29 December, 2012

Pet peeves are a perfect place to practice

I couldn’t resist the title of this blog, because of the alliteration.

We practice with a focus on learning to let go of our attachments and expectations, to move toward a real freedom that comes with openness and being in the moment. Right? But, for some reason, I find that the hardest things to let go of are not the “real suffering,” the attachments during tough times, or the reactions to major stressors in my life. I am actually doing quite well in those areas, and seeing myself having taken huge strides forward. The place where I am seeing myself struggle is around those things one might call “pet peeves.”

An example: I have a colleague who is not a particularly strong contributor at work. Not only are they not productive, but they end up wasting a lot of people’s time, and the net effect is to bring down morale in our organization. I’ve become somewhat obsessed with the “When are they gonna get rid of this guy?” thoughts. It’s tapping deep into my “River of Shoulds” (I just made up that expression). Why should he get to keep working here? Why should we have to put up with this? They should do something about it. I shouldn’t have to deal with this. The thing is, I am not actually impacted by his presence in any substantive way. He does not block my work. He does not affect my performance. I allow him to be a distraction through my own obsession with his outcome. And I find it hard to let go of this attachment. I will call this a “pet peeve,” and I think it’s a perfect example of why we use the word “pet,” because some part of me (the “ego” perhaps) doesn’t want to let go of it. A pet peeve is an irritation that we love to be irritated by. As such, I think that the pet peeve probably reveals more about me than it does about the object of the peeving. True, in this case, I am not the only one griping about it. But that’s just a case of this being a common area that people get “stuck.” The area of others getting away with something when we can’t/don’t/wouldn’t do it ourselves.

I want to be able to be free from suffering (supposedly… I mean, that’s why I’m doing yoga, at least partially) but I don’t want to let go of this pet peeve that induces completely unnecessary suffering and distraction in my life.

So I would assert that pet peeves are the perfect place to practice, because it’s a fairly low stakes situation, but it’s deeply rooted in the kind of attachments that are truly serving us no good. For me to say I want to let go of the big stuff, but continue sweating this small stuff feels like a short cut. I am running ahead in this marathon of an inner journey, but somewhere, back around Mile 3, my shoe lace got snagged on a twig, and I’m going to keep tripping as a result.

Can I let go of this? Can I decide that this peeve doesn’t serve me? I don’t think this means I need to be Mother Teresa and try to help the floundering to succeed. But I could, perhaps, practice radical acceptance. This is what’s happening, after all. And I don’t have control over it.

Perhaps our pet peeves are about our desires to have a sense of artificial control over things that we cannot possibly control at all. Perhaps they’re roadblocks we create for ourselves, to avoid ever getting to the big scary stuff. So it would stand to reason, if I ever want to tackle the bigger, scarier stuff, I need to be able to let go here.

26 December, 2012

Getting unstuck feels good

1. I have lived in my townhouse almost 5 years.

Less than a year after I moved here, the sliding door to my laundry closet failed. The door is made of the Home Depot, low-quality particle board (albeit, with a decorative appearance), and the craftsmanship with which the door was hung on the sliding runners was poor. After a short time, the screws holding one of the brackets with runner wheels ripped out of the door, and one end of the door sagged, making the movement of the door un-smooth, and tedious.

Shortly after it happened, I attempted to repair the door by rescrewing back into the same holes with the door still standing. Of course, this lasted about 1 hour, and the bracket ripped out again. From that time forward, I lived with a sagging, stuck, un-smooth laundry door, on the premise that "It's not really that important for this door to move smoothly."

This weekend, on a whim, I looked at the bracket that was still laying on the floor inside the laundry closet, and decided "This problem is going to be fixed now!" First thing I did was look at the problem, and realized that there was no reason, mechanical or cosmetic, why the bracket needed to be remounted in the same location - I could attach the bracket to new holes a few inches over, and it would work just the same, and not be noticed, because it's on the back side of the door. The second thing I did was to remove the door from the runner, and lay it on the floor so it would be easier to reinstall the bracket.

Fifteen minutes later, the laundry closet door was fixed, and reinstalled. Four years of tolerating a problem that only required fifteen minutes of careful examination and action to address it.

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2. I have a lot of guitars. Fifteen of them, to be exact. Thirteen electric, one bass, two acoustic.

