30 April, 2013

Slow down and listen

Today was Gentle Yoga with Elizabeth McElveen.

It was good to be back home. It was good to be in Elizabeth's class. This was not a class with a lot of movement. We did a lot of listening. She had a lot to say, and there was a lot of Teaching with a capital "T" today. Sometimes it feels more like a workshop than a regular class. In fact, perhaps it's the difference between a "class" versus a "workout." A lot of the classes I attend don't feel particularly heavy on the teaching side. It's really an interesting idea when you think about it. We take a yoga class. There is a yoga teacher. The yoga teacher will tell their friends "I have to teach at 5:30 today." But what is going on with the use of that word, "teach?" There is a class. There is a teacher. There are students. Thus, the story is only complete if there is "learning." Well, we learn how to do the poses. That's true. But once we know how to do the poses, then, what is the learning? We learn how to breathe. We learn how to quiet the mind. We learn what are the important elements and subtleties of the poses. We learn what is happening inside our bodies and minds. There is much opportunity for learning, if there is an intention placed on it.

Elizabeth's conversation at the start of class today related to the idea that we so often jump into the classroom and just immediately start the poses, with no time or opportunity to really drop in to the moment. Sure, we start in Child's Pose. But can you really drop into the moment in 60 seconds? 5 minutes? Her classes usually begin with a story, or observation about life, and some aspect of where we might find interest or focus. These talks give us time to drop in physically to our own bodies. But they also give us a place to start connecting to what the intention of yoga practice is. The idea that we are here to learn something, ultimately about ourselves. And an essential piece, which she described, is "slow down and listen." And she spoke of the importance of this in all things, not just yoga.

In her class, we move more slowly. And I think I probably breathe more deeply. And I've noticed that it also induces a kind of panic in my body at various points in the breath cycle. I've experienced it at the bottom of a Low Plank, before moving to Upward Dog. And I have also experienced it at the end of a Sun Salutation, when my arms are coming back down to my sides after the final exhale. I feel like I want to gasp for the next inhale, beginning the next cycle. And I am sure this is not something to be ignored or glossed over. When I took a class with Troy about a month ago, he had us do an exercise where we would breathe in and out, holding at the top and bottom of the breath for an exceptionally long time - over 10 seconds at each end - to the point where panic was most definitely setting in. And he specifically called out that we should work past that panic, and not gasp too soon. Even the thought of it makes me start to panic. I didn't enjoy the exercise. And I wonder, what's it about? Is it about control? Is it about expanding our capacity? Is it about learning to be uncomfortable? Is it about recognizing that these states of panic are not "real" life-threatening situations, but just our brains telling us that we don't want to do it? Well, I suppose it's all of those things.

We didn't move much today, as I mentioned. At the end of class, I almost felt like I could take the next class, but decided that my body is always needing rest, and I have been tired lately, so I should act cautiously, remembering that lingering fatigue, and lack of sleep over the weekend, and go with rest, rather than pushing too hard.

I remain unsure what I am getting out of the practice, because, as I mentioned, I continue to experience the same challenges that I have experienced my whole life. I suppose that a difference is that I am recognizing more. But I am still not sure that recognition is a happier place to be.

There's a reason why they say that ignorance is bliss.

28 April, 2013

Namaste in Motown

Today was Vinyasa with Juliet Oppenheim at Yoga Shelter in Detroit.

The best thing about doing yoga while traveling is having one of those wonderful experiences that makes you realize how universal "the practice" is. The worst thing about doing yoga while traveling is when you encounter a fantastic teacher, but you know you may not have another opportunity to take class with that teacher. But, of course, that's just another reminder about letting go. That said, I still am happy to immortalize the experience here.

Yoga Shelter is a small chain of studios in Detroit. It's surprising how rich of a community of yoga there is in a city that was supposedly in shambles. There's dining. There's sports. There's culture. There's education. There's good coffee. And, sure enough, there's yoga.

