Stiff Upper Lip

My stiffness stands me in good stead, brings structure, integrity to my yoga. Yes, even when my poses look very ugly, my postures have internal support. This innate lack of flexibility allows me to reach, stretch, engage to my heart’s content. I have a few joints that hyper-extend but for the most part I’m unable to hurt myself. I can sit, legs crossed, for twenty-one minutes plus while my extremities go numb, experiencing no pain at all. Little by little, that is the secret, the gateway opens. Not by a thousand drops was the Grand Canyon carved. More than a million, maybe more than a billion drops of water had to gently wear away all that rock. Secret number two? Do lots of yoga. Two five-minute seats, one morning and one night will sand rough edges more effectively than a single annual hour-long extravaganza.

I’ll admit being ungainly rigid dilutes some of the fun out of yoga classes for me. While other people easily succumb to effective sequencing I’m the one – whether I hide in the front of the class or slip in the back – the one who doesn’t get anywhere. grrr. I start out my right knee flying several inches higher than my left in sukhasana. Fifteen minutes of hip openers: thread the needle, baddha konasana, happy baby, warrior two, and you know what? I’m still not comfortable in pigeon pose. Fifteen more minutes of sun salutes to heat up the muscle belly, fiery rounds of sun salute B, flowing versions with lunges and crescent moon lead to . . . second fail. Everyone else flips up into wild thing their hips open wide. Me? I’m massaging my side. If I’m folding in ananda balasana. oops.

One of the reasons I elicit the derision at YogaWorks that I wrote about in my last blog is my penchant for taking two classes in a row. That flags me. The front desk girls take notice, talking about me to the other patrons even when they don’t deign to speak to me. Why take more than one class? Because if you, like me, are very, very stiff – the longer warm-up delivers. Delivers higher quality of life, greater strength, suppleness, pliancy, a juicy organic limber delicious ability to move with ease. The results once tapped last for hours afterwards, usually the rest of the day. The trade-off is no side effects. No prescription pain killers. No liver-destroying over the counter pain meds. Most people who see me think I’m pretty healthy. Neat, right? Except when I have to hear them blah blah blah say, “Easy for you to say, Kumari. . . I can’t even touch my toes.”

I can’t touch my toes either. Not first thing in the morning. I need a couple hours warm-up. Lest you think the problem is the result of my hip injury, I’ll add even at 22 I have trouble touching my toes. As a young mother I’m annoyed by my limitations. I employ yoga in self-defense. When? When does a young single mother with no relatives find time? Five minutes in the morning while Kai’s still asleep, and five minutes at night, right after he’s tucked in. A routine that rivals brushing my hair or teeth. In about two weeks (at 22) I reach my toes. That ability evaporates after my first marriage. During the honeymoon phase I have more exciting things to do than yoga. Guess what? In less than a year my natural-born inflexibility descends. Go around number two to regain the ability to touch my toes takes longer than two weeks. The road back after my hip injury in 2007? That’s still a work in progress.

But all is not lost, as I can demonstrate. The photo in this blog is of me, folding forward, touching my toes no less. All that’s required is a daily yoga practice. A lifelong yoga practice. A practice incorporated into my lifestyle. My point is, and I do have one, that the two-hour Sitting Pretty Workshop at Samsara Wellness Center on June 18th is full of wonderful ideas, powerful poses, select sequencing – and it’s a seed. A seed to plant, water, nurture and grow. A lotus heads towards the light even when covered in muck. Look how beautiful the flowers appear at the end. Ya gotta have faith that you too can blossom. Otherwise there’s no point in trying, and what I dare ask, does not trying beget?

My former husband (the second ex) refuses to be proactive. He treats pain with pain killers. This equals ignoring his own body chemistry. Pain, which was invented with the very first sentient being, is an alarm system. Even one-celled organisms move away from pain inducing conditions. Pain emanates from the lowest, oldest, non-verbal part of our brains. Without words pain attempts, attempts and persists to deliver us the message: some thing is wrong, amiss, awry, off-line etc. If we pay attention we adjust. Maybe we sit different, or avoid sitting, without thinking we’ll adjust – for a while. Maladjustment may mitigate pain, but nothing short of addressing root cause will erase pain. Maladjustment is sitting down when my feet hurt from high-heeled shoes. Root cause? Throwing out the shoes. Pain killers? They’re a different animal altogether.

Pain killers are reactive not proactive. If I’m getting a tooth pulled, I ask for painkillers. I ask before hand. I’d rather be proactive than reactive. When pain killers are used reactively they cause the nervous system to send louder signals. The pain persists (when it does) because pain-killers make people increasingly sensitive to pain. Hey, I don’t make the rules. This is human nature. Try shutting down evolution, or pretending a million year old system doesn’t exist – and you won’t win. The old brain is too primitive to listen to reason. Pain signals will be sent with increasing eagerness to alert us. Additional medication prolongs the awful cycle. That is why so many people prefer the softer drugs. If medical marijuana can see one through, why pull out the opioids ? the narcotics?

I don’t like doing yoga high because I value my built-in alarm system. I like knowing when to stop. Pain is a home-grown protection device. When a teacher, even a famous teacher, even a well-known teacher is egging me on, “Why don’t you just? Why don’t you just. . . ” I have no problem saying NO if my hip hurts. Talk about boundaries? I take no chances when it comes to personal space. Saying No, No, and No again is easy if the alternative is risking re-injury. “No don’t touch me. No thank you, no adjustments. No hands on. No. Just no. I can feel where I end and you begin.” There is no need for pushing, pulling. I’ll stick with the teachers who cajole, who encourage. Trust me. Trust your self! If you are honest with yourself you damn well know the difference between forcing and testing, between challenge and foolhardy, between cautious and pantywaist.

What if I don’t? What if I, seriously, don’t know the difference between trying really really hard and trying too hard? What if I can’t tell when enough is enough? I bruise my hamstrings in the January of 2015 through sheer ignorance. I am so used to performing trikonasana in a moment I forget I haven’t warmed up. In demonstrating the simplest pose, a posture I first learned when I was 10 or 12, I freakin’ bruise my hamstring. ouch! ! Did I mention I am a naturally stiff person? Did I mention that pain is a messenger? That little stunt took me months to get over. That’ll teach ya. . .well seriously I did learn a thing or two. Sounds Polly Anna, but paying attention pays dividends. The school of hard knocks does pass out diplomas. I learn from experience what works for me.

Now y’all play nice!

Sat Nam