RSS Feed

Tag Archives: yoga

2018: Happy New Year

What does the New Year hold for you?

Ancient peoples tracked the sun and the moon, noted the seasons for planting and harvest, and lived their way into a construct for time that predates but informs our modern calendar. Drawing on a number of organizational creations, Julius Caesar implemented much of the calendar we still live today, including adding his own signature: the New Year would begin January first, the day two high officials began their year-long governing positions. More than a few since have attempted to change that start-date—to March to coincide with the spring or to September to coincide with the harvest. Through all the political tugging and pulling, Julius Caesar’s stamp on when we begin the New Year has prevailed. And so it is that we arrive at the end of one calendar year and launch the next.

And with that brand new calendar full of possibilities, it’s irrepressibly human to want to implement life-improving change.

During the holiday season my gift list took me to the Container Store. It’s one of the happiest shopping places I’ve been because each object makes a promise that if put to use under just the right circumstances, life will be more organized and thus infinitely better. It’s 19,000 square feet of countless mini-resolutions. I came home with, among other things, a magic silicone computer keyboard cleaner that helped me de-stick the keys on the left edge of my laptop where I had, alas, spilled coffee. To be honest, I came home with three of them—one for my immediate use and one each as stocking stuffers for Eighteen and Fifteen.

The reminder of that heart-stopping moment when I tipped the cup onto my computer (it was a lidded cup without much in it, a candy coffee I was treating myself to while writing) lingers in the dimmed segment of lighting behind my keyboard. I was swift in my response, inverting the computer and then racing for napkins to wipe away the spill. For a few days my computer smelled faintly of coffee, not an unwelcome fragrance for a writer, and the impacted keys were sticky. Today it’s an object lesson—my computer turns five this month, is long out of warranty, and makes it possible for me to connect with the world and earn a living. If something disables it, even if that something is me, I’m going to need a replacement immediately. Mental note for the accounting department: start a new computer fund.

And so it begins … it’s easy for the mental notes to turn into life-improving resolutions around money, health, friends, travel, employment, getting rid of stuff, cleaning and fixing the house, losing weight, getting fit, finding a boyfriend. Like the unbroken snow in the backyard or the shiny allure of just the right organizational box at the Container Store, the crisp clean calendar beckons. This is the year I might just get it all right.

Looking for the lessons of 2017, and there were many, I light on a few. I set out to study and learn a lot more about yoga, and I did, completing my 500-hour yoga teacher training and implementing a new kind of preparatory approach to my classes that has been well received. In the course of the hours spent reading, researching, and producing, the travel to trainings, and the workshops I attended and developed, I learned something in my own practice that I am still exploring. It’s a tiny adjustment in my hands in strength-requiring poses like plank (the top of a push-up) wherein I press into the floor using my hand-wrist joints like levers. I don’t yet know the full extent of the strength the maneuver allows me to access, but I know that it changes the experience of the pose in my entire body. It’s a tiny, valuable truth, and I look forward to discovering where it might lead.

I learned, too, that my beloved yoga practice, while it opens all sorts of possibilities for self-improvement and advancement (yoga really is, as my teacher Mona always says, an ancient self-improvement practice for body, mind and spirit), is so comfortable for me in a large part because it allows me to embrace and strengthen my strengths. I am patient; yoga makes me more so. I am flexible; yoga celebrates my range of motion. I am a teacher; I’m so grateful that people come to learn yoga with me.

In writing those practices for my classes, I stumbled into understanding, in 2017, why it’s okay that for years when I’ve started writing in a blank book, I’ve left the first few pages unsullied. I always thought it was to take the pressure off—indeed, as I’ve been cleaning my bookshelves over the past week or so, I’ve discovered a number of blank books starting with three or eight or fifteen pages covered in childish scrawl, the beginning of a novel one of my children sat down to write in a fit of creative passion and abandoned shortly thereafter. I can’t bear to throw these books away—loving the intensity of the resolution it took to start a novel. Nor do I want to use these books, even though they have pages and pages that are unmarked, leaving me uncertain as to what to do with them. So they go on the shelf for now. But in my own favorite blank books, spiral-bound so they sit flat on the desk, especially the ones I use for planning yoga practices, I find that the skipped pages at the beginning are perfect for creating a table of contents. Thus, when the books fill up, I have a way of finding the information therein. And something about leaving those early pages blank does indeed make it much easier to fill up the books—with class plans, lists, notes for my novel, and every other project-launching whim or frenzy that takes over.

