Monday, December 13, 2010

Oh, the Memories.

I love the end of the year. I enjoy the holidays, the time off, and the turning of the old year into the new. I revel in reflecting over the year. Even if the downs stand out front and center, I manage to be able to anticipate lots of ups in the coming year.

Of course, I've been reflecting a lot about yoga class. Last Saturday, I had a pretty tough one. It was hot, it was humbling, and I had to leave the room during the standing series. Initially, I was so humbled it hurt. As I walked back toward the hot room, feeling the heat and dread radiating at me, I realized that I actually had come a long way, baby, since starting up this practice again.

I remember my first day back. I knew it would be tough, but I thought, "I run miles at a time. I'm in pretty darn good shape. I bet I do OK." Uh, no.

But from there, it was progress. One way or another. Midway through the semester, I remind my composition students that learning is not always a pretty, straightforward process. We desperately want it to be like this!

But really, it's more like this.
It goes up, it goes down, and there may be more than one way of measuring progress. Learning--progressing--in life or in yoga is so not straightforward.

I remember when I couldn't stand in standing-head-to-knee pose, even with the leg sort-of locked, for the full minute or 30 seconds. My standing leg would just burn, and I'd have to come out early.

I remember when I couldn't do Camel for both sets. I'd feel like my heart was a hummingbird and that someone was about to eviscerate me.

I remember that in Fixed Firm, because knees and ankles tight from running, I couldn't go all the way back. Kaphlbahti breathing made me feel sick, and I could never, ever balance fully in Toe Stand.

Most of all, I remember that I would always have this odd misconception of what other students in the class were capable of, even though I rarely look around the room. "You suck! Everyone else is doing this pose better than you!" I'd say to myself.

I'm happy to say all those things aren't true anymore. Well, they're usually not true anymore. Other challenges have cropped up as some resolve, and some of my hot room demons still haunt my practice.

Progress may not go in that nice, upward line, but one thing is certain: it always goes forward.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


I've been contemplating renovation lately. It's definitely not time for spring cleaning, but the holidays and the coming of the new year get me into pensive contemplation mode. I walk around the house, thinking, "If only I had the motivation to re-pot those chili plants. They've been hanging on for dear life for 9 months now. Gosh, I wish I had the time and the interior design know-how to replace those gnarly curtains in the bedroom."

You would not believe the curtains in the bedroom. They're red, they're IKEA (like, cheap, old IKEA), and they've been sagging and pretty much non-functional since I installed them two and a half years ago. I've been wanting to replace them since about five minutes after I put 'em up. I have ambitions to get a lot of projects done over the winter break because once the semester is under way, I'm lucky to be able to  shower regularly. 

My house needs a lot of work, but even more than my house, the inside of my head needs a little dusting and rearranging.

There's a very cool Ani Difranco song, "Back, Back, Back," that addresses exactly the idea of working on yourself now so that you're not stuck later.

She sings, "When you sit right down in the middle of yourself,
you're gonna want to have a comfortable chair
So renovate your soul before you get too old,
'cause you're gonna be housebound there."

OK, cool. Learn how to be contented with life now, because as we age, the many distractions we desperately cling to now are likely to disappear. I think most of us believe in the validity of that message, one way or another. But how do you actually renovate your soul? And what does the final "house" look like?

One of the things I'm constantly working on is my tendency to over-please. I realize that I do so even during yoga class. I think I know why I love taking classes from new teachers: I perceive them as having no expectations of me, and as a result, I "do" better. When I take a class from my studio owner (whom I love love love, by the way), I stress myself out. I wage an unnecessarily silly mental battle with myself. Because I've been practicing with her for a year and a half now, I have this self-important idea that she remembers stuff about me and holds me to a certain standard. "You NEVER sit out this posture, E. She's gonna remember! Get your fingers to your toes--that's what she's always seen you do before!" Ridiculous. Ludicrous. And as a result of that silly inner-battle, I stress myself out and add to the intensity of it all.

So, when I saw that my studio owner was teaching this morning, I made a promise to myself, a promise I apparently need to make myself before every class. "This class is NOT about her. Just listen to the words and focus on your body." Hand to God, the class was about 50% better than it normally was. I was able not to worry about what I perceived her to be thinking.

Maybe today's class had nothing to do with the actual renovation process. But maybe, I at least took out and contemplated the tools.

One day, I will actually take down those disgusting curtains.

Enjoy this cheesy video for Ani song :-)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A cocooned blob

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all. Among many, many things that I'm grateful for, I'm grateful for that sensation that hot yogis know intimately well: the hot room blob. You know the feeling: your legs are weak, your arms are jello, and you seriously doubt your spine is still inside your body.

OK, I freakin' hate that feeling, and it usually comes sometime around Triangle, and sometimes it makes me sit out sets of the poses.

But, as I learned today, being a blob is not such a bad thing.

Many of you already know about this lovely biological wonder, but my literature and yoga-oriented self somehow missed the day in science class when the teachers talked about how caterpillars change into a butterfly. The process fits so perfectly with what happens in the hot room.

Apparently, caterpillars do not create a cocoon, go to sleep, and simply grow wings. The entire structure of their bodies have to dissolve first before they can turn into a butterfly. As this cheesy but kinda cool website explains, the caterpillar dissolves into a blob, breaking itself down. Kind of depressing to think that you could break open a cocoon at one point during the development and see nothing but ooze, huh?

But then, these special little "imaginal cells" start cropping up, and they become more and more numerous and overtake the blobby cells. As the author of the website notes, "Eventually, [the imaginal cells] become a large community and they switch gears from simply being a group of like-minded cells into the programming cells of the butterfly."

That is the metamorphosis. The caterpillar probably doesn't have this great awareness about its fate and how it's going to change. Yet somehow, the caterpillar knows to eat a lot, create the chrysallis, and allow its body to break down and transform.

The relationship between this biological process and yoga is obvious, right? The heat and the poses breaks us down, allowing ourselves to grow into something better. None of us have really attained our butterfly statuses, but we somehow know that we've got to allow our "selves" to break down. Something is there, and once we allow the process to happen, nature/god/whatever will take its course and the right thing will emerge from the chrysallis.

Maybe the whole cocoon/transformation thing can be a meditation point for tough moments in the hot room, huh?

(You know, I wanted to post a cool nature picture here. But you also know if you've been following my blog for a while that my one weird phobia is caterpillars. Maybe appreciating their process will ease that phobia just a bit more :-)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Liar, liar!

Lately I've been thinking about what it means to be honest. I mean, really honest. Some of us have a habit of telling white lies. Some of us construct elaborate scenarios about our pasts or future in order to get us what we want. We can lie to ourselves about who we really are--we can say we're stupid, no good, and undeserving of anything good that comes our way, when really the opposite is true. And then, there are other kinds of lies that we tell ourselves. 

I am not a chronic liar. Nor do I enjoy telling white lies. But one of the few concrete memories I have of being a little kid involves a lie. When I was about three years old, I sat with my brother, staring at a tiny nick in my bedroom's rainbow wallpaper. I looked at my brother with what was probably a devilish grin and grabbed at the nick, pulling off big chunks. My brother, who was less than two years old and didn't really talk yet, sat and watched.

Of course, all good things must come to an end, and my mother walked in after my brother and I were admiring my handiwork. "Who did this?!" she shouted. Fear filled my gut, and I pointed my finger at my brother and spoke ever-so-convincingly, "He did!"

My poor brother, who was too young to talk and defend himself, knew before the shit hit the fan what my false accusation meant. He started crying immediately, one of the few expressions his little toddler vocabulary allowed for. My mother, who was always the most restrained, loving, and gentle woman, must have reached her wits' end. We were never spanked, but my brother got one that day. 

