The Mindfulness of Yoga, and Sprained Ankles

This is absurd. Busted toes and now a blue, black, yellow, green and very swollen sprained ankle. Seriously? Seriously? Really? Ridiculous. Oh, I need Cindy’s Zen stuff now. Anything to center—and perhaps balance—this ever aging brain and body.

Okay, so here’s what I can do today–Bound Angle Pose or Baddha Konasana. One of my girlfriend bffs says these yoga poses have names that sound like STDs. Trikonasana, anyone? Hey, I live in the South. India meets North Carolina. It has the makings of a good movie.

So Bound Angle Pose is actually a pose I like, a lot, because I have hips that will haunt me when I’m old. I am sure of it. I used to work as a house host at the Biltmore House. And yes, before you ask, it was fun. And yes, before you ask, I got to go in all the rooms–all 250 of them. Anyway, every older person that came to the house had to use the elevator (original) because they’d just had a hip replacement. The house hosts rotate through-out the house all day and everybody gets a turn to run the elevator. I can’t tell you the stories I heard about hip replacements between the first and second floor of Biltmore House and every person said the same thing, “I always had the tightest hips, and then I had hip surgery.”

I am terrified that will be me, because as hard as Cindy tries to get my hips open, they don’t budge. Still, I love BAP and while described as releasing the thigh and groin area, for me…. it works on the hips. Like getting your teeth cleaned, it hurts so good. And, I can lay my ankle to the side and flat, which is required in this pose, so that’s the primary reason for it today.

So, you start in staff pose and no you don’t need a staff–haha. You begin sitting on the floor, legs stretched outward in front of you and your back ramrod straight, with shoulder blades descending down, your buttocks grounded, pressing your thighs to the floor, lengtening your sides and lifting your chest.

Then you bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together, holding your toes with your index and middle fingers and your thumbs. I know all this sounds tedious, but the tedium is necessary or you’d just sit there with your legs pulled up and not paying attention. Paying attention is important in yoga because it is what keeps you mindful.

Most of us aren’t mindful. We’re busy. I think that’s why we get busted toes and ankles. We’re so ridculously busy, always telling ourselves we’re going to take a break when…. and then, in some cosmic way (Lord, I sound like Cindy) our own bodies slow us down. Cindy reminds her students, frequently, to be mindful and to accept “what is.” Today, my “what is” is a swollen ankle and blue-black toe, which inhibits me from doing much more than Baddha Konasana. Today, my body is giving me a time out from my busyness, painful as it might be, and honestly, I am quite relieved.

E-x-t-e-n-d a Little

Today’s pose, extension.

I need e-x-t-e-n-s-i-o-n. The word sounds good, doesn’t it? Cindy Dollar, my yoga teacher, says it is crucial for creating space between one body part and another. At fifty I am having a harder and harder time separating body parts so yeah, today it is all about extension.

Extension is a forward bend. It can be standing poses or sitting poses. I’m pooped after a night out and a day of work, so I’m opting for the sitting pose of Janu Sirsasana or Head to Knee Pose.

Head to Knee Pose is number fourteen in Cindy’s book (she wrote a book called Yoga Your Way, but as my teacher, she never really lets me do ANYTHING my way–don’t tell her I said that.) Head to Knee Pose is listed right before Headstand Part 1 pose, or Salamba Sirsasana which is also considered an extending pose. I find it very intimidating. It’ll have to wait for another day.

I begin Head to Knee Pose by sitting on the center of my buttock bones. They are actually somewhat hard to find, I am embarassed to admit. My legs are extended on the floor in front of me. Cindy says to pull one leg in, bending it at the knee while keeping my other leg straight. Ultimately, I will e-x-t-e-n-d over my straight leg, back concaved, sacrum drawn in, while pressing the bent leg down to the floor. The focus is on elongating my sides (really?) and the goal is reaching my straight leg’s foot while having my head on my chins and my abodomen in line with my straight leg.

