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Entries in breathing (2)


Samadhi, or Something Like It

I woke with the persistent tightness in my hip and shoulder strangling the right side of my body and giving the distinct impression that I am crowded in my own skin.  That, plus having been unable to zip the dress I thought I would wear to the wedding this weekend made me susceptible to the idea of yoga.  

The online schedule said there was a morning beginner class at the McYoga studio that took over the neighborhood Ashtanga spot in the years since I became a lapsed yogini.  I almost turned back at the sight of the sheer number of people in the studio, but I had already paid my 19 (19!) dollars so I joined the swarm of Prana models and set my mat on a postage stamp of real estate next to the door, mercifully cracked to the cool, damp morning.

The last time I was in this room, years ago, Will had just broken up with me and I was determined to ujjayi my way back to equilibrium.  There was an adorable instructor that day with whom I promptly started inventing a life, until he announced that this would be his last class because he was leaving to travel in South America.  I cried in Camel Pose.

I want to cry this morning for the middle age that has settled on me in the years since then.  The beautiful, perky instructor, Ally (of course), introduces herself along with the book she is reading this week, Yoga Bitch, which she announces is hilarious and kind of like a cross between Yoga and Chelsea Handler and I think oh please and consider leaving, but the $19 keeps me pinned to my mat.

When I was 19 an astrologer told me I am the kind of person who would find yoga very useful, though he was quick to specify that he didn't mean yoga per se, but the kind of disciplined practice that is its hallmark. Discipline was not a familiar concept at the time, but I suppose it is true that since then I have undertaken various practices that have helped ground me and move me forward.  He also told me that the hardest part of my life was already behind me, which is to say that this particular yoga class 20 years later must not have been in my horoscope.

I lurch and sweat and grunt my way through the sun salutations with evil, unyogic thoughts running through my head.  Inhale. Right foot forward. Come up to Warrior I. 

I am pretty sure I want to kill myself.

Exhale.  Open up to Warrior II.  Hold this here.  Remember it's a practice, not perfection.

Scratch that.  I want to kill Ally.

We move into Runner's Lunge which is half the reason I'm here, the breathing into the space in the hip, and having a beautiful, perky sadist to make sure I keep the stretch for at least seven times as long as I would at home.

A friend of mine told me I should consider having a photography portfolio review and a week later, out of the blue, I was invited to one.  I gathered 20 images, sucked up something resembling courage, and joined the group.  

Your work has a very, um, commercial feeling, the director said.  

Is that an insult? I asked.  

No, but do you mind if I ask what you do for a living?

I thought, oh god, really? but I told him and he nodded knowingly and said well of course.  

I wanted to explain that I'm trying to do something more real here, but I didn't, and was surprised to note the next morning that I did not die from the shame of being unloved. 

Somehow I make it through to Pigeon pose, my eyes closed, my forehead resting on my yoga mat, all my weight concentrated on stretching the offending glute.   I feel Ally's hands gently on me, pulling my back leg into the perfect alignment to deepen the stretch.  A wave of fondness and gratitude washes over me, for the correction, for noticing that's the one I needed above all else.  There will be no murder or suicide in yoga today, just the slow release of my personal yoga bitch in a sweaty exhalation.


What I Learned From Sitting Around

In December I was increasingly frantic and disconnected from any sense of well-being when a friend challenged me to meditate.  30 minutes for 30 days.  I was sort of desperate for any way to stem the feeling of walls closing in around me so I took her up on it.  I wrote here about the immediate experience I had of holding space for myself in a life that often feels like it's about doing my duty towards my child, my marriage, my family, and my job first. 

It's been about 45 days now and the strangling claustrophobia has largely lifted.  I'm not sure if this is due entirely to the practice of sitting in the mornings, but I think it's a positive element in a regime of self-care I'm trying to faithfully implement.  Some things I've noticed:

  • I'm not really good at meditation, at least what I imagine capital-M Meditation is like.  In a single sit I consider it a win if I have a couple of breaths where my mind is focused only on that moment.
  • My mind is like an unruly toddler, constantly flitting from one trivial thing to the next.  I don't tend to notice that in my daily life so much, since I'm constantly being bombarded by stimuli and expected to get things done.  But when I'm sitting silently in the dark, the speed with which my mind alights from one thing to the next is staggering.  I write whole blog posts in a single exhale.  And forget them on the inhale while I imagine something else.  It can be exhausting.  And sometimes, when I'm in the mood to judge myself, disheartening.
  • The Present must be just awful.  I mean I know with certainty, now that I've tried for a month-and-a-half to be in it, that it's not really awful.  But somehow my mind (all our minds, I think) does not want to be there.  Wants to avoid it like the plague.  I wonder what that's about.
  • Breathing is hard.  Maybe it's because I fell off the yoga-wagon shortly after Ezra was born, and so haven't had any kind of pranayama practice in three years, but damn if I can sustain any kind of deep, intentional breathing.  Even after 6 weeks.  
  • Thirty minutes is a long time.  Well, not really.  But it is when you need to do it - and your morning pages and your run - before your child wakes up.  I did 30 minutes every morning for the first 30 days, but in an effort to make the practice sustainable and in a belief that even a little bit of meditation is better than none, I've scaled it back to 15 minutes every morning.
  • Even if I'm doing it wrong, it's the right thing to do.  Mostly I just give myself permission to be a bad meditator.  Some mornings I beat myself up about it, and then I try to remind myself that it's okay if I'm not really in whatever peaceful state I imagine meditation is supposed to bring.  In a life chock full of somuchtodorightnowrightnowrightnownomakethatyesterday I am pretty sure there's medicine in forcing myself to sit alone and do nothing for a few minutes, while the sun comes up.