29 February, 2012

Much awaited voice

Today was 75 minutes of Hatha with Cassandra.

Much awaited. I was so looking forward to this class 8 days ago, last Tuesday. I was going to take Cassandra's Wednesday Hatha class! But life had different plans for me. I found myself on an airplane the next morning, to Boston. No Cassandra class.

I've always had a hard time accessing my emotions. They don't tend to come out at "normal" times, like when a situation is actually happening (such as something sad, like a funeral, for instance). The emotions just don't come. I feel nothing in those moments. The doorway into my emotions has always been through things like music, or movies, or some sort of external stimulus I could use to elicit the emotions. And, interestingly, I can turn it on at the drop of a hat given the right triggers such as these.

It's starting to become clear that Cassandra's class is one of those triggers. As you've seen me post here before, she has a lot of inspiration in her.

I'd been waiting all week for this class. Thinking about it. Fantasizing about how I was going to get so inspired that all these buried emotions were going to come pouring forth, and I would be sobbing on my mat, letting out all the trapped feelings.

But, of course, guess what happens when you heap a whole load of expectation on yourself, or on a situation? I know, know, know this from past experience. I knew it, but I couldn't help but hope, because I really wanted this to be that cathartic class. And... this wasn't the class.

Cassandra is probably more known for her Vinyasa classes, but she does this regular 75 minute Hatha class each week. Today, I had expected it to be sparsely attended, because it was occurring opposite a "Theme" class that Patrick was teaching. That class was an "Inversions" class, and I figured everybody would be in there. Turns out, everybody was in there, but there was still an extra everybody left over to be in the smaller, Studio B. We were packed. Probably about 40-45 people in the class, mat to mat.

It was a very peaceful class, and Cassandra had a good energy, and a good message about positive energy, and about working through the hard moments, and not letting our mind overcome us. She talked about going through the fire, rather than succumbing to it.

The room was comfortable, not too hot. I am not sure why I wasn't too hot, since she did comment on the room being hot, but I guess I was just having a not-hot night.

Quote of the day: "Every time you die on the mat, something new inside of you comes to life"

Seriously. There's not a day where Cassandra is not infinitely quotable. And it was a pleasure to once again be on the mat in one of her classes.

So, I am still patiently (and perhaps, less expectantly) waiting for the emotional channeling to occur. Maybe it will end up being in the most unlikely of situations.

28 February, 2012

Pedal to the metal

Today was 75 minutes of insane Vinyasa with Kathy.

Actually, by insane, I mean that it was super-intense. In fact, it was probably one of the most challenging classes I have ever taken. One of those days where my mind never gave up, but I felt my arms and legs burning to the point of failure on several occasions.

I really need to give you a sense of the sequence:

Started with abs on the floor. Then basic flow. Then the famed Dolphin Plank series. Next were about 5 consecutive rounds of flow through Warrior I. It was truly hard to believe that the final round came up, since it just felt like Child's Pose had to be on the horizon, but no such experience. And before we got to Child's pose, there was a grueling "Belly of the Beast." I really wanted to lift that leg off the floor, and it wasn't budging. Not one inch. Brief rest, and I believe we did a little bit of floor work at that point, like Locust and Floor Bow (though my memory is clouded). Then it was back to standing for some balance poses: Eagle, Tree, heck there was something else in there too. You'd think that, after balancing, it would be back to the floor? Wrong again! It was Crescent Lunges and Warrior III. Finally we hit the floor, and did some stretching, and then a very serious series of Bridge and Wheel (2 sets of Bridge, 3 sets of Wheel; the latter being 10 seconds, 15 seconds, and 20 seconds).

You get the picture.

I was by the door, and I was still feeling like it was a tad on the warm side. But the thing is, there was no drama. I wasn't mad at Kathy for working us hard. In the past, I would have probably been thinking "What is she doing, anyway?!" and being mad that I didn't have enough air, or that it was too hard, or blah, blah blah. But there are a lot more days now where I just take what comes. And I don't complain, even to myself. Because even that silent complaining is the kind of thing that makes it more difficult to practice. It's kind of like *not practicing*. Complaining is the anti-practice.

Class ended with a very long, peaceful Savasana, featuring a group-sing of "Let It Be." There's something powerful about listening to a class full of tired sweaty people, who barely had the breath to stand, but suddenly have the breath to unite in a song that knows no generation.

Lately, I have been feeling kind of separate.

Kathy's class made me feel, at least for 75 minutes, like I was connected.

27 February, 2012

Double-shot of Lady Di

Today was Vinyasa with Diane.

Two days in a row. I don't usually have classes with same instructor on consecutive days and I usually would try to mix it up to keep things changing. In this case, however, it is a change because Diane is teaching Vinyasa today. I have never taken her Vinyasa class before, only Hatha.

The class has modest attendance, being a noon class. Blissfully, it is not very hot. In fact, one of the coolest classes I have taken. Probably high 80s or maybe 90 degrees.

I was curious what the energy would be for a Diane Vinyasa class. I expected mellow, and I was correct. This was a good thing, since I am still tired and sore.

We did a lot of basic flow and then moved to back strengthening on the floor after maybe 25-30 minutes. Back up to standing for a full set of balancing poses, then to the mat for stretches, Wheel, Bridge, and abdominal work.

It was a very balanced class. Easy because of the lack of heat.

I am trying to get the emotions triggered but they are not cooperating. Not coming yet.

No worries.

Wednesday is coming.

26 February, 2012

Home is where UYS is

Today was Hatha with Diane.

My first day back in town after the trip east. Though I was tired, and class was hot, it was really good to be back on the mat, in my "home studio." It is much more amenable than my bedroom carpet.

It was a very packed Sunday afternoon class. I am told that this is because afternoon Vinyasa has been on hold for several weeks during the Intensati series. Thus, there's a big spillover into Hatha.

My muscles were very tight. I noticed that being on an airplane has rapid negative effects. Neck, legs, low back, hips. All extra-tight. And I flew twice in the span of 4 days, so it was even worse. And I slept in an uncomfortable bed, so it goes. You get the picture.

My balance was not great. But I am not surprised. It's been a hard week. I am not going to worry about the tightness. A few days and I will be fine.

