A half marathon is 13.1 miles, and that’s how far I was supposed to run on November 4, in the Princeton Half. Hurricane Sandy cancelled it — among lots of other things, including the New York City Marathon, Halloween, and, of course, school, work, NJ Transit, and thousands of families’ power. A week and a half later, some of my friends still have cold, dark homes.
I’ve been training since August, running three times a week and going to yoga at least twice (for me, at least, there is no running without yoga). Slowly I built up distance, and I got to a little bit over 11 miles a few weeks ago, the farthest I’ve ever gone. I did it in a little over two hours, which for me is pretty respectable.
I was feeling great mentally. I could go with the ebb and flow during the run, knowing that if I started to feel tired, in another mile or two I’d get in a zone where things opened up and I felt good and strong. I got to the point where it felt better to keep going than to stop, even at 9 or 10 miles. I didn’t ever get to the point where I thought I’d ever be able to run 26.2 — that still sounds torturous. But I do know that I can run 13.1.
Enter the storm, and the cancellation. And add to that a pinched nerve in my left leg. I’d been feeling a little bit of burning and tingling in my thigh, and honestly, I was ignoring it. But this past week it’s been bothering me a little more, so I finally looked into what it might be. My left hip, though it’s been really good throughout my training, is slightly off — I had dysplasia as a baby and only through yoga have I come to realize that the head of my left thigh bone doesn’t fit exactly into the hip socket. While this is usually not a big deal — it’s just annoying during certain poses — I suspect it’s what led to the nerve thing.
So. Life is still slowly getting back to normal after Sandy (and this weird snowstorm we had yesterday). I haven’t run since it hit. I’m not sure I should — I think I need to take care of this nerve. But I don’t want to stop running — even if long distances isn’t a good idea, I want to at least go back to my 4-, 5- or 6-mile runs.
I must admit to feeling a little apprehensive. I hope that if I just rest and take care of my leg I can go back to running again. It’s funny — I was never, ever a runner until about four years ago, and now I know I’d really miss it.
Strangely, I’m not too disappointed about the actual event being cancelled, or postponed, or whatever it turns out to be. I didn’t want to actually race — I just wanted to run and finish. The training was really gratifying — I got a lot of satisfaction out of the process, out of slowly working through it, out of feeling so good while doing it. My lungs are strong and sure. My muscles and joints can carry me through. I was patient through the tough parts (uphills!) and exhilarated during the coasts (downhills). I may even have lost some weight, or at least firmed up.
So even if I don’t get to run my 13.1 anytime soon — I know that I’m able, and that I can prepare again.
Most of all, I appreciated the practice in being present. That’s always valuable.
Two Sundays ago I taught my first class at the studio where I did my teacher training. We’re all taking turns teaching this free community class, now that we’re done with the training process. I was excited. I was prepared. My husband came, my yoga-teacher sister came, some of my fellow trainees were there. And friends. That room was full. And hot — it was 90 degrees outside, and the air conditioning felt like a cynical nod to coolness.
And wow, was I — overwhelmed. I felt like my energy was all over the place, bouncing off the ceilings and the walls and the students. I felt like I had so much to say and no time to say it — Surya Namaskar B and I was already a half hour into the class? I’d been concerned about going too short, and instead it became clear pretty quickly that I had far too much written into my sequence. I had to start editing on my feet.
I was so thrilled and grateful for the outpouring of support, that so many people showed up — and grateful for the six or seven friends who couldn’t make it at the last minute, too — but it meant there was no way I could focus for very long on any individual student. I felt backed up against the windows! I focused on giving good alignment instructions and hoped it would make a difference for those who might be less experienced.
Things I did right:
My theme rocked (see below). The whole engagement and expansion, boundaries and freedom, muscular and organic energy, spanda (pulsation) concept is one that really resonates with me, the thing that really made me fall in love with this yoga. And I know my strength is here, in the ideas. I think it was clear and effective.
I really thought out my sequence. It was a full-on standing poses class — I included every major standing pose. I love standing poses, and I felt like they really demonstrated my theme. I had good, resonant poses to prepare the class for the apexes — ardha chandrasana and warrior 3.
I was willing to deviate from my plan. I was able to improvise when I realized my hour-long class was going to be an hour and 15 even with some cuts. I was sort of impressed with myself.
I was funny. I didn’t feel super comfortable up there, but I still managed to say a few witty things.
