Thursday, April 29, 2010

Look at what we can let go of!

I don't know if I've ever had a love-hate relationship quite as volatile as the one I have with the heat. Right now, I'm thinking that the heat is simultaneously the cause of and solution to the misery so often felt in the yoga room.

I went to class last night with something weighing pretty heavily on my mind. I'd had a rough day, and my mind was so preoccupied with what happened I was beginning to doubt my ability to make it through the class. I just felt like I was drowning in emotions. Once again, though, I was remindedof how needed this yoga is in my life right now.

As class began, two thoughts were jockeying for position in my head. One was about what happened during the day, and the other was about the heat. "Jesus Christ, it's hot," I usually think to myself as I walk into the room. I've found that the more obsessive my thinking, the harder a time I have surrendering to the heat. Normally, I let go of the "it's hot! Life is hard! Poor me!" thinking pretty quickly. But probably because of what was going on in my head yesterday, I was having a hard time accepting I was about to be turned into a hot, sweaty mess.

Have y'all noticed a connection between the relationship to the heat and what's happening in life? Is it just me? After a class like that, I'm thinking that the heat is this perfect symbol of what happens inside as we practice. We go into the class thinking, "Jesus Christ, it's hot." (OK, I won't put words in your mouth. I do ;-) We almost want to cling to that thought, to hold onto the day's problems, to not surrender to the sweat that's beginning to pour out of the body. It's the same thing that we do in life. There's the present moment, but it's so easy to get caught up in problems and drama that have no relevance to what's going on.

Thank goodness for the postures, the teacher, and the heat! They beat us back into the now. You don't survive otherwise. Hard as we may try to stop it from coming, the sweat starts pouring out, and in proportion as we surrender to the act of letting go, the outside problems drop away. Even if it's only for moments at a time, the problems fade.

I couldn't believe how much my mood changed during that yoga class. I walked in not knowing if I'd be able to stay in the room, I was so upset from what had happened that day. But once I let go, such a tremendous set of peace settled in. My practice, body, and mind were so calm and steady. I can't begin to express how grateful I felt when I realized, as I came out of Camel pose, that at least 45 minutes had passed without thinking about what was going on that day.

The challenges are still there. Jesus himself would probably say, "What the hell? It's hot." But look what we can let go of!

Wouldn't you know? I felt like today's class was cold. Now that's fodder for another post...

Monday, April 26, 2010

So, where are you?

Hey, my Bikram partners in crime. It feels like we're in a "let's see other people" phase of our relationship. You all are clearly there (thanks, as always, for your comments!), but since the 101-Day challenge has ended, I feel like there's been a bit of a lull in the BBC (Bikram Blogging Community ;-). That's OK, though. I'm not complaining. I know we'll always be together. 

The last three weeks or so have been interesting to observe. I'm reminded that energy and passion needs both subject and object in order to thrive. Maybe because yoga is about healing ourselves so we can better serve the world, we need to be reminded of who is actually in that world. (You!) I feed off the energy y'all radiate when writing about your yoga practices in your blogs. Your passion inspires me to improve my own practice and to share in this BBC. 

So, where are you? In your practice? In life, if that's an appropriate question for you?

I admit I haven't been as attentive to the BBC as I could be, either. It's hard to keep up with Life once she's on her way. I've been pretty busy. I think the dust will settle a bit once the semester's over, but it's currently a whirlwind. I am definitely getting to yoga, however, and I am feeling fairly optimistic about my practice lately. How wonderful that when life plops you on the roller coaster and makes you ride and ride, there's always yoga to get you to "concentrate, meditate on yourself" for those special 90 minutes.  

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Our still lives, posed

I've always been fascinated with sound. Even though I'm a writing instructor and by nature text-obsessed, I am more moved by what I hear than just about anything else. Some of the warmest memories from my life are sound-oriented: sitting at the top of the stairs as my mom played Michael Nyman on the piano, hearing the neigh of the horse that I rode at a summer camp, or the muted vibration of the guitar against my thigh as I carried it around with me in high school.

I guess it's not any wonder that music has always meant so much to me, as it does so many people. Most song lyrics don't stand up on their own, but the marriage between text and music has always been such a source of comfort and occasionally even insight to me.

