30 September, 2012

Anything and everything

Today was Vinyasa with Heidi.

It's nice to take a class with a friend teaching, because there's a sense that you're a little bit on the inside of their world as they teach, evidenced by the smiles or glances with whatever meaning laid on top of them. Class shouldn't have been difficult, as it was a pretty mellow Baptiste flow, almost textbook. But it was still a challenge for me, because my hips are a little bit sore, and because my body is still not liking the heat, as has been the case since returning from the trip. Today was again around 99 degrees, peak of 75% humidity, and it was the latter that got to me in the second half of the class, with sensation that I really couldn't breathe as much as I wanted to breathe.

Today, I began the dismantling of my aquariums. I have been keeping cichlids for about 3 years now. It started off as an obsession. First I bought one 55 gallon tank, and obsessed over every element of both the hardware and the fish. Every waking minute was spent thinking about how to "do it right." I wanted the right fish, the right filters, the right water conditions. I read every web page, and searched every forum. And it was almost maniacal, the degree to which I obsessed. Then, I decided to get a second 55 gallon tank, so I could do it again, with a different twist. I bred fish, I ordered fish online, and it was ever-more elaborate. I had a small 5 gallon tank that I used for sequestering babies. The whole deal.

Then, over time, I started to lose interest. I felt like other things were more important, and more interesting. The fish tanks became a burden, and often went uncared for, longer than was a good idea. The tanks would get into rough shape, and I would need to do brutal cleaning jobs to bring them back into order again.

Finally, I decided to stop doing the fish thing. And today was the day that I gave away my first fish, on Craigslist. And there will be many more rounds of unloading the many fish I have.

The thing that comes to mind is the "How you do anything is how you do everything." I don't know how that applies to the aquariums, and I am not sure I like the metaphor for my life. Do I go all in? 100% on everything I do, only to ultimately slack off, let things fall into ruin, and see them as a burden, finally dumping them to the lowest bidder? Is that how I have taken care of my home? Is that how I manage my friendships? Is that how I do my job? Is that what happens in my relationships?

Something to think about.

28 September, 2012

The doorways and corridors of the mind

Today was Power Vinyasa with Elizabeth Thomas.

I had taken a class with her before, but I couldn't remember it. That surprises me. But looking back, now, I see that it is because I took her class on 3.5 hours of sleep, the night after I had almost lost my passport, and the day before I left for my trip. There was a lot going on right there.

Elizabeth started class by asking us to introduce ourselves, and then say something about what we're looking forward to this upcoming holiday season. It was a nice touch. I want to make a conscious effort to be uber-present during these (and all other) moments, and remember the names, remember the things that were important to people. Today, they floated through my brain and out. I remember ski season, dining with family and friends, the last of the sunny days of Seattle, just trying to make it through, enjoying the holiday with our children. It mostly stuck with me, but the names floated through. I remember Siobhan, Larry... that's about it. One aspect of this "round-robin" is about community and a sense of shared purpose, but I think there's also the element of really drawing us into a grounded presence in this room, on this mat, at this moment. Here. Now.

I have to say that I love Elizabeth Thomas's class. She said that she'd be doing the standard Journey Into Power flow sequence, which she did. But the tiny extras that instructors add can really make all the difference. It's not that they're giving us some big philosophical mantra about what yoga is. In fact, these words they speak are not intended to be anything other than tiny instructions and suggestions to guide us through our practice. But sometimes, they resonate, and who that person is shines through and touches me. Elizabeth said to find someplace where we can let go, while simultaneously finding someplace else that we can intensify. I felt my shoulders drop, my jaw loosen, and at the same time, my quads engaged, and my abs pulled in. It's always there, and if we don't think to do those things, we are missing an opportunity. The teacher's role is really, I think, to help draw us into the present.

I'm never a fan of "knee-to-nose" as I think I have made quite clear in other entries. But something about the emotion and style with which Elizabeth instructs it makes it somehow more tolerable. It's fun, because she draws her words out long, almost like instructing a roomful of kindergartners how to do calisthenics: "Rrrrrrrreach your leg back.... and squeeeeeze your knee in.... and rrrrrrreach it back.... and squeeeeeeze it in...." I don't know why that makes a difference, but it does.

During the final Savasana, she was talking about being present, and not letting our thoughts take over. She said "your mind will present you with doorways and corridors, and perhaps you might choose not to go down them." For some reason, that metaphor really worked for me. I can't really explain how it did. But I could picture the idea of each thought appearing before us, and we can either stroll past, after a casual glance, or perhaps occasionally wander a few steps down, then returning to the present moment. Or, if we allow it, we can stray far down some hallway, so far away that we are not even here at all.

Gone.

27 September, 2012

Unexpected treats and revelations

Today was Power Vinyasa with Tina Scott Francis.

It had been a long time since Jo had recommended Scott's class to me. She'd spoken very highly of him, but I had still not yet had an opportunity to take his class due to schedule constraints. Tonight, I had decided to bring a guest to Be Luminous for the first time. The expectation was that we'd be taking Tina's class. I was slightly apprehensive about this, because her class on Tuesday had felt extremely difficult to me, and I didn't want my guest's first experience at Be Luminous to be too extreme. Of course, from one day to the next, things are always different, and one person's "extreme" could be another person's "ideal" so I probably shouldn't worry so much.

But it turned out, when we arrived, that Tina was stuck in traffic, and Scott would be substituting for her.

It was a great, though difficult class. I actually cannot remember as much about it as I'd like to have remembered, since I am writing this 2 days later. What sticks in my mind was how important it was for my guest (okay, my girlfriend) to have an amazing experience here. I didn't want it to be "Meh." I wanted it to be  "You are sooooo right about how awesome this place is! Thank you so much for inviting me to come here with you!"  I did, pretty much, get that desired effect. But it brings me to a topic that's been floating through my head now for the past couple of weeks.

Validation. Justification.

I guess it was on my mat the other day that I realized that I am constantly seeking to justify everything. To myself. To others. And then I seek the validation back that my justifications are sound. It's like I am an attorney presenting a case (my life, my choices, my preferences) to the jury (the world, myself), and trying to get the verdict that I am doing the right things, and that I am a good person, acting reasonably, and in sound judgment.

It's always manifesting itself, whether it be around the friends I have, the relationships I choose, my job, my yoga practice, music, whatever it is. I could come up with obvious Psychology 101 explanations for it. As a kid, I always had to provide a justification for why I should be allowed to do something, or to have something. It was never just because I wanted it. That wasn't good enough (or so I felt). But that doesn't really hold water, because I'm not a kid anymore. It's been my nature to justify.

I want to figure out why. And what are the consequences if I stop justifying to myself and others. Is it even possible? In some way, I think it frees me from a lot of the chatter that is going on in my brain. I think much of that repetitive thought is a movie reel of justifications for every single thing (as Cassandra often points out, 70-90% of the thoughts we have are repetitive). I do know that the idea of ceasing these justifications feels scary to me. I don't know what I would think about if not that. And that's probably an important observation.

What I would first like to know is if it's primarily about justification itself, or if it's actually about validation.

And I am not sure about that yet.

The show is over...

My yoga retreat ended.

Along with that, I decided to take a real Savasana from yoga, altogether, in the amount of 5 days off. That was undoubtedly the longest break I have taken, possibly in an entire year since I started doing yoga, though I'd need to check to verify that. I went on a couple of long walks during that break, and recovered from the jet lag. 

Having finished my 108 days, and taken the day off at the start of the retreat, it became no longer a "huge issue" to give myself a real rest. So I did. I didn't feel compelled to do yoga, and it was actually nice to not feel compelled. But now, I am back, and I finding it a little difficult to do yoga again "in the real world." I got spoiled by the pristine peaceful environment of Umbria, which my fabulous teacher, and nothing to worry about except relaxation, eating, and practice. Now, every class is "not Sue Jones," and the element of non-tranquility feels exaggerated. The street noise, outside Urban Yoga Spa. The music that I had become used to not hearing. I am needing to readjust back to what things were, but with my new thoughts and feelings about "What Yoga Is."

It's all part of the practice. And I should have expected that, along with life-changing experiences, would come a bit of longing and regret.

I am also finding it difficult to make myself write these blogs, as is evidenced by my being three days behind here. But part of my own practice and journey is to keep going, and write my way through the rough and tedious spots. 

So here I am.

26 September, 2012

Even the gentlest is not gentle enough

Today was Hatha with Diane.

Peak temperature 99 degrees. Peak humidity 75%. Heat index? Too high.

I had a pretty strong class, but I am still struggling with the heat. I started fixating on the noises in the hallway, and wondering "Why can't people be quiet out there? Don't they know there's a yoga class going on?!" And then to the sounds of the traffic, trucks, ambulances outside, thinking "Why isn't there more insulation in this studio? How am I supposed to relax with this noise?!"

Ah...

But there it is.

To quote Lola, my fellow yogini, from our retreat, "This is what is happening." Actually, that was an indirect quote of Lola, from Sue, who was quoting Lola as having said this. Whether we like it or not, this is what is happening, in this moment, this is what we are dealt. Our practice is to be with that moment, without drama, without judgment, and to work toward acceptance, no matter what the moment brings.

Does that mean my practice has slipped? Did going away on vacation to a Utopian environment actually take me away from being "okay" with all that is? I don't think so. I think that what the transition did was teach me something about transitions. I don't think I have ever considered myself to be sensitive to transitions. But perhaps that's something to watch.

It was a good class, but I felt hot, and my eyes stung with sweat, and I had the feeling of almost passing out when coming out of Pyramid pose. By the time we reach the mat for the floor series, I knew we'd gone long, and that time would end up being a factor. As such, I did feel the class speeding up toward the final minutes, and it was the stretching that fell victim to the time constraints. It makes me a little sad that we don't have the luxury of 90 minutes of restorative yoga at the end of a class.

But, as I said... this is what is happening.

Onward.

25 September, 2012

Running right into the propeller

Today was Hour of (Intense) Power with Tina.

