30 June, 2012

Stop complaining and just BREATHE

Today was 90 minutes of Power Vinyasa with Kelley.

I have never taken a class with Baron Baptiste. I have never watched a video of him teaching. All I know of Baptiste are the stories I am told, which are obviously many.

So when Kelley said that we'd be doing the Baptiste flow today, it didn't really mean that much to me other than being a bit intrigued how that would go. It's a humid day in Seattle and, in spite of this being the first class of the day (and not even that crowded), it was oppressively hot. At times I felt like I had no air. And that was really the main challenge of this class. Though it was difficult, my body was complying. But my brain was saying "MUST... HAVE... MORE... AIR!!!"

As always, this devolved into distraction and then, complaining. At one point in the class, I was actively contemplating the note I wanted to write after class about how difficult it has been to breathe in classes lately with the humidity. I'm planning every word with righteous rage, while also trying to figure out how to make sure it is anonymous.

And then something clicked.

I can actually breathe now, but I am still not breathing, because I'm more focused on this negative thought. The door is open. There is air. The hard part is over, at least for the moment. But I wasn't even aware of it. I was somewhere else.

This is so often how it goes. I'm getting a little better at recognizing it. And when I recognize it, I am getting a little better at modifying.

But it is a long, slow battle.

Kelley does a really great flow. I like the cadence of it. I always feel like my body and my breath are right in natural time with her guidance. And I like the way she helps re-envision a challenging pose by breaking it down into simpler steps of how the body should move.

There's nothing like a great teacher. And great teachers are quite often tough teachers.

29 June, 2012

Who are you not to shine?

Today was Power Vinyasa with Cassandra.

Who am I not to shine? Right? Who am I?

Shine on, you crazy diamond!

Today, Cassandra repeated one of her oft used mantras about how special we are. Never before, and never again will there be another me.

Many days, this speech has caused this emotional swell, realizing the implications of it. It's designed to inspire. But today, for whatever reason, it hit me that this little tidbit evokes both the infinite as well as the absolutely finite of who we are.

Never will there be another me. Do I realize how special I am?

But we won't be here forever. We get a finite window to have our moments. It may be true that our being will reverberate infinitely in the lives of all those we touch. And that is a kind of awesome power. But the flip side is that we aren't here for all those cosmic echoes.

We are only here now.

This little window of time. This little slice of eternity that we share together. That is the immensity. It's not our own self-aggrandized immensity. It is the ironic immensity of the notion of how little time we've got.

Yoga, I believe, helps us appreciate and connect with these extremes. The coexistence of the finite and the infinite. And to make the most of the time we have.

Don't waste the time you've got.

28 June, 2012

Nowhere to go within

Today was Yin with Jo.

The whole point of yin yoga is to go inward. To let go. To not force it. Find the places in the joints, beyond the muscles. Problem is, I have a hard time getting there. My muscles are so tight, some of them, that I feel blocked from entry into the land of the yin. My body stops me like a bouncer.

I end up feeling like I'm doing nothing in some of the poses because I can't get there. They will tell me that this is right where I need to work. Being okay with this place. This is where my work is. But I still feel excluded. Outcast. Tight. Blocked. No joy in the depth.

I ask myself why I am here and what does it mean. Am I unable to go deep into my joints as some metaphor for being unable to go deep within my own heart? Are they connected? Is this who I am? Blocked by my own physical and emotional barriers from knowing myself?

Or do I just have really fucking tight hamstrings.

Hard to say.

27 June, 2012

Finally blue

Today was Hatha with Diane.

The sky finally decided to be blue, and the sun finally decided to shine. Of course, at this point, my reaction is like a person who has been neglected by their significant other for months, and then, one day, they come home with a bouquet of roses, and I'm like "Um.. okay... whatever... you can't just waltz in all nice, and act like everything's perfect just because you finally decided you care!"

It's true. I resent the sky.

That makes it slightly ironic that I've been doing all these Sun Salutations. Of course, it's a Hatha class, so we're only doing "half salutations" which seems slightly more appropriate given my attitude.

Class was, by all measures, easy going today. But I still am having a hard time keeping my head together in the second half of a Hatha class. Somewhere at around the 30 minute mark, I start losing focus, and my patience rarely returns after that. The same does not seem to be true of Vinyasa classes, I suspect because of the variety of the sequences, and the faster pace of the class. There is not as much opportunity to think, because there's so much to do. It's mechanically challenging. Hatha is more just being.

I am sure there's a really important analogy here in my life, off the mat. But I am still having a hard time pinning down exactly what it is.

26 June, 2012

Good to have her back

Today was Power Vinyasa with Whitney.

After a long time without, it was great to take a class with Whitney again. From the very start of class, her voice lulled me into both a peaceful, but deeply emotional place. And that's where the gentleness of this class ends, because it sure was an ass-kicker! Mercifully, Whitney kept the doors open a lot, and the room was not very hot. But the sequences, always deep in the legs, were neverending, and we received not one Child's Pose for the entire 45-50 minutes of standing series (whine, whine, moan, moan, I know).

I found myself starting to actually freak out about halfway through, and even had some of those almost-extinct thoughts of getting angry at the teacher: "What's she doing? Why aren't we getting any break?!"

But as always, I made it more difficult than it needed to be, because I did make it through the class, and probably didn't need the water because, after all, I didn't collapse. I didn't die. It wasn't the end of the world. It was just a tough class.

Where this class excelled was in finding pause, and finding depth in the poses. There was even an opportunity to find rest in the poses, if I weren't so busy getting flipped out about the fact that we didn't get a mental break.

The past few days, for some reason, my shoulders have been looser than they were in previous weeks. Not really sure why that is, but it's true. I am finding that in poses with hands clasped behind the back, I am able to get a really good stretch of the shoulders. Sometimes that is not available to me.

I also noticed that it's a lot easier to do Chaturanga without pain on 10 hours of sleep than on 6 hours of sleep. Could it be that sleep is an essential component of physical and emotional well-being?

What would possibly make me say that?!

25 June, 2012

The dirty little secret about hot yoga

Off the mat.

You'd think yoga is the simplest and most maintenance free type of "exercise" one could do. Put on a pair of shorts and a tank top, go to a studio, take a class, continue with your day. Well, we all know and acknowledge that it's not quite that simple. You probably want to buy your own mat. Maybe you even want your own cool-looking yoga towels. If you practice more than once or twice a week, you probably need several yoga towels, and several outfits to wear for yoga.

And we also all know that it doesn't really take one hour to do a one hour yoga class. You need to allow time to get there from wherever (unless you are fortunate enough to live next door). You need to allow time to cool off after class. And you need time to shower. So, realistically, a one hour class is more like an hour and forty-five minute commitment of your day.

That seems reasonable, though, right?

Except there is another part that nobody wants to talk about, but if you go to yoga often, you know what I'm talking about.

That something is laundry. And it's not trivial, and it is not pleasant, and it is a giant neverending albatross on your back. The yoga clothes get wet and nasty. There is always some transition period from removal to the point at which you arrive at home. That transition period would more aptly be called the "incubation" period, because it apparently takes about five minutes for mildew to began forming. And once mildew does find its way into your things, the battle goes on and on, and it's a losing battle.

I have tried rinsing my things at the studio. Doesn't really help. I have tried soaking them in the sink until I have time to hang them up, as a prelude to eventually doing a load of laundry (since I don't want to do laundry every day). Doesn't really help, except as damage control. When I finally do laundry, unless I am fortunate enough to have thoroughly dried the laundry on the first try (since it seems like every dryer known to human kind requires two rounds of drying to get the clothes dry), this seems to make the mildew "happier," if that's an emotion that molds are capable of experiencing.

There are articles online about how to fight this battle. I have read tales of baking soda. I have read tales of vinegar and lemon juice. I tried the latter, and it seems like an illusion. Baking soda I have not tried, but it's really my last resort.

It feels like my life has become this daily war against mildew, and I am worried that all of my clothes are destined to become "infected" by it. It could take over my entire world.

The worst part is that, when I come home from yoga, the last thing I feel like doing is dealing with this. But perhaps this is part of my practice?

Could it be said that "The mildew begins when you want it to end?"

Or would it be more appropriate to say that "the Laundromat is just another kind of mat?"

The second time is never the charm

Today was Hatha with Bret.

Actually, it was two days ago, but I discovered just now that my iPhone blogging application someone did the equivalent of "the dog ate my homework" with that blog entry, so I am forced either to attempt to recreate the moment, or tell a different story. I could also opt to let it go, but I've got this little OCD commitment around journaling every single class. So here we are.

Mondays are turning out to be a very good day for a Bret class, and a very good day for Hatha. There are a few reasons for this. First, I find that my weekend schedule and class choices have been leading me to do three consecutive days of Vinyasa through the weekend. So, by Monday, I am really needing the break. The other reason is that there's something about the energy of a Monday, that transfer from the openness of the weekend back to the rigidity of a work schedule, makes me want to counterbalance that with Bret's free-spirited energy.

In spite of class being, for all intents and purposes, "easy" today, it ended up still being hard for me due to my own issues. The first issue related to a mishap that occurred Sunday, after class, which I forgot to mention. I managed to slip on the sweat-covered concrete floor outside the yoga studio, and crashed down so quickly that I was completely unable to break my fall. I landed pretty solidly on my hip and, as a result, was really feeling it in class today. The second issue, which was actually a bigger deal, was that my sinuses were so messed up during class that every forward fold triggered a pulsing pain in my head.