I remember four-year-old me listening to him cry and feeling this strange emotion come up in me. I sat on that story for a good long time. Not until I was a teenager did my brother, mom and I talk about that day. My mother was shocked to learn the "real" story. My brother also remembers the incident and still feels just the tiniest bit pissed off about it. Thankfully, we can laugh about it now. It felt good, even as a teenager, to talk about it.

I don't think I tell such bald-faced lies anymore. But maybe I've just learned to tell more elaborate ones--especially to myself.

I've been practicing Bikram yoga for over a year and a half now, and I always had a regular yoga practice before I started this. I should be no stranger to stretching and strengthening by now! However, when it comes down to it, I admit I rarely give 100% in class. This is especially true in any hamstring stretch poses. For no good reason whatsoever, I am terrified of pulling a muscle in hands-to-feet pose or any of the head-to-knee poses. I get myself "into" the posture and hang out right in the comfort zone. "Save some energy for later. You're gonna injure yourself," I tell myself. "You're already working hard enough just being in the hot room."

It's as bad as the straight-up lie I told my mom as a child.

OK, so, lying to yourself about how hard you're working in yoga class isn't the biggest problem on the planet. But isn't what we do in class a mirror of what we do in life? The little lies we tell ourselves are just the walls we build to our own prisons.

Tonight, I stopped the lying in my yoga classafter being present enough to first recognize that there was no need to hold myself back in standing-head-to-knee pose. I was able to see it was just fear. I pulled my head just a little bit further toward my feet. I allowed myself to feel discomfort in the back of my legs. It may not have been "Pain sensation," but for the first time in a long time, I let myself really feel something. No fear, no lies, just feeling.

And guess what? It felt good.    

Friday, November 12, 2010

It's not a Greek Tragedy. Get It Together.

I should probably wait until I've processed today's class just a bit more before posting about it, but I'm compelled to write about it anyway. What follows is un-edited and probably rant-y :-)

I had the day off from classes today, and I was looking forward to a 9:00 a.m. class followed by a nice lunch, some paper grading, and then a dinner with friends. Foolishly, I was really expecting it to be a strong class. I was rested, I didn't feel overly stressed, and for me, 9:00 is late compared to the 6:30 a.m. classes I usually attend. And then, I saw that a new teacher was gonna teach! It was gonna be great!

Oh. My. GOD. What happened in there was enough to send a seasoned soldier running back to his mama's apron strings. I still can't quite figure out just what happened, but here's what I do know.

The teacher, a Greek guy visiting from Chicago, I think, was just fabulous. I had never heard his name before, but he clearly knew his stuff and was animated and motivating. Some teachers just know how to get the most out of you, and this guy was one of them. But for no explicable reason, today I had nothing to give. Yes, it was unbearably hot and humid, but something was off. That "heart ripping out of my body" feeling started up in Awkward, and it just never went away. And during Standing Head-to-Knee, I started crying.

I went to the bathroom and something just broke open inside me. I sobbed as if I had just recalled a great loss I'd swept under the rug for years. It felt like I was caught in some horrible nightmare. To make matters worse, this was happening with a fabulous visiting teacher. I wanted to soak up every moment, and instead I was having a breakdown in the bathroom.

Perhaps out of a desire not to feel like a total quitter, I dragged myself back into the room. I wish I could say I found some amazing technique to calm myself down and get it together, but that didn't happen. I spent the rest of the standing series lying down and getting up, feeling like I was in a strange new world--in no way did it feel like the yoga studio I'd been practicing in for a year and a half. After the teacher mentioned he was Greek, I couldn't stop pitying myself by comparing myself to Homer. Or Odysseus. Ha. Terrible, I know. Funny the way we can catastrophize what's happening to us.

Fortunately, after the heat was turned down slightly and we got to the floor, things eased up. I was able to do all the floor series and really enjoyed the visiting instructor's amazing class. I really, really wish I could remember what he said, because the guy talked constantly during savasanas, and almost none of it was pointless. He seemed to have a very thorough understanding of how the body worked and what was happening to our emotions and to our spirit as we practiced. He had a very unique take on things--the class felt so fresh.

I do remember one thing he said. He quoted a Native American proverb (tribe unnamed ;-) that goes something like, "when we're at the breaking point, that is when the spirit will enter." He may say that at every class, and I've heard versions of that in yoga classes before. This time, though, it hit home. It may be of little comfort to you in the moment, but if it helps at all to think of it, remember that we're pushing ourselves to the breaking point for a reason. Something is happening! :-)

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Muddy and Bright Night

I was listening to a talk by Insight Meditation guru Jack Kornfield the other day, and in it, he quoted a famous Serbian proverb (you know, we just don't get enough of that Serbian wisdom these days!). The proverb goes, "Be humble because you are made of mud; be noble because you are made of stars."

This past Friday, I visited teacher training, and took a lovely evening class with a Canadian teacher named Ida. A dear friend of mine and I met bloggers Josie and Catherine, who was visiting from out of town, and just had a blast. There was so much energy in the tent that night (gee, did it have anything to do with the trainees getting the night off? The shouts of joy upon receiving the news were deafening).

It was just what I needed. After the class, my friend and I sat on our mats long after everyone else had left and talked to these bright and lovely yogis. I felt connected and alive. It was just what I'd needed after a pretty rough day. I'd spent the day with a real beast in my brain--so much frustration and, uh, not gentle thoughts toward myself. I was so down before class that I almost "called in sick" to yoga. Talk about being made of mud! Before the class I felt like my thoughts were formed out of clay, so hardened and thick that they'd be completely unmovable.

Obviously, though, I got myself to the class. Seeing Catherine's and Josie's happy smiling faces, entering that "yoga bubble" the trainees talk about, and the rockin' class itself softened up that clay.

I'm sure casual visitors to a TT class know what I'm talking about: you enter the tent and are astounded by experience of being surrounded by 400 people. You think you'll spend the class gawking at the blue shorts in front of you or the 10-foot high podium holding up the teacher, marveling at the many bodies moving in unison. Of course, somewhere around standing-head-to-knee pose it all becomes you and your mat once again. I think that's the most marvellous thing of all. Thanks to my old and new friends.

So... I don't really know what it is that enables us to be made of both stars and mud. Maybe it's the fact that we're made of of atoms that comprise both types of matter. Maybe it's because we let the sludge pile up over the stars that burn brightly inside us. Both are there, but which do we give power to?

We're made of mud, and we're made of stars. Let's feel appropriately humbled and inspired, shall we?

p.s. A shout-out to one of the many sources of inspiration out there on 'net-land: download free talks amazing talks by Kornfield and the like on Buddhism and meditation

p.p.s. for those of you kind enough to care about my termite saga, they are still keeping residence with me, but due to the cooling trend they are no longer swarming, praise Buddha, Allah, Mary, et al. I'm exploring my treatment options...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Of Mites and Men

So, I've been counting my blessings this week. First, my yoga practice got a much-needed kick. I went to another studio this week to take a class with my former teacher, and I had a wonderful class. Halfway through it, though, I noticed someone peeking his head in the back door: it was Bikram himself! No one else seemed to notice, and I spent the rest of class going, "Uhh, was I hallucinating that?" But he was there, and I got to wave to him after class. This time, he wasn't screaming at anyone on his cell phone :-) 

After that exhilarating class and talk with my former teacher, I had a great early class yesterday with a marvellous teacher visiting during training. I really connect with her, both as a student and a person, and I'm glad she's gonna teach us a little while longer. And then, God willing and the creek don't rise, I'm going to training tomorrow. My practice just feels... revitalized! And just in the nick of time.

Also, I got through a big work hurdle this week. I can't go into details, but one big stressor has been removed, and for that I'm taking the time to feel thankful.

Well, I'm trying to feel thankful, anyway. I keep getting distracted by these little crawly bugs that have begun emerging with this heat wave.

