Yogini Again-y

This is an actual asana (position). It's one of my favorites. Now c'mon people - why did it take me a week and the purchase of a book to force myself onto the floor to do this - knowing I would feel better?

I really dislike being a cliché, but, yes, I’m just another middle-aged woman with a bunch of bad habits who thinks yoga is going to rescue me from myself.

There are worse delusions.

A few years ago, I regularly practiced a very lazy form of hatha yoga. My reward was a flexibility that surprised doctors and which I took for granted. I have long attributed yoga as being the reason I am not in a wheelchair. As my neurosurgeon said, “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.”

Well. I didn’t.

In April of 2007, I was in a car wreck that looked to be minor. There was $400 damage to my car and $32,000 (and counting) damage to my body. The first six months were lost in a miasma of pain and medical appointments – orthopedist, podiatrist, chiropractor, physical therapist, massage therapist. There were pain pills, outpatient surgeries, a walker, crutches, surgical shoes, ice packs, steroids and much complaining. Yoga was impossible when simply getting out of bed or up out of a chair exhausted my physical reserves.

The acute phase of my injuries passed and I thought I had reached a point where I could return to yoga class.

The yoga class I attended at the time of the car accident barely meets the definition. It is terminally a beginner class – ideal for out-of-shape Westerners with no interest in the mental aspects of yoga. I began attending this class when the woman who introduced me to yoga retired from teaching. I miss her still. She, too, didn’t press us too far outside our western sensibilities, but she did gently push us into more challenging poses and did discuss how our brains could become as flexible as our bodies if we paid strict attention to our breath, the position of our bodies, and our attitude towards the world.

Shiva Rea doing what I could almost, but not quite, do at the peak of my practice.

I was intrigued enough that I studied on my own and practiced on my own. Most yoga folks will tell you that a formal class is indispensible, but that daily home practice is just as necessary.

I’ve done neither for the better part of three years. I tried to return to class, but ongoing problems with my foot and hip made formal class a debacle. On one occasion it took the instructor and a classmate to get me up off the floor. More importantly, my return to class resulted in a return to pain. A cardinal rule in yoga practice is Do No Hurt – the very antithesis of no pain, no gain.

Still. I should have done what I could at home. There was much I could have done without pain. I should have stayed in the formal class – sitting out the poses that stressed my injured foot and hip. I should have done things differently. But I was appalled at how much I had lost and embarrassed at needing help with poses I’d been doing for years. Vanity will always get us in trouble.

This is why a formal class is indispensable – it keeps you motivated and humble. The closest I’ve come to yoga at home is to push aside my unitard in search of a pair of leggings to wear to bed. Foolish me.

This past December I had what I hope is my final foot surgery. Unlike the previous two surgeries, this one seems to have taken – the pain is finally gone and my foot works like a foot should.

Due in part to the novel about India I just finished, I’ve been feeling like a back-slidden yogini. [And, yes, I do hate that word for its pretentiousness, but I have no other to use.]

More importantly, I’m about as flexible as a potato chip and everything hurts. I’ve lost a lot of ground in three years.

I could do this - and do it well. It's a lot easier than it looks and my back feels so good during the pose.

It’s been hard to get started. I have the books. I have the mat. I have the DVDs and audio tapes. I have the unitard. That formal class still meets every Tuesday. That vanity thing again. I have to start over from the very beginning. Lie on the floor, arms and legs gently flexed and relaxed. Breathe in. Breathe out. Push your spine flat to the floor. Hold. Release. Remember to breathe.

I’ve been mentally preparing myself for a return to regular yoga practice. Mentally was as far as I got. I simply could not force myself to get up and lay on the floor to begin despite the fact that under normal circumstances yoga has always, ALWAYS, been an activity of deep contentment – even as a beginner, especially as a beginner. There was a time I rushed to the mat to begin the descent into the pleasure of a united brain and body.