There's a little stanza from a Bright Eyes song that hit me like lightening the first time I heard it. In the song, the singer takes a bit of a journey, loosely centered on the idea of human suffering and his yearning to ease the pain of others. At the end of "A Bowl of Oranges," the singer writes of his realization:

"If the world could remain within a frame, like a painting on a wall,
Then I think we'd see the beauty there, and stand staring in awe
At our still lives, posed, like a bowl of oranges..."

Not too shabby for a 22-year-old kid, huh?

So... the connection to yoga. I find myself thinking of this line now and then in savasana. I've been feeling pretty frustrated with myself in class recently, and I've been trying to figure out why. I had a realization recently after class that kinda troubled me. I kept noticing that classes taught by a certain instructor--who actually happens to be my favorite instructor--were the hardest, the most physically torturous, and ones where I consistently felt I "had bad classes." I finally realized what the problem was: this is the teacher that knows me the best. She knows what I'm capable of, and instead of letting this be a good thing, I let it intimidate the heck out of me. I think, "Oh, it's teacher X today. I have to have a good class. I have to show her that I'm progressing, that I'm being a good yogi." I'm not going to even go much further into analyzing the problems of this way of thinking and what it reveals about my personality--I've already said too much ;-) It's not her teaching; it's the expectations I'm putting on myself that get me all worked up!

When done right, though, doing yoga is like slapping one big frame around the moment. It is supposed to still the outside noise. Nothing except yourself in the posture even exists. It's just yourself, posed, like the bowl of oranges. In my case, I have weird insecurities like the desire to please the teacher--we all have different tendencies. But how outside the frame of the yoga is that? How outside the scope of reality in general is that? What incredibly ridiculous things we take into the hot room.

I haven't had a class with that teacher since I've had this little realization, but I can't help but think a little awareness is likely to be a good thing! Hope you enjoy Bright Eyes. The sound quality's not great--hopefully you can hear the words!

Bright Eyes: "Bowl of Oranges"

Friday, April 16, 2010


Have you ever held a strong magnifying glass over a fingernail? A mole on your arm? A vein under your skin? When I was a kid, a neighbor boy had one, and, until he broke it, we used it to peer at various bugs and limbs. (I also remember the same boy trying to burn up ants with it, but that's probably an experience I should keep to myself ;-)

I found that in looking at something close-up like that, there was usually an initial "Oh, yuck" reaction. The magnification brought to light crevasses and colors I hadn't paid attention to before. But the "Oh, yuck" would always pass, and the object of scrutiny would suddenly become fascinating. The corners of the fingernail or arch of the vein, taken for granted throughout the day, suddenly held interest. They deserved to be observed and appreciated as things unto themselves.

Isn't this what happens in the yoga room? So much has been written--by you all and even a bit by me--about our first days in the yoga class. I don't think I can ever forget the shock--OK, the horror--of facing myself for so long. I remember thinking, "Oh wow. My arms bulge that way? I look like that when I bend forward?" And then, as I persisted in the practice, "You've got to be kidding me. I'm still scared in standing back-bend?"

I think yoga holds a magnifying glass over ourselves. Initially, we're surprised at what we look like when we're suffering and exposed like that. I had some serious "Oh, yuck" moments, anyway. But as you regular practitioners know, that judgment eases up. The slope of the hands, the placement of the feet, it can all become a marvellous assemblage of skin, muscles, and bone.

At the same time, it's an endless process of discovery. I may no longer be grossed out by my scapula as I bend forward into Separate-Leg Head-to-Knee pose, but I'm surprised that I still approach that posture with fear. I'm surprised that I have no idea what the teachers mean when they say, "right hip forward, left hip back, both hips in one line," and that seeing certain instructors' names on the "Today's instructor is:" sheet gets my heart rate up.

There are still plenty of "oh, yuck" moments. But there's discovery there, and what happiness in observing the changes, slow as they are to come. 

Enjoy your magnifying glass. Please don't burn up any ants in the process, though :-) 

* on another note, thanks for your enriching and illuminating comments on the previous post about leaving the room. I appreciate the non-judgmental, supportive nature of this yoga blogging community. I'd expect no less of you, but I'm always humbled by such positive responses.  

Monday, April 12, 2010

Confession Time: On leaving the room

I've been thinking about asking y'all this question for a while now.


OK: Do you ever leave the room? In my last few of months of reading blogs, I noticed this isn't discussed much. I hope y'all are such rockstars that you just never leave. If that's the case, more power to you. I'm not asking for confessions--just curious about your thoughts on the matter, I guess.