I am waiting for the emotional aftermath of the trip to hit. Diane's class is mellow. The energy is peaceful. But it does not tap into that well that I know is there. That is not the type of energy in her class. She is calming. It is good for me. Now. First loosen the muscles. Later, go deeper.

But it's coming soon.

I am sort of thinking Wednesday... Maybe around 6:45pm.

24 February, 2012

Family yoga ties

Today was off the mat. Traveling in Boston. A funeral. A family gathering.

Back at my house, I got into a conversation with one of my second cousins. I had not seen her for a couple of years. Actually, I had barely known her my whole life, until my mother died four years ago. We talked at my mom's funeral, and then ended up becoming long-distance "friends" after that. I'd vaguely known that she was involved in yoga, but it hadn't really registered on my radar because I was not doing yoga. I suppose that makes me a bit self-absorbed.

Somehow the subject of yoga came up and, of course, as you can imagine, we were having an intense discussion about poses, and studios, and how awesome it was that we are both doing it. There's this new, instant, strong bond from the shared experience.

Suddenly, another of my second cousins overhears our conversation, and I learn that she is also a big-time yoga proponent. Next thing you know, we're all in this animated discussion. One of my cousins is strictly Bikram, and the other is strictly Vinyasa. So it was kind of interesting, me being in the middle. We compared and contrasted the different styles. The stories were educational and entertaining.

I did not know, for instance, that Bikram studios tend to be carpeted. I also did not know that Vinyasa studios tend not to have mirrors in them. This is news to me, because Urban Yoga Spa teaches Hatha (like Bikram) and Vinyasa, but they have mirrors and no carpet. My experience is not necessarily "the norm," I learn. I also learn that Vinyasa tends to be less hot than Bikram/Hatha. There is typically no consistent distinction at my studio.

I'll refer to my cousins as BG (Bikram-Girl) and VG (Vinyasa-Girl) from here onward.

VG relates a story about a bad experience she had the first time she did Bikram, that led her to never want to do it again. The extreme heat, the mirrors, the absence of the flow. Me and BG try to explain to her that she should give it another chance, because it is really worth doing. But VG likes to flow. And carpets in a yoga studio are just plain weird to her. Fair enough.

BG tells me that there is a Bikram studio right there in my own hometown. I find it ironic that Starbucks went out of business in my town, but Bikram yoga thrives. There's an odd demographic that I wouldn't have predicted to exist. The studio sounds great, and I am experiencing deep longing to go check this place out. Partly because I really want to do yoga, but also because I like the idea of exploring and seeing a new studio and expanding my horizons. BG tells me that she'll let them know I'm coming and I will get in for free. Unfortunately, I know that I won't be able to go because of the logistics of this weekend. I want to go. But it is not a priority, vis-a-vis the family visit schedule.

VG, it turns out, works for a non-profit that is a charity driven through yoga events. I haven't got her permission to post the link here yet, but if I do, I will come back and enter it right here. She's going to be involved in planning a huge "Yogathon" in California in June. I should go, she says. Yes, this sounds cool. Despite the darkness underlying our gathering, I feel exhilaration, because there are people in my family who I can identify with. I feel not just a part of it by "blood" but also by shared interests. I feel connection. True, BG and VG are both my second cousins; genetically speaking, we are not that much more closely related than any two people. Nonetheless, they are related to me, and I share memories from my childhood of them. And though we grew up in different lives, and different places, we ultimately all landed on the yoga mat.

I like that.

It turns out, we also all attended the same university, albeit with zero overlap in our tenure, due to the evenly spaced age gaps (BG is 6 years older, and VG is 6 years younger).

The realization of these connections makes me miss home. Again, the volatility of emotions around home. It's been a topic of my other blog as well. I dread visiting, but then I have a hard time leaving. There's something alluring yet difficult about maintaining connection.

23 February, 2012

Cold Hatha

Today was Hatha, in my bedroom, in my underwear, alone.

I am in Boston. For 4 days. And not even really Boston. The suburbs. There is no yoga here. There are not even any Starbucks here! Apparently there was one and it went out of business!

So... I have a good memory. I know the sequence. I figured I would do just a little bit. But once I got started I realized I wanted to do the whole deal.

So I did. With no mirror. No mat. No heat. No water. Just me and the rug. I even did two sets of many of the exercises. All told, it was about a 70 minute "class." And I actually enjoyed it! It was interesting that things I assumed rely on the mirror for balance actually did not require it (Standing Bow, Tree).

And I must say I feel a little bit of honor and respect for myself for just doing it.

I did forget one thing though:


22 February, 2012

Send that energy out to the universe

Last night was Hatha with Angie.

My mind was on my sister last night. I don't really know how to send a dedication, or set an intention, or channel love to a person without actually thinking about them, and losing "The Moment" to thoughts and memories. But I tried. And I found out this morning that my sister died last night. For all I know, I was sending that energy out to the universe at the very same moment that she returned to molecular universe.

There's nothing spiritual in me, or in my practice. I can't subscribe to it. When we talk about "energy," I interpret that to be "thoughts." I don't have any expectation that this energy travels across the universe, and arrives in someone else's doorstep. For me, I interpret this sending of energy as sort of an internal ritual. It's about respect. It's about meaning. The experience is entirely personal. But I believe that when we allow ourselves these personal, deep experiences, we create a kind of energy in ourselves that has the potential to do something that we might call "shining" in such a way that it affects others in a positive way.

It was a pretty easy class. There was not much struggle. Angie kept the room at a pretty comfortable temperature, and she set a very peaceful, relaxing pace to the class.

What lies ahead for the next 4 days is a different kind of practice. Being present, with a grieving family, whom I have not seen for a long time. Often, these visits stir up the old stuff that is hard. But I feel ready.

I guess there is not much more to say.

It's time for Dekasana...

20 February, 2012

Things to try once, and only once

Today was 75 minutes of Vinyasa with Odessa.

You might ask yourself: "I wonder if it would be a good idea to go do hot yoga after drinking two glasses of wine at happy hour." Actually, you probably won't ask yourself that because it sounds like a horrible idea, right?

Nonetheless, that's what I found myself doing tonight. I'd set my mind on Odessa's class and, darn it, I was gonna take Odessa's class whether I was ready-or-not.

