Sunday, July 24, 2011
"I am asana." B.K.S. Iyengar
"A further meaning of the word yoga is 'to attain what was previously unattainable.' The starting point for this thought is that there is something that we are today unable to do; when we find the means for bringing that desire into action, that step is yoga. In fact, every change is yoga." T.K.V. Desikachar in "The Heart of Yoga".
This morning, I practiced with one of my yoga DVDs for the first time since before my surgery. It's been so long that I actually don't remember if it was before my first or my second surgery that I practiced to calm my mind!
I've been doing yogic stretches and postures here and there since then, of course, but not a focused practice. My old stand-by is Suzanne Deason's "Beginning Yoga for Stress Relief" by Living Arts (now Gaiam). I've been using this program this for so long I had to replace my original VHS with a DVD!
This is my go-to yoga- the one that I recommend to anyone just starting out, and the one I go back to when, like now, I've let my practice slide a little bit. It's easy enough to do when I'm out of practice (in fact, when I first started out, some of the asanas (postures) were difficult for me to do!) But true to the nature of yoga, I can always find some challenge in an asana that I've been doing for 8 years - a little deeper, longer, straighter, more focused, align my breathing better - something - that brings me back to this simple little 20 min. practice every time.
I had good intentions to resume my practice at Cascade Yoga Studio- my favorite around here- in these weeks before my surgery, but as we so often do, I got busy, I ate too close to the class time - I found an excuse to skip the practice. I'll go tomorrow! or the day after or the day after. Well, now I am out of days for awhile to go out to class - my mastectomy is in two days!
I realized while talking with my hubby last night that I've been afraid to find out what changes have happened to me since my last practice - my sentinel node biopsy has greatly restricted my range of motion in my left arm; I can barely hold it out straight by my side. Sweeping swan dives during a simple sun salutation are definitely out of the question at the moment! This is really difficult for me, being a 'gumby girl' as my hubby calls me. I understand my strength limitations- I know that I can be stronger if I practiced more, but I have always taken pride in my range of motion and flexibility that is my inherent gift.
So, here is where yoga comes into play. I am forced to make a change; I cannot do what I did before, I must find a different way of doing, thinking, being. My little 20 min practice is my baseline, I know what I can do and I can gauge my improvement or my lack of practice when I go back to the practice that I know so well.
The lovely part of yoga is that just being there, breathing, in the moment is considered a successful practice. I went upstairs to our very warm third floor 'yoga studio' and did my practice this morning.
Here is what I found: I can pretty much do everything I could do before with some modifications: instead of raising my arms over my head in Urdhva Hastasana (Upward hand pose) I put my hands on my hips and concentrated on alignment and evenly stretching my front and my back. Same with Trikonasana (triangle). Hand on hip rather than raised up straight in the air is a completely acceptable alternative and brings new opportunity to tweak something else in that pose- work on elongating both sides of my waist evenly, keep the back of my neck long.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (down dog), one of my favorite poses, is very challenging now. It is the nerves in the under side of my upper arm that are painful, so I found that I could either go less deep in a balanced pose and concentrate on the small stretching of that more painful side, or go deeper on the right side in order to get a good stretch there, but be off balance. Balance is always better in yoga, in my opinion. Accomodate the side that needs more, in order to help it grow, versus favoring the strong side at the expense of balance.
I realized that here again, I am learning new ways to use yoga to help me with the changes that are happening with my body. I can use the simple poses that I know so well to help me with my physical therapy of getting back as much functionality on that left side as is possible- I just have a new baseline. After Tuesday, I will REALLY be out of balance, I'll be missing a boob! The lesson I have learned today is that I can 'go back' to the beginning and work from there, this is not failure or pain or loss, this is change. This is yoga, and I am happy.