Mom & dad's first Illini spawn practicing early on, Park Street backyard
(under the masterful eye of neighbor Betty!)
Summer 2006 - moved from Idaho back to Jacksonville, Illinois
Fall/Winter 7pm Monday evening Therapeutic Yoga, Passavant Hospital, Jacksonville IL
Fit Clubs South/West, Springfield. Sub - Yoga or Silver Sneakers Stretch
Winter 2009-2010 -- Balancing hips
I've been thinking a lot about hamstrings, my own, and the term "hamstrung". Hamstrings pair with quadriceps. I've lost touch with the duo over the decades (along with numerous other muscles, notably abdominals). As I stretch the lower back, I wonder if maybe my hamstrings aren't as tight as I'd thought; some of that tightness may be lower back. How to release and balance? Like tuning spokes--front, back, sides, front, back, sides--on and on. Can still hear my teacher say "Allow, don't force". I tell students, "Strong muscles will only fight back; just let go". Sounds good? Doing so, of course, is another matter... So in yoga, we learn to listen.
After reading Plouffe's book about the Obama campaign, I'm pondering hamstrung as in politics and more. We can be "hamstrung" by the past/present/or future; imagined or real; existing or former structures and patterns; investments, personalities, inertia, etc. Still I believe if unhealthy change can happen (it would seem so), likewise healthy change can! How we resist change--letting go of the familiar--possessions, incomes, jobs, relationships, real estate, beliefs. Who wants to let go of a good thing, even a thing once it clamps on!! I used to have a bumper sticker, "Shift Happens". Master teacher Gloria said so; I know it does! This lesson's for me!
Recently picked up Ascent magazine article "Gurubhai" interviewing 5 North American senior Iyengar female teachers. Interesting!!! Although my root teachers trained with Iyengar teachers,they weren't exclusively Iyengar trained, so I survived! Can often tell an Iyengar teacher by his or her posture, sometimes, though not always, noticing a sense of compression. I was stunned to read most of these senior teachers have developed health problems. In the article Margot Kitchen tells of Guruji [Iyengar] saying to her after a month of classes in Pune, India: "I have observed you. Now you must do less". By their own admittance, most are Type A. Interesting to read how after 30 or 40 years of teaching, they're still realizing yoga is more than asana/posture. I'm grateful for my mixed breed teachers.
Guruji B S K Iyengar is going strong in his 90s. Yet I sense his students are not so healthy as he. What has been lost in the translation between East and West? Could it involve the spiritual dimension? India and the West are opposite sides of the world.
Also in the article BSK said "Don't teach what you do not do." Interesting. Immediately thought of paralyzed Matthew Sanford, and of others of us who teach without doing everything about which we speak. I love the power of a teacher able to demonstrate nuances. Then I remember the Pennsylvania teachers who teach only with words, not by example. I know which I prefer (yet I always learn).
Perhaps 2009 was The Year of Hips. This fall I've been walking in sock feet through the weight machines in the Y free weight room, practicing qigong. Y use is down; sometimes I have free reign. Between machines, in front of mirrors I stand on one leg, then the other, qigong style, tigers mouth with one hand. At long last I can balance on my right leg/foot! I've experimented with correcting turned out right leg for several years now--lifting knee cap; aligning each leg against a wall, that sort of thing. I do triangle base per Allard recommendation, watching in mirrors, studying how differently I turn, right and left sides. I've known this for quite some time, but--what to do?
Back to sauna to break apart the pose, listen, feel.
I believe because I'm better balanced in terms of right/left sides these days, my abdominal muscles are slowly engaging/waking. Most folks start with abs. I couldn't seem to do that. What seemed to work for me was focusing on re-aligning right leg and hip. I enjoy standing on one leg, while the guys lift weights. Probably their hips are well balanced or they couldn't do what they do.
Lately I've been a holiday sub for Springfield chair classes. My challenge is to find ways to work abs without going to the floor, as well as to share the power of relaxation. The most restless and aggressive seniors come to a halt when we stand for balance poses. Flexibility is one thing; balance is a whole different world from range of motion. At the end of class I try to still the group for at least a couple minutes, knowing how they hate "not doing something". I want to say we gotta slow down, "Because I want to keep walking" but it doesn't make sense to the western mind. After one mini- relaxation, a woman commented, "I don't feel a stretch". Another time the most aggressive woman, came up to ask if there were any good gurus for meditation in the US, like the Eat-Love-Pray woman found in India! It had only been a couple of minutes, yet all claimed they were nearly asleep!!! Yes, Virginia, doing less is a path to wholeness!
Balance, balance! May the New Year bring balance and peace!
What if balance meant--Now you must do less?
Fall 2009 -- Do as I say - thoughts from the himalayas
(I) miss Jenn's class that I attended over a year. When she left, it transformed into something I no longer enjoy, others do. So it goes.
Since I don't have an ongoing class (take or teach), rely on workshops (to keep learning). A breathing seminar near Honesdale beckoned in August. Excellent to learn from columnists and senior students I've read for years; just meeting Dr. Carrie or seeing Sandra's "breath taking?" posture was worth the trip. Getting the scoop on several common teachings like ujaya breath from Dr. Rolf was invaluable, affirming. Living off the beaten path, one can get pulled away from the basics, trying to fit in. We're not exactly sitting on a stack of hay bales here (like an article once portrayed small town yoga teachers). Maybe a pile of wet corn stalks?
Never has my digestion enjoyed a retreat so thoroughly. Eating Ayurvedic was a unexpected, ah ha experience. Thrived on a diet of yogurt and hot cereals like amaranth; clear soups, butter and bread. My agreeable dorm mate and I exclaimed over the food repeatedly.
Attended several yoga classes, taught by the younger generation. What bothered me the most was that the teachers talked but didn't participate--strictly "do as I say". When I inquired I was led to believe only beginning teachers actually participate with students. Interesting. I'm inclined to think I disagree. Looking back I realized I'd not seen hyper extension! That's a first.
The graciousness of the center interfaced with a serious and I'm sure strict system of study and practice. I gloried in being a guest. Had the opportunity to hear several swamis speak, bridging east and west. I think a guru is not for me, however I wouldn't knock it. The product of the institute's teaching is amazing no nonsense teachers and scholars, from whom I, and others, benefit. The senior teachers do not suffer fools. I had several questions from the hinterland I hoped to ask, and did. Answered. As always, workshops are perhaps more affirming than anything else, realigning my compass back to classic yoga.
Have to make myself travel, try new things like a retreat I've never been to. One never knows! I was grateful for this experience; arrived early, stayed a day late. Especially enjoyed one peaceful morning sitting by a stream in the woods. One never knows when peace is going to return!
A few weeks later I was in class with Norm again. Can't say enough about how centered and clear he is. As usual, didn't stay through the last session, opting for church. My head was absolutely full; couldn't handle another practice. Weeks later, just the basics like don't smash joints (what a good idea) remain. Watched Norm back pretty much everyone off in triangle (from reaching the floor), in order not to compress joints. The concept of counterbalancing in poses is also still with me.
Just started a late fall series of classes at the hospital. A couple newcomers have joined the old. I'm grateful, full of ideas to share, but of course, it's only an hour, and we must do the basics well. We're now a fundraiser, lost a few folks when the fee was raised (& mine cut). Change, change, no other way! Rats! I yearn to introduce alternate nostril breathing or focus on upper and lower hand positions when breathing, but I think not, not yet. Pretty esoteric. This is the empty midwest, where yoga might be taught by aerobics teachers who saw an article....
My personal practice is focused on stretching those strong hip rotators (muscles), especially right side. This really could be the year of balancing hips! At long last I'm beginning to be able to balance on the right leg--yeah--thanks to both yoga and qigong. Not this lifetime a Masai, or a martial artist balanced with eyes closed, but doing better. Waking slowly. I practice alternate nostril breathing again, with greater understanding of how it balances the body, and asanas heal. Sleep more on right side.
And as always, my goal, like that of my teachers, is a safe space for all to listen and learn.
Practice and all is coming - Pattabhi Jois 1915-2009
Winter 2009 -- Teaching through the back door
Looks like this past cycle of seasons has been settling into the path of patience. Unlike many, I look back at 2008 fondly, due to the beautiful fall I spent in nature. Hikes, which used to mean wandering desert washes or aspen groves, are now midwest walks through paths mown in fields or poison ivy covered woods.
