Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Breathing through anxiety

I'm hoping that every single person who is reading this watched last night's debate. This is the most consequential election in our country's history and it demands our very careful consideration and every possible vote.

It also demands, for me at least, that I constantly check the news, Facebook, political podcasts, and every other morsel of information until I'm a useless, jelly-like puddle of horrified anxiety, convinced that this time next year it won't be global warming that's the biggest threat to humanity, but nuclear winter.

What's a little meditation or breath in the face of this overwhelming existential anxiety?

Pretty damn effective, actually.

If you've been anxious like I have lately, even if it's unrelated to politics or injury, I've found this to be a very helpful grounding technique:


Take a comfortable seat, either cross-legged on padding or with two blocks between the ankles in supported hero's pose.

Align your spine - shoulders down and back aligned over the hips, chin slightly tucked and back of the head pulled back in space so the earlobes align over the shoulders.  The crown of the head is aligned over the center of the pelvis.

Imagine a long line, or a long column of light, running from the center of the pelvis up and out through the crown of the head.  With each breath in, that line grows longer in both directions.  With each breath out, soften your body around your tall spine.

Inhale as everything from the navel up grows longer, lighter, taller, more lifted.  Exhale to soften the expression on the face, the jaw, the neck, the shoulders.  Inhale as the crown of the head lengthens toward the ceiling.  Exhale to soften tension in the chest, belly, back, and to release any gripping in the hips or legs.

Imagine everything from the navel up grows taller and lighter, while everything from the navel down becomes heavier, more rooted, more grounded.

Allow the inhalations and the exhalations to be even - inhaling and exhaling for a count of 4 or any length of time that will keep it a calming, easy breath.

Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.

And then go vote.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Yoga Flow In A Cast




Better late than never...

My cast came off on Thursday (yay!  but whose skinny, dough-y calf is that underneath!?!?) but with the help of my magician husband, I've finally been able to upload my yoga class that I made it my goal to create during my weeks in the cast.

This can be done without being in a cast, of course - just don't take any of the necessary protective modifications.  If you're feeling like a challenging class that skips out on Warrior I and Warrior II, and standing in general, please check it out!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Reasons to be Happy

(With apologies to Neil LaBute)



I've been thinking about this quote a lot the past few days.  My moods have been a bit up and down - I can go from cool, self-assured calm about the whole injury situation one minute, to a flurry of worry and anxiety and self pity the other, as the uncertainty about how the healing process will go after the cast comes off weighs on me.

If you ask me the things I'm grateful for, the things I really value and treasure in my life, one of them would be my physical fitness.  My health, my (relative, at this point) youth.  My energy.  My New York paced walk.  My ability to run.  I still have some of those things, of course, but in this temporary situation, I feel more like an ancient slug, with an aching lower back and pain all through my right hip and foot as it bears my weight.

So, how do you avoid the self-pity trap?  It's normal to feel sad and frustrated, and I don't think it would be wise or healthy to suppress those emotions when they come up, but you can't let them drive and you can't let them settle in.

There's got to be a deeper reason for joy, or even just a deeper sense of peace and equanimity that surpasses your life circumstances.  Your relationships, your job, even your health.  Life is nothing but change, as my mom reminded me recently.  This too, shall pass, applies to everything in life - the good, the bad, the indifferent.

The concepts of impermanence and non-attachment are important ones in the practice of yoga.  The idea of practicing, of having a meditative practice, is to hold to that center at your very core, to have a certain amount of equanimity to keep you from getting swept up in the waves of good and bad that live washes over you.

The best example of this, of course, is the tradition of the Sand Mandala among Tibetan Buddhist monks.  Pouring your attention, work, and presumably your heart into making something painstakingly beautiful...and then gently destroying it.  I don't think a lot of us would be capable of that.  (Though I have destroyed some rather ugly creations in my adventures in knitting that I've felt quite attached to...)

Then do we achieve the equanimity just to go around being robots?  Or do we detach emotionally from the circumstances and find joy anyway?  I don't know if equanimity really is achievable, though I'm sure some spiritual masters have probably claimed to have it.  Enlightenment, equanimity - they're cousins, I think, in the spiritual family.

I had a hard time, as a lot of Western yogis do, wrapping my brain around the benefits of detachment.  It's hard not to view it as something that means you love less, care less, feel less.  But it's really just about not letting these changeable, impermanent, outside circumstances so deeply penetrate the core of your being to the point that they can overtake and overwhelm you - for good or for bad.

I'm nowhere near the level of having achieved any sort of high-level equanimity or enlightenment, but I am working very hard to be in the circumstances I'm in and to find some happiness anyway.  Suffering is caused by not accepting the present circumstances.  It doesn't mean by accepting you just roll over and give up - you can still work to change your circumstances.  But until you accept things as they are, you'll never know peace.  So why not be happy on the lifelong journey?