See? This is what happens when I forget what I was originally going to say. There's just a whole lot of complaining.

Actually, this is pretty much what I said in the first place.

24 June, 2012

Flowing with the dudes

Today was 75 minutes Power Vinyasa theme class with Gordy and Patrick.

It also happens to be the morning of the Seattle Gay Pride parade, so the streets were packed with people and wild celebration. The parade route passes directly in front of the yoga studio, so I (again) opted to walk to class.

As I have walked across town many times these past nine months, I have marveled at how something like traffic, which used to be such a source of stress in my life, is now a mere curiosity. I look down at the Interstate as I walk on the overpass, and the cars seem like another world.

I am unhindered.

Likewise, navigating the parade merely becomes a choice of how close I want to be to the action. I choose 6th Avenue, avoiding the crowds. I am in my head this morning. This week is a bad week in history for The Feeble Yogi. The past two years have seen a share of turmoil on this very weekend and, as such, the big events: Pride, Rock & Roll Marathon, serve as reminders of "This Week in June."

And then, my yoga practice reminds me that there's another choice here. "Now" is "This Week in June, 2012." Not 2010. Not 2011. And, really, it's not even this week. It's this moment.

But I am struggling even though I know this. Worrying about nothings. Eager to be anxious about something. Anything!

Maybe a really challenging class will center me.

Well, I could not have picked a more challenging class to cleanse the emotional palate.

Gordy and Patrick took turns about every 15 minutes. There were some very intense sequences, some of which I'd never done before, since I have not taken many of Patrick's classes. What I noticed is that Patrick has some very cool flows that actually get you into a pose in an easier fashion than the "typical" sequence. One example: instead of going directly into Side Plank from High Plank, he had us do some sort of twisted side Turbo Dog as a transitional pose. I found this to be a much gentler way of moving into the position of having the weight on one arm. My shoulder thanks him for that!

It was as difficult as you could expect it to be. I was starting to experience the body sensations that suggested extreme dehydration: cold sweat, dizzy, weak, shaky. This really ramped up about 50-55 minutes into class (I am guessing). I was finding it hard to do the poses correctly because of this weakness. I did not want to come down to the mat, so I resolved to go much shallower in the poses without going into the realm of terribly sloppy form. But I sure felt sloppy.

About 65 minutes into class, we are on the mat doing stretches. It feels like it could be over, but I am leery because I have heard not one fat lady sing. There will be more. Sure enough, Gordy calls out one final flow. It's his Warrior 1 to Warrior 2 to Crescent Lunge to Warrior 2 to Side Angle to Reverse Warrior to Triangle to Warrior 2.

I am falling all over myself. My brain is screaming "You Can't Do This!!" but some other part of my brain is simultaneously saying "But You Are Not Going To Stop!!" We go through it once. I am sloppy. Twice. I am sloppier. Third time, I feel like this has to be the last one, and I am somehow magically less sloppy. Curious. Gordy is calling out the transitions very slowly because it's obvious that everyone is spent. Coming to the end of the third round, and he says "We are going to go through this one more time."

I feel like I have zero left in the tank. But I am wrong. Fourth time is a little bit less sloppy than the third.

And we're done.

Curious that the exhaustion was less physical than I thought it was. It was physical, yes. But the mind was what wanted to give in.

As we practice "seeing what's possible" on the mat, it really makes me more curious about what is possible off the mat.

Not surprisingly, I am feeling a little better about "This Moment in Late June, 2012" than I was earlier today.

23 June, 2012

Don't you just love foot cramps?

Today was 90 minutes of Power Vinyasa with Odessa.

I'm not sure I mentioned this here before, but I love love love foot cramps! Seriously, don't you?

So, if you do (and I am assuming you do, since, I mean, who wouldn't?) here's a good recipe for getting foot cramps in both feet. And, in case you're worried that these are just some lame-o foot cramps, let me assure you, these are the real deal! If you enjoy having the tops of your feet cramp, when you attempt to do Low Cobra, do not delay! If you like those totally transcendent arch-of-the-foot cramps that start off as a "hint" of a cramp, that you think you can fend off, but then it goes full-on nuclear, and is amazingly resistant to the usual methods of flexing and massaging. Do not despair! I can tell you how to get these!

Okay. So, first, what you need to do is not sleep enough for maybe 3 or 4 days. I recommend staying up until about 3am. But 2am could work as well, if you happen to be an early riser. Your mileage may vary. Next, it is absolutely essential that you consume alcohol. Lots. However, there's a sweet spot. If you drink too much, then you will have a hangover, and it is unlikely that you will actually make it to the final stages of this process (attending a class). What you want to do is stop drinking just when you get to that drink that you're pretty sure is the one that is going to cause the hangover. Do not drink that drink.

Okay. So the stage is set. Those are what I would call the basic "prerequisites" for the mind-blowing foot cramps of a lifetime. Next step is simple: Do not, under any circumstances, drink enough water. If you drink water, you are only denying yourself the big payoff here. You've come this far. Why would you do that now?

Final step in the process: Go to Odessa's 90 minute Power Vinyasa class.

Okay. All kidding aside, class was pretty awesome today. But I did incur these cramps that I get from time to time, and today seems to be particularly bad. I did the banana. I did the Emergen-Cee. But it's just one of those days.

The class featured a whole lot of Chaturanga, which I mostly modified because I was feeling pretty weak today (I forgot to mention, I am also coming down with a cold). And, as always, we did a lot of staying deep in the legs. Low Lunges, Crescent Lunges, Warriors, Twists, Chairs. 90 minutes is a long time, with ample opportunity to not just graze "The Edge" but to set up shop, and perform a full characterization of exactly what "The Edge" is.

Crescent Lunge to Airplane transition. I am curious why that one's so tough for me. I am also curious if it would be that tough if it happened near the beginning of a shorter class. All I do know is that, in this class, I was so wobbly in that transition, that I was practically falling to both sides, and occasionally using the wall to rebalance myself, even losing balance and putting my hand to the floor a few times. When we did the first side, I started getting into that downcast "What's wrong with me today?!" mindset. I was frustrated and fatigued. But I pulled out of it when we got a little bit past the toughest of it, and noted to myself that I should just "let it be whatever it is" on the other side, not beating myself up.

Near the end of class, I was spent. Odessa told us to lower down from High Plank all the way to the mat and rest, OR.. if we wanted to do a little more work... Dolphin Plank. Now, I do love this pose, and I am usually able to rock it no matter what the circumstances. But today, I decided to say "No mas!" to Dolphin Plank and go for the granted Savasana. Lying, face down, on my sopping mat. And then I hear a little voice coming from the mat next to me (Kathy), saying "But Bob... Dolphin Plank is your favorite pose..." And... of course, I'm up in Dolphin Plank. They say you should listen to your body, but that is second on the list behind "Listen to Kathy." Plus, I knew it was my mind that wanted to give in, not my body. At least for that pose. If it had been another set of Crescent Lunge,you couldn't have raised me if I were the Titanic (I don't even know what that means).

It took a long, long time to recover today, and I am not even sure I am fully recovered even 7 hours later. I think that's a signal that I need a little more water, a little more sleep, a little less alcohol, and a little more self-care.

Namaste, Odessa, for another ass-kicker.

22 June, 2012

Always anxious for the next now

Today was Power Vinyasa with Cassandra.

Some of you have been thinking about being here in class all day...
And now you can't wait to get out of here.

It's funny how we're that way. So much anticipation. So much "looking forward." It's considered not only acceptable, but desirable, to talk about positive things in the context of "I'm really looking forward to that." But when we think about the concept of "looking forward" through the lens of yoga and meditation, what we're essentially saying is "not being here now." There's some other place we'd rather be, and we're going to think about that instead.

I've caught myself doing that so many times. I have even caught myself "looking forward" to the next time I am going to do something pleasurable while I am in the middle of doing it! I can remember times, in Hawaii, where I was snorkeling, and thinking about where I was going to snorkel again later. Wondering if it was going to be good.

So it's not just that we look forward in order to avoid unpleasant feelings in this moment. We just look forward, in spite of ourselves! However, it's definitely true, that we do the dreaming, fantasizing, and escapism most when we're having a hard time: suffering, sad, in pain, depressed, overworked.

Cassandra mentioned how one of her mentors once said to her:

Sometimes you just need to be okay with feeling bad...

And, really, it's not so much that we should be striving to feel bad. Right? It is just that there will be times where life is uncomfortable. Part of what we're trying to do on the mat (it would seem, the largest part) is to become more aware, and to feel whatever it is that we are feeling. Not to run from it. Not to replace it with other thoughts or sensations.

That's why yoga and meditation are aptly referred to as "practice."

21 June, 2012

Love everybody

Today was Hatha with Diane.

I hadn't planned on going to two days in a row of Diane's class. Not because it's not wonderful (because it is), but because I have been trying to really focus on variety in my yoga routine. I feel like it's important to mix it up when doing this 45-day challenge, so my mind and my body stay fresh.

