Fifty Degrees and Perfect at WoodNeck Beach…
I am thinking about writing about teaching, and how I always return to it in some way or form. I know that it’s in my veins. There’s more to think about, so in the meantime, I’m talking walks, spending sometime at the beach, doing yoga, knitting, baking cookies, taking photos, teaching yoga and knitting… and thinking about teaching. Hope you enjoy this walkdoc while I keep thinking about writing my next piece.
I have been joyfully practicing yoga for fifteen months, and am a different person because of this practice. It’s true that I no longer have back pain, can actually hold a plank for several minutes, and can do a headstand (sort of, it would be nice if I could keep my legs together, for the nuns’ sake!) I know more poses than I ever thought I could remember and can actually create a fluid sequence using them. Ah…Vinyasa Yoga…I love it!
A month ago, the studio I belong to (Innerglow at Mashpee Commons) announced a three week Intensive Teacher Training course. The class description says it leads to a deepening of one’s practice and a certification to teach yoga. When I first heard about this offering, I wondered if it might be for me. I’ve been a teacher “of something” all my life; did I want to teach yoga, too? Was I proficient or experienced enough to take this class? Did I need to get into even better shape before embarking on this adventure? Do I want to teach or just live a life with a very open, flexible schedule? So many questions, but I know I feel a driving passion to keep doing yoga.
As is often the case, I must have been ready to learn, and the teachers appeared; Sheryl Light and Michelle Itzkowitz work their magic on me and the six other yogis in our class. For the past three weeks, we have been present, working, thinking, learning, sweating, and laughing 10 to 12 hours per day. I don’t think I’ve ever used so many muscles or thought so much about the connection of breath, mind, and body. Yoga is more than poses and wearing LuluLemon pants. It’s meditation in motion and linking body and breath while clearing the mind of clutter.
In short, this intense class is one of the wisest and kindest acts I’ve done for myself in a very long time. Yes, it is a challenge physically, but also mentally. The physical exercise is only one part of the entire process. Landing on my mat and emptying my mind of chatter, to do lists, real and/or imagined worries, and the urge to find perfection is wicked hard. “Quiet your mind” says the teacher…Then like the shot at the beginning of a race, my mind starts to run…Oh, did I put the clothes in the dryer? Fish or pasta for dinner? Remember to call the vet for Blackie’s test results (he’s fine- don’t worry). Did I lock my car? When are the real estate taxes due? I am learning to listen to these mental interruptions and then release them instead of letting them lease space in my head rent-free.
One by one, I let them go and listen to what a silent mind sounds like. It’s quiet, and all I think about is my breath: inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. Move my body with my breath, not in opposition to it. Good stuff starts to flow and come together. Then I learn that the word “yoga” means “union” and it all starts to fit together.
At the end of our three-week program, I’m in awe of another “union” that has been created. There are seven of us in class and two teachers. We’ve formed a family of our own. In this short period of time, we have created “siblings by choice.” What a gift this is, and it is completely unexpected on my part. My guts tell me that these women will be good friends for life. Yesterday was our last class together—and graduation. It was bittersweet.
On the mat and off the mat, I notice the lessons learned in this class with these people. In so many ways, it is a gift that keeps on giving. I’m very grateful for it all and will be teaching my first community class on Saturday, August 30(Labor Day Weekend) at 4 PM at Innerglow Studio, Mashpee Commons. The fee is a donation that will be given to Heroes in Transition—a wonderful non-profit that aids veterans by providing appropriate assistance to those with special needs in four key areas:
Home modifications for disabled veterans
Transitional Support Group Therapy
Financial support for service families
Assistance dogs for veterans.
Everyone is welcome. Hope to see you there!
Some spring days try to fake me out into thinking it’s summer. That has happened recently. The sun shines brightly on the deck, the chairs look warmed and cozy, and there’s an ever so gentle breeze that bends the trees. It looks like it’s perfect for an afternoon with a book and a lemonade.
However, once out there, my feet are cold, I need a sweater, and I’m saying “Screw the lemonade, I need some hot black coffee.” So having donned woolen socks and sweater, grabbed a cup of steaming java, I persist in moving the chair around the deck to catch the most direct rays of the sun. Yes, I know, I’m pushing it. Jumping the shark or something like that. But I do long to bask in the sun with a good book… it will happen, just with layers for awhile.
