Thursday, 27 May 2010

Silence is....

Golden? Terrifying? Unfamiliar?

Personally I’d go with the last two. I am rarely silent. For those who don’t know me, I am little miss chatterbox and have been asked, at times, if I have an off-switch (the answer was always no). I can be just as chatty first thing in the morning as last thing at night, but more than just being a real talker, I am more often than not surrounded drowning in auditory input. If I kept a sound diary it might start off a bit like this:

Radio clicks on, followed shortly by the alarm. Take shower accompanied by radio.
Sit down to breakfast in front of the BBC news on TV
Out of the front-door, plug in ipod, travel to work.

You can guess the rest. Evenings when spent at home usually involve putting the TV on while I eat, and sometimes it stays on all evening just in the background while I do other things – there’s not much I actually watch, but I generally have it on. Failing that, I might play music while I cook, take a bath or talk on the phone. Of course yoga is the exception, it’s the chance to hear nothing but the sound of your own breath and the overheard suggestions or adjustment cues given to fellow practitioners, but going to a friendly shala with a unisex communal changing room means that there is usually friendly chat after practice (though of course it’s not compulsory). Socially, I have moved away from bars and clubs over the past few years and so catching up with friends usually means either dinner, or coffee & cake, with a huge side order of talking. So though-out the day, all day every day, if I’m not talking, I’m listening: either to music, to the radio, to the TV – there is always sound. I could argue that I often use it drown out something else – this is especially true on public transport where the hour I travel each way to work every day is greatly eased by the addition of music, but it still remains the fact that I am rarely surrounded by the sound of silence.
So it is very strange that in the past week I have twice found myself absolutely craving just that – silence. Maybe I had felt it before but not recognised it until now, I don’t know, and I have always relished having time in my own company to decompress during busy times, but I can’t say this specific need is something I’ve ever experienced before. The first time was on Saturday, after Cary’s lovely garden party (you can read about it and see pictures on Kevin or Susan’s blogs!). I spent the afternoon chatting with shala friends (not just yoga chat!) and eating lots of homemade goodies, and it was really lovely. When we were leaving I was considering heading to a kirtan class but on the way back to the station I realised that all I really really wanted was to go home and be quiet. I wondered if going and spending the evening chanting instead would take me to the same sort of place as a relaxed evening at home (involving, as it would, the 1 hour schlep each way to Primrose Hill), but I knew it wasn’t what my body and mind wanted. So I came straight home, went out into the early evening sunshine and lay on a lounger in my garden with a book, but found that after a few lines my mind didn’t even want the internal reading voice to disturb it. So I sat, closed my eyes and soaked up the sunshine.
Then last night after work, the same thing happened (only if anything, it was more marked). I’d had a great yoga practice in the morning and spent the whole day feeling simultaneously energetic and completely calm. It was generally a great day at work (which I should say is highly unusual!), things have changed a little lately and I am hoping that the new set-up will leave me feeling more fulfilled and involved in what I’m doing – in essence I couldn’t have been happier. Then at around 4pm it was as if someone flicked a switch and I felt hugely drained with a weird dragging sensation in my hips and legs, I was freezing cold, had pain in my lower back, and the biggest need to just get home. So when I got back I was happy to be home, but instead of putting the TV on as usual I made dinner, checked my email, read a few blogs, and then ran a bath. With my lodger away, and no phone calls, I spent the evening in complete silence, having recognised the craving from Saturday. 

And as I lay in the bath I experienced a moment of complete stillness of the mind. The sensation was profound. I don’t think I ever experienced it before that moment.

Because of course external noise is one thing, but what I realise now is that I have to think about how it’s affecting the internal noise too – the monkey mind and the inner chatterbox. In the past I know I have experienced more mental noise from what I haven’t said. The words “I love you” burned in my mind for months without ever reaching my lips, so I know how much I can torture myself with what I wish I could say. But these days I find myself able to say what I really feel more readily, I can be more honest, but I still suffer from a very busy mind. But last night’s experience makes me wonder if the external noise just makes the internal noise that much worse? I suppose there is only one way to find out, but I have always been terrified of the idea of being alone with my own brain. I mean honestly, what could be worse? Even on yoga retreats I have always spent a huge amount of the day chatting with fellow retreaters, so avoiding the possibility of making the most of the peace and quiet that is on offer. This is why I have so far shied away from meditation classes: although I want to try, I can put my reluctance down to straight-forward fear of what I will find when I am left alone with my thoughts. I suppose I’m scared that I will unravel completely, and that left alone with no external distraction my mind will uncover it’s deepest fears and regrets and serve them all up on a platter.