The studio was clean and small, light and airy, with light wood floors. Temperature in the mid 80s. Juliet, from the very first moments of class, was clearly one of those magical inspired teachers, and there was an immediate confidence instilled that this would be a good place to practice.

She said "Start in whatever position helps you to get grounded. Seated. Child's Pose. Savasana. Some of you are probably already wondering what's going on here. But you can choose whatever helps you start to find that connection to the breath."

Though there were options, she spoke with a clarity of purpose.

The class consisted of about 4 separate series of fairly elaborate flows. Each flow would be executed once in a deep slow guided fashion, once guided at the rhythm of breath, and then 1-3 more times unguided. Though we went to our own pace, it seemed like chunks of the class remained relatively "in sync" because of the cues and direction she had already provided.

I like that the yoga is here. In Detroit. There were students. There were some people who seemed like locals.

I had a decent practice except that my mat, sans towel, became progressively slicker and slicker until I was apprehensive about tearing a groin muscle in a crescent lunge or Warrior II. But fortunately I did not.

As much as I liked the class, I felt isolated on my mat today. That's just where I was internally. I noticed little besides the person right in front of me, with whom I was mostly in sync. But I felt alone. Not sore. Not anxious. Not out of the moment.

Just separate.

27 April, 2013

Finding the calm within the chaos


Today was complete chaos with [redacted] at Blue Yoga in Detroit.

I said once that I would never speak negatively about a class, so the compromise I am making here is that I have omitted the instructor’s name, because I would hate for them to do a Google search for themselves someday, and come across this entry.

There’s a lesson to be had in every class. That much is true. Today’s lesson was about taking personal responsibility for finding calm in whatever chaos is around us. It is a lot easier to change the way we experience a situation than to try to force the world to pivot to align with our preferences.

We decided to try out Blue Yoga, since it appeared in our search results of available yoga studios in Birmingham, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. This was to be a Vinyasa/Ashtanga style hot yoga class, and the temperature in the room was set at what felt like a very hot 99 degrees. The teacher started the warm-up sequence, which was very quickly and clearly not a typical flow. There were many transitions, and it was an eclectic blend, with poses like Pigeon folded into the initial series amidst low lunges and twists. This could have been very interesting, if it were not for the fact that I could barely hear what the teacher was saying, because they did not project their voice, and walked around the room with the remote control for the music, intermittently increase and decreasing the volume in a bit of an overly frequent fashion. So, very quickly, I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. But I guess the regulars knew just fine, since everyone else seemed to be following along to greater or lesser degree. Suddenly, I noticed that the instructor had stopped talking, and the music was at full blast, and everyone was just doing yoga. I later realized that they had instructed us to continue free-flowing through the completely unmemorable series of poses we’d just heard once. Nobody was in sync with anybody. It was complete chaos. I tried to remember the sequence as best as I could, but it was like trying to remember directions around downtown Tokyo without GPS or the ability to read Japanese. After several minutes of this, something that could loosely be called “teaching” started again, with a difficult to hear, meandering set of cues for another flow, with no sense of following the cadence of the breath (the instructor would tell us to hold a pose for 7-10 breaths, and then call out the next pose about 10 seconds later), and cues to form, etc. It was truly as if they were not paying attention to what was happening in the room at all. A couple of times, I found myself looking to see if the teacher had left the room! After one time through this next long sequence, it was back into the randomness again, with Eminem cranked at such an ear-blistering volume that, of course, my brain started having the “this is not yoga” thoughts that it is inclined to have in such (though previously far less extreme) situations.

After a few rounds of the so-called flow, the instructor chimed in that we should keep doing what we’ve been doing, but add in any other modifications or additional poses that we’d like to add, and then the music went back up again for nearly the rest of the class. I took that as a cue to do my own thing. The heat had exhausted me, and I had created far more than enough fire in the feeble attempts to adhere to the flow, and at this point, I did some standing balance, and then went to the floor and did some stretches.

