Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ebb in Flow


Sherman was teaching Power Yoga this morning, but over in the corner, I was in a cage match with my mind, emotional state, and left ankle.

It all started last Wednesday after practice. Riding the bus downtown, I was watching a large and aggressively strange woman act out by refusing to move to the back of the bus. I was so busy ragging on her in my mind that, when I squeezed by her to get out the door, I stepped down and landed on the side of my foot. If I hadn't been as loose as Gumby after class, it probably would have broken, but it was only a sprained ankle. Since then, upward dog is impossible, and I'm skittish about most things on my left side, but I'm still practicing.

I feel like a wimp, though. And coupled with that, I went to the doctor on Friday and weighed myself when I was alone in the room. I feel like I've lost 20 pounds, maybe more, based on my clothes. Haven't lost an ounce. I could have cried, but there was nobody to cry to, so I just sagged, and have stayed saggy ever since. I am slipping into the slough of despond.

Sherman has added some new elements to his class -- and I'm feeling challenged, but I'm also feeling like the needy red-headed stepchild. A disappointment where I was once an inspiration. Stuck.

I know from past experience that my practice ebbs and flows. Some days I can't do anything. Then the next day, for no apparent reason, I feel stronger than ever. I know the key is to show up and trust the practice. I know that I am not the number on the scale. I know that I am in the middle of huge changes in my life and work and diet -- none of which can be ignored. I'm even growing out my hair, and tapering down on my Zoloft. I'm trying new things in every area -- although I plan to keep my awesome boyfriend just as he is. The mountain must eventually move. Right?

So why did I feel like a disappointment in class today? Well, besides my lame cobra modification in up dog and some technical difficulties with my back foot in Warrior One -- Sherman has begun suggesting split forearm stand. I've been thinking about the mechanics -- and I get that it will be easier when I hit the full pose, but I'm paralyzed with fear at the prospect of getting into it. Today I was in regular pincha, and Sherman told me to bend my back leg -- but, being upside down, I couldn't figure out what that meant until it was too late. Disappointment. I felt like I let him down.

We've also been working on going from rock star pose into a full wheel -- and I'm sure I can do this, but I can't figure out how to turn my bottom shoulder so that I don't snap my arm off. I suspect I'm supposed to turn my bottom hand but when? Homework.

Then there's my post-traumatic bridge syndrome. We're beginning to go from shoulder stand into bridge then full wheel. I believe the trick is to work one's hands up the back close to the shoulder blades. I was working on this several years ago and seriously torqued my wrists and thumbs -- no lasting damage, just an unforgettable shooting pain, the memory of which haunts me. So I weasel out in this bit, squishing around on my mat... pretending. Disappointing.

Speaking of mechanics, we're also working on Eka Pada Koundiyanasana II. Needless to say, the below picture from is not me.

It's an insane arm balance, but I think I can manage it strengthwise. It's a matter of where I put my weight. Right now I can't lift my back leg off the floor. It feels as if it's encased in cement. Today after class I watched another student get instruction in the pose, and I realized that he works his front leg way up toward his elbow. That may make a difference with weight distribution. We'll see.

So where to go from here? Liposuction? Fat camp? The sideshow? Back up to 100 mg of Zoloft? Not yet. I'll stick it out a little bit longer, and get back on the mat.

After class, I finished Dani Shapiro's Devotion, while consoling myself with an Other Caesar Salad at Peacefood Cafe. She writes about yoga and faith. The book got me thinking about a statue my father bought many years ago. It is, I'm sure, very old. A Buddhist acolyte gazing at his unseen teacher in devotion. Where Buddha statues are covered with jewels and mirrors, the acolyte -- James, as I named him when I was a kid -- is simple and unadorned. Before I knew what meditation, yoga, Buddhism or pretty much anything else was, I would sit on the floor beside him and simply breathe. There is something sacred about James, the statue of the eternal student, that has always spoken to me. Maybe he's telling me to calm down and listen for the teaching. After all, James has been sitting in my mother's house for 35 years, and he's still listening.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Small Gestures

It's been too long since I've blogged. Chalk it up to overwhelm. I'm facing an enormous life change in the next few months -- my job is going away -- and in pondering and preparing for the next phase, I fried my brain. I'm proud to say that I've continued to practice, though, and that is the thread that is carrying me through. My yoga practice remains constant, while everything around me is moving so fast that at times I feel like I'm inside a snow globe.

