Sunday, October 18, 2009

From Liz: Line Your Bones Up.

There are days when I feel that my entire practice is an attempt to just get "get to the point." (I just read a funny little list where the author suggested that the whole practice is just foreplay for savasana. That's not what I'm getting at, but it's what got me thinking.) Those days, each pose is an attempt to decipher the meaning of the whole endeavor.

But I had one of those mini-awakenings in my Iyengar class the other day. My teacher D kept making small adjustments to my poses. Little tiny tweaks that made a huge difference. In Down Dog, rather than splaying my fingers out, she asked me to line my pinky finger up with its metacarpal. It's the tiniest shift inward, but it took the frantic strain out of my fingers. I was no longer gripping at the mat, I was rooting down into the floor. She also reminded me a couple of times to draw my arms up into my shoulder sockets, both in D. Dog and in a couple of backbends. It all amounted to her simply trying to get me to LINE MY BONES UP, and PUT THEM IN THEIR SOCKETS.

We throw the word "alignment" around so much, that it loses all substantial meaning. But at the heart of it is a simple idea: asana practice is designed to line your bones up, so that there is a support structure for your muscles to do their job (which, funnily enough, is to keep your bones aligned and your limbs in their sockets) and then the energetic body will slide into place accordingly. For those of us "blessed" with flexibility, this can often amount to lazily hammocking into our joints. In my body, it's the perfect storm of vata flexbility and kapha laziness, and it makes for some loosey-goosey poses. Also, D reminded that my shoulders are a support structure, and not, as I tend to treat them, a barrier to push through (a notion that I've found instructive in balanced inversions like handstand or forearm stand).

On the heels of your post about surrender, this is a counter-point. I surrender too much, or rather, I kid myself into thinking that I'm surrendering. In fact, I'm hiding in the depths of my own "open-ness," cowering under my shoulders and avoiding building strength. There is no ease in my "surrender," just limp acquiescence to the status quo. So, my work is to pull myself together and earn my ease.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

From Anna: White Flag Waving

I love how you described yourself as a skipping record, out of it's groove until the restorative practice knocked you back on track. It's almost like yoga is an internal GPS system. Wherever we go, whatever is going on in our lives, and whenever we are adrift or have lost our groove, it helps us re-route and find a way back to ourselves.

The fact that it was a restorative practice that pulled you back into place speaks volumes. Recently in my teaching, I've noticed more and more how much people struggle with the 'surrender' piece of the yoga puzzle. As they form perfect right angles with their femur bones but fidget through a 3 breath hold of Warrior 2, I gently remind them that for many of us, going deeper may mean doing less. It's a tough sell to say the least.

Culturally we are taught to believe that for something to be beneficial we have to feel it, see it, make it, etc... The idea that in yoga there is 'doing' but also the 'undoing,' space to just observe - is a foreign concept and one that unnerves people. And I get it. I used to be the most fidgety person in the room, and when my teacher would say that it's only by letting go that we find strength I would think "well, that sounds lovely, but...."

Furthermore, the definition of the word 'surrender' (outside of the yoga world) is not a positive one, any way you slice it. Look up the word and you will find synonyms such as concede, quit, renounce, and my all time favorite- eat crow. It's no wonder people are hesitant, and even flat out resistant to let go.

I realize that it will take some time to ease my students towards surrender and that ultimately, it's a personal journey. All I can do is cultivate a space that feels safe for them to take that journey. And if its taking them longer than I'd like it to and I find myself impatient in the process? It means that I, too, need to close my eyes, deepen my breath, and work on the art of eating crow.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

From Liz: Saucha and restorative: a.k.a. tidying and resting.

I fell off the daily practice wagon right into "sit-on-my-asana." I could blame stress and fatigue and discouragement. But to start honoring my "no victims" intention once more, I'll just own up to lazyness. Our deal on the house that we were buying has fallen apart in an ugly way. Here's a non yoga tip: don't sign a contract before having a thorough home inspection.

It will be fine. We will be okay. But the whole mess had me fearful (read: full of fear, too full to eat or sleep, or focus on the mat, like mental indigestion that weighs down your whole psyche).

The apartment is a mess, my body is a mess; I have felt disconnected from my domestic space, and the space of my own body. How to fix this? Saucha and restorative yoga. Yes, clean the F up, and simmer down for a while. The simple act of puttering around, picking things up, putting things AWAY, has the effect of organizing my brain, soothing my soul.

And today's practice was a new beginning. I started with a few slow, steady sun salutes, then just slid into prop heavy, drapey, restorative yoga. The sun salutes reconnected me to my breath. Those steady rhythms pulled me away from the frenetic and stacato energy with which I was self-victimizing. And then, settling into Supta Baddha Konasana, with an eye pillow grounding me, I felt like I was settling back into myself. I was like a skipping record, just out of groove, scratching and repeating. But the restorative practice knocked me back on track. This is a practice with gravitational pull. How can anyone possibly have an effort-based practice without the complement of a surrender-based practice? I went through a series of poses, and, as mellow they left me, I also felt like I could climb mountains.

I even feel like I can raise a toddler.