31 August, 2013

Garbage in, garbage out... garbage gone

Today was Power Vinyasa with Bill MacDonald at Open Doors.

I should not have taken this class today. There are so many reasons, but I didn't listen to them. I took a class last night, and this was a morning class today. I flew yesterday, which always messes me up a bit. I didn't sleep well. The time zone difference made a 10am class feel like a 7am class. My body was absolutely killing and I was not sure how I was going to do forward folds. Each of those reasons by itself would be enough to justify taking a day off, or at least going to yoga later in the day.

But I went to the class. I told myself I would try to take it easy, but what that bought me was a feeling of heaviness and a dwelling in negative thoughts. I spent the class alternating between hating my body for aching, berating my mind for the stuck thoughts plaguing me today, and just trying to get through it.

It's hard going from a day like yesterday where everything just felt like it was in sync, to a completely disjointed today. I want there to be some kind of continuity. I want to hold on to the good feelings and never have the bad ones. And then, I am forced to ask myself if there's anything good or bad but that thinking makes it so. It's really no different from the outside observer. I sit here writing. With my coffee. My laptop. And I could be in bliss, or I could be in misery. I could be in love, or I could be in heartbreak. I could be mourning the loss of a friend, or getting ready to celebrate their birthday party later today. From the outside, it's all the same. And from the inside, largely so. The same heartbeat. The same clothes. The same face. The breath still comes and goes. The only difference is that thing in the skull that decides what is good and what is bad about otherwise mundane strings of events.

Why do we choose to indulge in suffering?

And then, I ask, did I come to this class today to not let myself off the hook when I really needed a break? Or did I come because I really wanted to show up for Bill MacDonald's class? And if it's the latter, can I just be okay with it. Just like a really tough Chair pose that makes the legs burn. You forward fold, and it's over. Gone. Like it never happened. And sometimes, an entire class is just like that. But now it's over, gone, like it never happened. Along with all of the thoughts and judgments about myself and the world that rode along with it.

It's a little weird how smiling and crying both make us feel better...

30 August, 2013

Hit the ground running

Today was Power Vinyasa with Colleen at Open Doors, in Canton, MA.

She's a student teacher and this was a community class. My plane landed at 3:30pm and I had the rental car on the road from the airport by 4pm. It was Friday afternoon rush hour, but still managed to make it home and then back out of the house again in time for a 5:45pm class. This is the way it goes. The yoga happens.

I was so tired today, I don't even know how I was able to do it. The flight was at 7:30am which meant that I had to be awake at 5:45am. All these logistics are so interesting, I know. But the result was that I didn't sleep well the entire night, as often happens when I know I need to be awake early. This should become a permanent factor in my planning of long trips, but somehow there is always a tradeoff. Either leave early, or arrive late, or spend a lot. Those are the choices.

The thing that surprised me was that I felt incredibly strong in class today. I had energy that came out of nowhere. Perhaps it was because I took 2 days off in the last 3 days, and I cannot even tell you the last time that happened. I don't know if I have done less that this year. Or it could be that I was cooped up on a plane all day. Or it could be that a room full of strangers in a different studio puts me into "performer" mode. Who knows?

But now I have reverted to being tired again. And dehydrated.

Sometimes I think I am writing nothing interesting and then I go back later and realize it was actually pretty interesting. This is not going to be one of those entries.

The End.

28 August, 2013

Burning down the forest

Today was Power Vinyasa with Cassandra.

My head was cloudy. I had a lot of negative thoughts going on, where I was spiraling into worst case scenarios. My little mental sentinels were telling me that situations might not be all okay. But another part of my mind was still able to maintain itself as the observer and noted that stress often triggers in me a kind of vigilance that extends into the land of irrationality, and that I need to be very careful what signals I trust and which ones should be discarded, or at least incubated without immediate action. 

It has been a tough week with the work schedule kind of intense. I had my first "big thing" at work, and was under the pressure of making sure it went well, and that everything was prepared. Not all of it felt within my control. This stress set me on edge, and that is what I have been navigating for the past 24-48 hours, though it was probably starting to ramp before that. I needed to try to do something to cut through all that, and get me back to a place where I had some perspective. The thing that came to mind was Cassandra's class because it always worked for me in the past. Returning to the places that were familiar. The right medicine for the situation. 

The class was insanely hot. It's true. And I knew it would be. I guess maybe some part of me hoped that a 4pm class would not be as hot as the later one tends to be, but I didn't really have my hopes up for that. But I came there, in a sense, specifically to create an environment, a discomfort I guess, that would take my focus out of all the other crap that was kicking around my mind, and get me centered on only the situation right in front of me. More or less, it worked. From the moment my forehead touched the mat in Child's Pose, I had the initial sparkle of clarity that there are multiple perspectives to any situation. The ability to look at interactions and see other explanations than my worst-case scenarios. 

I don't really want to say any more right now.

26 August, 2013

See it as light, know it as love

Today was Vinyasa with Jaime Schmitz.

Always inspiring. Always difficult. Jaime manages to be one of the most uplifting and peaceful, while simultaneously ass-kicking yoga teachers I have encountered. Each time I have taken her class, I have found myself becoming more and more connected to the message. It's a message about energy. It's a message about the heart versus the mind. It's a message about intention. Her opening 5-10 minutes of class seem to have a way of making tears stream down my face regardless of whether I am having a good day or a bad day.

Today was a good day, although I have been experiencing a little bit of the "Suffering" (with a capital S) at work because of worrying a little bit about whether I will be able to get it all done, and keep it all together, and have complete control over those things that are not completely controllable, while still not needing to work (much) more than the standard working hours. I want to hold myself to those limits because I think that Work/Life balance should stay at a pretty fixed ratio. But sometimes things move out of that ratio.

