Sore ass, Substances

Used to be that when I went to the movies, I’d put stuff in my bag. When in college, it was recreational drugs or alcohol; when My Gift was little, it was treats and toys to keep My Gift, and any of her friends who might be joining us, amused. Today, The Cop and I will go see “The Kingdom.” I just snuck a tennis ball past the dog, and packed it in my bag so I can sit on it during the movie. My piriformis — I guess, actually, periformi, since it’s both sides — are killing me. I am assuming this is from kapotasana.

The Sex & the Shala girls have a post about injuries and “openings” on their Ashtanga NY blog. I have heard tell that the part of second I am doing now is famous for pain and despair. I’m trying to go a little easy, but I guess it’s inevitable that there will be some rough spots. Why is it that we persist through the pain? I’m really not sure about this. I do know that any time I had sports injuries, I made it a point to go to a sports doctor, rather than a GP, because the sports doctors explain how to work around or work through injuries, whereas “regular” doctors tell you to knock off what you are doing and look at you like you are crazy (and irresponsible) if you don’t agree to follow their advice.

Luckily, The Cop is a “work through it” kind of guy, too. He’s had various injuries related to various undertakings and knows you can’t just chuck the whole project because there’s some pain. So he hears about my problems, as do my yoga buddies. Not a word, though, to “normal” people — e.g., my family, work folks, etc. It’s just too hard to explain how the advantages of continued practice outweigh any other concerns. Within reasonable limits, of course. When I tore my rotator cuff climbing, I stopped climbing and just did rehab for a few months. I mention that so you understand how reasonable I can be. 😉

***

Everyone has to knock off the drinking and drugs. That is the new rule. I keep seeing entries from people who are feeling bad about various aspects of their lives, and generally speaking, the entries include mention of substances.

Okay, I can’t make the rules. Seriously, though, it’s something to think about. Here we are, making ourselves sensitive to bodily reality (I’ll leave out spiritual reality, because then the conversation devolves into judgments about how “good” or “enlightened” someone is, and that’s not the point here). Anyhow, here we are, practicing and growing progressively more physically sensitive, and then we ingest substances. Where do we imagine that will go? What’s the purpose? Is it to blunt sensitivity? To mask the despair that can surface when you make a project of, as the monks would say, waking up? Too much chikitsa, so we want to take a few steps back?

I know the yamas are: no killing, no lying, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, and no avarice. I’ve always kind of liked them a little more than the zen rules, because avariciousness seems like a real problem, particularly in Western culture. But there’s something to be said for the zen precepts, which are the same except for one: no killing, no lying, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, and “no intoxicants taken to induce heedlessness.” I think this precept has some interesting subtlety. It makes it clear that substances are not bad in and of themselves, and it isn’t a blanket rule against them. But it does ask people to think about WHY they use intoxicants. Yeah, I know I’m lecturing, but if you are unhappy or ungrounded and you drank or took drugs yesterday (or a few minutes or hours ago), then come on, do the math.

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Returning

Wow, what a weird practice this morning at led. I felt really disconnected — my psyche was all bruised and feeling kind of burnt out (from all the distractions of work and the scary challenges of the high stakes public presentation). My breath was all haywire, too — not at all connected or regular.

I had the feeling, during standing, that my psyche was trying to get back into my body. I imagined my body as those pajamas with the feet in them, and I was trying to climb in but it wasn’t working. Then, during sitting poses, I felt exhausted and like I wanted to lie down and cry or go to sleep.

I knew I left my body any time I got stressed, but I didn’t realize how hard it was to get back in. I also didn’t realize that I also tend to leave my mind when I’m overwhelmed. Weird. What was it that was out there doing work and talking and schmoozing the board members, I wonder? A zombie of some sort?

So the “real me” (whatever I might think that is) was trying to settle back in during practice this morning.

Of course, at the end of primary, VBG launched into the first third of intermediate. “I can’t dooooo this,” I whined to myself. But I did. Finally found myself back inside myself during kapotasana. Grabbing my toes was pretty easy and totally pain free, and that, followed by urdhva dhanurasanas held for 12 breaths each, seemed to get me recalibrated.

