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!”?
On Thursday, I wrapped up my second multi-week session guiding students through the Ashtanga led primary series at Sun Moon Yoga Studios in Mankato. I thought this would be a good time to reflect. So many thoughts!
* The Ashtanga community in Mankato is fabulous. I think I had 14 registered for winter session and 10 for spring session. Others would drop in here and there. Ashtanga is such a specialty practice that the people who actually commit are much fewer in number than people who attend other yoga classes. Plus, Ashtanga really is a home-based practice — it’s great to come together with fellow Ashtangis on a weekly basis, but it’s not necessary. So I am beyond thrilled with those numbers as well as the mix of faces. Some people have practiced Ashtanga for years in Mankato and I practiced with them back when Mel W. was teaching. But others are relatively new. Over the summer I’d like to convince 2-3 more people to commit to the fall session.
* My own practice has grown. Since January, I’ve committed to a near-daily practice in the mornings. In my day job I teach writing, and there’s no way to teach that without writing myself. There’s no way to teach Ashtanga without doing Ashtanga myself and taking additional training. I have some more fun and exciting training on the horizon for the summer and fall!
* Some crazy things are happening because of my daily practice and basking in the energy a room full of Ashtangis emits. I can’t quite find the words at the moment to articulate this, but it has to do with the cultivation of energy, the arcs of energy that run between me and others, and the ability to seemingly harness that energy to gain results.
* I’m so much more comfortable with assists. Back in March, I took an assist workshop with Lynn Thomasberg. I love the way a body “gives” under my hands — I can feel the person finding that “sweet” spot.
* I’m leading a class, not teaching. I see my role as a guide and observer. I’m there to cultivate the space — show up early, turn on the lamps, adjust the temperature, create the warmth needed for Ashtangis to settle into a practice without distraction. What I want most is to create a space in which Ashtangis can reach deep inside of themselves, go to a place both mentally and physically that will open up new channels of energy and new ways of seeing. After class, some of the practitioners will share their experiences. I loved this one from last night:
Summer we’re scaling back to one-hour Ashtanga “prep” workshops in June and July. I look forward to spending more time in asanas and regrouping for the fall full primary series. I also plan to work on a personal goal of attaining bhujapidasana.
After class on Thursday, one woman said she had the best Ashtanga practice she had had in a long time. She said she came into class tired and weary and wasn’t expecting much from herself. But partway through she thought to herself, What’s happening here? The look on her face after class was one of amazement and surprise.
Leading an Ashtanga class is unlike other teaching I do. In the university classroom, I have knowledge about a topic and I try to impart that knowledge unto (generally much younger) students. They look to me as someone who has professional experience in the field, and they have relatively no experience. They are there to learn from someone with more experience.
But in an Ashtanga class, I am not the one with the most experience. Instead, I’m there to cultivate an environment in which students feel comfortable going inside of themselves to reach their potentials. How do I do that?
By showing up early, at least a half-hour before class starts. I turn on the lights and make sure everything is in order before they arrive. I don’t want to be rushing around getting things ready as students come in the door. That would set an anxious tone.
By greeting them as they arrive and listening to them. If I get there early, I’m ready. So when students talk to me, I can give them 100 percent attention. I’m not distracted. They may tell me something important, like an injury they have or an emotional or mental roadblock they’re facing.
By using a calming voice when leading them from asana to asana.
By using assists to help them get further into an asana.
It’s like a garden — you don’t make the plants grow, but you cultivate a favorable environment so they have a chance to grow strong.
I’m glad I was able to curate an environment in which the woman was able to achieve a fulfilling practice. I want to hear that and hope to never hear the opposite — that my class is a space in which people feel discouraged or unwelcomed. Her words encourage me to create a space in which she can continue to grow, as well as others.
Touch doesn’t come natural to me. I grew up in a family that wasn’t demonstrative with affection — not uncommon in small-town Minnesota, populated by descendants of stoic Germans and Scandinavians.
So providing assists during an Ashtanga class presents a challenge to me. But I look forward to this opportunity for self-development. I will be spending some time contemplating my place of resistance and developing ways to break through it.
I attended my first assist workshop last weekend, led by Lynn Thomasberg at One Yoga in Minneapolis. Lynn focused specifically on the asanas found in the Ashtanga primary series.
Right away, I noticed my discomfort. But confronting that discomfort was exactly why I signed up for the workshop. Prior to this, my only experience with assists was at David Swenson‘s weekend workshop last September. We paired up with each other, and I felt challenged by having to put my hands on strangers.
