31 days of yoga– I’ve just gotten started

A view of Earth from space and the words 31 days of yoga

I’ve been doing yoga off and on for 25 years (mostly off) until January 2016, when I joined the newly opened Artemis yoga studio that’s in Watertown, MA,  a 10-minute walk from my house.  Man, was that a good idea!  Since then I’ve been going off and on (mostly on) with friends or on my own.  And I love love love it.  Below, a partial list:

  • the friendly folks, from owner to desk staff to teachers;
  • the welcoming and dedicated attitude of the place– no judgment, all encouragement, and serious commitment to yoga practice;
  • the gorgeous interiors– the whole place is newly renovated and the studios are light, airy and serene;
  • the other yoga students– again, I’ve detected no attitude, no yoga hierarchy, no fashion competition, just general friendliness;
  • the convenience of it– I can walk there in 10 minutes!  I guess I said that already.  But it’s important to me.

However, even with all these fabulous features, I haven’t been able to get there as often as I would like.  And, I’ve been having some shoulder/neck pain lately that’s been making me unhappy.  So, I thought, maybe I should ramp up my yoga stretching and do more of it more often.

Enter the 30-day yoga challenge idea.

Now, I’m no fan of activity (or any other) challenges.  I’ve blogged about it here.  The thing is, I fear them.  I fear I won’t complete them and then will feel like a failure.  Why do I fear that I won’t complete them?  Because, honestly, I just don’t feel in control of my life and activities all the time.  Yeah, I know–  welcome to the human race, Catherine.  Still, there’s something daunting about the multi-day challenge that gets to me.  I become resentful and want to rebel against it, even though it was entirely my idea.

But I read Laura Dragon’s blog post here about 366 days of yoga and was entranced.  It stuck in my head and I kept thinking, maybe I can do this too.  Maybe I want to do this.  So I started 30 days ago.  And I did it– I did some yoga for 31 days in a row.

Important clarification:  there are loads of 30-day yoga challenges.  I signed up for one of them and was immediately put off when the person on the video sat down in a pose that will always be impossible for me.  On day one.  That does not seem very encouraging.   Looking around, I found the so-called beginner yoga challenge series heavy on the challenge, and light on the beginner parts.  As someone who teaches logic, which many people find daunting, I can say that setting people up with goals they can’t reasonably meet is terrible pedagogy.  Here is an example of a pose the beginners are supposed to do in their challenges:

Boat pose, super-advanced version. The person is sitting with her legs up at 70-degree angle, and arms outstretched. I don't think my yoga teacher can get her legs up that high and hold that pose for long.

Boat pose, super-advanced version. The person is sitting with her legs up at 70-degree angle, and arms outstretched. I don’t think my yoga teacher can get her legs up that high and hold that pose for long.

 

This is just silly.  Boat pose is cool, and there are so many modifications this pose, but the one shown is the hardest.  If it’s really day 13 of yoga for you, this is likely not the your modification.  Spare me the yoga fitspo please.

Instead of trying to follow some prescribed and canned 30-day yoga challenge program, I did a hodge-podge of things.  I went to classes at my local studio.  Sometimes I would do my own routine of poses on my mat at home.  Also, I have some yoga DVDs for morning and evening and stress-relief yoga which I use.  They last 20 minutes, which I can do most of the time, even if I’m tired.

Last week was particularly work-intensive, and a few nights I didn’t think I could even drag myself onto the mat to do 20 minutes.  Enter youtube.  There are 5–10 minute yoga-in-bed videos (of course there are).  I used them a few times.  On/in my bed, I would do some light stretching, cat/cow, child’s pose, some twists, legs up the wall, and be done with it.  I decided that this counted as doing yoga, because in fact I was doing some yoga.

As of today, I’m at 31 days.  I want to keep going.  I’m so happy that I’ve had enough oomph and self-understanding and self-accommodation and good physical feedback (it seems like I’m less creaky overall) to get into this and see how much I

  • often love doing yoga while in the moment,
  • never really mind doing yoga even in a tired moment,
  • love and admire myself for having done yoga.

Keeping my expectations low made this possible.  On a few days, all I wanted to do was legs up the wall.  So I did, and that counted as yoga for the day.  But I found I generally wanted more than that, so I did more most of the time.  But the deal between me and me was “some yoga each day”.  Which I did.  I’m doing it still.

text that says Yoga. Because punching people is frowned upon.

Unless you’re doing a boxing every day challenge, in which case, go for it!