This week and last week, I have found myself starting to spin off into what I might call the "mini panics" about whether everything is going to come together okay. When I worry, I become anxious, and I start to become negative, and start to be defeatist. And this lasts a little while, and then I snap out of it. I have started to notice that it is worse when I don't make time to eat, or if I drink too much caffeine (often I do both). And I also noticed that it is at those times that I start to really panic if, on top of all that, I am behind in my writing here (as I am now). It pulls me into the "shoulds" that are hard to avoid. I should be keeping up with this. I shouldn't be doing that.

So why was today a good day of tears streaming down my face?

When Jaime asked us to think of a situation in which we were completely at peace, bliss, full of love, and to remember that feeling, I actually had one right there at hand. I didn't find myself empty. I felt full. And it was nice to be able to experience that sensation. I suspect it is always there to experience. Today I was able to find it without searching.

It's only 9:40pm and I am tired. And I still have two days of yesterblogs to write. I *should* really get those done and then go to sleep...

25 August, 2013

Do more or do less? That's more or less the question...

Today was Gentle Yoga with Elizabeth McElveen.

Yoga is an opportunity to be still... to do less. And it teaches us to slow... down...

That's something Elizabeth discussed today. There's a paradox in our lives, though. I feel that most of the rest of our world is always demanding that we go faster and do more. Our work life certainly demands that. I once had a manager tell me that I should continue lowering my bar for quality until someone tells me my work isn't good enough. His point, albeit oddly stated, was that I could do a lot more if I weren't so perfectionistic. And that attitude is absolutely considered to be virtuous in the professional world. "Good Enough" is as good as it needs to be. And yet, in yoga (and in meditation, which I can only say I am just beginning to do) we are trying to slow down and pay attention to the details, create space, do less, find peace, step away from urgency.

It makes total sense that yoga is of great value to our well-being, especially in the juxtaposition with a world that is revving us ever faster, winding us ever tighter. And I can see that quieting the mind, making ourselves more effective, could increase productivity, decrease stress, and all that good stuff. But I sometimes feel that, in the corporate world (and perhaps even in the world of modern media), the last thing the "Powers That Be" want is a peaceful and enlightened populace. They don't benefit from contentment, even if we are more effective when content. I would assert that they benefit more from frenzy, panic, competitiveness, fear, coveting. If you are striving to have more, then you will likely work harder, spend more, etc. If we all decided we didn't need useless stuff, and that we could be content with just simple food and shelter, there would be no demand for large salaries, and our economy would at the very least need to reorient itself (if not implode). What would BMW do if, suddenly, humankind decided that spending $40,000 (or more) on a mode of transportation was just a frivolous thing to do?

It seems like if one marches far enough down the path of yoga and meditation, one's values begin to align with that philosophy on and off the mat, and one starts letting go of a lot of the worldly quests, jumping off the moving train, so to speak. And not many people do that. Most of us who are in the rat race are using this practice as a way to balance ourselves out from going too far into the black hole of material aspiration. We straddle the two worlds, but I think most of us tend to keep the heavier foot solidly in the "I still want to have my cool stuff" mindset. That's just based on the observations I have made. Rarely, though more than never, we do see people give it all up to take this path less traveled. Some of the most inspirational people I know are those who have done just that (some of whom are the teachers that I so often quote in this blog).

Furthermore, there's the irony that to run a yoga studio, in fact, requires a business mindset, and a certain degree of "Type-A-ness" just to keep it afloat. If you don't have any of it, ends won't meet. It's a challenge.

It's almost like, here we are, in Western culture, with the nearly cardinal rule of "money talks..." and we are trying to get the best of the Eastern philosophy, which operates according to an entirely different set of rules. To try to make those two worlds meld, in itself, takes a certain degree of striving and determination that, unfortunately, again, is at odds with the entire practice. If I don't try to be "Type A" about fitting yoga into my days, it would eventually get squeezed out by all the other options vying for my attention.

Can you see the predicament?

24 August, 2013


Today was yoga with Gordy.

I would call it power vinyasa because that is what the schedule said, but it's difficult to assign that label when the class featured 0 chair, 0 Chaturanga, 0 upward dog, 1 plank, and a handful of down dogs. That's not to say there was not a wealth of hard work and deep holds, plus about 30 minutes of ab work at the start of class. But very unconventional.

And very nice.

Today this is what I wanted. My back wasn't fantastic but I was convinced this would be a good idea. It could have been too hot. But it wasn't. It was just right.

And so nice to see Gordy.

Not a lot to say today but feeling peaceful.

23 August, 2013

Creating Space

Friday was Power Vinyasa with Elizabeth Thomas.

That was now three days ago (though my blog history will end up creating the impression that I wrote this on the "right" day because I pre-date things to keep the history intact).

I don't remember much about the class, other than a few tidbits... we started off class by telling everyone a "word" that we really like. Most of the people picked super-positive words that reflected emotions that they like to experience, or things that represent the best situations in life. For some reason, I immediately thought of words that I just like to say, and whose meanings are specific and amusing. They weren't positive words, either of them, but I didn't choose them to be negative, nor was I feeling negative at the time. In fact, she also asked us to describe how we were feeling, and I described myself as feeling "content." My words, though, were "pontificate" and "vapid." I just thought they are good words. It got a laugh from the room, which was perhaps my ulterior motive... I recognize that as well.

Since I don't remember much else about the class, I wanted to tell you about something else.

