Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Curing back pain with Pasasana

Back in the day, I spent five years odd hitching around, mostly Europe and North America. This was, what, early 80's, The wicked witch Thatcher was in power and not so great Britain was a distasteful place to be.

I picked up all kinds of work, built roads, roofs, houses, laid concrete, plastered walls, emptied rubbish bins and worked kitchens, a lot of kitchens.

My favourite restaurant to work at was Pizza Express and the first  job I got there was after coming back from living in a cave in Crete. I was big and hairy and pretty damned grotty, went for a washing-up job at their restaurant in Beckenham. At the end of the interview the manager told me to clean up and start Monday as his Assistant Manager.

I worked there for a few months, was taught to spin pizza by a Sicilian named Leo who kept a gun in his locker just like the Yoga police video doing the rounds. He was the pizza police and I would have to stop him night after night from rushing out to get his gun whenever somebody complained about there not being enough cheese on their pizza. Good times. May came around and I walked out with the money I had in my pocket ( around thirty quid, that was a lot, the first time I only had half that ) headed for Dover, jumped on a ferry and hitched/walked to Switzerland.

Must have worked at ten different Pizza Express restaurants over the years, from Soho to Brighton I must have played them all ( no, actually still around ten but that did include Soho and Brighton) helped pay my way through Uni and gave me a taste for good jazz.

Rutherford College UKC
It was while working at my favourite pizza Express in Fulham that I put my back out. I was lifting a couple of trays of pizza dough to put in the proofer and out it went. Couldn't sit up for a week. That and my old Aikido knee injury meant the end of any road building or general labouring jobs, time to go back to school.

I mention this because every now and again my back goes in exactly the same spot. not as bad but bad enough. It hurts, getting out of bed I feel like an old man and have to very gingerly enter the first few Sun salutations. Yeah, I practice, if yoga's not good for a bad back then what's the point.

Actually it's the yoga that puts it out, not always, a little while back it was slipping over in the snow on my bike, but a few times it's been eka pada sirsasana, that leg behind head pose. I must approach it slightly cack-handed every once in a while, maybe twice a year it does my back in, just above my hip slightly to the right of my spine.

So I take it easy for a couple of weeks, skip LBH, curiously backbends are unaffected, can still drop back, it's the bending forward that hurts. After a month or so I notice the pain has gone but never sure when exactly, just figured it was an inflammation that had finally cleared up.

I did it again last week, really painful this time, stiff as anything.It was a good excuse to explore Ramaswami's spinal exercises from his newsletter, nice gentle postures. It helped a little but still stiff and painful  every morning.

Anyway this morning, being my day off, I had a little more time to practice, I did a longer version of the tadasana sequence which includes pasasana. It's a little colder here today so I knew, being less sweaty,  I could get a good bind and make it nice and deep. just as I began to bind my wrist my back makes this almighty cracking noise down the bottom of the spine and then near the top as I completed the wrist bind. My first thought was that i wish I'd caught it on camera. My second thought was that it didn't crack like that on the other side......my third thought was that the pain had gone.

Hallelujah !!!

I tell you it was like being shot full of morphine... I had that once, twelve hours in agony with Kidney stones before the hospital finished their tests and decided to put me out of my misery. A second after they put the morphine into the drip I felt it cool and clean, running through my veins chasing all the pain from my body.

This morning was a little like that.

Anyone remember my Epsom salt, I'm Superman post from last year? The rest of practice felt a little like that too.

Best of all now I know. Next time the back pain rears it's trickster head, I'll be the guy with the beatific smile on his face squatting at the end of the mat with his arms wrapped around his knees.

Here's the Vinyasa Karma approach, the pasasana comes in after about seven minutes.



Oh and I seem to have stopped practicing Ashtanga ( I know, said that before but this time not even a Friday Primary), what's that all about.

.....and where does that leave this 'Ashtanga' blog.

22 comments:

  1. Nice to know that Pasasana does it for you, Grimmly :-)

    An unsolicited note of caution here, if I may: In my experience, backs are very funny creatures. That which heals it once may do nothing or possibly even hurt it the next time around. I have discovered that the only "cure" for back pain is to practice slowly and carefully, and give it time. Patience (with practice) and time. Just my two cents'.

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  2. I agree noble thus the 'light' VK spinal practice all week, nice and gentle like. however, the back goes always in the same place so i'm hoping pasasana will cure it every time...almost can't wait for it to go again so i can test the theory, tends to go twice a year so I have a bit of a wait.
    the two cents always appreciated

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  3. I have an identical condition, but with me it's the right side. The pain events are getting less and less frequent and of lower magnitude now though, and I think that's the yoga. I think this because my brother (who is of the 'too busy to do yoga' type) has the same and it's all going the other way for him. The asana practice also helps you to self-diagnose, which is one of it's many, many peripheral benefits. In my case, simply reaching up, while looking up and breathing releases the pressure on the nerve and causes the 'ker-plunk' sensation. Pasasana & other twists relieve the resultant muscular spasms in that area. I enjoy the downtime these days, and fit in the 1% theory.

