Tag Archives: yoga

Yoga Butt

My name is Jeana, and I have yoga butt.

Don’t get excited–not that kind.

Yoga butt” is a term for a hamstring injury, one that often occurs after repetitive vigorous practice in Ashtanga or (my favorite) vinyasa yoga. It also often happens to naturally flexible people. I’m going to be very adamant in the future to any inflexible person that they are absolutely perfect for yoga, and in fact, quite fortunate. They have the advantages: 1) Lower risk of injury and 2) They get more out of less. Twisting yourself into a pretzel is something you only do if that’s what you have to do to get the benefit of the posture. If you get the benefit from just reaching for your toes, then great! You get to do less!

Anyway, you’d think this yoga butt thing wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but it can cause pain in not just your hamstrings, but your butt (hence the strange name that obliges one to specify “injury” in a Google search), your back, your IT band, and your knees.

In short, it sucks.

I tried some easy fixes, like bending my knees more during forward bends, but alas, it hasn’t helped enough. So now it’s becoming necessary to slow down my yoga practice, which is hard and frustrating, which probably also means it’s good for me. Even though I’m not a hardcore athlete (at all), I like to move and sweat, strrrretch then move through a vinyasa, balance in crow for as long as possible. That kind of intensity has served me in many ways, allowing me a lot of good release. But that tendency towards intensity can make one forget about keeping the integrity of the poses and remembering that yoga is not all about asana.

Sometimes I get a little bored with poses like bridge (I want to do wheel!) and locust (I want to do bow!), even though logically I fully recognize the benefits of these poses. Not because I’m great at them, but I’m just always eager to get to push to the limit. It’s contrary to my nature to slow down and be gentle.

But it’s time I learn how to slow down and be gentle. My body is telling me so in not-so-subtle ways now.

And even though I’m feeling a little reluctant, I’m also kind of excited. I get to explore yoga in a different way and learn better habits that I can bring to any form of practice. I’ve tried to be mindful and patient before, but this will teach me to really be mindful and patient–and to accept my limits wherever they really are.

Transitions

Via Flickr User James Jordan

Via Flickr User James Jordan

Suddenly it’s fall. It may still be in the 80s here in Texas, but there is a crispness in the air that only comes in autumn. It always amazes me that you can actually feel the seasons transition even when the temperature hasn’t changed much. At the beginning of summer I felt the buzzing of new energy; now everything feels calmer, more grounded.

The other, less whimsical way I can tell it’s fall: Allergies. So many allergies. I’m allergic to essentially everything and thusly have year-round symptoms, but apparently autumn in Austin is an especially reactive season for me. And so my yoga practice has slowed down somewhat due to the need for extra rest. I actually thought I had a sinus infection, but when it continued without getting any better or worse, I remembered the same thing happened last year. Ah, yes, the lesser-known charms of ATX. It’s one of the worst cities for allergies, much to the satisfaction of my allergist and the chagrin of everyone else. I’ve been netipotting and medicating (Allegra, currently, which doesn’t seem to be doing much), but I’m still experiencing fairly severe symptoms. If any allergy sufferers have a treatment or remedy suggestion(s), please save me and share your secrets!

I’ve also been trying new things with my diet in order to improve my mental and physical health: I’m currently working with a nutritionist to determine which foods I’m most sensitive to. Right now I’m on a restrictive eating plan, which, frankly, kind of blows. Ha. It could certainly be worse, and I know I’m doing this for good reasons, but I’m really missing things like peanut butter (sorry cashew butter, you just can’t live up), green tea, coconut milk, and cheese. It really brings my attention to my attachment to food, a process that is wholly irritating and also really good for me. Naturally.

A fortunate byproduct is that I’m learning how to be more creative in the kitchen. Being forced to make food at home with limited ingredients has awakened the culinary genius in me. Ok, not “genius” by any stretch, but I’ve managed to come up with more tasty dishes than I thought I could. (This Oatmeal comic describes the way I usually feel about home cooking).

