Play it forward

Special visitor at practice this morning. The Cop. It’s been a while.

He did quite well. Hung in through all of primary. I just put him on a mat to my left, then set off, making sure to breathe loudly enough that he could hear what was going on. It’s so interesting to practice with someone relatively new to Ashtanga. “Wow, this is really complicated!” I found myself thinking. It’d be easy to overwhelm him with details. So I didn’t say anything.

I don’t want to over-communicate, but I also don’t want to be negligent. This is a question in all situations, really. An ongoing one at work. Some people download all kinds of information at the drop of a hat — it can be very difficult to stay engaged with what they’re up to, because every interaction promises to be exhausting.

Anyhow, at the end of practice, The Cop pronounced it all “challenging.” A high compliment from him. He has high pain tolerance and enjoys a challenge. I asked him if I needed to say more, and he thought not. I’m not sure if he’s saying that in the interest of not disturbing my personal practice. Then I asked if his goal was a workout. Yes. Okay, that makes it easier. Mentioned to The Cop that the lift-ups (for jumpbacks, say, or urdhva dhanurasana) are inhales. “Not like weight lifting?” he asked. Nope. I had trouble with that at the beginning, too. With weight lifting, when you exert, you exhale. So all yoga lift-ups would be exhales, following weight lifting-logic.

His shoulders are like mine in urdhva dhanurasana, of course. We have similar sports backgrounds. He said he was mostly feeling it in his lower back (makes sense since the bend is not shifting into his upper back/shoulders). I mentioned the set-up for heavy squats, how you stabilize the sacrum and create some intra-abdominal pressure between the hip bones. Same thing to stabilize the lower back in backbends. “I don’t know how to do that from lying down like this!” he said. Yeah, I know — I totally remember. Weight lifting creates a very specific relationship of core to ground and limbs to core. Everything traveling on straight, squared-up planes — for reps. Yoga totally revises the internal gyroscope. Slow going if you’re coming from the weight room.

And then there is my secret thought that anyone whose karma brings them to Ashtanga is there for more than a workout. If that isn’t true, fine. But I can’t help thinking it…

Speaking of karma, I had an interesting conversation with one of the directors yesterday in the ladies room. She wanted to tell me that she is starting her fifth attempt at establishing a yoga practice. I didn’t even know she knew I practice yoga. It was fascinating that she wanted to share her frustration. Announced, “I am not flexible.” What a remarkable statement that is, much more revealing and multi-dimensional than people realize. I mentioned to her that it can be helpful to think of flexibility and strength as a continuum, with individuals often more to one side than another, and that yoga helps balance people more toward the center. Told her she might revise her thinking — less about feeling she’s missing something (flexibility) and more that she may be over-relying on the other end of the continuum. Seemed to resonate with her.

And a little more on karma. Had a note from the abbot of the zendo. His last sentence: “I hope your yoga studies are going well.” Such a kind man. He’s the person who suggested yoga when I kept asking questions about physical details of sitting practice. Said yoga was the place to bring all of my questions. Good teacher, eh? Sent me to something/someone else and still wants to help in any way he can. Doesn’t feel like students belong to him. That’s the zen tradition, though — teachers didn’t try to “keep” students or manipulate them. Anyhow, lovely to have his warm wishes re: my practice. He spent some years practicing with Muktananda.

And sitting at the end of practice this morning with The Cop, I feel how good the posture feels. The Abbot was right.


6 Responses

  1. what a beautiful post! so nice to be able to share the yoga with The Cop. and who knows, just because the intitial desire for excersize motivates him, who is to say it won’t devevlop into something else.

  2. hi there!

    I first came to yoga for exercise (upper arm strength to be exact, hated the weights at the gym) and it absolutely developed into something else.

    I like your blog! : )

  3. Oh, this is all very beautiful.

    The Editor’s half-primary practice rocks my world. He HAS to pay a certain kind of attention because it is all very difficult and there are pieces that still do not make sense. Like for the Cop, the vinyasa isn’t intuitive. For some reason, though, he figured out from the very beginning that it’s nothing more than a breath practice (maybe I told him that and he actually believed me). At first I was, like you, setting the breath for him… but now it’s his breath keeping me honest.

  4. Such a beautiful post… easy going and fluid like a poem. But firm and serious, and just for me a little dry, but, but… most of all: very educational.

    over-communicate vs negligence? .. yup, no beginning and no end, so where is the middle 🙂 Thanks for an enjoyable time reading you…

    oVo … hi, I’ve seen your comment on Mr. Cody s’ blog.. long time ago… well,… how to say… you know… I am a little… shy 🙂

  5. You know my true feelings, Zee. I am for real. And I know you are too.

    I’ll meet you in the field out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, etc.

  6. Hi Karen
    How great that the Cop joined you in practice! How nice of your abbot to direct you to yoga and to feel the way he does about his students. The other day the teacher that gave the dharma talk at our Sunday group was a former dancer. She has the body of a yogini and an incredible grace and energy. I would like her to be my Zen teacher, since she’s a Zen priest. I’m working on finding out how to do that. She now is living independently of the Zen Center, having lived there over 18 years. I can’t tell you how this person embodies the combination of a yoga spirit in a Zen teacher. You just want to run after her. Well, come to think of it, my teacher SPL also embodies that. But that is why I liked this priest.

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