Tag Archives: practice

Taking a step back from blogging and yoga

It’s been a while. I have not posted anything here for three months, the longest period I have ever gone without blogging since 2000 (before this blog started in 2004, I had another blog at Peruvian Graffiti). Moreover, I have not written anything substantive since last year, just a couple of quick shots from the hip and photos.

Why? The yoga scene has changed

When I took up yoga, pranayama and meditation, there was only archipelagos of content online across the Internet. I had my list of a handful of blogs, instructional sites, and, of course, Yoga Journal. Now there are abundant resources  available on the Internet, from streaming classes to forums, so many that I have given up trying to track them. Any yoga instructor worth their salt has a branded blog, with an apparel line, DVDs and books. More importantly, regional portals are providing local coverage of the yoga community, and diverse special interest groups (Yoga Service Council and International Association of Yoga Therapists, to name just two) are coalescing around yoga issues.

Even in the early 2000s, the mainstream media rarely covered yoga and related stories so I found it helpful to draw attention to major news stories and commentary that showed the spread of yoga in American culture.  I get Google alerts about yoga news stories everyday, and coverage ranges from quotidian (new studio opening on Main Street, park classes on Sunday) to PR (the fascination with yoga pants) to major (yoga macho Bikram Choudhury loses his copyright trial and the running suit about yoga in California public schools).  We even read about how the Indian government and Hindu culture is reacting to the assimilation of yoga within American society.  We even see yoga postures showing up in commercials and meditation getting billed as the latest productivity enhancement.

Yoga is moving beyond novelty and  trendiness. Increasingly voices are coming forward to ask questions about broader issues, to interpret major challenges to how yoga is practiced in America (insert links here  when I have time to dig them up).

Given these shifts over the past decade, I find it hard to register in my two cents in the blogosphere.

Why? I’ve changed

Last Friday, I took my first restorative class in three months. I’ve not taken a hatha class this year. That does not mean that I don’t practice yoga. I do everyday. I’ve intentionally down-throttled my practice from “trying-too-hard” to just trying to master one pose, savasana.

When I realized that I did not want to keep up a running commentary of yoga events in the news and elsewhere or try “big think” on yoga in America, I thought I could stay focused on my own practice, an aging, white male in search of the double whammy of physical exercise and mindfulness, with healing his subtle wounds as a bonus. But if my own practice is lying motionless on the floor, there’s not much to write home about. Of course, there’s a lot more going on under the skin, but that comes with its own risks.

I’ve also become more agnostic about yoga since about four years ago and even more so since I finished my yoga teacher training two years ago. Patanjali does not make easy sense for me; releasing the tension in my myofascial system does.

In a different vein, my wife dislikes that I reveal my inner life on the Web. I’ve become more aware of how the Internet gives unfiltered access to anyone who wants to search for dirt. I think twice before revealing my private thoughts. I’ve already written enough about my physical and mental health for a prospective employer to hesitate before hiring me. With a name like mine, though, I have a degree of deniability or security in numbers. But just knowing my LinkedIn or Facebook page would be enough to dig up my personal history or commentary about my former bosses or whatever.

Even making quick posts to Twitter or Facebook or Instagram makes me feel scattered all over the Internet.

So my original motives for blogging about yoga have faded, leaving me with the need to find another reason for writing. It’s going to require me to write my way forward.

Where I’ve been spending my time

Photo: a work station in an office cubicle
It’s not the same as a yoga mat.

It’s not as welcoming as a yoga mat, but it’s where I spend most of my waking hours, learning the ropes at LCG Inc., building working relationships with my peers and plying my trade as a writer-editor-researcher. The company is about a tenth of the size of my previous employer, but I probably do 10 times more work. I used to say that I worked in the Prop Shop; now I am the Prop Shop. Even though we have not presented a proposal since I’ve been here (mid-November), mainly preliminary responses, I always got a clogged to-do list and a stack of tasks. There’s all kinds of writing and thinking that needs to go into preparing to bid for a Federal contract.

LCG is a different kind of corporate animal. It’s small business working in the Federal health IT sector and grants management. It’s a challenge to understanding the details of each field. We’re working with 17 agencies on the IT side and even more on the grants  management side. I have to create a kind of scorecard to keep track of all the clients, acronyms and players. It’s also in Federal government so there’s all  kinds of changing taking place in the way that information technology is handled.

