Monday, November 22, 2010

The Cycle Continues

Yesterday, the other members of my yoga teacher training and I came to the end of a cycle. We completed our 300 hour, professional teacher training program.  The past six months have been a splendid, steady road to learning, a place for establishing new friendships, and a warm, open circle for healing.  Here are 20 things I have learned from the past six months from my mentor, other Yoga Works instructors and my yoga kula:


1. Relax, it's just yoga.


2. The shape of the post makes it pretty; the actions of the pose make it safe.


3. Don't be a sensation junkie; stretch slowly and mindfully.


4.  If a student's cell phone rings in class, don't make that person feel bad.  Instead, have them bring chocolate for the next class.


5. Throw out 99% of what you've learned about yoga and meditation -- you're not part of an ashram with 300 coming-of-age boys.


6. Never say "never ever" while teaching.


7. When teaching, don't ask students to "think about" an action.  Have them "DO" it!


8. Life will be hard until you're in your dharma.  It might still feel hard then, but any pain will be sweet and fleeting.


9.  It's okay for me to cry.  Someone in my kula would always cry with me, or hold space for me to have that process.


10.  It's okay to grieve over an injury.  As a wise yogi told me, life is like a web.  When one thing is lost, the other attachments must also be mourned.  Then we must create new meaningful attachments that support our Self as we grow and change.


11. If you do nothing else, pacify your vata.


12. Yogis love zucchini.


13. A 1 1/2 inch wooden rod is useful for a myriad of purposes.  Some of them painful.


14.  Don't eat soup during teacher training if the instructor is hungry and recovering from a cold.  She'll stare at you with desire.


15.  Men can practice pre-natal yoga with a balloon up their shirt just as well as the girls.


16. A practice of pure asana will only increase your tendencies.  


17. Don't do asana to make yourself more attractive.  Do it to make yourself more available to your spirit.


18. We do so much during our asana practice.  Pay attention to what you can undo.


19.  I will always have a home at Prana Yoga Center in La Jolla.


20.  The path to healing is long, but it is made easier by being surrounded by friends willing to hold space and compassion for the process.


Thanks to everyone on this completed journey.  Although it is the end of one cycle, it is also the beginning of a new cycle.  May our new journeys be safe, and filled with love, compassion and gratitude for ourselves, those around us, and the planet that supports us.


Namaste.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How big is your pile?

I'm back to the blog after more than a month. I wish I was driven to write more.  I want to be able to write a blog everyday, or every other day, but honestly, at this time in my life I'm just not that inspired. I'd rather my blog be meaningful than sounding like a long list of Facebook status updates, which I think can happen when bloggers prattle on with little inspiration but a need to share in order to process life for themselves.  But I digress.


A fantastically frank friend of mine was counseling me today and said (and I'm translating here to relate to this article) that in life we each have our own "sack of shit."  We have our own problems.  Our sacks or piles of shit stink, figuratively (and maybe literally), and they may be very real problems in our reality.  But if we didn't have our problems, we'd have another list of problems. So if we were to get ride of our current problems, we may just be trading one sack of shit for another.  


Which, until we find ourselves enlightened and without problems altogether, is an honest assessment of life.  It can be so easy to get caught up in our own problems, get so deep into our own pile of shit that we can't see out anymore.  I know for me, in dealing with my injury and other things, some days I'm so far into my pile that I shut off from the rest of the world; I turn down invitations from friends and stay at home, where I can cry the makeup off my face without worry, dissolve into a puddle in front of the TV, or bury myself in mystery novel.  


I've found that just often enough, something comes along to push me back out of my pile and into the living and breathing world.  A good, honest friend, for example, who can put things into perspective without enabling my samskaras, or habitual patterns, that keep me locked away in a sea of self loathing.  For me, the other push is yoga.  


I'm a do-it-yourself-er.  As much as possible.  I make some of my own clothes, including yoga attire, cook at home, bake bread, paint the house, landscape, etc.  Often times in the past, I've preferred practicing yoga at home, so that I can practice in peace, without being distracted by the grunting man in the corner or the woman who ads bind to every posture. Practicing at home is great, as long as I stay motivated.  One of the most interesting and frustrating parts of my injury is that I've seen myself lose motivation, which frightens me.  I've always been able to wake up at six o'clock a.m. for a five or six mile run, yoga practice, or surf and be to work or school by eight, excel throughout the day, make myself a healthy meal for dinner, and find another enterprising activity to accomplish at night.  Now that it hurts to exercise, I've not only lost the stimulating release of endorphins I was so addicted to, I've also lost my addiction to them.  The bottom line is that I need a push to motivate.  I especially need my teacher to lead my yoga, no matter how much I may have to modify the postures that day.


Yoga helps me out of my pile if I'm in one, but also back into the pile if I've come too far out.  See, our pile of shit is there for a reason.  For me, it's trying to figure out what the driving force is behind my spinal dysfunction; both the physical and the emotional. Until I do, my body will continue to experience pain.  If I get too distracted trying to live a "normal" life, like I did before pain, then a challenging day in asana practice will remind me that it's time to dig deep into the pile again and look for answers.


So really, digging into the pile isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Neither is hiding in a book for a day or two if that's what it takes to find the courage to keep digging and find the way to the bottom of the pile.  If digging through my pile offers a nugget of golden information or two, then it was well worth the stink.



Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Causes of chronic back pain and the truth about healing

How do you speak to your body? Do your conscious thoughts toward your body match your unconscious thoughts? Every time you get a compliment and reply, "Thanks," is your body able to absorb that positive attention, or does your inner dialogue feed negative talk into the tissues and cells of your body?

I haven't written since August because, quite frankly, I was swimming through so much personal change, pain, and ultimately, growth, that I wasn't sure I'd be able to keep my head up. But here I am, fully breathing and more full of life and love than ever. Why? Because I'm starting to actually pay attention to the conscious and subconscious thoughts that fill my mind and body.

A couple weekends ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to participate in a weekend workshop with Aadil Palkhivala, founder of Purna Yoga. Aadil has studied back injury, pain and dysfunction for over 30 years, much of that time with B.K.S. Iyengar. I, obviously, was very interested in what he had to share with the group. I have been practicing his low back series and hip series almost daily for over four months now, and while they help me to feel better in the short term, the spinal dysfunction I have been experiencing hadn't gone away. Aadil showed us exercises to relieve back pain and open the hips and heart, but his main message was this (paraphrasing):

Chronic back pain is an emotional issue, not a physical one. Until you deal with emotional causes of the trauma, you will not heal, no matter how many physical therapists you see and how diligently you perform your exercises. The exercises are a band aid; the real healing work must be done with the mind and the emotions.

Well, . . . crap, I thought. It's one thing to make time for exercises, yoga and physical therapy appointments. It's another issue entirely to dive into the dark recesses of my mind and figure out what I've stored there. I could only imagine that behind the pain symptoms must lay more emotional pain. As I've said before, the truth about healing is that it's painful, both physical and emotionally. Aadil continued (again, I'm paraphrasing):

To simplify for our purposes, we have two main types of muscles, striated and smooth.
Striated muscle are those large muscles close to the skin, like the biceps and quadriceps. We can contract and relax these muscles with our will. Smooth muscles are deep within the body, like the muscles around the vertebral column. These muscles cannot be contracted or relaxed at will; they only respond to subconscious thought. The two main subconscious thoughts that cause our smooth muscles to contract are fear or insecurity, and a feeling of uncontrollability.

