It’s all been helping a bit and I can definitely feel the progress but it has been slow, slow, slow.
And it doesn’t help that my brain keeps telling me that the slow progress is because I am not working hard enough at my stretches. That may or may not be true (it’s hard to tell) but my brain doesn’t have to be a jerk about it.
In my first post about this, I mentioned getting on my own nerves by having to learn the same lesson over and over again and I am finding myself at that same annoying spot of relearning something I already know.
So, I have been been pretty consistent with my stretches and with rolling the ball under my foot. I was trusting in the process even as I was watching the clock. (Gold star for me – )
But in my frustration with my slow progress, I forgot that there are many different exercises that will accomplish the same thing. So, since my progress was slow, it might be time to think about the problem in a different way.*
Since the ball rolling didn’t seem to be loosening my feet very much and I couldn’t stand to press any harder, maybe I needed to stretch my feet just as much as I needed to stretch my calves.
So, I did a quick search and found this marvelous video from Yoga with Cassandra. Not only are the stretches good but the video is short – a definite bonus in my books.
I’ve done the stretches in this video every day for a week now and the difference in my heels is astounding.
I think that the ball rolling was even less effective (for me) than I had realized and these stretches mean that I am finally addressing the whole issue instead of just a part of it.
I am finally seeing measurable progress and I am so relieved.
PS – I’m really tempted to make a list of ‘Lessons I’ve Already Learned’ so I can give them a quick read every so often to see if any of them apply to any current circumstances.
*It’s funny that divergent thinking is one of the creative strengths of the ADHD brain…but I forgot to use that tool for this issue!
I love doing yoga outside at any time but especially at night in the summer. I bring out some soft lights, set up my mat on the patio, and pop in one earphone so I can follow along with a Youtube practice. *
So, right now you are probably thinking ‘Christine, that sounds great but it’s not summer any more.’
And that’s true, it’s definitely fall and I usually stop doing nighttime yoga by now. Luckily, though, I had an errand to run and I realized that it was pretty warm night for September so patio yoga was totally feasible.
And it was great.
Sure, there was a chill in the air but it kind of nice actually.
And the company was pretty swell, too.
Now that I have turned evening patio yoga into a fall activity, and since I am the owner of very many sweaters and several pairs of non-slip socks, I’m wondering just how far into the season I can get away with practicing outdoors.
Further bulletins as events warrant.
*I don’t usually watch the practice, the bright screen would kind of ruin the mood but I do listen so I can stop my mind from galloping off into thoughts of what pose to do next.
First, context. I am not a Yoga teacher or even a regular daily practitioner. I have not done any special training or read a lot of source text. I’m just a woman, living in Canada who likes Yoga. I ascribe it no magical powers. I don’t think it will cure something that actually needs antibiotics or chemotherapy. Neither do I treat it as a way to attain some perfect form of the body. It is not an aesthetic. It’s a movement, breath and meditation practice in some combination, as far as I can tell, and I’m pretty sure most of the lovely women who have been my teachers over these last years have not taught me anything particularly “authentic” as far as Yoga is concerned. I accept this, and I still like it a lot. I like it more and more as time goes on and I take the time to deepen into what it does for my body. I like the subtle shifts and the non-obtrusive miracles of movement that I only notice year over year.
In order to write this post, I did do some research around the origins of the meaning and practice of Yoga. It’s hard to know what to trust without approaching it in a more scholarly way. I know it has to do with a Union of parts of our being and that this is attained through different practices, postures, breathing, meditation and other kinds of disciplined behaviour. I arrived first in the postures, stayed for the breath and then eventually started to explore more than that. It’s an ongoing process in my life that depends on where I am and who is teaching me.
Like many of my fellow bloggers, Adriene is a favourite teacher. She is simultaneously, kind, inviting, irreverent and full of spirit. She takes it easy and then blasts you with challenge. She sneaks in breath work and meditation in ways that suddenly open an awareness, just when you least expect. I really discovered the benefits of her ways after a brutal break up, when I realized all her blabbing about love was so necessary for me in that moment. I wanted her to keep me company while I contemplated my existence and breathed into a Warrior series. I know that in the pandemic, many have found solace in her quirky short practices.
