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Saturday, 1 May 2010

Birthday Presnts, Yoga & Podcasts

For my birthday way back in January Topher gave me a one week pass for unlimited classes at the Ashtanga Yoga Centre of Toronto (AYCT). It took me a long time to find a week where I'd be free enough to take full advantage of it. I went on Monday and did a led ashtanga class and since then I've been going every day. Today is Friday and instead of doing a led ashtanga class I joined in with the led primary series. Obviously there were many poses that I could not do, but I kept up with the vinyasas between poses to keep warm, and felt like I learned a lot just from watching the other practitioners who could (and did) do the full series. I was mildly miffed with myself though, because I didn't even think of bringing a towel. The result is that many of the moves that I think I could have attempted, I didn't - because I was too slick with sweat! I'll definitely be back though. I intend to go tomorrow and sunday also.

It's been a long time since I did yoga regularly (about 2 years). While I was still living in Taiwan and doing yoga at Pure, I could feel myself slowly improving. Binds that just didn't happen the first few months slowly became not only possible but really easy. Going back to ashtanga, on the other hand, is the reverse. Things that I was able to do have suddenly become
intensely challenging and more often than not, impossible. Can't even remember what it was like to be able to do it.

For the first three days of consecutive ashtanga, every part of my body whined and whinged at me. I learned to move carefully and gingerly through simple movements like putting on and taking off my jacket in order to minimize the wincing in between. By day four though the pain subsided somewhat, and today (day five), it doesn't hurt at all!

Recently listening to Radiolab's episode on lying to yourself (I think that's the episode) I heard an interesting snippet about how athletes psych themselves up before a competition. I think the gist is that top athletes are convinced that they can win. This sounds kinda stupid - but there is a big difference between thinking that you are definitely going to win and thinking that you might or might not win, depending on who's in the competition with you etc. The former is almost certainly over-confident, while the latter is more rational. The point though, is that athletes who win are those who manage to deceive themselves into believing that they will win, not those who take in a rational and balanced view of their chances.

This reminded me of doing acro with Iain back in Edinburgh, when he was basing me in a candlestick. He then got me to pike and come down, as far down as I can go without touching the floor with my toes, and then pull myself back up to candlestick again with my core. I think I managed it a few times, but then eventually I just kind of flopped down. At the time he said to me that I could do it, even though I think I can't - whereas I was convinced that I simply can't. In retrospect I now think that my losing faith in myself is a contributing factor to my inability to continue.

So now when I do yoga I don't ever allow myself to think 'I can't do this.' Nor do I ever allow myself to picture coming out of a pose ahead of time (and the relief it would bring!). Instead I think: '5 breaths? 10? 20? Fuck yeah. I can totally do this' (yes, in my mind the word 'totally' is bold and italicized, sometimes even underlined). I think this has changed my attitude and my practice a lot. Obviously this doesn't mean that I can always make my body do whatever I want it to do without fail - but it has helped.

Another thing that has helped: David, one of the yoga instructors at the AYCT, encouraged us to not think about 'where we need to be' but to enjoy 'where we are.' Sounds kinda trite, I know - but it makes a hell of a lot of sense when you're trying really hard to do this sort of thing (struggling with your own extreme discomfort):


I think this might actually be a picture of David though I can't swear to it. Anyway, the important thing is that I realized that it doesn't matter if I can't get into the full pose. What matters is that I was there, doing what I was doing.

It made me think about how I've often felt since I moved back to Canada - like I ought to be somewhere else, doing something else, something better, somehow. Sometimes I get positively depressed, just by not living up to some kind of imaginary expectation of my own. Now it doesn't seem to matter quite so much. Or maybe I just feel like a hero because I've been going to ashtanga five days in a row?

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