Further, these muscles are incredibly strong. Aadil treated a patient recovering from two shattered vertebrae. When Aadil asked how the vertebrae became shattered, the man replied, "I had a seizure, and my muscles crushed them."

After two and a half days of thinking about my unconscious mind, and being instructed to look inside and ask, "Why am I here? What is my purpose? What am I afraid of?", I was ready to retreat into a cocoon of mystery novels and T.V. romance dramas. But as luck would have it, I wasn't afforded that luxury and instead went to work gathering equipment and food for a retreat I was holding in Sequoia National Forest (more on the retreat later). In the frenzied days that followed, by back tightened more, making walking, sitting, and even sleeping risky activities. But as soon as we reached the healing cover of the forest trees, I put on my happy face, introduced myself to a group of eager clients and got on with the retreat.

In between my retreat activities, I had time and a safe space to look inside and start to notice the underlying chatter in my head. And not just the chatter, but also the tendencies of my mind. I started noticing fear-driven patterns of thought, and continued to monitor when those arose and why. One evening, after a particularly trying day, I laid in child's pose to try to release my spasming low back muscles. For the first few inhales, I guided my breath and mind into the tight area and took a look around, as if to familiarize myself with it, and on exhale retreated, leaving just parts of my energy there, as if I was asking for permission to be friends with the muscle. Next, my inhales focused on gentle questions: What are you holding on to? Will you let me help you to release it? And my exhales worked to release energy and relax the muscle. During this process, a friend put two fingers on the muscle very gently, which allowed me to better tune into the location and feel another level of the muscle's stress.

I continued talking to the muscle in this way, like a small child, and letting go every exhale. Somewhere in the process, I was overwhelmed by an intense sadness that released from the area, but I continued to breath even as the tears came. After about 15 minutes of this process, the muscle released. My hips reached my heels for the first time in several months, and I slept better that night in my tent than I had in ages.

The muscle have stayed relaxed, with my breath and my coaxing, for over two weeks, which is where I am now, building a relationship with my body that is built on love and trust rather than fear or will. Through the breath -- which truly is the bridge between body and mind -- I'll continue to build a relationship with the muscles, bones, and systems that support me, peeling back layers of pain and fear, and teaching my mind to have a loving relationship with my body.

Monday, July 12, 2010

What are you cultivating?

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to spend three afternoons with Robert Birnberg, yoga teacher and scholar of yoga texts. Robert taught me many things during his lectures, but something that really stuck with me was about joy. We are all seeking to have more sustained joy in our lives. In fact, we do everything that we do because we believe it will bring us more sustained joy. Yoga can do many things for us, but above all, it should bring us joy. How many times do you find yourself caught up in the alignment of the posture, or the tone of the instructor's voice, or the smell of the person next to you rather than paying attention to what you're cultivating throughout your yoga practice?

Most of us tend to rush through our lives with little regard for what affect our actions are having on our well being. We eat breakfast in our car, or at our computer along with our morning emails. We rush from one meeting or client to the next, scheduling friends and family into our calendars so that we remember to save time for them. Then we rush from dinner to yoga class, speeding through a vinyasa flow, and finally bring home a dinner prepared by someone else in a hurry. From there, we may eat in front of the television, exhausted from rushing and too revved up from the pace of the day to enjoy our food or those we're eating with.

Where is the joy?

These things may bring a sense of accomplishment, true; or create a standard to which we hold ourselves to daily. I have often based my sense of worth around how efficient I was in dealing with my day--how many tasks I accomplished, how many appointments I squeezed in, and how many postures I could fit into my asana practice. The problem with this type of standard, especially in yoga, is that it is not sustainable in the long run. The yoga sutras tell us that one important aspect of a yoga practice is that it is sustainable. How long can we expect to keep our hurried pace? Five years? Ten or Twenty? And when we realize that we can no longer go as fast, as long or as hard, how will we measure our self worth?

We live in a fast-paced world; we can't find a time machine back to 1950 or "the good old days," nor am I saying that we should. But we can learn to slow down enough to pay attention. We can take the time between or even during our activities--or in yoga, in our postures--to figure out and understand what we're cultivating in each activity, meeting, or obligation. If we start to notice that all we're cultivating at work is stress or boredom, then we may want to reevaluate our career choice and use yoga tools to find the confidence we need to make a change. If we notice that all we are cultivating in our yoga practice is the same frantic pace of the day, we may we need a different yoga class, a better instructor, or, most probably, to look at ourselves more deeply to try to understand why we can't find rest, healing or joy from our yoga.

Try this with your next yoga practice: Sit or stand quietly and let your mind settle on your breath. When the mind feels calm, think of something that brings you joy. You'll know you have the right thing because you'll have a big, sappy smile on your face. Don't judge what brings you joy--it could be a loved one, chocolate, watching your dog play, whatever. Feel the joy radiate from your heart center, and use your ujjayi breath to move the feeling into the rest of your body, until it's radiating from your core into every space of your body and even out into your aura. Begin your asana practice with this feeling in the body. Several times throughout your practice, come to stillness for just a moment with the hands at heart center: Feel the joy. Come back to the feeling of joy several times, and again at the end of your practice.

You can use this exercise with other emotions or states of being you would like to have more of, such as abundance, healing, love and compassion. Next time you step on your yoga mat, as yourself: "What am I cultivating?"

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Twisted

Two weeks ago, I started working with an additional physical therapist, one who works with the mechanics of the spine. While her fingers were placed along the bony protrusions of the sacrum and vertabrae (the spinous processes) I stood and sat, arched and slouched. Diagnosis one: My pelvis is twisted to the left.

No kidding?!?!! That was interesting to learn and even more interesting to realize that I hadn't noticed it before. I had always had a much easier time twisting my torso to the left than to the right, which makes sense because when the pelvis is turned toward the left, it increases the range of motion in that direction. Twisting my torso to the right (to set up for Parsva Bakasana, for example) has always been more challenging. But range of motion wasn't the only place I could experience my twisted pelvis: when I stand with my toes on the same line, my right thigh is about 3/4 of an inch in front of my left thigh.

If that wasn't strange enough, let's move up the spine. The sacrum joins the pelvis at the sacroiliac joint. So while the sacrum may sometimes feel like a solid, unmoving protrusion of the pelvis, it is actually a joint that can tilt in four different directions: anterior right, anterior left, posterior right, posterior left. Because of the twist in the pelvis, my sacrum was twisted back the other way and anterior. When I stood with my feet hips-distance apart, toes lined up, and rolled my spine forward into a forward bend, my torso would get about half way to my toes and then sharply veer to the left. Talk about party tricks.

To reverse the twist in the pelvis, I started working to strengthen my right piriformis muscle (the muscle stretched in half-pigeon pose). When I went back a week later, my pelvis was still twisted, but my sacrum was now twisted anterior in the other direction. Which means that my sacrum is hyper mobile. Imagine someone with hyper mobile elbows or knees for example -- when they straighten their arm or leg all the way, it starts to bend the other direction (hyper extension; sometimes called double jointed). This, in a nut-shell, is hyper mobility, and all hyper mobility can put a lot of strain on the joint in question.