I have also tried to be community minded and signed up for a local studio’s live stream offerings. I have really enjoyed these. I like that they are a full hour, which allows for a fuller practice in many ways. I discovered that I am really digging something they call Yin practice. I have no clue if that is a real Yoga thing but it involves holding a pose for 3-5 minutes and really exploring what it is and what my body does with it. It’s an intensity with subtlety that totally appeals to my interests and I am very sure it has stabilized my mood in some tough times. It’s the closest I have come to grasping a Unity of mind and body as my mind is forced to focus on where my body is in space. It feels like I can finally anchor my brain in my head. I even don’t mind that one of the teachers talks a lot about chakra channels and then mixes in some Chinese medicine stuff for good measure. She is Eastern European originally so it’s quite the mashup. I’m just breathing and embodied and trying not to fuss myself about the mixed metaphors of her headlong flight from Cartesian splits. I get it. I don’t want to be bifurcated any more either. I just want to be one damn thing. It’s less to keep track of.
But to my point here. . .today I signed up for a Hatha class. It’s supposed to be just poses in a series. It’s not meant to be too hard but also it isn’t the slow pace of the Yin. I had never worked with this instructor before. In all my other explorations of Yoga, there has been some kind of guidance if the class is led by a person. They speak the physical cues and the breathing cues. They pause and yammer a little, sometimes too much, but they are in charge of the rhythm of the thing, like a conductor with an orchestra. “Take a breath in *while you do this movement* breathe out *while you do this one* pause here for 3 breaths, hold for one more then *do this other thing*” This person did none of that. She called out a pose, then another, then another. She gave a few positioning cues but no breath cues at all. She spent to time preparing us, she spent no time with intentions or invitations or mindful cues. She just kept calling out poses “Next we do *this pose* now move into *that pose*”.
It slowly dawned on me that this was a horrible experience.
I have practiced without leadership before and it’s lovely but this wasn’t me practicing alone, following the flow of my energy and breath. This was just poses, stripped of breath and mind, empty of all meaning, merely movement. It was not any Yoga that I want to do. I left the session, found a short Adriene video and finished my practice with my online friend, relieved to hear her cuing and coaching me to pay attention, creating a rhythm, conducting something that was clearly more than asanas strung together one after another.
I know that we have appropriated Yoga and there are corners of the Yoga industry that make me feel gross, particularly the ones that focus on the “look” of Yoga. Yet this experience taught me that fully stripping it of its breath, meditative and spiritual aspects is a worse affront. It felt dead, dangerously adrift from its moorings. We owe it more than that.
A few months ago, I wrote a post called “what’s your drishti?“, using the yoga concept of focusing on one point while in a balancing posture as a way of grounding ourselves in a time of chaos. Since then, I’ve also been kind of quietly obsessed with a particular asana: bakasana, also known as “crow.”
This is bakasana, beautifully held, on Day 18 of Yoga with Adriene’s 30 day “Breath” series.
She makes it look so effortless.
But for a lot of people, crow is one of “those poses” that can generate a lot of internal self-talk of the “why can’t I do this thing that everyone else can do, what is wrong with me” variety. Where we lose track of the fact that all bodies are different, and that is a good thing.
After we did crow in the Breath series this week, someone posted about in our “221 workouts in 2021” group how crow “had seemed so absurdly hard (and honestly a bit scary to me) that I would resent when it was a part of beginner or “all levels” yoga classes.“
I was the same, for literally decades. I’ve been doing yoga since about 1995, in many different modalities. Some years, I practice intermittently, some years, every day, but it’s been a pretty steady part of my life. And for 24 years, every time we got to the crow part of a class, I’d just do some squatting and hop a bit, fruitlessly, on my arms. I thought it was one of those things I “couldn’t do” — and I had a fair bit of negative self regard about that.
