Saturday, August 25, 2007

Class #8 - #11: Continuing to Breathe.

There are those days, that we wake in the morning and want to surround ourselves in comfort, unassumingly passing through the day. This past Thursday I desperately wanted to wear my Dansko's to work. It seemed a little silly for a humid, overcast DC August day. In my own small effort to rally against the elements I pulled out my tan/peach seersucker suit and strapped on my summer loafers. Upon arriving to my office, I gasped in horror at the appearance of the black greasy stripes accessorizing my left lower pant leg.

Beware the DC Metro - it will attack any clothing light in color.

There are some days where we need to sit towards the back of the class and just let rest of the world flow around us or shift positions and look at the world from a new location. All in the effort to become caught up in the flow - where movement becomes a meditation and each breath is cherished. During the last class of the Intro series, a week or so ago, we moved into the hip openers during our flow and I found mine wouldn't open. They had beautifully and easily opened not two nights before - why wouldn't they now? I had to use the modifications and those were still very uncomfortable.

During this last Intro class, my breath was stagnant, I didn't breathe into the poses. I just took a passive response and accepted where they were. At the time, I was unable to see that other asanas were beginning to open.

I stepped into the studio this past Thursday after the seersucker incident (and a later one involving my white oxford shirt and a tomato) with a little trepidation - cognizant that I needed to take control of the way my day was moving. When we began our practice, my mind was turning over, then I started to listen to my breath. Upon reflection, this was the first time my practice became a meditation, it flowed easily from one pose to another slowly moving deeper, pushing further. I dexterously followed a pose or two I had never performed before. When we moved through the five sets of Urdhva Dhanurasana
, I was fully present for each one. On the final wheel, I began to do push-ups at the suggestion of the instructor. Ask me how I did this, I cannot say for certain, just that it came, very simply. It wasn't forced.

Thurday's practice, heralded a change. I found out today, the marks on my seersucker pants are not permanent. Apparently, the dry cleaners here in DC are accustomed to dealing with the scourge of black greasy marks. And yes, my hips were still somewhat tight in today's practice; however, other movements continued to open. Just like the spots, that will be erased by the miracles of perc, poses will blossom in their own time.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

One Year Markers; The First of Two

We celebrate anniversaries as the passage of time, a way to mark milestones. I'm celebrating with friends and two yoga sessions, to honor Life and the changes that it brings.

As the years pass, we keep mementos and photographs to remember those special moments and hold loved ones close in our hearts. As I look back over my life, this last year and these last 8 months, a lot of who I am and have become is begotten of Parson's Fifth and The Cru. In my short yoga practice, I've realized that I have had many experiences that I never would have had and tried things that I never would have considered. Ultimately, I would have never grown in the ways I have over these last 8 months, wearing shoes I would have never expected to.

One event doesn't wholly define a person or community, it is the response to that event that defines them.

Through Loves and Friendships, we give each other the chance to become stronger and learn more about each other than we would have been content to know, to delve deeper, and gain a better understanding of ourselves. Simply, together we embrace Life - both the joys and the sorrows.

The people who come into our lives come in at the time they do for a reason, helping us realize our potential and then some. They come in their own way and they exit in their own time and fashion. However, we step forward sometimes alone, sometimes alongside another, and sometimes surrounded and propped up by others.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Class # 7: Ice Cream and Inversions

CoffeeShop Girl emailed me today and suggested we meet up for an ice cream date. Her words, “Ice cream makes the world better.” I recommended meeting up at Gifford’s - I had vanilla ice cream (with chocolate jimmies) for dinner.

A week has almost passed since my last post and there has been so much. Possibly, too much. My mind has been a cacophony of thoughts and I have been filled with a broad gamut of emotion.

I have multiple drafts of posts and comments and observations - all leading down paths that just don’t connect naturally or express all that I have to say. Going back to the concept of Satya, not posting was a way for me to give Truth - to be honest, I was lost.