What I learned:
Teach what you love. Ideas and poses. I did this, and I plan to do it next time I teach at South Mountain Yoga in October, and in the class I’m teaching at the local park district starting in September (more on that later). If I’m enthusiastic about it, the students will pick up on that. And that’s the whole reason I’m interested in teaching yoga.
Keep it simple. It’s good to be prepared, but I really ended up packing stuff into my sequence because I was afraid of having too little. Between the fact that I talk a lot (which I need to try to temper, but hey, it takes up minutes) and the fact that you need to give the students time to actually get into the poses and experience them, I’ll have plenty for the hour I’ll teach in the fall. And hey — no one ever complained about an extra-long savasana.
Keep it short. I tend to write long and speak long. I need to really refine and distill my ideas into a few sentences at the beginning and get things moving.
I can do this. Although I felt like a crazy person up there — I was literally thinking, Oh my god, did I really sign up to do this every week?? — the feedback I got from the students was good. They thought the pace was good, the class was challenging yet accessible, and that I sounded totally on top of it. Even my sister, from whom I asked for unvarnished criticism, said it was an effective class.
In all, it was more challenging than I expected it be. But I handled it gracefully, and I didn’t leave in despair that it wasn’t perfect. I took it, and take it, for what it was — a first time, a learning experience.
My theme and sequence notes, if you’re interested:
Apex: Ardha chandrasana/Warrior 3
Virtues: Engage and Expand
Actions: ME and OE
Passage from the book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
“I think you should learn, of course, and some days you should learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them.”
Experience, allowing yourself to be moved by something, what we take in/soak up from it. More than just knowledge. Like reading about a place versus visiting it, or trying a delicious morsel of food instead of just hearing a description of what it tastes like. Really having an all-encompassing, sensory experience. Feeling it. And the idea of what is already in you – instead of accumulating more and more and more, look inside and see what’s already there, and let that fill you up.
That’s what yoga does – it allows you that access, to have a deeper experience of yourself. The physical poses are one way to do that. We don’t just check all the poses off the list – we engage in each one, we move into it in order to have a deep experience of it. The poses don’t exist except in our bodies, when we do them. So today we’re going to focus on standing poses, working on engaging our muscles in each pose and then stretching and expanding from that, filling up, so that each of you can have your deepest experience of every pose.
Close your eyes.
The first thing you need to do to experience something, whether it’s trying a new food or bungee-jumping, or deciding to have a child, is to be open to it, receptive. That’s how we begin in yoga – we sit down and open. We try on the idea of being in this moment, of being present. A great way to be in the moment? Listen to your breath.
Press your palms together in front of your heart. Doing this isn’t a gesture of prayer, but a reminder that your deepest self resides in your heart. That’s where yoga allows you to go. Even touch your sternum with your thumbs as a reminder that this is about your heart.
We’re going to open our practice by chanting three Oms. “Om” isn’t a prayer, either. It’s the sound of the universe, the hum of everything there is. We chant it to align ourselves with the energy of everything, and also to align with one another, so we can begin this important endeavor together. See if you can really feel the vibration in your chest when you chant – experience it.
BEND KNEES, DOWNHILL SKIIER
TOUCH GROUND, STRAIGHTEN LEGS, LIFT SPINE FORWARD, FOLD
REACH UP TO SKY, ARM STRETCHES, CRESCENTS TO SIDES
SUN BREATHS/DOWNWARD FACING DOG/UTTANASANA
SURYA NAMASKAR A (4 times, low lunge, low lunge twist, then high lunge, high lunge twist)
Feel how your body feels different, something is awakening and filling inside
SURYA NAMASKAR B (3-4 times)
Stand and breathe.
