Yoga out in the wild

If you want to get some strange looks, do tree pose in the middle of the hardware section of Lowe’s.

It isn’t like I was doing warrior three or pigeon. I’d chosen a pose that was fairly normal, something that is recognizable as a yoga pose. Sure, it isn’t a normal place to do it, but it is a normal yoga pose. People who don’t do yoga would know it was a yoga pose.

I’ve not been able to practice yoga properly in a while because I’ve sprained my wrist. I’m having to rethink everything. I don’t know a lot of poses, so not being able to use my hands has cut down my already small repertoire to very little.

Plus, I’m kind of bored with yoga.

I’ve noticed I’m making less and less time for it. I’ve noticed that I don’t look forward to it. The weekly class isn’t a challenge anymore. The music and the moves are the same. Even animals in a zoo get different activities every now and then to keep their interest.

Sometimes I think that I’m using all of this as an excuse to not do something I know to be good for me. But then sometimes I think that maybe there is more to yoga than the poses, and I’m tuning into that. Why keep practicing something when you’ve learned the lesson?

Now, sure, I need to stretch. Every body needs to move. And balancing poses are good not only for the body but the mind.

So there I was, doing tree pose in Lowe’s. We’d already looked at a stove and some cabinet handles. Things need to get replaced every now and then in older houses. My husband had gone off to look for something else and left me with the cart. I was getting bored and had already checked Facebook and my email. In all reality I wanted a nap but I knew I couldn’t get away with that.

I’d pulled the cart out of the smaller aisle to not be in the way. I decided to take my coat and hat off because I was getting hot and that was contributing to my lethargy. I was alternating between wanting to be ignored and wanting to stick out. This is a fairly normal space for me to be.

I was standing behind the cart to not be too obvious. I had my hands in prayer position. If I’d wanted to really not stick out I could have left them down. Or I could have done mountain pose or forward fold.

I even announced what I was doing, quietly, but I said it, so perhaps it wouldn’t seem so strange. No luck there. The clerk in the window replacement section sort of glared at me and shook his head. He had a glum expression on his face the whole time anyway, so maybe he’s just somebody who can’t handle individual expression. I can tell he represses himself a lot. He’s faking being something he’s not, and it makes him stiff.

Maybe that was the reason I did that pose right there and then. Maybe of all people, he needed to see someone being different.

Who am I kidding? It was fun to be weird. It was fun to be childlike. I did it for me first. If someone else got a benefit out of it, cool.

I think I’ll do it again. Some of my favorite pictures in yoga magazines are when people do their poses out in the real world and not on a mat. I love it when they match their pose to whatever structure is around them. Now I’m going to go on a quest to find places that fit the poses. Then I’ll have to convince my husband to not only not laugh at me, but to also take a picture so I can share it.

Fighting the Nothing.

I went to yoga class today. This isn’t normally a big deal. But today was different because my wrist hurts.

I’ve skipped class for various reasons recently. It is too cold outside. I’m tired. I’m out of town. The last one is the only valid one. My wrist hurting seemed like a good reason as well, but I decided that I had to go anyway.

I think I’ve stretched a ligament at work. My work involves a lot twisting my wrist and picking up heavy books. My wrist is getting worn out from it. It would be great if we could replace body parts like we can with car parts. Some we can. Not always. Until then, rest is required.

There are several yoga classes at the Y that don’t do any moves that involve wrists. This is not one of them. Downward facing dog, plank, upward facing dog, fallen triangle – all wrist moves. This is the class I’ve committed to going to because this one is on my day off.

I haven’t been in the past three or so weeks. In part I’ve used the holidays as an excuse. But I’m starting to think that seasonal affective disorder doesn’t have so much to do with less sunlight and a lot to with less activity. Sure, they are connected. Less sunlight means it is colder outside, and it gets darker sooner. Thus, we are less inclined to go exercise outside, or at all. We think we’ll take a break, just like the Earth does. We’ll fly south for the winter, even if it is in our heads. We’ll hibernate as much as we are allowed. We still have to go to our jobs, but that is it as far as activity. Everything else can just wait.

This year of writing has taught me the danger of that. Slow down too much and the doldrums set in. We are dead in the water, going nowhere. There’s no wind in our sails.

Then depression comes for a visit.

And when depression comes to visit, it isn’t really interested in a quick stop. It stays, longer and longer, gathering energy while we lose it. Depression is self perpetuating. It feeds on itself and gets bigger and bigger while our control on our minds gets less and less.

Writing has taught me this. It has made me stop and see patterns that never made sense before. It has made me realize that the only way out of this funk is to pull out the paddles and start rowing for dear life.

