New, Anew, Renewed

Ustrasana Verte

An ambitious title, perhaps.  We may have to take things in stride.  I had a wonderful teacher, and I learned so much from him.  But as I found myself saying to my new/old teacher, he was the perfect teacher for me, until he wasn’t.

Many things were not at all his fault.  I got Lyme’s disease over a  year ago, lost my little sister to addiction nearly a year ago, and fell into a funk.  Gained weight, lost momentum, lost the mental ability to focus on a lengthy practice.  I tell you, you don’t even know the things you can lose until you lose them.  Not surprisingly, perhaps, I got hurt, a deep long standing hip injury that I tried for some time to work through.

It started, rather innocuously, as a curious reluctance to drop back into urdhva dhanurasa (wheel posture).  In the context of my practice, I’ve been dropping back for years and I’ve never been afraid of backbends, but something happened, perhaps while I was working on kapotasana, and over the course of a year things went from bad to worse.  Finally I decided to stop doing backbends for a while, and, for this and other reasons, to stop going to the shala.  I have seen a difference, less hip pain, and none of the variety that wakes you from sleeping.  Now the hip is sort of clicky, a bit sore if I tilt my pelvis, pushing the tail bone backwards and allowing it to nutate.  Doesn’t feel quite optimal, but it’s better.

Somewhere in all of this it was suggested that it was all in my head.  And there’s something to that, only what’s in your head can lead to an injury.  Like Albus Dumbledore said to Harry within the confines of a dream, that doesn’t make it any less real.

When Sue Pentland, the woman who first taught me Ashtanga, announced that she was (finally!) starting a mysore program, my heart soared.  This for sure is exactly what I need right now.  A place to practice with people I know and love in a beautiful , divinely heated space with a teacher who accepts me as I am in this moment, whatever that is.  Mostly she leaves me alone to heal, offering gentle assists and suggestions from time to time.

It’s perfect, and yesterday I bought a monthly pass.  My only goals involve breath, bandha, and drishti.  Although I can’t pretend that I don’t want my practice back the way it was, and the excitement of adding on new postures in 2nd series.  But that will either come, or it won’t.

Meanwhile, I am renewed.



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)

Lighting the Chalice

-photo from a morning walk, before the snow.

I practice yoga, and am constantly renewing my intention to practice 6 days per week.  It gets waylaid, this intention, by life and illness and the needs of young children, but I keep coming back to it.  Like any practice worth its salt, yoga gives back in equal measure what I give to it.  So each morning when I rise unforgivably early to step onto my mat, it takes a certain amount of stubborn determination.  One thing I am good at is being stubborn.

But then I am renewed, refreshed.  In so many ways, some of them physical, others are spiritual.  It’s hard to see the changes from day to day or from week to week, but when I look at the arc of my life over the last 2 decades, I can clearly see that I have been reborn and renewed again and again through the practice of yoga.  When I have been at my most desperate, I have stepped onto my mat with a tattered dignity and woefully frayed sense of self, and just bared my soul to the physical practice.  I have always left my mat with more than what I brought.  Looser in my bones, warmer in my skin, more at ease.  Over the years, the personal growth is astounding, if only because I had so very much to learn and didn’t even know the half of it.  Little by little, practice by practice, the shell of my broken heart was pierced and my courage to face myself as I am right now grew.

Deborah Santoro

March, 2012

-this was written for lighting the chalice at my church this Sunday.