Seventies Vintage

vintage yoga

Teaching yoga class puts me in the unique position – yuk yuk yuk – of hearing people say stuff. That’s a simplistic statement, I know, but it’s true. I don’t know what it is about sitting on a yoga mat that makes folks say stuff, but it’s usually off the cuff.

Last week someone told me without equivocation that I am well into middle-age. I was sitting in front of five or six brave souls all sitting on their yoga mats settling in. I might have asked what we were going to do during class, which is my way of asking what’s going on with people’s bodies so I’ll know what poses and body parts to focus on. It’s like yoga class in-take; this is where you let me know you pulled a hamstring, broke up with your boyfriend, started a new diet and/or had a nervous breakdown. I’ll do the best I can to offer stuff in class to make you feel better or push you over the edge, whichever will help the most.

I do not remember the segue into the realm of age, but I landed at the ass end of the topic with the declaration that I am…”Well into middle age.”

I’m 37. The comment arrived so certainly that I wondered if I might be middle-aged and didn’t notice. I turned to trusted Google and middle-age is actually considered the period between 45 and 65. That’s a few feet away from smack dab “in the middle of” from where I’m sitting. One day I intend to be a middle aged yoga teacher, perhaps a hundred year old author. But don’t rush me. Let me tell you something, though – the baddest ass yoga teachers I know are all over fifty. They could do things to you with their third eye closed that would make you welcome the Universe home to your heart. Just saying.

Reader, I look a hell of a lot better than I did when I was in beauty school seventeen years ago. I had a doughy complexion from a terrible diet and my hair was so short you could see my scalp through the black shards of hair protruding from my head. I drank so much I don’t think I ever actually sobered up the first five or so years I did hair. I smoked so many cigarettes that getting my teeth cleaned was the equivalent of cleaning the ashtrays in the hotel where my great-grandmother worked when I was a kid.

Today, I’m mostly rested, sober, usually hydrated, fit and relatively balanced. I don’t color my hair so there are the tell-tale strands of silver that I am really sort of in love with. It’s not the thought of looking middle-aged that’s pissed me off, it’s the conclusions I’ve come to while I stewed over it.

When I was drunk in beauty school I had a boyfriend who was too old for me by about twenty years. I realize now that the reason he had to have a twenty year old girlfriend is because he was too emotionally stunted to date women his own age. What I realize now as a mostly grown-up person is that I am in the age group that is beyond the category of young. In a man’s world, no matter their age, their standards judge against the spectrum of appropriately young and not young enough.

For a woman, I might actually be middle-aged; it’s like I aged in cat years. Clearly, a woman’s willingness to put up with bullshit, which diminishes dramatically with age, is directly inverse to her value and good standing on the age spectrum. It’s not age that makes her less attractive but her unwillingness to suffer fools. It’s this unwillingness that creates the appearance of the crone in the eye of the beholder.

A girlfriend and I were talking just last week about the archetype of the crone. I’m not just talking about a Halloween witch or that spooky lady with the hump. I’m talking about the Crone Goddess revered throughout the ages and across cultures. She’s usually the least visually attractive of the Goddesses one might encounter, but she is by far the most beautiful.

There are tales and legends of the Goddess disguising herself in the image of a fearsome old hag as a trial for some untested knight. After all manner of quests and suffering he faces the fearsome face of the Death Crone. Can he see beyond the shadowed crevices of her face where he might press his lips? It is his liberation to see the beauty and life beneath the surface of the aged visage but is he nearly that smart? Within the Crone’s power is regeneration, power and wisdom but it’s not something you necessarily see with your physical eyes. This is a timeless knowing that spontaneously arises from infinitely intelligent heart, not something you can share on snap-chat.

Women are not lauded for this power of regeneration, power and wisdom though it’s a given that we’ll appreciate the distinguished image of the well aging man, but that’s somehow different.

