Archive | April 2011

Practice makes…perfect?

More pictures like these can be found in the post titled Real Women Do Yoga.

Good morning!  And of course Happy Sunday!

Housekeeping:  Subbing for Mindy this Monday 4/25 6pm, Vinyasa level 1/2, Equinox Columbus Circle.  Please be my guest if you are not a member.

The flowers are in bloom all over NYC!  It is so pretty to look at.  Happy Easter, Passover, Greek Easter, Orthodox Passover, Happy non-observant Sunday, Happy Birthday, Happy engagement Party, Happy Christening and Happy All-Day-in-the-Library Day (that one is not real for most people but for me that’s what today is…)!  There is all that and more going on today – drink it all in and lets celebrate Spring, I think it is finally here.

This past Friday I went to a piano recital.  When I tell you I was left breathless by the extreme and extraordinary talent of the young woman playing piano, I mean I literally exhaled only when she stopped moving her fingers, which didn’t happen too often.  I was so mesmerized by her dexterity, and of course her musicality, fluidity, passion, talent and performance that I dared not move one inch to uncross my legs, scratch my face or otherwise fidget lest I brake the spell she cast on me.  Here is an example of the utter lack of dexterity I have in my fingers:  I got a new phone that has both a touch pad and a keypad.  My I-phone people are rejoicing “You finally got a touch pad!”  My fingertips are not so happy. I have managed to accidentally call, text and otherwise notify more people in the past 2 weeks that I intentionally mean to contact!  If you received a random call or text from me with no voice mail or no discernible content, it was my fingers and the touch pad conspiring to frustrate me and expose my unsophisticated technological skills.  So sorry!

Watching the pianist the other night led me to reflect on talent, skill, passion and practice.  Of course in pursuing ones passion and life dream we hope to have all of these variables in abundance to get us to the top level of our field, allowing us to at some point truly enjoy the fruits of long hours of practice and sacrifice.   Other things we pursue may not be our life’s dream but they require practice just the same.  One of these is yoga (you knew that was coming!).  We refer to yoga as a “practice” because that is precisely what is involved when we decide to undertake the study of yoga asanas, which are the physical postures we hold in class.  We  refer to yoga practice when we incorporate a study of yogic philosophy, which may involve examining the intentions behind our actions, some form of meditation and mindfulness, and some reading of yogic texts in an effort to change the way we lead our lives to be more in harmony with nature, with our true selves on a spiritual level, and with whatever our conception of a higher power might be.  All of this takes practice!  We won’t get it right on the first try. We might not get it right on the second, third or fourth try either!  We have to embrace practice as a means to knowing ourselves better, learning about our bodies and our minds, and gaining trust, patience and compassion along the way.

Picture yourself in Warrior II with the left foot facing forward, right foot back.  Now picture yourself easing into extended side angle pose with the left hand moving down towards the left foot or block, and the right arm extending either towards the sky or over your right ear.  Now imagine your teacher asks you to start the binding process – which involves wrapping the right hand behind the back towards the base of the tailbone, while the left arm threads underneath the left hamstring to grab the right wrist.  Once the bind is completed, you are asked to bring awareness to your breath, to your hip alignment, to your shoulder alignment, to your ribcage, to your back foot, your front knee and your state of mind.  Yes.   Well.  About that.  The first time I attempted this, besides wanting look around the room and make sure I hadn’t accidentally stepped into circus class- nope, still yoga -well besides that and wanting to laugh, cry, run away, or pretend not to understand English, I just about thought I would die.  Now being a dancer for many years, I know my body pretty well and can tell the difference between good and bad pain. This was not pain as in “injury” – this was pain as in “this is something I have absolutely never ever done before ever in my entire life.”  I breathed into it, felt the rush of taking on a challenge, and managed to wrestle myself out of it in one piece.  To see me do a bound extended side angle pose today speaks nothing of that first experience. Like night and day.

