Push or Pull?

Yesterday, my teacher posted an article titled “Reasons Your Ashtanga Teacher May Not Be Giving You More Poses.” Since I have all the poses I need right now, I did not open it up right away. Later in the morning, I clicked to the article for all the articles she refers to us generally have some helpful bit of information for me to glean. While reading, I pretty much nodded my head as went down the list…until I came upon the item about pushing too hard. I paused, remembering a conversation that occurred during Monday’s Mysore practice.

T: You aren’t pushing are you, Julie?
M: Pushing?
T: Yeah, pushing?
M: My leg?
T: No. You?

Giggles were heard coming from a nearby mat or two. My yogini friends who know my long standing endurance athlete tendency to push aggressively towards any and all goals. Honestly, in this instance, I didn’t think I was pushing – or pulling for that matter. But when she told me to soften I felt myself relax right onto my exended leg in Janu Sirsasana to such an extent that I could easily grasp the forearm of my outstretched arm. My whole body oo-d “Ahhh” as my teacher assisted me in the magical way she does.

I was still a little dumbstruck when she walked away to assist the next person. I moved on with my practice, trying to be mindful of not pushing yet careful to stay engaged (physically and mentally) where appropriate. Since I am still in a situation where I must to rely on my home practice to maintain a six-day-a-week practice, I need to learn to recognize when I am being too aggressive. It’s funny – because I spent much of my marathoning days racing hard to a point but never quite pushing hard enough to hit my goal.

As I maintain my six-day-a-week practice AND, at the same time, train to build up to a 4 day backpacking trek in the Grand Canyon, this distinction will be valuable on the mat, on the hiking trail, and in life in general. Quite frankly, I think it’s a good lesson for all.

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To teach or not to teach?

This is not really the question. Not the real question, that is. However…

I have to admit, I’ve been seriously questioning my desire to become a yoga teacher. In a conversation just the other day I insisted, “There are so many yoga teachers already… and what have I got to add to the mix?” I asked. Then, I answered, “Nothing. I haven’t got anything to add that isn’t already fulfilling the needs of our community.” He tried to tell me I was wrong but quickly gave up the fight and just listened. That’s all I needed at the moment: a sounding board for my self-doubt and insecurity.

I am guessing that self-doubt, to some extent, is normal. Isn’t it?  I mean, this isn’t the first time I’ve felt that my offering was of little to no value to others. On prior occasions, I was 110% off in my self-evaluation. If I had ignored my fears, and abandoned my plans, many would have lost out on account of my deep-rooted fear of not being good enough. I think this is what you would call a samskara, and probably one of my biggest ones.

On all the occasions where the perceived message was one of not-good-enough, the person on the other end always seemed to be asking for more. Although I cannot remember each instance, there have been MANY, I now wonder if I got it all wrong. What if their asking for more wasn’t that my offering wasn’t good enough but, instead, so good that they wanted more of it?

Moreover, how would it be different if my approach to giving wasn’t so tied up in receiving a response of gratitude? How would it be if I could just give without expecting something in return? This concept is indeed different than how we (I) have been brought up where, right from the start, we are taught to say “thank you” for the gifts receive. Don’t get me wrong. Gratitude is a good thing.  I’m simply suggesting that the expectation of “Thank you for dinner, Mom. It is delicious,” can set one up for disappointment and invalidation when preoccupation interferes with the message being delivered – even if the recipient truly was appreciative.

Which brings me back to my offering and teaching… Read More

practicing compassion in the face of distraction

When I last wrote about my home practice, I failed to mention the fact the extent that my home practice is littered with interruptions. These interruptions, or momentary departures from my practice, have been a source of great frustration for me as they involve my teenage son waking, staying conscious, and actually staying aroused enough to function and get himself ready for school. Even on days when it is not my turn to drive the carpool, I do not feel able to leave for the studio until he has managed to get himself into the shower.

This week, his studies have kept him up exceptionally late – in spite of the addition of tutoring and organizational coaching. Last night he was up past midnight and still had not finished his assignments. It is no wonder that he cannot manage to pull himself from his slumbers. The poor guy is exhausted.