But what I never considered until now was the alternative: that perhaps something wonderful would maybe this is the next thing I need to explore. But if anyone says Vipassana I will scream – and that’s a promise!      

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Not better, just different.

My new blog resolution is to write a bit more little and often – i.e. don’t leave it weeks between posts and ideally don’t write such ludicrously long ones that nobody will ever get to the end. Brevity has never been a strong point of mine though so it’s going to be tricky...!
Practice has been interesting this week. After an awesome Sunday, yesterday was good too (including me getting my hands to the ground in Prasarita Padottanasana C for only the second time ever!), today was a bit stiffer but still alright, and we are practically mob-handed with teachers so I’ve been getting lots of assists. Cary is heading off to Mysore next week for Sharath’s authorised teachers’ workshop so the person covering while she’s away is in assisting this week, plus we still have Cary and our usual assistant. A couple of things have come up both through this, and in conversations with Cary over the past few weeks that have led me to some realisations. Disclaimer time first of all – I am not saying that anybody is teaching anything that’s wrong (as if I would), nor that one teacher is better than another. What I’m going to say is nothing more than my own thoughts and observations based on conversations I have personally had with a couple of different teachers. OK that’s the legal stuff out of the way ;)
A few weeks ago Cary asked me about Noah (Williams)’s take on something, and whilst chatting I told her two things he very firmly believes in: first: in Marichyasana A, the hand of the arm wrapping around the bent leg grabs the opposite wrist (try it – it’s probably the opposite of what you do), and that this is the only exception to the “wrapper is the grabber” rule. Secondly: he taught us that in savasana (which he calls sukhasana – saying that savasana is a very advanced 6th (?) series pose where you stop your heart) you should keep your arms and legs fairly close in to the body, and that palms should be facing down, rather than palms up and starfish style, all limbs splayed out onto other people’s mats (as my next-door neighbour was practicing yesterday morning!). He said that this keeps the energy in rather than sending it all out of the body, which seemed to make sense. After he taught this in Goa I immediately switched to this method and have practiced it ever since, finding it a lot quieter than with palms up – though I think I forgot his Mari A rule almost straight away after I came back home.
The conversation I had with Cary was very interesting though, as needless to say she didn’t say that either of those things were wrong, just that she had never been taught that way, but that Noah did spend a huge amount of time with Guruji...she also mentioned later that he started practicing palms down around the same time he was getting divorced, which I thought was quite telling. She told me that some days she has her palms up, other days palms down, as there is a clear difference in the energy. So of course I tried going back to palms up, and this was around the time I started to notice having a huge amount of energy through the day (instead of being constantly knackered!!), so I am sticking with it for now, but with the limbs quite close to the body. Mind you, it’s hard to put the change in energy levels through the day down to this one thing, as at the same time I also started really pushing in my backbends, and that’s supposed to give you energy too isn’t it?
Anyway the conclusion I came to was that perhaps Noah was given these changes by Guruji at a specific time in his life, and for a particular reason. So surely following these changes when you are not going through the particular set of circumstances that he was then is a bit like taking somebody else’s medicine – and therefore inappropriate? But short of studying with the source, what else can we do? If we don’t have an opportunity to go right to the source (and this may be a matter for some debate but let’s face it, that is now impossible) then we have to trust in the lineage. And more than that, I realise more and more that we have to build a relationship with one teacher, and stick with them. Because going to a great teacher on retreat is one thing, but that’s only 2 weeks in your life – whereas your regular teacher will be with you for the other 50 in the year, seeing your ups and downs, your good days and bad days, your surely they are the one you follow, even if what they tell you doesn’t always exactly match what a more “superior” certified teacher might have said.  
All of that said, I suppose you need to be adaptable to other teachers, so that you wouldn’t fall into the trap of only being able to do headstands with Harmony, for example (yep, that was me – 1 in India, 1 in Antwerp, and then we lived on opposite sides of the planet so I didn’t do it again for almost a year). But what gets tricky is when teaching is the exact opposite of what you are used to, I end up in a sort of paralysis of worrying what is correct. I suppose to a certain degree, you respect the teacher that you are practicing with as long as it doesn’t compromise your regular practice too much (which as a relative beginner, of course it doesn’t for me). This came up as I was adjusted this week in Mari A by our new cover teacher, who concentrated not on my forward bend (that’s another Cary SMACKDOWN!! pose – though I don’t have so far to be smacked down these days J ) but instead on working my hip down to the ground. But I have always been told that it’s supposed to be in the air in A – in fact I remembered a discussion about it on Jaime’s blog and dug up the comments today where Susan said as much (and I checked my Noah notes and he said the same). New teacher (M) also had a very different focus in UHP yesterday, keeping my leg relatively low and working on turning out (opening?) my hip and although I’m not complaining about not doing the splits, it does make it harder to come down to the leg! She also gave me a very gentle version of the supta kurmasana adjustment yesterday and today but that’s most likely because I whimpered to her about my dodgy shoulder on Monday before she had a chance to take my feet over my head, so we’ll see how this goes over the next month. Of course I’d much prefer that than somebody coming in and giving you very deep adjustments when they don’t know you or your practice.

