Another Look at Excuses

Lately, all my good-intended plans to maintain consist in my commitment to ashtanga ever seems to meet up with are excuses. My son falling back to sleep (needing me to wake him several times each morning), my stiff back, tight left hamstring, longer work days, exhaustion… the list goes on. Monday night, I vowed to not let the excuses get in the way of making it, not just to my mat, but to the Mysore room. When morning came, I found that not only had my son fallen asleep doing his homework but that there was no hot water in the house. Somehow, I managed to relight the water heater, and see to it that my boy was awake enough to attend to his schoolwork. And then I actually left for Mysore.

I found myself a spot by the window, and began. It was a SLOW and UGLY process trying to find my way through the series of set poses with my body as stiff as it was. I did my best to maintain my dristi and remain focused on MY practice but, there were times when I found myself admiring another ashtangi’s grace and ease from downdog — remembering where I was just a few months ago when things seemed to be opening up and releasing. If I really was a dog, my tail would be tucked between my legs, for any good ashtanga keeps their focus on their own practice.

Not only did I lose my focus, I discovered that I’d skipped poses long after I should have done them. Not knowing if I should go back, I moved on, reminding myself to FOCUS! Periodically, my teacher would come help me go deeper into a pose. She noticed, I’m sure, how weak and inflexible I’ve become in my weeks of inconsistent practice. In fact, anyone could see — if my mat fell within the periphery of their gaze. I’m exaggerating of course. It wasn’t ALL bad. There were times where I had found focus, stability, and even a bit of ease. Like in life, it’s the tougher moments that stand out though.

At one point, I was feeling pretty good. I was in one of the standing revolved poses when my teacher came around to assist.  She helped to level and stabilize my hips while I moved my heart towards the heavens. When I’d gotten there, I made eye contact with her and we both smiled. I thanked her as she left my side, then I enjoyed the pose for another breath or two. But as I was coming out, I felt a tug on my right side – which I quickly discounted as normal growing pains and moved on only to discover that it wasn’t normal at all. Nothing was normal after that. My back got stiffer and stiffer, and I got weaker and weaker, until I finally decided to end my practice early. I did bridge instead of wheel, countered with a forward fold, and quickly ended it after that (skipping the closing series all together). By the time I arrived at work, I could barely pull myself out of the car and up to standing and it hurt to breathe in fully. I’d really done it this time, and all because I’d let excuses come in between me and my practice for weeks on end.

Thankfully, my chiropractor had a cancelation that same day. He rotated my vertebrae back in line with the others, pushed my sacrum back where it belonged, and helped release weeks of built-up tension on the left side.

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The following day, I did a gentle practice at home and vowed to return to Mysore the following day.  But then the excuses popped up again. I told myself that my body was too stiff for mysore and that I’d just do my practice at home.  Then, after finishing the sun salutations, I left my mat to rescue my son from issues uploading his essay for school to the turnitin website… and never made it back. I didn’t make it there for today’s Led Primary Series either which is unfortunate because there is no Mysore at my studio over the weekend. Instead, I started with the my own ashtanga practice but deviated from the series just after the Sun Salutations. After inserting a chair twist in a desperate attempt to realign my spine, I fell into my own series of do-what-makes-you-feel-good poses. By the time I hit the shower to get ready for work, I felt good physically and equally excited about not giving up on my practice all together. Yet, I also felt a little guilty for not sticking with the sequence.

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Upping the Ante

As I turn out the light on one exhausted 15 year old, who’s fallen asleep while trying to complete his homework, I think about how different our lives were just 3 weeks ago. Back then, he was sleeping in (past noon on most days) while I went to the yoga studio each morning for the early morning mysore practice. I was dedicated to learning the ashtanga primary series — practicing each morning and reading up on it at night. It had become a routine that my body had responded nicely to — after the initial shock of my starting the rigorous daily practice. I loved that my days were not as painstakingly rough as they have been, thanks to my chronic bout with back and hip pain. Aside from finding comfort, my days were energized and I was actually sleeping at night! But…

Then came the return to school. High school, to be more precise. Football practice too. And HOMEWORK.

The return to the school routine was devastating enough to my morning routine, then came another set of changes. Included in the changes was a new expectation of longer work days which was placed on my department of four. After all my efforts to arrange a carpool so I could hit the mysore room every other day wouldn’t matter. Even when it is not my turn to drive the kids to school (which gets me in the general area of the office an hour earlier than I am used to), going to mysore is still not the option I’d hoped. I’d still have to abbreviate my practice.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve tried to keep up my home practice but, sadly, I have become so tight from my reduced practices that once again I HURT. It feels like I’m starting over. And, in a way, I am.

I start off my mornings meditating for 20 minutes, just so that I can move. Then, I use whatever time I have left for a slowed down practice. In the evenings, I try to set aside at least 30 minutes to read and enhance my understanding of the practice. It’s a start but I can do more.