A yoga magazine article I read, reread, underlined, copied, and sent to friends, that keeps coming to mind is entitled "Walking with God". Interview with elderly professor who "...now lives in a village where there are no learned men. The pure air and soil are my teachers." Though I live on the intensely farmed prairie, I thought of this wise teacher as I walked down to the Vermilion River last fall. He starts his days between 4:30 and 5am per traditional practice times, with breathing, walking and mantra. He says greenery is a feast for the eyes. I'm intensely interested in elders who live well, even if I only dream of getting up at that hour!
I can thrash and yearn (about no longer having regular opportunities to teach), or I can surrender and enjoy senior water class mornings at the Y, Tuesday morning yoga in Springfield with its occasional sub opportunities, and my winter months of local classes. The other morning, when no water instructor showed, I led an informal class with those like me who hadn't read the sign. Why the director didn't call is one more reminder of my need for patience.
This winter, following water class when I'm cold, I've taken to using the dry sauna (set low) for my version of hot yoga. I go from pigeon, to chest openers, hanging off wood benches. Maybe this will be the Year of Understanding Shoulders? Hips better (or so I think), more balanced. After years of being unable to feel or know where the right shoulder belongs, getting sense of how the right arm needs to be drawn back into right shoulder socket, I think it would be called. Some project, bodies. I've been learning shoulder work outs from one of the Y fellows. We've been slowly swapping health and alignment philosophies over the months, getting to trust each other.
I'm getting to know a young fellow too, with remarkable posture, training for police officer tests. When I loaned him a yoga magazine, he came back talking about the recipe for ghee! One simply never knows!
Incredibly the Springfield class gets harder and harder. Folks older than me do half moon, plow, bow, on and on, easily. Especially the balance poses in a dim room are beyond me. However, I appreciate so the opportunity to listen to hips and shoulders and work to balance them. Three walls of mirrors have helped to show what I can't feel.
When I sub, I've learn those oldsters (and youngsters) who love moving fast, aren't about to let me slow them down. Nor are they willing to do a quarter bend when they want to do a full forward bend. Lower back blowout or bust!. No way will slumpers with knees jutting like grasshoppers try sitting on a block or foam roller. Subbing's a mixed bag--enjoy the challenge and a chance to teach. Not knowing how to gain the respect of students is on my plate, always. Likely on the regular teacher's as well. She's largely self and web taught; not concerned with details as my teachers were. She lets both the super aggressives and this lone underachiever do their own thing.
Recently I wrote a prison correspondent about my latest experience subbing.
"Last week subbed again. The class reeks of attitude. (Don't I know!) Apparently I have limits to letting people doing their own thing. Little of that in my own teachers’ classes; each modeled the class working together. I was surprised how mean (for me) I was to several people doing their own class. At the same time, new, older men are starting to come to class. They don't have the ego issues of those who've been in class doing things the same way a year now. The new folks are like sponges, paying attention, trying new things, grateful. They're willing to try sitting on blocks, while the regulars slump, won't try. "Thanks, Coach", they say. I'm starting to think of this as yoga through the backdoor."
The practice of Patience. A good one.
Spring 2008 -- Winter Lessons
"What wound did ever heal but by degrees?" Shakespeare
Uhhh... how'd the hiatus between classes turn out? Good to get this woman back to class fall and winter. Plenty of humble pie out there, no end to lessons.
As for my own (Yoga) classes? Classes stabilized somewhat this 2nd winter. Very good to see some of the same faces return, along with a few new ones drop in. The sense of getting to know folks/bodies felt good. Then with spring, classes fell apart and became so challenging I was glad to let go. Truly no end of challenges.
Among other interesting situations, this winter a young blind gal came with I think a parent-coach-advanced yoga student. (Training programs here generally require multiple disabilities.) Turned out what the young gal needed, like most of us, was body awareness, plus, in her case strengthening, and of course parental approval and relationship. She and mom pretty much did their own class within mine, not a new situation to me, but always tough on the ego. The young one was overly flexible, a challenging match with seniors who tend to be tight, though both benefit from strengthening. In summary, my ego went berserk, mind on overdrive. Towards the end I needed to learn to lay down rules to keep the young gal (or gals) from interrupting relaxation. I was, as I eluded to, not infrequently over my head, though I do like the challenge of offering a class for everyone. My old teacher would have handled it skillfully. (It's my opinion--though many would disagree-- that this community has diversity in spades. At any rate, it has enough variety to keep me hopping and growing forever. In theory I welcome that. I've often thought about sharing yoga at the schools for blind or deaf. Not only because I yearn to share, but because I think it would be fun. Just as I'd like to learn to teach in Spanish. And of course, I have a toe in at the local prison. (Check Prison page)
I continue to shop for classes. Last fall, a qigong class appeared out of nowhere at the fit club in Springfield, with not exactly a teacher, but a coach, at the helm. It was great to have qigong back in my life for a season. As suddenly as it appeared, coach called it quits. We particularly enjoyed his heart. Perhaps for the best--increasingly both his yoga and qigong backgrounds clashed with mine. He shows up in fit club yoga classes now and then to sub. I slip out.
One outcome: began getting familiar with Springfield clubs and yoga teachers. Once again I've somewhat regularly settled into attending a morning yoga class where I can keep working on my own poses and body, and of course, ego. More surrender--classes from another young gal. (How often I remember my 2nd yoga teacher, in the last years of her life, expressing interest in learning from another teacher. She never stopped learning, a wonderful model. And she never criticized another teacher, though she did refer to "show off" yoga on occasion.) Like other classes here, the entire class is basically sun salutations, often starting standing. Groan. Nothing like my gentle classes, or any of my teachers' classes. Strictly a work out that matches the "looking good" philosophy of clubs. However I like the heart of the young gal, her presence and words. Advertised as all levels, I raise my eyebrows at frequent forward bends, half moon and other balance poses, shoulder stand and plow (in the face of the instructor hurting herself doing them!). Tough stuff to do well and safely without guidance, per my background. I avert my eyes from the strain and mis-alignment around me, try to get by a wall or mirror so I won't fall on others, and do my own thing. It's good to have time to watch and feel hips, catch myself twisting when I don't realize I am, or not bearing weight fully. Now that I finally have an idea where my sacral plate should lie on the floor, thanks to classes with a flamboyant gal, I can correct old habits, learn to extend (spine) more fully, decompress.
It was perfect timing to take an anatomy workshop with Julie Gudmestad in Boise this summer. Each session we studied the basics of bones and muscles of feet, ankles and hips. Right down my alley, to troubleshoot my own chronically weak knees I've favored as long as I can remember (which she noted were swollen--had no idea!), uneven hips (yup), and short hamstrings. Very helpful, learning from yet another long time Iyengar student, with 30 years of physical therapist experience. Although I was clearly the primary benefactor of the workshop--hope to be forgiven for what I've shared in the past that I now understand is not so healthy--hope to incorporate and share Julie's philosophy come fall. I've enjoyed and studied Julie's journal articles for years, forever yearning for pictures or diagrams. Talk about finding one's calling--she sure did.
I continue to be passionate about Petrone miracle balls. Travel with them and use them most anywhere--lower back esp, hip, neck, shoulders. Very, very helpful, my opinion. Some mornings I can't get going without 'em. Loaned a set to John, who became a compelling promoter. Now, quite a few folks 'round here are benefiting.
It's not the year of getting my Life in Balance, like I thought it might be at one point. (Seven months out, I'm just hoping to survive.) But it's The Year of Awakening Hips, feeling 'em, moving that right femur into place, bearing weight better on right leg and foot, walking different. Which is exciting. May yet enjoy walking!
September 2007 -- Yoga of Relationship -- ouch!
Ahhh! Yoga. The practice of paying attention!
If I wince at the Yoga of Discipline, I absolutely quake at the Yoga of Relationship, which I believe Ram Dass once said is the hardest practice (maybe marriage--same, same.) Getting along with others is perhaps my version of Paul's thorn. Occurs to me that this time of not teaching (yoga) is no less a time of practice, especially that of the yoga of relationship or in my case, what often feels like bungled relationships. Ouch. Humbling, painful and frustrating for this long time student. If I have any self worth hanging around, taking classes from others, with no outlet to share, is gonna take care of that and offer graduate level lessons.
As of September, I don't have a regular class. (Loved the Wednesday morning I shared yoga in prison--watch the Prison Page! Floated home, once again convinced it's my calling. Then the warden was called.) What then does one do with one's puppy like enthusiasm/passion for sharing and practicing--evangelizing even--old fashioned subjects like yoga and meditation? Should I have left my passions Out West? One by one, possibilities fall through.
