Yoga to go.

I teach yoga almost everyday. For this, I’m grateful. And fortunate.

I love the students who show up with their mats and their water. They have their special clothes and they like a certain place in the room. Sometimes, they pick themselves up and try another corner. Sometimes, they find their space taken by someone new and they have to accommodate a change they didn’t want. Ah well. Such is life. They move and find a new space to inhabit. It’s a lesson, whether they realize it at the moment or not.

Someone asked me recently what my favorite part of yoga class is. ‘That’s easy,’ I said. ‘The sangha.’

She shrugged.

‘The community of folks,’ I said. ‘All of us hanging out.’

She clarified. ‘No, no, I mean, like the sun salutes or the backbends or handstands.’

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Then it’s the breath.’ It’s true: I do love hearing everyone breathing. It’s hypnotic. And slightly euphoric.

She shrugged again and I felt like I should just stop answering her questions. I made nice and said that I like teaching all the poses and I love the hello and good-bye portion of class. (Also true. People come in a little scattered; people leave with bright eyes. It makes me melt a little to see them transit through these phases.)

The woman told me that she liked savasana.

‘Yay,’ I said. ‘Me too.’ Because sometimes I try to make nicer than nice. (Though I do love savasana. I mean, come on. I’m not totally crazy!)

As I thought about this interaction later, I wondered if I’d been unnecessarily obtuse. I thought that maybe I should have just picked a pose or two. It’s not like I don’t know that asana classes are comprised of a sequence of poses. I spend a lot of time putting these sequences together for my students, and I always hope I do a good job. When I teach, I enjoy almost all of the asana I include. When there’s a pose I don’t like to teach, I intentionally teach it again and again. When there’s a pose I’m not enjoying, I try to find ways to do it with pleasure. So, surely, I could have just told this woman that I like all the parts of a yoga class for different reasons.

Then again, I told her the truth. My favorite part of a yoga asana class IS the community. It inspires me to refine my personal practice, to think compassionately about the limitations of my body and other bodies, and to share my happiness with others.

All of which, in my mind, contributes to the greater purpose of a yoga class: to make yoga a to-go affair. It should be prepared and packaged up special order to each and every person interested in living a good life. It should be seasoned to taste and delicious to the practitioner’s unique experiential taste buds.

Which is a big ask out of a 75-minute class, one or two times a week.

Which is why a few private yoga sessions can be a nice supplement to a developing practice. Yoga, essentially, is a science intended to help us develop the wisdom to pursue lives appropriate to our natures. It may start in the studio but it doesn’t have to stay there. Yoga can come and go from the studio. It can develop anywhere, really. On the beach. In your room. On the lawn. Even distractions don’t really detract from a yoga practice if you decide to accept their place in this world without letting them interfere in yours. (That’s harder when it’s a kid or a spouse with a demand, but communication helps this kind of conundrum. As in, ‘Not just now, thanks. In a moment.’) (Okay, MAYBE the kid will get it. The spouse? That depends on the training you’ve done with each other.)

So here’s an exercise for you. A real life yoga exercise. Try it at home. Or anywhere.

Every morning for one week, set aside five minutes—that’s nothing, really—to do the following:

  1. Stand with very good posture and find your breath. Pay attention to it as you inhale and exhale. Feel the details of your ribcage moving, your spine moving, your deepening breath, your increasing height as your breath deepens. Do this for 10 breaths.
  2. With a slow inhale, reach your hands over head. With a slow exhale, take your hands to your sides. Do this 5 times. Try to come up on your toes as you inhale! Notice if it feels different to breath while moving your arms compared to breathing without moving your arms. (Just notice!)
  3. From your standing position, inhale slowly to bring your hands over head. Clasp your hands and bend toward the right on an exhale. Inhale back to center then bend to your left on an exhale. Do this two times on each side. Feel the long lines of the left and right sides of your body. Notice whether the sides of your body feel different from each other.
  4. From your standing position, place your hands on your hips and, with a slow exhale, fold forward. With an inhale, come back to standing. Notice the strength you have to use in your legs and tummy. Try to keep your shoulders away from your ears. See whether it’s easier or harder to inhale or exhale in this movement.
  5. In your standing position, close your eyes and notice how you feel after just this little bit of breath and movement. Feel the structure of your body—the stability of your bones, the sensation of muscles that have stretched and moved, the circulation of your blood. Feel the way your energy moves in your body. Notice the light behind your eyelids. Consider your breath again. Then open your eyes.

