One of my life teachers passed away this week.
My 94 years and 341 days old grandma died peacefully after an extended time with some form of dementia. She was no longer herself and it was time for her physical self to surrender.
After receiving the news late Saturday afternoon, I was left to process the new information alone.
I craved something to let me grieve.
I found my yoga mat to be one of the safest places to let the emotion flow.
Adriene never lets me down. The "I Surrender" practice was just what I needed.
I sobbed during the extended child's pose as I felt the flood of emotions. Although I knew intellectually this was to be, sooner more so than later, this wasn't something I could prepare for...as much of a planner I am.
From past experience of letting emotions fester, I knew that I needed to work through this process and not let it linger. I know it will take time but clearly, it wasn't something I needed hold on to.
Although I recognize that one session (actually two goes at this practice) won’t take away my sadness, it has helped release some of the grief and I am thankful for that.
How often do we look at walls as barriers or as an object that separates us from something like a goal or a dream?
Yet, this is not always the case. Walls also support, provide structure and stability. Possibly helping us to reach our goals. And this is what I got from my practice this week.
I headed over to Yoga Central for a 90 minute session this weekend. I had anticipated it to be similar to what I previously had done but it was a substitute teacher (read: it will be different!). Not to worry, though, I would be challenged and enjoy whatever was in store.
We ran through some vinyasa but about mid way through the class we took our mats over to the wall. Silently, my inside voice cheers with excitement. I can’t explain how much I like using the wall in yoga. It seems somewhat unconventional to a yoga class. The results are magnificent!
Three poses that I’d never done before at the wall were:
1. Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
2. Standing Splits (Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana)
3. Wheel Pose (Chakrasana or Urdva Dhanurasana)
The forward fold, you may think, would have the back of my legs pressed up against the wall.
Instead, the complete opposite.
I was instructed to place my feet (toes forward) a couple feet away from the wall. Slowing raise the arms and fold forward, ensuring my shoulder blades are pressed right up against the wall (the feet may need to shuffle forward to ensure the shoulder girdle is flush with the wall).
The force of the shoulder blades against the wall is key. As we were encouraged to lift the arms up overhead (what?) and hold the pose. It was intimidating to see the yoga teacher doing the pose, thinking, “no way will I be able to lift my arms!” However, it was actually quite simple and a very unique way to not only target the hamstrings and glutes with a stretch but also the shoulders themselves.
Again, the next pose at the wall, standing spits, blew my mind. How am I ever going to get myself into the same position as my teacher???
Again, it was much easier than it looked and I anticipated. Starting in a downward facing dog, heels against the baseboards, slowly raise one leg and place the toes or top of the foot on the wall. To increase the splits (and adductor/hamstring stretch!), shift back slightly from the shoulders (think chest to thigh) and walk the lifted foot up the wall.
As I settled into my pose, I flashed back to my synchronized swimming days of practicing my splits everyday. I can’t recall every trying THIS version but my muscle memory sure helped to get into this supported standing split.
The third pose that was new to me at the wall was wheel pose. I haven’t done this pose a lot but it always surprises me that I can do it!
Questioning my abilities; common theme this week, don’t you say?!
We placed two blocks on an angle against the baseboards. Wrapping a strap around our arms just above the elbows, we laid down to only reach our hands back to those propped up blocks. Slowly, we pressed our hands into the blocks and came up into a fantastic backbend. The strap helped keep the arms close to the body as not to let the elbows splay out.
With all this work at the wall, also including downward facing dog, triangle pose and half moon pose, I began to wonder the history of yoga wall poses. Is this a new found modern twist on the classics or is this a practice that has been around for a while?
With a small Google search (hard to find the right search terms!), I found a reference to BKS Iyengar, stating “[b]ased on BKS Iyengar’s principles of alignment, ‘the wall’ is used as a prop to deepen asana by opening and creating space in the body using therapeutic techniques".
How cool is that?! So, it has been around for a while.
My previous experience has mostly been when I was pregnant. Judy was always concerned that I would fall while practicing (even at 8 months or so). I used the wall frequently up until my first was born.
Using the wall beneficial now?
Absolutely! I can’t wait to learn more asanas that can be used with the support and structure of a wall!