CHAIR POSE AT WALL
(stay there to feel the difference between enduring something uncomfortable and engaging with it)
PARSVAKONASANA, BOTH SIDES
WARRIOR 2, BOTH SIDES
PARSVA K INTO WARRIOR 2, BOTH SIDES (cut this out)
PRASARITA PADOTTANASANA WITH TWIST – ARM STRAIGHT UP TO SKY
PRASARITA PADOTTANASANA ON OTHER SIDE, PARSVA K LEGS AND DOWNDOG ARMS ON ANGLE
PARSVA K INTO WARRIOR II,REVERSE WARRIOR, BOTH SIDES WITH DOWN DOG IN BETWEEN
ANJALIASANA/THIGH STRETCH (ELBOWS DOWN ON GROUND INSIDE KNEE, BACK KNEE DOWN OR UP)
PARSVA K LEGS INTO TRIANGLE
TRIANGLE AGAIN; TAKE HAND OFF GROUND AND ENGAGE LEGS (cut this out)
ARDHA CHANDRASANA W/ASSIST (PARTNER HOLDING FOOT)
DOWN DOG INTO
PARSVOTTANASANA/STANDING SPLIT/WARRIOR III, BOTH SIDES
PARTNER STRETCH — DOWNDOG W/PUSH ON LOWER BACK (cut this)
CIRCLE OF VRKSASANA (engage and then expand into the support of your friends) (cut this)
DOWNWARD FACING DOG
PIGEON – ENGAGE AND THEN REST ON FOREARMS
ON BACK — SURCIRANDRASANA
SUPINE TWIST, BOTH LEGS GOING SAME WAY FOR SIDE STRETCH
HAPPY BABY (cut)
HUG KNEES TO CHEST
(talk about how important this pose is b/c all the experience you’ve just had is sinking into your body, and it will be there the next time you come to the mat; “corpse” pose is not a nothing pose, there’s a lot going on; just let your bones sink into the ground and let go. All the engagement you did in class generated all this energy, or prana, that is filling you up right now. Your only job in this final pose is to let go, let your body sink down into the ground, and enjoy it.)
You should have days where you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything.
We worked on the bandhas in yoga this week. Bandha means lock in Sanskrit, and the bandhas are places in the body where you can tighten and hold in an intense, continuous way. They feel to me like a deeper layer of engagement and alignment, below muscular energy and loops — a more refined way of holding yourself and therefore holding a pose. They are challenging, but they can make maintenance of a challenging pose easier.
As always, awareness and engagement help things fall into place.
I was familiar with mula bandha — that’s the root lock (mula means root), the one in the pelvis, at the base of the body. Female yogis often approach it by comparing it to a Kegel exercise — the muscles you tighten to stop the flow of urine, and something our ob-gyns, midwives and doulas encourage us to do around pregnancy and childbirth. My teacher Emma, however, asked us to think of it as a larger space than that — when you engage mula bandha, everything in the square between your two sitbones and your tailbone and pubic bone should lift, come deeper up into the body. Emma compared it to gathering up a piece of fabric from the middle with your fist, but holding onto it relatively loosely; you’re not clenching, but you are lifting. Coupled with the pulling to the midline that muscular energy gives you, mula bandha creates quite the foundation upon which to place any pose. It can actually make you feel lighter on your mat, because the energy you’re concentrating at your base takes some of the pressure and weight out of your legs or arms (in an inversion).
Then comes uddiyana bandha, centered in the upper abdomen — and my new favorite thing.
Uddiyana means to fly up, or rise up, and what you do here is pull the lower ribs up, back, and then down into the back of the body. You’re rounding your lower and mid back, but you’re doing it by using your upper stomach muscles. It’s related to kidney loop, which in Anusara means a puffing up of the back body. I’d done this kind of movement before but hadn’t thought about it in quite this way — the idea of making it a lock helps you to do it more forcefully and with more intent than you might otherwise. I don’t think I’d engaged kidney loop quite as soundly before.
Uddiyana bandha is kind of amazing, in my humble opinion. It not only tones and works your abs (something I certainly need) but also gives you a different kind of awareness in the core of your body, which is not only a good thing in general, but something that can be hugely beneficial in all sorts of asana.
Here’s something I found on a site called MindBodyGreen:
“Uddiyana bandha can be one of the most transformative aspects of your yoga practice, especially as you get more advanced. It moves the energy upwards with much more force than mula bandha, thus allowing you to invert and jump more easily, as well as float forward and back more lightly and twist more deeply.”
I don’t want to say this could be a magic bullet, but…my handstand needs this.
Today we did assisted inversions — handstand, pincha and headstand — and I’m telling you, when I activated this bandha in those poses, I literally felt something slide into place. It was incredibly satisfying and very encouraging.
Emma said uddiyana bandha is associated with the third chakra and the idea of your will. I’m planning to will it to continue to help me in inversions.
(There’s one more lock: jalandhara bandha, in the throat. Since this is a strange place for me — I tend to tuck my chin — I can’t wait to see what engaging this bandha might do.)
This is far and away the most popular post on my blog, and one of my favorites too. It’s almost exactly a year old, which seems auspicious. So I’m reposting it today.
