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Chapter 4 – The Asymmetric Pelvis

After my return from India, I settled back into the business of running a yoga studio, now called Lighten Up Yoga, and raising a family. Even though I had gathered many yoga experiences, including my studies with the master B.K.S. Iyengar himself, I was still suffering with lower back pain and with what, at the time, seemed like unrelated pain in my knee.

On the recommendations of a chiropractor friend, I enrolled in the National Safety Council‘sBack Power Program(see book). I traveled to study directly with Dr. David Imerie, a Canadian physician specializing in Occupational Medicine and the author of the program, along with Lu Barbuto, DC. The program was a well designed, scientifically sound, and simple educational tool to assist those individuals who suffered from back pain on the job to manage their own back health.

To my surprise there were many elements similar to my yoga practice: the positions, the use of breath, and the amount of time spent in each position. Feeling affirmed by this experience, I began to round out my yoga practice by integrating this new knowledge, and started teaching a specific yoga for back care course on a regular basis. Two years later, in 1991 I produced my second video, Yoga: Your Freedom from Back Pain, which gained positive national recognition.

I began to teach this hybrid version of yoga to many local clients/students from ages 18 to 60, and from all walks of life, including artists, doctors, lawyers, teachers, landscape designers, and healthcare providers. Even though I did not have an exercise physiology or physical therapy degree, my students were getting results. My students kept referring their friends. My classes were the talk of the town.

Enter Felicity Green

Felicity was a tall woman raised in South Africa, who had trained as an occupational therapist. She had been through her own “dark night of the soul” and her healing journey led her to become a certified Iyengar yoga instructor. Due to her background, Felicity had a unique perspective on yoga that I resonated with. I loved the years I studied with her in Asheville through the many workshops I sponsored. I also joined her when she was a guest teacher in Chapel Hill, NC, traveling across country from her home in Seattle, WA.

While the pain in my back had definitely become less consistent, there was a new pain deep in my right hip, and I kept injuring my left knee, which made some poses impossible to do. Felicity helped me understand how it was that I continued to have these problems and introduced me to my asymmetric pelvis. With all the Iyengar studies I had pursued over 10 years, no one had ever asked me if I had ever fallen on my tailbone. At that moment, I connected my structural challenges with the impact I had taken going down with a horse at age 16, which had ended with my tailbone being busted and rearranged.

Having uncovered my pelvic injury, Felicity prescribed specific poses as well as alternate ways to practice some traditional poses to address my discomfort. The poses and my new understanding of how to apply them helped me gain insight into how to create physical harmony, which is the basis of the greater harmony and equanimity that Yoga promises.

Felicity’s insight, personal experience, and occupational therapy training came in handy. I was blessed to receive this “on the job training” during my apprenticeship time with her. In my own way I was attracting mentors who helped me gain insight, knowledge, and skill to help myself and others. This tribute to Felicity Green reflects her gifts clearly.

A new fire of investigation was lit in me . . .

… as I saw the potential of yoga to penetrate and reveal a deeper level of functional anatomy. I no longer needed to fear my joint pains, but rather hear them as a call from my body for a different behavior or sequence of poses. By overcoming my own suffering in this way, I was more prepared to help others.

Through practice I learned to track with laser focus the effects of each subtle detail of alignment and how it connected and contributed to supporting the whole. I can remember my students saying to me, “I don’t have any pain when I leave class, but when I try to practice at home I seem to hurt myself.“

Something was wrong. I realized then that my teaching style had to change. So I called on Socrates.

I have always been a very direct in-the-moment teacher, and I still am. But I had to make a change, and that change included doing a better job of helping my students connect an action to its result in their own bodies. I started asking more questions to guide their awareness. I gave them time after each pose to feel how their bodies had changed in response to their request and action. My hope was that they would find dominion within themselves and understand yoga as a conduit for healing to reduce their suffering on many levels.

Next Chapter… Close Encounters with B.K.S. Iyengar

What I learned from this decade:

  1. Not only did I learn how to manage my asymmetric pelvis with what I fondly call my home base poses, but also I learned to think outside the box, even the Iyengar box.
  2. Giving background information on the intent of a pose and finding the right questions to ask helps students build self-awareness.
  3. When someone comes to me with back or hip pain, I always ask if they have ever had a fall on their tailbone.

Read Chapter 1 – Colorful Beginnings 

Read Chapter 2 – Iyengar Yoga & Becoming Spiritual

Read Chapter 3 – Yoga Baby

More About Lillah Schwartz

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