If you are annoyed by my overthinking yoga, then skip this

8 06 2009


I have fifteen minutes to write this.

Other things, dear, other things call.

The other day I was practicing yoga and all the voices of all the teachers I’ve had or read were inside my head. I turned them into a river.

But it was not enough. I had to give it up—my husband and children’s bodies and faces floated up in my mind and I could not help but grieve over time. Over that moment that I was not with them.

And isn’t it nice there is such a gorgeous metaphor available for me to steal—Kali, come on over here and sit with me awhile.

Since that interrupted practice, I’ve been busy.

There’s a start…you like that? Who isn’t busy, inside and out?

Again…since that interrupted practice I’ve been angry.

I have, as I’ve said, hard nut of anger. Sometimes it is (to extend the metaphor to beyond its natural range) cracked and the anger comes out and wraps all over me.

Luckily, I am better at not letting it swallow me, as much as bathe me, so I am able to move about some.

Not very “yoga” of you.

I want to practice a great generosity of spirit.

I want to move with grace on every level, instead of with this physical and emotional clumsiness. I want to use fewer words, not more.

But I cannot help myself.

I do not know of any other practice that allows me to balance myself physically, cognitively and emotionally (as well as other ways…). I thought for a little while that I’d give it up, start training for ultra marathons again—and maybe I will. But probably not. That kind of training doesn’t cut it, fabulous as it is in many ways, doesn’t get at what I need.

And this pisses me off.

Here is a specific: reading a recently acquired text on yoga practice I stumbled upon yet another list of things that a woman should not do when menstruating—no vigorous practice for 3 days, no practice at all for the first day. (The other suggestions: no inversions, no backbends….) And of course, sequester yourself in the menstrual hut so that the menfolk in your life do not risk coming in contact with you. You are unclean.

Perhaps this is unfair—underlying much of the talk about yoga during menstruation is based on the idea of the direction of energy: of apana. During one’s flow, one wants the energy going down (based upon Ayurvedic theoretical considerations) and inversions, for example, impede this.

I suppose I am not knowledgeable enough to really debate this—but reading this in yet another text written by a man made me put the book down. I feel as though things like this are said, recommended, become part of the discussion about yoga because people are unwilling to really dig and ask, where did this come from? What we receive from teachers and text are culturally inscribed and originated out of some form of cultural context, and honestly, I suspect the ideas about menstruation were inscribed by men speaking theoretically rather than by women speaking experientially. Whether or not the theory was emerging out of menstrual taboos or simply out of the Ayurvedic schematic of energy flow, I am loathe to accept any rules in this area. I want to make my own discoveries.

(I should admit that added to this basic experiential versus theoretical concern arises my cursory readings of academic texts about tantra—including David Gordon White’s somewhat controversial suggestion that the fluids of the yogini were the ultimate goal of tantric practice—)

But really, what am I resisting here? It is not these discussions about menstruation. In fact, it might be obvious to you that that little bit above is a diversion.

For me all sorts of things are laid bare.

It is easy for me to create diversions because I read a lot. And I overthink things. If I go back and read seminal texts—The Yoga Sutras, The Bhagavad Gita—all of the other elements slip away. I miss much, I am sure, in these readings—my cultural context is different, I am reading translations, I am missing all of those things that at the time were weaving through these texts. But I suppose, this is the same thing that happens when I read anyone’s work, Emily Dickinson for one, living in a context very different than my own.

That doesn’t mean Dickinson’s work is out of my reach, it just means that I will read it in a different way. I will also discover different things as I read her work after reading about her, about her context and the texts she read.

So, I suppose with the Sutras and the Gita.

Acheronta movebo

Yoga is a way for me to move the deep. Dig into upwellings. Burn through…burn through what? Burning is what I visualize during meditation. Burning to ash, then wind, then integration, and nothing.

Move the deep

What does it mean to lay bare in a communal space? What is necessary for safe passage?

