Practice, from piano to yoga: what’s it mean?

Aum symbol in red

Aum symbol in red (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I’ve recently begun reading Kara-Leah Grant’s The Yoga Lunchbox, a self-directing guide for committing to your own yoga practice. I’ve only just begun, but can say that hers is an enjoyable voice, self-disclosing and up front. The book isn’t a how-to for yoga per se, but rather a worksheeted, stop-and-think, dig in your heart kind of affair, in which she assumes you’ve been to yoga classes and know what DownDog is, but want to go deeper and make it personal. She also acknowledges the familiar struggles when coming to the mat and offers her book as a tutorial for successfully navigating them and getting your feet under you, or over you, as the case may be.

 

I love reading how other yogis guide themselves through their inner thickets, and I’m constantly reflecting on the question of  “What is a practice?” You might say it’s my own personal koan.

 

My first experiences with practice were piano, tap, jazz dance and ballet – and, yes, as I recall, all at once. I think the doctors had suggested I always be involved in dance of some kind after they were finished with my little but growing legs. The piano was a prelude to guitar, and my memories of it are tactile: the finish on the piano my mother

 

English: A split leap performed during an acro...

This was NOT me. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

bought for my practice, the pleasantly solitary “tock!” of the metronome, and the less pleasant buzz of a kitchen timer. I remember a great deal of discomfort with the dance classes: I didn’t care for the stretchy leotards and no one would ever guess my name was “Grace,” if you know what I mean. Looking back, though, the classes probably provided connection and strength that allowed me to forget for so long that my legs weren’t always so workable.

 

 

So I know a little from useful discipline. And I wonder how yoga practice differs from any of these other types of practice, for someone who feels completely at home doing them. Isn’t practice just practice, after all? Isn’t it really a way of meeting yourself over and over and over again in the same place so you can befriend yourself and study yourself in your natural habitat?

Is there a difference, for instance between yoga and meditation practice, beyond the lack of gross movement in the one and the focus in the other? Does yoga also contain meditation practice with the stillness at the end, or does it become the other when you sit up after corpse pose? Or is the common denominator of “practice” what really matters?

And if the rhythm of meeting yourself in circumstances that you control on  a regular basis for the purpose of observing, befriending and perhaps refining yourself is what really matters, is reading practice any different from yoga practice? Or language practice? Or dance? Or shooting?

I think there is a difference in the type of container you’re creating. That’s my hunch anyway. But I’m also certain that having some practice is better than none. And as I work on my own book about yoga, I’m reminded of the dictum that the map is not the territory. If reading a book about having a yoga practice is a practice that gets you to practice yoga, do you already have to be committed to the idea of practice to finish the book? In which case, why don’t we all just meet on the mat?

I suppose one reason is that we can do both, and there’s joy in reading about you love. Writing about it, too. Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

Kapala-mula-bhati in the morning: breath + posture = happiness

Bhati

Bhati (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Or should that be “Kapala-mala-bhati”? You see, this morning I lingered over coffee with my Darling Hubs longer than I’d planned and so ended up with 20 minutes or so for practice. What’s a girl to do???

 

 

This is the week of the mad scientist for me, evidently  so I decided the solution would be to combine. I usually begin seated Japanese style with breath observation and then mix in some technique, moving slowly to sacral pumps and up to full Sun Salutations through Malasan (Squat pose).

So I started in Malasan and moved quickly to Kapalabhati, one of my winter morning go-tos because it is warming and creates wakefulness. It was strange at first: the pelvic floor is stretched in Malasan and the transverse abdominus is released. Generally they work in concert during Skull shining breath, and this position privileges the transverse abdominus and restricts the interlocking muscles of the pelvic floor.

It took a few rounds to get the feel of it, but I liked the added stabilization of the torso created by my elbows pushing the insides of my shins and visa versa and it created a different level of connection to the structure of the pelvis. Kapalabhati in this position took more effort and my usual 3 rounds of 100 wasn’t as breezy as usual, but still steady. I think what I like the most is that it helps discriminate between perception of sensation in the pelvic floor and low belly.

Paired with Mula-lifts at the end of practice, this made for an excellent exploration of pelvic sensation and motion. “Mula-lifts” are what I call a version of leg lifts that I learned from Ally Hamilton of Yogis Anonymous (my current fave online source). Instead of lifting the entire sacrum off the ground and contracting the front of your belly, as you would in most fitness leg lifts, you’re really going for a very small – maybe 2 inch – lift of the tailbone from the floor, with the toes pointed straight up to the ceiling and your belly pressing down toward the floor. The focus is specifically on the pelvic floor and not the abdominals.

What do you do when you realize you have limited time for practice? Are you a combiner or a simplifier? Or are you tempted to do what I almost did: “Oh, I only have 20 minutes, better just leave it til later…” I’m so glad I didn’t! Just remember to get your Savasana in. That’s the best part!

 

 

Changing practice

Combat boots are very popular for women to wea...

