Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Love Yoga

It's out the door at 5:30 in the morning for a jog along Wellington Crescent to Assiniboine park and back every other day. Usually about 8 to 10 kilometers, all year round. Heading out into the pitch black at 25 below zero sometimes takes a mental effort, and time to suite up. But those endomorphines that kick in around kilometer six or seven, and the place that they let you go; (Listening to the breath going deep into the lungs, feeling the muscles in the legs working, but
also being more aware of everything around you at the same time. The blackness of the sky, the
sound of the feet hitting the ground, the rhythm in the arms and legs, feeling the seasons change) makes it oh so nice.

For a long time (20 years maybe) it was gear on and go. No warm up stretches to start the run, just get into it before you changed your mind. What stretches there were would come later. Then sometime in the fall two years ago, there was this soreness at the side of one knee that
ended up affecting the hip, then the shoulders as I tried to run through it. The body tries to
avoid the pain by adjusting in subtle ways, which of course throws off the running style.
That led to a visit to the sport medicine clinic and advice to maybe try another sport, like
swimming, to ease the pressure on the legs. Running out the back door to the Park and back,
doing half an hour of core work, free weights and stretches, then jumping into the shower was
the thing. There would not be any swimming on the agenda here; so it was to the physio and a
stretching program every day, before and after running as well as before retiring for the night.
So the stretching began, and while doing the stretches the thought crossed the mind that
maybe everything should get involved, not just particular parts of the body. Yoga maybe? One
of the physios had mentioned it, but it didn't register at the time as something that was
particularly interesting. But the idea had been planted and it grew. So where to go? Driving to
yoga didn't seem like the best of ideas so a place was looked for close by. Yoga Centre Winnipeg
was walkable, and an investigation via the web site began. It seemed okay with the beginner classes about right for a runner trying to get flexible. The site not being too esoteric about the life changing effects of yoga, just "Here is what we do, how we do it, come join us" and the fact
of driving by it for the last 25 years and it still being there seemed like a good recommendation.

So it was off to class with a yoga mat, black t-shirt and a pair of warm up pants borrowed from
the son who is on the track team, and wondering what lay ahead. First you meet the lady behind the counter; helpful and smiling with a slight Scandinavian accent, easing some of the tension prior to the first class. With a try before you buy price of admission for the class things were going smoothly. Then it's into studio A for a first attempt at yoga amongst a group of strangers, yet all here for the same reason, which took away some of the strangeness.

Before the class actually starts there is a self-imposed routine of stretching so that the runners muscles get somewhat loose, which takes about fifteen minutes. Always being early lets one
get in the zone, yoga being a mental as well as a physical activity, with the quietness of the
studio and the change from street clothes into the practice ones assisting the focus to what’s to
come. With the warm ups done and a grounding to the studio, things were about to get

At the Yoga Centre, the beginners classes usually start with “ Come to sit with a long spine, whichever way is comfortable”. That meant sitting on the floor cross-legged. For a runner at a
first yoga class, there is no way in which that can be comfortable, so it was knees up and a spine
the wasn’t as long as it could be as it was curved forward. What a start. Then it was “hands
together, thumbs to heart space” followed by an ohm or two. That was manageable, but the
long spine thing was taking it’s toll and it was a relief to stand in ‘mountain’ pose, which is
standing upright. Though standing upright in yoga is knees over ankles, hips over knees,
shoulders over hips, shoulders down and away from the ears, head over shoulders, hands to
the sides, feet pointed straight ahead and breath. Who knew standing upright could be so
complicated. The thought was that it was all good, then the instructor says “ everything should
be in alignment including the feet, so just check to make sure.” The feet parallel to another
pointing straight ahead, no problem, except on the check the left foot was out of alignment by
about 8 degrees. Interesting fact about the self.

Then came the poses, wall stretches first, then lying on the back and leg stretches with a belt, then onto hands and knees, or ‘tabletop’ as it is called in studio A. Nothing untoward so far,
except for the leg stretches, which again for a runner are not the most pleasant. The next pose
from tabletop had the endearing term of ‘downward facing dog’. The instruction was “curl the
toes under, strengthen into the arms and legs, lift the hips bringing the chest toward the
thighs”. She said what, and just how is one supposed to do that. Okay, just do what she said.
Now one is looking at the feet upside down, as the top half of the body points down and the
bottom half points to the ceiling, the head between the arms forming an upside down ‘v’. Of
course, after analyzing the pose while being in it, the arms start to shake from the fatigue,
waiting for the instruction to release. It doesn’t come, and instead the instruction is “and don’t
forget to breathe, two more breaths.” How is one supposed to breathe in a position like this.
And so it went. Different poses through the months, insights into the anatomy (the pelvic bowl
for instance) and an awareness that the breath is as important as the pose itself. “This is not a
strength workout, or a competition. Listen to your body and it will tell you what it can do.”
Finally the realization that a pose not only has a form, but also a posture. “Warrior two is not a
surfing stance, both legs are strong, hips facing forward at an angle, head up, front knee over
ankle, back foot firmly on the floor.”, and the favorite “belly button toward the spine”. All this
and more as time went by, taught by different teachers but all with the focus on the breathe
and a level of practice suitable for the participants. Each pose demonstrated, with variations for
level of difficulty, “If this is not where you’re comfortable, then try here or here.” so that
people who also run to Assiniboine Park before dawn, and others, could work up to it.

After a while, the lady with the Scandinavian accent behind the front counter gets to know you if you are a regular and greets you by name as you arrive for class and asks how you are. “So
far, so good.” is the usual response. And it has been good as some of the poses have been
worked into the core workout after runs. The plank, full fold, half fold, warrior two, standing on
one leg arms intertwined, leg on the back of a chair arms up chest open, with the closing pose
for the whole thing the endearing “downward facing dog”. After a year of Yoga Centre it
actually has become a ‘resting’ pose.

What does all this have to do with a Love the Yoga Centre contest for which this was written. Not much, as love is a pretty strong emotion and whether it can be attributed to how one feels
about yoga and the Yoga Centre would be subject to debate. But it evokes something, much
like running to the park does in those early morning hours. The walk to the studio, the change
of clothes, the stretching ritual before class, the class itself, the walk home all figure into that
feeling. The walk home being ‘different’ than the walk there both physically and mentally. Does
the sky look bluer, the snow have a different sound, the leaves greener. How does the body
feel; lighter, more supple? All those things and more as the thoughts peruse the last hour of
study. The teacher who, as she talks you through a pose, sometimes closes her eyes, making it
seem like she is visualizing her own bone structure being brought into place without conscious
effort “thigh bone back, shin forward”. The corpse pose and the relax that it brings,
incorporating the practice into the mind and body. The ‘strangers’ who have been through
what you have during class, making them not quite the strangers they used to be.

That and more. Does that make the feeling evoked by all that yoga loveable. Perhaps the
reader can decide, being a more insightful and dispassionate observer. Can one say that’s what
is loved about the Yoga Centre, or is it like walking down an unknown path and when asked
how it’s going, the answer can only be, “So far, so good.”

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