There was nothing gentle about this class for me. After the week of deliberate, paced yoga, with such focus on turning inward, and restorative time, Tina came at us like a freight train, and I found it really difficult to keep on it. I pretty much did, so I guess I am just complaining. But it was a mental fight, with mini-battles over the experience I was having, and frustrations that I thought I had outgrown about "Why does it seem to be so much easier for everyone else in here than it is for me?"

Class was Level 1 & 2 which, I assume, means that when she calls out "Warrior IV" nobody should be surprised. I still don't know what it is, because everyone in the class was doing something different. And I suspect that, when I finally get around to Googling it, I will not be able to do the actual pose.

Regardless of Be Luminous being a less hot, less humid studio than Urban Yoga Spa, everything feels more hot and more humid to me, after my week of room temperature yoga.

I guess I was more acclimated to the heat, prior to my trip, than I thought.

The dehydration is hitting me again. Dry eyes. Headache at night, and difficulty sleeping. Foot cramps.

It's an adjustment, for sure.

24 September, 2012

Back to urban yoga

Today was Hatha with Patrick.

After over two weeks of yoga in the country, and yoga in the suburbs, it was finally back to yoga in the city. It has been weeks since I took a Hatha class. And it has also been weeks since I have been in the heat, with the exception of one 90 degree class in Boston.

My body has clearly forgotten how challenging the heat can be. Practice was strong today, for the most part, and I did feel the positive effects of all the yoga I have done. I also felt the positive effect of five days off. But the heat (which peaked at 100 degrees, 71% humidity) left me feeling dizzy, nauseous, and needing to sit for over 30 minutes to settle down after class.

Dealing with the heat and dealing with challenging yoga are two entirely different things.

It was nice to see the familiar faces again, and I felt welcomed back to the community. I was even surprised at how many people knew I had gone away.

There's more to say, but I am going to push it to a separate entry.

19 September, 2012

Day 8: Munich International Airport - Lessons in dignity

There is something about the Germans.

In every brush I have had with Germanic culture, the central theme that runs through every experience is their deep commitment to human dignity. I once said that the dignity of a culture is well-indicated by how people are treated when they have no options. In Austria, years ago, I marveled at how the highway rest stop food options were like a Whole Foods market. I do not exaggerate.

When I boarded the Lufthansa flight, I was immediately struck by the cleanliness of the aircraft, the sleek, minimalist leather seats, and the respectable leg room in every row. The Germans care about design, and would not think to allow the smallest things to be designed badly. Why design anything poorly, when it takes little more energy to design it well?

When the plane landed in Munich, I exited to the most beautiful terminal imaginable. Every 100 meters or so, there is a cappuccino station, self-service, complimentary, with multiple free newspapers. A kindness from Lufthansa.




There are napping stations where you can rest or work in protected silence.




There are gift shops that sell things that are actually nice.

There are restaurants that are quality, though expensive.




Even though I have only 3 hours in the airport of this wonderful country, I am thankful even for that. Every experience in Germany has been a pleasant one.

Day 7: Italy – Cortona


It’s the final day of the trip. It was also the least yoga-centric, most travel-centric day in Italy, as we took a full-day visit to Cortona, another old and beautiful city. Everyplace I go, I think “This is the most beautiful place I have ever been.” And then, to the next place, “No… this is the most beautiful.” The reality is that everywhere I have been is beautiful, and Europe has some incredibly strong pull on me. I’ve never visited a city (in the few countries I have visited) and not been amazed. I think it’s because of my fascination with “The Old.”

Cortona was about 75 minute drive from Locanda del Gallo. We left at 8:30 in the morning, after a quick breakfast (no yoga in the morning this time). The ride there, I was once again navigator, even though my skills at interpreting road signs in Italy was marginal, and my Italian map-reading abilities non-existent (apparently, putting labels on the roads on a map is considered to be optional, i.e. it would be like if someone told you to take I-90 to get from Worcester to Framingham, but then you look at the map, and there is no road labeled I-90… there are a variety of entertaining Italy navigation idiosyncrasies… okay, I’ll tell you one more: If you see a sign that says “A1 – Firenze – 20 km” you might assume that means that this exit is for the A1 highway toward Florence, and that you will arrive in Florence after driving 20 kilometers. That would be incorrect. What it actually means is that the exit for the A1 highway toward Florence will be in 20 kilometers, but that once you are on the A1, it could be 8 million kilometers to Florence. I think that the underlying factor here is that nobody really needs to be anywhere in Italy, though, in spite of this, they all seem to be in quite a hurry).

The long drives, fortunately, were a great opportunity to get to talk with each other, and learn a lot about our respective lives. And the views were spectacular. And, as I mentioned, the road signs provided amusement. We would talk about the classes we had done. We would discuss our yoga studios and experiences back home. We would talk about future plans, such as whether there would be a repeat of this retreat next year, and would we come again? We talked about the struggles and challenges we’ve had in our lives, large and small. Because we’re doing this work together, on our yoga mats, every day, we are experiencing lots of strong emotions in the presence of one another, and I think that somehow makes it more automatic that we open up to one another about our lives when we’re not doing yoga.

Cortona is up a pretty big hill, with some switchbacks along the road to get there. You can see the entire city from the main road, but it’s still hard to access (we talked about what type of challenge it would be for an invading army marching on foot, or with horses – tiring, and nearly impossible to do without being detected well in advance of your arrival – a good location strategically).

This was the first day on which our “touring” was very leisurely. We didn’t need to be anywhere much, though Sue and a couple of the others did visit some Italian friends of Sue’s in the afternoon, while the rest of us continued hanging out in town. We went to the various shops together and selected gifts to bring back for ourselves and our friends.

After some shopping, the group split up, with Sue and I wandering up stairs, roads, paths, always up, into the secluded, quiet neighborhoods where the residents of Cortona live their lives. We could see clothes hanging on lines, cats wandering the streets. We could hear conversations inside homes that we passed, with the characteristic inflection that Italians have in every conversation, as if they are irritated and fatigued with whomever they are talking to. On these steep roads, we marveled at how cars were still actually driving on them, since they seemed barely safe to walk. The streets were quiet, mostly. We sat on a wall, overlooking the outer parts of the city, beyond the walls, and talked about our fears, and about how we arrived where we are today. When time started to run tight, and we were supposed to go back and meet the others for lunch, and we had gone up nearly as much as one could go up, we finally started making our way back down, through a different neighborhood. We saw young children wearing smocks, walking with their fathers, apparently having come from either a day care, or perhaps their equivalent of kindergarten.

We met up with the others at the bottom, and decided to eat at an amazing restaurant called Trattoria Dardano, where the host was a man that Sue has known for half of his life, since her first visit to Italy in the late 1990s. The specialty of the house was Ravioli Tartufo (truffles), which I was fortunate to get a taste of. I had a good tagliatele with ragu and some roasted chicken breast. But the Tartufo is what I am remembering most. After lunch, which was a late lunch, Sue, Joanna, and Linda went to visit “The Bruni’s” whom Sue has known for years, while Mary, Lola and I continued shopping and wandering around, and eventually eating great gelato and talking to a couple of nice guys from London and Bologna, who were visiting on holiday from Oxford.

Then, we met up again with the others, at the van, and made the drive back.

The evening consisted of an emotional, tired yoga class, and one final fantastic dinner of spinach and ricotta ravioli, followed by Tandoori chicken and a salad that contained pomegranate seeds. We chatted for a while with Jimmy, and with the British woman who had done yoga with us the previous day (I’m forgetting her name, though I really want to say “Helen” or “Elizabeth” but I am probably stereotyping). After dinner, we were all tired, and parting ways to go and pack our respective bags for the morning departure was a sad sensation. Once again, I did not want to sleep early, and set myself up for a very short night’s sleep.

Now I sit here writing this, in the Roma Airport, waiting for them to actually assign a gate to my flight. It was a 3 hour ride to the airport from Umbria. I am tired. I would really like to be going home to Seattle. But first, I have three more days in Boston. I feel like it’s a “neutral zone” where the huge experience I had in Italy will incubate and absorb, before returning to the “comfort zone” at home.

Whether I am ready or not, this is what is happening.

18 September, 2012

Se si aspetta, i gatti verranno a voi

Today was Power Vinyasa with Sue.

The final class of the this retreat. We only had one class today since we took a longish day trip to Cortona. I got way too little sleep last night, and the energy started waning on the ride back from Cortona. Cannot say that I felt up for a vigorous practice, but also did not want the last one to be weak, so I just came prepared to do whatever it was, to the best of my ability. I think everyone was in the same boat. And it also was a bit emotional, being the last class. We all know this is it.

The practice was done in reasonably low lighting. Things were very mellow. We did some flow, and some balance, and then some restorative floor work. It was the right mix. I could feel the energy in the room. It was a bit heavy. Sue mentioned after class that she could sense it, and that our sequence was driven by that.

Near the end of class, during the stretching, I found myself not wanting to make the transition from one pose to the next. I felt like each pose should be longer. And it was not, I don't think, because I needed particularly more of any stretch today than any other day. I think that I was not wanting to move onward, because each transition meant we were closer to the end. So I granted myself a couple of lingers. I skipped a seated wide-leg split, allowing myself to stay in a hip and hamstring stretch a little longer.

At the end of class, Sue dimmed the lights, as we were doing final stretches on our backs. We did a supine twist to the right. Then we did a supine twist to the left. Then, just like that, Savasana. And I didn't want to leave that supine twist. I stayed in it, telling myself I needed a little bit more of that stretch. But, as I did, I realized that I did not want to move to Savasana. I was resisting it. I didn't want it to be over and, as long as I stayed in that supine twist, the yoga retreat was not over. As I realized this, I started to cry. Not one or two tears, like the earlier time in the week. This time, they were instantly streaming, and I felt that stuffy congestion, and burning sensation in my nose. I recognized that this can't last forever. This moment, as is the case with all other moments, must pass. I cannot cling to it, and make it not go away. I will always have the memories, and feelings that went along with them. But I need to let go of this. That is what yoga is really teaching us. To let go. Of our tightness. Of our pain. Of the beliefs that no longer serve us. Of expectations. Of any illusion that we really have control. The best that we can do is to become experts at letting go quickly, without undue drama. And as this thought washed over me, in a span of maybe only 5 or 10 seconds, I slowly rolled back to center and on to my back.

