Sunday, October 08, 2006


So, I'm not in most ways a person who embodies anything else one might think of in connection with the practice of yoga. I do not wear Patchouli, I do not look for the energy in a crystal, I don't have a Buddha in my home or practice anything associated with feng shui. In fact, my house looks more like Country Home Meets Pottery Barn with a little Vintage Flair or Antique Whimsy. But that does not mean I do not fully embrace the practice of yoga.
It's only been about 9 months since I began practicing yoga, at a little studio near my house, about 5 blocks away. Definitely walking distance. I had been fascinated and drawn to it for years, but always had my reasons not to try it. It was too expensive, previous studios I heard about were too far away, and I didn't want to be part of a "yoga farm" where they churn people in and out of multiple classes at a time, in a day. I wasn't sure about Bikram yoga, where they turn up the heater and make you sweat out every last ounce of fluid - I can do that in my front yard in August with a pair of pruning shears and my unruly trees and rosemary bush, thanks. I didn't really want to look at yoga as an "exercise class." But the little tiny studio near me opened nearly a year ago, and at the beginning of the year, I decided to try out a basic yoga class. I was mesmerized and immediately bought my first 10-class card.
During my daughter's first 4 months of life, she practically lived perched up on my right shoulder. This was about the only position in which she would not be howling, due to what I chalked up to colic. This jacked my shoulder way the hell up. Genetics works in my disfavor, as both of my parents are prone to and have developed tendonitis in various joints. Basically, I have calcium sitting on a tendon in my shoulder, put there by my ever-so-thoughtful body in a masochistic attempt to heal the tendon, which does the exact opposite, and frays it with each use. Some bodies reabsorb the calcium, some do not. Mine appears to not be absorbing. I'm full up on calcium, thanks. Basically, this manifests itself as annoying aching, sometimes sharp pains, and limited range of motion. If I stay on ibuprofen 24/7, I can barely tell that this pain is there (unless I put the arm/shoulder in an egregious position, then I can tell REAL well). My next step will be surgery, as cortisone injections failed to help. But I am not ready to be having surgery yet. The kicker for me will be if I ever use my shoulder as a reason I cannot DO something, then it is time to go under the laser. LA-ser (said Austin Powers style).
Yoga has helped my shoulder tremendously. Not only is my range of motion vastly improved, but when I regularly practice yoga, the pain is also significantly reduced or non-existent. When I am out of town or sick and cannot practice, I can feel it within a few days. So this is one very beneficial side-effect of the yoga for me. But, not the leading one.
Yoga stills my mind. I always tried to meditate when I was younger - sitting still, trying in my very A-type personality way to de-clutter my mind. I would look for the sorting bins, sort out my thoughts, try to put them away in neat little file folders in the huge library of my mind. Picture myself sitting still on a beach, listening to the waves crash in. I always failed. A thought would come to my mind - something completely and utterly irrelevant and usually ridiculous - and I would chastise myself for allowing new thoughts in. But through yoga, I have learned to just observe my thoughts as they pass by, not giving them much credence, not investing myself in any of them. In fact, everything is viewed through the lense of curiosity and observation. Observe the body in twisted contorted position A, observe how the muscles tighten up to maintain balance, observe how this body senses pain in the shoulder or groin or calf. Be curious about it, but try not to let it gain control. Respect the edge of the tension and pain, push slightly past the edge. Pull back if the body starts to shake. It is hard to sit and plan dinner or rehash a failed conversation or worry about the myriad of things I might worry about when your left leg is wrapped entirely around your right leg, your arms are intertwined like rope, extended toward the sky, you are trying to maintain balance and look at the celing and deepen the pose every few exhalations. Each pose requires deep concentration, focus, balance, effort and release.
And what's more, I'm not in a yoga farm. I practice with a brilliant American man, whose life has become the practice and teaching of yoga. He is Buddhist, but aware that other spiritual concepts cooperate with Buddhism and/or yoga effectively. He's taught in inner-city youth prisons in NYC, but returned to Texas where his roots are, his family lives. It's a modest little studio, with a few classes per day, a few types - Vinyasa, Hatha, Mixed, and Basic. He knows who I am, he knows how to assist me in deepening into poses, or modifying poses to address my problematic shoulder. The music he chooses isn't random; it all facilitates the differing stages of practice going on at the time. It's simply fantastic, and provides the individual and group experience that encourages me to keep coming.
For 90 minutes, I am absorbed in the attempting to achieve random poses. My body benefits, but my mind benefits more. I leave calm, clear, and peaceful. What a delightful thing, this yoga.

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