So I went to class today. I went even though I could only do half the moves. I went even though it meant that I had to modify all the other ones. Downward facing dog became dolphin. Plank was done on my forearms as well. I’ve never looked forward to doing warrior one and two nearly so much as today. I took child’s pose a lot. I did some of my favorite twists at other times. I tried some moves on my fists instead. It wasn’t that great.

But I went. And I stayed. And I did what I could do and didn’t push myself today. Sometimes yoga is about pushing. Sometimes it is about backing off. You don’t ever want to hurt yourself. The motto “No pain, no gain” is not a healthy mantra.

But really, I did push myself. I pushed myself to get up out of bed, and showered, and dressed, and to the class on time. I know me. If I’d let the doldrums win, that horrible inertia, that nothing that just feeds on itself and gets bigger and bigger, then I would have stayed at home all day and done nothing. Then I’d feel worse. Then I’d do more nothing. And I’d use it as an excuse to not go next week.

And while I wrestle with the concept of stillness, I know that doing nothing is death.

Art and alternative reality

I could barely sleep last night. The older I get, the harder it is to rest comfortably. But, then the more important it is to do so. I’m not sure at what point the weirdness starts. Maybe because of the medicine I’m on it will keep it at bay.
It sure was weird at Cursillo. I was on my medicine then and it still happened. But then again I think that is the point of that retreat. I think they want to inspire alternative consciousness through sleep deprivation and constant emotional highs.
My only problem with alternative consciousness is that I can’t guarantee when it will end now. I want it to end so I can return to normal. With pot it was about 3 hours. With acid it was about 8. I don’t do drugs anymore. I don’t have to. The madness comes on its own these days if I don’t take care of myself. Perhaps it always was there, and I just didn’t notice it because I was self-medicating.
Alternative consciousness isn’t that great for driving or for work. Somebody has to pay the bills, and keeping up with time and days just isn’t part of the package when your head is in the clouds.
It is why I’m resistant to create before work. Art creates its own alternative reality. That mindset is difficult to switch out of. But maybe that is the trick. Create something every morning and train myself to switch back and forth.
I’ve already written about not waiting for the muse. So maybe this is the other side. Seek out creativity all the time. Do it every day. Write, bead, paint, draw – whatever. Set a time limit. Learn how to switch back to “normal” or whatever suffices for normal in my world. Keep a constant flow of creativity going. Then, I’ll learn how to balance myself.
I think the only thing that separates productive, functional artists and raving lunatics is this skill. I believe that it can be learned and improved upon. I believe that just like shamans, we can go into that realm of spirit and come back different, but intact. I think it is just like yoga – you don’t take yoga because you are flexible and have good balance. You take yoga because you want to have these skills.
The only problem is that I don’t think there is a class on this. I might just have to figure it out on my own. I am coming to realize that this is my normal way of being. That this life, this creative life – isn’t one that has a road map.

Rest period.

You know you need to take time off when you start to seriously contemplate calling in sick and then you realize that it is your day off. I’ve crammed so much stuff into my days off that they aren’t days off. I still do just as much work – I just don’t get paid for it.

Now, I’ve come to realize how important momentum is for me. If I laze about all day, then I tend to keep doing that. I’m a binge lazy person. Doing nothing is the same to me as eating sugar is to some people. Once I start, I can’t stop.

Well, I can, but I don’t want to.

I think the trick is to set limits. I have to allow myself time to do nothing. From this time to this – say from 12 until 3, I’ll do nothing on my day off. Nothing at all. Lay on the couch and read, or make jewelry. Something for me. Something fun. That sounds like a good plan. Maybe I’ll do it someday.

Right now, I’m playing a bit of catch up. I decided to skip going to my yoga class. The teacher is more challenging than the first one, but she needs to change things up to keep it interesting. I really get bored if nothing changes. I need to be challenged. I need to try different moves. If nothing else, I need to hear different music. I’d like to think that a yoga class with a real live person is different than watching a videorecorded one.

However, even though it is dull sometimes, I need the discipline of getting up and going. I need to be out of the house early on a Friday, otherwise I’ll stay in my pajamas all afternoon long and not get any of my chores done. And then I start to think – is that so bad? Is it bad to rest? Is it bad to actually take a day off?

It is for me. I feel guilty if I rest.

I have a bad relationship with rest. I really am starting to like the idea of the Jewish Sabbath. One whole day where you are commanded to do as much nothing as possible. You can’t feel guilty about doing nothing – you are supposed to do nothing. You are supposed to feel guilty if you do something. You are to rest and recharge and refuel.

