What a month of Ashtanga classes taught me

And You Let Me Down

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk Flickr via Compfight cc

I had a stellar month of July in terms of yoga. Lots and lots of Ashtanga!

The final tally:

  • 5 Mysore classes
  • 1 led class
  • 1 weekend workshop

What I learned:

  • Face my challenges head-on
  • Structure pleases me
  • Regular practice = gains in strength
  • I love Ashtanga more than ever!

I live 80 miles from a shala that offers Mysore-style Ashtanga. That distance doesn’t make it practical for me to practice at a shala regularly. Instead, I have to be committed to a home practice (a woman I met at the workshop let me know about the Ashtanga Home Practitioners network on Facebook — that’s already been so helpful!).

But in July I started teaching a class on Monday evenings at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. So I started to think…I could stay overnight on Mondays and go to Lynn Thomasberg’s Mysore class at One Yoga on Tuesday mornings.

So for four weeks, that’s what I did. I was a little nervous the first day with my limited Mysore experience and being in a new space. But I clearly remember the moment during that practice when the endorphins released and I felt buoyant, energized, and happy. That feeling continued throughout the day.

I finished my last Mysore class yesterday and I was a little sad even before it began, knowing it would be my last one for a while. I will miss the addictive positive energy that comes from a challenging class. I’m already trying to figure out ways to make this work during the school year 🙂

(The fifth Mysore class I did was during the Angela Jamison workshop. That week I had done three Ashtanga classes — a first for me!).

Every time I take an Ashtanga class or attend a workshop, I’m newly inspired in my home practice. Thanks to all the practice I did in July, I have a plan for my daily sessions (prior to this I did whatever I felt called to do in the morning, but that was a little too fluid). I created a calendar in which I do something different each day. For now it looks like this:

  • Shortened Ashtanga series (30 minutes)
  • Kapalabhati/Bheemashakti
  • First half primary series
  • Full series
  • 2x sun salutations/finishing postures + workshopping particular asanas

What inspires you, in yoga or in life?

Honoring my teachers

Today is Guru Purnima, the day in the Hindu culture to honor our teachers.

Teachers come in many different forms. They may have a formal role as a teacher, or they may present themselves as a teacher simply in the way they guide you.

In the opening chant in Ashtanga, we reference the sage Patanjali. I was told that the opening chant is a way to honor the teachers of Ashtanga who have come before us and who have passed down the practice.

In the spirit of Guru Purnima, I recognize the teachers who have shown me the Ashtanga path:

  • Maria, my first Ashtanga teacher. I showed up to Ashtanga at SunMoon back in 2002 or 2003 without any idea of what it was. I instantly felt welcomed by Maria and the community of Ashtangis.
  • Mona, owner of SunMoon who had the wisdom to bring Ashtanga to Mankato. She has lovingly supported this practice in Mankato for nearly two decades.
  • Mel, the teacher with whom I practiced the longest. She was encouraging both physically and mentally. She could spot resistance in the body and knew that the practitioner had to work on more than the physical before the asana could open.
  • David Rogers. I only practiced Mysore with him last summer a few times, but I so appreciated his knowledge and style of teaching. He was the one to help me break some of the bad habits I had developed over the years, lol 🙂
  • Angela Jamison. I met Angela in 2018 at a workshop held at Ashtanga Yoga Minneapolis. I was hungry for knowledge, having just dedicated myself to a regular Ashtanga practice. I will never forget Angela’s entrance into my life right when I needed it. I just spent another weekend with her and will see her any chance I get.
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Me and Angela, July 2019
  • David Swenson. David has been a teacher to me for years, albeit only in book form. His practice manual has been my Ashtanga bible for years. It was an honor to take a weekend workshop with him last September.

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Me and David Swenson, September 2018
  • Lynn Thomasberg. I first met Lynn in March at an assist workshop at OneYoga. I felt comfortable with her and learned that she and Mel were friends, so of course I liked her right away! I have agreed to do an Ashtanga teaching apprentice program with her this fall and I just started to take Mysore classes with her this summer.
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Me and Lynn, March 2019

Namaste, gurus.

Take 10 minutes and read this article

If you are a woman, when you last went out with girlfriends, did you talk about your weight? Your bodies? Your diets?

Do men get together and criticize their physical appearance?

It’s time to start loving ourselves. Your body is amazing. Look at everything it allows you to do each day. Your body isn’t the reason why people love you. People love your intellect, your humor, your compassion.

Be kind to yourselves.

 

 

Light as a feather…jump-throughs and jump-backs in yoga

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Photo credit: https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/982792 

Will I ever fly?

Will I ever float?

I know one thing: If I never work on it, I’ll never be able to do it.

I attended a “flying and floating” workshop on Saturday at Good Vibrations Yoga in Hopkins, Minnesota, with Sara Mandel. I’ve been working on my jump-throughs and jump-backs and I had a lot of fun experimenting with those movements on Saturday.