So what is the answer? Well, as yoga teaches, the answer is balance. When a very flexible person does yoga asanas, their challenge is to find their strength. For example, I've seen people with flexible backs and shoulders dumping into their armpits or shoulders during downward facing dog. Instead, they should try to create a long, straight spine, keep the ribs tucked into the body and find the strength in the core, shoulders, and legs. I've also seen students who are very flexible in the hips. During a lunge, it's easier for them to collapse into the hips, but rather, they should find the strength in the legs and lower abdomen by keeping the back thigh lifted and uddiyana bandha pulled in. For people with a hyper-mobile sacrum, like me, I have to learn to not compensate in my low back for areas in my body that are tight. For example, my shoulders are tight. When I raise my arms overhead in tadasana, I can't bring them all the way overhead while keeping my shoulders away from my ears . . . unless I arch my back and stick out my front ribs to compensate. I'm learning not to do that and like movements anymore.

I'm learning through my injury that, just as some people follow the idea of a perfect body or a perfect life, I had been following the idea of a perfect posture, one that mimicked pictures in the books. What I've learned is that my body is not ready for all versions of all postures, and that there is no such thing as one perfect posture. A better posture is one that is appropriate for the student and her or his body on that day. As the practice grows, so will the student and her or his body. As we say in yoga, practice makes practice. Practice doesn't, in yoga, make perfect.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Yoga and my girl parts: the great debate

I'll never forget that bitter-sweet day when my body decided it was time to step over the threshold into womanhood. It was Thanksgiving weekend, and I was at my grandmother's house with my 30-odd cousins and 18 aunts and uncles. I was thirteen. I'd had an awful, cramping stomachache most of the day. That evening, I was wrestling on the living room floor with my cousins and and realized that something down there didn't feel right. Later that night, I told my mom. She gave me a handful of plastic and said, "Welcome to the real world."

That was 1994. I was taught by my mother and the other women around me to treat my time of the month as an inconvenience to be recognized but hidden; it was not something to keep me out of my activities or hinder my involvement in sports. In fact, as I grew older and began participating in male-dominated sports, I came to think of my accomplishments while on my cycle as making me a super-woman. Hell, I thought, if I can keep up with these eight men post-holing up a mountain to ski down while on my period, what can't I do? My period was like my chance each month to do a little more, just to prove to myself that it wasn't anything that could hold me back.

So it's no surprise that when I read yoga text after text explaining the rules of yoga while menstruating -- rules that limit what postures are appropriate, especially invertions -- I regarded the information as outdated, anti-feminist and insulting. I never followed the guidelines. Many yoga teachers and western doctors would back me up on this -- why take women back centuries because of something they can't control? One of my yoga instructors has spoken to several physicians about this issue and came to the conclusion that there is no medical reason for women to stop doing inversions during their cycle if they feel good.

However, because of the hormones associated with menstruation, several researchers are noticing a pattern in the timing of injuries in women. Several European researchers have found that women may injure themselves more frequently at certain times during their menstrual cycle. During menstruation, the female body does change, largely due to increased hormones in the body. At the most basic level, these hormones can soften and weaken muscles and ligaments, especially around joints, a process which prepares the body for potential pregnancy. During this time, a woman's body may be more prone to injury. Most noticably, studies found more ACL tears (a ligiment surrounding the knee) during this time.

So what is right for your body and your practice? It's up for each woman to decide for herself. I am not the type of instructor to ask menstruating women not to turn upside down in class, because I prefer inverted poses during my cycle. However, I believe that the decision requires an honest assessment of how a woman is feeling. So often in our culture, women feel pressured to perform in sports at a rate equal to men. But during a woman's cycle, her body is physically different from a man's, with differences in hormones that could make her more prone to injury. Having a relationship with your body to assess your physical well-being, each day, is important.

Usually, I feel okay during my period. I still crave my handstands, but can't hold them for as long. My shoulders want to roll in instead of out, and my structure feels a bit wobbly. This month, I was completely wiped out on day one of my cycle. I was able to teach through my cramps, and took a gentle, Happy Back class that felt okay until I strapped up a yoga wall harness that pressed against my cramping belly. By three o'clock in the afternoon, I was spent. Instead of mowing the yard and cleaning the house as planned, I took an assessment of what my body needed and instead decided on a hot bath and nap. The water soothed my aching joints, low back and cramping belly, and when my head hit the pillow, I fell instantly to sleep.




Sunday, June 6, 2010

Life at 75 Percent: Fighting the Ego

Ah, glorious inversions! I just came home from a fabulous weekend of practicing and practice-teaching inversions with my new, beautiful group of yoga teacher trainers. It's been less than a month since I started my 300 hour, professional teacher training through YogaWorks and Prana Yoga Center in La Jolla, and I am loving every minute of it. Well, almost. The group is wonderfully small, inquisitive, open and compassionate and I feel so fortunate to be working with these beautiful individuals. The YogaWorks instructors have been fantastic -- full of energy and information, and excited to help us learn how to be better teachers. The only problem I've been having is with myself -- finding my limits and practicing ahimsa, or non-violence, with my practice.

I am so grateful to be working with a physical therapist who intimately understands yoga (check out www.embodyyogatherapy.com). Additionally, she seems to understand exactly the type of person I am, including my tendency to push my body just over its limits -- time and time again. I asked her directly this week what my limits should be. I knew we'd be practicing inversions this weekend and I really wanted to get upside down, but safely. I She said, "Anna, first of all, don't do anything that hurts or feels uncomfortable. Second, do everything at 75% of what you would normally do. So if your brain tells you that you can do five handstands, do three. If you think you can hold for another five breaths, hold for three." Basically, override the ambitious part of the ego and have compassion with my healing body.

Ironically, the lead instructor and I were dealing with the same struggle. I'm trying to safely recover from injury, and she was pregnant. She wanted to demonstrate and do each inversion, and so did I, but both of us had to rein in the ego, look at the larger picture, and find compassion.

I did it. I mean, I practiced at 75%. Or I thought I did. I'm feeling a little compression and discomfort in my low back; not pain, just discomfort. But I did less, and that feels like a good start. Next time, I think I'll take it down to 60% of what I think I can do.

This weekend I learned a lot of really helpful and solid information about how to teach inversions safely. I learned how to tell if a student isn't ready for certain inversions and why, and how to work with that student to become ready. I learned new ways of spotting students upside down and a fantastic line of preparatory poses to build strength and courage before an inversion.

But the biggest thing I learned this weekend was something that our instructor said when we were in meditation: our yoga practice is meant to heal, invigorate, and relax us. It is not meant to harm us. When we are working past the edge, or moving incorrectly, or not listening to the body, we are not practicing yoga anymore. Yoga is a union of mind, body and spirit. If we are injuring ourselves, or no longer incorporating ahimsa in our practice, we are not doing ourselves any good. Yoga is meant to be a lifestyle; that is, something that we can practice our entire lives. If we can't figure out how to listen to the body now, how will we safely practice into old age?

