Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Le Yoga

Bonjour Yogery! I write to you from gay Paree. Actually, from gay Fontainebleu, the quaint French city where my Benjamin goes to school.

I admit there has been little to no yoga happening on this trip thus far. A few downward dogs in the mornings to shake off the stiffness and some sun salutations on top of a mountain in the Alps are all I have to report. Instead, I have been eating a lot. Pastries, baguettes, cheese. Even some duck sausage. Bad yogini, bad.

There is a yoga club here with no president. Benjamin refuses to step up, so I begin my studies of Sanskrit-French-English. Le Chatarunga, Les Down Dogs.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Workshop with Arturo

I spent the weekend hanging at Lulu Bandha's! Always a good thing. This weekend was Arturo's workshop on Touching from the Heart.

So many insightful moments. I learned a lot. I wasn't sure what to expect and was decidedly nervous, thinking that maybe we were going to learn massage or something--I was clueless. Turns out, I wasn't asked to DO anything to anyone, but just to BE with them in more effective ways. It was like majoring in Touch with concentrations in Energy and Healing.

Saturday Arturo guided us through the softest, slowest meditation on touching. I was in a group with him and Kira. We slowly felt our way from the outermost energy layers through into skin, squishy layer under skin, connective tissue, muscle, bone (Arturo says the lighter the touch often the more you can feel). It was a beautiful way to just BE with someone and I felt safe and warm and totally in love with Kira.

Getting touched (Arturo on one arm and Kira on the other) was a more difficult experience but a fascinating one. I vacillated between accepting this wonderful feeling of being cared for and an anxiety I often get when touched. But I didn't worry about showing the anxiety since I had already shared (with the entire class) that it might happen. I just felt their presence as something to come back to when I was taken to a scary place.

Sunday was also amazing. The self-meridian massage was a fun way to learn to feel chi. I practiced it this morning to start my day. Molly cracked me up during the laughter yoga exercise, and I didn't think I would ever be able to stop laughing.

We also practiced Grounding and Centering our energy. A partner pushed our shoulders and to resist we had to make our energy larger, wider. This gave me a whole new way to relate to my emotions. Instead of diving into every little blip that comes up on my busy emotional radar, I can change my energetic shape, and grow into something bigger (Arturo discussed ways to respond to attacks, by taking on the energetic shape of square, circle, or triangle). During this exercise Craig called me a grasshopper, which I took as a great compliment. :)

Craig and I were partners again for the final partner exercise, a Healing meditation. Arturo chanted the word HEAL while we did our best to resonate with a Healing Quality while holding our hands over a spot of our partner's choosing. I chose my left knee, and throughout the exercise I felt the slight pain there dissipate and reappear in the bottom of my foot and then disappear completely. Craig said my energy felt "jagged" just over the top of my shin bone, which happens to be a place where I've been feeling a faint tingling for the past couple of weeks. Crazy.

I got chills when Arturo talked about the Tibetan monks' ability to heal the sick just by chanting , "Already healed. Already whole. Already well."

Arturo talked about how you can't just drop your shoulder off at the shop to get fixed--healing is something a person has to be wholly involved in. In fact, he said, he often doesn't have to do anything but hold a safe space in which peoples' own "body-mind intelligence" can do the healing work. So when I had a headache later that night I didn't look for a quick external fix; I held my hands on my head and thought 'heal, heal, heal.' I softened and relaxed myself until the pain dissipated.

How can I ever live without Lulu Bandha's?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Dreams of Orca Whales

Man or fish? Guillame Nery setting a freediving world record in a spectacular demonstration of kumbaka, or breathholding.

I am happy to report that we contain ancient, fishlike abilities. As soon as the face comes into contact with cold water, a state called bradycardia sets in, slowing the heart rate. This is the first step in the activation of our body's underwater survival mechanisms. Scientists call it the mammalian diving reflex, and we share it with animals like dolphins, seals, otters. This water-triggered reflex means that a person can actually survive without breath longer underwater than above.

Like anyone exploring the unknown, freedivers learn that to go deeper, they must relax all resistance (any extraneous effort means depleted oxygen) and accept (their thoracic cavities literally accept the depths, filling with watery plasma to equalize the pressure from without). It's such a perfect analogy for the way yoga seems to work...the further we dive, the more relaxed and accepting we have to be.

