Wednesday, March 26, 2014

You work really really hard. And then you rest.

Last week, Sarah, one of our beloved students finally had her baby. Sarah practiced through her whole pregnancy until two days before she went into labor. She had a fast labor that ended with a healthy baby boy. Sarah is an incredibly focused, dedicated student. She works hard and she doesn't take herself too seriously. It was a delight to teach her every week while her belly grew and her practiced evolved with her changing body.

The week before Sarah went into labor (by this point she was already days overdue), we talked about a preparatory conversation she had with her midwife. In getting Sarah ready, her midwife said, "Sarah, you do Bikram right? Giving birth is a lot like Bikram-- you work really really hard and then you rest."

Yes! That's so true. You work really really hard. And then you rest. I remember being in labor. It was a slog, 42 hours, 6 different midwives, nipple stimulation, stair walking, yoga poses. When I heard Sarah retelling her midwife's advice, it all came flooding back to me. Yes, you work hard and then you rest. In the final phase of my labor, right before I was ready to push Lucia out, I literally fell asleep between contractions. I was working so hard and I needed to rest. My body knew what to do.

In yoga, our teachers guide us into postures, encouraging us to work hard, and reminding us to rest when we need to rest. In childbirth, we do this as a means to an end, to get to the baby. In yoga, we are practicing the "work hard-rest rhythm" to rebirth ourselves, so at the end of our practice, while there is no new baby waiting, we get to welcome our new selves, rebirthed in our own way, happily worked out and fully rested.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Consciously place your mind.

Last week I was reading Cyndi Lee's newsletter in which she talked about basic mindfulness meditation and the instructions to "consciously place your mind." As most of my students know by now, Savasana is my favorite posture to teach. There is so much there. To be able to consciously relax offers us a respite for all that ails us.

When I read those words, "consciously place your mind", I was so excited. What perfect words to share with my class! A lot of yoga practice is about putting your body into different physical positions, some people would even say contorting the body. We spend years learning to balance, bend, stretch, open, and twist. Savasana doesn't require that same coordination, but it involves a similar intention. Just as we position our bodies, so too can we position our minds, consciously place them in a state of relaxation.

I've learned in my own practice and observed over the last twelve years as a teacher, that Savasana is the pose that takes the most work to get into and it is the easiest pose to fall out of. My personal balance in Savasana is tenuous: I can lose my focus if I am not fully engaged. Everyone has something that helps them reach a place of conscious relaxation, and for many, that thing changes daily. Focusing on the rhythm of your breath, keeping your eyes fixed on one spot, following the movement of breath in and out of your nose. For me, recognizing the similarity between my physical practice and my mental practice in Savasana has helped profoundly. I work so hard to coordinate all of my limbs in Garurasana, twisting, pulling, bending. I am very consciously positioning my arms and legs and hips and shoulders. Now, when Savasana comes, I tell myself, "consciously place your mind Laura." And just as I tell my body where to go, I am helping my mind to find its place.