Tim Feldmann is no stranger to injury. He first came to yoga after a serious accident in 1992. Tim committed his life to an Ashtanga yoga practice and founded the Miami Life Center with his wife Kino MacGregor. Two years ago, Tim developed an injury in his left wrist following a motorbike accident six months earlier. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to open up the conversation with Tim Feldmann about Ashtanga, injury and this sacred practice.
You took your first yoga class after a near fatal accident at the age of 25, when you were told you wouldn’t run or dance ever again. How has yoga changed your life, both physically and mentally?
Well, I’m not sure if there’s a way my life has not changed as an effect of yoga, to be honest. Yoga was a large factor in getting me back on feet after my accident and it has the catalyst for almost every aspect.
I find my body is stronger and more resilient because of Ashtanga yoga’s powerful and subtle reprogramming of my body and mind. I see old patterns dissolve in a way I couldn’t imagine would happen, had I not found Ashtanga yoga. I see my spine getting more flexible here in my 50’s than when I was in my 30’s and I see some of my more unfortunate psychological sides wither as a result of this system, such as pride, arrogance and the need to be somebody special.
Classically yoga scripture metaphorically talks about burning the seeds of the internal poisons so they no longer manifest. I believe I feel that.
You’ve been working with your body your whole life – as a competitive swimmer, a professional dancer and choreographer and now as a yoga teacher. How does injury affect the relationship that you have with your body and the trust that you can put in your body?
Injury takes me deeper. It offers an opportunity to know in explicit detail how a particular part of my body truly works. When you are in pain, it becomes very tangible what works and what doesn’t, when you move according to the body’s true patterning and when you move from a conditioned and less efficient pattern.
Strain, pain and injury can help us reset our ways, because the motivation (to not feel pain) is innate and therefore strong. Furthermore, I have found greater trust in this system of Pattabhi Jois’, as I have been able to heal in ways medical science told me would not be possible. I broke my knees and feet badly in 1992 and was told it was the end of running and dancing (I was a professional dancer at the time) and recently I broke my wrist and was told I would not be able to carry weight on it any more. It has taken me 2 years of slow, steady and stubborn rehab, but as far as I can tell, I am fine and dandy again.
Could you explain a little about the wrist injury that you suffered last year – how you got it, how it has affected your life and practice and how it is now?
I broke a structurally significant ligament in my left hand/wrist. It happened while teaching yoga, while assisting, but it was likely due to years of wear and tear and the fact that I fell of my motorcycle half a year before and braced with my left hand.
I have just spent 2 years going through different phases of rehab. At first, I tried to modify my practice to soothe the wrist, yet at some point, it was evident it needed a little time with no weight bearing at all if I wanted it to heal.
I chose not to get surgery, although 3 top notch hand surgeons strongly suggested that I do so. Instead, I had it immobilised for 10 weeks in a hard brace, followed by months of physical therapy, swimming, going to the gym, all kinds of hand ‘toys’ and slowly rebuilding my asana practice up to full strength again.
Now I am back in handstands, chadurangas and everything, not only without pain, but feeling vital and fit in my left wrist and arm again.
It’s been quite a journey!
‘There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.’ – Leonard Cohen. You have this quote on your website. What does this quote say to you in the light of the injuries you have faced in your life? What have you learnt about how your body can be strong and yet fragile?
Well, what is it they say? ‘It is the imperfections that makes collectors’ items.’ I find there is no perfection anywhere and the thought of finding perfection foolish. Now, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work towards it every day, but reaching it is just never going to happen.
That is a soothing thought for me, believe it or not. It allows me to be human, to fail and to live with it contently and with appreciation. In regards to my body, most of my life has been about overcoming the injuries I sustained in ’92 at the young age of 25, and trying not to make them worse and not to add new ones to them.
You describe yoga as a sacred practice. Does this mean you can maintain a yoga practice throughout injury, even if you are unable to complete a physical practice? What has this meant for you in your own life?
Yes, yoga is a sacred practice for me. It is not about fun.
I get on my mat because it supports my life, as in it gives me a reason to live.
It helps me understand this world of ours, understand myself and other people around me. It helps me stay true and committed to all things good, while making efforts to clear out the un-useful and unhealthy for body, mind and heart.
There is a vibrancy I haven’t been able to find anywhere else, but it takes daily discipline and work.
It is the yogic concept of transformation through effort, that we earn what we get.
What would you say to other yogis who are struggling with injury right now? And to those who are on the point of walking away from a yoga practice altogether?
Pain is a fact in our lives.
Injury is just one expression of pain.
Injury for the physical person is frustration, emotional agony, doubt and more, alongside the pain itself. It is in some way a little and kind of simple microcosm of the more existential type of pains we experience everyday in our lives.
If we can accept that nothing can be only pretty, only yummy, that struggle and discomfort and pain are a natural part of any circle of learning, then our practice can be a space where we can inquire into these processes and truly learn to deal with these less lovely sides of living. If we can wrap our head around discontent and live peacefully with it, then we begin to allow a base level of surrender. And that surrender is essentially our ego starting to chill a little and when that happens, we tend to experience less friction with ourselves and our surroundings.
There is more, but what I am trying to say is that there is useful learning, that there is wisdom to extract from allowing ourselves to not always run away from pain when it comes at us. Of course I am not an advocate for seeking out painful situations. We really don’t need to. Pain finds us one way or another, some time or another, and it’s at that time we can evolve as human beings if we allow ourselves to embrace it.
Yoga asana have given me the sacred space to settle into this universal part of life along with all the delightful sensations and experiences which come from committing to a daily sadhana.
Wow. There’s so much wisdom right there, isn’t there? Tim Feldmann speaks to us all from a position of experience. He’s had to learn these lessons the hard way and we are so grateful to him for sharing his insights with us. As we all move forward in our lives and yoga practice, may we too learn to face whatever comes our way with the humility, courage and acceptance that Tim Feldmann has demonstrated.
Tim Feldmann is the director of Miami Life Center, the yoga shala he founded with his wife Kino MacGregor. He was set on the yoga path by his first teacher Lino Miele and is Authorized to teach directly by the founder of the Ashtanga Yoga Method, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, and his grandson, R. Sharath Jois. A practitioner of the Advanced A series Tim is dedicated to Ashtanga Yoga’s traditional method.“The body is the way to our spirit, to a truer Self. That’s what asana is for”. A near fatal falling accident in 1992 led Tim on the yogic path. His teaching integrates extensive studies of F.M. Alexander Technique and sitting meditation with 20 years of experience as a professional dancer and an internationally acclaimed choreographer. His in-depth knowledge of functional anatomy as well as the idiosyncratic body and mind in stillness and in motion creates the platform upon which his solid understanding of the Ashtanga method rests.
Tim’s humorous, straight forward yet profound teaching style makes him a cherished teacher, traveling extensively throughout Asia, Australia, Europe and the Americas.
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