I believe fervently that it’s important to set resolutions with kindness—intentions or visualizations for the new chapter seem healthier than the often critical messages of resolutions. However, I’m learning for this New Year that the impulse to make sweeping changes in our lives offers many gifts. We may or may not live our way to the intended goal, but if we stay both grounded and open to the possibilities, we will learn lessons from our inclination to leap into projects and transformations for the better that range from merely fascinating to life changing.

Today’s full super moon feels, to me, like a spot on a transitional timeline that starts with the winter solstice and skips like a stone across the water with stops at Christmas, New Year’s Day, the Chinese New Year, and Groundhog’s Day. Rather than set sights on changes that will revolutionize all of 2018, I’m focusing on this period, giving myself some interesting challenges, and staying open to the discoveries that I don’t even know are possible. Wishing you and yours a safe, happy, healthy, and revealing New Year, that you might discover your own wisdom pebbles and skip them farther over the water than you ever dreamed possible. With all my love, Namaste, Rxo

Advertisements

Rabbit Reset

Which way shall I turn next?

On the first day of July, tomorrow morning as I’m writing these words, I’ll wake as I usually do, sorting and ordering the activities of the day ahead and filtering out the already dones of yesterday. The small grey kitty that somehow manages to simultaneously curl up into a tight, tiny ball and sprawl across the lion’s share of my bed will stretch and demand attention. At some point the reality that it’s first of the month will swim into focus and I’ll say, out loud, “Rabbit, rabbit.” Thus guaranteed good luck for the coming month, I’ll spring up to face the day.

Of course, there are no guarantees.

But just as finding a penny heads up, as I did yesterday on my own front step, and making a wish when returning the clasp on a necklace to the back of my neck, feel like opportune moments, sticking to the tradition I learned at nine in England feels like it can’t hurt. I rarely miss a month and, having spoken the words out loud, will generally go so far as to post “rabbit, rabbit” as my status on Facebook.

When they were really little, I taught my kids. They think nothing of “Rabbit, rabbit,” as a greeting when they wake. They’ll sleepily say it back. At one point—they were about Four and Seven—I researched the tradition and wrote a theatrical, the script for which surfaced this spring as I was cleaning out boxes in the basement. The scant theories about origins for the practice (and its many variations) wove through a princess tale in which we and every stuffed rabbit in our house all had roles to play. Like a faded old snapshot, the script brought back memories and connection to a sweet long ago.

Saying “Rabbit, rabbit” on July 1st will usher in not just a new month, but the second half of 2017. Just then, I almost wrote the second side, a phrase my yoga students will connect to practice, when a series of poses is complete on the left side, for example, and we get ready to begin the sequence again on the right. There is a balance to it—working the body equally—and there’s a marvel as well, how different one side can be from the other.

For much of the first half of 2017 I felt like I was on a water ride, sliding across a cascade of changes that included Ninety-Two’s health challenges and associated changing care needs and launching my house onto the spring real estate market. In the swirl of May, Eighteen docked at the end of his first year of college and shortly thereafter Fifteen powered through finals and flowed into summer. Whereas I’d been paddling hard, struggling to keep the boat afloat across white water and despite strong undertows, quite suddenly I landed, the oar feeling a little like it was broken off in my hands. The constant, unpredictable motion of the spring stilled.

Honestly, it took a little while for me to recognize and stop padding. I’m still puzzling about where I am. I don’t know if I’m sitting on the beach, my suit itchy with sand, or floating in a gently swirling hot tub. And while there’s always a next storm, I don’t really know if the hatches are securely battened and we’ll be fine or if there’s a ton of shoring up to do to prevent disaster. What I do know is that this is both entirely new and somewhere I’ve been before: at the end of a series of events and plans that were so consuming I couldn’t take time to consider what my world would look like after or precisely what to do next. I may not truly be in the aftermath, maybe we never really are. Yet, there’s a stillness, a chance to reconsider and relaunch. It’s a great time to clean house, physically, metaphorically, metaphysically. And with that in mind, I welcome the opportunity to reset—both for a new month and the second side of this adventure-filled year—and I’ll take all the luck with that I can get. Rabbit, Rabbit!!