Tattoo number two is a done deal. It’s a simple black Om, on my inner right forearm. (The other one is on the inside of my left ankle; it’s a yin-yang-ish version of my zodiac sign, Cancer.) It took the guy 10 minutes, and the pain was completely bearable. We had a nice chat, and I even watched him put the ink in.
It looks gorgeous.
I felt kind of badass.
My lovely friend Miriam came with me, and we had lunch, a great walk around Montclair, and a browse around a used bookstore, too. Om, indeed.
Om (or Aum) is a sacred and mystical syllable in Indian religions. It is very often the first word of Hindu texts, because it’s an incantation to be intoned before (and after) a reading. It’s considered the name of God, or — and I love this — the vibration of the Supreme.
Om is the sound you chant at the beginning and end of yoga class. It’s a mantra. When everyone’s in sync, it sounds like a beautiful harmonic.
One of the things I really love about Om is the idea that it is “the primordial hum of the universe.” It’s the sound in the background, the constant buzz of life. I love that in a spiritual way, because for a long time I’ve considered God to be the higher order in the universe. The utter elegance of mathematics, all the symmetry in nature, and even the way analogies work in words are all proof to me that the universe is ordered on some level. That there’s a diffusion of spirit that keeps things going. Whether or not it has a consciousness, I have no idea, but it doesn’t matter to me. I like to think of it as disembodied, actually, as energy. And Om is the sound it makes.
For a while I was hesitant to get an Om tattoo. I wondered, is it kind of cliché? But then I started to think about it the way I think of my older daughter’s name. Kate is a very popular name, but I love it, and I’ve always loved it, and there was no question in my mind once we found out that she was a girl that it would be her name. Everyone else could have named their kid Kate too, and I’d still have chosen it. I didn’t get an Om just because I’m into yoga now. It really speaks to what I’ve believed for most of my life but didn’t really have a name for until I truly came to yoga and learned more about it.
When I was first considering it and tossing it around, a woman I know told me I should think about the fact that it would be there on my arm when my girls get married and I’m the mother of the bride. Like that would be a bad thing. I can’t remember if I asked her or just thought this: Why is it okay to wear a cross or a star around your neck but not to have an Om tattooed on your arm?
In the book Om Chanting and Meditation, author Amit Ray says:
Om is not just a sound or vibration. It is not just a symbol. It is the entire cosmos, whatever we can see, touch, hear and feel. Moreover, it is all that is within our perception and all that is beyond our perception. It is the core of our very existence. If you think of Om only as a sound, a technique or a symbol of the Divine, you will miss it altogether…. It is the eternal song of the Divine. It is continuously resounding in silence on the background of everything that exists.
I can’t really improve upon that.
One of my teachers said recently that chanting Om validates your place in the universe; it’s a way of saying I am here. What better reminder to have on the inside of my forearm?
I started a blog a few years ago that quickly disintegrated into a personal journal at a very difficult time in my life — not so fun to read, much less write, or broadcast to the world. I kept the (sort of silly) name, Tracebook, thinking I’d start up a blog to talk about the books I’m reading, because I love books. And I’ll still do that here. But I’ve changed my focus a little.
If you click on “About,” above right, you’ll see what my mission is. It’s multifacteted and all-inclusive, two adjectives I’d like to think describe me, as well. I’m in a strong and bright place these days, and I want to shine it out there.
But I also want to explore the huge role motherhood has had in my development as a person for the last seven years, and the role it’s had in many of your lives, as well. That’s the concept behind “If It Hurts, You’re Doing It Right.” In this space I’m going to explore the day-to-day of being a mother, as well as the larger emotion of it, especially when your children are very young. The capital-letter Emotions: Guilt. Anger. Loss. Frustration. Grief. But also Bliss. Love. Pride. Joy.
On this blog and perhaps in book form at some point, I want to create a picture of how becoming a mother felt to me and to my friends (my kula!) who are kind and brave enough to share their stories. Obviously, I am in no way an expert about the “right” way to do any of this – and I’ve finally come to the conclusion that one doesn’t exist. I hope that having a discussion about it will bring us together, because though this journey (motherhood, but also life) often feels lonely, we have a multitude of comrades.
In Anusara yoga we refer to our community as our “kula.” One of my teachers, Julie, described it today as having two functions — to ground and support you, and also to allow you to expand and shine.
If you’re reading this, you’re already part of my kula. I hope you’ll continue to read, and that you’ll comment, and give me your feedback!