What happened?  Practice. I practiced.  Any chance I had to practice something I was not yet able to do with ease was something I practiced.  That dedication to practice extended to headstand, handstand, shoulder stand -which I still need to practice!  and meditation, which I expect to practice for the rest of my life, as it poses the deepest of challenges, quieting the mind and being at peace with what is.

Go ahead and practice something.  If you need some inspiration, go to a show, see a musician perform, look at some art, read a great book or just look back through your own life at something you couldn’t do but now can do with ease and confidence (public speaking, tweeting, using MapQuest, etc).

As for me, I am enjoying All-day-in-the-library Day, as evidence of practice, patience and passion for improvement are all around me.  Enjoy your practice, whatever it might be:)  See you next Sunday.

“It is the truth we ourselves speak rather than the treatment we receive that heals us.” (O. Hobart Mowrer, 1966).

“Things do not change.  We change.”  Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Just another Sunday…or is it?

Hello!  Some housekeeping:  I am subbing a bunch of yoga classes this week at Equinox Columbus Circle:

Monday 4/18 6pm, Thursday 4/21 and Friday 4/22 1:15pm.  Please come!

I was away last Sunday, super busy soaking in abundant sunshine and the warm, gentle, crystal clear waters of Miami’s South Beach. Needless to say, it was fabulous.  Much love to Michael Jones for always taking such great care of me.  We should all be so lucky:) In the meantime, I hope you are all well and happy.  Happy Sunday as I always say.  Great weather, so many other things to be thankful for, holidays if you observe them, etc.

Last night the most magical thing happened to me – before you start to wonder where I am going with this, I will reassure you, it probably happened to you as well.  Sleep!  I slept.  I mean, deep deep deep sleep.  I woke up this morning so incredibly refreshed and energized – which says a lot for 7am on a Sunday, which is when I wake up before heading out the door to teach my fantastic group of students Vinyasa yoga at 9am.  I leave some time to snuggle with my incredibly cute and affectionate dog Rosie, have some coffee, check some tweets and do some puttering around the kitchen.  Today was different, I knew right away.  I slept!!! And this deep sleep could not have come at a better time – yesterday was an extraordinarily full day, complete with an early morning trek to the outer edges of Queens for a national certification exam, continuing to the library to complete a 20 page paper for school, topped off with car trouble in the pouring rain, I mean, calls to AAA, moments of “really????”, and all.

Sleep – when it does what it is meant to do – on a  physiological level it is the time for our muscular, skeletal, digestive and other systems to rest and regenerate – is fantastic.  Powerful.  Life changing!  You know how wonderful it feels, how you all of a sudden feel that surge of positivity, that radiance of energy and light, that unmistakeable feeling of being rested.  It is so wonderful, and personally speaking, many times so elusive and rare that when it happens it is like I just know. I don’t have to think about why I am so happy, or so blessed, or so grateful – my mind is clear, and all of life’s amazing offerings feel like they are in the palm of my hand.

We have a version of this most wonderfully trans-formative experience in yoga class as well.  It is called savasana – pronounced more like SHA-vasana.  It is translated from the Sanskrit to mean “corpse pose”.  It is often the hardest pose for people, because as opposed to all the other asanas that rely on  specific alignment, coordinated breath movement and often challenging physical demands on the body, in savasana you are encouraged to do just the opposite, and let the body relax.  Savasana is also known as “yogic sleep”, and there is  a rich body of anecdotal evidence to suggest that the practice of savasana is how Buddhist monks are able to feel total relaxation and regeneration with very limited hours of actual sleep as we know it in the western world.  In fact, I have read and been taught from several sources that when we practice any form of physical yoga, like our asanas or breathing practices, we are really just preparing our bodies for savasana.  How does that work?  Well, much like a previous post where I spoke of the stress response in the body (scroll down or click on the previous posts listed to the right), when we move and stretch and explore tight muscles and stiff joints, we excite the nervous system.  Once we stop, slow down and begin to allow the body to adapt to and accommodate all that we have done, we experience the benefit from having opened up some channels that may have been previously closed off due to bound up muscle fibers, etc.  Then, like a cherry on top of an ice cream sunday or a really great big hug from a good friend, we get rewarded.  We get to lie on our backs, and do nothing.

