The Approximate Yogi

Conquering life one breath at a time


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My Evolving Practice

As those of you who are regular readers have probably noticed, I’ve been a less frequent blogger over this past year and I’d like to try to explain why. After my knee surgery, I stopped doing yoga as I recovered. This was unexpected, as I often like to tell people that anyone can do yoga, no matter what the physical (or mental/emotional) limitations are. I still believe this to be true, but I now also see that it is a bit more complicated than that.

While my body weaned off pain medications (not a very long process), and then my physical body, along with the other 9 bodies, slowly recovered (a much longer process than I ever realized), I found that my yoga practice just did not fit into the current space my life was in. This did slowly change as I started to add a few poses to my day. But I still found that Kundalini yoga was still not a style I was interested in accessing.

After knee surgery, which may or may not be related, I began to process some emotions, and began a journey into my emotional state, through therapy that was intense and exhausting. While I still think Kundalini yoga can be a wonderful tool to process through emotions, for some reason it was not right for me at the time. I really needed a gentle approach to life. I continued a sporadic and almost luxurious hatha practice, in which I indulged my body in doing only the poses that felt right for it, without pushing myself. My knee was still healing, so many of the vigorous Kundalini poses, as well as many hatha poses still did not feel right, or I was incapable of doing them. I swan dove into sun salutations, and my practice mainly revolved around that, and the occasional silent meditation when I could muster it, for a long time.

I continued to take a break from teaching, because, since I am only certified in Kundalini, I felt I wasn’t qualified to teach the yoga I was practicing, and couldn’t honestly teach a yoga that I was not practicing.

This past month I decided to give Kundalini a try again. It was no coincidence that emotionally and spiritually I had finally come out of a place of turmoil and was now feeling strong again. I felt that I now had the space (and courage) in my life to begin to dabble back into Kundalini. I’ve been trying a few of my favorite kriyas, which are different for me now, with my new knee and less in-shape body, but also feel good in a new way. I have been especially drawn to the heart opening kriyas. I feel that New Lungs and Circulation is going to be an important one for me in the coming year. This vigorous (but not impossible) kriya works on opening the heart chakra, cleansing the lungs, and freeing up emotions, which seems to fit well with the space I’m in now.

letting go of shouldMy practice is a lot less rigid than it was before. I am only doing Kundalini probably every other morning, or less, and still indulge in those feel-good hatha sessions with some silent meditation on many mornings. Some mornings I don’t do yoga at all, but instead go for a run or a swim, or read or write.

This rhythm of practicing less yoga isn’t new, what is new (at least since I’d gotten more serious about my practice,post-yoga teacher training) is that I let my body dictate where my practice will take me. I listen to how I’m feeling that day, rather than to my mind telling me how I should be practicing. I do not feel guilt for not practicing enough, or not practicing in a specific way, or style, or certain routine.

This holds true for other aspects of my life as well. In other aspects of my life I feel like I am finally saying yes to what my heart and soul want to do, and no to how I think I should behave. It makes sense that my yoga practice is following suit.

In the coming months I will be taking an exciting new journey* that has nothing to do with yoga, but I’m sure that yoga will be a part of it. I have definitely learned through this last year (as I have discovered in other periods of my life as well) that yoga is always there for me. Even if I’m not physically practicing, I am still living the lessons I’ve learned on the mat, and my physical practice is always there quietly waiting for me, just as my mat quietly waits in its corner to be unfurled.

Yoga is not a part of who I am. It is a thing that I do. I think that is something I let go of this year. I had a lot wrapped up in the idea of myself as a yoga practitioner, yogi, yoga teacher. But yoga is not really a part of one’s identity. When I was able to drop that, I was able to drop the “shoulds” I had begun to insert into my practice and, with them, the guilt I felt if I wasn’t living up to what I thought I should be as a yoga practitioner or teacher.

Yoga is a tool that I use to support me in my soul’s journey through this life. I am not yoga. There is no practice I should be doing. There is only what I need to be doing.

As always,

In light and love,

Catie

*My husband and I have decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail this summer, and continue on living in the Pacific Northwest upon finishing and see where it takes us!

DSCN2789 DSCN2824 Because I promised some wedding pictures too long ago, and because today is our six month anniversary!

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Shaking the Snow Globe of My Mind

This morning was one of those rare blow-your-mind yoga practices for me –where mind-body-soul is given a complete release. These always sneak up on me unexpectedly. It had been a long while since I’d had a Sadhana like that, and I feel quite blessed by the experience.