I also got my money’s worth from Cary today before she goes, as I finally asked her about Janu Sirsasana B – the pose in which I have the most confusion and least understanding of what I’m meant to do and how to do it. I feel like my foot is in completely the wrong place, but when I try to put it in what I think is the right place it either hurts like hell, or I can’t balance on my foot. I think my foot is the wrong shape ;) Anyway I had asked one of the assistants about it before and been told to keep pushing into the knee to keep the foot active and mentioned this to Cary who said no, the foot is meant to be soft. So the explanation went like this. Start with your foot as in Janu A – but ah, I said, I was taught that in Janu A the heel touches the inner thigh of the bent leg, not the straight one (Noah), which opened up a whole other conversation. C suggested that just because it opens up the hip more and is more difficult, it’s not necessarily better (because opening the hip is good,so  opening it more must be better, right? NO! The harder the pose, the more good it does you, so let’s make it that bit harder? NO!) and here’s that line again, “it’s certainly not that way I was taught”. So she didn’t say it was wrong, but she then talked about the position of the torso in all of those poses, and how opening your hip out further and having your foot in that alternative position actually changes the line of the torso (she showed me, it really does). So I think this means that as of tomorrow I will revert back to my original version of Janu sirsasana A, also known as what used to be my favourite pose before Noah ruined it! (any fellow PV people reading, that line’s just for you). So where does this leave me for Janu B? Well, it makes a little more sense, in that you move over the foot, keeping it in the same position but softening it. Here’s the bit I really can’t do – then C said you should be able to see the side of the big toe, and the heel should be right between the perineum and the genitals (so presumably not in your happy place...) and...(drumroll) it’s all about bandhas! Ha! I bloody knew it! Just when you think something’s all about your foot, or your knee, or your hip, there they are again. She said that you have to have enough lift in the bandhas to enable you not to rely on pushing down with the foot, and I know for a fact I haven’t even once thought of my bandhas when I’m trying to do this. So I suppose it’s back to the drawing board tomorrow, and I will report back.
All in all though, things seem to be coming, mentally as well as physically. It’s a really interesting time, and in one sense it’s such a shame C is going away now – but in another way, it will be great all round I’m sure as not only will I get some new input (and hopefully tons more when Cary comes back too) but also it will help to remind me what I seem to be realising, that my practice is exactly that: it’s all mine.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Sunshine & Supta Kurmasana

