TBT – Back to yoga!

**This is an edited post from January of 2017, after my recovery from an appendectomy. I enjoyed re-reading it as I was reflecting on the past year. The advice still applies.**

I just got the all-clear from the surgeon post appendectomy to return to yoga. She told me I need to be mindful not to overdo it, of course, but that I was healing quickly and should be fine now. It was the best news I got all week!

Thursday night I went back to yin yoga class. It felt awesome. I was mindful of a few poses where I did not fully extend, knowing that I will slowly work my way back to where I was. After a month away from this, it is wise to go slow, and take breaks.

yoga cat
Photo credit link

Most yoga teachers understand this, but a few of them out there still “push” sometimes. If you  ever consider a class, I recommend one where the teacher tells you that you can always take breaks or make modifications. Feel free to sit in child’s pose, or if your knees are too strained by that, just lay in savasana (corpse pose) if that is needed. Really!

So many people push themselves, perhaps at the goading of a teacher, “come on, I know you are strong enough to hold this pose longer…” Um, no. I call that kind of teaching “yogaerobics” or perhaps the teacher is new to the practice of yoga.

Best advice: listen to your own body. Yes, it’s true that you will become stronger if you practice something like hatha or vinyasa regularly. But it is also that every body is different, and that you must respect your limits. That is wisdom.

It is also true that every DAY your body is different. Some days you may have more energy and other days maybe you did not sleep as well the night before, and you are more tired. It does not matter. The best practice is the one where you did what was right for that day, for each moment of your practice.

The best teacher is the one that encourages you to listen to your body and pace yourself. Teachers are guides, not the authorities. Your own body is the ultimate authority on what is right for you. When you learn that, everything else falls into place. Namaste!

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Back to yoga!

It is Saturday and I’m gonna make this one short and sweet, because I am bundling up and getting ready for a yoga class. It is -10F with a windchill factor of -19F right now, for your reference. But it is totally worth getting a couple of layers of clothing on and warming up the car for a bit to get to one of my favorite hatha yoga classes.

This Wednesday I got the all-clear from the surgeon post appendectomy to return to yoga. She told me I need to be mindful not to overdo it, of course, but that I was healing quickly and should be fine now.

It was the best news I got all week! Thursday night I went back to yin yoga class. It felt awesome. I was mindful of a few poses where I did not fully extend, knowing that I will slowly work my way back to where I was. After a month away from this, it is wise to go slow, and take breaks.

yoga cat
Photo credit link

Most yoga teachers understand this, but a few of them out there still “push” sometimes. If you  ever consider a class, I recommend one where the teacher tells you that you can always take breaks or make modifications. Feel free to sit in child’s pose, or if your knees are too strained by that, just lay in savasana (corpse pose) if that is needed. Really!

So many people push themselves, perhaps at the goading of a teacher, “come on, I know you are strong enough to hold this pose longer…” Um, no. I call that kind of teaching “yogaerobics” or perhaps the teacher is new to the practice of yoga.

Best advice: listen to your own body. Yes, it’s true that you will become stronger if you practice something like hatha or vinyasa regularly. But it is also that every body is different, and that you must respect your limits. That is wisdom.

It is also true that every DAY your body is different. Some days you may have more energy and other days maybe you did not sleep as well the night before, and you are more tired. It does not matter. The best practice is the one where you did what was right for that day, for each moment of your practice.

The best teacher is the one that encourages you to listen to your body and pace yourself. Teachers are guides, not the authorities. Your body is the ultimate authority on what is right. When you learn that, everything else falls into place. Namaste!

 

Stillness and small movements

I was trying to imagine a class at the gym where one might advertise a course in “stillness and small movements” that would attract people. Certainly I would not sign up for a class like this expecting to “get fit” or lose weight. That is not what we are told. Eat Less, Move More is the mantra in the current ethos. I understand this is meant to get those of us who sit in office chairs for 8 (or more) hours a day, to get up, walk around, and generally become more active. I believe this is a wonderful idea, and taking breaks away from my desk regularly keeps me more focused when I do sit down.