At the end, smile. Go get a glass of water and tell someone you love them. Why not? That’s the best way to learn that our very highest purpose is to create and share love with others. The movement and the breath are just the tools we use to do this without too much interference from negative stuff. (Of course, yoga offers other tools as well. Meditation is one that’s particularly nice. But more on that later.)

Finally, let me know how it goes, hey? And if you want some guidance, ring me up. I’m happy to help. Seriously, it’s what I love to do.

And remember! You can always find me at Eight Elements West in La Jolla.

 

Give yourself a drink of water.

Let me ask a question.

How agitated are you?

I know. It’s like asking the witness when he stopped beating his wife. Sure there’s a presumption there but I don’t think I’m wrong.

We all have some level of unrest going on inside. It’s a pandemic exacerbated by the persistent demands on our attention by technology, by work, by financial concerns, kids, traffic, Netflix cliffhangers, diet, studies, AAAAH!

We are distracted to the point of deficiency. We can’t digest our food properly because of it. We don’t sleep well. We suffer through chronic pain. We are anxious, depressed, overwrought. And instead of eating better, we take a medicine. Instead of resting more, we take a sleeping pill. Instead of taking time to cultivate calm or relief from pain or avenues to alleviate depression, we medicate, neglect and bear it. We accept unrest as a natural turn of events. Something that simply comes with age. Fate.

But unrest isn’t compulsory. And it has a remedy. Guess it. Go on.

It’s not a pill.

It’s not even a supplement.

It’s rest.

Natural rest. The kind that follows from the simple act of lying down and doing nothing. Let me offer up a Spanish proverb:

que bueno es no hacer nada y luego descansar.

How nice is it to do nothing, and then to rest.

Because minds in unrest are primed for a challenge—all tied up in the fight-or-flight side of the nervous system, just itching for confrontation—let me make another offer. Please try this at home.

In honor of Yoga Month, set aside 10 minutes a day and try out each of the following four poses over four consecutive days. Each of these poses will calm your nervous system, improve your digestion and help you refuel your reserves of energy. Before you do any of them, silence your phone, wrap it in a sock and put it in a drawer in another room. Same for your computer, ipad, kindle, tv, children, spouse, etc. Then proceed with a hearty commitment to treating yourself right.

Savasana: Savasana means corpse pose. So make like one and lie flat on your back (or with a blanket under your knees if your low back is tight). Let your arms and legs relax on the ground a comfortable distance away from your body. Once your there, take some deep breaths, exhaling through your mouth. With every exhale, feel the weight of your bones sinking into the floor. Deepen your breath, feeling your belly rise and fall. And then, let go.

You won't lose your head in savasana.

You won’t lose your head.

Supported Child’s Pose: Grab a couple pillows or a blanket or two. Stack them so you’ve got a nice lump of softness to straddle. And then sink your bum back toward your heels, let your chest fall toward your knees and relax your arms wherever they’re most comfortable. Feel yourself releasing into all the points of contact your body makes with the floor. Then use your breath to soften through your spine. Finally, let go.

The head is integral, though not required in pics.

The head is integral, though not in pics.

Supta Baddha Konasana: Use your blankets or pillows again. Place them vertically in line with your sacrum so when you lie down over them, your torso covers the length of the pillows. If you have one more pillow or a blanket, use it to support your head, keeping your throat slightly open but not gaping. Bring the soles of your feet together and let your knees fall toward the ground. If you have more blankets and pillows, smoosh them under your knees to support the very open inner thighs here. If you don’t have more pillows, plan on staying in this pose with open knees for about 3-5 minutes and then use your hands to lift your knees toward each other and straighten your legs to the floor. Let go.

He’s shy. That’s all.

Viparita Karani: Sit on the floor and cozy your right side up to the nearest wall. Lean back onto your elbows and swing your legs up the wall. You should now look like a wall support. As you breathe, feel your femur bones sink into their hip sockets. Feel your spine settling on the floor. Finally, once again: let go.

Maintain your own head.

Use your own head.

All of these poses come from the restorative yoga playbook. They’ll help you access the healthful benefits of yoga poses without strain or stress. They’re intended to be performed in a relaxed manner. They do no harm. From the place these poses take you, your body can begin to heal, to repair, to restore. They not only trigger the parasympathetic nervous system—the benign twin of the fighting-and-fleeing sympathetic system; the yin, the nurturer, the healer—they don’t have any bad side effects. You rest. The consequence? You feel rested. You like yourself again. Other people like you too.