I had a great practice this morning, haven’t had one like that in ages where everything just seems to fall into place. I arrived in time for the chant which I always try to do on a Sunday but usually fail  and it’s my only chance (on weekdays it’s at 6.30, I have no chance of getting there that early). But I had just rolled out my mat when Cary walked to the front of the room, so it was perfect timing, I don’t like to start my practice without chanting but it seems silly if the teacher is about to do it shortly afterwards. As an aside – Susan if you’re reading, I kept meaning to say to you – last Sunday I arrived after half 8 and thought I’d missed it so chanted myself, then did it again when you led it 10 minutes my practice should have been double-good last week after 2 chants!!
In the past week or two I have developed a few issues, as well as having hurt my left shoulder (scapula?) again from supta kurmasana my right knee started talking to me last week – and I have NEVER had knee issues!! This came the day after I proudly announced on facebook that I could now get the wrist bind in Mari B & D, having managed it two days in a row, and of course the next day – knee pain, no bind. I should learn my lesson really, no boasting...Anyway then after a few days the pain went up into my hip – I was at my gospel class on Monday night rehearsing for a concert so we were dancing (more like stepping from side to side) when suddenly my right hip completely locked up. All I could think was “I can do an ashtanga practice but my hip goes when I’m STEPPING??”. I’m a big believer in a little knowledge being a dangerous thing, so I’m loathed to do too much anatomy swotting, but when I pointed out where the pain was to my friend today she said it was the dreaded psoas, but all I know was this it was bloody painful.
But I had to practice on Tuesday as it was Guruji’s anniversary, and actually my hip was completely fine during practice. I had to back off my knee, the sharpest pain was in inverted padmasana so I just crossed my legs instead, but I was happy that I practiced – the shala was packed, I counted 32 in the book plus one observer, it was definitely the busiest I’ve ever seen it. But after practice my knee and hip were really hurting again, it’s actually straightening my leg that is the problem, I just want to keep it bent which doesn’t make walking normally that easy. I had an Epsom salt bath and tried massaging in castor oil (and then covering my knee in clingfilm overnight) on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, and I took Wednesday off. Back to practice on Thursday, I had to take out all lotus and half lotus on the right side, and I suddenly started to understand why people say that the knees represent ego. It’s really hard to hold yourself back from full lotus when you can normally do it, even if it hurts like hell, and Mari D was super frustrating knowing that a week ago I was getting the deepest bind I’ve ever had but this week I couldn’t bind at all. The thing that was strange though was that my usually unstable solo UHP was really strong on the right side (usually my wobbliest) and as I took my leg out to the side I could actually extend it with the leg straight and felt a huge change in my right hip which made me wonder if it’s true when people say that every injury is an opening (it was crappy again today though!). The other thing that’s disappeared lately is my headstand, ever since I crashed out of it at home and landed on a crate of books. What’s odd about this is that when I was struggling with headstand initially, I was never as scared of hurting myself as I have been since trying to get it back. I’ve been able to do it at the wall but I don’t want it to become a big thing after I spent a year getting it, so am wary of getting hooked on the wall again.
So back to today, the shala was normal for a Sunday, fairly quiet, but hot and really really bright. We have these opaque sliding glass shades that completely cover the windows, and I was right at the front this morning facing the wall of windows. It was really hard to keep my focus in UHP as all I could see was my own (very wobbly) reflection, it must be because the sunshine was so bright. But given what beautiful weather it’s been all weekend I am NOT complaining!! Aside from wanting to cheer when the person behind me got given pasasana I had a fairly focussed practice but it was also just generally good, the warrior sequence didn’t stress me out too much, even triang mukha was OK on my angry hips, and I was able to get into half lotus when I needed to. When I got to Mari D, I was almost in the wrist bind on the first side and Cary came and helped my fingers round, then took the fingers of the right wrist (the grabbed one – I had to just try it to work it out!) and took them onto my shin, telling me that when you’re in really deep you can grab your shin...which is all very well in theory, but as she was helping me my little finger was getting stuck so it made me giggle – not that I could articulate what the problem was all twisted up and Ujayi breathing! The second side I could barely even bind, just got the finger-tips, and even then my knee was hurting so I probably shouldn’t have gone even that far.
The other thing that I’ve noticed (which I almost definitely shouldn’t say here for fear of cursing it) is that bujapidasana finally seems to be changing. Little by little, but change is change, I’m not asking for miracles overnight. On Thursday I felt a little more control as I dropped my head and for the first time I felt like I could squeeze my legs in tighter once I was down there – coming up was still a mammoth effort though. But today I felt I completely controlled the movement of taking my head to the floor, so that it was placed further back and without my full weight on it, and again I could squeeze the legs in, so the whole thing felt markedly better. Again I struggled to come up but at least the days of landing on my bum with a smack are definitely behind me, though a graceful transition into bakasana feels like it’s a very long way off.
Kurmasana started to feel different a few weeks ago too, my right leg is still not straight but I can feel that I’m pushing down from my hip now to work it towards the ground, so I went through into supta kurmasana by myself knowing that Cary would come and assist me on my second attempt. I waited quite a long time in kurmasana, it’s good to get the smackdown in that pose first (that’s sometimes what it feels like – WHAM! and you’re flat on the floor) but it wasn’t to be, so I brought my left arm in, my left foot, then my right arm before I started working my foot in. But rather than an assist into it C called across the room that I was almost there, told me to drop my hands a bit lower down, then told me I was about an inch away before heading over and helping me. Usually if I have tried to get into it by myself first, she brings the fingers together, then as soon as she goes to bring my feet in I lose the precarious grip. But today my fingers were locked tight, she brought my left foot over my head  and it’s at this point I start making sound effects as I can really feel the weight of that foot bearing down on my left shoulder. Then it’s right foot over the top, lock the right foot over the left and she lifts the feet, telling me to keep my head down, keep the feet locked, bring my arms around and really push down into them (we’re in sound-effect-City by this point) and here’s where my left shoulder really struggles. I get the theory, but for some reason just bringing the hands back around (even when I’m not lifted up in the assist) is where the pain really kicks in. Anyway my feet did unlock sooner than they should, and it took a bit of gearing up but I pushed up into what felt like a good tittibhasana and then successfully brought my right leg around to bakasana, and was trying so hard to stay up there and bring the left one around before I fell that Cary had to remind me to breathe! I almost made it then did a comedy fall & roll out of it right off the side of my mat but it was the closest I have come, so I was still happy.

