Walk the Walk: It’s Not Easy

Image by Helgi Halldórsson on Flickr

Image by Helgi Halldórsson on Flickr

I have taught workshops on dealing with chronic pain. I’ve led sessions on the power of meditation. I’ve counseled many students in gentle yoga classes to hear their bodies, to know that a gentle practice is as “good” as an active practice. I’ve told students in yin that it doesn’t matter whether you can do a pose; it’s the being there and with yourself that is the key. I’ve told friends to take time for themselves, let their bodies heal, stop trying to do everything, and recognize when they need help.

I can definitely talk the talk.

Sometimes, however, walking the walk is harder.

I’ve written before about the challenges of letting go of an active yoga practice or other lifestyle habits due to medical issues. So, I’m not surprised when that keeps coming up. But, I am a little surprised at times about the degree of anger I feel about such changes (recently not being able to have an active yoga practice and taking a break from yoga teaching). I’m a little surprised when I can’t even talk myself into doing the things I would recommend to others. And, I’m more than a little surprised when someone calls me out on it – which happened this week.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory (Festinger), among others, would say that in such a situation, where I can see that my actions are not matching what I believe, feelings of discomfort or dissonance will arise. Check. Festinger proposed that this dissonance leads to either a change in behavior, a change in cognition, a change in understanding of the situation by adding new beliefs, or a denial of the conflict. Not check. At least not yet. I think, right now, I’m more just rolling around in the dissonance, vacillating between being pissed off at my physical self, being disappointed in my mental self, trying to be more at ease with the situation, and denying that it even exists. People are complicated, yes?

At the fundamental level, I believe that any yoga is good yoga, no matter how active, it is important to listen to the body, meditation has value, and yoga will still be there when I’m healed. Now, I just need to get the other beliefs and behaviors in line, right after I finishing rolling around in my dissonance…


Yoga is Not a Checkbox Item

to-do-listI love lists. Really, I do. I have at least 8 things to say about how much I love lists, but I’ll try to keep it a little more brief than that.

Lists make me feel like I’m organized, even when I’m not. Lists break up what can feel like an unconquerable mass of tasks into reasonable parts that I can cope with. Lists help me allocate my time. Lists help me prioritize. Lists give me a visual sense of where I am in a day/week/month/job. Lists give me a sense of accomplishment when I can check items off.

Really, the only thing I don’t like about lists most of the time is that I haven’t figured out how to effectively use my iDevices voice recognition features to make and manage lists (maybe I need an app for that – got one?).

I’m also very goal oriented. I like to have clear goals and I like to meet them.

Sometimes, in my yoga life, these two things combine in a way that is not ideal. I have a general goal for how often I would like to do yoga in a week. And, sometimes, I can slip into the mindset that I need to “check off” yoga on my list of things to do. I start to want to get the yoga done just so that I can mark it off the mental list.

That’s a problem, in many ways. It causes me to be overly focused on the “get it done” aspect of yoga, so that I forget to pay attention to the “every moment” part of it. It pushes me to take yoga classes even on days when my body might not be willing or able to do so safely. It causes me to become anxious or angry when I have to miss a class. These aren’t very yogic outcomes.

Ultimately, doing yoga is a process. It is a doing, and not a done. The practice is ongoing, and not constrained to a particular class or a particular pose. It requires and helps us facilitate mindfulness and awareness to every moment and what is happening in body and mind in those moments (even the moments where one or the other cannot manage an asana class). Doing yoga can happen on days when absolutely no asana is done, and it’s certainly possible to do some of the physical postures without ever doing yoga.

So, I know that yoga is not a check box item. I struggle with it sometimes, but I believe it. And that belief, on most days, is enough to keep it off the to-do list and just in the to be.

A Body Incredible

Image: Body Electric by Atomicjeep on Flickr

I am not always happy with you, body. You have bits that wobble in a way that I don’t like. You have marks and discolorations that annoy. Your blood pressure is fussy. You have rheumatoid arthritis and the associated pain. Your hamstrings are tight and your lower back is too. You grow hair in places I could pass on, but not in the areas where I would like some. Some days I would happily trade you in for another.

