Monday, 30 August 2010

Uncertainty creeps.

“Melanie’s possible weaknesses:
May not respond well to uncertainty.”

So says a psychometric test I took recently – and I couldn’t agree more! My “situation” of uncertainty is ongoing, hence the radio silence on the blog as keeping things from you my dear readers (!) feels a little like absence of satya (plus I have a hard time keeping my trap shut, but confidentiality is required at this stage). Haha – I’m making this out to sound a lot more exciting than it really is!
Anyway I found this comment interesting as it has been well demonstrated in my body and mind (and more particularly my practice) over the past week. I have read numerous dedicated teachers (though Nancy Gilgoff springs first to mind) say that the benefit of having a daily practice is that it’s your opportunity to check in and see where you are at, and if you are feeling unwell, or not quite balanced in some other way, that it will probably show up first in your practice (if you’re not already aware of it, that is). Last week I had the week off work, and in my mind’s eye it was the perfect chance to get some serious rest and relaxation plus (of course) to throw myself into my practice. In the run up to my holiday-at-home I was seriously exhausted and was only just getting through the preceding week at work. I even (shock horror) skipped a day of practice that week, having got up at 5.30, switched the shower on, then turned and seen my reflection and the horrendous black circles under my eyes. Interestingly the mental argument to skip practice was as much a battle of wills as I used to face to go to practice back in the olden days before I was an ashtanga swot ;)
But it turned out that my body had other ideas for my dedicated practice and rest week. Well for starters I turned out to be too busy to rest - having been away for the weekend I then made plans for Monday Tuesday and Wednesday. So for example after  practice on Wednesday I rushed home for a quick shower and breakfast before leaving again an hour later to meet my sister who was in London to visit me for the day (and we had a very very lovely time too, but exhausting!!). By Thursday morning as I slogged through yet another very laboured practice I realised that something had to give – the phrase that kept running through my mind was that I was “running on empty” and once the thought was there, it stuck – round and round it went, from the suryas to closing. I also could no longer avoid the fact that the life-uncertainty that I am in the midst of is impacting on the ability to focus my mind.  I am living in a time of speculation where I can see four distinct and separate ways that my life could go and until I know what’s going to happen, I just need to allow the uncertainty to be there, but not to let it get the better of me. But this is a little easier said than done. After Thursday’s practice I went for coffee & pastries with a shala-friend, then on to meet another yoga friend in town for a few more hours of coffee/tea and catching up (and a second breakfast) and by the time I got home I was wiped, emotionally and physically. So I decided that with a few days remaining of my holiday (how did the week go so fast??) I needed to start getting in some serious rest. Afternoon naps became obligatory from this point onwards. In all honesty if I hadn’t of had dinner plans with another yoga friend I probably would have stayed in bed from about 4pm onwards! In my past life (pre-ashtanga) I would never have been capable of falling asleep during the day unless I was ill or seriously hungover, but I seem to be getting the hang of it quite nicely these days. My favourite thing is to get right into bed but leave the curtains open – in the middle of the afternoon the sun streams in through my bedroom window so I end up napping in the sunshine like a cat.
After my successful napping attempt on Thursday I decided that a few days r&r to heal my body and soul could make all the difference. True, my situation wasn’t going to be resolved yet, but at least I would be less shattered. So after the led class on Friday I took a leisurely solo cafe breakfast with my copy of Guruji (which I am adoring, naturally), then headed home by which time I almost felt ill (I was soooo cold) that I ran a very hot bath, climbed in, and got straight back into my pyjamas afterwards and went to bed. I think it was about midday by this stage. I got up in time to make red lentil & lemon soup which I ate (still in my pjs) before heading off to see my magical cranial osteopath (who does all sorts of other bodywork and I never know what to refer to him as. Let’s just call him Rob.) First questions from Rob: So how are you? (standard answer without remembering who’s asking – “fine!”) How’s your body? (haha!!). I told him about my week off, and how I thought I would be getting my energy back, but practice has been a slog and I am beyond exhausted. He practices and teaches yoga too, and has often spoken to me before about how we make deals with our body – in busy times we stick to crazy schedules, don’t sleep enough, don’t eat well, and we tell ourselves that it’s “just until I get the promotion” or “just until the end of term” – whatever it is, we cut a deal with ourselves that this won’t be forever. And at the end of the busy period we try and get back to normal, or we go on holiday and what happens? We get sick. Rob said that he used to tell his students that sometimes you just have to “Do the ill thing” i.e. give in and STOP - which without realising it is what I had been doing for the preceding day or so. The other thing that my treatment with him became focussed on was my newly tweaky left knee (which randomly started hurting during the day on Thursday) which he declared to be inflamed and probably the result of hyperextension. Funnily enough one of my yoga teachers in my preashtanga days had pointed this out, as had Harmony on my first trip to Goa, but since then it’s never been mentioned. It does seem strange that all of a sudden it should flare up my previously pain-free left knee but I am going to take his word on it. After the treatment it was feeling quite a lot more tender, so needless to say more resting was required, which just about covered Saturday where my only outing was to a kirtan class. Sunday’s yoga practice was OAP yoga (veeeeery slow) though luckily I had the chance to chat with Cary beforehand who checked my knees and agreed that yes, I do have hyperextension and that in her words “This is good! Now you really have a practice...a MENTAL practice!”. I was given strict instructions to put in the microbends not just through my practice, but in my whole life (I reckon standing up on the tube – what do they call it, straphanging? – is where I lock out my knees the worst actually) and so my practice was slow and mindful (aka irritating). Somehow putting that teeny bend in your knees simultaneously feels like cheating, but also makes everything seem more difficult. Bye-bye delicious easy forward bends...hopefully not for long though. The noteworthy point in Sunday’s practice was that FINALLY I managed to hoist myself up into kukuttasana! Since my last post I have been working hard on garbha pindasana and watching my changing emotions towards it (from thinking that I will NEVER get the rocking, to it becoming easier, from tears of frustration to quiet determination, from bruises below the elbow to bruises above the elbow) and the moment that I gained some control in my rocking (still on-the-spot for now) Cary started pressing me to lift up at the end. Up to that point I hadn’t even tried as it just hurt and felt wrong. Cary’s explanation when I gave this reason? “You know how uttitha hasta is just HARD?” – I knew that meant I had to do it. So I have been trying, utterly convinced I would never do it, and though it took tremendous effort and about 8 momentum-gathering-rocks, on Sunday I finally had lift-off!
And you know what? Once I was up there it felt so easy – almost too easy! So when the same thing happened today (after only about 3 attempts – progress!) and I got the same easy feeling and wide grin in kukkutasana I simultaneously realised a couple of things. One – I am STRONG! Maybe not compared to anyone else, but for me – I am! And this pose makes me really feel like I am on top of the world, I love that feeling! Two – so often the journey is the hardest part. Once we have made the climb, so often we can just stand back and enjoy the view. I think it’s easy to forget this and think that things are always going to be difficult and tough if they are hard-fought, but sometimes all this means is that the hard work is already done. I’m not even sure if this directly applies to my own off the mat stuff, but it definitely applies on my mat, so I thought it might be worth sharing. Boring post over and out.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Keep on keeping on.

