Excuses, excuses


Let me start by saying I read a fabulous article called Ashtanga:aging and fatigue, this week by Chad Herst. Please read it here. So much of what he talks about is valid and compassionate, as a practitioner who didn’t start practicing until I was 43, I can attest I know what an aging body feels like! Yet, like with anything, it can lead to a rationalization to just give up. Kind of like cheating on a diet, then deciding to binge because you’ve already had a piece a cheesecake.

Obstacles will always arise in our path, that is just the way life works. I swear, everyday, yes every single day, I have very specific reasons come up inside me telling me what I can’t do. My brain is very good at telling me how tired I am, my back is tight, my shoulders are sore, my thumbs hurt, my allergies are kicking in, my balance is off, my ankle is numb, etc. Many days, during my first few sun salutations, I am fighting the urge to just curl right into child’s pose and give up.

You know what? The majority of the time, it’s nothing but blah, blah, blah. I am no masochist or sadist for that matter, I can usually differentiate between discomfort and pain that leads to injury, there is a difference. I promise I’ve never had a day saying I wish I hadn’t practiced today. Not once. Granted as Chad stated in his article, practice isn’t always pushing it to the next level either, but I will add, balancing it, with an honest assessment is key. Cliches abound all about this phenomenon. “Most things in life are difficult before they are easy.”and “Pain is your friend.” Both come to mind, and yet I hate cliches and overuse them…oh the irony.

I’ve come to the mat with chronic discomfort, fatigue included. I subjectively don’t call my past rheumatoid arthritis damage pain. It’s not that it can’t be hurting on any given day, because, sometimes it just does. No rhyme or reason, (another cliche!) just waking up and there it is. Sometimes it’s my back, many days it’s my thumbs, rarely my ankles tweak just to mix things up a bit. Each time the pain is significant, of course I fear another bad flare. Combined with that is just the regular aches and pains of being human like sleeping funny on your neck. These are not injuries to be concerned about per se, and though, I fully get my brain telling me I’ve got an ouchie, it’s not something to throw in the towel about. (More cliches, sigh) I wonder sometimes, what part of me is so resistant? Is it fear? Is it knowing how intense a specific asana is? Is it being lazy? Is it frustration? Impatience? Disliking the asana I’m struggling through?

I’m sure it’s all those things with a dash of ego thrown in to the recipe just to make it all the more dramatic and all about woe is me. (Another one! ) Let me stress, I abhor pain, it’s vile and simply hurts. I try to avoid it like the plague. (I like that one) However, I know that laying in bed all day, (a onetime fantasy for me) barring being very ill, actually is not beneficial to me, or anyone. I’ve done it, on chemo. Laying waiting to have energy does not give you energy. I know this as a fact.

Use it or lose it. (It’s true, but I really dislike this cliche) I have felt like I couldn’t move, seriously, I’ve been so severely flared in my RA the only way to get downstairs in my house was to sit on the stairs and scooch down one step at a time, crying because it hurt to just get myself in the kitchen to make a cup of tea. Looking back, I empathize with that sickly soul, but wish I had been given advice to pick my ass up and try a little harder. Yes, tough love( more cliches really?) and I’m not sure I would have taken it before I was ready to, but alas I know better now. This does not in anyway mean, that I would push through a true injury, assessment, rest as needed, and modification if necessary. Work with a trusted instructor as well as medical intervention if needed.

As crazy as it sounds, movement makes the worst of that pain of discomfort go away. Even when I had to bump my way down those steps, by the last one it was always a little better than the top! It also creates more energy. Movement can not straighten my middle fingers back to normal, but for the most part, action gets the circulation going, which ultimately gets me feeling better. By no means should you practice to a point that you are too exhausted or injured to function. Practice is a support to living as well as a foundation to a lifestyle. The foundation must be tended too, or it starts to slowly crumble away. That does not mean catching your ankles at all costs, but it does mean giving your best effort, in any given day, for that day. It also means that some days you will be sore, but in that sweet way. My quite winded point is, yes pay attention, avoid injury, if not the aging process, but don’t let your mind stop your potential, as all this babble arises, just acknowledge it, see what’s real and then let it go and practice to the best of your capabilities.

The Saturday oil bath, my weekly ashtanga ritual.


Saturday is the traditional day off from asana for ashtanga yoga. In it’s place falls the oil bath. When I first heard the term, I envisioned a tub filled with steaming hot water and a cup of oil poured in, soaking away your aches and stresses…sounds nice. But alas, that is not the ritual! Though I have found it, over time, to be immensely relaxing and rejuvenating. The first time I did it, I really felt it was a sick joke of figuring out how to make a huge mess, with me oily and sticky and wondering if I would ever get all the oil out of my hair again. Now, I have come to enjoy it so much, I regret a week I’m not able to partake.

Castor oil is thick, really thick and sticky.  Using it properly most definitely involved a learning curve for me. I thought that by giving a step by step instruction,  including a clean up might be helpful!

