this is not my spine

Okay, so one of the biggest changes in my life in recent months: I’ve stopped practicing asana.

I have a chronic and persistent back condition. After a few years of intermittent back pain, three years ago I was diagnosed with degerative disc disease (the disc between my L5 and sacrum had degenerated and the vertebrae had started to fuse together). I’ve managed it with chiropractic treatments, strengthening exercises and a constant practice of awareness. And I continued to persist with my asana practice. After all, it was my practice, and it was essential to my physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

Despite my efforts, my back periodically went “out” (I still don’t really know what that means) and I couldn’t pinpoint it to a specific activity. It just seemed to happen. But a couple of months ago, I did a twist wrong and my back went out. O.U.T. I was in acute pain for two weeks and it took multiple chiro visits and intensive therapy to get myself back to normal. This was the first time that I had seen a direct connection between my practice and my pain, and it freaked me out.

Then my chiropractor gave me the ultimate prescription: no asana (well, she said “no yoga,” but you know, whatever).  Since my practice inspires my teaching, I cut back on my teaching as well, only offering one super gentle community class and working with a few private students. On my own, I admit that I cheat sometimes and get a little crazy with Tadasana (Mountain Pose). I also haven’t abandoned Savasana, and anything that involves piles of blankets, blocks and bolsters.

But in the past few months, I’ve been in a place of inquiry: What is my practice? What does asana mean to me? What is yoga?

I’m still figuring it out, and I’ll be using this blog space to explore these questions. Asana has served me well over the years. It helped me cope with stress as a university student, homesickness while living overseas, quarter century crisis depression – and in the past five years, since I committed to a regular Anusara practice, I’ve become stronger and more flexible than I ever imagined. I’ve stood on my hands, dropped into backbends, balanced on my forearms.

Asana was also the first body practice that I’ve been able to commit to. I spent the first twenty years of my life disconnected from my body – as a sedentary child and teenager, I had to learn how to move my body and asana was my tool. There are definitely things I miss about regular asana classes: the ritualized space, community, friends. After a couple of months with no practice, I’m noticing changes in my body. I can’t stretch my legs as far, I’m less bendy, I feel a little less grounded. Most importantly, I’m not in pain.

I have to admit, I kind of like the idea of being a yoga blogger who doesn’t practice asana. I like the idea of being a voice for the yoga of service and engaged living, and to use this blog as a way to put forward an expansive view of what yoga can be. I’m not anti-asana, I still think that it’s awesome and powerful, and it’s an amazing entry point to all the other benefits of yoga. But my body has spoken (shrieked, actually) and it has said: no asana.

Now all of my practice is “off the mat.” Even though I actually get on my mat every morning, but what I do there is barely yoga. There are a few asana-type things, with a little physio, a little pilates, a little breathwork. I still use this space on the mat to create a contemplative space, set an intention and practice awareness. I’m hoping that it’s a temporary break-up and that asana and I can get back together one of these days. We’ll have to see what happens.