Blog-up, Blog-down and other Adho-Mukh ups

Friday, August 01, 2008

"Pain" & disclosing tablets

OK, so yesterday I had my first proper session for a year. With anticipation I rolled out my mat outside feeling all warm and fuzzy, because whenever I put my mat out it feels like I'm creating a special space just for me, to work in. Kind of like that feeling that a long-suffering grandad gets when he escapes the house during his wife's weekly knitting convention for a bit of creative time in the shed at the bottom of the garden. Anyway, despite easing myself into the stretches and sun cycles gently, and ending the session with some beautiful chanting, I woke up this morning with rather an acute awareness of just about every muscle group in my body.

* Note: In an earlier blog post, I explained that, rather than use the word 'pain' to describe the sensations of muscles ironed-out by yoga, I use the term 'awareness'. Not because I'm some sort of masochist, but because pain isn't really descriptive enough and tends to be negative. I'm not denying that sometimes when we're a bit too enthusiastic or when we actually have some kind of physical 'limitation' whether it be temporary or long-term we can experience discomfort, but it's important to listen to exactly what that 'pain' is telling us. I'd argue that in the West, we've become so disconnected from our bodies, that we tend to interpret all discomfort as our bodies saying 'oh no no no no, don't do that again'. The thing is, while our ancestors might have been able to interpret the different types of pain and act accordingly, we tend to use it as an excuse, as a way of avoiding anything remotely more strenuous than watching 5 episodes of The Simpsons back-to-back. Pain, then, is best described as an awareness, because we are (afterall) living, breathing, complex organisms whose means of communication are far more complex than a simple 'yes/no' or good/bad' response- or even those stupid questionnaires you get in the High St. that ask you a question and by the time you've thought about your answer you've forgotten which of the many categories your response falls into. No, the 'pain' in yoga is definately better known as an awareness. Let me illustrate.

I woke up, I hurt. I moved every part of my body and discovered that everything apart from my toes, calves, face and neck was really achey. But, instead of seeing it as pain and drawing the inevitable conclusion that I had worked too hard/am unfit, I looked at the discomfort as awarenesses, and yielded the following: the awareness in my shoulders and upper back is the strongest...this makes sense because I know I have a lot of tension there, and after that session yesterday my shoulders felt so much freer and lighter, so it must have shifted some energy blockages... The awareness in my hamstrings and thighs is telling me that I worked them yesterday, but considering that I achieved so much with less effort than say, my shoulders, it tells me that they're in quite good shape...and so on.

See how much more effective it is? I also think it's more effective than those who say that there is 'good pain' and 'bad pain'. That expression is halfway there, but lets not forget the nuances of our body's awareness! There's also 'work this muscle group again tommorow' pain, and 'work this part of me less and that part of me more' pain as well as 'Jeez, you need an osteopath!' type pain.

So yeah, to my final analogy. This morning as I lay in bed, freshly awoken and throbbing with muscular awarenesses from yesterday's practice, I pondered. Yoga means to 'unite' and this whole idea fits in very well with my reflections, in particular being 'at one' with the physical body, and listening to its communications. Just as a dentist gives a disclosing tablet to a someone who needs awareness of where to brush their teeth more thoroughly, so does yoga give you an awareness of your own physical condition. The "awarenesses" I was experiencing were not only telling me where I'd worked and how hard, but they were giving me pointers for the future, making me aware of which bits needed more work and attention, and what my strengths and weaknesses are. I think this is also true of yoga practice in general- personally I find it very difficult to persevere with things that I find very physically challenging, especially when others can master those things easily. There's also a saying that rings true for me: 'it's better to do a little bit of something than an awful lot of nothing'. How true is that?!

What does yoga disclose about you?

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Neglecting yoga practice: excuses, excuses, excuses!

So. I haven't done any regular yoga practice for A WHOLE YEAR.

But I got excuses! Wanna here them?