Still feeling kind of burnt out, but nothing a relaxing weekend won’t fix. My Gift called and told me she and a friend are looking to do the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim hike. Because I’m done worrying about one thing, so I need something else to be a little concerned about, right?

If anyone out there has done that hike, let me know what you thought of it, okay? My Gift and her friend are not serious hikers, or even recreational hikers, for that matter. They’re just crazy college kids who want to try it out. I’d be really happy to hear that it’s a gorgeous hike, 100% safe, with numerous refreshment stands dotting the route, 24/7 medical personnel, and a shuttle bus that comes along every 15 minutes to pick up anyone who gets a blister.

Thanks, Ganesha.

Presentation to the board went very well this morning. Apparently the couple of years of practice have worked a little magic: the horribly overwhelming freaked-out-to-the-point-of-psychic-blindness feeling wasn’t there. A couple of times I felt my shoulders get really tight, but it was all fixable with some ujjayi and mula bandha adjustments.

Perhaps it all went so easily because I wore a little Ganesha medallion over my throat chakra? Yeah, okay, if only you knew how insane that would sound to the members of the sub-culture I was addressing today (Total Rewards professionals). They believe their sub-culture is more real and less silly than mine. I know, though, that our sub-cultures are exactly equally silly.

***

This project has taken up weeks of psychic energy. I am thrilled it’s over. I took the Moon Day, then was up late working on the presentation on Wednesday (late, as in almost 1 AM!) so missed practice on Thursday. Today I skipped practice because I had a kind of emotional equilibrium going when I woke up, and I didn’t want to chance getting sucked into my own head during practice. Sometimes it’s important not to be too internalized and reflective.

Happy to be back to my internalized, reflective, practicing self first thing tomorrow morning!

Extra Special Bitter Garcia Hormones

I’m slightly buzzed. Why? ESB. If you know about beer, I guess you know about ESB (extra special bitter). I don’t drink beer, but The Cop and I went to visit My Gift at her college in hippie town, and we visited the brewery/restaurant/coffee house where she works two nights a week.

I was cheery from being with My Gift and being in a hippie town and walking in the rain and looking in a little Asian antique store, so when the waitress (My Gift’s roommate) asked me what I wanted, I ordered an ESB. Damn! That stuff rocks! We also had this garlic appetizer that is delivered to the table in a little cast iron pan. In the pan, about an inch and a half of boiling olive oil and a bunch of delicious garlic cloves to spread on French bread toast.

Wait a minute! Seriously? I’ve never thought much about this, but My Gift is someone who can’t carry a bowl of soup from the kitchen to the livingroom without spilling a good bit of it along the way. And now I realize that the people who are putting pans of boiling oil or sizzling Mexican food or steaming pasta on my table are people just like her! Regular goofy just-barely-past-teenage-ers who will likely be surprised when the food they spill on me causes third degree burns.

Beware your server.

***

Practice was good the day after the ESB and garlic. My muscles felt really strong and I was super flexible. That said, I had a sour stomach. Oh well.

Ever since, though, I’ve had a hankering for more ESB. Which I found today at Wild Oats. I went for ylang ylang oil, but then started looking around for loose chai, since I was there, and then I spotted the beer aisle, and yes! An ESB. And not only an ESB. but an organic ESB. Not sure what difference its organic-ness makes, but it’s quite tasty. Quite like the one I had in hippie town.

***

Speaking of hippies: VBG played the Grateful Dead during practice this morning. The British Director and I were the only ones there. Sanskrit Scholar is off at a conference, or else she would have had something to say about the loud music. I was fine with it — Grateful Dead music is infectiously happy. Practice went well, as it has been of late. That’s the morning, though. In the evenings (and when I am sleeping) I am haunted by fears that I am screwing up my back. Not because I am, but because I was brought up NOT to do ANYTHING that might hurt my back. So everyone in my family doesn’t do anything that might hurt their backs (i.e., move them) and then they all end up with lower back problems. Whatever. I imagine that eventually my psyche will believe we’re okay with this yoga stuff.

***

Why was I buying ylang ylang? Because supposedly it regulates the release of adrenaline. Why am I concerned about adrenaline? Because I have a huge presentation to give for the board of directors on Friday morning. I am busily over-preparing, and even feel kind of excited to share the information I’ll be talking about, but I have had bad experiences with pre-presentation adrenaline surges. Basically, it makes me feel like my whole body is frozen and tense, and then my mind goes blank, my voice gets all crunched up in my throat, I hear myself talking to myself about how awful it all is, even as I’m speaking in my crunchy voice, and the whole thing is excruciatingly uncomfortable.

