Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Take It To the Limit: Working With Our Limitations, Finding Expansion

Public Domain image (WikiCommons)

It's been a busy past week.  I've been at the studio nearly every day, either taking classes or helping out with the Relax and Renew for Cancer sessions.  I finished teaching my sock knitting class and am preparing for the next beginners' class. Most of Saturday was spent in Yoga Teacher Training.

Somewhere in that time, I did something strange to my back.  I suspect that the ballerina shuffle I did on the ice and snow on the way to class this weekend twisted a muscle, resulting in a fair amount of discomfort in my mid-back.  As a result, I've taken myself off active yoga duty for the week.  I'm still in the studio, but I'm observing everyone else move instead of moving myself.

It's interesting, but frustrating.  If you're a spinner or a knitter, think of sitting in a room surrounded by people making yarn, working with wheels and spindles, using their needles to knit any number of lovely things.  All you can do is watch.  Painful, isn't it?  I'm not sure I could resist the temptation to join my fellow fibre artists and I'm having trouble allowing the urge to practice an asana or two to pass. My body says, "Don't do it!" but that stubborn mind whispers, "Oh, go ahead. You'll be fine."

Fortunately, Saturday's lessons were about limitations and resisting temptation. More accurately, rather than engaging in resistance, we are allowing our urges and temptations to pass-"urge surfing," as Famous Yoga Guy referred to it.  We spent the day discussing "Urdhva Hastasana," Upward Hand Pose.  We studied how our arms moved as we raised them over our heads, learned to recognize our natural bony stops in our shoulders and to feel them in others.  We talked about how these natural limits changed our asanas. We transitioned into our assignment for the week, which was to sit in mindfulness, notice any urges which arise and see if we can just not chase those urges. We're not resisting them or giving in to them.  We're simply noting them as they drift by on our river of thoughts. Little did I realize how timely these lessons would be.

When the back pain hit, my first thought was to push past it.  Perhaps all I needed to do was a little stretching, a few Downward Dogs (Adho Mukha Svanasana), a bit of Forward Bending (Uttanasana), maybe a round of gentle Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskara)?  Deep down, something told me that, if I did that, I'd be waiting longer for my injury to heal. My practice would suffer for the doing, not the resting. It's time to explore my natural limits, including those bony stops as well as other limits which come to us through injury and time.  It's time to pay attention to what my body was telling me it needed, Now.  As difficult as it feels, I'm taking it easy, watching other bodies move, noting where their bodies tell them to stop and their reactions to that.

The truth is, those natural limits were never intended to frustrate and annoy us. Our bodies are designed to move and to keep us safe in those movements.  Our accommodation to desk work, driving, our reliance on gyms and, yes, even yoga studios, has taken us out of our bodies.  Somehow, we see pain as a badge of honour, as something to be ignored or conquered, instead of a guide to tell us to pay attention and to make the necessary changes which will allow us to challenge ourselves safely. We think there is a standard way to do things, anything, and when we deviate from that standard, we are probably "doing it wrong." What might be more helpful is to approach a pose or a technique in a way which acknowledges those limits and uses them to find our own way to our goals.

I have never cared for Short Forward Draw in spinning.  This drafting technique is often considered to be The Way and sometimes, The One and Only True Path, to achieving a true worsted yarn.  These days, true worsted yarn appears to be the Holy Grail of spinning (well, that and True Woollen) and, if you are to do it properly, you must maintain the parallel alignment of your fibres while preventing any twist from entering the drafting zone.  The common process for this is to draw your fibres forward while using your fingers to pinch ahead of the drafting zone.  (This is a very incomplete description of SFD, but sufficient for my point.)  The problem with this style of worsted spinning is that, for many of us, Short Forward Draw is uncomfortable and, sometimes, painful.  In my case, two surgeries for ganglion cysts and a well-broken wrist decades ago come back to haunt me when I try any pinching motion with my thumb and index finger.

There are other ways to achieve true worsted hand spun yarn.  It would be foolish for me to spin in pain while working within a given standard.  Instead, it makes more sense to use the limitations which occurred from those injuries to find a spinning adaptation which allows me to work in comfort while achieving the required results.  My spinning style for worsted yarn will look different from the classic worsted style, but the yarn will still be a true worsted. The result is that I not only know how to spin worsted yarn using traditional techniques, I also know ways to modify that technique so that others with similar challenges can spin worsted yarns.

Can you tell how this yarn is spun?

If we pay attention to our limits, rather than ignoring them or lamenting their presence, when we take note of a natural stop, we learn to expand.  Using our limits rather than fighting them opens us to other paths, new ways to adapt poses, adaptations which lead us safely around those limits to achieve our goals. As I begin to listen to my back muscles, to see how others move instead of focusing on demands for my body, I am becoming aware of how bodies adapt to postures, how those postures change and how I can use those natural processes to modify asanas to help others.

The next time you feel frustrated because your body won't move the way You want it to, take a moment to sit and breathe.  Pay attention to what your limits are saying-they are there to help, not hinder you.


(CN, you are in my heart all the time.  I am so sorry for your loss.)


  1. Are you doing a backward draw and letting the yarn run over your front hand finger to smooth it?

    1. Something like. My fibre hand is moving back and my forward hand is still using my thumb and index finger to keep the fibres aligned and twist out of the drafting zone, but my finger action allows the fibres to move through my fingers, rather than pinching and pulling forward. I find that doing this prevents that little "bump" that people often get when doing SFD. Do you use classic SFD or have you worked out another system? (Your worsted yarns are perfect!)

  2. I don't know. I thought it was classic SFD but I'll have to watch my hands next time.