Yoga has been a huge part of my life for the past 13 years. For 11 of them, I have practiced Ashtanga yoga, which is taught in the traditional method, the way it is practiced in India. It consists of a series of asanas (poses) done in a certain order. The teacher gives you asanas (poses) one at a time, adding them as you are ready. There is no music, other than your breath and the breath of others in the room. There is no cheering on by the teacher. There is the breath (with sound, called ujjayi breath). When done right, it sounds like ocean waves. Your focus in inner – on your own practice, rather than keeping up with the teacher telling you what to do next or with others in the room. The teacher goes around the room giving adjustments and helping the students, but we are engaged in a self-practice, all at different levels, starting at slightly different times depending on when we arrive in class. The practice is really a moving meditation. Instead of listening and trying to follow what the teacher is telling you to do, you focus on your own practice, your own breath, and your own inner life. The practice consists of six series (very, very few people in the world do all six – most are doing primary, which is the first series, and some are doing intermediate, the second series and the third series). I completed the primary series and am part way through intermediate. The primary series is a healing series, which seems so right for my battle.
I love my practice. For all 11 years I have practiced with my teacher, Matthew, in Royal Oak. I also,practice with Ro, Danielle and Elizabeth when they sub for him.
The practice has helped me be strong, vigorous, and flexible, both in my body and in my mind. It has taught me patience. I am someone who quickly studies a situation, decides what I want to do and does it. Patience has never been a strong suit. I usually am done with a problem while others are still mulling it. I also am someone who loves to talk with people, and who moves quickly. I sprint rather than linger. I am not good when someone walking ahead of me moves strolls slowly, because I move quickly. Ashtanga yoga, which takes patience and discipline, has helped me learn to accept that I cannot do everything, that there are days I have to stop early and that is okay, and that when I am facing a very difficult asana, I have to practice, practice, practice and it may take a long time before I get into it fully, or maybe I never will. I have to be patient and flexible in my approach. I have to be deliberative. It is also a practice, because of its inner focus, that makes you face yourself, face your attributes and deal with it. There have been times when at the end of the practice, I simply sit in padmasana (lotus pose) and tears come down my face. It is usually when I have been facing something stressful but avoiding it as I run around keeping very so busy. The letting go is a relief. The meditative aspect of the practice is soothing and helps with stress.
Many times I have used what I call my yoga breathing to deal with adversity – indeed during the worst of my nausea in chemo I practiced ujjayi breath, and it helped somewhat. In my law practice, I am a tough advocate, but yoga has helped me not to be drawn into the fray, that is, when opposing counsel is engaging in what I call three year old tantrum conduct, or trying to bully. While I do not back down, I also step back and observe that the tantrum, the bullying is not effective. By keeping my calm, but also not backing down, usually the other counsel is stopped in his or her tracks. It works well. Being an advocate does not mean screaming and shouting, and yoga keeps me from letting the anger take over. My teacher often says that we should practice disengagement – not become too attached to the asanas. That is what I am doing when I disengage from someone trying to get a rise out of me. I may respond in a tough manner, but not because I am just reacting. Instead, it is calculated. /p>
Alan says I am a yoga elitist because I have said that the vinyasa and power yoga classes of many American yoga studios often remind me of yoga aerobics, with a lot of students simply trying to keep up and feel the burn. That is not true for all such classes, and there are many teachers of American style yoga that are wonderful teachers. At the studio by my house mt teachers Katherine, Nancy, Lynn, Deb, and Kathyare wonderful teachers who respect the tradition. I go to their shorter Ashtanga classes and their Karma flow classes and love them. I do go to some vinyasa classes at the studio near my house where the teachers are wonderful, they instruct in the correct alignment and the classes respect the tradition. I enjoy the classes. But my first love is always Ashtanga. I simply love the self practice, inner focus, meditative aspect of Ashtanga. I love that wherever I go in the country, if there is an Ashtanga studio it is part of my community, I feel like I am home, they often know my teacher, and the community welcomes me. It is a tight knit community, all over the world. It is not a practice for everyone. I often hear people say they cannot do the same thing over and over and they want a teacher who does something different every day. For me, and others who practice Ashtanga, we know that from day to day the practice is not the same. While we may repeat the series, every day our bodies and minds are different and we bring something different to the mat. Some days I fly through my practice effortlessly. Others, I walk in and am not sure I can even finish, but then as the I get into it, the meditative aspect takes over and suddenly I am done. The teachers who brought this practice from India in the early 1970’s are amazing, wise and I have practiced with many of them. I love the history,their wisdom and their respect of the practice as it is done in India. I also was lucky enough to practice with Pattabi Jois in New York before he died. He was the modern guru of this practice. My teacher learned directly from him.
Yoga has kept me vigorous and strong and continues to do so. On my off weeks (week off from chemo) I generally do my full Ashtanga practice, which is about 1 1/2 hours. On chemo weeks near the end of the week, I do some restorative or more gentle classes at the lovely studio near my house with my teachers there who also held my healing circle. I do what is right for my body that day. In either case, yoga is part of my healing and a major factor in my attitude and my resolve to fight this.
As I go through this battle, I realize that yoga has prepared me for this, that it continues to help me heal, and that the core of what it has taught me has come to good use to help me. My yoga breathing is always at the forefront when I am stressed or feeling awful. Living in the moment is as well. Visualizing myself as healthy and strong and the strength I have gained from my years of practice has helped me stay strong. I know this is a long fight, but developing my practice and continuing to do so, is also something that has taken a long time and discipline. This all stands me well.
Om is the sound of the universe and also can mean infinity. Shanti means peace. That is how I view yoga and its role in my healing as I go through this battle. Namaste.