Why would that be hard?  Because the mind wanders, and goes to our anxieties and fears.  We wonder about what things we need to do, what we have to accomplish, what we could have done better, what we wish we hadn’t done, how we will fix this or that, and how life seems to pass by so fast sometimes. We bundle all this up inside and when left with a moment of inaction – of peace, quiet, stillness and calm, our mind gets flooded with these thoughts.  Or maybe it doesn’t. Maybe we are able to explore our breath, visualizing our ribcage gently floating up and down with each inhale and exhale, imagine the floor holding us up, imagine that we are perfect just as we are, flaws, mistakes, limitations and all.  Maybe we take our yogic sleep as place and time of regeneration, nourishment for our bodies and minds, a place to explore tranquility, a place to experience stillness, calm, peace, trust, love.

And maybe, just maybe, we “wake up”  feeling revitalized, refreshed, renewed and inspired.  Try it. Take 5 minutes for some stillness, peace and quiet.  Lie on the floor flat on your back or modify for any lower back problems, and close your eyes.  Remain awake but listen to your breath and stay as present as you can.  Enjoy the magic! Reward yourself.  Give back your body. You will be so very happy you did.

Till next week…

“It is the truth we ourselves speak rather than the treatment we receive that heals us.”  (O. Hobart Mowrer, 1966).

“Things don’t change.  We change.” (David Henry Thoreau, Walden)

Clutter=Yuck. Space=Freedom!

Good Sunday morning!  It finally feels a bit like Spring – I know, it might snow tomorrow, but at least for today we can enjoy blue skies, ambitious runners, crisp breezes and other markers of that unmistakable Spring fever…it is that itch to be outside, to be active, to start to really soak up life again after a long winter of hibernation and weather-imposed limitations.  Today’s 9am Vinyasa class started off with a huge pit in my stomach – the room was totally empty at 8:58, and I thought – “Omg, today is that day.  The day when nobody comes to class.  The day I am here all alone…” On and on the nightmare played out for about 30 seconds, until all my students were arriving at the same time, and before I could get to the part in my silly mind wandering where I teach an empty room, the studio was full and I had to laugh at my insecurities and fears, and remind myself of my good fortune and incredibly loyal, wonderful students. Thanks everyone for just showing up:)

Before I forget, I am subbing for the fabulous Derek Beres this Wednesday, 4/6/2011 at the Equinox in Soho.  Basics at 6:30-7:30, Level 2/3  at 7:30-8:45.  Let me know if you would like to be my guest.  I would be happy to have you!

Today’s post began in my mind several days ago.  I am blessed to have many wonderful friends and loved ones in my life.  I have one friend and loved one who stands  out among them all, mainly because she is not human.  She has four legs, a super-adorable furry face, a wet nose, very slobbery tongue, and a butt and tail that can wiggle forever at the slightest hint of happiness or excitement.  Her name is Rosie, and the other day she started her pitter-patter/whimper dance of  “There is something under the bed (or under the couch, in the closet, in your hand, that you are about to eat, etc) that I desperately need right this very second!!!!!”  As I bent down and peered under the bed, I was not surprised to see several half-eaten tennis balls, a delicacy for Ms. Rosie.  What I was surprised to see was how much dust was also under there!!  I was horrified!  And I thought, I wonder where else there is dust and dirt lurking in places I am not so motivated to look at, and so began the metaphor…Where do we have dust, gunk, dirt, “stuff”, lingering where it does not belong, and how often do we really take the time to look closely enough to see our clutter?  When and if we do see/experience/examine it, what, if anything do we do about it?  Do we ignore it?  Do we look further and ask ourselves where it came from?  Do we carry out the brave task of attempting to clean it up?  What is waiting for us in that space?  Is there freedom when there is less clutter?

