Monday, May 9, 2011

Yoga with Glenn Black - Day #1

We spent the morning basically mobilizing our hip and shoulder joints.
In the three hours we were together, we only really did about four yoga poses.  The rest of the time was spent in preparation for the poses, or doing movements and holding positions that indicate our body’s readiness for certain poses.
For example, at one point we were standing and he told us to hold our arms out to the side at shoulder length and hold. As we held this “crucifix” position, he described what was required of our bodies and what movements or adjustments we want to avoid. Then, just when that was about to be become too excruciating to hold any longer, he told us to attempt to bring our hands together behind our backs, without letting the hands drop below the level of the shoulders. 
Well, I couldn’t do it, but I reached back and got my hands as close together as I could without letting them drop below my shoulders.  And BOY did I discover a weak link in my body. That was tough. I kept wanting to put my arms down, but I buckled down, found the strength and continued to hold them up.  
Then he said to bend the elbows and relax at the elbow but keep the upper arm parallel to the floor at shoulder level.  I just simply couldn’t do this one, so I modified by letting my elbows drop and resting my hands on my lower back.  This way I could really focus on movement of my shoulder blades and was conscious of pulling them together and down. 
Glenn then said, “If you can’t hold your arms in this position, with your upper arms parallel to the floor and at the same level as your shoulders, then this means your body is not ready for (Shoulder Stand) or (Plough) poses!”  
He uses the sanskrit names when talking about the poses, but I always use the English translation, so I put my translations in parenthesis because I was quoting him.
What I really love about his work is its application to real life.  It feels very relevant and immediate, whereas yoga has always felt sort of fantastic and mystical. 
I have been practicing yoga on my own for many years.  I’m not fanatical by any means, but I do consistently practice. The problem with this is that I don’t tend to explore those weird places that I find when I’m following the guidance of a competent teacher. 
This morning, when we were working on our Pigeon pose, he gave me a correction. He pointed out to me that I was rolling away from the extended leg, which is a way that I had been escaping the true gist of this pose because of the tightness of my hips. With his adjustment, I could really feel the pose working on my hips.
Between Pigeon, Bound Angle, Same Angle, and Half Moon poses we really got into opening and stretching the hip joint. But still, the bulk of the time was spent on basic human movements like standing, squatting, moving the legs, sitting, etc.
Right before lunch we did about a half hour of the Corpse pose while he talked us through a very relaxing Yoga Nidra.
And after a deep, half hour meditation, he pulled us back into reality by revisiting the Pigeon and doing a Same Angle pose with our legs up a wall. In a typical yoga class, this is unheard of: class always ends with meditation. 
But Glenn said that after leading such a deep meditation, he wanted to bring us back to reality so that he wouldn’t have to go looking for us in the woods after lunch because we were so spaced out. 
For lunch, I didn’t have much of an appetite, so I just had a big fresh salad with roasted red pepper humus for dressing. 
The Bridge: a yoga prop for supported back bends
Back in the studio, we started right away with back strengtheners that required us to lay on our stomachs on a wooden bridge.  I was glad I hadn’t had a big lunch.
The second half of the day was much like the first. He just has us doing lots and lots of movements with the goal in mind. The goal, as far as it concerns me, is to loosen and open my hips.  We did a lot of work in Half Lotus and Bound Angle poses, which really point out how tight my hips are because my knees are hovering way off the floor rather than me being able to rest my thighs flat and get my knees down.
Bound Angle Pose
Glenn says that he expects us all to have our knees down to the ground by Sunday.  If I can accomplish this, I’ll be impressed with myself and with him.
The bigger picture, though, is more about life. About my life. And I’ve decided I am very happy and aware, but not very relaxed.  
So my mantra for today was: “I’m happy. I’m relaxed. I’m aware.”
The feeling that I’m getting from this immersion is not surprising.  But I do feel like Glenn’s teaching is releasing me from the restriction of yoga and asana and inspiring me to think, explore, WORK, and be aware and relaxed.
I’m still waiting for the inspiration about what I am going to do with the rest of my life.  But I’m also wondering if I have found the answer. If I”m truly relaxed, truly happy and truly aware, then what difference does it make what I ‘do’. Life is more about ‘being’ than ‘doing’ anyway.
I ended the day with a nice, hot sit in the dry sauna.  I was so relaxed and sleepy from all the work of the day that I was ready for bed by 10:00.  It's sort of strange because I'm not unaccustomed to a lot of physical work.  But I think the combination of Glenn's specific work and all of the yoga nidra relaxation we did, really left me zonked.  But in a good way.  It feels like I'm going to have pleasant yoga dreams tonight.

More tomorrow...

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