Sunday, 9 January 2011

Down & up; up and down.

It's been a funny old week one way and another (little reader's tip: if you're all asana-asana-asana and don't give a hoot about any other gubbins in my life, skip paragraph one. That's a little gift from me to you ;) Oh and yes I borrowed that tag from Evelyn!)

The first few days of the working year got off to a fabulous start. Thanks to my post-kirtan & meditation high I was on top of the world when I got back to work on Tuesday, and a moonday lie-in and 15 minutes sitting started the day off nicely. I realised as the next two days panned out how fantastic I was feeling - and I couldn't help but realise that this was a change. Sometimes until you've come back up again you don't actually realise you were down...
If I'm honest, the weeks before Christmas were difficult ones. I have been struggling to adjust to my new job. I knew I wasn't really doing what was required of me, but at the same time a kind of lethargy overtook me, and I wasn't able to JUST. DO. IT. I went into a bit of a downward spiral, finding every excuse and reason under the sun for why I wasn't being so much an on-the-road salesperson; in my case it was more of a hiding-at-home not-really-selling person. So the day before Christmas I got a bit of a talking-to, which was completely fair and I needed to hear it. The funny thing was, everything that was said to me could also have been related to my practice at some point or another (in essence: "Don't think, just do!" and definitely some "Why fearing?") and it turned into a bit of a life-coaching session. But it also left me incredibly scared that if I didn't pull my finger out I would be back on the job market again by the end of January, all of which overshadowed my planned calm attitude and approach to Christmas with the family.
The turning point was my fabulous kirtan experience last week, and the feeling I was able to emerge from it with - but it wasn't until I got out and started seeing customers this week that I realised how bad I had been feeling before, and how good I felt now. I was wary of blogging about it right away in case the feeling didn't last, I knew I wouldn't stay quite so high, but was hoping that the positivity would stick around. And I had an amazing practice on the Wednesday, a very early start to get home in time for a 9am conference call, and one of those days where the first chaturanga feels STRONG and supported, and the rest of the practice unfolded in much the same way. I started and finished that day at the same time as the lovely J, and when I came out she told me I looked really young -ha!! Who wouldn't want a friend like this? :) (sorry J, I'm still milking the compliment!).
Then Thursday and Friday were days spent, by necessity, working at home, and the same feeling I had before Christmas (when I was hiding out) started to come creeping back. Major lethargy, physical exhaustion (and a sore body from the return to practice no doubt) but feeling mentally wide awake and frustrated to be stuck at home all day (and all evening) on my own make endless phonecalls where I had to say the same thing to every single customer. Thursday was OK, Friday I had less pressure (as more of the work was already done) so I found myself losing focus, unable to concentrate, and my body was just sooooo tired....
Anyhoo, that's the ups and downs of work.

As for the downs of ups of practice (asana-asana-asana peeps, wake-up now!) I am of course referring to the dropping back. So what was my resolve about this? I will not make my whole practice about this; I will not obsess about it and endlessly research it. I will just do it. (ha - I should of course be using this lesson for my working life too!). But as I said in the first few weeks it didn't seem to really be about my back - oh now it's ALL about my back. The latest phase introduced this week came in two parts; last Sunday (my first day back after over a week off) I had to start going back with my arms overhead rather than in prayer. Two days later C had me try to keep the arms overhead as I came up too, instead of the instinctual movement that brings the arms around (like I'm about to give her a hug as she drags me upright!). And of course each of these little phases is WAY harder than the last.
After trying one day to raise the arms overhead and dropback I mentioned on twitter how much harder this was, and the lovely Sarah said that at this point I had to really engage my legs as I hang back and this would be the key. Up to this point I had been just hanging back and thinking of England (i.e. no body awareness or "effort" aside from the effort to not fall on my head) but after she said this, I gave it a try the next morning...and Cary, who rarely ever gives feedback (and certainly not just praise!) as I went back with my legs engaged said  "Good, GREAT! It's really coming!" - HURRAH!!! 
Coming back up with the arms out-stretched - I actually managed it the first two times I tried, and then lost it, and 50/50 seems to be the ratio now, but with all of these new actions I am starting to find that I have sensation in my back later on in the day, I hesitate to call it pain, but there's something happening. Some of the time it just has that feeling that it has been working, that deep muscular-heat that kind of feels good, but other times it is definitely uncomfortable.
I'm also finding it very difficult to breath in a hangback. The routine C has me do now is: inhale arms up; exhale hangback; inhale there; exhale dropback (assisted), come up on the inhale - we do this 3 times, then the 3 assisted hangbacks, then the final one as before but holding for 5 in UD (yes I'm probably repeating myself here!). Well this week I have also been at the tail end of a stinking cold, and hanging back and then finding a breath when the cold is on your chest (and the arms are newly out-stretched instead of happily in prayer) is HARD. 
It doesn't seem to be getting much easier as the cold is getting better though - actually today I had a new weird thing happen too. When C brought me up from the last held backbend (which I think was deeper than normal) my breath caught in my throat and it felt like I was having an asthma attack: my throat just closed into the heavy wheeze where it is impossible to get any air in. Instant panic: I tried to breathe again and the same thing happened. I told myself not to panic and thankfully it worked, I didn't flip out, and struggled my way down to the floor for my forward bend - but it's just such hard work! I thought things are meant to get easier the more you practice them, not HARDER! Just before Christmas I said to C one day "it just feels like it's getting harder every day!" and her response was "no, it's getting easier every day" - in other words, I am doing more of the work, she is doing less - which I suppose is a good thing, but it just seems to highlight how fecking hard this is! My dilemma is that I don't really want to do any extra-curricular activities to hurry it along, because I feel like that goes against the answer you usually get if you ask a teacher "what can I do to improve this posture?" - the answer is always just "practice, all is coming...". But is it possible to learn to dropback by just doing what I am doing now? Or will I inevitably have to start working on it on my own time?

