Wednesday, November 30, 2011

In the realm of action

November 30

I am thinking today about the distinction between yoga and stretching. Was I connected this morning? I was more connected when I was standing on my hands than when I was in shivasana…

Sometimes I feel, when I am coming back to myself it works slowly, in layers.
Some people say just breathe.
Some people say just show up.
Of course, at some point you just have to do the bloody work.
Today the work that is hard is being present. The Practice.
All of it. All of it is work today. Breathing, showing up, working.

When do we become present?

This morning my daughter asked me to wake her up early to practice the piano…

I’ve been reading the OED this week – I love that book so much. The richness of understanding that comes from sinking into history and layers of words… slowly, in layers.

  1. “The act of  doing something: performance execution ...”
  2. “The habitual doing or carrying on of something …”
  3. “The doing of something repeatedly or continuously by way of study …”
  4. “An exercise; A practical treatise ...”
  5. “The carrying on of an exercise or a profession …”
  6. “The action of scheming or planning …”
  7. “The act of practicing on or upon a person …”
  8. something about multiplication
  9. “In the realm of action …”
  10. To put in practice …”

There’s no inclusion of results. No inclusion of how well…

In the realm of action...

Anything that has separations involved in the practice – separation and submersion…
writing, love… it sort of works like magic, doesn’t it?

Monday, November 28, 2011

The bell.

I interviewed David Emerson (the author I talked about last week who does work with yoga and trauma) last week, and it was so interesting to talk to him. He started out as social worker – but found he couldn’t get to healing through talking. “We just focus on the body. We don’t bring the issues into the room at all.”

The body has its own wisdom. We can heal through breath. Breathing.

Feeling the body.

I had a teacher several years ago – his pseudonym would not be sweet teacher – though he was one of my favorites -- He was a great meditation teacher.  As another unlikely beginning, he was a former Wall Street broker – and did bring a fair amount of the trading floor into the room. He pushed us to achieve difficult poses – and made a point of praise for reaching the goal… He used to search contortion sites before teaching us… I did amazing things in his class -- king pigeon -- a full split -- some crazy arm balances... twisting and turning and I always left feeling completely freed...

The point, he said, was to override the mind. To work so hard that you had to forget what you were thinking… and it worked.

He also would always have us say one particular prayer – touch our thumbs to our third eye, mouth, heart… see no evil, hear no evil, feel no evil. Can’t you see all those renditions of the monkeys… but I always thought of it as an ignorance plea – see no evil… but the prayer is more of a choice, in my current understanding – see good… see love, speak love, feel love.

I didn’t practice but for one class this week – I had a chest cold and breathing was hard. Now I remember. It’s not at all about what you cannot do… It's nice to be getting better -- to stand on my hands and my head and touch my knees to my nose... but I need it most the days when I can barely move at all. I need it most when I feel the worst.

I haven’t been able to get out of the way of my thoughts for days…


Monday, November 21, 2011


November 21 

I’m reading a book – Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga by David Emerson and Elizabeth Hooper (North Atlantic Books: 2011). I became interested in the book a few weeks ago, when I came across a workshop Emerson ran last summer for war photographers with PTSD.

There’s a grid on page 96: Challenge/Goal/Posture.

I’m so in love with this idea.
For the past few weeks I have been getting so much better and listening to my body tell me what it needs – hips and back are beginning to speak to me…
But employing the body to sooth the mind, respond to the mind…
I suppose that is why we say “I need a hug” or “I feel like dancing,” – but to choose a time to listen and respond in a physical way – and on purpose!

dissociation/grounding/mountain pose
conflicted feelings/centering/seated twist

I love this – somehow I guessed before I read twist what the pose would be – and in that instant I thought of tree… feeling off balance, find balance…

bring your awareness to the core

Of course. Counterbalance.

Some days I go into tree – which is mostly a resting pose for me. My balance is often pretty good. I feel settled – enjoy the roots to sky…
But the days when I can’t balance, there’s simply no point in trying, you know? It’s just not there and it has nothing to do with anything I can control…

If I listen today... there is a hint of sadness... a hint of tired. So the impulse is to cave inward...
But what if I stand up and open my heart to the sun -- what if I move through a vinyassa to try to move through the energy sitting in the center of myself...

How many things do I do like this? Try to force myself to be steady when I am not – try to branch when I should ground… what is there that I might look to instead…

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Metaphor

November 15

Lately I’ve been working on letting go.