 

 

Life upside down: enjoying yoga inversions

Since I posted a week ago about doing yoga 10 days in a row, I’ve been feeling psyched (and yes, sometimes pressured, but it’s also a form of motivation) about doing some yoga every day.  It’s starting to become a routine before I go to bed.

What I love the most about this routine (in addition to how it helps me feel less creaky) is that I get to choose what yoga I do.  When I take classes, I go through a practice that is systematic, or comprehensive, or otherwise well-grounded in views about what a yoga workout looks like.  But when it’s up to me, I feel like (at this point in my everyday-yoga practice) that I can do exactly what I want.  It’s kind of like choosing my favorite dessert each night.  Yes, we should balance our exercise diets, but for now, my only goal is consistency.  So I’m going for the good stuff.

So what’s the good yoga stuff, according to me?

One word:  Inversions.  

What are inversions?  Here is what Yoga Journal has to say about it:

Considering most of our lives are spent with our heads held high, legs below, reversing this arrangement feels like a refreshing change of pace. Plus, it’s got lots of benefits. For starters, inversions build upper-body strength, balance, and confidence, and they prompt you to see the world from a new perspective (literally!). Moving into postures where your head is lower than your heart also helps to prevent lymphatic fluid from pooling in your legs (a result of our upright lives), while increasing circulation to your brain—a combo that instantly boosts energy. Then, there’s the fact that inversions can be just plain fun. They give us an opportunity to get a little playful with our practice and not take ourselves so seriously.

Some inverted postures are considered advanced, as they require some strength and care to prevent injury to neck, back and shoulders.  So don’t try these on your own before you’ve had some instruction.  That said, here are some of my favorites:

In Laura’s post about 100 days of yoga, she talks about doing legs-up-the-wall when she couldn’t do any other pose.  I do this every day, as it’s one of the most restful and pleasurable positions for me.  Here it is:

A woman lying on the floor, face up, with arms spread out in a T, and legs up and against a wall. Her butt is on a cushion against the wall.

A woman lying on the floor, face up, with arms spread out in a T, and legs up and against a wall. Her butt is on a cushion against the wall.

One of my favorite variants on this pose is the waterfall pose, in which your legs are in the air, and your butt is resting on a yoga block or cushion.  It is incredibly restful and also energizing for your legs.  Here’s what it looks like:

A woman lying on the floor, a yoga block under her sacrum (lower spine, near buttocks), with legs in the air and arms spread apart.

A woman lying on the floor, a yoga block under her sacrum (lower spine, near buttocks), with legs in the air and arms spread apart.

This pose may look like it takes some effort, but it is super relaxing.  You adjust the block (or cushion) so that your legs can hang in the air with no effort at all.  I could stay in this pose for hours (well, sort of).

Most of the rest of the inverted postures are pretty active ones.  I love downward facing dog, which is this one:

Yogi Jessamyn Stanley in downward dog, with legs on a mat, hips in the air, head down, and arms on the mat, in an inverted V.

Yogi Jessamyn Stanley in downward dog, with legs on a mat, hips in the air, head down, and arms on the mat, in an inverted V.

It took a while to figure out how to hang out in this pose without lots of pressure on my wrists and shoulders.  The key is lifting the hips up and back, imagining making length in your vertebra.  This process somehow (at least for me) sends the hips and legs back, and the strength of those muscles (which are meant to carry us and hold us up) takes care of everything.  You just hang out and breathe.

Another inverted pose that makes me very happy is forward fold.  Here’s Jessamyn Stanley again, showing it with soft knees (which is protective of our tender joints).

Screen Shot 2017-10-22 at 1.58.31 PM

Yogi Jessamyn Stanley, in forward fold. She is standing on a mat, bent over forward, knees slightly bent, hands down, with arms hanging down by her sides.

 

There are also a bunch of advanced yoga inversions– headstands, handstands, shoulder stands, the plow and wheel poses– I could go on.  I hope to do some of these sometime.  But not tonight or tomorrow.  Which is okay, because I get to go upside down in whatever ways I want.

It’s not you, it’s me. But what to do about it?

A woman sitting in a yoga pose, with random thoughts going through her head while she's trying to meditate.

This week, in keeping with my new academic year’s resolutions, I headed over to a morning yoga class.  I am not a happy morning mover, but I want to fit in more yoga, which means taking advantage of class times and open spaces in my schedule.

The class was taught by someone who was subbing for one of my favorite yoga teachers.  Again, this was less than perfect for me, but I enjoy taking yoga classes with different people; they challenge me to move and focus in different ways, learning more about my body.

