Day Sixteen, Lizzie’s Yoga Challenge: Yoga with Laura Gate Eastley

As far as the Yoga Challenge is concerned, the past three days have been a wash, due to familial responsibilities and work. If I had been sitting around on my rump I would feel slightly more guilty about it, but as it is I feel a little disappointed in myself not to have put more of a priority on my own practice. On the other side of the coin, I’m hoping that a bit of a break from twisting and bending will aide in my wound recovery, which is proving to take on the longer side of forever. Ho hum.

After Monday’s schedule shifted around several times during the course of the morning, I found myself taking the tube to Soho for Laura Gate Eastley’s class at Triyoga. For me the journey on the tube was the first time I had taken public transportation in almost a year, after the doctors told me to avoid it due to my low immunity. Going into town was a welcome treat from my normal routine, and it was nice to return to Triyoga Soho after quite awhile.

Laura’s class began lying in a supine hip opener called supta baddhakonasana using blocks to open the chest. We did a short warm-up that included cat-cow and sphinx pose, followed by about 35 minutes of asana that included one sun salutation followed by standing postures such as warrior 1, warrior 2, reverse warrior, extended side angle, half moon, parsvattonasana and rotated half moon, interspersed with the option to “take a vinyasa” or stay in downward dog; we also came down from time to time to take rounds of cat/cow/puppy ( stretching arms foreword with chest touching the mat) and forearm plank. We took one “official” backbend as camel pose (with lots of back bending preparation work), before sitting for pranayama in the form of nadi shodhana. We were then given the option to stay seated in meditation or lie down for savasana. Quiet ‘yoga-music’ played throughout the class up until the pranayama.

There were no seated postures or inversions, and it felt a little abrupt when all of a sudden from camel we were seated for breath work, but then, an hour is an hour, there is only so much one can fit into an hour.

Laura was kind and relaxed; welcoming from the beginning, and giving attention to those who needed and offering variations for everyone in the room.

Still, I left wishing either the class was longer or perhaps the time had been allocated a little differently, so an inversion and a seated posture could have been included. It definitely leaves me contemplating whether an hour class can be long enough for a class practice. Perhaps I will have to try a few more hour long classes before the end of the challenge, but at this rate, I would say I have already failed at my self-inflicted project! I have certainly not made the goal of practicing 30 days in a row with 30 different teachers, but perhaps in the midst of finishing up the Rolfing training, fresh out of the hospital post transplant with a nearly four year old son, it was not a very realistic goal.

Here is to hoping for a longer practice tomorrow and a more dedicated practice week. I guess in the end, that’s a big part of what the challenge is all about. Exploring practice, what is available in the form of classes, and finding out where I am with mine; acknowledging, even respecting, my obstacles…

Day Fifteen, Lizzie’s Yoga Challenge: Iyengar Yoga with Alaric

Alaric Newcombe is somewhat of a household name on the Iyengar scene in London; he is a senior teacher whom generally people either love or hate. I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t have a strong opinion about him either way, and over the years I have stood equally on both sides of the fence. Luckily, I have more recently grown rather neutral, and have a great deal of respect for him as a teacher even if I don’t always agree with the way he treats students. One thing is for certain, he is an excellent technical teacher for asana alignment from an anatomical perspective, and throws in other gems of wisdom throughout the class for those who are open to listen.

The other thing is that actually, he really does care, both about people he knows and about the yoga he teaches. I’ve only seen Alaric a couple of times since my transplant, but over the years he has been gracious in understanding my medical condition and limiting how long I am in certain poses or which to avoid, and I have somehow managed to remain off his hit list of students to pick on. Hallelujah.

Today’s class at Triyoga Primrose Hill was a well balanced twist class. The first half of the class matched supine twists with inversions followed by standing twists and a shoulderstand sequence, and as usual, there were many demonstrations by both Alaric and students either showing the right, or wrong way to do the asana. Alaric has a wicked sense of humour even if not always PC (when one woman was turning her face rather than her chest when he had specifically asked us to turn the chest he shouted “Do you wear your bra on your face?!?”), which makes the class fun, albeit often at another students’ expense. The bottom line is that one can learn a tremendous amount about the actions the body needs to take to practice asana, and capitalize on all of the positive aspects of his intelligent and very funny personality. As with anyone, the aspects that don’t mesh we can usually learn to leave behind. After a class with Alaric, I almost always feel fabulous, and even more importantly, I always learn something.

Day Fourteen, Lizzie’s Yoga Challenge: Transformational Breathing with Rebecca Dennis

I feel as if I may have cheated a little bit on my “yoga” challenge yesterday as I decided to use my Transformational Breath session with Rebecca as my daily ‘class’, but after all, a large part of practicing yoga is about the breath, and I’m still supposed to be ‘taking it easy’. After my liver transplant, as a part of my recovery Rebecca Dennis offered her services to help me find and deepen my breath, which was severely limited as a result of the surgery. I was very grateful, and took her up on the offer as soon as it was possible.