When the body is healing, do less. What I've come to realize is that even if my ego is as strong as ever, my body is not as strong right now. That's okay. If I take it one day at a time, at 60 to 75% of normal, then slowly, my strength will build and I will find the healing aspect of yoga and be able to practice past my 60th and even 75th birthdays.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Revitilization

It's been a long time since I've written. And not because I didn't have plenty to say, but I decided to follow the old saying, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." It wasn't that I had a mouthful of hateful words to spout, but more that I've been in such a personal transition that nothing made sense, even to myself. So, I guess more appropriately, I was following, "If you can't say anything that makes any sense, don't bother moving your tongue (or typing the keys)."

This transition has been difficult and sat at times, and inspiring and energizing at others. This "transition" I'm speaking about has several components; an injury (or re-injury); a shift in my teaching schedule; a desire to teach, practice, and understand yoga differently than I have been; and a bucket of new yoga information. And while I said this has been sometimes difficult, I also realize that the transition has been divinely inspired; each shift or piece of new information presented itself at the perfect time, whether I realized it at the time or not. All of it I created through manifestations, even the uncomfortable pieces, as a way to teach myself the lessons I want to learn and to grow into what I want to become.

For the next few days, I'll fill you in on what I've been learning the past month, starting with how injury has effected me. For the rest of the month, I'll keep you posted the new, incredible journey I'm taking. I hope you'll stick around.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Yoga is Everywhere

I've written before about hidden limits or boundaries that we attach to ourselves. Some of these limits are helpful, like the limit that says, "I shouldn't walk across a street that contains a moving vehicle." Other limits are not so helpful, and these limits are often times invisible to us.

I recently uncovered a limit that I had in my space. This limit said that the only yoga asana that I should practice was a rigorous type of Astanga or vinyasa that gave my body a noticeable workout. Last July, when an injury occurred on my body, I didn't try any types of more gentle yoga to increase healing. Instead, I went out of the yoga world and into the medical world until I was ready to jump back into a vinyasa class. Today I realize that in doing that, I missed out on so many of benefits that yoga has to offer.

This time, I am not going outside of yoga to heal. I was recently inspired to attend a Happy Back Class at Prana Yoga in La Jolla. It was fabulous! Not only was is safe for people with injury, it focused on common postures (we worked mostly standing asanas for that class) and how specifically to use the leg and belly muscles to release the back and keep it free in the posture. The class included aid from the yoga wall with straps to hold onto in standing postures, and a sling to hang from in downward facing dog and child's pose. Hanging in traction is one of my new favorite things! I've been trying to stretch my back like that for months without having the physical ability to do it; with the wall, it's easy! And as for thinking I wouldn't get enough exercise -- my legs are so sore! Our instructor's mantra to us was that we have strong legs that can hold us up; our back doesn't have to do all that work. I realized that I had been stabilizing my postures with a tailbone tuck that caused clenching in the glutes and the back; learning to stabilize myself only with my legs and low belly was very challenging, and left me more sore than I have been in months!

I am so inspired. My ego is embarrassed that I let myself go so long believing that vinyasa was the only type of yoga for me. I fully admit that I was so wrong. Today, I am taking the Happy Back Class again because I want to learn more. I want to learn how to have a practice free of pain and discomfort and free from putting my back at risk through poor alignment and weakness. I'm also taking a restorative class this evening that will focus on spinal alignment and deep relaxation. As I look towards these different and varying types of yoga, I am inspired and excited to learn as much as I can. I've realized in the past few weeks that although I love vinyasa, it's not for everyone all the time. There are people with chronic injury or recovering injury who need yoga also, and I want to be an instructor who can tailor a practice to help those people recover, to take the worry or panic from their mind, and show them, like I was shown Wednesday, that they are strong and they can train their body in a healthy way.

Namaste.

Monday, April 26, 2010

(Re)Injury

I hurt my back again.

I was having a fabulous two weeks of no pain. I started jogging lightly again. I started back bending more consistently. I was a bit tight and stiff on Friday morning, and when teaching, I folded forward into uttanasana and my low back went into those awful, painful spasms that I have come to know all too well.

It's funny, but I'm not as upset this time. Am I a tad frustrated? Yes. I don't like having to be inactive. But this time, instead of getting frustrated and blaming the world, I feel like I have a lesson to learn. I need to learn how to fix my body myself. Obviously, the advice of the experts wasn't helping me improve my low back weakness. I have the power in me and the resources at my disposal to figure out what is wrong and to fix it. For the first time in a while, I'm not looking to someone else for answers. I'll find them myself.

Oh, I could write an entire blog post about physical therapists, their high-horses, and their lack of the intricate knowledge required for yoga anatomy. But I won't, because placing blame is pointless, since my life is my own. Instead, I'll just remember that because I looked outside of myself, I didn't get the whole answer, because every BODY is different and a one-size-fits-all solution doesn't always work. I'm doing my own anatomical research, and found a missing piece to the back-pain mystery (I won't go into it now, it's a work in progress). As soon as I am well, I am excited to re-train my body to work correctly. I'm also excited to pass on the information I'll be learning to see if it can help my students.

The day I got hurt, my mental state oscillated between distraction (I caught up on episodes of "Private Practice" and watched "New Moon again") and a mindful calm. Between those bouts of rest on the bed or the couch, I retreated to my back yard, where I knelt on the ground, barefoot, to pull weeds, plant the garden, pull more weeds, slowly mow and trim the grassand plant a flat of small, green ground cover. I moved slowly, accepting my body as it was, and focused only on the task at hand. Being outside and using the simple activity of pulling weeds was so calming, so healing, that it reinforced my belief in the true healing powers of the Earth. Engaging in earth-based activities can bring a sense of calm like no other. It's one of the only places outside the occasional breakthrough yoga class where I can let thoughts of worry, frustration, or despair melt away and focus only on the moment -- on the dirt on my fingers, the spines on the weeds, the bark under my knees, and the satisfying feel of an unwanted root being pulled from the ground.

So I cannot despair. For even if I don't have my yoga asana practice, I can still have the peaceful mind, steady heart, and calm, calm, calm.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The two selves

I have been spending a lot of time by myself in asana, meditation, and thought this week. It has been beneficial for me. For the past week, I've practiced everyday, meditated most of those days, slept a lot, and started to reconnect with my Self.

Patanjali said that there were two selves; the True Self or the spirit, and the mind. In an article by Kate Holcombe in Yoga Journal this month (May 2010), Holcombe says to think of the True Self as the boss, and the mind as the assistant. What would happen, she asks, if the assistant acted as though she ran the place, without ever checking with the boss at all? I've found that when my mind takes over for my true self, I feel chaotic, ungrounded, unsure of myself and my abilities as a person, unconfident in my path and alone. Or, I can feel on a mission to the point of blindness, forgetful of the moral or need the fueled it, like the thought or goal has shushed everything else in my space and I have a one track mind. Usually, when I achieve the mind's goal and the white noise is gone, I usually feel defeated, guilty, or astonished that I could let the mind run the place for so long.

In Sutra 11.23, translated by Holcombe, it states, The inability to discern between the temporary fluctuating mind and our own true Self, which is eternal, is the cause of our suffering, yet this suffering provides us with the opportunity to make this distinction and to learn and grow from it, by understanding the true nature of each.

