The Low Down On My Yoga Slow Down

Over a year ago, when I first started writing about the change that we were trying to make in our lives, I made the comment that it was yoga’s fault. Fault may be too strong of a word, but it was in fact pursuing a regular yoga practice again after a hiatus of several years that started us thinking about change. Change is good…right? I think so. Nothing can remain the same forever. If you can’t continue to learn and grow, then what is this life business all about any way?

Part of the change we wanted to make in our lives, was making the time to pursue some of the newer interests and ideas that have emerged for us, while incorporating the old standbys that we still cultivate some joy in. We are both enjoying using our bodies and our minds, to all sorts of ends and are interested in keeping each going for some time to come. This is where yoga began to fit in.

We didn’t come to a yoga practice as a fitness trend, although at first and perhaps still, there is some element of keeping the body moving, lubricated if you will, in the practice of yoga for us. We didn’t come to the practice for spiritual enlightenment, although perhaps some element of this has developed after all. Namaste does loosely translate to “I bow to my true self”. Yoga is something that gives us pleasure, creates a state of mind for acceptance and patience for our bodies, ourselves and others.

You can call this journey a mid-life crisis. I prefer to think of it as an opportunity. An opportunity to explore life. Some may think that we have run off to have some kind of  pseudo spiritual experience and are looking for the experience through yoga. If you think that, you really don’t know us. Some may think that I’ve got an “Eat, Pray, Love” thing going on.  I will admit that I enjoy a good meal, but if you think that I am a vapid woman  who can only define herself through the men she is in a relationship with, you really don’t know me and should erase my existence from your computor..now.  Some may think that we are indulging in some high-end luxury yoga get away. The truth, as any one that has taken the 200 hour course will tell you, is that there is a lot of hard work ahead for us, in a country that can be a little tough by anyone’s standards.

There has been a lot of talk in the yoga community lately due to the article  How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body – NYTimes.com  and the proactive spin the article put on an adaptation of the book, The Science of Yoga  NPR Media Player or the follow-up How the NYT Can Wreck Yoga | Ashtanga Yoga New York. So much talk that nobody needs me to wade into the discussion. Some of this recent media coupled with the yoga experiences that I have had over the past four months have made me start thinking about my own practice in a bit different way.

In January I wrote an entry lamenting my perceived short comings in my own practice, leading up to course in India. I was worrying about my arm balances, I was worrying about my strength, I was worrying about being the oldest person in the class, I was also worried about spending thirty days being surrounded by a bunch of flaky yoga bullshit.  SH*T Ashtanga Yogis Say – YouTube  I have a low tolerance for most kinds of bullshit, unless of course it is my own.

Originally we came to the practice through Kundalini yoga. When we started practicing again, it was at a hot yoga studio. As time progressed, I think we both started to see a trend in the classes we were taking. A lot of people seemed to be taking the class to purely sweat and once the class progressed and they were too sweaty they would lay around in what  “the Boy” described as a pouty heap. There also seemed to be a false sense of what yoga was doing for them, or mainly their bodies, pushing into extreme postures with the perceived idea of flexibility due to the artificially heated body. During this period we had some really excellent teachers that we practiced with regularly. I think that they took the time to look at our abilities, our individual practices and our bodies, while guiding us in the direction that we continue to head. It seems that the natural progression for a lot of people is to a more Ashtanga yoga based practice and it was true for us.

A benefit of the lifestyle we are current living is having the time and opportunity to explore not only where the next stage of our life is headed, but where the next stage of our yoga practice is headed. We have used some of this time to start a home practice, which has been good, but a lot harder to maintain than either one of us thought it would be. We have also indulged in classes featuring various styles: Bikram Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Scaravelli Yoga, Jivamukti Yoga and  Vinyasa Flow Yoga. Each has been an interesting  experience and there has been some element to be incorporated into my own practice. Meeting all these practitioners of different styles and in some cases practicing in situations that are not what we are used to, have led to yet more questions about my practice.

I am naturally flexible, not just a little bendy, but circus material, more so when I was younger, but now even as I approach fifty I’m still more flexible than the average person. I’m not bragging, in fact the opposite. What most people who I share a yoga class with see as a benefit, is in fact a liability to me. In a lot of ways being so flexible makes yoga harder for me than it does for others. I have come to find that a lot of teacher’s want to put me into poses that they think I should do without concern for my personal practice, my alignment or if I am even ready for the pose. I have been pushed, prodded and here in Asia stood and sat on to get me deeper into a posture that I am all ready deeper into the half the class. I sometimes feel like Gumby and people just want to stretch me around to see how far I can go. I have stopped taking a lot of poses to my full extent because I just don’t want the attention. I also don’t want to been seen as a show off, like the guy that showed up in a recent class and started warming up by during a series of complex arm balances.

I remember taking my first Vinyasa class. I left exhilarated, this was it, this was my yoga. I loved the women that taught the class. She had such a peaceful presence,  lead the class in a thoughtful way and exuded inner and outer strength. We practiced with her every week for over a year, I felt respected, challenged and real growth in my practice.  There were a dedicated six to eight of us and after class we would all marvel at the fact that the hot studio was filled to bursting, while there was only the few of us that were experiencing  this class.  It seemed that the problem was the class was not “hot enough” and required some real work. Perhaps in hind sight it was our gain and their loss.