Part of what spurred my desire to try this was, of course (you know what I’m going to say), yoga. When you practice asana, you end up getting in touch with yourself whether you want to or not–and it’s not always pleasant. I’ve written quite a bit about how this has affected the connection to my thoughts and emotions, but not as much about how it has affected the connection to my physical body. A large part of why I’ve stopped practicing when I didn’t feel good was because much like my new eating plan has brought my attention to my feelings when it comes to food, yoga brings my attention to the parts of my body that feel crappy. Of course, sometimes rest is necessary and wonderful, but I would not just stop asana, I would stop paying attention to my breath, taking the time to meditate, etc. Like negative emotions, bad feelings in the body aren’t easy to confront. Often we would rather just ignore them as much as possible and pretend they don’t exist. Anything painful or uncomfortable can bring up a feeling of deep, frightening vulnerability. So it’s pretty natural that we should have the impulse to avoid anything that might bring that up. But what might happen when we try gently turning ourselves around and encouraging ourselves to instead go into the shadows instead of pretending that life is only light? That’s what I’m trying to find out. My efforts are imperfect, but I guess that’s kind of the point, right?

Not much to report on besides that. I’ve just been schooling, homeworking, and hanging out with Todd and my favorite furry goofballs:

In their new fortress

In their new fortress

Happy Fall! Enjoy your pumpkin spice lattes, and allow me to live vicariously–they’re definitely not on my current eating plan. 🙂

Thoughts on Ashtanga

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Via Flickr User milopeng

I have returned from my accidental hiatus. No reason for it, really, except having been wrapped up in summer events. And procrastination. Again.

School is back in session, though, so I’m hoping I’m going to be a little more regular about updating this thing. But we’ll see 🙂

Anyway! In yoga-related news: I participated in an Ashtanga workshop today, led by Greg Nardi. I chose this one in particular because it focused on backbends–some of the poses I love the most. But one thing I’ve noticed about my backbends in the last few months is that although they felt awesome, my lower back ached afterward. I learned I was compressing my lumbar spine instead of lengthening from it. 

This is when you learn that your supposed advantages don’t necessarily make things any easier. I have a hypermobile lower back, which enables me to get into fairly deep backbends with relative ease, but, as Greg Nardi told us today, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” He showed us some techniques for practicing safer backbends, which will hopefully help out my poor lower back in the future.

I felt a little out of place at the workshop, which was filled with a lot of teachers and advanced practitioners, but that was something I expected. The class certainly was Ashtanga-based: the instructor called the poses by their Sanskrit names and opened and closed with chants (I try, but it’s mostly mumbling. At least I have “om” down…). I tried to just focus on learning something, and I enjoyed the workshop despite my anxiety.

Later I started thinking about my complicated relationship with Ashtanga. Oh Ashtanga. I have mixed feelings. On the positive side, it was among the first yoga styles I tried, and it was really the one that got to me. The classes were insanely challenging, but I left feeling much lighter and stronger. Those were the classes that stuck with me and granted me the realization that yoga was a whole lot more than “just stretching.” 

But to become an Ashtangi takes an enormous amount of discipline. Many of these yogis wake up at 5am to do their hour-and-a-half practice, 6 days a week, excluding moon days (the full moon and the new moon). It’s all structured: the schedule, the sequence of poses, etc. For me, such a practice isn’t really sustainable, as much as I’d like it to be. I have too many health issues that can flare up at random times, causing me to need more rest, which is something I have learned I really shouldn’t ignore and simply try to “push through.”

There’s also the problem of the athleticism that Ashtanga (arguably) requires. I once heard a yoga instructor, who taught classes that were more on the gentle side, refer to Ashtanga as “something that’s for 20-year-old male athletes.” I don’t entirely agree, but there is something to be said for this point. Ashtanga is physically demanding, and it has the potential to cause people who aren’t in stellar athletic shape to feel inadequate. Of course, this can be part of a humbling, letting-go-of-your-ego process–after all it’s not really about how well you can do the poses–but also, realistically, when you experience a class in which your fellow students seem to be practically levitating while you’re struggling to make it through your rounds of Sun Salutation B, you’re just not that likely to come back. If you stick with it, fantastic, but the pitfalls of humanness makes that tough for most people to do. If there’s something different about you, something that sets you apart from other people, it’s likely that the world has, directly or indirectly, pointed it out to you repeatedly. That doesn’t just stop when you want in the door of a yoga studio, unfortunately–one of the problems with not just Ashtanga but many yoga practices and the reason people who don’t fit the stereotypical mold of a “yoga person” often steer clear. 