I feel especially small and resentful in classes taught by youth, which I define lately as folks less than half my age. How such children have the confidence to teach has always been beyond me. So I include jealousy on my list of active deadly sins. Saw it again this week--a darling 20 some girl teaching pilates to 70 and 80 year olds in the swimming pool. Cynically rolled my eyes--had to see this with my own eyes. Pilates? Seniors! A 20 some instructor? Yup! You gotta be kidding!! Who's crazy, me or the staff? Me, of course; staff and seniors (except this one) are perfectly happy! I'm willing to be crazy, but as a black pastor night order: church--lift your hands!!!) Thanked the teacher--the young gal oozed confidence. No plans to return to pool-ates soon. Stayed for the following class--emphasis on range of motion over speed. Who enjoys those classes that make me roll my critical eyes? All my relations--friends, neighbors and acquaintances.
What I fail to understand--making the yoga of relationship so challenging-- what I'm learning so painfully is: folks are perfectly pleased to be taking classes from young things who've read an article, maybe attended a weekend class, but haven't a clue what it's like to have a replaced hip, let alone the purpose and pitfalls of pilates and other exercises. What they do have is confidence. No one else 'round here senses anything amiss. I'm the one with a problem, as in--"You gotta problem, buster!" I simply don't "get it" that attending class is often a form of entertainment! Instructors help folks have a good time, feel good about themselves, socialize and exercise, however correctly or incorrectly. (I'd never run into nonstop student talk during classes until this Midwest move I've attended aerobics in 2 states; yoga in 6 states and Canada.) The bottom line? Any amount of movement is more than folks would do if they just watched teevee. That's what class is about! That's The Program which magnifies my struggle with self criticism and brings me to the yoga of relationship. My idea of taking care of one's self is from outer space! Can't believe people are happy the way they are and don't wanna change! Where have I been!
The Program is clearly our national obsession--Entertainment!! (Not to mention money!) Not physical therapy! Not how to use the body correctly, as my late senior teacher put it! Not identifying and correcting bad habits that lead to surgery... Not taking care of one's self so one doesn't need ongoing doctor appointments and therapy. Not making healthy choices. Noooo.
During this time of not teaching I get to look straight into the mirror--at my issues and values--for What's Really Important, what's going on. The outer world is surely not going to change. The heart of the tension of course is ego: the fact that no one cares what I think is in my face. My new acquaintances are happily taking classes from other instructors. I can snort and whine all I want, but nothing's gonna change, no one's listening. Yup, nobody cares, as Wavy Gravy put it when he campaigned Nobody for president.
Been stewing why 6am aerobics feels so violent, so very wrong, until What Would Jesus Do popped into my head. Am I just a wimp (yes) or is it unnatural to start the day flogging your body under neon, before sun up? I'm defensive and guilty about not enjoying aerobics class (at any hour)--is it just because I'm a klutz and can't follow 1-2, 1-2-3s? (Yes, I struggle, lagging many beats behind, uncoordinated.) Is it because I huff and puff and am lazy? (Yes.) Am overweight? (Absolutely.) Inappropriately dressed in mismatched baggy pants, plaid shirt and sandals in the midst of trendy black workout attire? (Hmm.) Is it because teachers model bouncing and forcing (which my beloved teachers cautioned against)? Is it because closing "relaxation" goes against what my teachers said was good for backs and hips? (Yes, Yes.) Is it just because I hate the "music"? (I do!) Because the teacher didn't say hello, talked about her golf game on the microphone the whole time (wouldn't need mic if "music" weren't so loud)! Somehow all these questions/excuses don't account for my deep sense of aerobics not being right everyone (but that's a whole 'nother story).
Felt better when I realized Jesus wouldn't head to 6am aerobics (or any class), even if his friends were there. Not weekdays, not Sundays. He'd go to the hills alone to start the day, to listen! Ahh. Classic yoga evolved to enhance meditation by opening joints. Yes?
No doubt some of my long hot summer angst--sense that something's deeply wrong with the picture (aside from my battered ego)--reaches past self to the collective unconscious of a competitive society focused on the worlds of appearance and pleasure? We seem to have surrendered common sense and innate intelligence to mega-bucks, like pharmaceuticals and the medical system (I'd choke if I said health care); the seductive worlds of food and entertainment. Sense it loudly in this backwater, former farm community now diabetes epicenter. (I'll never forget how Alaskans dealt with emergencies--find vet for surgical needle and thread!)
Seems to me (nobody asked of course) what's going on in the name of fitness here in this community (that revolves around Walmart and The Hospital) is largely sports and sweat and burn exercise classes. After a few years or decades of beating up one's body or overeating, when one's knee's replaced or vertebrae or whatever's fused or removed, one's suddenly out of the so called "high level class". The only thing available is what's patronizingly referred to as a "low level" senior classes, mainly in water or on chairs, designed with arthritis and disease in mind. Nothin' in between! I've found no all purpose, healthy, all levels classes--yet. And, while I'm on the soapbox, what's wrong with talking about overeating and as a source of ill health? In one water class I visited, the extreme sized bodies could only move in water. I've checked myself into a fat group where we talk about the correlation between portions and weight! (Better save my smoldering rant about the difference between a mindful mind-body-spirit walk (without walkman or cell phone) and walking on a treadmill at the teevee--2 different critters!)
Have I mentioned how much I love the seniors in "low level" water class--tough gals who raised and are raising dozens of kids, g'kids, and g'g'kids?. Who've taken care of and outlived spouses and kids? Who take bushels of meds (they tell me), do what their docs say, have scars from replaced this and that's, endure collapsed spines, painfully deformed hands, weak eyes and ears? Some of these folks knew my family better than I. When did they lose their power and vitality? Or have they? My assignment. I've met others (not necessarily in classes) who stand straight and move as easily as cats, who are light as feathers and bright as pennies. I love these true, peaceful master teachers, bent or straight, who by example walk the paths of surrender and patience, while I struggle!
These are some of the thoughts ricocheting around the mind of this woman without a class this summer. Better turn in. It'll take me half the night to wind down--so amuse myself!
July 2007 -- Illinois winter; Idaho with Norman
Try something different. Surrender.
I'm surviving Illinois heat--Idaho was good practice. But I'm missing quite a lot 7 years of 10am gentle yoga classes at the fitness center. Don't like starting over--but how else? Grateful to the waves of folks who were game to come out to Passavant Monday evenings from January to July, to experience the new/old yoga teacher in town, the "boring" one. There are NO therapeutic classes here; as far as I can tell the idea is foreign, even in slower rural Illinois. Folks still associate health with exercise, sweat and "doing something". Except for one woman, whose son studies yoga, who'll go to any yoga class, fast or slow. It's all I can do to keep my hand over my mouth when my benefactors (arranged for the class) go onto something else instead of holding a pose like I think they oughta. "Whoa", I want to say. Have I learned anything! Guess I'll never be a teacher who inspires fear and trembling. More and tougher is the name of the game here.
When Monday night yoga finished end of June, started going to my grade school gym teacher's water aerobics classes at the Y, which so many women I meet enjoy, thinking maybe I could sub some day; how different can it be? Gotta do something! As Connie effortlessly reached one elbow overhead, tucked the other arm behind her back and reached up to clasp hands in what is called gomukasana in yoga, she yelled [at me] "You should be more flexible!" I snapped back, "Yoga's about balance not flexibility; don't should on me!" She's a tough PE teacher, fitter than any of us by a country mile. The next class (in which we do pretty much the same routine) she said the very same thing (I was still a country mile from clasping hands), and so did I! [I mean it--don't should on me--teachers are the reason I hated school! It's amazing, nothing has changed in 50 years! My gym teacher still yells at me, says I'm a slouch and is still right!]
I'm off yoga for the summer. I enjoy Mari's class some but haven't deal with my ego sufficiently to pay for a class that starts with relaxation, ends with sun salutation after sun salutation, 'til I literally drop, when I volunteer at the hospital. Not yet. I've learned a lot about hips by taking the opportunity to pay attention while in someone else's class. I always bail out of class early, lay down, relax and fall asleep, while the others forge on saluting sun and moon! Honest. Can't decide whether I'm old and decrepit or sensible.
By the way, I overdid the miracle balls. Had to get out my Pain Free book and Back Care video and take care of myself for about a week. Mercifully, those sources I recommend really worked. Still think the balls are great but treat them with more respect.