Savasana.

17 September, 2012

Italy: Day 6 - Cooking class

This was, of course, a Yoga & Cooking retreat. Until today, the cooking had been done for us, and it has certainly been great. But today was the day where we finally had our cooking class. Looking back, I can say that it is a good idea that we did this toward the end of the trip, rather than the beginning, because it was something that was nice to do with a group that was comfortable together.

After the morning practice, we had breakfast, and then a short break. Then, around 10:30am we started the class, on the back patio of Locanda del Gallo with one of the staff, Isabella, who was Italian-speaking only (well, plus Spanish). This isn't a problem, because half our group is reasonably fluent in Italian, and Sue acted as translator for us.

We would be preparing 4 things (only 2 of which we had a significant hand in preparing, and the other two, we watched). We made bread (pretty standard), and gnocchi (a new experience, that I would like to try to replicate). And we watched the preparation of a simple pomodoro sauce (which I definitely want to replicate), and a dessert of chocolate mousse, that contained mascarpone cheese. The actual preparation was sort of just a fun process, as a group. It was the first time, the entire week, where we ate a pasta dish consisting of a simple pomodoro sauce, and it was a great meal (we ended up eating it for lunch). The big lesson of that cooking class, for me, was that nobody should be buying jars of Prego. Making sauce is like the easiest thing in the world. Easier than making a grilled cheese sandwich. No excuses to buy it in a jar.

After lunch, people took naps, and I did some of my daily writing, plus uploading photos.

Then, in the afternoon, I went for a moderately long walk with Sue and Lola, around the woods, and neighborhood. We passed through somewhere that was called something like "The Free State of Alcatraz" which is apparently some strange hippie/artist community, with bizarre sculptures and artwork all over the street and woods. I wish I had taken photos, and am not sure why I did not, since it was interesting, and I had my camera. I think I found the art to be gaudy. But since it was so odd, might have been nice to document it.

We had our evening practice, and then, in my opinion, the best dinner of the entire trip. I haven't really mentioned how amazing our chef, Jimmy, is. But he is amazing. Not just as a chef, but as a host. Though he is "only" an employee here, he's part of the heart and soul of the place. He is from Sri Lanka, and he just has the most entertaining and genuine personality. Most evenings, he joins us by the table for some conversation near the end of dinner. And his character is a true highlight of this trip. Plus, his cooking has been fantastic, spanning all sorts of genres of cuisine, not merely Italian. Tonight's dinner was risotto, with a cheesy sauce, probably the yummiest thing I've had (because I love that kind of thing). Then we had very thin (pounded) breasts of turkey in a light sauce, and tender roasted chunks of fennel with melted cheese. Dessert was the chocolate mousse that was made at lunchtime. Unbelievably good.

In the evening, seemed like several of us were not as sleepy as we should probably have been. I had a great conversation with Sue, learning more about yogaHOPE, and talking about yoga practice and the philosophy thereof.

It was a GOOD day, and I am excited about Day 7, though sad that it will be our last.

È sempre vicino alla fine

This evening was Power Vinyasa with Sue.

We had some extra guests in class tonight. Actually, we've had 2 extra guests in about half of our classes. The owner of Locanda del Gallo, Paola, has attended several times. And our massage therapist, Shelley, has also come to about half the classes. Today, we had an additional yogi, one of the guests who was visiting from the United Kingdom. It was nice having the extra population in class, I think. Though it is great, in most respects, having a very small group, with dedicated attention to each of us, the slightly larger group brings more of a feeling of "the collective" in terms of breathing, and the overall energy in class is buoyed by it.

As the end nears, I am very consciously cherishing the moments on the mat with this group, especially Sue, who has singlehandedly changed my yoga practice in 7 days. The beauty of yoga practice, and its inherent nature, combined with a great instructor, is that if you are really listening both to the guidance and to your body, it is possible to make changes that have far-reaching impact quite quickly, and to remember those changes. The words of a good instructor become like a subconscious mantra or tape-reel that runs in your mind from that point forward, always available whenever you need to call upon them.

Tonight's practice was a very balanced practice that felt a bit like an integration of much of what we have learned. It was only an hour, concise, crisp. We didn't do much "workshop" compared to most of the other classes, but we just executed on many of the poses we have broken down each day for the past week. I would not assert that tomorrow will be the equivalent of the "yoga performance" but in that analogy, tonight's class felt a little like the respective "yoga dress rehearsal."

I'm feeling a little bit of the lightness in the arms in Warrior II now, after working on all the adjustments we've learned. I believe there's much further I can go, of course. But I achieved some lightness, and I also understand better what are some of the main factors underlying why it does not feel lighter than it presently is. I am feeling more lightness in my legs in Warrior II as well,  because of these "microadjustments," some of which were easy to employ, and some of which my body fights against, due to my tight areas, but nonetheless are still helpful in distributing weight more evenly. Warrior II is just an example, but this applies to most of the poses. The same is true in High Plank and Low Plank. I have experienced, in the past, very random differences from class to class, day to day, in how my body and shoulder feels in these poses. And I think it may be because I have not consistently maintained particular elements of form that matter a lot, because I did not have a mental language (or maybe it's a somatosensory language) for knowing what those elements were.

I could potentially have learned these things over time, had I not come to the retreat. And, to a degree, I have been learning many of these things. But there's a focus that happens in a setting like this. And I can't possibly trade away the experience of having done it here, in Umbria, with this group of people.

One more day. One more class. Curious to see how tomorrow feels (it's actually the beginning of "today" as I finish writing this, but we'll call it tomorrow, since you're all still in yesterday).

Suo nome era Lola

Today was 90+ minutes of Power Vinyasa with Lola.

Only had five hours of sleep last night, but for some reason, I woke up in a good mood, especially compared to yesterday. This morning, I was already alert and perky without any caffeine but, just for good measure, I drank 3 cups of strong Italian coffee in 15 minutes right before yoga. You'd think that is a bad idea, but it actually works. For me.

Sue was very much needing to practice yoga today, and Lola generously volunteered to teach the long class, with no advanced warning.

Today was another class where we focused, somewhat like a workshop, on specific details of the practice. A major focus today was to work on stepping our foot forward and backward to Downward Dog, without losing integrity of our body and hand position. I was trying to focus on this, in addition to recalling the lessons of yesterday regarding the serratus muscle. There is definitely a lot to think about.

Practice felt pretty strong today, but my hips are getting tired from all of the work we've been doing. Doing serious hip-opening work is not like a relaxation massage. It's a bit more like deep-tissue manipulation, to use the analogy. To make the progress, you're going to stir some shit up in there, and sometimes it's going to ache a bit afterward.

We only have 2 "classes" left before the end of the retreat. On Day 2 and 3, it felt like we had all the time in the world. But, much as I suspected would be the case, the end feels like one of those apparatuses where you drop the marble and it starts spinning around a broad outer rim, slowly at first, but then it gets closer and closer to the exit at the bottom, and you feel like it's going faster and faster. Italy is still here, but I know that we've got only a little bit left. I am not jumping ahead, or lamenting this fact. I am not "sad" in the sense of feeling badly. I am just aware that we have had all these amazing experiences, and become comfortable together as a group, and that our window is nearing its end for this time.

It has been interesting feeling the relationships evolve over the short time we have been together. I feel a connection with everyone on the retreat. Some of these connections were immediate, like the flip of a switch, and some have been slower to develop. But, as we've had these experiences, on and off the mat, I feel a shared spirit between all of us, and I feel very fortunate that we are here together, at this time and place, as this group (recalling the line "we are exactly where we are supposed to be, doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing").

I can't imagine having not come on this trip.

16 September, 2012

Italy: Day 5 - Assisi

This morning, after yoga, we got in the van and raced 40 minutes to Assisi, an amazing city, consisting of multiple layers of history and architecture, ranging back as far as 1000 BC by Etruscans and Umbrians, followed by Romans, followed by everyone else. And, as such, there are elements of those civilizations throughout the city. Walking down the streets (alleys) of this city, other than the cars, it felt like the closest thing I have ever experienced to being in an ancient place. Of course, this sense is exaggerated by my lack of familiarity with the distinctions between different eras of civilization which have been mixed and matched over time here. I can't do justice to explaining it beyond that. Suffice it to say, I was in love, and it may be the most beautiful place I have ever been. Though, I did have the worst cannoli that I have ever had. Are cannolis a thing that you should only buy in Boston or New York?

We had a tour guide for this visit, which adds a lot. I don't often have the opportunity to have a guided tour, and I often pass them up because I tell myself I can just look at everything on my own. But there is something completely different when there is a person to answer questions, and give you the flavor and story that cannot be told by the sites alone (though, I do have some questions about how much of the history of Assisi our guide knows - she told me that Assisi had never been destroyed but, according to Wikipedia, it was almost completely destroyed by "Ostrogoths" in the year 545 AD. I'll call it a minor detail, and move onward). There are several important churches with varied degree of sophistication and ornateness, and containing immensely important historical items, such as, say, the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi. It is kind of a shame that I have no Christian ties. I still have a deep appreciation for the significance of such things, and I am awe struck by the fact that they have been maintained and never stolen or destroyed. But I can only imagine what it must be like to have prayed and read about these figures your whole life, and then be standing in the crypt where they are buried. Breathtaking.

One funny tidbit for me, visiting these particular temples, was that it struck for me a memory that is so vivid, that it induced a pretty strong emotional response, with regard to the architecture and details of the interiors of these basilicas. And that, amusingly enough, was the incredible similarity to the cathedrals that were depicted (in great detail) in the game World of Warcraft. All I can say is that they did their homework. Walking through these buildings, I felt like I had been there before, having fought monks and various undead creatures many times during my stint as a bona fide WoW addict. It probably sounds ridiculous to you, if you've not played the game. But if you have, seriously, I kid you not... fucking cool.