Wait a minute, you say. I did that “pose” in gym in grammar school. Why is it special? Why does it get some groovy Sanskrit name? Remember, people, it is yoga. Yoga always surprises me. Let it surprise you too. No expectations here.

And, I am surprised. Who knew my sides were tight? I knew touching my toes never came easy to me, and that my shoulders stay tight, but my sides? I never really thought about them at all.

Seems they need me too. Stretching my arms up over my head, lifting them as high as I can, and then slowly leaning forward over my straight leg while keeping that lift, and therefore the stretch in my sides, feels like a massage. I groan in sheer pleasure, the kind of sigh you let out when you first step into a hot bath.

So, I e-x-t-e-n-d-e-d my five minute time and went for ten minutes, repeating the pose three or four times. Cindy recommends two minutes per side. I set the timer for two minutes but then tossed it aside and just enjoyed the feeling of e-x-t-e-n-s-i-o-n. It is good. It deserves the Sanskrit name.

camels yoga

How do Camels Breath?

I’ve never seen a camel. I’d like too. I’d also like to breath more. You know, breath in, breath out. But mostly, I’m too busy to do that. I know you know what I’m talking about.

Cindy, my yoga teacher, teaches me a pose called Camel pose or Ustrasana.  It’s a funky, little back bend. When I was a kid, I watched TV from the position of a back bend on the living room floor. It was easy. I popped right up, wrists turned backward, feet pushing me higher into the bend, and my chest rising. It felt so good. I could stay there forever.

It was so easy to breath after doing that. I don’t do that anymore. Now, I watch TV lying in bed.

Fortunately, Camel Pose does not require this complete back bend stance. Instead, I am on my knees, with my legs extended behind me, hands reaching for my ankles, neck dropping toward my feet, my spine coiled into my back, my chest open wide. The total time Cindy allows for this pose is thirty seconds. Thirty seconds, then come out of the pose (carefully) and then thirty seconds again. It is enough.

camel pose breath

Cindy Dollar doing camel pose with props. Thank the Lord, yoga lets you use props. This picture is from her website, no photographer is noted.

Cindy gives you reminders when you’re in the pose. She instructs that while your body is bent backward and your arms are trembling with the weight, to press your legs into the floor, and press your hands into your heels, then lift your sternum higher. There is a reason for this. The action between my legs and my arms creates a stronghold, a structure which supports me in the pose. Once supported, I am free to lift my sternum, coil my spine, and the reason for all this contortion: Open my chest, and you guessed it, breath.

Here’s what I discover in this pretty awkward position. I’ve got to breath to stay here.

My breath comes rapidly at first. I’m afraid my arms will give out before my timer does and I’ll be in a heap. So, I breath. The breathing stabilizes me. It slows down the panic and allows me to concentrate, to press my hands into my ankles, press my legs down and be strong again. For thirty seconds.

I have another friend, also named Cindy. She works in the medical field. She doesn’t advise smoking, but she does advise doing what smokers do. “Smokers,” she says, “take breaks to breath.”

Camel Pose is a breathing pose. That’s what I accomplished today, breathing. And, here’s why that is important: I’ve got to breath if I’m going to stay here. I mean that literally, but also, not. Life is a haul, and pacing myself requires breathing.

Sometimes Yoga (and life) Need Props

Cindy tells us that the yoga poses in her book are not built on each other so we, the readers, can do them in any order. This is good because I like skipping around (read, I have favorite poses and poses I hate). She has daily routines organized very neatly, but I swap them around too, adding those I love (dog pose) and skipping the ones I hate (all the warrior poses). So, if Cindy reads this, the next time I go into her studio, you can bet I’ll have to do warrior poses. Let’s keep it between us.

As I’m flipping through her pages, I come across Corpse Pose, or Savasana. Savasana is a restorative pose. Well, my busted toe from the other night still hurts AND I have a cold AND I fear I might be getting the flu (and yet, here I am being so dedicated and all). So, restoration sounds exactly like what Cindy would order. So, that’s my pose for the day. My only pose for the day, mind you.

