Childish Reluctance

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I may be premature here, but I think that my long standing shoulder pain might finally be resolving.  It could be better alignment, or it could be that I’ve just been listening more, resting the shoulder as needed.  Today I felt an unfamiliar soreness in the muscles, part of the deltoid I believe as it wraps around the front of the shoulder and attaches to the clavicles, accompanied by a complete lack of pain in the shoulder joint itself.  

Or who knows, perhaps it is time itself.  I almost hate to jinx it, perhaps I am premature in thinking that the shoulder that has been an issue for a year or two is healed at last.  

While I’m on the subject of healing injuries, my backbends have not been what they once were.  It’s always been my thing, you know?  Do you have that thing that you’re good at?  I can’t bind in supta kurmasana but my backbends have always been decent, even, if I’m honest, a source of pride that may or may not be deserved.  Finally they are starting to come back.  I pulled something in my low back in the early winter and for months I’ve felt reluctance in the dropping back, avoidance where before I had only joy.  Kino helped me grab my ankles when she visited Boston in October, but it’s been a long time since I came close to touching my heels.

Even the other day I felt that curious reluctance, but I did it anyway.  My attitude is one of obedience, in a weird way.  It’s like this.  Okay, I’m supposed to do dropbacks now.  I don’t want to.  But there are 5 dropbacks here and they’re not going anywhere so I might as well get to work.  So I do them, reluctantly,  gracelessly, but I get the job done.  Remembering all the while how it feels on a really good day, the joy and the freedom of dropping back on the exhale, inhaling smoothly to come back up on the inhale without a lot of fuss.  Where oh where did that go?  But it came back, in part, the other day. 

I know, and I’m sorry, for those of you who are annoyed because dropbacks have always been hard.  But remember this, I can barely bind Mari D on a good day.  Pasasana feels about a million miles away, I carry too much extra weight and these things are hard hard hard.  But backbends, as I said, have always been my thing.  

The reluctance and the gracelessness sometimes come into my practice. I think this is somewhat new.  Perhaps it’s all part of the path.  Usually in sun salutations there is a sensation of a graceful lifting of the arms overhead, delicately arcing down to fold forward.  But one day recently I didn’t feel like practicing, so I lifted the hands up and allowed them to slap carelessly together, folded forward in a flop.  It’s childish, silly really.  I’m only arguing with myself, after all, in my living room.  Who is making you do this anyway?  Only yourself.  It’s a choice.  Even still, that day, by the time I was through 5 A and maybe 3 B, I’m not sure, I settled into a practice that while not inspired, was still a practice, moving with the breath, the childish reluctance moved through and set aside.  

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Lifetime Practice


ashtangayogabelmont

Ashtanga Yoga Belmont

My friend Deb just told me about lila, a blog I hadn’t seen before.  This post is so good that I wish I’d written it myself.  Basically she says that she doesn’t practice yoga to impress anyone with how enlightened she is, she practices yoga because without it things would be so much worse.

I feel exactly the same way.  Yoga may not solve all my problems, far from it!  But without it I am crankier, meaner, shorter tempered, more inclined to sloth and wasteful thinking.  The practice of yoga keeps me on track, helps me focus, and evens out my moods.  The practice I’ve chosen is difficult, and I’ve long been in a maddening plateau in which it seems that things get worse before they, presumably, get better, but the goal isn’t (I remind myself regularly) to have the most impressive asana practice ever (although I wouldn’t complain).  The goal is to be a better, more polished, more relaxed version of myself.  A little bit kinder, slower to judge even if only by a hair’s breadth.

That said, practice is going well.  We have a new teacher in Belmont, MA, Randy Aromando of Ashtanga Yoga Belmont.  The instruction is very precise and detailed; I feel keenly, astutely, observed.  There is no hiding.  There was nothing wrong with our last teacher, Robert Moses in Dublin, NH.  But he only teaches once a week and he doesn’t teach 3rd series.  Not that I’m anywhere close to 3rd series, but I have aspirations to got there someday, before I turn 50 would be nice.  

I’m starting to figure out that I must hunch my right shoulder slightly in chauturanga dandasana, leading to a dysfunction in what Judith Hanson Lasater calls the “gleno-humeral rhythm.”  So I’m working on broadening the chest, widening the clavicles, and guiding the shoulder blades down the back as I lower to a high chauturanga and thence to upward dog.  This seems to be helping.  I’ve had pain in my right shoulder for so long it just seems normal, but I noticed it evaporated when I had the flu and didn’t practice for a week, which gave me pause to reconsider my practice from a new light.  

My backbends are way way off from what they were last Summer.  I’m whiny about this fact.  But, but!  I am finally getting a bind in Marichyasana D, on my own, even if it’s just my fingers barely touching.  This is where Randy’s detailed, methodical instruction was just the right thing at just the right time. 

It’s all good, the struggle, the surrender, the learning.  I’m happier in many ways than I have ever been.  Here’s to a lifetime of practice.  

In Sickness and in Health

 

Last week I was afflicted by flu, the effects of which linger on.  Practice is at a stand still, although I have high hopes of getting onto my mat today.  

