TLDR: Going for that thing you want probably won’t kill you and the view is better from the top.
You know that sketchy part near the top of Camelback Mountain? Cholla Trail.
The sketchy part where, when you first moved here ten years ago, you were sure you’d simply slip off the sheer side of the mountain. Mid-scramble. Just: dead.
For y’all out of towners; 1. I say y’all now, and 2. Allow me to set the scene. You’re cruising along, and by “cruising” I mean you’re hoping your hiking buddy keeps talking so you can focus on your heart not exploding; meaning: you’re able to keep a quick clip because it’s smooth sailing, only a handful of ankle-turney dangers in the first, ziggy-zaggy 80% of the trail. And then you’re like, “oh! I’m at the end, because this is impassible.”
Hikers reroute around you, swiftly picking sure footing out of the city-skyscraper to which you cling. Fat guys and children deftly wing their way up. Someone in a weight vest passes you twice.
And then a friend, one of your first Phoenix friends, who happens to be half spider monkey, half mountain goat, half cannabis, half physics textbook, and all legs, suggests that you, too, can defy gravity. The trick is two-fold: Increase up, decrease down.
Regarding the up, the reach, the progress: he taught me that the ledges above me, the ones I can grab or place a foot on, to pull or push myself up, needn’t be that big. The length of a finger pad or width of a toe, sufficient.
(Experience beyond comfort zones yields discernment, improving heuristics and workable opportunities. I’m still so fond of a nice, big hand hold and it’s nice to know I don’t need it.)
Regarding the down, the backslide, the risk mitigation: when stressed, considering new risk, my mountain goat advised that I determine what below would catch my fall if I tried and failed. Maybe 8 feet down there’s a big, flat landing or at least a tangle of womping willows.
So, that’s nice. We learn we need less than we think. We learn to more accurately (less emotionally) weigh risk.
We hear, “leap and the net will appear.” Cool. Totally. And. It’s “easier,” dare I say, more enjoyable, to make comfort-busting choices when we have a low expectation of them destroying us; i.e., an acceptance of how far we’d fall in worst-case failure.
I love hindsighting on these weak (and bloodied) kneed days. Soon after I determined I probably wasn’t going to die on Camelback (except for maybe from bees. wtf.), I realized, 1. it wasn’t just me; that most beginners are frightened, shaking over the same illusions of unsafety, and 2. how fun and easy it is to coach a new initiate around the sketchiest part where they’re bear hugging the rock like a cartoon character and maybe they cry and then they’re on the other side of it, accomplished, upleveled and hungry for more mountain.
Until we remember that mountains are grey, green jungle gyms, these “problems” are unappealing, like “dropping back” over a yoga teacher’s forearms for the first time, aiming to place your hands on the floor behind you. And once we remember to play, to delight in reaching further while deepening trust in and expanding our understanding of our foundation… well, I think that’s why we’re here. As the universe seeking to experience itself, it’s in our marching orders to peer around corners and see-what-happens-if.
Knowing where we’d hope to halt a free-fall is useful. And: we’ve got to be okay with moving on, upward, and away from that particular stabby bush, cactus, felled tree, or rock. In lieu of a safety net, it’s tempting to fascinate on these bastions, pray to these lord-gods of false safety. Huddling humbly in their shadow. Reverent and leashed. This is where I want to be because this is where I have to be because this is safe and fine enough and why don’t we just picnic lunch here and give up on our dreams and go home and get day-drunk.
“It’s hard to get enough of something that almost works.”
It’s also fun to try the hard things, the really scary things which are extra scary because you want them so.
Def (noun (plural)): a set of two or more humans who declare their goals, milestones, and timelines to each other. Status updates abound.
The people who know your five year plan and hold you to it. Not by dragging you but by reminding you.
In these Quarantimes, Accountabilibuddies, like everything else, look differently. Their “shame journal” functionality is way up; e.g., “Oh. Hey. Just ate an entire tub of ice cream,” and, “remember how I planned to do my taxes today? Tidied half my sock drawer and cried on the floor all day instead.”