Yep. I've got a termite problem. One day, I noticed a bunch of slow-moving bugs on my stairway. Thinking they were some kind of weird moth, I vacuumed 'em up. Of course, more showed up, and then it became a full-blown swarm. I've never seen ANYTHING like it. It's like something out of a Stephen King novel. I was truly horrified that first day. I kept vacuuming and calling pest control people, completely freaked out of my mind, scratching my skin and envisioning myself being eaten alive.

They're still dribbling out. I'm still vacuuming up. I'm still processing the bad news, but at least my incessant scratching has stopped ;-) If I want to actually deal with what is a truly widespread, serious problem, I'm gonna have to tent the place. There's just one small problem with that: I live in a 6-unit set of condos, and there's no way I'm gonna be able to convince every one of those people to spend a lot of money to move out for a few days.

So, the question is this. Can we learn to be at peace with the fact that there is something endemic, some systemic pestilence in the foundation and roof of our homes? What if we can't just "get it out"?

Maybe this is where the real work begins. Maybe I'll have to find ways to stop scratching my skin and head out of horror, maybe I'll have to put down the vacuum. Maybe I can learn to accept the bugs. Or at least find a quick fix...

One thing's for sure. Going to the hot room will seem a lot more pleasant after this!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Go Sit by a Window!

The other day, I sat out a second set of Camel pose and the first set of Rabbit. My heart fluttered like a hummingbird's wings and my mind hovered on panic mode. Feeling eminently sorry for myself, I flopped onto my mat and took my head into my hands. I turned gradually to look out the studio's two small windows. Rain was falling, as it has been often this San Diego fall, dripping quietly off the rafters and onto the water-logged cars below. 

As if matching the level of intensity in my life, my yoga practice has been spotty. At times, I'm a fiery ball of energy, plowing through the postures with a strength I hardly recognize. But mostly, I can barely make it through class. Everything in my body and brain feels cluttered, and I feel like I'm about to suffocate.

There's just so much to do. Mid-semester evaluations. Committee work. Grading. Stopping the cats from fighting. Figuring out who to vote for. Oh, and all that regular stuff we've all gotta do, like being with loved ones and trying to care of ourselves. It can begin to feel like a house overstuffed with furniture and endless lists of chores, all so important I don't know where to begin.

I heard a line in a song that same day (the refuge of music, right?) that was like a tiny lightbulb flickering on and off. "Our heads are just houses without enough windows," Arcade Fire sing on their brilliant new album, The Suburbs. The line resonated. And then, it pissed me off.

A house without enough windows sounds pretty bad, right? Could be a prison. Could be like some of the classrooms I've taught in. Sometimes I run around feeling frustrated or sad that there aren't enough windows to open up. Why didn't the architect plan better? Didn't he think to add lots of windows? Can I hire a contractor to cut a few more holes??

I guess that's not really feasible, at least not now. I probably won't be able to transform my "home"--my head, my ego, my brain, my mind, whatever--into a cool, airy, Zen room anytime soon. Maybe, instead, the solution is to learn to just sit by the windows we do have, few as they may be, and watch the rain fall, cool and gentle, on the ground below. Maybe a tiny sip of that cool air is all we need. 

Listen to "Half Light" by Arcade Fire! Do it!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Arrows and Heavy Hands

I don't feel I have time or the energy for a "real" blog post, so I'm going to post a couple of random odds and ends today.

One is that I had a lovely time this weekend meeting some of the bloggers who are at or are visiting TT. We sat around a a table in a funky, off-the-beaten-path Mexican restaurant here in San Diego, eating too much, laughing and talking shop. Y'all are some fabulous ladies and devoted yogis!

That lunch was a respite from a rather hellish part of the semester. Much as I hate to admit it, the stress has been settling on my shoulders like a pair of heavy hands. Each night, I dream somethin' simultaneously awful and laughable. One night, it was the apocalypse and a friend and I, stranded somewhere in China on bicycle, fought to buy donuts from the last open vendor to tide us over as humanity suffered agonizing deaths. Then, the night before meeting the yogis, I dreamed I was trapped at teacher training, stuck in the hot room with no way to get out. I wake up, relieved the dream is over, laughing at its ridiculousness, and strive to take that attitude with me throughout the day. 

When I stress, I can get wrapped up in what causes stress. "Why am I reacting as I do? Why am I not all calm and Zen yet? What incidents occurred in my childhood that made me the way I am today?! Was it that time on the playground. . . " etc, etc, etc. I've been trying to pull myself out of that mucky stuff with a well-known Buddhist analogy that I'll share with you. Imagine a woman who's been shot with an arrow. Does she obsess over who shot her, what she did to deserve it, or what the shooter's reasons were for doing so? Of course not. She just focuses on getting the arrow out. Ignore the dream and turn toward the reality.

So, y'all do the same. Forget about how the arrow got there or who might have it out for you. Focus on the glorious and horrifying task of wrenching it out of yourself. That is enough!

*Need some respite yourself? Check out these awesome yoga blogs!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

See What's Available

Ahh. After a grueling class last weekend, this morning I had just the class I needed to "revitalize, re-energize, and re-organize" myself.

I woke up with the alarm at 5:40 a.m. and dragged my sleepy self to the early class. A visiting instructor taught the class, and it was refreshing to get so much and feel so alive that early in the morning. She did not take it easy on us just because it was early. She expected us to work hard, be attentive to our postures, and really be present.

I think it was in standing-head-to-knee, as we held our foot and prepared to kick out, when she told us to "see what's available." What a gentle way to get you to be brave! It's a simple way of putting it, but it was everything I needed to hear. I felt gently encouraged to push myself a little bit, knowing that if I didn't try I wouldn't see what kind of experience was waiting for me.

I took that "see what's available" idea to work with me. I had an incredibly full slate of activities--teaching and grading, being evaluated in my classes (yikes!), and so on. Part of me wonders how I'm still standing, but thinking I was just reaching for what was available in that moment was all I needed to do to accomplish what needed accomplishing.

For a few hours today, I had the sense that it was possible to live this way, all the time. I hope y'all get to feel that, too!

Monday, October 11, 2010

I stretch. I force. I stretch. I force.

Do you stretch? Or do you force yourself into a posture? Normally, I think I take things pretty gently and that I never fall into the latter category, but after yesterday's class, I'm not too sure. But more on that later.

Last weekend, I went to a way cool talk on meditation given by a dharma teacher, Sharon Salzberg. It was chock full of insights that I let wash over me. Many ideas from Sharon's talk stood out, but one seems particularly relevant to yoga. Sharon discussed the difference between stretching and forcing. The goal of meditative practice is not to force the mind into unnatural realms. The result of doing that is simply more anger or fear! Instead, we work to gradually stretch ourselves out, to move out of our conditioned brains and connect with the vast consciousness that is already within us. The result of doing so is an ability to react more appropriately to whatever stimuli we encounter--we respond to a colleague's suggestion with equanimity and acceptance, for example, rather than out of fear or anger that we've been judged. 

The relationship of stretching vs. forcing to yoga is obvious enough to you yogis, right? The point is not to force ourselves into a posture; we move at the edge of discomfort, trying to continually hold ourselves there, until gradually that edge moves further and further away. But what about forcing yourself to get to class? To maintain a practice? To think that this yoga is right for you when some days you're just not sure? These are the questions I've been grappling with lately.

I admit to feeling a bit like I'm forcing my yoga practice these past couple of weeks. Heck, I feel like I've been forcing a lot in my life lately! It's a time in the semester where just maintaining the status quo is hard enough--forget trying to make progress in yoga or other aspects of life. When I'm going, in, and returning from class, I have a lot more doubt than I've had since returning to Bikram yoga a year and a half ago. I wonder, "is this too hard on my body? Am I helping or hurting?" "In a time of stress, as this is, should I take it easy on myself, or make myself go to yoga in order to maintain my health and consistency in my life?" Heck, my blog is called Eat the Yolk--it's all about going for it--but maybe you gotta go through a phase where egg whites will do!