I don’t mean this in any sort of metaphorical sense.

I am learning to make the pose simple – be it a standing pose or a sequence of poses or a resting pose. And I have been paying attention to all that is moving around what should be moving that doesn’t help at all. I clench my jaw. I furrow my brow. I begin to notice that all the muscles around the target muscles are working and overworking to assist…
In a way, this is a lovely view of the body – that it comes to its own defenses – rallies in support of itself – always looks to lend a hand.

But I have been working on letting go – so that means actively looking for those places and working on releasing them.

Sweet Teacher talks us through it. There is no work here. You don’t have to do anything.

Yesterday, not for the first time, I noticed I am afraid of letting go in pigeon. This is a pose supported by the floor – close to the floor. But I am afraid that gravity will pull me into injury. I am afraid that if I let go of the muscles they will not be able to support themselves. Particularly, yesterday, my inner thigh. I felt that if I let go of my hip, the weight of my body would tear the muscle. I imagined it tearing in my mind – and so I didn’t let go.

Sweet Teacher asked if we had any questions – so I asked… what if you are afraid that if you let go you will get hurt.

She looked at me, in a strange sort of way, and said to talk to her after class. Then she asked if anyone had any less transcendent questions.

The person next to me turned and said, I know what you mean. Gravity. And we wondered together why she wouldn’t answer. I ventured a guess that she would tell me to use more props. Together we agreed it didn’t seem like a complicated question.

Ok – I’m going to share her answer – but with the qualification that she had told me this in private – and I am publishing it, and that’s not really fair. It has to do with the understanding that a teacher has of their student, and her advice was offered with all sorts of concern, caution, wisdom and trust – of me and my practice… We all know that people can get hurt in yoga. This is not what this is going to lead to...

She said, I’m going to say let go.

There is a difference, of course, between knowing that something is wrong and being afraid to trust.

I am afraid of the universe so often. Afraid to let my own power and the ability of my own strength and understanding.

I think it’s fear. And at those moments, when I allow myself to go into that fear – that is when the space opens up. That is when I find the power and the heat and the strength inside of myself. I’m going to say let go.

Like love, of course. Like life.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Rest and Motion

November 13, 2011

For most of my life waking up was easy. For years and years I would wake up quickly, two minutes before my alarm went off, my head clear. Even on the days I didn’t want to get up, I was awake.

This helped because a lot of what I do is done in the morning. I get up early, so that I can start the day while the world is quiet. This has always been a really important and restorative time for me – 4:30 or 5 in the morning… This is when I write. This is when I practice. This is when I center myself.

But with whatever is going on in my body, something has changed.
It is very hard for me to wake up.
The alarm pulls me from somewhere beneath the ocean.
I touch the snooze button and an hour goes by.
My head is foggy; my body achy. I struggle to come to consciousness.

So I have for the last week been trying to figure out how to put these two things together: Getting up and not wanting to.

Suddenly this morning I realized I have to do it differently.
It was 6 and I felt the same as I had felt at 5 but my intention was to wake up…

I have to wake up slowly. I could hear all the teachers in my head… begin to bring the awareness into your body… your fingers and your toes…  I was wondering what the buzzing was – until I realized it was a mosquito. I heard the cars. I could feel my joints and the places where I was separate from the sheets. I could see the traces of light at the window. The outline of the dog. Come back to what you know.

I used to feel that intention was about making something happen. I learned the one day at a time approach to a lot of things… but you know, today I think that I often gave what ever it was I was trying to conquer more control than it already had. I think about the idea of “muscling through a pose.” I WILL WAKE UP TODAY. Maybe it’s painful. Maybe it’s failure. Maybe it’s the same struggle tomorrow morning until finally I don’t want to do it anymore.

Today as I was lying there, thinking that it was my intention to get out of bed, it occurred to me that if I wanted to make that happen I had to do it in a way that made sense today. Intent – meaning or purpose.

It’s very strange to wake up differently than ever before. And I feel that way all over my life these days. I remember feeling that way with the kids – every time you get used to a phase they change… but it’s hard to remember that I, too, am still in motion – aging and moving towards all the time some other place. Of course, they gain motion, where I suppose I become more limited… I miss being bendy like my daughter. I miss waking up easily…

Of course, there are the ways that I am gaining motion too…

Monday, November 7, 2011

Familiar Haunts

November 7

Saturday was a hard day, physically. I didn’t want to get out of bed, and was feeling bummed out about that, too.