The two glasses of wine didn't actually have me feeling particularly "intoxicated" but when I arrived on my mat, there was a little bit of a post-appetizer, post-beverage stomach feeling that had me thinking "This could really go either way here." I'm happy to report that, much to my surprise, I had a pretty good class. It was an extremely peaceful class; Odessa has a really calming energy to her classes, and it was not very crowded (and thus, not very hot) at all. That definitely helped, as did positioning myself by the door.

She did a fair bit of balancing series that you'd typically see in Hatha, near the middle of the class, which was nice. The only part of the class where I felt my slight tipsiness to be an issue was on a couple of poses like Half Moon and the Side Angle poses. As expected, I was a bit shaky. But I was surprised that it was mostly okay.

My biggest concern was actually that I was sweating the scent of alcohol. But that was hopefully just paranoia.

Note to the audience: Do not try this at home. Bad idea. I was lucky.

As has been the case for a few days, my thoughts were of my sister. It is hard for me to get my mind around the idea of dedicating practice to another. The idea of personal intention feels much more natural. But at this point, I am okay with going outside that comfort zone.

I am glad I have a place to go where people offer warmth and kindness to me without any conditions, other than showing up. It's nice to have that in my life. I have mentioned that I don't know how I feel about "community."

But I guess maybe I need it.

19 February, 2012

Back to fundamentals

Today was a Power Vinyasa "Fundamentals" class with Gordy.

The purpose of this class is to focus on the details of the main poses involved in "flow" sequences. These include: Forward Fold, Halfway Lift, Downward-Facing Dog, Upward-Facing Dog, High Plank, Low Plank, Low Lunge, Crescent Lunge, Warrior I, and Warrior II. Although the class is intended to help a beginner learn what it all means, it is also a class where an experienced yoga student has an opportunity to think about all of the intricate subtleties to proper form, including the trade-offs that one needs to make while working up to the full pose.

It might sound like a 90-minute instructional class for beginners would be "low-intensity" but it actually turns out to be quite intense, because you spend a very long time in each pose, including some poses (like Crescent Lunge) that are not easy to even be in, never mind stay in.

Gordy used two of his instructors (who happened to be students in today's class), Odessa and Kelley, to go through demonstrations of the different sequences, highlighting the correct body position, and also showing how our bodies can tend to get out of proper alignment, so that we could observe the difference.

In a pose like Warrior I, there are so many things that one needs to do, just to get it "right." The back leg must be completely engaged, extended straight. That's hard enough. And then, two more steps must be added, both of which conflict with one another to some degree. You want to make sure the outside edge of that back foot is pressed firmly into the mat, and you want to rotate both of your hips around to the front of the room, so that your hips and chest are completely squared up. This, of course, makes your back leg want to bend a bit, and also makes the edge of the back foot lose its firm pressure on the mat. So it's a compromise. There are ways of dealing with them. Angle the back foot forward slightly. Move the back leg to the side a little bit so that the hip twisting is not as extreme.

Every pose has these adjustments.

And taking a fundamentals class makes me realize just how much there is to grow. It makes me realize how much inflexibility I am reversing. And it's a gradual process. The first step in the process is just to show up. The second step is to try. The third step is to notice where we are. The fourth step is to understand what it is that is different between where we are and where we are trying to be. The fifth step is showing up again, and again, and again.

It is a useful model for learning about how to change ourselves in any aspect of life. I didn't know how tight my hips were. I suspected they were tight, because certain things in day-to-day life hurt, or because I can't do trivial things like sitting properly in "Indian Style." But I only had a sense that my hips were tight. I didn't know exactly in what way they were tight. Maybe there are ways in which they are not tight? Maybe one side is different from the other? How can you change something if you don't even know what it is right this moment.

So, I am showing up, and trying not to be frustrated when my body doesn't look like the perfect yogi. Trying to accept that, because some things hurt me, I need to compromise. In some ways, the poses that we can't do are just as valuable as the ones we can do, because we are forced to be okay with something that isn't just the way we want it to be. If every pose were perfect then what would be the point?

Today was hard for me, because my muscles, especially my quadriceps, were really burning from the long class with Patrick yesterday. It was also hard for me because my head was off in emotional matters. I did find that being there made me feel a little better, a little more able to move (mentally and physically) after class than before.

(it's a warrior, in case you're wondering)

The leaning tower of pizza

Today was 90 minutes of Hatha with Patrick.

Yes, the dreaded 90 minute class. And I survived it. I heard tell that the temperature hit 107 degrees in today's class. It did not feel like it got that hot. I really think that, without taking into account humidity, there's no way of judging how hot a particular temperature will feel. That is referred to as the "Heat Index". For example, 99 degrees with 60% humidity has a heat index of 126 degrees (proportional to what it feels like, I presume). On the other hand, 107 degrees with 39% humidity will have the same exact heat index of 126 degrees.

But I digress.

Today was, as Patrick noted, a very "traditional" class. We started out with the Pranayama breathing, which is rarely included in any of the Hatha classes, at Urban Yoga Spa. It is surprising how much exertion can be involved in simply breathing. The class progressed pretty much according to Bikram sequence, until the last 10 minutes or so of class.

Compared to the other 90 minute Hatha classes (and Bikram classes) that I have done in recent months, the big difference with Patrick is that he really draws our attention toward working through the struggle that it is, being in such a hot room. Instead of guiding only through the poses, and the form, as many classes do, much of his encouragement was around the mind, and the struggle. Somehow, this made it a little easier. If nothing else, calling the attention to the struggle that we must all be feeling helped me muster the will to fight through it.

It was quite a crowded class. If I counted correctly, there were about 36 people in the small room (3 rows of 12), and this may have contributed to the heat index (to use the correct term), since all of our perspiration serves to drive the humidity up in the room quite a bit.

At one point, when talking about the distinction between the "ego mind" and the "observing mind" Patrick asked us to think back to our earliest childhood memory, noting that the way we envision that memory is with the observing mind; that is the only way that we can retain this experience, and that our observing mind develops at a very young age, and remains with us throughout life.

