Friday, February 26, 2010

From Liz: The Tips of My Shoulder Blades Pierced the Glass Ceiling.

Funky elbows are great learning tools. You have to really balance opposing forces in the joint to make it good yoga, right? It's the perfect place to play strength off of flexibility. Too locked in the joint, and you lose all muscular action, you're just relying on bone stacking to keep you upright. But too much muscular action and you pull the bones out of alignment.

Recent practice discoveries on my end... A couple, yes. I was practicing on my mother's floors recently, and in an effort to keep from waking TT from his nap, I had to work extra hard to control the jumps. I mean, "I reallyreallyreally don't want to wake this baby" hard. Nothing like fear to really engage those bandhas. So that was interesting.

And I've been trying to contact my shoulder blades. As in, I need to use my shoulder blades to guide me through vinyasas. Keeping the little suckers flat against my back, slightly drawn in, opens my chest, lifts my palate and engages my lats all at once. It also keeps the head of my arm bone engaged in its socket. If I keep awareness in this way, jumps are less effort, more about breath and bandha than brute strength (which I don't have much of anyway). Now I'm beginning to see that the mechanics of ashtanga are not just available to men. This may in fact be a gender-blind practice. The secretly self-hating female in me sometimes thinks that she's playing a man's game. But it turns out that a little anatomical savvy neutralizes the field.

Which brings me to this question: do you ever think about the gender politics of this field? Both at the organizational level (teachers, studio owners, etc), and at the asana level, I mean. I need to organize my deep thoughts on the subject. Let me get back to you....

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

From Anna: (un)Lock and Load

I know exactly the kind of moment you are describing and they are rare and delicious. Just reading about it makes me crave one of my own! You asked about personal practice discoveries and it just so happens that I'm on the brink of one. Here are some background facts:

Fact 1: I have notably hyper-extended elbows.

Fact 2: When I was studying with senior teachers more often, they were ON ME about my elbows. Through mindfulness, the use of props, and a strong desire to be a good little yoga student, I managed to correct it quite a bit.

Fact 3: As you know, the combination of moving to a new city and a heavy weekly teaching schedule led me into the classic rut that we were warned of from the start: The more you teach, the less you will practice. Or, if you will allow me to rephrase: The more you teach, the less often you will attend classes and the more your practice will start to shift. My home practice does not touch the regularity or diligence of yours (sigh), so as I continue to lovingly cultivate it, my asana practice is largely based in attending a smorgasbord of classes in my area. That's all fine and well, but very few (if any) of the teachers, hold me and my joints accountable. This has proven calamitous for my elbows, and lo and behold - they have gone back to their unruly ways.

Now, as a teacher, I am utterly embarrassed to admit this, but it wasn't until this weekend, when a friend/teacher came by to unlock my elbows in Adho Mukha Svanasana, that I even realized just how lazy I've become... (not in my entire life silly! Just with the hyper extended elbow situation...)

In the short time since then, I've done my best to send breath to those joints and straighten my arms without locking my elbows. This certainly isn't earth shattering stuff but revisiting this particular type of mindfulness has reinvigorated my practice. It's been especially interesting when jumping/floating my feet up to my hands. By adding the teensiest, tiniest of a bend to my elbows (read: unlocking the death grip), I have found a buoyancy I had previously witnessed only on youtube clips. This morning I got so much lift that I wasn't prepared for it, and almost fell forward into a somersault. Clearly I need to tap into some Uddiyana Bandha and infuse my flight with some control and precision.

This whole unlocking of the elbows discovery has been more than a point of interest on my mat. It's been a reminder that sometimes we can deepen our practice by making thing simpler instead of more complicated. This is knowledge I've had all along, needing to add a microbend was by no means a newsflash. But hearing it then and applying it now feel like two loosely related but completely separate experiences. Looking for inspiration all over town, and finding it by simply bending my elbows... Wow. It sort of reminds me of one of those contrived and totally predictable movies where the family discovers that what they've been looking for has been there all along.

But today, for me, it doesn't feel cheesy. It feels surprising, exciting, and deeply comforting.

How about your lovely self? Any personal discoveries lately? Has sticking with the morning practice allowed enlightenment to ensue...?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

From Liz: Upside Down, Inside Out.

Couples yoga? No, the only way to get HH into a couple's yoga workshop would be drugged, bound and gagged. And it's hard to practice partner yoga when your partner is shackled.

