Letting Go

Do you sometimes forget the things you know you know? 

At the end of Flow class one day my teacher pointed out to me that in Savasana I was scrunching my up forehead. “Really?!” I looked at him, perplexed, “I had no idea”.  Whatever was on my mind was etched across my forehead.  “Why don’t you have a think about that?” he said.  I sat on my mat, still a bit bemused as my teacher got up and left the room.

But think about it I did.

My brain has felt so full recently.  I’ve been physically and mentally racing around non-stop, re-organising my life and making some big decisions about what I really want.  Amidst all this trying to do and control everything I found myself feeling tired all the time.  Not eating properly.  Feeling less like myself.  Being even quieter than normal. My smile fading… The only time I ‘stopped’ and left all that behind was during my yoga practice. Or so I thought. 

I’ve been here before.

In times of stress and big change this has been my default. Taking proper care of myself is the first thing to go then after that it’s a slippery slope.  Yet, yoga is mostly off the mat really, and being kind to myself is a part of that.  How could I not have noticed?

I’ve been holding on so tightly to ‘stuff’.  To stuff that has happened.  To stuff that hasn’t happened yet – that I’m afraid might happen or that I want to happen that might not happen… A zillion ‘what if’s?’ have raced around my head as I’ve tried to plan for worst case scenarios and every possible eventuality my mind has woken me up in the middle of the night with.  My Girl Scout head likes routine and structure and being prepared at all times.  Being in control.

Even in my practice I noticed more tightness and discomfort in my lower body than usual, my pesky piriformis being joined by new guests – unhappy hamstrings and sensitive knees.  At other times I’ve been feeling fine during a class one minute then literally felt my energy evaporate the next. Consequently, I’ve sensed a growing frustration at feeling limited in my postures, and because I hate the idea of being a quitter I’ve struggled to power through (despite my body wanting me to slow down before I fall down).  Because anything less would be giving up. Right?  I know better so why have I been doing this?

After some thought I worked out what the problem was:

I got caught up in the ‘stuff’. 

Mostly, my mind rushing ahead and worrying about all those ‘what if’s?’ rather than focusing on the present.  But the truth is I can only focus on the ‘now’ and the things I can do in the moment.  Worrying about the things I can’t control or what may or may not happen tomorrow, next month, next year… is pointless.  That way lies misery. My life is transforming and I’m adapting to the fact that I need to not hold on so tight.  That I need to Let Go and be more open.

A funny thing is I noticed that when I made the decision to ‘let go’ I did feel more open, literally and metaphorically.  In that particular moment I found I was able to do something I never do in class.  I kicked out during the balancing sequence.  That’s not to say that I’ve been able to kick out in every class since because I haven’t, but that’s not what the issue is for me here.  I wasn’t ‘woo-hooing’ at the fact that I kicked out.  It was the observation that something significant seemed to happen in that moment where my mind shifted.  It was a great reminder for me of the importance of letting go, and also the importance of what you decide to think.

If it hadn’t been for my teacher pointing out my scrunched up forehead to me I might not have even noticed where I was going.  I don’t know if he saw what the problem was when he mentioned it.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But I’m glad that I got to work it out for myself.  Some of the best lessons stick that way, I find.  It turns out that quiet word from my teacher was just what I needed at the time and for that, I am truly grateful.

P is for Psoas…(?)

I was in Flow class the other day when just as we were moving into half-pigeon our teacher uttered the words, ”…working into the Psoas”.  My eyebrows shot up.

The wha -?

While I’ve become more familiar with terms like Mula Bandha (Root Lock) and Uddiyana Bandha (Upward Abdominal Lock), for instance (though I’m still not sure I’m always applying either when I’m supposed to be or doing so correctly…), the ‘Psoas’ was a completely new one on me. So, after class I took the opportunity to ask our teacher what is the Psoas (sounds like ‘so-as’) and where is it?   The answer I got was really helpful but I don’t feel sufficiently able to do it justice here.   This Yoga Journal article explains it far better and in much greater depth than I ever could. Suffice to say, it’s a deeply buried muscle that is more important to our asanas than I realised.   It’s quite difficult to get to and I have a feeling I may not have found mine yet…

I had another anatomy-lightbulb moment last week in Pulse Yoga class when Allie on touched hip rotation, explaining to us about the knees not being able to go where the hips won’t let them.  When she said that it clicked as to why I was less open on my irksome left side.

