Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Head, Shoulders, Knees and Deep Thoughts.

No, I'm joking you. No deep thoughts. Just deep knots.

I have these epic, amazing knots in my shoulders, neck and back. I don't know, but it seems like Beijing stresses me out. I find myself hunched over quite often, sitting slumped in taxis, standing with one hip cocked on the subway. Bad. After a particularly bad experience in Hong Kong with one arm losing some feeling when I raised it above my shoulder, I sought the help of one of BJ's famous blind masseurs. And holy God, did she bring the pain. She actually wasn't blind. The massage place is this sort of grimy but clinical room off a busy street with a rough n'ready approach to massage. You walk in and they get to work. Most of their doctors are actually blind. And some are quite skilled. Ben had one doctor there tell him while working his back muscles that he's been dreaming a lot. They can tell how much caffeine I drink by this spot on my foot. Basically, it's magic. But it's definitely not a fancy pants massage in the States. The doctors and masseurs yell and talk with one another while pushing you face down into the table with half their body weight. Occasionally from the corner of your eye you might see flames on the floor after a cupping session. Physically, it feels amazing. Emotionally, it's kind of traumatic. Anyway, she worked and worked on my shoulders and neck, telling Ben, who was lying next to me getting worked on by an actual blind masseur, that I had some problems and needed to swim more. Do the crawl, she instructed. Ben and I both pointed out that I don't really know how to swim. Both my masseur and Ben's said: He will teach you.(referring to ben) And then she got to my big knot. The one that I keep all my Beijing stress wrapped inside. The one beneath my right shoulder blade that cuts, tingles, pinches, throbs. You know. Everyone's got one like it. And I started crying. Literally crying during the massage. That muscle was like, WAM! Exquisitely painful. I couldn't help but cry. She kept kneading. I kept crying. Oh! She exclaimed in English. You are crying! I think you are crying!

I had to take a pain reliever the next day. But since then I've been slowly melting my knots away and letting go of my tension. There's still a pinching sensation back there, and taking deep breaths hurts. But I'm getting there. And in light of all this shoulder stuff, I've begun teaching a lot of shoulder openers in my classes.

Remember my very first workshop at Lulu's? I do. It was a tuning workshop and we did cigarette girl arms for like, fifteen minutes. I was dying. It was my first time doing yoga for more than an hour and I was like, OMG! When are we going to lie on the floor!?!?! I remember vividly standing in tadasana and scooping my arms in and carrying my imaginary cigarette case. Working the shoulder blades down. So I've been working with that lately and at the beginning of class doing this:

cactus arms (sometimes i pretend to be a cactus who needs a hug)
upward bow arms (introducing wheel to almost all my clients later in the class)
and then the sweet relief of a forward fold with arms clasped behind tailbone. Holy shoulder joy!

and then again

cactus arms
cigarette girl arms
chatarunga arms (getting the awareness of all the work the body does during chatarunga by doing it standing. done this three times with two clients and the first time with ben and a friend, and both clients are like, oh! i get it!)
and sweet relief forward fold with arms.

roll to standing with some swamp monster action in the shoulders to create space.

These are all borrowed directly or slightly adapted from one of Kira's sequences. I love the idea of introducing postures in the standing variation first. And then referencing the feeling later. It made so much sense to me when Kira did it, and it seems to be making sense to my peeps. So the shoulder stuff is good. Trying to get myself and my practice back to the place it was in last year, when I just discovered how amazing it felt to stand up straight and lead with my heart. Emotionally, too. Leading with zee heart. I'm getting all, muhhh lately, and what I'm trying to be, in my classes and on my own, is yeeeeaaaaa!

Otherwise, still working on triangle. One of my clients needs a strap, and I accidentally said 'strap-on'. Woops. Hey, we practice at 6:45 am! That's before-coffee-time! Luckily her sense of humor is like mine and we both laughed maybe too hard.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Filling In

Hey. I gotta a whopper of a yoga post coming soon. Until then, I've been working on triangle, side triangle, via side angle. Attention on the legs. Triangle has become kind of a whopper pose for me. My groin tendons and hamstrings are overly stretchy--in triangle I often risk pulling muscles so I've been backing off. Using my core as a cue. Anyone have any major tips for triangle? I also have some hyper mobility in my rib cage and often feel like I open too much and end up with a pinchy feeling in my heart.

