A new bad at yoga segment called Tori Stories.
There are a few stories I could tell about that first silent retreat in India in 2008 but I think this is my favorite.
I got it into my silly western brain that the best way to do this retreat was on my own- no teachers and no support. Y'know, just lock myself in a room for ten days, deal with my shit, and then emerge a transcendent being of light n' stuff. Awesome!
Upon arriving at the Santosh Puri ashram this hard core introspection I was told that while there I would only be fed twice a day. Great, I thought, in addition to deepening my yoga and meditation practice, I'll also loose some weight! Because those two always go hand in hand, right? I knew at the time I was an emotional eater but thought somehow that this, like all my problems, hadn't followed me to the exotic local. Silly Rabbit.
So, armed only with my neurosis and a smuggled in jar of peanut butter I set out to become the John Wayne of bodhisattvas in ten days. Ten days. Ok, I tell people it was ten days, I actually only lasted seven. Six if you count talking to a dog.
The first few days I mostly daydreamed and it was all bliss. Day three my mind inevitably got bored, looked back at itself and said "ew." Shit got real fast and I started feeling all the feelings. I mean ALL the feelings. I had spent the fist 26 years of my life eating my feelings. Feeling them was new. I didn't like it. Bring on the peanut butter.
An image that will stick with me forever is me sitting alone in my wee ashram room, dressed all in white, having just completed the daily puja... a perfect enlightened selfie scene except for that I'm crying, freaking out, and using the handle of a toothbrush to try and scrape the last bits of peanut butter out the bottom of a jar. Talk about #nofilter My silence didn't last long after that.
In the years since I've sat in organized silent retreats it really is an amazing experience. Don't get me wrong- there are always days so uncomfortable I want to eat my pillow but I have the wisdom of a teacher whose been doing this for 20 plus years to help me hold steady.
Lesson: While my growth as person is ultimately a solo endeavor and my responsibility alone; without guidance or help along the way I'm a just making an ass of myself.
A new bad at yoga segment called Tori Stories.
I have a lazy side ass. It’s sad, but true.
It’s part of a chain that starts at my easily pronated feet and goes all the way up through my internally rotated femurs. Basically my legs twist towards each other at my hip, knee, and ankle joints partly due to lack of proper muscular support from my deep hip rotators and literal hip (side ass) muscles. And that’s after twelve years of yoga and self-proclaimed yoga butt.
I’m very proud of that butt, by the way. You might even say I’m attached to it. Wah-wah.
The reality is that I can look good in stretchy pants but still have muscles that don’t really know their purpose in my body. Oh reality, you are such a mischievous and humbling thing. Appearance and health are two very different things. I was a little pissed when that truth really hit me. It means I have to be honest with myself every time I physically practice yoga, every time I want to buy health supplements or ‘detox’ my body, and even why I meditate. Is it supporting my well being or is it wanting to look hot? (hot i.e. control i.e. suffering) Hot in this case meaning some kind of shit-free spiritually endowed Wonder Woman… hmmm that actually sounds rather terrifying.
But back to that hot piece of lazy side ass. There is an effective and functional fix for both it and my oft confused legs. It’s called the pelvic list. I won’t get into the how-to specifics but if you Youtube it you’ll find a ton of instructional videos. It looks easy enough- basically standing on one leg- but appearances are deceiving. Best thing about it? I can do it covertly in public without looking like a complete newsh-bag (new-age-douche-bag). #newshbag
Now THAT one will go viral!!
My foot's in my mouth, get it?!
As much as I would love to know everything there is know about yoga, and as tempted as I am sometimes to fake it, I really friggen don't. I'm not a doctor, I'm not a psychologist, and I'm certainly not any kind of enlightened being (I know that last one may come as a shock). Sure, I've picked up some things over the years but I'm certainly not an expert on anything or anyone. I'm wary of any teacher who implies they are.
I'm just a yoga teacher with an unnatural love of sleeping in and eating peanut butter off a spoon. And while I do have a fair amount of training and experience, I have no clue and absolutely no authority as to what's best for you. All I can do is maybe help you figure that out for yourself. That's what my best teachers have done and continue to do for me.