Wow, this class so didn’t work out for me at all!  One of the new-to-me moves (a leg lift from a sitting position, holding my other bent leg close to me) felt really awkward and borderline painful.  I know, if some movement doesn’t feel right in a yoga class, we are all encouraged not to do it, or to ask for help with a modification.  I guess my vanity interfered with my asking for help.  That’s on me.

My attitude, performance and focus all went downhill from there.  Even downward facing dog– one of my favorite poses– felt odd.  The directions I was getting were unfamiliar (this person has an approach which is different from my other teachers).  And I got in my head about it and couldn’t shake it off.

At that point I was sweating and uncomfortable and grumpy, which is not how I like to feel ever, but certainly not in yoga class.  Yoga practice helps me feel great about my body– I get to see the ways it can move and lift and sink and stretch.  It helps me see which parts are more tender or vulnerable or neglected, and shows me how to care for them, too.

But not on this day, in this class.  It felt as if there was this style of yoga that was not for me at all.  I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

We’ve all had exercise classes or athletic outings that went awry.  I once took a rock climbing class that I had thought was for complete beginners, but man oh man was it NOT for beginners.  I made it through the class intact and have never returned to rock climbing.  When I was eight years old, my mother enrolled me in a beginning ballet class, but at mid-year (which was a mistake).  And– horror of horrors– she bought me black ballet slippers instead of pink ones, so I felt completely out of place.  I did not last very long there, either.  In this yoga class case, the obvious solution is not to take classes with this particular teacher, and I should be all set.

Although… I now think it’s kind of interesting that I had such a strong reaction to this yoga class.  The teacher was not a bad instructor at all, and some of the poses we tried were done in intriguing ways (e.g. tree pose– balancing on one leg–  using a block and the wall instead of on the mat with no support).  Maybe this teacher’s approach is offering me a chance to learn something new about myself, to explore different parts of my body or think about them in novel ways.  It’s a thought.  I may return next week and see how it goes.  Or talk with her about my reaction to the class to ask for her help in navigating the experience.

So readers, what do you think?  What have you done if you had a horrendous activity class experience?  Did you get out of there as fast as possible?  Did you return and still hate it?  Did it transform or inform or reform(ulate) you in any ways?  I’d welcome any comments you have.  And thanks!

Pencil drawings of two yoga poses: cow, and mother f***in' unicorn (a joke).

Family Yoga (Guest Post)

IMG_0787I’ve posted on this blog about discovering cycling after 60, taking up CrossFit, and the pleasure of knowing that I can still run – an activity that was my main exercise in my 50s. As you can probably tell I like to experiment with different types of movement.

Although I have done yoga from time to time throughout my life, it has always been for very brief periods and as something thrown in among other activities when it was convenient, which was hardly ever. In short, I have not been a practitioner of yoga. Still when my daughter, Sascha, finished her yoga teacher training and started teaching classes I wanted to support her and so I have added yoga into my weekly activities – just one class a week at first but now I’m planning to add more.

Why? Well, for one thing there are obvious physical benefits. The first couple of classes that I took were classes that she was teaching in the park in the early evening. I had done a vicious CrossFit workout in the morning of the first class and was dreading the soreness that usually follows such sessions. Although I was tired by late afternoon I managed to drag myself to the park for class motivated primarily by maternal affection. The hour provided a number of challenges – balances and stretches that felt fairly intense and not always comfortable – but at the end of class I felt fantastic, relaxed, and energized. I had forgotten that’s what yoga will do for you. But most surprising was that the next day I had almost no muscle soreness from the CrossFit. That was pretty amazing and it was the main reason I went back the following week.

Bird Park 4Another benefit was the class location. San Diego is a beautiful city and little Bird Park — a corner of Balboa Park — provides glimpses of downtown from an island of serenity. It is a lovely spot to be at the end of the day.

But the real treat for me has been the experience of learning from my daughter. This has been one of the unexpected pleasures of parenthood. We play the role of guide and teacher to our children for so long, it is truly lovely to reverse roles and surrender to being the student. I did not anticipate this part of my relationship with my children – perhaps because it is so hard to project beyond those busy days when they are babies, toddlers, and teenagers to a time when they will be adult selves with so much to offer. This new phase of our relationship feels like a gift.

She is a good teacher and I am getting better. And when you can see you are getting better at something it is encouraging and you want to do more. I anticipate that yoga will now be a regular part of fitness regimen. I doubt that I will be doing this anytime soon, but that’s all right. I am just happy to be able to continue to learn in so many different ways.

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Namaste!

Sharon Crasnow is a retired philosophy professor who writes on feminist philosophy of science and lives in San Diego.

