Don’t Be A Yoga Whore: Lower Back Workshops and Tunes For Stretching

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Let’s get real: lower back pain is not limited to the elderly. We’ve all pushed ourselves a little too hard in that sport that you’re really good at, zigged when you were supposed to zag, lay on your back for a little too long (insert Zumba hooker joke here) etc…(sh)it happens. So, I was more than excited to hear that my good friend and amazing yoga teacher, Mary Kate Murray, was coming from her home of Mount Desert Island to Portland, Maine to give a low back workshop. Upon taking her physically and emotionally empowering workshop, we munched on veggie sandwiches and perhaps one or two (definitely two) chocolates at Aurora Provisions while I asked her some questions about her workshop. Here’s the skinny:

Name: Mary Kate Murray
Lives: Mount Desert Island, Maine
Practicing Yoga for how long: 25 years
Teaching Yoga for how long: 12 years
Where to find her: Harbor House in Southwest Harbor or at Bhakti In Motion at 155 Brackett Street in Portland, ME for monthly workshops Why she’s a yoga rock star: Mary Kate is honest and down to earth. She is 100% there to support you in your physical practice (she will literally catch you if you fall, not that I speak from experience…) and emotional journey in her yoga classes. In her class, you will find yourself in poses that you did not think were physically possible, excluding Cirque de Soleil or Olympic gymnast types. Crazier yet, you will be smiling through some of these poses, even laughing at times, because, yes, she is that funny. She’s neither yoga whore, nor yoga prude, but embodies yoga in her teachings on and off the mat.

1. Why did you create a yoga workshop on, specifically, lower back injuries?
Well, I chose a low-back workshop because for myself I’ve experienced the greatest feeling in my personal life and my physical life in my low back region. Having had three herniated disks in my low back five years ago, I had a number of doctors tell me: “you’ll never be able to backbend again.” They told me that I had to have surgery to have the disks removed or fused together. And I just wasn’t going to do that (laughing).

So, I decided to really believe in my practice and that alignment (for me, more an inner alignment before the physical alignment) could cure my lower back. I knew that I had to change something in my life to find more grounding. The L4 and L5 are the lower lumber spine where most people usually hurt themselves in the low back. It’s also the place where the first and second chakra meet. So, for me, there were a lot of areas in my life where I didn’t feel safe. I didn’t feel like I had enough. And I didn’t feel like I was enough…. So I made a choice to make some changes. I had to make a shift inside and really feel that I was enough; that I am enough, because up until that point I looked for that security outside of myself.

One breath at a time, one practice at a time, living in the moment, I made changes including showing up on time, eating food that is more cyclical, sitting down with my kids and being with my family, etc…because I was always more of a rebel and more impulsive-the good side of that being spontaneous (Mary Kate’s astrological sign is Pisces). My challenge was to work to get those basic cycles going. And just from that, I started feeling better. So, about four years later, after challenges and the recent demise of Anusara yoga, I started using the yoga timer to strengthen my practice. Now, 99% of the time I don’t have any lower back pain at all. I can do backbends. I have to keep good alignment and I can’t overdo. Kind of like anyone when they reach that ouch point. I’ve always known that it’s the inner work and self-inquiry, but it’s even more than that. There has to be a process of asking ourselves those hard questions and knowing the answers.

Humility means being a student to a greater flow, being teachable, and, as scary as it may be, not always being in control.

2. Favorite lower back yoga pose?
Virasana, even though we didn’t do it today, because I like to do that pose with someone standing on my thighs. When the thigh bones are back in the hip socket, it doesn’t compromise the lower back. But it doesn’t need to be as extreme as a person standing on your thighs, it can be weights or any support helping to lower your thighs down.

3. Do you have a least favorite lower back pose?
Yes (laughing)! That would be full pigeon. I say least but obviously it is the one that I long for the most. It’s challenging for me to not dump into my lower back. I have to work everything in my might without hardening in my heart. So, it brings up a lot of vulnerability for me. I practice these challenging poses, deep backbends, a lot in my personal practices in the winter season.

4. Advice for yogis or those experiencing lower back pain:
The safer I felt in my body, the easier it was for me to find openings and release, especially during my lower back injury. For so long, as an Anusara teacher, I was leading my practice from my heart, which was important because I needed “CPR” there. But my yearning was so great, that I pushed myself too much and that’s when I got injured because I forgot the connection to the rest of my body. It’s so important to never forget that we’re connected to the bigger picture. It’s okay to ask for help with your teachers and friends because we are all connected to this bigger fabric of energy and life.  So, you don’t need to be a “yoga whore” (no correlation to the Zumba prostitute, Mary Kate was simply making a point). By that I mean, you don’t need to push so hard to make your poses SO BIG. The more lit up you are inside, the more lit up your poses will be on the outside. You don’ t need to search outside of yourself because you already have everything you need within yourself.

Ask yourself: “is it real?” Remember that yoga and our lives off the mat are intertwined. If your cup is already full, then you aren’t open to learn more. Check in with yourself. Be empowered and equally allow surrender into your life. Humility means being a student to a greater flow, being teachable, and, as scary as it may be, not always being in control.

5. Groovy lower back yogi tunes:
“Jahta Dance” By Dj Drez
“Krishna Love (feat. Jai Uttal)” By MC Yogi (Yes, a yogi rapper. In a word: legendary)
“Hanuman Puja” By Krishna Das
“In the Garden” By Van Morrison
“Gaja Nana” By Dave Stringer
Find more info on Mary Kate Murray at http://marykatemurrayyoga.com/
Look for MK Workshops in Portland:
Friday November 30th & Friday December 21st 9-11 a.m. at Bhakti In Motion $30
Save your space today by emailing marykate@ marykatemurrayyoga.com.

Drop some knowledge.