Lynn told us we’d be changing partners for every asana so we’d get a chance to work with all body types and all abilities. Wow, I’m going to be putting my hands on a lot of strangers today, I thought. But that’s why I was there, so I might as well dive right in.
I did what Lynn told us to do, pushing through my resistance. I was beyond my comfort zone, but that’s where growth occurs. At home at the end of that first day, I reflected upon the work I did and readied myself for the second day.
When I got to the studio the second day, I was feeling a lot more comfortable. That was a good sign! Knowing that I’d have to assist again wasn’t giving me anxiety; I was excited. I think I felt more comfortable on the second day for a couple of reasons: 1) I was more familiar with my classmates — they were no longer strangers; and 2) we worked on seated postures.
For some reason, assisting people while they were seated felt more natural to me than assisting in standing asanas. Hmmmm! Maybe I was just more comfortable in general and if I had assisted standing asanas on the second day, I would have felt natural, too.
Today is when I get to put the assists into practice in my class at SunMoon. I feel excited rather than anxious, so I’m relieved about that. The people in my class aren’t strangers — I know them all, so there’s a level of comfort there that I didn’t have on the first day of the workshop.
I think my resistance isn’t necessarily about touching people. I like to hug people (though I often wait for people to make the first move), and I will touch people on an arm when I’m talking to them (if I feel it’s warranted). I have warmed up considerably from where I was as a young person!
My resistance comes out of fear — I don’t want to hurt people. Even in the workshop almost everyone I worked on said I could push further — my touch was too light. I know that people will let me know if I go too far, but I worry about the people who might not say anything. Or the people who don’t realize I made them go too far until after practice, when a pain or soreness sets in. Or I am spotting someone in sirsasana and they tumble over on my watch.
I’m so grateful for the opportunity to teach a led class so I can confront areas of resistance and learn more about myself. If I were only practicing on my own, this world would not be opened to me.
How do you feel about assists in a yoga class, whether giving or receiving?
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 doctor comes back into the room, holding a couple of foot boots. I’ve seen people wearing those boots. I haven’t envied them.
He’s a resident doctor, young and chipper and smiley. “You want to see your X-rays?”
“Sure.” I grimace. “Did I break my toe?”
Without skipping a beat, he says, “Oh yeah!” and chuckles.
That’s what I thought.
All day I’ve been thinking, do I tell people how I broke my big toe? I mean, my whole goal is to get people to try yoga. Yoga is supposed to be healing. Breaking a bone while DOING yoga is the opposite of that!
But hey, even the things we love to do aren’t always sunshine and unicorns.
I was up in headstand this morning. My headstands have been strong and steady. For many weeks, I haven’t even put my mat near a wall. I’ve been going up rather easily and if I ever feel off-balance, it’s only for a split second.
Today I went up, held it for eight breaths, came down into half-pike for a couple of breaths, and then went back up. Maybe I went up too fast. Maybe my mind wandered. As soon as I went up for the second round of breaths, that’s when I went straight over.
This was actually the first time I’ve fallen in headstand. I’ve feared this day. My first thought was, “My neck! Gotta protect my neck!” Honestly, I was surprised at how easily my body rolled over, how instinctually I took care of my neck and shoulders.
But my toe…
It smacked right into the wall. I’ve been practicing in a small space in our very cluttered basement, only because it’s warm and in the depths of a Minnesota winter my yoga room/porch is out of the question. I feel a little “off” in that basement space anyway, but until today I’d been making it work.
The next 4-6 weeks will be about adjustment. I will not be able to do a traditional Ashtanga practice. I will only be able to do asanas that allow for a flat foot. No down dogs, no jumping forward (and I was just starting to get the hang of that!). But there are a lot of asanas in the sequence that I will be able to do, so I will have to map that out.
I won’t be able to run or walk on the treadmill. But I should still be able to bike or do the elliptical. I was given the option of wearing the boot or wearing shoes with a sturdy sole, so at least I can still wear my normal shoes and tennis shoes.
This is a setback, but it could be so much worse. I could have hurt my neck. I could have cracked my ankle. I could be training for a running event and have to cancel it. I will miss not be able to snowshoe or go for a nice snowy run or walk at my favorite park, especially now when we have tons of snow.
What kind of setbacks have you encountered? How did you work through the setback?
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.