So, I left the room tonight. I probably duck out once a month. Initially, I felt kinda bad about doing so. The teachers typically ask, "Are you OK? Try to stay in the room" as folks leave, and that's a deterrent that usually keeps me on the mat. Initially, in leaving, I felt like I was violating a code. I definitely didn't want to set a bad example and encourage others to go, nor did I want to set myself up for chronic spine-strengthening series-ditching. (I still don't want this, of course.)

But sometimes, you gotta go. I do, anyway. I can take the occasional bout of dizziness or nausea, but when I get the two combined and I feel overheated, I don't feel guilty about leaving anymore. And sometimes things just don't feel right. As my friend would say, "Fuck that noise."

Class today was hot. I figured I'd adapt, that the heat would get turned down eventually, but tonight's was a cooker. I was feeling "the triple exposure" in postures I don't ordinarily feel it, and even after the languid Wind-Removing pose, I felt pretty terrible. I bailed as people were setting up for Cobra. Looking at my tomato-red face in the bathroom, I knew I'd made the right decision. I was way overheated and shaky. I stood at the sink for a couple of minutes splashing water on my face until I felt normal and made it back for the second set of Locust. 

So here's the real confession: I'm glad I left the room! Really glad, in fact. I've pushed through the pain before in situations like that but then am so tired that I half-ass the rest of the postures. Leaving typically gives me a little burst of energy. Today, I received and really appreciated a new correction in Half-Tortoise--a physical adjustment, mind you, and in Spanish. (Wrists really straight means, uh, wrists really straight. Who knew? And Spanish corrections are way cooler.) 

Please understand I'm not criticizing the teachers and their training for encouraging students to stay in the room. It's a great standard. It would be incredibly distracting if class was a carousel of ups-and-downs, ins-and-outs. And I appreciate the instructors' desire to get me to push through the pain and stick to it. Goodness knows I need it. But sometimes, maybe progress is respecting your own limits and saying, "Not today." 

Pero... ¿que piensan ustedes? ¿What do you think? :-)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Everyone in the room! Listen!

I felt like I needed to post something a little more uplifting than my last, even if it's only for myself :-)

I got a cool burst of insight in class today. The teacher gave a correction to someone named, say, Sean, in Cobra. "Bring your elbows back more, Sean, elbows more back." Then, I heard her say, "Why you looking at me, Jorge? Look at yourself and just listen to the correction. If I correct Sean, you do the correction to. Everyone in the room, listen and incorporate the correction."

For some reason, that instruction made me really happy. Even if my elbows are already back in the pose, it doesn't hurt to bring awareness there and possibly reach a new level of deepness in my own pose. The instruction reminded me that we're all connected in the practice. We do the same poses, as much in unison as possible, and in that sense we are one. Kinda sorta like we are in life :-)

On another note, I'm so excited and proud that my studio is hosting a posture clinic with Esak Garcia next month! I'm definitely planning to attend. I've recently been wishing a studio in the area would offer a posture clinic--I'm ready to work out some of the kinks and misalignments I'm sure I've accumulated as I've settled into the practice.  

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

So others don't have to

Am I the only one that takes comfort in art and ideas typically labeled "depressing"? I guess that's a silly question--Radiohead would be out of a job if that were the case. Still, I can't help noticing that my favorite artists center on dark scenes and haunted souls: think Tom Waits singing "Misery's the River of the World," Joni Mitchell's "River." There's something tempting about sadness. Some days, it can feel like as comforting as a blanket wrapped around the shoulders.

My mood lately might have something to do with the weather. It's been beautiful out here in Socal. When I walk outside, flowers are blooming, bunnies are hopping, and my neighborhood is just teeming with life in general. I think I get this weird expectation: "Oh yeah, it's SPRING. Time to enjoy the outdoors, think of love and all that gooey stuff." But life and its challenges, they're still there. While I appreciate the various aspects of spring, I don't think that unrealistic expectations help anything. Hence, Tom Waits is getting a lot of iPod playing time.

The fascination for the dark extends beyond my taste in music. After reading The Dancing J's recommendations in reading, I picked up How Yoga Works. (Great read, by the way. Getting a lot out of it.) In it, the author quotes the Yoga Sutra, one of which that reads, "Truly, every part of our lives is suffering" (130). At this point in the book, the character takes refuge in this line, seemingly in the same way I do. But why, of all the wonderful lines in the book is that the one that stands out to me?

