Wednesday, October 27, 2010

beyond pain

"Pain that you have not yet experienced is avoidable."

That's what my yoga instructor, Patty, said to our class yesterday morning. We were in savasana, or corpse pose, and I was trying to meditate. As usual, I was failing -- this time because I was thinking about food.

Pain that you have not yet experienced is avoidable.

It was exactly what I needed to hear. When my thoughts drifted to lunch, I repeated the mantra in my head.

I have a little yoga crush on Patty, another Shakti Box instructor I've only recently discovered. She's an excellent touchstone as I try to sort out what exactly my yoga practice means. Or, rather, what I want it to mean.

I came to yoga because in roller derby, you fall a lot. Often you put your hand out to break the fall. It’s instinctive. And if these repetitive falls are causing nerve compression in your elbow and neck, you won’t be doing your body any favors by adding a daily routine of push-ups, tricep dips and overhead presses on top of it. Sadly, it took me a long time to figure this out. My body didn't want to do the stuff I was forcing it to do, but I was in denial.

It was about a year and a half ago that my former roommate, Shannon, rekindled her lapsed yoga practice. She started coming home late from work with a mat rolled under her arm. She bought yoga blocks, DVDs and books. She told me about this great new donation-based studio she'd discovered just down the street from our apartment. She recommended instructors.

Meanwhile, my body was breaking down, but I was dangerously attached to my workout routine. When it became clear that I couldn’t keep doing what I'd been doing, yoga started to seem like some kind of compromise. I'd always been wary of the practice -- the spiritual junk made me squirm, and I harbored a lot of preconceived ideas about a certain yuppie, bourgeois culture. I was afraid that it wouldn’t be challenging enough for me. I worried it might be boring and I wouldn't stay in shape. Would they play weird music? Would I be forced to chant? The whole thing seemed strange and cultish and way outside my comfort zone, but then again, so was derby at first, so I decided to give it a shot.

I started yoga with the mentality that a workout wasn't valuable unless it left you wrecked and choking on your own sweat. Fortunately, it was easy enough to find Vinyasa flow 2/3 and power yoga instructors who could work me this way. So maybe I was missing the point of this whole yoga thing, but hey, I was getting a solid workout and my nagging injuries were no longer being exacerbated. Some of them even seemed to be improving.

My practice is evolving, though, and my affection for Patty is evidence of that. Don't get me wrong: her classes are challenging and rigorous, but I don't feel like she's trying to kill me. The good news is that I'm starting to be OK with that.

Ego is kind of a big deal in yoga. Lately, when an instructor talks ego during class, I listen a little more closely. Confronting my ego has made me less competitive, which has been great for my yoga practice, but not so helpful for derby. It's forced me to question why I'm still skating when a thrice weekly practice regimen isn't so fun anymore. For years, I was fueled (at least in part) by competitive energy. I think this kind of energy can have value -- a time and a place and a purpose -- but the reality I'm coming to terms with is that it's no longer serving me.

The other night, when I told Lei about my impending derby retirement, he asked, "What are you going to do with all that free time?"

"Practice more yoga, I guess." There are other things I have in mind too, but those were the first words that flew from my mouth. Certainly, it seems like a good place to start.

Monday, October 18, 2010

breaking up with derby

My gear is falling apart and it stinks. Duct tape is the only thing holding my wristguards together. After practice, when I peel the sweat-soaked pads from my knees and elbows, I know the smell is buried in the folds of my skin. I leave the locker room smelling like a locker room.

It's time to buy new gear, but I've been holding out because retirement looms. (Maybe). Why should I drop the cash on pads that I may only wear for another couple of months?

And why can't I say, definitively, that this is the end?

My team, Fight Crew, won our bout a couple of weekends ago. It felt pretty amazing following our previous 2010 games, which were both losses. We're still contenders for champs. And this girl had a good night-- highest scoring jammer of the evening. Not too shabby for a skater in her twilight years.

Photo by Tim the Enchanter.

I've been saying for a while that 2010 would be my last season. Then I backpedaled. Now I'm back to thinking it's time to hang up my skates. Age-wise, compared to other LADD skaters, I'm neither old nor young. But in derby years, I'm a fucking relic. I've been skating with the Dolls since 2004, and there are only a handful of skaters who've been around as long.

An infamous TXRD skater once said: "Roller derby. It was harder to quit than heroin." She'd gone in and out of retirement twice.

I still love skating games, but lately, practice has become a chore. I don't look forward to it and I rarely give 100%. I'm just not inspired. I want to be, but most of the time it feels like I'm going through the motions. There are so many amazing skaters in the league now, and rather than wanting to compete with them, I think, "let them have it." These days, I'm more excited about headstands and mastering different arm balances.

I'm lousy at breakups. For the last six years, roller derby has been the center of my life -- everything else has come second. When I finished grad school, rather than don a cap and gown and walk with my classmates, I chose to skate an outdoor flat track game at the North Hollywood YMCA in 100-degree weather (this is back when the Dolls were between venues). The announcers presented me with a phony diploma as my mother watched, fanning herself with a program. It was not the event she'd come to Los Angeles to see, but I skated a good game that afternoon, and she was proud.

Roller derby: I loved it and still love it. This sport changed me fundamentally. I still can't believe I lived 25 years convinced that I had zero athletic ability -- that I was physically weak. And thanks to derby, I've met some of the most amazing women that otherwise I never would've known. Physically and mentally, however, all signs point to letting go. It's one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. On one hand, there's going to be a huge, gaping hole in my world when I leave the Doll Factory after my final game. On the other, I'm pretty excited about what I might find to fill it.

But don't hold me to it. Maybe I'll change my mind tomorrow.