Much of my world is on sale, including these lilies that bloom faithfully each June. They’re on sale because the house they’re in front of is for sale. In that spirit, for the month of July my novel is also on sale, over at Smashwords (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/516628). If you haven’t enjoyed it yet, maybe some summer reading (half off 7.1–7.31)? xoxo

As serendipity would have it, my twice-rescheduled colonoscopy is Monday. Rather than dreading it, I see it as a part of the overall reset. As we celebrate our nation’s birthday and many have a few days off, it’s not unlike the turn of a new year—a big party with bright lights and lots of festivities, followed by a chance to begin anew. Have you thought about it? Which direction will you turn now? Rxoxo

Zen & the Art of Litter Box Maintenance

Did you ever watch Dr. Who?

Fourteen is a fan girl. She hunches (in cringe-inducing posture) over her laptop watching episode after episode of Dr. Who. With her friends she discusses episode features and the different doctors, speculating on who might assume the role next. Recently she produced a “cosplay” outfit from her closet, prancing off to school as Rose, the Doctor’s associate. Knowing full well I am not a science fiction fan, she asks anyway, maybe hoping to uncover some affinity to my past. I can only offer that my friend in junior high was an intrepid fan of the Doctor with the scarf. “Ah, the Fourth Doctor,” she nods with absolute certainty.

As I ferry Fourteen from point A to point B, she often talks dreamily about the wonders of time travel, outer space, and swift saves for the planet. Her talk challenges the notion of staying present, something I teach as a part of yoga practice. Our breath and our bodies are in the present moment; our minds are time travelers. The mind’s abilities to race ahead—anticipating the worst or stressing about events to come—and linger behind in hurtful past happenings lead to tension and stress. On the mat we can call the mind to be present, staying with the breath and connecting through movement, relaxation and meditation with the body here and now.

But naturally it’s more complicated than that. While time may be a construct of the rational brain, life’s progressions imprint throughout the body. Our bodies carry the stories within of everything they’ve experienced and—I would suggest—anticipate changes to come. But what I want to tell Fourteen is that we do travel through time; however, it happens in one continuous narrative rather than dramatic leaps into the future and back to the past.

What, then, do time travel and yoga have to do with cleaning the litter box? How is a task so mundane but vital to life with felines in any way a practice, let alone an art?

Cats have been a part of my whole life. Our farm cats went in and out freely, and I can’t remember if we ever had a litter box inside, perhaps a little-used one in the basement. But ever since petite, longhaired Tillie adopted me in graduate school, I’ve had at least one cat and one or more litter boxes under my roof. That’s about thirty years of cleaning up litter.

The most significant break came when Seventeen was around Ten and started cleaning the cat boxes for a dime a day. Later, the cats would subscribe to Time magazine for him, a satisfactory arrangement for all. So when he left last month for college, I was dismayed to find that the task reverted to me. At first I dreaded it, the clay dust, the scooping, the carrying … if you’ve ever done it, you know. I still can’t say that I like it, but I have learned a few things.

The first is obvious: once it’s done for the day, it’s done. But less obvious is that I can tell myself, in the morning for example, that if I take five minutes to clean the litter boxes (there are two in the basement and one upstairs), then the afternoon me won’t have to anticipate the unpleasant task. The present me takes care of the future me. And, inversely, later in the day when the job is already completed, the present me thinks back fondly on the actions of the past me—and it feels like a kind of time traveling, even if it has little to do with saving the world.

Cleaning the boxes takes little more time than walking down the stairs to the basement, up two flights to the laundry room, and out to the garage. In that short time, I ponder this notion of caring for my future self. It makes putting money away for a rainy day, for example, or making a phone call right now that I’ve been dreading, a bit easier. More logical. Sweet, even. It makes me feel a little bit braver in the present moment, knowing some unpleasantness may be avoided in the future.

