red dot little duck

April 1, 2014

Two years ago today I left the great Northwest in my packed up, little red car and drove across the country. Had never been to the east coast, didn’t really know anyone and it didn’t really matter. Full of inspiration, to the brim with intention, absolutely no idea how things would pan out, only wanting to practice as hard as I could and learn as much as possible.

Certainly, I’ve become aquatinted with my limits, been blessed with an incredible amount of knowledge and by some kind of grace, so far survived. Here’s to the next round.

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“You can have the other words-chance, luck, coincidence, serendipity. I’ll take grace. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’ll take it.”   ~ Mary Oliver

Modified. Primary, prim.

The injury, creating an intense rift in physical ability, gave me plenty of things to work around. Limitations included no weight bearing, little to no range of mobility, and a general state of fatigue/physical weakness. However, as famously stated by Guruji, “anyone can take practice”, no matter the circumstance.

At the beginning, all I could really do was breathe. And, for whatever reason, even that proved to be difficult; in, out. Keeping at it everyday, adding physical movement even as minimally as inhale reach up, exhale fold. Inhale reach up, exhale fold. For the first two weeks this and some of the pranayama exercises outlined in Vayu Siddhi got me through to a place where I could get to the floor.

Then I started modifying/creating versions of the Surya Namaskara’s, thinking of ways to get a well rounded system of movement while remaining within my limits.

Slowly adding on poses everyday, using props, sometimes a lot of props to help accommodate my limitations and discover possibilities to move forward with. Some efforts where quite informative while others just didn’t work out. 

Couple times a day, everyday and everyday developing a new plan for the next day.  As I got stronger, more was added, planned and modified. However, even though movement was there and practice was happening I was experiencing loss of muscle control with visible atrophy.

Physical therapy has helped with that some. Once a week receiving exercises designed to help with range of motion, strength and balance. Some of the most simple things prove to be the hardest. However, by applying the foundational principles of ashtanga yoga, I was able to grasp the essential aspects of reanimating movement with an informed mind.

Progressively, less props are needed though many limitations still exist. Standing postures recreated as well as possible while seated, trying to activate the body the same way as it would be while standing. Tricky. Working with backbends; mostly accessed through Ustrasana and Kapotasana with blankets under the left foot. This was a great way to work with the back bending principles in place of Urdhva Dhanurasana but not ideal in the way of using and accessing the shins to aide in the foundational work. Slowly this is changing.

At just over seven weeks I have a fully modified primary practice and the ability to modify over half of second series. The modifications and alignment principles I worked with were inspired by what I have learned from David Garrigues, not to mention the depth of understanding of what it means for my personal and spiritual development to practice. I highly recommend anyone who doesn’t study with him to do so. I also used this video for ideas and greatly appreciate the fact that it was out there. Today Suzanne Faulkner and I made our own version, Ashtanga Yoga Club Durham style.

In all accounts, Ashtanga has taught me, and continues to teach me, many things and in the face of giving up, I don’t.

Taking it in the Talus. Part One.

“The talus is a compact bone that sits between the calcaneus (heel bone) and the tibia and fibula (bones of the lower leg).  Because the talus is a primary connection between the bones of the ankle, a fractured talus can severely limit the ability to walk and bear weight.” – someplace on the internet

X-ray

The two x-rays on the left were taken three weeks after the accident. The image on the right is what a normal, healthy foot looks like. As Dr. Zura from Duke Hospital put it, “there are three components to look at here.”

1. Os Trigonum. This had nothing to do with the injury but is an interesting find and could pose a potential problem in the future.

2. Lateral fracture of the talus. Shattered. “Snowboarders break.”

3. Left distal fibular fracture.

The next level, is what Dr. Loard at Triangle Orthopedics classifies as, “a sever sprain and some tearing of the ligaments surrounding the ankle.” As of now, I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid surgery though it may be necessary at a later date if any one of these components become an issue due to their inability to heal.

Back to the beginning….

I was pretty much alone, stuck in New York with my thoughts and a bottle of Percocet. “Where do I go from here? Am I going to get surgery? Where? How am I going to do this? I’m going to need some serious help.” Thankfully, I was tossed a boon: Suzanne Faulkner. My dear friend and fellow ashtangi, invited me to come to Durham and stay in the apartment connected to her house and eventually practice in the yoga studio on the second floor.

IMG_1509Next step, get back to Philly, pack up my apartment (the lease was up two weeks post accident) and figure out how to get to Durham. Second boon: Elizabeth Sitzler… my wing man? my front man? Whatever she is, aside from being my friend/saving grace she brought food, clothes, books and yoga props to the hospital, took me back to Philly and organized a packing crew to take care of my apartment. Not only that, she took over my classes at AYS and has been holding down the fort on her own since my departure.