But, as circumstances would have it, my work and social schedule left the noon class as the most viable option for today. And, not surprisingly, it turns out that the same class can be an entirely different experience from one day to the next. Life mixes things up for us, even if all else appears the same.

When we arrived in Studio A today, I was happy that it was, at least initially, not a million degrees in the room. I had no expectations that it would remain that way, but it doesn't hurt to hope. For whatever reason, today started mellow, and stayed mellow. There were only about 15-20 people in the room, and we'd spread out nicely. The room was very dim. The atmosphere was quiet and peaceful.

This was a picture perfect Diane class.

At the start of class, we did our opening salutations, and then came the moment for setting intention. My initial thought was based on something that had fleeted through my mind yesterday after class: giving love to my knee, since it's been starting to heal for me. But for some reason, I took a giant detour from that one, and my mind went straight to something so much bigger:

Love Everybody.

Why not?

What does it mean to love everybody? What does it feel like? An important piece of it is that I am a part of everybody, so that would include loving myself.

I noticed my Warrior II today during class. Not in the mirror, since Studio A currently doesn't have the mirrors in place. But I just looked down at my body, especially my front leg, but also a sense of my hips, and of the position and weight distribution of the back leg. And I noticed something: it's getting better. I cannot recall what I said about Warrior II six months ago. But I seem to recall looking at myself in the mirror back then, and thinking that I looked like, for lack of a better phrase, a "sloppy mess." For months, I have not thought much about how it looked overall, though there are certainly days where I have felt more or less warrior-like. But I stopped thinking about it, and just did it. The Basics classes that I've taken have taught me some important, subtle adjustments and cues.

And today, I just became aware that I am a different Warrior than I was in October.

20 June, 2012

Really, I am not competing!

Today was Hatha with Diane.

The Yogalympics has been underway at Urban for a few weeks now. It's an interesting phenomenon. Yoga, as you know, is not a competitive sport. In fact, being competitive "on the mat" is probably the antithesis of practice. But this is not about competing on the mat. We all know that. The competition is about showing up. But there's also listening to your body and not getting caught up in external factors.

But there's no denying it. There's something fun about the challenge. I find myself looking at the board with all those gold stars (and some multicolor flowers as well), and I count them up. I note who the "leaders" are. And I marvel at how many stars some people have posted. But this does not change my behavior. I won't push myself beyond my limit or beyond my personal goals as a result of someone else's accomplishment.

I do like seeing the achievements though. And I do like seeing if I can reach my own personal goal of 45+ consecutive days.

Today was another HOT Hatha class. Diane is gentle as can be, but 104+ degrees still taxes my brain after 30 minutes or so.

One positive shift occurred today. For the first time in at least a month, I was able to do reclining pigeon (thread the needle) on both sides without pain in my knee. I am not sure why. It was not a big ibuprofen day or anything. But it's encouraging because it means I am finding rest and recovery IN my practice, as opposed to needing to stop practicing.

Question is: can I heal everything through this same presence and kindness to myself?

19 June, 2012

Express yourself

Today was 75 minutes of Power Vinyasa Madonna theme class with Kathy.

I did not really get enough sleep last night. Truth be told, I was not feeling fantastic due to some unanticipated Monday night beverages. But I'd committed in my mind to this class and there would be no backing down.

Interestingly, it was after class that I finally felt nearly normal again. They always tell us that hot yoga is "detoxifying" and I am not sure I can disagree with that.

Slightly wider hands on Chaturanga seems to be working. For the first time in weeks or months the flow is actually feeling "light." I am still feeling a little pain but the effort to move my body is lessened with this position.

Warriors felt very good today. Especially Warrior I. It feels as if the focus that I got from doing the Basics classes has helped me to move this pose forward. It's weird how we can come every day and have much of the routine feel unchanged but, here and there, we have these little shifts. You only notice them if you're really paying attention.

Class was hard, but not brutal. Class was hot, but not oppressive. And I found it really easy to let go 100% after every challenge. One of my favorite "letting go" moments in these classes lately has been the face-down Savasana following Dolphin Planks... with our breath pushing our back up and down and cheek (in my case) resting in a cool wet mat. It sounds like it should be gross, but it's soothing. Peaceful.

Some great moments.

18 June, 2012

Home again

Today was Hatha with Bret.

After a four day tour of Northeast yoga, it was a pleasure coming back to the iconically West Coast spirit of Bret's class: the anti-Bikram! Not only do you not have to do the pose exactly the way I tell you to do it... You can do whatever pose you want! And if a Chaturanga strikes your fancy, then, by all means, throw it right in there too!

Bret's mantra is always "This is your practice." When I was a complete newbie, this induced a bit of anxiety. Options were overwhelming. But now it feels like art. Choose the colors that suit your body today.

Class was hot hot hot, but I am sure it's because I just had a couple of days of relatively unheated yoga.

Somehow over the last few days I have developed a hint of a groin pull. Maybe it was those Horse Poses. It's not quite a groin pull. But it feels like it could become one. Caution on the lunges and warriors. I was fine. But a groin pull is not like a sore shoulder. There's no "working around it," so I am taking it very seriously.

Class felt good, though I did start having the head spin outs due to the heat. Impatience. Breathe through it... But it's hard.

Glad to be back at Urban.

17 June, 2012

Don't do that

Just one forgotten snippet from this morning:

During class today, my shoulder had been feeling pretty good, after a few days of really hurting. I seem to have found some magical "trick" to alleviate the discomfort in Chaturanga, by placing my hands a little bit wider on the mat than I typically place them. It makes me wonder if I am always placing them too close together (may be time for another Basics class).

Near the end of class, we did a Bridge pose, followed by two sets of either Bridge or Wheel. I had taken Bridge on the first of those two sets, telling myself that I had better be kind, especially considering how much Wheel had hurt my shoulder a few days ago. But then something (not good) happened. And I knew it was happening. In my Bridge, I had glanced around the room, and noticed that maybe only one person was taking Wheel, and it wasn't a very full expression of the pose (you can tell where this is going). I know I've got "a better Wheel" than that (asinine, likely untrue and, at any rate, a total oxymoron). And, as a result, I decided I wanted to take Wheel on the final set.

So I did it.

And it didn't hurt. But I knew when I was doing it, I was being insincere in some very important way. I knew that my motivation was that I wanted the instructor to know that I have a Wheel in my practice. What's worse is that it was actually driven by the flip side of that: I didn't want the instructor to think I didn't have Wheel in my practice. There was also probably some ancillary desire for everyone in the class to see me rocking Wheel.

It was so strange, because I knew exactly what I was doing, and I knew exactly why I was doing it, and I also knew that it was potentially (with significant risk) harmful to my own well-being. And I went ahead and did it anyway. The perceived reward outweighed the potential risk.

There's a shitload of work to be done on that one.

Bending over backwards

Off the mat.

I’ve always reacted strongly to the rigidity I perceive in my father. As a teenager, I experienced it as frustration about the limitations it put on me. I wanted to go to an Aerosmith concert, but he didn’t feel like he had enough information about it to feel safe letting me go with my friends. By the time he’d done his assessment of whether or not it was a good idea, my friend had offered the ticket to someone else. He needs time to ponder things: “I need to think about it” was something he would say weekly, if not daily. And I never really knew if that statement actually meant that he was going to think about it, or if he just wanted to buy time to let the idea simmer before making a commitment either way. Similarly, if I wanted them to buy me something when I was a kid, there would be long delays, a justification period, and probably (behind-the-scenes) research on his part to determine how best to go about it. So there was always a lot of waiting, and often disappointment.

As I got older (and, simultaneously, he got older), the rigidity triggered in me a righteous rage about why he needs to do everything in such maddeningly specific ways, e.g. how he cuts an apple using one of those ridiculous unnecessary apple-coring devices. And, of course, if I make the mistake of questioning it, then I get to hear the praises of how wonderful said apple-coring device is, which makes me feel like I just shot myself in my own foot. At the other end of the spectrum, I could not understand how he can be so incredibly meticulous about so many routines, but it is simply impossible to convince him to recycle (his response to that battle was “I did it for years… it’s enough already!).

Bottom line is: there’s a code, and a logic to the way he does things, and don’t even try to question it.

I’ve been trying, over the past few years, to not pick those little battles. To not fight the same fights. To not ask the questions when I already know the answers. I may not like how he does what he does, but that’s “my shit,” not his. For all I know, he doesn’t like the haphazard, random way that I do things. And to be honest, I think I go out of my way to be even more haphazard and random when I am around him, almost as if to highlight the difference. That’s probably where I’m at now. I stopped the full-on instigation of conflict, and have delved into subversive passive aggression.

But I have been trying more and more to let go of that stuff from the past. To breathe. Maybe even to appreciate or find joy in the differences, rather than frustration.

On my visit home this time, I had planned to do some work while I was there. It was only recently that my father finally broke down and bought himself a computer (that decision, he thought about for over ten years; but I take great joy in the fact that, not only did he buy the exact computer I suggested, but he later reflected that it was the best decision, and he didn’t realize how much he’d been missing… tiny happy victories).

As such, he now has internet at home. Since he keeps his computer in one place, he has never bothered to set up wireless in the house, since he just plugs into the cable modem directly. After spending 2 days plugging my laptop in with his cable, I finally commented that I wish we had wireless so that I could sit anywhere in the house and work (though, what I really probably wanted to do was to be able to do facebook or my blog from anywhere in the house). To my surprise, my father says that he actually has a wireless router, but he never has bothered to set it up, because he didn’t need it. So I asked if he minds if I set it up.

