Borrowed from French force majeure, first known use in English in 1883, (first documented in French in 1690 in the sense "exceptional, exceptionally strong force"; in modern French, however, the term is only used to refer to an event or an imperative necessity in a more or less loose use of the legal concept, never to a force, as in the older, literal sense still additionally found in English), from majeur in the sense "major, main, of great importance", by extension of the older sense "greater, more important", from Latin māior (“larger, greater”). Wiktionary
Last year, inspired by Jonathan Foust’s own practice, I wrote a “2019 ACY in Review Newsletter. I found it helpful to take a kind of inventory of my learning, teaching, the classes and community. I’d hoped to make it an annual reflection. I returned to read the newsletter the last week of 2020. I was surprised with what has changed, either by my conscious choice or by surrounding circumstances. I equally had not realized changes I am want to make currently are some of the same ones I wanted a year ago but haven’t been able to realize.
Experiment and experience-what went well, what didn't during a year of exceptional force.
Less is more - (paradox, oxymoron) That which is of smaller quantity could be of higher quality. That which is less complicated is often better understood and more appreciated than what is more complicated." Wiktionary
What went well this year?
My pre-pandemic life was of a full-time job and two part-time jobs, plus continuing education, and a couple of hobbies along with general homeowner chores. I knew that I was trying to cling to everything I want in life. I shoved and pushed and crammed it all in with the philosophy that this too is temporary, and if I work hard now, I will get to rest later. The involuntary removal of just one part time job from this illuminated to me how spread thin I was, tense and tight and tired. I relaxed! The fear of losing what I have now has decreased dramatically. The fear of not getting what I want in the future appears to have shifted into “It will be okay”.
Continuing Education I previously would have had to travel cross country and spend thousands of dollars for is currently online, at a fraction of the cost. I have been thrilled with plethora of accessible opportunities to learn from truly exceptional teachers.
My own personal practice has transformed radically. As I wrote in November, “I’ve been practicing for myself, rather than to figure out how to teach it.” The past nine months have allowed me to explore Why Another Warrior 2, as the yoga postures are now VERY different with my current goal increasing awareness to activation of pubococogygeus, external obliques, trapezius and serratus anterior muscles.
Sheer luck and pushing aside my personal sense of unworthiness brought me a personal trainer who is kind, enthusiastic and skillful. When John and I ran into DeOnte Jackson-Durdan at Fred Meyer, the pandemic had shut down the gym he used to train clients at. I set aside my screaming fear of rejection and contacted him. The past 12 weeks training with him has been a dream come true for me.
What didn’t go so well this year?
I tried to be wise and do what I am able within the “Long View” of the pandemic’s impact on Aspiration Community Yoga’s community. Unfortunately, I could count on one hand those of you who stayed in touch with me, gave feedback on the newsletters or asked for help when you were in pain. I heard from only one who is continuing to practice and sought out the means to do so. I’m not sure if you felt abandoned by me. Maybe I seemed too unavailable or intimidating and demanding for you to ask for help?
I wrote in every newsletter that you can do this, for the duration of the pandemic’s restrictions, however imperfectly. All teachers hope to empower. I am no different. I went into teaching only that I could pass on the great gift of finding how good being strong feels. Maybe it was that you are of the nature that without an external structure of live teacher or group it just isn’t happening, you don’t know why. My husband is that way. This is an area of I fully own up to not knowing what it’s like, but I know it’s real. I also don’t know what more I can do to help without your telling me.
What am I Working Toward?
“The importance of knowing your destination, following your star, correcting your course and tuning in to what is most important in your life”. Jonathan Foust, “Best Year Ever"
Using the past year of experiment and experience, I know that what I am working toward is not so much external circumstances, conditions or situations. Rather, it is that quiet internal calm, even in the midst of things that will happen.
I am doing what I can within the constraints of being a full-time essential worker to keep Aspiration Community Yoga quietly breathing. I have written a monthly newsletter to stay in contact at least on my end. I made it known to you that I will help you via email and or text with movement sequences or just to encourage you to keep moving. I have offered (masked) private sessions to you who asked for in person help. I have maintained my Yoga Alliance teacher credentials, my licenses and insurance.
I will continue to learn and practice what I learn, about how the human body moves with skill. I will continue to work on learning what it is like to be completely opposite me.