Now, to North Carolina. Fly? Bus? Drive? Third boon: Christine Myers. Another friend who offered to drive me to Durham and stepped in to help get my affairs in order. On our way, not ten minutes past the Maryland state line we survived a crazy freak car accident in which my little red car was totaled. I located a rental for us and Christine, without skipping a beat, transfered all my belongings and ourselves into it and we got back on the road. Goodbye little red car.

Grateful to get here, I settled in and let it all hit me. And it did.


This is what practice looked like three days after the accident. Inhale arms up… 

Is the rule of three a real thing?

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One: phone stolen. Mostly an inconvenience, an invasion of privacy. What could they possibly have wanted with that phone? It wasn’t fancy. Wasn’t worth anything. At least not to anyone but me. 

Two: broken talus bone, left foot. Surgery needed. This is the worst bit. No walking on it for three months. Everything is hard. Harder. Bathing is an accomplishment. On the plus side, once the pain subsides to a more tolerable level, it will be fun to explore asana from a new perspective. And the pranayama sessions… off the hook. Right?!

Three: car gets totaled. My friend offered to drive me to Durham, where I will be getting the foot surgery and spending my recovery. On our way here, in my car, we were run off the road by a man in a pickup. No one was hurt. We were lucky. The car is totaled.

The most frustrating part? I was just about to settle in. Had a plan. A good plan. Things were looking real solid. Then, BAM!

Has there been a mad, planetary shift? A universal change in game plan? A cosmic practical joker getting his kicks? I can only trust that it’s the rule of three, that it’s actually a real thing, and things will be turning around from here out.

Busted up in NYC

talus

Vulnerable.

I felt it smash when I landed. FUCK. Shit, shit, shit! No (a long string of choice cuss words, some new ones, inventive ones) way! I laid there on the ground. Squeezing my eyes shut as if I could erase what just went down.

Maybe it’s just sprained. Fuck no, you idiot, it’s broken.

Maybe if I just try to move it I’ll see, it’s not broken. It’s broken.

Fourteen hours in the ER. Morphine, couple shift changes, lots of nurses and a couple doctors with confirmation I did in fact break something. The Talus bone in my left foot. Though this bone is small, it’s an important one. Surgery?! No surgery? Still not certain. Tomorrow will be the decider of that once I again enter into the cog of American Healthcare. Proud.

All you had to do was pause. Choose a different route. One different move. How could you be so CARELESS!?

The inner war began immediately. It’s been hard enough recently to decide what the right decisions are. To make the right decisions. Still knowing what it is I want yet battling the shadows of uncertainty cast by wings of doubt. There’s been enough doubt. Enough! What I believe in has been tested and pushed. TESTED and PUSHED.

Did I choose this? 

Choice is an interesting thing. Simple yet complex. I suppose it’s a choice I made. Perhaps a result of the choices I have been struggling with. Minor injuries, personal losses, struggling for a gain. For a while now I’ve been facing a need, or a desire, for a place to heal, space to heal, to think, to re-coup. However, I believe it could have been a little less forced and a lot less literal.

One: I still know what I want and what I want to do. And I’m not going to stop doing it. No matter what.

Two: I have more faith and belief in what it is I have been doing, and who it is I have been learning it from, than I ever have.

Three: Life’s lessons will continue to bless me with their persistent presence and relentless force.

 

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In some ways, I feel I’ve come to realize a sensation of dignity within my practice. (Dignity: the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect.) Meaning… I respect it.

I feel as if the way I am learning to practice and study this lineage is honoring what I believe to be it’s purpose; developing consciousness. More specifically, developing the conscious awareness of opposing forces, lifting into the resistance of gravity, understanding the guidance of uddiyana bandha. Discovering a new found rootedness that stands clearly within my being as I solidify the primary or explore my limits within second and third.

This dignity, a source of self-centeredness, (in the sense of balance, not in the sense of conceited egoism) reveals a need for tolerance, as well as dedication and observation. Seeing the connectivity between a grounded set of shins and the lift of the spine as it gracefully arches over an imaginary bubble into the conundrum that is Kapotasana. Dignity, tolerance, grace, connectivity, rootedness. Thank you, David, for teaching me their importance and encouraging me to develop them within myself.

An Ode to Primary

The solidity of Primary. It’s illusive beauty shadowed by the powerful stimulation and desire for second and third – intermediate and advanced. A beginners series. Overlooked.

In truth it’s beauty is old and wise.

Primary guides the way. It’s the gates and the foundation. It generates dynamism and enriches volumes of rhythmic breath.

In its one-hundered-percent effort it is grace, it is patience, it is bhakti.

Chaturanga

This photo was taken by Ellen Ozier during a unique project photo shoot while visiting Durham, NC over the Thanksgiving holiday. Nice assist by Little Man. Keep a lookout for his 2014 calendar!