Mine zip up the sides so I can keep ’em tied. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I write this, I’m sitting on my balance ball in my yoga room/office next to my hula hoop in BDUs, combat boots and a yoga top. There’s a pair of trauma shears in my pocket and a carpuject device, all just in case I’m called in, and a blue tooth in my ear to take that call if it comes. Right now, I’m writing. If I’m called in, I’ll be medic-ing. I’ve come to think of all my identities as verbs so they don’t feel so heavy.

I’ve also begun the process of negotiating those identities. Being a Paramedic was once a dream so intense it burned the grad student right out of me. No longer a dream, Paramedic-ing is one of my awesome realities, all of which inspire in me gape-mouthed breathless devotion at my good fortune and the amazing opportunities put in my path. And the larger reality is this: for the first time in my life I have more awesome than I can do justice to.

I used to work hard to quit stuff because it sucked – cigarettes, coffee (I’ve stopped stopping that), snarkiness (always a struggle, cause it’s just so fun), late nights, drinking too much, that kind of stuff. And in the process I learned that working hard against things usually keeps them in my life (does it work that way for you, too?) That it was a matter of choosing away from them, not against them that helped them fade into the fuzziness and golden light of good stories. The difference is to choose something awesomer than you think the old thing will feel if you do it right now, just one more time, because it looks so shiny and sexy and real.

Now I find that I have so many amazing choices for how to spend my days that I constantly feel like “not enough.”  I’d tell you I don’t understand people who complain of boredom, but really that’s just another way of bragging about busy-ness <yawn> and I’m choosing away from busy-ness. I am too busy, but I’m not going to tell you about it when I call to ask you to do something for me – because I know you probably are, too. Or remember having been, and know it’s a choice. Anddo understand boredom. It’s the feeling I get when I don’t want to do what’s in front of me (Is it that way for you, as well?). And I also understand choices.

So I’ve realized that for the past several years I’ve been choosing away from Paramedicine, but not because it sucks, but because there is so much to do, to tell, to love and to give. I love what I do when I go out in uniform and go places with my partner that someone in a room somewhere else tells us to go just because some other person called and asked for help. I love walking into a 26A that turns out to be 10D (fill “ho-hum” in the first slot and “do something now” in the latter), I love listening to people’s stories about why they need help, and I love finding the kernel of what I can actually help with in their story. I love sirens (when I’m working, not when I’m not) and opposing traffic and getting a nasal tube and chest darts and trans-cutaneous pacing and chasing your life faster than overlapping pathologies can. I love a good trauma because it lets me and people I work and train with do what we train to do, and when we’re good all at once, it’s most certain access to flow, to presence and to grace.

But (you knew there was one, right?) I’m realizing how much I love the life that I’ve woken up to realize I’ve  created: one of writing and coaching and teaching that creates quiet and flow and grace without sirens and chasing lives. And last year, while we lived in Silicon Valley for the hubs’ career and I took a break, I realized the UN-think-able: I can live without them. Yeah, I’ll just let that settle in, ’cause it took a while for me, too. I. Can. Live. … Without sirens and do-it-now.

CRazY. “Crazy!” I tell you! And here I have been, trying to craft a calendar, a schedule, a mind, a life that let’s me encompass the whole big, badass mess of my identities and activities. Tuesday will be my day on the streets; Mondays I’ll tend to accounts and licenses and the paperwork of business; Wednesdays I’ll work on the book and the launch; Thursdays and Fridays I’ll write for other awesome people because they treat me awesome and give me lovely things to do. Oh, and pay me pretty nicely. I’ll be sure to take weekends off to re-charge the ol’ creative battery and tend to that crazily amazing hubs and our groove, and to practice yoga and meditation every day (I’ll just slip it in between the this and the that), hike a lot (gotta enjoy the new hip) and enjoy the hot springs I longed for like a 13-year-old boy longs for real experience all last year when we were in Hippy Disneyland.

And Danielle LaPorte is right: Balance doesn’t exist. I wasn’t balanced when I was learning to be a Paramedic and holding onto it isn’t balancing me – it’s tipping me right over. Of all the -ings I’m embracing, it contributes the least to the life I’m creating. One of these things no longer fits with the other things. Not because other people don’t see how elegantly they go together (they did for oh-so-long), but because the life that feeds the -ings is no longer aligned with everything it takes to do that thing: the continuing education, the getting into and out of uniform (Hint: it’s more than putting on and taking off clothes), the never knowing when a shift will really end or how many nights I’ll dream of that man, that woman, the old couple saying goodbye, or the baby not crying when he should be. [I once knew a medic who said he didn’t do that (remember, get moved by). He wasn’t a very good person.]

So this morning I rose extra early to get my practice in before I went on call, just in case. Today’s my last day on duty, on call, on the hook, in the bus, my last day “just in case.” From now on, my life is not “just in case.” My life is for the burning fire of creativity and words and serving in another, a different, a new way. I’m choosing away from “just in case” and toward definitely here. I’m choosing away from “fitting it in” toward placing it carefully. I’m letting something awesome go so I can grab the awesome right in front of me with both arms. My practice is changing. I’ll tell you how it goes.