I moved house so...
1. I left my yoga class
2. I got stressed
3. I was struggling with personal issues
4. I started a new college and had less time for yoga
5. It was harder to motivate myself when I was
a) tired from college
b) had less time to do yoga because of college
c) people at college thought I might be a Hare Krishna-i.e. yoga was NOT a shared interest with fellow students.

Yeah, yeah, yeah we've all done it. Excuses are beguiling flaws in human logic that sneakily convince us that the sophisticated evolutionary processes of the human brain weren't wasted on us: we're all the more clever because not only can we fool others, but also fool ourselves. However, I don't think any of us really need Tony Robbins or the Barefoot Doctor, or even Derek Evans in his spangly ultra tight lycra to encourage us away from making excuses and back into regular practice. And this is what makes procrastination all the worse- it makes us squirm because WE KNOW WE SHOULD BE GETTING OUR ASANA BACK ON THE MAT!

As a deserter, I acknowledge that somehow I let the regular and sustained practice that I built up over 2 years slowly melt away into excuses and "cunning" ploys of procrastination. During the past year I'd say that I've had a proper yoga session about twice, plus a few half-hearted 'oooh, I could do with a bit of a stretch' type events which lacked control and focus. However, I have recently felt Patanjali calling to me across the ages (It's OK, I've ruled Shizophrenia out) and the urge to throw myself into some kick-asana postures again. The decision became conscious at my best friends' wedding at which I suddenly had a renewal of awareness of what it was to be whole. This awareness crept into my body as well as my mind, as my muscles, ligaments and sinews remembered what it felt like to be stretched and pumelled by yoga postures. It was weird in a way- yoga is exactly the type of thing that, no matter how long you've procrastinated and made excuses for abondoning it, the passion is such that as soon as someone else talks to you about it, you feel like an insider again and can't wait to rattle off a few marichyasanas just to see if it still gives you that curious twitch in your lower back. One thing that really struck me, was the way that it's just like learning to play a musical instrument: it's a hobby as well as a talent and a flair, and I love the idea of reclaiming it as an interest; one that's always developing, progressing and teaching me things about myself. So...yesterday I rolled out my mat with glee, retrieved my block and practiced outside. Yup, I'm back in the game!

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A is for....Adho Mukha Svasana

Adho Mukha Svasana/Downward facing dog
(adda- mooka shavasana)

Good for: the whole body! Stetches every muscle in the body, increases circulation, and tones & strengthens the arms and legs. Great for releasing tension in the back and shoulders.

Frequency of practice: this is a really basic one and forms part of the flowing vinyasa movements in my sun cycles. I practice this one every day.

Comments about Dog Down:
This is a great posture, and a great one to start with. Dog down looks quite easy, but in actual fact- as with many postures- it does take a while to perfect! The single most important thing is to keep your back straight, other considerations are to: have your tailbone pointing upward towards the ceiling, keep your legs working by placing your awareness on your feet, which are FLAT on the ground, and don't forget to draw your kneecaps up.

What Dog-Down has taught me
Yoga is all about awareness, and each posture has something to teach us. In every single posture you try, you'll find that it speaks to you (most people call this pain!) However, pain is a bit non-specific and usually an excuse not to do something. In my class our tutor has always been insistent upon the term 'awareness'. This means that we're not seeing pain as bad, but understanding that it's telling us something about our physical strengths and weaknesses. In case you're wondering how often the Paramedics get called out to our classes, I'll clarify that occassionally the 'awareness' is that we need to stop, and then try a modified version that best suits our capabilities! Dog down has been hugely instrumental in my understanding of my physiology. I was getting a big dip in my lower back which indicates a very flexible back, which is good, but also has it's downsides. The curve showed that because my lower back is so flexible, I was inadvertantly using it to compensate for lack of strength in the legs. So, now I know this what has changed? I purposely use my flexible back to compensate...only joking!!! No, over time, I've learnt to push into my legs and keep my focus there to prevent too much curve. This has worked, as you can see from the photo. You might notice that my head is touching the floor, whereas usually it's just facing forward...that's optional :)