I've noticed that often I battle with what I find within myself. I can feel like two Ashleys (two zen muffins?) during yoga. I get confused about which one is real, confused about what yoga is 'supposed' to feel like. If I'm not blissed out and peaceful I think I'm doing it wrong. Sometimes I wonder how to 'use' yoga--as something to CHANGE the way I'm feeling in the moment or as something to help me feel that moment more strongly.

It's funny how easy it is for the mind to find something beautiful, appealing, inviting, like freediving. But to get the rest of the self to go along with it is the trick. Despite my fascination with freediving and my innate piscean nature, I've always lost underwater breathholding contests and feared the ocean. Yoga allows me to ease in gently, safely, and choose whether I float at the top gazing down or dive fully in.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Power Yoga Training Run-down

Well. I graduated from power yoga teacher training.
Highlights include:

leading a class through an hour of power yoga!

thai yoga massage

realizing i actually enjoy core strengthening and don't feel like a tool teaching ab work

feedback from class on my voice and presence

meeting and spending 14 hours a day with some fabulously dedicated yogis and seriously funny ladies

getting really tuned into alignment

sipping coffee in between sun a and sun b series during our early morning practices. yeah, gross, i know. get over it.

staying true to my inner yoga voice and keeping my practice through out the training

wearing my teacher pants and student pants

more deets later, but right now my main concern is reading this guide book to france and sipping on some white wine. here's to me, two yoga teacher trainings in one summer and a trip to france at the end of the week. my life is pretty okay.

tomorrow afternoon someone's coming to the house to do an hour session with me. i said noon because what really sounds nice to me after 100 + hours of yoga is a cup of coffee, the sunday times and a long sit in the morning sun.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

learning to love the chatarunga/updog

high to mid plank with some up dogs. below i'm pushing back from chatarunga to up dog. in class, erin placed her hand on the crown of my head and told me to push into it with my head. my habit is to look down, since that's the direction i'm going, and keep looking down until i'm in updog, and then thrust it forward at the last minute. in class we also did a few rounds of that vinyasa with straps above the elbows during chatarunga to prevent splaying. for those in the group who are already quite accomplished in their chats, this way was harder.

with the pictures i can see the habits i have during this part of sun a. dropping my head, dropping my hips, forgetting about my feet.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


ruby considers the triangle series; offers her own suggestion.

Kira's Sweet Vinyasa

Hedgehog demonstrating the safety-asana.

This morning was my first class with Kira since her "staycation." And it was good to be back! There was a slightly smaller group than normal, which always makes me feel more exposed, which leads to me trying harder. However, at Lulu Bandha's, 'trying harder' doesn't mean sweating more, it means softening.

The most radical thing that happened for me was the slumpy seated meditation. Kira suggested we sit "the way our mothers always told us not to." During the opening meditation I tried this but felt too strange and straightened up. I have accepted the meanings normally assigned to slumpiness-hiding, lethargy and depression. Oh, and office work.

But I have to admit that I don't entirely enjoy the stick-straight posture usually required for seated meditation. I never feel quite right or quite able to breathe.

So during closing meditation Kira offered the slumping idea again and I stayed in it. I rounded my back and let my head hang down. I felt a steady tug on the back of my neck where my scar is and thought 'hey, do-it-yourself scar-releasing bodywork!' The rest of my spine pressed pleasantly out and I felt safe and tucked away like a hedgehog in a ball. My mood was soft and warm. I felt like I was taking care of myself instead of trying to be something I'm not. Hedgehogs definitely know the value of safety.

Other observations:
  • worked on musika or mouse pose, which was adorable but difficult.
  • everything's better when done with the sacral belly

Monday, August 4, 2008

A Macaroni Bowl without Macaroni

from an essay in Sunday's NYT, "Disassembling My Childhood" by Dan Beachy-Quick (his 3-year-old daugher Hana is anticipating a promised gift from her grandpa):

For me, the best part of waiting for the gift is asking Hana what she thinks it might be. "An elephant?" she guessed. "A macaroni bowl without macaroni?"

Nothing else gives me such a sense of how astonishing desire is. Desire gives equal weight to things of radically different worth. Hana cycled through the possibilities at every meal. "A piece of glass?" "Crayons?" "A cloud?"