The one saving grace, a nice touch, near the end of the class was that I looked up, while lying on my back, to see the teacher reaching down toward my forehead, and then they placed a cold washcloth on me. It felt really good. But the thing that confused me was that the teacher had dark hair, and this person putting the cloth on me was blonde. I am thinking, “Who is this? Where’s the teacher?!” But I was not in a position to question the one pleasant thing that happened during the entire class.

I didn’t really get angry at the teacher, which is what I probably would have done in the past. But I did experience that sense of “this should not be.” And it is true that it was, indeed, not what a yoga class should be. But that’s what was happening. There will be teachers who resonate for me, and there will be teachers who do not. Sometimes it is because of the technique or expertise or mindfulness of the instructor, and sometimes it’s just a matter of personal taste. The class, horrible as it was, served as a useful lesson to me nonetheless. No matter how favorable or unfavorable the circumstances, I still have to choose for myself how I want to experience it. The practice for me in this class was, first, to tolerate and be open to what was offered but, ultimately, to recognize that what was happening did not serve my own interests and needs, and to instead choose my own path.

It makes me ask the question:  Do we learn the least or the most from our most-favored teachers?

Or, an alternative question would be:  How do we choose our teachers?

25 April, 2013

Thankful for the easy ones

Today was Power Vinyasa with Lara Herbst.

New teacher for me. As I have said before, it's always great to take the classes with teachers whom I haven't had before. It's like being on vacation! She was substituting for Tina. This class is a Level 1 class, but Tina usually does a reasonable ass kicking, in spite of the nominal level of the class. Much to my satisfaction, Lara did a mellow class. I really needed it, because I decided to push through consecutive days again from Sunday through today, since I wasn't sure if I would be practicing on the weekend with the travel plans.

Normally, I am front and center in the studio. But today, upon arrival, I ran into a yoga friend who is about to get married next weekend. She is a back-row person, and I decided to take the different perspective to have an opportunity to practice side-by-side. The energy in the class was low and quiet. Though it's a Thursday, for me it had a Friday feeling, given that it sort of is my Friday this week.

In the past day or so, I have been slowly "coming down" (or "coming up" as the case may be) from that place of feeling like nothing in my life is as it should be. Strange as it may sound, even just my decision to get back in here and start doing this again has made a palpable shift in my perspective. It's like my mind is a bucking bronco that wants to tear shit down, but as soon as I hold myself to "observing" it, the craziness tapers immediately. I suppose that I might have the causality backwards. Perhaps the fact that I decided to get back to basics was an indicator that I was going to take responsibility for the way I have been feeling, instead of just flapping in the breeze.

Lara's class was sort of a modified Baptistesque flow, that never quite went exactly the way one would expect. I found myself, as did others, many times anticipating the next obvious move, perhaps a forward fold, only to find out that we were just dropping our arms to our sides in Tadasana. There were a number of occasions like this. We did some modified Moon Salutations. We didn't do any Eagles or Side Planks, or Flipped Dogs. But we did Tree as our first standing balance pose. We didn't do any Warrior II until late in the class, at the point where one would have expected that it was just going to be a lead-in to Triangle. But then we didn't do Triangle. But we did do Pyramid. It was like that. Even though there were lots of surprises, the class didn't feel too disjointed, because everything was peaceful and calm. And, above all, it was sort of what I needed today.

During Savasana, I started thinking about bombs exploding, and peoples limbs being disintegrated again. I have spent a lot of time daydreaming/daynightmaring about what it must have been like for them. I know that's not exactly ideal Savasana thought. But it's what was happening.

I never spoke about it, but I attended a Baron Baptiste workshop in Vancouver a few weeks ago. Perhaps there will be a separate entry about that. I didn't think it had that much of an impact on me, but in hindsight, I think it contributed significantly to my being thrown completely out of balance, as paradoxical as that may sound. I'll explain later.

24 April, 2013

Something to be grateful for

Today was Power Vinyasa with Tina Templeman.