On to less geeky things...

We had to rush back to Locanda del Gallo for lunch, which was fresh mozzarella with tomato slices, couscous, some type of eggplant cake, and arugula salad. The afternoon consisted of steam room, a walk to look at a herd of feral cats, and the evening yoga practice. Then, dinner was porcini lasagna with white sauce, followed by meatballs and spinach, and a birthday cake (for Joanna and Mary) that contained some type of liquor and walnuts.

It started off as a down day, but kicked in to be a great day. Always changing, always flowing, always discovering.

Questo ritorno non si piega (ancora)

This evening was Power Vinyasa + Restorative yoga (which I am starting to feel less justified about referring to as Yin) with Sue.

We spent the first half of class today, through the lens of a pretty standard Vinyasa series, discovering the location and function of our serratus anterior muscle. It's a group of muscles that are located under your armpit, running from the higher ribs around and under the latissimus dorsi, attaching to the scapula. A decent description of it can be found here. When doing yoga, it can be a critical muscle in supporting the arms and upper body in poses such as the Warriors (including Chair), Crescent Lunge, Downward Dog, Plank, and all sorts of inversions (and probably more). Unfortunately, one little sneaky aspect of this muscle is that, if you don't get all your parts aligned and oriented with proper form, you may not engage it. The result is that other muscles need to pick up the slack, or that other parts of your poses are compromised, or maybe not even possible. Example: if your shoulders are getting tired as hell in Warrior II, it may be because you have not engaged the serratus, resulting in your deltoids needing to do much more work.

So, today, we got into every nuance of how to engage this muscle, how to feel that it is engaged, and how the engagement of it impacts the array of poses. I had a hard time actually feeling that muscle. I am not entirely sure if I have one. When I try to engage it, I think I am getting a lot more lat engagement than serratus. One example of how to engage it is to push your hands away from you and down into the floor in Downward Dog. It helps (in fact, maybe required) that you get the insides of your elbows facing forward to facilitate this. There are a lot of instructions that we hear in yoga class that are given without explaining the underlying importance. One of the things I loved about this teaching technique with Sue is that she got to the anatomy. It was just telling us that the form should be a certain way because some ancient guru said so. It's telling you that the power needs to come from engaging precise muscles, and that there are ways of orienting our bodies to achieve that. This is something we've done with a variety of poses, and when you start to learn these subtleties, it becomes quite evident that yoga is not about achieving a shape through whatever means possible. It's really about a balanced recruitment of all of our muscles, including the smaller, more esoteric ones that you may not have even heard of (like the serratus, or the psoas, both of which are critically involved in commonplace poses like Side Angle.

This was good.

Then we got to the part of the class where we all tried to do handstands or headstands. And, when working through my form, using a wall for support and walking the legs up the wall, we discovered that my upper body does not presently achieve the arch that is required to safely do a headstand or handstand. It requires a certain amount of backward rotation of the shoulders (which it appears I do not possess yet), and a certain amount of arching of the upper back (which is also a limitation for me, as discussed regarding Wheel pose the other day). So, this dissection of the pose helped me realize that part of the reason (besides fear) that these inversions have seemed so daunting is because my body is just not ready to do them.

I need to work on flexibility in hips (known), shoulders (assumed), and upper back (sort of new knowledge). This means spending a lot of time in poses that are uncomfortable at this point, and being patient.

The second half of class was a gentle restorative series, focusing mostly on hips and upper back. We spent 5-10 minutes laying relaxed in a series of 5 or 6 poses. Very peaceful.

This was a huge shift from the morning practice, where I felt so down. I remember once reading in a meditation book that practice won't make us never feel bad, or angry, or sad, but that it helps us to let go of these feelings more quickly, when they do occur.

I think I am getting that. But I see that where I am right now is having progressed from taking days to let go to taking minutes or hours. And I believe that there's the capacity to let go of many things instantaneously if one is diligent about practice.

And that's compelling.

The biggest conflicts are on the inside

This morning was Power Vinyasa with Sue, at 6:45am.

Most days we have started at 7am. Today we are going to Assisi and needed to start earlier.

One could say I got up on the wrong side of the bed today. I don't even really want to write any of this because, for the first time, I have readers who are seeing me every day, sometimes within minutes of writing an entry. And I am not trying to call attention to inner conflicts. But if I start censoring then the whole point of cataloging my journey is sort of out the window.

I slated myself to sleep a little later today, as I have been waking up early to talk to my girlfriend who is an inconvenient 9 time zones west of here. This is slightly off-topic, but I should note that 9 hours is an inconvenient difference.

Today I decided to give myself an extra half hour of sleep. The night was filled with crazy dreams. I had a yoga dream, I think, where I couldn't get my towel to stay flat on my mat, and every pose that got called out, I was unable to get into the pose before the next one was called, and I was fussing with my mat the whole time. Then I had another dream where someone stole my laptop and I was chasing after them and begging them to please give it back. After chasing, and begging, and negotiating, I finally, miraculously convinced him to give it back to me.

I woke up at 5am and contemplated getting up but decided to stick to my plan of 6am. Then I woke up at 5:30am and, again decided to wait until 6am. Finally 6am came, and I got up. Turned on my computer, and realized it was 6:34am, not 6am. I don't even know how it happened. But losing that half hour threw me off and, although I was on time for class, I just had a negative energy directed at myself. I cannot even explain fully why it was. But it was a heaviness. And I was quiet and probably sent my heaviness out into the room, which made me feel worse but I just closed up and stayed in my mat more like it was a cell than a mat.

Practice for me today was all about going through the poses carrying this energy. My breath wasn't as deep. I did keep my focus and stay with all the poses and not let my mind drift too much. But every pose felt like a struggle. The saving grace was that the room was not 105 degrees, since that, combined with a bad head space is what has often caused me to completely melt down in a class. At 75 degrees I can make myself go through the proper motions.

But is this yoga? Was I present?

They say we should be with whatever is, but what if that's a boatload of negative energy?

My low back, on the upside, feels about 95%, which is good.

But I don't really understand what drove me into the negative space. I don't really know how to get clarity on things happening in me that are not obvious to me. One thing I considered is the "3rd lap" phenomenon. I used this analogy the other day for someone. It goes like this: When you run a mile on a track, it is 4 laps. And I always found that the 3rd lap was the hardest. You've just passed the halfway point. But the end is not in sight. How does this apply here? My overall trip away from Seattle is two weeks, with half in Boston and half here. Today marked the start of the second half... the 3rd lap.

Perhaps I am just a little homesick.

Who knows?

15 September, 2012

Italy: Day 4 - Perugia e Massaggia e Mangia

Today, we visited the city of Perugia. This is much more substantial in size, from what I could tell, than Gubbio. Gubbio is quaint. Perugia is impressive. One can walk around Gubbio in an hour, and feel like all of the major sites of the old town have been seen. This is not so in Perugia. Not only did we not cover all of it, it's large enough that one can easily get lost walking or driving around.

Once you get to understand the basic architectural styles of an era, each new town or street or structure starts to become another example of the pattern. But, the details are what makes something beautiful. Sometimes, the most impressive things are the degree of preservation, or the actual layout of things. And the deepest level of beauty doesn't come from the purely physical structures at all. It comes from this representation of the ways things used to be, preserved so amazingly well. Though, I guess that's not entirely true, since much of Europe (and especially Italy) is a hodgepodge of Roman era and newer European style. In some cases, even older elements are seen. And I have no freaking clue what I'm talking about, so you should just skip past this to the part about the massage. The most impressive thing about Perugia, to me, was that there is an ancient Roman Medieval (correction by Sue Jones) city, on top of which the new city has been built. So you can enter these "tunnels" that have completely ancient-looking structure, and then you come out the other end of the tunnel, and you're in "modern" Perugia (which was still built a long, long time ago). I tried to photograph it. I tried to video it. But there was no way to capture it and get the sense of how amazing it was. Unless, of course, you were to use Sue's video camera, which seemed to do a perfect job of capturing how amazing it was.

We went to a couple of shops, and the women tried on shoes. Then we got gelato. Wandered around. Sat on some steps of a cathedral. Watched a wedding. Watched people from all over the world. Then tried to find our way back to the van, which was successful, eventually.

In the afternoon, I had my second massage from a woman who is a visiting masseuse here at Locanda del Gallo. She's originally from London (I think), but mostly lived in California, and then moved to Maui, and sounds like she's from Perth. So there you go. It was my second massage with her. The first one, was a standard "Swedish" relaxation massage, which was great. I decided to give "Deep Tissue" massage a try for the second session, and she spent over an hour working on knots in my upper back and shoulders, and soreness in my low back. 

One thing I have failed to mention much about is the food. Every day, we have three meals at Locanda del Gallo, prepared by the chef, Jimmy, who is from Sri Lanka. He is an incredibly friendly guy, and prepares interesting meals every day. Typically, breakfast consists of a selection of cereals, granola, yogurt, breads to toast, prosciutto, swiss cheese, fruits, coffee, juices, jams, cakes, and eggs (if you request them). Lunches have included salads, pastas (always handmade), bruschettas of various sorts. Today, we even had dal and rice. There are no rules about what's on the menu, and it is definitely not limited to Italian fare. Dinners are always 3 courses, consisting of a handmade pasta dish with some type of interesting sauce, a meat dish, ranging from baked fish, to beef in wine sauce, to eggplant and meat cakes. Finally, a decadent dessert, be it pineapple cake, chocolate cake, or raspberry mousse. One really cannot complain. And, importantly, they have figs. Lots of figs. Fresh ones. Ripe ones. Growing outside where you can pick them at your leisure. Served with every meal. I have never tasted anything like these figs, and honestly didn't know a fresh fig could be this desirable, since I have probably only eaten ones that were sub-par.

So that's the story of today. More tomorrow.

Due al prezzo di uno

This evening was 2.5 hours with Lola & Sue, split between Power Vinyasa and Restorative Yoga (which I will continue to label as "Yin" because I don't want to create a new tag).