And then there’s this. Regular litter box maintenance is having another interesting effect. Seventeen wasn’t as habitual about the task as I am, meaning the boxes sometimes got, shall we say, over-filled. When that happened, the cats were known to “think outside the box” or at best leave the boxes messy. I determined to clean them nearly daily and in doing so, I’ve been feeling—this sounds almost ridiculous as I write these words—a bit of pride. But here’s the most remarkable part—the litter box users seem to have noticed. They aren’t throwing litter out of the box, using the sides or even the outside, or leaving their eliminations uncovered. It’s a behavior change I never could have anticipated, but one that leaves our present selves purring.

Shine on Harvest Moon! And Shine on YOU, in whatever present self you find yourself. Thanks for witnessing my journey, Rxo

String Theory

String Theory

Did you sleep?

Cosmic theories befuddle my brain. My son, Sixteen, likes to think about time travel and the edges of the universe and life on other planets. And he likes to talk about them, too. Such considerations are my mental undoing. Even a concept like our national debt doesn’t truly resonate because I don’t have a clear way of imagining what that amount of money looks like.

But it is not these things that disturb my sleep. If there are concentric rings of thought, moving from the immediate to the theoretical, I’m most-often lodged in those inner rings, trying to figure out my own realities, fiscal and otherwise. Sure, I’ll look up to consider the news, wonder about the political race, or feel dismay about foreign affairs. I love to think about the meaning punctuation makes in a sentence and challenge myself to read thought-provoking books. I might tackle a new recipe with fearlessness or a toilet repair with considerably more trepidation, but generally speaking these aren’t the things that wake me either.

In spite of all of the yoga I practice and teach, I’m a worrier. And when I wake up in the wee hours, it’s to worry—did I make the right decision? Will there be enough money? Is my roof going to hold? What shall I do about the basement leak? What can I do about it? Will there be enough money? Why don’t my cats get along? If I get rid of the landline, what’s the best means to fax in my editing work? What’s not done for tomorrow? What do Sixteen and Thirteen need tomorrow? What day will tomorrow be? Will there be enough money? If I go back to sleep, will I be groggy in the morning?

That last one is rooted in solid experience. If there aren’t at least 90 minutes between the worry block and my alarm clock, I’m liable to go back to sleep and wake sluggish, hitting the snooze alarm more than once. If I hit it too many times on a school day morning, I’ve got two choices: stumble downstairs and get the morning going for everyone else, skipping my treadmill/Sun Salutation routine that invariably gets my brain on track for the day, or head to the treadmill in spite of the time and guarantee a morning that is at best hurry-hurry-hurry and at worse a dash for the first school bell.

It’s pretty much a given that I’m going to wake up sometime during the night. But when the timing works right or—in the best-case scenario—I’ve had a short afternoon nap, my brain doesn’t spin up and I turn over and get more comfortable. Deep sleep, then, takes me to a place where I remember my dreams.

And so it was the other morning that I woke from a dream that seemed to be a fuzzy memory of my mother’s last car, a sleek black Lincoln we called the “mafia staff car.” I didn’t know when I woke up why I was dreaming about the car—just woke up thinking about it and realized that I was relaxed, not worried, the sign of a good night’s sleep.

That very night, nearly asleep, curled up in my bed on the floor after a day when my activities flowed easily from one thing to another, it occurred to me that the stitch that lingers post-op in my hand had come out. I replayed the moment in my mind, my hand raw but opening up to release the string, a black suture I tugged out gently with my other hand. I woke up then and felt my left hand with my right. The hard spot was still there, the puffy, sore spot to the inside of my knuckle not obviously better. And I realized that while falling to sleep I had flashed back to the dream about the Lincoln, a dream in which the suture was poking right out of my hand and I had tugged on it, removing it. My dream was so real, but only a dream.

Once I had sorted out that the image was a dream memory, I found it could play over and again in my head. Living in a body with a track record of rejecting stitches, was I visualizing what may eventually come to pass? That was enough to wake me fully and bring on the slew of worries that accompany not having a completely functioning and comfortable hand.

Erma Bombeck is credited with the first version of the quote I learned as, Worry is like a rocking chair: both give you something to do and get you nowhere. My worry is a naughty magic carpet, rocking me out of sleep, skidding into dreams and occasionally settling me down gently. My yoga mat feels like a better magic carpet to me, a place where I find serenity and a break from the worry. And I wonder, as I often do, how it is I have so much cause to worry when I practice and teach so much yoga. I am invariably stopped by the enormity of the potential answer to the next question: how much would I worry if I didn’t practice yoga?