I’ve been becoming increasingly curious about anatomy in relation to yoga, not least because of how having a regular practice has affected by body.  I no longer suffer from the back pain that made most days a misery and it’s seriously alleviated on ongoing sciatic issue.

Thanks to a recommendation from my yoga home I have seen a fantastic osteopath about my sciatic pain.  My worry had been that she would tell me not to practice yoga but in fact the opposite was the case – she simply advised me to do as I have been – listen to my body and don’t do anything that doesn’t feel right.  Having osteopathy treatment has been a revelation because now my leg is fine most of the time, but every day is different and there are still times when it flares up and, frustratingly, really impairs my mobility in class.

Anyhow, all of this has made me want to try and gain a deeper understanding of what’s going on with my body in the yoga postures.  My osteopath has kindly and patiently answered my questions when I have quizzed her on the spine, the pelvis, parasympathetic nervous system, the foot…. I have taken in bits of information but there have also been a lot of moments where her mouth was moving and what I was hearing may have been easier for me to understand if she was speaking in an obscure Guatemalan dialect. And I am pretty sure she was giving me the idiot’s guide.

Yet still, I do want to try and learn. But where to begin?  After a bit of impromptu headstand practice after class the other day with Zara (thanks Zara!), I asked her advice.  Why hadn’t I done the most obvious thing of asking my teachers in the first place?!

I’m really touched that Zara has so kindly lent me her Yoga Anatomy book to help me get started. And very luckily for me, it doesn’t appear to be written in an obscure Guatemalan language. 

I just might start to get my head round a little of this anatomy stuff after all.

Chakra-ising the Asana with Stewart

I think I’ve met a True Yogi.

At the weekend I had the great privilege of attending a workshop led by Stewart Gilchrist at my yoga home. During a two and a half hour class titled ‘Chakra-ise the Asana’  Stewart taught us about the chakras (our wheels or nerve centres of power) in relation to the asanas we ‘lay out’ (Stewart expressed that ‘lay out’ is the correct term, rather than ‘perform’).  He also told us about how it has now been scientifically proven that chakras do exist – it’s not the la-la hippy nonsense that many thought for a long time.

I’d arrived on the mat with some trepidation.  Knowing a little of Stewart’s reputation I already knew this would be no beginner’s class.   Then he actually tells us as much, but adds that anyone can do it as long as they listen, even his Scottish Granny.  With that, I am convinced Stewart’s Granny is a far better woman than me!  I exchange a look with my neighbour and realise I am not the only one feeling a bit fearful of what lies ahead…

“Yoga without devotion is just keep fit”, Stewart tells us.  This I believe.  When I first started yoga I just thought of it as exercise but I now know it is so much more.  For Stewart’s class, I dedicate my practice to someone I know whose Mum passed away earlier in the week.

Then we begin moving.  The pace is quick and then… it gets quicker!  Never before in a class have I been so aware of the importance of remembering to breathe!  During a seemingly endless sequence of vinyasas my triceps burn and I wonder if I’ll be able to go on.  Yet, somehow – thanks to my breath – I do.  As we continue to move through the dynamic practice there is so much information to take in as Stewart works through the chakra system.  I know I won’t remember everything, but if a fraction of it stays with me I’ll be happy.  It’s certainly fuelled my desire to learn more.

Even though the room is packed out, Stewart darts about making adjustments and miraculously it seems as though every single person in the room gets his attention.  Though some of the hands-on adjustments are quite strong, I really like this. I’ve learned this approach particularly works for me through the handful of Jivamukti classes I’ve taken part in so far.  I feel the hands-on adjustments very directly show rather than tell me where I am working towards in an asana.  And I’ve found that combined with verbal instruction really helps me to understand better.

We move onto some even more challenging asanas.  “If you decide you can’t do something, then sure enough you’ll find you can’t,” Stewart tells us. I know this has been an ongoing issue for me, as I’ve written about in previous posts.  Whenever I see a seemingly impossible posture in front of me, my immediate thought tends to be, “There is no way in hell…”  It’s a pertinent reminder that this is something I need to keep working on.  And I am reminded to accept where I am right now when Stewart adds, “You’re perfect.  Where you are is perfect for you.” 

