Sunday, July 31, 2011

Judgment Takes Time

How's this for a lesson learned from a posture clinic? Judgment takes time. 

Actually, I didn't learn that particular lesson at the posture clinic. I got that one as I was driving home. More on that later. First, I want to share a little bit about the posture clinic with Jim Kallett this weekend!

Jim's a good speaker, and the fact that he lectured for over three hours straight without me boring me out of my mind says a lot. A couple of standouts. One is that Bikram has an incredible life story. I'm sure you teachers have learned it by heart, but for those that haven't, go look it up somewhere. Gurus, smallpox, shattered knees, Paramahansa Yogananda's brother, feats of strength, Richard Nixon, Shirley McClain, jeez, the list goes on. I have heard all these details in dribs and drabs, but it was impressive to hear them told all at once, in narrative form. (Once again I see the truth in what poet Muriel Rukheyser says: "The universe is made up of stories, not atoms.")

I got some good advice, too. "When you get to a fork in the road, there's an easy way and a hard way. Always take the hard way," Jim said. Damn good advice. That one really resonated, particularly because I am one who revels in the easy way. Seriously, I just heard the ding of my microwavable macaroni 'n cheese announcing its done-ness. 

Standing Bow
In the spirit of taking the hard way, when I could tell we weren't going to get to the floor series so I could get individual corrections on Cobra, I volunteered for Standing Bow. Now, I really struggle in this pose (like all of us, I suppose. It's a challenging posture). Jim had pointed out earlier that most people tend to fall into "made of steel" or "noodle from Milan" categories. I am kinda in the middle. I'm not naturally a noodle anywhere but in my hips--I had to melt down the steel over a period of years to get where I am today. I'm also reasonably strong, but I feel like I've been stuck on a plateau of my own making for a long time now.

Jim hit the nail on the head. He didn't say much after forcing my leg up to the ceiling, but he after letting me go, he said, "You're resisting. You have a lot of resistance." I couldn't help noticing he didn't say that to anyone else who came up.

There was some other good stuff at the posture clinic, but the biggest lesson came on my way home. I skipped the class at the end because I felt nauseous and had a budding migraine (resistance, anyone? Easy road, anyone?).

On my way home, I got into a minor car accident. I'll spare you the details. In retrospect, I was stuck by the calmness of the accident itself. There I was, driving 65 miles an hour, slowing down to pull off the freeway, when I saw the crate in the middle of the road. Within a span of a second, my mind had assessed the situation: "Shoulder on the right. Cars on your left. You are going to hit that crate." So, I hit the crate.

It wasn't until I was on the side of the road, exiting my car to see what the hell that god-awful scraping sound was (the crate instantly punctured my front tire), that the fear started washing in. "Oh my God. I could've died. Someone else might hit the crate. What do I do? My head hurts. Who do I call? Why did I cancel AAA?" Compared to the aftermath, the actual moment of "the accident" was quite calm.

I saw that three others had hit the crate before me. One of them bravely grabbed the crate out of the way before changing his tire so others wouldn't hit it. As I waited for my friend's son to come out and help me put on a spare, I started talking to the young woman who was also waiting for her tow-truck savior. Turns out, she's a Bikramite, too. We kinda gawked at each other in learning this--she'd even practiced at the studio I was coming home from.

What lesson is this? What do I take from this?? The only one I can process, after stress-eating on a fast-food fish sandwich and french fries and sleeping for twelve hours, is this: Judgment takes time. Worried about an accident or disaster? Don't be. The thing itself isn't nearly as frightening as anything your mind will make it up to be later.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Just Enough Slack

I saw this cartoon in The New Yorker a couple of weeks ago and have been waiting for it to make an online appearance so I could share it with you :-)
From a July New Yorker

Ain't that just the way it is? (And isn't this cartoon so Bikram?) OK, OK, I suppose I can grab my toes and get the back of my knees on the floor, but I will simply not get my forehead to the toes in this lifetime. I appreciate my body but also recognize its limits.

One of the things I like about this cartoon is the look of, well, distress on the woman's face. I totally relate to her. My mind is oriented toward success and overcoming obstacles. When I sense that they are extremely far-off or likely impossible to overcome, I get a little sad. And scared. And maybe even a little pissed off.