When he asked us to call upon the memory, what came to mind for me was a time when I was probably only six or seven years old, when my sister (who was probably about 22 at the time) took me to a pizza place called The Leaning Tower of Pizza. The building was actually shaped like the Leaning tower of Pisa. We rode there in her powder blue VW Beetle. It was probably around 1975. There are not many memories of me and my sister doing anything together. And this one always stuck with me, because it was such a hugely special occasion for me. It's interesting to me that this comes up now, out of many memories (since it is actually not my earliest childhood memory). But my sister (who is now 58) is suffering from a neurological condition that progressed rapidly over the last few years, and pretty much looks like dementia. My sister, as I knew her, is gone.

Often, in class, instructors talk about finding a dedication as a form of intention for the class. To send love to someone who needs it. And I have, once or twice, had instantaneous fleeting thoughts about my sister, but I have been shying away from making that dedication to her. Because, I have been sticking my head in the sand about the entire thing. My family is 2700 miles away, and it has been easier to just not think about it. To rationalize that she's gone, at least as I knew her, and that there's nothing that can come of thinking about it. And a dedication seems like a painful thing to do, because that means I'd be taking the struggle, the discomfort, the battle to just stay in the moment, and just survive a class, and conflate that with feelings about someone that I actually miss.

But there it was, popping up in my mind. The observing mind, at that.

I can't keep running away from the feelings.

17 February, 2012

The sun never says...

Tonight was Vinyasa with Cassandra.

I'll start by sharing another poem that Cassandra shared with us. It's by an Iranian "mystic" named Hafiz Shirazi:

Even after all this time
the sun never says to the earth, "You owe Me."
Look what happens with a love like that,
It lights up the Whole Sky.

These words stir in me both inspiration, as well as sadness... unfortunately, people are not like celestial bodies. We err. We hurt. We go into darkness. We have the capacity to shine like that, but it is not automatic. It takes work. Every day. Endless, tireless work. As soon as we let up, there's a tendency to slip backward. How wonderful it would be to move as a planet does, in orbit... governed by the law of universal gravitation. 

Tonight's class was not too hot, not too hard. But, as usual, it started with Cassandra rattling off a series of her thoughts, some from poetry, some from her own life. And I found myself almost shaking on the floor, trying not to cry, but not really caring if I did.

The rain was coming down in such torrents when I left work today that I could barely see. There were sheets of water, moving at an angle. My pants were drenched all the way through. My shoes, which were not leather, but a suede-like Timberland shoe, soaked through as well. I was cold. I was also feeling down. The fatigue of days upon days of working late, or not sleeping enough, are taking their toll on both my energy, as well as my state of mind.

I arrived on my mat, not sure how I was going to do it today. When it came time to set our intention, Cassandra encouraged us to consider a dedication of love to someone in our lives who needs it most. She encouraged us to picture their smiling, loving face. And I could not do it. I had no dedication. I had nothing to send up and out to the universe today. The shred of intention that I mustered was, once again, to try to just be here now. That's all I had to give to the universe today. Here. Now.

The flow with Cassandra is always at a fast clip. She is the only instructor with whom one really needs to F-L-O-W if you want to keep up. It's true that one does not need to keep up. But, generally speaking, one wants to keep up... Halfway Lift... Forward Fold... Circle-Sweep Up... And Fold... Halfway Lift... Hands to the mat, jump or step back... Chaturanga... Upward Facing Dog... Downward Facing Dog... Knees Bent... Look Forward... walk forward or hop... Halfway Lift... Drop Hips... Utketasna: Chair Pose... one breath in... and exhale, fold.... Halfway Lift... hands to the mat... jump or step back... Chaturanga... Upward Facing Dog.... Downward Facing Dog... right leg lifts... Warrior I... Open Up to Warrior II... Side Angle Pose... top arm pulls you up... reach... and reverse your Warrior... deep breath in... and F-L-O-W...

That entire sequence in 20 seconds, tops... repeated again and again... she like to flow.

For some reason, it turned out to be easier than I expected. Even in my frazzlement... even in my state of half-light... the yoga was a kind of blessing today.

Final note, my Crow poses were pretty good today. I think that falling out of Crow is all about thinking too much about the fact that you're in Crow. If you don't think, then you do Crow (not a lot of thinking, just a lot of doing).

16 February, 2012

We are defined by a series of choices

Today was Vinyasa with Kathy. 

It was supposed to be Hatha with Colette, but I found myself departing from work a little too late to make it to the 5:15 class. I sort of had a plan for the next few days of alternating between Hatha (Colette), Vinyasa (Cassandra) and Hatha (Patrick), but I guess plans are made to be altered. 

I used to perceive there as being a large difference between the two types of classes. There is definitely a difference, but the gap is closing. And my struggles tend to be more mental than physical. 

I remain very tired, and very sleep-deprived.

Today, Kathy talked a bit at the beginning of the class about how we need to be conscious of our choices. She said that it's really easy to suddenly realize that you've become someone that you didn't want to be. And that every moment, we make choices that define who we are. This is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. There have been other points in my life where I'd been told that we are defined by our actions more than our words. And I never liked that before. I guess there was a lot of inconsistency between what I said and what I did. In reality, I think that is true of me today, as well. I think the gap is closing a little bit, but I still find that there are discrepancies. 

It really struck me... "suddenly realize that you've become someone that you didn't want to be..."

I am not sure why that causes such an emotional reaction. It's like we go through our lives taking action after action, without adequate reflection. All these actions are defining us. Then, something occurs that leads us to take stock in our situation and, only at that point do we realize who we are.

I do not want to have that jarring experience. I recognize that no matter how much I try to make good choices, and no matter how often I reflect, there will still be gaps between perception of self, and the reality.

Yoga is supposed to help us with that routine of taking stock. It seems to break down the process into something that is less like a journal and more like a mirror. I tried, for many years in my life, to "reflect" by writing about what was going on. But the process of writing about it, while insightful, can have huge blind spots, because I was very capable of deceiving myself. I could tell the story the way I wanted to, change the story later, and leave out parts of the story that I did not want to tell. There is the value of the archive of all of these thoughts, and seeing patterns. If we're honest, we can learn much. With yoga, we are experiencing these struggles on the mat, which we handle in much the same way as the struggles we experience off the mat. There is little to think about on the mat other than what we are doing, what we are experiencing at that moment on the mat. Thus, it's pretty easy to see how we're navigating the challenges we encounter. The result is that I've been having this "This is what I do" moments. They aren't comfortable, they aren't eloquent, they aren't even elaborate. They are just moments of undeniable truth. 