I am very aware of the mind/body split. I can get lost in what Diane Ackerman terms Deep Play – a time when my brain behaves like a Ferrari – effortless coasting at high speed and cornering like a dream. I can get lost in the physical sensations of hard work while gardening or working on the house – reveling in muscle fiber stretching, relaxing and increasing. Yoga joins those two states of being.

I could not, cannot, understand my reticence to begin practice again. I did everything except get on the mat and begin. I suppose discovering how debilitated I’ve become was part of it. Part of it could be sheer laziness. Mostly it is chagrin. I didn’t do what I knew I should.

Today, I went to the book store to escape the humidity of this hot, stormy afternoon. I ended up in the yoga section, squatting on the floor, cursing the pain in my hip and the ache in my back. I was looking for the Holy Grail of DVDs or books. I looked at the jacket of each offering trying to decide if this particular one would have the phrase or the image I needed to get me on the mat. All the while I told myself the problem was a lack of discipline and no book, no DVD was going to provide the impetus I needed.

After struggling to get up off the floor, I walked over to the café with B.K.S. Iyengar’s Yoga Wisdom & Practice. Iyengar is credited with creating the yoga renaissance of the past few decades. It’s a beautiful book of lithe bodies, gorgeous symmetry, the power of simple words that sound stupid to people who haven’t experienced the mind/body fusion of yoga.

It turns out I was wrong. In spite of the balance in the checkbook, I bought the book. Just looking at those strong, flexible bodies, or perhaps it was the expenditure of money, provided the impetus to begin. I came home, dragged out the DVD most appropriate for a beginner, put on the unitard and made it through 28 minutes of a 40 minute program. I’m pleased I listened to my body and stopped when I should.

I feel good. My hip aches far less than it did. As I moved from seated positions to standing ones and back again, each successive rise from the floor was easier. By the end of the 28 minutes, it was hard to understand how it was I’d had so much trouble getting off the floor at the bookstore.

I expect to continue.

Below is Shiva Rea who is pushes a type of yoga called Vinyasa Flow Yoga. It’s a beautiful dance-like form. I don’t expect to ever be this good, but . . .

10 thoughts on “Yogini Again-y

  1. Thanks for writing this!

    I practiced yoga on and off for 10 years, and then I got married…and got a puppy…and 1.5 years later I haven’t done much yoga (okay, none at all, except maybe 15 minutes one time, in my bathroom).

    I resonate with the “backslidden yogini” idea, and too have been contemplating going back to yoga. The thought overwhelms me, because how can I go from a daily couch potato to yogini again? My fellow yogini says to take it slow and to also recognize how I do embrace yoga in my life on a daily basis (breathing and a mindfulness outlook) that are already contributing to my motivation to get back to the asanas. She suggested 10 minutes or 15 minutes…one sun salutation or one pose (child’s pose maybe, or 1/2 lotus) just to get my muscle memory back into place.

    Perhaps I can do that this week…10 minutes or 5 minutes doesn’t seem as daunting as a full blown workout…it eases my perfectionistic mind maybe. Maybe YOU can be my inspiration…a fellow backsliding yogini who wants to get on track.

    Blessings 🙂

    • There are some women who started a program to help people get their houses under control (clutter, dirt, disorganization, etc.. Their method is “baby steps” – do just 15 minutes of work and then stop. The philosophy being that an all or nothing approach is too overwhelming. They’re at http://www.flylady.com, btw. I adopted some of their methods years ago and learned that 15 minutes at a time once or twice a day really adds up. Before you know it, you can open closet doors without fearing for your life. 🙂

      When I wrote this post, I wasn’t thinking about that method, but your reply triggered the memory.

      My one mat session yesterday has done me a world of good. 28 minutes of practice put me in the right frame. I’m sitting here typing and remembering to sit up straight. When I woke up, I stretched before getting out of bed and then stretched some more after standing up. It’s all those little things that I used to do as much as the mat sessions that kept me feeling good.