Then it was into backbends (and yes K, I’m pushing the shit out of it!), my new routine of one little bridge, then three full UD with 100% effort, holding the last one for as long as I can. It’s funny but I’m finding myself newly completely obsessed with backbends – up until a couple of weeks ago I hated them and wanted to skip them, but since getting a few tips from friends and starting to put some effort in, I’m finding that I just want to do them more and more. We’re into hanging back in the bathroom at work territory here, which is clearly a whole new level of obsession and not something I ever thought I’d end up being like! Then to round off my very lovely practice, I managed to get up into headstand in the middle of the room for the first time since my crash – so all in all, I was a happy bunny.

It’s been a lovely weekend socially too – completely glorious sunshine all weekend long, Cary’s party yesterday and the chance for lots of chat with fellow shala-goers whilst stuffing ourselves silly with amazing homemade cakes, then a very beautiful post-practice brunch today with the lovely A who I know from Goa in idyllic Regents Park which was picture-postcard-perfect. But I am currently sunburnt like a bugger from today, having sat on a bench by the river putting the world to rights for a few hours after breakfast completely sans suncream, which is going to make me look highly irresponsible when I go to the Doctors tomorrow to get a dodgy mole checked...anyway here are some photos of Cary’s party borrowed from friends as I didn’t get my camera out (thanks to Jen and Kevin).
 nice arty shot from Jen

Me talking (to make a change) with P & Jen (I'm in the middle)

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Mythbusting, wristbinding and healing.

