Friday, August 10, 2007

Working the Practice

I haven't been writing so much about my Balance classes lately, but that's not because of any sense of lack of progress. I'm consistently managing two or three classes a week and I'm doing a lot more hip openers and hamstring stretching outside of class. I've been watching myself in the mirror more closely, working the poses a bit harder, and I'm familiar enough now with the releases that each class feels like easing myself back into a conversation with a close friend. "Oh," says my body as we move into the Tai Chi warm-up, "that's what you want me to do".

I rushed late into Clare's class today, and the two of us eyed each other up as we raced for the last two mats. The class was full, as Friday always is, and I found myself wedged right up the front on Clare's left side, side-on to everyone else. It was odd being up there behind the speakers, but it meant there was no one in front of me for the Balance track. I could see myself front-on in the mirror as well as having a good view of everyone else.

First up then, the warm-up. I don't know the technical terms for the moves, but this release begins with both arms rising, palm upwards to shoulder level, then each arm is rolled back, then forwards again into a blocking position, palm up and outwards. From there the right warm sweeps around and back, then the left arm stretches outwards, is raised up, then the right hand reaches around to cup the left arm as the elbow is lowered. the left arm then sweeps around to the other side, right the right arm extending outwards and repeating the move just carried out on the first side. It's one of my favourite Tai Chi routines because it all flows so beautifully.

From there the sun salutations - the downwards dogs, plank, hover into cobra, and intense poses. These days I am loving the lifting up of my torso and extension of my arms into the sky, pelvis tilted and fingers reaching into the sky, the deep breath as I rise and the lowering of the arms into mountain pose as I exhale, then the in-breathe that takes my arms back up and flows into the next set. I love that my triceps are strong enough to support my weight as I hover before lowering into cobra, and I always long for longer hamstrings in downwards dog.

Into the strength poses - encouraging my shoulders around and back in Warrior 2, revolving my hip then lowering it, extending my arms out as far as they will go, trying to imagine my body as a series of straight lines. I am, as always, challenged by the triangle pose, unable to get my shoulder rotated back far enough, my arm waving crookedly in the air instead of upright and proud. My quads feel the burn in the standing lunges, still fatigued from yesterday's workouts, but my shoulders are low and pulled back, my arms extended straight above my head.

Into Balance and, without tall ungainly men wobbling in the breeze in front of my I am able to nail my poses on both sides. I do especially well in Tree pose, but I still have difficulty in the move that involves straightening one leg straight out in front while holding onto the toe, then revolving the leg to the side. I am unable to straighten my leg and have to resort to keeping it bent, with one hand underneath the thigh. In this reduced version of the pose, however, I am able to hold my balance well. As always I love the dancer's pose, and am again steady on both sides. I nail both opportunities to do the bird pose, with no cramp in my left hip.

Core then, and my abductor does not hurt despite this routine involving lots of extended leg work. Not my favourite routine, but I do it without complaint. After working the front it's time to work the back, with flutter kicks (which I hate but appreciate for the glute strengthening that will benefit my swimming), the funny move on your side where you lift one knee up and down with the toes of the corresponding foot resting on the other leg, and the bow pose. Today it is the bow pose that marks this as a better-than-average class.

I have very little flexibility through my lower back, and I'm one of those poor women who finds it difficult to lift their bust off the ground in bow pose. I've been working hard on back strength and movement, and marking changes so tiny that it was difficult to even recognise them as progress, although I knew they were. Today I was in bow pose for the first time when something sort of gave, and not in a bad way. It was like something in my body suddenly realised what it was supposed to be working towards. All of a sudden I lifted upwards a good couple of inches. It was all I could do not to laugh in amazement. It can't have just been luck though, as it happened again the second time I worked the pose.

On to hip openers, and again I am amazed at how much more open everything has become the last few weeks. Twists, which have always felt so easy for me that they've felt like cheating (hey, everyone has to be flexible somewhere, even me), then hamstrings.

I decided a few classes back to stop fighting my hamstring tightness, to acknowledge it for what it was, and to ask my body to work with me on lengthening. As soon as I did that my hamstrings started a dialogue with me, rather than stubbornly refusing to play along. I'm getting something out of each stretch now, and I may one day have some flexibility down there. Still not so much flexibility elsewhere though. Get me sitting upright with my legs extended widely in front of me then ask me to lean forwards and all I can manage to do is move enough so that I'm not sitting quite so upright any more. Get my head somewhere near my knees? Huh, how is that even possible?! Tilt from the hips? Yeah, right.

Relaxation, some nice white light visualisations and a little internal dialogue about not having to fight everything, some time with a called-up female journeyer/guide, and it was a very relaxed and happy Pip who went back to her office on a Friday afternoon.

I'm still marveling over the fact that one of the other Friday/Saturday regulars referred to me as a yoga guru (um, sorry, what did you just say?). I guess a little ego-stoking won't hurt a girl's yogic development tooooo badly....

Not to mention that I looked better in the mirror than I thought I would, as in, the poses looked better than I thought I was capable of. Still need to work on drawing back the shoulders in cobra, and something funny does still occur with the alignment of my hips and my back knee in the standing lunges sometimes, but otherwise, a much better report card than expected.

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