I try to think of modifications as a rule rather than an exception. It helps undo this pervasive tricky belief that a regular yoga practice looks the same for everyone- uber flexible, uber strong, uber oneness with everything... Whatever the hell that looks like.
I have the mobility, strength and technique to step my foot between my hands from downward dog butnonetheless in never quite makes it there. A combination of long legs and a bit o' junk in my front make it impossible. So, I've had to get creative.
The most straight forward modification I use is to simply use blocks under my hands. It works and my wrists love it. Also fairly straight forward is to just cut the step through out all together and create new ways to flow postures together.
My usual trick is to keep my pelvis really high as I shift more weight into my hands while popping my back foot forward a little. This gives me almost enough space to set my front foot down by my hand. Then I just scooch it forward. I step back in a similar fashion but on my fingertips to give me enough clearance. When it isn't enough, my foot dragging over the mat makes an awesome farty sound. Sometimes I make the awesome farty sound even when I don't drag my foot.
If you're looking for more ways to work with this little gem @diannebondyyoga has a couple great YouTube videos for modifying what she calls, "the dreaded step through."
If I had to guess, I'd say 90% of the movements I teach and practice of late are not classical yoga poses/asanas. Y'know, the big ones like headstand, trikonasana, lotus, etc.
When I do incorporate them it's usually with a personal twist. I honestly find I get a lot more out of asanas when I can look at them critically and play with them a little. Creatively tailor them to fit what I need that particular day, month, decade. It feels a lot better then when I was hell bent on making each yoga posture perfect and yoga itself the be all end all of physical/spiritual/mental practices. Who needs that yoga guilt trip baring down on their shoulders in plank? It's hard enough as it is.
Whatever the movement or position the point to me is the same- be present in the bodily experience. To me, that's the ground. It's that simple and that difficult. And I can do that when I'm twerking just as well as trikonasana.
Yes, I'm #twerkinginthedaisies at the Alberta Legislature. These are things you rightly do when you're self employed. It's what I get in place of a dental plan.
Or any other type of push-up. Which even though I'm a yogi (of sorts) I do because variety is a great and healthy thing.
Sometimes I'm bad at it. Usually because I forgot to stretch my pecks for awhile so my shoulders round forward and my shoulder blades want to fly off my back. No idea what I'm talking about? That's ok- just stretch your pectoral muscles. Please.
Most days lowering or lifting through this pose is just bloody hard. Especially around this time of year when the temperature begins to drop and my triceps, along with many other areas, have to buck up and learn to support my winter weight. Let me tell you- my post Christmas arms look freakin' amazing! Yup, this yoga gun show is brought to you by long Canadian winters and mashed potatoes. Booyah.
This means my practice includes nothing that would technically be considered an advanced asana. Foot behind the head is the cherry on top for yoga poses. To me, it's just not worth it. Even with the potential benefits for my social life. Being a recovering perfectionist n' all, this mediocrity is good for me.
Despite years of trying, the foot-behind-head situation happened only once. In 2010 at an Ashtanga workshop. A visiting teacher tried like hell to get me into Konasana (ankles crossed behind head with hands clasped behind the back... it's as fucked up as it sounds). The poor teacher. He was determined to get me into that pose. He got both feet awkwardly behind my head but then they sprang apart when he tried to make my hands to clasp behind my back. It went back and forth like this for awhile before he conceded defeat. I wasn't really involved in this process. I was like a bystander watching my own body be morphed into the shape of a Christmas turkey.
My decision to cut these poses loose came around the same time I owned up to not being able to get through an ashtanga practice without taking an Advil first. My poor hamstring attachments were wrecked. I still have to watch out for them. That's not a diss on Ashtanga, just my approach to it.
Anatomically, the whole foot behind head situation is kinda messed up. Let's just leave it at that. Some people can do it easy-peesy. Some of us cannot. The question I think we should ask ourselves is, "Do any of us really need to be doing it?"
