Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tomorrow, Yoga Teacher Training

Tomorrow is the first day of my very first yoga teacher training.

It's still kind of surreal.  Especially when I think about everything that has happened since I started practicing: injuries, depression, surgery, new apartment, 5 new roommates, new job.  A lot has happened during this past year and a half or so.  And I have no idea what is going to happen next.

Correction--I have a ton of ideas.  Because that's what I do when I get nervous.  I try to imagine every possible outcome, so I can try to prepare myself for it.  Helps a little, but mostly it just makes me more nervous.  And, lately, it's kind of starting to annoy me.  I don't want to know what's going to happen next or how this is going to turn out.  I just want to take the training and just be there and have the experience--without my brain constantly trying to anticipate what might happen next and, in a sense, control what is happening.  I don't want to control it, I just want to have the most real and authentic experience possible.  No goals, no intentions other than to just simply be there 100% and just, for lack of a better phrase, "enjoy the ride."  Probably one reason I kept avoiding doing a training for as long as I did.  Within my first couple of months of practicing people were telling me that I should teach or that I was "going to be a teacher."  At first it felt like a great compliment.  But it started to feel like there was some kind of expectation put out there before I was ready for it or even wanted it, like I didn't get to just enjoy the yoga before people were trying to turn it into work.  I just wanted to scream, "leave me alone!  I just want to be a student and to practice.  Let me have my experience without you telling me what it means or what I'm meant to do with it." 

But, I know that this is the next step, wherever it leads.  And today I definitely still feel nervous--especially about waking up on time to be at the studio at 6 tomorrow morning.  I haven't been getting up that early since I had to pause my Mysore practice while my shoulder rested.  I worry about messing up the things that I need to do for my work-study position for the training.  It's not rocket science, but I'm still worried that I'm going to screw it up.  I'm worried that it's been too long since I've been out of school and that I've had to really use my brain and that now I've lost the skills I had when I was a student, or that I've somehow gotten less intelligent.  I'm also worried that the depression had a bigger effect on my ability to think clearly than I thought it did and that I won't be able to do my best work.  I remember reading articles that long-term depressions can literally damage your brain (I can't remember the exact terms, or even where I read it) and I guess I'm worried that it has.  Basically, I'm scared of being incompetent and un-intelligent.

However, I'm also starting to get more excited about the training too.  I've noticed a definite upbeat tone to my voice whenever I talk about the training now, or get an email from one of the people from the training.  I'm super excited about my Ashtanga teacher coming in to teach 2 sections of the training: subtle body & Ayurveda.  Both of which she is extremely well-versed in and loves to talk about.  I'm very excited about the entire 3-day weekend devoted to inversions (sweet!!!) as well as the one for arm balances and abdominals.  I'm definitely excited about all the yoga.  A little worried about how my shoulder will hold up, since it just started feeling better.  But I'm ok with that too, it feels like the majority of my life has been about learning how to live with and take care injuries!  I'm not excited about having to teach, but I'm doing my best not to think about it.

Overall, right now I feel this nice sort of steady feeling.  Not confident.  More like somewhere around just being ready.  Ready to accept whatever will come next and ready to let go of anything that it becomes clear that I need to--even if it's my yoga practice (now that would be ironic).  Big we go, let's do this.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Enjoying the movement

Today was my third time out for a run since my shoulder strain forced me to take a break from my regular yoga practice. And it was…informative. The run itself did not feel good—in the slightest, because I pushed too hard.

The first time, felt fantastic. I didn’t bring my watch—I didn’t have anywhere that I had to be and I wasn’t timing myself, so there was no need to bring it. I didn’t run on the jogging path, I ran on some trails through the lightly wooded area near the jogging path—I love trail running AND it’s easier on your body. I took breaks during the run—there were absolutely no goals, time or distance; I was just going out to enjoy the movement. It was also the perfect day as far as weather—sunshine, temps in the 50s, light breeze; perfect. After the run, I spent plenty of time enjoying some post-run yoga, took a shower, iced my foot and then went to a “yoga for runners” class. The class was really good and included just about everything that I did on my own after my run—which was very encouraging to know that I was thinking on the right path.