Today I got rid of most of my college and graduate school text books. I unloaded a pile of engineering books and a pile of biology books. It was difficult for me to do, and I wasn't planning on doing it. A friend of mine is a "Personal Organizer" and she came over to help me work on a project. Part of the project was to involve moving a bookcase from one room to another. To do that, we needed to remove all the books. Unbeknownst to me, her plan was for me to also Goodwill all the books that I don't really want/need to have anymore. Initially, I said to her "I need all these books." She laughed, and asked me if I really needed them... did I really plan on ever looking at "Skeleton Crew" by Stephen King again? The answer is "no." I never plan to look at it, and am not even proud to have it on my bookshelf. So she helped me realize that there are some books that are truly of no value and I was able to discard maybe 5-10 books that way. Next I started to notice that there were a lot of books about angry political rants that I had purchased in the early 2000s when I was enraged about everything. There were books about Iraq, books about Palestine, books about Bush, books about deception in the government. After some thought, I realized that I am never going to look at those either, and that I don't even really feel like I want to populate my library with that stuff. So there went another 10 books or so. Then we came to the textbooks... These are things that I have trucked around with me from residence to residence for as many as 25 years. Freshman chemistry, physics, mathematics. Electromagnetics. Semiconductors. Quantum Mechanics. First of all, I have no need for these things anymore. Second, they're all completely outdated, except probably the mathematics, which hasn't changed that much in a few hundred years. So it really came down to two things: (1) These books have been, in my mind, defining who I am to myself in some way, and (2) There's some small amount of ego that causes me to want to keep them around because they make me seem smart. But how smart do I seem, when I no longer actually know anything that I learned from those classes?! I decided to keep only a few books that had sentimental value, such as having been authored by my own professors for whom I had much respect. The rest, probably close to 20 books, gone. And there were more things that I discarded, once I broke the seal of "clinging."

There are many things I have that I don't need anymore. I've let go of clothing that no longer suits me. Now I have let go of books. There are many other things I could consider.

Each of these severed attachments perhaps creates space for something new.

Give up what you must.

21 August, 2013

Places called home

Today was vinyasa with Alice Harper.

Just got back from California at 8pm and realized that an 8:30pm class with Alice was an option I couldn't really turn down.

I am thinking about what defines "home." I suppose the Cheers "a place where everybody knows your name" is a pretty good way of thinking about it.

There are several different yoga studios that now feel like home to me. Places where I know what I am getting and where I trust the people into whose words I place my practice. I guess it's more the teacher than the room, but it can be a combination of the two.

Maybe I have too much time on my hands to think about these things.

I am thankful for Alice. Connecting with her as a teacher is what has made me think of Live Love Flow as a place that I want to call home. And it is convenient that it is located a few blocks from my house.

Had I decided to move across town, impulsively, a month or so ago, a lot of what is convenient about this location may have slipped through my fingers. It felt so urgent when I was starting to look at places. Almost like an avalanche. If I don't act right away I will be missing something! This is my big chance! There was a feeling of urgency. I decided to question that urgency, and to start from the assumption that it was constructed drama. And then... do nothing. And see what happened. And the urgency passed. And now I am glad that I am where I am. There are small wishes about this, that, or the other thing that could be better. But I am content. And peaceful. By staying still.

This is the yoga.


20 August, 2013

From Russia with love

Today was power vinyasa with Ali Kamenova on the internet.

I discovered her on my YouTube hunt last week. She has dozens of classes posted and they all seem decent. Tonight I am at a crappy motel that calls itself a hotel but let's be honest. It is a work trip and we went out to dinner so I missed the opportunity for class at Yoga Belly. I felt full and indigestive but there was a commitment to practice today and that meant solo practice in the crappy hotel.

Ali is a very thin, fit, attractive Russian woman who does voiceover for her own practice. Her routine is slightly unconventional. The Sun A are not the usual and there were really no Sun B. No Warrior I. Lots of Warrior II and high lunge. Her transitions were unusual too. Warrior II directly to side plank, for example. Lots of planks. Knee to nose. Knee to elbow. No standing balance. No back bends. This class was focused on planks and core. I am sure she has other ones that are focused on the poses we didn't do here.

The Russian accent is surely a novelty and nice to hear. Sometimes I need a little extra motivation. 

What can I say? I am only human. 

Oddly, my low back felt amazing after that practice. Not sure what it was. Something good. The yoga cannot be bad. How could it feel good and be bad?

19 August, 2013

Spirituality through shared experience

Today was Hatha with Jo.

I had no idea class would be with Jo, since the time slot is usually occupied by Patrick. But I was glad this was the way it happened, because I hadn’t seen her in a long time, and it was the right energy for today.

The first half of the hour featured two sets of most of the poses. In an hour class, I know that when this happens there will a compensation on the back half of the class, with many poses being skipped, since the time simply has to add up to an hour, no getting around it. So, while we did two sets of Dancer and two sets of Standing Head-to-Knee, and others, we only did a single set of Side Angle, no Rabbit, no Pigeon, no Hero, no seated stretches. But it was just fine.

The class was reasonably full, but not uncomfortably so. It started off unheated, since they had forgotten to turn on the heat, but that was remedied pretty quickly. Still, starting from a balmy 85 degrees, it never quite achieved the “surface-of-the-sun” climate that often occurs in that room. For that, I was thankful, and I received a fair amount of teasing (well-deserved) from Jo about the heat, given she is well aware of my philosophizing and whining about temperature.

Jo had a few words that landed on me today. She talked about how, in order to love anyone else, or to be loved, we must first learn to love ourselves, exactly as we are today. Not about some future more perfect self. Not conditionally. But now. I thought, and am thinking now, about how to love myself as I am right now. I am not saying that I don’t. But perhaps, how to better love myself. This is the body I have been dealt, and I don’t know what the future holds. This is the mind I have been given, and I don’t know what will be my path from here. Can I find a way to better love who I am now.