I had a class yesterday that scared the living daylights out of me. It was a super-hot one, which I can typically handle under normal circumstances. But by the fourth posture, standing-head-to-knee, a migraine headache came on seemingly out of nowhere. I felt like one of those cartoon characters that randomly got whacked over the head with a giant hammer. 

It scared me. The excessive heat, the lack of circulating air, a new instructor, and the headache combined and put me in freak-out mode. I struggled to get a hold on my thoughts; it seemed they were roaches scattering across the walls as the light flicked on--they were quick, frightening, and too numerous to address any one of them in particular. Among other things, I thought of Salzberg's idea of stretching vs. forcing. In that class, I really felt I was forcing it.

I took a quick break, leaving the room to check my tongue in the mirror to make sure I wasn't having a stroke ;-) Really, I did do that! The rest of class, of course, I was OK. No strokes! The headache persisted for a while but eventually dissolved, and by the end of class I had a handle on my thoughts by recognizing them as simply... thoughts. Like the cockroaches, they're there. They can be ugly and scary, but when the light is on, they scamper away pretty quickly. 

I reckon this post could seem a little wishy-washy. There's the nice idea about not forcing, just stretching, but I don't always feel I can recognize where the line lies. I know, however, that not every question can be resolved and tied up in a neat little package. Maybe the goal is to become more and more comfortable with that uncertainty. 

Until I know for sure, you will probably find me at a Bikram yoga class. But I'll be stretching, not forcing! :-) 

Randomly awesome quote:
"At least he keeps the borders of his mind realm well patrolled."--Sam Lipsyte, "The Dungeon Master"

Monday, October 4, 2010

On Crocodiles, Carp, and Cowardice

I'm going to blog about a topic that is usually the death of conversation and writing everywhere: a dream. No, it's not a cool aspiration for the future or hope for humanity. It's about what little movie my brain ran when I was asleep last night.

Stay with me! I promise there are profound realizations ahead. OK, well, probably, there won't be much of that. But there will be crocodiles!

They say that dreams are a way of processing. We process a monotonous day's events (I dream of grading papers. Seriously). Sometimes, they're epic. We use them to relieve stress and make sense of the world. Sometimes, we use 'em to force ourselves to face the yucky stuff buried in the backs of our minds.

Last night, after a pretty rough day, I had one of those dreams I will take to the grave. Especially now that I blogged about it :-)

I dreamed I was in the middle of a gorgeous lake. There were hilly, lush mountains around, and I was paddling in the middle of it with a friend. Instead of a boat, we had a shack. The shack, crumbling, mossy, and falling apart, began to sink as we paddled to shore. My friend and I looked around and saw hideous carp and crocodiles swimming about.

Really cool shack

But instead of being scared of being eaten alive or drowning, we just laughed. I tell you, I haven't had such a lovely dream in months. I found beauty in the scales of the crocodiles and carp. The trees dotting the shorelines and the closeness I felt with my friend overshadowed the fear of drowning. And that shack was just freakin' cool.

Isn't this just like life? Isn't this just like yoga? We're paddling as hard as we can to a shore that's impossibly far away. And we're surrounded by horrible things in a vessel we didn't predict we'd use. That's what our experiences are always like, right? We didn't choose our bodies, our towns, or our families. Heck, even the things we "choose"--jobs, friends, and soulmates--can seem oddly imposed upon us by forces beyond our control.

But life isn't lived in the absence of fear. We don't have to react cowardly. The opportunity to obsess on the scary stuff--the crocodiles, the standing backward bends, whatever pose puts the fear of God in you--will always be there. Maybe the point is to just paddle on, knowing full well we could drown on our way to the shore. So long as we can enjoy that moment with a friend and appreciate the funky moss growing on our little shack, what's the difference?

There are always going to be rough, scary days. And there's always the option of staring that scary stuff right down and loving it to its scaly bones.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Tent

So here it is... my visit to the Big Tent--Bikram's Teacher Training San Diego. I loved meeting Nameste blogger Josie. I loved being in the tent with 400 people, including one of my dearest friends in the whole wide world. I loved watching Bikram walk up onto the stage, and I loved hearing him speak the lines from the dialogue I'd heard delivered so many times by others.

I got there super early to ensure I wouldn't get slowed down by traffic or an unexpectedly weird parking situation. As I walked over to the tent, I was beyond excited to see Bikram standing by himself in the parking lot. I immediately felt giddy and childlike. Although I'd told myself to have no expectations, I couldn't help but let the excitement flood over me. I began to walk over, thinking, "there he is! He looks exactly like I imagined! What should I say to the guy who came up with the series that took away my migraines, helped me cope with stress, and keep me strong and flexible? OMGOMGOMG." And so on.

Well, as I walked over, I noticed he was on the phone, yelling at some poor sap on the other end. I figured he wasn't in the greatest mood ;-) So I decided I'd let him have his time to himself and called up Ms. Nameste herself instead.

The class itself was a trip. We are in the middle of an unusually humid and warm late September here in San Diego, and the tent encompassed that. I've never taken a class that had visible humidity. Yes, as Josie so beautifully put it, it was an Amazonian yoga jungle in there. Initially, it wasn't too hot, and it took me a while to work up a sweat. But once I did, ay dios mio. It was intense. And as you trainees and teachers know, Bikram stretches out the classes, so they are about two hours long. I don't think I've ever consumed so much water during class.

Nor have I fantasized so much about beer. I haven't had any alcohol in a year and a half, but due to the smell of beer wafting through the tent (thanks, Marti :-) I spent the second half dreaming of a Corona fria con limon.

I also dreamed about my humble studio's amazing carpet. Jeez-oh-man, the carpet in the tent is terrible. In standing separate leg head-to-knee pose, I kept feeling like I was going to fall into Chinese splits--I wanted to get my head to the floor just to prevent that from happening! And forget Triangle. No turning the towel meant no Triangle for me. Except maybe a Triangle shuffle ;-)

The Dancing J commented on one of her blog posts a while back that Bikram says all sorts of cool things you don't remember after. That definitely happened, and I think it's part of the yoga experience. You're in the moment, you appreciate what's happening, and then you let it go. What needs to stick will stick. But I do remember a couple of highlights:

--Everyone lowering themselves into Awkward. Seeing so many bodies moving in unison (and staying like that--no one fell out of the third part!) was moving beyond words.

--Laughing hard to myself when Bikram said that the only chickens in this world should be the ones going right into our stomachs. In fact, he said a lot about fear that stuck out to me at the time.

--Hearing Bikram sing a Bengali (I think) song while we were in between postures. There was something comforting about that.

--Ironically, laughing hysterically when he played some song from his album. Sorry--it was just so bad! He's better live! 

--Finally, my hat goes off to the trainees for their incredible strength and dedication. I admire you all for doing what I know I couldn't do. I specifically admire a couple of folks in the tent: Ms. White, who, I thought, got unfairly picked on throughout much of class. It also goes off to a Muslim woman in in full hijab who rocked the class a few rows in front of me. I couldn't imagine wearing anything heavier than my Shakti shorts! Good for her. 

What stuck with me most about the entire experience is how this yoga is so much bigger than the individual. Yes, Bikram put the series together. But he didn't invent the poses, and, like anyone, I'm sure he had a lot of help disseminating the series along the way, to say nothing of all the work it must take to set up and run teacher training. And that communal embracement of the good idea is what makes this series so magical. That's what will make the series stick around until our culture is evolved enough not to need it. But by that point, we'll all be levitating, so I won't hold my breath until it happens ;-) 

I definitely want to go back. I'd love to take a class with Rajashree... or Emmy... or who knows! And meet more of you lovely bloggers. Ms. Nameste, I can't wait for another Fuddruckers' burger! There's just so much to experience!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Yay, First-Timers! Yay, Teacher Training!