I know what my True Self sounds like. When the voice of my True Self is prominent, it speaks to my soul's desire and spiritual path on this planet. It speaks to support me and to gently guide me when I'm off track. It makes me feel beautiful, supported, loved and nourished. It reverberates through my body like a sound wave, ringing through the chakras. Depending on what it has to say, I may feel it in different chakras. When my mind, or my ego, is steering me, it's like white noise over the aura. When my mind is speaking, it acts more like a distraction or an obsession, and it blinds me from hearing my Truth. For example, I've lately spoke of this desire for purchasing. That is my Mind speaking. What is says is this: "You must have this item. When you receive this item, and not before, you will be a complete person. You will finally fit this ideal picture that I have of you." In other words, the promise of the mind is to make me complete through act. This obsession doesn't feed the True Self, who is complete already, and who bases everything, including purchases, knowing it is complete.

For the past couple weeks, the number of students in my classes has dropped off, and I have been wondering why. Is it my teaching style or ability or simply the student's shifting schedule? Like all teachers, I have my own style of teaching. My teaching reflects my personal practice and goals as a practitioner to slowly advance into more and more difficult asanas while keeping breath intact and clearness of mind. My teaching style is a little different than others at my studio. I took a nice class from another instructor, with a filled room, and realized what our differences were as teachers. During the class, I thought, "Well, I could teach this way, couldn't I, if I wanted to get more students?" But I realized that was my Mind speaking; the same mind that tells me I am inadequate if the number of students in my classes is lower than in other classes. After a day of thought, I realized that I can only teach what is true in my heart, and that the students who come find a connection with what I am teaching, and that is good.
In verse 1.29 of the Sutras, Holcombe translates: Those who have a meaningful connection with something greater than themselves will come to know their true Selves and experience a reduction in those obstacles that may deter them from reaching their goals.

This was another great "hello" for me. As I read this entire article, the cogs in my head went click and I realized how I had been affected by obstacles in my life. When difficulties occur in my life, it's my reaction to absorb them, to become them. When I injured my back, it wasn't just an injury to the person I am; I became that injury. Similarly with vertigo. I wasn't a person with vertigo, it was my vertigo; I had let it become who I was. What Patanjali was saying in this passage is that we need to learn to understand our connection with the Universe and our True Selves in order to experience difficult circumstances without identifying with them or absorbing them.

When I finished reading yesterday, I started to make separation from the difficulties that ailed me. I am starting to glimpse what I already believe: that I am a spiritual being in a body, rather than just a body with a mind. Vertigo or back injuries or PMS or weight gain or sickness or taxes do not define who I am; they are just things that happen to me. Patanjali suggested that everything that has an effect on our bodies and minds is something that is happening to us, not that those things define who we are. It could be argued then, that life on this planet is something that is just happening to us; it is an experience that we are using to grow our True Self. If that is true, then we really must learn to know and trust our True Self and the Universe (or Supreme Being, or God, or whatever you wan to call it). And of course, that we should take life less seriously and find more amusement. After all, it's just something that's happening to us. It doesn't define who we Are.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Potential of Thinking Positively

I know that my life is shaped by the thoughts that I have. I know this. And I know that when I feel like the world is wobbling underneath me and things are getting shaky, I can change the way I view things by changing my thoughts. It is easy to know this. It is more difficult to actually do this.

I also realized an interesting pattern to my symptoms that have my doctors baffled. My vertigo is nearly obsolete in the mornings, the time of day when I feel the most optimistic, the time of day that I love the best. My vertigo worsens around mid-day, and is particularly virulent when I am around others, especially those with strong energies. My vertigo is also particularly nauseating when I haven't meditated or otherwise grounded my spiritual practice. That was a hello for me. I have recently felt like a spiritual person hiding in the closet, waiting for the safe time to come out. I am afraid that what my body is craving is a grounded, active or admitted spiritual practice. For me, that practice would be based on spiritual freedom through meditation, connection with the god of my heart and a deep connection and study of the natural world. And yoga, lots of yoga. One of the principles of my spiritual beliefs is that I create the world I live in through my thoughts, my actions and my reactions to my thoughts and the actions and intentions of others. To live this truth is my challenge.

I am trying. During a rather rough bout of vertigo on Monday (yes, I still have vertigo, can you believe it?), I was having a healing session with my friend when she sent me a huge hello. People had been reminding me for the past month to laugh and find amusement and change the way I think about my situation. But it hadn't come through, I mean really come through, until Monday. Somehow, as my friend asked for the third time over Skype if I was going to hurl, I realized that I had no routine or time set aside for spiritual practice. I am an organizational person, and I realized that I had not set aside any time for meditation or journaling, an activity that works wonders for my well-being. Instead, I had just "hoped" to find the time. Well, no more hoping, now it's in the google calendar just like everything else.

Each morning, I start with time for yoga. To move my body and feel the subtleties within. This is followed by a time for meditation, 15 minutes to an hour, depending on what comes. Followed by journaling time. If nothing else, I want to focus on what areas in my life I've been taking too seriously and see how I can change my thought patterns to create amusement and allow energy to flow in a positive direction.

I did this yesterday, and although my vertigo was still rocking and rolling, I felt somehow much more calm to deal with it. Instead of worrying about how bad it could get and how long it could last, I remembered my meditative tools and remained calm, collected, and available to participate in my life, rather than fall victim to it.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Change verses growth


The only thing constant in life is change, and for some reason, we always seem to want to resist it. I admit to loving the comfort of a good, old routine, something that stays constant from one day to the next. But the reality is that this life is always changing, and we are either left to let life change us unexpectedly, or instead become active participants in our own lives and find personal growth to either match or spur life's changes.

I made a commitment today to a professional yoga teacher training program through YogaWorks. It was a big decision; a large commitment of time, energy, endurance and money. But I hardly thought twice. Lately, I've found so much joy in teaching and helping others, and the more I teach, the more I realize where my limits are as a teacher. I realized that if I want to continue down this path of teaching yoga, I must break down those limits so that I can grow as a yoga teacher, a yoga practitioner and as a person.

Recently, I have been resisting change. Change came along for me in the form of sore back muscles and vertigo, and yet I keep resisting. "I don't want this," I keep thinking, "I hate this. I want to get back to the way my life was before this." But that can't happen. Instead, I should be saying, "Wow! I wasn't paying attention to the change in front of me. I wasn't active in my growth to keep up. Now I have vertigo and a sore back. What are these things trying to tell me? What do they want me to learn?" I am confident that once I learn the lesson they're putting in front of me, I'll find growth and move past these hurdles.

So I asked my vertigo today, "What do you want? Why are you here?" And it said back to me, "I am here because you have been playing the victim and looking for love and companionship outside of yourself. You need to learn to truly love and accept yourself." Wow, so that wasn't heavy or anything. And hadn't I just admitted to a shopping addiction due to feeling unloved and lonely? I was looking outside myself for love, and if the addiction wasn't enough of a clue, now my body was acting up, too.

Of course, you could just say, "Well, vertigo is a medical thing, right? I mean, why are you 'talking' to it?" Because it's all energy. Energy causes joy as well as pain. A happy emotion can make you feel light as air, and a stressful emotion can cause you to feel heavy and tight until your shoulders are bound to your ears. It's all energy. And it's every changing.