The second thing Jo said was that we should take a moment to recognize why we are here. We often hear about setting an intention, or a dedication, or a devotion - whatever way you want to put it. And she noted that we are all here for a reason. “Look around the room, and the class is full. The classes are always full. Everyone is here for a reason.” And, for once, I stepped outside of looking at that mirror as a tool for criticizing or admiring my own body, or for checking out someone else’s impressive rendition of a pose, and I stole a glance in the mirror of about 30 other yogis and yoginis, with their eyes closed, and their hands at heart-center, each of them committed to this same thing. The practice. There might be 30 different reasons why we’re standing there. In that moment, I felt a sense of connection and beauty in this shared experience. I didn’t feel separate.

I don’t know what it is to be spiritual with the kind of certainty as some who attach it to a religion or a god. But looking into the mirror and seeing myself as being in union with 30 others – unity of purpose – even though probably 27 of those 30 people were complete strangers to me – that feels like something I can only label as a kind of spirituality.

Be very careful who you trust

Today was weight training with Rob Something-Or-Other in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Actually, "today" was about 22 years ago, but I will tell you the story today, the moral of which is to be very careful who you trust, even for things as seemingly trivial as a workout partner at a local gym.

When I finished my undergraduate program in electrical engineering at University of Massachusetts, I stuck around and started a graduate degree in the same program. I am not sure I was really committed to the idea of being a graduate student at that time, but I was definitely not committed to going out into the real world. In my late teens and early twenties, I had been interested in weight training and in running, and I did a lot of both these activities. There was a local gym where I worked out, usually alone. Somehow, either through a trainer, or just through acquaintance, I came to meet a guy named Rob who was of approximately similar strength to me. He was a little bit stronger, which can be good, in terms of motivation. I don't think he was a student. He was a couple of years older, and I don't actually remember what he did, or why he was living there at the time. Guys in their early twenties, lifting weights, might not even think to have a conversation about something unrelated to the task at hand.

We worked out together at least a couple of times a week. I can't recall if we made plans to do it, or if we just tended to be there at the same time. On one occasion, we were doing a leg press machine, I cannot remember what it's called, but It's one where you're seated at about a 45 degree angle, and there is a bar that you load the weights on, and then push them up a track with your legs along that same 45 degree slope. It's a machine, but the kind that takes free weights on it. We were doing a lot of weight at that time. I am pretty sure that I was routinely putting 4 "plates" on each side, which comes out to about 360 pounds. But, when you factor in the slope and the track and all that, you aren't actually lifting 360 pounds (if my trigonometry serves me correctly, I would guess that, at 45 degrees, you're lifting no more than 0.707 of the weight). In any case, I was pretty strong then. Rob was stronger, and he often did 5 "plates" on each side. One day, I decided to give it a shot. When the weights came down, there are only two options: (1) you press the weight with your legs, or (2) your workout partner assists you. The situation that occurred on this day, unfortunately for me, was (3) neither of the above. When the weight came down, I was not able to press it up. It was too much. I asked for assistance and, instead of immediately offering me modest assistance, which would be standard protocol, Rob said "C'mon! You got it! You got it!" and I distinctly remember saying "No I don't!!" At that point, the assistance should be significant. Your spotter should never let the movement stop, even without a request for help. And, in the event of a request for help, the spotter should get the weight off you immediately. Rob didn't do that. Given that I wasn't getting much help, and that I now needed a lot of help, I had no choice but to try to get the weight up. And when I did, I felt something "POP!" in my low back. After getting out of the machine, I was unable to bend forward more than a few inches. This pain lasted for many days, and affected my movement significantly. In all likelihood, looking back, I had probably either badly herniated or ruptured discs in my low back. And that was the start of all the problems that have affected me intermittently since that day.

I never thought anything much of the importance of picking a spotter judiciously. But, when you think about it, it's practically as important as choosing a designated driver, or someone to hold the ropes for you when you're climbing. I never thought I was going to *need* my spotter for something that would ultimately have a permanent long-term impact on my health. But that's exactly the way it turned out. When we choose people to assist us in ways that relate to health or safety, we are really choosing to put, at least to an extent, our "life" in their hands. It's a big choice. Not a trivial one. Choosing "any warm body" is not paying the due respect to our own well being that we should be paying.

I don't know how many choices I have made between then and now that exacerbated the problem that started on that day. But I now know that the single greatest "health issue" that I currently face was the result of casual judgment regarding my own safety.

Think about who you choose to trust, and let that choice be an act of commission, rather than omission.

18 August, 2013

This we hold until Savasana...

Today was Gentle Yoga with Elizabeth McElveen.

She often discusses this at the start of class: “The low-belly lock. Once we engage through here, we are making a subtle commitment to hold this throughout the entire practice… until Savasana.”

Those words linger heavily on me every time. I don’t fully understand why, but whenever Elizabeth says this, I am always overcome with strong emotions. I could cry on the spot, even now, reflecting on it. Perhaps it’s something about her tone. Perhaps it is a reading between the lines that I am doing. Or perhaps it is a personal meaning that I have come to automatically attach to it. But what I am hearing is something much greater than holding in my gut, or standing tall. My interpretation is that there is certain work that we must do, on our mats, as well as in our lives, that we can never let go. There is never a time to let go of mindfulness. There is never a time to let go of compassion. There is never a time to let go of acceptance… Until we die… Until final rest…

Until Savasana.

That is the work.

And holding that low-belly lock symbolizes the responsibility we have to ourselves and to our practice to recognize it. These locks are what keep us safe, and what keep us centered, and they are a place to which we are told to repeatedly return focus.

That is the meaning I take from it. Perhaps I have read more into it than was intended. Or perhaps I am rehydrating that which I would have learned if I were to read the right yoga philosophy books, instead having come to the same realization through assimilation on the mat, rather than explicit instruction.