But up until about three years ago, I’d thought the same thing about handstand — that it was one of those things that Younger People or More Athletic People or Prettier People (WTF? I KNOW!) did. But there was a moment in a class where the teacher encouraged us to play, and I swallowed my considerable fear and kicked upside down against a wall. And, voila.
Remembering that, I started working harder to really focus on what was actually needed for crow. It became a lockdown project for me, with my mat always unfurled in my living room. I started working on malasana (low squat), doing a lot of springy hand balances. Kept actually trying, feeling my way through the posture, rather than sort of trying to hop onto my elbows and failing. I came at it from the yoga perspective, and in my virtual superhero workouts as a natural companion to a million pushups and pike pushups and handstand pushups. And then suddenly, sometime in the middle of 2020, for a moment or two, I was up and holding, wobble but strong.
I was hooked. I was defying gravity, and I felt stronger than I ever had. At first it was still super sketchy and unpredictable. I set the timer on my camera and took a photo for a yoga teacher friend, and she gave me excellent advice: look ahead, not down, and pull your core up toward the ceiling, almost like an upside down hollow hold.
I’ve set myself a little challenge of doing crow at least once a day during January. Two weeks ago, in a live streamed class with one of my favourite teachers, I successfully held bakasana, transitioned into a headstand, held that and then back to bakasana.
I felt like I’d lifted a car off a baby.
I didn’t know I had that in me.
Now that I’ve found my centre of balance, it’s a really powerful pose for me. Some of it is obvious — look what I didn’t know I could do! (Much like my revelation when I made my mother’s tourtière recipe for the first time this Christmas that I know how to make good pie crust).
But it’s not just about untapped strength. Bakasana — like every yoga pose — is different every time. I have to pause and take a deep breath before I start, because it’s beginner’s mind every time, requires deep attention and presence. I still don’t “know” any time I’m on the mat if I’ll be able to achieve it — it’s a very “this moment is only this moment” practice. Which is humbling, in a good way. It distills me to be really clear about intention.
Being able to do bakasana now doesn’t mean I’ve hit “a new level” in yoga — it means that sometimes, now, I can do bakasana. It makes me more aware of the “simpler” practices that I still struggle with, like feeling suffocated in “easy” twists. It puts me deep in the space of “what am I doing, right here, right now? What am I capable of? And what do I need to listen to?
And that, as they say, is the lesson that I want to take off the mat.
If you want to play with bakasana, Alida in our 221 workout group found this terrific video, showing progressions and how you can use the wall for support.
But bakasana is also a metaphor for those things that remind us that we can do more than we thought. And that things that seemed far away can be nearer than they looked.
What’s your version of bakasana, right now? What new things are you working on? How is that going for you?
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is really trying to figure out how to breathe deeply and twist at the same time.
I am doing the 30-day yoga thing. Me and nearly everyone on the blog and half my clients and half my world. Cate did a round-up of reasons why a few weeks ago. Today I want to explore some of what has come up for me during this commitment to movement nearly every day. I’m especially interested in some of the surprises it has held for me, the things I didn’t expect, the kind of stuff that yoga promises but takes one by surprise nonetheless.
This is the second year I have engaged in this project. Last year, I was in the throes of break-up grief and held onto it like the lifeline it was. It reminded me I was human and loveable. I suppose for some folks that is pretty profound but I feel fortunate in my personality constellation, that it doesn’t take too much to remind me of that fact, even when I’m being painfully let down by a human that loved me. So last year, the experience was visceral but kind of literal. Show up, move in the ways that feel good, breathe like you love yourself. Done.
This year, I was excited to engage in the project again, knowing what to expect a little more. I also had a better capacity and commitment to do it nearly every day. I think I finished the 30 days sometime in the middle of February last year. This year, I have been able to double up some days to make up for the days I miss or do something else. I’m still appreciating all the stuff I appreciated last year. I like how short they are. They are sometimes very technical but it’s only one thing, not a whole class of difficult stuff. I like the way she invites me into mindfulness and I love how gentle and forgiving her language is. Yet, in spite of this spaciousness, I have tripped over myself in a surprising way.