So. I'm moving forward. But I'm also slowing down enough to take the time to listen to what my body has to tell me. What does your body have to tell you? Do you manifest your spiritual/energetic messages through your body like me, or do your electronics stop working and your car breaks down? Stop to find the message behind the mayhem, so that you can learn to grow with the change, rather than be a victim to it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Working Energy

Life can be tough. We fall down, we get hurt, we feel sick, we feel low, we feel alone. But we keep on living. Because we hope that soon enough, we'll get back up, feel healed, be full of wellness, be on a natural high and surrounded with affectionate friends. Life can be tough, but it can also be so beautiful. And everything that we experience in life is simple: it's just energy.

I've still been experiencing vertigo, to varying degrees, the past few weeks. I've seen medical doctors, who are miffed that a healthy twenty-something year old can experience lasting vertigo. And although western medicine is great at diagnosing and fixing symptoms, it largely fails to look at the entire picture, and it fails further to look at the emotional, spiritual and energetic causes behind dis-ease. If you were to take a look at my aura, my space, you would be able to see exactly what is going on, because it's all energy.

I spent nearly the entire weekend in meditation at a gathering of clairvoyants. It was a workshop for us to come together, learn new skills, look at each other's spaces and have more time to work our own. I'd had a hard time looking at my own space, since every time I sat down to close my eyes, I felt like the earth was heaving underneath me. What I would have realized if I had stuck through the meditation, like I did this weekend, was when I can use the meditative tools I have to move energy through my body and my aura and start to reclaim my space, the vertigo dissipates and largely disappears.

It was an intense weekend, to be sure. Sitting in meditation, or trance, as some call it, for 15 hours is definitely a marathon of meditation and sure to both invigorate and tire the mind and body. As clairvoyants, we read and heal each other, and everyone who read me first said something along the lines of, "Wow. I can't believe you're having to deal with this energy. It's so strong. I'm so sorry. Find some amusement." Because as big and bad as energy can feel, it's just that--energy. Have you ever been in a room where you could almost cut the tension with a knife? And then some wonderful soul cracks a timely joke, the room fills with laughter, and the tension is gone? That's the importance of amusement for moving energy.

I always ask my yoga students at the beginning of class to check in and see if they brought their sense of humor, and if they've arrived ready to play. Yoga can be a great discipline to the mind and body, but just like any type of practice, it is largely dependent on how you set your energy, and energy that is serious (like that room we just talked about) doesn't move. So keeping your sense of amusement is very helpful in having a successful and joyful yoga practice.

Bottom line: when you're feeling blue, or when your yoga isn't moving in the direction you want it to, take a step back and find amusement in the situation. It's all just energy. Crack a joke at yourself, find something to laugh at. So if you need a joke, here's a slightly inappropriate one for you to mull over (inappropriate can always make you smile) -- you should never take life to seriously -- no one gets out alive, anyway.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Living on a ship

It's been a long time since I've written, and for a few reasons. First, I was on vacation. Yay, vacation! I couldn't mention it here, since it was a surprise for half of my family, so I snuck away one Sunday night and met my family at the Salt Lake City airport Monday morning and we flew to Cancun. Our final destination was Playa del Carmen, and we spent week in the sun (and the wind), sitting by the ocean, eating tacos, drinking margaritas, and shopping in town. Our good friends live there, and they showed us around. It was fabulous.

I did do some yoga. But sometime between leaving Salt Lake and landing in Cancun, I acquired a case of vertigo, just severe enough to be extremely annoying and nauseating. Yoga, and the movement of up and down, up and down, didn't help much, so I only practiced twice while in Playa. The vertigo is still around today, and my doctor found fluid in my ear and quite a nasty sinus infection, to which I was unaware, as the culprit. We hope. It could also be an inner ear problem, and we won't know that until I've taken the antibiotics for a few days. So until something gets fixed, I'll just keep hanging on to the railing of this pitching ship that I seem to be on.

But even though I can't practice daily, yoga is still the calm place in my life that brings energy and spark into my body and mind. I am still teaching my regular classes (do not be alarmed if I grab the wall suddenly) and each class still leaves me with peace of mind and the dynamic between inner stillness and deep excitement that feeds me more deeply than the best food in the world.

Today, I'm going back to my roots to work on a primary series practice in my yard. I'm hoping that if I'm outside, I won't have such reaction to the vertigo. We'll see. I'm also just excited to be practicing in the yard, which is almost done! A few more hours of work this weekend and we'll be able to start weekend classes outside!

Namaste.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Cusp

I feel like I'm standing out over a ledge and looking at the bottom of a steep, deep canyon below. The canyon represents where I need to be to be grounded and at peace with myself, and it's a long way down. I know that I have to get there to be at peace -- to have the proper love and respect for myself and others, even to feed and clothe myself properly, and to start to actually live my truth -- but I'm not ready to make the leap. Not yet.

I'm still reading Rolf Gates' Meditations From the Mat, and in the last few passages, he's really asked the reader, in this case me, to look at my addictions, my attachments, to where I hoard and where I'm looking outside for answers rather than inside. I know exactly where these things are in my life, and the simple truth is that, right now, I'm just too scared to let them go. To begin to let them go would unravel the safety net I've created and to face my underlying sadness, fear and failings. My life would change dramatically. I'm not sure I want it to.

I've realized lately that there are parts of my life that are lacking. Decisions I made in the past --which I believed were the right ones at the time -- have put me in a position of dependence, which I despise. They've also put me in a position as second best, number two, or the afterthought, which I also despise. This situation has left me feeling empty, unconfident and lonely. I'm filling this loneliness by consuming things, particularly pretty dresses and jewelry and other clothes to help me feel as fabulous as I once did as an independent woman in clogs and sweatshirts.

I realize this addiction, but honestly, I'm not ready to give it up. I'm not ready to stop the automatic mechanism that tells me it's okay to feel better, and that I'll feel better if I look awesome and throw around some attitude. It's not right, it's not honest, and it's really starting to eat at me.

My yoga asana practice and the hours of stillness it creates for me afterwards are the only moments in which I feel at peace by myself. I used to feel at peace with myself easily. I want to face this filler I have, this compulsion to look outside myself for answers, this addiction, but not yet. I'm not ready to make the leap into the canyon. I hope to, but not yet. Until then, I'll wait on the cusp of the path to my self-realization. And I'll keep practicing.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

My back is back! Phase one of backyard sanctuary finished!

This is before the work.
These pics are after phase one of work!
Here's a few pictures of what all my non-yoga free time went to in the past two weeks.


Yyyyeeessss! YYeess! Yes! I felt like an Herbal Essence commercial as I moved through my first asana practice in two weeks yesterday. My body was giddy with excitement and moaning with pleasure as my muscles finally were stretched and strengthened, contracted and relaxed. It was like starting new in that I'd lost a little bit of strength, but also like picking up without missing a beat as my muscles were more than happy to stretch open.

Today, I awoke earlier than usual, 6:30, and donned leggings, a long sleeved quick-dry shirt, and a hot pink Lucy jacket. Complete with homemade crocheted hat and running shoes, I was ready for a romp in the cold-in-the-winter-morning-canyons of San Diego. This four mile loop, which I usually run, I walked today with Loki, my dog, mostly to save my back any additional stress now that its feeling better. As I entered the thicket of live oak and sage, I was filled with the magical feeling that comes with exploring the natural world in the wee hours of the morning alone. Slowing down for the trail was wonderful; I noticed so much more than I usually do! How the light changes the green color of the oak leaves from dark to light, how the creek meanders so slow it's almost stopped, how much trash is actually in the canyon, and how many times my dog stops to relish in a new and wonderful scent. As I walked, I contemplated my practice yesterday. I expected it to be harder to come back; hanumanasana felt too easy, almost too yummy. Handstands were right on par. What gives?

