Saturday, January 20, 2007

On yoga and death

So I went to that yoga class today. Wore my sweats and a tank with a tee over it. I was a little rattier than most of the women and about on par with the men which is about where I usually am.

I can't say that I'll never go to another yoga class ever again but it won't be any time soon and I'm pretty sure I'll never go to another class at that particular establishment. No, I don't blame them for my pain but their style probably isn't a good fit for me.

Since I got finished I've felt sick to my stomach, sad, humiliated, I've got some soreness and weakness in the legs, same with the right arm, and I know exactly when I injured the left arm. It's very weak now with pain in the bicep and wrapping around from the shoulder blade to the same point in front. Oh, and I've got a headache. It's low level generalized, completely separate from the pain that's radiating from the shoulder.

Here's the thing, I'm just not very strong physically. Really I'm not. I know this and I try to improve and it's why I took the basics class instead of the open class. Fortunately the web site specified that you should get some basics under your belt before you go to the open class. Imagine what I'd feel like if I'd taken the open class first. Maybe this class wasn't very basic, the teacher didn't specify a lot of modifications if you were having trouble and he did it all with pose names so if you didn't know any of them you were stuck looking around at other people. Which, frankly, wasn't a lot of help. Also there was no breaking down of different poses, showing you how they go or walking you through getting into them, it all happened - in theory - on your breath, which if you're struggling is pretty freaking quick. This combination made it really hard for me to follow mentally, and physically I was simply not up to the challenge. Things were held far longer than I was able to stand, almost every pose was one I wasn't strong enough to hold and I had no idea how to fix it. It's making me tear up just to talk about it because I felt like such an ass and so helpless.

I'll tell you the funniest thing about it just to stop that part. By the time we got to the first downward dog of the day (first) my hands were sweating. They were sweating so badly that they kept slipping. This meant that instead of relaxing into the pose and enjoying the stretch and the relative rest of it I was scrambling to find a purchase or kneeling and wiping my hands down or trying to figure out how to make myself stop sliding. It also took my focus away from my breath since I needed to calculate whether it would be considered rude to interrupt class by slipping and breaking my nose.

I'm aware that this makes me sound a bit like I fulfilled my own prophecy. The thing is, I'm aware that I learned stuff today. I'm aware that it wasn't a total loss, that it's a good thing that I went despite the fact that I hated it. Let's review, hated. The guy did a little Q&A about meditation and then we had a 10 minute meditation at the beginning. He made me feel better about my level of ability there. It's the first time someone has explained that learning process in a way that I understand. He compared it to teaching a puppy to walk on a leash, there's constant correction but not in anger and eventually the puppy sticks with it longer and it's all about...OK, you know what I'm saying, it's a good analogy for me since it's something I understand...and continue to struggle with daily despite my dog's advanced age.

That's the key here, I think. I'm finding this year that my lesson from the world is that I don't know as much as I think I know. I'd seen some yoga on TV, I'd done a tape once, I had a whole bunch of people telling me I was going to love it. (And to you people I say, "Yeah, thanks.") I didn't think I knew everything about it but I thought I knew enough to go into a class and feel marginally comfortable.

Some people like goals that are way ahead of them. Huge goals like when you're 5 and you decide you want to be a firefighter. Or when you're 50 and you decide you want to run a marathon. Not impossible goals but goals that are going to require a big helping of failure on a regular basis as the person learns. I am not that person. I like a smaller stretch. I like a goal that I have the skills for but maybe am not using them yet or need to practice them or whatever. I wouldn't say I wanted to run a marathon. I'd start with a goal to run a mile and see how it went. The failure sets me back a lot, gets me really down on myself and saps my motivation. I know, you're shocked to hear that, I'm usually such a cock eyed optimist, sorry to burst the bubble.

It turns out that when you blog you start to see certain things as being sure content for the blog. There are other things that are definitely not content and then a few things that you can't decide about or that you need to approach from a specific angle before you can write about them in public like that. The problem comes when you have one of the latter category but it's so consuming to the writing part of your brain that you can't quite write about anything else until you've handled this one thing.

That other thing is Mrs. X's funeral mass. I knew I had to write about it but I didn't know how much I could write about it or how and yet if I didn't I couldn't go on to something else. Then I took this stupid yoga class (yes, I'm three, yes, it's not very enlightened but tough I need it, stupid yoga class) and it was the same thing. Which should be a ridiculous joke about how close to death I feel right now but it's not. They're both things about which I thought I knew, not everything, but enough to be called a foundation and therefore I would have at least the tools to handle the new parts. Just running a mile, not a marathon, not even a 10K, just my little mile, longer than I want to run but not so far that I'm discouraged.

I was wrong.

I've been to a lot of funerals and memorials and burials in my time. I've been to a decent number of Catholic masses in my time, even. Turns out that, much to my surprise, I've never been to a funeral mass before. Man, are those ever impersonal. That's what I thought anyway. The music was almost entirely new, composed in the early 80s and I found it wildly boring. I like classic old school hymns with the 4 part harmony written out in the hymnal. Steph and Bud each read a short piece from the bible but aside from that the priest was the only other person who spoke. No, wait, I think the cantor did a couple of pompous introductions to hymns. It made me angry. I wanted something personal to hang onto. I kept blaming the priest and the church for making such an impersonal service and not letting us, as a congregation, have any of her. I thought maybe if I'd been going to mass regularly all my life that the ritual of it might have been comforting and I hoped that was why Mrs. X chose this type of service but mostly I was mad at the stupid church (stupid yoga!) for doing such a crap funeral.