Each of these guitars has either a case, or some type of carrying bag. I started accumulating this collection in the mid-1990s, with my most recent purchase probably about two years ago (hmm... perhaps I need another guitar). The downside of fifteen guitars is that they end up strewn throughout my house (and, at various points in time, scattered among houses of various musical colleagues, though there is presently only one guitar on a long sabbatical in the Wedgewood neighborhood).

The result of this has been clutter. Lots of clutter. Cases on floors. Cases in closets. Cases in piles. Guitars on chairs. Guitars on floors. Guitars on top of guitars. There are lots of downsides to this. I can't find a particular guitar when I want it. I am less inclined to pick up any particular guitar, at any particular time, because they're not easily accessible, my place is a freaking mess, and there's an overall ambiance of "lack of  care for my belongings" permeating my life.

About a week ago, I had an epiphany. I am going to build a guitar rack for my room. I could buy a guitar rack that could hold 7 guitars for $50-$80. But I would need to buy two of them if I wanted to hold all my guitars on organized display in my "studio." I decided that building one was what I wanted to do. I spent a week or so doing mental sketches of what it would entail, figuring out dimensions, thinking about materials. Then I went to Lowe's, examined available materials and costs, made some on-the-fly adjustments to my design to be efficient about material use, and bought everything I needed for about $70.

Yesterday, I built it, in about 90 minutes. It's bigger than it needed to be. It's heavier than it needed to be. Some of the pieces were not the perfect size, because of small measurement errors during the cutting process. But it works. I plan on painting it red, so it looks good in my room. And now, all of my guitars are on organized display, available to me whenever I want them, saving my life from clutter. I can put the cases all in one closet, and only worry about grabbing a case when I am transporting a guitar.

I spent years and years of my life in need of this. And all it took was focus and effort to solve the problem.

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I have to say that both of these "Actions" are the result of my practice. And I am not just trying to give credit to an external factor, like an NFL player saying that he scored 4 touchdowns because someone upstairs was watching over him. I know that the work was done by me. But it's this structure and commitment of practice that has brought me to a place where I am now able to get unstuck.

In the past, either of the above situations would have encountered any number of potential "spin-out" points. Places where I would have either rat-holed on details, or become frustrated with imperfection, or just lost the focus and confidence to proceed. In yoga, we don't skip Warrior II because our hips are not in perfect alignment. We do Warrior II because it gives us an opportunity to become more and more aware of what proper alignment feels like (and that may include knowing what improper alignment feels like). But we learn not to get angry at ourselves, or hate our bodies because they don't immediately form the shape we are requesting from them. This "sufficiency" -- "I am enough" -- enables me to move forward in a lot of places where I was previously stuck.

So, to all of my teachers, I say "Namaste!"


24 December, 2012

Discipline from an early age

I had the opportunity to watch my girlfriend's 6-year old in his Saturday morning karate class this week. I'd never been before, and it stirred memories from when I was a child and had briefly done karate. I don't know that I ever made it past a white belt, and I cannot recall if I went for more than a few months.

It was interesting to me to note how many of the "poses" that they were doing looked strikingly similar to the yoga poses that we do: Warrior I (a pre-punching stance), Half Moon (a side kick), Standing Head-to-Knee (a forward kick). It's obviously no coincidence that these postures appear in many different physical/mental disciplines, having all rooted themselves (at least as far as I can tell) in practices designed to make one ready for battle.

As I watched these kids, who ranged from the ages of about 6 up to 16, it occurred to me that this is the perfect time for people to learn the art of disciplining the mind. When we talk about discipline as regards children, we usually are talking about "punishment" for transgressions. While that is often a necessary thing, it doesn't really teach the same lesson as when one learns how to discipline their own mind and body. We start off not really wanting to do this tedious practice, and assume these awkward positions, remaining still and quiet, often while exerting a large amount of energy. But doing this teaches us so much. We learn to quiet our mind, because it becomes essential in order to withstand the practice (otherwise it's pure torture). And we also learn to set our sights on bigger goals. For a karate student, it might be the next belt level that motivates us. In yoga, it might be the ability to do a new kind of pose which is presently out of our reach.

All of these things we aspire to, if they're hefty aspirations, take time. Sometimes a lot of time. And practice, more than anything, teaches us that real progress is, by necessity, slow, and it may involve steps backward more frequently than we would like to think. When we understand, that is, learn that progress must be gradual, it sets us up for a lot more success and a lot less frustration in everything we seek to achieve.