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You can follow Sascha on Instagram at @phdyogi Her webpage is https://www.phdyogi.com/

Guest Post: Everyday Shakti (“Power”)

by Treena Orchard

My yoga journey began in January, as a way to deal with heartache- new year, old sorrows. I needed to move, not just out of my apartment but out of my head and the disappointment that had taken root there. There are only so many times I could cry or limp through my days feeling angry and hurt, only so many times I could listen to that broken heart soundtrack featuring Tina Turner (Typical Male, You Better Be Good to Me- wishful thinking, clearly), Alicia Keyes (Fallin), Lauren Hill (X-factor), and that 1990s favourite by Mazzy Star -Fade into You.

I wanted to do something else, but hadn’t done yoga for years. Is this what I want to do? Where? When? Do I still have yoga clothes? These are the questions I asked myself while scrolling through the studio options, weighing the pros and cons of each one: ‘Only does hot- nope, never done that, not ready for that’; ‘Too far away, I’ll never go’; ‘Too trendy, not up for seeing all matter of fit young things sweating up a pretty storm.’ Then I came upon my goldilocks place: ‘It does hot and normal yoga, is only a block away, and it looks cool.’

I chose a non-hot Yang/Yin class because it seemed the most basic place to start and with trepidation and excitement I strode through the red door of The Yoga Collective, ready to begin. As the Tuesdays and Thursdays, and then Sundays too, began adding up so did my strength and desire to do more. It was like rekindling an old relationship with myself through my body, welcoming back the knowledge stored in the muscle’s memory. To remember is to become aware of something again and like our guru Robin often says at the end of class, when we’re all zenned out and just about to utter ‘Namaste” in unison, it’s like coming home.

Does all this goodness mean that I was totally on board with the 30-day challenge when talk of it first began to circulate through the studio? Hell no—NO. No, I can’t do that. That’s what my Vancouver friends did, super fit people who were into super cool things- namely yoga, brunch, and being from Vancouver. Could I do a yoga challenge too? Do I want to? I thought about it a lot and talked with my fellow women yogis, who seemed to be in the same see-saw place as me, wanting to do it but not quite sure about making the commitment. Making a commitment is making a promise and being dedicated to something, serious business.

Despite the positive traction that has been made to reframe how we talk about failure as well as success, I’d be lying if I said the prospect of failing didn’t matter. The image of a circus appeared in my mind, not an innovative, fashion-forward Cirque de Soleil thing but a more carny, less health and safety variety. I am high atop the crowd in a shiny, non-cotton leotard with those dreadful ‘spice’ coloured tights, traipsing inch by nervous inch across the tightrope towards a piece of wood nailed to a pole or some such fictional symbol of a successfully completed 30-day yoga challenge.

Clearly, I really wasn’t sure I could do it. I did not want to fail and my primary concern was related to the physical nature of the challenge. Could I really do yoga every day? I’d only been going three times a week…The tipping point came when Robin said that he decided to hold the challenge when he thought we could do it. Enough said. Fuck it, I might not finish it perfectly but I’m going to do it. I was excited and proud of myself for making the decision.

But, I still felt nervous, especially as Day 1 crept up. These feelings continued into the first week of the challenge, when I was rather obsessive about “doing yoga” and “making time for yoga.” Happily, those feelings began to melt away as the incorporation of yoga into the rhythms of my daily life became ever more seamless. Time itself began to bend to the clock of yoga, which became the measure by which I paced, organized, and rearranged all other things. Tick-tock went the mornings and nights of practice.

As the days passed I felt stronger physically and mentally and those 30 days were an exceptionally creative time too, not just for ‘work work’ but also my own writing, reading, and thinking. The 6 am classes were my favourite. As I walked quietly through my apartment, packing my water bottle and looking at myself in the mirror before heading out into early summer’s dawn, I often thought of Sylvia Plath. During the last months she worked in the very early hours, the only time she could steal away for herself and her beautiful, caustic reflections on a life that was fast slipping away.

Women have always done this, always found ways to make room for themselves and their ideas, the things that matter. They have done this despite and because of others, whether it be the children they love, those who hurt them, or the world that remains caught up in repetitive cycles of patriarchal madness. We must make time and take space for ourselves because no one else will give it to us and because it is essential for our minds, souls, and bodies. Whether it’s a ‘room of our own’ or a yoga mat, amidst lemongrass diffuser mist and beside women and men who have become our friends, we all need that place where we can dwell inside the universe.

Treena is an anthropologist working in the School of Health Studies at Western University in London, Ontario. She lives with her adorable cats Shiva and Mr. Marbles, her art and books, and gets back home to Saskatoon as often as she can.

