Rolfing & Yoga

July 26, 2011 § 4 Comments

The nice thing about this new shala is that they get a bunch of visiting teachers every once in a while who stay for a week or two, or up to a month. I recognize the pitfalls of having too many teachers to learn from in one go – in the past two months I’ve had two shala teachers, David Garrigues and now Kirsten and Mitchell who are visiting for two weeks. But given where I’m at in the practice – I still consider myself a beginner – I feel like a sponge and find value in the different perspectives that come through studying with various teachers.

Mitchell’s a rolfer too and I had my first session with him last week to try to nail that mysterious back pain I had a while back. What a session it was…. just a ‘preliminary’ rolfing session, nothing too deep, but man, was I sore afterwards. For three whole days in fact. My rotator cuffs felt wrung out to dry and the muscles around my lumbar spine felt really tender. The Iliotibial Band and my collarbones were the most painful bits of the session, but I found myself better able to take deep chest breaths after so at least the pain was worth it.

Practice-wise, I was definitely more limber, post-rolfing – deeper binds in all the Marichyasanas and got my legs behind the head in a Supta K adjustment (hasn’t happened since!). The backbends were more open as well although I skipped the hangbacks until today’s practice. There’s a tenderness around the right SI joint that’s very apparent in the first few upward dogs, dissipates after Supta K, but pops right back after the backbends so I decided to give the sacrum a break for the past few days. After 4 fairly open backbends today I thought I’d give it a go and got a bunch of really helpful tips from Kirsten about hanging back and knowing when to bend the knees. It turns out that I was doing it the wrong way before, keeping my legs straight throughout, which creates a lot of pressure in the sacrum. When I started to bend the knees in the hangback I could go back far enough to see the mat and the pressure decreased considerably. I feel as if I’ve got a new toy to play around with….exciting times.

Chaturangas are also much easier now. After getting the hang of them in my first few months of practice I’ve been doing them pretty much the same way ever since – gazing down at the floor, dropping really low with sternum and chin close to the mat before heaving up into upward dog. Today Kirsten told me to keep my gaze straight and sternum lifted, which means that the shoulders are now at the same height as the elbows and there’s less work needed to lift up into upward dog. It’s a world of difference, because I’m now really using the core in this pose with less stress on the shoulder joints. So much lighter and stronger – I have no complaints about this adjustment!

Probably because Mitchell is a rolfer, his and Kirsten’s adjustments have a stronger emphasis on alignment than your average Ashtanga teacher. But not alignment in a nitty-gritty, anal way. It seems to be a more ‘strategic’ approach to alignment and opening up the body. In the forward folds for example, because my hamstrings and lower back are still pretty tight, my default approach has been to bend the knee slightly and drop forward to touch the chin to the shin which results in a curved spine and compressed neck and shoulder muscles. The M/K method for forward folds is to only go as far as the hamstrings/hips allow without compromising on the length of the spine and neck. This means that instead of resting my forehead on my knee I’m now 20 inches above it – hardly a “picture perfect” asana, but a technique that sets the foundation for opening those areas that need to be opened. Alot of their adjustments for me have focused on dropping my shoulders back and lengthening the neck. Considering the number of people in each class (about 15 to 20 it seems), it’s impressive how often Kirsten’s fingers land on my shoulder blades and back of the neck as a gentle reminder to ‘lengthen and drop the shoulders’.

Three more days with them and then it’ll be a year before they’re back again. Gotta make the most of it.

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