|the semitendinosis (innermost) hamstring|
On Sundays, I go to a decidedly non-Ashtanga class taught by a great teacher and a yoga legend (one of the quiet ones—the real deal). I respect everything about this woman's practice and her teaching, but when I asked her for some advice about how to modify for pain at the hamstring attachment, she told me exactly what I didn't want to hear: Stop all hamstring stretches for eight weeks.
"But, but," I fairly sputtered, "I'm practicing the first series of Ashtanga..." She gave me a wry look. She's not a big fan. I gave her a pleading look. She upped the wry look.
"Yes, I know that pain in both hamstrings is probably related to all the forward folds, but I don't want to stop. Isn't there some way to modify?"
"I'm not the right person to ask," she said, which I'm pretty sure was code for, if you're going to be all denial-y about this, I can't help you.
Well, I got kind of depressed after that class. But then I started thinking about how I'm trying to approach Ashtanga differently this time. This time, my main goal is to not have a goal. It's to embrace this most difficult (for me) of yoga practices as a daily opportunity to get on better terms with something like equanimity.
And part of the whole equanimity thing, as I see it, is to be like water. I mean, yes, to go with the flow. Or, more than that, to be the flow. I mean (to elaborate a somewhat iffy metaphor): I'm the water and the physical practice is, say, the stream bed, complete with plenty of rocks and boulders and bends along the way. Obstacles, in other words. And stopping the practice, even if only temporarily—simply exiting the stream bed because of an especially large boulder—seems kind of unnatural for water.
Hm. I think the water metaphor just conked on me. Forget the water. All I really mean is that to stop this practice now would feel reactive, not responsive. It would feel too binary. Too Yes/No. Open/Shut. So instead of stopping, I've been finding ways to work with and around the issue.
I'll skip over a detailed explication of my various modifications because that would be excessively entertaining, better, even than listening to someone talk about their taxes or dental work. But, in brief, I've been following Tim Miller's advice about healing a sore hamstring attachment with eccentric stretching, my Ashtanga teacher's advice for how to deal with the problem in Kurmasana, which can be applied to many other poses, and which involves rotating the feet so as to alleviate tension on the particular hamstring muscles that are injured (there are three, actually, in each leg—my problem is with the innermost), and, of course, to the extent I'm able while still practicing, I'm following my Sunday teacher's advice by taking things down a solid notch or two (or three) in the poses that give me the most problems—namely Trikonasana, Prasarita Padottanasana, and Utthita hasta padangusthasana.
|valley river, Japan, 1949, photo by John W. Bennett|
If not, may I do my regular practice with the same.