So after my last post I have been meaning to catch up – as always, I have written about 5 updates in my head but none of them have actually made it onto a keyboard. If only I could find a way to connect my brain and my blog I would post every day. Anyway I’ll start by saying thank you for all of the lovely messages both on & off blog, it really helped to know that people were sending their thoughts. It’s been amazing really, how things have been, given how I felt this time two weeks ago.
Things have been busy since I last managed to write. And I’m starting to realise that all of the stuff that has been going on (good technical word, “stuff”), from losing my Nan two weeks ago to the other family stuff going back over the past few months, plus all of the stuff spinning around my head, it all seems to be coming together in some sort of balance.
I have found for the first time that practicing when times are tough is the way to go – as I wrote in the comments on my last post I always assumed I would hide from my mat, scared of what was going to be ready to leap out at me when I got there. But after the events of last week, I somehow managed to make it to practice more than in a “normal” week. And nothing massive or scary happened, there were no tears or meltdowns - if anything I started to notice quite a bit of progress. One of the most important things was that I managed to zap some of the myths I have created around my practice. You know, the ones that say “I can only practice two days in a row, then I need a break” or the one that goes “well if I have a late night or no sleep I can’t possibly go to the shala” (I have lots of these). It’s all well and good that I have found a routine that works for me (practice Sunday & Monday, rest on Tuesday, practice Wednesday & Thursday, rest on Friday & Saturday) but that’s not to say it’s the only way to do things. So last week, as well as practice on Sunday, I did a few bank holiday Monday suryas in the afternoon sunshine on my decking, had about 4 hours sleep Monday night, then went to the shala Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I’d planned to try and get to Friday’s led class too but I’m going to blame the excitement of the election from keeping me up late that night. Anyway I had an unusually busy weekend planned last week, Friday was a night out with three of the ashtangis I met in Goa this year, lovely to see people and catch up over dinner and cake (of course). Then I was up early on Saturday to go and meet my mum and sister who were coming up to London for the day, something we had planned (or tried to) months ago as a belated birthday present to my sister and I has anticipated being cancelled as my mum was helping with all of the funeral arrangements, and my sister’s baby and little girl have both been really unwell. But we all decided to just get on with it, they came up and we spent the day having lunch, wandering around central London elephant spotting, and then went to see Hair the musical, which was completely hippy-fabulous!! It was a spur of the moment thing, my sister felt like seeing it, we went into the box office and got good seats for an OK price, and a few hours later there we were. I had no expectations, I didn’t know anything about it really, but completely loved it! Probably the only musical on right now that includes the chants Hare Rama, Hare Krishna and Om Shanti within the musical score J

Gratuitous Ellie shots...

I spent most of the first half thinking “I have no idea what this is actually about but it’s so much fun I don’t actually care...” and by the end we were all grinning from ear to ear. After a quick dinner and a sprint back to St Pancras to see them off I went home knackered but having had an awesome day and still wearing the flower in my hair. I went to practice the next morning (and the days that followed) with the lyrics “Harmony and understanding, Sympathy and trust abounding...” from Aquarius spinning round my head and this overwhelming sense that the world was definitely trying to tell me something – although that may have been just that I want to grow my hair and wear maxi dresses....

So this week, I started my practice week on Sunday then continued Monday and Tuesday and was all set for a 4 day run but weirdly on Wednesday (and this has happened before) woke up at 3.30am and went to the bathroom at which point I realised that my shoulder was playing up again and so set my alarm for later and took a rest day. It’s almost as if I can give myself a middle of the night warning that there is no point getting up early – either that of I just always feel incapable of practice when I wake up in the middle of the night!! Anyway, practice itself has been going pretty well. I don’t know when all these little changes happen as practice all merges into one, but things that have changed over the past few weeks include being able to get the wrist bind in Mari B and D (the first day I had found it in B and was then being assisted in D and got it -  the next day I got the first side completely unassisted and had a little tweak to get the second side). I’ve also been able to get my nose to me knee in parsvottanasana for the first time since I was in India, and Cary has now started crossing my feet over my head in supta kurmasana and then lifting me right up (before I’ve been crossing my feet on the ground in front of me while she helped me catch the bind at my hands). I’m not saying it went well, but we did it two days in a row and I definitely noticed how much easier it will be to get into tittibhasana and then swing the legs around to bakasana when the legs are that much higher up the arms. Right now it’s really really hurting in my shoulder to push up at that point (Cary told me it’s all about pushing the ground away with my hands while the feet are still lifted up over my head but I just wanted to scream “but it hurts!!”). Even without the lift up today (my sore shoulder is winning the battle) I can now lift up in tittibhasana and start to swing my legs around but at that point I lose it and land on my knees. I’ve also started really really working my backbends and starting to feel like it’s giving me more energy for the rest of the day (thank god because it’s really hard work!!) and have started attempting chakrasana the past few days (which is hilariously bad but at least I’m trying!). My headstand seems to have gone temporarily AWOL though – probably not helped by the fact I did it at home on Wednesday after a bit of gentle stretching to help my shoulder and managed to lift up but carried on going and flipped right over, landing with my back on a crate of books bound for the charity shop. Lesson learnt = don’t turn my home practice space into a dumping ground, you never know when you might need it.

