June 2006

I read a recent post on Yoga Gumbo called ‘What If’ where Yogamum talks about her injury. “What if my back is always like this? What if I can never do any of the poses that trigger the pain again?” I had to groan, oh *man* have I been there. I injured my rotator cuff lifting weights a few years back and now if I do too much on the mat without regularly babying it with strengthening exercises it blows up every time. So. Much. Fun.

I guess it’s like anything – injuries have their own 7 Levels of Hell. You start off being really pissed off at it – how dare it fail you like this? You go through the frustration that you can’t do the things you want to. You go through the catastrophizing about it and all your statements involve the word *never* – “I’ll never do x pose again” – and *always* – “my body part will always feel like this” – like thanks to the injury you’re now disabled *and* psychic. And then impatience comes in, especially when it starts to heal but not fast enough for your liking. Was that 7 Levels? It feels like 12 when you’re going through it. But sometimes when I’m able to detach myself just a little I wonder – when will I get through the Hell and find a little even-mindedness about this? When will I be able to ease up a little on my painful shoulder?

If you happen to be injured, just know that I can only say this because I’m not in the 7 levels of Hell and did every vinyasa’s in this a.m.’s Ashtanga class: my weak shoulder has been an amazing teacher.

It keeps from being too ‘all or nothing’. I used to think – I *have* to do a full updog in every Vinyasa, I *always* do. Nope not any more. My shoulder keeps me from taking my health and pain-free status for granted. When I slide my arm into my jacket pain-free, it bring a smile to my face – you rotator cuff people know what i’m talking about. My shoulder reminds me that as fun as it is to push hard it’s ok not to too – I’ll get a yoga glow either way. I’ve learned to be a little bit more compassionate with myself and wonder why I’m often last in line for that.

I like to take time for Savasana when I teach. I’ve been in classes where Savasana feels ‘rushed’. It’s like people are just waiting until they’re allowed to get up and run off. But I think *especially* in our crazy rush-rush culture we need to have the space to just lie there and *be*.

I also find that while lying there is great, “thinky” people appreciate help staying focused. So visualizations can be a great tool. I read somewhere that visualization is powerful because as far as the brain is concerned what you’re seeing in your mind’s eye you’re really seeing - it’s as good as being there. So bring on the tropical beach! Whew I’m more relaxed already. Here are some guidelines to offering a juicy relaxing visualization:

Play some good music . If you’re playing something with nature or water sounds, take advantage and build on that for your visualization (the Solitudes CDs can be useful here).

– Invite everyone into Savasana pose. Legs are far enough apart that the feet can flop open, hands are palms up, shoulders resting away from the ears.
– Start with 3 deep breaths (Ugayai, 3-part if you like) to transition into relaxation. Encourage everyone to really relax deeper into the mat with each exhale.
– Then ask them to let their breath become relaxed without controlling it.
– Keep the music soft and keep your voice soft. Allow people to ignore you and just zone if they want to. Also, use lots of pauses so it never feels rushed and people can sink into the silences.
– Start by offering a setting. Let’s stay with the tropical beach example. “Imagine yourself on a perfect beach – one you’ve been to or one you’d like to visit”.
– Work all the senses – Ask them to notice how it looks (color of the water etc.), what they smell, the sounds (“notice the sound of the water, notice any birds sounds, see if there are tree sounds”), the air on their skin, notice the sensation of the warm sand that molds against their body as they sink deeper into it. And whatever else that comes to mind that will enrich the visualization.
– Allow a few minutes of silence at the end so that they can just enjoy and go deeper.
– Come out gradually. I usually bring people back to their breath, then bring tiny movements back to fingers/toes, then roll onto their right side for a moment with eyes closed and then come back to sitting. I think that keeping with a gradual, consistent ‘coming out’ process allows people to relax even more. They learn fast that I’m not going to ask them to jump up and run off.

Things to watch out for:
– Keep the visualization simple – don’t get wordy or complicated. One time I suggested in the visuatization that they come across an object. And then I said to pick up the object in their hand. Someone told me later that their object was a house so my instruction wasn’t very useful. Keep it simple and clear.
– Avoid anything too distracting – a setting like a beach is pretty universally relaxing but not everyone would find camping in the woods at night relaxing, for example.