Music stops. A hush comes over the room. The audience stares with anticipation.

“I don’t want to get into that right now,” he says.

Cue beginning of suspense music.

I say, reassuringly, “It will only take like 3 minutes to set it up! It would be no big deal, and you don’t even need to use the wireless yourself. You can just plug your computer in the same way you always do.”

“Maybe we can take a look at it next time you’re in town,” he says.

Okay, my button has officially been pushed. Why? Why? Why the decision-making? Why does he need to think about this one?! How is next time I am in town any better than now?!

I try to let it go without further ado, but it’s clear that I’m sulking.

After a brief moment passes, he says, “Would it make you feel better if we go ahead and set up the wireless?”

He has offered me an uncharacteristic olive branch. He is offering to go outside his own comfort zone, to forego the decision, to make me feel better. He’s trying to build a bridge.

I say, “Well, it’s not that it would make me feel better but it would be helpful.

Yes, it’s true. I’m an asshole.

I should have just said it would make me feel better, but I was clinging onto the righteousness. I shouldn’t, in my mind, have ever needed to get permission. We should have never, in my mind, have come to the “not feeling good” part of the conversation. And I didn’t want to let go completely.

So, we go downstairs, we set up the wireless (it takes closer to 10 minutes, because the router had a firmware upgrade) and it works. Everyone’s got wireless! Yay! He then asks if we can make sure that it still works plugged in the other way because, after I leave, he wants to put the wireless router back in the box and go back to plugging it in. Again, why? I know the answer is because a) he doesn’t feel he needs wireless, and b) he has his comfort zone. So we plug the cable back into his computer.

No internet.

We fiddle around with things and, after restarting the computer, he has internet again. But then, I have no wireless! I’m starting to feel a bit embarrassed because I had assured him this would be a three minute endeavor, no sweat, but we’ve run into problems, and now his main concern is that we won’t be able to get things back the way they were.

At this point, I concede that maybe the wireless isn’t really necessary, and we wrap it up and put it back in the box. We spend another 20 minutes getting the internet to work consistently. I eventually learn that he occasionally has problems with the internet, and he just turns everything off and back on again, and then he has internet. In all likelihood, there’s something wrong with his cable modem that has nothing to do with the wireless! It is an intermittent problem that he’s learned how to deal with, so he’s comfortable with it, and doesn’t even think about it.

One has to wonder if the Karmic Gods of the Universe gave me a little smackdown for not graciously accepting his olive branch without an attitude (but I don’t really believe in that… really, I don’t… no, really).

In the end, although there were some potentially tense moments, I feel like this was a huge success. We could have done an “I told you so” or had tensions flare. But we both met in the middle. And we respected each others’ way of doing things. He didn’t really need to say “no,” and he came around. I didn’t really need to have wireless, and I decided to do without.

It makes me think about Bridge Pose because we both “bent over backwards” to try to accommodate each others’ ways.

Building bridges is all about bending over backwards.

This is a time of transition

Today was Power Vinyasa with Nicole at Milton Yoga.

This studio was recommended to me by my cousin, who is friends with Nicole. Turns out, Nicole has her own yoga blog: The Sassy Yogini (which looks really good). Milton Yoga is a small studio, currently run in the off-hours at a preschool (with curtains hung to delimit the "studio," but apparently they are soon to be moving to a new location).

Today, we were in Downward Dog, in one of those moments between flows. Nicole told us that we could stay in Downward Dog, or rest in Child's Pose or, if we wanted to intensify, we could do Dolphin. And then she said something that a) made me instantly start crying, and b) has been stuck in my mind like a lightning bolt for the past hour:

This is a time of transition. And just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should.

And I thought about that. There was this immediate emotional reaction: crying. Reminds me of how Cassandra always says that you can tell if something is true by where you feel it. I felt this in my heart, before my head even got started working on it. 

It's such a brilliant statement. The first thing I thought about is the parallels in my life. I am in a time of transition. Coming to yoga, changing jobs. All of these things are transitions. Big ones. And, in some ways, the changes that are happening in me feel like they could ultimately be gateways to bigger changes. But there's this tendency to look at every option that presents itself and feel like I need to decide something. Now. Like I need to pursue something. Now. But that's not true. This is a time of transition. And just because I can do something, doesn't mean that I should.

But that statement made me think about the yoga sequence, too. Downward Dog is something that teachers often call "a resting pose." And it certainly doesn't feel like a resting pose, depending on what state your body is. But it's a place of transition. It's a kind of yoga-limbo. You can find rest or work in it. Or you can just be in it, without going in either direction. Just being in Downward Dog, is sort of like just being in our lives, semi-work, semi-discomfort, semi-rest. It's the day-to-day. The flow starts to take on a whole new meaning, metaphorically, when you think about it that way.

Nicole's class really, really, really reminded me of "Home" (Urban Yoga Spa). 

She talked about finding our "edge" when were doing Crescent Lunge, and about how only we know where that edge is, and only we know when we should push and when we should go easy. But then she asked the question:

If not here, then where?

That's a good question to take to the mat. Every day, we choose to show up. And even when we show up, we still have the choice of how we are going to show up. There's somewhat of a paradox in there, and we all acknowledge it. We talk about how the time to do the work is always now, but we follow that immediately with the reminder to be our own guru. Are these contradictions? I don't think so. It's that "middle way" that you know when you're on it, and you know when you're not. And all it takes to know is to listen.

We did the standard Vinyasa flows, with some opening stretching exercises. Instead of doing a balance series, we did some strengthening exercises based around Horse Pose, where we worked our arms in various ways: triceps, lats, pectorals (all the while, building a fire in the legs, staying in that high squat).

Near the beginning of class, Nicole mentioned how she often wonders what brings us all here to the yoga mat. We all have our reasons, but she felt there is some common thread. She talked about opening hearts, and broken hearts, and then she offered up a somewhat funny, but insightful idea:

If we didn't all have broken hearts, we wouldn't be coming to do yoga.

At first, it might sound romantic or melodramatic. But it's really just seeing what's true. We all do have broken hearts. Some of us come to yoga. Some of us do not. But part of the human condition is just that: trying to cope with, or mend "heart-breaking" or "heart-closing" that occurs over time. Some "practices" that humans engage in actually close the heart further, in an effort to protect it. But others, like yoga, are aimed at opening the heart, mending the heart, allowing things to come in.

Taking the "Yoga Tour" this weekend was a special experience. Nominally, I did it in service of my own personal Yogalympics challenge of going for at least 45 consecutive days without skipping any. But it ended up being much more than that. I had been living in this bubble of Urban Yoga Spa, because it is my home, my safe haven. A place where I come to do my inner work. But taking it on the road, so to speak, made me realize that the place I am really doing my inner work is in me. And it doesn't matter where I am.

16 June, 2012

The Buddha inside is made of solid gold

Today was 90 minutes of Powah Vinyasa with Bill at Open Doors.

Open Doors (pronounced "Dawz") was recommended to me by my cousin (recall Vinyasa Girl from an earlier blog entry). She’s involved in a yoga non-profit (Yoga Reaches Out) that does charity events, including an upcoming Yogathon in California. I'd been telling her about my Bikram "experience" and she quickly looked through her long list of yoga contacts and identified this studio for me. I was ready for the solace of familiarity, so I decided I'd give it a shot.

As soon as I arrived, I knew I was in the right place. The storefront was in the town center in Canton, Massachusetts, and it was light and airy. The instructor, Bill, a guy about 36-years old, looked and sounded a little bit like Adam Sandler in Happy Gilmore, with the fantastic Boston accent that you so often hear people trying to impersonate, but not convincingly (I couldn't wait for him to say "Chayah Pose" but, to my disappointment, he actually called it "Utketasana"). I was pleasantly surprised when he told me that class was FREE since it was my first time there (I'd paid $15/class at the Bikram studio, with no freebie).

The studio itself was a smallish room, about half the size of UYS Studio B, with light-colored hardwood floors, burgundy walls, and it was heated through three ceiling heaters, mounted in the corners ("Caw-nuz") of the room. There was a humidifier ("hu-mi-di-fi-uh") and two ceiling fans that kept the air circulating very nicely. Temperature probably in the 85-90 range.

There were only about 10 students in class. From the moment we started, I knew I was "in my element." Bill walked into class, and gave each of us 2 blocks. He began by telling us that the most important thing is to be kind to ourselves. To practice kindness. To listen to our bodies and take whatever modifications we need. This was a far cry from "You should be feeling intense pain..." He then began class with an anecdote (paraphrasing, with Boston accent delivered phonetically):

I just had a root canal recently. And if any of you've evah had one, then you know what I'm talkin' about. Only aftah I got it done did I realize how much I'd been favorin' that tooth. It was changin' the way I would eat... changin' the way I would smile. Everything had been built around accomodatin' the pain in that tooth. And, just like that tooth, in ouah lives, we ah adaptin' ovah time to protect ouahselves from things. Comin' to yoga practice is an oppahtunity to staht to notice the ways in which we ah doin' this, on ah mats. So be shawah to pay attention to yaw body and listen faw these things that yaw holdin' onto, and try and let go, a little bit at a time.