When we boldly walk down a path, relishing the the sound of our own footsteps, we sometimes forget to listen for the steps of others or to look behind us or to look forward. There’s a delicate balance to be had in looking forward with strength and determination (as in Virabhadrasana II) and looking behind (as in Matsyasana) while remaining in the present.

Concurrent with looking forward and back and being in the present, we try to reach out to each other to help ease the burdens carried by our Loves and Friends. Through this, we gain some further insight to our own beings and garner deeper strength to conquer our own lives. In class last night I did my first shoulder stand (Salamba Sarvangasana), assisted by our instructor. I had spoken with her last week about my fear of full inversions; last night she gently guided me past that edge.

Due to the nature of the pose, it is imperative that you are fully present and focused on the pose itself or the likelihood of injury is heightened – pretty much like the rest of life. But at the same time, there is no better way to live, than focused and awake.

In Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar writes about the pose:

“It is no over statement to say that if a person regularly practices Sarvangasana he will feel new vigor and strength, and will be happy and confident. New life will flow into him, his mind will be at peace and he will feel the joy of life.”*

In a way, it’s very much like having vanilla ice cream for dinner on a mid-August night.

* Iyengar, B.K.S. Light On Yoga. New York: Schocken Books, rev. ed. 1979, p. 213.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Class #6: Inch by Inch, Millimeter by Millimeter

Walking to grab a chai (and maybe a cupcake) from the Baked & Wired I looked down and (!!!) the cap thing on the bottom of the heel of right shoe was gone. Lost forever. It actually probably disappeared earlier this morning, because I distinctly remember my step sounding slightly different as I walked through the foyer of my office building first thing this morning.

So I spent my day .25" slightly slanted. Not that it was a big issue, that was just my day I guess.

It's amazing the difference something so small can make.

Last night we spent a lot of time working though half pigeon and fire log pose* (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana and Agnistambhasana respectively) . Going into eka pada rajakapotsana (elka pada translated as one legged/footed) I know that my hips are still tight from years of playing field hockey and I always use a block for a little extra support. You can imagine my surprise when I easily managed to get into agnistambhasana. While sitting there in my amazement, the teacher came over to me and moved my top foot .5" further over my knee bottom knee. WOW. I felt my hips open up even further.

Something similar occurred in the first class where the instructor placed two fingers under my right arm-pit, lifted my shoulder what seemed like two millimeters and my Down Dog changed forever. Now, I'm always checking in further with my shoulders and hips, trying to recreate that sensory experience.

The idea that a small movement can make a world of difference - we've all heard the ripple in the pond analogy - is very true. I think a word of caution though is that you have to be careful not to become hesitant because of the details; details can hinder forward movement and growth. If you wait to be perfect you never will get ahead, you have to actively seek out your dreams. If you act, the details will fall into place and help you soar far past your expectations realizing your dreams and maybe something more.

*According to the Baron Baptiste school, this is called double legged pigeon. In Light on Yoga, Rajakapotsana bears no resemblance to the Baron Baptiste version, so for the sake of being a bit of a traditionalist, I'm going with the name for the pose.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Class #5: Presence

This morning I looked at my shoes and I honestly had no clue which pair I was going to wear. I have 43 pairs of shoes, and still, I had no clue. Finally after ten or so minutes of deliberation, I settled on my suede Cole Haans. They are familiar and easy, but they were oh so uncomfortable today, I couldn't wait to get home, peel them off and soak my feet.

Similar to how you can tell my mood by the shoes I wear, breath in yoga acts as a gauge and a moving force, carrying one through their asanas.

Back in December and January, people would tell to me that I seemed calm for all that was going on, I would say, "Well, I've been doing a lot of yoga breathing." Without knowing it, I wasn't that far off - breathing was a way for me to exercise some control. Prana, literally translated as life/breath, is the external manifestation of life; Pranayama is control of prana. In my practice, my breath is my marker. If I'm not breathing, I'm straining and pushing past where I should be. You breathe into a pose to move deeper, to open up the spaces that are tight, deepening your existence and focus on the present.