When I see what I am doing on the mat, I know "This is what I do" and I am suddenly armed with this knowledge when I get up and walk out of the room. Then, I encounter a struggle in life, and I have this memory of something familiar... "Sitting in this meeting, with this person who is upsetting me and making me uncomfortable is like trying to stay in Warrior II, with my hips tucked in just right, and my arms lifted... I want to drop my arms... I want to let my hips go... I want to wipe the sweat from my eyes... I want to run away..."

When I have that experience of remembering struggle on the mat, it makes me want to try that much harder on the mat the next time I have an opportunity, because I am starting to believe that, if I can learn to accept the discomfort, fatigue, struggle, on the mat, then maybe I will start to have greater capacity for the same thing off the mat.

I've always felt like I do a really spectacular job at Pigeon. I've even marveled at how easily I can get way down flat. Today, Kathy pointed out that the front of the thigh of our leg that is extended behind us should be completely flat on the floor. Interesting... because nothing, from my hip to my knee, is touching the floor. Some part of me is flexible enough that I can lay myself down, but my hip flexors are so tight, I cannot get that leg down. Furthermore, I cannot (yet) raise my body up, and lift my arms up in the air. Again, because of the hip tightness. This makes more sense, given the challenges I have with Warriors and with Locust. It was interesting to realize that there was much more to it than I thought.

14 February, 2012

What better way to spend Valentine's Day?

Today was the power vinyasa holiday "theme class" with Kathy and Gordy.

You might ask yourself "why would anyone take a 75 minute hot yoga class at 7pm on Valentine's Day? Right? And you would have to also ask the other 85 people who were in the room with us. It turns out, people who go to Urban Yoga Spa are a bit obsessed with their practice (in a good way, of course). And there is also a strong sense of community, which I should probably say more about at some point, since the ideas of community and belonging are ones that I have mixed feelings about.

Tonight's class was "music intense" (not my preference, but I don't let that stop me), and the music was mostly Loverboy (somehow related to the holiday) and Whitney Houston (for obvious reasons). When Kathy and Gordy co-teach, it is going to be hard, because they split the class in half, time wise, and you can be sure that whoever does the second half (Gordy) is not going to have us doing Wind-Removing pose for a half hour!

True to form, Kathy worked us really hard. I have been a bit sleep-deprived for over a week now, due to work and other things, and my energy was not fantastic. She got us doing the Dolphin Plank series very early in class, and then it was a long series of Warriors (of various kinds, including lots of Airplane and Warrior III), Lunges, and balance poses like Half Moon, Standing Splits, etc. Near the halfway point, I was soooooo ready to just lie down. To give in to the heat, the intensity, the grueling concentration. So close. But a Child's Pose came unexpectedly, right when I needed it most, and I realized "I guess I don't need to give up." But my fatigue was high, and my goal for the subsequent 10 minutes was to just do the poses, even if slightly feebly. Warrior II was feeble and un-Warrior-like. The subsequent Side Angle was feeble, with knee barely bent, arm not even really extended up. I was phoning it in. But I didn't lie down and I didn't leave the poses. It was all I had. And my energy did slowly come back.
Kathy sent us into Pigeon and then we transitioned to Gordy. His approach tonight was longer, deeper poses, rather than intensity. Just a few standing poses, and then we did some Camel, and hit the floor for abdominal work, including crazy "Bicycle" crunches, with extremely long "14 count" (holiday theme). A few other poses including a 14 count of Wheel pose that was really more like a 25 count.

And it was over.

I don't know why I chose to take that class. I am not saying I wish I didn't. Because I am glad I did. But I could have taken an earlier class. A shorter class. An easier class. And I wanted to do the harder one. The longer one. The later one.

It had something to do with participation. With belonging. With community. Wanting to validate the idea of the class. Wanting to show up, not just for myself, but for Gordy and Kathy, in a sense, too. Because this business that they run is something that brings a lot to a lot of people's lives. And they did not have to be there on Valentine's night.

But they were. And so were 85 people who were glad to be a part of it (even with Loverboy in the background).

13 February, 2012

Feeling special

Today was Power Vinyasa with Jo.

The class was completely packed. I cannot even venture to guess how many people were in there. 85? 90? I arrived with a little time to spare, but decided to opportunistically (and strategically) take the spot directly in front of the exit, because I knew that a) Jo's class is going to be hard and hot, and b) A room full of 90 people is only going to make it that much hotter.

It turned out to be a very good idea.

The class was intense, and challenging, and interesting. But it was also fun. And the best part of all, and what makes me say that I felt special today, was that I was the lucky recipient of a whole lot of hands-on adjustments from the assistants in the class. In the past, I have only had an instructor briefly pass by me and make tiny adjustments, such as pushing my back down while I'm in Child's Pose, or lifting my leg a little higher when I'm in a balance pose. But today was a whole other story. For several poses, such as Downward Dog, Upward Dog, Warrior I, Warrior II, I had a full-time coach observing, and making subtle (and not-so-subtle) adjustments to my hips, my back, my arms, my shoulders. In some way, it felt like having a guardian angel in the pose with me. There was this feeling of gentle, caring, delicate grace. It simultaneously made me want to relax more into the poses, but also want to give it my all, and see how well my body could accommodate these adjustments, some of which were attempting to make my muscles and joints move just a little more, just a little further, just a little differently than they unconsciously want to go.

Having this type of attention, and these type of adjustments makes class even more enjoyable. With 90 people in a room, I don't know how it was possible for someone to spend time on any one person, but I guess time moves more slowly than one would think, and there's time enough to spread that attention around.

At the very end of class, in Savasana, I felt hands on me one more time. A soft press of my shoulders down, a light massage... I'm still holding tension there, even when supposedly at rest. That touch makes me realize that there's a little more to go, in terms of letting go.

The class itself was a whole lot of Chair poses, and a lot of Warrior poses (I am reminded from a recent class that Chair actually is a Warrior pose -- the first of the Warrior poses -- so fierce, that it does not even have a name -- I loved that description).

It's been a couple of good days now.