The one major disadvantage of teaching a yoga retreat is that you may not get to do much or any yoga. So it is fortunate for Sue that several of the others at this retreat have teacher training, or are instructors. Today, Lola took the lead for the first half of class.

It was a fun and unexpected surprise to have another teacher, since I had not been aware this was a possibility. It was the first class where the heat in the room was up far enough that I broke a major sweat during the practice. That said, it was probably only 80 degrees, but that's really all it takes for me. Not because of the heat, but just because of the series taught, this first hour was the toughest for me of the entire retreat thus far. Lola had us in quite a few unconventional poses, including a series based around Warrior II, where we started in Twisted Crescent Lunge, then came up to Warrior II, then WII with Eagle arms, pivot body forward, and come into Eagle from WII. Then WIII with Eagle arms, step back to Crescent Lunge, and flow. I am not sure I am remembering that 100% correctly, but it involved a long time in WII legs. We also spent more time in Wide Squat than I have ever spent in a class. I've mentioned here before, I am pretty sure, that I am nursing an "almost groin injury" that has been kind not to become an official groin injury. But, I have got to say, Wide Squats galore makes me a tad nervous. We'd go to Wide Squat then, keeping the hands on the floor, straight legs, and back down to Squat. I think we did either 8 or 10 of those between two sets. Lola's transitions are a little faster than Sue's. I'm only mentioning this for the comparison within this retreat. I think both of their paces are comfortable for me. Sue features very deliberate pauses at each step of a flow, delineated and aligned to full breaths. So I think the intensity in this class was partly related to a faster pace. To tell you the truth, I am scared to write this, because I feel like the result will be that tomorrow's Vinyasa flows will be lightning speed. But I'm here to overcome my fears, so I shall not be afraid of lightning-fast flows, should they occur.

The transition from Lola to Sue occurred at about the halfway point in the 2.5 hours. I was not sure if we were really done with the intense stuff, and I was really hoping we were, since was very tired. It turned out that the entire second half of class would be restorative. In fact, we started the restorative during the last 20 minutes of Lola's portion, with a variety of long, slow hip stretches, centered around Full Pigeon, and Seated Twists. Sue's class involved 5+ minute holds in a variety of hip and low back stretches, plus some shoulder and chest opening. Everything was with great ease. Everything was quiet, except for the music, which was yoga-ish music. The poses were great, and I got a lot of comfort and stretching from it. The only downside was that I was having a hard time staying awake (though I did manage). This class, more than any others, I did not feel like I had the yoga focus, either with my mind or my breathing. I wasn't struggling (the usual culprit for loss of focus). I was just wandering. My mind was just merrily wandering about, and I was forgetting to breathe, and not even realizing when the last time was that I had checked into the moment. It was definitely not unpleasant wandering, and I suppose that is gonna happen from time to time. But I do try to stay present when I am on the mat. This evening, I was not.

And I guess that's okay...

Non fare "La Ruota"

This morning's first class was hour of Power Vinyasa with Sue.

The plan is to do a long class in the morning, and a short class in the evening. But today, the schedule was flipped around, because of our plans for the day. Today's class (and the morning) started off with the consequences of last night's class... something I forgot to mention in the post about that class. Near the end of class, I tried to do Wheel pose. This is a pose that I often attempt, though I cannot say that I have ever felt like I am comfortable in it. The actual instruction was to do Bridge or Wheel, and I chose to do Wheel. I am not really sure why, other than ego or maybe a tad of telling myself I wanted to get "the most" out of the class (both of which are flawed thinking). When I was holding the pose, I tried to arch just a little too far, and the arch must have been happening in my low back, because I felt a slight twinge of the same old back injury that keeps coming up year after year in my life. Fortunately, I backed off immediately, and it seemed to be minor, if anything. But when I woke up this morning, it had become sore and tight in the area, and every time I sit for a little while, the getting back up again is painful for the first few minutes. When I talked about it with Sue, she suggested that I probably should not be doing Wheel yet in my practice, due to the amount of tightness through my shoulders and upper back. Since I can't get my arms straight, and can't get my upper back arched, the only way to form a C-shape is by putting arch in my low back.

Sue sensed that everyone was dragging a bit this morning and, as such, class was on the mellow side. I don't think we even did a single Chair pose (though, I probably shouldn't post this before the evening class, or she may be sure to make up for it). There was a lot of Warrior II work, holding the pose, doing advanced stretches and adjustments from within the pose, and hitting some of the poses that are based from it. We also did a fair bit of work around Crescent Lunge and Low Lunge. A good long series of Salutations at the start of class. The time went by quickly.

I know why I did that Wheel last night. I am pretty sure it was mostly coming from the "ego" place.

There's a reason for sayings like "Pride comes before a fall."

14 September, 2012

Italy: Day 3 - Gubbio

I didn't think Day 2 warranted it's own journal entry because, other than 3.5 hours of yoga, we didn't move around very much. My day consisted of an amazing massage after yoga class, an amazing lunch, amazing steam room (x 2), amazing dinner, and the yoga. The weather was rather poopy, and it was a day for everyone to settle in and relax.

The meals here have been amazing, as perhaps you've seen in the accompanying photos I've been posting on Facebook (apologies if you're not on that viewing list). The hosts are so friendly, and this place feels special. It is not a hotel. It is not a B&B. It's its own thing.

Day 3 took the poopiness of the weather up a notch, to our disappointment. High winds, some heavy rain, and unseasonably cold, in the mid-50s the entire day. But that did not stop us from hopping in the van, and taking a day trip to the nearby town of Gubbio. This town is of great historical significance for reasons that I cannot tell you, but I am sure Wikipedia can. There were knights (then, not now) and some rap about a Holy Sepulchre, and a bunch of other cool shit. Typically medieval action. We walked through much of the town, admiring amazing stone architecture. The roads were narrow, and winding, with steep hills that seem like they couldn't possibly be passable by car, though they are. Looked at a couple of churches. Stopped for cappuccino and croissants at a place called Bar del Corso. The weather was dismal, but we made the best of it, shivering and getting slightly soggy, even with raincoats and/or umbrellas.

It would have been nice to have a sunny day for it, but it was still beautiful, and there's probably something special about experiencing what we did. The weather is supposed to get better, and there are 3 more towns that are on the agenda for upcoming days (Perugia, Assisi, Cortona), so we'll hopefully get a taste of nicer touring conditions.

I am always amazed by Europe. I have only visited 3 times previously, and I have only been in a total of 4 countries (Germany, France, Austria, Italy). But I admire the passion for "the old." I joked today that, had this been the States, they would have widened these roads and paved with asphalt, and torn down the inefficient, drafty stone buildings, and put in townhouses. America is a place that is constantly throwing away what was, and replacing with what's next. You could be optimistic and say "reinventing ourselves." But there's something special about the beauty and craftsmanship that went into "the old." We don't build our houses or buildings so that they'll be around in the year 3000. But the Europeans did.

I could start on a rant about the fact that all the cars over here are small, sleek, stylish, diesel, and get over 40 miles per gallon. But I'll spare you that one for today, since it's getting late.

Non dirlo a nessuno che Sue mi ha fatto piangere

This evening was Power Vinyasa with Sue.

A couple of us asked for abs tonight, since we hadn't seen abs in a class yet (other than the fact that every yoga pose works abs). Sue says to us, "Allllllright... but I can tell you right now, you're not gonna like the way I do abs."

Foreboding.

We started off class with abs. It was a modification of the 30/60/90 abs series, where we rested our head on a block, and then you look down at your belly and suck your bellybutton all the way to your spine. Then, lower your legs from 90 degrees to the point that you feel like your belly wants to jump up, but no further. Then hold it there and breathe. Yes, difficult. Then, repeat the process with both legs swung about 45 degrees to the right before lowering, and again to the left. You get the idea. I like the fact that the exercise is "dialed-in" to your own personal threshold, as opposed to 30/60/90 where you may be beyond the point where you can keep the back flat and low abs firm. Good idea. Sue is full of these types of good ideas. Seriously. Her style is about helping you find the spot that is right for your body, and helping you arrive in that spot, and to become more aware of the impact of small adjustments to the overall sensation.

The main flow was a pretty standard series, and was relatively gentle, perhaps considering the tough classes we've had so far on this trip. But then it stepped up a notch with what I would like to call "The Toughest Pose I Have Ever Done." It goes like this. We all know the "get on your hands and knees, and then extend your left arm forward and your right leg back" deal. It's quite common, moderate intensity, and yadda yadda, not much to say about it. But, guess what happens if, after doing this standard pose, you lower the knee back down to the mat, but keep the arm up? Give up? Okay, I'll tell you what happens. The Toughest Pose I Have Ever Done. And what makes it harder is holding it for 60 seconds. I don't understand how or why this is harder than having the leg up, but it is. The abs completely fry out, and the shoulder and back muscles holding the arm up will burn like crazy, and the arm that you're balancing on is also dying in its own special way. I honestly hesitate to even mention this pose in here, for fear that Jo or Cassandra might start doing it in their classes too!

Thankfully, the last 20 minutes of class went back into the Land of Yin again. We did some stretches, with long holds, to open up the I-T band, and inner thigh. It was an awkward pose I hadn't done before. You lie on your belly, and extend your bottom leg out to the side, with your top leg straight back. The bottom leg gets a major I-T band stretch. It was super-intense, and I found all sorts of juicy stuff... on the right side. You then flip all the way over so the bottom leg is on top, and again extend it out to the side. More juicies.

Then, we flipped to the left side, and I was basically unable to get into the pose. I am not sure why, but no amount of twisting, turning, pulling would get me there. Finally, I decided I needed to "let go" and see where my body wanted to be so that I wasn't holding on to anything. And what I ended up in was nothing short of a crumpled mess, where I felt like I wasn't getting any juicy anything. I laid there, and felt bad about it, and tried to accept myself for it, and then something hit me. I got this overwhelming feeling of having made a mess out of my life that just can't be reordered or made pretty. It wasn't a feeling about my life now, but it was a feeling that felt familiar. And, just like that, the tears started flowing. It was not elegant, it did not feel right. And I had this sense of "How am I ever going to make this be right?" More tears. We flipped to the back side to do the leg on top, and it was marginally better than the bottom.