After the fine qigong workshop in Boulder memorial weekend, drove onto Boise for another Norman Allard yoga workshop, this one on the spine. Any one of the 5 sessions would have been worth the trip west. We spent one morning with the basics of his walking workshop I'd been so curious about. To watch that man (so comfortable in his own skin) slow some of the most aggressive teachers in Idaho down to a crawl was amazing. As in the past his every word was food to my starved for support restorative and therapeutic yoga soul. Yes, yes, yes; had to cross 4 states to hear and experience his oh so fine self therapy sessions! To hear N firmly state what a small percentage of students are able to extend legs correctly while laying on back, even as the sponsor assured him all of her students can do so, was a sublime moment.
It is so easy to believe the collective conscious--such as everyone or no one can do this or that. (In M's class I realized, after all these years, no way do I keep hips on floor if legs are vertical. This after 15 years of yoga, so why would everyone else have it right? I've backed off, initially disappointed, physically uncomfortably in the new joint alignment, wiser and hopeful.) N affirms not to go as far as one can in poses, never force; to wave/move every section the spine. He teaches placing fingers on the initiating point help to bring attention to the breath. And much more on mind-body-spirit. I'll return in a heartbeat for more Allard. If I hadn't been with other awesome teachers, I'd say N was the best in the world. He is indeed a world class teacher. My hunch is it has a lot to do with his decades of meditation. Absolutely stunning to witness him get all those high powered teachers to stop, sit still and just breathe.
December 2006 -- Waking: a memoir
... the smallest forcing is still forcing...
In the aftermath of The Move, travel this holiday was unthinkable. Good opportunity for righteous restorative practice, right at home. As it happened, the perfect book arrived: Waking: a memoir of trauma and transcendence. I'd heard yoga teacher-in-wheelchair Sanford interviewed on Speaking of Faith. Somewhat painful to read about Sanford's crash and spine fusion at age 13, while still a youth--enduring stabilizing screws drilled into skull, etc! Suspect his journey and dance with trauma, ego and learning, describe far more of us than he may realize. He's been-there, done-that, experienced the distance between mind and body up close and personal, especially how trauma is held in the physical body. He writes of pain, silence and death; he surrenders, fights, listens, learns, loves; studies energy, a phenomena I find both compelling and challenging--my personal black hole, the way his is lower spine.
I was acutely interested in reading about well intended attempts to separate our minds and bodies and to dispel the truth of our ability to heal, well meant collective beliefs he experienced along the way. His comments about little things like the body losing out when we take an elevator were profound. His experience with ego and violence affirmed mine and helped me understand what I observe in classes, closed the distance, affirmed more of the puzzles of practice and teaching.
Kept waiting to hear more on the third leg of the health--spirit? I'm curious whether Sanford deliberately omitted spirit--he's obviously filled with the fire of life, been through a lot. Do tell! Perhaps he'll explore this aloud in the future.
Meanwhile this restorative week, I'm working with soft Miracle Balls, allowing my full weight to be held in order to release deep muscles that pull spine and hips out of alignment. Makes sense to me. Images of Idaho chiropractor Dr A's rotated vertebrae run through my mind; what would he say? Sacral plate, shoulders, neck; one ball or in pairs. Out walking the other evening, my weight fell differently on the right foot and the shin yowled.
Shift happens. The end of the year seems a good time to take stock and initiate change. These are some of the thoughts that may come out of my mouth as I start class in the New Year. In preparation I'll read recent yoga magazines, bubble with possibilities. But I'll start with whoever shows up, right where they are, at the beginning.
...Welcome! Let's learn a bit about each other!September 2006 -- Yoga Moves
I've been straddling Idaho and Illinois for months, much of this year. I'm on the Illinois side of the move now, missing yoga classes and students a lot; meditation and prison class too. Who recently said, you don't know what you know until you teach? An astrology columnist, I think! That would be me, missing realizing what I know. (Enjoying midwest air, cicadas, late lightning bugs, small town life.)
The noon class in Boise moved over to Jan's neighboring class; the athletes will appreciate a yoga instructor who's one of them. We'd laughed together quite a few years; they signed a lovely card of the Sawtooths I have on the dresser here in IL. My replacement at the club visited class one morning. When I asked if she'd be willing to put her heel against the wall in what must have been a warrior pose, she refused. Knew her new class was going to be exciting. One of the women brought me a candle for the August (gulp) journey; it made it. The best gift was to hear the women exchanging phone numbers and emails. I don't like good-byes; didn't like leaving yoga classes, but I become very sensible the last few weeks about moving along, desperate, really.
Now in Illinois, I've visited 4 of the (now 5--new ones every day) yoga classes. We've yet to do anything but sun salutation. One instructor works at a pace I can balance hips; try to get there each week. Visited lovely Julia's reformer class twice, barely escaping with my life each time--teehee. How I admire pilates jocks. She was gracious enough to let me teach my low key yoga one morning in place of hers, with a few of her good sports. Fresh from Norman Allard workshops, couldn't help myself when I saw a long solid step where we could all curl toes under. I was highly unpopular as I chirped "change your life" to the row of bunions with me :~)
Good to return to Boise for Allard's workshop at Vickie's in September. After all the sun salutations and revolved triangle vinyasanas with minimal instruction and caution, Allard felt affirming, familiar and safe, talking in terms of bone alignment and spine waves. He explained how he rebuilds after injuries using the basics. 'Never seen anyone who's hips benefited from going any further", he said as he demonstrated triangle. Good for soul and ego now that I've landed in the world of pop aerobic yoga.
I'm pondering how to introduce basic yoga in a town where, as it should be, everyone loves their water and land aerobics classes and instructors and urges me to join them. Far be it from me to compete with existing teachers and classes. At the same time, folks seem to have abundant health concerns and unhealthy posture (like me!). After introducing myself to yoga teachers, now what? Maybe meet therapists and chiropractors? Whenever I hear someone complain about arthritis/hips/shoulders (nearly all the time), I raise my eyebrows and decide whether it's time to mention the possibility of a future gentle yoga class.
My house or yours? Think I'll start small, in one of the carpeted rooms in the house I'll be getting one of these months, with all my beloved (unmatched) blankets and props handy currently packed away in storage. (Reminds me to keep an eye out for a second crock pot...) Particularly old high school buddies have expressed interest; I'm quick to respond Yes, Yes, Absolutely, Any Time. I'm already imagining working with the diverse (it's a big word here) levels and interests that have been expressed, how best to use chairs. Already imagining talking about balance in terms of golf swings, sciatica, hips, eating, touchy backs, and of course, above all, holding forth about breathing--"If you're not breathing, it ain't yoga".
Who needs to hear this? Me, me, me, desperately! But I don't think I'm alone. I'm ready anytime one or more would like a sample. Recently at Perkins I held forth: "Of course you can do yoga!" Proceeded to demo finger exercises--find the middle joint, I mean, bone, falange...
Unlike other places I've lived, Jacksonville has big homes, buildings, classrooms and potential yoga space. It's a teaching epicenter! Saw another perfect room today that shouted "yoga". (Of course it's delightful working from home. Maybe a wall can come out...) One thing about a small town, you really only need to tell one person, then sit up and stand tall, breathe and smile. Things are already in motion. People are thinking, watching. Meanwhile just keep slowing down, be patient, relax and breathe.
pressing spines into wall with Norman, Sept 2006
... relax, breathe, patience ...
March 2006 -- Winter Yoga closing thoughts
This week at Club Screamin' Starlin' an unlikely white haired elder extended her hand and smile to introduce herself with a drawl as Mrs M, mentioning, doctor's orders. A quick vision of the famous after life researcher with the same family name flashed by. Widow? Highly unlikely. "I went to Sandy's (hot yoga) class", Mrs M explained (immediately alerting me that she's a far braver woman than me). "She told me to come to your class". What on earth was this unlikely southern belle doing in yoga! (Same thing we're all doing--searching.) "Welcome, you'll be fine here", I said. Mrs M stuck to Mrs M, during introductions, otherwise first names. Perhaps due to English novels this winter, I like to think I showed no shock.
Unusual winter for yoga. Class attendance has been consistently 4-8 folks, after years of frequent 1 and 2 person classes (for which I fully expected Jeannie's wimpy gentle class to be canceled. On the other hand we club instructors are veritable volunteers, so why not let it be!) 8 years later, we suddenly have a rather motivated Back and Breath semi seniors class. (How well I know folks can be gone in a blink.) However, more than any other previous group, these folks seem to know why they come and enjoy each other. They share more than grand kid birthdays. Eventually most return to class from snowbirding to Hawaii and Arizona. PTL. It's been great fun and rewarding to get to know them, watch us all learn and change, rather than sharing intro to yoga 101 each and every class. I've had the opportunity to look inward, rather than just entertain the curious.