The second time was pretty good. I had to leave for work no later than an hour and a half after I started my run, which made me feel a little rushed, but it was ok, I wasn’t going to go far. I brought my watch because I needed to know how much time it would take me to do my run, that way I knew how much time to leave myself for future pre-work, morning runs—but I was not timing myself, as in aiming for a specific finish time, I didn’t even look at the watch except to note what time it was when I started. I stayed on the jogging path and, this time, I decided I would see how far I could go without stopping. I wasn’t aiming for any specific distance, but I was going to make an effort to go as far as could, without putting too much strain on my body, and just get a benchmark for how far that was. The feeling of the whole run was really good: I was working, but not straining. I could have gone faster, but I wasn’t just casually strolling either—really good balance between “effort and ease,” with the focus on keeping the breathing steady and as easy as possible. And I surprised myself—I completed the whole path (1.5 miles, the most I’ve run since my foot surgery last October). I looked at my watch to see what time it was and was even more surprised to see that it had only taken about 12 minutes to run the whole path. 12 minutes?! That’s an even 8 minute/mile pace—only 30 seconds/mile off my old easy distance run pace! I was able to fit in a little over an hour of a post-run yoga practice. I was still kind of feeling out what to do without a teacher guiding me or having a set sequence of poses to do (like in my Ashtanga practice) but I just started moving and relaxing in the poses that felt really good and that felt like they were undoing the not-so-pleasant side-effects of running (tight hamstrings, hips, etc). It was so hard to get myself into the shower because what I was doing felt so good. I kept resetting my timer for “another 5 minutes” because I didn’t want to stop; I wasn’t done yet, lol. I left for work roughly on time, but not in enough time to eat breakfast before I left. Funny thing I’ve noticed is that I don’t immediately feel hungry after I go running. And it kind of feels like my stomach can’t really digest anything big immediately after a run.

Anyways, the second one felt pretty good too. Not “perfect” like the first one, but really good. But, I kept thinking about the 12 minutes…I had really run that 1.5 mile jogging path in only 12 minutes—without having been running consistently in a long time? It didn’t seem accurate. Maybe I had remembered my start time incorrectly. It kept nagging at me all throughout the next day. Then this morning, when I finally convinced myself to get out of bed, I decided I was going to go down and run it again. Except this time I would time it with my stopwatch—no mistaking the start time there. I went out with the goal of hitting that 12 minute time again. I started running and I immediately felt tired. I thought, “Ok, this is just the morning tiredness burning off, I’ll fall into the stride later.” I kept running, trying to hold the pace. I didn’t feel like I was falling into the stride. I felt tired. My breathing felt very labored—I wouldn’t have been able to talk to someone if they were right next to me (benchmark for determining if you’re running too hard). My upper back felt tight, my throat was starting to feel tight and to burn as well…nothing about the run felt good. This was not a casual, easeful jog, I was racing myself. I finally accepted about half-way through that there was no way that I had run that time on Monday if I was this tired right now and that early into my run. I let myself relax a little bit to a pace that felt slightly more comfortable and kept running. Coming up to the last stretch of path before the end, I picked up my pace a bit, to finish strong just like the old competitive runner in me does for every run—not just the races and ended my run with my lungs and throat burning. I looked at my watch: 11 minutes 23 seconds. Roughly a 7 minute 30 seconds/mile pace—a.k.a, my old “easy distance” running pace. First thoughts: holy crap, I didn’t think I was hitting that time. Immediately followed by, that was too much. Yay, I surpassed the time I was trying to hit. Glad to know it’s still in me. But it did not feel good. There was nothing enjoyable about that run. I went home, unrolled my yoga mat and put my feet up the wall—which is becoming my go-to first pose of my post-run yoga practice. I just lay there on my mat; arms splayed feeling very deflated and beat. D-O-N-E.

