Friday, 26 December 2014

Fast Forward

Because its my blog and just because I can, I am going to jump out of the straight forward progression and sequence of this story and skip forward a couple of years. I will revisit the past in detail but there are some stories that I am not quite ready to publish so hence the unsubtle skipping around. 

When I first started yoga, I thought that all there was to it a physical workout along with  a little relaxation and maybe even meditation. Over the years somehow my practise has taken on a whole new meaning. I cannot say for sure when I noticed this, was it on that very first day or did it happen over a period of time?  If I could divert a little.
St Brigid's Church Kilcullen
 thanks to my cousin Brien Byrne

 Just for the record I was reared Roman Catholic...sort of, at least my mother did what she perceived to be her duty. Got us kids through the Irish communion / confirmation thing and saw to it that we attended mass every Sunday etc. The year my younger sister hit 18 my mother announced that as we could drive, she had no need to accompany us to church any longer and ceased attending mass from that day forward. During this time we had been attending a catholic boarding school in Dublin and had the habit of attending mass most days with rosary or benediction in the evening.  When I say attending, I mean it was a kind of automatic thing for me, a little like washing my  teeth,  I did it because it was supposed to be good for me, had a long term cumulative effect and needed to be done on a regular basis.  But I didn't really get it, ever! I liked the ceremony, the religiosity, the drama, the smells, the robes and the singing .....But as to what it was all about I may as well been outside riding my  little pony across the moor of Kildare! So when my mother said she wasn't going to go any longer  I thought, that will do me and I quit as well....never looking back.I believe my sister kept it up for a good while afterwards.

I have one main memory left from 12 years of intensive church going. One time whilst waiting in line to go to confession in a freezing side chapel late on a Saturday evening. I was bored stiff and noticed that the school bully had carved her initials on the church bench in front of me. Having suffered somewhat at the same hands, I decided that I could do a better job than her, that I would show her!!
I grabbed the crucifix of my rosary beads and proceeded to carve out my initials all across the top of the bench at least 2 inches high and spreading  10 to 18 inches across .  Satisfied with my work I headed for the confession box dredging up my usual weekly rhyme of made up transgressions; I told lies, I was disobedient and I had impure thoughts ....what ever they are at 7 years of age. But it was three things to tell, which the nuns said was the right amount of things to confess to, and put like that they were easy to remember each week. I always got three hail mary's as a penance, which meant that I could be away home in 5 minutes . I always used to look at those who went to confession before me and were still praying when I was on my way home, they must have had an awful lot of sins may be even mortalers!!... they were bound to go to hell and I felt kind of sorry for them.

Some weeks later my mum called me to her in the kitchen and asked me did I know anything about my name being scratched on a bench in the church. She too had been queuing for confession on another day and saw my name which would have been an unusual name for that time. I said "no mum I didn't know anything about it shaking my innocent golden curls and smiling angelically ". I  said that I saw the school bully ( though I didn't call her that )  sitting there the last time we were in church, knowing full well that her name was also carved there....Result maybe? 
Later I overheard a conversation where mum was describing to a friend how she had to sneak into the church with furniture polish and a cloth and try to remove the offending scratches. Many many years later I revisited same bench and could just see the faintest trace left... 

