What I’m reading…A Vagabond Song

My lovely 91-year-old grandmother recently fell, breaking her hip and landing in the hospital for surgery and then rehab.  Looking out of her upstate NY hospital room window this week, she watched as the leaves began to change colors and float from the trees.  She recalled a poem she adored from the 6th grade.  She remembered just the first line, “There is something in the Autumn that is native to my blood.”  I learned then that she and I both share a love of the fall.  We googled it and the beautiful words below, from a 16th century poet, are what we found.


There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood—
Touch of manner, hint of mood;
And my heart is like a rhyme,
With the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time.
The scarlet of the maples can shake me like a cry
Of bugles going by.
And my lonely spirit thrills
To see the frosty asters like a smoke upon the hills.

There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir;
We must rise and follow her,
When from every hill of flame
She calls and calls each vagabond by name.

A Vagabond Song
by Bliss Carman

Oriah says…

It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me
how old you are.
I want to know
if you will risk
looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me
what planets are
squaring your moon…
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened
by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human.

It doesn’t interest me
if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know
if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.

The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

My home practice…once upon a headstand

My first real yoga “injury” happened earlier this year in a headstand (sirsasana I).

Iyengar’s headstand

I had just started practicing the posture in the middle of the room, so when my teacher cued the pose in class, I was excited for more practice.  I was a few breaths in when I lost my balance and almost fell over to the left.  I caught myself, but immediately felt a strong pain from the left side of my neck down the shoulder and back into my shoulder blade.  I realized I was wearing my bangs in a tiny hair clip on the top of my head, which may have contributed to the loss of balance.  That was the first mistake.  The second mistake was probably catching my fall.  According to Iyengar, if you feel you are about to fall from a headstand you should let go:

One should remember to loosen the interlocked fingers, relax, go limp and flex the knees. Then one will just roll over and smile.

But, I didn’t want to fall in a yoga class; my ego told me that I am a yoga teacher and, therefore, should not fall in front of others.

The mistakes continued.

I stayed up until we were cued to come down and take child’s pose.  It hurt…a lot. Later in the class, we were cued into another headstand variation (sirsasana II), where we played with some fancy garudasana leg variations, and I did it.  After class, I could not turn my head to the left or bring my ear to my shoulder.  I applied heat for a few days, got a bunch of massages, and did all of the neck and shoulder stretches I knew, but I was still sneaking in a few painful headstands at home. (My ego didn’t want to “lose” its headstand practice!)  It took a week or so and the stiffness lessened, but the pain and restricted range of motion did not.  Literally 4 months later, with little improvement, I told a physical therapist yoga friend about it.  That was my turning point.  (Thank you Lindsay!!!) She identified the muscle- the levator scapulae.

And showed me the stretch for it- tip head down and to the side, place opposite hand behind back, use hand of same side to give added stretch.

She also suggested I continue applying heat- even this number of months later.  And, no more sneaking in headstands.  I took the advice and used the time off from headstand to work on pinca mayurasana (forearm stand) and actually study up on headstand.  I found varied opinions on how much weight to actually bear on the head and where exactly to balance.  So we will all have to form our own opinions about that.  But, here is an explanation of how to find the crown of the head that made the most sense to me.

The crown of the head can be found by placing the right palm of the hand on the forehead and allowing the fingers to spread over the crown of the head, where the tip of the middle finger lands is basically the crown of the head. This point should line up with the ears as well.

Jivamukti Yoga Center

Last week, I literally woke up one morning and the pain was gone.  I had full range of motion.  So, after over a month of dedicated time off from headstand, I decided to give it a try again- putting to use all of my new knowledge along with my new core and upper body strength from forearm stand.  It felt better and more stable then any other headstand I had ever done before.  I may continue to experience occasional tension and tightness in my neck and will continue to stretch and heat when needed, but I will not approach headstand the same way ever again.

Here are some tips and my new opinions on sirsasana I:

  • Make sure your hair is not going to threaten your balance.  Lower your ponytail and/or remove any hair accessories from the top of your head when preparing to take the posture.
  •  If you cannot hold dolphin pose comfortably for 5 breaths, while shortening the distance between feet and elbows, IN MY OPINION, you are probably not yet strong enough in the upper body for sirsasana I.  I just feel that strength in the upper body must be developed to avoid excessive weight, stress and injury to the neck.  I found that working with dolphin and forearm stand helped me find that strength.
  • NO hopping, skipping, or jumping up into headstand!  Learn to enter the posture by walking your feet close enough to your elbows that bringing one, then both, knees into the chest feels like floating.  Hold- and then straighten the legs.  I didn’t classify the way I was practicing (lifting 1 leg, making an “L” by raising the 2nd leg, and then joining the legs) as kicking up, but I realized that I was actually hopping into the “L”.  That meant that I was using momentum, not core, to find the pose.  I also did a lot of “teeter-tottering” in my headstand, constantly catching my balance by shifting weight between my wrists and elbows.  Dolphin plank is great at firing up the core and building strength.
  • Don’t rush.  Pause and breath in each stage of the pose, use your breath to gauge your readiness to move further.  There are no benefits to getting into headstand today vs. next week, month, or year.  Build strength first and enjoy the pose safely.
  • Know your practice.  Know that you don’t have to do everything the teacher cues.  Know that taking breaks or choosing not to practice a posture one day because your body is not feeling it is also yoga.  Know that pain is different from sensation and is your body’s way of telling you to STOP.

There has been a lot of controversy in the press about headstand.  You have to make your own decision to practice it or not.  But, if you choose to…please make sure you are ready.  I realize today that I was not.  But I am now.

From the Daily Doodle