fitness · yoga

Catherine discovers the feeling of full support on the yoga mat

Doing things slowly is often harder than doing them quickly. This is true for jazz singing– ballads expose every note, every nuance of melody and rhythm– and also for yoga practice. Ditto for holding poses for longer periods of time: you’ve just got to relax into the process, open up, and commit.

Some people prefer to just go with the flow, favoring vinyasa, power yoga, etc. That’s cool– you do you. I’ve found myself getting into yin yoga, pranayama yoga and restorative yoga again. Many of you know these terms, but here is my take on them, aided by Wikipedia:

  • yin: passive poses done on the mat and held for minutes, focusing on connective tissues; a very contemplative practice.
  • pranayama: practices and poses to focus on the breath; poses are supported and passive and directed by a teacher. Also very meditative in nature.
  • restorative yoga: passive poses, supported by props (basically everything in the yoga studio, including folding chairs), for relaxation, rest, and calm. Very meditative and occasionally nap-inducing (snoring is not an uncommon sound in an evening restorative yoga class).

Before the pandemic, I discovered yin yoga while in Tucson, AZ on a work/play trip. It was absolutely sublime. But, there were poses where I still experienced tension, or held myself up or back, where I couldn’t melt into the pose because my body wouldn’t do the thing we were supposed to do. I felt too impatient or embarrassed or clueless to try to fix it, so I just carried on. During in-person yin classes, my experienced and intuitive teacher Emily would come around and adjust people, adding props to make their poses right for them. Since zoom-time, though, it’s not been quite the same.

Restorative yoga has been much the same story, but with a twist: I blogged last year about how restorative yoga turned into face-plant yoga for me because of pandemic changes in my body and my having to get used to re-arranging myself for rest and calm. The teacher was super-helpful when I asked for help. But I spent a fair bit of time gritting my teeth through some of the poses, not feeling patient or kind or inquisitive enough to explore options that might have made me feel more at ease.

Enter pranayama yoga. The workshops I’ve done have been, hands down, my favorite yoga experiences ever. Why? Because, for whatever reason, there’s been a harmonic convergence of 1) poses that are naturally (for my body) more comfortable; 2) persistent assistance from teachers I trust (yes, you Rahel and you Mary from Artemis!) in providing adjustments or modifications, using everything in the studio but my bike bottle; 3) studio owner Liz’s creation of an environment of complete support and safety for inner exploration.

This spring, during Rahel’s pranayama class, she had us to do chair-assisted forward folds. They were a little like the pictures below:

On the left, we see a person using a chair for support in a forward fold. In real life, lots of people need blankets or block(s) to support their heads. I thought I didn’t need a block, as my head reached the chair seat. But Rahel put a block there anyway, and you know what? It felt lovely, yummy, super-supported. I could have stayed there for an hour (well, probably not, but you get the idea).

On to a pose I’d never seen before. We did a variation of the picture, standing with our butts against the wall, out legs straight out from the wall. We held onto a folded up chair, and were to drape ourselves over it into a forward fold.

Turns out, this pose isn’t easy to do as shown. Rahel took her time and adjusted everyone, including not leaving me until she found the perfect way to support me in this pose. She tucked a block on the chair rim so my head would rest effortlessly. And rest it did. As did I.

If you’re interested in a bunch of ways to do forward fold, check out this site.

Friday night, I went to an in-person Artemis restorative class taught by Shireen, a teacher I didn’t know. Again, we did a series of resting poses, many of which requires a fair number of props to make comfortable and effective. One very common pose that I just can’t do as shown is the spinal twist. I’ve had rotator cuff surgery on one shoulder and a partial tear in the other, so neither will rest on the floor as I twist.

I can’t do this– my opposite shoulder is too tight to rest on the floor (on either side).

Shireen saw me doing what I usually do in this pose– trying to calm my flailing arm– and suggested I just move my arm over my head instead. And it worked. I got some nice stretching in my side body– excellent! I also got to actually sink into the pose and feel the sensations without worry about instability or pain or time. Nice! Thanks, Shireen!

Asking for help when I need it, allowing myself to receive help when it’s offered, and feeling the benefits that help and support bring to my life– these are big and newish experiences. They’re a little daunting because getting help requires allowing ourselves to be seen as in need of something.

Also, help isn’t perfect– people don’t have the mind-reading capabilities or even problem-solving capabilities we wish they did. I know this to be true in life as well.

In 12 days I start my sabbatical. I’ve got plans for writing projects, athletic projects, home and self-care projects. I’ll definitely be wanting some help. So I’ll be asking, responding, taking some advice, experimenting, and (most importantly) taking the time to recognize and experience support when it’s happening.

Readers, have you had an experience in which you needed help or support and got it? What was that like? I’d love to hear from you.

One thought on “Catherine discovers the feeling of full support on the yoga mat

  1. Catherine, this post inspired me to dig out a bunch of pillows and blocks for a few poses yesterday and I spent a delightful and relaxing time on my mat.

    I forget that sinking into a pose, supported or not, has its own benefits, just different ones than in poses that require me to work harder. Thanks for the reminder!

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