I actually took an Anti-gravity yoga class. And yes, it is as FUN!!! (all caps and multiple exclamation points) as it looks. Not a traditional practice by any stretch of the imagination, but really opening, lengthening and somehow both restorative and invigorating at the same time. Kind of a cross between Pilates, trapeze arts, and yoga. Half of the class is upside down, so it's really playful and you feel really vibrant afterward.

And I had one of those surreal "omshantionelove" moments that I'm always chasing. The class was a 4 pm class, so by 5:30 the sun was starting to set. The studio is on the 17th floor, so you get a good view of Manhattan and the sky. We were winding down for savasana, gently swaying in those pale orange hammocks. Then the sunset hit that peak of total gorgeousness and the whole room filled with this crazy violet light. Total yogasm.

It was insanely beautiful. And any other day of the year, the sunset would be timed just a shade differently, wouldn't coincide with savasana in quite such an opportune way. It felt like a little nudge from the Universe. Like, "hey girl, this is for you."

I'm cutting this short since TT is up from his nap. But I've been wondering: any new personal practice discoveries on your end?

Monday, February 15, 2010

From Anna: Gains, Losses, and Partners

Yoga Bear sounds like a wonderful fit for you. I'm glad you found something to scratch your yogic itch without committing to classes you don't actually want to be teaching. I was just perusing my way around the site and saw your blog post about a restorative home practice. It made me want to cancel today's activities and bust out the bolster and eye pillow right now....

Therapeutic and Healing Yoga is very near and dear to my heart, as it was how my own practice began, and I love that you will be a part of an organization that offers it to the community. Once you are more established there, you and I can get talking on starting up a chapter in Western Pennsylvania!

In terms of the not wanting to market yourself, I completely understand, as that is my biggest struggle. This is clearly demonstrated by having had "print business cards" and "create website" on my to-list for almost 2 years now. Just as in our asana practice there is a 'what do you gain vs. what do you lose' scenario, the same principle applies to the business side of yoga. I've been lucky enough to find some lovely studios where you'd be hard pressed to find anyone that falls into the so-called "self-enclosed elite' category but in exchange, I'm hardly making the big bucks (or any other kind of bucks for that matter...)

On an entirely separate note, several studios in my area offered partner yoga workshops this past weekend in conjunction with the Valentine's Day holiday. I wasn't able to attend any of them but have done a few workshops in the past and would classify myself as a fan. I could never be someone whose entire practice is of the partner or acro variety, but I do enjoy it very much indeed.

Didn't you attend some sort of partner workshop this weekend?... Details please!

Monday, February 8, 2010

From Liz: Twitchy Yoga Witchy.

Do you knock on wood? We're Jewish, right? So superstition presents a powerful undertow in our lives. Sometimes rational though prevails, and I can resist it. But it often creeps in, that need to order the world and hold chaos at bay through minute and obsessive ritual. And I wasn't even born to this tribe. :) Apparently hockey players and other athletes are also a superstitious bunch. They forgo shaving for an entire season, or indulge in little twitches an ticks as they step up to the plate. There is magic in this ritualism, a charming nod to faith in faith itself.

I've been catching myself indulging in such tics on the mat. I tidy my hair, straighten my mat just so. The fussy analysis and worry-warting starts up pretty quickly too. How steady is that first chatturanga? And then, my dismount from Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana tells me how the rest of the hour will go. Or rather, I tell myself that it's a good indicator of my presence level. I get caught up in the drama of success or failure. It all amounts to a kind of avoidance, stepping out of flow to indulge in the mental and physical fidgets. I wonder what I'm avoiding. Probably the practice itself. It doesn't have to be that much more than that, does it? Sometimes the series is literally itself, not a symbol or an exercise in transference. My work for the next little while will be this: let go of virtuosity in favor of stillness.
Be here now, dummy.

To answer your question: I am not teaching much at all these days. I burned out, gave it away. Now I've "got it back," (thankyouverymuch asthanga) and my schedule just won't really allow for regular classes. Instead, I found a new outlet for my yoga life: Yoga Bear. I'm the new studio coordinator for NYC and environs. We (I guess I can say "we" now) provide yoga to people in recovery from cancer. It's volunteer work, which feels right for my current mood. I'm tired of teaching the same, self-enclosed elite. And I'm not feeling competitive, for another thing. I don't want to have to "market" myself. And I mostly don't want to make this thing that I love so much into someone else's revenue stream (working in someone's studio). So I guess I would be open to teaching privately, on my own very specific terms, but that is a lot to ask. These days, it's my way or the... well, you know. Intransigence has a limited audience.