And here's why I might assert that video games are such a problem. They subvert that development. Video games enable us to achieve new "levels" and "progress" in an albeit fictional environment, very quickly, and with very little real-world effort. The only physical effort is the clicking of a mouse button or two. "Leveling up" in a video game may take minutes, hours, or maybe a few days at the advanced levels of very elaborate games. But it still involves only sitting still and clicking buttons. And each time we do this, and "succeed," a little bit of that wonderful dopamine is released in our brains, signaling "reward," and reinforcing the behavior, as well as the perception that "this is what success looks like." Thus, one might argue, the artificial reward of achievement in video games sets us up to become frustrated when real-life achievements require substantially more time and effort.

Just some thoughts...

22 December, 2012

Sufficiency

I've never taken a "Yoga Nidra" class before. It had been explained to me in enough detail that I had a good idea of what the experience would be. Perhaps I had too much of a preface, because it might have resulted in a bit of expectation getting in the way of the experience. I suppose there is a bit of irony in the idea of a yoga class getting overhyped.

Libby Ludlow, who taught the class, started off with a reading. I wish I could remember who the author was. But the main thrust of the passage was that we so often wake up in the morning to the immediate thought of "I didn't get enough sleep." And that this sets the tone for a continuous stream of thoughts in the same vein: "I don't have enough time... I don't have enough money... and so on." And the message was that we should consider the idea of "sufficiency." Not as in a measure of the quantity of what we have, but just with regard to our state of being irrespective of "having." The notion of "I am enough," rather than "I have enough." This is something that I have read about in the Iyengar book, and also in Buddhist books, and various pop-culture self-help books as well. It seems pretty obvious, but it's not easy to do it. And I suppose it is partly because of human nature. But it might also be because our society, especially in this country, is set up around achieving more, and more, and more.

When she did the reading, it was all I could do to not start convulsing into tears, and I am not sure why, really. It's not like it's a revelation to me. I think it may be because when someone shares a message with 60 people, and it resonates so much for me, I have to assume that we are all sharing in the same struggle... to be enough. There's some degree of comfort in knowing that I am not alone. Often I tell myself that I would like to move toward living as simply as possible, and become less materialistic, and less focused on money, and to try to become liberated from the hamster wheel of life. But before the thought is even completely formed, I am buying some new thing, or pursuing some new hobby that costs money, or deciding the upgrade this or that, or feeling like I need to advance in my career. And I wonder, if I am fully conscious (supposedly) of the paradox here, how can I keep moving toward the very things I suspect are making me ultimately less free?

I know that the issue is "the ego" and the answer is "practice." And there are no shortcuts.

Elizabeth said to us, a few weeks ago, that we need to think about what it is that we want. Because if we really want something, we are probably going to get it. And her point, I don't think, was so much about "you can do anything if you try," but more along the lines of "you should pay close attention to what it is that you're telling yourself you really want because, chances are, that's what you're gonna get." Reminds me of the "where you look is where you go" line that I heard in a self-help group about 15 years ago. Obvious, true, but sometimes easy to overlook.

Maybe I don't want to be liberated from all this?

Anyway, it occurred to me during class that my ego gets me in a lot of trouble, in various ways. It is my ego that constantly is chattering about not enough of this, or not enough of that. My ego pushes me to go beyond limits that I know I shouldn't go beyond. Lately, I have been trying to defeat the "not enough time" problem by staying up later and later, working on things that I didn't have time to do during the day. The end result is often five hours of sleep. And the consequence is that I feel pretty bad during the day, I can be moody and difficult to be around, which impacts my relationship, and then I am also considerably less effective at all the things I was trying to squeeze into the extra time.

I think I've been using my "mind/ego" too much during my physical practice. I am telling myself what I am going to do, too often in opposition to what my body is asking for. For example, it occurred to me the past few days that, every time I do a lot of twists in a class, even very passive ones, my low back ends up feeling horrible. But, because these poses are "part of the class," I just do them, because I don't want to skip poses. It's not much different from the staying up too late. And the thing they teach us over and over in yoga is to quiet the mind so that we can become aware of what our body (or information beyond our body) is really telling us, so that we can act intelligently.

