Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Some days/nights it's hard to face what you find on the mat.

That was my last Facebook status last night. My first one was "back to yoga" with a smiley face. My, how things can change once you are forced to face YOU on the mat.

I went to back to yoga last night after a month off due to skiing time off, my squished finger and my panic attacks. I was full of excitement to get back "home" and was hoping for relief from some of my continuing attack symptoms.

The welcome from my teacher was so warm…she hugged me and told me how much she had missed me. She actually suspended my pass for a month (something she was not required to do) to help me heal my bad wrist (remember that from January?). I had also e-mailed with her last week saying how much I missed yoga and that I had been having some panic attack problems. She was, as always, supportive and warm.

There were four of us in the class. Two of us had hand/wrist issues so Teacher decided we would do a gentler class. I think all of the students were happy with this decision. Teacher also showed the other person and I some variations to try during the "vinyasa" portion of the class (dolphin instead of down dog, how to get into other poses from dolphin without hurting ourselves, dolphin plank, etc.).

So we started. Slowly from savasana. That felt good. I felt happily emotional about being back "home" on the mat.

I have had NO problems with my wrist for the past month (being off of yoga) and so I decided I would try some simple wrist-involved positions. I did a few half push-ups, ONE down dog and one "vinyasa" flow (plank, chattaranga, low cobra, up to down dog). My wrist started to hurt. A lot. I was depressed by this, but adjusted to using the variations.

Teacher saw that the other wrist student and I were having trouble so she decided we would do no further "vinyasas" that night. We would still do flow, but no weight-bearing arm work. This was good, but I was still feeling really sad. If yoga is going to cause my wrist to hurt so badly, how can I continue to practice as I have been? If you are a yoga student, you will understand how hard it is to face a practice with no down dogs, no chattarangas, no arm balances…it even hurts to do cat/cow. These are basic poses. I am sure that it is possible to practice without them, but the idea of it is a total paradigm change. And doing so in a class like they have at the studio where I've been practicing? Very difficult mentally. At least for me.

So we start the non-"vinyasa" class (I keep putting that in quotes because the word vinyasa actually translates, I think, to "flow" and you can do a flow class without the plank, chattaranga, low cobra, up to down dog series that this studio calls "vinyasa"). Wrist now wasn't as painful (although still achey and remains so today) but, since the focus was now on lower-body, my knees started creaking and weaking (no, that's not a typo). Going into and out of chair a couple of times I thought everyone in the room must have heard the terrible crackling from my right knee (I asked Teacher afterwards about it and she didn't hear it). When that happens, I pull back. Stop bending knees AT ALL if necessary. This makes other basic poses (chair, lunges, warriors, even tree) difficult to really get into. I was discouraged, but I kept going.

When we got to balances, I was a mess. I couldn't balance AT ALL. Physical balance poses are always so reflective (for me) of the inner balance situation in my mind/spirit. I was a mess. I think it was at this point that I almost started to cry.

By the time we got to squats (something I never ever do even on a good day), I was really thisclose to tears. I went into horse (a much higher squat) and Teacher could see at least some of how I was feeling. She gave me a reclining variation. I laid there and struggled not to cry.

I have practiced yoga for a long time. I know the philosophy and I believe in it. It is almost intrinsic to the essence of ME. Even knowing that I should just breathe and BE there on the mat (including tears if that was what happened), I struggled. I couldn't find the peace inside no matter what techniques I used. I was lost and sad.

We finally got to savasana (class duration has been extended by 15 minutes since I last went). Teacher put us in supported reclining butterfly (badhakonasana). My tears wet the eye pillow as we laid there.

As we left, Teacher and I talked. She said she saw my energy shift in the middle of the class when I got "frustrated". True. She hugged me a lot and told me again how much she missed me (she is a very very warm and happy person). We talked about the physical issues. She has a similar one with her wrist and says it's "impossible" for her to practice when it's acting up. I told her I'd be back on Wednesday no matter if my body could do anything or not. And I will.


I cried all the way home and was sobbing while making dinner. I feel like I am facing not being able to do a lot of physical yoga…maybe forever…and maybe not classes at this studio…this studio where I felt like I had finally found "home" after so long searching.