We just don’t have that in Christian culture. Sure, we sometimes refer to the day we go to church as the Sabbath, but we don’t treat it with anywhere near the preparation and seriousness the Jews approach their Sabbath. And I think we suffer because of it. Imagine how cool it would be to have a holiday once a week. Once a week you take a vacation from the world, and enter into a special time where there is nothing you have to do except rest. Sounds just like heaven to me.

I have a bit of the “get things done” feeling in part because my parents died young. I feel like it is important to not waste time. I see how quickly time slips by and then you are either too old to do something with your life, or too feeble. Some things take time to get going. Better start now.

But then I am starting to understand that I need to rest too. There are rest periods build into yoga. It isn’t go go go. The human body just can’t handle that. The space between the notes is what makes the music, so says Claude Debussy.

This is why I’ve signed up for another retreat. It is a time of silence and rest. All my physical needs are taken care of. There is a place to sleep, and food is prepared for me. All I have to do is show up and be present. The only electronic device I use is my Kindle – and I use it to write. I don’t check email. I don’t check Facebook. The only input is from God.

I think that I need to do this more than just four times a year. I need to set aside a chunk of time to just listen, and by that I don’t mean little snatches of time. The more I pack into my day, the more God can’t get a word in edgewise. I pray throughout the day, but it all seems to be in five minute pieces.

Sure, bills have to be paid. Sure, the housework needs to be done. But if I don’t take time off, time to just be, then I’ve become something other than a human. I’ve become an automaton, a robot, a thing. I’ve become a human doing, and not a human being.

So I still wrestle with this. I feel like I’m in overeaters anonymous. Having a bad relationship with food isn’t like having a drug addiction – you have to eat food. You can give up heroin. You can’t give up food. So how to you create a healthy relationship with something you have to have in your life? I think boundaries are part of it. I can allow this, but not this. I can allow this time to be work and this time to be free. I think it is important to self-police too. I think it is important to not allow my free time to become work time.

I’ll report back on whether this works or not. As of right now, I’m still in my jammies and it is 1:30. I think I have to wrench myself free and go out for a bit, just so I can say I’ve done something. My head gets a little fuzzy with too much nothing.

Tree pose without doing tree pose.

I know a lady who dislikes going to the grocery store. I understand. I feel the same way. It isn’t all the food. It is all the people and color and noise and choice. It is all too much and it is overwhelming.

She does yoga, so I suggested this – do tree pose, without doing tree pose.

There is a certain deliberate calmness you have to adopt to do tree pose. You have to pull all of your energy into yourself. When you are there, you can balance. You can breathe better. You can stand strong, even though it is only on one foot. You aren’t holding on to anything, yet you don’t need to.

You are strong. You are centered. You are whole.

Do that. But without doing tree pose. The pose is just a reminder. The point of the pose has little to do with the physical balance you gain and the strength you develop in your ankles.

That’s nice too. Not getting hurt from twisting your ankles anymore is a nice side benefit of yoga. But it is only part of it.

The real part is what happens inside. The real part is what happens deep down. The real part is the balance and the centeredness and the calm that you are able to call on when life is too much and too crazy and too full and too much.

The real part is that you don’t even need to stand on one foot to get there once you’ve done it enough.


Sometimes my energy gets really low. It isn’t a great feeling. I don’t want to be up all the time, but I certainly don’t want to sink into the doldrums either.

I have let my flame get really low the past two weekends. I have noticed it and recommitted myself. I find it is important to commit to a practice of mindfulness, of intention, of purpose. When I stray from that practice I don’t notice it right away. I notice a week or two later when everything starts to not work correctly.

Perhaps some of this comes from being bipolar. Perhaps it is normal for humans to have mood swings that can leave them feeling so worthless they don’t want to get out of bed. I don’t know. I know I’m bipolar and I know that this is what I experience.

Sometimes getting out from under this funk feels like pushing a rock up a big hill. It feels like I never get anywhere. It feels like it is all work all the time and it never gets easier.

But I’ve been here before. I remember. It is slow going and requires patience and discipline, but it gets better. The problem comes when it gets going really well and I stop doing all the things I know I should do and I start to slide back down that hill again.

I was off last Friday, as usual. I didn’t have any solid plans. This is always a bad start. There were some things I could do, but nothing I had to do. I was tempted to skip yoga, but I knew that would mean I would stay at home and the funk would get worse. I pulled myself out of bed and went. My heart wasn’t in it but I knew that I was doing something good for myself. Just doing that gave me a little more energy.

