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, Blogger.com, 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