A student told me the other day that she was trying to find more energy to do more work after struggling through a 12-hour shift at work. She said she needed to get more done. She wanted my advice on pushing through because coffee wasn’t cutting it anymore.

All I could think was: if you were thirsty, you’d drink water. So why is it that when we’re tired, we don’t let ourselves rest? And don’t tell me you have too much to do. Because you know you aren’t effective when you’re Grumpy McGrumplestilk who can’t remember where she put her keys.

For more on restorative yoga, read anything by Judith Lasater but especially Relax & Renew. And come along to A Restorative Yoga Class at PB Yoga & Healing Arts. Sunday mornings at 9am.

Let me know how you go. I’d love to hear how these poses make you feel. And if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Now, drink up!

 

What’s the sound of you inner voice shrieking?

Ahem. Excuse me a moment while I clear my throat. I’m just choking a little on that inner sage I’ve been ignoring. Fortunately, she’s a patient, if volatile, woman. Also, not averse to punching my hyoid to remind me of her existence. A-hem. Now where was I?

Have you ever had the experience of knowing something is wrong for you but you do it anyway?Strike that. You don’t just do it; you fling yourself head over ass into the void with some sense that here is a hole you can plug. Despite your aversion to the dark? Despite the blood-curdling, horror-movie, don’t-open-that-door-just-don’t-oh-my-god-really-you-idiot scream issuing from your subconscious? Despite the fact that the hole is, well, potentially more than a hole? It could be a chasm of despair. A wormhole. A soul-sucking vacuum in which you may lose the very authenticity that distinguishes you from the borg.

Don’t fib.

I bring this up because I’ve recently returned to Yoga Nidra via Richard Miller’s very good book on the subject.

‘Aw geez,’ I hear you sighing, ‘another brand of yoga?’ Take heart. This one isn’t a brand so much as a process– a subfield of the broader science of yoga. In yoga, we’re scientists researching ourselves. In yoga nidra, we do our research in a state just shy of sleep. No poses to learn here but sleepy time savasana. Mmm. Deep, deep, juicy savasana. Sew some footies onto your lab coat.

But wait. There’s more. And it isn’t easy.

Yoga nidra is all process. Complex process. Mind-blowing process. A process, I promise, that’s a greater challenge than any ekapada hooha arm balance you’ve mastered. Also, a process that makes you very aware of how many holes you’ve plugged just to keep from doing the hard work of filling it, covering it, avoiding it, firebombing it, whatever. You arrive in savasana, relax and the work starts. Richard Miller says, ‘most people are trying to change themselves; yoga nidra asks them to welcome themselves.’ Can you think of anything more daunting?

One of the most compelling ideas in yoga nidra is that our careful observation of the sensations in our body, expectations of our intellect, traumas of our damaged egos– and an exploration of their opposites– will allow us to hear the messages each of these perceptions are giving us. Maybe you call yourself a fake. Or unlovable. Maybe you believe only you know what’s right. In yoga nidra, we get quiet; we travel close to sleep. In the silence, we might hear the familiar chatter of our self-doubt or aggression. But instead of hearing it and believing it, we pair it with its opposite. ‘I’m genuine.’ ‘I’m lovable.’ ‘I may not always know everything.’ In the silence, we respond to the prattle of our minds with other possibilities. We comfort ourselves with other ways of thinking. We revise old stories. And, strangely, it works.

Suddenly, hearing this dialogue of possible thought, the prattle starts to seem absurd. Like a very bad joke. An offensive term your fat, weird uncle uses to make it clear he’s a racist. An anachronism. The old story is a tale no longer appropriate and, importantly, no longer true to you. In fact, it never was true but a pretense of truth. In this discovery, weirdly, truth arises. In your deep savasana, you start to recognize truth in a new way. And, with practice, you start to respond according to the demands of what is actually true to you. You start to react appropriately.

The timber of your inner voice stops reaching shock and awe level. The flinging ceases. The holes aren’t even of interest. Not unless you’re interested in sowing seeds or listening for echoes.

I admit I don’t have a great conclusion here. I’m learning as well. I can say that the process is confrontational but not brutal. I can say that several of my peers report tears and anxiety in the practice but none of them have let it go. I think that’s because the process goes on. This idea of opposing limiting beliefs takes on a life of its own with very little effort. It resonates. None of us want to loathe ourselves. All of us, I think, sense that hate is only love in uncomfortable clothing. Why not undress it?

So maybe look this up. Yoga nidra. Try it out, report back. Let’s mess around with the integrity of our beliefs and expectations to see whether any of them serve us for anything beyond sending us into holes.