Friday, December 23, 2016

Full Wheel

Today I went into the sewga room (really,  it's the single-purpose yoga room these days, cuz for how long can one ride on past activity?). I couldn't decide what to do. I'm recovering from an eye infection (but it's almost gone, thankfully, as it made me look like I'd been hit in the face and it hurt like hell). I'm not in a high-pain moment but it's really damp outside (which can be tricky for me). I'm also very tired. I know it's important to be active, to lift weight, but right about now I feel it's even more important to retain some perspective on movement.

As a sidebar, you know I've had some time to consider the nature of mobility. I've also had a lot of time to consider what it means to gauge everything by one or 2 indicators. So often, I think about how perhaps I've lost pose X, or my ability to do Y, instead of being super fucking grateful for how much extraneous flexibility and strength I actually possess. I mean, how much do I need? What is it that I'm searching for when my time to regenerate is focused on abstract loss? It's no new question, natch, but what would practice be like for everyone if, as a society, we started to laud the stiffness and weakness of which we are all, to some extent, comprised?

You've heard it again and again - I mean, I've said it again and again - one's practice is in no way dictated by how a pose looks. I wish I had been able to understand this in my youth, though youth is rarely wise. I wish I'd spent more time engaging subtly to gain awareness about how a microscopic movement can produce transformation, sometimes merely for a moment, other times forever. But evolution is on its own timeline.

When I say my practice is random, I'm both entirely serious and probably wrong. I walk into the room and I intuit what to do next. I ask my body the question. I listen intently for the answer. I push aside what I want to hear. I listen again. And I'm continually amazed by what craziness I get up to. Sometime I do whack interpretive dance without music (?!) Sometimes it's MELT and body rolling. Sometime it's lying in therapeutic poses, doing pranayama, for an hour. Sometimes I hang in ropes - I do every pose using some sort of prop for traction. I rarely practice with online classes in the winter, but I have a bunch of them. I prefer restorative and alignment classes (though I do vinyasa too).

Today was a strange day. Today I did active back bends. Ah, these used to be my prized poses, the ones that made me lively and flushed. They gave me access to the the dark flip side, as it were. These, and the inversions, were my go-tos. I haven't done urdhva danurasana (full wheel) in a long time - maybe a year - and I really don't know how the impulse came but I gave it ample opportunity to wander away, and it didn't. First, I worked on thoracic and sacral opening in a variety of traditional Iyengar set-ups (using chairs and belts and blocks). Then I did some rope work for traction. Then I got on the floor, with one belt around my upper arms and another around my upper legs (not regular practice for me but I'm not doing backbends on a daily basis and I wanted to be stable). I spent about 30 seconds fighting with my anxiety (not of doing the pose but of not being able to do the pose or of causing myself pain). Then I smacked myself metaphorically, like any good Iyengar teacher of the 90s, and I lifted up. Cuz thinking more about it wasn't going to get me anywhere.

A minute or so later, when I came out of the pose - which didn't cause pain - I lay on the floor and argued with myself. Should I do it again? Did I want to do it again?

I did not repeat the pose, though I wondered if it would have been fun the second time. I did not repeat that pose because it only needed to be done once. I used my muscles. I flexed my flexibility. I bore weight (all these things that are important for my spinal health). And the person I am, right now, needs to expend the minimum amount of effort for the maximum gain. It would have been hard to keep going. I would have achieved more. And in that achievement, I may have brought on pain.

How many times have I caused myself injury because my desire to achieve outweighed my better judgement? How many times will I do it in the future? No sense in worrying. Today my body and mind got it together and we came up with a viable plan. Can't wait to see what happens tomorrow.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Knotty and Nice

I'm sitting in my living room, practically shivering, imagining a world in which the entire first floor of my house will be equally heated (and entirely warm). Admittedly, I just drank some almond milk straight from the fridge and I'm not wearing a double layer - unless a large scarf and shearling slippers count. But man, I can almost feel excited by the prospect of the reno when the temp drops to minus 8. I'm really hoping (understatement) that stable indoor temps will help keep pain (which doesn't like cold or wet) in check during the winter months.

