Friday, October 30, 2009

finding the line

At yoga teacher training class last night in the old brick schoolhouse on Phinney Ridge, our teacher and mentor rang the bell to signal the start of a practice she promised would be "hot and spicy." I was feeling pretty cocky, so didn't bother to ask myself for whom the bell tolled.

To make a long story short, I had to drop out about 2/3 of the way through this extremely challenging sequnce because I simply couldn't continue. I probably should have quit sooner, but kept trying to stay with it until I felt like I was going to pass out. At that point I knew I wasn't doing myself any favors by keeping on.

Sometimes it's hard for a person to admit that there are things he's not young enough,or strong enough, or well enough to do. But then, on the other hand it's important to know what our limitations are, and I found mine last night.

I can attend all-levels classes and even the weekly intermediate session at the teacher's studio and get through that stuff without any problems, so I figure it's best to count my blessings instead of feeling bad about what I can't do. And those classes, like my daily practice, provide a tremendous boost to my physical, emotional, and mental health rather than posing a danger or being something I shouldn't be doing.

The first time I taught chair yoga to the over-65 crowd I remember thinking, "I'm sure glad I don't have to sit in a chair to do my practice," but now I realize that sooner or later that day is coming, and not just for me. And that's a great thing, because it's better than just sitting around like I did for years.

One of the great aspects of Viniyoga is that it's truly elastic and adaptable. It genuinely is for everybody, and speaking of chair yoga, I'm beginning to feel like there's a great opportunity there for me. Frequent yoga for active, older adults is something we're going to be seeing a lot more of in the near future.


Monday, October 19, 2009


Taught my last class at the Shoreline YMCA today, and it ended really well. That makes 4 of 4.

I had five ladies turn out, and they really enjoyed themselves. I got a positive reaction.

They got together and were making a request that my class be continued as I was leaving.

I doubt there's a job there, but it's really nice to be appreciated at your very first gig.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

faith community

Gradually as I've continued hanging out in the yoga community in Seattle over the past eight months, it's slowly become apparent to me that this is a faith community, of sorts. It's not the kind of society where people sit around discussing theology very much.

Not that there aren't people who spend time talking about yoga or writing about it -- there are, and some of them do a great job of it too.

But for the most part yoga is a theology of action, and something that needs to be done rather than just believed. The idea is that the mind will follow certain actions the way a cartwheel follows the ox pulling it.

This is my kind of faith community, that's for sure. I always did find theological debate really tedious and boring.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

negative to positive

The word for the day: breathe in; breathe out.

Breathe from the top of the chest downward. On exhale, push towards the spine with the belly, from the bottom up.

From the top down, from the bottom up.

In with the positive, and out with the negative.

In with the good, out with the not-so-good.

In with the "Yes, I can," and out with the "No, I can't."

With such small steps as these you can make yourself a new reality.

Miniature sculpture: Reverse Polarity (artist unknown).


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

into the future

After teaching a second class yesterday I can see where this is going, and I also see what's missing. I need to keep on doing everything I'm doing, but I also need to add a big dose of Ellen.

Ellen B. was my first yoga mentor, way down deep in the semi-civilized wastes of SoCal, and sometimes I think she has no idea what a great teacher she is. Some of the simplest things she taught us will turn out to be the most valuable for my purposes.

I'm seeing a lot of severe arthritis among the people who show up in my classes: a lot of chronic, nagging pain in shoulders, knees, and elbows. Shoulders especially. These are mostly people who would have a very difficult time getting onto the floor and back up again unassisted. They're not old and feeble and senile, in fact just the opposite. They tend to be lively and animated, but everything they do in an exercise class has to be adapted to address the deteriorated condition of their joints.

The key is finding the right adaptations of the right movements for this group as a whole. If I can do that I can probably help a lot of people. This is kind of exciting; it's unfolding like a story in one of those children's pop-up books.


Saturday, October 10, 2009


Paradise is real, but exists only in the mind. Located in a specific time as well as a specific place, it's impossible to capture or hang on to.

Once those magical feelings of security and abundance have slipped away they never return, and paradise becomes a memory and a vapor, like a dream.

I remember my paradise clearly, for I recognized it at the time, though it was very humble, and definitely a low-intensity experience. For some, ecstasy is extreme exuberance, but for others of us, it's tranquility.


Thursday, October 08, 2009

got thru it

I taught my first yoga class today and survived it, in pretty good shape actually. I'm really glad it's behind me rather than in front of me.

I'll do it again this coming Monday, and it'll be stronger than it was today.

It didn't look like the class pictured here, because mine was older people sitting in chairs. Older Active Adults -- AOA -- that's my class. I had to hand it to those people, some of whom are infirm, for example, hampered by arthritis. Yet they're still out there, moving and doing what they can to help themselves.


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

into the sunset

As we approach the boarding gate for our final departures, it's best to discontinue all our destructive habits, even the ones we've carried with us most of our lives. I've found those things gather intensity over time, become even more destructive in the end times than they were previously, and who doesn't want to go out experiencing some insight into one's own behavior?

It was a rough two days, first with insomnia that just wouldn't leave, then coughing fruitlessly all the following night. Then last night was sleep enough to compensate, and today has been recovery with food, yoga, clean clothes and contemplation.

The breath comes easily now, but the shaking distracts and also detracts from the practice. I keep hoping for a treatment; will proceed slowly, carefully, one thing at a time.

I also need to move. My mother's sad spirit hovers over this place.


Saturday, October 03, 2009

quiet practice

Returned today to the quiet, slow-paced, and gentle practice I've been doing variants of, with numerous add-ons and changes, for the past six months. It's perfect for my physical, mental, and respiratory needs, and lasts nearly exactly an hour.

It always begins with a 40-minutes (including savasana, the rest period at the end) asana sequence, based on the routine in Gary Kraftsow's Yoga for Transformation, pages 70-88. What I find particularly attractive about this sequence is the unusual breath prescription for most of the postures: staying one breath longer during each successive repetition of the movement, up to four breaths/four reps. This is a user-friendly approach for a an older person like myself who also suffers from emphysema. Staying one breath longer with each repetition prevents any of the breathlessness which often occurs when I try simply moving in and out of these postures with each breath.

Next is pranayama, and I've learned to keep it simple. Six breaths to warm up deepen the inhale and extend the exhale, then, by the clock, six-second inhales and 12-second exhales with short, one-second pauses in between for a 20-second threshold, 18 repetitions. This works out to about eight minutes and leads directly into a short period of chanting: Om; then om namaha; then om shanti.

From there, the practice becomes very quiet indeed. With the eyesight turned inward, I meditate on the first four chakras, the ones with characteristics we have in common with the animals, and those associated with the four common elements: muladhara, the base of the spine, the "earth" chakra, and the foundation of our security; then svadisthana two inches above it, the water in which the earth is dissolved, the creative and regenerative instinct. Then comes manipuraka, the fire which vaporizes the water, and is the fire of transformation; finally anahata the heart, the wide air into which the fire is dispersed, and the lotus which, when right-side-up and open, allows us to love.

After that I slowly open my eyes and begin to come back to a more ordinary state of mind. It's kind of like waking up from a deep sleep, but not exactly the same. I notice a very slow, quiet hour has gone by, and I'm better for it.