I'm over a year into the yoga practice, and I see the benefits of it. And I also see that road of progress keeps going.

Forever.

20 December, 2012

Clutching at control

I tell myself that I'm getting better at letting go.

That's a harsh way of putting it. I am getting better at letting go, for sure. And I attribute it to practice. The flip side, unfortunately, is that, as we get better at letting go, we also become more aware of the ways in which we still struggle to maintain control. It's a necessary piece of the puzzle. But there's a bit of irony in there.

Recently, I had a falling out with a friend from my previous job. It was actually someone quite important to me, for whom I have always held a high degree of respect and regard. I have even told others in my life that I don't think there is a single colleague whom I have trusted more to "have my back" and look out for me. After I left the company, our association transitioned into friendship, rather than coworker, and I was even happy to have to opportunity to offer him counsel on a number of occasions about things that were going on in his life.

We had a misunderstanding. I won't go into it, because it's not relevant. But what happened was that I misunderstood something, then I miscommunicated, and the result was that my friend became extremely angry at me. I did not, and still do not fully understand why he became so angry, because I had actually not even realized that I had done something wrong. But he was mad. I did my best to apologize, but it really didn't seem to be accepted. Some time passed, and I thought perhaps we were "okay" because we'd tried to make a plan to spend time together. The plan fell through because of mutual schedule conflicts.

A few more weeks passed, and then I noticed that he'd removed me from his friends' list on Facebook. I don't know why. I don't know if he never got over being angry at me before. I don't know if I unwittingly angered him again? Maybe what I perceived as "mutual schedule conflicts" was actually perceived by him as being blown off by me (though, he did start the scheduling conversation by telling me that he might need to cancel on me, so that doesn't seem right). I decided to give benefit of the doubt that perhaps he didn't intentionally remove me, and I sent a message asking him why. Days passed, and there's no response.

I don't know what to do. I'm hurt. I'm sad. I feel little tinges of anger about the fact that I can't make this right. There's nothing I can do to make him talk to me, nor is there anything I can do to rectify that which might be unfixable for reasons that will never be known to me.

When I started to get angry, my mind jumped about, and landed on possible reactions. Though, there are few. One that came to mind was: "I can go on LinkedIn and delete him from my Contacts list!" Yeah, that will show him. That's my reaction. That's my ego. I am hurt. I feel offended that there is no respect being shown to me from someone for whom I hold such high regard, and my desire is to hurt him back, albeit in some petty way.

Of course, I didn't do it. But it is about control.

There actually are not that many situations in our lives over which we have no control. There are the big things... accidents... death... other unpleasant surprises. But on the day-to-day, we certainly can go about feeling the illusion of control.

What I need to do here is practice letting go. But I don't want to. I want to understand why it happened. I want to know what I did. What is wrong with me? Why wasn't I as valuable to him as he was to me? How could I have been so wrong about the relationship? Of course, there are other explanations. Perhaps it's all about him, and not me?

But what I really need to do here... is practice... letting go.

I may not like this. But this is what is happening.

18 December, 2012

Mission Statement 2.0

The Feeble Yogi came into existence just under a year ago, as far as this blog is concerned. When I started, the goal was to document my trajectory in the practice, focusing on "The Yoga Class" as the template, vehicle, and yardstick for personal growth. Each entry was intended to describe something about each of the following:
  1. The physical experience in the practice on that day/time-frame
  2. The mental/spiritual/emotional experience in the practice in that class
  3. The relationship between on-the-mat and life off-the-mat
My purpose was to document the growth, and to also explore what might arise. Along the way, I shared a lot of the nuggets of wonderfulness that my teachers have passed on to me.

There has certainly been a lot of growth, and I have had the fantastic opportunity to experience many different teachers, and a handful of different styles of yoga, in places near and far. 

Of late, I've found myself having greater and greater difficulty sticking to this "practice" of writing to that mission on a daily basis. It's now become a repeated falling behind, and catching up, which is leading to guilt, anxiety, and a sense of burden, none of which were ever the intention of having a yoga blog in the first place. There were two utmost goals (okay, maybe three) all along (here comes another list):
  1. Commit to my practice fully
  2. Engage in a writing project that brings about self-exploration
  3. Hopefully share and entertain some people in the process
The third one on that list is actually a bigger deal than you'd think, as writing (and sharing) are a big part of who I am. For the longest time, I had been posting in another blog. When that stagnated over a long period of time, I saw this yoga blog as a good way of kick-starting the writing. And it worked. But here we are again, at a "plateau," so to speak.