After that, we went right into Savasana. This time, I was alert in Savasana, whereas the previous few classes, I'd been close to sleeping. And I laid there, trying to be curious about this sensation. Where does this come from? When was it real for me? Why is it such a trigger? And I couldn't even remotely put my finger on it. But as I let the questions run through my mind, more tears flowed, streaming down the sides of my face. I could feel them wrapping in front of, and behind my ears, and around and down the back of my head. I stopped trying to think about it, and focused on the sensation of drops flowing across skin.

Even writing this, it's welling up again.

And I honestly don't know why.

Como si dice sblocco dei fianchi

This morning was 2.5 hours of Power Vinyasa + Restorative (we'll call it Yin) with Sue.

It was cold, and dark, and windy, and rainy this morning. Think "Seattle in November." At the crack of dawn, or thereabouts, we were back in the studio again for the morning session of Day 2. After yesterday's morning tightness, I came to the mat (or, I should say "mats" since I am using four of them) with more of a mental readiness for whatever might come. I wouldn't say I anticipated it being tough. It was more positive than that, but I came with the awareness that it could be anything.

Near the beginning of class, we did a tough series that was based around Knee-to-Nose from the hands and knees position. Instead of just going forward and back, though, we would bend our knee and extend it out to the side, and around, when making the transition. First set of five, we brought it to the nose, and then out and back. The second set of five, we brought it to the nose by coming out and around. This was difficult for me not because of the motion, but because my wrists were killing me, bearing the weight. I tried shifting around a bit, and finding a place where the weight was less. I thought about Cassandra's direction of pushing down the hands like unscrewing pickle jars, and that helped a tiny bit, but I felt that made my shoulders more tired. There's a lot of fatigue in the upper body, and it was really just a question of which location I was willing to carry the load.

All in all, I felt stronger through the long standing series today than I did yesterday. There was a good blend of going hard, and then backing off, without coming to a full rest for probably 90+ minutes.

I tried the basket headstand again today, this time without the wall assistance. She got us into the starting position, which was sort of like a modified "Rabbit" pose with the hands cradling the head, and then we stood the back legs up like Downward Dog. From there, anything more was optional. I decided to see what it felt like trying to begin shifting momentum toward headstand. This amounted to taking hops with my legs to see where it would take me. I am not sure, but I think if I were to try to just throw my legs up there, at this point, I would likely go right over the top and crash down on the other side. After taking several of these hops, I must have either earned a B+ for effort, or sympathy, because Sue came over and assisted me into headstand. Bring one leg up to horizontal. Kick the other leg up to vertical (holding my top leg, then both). Squeeze the legs together tightly. I guess that's it. I was in a headstand. The acknowledgment I make here to myself is that I'm trying. In the past, I surely could have asked a teacher to help me try, but I have not been ready. So, there's progress.

After the standing series, we did a lot of hip opening on the floor, holding poses like Frog for at least 5 minutes a piece. We also did the extending one leg out to the side (in my case, using a strap) and holding for long, long time, then bringing the leg across and doing the same. There were at least a half dozen of these long-hold poses. By the end of it, I learned a few things: (1) My hips are fucking tight, and not just in the places I thought, like deep in the joint. All of the muscles of the hips, including muscles I didn't even know existed, are tight. (2) My right side is far tighter than my left. In fact, when we were working on the left side, with the leg extending out to the side, it was still my right hip that was reacting and sending sensations. I was like "Hey, what are you doing over there? It's not your turn!" But the hip has a mind of its own. (3) Most importantly, I see that I can get somewhere with this practice toward opening it all up. It's not a short road, but there is progress.

When we were doing all those hip openers, the thought that came to my mind was about all of the various ways in which we struggle with being "stuck" in our lives. And the hips (mine) are a good metaphor for it. You know there's so much work to do, and it's so easy to just berate yourself for having let it get this bad. You tell yourself that you can't do it, or it's too hard, or you'll never make progress fast enough. And it hurts. And it's scary. But once you actually start taking steps toward "unsticking" yourself, it's kind of amazing how quickly noticeable progress occurs. But then, the next day, it's the same battle again, because "stuck stuff" tends to be a "3 steps forward, 2 steps back" kind of scenario. It takes patience and perseverance.

Okay, that's enough for now.

13 September, 2012

più male tradotte titoli blog italiani

This evening was (only) one hour of Power Vinyasa with Sue.

I have to say that, after this morning's 2.5 hour class, I had some minor concerns about how my body was going to handle another session. You know I am not one to do very many doubles. And I felt fatigued, heavy, and sore in my shoulder this morning. My only hope was for one of "The Big Is" (Intention or Ibuprofen) would get me through it.

Sure enough, a combination of the two had me feeling surprisingly peachy. It always has amazed me, and I have discussed this before, that I can go from feeling bad one day to feeling good the next. But it surprises me even more that I can shift from bad to good within the same day. I don't even understand how the body works, really. Of course, there are a number of factors that could be at play. (1) I might have shaken out the cobwebs during the morning session, (2) I had a massage today between classes (Aw yeah!), or (3) My body just doesn't do that well in the morning. It's probably a combination of all of the above.

The afternoon class was a familiar, but intense series. We still added in some additional hip and side stretches that you might not typically see in a garden variety Baptiste class, which served me well, because I am definitely holding onto a lot of tightness from the traveling. As an act of "self-nurturing," I decided to try something different with my mat arrangement. The mats we're using are a bit thinner than my Manduka that I use at home. Even on my own mat, I have felt a fair amount of soreness in my palms, and sensitivity on any bones that press hard into the mat. So I thought I would try stacking two of these thinner mats. I stacked them and did a little test run, and it still felt pretty hard. So I tossed a third one on the pile. Still felt hard. Do I hear "Four Mats?!" Yes, indeedy. Four yoga mats. And I've got to tell you, this was the best my palms have felt in months.

Yoga mat situation aside, I just felt light and almost bouncy tonight. The Chaturanga's felt like my body was made to do them, with no feeling of Jupiteresque gravity. The Warriors felt good. Everything just felt good. There was, though, the initial Chair Pose that we held for about 37 minutes (okay, truth be told, it was probably 60 seconds, maybe 75 tops). Compared to this morning, I felt like I was rocking the pose, but we an added difficult of grabbing our elbows above our heads, and I did start to lose steam on the last few seconds of the pose.

A "breakthrough" in today's class. During Warrior II series, Sue told us to work on opening up our back inner thigh and hip toward the wall that our body is facing. I tried this, and noticed that it helps evenly distribute the force between the left and right leg. Previously, I have always felt like the front leg in all the Warriors and Lunges is bearing the lion's share of the weight. With this tiny adjustment, the front leg felt lighter. That, in turn, makes Side Angle feel a lot less like I am dumping into the front hip. Very cool.

Thus completes Day 1 of what will be 6 days of day/night doubleheaders. Sue promised us that we'll all be doing Bird of Paradise by the end of the trip. I will keep an open mind to this, but I will assert that she may need to replace my shoulders, hips, and hamstrings with those of a 25 year old woman. That could be interesting on a number of levels.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, I did an arm balance this morning that I'd never done before. I am not sure what it's called. But perusing Google, I would guess it is a modification of Bhujapidasana (maybe "Half Bhujapidasana?), with only one leg up over the inside arm, and the other leg is out straight with the other arm to the outside of it.

All in all, I am feeling good.

And feeling good feels good, don't you think?

Lasciare che il yoga inizio

Today was 2.5 hours (yes, you read that correctly) of Vinyasa yoga with Sue.

I have no idea if Google Translate did justice with the title of this blog, but you get the general idea.

We started at the crack (okay, near crack) of dawn. It was 6:45am and raining when Sue knocked on my door. I panicked, thinking I'd slept through both of my alarms. It turns out I had only slept through one of my alarms, and the other one was set for 6:50. Nonetheless, a jarring awakening. We all made our way down a winding path to the yoga studio, which is a free-standing wooden structure, with vaulted ceilings, windows on three sides, and a view out over the hills. The room is large enough that it could easily fit 60 students, without people even being mat-to-mat.

We were all tired, and sore from the flight, so the first 30-45 minutes were stretches, and lots of restorative poses, approaching what one might see in a Yin class. But then we began the Salutations. And there were a lot of them. We did a ton of Sun As which included Low Lunge, for good measure. Must have been at least 6 of them, and then moved on to Sun Bs. Our first Chair Pose of the day told me just how tired and sore my body was. We held it for a long time, and I was not able to stay up, and had to put my hands on my knees and come part of the way out of the pose. Plus, duh, I am probably sore from the 108 Salutations I did the other day.

The main feature of this morning's class was everything slow, and deep. We spent a lot of time in Twists, and Crescent Lunges. By the time we got to where one might say the end of a standing series would be, we had passed 90 minutes. We did some standing balance, which thankfully did an interesting variation where you make your way across your mat, alternating legs: first Dancer's on one foot, then Tree on the other foot, then Eagle back on the first foot. I think that's how it went. There was a Standing Split or Half Moon in there too, but it might have been part of an earlier series.

This morning was characterized by insanely tight and sore right hip. It felt like there was cement in the joint. Chaturangas hurt my shoulder a bit. I felt heavy and weak. Not surprising, of course, given the past 2 days. But still, it was something to fit into my practice, accepting what is, which was not the dreamy ideal of feeling light and wonderful at the start of 7 days of intense practice.

Rest, ibuprofen, self-acceptance, and necessary modifications. That's the prescription.

And tonight will be Round 2.

12 September, 2012

108 was enough

It was really by design, but today marked the end of my yoga streak. I flew overseas, which involved me being awake for about 30 hours straight. In spite of this, I was mentally prepared for a class, since this had been the plan all along. But the circumstances of the day, timing of other people's arrival at the retreat, resulted in us having to choose between doing a late-night yoga class or none at all. It was put to a vote, and the "nays" won.