I think this man tried to sell me a watch last week.

While in New York we took our first Bikram class. The studio was small and the young man teaching the class was friendly and welcoming. We knew what to expect and were mentally prepared for a class that ended up kicking my ass. I enjoyed the experience, but after the twenty-six postures and a lot of sweat I couldn’t help feeling that I was missing the rest of my class. I still wonder about the guy that took his first ever yoga of any kind class that same morning. Fifteen minutes into the class he was like a caged animal, he wanted out of that room, you could feel the stress and panic coming off him in waves. There was no stopping, no child’s pose, no mindful practice,  just the twenty-six postures, the heat and the sweat.

We recently took a workshop with Marc Woolford Yoga with Marc Woolford -Scaravelli yoga teacher – Online Yoga Tuition, Private training, Workshops, Retreats and Weekend Breaks -Scaravelli inspired.  Knowing nothing about Scaravelli yoga, we were intrigued.    The class was nothing like either of us expected. Scaravelli yoga place more emphasis on starting with a strong base and letting gravity help move you slowly into deeper postures.  It started with downward dog. Marc asked us all to take the posture in the manner that we liked, pedal your legs, bend your knees, push up through the sit bones, whatever felt good. When he had us all come down into child’s pose, he asked us to reevaluate the way we took the posture…most of us were pushing and staining into the dog, could we do it again, but do it more compassionately? How do you make a yoga posture more compassionate? I’ve worked on my downward dog for years, mine tends to be a little too short do to my flexibility and after having people push, pull and lift me, I have finally developed a pretty good-looking downward dog. In the twenty minutes that this class had us working on the posture, it changed everything about the pose for me. Why was I taking the posture so aggressively? I guess because of subtle corrections in yoga classes, this is the direction that I had been led to over the years. Was yoga really about all this tough physicality? How did everything get so fast paced? The class went on for over two hours, when it was scheduled for one and half hours. We did four postures.  It was  eye-opening for me and I left wondering , what will happen to me in other yoga classes when I applied these principles to my new approach to downward dog?

Iyengar Yoga Studio Bangkok – Thailand This local studio has a pretty good reputation and was started by Justin Herold, who has a pretty impressive resume. My Ashtanga background and flexibility makes me a little shy of props. Props, who needs those stinking props?  This simple little studio had the best atmosphere of any studio that I have been in for a long time. It seems to be one of the studios in Bangkok that is lost in the crush of the bigger studios. Big and trendy are often not best. I’m pretty modest in my yoga dress, I always wear capris, normally flowing ones and a normal tank, but for the first time in a class I felt under dressed. Everyone was in loose t-shirts and longer shorts. The vibe was very casual and the class itself was slow and thoughtful and even with props the experience felt very honest to me.  It was the first yoga class in Asia where I have not sweated bullets from start to finish.  After class was over the very nice older American man who led the class, talked with us about the general state of yoga and like all people living abroad for a while we talked about our home scene.  One of the things he commented on, was all “the jumping around” that is going on in yoga today. That struck a chord with me. Seems to me that I have doing a lot of jumping around. Honestly, I’m feeling a little old to be doing a lot of jumping around.

Recently we took some time to visit a smaller town in the Northern part of the country, called Pai. Pai has a kind of hippy vibe to it and we were sure that we would find some kind of yoga going on. What we found after a short bike ride up a hill, was this cute little Shala sitting in a small lake and three other people doing yoga.  Thai Hermit Yoga  What I knew about Jivamukit yoga comes from Neal Pollack’s book, Stretch. He refers to it in the book as Jive Ass Monkey. It is a big cooperate machine in New York, filling a football sized practice room daily. What we found in this Jivamukti trained yoga teacher was a calm, slow practice that centred on breathing. Breathing in a yoga practice, imagine that. It feels like a long time since any part of any class that I taken  focused on any breathing. Breathing clean mountain air, practicing yoga outside and having fish nibble at my toes while I was in plow pose, does it get any better than that. Again after the class was over, we talked about yoga and how our journeys had brought us together that morning. Casey talked about his teaching in Thailand and what he found when he went back to the states and either took or taught yoga classes. Again it came to heated rooms, strenuous actively and a lot of jumping around.

It seems that I am not the only one that is having these feelings. Which I guess what compelled me to write this in the first place. Who cares what I think? No one. But the age demographic is changing, eventually yoga classes will not be filled with pretty young things decked out in Lululemon, looking for another way to quickly get rid of a few extra pounds. There will be more people like me, middle-aged normal people, with normal bodies looking for a way to bring a little something more into their lives. We know that life takes work, there are no quick fixes and we are willing to stick it out for the long haul.

What I’m still worried about as the course in India looms closer, is the shift in my feelings. How will it affect my participation and attitude about during the course? Will these experiences be a benefit or detriment for me?

Time will tell.

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