12 February, 2012

Ebb and flow

Yesterday was the interminable tortuous 90 minutes of Hatha.

And today was 60 minutes of blissful Hatha with Diane. 

The yoga mat seems to be the ultimate exemplification of how every day is a new day. Yesterday was horrible. Certainly no fault of the instructor -- Colette is a wonderful instructor, and I generally love her class. But I showed up anticipating badness, and that is indeed what I got. Today, I showed up intent upon having a different experience. I came to the mat knowing that it had to be different. I had to just let it be good. And whatever the circumstances cooperated with my intention.

The class was surprisingly packed for a Hatha class. Diane has had the large room for her Sunday afternoon Hatha classes recently, and today there were at least 80 people in the room. That's crowded but not unmanageable. She kept the room at a temperature which I would call "comfortable." I don't actually know what it was during class. It's odd, because I would have guessed it was in the high 80s, but the thermometer (way on other side of room) said 100 degrees when I left at the end of class. I don't think it was that hot on our side, but it was certainly humid, and I sweated a ton. But I felt great. It's as if there were a collective energy in the room that everyone got to share. It was clear that many of the people in the class today were Vinyasa regulars who were dropping in for a Hatha class due to the altered Sunday schedule. I could tell this partly because of a lot of unfamiliar faces, but also because there were a few spots, such as the transition from standing to floor, where many people didn't seem to know which way to face (head toward the mirrors, feet toward the back wall). So I feel like we had some Vinyasa energy coming into the Hatha class. And that was kind of neat.

The other really nice thing about the class was that it was quiet and peaceful. For the most part, Diane did not play any music. This was helpful, too, because she doesn't use a headset microphone, so it would have been hard to hear if she'd played music. For a Hatha class, you don't really need to hear every word the instructor says. Things are slower, and if you have a general sense of the sequence of things, you can just intuit it, and follow what everyone else is doing.

My balance was a little better, again, but Standing Bow still seems to be a tricky one. It's a weird pose, because I feel like you really need to be in the moment. If you find yourself suddenly doing it better than ever before, and you take one millisecond to notice that you're actually doing it better, "Whoosh," you fall out of it. The mere recognition of it is enough of a distraction to lose it. I find that to be true only of this one pose. There are no others that have that element for me. Maybe Balancing Stick is a close second. I also find that, in Standing Bow, I am quite sensitive to falling out of the pose when others fall out of the pose around me. Those tiny distractions that pull my attention to the left or to the right are enough to fall out. That makes it a very interesting pose. Another thing I find interesting about Standing Bow is that, when I know that there are only 10 seconds left, 5 seconds left, suddenly I am able to go much deeper and occasionally get my foot way up over my head. It's again got to do with concentration. There should be no reason why the middle 10 seconds of a one minute pose would not be just as good of an opportunity to go deeper. But there's this psychological aspect of knowing that you only have a few seconds left. The moment. The golden moment. If every second of a 60 second pose were just one second, instead of the 10th second or the 30th second, then we could find that stillness, and that balance, and that confidence just as well throughout the entire pose. It's something to work toward.

11 February, 2012

The longest 90 minutes of my entire life

Today was Hatha with Colette.

I should acknowledge that I am exaggerating in the title of this blog. I am sure that, if I think hard enough over my entire life, I could identify a period of 90 minutes that was longer than this morning's class. But none immediately comes to mind.

I think there's something about knowing that it is going to be a 90 minute class. I have started setting an expectation, particularly after the experiences with the Bikram classes in Hawaii, that 90 minutes is going to be grueling, excruciating, torturous, never-ending, abysmal, nightmarish, intolerable, agonizing, boring, interminable...

You get the picture, right?

So, this morning, on the drive to the class, I had some of these adjectives bouncing around in my head. I have to believe that "expectations" are not a whole lot different from "intentions" and if one spends enough time fixating on expectations, they will, in fact, become intentions. I am reminded of a saying I once heard: "Where you look is where you go." And it it was certainly true today.

The class pretty much followed a Bikram sequence, if you remove the introductory breathing and replace with Low Lunge, and remove Triangle, and replace it (later in the sequence) with Pigeon. Otherwise, it was essentially a Bikram class. Two sets of everything, damn hot, and me stuck in my head!

The beginning of class felt pretty good, but I could tell that the heat might be a factor early. By the time we got to Extended Side Angle, I was already beginning to think about how much was left in the class. Not a good place to be. It's weird, because I have been setting my intention, quite clearly, for the last few days, on "Be Here Now." But today was just a struggle. I tried to keep reminding myself to be here. But I wanted to be anywhere but here, anywhere but now. It's curious as to why that might be...

By the time we made it to the floor, I was doing the forward thinking. Every posture we did, I was thinking "Is she really gonna make us do two sets of this one?" And, of course, the answer was "Yes!" Again, not sure why the struggle. And I know it was a mental struggle, not a physical one, because I was actually finding Savasana to be even more grueling than the non-resting poses.

There came a point where I had to reset my intention on something more modest, given today's struggles. So, I'm not doing a great job today, of being here, now. Instead, let's just stay here, no matter what. The urge to run screaming from the room, the urge to keep sipping water as some sort of soothing reward after every pose, the urge to fidget in rest, it's okay. Doing the best I can today. But just stay here.

It was interesting, when I was in final Savasana, I just couldn't lie still. I knew that I should. But I simply could not. I knew what it meant. I knew that I was "creating drama." I knew that it's just my mind trying to take control of the situation. I knew that there's an intelligence behind the mind that can see right through it (remembering all of Cassandra's words of encouragement). And I still did not stay still. I didn't beat myself up over it. I didn't judge myself. I am not angry at myself for not being more still. But it is continually intriguing to me that we can become aware, and still struggle.

My mind started spinning off into thinking about the work I wanted to do today, which triggered thoughts about how unbearable that was going to be ("if you allow yourself to experience drama on the mat, you will allow yourself to experience drama off the mat"... more Cassandra).

Sweated more than usual, by a rather wide margin.