Throughout, Stewart is funny, cheeky, warm and wise.  Our incredibly dynamic practice is balanced by his vast enthusiasm and encouragement.  As we continue, Stewart warns us not to over-extend in our asanas, “…that’s the ego.  Under-extending is your fear.”

Stewart later tells a story that speaks to my ‘sweat neurosis’.  It’s about some Americans practicing yoga in India who ask their teacher what they should do with their sweat.   It turns out the answer is to rub it into your skin (!): “It’s your Prana.  Your life force.”  Well, sweat is something I certainly have a lot of!

I am taken by surprise when we move onto the finishing sequence.  Could we really be nearing the end of the two and half hours already?  I find myself feeling a bit sad that the workshop is almost over – that was a shocker considering how I’d felt during all those vinyasas earlier on.

I float off into the sunny spring evening feeling uplifted and inspired and knowing that I definitely want to practice with Stewart again.  The friends I meet up with later look at me with a mix of awe and bemusement as I explain to them how I spent my afternoon…

The next day I get up for my Sunday morning class.  I start moving around my place to pack my gear and – Oh.  My. Goodness!!!  My hips, my glutes, my trapezius, my triceps… I could go on.  Yet, I was still smiling.  And it turns out that making the decision to still go to practice was the best thing I could have done for my body – all that soreness eased thanks to Leon’s Hot Flow class!

I am so grateful that Stewart came to Yogahaven to teach us.  And everyone else I’ve spoken to who was there had wonderful things to say about Stewart and his workshop too.  So, with any luck, Allie and Krystal will be able to persuade him to return on a regular basis, fingers crossed!

Feeling the Fear

I have a fear of rodents (squirrels don’t count – it’s the fluffy tails, I guess), Chuggers and handstands. 

Handstands and other inversions.  They strike fear into my core – something akin to what might be felt by a cow who has just been smiled at by the Burger King, maybe…  Even as a kid I wasn’t happily throwing myself around in cartwheels (I used to attempt a bizarre half-cartwheel/hop affair when required, usually for P.E. lessons or to show willing during school breaktimes).  In all my years on this planet I have, to date, never managed to do a successful headstand.  As I recall, I was one of the last people in my class to master (and I use that word To very loosely) a forward roll.  Suffice to say I didn’t get my BAGA Award. 

During forearm balancing and headstand practice in Jivamukti class, my teacher looks me in the eye and she tells me, “You’re problem isn’t fear, cheap nfl jerseys it’s strength.”  I nod, but internally I am thinking, “Nope, pretty sure it’s fear…”  Don’t get me wrong, it is strength too.  I have tight wholesale jerseys shoulders and an apparent inability to hold myself up mixed in thoroughly with the aforementioned fear.  I’ve always had an irrational fear that my neck will snap if I try to do a headstand (or is that a rational fear?).  I understand that Shirshasana, ‘the king of asanas’ is an important, powerful posture but no matter how many times it is explained to Wins me I don’t seem to be able to get my head around it (no pun intended).  I struggle to understand where I am supposed to distribute my weight and it all feels wrong.  Alien.  Uncomfortable.  Scary.  “Don’t think you’ll never get there,” my Jivamukti teacher kindly assures me.

And handstand practice.  Ah, handstand practice.  No matter how many wholesale NBA jerseys times during flow class my lovely teacher Union says, “It’s fun”, I’m not inclined to agree with him.  That said, his handstands are amazing…

But recently, I’ve noticed something:  I’ve stopped inwardly opened groaning at the words, “handstand practice”. 

I’m not quite sure when it isn’t happened.  My physical expression of the posture hasn’t changed but something seems to have changed in my head.  And now rather than feeling like a part of the class where I need grit my teeth and simply get through, each little bunny hop is progress for me.  It’s as if with each bunny hop, even though I may only be inches off the floor, a teeny bit of the fear ebbs away.  Maybe one day soon, it might actually start to feel like fun, after all – who Mindfulness knows?

Headstands and forearm stands, well let me get back to you on those….