Today a walk to the beach was truly an aerobic exercise in staying vertical against the wind. It was “refreshing”— ok- it was nippy, and I walked fast because if I stood still, I’d complain more. At WoodNeck, the windsurfers were out in full glory. Sails, black suits, full beards and huge smiles. One energized 60+ year old said the water was 50 degrees and the air was 50 degrees, so that makes it 100. I bitched about nothing after that.
It’s true that the daffodils have bloomed and the azaleas and forsythia are full color. Periwinkle and all types of short wild flowers have started to open. Spring is really happening, just a little late and a little slower than usual.
I’ve also noticed that I’ve got a couple of “anniversaries” that are happening right about this time. I’m marking the beginning of my fourth year of retirement from teaching at Bentley University. This is the first year that I was completely unaware of semesters, final exams and last day of classes. I’m having a blast doing exactly what I want, when I want to. The freedom is exhilarating and my list of “want to do’s” grows each day—in a good way. I’ve had the opportunity to read from my stacks of collected books as well as raid the library for some unexpected delights. I love the lack of curriculum and the full range of opportunities.
On a similar note, I’m celebrating my second blogiversary of http://www.yarnsista.com. Two years of writing generated 99 posts, almost 6000 views and a tremendous amount of fun and satisfaction for me. It’s a place where I can write about my passions: the Cape, my life, my books, my fun with fiber and anything else that captures my attention. Taking photographs has been a new skill to work on. The iPhone camera is a blessing. It makes learning by trial and error plus lots of practice very attainable.
I also just celebrated my first year of doing yoga. Now that is a very big deal. With the help of many compassionate, wise teachers, I have begun my practice and continue to expand it. My back no longer hurts me; I can move without aches and pain; I’ve lost weight and am much healthier than ever. All of this is exceptionally good news because I’m about half way to 122 years old, and I’d like to be flexible and balanced right up to the last breath. Three yoga classes and one Pilates class per week should help me get there.
So all of this spring/rebirth/new growth stuff is working. I have no complaints and am looking forward to it all. Life is good.
This morning we got up early and took a walk to the beach. There never has to be a “purpose” for such a walk, but listening to the early morning bird songs was our hope. I have no idea what types of birds were singing, tweeting and/or squawking, but I took them all in.
I’ll never learn their genus,species, or be able to identify individual birds, and I don’t care. I’m not much into labels, but I love the bird music!
There’s something about the sounds birds make in the Spring that sets the pace for all the other changes that evolve. I remember some of the sounds, others seem new; maybe my ears hear things differently. It is like a breath of fresh air that pushes winter aside and ushers in green sprouts.
It was just a pleasant, gentle walk down the beach. I collected shells and collected my thoughts.
Many of you who know me are aware of that fact that, until a year or so ago, my favorite form of exercise was lifting my fork from the plate to my mouth. Ok, maybe not that bad… maybe it was aerobically turning the pages of a good book….Or speed/power knitting. Then I discovered yoga and would now be lost without it. It centers me; my back doesn’t hurt, and I’ve lost my fear of falling over. Yoga has made an impact both on and off the mat.
Then, quite by mistake, a week ago, I arrived at the yoga studio for a 9 AM Vinyasa class. Something was quite different. The mats were going the “wrong” way. There were strange flexible rings in the front of the room and pile of elastic exercise bands that brought back memories of physical therapy and a demanding personal trainer. There was no “yoga” music in the background and many of the people in the class had real muscles.
My regular yoga teacher, Michelle, quietly told me that this was a Pilates class—the first one offered. I clearly didn’t check the latest schedule. So I looked her in the eye and said…“Well, can I do this Pilates stuff?” Without pause, she replied, “Of course, get in there.” So I did.
Learning something completely new and physically demanding at the ripe, young age of 61 might have scared me off. But it didn’t. I told the instructor, Monica, this was my first Pilates class ever… she was encouraging and her cues were crystal clear. I could follow her directions and make this Pilates thing work. The stretches we did were different than warm ups in yoga. Each move was more intense, took me out of my comfort zone and had to be repeated multiple times. I stopped worrying if I could do it, and just followed the teacher. Before I knew it, I was pulsing mini sit-ups without fears or tears.