Meanwhile, I am wide awake and well into my practice by the time his first alarm sounds. This alarm not only blares in the rudest decibel but also brutally shakes the bed. It is not how I would want to wake up but it seems that even this does not always manage to stir him from his astral travels. This is where I come in. I turn on his light and try to engage him in conversation.

Then I return to my mat and resume my practice. By the time the second alarm sounds, my son has returned to a deep sleep. I listen, noting that the alarm gets turned off, and continue my practice. About 5 minutes later, when there are no signs of life outside of my room, I holler for him to get in the shower. If there is a verbal response, I stay on my mat. If not, I leave my mat and, while trying to maintain some sort of compassion and patience, wake him again. I am not always successful at this. And by successful, I mean compassionate and patient. Often times, I admit, I am downright resentful. But I try.

This past week, I have made a more conscious effort to temper my tendency towards resentfulness — remembering that my head hits the pillow MANY hours before my son’s does. Instead, I try to own this role as more of a motherly responsibility to which I am blessed with rather than burdened with. In terms of my practice, I am finding that this change in attitude serves me well in keeping my nervous system calm in much the same way as the tristana creates a space for me to be more focused on being grounded rather than the little aches and pains that reside in my body. I try to allow these distractions be more like the vinyasas connecting the postures than this nuisance which rips me out of the calm I have spent my morning creating – much like the sonic boom alarm clock I got my son for Christmas. And when I think about that, I figure it’s the least I can do.

Maybe it is a calling for me: to surrender to serve. Today, it is my son. Four years from now, it will be something or someone else. Or perhaps not.

Home Sweet Practice

One thing I love about Ashtanga is that I don’t have to figure out what my practice will be on any given day. Whether I make it into the studio for mysore, or am practicing at home due to scheduling restrictions, the sequence is the same: Yoga Chikitsa (Primary Series). It’s good. No more time wasted trying to figure out the sequence of the day. I just do it.

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Generally, it is much harder to finish the series on those days that I need to take my practice at home. Although (most often) the limitation lies in a lack of time, I know that if I got up an hour and a half earlier I would be allotted the time to complete the series. I’m dedicated, but not 0430 dedicated. Not yet anyway.

Still, I come to my mat daily. Often times, twice daily as my body needs it. My mat is always rolled out and at the ready with Hanuman standing by reminding me of the virtues of being devoted to the greater good.

It’s a pretty sweet space, especially when the sun begins to make it’s way up from behind the foothills.

somethings a happening

There’s something happening in Mysore lately. I can feel it; I’m pretty sure that others can see it. Initially, it appears to be a thing of yesteryear (or day) but then… with patience and slow focused breathing, it comes.

I’m talking about my yoga practice of course.

Each day, I roll out of bed feeling the effects of a more consistent practice, complicated by the building mileage and load in my preparation for a 4 day backpacking trip I’ll be taking April. Wondering if I should forego the practice, I reluctantly roll out my mat amongst the sea of Ashtangis. My body is tightly bound and über sore. I move through the Surya Namaskara sequences slowly attempting to focus on my breath in an effort to separate from the soreness.

Today, I was half way through the standing poses when I told myself that I would only have to go as far as the seated postures before shifting to the closing sequence. However, by the time I was nearing the completion of the seated poses, my body seemed to be urging me to continue… and so I did.

path through the crooked trees

The poses that follow are ones which have, in the past many months, been met with an underlying level of fear. Curling up in a little ball, rounding my low back, and even forward folds with my back to my mat have not been well received before now. In the past week, however, I have welcomed a new calm and witnessed an observational awareness of the way my body responds to me taking on these poses. I am by no means comfortable, yet I have been able to experience a subtle shift – a melting – that allows me to open up to possibilities not previously envisioned.

Not only did I have to go back for Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimotanasana (noting the omission just when I was about to enter Janu Sirsansan C), I realized I’d missed taking Salamba Sirsasana (headstand) well after I’d rolled up my mat and begun rolling down the road towards work. Still, I am finding that taking on the commitment to a daily practice, no matter how sore the body or warm the bed, real does have its benefit. Tomorrow, of course, may be all together different but I believe that I am heading down the right path towards further healing.

What’s even more sweet is that it’s not just me. If you talk to anyone who has been establishing a regular ashtanga practice, you’ll likely hear that somethings a happening on their mat too. Something magical and awesome.