Neurologists who study the effects of exercise on the brain tell us how much daily amounts of aerobic exercise boost our memory and thinking skills. I am a big proponent of taking a daily walk, or if you cannot spare 20-30 minutes doing this, then get it in micro-amounts instead. Take the stairs if you are just going up 1-2 flights. Or park further from the store when you get groceries, and walk a little more. Granted, in Minnesota during the winter, this takes some special discipline and when it is icy, I tend to skip it too.

Self care AHA News
Photo credit: American Heart Association News

I have been a runner for many years, and I knew that my regular doses of vigorous exercise helped me immensely with focus, memory, and just general anxiety. Running (and walking) clear the “mental cobwebs” that tend to build up during a sedentary day, and feels great when you work up to some baseline fitness level.

However, rest and renewal, on physical, mental and spiritual dimensions is at least as important as regular exercise. By rest, I do not mean sedentary sitting on the couch, consuming television, internet, or other passive entertainment. I mean allowing yourself stillness of mind and body and spirit. Stillness? Silence? Are you kidding me? This is how a person (like me) with a.d.d. and some anxiety react when you suggest this cultural heresy.

Are we not *supposed* to spend all our lives doing, in action, in perpetual motion? Have we not been conditioned to do this from the time of being young? In my youth, Sunday was sacred, a Sabbath, and we were not supposed to work. Of course, people still needed to be fed and so that meant that *someone* was working, maybe not all day, but at least for two meals to set food on the table. Typically that was Mom, as it is is most families. And the children perhaps had to set the table, but this was for the ritual of a eating a meal together, so I suppose technically not “work.” Of course, every Sunday night I always did homework, because, as a procrastinator, even if I did work on it on Saturday (which was actually my true sabbath, in all honesty), I tended to procrastinate.

The feminist in me objects to the discounting of the work that women do for families. It is sacred work then, this caring that takes place on Sundays (and pretty much every day of the week in so many households). In fact, whenever we care for our loved ones, this is sacred work. And how often do we care for ourselves? How often to we nurture the divine spark that lies within us? This is also sacred.

Newton's Law of Inertia
Photo credit: the Physics Classroom Lesson 1

A body at rest tends to stay at rest, a body in motion tends to stay in motion (with the same speed and the same direction) unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. This is Newton’s First Law of motion, sometimes known as the law of inertia. I want to suggest that we apply this notion to human consciousness as well, since it is part of our common cultural understanding. We realize we must apply energy to change the current state, whether to stop if we are moving or to start if we are still. I would offer that our habits are a sort of Newtonian inertia – we tend to keep repeating them unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

What I love about this “unbalanced force” terminology is that is describes how I see my need for yoga and self-care. I tend to keep doing all the things exactly the way I have done them until my body says “no, you must get more of this (rest)” now. But ignoring the natural cycles for rest and renewal is something we train ourselves to ignore in this culture. We must keep pushing, our ego-driven internal monologues tell us. The hungry ghosts of our past rise up and tell us not to be lazy, we must keep going. Perhaps the voices we internalized as children chide us for wasting time, for not making use of every moment.

I would offer that this is very short-term thinking, and outdated at best. The industrial era brought us factories with 2-3 shifts, and cities that never sleep. We are taught that being in perpetual motion is the way we are in an ideal world. And yet, in the natural world, every living being sleeps or rests in some way. This is not wrong. It is natural. It is not something we have to fight. It is something that enriches us when we embrace it.

Cat on chest
Calvin loves to sleep on my husband while he is resting on the couch. We really are just pet furniture the humans in my household

My favorite set of yoga classes, taught one after another by Ruth Silva are a soma yoga class and then a yin yoga class. In soma, the movements are often very very small, almost frustratingly so if you are used to a vinyasa class, where the body tends to move constantly. It requires focus and discipline to pay attention to such small movements. Yin yoga can be even more difficult to the restless among us, the fidgety skeptics (thank you Dan Harris for the phrase). Years ago I first tried yin with Jan Johnson back when I lived in St. Paul (Highland neighborhood). I was astonished that we would hold these slightly uncomfortable poses for 5-7 minutes each!

Then when I moved to White Bear Lake, close to a Lifetime Fitness which also offered yin yoga, I rejoiced in joining a class or two each week. The first summer I was there, I told the front desk staff that if there were more yin classes, I would not put my membership on hold in the summer. Typically I did this because I ran outside 4-5 times a week in the summer, so paying for a gym membership felt like a waste to me. I really did not like vinyasa classes (at the time) which felt like “yogaerobics” to me. But in the summer of 2016, when I began to connect how much 3-4 weekly practices of yoga were changing not only my body, but also my over-active mind, I changed my tune.