Meanwhile, I went to kirtan again last night and found myself visualising perfectly controlled dropbacks while I maybe I just need to keep doing that and eventually it will happen...


  1. Ohhhhhh, My lovely adored Mel! Thank you for mentioning me and I am SO glad it is working for you. Keep thinking of it as an EXTENSION UPWARD instead of a BENDING BACKWARD and I bet it will work. Think: if you were on a scale, something would have to move forward to move back, something would have to move up to move down! I see you doing it with grace and light in my mind's eye - it is coming.

    Thanks for the love, friend!

  2. Good advice from Sarah!!

    Visualisation YES, and passive back opening if you want to (I.e. hanging off the bed)... but I wouldn't recommend trying to work on it cold later in the day. Discomfort later on is normal, like when you get up from your chair and feel like you're walking like an old woman for the first few steps because it's so stiff and a bit sore..... is that what you mean? That goes away eventually. That is what it feels like when your lower back is opening :)

  3. It was lovely meeting you, Mel! Let's do it again sometime xxx

  4. Thank you again Sarah! More suggestions which I put into work today when we moved to *another* new phase - 5 breaths in a hangback WITHOUT my teacher standing in front of me, wahh!! But got lots of feedback today and she said it was really strong and I was hanging further back than I might imagine. Yay :)

    Susan, of course you know about my secret late-night piling up of pillows on my bed & attempting it cold "just to see if I can do it" - ha! I will stop it, I promise!! I only did it a few times ;)
    But yes I think it's what you describe, the old-lady feeling - and as I sit down for the post-dropback forwardbend I am like a 90 year old now (which I had seen everyone do,but I wasn't feeling until we ramped it up!). I was hoping you might say that feeling meant it was opening :) I do feel it, I'm sure of it, but I think also I have an incorrect sense of my own abilities because I am only dropping back assisted so far. Anyway, dropbacks rocked today :)

    V it was so lovely to meet you too! You are welcome anytime! And I must come over to your place for a week of evenings with the lovely R at some point! xxx

  5. You will do it Mel,its a wonderful moment when it happens. It's the only time I have had a kind of compliment off C, she did a high 5, when I finally did one on my own in front of her!

    Be careful at home, when you are not warmed up, that's the mistake I made, it can set things back.

  6. Ah, they rocked today! You know, for some reason I am so excited about your dropback process, even dating back to before you started it! Haha! I'm going to have trouble keeping my drishti to myself on Thursday (please yoga fairies, help me get up and make it to the shala my first day back....)

    And yes, although in my experience the 'later-in-the-day-stiff/sore-feeling' goes away eventually, I think we still continue to feel completely broken when sitting down for the squish, but it should go away very quickly, like within a minute.

  7. Hi Mel,

    I'm loving all of the detail on the drop back process. I'm hoping I'll remember where to find it when I get there myself. Not for a long time, I hope.

    I'm with you on finding that working from home is very difficult when I'm finding it hard to be a 'go-getter'. It can affect everything - practice, social life, housework, etc. I make sure I plan social events for working from home days - even if it's only a yoga class, or a half hour coffee with someone. Otherwise it's too easy to get isolated.

  8. Susan I should issue a (MASSIVE!) disclaimer - they may *feel* like they are rocking, which says nothing for how they appear outwardly. For all I know I have the most remedial dropbacks knnown to man...but they continue to feel better each day. Shhh don't tell, but I'm secretly enjoying them, who'd have thought it!! And yes the creaky old lady sits down, gets squished, and has just about recovered by shoulderstand time.

    Thanks R, and it might be here sooner than you think ;) I'm interested if other teachers do it differently, hence posting in detail (also as an aide memoir for me at a later date). And I'm with you on the isolation - it's tough for a chatty person like me to be alone all day. I was out for a few hours this afternoon and felt on top of the world as I was packing my bag to go - shocking!! I do need to make more of an effort to do social things on those days, instead of kidding myself that it would be nicer to stay home all evening as well as all day...

  9. Who cares how they appear outwardly??! :-)

  10. Thanks Susan ;) Of course you are right! Less good today after waiting 10 minutes and having to go out to ask for help...I'm having a funny old morning all round. I'll just keep visualising the perfectly graceful and controlled drops - funnily enough my imagination won't allow me to consider the coming back up again part though!