At the moment I am going through a period of adjustment. Having been given a couple of new asanas in the past six months (kurmasa/supta kurmasana and most recently garbha pindasana) I am noticing some patterns in the way I react with a new posture - so maybe it will be ever thus...
First stage is of course excitement. Yippeeee!! I got the next one!! Pride in my own achievement is characterised by being unable to tell my shala-mates about it after practice (them: "how was your practice today?" me: "oh yes, fine...") as I feel like a total div jumping up and down and saying GUESS WHAT?!! even if that's how I feel. It works best when one of your friends happens to see it happening, and that way you don't need to brag. So yes, day 1 is definitely characterised by elation. This also manifests in the desire to tell my work colleagues all about it - point 1: they don't understand what it all means and why being given a new asana is so exciting and point 2: they really couldn't care less.
The next stage seems to follow very quickly afterwards and is somewhere between shock and bewilderment. Hang on, I start to realise, you mean I have to do this every day now? And after today I'm not going to have my teacher hold my hand and guide me though it? And it probably means I need to start getting up earlier? I'm sorry, can somebody remind me why exactly I wanted this day to come? Day 2 with garbha was where I  gave myself ginormous bruises which I saw fit to photograph and post on facebook (see part 1: the desire to tell people who don't care). 
Simultaneously occurring in the world outside of my practice is the continued need to talk to people who don't care (namely the long suffering work colleagues), preferably including showing them pictures/videos (against their will) whilst explaining to them how very incredibly difficult this asana is. I'm not sure what I want - a medal?
The next thing that happens is I begin to convince myself that this asana is actually both dangerous and bad for me, and that I am giving myself serious injuries by attempting it. With supta kurmasana I had a very painful injury in my collar bone from being adjusted which did mean I had to completely back off the pose for a good few weeks on more than one occasion. With garba I am now experiencing pain in my bones - mainly in my forearms, and also in my hands. I find it impossible to turn my hands to lift up into kukkutasana and any attempts feel likely to break my arms (yes, I am a drama queen).
This is where I have got to with garbha pindasana - after the elation, the posting on facebook and telling colleagues about my new asana, the slight bewilderment and disbelief that I had to keep trying this and the fear of the injury came actual declarations of hatred. I walked out of the practice room a few days after being given it and C said to me "Meeeel, it's getting better every day" and before she could finish I answered "No it's not, it's terrible - and I HATE IT!" Haha. Drama queens are us (and notice how I know best...). I told her that after I had wrestled my arms through and sat for 5 breaths, I took my fingers to my forehead and preparing to rock back I just cried instead. "Crying is GOOD, it's going to make it so much better!" says C but I'm not entirely convinced. I started to analyse it and decided that my problem with the rocking is that I feel STUPID. I rock all the way back onto my head (which is too far, I lose contact between my hands and my forehead) then struggle to right myself. In short, I feel like some sort of beached whale. Who can't even rock in a circle (I'm doing on the spot - rocking for beginners). Anyway after my psychoanalysis I decided to tell myself that it doesn't matter if I feel like I look silly, probably nobody else thinks that I do (a good lesson for life too of course) and that I just need to keep on trying. And trying, and trying, and trying. 
And of course this is the key - practice, practice, all is coming (I think the big man may have been onto something with this). I fully remember not so long ago feeling like supta kurmasana has completely flummoxed me, that I would never in a million years be able to do it without serious effort and assistance, but over time something changed, or more correctly lots of somethings changed, ever so gradually, and a little piece more of the puzzle fell into place each week until I can now (somedays) bind my hands by myself. And I just need to remember that there is no quick fix, that I just have to keep going with garbha pindasana, and slowly but surely one day the pieces will fall into place and I will be able to practice it with more ease.