As a runner, my upper body has always been a bit neglected particularly my arms, shoulders, back and core. Hatha yoga develops my strength and balance. Vinyasa classes usually left me feeling sore for 3-4 days afterward, until I realized that the sun salutation flows are voluntary. Yes, the teacher typically encourages them, but good teachers tell you that they are optional. Good teachers, like Kathy Barnes (another favorite), remind you that you must do what is right for your body today.

If you end up sitting in child’s pose for much of the practice, or laying flat on your mat in savasana because that is what your body needs today, listen. Do what it takes to be kind to yourself, to honor your body, to honor your need for internal re-connection and rest.

Savasana from The Yoga Garden
Photo credit: Your Yoga from The Yoga Garden

Stillness and small movements create increased awareness of the interconnected nature of your entire body, and the breath that flows within it. Stillness invites you to be with yourself, to reclaim your worthiness and to experience peace. To me, it has become a sacred practice, a way of bringing myself back when the outer demands of the world or the inner demands of my busy brain keep pulling me away from my inner knowing.

In reality our bodies are never truly still, even when we quiet the outer motion. Our cells still process oxygen, our mitochondria still produce energy, our lysosomes still clear waste from the cells. We simply allow, we surrender to our natures. We surrender to the beauty and wonder of being human. I cannot think of what is more sacred than this.

 

 

Yin and Yang

As I was on the mat yesterday for my favorite yin yoga class, I could not help thinking about the practice of “yin” which in yoga terms means surrender. We spend so much time pushing forward, trying to be productive and striving to accomplish things. The culture in which I live promotes and supports that.  It is all about action and results, the yang side of the balance. But what I love about yin practice, is that it complements all of the yang activity that I normally do.

In doing the research for this piece I encountered a nice little video from “Ed Ted” that you may enjoy if you are interested in learning more about the Taoist concept of yin and yang. It is only 4 minutes and really quite beautiful. For example, the inside space of a cup is “yin” but the cup itself is “yang.” Each side contains the seed of the other within it.

The Tao is the power or the way of the universe. Living in harmony with the way means we do not have to fight with the universe’s natural flow. Listen more; argue less. Be ready to back up or undo something and you will make even faster progress. Don’t worry about being the best; be who you are. The wise person is flexible. The Tao Te Ching has even more wisdom in it, and when I read it years ago, some parts of it resonated with me, while others I was not ready to understand. I will probably return to it now, as I feel like I have been in a period of yang in my life generally. However, the yin beckons to me and I realize that I have not been living in the most sustainable balance.

Yin Yang Wikipedia image

One of my favorite yoga teachers, Ruth Silva, has said in some classes:  there is no hurry. And this echoes another mantra that I often use when I meditate: “I have time for everything I need to do today.” When we tell ourselves we are too busy, then we live that way. When we acknowledge that, technically, all we need to do to stay alive in this moment is breathe, we are telling the truth.  And everything we do beyond that is a choice. There is no need to “spin” into tales of woe and self-pity about what we “need” to do. Instead, we can be honest about many of the actions (or non-actions) in our life as choices we make. The choices have consequences, but when we are honest with ourselves, we can see so much more open space in our lives.

I was feeling “stuck” the other day in my job, wondering what would be next, getting annoyed over the tasks I thought I “had to do” and wishing I could be somewhere else, or do something else. Granted, I have been contemplating a change for quite some time now, moving outside the corporate world to work in a way that allows me to fully engage my creativity. But then I realized that, when I allow myself to see ways to apply creativity to some of the challenges I face every day, it opens my soul to the possibilities to act right in the moment where I exist.

It is about balance, finding that yin that co-exists within the yang. I know that my own life affords me much privilege to do work that I enjoy, and get paid a fair amount for it. For that I am profoundly grateful. I also know that rest and renewal are a necessity for my work to be high-quality, which is why I never leave vacation days on the table… As I consider my Friday yang activities in anticipation of the yin of the weekend, I wish you peaceful surrender and plenty of rest.