Breath and Privilege

Like so many others, I am wrestling with everything that has been going on in the world today. This post is meant as a means to open up a dialogue and, hopefully, improve upon the SILENCE

Each morning, I wake up and (since we are still distancing from one another) make my way to my yoga mat for my morning yoga practice. While I have always been aware that it is privilege to practice yoga, and to teach it, I have never been so acutely aware of just how much privilege I am blessed with until now.

I am not alone when I say that the breath has always been at the heart of the practice. In yoga, we cue the breath, “ekam. inhale…”, listen to it, move to it, and watch it. It’s not just important; it is essential. 

This post isn’t about yoga. It is about racism, injustice, murder, anger, and no longer accepting the way things are. But, I am still learning. On one hand, I feel that my voice is not the voice that needs to be heard right now. Now, it is my turn to listen, read, re-post, and help amplify the voices that support the Black Lives Matter movement and work to put an end to racism. Yet, silence isn’t the answer either.

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” — Dr Martin Luther King Jr

If I am being honest, as I do the work of trying to educate myself on concepts such as white supremacy and white privilege, I struggle in placing myself as “white.” Like an elaborate recipe, I have a pinch of this and a pinch of that. Growing up, I quickly learned that a pinch “don’t mean sh!t.” At least, according to the hispanic girl who followed me around in middle school threatening to kill me. Instead the widespread inclusion that I envisioned, the result of my genetic melting-pot was a widespread othering. But that was in the 70s, and times have changed — for some that is.

In a statement following the harrowing death of George Floyd, Michelle Obama notes how race and racism has been a reality that so many of us grew up learning to “just deal with.”

But if we ever hope to move past it, it can’t just be on people of colour to deal with it. It’s up to all of us – Black, white, everyone – no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out. It starts with self-examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own. It ends with justice, compassion, and empathy that manifests in our lives and on our streets.”

It is now 2020 and I am a grown woman recognizing that I have indeed been given the privilege of a white middle-class woman….and I can use this privilege to be an ally to support the end to the injustice, inequality, and hate. You can too! 

Please know that I am still navigating this myself. Just begin the process with whatever calls to you. Use whatever talents you have in support of change, like this amazing artist I recently discovered on Instagram. Sign petitions, donate to organizations that support any aspect of change that resonates with you, attend a protest, make a sign for your window, post to social media, support black owned businesses, VOTE… 

$#!^ Happens

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a weekend of yoga workshops. Of course, as is the case over the past few months of SIP, my attendance was virtual via ZOOM. The teacher of this workshop series was more of a traditionalist, following the “rules” of advancement in the practice with much more rigor than my teacher (or any of the teachers I have practiced with). To be frank, I don’t know if I would still be practicing ashtanga yoga if he were my teacher. That said, I did take his “encouragement” to heart where my lack of persistence in mastering (in the truer sense) all of the poses that I have been given has resulted in a longer list of IOUs than I would care to admit. In fact, the process of recording my practice for my YouTube channel has highlighted these less-than-perfect transitions (namely the jump-backs and jump-throughs).

When I asked him about the specific muscle engagement/firing required to lift my leg to my outstretched hand in poses such as utthita hasta padangusthasana and vishyamitrasana, I didn’t hear the answer I was looking for. Earlier in the week, my chiropractor and I had discussed the differences in muscle activation required to access movement in the various zones of a particular movement such as this. In my case, I can lift from the floor to level with my pelvis. I lack the necessary muscle activation to create movement from pelvis to face. Yet, I have some activation from the face upward. Then boundaries in my range of motion, within this region, being the limiting factor in this zone.

While the yoga teacher’s reminder to try harder and with more consistently was taken to heart, I know that this doesn’t work for every situation or person. This was also discussed at length with my chiropractor with whom I have conversations such as this with because, as a trained nurse, we can speak the same language more or less. In my case, my struggle with balancing on one leg limits my ability to work on this as much as I would have liked over the years. My teachers always focused on the fact that utthita hasta padangusthasana is meant to be a balance pose. Therefore, I never worried so much about my inability to lift my leg higher. Although, I’d be lying if I said that it never bothered me.

