I went shopping last week to pick up some essentials for my house…tissues, toilet paper,…you get the idea. Nothing very exciting, but I was at Costco where you never know what’s going to be around the next corner. As I was pushing my cart through the aisles, I came across an item I’ve been enamored with ever since I’ve been into yoga. I look at it from afar like someone might look at a pair of snazzy shoes or the latest electronic gadget. I know it’s not an essential, but I have an intangible certainty that it will improve my life.
A soundtrack is playing in my head. Coldplay’s ‘Rush of Blood To The Head’ followed by ‘God Put a Smile Upon Your Face’. What is this captivating find? It’s an inversion table. I want to be in it; I want that rush of blood and that smile. I want to be upside down.
Anxiety is a normal element of life. At its root, protective. Sometimes there is an identifiable source, sometimes there is a generalized feeling of unrest. Either way, the presence of anxiety is a message, a bit of information, that something unsavory is building up in you.
I’d love it if we could develop an immunity or get an anti-anxiety vaccine. That would be simple and neat, but a greater wisdom tells me this desire is a bit off the mark.
Sans vaccine, maybe we can just ignore anxiety and hope it goes away? As I write this, I’m hearing my mother say: “Just ignore your brothers and they’ll stop bothering you.” My brothers can attest that this strategy had a low success rate. Ditto for ignoring anxiety. Sure, you might bury it for a time, but I’ve had enough psychotherapy to know that anything repeatedly pushed away will eventually gush out in surprising ways. Have you ever struggled to neatly open a bag of chips only to have the bag rip apart causing a chipocalypse? It’s like that – unexpected and messy.
Are you in the market for a new yoga mat? I am and usually dread the task as it involves both intense research and trial and error. It’s like starting a new relationship. I strike out with my ‘must haves’ list and a heart full of hope. Sometimes I’m taken in by looks. I’m a sucker for attractive jewel tones. At other times, I’m sold on the promise of a long lasting relationship. For example, there was the eco-friendly mat that rapidly deteriorated into small chunks. I occasionally, mysteriously still find these chunks around the house. It’s like the ex-boyfriend who’s personal possessions turn up in your apartment from time to time. You’re not sure how they got there, but know they don’t belong. Then, there was the shiny bargain mat that felt more like a slip-n-slide. I complained about him, er – I mean it, to my girlfriends. Note to self, avoid shiny – look for substance. At some point, I was compelled to try a yoga rug. Perhaps I was communing with my inner hippie. I never did figure out how to wash and dry it efficiently – which meant I rarely did. After a while, I felt aloof in this relationship, holding on to a paranoid suspicion about it’s cleanliness. We practiced together only after a thorough sniff-test. Talk about impediments to getting on your mat.
If asked to name something I’d like to improve in my yoga teaching, helping yogis practice within their growth edge would always make the list. Certainly there are other very important focal elements: injury prevention, having fun, turning awareness inward, etc. There is a long list, but many on this list are enhanced when students are working at their growth edge.
The concept of growth edge is elusive, but there are a few things I can say with certainty. Yours is unique to you. It changes every day. It is different for every pose. It is an overall experience affected by your mood, your energy level and your physical condition. You intuitively know when you are at it and when you are not.
Once a week, I practice Ashtanga Second Series in a led class. Second Series is also known as Nadi Shodhana, meaning nerve cleansing. Nadi is the Sanskrit term for the energy pathways through our bodies. Nadi Shodhana purifies, opens and clears these energy pathways with a strong focus on back bends.
In the series, there is a sequence of 3 progressively-deeper kneeling back bends: Ustrasana (camel), Laghu Vajrasana (little thunderbolt), and Kapotanasana (pigeon). If you’re comfortable practicing deep back bends, such as Urdhva Dhanurasana (up-facing wheel), dropping back into a kneeling back bend is likely easier than the return trip. Let’s say dropping back equates to a trip from Cambridge to Boston; Sure, there’s a river in between, but gravity is on your side. Coming back up is more like a trip from Cambridge to Mysore; You can picture what it’s like, but have yet to make the trip.
You never know where inspiration for a blog entry will come from. Yesterday, I took a great yoga class with 4 variations of eagle. This morning, I got an e-mail from my brother with with some amazing photos of eagles. Now, I’m not one to ignore cosmic forces and write this off as coincidence – so here goes my thoughts on eagle pose and how one of my favorite teachers morphed it 4 ways.
Precede garudasana with warm up poses that open your upper back, shoulders (cat/cow, adho mukha svanasana, plank, …) and hips (trikonasana, parivritta trikonasana, virasana, gomukhasana, …). Follow up with poses that are energetically opening, such as backbends, to balance the compact energy of garudasana.
Why do you practice yoga? Is it for the exercise? for the relaxation? for the mental clarity that can come from releasing physical blocks? While most of us start out attracted to the physical aspect of yoga, the practice of yoga is integrative. It reaches out to all of us: body, mind and spirit. As we develop a level of comfort with the physical experience, there is room to explore what is going on with your thinking mind and your spiritual sensibilities.
This deeper exploration in your yoga practice can help emotions surface and open the possibility for insight. Some of these insights will relate to experiences on your mat, others to those off. Either way, your mat can be a safe place to practice working with your emotions. As a teacher, it is entirely appropriate to recognize this and include coaching students toward looking at what comes up.
One emotion I often run into is fear. I might hold back for fear of falling out of a pose. I might have anxiety about needing to come out of a pose early, thinking this will make me look weak. Then there is the popular fear of hurting myself. My list is longer, yours might be too.
It’s January and my yoga classes have been filled to capacity. I love seeing both the fresh vigor in new students and the continued dedication of my regulars.
Classes have been so full, I can barely walk around without knocking over a water bottle or kicking a yoga block across your mat. It does make moving around the room more interesting. That said, it is good to know what to expect so here are a few pointers.