I guess the important thing to remember is that the point is not that we overcome the obstacle. It's like having a giant ball of yarn bouncing around behind you. You can ignore the ball and let it bounce around behind you, knocking people over and getting in your way, or you can take up the yarn and work at it, slowly, gently. You know you're never going to disentangle the whole thing, but it's enough that you work, piece by piece, until gradually you have just enough slack that you can do what you need to do.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Picture this:

It's 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday. You're sleeping peacefully, as any rational person would be. Suddenly, all hell breaks loose: you are hit by a wall of sound so overwhelming it feels like your body is being struck. You tumble out of bed, terrified. The cats are already hiding in the closet. You dumbly register the thought, "The alarm is going off," but it feels like so much more than that.

This was my morning. After realizing what was happening, I went through almost comical routine of beating the smoke detector with my palm until I realized it wasn't what was making the noise. No, it was the supposedly-defunct alarm system that came with the house. I've lived here for three years now, and nothing like this has ever happened.

Man covers ears. Like I did.
I'm one of those people who has to learn a lot from movies and/or television. While there have been many cinematic depictions of the "alarm scenario," I realize now that those scenes resonate only with those who've lived it. There's simply no way to convey the volume of sound that they emit. Forget the burglar--the goddamn alarm is scarier than any robber. (Interestingly, the thought of a real break-in only registered in the furthest regions of my mind.)

I was so disoriented that it was all I could do to stumble outside and call the police. As I waited, I apologized to groggy neighbors emerging from their homes to see WTF was up.

And that.... in that period was waiting I had one of "those moments." It was like I got myself quiet and allowed this space to form around me. Maybe it's what they mean when they say "collect yourself!"

One of the lessons we learn as we sit in meditation or do yoga is how to become ever-friendlier with discomfort. The heat wills us to grab the water bottle and guzzle, but we abstain because we know that we will pay for the cool but momentary joy by feeling nauseated in Camel pose. Similarly, giving into the sensation of boredom in meditation ("I'm bored! This is pointless!") leaves hidden places unexplored. Why not push past that sense of discomfort and see what else is there?

I think that's what kinda happened as I was sitting on the stoop in front of my house. The ten minutes since I'd called the police seemed like hours, no doubt exacerbated by the embarrassment I felt in causing my neighbors to awaken at an inhumane hour. As I was sitting, I vaguely recalled a time when the home alarm emitted a quiet but irritating beeping sound. By pushing the asterisk button on the control panel, it stopped. With this in mind, I steeled myself and covered my ears as I ran inside, making a beeline for the control panel. And ya know what? It worked. I hit the button, and the beeping stopped. I cannot tell you the relief that flooded over me--I almost started crying.

Shortly thereafter, the police arrived. They each had their ideas about what to do with the malfunctioning alarm, knowing I would never, ever choose to experience it again. (One of them had the well-intentioned but not-so-bright idea of ripping the control panel from the wall. I ended up paying the neighbor's electrician friend to dismantle it. Funny how much safer I feel now that the alarm is now truly defunct.)

So.... what if I had collected myself a little sooner? What if I had sat in that (albeit extreme) discomfort instead of running around like a headless chicken, calling the police, waking neighbors, and destroying my own property?

Collect yourself a little sooner. It's the task of a lifetime!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Days like Sardines

I'm behind.

It's mid-July. I have less than a month before school starts back up, and I'm behind.

My summer to-do list was pretty extensive: Go to the beach a lot. Cook a lot. Figure out my bizarre-o dreams. Achieve enlightenment. Or, at least, find a meditation group. Replace the comforter on the bed. Teach a class and do it well. Travel. Have FUN.

I'm behind. I hate this feeling, and it's exacerbated by the fact that I've been sick all week. I haven't been to yoga since Monday, and I'm already woefully behind on the class packages I indulged in (I bought classes at two studios! To say nothing of the many restorative yoga class I've missed at the adult school!).

I'm behind. I hate this feeling, yet... maybe it's just what the doctor ordered.