This may feel like a wacky thing to try the first time, but I think people appreciate having the permission to enjoy a juicy Savasana. Don’t underestimate how open and open-minded we all are after a good yoga session.

Here’s a good strength-building flow I’ve been playing with that starts in Downward Facing Dog:

Belly Dog - From Downward Facing Dog, slowly lower your knees to an inch or two above the floor, contract your core muscles and take a deep breath. Straighten legs again.
One-Arm Dog - Bring your right hand up and “bind” it around your back (the back of your hand slides along your lower back toward the opposite side of your waist). Open up your right shoulder and look up. If this is too intense, drop your knees to the floor. Take a breath here as you work the twist. Bring your hand back down to Downward Dog.
Knee-to-Nose - Drop your head and bring your right knee toward your nose – hold for a breath and contract your core muscles pressing your navel into your spine.
Leg Up - Bring your head up and straighten the right leg and lift it up behind you. Walk your hands toward your left foot for Standing Splits. Take a breath and hold. Then walk your hands back to the top of the mat for Plank.
Transition – Keep your right leg raised as you come into Plank. Keep it raised as you lower to Chaturanga or the floor. Then relax the leg down for Cobra and come back to Downward Facing Dog to do the flow for the left side.

Fun fun fun so much fun for your buns (and the rest of you) enjoy ;-)

I can really obsess about the music I play for yoga classes. I’ll get really pumped about a song, mix it into a CD and then as the class is happening *and* i’m talking through a pose think “gyawd what was I thinking, this soulful guitar sounds like some high school garage band is warming up next door” etc. etc.

My tastes often change too which is why I don’t suggest music more often but here’s one I’m keyed up about. Yoga Lounge by Chinmaya Dunster & Niladri Kumar. They use Indian instruments and influences and make some great sounds. And the best part is that the CD has a perfect groove. The songs are interesting and build really well without getting overwrought (I hate that). I used every tune for the CD I put together, which is too rare. The songs are all over 5:58 minutes too, which I think helps build a mood in class. My fave tune, which I’ve listened to alot is “Jhinjhoti “. It has a nice melody that just makes me happy. Check it out.

There are plenty of things we believe we *should* do and we don’t for one reason or another. We want to be healthier or at least less unhealthy but it takes a lot of energy to stop a bad habit. It takes even more to propel ourselves out of a rut. And sometimes it just doesn’t seem much fun to do the thing we *should* do.

I ran on a new trail the other day and told a friend about it. So she tried it and then got really concerned with how *far* it went. She wanted to figure out the distance she’d run because she’s anal about tracking that kind of thing. I told her that I don’t really care about the distance, I run with the time I have and let the distance take care of itself. She said ‘oh that’s so yoga!’, and said it like she was accusing me of being a slacker (which i’m ok with).

But I used to be obsessed about that stuff and it took *all* the fun out of running. It was like if I wasn’t going to go x km’s it just wasn’t going to be good enough and then yeesh why bother because it’s just going to feel like a huge chore. When what I *really* care about is getting outside in the fresh air and feeling my legs moving and getting the glorious endorphin hit. And none of those benefits are tied to the distance at all. I only need to get my ass outside to experience them.

So by refocusing on the benefits, the stuff I love, I re-oriented myself on the running front. I shut-down the cranky parent that lives in my brain wagging a finger at me about what I *should* do. It allowed the fun back in. Now the key to this kind of re-orientation is knowing what the pay-off is in a real experiential sort of way. It has to be more than, ‘gee i *should* eat more veggies because they’re good for me. Instead you find a great salad bowl, amazing dressing and throw stuff in that you love and before you know it you look forward to salad night. Eating salad becomes a good experience and it’s got nothing to do with your vitamin A intake or whatever made you think you *should* eat it more.

The other key, I think, to not ‘shoulding’ on yourself is to cut yourself a break when you really don’t feel like it. Going back to salad – I have learned to love it, but you know if it’s wet and rainy outside and I really want warm comfort food? No contest, the salad waits. I do what I can to avoid it being a chore. It’s about keeping the cranky parent out of it, period. Next – learning how to floss my teeth regularly…..

