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 . . .

Misery Diet

If spending hours on the damn thing, it's best to have a book.
If spending hours on the damn thing, it’s best to have a book.

Introduction (with TMI)

Since I have lost about 20% of my bodyweight in 8 months without trying, I thought I would share what I know about the Misery Diet. (Consider this a public service.)

The Misery Diet is not for wusses.  There’s a reason it is named such.

About two years ago, I was in a car accident that appeared to be minor. Nonetheless, I enjoyed dozens and dozens of doctor’s appointments, two surgeries, multiple prescriptions for pain pills, a walker, and what appears to be an incompetent attorney.

Since all that wasn’t enough drama, my family behaved badly including, on two occasions, suddenly dying, my significant other failed to remember who the drama queen in the relationship is, and my job got nutso. Then the stress really started. [Insert tales nobody will believe, but happened nonetheless.]

Add in an incorrigible gallbladder, menopause, financial difficulties, seasonal affective disorder, ADD, and a couple glasses of wine; stir, strain through a cheese cloth and voila! The perfect conditions for a successful Misery Diet.

One cannot just have a hang nail, a cheating spouse, or a retirement fund tanking. An effective Misery Diet must possess circumstances that even soap operas steer clear of in an effort to mimic reality. The individual situations can vary, but must be marked by a broad spectrum of disasters that little, if nothing, can be done to alleviate them save waiting out the Universe. (Chanting This Too Shall Pass won’t really help, but it’s kind of comforting.)

There is an enormous savings on groceries.

The gallbladder factor is crucial to the Misery Diet grocery savings. If stress is sufficient, even if one has previously been a stress eater, there will be a complete disinterest in food. A malfunctioning gallbladder will make it impossible to eat (or to keep food down) if bearer of the organ decides eating is necessary to keep up strength for stress battles. A truly incorrigible gallbladder does not play well with stress.  Meals become a cup of green tea, a couple spoons of green beans, and the occasional boiled egg. Oatmeal is a perennial favorite. If menopause is a factor, faux morning sickness will add color and drama to the situation.

Exercise becomes more about toning flab than burning calories.

Until strength gives out from malnutrition, exercise shifts from a calorie-burning activity to a desperate effort to maintain muscle tone. It’s a losing battle, but the Misery Diet isn’t complete without the insult-to-injury of mind-numbing, repetitive exercise. Mental health professionals will insist it helps mood and physiologists insist it maintains muscle mass and bones. You can’t argue with those folks. (Well you can, but it gets you about as far down the road as a recumbent exercise bike.) There’s no aesthetic benefit to reducing one’s BMI if arm wattles sway in the breeze and thighs sag to the knees.

Archaeological excavations of closets for skinny jeans, etc. are enlightening.

As poundage slinks away, the search for something that fits is complicated by the financial difficulties inherent to an authentic Misery Diet. Buying new is out of the question. The first places to reduce in size are the places you least want to lose mass. Packrats will enjoy some walks down Memory Lane while searching for their 5th grade training bra and maternity underpants.

Packrats will further enjoy reliving their youth from the Wannabee Hippy, Disco Queen, Professional Mom, Bringing Home the Bacon and Frying It Up in the Pan, Earth Mother, Diva, and, finally, Wild-Eyed Menopausal Running with Wolves Harpie fashion eras. This aspect of the Misery Diet can be fun especially if you start mixing and matching genres and blocking out the PTSD aspects of the Misery Diet by spending hours pondering what part of sequined turtleneck with loaf-of-bread-sized shoulder pads was a good idea. Non-packrats will further accelerate stress levels by realizing a need to learn complicated sewing techniques to facilitate alteration of clothes.

Not exactly Freudian or Jungian analysis, pondering early fashion choices will, if allowed, shine a light on parts of one’s psyche better left moldering in the dark.

Nutrition needs eat up savings on groceries.

An effective Misery Diet needs months to mature. As soon as it becomes evident that this is an authentic Misery Diet, it is necessary to buy various vitamin and herbal supplements lest one’s hair fall out and eyeballs turn yellow. Hydration is also an issue and bottled water can be damned expensive. (See note about financial distress.) To add further insult, the body may occasionally agree to be hungry, but will crave only out-of-season fruit, Godiva truffles, or leg-of-lamb with imported mint chutney.


The weight loss can be considerable and becoming a flamboyant anachronistic dresser does provide some amusement. Even so, I cannot recommend this method of weight loss. Proceed with caution.