So anyway on Wednesday night I went home to my parents for my Nan’s funeral on Thursday morning which I was pretty much dreading. But the weird thing is, it really was OK. There is a part of me that’s a bit worried that this is some sort of denial reaction, or that I should feel guilty that I dealt with it in this way, but maybe this is just the beginning of really starting to understand the “off the mat” stuff for me. There were thoughts that kept coming to me both before and at the funeral (some of which surprised me), but the overwhelming one was that the physical body is irrelevant and so the funeral, and the burial in particular, were important rituals but weren’t directly connected to my Nan. She left two weeks ago, and although there is a car taking her to the church, and then to the cemetery, that’s not her – in any sense. This helped a lot. Of course, the circumstances helped too – she wasn’t sick, but at 96 she was tired and ready to go. Maybe this is why things have been easier to handle. But also I had all sorts of thoughts popping into my head which told me that my burgeoning sense of spirituality is getting stronger, and I started to understand why people find faith such a comfort. It’s hard to put into words, I wasn’t listening to the sermon and thinking about a God in the traditional old beardy man sense, but there was just this strong feeling that everything was as it should be, and that she is being taken care of and that we didn’t need to worry. So I sang the hymns, I listened as the vicar read what my dad had written about my Nan and, though I had tears in my eyes, through much of it I smiled as he talked about her enormous sense of fun and her almost non-stop giggles. I just couldn’t be sad. We then went up to the cemetery and at the graveside the vicar read that poem “Do not stand by my grave and weep, I am not here, I do not sleep...” which may have summed up what I was feeling but was actually a bit much to hear. At this point I completely went into myself, and just kept going back to the breath and centering myself – I had my head bowed and my eyes closed for the whole thing, I was desperate to not watch the mechanics of what was going on - what I really wanted to do was get my hands in anjali mudra and feel that calming energy zinging around but I didn’t want to do anything too obvious. I should add that my Nan - quietly progressive lady as she was – had a wicker coffin which everybody thought was pretty cool - I still didn’t want to look at it though! Instead of throwing in a handful of earth each my Dad had suggested we each throw in a red rose though I knew nothing of this until just beforehand and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do it (neither of my cousins did). But again I just went as far into myself as I could given that I had to raise my head to see where I was going and I did it, and it was fine. And then we went back to my auntie’s house and did what you do; drank tea, ate sandwiches and cake and shared stories, and then we were done. The following day was my Dad’s birthday so I stayed down and we all spent the day at the zoo with my two nieces (almost 3 years and ten months old) which was fabulous and actually just what we all needed (though my poor brother was at home ill in bed having had to stay home from the funeral too, which I think will have been much worse in imagining that actuality). My niece had a great time puddle-jumping though she wasn’t quite so happy once her trousers, socks & boots were muddy and soaked through (irresponsible auntie mel was just taking photos and letting her drench herself) and I couldn’t resist a little backbend on the picnic bench (though I was horrified when I saw the picture as to how far my shoulders were from being over my wrists!).

