Movement and Stillness

Greetings from sunny Santa Cruz! Technically, I'm in neighboring Aptos, but it's pretty darn close. So, in any case, greetings! I'm feeling just fabulous!

Well, fabulous with a side of anxiety, a direct result of too much alone time with my thoughts. Maybe it's more accurate to say that I'm feeling just 'anxious' with a side of fabulous. fabulous with a lowercase f.  Hm...ok, so maybe fabulous isn't quite the right feeling at all.  

Let's just say, I'm having highs and lows out here on the West Coast, and over these last two days, I've been all on my own with these thoughts of mine. And sometimes my thoughts are a cool companion. Other times, my thoughts are a bunch of angsty little shit-stirrers.  And, since I decided to be all, let's get introspective and take a TV detox while I'm out here, my thoughts can get pretty moody and rowdy and altogether impossible to ignore or shut off.

In times like these, these overwrought-with-shit-stirring-thought times, thank goodness for yoga. My peaceful sanctuary, my way to quietly enjoy the presence of others while breathing space and silence into my pounding, jumpy, thunderclapping brain. And hey, It's California right? The land of yogi hippie vegan people! So, there must be TONS of Vinyasa classes available just around the corner at any hour of the day.  Not exactly, as it happens. 

With my Vinyasa options practically nonexistent, today I decided to break out of familiar territory and take an Iyengar yoga class. My first ever Iyengar inspired yoga class.  

We are, like, soooo not in Kansas anymore, Toto.  

If you're not familiar with Vinyasa or Iyengar, here's a simplified set of descriptors. Vinyasa classes tend to flow to the rhythm of the breath, with movement linked to each inhale and exhale. Some postures are held longer, but usually not for more than a few breaths. Iyengar is not like this at all. The focus of Iyengar yoga is on in-depth and detailed alignment, using a bunch of props for support, and holding poses for many breaths. Many many breaths. Many many many breaths.

The class began with a collective AUM, some additional call and repeat chanting (the Invocation to Patanjali), and a brief analysis of one of the yoga sutras of Patanjali. I don't remember which one, but it had to do with the intensity of faith and effort. How's that for vague? I admit I wasn't 100% plugged into the yoga sutra review because my monkey brain was busy kicking up the anxiety about the asana/posture part of the practice and the not-knowing quite what to expect, mixed in with some lingering self-consciousness from the previous chanting.

The movement and postures portion of practice began with a highly detailed, guided downward dog, and a series of half-sun salutations. We then moved into set of hip-and-hammie focused postures, held at extreme-to-my-unaccustomed-brain-and-body lengths. Several of the postures involved standing on one leg, with the other leg parallel to the floor, foot flexed up against the wall. During these ultra-intense standing balances, the instructor gave several incredibly useful, highly descriptive, rich and detailed cues to focus on, and plenty of encouragement to help calm the mind and keep the breath flowing. These poses all looked so still on the outside, but SOOOO much was swirling beneath the surface! It's amazing how much of a sweat you can work up by simply standing with your foot pressed against the wall.

We also did some bat-like movements. Now what do I mean by that exactly? I mean that with the support of a bunch of thick ropes hanging from the side walls and a stack of blankets, we created these little personal cradles and hung upside down and folded up like bats.  We contorted into a set of funky upside down floating positions with both feet or shins pressed up on the wall, and our heads dangling toward the ground, like bats hanging from the S. Congress bridge in ATX.

For me, going upside down is a strange mix of terrifying, invigorating, and even soothing. Once I got positioned and properly supported in my upside down bat fold (a feat in and of itself) and let go of (some) my fears about the ropes giving and landing on my head, I was able to tap into those deep forward fold benefits, and relieve some of the anxiety and negative thoughts I'd been carrying.

The way we were folding was also very intense on the hips, a place I usually tend to be quite open...but in this position, I realized I may not be as open as I think I am. The instructor talked about the vivid and concentrated emotion and anxiety we often carry in our hips..and indeed, I think this is true for me. I tend to associate the physical manifestation of my stress as living in my shoulders and neck, but these upside-down bat-like folds helped me to gain a whole new level of awareness of the stress and emotion I'm likely carrying around in my hips.

I guess Shakira was onto something. The hips don't lie. (Sorry, couldn't help myself...cue eyeroll).

Class wrapped up with seated twists, a simple bolster-supported restorative pose, shavasana, and a final collective chant of AUM. The whole experience was so incredibly different than the style and format of class I usually take...and yet so extremely familiar.

And you know what? I LOVED it! Iyengar is such an incredible compliment to Vinyasa. For me, Vinyasa is meditation facilitated by a fluid, wave-like movement, each breath signifying an ebb and a flow, a give and a take. My mind clears space with each wave of breath and movement. Iyengar is meditation facilitated by the intense modality of stillness, a focus of the mind to be fully and utterly attentive to the sensations in my body, aware of how subtle adjustments can completely alter my physical being and emotional feelings.

Two different paths, two harmonious perspectives. In the movement of Vinyasa and in the stillness of Iyengar, the breath still flows...clearing space, inviting in freedom, delivering clarity, offering strength, gifting support.

I've been anxious these past few days on my own with the rapid, constant giddyup of my mind here in this unfamiliar California setting,  But it turns out that opening myself up fully to the new experience of an Iyengar influenced yoga practice was just what I needed. Today through Iyengar, I reconnected with the importance of stillness. Stillness as a catalyst for focus, calm and renewal.  

Greetings from sunny Santa Cruz! It seems I might be feeling just Fabulous after all. With a capital F.