Propfest 2006

What’s gumming up my practice, what’s keeping me from being exquisitely graceful, are my shoulders and upper back. Okay, that’s a ridiculous statement. Still, though, it’s time for me to do some work (physical and psychic) on the shoulders and upper back.

To that end, practice this morning was a huge prop fest, as I tried to listen to what’s going on in my shoulders and thoracic spine. I’ve ignored them for years (or forced them to do my bidding), and now I’m paying the price.

Shoulders: tight, probably got some scar tissue from rotator cuff tears, and if there is a link between emotions and physicality, shoulders probably bear the scars of many psychic battles. I always saw them as my “weak link” when I was lifting weights for hours every day. They were never big enough.

Then came climbing. I immediately took to climbing with my legs, or used flexibility. Learning to use my upper body was a longer lesson. The brute strength of upper body. I am small, so my strength to weight ratio worked out well for climbing. As per usual, I threw myself in with abandon. Getting stronger? Well then, do some dynamic moves (moves where you let go between holds and kind of fling yourself at the next handhold). Yay! Time to climb overhangs! Must learn to lead climb! Ah yes. And throughout it all, every time I fell, I grabbed with an arm or two to arrest my fall, and often yanked the hell out of my shoulders.

Yesterday, at Mysore, I saw myself in the mirror on the back wall. Waaaah, my shoulder muscles are all gone because I’m just doing yoga! I thought. A little while later, Volleyball Guy demonstrated a little shoulder stretching exercise I can do with sandbags. Caught another glance in the mirror: God, my shoulders and traps are too freaking thick! Yeah, okay. Body dysmorphia! None of this has been helped by my liking to play so-called “guy” sports. Why am I weaker? Why are my shoulders so small? Oh yeah, right, because the other players are, um, men. Duh.

Next up: thoracic spine. What’s up there? No idea. I’ve ignored it completely my whole life.


There’s some work to be done. I’ve bullied my shoulders and ignored my back. Alrighty, then. So this morning was “Intro to Body 101.” Back bending and shoulder opening. It was pretty nice, though I feel like a novice: I have no idea about how to be graceful or “successful” with these poses. Which is kind of nice. I also don’t know how to process information I’m getting back from the poses. It’s like when you try to do an inverted padmasana the first time: it’s impossible to figure out where your limbs are and where they’re supposed to be.

The best thing was backbending through a folding chair. Usually, that kind of backbend involves putting your feet through the opening in the back of the chair. This, though, was about threading my arms through the opening in the back of the chair, lining up the bottom of the thoracic area on the front edge of the chair, and then lowering my butt toward the floor. The back of the chair holds your arms down as you keep lowering. It feels quite good, except for the fact that I don’t think I like the way backbending feels. I’m not sure, of course, because I have never really paid attention to things like that. I was busy climbing and trying to force my shoulders to be muscular.

Haha! I am realizing that all the busy-ness of my life has gotten me exactly to where I am now. Will I use Ashtanga practice as another busy-ness, another blindspot-inducing habit? Or maybe I can try to be a little more sensitive? A little more connected to the moment? A little more open?

We’ll see. If I immediately devise an aggressive, regimented plan for backbend improvement, we’ll know I’m not on the right track 😉


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