I guess it's probably meant to be. 108 was the target. My body is wiped out from all those salutations plus the long flight. The universe sometimes deals us exactly what we need.

Italy: Day 1 - First experiences

Flying on Air Canada to Italy means that you will hear all of the airline announcements in three languages: English, French, and Italian. I have a hard enough time tolerating aircraft announcements in one language.

I didn't manage to sleep on the overseas flight. I can't say I tried very hard, but I can safely assert that, even if I had tried, it wouldn't have happened. So, instead, I watched "The Godfather" (which, believe it or not, I had never seen). Then, I moved on to (the bad choice of) "Tropic Thunder." I was sure I hadn't seen this one before, but every scene looked vaguely familiar, which suggests that it was unmemorable the first time.

Arrived in Rome at 10am. The giant 767 stops on the runway out in the middle of nowhere, and they have you go to the terminal in special buses. Strange for big airplanes in a big city. Not sure why they do it. Then it was a long walk though the terminal to a long line at passport check (where they didn't even stamp my passport). The baggage claim, and then wandered toward the cafe where I met two of my fellow travelers, who had apparently arrived at 6am and had to wait for me for four hours, since we were all riding together in a van from Rome 2.5 hours north to Gubbio, where Locanda del Gallo is located. Three other members of our small group were arriving on later flights, and coming by bus to nearby Perugia.

The drive from Rome to Gubbio went by amazingly quickly. It was pretty, with rolling hills and lots of trees. It could have been a scene from somewhere in the United States, except for the Italian road signs, the absence (for the most part) of SUVs (a good thing), and the fact that the hillsides are decorated with ancient stone architecture, indicating that it is definitely somewhere very different.

Though the drive was pretty, I was mainly consumed with the conversation of getting to know my yoga teacher for the week, Sue Jones, who runs a non-profit called YogaHope. There's nothing better than a long drive to get to know someone, and I immediately felt a connection, which was definitely facilitated by the fact that we're both quite open in talking about our experiences. Our other yoga travel partner slept in the back for much of the ride, so it was mostly just me and Sue.

When we got close to our destination, we left the highway, and begin ascending a winding, narrow road, with beautiful views and steep drop-offs on both sides. Eventually, the road became a dirt road, with stone buildings every so often. And finally, it dead-ended at Locanda del Gallo.

I should have napped upon arriving, but mostly did some communicating on the internet, and then hung out with Sue for an hour or so, before heading back to Perugia to pick up the others. While driving down the hill to get them, we had to slam on the brakes, because a wild boar ran across the road. Yes. A wild boar!

We picked up the others, who were excited to be almost done with their traveling (two of them, sisters, had spent a few days in Naples area prior to joining us, as they have family there).

About half our group is semi-fluent to fluent in Italian, which is interesting to be around, though I can't really follow much of anything, other than the vaguest sense from the parts that sound like Latin or Spanish (both of which I also do not really know).

By the time we all returned, it was after 9pm, and we sat down together for a late dinner, prepared for us by the hosts. It consisted of hand-made fettuccini with mushrooms and olive oil, followed by a curry-style chicken and sliced carrots, and a dessert of homemade chocolate and coconut cake.

The original plan had been to do a late-night yoga class, but a vote on the matter yielded a majority opposed.  For the record, I was one of the "yea" votes, since I had it in my head that I wasn't going to miss a day of yoga for the rest of my life.

Finally, after 30 hours away, sleep.

11 September, 2012

Italy: Day 0 - And so the journey begins

And so the journey begins.

I haven’t really given it much thought. I don’t even really know why I am doing it. I don’t have expectations for it. It’s funny. My cousin, “Vinyasa Girl,” was the one who suggested this to me. She had recommended some great yoga studios to me during a recent visit to Boston, and my experiences at those places led me to have implicit trust in her recommendations. The passion and eagerness with which she tried to help me really stood out to me as well. And that’s sort of the yoga spirit, isn’t it? When we feel the positive effect in our lives of these experiences, we are bursting with enthusiasm for sharing with others. And not only does that spirit reveal itself with such obviously connected things. It ends up translating into other areas of our lives. If we live our life from a place of joy and presence, then every encounter with another is an opportunity to share that energy, whether it is a coworker, our partner, or a stranger asking for directions on a crowded street.

Vinyasa Girl said to me, “There’s this retreat in Italy, with my friend Sue Jones, and you should do it.” She said that it was actually a “yoga plus cooking retreat,” where a small group of people (typically 7-12) went with Sue, and stayed in a villa (Locanda del Gallo) in Gubbio, which is about 3 hours north of Rome. There is yoga each morning and evening. Day trips to neighboring villages. Hot tub. Swimming pool. Meals together, including four-course Italian dinners every night.

My initial reaction was “Hm… that’s interesting.” But there was also a chorus of voices in my head that said things like “Well, that’s a neat idea, but I don’t really see how that will happen.” Or, “I don’t want to travel alone.” Or, “Is it really necessary to go to Italy to do a yoga retreat?” There were a slew of reasons why I shouldn’t go that freely came to mind when I looked for them. But, at the same time, there was one voice in my head that kept whispering “Why not?” This was way back in June. I read about the retreat online, and I contacted Sue, and asked her a few questions. I started to feel like “I might do it, but I think I’ll sleep on it for a few days.” But a few days turned into a month, and a month turned into 6 weeks, and it was starting to seem like it had slipped from my memory. But it didn’t completely slip. It was sitting back there, quietly cooking.

Life brought it back to the foreground, and I talked about it with Vinyasa Girl one more time. This time, she said “It was the best experience of my entire life.” And that was it. I again contacted Sue to find out if it was still possible to sign up. That was about a month ago. It was the day after “the deadline” (it’s very much like me to decide I want to do something right after it’s “too late”). But Sue still had space and, just like that, I signed up. I resisted any thinking or analysis. I resisted asking myself any further questions about why, or if, or how.

So here I am, on a plane to Montreal, en route to Italy. Still, there is no anticipation. No expectation. I know what the destination looks like, because I have seen photos. But I don’t know what it feels like. The pilot and the flight attendant on this small Air Canada jet are bilingual. Flight instructions and announcements in French are the first real indicator that I am on a journey.

It turns out, this will be a very small group of us. Only six of us in total, including our teacher, Sue. I do not know any of the four other people who are going (besides Sue, whom I also do not know, other than email exchanges). I know their names from reply-all email threads. I know some of their professions from perusing LinkedIn. And I know what some of them look like, from Google and Facebook information.

I am, after all, a researcher.

The rest shall begin to unfold shortly.

108 for 108

Today was 108 Salutations to mark 108 consecutive days of yoga.

All of this sort of evolved as a "goal" without knowing this is where I would be. Back in May, I decided to do the summer challenge, which ended up being more than 45 days because I'd already been at it for about 2 weeks (May 27th, to be exact). By the time the challenge was over, I'd felt I learned how to work hard but in moderation. I was actually recovering from injuries while still doing yoga. So I decided to go for 100. When I told Jo about the 100, she inspired me to go for 108 (at the time, as I have mentioned, I didn't really understand the meaning of 108, but Wikipedia solved that one).

So, finally, as I have neared this 108 number, I realized that the only fitting way to end would be with 108 Sun Salutations.

I have to say... It's not a lot of fun, having done it now. Many of you have more experience with this than I do. And I suppose doing it in a group, with music and encouragement could be nice.

But I did it alone in my room. In 60 minutes. With one rest of about two minutes at the #50 point. I had no way of counting, so I took a stack of 11 bills and laid one on the floor every time I hit a 10-pack. It occurs to me, in hindsight, I should have done 12 x 9 or 9 x 12. But I did 10 x 10 + 8. Oh well.

After the first 20 reps, I had serious doubts about whether it was a good idea. But it got better. Only modified with knees down on maybe 6 or 8 reps.

When I came to number 108, I guess I sort of felt "something." Not a big wave of emotion. Not some great sense of accomplishment. But just the realization that "here I am... at the end of that road." But it is really just the beginning of the next road, whatever that will be. That triggers more emotion than the journey finished. The journey yet to be uncovered.

Another coincidence of this 108: it turns out that it ended the day before I begin a one-week yoga retreat, in Italy. I had no idea the timing would work that way. But the next quest starts now. I am on a train to the airport.

In yesterday's class, Bill asked us to think really hard about what our intention is for our life. And say it silently to ourselves. Mine started off pretty specific. But then it became more diffuse, but more significant.

Live from a place governed less by fear, and more by love.

That is my next journey.

10 September, 2012

Equal parts Buddha and Mona Lisa

Today was Power Vinyasa with Bill at Open Doors.

After two days of home practice, I was definitely looking forward to getting back to a studio, with an instructor, and more of a feeling of connection in the practice. I was also excited about revisiting Bill's class, since the previous one had been such an inspiration. The second time around did not disappoint. He started class by talking about how important and powerful intention is. Merely thinking a thought sets us on a path in a direction. He gave an example about how making a decision that we need a new car suddenly results in us noticing all of the cars on the road, even if it was something we never did before. And once we purchase the car, and that intention is no longer present, we may stop noticing all the cars again, because we've moved on to some other thing. The idea is that setting an intention elevates awareness to all things related to that intention and, in a sense, is at the heart of bringing that intention to reality.

Class was very difficult. The sequences were all kind of a shuffle-up of the regular Baptiste flow. We didn't do any Warrior I poses at all. We used Utketasana as a sort of linker between every series in our flow, with an extra variation being that we would rise to standing from Utketasana, rather than folding forward, to delineate the end of each sequence. Lots of Crescent Lunges in this class and lots of twisting.

When we started our floor series, Bill told us a story about his own intention. Up until a few months ago, he had been a part-time yoga teacher, and part time running his own business. He came to a point where he decided, in his mind, that he really wanted to do the yoga teaching all the time. Interestingly, from that point onward, he never was contacted about another job for the other business. He went on to take some additional training, and has moved in the direction of his intention. And it all started with that simple thought that this was what he wanted to be doing.

