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!