It strikes me that many of us think, “Will I ever _________?”

In other parts of my life, at different times, my questions have been:

  • Will I ever publish a book?
  • Will I ever run a marathon?
  • Will I ever be able to swim almost a mile in an Olympic-distance triathlon?
  • Will I ever be able to do sirsasana (headstand)?

The answers to those questions have all been yes. Because I worked at each one, sometimes for years. Through each process I have learned more about patience and trust.

How do you fill in that blank? What are you doing to make that answer “Yes!”?

A missed opportunity to send to a Type A

I have some Type A traits, but I wouldn’t call myself 100 percent Type A. But the to-do lists, the keeping busy, the many irons in the fire, the packed schedule — check, check, check and check!

I read this article with interest because I felt that in some respects, Mary Laura Philpott was writing to me. But she didn’t address one important aspect: What can a woman do to relieve this pressure she puts upon herself?

Philpott seems to be saying, “I hear ya, girl. Go get ’em.” Basically, keep on keeping on. This passage, in particular, saddened me:

You see yourself the way you think the world sees you, so you value yourself only when you are accomplishing and producing and finishing and succeeding. If you can’t value yourself, then there’s no reason to get up every morning, and if there’s no reason to get up, then … what? You feel untethered, as if someone has turned off gravity and you’ve been spun into infinite space, a black hole that demands, “What’s the point of you?”

I see this a lot in the young women I work with at the university, I see it on social media, I see it in the women I know — women who do not love and value themselves first. Women who look to the outside world for validation. Stay busy, gather public accolades, check off accomplishment after accomplishment, all for outside validation.

Philpott ends with:

You nailed it — all of it.

I know how much you need to hear this.

I can never hear it enough.

Yes, it’s nice to get kudos. I’m not going to turn them down! But yoga has helped me get strong within myself. When the outside validation doesn’t come, I’m OK with that. As a writer, the outside validation rarely comes so you have to do it for yourself. I was rejected for a big grant last year, and in the last week I got two other big rejections. If it were only the outside world’s opinion that mattered, then that opinion is that I suck. But I know I did the best I could do, and that’s the “point of me.” I think Philpott missed an opportunity to encourage women to love themselves first.

 

The key to sustaining a movement

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My faraway picture of Ericka Huggins at Minnesota State University, Mankato, on March 1, 2019.

“How do you keep a movement going?” a young woman in the audience asked.

The venue was Minnesota State University, Mankato. The event, the 43rd annual Michael T. Fagin Pan African Conference. The keynote speaker, Ericka Huggins, member of the Black Panther Party and political prisoner.

Huggins took a moment before responding.

“Take care of yourself to sustain a movement,” she answered.

It reminds me of the talk they give on airplanes before takeoff. In case of emergency, put your oxygen mask on first before you assist others.

People who are working to enact change in their communities, state, nation and world often do so tirelessly. They rarely rest and devote themselves to a cause. But that’s a recipe for burnout. I’m glad Huggins chose to tell the young woman that self-care is so important if you hope to care for others.

Huggins said that she meditates daily, something she picked up in prison nearly 50 years ago. In prison, the meditation kept her from losing her mind. She has the calm and thoughtful demeanor one would expect from someone who meditates regularly. In her talk, she often referenced love, how it’s love that has the power to transform the world.

I was so honored to hear her talk. If you get a chance, watch The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution. I found it fascinating and eye-opening.

We are our harshest critics

Photo Credit: mag3737 Flickr via Compfight cc

I can’t do yoga because…

* I’m uncoordinated.

* People will laugh at me.

* I need music.

* I talk too much.

I heard this all today, in a matter of a few seconds in conversation with a few other women. We should be mindful of the stories we tell ourselves, whether they have to do with yoga or anything else.

Is it that you can’t do yoga, or you won’t? Sometimes we know ourselves well and we know what we will or won’t enjoy. Maybe you’ve tried yoga and thought it’s not your thing. But can you drill deeper? Was it a particular class, style of yoga, or teacher that didn’t work for you? Was it your mindset that day? Was something else going on in your life that made it a poor experience? Are you willing to give it another shot?

The conversation also made me sad because I could see how hurtful women can be toward themselves and how they fear others will perceive them.

A yoga studio is a welcoming place for everyone. There’s no audition process to get in, no proof needed that you can touch your toes. There are no women on mats lined up against a wall holding cards numbered 1-10 like in the Olympics, ready to judge you. It’s just you and your mat. You come to yoga to work on yourself. Come to my class, or any class, as uncoordinated as you are, and with regular work you’ll get more coordinated, if that’s your goal. Maybe you have a different goal. Maybe you have no goal at all. It doesn’t matter. Just show up to your mat.

Ladies, be kind to yourselves. The world needs a lot of love and healing right now but it starts with loving yourself.