I should note that today I took class with Elizabeth McElveen, an amazing teacher who has really brought me into a new focus and passion, in an entirely different light than I had ever imagined before. She was actually talking about plateaus in our practice. There will be periods of time where our practices are growing and changing rapidly, she said. And then, there will be periods of time where nothing is changing. And that it's easy to get discouraged, or lose focus, when these times occur. Sometimes you have to do something different when you hit these times, to get yourself out of a rut. But sometimes, you just have to keep going. I'm gathering, from the lessons I have learned from my teachers, and from some of the reading that I've done, that "Intelligence" is knowing when to stick with it, versus when to make a change. And at this 1-year time-point, it feels like a good spot to redefine the mission.

So here it is, subject to further evolution:

The purpose of this blog going forward will be, first and foremost, to document the thoughts and experiences I have "off the mat," each day (or nearly so), in light of my ongoing practice. These may be internal struggles, challenges at work, or in relationship, hopes, dreams, the world, anything. When relevant, I will share what I am learning in class, as it relates to my mindset for the day. 

As such, "tagging" of blog entries will take on a new meaning now. Rather than tagging according to "Who was the teacher today? Where was the class? What style of yoga did I do?" (I will likely not even mention these, unless it relates to what I am writing about), my tags will be topic-related. Once again, the goal is to rekindle this blog as a vehicle for my own growth, and something to which I will enthusiastically commit, rather than carry forward out of obligation.

I thought about holding myself to "catching up" on the however-many entries I had missed, so that I'd be entirely up-to-date before moving to Mission 2.0. But that seems like just about the most "opposite of yoga" approach, full of "shoulds" and serving ultimately nothing but some self-flagellating figment of my ego.

So here we go.

Reality checks

Yesterday was Power Vinyasa with Jo.

It was a strange day, in terms of the yoga-thinking. I was slightly torn about what class I wanted to do. The idea of Hatha with Patrick sounded good. Class with Michel sounded good, too, but I wasn't really up for a 90 minute class. I decided that it might be nice to take class with Jo, since it had been a long time. And I was happy to practice next to friends, who made the class extra-fun. But I was reminded of all the reasons why I decided, for my body, that I needed to make a change, and the consequences of that re-realization have lingered with me (and then some) into the next day.

It was, without a doubt, the hottest class I have taken in, well, probably since the last time I took the very same class. And what was hardest was not just the heat, but the feeling of absolutely no oxygen to breathe. And I had to ask myself, "Is this a good thing?" But at the same time, while trying to stay "in the practice," I found myself quoting Lola in my mind again ("This is what is happening"). This was, after all, what was happening, and my choices were to be in the practice, lie down and rest, spin out of control in my thoughts, or leave the room (in decreasing order of yogic preference). I opted, to the best of my ability, to be in the practice, and focus on a different question. Instead of "Why does it have to be this way?" How about, "Given that this is what is happening, how can I *best* be mindful and stay in my practice?" I won't kid you though. At about 40 minutes into class, I was enraged at Jo, when the door was opened for about 2 minutes, bringing in about, um, zero air (because of the humidity), and then the door was closed again, back to the swelter. But the anger passed. I nearly fell over from exhaustion trying to return to Crescent Lunge from either Airplane or Half Moon, or who knows what.

The consequences of the class:

Severe dehydration all night long, dry eyes, waking up parched with a headache, weighing 2 pounds less than usual and, to make matters utterly worse, a strange, cramp-like spasm in one of my back muscles that is so extreme and painful today, that I am having difficulty even breathing, never mind moving.

My intelligence says "This is just not for me." It's the equivalent of going on that long run that I would really like to do, but my body just doesn't cooperate. And when I ignore my body, and go on that run, we all know what happens. Achilles tendinitis for like six months. 20 minutes of mindlessness, brings 250,000 minutes of recovery. That's why it's so important to listen to the messages.

I want to be in this for the figurative long run, not just a flash in the pan.

So, from now on, if it's going to be a drop-in on my old friends, I'll have to find them teaching a Hatha class, since my body firmly says "no" to 105 degree Vinyasa.