Of course it is the same with life – in some respects I think you often only get given what you can handle. Changes which seem huge and overwhelming more often than not happen in stages so that from A to Z might be a huge change, but from X to Y to Z is oh so much more gradual. I was talking with an old friend of mine a while ago about the idea of me leaving London – I always said that London wasn’t my forever home, but as I have now reached the 10 year mark living here it seems like it would be more of a wrench to leave. But as my friend so wisely pointed out, I’d be unlikely to just up sticks one day. More likely is that a series of life changes, whether that’s related to work, or a partner, or something else entirely, would evolve over time so that leaving London became the natural next step.
And it’s the same with ashtanga - if you went suddenly from doing nothing to doing the full primary series 6 days a week with dropbacks & all the whistles and bells, it would be completely overwhelming (not to mention crazy). Instead, with the guidance of a teacher you learn at a pace which suits you, and as and when you are ready you learn a little more. And for me, I gradually added another day to my practice week, one day at a time, to build what is (hopefully) a sustainable practice.
But as I work through the stages with my new asana, and I currently reside in the "am I ever going to get this??" stage of bamboozlement, I just need to remind myself how impossible all that came before seemed at first (including - to begin with - having a morning practice at all) and just keep practicing with the faith and belief that it will just takes time. And there endeth the sermon...Amen :)

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Bumps in the road.

I've been having an interesting time over the past few weeks. I can't go into detail here (yet) but I have come up against a situation in my life that has shown me great uncertainty - as of now it could go either way. For somebody who likes to know all the answers and to plot and plan around them, uncertainty isn't easy. But maybe I am describing my pre-yoga self, I have less of a need to know the complete road-map these days - which as it turns out might be just as well!