In an email to a friend of mine I lamented this loss of time due to illness. In response, my friend gently suggested that my body might be calling out for a rest from all of this summer R & R. She might be right. It's experiences like these, where I'm strapped into my skin like Hannibal Lecter into that straight jacket and mask, that I wonder what all my daily doing is really about. During the school year, I look forward to a lazy summer the way I dream of a bottle of coconut water during a particularly hot yoga class. But summer arrives, and I pack it full of must-dos, inventing tasks that I rationalize are essential to my existence.
Packed like sardines

So... the big question. What, in God's name, am I avoiding by packing my days like sardines? Is even half that stuff essential to my existence? It might take me a lifetime to figure out, and even placing my toes at the edge of that very big pool is a frightening idea."My mind is like a bad neighborhood; I try not to go there alone," said Anne Lamott. Maybe it's best not to go it alone, or walk too far too fast ;-)

The good news: despite almost a week spent in bed, I'm having a fun summer. I'm behind on yoga. The only cooking I've been doing lately is of rice and soft-boiled eggs. I've only tried one meditation group, I still have that cat hair-infested comforter on my bed, and I've only been to the beach three times. But damn, those were fun times. And maybe some quiet pool-wading was on the summer to-do list after all.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Que linda es la vida: Look at all the costumes!

"Wipe your hands on your costume, and bend forward to pick up your foot."

The costume concept has really been with me lately. In the hot room these past few days, it's like I hardly know myself; some days I'm a rockstar from another planet, others I'm a mouse huddled in the corner, toying quietly with my water bottle as the rest of the class launches themselves into Balancing Stick.

I gotta say, I love the variation. During the semester, I often feel like a woman who only has two or three outfits: Teacher! Colleague! Exhausted person desperately trying to make the most out of a few ounces of spare time! But during the summer, ay. Que linda es la vida. I feel like a spoiled princess who gets to try on a thousand dresses, reveling in the different fabric, texture, and colors of each, knowing there's nothing stopping me from wearing what looks good that day.

(Case in point: I just wrote an extended analogy about wearing fancy dresses. If you know me in person, you know I'm the girl who thinks that wearing a bra makes her suitable to go out in public. This girly-girl post is a summer special, folks.)

It's when I have the time to play with all the different costumes in my closet that I feel most like myself. Maybe that's just the way life is: we go through phases--new mommy, cashier, invalid, writer, mountain climber, liquid eyeliner-wearer, thrift store-hunter--and some of those outfits are like uniforms we're forced to wear for a while. Though some outfits are given away, some are mainstays that will haunt the closet for a long time. 

I know I've been referring to a lot of super-smart spiritual teachers lately, but the person that kept coming to mind as I toss this post around is Tori Amos. (Please, please, bear with me ;-) She did an album a few years ago called American Doll Posse. The unifying concept of the album--God, do her recent albums have unifying concepts--is that the songs are sung from the point of view of Greek goddesses: Demeter, Athena, and all those other righteous chicas I never took the time to learn about. While the album isn't quite as "solid" musically as some of her earlier stuff, I think that idea is kinda cool.

“It’s not just, ‘I’m going to wake up and play dress-up today,’" Tori Amos says about the point-of-view thing. "What I'm trying to tell other women is they have their own version of the compartmentalised feminine which may have been repressed in each one of them. For many years I have been an image; that isn’t necessarily who I am completely. . . I think these women are showing me that I have not explored honest extensions of the self."

Yes, I just quoted someone talking about the "compartmentalized feminine." But it's summer, and I'm gonna say it: hell yeah, girl. We all have warriors, dainty doilies, surfer dudes, broken hearts, sneaky wits, and sensual lovers inside us. (And if ya think about it from a cosmic, multiple-life perspective, that concept becomes even more interesting.)

So go on. Look in your closet. Which one you gonna put on today?

And enjoy my fave song from ADP :-)

"Is there a love lost and found?"

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bad Teacher

Feel like her today. Don't look like her today.
Warning: I am in a foul mood. It might be exhaustion from days spent babysitting little cousins in a strange house. It might be the feeling that I'm behind on work and can't catch up. Probably, it's a sense of entitlement: it's summer. Why am I teaching??

Even worse: I took a couple of hours off from grading, figuring that if I was profoundly cranky, I should be prevented from having any interaction with students in order to prevent psychological damage. When I finally returned to the job, the first email I sent addressed the student by the wrong name., anyone? Revocation of tenure, anyone?