My third session with Rebecca was yesterday at Indaba Yoga Studio, and I arrived feeling tired after a full day of work. The room was dimly lit with a few candles, and a cushioned area on the floor invited me to lie down. As with the first two times, the breath that Rebecca asks for the clients to breath takes a bit of work. It is an open mouthed inhale and exhale, with no lapse in between the in and out. While the breath gets going, she invited my breath into my pelvis and chest with an acupressure touch, and also worked on other areas of the body as I continued to breath such as my legs, shoulders, back and jaw. Several times she asked for me to make sounds on a long exhale, and as the other two times, the breath became somewhat easier towards the end of the session and the time went very quickly. By the end I felt deeply relaxed and calm, like I could have gone on breathing just lying there for hours. The mind really turns off during the session and a quiet place deep within is easily accessible; at least, this has been my experience.

Rebecca is highly gifted at holding a therapeutic space, and she has the right mix of being an encouraging practitioner and an excellent listener. She is honest, yet compassionate with feedback, as impressions come up for her while giving the session. There is no doubt that my breath has become deeper and more balanced as a result of her work and I’m looking forward to seeing her again when I’m a little bit further on with my physical recovery. It was a welcome treat for me yesterday at the end of a busy work day, and prepared me for today’s practice.

Day Twelve and Thirteen, Lizzie’s Yoga Challenge: Self-practice, and Restorative Yoga with Anna Blackmore

After a weekend of social activity and yoga, Monday’s theme was ‘Back to Work’, and entailed teaching several yoga classes, parental time with my son, and a short but meaningful self practice of thirty minutes. Since returning to work from the transplant, I have started to become far more realistic about how much energy I have, and just what spending it means. More and more I feel the time I have is precious, and I can’t force myself to participate in activities when I’m not feeling able to participate meaningfully.

Hence yesterday’s restorative class with Anna Blackmore at The Life Centre, Notting Hill. There were four students for the 4:30pm class in the centre’s ‘loft’, the cosy pure floor studio, where we were skillfully and quietly taken through eight to ten restorative yoga postures, including legs up the wall, supported headstand and downward dog with a creatively made makeshift rope support. Anna’s calm and quiet demeanour meant that she almost disappeared from the room along with everyone else, which was a wonderful feeling as we all deepened into our own bodies and explored each pose.

At the end of class she gave us the mantra ‘So Hum’, meaning ‘I am That;’ I am not this body or this mind, but something far greater.

I asked her specifically about someone I know recently diagnosed with cancer, and Anna told me about the Yoga Therapy clinic at The Life Centre in Islington, where students are supported by advisors including herself, which is helpful to know. I thoroughly enjoyed the class and on those Tuesdays after my transplant clinic when I’m feeling low, I now know where to go to get nourished and restored. Moreover, as I meet more and more people who are either ill or in recovery of some sort (funny how life works), I now know where to send them. Here’s to hoping our home internet is finally fixed soon. I woke up this morning feeling restored!

Day Nine, Lizzie’s Yoga Challenge: Vinyasa Yoga with Leone Roberts

Having no internet at home has been a blessing in disguise. It has been down since last Wednesday, and have been more productive at home than I have been in years! As far as the yoga challenge goes, it means a bit of a back log, and learning to live with a condition I hate, the feeling of falling behind. With the bad comes the good, however, and the flip side is that I can spend a little time reflecting on the practice rather than typing something up straight away, before I know how the practice has made me feel had what it has led me to think about in the time after the class.

I have attempted to write about Friday evening’s practice at the Life Centre Notting Hill with Leone Roberts several times, and to be honest I am having a bit of difficulty knowing how to report on it. The truth is, there was not a great deal of clarity to the class, and because of this, it was a very mediocre class experience for me. In all fairness, Leone was subbing the class, and this may have accounted for her not taking a better control of the class structure and environment, but when subbing the class there are certain steps a teacher can take to neutralize and create a good foundation for the class. For example, I find it reassuring when a substitute teacher takes the time to introduce him or her self and to ask if anyone is new to the practice or has injuries, particularly when it is a ‘level 1/2 class’, as this class was billed. When people come in late and mats are not well organized, if the teacher is going to take the time to say something about it, clarity is helpful in establishing a plan. In this case, Leone said something to the effect of ‘I think we may want to sort out the mats a bit’, which left everyone looking around at each other as there was no suggested method for better organizing the room.

The sequence of postures included a mix of standing and seated poses with a few low backbends, and a lot of downward dog. Leone did quite a bit of demonstrating, and times was turned towards the wall which made it difficult to see and hear her. Other times there was a demonstration without words to explain the posture and because of her placement, it was very challenging to see what she was doing. The class was level 1/2, but despite this several times she called for students to get into postures rather than explaining how to get into the pose. In most cases the pose was held for several breaths, and often the instruction given was to hold three or four additional breaths, which felt a little vague as an instruction. During the class, Leone walked around the room adjusting students or demonstrating the pose herself, and in general, the room was quiet, which can wonderful when a practitioner knows what to do in a posture and is enjoying exploring being in the body. For beginners, however, it can be confusing when there is not a lot of instruction given, and leads them to looking around the room to see what others are doing. Overall, the sequence was balanced and appropriate for a level 1/2 class with plenty of options in each posture, but after the class I did not leave feeling energized or inspired.

As always, these insights or opinions are from my perspective and are not meant to offend, be taken personally, or to assume that I would teach the class any better or worse. Differently, perhaps. And therein lies one of the most challenging parts of The Challenge; to be honest, kind and objective. I do the best I can to document honestly from my limited perch in the world, and continue to learn.

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