Accountabilibuddy as Shame Journal is on the rise for sure. But so is the Accountabilibuddy’s YOLO and DGAF and Namaste and YOU DO YOU, YA GLORIOUS FREAK functionality, too. No one’s showering (right? Or. Are we?) No one’s particularly confident in their new five year plan. But we can share a belly laugh over our utter failure at our lofty dreams.
Accountabilibuddies are lately more lenient on the deadlines and pep talks. Hearing a lot less hard love. A lot less “imagine your default future if you don’t make this change TODAY,” and, “How do you expect your life to look in .5, 5, 20 years if you don’t get your shit (all of it) together right now?”
Accountabilbuddies, these remarkably adaptable creatures, are helping in the way we need now. Asking instead, “how big can you love yourself through this?”
This one goes out to an Accountabilibuddy whom I told eight days ago that I commit to writing two blog posts a week. See! They still work! Even when they give that soft love.
It’s been 911 days since my last post. Here we go again.
What a time to be alive.
I’ve been tearing myself between sensing that “I haven’t taken a vacation in years; I should veg, put no pressure on discerning the path forward,” and this internal mandate to “learn all the things and decide all the things RIGHT NOW AND BY NOW I MEAN YESTERDAY.”
It’s a practice to put down that tug of war and stay present, to remain open to learning and growing through all activities and inactivities.
Take yesterday’s virtual coffee date for instance: a fellow coach shared she’s discouraged from marketing (or even offering) her services. She’s comparing herself to all the professionally branded coaches. Where they’re “presentable,” she’s punk rock. Where they have pricey packages and glossy worksheets, she’s doing kitchen hair and trash crafts.
I pushed back, “what if we have an obligation to do what we love? What if we’re given these skills and passions for a reason? What if there’s an intersection of what we love and what the world needs and we won’t find it by telling ourselves we don’t deserve it, we aren’t enough? What if you’re not everyone’s inspiration but you’re somebody’s? And how will you impact them if you’re hiding?”
So, here I go, taking my own advice. Doing the things I like. Sharing the things I learn and the things I think. And sneaky hoping they benefit some of you dear, fellow earthlings.
I see life as a John Irving novel, in which everything happens for a reason. Even the random, seemingly pointless things and especially the extraordinarily shitty things. They weave together to form themes and long-arching story lines for us to bonk around inside of, unaware of our own flow’s elegance.
From the inside looking out, life is just life to us; messy, mundane, confusing, exhilarating, fucking terrifying, fucking beautiful.
I’m not espousing predestination or grand design or fate even, just marveling at the serendipitous nature of nature.
I love believing that “everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”
That’s not to say our ego will be particularly pleased 7/8ths of the way through… that same ego will very much want to know when to anticipate the end and will go so far as to despair that we’ve reached the end and all is lost and life is cruel, when in reality we’re so far from it still.
You thought this post was gonna be about hummingbird feeders? About that…
A new acquaintance explained over dinner recently that, growing up, his folks maintained a number of bird feeders. The skies of his young life were full of hummingbirds. Ever since, these marvelous, innocent, brilliant creatures lit up his life every time their paths chanced cross.
You’re thinking: who doesn’t LOVE hummingbirds, ammiright? But from Patrick I get the sense it goes deeper. A portal to that blissful, youthful part of himself. To simpler times. To the magic of childhood. To the magic of the universe we lose sight of somewhere along the road to seriousness.
Finally, he explained, a few days prior, he’d bought himself a hummingbird feeder.
His very own.
Inexpensive, easily available.
He knew he loved hummingbirds yet he didn’t decide or take action to bring them into his life, to drastically increase the likelihood of a hummingbird encounter by like a zillion-fold, until age 45. Forty-five! And now all he does is work and watch them. Or play guitar and watch them. Or simply sit and watch them.
And he’s so happy.
And he’s so peaceful.
Something so simple.
Something so obvious.
“It has me wondering what my other hummingbird feeders are,” he trailed off.
I’ve wondered what my hummingbird feeders are ever since.
Now, I’ve got to be honest, this gave me a huge life coach boner. This is what coaches do! Pull forward the simple action steps you know to be inside of you that can make life more wonderful for you. Gently poking and prodding and holding you accountable to manifesting your bliss, altering your trajectory, course-correcting towards joy. A complete up-level.