I began with the voices of my teachers–and that is where I’ll end, because that is part of what I’m trying to understand. I am not ready to practice entirely upon my own, but I have become a little bit afraid of the space between teacher and student. I am arrogant and resistant and uncomfortable (STILL) in my own skin and this is part of the problem.

Whatever. I am out of time, or more than that.




3 responses

9 06 2009

Definitely love your ramblings… and you touch on many things here, I just want to make some comments based on my personal experience with periods and yoga. As you know, because we practice together and because we’re friends, my personal practice is quite vigorous and full of inversions and arm balances, because they are my favorite.

So here’s what I’ve experienced: I’ve actually stopped my period by doing inversions. Now granted, most people aren’t going to be in headstand for 10 minutes, or do handstands for an hour, so probably a moot point for most, but I do think it matters. Also, I should add that I have a very sturdy constitution and periods by which you could set a clock.

Addtionally, I’ve brought my period on by doing headstand. I believe this is primarily due to stimulation of the pinneal and pituitary glands. Although this would probably be widely disputed, I feel the action of the pinneal gland is key… it is said that in animals the pinneal gland is key to sexual development, and in adult humans the pinneal gland is subject to calcification. I believe that headstand and meditation stimulate the pinneal gland and keep it from deteriorating. I have no scientific proof, just a strong feeling on how it affects me.

The pituitary is widely known as the master endocrine gland and is attributed to direct effect on the sex organ functions, so stimulation of this gland has an obvious effect.

In any event, my experience is that inversions for long periods of time can and do affect a woman’s cycle. I “try” not to do inversions for very long the first three days of my period — avoiding them entirely is tough b/c as a yoga teacher, I need to demonstrate, plus I love them. If I know my period is “due”, but it feels like it’s having a rough time coming on, I’ll do headstand for a long time. A couple of months ago, I did headstand during the commercials while watching a movie on TV. So, you figure commercials every 10 minutes for 2 hours, 2 minutes each, that was about 24 minutes of headstand. I got my period the next day.

About 2-3 years ago, I was just doing my usual practice of massive inversions 1.5 days into my period and I stopped my period. I don’t like to disturb my cycle like that, so now I try to back off the first three days of my period. Not practicing at all the first day (or whatever) is rarely necessary for me, but there are time when I’m just wiped on the first day or so of my period, so I don’t practice. Or, more typically, I do a yin practice.

With all of that said, throttling back is a challenge for me. Anytime someone says “_______ for women”, I automatically recoil, because my experience is that it is a “dumbed-down” version of the real thing. At the same time, I AM a woman, I know my body is different than a man’s and I need to respect that. It doesn’t mean I can’t do the same poses, practice etc, but let’s face it, I don’t need to listen to some patronizing “master teacher” from a misogynistic culture where they still bath in and drink from the same river telling me how to do my practice. My body, my experience and my own wisdom tells me.

So my advice is honor the guru of your own heart and soul, the Supreme Teacher. Many external teachers can help guide you or help you direct your practice, but all the really good stuff comes from inside you. Every experience you have is real for you and it comes from inside you, not from some joker who attended a weekend teacher training playing a Krishna Das remix during class and texting her boyfriend while you’re in savasana. 😉

Oh, I’ve said too much, I must go… 🙂

9 06 2009

just re-read my post and my own egregious grammar and spelling sickens me. and now I’m not even capitalizing in this post. please forgive my exhaustion after a long day.

9 06 2009

I enjoyed reading your thoughts on yoga. Although I do not practice at the level you do, I have tried many sorts of yoga over the past 10 plus years and I find that I have gotten different things out of them, but this is purely due to how open I have been to the experiences. I feel like now that I am not so shut down, I can just let the experiences and feelings come as they come, whether in yoga or not, and just go with it and try to figure out what it means. But, I don’t really have expectations of how yoga may make me feel anymore.

As for the menses issue, i always felt running during the cramping stage was such a relief. In yoga, it sometimes makes me relax more just because my body is tired.

On a completely different note, have you ever read the book, “busting loose from the money game”? It is a very though provoking read that I am trying to make more sense of each day.

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