A mudra, or hand gesture, that inspires knowledge and concentration. This is one of my favorites, and I've just learned it's also good for insomnia. See you at 3:23am Gyan Mudra.

A mudra, or hand gesture, that inspires knowledge and concentration. This is one of my favorites, and I’ve just learned it’s also good for insomnia. See you at 3:23am Gyan Mudra.

With the New Moon of 9.13.15 and Mercury cruising into retrograde on 9.17.15, we’re in a period of taking great care. The best-laid plans may go awry, even as the urge to make them is strong. Whatever your practice, hang in there & thank you for witnessing mine. Namaste, Rxo

Birthday Mala

Birthday Mala
What's better than a question mark!?

What’s better than a question mark!?

Who’s sending you all of these?

My first Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog) in nearly three months was Sunday, July 12, eight weeks after hand surgery on the index finger knuckle of my left hand (please see https://overneathitall.com/2015/05/07/hand-le-this/ and https://overneathitall.com/2015/05/18/my-ten-cents/). I was warm from thirty easy minutes on my treadmill, my hand tender and still puffy. I took myself through Surya Namaskar (a salute to the sun), ten straightforward poses that might be taught in an intro to yoga class. I took myself through a second. When I completed the third, I thought of BKS Iyengar, who told my teacher: three poses make a practice. Three rounds of Surya Namaskar. In spite of the uncertainty and pain in my hand, I felt really good, ready for my day.

(In English, a basic sun salutation starts standing tall. Lift your arms and fold all the way forward, lift your torso to a flat back, your hands sliding up your shins, bring your hands back to the floor and step or hop back to plank (top of a pushup), then lower your heart to the floor. Lift that heart in a small backbend. Soften out and lift your hips to an upside down V, that’s downward facing dog, the pose from which I was restricted both pre- and post surgery (no weight-bearing on my hand). Step or hop forward, create the half lift, soften back to forward fold and sweep your hands to the sky, coming back to mountain pose standing straight and tall, hands at your sides.)

The next day, I walked again on my treadmill, and then again I did three more sun salutations. And three more the day after that. I was feeling shaky in my plank, lowering my heart to the floor meant dropping to my knees first, and I could barely hold downward facing dog, the pain making my hand wobble. But I couldn’t get over how good this simple practice made me feel—centered and thoughtful, able to scoop my cat onto my shoulders (she waits for me right outside the door of the room where my treadmill is) and head up to cheerfully greet the day.

I consulted the calendar and realized I had gotten lucky. By the time I had started it was less than fifty days before my fiftieth birthday, so I couldn’t complete a challenge like fifty yoga poses in fifty days. But with the right math, there was enough time for a Mala. Mala is the Sanskrit for garland, and the traditional practice is 108 rounds of Surya Namaskar (albeit with more jumping and ramped up versions of my plank and backbend). My calendar showed that three-per-day six-days-a-week would get me to the Friday before my birthday. It seemed an auspicious way to move toward that big five-oh and rehabilitate my hand all at the same time.

What started out choppy and challenging became smoother. I added in a hop. I lowered down more easily each day. I was re-gathering strength and flexibility. I started to practice more fully with my yoga classes, too, encouraging my body to move in ways that were at once familiar and refreshing. I felt, too, some of the benefits of the “yoga marathon,” what we sometimes call the 108 practice when it’s performed all at once time. My daily practice was connecting my days, which often feel disjointed, giving them a comforting unity. The challenge to complete the Mala was all that kept me going at first, but soon I found the practice so compelling that the few times I did not get up and go right to my treadmill, I made the time later in the day.

At the end of the fourth week, four postcards arrived in my mailbox. They were each different, colorful and wonderful art, each addressed in lively different colored markers, each decorated in the part where you’d write a note with a two-inch letter. H, A, P, and P arrived all in a clump, and I set them next to my bed with an unconfirmed suspicion about who the sender might be.

