Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"Strong with the force he is." (To be read in the voice of Master Yoda)

For a little over three months now I have been taking yoga classes once, (sometimes twice) a week at Cadence Yoga. This has been my first foray at anything remotely resembling this kind of activity, and in a word I must say it’s been an enjoyable process thus far.

I’m sure there are as many styles of yoga as there are yoga teachers. I have been taking a class called Vinyasa 1, which seems to have three main goals, physically-speaking: building strength, increasing balance, and increasing flexibility.

I am noticing that the kind of strength required for yoga is different than the kind of strength required for lifting heavy things for a certain number of repetitions. Holding static poses with only my body weight makes my whole body shake sometimes, whereas I never shake when I’m lifting weights.

A lot of times I will be standing in front of the mirror attempting to hold some pose that looks so simple- like sitting down in an invisible chair or making like a tree with one leg- and yet I will get this awful flash of fear that I’m going to fall over and make a fool of myself. In fact, this could be the pithy one line to describe my yoga practice: “It looked so easy…”

I am also horrible at this part, too. Some bodies seem built to do this better than others. I am not lithe and graceful. I am a pile of bricks. However, I do feel that if I keep practicing I will get better and be able to reach and stretch farther. I also have a hunch that this will help me with the cycling and running and my average walking-around life as well. I already find myself straightening up my posture throughout the day.

So, that’s the physical stuff. But of course, for the thoughtful person, there are non-physical components to this activity as well:

What a splendid machine this human body is! When I’m balancing and seeing hitherto unknown muscles in my feet and ankles jostling for control or feeling pressures in odd places or feeling that blessed lack of tension in the final corpse pose, I am fully aware of myself in ways that don’t often occur throughout the day. This is a wonderful way to start your day, being cognizant and attentive. There is a lesson in that: be deliberate.

Some mornings the muscles and tendons operate better than other mornings. Sometimes it’s a lot of sweaty work. I have found in recent years that anything worth having requires something from you. Nothing ever seems to come as easily as you would like it to. This practice is a good reminder of that.

Although I don’t really think I need all of the stereotypical “spiritual” benefits normally attributed to the practice of yoga I have learned one valuable lesson about myself over these introductory months: I am waaaaay too critical and judgmental with myself. As a musician I have always had problems with performance anxiety and apparently it spills over into other parts of my life. Many times, when “checking in” with my thoughts during a session I will find myself either happy with how some particular movement or pose went or devastated because I didn’t “do it right” or didn’t do it as well as I thought I could. Hopefully, at some point I will learn to just do and leave the running commentary at home.

Anyway, Mandy is a wonderful teacher and I highly recommend you go see her some time.


At 4:24 PM, Blogger Mike said...

"There is a lesson in that: be deliberate."

I like this way of saying it even better:

"Be deliberately."

At 8:16 PM, Blogger Steven Stark said...

I would love to try yoga someday. Susan is an infrequent practitioner, but she really loves it.

Mindfulness is.....so important. I am working on it as well. I am sure the Dalai Lama is too.

I think it's good to observe our thoughts and suspend judgement. At the same time, the goal is not to suspend feeling, but rather to maintain a level of awareness while still living inside the feeling. I think this is what non-attachment means for me, as opposed to its "near enemy" - detachment, which is no way to live.

At 9:24 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Suspension of judgement is a tough one. For me, it helps to try to keep my striving in perspective.

Does it matter, ultimately, if I am able to "nail" a particular pose? I mean, flow into and out of it gracefully and smoothly with control? It matters not a whit.

However, there IS something of moderately more importance--whether I'm even in there trying it!

It's the "trying" part that matters for me.

Somewhat relatedly, I am realizing some things about my self and my patterns of thought as I take on this new activity--how the conversations in my head, if they become too goal-driven and intensely performace-based, can ROYALLY screw up the activity's fun quotient.

At the same time, however, I am aware that these same voices have served me well over the last couple years to lose a lot of weight and become a much happier, healthier, well-adjusted human being.

So, I don't know if I want to dismiss them all together.

I suppose there is a balance I must strike.


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