Then Steph got up again. She read a beautiful piece that I'm not re-printing here until I ask her what she thinks about that (Steph, what do you think about that?). It was far and away my favorite part of the service. It was something that Mrs. X left behind and it was delivered in a way that let us know it was part of her and it said as much within the reading. In speaking about the reading, though, Steph explained that her mother had designed the service. She hadn't chosen readings but she'd chosen all the (wait for it) music.

I felt horrible. Hideous and unworthy. So I cried. Finally. But it wasn't really for Mrs. X it was for me. Which made me feel more horrible. In the one all to brief moment of silent prayer I simply thanked her and apologized over and over.

I don't remember when I realized that the mass had been personal. It wasn't right then. It might have been outside the church on the way to the reception. It might have been on the plane home that night. It might have been days later walking the dog in the neighborhood. I realized that she'd crafted a service of people. I suspect that Mrs. X's mass was this particular young priest's first funeral mass for a person he had known in life and through last rites. He told a story of Mrs. X asking him to play his viola for her. She was the only other person who had ever heard him play besides the other priest in the rectory. There was a harpist (yet another thing I was all pissed about). My mom spoke to her later, though, and found out that she's only been playing about a year and I don't know how Mrs. X met her but she'd had the harpist in to play for her before she died. Steph found that brilliant piece she read in her mother's night table. And the last hymn? It was Amazing Grace. My mom and I sang it in harmony.

I am so not done with this. I keep thinking that I am or that I at least know where I am in the process but I don't. I don't feel done with her. Me, the girl who really does believe that every time I see you is the last time, wasn't done yet. Mrs. X was the first woman friend I had who didn't know me as a kid or because of my parents. She just knew me as and for me and she liked me. Later she bridged that gap between being my friend and being my mother's friend in a way I can only hope to emulate as I grow up and have younger friends.

I want to tell you about the year ChemE and the kids and I made her a birthday cake. I want to tell you about ChemE's wedding shower at Mrs. X's house. I want to tell you about the last time I saw her and the way she, quite uncharactaristically, held my hand. I guess I will someday but I can't right now. It all seems sort of stupid (stupid yoga!) and useless and over-dramatized compared to how everyone else is feeling about it. While also feeling like it's not exactly right to publish all that. You know that feeling where if you say something out loud then you lose it? It feels like that.


  1. Anonymous7:41 AM

    All I want to do right now is grab my yoga mat, get on a plane, and (after holding you for a very long time) do a class with you in your living room. I know you're not going to believe me, and that's okay, but it's not "stupid YOGA" - it's "stupid yoga TEACHER."

    Your needs weren't met, and that is NOT your fault; it's the instructor's. I've found, even in my little health club, that yoga teachers get all full of themselves and self-righteous about their "PRACTICE,"(well, la-dee-da!) and teach their classes as if everyone else is right there with them. They don't stop to explain anything, they use fifteen-letter-two-vowel Sanskrit names for the poses, and they don't make it clear, from the very beginning of class, that there are edges and limits and that wherever you are in your pose is OKAY and that "challenging" is good but "painful" is bad and (can you tell that I'm serious about this?)...

    I know you're going to need to give this a lot of time and a very wide berth, and I respect that. What I'm really hoping, though, is that I get a chance to get a hold of you in one of MY classes. Next time you come north, pen me in on Sunday at 9:30. Come and see what it's REALLY supposed to feel like...

    I love you, and I'm very, very sorry this happened to you.


  2. Anonymous10:35 AM

    sure republish it. the more i actually read the words the more happy i am that i actually read it. i felt the same way about the confines about the mass and the readings but my sister and i tried our damndest to cut out any scary judgemental lines and everything. i went thru the entire new testament part of the bible to find something that was as nonjudgemental as possible and ended up with 3 lines about love. i felt the restrictions and it kind of became the joke i told myself that mom felt those as well and that's why she didn't pick any and stuck with the music.
    the harpist came to the house at one point about a month ago. she was brought by 2 of her good friends, they thought the music would cheer her up. i wasn't there that day but i was for the viola and he was actually sweet and nice. it is hilarious to me that he looks about 12 though...

  3. It's really hard in a class of people who know what they're doing to get -- and feel comfortable asking for -- the level of individual instruction that newcomers need. Add that to personal insecurity in the realm of physical activity (that's me, not sure if it's you, kizz) and it's a bad mix.

    As for the rest of the post, I am so sorry... It's sounds like you're doing an amazing job processing your feelings and thoughts, but it just sucks that you're there. Let me know if I can do anything... Can I mail you some ben & jerry's?

  4. Anonymous11:59 PM

    Grief is a truly bittersweet thing. I know this from having experienced a sizable share. But I know there will be a lot more to come. You are never immunized to it. You don't want to be. Like so much else, it's all about time.