Just as with DMI, the company gives me a laptop that I can take home with me, usually on weekends. Most work days, I don’t have time to check my personal mail, Twitter or Facebook accounts during business hours. I don’t even think about it. It’s a heightened focus that can stretch over several days. I sometimes have to force myself to pack up my bags and leave the office.

Yoga slows down

For the past four-five months, I backed off my practice and focused on restorative or yin yoga classes. Plus, the holidays were particularly disruptive of my normal routines, getting to the gym and class. I’ve had to take time off work to deal with dental surgery and that time has to be made up, assignments delivered on schedule, and lessons learned. Thrive Yoga is on my way home, not 10 minutes from the office, but I still find myself driving past it because my discipline has been sapped by my workload.  But that’s precisely when I should be going to class.

I wrote this entry last night, but my blog security system locked me out after midnight so I could not post it until now.

 

Taking care of the tools of yoga practice

Sometimes you have to use drastic measures to keep a mat functional.
Sometimes you have to use drastic measures to keep a mat functional.

I almost ruined my main yoga mat.

I’ve been using the Manduka eKO line of yoga mats since mid-2007. Heavy and bulky, I take it to class at Thrive Yoga when I can dump it in the backseat of my car. It’s not something that you want to carry around to and from class. It supposed to “last forever” and be eco-friendly.

A few summers ago, I left it in the car while parked at the Metro station several days. Bad idea. The exposure to heat and sun light started degrading the rubber (Manduka instructs you not to expose the mat to the sun for extended time). I also made the mistake of rolling it up with the top surface exposed, rather than the tougher base facing out. The result was that the mat lost its stickiness and grip, as if the rubber began to oxidize and harden, becoming discolored and slick. In class, my feet and hands began to slip in downward-facing dog, especially once I had worked up a sweat, and I knew I had to do something about it.

The solution was similar to removing rust from metal: I used a fine-grained sand paper to remove the crusty surface to expose a fresh layer of rubber. When I finished sanding the surface area that had gotten exposed (about a quarter of the mat), I realized that the rest of the surface had also started to degrade, though not as badly as the sun-damaged part. I applied the sandpaper to the whole mat. I then washed down the mat to remove the loose powdery substance resulting from the sanding. Once again, I had a good grip on the surface.

I suspect there is a limit to this method because I will eventually work my way through the top surface. Manduka has made design changes and introduced new technology to their yoga mat lines, including imprinting patterns in the top surface so this sanding technique would remove that feature.

The appeal of an Ashtanga practice

Ashtanga practitioners have more options than you might think:

Washington Post Express Never Out Of Practice: Mysore yoga classes help students advance at just the right pace – “First-timers get personal training in a few postures, starting with five rounds of sun salutations, and that may be all they do. As they return to class and master that section, the instructor adds on. Advanced students can complete the beginning of the series, but at some point, even people who can hook their legs around their necks need an assist, a modification or a pep talk.”

A few months ago, I pointed to another article about Ashtanga and Mysore practice in the DC area.

Thanks to Donavan Wilson for tipping me off about this article since I am “out of pocket” (meaning “away,” it’s journalism jargon, if I remember correctly.)

Breath, vinyasa and restoration on a Saturday morning.

Today I went back to yoga class for the first time in a month. I had done yoga, pranayama and meditation practically everyday in my home practice and interspersed yogic moments during my work day. But I could not gird myself up to go to a class. I felt as if I was going to walk into the class naked, stripped of disguises, handicapped by a body that seems to  rebel against the abuses of work routine and the slow slog of a winter cold. I felt as if my personal melodramas were branded on my forehead, biceps and thighs, a yogic version of Scarlet Letter.

But today I attended Susan Bowen’s morning vinyasa class at Thrive Yoga. She was all bronzed and refreshed from her yoga retreat (and vacation) in Hawaii. She started out really simple, focusing on the breath, which was fine with me because I knew I did not qualify for a 2/3 level class. I was the perennial beginner, coming back to do remedial exercises, make-up work for all the time I missed.Photo: yoga class in Wwarrior II pose

But a curious thing happened. I laid on the mat and let the breath wash over me in small, delicate waves, that were contained withing the external sheaf of my skin, which was still  porous enough to absorb the prana bubbling up from the wellspring of life. I did the asanas sequenced together in vinyasas, that all seemed as familiar as a walk through a favorite park but different because the sun,clouds, wind, trees, grass and path shift experience into an immediacy of perception. I tested my legs in the warrior poses, I wobbled in the one-legged balancing poses, I skipped to the flying crow poses because my knees and hips have not loosened enough to make it feasible, much less comfortable.