But this post is not about that. This post is about knitting - and unknitting - a subset of the craft that every knitter should get with to some extent, IMO, if perhaps not to this extent:

The Jan Sweater by Susan Crawford
This sweater, the second thing I ever knit, was suboptimal from the start. It's how I learned yarn-overs (a lacework stitch), something I've really never loved, even if I've grudgingly accepted them. The fit was all wrong - too big everywhere, too wide in the boat-neck (I actually had to seam it up after the fact), too see-through (given colour, yarn-weight and the holes). I didn't enjoy the pattern. Susan Crawford patterns, I have learned, are not to my liking. The instructions are weak (and slim, in keeping with the vintage thing) but more than slim they're weak.

Destined to be something much better than the sweater ever was~
I used Excelana, also by Susan Crawford, yarn which I wouldn't recommend. Firstly, I believe you have to buy it online - and it's just not that exciting. Secondly, there were SO many knots (like, regular knots) holding every skein of this yarn together, that those myriad balls you see above are as much because I had to snip the yarn every 50 yards, as because I didn't snip my side seams cleanly. There are only a few comments on this yarn in Ravelry and one of them indicates that this hasn't  happened only to me. I can forgive a few knots (like 2) in my artisanal yarn, but don't make my life a misery. Also, what does it say when you can't keep your yarn in one piece as you spin it?? Finally, it's not expensive (though it's not cheap for those who have to ship it and pay the exchange), and it doesn't feel high-end. It's got a somewhat generic feel - even as I imagine it is EXACTLY like what affordable yarn in wartime England would have been like.

I've been thinking more and more about this whole "rip back a sweater" thing and I've put my money where my mouth is. To wit, in the last year I frogged a sweater 3/4-finished. I ripped back 3/4 of this to improve the bust fit (so it's still not done) and now, I've gone whole hog and undone a whole finished garment.

Not only am I reminded of my newbie-knitting parents sheer horror at the thought of losing a stitch of work (till you get what's happening, it can be so awful not knowing how to fix things), but it's a pretty awesome metaphor. I mean, it's hard to deconstruct something back to its component parts, even if you're very laissez-faire. When you mess up a cooking project, you get to throw it out and start again. Like, with new material. There's something so in-your-face about the way yarn comes undone. About how it teaches you the value of your work, which is to say, it's only as good as what you've learned and what you'll do next. People, there is liberty in this activity. But man, it's hard.

It's messy, it's scary (What if you snip the yarn accidentally? Note: You probably will.), It's a reminder of the sometimes endless-seeming journey you've traveled (you remember all the stand-out bits, bad or good). It's a perfect visual representation of disintegration. It's a mega recontribution to your stash which, let's just say, may be adequately robust already.

By ripping back a sweater (perhaps a nice cashmere one from a thrift shop) you get to see your work in reverse - which is actually illuminating. Doing this will make you a better knitter. And I don't mean in a spiritual way. It'll provide an opp to see how things come apart so that you can be better at putting them back together. It'll also teach you about how much you've learned since last you touched that garment you're, ahem, yarn-retrieving.  (Let's give it a euphemism, shall we?)

I've decided, in future, if I'm at all on the fence about a garment, I will rip it back after blocking (or sooner). It will not torment me in my closet. Hopefully I like the yarn (so that I'll want to knit with it again) but, if not, I'll give away the yarn. I also intend to some of reclaim some of my other already-closet-hogging, hand knit sweaters. Gotta admit, if I never want to work with a particular yarn again, chances are that I'm not going to rip that one back soon - cuz it's a lot of work. Like a couple of hours to do it well (and depending on the amount of yarn to rewind).

I always thought the hardest part about the unknitting process would be contextualizing the loss of time - and feeling inundated by yarn I've already experienced. Now I realize that the yarn is different every time I use it. It molds (literally) to the thing I am creating. And, inasmuch as I am its machinery, it is as prone to nuance as I.

Knitting brings it all up, as every knitter knows. It's as much an act of meditation - of grace - as prayer or therapy. I struggle with the ends of my yarn because, in order to use every yard, I must find a way to use every freakin' yard. Yes, this is an affect of my OCD, but it tells me about myself. I don't like to rip back finished work (or do I?) because it's like loss or waste. I can't bear reknitting with the yarn because it denies the satisfaction of acquisition.

But here's what I didn't know and what has made all the difference: Unknitting is its own kind of craft! Have a glass of wine. Watch a movie. Do a good job of it (I did not, particularly, so I lost about 30 g of yarn due to short lengths). Start with a garment made up in a yarn you care little about. Do NOT snip your main fabric when you go after the seams. Wind the yarn in to your fave kind of ball. Be considered. Note: I don't intend to soak the kinks out of my yarn, at least not at this point. I'll do what a Ravelry friend suggested: swatch and block that swatch for a long time before leaving it to dry.