The pandemic removed one of the balls I was juggling, giving me much needed rest. Yet, I still struggle to finish what I start, particularly books and at-your-own pace online learning. The access I had to teachers meant that I learned new valuable concepts and tools than ever before. But our necessity to socially distance inhibited my relationship with you, as I do not have the resources to teach online.
Looking back at what I was working for beginning 2020, I see progress and not-yets, evenly split among what I was working toward. Life being life, this past year knew positive and negative outcomes. Half of what I was working toward has been replaced by new aims, the other half I still am working toward. Nine months ago, all of us were impacted by the exceptional event of a worldwide pandemic. I count myself every so fortunate that it in fact did for me what I seem to be unwilling to for myself- lighten the load. I count myself extremely fortunate, and do not take this lightly.
Why “regress to progress”? That always seemed like such a pejorative phrase to me. After all, regress is defined as “Verb. (intransitive) To move backwards to an earlier stage”. Why spend 30 minutes a day doing “corrective exercises”. How about 20 minutes of “Activation”?
I’m trying to gain strength, move better, have more endurance. In my mind I used to translate "regress to progress" into “You aren’t good enough.” It brought back old feeling of shame around my lack of physical ability.
However, back in 2003 a botched abdominal surgery came a lot of seemingly unrelated chronic pain, followed by a steady progression of minor injuries and decreased mobility. Just a couple of years ago a shoulder injury that would not go away landed me at physical therapy. There, for the first time I was introduced to the concept of “Inactive Muscles”. For some reason, all those years in yoga, and a couple at the gym, it seemed the thinking was all the muscles fired, they just had to be brought to conscious awareness or strengthened. I had been given the impression that my body knew how to fire everything needed, I just had to chose to do so and then diligently train for increased strength.
Or the reverse, relax.
Just last spring, I took a 14 week class that focused on identifying and strengthening “The Core”, including the pelvic floor, internal, external obliques and their effects upon the body as a whole. I wrote a newsletter on some of the exciting (to me) information I had learned, “WHY SHOULD YOU CARE ABOUT ALL THIS ANATOMY GEEK STUFF?. In it, I highlighted just the tip of the iceberg on the nuances and intricacies of activating the pelvic floor muscles. I wrote of the tendency to overuse the deep lateral hip rotators as pelvic stabilizers. Little did I know I was in fact writing this newsletter for my own compensatory muscular tendency.
Here now, I arrive at my past months' adventures: discovering just a few benefits of engaging “lateral abdominals” to release the deep lateral hip rotators.
This past September, my doctor referred me to a Pelvic Floor physical therapist (without me asking or mentioning my recent studies, coincidently). I jumped on the opportunity to learn more, arriving with an open mind and an agenda to get stronger. The Physical Therapist assessed me at “very strong”, and then added a biofeedback device which showed the pelvic floor muscles constantly activated. “Relax!”, she directed. I tried, nothing changed. I spent the week paying close attention, and reported back, “I don’t know how to 'relax'”. Hooked backed up to the biofeedback, I followed all her instructions, but nothing changed. Finally, I ask, "Can try doing a postural corrective I learned?", What do you know- the meter on the biofeedback ticked down into “relaxed” number range and remained there. That corrective practice of keeping my front ribs from "flaring" when I inhale and stabilizing my shoulder blades creates enough support that the gripping muscles in my pelvis can let go.
The funny thing is earlier in the month, my personal trainer had me do a plank with reach during the workout. My body rocked side to side as each hand reached. “Stay tight in the core”, he cued me. “I can’t”, I responded. “Where do you feel it?” he asked. “In the opposite hip- the muscles in the opposite hip clench”, I answered. The closest I came to not rocking was by keeping my front ribs from "flaring". Aha.
What do these two seemingly disparate events have to do with each other?
Trying to figure out how to understand and write this out, I asked the big question, “What do the Deep Lateral Hip Rotators and the Lateral Obliques have in common, and how are they different?” Side to side balancing- they each can be engaged to create side to side stability. Hence the nominal “stabilizers”. How they differ, though is kind of dramatic: hip rotators are intended to rotate the legs primarily, stabilize the pelvis secondarily. As you can see in the graphic above, they also draw to the backside. Held in constant tension, they can abet in preventing the pelvic floor from relaxing and expanding, in my body contributing to a lack of diaphragmatic inhalation and digestive organ movement.