Thursday, 25 September 2014

These Days I Manage Warrior 2 A Little More Elegantly

It was a Friday evening and as the song goes, "in a downbeat hall in an upmarket suburb" in Dublin  we were all settling  onto our yoga mats. I was looking forward to a long weekend of yoga . We did a few opening poses and though I was quite fit having been an orienteer for the past ten years or so, I don't think I realised just how inflexible I had become over the intervening time. That first two hour session had my muscles and ligaments screaming by the end of it . So much so, that I was beginning to feel resentful that others around  me should appear to be having it so easy . There were about forty folk there, the bulk  of whom were bendy females, and were betraying  little more  than a slight rosiness of the cheeks. In complete contrast to myself, as the practise began to ramp up so did the heat and as luck would have it, I was right under one of those radiant heaters . The sweat ran in rivulets down my back and into my knickers, I was wearing a pair of shorts, my legs became slippery consequently some of the poses became impossible, take for instance tree pose. Every time I lifted my right foot to place it on the inner part of the opposite thigh. It skidded off and went south, bringing  a slick of sweat with it,  puddles of perspiration  collected around my feet, making the mat slippery, making the soles of my feet even more slippery which  played merry hell with my balance in any of the more challenging standing posing. I skated into Warrior 2 and skidded to a halt . Wide leg forward fold became an exercise in restraining my feet from whizzing  away off the mat never to be seen again. I noticed that others had brought towels and were discreetly patting themselves and  their  mats, gently removing small tiny beads of moisture whilst remaining cool and collected. I know I thought, I will go to the toilet and get some tissues and dry up all the sweat. Well the quality of toilet paper wasn't great, so now as well as having a mat that was covered in sweat, it also had little tiny bits of toilet paper stuck all over it . I was becoming more hot and bothered by the second this, along with a raging thirst, and having to endure  others drinking long and deep from their water bottles….scorched all thoughts of equanimity and mindfulness turning me into a short tempered  harridan yogini . I spotted one of the organisers and signalled to him to come over. I explained that I was too hot  and asked “ would it be possible to turn the heat down”? . He said “sure” and set too, to find the switch . When Betsy, our teacher for the evening noticed, she interjected saying that she was cold and could the heaters please stay on !  A compromise was reached by me moving to another place in the hall as far away from those heaters from hell, as I could get. On the way to my new position my big toe was stabbed and and invaded by an oak splinter from one of the planks that made up the lovely oak floor. I spent several minutes sitting on my mat endeavouring  to dislodge it before I could continue.

These days I manage Warrior 2 a little more elegantly !

Later, lying in savasana, relaxation pose and listening to a guided meditation about softening into the floor and letting go. I idly wondered did it mean allowing bits of the floor to penetrate your body? Did it mean having parts of your body washed into the floor by tidal waves  of sweat? Did it mean feeling that the iron clutch of tightened muscles and ligaments were actually supposed to soften and relax that you were somehow meant to GET that this was a gift that could be enjoyed?

After practise that evening as we were walking up the street groaning and feeling every ache and pain, somewhere in the back of my mind I realised that I had actually enjoyed the session. I was careful though to call into a chemist and purchase some old fashioned bathing salts which I added to a cold bath  later that evening. I slept well.  

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Of Wooden Floors and High Ceilings

This is an ongoing blog about Marella's midlife odyssey through yoga life.

We arrive in what I think was Dun Laoghaire one of Dublin’s more affluent suburbs. It is situated on the scenic south end of Dublin bay,well  known for two reasons, the East Pier which is popular for walking on and also the utter impossibility for those not native born, of pronouncing much less spelling the name of the borough correctly! Anyway I diverse, we arrive into the hall where the yoga is to take place for the weekend. Its one of those old town halls, interesting architecturally speaking if you knew about such matters, high vaulted ceiling with long church like windows set in the walls, well above the height where you could get to a window if you needed some fresh air. This was going to be a relevant factor later on during the class. There were also four big radiant type heaters set into the ceiling which were belting out heat, it was a mild Autumn day and I thought “oh. thats nice they have put the heaters on to warm up the old hall a little…” There was also a polished well worn oak floor must have been laid circa 1900, it too would have a interesting and pernicious effect on my over all yoga performance that weekend.

I went and introduced ourselves, paid for the weekend and was directed where to lay our mats.There must have been about fifty to sixty people there, all looking terrifyingly fit, slender, flexible and bendy. We kinda hid on our mats in the middle of the crowd.

Our teacher arrived it was Betsy Downing tall, poised, elegant must have been in her late 60's, she sort of floated effortlessly up the length of the hall. A hush crept over the room without her saying anything, she had that kind of presence.