There’s a quote generator here that’s fun to play with. And I came across this quote, I just love it:

When we make an effort to do better but don’t see any progress, we feel discouraged. What is the best thing to do? Not to be discouraged! Despondency leads nowhere. To begin with, the first thing to tell yourself is that you are almost entirely incapable of knowing whether you are making progress or not, for very often what seems to us to be a state of stagnation is a long – sometimes long, but in any case not endless – preparation for a leap forward. We sometimes seem to be marking time for weeks or months, and then suddenly something that was being prepared makes its appearance, and we see that there is quite a considerable change and on several points at a time.

As with everything in yoga, the effort for progress must be made for the love of the effort for progress. The joy of effort, the aspiration for progress must be enough in themselves, quite independent of the result. Everything one does in yoga must be done for the joy of doing it, and not in view of the result one wants to obtain. . .. Indeed, in life, always, in all things, the result does not belong to us. And if we want to keep the right attitude, we must act, feel, think, strive spontaneously, for that is what we must do, and not in view of the result to be obtained.

As soon as we think of the result we begin to bargain and that takes away all sincerity from the effort. You make an effort to progress because you feel within you the need, the imperative need to make an effort and progress; and this effort is the gift you offer to the Divine Consciousness in you, the Divine Consciousness in the Universe, it is your way of expressing your gratitude, offering your self; and whether this results in progress or not is of no importance. You will progress when it is decided that the time has come to progress and not because you desire it.

– The Mother [CWMCE, 9:316-17]

I like the description of the effort as a gift that we offer. It’s hard not to get hung up on “where exactly is all this going? Is this worth my while? Worth my time?” But the definition of a gift is that it is freely given – if not, it’s something else. But if the results don’t belong to us or even the rate of progress, our effort is really, all we have to give.

I got up this a.m. and it was rainy AGAIN and really, enough already. My yard is green *and* it’s floating away. The weather dude didn’t ask my opinion before he posted the ‘heavy rainfall warning’ today and I was pretty choked about it. I was also tired and had slept on my front too long so my lower back felt like it was in a metal brace – not in a gentle supportive way but more in a hold-the-bones-so-they-can knit-together sorta way.

I got in the shower thinking “Cor. Girlfriend. Get it together or you might as well toss in the towel”. And I don’t mean a start-the-car-with-the-garage-door-closed kinda towel toss, but more like a head-back-to-bed-and-throw-the-covers-over-my-head kinda towel toss. But I’m a responsible adult. Cranky and stiff, but responsible. So I got in the shower, turned up the hot and went through a ‘grateful’ list because it’s the only way I know how to avoid thinking about what I’m *ungrateful* for. Saying to myself “STOP OBSESSING ABOUT ALL THE THINGS THAT ARE BUMMING YOU OUT” doesn’t work half as well. And I did these moves to loosen up my spine:

1. Roll-ups – start in an easy Ragdoll Forward Bend. Feet hip width apart, knees soft, back and neck loose, finger tips on the floor for support. Ideally shower water is pumelling your lower back. Try to breath without drowning and stay as long as required. Then slowly roll up one vertebra at a time so your chin comes untucked last. Press chest forward, clasp hands behind back and squeeze shoulder blades together to find a stretch across the chest and fronts of shoulders. Then release hands, drop chin to chest and roll back down one vertibrae at a time to the starting position. Repeat as often as required.

2. Round backs – with feet tub width apart and toes pointed out a little, bend knees and place palms on thighs, fingertips on inner thighs. Press chest forward, keep shoulders low but pull them back gently and slide your gaze up. Hold for a moment and then round your spine out. Your navel presses back into your spine, chin drops down. Hold and repeat. Go slow so you don’t fall over. If, or when, you have the energy you can do these with your breath, exhaling as you round back, inhaling as you press your chest forward.

I’m not saying I leapt out of the shower ready to earn a Nobel prize by Saturday, but I did at least feel like the day was worth checking into. I’ll take it.

If you like Vinyasa-style yoga, check out the 20 minute video on Yoga Peeps. The production is great (more than one camera angle! stop!) although if you’re familiar with Sun Salutation As & B you won’t spend much time looking at the video. The majority of time is spend doing Sun Salutes and a few standing postures, so I found I was good and warm by the end.

I was warmed up and energized enough to go outside for a run in the rain (that’s big). On other days I would do more yoga or at the very least head off to something else feeling good that I’d done *something* positive for myself.

Check it out.

