Friday, March 23, 2012

integration

I think, after about 10-ish years of practicing yoga (I've had some "off" phases, to be perfectly honest), I've found my ideal yoga practice.

At least for now. And I say "for now", with the realization that life situations and circumstances change. So I'm finding ways to adapt and go with the flow of these changes until I settle into a sense of equilibrium, whatever that is in the given situation.

And by an "ideal" yoga practice, I don't just mean ideal poses or asanas. What I mean is a mix of practices on and off the mat that complement each other and help both my body, mind, and spirit.

In my early years of yoga, I was in my early twenties and charging full speed ahead. Full-time teaching job, watersports on the weekends (aaahhhh the sweet luxury of living in a tropical country). I practiced yoga at home in the evenings following a video, to slow down and help my body repair after the physical demands of teaching children and teaching gymnastics.

Then I left home to come to the US for graduate school. Still charging full speed ahead. I found that my change in lifestyle (many hours sitting in front of a computer) resulted in a lot of pent-up twentysomething energy, having been used to being active all day. So I went to either a Vinyasa or Ashtanga-like class four times a week, and ran and/or practiced Pilates on other days. Sometimes I did all three, one after the other. I know. Those were my Energizer bunny days. Sigh.

enjoying a sun-dappled patch of grass, post-run

And that went on for a while, until I got so inspired by yoga that I decided to sign up for yoga teacher training. And my awareness of other styles of asana grew, as my awareness of yoga philosophy grew as well. As I learned more, I started to reflect more on compassion and nonviolence and how that plays out in my life. I learned that there's a reason for yin and yang, as there is a reason for an active practice just as there is a reason for a slow restorative practice. As I grew older, I started to learn to listen to my body more, and decide what I needed that day. I still kept fairly active, walking/running (ok, more walking than running), swimming during the summer months. I learned that yoga is so much more than just the physical practice; it fed my body as well as my soul - to unload, decompress, and recharge after the emotional demands of teaching (I tend to get attached to "my" kids, what can I say...). I fell in love with the quieter, softer, yin style of asanas. I started feeling a sense of balance in my life - career, friendships, wellness, discovering art, a developing spirituality. And I felt a sense of balance in my yoga as well.

And then I moved, again. For grad school. Again. And my yoga asana practice went on the back burner.

my life nowadays


I went to a class once a week, and practiced asana at home maybe two other times during the week. Sometimes 15 minutes was all I could do. Then there were even times in which I just went to class once a week and maybe did 5 or 10 minutes of stretches before bed. I was in a yoga rut. There, I said it. As much as it would be great to feel all enlightened and blissful and energetic, "my" yoga just wasn't quite there. I was feeling anything but enlightened and energetic. Truth be told, I was nervous, worried, and anxious because of a lot of external expectations - and my own unrealistic expectations of myself. But, as is always the case, the times when I need yoga the most are when I practice the least.

my poor neglected yoga mat was gathering dust for a while

During this time, I felt that many things were out of whack in my life. Something was not quite "right". It was two years of crazy transitions, but also crazy-good transitions. But what was not quite right, or so it felt, was my heavily left-brained life. I lost time for art. I missed my circle of friends (and social support system), having moved to a different city. I lost time for movement and wellness. Or I can say I just made poor excuses. It just felt... uneven. Which is hardly surprising.

Then I found a yoga class called "sacred geometry of the body" (isn't that a beautiful way to conceptualize the human body?). The focus of the class was on structural alignment. And I'm not just talking about alignment in terms of wrists under the shoulders for cat-cow pose or having the feet lined up just like so for warrior pose. Those are important too, but this class is most especially about pelvic alignment. And it opened my eyes (and pelvis, pun intended) to a whole new world. Everything begins in the pelvis. All my structural unevenness - and resulting aches and pains - can be traced to the unevenness in my pelvis. I've never been to a class in which I worked so hard to do "only" 3 poses in an hour - all in an effort toward pelvic alignment. It's definitely a much more subtle practice than doing multiple sun salutations, chatturangas, and headstands.

This class has really been a welcome departure from my earlier full-speed-ahead version of vinyasa or ashtanga(ish) practice. Don't get me wrong - I love the grace and fluidity of a mindful vinyasa practice and how the breath flows with the movement and energizes the pose. But all too often (especially when I practice at home in my distracted state... and ok, my work-cluttered environment), it becomes difficult to really practice with 100% intention, and I end up falling into my same old patterns and habits - favoring certain poses over others, and my misalignment. But most importantly, I was not practicing with 100% attention. Yoga truly is mental as much as, or quite arguably more than, it is physical.