More soon, I promise. In the meantime feel free to peruse my other blog, migrations (http://secretmigrations.blogspot.com). There are more pictures over there. :)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Inchworm

Radical revelation this afternoon whilst practicing solo at the gym: The Inchworm! I remember Marley from CPY TT offering it as an option when we all were sore and tired from chatarunga, but for some reason I just could not figure it out. Drop my knees, lower my chest, what? It just did not make sense. And then today I just sort of did it. And it felt great! Definitely my new cue for peeps who don't want to do full chatarunga/updog.

Also: one of my clients this afternoon had about five too many glasses of wine at lunch and came to practice anyway. I tried to imagine what Laura Kupperman would do in that situation, and I made her sit down a lot. Had a hard time being stern with her. She was like, but we had book club!at an italian place! She is already kind of a spazz, and it took me a few cycles of sun salutes to figure out something was off with her. Extra wobbly.

She seemed in good spirits, though. The other two women and I worked on tripod headstands for a while as she chilled out on the mat giggling to herself.

All for now.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Adjusting My Pants

More yoga to report. Oh, the yog. It just gets better and better. Today met with H, my early bird, and we rocked out with lots of up dogs and chatarungas. I've been backing off those with her because she often has pilates the night before we practice and seems quite sore. But we tried it out, and it seemed to fit. I got an email from her this afternoon saying the class was great and she feels a lot stronger. Now that I'm onto her secret upper body strength, I plan on working her a bit harder. She loves the opening and softening so finding a nice balance of sweat and soft is key.

What else. Due to a misunderstanding with clubhouse scheduling, my three ladies class at 2 today was held in the bathroom of one of the ladies. Weird. We focused on breath and and lots of core stuff. One woman mentioned a hysterectomy I did not know she had, which explained a lot about her core work. Need to research further.

I'm not really planning the classes out. Winging it, really. I've been taking cues from Kira on meeting people where they are, and for me that means just showing up with an outline and usually, letting it all go. It feels good, though, because I trust myself to work it all out. No panicky moments yet. I even made a joke, about warrior two and tadasana being the universal 'adjust your pants' time for women in yoga classes. (personally, i've always been more of a 'check your cleavage' kind of yogini. never know when the sports bra failed you in headstand. kept that one to myself, though...)

So I was thinking about when I first taught my two peeps one-on-one, way back in Singapore. I was so nervous about the intimate setting, about what to teach, what I would possibly have to say with them just sitting there in front of me! I wrote the sequences down step by step, created some talking points I was too nervous to use and basically practiced with them so I wouldn't just be standing there awkwardly. Now I'm making jokes! Cuing left and right without actually doing anything to the left or right! Adjusting my pants, symbolically speaking, about what I think a yoga teacher is, and what kind of yoga teacher I am. I don't want to show up with a rigid plan. I kind of like talking for a minute, seeing how they feel, hearing about how pilates sucks, or how they really want a lot of hip stuff, and then easing into the practice, like, what, I do this all the time, right?

Also: I had a banana muffin just now. Burnt brown sugar on top, delicious. Not so delicious was the middle part, which was a bit dry. Really feeling the need to bake. Gotta get an oven, first. And a mixer. And an apron. Been really feeling the whole food is nourishment thing recently. Stress is eating away at me, and Benjamin. I have overwhelming desire to cook him a hot, healthy meal, but so far I've just come up with over cooked, over buttered spinach noodles. I'm no barefoot contessa in the savory department, so this weekend I gotta bust out the skills I have: making sweet, sweet treats.