In re: amplified orgasms (mentioned here) I'm not sure that HH has noticed. But I'm sure that he's glad for the extra attention. Heh.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

From Anna: Hump Day Musings

Mazel Tov! Diminished PMS symptoms, deeper sleep cycles, and... errr... intensified climaxes! I'd venture to call this excellent news. Admittedly, I know close to nothing about the light therapy device or the science behind it, but my educated guess is that over time the results will become more pronounced. I think it's wild that the changes are already discernible. Has Humble Husband noticed the differences as well?

You asked about my 5 class-Wednesday and let's just say that getting through the day is my yoga. Hump Day has never been so.... humpy. The classes are different levels, vastly different sizes, with varying space restrictions and prop offerings, so I can't quite teach the the same thing. That said, I definitely veer towards variations on a theme. Interestingly enough, teaching a 2nd or 3rd class in the same day is excellent for me. It allows me to really hit my stride and I always notice slight improvements on my teaching from the 1st class.

By the 4th one, I'm tired (and dispirited by having eaten another meal in my car!) but they are a really great group. Relatively new to yoga and dealing with a battery of old injuries and body 'wonkiness', but disciplined, cheerful, and thoroughly committed. That 4th class is the hump of hump day, if you will, so thank goodness it's a group of lovelies that inspire me.

Last one of the day is actually a wonderful group as well, but at that point it's 8pm, I've taught 4 times already, and it is in this class that I start to lose it. I think one thing and hear something entirely different come out of my mouth, I mix up left and right like it's going out of style, and I notice that my mind, mouth, and body are all just... tired. I am not a teacher who does a ton of asana along with the class, but there is the inevitable movement up and down, here and there, and of course- demo's. I take extra care to do less when teaching multiple times but inevitably, Thursday morning's are just plain achy. It would probably help if I could do my own practice that day but there really isn't time. Or rather, I have yet to make time. (note to self)

It is draining and sometimes it feels like too much, but I love how I feel when 10pm Wednesday night finally rolls around: a fruitful, industrious, and rewarding day behind me.

What's going on with you and teaching? Are you wishing for more, or enjoying the picking and choosing of when to sub and when to pass?

Monday, February 1, 2010

From Liz: Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

Thank you, my love. I am doing better. Still sad, but doing better.

You asked recently about the light therapy. I've been at it for two weeks now. I'm using it once in the morning, after practice. I use it while sipping my coffee, kind of a double dose of pep to begin my day. And then I use it around lunch time. The most noticeable change is in my sleep patterns/quality. I am falling asleep more readily, and when I wake up, it's kind of with a "pop." I can't really get back to sleep afterward. Which is fine. And I'm remembering my dreams less, which must mean that I'm getting into deeper sleep, or completing my sleep cycles more often. Either way, better rested = better mood.

And then I remembered a story that a friend told me a few years ago. He found himself in sort of an unshakeable funk, and ended up going on anti-depressants. When I asked how he was doing, he said, "you know, I'm still the same miserable f*ck, but now I can't stop smiling."

The lift from light therapy is kind of like that. Not profoundly transformative, but I am more cheerful, almost in spite of myself. I should also note that this month's cycle of (what is usually vicious) PMS has been abbreviated and much softer than the usual hormonal rage. I've only wanted to maim,but not kill, Humble Husband. So that's progress, right?

Practice has been regular. That's really the best I can say, it is happening 5 to 6 days a week, with a minimum of fuss. No great sparks or revelations within the practice itself. But here's a funny new extra-curricular development (and we are venturing into TMI-land, so feel free to tune out. Mom, this means you): my orgasms have gotten insanely strong.

I feel like it has to have a lot to do with practicing moola bandha all of the time. And maybe a little added body-presence from all of the meditative asana practice. I'm not looking a gift horse in the mouth though, don't want to over-analyze, or scare it away with too much chatter. So that's where I'll leave it.

On to you: I know that you are teaching a lot. And you teach five classes on Wednesdays now. How do you get through it? Do you teach mostly a variation on the same class all day? Or do you change it up a lot?