“Your psoas might be singing,” says Devarshi Steven Hartman, the Kripalu Yoga teacher trainer extraordinaire. He stands on a platform in the middle of the room, leading a posture clinic. We, his students, have put our yoga mats around the platform, like rays of the sun, facing him. We stand in Virabhadrasana Eka, or Warrior I, while Devarshi shows us how to teach the posture to our future students. As Devarshi suggests, my psoas muscle is singing. My hip socket and gluteus maximus are also joining in the chorus. They intone with deep rage, like Nine Inch Nails’ lead singer Trent Reznor: “I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel.” I wish the psoas and chorus would sing, in all sincerity, “I’ve become so numb,” another Nine Inch Nails tune, but now they’re screaming, “Help me get away from myself!” Meanwhile, I’m wondering why, why, why must we hold Virabhadrasana Eka for so long?
I am doing exactly what Kripalu Yoga teaches us not to do, by the way. I am staying with a pose when I’m sure I should ease out of it. I have had recurring hip pain for about five years. I baby my hips. When they hurt, as they have been all day today, I avoid the Virabhadrasanas and all other poses that challenge that area. Right now, however, I am trying to remain receptive. I promised myself this morning that I would be open to things, that I would say yes instead of no, that I would not see threats where threats do not exist. So I am trying to surrender to this experience, and I am hoping I can still walk when this is over.
“Feel the sensation,” Devarshi says calmly. He, too, is holding the pose for an interminably long time, as if it doesn’t bother him, as if it’s no big deal, as if his hips are actually enjoying the song. My hips and psoas and gluteus muscles are rising in pitch to a heavy metal opera that I never want to hear again. I think Devarshi sees this. Yet, he has offered me no reprieve.
“Notice,” intones our torturer (see how I’m blaming him again?), “whether the sensation you feel is really pain, or just heat. Does it run the course of the whole muscle?”
(Yes! Yes, it does run through the whole muscle, and when this is over, I’m running to the kitchen to perform an amputation.)
“Or is it a single-pointed sensation? “ he asks.
Hmm. Well, there’s something I haven’t considered. What’s the difference between full muscular rebellion and a little pointed dagger? Until now, I’ve been calling this sensation “Warrior from Hell.” However, Devarshi raises an interesting point and shares some information that eases my mind. He says if the sensation runs the length of the muscle, it’s a good stretch. The student must still be mindful, because there is such a thing as going too far, but basically, a full muscle sensation is what we’re seeking.
On the other hand, if the sensation is sharp and single-pointed, then the student should ease out of the pose. Sharp, single-pointed pain may be an indication that the student has gone beyond their edge in some way. This is undesirable in yoga.
Hearing the distinction between these two types of sensation, I realize that what I’m feeling is a full muscle sensation. Devarshi says that sometimes overly tight psoas muscles cause hip pain, and that staying in Warrior I for an extended time can actually ease the pain. I find this hard to believe, but at this point, the sensation is so strong, so overpowering, and it feels as if I’ve been in the pose for so long, that I may as well stay with it and see what happens. This is what we call an inquiry: “Now the inquiry of yoga.” Will I still have functioning hips when this is over?
At last, Devarshi rises from the pose, signaling that we, his obedient, adoring students, may also ease out of the pose. A smile spreads across my face involuntarily. It comes straight from my hips. The pain that has visited me for five years has left my body. Have I mentioned how much I LOVE Warrior I?