 I can't remember now, how she opened or what exactly she taught, but I do remember the following, that she addressed the group as fellow teachers and practitioners, that first word, teachers made me sit up, I felt an uncomfortable lurch deep in my guts. Was she implying that most folk here were teachers? I had a quick look around and yes the crowd in general seemed to have a certain air about them. Intimidated? me? nah, not me (not  much anyways! sure didn't I have four hours yoga experience?). This precise moment signified the start of something that would be an ongoing feature of my then unforeseen future yoga career, finding myself again and again  in situations where I was way out of my comfort zone, wondering why I was doing it to myself, it was to become a somewhat accelerated learning process and habit!

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Off to Dublin

This is an ongoing blog about Marella’s midlife odyssey through yoga life.

I hang around after class has finished and sidle up to my yoga teacher pretending to help her collect the mats but really wanting an opportunity to speak with her about the yoga class. “Hi Nancy I was just wondering would you like me to give you a hand with those mats”? She answered immediately "Oh that would be  so lovely". I set to at once picking up mats, rolling them up whilst trying to articulate  the question that has been kicking around  in my head. You see she knows that I didn't want to come to her class and what I am about to ask her will signify my climb down. “Uhm, Nancy I was just wondering what sort of yoga was it that you just taught us? Anusara she replies, a type of Hatha yoga. I ask her “ if I wanted to do that in Ireland, where would I go?” Nancy is from the States, pausing as she answers, I can see the twinkle in her eye  and I sort of gaze into the middle distance not quite meeting her eye. “ You know Marella I am not sure as it’s relatively new in the USA also, I guess you could try on line”. The brief conversation is left hanging in the air as we continue to gather up the mats. I later meet her in the breakfast queue and whilst scooping porridge on to our plates, she, with great gentleness and yet slightly teasing asks " did you enjoy the yoga then?"

Its around October when this conversation occurs, over the next six months I spend some time on the internet getting a feel for what a yoga world is.My impressions are that its a huge and varied discipline with shades, nuisances and variations that seem to stretch from OHM to eternity. In particular I do a fair bit of digging and research about the Anusara  area of the yoga planet. It seems all good. A structured approach using alignment as a basis yet emanating from the heart. It was strenuous but different entirely from a mere physical jerks type of  session. It offered more, much more and I felt that it would be worthwhile to try it out. What was my next step? I knew Anusara yoga was not available in Omagh so I had a look around Northern Ireland and nope, no-one was offering it at that time. Looking more widely I discovered that there was a weekend coming up being organised by some folk in the Republic of Ireland, they had invited a teacher from the States to introduce  Irish yoga folk to Anusara, it was to be a first. I decided that I had to go, I phoned up the organiser told them that I had the grand total of four hours yoga experience and could I come ? He hesitated, I immediately reassured him that I was quite fit and able and that seemed to do the trick. I set off for Dublin with my long suffering husband Billy and my best friend Nadine, having persuaded both of them that they would have a great weekend, needless to say  neither of them had any yoga experience whatsoever!  

Sunday, 24 August 2014

About Six Inches from the Floor

My nose was about six inches from the floor hands spread eagled under my shoulder, bum perched in ridiculous fashion up towards the sky and who knows where my feet were?  I was quietly hopeful they were behind me and on the mat somewhere, progress of a sort! My two hands should have been flat to the floor with fingers wide spread, but you see my wrist was too weak so I had to close up my fist on my right and balance on my knuckle, when I think back on it the yoga teacher was more than restrained. I was in that pose what I know now, is called Down Dog a sort of comfortable pose that I sometime these days, retreat into from more testing poses. But back then I can assure you it felt like a particularly peculiar type of persecution.

So why did I stay on the mat that very first day? There I was, in a yoga class of thirty five people hidden away in the back blocks so that no one could see me. All around me were folk of different shape, age and ability some, for whom like me it was patently the first time they had ever stepped onto a mat, others were svelte young things who looked like they had been born doing yoga.The yoga teacher herself was an older model of the above mentioned young ones, an amazing shapely bendy woman in her late 60's early 70's and truly a great advertisement for what she was teaching . As we stretched, huffed and puffed through that first routine and I began to feel my muscles stretching, the blood course through my veins, the very gradual  awakening of different parts of my body, It felt like little bits of me seemed to have  been asleep for a very,very long time.

