As I have shared in previous posts, a sudden, “mysterious” injury imparted itself into my left hip and adjacent support muscles nearly 8 months ago. Since that time, I have focused most of my energies on the therapeutic techniques that I typically practice on others; my year has been one of “Physician (or bodyworker), heal thyself…”
About two months ago, however, I began to focus more on the question that had floated in and around since Day One: “What happened—what movement or position started the problem, and why did it have such profound physical impact?”
I realized that if an answer were to come, I would have to leave the physical aspects of the problem behind. As if the injury had just happened, I pinpointed the immediate cause as an emotional one: Within the hips lies the burial ground of all of the emotions we thought we had subdued and ousted from our lives; however, they rest dormant, ready to dig themselves up and out should we provide opportunity for the feelings to flourish.
Further, when I linked this idea to the particular yoga positions that had eluded me since the injury presented, I recognized that they related primarily to the Liver and Gall Bladder meridians, organ systems associated with Anger.
As one often does, I believed that I had any latent anger under control, at least to the extent that I would be able to catch and calm it should it appear. But as my awareness of the emotional component of my injury deepened, certain experiences of the past few months began to make more sense. I had had a few bouts of sudden, shocking outbursts, none of which seemed to match my daily feelings or typical responses.
When I allowed, however, that old, garbled, stagnant Anger was keeping the injury from full repair and rejuvenation, the emphasis of my personal rehab program shifted. I spent more time using inwardly focused qigong visualizations, paired with kundalini mantras and the healing prayers of Paramahansa Yogananda. As I opened myself to the energy from other realms, my physical and mental bodies could begin to relax and roll out of the way.
During these months of recuperation, I have avoided Yin Yoga; the long-held, deep-acting positions seemed “too much” for the pain I was in and the range of motion I lacked. After the advent of my shifted focus, however, it was not long before intuition began to nudge me toward the postures that I had put on temporary leave. As I began to reintroduce them to my practice and multi-modality healing program, I found that to alternate between the stillness of Yin and the gentle shifts of more Yang-style hatha and movement forms seemed the way to access, stimulate, and change the nature of the injured area.
So, on this Silent Sunday, I offer two Yin positions, along with introductory movements. Each pose awakens the energies that flow through the legs and hips, as well as the side body: These areas house the Liver and Gall bladder meridians. When the qi (or prana, in yogic terms) moves steadily and evenly through these areas, we are more capable of releasing physiological and emotional toxicity. Consequently, injury begins to heal, and fluid movement begins to return.
Special note: Even if you have no sense of lingering emotional distress in any area of your body or mind, these postures serve as full-body mudras that will help you recover from physical activity and stressful times.
As you practice, your initial focus naturally will go to the area where you feel physical stiffness, stretch, or resistance: However, as you remain in the posture for the suggested 2-5 minutes, begin to take your attention to the extremities not immediately emphasized in the position. Become aware of the sensation in the arms, the feet, the face; feel the inner rhythms of the heart and blood flow; trace the outline of the whole-body position with your inner eye. Truly inhabit the mudra you have created with your entire body: Abide its purpose and power.
Begin standing. Take whatever precautions you need if you are working injured: bend the knees, lessen the range of motion, move slowly. When you are ready, with your feet slightly wider than hip width, begin to circle your torso to the right: As you move and warm up, increase the size of the circle, but keep the hips still; move the torso from the waist. (Hands may rest on your hips, low back, or at your sides.) Continue for 1-2 minutes, and then reverse direction for another 1-2 minutes.
After this warm up, kneel on the floor, sitting on your heels or in a cross-legged position. Keeping both hips on the floor (or your heels), stretch sideways to the right, allowing the spine to curve laterally and opening the left side body. This part of the posture squeezes the Liver, as if conducting the compression portion of a deep massage. Again, feel and visualize the shape you are now in; remain within the pose for 2-3 minutes. Then, stretch over to the other side for another 2-3 minutes, breathing deeply and noticing shifts and releases. You have now caused a refreshing rush of blood through the Gall Bladder meridian and the actual liver.
Pigeon Pose (or Sleeping Swan in Yin parlance) can be difficult for many people to access at first: However, when you learn how to prop the long leg and how to ease into the posture from alternatives directions, it can become a cherished resting pose. I had long “fallen” into Pigeon when after a stressful day or periods of deep fatigue. When I discovered that it had become entirely inaccessible to me, I was not only concerned and disappointed, I felt as if a refuge had been removed from my life.
To begin the entry into the pose, the low back, outer hips inner thighs, and hip flexors need to be warm and as pliant as possible. These warm-up movements also serve as alternative positions when Pigeon is a bit much. Begin on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the ground. Gently “windshield wiper” your legs back and forth, slowly awakening and releasing the poses; this will begin to encourage range of motion throughout the pelvic girdle attachments.
Then, after the movement, feel flat again, place the soul of the right foot on the top/inner side of the thigh, near the knee; your own anatomy will dictate the exact placement. Then, using your hands, slowly pull the left thigh in toward your body; the right leg will naturally begin to open, stricthing the groin and inner thigh, while stretching the external hip rotators. Gently pull and release the thigh, creating a light rocking motion. Continue for about 30-60 seconds, and then switch sides.
Now, come onto all fours. Bring your right knee to your right hand on the floor, and let the right foot ease to the left on the floor, under your torso. As you begin to lower yourself down, slide the left leg back along the floor, and ease your outer right hip to the ground: Do your best to keep both halves of the pelvis parallel and aligned, so that pelvis does not torque and create further discomfort.
If necessary, place a block or blanket under the left hip flexor and/or knee. You may also need to stay lifted on your forearms, even with a blanket or block underneath them. If possible, however, lower your body all the way to the floor, resting your forehead on both hands, or turn your face to one side. Remain in your chosen posture to 3- 5 minutes; feel free to alter the depth of the pose at any point, or return to the alternative bent-leg version on your back. After remaining in the Pigeon “mudra” for the prescribed time, switch sides, beginning with the alternative warm-up posture on your back.
To close, rest on your back, rolling any joints or stretching any areas that feel intuitively in need. Then, spend 10 minutes or so in a deeply rejuvenating and emotionally balancing svasana.