Some physical activities are funny like that for me -- I'm better at them if I give myself a little break. When I was a gymnast, it was always amazing at how much tumbling strength I had when I got back from a vacation. In fact, we noticed that trend for our entire team of gymnasts. Tumbling was better after a break, but balance (on that four-inch balance beam) was way off. I didn't notice my balance off yesterday, but I did notice a small cry of resistance from my upper arms and triceps during the late practice chaturanga.

Taking time off of yoga is difficult for me, but it was necessary. My back actually healed from the incident two weeks ago relatively quickly -- within the first weekend. But I wanted to give the injury more time to heal than I thought was necessary, because I'm usually one to jump the gun on those types of things. When I really thought I was ready to practice again, last week, all my free time went into yard work -- first prepping the yard for the landscapers who we paid to till and grade the back yard (we have a lot of dirt to push around), then to prep the yard for my parents arrival, then to work with Mom and Dad and learn how to put in a sprinkler system, lay sod, and plant about half the yard. Whew! So I have half a planted back yard now -- woo-hoo! Phase one completed, and what's better, when the sod is ready to be walked upon, it will be the perfect location for outdoor yoga classes. Keep your weekends open for that :)



Thursday, February 18, 2010

Squeezing it in

Have I been meditating everyday? Yes. Have I created a routine for meditating yet? No. I've been squeezing it in wherever I can.

Yesterday, I took 15 minutes out of my work day to sit on a soft seat, close my eyes, and meditate. Mostly, I run energy through my body and see where I feel blocked, what's causing the blockage, and if I can release the energy causing the block. But sometimes, I have a hard time concentrating, and so I just focus on keeping the energy running through my body and listening, listening, always listening.

I taught for the first time in over a week and a half today. I felt rusty, but the most of the students seemed to enjoy it. I am starting to really look forward to practicing again, after this upcoming weekend of more yard work. I'm ready to move again in the context of listening, listening, always listening to what my body has to say.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day 2010

This re injury has been a brilliant wake-up call for me. A great big, "Hello, Stupid. Stop what you're doing and try something else." Last June, when I injured my back for the first time (well, not the first time - this has been a chronic problem that is just becoming more virulent), my goal was so slowly get better, and use the expertise of a physical therapist along with my yoga practice to get better so that I could get back to all the activities I was doing before I got hurt. I see now that is not the goal. Instead, the goal is to learn to listen to my body, really listen, to know when it is stressed, and to use modalities other than physical movement to release stress stored in the body.

When I injured myself last June, I immediately sought the help of others outside of me. I went to a sports med doctor who gave me lots of drugs - two weeks later, hopped up on muscles relaxers and unaware of the extent of the injury, I re-injured trying yoga again. I went to a chiropractor, who told me I was in complete alignment but kept asking me to come in until she suggested a massage instead. I went to the a masseur, who was too expensive but such a good healer that the next day I vomited out all the toxins she released. I went back to a different sports med doctor who finally sent me to a physical therapist who knew a lot about anatomy and what my anatomical problem was, and helped me to relieve the pain that way.

Unfortunately, we yogis know that there is more to pain than just the physical body. Every physical pain in the body has an underlying spiritual message. You can think of pain as the body's way of screaming at you. I say screaming because, undoubtedly, the body has given you many signs of distress prior that have been ignored.

Last Thursday when I re injured myself, I was very stressed. Works was stressful, as were things at home, as were all problems I was trying to solve for my friends. All this was taking a toll on my body. All of this in the same week that I was trying to introduce a very physically stressful activity - running - back into my routine. The morning of my run, I thought to myself, "I need to relieve this stress. I need to sit down and meditate. I need to get this stress out of my body." But I didn't do it. Instead, I did what I always do, which is focus on the physical - take the jog, or that intense asana practice, or that long walk with the dog. All of those things are considered healthy releases for stress, and all are in line with the externally and body focused culture that we live in.

So I got sick, hurt my back, and spent a day crying and thinking "why, why, why." Well, why indeed. Because I failed to listen. And if I fail to see the lesson again, then I've really failed. But I'm afraid of changing. I'm afraid of taking on a new routine that isn't linked to disciplining my body. Gates says, "Aparigraha (non hoarding or non attachment) is about recognizing our fears and letting them go. We hold on to that which is not really ours in the first place because we are afraid. We hold on to outworn beliefs because we are afraid. We are willing to believe that something outside ourselves will make us whole because we are afraid. Being afraid does not make us right, it only makes us unhappy."

And so I'm changing my goal. A year of yoga was appealing to me because it was physically demanding. But I have been told by my body time and time again that "demanding" is not what it needs right now, especially a practice of vinyasa or Astanga. I've realized that, while I love love love Astanga yoga, it is not as much about listening to the body as it is asking the body to perform more and more difficult tasks. While this is not a bad thing in and of itself, it's just not the thing I need to focus on each day for a year.

I will get back to yoga as much as possible when I'm healed. But in the meantime, I'm committing to a daily practice of meditation to drain stress from my system and check in with myself. I know that this will work, because it does work for me. I've just not committed to it because it's not physical. Yesterday, I meditated on my own and then swapped aura healings with a friend. The results were incredible. I was suffering from very swollen throat glands and within an hour after the healing, which basically is just assistance in noticing and draining energy and stress from the body, my throat was back to normal. It's stayed that way. My back feels better, too. I am confident that this is the path for me right now. Daily meditation sprinkled with conscious, healthy yoga workouts.

And, as always, I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Injury? Really?

I realize it's been a long time since I've written, and for most of today, I've been thinking about this great piece I was going to write about changing priorities and such. My plan has lately been to start incorporating all my favorite activities back into my routine - activities I've had to let go because of my back injury. So earlier this week, I went out slowly for about four miles, alternately walking and jogging, to see how it felt. It felt good, but I realized it maybe was a little too long a distance.

I practiced yoga on Monday and Wednesday, and today I went out for a shorter distance (somewhere between two or three miles, I estimate) and incorporated several of my physical therapy exercises into the run - stopping to do squats, one-legged golf squats with a bench, step-up knee drives, etc. The whole work out lasted 35 minutes, and I stretched afterwards.

I wanted to write a post about how I was going to try, slowly, to start incorporating running and other activities back into my routine. However, this afternoon, I started to feel my throat glands swelling and my throat got sore. A headache came next. I went home from work early, ready to take a nap, but decided to join the work party in my back yard of pulling weeds. I changed into my work clothes and as I was bending over to put on my tennis shoes, I felt my low left back twinge. The same twinge that I felt last June and has put me out for so long.

I thought it was okay at first, but when I came back inside and tried to sit in a chair, it wasn't. It's the same nauseating pain that radiates into my waist. I'm so frustrated that as we speak, I'm laying on my back with a computer on my lap. Tears have been shed. I'm not sure why my back pulled again; I really thought that with all the physical therapy and mindful yoga, I was past this. I wonder now if my attempt at jogging weakened something and made me more prone to injury.