16 August, 2013

The energizer yogi

Today was power vinyasa with Scott Francis.

It's true. I just keep going and going. Today I was careful in the forward folds because I just went to a physical therapist who told me that I should never be bending forward or backward. The guy knew absolutely nothing about yoga and I don't want to go back to him. But I still have that thought in my head now of "how careful is careful enough?"

It's weird how information can affect perception even though my physical reality is no different than it was a month ago. I half wonder if I should be changing anything at all. Is MRI a representation of infallible truth? I know that it shows what it shows. But am I in grave danger? Nobody will tell me shit. Then doctors won't give me any expectations or prognosis. Not even an honest evaluation. Apparently opinions are not allowed anymore. Just mumbling and equivocation. And they get paid the big bucks for it.

The class itself was not that difficult for me as Scott classes go. I guess I took it a little easy but I did not skip anything. It was a mindset.

Ok. That's all.

15 August, 2013

I want my MTV!!!

Today was Power Yoga with Kristin McGee on MTV.

Yep, you heard me right. I decided to do yoga at home today, and figured I would take a peek at what YouTube might have to offer in terms of full guided yoga classes. So I searched on "Power Yoga" and found a 52 minute class from an MTV fitness program, taught by a teacher named Kristin McGee. I decided to give it a shot, and it was a decent class. She had good instruction, it was a good flow, pretty familiar, with a decent Level 1 intensity. There were 3 "students" in the class, who represented different levels of practitioner, but I honestly didn't pay much attention to them, since all I was looking for was a voice to guide me through the practice. She threw in a few minutes of what she called "Pilates" at the end of class, but to me it just looked like the standard abdominal series that we often see in Vinyasa classes. I guess I have been doing Pilates all along?

So there's another tool in the toolbox, for practicing at home, on the road, etc. I have given a lot of thought to checking out a website like "HitPlayYoga" but now that I have found this option, I may poke around and see what sort of good stuff I can find on there. You only really need a few good videos to keep you going.

There's definitely something extra about the energy of being in person in a class, no doubt. But this takes a lot of pressure off the A/B choice of "Does my schedule fit any of the studios today?" versus "Ugh... do I need to lead myself through practice at home?" There's a third option.

As you can probably tell from the fact that I have not mentioned "pain" or "back" or any various other whining that I am wont to do on here lately, things feel remarkably good today. They felt pretty good yesterday too. I really don't get it, when it comes to the way a disc injury goes. On the flight down to SF, my back was absolutely killing, which I attributed to the altitude/pressure. On the flight back from SF, I had no pain at all. What could be different? I don't know.

Sometimes there's no good explanation.

I feel good. I will remain careful. I will do yoga.

13 August, 2013

Keep on truckin'

Today was some kind of vinyasa practice at the Hotel Triton.

I was at a workshop in downtown San Francisco today. My back hurt. I will not lie. It was not bad, but it was irritating. And I decided that I would do yoga when I got done with the day, because there's a part of my mind that doesn't want to believe that doing nothing is better than doing something. And I still remain convinced that I may be right. Can you hear my certainty?

I did a practice of about 55 minutes, that could be described as a cross between an Elizabeth McElveen gentle class and a J. Politi Basics class. I focused on breath, form, and a pace of ease and alignment. Started off with gentle Cat/Cow, plus Spinal Balance and elbow to knee. Then there were 5 Sun As. 5 Sun Bs. The first 3 Sun B were with Warrior I only. Then I progressively added Warrior II and then Side Angle. I did Eagle, Dancer, Tree, Triangle, Pyramid. Then I went to the floor and did Locust, Bridge, Supta-B, some abs with knees bent, Happy Baby, Gomukhasana, and called it good from there. That's approximately what I did. There were some Side Planks in there too before I did the Triangle series. And I did Standing Splits at some point in there too. And there was some Lizard pose, too. No twists, no Half Moon, no Crescent Lunge. There were probably a couple of other things in there too. The goal was "zero pain" and I achieved it. Upward Dog didn't hurt, which I considered to be a victory. Oh yeah, I kind of did Gorilla too, but not really pulling much, because I didn't want to put strain, obviously, on the low back.

In a room temperature environment, in my hotel room, I had a serious sweat going. It was a good "class," I would say.

I am not sure what comes next. Tomorrow, I go to my workshop. Then I get on a plane. Then I go to Seattle.

Life continues. Yoga continues. This is what I do, until I can't.

12 August, 2013

Is everything going to be okay?

Today I went for the follow-up appointment in the department of neurosurgery, where they evaluated the results of the MRI that I had last week. The facts are that I have herniation of two discs: one between L4 and L5, and one between L5 and S1. The herniation is worse than it was two years ago, the last time that I had an MRI. That's what they said. So I asked if I could see it, because I was curious if this was something that required an advanced medical degree to detect. And the answer, unfortunately, is "no," one does not need any form of medical education to see that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. It was plain as day and, to quote a doctor-friend of mine who had looked at the images a few days ago, "Your back is not so good."

It looks bad. It looks like I shouldn't be walking. the lower of the two discs is pushed so far backwards into the space that's supposed to contain nothing but spinal cord, that there is almost no room for the spinal cord to even pass through it. I don't feel like I have much pain, but I look like I should not be walking, based on that MRI. I asked the doctor if he was surprised at my lack of symptoms, and all he said was that he would expect me to have some pain radiating down my legs, which I don't. I also learned from the doctor that I already have a congenitally narrow spinal canal, which only means that there's less space to play around with in the first place down there.

The question I ask myself now is… Did the yoga make this worse?