My mind drifts  back to my childhood (Obviously I hadn't learnt anything about mindfulness yet or staying present!) I was sent to a private school away from my beloved national school at eight years of age . It was an all boys school and it was the the first year girls were allowed to attend. There were about ten girls and what felt like a million boys, probably in reality about two hundred. Part of our curriculum was a curious subject called PT. I had no idea what PT was but duly obeyed orders to put on my runners and assemble at the quad. We lined up in rank formation and this Physical Training (PT) instructor  from the  army, came to put us through our paces. It was a version of yoga though I didn't know that either, but I remember feeling a curios sensation at that early age that I had done this type of thing before, a sort of body memory. I revelled in it, the freedom yet discipline of the movements allowed me a kind of real self expression that was a bit different from going to art class or pounding out scales on the piano.

Back on the mat, the movements of my body and the discipline of the poses have once again awoken not only that childhood memory but also the strong feeling that I have done this before, that first morning it was almost instinctive, that I knew what to do before I did it. It made me smile and wonder at the world. It felt like I had come home. 

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Yogic Magic.

It was when she said in a quiet calm way "space your toes apart", that did it . I contemplated my toes seriously for the first time in my life, smiling inwardly, wondering how do you space your toes? Like it was no problem between the first and second toe, and you could just see a kind of daylight between the second and third toe, but from there on, it wasn't going to happen! They might as well have been glued together. I remember once meeting a man with webbed toes and thinking he must have been an excellent swimmer. My toes were not webbed they were just stuck, together that is.

 This stream of consciousness was occurring within the first few minutes of above mentioned feet arriving firmly on mat. I looked at my neighbour's toes they, belonging to a beautiful poised and elegant Palestinian woman, with slim attractive feet, a subtle contrast to my own strong broad peasant feet, with beef to the heel like a Mullingar heifer. I was quietly pleased to see, that she too was having toe issues. Hers were even "stucker" than mine!

The practise in yoga that first day continued to be firmly feet focussed. Now we had to press our toe mounds down and lift the pinkies up, all of them! No problem there I thought proudly, my toes always kind of waved around up in the air of their own accord, sort of perpendicular to the floor rather than horizontal, in fact so much so, that the top of my shoes often wore out before the soles, but that does not concern us here. Keeping said toes aloft and fluttering in the breeze, we then had to press down the little pinky toe mound, then the inner heel mound and finally the  outer heel mound. There I was stuck, with the four corners of me feet to the ground, toes at 90 degrees, when she issues the next instruction. "Close your eyes and turn your attention inwards", how in utter of GOD did she seriously expect me to do this when I was in danger of falling over because me feet were super glued to the floor? I bet you nobody else is closing their eyes I thought, I'll just open my eyes a little bit and see if everyone else has theirs shut. Ha! caught the tall skinny guy on the mat to my right with his eyes open, why is he looking at me like that ? He is staring fixedly at my sticky up toes! which I kind of now want to hide away, them having become a  source of mortification as opposed to a kind of yogic magic.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

From The First Tentative Bend Of A Big Toe

The first words of anything always feel scarey especially anything I write . So very tentatively I start .
This blog here is about my yoga adventures and journey as I expand my practise and connect with the yoga community locally and across the planet. To those who don't know me I have a lovely yoga studio in the former hostel building at Glenhordial Farm. I call this the Bamboo loft as it has a most wonderful bamboo floor in it. 

Caught in a light moment at a photo shoot.

My yoga journey has been interesting to say the least. I had no intention to take up  yoga there  was nothing further from my mind. About six years ago an organisation that I was doing some work for, insisted that we had to do four sessions of yoga whilst on a course that we were attending. I protested loudly that as I went for a run in the mornings there was no need for me to take up yoga. I was dragged kicking and screaming onto the yoga mat. I was not on my mat five minutes, when I wondered to myself why on earth it had taken me so long to discover yoga.It had an immediate and dramatic effect on my life from that morning forward.