April 04, 2016

By Inner Fire Luminary: Marie-Julie Côté

Writing this article is quite awkward for me this morning, I'm on the city bus for my morning commute, seated next to a stranger. My body is not quite comfortable and relaxed; I’m feeling all sorts of tension. I'm not going to work this morning - no - I'm going to my doctor's office. I need to get my right leg checked. Yeah, that's right, I injured myself during the last day of my Cuban vacation with my family. Doing what? Yoga. You heard me right, practicing my favorite activity that is known to prevent injury. This time it has caused it. But how could this happen? The answer is easy: not listening to my body.

I always come to class prepared to give my best to my students. As a yoga teacher I've been trained by the best teachers; one of them refers himself a "movement specialist". I love that term, it looks awesome in a biography and I say that respectfully. I even see myself in that way too. I teach in the best way I can, to the best of my knowledge, how to move properly. I have learned from a tradition of movement gurus. You might have heard of many of them (if not please jump on your keyboard and google them). Some of the movement gurus who have been important in my development are: Dr Katy Bowman M.S. author, Jill Miller creator of Yoga Tune-Up, my amazing teacher, Todd Lavictoire, and Dr Kelly Starrett author of the famous book "Becoming a Supple Leopard" (my idol). The basis of the principal is simple: learn to move before anything else. 

What does that mean exactly? Good question  Simply explained; stand properly, walk properly, sit properly, and use your body properly and in a safe manner. Simple, right? Think again.

Human beings no longer know how to stand, walk and sit properly. We used to, but technology and comfort in our modern life have changed the way we do things, and not for the best. We stopped using our feet properly; using our arches and muscles to create the torque we need to stand, move, and propel ourselves. We are not using our gluteal muscles properly to stabilize our pelvis and lower back. We’ve forgotten how to squat. Yes to squat! We don’t remember how to squat to sit, squat to go to the bathroom, squat to move, to lift, to grab, to jump, and how to do it properly, with torque in the feet and knees out. Sitting is a big issue in our culture. We sit too much and for too long and, of course, incorrectly. You're reading this article on your cell phone or computer, right? So take a moment to think about your posture. Are you shoulder blades down? Is your neck straight? Are you hunched forward?

But how does all of this relate to my current injury? Easy: relativity.  I know how to prepare my body for walking, standing, sitting and practicing yoga. I teach my students to warm-up first. We stretch in class and start moving slowly, progressing through a sequence built to warm-up and stretch all the muscles we will need in our stronger postures. I teach my students to align their bodies properly to protect the complexity and beauty of the mechanism or mechanics of the human body. I often give cues like "knees over ankles, externally rotate the shoulders, shoulder blades down, hands under shoulders, hips over knees." I give these cues because they are important.  Listen to your body. Always. If something feels wrong it's probably because it is. I didn't listen to my body and got injured. I let my ego take over. I didn’t listen to my own advice, but I am a human, just like you. Damn you Bird of Paradise! 

My hamstrings were not stretched properly; neither were my calves and ligaments. I wasn't warm enough. I felt the pain immediately as I extended my right leg into the air. I heard the popping sound.  And here I am, in the waiting room of my medical clinic waiting to see if the injury is a short term or long term thing. Will that happen again? I hope not. I hope I've learned my lesson.

Is it possible to practice yoga safely? To prevent injury from happening? Yes it is. As with any physical activity, don't push yourself to a point where you are not in control. Respect your body. Listen to it. Go to a class knowing what kind of teacher you have in front of you. Know their background. Never go too fast into a pose and don't try the pose if your muscles are not warmed up. Stretch properly; respect your back, knees, neck, shoulders, elbow and wrists.

I wish you a safe practice.