I will say, however, that there was something really good that came out of pushing too hard—it provided a lot of information about how to structure my post-run yoga practice. The first thing I wanted to do once my breathing returned to normal wasn’t to stretch out my legs—it was to unlock and decompress my upper body. I don’t think I ever really noticed before exactly how tight and compressed your upper body gets from running. The focus is always on the legs and hips getting tight but it literally feels like your upper body gets squished. So, the majority of my practice was spent reversing that effect. Matsyasana (a.k.a “fish pose”) feels AMAZING after a run. Or, at the very least, lying on your back with a rolled up mat, block, blanket or whatever underneath your shoulder blades and letting the head hang back. Opens the throat and the upper back. You know what else also feels particularly great after a run? Laying belly-down over a rolled up mat—for those who don’t know, the rolled up mat is in between your rib cage and pelvic bones. It feels really uncomfortable at first but then I could feel it decompressing my back and opening up the front side of my body. I know from seeing previous photos of myself that I don’t have a significant sway back when I run, but I know I have a little bit of it—so the compression in the opposite direction feels heavenly. I can’t remember the exact sequence of the things that I did, but it focused heavily on lengthening and decompressing my spine. AFTER that is when I shifted my focus into the legs. Prasaritta Padottanasana (standing wide-legged forward fold) is becoming one of my favorite poses—stretches the hamstrings, inner line of the legs while simultaneously lengthening out the back. I was just starting to move into some slow Classical Sun Salutations—with an exaggerated focus on getting a stretch deep into the hip flexors—and starting to move into a flow when my timer went off. 7:30 a.m. Only 30 minutes to shower, get dressed and get out of the house. Again—there was no time to ice the foot or to eat breakfast. It’s almost as though I need 3 ½ hours to myself in the morning: run, yoga, shower, ice & breakfast.

Either way, it’s a work in progress and the routine is starting to feel really good. When I’m not going crazy and pushing myself too far beyond where I’m at, the running feels really good. To quote my friend, it wakes up my brain. I’m loving the added ease I feel in walking and going up stairs that I get from my leg muscles getting stronger. Plus the movement just feels so good—when you do it right ;-) The information and direction its providing to my yoga practice is also really nice. Since injuring my shoulder that has been one thing that I really missed— my morning practice. Not even so much just the Ashtanga—I just missed having my own practice. It feels nice to have it again—no matter how short it is. It’s interesting; my running informs and gives direction to my yoga practice via the tight muscles. And my yoga practice informs and guides my running practice—when I go out with the intention to just enjoy the movement and simply BE wherever I’m at, whether it’s slow, fast, tired, whatever, then the run feels better and my body isn’t stressed as much. Ignore that and push it, then the effects aren’t as pleasant, even if the time is good. Which is an interesting change in itself. It used to be just about improving my running times—now the focus is on the movement being pleasurable.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Reflecting and focusing

9 days. 

That's how many days until I start my very first yoga teacher training.  And my feelings are...mixed.  I'm not mortified or terrified, but I am definitely nervous.  I was looking over the categories for the homework that will eventually be assigned (asana, philosophy, anatomy, etc) and when my eyes passed over "teaching scripts," I felt my heart jump into my throat and start to race a bit.  The very thought of teaching--anything--kind of makes me want to run and hide.  That's actually a general feeling about the training as well.  I feel the general nervous that I usually feel when taking on some challenge/endeavor--fear of failure, not being good enough, etc.  But I do know that somewhere inside me I am confident and I know that I will be fine.  I've actually had experience teaching before--I had to teach and assist many classes in order to test for my black belt when I was younger.  It was also my least favorite part of the preparation for the exam.  That aside, I also spent the last 4 1/2 years giving "training" meetings to people at my old job (retail loss prevention) about shoplifter prevention, and other policy-type stuff.  It took a good couple of years before I finally got comfortable with it, but it was still something I kind of avoided doing.  I would do it if my boss asked me to, but I wouldn't make the effort to otherwise.  But, whenever he did tell me to go out and do my meetings, whatever nerves I had settled once I started doing it and then I eventually didn't even need to consciously think about what I was going to say.  I was just talking and sharing information.