Similar to spaces in our apartments are spaces in our bodies.  There are places like muscular attachments, joint attachments, connective tissue pathways in the body that all can become cluttered with the leftovers of activity or stress.  When we become pre-occupied or busy or just feel as though we cannot handle digging deeper into these places, “clutter” accumulates.  This, of course, is not the scientific or physiological phrasing for this.  Really in physiology what has become the commonly accepted phrasing is something like a trigger point, or over-activated tissue, or agitated muscle fiber, phrases like that.  Suffice to say we can use the word clutter to describe the tightness and loss of space this creates.  Today lets talk about one place where clutter can collect, and what we can do about it.  It is known as the ribcage.

When we sit all day, or we slouch, or we are carrying around heavy loads of groceries or children or packages or school books, etc, we often end up adding to the compressive force of gravity on our spine and ribcage.  The muscular, bone and connective tissue makeup of our ribcage is designed for some amount of compression, as it serves as the structure that protects and houses our lungs.  What can happen with chronic compression and a lack of stretching is that we end up taking breaths that are more shallow, based on having less space for the breath to travel.  One way to avoid this is to be proactive, and use good postural adjustments when we are doing our daily tasks, which is a great long term habit to acquire or aspire to.  Another way is through the practice of yoga.  One asana that comes to mind as a great way to open the ribcage is Reverse Warrior (Viparita Virahadrasana).  Picture yourself in Warrior II on the right side. Imagine now that you gain about one inch in length from reaching so far forward with your right hand, and so far back with your left hand, that there is a noticeable tingling sensation in your forearms that travels through your upper arms to your shoulder blades and into the center of your back. With that amount of space and length, your begin to reach the right arm towards the ceiling (or sky of you are lucky enough like this woman to be practicing on a gorgeous beach!).   Simultaneously you reach the left arm towards the backside of the left leg.  The right arm , meanwhile, is reaching so far up and back that there is a perceived amount of opening in the ribcage.  From the top of the hip bone on the right side to the armpit and fingertips of the right hand, you have just found, created and indulged in space. Clutter be gone!  Breath be free!  Once there is space in the ribcage, the lungs can be greedy and gobble up breath after breath after breath, allowing the body to sink deeper, the mind to slowly still itself, the stress response to lessen, and the heart to open.  Really?  Really.

Sooo…why don’t we do this sort of thing?  Well, for one, if you are not accustomed to having space in your body, this can be a jarring, emotionally overwhelming experience.  We use clutter and tightness as “storage spaces” for emotional responses that we may not be ready or equipped to deal with.  Think about how you present yourself when you are confident -chest up, eyes forward, shoulders back.  That is you emulating your emotional state through your physical presence.  Now think about another option, perhaps feeling stressed, worried, tense, sad, rejected or lonely:shoulder hunched, eyes cast down, stomach in knots.  If we are to take the steps required to untangle ourselves from some of these emotional manifestations, we may be surprised by what we see.  And sometimes we don’t have a wagging-tailed Rosie in our lives to tell us “Look under the bed!!!”.  We have to be brave to look in places we would normally ignore, and be ready to face what might be lurking there.

As long as we move with love while breathing deliberately, slowly and fully into the tightness, we can clean up clutter, find space and create room.  Its only after we peek under the bed, behind the closed door, into the over-stuffed closet, or wherever we try to conceal what we don’t want to see that gives us the opportunity to gain clarity.  With clarity  we are poised to experience the true freedom that only the process of self-reflection and honesty can bring.  That is yoga.

“It is the truth we ourselves speak rather than the treatment we receive that heals us.” (O. Hobart Mowrer, 1966)

“Things don’t change. We change.” (Henry David Thoreau, Walden)

This entry was posted on April 3, 2011. 1 Comment