    Regarding systems, (and this is just my opinion), the VK cap fits you well and you have a prolific teacher. You seem to have been distancing yourself from a regular (Pattabhi-Jois) Ashtanga practice for some time now. After all, Ashtanga is a daily practice, which needs to be done over a long period of time; not 'one month' or 'one day a week'. You only stir up the emotions of the Ashtanga Police, when you impersonate an officer. No offense intended.

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  4. Pizza? hmm... you can actually spin it like that? wow.

    Good to hear you are finding your way with the pasasana and the back issue :)

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  5. Ha ha - like StEvE's "stirring up the Ashtanga Police" comment!

    But you've said this before Grimmly, I'm sure! And then you find yourself practicing Ashtanga again ... :)

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  6. I did say left of the spine didn't I, meant on the right so same place as yours Steve. Curious about your brother having the same thing.

    Was wondering how it would feel this morning but it's still fine, almost bounced out of bed, pasasana rocks.

    I suppose it's not surprising it took so long to make the move from Ashtanga, kind of like breaking up with a lover, slow and torturous, each time you give it 'one more try' you realise you've grown further and further apart. As you say, Ashtanga is a kind of all or nothing gig, thought i could get away with once or twice a week given that the structure of my VK practice is similar. An officer?, just another grunt Steve.

    You right Susie, that's why i'm not making a big deal out of it merely an observation.

    Thanks Claudia, yep can do that, two at a time in fact, behind the back the whole Ashtanga of the dough. M. fell for me in my little checked trousers and stripy shirt.

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  7. Said I wasn't making a big deal about it but then went and changed the title

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  8. You know Tony, about the back pain; I have put it down to aging. I'm left handed, and everything I do is left-biased, right down to generally putting my weight into my left leg when I just stand around. Something David Garrigues said recently made me realise that most of us are either side biased and, after 40 something years plus, of these little lifelong habits, it's manifested as an inbalance that has gone as deep as the spinal vertebrae. It feels like the Intransversarii, plus those tiny weeny rotatores & multifidus muscles that climb the spine like vines, are like elastic on one side and wire on the other (exaggerated) That's what I reckon has happened to both my brother and I. To counteract, I take all my jumpbacks with alternate leg crosses and put a lot of focus on general alignment & re-balancing when on the mat. It's slowly slowly getting much much better. Besides, I've hit the big 5-0 now, and feel better than I was at 25, so it's dwarfed by the benefits really.

    Nice analogy on distancing yourself from the Ashtanga system (the romance). I have to say, I find VK fascinating, but the pace would not inspire me and I would also miss the meditative quality that I get when I get warm and start to flow through the series that I know so well. My approach is to flirt with the appropriate VK sub-system, when i am not happy with a new posture on intermediate (and I have many more of those to come!)

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  9. Your probably right about the age having something to do with it although I used to get this twenty five years ago. ...but then again we seem to have the pain in the same place and yet I'm right handed. I googled intransvasarii and came up with this website

    http://www.chiropractic-books.com/Maignes-Syndrome-Exercises.html

    hell it's in there somewhere. Interestingly the exercises the guy recommends are pelvic tilts, Ramaswami's Dwipadapitam (table postures) vinyasas.

    Pace was a big issue for me too, it was something I loved about VK but then again felt so not Ashtanga. I think over the last year or so i've slowed my Ashtanga down quite a bit and changed the pace of VK .Some Ashtanga ish paced parts some very slow parts with long stays. Guess it's become less of an issue. Plus I still keep the Ashtanga sandwich structure, Standing, main body, finishing so again familiar.
    Think I just like the freedom to work on particular areas more, work up to the LBH poses say, develop them a little further with some of the more advanced versions and then counter out more fully, same with backbends. Might have something to do with all the pranayama too, the long slow breathing of VK transitions nicely into the pranayama.... Guess all our practices evolve over time even in straight Ashtanga, Interesting reading how David Garrigues approach has changed, that would make a nice book, interviews with long term yoga practitioners, I'm still under five years ( though daily), this is just teething

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  10. dear Grimmly
    sharing your early stories make an interesting read. i though you were writing a novel there for a while, about someone else. Ya, i noticed the change in the heading. heck, ashtanga is in my blog heading as well and i haven't done the full version in a while. i don't think it matters. what matters is practice, eh?
    cheers,
    Arturo

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  11. A novel : ) .....well ex- Ashtangi now Arturo had to come with something to write about on an Ashtanga blog. That's not me spinning pizza by the way but it is me in my cave in Crete.

    Did think about quitting the blog but then thought the ex-Ashtangi thing might be interesting to explore, lot of us out there.

    Exactly, what matters is that we practice ....something.

