22 May, 2012

Heart above head

Today was Power Vinyasa with Cassandra, followed by Hatha with Jo. A double.

After the retreat this weekend, I was eager to get back in for more of the retreat vibration. I had to do some fancy footwork to get myself there, but it was so worth it. So much to say here, and it's hard to know where to start. It's not easy to reflect on a double, because it's a kind of journey that is less "monotone," for lack of a better word. Normally, in class, you warm up, you work, you cool down, and you're done. There are, of course, a million variations on that theme, but it's the general idea. The mind and the body follow that arc. With a double, well, you pretty much do that whole thing twice. And both the mind and the body handle it a bit differently the second time through, compared to the first. And usually the gap in-between classes involves some type of activity that takes you out of the zone.

As I said, it was the result of magic plus some sort of chakra-based homing device that got me to Cassandra's class on time today. She started the class with a few announcements, and then we began our work.She did a reading of a poem (from our retreat) that I shared already in an earlier entry (and that Jo shared with us in yesterday's class).

Today, for some reason, I found myself feeling very emotional at the beginning of class. The good-old "crying in Child's Pose" thing. You know that one, right? I was already sort of losing it a bit, and then she read the poem, and I lost it a little bit more. I don't mind this, because I have a hard time accessing my feelings sometimes, and it is often through music, or external inspiration such as this, that I am able to get at those emotions. I am still definitely feeling the residual effects of the weekend in Port Townsend.

So we're still facing the long-way in Studio A, and mirrorless. I think I miss the mirrors, but I am getting used to it. It is interesting to me that I had taken at least 6 classes in a row without a mirror, after having done nearly my entire practice in front of a mirror. Cassandra has talked about how it's important to feel the pose, rather than to see the pose, or to be distracted by my neighbor, or by how our hair or our outfit look. It's important to make the adjustments by feel, as well; your body knows where it needs to go. There is, indeed, something liberating about not having a mirror. If I've got the mirror, Warrior I is a never-ending measurement of the "quality" of my pose. I see my hips are not all the way around. I see my arms are not straight. I see that my knee is not as deep as it could go. I see that my back leg is not perfectly straight. I see. I see. I see. But that leaves me twisting my body trying to force it to look perfect, according to some impression I have of how Warrior I should look. I have never actually seen a diagram of Warrior I. I've seen what I imagine is the textbook version of it, in the bodies of 25-year-old women in class. I presume that's how we're supposed to look. But there's this obsession with what I see. Without the mirror, I still know my hips are not squared up. I didn't need the mirror to know it. I know that my knee is not as deep today, because the weather has my (self-diagnosed) arthritis acting up. Without the distractions of the mirror, I also am more able to pay attention to details I was missing because they were not "in my face." Details such as... Is the outer edge of my back foot pressing into the ground? What do I need to adjust in the rest of my pose to allow that? Am I breathing? Am I still breathing?

The mirror, in a way, is like a kind of visual "noise."

So, today, my (self-diagnosed) arthritis was bothering me, with the weather change, and the forgetting to take ibuprofen all day. My knee. My shoulder. My elbow. Even my hips were so tight in Side Angle and Happy Baby that it was like I had gravel in the joints. But you've heard all this before. It just happens that today it was all of them, together. It forced me to take many adjustments. Side Angle? Maybe I spend the whole thing in a half-bind because it hurts to extend the arm high. Side Plank? Keep the bottom knee down, but compromise by raising the top leg to add something back where I subtract something else. Make the pose work for me.

Cassandra had us do quite a few tough sequences today. Crescent Lunges with the Twist, followed by opening arms wide to the twisted side, then switching over to Side Angle. The block helps with these, and I think it also helps keep the body more upright instead of "dumping" into the hips. We had the opportunity to do an interesting series involving alternating between Side Planks, Tree leg, and then push-ups. Mine ended up being a rather Frankenstein jumble, given the laying-off of Side Plank, but I found something that worked.

As we neared the end of class, I realized that, though I'd sweated about the average large amount, I hadn't felt much need to drink water. There wasn't even an inch of my water gone. And the thought immediately came to mind... "Should I stick around for Jo's class?" My immediate response to self was "No, that's crazy. The joints hurt. The last thing you need is more."

But, after hanging in the lobby to cool off, and having brief chat with Jo, I found myself feeling more tempted. I could take it easy. I could do another class. Right?

Guided by mysterious forces, I found myself in Studio B for Jo's Hatha. It was a one-hour class, but my body managed to expand time. It was not easy. Whereas the Vinyasa class felt "not hot," the Hatha felt "very hot." And I know this was because I was fatigued and already dehydrated. The place I needed to "work" in this class would be to try to find as much ease as possible in the poses. To commit to the practice, but not insist on pushing new limits. Opening Half Moon pose, I focused on not trying to lean too far to either side, or to pull too strongly on my arms above my head. Even so, it was difficult. The class, for me, followed that track; searching for as much ease as could be had, while "not letting myself off the hook." Nonetheless, my mind struggled to stay in the moment, and on the breath. I was wandering off to thoughts about work, or thoughts about the past weekend, or thoughts about the heat, or concern that my water bottle was now going to empty before I was ready for it to be empty! Thoughts. More thoughts. And more thoughts.

In spite of the heat, class felt very nurturing today. Jo had suggested a number of modifications to poses that I found to be very helpful, such as keeping hands at heart-center during Balancing Stick. I took all of these modifications, trying to pace myself with the limited reserves I had remaining.

There came a point in the class, where we were on the floor, and we'd just got done with back-strengthening exercises. The next pose was probably going to be either Hero's or Half Tortoise (I was anticipating... guilty as charged), but first we had brief Child's Pose, which I traded for a Savasana on my back. And my brain actually said "You're done." I planned fully on spending the rest of class in Savasana. I had given it the college try, but this was not going to be the day where I rocked the double. And then, Jo says "For the past 50 minutes or so, we've been climbing a mountain. And now, we are at the top of that mountain; Camel Pose." And with that sentence, I immediately sprung up, and found myself recommitted to doing the best I could, whatever I could, for the remainder of class.

See, in the earlier class, Cassandra had said something quite similar. She'd pointed out that Camel Pose is the very top of that mountain. And then she had added "You're almost at the top of the mountain. Why would you give up now?" And it was those exact words that rang through like a bullhorn. Why would I give up now? I can do this. I may not want to do it, but that's my mind that is saying that, not me. And for all the aches and pains I have, I know for a fact that Camel is not a pose that causes any discomfort for me. So I did it. And then I did my best to make it through the rest of class.

One of the things we often hear instructors say is that it's very good for you to do inversions, of any kind, because it's healthy to put your head below your heart (or conversely, to put your heart above your head, which sounds better). It's supposed to be energizing, rejuvenating, healing.

Perhaps I might consider sleeping upside-down like a bat tonight, so I can be ready for tomorrow's adventure.

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