I really didn't expect a guy who looked and sounded like what I would have previously called a "townie" to have those same kinds of words of wisdom and insight that I've come to expect in hoity-toity Seattle. But there's a lesson I needed to learn about judging books by their covers. 

When I heard that inspirational talk, and realized how it hits me right in the heart like a sledgehammer, it occurred to me that this is truly the reason I show up: to be inspired and moved. To feel. And then it occurred to me that yoga is really my religion. It's not just a workout. And I prefer my church over the other churches. The Power Vinyasa practice has this space built into it for the emotional or spiritual side of things. When I think about Bikram, I realize that it has removed that spirituality and turned it into a series of commands. It's a playbook. There is no space to be. It's not your practice. It is the Bikram practice. At the end of a Bikram class, I find myself really missing that "Namaste" because it seems like it should be an integral part of the practice. I want to honor the light and the divine in my teacher, and in my fellow yogis. And I feel a little robbed when that doesn't happen.

Bill's class was quite like a UYS class. We started on our backs with some abdominal work (bicycles), and then we did a little bit of stretching like Low Lunge and some kneeling side stretches. Then we began a standard series of Sun A and Sun B. After that, it got a little interesting. He had us get the two blocks, and get into High Plank with our hands on the blocks. From there, we stepped a foot forward onto the block, and did Crescent Lunge with the foot on the block!! That transitioned to a Vinyasa flow, on the blocks. We did the Twisted Chair to Twisted Crescent Lunge transition, which we only see occasionally at UYS, and it was a "killah." We also did some Wide Squat transitions up and down, with Cactus arms and a brisk breathing rhythm on each repetition. He said "This is how you catch a buzz in yoga." 

After about 65 minutes of standing series (ending with Tree, Airplane, Eagle in one continuous flow), we did a pretty standard floor series. When we did Locust, he had us alternate between "Superman Arms" and "Cactus Arms." However, being that we're in New England Patriots football territory, "Cactus Arms" were instead referred to as "Goal Posts." That was a nice local flavor.

At the end of class, beginning the final Savasana, one more story from Bill:

There's a story about a village in Tibet whayuh thayuh was this statue of a Buddha. People would come from all ovah to see it. At one point, a few yeeuhs ago, thayuh was a wicked bad drought (okay, he didn't really say wicked), and the Buddha developed a crack in it. One day, a monk was starin' at the Buddha, peerin' into that crack, and he noticed that inside the Buddha was made of solid gold. The villajuhs had covuhd ovah the statue to protect it so it wouldn't get hurt or stolen. That's sotta how all uv us ah. We have these layuhs that we fohm to protect us, but undahneath, we ah all made of solid gold. When we practice, it helps us staht to see that paht uv ouahselves. 

From the very first moment, to the very last "Namaste," this class was exactly what I needed. Not only did it resonate with my heart, but it made me feel like here is connected to there. We are all connected.

In the end, I listened to my body. My body said “No more Bikram.” I thought about it a lot. Was I letting myself off the hook? Was I moving away from the discomfort instead of breathing into the discomfort? All of those questions are ones we ask ourselves in our practice. But there’s still a basic issue of “Is this what I want to do?” For instance, if I went to a yoga studio that actually consisted of a large brick oven, and we were asked to stand in the flames, and allow ourselves to be quick-roasted, I am not sure that breathing into the discomfort would be appropriate. Of course, I am being hyperbolic here, and I don’t mean to imply that Bikram is like a brick oven pizzeria, but the point is, we can choose what is right for us. But when you have chosen, then you need to ask yourself those hard questions and listen to your body every day.

15 June, 2012

Hair of the dog (but *not* downward) that bit me

Today was Bikram with Jayme at Bikram Yoga Stoughton.

I went to bed last night thinking maybe I would not do the morning class. Maybe I would wait until 5pm. But I really liked the idea of having a different instructor, and getting the broadest possible experience, and I knew the morning class was a different instructor. Of course, what I am fast learning about Bikram Yoga is that, by design, the variability between instructors is, shall we say, "Not Large." When I woke up this morning, which happened to be exactly on time for the 9am class, my brain just said "Go!" even though my body, especially my low back and hamstrings were saying "I don't think so..."

I listened to my brain. But with the promise to go a little easy on myself.

Jayme is one of the owners of the studio, and she knows my cousin very well. In fact, my cousin is the one who referred me to this studio, and we're hoping to take a class together this weekend. When I arrived, I again notified the instructor of the various injuries I've got going on, and the modifications I have been taking to accommodate said injuries. Interestingly, and I do appreciate this, Jayme took a couple of minutes in the lobby to tell me about what the "Bikram modifications" are for the poses, and asked me to please try to do those. I am intrigued by the rigidity of the Bikram practice. I had only ever done it at Bikram Yoga Kona, previously, and there was a little more flexibility there (though not much), probably attributable to it being HAWAII where everything is laid back. Stoughton, Massachusetts is, in contrast, not a laid back place.

What I am fast learning about Bikram is that "Go a little easy on myself" is somewhat the antithesis of a Bikram practice. We often hear the phrases "It should hurt" or "You should be feeling pain." There's always a mitigating statement about it being "pain" but not "struggle" but that message is one that I think is hard for a new student to gauge. In my professional work, we always talk about how we should never ask a customer or user of our software to make a decision that they could not possibly have the expertise to make. And in some ways, I think that asking new yogis to know the line between "pain" and "struggle" falls solidly in that category.

Of course, another tenet of this studio was "No Complaining" and "No Excuses." And that's why I've got my blog (though, honestly, I don't think I complain much in here).

It was challenging from the very first moment today. I found Jayme to have an intensely engaging personality, and she also was much more into very specific callouts and corrections of individuals in the class. Some instructors do this more than others, I've noticed. Some are general. Some are specific. Jayme is specific. I was actually a bit surprised at some of the "corrections" I heard, such as: "Lina! What are you doing honey? Why are your arms like that? That's not a pose." I guess that's okay to say that? Though, to me, I am concerned when I hear yoga instruction start to sound just like our own inner critic.

I did learn some things today. But mostly what I learned is that it's really hard to avoid the "I am never doing this again" or the "At what point during this class can I just bail and go to Savasana" or "I think I am going to run screaming from the room."

I didn't do the the latter, but I did finally take Savasana with about 18 minutes left in the class. I knew that I wasn't doing Fixed Firm because of my knee, and I didn't want to take the modification. I know that to some extent I was letting myself off the hook, but I'd planned it for like forty minutes! I was very excited to let myself off the hook! So I did it, and stayed down through Half Tortoise, Camel, and Rabbit (sorry, Cassandra, I bailed on the "Top of the Mountain;" today I was like "Screw the view, I'm staying at Base Camp!").

During my self-granted Savasana, since my low back was hurting, I decided to do the knees bent, feet near edges of the mat, like our UYS instructors often suggest. And guess what? I got corrected in my Savasana! Jayme came over and asked me if I was okay, which was nice, and then she said "Do you think you can put your legs out straight so that you're getting the full benefit of the pose?" At this point, I started thinking to myself, "Okay, so there's got to be a Vinyasa studio somewhere around here. This is it. Sorry. I'm done. Tomorrow it's Vinyasa. I can't possibly come back here again. The carpet smells. It's too hot. My feet are sliding. Blah, blah, blah."

Here's the thing about Bikram that gets me the most: There's a proclamation that the only way to do yoga is the Bikram way, and that if you're doing a Hatha version of a pose, then you are getting no benefit. This does not, in my humble (and relatively naive) opinion hold true in a discipline where there are countless different schools of practice, developed over thousands of years. Why is Bikram suddenly the guy whose poses can cure diabetes? But Ashtanga will cause you to crumble into a pile of granite dust? C'mon. I don't buy it. Bikram yoga is about getting people to do Bikram yoga.

I am complaining. I realize that. And I also realize that the reason I am complaining is because something about this practice rubs up against walls I've got inside my own mind. What are those walls? How can I explore them? Can I explore them on the mat in a Bikram class?

We'll find out tomorrow at 8am.

14 June, 2012

We're not in Kansas anymore

Today was Bikram with Sarah at Bikram Yoga Stoughton.


It was with pending doom that I attended a Bikram class. I know it's good for the mind. I know it grows character and puts hair on your chest and cures shingles and malaria. But it is still torture. Through and through.

I took the red-eye to Boston last night. Managed only 3 bad hours of half-sleep on the plane, and never got a nap. I wasn't really arriving in prime form.

Because of my various injuries, and because I knew that Bikram is rather rules-based, I told Sarah about my injuries before class. I didn't want her to think I was disrespecting the practice when I took some modifications.

So when it came time for Tree pose and I did Hatha-Tree instead of Bikram tree, I was a little surprised I got called out for it: "What kind of yoga was that? Because it wasn't Bikram."

And in that moment, I realized just how very fortunate we are at Urban Yoga Spa. At UYS we have instructors who encourage us to take whenever modifications we need. And that we should focus on doing the pose in a manner where we can keep good form and stability. I love it when an instructor says "Maybe this is your pose right here," because it is teaching us to be okay where we are.