The thing that I think many yoga studios struggle with is pleasing their students. Lots of students these days want fast cardio exercise out of their practice. The spiritual aspect is less important to them. Lots of studios I have been to work to please their students and, in my opinion, the YOGA (which means "union") is lost. I want the YOGA. Fast flow yoga is not real POWER yoga even if that's what they often call the classes. Power yoga is what you get when everything combines (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual). Then you are in the power. Asana helps you get there when you're on the mat. It is supposed to challenge you, comfort you, make you face YOU where you are at that moment in every way.

Last night's class actually did a lot of what I described in the last sentence for me. But it was because of ME, not the class. It was because of me looking at me on the mat and after. I guess that's all I can ask...

But I still want a class where you take more than a few seconds in a pose. Where you have a teacher help you adjust and meditate on the pose and how it confronts your body/mind. Fast flow is great for certain things…but it is not great as the primary focus of a class…for me.

I'm not sure if any of this will make any sense to anyone out there (even those of you with strong yoga practices). And this is NOT about my weight loss or exercise. It is about ME and what I need and want…and how I get it. Right now, I don't know the answer to all that. But I am absorbing all I have learned/recognized after my class last night. And the tears are still very close to the surface.

[On the panic attack(s): I have an appointment with my doctor tomorrow. I have notes of all I want to discuss with him. I have been pretty attack-free yesterday and today at work and that is a good thing. I started listening to Native American flute music in the car on the way to work instead of the political talk program I usually listen to…it is soothing. I will keep that up for a while.]

The Universe e-mail this morning was unbelievably appropriate (as it often is):

When something difficult or painful happens, Helly, always look to see what it makes possible that wouldn't have otherwise been possible.

Like a new adventure, a closer friendship, or chocolate in your peanut butter.

Everything makes you better,
The Universe

Oh YEAH. :-)


Vickie said...

I can't listen to any type of talk radio any more (either). I now listen to music only. I was a big NPR fan so this was a major step for me. I think with all the turmoil in the world right now - it is just too much on top of our normal daily lives. So you are very smart to listen to soothing things.

I think the FIRST class back - is REALLY hard.

Even if I have been to class Mon-Sat and have only taken Sunday off, Monday is hard for me.

So after a week off or a month or two off - that first class - even if everything else is 'working' is hard.

And you had something not working. so double hard.

I think you have mentioned you feel like you have had to give up one thing after another.

So your down dogs, etc. are yet another thing that you might have to add to the list.

Of course, you are going to feel VERY sad over that.

I can see that clearly.

I understand about tears on the mat and meeting your true self on the mat.

I personally think that dophin arms CAN work, but I understand they are not what you WANT.

Somewhere or the other I had a yoga instructor that felt dophin arms were the next step.

In other words she thought hands/wrists were beginners and that dolphin was the ideal. I can handle my lower back a lot better in dophin - like I get better resistance or a firmer stance or something.

I have a love hate relationship with the standard down dog position.

I only like it when I have had a yoga instructor that has 'killed' the rest of me and dog feels like a relief/rest.

Put me in dog first and it feels like torture. But torture me first and dog feels good.

The second class might be better - because you will have realistic expectations and because it won't be the first.

And I agree - adding knee problems to the mix just SUCKS.

I have taken wonderful yoga classes where we were on our backs or butts the whole time. I realize that is not what you WANT or WHAT you are used to - but I have taken REALLY GOOD ONES.

I am so sorry that you have so many things wrong with you. And I really relate to having a very long list. . .

Anonymous said...

I know nothing about yoga other than that you love it and yoga practice has been part of you for a long time. So of course not being able to do what centers you shakes you up and leaves you worried that it's gone.

But give yourself a break, Helen. You have missed a lot of time for very legitimate reasons, including physical injury. And the panic attacks, and fear of their return, has to still be enormously unsettled. I get a sense that you aren't able to be there as the full YOU until those are resolved. So I'm glad you are having a discussion with the doctor.

Love you lots!