"The knot that's been in my shoulder for years is gone", Ellen said simply. I was curious why this thin, nicotine scented woman suddenly attended religiously. What a pleasure, this motivated, congenial group! (Especially since the latest of 3 county jail volunteer coordinators called in December to tell me not to return to the jail for yoga.)
During introductions Mrs M mentioned the doctor sent her because she/Mrs M doesn't like to walk. "Bet y'all do", she asserted. Folks nodded. But I can understand--I'm not much of a walker.
Been sick this week, just "crawling" into class; too weak to use the gym machines. During introductions Marli suggested working on feet; Beth, hips. Viola! Class plan A (ever open to change). "We'll do some cat-cow today, work on feet, end with a belly twist. Twist'll be good for my cranky stomach this week", I announced mentioning I'm still under the weather.
After months of not subbing I'd subbed earlier in the week and left disgusted (as well as sick, no relationship). When I demonstrated a strong shoulder opener we'd practiced at Judith Lasater's workshop over weekend, I was stunned most of the group just sat silent, attitude on their faces, refusing to do it! Then one woman actually did her own pose pulling shoulders closed in front, the very opposite of what I was doing! I was dropped mouthed. What goes with the "popular" classes doing their own thing! We sure as heck didn't do that in Judith's workshop! (Maybe it's just we-hate-the-sub syndrome.) Simply didn't have the energy to ask the woman if she'd be willing to try the pose, a la Judiith. Couldn't wait to get back to regular classes.
Because I haven't felt good since the night of the sub class, closed my eyes and wasn't paying specific attention to what folks were doing. Mrs M sat nearby; I knew she and others with strained backs oughta sit in chairs--vertical knees and hunched backs told me so-- but know only those really comfortable with themselves and the group are able to make that decision. Hadn't realized Mrs M was next to a new young gal who wasn't even going to use the bolster I recommend all of us sit on (per my teachers). "Why do these muscles hurt!", Mrs M suddenly exclaimed aloud, pointing to inner thighs, knees jutted upward. Lotta folks say they're new to yoga, then push into dog while I'm not looking. I believed Mrs M told the truth that yoga is new to her. Her question gave me the opportunity to mention how a bolster helps change the angle of the pelvis and femurs. Went on to rap about muscle pairs and balance.
After cat- cow, realized we needed (for the sake of my ego) to work in chairs for feet and spine.
Ended class with dropped knee twist onto bolsters, or so I think. I don't scrutinize everyone. Sometimes good enough is good enough, especially when folks are new, and I'm not up to snuff. Pulled blankets over the skinny ones who hadn't covered themselves, especially newer folks. Stepped over to Mrs M to see if I could nudge her into a twist. "You saved me a trip to the chiropractor", she said. I was certain I saw a tear glistening on her left cheek. Covered her and lightly patted her coifed hair. I hadn't asked permission to touch. Couldn't help it!
Recently saw a yoga teacher advice column about "After-class protocol". 'Is it okay to socialize with my students and share details of my private life?' I scoffed, imagining class without mentioning I was sick, or how I'd watched the full moon rise, or not asking how folks are? [I bet the 'real' answer was: No.] No wonder mainstream classes pay me no mind when I sub! I definitely teach people, not poses. Can't "teach" without relationship. No wonder my landing in a class without the interface of who's who is such a disaster for all!
Then, is it "Real Yoga"? Maybe yes, may be no.
This year, I'm pulling up stakes, leaving the west, retreating to the midwest. Moving. (Don't ask. It's a long story I'm writing about elsewhere. Because this is "Yoga Lessons", I focus thoughts in terms of yoga (which of course is the search for God). Knowing what I do about yoga as a refuge, I try to keep the page semi secular. Eek. Nevertheless, my thoughts unfold simultaneously in terms of re-ligio.) The idea of leaving yoga classes grieves me more than anything else. I've come to terms with leaving house, church and people. The universe continues to gently conspire to move me on (jail class canceled, bank yoga space under construction, neighborhood association crumbling, nudge, after gentle nudge). But I'm still working on coming to terms with what feels like saying good-bye to yoga (and tenting in aspen groves). Maybe yoga classes won't be what I ultimately miss the most about 40 years Out West. However, currently it's the most upsetting aspect of relocating, right up there with the trauma of sorting and packing up a life time. I can relate to my late yoga teacher sometimes saying her yoga practice and classes were pretty much her life (other times she said that of her dogs or grandchildren). I "need" these classes to keep me physically and mentally active; on the yoga journey, reading/studying, trying new phrases, philosophies, deepening work on poses; and loving people. I may be a loner in many ways, but not when it comes to yoga! Community may be small, but it's huge in meaning.
I adore these classes that so sustain me here in Idaho, and in this crazy upside down global world. They've taken 8 years to evolve and establish! I've learned so much, receive so much from the honest women and men who endure me, let me be me. Who let me close my eyes and say whatever pops into mind. It's both my soap box and my physical practice. I love the personalities that challenge me, the stories I hear, how very different we all are, yet I can come in with a need that more or less serves us all. Slowly sharing yoga has helped me crawl out of the hole of self doubt. Words can't express my gratefulness.
I began teaching with a list of diagrams of poses, the way my first teacher planned her classes. After a few years I realized plans weren't always appropriate for those who showed up. Took the leap and began creating classes on the spot, from my own body cues and what I noticed around me. Big step for this new teacher! One pose leads to another, my kind of flow. I still come up blank now and then, but I'm used it that. We can always cat-cow or triangle!
I'll always remember and be inspired by this winter's yoga classes. No doubt, with my sentimental nature, I'll miss the classes/students, far more than I'll be missed, though I think there may be a few small holes for awhile. I'm inexpressibly grateful for the patience of hosts of angels who have passed through classes, both through community ed and the gym, while I learned how to teach. I still laugh as I say, "Are you willing to be guinea pigs again today? Read this interesting article over the weekend..." What troopers!
Am I big enough to let the midwest fill the hole the west will leave in my life? Will this searcher ever really find yoga's inner balance? Hopefully a maturing me includes wisdom, acceptance, peace and a forum to continue searching and practicing. In best moments, I'm up for this change. I've a strong sense the final phase of life will focus on the yoga of relationship.
I shrug when folks warn me not to move until I know what I'm doing. Know what I'm doing, you must be kidding! Don't have a lotta illusions about moving or myself. I fall in love with most landscapes. After all these years, I still look for seaweed and anemones along inland shores, sniff the air for tides. My soul will always miss mountains, canyons, sagebrush and streams. How can it not! I'm certain I'll always see mountains through stacks of midwestern clouds. Yet I've always missed (midwest) lightening bugs and lightening storms! Occasionally I realize how gently I let go of years of passionate snow skiing, no regrets. I can change. Shift can happen if I allow it, let go.
As I write, I see the same loving smiles on Idaho yogis Beth, Marli, Betty, Joyce and others, as I saw on the faces of the table of elders who greeted me last winter when I returned to Illinois. Out of the blue, women who hadn't seen me since teenage swim team days, smiled and blessed me. Knew I had to return to receive this final blessing. Abundant masters and angels everywhere if I'm wise and patient enough to recognize them.
...let go, let go, let go, let go, let go, let go...
September 2005 -- Locked down yoga lessons
Had no idea how much I'd enjoy yoga with gals headed into prison. I'd been warned about the challenges of working with female offenders. However, by the time they sift down to those who show up for yoga, I'm only dealing with a few women who are grateful for the opportunity to relax.
Since April, I've stopped by the jail annex Thursday afternoons to offer an hour of yoga to those who sign up. Turns out, that's not very many. There are 20 new purple yoga mats but the most who've showed up is 8, if I recall the first class correctly. I was also told the women stay for up to 3 months, but it turns out that's more of a maximum; those I've met thus far most are at the annex only a few weeks. I'm lucky to see the same face 3 or 4 times. As a volunteer I set my own schedule, meaning I usually miss at least one Thursday a month, sometimes 2, this summer.
Hadn't realized how grateful the gals would be compared to fitness clubs where members can choose from several dozen yoga classes each week, take or leave any class or instructor and try another! I'm sure the incarcerated women are coached that I'm a volunteer to be thankful for!
The classes I've enjoyed and will remember the longest were with gals with Hispanic and Native American backgrounds, who perked up to the music I played, saying they recognized the drummer, singer, or prayer song.
The women tend to be young, oh so young; occasionally one is a little older. I'm pleased to see any “older” women participate with a group of loose jointed young'uns.