Two years ago, I had a certain amount of herniation. For about two years now, I have been doing yoga. And I have been doing a lot of back flexion (which the doctor said I should not be doing). Lots of forward folding. Seated folds, Triangles, Side Angles, Pyramids, Plows. I mean, what haven't I done in the realm of back flexion? And now my disc herniation is markedly worse than it was.

I am not sure what to do. I don't want to stop doing yoga. And I want to believe that if it doesn't hurt when I am doing it, then it is not harming me. I have done some things that have not exactly *hurt* but have definitely been a tiny bit tweaky in terms of going too deep. Did those cause damage? Is just doing Sun Salutation after Sun Salutation squeezing the remaining fragile disc further and further into a place that is going to seriously cause harm and require emergency surgery one day?

I don't know. I am supposed to see Physical Therapy next. There is no surgery consultation at this point. Nobody is saying I need to go for surgery. Nobody is saying "don't do yoga" either. All he said today is to avoid extreme back flexion. What does that mean? Is a forward fold with my knees bent and my feet apart okay? Is it not okay? Did the worsening of this injury maybe have *nothing* to do with yoga at all? Maybe it's just an unfortunate progression of whatever was going on there anyway.

As I write this, I am on an airplane, enjoying the metal bar at the base of my seat digging right into the part of my spine that I am trying to protect. I'm also recognizing that flying, and the cabin pressure at altitude, hurts more than not flying.

Fun times.

I had an idea that I would do yoga tonight when I got to the hotel room. But I can't honestly tell you if that's a good idea or not. Maybe Suptabadokonasana for 15 minutes could be called "yoga" and I can call it good for the night.

Where's my intelligence, discernment, and clarity right now?

Everything is so good right now, save for that disc. So I want to live in that place of goodness, but pay close attention to this place of concern. 

I think that's possible, right?

11 August, 2013

More small blessings

Sunday was Vinyasa + Restorative yoga with Alice Harper.

Saturday was a mandatory day off. I am inclined to think I should not be doing 7-9 days on, with zero days off, given the situation with my back. It's Monday right now, as I write about yesterday's class with Alice. It was absolutely wonderful. I woke up feeling a little discomfort in my low back, and wondering if it was going to get better or worse as the day wore on. I missed the typical "go-to" class with Elizabeth McE at noon, due to my Sunday morning spilling over into a Sunday afternoon. So I was looking at the afternoon (4pm) options around town, and decided that this would be a good class to take, since I hadn't tried Alice's restorative class.

At the start of class, I told Alice about my herniated disc, and she shared that she's gone through a very similar thing with her low back, and she made me feel safe (not sure what she said that did that, but I guess when someone tells you they've been through a similar thing, it can be very validating). Much to my pleasant surprise, the class featured zero twists. I thanked Alice, jokingly, after class for having not called out any twists, and she smiled and said "I know" - she had actually taken that into account in the class that she taught. No twists, because I had said that my low back was hurting. It feels good to have someone look out for me.

The flow was not difficult. It was her usual pattern of rotating around in all directions on the mat, and the flows were reasonably lengthy with some challenging poses. But the pace was very deliberate, and she spoke a lot about taking care of the low back during Chaturangas, etc. There was a reasonably lengthy series of stretches on the floor, which I tried to do carefully to avoid putting pressure on my low back. Then, we dropped into the "restore" phase, which was essentially to lie still, supported on a rolled blanket, and try to really let everything go completely for at least 10 minutes, perhaps longer. 

Once again, I walked out of class feeling better than I felt when I walked in.

09 August, 2013

Never know what to expect so don't expect anything

Today was power vinyasa with Elizabeth Thomas.

I wasn't sure how it would go. After last night's discomfort doing "gentle yoga" I half wondered if I would be able to do the class. But, sure enough, I showed up and everything felt pretty much fine, save for the conscious choice not to do any twists. I put myself at the back of the room so that I wouldn't be a spectacle, had I needed to modify extensively. But I pretty much did the class, and it pretty much didn't hurt. I don't really know what to make of it. I have had the doctors describe to me what's going on in there, but I hadn't seen it for myself, so it's just medical-speak. If you go by "how it feels" I would have to just say it feels like I have a mild injury to my low back. Certainly it is not as painful as things that have been going on with my shoulder, wrist, knee, groin, etc. at various other times. 

I didn't think it would be possible for me to take ET's classes on Friday anymore, since it's the 4pm class, and I am not "way over in Fremont" (which is really only 2.4 miles away but, from the commute perspective, can be as much as a 30-40 minute drive at the wrong time of day). But one of the benefits of collaborating with folks in London is that I can set up an early meeting, get to work at 7:15, and if you add 8 hours to that, you're looking at a respectable 3:30 departure on Friday. Not too shabby. Not that I am on an 8 hour time clock, but it still is a principle that is best upheld. So it felt like a "special" occasion to take Elizabeth's class, and I was happy to have the opportunity to speak with her for a while after class about random stuff, ranging from yoga to non-yoga.

My low back often feels better after class than it did before. Even though I think that the forward folding or whatever is going to make it really hurt, or be bad for me, I find that I feel more pain-free after class than before. And I have already told you that my pain is minimal anyway, so I would have thought (if I hadn't had an MRI) that I am basically okay. Doing well. Getting better. Just a little flare-up.

I've felt emotional in class lately. I like my life right now. A lot of things are going the way I want them to be going. I want to continue to focus on what is good, what is right, what is working. But it's important for me not to ignore the things that need addressing. And right now, it's just one thing.

That's all I've got to say about this one. Wish I could be more profound.

08 August, 2013

When gentle isn't gentle enough

Today was GENTLE YOGA with Tina Templeman.

