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.

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