The lateral obliques draw forward to the front, working together with the ribs (intercostals), the shoulder movers and stabilizers, along with stabilizing the pelvis and spine. The magic is they allow the body to stay strong while the diaphragm and pelvic floor move together to draw breath in and push breath out of the lungs. (Again, an oversimplification for which I hope you will give me some grace.)
Returning to the question "Why regress to progress? Why “move backwards to an earlier stage”. Why spend 30 minutes a day doing “corrective exercises”. How about 20 minutes of “Activation”? Because if I cannot get the muscles I hope to fire in a situation of less load, less fatigue, less complication, my body is going to compensate by firing the muscles it can. (The MacGyver Principle- use what is available and gets the job done.) Unfortunately, the results won’t be harmless- over time and with increased load and fatigue, they will ultimately be injurious.
The idea is to experiment with methods and means of feeling the muscles work and to discern the ones that are compensating. Do this in a posture where there is support and gravity is helping (i.e. NOT a plank with arm reach!) Then, increase the level of difficulty and the time engaged, finding where the edge is, backing up, finding it, loosing it, finding it, loosing it, finding it. Progress, even just a little bit, by backing up, just a little bit.
“It's the student that makes the teacher. And that was very freeing, because I'm just still going about my life and taking care of things in a certain way. I’m allowed to be myself, but when a student comes, some practitioner comes to ask me a question or relate to me in the role of a teacher, then I'm a teacher, they've made me a teacher, in response to the situation. But that's, not really what I am. When that's over, then the next thing I do is maybe I'm sweeping the hallway- then I'm a sweeper….” Gil Fronsdal: Stories with my Zen Teacher, Sojun Mel Weitsman
Life is full of surprises and opportunities. The future is uncertain and unknown. When one door closes, another door opens, but hanging out in the hallway while you wait might not be your idea of what you want to be doing. Here’s the thing- that’s true every day and has been our entire existence. It’s just that now, in the time of a pandemic and societal upheaval we can’t disguise it.
Last April, May and June, when this was still feeling new and different, I had the opportunity to ask Ajahn Amaro and Ajahn Sudanto each questions about how they balanced teaching with practice. I also listened intently as they spoke on questions from others who where having the same feeling of relief and deep quiet during our imposed break.
After the pandemic shut down our community classes, I have not once missed working two jobs or constantly rushing to “fit it all in.” I’ve been practicing for myself, rather that to figure out how to teach it. I’ve been learning about other stuff than anatomy and eastern philosophy/psychology. I found that I really enjoy spending lots of time with my husband, and he likes having me sit with him in the evening. We even got back to doing the New York Times Crossword together- something we had given up for my too full schedule.
I know the incomparable value of having a teacher- and how rare it can be to have one who can point the way along the path one is traveling. Each time one is present in my life, I feel as if I have won the lottery! It's kind of the Goldilocks principle to have that teacher who is "just right".
I just recently was blessed with such circumstances and am getting an enormous value from working weekly one on one with a personal trainer and being referred to a pelvic floor physical therapist who might be able to clarify my understanding of how the muscles work.
I do not identify as a “Yoga Teacher”. Really, I am a practitioner who is intensely driven to study and practice and morally driven to pass it along to anyone willing to also do the work. This was one of the comments given by Ajahn Amaro, too. We only point the way, you must do the work. Both monks also offered that short and longer breaks and sabbaticals were necessary to teaching practice. They each take 3 month and one year breaks for personal retreats sabbaticals.
“It's most like this: whatever the situation he's in, that was the teaching. One of the very important teachings of Mel, and I think of Soto Zen, that has come to me, is the importance of practice. That practice is really the teacher; practice is the center. And we all share the practice, rather than the teacher being at the center. Everyone, including the teacher is sharing the practice, and we're all doing the practice together. We're all engaged in it.” Gil Fronsdal: Stories with my Zen Teacher, Sojun Mel Weitsman www.audiodharma.org/talks/audio_player/12307.html
What ever comes in the next month or year, I don’t believe I or any of us will return to the schedules we had before, meaning the daily routine of pre-Covid pandemic. Hopefully we will have all seized the situational teaching and taken it as necessary nutrition: The only practice there is, is to live here and now, this breath, this step, this smile, this affirmation of life in action.