Unlike Joe Biden, I’m not handsy: Powering through resistance in assists

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Assisting Peter in Marichasana C in Lynn Thomasberg’s assist workshop at One Yoga in Minneapolis on March 31. 

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.

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Lynn and me at One Yoga.

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?

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.

Rules are made to be broken

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Eat your vegetables! How often have you heard this “rule”?

Photo Credit: verchmarco Flickr via Compfight cc 

How well do you do with rules?

Eat this, and don’t eat that.

Do this much exercise each day, and these types of exercises.

Drink 8 glasses of water a day. No, 12. No, make that 16, or 24. Do it, and don’t fail or else!

This time of year we’re given a lot of rules, especially if our goal is to eat better or get more exercise or just try to embrace a healthier lifestyle.

I think rules work for some people. They want a clear set of guidelines and succeed when they can check off boxes. But others chafe when given a set of rules. That would be me.

If someone says I can’t do something, or can’t eat a certain type of food, or need to give up caffeine, I instantly want to do the exact opposite.

So my goal is to find a plan and adapt it to my lifestyle and schedule at the moment.

Ashtanga is a good example. The “rules” of Ashtanga say that you do the series for 90 minutes a day first thing in the morning, six days a week. That just doesn’t work for me right now. So instead, I aim for the six days, but my practice is anywhere from 15 minutes to 45 minutes. I trust that my body and mind will adapt to where I will be devoting more time to my practice.

I’m also experimenting with Ayurveda, both in terms of food and also lifestyle. Today I went to a workshop with Julianne Englander at Yoga Barre in Shakopee and learned some great details about Ayurveda. Julianne talked about the morning routine, which if you did everything would probably take about an hour. I know that’s not anything I’m going to do right now. I’m going to start small, like getting up and scraping my tongue and washing my face — getting “clean” before heading to my mat. Julianne also said this is like a yoga practice — it develops over years.

Regarding my diet, there are just some things I’m not ready to give up yet. These include:

  • Coffee
  • Chocolate
  • An occasional social alcoholic drink with friends

If you want to succeed in a diet or exercise routine or other lifestyle change, you have to make it  work for YOU. Find something that sounds doable and that you’ll enjoy, but ADAPT from there. Remember, a small change is better than nothing. See how that small change goes and if you feel good, add more changes. Because the second you dislike something you for sure will stop doing it.

How have you adapted a diet or exercise program or lifestyle change to make it work for YOU?

Done! Thank God!

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It was a beautiful day for a marathon!

I had A LOT of time to think while I was running the Mankato Marathon on October 21, lol! I finished in over five hours. It wasn’t my slowest marathon; it wasn’t my fastest. But it was MY marathon.

The longer I do this running thing (almost 30 years at this point), the more I see the parallels between running and other areas of my life. The following similarities jump out at me as I reflect upon the marathon.

The wind won’t always be at your back…

October 21 was a chilly day — around 30 degrees at the start. I’ve done a Mankato Marathon run each of the nine years except for one, and this was the coldest start I could remember. It wasn’t so much the cold, but that wind. It was blowing out of the south at about 15-20 mph. In the marathon course, runners go south on a two-mile stretch of Monks Avenue twice. The run starts on Monks, and while I could feel the cold wind, there were still plenty of other runners around because it’s also the start of the half-marathon course. I could do a bit of drafting at least. But the second stretch is at miles 14-16. These miles are typically my worst of any marathon, just from a mental perspective. You’re halfway done, but you still have a long ways to go. Those miles almost beat me. My 3-minute run, 1-minute walk plan went out the window. I thought I would have to sit on the side of the road and really think about if I wanted to go on. But other than the wind, I was feeling OK, and it would be silly to give up. So I pushed through.

It’s your race…

I say this all the time. I won’t stop saying it. I’m not going to win a marathon so I’m not competing against anyone, only myself. If I decide that I did the best I could that day, then I’m satisfied. And I’m really satisfied with my run that day. My goal was to finish, and finish comfortably, and I did that. But in the days after the run, the first question I got many times was “What was your time?” There are more measures of success than that. Better questions would be “How did you feel?” or “How did it go for you?” or “Did you set out to accomplish what you wanted to?”

Push through and reap the rewards…

The best part for me of running a marathon is the feeling the next day and in the days after. Yes, I’m usually sore, so that’s not the feeling I’m talking about! It’s the feeling of lying in bed the next morning, ready to get up, and thinking “I did it.” There were times last week at work when things weren’t going well or I was frustrated but I could think back to the marathon and reclaim that feeling of accomplishment. All that work all summer, all those long runs in the heat and humidity, in the rain, running when I didn’t feel like it, squeezing in a run among fifty other things to do that day, all came together to get me through five-plus hours on October 21. It was worth it.