Breathing is just one of those things we do without thought. When we monitor our breathing, we have the opportunity to pause, assess, and savor life.

We started the back bending series this last class. Physically, the chest is opened and exposed, just as a foot in the graceful arch created by a Manolo Blahnik shoe. Philosophically, we bend into the past, honoring all that we have experienced, bringing us to our present. Breath acts as the bridge linking past and present and helping us step forward, into a new present.

Even though I feel a little as though I settled on my Cole Haans, looking at my closet, there are no other shoes I would have rather worn today.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Class #4: Simplicity

Returning home from work Thursday, there was a letter in my mailbox from a good friend, now in Chicago pursuing her PhD. Such a simple pleasure, such a long forgotten gesture. With this letter, my thoughts in class Thursday remained on the elegance and grace that is found within simplicity.

The focus of Thursday's class was the triangle series, four poses. Simple twists and elongations of the spine, that gently massage, strengthen, ground, and lengthen the body. One of the poses is Namaste Forward Bend - Parsvottanasana. In this pose, you extend your torso over and down the front leg, with your hands in prayer at your back. During class, I knew I could get my hands into prayer behind my back; however, my mind just couldn't figure out how to get my shoulders, arms and wrists to connect and properly rotate. So I settled on one of the modifications.

After class, I asked the instructor how to get to prayer at the back. He asked me if I could get to downward prayer. No problem. He said that maybe my shoulders haven't opened yet. He then put his arms in to upward
namaste at his back. As I watched him do this, something clicked and I easily flipped my hands into namaste at my back. He looked at me and said, well, there you go.

A very simple form, the triangle is able to be very dynamic while still grounded - something that many of us strive for on a daily basis. A triangle is probably the truest expression of equanimity - there are three sides, each supporting one another. It has a solid base while reaching to lofty heights. It has an elegance and a playful element. If any of you have ever seen
Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land, you know that triangles are playful shapes.

In this discussion, there are really two types of simplicity: that of the classic black pump and that of being barefoot. On the one hand there is the simple confidence that can be found in striking out and asserting yourself in a classic black pump to take on the world. On the other, the joy that can come from walking barefoot in the grass and reaching for the sun. Both important to remember in our days worrying about bills, commitments, and other various and sundry stresses.

Oh, and
bakasana? Yes I was able to hold it for 3 seconds on Thursday, and 10 seconds today.

Thursday, August 2, 2007


Yesterday afternoon I was complaining about my lack of plans to Courtroom Cowboy. His response, "Why don't you just chilax for a change?" And thus, last night was the first night a long long long time that I have done absolutely positively nothing with my evening. Well, nothing planned. I returned home from work, kicked off my heels, changed into my super comfy clothes, heated up some dinner, crashed out on the couch and watched a movie. Did a little fluff reading and chatted on the phone.

All in all - it was a success.

At dinner a couple Fridays ago, Sophisticate asked me, "What do you do to take care of yourself?" I had a hard time answering this question. My response was "Well, the pedicure and the massage that Courtroom Cowboy arranged for me were great!" While completely honest, I don't think it fully answered her question - a very important and difficult question we all too often neglect.

Can we leave work at work? Why is it so difficult to do this? Try not too look or think about your blackberry for an entire night. Focus on just one thing.
Your friends. Your family. You.

Is "everything" else so important? It's hard to believe that the business world actually functioned without all of these things. But, guess what? It did. Take sometime to honor yourself and allow yourself to be blissfully happy and let go of all the "stuff" that surrounds you.

Browse the shoe departments of various stores. :)
Take five minutes in the middle of your day to go outside and grab a nice cup of tea from the local indie coffee shop.
Browse the local bookstore for a new book.
Rock out on your air guitar in your cubicle.
Call a friend you haven't spoken to in months.
Write a love letter.

What makes you smile and your eyes sparkle?
What do you do to take care of yourself?