I am a pretty even-keeled person. Even when I'm extremely tired or stressed, I try my best to shove it deep down and maintain a general aura of complacency (very healthy, I'm sure ;-) And this, this burning sense of irritation and entitlement, only vaguely tied to the self-loathing I'm intimately familiar with,  is so foreign to me. I feel like calling it a day at 7:54 p.m.

I'm taking the rest of the night off from work and interacting with other human beings. I'm going to sit on the couch with a box of Nerds, watch Pulp Fiction, and maybe even sign up for an all-day Bikram workshop that's taking place at the end of the month. There's nothing like dreaming about the future to distract you from your current state of despair, right?

So... when y'all are cranky, and I mean throw-in-the-towel-at-8:00-so-you-can-get-this-awful-day-over-with cranky, what do you do? (Please wait until at least tomorrow to offer holier-than-thou answers such as yoga, meditation, or good deeds, or I will throw a cyber-book at you.)

*edited to add the following uber-important update: Nerds helped, Pulp Fiction not so much. I've gotten waaaay more sensitive as I've gotten older, and the violence was kinda unsettling. Got me all aggro, to. Woke up a million times better, and a juicy Bikram class cooked away the residual cranky :-)

Friday, July 1, 2011

My Right Path

It's a time for important dates. Soon, it's the 4th of July. Last week, it was my two-year anniversary at my Bikram Yoga studio. In less than a couple of months, I'm going to hit the big 3-0.

I have been having so. much. FUN this summer. Lots of Bikram Yoga! Lots of restorative yoga! Naps! Good food! Catching up! With every sun, sweat, family, and friend-filled moment, though, comes some pretty intense reflection. I think that's the nature of dates in general, right? They remind us of our limited time on this blessed planet and invite us to think about whether we're living our lives the best way we can. This series of anniversaries have been no exception. I don't think one can step into the next decade without asking, "Did I do enough with those years? Am I really on my right path?"

One of the reflective activities I've been devoting my time to this summer is reading. I have five books in my bed right now, and I'm actually making pretty good headway in all of them. One of them is In the Buddha's Words, a collection of his teachings. It's dense and reminds me of reading the Bible, which, no offense, is not that exciting, so I view my time spent reading it as devotional practice. In a comforting and oft-quoted passages I reread earlier this week, the Buddha is at the end of his life. He tells his devoted but confused disciple "be a lamp unto yourself."

The instruction invites us all to consider what is true for us. As helpful as religious instruction can be, and as devoted we may be to our wise teachers, our belief system has to resonate with what we already know to be true. At best, religion is like a compass. It simply points us in a helpful direction. But whether we have the energy to get ourselves on the path, whether the destination even seems like it would be a cool place to go to... well... that part has to come from inside.We ultimately have to feel the destination is worthwhile and the path the right one, or else we'll get tired, bored, and call a taxi to take us back.

Of course, the trick is that it can take a lifetime(s) to discover what it is we know to be true and to set upon the path we deem right for ourselves. I feel like a newborn baby when I try to think with this in mind, and at the same time feel blocked by mistakes that I already seem to make over and over again. (How is it possible to feel too young and too old simultaneously?)

I have, however, learned or become convinced of the importance of the following things. These are *some* of the truths that comprise my own path, the lamp I will look to when it seems like it's all pretty dark out there.
  • I really, really love swimming in the ocean.
  • I am as worthy of my own love.
  • Everyone is worthy of my love.
  • Travel is hard, but damn, is it worth it.
  • I love air conditioning.
  • I love heating.
  • I am terrible at sleeping, but when I do, it's worth the effort it takes to get there.
  • I would love to be a "real" vegetarian, but sea creatures taste really, really good.
  • I need a lot of alone time.
  • I am always so glad I gave up the alone time to be with others.
  • It's OK to lose yourself in a book or in watching wind move plants.
  • It helps to be still.
  • Without yoga, I would not be the person I am today, but my hamstrings will probably never become more flexible than they are right now. There will be no forehead to toes in this lifetime.
Those are little truths on my path. What are some of the truths on yours?