Adventures in Yoga- Slowing Flow Down Turns Things Up

Photo credit Alsion Aucher
Photo credit Alsion Achauer

“Тhe gentle overcomes the rigid.
The slow overcomes the fast.
The weak overcomes the strong.”

“Everyone knows that the yielding overcomes the stiff,
and the soft overcomes the hard.
Yet no one applies this knowledge.”
― LaoziLao Tsu: Tao Te Ching

To paraphrase Kevin Lamb advanced classes aren’t just about complicated poses, they’re about slowing down the actions that create postures.

What I love about Kevin’s class and Anusara yoga is the meticulous nature of the practice. Crossing T’s and all that. Every Saturday at noon I can count on a discovery. Often it’s a ripple that turns into an ocean of understanding about my body. Last week I realized that when I lifted up my pelvic floor my shoulders felt better aligned. I also realized that I could hear the word anus and vagina repeatedly and not giggle like a seven year-old boy. Though don’t ask me to say Uranus or I will collapse in laughter. 

Back to our program. Class. Saturday.

Something big was in store. I could feel it.

My prana hummed from the soles of my feet and slowly wound up my body as we stood in Tadasana. Asked to open my eyes wider my heart lifted. Next,  a feeling rose up- fear? Hope? It floated up and out and  briefly, I was completely free of judgment.

I was the observer. Watching. Waiting.

My thoughts wandered to my daily meditation practice.

I’ve spent the last three weeks attempting to be still for for at least 20 minutes. Some mornings I am elated. The stillness hovers around me and at once I am nothing and everything. On others it is thorns and bad thoughts- and profanity in my veins making my blood thick with doubt. Who the fuck meditates I grumble in my head wondering when I can get up. But, whatever comes up is what it is. So, I go with it.

And that, I suppose is the point.

Joy, anger, sadness or boredom is what it is in the moment. No matter what, I am firm and rooted in my commitment to it. I am committed to growth just like in mountain pose, my teacher telling me to breathe in deeply. I fill my lungs. I take in more air and with an exhale I am released. I am relaxed and ever more present.

Slow down. Slow down. Slow down.

Kevin said Tadasana pose at the top of class would be the hardest thing we would do that day. I stood exposed for what seemed like an hour but may have been 5 minutes.

Slow down. Slow down. Slow down.

Increasing the amount of time it takes to enter a pose intentistfies the posture tenfold. The time we took to transition from downward dog to three-legged plank was like climbing a vertical incline with a rucksack. It’s not just the pose- but the subtle cues that stack muscle engagement with movement. As I slowly drew my knee to the outside of my elbow while maintaining a full blown conversation with the back of my pelvis did I realize that I was in the deep end without floaties.

And it was okay. For the second time (in the same class no less) I realized that I was observing myself and my practice without judgement. Maybe it was the recommended reading. Self Observation by Red Hawk has opened up my heart and mind to myself  mounds of bullshit that  that gets in the way of my growth as person and yogi.

Cool, I thought. This class is going to rock.

And then the bottom fell out.

This is my own fault. The minute I assigned judgement to to my feelings is the moment that I set an expectation. And whatdya know- most expectations that you set for others can’t be met.

Class increased in intensity.. We held plank and transitioned to lifting a leg while raising the opposite hand. Time wobbled and stood still as I searched for balance. Did he say four breaths? Five? One?

There were points during class when I said to myself, ‘It can’t get harder.’ And of course it would. Poses were held longer and longer. Kevin talked about challenging our notion of staying in a pose for what we call the prescribed amount of time and moving past that. What happens to the mind? What thoughts arise? Is it possible to feel yourself changing if you move quietly enough?

The answer isn’t clear to me. Without question though, I felt the emotions rise up the longer I held a pose. I must admit while holding a three minute lunge I had less than peaceful feelings about Kevin. I was reminded of taking a challenging hike during my silent retreat. There were points that I was sure that I couldn’t make it but after a moment rational thinking comes back.

The transition down was a long bumpy landing rather than quick and dirty descent. And by that I mean things worked their way down just as hard as they worked their way up. Arm balances popped up close to the end of class. Patterns and habits can be friends and foes. When we set ideas of what a class looks like both as teachers and students we miss the chance to play and explore. This was exactly Kevin’s plan.

In savasana my body felt the effects of the battle. And it was a battle. For a moment I wondered if I had pushed too hard and had crossed the line of tapas into violence against the self. I don’t think so. The intensity of the class was more of a molting.

I’m changed by the experience. Class was 3 days ago and I’m still thinking about it. That’s a good thing.

Yoga. Yoga. Yoga.

Namaste y’all.

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Stand Here, in This Place – Adventures in Yoga

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I wasn’t able to get out of my own way this week.

Out of sync.

And because I like nothing more than making matters worse, I tried to rush each day along.

Futile and insane. We’ve all done it, tried to rush past the shittiness so we can get back to the good stuff.

The easy stuff.

It didn’t work. I slugged through it both frustrated and sleepy. A brief respite came Friday during a local teacher’s practice. This week’s focus was Yin yoga and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Being with nothing but a pose and pranayama was a great first step back in the direction of balance. After a long hot shower and a glass of pinot I was ever so grateful to climb into my bed at 9:30. I needed my day off.

After a morning visit to Brian the Chiropractor, I raced on my bike to class. Frustrated again because I left the house ten minutes later than I should have so I walked into the studio at 12pm for a 12pm class. Grrr.

And then…a shift. The previous class was running late. I saw bodies under blankets with eye pillows. Yes!

I am not sure if things come up because I need them, if I attract situations that I think about or if I notice things because they are on my mind. Who knows, it could be a combination of all three.

A chance to catch up.

I smiled at my luck. When I went to check in- I was offered a complimentary class because of a mix-up on the snow day.

A do over.

Class started in Virasana, my least favorite pose but I was relaxed and went with the sensation. The warm- up consisted of a wave of movements that slowly churned energy and gently brought quiet heat to my muscles. Kevin, the teacher tenderly urged that we let go of judgment. Instead, we should release the notion of good and bad around actions and feelings. And lastly look at ourselves from a place of observation whether nothing and everything just- is.

My spirit fascia loosened up.

A chance to breathe.

And then, we moved into Tadasana.

His next words put the past week in perspective and were the safe harbor in what turned out to be bear of a f*cking class.

‘Stand here, in this place.”

His words made me rise from my ribs and lift my heart.

‘Stand here, in this place.’

So I did. I stood feeling rooted, shaky and  suddenly without reason, very vulnerable.

But I stood there, in that place.

A mountain. Breathing. Never moving despite storms and clouds and the pounding sun.

‘Stand here, in this place.’

Because if I can stand when it hits the fan I can rise in the sunlight. If I can stand without judgement of myself and others, I am open to infinite possibilities.

So I stood. Without expectation.

I missed opportunities all week to stop and stand in the place that I was, but it was okay because I was doing it now.

I am doing it now. Standing here in this place without judgement but with observation.

Namaste y’all.