Unknitting is just as miraculous as knitting and its made from the same component parts. You get to touch yarn. And you get to start again. Maybe that next thing you make will be everything that the last thing was not. How sad would it be not to have a go at that experience?

Honestly, if you can bring yourself to do it, take some unloved knitted thing apart this week - and tell me about it. It will be nothing like you expect, I promise.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

It's Been a Long Month

Thank you so, so much, everyone who commented on my last post. I had no idea my reno is such a topic of interest! FWIW, I have every intention of torturing you with stories about it (and pics). Why keep that gift to myself? :-) And, gotta say, overwhelmed or no, I feel like a part of me is amputated when I don't write.

So many things have happened in the last month - too many to relate. Maybe it would be best to return with some fodder about knitting (light, and all, even if ripping back a sweater isn't fun). Alas, I've experienced death (my best friend's much loved and admired father), grief and adaptation. There's been pain and, I can't lie, fear.

But in those moments of fear (which, for me, are inextricably linked to physical pain) there's a lot to be learned. In fact, I may have learned more from pain than from anything else I've ever experienced. It takes no prisoners and it doesn't pander. Having said this, in no other context is Stockholm Syndrome more beneficial. One has to make friends with fear - the emotional manifestation of pain - to trust it. What you can't beat, join, and all that...

My most recent encounter with death (and they are all different even as they're all the same) has taught me that, in order to accept mortality - inevitable human decay and ending (that thing I fear most of all) - one has to be exposed. It stands to reason that the best way to accept the continuum of life is to see it from all sides. I realize this is banal to read. But to live it is profound. We must normalize pain, death, fear, loss. They are worthy and human. They give ballast to the things we seek out intently (love, prosperity, health, contentment).

Big thoughts aside, I am always informed by my yoga practice. The benefit of being an early adopter is that I have the opportunity to watch this faction age as I do. Really, I suspect this community's dialogue is going to help everyone, at any age, because we're all on this trajectory. But for me, a woman of a certain age, who sees the subtle erosion of athleticism in her practice, it's rather kind.

Often these days, when I practice - and when I practice through pain my sequence is an odd array of methodologies wrapped in the philosophy of pranic yoga - I remember a moment in my early years of teacher training. I was demonstrating chaturanga dandasana (push up) while my teacher expounded, interminably, on the pose. I stayed there seemingly forever. She smacked my arms and militaristically commanded me to rise, time after time, with attention to the energy in the pose. She advised us all that my attention was scattered. You should know that this asana has always been my nemesis - even at my most physically capable. I can hang out in high plank indefinitely. I can bring myself to the floor and hold the plane. But pushing back up, from the full pose, has always been some variation of miserable to impossible. Effectively I am stuck.

In my mid-40s, I do the pose with knees down. It's just sensible. Why the fuck would I contribute to pain to feed my ego? I need to retain strength, not to prove my prowess.

But here's what I posit: There are so many experiences you will never be able to contextualize until they're just memories.

Today, as I did full chaturanga in an effort to strength-train (and remembered my teacher training moment), I recognized for the zillionth time that my attention was not scattered - had not been scattered. I realized at the level of my bones and nerves that I've never been able to locate the graceful exit in this pose because my body can't find it. My body can find so many things - so many other poses, so much joy, so much depth, ecstasy - but it cannot find the ergonomic stasis required to lift out of that full pose elegantly (if at all) probably because I've got fucking osteophytes all over my spine, messing with the dynamism, and they've likely been there since my late teens. No fucking surprise I can't do it. It doesn't define me.

So here's where I'm going with this post. The next time you can't find something - closure or peace of mind or some stupid physical outcome that in no way defines you - remember that, someday, the fog will clear. You may still not find what you're looking for, but you'll know why it's lost to you and you'll accept it.

My teacher used to say that she didn't know what would happen when she could finally attain (mega-complicated) Pose X. She suspected she'd go up in an illuminated puff of smoke - illumination being the unsaid subtext. (In no small irony, she cut herself the slack she couldn't give to others.) I'm telling you there's no puff of smoke. There's just the emerging awareness that comes with experience.

So I welcome everything. I welcome life and joy and death and sorrow and pain and whatever each is there to tell me. Intermittent limitation is a gift, because it shows, in containment, what will eventually come. There's liberty in that, I propose. But then what do I know?