Thursday, May 10, 2007

Yoga Tonight

I'm meeting a friend for a yoga class. It's not normally a class I would take since it's beyond my level of competency--this is my seventh week of yoga so 'competent' is a very relative term. The nice thing about yoga is that someone who has been practicing for ten years can do the same pose I can do and we can both get something out of it. The other nice thing about the yoga classes I take is that if you find something difficult or painful you're supposed to Not Do It. Do something else, or just go into a neutral pose called Child's Pose until they move on to something else. It's not supposed to hurt. Well, sometimes it hurts in that stretch a muscle way, and I'm often sore the next day, but it doesn't hurt in that hurting oneself way.

Since I started yoga, I feel as if I've gotten something back that I had lost, in terms of my relationship with the world. I bend better, move better, feel better, can do stuff I took for granted before I got sick. That's all really nice. It's also a cliche, but like sex, when it happens to you it's different, better, cooler. In fact, my whole experience of yoga is one big yoga cliche. Reduction in anxiety, improvements in general health, better workout than I expected, yadda yadda yadda. Except of course since it's my anxiety that's reduced, the experience is anything but cliche here at the micro level. Still it's hard to talk about without sounding like a dork. Yoga changed my life! Everyone should do yoga! My day to day existence is significantly altered in amazing ways!

They still say appalling new age things in yoga. I took a class where we concentrated on our back muscles. (That's a good thing, actually. When I told my doctor I was taking yoga he said he often tells men in their forties that if they want to avoid back surgery, they should start taking yoga right now.) The teacher started talking about how we would be lifting our palate. Yeah, we would be lifting the roof of our mouth. And when we did that, our breath energy (our prana) would circulate down our spine to our sitting bone and then come back up the front of our body to our heart. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

But part of the practice for me is giving it a go no matter how loony it sounds, and that particular session taught me a great deal. I concentrated on lifting my palate and tried to feel the energy circulating. And I did the poses better. My back did better, I used my muscles in my back and stomach in a whole new way and stopped using my arms to support myself. Okay, trust me, without getting into specifics, I just found the idea of lifting my body from the roof of my mouth to be a really good way to get me to do stuff better. So I thought about it. Yoga is old and over the time its been practiced, people have found ways of thinking and talking that are very effective at communicating to other people how to do things that are kinesthetic and hard to describe. But when I listen, take these things seriously, and try to do them, when I practice yoga, I find myself feeling better and doing better and able to do all sorts of stuff I wouldn't have expected I could do.

In yoga, the teacher will often ask us to try something that I think, for good an obvious reasons, I may not be able to do. On Tuesday, the teacher asked us to perform a variation of Side Plank Pose. I can't do a push-up. But in yoga, I figure I'll just try. If I can't do it, I can't do it. If I look stupid, I look stupid. So I did it. Pretty? Probably not. Satisfying? Quite.

I'm kind of nervous about going to a more advanced class tonight, but I figure, I'll just try it. Hard for me to do that. I don't mind failure (or I wouldn't be a writer) but I prefer to do it in private. So hey, I'll have to face my own limitations and my ego and yadda yadda yadda. Like I said, it's a cliche, except when it's happening to me.


Blogger Greg van Eekhout said...

Most of the things you're saying about yoga are the same things I say about kung fu.

May 10, 2007 12:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maureen, I have to THANK YOU. It was your post the other day (and some of Meghan McCarron's recent postings) that made me give yoga a shot. I'd done it a little bit a few years ago with a video, you know. It didn't take then.

Anyway, I've only been doing it for a week or so now and already I feel completely changed. I hate the New Agey crap too, and I haven't been to a class yet, just doing simple poses in the morning right after I get up. I feel like a flake I'm so different -- much more energy and focus and less tension in my back and just BETTER.

You are a goddess. The good and powerful kind, not the New Age frippery kind.

May 10, 2007 1:12 PM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

Gwenda, my task here is done.

Greg, your posts about kung fu always charm me. Walter Jon Williams says you should always get your martial arts instructor after he has had his break from reality, and unfortunately, I got mine right before his life spun out of control, so my kung fu experience was less than ideal. But I loved forms.

May 10, 2007 1:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doing yoga helped me forgive my body for its failures--in particular, a miscarriage. My family says I'm a nicer person when I come home from yoga class.

May 10, 2007 2:08 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I need to find a way to work yoga into my daily routine again--it had all the same effects for me that you're describing, and it was the best thing ever.

I also love the metaphorical yoga anatomy--pulling your stomach into your spine, breathing through the soles of your feet, that kind of thing.

May 10, 2007 2:13 PM  
Blogger dubjay said...

When we're doing snake style we're told to "breathe through our heels." Now I know that I =can't= breathe through my heels--- or not much, anyway--- and I suspect that whatever Chinese guy first throught of this knew perfectly well that =he= couldn't breathe through his heels, but damn it, the visualization works, and I do snake style much better when I have that meditation running through my head.

I'm reminded of the scene in =Bull Durham= where Suzanne Sarandon tells Nuke Lalouche to breath through his eyelids.

May 10, 2007 4:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just remember to keep your eyes on your own mat. It's one of those "silly sounding but dang useful" pieces of advice that applies not only to yoga but to, well, life.

And, I agree, being told to breathe through your palate defies all logic and all blue smoke and woo-woo. But it works, even if you think it's silly. Maybe even better if you think it's silly.

And, Gwenda, the benefits you're getting now are great -- and it can be even better if you find the right class and the right teacher.

two cents, of course.

May 10, 2007 7:24 PM  
Blogger mary grimm said...

I love yoga! Yoga made Dean's blood pressure go down--he's a convert now.
And I agree with Susan, above, a lot of yoga is like metaphor, which we as writers have to appreciate, don't we?

May 11, 2007 10:28 AM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

A couple of people came to me after class last night and apologized for telling me that coming to class would be fine even if I hadn't been taking yoga that long. The instructor started the asana (poses) portion of the class with, "No really, it'll be fun!" These are terrifying words from a yoga instructor.

What we did was a strength class, which focuses on holding poses. So we would do a pose and hold it, and then after we had held it, move to another pose and hold it. Then we'd collapse for a minute, then we'd do it again.

I was sore walking out of class. But you know what? It was great. I had a good time. I don't feel sore today. I approached the teacher afterwards and said i was a novice, but she told me I was fine. Since yoga isn't about how well one does the poses, but about the mindfulness with which one does the poses, and I like the mindfulness part. So I'm looking forward to next week.

May 11, 2007 3:34 PM  
Blogger Yogadawg said...

I agree there is a lot of New Age and other hooey associated with Yoga, but the basics are what counts in the practise. I was so taken aback from some of the stuff that goes on in the Yoga scene that I created a whole web site satirizing it. Amazing how many Yogis are finding it funny (I think a lot of Yogis know things go over-the-top too often in the Yoga craze)

May 15, 2007 6:55 AM  
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March 24, 2009 2:34 AM  

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