Just prior to our trip into the backcountry, Larry (aka theMAN) and I visited another local yoga studio for one last practice before we hit the road. Our home mysore program was honoring the New Moon and was, therefore, closed but this other bay area studio (YiY) makes a point not to close up on Sunday (their busiest day of the week). We were honored that they would have us and I was especially excited to attend practice there as the room is currently being run by, Kirsten and Mitchell, two amazing visiting teachers — one who has been doing some structural integration bodywork on me for the past couple of weeks. I would go into that more but it’s really a topic for a whole other post. Suffice to say, he’s excellent and this type of bodywork is immensely helpful.
Although YiY isn’t our home studio, we’ve been there for many ashtanga workshops and the community there is always welcoming. It was my first time to visit their mysore program. Kirsten and Mitchell worked the room with an admirable efficiency — somehow seeming to attend to everyone’s needs fully. Repeatedly, the message I heard from them was in regards to my breath: extend the inhalation, bring the breath into the low back, begin the inhale more gradually and without as much force, hush the sound by moving it out of the throat and into the chest and abdomen, and harness it to the movements. It was a lot to take in but I knew they were right. I’ve heard it before just not as intensely.
While we were away on our trip, I took up practice on the majority of our days out in the backcountry. The change in elevation coupled with my red blood cell count being low made catching my breath all the more challenging — especially when we were up over 11,000 feet of elevation.
I remember thinking that it was impossible to practice with any intensity while up so high. Feeling (and hearing) my heart pounding while hanging my head in padangushtasana, I entertained the thought of quitting. But the joy of practicing out in the open, with the peaceful beauty all around us urged me to keep up my effort. I thought about Kirsten and Mitchell’s cueing from the weekend and continued my practice.
To be honest, I don’t know exactly when it changed but it did. Before long, I was nearing the end of the primary series and contemplating how far into second I would go. The goal wasn’t to do a full practice; I merely wanted to move my body and mind in a manner different from the hiking/backpacking we’d been doing for 5+ hours each day. Of course, if it lightened up the soreness in my back, I wouldn’t have complained.
Even though I still have a ton of work to do on my breathing, I am encouraged to be able to have found a sense of calmness out up in the mountains. It shows that I actually CAN achieve what Kirsten and Mitchell were asking of me. Maybe not today but…some day.