The next day came Y, and it was time to share the goodness. I arrayed the postcards, picture side up, for each of my family members. Then I flipped them one by one, spelling out H-A-P-P-Y. Indeed, this gift was making me exceedingly happy. I posed with the Y for my Facebook profile picture, sharing my excitement with my online world.

When 5 and –th appeared next, Thirteen helped me put up a string in our kitchen where I attached the letters that had come so far. Each day I got excited about checking the mail; each day there was a new delight or a new mystery—where was T, what would come after the comma—unfolded.

In the basement in the mornings, I kept to my Mala; upstairs in the afternoons I hung more postcards on my garland.

The last week of my Surya Namaskar practice I started counting down in my head—only eighteen more, then fifteen, twelve, nine … I thought at nine about polishing them off in one go—I have done 108 in one session a number of times—but decided it was more important to stick to the pattern I had set for myself. After not quite six weeks I could reliably lower down from my toes, jump into plank, and lift from my backbend to downward facing dog without lowering through the middle. Still, three sun salutations felt measured and right, a practice I had and could sustain, even if afterwards I sometimes worked in another pose.

The final N of my name arrived two days before my birthday. A package came, too, from the number one suspect. The N postcard announced that it wasn’t the end, in tiny letters scrunched to the side of my address. What could be left?

My fiftieth birthday was a Sunday. I woke at nearly my normal too-early time; the house was dark and quiet. I thought about turning over and going back to sleep, but something urged me out of bed. I soft-footed my way down to the treadmill, realized that I couldn’t lie to it and punched in 50 when it asked my age, walked for 35 minutes at 3.8 mph and a 1.5% grade, walked my cool down, peeled off my socks and stepped onto my mat. Lifting my hands over my head, I folded to the earth. Three rounds of Surya Namaskar and I was on my way upstairs, a new garland and a new half-century ahead of me.

The complete garland--so beautiful I can't bear to take it down!

The complete garland–so beautiful I can’t bear to take it down!

The day after my birthday, the final postcard, an exclamation mark composed of books, arrived. In tiny print on two of the books, the masterpiece is signed, “Love from, Diana.” Thank you, thank you to the Lady with the Magic Van—your magic extends far beyond your vehicle. I love the way my birthday Malas linked the time before and the time after. Just like the phases of the moon bring me back to you, dear reader, at the same time they move us all forward. Happy full sturgeon moon, Rxo

Hand-le This

Hand-le This

How are you?

The wise woman seated across from me, a friend, a confident, a compassionate advisor, a yogini, looks at me with distinct concern. “I have a new teacher.” She settles in to hear my story and I hold up my hand. “My knuckle on my first finger is stuck. I can curl it in, but I can’t open my hand all the way.”

Yes, I will respond to the logical next question, it hurts, some days more than others. But the real issue is loss of function. I cannot open my hand flat, nor can I put weight on it. Thus I cannot do any of a number of yoga poses (Asana), making both personal practice and teaching challenging in the most frustrating of ways. (Typing isn’t a breeze, either….)

This current issue may or may not be related to breaking this same finger when I was thirteen years old, rebelliously sliding down a banister sidesaddle at my junior high. I did it every day on the way out to lunch, but that day my foot caught the upright and I toppled off, skittering down several steps to the horror of my friends. When I landed at the bottom, my finger was already swelling. A block away in the medical practice of my neighbor, a specialist in surgery of the hand and upper extremity, he braced it for setting with a Bic pen.

Or it could be more directly related to cutting the mats for the yoga studio floor, a feat that involved holding a straightedge rock solid as I fit the mats into the negative spaces all around the outskirts of the room. For six hours.

Or, it could be arthritis—changes consistent with age, my all-time least favorite medical diagnosis.

Whatever it is, the fact that my finger sometimes caught and then released—a condition I saw a surgeon for a year ago when we decided it was behaving well enough after a cortisone shot—became a significant issue not quite three weeks ago when it caught and stuck. I had, in fact, been having fewer problems with it. Keeping it warm and watching what I eat both had pleasantly reduced the number of times per week I’d feel that all-too familiar catch. So it was a complete surprise when I picked up a folding table by its handle and felt a shift in my hand along with the shock of joint pain—a moment when I knew immediately something was wrong.