Publicly flaunting what I see as shortcomings and weakness has not been easy. A whole lotta processing/editing takes place before I post something.
I'm a perfectionist and a workaholic in recovery. For much of my life I worked so hard to be good- it didn't matter what at. I labored under the assumption that if I continually bettered myself that at some magic point self acceptance and peace of mind would naturally follow. Apparently life doesn't work that way.
Being good at something (anything!) meant I was always conforming to external standards of practice or behavior. I know I'm not the only person that falls into the trap of using others people's judgement to gauge my worth (I wonder how many likes this will get?!) No wonder we are all so anxious. In giving myself permission to be bad I'm finding that more and more I'm also giving myself the freedom to be authentic. To say fuck it and just be. It's nice. I like it.
Why must you drink these if you practice yoga? Beats the hell outta me.
I used to be great at green smoothies. For two years I rocked that mason jar full of snot everyday. I was the mutha truckin bomb of green smoothies. Then came the day I started projectile vomiting every time I drank one. My fine tuned yogic awareness sensed something might be amiss, after two weeks.
Turns out chewing your food is kind of a big deal. Our saliva starts the digestive process while our food is still in our mouths. It's like a prepping stage. Skipping this step by guzzling artificially masticated raw veggies (which are already difficult to digest) was making my poor gut work overtime. So after two years of well intentioned abuse it said, "Screw you, Lunden. You have teeth for a reason!"
Not ready to give up that easy, I tried one bloggers advice and started swishing my smoothies around my mouth before swallowing. I also started adding less fruit because apparently my post smoothy rush wasn't vitamins or prana- it's was a good ol sugar high. My smoothy habit died pretty quick after these changes. I didn't spew anymore but gargling bitter liquified kale is freakin gross.
Juicing? Sure. But who can afford to do that everyday?! I'd have no money left for overpriced leggings.
So, these days I just eat my veggies. I tell people it's because I'm old school. It makes me sound cool.
Apologies for the duck face. I couldn't help myself.
Also known as the yoga wardrobe malfunction.
Those "only at Walmart" pages have nothing on a yoga class.
Underpants popping up over waistbands in forward bends are inevitable. Epic panty lines in warrior two just happen. Cute yoga tops that ride up and/or down in all the wrong places are everywhere. And most stretchy pants (yup,even those $90 pairs) are going to be a wee bit diaphanous in happy baby pose.
Dudes, think you're exempt? Think again. Especially those of you that practice in running shorts.
And, it's all perfectly fine! Cheek peek happens, whatever. No one else in class really cares. I once had a boob pop out of my top while demonstrating wild thing pose in front of a class. The only thing to do was laugh, tuck it back in, and carry on. (That story was for you, @bets_on_stars). Loving my body means appreciating the parts that refuse to be tamed by luon and elastic.
It's something to remember the next time I'm tempted to laugh at a photo of someone shopping at Walmart in tube top: many of my yoga teachers and/or students have seen enough of me to count as going to first base.
I cannot do this without feeling that I'm about to lose a nipple. It would seem that boobs are not something our yoga forefathers considered when they dreamed up bracing your elbows against your abdominals to support your entire body weight.
In Hindu lore, the peacock is a symbol of immortality and love. The pose is also supposed to work wonders for the digestive and reproductive systems. Sigh, long life and great sex? Maybe a nipple is a small price to pay...
Or maybe I leave just this pose alone and get the same benefits from a few different exercises that actually work for my body. For example:
1. For upper body strength: push-ups with my hands side by side, just below my sternum.
2. For core/glute/hamstring strength and balance: alternate leg and arm lifts on hands and knees or in plank.
3. For abdominal compression: laying on a rolled up mat or towel and belly breathing.
No, these moves likely won't turn me into an immortal sex yoga goddess.., but my love of bacon shot that dream in the foot awhile ago.
So what's with the blatant cleavage shot? A lot of the photos under #yoga are boob shots and mama needs a social media following.