    As for blogging, take chances to some extent. I've often awakened in the morning wondering what the hell I was thinking when I wrote something the night before--only to find just what I needed in the comments to tell me it was important to put it out there. Sometimes the comment came from you.

    I totally deffer to S. on the Yoga.

  5. What Chili said is right: If you didn't feel like you got what you needed out of the experience, the instructor didn't do his job. Even if all he did was observe you and talk to you afterward to see if his class, as opposed to a different one, would meet your needs and goals effectively, a good teacher would have noticed that you were not enjoying yourself.

    I don't practice yoga. I do t'ai chi and chi kung, but even these will leave you very sore at the hands of an ineffective teacher. On top of that, any class like these will leave you feeling discouraged and frustrated if you don’t have a connection to anyone there. There is something about taking a class like yoga or chi kung that makes it, at its heart, a social and collaborative experience. A good teacher should recognize this and encourage students to mix and mingle, to share, to support and to work together to practice their art (and I believe it is art more than fitness--the art of posing your body or manipulating energy in it).

    Wow, I hope that didn’t sound condescending! It’s just that most people (myself included) have experienced what you did at one time or another, and those of us who take our teaching of these disciplines seriously want people to know that this is NOT how it’s supposed to be. I hope that my students will feel nurtured for the experience, and I work to give what they’re doing meaning and relevance to their lives, but it is important also for me to help them to get what they want from my teaching, whatever that is. If I may ask, what is that you want(ed) from taking up yoga?

    I have a post in the works on this, since it didn’t seem fair to put all of my thoughts in your comments section (especially if you didn’t really want to read them). I just wanted you to know two things:

    First, I’m so sorry you had a crappy yoga experience!

    Second, it’s not ok and it’s not your fault that you did.

    Wifeness brought up a point to me about your experience that I’ll put out there, too, because it’s pertinent. I’ll leave it to her to elaborate on it, but the gist of it is this: The recent events in your life might have contributed to your experience with your yoga class. Chi kung has a way of taking the feelings we’re holding inside and magnifying them, and sometimes that manifests itself in ways we do not expect. I’ve heard the same thing happens with yoga (though I’d defer to Chili and others who practice it to confirm this).

  6. Anonymous4:04 PM

    Bad 'yoga' teacher, very bad. He/she needs to work on the very 1st yoga principle, do no harm. I am so sorry you experienced this, it is not true yoga.

    After 15 years of Chronic Fatigue/Fibro, I know all about de-conditioning and rehab. Not to be dramatic but, if not for yoga I might well be dead now. Please don't give up on it. Next time look for "gentle" in the class description. An instructor with an interest in alternative healing, rehab, etc might be helpful also.

    Much of yoga has been co-opted by the fitness industry and the "if a little is good, a lot must be better" mentality. Breath is important, but one breath per pose is WAY too fast. People in great physical shape get hurt this way. We need to relax into poses, get the feeling of them, make adjustments, abide.

    At the health club I worked at & Chili still does, the traditional yoga classes got pushed out because there is no quick, cheap certification. A good quality certification is 1000 to 2000 hours. The club wanted certified teachers to appease their liability insurance carrier, and the fitness industry came up with Yoga Fit. I one weekend, anyone can be a yoga teacher. Chili was the only person who started teaching this style of yoga at our club who cared about speed and potential injury. She teaches a lovely yoga class, but it is still a little too athletic for me (no offense please Chili).

    When I teach a class, I keep a constant eye on all of my students. I try to talk to each of them individually at some point, but my first concern is with those that have not done yoga before. I point out potential errors that can cause pain and injury, I offer modifications, and I hold myself as an example of the need to listen to one's own body for cues and limits. We do this in a darkened room with eyes closed for many reasons, not least of which is to close out others in the class and avoid competition.

    So, look for gentle, and talk to the instructor BEFORE you try the class. Consider tai chi, I think that might appeal to you and it's very gentle, but again the instructor is very important. I got into a class that taught sparring!

    It really sounds like you have been having a difficult time just now. Rest, breathe, drink lots of water, and keep blogging!

  7. The first time I tried Yoga I was 5 months pregnant. I had this giant basketball to manuver around so there fore I had an excuse for not liking it.
    But I wanted to me Madonna and Scary Spice and all those hippie chicks so I went again.
    I hated it even more. I took many years of ballet and toe for goodness sake... and still I walked out seething in anger and rage.
    I went again. Same result. Anger. Frustration. I did not look like Mary Lou Henner or Suzanne Sommers. I looked liked a rejected pretzel.
    I wanted my couch and my M&M's.
    I was pregnant. I deserved it.
    Four trips into it something started to change.
    I had detoxed myself of some of the anger, not all, but some. I was starting to identify muscles and starting to extend and lengthen and I felt the shift....
    with all things new there is some learning curve my lovely Kizz.
    I suggest duct taping a basketball to your stomach...wink! Or try door number two... its been working for me this year... another class, another instructor.

  8. ps this is a devine piece Kizz. I read it three times and I am sure to read it again. Beautifully crafted. Good work dear.