The common ground of course is they're all in trouble, stressed, and I would assume, confused and unhappy. I don't tend to see the hard, tough side that brought them behind bars. Those women hang in the back, watching tv or sleeping. Bless them. To me those who show up are just kids who needed attention, screwed up and got it through unskillful means, presumably drugs, since they're in substance abuse programs.
Those who show up tend to be young, quick and limber, with bright eyes and youthful bodies. Quite a contrast from the older minds and bodies I meet in classes elsewhere. These young gals know left and right and try so very hard to do well. They want something to go right in their lives. Since I see them only once or twice, I do very little correcting or adjusting, just support, which is easy since they pay attention well and are comparatively open and honest. If they feel pain, they don't hide it--someone usually bursts out and says something. They also know where their feet are and stand well. Showing up for yoga is quite an accomplishment, for anyone, especially those who chose to break from the tv crowd, risking peer ridicule.
After one class a gal slipped up to me and asked if yoga made you cry. I nodded, “Sometimes". I was grateful to be reminded to mention that tears happen, are normal. I'm always a little jealous when someone feels easily.
Maybe one of these years, I'll connect with a larger pool behind bars. Meanwhile, this is a good introduction. As as usual, who learns most? Yours truly, again.
June 2005 -- Moving into Lotus with Eric Schiffman
Looking for an excuse to return to lovely Tassajara, in spite of strong memories of heat and bugs, sent deposit for mid June workshop with zen/yoga team of Edward Espe Brown and Eric Schiffman. Appreciate Brown's essays and recipes; love Schiffman's Moving into Silence.
The gods were good--an unseasonable cool front hung over the area, leaving Californians whining and me smiling. Bugs lay low; I wore all my layers at once, wishing I hadn't broken my commandment never to travel without long underwear. Ed, the legendary Tassajara chef, is a delightful, young hearted zen priest, just the way they oughta be. He spoke simply and humbly.
Eric started studying yoga in his teens. (My California roommate quipped--still looks like a CA surfer dude. I paused, and nodded, realizing I'd missed the scene.) Appreciated greatly Schiffman's upfront statement that since meditation is the goal of yoga, the most important thing, he does it first; doesn't it leave it 'til the last of class where there might not be time. He taught flow style--from cat-cow through dog, cobra and camel. Had a sense he was almost on autopilot; kept wondering where his mind was. Loved the way he encouraged us to extend arms, weight palms, connect arms into shoulders; took that home. His basic instructions: Take the Pose, Settle into the Pose; and Relax into the Pose were so simply it was a relief to hear them from someone so large in the yoga world. Relax into the Pose---yes, yes yes! Permission to relax!
Between the peace of Tassajara (early morning hot soaks) and the mantra "relax into the pose", I began melting. One afternoon I came back to the cabin, looked at the bed and surrendered. Still carrying that morning's relaxation in body and mind, slept painlessly and effortlessly on my back, like I've never done. In my book, that's power yoga. The mantra continues with me.
In later sessions Eric tried to turn us into lotus pretzels doing hip rotator variations. The crowd was eager (especially the middle aged, self proclaimed buddhist fellow who thrashed near me throughout the sessions, totally ignoring the instructor. So I'm not the only instructor who experiences that!) I could only laugh and imagine introducing these extreme poses to seniors. Right. I can't do them and neither can or should the vast majority of the students I meet. And most who do lotus, do it at the expense of their back and knees. Even after wailing away at my hips, I wasn't sore, suggesting that if bones aren't aligned right, joints can't open. Why push the river?
So I made a long trip "to the bathroom" during the heart of the next extreme session. Always suspect I'm in the wrong class when a teacher says things like "it might take a few months to accomplish lotus". What about years? Lifetimes? Been a long, long time since Schiffman was a beginner!
Don't recall Eric mentioning much about breathing, so I'm...
Back in Boise, Breathing and Relaxing into the pose
March 2005 -- Mercury retrograde: fitness club blues
Shudda known I was in for a rough week at Club Screamin' Starlin' when I subbed early in the week and attended an adjacent class. Recognized several faces I hadn't seen in a long time--looked like they'd found their yoga home. After the lovely instructor--such personal peace-- explained a good way to sit cross-legged, class took off. For example, only 2 sets of neck turns R-L-R-L (in "my" class I encourage folks to do a whole bunch, at least 20, my master used to say). Class clipped right along; soon we were doing sun salutation. We were encouraged to stretch and move during and after poses. Never a dull moment for the over stimulated, I thought, almost continual motion. Always valuable to visit around.
A few days later when several folks from "other" classes visited "my" class, shudda known I was in for it--the natives were restless. After we sat and "grounded" a few minutes, I suggested we stretch achilles on the stairway, drop heels off edge of steps, one of the strongest achilles stretches I know. (Shortened hamstrings, tight calves and achilles have been on my mind lately.)
Modeling the stretch from the top of the stairs, when I looked behind I was surprised to see several "students from other classes" standing on tiptoes. "Does your achilles hurt?" I queried. "No, I just feel like doing this--it feels good". Uh oh. Gonna be a long 45 minutes. More folks stood on tiptoes. So much for releasing achilles.
Back in the classroom, I was startled to find one "student" had stayed behind! "Got into doing shoulder things", he explained, arm extended at the wall. Achilles, 0.
Already standing, figured we'd go onto a rib stretch and balance pose with straps. Talked us through the first side, or so I thought, then returned to tadasana.
When I "teach" I sometimes close eyes, focus inward. Or, when I'm ill at ease or nervous, I avoid eye contact. When I "peeked" during tadasana, I was startled again, to see a new student (from, not only "my" class, but I'd just learned "others") who'd seemed so attentive, still on one leg. It had been a strong pose, so I quipped kindly (I hoped), "Did you get stuck!" "No", she replied sweetly, "I'm doing the next side". "Oh", sez I, still standing in tadasana.
Decided bridge would be a good final pose before relaxation. Having fully got the drift of a class completely out of control, talked self through pose-- align knees and feet with hips, weight full foot, draw tailbone towards heels and so on. Suddenly noticed the "student" who'd stayed behind earlier, again doing own thing, balanced on a mountain of props. It was too much. I was sure all the new-to-class-students were watching, planning to follow! Wanted to pull out my gray hair. Lost it and begged, "Please work with me!" Then defended, "There's power working as a group"; and the truth, "It's hard for me (and others) when you do your own thing." Gulp. Looked over at a "regular", following along patiently. Breathed a grateful sigh, both frustrated and humbled. At least, as far as I know, no one tried to do head stand during "savasana". That happened once upon a time. Honest.
Why is it so hard for me to lead? Why don't folks follow? I wouldn't have dreamed of willy nilly doing my own thing during my masters' classes! Obviously I'm the problem. I've never heard another yoga instructor mention students running amok (though I've surely watched folks ignore instructors).
So who's really learning? Who never developed qualities and skills that command respect? Who doesn't want to play mom, or sergeant? Who doesn't respect authority? Learning to be a loving yoga speed bump in these times is no small challenge for this amateur. I propose getting folks to (or stopping them from) stand(ing) on their heads is a piece of cake compared to daring them to stop, listen and breathe!
At times when I'm at a loss I turn to my masters and ask what they did? The answer came quickly--practice patient loving kindness!
A few days later I suddenly "got it". I'm gonna try my "hand" at jail yoga soon: This is just homework!
Will the real student please breathe? That would be me.
...the master will appear...
November 2004 -- More Lessons with Judith
Last August I traveled north to suburb of Edmonton, Alberta, for more lessons with Judith (Hanson Lasater), ably hosted by Yoga for Today. The yankee in me didn't think the group had ever met the likes of Judith--who has! Several of us from the "States" (including a new to Coeur d'A woman!) joined 50 some Canadians for 4 days of restorative yoga training. Glenda gathered a good crowd, ranging from youths to elders. Don't ask me how a 20 year old has the confidence to tell their elders how to take care of themselves but some do! By the end of the training I'd learned from time to time Canada hosts a catholic priest from India, Joe Pereira, teaching restorative workshops, which sure interest me! As always, my horizons were broadened and challenged.
With Judith it's always more than yoga. She says things like: "We've imposed our culture onto yoga! It's become a workout, very yang. Yin of yoga has been lost." As a non power yoga person, I needed ot hear that. She addressed yoga's build in ethics--we reviewed yama and niyama ; importance of language/words-- Judith's a master here also. She continually modeled and emphasized "details" in language, behavior, and as she/we set up poses: asked permission to touch, to photograph, adjusted a hand, a shoulder.... Boring? Old fashioned? I liked it.
