Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Yoga of Boot Camp

First of all, let me report on my progress, as of late:

I have been tracking my calories and, damn, a good, rich milk stout has more than I'd care to know about. It's a meal in a glass at about 200 calories per 12 ounces. (That is not to say ALL stouts sport higher calories. Guinness, the quintessential stout, is quite low in calories. It's all about the sugar and the alcohol content. But I digress...) Leinenkougal's Sunset Wheat is a handy 115 calories per 12 ounces and, while I don't want to become a regular wheat beer drinker, lest I have to turn in my He-Woman's Beer Drinking Trophy, I do want to lose weight. I might have to get some Guinness next time I'm at the store so I can maintain my elite beer drinker's status.

The fact that I have purchased tickets to the World Beer Festival in Columbia this weekend spells imminent disaster. What can I do to mitigate the damage? Exercise? Possibly. Eat less? Probably. It's a good thing the taste testers come in tiny glasses. That means they don't count, right? I think I'll just slap a thousand points on my day and call it done.

On Monday, Wednesday and Friday night, I attend Boot Camp at Odell Weeks. Lori Comshaw is the trainer and facilitator of this event and is the perfect example of a tiny fit size two blond body. And she's had three kids, so there goes MY excuse. I like to tell her stories of my adventures in beer while we are running on the track around Odell Weeks, and she shakes her head, slap her palm against her forehead and cries, "Oy!" It's fun to taunt the teacher.

Anyway, I have had two instances of inspiration this week. Let me share:

#1. Lori's twelve year old daughter Mary is suffering from a knee injury. She joins us for the workouts anyway. On my jog around the track, I realize that I am having a hard time keeping up with Mary. And she's limping. I check my ego at the door now, along with my jacket and cellphone.

#2. I got a new client this afternoon, last appointment before boot camp. She was referred to me by the chiropractor in my leads group and has some back issues that need attention. Lovely lady, but he failed to give me the heads up that she weighs 300 pounds. This requires considerably more effort on my part as it is much more difficult to move body parts and get through to the muscles that need fixing. So, I had a workout before I had a workout. That was not so bad, really, but she had a gigantic, large backside, the place she collected the most fat, and I had to literally shove it out of the way so I could work her lower back properly. That, in and of itself, is incredible inspiration. Tonight, I did not pass Mary on the track, but I did keep up with her. She was not limping as much either.

(P.S. The new client left my office in considerably better shape and smiling. Mission accomplished. I love it when it happens that way.)

When I work on my massage clients, I think about their bodies not just as two-dimensional objects, but as fully three dimensional. I work around their arms and legs, over and under, and I perform a lot of passive stretching. My clients, in general, say that this approach sets me apart from other massage therapists and they like it. So, no matter the client, I find a way to move and stretch them. This can be challenging on long legged and large clients, a real work out, in some cases!

Today, on large lady new client, I performed some passive stretches while she laid supine on the table. One of the stretches is a hip opener which looks like "tree pose" in yoga. In tree pose, you stand on one leg, take the other leg and fold it across to the inside of your upper thigh, just above your knee. Then you pull back the bent knee so that, in profile, you are flat as a pancake. There is more to it, but that's all you need to know to get the gist here.

I do something similar on the massage table. I call it "dead tree pose." I bend the client's knee, their foot alongside the other knee, and let it drop open and outward (making sure they are carefully draped -- THAT could be embarrassing!)I hold the hip bone above the long leg and the knee of the bent leg and push downwards, assisting in the stretch.

Men usually suck at this for a variety of reasons. First, their hips are narrower than women's and are usually much more tight. Second, they are energetically protecting their dangly objects and don't like their thighs to stray away from the target, less their manhood becomes compromised. Hip openers can make them feel vulnerable, physically and emotionally. I had one client, a rather tall, sinewy horse trainer who needed stretching in the inner thigh very, very badly , cry out, "Whoa, girl! Easy! Easy, girl!" Like he was talking to a mare. Men don't like this stretch.

Women do. And they are usually pretty good at it. Come on, ladies, think of how many times we are required to open up our legs for someone. Our hips are wide and can handle it. And we carry our womanhood someplace deeper than between our legs, and I don't just mean that geographically.

So I was working on large lady new client and put her into dead tree pose, which was no small feat, and she said it felt so good, she knew she needed to do yoga, she'd never been able to do tree pose, but here she was, reclining and doing it. Why did yoga have to be so daunting? It's all about stretching and opening, finding your center and heart space, practicing calm in the eye of the storm so that when the storm passes over, you can still find your center and stand firm. Easier to do reclining. It's a place to start.

I got to thinking, this is the problem in most yoga classes. Now, I know Ms. V, my favorite gorgeous twig thin lovely yoga lady is going to be reading this post and saying, "Hey! Don't you be dissing on yoga! It is the key to the fruits of all goodness!" And I agree, yoga can be a true connection of body, mind and spirit. But that is not how most people approach yoga.

