Give Yourself Permission
I don’t go to chow-chow-flow classes much anymore. I don’t know what rabbit pose is, or how to do happy baby, without sucking my thumb and giggling like my nephew who is, in fact, a baby. When I practice with an advanced teacher, I get precise advice. Advice directed at my practice. Advice at a moment when I’m ready to learn it, incorporate it.
When my elbow started to hurt in practice I asked for advice about what to do. Push down through the metacarpophalangeal joint of the first finger, she said.
She wasn’t the first person to tell me this. I had heard it in a workshop back in 2008, I had heard it in countless chow-chow-flow classes I had taken over the years, and dis-regarded. I disregarded it as if it were a script that every teacher said, something to sound intelligent, something to fill in the time between each 'downward-dog.'
I’m not so bright. I’ve always needed to touch the hot surface before believing that it was hot. I can read the sign cautioning me that the surface is hot, you can tell me that it is hot, but only after getting burned by actually touching it, do I understand.
In these chow-chow-flow classes I got advice while bent over with my ass higher than my head like; be aware, slow down, pay attention, take it to the edge.
I thought I was doing that. That is, after all, practicing yoga. Right?
I practice Ashtanga Yoga. This means . . . I don’t know what it means exactly except, that my aim is always getting re-focused. Practicing this method means that I’m forever pulling back layers and finding new ones. I’m a student.
When I have incorporated one lesson into a habit, I get to watch it and learn a new boring habit.
Doing the work every single day, when it seems like no one is watching.
I practiced softening the glute muscles by changing a habit I had been practicing since beginning. After figuring out how to do that 52 times a day for 2 years, I could put a leg behind my head.
Now, I could focus on this seemingly simple task of pressing through the first metacarpophalangeal joint because what I was focusing on before, that lesson I had learned and incorporated into my practice.
Had I listened to the wise chow-chow-flow teacher in the first place I may have avoided this issue. To his credit, he is brilliant, and I learned a lot studying with him, but not this.
When I was learning how to tie my shoes I had to concentrate. I remember sitting on the floor in the kitchen making bunny ears with the laces. My fingers held the strings and my eyes held focus on crossing them. I was listening the the instructions of my mom telling me how to move the string. There could be no distraction. No deviation.
I sat there and practiced.
And it was hard. Being left-handed made it even harder because her instructions made sense if the right hand were the dominant hand. I had to cross it with the left side first.
I had to complicate the matter. I had to figure out how to do it on my own.
30+ years later and I can tie shoes, climbing knots, suit ties, bow-ties, and boat hitches, but shoes, I don’t have to think about tying.
The beauty of doing something repeatedly is that if you do it enough times you don’t have to think about what you are doing. But simply because you do it one way doesn’t mean that there are more effective ways to do it.
Bunny ears is an ineffective way to tie shoes. The rabbit hole method is faster but takes more fine motor function. A single windsor knot is effective, but a double-windsor looks more respectable. And to incorporate those skills into implementation without thinking about it, takes, well . . . It takes practice.
This finger thing is going to take practice. I get to slow down and focus on it now. It’s a process. It’s a journey. I went over the edge, got injured, the only way to actually know where the edge is.
When I have incorporated this finger pressing into practice, I will be able to readjust my aim on a new target. It is in this way that the practice has never been boring to me. With constant change, how can it be boring?
I wasn’t ready to hear about pressing through the first finger in a yoga class in 2008. 9 years later, I was.
ASHTANGA NURSE Rx:
Give yourself permission to try. If you have been practicing the same way for over a year, try a new boring habit.
i.e. Try placing your cotton rug over the rubber mat after Purvatanasana rather than before starting the seated asana. Why? You have a habit, what purpose is it serving. Is it effective? Is it not? Try for 1 month before answering.