I think that the spirit of it is probably there in Bikram as well, but the very scripted instructions are often telling us to go pretty far. I think that trying to interpret the hidden meaning of the phrases "beyond your flexibility" or "lock your knee" are probably things scholars could debate like the translation of an ancient Aramaic scripture: "Do they really mean 'lock it'?" I have had some Bikram instructors footnote that with a clarification. But not all.

It was an interesting experience having class taught in a thick Boston accent. I don't usually associate these things.

Besides the usual challenges of this practice, I had some additional difficulty because we did some of the standing poses (Triangle, Pyramid, separate leg stretching) straddling our mats. I found it really hard to get traction on the carpet and was a little afraid of incurring a groin pull. This was not how we did it in Hawaii Bikram, so I was a little surprised.

On a final note, I lost 7 pounds during class tonight. That's 3 liters of sweat. And that is not something I strive to achieve.

I want to stay away from it. I want to avoid it. But I am going back. But I will also honor my own practice and not go beyond my personal limits.

I am my own inner guru.

13 June, 2012

Sometimes I wonder

Today was Power Vinyasa with Ginger.

I was very excited to take the noon class today. I knew Ginger would be hard, and I knew there would be things I could not do. But I was really ready for something completely different, and she did not disappoint.

Sometimes I start to wonder what the deal is with my core. Yoga is supposed to be a lot of core. And there are a lot of times during class where I feel like I am doing something with arms, legs, chest, shoulders that is supposed to be done with core. It's like I've got no core and I'm compensating.

Then, in a class like today, Ginger gives us a sequence where you cannot fake it. Repeated back and forth from Crescent Lunge to standing one-leg balance with the raised leg extended. That transition is 100% core. And I was falling all over the place, completely unstable.

Why is my core weak?

I knew I should have taken that job at the shipyard.

12 June, 2012

What's really going on here?

Today was Power Vinyasa with Cassandra.

The yoga challenge has only been going for a week and a half, but I have done 28 classes in the last 26 days with only 1 day off in the middle. I had been taking good care of my injuries and even saw healing in two of them. But the last several days, since the retreat started, I have been ignoring my body's messages. My shoulder hurts a lot and I have been powering through Chaturanga and Side Plank anyway. I am telling myself that it's not making it worse, but each day it hurts a little more. Furthermore, I haven't even been taking any ibuprofen.

This is starting to sound repetitive again. But the question is "What is really going on here?" What am I trying to do to myself? It feels punitive in some way. I am not being kind to myself. It's a challenge to go 45 days in a row, and it requires a certain kind of discipline of finding that "middle way" and respecting it. I have been going 100% for days now. It cannot continue.

That said, Cassandra's class was difficult today, and it happened to feature a lot of what hurts me most, with flow sequences going through Side Plank. It was a struggle, battling the heat, trying to stay with the poses. I did modify some of the poses but not enough.

It may be almost time for another Hatha marathon, to give the shoulders a rest. The trip to Boston will be all Bikram, which I think will be a good thing.

Some days I feel a little stuck in my own stuff...

11 June, 2012

Back into the fire

Today was Power Vinyasa with Jo.

I was tempted to take Hatha today, to give some of my joints a rest, but I found myself really wanting to be there with the group of people who were at the retreat this weekend. And I had a strong suspicion that this would be in Jo's 5:30pm class. I was correct. And it was really nice to see the people again today. It was nice to have a few extra names to go with smiling faces that are now familiar. My community at Urban Yoga Spa has become a little larger, and a little closer.

After three days of "cold yoga," today's class was, shall we say, a shock to the system. There must have been between 70-90 people in the room, and it was hot and humid, and Jo showed up to deliver a challenging class. We were "alerted" at the start that there would be pretty much a constant flow, and that we should use our own judgment as to when we need rest. Of course, for me, that would be "I will not rest until she tells us to rest. I felt good. I felt strong. But as class wore on, the heat did get to me. It didn't take me out of commission, but I find myself getting wobbly.

Today, I modified about half of my Chaturangas. And I modified Belly of the Beast, but did the regular Side Planks, and also did the Flipped Downward Dog. Did Bridge instead of Wheel. The right shoulder is not feeling good right now, and I have been sort of not keeping on the ibuprofen dosing. I don't want to take it constantly, but may need to restart for a few days.

My intention for class today was to really feel it. Whatever it was. The heat, the pain, the fatigue, the struggle. Whatever it was, I wanted to commit to feeling it, rather than trying to escape it. I think I was able to be in that for about 90% of the class. I heard a lot of heavy sighing, and strained breathing around me in the room. I know that comparison is not part of the practice, but it is helpful to me to recognize that I am learning how to stay peaceful and still even when there is chaos from the heat and the fatigue. I am learning how to let go and not create the drama. Not every day. Not every minute. And not in all areas of my life, all the time, either. But sometimes, yes.

And that's something.

10 June, 2012

I will always treasure these moments

Today was Power Vinyasa "Flexy" in Walla Walla with Gordy.

The final class of our 3 day yoga (wine) retreat. I knew that it would be bittersweet coming to the final day of this retreat, and the final class. We spent the entire weekend connecting as a group, and experiencing all sorts of joys that go way beyond what ever happens on a yoga mat (though, don't over interpret that; there was no Kama Sutra, or anything like that going on).

Having completed the second straight day of wine tasting and wine drinking, we were all in no better than slightly compromised states. I managed to evade the realm of headache or nausea. But I was severely dehydrated, and felt like I had a slight tremor which was probably caused by alcohol withdrawal. Being as it was, Gordy was quite kind to us in class. There was a lot of deep stretching. A little bit of easy, gentle flowing. And there were only a few sequences of balance, to earn the class at least a deserved "moderate" difficulty level, and perhaps to bring a little bit of playfulness into the fact that we were all "not just right" this morning.

We did some fun poses, such as Dekasana while holding onto each others' arms in a long line, as well as some standing balance work where we were supposed to hold each others' leg up. That one was a little trickier. Gordy had some light humor about the events of the weekend, and had everyone laughing.

During the flow sequence that we did, I focused directly on a fellow yogi across the room from me, looking straight into her eyes (not sure if she could tell, since we were facing each other but probably 40 feet apart in a dimly lit room), and I locked my tempo directly to hers. I liked this feeling of being in sync, without instruction. And I also liked that it was perhaps not even obvious to her that I was "connecting" in this way.

Just like that, class was over.

I had been starting to feel a little bit of a letdown before class, as I knew the close was coming. The whole retreat was like a social-connection high, building friendships, experiencing a long string of wonderful moments. I didn't want it to end.

I find myself already looking forward to next year's retreat. And I most definitely find myself looking forward to tomorrow's class.

09 June, 2012

Do you know how special you are?

Today was Power Vinyasa "Morning After" with Kathy.

The class reminded me of something that Cassandra often says in her classes:

Do you know how special you are?
Never before you, and never again after you will there be another you.

That is often a theme in our classes: to start to become aware of the fullness of ourselves or, as Kathy said today in her reading "The immensity of you." It doesn't mean that it's all about us. It doesn't mean that we are separate. It is really about the way in which we all fit together as essential pieces in the puzzle, whether that puzzle be the workplace, family, a circle of friends, the neighborhood, or the world. We all have a role to play. And we are inextricably connected to one another, often in ways that we may not fully perceive. In a sense, I would say that practices like yoga or meditation are fundamentally centered on just that: beginning to perceive the ways in which we are all connected.

Kathy's class today was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.

Each word she shared, each inspirational phrase of encouragement, each song she played felt like it was delicately chosen to craft an experience. The class could well have been called a "Performance" rather than a "Class" because of how well orchestrated it was. Our sequences were cued by brilliantly selected music, with lyrics that reflected the sentiment of the weekend, or the moment, or the pose we were doing, and each transition was marked by the transition to another song, perfectly fitting the mood. Talk about getting the head, the heart, and the body all in the same place.

She taught today's class with humor, with compassion.

For some reason, perhaps (again) the lack of heat, I felt incredibly strong today. I felt like I could go on forever. Give me two hours. Give me three hours. You would normally never hear me say that. In fact, you'll probably be more likely to see words like "interminable" or "torture" looking back at the way I normally describe hot yoga classes. It's true. I can be a bit of a whiner. But today, I just had it in me. There came a certain point in the class where I realized (paradoxically, losing it just as I recognized it) that I was totally in "The Moment." I had no thoughts in my head. No anticipation of the next pose. No cares, worries, or concerns. No pains, no anxiety. No distraction. My head was clear, and my body was moving, and it was pure energy.

Something about today was just right.

08 June, 2012

Letting go of the tightness

Today was Power Vinyasa in Walla Walla with Jo.

At the end of class today, Jo talked about how the tightness we have in our bodies might reflect tightness with how we interact in our lives. Where are we holding that tightness? How are we displaying that tightness? For some reason, this hit me on a very deep level. I feel so tight. All the time. My shoulders, my back, my legs. I feel like, as I used to always say, but I know is a fallacy, "I'm too tight to stretch." In much the same manner, I spent years of my life proclaiming that I was "too tight to do yoga." I hadn't even tried yoga, but I "knew" I was too tight to do it. Flip that around, and the real message was "My mind is too tight, too closed, to try to do yoga."

Here I am, though. And I am finally doing yoga. I am still tight. And still feeling distress over the fact that my body doesn't move the way I want it to move, without pain.

