Monday, March 23, 2009

Yoga I

Dunno what's up with these one-word titles lately, but eh... they're descriptive.

When I was younger I used to take the occasional yoga class, practicing quite often on my own. I was unusually flexible thanks to a few years spent in ballet and dance, so I could go through the motions with minimal pain and stress. It was fun, and it was good for exercise and that was about it.
It never really occurred to me that there was a system behind yoga and that it wasn't simply just a type of exercise the way pilates or aerobics was. In fact, I didn't even comprehend that it came from a medical tradition until much, much later after I started practicing it. Even then, it wasn't until a few years ago that someone asked me point blank if I enjoyed the benefits of yoga in terms of how it brought me in to a dialogue with my body and focus in my mind.
Focus? What? Why on earth would I focus my mind in the middle of trying to keep one leg in the air, one arm tucked under my chin, and the other patting my belly all while maintaining balance on one foot?? Trying to do it under those circumstances was retarded! thought my untrained and relatively judgmental mind.
I fell out of practice for a while and mostly looked at it wistfully while I did other things, like sit in front of the TV and wish my bf would change his behavior so that I could be happy staying with him. Useful things.
When I got back to PA I took classes with my Mom, noting that untreated injuries in my neck and back due to a car crash made it markedly worse for me to do some of the moves, and that it would occasionally make me dizzy thanks to the supremely stiff neck I had. I loved the instructor, though, and kept at it despite the crazy after-affects I got, like being light-headed. Anybody in their right mind would know that was a sign to stop doing what they were doing and in the very least inform the instructuor. To me it was just a weakness to be forced through.
The result of this was that I started to not look forward to my yoga classes, and was almost relieved when she announced she would no longer be holding classes. I was tired of feeling dizzy after everything, with little else in the rest of my body. Even then I didn't listen, not realizing that at that moment I needed to care for my neck and shoulders. I just viewed it as an irritating obstacle and proceeded on.
For another long while I didn't practice it. During that time my health deteriorated, I put on weight, and the aches and pains that came and went in my joints took up residence and got progressively worse. It culminated in me sitting cross legged in the shower this morning from pain in my knees and my cracked feet. I literally could not stand until they'd warmed up in the hot water. An interesting way to start the morning, if nothing else.
I'm a mess. I'm overweight. I have hormone issues that result in some fantastic acne even at the age of 30. I am in pain pretty much all of the time. And I feel like it is going to take forever to work my way back out of these things.
It wasn't until this past year that I really started exploring the mind-body connection and only within the past month that I seriously began researching what it could do for me. In my mind, as a Buddhist, something from a Hindu tradition felt alien to add in for anything besides a means to stretch. I have been thoroughly humbled and educated now, for it has become obvious that a good idea is a good idea no matter what culture it comes from.
Yoga brings mindfulness to the forefront. Mindfulness of breath and movement. Of intention and motivation. Mindfulness on one's health, on the imbalances in the body, and the environment around you.
My mantra that I attempt to remember (and only truly managed to keep for 32 seconds straight thus far) was Breathe - Observe - Accept. Nothing to focus on but breath. Nothing to focus on but observing what is around you. Nothing to focus on but these and accepting that they are happening. This, too, for a while seemed at odds with what I had been taught. But in viewing it now, I see that they are the same. Focus on the breath to bring one to a place of stillness where the active, chatty, 6-year-old-on-Ritalin mind most of us possess can take a break and give YOU a break. Observation... simply noting what is around you. (While I type this I am eating lunch and looking up a recipe for key lime pie. Ever the multi-tasker and slightly unrepentant about it.) In pulling in these observations, by not judging or classifying them, you remember more in looking back on them. It provides for a far broader history. If you're asked about it later it'll come to mind easily, and whoever is trying to help you will have better information. Observing everything also allows you to see how it impacts you. So really, these two were only at odds within my own mind via my assumptions, our current favorite theme to constantly revisit.
Perhaps I'm in that mental space where I can reconcile everything and let the assumptions drop away from what I need to do to heal myself. If so, that would be nice. My body craves the movement that I get in Yoga, even as my joints holler at me. Proud warrior? Oh hell yeah, I'm all over that bad boy. Downward Dog? I'll try it until my shoulders and neck scream and I am forced to drop to my knees, but when I get back up and do it again, they're looser. It isn't about forcing past what you're able to do anymore, but recognizing it, then moving with it. Even Corpse-Pose is an opportunity to try and focus on the breath. I look forward to putting a few quick poses in where I can in the evening, and already I can feel a difference in flexibility. It actually makes me feel as if I could put a dent in the wall of pain and blockage that hems me in.
I think that's enough for now. Don't want to spawn another TLDR comment, so I'll pick the rest of this thought up another time.

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