Was it fun—no, not really! It was challenging, and I could feel that I was working my body in a different way than in my yoga practice or when taking long walks. I had to overcome the awkwardness of not really knowing what I was doing—and learn something new. It meant giving up the pretense of control and taking baby steps into the unknown. At the end of class, I was thrilled and amazed that “I did it!” I fully expected to hurt and have multiple Charlie-horses simultaneously—so I took an hour long soak in a hot Epson salt bath—and David did bring me a small (ok, medium) glass of brandy while I sat and soaked until my finger tips looked like white prunes. It was heavenly! I laid back and realized that I walked into a Pilates class unexpectedly and didn’t run away… instead I was looking forward to next Friday’s class.
How could this happen: One self-care action follows another and another and another. An entourage of wise, compassionate, skilled yoga teachers (Thank you and hugs to Kirsten, Megan, Michelle and Sandy McA) move me forward on and off the mat. They teach me yoga and so much more. I meditate and quiet my overactive mind. Most importantly, I delete toxic people and excessive commitments from my life. This all opens up room for new opportunities and new growth. I remember years ago, Danny Rothenberg told me that I ought to consider leaving more open space in my life. He made the comparison to Chinese checkers. “You need some open spots in order to jump ahead. You have too many marbles on the board.” It has taken me years to follow up on his advice.
So the benefits of life with “fewer marbles on the board” are numerous. Yes, I’m a regular Pilates and yoga student now, and I’m in much better shape than I was a year ago. I have learned the value of subtracting obstacles from my life in order to add more of the good stuff. It does come back to simplicity and having a “short list” of what is important. My hubby, David, has been talking about the value of a “short list” forever. I’m getting there.
On any given Monday and Thursday at 10:15 AM you’ll find me on a mat, soaked in sweat, head to toe in a room that’s at least 90 degrees. Every muscle in this 61 year old body has been worked hard, and I couldn’t be more pleased. I am a yoga mama—who would have thought????
Six months ago I had my annual physical and asked my doctor what I had to do to get rid of chronic back pain and lots of little aches that seemed to be occurring too frequently.
With a straight face, he asked me if I had tried yoga. I laughed out loud—do I look like I can do yoga? I can’t sit still and am unable to tie myself into a pretzel. He has been my doctor for more than twenty years and knows me well. He said to try it—it’s good for a lot of “stuff” but make sure you find a teacher you like.
I left his office thinking he was crazy. Later that week, I told my knitting group about his advice. To my surprise, many knitters (all shapes, sizes, and ages) around the room did practice yoga and had recommendations. I began to rethink this yoga idea; my back ached while I was cogitating.
A week later I arranged for a few private lessons with the most highly recommended teacher, Kirsten. Learning some of the basics at home where I could fall over, get stuck and be completely confused was a smart move. Kirsten was compassionate AND smart. She knew her yoga and successfully convinced me that I could do it. After the first session, my back felt better, but more importantly I realized that I could actually do this and like it.
Yoga brought new words and new perspectives into focus: breath, paying attention to my body, alignment, gaze, flow, eliminating distractions. All had relevance both on and off the mat. Every class I’m able to do something that I was unable to do the previous class. There are times when I see my shadow on the studio floor and, in amazement say “That’s me!” I don’t mean that in an egotistical way—but it really is quite a surprise for me to see myself flowing from one pose to another while breathing and working hard.
When Kirsten had an accident and took a leave of absence, I jumped right into the next class with a new teacher, Megan. Yes, I was a little nervous. The new class was more rigorous, and it was a heated classroom. Would I like her? Would it be too hard? Would I cry? The answer is all good news. Megan pushes me beyond my comfort zone in a similar way that I pushed my students to write and think critically beyond their usual limits.
No, I’m not doing handstands yet, but every class I make progress and continue to work on my daily practice, incorporating the new poses learned in class. Making the quiet time to do this for myself has been a real gift. I do owe a great deal of thanks, not only to Dr. Tracy who first put the bug in my ear, but also to both Kirsten and Megan… and also to my daughters who both practice yoga and offered encouragement and strength through this whole process.
I like what yoga does for me. It’s centering, quieting, and peaceful. It also strengthens what needs to be stronger and relaxes what is tied in knots. So it is with great joy that I include yoga in my life and can’t imagine living without it.