I am so sorry dear readers that it has been sooooo long since I’ve posted.
This is the thing, my father-in-law who moved into assisted living in Fredonia last fall, fell out of bed and clunked his noggin’ at the end of February. Ten days of hospitalization were followed by a transfer to a nursing home-the locked dementia ward. This man, who two months ago was enjoying homemade dinners and classical music concerts with us, can no longer walk, barely eats, is in diapers, has leg sores, and hardly knows who his son is, much less who I am. At nearly ninety years old, where is the dignity? What effect does my yoga training have on my response to his suffering…and the family’s grief and suffering?
Well, the first thing I rely upon is the breath. I take long sessions of ujjayi to assuage the grief that he is leaving us.
The second practice I engage in is TONGLEN meditation. I will write a page about that soon. Fortunately for me, my teacher, Mahala of ten thousand bodhisattvas dot com offered a Tonglen class shortly after Ben went into the nursing home. Did the universe know that I needed this? I can hear my yoga teacher muttering karma, carolyn, karma!
As a caregiver of a ninety year old with end stage dementia, I now know that I need to learn how to take care of myself first because at present I am suffering from a very nasty case of the flue, probably due to exhaustion. So restorative yoga, here I come. The third practice. Pull out the bolsters and blankies, cause I’m resting, deeply. It’s the core practice of compassionate caregivers.
Since I’ve been tagged repeatedly by FaceBook friends, I’ve gotten the message that I should provide a little more “personal” type info. for my beloved readers! So here goes, round two of 25 random thoughts….
25 Random Thoughts about LaughingYogini
1. Practices asana as a form of prayer.
2. Tore her Achilles doing the “Energy” Yoga tape with Rodney Yee and Patricia Walden ….which she did every morning after the kids left for school and M. went to work….for a solid year…still remembers the “zing” in the back of her heel (1998 or so)
3. She and Mike spent their 25th wedding anniversary at the London Iyengar Institute in an all-day workshop on standing poses.
4. Loves teaching college students (and younger!) because of their energy and willingness to go where they’ve never gone before!
5. Wishes her tummy was smaller so she could go deeper in several poses.
6. Is still waiting to get into full splits on the floor, lift into a complete backbend, do a headstand away from the wall, clasp her hands behind her back in gomukhasana…..hmmmm, the list goes on….but who really cares since she is alive and well and feels like a goddess in ardha chandrasana?
7. Worked intensely for 2 years with a meditation teacher with whom she no longer studies. She did however, ramp up her sitting practice AND learned a lot about herself in the process.
8. No longer publishes her e-zine CIRCLE YOGA. Laughing Yogini blog and website launched in May 2008.
9. Practiced a half hour of ujjayi breath every day for six solid months while grieving a family member’s illness and credits THAT to her own life.
10. While in legs up the wall pose, listened to Pema Chodron cds every afternoon for many many months.
11. Teaches seniors because they ROCK and they don’t hold back!
12.Will probably never become a complete and utter vegetarian, though she really does love her veggies.
13. Has always believed in a higher power…god, the goddess, the Self. The Great Spirit, energy, collective unconscious….you know what I mean. Believes that higher is within.
14. After returning from living in Mumbai, the entire family — parents and kids: 12, 11, 8 years old — practiced yoga on the living room floor following the suggestions of Richard Hittleman’s YOGA…for about a year.
15. Her back went “electrical” when F. tried to straighten her up in sarvangasana on the last day of her first teacher training! Not to worry, sometimes body parts need adjustments.
16. Gave each other yoga ropes for their 30th wedding anniversary (2 years ago). These are now in the basement studio and add a lot of zing to their personal practice as well as the classes.
17. Researched in Light on Yoga by B.K.S.Iyengar how to help heel spurs after being told by therapist that she’d never be able to walk barefoot…she’d already tried most of traditional medicine’s treatments at that time….after practicing Supta Virasana regularly those pesky heel spurs softened!
18. Graduated from 2 separate teacher trainings. Really LOVED BOTH of them even though they were quite different from each other. Sometimes it’s not the “advanced certificate” that’s as important as much as the knowledge that can be absorbed.
19. Is not happy with what the x-rays said about her lower back (spurs, eburnation, bone on bone) BUT is determined to continue honoring the “sacred space in the lumbar spine” as Vanda Scaravelli says.
20. Wishes she would find time to read and reread all of the yoga and meditation books she has on her shelf.
21. Was born bow-legged. Once found a pair of her baby shoes with boards connecting them at the arches which were supposed to straighten out her legs, according to Mom Kieber. She’s still working on straightening those bones!
22. Wishes she were more photogenic so she could create yoga videos just the way she thinks they’d be instructive for her students…ahhh well, they’ll have to make do with podcasts….the oral tradition.
23. While she’s broadcasting wishes: she wishes she had a full and complete studio built over the garage! And …..she’d like to get some training with Tibetans!