Lesson #1: Show up. Okay, I think I'm getting somewhere with that one.

Lesson #2: Be patient with myself (and with others). The work, for me, is there. And interestingly, I think this has always been the case. In one way or another, I have always "shown up" in my life, in whatever I did. I was never a slacker, or a deadbeat. But I often have not had patience with myself to make progress, or patience with others.

Today's collective intention, and my individual intention, not surprisingly, was "connection." We are here because of our practice, and because of this community of people who have connected around Urban Yoga Spa. For some reason, the actual arrival on the mat brought about strong emotions in me. That saying... "Wherever you go, there you are..." We all went, and yet, we still are. And Jo, appropriately called that out today. She commented on how all of these bodies are familiar, but we've moved it to a new location. Urban Yoga Spa is the community of people who fill each class.

In truth, I actually had three intentions that flew through my mind at the start of class today:  Joy, Connection, and Feeling.

I have always longed to feel connected, and that's not a new one. But this intention on "joy" is something new, and vaguely foreign to me. I don't know that I've ever consciously sought "joy" perhaps because I didn't think I really deserve it. I am still sometimes not sure. But I'm trying to run with it, and see how it goes. And that last one... feeling... Being able to have those emotions that are under the surface is something that I have always danced around. Like a kid who wants to go in the ocean to swim, but keeps on getting their feet wet and then running back to the safer sands, away from that big ocean. I don't really know what would happen if I just dove in, and experienced it without hesitation or guard.

Class was spectacularly and perfectly challenging. To compensate for a game-time temperature of around 78 degrees, we did the whole nine yards of power vinyasa. As I mentioned in Port Townsend, I really enjoy knowing that the heat and the sweat is actually coming 100% from the movement of my muscles. I like knowing the precise sequences where my body is working hardest. I do indeed like air to not be a factor. But I also know that a big part of "The Work" in the regular hot yoga studio is about being with that discomfort.

For some reason, I really wanted to go all out today. First day of the retreat, I maybe should have been saving energy, but inside, my body was just saying "Go, go go!!" So, I went for it on all the Side Planks, with care, and actually fared quite well.

I tell myself that I'll take it easier tomorrow.

But we'll see about that.

07 June, 2012

All in the mind

Today was Hatha with Colette.

The room felt hot today, and the battle was all in the mind. When will I come to get used to heat? Ever? Never?

Oftentimes I start a hot class with the best of positive intentions. I tell myself that it's gonna be hot but it's gonna feel good. And I will just stay in that moment and enjoy it. But as the sweat starts flowing, my attitude starts to shift and I find myself angry. The whole cascade of thinking starts. First it's "I'm never taking her class again!" which is immediately followed by the "yogi-talk" of "I must definitely take her class again... and soon!" I'd say it's better, but it's still "Thinking" and that is not "The Moment."

Colette is very vocal in her instruction style. There are days where I have loved this. But this time I found it almost resonating with the internal struggle that I was experiencing. I wanted to find a quiet place in my mind and I couldn't get there. And the guidance, in this instance, was pulling me back to a moment that I was actively trying to escape. Right? So there's an interesting theme. My brain is trying to get to a happy place and the instruction returns me to a less happy, albeit more real place: Now. Heat. Anxiety.

It can be easy to "check out" and mistakenly think you've found bliss. Yoga is not about staying comfortable the entire class. It is about staying present the entire class. Yet we can trick ourselves into believing that a class that felt "great" was actually our best practice when, in fact, it may be that a class where we stayed present through constant discomfort may have been truly the great class.

This yoga thing ain't so simple.

06 June, 2012

Don't throw caution to the wind

Today was Power Vinyasa with Odessa.

Today, every Chaturanga felt like I had a giant bag of sand on my back. Trying to find an angle of descent that was not fatiguing, but there didn't seem to be one. The simple solution would be Low Cobra. But for some reason, my brain was saying "You can do it. Your shoulder is all better." The result is that my shoulder is now hurting again.

I came to the mat today very stuck in my head on an analysis I'd been doing at work. I had a slightly frustrating experience of having a miscommunication about some data with my manager, resulting in both of us having the impression that I had made a fairly major mistake. I felt anxiety. I felt embarrassment because I take pride in my calculations and generally have confidence. On the one hand, I wanted to believe my manager was wrong and I was right. But I wasn't sure. And he was. I apologized and then talked to our "data experts" and figured out that I was not incorrect and neither was my manager. We were both right but we'd been comparing apples and oranges, hence the discrepancy.

That period in his office was uncomfortable. He wasn't angry. He wasn't even judging me. But I felt a little fear and a lot of bad feelings. Some part of me knew I could not be wrong but I still have that doubt in such situations. If I were more organized (I tell myself) I would have been able to more quickly notice that we weren't comparing the same things.

I guess I have this thing about wanting to be perfect the first time, all the time. Good luck with that, huh?

I brought the remainder of that energy to the mat today. I wanted to let it go, and I certainly was able to consciously arrive in the moment. But I was still carrying a rigidity that manifested itself with me not being kind to myself or lenient. I am seeing this as different levels of presence. There's arriving and letting go of thoughts. But the next step is fully checking in to our bodies.

Odessa's class was tough today in terms of the leg work. As I have written in probably every entry about her classes, she's got some sequences that really cook the standing leg. Today, if anything, I felt like I endured it a little more willingly than in previous instances. I'm hoping that's a reflection of calmness in chaos, as opposed to pure masochism!

Looking forward to Walla Walla in a couple of days. A vacation that I need. Getting away from the environment of the day-to-day, and resetting the system.

05 June, 2012

It's light out at 5am

Today was 6am Hatha with Angie.

I'd been told that it is not light at 5am. But this was not true. Prior to this morning I would have needed to consult my sunrise calendar to know for sure. But thanks to The Fab Five Yogis (my Yogalympics team), I can speak to it firsthand.

The final selling point for me this morning was that it had been many moons since I had taken any of Angie's classes. Precisely, ever since she stopped doing the 5:15pm slots. I had a memory of liking her class, but I'd forgotten just how much. Simple guidance, not much talking, but really perfect timing. The poses always seem to last not too short and not too long. I guess everyone has their Goldilocks instructor...

Last night I knew I was going to the 6am but I still did not get to bed until 11:45pm. It's difficult for me to wind down. Plus I was watching United States of Tara on Netflix, which can be a bit addictive. When I went to sleep it was pouring rain. I said to myself, "If it is raining like this in the morning, I won't go." Then I woke up and it was raining, but I just got up and went. Not a lot of thinking, just a lot of doing (there's a yoga quote for every circumstance).

The class was packed. Over 50 people. Other than my four teammates, there was hardly a familiar face in the class. Interesting, I think, Urban Yoga Spa is not just one big community. Rather, it is a few sub-communities, based around schedule. There is definitely the morning and evening crowd. There seemed to be a noon crowd. And I would venture to guess there's a weekend group as well, though they probably overlap with the other groups.

Communities within communities. Interesting how we are divided by schedule. What other defining characteristics might there be to these groups?

Class at 6am not wildly different from class in the evening. Once I am on the mat, class is class. I liked the dark room. My balance was not fantastic. But I have seen that in most of the morning classes I have taken. I wonder why my balance is bad in morning. True just for me? Or is that a universal biological truth?

The upside of this is that I now have a 36 hour rest until Odessa's class tomorrow!

04 June, 2012

Lingering effects

Today was Hatha with Bret.

Yesterday's double left me with sore muscles in places that don't usually ache from yoga: hip flexors, trapezius. In spite of the aches, class today felt pretty good. I suspect if I keep mentioning how hot it is, eventually people are going to ask me why it is that I go to hot yoga. Fair question.

My head stayed in the game pretty well today. One challenge I have is that I've been needing to skip a few "knee-intensive" poses for a while now: Hero's, sometimes Pigeon, sometimes Half Tortoise. And I find myself losing focus during the void that happens in this part of the class, and sometimes getting down on myself in that gap. I think I need a planned substitute for those poses. I usually do something else there, but not feeling like it is well-orchestrated. I can either make my own replacement or learn to be okay with being informal there.

I guess either choice could work.

It's all about compromise.

03 June, 2012

Doubling down

Part two of today's double was Power Vinyasa "Flexy" with Gordy.

I wasn't planning on doing a double today. I really don't ever plan on doing them. The few I've done always seem to come out of this spontaneous little voice in my head that says "I guess you could stick around for another one..." And it usually has a lot to do with whether or not I have free time on my hands. Today I did. And for some reason, it was just feeling like this class was going to be an interesting one.

No matter how much water I drink (3 liters during the two classes), I cannot seem to catch up for the dehydration that occurs. That's the big challenge. In Gordy's class, we started off doing Reclined Butterfly, and some various stretches based around that. One of the things we did was abdominal crunches with our legs off the floor in the Reclined Butterfly position. And, while we're doing this, I suddenly notice this odd sensation of something that was not quite normal in my left foot. What was happening was that one of my toes (let's call it "toe #4") was spontaneously and involuntarily flexing. Um. Hello? This was clearly some sort of indicator that I was not sufficiently electrolyte-ified. The woes continued during Low Lunge. As I tried to rest the top of my back (left) foot on the floor, the entire top side of the foot began cramping, and I needed to settle for keeping the toes tucked, which seemed to mitigate the worst of it.

