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!