Why acknowledging that suffering is at least part of our lives can be comforting, I don't quite understand. Maybe there's something about pulling our heads out of delusion and acknowledging that there is gain and loss, happiness and tragedy, that plants our feet squarely on the ground and enables us to see the world as it really is and connect more deeply with others. Perhaps trying to deny the suffering and focus only on what we choose to label "good" actually compounds suffering. I remember my meditation teacher suggesting we think, "May I carry this burden so others don't have to" when faced with a tragic situation. Or, conversely, "May others experience this immense joy." It can be tough to pull ourselves out of the drama enough to think that way, but maybe it's something to aim for.

I don't think it's a smart idea to obsess over the moments of suffering--or cling too strongly to the moments of extreme joy. This is where yoga's balancing ability comes in. You walk in the room, stripped of almost everything on your body, and you do a mental disrobing act as well. I don't mean to suggest that a yoga practice isn't joyful, but I don't think being overly emotional is conducive to attaining deep concentration. Those emotional extremes are part of what gets set aside when we practice.

Yoga has been tough lately. It's been hard to get myself there, and while it always brings me a sense of peace and balance when they're over, classes have been a struggle.

Oh well. I am sure things will change direction and lift back on up. And in the meantime, I can always wrap myself up with that sweet springtime melancholy :-)

Sunday, April 4, 2010


Us SoCal folks had a bit of fun today. There was a 6.9 magnitude earthquake off Baja, Mexico, and the effects were felt throughout the region. I was just on my way to my first yoga class--after a week off due to travel--when it hit. My CD towers were swayin', my cats were freakin', and I had a moment of "Hmm. Perhaps I should consider moving away from the windows." But then it was off to class. Californians get remarkably desensitized to earthquakes.

Or so I thought! At yoga this evening, a normally average (15-20 student) class was down to eight. I don't know if it was Easter or the earthquake, but something scared the students off. As we stood up for pranyama breathing, there was a little aftershock. The teacher politely reminded us that the emergency exits were open and that we just might want to move out from under the heaters.

It turned out to be a nice, intimate class, and by the end I'd had a couple of revelations about just what happened this past week while I was on spring break in Mammoth. And, of course, how yoga ties into all of it :-)

First, I'm making progress on the fear front. A year ago, I would not have gone to Mammoth. I would not have taken up my friend's offer to stay at their lovely condo and try an unfamiliar, cold-weather sport, leaving my kitties, a warm climate, and stacks of papers to catch up on behind. I tend to have a little social anxiety, so just saying, "YES" to their wonderful offer was big for me.

Another part of this overcoming fear thing, of course, is trying new things. I have always claimed to hate the cold and heights, but at my friends' prodding, I got myself out on the ski slopes, despite the 20 degree weather, snow, and wind. And I loved every minute of it. The gentle lift to the top of the mountain, the mounting anticipation, the sight of the wide trails and disarming vistas, to say nothing of the actual thrill of skiing--I just drank it all up and had fun, on the slopes and hanging out with friends. (Well... my friends might tell you about the time I called them in a panic from the mountain, but in hindsight, it's just a funny story :-)

The second realization I've had this week is that Bikram yoga gets you into rockin' shape. I skiied three full days in a row, and although I was tired, I did not get nearly as sore as I thought I would have given the amount of new activity I was doing. Those Awkward pose squats prime your legs for some ski turning and wedging, alright, and being flexible means that you can fall and not get injured as easily. I was just grateful for the physical ability to enjoy myself out there.

What ties this all together is that getting yourself into the yoga room is overcoming fear, one posture at a time. Before coming back to yoga last summer, I definitely would have let this spring break opportunity slide by me. "No, thanks," I'd have told my friend. In my head, I'd have thought, "You need to catch up on work this spring break. You hate cold weather. Staying with people for long periods of time is hard for you." Stupid excuses robbing me of the chance to experience something wonderful. But I think it was primarily the yoga that empowered me to say YES to those experiences. Now, I can't wait to go skiing again. I've even ordered a really cute ski jacket!

I'm thinking the aftershock of this wonderful week will stay with me for a while. I'm hoping y'all have some good aftershocks, too! :-)

Don't miss out on the view from the lift.
Dedicated to C&J.