Music! Completely optional, however, tunes are not only soothing, but a good way to gauge the time.
Dry brush
Castor oil, about 2 ounces, give or take
Coconut oil for your hair
Wash cloths
Scrub mitts or puff
Essential oils added to the castor oil if you find the smell un appealing, I sometimes use lavender or vanilla, again, an optional choice, but smells better.
Dawn dish soap
Castile soap, Trader Joes citrus body wash or tea tree wash or Lush RubRubRub( these all work well to get it off, pick your poison!)
Your choice of shampoo. My personal favorite is Lush Big.

1. Start by heating up your castor oil. I usually just put the bottle in the sink with super hot water. By making it heated slightly it goes on with more fluidity and ease as well as feeling nice.

2. While waiting for it to heat up, I dry brush or use scrub gloves on my body to lift off any surface dry skin.

3. Brush out your hair. Take a nice amount of coconut oil and coat your hair with it. Trust me on this one..coconut oil is much easier to get out of your hair, a great conditioner, and allows for the castor oil to be massaged into your scalp better…best tip I ever got.

4. Get your castor oil, and get in your tub or shower, take an old washcloth to sit on to avoid slipping. Pour some castor oil in your hands getting it on your finger tips and start massaging it into your scalp. Keep adding more oil as needed. Get your ears, face and neck. Be gentle but firm massaging the oil in as you go. Shoulders and upper back next, then both arms. I rub the oil in a circular motion on the joints and use long strokes on long bones and surface areas. Your chest and abdomen come after, I find circles best for application again, and work around to my mid and low back. Hips and glutes in circles, don’t skimp! Legs in long strokes except for knees and ankles in circles, then finally feet! Get it between your toes!

5. When you think your all finished give yourself a good massaging once over with your hands to ensure you are oiled up everywhere! Now lay down, use the washcloth as a head rest if you need it. Try to relax and chill out, literally for as long as you can. At first I lasted a few songs, now I can easily sit for up to a hour if I have the time. Don’t over do it when first getting started! It can wipe you out.

6. Getting clean…yes this is the hardest part! If your shower is part of your tub, I highly suggest standing on a washcloth for slippage control. Using hot water, as warm as you can take it comfortably and just let the water stream down you for a minute or so as you rub the oil in one last time with the heat of the water. I like scrubby gloves, so I put them on, but a washcloth works too especially for your face or a puff if you like and slather! First, I clean my hair, with Big,  really working it in my scalp. I leave it on while I start using the washcloth or gloves covered in suds and more added as needed from my soap of choice and work my way down my body. My favorite is Lush Rub…Ahhh, rinsing as I think wow my hair is still goopy..sigh, a repeat with shampoo or castille again and then a rinse. ( Big really works with one try! ) Feel your body for spots feeling too oily and repeat washing as needed. Don’t go too crazy, there is no need to be squeaky clean, but just not sticky or slimy.

7. Next comes the Dawn…I turn off the shower and take some dawn in the washcloth and clean off the floor and wherever else I’ve touched with oil. Hot water to rinse it away! I figure if Dawn could be used for the Exxon Valdez clean up, it can break up castor oil too…I’ve been doing it about 3 years now, and so far so good on the pipes in my house and septic system!

8. Dry off! Smile! Toner if use use one. Moisturizer if you feel you need it. Brush out your hair, sigh over the one spot you still feel a bit oily and know it will come out in the next shower;-)

9. Take it easy. Now that doesn’t mean to just chill out and do nothing, but avoid the sprint and go for the walk instead. Oil baths benefits include soothing your muscles and joints, removing excess heat, and releasing toxins. When you first get started, it can feel exhausting! I was honestly really tired after the first few times…but now feel refreshed. Enjoy!

Try and try again.

I read an old letter today, that Kurt Vonnegut wrote in response to a private high school English class sending letters to him asking his advice. Here is his response in full:

November 5, 2006

Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:

I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.

What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.

Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?

Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.

God bless you all!

Kurt Vonnegut

Practice without attachment to the outcome. Try, with best effort. That alone is it, isn’t it? Be creative, be active, try and try some more. Learn who you are and soothe your soul through not just your joys and triumphs but as well your frustrations and epic failures.

In my art work, that message is easier to encompass than with my asana practice…I don’t know why I’m harder on myself in my physical capabilities, quite odd considering how uncoordinated I always had been, and having some damage from rheumatoid arthritis in my joints. Though most certainly asana has helped me be more graceful so to speak, sometimes I still trip over absolutely nothing, as my husband has coined, “The ground came out of no where!” Art on the other hand is just something I enjoyed, I never tried to be more with it, just engross in the process. I think I need to learn to stop criticizing myself more, and just be.

A pastel still life versus

I will say that regardless of the moments I’ve let that judgement come to the surface, I am always happy after practice! Go figure.