Monthly Archives: March 2011

Savasana and Shopping Lists

Savasana and Shopping Lists

Belly rise, belly fall… What am I going to have for dinner?  Belly rise… I can’t believe how much I’m sweating!?  I’m pretty sure I’m sweating more than anyone else in the room.  Belly rise… I’m a woman – women aren’t supposed to sweat this much!  Belly rise, belly fall… I could probably sweat for Team GB – they should sign me up for London 2012…  Belly rise, belly – do I need to get some broccoli on the way home?  I probably should.  And some yoghurt.  Belly rise, belly – did I just flick some of my sweat on the teacher?  Oh god, I’m pretty sure I did.  They must hate me.  I am SO ashamed…. 

This is just a sample of what might be going through my ‘Monkey Mind’ while in Savasana but I reckon you get the idea.

I think I understand why Savasana – Corpse Pose – is described as the easiest posture to get into and possibly the hardest to master.  I try not to attach myself to the thoughts that pop into my head and bring my focus back to the breath though often it’s felt like an impossible task.  But I noticed a change recently.  I don’t know how it happened.  The random thoughts still pop up, but less frequently and less forcefully.  Now there are glimpses of my mind feeling at peace.  It’s hard to explain but it’s like little cracks opening to reveal a welcoming, tranquil space where I feel relaxed yet still very conscious – I catch the briefest sight of a clarity that I don’t know how to put into words… but then it’s gone and I’m thinking about broccoli again, or the things in my life that are currently causing me far greater anxiety than what I might have for dinner.  Is this what ‘coming to stillness’ means?    Maybe this is something I will come to understand the more I practice.  I hope so.

Yet, even amid those random thoughts that won’t be banished, I’m noticing that the feeling which comes from the space behind those little cracks increasingly follows me off the mat and comes with me into the day ahead.  Not every day, but enough for me to see how much easier it is to face life’s challenges and put them in perspective.  That feels like a gift, especially in these times.  And it’s a gift I am incredibly grateful for.

What you focus on…

What you focus on…

Well… less than week after writing about not being able to do headstands, I managed to do two within three days!  First in Astanga class then during an amazing master class at Yogahaven led by one of my favourite teachers, Allie Hill.

With guidance and having the posture clearly broken down, step-by-step, I was able to come into Shirshasana up against the wall.  I even practised it again at the end of my class this morning when no-one was looking, just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke.  Having held on to years of fear around this posture I still can’t quite believe it!   For me, what is even more significant than getting to the beginning stage of practising Shirshasana against the wall is succeeding in actually facing my fear.  Though I am sure they don’t realise what this means to me, I am so very grateful to my teachers. 

It also makes me wonder what else, in time, might be possible.

Feeling the Fear

Feeling the Fear

I have a fear of rodents (squirrels don’t count – it’s the fluffy tails, I guess), Chuggers and handstands. 

Handstands and other inversions.  They strike fear into my core – something akin to what might be felt by a cow who has just been smiled at by the Burger King, maybe…  Even as a kid I wasn’t happily throwing myself around in cartwheels (I used to attempt a bizarre half-cartwheel/hop affair when required, usually for P.E. lessons or to show willing during school breaktimes).  In all my years on this planet I have, to date, never managed to do a successful headstand.  As I recall, I was one of the last people in my class to master (and I use that word very loosely) a forward roll.  Suffice to say I didn’t get my BAGA Award. 

During forearm balancing and headstand practice in Jivamukti class, my teacher looks me in the eye and she tells me, “You’re problem isn’t fear, it’s strength.”  I nod, but internally I am thinking, “Nope, pretty sure it’s fear…”  Don’t get me wrong, it is strength too.  I have tight shoulders and an apparent inability to hold myself up mixed in thoroughly with the aforementioned fear.  I’ve always had an irrational fear that my neck will snap if I try to do a headstand (or is that a rational fear?).  I understand that Shirshasana, ‘the king of asanas’ is an important, powerful posture but no matter how many times it is explained to me I don’t seem to be able to get my head around it (no pun intended).  I struggle to understand where I am supposed to distribute my weight and it all feels wrong.  Alien.  Uncomfortable.  Scary.  “Don’t think you’ll never get there,” my Jivamukti teacher kindly assures me.

And handstand practice.  Ah, handstand practice.  No matter how many times during flow class my lovely teacher says, “It’s fun”, I’m not inclined to agree with him.  That said, his handstands are amazing…

But recently, I’ve noticed something:  I’ve stopped inwardly groaning at the words, “handstand practice”. 

I’m not quite sure when it happened.  My physical expression of the posture hasn’t changed but something seems to have changed in my head.  And now rather than feeling like a part of the class where I need grit my teeth and simply get through, each little bunny hop is progress for me.  It’s as if with each bunny hop, even though I may only be inches off the floor, a teeny bit of the fear ebbs away.  Maybe one day soon, it might actually start to feel like fun, after all – who knows?

Headstands and forearm stands, well let me get back to you on those….



Yoga means union…

I dabbled a bit in yoga over the years.  From the odd class at the local gym to the course I signed up for and never returned to after week one (as I rolled out my mat the teacher told me, “You can’t go there – Melanie goes there every week”…) Then there were the drop-in classes at the centre full of serious yogis – intimidated, inflexible and practically incapable of walking the next day, I decided this yoga thing definitely wasn’t for the likes of stumpy, overweight, unfit me.  Definitely not

Cut to about four years later.  Plagued by back pain and stress, I saw something on TV about an American guy who lost loads of weight and cured his back pain with Bikram yoga.  “I want to try that!”  But there were no studios around that were practical for me to get to.  Then within weeks, as if by magic, a studio opened in my area.  I went to my first class full of anticipation and… 

I thought I was going to throw up.

Then I thought I was going to pass out.

I lay on the mat wondering if this was what dying felt like.  I mentally divvied up my possessions between my family and friends.

“What sicko would do this for fun?!”

A smile spread across the teacher’s face.  “Come back tomorrow,” he said, warmly.

I did.  And I was hooked.

I did the 30 Day Challenge.  I practiced regularly.  My back problems vanished.  My body changed. My mind became clearer, I slept better, I got ID’d in the supermarket when I tried to buy booze… (with hindsight, me hugging the cashier when she refused to sell me a bottle of red wine without proof of being over the age of 25 should probably have given her a clue that I was telling the truth about my age…).  Friends and colleagues looked at me strangely as I raved about the joys of practicing yoga in 40 degree heat.  It was all bliss until work became super busy.  My practice was the first thing to go.  My high stress levels rapidly returned along with my back pain.  It took a year of trial and error for me to get the lesson that my life was better with a regular practice. 

About three and a half years of regular Bikram practice later, something shifted in me. I still loved practicing in the heat but I began to yearn for something more.  Something less dogmatic.  A way to deepen my practice.

A Google search led me to a new studio that was due to open in my area in just a week’s time.  Serendipity!  That’s how I came to find the place that’s become my current yoga home.  A place with wonderful teachers whose kindness, encouragement, warmth and humour I continue to be touched by with each class I do.

So, ‘Yoga’, the thing I originally hoped would help with my back problems and to – let’s be honest – shift some excess weight, has become about so much more for me.  I may not have perfect postures (or even be anywhere near getting into others), but that doesn’t matter.  It’s as though each posture possesses a lesson that can’t be rushed.

Yoga means union.  Union of mind and body.  So maybe I was naïve not to imagine that it would eventually find its way into my head and heart.  I’m very glad it has.  I’m looking forward to seeing where this journey takes me.