Weighed myself when I got home from class. It's rather shocking, actually. Before, during, and after class, I consumed a total of about 2.8 liters of water. That's 2.8 kilograms, if you know your conversions. And if you know the rest of your conversions, you know that is about 6.2 pounds. So, in theory, I added 6.2 pounds of water to my body. And after class, I weighed 2 pounds less than before class. I'm no genius, but I'm pretty sure that means that I dropped about 8 pounds of water weight during the class today. That's about 4 liters, which is about 1 gallon. I don't even understand how sweat glands can be that active. Right?

As for the actual poses, today wasn't all that bad. I did a little better in the standing balance series than I did for most of last week.

So... there are a few lessons today.

1. Any day can be a good day or a bad day, and you just never know what you're going to get
2. If you set too many expectations, you will make it really hard to "just be" - self-fulling prophecies abound
3. Do not underestimate how much you need to hydrate before and after class

So, I guess it was a good class. I'm alive. I'm still drinking water. And (to use one more quote from Cassandra) if "the real work begins when you want it to end," then I guess today was a really good class.

10 February, 2012

Life: The Silent Teacher

Today was Power Vinyasa with Cassandra.

And today was one of the most intense, but inspirational classes that I've ever attended. Cassandra always offers up quotes, thoughts, or experiences from her life that really help deepen my intention, and resonate with me so much. Sometimes, I get quite emotional listening to her talk. Today she started the class by reading a poem. It's one that many people have probably heard before, but I had not. I want to share it with you here.

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters
By Portia Nelson

Chapter One

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost .... I am helpless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.        
Chapter Two

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend that I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in this same place.
But, it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter Three

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in ... it's a habit ... but, my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.   

Chapter Four

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter Five

I walk down another street.

I could say a lot about today's class, but I would rather just leave it at that.

Thank you, Cassandra, for sharing that today.

09 February, 2012

I survived another Kathy class!

Today was Power Vinyasa with Kathy.

Actually, the title of this blog is intended to be a little bit tongue-in-cheek. One of my first yoga experiences ever was as a guest at Urban Yoga Spa. I think it was the second time I had ever been there. And it was a Kathy class. Kathy is the owner of UYS, and she is well-known for teaching intense classes. If you have never done hot yoga, any class can be quite a challenging experience. And if you have never done hot yoga, a power vinyasa class can be quite a shock, especially if you were expecting to be showing up for some sort of relaxing, meditative, therapeutic experience. The best way of describing power vinyasa is that it's a cross between aerobics, boot camp, with a hint of 12-step program thrown in for good measure. I'm being facetious (sort of), and probably making the experience sound a bit more cultish than it actually is (it's only a little bit cultish).

So, for the longest time, I pretty much dreaded Kathy classes. For a while, I avoided them. I would look at the schedule, and think "Ok, I guess I am doing Hatha this Thursday, because I am sure as hell not doing Kathy's class!" And it was because of the memory of that incredibly challenging experience way back in the beginning.

I've been going to Urban Yoga Spa for about 4 months now. I am not sure exactly how many classes I've done, but I would venture to guess that I've averaged 5 times a week, and more like 6 times in the past couple of months. And, with all those hours under my belt, I now find that the dreaded Kathy class is really no more difficult than a Whitney class, or a Cassandra class (and they're instructors whom I would never think "Boy, I better avoid that class -- it's gonna be too difficult"). In reality, I've had my ass kicked by both of them in the past couple of weeks, so the notion is all in my head.

The cool thing is this: I've progressed. I've grown. My practice is slowly developing. I don't need to be afraid of a Kathy class anymore, because now I can do it. And the most exciting part of it is actually the fact that I can let go of that dread. It's one more thing I conquered in my mind. And that recognition makes me want to take on more challenges, knowing that what's "impossible" today will become reality tomorrow.

07 February, 2012

Writing in a state of fatigue...

Today was Hatha with Angie.

Actually, confession, it was two days ago. One of my intentions for this class was to ARRIVE ON TIME. And that, I succeeded in doing. The temperature has been getting a little colder again, and a lot damper. The result is that my knees are drifting back into the land of the uncomfortable. Not sure if I have mentioned that before. I am pretty sure that I have arthritis in both of my knees. There cannot really be another explanation for intermittent pain, especially walking up and down stairs, sometimes in one knee, sometimes the other, sometimes both, and heavily weather-dependent.

What can you do? It happens. I guess I'm getting old. So I just have to be careful with it. But poses like Warrior I and II, Crescent Lunge... they can be really tough when the knees are having a bad day.

Tonight I am tired, and my recollection is not serving me well. I seem to remember that balance was still tough. Two days in a row where my balance seems off. Standing Bow, which had started to blossom for me has been a bit of a shaky situation the last couple of days. It could be that I'm not getting enough sleep. It could be that riding the exercise bike affected me. It's hard to know what it is. Maybe I'm just not balanced the last couple of days. Right? It could be anything.

So let's start working on that sleep, and see if that helps.

06 February, 2012

Sixty seconds late

Today was Hatha with Bret.

I arrived about 1 minute late for class, having rushed out of work. This was the first time I have ever been late for a class, and I was surprised at how much it ended up impacting my experience. I walked into a packed, hot room. It was not completely clear how much I'd missed, but they were just starting Low Lunges, and it seemed like all I had missed was maybe a Rag Doll and perhaps a few Circle Sweeps. Nonetheless, coming in to a class already in progress was jarring. I had to set my mat down in front of someone else who'd previously had a clear view of the mirror. That always makes me feel guilty, but it felt especially bad today. And she was tall, and I sort of got into her space. I tried to frantically get my mat and towel down, and join the class. But I found that I felt a little rushed for at least the first twenty minutes of class.

Quite related to this unsettled feeling, I was unable today to get stable in any of the balance poses. Even Eagle pose, my legs kept wanting to come unwrapped, and I kept wavering, and feeling all shaky. I had to just go with it, and I didn't become upset, which is good, I suppose. But it was interesting to notice how important that 5 minutes of being able to just "get ready" for class is. Of course, the metaphors for life immediately come to mind: we don't always have time to prepare for situations, and we might occasionally fall into the middle of an intense situation and need to settle into it in less than optimal fashion.

I spent the middle of the class trying to set my intention on the fly to just settling down and getting stable, and enjoying, relaxing through the rest of the class.

It was a good practicing experience. But I think I'll leave work 5 minutes earlier today.