I have been pretty diligent in looking to get better at yoga. I’m paying attention to the next level of awareness of my body and where it is placed in space. I am trying to challenge the parts of me that have been traditionally stuck (in the physical or metaphorical sense). I’ve been digging deep where invited and hanging on a little longer. When I lower from plank, I do it s l o w l y. When I rise up before a twist, I really visualize and try to actualize growing taller, making space in the vertebrae before moving a little farther around. When I fold, I’m looking for ways to fold more fully.
The truth is, it’s working. I am getting better at it. I am stronger in my arms and shoulders. I am more flexible in my hips. My feet are definitely stronger. When I sit up, head over heart, heart over pelvis, I know where I am in my body and I’m carrying that sense all over the place. AND YET. . .
I have discovered a really sad little part of me that isn’t happy with all this objective progress and accomplishment. I have noticed that she thinks we should be stronger than this already and that the progress isn’t as much as it should be. She is craving some kind of transformation into an idea of graceful yogi that she simultaneously does not believe is possible. She is rejecting what is and longing for what could be, or what should have been if we’d been doing this diligently all along.
In examining this part, I realize a few things. I am struck by how similar this expression is to the expression of a longing to be “thin”. That “if only-I should already-I could have-why didn’t I-what’s wrong with me” thing that I see a lot of in my work but has never felt this kind of “alive” in me before now. That makes me wonder where it is from and how much of it is really mine. It also makes me wonder if this little part’s fixation on her lack of willowy strength and flexibility is masking a whole lot of her experience of willowy strength and flexibility. So much of the “I don’t look right” felt sense of the body manages to ignore the clear and present beauty that exists. Even when we try to move away from any idea of “beauty” and shift it to strength, flexibility, balance, function and presence, there is still a risk of sliding into the not-good-enough space that is lurking always for almost all of us.
I’m having a memory of me at 12 walking along a street with storefront windows. I am catching my reflection and fixating on how my knees seem to stay bent in a weird way throughout my stride. It makes me seem like I’m tromping along in a galumphy way and I hate it. I long to be lengthy and graceful, not the angular, flailing and awkward human in the reflection of the windows. I imagine that if I could be that person, that I will find the acceptance and friendship that I think I don’t have. I imagine I will be popular and loved and happy. I feel I am none of these things.
This memory has come stumbling in, so very unexpectedly, yet entirely predictably given the practice I’m in. Every day, I’m sitting and noticing. Every day, I am tuning into my body and wondering what’s up, what’s there. I guess it’s a 12 year-old, a super sad and alone 12 year old that doesn’t imagine anyone but her parents will ever love her. She is someone detached from the growth, progression and accomplishments of the rest of me. She got left behind somehow and she is so vulnerable.
It turns out my task this year in the 30 days of yoga is to discover and tend to that aspect. This has not a thing to do with whether I will ever have the strength and form to do a good chaturanga to up-dog. I mean, I might if I keep it up but that’s not really the point. Oh, Yoga, WTF? Why you gotta be so. . . .real?
Breathe in. Breathe out. Lots more to learn still.
I’m a creative life coach so I spend a lot of time encouraging people to write and create on a regular basis so when they NEED to write or create, their skills are right there waiting for them.
And I spend a lot of time reminding people that they can ‘cross-pollinate’ – use skills from one area of their life to serve them in another. My most used example is about how learning Taekwondo made me a better writer.
Yet, somehow, it has escaped me until now that having a regular yoga practice would yoga more available to me when I needed it. And, it never occurred to me to bring my ‘keep up a writing habit’ approach over into exercise.
I’m not referring to the fact that the more often I do yoga, the “better” I get.
I mean that the more often I do yoga, the more likely I am to be able to call on it when I need it. AND the more likely I am to *think* of doing it.
Not just because it has become a habit, but because I have it in my mental toolkit. It now occurs to me to try yoga when I feel a certain way, and it occurs to me to pay more attention to how I am breathing.