An hour at lunchtime is better than 90 minutes later. That's been my theme lately. I have been steering away from the longer classes because I am favoring frequent yoga over intense yoga. It's not clear if an hour class is actually easier.

Today was tough. My head was so tired. But for some reason my body was not. In fact, the past two days I have been taking some intensifications that I don't normally take. Yesterday I was jumping back in Chaturanga - something I have not done for over a year - not sure why it happened. When I step back I find I always want to step back with the same foot. It always seems that must be an asymmetrical way to practice. But stepping back with my left left feels unnatural. So I decided to jump back and see how it felt. It was okay. But I think I was landing in high plank. Not low plank. Then, today, I did three wheels, which is not the normal for me. And for the first time, I tried the arm balance that follows knee to elbow. I honestly don't know where the physical energy came from since all I wanted to do was sleep.

Sleep has been appealing lately.

So. Gratitude. About what? Well, for the last week, every time we have done seated poses, stretching, where we hold our legs and stretch, I have had a poignant thought: I am thankful that I have these legs to hold. I get caught up so often in what's wrong with my body. And in not loving it. And not even accepting it. But I have this body. Intact. And I have legs to hold and skin to touch and muscles to stretch. I think about the victims of the bombing in Boston and note that they never got the chance, in all likelihood, to simply appreciate having legs before terrible trauma took them away or severely injured them.

Every day we have this opportunity to recognize and be grateful for what we do have, rather than lament what we don't have. And we could always have more or less than we have. But we only have what we have.

23 April, 2013

Back to basics

Today was gentle yoga with Elizabeth McElveen.

I am resetting. The asana has been a regular practice. Six times a week. I am still on my mat. But I feel like I am losing my way. The same old demons creeping up as before I ever started yoga. Of course I shouldn't have expected that the mat was a demon-free zone. But I thought everything would be easier. And that's partly because it was. For a while.

Today's class found a high density of yogis who seemed to need to rest. More than I have ever seen before, there were so many people just lying down when Elizabeth entered the room. I was too, which I never do. It's always seated in hero's pose on a block. Today it was on my back on a bolster. And I was more than secretly hoping Elizabeth would pick up on this energy. And she did. There was an agreement that we'd do some moving and then some stretching. It was a good mix. Elizabeth had a lot to say today and all of it was resonating for me. But I really just wanted to completely lose it and cry. But I didn't. I have felt tired and down and raw and confused. The events in Boston last week are pulling at my emotions but they also served as a distraction, offering an excuse to be living largely outside the moment. There is nothing I can gain by obsessing on the news. But I did anyway. I suppose it is human nature. But I recognize that it impacted my well being to go toward the media frenzy rather than return to my own groundedness.

I am at a loss for why the asana continues to evolve but other levels of my practice are encountering so much friction.

I am honestly not even writing this because I want to entertain. That's at least always part of my agenda. Right now I am willing to try anything to return to a place that works.

I've been doing the dissatisfaction with job thing. I have been doing the dissatisfaction with self thing. I have been withdrawing from others. And I see it. I don't know why I do it. Recurrent pattern. My samskara. Perhaps I don't need to know why before I can reverse it. Perhaps merely recognizing it is sufficient. Well. Not completely. Because I have been recognizing for some time now. I need to come back to that figurative breath. The moment.

And for now, in the absence of other ideas, that moment includes this.

14 April, 2013

The difference between no and yes

No feels heavy.
No is without ease.
No is unforgiving.
No lives in fear.
No sees only what is wrong in the world.
No blames others.
No gives up.
No hurts.
No is stuck in any moment but now.

I have felt this with my own body, and I know it to be true.

Yes feels light.
Yes shows up.
Yes is patient and accepting.
Yes is not afraid.
Yes sees the lesson in all things.
Yes takes responsibility.
Yes moves past disappointment quickly.
Yes will always try again.
Yes always returns to here, now.

I have felt this with my own body, and I know it to be true.