Last week started in a challenging way, as I left my house to head to the shala at 6.20am I saw a traffic warden photographing my car, having just written me a ticket. About a month ago they decided to paint some white boxes on my street indicating parking spaces, and aside from the inconvenience of having to move my car to a neighbouring road while they did the painting, I thought nothing of it. Little did I know that parking where I did (overhanging a box) would lead to not one but TWO fines of £120 each - one ticket was written at 4.45pm on a Sunday, the other 6.20am on the Monday (during which time I hadn't left my house). If I hadn't seen her taking the photo as I left for yoga would I have returned to find 7 more parking tickets I wonder? Anyway I reacted in a classic way - I reasoned with her, I begged, I pleaded, I may have shouted a little, and then I cried (because she said "if you'd only come out a minute earlier you could have stopped me..." I mean seriously - what help is it to say that???) and finally I snatched the ticket off the windscreen and stormed off up the road, slightly concerned what effect this contretemps would have on my practice. 
Oh, you mean I have to park inside the lines??

When I reached the end of my road two young neighbours who'd seen the debate going on mentioned that they'd seen I had a ticket last night, so realising that I had two already I had to go back and move the car for fear of getting more. So I stomped BACK down my road, slightly hysterical about how late I was for practice by this point, got in the car, moved it back into the bloody bay, locked up, back up the road and went to get my phone out to photograph the measly sign (which doesn't mention fines, it just says "park in marked bays"). No phone. So I stomp back down the road, unlock the car, find my phone on the passenger seat, lock the car again, back up the road...and finally on my way to yoga. I wasn't very proud of the way I reacted when confronted with this situation (especially the shouting and crying) and with all the up-and-down the road action I had started to get myself into a panic that I would have to miss practice, or that it would be ruined. So I kept breathing, and told myself that I would let it go, and wouldn't allow it to affect my practice, and headed to the shala where (despite lots of changing-room chat about it both before and after) I did not let it get the better of me. Chatting about it I decided that it was OK that I got angry, as it was a stressful situation and the anger was short-lived - the key is that I did not let it eat away at me, or to ruin my day. Although if I don't manage to triumph in my appeal against the fines I might be slightly less relaxed about it....
Anyway the following day was when I received news of the "uncertainty". And my first reaction was actually very positive: "OK," I thought to myself "Let's see what happens here." No panic, no dramatising, just a straight-forward realisation that without all of the information there was little I could do, but I was confident that things would be alright. Sorry I realise this is all a bit mysterious but it does need to be for the time being!
The following day, Wednesday, was a red letter day for different reasons as I was given the next pose in the primary series: garbha pindasana. I had a feeling it was coming after I started binding supta kurmasana (and got put through bootcamp to "nail the exit") a few weeks ago, and had almost expected it to come on Monday (knowing that it wouldn't on Tuesday!). So I was thrilled, I love the low-key way Cary comes and gives you a new pose, she just comes to you on your mat, says "Now come into lotus..." and begins to talk you through it, no run-up to it, no whistles and bells, just simple explanation and help. Susan was practicing in front of me that day and was doing her 2nd series twists and it was all I could do not to give her a big grin but I concentrated on the job in hand as Cary wrestled and prised my arms through the non-existent gaps in my lotus, sitting at one point with her foot on my knee to give her some leverage while I worried that the new practitioner on the mat beside me (who according to Susan's email had stopped practicing and was "frankly GAWPING") would never come back again after witnessing the man-handling it took to get my arms through! I think I said to C at one point "this is a lot harder than it looks!" but eventually my arms were through, hands under my chin, I breathed there (panted) and then she helped me to rock. I have been doing a version of this in the led class every week (without trying to get my hands through) where I roll right back onto my head as I thought was correct, but having Cary help me rock the movement was slight in comparison - I asked her about it, and she said that this is essential so that you can keep your hands in contact with your head, and to keep your back rounded and your bandhas locked. "As soon as you lose that contact you lose your bandhas" she says and I think BANDHAS?? Are you KIDDING me???!! After the first very assisted attempt she says "And now do it again by yourself" and then walks away to the sound of me laughing my head off. Of course I give it a go, I go and get the water bottle and try and TRY to wrestle my arms through, they try to rock around, beaching myself and calling out to her for help, and eventually she helps me to rock around (saying all the while "I'm not doing anything, you're doing it all, I'm just holding your knees") and then I'm done. Ecstatic I head to work, the first bruises already showing on my hands (I think from where C gripped them to pull them through) and struggle not to spend the entire day telling my colleagues what I just got given. Of course they are not in the slightest bit interested, and if they saw what I was trying to do they would probably think I had completely lost the plot.
Having had a fairly eventful three days I began to wonder what would come next. And what came next? Irritability, restlessness, snapping at my Mum on the phone, wishing I was anywhere but where I was at any given moment, that was what characterised Thursday. On Friday I decided to do my little photo project to cheer me up (and very successful it was too), but then the weekend was an odd one.
After my initial positive reaction, by the weekend I had descended a bit into panic. And the weekend consisted of: a very late night on Friday leading to me sleeping most of the day Saturday and then feeling I'd wasted the whole day; then an evening and night disturbed by neighbours 4 houses away having the world's loudest ever party (after trying for an hour to call the council I eventually moved a mattress into the study at the front of my flat and slept there, being woken again at 5am to find it still in full swing - African beats pounding, the garden floodlit and men in no shirts dancing and singing...); a very tough practice on Sunday; tears over brunch...and finally a decision to start looking after myself. On the way home from brunch I went via the garden centre and bought a load of plants which I spent three hours installing in the garden (which my body didn't thank me for the next day...) and felt so much happier once I had done that. Then on Monday night I went to a singing class with some friends, another positive and helpful step towards a happier me, and on Tuesday had dinner with a wonderful friend who said all the right things about my situation and made feel even better still.
So now having moved through positivity, restlessness and panic, I have arrived at a place of intrigue. Uncertainty means that life could go in many different directions, and what is that if it's not a huge gift? One of the things which helped me to arrive in this place was reading this in Gregor Maehle's book:

