Hunger and Exhaustion
At the beginning of AT school I was warned that I might need more quiet time and more sleep in the first few weeks. This wasn’t a surprise to me. I’ve found leaving time for unconscious processing to be essential in my yoga practice as well. I’ve always been very wary of the potential for burning out as I am generally teaching yoga, practicing yoga and writing about yoga all the time. Too much of a good thing and my brain shuts down completely and I must retreat to the couch for hours at a time with the TV on, barely aware of what’s happening in front of me. The solution, I’ve found, is to only do two out of the three things in a given week. Either teach and write, letting the practice fall by the wayside, or teach and practice. (It’s rare that I’ve had the luxury to just write and practice.)
Burn-out, of course, is an extreme situation. It would happen to me fairly frequently in my first few years as a teacher, maybe every three or four months. And then it would take me a few weeks of going super-easy on myself to get back on form. I’ve since learnt how to maintain balance and it rarely happens these days. What does happen are shifts and changes as a result of my practice. I’ll have some kind of breakthrough, a habit pattern freeing itself up or a part of my body releasing and opening, and things will get thrown off. Either my brain will get really foggy for a while as my unconscious and nervous system work to integrate the new information, or my body will have some kind of freak out. Sometimes my iliopsoas goes into spasm, or my sacrum gets out of whack. Sometimes I lose all desire to practice completely. It just doesn’t feel good any more. I’ve learned to roll with these things. They never last for very long and afterwards the body feel lighter and freer, more open.
Sometimes this loss of interest in my yoga practice pushes me out into new areas. This is how I got into AT in the first place. It’s also led me to walking on the treadmill. (Not running. I can walk for ages happy as a clam, but running does not appeal to me in the least.) This has been surprisingly transformative. Aside from the cardiovascular benefit, it’s helped pull together and strengthen all sorts of little weaknesses and imbalances that have plagued me over the years. I’ve even bought myself a pair of those Vibram Fivefingers shoes. After you get over the embarrassment of wearing them, they completely change the way you use your legs and hips.
I’ve also been taking a combo of Body/Mind Centering, Bartenieff Fundamentals and PNF work taught by Amy Matthews at the Breathing Project in Midtown Manhattan. Development Fundamentals, as she calls it, is an interesting class done entirely reclined on the floor exploring different movement patterns. It’s very close in spirit to the Alexander work, and equally subtle. Class is early in the morning—7:45am to 9:00am (early for me, at least)—and even though it is not particularly taxing physically, sometimes I feel wrecked from the level of concentration and detail.
Anyway, my point is that a lot of this work requires time to process and integrate psychologically. By the end of the first week of AT school, I was really brain-fried. Mostly it was from the newness of it all, all the new people and the level of concentration it required. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to recuperate over the weekend as I had to teach a 12-hour course on yoga philosophy to the yoga teacher-trainees I am working with at Yogasana Center in Brooklyn. It was very relaxed, though, mostly discussion work. The change turned out to be as good as a rest and I went back the next Monday with energy and focus.
All was fine until the end of week 3, when my upper back freaked out on me and developed a massive crick, but that passed after a few days. The real surprise was this week. I had been fairly sharp and together until Tuesday, when I came home and retired to the couch for 2 hours unable to even focus on the TV. And I was hungry! I demolished three bowls of cereal without even thinking. This has kept up all week, my brain getting fuzzier and fuzzier, my appetite on high alert. By The end of Friday’s session, when we gathered together to talk through the work of the day, I was completely unable to articulate anything that was going on in my head. I was quite overwhelmed, even a little weepy. I’m making sure to get a full eight hours of sleep all weekend to let my unconscious mind do its work.