So, apparently music festival yoga selfies are a thing. It makes sense that the feeling of escape and freedom that comes with great music in the sunshine would make people want to bust out a pose or two. I don't, but that's because my expression of music festival freedom generally involves alcohol and a lot of deep fried food. Two things that pair well with live music but not so much with yoga postures. I have had to learn this the hard way, at least three times.
So rather than busting out dancer's pose on a picnic table or neti potting in a porta-potty; I will be sitting on my butt washing down my second chicken pot pie poutine with some diabetes in a can. I love it. And it is always totally worth it the following week, when I feel like my pores are secreting the remnants of a food truck's grease trap whenever I practice. I love it so much.
I'm not necessarily bad at this pose, but it definitely has its challenges for us full bodied gals. Namely how to not suffocate in your own cleavage. Yeah, it's kinda amusing, but it's also slightly terrifying. It's actually given me mild panic attacks in the past.
Don't even ask about halasana.
To add to my plight, doing the pose in safe alignment, keeping my thoracic in extension (not rounding my upper back) and using props to protect my cervical curve make it even more claustrophobic.
I've tried dividing the problem by not wearing a bra when I practice but that creates problems in other poses. Like smacking myself in the face jumping into handstand.
Despite all that, I actually still like this pose. For the sake of my neck it's definitely not one I'd do everyday, but now and then it just hits the spot. Like a ta-ta to the nose.
It's a beautiful pose, one of my favorites. Or it was until I realized that no matter how much I strained and surrendered my body was never going to contort into its pretty shape. That is, of course, when I started hating it. To me it brings to light all my apparent yoga body shortcomings. These are not features that can be ironed out with more practice- they are simply, innocently the way I'm put together. And sadly they are not conducive to safely lifting my foot over my head while binding my hands behind my back. When I try I look and feel like Quasimodo on a bender.
I have relied a lot on appearances for validation- in yoga and in life. My wrestling with this pose both figuratively and literally demonstrates this. From that stemmed a willingness to push myself to the point of breaking in order to look pretty. That's not yoga. That's vanity and insecurity fueling my practice (and my injuries).
It's effed up. I've been working on it.
I'm bad at lotus. So freakin' bad that I don't do it or teach it anymore. Ever.
Rather than crappily doing the pose for you and hurting myself (again), I'm just gonna give some love to my left knee. To my left medial meniscus, to be exact. It really hates lotus. And since angry knees are what got me into yoga in the first place - being nice to them makes sense. At least, it makes sense now after re-injuring them a few times. Have I mentioned I'm a slow learner?
To quote Leslie Kaminoff (my favorite source for yoga/anatomy information):
"The people who are flexible enough to do lotus don't really need to and those that are too stiff shouldn't risk it."
Does choosing to not sit in lotus lower my chances of obtaining enlightenment? Possibly. but my meniscus and I are willing to risk it.
Bonus material: You can also see my lucky right bunion in this photo! Lucky you.
The yogi wakes up fresh at 4am, glides without doubt or caffeine to their yoga mat, and diligently begins surya namaskar with an nimble forward bend. Cue singing birds and rabbits from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
I don't know if that scenario is true for anyone, but it's certainly not for me. Clearly, I suck at mornings. I scowl at mornings. I don't even mean early, early mornings- this was taken at 8:30am! When I practice in the AM it's not because I enjoy it, but because I know if I leave it for the end of the day - it won’t happen.
Practice usually starts out like this- after coffee, in my pajamas, drooling on my mat in child's pose while I cajole the morning stiffness out of my back.
Some days, once I get moving, I find a rhythm of breath/body and practice becomes effortless, even graceful. Other days, every movement is like pulling pranic teeth. To get my ass moving, blissful silence is replaced with Rage Against the Machine. If things are really dire, it's Katy Perry. Yup, it's kinda gross and I'm rightfully embarrassed. Take it from me though, being a music snob is as fulfilling as being a yoga snob- not very.
Every morning I remind myself what a much wiser lady once told me- nowhere are we promised that by practicing yoga our body will always be comfortable. Discomfort means we're alive. I hold onto that and it keeps me moving.