Something cool happened: I entered a contest on Twitter and won a new Manduka mat in the sexy, limited edition color: Black Cherry. It is fab. It looks like the spawn of my two older mats: the majestic Black Manduka and the lightweight maroon Prana mat that has been with me for many years. It has that new mat smell. Getting the mat in the mail -- and a love handwritten note from Manduka -- felt like affirmation that I'm on the right path, and for that I am grateful.

Meanwhile, lately I seem to leave yoga looking as if I've gone five rounds with (super hot) UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre. First, I blackened my left eye. A week later, I did the same to my right. Then, last Wednesday, I was in pincha maryasana when all of a sudden blood began to drip off my face onto the mat. Ever lame, I had ripped open my lip with a quick swipe of a towel just before going upside down. After class, Sherman put me right.

One of my issues is that I never think I'm working hard enough. I didn't pick this up out of the blue. It was planted deep in my psyche early on. I'm working on it... still... always... But something Sherman said on Friday about there being no finish line where the practice is concerned made me realize that I've brought this particular neurosis with me to the mat. Surprise.

It's not that I muscle through the asanas, but, rather, I throw myself around a bit, and rather than inching up to the edge and peering over to see what's there, I dangle a limb or two over the abyss just to test the air currents. I do this because I suspect I'm a lazy wimp, that I'm too easy on myself. It's gotten worse recently, along with feelings of shame that my body's not changing fast enough, and a host of other "not enoughs" that are currently playing on an endless loop in my over-active cerebellum.

What Sherman was basically saying was slow down.

So this morning, I decided to dedicate my practice to "seeing what happens." I went to an unfamiliar spot in the room -- a corner where I could feel fairly private -- hooked my mind to Sherman's voice, and let myself be as if this were the first class I'd ever taken. I made myself forget what was coming next, and, for some reason -- exhaustion? -- it worked. I flowed in flow class. My shoulders were tired after three days in a row of hard practice, but at a certain point they released and the rest of whatever I was holding onto followed, like dominos.

In some asanas, I went back to basics, choosing not to try the advanced options because I knew I'd just end up sitting on my butt waiting for it to be over. In others, I tried to take a small step forward. I have tripod headstand in my sights -- mostly because it looks fun. And since I had the wall right there, I took a stab at sending my feet up to the sky. They would have gone, too, except that I actually took the pose correctly -- hips over shoulders -- and my feet lifted off the ground all by themselves. I held them there for a split second, then freaked out and did what I can only call the dance of the dying house fly.

Afterward, over hummus and babaganoush at Le Pain Quotidien across the street from Yogaworks, I read the following about tree pose in Dani Shapiro's new memoir: Devotion:

"Standing on one leg, the other foot pressed into my upper thigh, I reach my arms over my head and then - then, I bend. I lean to the side, and allow my head to be dead weight. I forget about the idea of balance. I forget that there is a self who is balancing. I have learned that this is the only way that balance is possible. The minute I start thinking about it -- Oh, look at me! Look how far I'm bending today -- I will fall."

Amen, Dani. In the micro, I mangled my tripod headstand because I noticed I was about to do it. But in the macro, today's entire practice was an exercise in balance. In fact, when the dread direction: "High Plank," rung out, and I knew it was time for push ups and crunches -- that class was winding down -- I had to turn and look at the clock. We had been practicing for 75 minutes, and it felt like 45 -- or rather, it felt outside of time, because I had let go of the goal and thought only about what I was doing right then.

Or maybe it was my new mat.