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 . . .

Epically Bad Movies

It's bad. Very bad. Phenomenally bad.

Contrary to what it may seem like given this post and yesterday’s, I rarely go to the theater to see a movie.

About twenty years ago, I endured a bad string of movies for which I paid the insane ticket price, $3.50 at the time, to see dreck. On top of paying to have my intelligence and artistic sensibilities insulted, I was subjected to a freezing cold room, too-loud audio, brutally uncomfortable seats and an American public who think the Constitution supports a God-given right to be rude, boorish, and loud.

That string of bad movies coincided with the rise of VCRs and premium movie channels. Twenty years later, I only go to the theater if it’s a movie I think must be seen on a big screen or if it’s one that’s creating a lot of buzz and I want to see what folks are yammering on about.

A few years ago it was Pirates of the Caribbean. Not even the loin quivering effect of Depp’s eyeliner could overcome the physical miseries of the theater. It was July. It was brutally hot and I went, in part, to escape the heat. The theater was cold enough to raise penguins. Completely miserable, I pulled my arms out of my sleeves and huddled under my t-shirt in the feeble warmth of much-laundered cotton. I eventually brought my knees up under the t-shirt, wrapped my arms around my knees, gripped my sandaled toes and hunkered down to ride out the movie. I resembled ET sitting in the bicycle basket.

And while I shivered, my teeth aching with the bass of too-loud Surround Sound, I resisted the urge, in part because I would have to extricate myself from the t-shirt, to pummel the people sitting near me who talked, one to another, and on cell phones. Who were up and down like popping kernels of corn. Who did not disappoint my opinion that we need to have a presidentially appointed Etiquette Czar.

I didn’t step foot in a theater until We Are Marshall was released. This movie was filmed in the town I work in and told the story of the aftermath of the 1970 plane crash that killed Marshall University’s football team along with many civic leaders. The theater in question was a new one and everyone I knew talked about how nice and how comfortable it was. I was dubious, but it turned out to be true. We Are Marshall was a disappointment, but the theater was a delight.

So about once or twice a year now, I’ll go see a movie. I figured Friday’s viewing of Babies was 2010’s offering. However, last night I was charged with taking five teenage girls to see Grown Ups starring Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Salma Hayek, Kevin James, David Spade, and Rob Schneider. I had no illusions the movie would be an artistic triumph. But given what was spent on the payroll, I figured the movie would at least be mildly entertaining. I fervently hoped Adam Sandler’s penchant to play the same obnoxious character over and over again would be squashed.

I have never, and I do mean never, seen such an inept movie. The acting was bad, the script was worse, the jokes too tired to even limp through the movie. I think I was supposed to be amused and heart-warmed by the foibles of the American family that, though buffeted about by the winds of change, manage to hang onto the core values immortalized by Norman Rockwell.

There were fart jokes, boob jokes, and pee jokes. Tired clichés. Slapstick comedy in a lake house somewhere in mid-America with Salma Hayek traipsing through all the scenes in designer clothes, cleavage, and stiletto heels except for one scene in which it appeared she was wearing a cheerleading costume made of newspaper. The only saving quality was that Adam Sandler did play a different role than his usual one – one so bad that his usual obnoxiousness might have been preferable. 

It was as if they tried a mash up of The Big Chill, Porkies, and On Golden Pond

It was so very bad.

Here’s how bad it was: even the teenagers didn’t like it.

The theater, however, was quite comfortable.

Babies (The Movie)

I have been wild about babies since I wasn’t much older than one. The first time I can remember succumbing to the baby-powder scented, wide-eyed allure of an infant I was 8. Ever since, if you put me within 10 feet of an infant, I have to pluck them from whatever is holding them – people, infant carriers, car seats, cribs, playpens – and nuzzle. I kiss their heads, suck their toes, and engage in a modified Vulcan-mind-lock.

It’s an addiction.

While any child under the age of two will do, I’m especially fond of the 4-5 month old vintages. These small creatures are perfection. They’ve been on the road of life long enough to be able to hold their head up and laugh. They’re also so not so jaded as to fuss about the slavish attentions of someone they’ve never seen in all of their 150 days of existence.

A baby of that vintage is perfectly content to sit on a lap and look adorable for hours at a time. More than just looking adorable, they are – little puff balls of baby fat and smiles earnestly focusing on the fascination of ordinary life. There is no other time in life, other than under the effect of hallucinatory mushrooms, when a balled up sticky note or empty potato chip bag holds the secrets of the universe and must be examined with care.

I come from a long line of baby addicts and now I work with them. No 12-step program for us. We are unabashed in our cootchie-cootchie-coos. We gawk at babies on the street, talk to them in elevators, and rustle them into our laps at any given opportunity.

While it may be true we baby addicts are primarily women, the premier Baby Whisperer is my father. I can routinely charm any baby under the age of 8 months or so, but Dad can have any child under the age of 5 performing at the utmost cutest within a few minutes. He’s the Pied Piper of Little Ones. I’ve seen him convince a complete stranger into dancing at the Bob Evans before the drink orders are filled. At my son’s 6th grade chorus performance, Dad so wound up a toddler in the audience my mother put him in time-out. “Conrad,” she said, “You’re going to get her in trouble.”

A month or so ago, I read the review for the movie Babies. Lord, I was excited.

It’s a movie with almost no dialogue that follows four babies – one each from San Francisco, Tokyo, Namibia, and Mongolia. My inner anthropologist joined forces with my baby addict. 79 minutes of unabashed baby gawking and cultural differences.

I was beginning to despair that the movie would never be shown in my neck of the woods. It did arrive and a fellow addict and I went to see it last night. Besides big screen images of utter cuteness, the movie did a fine job of showing the universal timeline of infant development juxtaposed against differential child rearing practices. For a long time now, I’ve been decrying my need for grandchildren. Well. It’s at fever pitch now.

During the viewing, I was catapulted back in time to my son’s first year of life. I watched those four babies torment a cat, have a tantrum, learn to say mama and struggle to stay awake all the while remembering parts of Chef Boy ‘R Mine’s infanthood that I hadn’t thought about in years.

Not everyone is going to be charmed by this move. Some will be appalled. A larger subsection will be bored, but if you think babies are the pinnacle of perfection you’ll be delighted. The cinematography is spectacular and the scenery is no slouch, but the babies steal the show.