A Kick in the Asana

Groove Pants and a passable adho mukha svanasana (downward-facing dog) do not a yogini make. Well, not necessarily.

Here in the wild West, we often think of yoga as a series of asanas (poses) with a few minutes of pranayama breathing tacked on at the beginning and end of class.

But according to Patanjali, asanas are of tertiary importance. His Yoga Sutras suggest that yamas (five abstentions) and niyamas (five restraints) are the first two steps toward yoga. The five yamas are ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, and aparigraha. The five niyamas are shaucha, santosha, tapas, svadhyaya, and Ishvarapranidhana.

At this early point in my yogic education, I've only studied the first two yamas: ahimsa (non-violence) and satya (truthfulness). They're so big, though, with such reach, that as soon as I started looking at them and thinking about how they related to me, I became so overwhelmed that my body shut down.

It was Tuesday, and I was in the studio with my fellow teachers-in-training. We were talking about ahimsa as it related to us, and I realized how infrequently I practice non-violence to myself. Most of the time, I dislike my body, am disappointed in my performance, frustrated at my skill level, and am ashamed of myself as a result.

So while I'm not especially violent toward others or with my speech (not that I'm perfect on those counts either), I doubt Patanjali would pass me on an "Are You Ready To Yoga?" test. So as we moved on to satya, I was faced with a bit more truth than I could handle.

Rather than sit with it, though, be with it and face it, my body decided to protect me from too much truth at once, and at that point, right there in the studio surrounded by people, my neck spasmed, and I spent the rest of that day and the following 36 hours in a cycle of pain, spasm, nausea, vomiting, and unconsciousness.

The logical part of me (it's small but it is there) tells me that the injury (two facets between c4 and c5 were stuck closed) and resultant spasm came from too much sitting on the floor of the studio or at my computer with my head in a compromised position. But the rest of me (flighty, intuitive, feeling-rather-than-logic-based) believes that my injury came when I needed a break. I'd seen or heard too much, just couldn't take in any more, and my body closed itself off for a couple days to regroup and recover.

Our bodies know so much, and still we ignore and discredit them.

I don't have any conclusions or final points to tie this post up neatly. The past week has been incredibly educational and humbling, and even though I'd love to wrap it up and move on, I have a feeling this theme will continue for posts to come.


They Said it Best

So far, the emergent theme of yoga school is this: you're perfect.

The training is an integrated approach to Hatha yoga (physical practice, asanas), comprising elements of Ashtanga, Anusara, Bikram, Kundalini, etc. It's broad, it's open, it's inclusive, it's accepting.

That's not to say it's a free-for-all where anything goes. For example, there are safe ways and horrifying ways to move into upward facing dog (urdhva mukha svanasana), and if you take a horrifying option (crane your neck up to the ceiling, sinking into your shoulders and compressing your lower spine), you'll probably get hurt.

But to offer alternatives without authenticity is pointless...it will get everyone nowhere. It's important, I think, to illustrate, teach, and speak with equal parts compassion and knowledge--to recognize why people might be wrenching down into a heart-opener rather than letting their solar plexus move forward--maybe there's darkness there, maybe they're not ready to deal with what they've been hiding in that space. Lots of poses--even breathing exercises--take courage. You can't force courage--it has to be nurtured.

But this isn't news.

Plenty of wiser people than I have been talking about this stuff for years. Here are two exmples:

An organic structure is aligned with who we are and what we have to say. It is not disconnected from ourselves. If a form isn't organic, I think a great struggle ensues--the writer tries to stuff her being into a costume that doesn't fit.
--Natalie Goldberg

Men ask the way to Cold Mountain
Cold Mountain: there's no through trail.
In summer, ice doesn't melt
The rising sun blurs in swirling fog.
How did I make it?
My heart's not the same as yours.
If your heart was like mine,
You'd get it and be right here.

--Gary Snyder


Just When You Thought This Blog Couldn't Get Any More Selfish...

My Mom decided that because it's been over a month since my last post, I can no longer claim this as a blog; The Wasatch Report has been demoted to a BLAH.

Here's where I've been:

Brad's injury shook something loose in me, and after ensuring his well-being (he's making a fantastic recovery), I checked in with my own, and found it lacking. So, I quit my job and signed up for a yoga teacher training certification.

I'm serious.

And I'm thrilled.

I also returned to PR, which I'm just loving. I'm working part-time for a boutique agency and really digging it.

And I started playing djembe again, taking lessons and accompanying a weekly African dance class.

All this good stuff in my life--good people, activities that make me smile, a supportive husband who doesn't bat an eye when I tell him I'm quitting my job to become a yoga teacher.

I'm so fortunate.

So that's where I've been, and that's why it's been kind of hard to sit down and write. There's just so much excitement and change--I'm still figuring out how to make sense of it all, still realizing that it's all happening....

As I sit in these teacher training classes, though, my mind whirls with quotes and observations I want to share. And I will, because, you see, I have to. I need to keep a journal throughout this certification process, and I hope you'll forgive me if this BLAH becomes that journal--a place for me to jot my feelings about what I'm learning, what I hear, what resonates, what I hope to avoid in my own teaching.

I mean, I say I hope you'll forgive me, but I know I've likely lost all readers by now. Except one (hi, Mom).

And obviously I can't share anything proprietary to the course work or studio.

And, of course, I'll still post photos of Arnie as needed.

Here's what I loved best about today's class:
We spent some time talking about how it's not the yoga teacher's job to impart some huge philosophical or spiritual ideology to students. The yoga teacher is simply there to remind students to breathe, to be present in their bodies, to breathe, to be present in their bodies....

And as I thought about that, I realized that the most transformational classes I've ever taken have been less "airy fairy" and more "stay in your body, stay on your mat." In fact, for the past few months, I've been setting an intention before every class to simply stay on my mat. Stay on the mat. Don't let the mind stray, don't let the eyes wander to the girl in the cool yoga top who's purse costs more than your car--nothing, nothing, nothing good can come of that. So I've been challenging myself to STAY ON THE MAT. And it's been awesome.

The other concept I've been into lately (in my yoga practice and off the mat, too) is the idea that wherever I am is ok. Whether I bend so far forward that my palms are flat to the floor, or just lean over enough to graze my kneecaps with my fingertips, I'm in a perfect pose. There is no right, no wrong, no better or worse. It's all yoga, and it's all ok, all perfect. The element that interests me there is that the concept of "perfect" is fluid, because as my postures change and develop and my "edge" deepens or backs off from day to day, my "perfect" pose changes, too.

Fluidity. Acceptance.

Those are the words for the day.