Thursday, August 2, 2012

mindfulness in practice, summer reading part 2

I started reading the two books by Ellen Langer: Counterclockwise and The Power of Mindful Learning.  Both books describe how we can improve our learning experiences and even obtain better health if we think in terms of possibilities rather than absolutes. Counterclockwise talks about a study that she did with elderly men, who, when immersed in the culture of 1959, and also envisioning themselves at this time, actually felt, acted and looked younger as a result. It shows the power of the mind to reverse the effects of aging (though perhaps more the effects of boredom or being under-appreciated by their families). What she writes seems pretty obvious to me, but that it is documented by all sorts of studies is what makes it powerful.

Langer writes: "A mindful approach to any activity has three characteristics: the continuous creation of new categories; openness to new information; and and implicit awareness of more than one perspective." (The Power of Mindful Learning, p.4)

Practice yesterday was exhausting for me. I don't know if it was the humidity, that it was day 4 in a row of full practice (I usually do 2 days, rest day, then 3 days, rest day, etc..though I want to start to change this) or that it was from trying to figure out why on earth my right knee was sore, or more likely, all three combined. My knee wasn't achy in the joint, but sore above and below, and had been getting worse all week. Even downward dog was a problem for it yesterday! At that point, after the suryas, I realized it would be a modified practice.

Whenever I ask my teacher what to do when something hurts, she always invites me to use a mindful approach: listen to my body, work around it, notice how it feels (ie. do my wrists feel better after a few suryas, or do they feel worse), notice if it depends on the weather. Often this frustrates me, not because it is not a good approach..but that sometimes (ok, most of the time!) I want an absolute answer where none is even warranted. Plus, an absolute answer can lock me into a view of my injury that is limiting (ironically, I can see this easily with my friends, but not so easily with myself). Much of the healing that seems to happen seems to be predicated by my deciding that the injury is no longer a "problem" or a "limitation".

So, back to my achy knee.

I decided I would try to do as little to aggravate it as possible, and I would try to pay attention to how it feels, rather than just plunging straight ahead into my full practice. Lotusing still was alright, though bending over the lotus was not so good, and when I arrived at Janu A, I couldn't fold at all without pain in the knee! So I stayed upright and just breathed. No tears, no panic, just accepting that this was all I could safely do today. In Janu B, I realized that it was my right hip that was so tight - I could feel my IT band throbbing- and after sitting upright for a few breaths, I slowly started to fold forward and held it longer than usual in order to stretch that achy hip. Yes, 2 days back at work after a week of not sitting at a desk, along with the repercussions of my previous injury to my right foot, my right hip was extremely tight, and pulling on everything around the knee. For the rest of my practice, I took it easy on the right side and went slowly. While it didn't do great things for the energy of my practice yesterday, it was a great exercise in mindfulness.

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