That is what is happening.

11 December, 2012

Improvising as a way of life

Today was gentle yoga with Elizabeth McElveen.

I bought some new headphones a few weeks ago because my old ones had broken. I spent more money than the last time but not as much as I did on my favorite earbuds, which had gradually disintegrated over years of use. The new ones didn't fit right. They sort of slip out, and then there's no bass response. That's the thing about earbuds: fit is critical. So I had been lamenting the fact that I spent X amount of money and didn't have what I wanted. And then something occurred to me. I had always been really happy with the way that my "expensive" earbuds fit me. And they had really good bass response. I wonder if I could take the little rubber buds from those and fit them onto the shafts of my new ones? And sure enough, they fit, and they sound perfect.

How does this have to do with yoga?

A few weeks ago in Elizabeth's class, she had told us to experiment in our practice and in our lives. Try different things until you see what works. And it doesn't need to be conventional or cookie cutter. It can be a completely outside the box approach. And this mindset, I think, helped me to experiment rather than to simply give up or complain. And I found a solution that works.

Surely this will apply in far more important areas of life than earbuds.

But it's a good start.

10 December, 2012

Here we go again, working backwards

Today was Hatha with Patrick.

It had been a couple of weeks since my last Hatha class, and it was definitely feeling like it was time for it. Today was a very strong day, for some reason. It was hot, and I haven't been getting enough sleep lately. But if this had been some sort of competition, I would say that I "totally killed it." Of course, it's not a competition. It's yoga. So that doesn't really hold the same meaning.

But I found myself really able to focus on the depth of the poses today. Thinking about major extension, thinking about breathing, thinking about alignment of even the parts that don't seem to be the primary focus of the pose. It was, of course, by no means perfect. But I felt like the practice was focused, and the mind was quiet.

I'm working my way backwards with these entries, in the hopes of some degree of recency effect in providing an actual account of "the yoga" instead of the random musings that I'm left with, in the absence of clear memory.

09 December, 2012

Be comfortable with your own mess

Today was Gentle Yoga with Elizabeth McElveen.

Near the start of class, we were doing some opening Cat/Cow and Spinal Balance. This always hurts my palms or my knees, so I decided to make a modification. But it wasn't a modification to the pose. It was a modification to my situation. I rolled the edges of my mat inward, to provide extra cushioning. This isn't neat, and this isn't easy to get organized. But it doesn't need to be. And after the pose is over, the towel ends up sort of disarranged. And it occurred to me, I have a bit of an OCD thing going with arrangement of things. I like my mat and towel perfectly perpendicular. I like the towel to stay down flat and not get bunched up. I like the mat to be perfectly aligned with the wooden planks on the floor. I like to make sure that when I sit on my mat, I am not rotated to the left or to the right, even a few degrees.

But I think it is time to get comfortable with my own mess. Because life is going to be messy. And sometimes, the most important thing is not how neat, organized, aligned, your "stuff" is, but how aligned you feel on the inside. And this means (for me) that it's important to let that go. Be okay with it.

Elizabeth teaches Gentle Yoga. But she even acknowledged that there's often other words to describe her classes. They can be quite intense, and physical. Instead of moving through poses with velocity, throwing our bodies around, we perform those same poses, but hold in the positions, and experiencing the depth, and the smoothness of a transition, rather than flow, flow, flow.

Continuing to learn a lot from her.

07 December, 2012

Unexpected and good

Today was Power Vinyasa with Elizabeth Thomas.

I really wanted to make it to her class. She teaches the 4pm on Fridays. And that's it. One chance to take her class at Be Luminous. If you miss it, you wait 7 days for another chance. So it was frustrating when I found myself busy, rushed, and then somehow having not eaten lunch or breakfast as of 3:45pm. My mind was so delirious from hunger, I wasn't even thinking clearly about the hunger itself, never mind being productive in my work.

"Old me" might have just gone to yoga anyway, and struggled through the class. But "new me" made the decision that it was just not a good idea. Better to eat, and then go to a later class. There were a few options for later, and I guess that would be what it would be. So I went over to Be Luminous to take the 5:30 class and, to my surprise (pleasant), Elizabeth was filling in for Scott. I enjoy Scott's class as well, so this was mostly about the feeling kind of lucky to get a class with her, after my physical schedule didn't seem to be allowing for it.