At the very end of class, he did a reading from Andrew Cohen about the Clarity of Intention. I won't paste the content here, but you can find it on this website if you're interested.

If you're curious about the title of this blog, Bill mentioned that one of his favorite yoga instructors likes to say that our facial expression when we are practicing yoga should be like we are the child of Buddha and Mona Lisa: complete calm, but with a hint of mischief.

09 September, 2012

Late-night power

Today was Power Vinyasa home practice.

After the travel, and the days of sleep deprivation, I found myself getting out of bed at 12:45pm. I can rationalize that it was only 9:45am on my internal clock, but that still qualifies as "sleeping damn late." I missed both of the morning class options that were available to me, which was not really a surprise, but it meant that I would be practicing at home again. As the day wore on, a headache developed, which was, no doubt, the result of too much sleep and not enough caffeine. It was quite resistant to medication, too, which sucked. So I found myself delaying the yoga, and delaying the yoga, and delaying the yoga. All the while, I was fully aware that there was an absolute limit beyond which I could no longer delay, unless I wanted to (technically) not get a class in on September 9th. Of course, I could rationalize that I was still on West Coast time, and buy myself 3 more hours, but it's kind of ridiculous to be doing yoga in the middle of the night anyway.

At 11pm, the headache had finally subsided, and the awareness that I was delaying at my own expense led me to get my act in gear. For some reason, Vinyasa was calling out to me. The monotony of two days of fairly scripted Hatha, alone at home, felt a bit much to stomach. I did a pretty standard Baptiste flow, though I added a few little variations to the sequence, to make things interesting. The "highlight" of the "class" was a sequence that I am pretty sure I had never seen in any class before. About 40 minutes into the sequence, I did a standing balance series that went as follows, in one continuous flow, without setting down the lifted leg:

  1. Eagle Pose
  2. Sleeping Eagle
  3. Airplane with Eagle arms
  4. Sweep arms back to full Airplane
  5. From Airplane, bend the raised leg, grab inside of foot with one hand and begin to kick, reaching the other arm forward into Dancer's Pose
  6. Pull up to standing from Dancer's and, without dropping the leg, swing arms back into Eagle
  7. Rewrap legs, and squat down one more time in Eagle
  8. Release

It's a cool sequence. Not as difficult as it sounds to go from Airplane to Dancer's.

The thing I like about a home practice is that I find myself wanting to push a little harder, keeping it honest, so that I don't feel like I am just checking off a calendar block. When there's no instructor, the only one there to ensure that I work is me. And that's sort of how much of life is. Of course, I say that as I am sitting in a Starbucks writing this blog instead of doing my work (how does that relate to the "How you do anything is how you do everything" mantra).

The hardest part for me about home practice is the desire to look at my iPhone if it buzzes. There may be a text I want to read, or a Facebook post, or an email, or a Scrabble move. All these distractions that are pulling at me all day, every day. Is it about staying connected to the world? Or is about avoiding what is right in front of me? It would be so simple to just put the phone in the other room for 1 hour, and know that I could look at it right after class. But I grant myself that distraction, rationalizing that I'll just make sure I focus on my breathing, and that will be yoga. I limited myself to peeking at the phone only during the 2 scheduled brief rests, which I will call a "moral victory" though still a bit of a cheat.

In the starting Child's Pose, I actually had to say to myself, "If you just go through the poses, while your mind is off somewhere else, that is not yoga." But then I found myself following that up with "But don't beat yourself up over it, and berate yourself." There's a middle road of observing, but accepting. Trying, but not struggling. The other day in class, Elizabeth said during our final Savasana, "Don't fight to be empty. Fight to be present." And that is profound, because the reality is that we cannot completely control where our minds go. But we do have the capacity to always observe where our minds have gone, without latching on to any of it."

08 September, 2012

Continuing to find a way

Today was Hatha at home, in Boston.

I have been sleep deprived for a few days now. This morning, I had to get up early to go to the airport and fly to Boston (not the reason I needed the passport). Regardless of the fatigue and the long day of traveling, there was still yoga to do, and I didn't manage to fit in time until after 9pm. That is really only 6pm, since my body was still on West Coast time, but I am not really even sure what time my body is on, since I have been so tired.

In any case, I managed to do a halfway decent Hatha practice in my 78 degree bedroom. It looks as though tomorrow will also be home practice, because the Sunday schedule at the local yoga studios is not in alignment with what I expect my sleep needs will be for tomorrow. That's a little unfortunate, because I would like to have attended a class with Nicole, whose class I took the last time I was in town, but she was only teaching at 8am, which might have felt like 5am in my messed up clock.

Being in Boston, of course, means more opportunity to practice in life, since family visits are often trying for me. So far, so good.

07 September, 2012

Empty but present

Today was Power Vinyasa with Elizabeth.

Slept 3.5 hours last night. Caffeine put me through the day, but the heavy cloud began to fall in the mid-afternoon. As I write this, I am finding myself having a hard time focusing. The tank is empty.

I wondered, "How am I going to do 75 minutes of hot yoga with no sleep?"

At the beginning of class, I felt heavy and tentative. About halfway through class, something flipped like a switch, and the energy came on. Something energized me and carried me through the second half of class. But the Chaturangas felt like I was lifting someone else's body. The places that are on the verge of injury anyway felt more on the verge. A time to be extra-mindful, extra-present.

Elizabeth read a poem in the end. By Mary Anne So-and-So. I don't remember her name. I don't remember the poem. I was on the edge of tears at several points during class. Fatigue makes us more vulnerable emotionally, as well as physically. Cracked open.

The streak goes on.

Day 108 is so close.

You're almost at the top of the mountain. Why would you give up now?

Life Fire Drills

Off the mat.

I store my passport in a strange place. I'm not a very organized person, you see. So, to me, traditional sense of order is not as important as "I just need to be able to find it" kind of order. So, for the longest time, my passport was living in the kitchen, in a random drawer that contains things like recipes, a small flashlight, and other random junk. Not exactly a typical storage location for what is arguably the most important document I own. But I knew where it was. Then, at some point in time, I used my passport for something and, upon completing said use, the passport this time landed in a wooden fruit bowl, on the kitchen counter, among a pile of random items like keys, unused credit cards, and birthday cards that were never sent. Again, not a great location, but all that matters is that I always know where it is.

Thursday night, I was packing for my trip (which I haven't told you about yet, but it does involve the use of a passport). It was around 10pm, and I'd been carefully making piles of the clothes that I need to bring, and the various other items. I actually had a packing list, which is highly not like me, but I wanted to make sure I didn't forget anything. Although the passport (as I said earlier) is arguably the most important document that I own, I didn't worry about it, and didn't even bother to locate it until near the end of this itemization, because I knew exactly where it was. In the wooden fruit bowl. So, around 11pm, it had finally come time to collect the obvious necessities: iPhone charger (that's like my umbilical cord), laptop charger, passport...

And the passport was not there.

The passport was not in the wooden fruit bowl. First thought was that maybe it was back in the kitchen drawer, among the recipes. No such luck. Then I recalled that I had removed a bunch of items from the kitchen counter, when trying to de-clutter, prior to a visit from MaidPro. So, perhaps it was on my desk in my bedroom? No such luck. Now, the searching became a bit more rapid. I began looking in places it was not likely to be. I began looking in places I had already looked. In the car. In closets. I didn't go so far as to look in the refrigerator, but almost that far. The searching went on for nearly an hour, with no passport.

I was nervous, and starting to ponder worst-case scenarios. If I don't find my passport, I am going to have to cancel my trip! Not a good thing! I turn to Google, to see if there's a way to rectify this. What I learn is that it is, indeed, possible to obtain a replacement passport, potentially same day, for a premium of about $280. But you need to schedule an appointment through an automated service. I call to make an appointment, and the earliest time slot is not for 5 days. Too late. And it's almost midnight at this point. I am re-searching for the third and fourth time the places I think it should be. To no avail.

My mind is no longer clear, because I am tired, and adrenalized. But I haven't lost my shit yet. I use the word "yet" because, as recently as a year ago, the probability of me losing my shit, having a meltdown, and taking it out on myself and everyone around me was high enough that loved ones would typically start cringing and running for cover by this point. But, this time, I found myself apologizing to those I'd enlisted to help me in my search, and suggesting that everyone just goes to sleep, and I will take care of it.

I was weighing the options for the moment: (1) keep looking, (2) try to sleep. I was also weighing the options for the morning: (1) keep looking, (2) put all my eggs into the "get a new passport ASAP even if I have to bribe a passport office to give me an emergency appointment." I opted for option (2) from both of the above lists. When I went to bed, I was, of course, not able to fall asleep. 2am and still wide awake. I made one or two more feeble attempts at looking, but only because I couldn't sleep anyway.

My mind started to slow down, and unwind. I was consciously focusing on the breath, and trying to quiet the mind. What is my body actually feeling? Not "what is the worst thing that can happen?" or "oh my god, this sucks!" But just "what do I feel right now, in this moment." And I realized that I didn't actually feel too badly. Mostly I just felt awake. My mind slowly started to process where it could be. I didn't actually have any ideas, but it felt like there was some sort of unconscious mulling occurring as I became more relaxed. Finally, sometime around 3am, I fell asleep.

When I woke up around 6:30am, I went downstairs, went into the closet of the spare bedroom, took down a wicker basket (which had previously been on the kitchen counter), and there was the passport. I didn't know it would be there, but it was the first new idea that came to me when I got out of bed.

A year ago, I would have been lamenting the fact that I lost most of a night's sleep "for nothing." But the feeling I was left with this time was that this was like a "life fire drill." I learned something about how I would react to a potentially major situation. And, though it was not a real emergency, I learned something about myself, which is that I can remain calm, be reasonable, and act to do what is necessary, without attaching a whole lot of drama to it. I credit this entirely to the commitments that I have made to practicing in my life. The yoga has helped me to be in uncomfortable "poses" without reacting and lashing out in response to those unpleasant feelings. And in fact, the feelings themselves, in our bodies, are often not even as bad as our drama-hungry minds make them out to be.

The road is a long one. But I am moving forward.