"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Break in the Clouds

I walked out of yoga last Monday into a damp gray morning that was only slightly lighter than when I'd gone in at 6:00 A.M. One of the teachers has said she likes to watch us leave the studio on these early winter mornings because steam rises from us as we move into the day. This particular class left me not only steaming, but sore and frustrated.

Three months of four-days-a-week practice has resulted in some pretty big changes. None that show on the outside necessarily, but I'm occupying my body very differently these days. It doesn't hurt to stand after sitting for a while. The chronic hip flexor pain I've dealt with in the three years since my hip replacement has improved dramatically. And when I bend over to pick something up, nothing hurts.

Some postures are much easier than they were all those weeks ago. Some I still can't do the full expression of. Most classes, I focus on my breathing and the form of the postures and don't worry about how far I get into them. When I get farther that I did the week before, it's a lovely surprise. As long as I don't expect my body to do more than it can, all's well.

Last week there were two classes in a row where amazing things happened. I did camel twice, the second time actually seeing the floor under me. I did the sit-ups with no pain at all. I was able to grab the sides of my feet for the forward bending posture where before I was lucky to reach the floor in front of me. It felt like I'd moved into new territory, was practicing from a new normal.

I walked into class Monday feeling like I do for most classes, nothing out of the ordinary, only maybe a little more eager because of last week's successes. The temperature in the studio was not overly warm (meaning it stayed around 105) and the humidity didn't seem oppressive. As is usually the case for the early morning classes, the atmosphere was serious and focused, calm and rhythmic.

From the beginning, however, I was stiffer than normal for me. I had to keep coming back to my breath because assuming my body would go back to where it had been two days before wasn't working. I fell out of postures I hadn't fallen out of for a long time. I started to get frustrated, and I could feel tears gathering in my chest, working their way up my throat. I was so glad when the standing series ended and we moved to the floor. As we settled into savasana the teacher said, as she often does, "Let the ground hold your weight." On this day the relief of that almost brought the tears all the way to the surface.

When we got to camel, the posture that is known as the emotional pose, I considered not even getting out of savasana. But I did a partial sit-up (those weren't working at all) and got to my knees for the set-up. I put my hands on my hips, breathed in and tipped my head back. And that's where I stayed. I was dizzy and my back hurt and my left leg wanted to cramp. When the teacher called us into savasana, I was already sitting on my knees in anticipation. Often, the second time (most of the postures are done twice) is easier. That was not the case for me on Monday. I got my head back, but didn't even try to reach my heels. I considered it a victory that the tears stayed inside.

When I finally walked toward my car after class, my mood matched the dark gray morning. The shame voice was ramping up, going from subtle to all-inclusive at the speed of light: All that time and work and you still suck. Is this really how you want to spend your retirement? And while we're on the subject of retirement, weren't you going to focus on your writing? What a joke.

I wasn't laughing. And I was trying hard not to listen. But it was hard, as it always seems to be with shame.

I had just put my sweaty pad in the trunk when something caught my eye. I looked up to see a break in the clouds where gold shone through. It was the first time in days that I'd seen anything but gray. That opening got larger as I drove home. Pink softened the gold and brightened into blue by the time I hit the freeway. The sky was still more gray than anything. My body was still sore. I was still discouraged. But I held that bit of light and color as a gift, and it was enough to sent shame scurrying back into the shadows.

Wednesday's class was easier. I got into camel both times. I was able to make breathing the priority, to return to my breath when the voice tried to get me to force my body into places it's not ready for yet. Places it may never be ready for.

Three months ago I made a commitment to myself to go to yoga regardless of how I feel, and regardless of how fast I see results. It's the one bit of structure I've imposed on this new retired life, the perfect amount. It may be time to add one other commitment to the mix. One, like yoga, that may not show much on the outside, but that will make worlds of difference for me on the inside. Like yoga, showing up consistently for this new commitment is how success needs to be measured. Just showing up with sincere intention, believing the light will find a way through.