I took a class this morning and before the class, I alerted the teacher that I have had lower back pain lately and if she could offer any guidance, it would be much appreciated. It's definitely muscular, and I suspect I have been aggravating the quadratus lumborum by clenching the glutes and pushing my front ribs out too much during my Upward-Facing Dog. I told her I have been told to stop squeezing the buttocks, and to engage the inner thighs more but it has been a difficult habit to break. So I have been obsessively trying to figure out specifically what I've been doing wrong to lead to this discomfort; I am convinced something is misaligned for me to have developed such pain. When I practice Upward-Facing Dog squeezing a block between my inner thighs and not arching back as deeply, it is more comfortable. She said she personally did not see the importance of engaging the inner thighs and to continue practicing in a more conservative way, as I have been. After class and seeing my practice, she said to me that I should consider doing less. What a new and unusual idea for me. I know about Patanjali's defining asana as sthiram sukham -- about the steadiness and the ease, and attempting to find the balance between the two can be a harrowing task. I have a very strong practice, she said, maybe I just need to do a little bit less. Because while yes, maybe I am doing something slightly wrong in my backbends that is causing me this discomfort, but she said if I continue to practice with so much strength and vigor and hardness, then it is likely that tension will build somewhere else if not in my lower back. More softness, she said. It is interesting because I hadn't thought about this.
It can sometimes be frustrating when different people tell you different things, sometimes all together contradicting one another. As you practice more, you will find that different teachers will steer you in different directions, and realistically, the only way you can know what is right is to practice it, to experiment with it, and see what works for you. You cannot take anything as universal truth, because everybody is different and you are going to be different every day. I am convinced that each teacher appears before us at specific moments because the universe conspires to guide us towards what is going to be right for us. There is legitimacy to what every teacher shares with you, because he/she must really believe it, otherwise they wouldn't be teaching it. You find the teacher when you are ready. All you can do is practice, practice, practice.