I dragged my first friend to a Bikram yoga class with me. (Well... OK. another dear friend took up yoga after hearing me gas on about it, but she did so completely of her own accord. Totally not my fault. Now she's way into it, but I can't take any credit (or blame!) :-)

Back to the main point. My dear boyfriend got up with me at 5:40 a.m. and came to the 6:30 class. Bless him--he's a gentle, mellow guy. He's in great shape and does a variety of yoga and other exercise, but he's not into intense workouts, so it means a lot to me that he came. He did great. But more on that later! 

I'm curious: what is it like for you when you bring a friend to class? The experience reminded me that yoga always provides opportunities to see our quirky selves up close and personal! The morning of the class, I was wondering if he should even join me. I spend much of my time trying to make things easier in my loved ones' lives, not harder! During the class, my little controlling self came out from time-to-time. I was so worried about how my guy was doing: was he too hot? What if he injured himself? Oh no, the teacher didn't warn him to watch on the first set of Standing head-to-knee! He's gonna hate me afterward!

I tried to set that aside and focus on the practice. The class is designed with beginners in mind, I tried to remember. He would be OK! Funny how the mind will take any opportunity possible to spin out of control.

Of course, he was fine, and he did so well. And the teacher was great, too--very supportive and not dogmatic. He initiated a little round of applause for my guy, and told him that he had to come back when I said so ;-) It was a perfect first class, really.

I don't think my guy will ever be a Bikram convert, but it was nice to have that experience with him. Now, he understands this part of my life more deeply. I'm thankful to have practiced with him, and I'm thankful for the encouraging and kind instructor, as well as the continued opportunity to see and work on my little controll-y self :-) Of course, it was great to hear him express admiration for me for practicing the yoga regularly.

On a completely different note, I'm hoping to visit Teacher Training and take a class with the Boss himself this week! Most importantly, I can't wait to finally meet some of you lovely bloggers!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

It's just One Long Class

Warning. In this post, I will be modeling unsophisticated writing. I will tell you what I'm going to talk about because I'm too tired to introduce it properly. In this post, I will talk about teaching, mask-wearing, and Cheez-it eating. (Ok, I can't figure out a way to talk about the Cheez-its, but I told The Dancing J I would, so I put it in my thesis :-)

Bikram Yoga Teacher Training started this weekend. I'm happy to think of lots of new teachers coming together to better their practice and learn strategies for teaching yoga. It also hits home even more because it's here in San Diego, and because, well, some of my favorite yogis that I've "met" online are attending (including, of course, the lovely Lush over at Nameste, with whom I share a birthday).  

So, I'm not a yoga teacher. I actually have no aspirations of being a yoga teacher, although if I were a little younger and more willing to throw myself out there, I'd be tempted! But I do teach, and I've been thinking lately: If I could go back to my 23-year-old self and tell her something before she walked into her very first classroom, what would it be? 

I think it would be not to put on a mask.

"A man wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it," George Orwell writes in my most-favoritest essay, "Shooting an Elephant."

We put on masks all the time--we smile at the cashier even when we're feeling down, we try to tell a joke when really we want to admit we're nervous, or we feign understanding when really what we feel is disbelief. And when teaching, jeez, it's tempting to put on the thickest mask we can dig out of the closet. You know, the Mardi Gras one, adorned with sequins and brightly-colored feathers.

And then, like Orwell says, we can begin to feel our faces growing into that mask. I know that I've started off semesters thinking I needed to appear funny, warm, smart, engaging, and super-knowledgable at all times. Sometimes, I fool myself into thinking I'm pulling it off, and that's almost the worst. It can begin to snowball and get out of control--we can worry about how we're coming off rather than truly being present with the students and the material.

But sometimes I remember to step back and pull off that mask, and that, I think, is where the show is really happening. This semester, for example, I'm teaching a new class. I started out with what I thought was a bang--I thought I was on top, that the material was great, and that the students would love it and they'd learn a lot and it would be this gooey educational experience for all of us. A few weeks in, though, I could tell they just weren't feeling it. Something was off, and my trying frantically to convince them it was awesome wasn't working. 

So, halfway through class one day, I just pulled the mask off. I stopped class and asked them for some feedback. I encouraged them to be honest. They were, and then I had them write down some feedback anonymously. You know what? It was so good I did that. Yes, they told me some stuff I dreaded hearing, but mostly, the feedback was positive, and I was able to take their suggestions and bring the class back on track. Hand to God, we're the better for it now. I'm more in tune with that class than with any others.

Now for how yoga ties in! It helps us tear down this mask. By the end of any given Bikram class, when my body radiates heat and my hair is plastered across my face, I've stripped myself of whatever layers I've carried with me into the yoga room. I thank the yoga teachers for always being there, for always teaching from their hearts these classes that allow us to melt away the veneer, allowing us to get in contact with our hearts.

I honor the Bikram Trainees who start in San Diego this weekend. Continue to leave the masks on the shelves and let your unique, inner light radiate. Your students will see it.


"Some place between Hollywood and its pretty happiness, and an anguish so infinite it's anybody's guess, is a place where people are all teachers, and it's just one long class"--Ani Difranco

Monday, September 13, 2010

Comfort and Complacency

Comfort and Complacency. They're our enemies. Destroy them.

I'd taken classes with this dude before. Typically, I'd describe him as a laid-back surfer who teaches mellow classes in a 72 degree room. You know, the classes where you hold "easy" stretching poses for so long that you forget your name, where you were born, and what the heck you're doing in asanas with cute-sounding names like Baby Pose. Child's pose. Pyramid pose. 

I went into the class, sleep-deprived and sunburnt from a fabulous long day on a boat, thinking, "This'll be a cakewalk. 90 minutes of light stretching and a long savasana and the bf and I will be off eating delicious vegetarian Mexican food."

As often happens in this life on the mat and off, I got so humbled. No wait--I didn't just get humbled, I got served.

This guy just quietly, politely worked us to death. I kept looking over at my boyfriend mouthing to him, "What the heck? Are you ok??" Because it was that tough. No, I wasn't pouring sweat. I wasn't trying to kill myself. But I came face-to-face with some monster in there.

The other students in class didn't seem to be missing a beat, but I was suffering. Man, they hold those poses a long time. And some of those poses take you deeply into muscle groups I didn't even know I was related to. It was somewhere in Twisted Triangle that I had a revelation.

"Jeez, man. This shit hurts," I thought, as I slid into a pose I vaguely remember from my Ashtanga days. (OK, no, that's not the revelation.) Twisted Triangle is a tough pose. It's like the Bikram triangle--the master pose--with serious pain. To do it properly you need hamstrings like butter and a ribcage that can spiral upward like tree branches. If you don't get into the posture fully, you struggle gracelessly trying to balance. I wrenched myself into the position and took the standard Ashtanga 5 breaths, thinking it would all be over shortly. But it wasn't. We kept holding it. And holding it! Let me tell you, I sent serious daggers of "OMG I HATE THIS. LET US GO." to the teacher with my eyes.

I realized that I've been hanging out on the edge of comfort and complacency. My cozy early morning classes are ones that I can power through. I can look good, not skip postures, and feel energetic throughout the classes. But it's like I'm in the middle of this little bubble of flexibility. I'm just hanging out, not pushing the edges at all.

The Bikram class I took this afternoon (San Diego studio, with Jim Kallett and a great, great friend) took this a little further. Jim has this very steady quality about him. Initially, you think you are doing fine, that it won't really be such a bad class after all, no matter what you remember or have heard about him. Halfway through it, however, you're on the floor, wanting mommy and a cold hand towel.

(An aside: please don't use the phrase "pouring sweat" loosely. When it really happens--when the sweat comes off your body in streams instead of drops and you feel you are generating enough heat to power a small town--it's an entirely different, almost frightening game.)
Jim said something that drove this idea home, though. In Half-Moon pose, he stated the "beyond your flexibility" idea in a different way. "Your flexibility is what it is," he said. "Find your strength. Use your strength in this pose instead of the flexibility."