      We can do this together.

    • http://www.yogajournal.com is a splendid place to begin. There are videos, articles, photos – everything you could possibly want to know. But, really, the best thing to do is to find a local class and go. A lot of hospitals as part of their wellness programs have beginner classes that are very inexpensive. The one I attend is $2 per session with no commitment to attend more than one class.

      Another option is to go to a bookstore, sprawl on the floor and look at the books and DVDs to see which ones resonnate with you. An instructor on a DVD that I love, you may hate. The same with books.

      Personally, I would avoid anything that combines yoga with something else – Yoga/Pilates, Yoga/Perpendicular Tree Climbing, Yoga/Knitting. It well may be possible to combine yoga practice with something else (I used to have a Yoga/Fold Laundry practice) but you’re not really going to understand what is yoga and what is not if you start with a blend.

      When reading yoga publications, it’s easy to get the idea that you need a ton of crap to practice. Balderdash. Most folk I know wear a loose t-shirt, baggy shorts and use a mat from Walmart. I wear the unitard only because I can’t stand my t-shirt riding up, falling over my head and suffocating me during Downward Facing Dog – but this is a personal problem and most folks don’t have issues.

      • ah so
        I’ve had Dandasana on my Yoga Cards displayed on my desk for months. I’ve done it maybe once??? I love yoga but have more excuses than you and Jade put together for being a backslider. It’s sorta sad. You know you’re not practicing compassion toward your body (today is the Dalai Lama’s Bday) when you avoid something that makes you feel so much better. I do sort of practice Sukhasana (Easy Pose) when I do my morning sit quiet but sometimes even that is too sloppy and slouchy to count for much. Reading this genuinely makes me want to do better–and I think I will because I think I can.

  2. There really are no accidents…..I am working on a post about humorous things (at least to me) and thought of The Mad Bluebird. So I googled the image and up popped numerous shots and for some reason I chose yours. I will get a larger copy for my post, but in the meantime I clicked on over to your blog from google images and …… to shorten this, aside from the severe pain and surgery you have had I could have written this myself! I started yoga in 2000 with beginner tapes: Rodney Yee and Patricia Walden. Joined a class in 2001. Hummed right along, loving my mat more than about any place on the earth, for about four years on my own (the class seemed to reset when a new person came along so I wasn’t learning anything new). Then stopped regular practice for maybe a year, then stopped practicing altogether. And for the life of me I really can’t figure out why.
    So 2010 was the year to begin again. I found a group of young women who have a combined blog titled Yoga 90 and liked the concept and made it to day 78, then company came for a week and, well, here I am again. I started Yoga 90 again last week and made it four days before I found something else “more important” to do in the morning. Excuses. All this after having written a post in my other</em blog, Clutterquake, that yoga was the most important thing to me…

    I will begin Yoga 90 again today. And it is definitely Iyengar Yoga that seems what my body wants and needs (fibromyalgia, etc.) so I will pull out my Patricia Walden tapes again. My massage therapist of 15 years is quitting for awhile — I actually have my last session with her today — and I was thinking that I might take a yoga class in place of massage, as both would stretch the budget.

    I'll see if the "follow" works here as yours is different than Blogger follow, because I'd like to see how it is going with you!

    Thanks for a great post that I found most inspiring. I'm going to look into that book you mentioned…

    • Lydia and Furry’s post remind me of some of the addicts and alcoholics I work with.
      They get clean and sober, start working a program of recovery and their life gets better. They continue on that path and their life gets REALLY good. Then they begin slacking on their recovery program and their life begins to deteriorate. Pretty soon they’ve completely abandoned their recovery program and are back to living a hellish life of addiction dependency and wondering what happened.

      While I’ve not swayed too badly from my recovery program, I do allow my self to become overweight, quit excersizing, stop meditating, etc. which always leads me to a more negative place in the world.

      Why don’t we totally embrace that which makes us feel, look and act better?

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