She assigned "life time" homework: notice how we react and respond; be conscious of multitasking--do one thing at a time; listen to others; differ between observation and judgment.
Two sessions per day, 1 or 2 restorative poses per session. We jockeyed for positions to watch Judith set up models. Cameras flashed like a lightshow--Judith's suggestion, which I suspect she regretted! Then we practiced setting up partners and being set up by them.
Judith explained the optional follow-up project, due October 1st, designed to "help us learn". If interested in being listed as a restorative teacher: chose and set up 3 restorative poses with 3 models. The challenge called.
Judith (L) demonstrating possibilities with assistant Jennifer.
Glenda (R) anchoring
Back in Boise: unsuspecting neighbor allowed me to practice
setting him up in supported bound angle pose
As I vacationed back to Idaho, scanned mind, yeah, prayed, for potential models. A week later, the fun began--who in the world'd be willing to spend an hour of late summer doing nothing! My first reaction (which I observed) was "Fat Chance I know anyone with so much as a minute to spare!" (Bummer to have flunked Relationship 101!)
Another requirement for models was yoga background. I'm yet to hear back from "my" steadiest, most serious, although no longer involved student. Dared not ask my extremely busy, retired neighbor, who used to come to my home classes until her shoulder was too sensitive... until she mentioned she felt like she could use a vacation. Out of friendship or feeling sorry for me, she agreed "to model", once I made it clear restorative yoga is about opening, not stretching. Knew Sally'd keep her word.
Then Kate, the yogini in whose seniors yoga classes I first subbed in Spokane, and I got together, after many moons, for long overdue, mutual birthdays lunch. The subject of stress, taking care of selves and The Project arose. I agreed to go to her home, knowing she has a young one, but also knowing she appreciates the benefits of yoga and relaxation. Long time fitness club student Betty agreed to help me out--just for me, not her, she clarified. Feeling a bit desperate, what with more time out of town in September, that was good enough for me. Both Betty and Kate know yoga well; both were under the weather with colds.
Miraculously over the next 2 weeks I got together with all three. It was easy when Sally came over from next door, although the challenge of her shoulders was...a little over my head??? For Kate and Betty, filled the RAV with stacks of blankets and towels, small pillows, blocks, sandbags and eye bags. Met Kate at her home one Friday morning, Betty at "the club" on a Saturday afternoon. Snapped and printed digitals; wrote, edited, printed; compiled; mailed.
Not much over a month later, Judith's feedback was here. Challenging models, she commented. Of course, I thought, I'm a difficult student only yoga masters Margaret and Char would have taken on. As best I can, I continue their teachings, attracting folks like myself, who don't fit easily into mainstream classes. Didn't realize there were unchallenging bodies and models; didn't take that path.
Visit teacher listings at: www.restorativeyogateachers.com
May yoga be the speed bump in your life!
January 2004 -- Patanjeli meets Pilates
I've attended weekly pilates classes for a year. (Former pilates attempts, like early yoga, failed.) This round, thanks to instructor Mary Kay, I could tell there was something there for me, and have kept at it. I'm on the (far) edge of benefiting and understanding! Similarly with qigong, I'm beginning to get a taste of dan tien, in yoga, hara. All come together in mind body world.
Long ago I lost touch with my center (among other things!) I've understood that in my mind, but until recently, not body. When I moved from Seattle over 10 years ago I felt a layer of fear I hadn't known was there, lift. Gut no longer knotted easily at noise in the night.
Judith Lasater said something like--pilates is an exercise; yoga's a philosophy. I'd been puzzling. This helped. Yoga practice has helped me wake up and feel--qigong too. Remember being excited one fall when for the first time my back hurt, meaning, I felt my back! Pilates has helped point out what's weak/out of balance and where, generally in no uncertain terms. I more or less can't do a thing well in Pilates. Technically it might be true in yoga also--I've perfected no asanas. Still, I have a sense of accomplishment. My yoga masters focused on what I was learning and was able to do. I thrived like a dormant seed. In my experience pilates doesn't cheer me on or teach letting, balance, softening. But it does teach muscle awareness, finding muscles.
The first time I threw my shoulders forward attempting to create the pilates C shaped spine, I thought, no way can this be good for anyone!
Several years later, I'm still learning how important it is to find and know when and where arms set into shoulders, which pilates seems to emphasize. It's part of yoga, too, drawing and releasing shoulder blades down. However, since the type of pilates I'm around focuses on core, shoulders are right there with hips, ribs and pelvis.
I appreciate that both pilates and yoga emphasize breathing. Rather different qualities of breath to be sure, but breathing. I prefer yoga's let breath lead philosophy to counting breaths in pilates, but I've grown to appreciate the depth of pilates breathing its relationship to stabilizing hips.
It would be honest to say I've struggled for absolutely years of yoga to figure out where my sitzbones were, and were supposed to be during sitting, in yoga classes as well as more formal meditation practice and workshops. "Sit on the points", one instructor said. Sounded good. Another said move forward, another, back. Ach! Again and again, threw up hands in utter confusion! I moved forward, back, right, left... Increasingly I sensed I was swaying my back the more I tried to lift my heart, further disconnecting torso from pelvis. pilates is helping with this mystery, offering "opportunities" to explore and find that upon which I sit. I like Mary Kay's focus on grounding!
It's good to begin reconciling Patanjeli and pilates. Rather like apples and oranges--both fruit, but less likely to be confused, the more one learns.
July 2003 -- Lessons with Judith
Sunday afternoon June 1st I arrived at the end of the precipitous road down into Tassajara Zen Retreat. In the intense late afternoon heat, I noted a stellars jay inside a parked mercedes benz (sun roof cracked open). Last March I signed up for "Yoga and Meditation" with yoga master Judith Lasater and Abbess Linda Cutts. August 1971, just before Tassajara's beloved Shunryu Suzuki Roshi transitioned, a friend and I found our way to Tassajara in my VW Bug to say hello to a fellow Boulderite--I'd stayed in the parking lot--then spent a hot, mosquitoey night on the ridge above. 32 years later I was back.
Having been unable to learn a start time for the workshop I walked in on introductions half way around a large circle. With her infamous line, "Would you be willing", Judith asked me to introduce myself (name, where from and what reading), then go on around the circle and repeat everyone else's name. "We'll help," she stated. It wasn't a question. Right. A few years ago I would have bolted--nothing this socially uneasy stranger likes less than entering a room where everyone else has already met, something of a worse case scenario. The other 30 some folks indeed called out every name. (I was clue less of course, having never seen anyone but Judith before, although I recalled how Paul Theroux simply makes up names and was tempted.)
I was obviously not in Idaho! No way would red blooded Idahoans (even adopted) introduce selves with by books! California--another world!
With the help of the kind registrar and a map, found cabin, roommate and dining hall. Mentioned the bird in the car. As I brought things in from the car, met man in the parking closing the sunroof the bird had slipped through. (That turned out to be a mere foreshadow of aggressive Tassajara stellars jays, which outdo Rocky Mtn Natl Park's.) Since Tassajara is renown for vegetarian fare I was a bit taken back by a brown tofu stew that first night--painful memories of Indralaya indigestion flashed before me. However, ever after meals were healthy and delicious.
Abbess Cutts taught first session each morning (it was several days before I realized one young gal in the group was her daughter!). Judith followed, plus taught a second restorative session late afternoons. In my opinion, even several months later, the worst part about the retreat was the physical labor of dismantling and setting up the zendo each time we used it which was several times a day (it was used in between our sessions for meditation). For each class, zendo dividers had to be removed and stacked; zafus moved, and yoga gear hauled in; afterwards the process was reversed. Since we were each "required" to bring 4 wool blankets, yoga mat, blocks and bolsters, gear for 30+ was a veritable mountain. Especially the first few days, I was exhausted and uncertain what went where. It about put me over the edge to be assigned to break down or set up the zendo; I work much better as a volunteer, which I did when I began to get accustomed to the process.
With that said I can proceed with Lessons with Judith. Perhaps most of all, Judith is a master of modeling getting needs met--whether it's setting up the zendo or paying attention to her teaching. For example Judith would say "My need is to have all of you close enough to see my demonstration of this pose". The side of the zendo nearest Judith was designated advanced. More work-- commuting from the beginner side (where I found space) of the spacious zendo (totally filled) to the side on which Judith was demonstrating --"Watch out, don't walk in front of the Buddha". Time and again I unfolded legs and ankles, came to standing and limped to the other side. (For the past umpteen months my right foot has been very tender. Walking after sitting was excruciating...) Eventually my roomie simply announced, I won't be there tomorrow. (We didn't have to attend sessions, but were asked to send word when we would not.) Ann was exceptionally honest about how tired she was, and she was in the advanced half of the room, commuting less!!