Friday, September 9, 2016

Get some Headspace

Happy Friday, world!  Even though tonight is the eve of the busiest day of work I'll have all week - three classes!  Despite the frustrating limitations and challenges of teaching in the cast, it'll feel good to have so many students' positive energy in one day.

I'm not feeling terribly motivated to write this week for some reason, so I'm going to mainly use this week's entry to praise and recommend Headspace, an excellent meditation app.  It's not free (nor is it cheap, fair warning) but it does offer a free trial, and I am surprised to find that I think it's worth every penny.

Marc discovered this app a few months ago and immediately started singing its praises.  I let my arrogance get the better of me - I'm a yoga teacher, I've been learning and practicing meditation for over seven years, I don't need an app to tell me what to do, blah blah blah.  But the truth is, despite my fairly consistent practice, I had absolutely no consistency with what I was doing with my practice.  Sure, I'd sit every day - for 5, 7, maybe 10 minutes on a motivate day.  But I didn't have a consistent technique and it's a lot easier to get completely lost on trains of thought without ever coming back when you don't have a teacher, a guide to help you.

Those two things - consistency and a guide - are 100% what make the difference since I've been practicing regularly with Headspace.  Lovely, British, friendly Andy leads series that are just basic or focused on any wide variety of things - Kindness, Patience (which was my first pick when Marc let me choose the series), Anxiety (our current series), Depression, Competition, Focus, you name it.  Oh, and let's not forget - SLEEP.  Rather than a series, this one-off meditation has almost never failed to put me out like a light before the exercise is even finish.

I've gotten so many day-to-day benefits of Headspace, and I've enjoyed even more seeing how much Marc has benefitted and how incredibly devoted he is to his daily practice now.  Especially these days when the simplest of actions I'd have previously taken for granted take foreverrrrrr because of my cast situation.  The presence and patience I've gained has definitely kept me from having a meltdown.

This has been not just an invaluable tool for us, but also a reminder that as much as I resist being a beginner and love being an "expert," as people we can never stop learning.  And that means having an open, receptive, humble beginner's mind.  How ridiculous to assume I couldn't benefit from this!  It's not as though I've found enlightenment, for God's sake.

Check Headspace out.  They have a great free trial offer, and absolutely everyone, from the meditation novice to the meditation expert (if there even is such a thing) will reap great benefits.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Casting On

This morning marks the beginning of Day 2 of the 20 days my foot (and lower leg) will be in a hard cast.  Just shy of three weeks - which is seriously not bad at all.  So many friends and friends-of-friends have told me far worse injury horror stories, and I am counting my blessings.  My left foot desperately wants to point and rotate at the ankle joint and wiggle and be free, and it's a very strange feeling for it to be restricted!

But, marvels of modern medicine - it's not an old-fashioned, heavy plaster cast.  It's thin fiberglass, rolled around like gauze.  Inside my foot is cushioned in soft pillow-y wrapping.  Having never had a hard cast before and imagining the worst sort of immobile misery and torture, this is not half bad!

As I'm wont to do, I've set myself some goals for this time where I can't pursue all my usual goals.  I plan on recording a yoga video demonstrating and teaching a Yoga with a Cast Sequence.  It'll be the first time I'll ever have done that, aside from being featured for Karma Kids Yoga's Peace In studio (check out Prenatal Yoga/Pilates here!).  There are a few cast sequences out there on YouTube, but for the most part they're in the 5 minute or so range.  I'm going to see what I can do to come up with a more substantive, 20-30 minute class with a little strength work mixed in.

My main goal, or my main skill that I've acquired that I want to master - is knitting.  Last week, my incredibly loving friend Laura Frye came over to help escort me to the pool (ah, the pool!), have dinner with me, and teach my clumsy hands the art of knitting.  I am completely hooked.  It took me about four days to be able to do a slipknot without having to watch the video she made for me a dozen times and failing two dozen times each attempt, and I spent an entire Sunday unable to get past the first row without a gigantic loop at the end, but casting on is the one knitting skill that I took to right away.  I find the semantics of that pretty funny.

Knitting has been a funny combination of soothing and infuriating so far.  I really struggle at being a beginner at something - I take the inevitable mistakes and failures that are a part of learning a new skill entirely too seriously and it sets off a frustrated temper that I'm pretty sure I came by honestly from my mom and granddaddy.  But it's good for me to be humbled by new things.  It's good for me to be a beginner instead of an expert.  And when I do find myself in a good groove, getting it, my muscles starting to make it a memory, then I find that soothing zen extolled by so many knitters.

So, here I am.  Instead of up in Cold Spring, enjoying my first married getaway since our honeymoon hiking with my love, we're here in Astoria.  The husband is sleeping in.  (I slept in til almost 8!  A big accomplishment)  We're already having a wonderful Staycation together, which we plan to stuff with movies, delicious food, games, reading, knitting (for me, not him!) and some time with beloved friends.

The cast is on.  It's helping my torn ligaments and other soft tissues mend back together.  I might as well love it, and use it as a chance to dive into my new practice - slipknot, cast on, and knit.