The soul has no gender and is timeless, but that’s a struggle to realize face to face in the filters of the twenty-first century, where we see but a dim reflection in a mirror of who we really are. I do my practices so that I can know who I really am, and it ain’t this little ‘ole me all stirred up by a something someone said that I’m so sincerely seeking. In truth, middle-aged was tossed at my feet in jest, knowing the person as I do, but you can’t un-ring a bell.

There have been times something has come up and I thought to write a blog about it – that being what blogs are for, but I have restrained myself on occasion because the topic might not align with “yogic” standards. It’s not nice to say bullshit on a blog with Shiva’s image as the header picture. It’s also not yogic to pretend to be something I’m not, and sometimes I say bullshit. One of the benefits of being an old lady is saying whatever in the hell I want and getting away with it because I’m an old lady. See how fast I cashed in on that?

Of course, this is where I really feel the unusual predicament of being both a writer and a yogi; the yogi meant to let things go, to be like water and consume the world whereas the writer chronicles, burns and digests. It’s a weird place to be, but possibly it’s also a little taste of the freedom offered by the Crone’s wisdom. Just saying.

 

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The Great Outdoors

For the month of March we endeavored to practice one yoga pose every single day. We went with the same posture; downward facing dog. One down dog every day and see what happens.

I thought about adding onto this, building a pose by month sequence so at the end of the year we’d get up to twelve poses a day. But the weather has been so pretty lately and I can be such a shut-in that I want to offer a variation on home practice.

Let’s practice outside. I know what you’re thinking because it’s the same thing I was thinking when I wanted to practice outside – bugs. Bugs and sunshine. Yuck. Combine the two and you have a perfectly good nightmare.

Last week I ordered an all-weather picnic blanket. The thought of eating outside is almost as horrific as doing yoga outside, so a picnic blanket is not something I thought I’d ever own, but it’s Spring and I’m feeling it. The pattern on my large all-weather picnic blanket is blue flowers on a darker blue background and looks not unlike a sheet set we had when I was five. I love it.

Last Sunday, thanks to Amazon Prime and my decisive internet shopping bonanza, I take my blue hippie flower all-weather blanket outside and find a nice area of the yard free of dog poop. The wind blows through the branches above me, which I take for a good sign. I go in and slather SPF 50 on my dedicates and ink, some of which overlap. Unperturbed by the heat, I grab the dish towel with a faded strawberry pattern to keep handy in case I sweat. Even though the Florida sun cannot possibly be hotter than an unholy hot yoga class, I decide to play it safe. No need slipping in a puddle of sweat and having to wait for someone to find me.

When I begin my practice the sun has arced over head and is on its downward journey to the sea. It is still high enough to be brilliant and warm on my skin like a cosmic heating pad administering healing vibes to my sore muscles. Though it is warm, there is a steady Spring breeze that keeps me cool and inspired. There are a few clouds that hang around above me. They are full, white and comfortable in their powder blue home.

The dogs are displeased with this sojourn into the outside and that it excludes them, but they try to escape through the holes in the fence the raccoons dug and I don’t want to worry about them while I bask in sunlit tranquility. Also, they bark. I leave them inside to sulk.

I do the practices I received the last time I went to see Swami. It’s a beautiful sequence to the bright red moon. There is also a breathing practice and mantra sadhana (chanting practice) included at the conclusion. It’s the real deal, ya’ll, at least as long as a “real” yoga class, if not longer if you include the time I spent just looking up into the trees and sky.

This isn’t practical in the everyday world for a daily practice. It is hard practicing everyday and it is especially difficult if I have in my head it is supposed to look a certain way. But I think, given the warmth and sunshine, this is something I can do once a week for a month to see what happens.

So this is what we’re adding on; practice outside at least once a week for the month of April. I think that an enclosed porch, outdoor patio or balcony counts (one of the most amazing practices I ever enjoyed solo was on a third floor balcony in Gulf Shores around mid-night). If you like the beach and are into sand and that sort of thing, try taking your mat out there. There are also some really nice parks around, but the backyard is nice, too.

