One of the things I love about yoga is that it’s YOUR practice. You don’t have to push to conquer every super-duper, mega-tough, look-at-me-I’m-awesome pose, nor should you.
But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to master at least a FEW challenging poses. Lately, I’ve been working toward – OK, obsessed with – crow and headstand. In my head, this is me in crow:
Strong, beautiful, in control. By the way, that’s not me. It’s a photo of Kathryn Budig I found on the Internet. She’s awesome. Great photo, too, but I couldn’t find a photo credit.
In reality, when I try crow, I either fall back onto my toes or do a faceplant into the pillow I’ve strategically placed in front of me. I’m still trying, though.
The headstand obsession is working out much better. I’d been practicing dolphin pose to work up to it, but hadn’t had the nerve to kick my legs up and go for it. But, thanks to an assist from my friend Beth Lytle this weekend, I’ve got it now. Well, thanks to Beth and to a lovely wall in my foyer.
Beth is a yoga teacher in Tyler, Texas, newlywed to a longtime friend who plays in a band (Buffalo Blonde!) with my husband. After we got home from their gig about 1 a.m. Sunday, we started talking yoga, and I mentioned my obsession. This naturally led to her teaching me headstand in the wee hours of the morning after an evening of Thai food, a few drinks and much dancing to original rock-n-roll music. Looking at me probably wouldn’t have been very impressive, but it sure FELT awesome! I loved it so much that I did it on my own again the next day. I’m ready to make headstand a regular part of my practice. And maybe one day I’ll feel strong enough to move away from the wall.
The phrase “Lead with your heart” has been rolling around in my brain a lot for the past week.
It came up in week two of Love Yoga Teacher Training when we were exploring spinal movement. I told Tiffany Maloney, our awesome instructor, that I wasn’t sure I was moving the thoracic spine (the goal) rather than the lumbar spine (not what we were going for). “Lead with your heart,” she told me with her hand at the middle of my back. It was a simple physical instruction that resonated.
As an admitted lifelong nerd, I often move from the head instead of the heart. I think through what I already know and seek out more information. I read; I analyze (or overanalyze); I plan. I figure it out. But sometimes you need to just feel, and let your heart guide you.
I’ve felt my heart fill time and time again as I’ve watched Tiffany and other Love Yoga teachers lead from the heart recently. Our community suffered a tragic loss the day before my teacher training began when one of our teachers was killed in an accident. Grace Lee was a gifted teacher with beautiful spirit. Even in the short time I knew her and the few classes I took from her, she taught me to be more patient with myself and to have more fun in my yoga practice. Her signature line was telling you to move the corners of your mouth toward your ears, her “sneaky yoga teacher” reminder to smile. I loved that! It’s still hard to believe that someone so young (24) and so full of life is gone from this life. My heart goes out to her family, friends, fellow teachers.
Even as they struggled to process their own pain, Love Yoga teachers have done an amazing job of leading. The studio filled beyond what I thought capacity would have been for a beautiful practice in memory of Grace a week later. Her mat, covered with flowers and surrounded by lit candles, became the heart of the room as Tiffany’s gentle instructions and perfect playlist guided our movements. It was an unforgettable celebration of a well lived but too brief life.
After the practice, Tiffany invited everyone to write tributes or memories on the wall. I thought about picking up a pen, but my head still couldn’t find the words I wanted to say. Trusting enough to lead with my heart does not come easily for me. Maybe that’s why that instruction kept echoing when Tiffany said those words a day later in teacher training.
Instead of writing on the wall, I guess I’ll write my tribute to Grace here – Thank you, beautiful teacher, for sharing your joyful spirit with us. Your light lives on. Namaste.
I’m barely a week into teacher training at Love Yoga and already noticing benefits. The first to draw my attention was an increased sense of body consciousness.
Now body consciousness is not always a good thing. Like just about every woman out there, I’ve struggled with SELF-consciousness about my body from time to time. Junior high (miserable and mostly blocked from memory). When I gain weight. When I make the mistake of looking around the yoga studio and comparing myself to others.
But the body consciousness I noticed after starting teacher training is an intensified version of what I’ve found in the past 15 years or so when I’m practicing yoga regularly. I notice my posture, so I correct my posture. That improves my spinal alignment, so my back, shoulders, and neck feel better. I look better because my belly isn’t pooching out — as much. I could still stand to lose a few pounds. But — get this — one of my friends asked me the other day if I had lost weight!
The cool thing is that now I’m more aware of my body and how it moves, thanks in part to my required daily yoga practice and in part to the mountain of reading I had to do in the past week. I came home from Day One of training with about 10 pounds of books covering a range of topics – philosophy, Sanskrit, and anatomy. In the anatomy book alone, I’ve read about Dynamics of Breathing, Yoga and the Spine, the Skeletal System, and the Muscular System in the past week.
Even though I’ve always been bookish, science is a subject I’ve generally avoided. So this anatomy stuff is new to me and helped heighten my awareness of my body. To people with a background in exercise or athletics or dance, this body consciousness thing probably wouldn’t be such a big deal. But as I’ve mentioned before, I try to steer clear of exercise. My few forays into athletics did not go well – two years of T-ball, two years of fast-pitch softball, and one season as the second worst player on the JV volleyball team in high school. And most of my dancing happens in the living room or at live music venues.
Yoga is different because you pay attention to how you move your body and what it is capable of doing, but — if you approach it the right way — there’s no judgement. If I look at yoga as a staircase, I might be on the fifth step on one day, down to the second step the next day and up to the seventh step the third day. And that’s OK. A yogi friend and I spoke about this the other night, and she observed that yoga might be the only place in American society where that happens. That’s a shame. But if she’s right, at least we have that one place.