Some back story: The saga of my knee injury continues… I found out about a month ago now that I have a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and a sprained medial collateral ligament (MCL) in my right knee. I have been getting physical therapy twice a week, with twice daily home exercises that take me almost precisely 40 minutes each time to complete. The MCL is finally healing quite nicely, and in the last week I have been able to walk with an almost-normal stride, sit comfortably for a modest amount of time with my leg bent at 90 degrees, and driving has stopped becoming a delicate and tender issue. I’ve also gotten a lot of energy back that I wasn’t even that aware I’d lost as I spent time healing. In a few weeks I will get surgery to repair the ACL.

That was a long back story, but my point is, my life has really quite dramatically changed in ways I’m still discovering and just now beginning to accept. For one, my yoga on most work mornings has been replaced by the PT exercises, interspersed with a few stretches here and there and maybe a quick meditation while I ice my knee. Many of my favorite yoga poses are not available to me right now, as they require bending of both knees. I haven’t done a full kriya in quite some time. I’m learning to accept and adjust to this, some days better than others.

This Saturday morning I had done my PT exercises, and wasn’t feeling particularly inspired to do much else. But as I casually browsed through this month’s issue of Yoga Journal while I iced, I felt inspired to attempt some poses that I was curious if this week’s new mobility may allow me to do now.

I slowly re-engaged with some of the simplest hatha poses, and found my way through my own very modified Vinyasa. My body moved much slower and more carefully as I gently tested the limits of my right knee. Slowing things down brought a new awareness … No, actually, practicing these poses brought an awareness to the new way my body is working. I noticed the strength and stretch of my upper body in downward dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), a part I tend to ignore in favor of enjoying the stretch of lower back and legs. I experienced the need for modified poses, and inch-worming into them. The joy I felt just getting my leg barely into a warrior pose (Virabhadrasana II) as my toes hugged the mat. I felt my right leg working so hard just to hang on, and felt a tender almost pride toward it –“Way to go little leg, you’ve been working hard, and look what you can do now!” I felt the beauty in simple mountain pose (Tadasana).

Kermit in plank (photo credit: Google Images)

Kermit in plank (photo credit: Google Images)

Then after gingerly lowering myself into plank, I lost it –out of nowhere a burst of tears. Initially they were tears of sheer gratitude at being able to do these poses my body had been deprived of for the last month and a half. Then as the sobs continued I realized I was mourning my injury, mourning everything I haven’t been able to do, everything I won’t be able to do for quite a bit longer, just mourning the whole situation. And this wasn’t a pity party –this was my body releasing emotions I hadn’t let myself process. Getting it all out in the healthiest way possible –on my yoga mat.

Then a teary attempt at my favorite tree pose (Vrksasana), with my right leg as the very shaky trunk, my left toes still clinging to the floor, left heel barely off the mat resting gently on my right ankle. This is my work right now, this is my attempt at discovering a new balance.

I then sank into Savasana, with the mantra “This too shall pass” running through my mind. And it will. I feel a deep gratitude at the knowledge that these bodily and mental struggles my knee has caused me are temporary, and that eventually I will be doing every pose I had done before, every movement I had done before. And in the mean time, try to surrender to this healing process.

Meditation

I ended with the guided meditation in this month’s Yoga Journal, by international (and favorite of mine) meditation teacher and author, Sally Kempton, titled “Check Your Head.” The meditation is quite simple, and simply beautiful. The gist of the meditation is inhaling “I am.” Kempton writes, “Then with the exhalation, feel the space that these words leave in your consciousness. As your mind quiets, begin to drop in the question, ‘Who am I, without words? Without thoughts? Without memories or emotions?'”

Kempton recognizes this is no easy task, and many answers full of words may come up, but simply acknowledge them, and seek out those few seconds of stillness you may find. (Check out this month’s issue, March, 2014 for the full and beautifully worded meditation.)

photo credit: Google Images

photo credit: Google Images

It’s funny when I asked myself these questions, the things that first popped up were what I was not –I am not my knee. I am not this suffering. I am not this sadness. And then slowly, fleetingly, for a few seconds, here and there, between the words, I was the stillness, and it was beautiful.

I am now going through the rest of my day a little lighter. My yoga practice did not make the day any easier, or my burdens any less. I could now go into a thought tangent on energy movements and chakras, or ancient yogic philosophy, or new research behind meditation, but I won’t. Yoga does something to my insides that I can’t really explain, shifts things around in my head, shakes it up like a glittering snow globe. I like that, and right now that’s all I need.