I discovered an unexpected strength in crow pose, shift into three-point headstand, eased myself into the L-shaped transitional dismount and then stuck the drop down to chatarunga, followed by upward-facing dog and back to downward-facing  dog. I had never attempted that particular sequence before (indeed, I have avoided inversions so far this year), but I did not need to think about its novelty at the time; I did not even listened to Susan’s cues. It was just the natural flow of the poses unfolding on the mate.

The decompression phase of the class included supported frog and fish poses, which allowed for a grace-filled easing into stillness. It was a deceptively simple class that allowed me to participate at my own pace and with my own menu of discoveries.

Yoga pants, what else?

America (and Canada) is obsessed about yoga pants.

That leaves nothing else to write about in a yoga blog, but the predicament that Lululemon finds itself in after letting substandard merchandise get out the door. This time around, the drooling is not about Lululemon’s profit margins. I am not going to link to all the coverage in the blogs, mainstream media or business news sites because it would just encourage the prurient interest in see-through apparel.

This incident also shows how many media outlets want to fetishize yoga, simplifying the spread of the practice across mainstream American culture into an example of commercial branding targeted at an upscale niche market. Lululemon’s going to sell more than $1.5 billion in sports apparel this year, even if it recalls all the faulty pants. I almost expect some kind of fashion twist that will keep the pants on the mats — the bottom equivalent of a sports bra?

Coda

I’ve been dragging around the sequel of a persistent, bad head cold for the past two weeks, which means that I have not gone to class. Every morning I wake up expecting to have finally kicked it, but it lingers on. I’ve taken two handkerchiefs to work to handle the drainage.

Taking stock of muscles and rot

“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.”

Photo: Ana Forest in yoga pose called scorpion forearms
Ana Forest in Scorpion forearms

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.

Coda

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. 

A month of yoga practice and few classes

June was a rather uneven month for my yoga practice. While treatment had gradually improved the issues arising from my iliopsoas to the point that I could resume taking class, other problems intervened to keep me from getting back to a regular practice at Thrive Yoga.

Vacation on Cape Cod

For one thing, I took a week off (June 16-23) with my wife for a vacation on Cape Cod. We went up via Amtrak and rented a car to get out to Provincetown (or “P-town,” as they like to call in Massachusetts), which must be a full two-hours from Boston or Providence, so it’s not an easy reach. We probably could have gotten along fine without a car once we were at our resort because P-town and neighboring boroughs have regular free buses running the main roads, including the beaches. But having a car was necessary to get to Plymouth (for the Plimouth Plantation and museum about the Pilgrims) and New Bedford for the National Whaling Museum. We went to those site on Monday and Tuesday when the weather was too chilly for extended time on the beach. The weather heated up for the rest of the week, but the temperatures on the Cape were still 10 degrees below the heat in the rest of New England.

A heated practice

Speaking of heat, this weekend in the DC area has been extreme: the “derecho” storm that flew through here on Friday evening has created havoc. Power has been knocked out in most of my area of Montgomery County (but by some miracle we have been without electricity for 90 minutes at most!), and most businesses, including yoga studios, have shut down. Considering that the Washington, DC area has been through multiple weather events that devastated infrastructure (snow and ice storms, hurricanes, earth tremors), inhabitants have absorbed lots of disruptions in public services. It’s especially bad that the power outage come at a time when air conditioning is vital to getting through the heat. It may be a full week before most people get power back.

Daily Practice

I was able to make it to five class at Thrive Yoga in June, far less than I expected to attend. That did not mean that I stopped doing yoga. Practically every evening, I went through my sequence of yoga poses and restorative routines that seem to help me control the discomfort caused by my peripheral neuropathy. I took my travel mat, strap and roller with me on vacation, and I needed them after spending time behind the wheel. The stress tended to accumulate between my shoulder blades, knot up my neck and tighten my lower spine. I don’t think I would get to sleep at a reasonable time without my practice.

But the shortcoming of my practice has been that I have not done a strong vinyasa practice and I can tell that I don’t have the strength and stamina that comes from a more dynamic, upbeat, balanced practice that I usually get in class. I could feel guilty about being a slacker, but I want to approach my practice on an even keel, not leaning to the physical side with an alpha-type intensity or endowing it with a kind of magical power to change to transform my mind, body and spirit (but isn’t that why I’ve been going yoga for the past eight years???).