The hardest part of my job is keeping my damn fixing, advising, know-it-all mouth mostly-shut while you uncover your own shiny, perfect truth. When you’re ready.
Anyway, I’ve finally, recently accepted a few of my own hummingbird feeders into my life and it is already forever changed. Forever better. Each ensuing decision now made from a higher platform, a higher self, a clearer sense of direction. Most recently…
My very first mala. Finally! I’ve wanted one for ~a decade but felt like I wasn’t “yoga” enough (…the fuck??). 108 beads to facilitate #singlepointedfocus recitation of mantra in morning meditation. Made with love in my forever-home studio (Dave’s), w/ 2.5 of my favorite people (Lulu + bebe & Kathy), and #blessed by a badass gong named Dragon. Not 5 hours old, it already helped ground and center me through some serious shit.
The Untethered Soul. I’ve devoured longer books in a single sitting yet this one’s taken me years to purchase and months to read half of. Drenched in olive juice and jacuzzi water; streaked with highlighter, dark chocolate, and a rainbow of pens; partially eaten by my boyfriend’s dog; believe it or not, this book has already made more of an mark on me than I have on it.
What are some of your hummingbird feeders? Warning: once you identify some you might just grab them. Side effects may include joy, peace, enlightenment and a life forever changed. When you’re ready 🙂
You couldn’t possibly understand the impact your own life has had on those who’ve touched it. The lives which interwove with yours for a time as well as those which only grazed yours for an instant; a blade of grass on the heel of the summer of your life.
I couldn’t count on a thousand hands the people who have affected mine. A seatmate on a bus ride. Author of a favorite book. A barkeep. A best friend. An honest glimpse of another soul. A kindness or a cruelty. A question. A lesson.
Half the time I’m writing, I feel I should be giving someone else credit, so grateful for the moments and people who’ve coached and catalyzed and challenged my world view. And I doubt 90+% of them have the slightest idea they have.
So, in this, our birth month, I thank Arminu “ArminCharles Trish-from-Tower-Records Nalbeaudeaux” Nalbandian for introducing me to Henry David Thoreau. And for so much more than she could ever know.
Classy AF. A best friend when best friends meant everything. She taught me that the epitome of cool is to be silly and brilliant. That conventionality was overrated. That mosquito netting and plaid bell bottoms did in fact look completely insane, making the outfit all the more delightful to rock at our favorite olde time cinema. That I had been Gamed and that it was somehow actually a good thing (another story for another time). How to be a friend.
From sixth grade to post-grad, she’s been an inspiration, a voice of reason, a partner in crime.
Loathing my mundane, post-college, corporate-hellhole j-o-b, I declared myself amidst my quarter life crisis as though simply deciding so absolved me of all responsibility. A quarter-life-crisis I milked for quite a few years.
Wanting a change. Wanting a challenge. Wanting my life to mean something. Special snowflake shit.
Arminé, in her infinite wisdom, mentioned “Thoreau’s Walden‘s always helped me when I needed inspiration.” Never heavy handed, she left it at that.
And now, This.
Eventually I bought Walden from a favorite bookshop. Potentially the spooky-sexy one across from THE BEST froyo in the world (BerryLine).
It changed my life. Or rather encouraged me to change my own. Issued the challenge to do so. It’s taken a while to act on it but his words have burned urgently in my blood since the moment I read them. I want that.
In his opening passage which follows, Thoreau told me loud and clear, “come write for me”:
In most books, the I, or first person is omitted; in this it will be retained;
that, in respect to egotism, is the main difference.
We commonly do not remember that it is, after all, always the first person who is speaking.
I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well.
Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience.
Moreover, I, on my side, require of every writer, first or last,
a simple and sincere account of his own life,
and not merely what he has heard of other men’s lives;
some such account as he would send to his kindred from a distant land;
Most of us know by now that we should meditate. We may even mean to start… next week. But here’s the thing: we can all spare ten minutes. Today. Every day. Instagram and our TV won’t even miss us. And these ten minutes pay for themselves a million times over in stress-reduction, improved decision making, and increased creativity.
Make meditation a habit and you’ll meditate everywhere, everywhen.