I see a connection here with the complacency idea. Many of us are relatively flexible physically, emotionally, or spiritually. But that can almost make things worse. It's so easy to stay there. Someone who may be at point A can struggle and get more out of the experience than someone at point Q.

Why is it so hard to remember that we need to stay at the edge of discomfort, all the time, no matter what we do?

Speaking of discomfort, there's a pile of papers that aren't gonna grade themselves :-)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A hive of yogis

I'm a bee! I'm a bee!

I was thinking of that yesterday when the teacher told us (as usual) that our collective breaths should sound "like a million bees buzzing." It was a packed, steamy Labor Day class, and there was so much energy in the room that despite the heat I was humming with it. Well... for the first part of class, anyway. I spent the rest of it feeling sorry for myself and then trying to talk myself out of it: "Oh, I'm just a bee. Buzz, buzz, buzz. Don't get distracted, Self. You're a drone without a thought. But it's hot in here. I don't have mat space today. The guy behind me is loud. Blah!"

Lately, I've been distracted by how being distracted seems to be my default state of being. Papers are pouring in, and grading requires so much concentration and time management that I'm conscious of how monkey-minded I typically am. I think if you could see into my head, I'd be less like a bee in a tightly-constructed honeycomb and more like a lazy bumblebee flying drunkenly about.

This realization has been reinforced by a recent American Scholar essay by Christian Wiman I'm currently obsessed about, "Hive of Nerves." The title itself makes me think of yoga (what doesn't?). The essay is so rich--if you're at all interested in philosophy, meditation, religion, literature, or just about why stress is part of the human experience, check it out. It's dense, but each paragraph contains is a treasure box. Or a rich, sweet honeycomb, if we're gonna continue with the bee theme ;-) 

In one passage, Wiman explores the nature of anxiety. Or, if you prefer, call it stress. Distraction. A deep questioning about the nature of life. Whatever we want to call it, we've all experienced it.

He beautifully describes our perpetual state of restlessness: "It is as if each of us were always hearing some strange, complicated music in the background of our lives, music which, so long as it remains in the background, is not simply distracting but manifestly unpleasant, because it demands the attention we are giving to other things. It is not hard to hear this music, but it is very difficult indeed to learn to hear it as music."

Let's unpack that a little. Don't we all know what it's like to hear some weird music in the back of our heads? Maybe it's literally a song stuck in our heads. Maybe it's our anger at the driver that braked too quickly in front of us. Maybe, if you're like me, it's the slow and steady hum of our inner critic tapping us on the shoulder to point out, yet again, what we've done wrong.

Whatever it is, it distracts us from the moment.

I think that concept is familiar enough to us! We wouldn't be practicing yoga regularly if we didn't have a commitment to bettering our bodies, minds, and hearts, and when we do that, all of the music that typically distracts us is heard clearly.

What struck me about the Wiman quote, however, was the line about learning to recognize that sound as music. Rather than trying to put earplugs in and shut out the sound, the point is rather to really listen to it, to pay attention to what's playing in the background. Otherwise, we'll only be half-hearing life itself--trying to ignore the background noise, rarely being fully engaged in what's happening. And who knows? Maybe when we actually pay attention to what's going on back there, it won't be half as distracting (or scary!) as it is now.

Is this all too theoretical and pretentious? Well, thanks for reading anyway :-) All I know is that practicing yoga on a regular basis can help us get to the root of what's making that pesky sound. And check out the article if that quote resonated at all--it's just loaded.

Buzz on, you lovely hive of yogis, you!

The hive

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Get off the pedastal!

Oh, man, did I get humbled this weekend. It's serious confession time.

I've been thinking recently about how easy it is to judge, and how easy it is to get caught up in a sense of righteousness about our judgment.

Last weekend, I accompanied a friend to a (non-Bikram) yoga class at his gym. Before the class began, my friend and I walked around the gym, checking out the various torture devices available. I think we were near the pull-up/dip machine when our eyes both settled on this woman. She was probably about 60 years old, and she was gorgeous. Well, she was gorgeous in that annoying, Barbie-doll kind of way. Body of the 22-year-old that I never had and all that. My friend couldn't help noting her level of superficial hotness. 

I couldn't help from retorting, "Yeah, nice boob job. Plastic from head-to-toe!" 

I also couldn't stop myself from thinking of her on and off throughout the yoga class (of course, she was practicing right behind me). A sense of righteous indignation just took over. Who was she, that she had to invest what must be hours into looking good and cling to a certain body image even at age 60? What happened to aging gracefully? And why was my friend, who is typically not one to comment on a random woman's appearance, suddenly swayed by this Barbie? 

After the class, I took my time in the sauna, jacuzzi, and showering (hey, it was a nice gym!). The entire time--it must have been at least 40 minutes--the woman sat in front of the mirror, naked, blow-drying her hair. She was so front-and-center that I couldn't help noticing huge scars slashed across her breasts. I'd been right about the boob job. Initially, that didn't help my state of self-righteous, feminist-motivated indignation. The judgment continued to boil over. Why sacrifice so much time, energy, and pain to fight the natural aging process and conform to what is, for most, an unattainable standard of beauty? 

I did my own ten-minute hair-and-makeup process silently next to the woman, steaming in my own negative thoughts. But that's when I got knocked off my pedastal. As she wrapped her towel around her and began to walk out, she said, "Goodbye! Have a nice day." And there was something so... genuine about what she said. It wasn't forced. It wasn't obligatory. She just said it.

I felt so humbled. In judging this woman for the past two+ hours, I hadn't given a thought to what she might be like as a person, and she was probably very nice. Who cares if she spends her time and money dieting and putting on makeup and getting her boobs done? It has nothing to do with me. I could've spent that time thinking about practice, sharing the moment with my friend, and enjoying my morning at the swanky gym. I think that kind of self-righteous judgment is just another way of making ourselves the center of a very angry universe. 

Blergh... less judgment, more compassion. It's the endless struggle, right?      

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Take it!

Who knew that getting up at 5:35 a.m. could be a good thing?

I've already blogged incessantly about the fact that I'm back to work and away from my cushy mid-week 9:00 yoga classes. Blergh. So, I moaned internally about that fact for a while, and I moaned even more about attending a super-hot p.m. class after a long day of work. I was starting to feel this sense of dread. I knew I wouldn't be able to get myself to evening classes three days a week--not in this Socal heat wave, anyway. I was going nuts! Would I make myself crazy getting myself to yoga, or would I let the practice slip away in the business of life?

Once I resigned myself to it, I found out that the third option--the 6:30 a.m. class--isn't so bad after all. In fact, it's pretty cool. It's small. It's intimate. By the time I wake up, class is over! ;-) In all seriousness, there's been something very special about it. I'm so busy immediately afterward that I'm not all obsessive on how the class went. Also, on the days I've gone to yoga early, I've felt so much better at work and can actually get stuff done. More willing to just... accept the day and what it brings, with less stress. I'm reminded of that Woody Guthrie line: "Take it easy, but take it."

I think we have to take it. I know that if I resist (OMG! Getting up before 6:00! The horror!), I give up stuff that matters: yoga, meditation, values, sanity. 

Alright, y'all. I've been up since 5:30. Time to eat a cookie and go to bed. Isn't that part of "taking it"??

Liz Lemon, my TV alter-ego, eating a pop tart

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Fish burrito, hanging on, end of summer, cartoons, whatever. I'm too scattered to come up with a title.

Remember those cartoons you saw when you were a kid, when the character would cling desperately to a branch as the creature below tried to pull him down? I felt like that cartoon character today.

Those of you who read my last blog post kindly listened to me lament about the end of my lazy summer and return to the classroom. (To those of you with normal nine-to-five jobs, I humble myself before you. I deeply appreciate that no one commented that I was a self-absorbed ninny ;-) It's hard to describe the feeling of being on an extended vacation and comparing it to my "normal," workaday self. During summer, I'm much more passive. I'm an observer. I can let my days unfold slowly. During the semester, I have to operate with an almost manic energy. Once I'm in the flow of it, of course I love it all--I'm productive, I have fun, and I feel a real sense of purpose. But that transition? Man.