05 February, 2012

Going with the flow

Today was supposed to be 90 minutes of Hatha with Erin.

But... we accidentally showed up an hour early, confusing the schedule.

So, it ended up being Power Vinyasa with Cassandra.

No problem. What better way to be ready for whatever comes, than to take a completely different class than I was planning on taking, right?

The one thing that made today extra-challenging was that I had decided yesterday to do some upper-body work at home, having missed yoga. I knew I'd be doing Hatha today, so it was no big deal if my arms were sore. But, of course, instead of Eagles and Trees, I ended up doing Planks, and Downward Dogs, and Crows. Let's just say that my arms and chest were screaming from fatigue (actually, we did Tree today, too).

Today, I loaded up on electrolytes just before class again, and I think it had an impact on my energy and recovery. But I would be pretty suspicious at this point that it's placebo effect.

Toward the end of the class, I really tried to focus my attention on not losing patience, and not thinking ahead. It worked pretty well. It was helped by the fact that Cassandra had us in standing series for about fifty minutes today, so by the time we hit the floor, class was over. It was odd because it didn't feel like we did more than usual when standing, but it must have just been spending a long time in poses.

04 February, 2012

Everything but the wheel

Last night was Power Vinyasa with Cassandra.

I know that I said I was going to try to avoid settling into "favorites," but I have to admit, it's difficult to not take a Cassandra class when I see she's on the schedule.

Today's class was another relatively struggle-free experience for me. There were some super-difficult parts of the class. In particular, a series of Dolphin Planks that involved raising one arm, then the other, for an interminably long "10 count." The "surprise" in the class was that, after we'd gone to the floor, imagining that the hard part was over, Cassandra called us back up, saying "Let's get the heart rate going one more time!" I remember, only a month ago, I would have gasped, and probably moaned or cursed her under my breath. Now, I just smile. And, this finale was not just a fleeting moment on our feet; it was a full-on sequence of Crescent Lunge, pulsing our back knee to the floor, interspersed with Airplane pose (I should start calling these poses by their real names, but I'd have to learn them all - what is it? Dekasana? See, I do know that one. But don't ask me to tell you what Crescent Lunge is called!)

Once I started "surrendering" to whatever comes in class, whether it be heat, humidity, difficult sequences, not being able to hear the instructor, hating the music, having stinging sweat dripping in my eyes, boredom, distraction, feeling like I am not doing things right... it has become a little easier. 

I am still intrigued that, almost every day, I still come up against some sort of little barrier. Even though last night's class was, on the whole, a pleasure, I found myself becoming so incredibly impatient during the final Savasana. I wasn't really thinking about running out of the room screaming, but there was this voice, a tension in my mind saying "Alright! Alright, already. It's enough. Just tell us to bring our damn hands to heart center, say our 'Namaste', and get out of here." 

Why? I mean, Savasana is just a peaceful, relaxing, E-A-S-Y pose. You don't need to do anything except just lie there and be still. After all that work, and sweating, and struggle (the "chaos") why should stillness be anything other than a welcome reward?

And that's where I feel that the yoga practice so perfectly mirrors the challenges we face in our day-to-day lives. Sometimes there is chaos around us, and we need to just stay calm, and focused, and do what it is that we are setting out to do. Not fighting the chaos, not controlling it, but accepting it. And then, other times, when there is calm, we have to resist that urge to create drama, when there is none. For some reason, our minds want to always have a problem to solve. And Savasana is a problem-free pose. No chaos. The only thing to do is be still. And, interestingly, that's even harder for me than remaining calm in chaos. A metaphor for my own life? Most definitely, yes.

Final notes: I have now "officially" done Side Crow on the mat. It's a little harder to do it, after being completely wiped from half a class, but I still pulled it off. The best part of this, is that now I don't need to spend 60 seconds in Twisted Chair with arms extended wide. Also, Warrior II was somehow a little more smooth than usual. I found I was able to get the knee aligned better, and keeping my arms up was not creating such a burning feeling. No idea why, except maybe that I had a day off Thursday? I skipped Wheel and did Bridge instead, because I suspect that my strained lat muscle (which didn't bother me at all) might have been related to overdoing it on Wheel the other day. Don't want to take any chances.

02 February, 2012

Side Crow on the side

Today was a planned day off.

I brought my yoga clothes to work just in case. But it turned out that I am feeling a bit of a strain in my left lat muscle. Pretty much all the way from its insertion point low on my back, up my side. Not sure how exactly it happened. Maybe I slept wrong. Maybe it was from planks or dolphins. But it's minor and I am not worried about it.

Nonetheless, today I has a yoga breakthrough. Side Crow in my girlfriend's living room. She just learned it last week and she has been dying to show me. I have never tried it because it looked impossible to me. But the other day she demonstrated it and explained how it works. So today I was feeling curious and a little playful, and I just dropped to the floor and did Side Crow. Just like that. I fell once or twice but managed to do it on both sides. Even with an injured lat.

I am seeing a pattern of learning to do poses I previously said I'd never do.

What's next?

01 February, 2012

It's got what plants crave

Today was the noon Vinyasa class with Cassandra.

It turns out, electrolytes work. Or at least they are an effective placebo. This morning I decided that I should give electrolytes a try. I keep hearing people say they make a huge difference. Since I sweat more than most people and I seem to take a very long time to recover after class, I am really willing to try anything. So... This morning I woke up and decided to make my own electrolyte enhanced water. How hard could it be? Looked up a recipe online. It said 0.5 tsp baking soda, 0.5 tbsp sea salt in 1L water. Easy as pie. I mix it up. Taste it. And it is like vile sea water. WTF?! I research further and discover that the one website had a bogus recipe. Should have been 0.5 tsp sea salt. Not tbsp. whoops. By this point I had no time to mix more. But I did have some Emergen-Cee which is essentially electrolytes. So I brought that. Drank it all morning. Took Cassandra's noon class. And strangely, I struggled a little less than usual, and recovered more quickly. I am not sure it was the electrolytes but I am now curious to see if it keeps working.

Her class was a-ma-zing as usual. Very small today, only a dozen or so people which was kind of nice. Pretty standard routine though she added some tricky dolphin poses and extended planks.

Quote of the day: "Surrendering is not giving up. It's just accepting whatever is."