I’m not there yet but I am a few months in to fairly steady practice and noticing an undeniable shift. I swear my peripheral vision is wider. I look up more. I can change my mind.
Practice and all is coming, right?
Here’s what mine looks like:
70% Yoga Nidra (a.k.a. yogic sleep, a.k.a. meditation-training-wheels). You lie down (yes!!!), get insanely comfy, and stay awake and aware as the facilitator guides you in slowing your thoughts, witnessing them instead of engaging with them. I’ve practiced with Yoga Nidra every day for the past few months. Well, nearly every day. “Everything in moderation, even moderation,” right?
15% movement meditation (getting into THE ZONE practicing yoga in class or at home)
3% seated meditation. You guys, I get it. Who has the time??
12% vacation meditations. This part’s getting really fun. More on this after I geek on Nidra again…
Geeking Out On Nidra Again
Because you stay awake, Nidra trains you to bring the peace of a dreamless sleep back to your waking life, granting you access to those drifting-off-to-sleep-sandy-and-happy-on-an-afternoon-beach brain waves when your boss is screaming, leaning over you in the board room.
This practice is helping me understanding by degree that responsibility for my reactions, emotions, mental state, and happiness is mine and mine alone, that no pill or person or situation or paycheck is a more powerful agent in this regard. As my favorite band The National sings, “I had a secret meeting in the basement of my brain, It went the dull and wicked old merry way.” That’s kinda where I lived before this shift. In the middle of what looked like the time of my life, stressed out of my damn mind for no good reason other than I just hadn’t stopped being stressed. It had become the only way I knew how to think; my go-to response to every situation and passing thought.
I’d gotten myself so stressed that everything overwhelmed me. For years, I packed my 15-minutes-to-deadline-and-the-fucking-printer’s-fucking-broken-FUUUUUCK brainwaves with my bikini, sunscreen, and underwater camera.
The habit of thinking is so difficult to augment because it lurks beneath our awareness. Not to mention all the momentum on the side of thinking the old way.
Nidra has supported me in seeing my thoughts. How can you begin to clean out a hoarder’s house if you can’t see (or feel, or smell, or (oh, oh god.) taste) their belongings.
I’ve met my mind up there.
These vacation meditations are an exercise in being present. Living in the moment. You needn’t be on vacation to enjoy them. They work just as well sitting in traffic, in a completely useless meeting, dentist’s chair, or anywhere else your mind tends to wander and/or freak out.
Notice your thoughts. Where do you go when you’re not here. When you’re not now? Do you go to your past or do you go to the future?
For me, it’s a loopy-hybrid of both. This Havasupai trip, I spent the long walk in watching those thoughts bombard me. The shoulds and the shouldn’t haves. To be honest, I was in a totally shit mood. And it’s no surprise.
“Tapas” is an essential element of success on a yogic path. It burns away that which no longer serves us. “Tapas” means fire. Discipline. Austerity. Burning enthusiasm. Red canyon walls. Direct sunlight. Hiking your dick off.*
Tapas helps us uproot this energy from where it’s stuck. Emotions are energy in motion. My work on the way down was to understand that what I did with those thoughts was my choice. I could tangle up in a cocoon of them or choose to look the other way. Trust me when I say I did both (it’s a really long walk). Often caught up in trying to solve whatever was bothering me and alternatively chastising myself for letting it bother me at all.
Ol’ Albert had it right when he said, “Problems cannot be solved with the same mind set that created them.” It was not necessary to mentally engage or grapple with these storms.
These thoughts got up to go.
Choosing to look the other way is not running from your problems but rather choosing not to let your problems infiltrate every moment and define you.
Decide not to let them be bigger than they are.
Some will sneak back on the next train but each time I spot them in the Penn Station of my mind and choose to focus on literally anything else, the smaller they loom until they’ve all but faded into the background.
Like seeing an ex whom you’d rather not know anymore across a crowded train platform. If you focus on the fact that they’re there, they’re all you’ll see. You can almost feel their heat next to you, breathing down your neck, 14,000 times larger than life taking up the whole block. And the basement.
Every time we notice them and look away, the less real they feel. The less real they are. The less they command and consume us.