Today was the first day of practicing yoga in light of this new information I have about just how messed up my low back may be. Or may not be. I mean, really, the MRI says one thing, but maybe it's not as bad as the data says. Anyway, we didn't even do any Upward Facing Dogs because it was a gentle class. But Low Cobra was feeling it, which made me feel like it's not so fantastic. Of course, now that I am in the mindset of "I know there's something wrong" I think I am looking at the pain differently than before. A few days ago, I probably would have been like "Fuck it! Upward Dog HERE I COME!!!!!" and maybe it wouldn't have even hurt so much. But now, I am in this mode of expecting I should be feeling pain, because something's not right. Okay, enough of that.

I'd been waiting to take a gentle class for a long time with Tina, and finally this was my chance. But instead of being able to really enjoy it and go deep, I found myself actually laboring just to find what I could and could not do without any pain. I guess I am still whining.

Here's where I am at.

No twists. Don't let you see me doing a twist.

The jury is out on forward folds... case by case basis.

Upward dog... ugh. It's hard for me to let go of that one, and I don't know. We'll see in Elizabeth's class maybe?

Bridge? Wheel? No way. In Tina's class today, I tried putting a block on it's lowest setting under my sacrum for supported bridge, and it felt like the block was actually pressing up against my disc and triggering pain.

So this is where it's at.

I am going to keep doing yoga until I can't do yoga. But I will do it, as best as I can, in ways that don't make things worse. Unfortunately, I am not even sure what makes it worse. If inflammation is making it worse, then it's possible that any movement of that joint at all is bad. But I would imagine that no movement would be bad too. And then there's the heat... good? bad? I don't know. And then there's the fact that I am now getting on an airplane twice a week, every week... good? I hardly see how that could be anything but bad.

06 August, 2013

Shutting it down when necessary

Today was Power Vinyasa with Tess Tabor at Live Love Flow.

I should really just say that today was Child's Pose with Mick Feeble, because that was about the pace of things. I think I have alluded to my having some low back issues over the last few weeks, and it's become a bit worse. Somehow, yesterday, I made it through Michel's class feeling like a champ, but I must have done some fatigue on things, and I didn't get enough sleep last night. The result was that I really didn't feel particularly good doing anything in this class. From what I could tell, it was reasonably close to a Baptiste flow, with some additional things thrown in here and there, particularly to the early Sun Salutations. I kept with the class for about 30 minutes or so, with every Upward Dog hurting, and every Forward Fold feeling stiff. Finally, I realized (decided) that my body didn't want this right now. And that pushing through with an obsessive mindset, just to say "I did the whole class" was not going to serve the greater good of having a practice every day. I sometimes worry so much about "letting myself off the hook" that I err on "ignoring what my body is trying to tell me."

Once I hit that point where I realized "This is not what's happening," I decided that I would keep practicing, but it would be entirely seated poses. So I did Pigeon, and I did Seated Tree, and I did Cow Pose, and I did Plow, and I did a few other ones. I held them for a long time. I tried to follow the general vein of what she was calling out. If she had them doing Eagle, I did it on my back and did some gentle crunches in that position. I was trying to honor the practice and my body at the same time, rather than get up and leave, or just check out and lay there doing nothing (though, I do recognize that would have been completely fine as well).

It's interesting being in that state of doing "my" practice while the entire class is doing another practice. I tend to drift back and forth between hearing their instructions, noticing some of what they're doing, versus being completely zoned into my own space, just trying to stay present to the present that is my own.

Perhaps this insistence on doing yoga every day, without fail, even through substantial injury (particularly a spinal injury) is not the most intelligent choice.

Stay tuned!

05 August, 2013

Be what you need to be

Today was Power Vinyasa with Michel.

I am not really sure how I did it. It was a ninety minute class, and my low back is (I now know) certifiably screwed up. I had another MRI done on it. Last one was 2 years ago. This time, it showed that my back is much worse than it was two years ago. There's enough going on down there that I am actually concerned that I may need to have surgery. But strangely, I am not walking around in agony. In the past, that has happened, too. But right now, I feel a little bit more like someone who knows they have a tumor. There's not much pain, but I know something's wrong, and am not sure what they're going to have to do about it.

So I made it through the class. Michel had some segments that were more advanced "playtime" for people who like to do advanced poses, and I didn't do much of that. But I tried jumping up into handstand, and I tried doing "Donkey Kicks" too. In hindsight, it seems insane to think that I was doing that. Of course it's also possible that my MRI tells a story that is worse than what my body actually is experiencing. It's not like an image always tells you what's important.

But I have spent the past few days bouncing back and forth between thinking that I might have to have back surgery, and worrying will I be able to do yoga again? Ever? How long? Will I be better after surgery or worse? And the other end of the spectrum is that I probably don't need surgery because no doctor would operate on someone who is not in much pain. The truth is, I just don't know. And this is what life is offering right now. Everything has been going along great. New job. Working on music. Life is shiny and rosy and all that jazz. But there's this thing with my spine. It can be tempting to assert some magical malevolent forces or the universe that are there to smack us down any time things start to get to wonderful. But that's non-essential thinking, as Baron would say. It's a story I can choose to tell myself. But I can also choose not to tell myself that. This issue with my low back started about 22 years ago, with an injury. And that pretty much set me on a course where I would be needing to respect that part of my body for the rest of my life. By and large, I have not done so. I am starting to, now, with yoga. But still, I sometimes get way overzealous. I went to yoga every day in Hawaii, along with snorkeling three times a day, and I didn't back off the intensity of the practice. If anything, I have been escalating intensity, re-adding poses like all the twists (which I had previously avoided).

We often hear a mindset of "If you can, you must!" But I know there are lot of things I *can* do, that I should not do. The spirit is to not let oneself off the hook for reason of fear, laziness, habit. But there are things that we are best off not doing, and that's about "honoring the body" and the messages it sends us.