After several months of this class and focusing solely on pelvic alignment, I returned to a vinyasa class with fresh eyes. And it felt really, really good.

Recently, I went to an evening vinyasa class in which no one else showed up. The instructor went on with the class, much to my delight. Private class! Score! 

But man, did I work in that class. And I mean shaky-quadriceps-in-warrior-pose kind of work. It's amazing what a one-on-one class can do, which I actually have not experienced prior to that day. Within the first 5 minutes of movement, she diagnosed me and my structural unevenness and imbalance: I see you have some hyperflexion here and imbalance there and uneven strength here and that can create problems everywhere. (She didn't quite state it that way - she was definitely more kind that that, but that was her "diagnosis" in a nutshell). With that observation, and because I was the only one who showed up to class that evening, she proceeded to morph the Vinyasa class (which was what the class was supposed to be) to more of an alignment and stability class. Which is what I needed.

So, I am now trying to continue on with my routine of alignment on Mondays and vinyasa on Wednesdays and Fridays, then yin yoga at home in between. I think this makes for a nice balanced physical practice.

my wellness calendar: yoga classes at a studio 3x a week, home yoga practice in between


Somehow, I'm starting to feel a greater sense of... integration. The dictionary defines integration as "the coordination of mental processes into a normal effective personality or with the individual's environment" (thanks, Merriam-Webster... pardon my geek moment.). Been thinking about this for a while. I think the hard part was getting past the word "normal" (being in the world of special education, I'm not a fan of that word. I think in this context, I prefer "balanced"). But anyway. It's amazing how the alignment I'm working on in my body during my asana practice is finding its way to the rest of my life as well. And that's the beauty of yoga.

As much as yoga asanas happen in the outer body, so much of it is mental as well, happening in the "inner" body. The focus. The intention. The awareness. The appreciation for the perfectly imperfect body and self. Coordinating the inner body and outer body. To integrate mind, body, and spirit in an intelligent, mindful practice, in spite of and in response to the often disintegrated and uncoordinated outer world of stresses and pressures, is so powerful. 

So I'm re-discovering "my" yoga that is right for me at this time. Because life is about change and constantly re-discovering ourselves in the ebb and flow.

 I've started to work on balancing the other areas of my life, and (hopefully) making more positive choices as I try to adapt to my new external and internal pressures. It's ok to not charge at full-speed in life - as it is ok to not expect that of myself. I'm learning to let go of certain expectations and instead settle into a place that's just right for right now.

I'm actually writing and reflecting more too. Trying to "make" more photographs and not just "take" them (although I have to admit, I've been loving Instagram lately... but that counts, right?). I'm spending less time doing mindless surfing on the Internet and more time making personal calls or even writing snail mail to friends. Replacing negative self-talk with positive. Trying to balance dreaming big and having realistic expectations of myself. Re-focusing on my health, and taking the necessary steps to achieve health. Investing in wellness, rather than "things".

Integration. I like that word.

I think, I have it figured out. For now.

Long blog post, I know. But that's a result of 10(ish) years of my yoga journey. I wonder what the next 10 will hold. For now, I'll just celebrate "my" yoga, one ujjayi breath at a time.

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4 comments:

Anne said...

yes, instagram IS photography too!

congrats on the updates on the blog! and looking forward to reading more of your posts :-)

Mia said...

Thanks, Anne! It was fun giving the blog a much-needed face lift after 5 YEARS!

DebraLynn said...

I spent the wee morning hours today reading several of your posts. I love hearing the depths of your yoga practice and understanding the inner workings of a devoted practice. I wish I had geometry yoga near me! I mentioned the pelvis stabilization to Heidi Schaffer today. Do you know her? She owns the yoga studio in Kent. She said pelvic stabilization is what all the yogis are talking about these days. Sounds like you're on to something. I like the idea, p.s., of making, rather than taking, pictures. I did that very thing today. I consciously went out and made photographs. Thanks, Mia, for all your insights. They are splendid to examine and understand. Keep them coming, please.

Mia said...

Hi Debra-Lynn, thanks so much for reading! I can give you the name of the instructor I go to - in case you're ever up here in Cleveland. All the pelvic work is definitely a work in progress, but it's been really enlightening.
Yes, I did see your recent spring pictures - they are lovely!

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