Nevertheless, I stepped up my efforts in my practice and also added some additional exercises on leg lifting that I found on a few YouTube sites on dance and on mobility. The resulting proximal hamstring tendinopathy (read: pain in the butt) was not the outcome I was pursuing. And now my practice mandates that I take care not to make bad things worse. This means bending my knees in forward folds, using a block in the many of the standing poses so that I can still activate my quadriceps muscles without having to fold deeper into the pose. Fortunately, my experience with practicing with injuries has taught me to listen when the body talks: feel, move, assess, modify, feel, [repeat]…BREATHING throughout of course. As for learning to lift my leg higher than my pelvis, it will come…in time.

In the meantime, I can work on paying back another one of my other IOUs. This weekend, I am signed up for a workshop on jump backs and jump throughs. I am excited to revive my efforts in this endevour. I sort of gave up trying when a different teacher, after seeing my attempt, shook his head and muttered, “I don’t know what to do with that. Good luck.” This was during a time when I was full on working on the cultivating the strength and effort for this transition but in need of some mechanical understanding. Sadly, even he couldn’t advise me. Today, I am hopeful that things will be different this time around. Even if I don’t magically get it, I want to have tools to rework it and find a new enthusiasm for doing the work.

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Top Shelf

After a few hours of perusing the royalty-free music available on the internet, I was completely at a loss. All I needed was 5-10 seconds of fun, unique audio – WHY was it so hard to find? After mentioning it to my son, he suggested using music from DAV @activepoet, a friend who’s music is up-and-coming AND has been quite generous with letting him use it in his personal training and workout videos. The problem was that, although I loved many of his songs, I didn’t want lyrics for my what I was creating: an intro piece for my videos on YouTube. And I didn’t know the musician, Wooshay, who does the instrumental part of the song. “No problem”, my son assured, “I’ll just ask him.”

He sent the message and, much to my surprise, received a response within a few minutes. “Tell me which song and I’ll send it to her.” WOW! Choosing the song took a little longer as I wanted to consider all of his music while trying to mentally strip away the words from the sound. In the end, my first thought was the one I went with.

Official Title: Top Shelf – Wooshay, Dav @activepoet, & Slvmm
The resulting intro came out really nice. Using mostly stills from my everyday practice over the past many years. I also included one short video component of me falling out of a failed attempt at karandavasana. I felt it was important to include this because, let’s face it, I am real. Like everyone else, I have my strengths AND I have my weaknesses. Keeping a nice balance in these two aspects of the practice is the message that I am trying to portray. With this honest approach to the practice, we can place our practice of yoga on the Top Shelf.

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Breaking Down the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series

For a while now, I have wanted to record and post a video covering the full primary series practice. At the same time, I wanted to provide more detailed instruction of ways to modify the practice to make it more accessible to everyone wanting to learn it. The result of this effort is not one but two videos of the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series.

The first, featuring a Half Primary practice, was posted about a week ago. In this video, I offer modifications for many of the poses in the first half of primary. Due to the additional instruction required to provide the various options, I decided to keep it to only half of the series. Then, a few days later, I posted another video with less instruction in the first half but more modification/options towards the latter half of the series. This video covers the Full Primary Series from the opening chant to the closing chant.

I hope to create more content in the coming weeks. In the meantime, if you have ideas for yoga related video content that you would like me to consider, please leave me a comment either here on my blog or on my YouTube channel.

Good Things Happen

You all have probably heard the saying that sh!t happens. It does happen – perhaps a little too often actually. But good things happen too…

One good thing that happened while we were sheltering in place (SIP) is that I completed my final requirements for my RYT 500h certification. Although I struggle to find meaning in what this added certification means for me or my students right now, the not-so-simple act of finishing the process I began in 2014 is BIG.

And I could not be more proud.

What good things have happened in your world recently? Please share…because I care.