In my defence I was lying down and did a sort of weird dropping back off the bench before I pushed up...and I was more worried that my flabby stomach sticking out in the photo!! All in all, it was the perfect healing family day, and I was back in London for a busy weekend meeting up with some of my favourite yogis. Which obviously I am not going to write about here as this post is already way too long (is anybody still reading??). Maybe another day...I just need to write more often, clearly that’s the answer. I'll leave you with the proud/irresponsible auntie photo album.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Before and After: love & loss.

Every event in our lives has a before and after. Before I moved here, after I left that job...our lives revolve around these immovable points in time. Some of these events are planned for, worked towards, counted down to – moving house, getting married, having a baby – so that the transition is gradual and, life-changing as it may be, the day when it finally happens, the huge event feels strangely normal. The day I got the keys to my flat, my parents left me alone in my own home late in the evening after hours of unpacking and heaving furniture around, and I didn’t feel overwhelmed with the enormity of buying my own home – I just felt tired and ready to go to bed. We somehow regain our equilibrium after these planned events because the build-up to them has forced a period of transition deep into our psyche. But other events come out of the blue, take us by surprise, maybe knock us off balance - and still they come to define periods of our lives none the less.

Yesterday felt like the day before, I could sense, I thought, that something was about to happen. I went for a walk, I picked up some books at the library, I bought some flowers – but all the while my senses were hyper-tuned. My peripheral vision was throwing messages into my brain faster than it could process them, I felt my abdomen rise and fall with every breath I was taking. But it was a quiet day, there was no real sense of foreboding, just a feeling of hyper-awareness and mindfulness in my ever move. I spent the day reading, I cooked, I watched some television. I had a phone call, my Mum, calling to tell me that my Nan was being taken to hospital. In an ambulance. She said that she would let me know what happened when they got there, but not to worry if I didn’t hear anything because we all know how slowly things happen in hospitals, particularly on a Saturday night. I knew.
Today I came home from the shala via the garage where I’d picked up a pastry & a cappuccino. I’d had a good practice, touched my fingertips for the first time in supta kurmasana, I felt rested and contented after a long savasana. And I had thought about the inevitability of things during my practice. At nearly 32, I thought, I suppose I’m lucky to have a grandparent still alive, and that can’t last forever. It is the inevitable things that sometimes we can’t imagine being able to face, even though we know that we have to: and soon.

I sat down with my coffee and saw two missed calls on my house phone from my mum. No answer-phone message, no text message. I knew. I drank my coffee, ate the pastry, read for a while, wondering if it was selfish to put off knowing what you already know. And then I called my mum. The hospital had called at around 3.30am and told them to come; but they didn’t get there in time. The doctor had called my auntie at 4 asking all sorts of questions: could she walk around, what was her living situation, what was her level of normal? It turns out that he wouldn’t normally use any form of intervention on a patient of her age, but having heard that she still lived at home, could move around (albeit slowly, and with a stick), she knew who we all were and was free from any serious illness, he tried to help get more oxygen into her body to stop her heart from having to work so hard. But while he was waiting for the heart specialist to come, she had a heart attack.
My Nan lived to almost 97 - it would have been her birthday in July. She lived to see her two children grow up and marry, and to give her five grandchildren who she saw into adulthood, and two beautiful great grand-daughters who brought her immense joy in the past few years – she literally came alive when she was around them. But she lived as a widow for 42 years, and she expressed her wish recently to be buried with the grandad I never met – although she lived more of her life without her husband than with him, she wanted to end it with him. This did get me thinking a little about my life, and the shape that it’s taking. It doesn’t surprise me that every bereavement causes us to re-evaluate: so often we live as if we are invincible, but as soon as we’re reminded that of course we are not, things start to come more sharply into focus. 
In a way it’s hard to be sad at losing somebody when you know that they don’t want to be here anymore, but of course it is. I have such wonderful memories of her, even up to the past few months when she would have us all in stitches at family parties with the faces she would pull and her special nack for spoiling a birthday photo. When I lost my maternal grandmother I went into quite a deep depression and entered a very difficult period in my life; I can only hope that I know enough now that the same doesn’t happen again. That’s not to say that I won’t miss her and be grieving, I just hope that I can have enough faith in the path I am on to know that this is all part of the journey of life, and although these big changes define periods in our lives, they don’t have to define us