The first morning we gathered Judith asked that "we be willing to try asking" our bodies, rather than demanding them to do this and that. I think she mentioned something about violence we do to our bodies. I was home. (Char would have said "allow". Same thinking.) We worked on feet. Yes, yes. How indeed can one go onto dog or triangle without a good foundation? I felt validated. The past couple of years, I really haven't had an official yoga teacher. Back home my classes work on feet, while all around us, other classes do "real", power yoga.....
With each session poses became increasingly difficult (though nothing like most workshops, which I've learned not to attend). We worked and worked and worked on Triangle. Coming back to it again and again. I liked that; it's a pose I've spent a lot of time studying.
I watched with interest the time and attention spent with people who were not familiar with yoga, or who had little awareness of their bodies, but chose the advanced section. I never cease to be amazed at who we think we are. I stayed with the beginners where I belonged, though it was harder to see and hear and meant getting up and down more often! Only once did Judith walk by and notice my above averagely well aligned feet and say, something about good alignment in Idaho. "We have good teachers," I said, although my alignment masters aren't popular local teachers.
Following one class I watched Judith work one on one with another "Jeannie" who teaches. Several of us were listening and watching. I could tell from what I was overhearing and seeing about adjusting hips and sacral plate that she was addressing the exact questions I have about my hips. Boldly I asked if she, Judith, would be willing to share what she was saying with all of us as I suspect a number of us would be interested. Having absolutely no trouble saying no, Judith said, No she would not be willing, but she would take a look at my hips the following day. I tried to talk with the other Jeannie about what had happened but she said something like it takes a professional to align hips; one can't do it oneself. Since I'm a do it myself-er, I was shocked into silence.
The next day Judith looked at me and said right off (if I got it right): your femurs need to move back (into your hips); your shoulders should be over the femurs. She demonstrated the difference in alignment strength by putting weight on shoulders, with femurs forward, and back. Nearly all Americans need to move femurs back, she said, in order to reclaim lower back curve (echoed in curve of neck). "You are not sway back", she rebutted. (I'm not? Then why...) For years I've puzzled and explored--tuck, tilt, tuck, tilt? (If only I were able to sense my tailbone!) Exactly like the woman the day before, Judith had me lay face down, knees bent, bottoms of feet towards ceiling . She told me to resist as she drew my right foot up. (Opposite side with the other Jeannie.)
Felt subtly freer as I hiked downstream after lunch, to sit in the water, smacking biting flies. Hmm. My mind was absolutely spinning. Judith's understanding of the body and physical therapy, strikes me as unparalleled. I'd love to take her 3 session anatomy series in San Francisco. As depressing as it is to struggle with alignment for so very many years and still be inches off AND confused, felt I'd gained a valuable piece of insight into the mystery of sacral plate. I know it's key to core strength. Judith's posture, strong back and legs are inspiring (not to mention her knowledge and teaching skills).
A Second Superb Lesson from Judith was the way she built workshop community, probably starting with the ordeal of introductions. By now I've been to pretty many workshops, usually as the stranger from Idaho. Evidently by forcing us to learn about each other, she loosened a lot of the usual distance (that I'm always so aware of). Had more fun and laughs that week than I'd ever had at any workshop. One woman shared at the end that she'd fallen in love with everyone. Yup. Something about Judith and her tall equally extroverted husband demanding his body do his will, put us all at ease to be ourselves and laugh together. Thanks to the young firefighter from Salinas we had many a hoot before the women's hot tub closed each night. I was so grateful.
After closing circle Friday afternoon, I drove straight up the hill towards the ridge to the first campground I came to, where I stayed 2 nights, wondering, at first, why I was more exhausted than when I arrived! That's when I decided it was the constant hobbling and schlepping of dividers and blankets, futons and zafus. I was done in. Also realized this had been far from a silent retreat, like so many are. In fact, wine at dinner had made for a rather raucous atmosphere. Just sitting with folks drinking wine made me high! Seems almost passive aggressive to invite booze into a meditation center. It was somewhat surreal passing robed monks in the evenings, while folks had cocktails on cabin porches! I absolutely loved watching monks bow, hearing gongs, drums and wooden clackers. Wanted to be closer to that aspect of the retreat, but the early morning and late night meditation schedule would have made days even longer than they already were, so I only attended one "in house" event.
For two nights of perfect California weather, under huge oaks, listening to strange birds, I sorted out these discontinuities as I camped alone and silent. What a teacher! What fine lessons!
Thank you, Judith!!!
It's a New Millennium! Attendance in yoga classes rose during The Holidays-- then bloomed in the New Year!
I too (after a couple of confusing yoga sessions in the '70s and '80s) discovered the lasting benefits of yoga, following a New Year's resolution,
January 1990. I'd given up jogging--sensing it was doing my knees no favor. Lo, right next door to me at Green Lake Parks and Rec the right teacher was waiting! A ballerina with a physical education degree, Margaret protected our spines like a hawk. No more laying on the floor nearly paralyzed with an irritated instructor standing over me telling me not to do whatever I'd just done--as if I knew! The rest is history! Over the years Margaret and I became lasting friends. We still visit when I go to Seattle.
Ten years and several communities later, I arrived in Boise in despair of finding another wise teacher like Margaret. Along the way I began offering gentle yoga classes in church basements and nursing home community rooms, even a red matted combat room, sharing what I believed to be the clear, basic teachings of my first teacher which I'd been unable to find again once I moved east of the Cascades. Before I had an address in Boise, Community Education (one of the reasons I moved to Boise) signed me on to share yoga. Lo, upon my arrival in les bois, my second major teacher, Char Monson, appeared, and in her gracious way, welcomed me to Boise and the yoga community. Just in time, I again had a teacher and guide.
I sense folks welcome the relaxation and inner focus of yoga practice and am grateful beyond words for company balancing body-mind and spirit during the short days of winter. What a gift, to set aside lists, plans, worries, schedules, family, and turn within and breathe. Yes!
People come to stretch, strengthen, feel better. Because their doctor or a friend suggested yoga. Because they've always wanted to try yoga.
Because they enjoy it.
We usually begin class, sitting, as my masters begin class.
Carefully fold or roll your leaf or lily pad into a bolster. OK, seriously, fold a bath towel (1,2,3...) to form a firm base/bolster. Hook your sitting bones (the ends of the femurs if I got it right) on edge of your bolster (as opposed to balancing on top of the bolster) so hips can rotate a bit, spine extend, groin open and torso lift. (Guideline: knees should be no higher than hip bones. Use a larger bolster until knees are below hip bones/knobs.) When sitting cross legged, rest feet on their sides (rather than their backs). If feet and ankles roll inward, place small roll (hand towel or socks) under one or both ankles. This helps align and support knees. (Or, if you'd like, sit tall on a straight chair, ankles under knees, knees and feet and ankles hip width and parallel. Sink sitting bones into chair, lift top of head, lengthen spine upward and downward.)
The natural curves of our spine balance each other: neck (cervical) and lower back (lumbar). As one practices sitting, connections become clearer, much learning takes place. As you "sink" the sitting bones into the bolster, lift the back of the head, the "crown" towards the ceiling or sky. Sense the opening in the back of the neck that comes from moving the chin back, inward towards the body a tad, and dropping it slightly. Lift sternum/breastbone up and out, freeing the chest and abdominal cavity for the heart to beat and lungs to breathe.
Allow shoulders to drop away from ears. Let elbows be heavy, shoulders soften.
Proper sitting helps lengthen the spine and release compression. A classic image is to think of the spine as a string of pearls. Make space between vertebrae "pearls" for the disks to be nourished, to protect the vertebrae. Allow energy and oxygen to flow up and down the spine. We're as young as our spines! Let your breath become natural, sinking into your belly. Relax, let go, breathe.
link to EARLIER YOGA LESSONS -- 2000-early 2003. Includes Tribute to Char Monson
FAVORITE VISUAL RESOURCES
Video series: Suzanne Deason's
of Yoga, Level 1 and 2
Gentle Yoga: balance your health and weight permanently, Naomi Judith Offner
Gentle Yoga with Margot Kitchen - video
Yoga Journal's Yoga for Relaxation and Meditation - DVD
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