And yes, I should recognize that yoga is supposed to be internal. It should be about your breath, your body, your practice–not the people around you. But we’re also human, and the internalizing aspect of yoga is a long, hard process. And to a certain extent, we’re always going to be aware of what the people around us are doing, unless we get to a monk-level mastery of meditation.

One of the things I loved about my hometown instructor’s classes was that they truly were mixed-level. So on Ashtanga nights (once every other week), there wasn’t that sense of singled-out embarrassment when a difficult pose came up. I miss that. One of the disadvantages of living in a “yoga mecca” now is that that doesn’t happen a lot here.

I should note that in traditional Mysore-style Ashtanga, students only practice the poses they’re able to do. They stop at the pose they are still working at mastering. So beginning students have a much shorter practice than the more advanced practitioners. Practicing this way makes more sense, of course, but US culture is a bit lacking in patience, and we want the whole thing right now, rather than cultivating patience and working our way up slowly. 

I do think Ashtanga is an admirable practice, and I’m thankful for its existence. It served as the foundation for all modern vinyasa practices. I don’t know that I’ll ever call myself an Ashtangi, but I plan on learning more about Ashtanga–I have a David Swenson workshop for beginners later this month that I’m excited/nervous about–and incorporating it into my practice. Even if that’s against “the rules.” 🙂

 

Finally an update: Wanderlust, Wedding, Trips, and Trips within Trips

Well, hello Internet. Again my poor blog is suffering from neglect. But I’m ceasing my procrastination (well, for this particular task anyway). I don’t know if this update will be any good, but I’ve finally decided it doesn’t really matter.

So now, let’s see–there’s a lot to catch up on.

I haven’t done much yoga for the past week-ish due to traveling and lots of business, and I can definitely feel it. Everything feels stiff and achey in mind and body. I’m hoping to get back to it tonight.

However, I did some significant yoga-ing before my lull, beginning with a private session in Reno with my amazing teacher Jen. We worked on some backbends, hip openers, and inversions. She also gave me some guidance for running man, which I can actually sort of do now (picture later in the post). It was wonderful to catch up with her, as well as her husband (and my chiropractor) Taylor.

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A few days later, I checked out a flow class at The Studio, which was just the right amount of intensity for me that day.

The next day, I drove up to Squaw Valley for Wanderlust California. Since I’ve never been and just happened to be visiting Reno at the right time, I decided to go for one day. 

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Just before Seane Corn’s class

I’m glad I went, but I’m not sure it quite lived up to all the hype–although, granted, I was only there for a day, and I’m sure it’s a whole different experience spending the entire weekend up there.

But…something about it just felt a little strange to me, which I’m still having trouble figuring out. The best I can come up with is that the bigness of it all–the packed classes, the big-name teachers instructing with microphones, the myriad of merchandise tents–felt to me like I was being distanced from the real essence of yoga. At the end of the day, yoga is all about your inward journey, the connection you have to yourself. So all of the hoopla of a big festival like Wanderlust feels rather counterproductive in some ways. All of those things–the yoga celebrities; the acro yogis doing fancy tricks; the musicians; the displays of colorful and interesting and cute clothing, jewelry, whatever–only seemed to serve to draw me further away from myself, from that core of my being that I often strive to reach in my yoga practice. Don’t get me wrong, all of that stuff is fun and wonderful, but I couldn’t help feeling overwhelmed and conflicted. In one way, it seemed to be a beautiful coming together and celebration, but in another way it was a like carnival, designed to help people escape in some sense. Naturally, there is a place for that sort of thing, but for me, much of yoga is so personal and internal, so a yoga carnival feels rather counterintuitive. Perhaps this is due in part to my natural introversion, and people who tend toward extroversion are more energized and inspired by an environment such as Wanderlust. I often become anxious and disconnected around large groups of people, but I know others function in the opposite way.