What’s worth it in your life? What do you put so much work into in order to reap rewards?

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Is that a grimace or a smile? LOL! This is around Mile 22. My friend Rick lives near the trail and he took the picture. He also took a picture of me in 2010 when I first ran this course! It’s now a little tradition! 

Yoga’s inner story and outer story

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Photo Credit: davidstewartgets Flickr via Compfight cc 

It can be easy to see what’s on the surface. But what’s beneath? That’s often the key to unlocking understanding.

My theme for my memoir/yoga workshop this weekend is inner story and outer story.

Inner story and outer story is usually the first thing I talk about when I give memoir workshops. A memoir that just stays at the surface — this happened, then this happened, here’s what I looked like, here’s what our house looked like, etc. — doesn’t have any substance. Writers have to dive deep within themselves to discover what all those things meant. How did it change the writer? What transformation took place because of those events?

Writing the inner story is difficult because it takes time and contemplation. We may know we have an outer story, but perhaps we haven’t spent a lot of time articulating on the page what it meant or how it changed our lives. At least that was my case when I wrote my memoir. I knew I had a unique story in that my dad was a gravedigger, but until I started to write I didn’t realize exactly how that upbringing impacted my life. The thinking-to-writing ratio while I was working on the memoir was definitely skewed toward the thinking!

This is why I’m so excited to do this yoga/memoir workshop. Yoga lends itself to looking inward and contemplation. There’s the physical practice of yoga, what we see. If we practice regularly we may see changes to our body — more defined muscles, increased strength, new flexibility. If we let our practice sit there on the outside, like a memoir, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it can be so much more.

It’s when your mind and body are strong when the real transformation occurs. As Kino MacGregor writes in The Power of Ashtanga Yoga: “Strength in yoga is an integration of the sum of the body, mind, and soul in a way that gives access to something much larger than any individual part.”

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Kino MacGregor, Ashtanga practitioner and founder of OMStars yoga TV network. Photo from @kinoyoga on Instagram.

For memoir, the strength is in the combination of outer story and inner story. To borrow Kino’s words, that is going to give access to something much larger than the individual parts.

A new marathon training plan

The dogs visited me at the end of my long run on July 4. Yes, that’s a hydration pack. The dew point was around 70, with temps in the upper 70s.

Between June 30 and July 4 I put in a couple of long runs, two in five days. I couldn’t avoid it from a scheduling perspective, but it actually worked out OK.

I’m using a new marathon training plan this time around. I’m using the Galloway run/walk method. I’ve known about it and known friends who have done it, but I’d never taken the time to investigate it further until this year.

I’m doing 3 minutes of running and 1 minute of walking. The whole point behind this method is that over the course of a marathon (or even a half marathon), you are saving your legs and therefore feeling fresh (or relatively fresh) toward the end. My problem in previous marathons is that I’m pretty much tapped out by mile 20 and I have to mostly walk. If this method allows me to keep running in those last miles, that will be a vast improvement.

I am loving this method so far! It has allowed me to bump up the long-run mileage fairly quickly. By the time I started training in early June, I realized I was a few weeks behind in the training already (it’s six-month training program). So I did a quick build up each week to catch up — a couple of 8s, then a 10, 13 miles on June 30 and on July 4 a 15. This method is allowing me to save my legs. In previous trainings, no way could I have run 13 miles and then five days later run 15 miles. And I’ve completed the long runs feeling good for the rest of the day and the next day. I can move around and function and do yoga without almost any soreness.

The walk breaks also allow me some much-needed mental rest. In previous trainings, I would take a short walk break every two miles on long runs. But two miles is a long way, especially when you get further into the run and you want a break sooner than that. But with a 3-1 pattern, even when I’m tired toward the end of a run, I tell myself, it’s only three minutes. You can run for three minutes and then you get a break.

You might think it’s boring to run/walk that far. On July 4 I was out there for three hours, counting by 3-1 the whole time. But actually, it gives me something to think about and makes the time go by faster. I find myself focusing only on the next three minutes, then the next minute. I think it’s keeping me more in the moment — which is such a yoga thing to do!

The newness of this approach and the focus it gives me on runs is actually making me look forward to the long training runs. That has never been the case before!

But I can’t say that training for a marathon is easy for me. Though I’m feeling better on my runs and after, some challenges remain:

* I’m kind of always tired. Some days are better than others, but by evenings I’m usually wiped out.