I went to class and I noticed something strange – something that I don’t really notice when I am doing my home practice – which I suppose is because at home I am targeting specific things and points on the body…

I noticed I could feel everywhere I had ever injured – and so for parts of the practice I felt like I was reminiscing all the pains of my life…

I hurt my shoulder kayaking in the ocean about a decade ago.
It was a clear day, but the wind seemed to pick up out of nowhere. We were completely harbored, but it was a sudden fight with nature, and I remember thinking again about the power of the sea. For a while I couldn’t lift groceries. It took years to heal.

I had surgery in January – and both the inside and outside of that throbbed – in that low quiet way – the caverns and the incisions… I don’t think about the pain of the decision to have that surgery anymore. The complication of the cutting open…

I fractured my foot in high school. I sprained my big toe. My hip has been killing me. All these ghosts of missteps visiting their old, familiar haunts…

I said to my friend how strange it was. I thought these things were healed. I thought they were gone forever. She said, but it makes sense, doesn’t it…

I remember my father explaining to me about grief that way. The way that we can feel a current pain and it can echo through our psyches to all that came before of loss.

Luckily, love is like that too.

I did a crazy thing in my life and fell back in love with my first love a few years ago – in a way, all the pieces then connect… child to grown up and it the continuity of who we are is really rather astounding.

There is a story a class lesson on bullying circulating facebook this week – 

a piece of paper is crumpled – then smoothed. Of course it can never be made new again.

We gain character through the creases. Personality, wisdom.

But healed is not the same as in tact, she said.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Backward Circles

November 4

My daughter is 10. She is thin and lovely and very, very bendy.
I was never like her.
I remember being flexible – but I never had her budding popular look or her way of ease about me.

I can only watch in awe.

She springs and glides into dancer and king pigeon touching her toes to her nose with the same attitude as she throws her book bag to the middle of the floor.

Just so we’re clear – in these poses, the practitioner takes their leg backward and catches it with their hand – in pigeon the arm comes over the head – so that the entire side forms curves and creates a backward circle.

There is a tinge of jealousy – of ease of shape of vitality. That is, indeed, the way the pose is suppose to look…

Of course, I not only hear Sweet Teacher say, but believe these days, that the yoga has absolutely nothing to do with the body (even as she insists on a squared leg for our warriors).

She is Sunrise. In the yoga teaching we move through life like a day. Sunrise is about movement and feeling. Learning and energy.

Midday is for strength and stability. “Householders:” I never noticed the word hold in household before.

It is my great honor that she has little to hold right now. For certain she has her kid fears, and I wouldn’t do it all again. But her life, thank goodness, is mainly without challenge, without flight. 

Flight without fight.

So when I sink into my struggling warrior today – to strengthen my weakened base – I will dedicate it all to her – as I almost always do.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


November 3

My body has been giving me a pretty hard time this week. It hurts. It makes the things that are best for it hardest – it makes the things that are worst easiest. It over reacts.

So I didn’t go to Sweet Teacher’s class on Monday. As a result, I knew what I was in for – Long pose holds – and I dreaded it all week. While I have been finding my way to the mat every day, not with any strength or depth…

I almost didn’t go. I labored. I thought it over and over and I became anxious.

I thought about what a five minute downward dog would mean – where it would hurt. In my wrists, in my shoulders. Would I cave in, would I ache or fall…

I set at the beginning of the class my intention of curiosity – learning – listening.

After the first 30 seconds, in which I was tense and worried… she said something -- I don’t even remember what she said. What she always says, I suppose – let go of the cleverness of your mind… separate the work of the body and the work of the mind.

The pose was easy. The five minutes – I felt at rest. I found that the strength was there – and that there was, in fact, nothing that I needed to do at all.

I fight work so much. I get so afraid – of pain of failure of weakness – I clench my fists and pound them on the walls of my intention all the time.

This is not work, she said. This is your privilege.

I couldn’t hold the warrior sequence. The damages and the months of healing have not found them back to strength or ease. I noticed weakness in my ankles, my knees – sore from existing out of place.

If I notice weakness I can work on strength -- learn what I need to hold.
If I notice strength I can relax entirely into trust of what will hold me.

It is so hard to listen to what is, rather than what we want to be or what we fear.
Or, it is a practice, I suppose.

I have a young, sweet, favorite friend who is going through a very difficult decision now – I dedicate this day to her.