But before the weekend, one more yoga class. Tonight at 7:30. She's a studious, focused one. Takes it very seriously but has been opening up more the past few weeks. Recently mentioned she hugs a big pillow every night to fall asleep, and we've worked it into her savasana, a big heart opener to melt over. She loves it. It's awesome.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

testing out the yoga/pastry combination

it was my birthday on sunday.  i told my mom that i wanted two things: for her to go to a yoga class with me, and a pastry.  (i wasn't even thinking about the yogery, i guess i just really love yoga and pastries)

we found a level 1 yoga class at an oddly formal studio called Fitness by Design.  they have a waiting room with Family Circle magazines and a bowl of those hard peppermint candies you get at restaurants.  later, they sent us an email thanking us for our business: "we know you have other fitness options."  

despite the formalities, the class felt warm and soft and yoga-like.  unknowingly we had stumbled upon the first session of an eight-week intro to yoga class, so it was full of people who knew nothing about yoga.  there were about 10 of us, all slightly older, some overweight, all  open-minded.  they asked eager questions like "now mary, what do you mean by sit bones?" and when she gave the instruction to let your heart light shine, a woman smiled and said out loud, apparently in appreciation of the poetry of it, "so good!"  

we did extremely gentle joint warm-ups for a good 45 minutes, then a variation of a half-salutation on our own, then tree pose.  the group was full of surprisingly solid trees, even though one of the two men called out "i think i'm a tree in a windstorm!"

we finished with restorative childs, restorative heart opener, and of course savasana.  afterwards my mom signed us up for the whole 8 week course and we went and celebrated with a chocolate croissant and a pear puff pastry.  

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Close Encounters (of the cake and yoga kind)

Today has been a good day. I've been productive both physically and emotionally, clearing out the rickety spaces in my mind and joints. I taught early this morning to H, and her son crawled out of bed to join us for some flashy down dogs and giggly breath work. Then I took the subway to the gym--although I admit I mostly wanted to have a steam and a nice relaxing shower rather than work out--and was flipping through Erich Schiffmann's book on the way, looking for little hints and tidbits. A tallish Chinese woman was standing next to me, crowded close as always on the subway. She got my eye because she was about my height--rare to find a woman, or man, my height here--and we smiled at one another. A few moments later she interrupted me and said, Are you a teacher of yuja? And because I'm really smart, I knew she meant YOGA and i said YES! We proceeded to talk very awkwardly about yoga and where we practice. I gave her my name card and she seemed thrilled a)to be speaking in English and b)to be speaking in English about yoga, as of course, was I! I nearly missed my stop because we both had our nose in Erich's book searching for a certain posture she was trying to describe.

Then I left the gym and headed for Shunyi to teach my three afternoon ladies. These three are a trip. They are all in it for 'core' but all end up asleep as soon as they hit the mat and constantly chat with me and each other through out the class. They also almost always end up requesting a "relaxing class". One in particular often will diminish her abilities and make generalizing diagnoses of ailments she thinks she might have. I have the shallow breath, she told me firmly on the first day. The other two have more experience with yoga and move through the class with what appears to be a greater sense of comfort and strength. She has a lot of trouble just being still and finally this afternoon I addressed it.

I've been nervous to talk to her about it because it feels personal. I can sense she feels uneasy in class at times, or embarrassed. And of course I get that. I'm still kind of embarrassed to be in yoga classes--it can feel so vulnerable, wearing tight clothes and twisting your body into weird positions. And there always the students who do it all with grace and beauty and perfect ponytails and not a single pant uttered from between their relaxed lips.

So we talked, the three of us. About breath. I used something I heard once said in a class at Yoga Soup in Santa Barbara, I think, about the breath sending the body into the asanas. It was the most yoga-teacher like moment I've had, facing them on the mats, hearing myself say, Your breath won't send you to a place your body can't sustain. You have to trust your breath to take you into the asana when you're ready--when your breath feels constricted, or tight, or difficult, you've come too far.

We talked about the core, abs, stomach muscles. Feeling light, bandha's, lifting up and out. The whole kitten and caboodle. Is that the phrase?
Anyway, the reason I'm writing about it all now is that after the class was over, this woman was still sitting on her mat, staring at me. Oh, great, I thought. I said too much. So I asked for feedback. Does all that make sense? Do you understand what I'm saying? Her eyes looked a little wet and her voice was quiet. Yes, she said. I need to learn how to breath. I need to be still.