I have a special back. That's not a story. That's not drama. It's cold, hard fact. My spine is not "normal" anymore, and I cannot make my choices based on will alone, or on majority rules (i.e. "Everyone else is doing it!"). I need to respect this fragile situation, and show more caution than many other people. I am better off, when it comes to my low back, of erring on the side of letting myself off the hook than cans and musts. Because the consequences actually are life-threatening. Or at least life-altering, or livelihood-threatening. I've been told that if I am not careful, I could become paralyzed from waist down, lose control of bodily functions, lose sensation or, worse (!!), lose sexual function if I were to exacerbate what's going on down there.

So, while I am proud of myself for showing up and rocking Michel's awesome class, my practice may be to show up and modify Michel's awesome class instead.

And to be okay with that.

04 August, 2013

Poison of a conditioned life

Today was gentle yoga with Elizabeth McElveen.

"I step to the front of my mat to stop drinking the poison of living a conditioned life."

Practicing is the commitment to observe ourselves and create an opportunity to act in a manner other than that conditioned one. I suppose it doesn't need to be on a yoga mat at all. It could be meditation. Or it could just be living in the present. Without yoga or meditation. I suppose that is possible too. I don't know that I ever did it. It's hard enough to do it now even some of the time, with the yoga.

I have a bit of anxious energy in me because of an unexpected situation that arose for me. Without any details that I cannot share, I will say that it manifested itself as fear in me of almost a panic like nature, because of a sense of loss of control over my own life. It had a healthy dose of shame wrapped up in it too. Confusion. Rationalization. Hunting for explanation. And the thing is, it's no big deal. I could forget about it and everything would be fine. But it was a little curveball that life will invariably deal. Expect the unexpected one might say. But actually we might as well not bother expecting the unexpected because we will be no better prepared. The real trick is just to be able to accept whatever comes and keep moving forward with the same grace and peace regardless of whether it's the same or completely different. I guess I thought I was getting good at that until something new popped up that had never even been in my lexicon of possibilities.

So now all I can do is practice here. Breathe here.

I had a hard time falling asleep because of my mind latching into that which is already behind me and creating stories about what may be ahead. Non essential. Sleep. Move on. Things will be what they're gonna be anyway.

02 August, 2013

Ask yourself the right question

Today was Power Vinyasa with Scott Francis.

Last week I had the experience of class being too fast, as I discussed in an earlier blog entry. I spoke with Scott after class, and the only thing that came out of it for me was that perhaps I approach some things with a kind of rigidity of "This is how *I* do it" and then I resist the flow that is. In essence, that is the root of much of the suffering that I experience. How things *should* be. Scott had said something about letting the class move me, rather than me being in such control, and I had been unsure if that was a practical suggestion at the time. It's not that I disbelieved him. It's just that, at the end of a class the kicked my ass (or where I kicked my own ass) it was hard for me to be open to that possibility.

So, today I showed up with a different approach. I was ready for Scott's class, and intent upon letting the class move me. Whatever that turned out to mean. And as class progressed, I found that I was able this time to keep up, and to even enjoy the fluidity. Also, I noticed the things that bother me during class, and my reaction to them. The towel moving around. Why does that bother me? The sweat getting in my eyes to the point of blinding me, and making me feel like I might fall over. But why is that a problem?

And what I landed on today was a realization that I was asking the wrong question last week. I kept asking myself during class "Why is this so fast?" and, as you know, that devolved into "What's wrong with me?" and "Why can't I do this?" and "Why is it easy for everyone else?" All those usual questions that pop up for me, on and off the mat. There is "how it should be" and then "how it is" and I have had a hard time negotiating the gap.

Today, instead, the question I found myself asking "What can I do to make this work?" I was ready to take one of Scott's suggestions from last week, which had been to not worry about my breath following every move, if that was too fast. But it turned out this was not necessary. My movement and my breath were in sync. Because I learned that what I could do was move faster in certain parts of the flow. And I could do it without losing the integrity of the key shapes in the practice. The place where I was able to gain much time that I tend to lose was in transitions. Specifically, transitioning from a Warrior back to High Plank. I think I have always tended to drag ass going down to the mat, and before I even get there, a teacher may already be calling out Upward Dog. Or from the Halfway Lift, I found that when I do the jumpback, with care, I get there much faster than stepping one foot at a time. There was a time when that was not a good idea for my practice, and I still may not often do this. But in a very flowing class, where I am well-warmed up, it is something that is now in my practice.

The assumptions I had made were untrue. It was not too fast. I was just not focused enough to make quick and graceful movements between poses, at least not in some cases. I may not have the energy to do these transitions more quickly every day. But today I could.

Having that experience of changing my behavior instead of hoping someone else would change actually led to an entirely different experience in the class. Often I have found Scott's dreamy meditative tone to exacerbate anxiety I experience in the class. Because I was already triggered. But when I modified me, and made it work, I felt in harmony with the class. Suddenly, everything that Scott was saying was wonderful (though, surely, no different than much of what he says in other weeks - the difference was in me).

Perspective is everything.

01 August, 2013

Door number one

Today was power vinyasa with Tina Templeman.

I had considered today would be the day I would try out Yoga Tree in Fremont. For whatever reason I decided to stick with the known and go to Tina's class. And it was a tough one. I did my best not to come undone. We were packed tightly. It was hot. At one point, going into Crow, I fell forward into start of a headstand and then continued toppling into the wall in front of me. I was briefly suspended in a legit-ish headstand against the wall until I then crumpled down into an awkward pile. I guess the upside is that it was not scary. It was just silly and sloppy.

8 days in a row and still not taking a day off. Back still hurts a bit and still taking tons of ibuprofen. But it's not getting worse.

One foot in front of the other.

Baby steps.