My hip structure being what it is, this is how high I need to be to get the “shin parallel to the front of the mat” cue that is commonly given in pigeon. This is not because I lack flexibility, it's just the way my hip joints are built. Any lower and my kneecap feels like it's gonna pop off. If I pull my heel in closer to my inner thigh (for variety's sake) I sink closer to the ground but I'm still nowhere near resting on it. This is what my "open" hips look like.
Now, in case you're wondering, do I normally practice pigeon on a cinder block under a fake Christmas tree while drinking a tallboy? No. Is this any less unrealistic and impractical than any other yoga photo shoot I've been a part of (on a desert cliff at sunset, in a bad alleyway barefoot, wearing white with no coffee and/or bbq stains)? Again, no.
Written June 13, 2015
We might as well get this Ramana lovin' bastard out of the way right now.
After over a decade, this is it. After warming-up, on a good day, on my good side. Booyah.
A brief timeline of this pose in my life:
“I'll never be able to do that,”
“Hey, I'm a little better at doing that.”
“I WILL do that.”
“Oh, I think I hurt myself doing that.”
“Oh shit, I definitely really hurt myself doing that.”
“Eff me I hurt myself even worse doing that on the other side.”
“SCREW YOU, MONKEY GOD, I CAN’T EVEN BEND OVER ANYMORE.”
“Can I do that? No, my practice isn't about that it's about being healthy and loving my body.”
“... but I still kinda want to do that.“
I'm not going to go into my opinions on why I hurt myself or a discussion of anatomy- there's enough good info out there on this for anyone who's interested. Most long time practitioners I know have hurt their hamstrings. Though I see a shift happening, I don't know if we talk about injuries enough. I mean REALLY talk about OUR injuries. I know part of being a teacher is appearing confident- but I doubt how much my faux 'injuries are all part of the practice' attitude, or my impersonal discussions of anatomy really help anyone. Personally, I know that all the biomecanics in the world would not have made me back off my hammies. I knew better but my desire to progress overran my common sense. I was in the sticky trap of viewing yoga as a linear progression; with poses as benchmarks. I started at point A and with hard work and dedication I would inevitably get to point B. Point B is where it's at! Point B deserves a chai latte. Until I decide I really need to get to point C. And I'm pretty sure getting to point D will be a lot easier with new pair of stretchy pants. And so it goes.
One final note, my apologies to any teacher (whom I may or may not have disclosed my injury to) if I lost my kit at them when they attempted to adjust me in forward bends between 2010-2012. Yeah,sorry about that.
Written June 8, 2015
I started doing yoga twelve years ago. After a few years I entered what I call my drink-the-kool-aid-phase. I was all in and this sh*t was gonna solve all my problems. Part of what seduced me was the belief that being a yogi was going to inevitably make me look and feel a certain way- a spiritually advanced, hotter, bendier, zenned out, less crazy version of the current me. Over the years this hopeful belief became a source of guilt and anxiety. An idea of perfection I couldn't possibly live up to. A true yogi always feels peaceful while sitting in lotus position, right? A true yogi can actually do lotus position, right?
I tell people all the time in class that it's the intention that counts, that the way the pose looks doesn't matter. I still have trouble extending myself the same compassion. I didn't realize the extent of this until I joined Instagram a couple weeks ago and was faced with the dreaded yoga selfie. Oh, hello neurosis, nice to see you again.
To tell people it's impossible be bad at yoga and then only post pictures of myself in poses I think I'm good at seems hypocritical. It feeds a stereotype of ability and lifestyle that doesn't serve me or anyone else. A stereotype that apparently part of me still buys into.
So, starting this week I'm posting the bad poses, the ugly poses, the fall on my ass poses, the poses I modify the hell outta as a rule rather than an exception, the poses I need to do, and the poses I never do at all anymore and why. It's gonna be fun.
We'll begin with this. A simple hamstring stretch performed while licking chocolate vega smoothie out of my teeth.