So, I know that IF I decide to teach, I probably have the capability to do so.  So, confidence is a small factor in the nerves but there is something else too: part of me just does not want to do this.  Part of me is perfectly happy just playing on the Facebook during the work day at my new job, reading yoga blogs, just doing my own yoga practice and then going out and playing on the weekend (Saturday night & Sunday).  Hiking, rock climbing...with summer coming I'm sure I would have found a way to go out kayaking too.  I was always frustrated with my old job and feeling like I could never go out and do something during the summer, when the weather was nice, and now I'll be spending the majority of this summer in training.  Part of me is getting very annoyed at feeling like I constantly have to keep putting my life on hold--can't do X because I have to go to class/study for an exam/research a paper/write a paper.  Graduated from college: I can't do X because I have a broken foot and am on crutches/have physical therapy/hurts too much to move.  Now that I finally have a steady work schedule and am relatively pain free (save the new shoulder strain from combining rock climbing and Ashtanga yoga--got some knowing, "I told you so" smiles from my yoga teachers for that one), I'm about to give away what little free time during the month that I want to be most active to my yoga training.  Yes, I know that in the long run, it's not that much.  It's not long at all, just 5 months: April 22-August 21; 6 Friday-Sunday weekends, 1 Saturday-Sunday weekend.  Really, it's not that bad.  There are some that have you at the training everyday for a whole month, and others that are 9 months long and take every other weekend.  So, really, no it's not that bad.  But it still doesn't stop the feeling that I keep having to put my life on hold and I'm sick of it.

Yeah, I know, "welcome to the real world, everyone has to do this."  Really?  If the "real world" sucks, then why do we do it this way?  Enter the pissed off, frustrated feeling of not wanting to be a part of "this world."  The go to work and spend maybe 2 days a week actually doing something you enjoy.  Which is also one of the things driving me to do this training.  I'm happy now, because I can pretty much do whatever I want and am left to decide how I want to do this job, but I also know that it won't last long.  You can only play FarmVille for so long before you start getting bored with it and wondering what it would be like to actually be on a real farm.  So, this job works for now but I know it won't be long before it'll get boring and I get restless, wanting something more than just sitting at a desk for 8 hours/day.  Before the 1 day a week that I am able get out and do something--hike, rock climb, visit friends--will feel so good that it makes going back to work unbearable.

Clarification.  That was the big reason I decided to do the training.  Learn more about yoga?  Sure, that was always a good motivator.  But a lot of that is possible to do on your own: go to workshops, go to classes with different teachers, read books and yoga blogs, go on a retreat.  Pattahbi Jois is famously quoted for saying that yoga is 1% theory and 99% practice.  I really do believe that.  This is one of those systems where you learn best and the most through actually doing it.  At the same time, I kind of felt like I was hitting some sort of "wall" with it.  Honestly, I found myself starting to get bored with it.  I never thought it would happen, but it did.  And then I would switch up my teachers and styles and be good for a little while longer. 

But, lately, I've been wondering why I keep doing it.  Why I practice the yoga and what is its place in my life?  I really didn't know what to expect from it when I started doing it.  I had hurt my back and couldn't move.  This happened after my initial foot injury and after I was finally starting to get some strength and movement back in my life.  I felt like I was getting trapped in again and just kind of scrambled to the first thing that looked like it would bring relief and allow me to move.  The only thought in my head was, "Not again!"  My back started feeling better within a week and...I don't know, I just couldn't stop going to the classes.  They felt amazing.  Restful and challenging at the same time.  It just clicked.  It didn't matter how much money I was spending on it, it just felt like I couldn't stop, I needed it.  It almost sounds like addiction, which I guess it kind of is.  Your body literally starts craving the movement after a while.  Although you here the same comments about running and other exercises.  Not to mention that it felt like going to the classes, talking with the teachers and other students in the classes was the most meaningful interaction I had had with people since I moved to Boston.  After 2 years of working in a job that required distrust of people and feeling very isolated, I felt and saw myself opening back up to people again.  Was it the yoga, or the people?  Who knows; maybe a little bit of both.  I can definitely say, after witnessing it several times, that when I don't practice, I feel a lot LESS social.

So, yoga kind of took over my life.  Started working at the yoga studio that I liked the most so that I wouldn't have to pay for my classes anymore.  Requested certain days off from work so that I could take classes with my favorite teachers.  Similar to running, I started centering my life around the one thing that I enjoyed the most.  It was also all that I talked about with people.  Sometimes on purpose, other times it just simply kept coming up in conversations.  People were curious about it and I enjoyed talking about it and was almost eager to share it.  But I never felt the urge to teach it.  I have never once thought, "Hey, I wanted to teach this to people."  Share it, yes.  Teach, no.  And there is a difference.  A small one, but important.  Teaching means that you have some greater knowledge about it, and some responsibility that comes with it.  And I don't feel like I have that or that I want the responsibility that comes with it.  It's the being responsible for what it does to other people.  Simply having the label of "teacher" gives you a slight amount of authority that people just automatically accept, and will usually do what you ask of them.  What scares me about the thought of teaching is doing or saying (or "suggesting") to do something that ends up hurting someone.  I don't want to be responsible for other people.  That is one of the big things that makes me want to run and hide when I even see the word "teach."