Desire erases boundaries by easing through them. Desire is wonder in motion. Desire finds that reality's border is loosely guarded; someone-"reason's viceroy"-is always asleep at his post. My 3-year-old girl knows already what many poets would do well to learn: desire pushes through the limit of what is possible; it does not recognize it and retreat.

My practice (with Bjork's Post cd):

start in tadasana

very slow dive forward waiting until the last second to round my back

down dog

  • cat tuck/cow tilt

round to plank

uncurl into side plank following full course of the cow tilt into a drop back


down dog

  • drop to dolphin
  • walk toes forward for sirsana (headstand)
  • attempt kira's transition rocking from sirsana prep back to crow
  • squat

roll forward padha hastasana

after feeling quite energetic at the beginning i started to get disinterested and couldn't continue with my PLAN for an active practice. wondered what was wrong with me but decided to try a yin pose to while i wrote down what i'd been doing

Frog ---yin turned out to be just what i needed, this pose always feels detoxifying and slowing down allowed me to notice i was tired

hip circles with hands planted and cobra

hanumanasa (splits) attempt each side

supine badakonasana (butterfly)

savasana (corpse)

Friday, August 1, 2008

always in my head

In the interest of keeping the yogery alive, I'm writing even though my yoga practice is

A friend was in town recently, from such far away places as my email inbox and Singapore. He stayed with me last week, at my house which is not my house, in my bed which is not my bed. The house sitting is getting to me. I didn't notice until he was here and then I was acutely aware of the sprawl of my life across the town. A little paper trail from house to house. We shuffled from the house with the swamp cooler in east Boulder to Alice's when we stayed in town drinking late. It was interesting having a guest in town with no place to keep him of my own. No way to say this is me in all those normal ways of home ownership; no quirky coffee cups to use or records to play.

He kept asking to take a class with me, and I kept finding reasons not to go. Some legit, some less legit. At the end of the week my body felt manipulated, as if it had believed until then I had been putting it to good use. The same energy that held us together in bed was similar to the energy I use on my yoga mat. There was a weird power struggle there: when I practice yoga I'm responsible for my body, my muscles and bones respond to me. And suddenly I felt my body respond to something else entirely, to someone else. The physical space I've created was shared again, suddenly, surprisingly. And at such close range I could not find the space to share more. Towards the end of his visit I did a small practice at home while he slept, feeling safe enough in the solitude of early morning to even get a little sweaty. A black lab named Ruby observed me from a silent curled position on the couch, a tail wag of approval when I moved into the standing postures.

So the question that remains is the one I hardly know how to pose, let alone answer. What do I think I'm keeping to myself, what do I think I'm letting go of? Would I have preferred someone get to know me by handing him the Boy Scout coffee cup with the broken handle, or letting him peer into my bedroom to see my record collection or the books on my shelf? It is not that I didn't want to share yoga with him; I am notoriously annoying about begging my friends to come take class with me. I don't know what it means that we didn't take class together, and if I did I might not say it here. It's about exposure, about showing your full extent. Chasing after backbends and heart openers with abandon, hurling yourself into handstand like a kid in the grass.

But I have been practicing at home, with the air conditioner and Ruby looking on from the side, chasing after muscle and meaning, meaning which becomes unraveled and lost, the inhales that become the meaning, feeling blessed between each space of movement, the pause and intake of breath, trust and distrust of my map-less body to move toward the place it will inevitably arrive. Back to the beginning, or the end, where it has so lovingly chased towards itself. But I could say all those things about spending a week in bed with a visiting boy, and so I must admit I have not fooled anyone.

Erich Schiffmann:"Yoga is a way of moving into stillness to experience the truth of who you are. It's a matter of listening inwardly for guidance all the time, and then daring enough and trusting enough to do what you are prompted to do."

things I've been working on:

rounding into plank
vasistasana holding leg straight up and hips open
bakasana into sirsasana II and back (complete with the "ee ee" creaky sounds of kira)
eka pada urdhva danurasana (this helps having someone there to tell me how high my leg is. for some reason i have no concept of height or length here. also, i can't seem to lift my leg if my other foot is flat on the ground. on my tip toes it seems much more possible.)
purvottanasana. keeping my neck softened is a giant task. feeling my shoulders round up, trying to keep close to my ears.
finding myself instinctually moving into revolved extended side angle quite a bit. it feels nice to be open in my chest but somehow bound up, too.