As I look to my son to “up his game”, I recognize that I too must up the ante for my own good. Perhaps it means a shorter but more consistent practice… maybe at night. If I want to see a change, I need to create it by putting forth the effort and consistency that it requires. Right action… to be the change that I wish to see.

When Lost…Ask for Direction

Lately, I’ve been overwhelmed with the reading materials for my teaching program. I read the words with very little, if any, understanding. It’s frustrating because, not long ago, I felt like I was actually starting the get it. Now, the history, philosophy and concepts are all a jumbled mess in my head. The Koshas, Kleshas, Vedas, Yamas, Niyamas, Gunas: I can’t keep any of it straight. This doesn’t even touch upon the asanas (english terminology and corresponding sanskrit) or the anatomy components which I’d hoped that my nursing training would have been more helpful in me understanding. I seems that I have forgotten quite a lot.

right speechI am pretty sure that I know more than I think I know. At least I hope so. But I am equally certain that I know no where near the amount of information I need to have learned by the time I test out. It’s now September. The year is rapidly coming to an end and I have publicly announced that I would sit for the written exams by the year’s end. I can’t do that if I am forever at the 4% mark in the ebook on yoga history and philosophy. It’s only one of many books that I have still to read.

I have  so far still to travel on my path to certification, yet here I have my yoga website nearly complete. On one hand, it feels like a lie. Yet, this part of the process is one I felt confident in my ability complete. I just hope it isn’t all for nothing.

With my hands in Añjali Mudrā, I pray to the God whose teachings I grew up learning about, the god of my heart, and to every god I’ve ever read about. I give thanks for showing me how to get as far as I have and ask for direction in moving forward. Please, show me the way. 

Being Pushed and Pushing Self

In this morning’s Mysore practice, my teacher asked me if she was pushing me too far. The assist of the moment was one of those much-appreciated-assists. You know the type: the ones that make you go “ahh” inside when your body finally gives up the fight. Not all the assists today were met with this same feeling for it’s been a hard week and my body has been stiffening up in response to the resistance I have been feeling inside. The stress of my son’s return to school, coupled with A LOT of work stress, is really taking its toll.

In general, I feel like the world is pushing me too far. My teacher’s encouragement to keep at on the mat is exactly what I need right now – both on and off the mat. Learning to not give up, when the asana is difficult, and just keep up the efforts to the best of your ability is what we all are learning in our practice. We try not to impose judgment on the end results and just give it our all (perhaps repeating the asana until we finally get it). These efforts on the mat, during this time when all I want to do is give up, teaches me to do the same when life gets difficult. I try not to impose judgments on my inability to be the perfect single parent, or my inability to be at all of my son’s activities and still pull together every loose end at work. It’s true; I cannot do it all. Not all by myself. So I learn to take the assists, to modify when I need to, and to just do my very best (perhaps again and again) until I push past this difficult time.

And again, when other tough times arise.

Negative into Positive

I have been practicing the ashtanga yoga method for close to two months now. One of the reasons I find this yoga method so challenging, and yet such an important practice for me, is that it demands me to work through the uncomfortable more than any other practice — which is a good ability to have when you are no longer on your mat. There is no retreating into child’s pose while the rest of the class does the offending asana. The sequence is set and you do every pose in order – sometimes more than once until you can get it right. The 6 day a week commitment that I had worked my body into adhering to fell by the weigh side with my son’s return to school.

Last week, my efforts to continue my practice at home fell short. There was the full moon, and then my own cycle, my son’s dependence on me to get out of bed, to get his new contact lenses into his eyes, and more and more reasons why I couldn’t. With each day that I cut my practice short, for one reason or another, the stiffness and pain in my back increased. I slept less and was more intolerant of the daily irritants that life brings. And I began to understand why this practice works.

On Saturday, after dropping the boy at football practice, I went straight to the store for the makings of a pulled pork dinner for my extended family. As soon as I got home, I got it into the crockpot and started in on cleaning the house. By 10:30 am I was exhausted and the house was far from right. I left it anyway, for I just couldn’t do any more. I ate a little something and retreated to my mat for a well deserved practice.

Midway through the standing poses, exhaustion was urging me to stop. I ignored it. Toward the end of the seated poses, weakness told me that I didn’t have any more energy and that I should just quit. I kept on. Partway through the primary poses, after I feel out of a pose and onto my butt, I was feeling like I just could NOT do ANY more. I willed myself to continue on. By the time I finished the entire sequence, I was truly feeling exhausted, weak, and completely done – and yet I was also inspired, empowered, and encouraged for having found my way past all of the excuses that urged me to give up my practice.

Later in the day, when the pork shoulder would not give way to the prodding of my fork and looked as unappealing as the dead rat I found on my back porch just moments later, I began to cry. The family was coming for dinner and I somehow had to overcome this obstacle. So I did what every smart yogi in my situation would do: I picked up the dead rat, went out for a chocolate cake for the birthday boy, and made reservations at a nearby restaurant. With any luck, the overwhelmed and defeated feelings I was experiencing would also morph into something more positive as well.