Darn you, December! If you had an even number of days, I would not have had to mess up my pattern. Also, darn you, number 31, for being prime! Factors are your friends.
Anyway. This is the last daily post in the December yoga challenge. I will be posting a final check-in post in a couple of days, but other than that — this is it!
Day 29: Yoga Coffee
My own personal name for shining skull breath (kapalabhati) because, of all the benefits of this pranayama, its energizing capacity is my favorite. (And this particular instructional video is one of the better ones I’ve seen in that it’s pretty clear about contraindications and cautions as well as straightforward instruction.)
[Video by yogayak via YouTube.]
Not that I use it as a substitute for coffee, though. Because that would mean giving up coffee. Eff that.
Day 30: Inflexibility
I have a weird relationship with inflexibility. A lot of body — including some large muscle groups as well as my spine — is pretty flexible. In the event that I’m having some tight muscle issues, they’re usually caused by something acute and temporary — and therefore work themselves out with relative ease (in other words, ease I’d measure in minutes to days rather than in months to years). But the places where I am inflexible — namely, the backs and outsides of my shoulders and the outside edges of my pelvis — are basically inflexible due to bone structure. In other words, I don’t stop moving in a pose there because I feel muscles stretching to their edges: I stop moving in a pose because I hit up — THUNK! — against bone.
So the main thing I want to say here is that the standard yoga advice of “flexibility builds in increments” is sometimes quite true but sometimes also a lie. Soft tissue — muscles, ligaments, fascia — can and often does become more supple over time. Bone, however, does not really change, and mobility limitations due to bone structure (often characterized by “going fine, going fine, BAM!” versus gradually intensifying stretch) are likely permanent fixtures of this time in these respective bodies. I say this not to be unduly negative but rather to be realistic. I hear, “Don’t worry; just keep practicing; eventually you’ll reach [insert flexibility checkpoint here]” way more often than I hear, “It’s okay; sometimes, anatomies just aren’t build this way,” and I think it’s important to balance the message.
Muscle flexibility does increase, and it’s worth working toward. However, just because flexibility does not come in time does not automatically mean UR DOIN IT RONG.
[Video from Sadie Nardini via YouTube.]
The above is a really nice visual and concrete way to modify basic sun salutations for folks with limited flexibility. It’s also worth pointing out that this video clip instructs in a core strength vinyasa style, which, as one might imagine, places a greater emphasis on core strength and activation than do other forms of yoga. Which, I understand if this is not your ideal focus, but I included it anyway because increased attention to the core is almost always a safe way to go.
I think it is absolutely awesome to modify for flexibility, particularly to have less extension in the extremities in order to have greater extension along the axis. I just think it’s worth approaching things knowing that “flexibility” manifests differently in different people. This is a reason why we modify the poses to fit the person, not an indication that something is “wrong” with any given body — no matter how it looks in a shape.
Day 31: Reflections
Overall, it was a lot easier to work daily yoga into my life than I thought it would be. When imagining this challenge, I had envisioned at least a few days of hastily thrown-together asanas at bedtime. Possibly even a day of cheating — scanning back through my day and terming something “yoga” that really wasn’t (e.g., leaning over to pick up the dog food dish is not really half moon if all I’m thinking about at the time is picking up the dog food dish). While some days did not include many minutes of yoga, I’m both surprised and pleased by the fact that I was able to set aside at least a few minutes each day for a truly mindful (albeit sometimes short) practice. That is a good thing, and I hope to continue it.
About posting so many physically focused suggestions, I have mixed reactions. Finding ideas was a lot of work, which by itself is neither positive nor negative. It did help me expand my own ideas about what a yoga practice (even an asana practice) could involve. Consequently, some of that searching was what helped me to find ways to ingrain mindful yoga into my daily life.
On the other hand, though, a lot of the yoga post writing took up some of the physical and mental energy I’d normally dedicate to writing about other topics. I do feel like I’ve neglected those topics — or rather, that I have this unfulfilled drive to still write a lot of things for which I lack both the physical energy and the mental clarity to fashion that drive into coherent words — and I don’t feel like I can do so for much longer.
In short, I’m glad I tried it. I will continue my own daily yoga, but I won’t continue actively searching for new items to share — at least not for a little while. I need to take a break — not from yoga, but from thinking about yoga — in order to think and write about other things.