It puts things into perspective.  When you’re ill you stop obsessing over whether you nailed this or that posture, and you just think how nice it would feel to flow into upward dog without coughing.

The video above illustrates worthwhile goals, to be strong and flexible throughout one’s life, and to attain a quiet grace and beauty at age 74, or any age, born of years of reflection and practice.  

“All sanity depends on this:  that it should be a delight to feel heat strike the skin, a delight to stand upright, knowing the bones are moving easily under the flesh.”

– Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook

A Good Practice Week

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It has been a good practice week, which is excellent for February.  Despite days off, for various reasons, I had 4 solid practices.  They felt good not so much for the poses I got or didn’t get, for I’m currently in a plateau phase, up against the same internal limitations, and trying to see my way through.  The breath, though, that has been a little different, longer, deeper, fuller, so that the same old practice is new, is constantly renewed, and has some space for love and light.  I know this sounds a little airy, but really it’s my practice partner who has been teaching me about the breath.  Not by anything she says, but by the sound of her breathing.  Long, slow, deep.  Her breath is contagious, luckily for me.

We also found a new teacher, Randy Aromando at Ashtanga Yoga Belmont.  We love Robert Moses, but he only teaches once a week, an hour away.  Randy has an intensive teaching schedule, I’m not sure how he keeps it up, truth be told.  But his mysore class was lovely, the space painted a rich buttercup yellow, complete with a small hand made temple at the front.  There was vibrant energy in the room as well, as people filtered in to lay down their mats and begin their practice.  I wondered if he would stop me, but I had decided in advance that I wouldn’t let it bother me, that whatever my practice would be that day would be fine.  For the non-ashtangis who read this, getting stopped simply means that if you get to a pose that offers you considerable difficulty, the teacher might have you end the sequence there and move on to closing postures.  It’s a way of teaching, and keeping students safe.  So of course it becomes this whole ego thing, which postures you have, how far you’ve come, but we make it that and it doesn’t have to be like that.  And so…

He didn’t stop me.  I guess my approximation of the bind in marichyasana D was close enough, although my fingers did not touch.  I got into my supta kurmasana, the one in which I grab the edges of the back of my stretchy yoga top and try to squiggle my hands as close as possible, than tuck the top of my head behind my crossed feet.  Energetically speaking, this seems to work, it’s a very deep forward fold even without the bind.  I think the day I get that bind that my head might blow off or something, or not.  Perhaps it won’t matter at all.  From this vantage point, I looked forward (it’s impossible to look up in this position), saw Randy’s feet.  Very good, he said and I took that as permission to move through the rest of the sequence.

The rest of the week went well, until Friday, practicing 1st with David Garrigues’ DVD, and my right wrist begins to hurt.  I thought it would be okay, or I hoped it would.  I’ve been working a lot with taking my weight into my hands, moving towards that graceful float from down dog to standing, imagining a float through to seated that moves in slow motion ballet, legs lifted until, ever so gently, they float down.  Not yet, but I keep picturing it in my mind.  But there’s a fine line between tapas, the fiery energy that fuels your practice, and over-efforting, pushing through into injury, allowing your ego to override your physical limitations.  Perhaps I will always err on the side of tapas, and that’s okay.   But by the marichyasanas, it was clear that I would need to modify.  It’s the outer edge of my right wrist.  It could well be related to the tension I hold in the right shoulder, the tension that magically evaporates when I am practicing or teaching yoga, but comes back under stress.  I’ve been working with a chiropractor lately, perhaps some things are shifting.  I’m not sure, the alignment of my right hand on the mat seems a tad off.  It’s subtle.  So I skipped vinyasas, modified vinyasas, and even skipped urdhva dhanurasana (wheel) until I remembered that I could substitute bow, dhanurasana, which is simply a wheel on your belly, yes?  Added in a few cobras for good measure.  It snowed 2 feet here on saturday, I had to keep switching the shovel to my other hand to take the twisting pressure off the wrist.  And now, Sunday, when I would normally practice, but there’s this wrist, and, technically, it’s a moon day.  Perhaps we’ll go skating or sledding instead.

She who loves herbal tea

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This is a gelatin print I made using a photograph that Peg Mulqueen was kind enough to send me.  It is part of a series of prints and multi-media pieces I’m making using the backbends of the 2nd series of Ashtanga Yoga.  Peg is an amazing yogi, a fearless leader in her local Ashtanga community in Washington D.C., and an excellent writer as well with a funny and searingly honest blog that you should read if you don’t already.

It was a good practice week.  I’m able to work with 2nd series more, although it seems quite a stretch to think that I’ll ever be able to hop around like a crocodile, much less bind up that noose posture thing someone meanly put right at the beginning of the series.  But it is feeling more fluid, and I’m learning how to handle the emotional energy it seems to generate.  I have a friend to work with, and we practice together at her house once a week, which is wonderful.  We practiced last week and although I had to cut my practice short to get my daughter to an early rehearsal, I had this moment of extreme gratitude for this practice as it is right now, this place and these people to practice with.  Perfect.

