Tag Archives: yin yoga

A compact for a new personal interface to life

Photo: hands held in yoga mudra
The mudra (thumb to pointer finger) is held in standing position.

I have struck a bargain with myself—a new compact to simplify my personal priorities.

  1. I will meditate twice a day for 20 minutes, minimum. I may cut myself some slack if I have a yoga class or have a complication, but the morning sit has to be a blood vow. Aside from exercise (yoga), this is the most important thing that I can do for myself according to the most recent scientific research.
  2. I will pause three (OK, maybe two) beats before speaking and take a more thoughtful pace when speaking as a way of being more present in the moment, listening to both my counterpart in the conversation and my own internal dialogue. The idea is to create some “space” where I can be more aware and attentive in the present moment and not be led astray by my own tendency to get lost in a stream of words, fragments, tangents and monologues. In a way, it is a continuation from meditation practice.
  3. I will slow down my yoga practice by taking restorative, yin or nidra yoga classes as often as feasible, and also continue my home restorative practice. Even my hatha or vinyasa classes should be done as slowly as possible. I need to soften my exterior armor and open up, which will come with greater vulnerability.

I make these three commitments because I’ve had time to think about some questions about the basics: How do I improve my quality of life? How do I engage the outside world? How do I sketch out my interface with the world (geek speak here, as in user interface, the mechanisms to manage software or hardware). Rather than resort to what might be typical tactics of self-improvement (become a vegetarian, learn to play a musical instrument, become a better public speaker), I want to get down to even more fundamental issues.

During my yoga teacher training at Thrive Yoga, I became aware that there is a big difference between my packaging  and my essential core (what lies underneath my thick skin, calluses, scars, knots, kinks, ticks, reflex reactions, open wounds, hardened muscles and fascia, and the stories that I tell myself). Part of the challenge of living wholeheartedly is breaking through all that external armor mounted over decades so that I open up a window into the core chamber of my being.

Photo: Michael moves into full wheel pose, with aid from friend and Desirée

Why an evening practice can help

Photo: Michael moves into full wheel pose, with aid from friend and Desirée
Urdhva Dhanurasana or wheel pose

I was trying to explain to Desirée Rumbaugh at the workshop this weekend why I did an evening restorative practice of twists and forward folds (and other poses), and I fell back on the old standby of needing to do a restorative practice to relax and to slow the body down for sleep. I know there are nights when I can’t get to sleep without 20-40 minutes of floor work.

It then occurred to me that this nightly routine was a way of wiping clean the imprint left on the body of bad posture, chair sitting, keyboard hunching, and muscular atrophy that the modern world imposes on the human body. Even a vinyasa class may not be enough to clear out the bad habits because I rarely hold the asanas long enough to annul the patterning in the tissues. The extended yin/restorative practice is a kind of body reset that relies more on letting go rather than exerting effort to muscle through barriers.

I’ve been doing this routine for about a year now. It undoubtedly takes much longer to reverse years of self-inflicted body deformation, which is why I had to sit in front of the TV watching World Cup soccer games in variations of forward folds for hours on end to get beyond what seemed like an arbitrary stop point, a 90-degree angle. I thought that I was bumping up against a physical limit.

What a grueling week!

Photo: Road to Botany Bay Plantation, SC
Road to Botany Bay Plantation, SC

My wife was looking for a place t0 spend a short time (3-4 days) on the beach. She has no concept of U.S. geography, much less drive time. So she picks out Edisto Island, South Carolina. Why not? It’s on the East Coast. It should be close to Ocean City, MD, Cape May, NJ,  or Virginia Beach, VA, all places where we’ve gone. Well, Edisto Island is actually close to 600 miles south and 10 hours away, not counting restroom stops, meals, missed turns and calls to the resort to get final directions. It lies a good two hours from the closest I-95 exit.

Of course, it’s my fault for not being more actively involved in the decision-making process. I wanted Teresa to be happy so I let her pick out the spot, and did not think through what it meant in physical wear-and-tear on the body by sitting in a car for that long, even if I did not drive the whole way.