Here I am.

It used to be my ritual to call in sick the first day the snow fell. At least I always tried my damnedest to find myself next to a huge window with a good view and a hot cup of tea. A time to sit back and revel in the beauty, the simplicity, the purity of those white fluffy flakes. So simple. I’ve been trying to prepare myself for a full-on Philly winter. Full-on meaning months of cold grey concrete. Already daydreaming of the mountains. Ice cold, crisp, clean air over the Montana landscape. Home.

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A few days ago I saw the first falling snow outside the window of AYS. Just a little flurry but it brought a serious joy into my heart. Overwhelmed, for a brief moment, by memories of family, friends… holidays. Today I took the picture above while sitting outside enjoying a cup of coffee with a good friend. So far, so good.

It’s kind of unbelievable that Thanksgiving is next week. I mean, how is it that I got here, to this place? How is it that faith can be so fluid? That impermanence can be so permanent? How is it that it doesn’t seem to matter that much? How is it that I can wake up two years after quitting my job in pursuit of something I love and believe in, and feel as if ten years have been logged into my psyche? And I still have to remind myself that I’m an adult.

In any case, here I am. Here we are. And next week, it’s Thanksgiving.

And now I’m 34.

pie

There’s something beautiful about a good piece of pie. Buttery crust, sweet – but not too sweet filling with a scoop of ice cream and a piping hot cup of coffee. Timeless.

Today, I turned 34. I’m still single, have no cats, no dogs, no secure income, no insurance. I wear hand me downs, buy candles at Ross, give mixed cd’s for birthday or christmas or everything gifts. I generally always eat my leftovers and cut the bad part off old fruit because the rest of it’s still good. I used to think it was gross when my dad would cut the mold off a block of cheddar cheese but now I understand. I splurge on hats, jackets, jewelry and under ware. I have a pair of Dansko’s I’ve worn for more than six years – on the dance floor, miles of walking and a sweet tumble down some Philly stairs. Still wear them. I love those shoes.

I cry at old movies, disney cartoons, and commercials. Dumb ones. I crave nature, green pastures, rivers, lakes and mountains. I find wildlife peaceful. I appreciate space, skylines, stars and quiet. I mostly prefer coffee over tea, depending on time of day. I eat spinach from a box. I enjoy farmers markets yet find them annoying at the same time.

I practice ashtanga everyday. I benefit from learning to breathe with intelligence, to move with intelligence, to cultivate intelligence. I still get bummed out when my body wont do what I tell it too yet develop compassion, understanding and new strategies for myself and my students through those times. I still don’t have “it” figured out. Some things I have figured out. Some really good things. I’m grateful for that.

abhyāsa-vairāgyābhyām tan-nirodhah

nobody can save you but yourself.

SaveYourself

I have never read Charles Bukowski before.

I’ve heard the name several times over this last year, but I never took the time to crack a book or even look him up. It’s funny too because I held a Bukowski book in my hand, kept track of it and placed it on set during the filming of the Bhakti Boy. Used as a prop, and I’m pretty sure some character source material, it had obviously been handled and read several times. Pages turned, dog-eared and passed through. The words within obviously contemplated to a sincere degree. I have never read Charles Bukowski before, yet the words found in the poem below have come to me, in some form, many, many times over the course of my study with David Garrigues. He teaches me yoga – yes – the asana, breath, technique, the eight limbs, the lineage. But he has given me quite a gift in teaching me to look inside. To value who I am. “Maintain your self with humor and grace.” He’s probably not ever said those words directly, but he may as well have.

I’m a fortunate being. It can be easy to lose site of that from time to time. Yet a small piece of paper tucked into a birthday package from my mother with some of these words on it and I realize I have been given a lifetime of tools and gifts to work with. And to share.

Anyway, here it is. Enjoy.

“nobody can save you but
yourself.
you will be put again and again
into nearly impossible
situations.
they will attempt again and again
through subterfuge, guise and
force
to make you submit, quit and /or die quietly
inside.

nobody can save you but
yourself
and it will be easy enough to fail
so very easily
but don’t, don’t, don’t.
just watch them.
listen to them.
do you want to be like that?
a faceless, mindless, heartless
being?
do you want to experience
death before death?

nobody can save you but
yourself
and you’re worth saving.
it’s a war not easily won
but if anything is worth winning then
this is it.

think about it.
think about saving your self.
your spiritual self.
your gut self.
your singing magical self and
your beautiful self.
save it.
don’t join the dead-in-spirit.

maintain your self
with humor and grace
and finally
if necessary
wager your self as you struggle,
damn the odds, damn
the price.

only you can save your
self.

do it! do it!

then you’ll know exactly what
I am talking about.”

~ Charles Bukowski