In any case, Wanderlust was a nice time, and it certainly gave me some things to consider.

The biggest part of my trip, though, was the wedding of two of my very good friends. Sara is one of my best friends and has been since we were about two, and I was fortunate enough to be one of her maids of honor. It was absolutely wonderful to celebrate with her, her husband Gabe, and many of our good friends. I am so honored that I got to sign my name as a witness on their marriage certificate. 

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With the lovely bride

Another highlight of my trip was going to one of my favorite cities in the world, San Francisco (it’s up there with Austin and Reno), with my amazing boyfriend Todd. 

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By Lombard Street

We only had a couple of days there, but we had a great time walking around the city and seeing some of the tourist-y sites.

I also got a tiny bit of yoga in near the beach. Working on my running man!

ImageAnd of course, it was so good to see my family–my mom, dad, brother, and my grandparents, who came over for a few days from Santa Rosa. The trip went insanely fast, but it was great to be back on the west coast for a little while.

Now I’m back in good ole Texas, transitioning back to normal life (as normal as it gets, anyway). I’ll try to keep this thing updated more often, but no promises. 🙂

*Use of “their” as a singular third-person pronoun is intentional

Beneath the Surface: Looking Past the Aesthetics of Yoga

I love the way yoga poses look. Seeing asanas can remind us of what a beautiful practice yoga is as well as the wondrous capability of the human body.

However, as one of my wise yoga teachers pointed out the other day, it seems that more and more of the focus is only on the aesthetics of yoga. Yes, the practice can be lovely to look at, but concentrating on that is like staring at the surface of the ocean and forgetting there’s anything underneath it when there’s an entire world there.

Some people argue, “Who cares if people are drawn in by the aesthetics, as long as it gets them to yoga.” Well, yes, but what about the people who aren’t? And aren’t those often the people who may need yoga the most?

I suspect I would have been much less likely to try yoga had I only been exposed to finely-edited videos of advanced practices and photographs of Yoga Journal models. The concept of the “yoga body” as sold by dieting businesses and the like turns me off completely. I’ve been through my fair share of body image issues, and paying attention to messages like that never brought me any clarity or joy, no matter what my body looked like at the time. In fact, it seemed the more I gave into the messages, the more I suffered.

The truth is: Everyone has a yoga body. If you can breathe, you can do yoga. You already have a beautiful yoga body. You were born with it. You can be short, tall, average, curvy, skinny, overweight, young, old, whatever. You can have the ability to touch your toes or bend over backwards or balance on your head, or not. It doesn’t matter.

To me, the focus on aesthetics seems to do two things:

  1. Alienates people who feel like they can’t look like that and/or don’t have any interest in looking like that.
  2. Seeps into our western yoga culture and infects our way of thinking about our practices.

The whole point of yoga is to connect your mind, body, and spirit. In asana, each physical pose is a metaphor for an aspect of life. Learning how to deal with the challenge of asana can help prepare you for dealing with the challenges of life. Which in my opinion is just f%^&ing awesome. When you think about it that way, who really cares how you look in a pose or how “advanced” your expression of it is?

I’m absolutely not calling for an end to yoga photos, videos, instructions for cool-looking advanced poses, etc. Those things have their place. But let’s not see the ocean only for its waves. We have so much more to explore.*

*Accidental but convenient rhyme

Risks

Via Flickr User Andreas Fetz

Via Flickr User Andreas Fetz

I’ve again been slacking in my blogger duties. At the beginning of the summer I was so concerned that I would not be busy enough–ha! Life has been surprising the hell out of me lately. I’m doing my best to stay grateful instead of letting anxiety take over–as I said in my last post, it can be difficult for any of us to let ourselves experience joy. There is certainly a part of me that is so freaked out that it compels me to want to quit everything and retreat into the Comfort Zone, where I can neither fail nor succeed.

