Wednesday, April 20, 2016

For all of you who know it all

Can you believe she referred to us that way?  We are her class.  What just came out of her mouth?  She just called us Know-it-all's.  Was she talking to me?  Am I know-it-all-y? Why would she want to bring us down like that?  We get a Participation Award just for showing up. 

Who cares if she was right?  We are her Monday night class of All-That-And-A-Bag-of-Chips.  I can that see each of the men and women here in her Monday night class pride themselves on being limber or strong.  We know each of the poses before she can even ask us to come into them.  Monday night, hey this is the smarty-pants crowd.   Thing is, it wasn't until after she said, "For all you know-it-all's here..." that I now see the type of class we are.

Let's be clear - she encourages and promotes our knowing.  That's inherent in a good instructor.  I like this instructor in particular because she spends large portions of her class each week showing us and coaxing us into proper alignment with our yoga poses.  She spends a portion of her instruction time in allowing us to move into our asana (our pose) and feel how it is supposed to feel.

The Monday before last it was the plank pose.  I have always prided myself on how long I can hold a plank.  I have been holding it wrong.  While in plank I do not hurt, but going into the pose and coming out again, usually in a down-facing dog, my lower back would twinge.  Depending on how many times the instructor has the class going in and out of Downward Dog my lower back would change from twinge to soft pain.  I was hoping I was getting stronger.  According to my Monday Night Instructor I most likely am not getting stronger; I am just in pain.  Now my planks are at a different angle, not a let's-do-push-ups angle, and my Downward-Facing Dogs are easy in and easy out.
This week Monday Night Instructor decided our chair poses (Utkatasana) were very sad. Very sad. She walked between us and said, "For all you who know it all, let pretend you don't and start from the beginning." We were in our chair poses, varying states of sitz, feeling the burn, I'm sure. (Some yoga instructors have referred to the chair pose as the Uncomfortable pose. Maybe Uncomfortable and Utkatasana sound alike - I can't tell.  My Sanskrit is fuzzy.) I can only wonder how many others were feeling the burn from her words. Maybe it was only me.
"Butt-ology 101"

But it seems we all came to attention as we considered her requests to learn our anatomy and how to engage the gluteus medus rather than the gluteus maximus when standing. We considered where the neck meets the Thoracic spine - how to look up with out engaging the neck. Very interesting stuff.

We used our gluteus medus to stand - and what a change that is from using gluteus maximus. Our gluteus maximus engages our lower back.  Our gluteus medus engages our hips more than our back.  Monday Instructor trains us that as we stand again coming out of the Chair Pose we are to push our feet and knees outward - not that they move, feet stay on the ground and the knees stay over the toes - are engaging a different set of muscles to stand coming from the Chair Pose.  Totally cool stuff to feel a whole side of leg muscles instead of my back.

While I have always "liked" the chair pose...this Monday I learned where all the angles are supposed to reside.  My upper body is to be at the same angle as my lower legs.   My arms are to be at the same angle as my upper body.  My head and gaze are to look up - but without engaging my neck - that was a great lesson as well.  It seems that with a little practice and mindfulness one can find the spot to tilt one's head back without  engaging the entire upper neck leading into the skull. Holding the pose just got easier.

Though I am not totally enamored of this particular yoga studio - I don't know that I will sign up for the long term here - that Monday Night Instructor is worth her weight in gold and I'm the Know-It-All to say it.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Flexibility & a Monkey Mind

As in all things in this lifetime flexibility is key to happiness.  This weeks lessons appear to be in flexibility and clearing the "Monkey Mind".

Thursday my mother went into the local Emergency Room with apparent stroke or heart issues.  And while it appears the stroke may have gotten her to seek care, it is the ekg and her heart that provided her a ride to a hospital forty minutes away to see a cardiologist.  Mom stabilized and returned home on Saturday.
(Staff Pose)

But Wednesday (one day previous) my daughter called me to let me know she is going to be a mom herself.  This is the one child that is not married.  Go figure.  All children are love children. (Child's pose and breathe)

The Sunday before that (yes, this is my week in reverse order) my married daughter called to discuss marriage and what it takes and to ask how long one has to stay in a marriage that is not up to her liking.
(Warrior 1 pose) 
My answer is, only as long as both partners are working to make it better. No babies are involved here.  I'm allowed to feel this way.

Yesterday (jump both hands forward and hold a forward bend) mother was back in the Emergency Room with severely elevated blood pressure (214/80).  This is truly scary.  The adrenaline rush of worrying about my mother half a continent away lasted several hours before I got the 'all clear' text.  This morning I booked a flight for an extended visit.

My bus was late yesterday.  The Link Light Rail System was delayed.  And finally the Sounder Commuter Train creeped along the tracks rather than clipped along as usual. It seems the universe is telling to assume a deep seated relaxation pose as the trip home was extended.  I arrived at my final commuter stop too late to join my usual yoga class.  I was glad for the out-of-class pose.  I am so used to clearing my Monkey Mind every night after work  that all this information has taken an entire week to catch up to me.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Three Weeks Non-Stop Yoga

Non-stop yoga...makes it sound as if I'm in some type of binge yoga challenge.  All I'm really saying is I've attended Yoga classes every day for three weeks (except Fridays - for those of us that are counting - and I am).
In the grand scheme of things I am only spending an hour a day - an hour and fifteen minutes a day - stretching and holding up my own weight.  Yoga is no sweat exercise.  Three weeks of consistent work is starting to pay off.  But I wonder, when is it going to get easier?

