Thursday, February 13, 2014

Family Yoga: Session Three


When we started Family Yoga Month, I had visions of a beautiful line-up of restful bodies lying peacefully on the ground. Of people smiling and cheering each other on. Of enthusiasm and commitment. Of deep and peaceful exhalations, perhaps even in unison in recognition of how we are all one, as a family and a universe.

I did not expect to find myself marching through the house sweeping up participants - in some cases  grabbing them by the hand and dragging them into the room. I did not expect rice crackers to be passed about during standing poses. I did not expect insults - or eye bags - to be hurled across the room. I did not expect Harry Potter books to accompany savasana.

Despite the vast chasm that exists between the dream and the reality, we have persisted. We have accommodated, recalibrated, and realigned our vision. We have surrendered our dreams of perfection in favor of the messiness and fallibility of real life. And most importantly, we have lowered our expectations. Life seems to ask that of us time and time again, doesn't it?

We stuck with the basics in day three, in hope that a little routine and familiarity would help us overcome inertia. We began with our few simple standing poses: Birds in Flight, Walking the Wall, Shoulder Spirals, Reaching for the Sun. Apparently we had grown familiar enough with these yoga postures to form opinions about them. One person refused to reach their arms toward the wall and slip into a gentle forward bend ("It hurts my shoulder.") Another complained about my creative yoga names ("You tell me to walk the wall, but I'm not moving anywhere!"). Participants seemed just a little too eager to critique each other's stooping shoulders and bent legs. Arguments developed about whether spines were really straight or feet were truly parallel.

And when an eye bag flew across the mats -  not in a malicious way, but most definitely in a disruptive way - we lost one participant to book five of the Harry Potter series. Understandably. I decided to assert my authority as to reclaim a little order, requesting that props remain earthbound and critiques be left to the teacher.

Again, we focused on alignment, which is a good introduction to the body, and how we hold and carry ourselves in the world. We practiced standing in tadasana with the head over the spine instead of in front of it, and with the hips over the heels instead of leading the way. We considered strategies for standing and moving and breathing in ways that cultivate ease and energy in the spine.

We finished up with the same simple sequence of beautiful lying around on the floor poses, (Zig Zag Twist, Bridge Pose, Rocking the Boat), and a sweet and simple float on a cloud.

And our session ended, as usual, with Floating on a Cloud, followed by vigorous bell ringing that everyone has come to expect by now. (Although the pragmatist among us still asks, every time, "What's all the bell ringing about? Is that yoga?")

I did hand out a little homework, in deference to family members who thrive on feeding their hungry brains with how the world (and our bodies) work. I shared the following favorite resources for basic instructions about healthy alignment and healthy spine, which I hope will feed your brain (and body), too:

- Judith Lasater's classic Relax and Renew includes a chapter on the spine and a chapter on how to sit. These explanations are clear and concise, and great starting points for beginners.

- Ageless Spine, Lasting Health by Kathleen Porter is another great place to start for anyone interested in learning how to live in a way that supports and strengthens a healthy spine. Beautiful photographs of well-aligned bodies offer additional insight and inspiration.

- Jean Couch offers a wealth of information about healing your back at her website. Watch the videos she highlights there, and read this enligthening article, which she wrote for Yoga International magazine.

- And for those with chronic back pain, Yoga for Back Pain by Loren Fishman MD offers detailed information about different causes of back pain and yoga postures to help keep the back strong and healthy.