? Nor I, but they sound pretty cool. I made them up in order to distract myself from what’s bothering me. They’re anagrams of a word I just learned (I’ll give you a minute to see if you can figure it out). It’s a word I discovered the hard way four days ago. And, I’m still feeling it. When I get out of bed in the morning or start to sit down, I feel a sharp biting pain above my butt. It’s on the right side (though I don’t think either side would be the right side for such an obstreperous attack) at the back of my hip. It’s the revenge of the iliopsoas (pronounced ilio-so-as), the three muscles that join together in your hips to help it flex.
How did I get myself into such a pickle (a sour situation, to be sure)? Yoga. I pushed myself too far without realizing it. I had decided to attend a weekend workshop offered by John Friend, the founder of Anusara yoga, the type of yoga that I practice. I wanted to meet “the man” himself. My teachers often refer to him glowingly, telling of his compelling and charismatic nature. He travels the world stretching minds, hearts and bodies, so it’s not easy to catch up with him. But this weekend he was coming to Maryland (to nearby College Park), so it would be easy to participate. I signed up for the intermediate-advanced class, which I knew would be a bit of a challenge, but I was up for it. I’ve been practicing yoga for 12 years and can finally do Adho Mukha Vrksana, Urdhva Dhanurasana and an approximate version of Eka Pada Rajakapotasana.
Pardon me for speaking another language. I do love the Sanskrit names of yoga poses. They remain in my head and on the tip of my consciousness for weeks, kind of like the songs that people (not me, as I’m tone deaf) can’t get out of their heads. The …asana ending, preceded by any number of prefixes, rolls off my tongue when I’m least suspecting it. My language receptors must be posed for yoga…. In any case, for you curious but non-yogic types, those funny looking and sounding names I’ve spelled out do have English translations and literal Sanskrit ones: hand stand (downward-facing tree pose); wheel (upward bow pose); and pigeon (one-legged king pigeon pose).
Back to my story, which, while not that thrilling, turned out to be rather spine-tingling. After four hours of pretty intense stretching on Saturday, I got up on Sunday morning and did my usual 20 minutes of yoga, preparing myself for another tough session. It’s kind of like people cleaning their house in preparation for the cleaning lady… As I reached for my toes in Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend – sorry, I just can’t resist using those melodic names), I marveled to myself that I felt good and limber. But seconds later, I did something – who knows what – that made me want to retract my declaration. Soon my lower back, underneath the ilium – the lobed hip bone on both sides of the sacrum – was shrieking at me.
Not wanting to admit defeat, nor miss any of John’s wisdom, I took an Ibuprofen and headed off to the workshop. I was annoyed at myself and my injury, especially since this day in particular – a rare opportunity to practice yoga with a master teacher – I wanted my body to be able to move and stretch in infinite directions. But, in a rare moment of maturity, I also realized that this could be a test for myself. Would I be able to see beyond my own pain and annoyance to capture what might be a yogic moment, a retuning of my thoughts and attitudes?
I can’t say that I passed the exam with flying colors, nor within my self-determined time frame – while on my mat that Sunday morning. Instead, I struggled to keep my whining to myself as 200 other yogis advanced into Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana (upward facing two-foot staff pose), and I lay resting on my back. I tried rationalizing away my frustration – at least I had a valid excuse for not mastering a pose that I’m not yet ready for anyway… But gradually, as time passed, bits and pieces of John’s discourses – which wandered from the dark rift in the Milky Way to the meaning of karma, and then to gratitude – began to seep into my consciousness.
Now, as I move about, painfully (yes, still…) aware of those previously unacknowledged muscles, I have come to realize that my experience of being injured can have a positive outcome. I am embracing the idea that as we develop awareness, or sensation, of what’s around us and (in my case) in us, we begin to appreciate. After all, without those hip flexor muscles, we wouldn’t be able to maintain an upright position. And, as we appreciate, we develop a sense of gratitude – as in, I’m so glad that I’m not hurt more often, or it’s a good thing that I’ve only pulled a few muscles and I’ll recover within a few weeks.
My gratitude is timely, even if the injury is not. Thanksgiving is upon us. May your gratitude, and your yoga, be realized more easily than mine. And, may your turkey be tasty, too.