10 January, 2012

Do stop thinking about tomorrow

Today was Bikram with Marjorie.

After yesterday's struggle, I knew that I needed to do something different and ensure that I had proper focus for this class. Otherwise it was going to be a very long and uncomfortable 90 minutes.

We arrived early, and I decided that I would use the extra time to do a series of "Sun Salutation A" from the Vinyasa series, including taking a moment to set my intention for the class. In spite of the fact that I spent nearly three months doing Hatha and Vinyasa, without a clue as to what my intention should be, I now feel like this is an important step in the practice, because I saw the positive effect it appeared to have, even in the few classes that I have set a concrete intention.

I started off with the intention of setting my intention on "no panic" but, sure enough, another idea surfaced: "Stay focused only on the current pose." This should be a no-brainer, because it's always the case, but what I found myself struggling with the most in my previous class was not looking ahead and counting poses, and lamenting how much of the class remained.

Not surprisingly, things went much better, for most of the class.

Marjorie is (according to Mark, the owner) the most experienced yoga instructor at the studio. Compared to Shawn, she gives just a little bit less of a stream of instructions, but still providing enough encouragement, and subtle adjustments to keep a (willing) yogi's attention in the moment. I'd taken one class with her when I visited back in September. Surprisingly (at least to me), both Marjorie and Mark vaguely remembered having seen me before. I guess I don't think of myself as that memorable, but also, they must see a lot of people pass through, so it felt good that they remembered the face from four months ago. Or maybe they don't see a lot of tourists come through. From a surveying of the class, it did appear that most people had their own mats and towels, which might suggest it's not something that people seek out to spend their time doing on vacation.

The standing series was pretty much fantastic. I didn't feel much of a struggle, and was able to stay very focused on each of the poses. I fought mightily to get my right foot wrapped on Eagle pose, but I've actually started getting a nasty bruise on the back of my calf from my right toes. That's how tight it is getting the wrap. After prying myself into the pose for the first set, I agreed to not inflict further bruising on the second set, and did the unwrapped foot. It's at least always a relative comfort to feel how easily the left foot goes behind on the other side.

I know I talk a lot about Eagle pose. I think this one is sort of a benchmark for me, both in terms of marking my progress in flexibility, as well as in observing the dramatic difference between my left and right sides. Another pose where I have seen a big difference (not in Bikram series) is "Happy Baby." When I first started doing yoga, I could only think to call this one "Unhappy Baby" because my right hip and knee were simply unwilling to tolerate the pose. I felt a sort of shooting discomfort from the hip all the way to the knee, with extremely limited range of motion on that side. This was most likely "IT Band" tightness. I recall thinking (as always) "I'm never going to be able to do Happy Baby." This seems to be the way I always start off. And I have noticed that this "never" attitude has surfaced itself throughout my life in new things. I have always started off very frustrated at what others would call "inexperience" but I have tended to label as "ineptitude." I'm a bit hard on myself. "I'm never going to be able to learn SQL," or "I'm never going to be able to learn statistics," or "I'm never going to get my recording equipment set up." The list goes on, and it actually makes learning new things harder because of the negative energy I place on myself.

The neat thing about yoga is that I am seeing "nevers" evaporate at a rate far faster than I imagined possible. There are things that I believed were "never" going to happen, just a couple of months ago, that have become routine: Wheel (getting there), Camel (not only have I got this one, but Marjorie even complimented me on my form in this pose yesterday), Happy Baby (almost symmetrical now), Eagle (fighting it, but it's on the edge of being there). Even just the idea of making it through an entire tough class, and feeling energized, as opposed to destroyed at the end of class... I had not imagined that would be a possibility.

Back to today's class, after that long aside... After we finished the standing series, I "rewarded" myself with a ridiculously large quantity of water. Undoubtedly more than I required. And it sat heavy in my stomach, and made me feel queasy at the start of the floor series. This was a mistake. Interesting, too, because it turns out that listening to your body can mean a lot of things. And in this case, it meant giving myself only what I needed, and not more. The queasiness took my focus off a little bit, and I started thinking about why did I drink so much water. By the time we got to Hero pose (I can't remember the Bikram name for it), I was spinning off into thinking about how many poses we had left, though trying to contain it. The room was feeling hotter (it actually was getting hotter, in this case, since Marjorie closed that doors at someone's request). I was trying to stay with it, but felt like I was sliding down a rocky wall, and losing my grip. When we got toward the final stretching exercises, I felt like the class was interminable, and my mind had drifted even further toward "How the hell am I going to do this again at 7:30am tomorrow?!" We'd planned on taking a morning class, after an evening class, and I was dreading needing to pull off this focus again, so soon. Imagining the heat, imagining myself struggling, imagining the slow 90 minutes. 

The class ended, sure enough. And overall, I felt like it was better than the previous day. I maintained focus through most of it. But there were a few key lessons. First, give yourself what you need, and only what you really need. Not more. Not less. And know what that is, by listening. Second, there is no end point for focus. The focus must last the entire class. There is no "if I can make it to here or there then I'm home free." As soon as one thinks about a "here or there" the focus is already lost. Already thinking about a moment other than this one. It's only "easy" when there's nothing but the current pose. The current breath.

So far, I feel like I enjoy the variety of Hatha and Vinyasa more than the rigidity and predictability of Bikram. But I recognize that it doesn't really make a difference.

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