Whoops - add - I did do some bonus work this week too.
I’ve been very fortunate to sample many classes at Yoga Central lately. Different yoga teachers means a new perspective each and every time.
This week I attended Elemental Vinyasa. To be honest, I didn’t really know what I was getting into. I recognized the name of the teacher - Dawn Lamothe - (more from her blog then ever attending her class) so I thought I’d give it a try.
After reflecting on the class name as I walked out of the studio, I realized it was all about working through vinyasa.
It was a tantalizing practice that took vinyasa apart and each “run through” added a new and interesting piece. There is something to be said to any movement that is sequenced together one piece at a time. It makes it feel like a fluid dance than just robotic movement.
Not so sure what vinyasa is? I wasn’t too clear not so long ago. My dear YouTube yoga teacher, Adriene, shares a great five-minute video on what exactly vinyasa is all about. This helps put into perspective what unfolded in the practice.
We worked through many runner’s lunges, three legged dogs and forward folds with the breath. Adding pieces that I have never done together. As we switched gears into some balance work, I thought our vinyasa work was done for the day. Yet, we proceeded to head back in after a brief stint of balance work.
SIDE NOTE: Remember I mentioned I am starting to put together (in my head, no pen to paper yet) a potential class lesson plan or sequence? Well, this class blew me out of the water. I had never thought a balance sequence would interrupt vinyasa. In my mind, they are two separate things as one proceeds the other. More on this in another post!
I appreciated the time and attention Dawn gave to our practice. At one point during my downward facing dog she used a strap around my hips and pulled me back. It was a welcomed pull that helped open up space through my spine and hips. I had hoped she would do it again!
In the noted balance work, Dawn also used a prop. We stood on wooden yoga blocks.
Hold up. Stand on the wooden block? I’ve only ever thought blocks were used for these reasons.
I have never done balance this way before so it was another learning experience. It really puts into perspective the importance of the toes for balance. If the toes were unsteady or off the block, my entire balance was affected. Loved the challenge and the noted break from the vinyasa.
All in all, I look forward to attending again. The purpose of the practice was in fact elemental.
And, I can’t resist a good second session at home these days!
So many elements to still learn,
What do you call a downward facing dog in a room of upward facing dogs?
ME - in a yoga class this week!
Hold up. You mean to say I made it to an actual class, in studio again this week!
Yep, I did!
There is something to be said about being out of synch, with anything in life. The outlier, the anomaly, the deviation. My yoga practice this week brought forth that at times I swim against the current, I go out on a limb and I stand out on my own. I was the sole person in downward facing dog and well, loved it!
At other times, I like to join the crowd, keep in line and stay with the group. Maybe it is from my rhythmic synchronized swimming days that I think I must be on cue (or else) or maybe I like to be lost in the pack.
Either way, I think my home practice has allowed me to march to the beat of my own drum or more likely breath through my own practice that suits my needs. I freely admit to love breathing long breaths; seven, eight, nine counts at a time, inhaling and exhaling. There is almost nothing else that calms me like extended breathing. Sometimes I follow this count as I move through asanas, yet at other times I move without it.
Let me be clear. This infamous downward facing dog was in the middle of the class and likely the fifth or sixth one of the practice. I was rolling through flow/vinyasa and making my movements and transitions relatively quick. No slow breathing here!
It got me to thinking that…
A. this is my practice. The teacher had no concern, nor did my fellow classmates (really?! They probably had no idea I was the odd ball out). If this is for me and me alone, then who cares that I am moving quicker (or slower for that matter) than the rest of the class.
B. as a teacher, I must recognize the rhythm of the participants' practice. I, too, cannot get worried about how synchronized the group is or how well they follow my cues. As long as everyone is safe and doing what they need to do for themselves, then they can follow their own breath too.
The overarching theme, however, is that one must follow their own breath. That is what does matter.
In doing a little poking around the internet, I found this lovely and meaningful quote from Thich Nhat Hanh. Enjoy!
My date with I Embrace…my breath and my practice.
Aspiring Yoga Teacher
I've practiced yoga since I was a pre-teen and have always found it to keep me centered. I will be a teacher one day and this is my journey to discover teaching and practice.