I seem to be slowly coming up from my low that I was experiencing for a few weeks.

03 December, 2012

Turning inward to expand outward

Today was Power Vinyasa with Michel.

Last night was the final meeting of our book group, where we have been discussing Iyengar's "Light on Life." After attending the book club, I have found myself wanting some more Michel time, so it was nice to be able to take her class today. It was especially nice to have a small group (only 12-15 people), so we did a few things that were out of the ordinary, and spent a little more easy time in the poses. Michel talked a lot about breath, which was a continuation of our discussion the night before.

At the start of class, we were to say our name, and one word that described what our state of mind was at that moment. I was not entirely sure what my state was. Pondered "tired," but opted for "here," because I was really just glad to be there, in the room, and I wasn't troubled by much else. There was nothing bubbling up in me. So that was what it was.

During our practice, she asked us to set an intention - one word, one thing - on which to focus the practice. For me, as it has often been lately, it was "ease." How to find ease in Twisted Crescent Lunge? Is it possible? Let go of the clenching of the butt muscles. Try not to have the front quadriceps so tightly engaged. Try not to allow (wrong) pain to occur, or modify when it does. Try not to strain to make the body twist. Try not to let upper body collapse onto the front thigh. All this, and don't lose the breath.

Ease is no trivial thing.

While I am on that subject, here's my pain check-in, since I haven't reported much lately.

Shoulder is not the worst it's been. I am doing an okay job of modifying around it, and have managed to mostly avoid pain, without resorting to tons of ibuprofen lately.

Wrists and palms are still kind of sore, but not the worst they have been, either. I wish I had a better idea of what makes them hurt more or less, and I don't right now. Hoping rest and time do the trick.

Right knee, which was completely better, has shown some hints of the former pain on the side of the knee, which I think may be due to trying too hard on Triangle pose. Need to be careful.

Left heel, getting better.

General arthritis of the knees, not really bothersome at this point.

Oh yeah, and the left groin continues to be scary. I am not sure what to do to protect that one from becoming worse. It has neither worsened nor improved in several months. I forget when it started. Maybe it was in August or September.

And that's that.

02 December, 2012

Savor the impermanence

Today was Gentle Yoga with Elizabeth McElveen.

Something happened at the beginning of class today before we started. It was a little subtle occurrence. Something said, and it made me immediately think "Oh no! Elizabeth is going to tell us that she's not teaching here anymore!" I am not sure why I jumped to that (which is interesting, in and of itself, Mr. Worst Case Scenario). I spent a few minutes at the beginning of class, worrying, wondering, spinning about what I would find out or hear at the end of class. Anticipating. Not the moment, eh?

Elizabeth then talked a little bit about "Setting an Intention." This is not something she typically does in a class, but today she did. And it occurred to me in that moment that it could only be this:

"Savor the Impermanence."

Because that's all there is to work with. Nothing is forever. There will be good times, and they shall pass. There will be bad times, and those, too, shall pass. There's no point in getting bent out of shape, or attaching greater importance to anything than what actually is. People talk about this in so many ways. The Baptiste folks refer to "non-essential stories," (which, I assume, is a quote of Baron Baptiste). The thought in my head was, "How am I going to be able to get along without Elizabeth, who has been this new-found, shining light in my practice?" But the truth is (minus the stories), the practice is always the practice. Whether it's with Elizabeth, or Michel, or Patrick, or Cassandra, or Carley, or the teacher I've not yet met. The person showing up on the mat is me. They tell us that they're only here to be a guide. Nobody stands in front of us and says "You will come see me if you want to do 'The Real Yoga'." That doesn't happen, because it would be absurd.

But there was that attachment popping up.

When I chose to savor the impermanence, suddenly, I could say to myself, "It's going to be okay." If this had been the little stretch of my life in which I practiced under the guidance of Elizabeth McElveen, then that's what this would have been. And I am far better for having had that experience. I retain the essence of her guidance in my practice now. I am always calling upon her words. So, really, all it took was that exposure. Sure, it's joyful to practice with her, and I get a kind of warm-fuzzy feeling from it. But that fuzziness, itself, is not "Practice."

At the end of class, Elizabeth said "I'll see you all next week." I asked her about that which I had feared, and she laughed, and I realized I had just misread the situation.

So what good did the worrying do anyway?