But there is also the part of me that is exhilarated by this freedom. It’s terrifying and uncomfortable to be taking risks. Inevitably I will have failures, and I make mistakes. But how sweet it is to be in this place of growth, even if the experience isn’t always pleasant.

So much of this started with yoga. When I restarted my yoga practice back in January, it was out of desperation. I needed something to change. I had no idea how much it would help me heal; help me move my body and my mind and my spirit; help me process thoughts and emotions more effectively; help me learn about myself and about life.

The funny thing is that I don’t always want to go to yoga. Sometimes I even dread it. Because I don’t know what will happen on that mat. Will I feel strong? Will I feel weak? Will I nail this pose, or fall out of that one? Will any emotions come up? Will I cry, will I laugh, will I freak out, will I feel disconnected? Any of these are possibilities, and they’ve all happened–usually when I least expect them.

In yoga, as in life in general, you can’t know what to expect. It’s a risk to step onto your mat, not knowing what will happen there. Sometimes, yoga makes you feel like shit.

Yoga certainly isn’t the effortless experience some people believe it to be. Whether it’s your muscles shaking, your mind screaming, your heart swelling with a sudden onset of emotions you didn’t even know you had, yoga can be really damn difficult. I’ve had classes (and will continue to have classes) after which I feel awful. And some of those were even sessions I went into in a good mood. You never know what will happen. But the thing is–it’s always what you need.

And that’s why I’ve kept going. And that’s why I have begun to open myself to new possibilities–because yoga has helped me see how worth it it is to take risks.

I discovered a quote a few months ago by Peter McWilliams:

It is a risk to love.
What if it doesn’t work out?
Ah, but what if it does.

And it stuck with me. It not only applies to love but to everything. Daring to love in a larger sense is really daring to live–to make yourself vulnerable with no guarantees, to accept the possibility that it won’t work out. Because what if it does.

Letting Ourselves Feel Joy

Via Flickr User Danila Bedyaev

O blog, how I hath forsaken you. The past few weeks have been insane in the very best of ways. Since summer began, I’ve been able to enjoy Austin a bit more, soak in some delicious summer-ness, and work on some projects (I’m slowly learning some HTML/CSS). And quite unexpectedly, I met a great guy and began a new relationship.

So life is pretty damn good right now. Of course, the only downside to contentment is that there isn’t as much to write about, or at least not the immediate motivation to write about it.

But since I’ve written and reflected on depression quite a bit, perhaps I can now also write and reflect on joy. You would think feeling joy would be simple and easy, but it requires a willingness to be vulnerable that can be very difficult. When good things happen to us, it’s a lovely feeling, but then enters the fear that now we have something to lose. This can create a huge amount of anxiety that can lead otherwise stable people to self-sabotage. With the chance for happiness comes the chance for heartbreak later on–which is why there are a significant number of people who never allow themselves to take emotional risks. They protect themselves from sorrow and pain, but they also shield themselves from joy and love. Because to feel joy and love, you must make yourself vulnerable; you must be willing to accept both the darkness and the light in life because there is not one without the other. It can be immensely uncomfortable to extend ourselves beyond baseline emotions in any direction.

But if we want to love, to learn, to cry, to laugh, to explore, to discover, to try, to speak, to write, to move, to grow, we must take risks. Each one of these things is a risk in and of itself. But look at what they can give us.

So the challenge is letting yourself feel joy and trying to free yourself from the anxiety that surrounds it. Brené Brown’s suggested method is gratitude: being thankful for what you have when you start to feel that sense of anxiety emerging. Reminding yourself that you are right here, right now, and you will always have this moment regardless of what happens in the future.

Yoga, of course, can help. It gives us the chance to pause to just be in our bodies and our minds and focus on the present moment. If you’re anything like me, you suck at being in the present moment. But I’ve found that even just trying has made a difference, just taking the time to go to the studio and do nothing but move my body and breathe for an hour and fifteen minutes, even when I can’t get my mind to quiet down.

There is also the yoga of resting, though, which is what I’m (mostly) doing today. And there’s a lovely, simple joy in that too.