Another cortisone shot and the surgeon’s suggestion that we wait three weeks to see if it would resolve on its own sent me out to work around my injured hand. Yoga and typing aside, I can manage most things, albeit with some adjustments. Washing my hair and putting on lotion, clapping, and loading up my hands and then finding a working finger to open the refrigerator door all prove more difficult. I need to be careful, too, not to put too much weight in my hand, let alone on it. This week, rainy with shifting barometric pressures, my hand hurts doing just about anything. Most days basics like cooking and folding laundry are okay, if a little slower.

The metaphor of a stuck joint isn’t lost on me. In the mind-body dance arts practice Nia®, the first finger is the finger of desire. I have been conversing with this knuckle about the ways I feel stuck, still sad over the man who left me in December, still wrestling with a full plate that doesn’t seem to ease, still mostly ignoring a house and garden that need more attention and money than I can give them, still uncertain about my long-range plans.

Then, just this morning, for five seconds there was a tiny pop and the finger straightened. No warning, no pain, my hand was

In this case, the right hand both knows what the left hand is doing and should be doing. That index finger toward the left side of the picture--that's as straight as it'll go.

In this case, the right hand both knows what the left hand is doing and should be doing. That index finger toward the left side of the picture–that’s as straight as it’ll go.

wide open. My brain, too—the fog lifted for that moment. I felt whole and free. As fast as it came, the moment was over and the knuckle stuck again. The pain radiated in my arm and has remained, sinking me back into what I realize now has been a mental haze, draped over me during this entire chapter.

Just like my finger, I’m not 100% stuck. It was a little over a week or so ago someone brightly asked me—your studio, your book, are you living the dream? I laughed the chagrinned laugh of someone who sees both the truth and the lunacy of a question like that. Then I smiled at her, knowing she was asking kindly, and said, “Sure, let’s go with that.”

The May full moon, appropriately named the flower moon, has waxed and begun to wane, but everything goes a little slower with one and a half hands. Blog postings too. Thank you, as ever, for going on this journey with me. xoR

Sit-n-Reach

Have you always been so flexible?

In yoga practice we fold forward, standing feet together or wide in a straddle to reach toward the floor, seated to reach toward our toes, drawing legs and torso toward each other in a seated balance pose that is frequently featured as a cover photo for Yoga Journal, a smiling, nimble yoga model making a difficult pose look easy, and even rolling over onto our backs, drawing the legs over our heads toward the floor. Energetically, forward folds invite the practitioner to go within, to cool a heated body or calm a flustered mind. Not everyone is a fan.

Forward folds tax tight hamstrings and hips. For people with low back pain, a forward fold may be appealing but it could be counter-indicated before, at least, the person is fully warmed up and has done a series of back extensions. Nonetheless, forward folds are such a standard measure of “flexibility” that they are included in the twice-yearly presidential physical fitness tests run in our public schools. In conversation with people who are telling me why they think they want to practice yoga, I often hear, “I’m not flexible; I can’t even touch my toes.”

At the studio I’ll encourage a class to take the first few forward folds of a practice with knees bent to avoid over stretching the hamstrings. If we lengthen and release from the bottoms of the feet along the entire back body and all the way to the crown of the head, we move from a dedicated hamstring stretch (and potential injury) to a full body experience that recognizes the connected nature of all of our parts.

That said, touching one’s toes is both an admirable goal and a reasonable expectation to arrive with on the mat. It is not, however, so accurately a measure of flexibility as range of motion.

I have in most of my joints noteworthy range of motion. Even following childbirth, it only took a few yoga classes after Twelve was born for me to give up arm-lengthening blocks and place my hand directly on the floor in poses like Triangle and Lateral Angle. When I talk about compression—the point at which a joint can move no further because of the way it’s built—in class, I invariably hear a gasp if I use my own wrist or even ankle to demonstrate. And when the inevitable question arrives, about whether I’ve been flexible my whole life, I smile and quip that I wouldn’t be a good advertisement for yoga if I weren’t flexible.