They got up to go and I chose to let them.
Happily, exercising this choice and even the seemingly straightforward acknowledgement that I have a choice has shifted lately from what I’d call a “struggle” (with a capital “S”… and a capital “TRUGGLE,” bolded, underlined, italicized) to a “practice.” Methods so simple it’s insane. Our work is to remember to try. Here are some I’ve used with increasing success, their effects bolstered through repetition:
Grounding myself in the here and now by using my senses. In this hiking example, I tuned in systematically to the
sounds (crunch of my boots, compilation of morning birds, subtleties of my breath),
sights (omfg Havasupai. But really, every time I looked up and really saw where I was I had to stop to take it all in, seeing more detail and curiosity with each passing second)
tastes (mmm… dust, inhaler, plasticine hydration pack water, pretty happy I remembered to brush my teeth this morning…)
smells (the highs of wildflower season flecked with the lows of horse shit)
feels (all of the feels. Bringing attention to how movement felt, to proper alignment, remembering to swing my arms like a cool-kid and feeling the dissolution of tension in my shoulders. Enjoying the breeze and the warmth from the sun and damn… can we go back tomorrow?)
Basically, just cultivating mindfulness, which I’ve defined for myself lately as Mind-Fullness. As in, mind too full of the present moment to have room for anything else. To full of what’s real right now to tarry with grocery lists and mommy issues.
Sometimes I popped my headphones in, focusing entirely on the beat, the words; parsing the instruments; observing how my carefully curated tunes altered my breathing, my energy level; watching as new thoughts arose to replace the old familiar ones, rewriting my stale and painful associations with THE GREATEST CARDIO SONG OF ALL TIME (if you’re an emo kid like me…)
“I find myself searching for old selves while speeding through a plate glass of maturing cells…” fuck. you guys. this song is so good.
Counting breaths helps, as does mindful breath control; e.g., breathing into the low belly, low ribs, heart space, and throat in order, holding at the top feeling the energy concentrated in the skull, and exhaling through the mouth from the throat all the way down to empty, allowing yourself to be devoid of air at the bottom for a beat. Body scans are another great way to come home to the moment.
My favorite meditation surprised and full on delighted me. To exit Havasupai, you walk 8-9 miles and THEN essentially climb Camelback mountain (a Phoenix favorite). Halfway up the interminable switchbacks, I stopped for a breather. Shut my eyes and zoomed in on my racing heart. Riding the waves as it gently slowed. A totally tubular experience that lasted a few seconds and changed everything.
I count myself among the vast majority intimidated by meditation. Aware of the benefits but daunted by the process. I can tell you that a year from now you’ll be glad you started today. Please reach out if you want to start a practice of your own. I’d be truly honored to help find something that works for you. If you’re in AZ, come to my Nidra class. There’s no shame in training wheels (fun fact: my friend Helen learned to ride a bike as an adult in a class with a bunch of strangers and they used them! Because they work! Also, she’s a badass.).
I intended this to be my shortest post yet, yet here we are, vying for longest…
In closing, go take a hike, ya crazy kids. See who you meet there.
*PSA: friends travelling to Havasupai, bring a blister stick and apply liberally to feet before any hiking and, gentlemen, make sure it can double duty as what my friend dubbed “Thigh Gap Medicine.”
The Yoga Sutra is the defining doctrine of yoga, delineating;
what it is (“to still the patternings of consciousness”),
why it is (“so pure awareness can abide in its very nature, otherwise awareness takes itself to be the patterns of consciousness”), and
how to do it (you’ll have to read the book to find out!* JK, I’ll tell you. Or try to. It’ll take me a while. Years, decades. Because I’m just figuring it out myself. Or rather continually cycling through periods of striving, thinking I’ve finally got it, scaled the mountain and reached the peak of understanding (ahh, the attainments) only to find myself staring up to the base of a much larger mountain, peak obscured by clouds. And it’s cold. And its easy to forget and impossible to see how far I’ve come already. Allow me to explain… (get comfy, this too could take decades. I can already tell this blog post isn’t turning into what I set out to write. I’ve even changed the title already.)
I am eternally grateful to have dedicated myself to a daily sutra study just days before SHIT WENT DOWN last year.
