“What I’ve found, no matter what age we are, we can build healthy muscle tissue [and neurons / MLS] or we can rot. And the choice is always ours. And I’m not into rot.”
This quote (and personal annotation) comes from Ana Forest, the inspiring yoga teacher and practitioner, and used to be the tag line on my e-mail signature and I highlighted it on this blog’s sidebar. Forest’s comment caught my attention more than five years ago, but its intrinsic truth has really been driven into me the past few months as I sweated and grunted to get my yoga groove back, at least the more physically demanding vinyasa practice. Yoga requires you use your whole body in the dynamic sequences of asanas. It’s not something that you can turn on or off. The practice has to be sustained steadily and persistently over an extended period of time.
Thrive Yoga’s 40-day renewal program is not enough to whip me back into shape. It’s not meant for that. It did allow me to sense how much work I have ahead of me. Maybe I should just add another zero to the time frame.
How did I get so out of sync in my practice?
My parents’ death two years ago probably was a turning point because it completely disrupted my normal routines of work, yoga practice, family duties and other commitments. Then, my body started to tell me that it was breaking down under the stress. I found myself in a downward spiral: my peripheral neuropathy interfered with my sleep, leading to insomnia and sleep deprivation. While I was trying to deal with the neuropathy, I fell into a pattern of start-and-stop practice. When I tried to rekindle my yoga practice, I developed problems with my core (iliopsoas and SI joint), which added another layer of complexity to my physical conditioning. Then, I bruised my thigh bone, which felt like a knee issue. I sought out treatment from my body worker, chiropractor, personal physician, acupuncturist, neurologist, and lots of research into what might lie behind my symptoms.
During this whole period, I never stopped doing yoga: I have my evening practice of restorative yoga, hip openers and hamstring stretches, which allows me to manage the sleep-impeding symptoms of neuropathy (pin pricks on my feet and restless legs). I still do pranayama and meditation. This tool kit has allowed me to get through these two years, but it can’t replace a hatha practice.
I am 63 years old so Forest’s options (build health muscles or rot) are almost black and white. There’s no “holding pattern” or “maintenance mode” that allow a minimum practice to balance the effects of aging, disease, injury, wear, health and well being. On the other hand, I can’t overexert myself because that can be just as damaging, as I speak from experience. I have to let my body lead the way and become my teacher.
I’ve been meaning to get Forest’s book, Fierce Medicine: Breakthrough Practices to Heal the Body and Ignite the Spirit because yoga has helped her come back from a dark place, physically and mentally.
In addition to my yin/restorative yoga routine that I do every evening, I’ve added a couple of sets of reverse crunches (started at 15 reps, now up to 25) between my extended stretches. Because I am a professional chair sitter, constantly seated in front of a keyboard and monitor, my lower abdomen gets a minimal workout during the day. If I don’t catch myself, I am constantly leaning back into the back support and rounding my lower spin. I’ve noticed that my abs have become progressively weaker, despite my yoga practice. Most classes don’t include navasana (Boat pose) or similar poses enough to make a difference. When you’re over 60, the tendency is for the gut to start spilling out over the pubic and hip bones. In fact, I probably had lost the ability to contract those muscles fully, which was why it was so hard to reach into forward folds.
It’s an effort to regain contact with the lower chakras, both to energize the supporting muscles and relax them. In order to make a noticeable difference, I need to practice crunches every day. I remember that the Forrest Yoga classes at Thrive a couple of years ago used to include a lot of variations on crunches, and I used to hate them.
Some big names are coming to the DC area in the first three months of 2011. For more details (schedule, costs, requirements), go to the website of the hosting yoga studio. I don’t mean to downplay other workshops and events that are taking place during the first quarter, but when high-profile instructors pass through the DC area, it’s worthwhile to spotlight them. You will notice that March 10-14 is shaping up to be week-long overdose of quality yoga. I will update this list as more information becomes available.
- StudioDC Yoga Center: The Pursuit of Happy Hips: Theory and Vinyasa (3 hours) and Superflow Surf Yoga : A transformative + unique movement practice (2 Hours) with Eoin Finn, Saturday, January 22
- Tranquil Space – Advanced teacher training: mindfulness, ayurveda & psychology with Darren John Main, February18-20
- Willow Street Yoga – LifeForce Yoga® To Manage Your Mood with Amy Weintraub, February 27 – Amy is one of my favorite instructors and healers.