So, even after only 17 days, I feel especially good about where yoga has taken me. Not just because my body feels good but because my brain likes this practice.
Even on my busiest day so far this month, the first time that I couldn’t fit yoga in the first little while after I woke up, my brain kept bumping it up to the top of my list.
And, I swear, this practice is helping my September slow down a bit.
The regulars in my Facebook yoga group have been doing marvellously all throughout the month, and I am really happy with the habit I am building.
I am so glad I decided to add yoga to my September. My days have actually felt LESS busy because I am starting off by doing something kind for myself.
I suspect that feeling stems from two things:
I like having a specific thing to do first thing in the morning, it gives my day immediate structure.
I have been maintaining that structure in two ways:
My mat has been a fixture in my living room since September 1 (a fact that Khalee fully approves of) so I have a visual reminder.
And, I ended up setting up a Facebook check-in group and we decided that I would put up a post every day to remind people to check-in.
My mat helps me to remember my plan and the need to do the check-in post helps me to stick to the plan. It’s the perfect combination!
I have, of course, selected a little weirdness for my check-in posts, an index card drawing of a monster with the day number next to them. So, I have the added bonus of doing something a little creative first thing, too.
But because it is a side-effect of the group post, it’s not ‘make art first thing,’ it’s ‘make a quick drawing for the post’ and it feels like a smaller task.
I can focus my yoga to address something I need in that moment – relaxed shoulders, some relaxation, some ease in my hips.
One day, I knew I had a lot of driving ahead of me so I did some hip work to prepare myself for the day ahead.
That just feels really great – addressing a concern right away. And I don’t have to carry that issue all through the day until I can get around to it.
Instead, I get to have a feeling of physical ease throughout the day. And there is no arguing with the benefit of that!
Shout-out to the September is for Yoga Group
As I mentioned above, I created a Facebook group to keep myself and Team Yoga on track for this month and we’re having a great time.
Lots of people have mentioned how the accountability is helping them remember to make a little time for themselves in the day. AND, we are all finding that even the tiniest bit of yoga is helping us to feel better already.
I know that I am feeling more relaxed over all and my hips feel mobile instead of tense.
That’s pretty much as close to an instant result as anyone could hope for.
The upheaval of September always makes it hard to take good care of myself.
This year it’s going to be especially tricky.
Not only am I getting back into my usual routine but I have one son starting high school and another starting university (so many new things to figure out!) I am in charge of an annual arts festival, I have a couple of writing contracts and I am preparing to teach an online course.
All of those things are marvellous but I know there is a great risk of me losing myself in the shuffle. So, I have been brainstorming ways to ensure that I can find time for my own well-being in the middle of the muddle.
Luckily, my dear friend Tracy came to the rescue this week – and she did it by accident!
In her good-bye post this week, amidst her lovely comments about me (<3 Tracy) she noted that I love a short-term challenge and that set me on the right path for a September plan!
It’s true, I do love a short term challenge – a set of activities and plans already in place for a week, ten days, a month, gives me a real feeling of contentment. Whether it is a fitness challenge, a writing challenge, or an art challenge, (hell, I have even done a house-organizing challenge) I find a real sense of purpose and satisfaction.
I don’t complete every single short-term challenge that I take on but I ALWAYS make progress (on my own terms) and that feels great.
I think that my enjoyment stems from the fact that the nature of a short-term challenge is really satisfying for my ADHD brain because:
I can see the end right from the starting line so it doesn’t bring up that feeling of ‘Ugh, I have to do this forever and I don’t even want to start.’
For a WHOLE MONTH, I am free from the agony of prioritizing in that one area of my life. Having my priorities clear in one area frees up some energy for prioritizing in others.
I have a pre-generated plan so I don’t have to make a daily decision about what activities to do to match the priorities in that area.
If I’m following someone else’s challenge, I usually have company (at least online) and some accountability.
So, oddly enough, with the impending chaos of September, I feel really happy and excited about adding one more thing to the maelstrom.
I’m going to challenge myself to do yoga every single day in September.