I seriously feel like a cheater here. The pose is what is sounds like. Lying face up on the floor, your arms at a 30 degree angle from your sides, palms resting upward and your eyes closed. In other words, you look like a dead woman.

My favorite thing about yoga is that it increases your awareness of your body. Even in this Dead Woman Pose, the first thing I notice is that my hip hurts. Did I know that already? Because it hurts in a major sort of way, the kind of way that does not allow me to actually put my hip (the left one) completely on the floor. Since that is what I’m supposed to be doing today, lying on the floor while allowing the space between my eyes to soften and my brain to release back into my skull (I am trying to visualize that!), my hip presents a problem. I cannot lie flat.

Good news; yoga props. Although I didn’t think I’d have to pull out the props for something like Corpse Pose, I flip the page and read the possible variations. Yoga is big on props. If you can’t actually do the pose then props are used to help “put you in the pose.” I own said props–of course, had to buy all the gadgets to do the yoga, right?–and so I place a bolster under my knees which lets me drop my hip to the floor and begin to relax.

Except now all I can think about is why I didn’t know that my hip hurt this badly. And then I remember. I did know. I’ve just been ignoring it. I’ve been sleeping on my right side (unusual for me) because it hurts to lie on my left. I watch TV with a big pillow tucked under my left hip and I read with my leg propped up on a chair. So I’ve been using props for awhile, it seems. The bolster is nothing new.

Making a mental note to call the doctor about my hip, I do as Cindy says. I adjust my buttocks so that my back is against the floor and then I relax letting the floor (yet another prop?) hold the weight of myself for the five minutes she suggests. I get sort of dreamy and slightly sleepy waiting on my timer to click (no loud noises please), although she is very specific that this is not a sleeping pose, but a restorative one. So, I try to focus on letting my brain release to the back of my head, and allowing my hands to be held up by the floor—you may be thinking, what cake! Not so, I tell you. It is actually quite hard to stay in the pose and not start snoring.

I decide, in my dreamy state, that I like the idea of props. So, today’s lesson: use props when necessary and sometimes just use props.

Busted Big Toes

So, today, I’m pooped. Big wedding weekend. And still more to go. But, ever faithful me is going to do her yoga (well, I’m faithful in spirit if not in the flesh). I’m flipping through Cindy’s book and pop! there is Padangusthasana or Big Toe Pose. Highly apporpriate since my big toe is currently, absolutely killing me. I stubbed it on, of all things, a pillow. One of those big study pillows that were popular in college dorms in the late 70’s. Of course, I still have mine (book nerd to the end), and it stays on the floor beside my bed when I’m asleep. Hence the stubbed toe in the middle of the night. Throbbing, I say, and I am going to be in heels for most of the day wearing my new, watermelon-red dress. Very classy sheath and with pockets. Which is too cute. The trend is these dressy-dresses with pockets; perfect if you forget the pedicure.

The first thing I notice is how detailed Cindy’s description is of what appears to be nothing more than me in a standing position, reaching down, grabbing my sore toe and the other healthy toe, and holding onto them while concaving my back, elbows out and stretching my quads and hamstrings.

Going into and out of the pose, I discover, is as important as the pose itself. Cindy gives as much print to preparing and coming out of the pose as she does the actual pose. Okay. That means I didn’t give myself enough time. Note to self–if I am going to do the poses properly, allow more time.

I rearrange my schedule a little (yes, five minute increments actually exist in my life, embarassingly enough) and do Big Toe Pose.

Guess what? My back loves this pose. I mean, I’m actually happy doing this. My legs are trembling as I push my upper thighs backward while pulling my pelvic region forward but my back is estatic. I’m not exaggerating. Lesson two. Lean over more. Stretching ourselves doens’t always have to hurt.

So off to the wedding I hoppingly go.