Talk about transition! Today was the first day back: back to the classroom, back to the evening yoga class. That clingy sensation was so strong, it took some some real doing to let go of the summer's undoing. Walking onto campus this morning, I was in a daze. Even a visit from a sweet former student did nothing to jar me from summer mode. As I walked into the first class and saw the students' open, nervous, expectant faces, I though, "Oh dear. I'm supposed to be the teacher. I'm not ready. Get me the f**^ outta here."

The first 20 minutes or so, I was not on top of my game. I was nervous. Probably, it showed a little. I made a couple of attempts at jokes that fell flat. It wasn't until I allowed myself a 10-second mental break as I walked from the rickety podium to the side of the room to fix the lights that I was able to remember that all I had to do was be present. I didn't need to be a "teacher," I just had to cover the syllabus. Then, I'd do a get-to-know-ya activity. Then, I'd briefly introduce the first homework assignment.

The students warmed up to the class as I calmed down. It was a great reminder to not act, to not try so hard to entertain, or to please, or whatever it is I do when I'm around people I don't know. And during the second class, I was much more relaxed. Even though I was "on top of it," I was on top because I was just... me, doing what I was supposed to be doing.  

The 5:00 p.m. yoga class went the same way. At the beginning, I was so clinging to that branch. "Evening classes are too hot! I miss my 9:00 a.m. class. I'm distracted. I'm too tired. I like the 9:00 people better. This teacher sucks." Waaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh, right?

But I bet I'm not the only one... That creature pulling us down? I think it's ourselves. It's our own mind, trying to cling desperately to avoid something we're already living with. Yoga can serve a such a microcosm for what's going on in our lives.

OK, I'm officially out of juice. There is one decadent bonus to attending the evening class: a post-yoga burrito from my favorite Mexican place! Time to go eat.

Please enjoy this completely random photo that came up when I googled "hanging on." The only connection I can make is that I am about to eat a fish burrito for dinner.
Oh, heck yeah!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

It's over. It begins.

Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww, man.

My summer, with all of its sprawling, easy ups and downs it included this year draws to a close. Next week, I head back to the classroom. No more staying up as late as I want, no more lying by the pool, no more catching up with friends, and worst of all, no more intimate, midweek 9:00 a.m. yoga classes.

(An aside: isn't it funny how easily the time fills up when we're on vacation? That to-do list I avoided all semester pretty much got avoided all summer.)

Mainly, I'm happy to be going back to work. I like routine. Alright, I admit it: I love routine, so long as everything's perfectly balanced, like we are in Standing Bow-Pulling Pose. I love getting up with the alarm, taking my shower, doing the hair and makeup, enjoying coffee and a shake before heading to work. I like opening to the door in my office--usually, I'm the first in the building to arrive--turning on the computer, and settling down to finalize plans before classes start.

OK, OCD girl. Maybe it's good to take a break from routine now and then. This summer has been a time for some serious self-study. I can't help but think it's reflected in the attitude I've had with my yoga practice lately. I walk into the studio, practice hard, and then I just let it go. Even better, I can usually be quite present in each posture and then them one go when they're over. I don't cling to the "hard" postures and how I performed them the way I did in May. There's almost the same level of anticipation getting into Standing Bow or Triangle as there is getting into Fixed Firm or Final Spinal. (Dunno about how it is for you, but for me, that's huge. I see now how much anxiety I carry, even in the class itself.)

Let me emphasize: I am not bragging. I love "where I am" right now. But I bet the lessened in-class anxiety has more to do with giving up that semester-length routine I typically cling to than it does some deep, inner work. Yes, I've made some progress. I think. I hope this new peace with my yoga practice sticks around, but I'm prepared to accept things as they are if that peace slips away with the stress of the semester.

The summer's over, but life is always beginning again, just like we "start from scratch" in yoga each time. It'll be good to get back to teaching, even if it means I'll have to practice at 6:30 a.m. a couple of times a week. 

And yay, routine! OMG, I can't wait for the alarm to go off on Monday! :-)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

You're so clingy!

Yes! I'm back. Yesterday, I did my first yoga class in over a week. Last week, I was sailing around Alaska, indulging my every whim, and forgetting my every responsibility. Taking a yoga class the day after I arrived home was a nice way to get back to reality.

Yesterday's was a pretty hot, crowded class (my studio tends to be hotter than the ones I've visited, and this was hot even for them), and I had my regular, very tough teacher. Despite the heat, what was hard about the class had nothing to do with the environment or my body. I actually felt fine, physically, other than being a little tight in the hamstrings and hips and noticing an extra pound or two clinging to my stomach.

But despite my body being OK, I was just... complain-ey.

Every instruction, every correction, every slight twinge of discomfort made me want to run out of the room. Or at least whine. "Uhhh, it's hot," the spoiled brat in my brain would say. "Uhh, I can feel my legs in Awkward. Maybe I should sit it out!" Normally, such strong thoughts of leaving rarely cross my mind--I'm used to practicing in a fair amount of discomfort. But a week on vacation had put my mind in spoiled brat mode. I'd spent over seven days doing exactly what I wanted when I wanted, being entertained by marvellous sites and engaging in stimulating conversations with my travel partner and new friends. My expectations for what a day was supposed to be like were altered--a "normal" day where you get to enjoy a balance between fun and not-so-fun activities like work and chores was transformed into this week-long indulgent bonanza, where I was allowed to expect anything I wanted to come my way (except, apparently, good vegetarian food. But that's a whole other topic!).

Then, back to reality, back to yoga. My mind was clinging to cruise mode. Admittedly, class was miserable, and I sat down a couple of times during standing series. But noticing my clinginess and then working to let it go really helped, and I finished the class strongly.

I'm thinkin' this is a more dramatic example of what we do all the time. We cling to what someone said to us at work, and we envision the epic comeback while in Standing Bow. We don't get enough sleep, so we go through a class telling ourselves to take it easy because we aren't rested enough. It's all clinging. That takes us away from the moment. Let's dump that stuff like we would a clingy girlfriend or boyfriend!

On another note, I'm sure many of you have seen this pretty cool interview with Rachel Kaplan, a Bikram Yoga Manhattan instructor. What stands out to me about her interview is what she says about the yoga's effect on the mind (about 7:00 minutes into it):

"We're all raised a certain way; we're all wired a certain way. Bikram kind of re-wires you. . . it was this amazing transformation. I'm getting to know who Rachel is, not who I always thought I was in the world."

I guess we're all on a similar path of self-discovery, and part of traveling that path is learning not to cling to the world's expectations of you. I can't help but think that yoga--among other things--helps achieve that. To re-wiring!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

AHHHH! I miss yoga! asdflkjas;lkjfasdfklj

OK, so, normally I try to write posts that are nice and thoughtful and edited well and have some sort of message that is either universal or uplifting in some way. This is more of a quick rant, a pre-yoga-return venting session.

I've been away from email, Twitter,, FB, and reality in general as I just spent a week on a cruise to Alaska. On the one hand, it was fabulous. I spent the week seeing glaciers, whales, and exploring new towns and hiking spots. I also spent it lazing about the cruise ship with a marvellous traveling partner, taking long naps in the afternoon, indulging in tasty treats and 9:00 twilit jaccuzi baths. That's all well and great, but man, I missed the yoga. I missed the normalcy, the routine, the lack of stimulation. I missed suiting up and marching into the hot room, icy water bottle in tow, and knowing that my body would be bent and pulled into many sweaty directions. I missed getting up my heart rate and nourishing the organs and ligaments that just don't get the attention they would on the cruise ship's poorly-functioning treadmill. 