Here is a story that helped me, perhaps it will help you.  In the past, I thought of myself as a person very attached to her coffee.  Addicted.  Not just one cup.  Not just any coffee, but freshly ground dark roasted beans   lovingly bathed in scalding water in my French press.  I have a friend who was the same, the kind of guy who would bite your head off if you got between him and his morning coffee.  Recently he came over and I made him a cup.  

Oh sure, I’ll have a cup.  Usually I just drink tea.

Really?  But you were always such a coffee person.

Oh no, sometimes I don’t have coffee at all.  I’ve been drinking this herbal tea that is nice…

And it’s stunning, because it’s as if the fellow imbiber of a daily cuppa no longer exists, he doesn’t even seem to recall that he was just like me.

He changed his mind.

Oh, he changed his mind!  And that is what you have to do, change your mind, and as a result, change the language you use to describe yourself.  If you’re sitting there not drinking a cup of coffee, and still thinking that you are hopelessly attached to that cup you’re not having, then it’s not going to take long for the smell of your husband’s coffee to overwhelm your senses.

So I have become she who loves herbal tea.  I am changing my mind and the language I use with myself.  I have long known that I’ve been overdoing the coffee and it’s not doing me any favors.  It is a primary suspect for morning anxiety.  As some of us age we become more sensitive to caffeine, and I am one of those.  Can’t drink it after noon or I might not sleep at night.  It makes me wonder how many people take anti-anxiety medication, when cutting their caffeine intake might make everything manageable without medication.  

Lest you think I’m some sort of saint, I still have morning cup, but only one, before my practice.  When I start to moon over that second cup, I remind myself that I am she who loves herbal tea, and put on a pot of water, place a teabag in a cup.  Ginger tea with a spot of honey while driving the kids to school is actually quite nice.  

Yogi tea with leaf

December is my Worst

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December is truly my worst month.  I’m still emerging from it.  This despite the joys of a beautiful holiday with a family I love.  It has taken me a long time to see the pattern of it.  Is it the light levels? My family history? All of that and more, I’m sure.  Truly I want to hide in a cave and instead I have to go to the mall.  I hate the mall.

That and a minor injury, already recovered from, but the next thing you know I’m up 5 pounds and the ever delicate marichyasana D bind is gone gone gone.  Poor me, there are worse things.

But there is more light now, the holidays are over, and once more a sense of renewal.  Always there is this feeling of return, return to the practice, to the intention to make the most of the short time we are given in this human life.  It is such a joke the universe plays on us, there is so much to do, so little time.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
― Mary OliverNew and Selected Poems

When my personal practice lags I turn to my DVDs, so once again David G tells me to dip the spine into the body, Kino exhorts me to put my feet under my hands in padahastasana on her 2nd series DVD, has anyone else noticed this snafu?  After a while this too, shall pass, and I will regain the momentum to practice in quiet, which is often deeper and more fluid.

I love this picture of David Garrigues and myself, from a weekend workshop in Florence, MA last September. He’s in India at the moment, for like ever, and I’m eagerly awaiting the update of his website to see what he might be offering for trainings next fall.  David said many things in that workshop that struck me, and I’m still reeling, but the most important one perhaps was this:

“Everything that is important in your practice, you are already doing.”

Grateful for Practice

 

So it’s Thanksgiving, and I have begged for a half hour to myself before meeting up with the larger family.  Today I am grateful for my practice, for even though it hasn’t been a terribly great week for practice, not practicing makes me see clearly just how much yoga does for me.

If I don’t practice for 3 days I start to get mood swings.  I know this, I know this by now and still I forget.  It makes me wonder.  If I didn’t do yoga would I have tried some sort of medication by now?  Hard to say, I’m not the type to swallow pills on a regular basis.  I can’t even make myself remember a multi-vitamin.  I’m the person that screws up the antibiotics for the rest of you because I stop taking them once I feel better and save the rest for a moment of need.  Please don’t tell my doctor…

So anyway, there’s a good thing there’s this yoga business to keep me on track.  It’s not just about chasing the handstand or the bind in this or that, it’s about keeping my life on track and it’s easy to forget that when things get a little crazy around here.

So thank you, yoga.  Thank you to Patanjali and Krishnamachrya and all the crazy yogis who lived in caves and lived ascetic lives.  Thank you to the entire country of India for giving birth to this life-saving, life-enhancing practice.  Thank you to Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar and all the others who brought yoga here to this country.  Thank you to all the hippies and truth seekers who went to India and brought yoga back here with them.  Thank you to the first woman who taught me Tadasana when I was 20, and the other woman who taught me a simple series of poses when I didn’t know anything and couldn’t find a teacher and there wasn’t a yoga studio in every town.  Thank you to Baron Baptiste, David Magone, Susan Pentland, David Swenson, Rolf Gates, Shiva Rea, David Garrigues, Kino MacGregor and Robert Moses.  And thank you to every single teacher who finds something of value in the practice and attempts to pass it on.  Many of us do so for very little money and fame, but just because we love it and need to share it.

I’m sure my family would thank you all too, if they realized what you’ve done for me.  Gracias, Merci, and “a blessing on your head, mazel tov, mazel tov.”  (from The Fiddler on the Roof)