The 196 “Sutra” (literally: stitches, each an integral part of one thread) were written by Patanjali (who was either one brilliantly succinct man or a conglomerate of contemporary yogis) and span four books;
II. The Path to Realization,
III. The Extraordinary Powers (sign me up!), and, finally,
IV. Freedom (yes, please).
They begin simply and accessibly enough.
April 28, 2016: Sutra I.1: Now, the teachings of yoga.
A line I breezed over on first read, eager to tear into the meat of it.
My teacher, Cheryl Oliver, has already taught me more than she or I know. A drop in that bucket is the deep respect she aroused in me for sutra 1.1. Very early in my 200 hour teacher training she spent about half an hour on the first word alone. “Now.” Now, an auspicious beginning, a now which your whole life has prepared you for, speaking to your readiness, an eternal now as now is always the time for the teachings of yoga. There is always more to learn. We, eternal students attendant with beginners’ minds.
Finding that much meaning in a word I’d dismissed as filler, a formality, Patanjali’s “Once upon a time” sparked a fascination and respect for the rest. I knew there would be sutras I would not “get” for years and even then only skim their surface for decades to come. Like hearing and dismissing a piece of advice or vocab word 100 times before, finally, aha, I get it. I think.
What better time to start than now? So I did.
April 28, 2016. I fiddled around with each Sanskrit word’s definitions in my half-assed bullet journal and then wrote this: you’re ready. So you know how challenging it’ll be. How scary. You know you’ll learn to see challenge as encouraging; “scary” as exciting. You’ll learn how big enormous your heart is. And how to listen to it. Especially when it hurts. You’ll feel courage as a sensation. You’ll learn you are so strong and so blessed and so connected. So [and then the pen color changes, indicating I’d changed venues/mindset/pen (duh, detective) and was likely trapped in some interminable meeting] distracted and impressed by how his eyes match his neck tattoo in shading and depth [Major ADHD, reporting for duty!]
It’s funny. I got myself all stressed out yesterday, trying to get a 30 day jump on employing my counselor’s suggestion for warding off the birthday blues; celebrate the year that was rather than digging my grown-ass heels in, expression frozen in horror at the irrelevance, physical breakdown, senior citizenship and birthday candles I’m hurtling towards against my will; measuring myself against everyone I’m not and coming up wanting.
This exercise last year was easier. I had accomplishments I could point to.
And it was fun. I wrote a goodbye to all the shit I was done with. A letter I’d forgotten until just now actually.
This year, yesterday, I started freaking out. I should be so much better by now. And then I realized this last year was one of letting go. Of so so much. And I started to feel better, to LET GO of beating myself up (see??). I told myself the growth this year was subtle and immeasurable and so necessary. That though it may look like falling apart, it really is falling together; more and more so the more I trust and let go. And now, rereading what I wrote last April, I see it’s coming true. I haven’t arrived where I want to be but I know I’m heading in the right direction, that I’ll get there. And hey, it’s not about the destination but the journey.
I am so squarely in the journey that I can’t see the shore on either side anymore. Feeling more like I’m drifting (maybe even in the wrong direction, oh god.) than fearlessly, confidently speeding towards my dreams. And what are they anyway? What day is it??
I’m finally realizing it’s not about counting the miles logged or the battles won or the miles yet to go. It’s about being here, now, learning what there is to learn, enjoying what there is to enjoy and continually dragging my mind back to center, out of the past, out of the future, into the now.
* ha that’s how I ended all of my book reports up until third grade when my teacher told me it was time to cut the baby shit. Big kids finish their books (and book reports).
This blog has been more dirty than downdog….. UNTIL NOW.
1.It’s supposed to feel SO. GOOD. Blissful. Freeing. Watching her dangle her spine from her hips, you know she’s making juicy space between her vertebrae; stretching away the stresses of the day. That’s the point! The point is not to look like your neighbor, or to show off your kickass yoga hiney (though thinking about shining that fantastic boot to the ceiling can seriously help your alignment and energetics). So often, especially when practicing in public, we obsess over making the shape look a certain way at the expense of our comfort and expansion in it. Shoulders crunched up like earrings, lumbar spine hunched, tongue glued to the roof of the mouth. We are not fucking around.
