Not too long ago, I attended a workshop with the incredible Angela Farmer. If you don’t know about Angela, she is a gorgeous woman who has been practicing yoga most of her life, and she’s now in her 70s.
To me, she is yoga embodied – truly on and off the mat. Her grounded energy gave root to 100 people when I was with her; it was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced.
Needless to say, I’ve been mulling over the gems she shared with us ever since.
One of Angela’s major themes that week was undoing – the rigid beliefs we hold about poses, the disconnect between mind and body, the tightness we hold. At one point, she said the following:
“Yoga is 90% undoing.”
And oh, my; that hit me like a ton of bricks. You see, for me, much of my asana practice has been about achieving. That is, of course, because most of my life has been about achieving. And even still, I have a teeny bit of shame about poses that I’m not able to do – namely arm balances and some inversions.
Why? Well, there’s still that little part of me that fears I can’t do those poses because I’m curvy. And perhaps that is a factor; I don’t believe that every pose is a perfect fit for every body, regardless of your shape/size. But it’s certainly not the only factor — or even a major one.
For example, this even shows up for me in seemingly “simple” poses like Dandasana. I can’t fully practice that pose, and I always blamed my curvy body for why my hands can’t come to the floor — that is, until one of my teachers pointed out that my arms are too short. My bones are just not proportioned correctly for that, and no amount of curvy or not curvy will change that (this is another reason why binds in poses are nearly impossible for me). Also, I’ll probably never practice Headstand (or possibly even Handstand) because oftentimes even small inversions will trigger a migraine or vertigo for me.
Just not worth it.
So yeah, what are the real reasons I don’t practice those poses? Arm bone length and sickness – not too much I can do about either of those. But this is part of the undoing, isn’t it? It’s looking at the stories we tell ourselves and saying, “wait a minute. What is actually true here?”
Drain the Brain
Because sometimes it can be really hard to remember that not all of it is. And sometimes (at least for me), that almost none of it is.
Another thing Angela spoke with us about is “draining the brain.” By this she meant allowing ourselves to settle into our bodies. To give the judging mind some time to settle down – literally—and to connect into our core selves.
Of course, this is something that’s difficult for most of us, and that’s what makes it such an important practice. Because the more we can step out of that judging mind and into the wisdom of our bodies, the more we know what is right for us.
I’ve been playing with three things lately to facilitate this process (kudos to Jamie Ridler for the missing puzzle piece of morning pages):
1. Morning Pages: If you don’t know about this practice from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, you might want to check it out. In a nutshell, the idea is to write three pages first thing in the morning – not writing anything in particular, but just stream-of-consciousness getting down whatever is in your head. When I do this, I feel a real clearing – like I got out a bunch of stuff that was running around loose in my head and would have continued to do so all day if I hadn’t wrangled it. I love longhand writing for this, but if that’s not your thing, check out 750 Words, a site whose express purpose is to help you do your morning pages the techy way (and they’ll even send you a reminder if you so choose!).
2. Meditation: I have had an on again/off again (primarily off again) relationship with meditation for years. But lately (and I think it may be because I’m doing morning pages first), I’ve been able to sit with more ease than before. My magic recipe is 20 minutes (I started with 10, then went to 15, then 20) with a timer. The timer is key for me because it limits the amount of times I think “How much time is left?” “Has an hour gone by and I don’t know about it?”
3. Yoga: No big surprise here, I’d imagine. But again, it’s been a real challenge for me to get into a regular home practice. Somehow, after morning pages and meditation, I find myself craving yoga. It may just be because my legs are tired from my seated meditation. But I really think it’s because I’ve let myself sink in a bit and give myself some internal space to practice.
I know this may sound like a lot of time. And it may or may not work for you. But trust me when I say that my default is to check my email from bed, before I even get up in the morning. From there, I splash some water on my face and go back to email. And from there, the whole day gets suck into a highly responsive mode where I’m just flitting from task to task, finding it difficult to give concerted energy to any one thing
But somehow, when I take this hour or so in the morning, I find myself with ample time and energy to do everything I do – and in a way less crazed mode than usual. Undoing, indeed.