At this point, you might have a question you want to ask; Prana Devi, I’d love to practice yoga outside and bask in the tranquility of the sun. But I haven’t been practicing yoga for very long and I don’t know what to do. How do I practice yoga outside when I don’t really know how to practice yoga?

Excellent question! I’ll give you a few options. First, go to the bookstore. Find the magazine section and, I am not kidding, buy a print yoga magazine. This is how I built my own home practice. Most yoga magazines have at least one, if not several, practice sequences with pretty good explanations. Take the magazine outside with you and lay it open on your all-weather picnic blanket. Use crystals, your coffee cup or mala beads to hold the pages open. Do what the pictures tell you.

Your phone is another option. That marvel of modern technology has more computing capability than the first spaceships. Find a good educational yoga website, choose a video and do it – outside on your all-weather picnic blanket. I suggest Yoga International.

Lastly, start taking yoga classes and take notes of sequences you like. Ask the instructor to make a short sequence for you so you can take it home and practice outside on your all-weather picnic blanket. Remember your practice does not have to be long to count and it does not have to be complex to have meaning. You just have to do it. Let me know how it goes.

If you are still practicing the daily down dog stick with it and see how many days you can go. If you want to freshen up your single pose du jour, for the month of April pick an asymmetrical posture like Warrior 1 or seated spinal twist. You’ll have to do both sides which, if you think about it, is like doing two yoga poses a day!

Lastly, if you choose to order an outdoor blanket make sure its measurements are larger than your yoga mat is long. I practice on a longer 72 inch yoga mat so double-check your measurements to avoid disappointment. Who in the hell wants their yoga mat touching the ground? We mat be practicing outside, but we’re not insane!

Moon Hand Sun Hand

On Friday I went to Atlanta for a workshop called The Yogic Teachings of the Moon. Who wouldn’t want to go learn about all of that?

We may have been learning about the cooling light of the moon, but my Swami was on fire all weekend. She walked in Friday night with Shakti blazing and it was all Celestial from there. I wouldn’t begin to give a synopsis of the teachings, so this isn’t what the post is about. It’s about left and right, my friend, and my relationship with it.

The right side of the body is associated with the sun, brilliance, intellect and the masculine. The left side of the body is the moon, creativity, and the feminine. There are pranayama (breath practices) one can use to bring the left and right sides of the brain into harmony, so neither dominates the other. This leads to a stillness in the mind that helps us enter into deeper states of quiet and meditation. It is a point of balance so brilliant and illuminating that it is comparable to the sun and the moon.

I often think of the left and right side of the body, being a yoga instructor I deal in one side at a time. I am also intrigued with handed-ness. I quickly notice if I am dealing with a left handed person; one of my managers at the restaurant, the tattoo guy who put Bastet on my leg, the students at Uru Yoga and Beyond who sign their name on the clip-board, having to turn their bodies just so to the negotiate the pen on the straight line.

As a kid, my first urges to retrieve a Crayon or a fork was with my left hand. At the same time, I had a wonderfully well-meaning great-grandmother who wasn’t having any of that. Her name was Honey and she worked with me all the time. She taught me how to spell and write when I was very young. This is, in part, why I am so advanced to this day. I also credit her with my love of writing and books of all kinds. Granted, this love has sometimes become a bit of an obsession with reading materials, but also it is still a blessing.

While she was teaching me how to write my name and other important things like colors and animals, she insisted that I use my right hand in spite of my left handed tendencies. She was superstitious and believed that left handedness was a sign of witchcraft and other devilry that we didn’t want around. And so, my left hand was abandoned for the more wholesome right hand.

Well, it seems that left handed people are known for their creative brilliance. They are wildly innovative and successful like someone born under the sign of Leo without a single malefic planet buggering their aspirations. This is the left handed person. The right handed person, infinitely more common, is analytical and thinks ‘like the rest of us’.

Here I am, in handedness purgatory. I feel cheated. I am not ambidextrous. If I tried to write something with my left hand the entire appendage would look something like a writhing turtle chewing the eraser end of a pencil. However, there are some things I do like a left handed person, like when I went boxing I stood like someone who’d used their left hand their whole life.

I have often wondered if this little well intended change to my handedness didn’t hinder my ability to fully harness the creativity I feel coursing through me like currents of good ideas grounded too soon, like lightening with poor depth perception. I have wondered if my brain didn’t fire the way it was supposed to and so, I didn’t fire the  way I was meant to.

Last Saturday, after we learned about the Moon and Her Yogic Secrets, me and a whole bunch of ravenous yogis went to an Indian restaurant and ate our weight in delicious food. While I am scooping up some spicy brown sauce I notice the woman across from me eating with her left hand. She is a stroke survivor and now teaches yoga to other stroke survivors. I am compelled to ask, “Were you right handed before your stroke?”

She was right handed before her stroke. I was interested in the process of changing one’s handedness as an adult and due to such an intense circumstance at that. Changing her dominate hand was not a choice but a fierce act of healing. I felt a little ridiculous when I told her about Honey and my obsession with hand dominance in light of her life and death ordeal.

This woman has large brown eyes swimming in smooth, dark skin. Her hair is very short with a shock of white near her hairline, which makes her youthful appearance look very wise.  When asked about her experience, and my reason for asking, the space between us felt very quiet, held  in the silent grasp of her clear gaze.

She moves her food around with the fork as we move into a conversational tone on this topic, other friends nearby chime in here and there. While she is talking to me, I notice her right hand resting tranquilly in her lap. Then she says, “Maybe this change helped you somehow.”

I feel my head turn to the side, like a dog who isn’t sure if its human asked if it needed to go outside or if it wants a treat. She says it again, in a slightly different way, but I just hold my breath in this novel idea’s wake.

What if being forced to use my non-dominate hand during early development was somehow a boon to my thinking processes. Perhaps creativity has flourished in distinct and unprecedented ways because of my superstitious great-grandmother?

Let me tell you something, Reader, this never occurred to me. If I hadn’t been sitting down at the table, I would have had to sit down for a minute under the weight of this implication. What if my effervescent personality, quirks and all, are the product of the way my brain adapted to changing from left to right dominance when I was two? Maybe this is why I am good at mirroring a fitness class when I teach it, perhaps this is the reason you like my writing, I can draw really good horses, I make such fine malas and understand the language of cats.

This was a lesson not in handed-ness but in the thinking mind’s processes and its gravitation towards the negative. I had not even thought there could be a positive to this and so never believed in it.

This year, with the same Swami I just went to see, we are studying the Yoga Sutras. This is the instruction manual for yoga practice, and unlike my previous post I ain’t just talking about downward facing dog. In this text there is a lot of talk about the mind and its ‘fluctuations’. In this study is the invitation to choose one’s thoughts, which I think is a really seductive practice, perhaps even more appealing than floating between handstand and scorpion pose. The ability to choose my thoughts, and recognize that I am not my thoughts, is one of the wildest and most healing benefits of yoga.

I see that I was creating separation between one side of myself and the other; the left and right at odds with each other and my ability to be in the world as my fabulous self hinging on the outcome of this battle. However, if my left handedness and right handedness combined to work on behalf of  the still point between the sun and the moon within me, then I empower that unity by dis-empowering the negative mind.

This is real wild territory. Perhaps uncharted territory, but a landscape that is rich with the potential to be free from the barrage of negative thoughts. This feels like the landscape of the Cosmos, the very same one that spins within each and every heart on the planet, not too hot like the sun and not too cool like the moon, but just perfect as it beats in time to the rhythm of life. Who wouldn’t want to go learn about all of that?

 

The Daily Dog

For the well of creativity churning within my being, the best I could come up with for this title is The Daily Dog. It’s predictable, which I don’t care for at all, but is counter-balanced by the fact that it somehow reminds me of a newspaper. In spite of all the writerly dreams and aspirations I have suffered, I never once wanted to be a journalist or reporter, though if I had this would be my chance to feel like one. “Yes, I’m a writer for The Daily Dog, I have a few questions…”

If you have studied with me, you know I am an advocate for home yoga practice. I sometimes teach a workshop to help folks interested in a daily yoga practice get started. The beginning stages of anything are daunting, most especially a yoga practice at home, and it’s nice to get a few pointers and a little encouragement.

I remember when I started trying to practice yoga at home. I had a collection of Yoga Journal yoga sequences I’d torn out and lovingly placed in plastic sleeves which then went into a green binder. I schlepped this binder around with me for I don’t know how long before I ever actually tried to practice out of it.

The reason for the binder is that when I started to take my yoga practice beyond the confines of the studio I discovered that, no matter how long I’d been practicing under the guidance of a teacher, I completely forgot what to do next. I remember being in a hotel room with my yoga mat and feeling very yogier than thou with it, thankyouverymuch. Come on! Who doesn’t want to be so yogi that they do yoga on vacation?

Out comes the mat, unsnapped as unceremoniously as a yoga teacher trainee who just got their first subbing gig. There I was, alone with this mat beneath me. I stand, coming into mountain pose upon the gargantuan size nine and a half feet the good lord gave me. My hands are in prayer pose, the little acrylic tips of my fake nails click together just above my sternum in a very sincere gesture of introspection.

I reach my arms out and up, diving into the sky on the zephyr that is my breath then dive! deep beyond the ruddy carpet into the depths of my own soul. Then, dear Reader, I completely forget what comes next in the sun salutation sequence. I languish there in a bored lunge pose, eventually making my way to downward facing dog.

By the time I do a few standing poses, I’ve given up on going much further in this yoga session. It is extremely likely I smoked a few cigarettes on the narrow patio at the edge of the moist, green golf course on which my little cabana was situated. The night is a swirl of green and black made hazy by a late night mist. I sit there, on the cement side of the patio like a sleeper sure not to let their toe move beyond the periphery of the bed, uncertain as I was of what might be out there lurking past the dolphin fountain and clubhouse.

Granted, this was a few years before I went through yoga teacher training, but it was a turning point in regards to what I wanted to get out of my practice. I wanted to have access to it all of the time.

Those of you who have studied with me also know I’m into the whole “daily practice” thing. This is a loaded statement to yogis who think a practice consists of a whole bunch of sun salutes, a couple of arm balances and a round of wheel poses. Certainly the physical postures are important and what we’re about to get into here, but I have to say that daily practice counts as watching your breath for five minutes before you go to work in the morning or at night, before bed. “Daily practice” is something different from daily postures, which is why I chose to distinguish the two with the title of this post.

You will receive the benefits of the postures through only one means; you must actually do them. Though it pains me to say, simply reading about them ain’t gonna cut it. Neither is watching videos or clips on the internet which, I must admit, has become one of my new favorite occupations since discovering Instagram. Just saying.

I had the idea of suggesting one posture to practice a day and see how it goes. If you’re interested you might want to take a picture of yourself on day one and then do one a week to see how the posture changes over the next thirty days.

What I would suggest to you also, especially if you already have a regular yoga practice at home, in the studio or both, is to pay attention to how your body changes and how this one, seemingly simple practice might influence your posture practice overall.

In honor of the blog title and name of this endeavor, let’s do downward facing dog as our first post of the month. If you take pictures, have someone take a picture from four angles. The alignment cue that I suggest is to think of your hands as another set of feet while in this pose. Let your fingers be really long and see that the index fingers and thumbs press down into the mat beneath you so that the weight is evenly balanced across the expanse of your palms. At the same time, be aware of where the feet connect to the floor, bending your knees as you need to.

Try to hold this posture for three to five breaths to begin. See if you can make it to eleven breaths in Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog pose) and see how this changes your relationship with other poses you might practice as well as your everyday walking around posture. Be advised that this is not meant to be a stick with which to beat yourself up if you miss a day here and there. Just go for it and see what happens.

Let me know how it goes and, as always, be sure and check with both your physician and felines before starting any new exercise routine.