I did some research to see if there are good ways to regulate adrenaline, and it’s the usual “deep breaths, move around, etc.” kinds of suggestions. I was hoping for a pill I could take.

Anyone who has any surefire suggestions for mastering the fight or flight response, let me know. I’ve already thought about it and realize I can’t run from the room, nor can I slug someone to get past the hormonal surge.

Home and shala

I was thinking about why I like the combo of home and shala practice as I drove to the shala this morning. As a quick aside, summer is wrapping up here in the desert and the mornings are exquisitely cool and clear these days — the mountains looked black against the darkest blue sky as I pulled into the parking lot.

I’m an introvert and I hate doing stupid things in front of people, so home practice is handy if I need to fall, roll over with my arms or legs stuck in some weird contortion, or grunt “Ow! Ow! Ow!” when I give myself a cramp. I also have a mirror, on one wall, which is useful when I need to understand something. I am not a super-kinesthetically-gifted person, and sometimes I need to see what I’m doing to actually be able to do it. And sometimes it’s nice to check and see that something that feels utterly ridiculous doesn’t actually look that way. Double-edged sword, though, for sure: the mirror’s revealed some things I wish I didn’t know. 😉

Home is where I get to listen to myself complain to myself about practice as I practice, and I guess that’s a good thing to know about. Otherwise, if I didn’t hear it, I imagine it could eat into my motivation pretty severely and possibly sink the whole project. I guess there’s some similarity with blogging there: until you realize the stuff that’s going on in the semi-conscious background of your mind, you really can’t deal with it. Yeah, meditation is all about hearing that stuff. Not that that’s the point of meditation: it’s just an unavoidable reality.

This week, for home practices, I put on my shuffle and used Sharath’s CD for the primary portion. My practice was getting too sluggish, and Sharath is definitely the cure. It’s nice hearing his voice, which drowns out a lot of the thinking in my head. Uck. The more I meditate, the more I practice, the more I hear how much thinking I do. Seriously. Years ago, when I first started meditating, I really thought that all the thoughts were VERY important. And very important to act upon IMMEDIATELY. Or else I would dissolve into a puff of nothingness. Now I don’t feel compelled by the thoughts, but damn, they’re still chugging away. I blame the media. There’s just too much input. And work. I should knock that off, too.

Oh right, so back to the subject at hand: shala practice is cool because your teacher is there. At home, I have my “things I’m working on” projects. At the shala, I am at the mercy of VBG. He comes by for the traditional Dave’s Astanga Prasarita C adjustment, and the customary VBG Supta Kurmasana assist. Then, lately, it’s all me until Bhekasana and then Ustrasana. Bhekasana is a pose I love for reasons I can’t fathom. I don’t feel like I’m good at it, but I am amused by it, for some reason. And then I’m off to Ustrasana. At which point he’s been throwing in a smoosh against the wall. I’m facing the wall, right up against it, and he smooshes me even flatter with his feet (this morning I fantasized that I actually crashed through the sheetrock), and then he weights my shoulders until I remember why I love the shala and hate it. Love it because I get pushed past where I think I can go, and hate it because I get pushed past where I think I can go. And then I know I can go there, and have to behave accordingly.

The Six Day Week

Yeah, I started the ezBoard thread about whether it is a good idea to practice six days a week. It’s the Ashtanga tradition, but it’s debatable whether an exercise scientist would think it’s a good idea to work out that much. And then the Ashtangis will debate about whether practice is a work out. Sigh. Thankfully, my zen practice has enabled me to hold two opposing views simultaneously.

If I actually think about practice rationally, the story goes like this: Your practice takes about an hour and 45 minutes per day. That’s an enormous amount of time to spend on something day in and day out. Luckily, I don’t spend much time thinking about it rationally. Quite honestly, practice is so early that by the time I get myself to work, do some work, then pause and perhaps have an opportunity to think about practice, well, it all just seems like a dream. And if I think about practice at night, I’m just eager to get back to it, because enough time has passed since that pleasant dream I vaguely remember.

