om gam yoga

Melbourne yoga instruction by Sophie Langley

Category: meditation

Sodden feet

Last night I ventured out just as it started to pour with rain. I quite like rain. And I’m rarely without an umbrella.

My umbrellas are always bright and cheerful. I’ve had yellow, green, blue. My current umbrella is pink with polka dots. This choice of gaudy umbrellas is completely deliberate.

There’s a picture of me as a small child standing at the bottom of the front steps of our house in Goulburn, peering out from under an umbrella. The expression on my face is one of happy fascination.

On a good day, that’s still how I feel about rain. Choosing a brightly coloured umbrella is my way of reminding myself that it’s possible to forget about the inconvenience of rain, to forget to worry about whether I’m getting wet. It reminds me that I’ve inherited my Dad’s fascination with weather, and brings out that part of me that wants to jump in the puddles rather than carefully step around them.

Because let’s face it: I’m probably going to end up with sodden feet anyway.

Thinking about the toes of my boots, which are still damp from last night’s rain adventure (no puddle-jumping, but I did give up on trying to avoid the puddles), I remembered that I once posted a little piece here about rain and umbrellas and ruined shoes.

‘Nevermind,’ she said quietly to herself as her suede shoes were rapidly ruined by the rain. At least they had character now.

She stood under her broken umbrella on the unfamiliar street corner and marvelled at the genius of the contraption she held above her head.

Somehow the rain never made her sad anymore. It reminded her of a place she missed dearly but was also glad to be away from. It reminded her of him, of that street, of that house and of the wet-cold winters. And it always brought a smile to her face, even if her shoes had become its victim.

Finding this piece immediately reminded me of all the other times I’ve been stuck in the rain — sometimes with an umbrella, sometimes without — and how each of those moments still sits in my mind, linked in no other way except by the phenomenon of water falling from the sky. It also reminded me of just how many pairs of shoes I’ve lost, standing out in the rain, and how it’s not that ruination that I remember first, but the freedom that comes from realising each time that I can’t do anything about it.

~

This is cross-posted over at my writing blog, avocadoandlemon.

Advertisements

Grief and yin yoga

My beloved grandmother, Mamie, died early last Friday morning.

It brings tears to my eyes to type that, and I’m sure it will for quite some time. My Mamie had class. She had a sweet tooth, and a fondness for a G&T or a whiskey. She also had a wicked sense of humour, which she retained until the end. I loved her dearly.

Fridays are usually quiet days for me, work-wise. I made last Friday a quieter one than usual. Mum had called me with the sad news just before I went into my usual Friday Yin Yoga class (as a student, thankfully), and I’d spent the entire class watching the waves of tears and quiet calm come and go. Yin Yoga has come to play such an important role in my life. It’s a quieter form of yoga than the Vinyasa that I mainly teach, and often practice; it’s passive, reflective, it allows you time to notice things that are sitting below the surface. The challenge of this style of yoga is to just let those things be, even if they’re not pleasant or ideal, which is really tough sometimes. Last Friday was one of those tough times for me.

The poses were more challenging physically. Every time I moved into balasana (child’s pose) the tears would come. As I sat in stillness, they ran down my face and dripped onto my mat. My nose blocked, and I had to breathe through my mouth if I wanted to breathe at all. Keeping my breath slow and even was extremely difficult. Hip stretches were almost unbearable (according to yogic teachings, we store the effects of strong emotions in our hips).

But more challenging still was my mind. It traversed a lifetime of Mamie-memories, and fixated on other members of my immediate and extended family, who I knew would be feeling grieved too. Every time a new thought arose, the lump in my throat would return, and my breathing would become shallow. In Yin Yoga, the idea is to notice your mind wandering and continue to gently bring it back to focus on your breath. For so much of that class, my mind was so far away from any kind of breath focus, and it did not want to come back. Being patient with myself, rather than being angry at my lack of focus, was extremely difficult.

After class, I realised that attempting the editing or research work I had been planning to do would be completely ridiculous. So for the rest of the day, I pottered around, catching up on some reading I needed to do, writing a few bits and pieces. And crying a whole lot more.

Mamie is not the first person close to me to die. Grief is not new to me. But this way of dealing with it — actually allowing myself to just sit and cry — is. And it feels far more natural than anything else I’ve tried. Not denying those feelings, actually expressing them, while not pleasant, is liberating. Don’t get me wrong, I still feel sad, but I feel like I’m allowed to feel sad.

My Mamie was not at all well by the time she died. She’d had dementia for quite some time, and in December last year, she’d had a stroke. She was frail, and she was ready to be free of this life. I am truly glad for her that she can be now.

My sadness is all for myself and the other people left behind. I’ve often thought this about grief: it’s so strangely selfish. Understandably so, obviously. But it’s still an odd thought. And it’s such a mixed bag of feelings. There’s just plain sad; there’s regret and guilt; there’s anger, frustration; there’s holding on for dear life; there’s fear. In the last few days I’ve felt all of these things. At times I haven’t known where the tears were coming from, I haven’t been able to attach them to a specific part of my grief. They’ve just come, almost spontaneously. And I’ve let them.

But maybe I’m wrong; maybe grief isn’t entirely selfish. Grieving for someone shows they meant something to you, it acknowledges that they’ve made an impact. And I can’t say that’s entirely selfish. Mamie was very dear to me — and indeed to many people who knew her. That saying goodbye to her is difficult shows how deep the groove she made in my heart is.

One of my favourite bloggers, Claire Bidwell Smith, writes beautifully about grief. (You can read some of her posts on the subject here.) She has known so much grief in her life. Both her parents had died by the time she was 25, and she often writes about how much she misses them.

I already miss my Mamie, and I will continue to — probably for the rest of my life.

I will miss her smile. I will miss her voice. I will miss her saying things are ‘glorious’ and calling me ‘darling’. I will miss her soft hair, which resisted grey for so long. I will miss her big old glasses, without which she could hardly see a thing. I will miss her telling me I’m in her prayers, which I always loved even though I’m not religious myself. I will miss her asking me how old I am, and being shocked each time that the number is so high. I will miss her silliness. I will miss her wicked sweet tooth. I will miss her handwriting. I will miss her hands. I will miss so many more things about her — many I’m yet to think of or realise, I’m sure.

Goodbye, dearest Mamie. You will stay in my thoughts always.

~~

This is cross-posted over at my writing blog, avocado and lemon.

Holiday Yoga

In the last few days before Christmas, while I was still at home in Sydney, yoga had started to disappear much further down the To Do List than it might normally be. (Of course, with all the last minute organising, yoga is probably exactly what I needed to keep my mind reasonably sane.) While I stood over pots of onion and chilli jam, despaired at failed shortbread (something I’ve never managed to fail at before!), and rushed out to the shops for panicked additions to presents, I realised that my usual yoga practice just wasn’t going to happen – at the yoga studio or at home. I needed to start thinking about what kind of practice I might be able to foster while I was rushing around all over the place.

I have a fairly dedicated home yoga practice. I was reluctant to give it up or change it. But, as I eventually realised, either it changed to fit the craziness that seems to come with the festive season, or I wouldn’t get any yoga in at all.

Of course, yoga is as much about flexibility of the mind as it is of the body. And in inner-city Sydney, yoga is almost always competing with chaos. The yoga studio I frequent most as a student sits right under the flight path and next to a scrap metal recycler; another studio I attend is just across the road from a popular (read: noisy) Newtown pub. Even in the classes I teach I’m often working around traffic noise or slotting into the lunchtime of a busy corporate student. And really, the festive season – and the interruption to routine that often continues well beyond 25 December – is just a heightened version of the balance between chaos and control that comes with everyday life.

As Sally Kempton, renowned US yogic philosopher says, “Whether consciously or unconsciously, we are all engaged in pas de deux between our desire to keep things under control, and our longing to ride with the unpredictable. One on hand, control is essential. Without it we would never mature, never accomplish our goals, and never transform bad habits… In so many ways, control is good, necessary and admirable… [But] that useful, necessary control mechanism has a tendency to turn tyrannical… since life is basically out of control, your attempts to control outcomes will often end in frustration. If you can’t let go of your need to control when necessary, you’ll be at the mercy of your stress hormones.”

And this is true with a yoga practice too. Sometimes life just gets in the way, and we might have to be content with a reduced or altered practice. I might not be able to have as expansive a practice as I’m used to, but surely some yoga is better than none at all.

Two days before Christmas my housemate and I took a break from our cooking marathon and lay with our legs up the wall in our front hallway; we realised we’d never seen our house from that angle before. Most mornings leading up to Christmas I practiced some form of pranayama, which is usually only a very minor part of my practice; I rediscovered the amazing impact this practice has on your energy levels. And quiet meditation – even just five minutes – has helped me get my thoughts into order and settle into the new places I’ve found myself as I’ve travelled around to visit my family.

Trying new things in my yoga practice has given me a fresh outlook – never a bad thing as the new year rolls around. I have a whole lot of plans (yoga-related and otherwise) for the new year, and they involve a shake-up of what was my routine before the Christmas period. I’m sure when I return to Sydney, yoga will change for me all over again, and I’m okay with that.