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

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Yoga Alphabet and the Sandwich Analogy

So the concept is this: the biggest teachers of Yoga are the postures themselves, soooo, why not an ABC of yoga postures? Each posture will be posted in alphabetical order in Sanskrit for ease of reference. For those now raising their eyebrows in horror thinking they’ve never been to India on holiday, let alone tried speaking its ancient language, I’ll explain right about now that postures are sometimes called different things in English whereas in Sanskrit it’s always the same. If you’re totally new to the Sanskrit names, then I’ll draw the sandwich analogy. If not, skip that part.

The Sandwich Analogy
Imagine you’re about to make a sandwich. Before you even start, you know that one of your ingredients is going to be bread. What you’re going to have as the filling will depend on what you’ve got in the cupboard, your preferences and of course your sandwich making abilities. This is like the posture names for yoga. What you’re actually doing in the posture changes from pose to pose, but the fact that it’s a yoga posture (aka asana) is always the same. So asana means posture and I added on the end of each pose. For example Gomukhasana, cow posture or Trikonasana, triangle posture.

So, I’ll post under the Sanskrit names a little about the posture itself and the way I practice it. Then I’ll add in what that particular posture has taught me. At any time you’re more than welcome to comment, advise, add your thoughts, or even post your own version of the posture. This whole thing is meant to be interactive (see my post #1) so really, anything goes.

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Friday, June 09, 2006

Blog subtitle?

For those of you who are not already convinced I'm totally unhinged, (and aren't familiar with the posture names in sanskrit) I'll explain that the blog subtitle title is a play on words- adho mukha svasana is "dog-down" posture ;)


So this is my first ever blog post!

I'll explain briefly what I'm wanting to acheieve in my little corner and then you can decide whether it's something that interests you or whether it's about as captivating as styrofoam and makes you want to stick pins in your own eyes. If it's the latter I want to make clear from the beginning that I take no responsibility for injuries obtained as a result!! If it's the first one then that's cool, although a few cuts and grazes when really digging that funky Yoga groove are inevitable:)

So, where did my interest in Yoga come from and why am I blogging?

I started Yoga about 2 years ago at a local Adult Education College. I had no previous experience although my mum had been going to a (Hatha) class for about 8 years and wanted to try it out myself. It has exceeded my expectations at least a thousand times over, and owe a great debt to my teacher whose unique style of teaching is hugely motivating, humourous, knowedgeable, and, oh yes- RANDOM! :) The classes are structured more like workshops which enables us to experience the benefits of the posture directly and gain a deep understanding of the mechanics of the human body which is the fascinating bit. This is where you start to see yourself as a work of art in progress! To further strengthen our understanding of our strengths and weaknesses in any given posture we work predominantly with partners to facilitate the stretch. Depending on the stretch, this can be the source of much amusement! So there you go, that's my class, and the sheer craziness I signed up for two years ago.

Now to the blogging part. Basically I've reached the point in my own practice where I'm ready to get down to the real nitty gritty and make that commitment to practising everyday in addition to my weekly class described above. A couple of weeks back I did just that, and practiced for about an hour each day- I learnt more about myself and my yoga during that time than I'd learnt for ages and that got me thinking. What if I could share those musings and insights with other people...and they could do the same? We could exchange ideas about what to incorporate into our own personal practices, have a sneaky peak into what other people around the globe are getting up to, share things that work and things that have failed miserably and just generally chuck ideas around until we find something that works.

~~~At this point I'd just like to emphasise that I want this blog thing to be open to anyone and everyone- even if you've never been to a class in your life but where inspired by James Nesbitt making a tit of himself during Viribdrahasana III in the Yellow Pages ad, that's fine! There's also bound to be many people with a lot more experience than me, so please do come and join in. I promise it shall not be pearls cast before swine!~~~

So if you fancy becoming an explorer into the world of Kick-asana yoga, you've found your niche.