* As always, I’m squeezed for time. There’s work, and there’s running, and if I can fit in some other things, that’s great, but it doesn’t always happen. Right now I’m also trying to focus on my writing and my yoga practice, so when I do that there’s really not a lot of time for anything else.

* Oh, and the heat! I love, love, love fall marathons. But that means you’re doing the bulk of your training in the summer. I used to be really resistant to the heat but I am learning to embrace it, so actually training this summer hasn’t been as bad as other summers.

Overall, knowing that I’m running for a cause this time around casts a whole new, exciting light on this adventure!

Trust yourself. Question your habits. Find the reward in trying something new.

For about 13 years, I had taken Ashtanga classes at only one place — Sun Moon Yoga in Mankato. That changed on Thursday when I drove to Minneapolis to take a Mysore-style class at Minneapolis Yoga.

When Mona took Ashtanga off the schedule at Sun Moon, I really missed it, though I understand that it was hard for her to find qualified teachers. It’s true that I didn’t practice regularly at the studio, but there were times when I attended nearly weekly for 3-4 month stretches. So when it completely disappeared from the schedule, I missed it more than I thought I would.

The absence of an Ashtanga class, combined with my resistance to cultivating a home practice, meant that Ashtanga was absent from my life for the last couple of years save for a shortened practice every once in a while at home. But during my yoga teacher training, I felt strongly pulled to taking up Ashtanga again.

So if I was going to be serious about this, I knew I would have to make a commitment to attending a class. Ashtanga is a very specialized style of yoga, so classes aren’t easy to find. In addition, you want to put yourself in the hands of a capable teacher with whom you’re compatible.

I had some reservations going into Thursday. Mostly, would I be doing it right? What would this teacher think of my practice? David Rogers looked nice and kind when I did my research about him, but what if he was going to be one of those hard and critical teachers you sometimes hear about?

But in general I looked forward to the adventure. If things didn’t go well, then I just wouldn’t go back. But if things did go well, this had the potential for cracking something open for me.

In short, it went very well. Two days later, my mind is still spinning. I gained an entirely new perspective on Ashtanga and I feel newly motivated to practice.

Some of my main takeaways:

* Wow, it was warm in the studio! The class before mine was a Bikram class. David opened the doors and windows, but it didn’t really cool off. So there’s me, the yoga practitioner who had always been resistant to a hot practice, on my mat with sweat rolling off my face, down my back, my arms, my legs, etc. And I loved it. In all those years of practicing Ashtanga in relative coolness and comfort, I realized I was not getting the maximum detoxifying benefits. Let the sweat drip!

* I have some habits to break. David pointed out a couple of things with a gentle, “Why are you doing it like that?” One thing that will take a lot of work is doing a chaturanga with my elbows slightly out instead of squeezed into my ribs. He also showed me some poses in which a flat back was not the primary goal — lengthening the spine could come later.

* This was my first true Mysore experience. In traditional Mysore, a teacher will stop you when he or she feels you have had enough. I didn’t quite get through all the forward folds when David stopped me from progressing further into the sequence. I was grateful — I had so much new information to digest and I was getting tired.

* I had the confidence to do things I had never done before. I explained to David that I didn’t do jump backs. He simply said, “Why not?” And I realized that I didn’t have a good answer. So I gave a weak excuse about worrying that I wouldn’t do them correctly or that I would lose form. He went into a speech about how much we worry about something “looking right” that we don’t even want to try. Mind. Blown. I couldn’t see something so simple for myself.

* I also got the feel for chakrasana (the backward roll in Ashtanga to get from one pose to another in the seated sequence). David helped me — I will need some work to get it on my own — but it felt great to go through the motion. Again — Mind. Blown.

* I had a chance to explain Ashtanga to a group of people unfamiliar with it. As I was waiting for class to start, the sweaty Bikram students came out to join me on the patio. Since Ashtanga is fairly new to Minneapolis Yoga, a lot of them didn’t know about it so they were asking me all sorts of questions. They also liked my dedication to the class for driving a total of three hours for one hour of class 🙂 The three hours in the car offered a wonderful opportunity to listen to books!

* I love the built-in community at a yoga studio. That community is evident at Sun Moon, but it’s also a community where I know a lot of people. Even though I didn’t know anyone at Minneapolis Yoga, we all sat around the patio for a few minutes smiling and talking and sharing our experiences.

There’s so much I’m forgetting. Each moment during class was a special one where my brain was working overtime in digesting the information and also soaking in the experience. I look forward to going back! In the meantime, you will find me on my mat practicing chaturangas and chakrasana at home or in the Fitness for 10 studio after teaching my Tuesday/Thursday classes.

That special yoga glow, lol!