Sometimes Ana makes these general comments to the class in workshops where it feels like she’s looking right into my brain. “How does she know?”, I wonder, when there’s a comment that feels directly exactly towards me.
Ana set the intention for the practice to have us select an area of the body to focus on for the morning practice. “Easy”, I thought. My right hip has been a bit tweaky lately. There’s my spot. Then Ana said, “If your hip is tight, but there’s an ache in your heart, your hip is not the thing you need to focus on.” So much for easy.
Breathing into my upper back and heart is an ongoing challenge for me. As we moved through the practice, Ana cued us to, “breathe into the spot where you self-deprecate and limit yourself.” Again, I wondered if she might be reading my mind.
The practice hit an apex head to ankle pose with an up-level to move into weather vane. I worked pretty deeply into the pose, so a few poses later when we went into savasana, my hip and lower back did not feel right. I took a laying down spinal twist and shifted around to try to ease it. Just then my mentor teacher and guardian, Colleen, gently eased me to stay still and she breathed with me. I focused on my area and sending the breath there and exhaling it down to my hip. Colleen stayed with me and I felt my back and hip easing. Flooded with gratitude, I left the practice with a new understanding about how that tight spot in my hip has some other origins.
Colleen in Twisted Weather Vane pose
My first afternoon workshop was some juicy arm balances with Catherine (Cat) Allen and Ann Hyde. I was expecting a sweat-fest of killer arm balances, but instead Cat and Ann really broke it down to the basics and we did a number of poses to help us engage the chest and arm muscles and the abs to work into arm balances versus just using momentum to muscle up into the full pose. We spotted each other in forearm balance and handstand. The point wasn’t to balance, which many people could do. Rather it was to sharpen our partnering skills. We practiced using a partner and a block under the foot to pike (not jump) up with one leg.
The block came into play again when we practiced eka pada bakasana by placing the block under the toes of the bent front knee and worked on hiking the hips up to lift the back leg. Cat and Ann also did a terrific job of explaining transitioning from eka pada bakasana into astavakrasana and turn signal into astavakrasana. For the first time, I feel like I really got the right form of turn signal. I came away with all kinds of information and tips for how to guide my students in many of the preparatory poses as well as the arm balances.
Cat Allen in Turn Signal
Heidi Sormaz’s workshop on sparking the desire to practice was my last workshop of the day. Heidi started with a loving-kindness meditation where we called up an image in our minds of something that fills you up with love and compassion. She gave an example of picturing a box of puppies with a, “take me home” sign, but invited us to use any imagery that worked for us (or change imagery if an image stopped working for us). “You are more likely to show up to the mat when you can work in away of self-caring. If you’re beating yourself up the whole time, you’re not going to want to be on the mat. The practice is about longevity: showing up on the mat and being okay with how you show up that day and trusting that you’ll continue to progress over time.”
We moved into a backbend practice loaded with poses that are likely to trigger you to mentally move into a place of suffering. Just as we were moving into the practice, nature intervened with an added challenge. It began raining, lightly at first, then pouring down all the while with the wind howling in the background. We were in an outdoor tent with astroturf on the floor so while we weren’t getting wet, it was very cold and a mic was brought in so Heidi’s voice didn’t have to compete with the wind.
I think this nature was having a good laugh at us because this could not fit in more perfectly with the theme. What do you do when circumstances are making you shy away from the mat? How do you not let yourself off the hook from practicing, yet still keep it from being a miserable experience? Can you say to yourself, “You poor thing, you’re cold. frustrated. How can this pose care for you”?
I was incredibly cold. I kicked myself for not having my fleece in my yoga bag and debated whether it was worth venturing out in the rain to grab it from my room. Arrow lunge felt agonizing. But I stayed. I kept breathing. Midway through the class, the rain stopped, the wind died down, and the tent began to warm up. Just as sadness, frustration, or whatever emotion it is can pass, so to can the rain. And we can breathe through it.