It was the first time I felt like she and I connected, and it was such a pleasant feeling. I know logically it has nothing to do with me and I didn't invent the glory of yoga and breath, but sheesh! It made me feel like a real yoga teacher!

Now of course killing time before evening class. Eating cake. This is the Yogery, after all. And yes, Zen Muffin, I did wear those glasses to teach.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

sitting in coffee shop post-yoga feeling a bit radical with my hot pink anarchist '09 planner, a shiny copy of "The God Delusion," my yoga mat, and a yerba mate.  

went to coworker Stephie's new "Studio Om" in Beaverdale Iowa.  she did her training at kripalu in Massachusetts.  i love her!  she's so funny and nice but also sort of hard core.  pretty technically precise sometimes and believes in push-ups and core-strengthening.  she told me i was dropping one shoulder well before the other in my chatturanga.  and i was!  i do hate chatturanga, so maybe this is just the fix i need.  she also helped me out with getting into handstand as well as a low lunge backbend.  

she emphasized the core/kidney areas a lot as places to lengthen, strengthen, and breathe into.  her languaging made sense- "lengthen the ribs up and away from the pelvis."  only one other girl in class.  a nice connection between all 3 of us.  

feeling very inspired right now to explore spirituality, yoga, life.  oddly, the way richard dawkins defines atheism, i feel i may fit in that category...he strips the label of its connotations of coldness and imperviousness and instead imbues it with the quality of wonder.  which of course i can relate to.  who can't?  the world AS IS is wondrous enough, far more wonderful if you don't limit it by labeling this or that god or spirit or soul.  those terms are too loaded anyway.  and yoga is basically practice at wondering.

stephie's studio is really beautiful especially in the morning with the sunlight shining in on the bamboo floors.  she has an interesting yoga library that made me feel like 'wow, i have so much to read and learn.'  

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

sleep in savasana

Today was another small group class in Shunyi. Same three women as usual, who are slowly becoming more familiar with me and with the movements. We do the same stuff each time but I try and emphasize different things. Today was focusing on opening and softening into the postures, a slower, more focused class. They all said they were tired.
easy sit side stretch
wise guy with arm extension
Sun salutes
lunge salutes
lunge salutes with prayer twist
sun salutes
warrior dance with emphasis on subtle movements to keep the posture active but soft
chatarunga with knees
low cobra
same thing on other side
core stuff and navasana play--this is why they all signed up for yoga, to work on their core strength. thought today we might skip it since they all said they wanted a relaxing class, but the vote for crunches etc was unanimous, so we did bada konasana crunches, bicycle sit ups, boat stuff and the low ab ceiling stamp thing that i kind of invented, with emphasis on curling the tailbone under to create lift.
bridge x 2
one more set of warrior 2 dance on both sides but with prasittas in between
vinyasa was chatrunga to floor bow to childs.
wall splat
pidgeon at the wall (thread the needle?)
cow face for a minute or so with emphasis on breathing deeper into the stretch
(these three are the big ones for this group)

then we got our backs and talked about belly stuff. showed them the belly massage, talked about colons and digestion for a minute, and then did knees to chest self-hug before coming into supine twist and then savasana.

during the knees to chest on the right side, i noticed one woman just sort of lying there. i began to worry about my cues, like, oh man, she hates this, she's not doing anything, she's just lying there like, when is going to be over?! and then all of a sudden her leg snapped up and she rejoined us. during savasana it was the same thing--as i was trying to bring them out of savasana, nobody was wiggling or gently nodding. no eyes were opening. and then i realized they all were asleep. hehe!

this group is getting a good groove together. we listen to music and use this big studio space in their clubhouse so our time has a very 'class' feel to it. good for me, too, to put on my teacher pants and walk around the room more, instead of practicing so much, or just like, standing there directing.

one more class tonight and then home to pack for hong kong tomorrow. probably going to bring my mat with me because i'm basically broke and staying home to practice yoga instead of going out drinking is a good way to spend my time and save my money!