So, there it is.  One of my biggest fears when it comes to the idea of teaching.  So, what am I doing in a yoga teacher training?  (A) I know that I don't have to teach if I don't want to.  No matter how many people tell me I should, no matter how many people tell me that it is what I am "supposed to be doing," as though it is supposed to be my "fate" to teach yoga (as a few of my teachers have), I don't have to do it.  (B) Clarification.  This thing has taken over my life and, as I feel my life shifting around again, I want to understand where it fits, what it means to me.  Because to me, it is definitely much more than a physical exercise--that's what rock climbing is for ;-)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Other forms of movement

Since I left my job at Saks, I've been out rock climbing 3 times, and it's been amazing.  Rock climbing has been something I have been itching to get out and do for a long time.  Probably ever since I first heard about all the indoor climbing gyms in the Boston area.  I remember going to my 8th grade science trip and the thing I loved the most was the giant rock climbing wall that they had at the facility.  Every time they had someone there to supervise us climbing up the auto-belay wall (maybe between 15-20ft high?), I was there climbing until they closed it up.  When there was no one to supervise, my free time was usually spent climbing on the horizontal wall--which was maybe 6 feet high and the objective was to climb sideways along the wall.  Wherever there was a rock wall available for climbing at an amusement park, that was usually where you could find me (when I wasn't riding the roller coasters).

So, when I finally had time opened up for me and people I knew who could go with me to these places (most of them are either outside the range of public transportation or not easily accessible by it) I finally took the opportunity.  The first night, my friend and I spent at least 2 hours climbing, mostly on the "top rope" section (where you are hooked into a harness and your climbing buddy is holding on to the rope beneath you).  My forearms and hands were aching the next day, but it felt so good to use muscles that never get used and just to do something different--something other than my yoga practice.  The next time out was just straight bouldering.  Bouldering = climbing at lower heights but without a rope.  Which means WHEN you fall (and I did, many times) you fall onto a giant foam crash pad.  Bouldering is unbelievably harder than top roping because you have no rope.  When your arms get tired during top-roping, you can let go for a second while your climbing buddy holds you in place.  When your arms get tired during bouldering, you fall.  Or you let yourself just hang from your arms for a second or two before attempting to climb again.  But you are still using your hands to grip and then more energy to pull yourself back up.  I was bouldering for over 2 hours that day.  The next day, I could hardly raise my arms because the lat muscles along the side of my body were so sore.  I've been practicing yoga for almost 2 years.  My body has not felt this sore and this tight in a long time.

But it also feels stronger than it did before.  A friend of mine put it really well.  He said that yoga is mostly a pushing motion while rock climbing is pulling.  So when I go climbing, I'm engaging all those muscles that don't get used much in yoga.  All the muscles that serve as stabilizers to the main muscles that get used during yoga.  My practice is starting to feel stronger.  My arms and shoulders don't feel as tired when I'm in down dog because they aren't doing all the work anymore, my lat muscles feel stronger and picking up some of the weight, like they're supposed to.  My hands and forearms are also feeling stronger, which makes my arm balances feel much more stable.  Another big one that feels stronger is my core.  One of my climbing buddies told me before that climbing is all about your core.  I knew that but I didn't feel my core engaging while climbing...but that didn't mean it wasn't working.  It's like you automatically start engaging your core muscles to hold you close to the wall while you're moving.  And I can feel the difference while moving in between the poses in my practice.  It's really starting to feel like more of my movements are starting from my core, without me even trying to do so.  The climbing feels so much more effective in "waking up" the core muscles than just doing crunches or traditional abdominal exercises.  It's as though this teaches you how to use the muscles of your core to move yourself, rather than just beating them to death through crunches and the like.