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  12. Interesting blog name change and nice discussion here, Grimmly. Rather than go manifesto here, I've just written a post about this. Just to let you know ;-)

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  13. [QUOTE]: "I googled intransvasarii and came up with this website
    http://www.chiropractic-books.com/Maignes-Syndrome-Exercises.html" [UNQUOTE]

    I haven't read it in detail, but it looks fascinating. Thanks.

    I know I keep banging on about Apps, but there are some superb 3D anatomy Apps for a couple of quid a throw (soooo much cheaper than books). A particularly interesting one is called 'Trigger Points'. All about projected pain.

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  14. about the back....
    I had an old back injury from 20 years ago when I started ashtanga. It was kind of like yours but then I made it really acute by tearing a ligament in my lower back one day, allowing a ruptured disc to spill out onto the nerve. In those days I cured it with swimming. I am right handed by the way, but always carried stuff on my left shoulder, so the pain is basically left of spine. I was ok for a while when I started Ashtanga, but 2 different early teachers gave me very aggressive adustments in twists, and I really injured it. My main teacher now has been working with me on alignment, making space in spine, etc. It has taken me a ridiculous amount of time to get the twisted asanas into reasonable shape. Ashtanga is a mixed blessing, but I do have those days where I can really make my back pain free with yoga. Sometimes my teacher guides me but more often now i find the way myself. I think that as the discs lose their "sponginess" with age, and physical habits take their toll, this kind of stuff happens. But even though I sometimes make mistakes that make my back a bit worse, so far, after a couple of years, I think the yoga is a benefit. Like Steve, I'm in pretty good shape for late 50s and I hope that mobility will stay with me. It is frustrating sometimes to practice slowly, not make a lot of progress, and struggle to bring the back into line, but that is part of my practice, I have to learn from it and find what I can in yoga, being grateful for the meditative quality, the discipline, and I hope, the prolonged mobility. I am grateful too for my teacher for working with my body as it is and helping me find my way. I do agree with noble though. Backs are fickle, and vulnerability in about the same spot does not always manifest itself due to the same provocation or respond to the same exact "cure," though there is usually a theme or a trend.

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  15. this is the same anon from above. I should make it clear that the ligament tear was the old injury....didn't do that in ashtanga, I just started ashtanga with a somewhat vulnerable back. I'm not the only one though, and I know I good rolfer/yogi who had a similar experience and also was able to help me.

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  16. Seeing a couple in the App store Steve, muscle trigger points and Muscle trigger points doctor, I'm guess your talking about the first one?
    Which other anatomy apps have you tried that you like.

    Thanks for your back experience story Anon. Sounds rough. Mine seems Ok at the moment , probably be fine now for another six months or so. Will have to wait till then to see if the same thing works.

    Blog titles Noble, just thought it would be interesting to work under this one for a while and of course it begs the question, several in fact.

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  17. Hi,

    The anatomy apps that I like are all from 'Real Bodywork'. The trigger points, MB Anatomy and Organs are all very interesting, plus there's one on bone structure that I don't have (yet). Medicmake.com also have one out called 'HD Nervous System', if you like to dig a little deeper. I'm no wanna-be neuro-surgeon, but the 3D graphics definitely add a new element to your asana practice.

    Anon; it was interesting to read your comment. I don't know how long you've been checking in, but the VK info provided on this blog are very complimentary to accessing 'problem' postures in the Ashtanga series. I use them for supplementary stuff and restorative work (I ache by Friday most of the time!)

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  18. Thanks steve. Will try that.

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  19. ... i just would not want to call myself ex astangi because i don't feel i am. i still dream of going to India in three years during my tax holiday, and will probably practice ashtanga while there. it's all labels anyway. i just hope i can continue to be a good yogi - of any kind. i'm remembering now one guy who practiced in our mysore room in SF. he used to do all chest opening and drop back practice only daily. you thought he was some sort of rebel. but when the traditional ashtanga practice was called for, he could do it perfectly. i may be a bit like him now :)

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  20. Thanks Steve will have a look.


    I agree Arturo, it's all yoga baby.

    As I said above, thought the ex ashtangi blog title might be an interesting 'work in progress' title and as Nobel says I can always change it later to ex ex ashtangi. Besides, Ashtanga practice is quite all consuming, it's been a real bugger practicing anything else, taken me almost two years to transition into just Vinyasa Krama and even then it has an Ashtanga structure, no, it's an interesting title, I like it : )

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  21. It's funny, Grim - you're always quitting Astanga and then wandering back later for a little dip. I'm always threatening to quit!

    Anyway... team spirit affiliations aside it's all yoga. Right?

    I liked your pizza story!

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  22. I know Boodie, no doubt I'll turn up in Mysore or Goa unannounced one year. Talking of Goa, you still off to Rolf's despite all this moonlighting with contortion?

    ReplyDelete

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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta
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