In 1999 when I started to do more vigorous forms of yoga it was because a Kundalini Yoga healer said I needed to be more “physically integrated”. My 14 years of Kundalini Yoga had helped heal emotional wounds, make me more aware and strengthen my nervous system, but my physical body needed more. Enter Ashtanga Yoga and Dharma Mittra yoga ( Dharmanyoga) into my practice. My physical body gradually became stronger in all parts, particularly my upper body, and my hips and shoulders opened up more and more. I was able to do a split and finally attained arm balances like headstand, handstand and forearm stand. I thought my practice was evolving to a place I could maintain.
Fifteen years later in a yoga teacher training that I was running one of the students, a lovely French woman, counted fifty, that is 5, 0, chatarungas in series one of Ashtanga Yoga. It had taken me ten years to get through and become proficient in Series one in the Mysore Ashtanag Yoga approach to yoga practice. I had started these practices at age forty four. Despite an old injury from a bike accident causing pain in my shoulder I was still able to do the deep drop into a yoga pushup and transition into the upward facing dog from there, not an easy physical feat. As the Ashtanga teacher Patabhis Jois said, “practice, practice, practice”. I built up to what are called jump backs and jump throughs, both taking practice to do well. No one mentioned not to crash my body into poses so I got to the point I could crash into chaturanga from headstand two, the tripod headstand. At the time it all felt pretty good. In 2003 I started to study Iyengar yoga religiously every week with a teacher I revere in New York City while I continued to tech yoga fulltime. Finding her was a gift that made me realize how we support our joints with our muscle engagement is super important to a lifelong yoga practice.
Fast forward to my teacher training last Spring at Sewall House. Sharing Dharma wheel practice with the students, which included rolling off the wheel in a new way, and then doing Ashtanga the next and last day of training with many chatarungas, my past injury shoulder got so aggravated I could not put my hands together into a prayer pose. Over the winter I rehabilitated it with first Feldenkreis for shoulders, then therapeutic yoga with my now wise Ashtanga teacher, younger than me and realizing strong yang (ie Vinyasa) yoga practices are not always sustainable, and continued studies with my Iyengar teacher and Dharma Mittra.
My shoulder is painful quite often , especially when sleeping, but I am cautiously able to do some of the things, not all, that I could before. I truly wonder if all the years of Chatarungas, part of a practice developed for healthy teenage boys, is what contributed to my shoulder finally breaking down.
I am grateful for what I can still do while using this experience to advise guests at Sewall House Yoga retreat to explore yin and yang forms of yoga, not just thinking that one size fits all works for our bodies!
Author: Donna Amrita Davidge, is the owner of Sewall House Yoga retreat and integrated Kundalini, Iyengar, Ashtanga, Nidra, Restorative and hatha yoga into her training there. THE NEXT training is SEPT 19- OCT 10 2021, limited to 5 students.