Anyways, this was on my mind this morning because of the reaction I got when I told a couple of the yoga teachers that I usually work closely with that I been out climbing a few times.  It kind of makes me laugh.  The one that I told last night literally went from smiley and happy about whatever we were talking about before to "the face."  I don't know exactly what that face is.  It's a sort of serious face that is like a cross between shock and...I don't know, concern?  Disapproval?  It's really hard to describe what that face is.  It's kind of like the face your parents give you when you're telling them that you're doing something that's not what they want you to do.  Like they're trying not to show their shock and disapproval but it's clearly there, just a bit muted.  I thought I might be reading too much into it last night, but when I told my other teacher this morning, I got the same result.  Happy and enjoying whatever we were talking about to energy drop and "the face."  Really?  When I told one of them last night and I had mentioned that I was amazed that I hadn't gotten blisters yet, she said, "Not yet, but you will."  Maybe.  There's definitely a few spots that feel close to blistering, but I just put lotion on them, stretch my hands out and it goes away.  And if I do get blisters, that's ok.  The skin will heal and then it will grow back stronger.

I don't know.  Maybe they think it might hurt or take away from my yoga practice.  I remember a conversation that I had with one of my first yoga teachers back when I first started practicing.  I told her that I used to run and missed doing it.  She had told me that yoga was great for running but that running was not good for yoga, because it makes you tight.  Yep.  Running will definitely make your hips, hamstrings, quads and hip flexors very tight.  Along with your calves, bum, and shoulders.  Pretty much every muscle in your body will get tight--because you are using them.  You know what else makes your hip flexors tight?  Sitting for hours on end at a desk job.  Running is known for making your low back cranky because of all the pounding that you do.  You know what else does that?  Walking...and even sitting, just from the compression of your own body weight.  But that is life.  When we use our bodies, they tend to get tight.  Heck, even when we don't use them they get tight, just from staying in one position for so long.  And that is what the yoga is for.  More and more I am starting to think that yoga is designed to counteract the effects of life.  Then again, yoga needs a counter too--all those chaturangas and arm balances tend to make your shoulders and upper back a smidge on the tight side, and don't even get me started on how sore and tight my hamstrings were when I first started my Ashtanga practice ;-)

Yes, yoga is considerably less demanding of the body than other forms of activity--in terms of stress on the joints, compression and general "tightness."  But yoga isn't the only form of movement out there.  While we were resting in between tackling the many bouldering routes, one of my climbing buddies (who is also a very avid and advanced yoga practitioner) asked me if I ever got tired of just doing yoga.  I told him, "honestly?  Yes."  He felt the same way.  Neither one of us is saying that we don't love our yoga practices.  It's just that, as he put it so perfectly, our bodies crave other sorts of movement.  Sometimes I swear my legs literally ache to just start breaking out in a full on sprint--to really move.  My lungs also miss the strength that they had from running.  I definitely don't feel like I can breathe as deeply as I did when I was running.  Or hold my breath as long as I did when I was swimming.  Those are both a kind of lung strength that I don't feel like you can get from yoga.

I guess my point is this: I don't think that doing other forms of exercise will "hurt" or take away from or delay the progress of my yoga practice.  It's just going to change it.  I can say one thing for sure, it's definitely adding a good dose of humility to my practice.  I've always been Twister-star flexible, even with my very active lifestyle, but after almost 2 years of a daily yoga practice, my "flexy-bendiness" has been taken to a whole other level.  I do my best to not let it go to my head, but I can't deny that there is a little part of me that feels so much satisfaction at my heels easily touching the floor in down dog.  Or my head touching the ground in a wide-legged forward fold.  But with rock climbing engaging and strengthening the muscles that are usually just being stretched, some of my bends aren't as deep as they used to be.  So now I really get to practice "letting go of the attachment to the pose."  I can't bend as far forward in certain poses because the inner leg is far too tight from use.  And that's a good thing.  I rarely use the inner leg for balancing and now I can feel it working.  And that's ok.  I'll stretch it to wherever it's comfortable limit is right now (because if I push it to where it was pre-climbing it'll probably snap) and the tightness will eventually subside. 

There's a blog that I follow a lot written by a yoga teacher I've really come to admire.  She has said before to not curse the less flexible parts of your body and "to be proud of your strength."  When I read that, I thought it was such a great sentiment.  Now I'm actually practicing it.