There were a couple of quiet moments, however, in our massive floating Vegas-style city on the sea. After a particularly long day of hiking and deliberating over what the buffet of endlessly stomach-turning yet oddly appealing food choices, I woke up the next morning, went for a run at a rickety gym treadmill that rocked with the swelling seas, and then I took 20 minutes or so and ran through part of the Bikram series. Even that much was a relief was a relief to my over-stuffed body and over-stimulated soul. Eagle, Awkward, spine-strengthening, triangle--they all felt so good, like coming home to friends. The portability of Bikram yoga is appealing--you don't need mats, and the poses don't even look "weird" to other people desperately trying to burn off the buffet in the ship's tiny gym. 

A highlight of the cruise was balancing in part 2 of Awkward as the ship was heaving on the open ocean--now there's some balancing skills! (Photo to come?) The stillness Awkward pose pt. 2 requires is tremendous--boats were rocking so much that the runners had to grab on to the handles of the safety bar at moments! But those toes, man. They can grip the floor!

So, I love Bikram yoga. Take Bikram yoga with you on your vacations! And don't forget to look at the view now and then. You never know what you might see!

Glacier Bay, AK

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What helps your practice?

Wow--can you believe we're midway through July? SoCal has been so temperate that it hardly feels like summer yet, but I know the season is well on its way!

This summer has been a blessing in many ways. For one thing, things have just... changed around here. I've changed, my routines have changed (a little ;-) and I've been trying new things. Contrary to what I initially thought, I've discovered that my yoga practice is enhanced when I add new things to my life. It's such a great realization--I don't have to clear my life to focus on my yoga practice; so long as I get myself there and give 100%, the practice continues to unfold. 

In the last couple of months, away from school, experimenting with new ideas, I've learned that my practice is enhanced by a few things in particular: 

  1. Meditation: In the past year, I've been working on cultivating a meditation practice. (In particular, Tonglen has been really helpful. Helps you develop concentration and provides a path to really meeting and conquering the demons haunting your life--I find it a bit "easier" than traditional, "focus-on-your-breath" meditation.) I've noticed that my mind is calmer in the hot room when I meditate daily. I am able to focus more deeply in each posture on an aspect of my body. Today, for example, I thought so deeply about the standing leg in Eagle pose. It was like each muscle in my thigh came to life! I still have days when my neurotic stuff can take over, but I find that to be less and less of a challenge.
  2. Sleep! Who knew that sleeping enough would be so helpful? :-) School isn't in session, and my external stressors are low. I'm able to get a solid eight hours of sleep almost every night, and it makes such a difference when I'm in the yoga room. Must remember to commit to sleep when the semester starts! 
  3. Eating well and when needed: This is another luxury afforded by my summer break from teaching. You know how it is when you don't have time to prepare the food your body needs, or eat when you're actually hungry. And, worst of all is forcing yourself to eat because you're on a tight schedule. 
  4. Whey protein shakes: While we're on the topic of eating well, I gotta give a shout-out to whey protein. I don't eat meat except for fish anymore, and even that is a rarity. As a result, I've gotta be careful about eating enough protein. A friend turned me onto whey protein shakes in the morning. A little almond or soy milk, some powder and a selection of frozen fruit and you've got an amazing-tasting shake. Plus, it feels so nice and light in my stomach that I can practice yoga an hour after I drink one. The attention and time spent making the shake each morning is like a meditation, too.
  5. Not having attachments to the outcome of the practice: This is huge. I have got to admit. Ironic as it sounds, I would actually have anxiety going into class. I'd set up these weird expectations for myself--hold Standing Bow the whole time! Don't sit out a posture!-- and then I'd beat myself up or congratulate myself depending on the outcome of the class. Madness, I tell you. Also, totally common and normal. But I think these expectations need to go. The last couple months, I am able to notice when I hold a posture the entire time, or when I feel particularly focused in class, but I seem to attach less judgment to it. And that's a great feeling. There's that great quote by Courtney Mace, Bishnu Ghosh, yoga champion about competition: "[Competition] happens every time you step into the hot room, and it’s a competition between the ego and the soul. And the soul always wins." I'd take it a step further and say the soul wins so long as you're taking up the struggle against the ego. Being there (in yoga, in meditation, whatever) just helps us see that the ego has always been powerless in the face of soul. 
Ramble, ramble, ramble. Enough of that! I'm curious. What helps your practice?           

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I'm a shrimp burrito!

Hey y'all! Happy summer.

This is the time of year when us Bikram yoga practitioners should pat ourselves on the back. Or, if that's too self-congratulatory, at least we should take it easy on ourselves when it's hotter than hell in the hot room, and when we know there's no reprieve from that heat when we walk out the doors.

That said, well, I guess I'm getting ahead of myself. I haven't blogged in a while--it's my longest gap since I started Eat the Yolk. Part of that gap is due to a week spent traveling back east.* I had a blast in New York and Boston (visited a studio there--great place, although I'm not sure it could be classified as "hot yoga." Warm yoga?). But the main reason for lack of blogging has been a combination of other factors: summer doldrums, change of routine, and less--dare I say it?--less of an insistent need for yoga. 

Normally, yoga is my life raft. I reach for it when I'm drowning in a sea of schedules, stress, malaise, sadness, whatever. And then, I am compelled to blog about the insights and changes that stem from those blessed classes. But with the stress-reduced summer and another serious (but good!) life change, that "OMG, must yoga now" feeling hasn't grabbed ahold of me quite as strongly as it did during the school year. 

Thankfully, I've managed to maintain a 3x/week practice. I'm actually seeing a lot of progress there. I like going to the 9:00 a.m. classes--I'm calm and steady, and knowing that I have the rest of the day ahead of me is just lovely. 

So maybe it's all just been a little.... too good! Until this week, that is. 

Things have been heating up weather-wise in SoCal, and my personal life is getting a bit busier, too. As a result, yoga has afforded me some moments for intense growth. As other bloggers have noted, it has that ability to peel back the layers to really expose what's going on in your mind and heart--whether you like what you see or not. 

Something was bugging me before yoga this morning, and warm weather drove a crowd to "get 'er done" and attend the typically sparse 9:00 a.m. weekday class. The room was immediately a pressure-cooker, and a high-maintainance newbie slowed the standing series down considerably. By the time we got to the floor, I was gone. An old anxiety had resurfaced. I was feeling trapped, claustrophobic, and overheated. The meditation techniques I'd been working with to keep me calm in situations like this immediately went out the window.

I was panicky and wanted to leave, so I let myself rifle through the thought stream in my head in the hopes that I'd find myself something to calm me down. As I lay on my stomach in spine-strengthening series, the stream of thoughts went something like this:

"You're in the ocean! It's cold! What's in the ocean? Fish, octopus, crustaceans, fish, bubbles, bubbles, shrimp. Oh, shrimp! They make a good burrito. I like shrimp burritos. I am a shrimp burrito! Just be a shrimp burrito."

Silly as it sounds, that thought actually calmed me down. A shrimp burrito is just a shrimp burrito. It doesn't get stressed by its environment. It just exists as a little amalgamation of tortilla, salsa fresca, frijoles, whatever. It doesn't cast judgments on its environment.

OK, I realize the shrimp are dead by the time they get into the burrito. They don't cast judgments 'cause they can't cast judgments. But still, the thought kinda sorta makes sense? We're in yoga! We don't need to think so much. After the burrito thing, I was able to simply notice what was happening. There was less judgment, and ultimately less panic. When I thought of the heat, I also thought of how incredibly efficient my body was at cooling itself down. What a remarkable little system we have inside ourselves! We can stay in a room of over 110 degrees, do strenuous poses and get our heart rate up, and get to the point where we feel comfortable. Isn't that incredible?

Just be the burrito!

Shrimp Burrito Man

**Must acknowledge other amazing bloggers for already commenting on this summer blogging phenomenon!