The thing that made today's class great was the vibe and the configuration. Gordy had us split in half, with each side of the room facing the other, and him in the middle, and he took most of the class with us. It was neat having the instruction be partially verbal, and partially visual. And I liked the sense of being a "gathering" of yogis, as opposed to a class facing in one direction.

The first 35-45 minutes of class was a lot of stretching, and a lot of Hatha-like standing balance poses. This was a bit of a brutality for me, having just come out of a 75 minute Hatha class. After all that, we did the usual Plank holds, which felt extra long (Were they? Was that 1 minute or 2 minutes each?). I was so determined to stick both of them, and not waver. The first one, I made it without a hitch. But on the second set, as the time wore on, I was trying so hard to do as he instructed, and just experience my body, and stay in the moment, and not create drama, and all that good stuff. But as I experienced my body, what I was feeling was that the worst of the fatigue was in my low back, and I opted (I suppose) to be cautious, and put the knees down for a few seconds. Then I put them back up, and the pose was almost immediately over. This, of course, made me wish I'd just toughed it out for those few more seconds. But I guess my body was telling me "rest now." It's so hard to know when it's just mental toughness versus physical stamina.

When we finally got to The Flow, which was surprisingly a standard Sun B, we went through it "only" 4 times. Often, in Gordy's classes, these flows will go 8-10 times or more. My head was fighting it the whole way. I had just taken a semi-Savasana (Semivasana?) during the Side Plank series, because I'd felt the need to not push the shoulders too far, and was also feeling asphyxiated to the point of nearly passing out. When we were flowing, all I was saying in my head was "I don't think I can go any further... I'll just struggle my way through this flow, and then I'm down for the count... I can't... I can't... I can't..." But somehow, in spite of that tortuous inner talk, I kept going, and made it through the flows. And then, much to our surprise, class was essentially over. We hit the floor, did some stretching, a few Wheels, and we were done.

The loud and negative inner talk was definitely due to the expectation that the flow was coming much earlier in the class, and that there were still more difficult poses to come. I was envisioning all these things... Standing Splits... Crescent Lunges... who knows what? And because of that anticipation, I was wanting to ditch on everything, including the very moment where we were. No matter how many times I recognize that the looking ahead is a major no-no, it seems it's a new challenge every day.

I think, given my minimal caloric intake before the classes today, I actually did quite well. In the moment, I found myself slightly frustrated that my form was so sloppy, and my head was falling out of the game. But how much can I expect from myself? Two and a half hours of hot yoga fueled by only a blueberry corn muffin? That's crazy!

Anyway, I did it. Another double. And it was a hard double.

And my team will be happy about the extra star.

Hard to get within

Today was 75 minutes of Hatha plus Yin with Patrick.

I've been looking forward to this class all week. I really enjoy Patrick's Hatha because of the way his words and guidance are so specific, and almost stream of consciousness that you can either lock into the moment by focusing on his every word or, as he suggests, zone out and let his voice fade into the background. For where I am in my practice it is much more of the former than the latter, but I could imagine a time in some future where the words will become more "lulling" than instructive.

Even though it was a Sunday morning Hatha class, the energy seemed to be high in the room once again. I think the yogalympics really has people fired up.

The Hatha portion of the class had variations that were more Bikram-esque, than how we usually do it at Urban: the pranayama breathing, starting off the Side Angle by facing sideways and stepping one leg out to the side, optional toe stand from Tree pose (not in my practice yet, but figured I should mention it). To save a little time, we only did one set of that Side Angle series. It's very rare that this occurs. Plenty of other poses get one or two sets based on the particular teacher or day, but Side Angle seems to be a fixture at two sets. As such, it's always one of this little "pleasant surprises" when we don't do two. I am not sure why that's my reaction. It's not as if we are doing less yoga. I think I tend to find pyramid to be really difficult so I'm "glad" when I get a pass on that second set, with the stinging sweat dripping into my eyes (I really need to order that headband).

We skipped the traditional Hatha floor series in exchange for the Yin poses. We did just a few: Frog, seated wide-legged forward fold (center, left, and right), and Pigeon. I think that was it? But we spend a long time in each, of course.

Yin is supposed to be about getting deeper within, working on the connective tissue. At this point, many of my muscles are still so tight, that the challenge for me is to just be "ok" with not being able to go very deep with these poses. For me, "within" is into a mental rather than physical state. Loosening up the stiffness of the mind.

After class I found myself in another one of those situations where I was asking the question "Maybe a double?"

And three different people said, "Are you gonna do a double today?"

Why not?

02 June, 2012

Watching a flower blossom

Today was Power Vinyasa with Heidi!!

It's not very often that I get to type a new name in that first line.

Today's class was a "Community Class," which are free classes that Urban Yoga Spa offers, and they are often taught by instructors in training. In spite of being free to anyone, they are still often attended by members, because it's an opportunity to show support for someone new. The term "Community" is meant to refer to the context of the neighborhood, or inclusiveness, or accessibility. But today, it felt like it was a tribute to the strength of the Community that is Urban Yoga Spa. Heidi is a familiar face, whom we've seen in class and working at the front desk for quite some time now. It was amazing seeing how everyone showed up for her: instructors, staff, fellow yogis alike.

I was a bit fatigued from days of challenging yoga (15 classes in the last 15 days), and just a tad "off" because of an ill-advised blend of wine and tequila at last night's "Yogalympics" kick-off party. I've also been walking miles and miles and miles, lately, to and from work, all around town (probably about 25 miles in the past week), so the legs are really getting a workout.

Nonetheless, the positive energy and enthusiasm in the room today kept me going, and looking up to see Heidi's smiling face at several moments during class was well worth the price of admission. Class was not easy, though I have been saying that pretty much every day, lately. Near the beginning of class, we had the Dolphin Plank series, of Kathy fame. That, I can handle. For some reason, probably biology, hard work in that body orientation doesn't really push my mind to its limits. It's the leg burn of those balancing poses that I tend to find more grueling. And, indeed, we got a healthy dose of that.

Some unique elements to Heidi's class: Prayer Twists on the first Chair of the class. That was an interesting surprise. Normally, I expect the entire Sun B series, before finally getting back to the whole business of twisting this way and that. But surprises are always good, because they take you somewhere you didn't know you were going to be. And we got another surprise immediately following that, when we did the twist to the right and the twist to the left, without the usual repose of a forward fold between the two sides. My quadriceps were screaming, but as I twisted to the left, and got a glimpse in the mirror, I managed to smile, because that seemed like the right thing to do.

Interestingly, in the past few weeks, I have seen lots of "new stuff" showing up in our classes. Last week, we saw the Warrior II to Crescent Lunge transition in a couple of classes. Today, Heidi had us do (if I remember correctly) a transition from Dekasana (Airplane) into Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon), which was interesting and super-challenging because of the balance in the standing leg, combined with the core work of pivoting the arms into a completely different orientation without falling over.

These unexpected things are really good, I think, for the mind, and one of the reasons that I much prefer Vinyasa yoga over Bikram. Though, as I've said before, there's a place for both, and each grows the mind in a different way. But I love this idea of needing to reformulate our understanding of the "Universe of Possibilities" each time we experience some new pose or transition that we haven't done before. In some ways, these transitions are almost like a game of Twister, where you need to actually say to your own brain, "Ok, what muscles do I need to use to make this happen?" When we discover something new is possible, we grow, almost instantly. It's like a revelation.

Heidi started class with a reading by Shel Silverstein:

"There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long,
‘I feel this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong.’
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
Or wise man can decide
What’s right for you – just listen to
The voice that speaks inside."

This really is what yoga is all about. Listening. Trusting.

I am grateful I was able to be present and share in the experience of watching a flower blossom.

01 June, 2012

Am I ready now?

Today was Power Vinyasa with Cassandra, and Day 1 of the Yogalympics.

I cannot say that Day 1 feels any different than any other day, since I have done my own version of a marathon over the past few months. This year, so far, I've taken 124 classes in ~150 days. And lately, doing yoga has become the default.

Nonetheless, thinking about 45 consecutive days does present a challenge. I'll be traveling during this time, so I will need to come up with a travel yoga plan if I want to keep it going.

And there can be no injury. Right?

Today, Cassandra started us off on this marathon with a rather difficult class. We did a Warrior flow series that was notably similar to what Gordy did over the weekend. I believe I noted Sunday how difficult it is to go from Warrior II to Crescent Lunge. Guess what. It didn't get any easier! Following the warrior atrocities (he says, jokingly), we did some kind of Side Plank flow. I did not previously even know it was possible to flow through Side Planks, but I guess I don't know everything, now, do I?

It was hard. No question about it. The difficulty broke me a little bit. I started to get "annoyed," but before long, the difficult part was over. And we had peaceful stretching. Let go. Relax. Come back to the moment.

It's not about always staying in the moment. It's about always returning to the moment.

Today, Cassandra pointed out that, if we were going to have any drama, let that drama be in our breath. Big, deep breath. Fully in it. Focused on that breath.

Today I really wanted to have that drama. And I am glad I was able to channel it through breath.

Day 1 is done. 44 to go? I don't know.

But I will see you at 2pm tomorrow.