When I say paying off I mean that I have more energy throughout the day.  I mean that my clothes have a smoother line.  I mean that even though I haven't checked I know my back is getting all buff.  I can't wait to see my back and upper arms in a tank top or one of my summer dresses. But, it's not getting any easier.  Classes include difficult poses.  My arms and shoulders still aren't limber enough to have my hands meet in the middle of my back in prayer.  Not that that was my goal.  Somehow it seems to be now.  I still can't bring my one arm around my back, loop the other arm under my thigh and have the two clasp somewhere  under said thigh while I open my chest to the sky.  And Wednesday night the instructor wanted us to do that AND lift our leg into a balance pose.  I laughed out loud.  Every evening I come home with a new ache, a new tenderness somewhere on my body.

Are the poses getting harder?  Am I no longer getting more limber?  Have I reached a limit?

I had thought week two was the most difficult.  I found it hard to go to classes.  I had to put myself on auto-pilot to go to the studio and suit up.  The work wasn't hard, it was the mental challenge of being there.  I didn't want to go.  Yoga had lost all it's "fun".  I wasn't impressed with any of the instructors.  The studio was boring.  I wasn't able to clear my head.  I was questioning if I really wanted to do this every day, e-v-e-r-y day for another four weeks, for gawd's sake.  And then....

And then Friday came, and I was sorry there was no class that evening.  My shoulders wanted attention.  Just knowing I had no class made me want to go to class.

Saturday I realized how much fun my sweetie and are having since I started this exercise kick.  Wink, wink, Nudge, nudge.  Exercise is good for everyone concerned.  My selfish challenge is making more than just me happy.  OH! and my sweetie has been in our home studio this week using the treadmill and the knock-off Bowflex weight machine.  My feeling good makes him want to feel good too.  "Lead by example" - it makes a difference.

It's been a tough week this third week into the challenge.  My legs don't seem to want to hold me up in any of the three warrior poses.  It used to be that my arms were on fire holding them at shoulder height.  Now it's my thighs that are burning up during a simple lunge. My ankles are quaking under every balance pose I attempt.  Oh yes, my ankles seem to be arguing over which tendons are in charge of balance.  The tendons are trading off  responsibility as fast as spokes turning on a bicycle wheel.   When I get home at night my core feels as if my whole rib cage - the whole barrel of a cage - is bruised,  Of course it's not.  I don't even know which poses are working my core this hard.

Yoga is deceptively difficult.  I breathe into these postures.  I only push myself as far as I feel good.  I only hold a posture, an asana, for a couple breathes.  But at the end of the muscles are jelly. The challenge is real.  We are in the middle of this one.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Finding my Child Pose

There is a time as yoga class starts when we each sit comfortably on our mats and the instructor talks us down from our day.  The goal and the hope is that we will be able to clear our minds and focus on the moment.  Our instructor on Tuesday wanted to remind us to show up for our practice.

Let me introduce Instructor Ann.  Instructor Ann is no more talkative than any other instructor.  What she does have though is keen insight and droll humor.  Ann makes many references during class to various life teachers and several references to Saturday Night Live skits.  Ann knows her pop culture, and she knows how to apply it for quality insight.  Ann understands her audience.

On Tuesday as Instructor Ann reminded us to be-here-now she adds, "let me refer you to Jon Kabat-Zinn and his book, Arriving at Your Own Door.  Let us each arrive here in class.  Come in to yourself.  Today let's not work ourselves into a posture, but let's allow ourselves to arrive into these postures today.  You may enjoy the book, Arriving at Your Own Door.  It is excerpts from Coming to Our Senses.  Or there's Jon's other book, Wherever You Go, There You Are.  Maybe you have heard of that one."

Ann's voice trailed off in my head.  I was considering the first half of what she had presented.The idea of arriving at my own door came alive, the vignette played out in my head instantaneously.  While Ann was chatting away about books and familiarity I was mentally looking from the inside of my own home (mental home) screen door because a little face had popped up from the outside of the door (mentally, it's all mental)  cheerily sing-song-ing, "I'm here!" How very interesting;  I had arrived.  From Ann's perspective I had my eyes closed, seated in contemplation like the rest of the class.  And if she had been watching she would have seen the sudden happy smile open across my face.  

In my head this cheery little face was still waiting outside my screen door.  "I'm here!"  I wanted to laugh out loud.  Because there I was, just outside my own screen door like a little girl come over to play on a summer day.  "I'm here!"  I said to myself a third time.  So I finally answered, "Get in here.  It's time to play!"  The screen door creaks open and flings shut.  Time for the opening stretch.

It was a play date yoga class on Tuesday.

Child's Pose 
Robert P. Hedden
(used without permission)

Friday, April 1, 2016

No Yoga Friday

There's no yoga classes tonight. My body seems to be at loose ends. Or rather it is tightening up with the knowledge that it won't be stretching out this evening. I can feel every muscle in my shoulders, the whole carriage, is solidifying into one massive tightened heavy board across my back. Wouldn't it be nice to indulge in a massage therapist tonight?

Oh wait! Drop my shoulders away from my ears. Aha! (sigh) Yes, I am learning...but that massage sounds positively delicious.

photo found at (used without permission)