THIS is how most people approach yoga:

7:57 a.m. I walk into a dimly lit room, place my yoga mat neatly on the floor, my towel next to it, sit myself into a lotus position, thinking how elegant and clean I look in my new capri tights and hot skinny tank top, my hair pinned back in a pony tail, put my hands on my knees, open, close my eyes ... and start to fidget. First my mind wanders, then my body starts to twitch. I wonder why class is taking so long to start. Where is the damned instructor? I open my eyes after what seems like an eternity. It is 7:58 a.m.

I continue to fidget. I rearrange my towel. I get up and get a drink of water, sit back down, rock on my sit bones. Now I know why yoga people chant. It is because there is no music to sway to. I am ready to hear some Lady Gaga or Beyonce. This quiet is killing me. Exercise should always have music.

8:00. The instructor walks in. She is so petite and thin, a small breeze might have lifted her through the door and into the room, she is delivered to her position without a sound. The class starts with a few sun salutations, moving from standing prayer to downward dog to warrior to downward dog to standing prayer to.... The class is flowing along like a river of water. I just manage to get up off my matt. I make some grunting noises when I do it and the guy next to me, a lean Asian dude, looks over to see what is going on and nearly falls out of his warrior pose. "Sorry," I mutter, under my breath. He looks annoyed with himself for falling out of his center.

I don't know, but at some point, they all sat down again and I had barely made it through one cycle of salutation, the sun will just have to shine without my greeting. I am glad to sit down, that was hard. I fell out of warrior three times and when I moved back into downward dog, this puppy realized she must have had cabbage for supper because I broke wind in a lovely, effervescent sort of "poof" that was loud enough to be heard by all the people next to me, if not in the entire room.

I watched the instructor carefully. She folded her body in half like a jackknife finding its sheath and the rest of the class followed. I keep thinking I could just walk right up there, pick her up, and carry her out, folded in half like that, as if she was a folding table that had just been put away for storage. I follow the instructor, take a breath, bend forward, stretch my arms out and try to reach my toes, only making it as far as my knees. For God's sake, they were my own toes and they wouldn't come when I called them! And crud, I have to move my belly out of the way to do it ... To many women who have had three ten pound babies like I did, forward bends are tantamount to doing yoga with a pillow belted to your front. I scoop my stomach up, move it gently to the side and try again. I look around the room and see that everybody, all the size two chicks in tights and men in skimpy shorts are bent in half, their heads between their knees, hands on their toes. I am glad they can't see me as I violently push and pull, trying to get my back to let go, jostling my stomach out of place once again. I do not want to be the only one in class who can't follow instructions. I know, the yoga instructor said we should only go to where our bodies allow us to go, but I don't want to be "the one" for whom everything had to be modified, like the stupid bumbling guy in the Jane Fonda series who always stumbled into class late and never got it right.

So I give myself one last pull and voila! I fall foward!! I can do it! I can do yoga!! Except that my jackknife is locked in the closed position. I can't get back up, not without experiencing sharp pains in my lower back, the kind that rip through to your toes and rend you apart. Class is dismissed to corpse pose, the one where you get to lie on your back and play dead, but the pain is so intense, I can scarcely breathe, I will not even make it to dead. I am stuck.

The yoga instructor comes over to lend her assistance, but I tell her to go away or I will have to feed her sorry carcass to my dogs for a snack, she needs to go eat a sandwich, I'll get up just fine on my own, give me a minute.

Someone up there sprays the virtual WD40 magic, prayer does work! And I start to move, slightly, just enough to roll to my side and release my back. Most people have left class at this point. I crawl out of the room on my hands and knees, leaving my matt and my towel for someone more worthy. I am done with yoga. At least until tomorrow.

And, by the way, I have never seen my dog Daisy in a downward dog position. At least, not for very long. She never holds a position for longer than .004 seconds and then it's on to the next thing. What's so yoga about that?

Okay, if that little story doesn't illustrate my point, let me explain. In America, we are inherently capitalists. We make everything into a competition. Yoga is no exception. We know we are supposed to find peace in working within our capabilities, to stretch as far as we can with the right intention with the proper alignment, inside and out, that IS doing yoga, even if that position is far off the ideal mark. But we don't work that way. We can't stand to be the tightest assed person in the joint, so we push. We want to be the best. Or, if that is too much responsibility, at least as good as the best. Everything bigger, farther, faster, wider, longer, better. I mean, seriously, the United States is the ONLY place to sport "Competitive Yoga." That's right. People get into yoga positions and are rated on the quality of their stance. It's no wonder someone like me feels like a total imbecile loser when she can't touch her toes.

That is what my new client said as I stretched her into "dead tree" position. She enjoyed yoga, but couldn't keep up with it.

"Well, you are doing tree pose now. You are just lying down."

"That's true! Maybe I should do yoga lying down!" She laughed a jolly laugh, much looser and more carefree than when she got there.

Maybe she was right.

We talked about what yoga should look like for those who need help.

If my new client goes into tree pose lying down, with the right heart and intention, just as far as her body will allow her, she will be doing tree pose, whether it meets the standards of yogic excellence or not. That is where she can go in that moment and that is just fine.

We Americans suck at that.

Kind of like me whining about jogging next to a limping twelve year old. Something like that. I guess it's all good and where I need to be. Dammit.

I will jog faster next time. Or die trying.

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