But, look what you have done:

  • 46+ years of heart beating, 60-100 beats per minute or more, on and on through over 24,500,000 minutes.
  • The same length of time in breathing, in and out, chest rising and falling knowing on your own when more is needed or less.
  • Countless meals digested and processed into energy to power the movement, the breath, the heartbeat, the thoughts.
  • The care and growing of six full beings. Six FULL beings that developed there, with precision, with care.
  • Moving through waiting tables, bartending, teaching, and other tasks with little obvious direction required.
  • Accomplishing the art of balance, mostly on the soles of two feet that represent a tiny portion of the overall surface of the body, micro-movements occurring in every instant to maintain the fragile balance. Sometimes even balancing on hands or head or one leg, or on a narrow surface, or while negotiating a tricky path.
  • Shifting and changing to accommodate the life changes around, belly growing and shrinking in pregnancy, center of balance moving when needed, producing this hormone or that one, more stomach acid or less, heart pumping harder or slowing.
  • Helping me to find my way to new modes of being in the body that create and support new modes of being in the mind and the heart.
  • Healing wounds and bruises and viruses, mostly with only the internal mechanisms of cell growth and immune response.
  • And so much more…

And still more to do.

So, body, you are pretty impressive.

O my body! I dare not desert the likes of you in other men and women, nor the likes of the parts of you,
I believe the likes of you are to stand or fall with the likes of the soul, (and that they are the soul,)
I believe the likes of you shall stand or fall with my poems, and that they are my poems,
Man’s, woman’s, child’s, youth’s, wife’s, husband’s, mother’s, father’s, young man’s, young woman’s poems,
Head, neck, hair, ears, drop and tympan of the ears,
Eyes, eye-fringes, iris of the eye, eyebrows, and the waking or sleeping of the lids,
Mouth, tongue, lips, teeth, roof of the mouth, jaws, and the jaw-hinges,
Nose, nostrils of the nose, and the partition,
Cheeks, temples, forehead, chin, throat, back of the neck, neck-slue,
Strong shoulders, manly beard, scapula, hind-shoulders, and the ample side-round of the chest,
Upper-arm, armpit, elbow-socket, lower-arm, arm-sinews, arm-bones,
Wrist and wrist-joints, hand, palm, knuckles, thumb, forefinger, finger-joints, finger-nails,
Broad breast-front, curling hair of the breast, breast-bone, breast-side,
Ribs, belly, backbone, joints of the backbone,
Hips, hip-sockets, hip-strength, inward and outward round, man-balls, man-root,
Strong set of thighs, well carrying the trunk above,
Leg fibres, knee, knee-pan, upper-leg, under-leg,
Ankles, instep, foot-ball, toes, toe-joints, the heel;
All attitudes, all the shapeliness, all the belongings of my or your body or of any one’s body, male or female,
The lung-sponges, the stomach-sac, the bowels sweet and clean,
The brain in its folds inside the skull-frame,
Sympathies, heart-valves, palate-valves, sexuality, maternity,
Womanhood, and all that is a woman, and the man that comes from woman,
The womb, the teats, nipples, breast-milk, tears, laughter, weeping, love-looks, love-perturbations and risings,
The voice, articulation, language, whispering, shouting aloud,
Food, drink, pulse, digestion, sweat, sleep, walking, swimming,
Poise on the hips, leaping, reclining, embracing, arm-curving and tightening,
The continual changes of the flex of the mouth, and around the eyes,
The skin, the sunburnt shade, freckles, hair,
The curious sympathy one feels when feeling with the hand the naked meat of the body,
The circling rivers the breath, and breathing it in and out,
The beauty of the waist, and thence of the hips, and thence downward toward the knees,
The thin red jellies within you or within me, the bones and the marrow in the bones,
The exquisite realization of health;
O I say these are not the parts and poems of the body only, but of the soul,
O I say now these are the soul!

~ Walt Whitman, ‘I Sing the Body Electric’