2. It’s okay to bend your knees. This pose is only about the legs insofar that the legs should be positioned (thighs internally rotated, pressing back) to support the release of the spine. Get that cockamamie image of grounded heels our of your head! If it happens, it happens, but it’s not the point. Yes, we want to press our heels downward, and slightly away from each other but only to optimally align the femurs to release the hips and spine.
In yoga, “it’s not about how far you go, but how you go.” I can’t tell you how many times I and millions of other yogis have injured ourselves trying to make a pose “look” a certain way; operating with that mentality (on and off the mat) is a surefire way to get hurt. I don’t blame you for trying. But stop it!
Do you think Winnie The Pup’s heels are down? No! Her heels are like a joint higher than we tend to think they are anyway. So, take your hamstrings out of the equation by gently bending your knees. Hell, bend them a ton. And if you start to feel the burn in your quads, BONUS. You’re getting stronger.
3. Her weight is 65+% over her haunches. Ever been adjusted in DD and the teacher latches onto your hips and leans back behind you w/ every ounce of their (albeit sometimes 90 pound) self?
You should be SO light on your hands.
In yogic alignment (and really when we’re trying to get anything right in any realm of life) we begin with the foundation; let’s start w/ the legs. And by legs I mean feet. Doe-Ray-Me-Fa’-Sew-La-Tea-D’oh
Feet are active, toes spread, arches lifting (achieved by pressing through big toe mound and lifting inner ankles), heels drawing energetically away from each other. That heel action has the effect of internally rotating our femurs, giving us more room in our hips to eventually straighten into our legs. For starters though, allow your knees to bend gently (especially if you’re one of my hyper-extenders).
The weight that is in your hands should be in your knuckles and fingers (which are clawing back towards you). Specifically, root down into the first knuckle of your index finger, where your pointer finger meets your palm. PLEASE. DO THIS. I didn’t for ten years and my wrists and shoulders are in bad shape because of it. Rooting down here grounds our shoulder blades onto our rib cage, home base. Safe. The rib cage then absorbs all the shock rather than the wrist bearing the brunt. Speaking of wrists, wrist creases should be parallel with the front of your mat.
Practice with your hands on the wall (making a square with yourself, the wall and the floor; wrist creases point strait up) to get the feel. Let your body remember this new way and rewrite your habits.
Finally, bring your gaze back. To thighs, navel, whatever your neck can handle while reaching crown to the mat. Every time I give this cue in class, at least half of the hips shift back 2-3 inches, just by shifting their focus. Where attention goes, energy flows.
4. Navel is – wait…. do dogs have belly buttons?
Okay, call it low belly – low belly is hollow, flying back to the spine and up into her rib cage, which is broad, full of breath and life.
5. This will feel more pertinent for my AZ brethren, as our fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk days feel just around the corner: I’ve been so hot in class that I knew I would pass out if I didn’t stop. I now know we come equipped with a remarkable thermostat regulator; our breath. When you see a pup panting, they’re releasing internal heat. Through pranayama (breath control), we can raise and lower our core temperature.
Believe it or not, downward facing dog is a resting pose. Let it be. Set your alignment up and then… Check in. Feel your breath, or, in my case, MAKE SURE YOU’RE BREATHING. If your breath is ragged or you’re too hot for comfort, open your mouth! Dispel heat the ol’ fashioned, four-legged way. We generally want to inhale through the nose, but please always feel free to exhale through your mouth and blow off some steam.
Try a Lion’s breath! Exhale with a roar through an open mouth reaching your tongue tip to your chin. You’ll sound insane so maybe save it for your home practice unless you have confidence of steel and give zero fucks (which, PM me, I want to learn your secrets and be just like you). Alternatively, just really give it your all whenever a teacher offers it. Let it feel good.
And there you have it. Please please please please please reach out if you have any questions.
I intended to include a picture of Winnifred in all her downward facing glory, and might have taken a brief intermission from writing this to chase her around the house and play bow at her. No dice. You can’t always get what you want. So, instead, here’s a video of her taking down a Great Dane (puppy. but still).