As ever, yoga offers me the metaphors that I need. When I first started practicing regularly in 1998, I believed I was flexible. I have never not been able to touch the floor. In just a few classes I found I could fold my body in half, laying the length of my torso along my legs. I can interlace my fingers behind me and drawing my hands over my head in a standing straddle, bring my arms parallel to the ground. What I have, naturally, are joints with significant range of motion. Yoga keeps my soft tissues limber, preventing tension that can constrict a joint. But like anyone, my joints stop moving where bone finds bone, what Paul Grilley calls “compression.” Compression doesn’t hurt, when you reach that point with all tension gone. But most of us find muscular tension restricting mobility before we reach joint compression. Still, range of motion isn’t the same thing as flexibility—one is physical, the other is much more about how we adjust.

A few Thursdays ago I was driving east, early in the day. Grateful I don’t normally have to flow with the rush hour traffic downtown, I figured out where I needed to be, parked, and thought to put money in the meter even though enforcement doesn’t begin until 8. The quarter jammed. I hopped into my car and maneuvered one space over. This meter swallowed my coins but gave me the appropriate time in return. I bounded up the stairs, not really late but arriving just overneath the wire as so often happens. The appointment, passports for Twelve and Fifteen, went smoothly and we were back in the car and heading to school just a little later. I’d already called in my daughter’s late arrival, so we dropped Fifteen first. On the way from his high school to her middle school, I mused that I would take my editing (due later that afternoon) out for breakfast, and then I head to my entrepreneurial buddy’s house for the morning. Twelve said, “That sounds like a nice day,” as she collected her belongings and stepped out of the car. I watched her to the door.

On my way to breakfast I realized that I only had with me the first four pages of a twelve-page newsletter, so I switched lanes and navigated toward home. I got out a pan to make my own breakfast and checked my phone—a message from my entrepreneurial friend revealed she was ill and in bed. I finished making my plate and told my mother, “I’m going to take my breakfast back to bed.” It’s one of my favorite treats and I had a book I was almost finished reading.

A half-hour later I got up for the second time and decided that since my day had shifted, I now had time to change my bed and put my laundry away before diving into the editing. It felt good to leave my room tidier than I found it. Downstairs I filled my water bottle and spread my editing out on my desk when an email arrived from a woman with whom I’d been corresponding—could we meet at the yoga studio at 11:35? I fired back that I’d see her there and in no time at all I was back on the road. The studio meeting and a few work items attended to, I decided to go over to the coffee shop, where I greeted my friend who telecommutes and sat down to attend to the editing pressing hard against the deadline as morning had become afternoon.

It was almost time to pick up Twelve when a mother and son hailed me as I was getting into my car—did I know the way to a specific address? I started to show them on my phone and when they looked concerned, like they couldn’t possibly find it on their own, I invited them to follow me and lead them to where they were going. They honked happily as I waved, tore back to collect my daughter, and we drove home to fax in my work, start homework and dinner, and regroup for a private session and a class. I couldn’t help but think about how differently my day had gone from the way I said it was going when I dropped her off. Not bad, just different.

Indeed, every day is interesting—a blend of different types of work, parenting, and socializing. Like so many, I move from one to another, sometimes smoothly, sometimes in fits and starts, often derailed by a fire to put out or a phone call to answer. Am I flexible? Sometimes. When I can decide en route to change my plan and decide to change again in response to a request or someone in need, that feels like flexibility to me. When I cope with my car breaking or my mother’s computer having a sticky q key, that, too, feels like flexibility. When I feel overwhelmed trying to get everyone fed and my son announces that he needs to be at school early in the morning for a guest speaker, in comes the tension. When I know there’s something big that needs to be attended to, it can feel impossible, in a way that makes me feel paralyzed and powerless. My mind whirls and often creates a block against any action, like a computer screen frozen mid-sentence or a stiff, swollen joint that doesn’t move through its full design.

paschi

Hinge forward, feet flexed, extend torso along legs. Interlace or bind the fingers around the feet to close the energy circuits. Breathe.

That’s the physical; yoga definitely keeps my physical tensions at a minimum. So, yes, I don’t often get tight or sore or lose much in the way of full range of motion. On a good day, it is quite a different muscle, my brain, that yoga is tasked with keeping flexible. Some days are more successful than others.

A post catching me up to the full moon, the spring temperatures, and the greening and budding and nest building that are happening all around us. Happy spring & thank you, as ever, for being a part of my journey. Namaste & big love, Rxo

%d bloggers like this: