Slow Flow Is Not Old Lady Yoga

First, let me say that there is an eighty something year old woman who comes to my yoga class and she consistently makes the young and the nubile look weathered and worn, such is the grace of her practice. So “Old Lady” yoga by definition is a little bad ass which makes this blog title a misnomer.

When I began taking yoga classes I don’t think there was even that much of a class description on the schedule; it was Yoga at whatever time with whomever teaching. There was no distinction between newbie yoga and advanced burn your ass up flow, so in a way I was spoiled with the simplicity.

Slow Flow is a staple class description here in small town Florida. There is a little bit of a stigma attached to slow flow, namely that it is easy. It is the yoga class one chooses when they don’t want to work too hard or put forth too much effort.

Back before yoga teacher training was a flicker on the event horizon of my life, I went to Slow Flow weekly. I thought it was Just Yoga. The class had all the stuff one thinks of yoga class as having; opening and chant, sit, breathe, warm-up, sun salutation, standing poses, twisting poses, balance and back-bends, forward folds and inversions though not in that particular order. Things wrapped up with a nice relaxation period and some meditation. That’s a hell of a lot of stuff happening in an hour and a half. It was anything but easy.

I inherited two Slow Flow classes which I now teach at Uru Yoga and Beyond. Since Uru opened its doors and a whole new world of Yoga practitioners crossed its threshold let me tell you something, people act like slow flow yoga is the easy yoga. They act like it’s the yoga you go to when you’re recovering from an injury or sickness or childbirth.

This, my friends, is not the case.

I teach my Slow Flow classes the way I learned to practice, and then teach, yoga. We sit, breathe, warm-up and flow. What distinguishes these classes from what is typically considered an “advanced” or “strong” class is the pace at which the class moves. Hence, the slow flow.

The transitions between poses are given the same amount of importance as the postures themselves. Students spend more time in the postures, deepening their experience of the pose in relation to their own body and breath. This style of practice builds a strong body and a steady mind, neither of which is easily won.

Because it grows tiresome trying to change students’ ideas of what a Slow Flow class is, I have renamed my classes on the schedule. The new class title is Vital Yoga: The Principal Practices.

Here’s the clip from the class schedule –

“Vital means both “absolutely necessary, important and essential” but it also means to be vibrant and full of energy.

The Principal Practices of Yoga is predominately a flow yoga open to seasoned yogis as well as practitioners with minimal practice experience, as postures may be modified for challenging sequences. Flow practices emphasize the unity of breath, movement and intention which leads to increased physical strength, flexibility and mental acuity. In addition to the flowing class style, anatomy and postural alignment instruction is offered.

The classes are designed to strengthen and enhance flexibility of the body through movement and postures. Practices designed to bring stability to the mind through breath work, meditation and mindfulness are also included in the practice session. This hour and a half yoga practice is balanced to support the yoga student in their pursuit of health, wellness, strength and serenity.”

There is nothing necessarily easy about pursuing health, wellness, strength and serenity. However, it is vitally important to do so.

While I’m doing up-dates and all, my Monday 6 pm class is now Kali Natha Yoga so we can practice it together twice a week now. The main difference between the Saturday and Monday class is that on the weekend we will work with the same sequence for a month whereas on Monday the offerings will vary week to week. I love this style of yoga like no other.

The class description from the website says, “Like the dance of Shiva and Shakti keeping the Universe in perfect equilibrium, a balanced and consistent yoga practice balances body, mind and spirit. Kali Natha Yoga brings the exotic and essential elements of yoga to all levels of experience so practitioners can safely and effectively deepen their yoga practice.

Kali Natha Yoga is a series of flowing yoga movements. It is suitable for students of all levels and abilities. The instructor will guide you through movement accompanied by breath techniques. Together, these practices enhance your energy system, energize you, calm the nervous system and leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated on all levels. Founded by Ma Jaya at Kashi Ashram, Kali Natha yoga allows the student to feel Yoga’s deep essence and meaning.

At the end of the practice, you will feel a deep quiet as you restore in final relaxation. Kali Natha Yoga is a moving meditation, a prayer in motion and the unspoken poetry of the soul. Prana Devi cannot wait to practice with you.”

I used information from the Kashi website to make sure I represented Kali Natha yoga well on my own teaching schedule. I love the language used to express the practice but really, you’ve got to experience it for yourself. I hope you can join me.

Lastly, for those of you who have been taking my Slow Flow and suddenly see a new description, don’t worry. Nothing is changing in the actual class, just the language used to describe it so people who might benefit won’t stay away just because they equate slow with infirm. Yoga is unity and effort for the good. Most importantly, Yoga is for everyone.

See you on the mat. xo

 

 

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Woobie Mala

When I was in teacher training I found a place in India from which I could order all sorts of malas. There is one in particular I still wear all the time. It has Rudraksha, crystal beads, Tulsi, Sandalwood and Lotus seeds all strung like popcorn ’round a Christmas tree. It has a blue tassel, which I am not sure is traditional but what I asked for and what they sent me.

When I ordered these malas I ordered a 27 bead Rudraksha, which is a brown seed sacred to Shiva. I ordered other stuff, too, but these items are what I want to talk about now.

I’ve been making malas since February. Making malas began out of necessity; I had one in mind and couldn’t find it anywhere so I made it. It is awesome, too, and I took it directly to Atlanta and asked Swami to bless it. Since then, it has been broken, re-strung, re-blessed and held with love in the silence of my meditation space.

I don’t take this mala out too much. It is quiet and dark much like the space in which I meditate. I like to feel the subtle energy between the beads and the soft drape of the black tassel. It’s my praying mala.

Not all malas are meant to be kept in the dark. The one from India with all the different seeds on it goes out in public, gets left in the baby’s bed and dropped into my purse when I’m about to teach headstands and don’t want it to fall unceremoniously over my head onto the floor. It’s my teaching mala.

Then there’s the woobie mala. You DO know what a woobie is, don’t you? A woobie is typically a blanket one uses not for warmth or cover necessarily but as something to cling to and rub for emotional support. Woobie.

On the topic of malas and also woobie, I should add for those who don’t know that malas are prayer beads, typically used to count mantras or prayers so a practitioner can keep track of their practices. You know, chant this mantra for 108 times for 40 days and see what happens. See if you can’t transcribe the meaning onto your bones in the process.

Sometimes when chanting it’s a relief to get to the 108th bead, especially if it’s a longer mantra. Sometimes the practice is so grand and sweeping you’ll want to go another round, and another and another. But there comes a time when the mantra doesn’t really stop, but your practice begins to encompass your entire life. Eventually, hopefully, you don’t stop the mantra and the mantra doesn’t stop you. (For more on chanting and kirtan I suggest you listen to anything Krishna Das has to say on the subject.)

If this is so, then why in the hell have a mala to count anything? If 108 times ’round the mala is only the beginning, why bother counting?

This leads me back to the Theory of Woobie. The mala, much like a woobie blanket, is something we can cling to. There is something beyond even the chanting of the mantra, though. After a time of practice I think these malas hold the current of our practices so we can draw on them when we can’t seem to find the resources within.

I’ve found that the mala doesn’t even have to be one on which mantras have been said very much at all. The small hand mala I mentioned earlier, the one made of Rudraksha and with only 27 beads, stays in the same place most of the time. This mala has been known to make it to the top of a harmonium during kirtan, but for the most part it remains draped over a photo.

This mala made it to my upper arm a few nights ago. I wrapped it ’round my bicep and got in bed. I could feel the round grainy texture of those beads pressed gently into my ribs and there it remained all night. Why? I cannot say, but with tender awareness of its presence I drifted into sound sleep.

Counting mantras has been around a long time and they’ve been doing it all over the world. But I wonder if counting mantras is only part of the reason to use malas. I wonder if the malas don’t become some sort of containment unit for Shakti, like She hides in there as an act of Grace. For in our moments of forgetting we may draw on it when our energy is low and when we need sustenance Papa John’s simply cannot provide. Inherent in the design, are malas simultaneously the lasso that ropes us back onto our path and also a conduit for the current we dive into again and again?

 

 

List Maker

Sometimes I’ll make a to-do list to cut mental tension. I’ll use the list like a slippery wet rope handle I can wrap ’round my wrist for a short time before climbing the rest of the way up the water slide steps. Because my spine felt shortened by some imagined weight, I decide to make a list of simple silly words written one above the other…

buy cat food

practice yoga

make lentils

dust meditation table.

Everything on this list will probably get done sooner rather than later whether they are on the list or not. I think this is sort of the point; they take attention away from what ought to be on the list, or worse, what I don’t know should be on the list.

Working smarter, not harder should be on the list. I’ve been meaning to put my two weeks in at the restaurant where I work on the weekend for the last five years. Also, become a better business woman. Buy new socks. The unlisted items are a nebulous gathering of unspoken ideas playing peek-a-boo between sheets on my mind’s clothesline.

I had a particularly harrowing work weekend. I didn’t even work very hard, which bothers me in spite of that whole work smarter not harder item that ought to be on the list, but ain’t. This particular night at work creates a crossroads where some decisions need to be made and I don’t even know where to start.

So I made a list….

write a poem

brush the cat

read the poem to the cat

make coffee

practice yoga.

The list made me tired, because of what was behind it. The unspoken list that’s born from wild longing is spooky and real. This weariness made my spine feel shorter from the imagined weight of it all. The spine, my spine! The home of scintillating light and presence felt compressed. Yoga practice should help. Good thing it’s on the list.

Without putting down a mat or clipping up my hair, I just sorta lower to the floor like I’m bowing to a queen and don’t know really when to stop. At the bottom of the bow I crumple and envision myself the old woman who lived in a shoe. I hope, listlessly, that it is a very nice shoe.

Not sure where this new crumpling style of yoga is taking me, it doesn’t take long to realize my body is making its way very naturally to corpse pose. I’m not being funny, that’s a real thing and usually at the end of a yoga practice. Seems that’s where I’m starting.

Savasana, the posture of the corpse. I feel myself stretching out on my back with the sensation of the jute rug bristling comfortably against my skin. I tuck my shoulder blades beneath me like tired wings folding against aching muscles. My feet roll away from each other and my jaw becomes slack, just as I often cue students to at the end of each yoga class; there’s nothing left to be done but to lay there and play dead.

Sometimes I cue people to let the idea of their bodies completely drop away. Instead of seeing themselves on the mat, imagine all they can see of themselves with their mind’s eye is a horizontal streak of light on the mat. Just see that aquamarine white shot of lightening stretched out and pulsating in the space of the physical spine. When I remember this I see it in myself; light reclining against light.

high frequency 1

Stretched out as I am, one of the cats comes over to check on me. She settles near my head as I watch the ceiling. I feel restful and my skeleton starts to elongate some. The pressure is off. I see that streak of light in the middle of my body. I think of Shiva, wild sweet Lord of Yoga, who when nothing else could be done lay down at the feet of Mother Kali.

My to-do list dissolves. My spine feels taller, like a Yogi’s ought to.

Holiday

Timeout

About a week or so ago I visited my middle sister, known as Aunt B, and the kids. For a while when I’d visit I took a box of Dunkin doughnuts and I was the best aunt ever. Because of my affiliation with the health and wellness crowd, I had to have a talk with myself about advocating weekly dozen doughnut night. Now, I take fruit and feel much better about it.

The youngest, Maxwell, requested straw-da-berries and apples. It’s an unfortunate fact of produce that what we want isn’t always sitting awesome on the shelves. Such was the case with straw-da-berries.

Listen, I dug around in the stacks of plastic baskets containing the dark cranberry hues of fruit on the down slope. There were brownish stems capping the pitiful lot, black gorges in their sides as though some went out with great fight, sidearm swinging and gallant. This isn’t fruit one takes to a sweet little guy like Maxwell.

So he gets apple slices and grapes. Because I know I’m showing up without the coveted straw-da-berries I go all in with both white and red grapes.

When I arrive at the house, Maxwell runs across the hardwood floor, throws both arms around both my legs and explains, “I missed you!” Sigh.

I begin unpacking the fruit. He’s dancing around the kitchen because this is what we do. I take him stuff and we dance about it. Eventually my niece, who is thirteen, joins the party though she is somewhat sullen and pretending at turns not to be interested in what we are doing.

I pull out the apple slices. We like those, and want them on a plate to carry around. This pleases me. “Straw-da-berries?” The mighty three year old with the compelling eyes inquires, looking up at me through a sheet of thick black eyelashes.

“They didn’t have any.” I lie. Aunt B and I decided it was better to tell this one fib than explain rotten fruit.

“Straw-da-berries?”

“Grapes!” I smile.

His lower lip starts to slip past his chin, his jaw hanging lower as his gaze rises to his mother.

“Do you need a timeout?” Aunt B says to the disappointed child. I look at her like the alien invasion has officially started; I witness it first hand.

In response to his mother’s inquiry, Maxwell becomes more excited. He dances side to side with an apple in one hand and and inquiring gesture reaching up towards me with the other, “Straw-da-berries?”

“I didn’t get any.” I tell him, my own face growing long and dejected.

He whoofs out something that sounds like, “Ah HA!” but with such a down beat I know tears will follow.

“Do we need a timeout?”

I slice my hand between my sister and myself as I lean against the kitchen counter, “No! Girl, I can’t take that today. Absolutely not. I can’t….”

You know how timeouts usually go. If not, just watch an episode of The Super Nanny and get back with me. The kid is acting out then ends up in time out and before we know it, tears, snot, toys and all hope for a restful evening have been trod upon by the maligned wishes of a toddler.

Call me selfish, but my nerves weren’t up for a timeout this evening. My sister looks at me like I’m the one who has been body snatched, with a You Don’t Know Me snear. She scoops up Maxwell and back we all go to the bedroom. I march behind because I feel responsible, not having brought the much sought after end of summer straw-da-berries.

“Have you ever seen timeout?”

“Yes.” I say, but not at this house. Aunt B runs her house sort of like we grew up, when we just hung out until it was time to do stuff. I don’t recall a high intensity day to day as a kid. So this timeout business is more than I expected.

“Here, let’s take a timeout Buddy.” She says.

My heart rises to my throat. I think about landing in the corner with him, noses at the wall together in solidarity.

My sister pulls the sheets and comforter on her own bed back to reveal icy cool sheets, refreshing and smooth. She places Maxwell carefully on the wrinkle free surface of the bed which I suspect has a pillow top mattress. She places his melon head on a stack of pillows before drawing his special blakie up the length of his long baby body. I see tension draining out of his face as timeout begins.

Aunt B pets his head, draws the covers up to his chest and turns the television on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, which is recorded and readily available for situations just such as this. She clicks the side lamp off. “Stay here and rest. I’ll be back.”

I find myself suddenly very envious of Maxwell’s timeout and wish someone would do the same for me. She looks at me as we leave the room, “He just needed to get quiet for a few minutes and compose himself. What the hell else do you think time out is for?”

Right.

This evening I was in hot yoga at Uru2. I know, can you believe it? And right in the middle of this hot as the noonday sun class with one of the nicest yoga instructors I know, I remember that timeout I witnessed and see the comparison between yoga and Aunt B’s prescription for whatever ails you.

Yoga practice is like cool sheets and a nice episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse in the middle of a stressful situation, like Publix not having a decent straw-da-berry selection. We will be visiting this correlation in my classes, along with variations on savasana (end of class relaxation pose better known as corpse pose) and bringing the benefits of timeout into the world using breath and the meaningful art of hesitation. We’re gonna have a great time.