I'm not sure what tomorrow will bring. I've subbed out my classes due to my throat, but I'm glad I have since I'm not sure if I'd be able to teach tomorrow with my back like this. I'm desperately hoping and intending that this little twinge heal itself quickly, with the help of my rest and positive thinking, as well as my knowledge of rehabilitation exercises. I desperately want to avoid the six month-plus healing time again. I want to be healthy and enjoy the activities I love. Why is this so hard for my body to do?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Need for Yoga

My body is not meant to sit still for very long. I know this about my body. I've spent years in my experiential college setting learning this. I spent many hours in 15 passenger vans bound for educational speeches given by different outdoor experts at different outdoor locations. Days of relative little movement by the body, but significant travel of the body via motor, are uncomfortable and unwanted.

Yesterday, I agreed to take a jeep tour of Anza Borrego State Park and the surrounding area. The tour was nine hours in the jeep, and the weather was cold and rainy, making exploring during our short stops undesirable. We saw beautiful things - ocitilla readying to bloom, beautiful barrel cactus and extraordinary feats of geology. It's truly an amazing place.

But the fact remains that my body is meant to be in movement for a good portion of the day. When the tour was over and I stood outside on solid ground, I still felt like the earth was moving beneath me, giving me the feeling of being on a boat. This is how my body reacts to all long car or plane rides, and it's not pleasant. The evening was cold, and through the night, my body stiffened up even more. By this morning, I couldn't wait to get on my mat and stretch out my stiff muscles.

I felt completely antsy by the end of the day, but what is amazing to me is how so many people are completely accustomed to being sedentary. How stiff they must feel without even consciously realizing it! How the body must must cry out in agony! I wonder if, after a while, the body gives up trying to give signals of its unhappiness and disintegrating health. Or maybe we're all built a little differently, and some of us need to move more than others.

Regardless, my practice was much needed today. I even craved back bends, which, if you know me very well at all, you know I almost never crave. I was tired, however - I had several very emotionally draining events occur this week, and so my practice wasn't necessarily rigorous. I worked deep into my hips and stiff hamstrings, as well as into my thoracic spine, opening up the heart with Urdva Danurasana and Ustrasana. It was beautiful, as was the much needed svasana at the end, when I was able to let go of the events of the week.

Movement of the body combined with stillness of the mind is a glorious thing.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Day 36: Letting go

While I understand and can see many of the items in my life to which I am attached, or things that I hoard - like sci-fi novels, coffee, and big earrings - there are other dimensions of attachment or hoarding that are harder to look at. Anger, for one. Fear, another. Resentment. Do I also attach and hoard these things?

Yes. It's obvious when a little sleep deprivation and a wacko on the freeway wind me up into a cuss-o-rama. To be truly well in our lives, we cannot harbor anger or resentment. In Meditations from the Mat, Gates tells a story about himself and the anger he held in his life. Even as he prayed, meditated, participated in therapy sessions and practiced yoga, he was still prone to irrational bouts of resentment. His teacher made him realize, "As long as I was angry with anyone, I harbored anger, and I was therefore an angry person." To be angry is unforgiving, and the first step to wellness is forgiveness.

This passage really made me think about who I needed to forgive. I immediately thought of my childhood best friend, who during the end of both our sixth and seventh grade years, turned the cold shoulder on me. Her excuse? She just "got sick of me." I was heartbroken, and didn't realize it for a while, but it gave me a deep distrust of women in general. The rest of my middle and high school years, and well into my first few years of college, I only had close male friends and roommates. To this day, I harbor anger that my childhood BFF could drop me so quickly and so heartlessly. It crushed me.

I have not forgiven her. It's been what, fifteen years, and I still haven't forgiven her. As Gates puts it, I'm harboring this anger and it makes me an angry person. Just this week, I've had some unfortunately situations that, had I not been so quick to anger and resentment, I may have flown through quite easily. I don't want to be angry or get frustrated easily, and so I must learn to forgive.

Gates says that he was instructed to go to each of the people he harbored resentment toward and speak to them, including a formal forgiveness. In my head, I'm making all of the same excuses about doing this that Gates mentions, especially, "Yeah, but So-and-so would never speak to me even if I tried." Plus so much time has gone by. But to these protests Gates says, "The spiritual life is always about letting go. It is never about holding on."

I'm not ready. Not yet. I know I'm not ready because if I were to act today, it would probably be in the form of a Facebook message or something, which, let's be honest, doesn't count. I hope I get there soon. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Day 33: Truth, Lies and Confessions


Can you tell the truth from a lie? When someone tells you a very convincing lie, a lie that tugs at your heart, a lie that you want to be truth, can you still tell that it's a lie?

We all have intuitive abilities that help us tell the truth from a lie. You've probably discovered a lie after the fact and then looked back upon it and said, "Dang it! I knew they were lying to me!" Yes, we all have that gut instinct, that little nudge inside of us that tells us when something is true or not. We all have it, but how often do we use it?

I had a lie told to me recently. A big lie. A lie that I wanted to believe, that if I believed, would further my path as a yoga instructor and may bring additional income. I wanted to believe the lie, and so did the teller - in fact I don't even think he realizes he was lying. But he was. And now I'm kicking myself for believing it and begrudgingly looking at the mess I may have to clean up because I believed it. (Note to the reader - until further notice, do not come to my classes at the San Diego Squash club. It's not set up for a yoga space. Yet. I haven't given up completely. Just hold out another week or so).

So why did I believe it in the first place? Well, for starters, I wanted to believe it. I respected the person telling it, and I wanted to share his vision of the outcome. But I had doubts. I had a lot of doubts (Emily, you know exactly what I'm talking about). Isn't it interesting that we chose to believe something we know is a lie; it's as if we lie to ourselves about the truth so that we can accept someone's untruthful vision of the future. It's like when Bush rejected the proof of global warming and asked the country to do so as well. He liked the lie better than the truth, so he convinced himself of the lie.

My meditation tonight is about the truth verses the lie. Obviously. I'm taking a look into my space to see what controls my space about truth and what affects my ability to see a lie. Anyone can take a look at this for themselves in meditation. Or if you're having a hard time seeing your own space, give me a call and I'll take a look for you.

Ah, and confessions. My confession is this: I didn't really do any yoga today. Gasp! I woke early for my last session of physical therapy - an hour of one legged squats, lunges, and abdominal work. Ouch. I spent an hour trying to set up a space for a yoga class that no one showed up to (although, to my credit, I did 15 minutes of sun salutations and flow while waiting), and then I went straight to work until the evening. I had intentions of attending an evening yoga class, but the look on my pets faces (and their body language) stopped me. I've realized that lately with all the new stress in our house (my husband entering into the teaching portion of his professorship plus my two new jobs), my pets are hard hit. My dog seems depressed, low energy, and sad, even. My cat can't wait to jump into my lap every time I sit down. In fact, above is a picture of Zoe "helping" me pay the bills this morning in my 15 minutes of sit down time.

So instead of yoga, I came home for the evening to spend time with my family. So maybe I don't get 365 asana. I thought of yoga. I did some yoga. But I didn't spend an hour on my mat. Instead, I spent an hour as the mat for my cat.