My plan is to do yoga for at least 7 minutes* every day as early as I possibly can** in my morning routine
I think this will make a good September challenge because I like getting up early, I like having a specific thing to do right away in the morning (a victory before my day really starts!) and I really love yoga and how yoga makes me feel.
And, I am going to use this challenge to help me work on a challenge I face due to my ADHD.
One of executive function issues is with task initiation. I have trouble getting started, no matter how much I *want* to do the thing I have planned.
Since I love yoga and I love a short-term challenge, I really WANT to do them so it removes some of the issues with task initiation. I’m going to experiment with a variety of factors and see what approach makes it easiest for me to do what I am setting out to do here.
For example: Will setting my yoga mat out in the morning make it easier for me to get started? If I use music during my practice, will starting the music cue me to be in the right mental space for yoga? Do I need to set a reminder on my phone or put a visual reminder downstairs?
I haven’t decided on the parameters of the task initiation experiment aspect of this but I have a whole week to figure that out!
Would you like to join me and challenge yourself to some yoga in September? You don’t have to decide to take it on for a whole month, you can join me for part of it. And your parameters don’t have to be exactly the same as mine. Let me know in the comments and we can figure out how to check in with one another.
Please wish me perseverance and watch for my follow-up posts in September!
It’s a little bit late for a happy new year post but: Happy New Year. I am not one for resolutions, but I do absolutely love the exhilarating feeling of a fresh page. And that’s what the first week of a new year always feels like to me.
Even more than the first week after a birthday, there is a special sense of hope and optimism that I only experience once a year at the very beginning. So I’m kind of in that state of receptivity at the moment, excited to discover what the year may bring.
I ushered in the new year on a peaceful note, on my mat in a dimly lit yin yoga class that started at 11 p.m. and ended shortly after midnight when the thunderous sounds of “happy new year” fire works filtered into the silence of the studio to mark the end of class, the end of 2018, and the beginning of our new blank page. My good friend, Tara, was on the mat beside me, and we tilted our gazes towards each other and mouthed the words “happy new year.” Other friends–Jan, Jenn, and Kyle–had chosen a similarly quiet transition into 2019. It felt perfect.
By the time Tara, Jan and I ventured out into the night, the rain, which had been coming down with fury when we got to the studio just after ten, had stalled to a very light drizzle. It was an unseasonably mild evening and we walked back to Tara’s feeling light and happy, passing a few revelers on the way.
The next morning I lay in my bed deliberating whether to turn back over and go to sleep again, or to get out the door for a training run. Thinking on my fresh page, I reasoned that it would be better to start it with follow-through than with skipping. I’m a big believer in establishing good habits, and even though technically there is nothing dramatically different about January 1st, symbolically it sets a tone.
I reviewed my scheduled workout from the plan Linda sent me (I’m working with her again for my Around the Bay 30K training), checked the weather (a temperate 1 degree C), and got myself organized for an 8K run with hill repeats.
About ten steps into my run I knew for absolute certain that I’d made the right choice. I felt light, strong, and relaxed. I told myself I could shorten the distance if I wanted, but the 8K rolled out with ease. Even the hill repeats, which are never simple and which I’ve not done in ages, felt good. With just over a kilometre to go, my friend Pete, whom I’ve never run with, caught up to me at the tail end of his run. We ran alongside each other for about a kilometre and caught up about our respective new year’s eves. It felt like a nice bonus to have some unexpected, easy companionship for that last bit.
It was, all in all, the perfect start to my new year. I’m doing the 219 workouts in 2019 thing this year, focusing on running, yoga, and weight training. So far, I ran on the 1st, went to yoga on the 2nd, and have a weight training session later today. I’m feeling good about Around the Bay.
Life is not all workouts, of course. But if the workouts are any indication of how 2019 is going to feel, then “bring it on,” I say, because so far I’ve felt strong, relaxed, energized, and self-nurturing.
May 2019 be a year of amazing discovery and adventure for all of us!
How are you feeling about the fresh page that has presented itself this week?