We arrived really late, about 11:00 pm by the time we got to our room. In the morning, I tried to open the Venetian blinds for a view, and they fell on my face. To make matters worse, my wife found Palmetto beetles in the room, insects that bear a strong resemblance to cockroaches, and that makes my wife freak out. Management changes us to better quarters to compensate for the hassle. We got to the beach for a late afternoon sampling of sun and surf, but we were kind of numb from fatigue. So it ended up, that Tuesday was our only full day of beach time.

I made sure that we were not at the beach from noon to 3:00 pm to avoid overexposure. We explored some of the sights, mostly the state park that showcases the ecological environment of barrier islands, sand dunes and coastal swamps. Edisto Island is a resort area that’s built up over the past 30 years. It’s avoided some of the pitfalls of summer vacation destinations.You go to Edisto Island to get away from it all, not fill up your time with amusement parks and bad restaurants.

Wednesday morning, my wife insisted on one last visit to the beach, and I practically had to put a gun to her head to get her into the car. We got a late start and then routed our return through Myrtle Beach because my wife wanted to see what the place was like. It seemed to be all that Edisto Island was not. We were back on the familiar I-95 by 5:00 pm, which translated into arriving home at 2:30 am.

Oh, yeah, and the yoga

I went in to work late Thursday and did the normal Friday, but I was a walking zombie. After work, I took a yin yoga class at Thrive Yoga, which went a long way towards tapping into the raw tension that had stored up in my tissues. Last night, I really slept deeply and did not wake up until it was too late to grab my usual Saturday morning yoga class. I need the rest more than I needed yoga practice.

I could not have made it through the “vacation” without yoga. Every time that we pulled off the highway, I did some stretching and folds to get fresh blood into my muscles. Every night, I was doing 20-60 minutes of yin and restorative yoga just to relieve the muscle soreness.

How the World Cup improved my yoga

Photo: forward fold at Thrive Yoga
Forward fold

I went to Thrive Yoga for the third day in a row, a vinyasa flow with Jessica Apo. Whenever the stars align and neither whims or circumstances prevent me from taking class, I notice that my practice tends to be better, more flowing, building on the continuity of practice, and even with surprises that make me pay attention to how I am responding to each cue. It always helps when I’ve taken one of Susan Bowen’s 2-3 vinyasa flow classes that pushes me hard, followed by a Hatha yoga class with Marylou McNamara that makes me focus on the fundamentals

But this time, there was something special. When I went into Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana), I noticed that I was getting in much deeper than previously. I could place my hands flat on the floor while keeping my knees straight, and that made the jump back to plank or chatarunga much more controlled. I also felt the difference in Intense Side Stretch Pose (Parsvottanasana).

One of my obstacles in yoga could be simplisticaly called “tight hips,” which most men would recognize as a combination of tight hamstrings, hip flexors misaligned by years sitting in chairs, relatively disengaged quads, and a stiff spine. The end result is that when I am seated on the floor and want to move into Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana), I would ended up in a fairly upright, L-shaped position. I simply did not seem to have the means to get passed a limited range of flexibility. I would take hip-opener workshops and they did not seem to have any lasting effect.

What happened to allow me to make this breakthrough? The World Cup soccer (football to the rest of the world) matches over the past six weeks, but most notably in the past two weeks. For the games that I watched at home, I sat on the floor and held yoga poses for as long as I could tolerate: Seated Forward Bend, Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend (Upavistha Konasana), Head-to-Knee Forward Bend (Janu Sirsasana), and especially Bound Angle (Baddha Konasana), sometimes with my feet up on blocks so that I was not cranking my neck to watch the game.

It took me ages to gradually break through the barriers of these poses. Looking back, I can see that most yoga classes don’t have that much time time to spend in one sequence of poses. They are excruciatingly boring when held for that long — unless you’re watching a soccer match on TV or a movie or whatever entertains you. Even from one sitting to the next, I did not notice any substantial change, just subtle shifts that kept up my nerve to keep going. But this past weekend, I pushed past an edge. The full realization of how far I had come appeared in tonight’s class. In a vigorous vinyasa class in which I was juiced up and sweating, I could feel that something was different in my practice.

I should note that it was not just the soccer-cum-yoga sessions. At bed time, I do a yin yoga sequence, initially spinal twists, but now with forward bends, and that routine helps me release muscular tension. It is a daily reminder to my body of the new edge that I had been creating.