- Ashtanga Yoga Center – Dave Swenson, March 4-6
- Flow Yoga Center – “Off the Mat, Into the World“: Yoga, Purpose and Action, Week-long Teacher Training Intensive, Thursday, March 10 – Monday, March 14. For yoga teachers, community leaders, activists, and interested students. Seane Corn will kick off the session on Thursday and the remaining days will be lead by Hala Khouri and Suzanne Sterling.
- Boundless Yoga – Sarah Powers: Insight Yoga, March 10-13
- StudioDC Yoga Center – Master Class with Natasha Rizopoulos, March 12-13
- Willow Street Yoga – Desiree! A Special Offering for Advanced Practitioners with Desirée Rumbaugh, March 18, 10:00 am – 1:00 pm
- Thrive Yoga: Align With All You Are with Desirée Rumbaugh, March 18-20. Desirée has a big fan base.
Although I was not planning to mention events beyond March, I wanted to highlight two events: StudioDC Yoga Center – Forrest Yoga Master Classes with Ana Forest, May 18-19 and Willow Street Yoga – Yoga of Fulfillment: Yoga & the Path of Destiny with Rod Stryker, April 9-13, which is an yoga immersion course.
I’ve been taking some class of Forest Yoga from Christine Peterson at Thrive Yoga. So I was bouncing around my usual surfing points and came across an audio interview with Ana Forest herself at Yoga Peeps. I listened and was impressed by her life story and attitude towards yoga (I was already impressed by her yoga performances). She is exploring the depth of yoga by bringing the optics from her Native American heritage and her own physical handicaps:
“What I’ve been found, no matter what age we are, we can build healthy muscle tissue or we can rot. And the choice is always ours. And I’m not into rot.”
Forest Yoga classes are intense and physically demanding, focused on physical core strength and body integrity. They hurt, but I know that they target areas that I need to strengthen to get to the next level. I find it a nice counterbalance to vinyasa classes that emphasize ease of movement, balance and flexibility. There are not many instructors that are certified to teach Forest Yoga, so probably the easy way to incorporate some of her techniques is to her DVD Strength & Spirit at her website. If you want to read articles and interviews, she has an exhaustive selection.
Back at Thrive Yoga for a vinyasa flow 2 class with Christine Peterson. She has been assisting Ana Forrest, the widely respected West Coast yoga teacher, which says a lot about Christine’s capabilities. (If you’ve never seen Ana Forest’s peformance at Yoga Journal Conference in Boston in 2006, you owe it to yourself to see how far yoga can take you). As far as I know, this was her first class at Thrive, and there were more than a dozen students so the word had definitely gotten out.
In a few words, Christine gives a mean class (and this was a vinyasa class, not Forest Yoga): I took a small hand towel to mop up my sweat; I should have taken a beach towel. Aside from some work on inversions, which was really more prep work, there was nothing really beyond a 2-level class. But she hit a couple of areas in which I am really weak and tight, and then doubled back and hit them again. Shoulders, especially in Dolphin pose and other preps for getting into Feathered Peacock Pose (Pincha Mayurasana). Core, core, core. This blog entry isn’t long enough to mention all the poses and sequences that hit my core muscles.
Christine will be giving a 1.5/2 hour class on Friday, July 4 and then have several classes on a regular basis (when she’s not assisting Ana Forest on tour). I will make a point of picking them up as often as I can.
Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. My experience Monday with more open hips did not turn out to be a fluke. Today, I came very close to getting into Double Pigeon pose (Agnistambhasana). I didn’t want to push it too hard because of the stress the pose puts on the knees, but I was closer than I ever dreamed I would be mid-way through my fourth year of yoga. I also went more deeply into One-Legged King Pigeon pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana). It’s as if I stopped clenching my muscles and that loosening of tension allowed my hips to open up.
I spent part of my lunch breaking listening to an audio interview with Cyndi Lee while I was filling out checks to pay the monthly bills. I really enjoyed the conversation. Cyndi brings a Buddhist vibe to yoga so she emphasizes meditation and life style. She’s involved in a lot of interesting projects in New York and around the world.
Lara Cestone, the founding spirit behind Yoga Peeps, really does a fantastic job bringing together lengthy (30-60 minutes, I think) interviews with yoga instructors around the United States and Canada. She has 19 episodes now, available as podcasts or mp3 files, with people like Ana Forest, Shiva Rea, and Kelly McGonigal, as well as lesser known instructors. Lara does this out of the goodness of her heart because there are no ads on the site and there does not seem to be a business model behind it.