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.