Monday, May 20, 2013

Humming

For mother's day this year, my stepmother Carol sent me a stack of photos from my childhood. They had been given to my father (now deceased for many years) at some point by his parents, Eve and Jack, (known to me as Nana and Papa). Carol came upon them while cleaning the basement and shared the bounty with us kids. The photos reminded me how much time I spent at Nana and Papa's apartment. My parents divorced when I was pretty young and my sisters and I spent a lot of time at our paternal grandparents who lived on Chicago's North Side. We learned to take the bus, the Jeffery Express from Hyde Park (the South Side) where we lived. We'd transfer to the Sheridan 151 on Michigan Avenue which dropped us right in front of Nana and Papa's high rise on Lake Shore Drive.

Most of the photos were when I was very little, maybe 3 or 4 years old. There were photos of Nana in her trademark turtleneck sweater smoking a True cigarette, laughing at something, photos of Papa in his signature Ray Bans getting me into my jammies, looking surprisingly comfortable in the role. When my sisters and I visited our grandparents, we'd enter the modern glass lobby through the revolving door where we'd greet one of the doormen who knew us well. As the doorman buzzed us into the elevator room, we'd hear him calling Nana and Papa, "Mr. Culberg, the girls are on their way up."

What I remember most is Nana standing in her front door as the elevator doors opened. She'd hold out her arms to us and smile. Then, whoever reached her first would be wrapped up in a hug at her bosom where she'd gently sway and hum. Nana always hummed. After Nana died my mom said that she probably hummed to help her manage her chronic back pain. It made sense. Nana hummed when she hugged us, but she hummed other times too-- watching TV, cutting carrots, shopping for clothes.

The other day in class Penni talked about a really tough class she'd recently had as a student. She said she was really struggling, lying out in Savasana to get herself together when she realized she was humming. Penni shared that experience with us in class, "Notice how you manage your discomfort," she said. "For me, I was managing my discomfort by humming."

I've been thinking about this a lot since Penni's class that day. We all have tools that we don't even know we have. I wonder if Nana ever knew she hummed all the time. It took Penni by surprise to find herself humming. This morning I had a really hard class. My back was hurting and I was stressing about it. It hurt to forward bend. It hurt to backward bend. But mostly, I was mentally struggling, trying to manage the idea that I too was being struck down with the Culberg Back Pain Affliction, that I'd struggle with it for the rest of days, humming through life.

But I didn't hum like Nana. I'm surprised at my response to this struggle. I talked to myself as I rested out more postures than I completed. "This will pass Laura," I told myself. "This is a moment in time, and this too shall pass." I know I do this in other areas of my life too. My back feels good right now, but I know realistically that my back will hurt again at some point. Today I got through my mental anguish and fear in class and my body and mind are in a whole new place. If humming works, that's great. If creating your own mantra works, that's awesome. Everyone is different. Everyone's path to self-comfort is their own. The next time you practice yoga, see if you can notice what yours is.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Your breath is your metronome

Last year, I took piano lessons for a few months. I loved it but I just couldn't find the time to keep it up. The phrase I heard most often from my piano teacher Gretta, was, "SLOW DOWN." "Laura," she'd say gently, "you are going too fast for your brain. If you go too fast, you won't learn it." Slowing down is the single hardest thing for me to do. I am known in my family as "Clumsy Culberg." I scrape, break, cut, and dent body parts, dishware, household furnishings and cars. I just go too fast. One of the two songs I learned with Gretta was "Across the Universe" by The Beatles. It's a pretty mellow song, but you wouldn't know it hearing me race through the notes. Gretta's instruction to me was to play so slowly that my brain and my fingers were able to sync up.

When I was a kid we had my great-grandmother Laura's grand piano in our living room. We had an old fashioned metronome placed on top that my mom sometimes used when she played. Now I have a metronome, the same old fashioned kind sitting on my piano at home. Lucia uses it frequently in her piano practice, but I have a hard time using it when I practice. The times when I have used the metronome for piano practice, I find myself a bit stressed out. Who's keeping pace with whom? There's a power struggle--me versus the metronome. I expect the ticker to follow me! "Hurry up!" I want to shout at the little wooden trapezoid. It has gotten easier to follow the pacing every time I practice-- the more slowly I play, the easier it is to follow the rhythm of the metronome.

When I teach yoga, there is almost always someone in class who speeds through the postures. Maybe it's because they dislike a particular posture or they have pain or they are just tired of hearing my voice. Yoga is like music. You have to learn the notes to play a the song. Sure, you could walk into a room, look at a photo of someone doing Eagle Pose and just do it. But the point of Yoga is to get into the poses by learning how to get into the poses, observing what your body parts are doing, noticing how your mind is reacting, following your breath and keeping yourself calm as you do the poses. Doing yoga without the process would be like sitting down at the piano, looking at the notes and then pressing play your iPod to hear the song.

When you start to hurry too much in Yoga, when you notice that you're skipping to the end, missing the steps, try to slow down. In Yoga, your breath is your metronome. At first it might be hard to slow down but you'll get there. Take your time and enjoy the process of learning the postures. You'll be really glad you did.