24. Was first introduced to YOGA nearly 40 years ago in Mater Dei High School Yoga Club. Blessings on that sweet teacher, whoever and wherever you are today!
25. Has found a deep connection to her yoga kula: students, friends, teachers, online acquaintances. She’s grateful for the wellspring of support and love that she has found there and hopes to return the sweetness with every breath.
When the elder yogini grinned up at me from her head on a blanket on the floor – her legs up in the air of the studio – her backside securely perched on the folding chair – I could see that she was in the “correct” position and the correct position felt good!!!
Why do I like to be upside down? my haloed student asked, hoping, I think, that I’d have an answer.
When I told her that I loved an inversion too, she said that ever since she was a kid, she’d always enjoyed being upside down. She’s a young seventy-something.
Looking at her sparkling blue eyes, and the way that her wavy alabaster curls spread about her head like a halo on the blanket, I wondered why reversing the flow of gravity pulling our physical self to the earth should give such an emotional boost. Sure, yogis have said since ancient times “You are only as young as your spine” ….and the spine strengthens whenever our feet lift and our head drops.
We know the health benefits of inversions:
venous blood flow returns to the heart with ease
nerves are soothed and headaches relieved
thyroid and parathyroid glands are bathed in blood and brought into healthful condition (yogic wisdom)
with repeated and regular practice, hypertension, and unstable emotions are regulated
B.K.S.Iyengar calls Salamba Sarvangasana the “Queen of Poses” – Headstand is the “King of Poses.” Though he doesn’t discuss the supported or chair version of the pose in his classic text, Light on Yoga, he does discuss at length the benefits of standing upon one’s shoulders:
The importance of sarvangasana cannot be over-emphasized. It is one of the greatest boons conferred on humanity by our ancient sages. Sarvangasana is the Mother of asanas. As a mother strives for harmony and happiness in the home, so this asana strives for the harmony and happiness of the human system. It is a panacea for most common ailments. There are several endocrine organs or ductless glands in the human system which bathe in blood, absorb the nutrients from the blood and secrete hormones for the proper functioning of a balanced and well developed body and brain.”
Though I am taking a break from inversions until my neck heals from the injury I incurred in November, I really miss supported shoulderstand as it was a regular part of my daily practice. I found it was indispensable for alleviating the pain of varicose veins. It also helped on a psychological level, promoting seeing the world from a different perspective. This benefit is not often emphasized, but I find very important in my own practice, teaching and life.
Welcome to Elder Yoga, where relaxation is held in high esteem. It’s a time for folks to laugh about whatever ails them, while gently stretching and strengthening their bodies. Seniors come to learn techniques to bolster the healing process. Every student learns to work with and respect the unique body-mind-spirit that is their abode and their gift while on earth.
The classes meet at the Fredonia Pomfret Office for the Aging, Cushing Street, Fredonia (716-672-2891) on Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 10:00-11:00 a.m. There’s no need to bring anything, just be sure to wear loose clothing. We practice in bare feet.
Students can choose to use a folding chair or to lay down on folded blankets at the beginning of class. The teacher laughs and says this is NOT a “No pain, no gain” class. Listening to the body is stressed. If something hurts, students ask for an adjustment and/or come out of the pose. One of the primary rewards of learning yoga is listening to the body and inner promptings. Having spent an entire lifetime working against the body and inner voice, making time to practice this deep listening over and over again rewards the student in myriad ways.
Regarding the anxiety that often increases with age: yoga has given us a great gift, breath work! The elders begin every class by watching the breath. It’s a simple but profound practice. By learning to control the breath, energy in the body becomes balanced, including the wild energy of anxiety. Simple meditation techniques build upon the breath work to develop a fuller and richer life.
After becoming relaxed and energized from the breath work, gentle stretching, balance, and strength training is introduced. Surprising things often happen in class. For instance, when a 65 year old rises into a modified handstand for the first time in her life. The entire class cheers!
Savasana with lower legs on chair (barefoot photos)
The class then transitions into what most consider the best part of class: legs up the wall. This is a classic healing and rejuvenating yogic pose. The students lay down on the floor and slide their legs up the wall. If they are not comfortable in that position,there is always the option of laying on the floor, draping their lower legs across a chair seat. This improves lymph drainage, venous return, and gives the heart a rest. It’s great for helping to lower blood pressure and alleviate varicose veins.
Finally, everyone stretches into the yoga pose that seems the easiest, but is actually the hardest: corpse pose, savasana. The students stretch out on mats, with a bolsters beneath their knees and folded blankets supporting their heads. The use of the eye bag or a covering blanket is optional. In this final pose for the day, the teacher gently guides with verbal promptings suggesting ways of dropping into stillness and peace. No matter what is happening in the world, there is always this place of quiet available, should anyone wish to access it.
After savasana, everyone sits again, and, while resting another few moments in stillness, practices gratitude.
The scariest part of yoga class is taking the first step through the door. Once there, students often grow blissful as they learn to let go of whatever is toxic to them, and enjoy a fuller, richer existence.