Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Same Words, Different Voice

The plan was to get up at 5:30, drink my coffee, pack my goggles and meet Quilty in the hallway at 6:45 to bike to Central Park's Lasker Pool to swim laps outdoors for the first time in decades. I woke up with excuses and fear on the pillow beside me. I haven't been on my bike since my last bout of unemployment, two summers ago. I had been so excited about going. I'd googled every available byte of info about adult lap swimming in NYC parks. Despite all that, I wimped out via text. I went back to sleep and slept through Sherman's class, too. I woke up feeling like a failure.

When I regained consciousness, I decided to reverse the plan and go to afternoon yoga at Pure, then head to lap swimming at 7 pm.

That's how I ended up in Matt Giordano's 4:30 pm hot power class. I've been practicing fairly exclusively with Sherman Morris at Pure and Yogaworks for 13 months now. But sometimes hearing the same words in a different voice wakes you up to an aspect of the practice that may have gone unconscious.

I didn't go to Matt's class blindly. He assisted at Marco Rojas's Inversion Workshop a few months ago, and coaxed me into doing a somersault when I was frozen in panic. I liked him, and I remember his assists being just right. Not wimpy. Not afraid to break the big girl.

Hot yoga, on the other hand, is one of my least favorite things. But this was not a Bikram class. And it was only scheduled for 60 minutes. I can endure anything for an hour, especially if I station myself near the door, where the oxygen accumulates.

Surprise. The class was perfect. Steady and measured. Simple but deep. Basic poses with optional advanced variations, all of which I took, because -- instead of causing me to circle the drain of consciousness the way it usually does -- the heat made me feel juicy. My chaturangas felt especially strong and controlled. Sometimes in Sherman's class I psych myself out, because I know how many dozens of chaturangas and bona fide push ups lie ahead. Rather than take them one at a time, I hold back early -- in a very subtle way -- rather than letting myself be tired down the road, when it happens, and trying to move the point of exhaustion later and later in the class. Perhaps the difference yesterday was that I had no idea where Matt's class was going, so I couldn't ration my energy for what I knew was coming. That helped me stay in that moment on the mat, as Matt asked us to do in our opening meditation. I was forced to take the ride down an unknown road.

What a mirror for my life these days.

I had a strange experience in Vasisthasana (Side Plank). I've been working on advanced variations in this pose. On the left side, I can bind my right toe and lift my leg up fairly high. Once I get there, I've been playing with keeping my balance, keeping my butt tucked underneath but not too far, so as not to fall backward into an inadvertent Rock Star/Wild Thing. As a Sherman veteran, I know that's where he's going after Vasi, so I frequently weasel out of going back into Vasi and stay in Wild Thing, waiting for the rest of the class to catch up. Or take a time out for water. Truth is: I'm faking it. Thinking ahead. Cheating.

But isn't Wild Thing the best name for a pose you ever heard?

Doing Vasisthasana on the right, I'm glued to the earth. I can get my right leg into tree pose and stick it there, but the minute I try to bind my big toe I come crashing to the ground.

Yesterday in Matt's class we moved into Vasisthasana unexpectedly... Both feet together. Classic. Basic. And I couldn't do it! My mind was all over the place trying to find the basic form of the asana. I'd forgotten the building blocks. (Like my feet...)

I was stressed. Magically, Matt -- who was nowhere near me in the studio -- talked about meeting stress on the mat -- not avoiding it -- and then conquering it with the breath. Great practice for the rest of life. Yoga can be stressful. We evolve by moving through that stress to see what's on the other side. And that is an amalgam of the Matt Giordano/Sherman Morris philosophies, as interpreted by me.

Toward the end of class, I had a significant breakthrough. Handstand is my nemesis. Sherman has begun to include two sets of handstand prep into class -- he asks for 5 kick-ups -- middle of the room -- and I do my best to oblige, although I'll admit I usually manage only 3 or 4. My kick ups are so earthbound I must look like a tortoise in the high jump. My inner monologue: I can't do it. I'll never do it. Handstand is impossible.

Just as I began to mentally check out, Matt took Child's Pose and said: "Those of you who do this when handstand comes up -- this is what I want you to do." He raised a leg in standing split and lifted it from there, the bottom leg leaving the ground for a moment as all the weight rocked onto his arms. "Ugh," I thought. Then I tried it. Suddenly, I suspended! Not for long, but it was better than never. And I had a sense that, eventually, I might be able to stand on my hands. It was an awesome moment.

So awesome that, after class, when I made it to the pool in Central Park only to learn lap swimming was canceled, I didn't much care, because the smell from the wildflower meadow I'd just passed was so intoxicating.

It's good to know that, just because I've overslept and missed Sherman's class, there's still yoga to be had. And always something new to be learned.

The Hindi word "Samskara" means impressions. Impressions made on you by the actions and reactions of your past. These impressions form pathways. Habits. Default settings. Sometimes it's important to step off the path to find it again.

Tomorrow morning, when Sherman asks us to kick up five times, I plan to start from standing split and practice hanging in the air for one suspended second. I can't wait. And that is something brand new.

No comments: