Active Recovery, and a very welcome sabotage

I am currently in a period of what my boyfriend calls: Active Recovery. Not bed rest as the Victorians liked to treat “hysterical women”, no, doing things is the way to beat this depression.

First of all I have told myself that this period up until the end of the year is dedicated to me feeling better. After week after week after week of feeling bad more often than good I said enough is enough and I contacted my counsellor again. I’m seeing her once a week on a Friday and it’s been good so far.

So I’m rediscovering what makes me feel good, or more stable (heehee) or gives me the hope I will recover. I’m trying to exercise when I’m not ill, which has been frustratingly rare this past couple of weeks. There’s nothing like going for a run on a windy beach to clear the misery cobwebs away. The yoga goes without saying and has been the most conflict-free part of my life since it’s been in my life all of these 3 and a half years.

Some of this doing is actually non-doing, or mindfulness. I bought Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book “Full Catastrophe Living” this summer and decided that this Active Recovery period is perfect to work through it. It’s been fantastic, I feel like I’m coming home. I’ve done a mindfulness book course before which I talked about here. This is more of the same but is not primarily for people with depression, it’s aimed more at people suffering with chronic pain or anxiety or stress. Stress and anxiety I know a bit about, so I thought it would help anyway. It’s all connected. So now I have a mindfulness meditation practice and I’m already feeling the (good) effects.

Finally I have been gently trying to rediscover joy in painting again, curiosity, fearlessness, un self-consciousness, all that wonderful stuff that came so easy when I was 18. I’ve been looking at a lot of other artist’s work and thinking more than producing stuff myself. I’m trying not to force it because I have this little “work work work you’re only as good an artist as your last painting so just do it and shut up” demon on my shoulder and it’s not good for my mind to listen to it.

What I have NOT been doing is pursuing other people for exhibitions, advice etc because that is a bad idea when I’m so vulnerable.

Then why the hell do I get an offer for a full SOLO exhibition in April? Why?? What are you doing to me universe??



Week 8: Moving Toward Balance with Rodney Yee

I did it! I finished the course. After week 7 I caught a cold and I found myself only doing yin (with a tissue during the long forward bends) or restorative or couch yoga (in front of the tv, it counts) When I recovered I couldn’t wait to get back to this course, to get it finished!

Week 8, the last week, was about creating a well-rounded home practice so there’s not really much new ground to cover in terms of new asanas. At this point I was just glad to be moving again after my mega-cold. The main thing that was different from the other weeks was the (relative) long holds in headstand and shoulderstand which I thoroughly enjoyed. I think it was this week I had a massive breakthrough with my headstand which really warrants its own post. It was bizarre, here I was recovering from the worst (or only) cold in a year and I was closer to headstand than ever and because I wasn’t able to walk anywhere my hip flexibility was incredible. It almost made me want to stop walking!

So to round off my Rodney Yee yoga adventure I will sum up some good effects and bad effects of following this course.

Bad effects:

  • Meditation. I’ve been keeping up a regular, non-demanding meditation practice since March which I kept separate from my yoga asana practice. Since Rodney included a short 5-15 minute meditation after the asana practice I gave up my other meditation time. This meant that when the course finished, so did my meditation practice. This had repercussions.
  • General vinyasa fitness. My yoga practice usually involves lots of linking poses together, practicing jumping back and forward in the surya namaskar and generally a lot of movement. I noticed after practicing Rodney’s mainly static sequences for those weeks my fitness in my normal yoga classes decreased.
On to the good effects:
  • Left knee pain: I’ve had some vague joint pain in my inner left knee since February. Nothing serious but it stopped me trying half lotus and squats were hard too. I noticed that it helped to sit in hero pose but didn’t think too much of it. After several weeks of Rodney’s repeated long stays in reclined hero pose the left knee pain is no more! A miracle!
  • Headstands and handstands: I am now more familiar with these demon poses and well on my way to thinking about calling them friends. Or at least calling them more often.
  • Longer holds: The course has made me aware of how short my holds in downward dog and up dog can be. After some shameful arm shaking it’s put me in the habit of longer holds which has led to a stronger me and a stronger practice.
  • Restorative poses: There’s some fantastic ones which I will definitely be adding to my regular practice. Hello bolster!
  • Long passive backbends: I’ve rediscovered the wonders of passive backbends: reclined hero, supported bridge and supported fish all help to open me up for a deeper backbending practice. Sometimes slow and steady wins the race. The race for healthy backbends!
  • Slower pace, fewer poses: This has helped shift me away from the constant go-go-go you get in vinyasa sometimes and to a quieter more contemplative practice. I need to be reminded of the value of this every so often.
So that’s it, the good outweighed the bad and the bad was only temporary. This concludes my little yoga experiment, relinquishing control of my own beloved home practice temporarily has taught me many things. But I was so glad to get back to my own practice!
What next? Maybe the 300 week courses in the back of Light on Yoga??

Week 7: Moving Towards Balance with Rodney Yee

Goodness! I’m writing about something that happened way way back in September. Nevermind,I’ve got a good memory, or at least I hope I have…

Week 7 was headstands. I’ve always been a bit take-it-or-leave-it with inversions. Maybe that’s because I can’t do any! Except for shoulderstand, my token inversion. So at this point I was doing fairly uncomfortable shoulderstands (somewhere along the way I forgot that you have to roll onto the tops of your shoulders one at a time from plough, and then lift up into shoulderstand), my headstands were non-existent although I was still struggling along. I wasn’t expecting to love this week.

Happily, I was wrong. It found me at a time when I had no time and I found myself only doing Rodney’s set sequences, no extra standing poses, no leaping around. I just did what he told me to and I loved that simplicity. Ah if only I someone tell me what to do with the rest of my life…

Rodney believes that standing poses are the best way to warm up for headstand and backbends are the best way to recover. Since I love both standing poses and backbends, who was I to argue? Headstand was the only problem: I couldn’t do it. So I improvised! I set a timer, got myself up against the wall and tried for the length of the timer to balance as best I could. It worked well, I found myself being more familiar with the pose and becoming friends with it. Listening to it wasn’t pretty: lots of banging as my feet flopped against the wall again and again and then a final THUMP as my feet fell to the floor after I finally lost my balance completely.

I re-befriended shoulderstand too, since I discovered my mistake. I was doing an upper back-stand! Now I’ve regained my shoulderstand lovely floaty mojo and it’s toe-numbingly nice. This week introduced the long shoulderstand holds I missed in the week 5 of inversions. I vowed to practice them more.

A couple of poses I did not befriend: elbow balance is impossible (tight shoulders) and handstand (I’m not a natural gymnast and I’m terrified) but altogether this week was great. I finally began to understand the reason why everyone goes on and on and on about the effects of inversions. They’re calming! They’re rejuvenating! I’m a believer now.

Thanks Rodney!

Week 6: Moving toward Balance with Rodney Yee (when I got stuck in a chair)

Despite not being able to do most things that make life worth living, I have been carrying on with my Rodney Yee yoga course. It’s actually been good to have this structure when I sit down to do yoga, especially on days when I’m not feeling great or have been very busy entertaining people. I’ve actually finished the course but very very very behind with these recaps.

Week 6 is forward bends and restorative poses. Just saying that makes me have a big relaxing sigh: “ahhhhhhhh”. I wasn’t looking forward to this week having said that. Looking over it I wondered what the point was, having done Rodney’s dvds a lot early in my practice if there’s one thing his sequences aren’t lacking, it’s forward bends. He loves his forward bends. But then again it’s standing forward bends (uttanasana) he loves and there hasn’t been a single seated forward bend so far in this course, except for a couple of baddha konasanas and upavishta konasanas in that core strengthening sequence.

As usual I found the first day irritating, all those props! But there was two welcome new prop poses- restorative backbends! I love me some backbends and I love me some restoration so I was looking forward to these. The first one was a backbend over two bolsters in a cross formation. Now if you’re lucky enough to have two bolsters I’d imagine this would be heavenly, I had to make do rolling up two blankets but it felt good enough in my hips flexors. By this point in the practice I was very irritable, having done so many variations of forward bends with bolsters, straps etc… but it all went in this little bit. The second was my good friend supported bridge pose (high block under sacrum) and the third was a kind of viparita dandasana on a chair. A chair! See this page to see how this works.  Now I don’t have a yoga chair but I do have a backless chair which worked fine except for a ridge in a very painful place and the inevitable panic I get when I realise that it’s much easier to get in than it is to get out of the chair. I can now add “getting stuck in a chair” as an experience I’ve had thanks to yoga. Does this happen to anyone else? Or are my legs a bit too generous for this prop?! I don’t think this added to do the ‘looking inward’ feel of the forward bending practice.

Another slight problem: supported downward facing dog (with a block under the head). How is it possible to get the block in the right place to support the head? I wonder if proportions are in play here but I just couldn’t get it right, the only thing supporting me was my arms and my legs and that does not make for any kind of restoration for me, holding that for two minutes! Maybe in a few years.

The rest of the practices were nice enough, seated forward bends used to challenge me because of the general lower back stiffness that plagues most habitual chair-users (again with the chairs!) but I’ve made peace with them this past year. So this week with the easy restorative poses and the lovely hip and hamstring opening forward bends I had a relatively easy ride, no major conflicts! Must do this more.

Week 5: Moving toward balance with Rodney Yee

I haven’t been wanting to post on here. Partly because I’ve got out of the habit and partly because I’ve been painting painting painting painting. Look…

I have been loving it too, when I haven’t felt so brain dead I forget what brushes do. So that’s for the first 30 minutes of painting then…

When I haven’t been painting I have been mostly doing yoga and cooking. I haven’t been doing much of my Artist’s Way but I do want to pick it up again. In the meantime here is my long overdue recap of week 5 of Moving toward balance.

Inversions this week! Pretty exciting. I have to say I don’t really understand the term ‘inversions’ as a class of poses. I am sceptical of the benefits that are attributed to them, the reversal of time for instance. The studio I go to is very keen on having at least one inversion in every class, even when they don’t have a single standing pose or backbend. Personally I have found this strange, I mean a headstand is a very different animal from a shoulderstand and when they announce a headstand at the end of a class I’m ready to kill! I just don’t have the energy to wrestle with that blasted pose then.

But this week is not about the headstand, just the handstand and shoulderstand. I have been competent with the shoulderstand for about 2 years. I did have a shaky start when it terrified the hell out of me, bizarre I know. Handstand is still a complete unknown to me. I have tried some half-hearted hops every now and again, usually in the classes where everyone is very keen to do handstands. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to do it but I just don’t think I’m ready.

This week was perfect for me. The handstand in a doorframe was a revelation! No fear at all and the most amazing feeling in my arms and shoulders afterwards. I just couldn’t stop doing it! I highly recommend it if you’re scared of handstands like me. I’m relieved to see another handstand prep Rodney likes, the walking your legs up the wall, is a lot easier than it has been when I’ve tried it before. I must be a lot stronger now.

So the week was fun, lots of handstand prep, standing poses and backbends. I can find myself getting more and more acclimatised to going upside down and putting weight in my hands. Still nowhere near to doing a handstand against the wall though… but I’ll keep trying!

I was surprised at the lack of emphasis on the shoulderstand. There was a lot of shoulderstands against the wall, which to be honest I didn’t see the point of. You only do a full shoulderstand in first and last days of the asanas and then it’s only 30 seconds! Bizarre. I was disappointed because I’ve been wanting to work on my shoulderstand and thought it would be incorporated into the course. Extra-curricular activity for me then! I recently got a fantastic adjustment in shoulderstand and realised that my legs were waaaay too far over my head and nowhere near vertical. This shocked me and I corrected it but now I find it is so much harder to hold! Need to work on that too.

So much to do!

Week 2: the Artists Way

I’ve had a complete turn around with this little self-imposed self-improvement project in the past 24 hours. I’ve been doing it quite half-hearted. I mean I’ve been doing the Morning Pages but not usually 3 pages because I found I was torturing myself to fill it all and meanwhile the morning was tick-tick-ticking away and I do want to do other things you know?! So I told myself just to do some writing. Some has been about 1-2 pages which is better than nothing right?

But the thing I’ve noticed about the Morning Pages is how mundane my thoughts are in the morning. I don’t usually do any ‘creating’ first thing and my thoughts are usually about whether or not I’m sad or anxious, how worried I am about the day ahead, that kind of thing. It’s dull to write. So I don’t know, I like the idea but does it have to be first thing? I’ll carry on for the time being.

The Artists Date was kind of tacked on retrospectively. I went out with my camera and sketchbook on a very sunny day and walked through a little glen I never go through. I then went down to the beach and did some sketches of the local heron! For me this is just work though, but I enjoyed it. Does this count?

So up until yesterday this was the full extent of my ‘creative recovery’. Then I remembered oh yeah, I’m supposed to actually be doing this. So I took a couple of items from my ‘things I like to do list’ which I hastily put together last week. I picked two that I hadn’t done for a while and did them. For me this was play my guitar and read poetry.

I used to play the guitar a lot. I started when I was 12 and I was very very good. Then I lost interest, at 16 I preferred talking to people online and attempting to code terrible websites. Last time I played it with any direction was when I was about 21, 4 years ago now. So I got it out and the smell… mmmm… I love that smell. My shiny Spanish guitar looks exactly as it did 13 years ago when I picked it out at the music shop. And my fingers knew (mostly) what to do, the left forming the right shapes, the right plucking the way they’re supposed to. I was playing! It was glorious.

When I first started playing the guitar I loved it because it just sounded good, even the simplest tunes sound good. Before that I played the violin which I hated because it sounded terrible (when I played it anyway) and it meant I had to play in the island’s youth orchestra. I had no friends in the orchestra. I would dread Saturday morning, until one day I had a meltdown one Friday evening and my parents let me leave. I was only allowed to quit the violin because I took up the guitar instead. My interest in the guitar was mainly because there are no guitars in the orchestra… but I immediately loved it apart from that. Funnily enough I got so good that within a year I was the youngest member in the island’s guitar ensemble, this was fine though because it was much smaller, had adults in it too and had no breaks so no enforced socialising.

So I think I’ll pick up my guitar again. I have a new attitude to practicing now, I practice many things daily, there’s plenty of room for another one. This time it’ll be for the fun of it, not to be the best young guitar player in the island. I love that, the lack of pressure. I can’t wait!

The other thing I did was I read some poetry. It was from the fantastic anthology Being Alive. I love poetry, I actually was a bit of a childhood poet. Bizarre. Now for me it’s about realising that there are other people out there who feel as much as I feel. I felt less alone after reading.

Next week I think I’ll be delving into my childhood again!

Week 3: Moving Toward Balance with Rodney Yee

Ah it’s week 3 already! My time with Rodney is flying by. It’s pretty tough relinquishing control of my yoga practice. When this is over I’ve promised myself that I will allow myself to do whatever I want. I have to say I’m really looking forward to it.

Having said that this week has been the most enjoyable week so far. The reason: backbends! I love backbending. I always feel so joyful and free and my spine feels amazing after backbends. Even better, a lot of the backbends were passive. As in I just got to lie there for a couple of minutes and then change position and lie in that new way for a couple of minutes. Fantastic!

There was one day in particular that involved a repetition of a supported bridge pose (setu bandhasana) with a block at its highest under the sacrum, a reclined heros pose (supta virasana) and lots of short holds of camel (ustrasana) I was in heaven!

However I did have a couple of not-so-fantastic moments. Day one was the usual prop fest. Yoga should not involve so much clearing up afterwards! Does anyone else find it hard to let go in shavasana if they know they have to put away multiple blocks, bolsters and straps afterwards?

There was also a pose which got my goat, but in a good way. A modified fish pose (matsyasana) with a block lengthways under the shoulder blades. That’s not a fantastic description. I took a photo but I cannot post it for the following reasons: I’ve lost the cable so it remains stuck in my camera and I have a very large ribcage which makes the photo look indecent. Maybe that explains my uncomfortableness in the pose. You’re supposed to use a strap to hold the arms together but I couldn’t find a way to put it that didn’t make my arms go numb. My arm bones are a funny shape apparently. This pose felt bizarre. Having a block (also the blanket felt too rigid) under the boniest part of my back just felt wrong. As in hard to breathe properly wrong. A couple of times I freaked out and had to come out early. Fish pose used to have that effect on me but not for a long time now so this is interesting. It’s definitely one to put in my regular practice but god it’s cruel!

So not too many insights this week! I’ve noticed this with my depression-symptom diary which I do daily. If it’s a bad day I’ll write pages and pages describing the nuances of my bad feelings but a good day frequently sees me reassuring my boyfriend when I get out my diary “this won’t take long, I had a good day today”. I wonder why this is.

Week 1: The Artist’s Way

I’ve been on a ‘self-improvement’ kick. First there was Rodney helping me go back to my yoga beginning and building me up better (there’s the hope anyway) and now I’m asking Julia Cameron to help me with my creativity.

Creativity. I’ve always had a problem with this concept. I’m a painter, so I create paintings. A writer creates stories. A composer creates compositions. A cook creates meals. I don’t know how you can be creative if there isn’t a tangible thing to look at, or listen to or taste and say Look! I created this using my creativity! Yet I’ve been frequently described as being creative my whole life. Even when playing musical instruments! I’m just reading what’s written and playing it, what’s creative about that?

It’s this attitude that’s made me regard The Artist’s Way with suspicion from the first day I discovered it when I used to work in a bookshop. It was the most popular book in the Art Techniques section and I was sorely disappointed when I opened it to find there was no artistic techniques in it at all! Just lots of waffle about God and self expression and dreams. (Can I just point out I also did work at this shop, I didn’t just read the books)

Anyway curiosity made me buy it again. I was looking for something to stimulate me. I’m a painter but in my past I’ve also danced, written poetry and stories and played the classical guitar and the celtic harp. I thought maybe having a multi-pronged pincer attack of creativity enhanced joy would help see off my depression once and for all. Such a monster cannot survive in the radiant, fully self-expressed soul that I would inhabit after this course!

That’s the hope anyway.

So, week 1. Main tasks: Morning Pages (3 pages of stream of consciousness writing done every morning) and an Artists Date (taking your ‘inner artist child’ on a date) I did my Morning Pages every day. I’m finding them quite enjoyable… maybe not mind blowing yet. I do a lot of writing as it is. We’ll see. The Artists Date I chose was really quite boring: I read a book. It wasn’t even a good book. Sigh. I need help with that. My inner artists child would not be calling me back after that date. Thank god she’s stuck with me.

There was also a few tasks, of which I only really did one and it was a bit half hearted. You are asked to choose 5 fantasy occupations and then asked to do an activity related to 1 of them. I chose: physicist, sculptor, poet, monk and a counsellor. So I then I sat by myself in a room with a sign on the door saying ‘occupied’ and talked to myself for 50 minutes about my life and my actions and analysed it accordingly…. No but that would have been good! What I actually did was scrawl out a pitiful poem that’ll never see the light of day.

A lot of the tasks were completely irrelevant for me because I’m not a blocked artist. I’m a working artist and I’m producing work. Also this chapter was focussing on people who encouraged you or discouraged you from being creative in the past and I’ve discovered that I don’t actually care too much what others say. I could barely remember anything positive or negative anyone’s said to me about my creative attempts. Anything I did muster up I honestly don’t think had much affect on me at all. Is this good or bad?

So, I start with a whimper. I’ve always been terrible at doing homework!

Week 2: Moving Toward Balance with Rodney Yee

I’ve given myself the challenge of giving up full control of my home practice and following along to Rodney Yee’s Moving Toward Balance course for the 8 weeks. Here’s how week 1 went down.

So here we are at week 2. It’s sun salutations week! I got to add back in my sun salutations to the beginning of my practice. Oh how I’d missed them for that whole week. Of course I followed the pattern of the previous week and rounded out my practice with some poses the sequence lacks, for instance some backbends and seated poses. I also gave up counting the poses in seconds and measured how many breaths I’d need to stay, for instance 45 seconds (7 breaths) and followed my breath. It was much more grounding that way, plus my ujjayi breath can be so loud I can’t even hear the clock at times.

Here are some things I’ve learnt in week 2 in handy list form.

  1. I hate being told what to do. I already knew this one because it’s always worth learning again. I have an inner rebel that absolutely detests a prescribed list of asanas, and will protest at holding for a prescribed amount of time. Dealing with this rebel makes for a very exhausting practice. Why do you think I do my own practice and have to force myself to go to classes?
  2. I love vinyasa! And following a set of static asana like in Rodney’s course is not stimulating enough for me. I got a bit bored… I like to move!
  3. I missed the jumping back and forward in the sun salutations. It’s been months since I made this a regular part of the practice and phased out stepping into lunges (actually it was from Rodney’s dvds that I first learnt that transition and it has been very lovely for my psoas muscles) and now I only don’t do at least a couple of jumps if I’m feeling ill. Taking them out this week made me realise they’ve stopped being a chore and a challenge and are definitely part of my yoga.
  4. I definitely need to work on holding down dog and up dog for more than a few breaths. In Rodney’s course on one of the days you hold down dog for a minute a couple of times and have a few 5 breath up dogs. I have to admit that my arms were shamefully shaking throughout.
  5. Using excessive props during a practice irritates me. Especially day one of the course where the room was littered with blankets, my bolster, blocks, my strap, pillows and I had to move everything whenever a new propped-up version of a pose was to be practiced. Which was often because there’s a lot of subtle variants of the poses and you only hold some of them for a minute! I love restorative yoga but I’ve noticed irritation when dealing with props during a restorative session too. I just want to settle!
  6. This version of supta baddha konasana is heavenly for my stiff ankles. There’s a bolster under my knees and 2 blocks under my feet. Mmmmmm.
  7. Extended, repeated stays in uttanasana still don’t do it for me.
  8. Sitting up against the wall in cross-legged position hurts my back. Why’s that?
  9. I also hate reading long descriptions of things, I’d much rather try it and see. I worry this means I’m missing wisdom along the way…
So I think that’s all the wisdom gleaned from this week I think. Next week: backbends! My favourite.

Week 1: Moving Toward Balance with Rodney Yee

So week 1 of the first course I’ve planned to undertake is done. I have to admit that I was naughty and I didn’t read the introduction of the book (I will do, I promise!) and also I did my own practice after the poses in the book. The idea of not doing pigeon pose for 8 weeks is just not worth thinking about.

In this book you do 1 day of long practice with all the new asanas, 4 days of shortened practices with emphasis on one or two of the new poses, 1 day of breath awareness and meditation and a day of rest. Another way I was naughty: I skipped the day of rest and went straight on to week 2. I practice yoga everyday, I don’t do rest days!

I’ve been meaning to try this book for a long while. Rodney Yee is a bit of a controversial character in the yoga world from what I’ve gathered (not being in the ‘yoga world’) but he was the first person I ever learnt yoga from and to me he’s always represented a calm, friendly being at a time when I was surrounded by demons and depression. I am determined for this reputation will stay intact.

Anyway the first week of the course is standing poses. Very basic but it’s very good to go back to the basics and see them anew every now and again. Especially if I plan on teaching one day. I did learn some things: I need to do half moon pose (ardha chandrasana) more because I can feel the freedom, the expansiveness and the calmness waiting for me… when I can just feel instead of just feeling like I’m going to topple over. I also realised by skipping the sun salutations how much I rely on the warmth to do the beginning standing poses. Triangle, which is usually a welcome friend, was an awkward little thing. I felt stiff like I hadn’t felt for years!

In the book you count in seconds and I’m so used to counting breaths. Listening for the clock was jarring and distracting me from the sensations in my body. When this is up I’m going back to the breath. Another bad point: Rodney’s reliance on uttanasana (standing forward bend) was irritating. I have to admit I got bored and thought “can I bend back yet?” It’s all about observing though right?

Some good points: I loved meditating in virasana (heros pose). As my hips are more inclined to internally rotate rather than externally rotate this pose as always come easy to me. Sukhasana (so-called easy pose) has always been hard for me for this reason, that and my completely inflexible ankles. So sitting in virasana was a joy! It made me wonder why I always have to make things so hard for myself. It was also fantastic to be told to do restorative poses. It’s sad to say but I need an excuse to do them. Usually it’s a fever or a debilitating depressive mood or something equally devastating. Why? From now on I will get those legs up the wall more often.

So all in all it’s been ok, a bit too basic for me right now. Hopefully the coming weeks will bring more insight.

Headstand update: I have decided to concentrate more on the tripod headstand (sirsasana 2) to regain lost ability in it. I’ve also decided to do a couple of mini-practices of headstand during the day to help me get comfortable with it. It’s still a struggle and it’s still impossible but that makes it all the more worthwhile.