A Hasidic Rabbi pointed out once that you can’t burn down a tree with a match, but if you chop the tree up into little pieces, you can. This is a useful thought. In part it means that it is OK to break up tasks into little pieces. Sometimes we think that if we can’t do it all, we shouldn’t even do a little bit of it. It also means that just doing a little bit of something can give you enough energy to do a little bit more of it.

When my flame is low and I’m recommitting myself, I have to be very intentional about what I do.

I avoid all fried food.
I eat no meat.
I skip spicy food.
I go back to my exercise routine – walking, yoga, water aerobics.
I craft in some way – bead, draw, paint.
I write.
I avoid processed sugar.
I avoid “retail therapy”.

I already have given up smoking and caffeine. These two are really bad for mental health.

Sometimes something as simple as washing the dishes or doing the laundry can be healing. It is something that when I notice later I’ve done it, I feel better. Vacuuming doesn’t seem to have this affect – it doesn’t produce a visible result. Sometimes just noticing that there is less clutter helps my head.

What is it about doing these things that makes me feel better? Is it eating vegetarian that makes me feel better, or the fact that I have chosen to do something that I feel is good for me? Half of this is getting past what the Buddhists call “the monkey mind.” That is the part of your mind that is all “gimme gimme gimme”. It doesn’t care about what is healthy or right or good. It is your inner toddler.

It is hard to fight the monkey mind. It makes you think it is you.

I try not to go overboard on this. I have learned to have patience with myself. It is a slow process of re-entry. It isn’t wise to swing the pendulum too far one way or another. When you are sick, you don’t want to run a marathon. It is good to do things carefully.

It is just like driving. If you notice you are getting out of the lane, you don’t want to yank the steering wheel too sharply. You are better off gently steering back into the correct lane. If you yank the wheel, you might veer off in the wrong direction.

If you are in a yoga pose and you notice you are getting wobbly, you don’t want to over correct. You are better off making micro adjustments. If you overcorrect you’ll likely fall.

This is exactly the same thing. The only problem is that when your mind gets out of the lane or wobbly you don’t have a lot of feedback. You don’t have a way of noticing it. You notice when you crash into the guardrail. You notice when you fall on the floor. Good mental health requires you notice before that happens.

Friday wasn’t a 10. It was more like a 5. But I know if I’d not paid attention and started to steer things in a better direction, it would have been a 2. I’m ok with a 5. And I know that tomorrow I’ll try again.

Sometimes, just being able to do forward fold is a big thing.

This last Friday was the first time in three weeks I could do a full forward fold. For three weeks I could barely bend forward at all, much less put my hands flat on the ground. I could touch with my fingertips, and then with my knuckles. But the full expression of this pose eluded me.

After I slipped a disc in my back things got a lot harder, and a lot more frustrating. I’d been making really good progress for a while. I had gotten to the point where I could do full wheel. And mermaid. And side plank. And full cobra. And bound side angle.

These are all pretty cool moves. Not near as cool as scorpion or firefly, sure, but still pretty advanced for me. Then I couldn’t do anything. I was stuck. Just sitting was hard. Bending my neck forward was hard. I could stand or lie flat. Transitioning in between wasn’t easy.

But Friday was the first time I could even do something as simple as a full forward fold. It wasn’t just that it hurt before. It was that my back was too tight and I couldn’t reach that far.

I was dismayed. I felt that I’d gone twenty steps backwards. I felt a little betrayed too. Surely all those exercises that I’d done for all these years would mean that I’d insured myself against such indignities like a slipped disc. My self-righteousness got a good hard kick in the butt.

But this too is yoga. It is showing up, and giving it your best, and not judging. It is not judging others or yourself. It is doing your best, and forgiving yourself if doing your best means just wanting to go to yoga class but you just can’t make it this week. Or this month. It means being OK with the practice, wherever you are in it.

Just wanting to is part of the practice. Falling is part of the practice. Getting back up, body and ego bruised, is part of the practice.

I remember how I felt when I did headstand and handstand a few months back. I felt like a rock star. Those are pretty amazing moves. Sure, I was braced up against a wall so I wouldn’t fall over, but I stayed up. The strength in my neck and in my arms held my entire body up. I never would have imagined I could do it. I’m glad I tried. I felt invincible.

Funny thing, this Friday, when I did forward fold for the first time since I hurt my back, I felt the same way.

Maybe that is the secret. Be content with what you can do, right now. Don’t judge it, and don’t expect it to stay that way. It is what it is. Take your successes but don’t gloat about them.