 

 

 

Guest Post: A Compatible Movement Practice (part 2 of 3)

Really, yoga is literally right next door to my home: zero commute time, zero extra carbon emissions, frequent classes with highly-regarded teachers… Plus, the people coming in and out just exude a kind of peaceful stretchy wisdom I should want to want for myself. The yoga people are actually very nice, not all of those people are cis-straight women with lululemon bodies. So I suppressed my trepidation.

Over several introductory sessions, I was relieved that nobody seemed exasperated with me for being unshaven, restless, too tightly-wound to touch my toes, and allergic to anything form-fitting. I did feel physically worked-out after each class, and the teacher seemed to be full of insight. My partner had long since gotten with the program. She does yoga regularly and even looks forward to it. It’s so clearly good for her. We could be a happy yoga household, right?

Yet I remained lukewarm at the prospect of going back, setting up the colorful mat that would define my bubble for the hour, and imitating pose after pose. If that first series of yoga classes felt like a sustained insult to my mildly butch self-image, surely I should embrace this as the spiritual challenge of working through the yuckily gendered semiotics of my embodiment. (“My ego feels like it’s in downward dog the whole time. Is that a good thing?,” I asked my friends.) Who was I to reject stamina and coordination and enlightenment? Something about the bodily discipline of yoga felt vaguely stifling, as though I might be able to visit, but could not make a home for myself there.

My yoga-loving partner listened patiently to my ambivalence. She did not crave the things I had treasured in past practices — things like laser-focused intensity, swinging hard at things, having to react quickly to shifting stimuli, being occasionally upside-down and underwater with my legs wedged into a boat. But she listened. I began to own my yearning for adrenaline and kinetic challenge. I yearned for these things, during yoga, the same way my kid craves coffee ice cream instead of the rest of the rice and veggies on her plate.

But here’s the hard thing about self-knowledge: Knowing that I crave something is not the same as knowing whether it’s good for me. And I felt as though the whole world had begun quietly chanting at me that it was time for my middle-aged self to learn to Eat Those Veggies. (My partner, meanwhile, loves all vegetables openly, and doesn’t understand how eating them could seem like a chore.)

Luckily, my therapist dismissed my yoga-vegetable-guilt-complex and forged ahead with brainstorming further ideas for a workable fitness regime. As I parried each suggestion with logistical objections or a picky aversions, I braced for a lecture about rationalization, laziness, and self-sabotage. Instead, she urged me firmly to focus again on aikido. She had seen the way my eyes lit up about aikido when I narrated my long history. “Scour the internet!,” she said. “Get leads from every dojo in driving distance, email friends of friends of friends to get recommendations for freelance instructors. Put out an SOS on craigslist, if that’s what it takes!”

Aikido and I had been seriously together for only a year, back when I was about 30. A relationship can only develop so far in one year, but I was a single and child-free itinerant academic when we met, so I had been able to immerse myself in dojo life, learning from an elegantly-bearded and compact Burmese sensei who radiated gentleness and precision. When I left that city because of a job, I found myself in a place remote from any aikido community. At the time I didn’t grieve much, since various projects kept me busy. But whenever I talked about it, there was a telltale sigh of loss.

So of course I rolled my eyes at this therapist and told her I had already done plenty of looking, and I was rusty at aikido by now anyway, so this yearning was pointlessly nostalgic. Surely I just needed to grieve like a mature person for not having an aikido connection anymore and find a way to hang in there and fall in love with… yoga?

But I promised I would put in a good faith effort at finding an aikido connection again. And on that Monday afternoon, my online search turned up an actual dojo within a workable half-hour drive, with all the right signs of hosting an active and friendly community. (I swear, it was hiding from google last time I looked!)  I dashed home, rummaged through storage for my old wrinkled gi, and drove there just in time for the 6pm “basics” class listed online.

See Part 1 here and Part 3 here

A question for our community: Which animal would you most like to do yoga with?

As you know, this blog, if not all the bloggers, has been a big supporter of goat yoga. We’ve written about it often.

Today when I posted about cat yoga on our Facebook page, Tracy said she thinks that it makes more sense than goat yoga. She shared the story and added, “Much better idea than the perplexingly popular yoga with goats.” Tracy’s not a goat yoga fan. To each their own. But that got me thinking.

What animal would you most like to do yoga with?  This is different of course than that animal doing yoga!  (See Animals doing yoga better than me.and Penguin Yoga.) Bonus points if you can share why. What about yoga with that particular animal attracts you?

I love what my searches for unicorn yoga turned up!