The word ‘pasteurize’ jumped off the page at me from June’s Yoga Journal. The sidebar of the Tree Pose article talked about ‘tapas’ or creating heat. It said that we create heat in yoga to ‘pasteurize’ the body. We burn off impurities and imbalances so that the prana or energy can move freely. And so that we can feel clear and calm.

What a great way to describe it. Sometimes people come into class tired and want to head right to Savasana but there’s a reason that yoga class isn’t just naptime – it wouldn’t be half as effective. Your mind would still be churning about your day and your body would be tense and stiff. We do Sun Salutations and standing poses to pasteurize our bodies and take care of all that. More active styles like Power Yoga, Vinyasa and Ashtanga classes build the heat really well. But even when I teach more gentle classes I keep it active with 1/2 Sun Salutations, or swingy stuff borrowed from Kundalini or Breath of Joy type moves from Kripalu. Or even simple poses done on repeat with the breath, like cobra, can work well. You’ve gotta get your yah-yahs out before you can relax.

I find that when I’ve had a really intense workday and I’m exhausted, it’s really my head that’s exhausted and my spirit that’s depleted. My body isn’t tired as much as it is tense and leaden from sitting absorbing all the adrenalin of the day. I may have been in Fight or Flight mode but I didn’t actually do either. So all that stress and tension settles in the body (always the same places right?) making it stiff and tight or dead feeling. Not to mention that without taking a deep breath all day, it’s no wonder my toes feel like they’re attached to someone else’s body.

When I get home from a day like that I *think* that I need to camp out on the couch, but that’s the worst thing to do.

And this is where yoga comes in – we move, breathe and oxygenate, use the muscles, heat up, then stretch deeply and *then* we’re ready for Savasana. And a good sleep.

I read this great quote:

Don’t worry about what the world wants from you, worry about what makes you come more alive. Because what the world really needs are people who are more alive. Your real job is to increase the color and zest of your life.
— Lawrence LeShan quoted in The Seeker’s Guide by Elizabeth Lesser

Sometimes it’s hard to know what makes us feel more passionate and alive. It’s like it’s been beat out of us in the quest to become responsible, boring, tax-paying adults. But say you know. Often it’s scary. It’s new and it’s uncharted territory. Whether you’ve dipped your toe in the water and aren’t sure how to wade in, or you’ve dog paddled about and are now eyeing the high diving board – it’s easy to feel totally blocked about how to proceed. So here’s a brief list of questions to help with a kick-start.

1. How can I get more familiar? Often the worst enemy of getting to the next step is the unknown. The unknown looks really big and hairy in the dark. So maybe the next step is to talk to someone, take a course, read a book, lurk around others who do this stuff and look at what they’ve produced to get inspired. Get a better idea of what’s ahead, it’s probably not as big and hairy as you think.

2. What micromovement could I make? I first ran across that term in a book by Sark where she talks about taking a tiny step in the direction you want to head rather than get freaked out about a big step and not do anything. This seems to work for me, if I can boil it down to something doable, even if it’s tiny, and ignore the voice that says, “big friggin’ deal” it helps me feel like the process is more doable.

3. What *something* can I can commit to do? Sometimes being blocked is about feeling really powerless. I can’t do x because I don’t have y. But it helps to just make the commitment to travel your path. OK I don’t have every duck in a row, but what *can* I do? There’s a really fabulous quote in Julie Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way that I’m going to mangle. It was some big director like Scorcese and he said, “If I can’t shoot in 32mm, i’ll shoot in 16, if I can’t shoot in 16 mm, I’ll shoot in 8″. I love that because he’s completely *committed* even if he can’t practice his craft exactly the way he’d like to. Yeah even him.

Also if time is the issue – what can I do in 10, 3o or 60 minutes? Or when can I take a vacation day from my day job and just do my thing? What?? And not do stuff with my spouse and 12 kids?? It’s crazy I know, but it takes commitment. You’ll be happier, so your spouse will be too.

4. What’s the worst that can happen? Fear is a real biggie. But really, you need to shut off that rational/careful/need-to-be-a-serious-boring-adult-voice and say to yourself, “really now – will this *kill me*? Because it probably won’t. In fact it’ll probably make you feel more alive. And you know what? Even if you did say, die of embarassment, you won’t have to lie on your deathbed wishing you’d gotten off your ass.

So ignore the cranky voices in your head, find a next step even if it’s microscopic, and get on with increasing the color in your life.

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