"A peasant once spoke to the sage Ranakrishna thus:
 'I am a simple villager. Please give me in one sentence a method by which I can obtain happiness.' Ramakrishna's answer was: 'Totally accept that you are a machine operated on by God."

Reading this helped me to gain a bit of perspective and was the beginning of my "intrigue" phase. You can interpret this as you will, but I have faith that "something will come up" / "the universe will provide" or however you want to put it, that something larger than me is in charge of what happens next, and frankly I am intrigued to discover what this will be. So watch this space...
And I fully intended this post to be all about garbha pindasana and coming to terms with learning new asanas...but I will have to save that for another day!

***********Edit - parking update!! *******************
I have to pay the fines, my appeal was rejected. But it's OK! All things in perspective, this is certainly not the end of the world. And maybe it's karma for all the times I drove over the speed limit and never got caught :)

Saturday, 7 August 2010

1 day in August

It's been a funny old week (more on that later). But after getting myself into a highly irritated and irritable state on Thursday evening I decided it was time to do something a bit different. So from the moment I woke up on Friday morning until I went to bed, I photographed my whole day. And given that the idea of doing this was primarily to turn my day around and have some fun, I can say that it was a total success! I especially enjoyed the reactions I got from the people around me when I asked permission to photograph the man selling me my morning croissant...I started the day with a smile, and went to greater lengths than normal to make my day interesting. It was a fun experiment and something I would love to repeat - the possibilities are endless! And of course it will be so interesting to look back on in years to come, your everyday reality seems mundane at the time but how fascinating is it when you come across the odd old photo of your office, or a house you used to live in, a car you used to have? It's shame we so often take more pictures of high days and holidays than we do of our everyday lives.

Anyway I've talked enough - here is the link to the pictures along with a few pictures from the album - just one further bit of explanation before I do though! This wasn't about creating beautiful photographs, which would have meant me standing back from life and observing. This was about taking pictures which captured my normal life, and for the most part I took pictures as I walked - hence the imperfect quality in places! 

One slightly odd request - if you see fit to comment on any of the photos on Flickr please don't mention this blog as I am also linking to the album via facebook and my nearest and dearest don't know that this Mum's the word.

Arrival at Yoga...the only photos exclusion zone for the day!

And that's a little taster - if you would like to see more, you can view my Flickr album here: 1dayinAugust.