So why do I like a six-day-a-week practice?

  • Obsessive personality. That one is pretty self-explanatory.
  • My body needs to get cracked and “re-set” every morning or else I am all stiff and contracted.
  • My mind feels more settled after practice. And I need it, because work (and life in general) is usually kind of insane.
  • I believe that if I don’t do something pretty physically demanding every day, I will get fat. I used to actually worry about this rather a lot, and now that I practice six days a week, I don’t have to think about it anymore.
  • I’ll improve.
  • I’m gonna die some day so I might as well get in as much practicing as possible before that happens.
  • If I quit, I’m going to have to find something else to do for almost two hours every day, and probably nothing I can pick would be as good as yoga.
  • The six-day-a-week practice guarantees that I will have some really good days and some totally sucky days, and it’s important to practice equanimity in the face of both.
  • I don’t want to muck up SKPJ’s research design. I want to see what happens when you do a 6 day week out of devotion to the system. And you can define “devotion” as scientific curiosity if the usual definition seems too namby pamby…
  • It’s freaking hard. Physically. And even more difficult mentally. Because I have to give up, once and for all, the fantasy that it’s possible or necessary or even a good idea to have perfect or pleasant or always-progressing practices — and just do it anyhow.
  • Personal/Professional, Practice

    The worlds converged a bit a couple of days ago, when I found myself showing the executive team some social networking software. Ah, the fine line between personal and professional. Almost as blurry as “real” and “virtual” life. Not everyone thinks the line is fine, of course.

    The Cop said, a few weeks ago, that he doesn’t think people you meet online can count as friends. We were driving to a restaurant and he said this in reponse to my mentioning something said by a “blogging friend.”

    I was quite suprised by his opinion. And wanted to hone in a bit. “How long do you have to meet someone face-to-face in order to be friends? Can it just be if you are passing through their town and you meet at the airport for a few minutes? Do you have to sit down and have a drink and a conversation? Do you have to spend the whole day together?”

    The Cop had no specific parameters for when a contact becomes a friend, beyond the notion that there has to be an actual physical meeting. I think this is really interesting. People are having to come to terms with these sorts of questions now — questions humans never had to think about before.

    Of course, The Cop deals with people online very much like contacts: he frequents discussion boards about overhauling trucks and practicing martial arts. When I’m online, I talk to people who are on a similar (to one degree or another) spiritual path. Even the biggest Ashtanga rebel still posits some relationship to a very specific and esoteric (and in America, just plain crazy exotic) spiritual system (even if it’s a contrarian position). If I were talking to folks who overhaul Jeeps, well, I imagine the audience would be much more heterogenous. Perhaps more difficult to find like-minded individuals.

    All that aside, though, there’s something about The Cop’s way of dealing with people, and my way of dealing with people, that puts us in different relationship to our web contacts/friends. I’m always curious about what people believe and feel. The Cop, he’s interested in the information people can share.

    Okay, so I was showing some social networking software at work, specifically, my profile on this system, and my profile included this blog. I felt VERY disinclined to click on the link and show my blog to the powers that be. Particularly since the title of the most recent post was “Pricks.”

    So I’ve started a buffer blog. A more-professional blog. That way, we can move into the miasma that is personal/professional blogging a little more gently.

    Fascinatingly, one of the directors asked me, after the meeting, why anyone would want to include their blog address on a professional site. “What is the relevance?” she asked.

    I am astonished by that question, and astonished that there’s never been a reason for me to think very much about why her perspective would astonish me. She is a very professional person, brought up in a family of high-end professionals. She’s probably had a professional persona since she was a child. Basically, coming at it from the opposite of the continuum from where I started (art student daughter of first generation immigrants goes to corporate).

    ***

    Practice

    Practice felt great. My sacrum is cracking in all sorts of poses, and I love when that happens. I’ve been knocking off at laghu vajrasana this week, but my real “work pose” has been ustrasana. I did a couple with my thighs up against the wall this morning. Volleyball Guy came over and used his feet to push me up against the wall more solidly, so I could relax more into the back and shoulders. This feels like a kind of intelligent work. Even though it’s one of those deals where I can honestly say I both don’t know the answer and can’t even fathom the question.