30 May, 2013

Rest is in sight

Today was Vinyasa with Tina Templeman.

Perhaps part of what made this class endurable was the knowledge that tomorrow would be a long-awaited day off, after eight consecutive days of yoga across West Coast. Five studios in four cities. Doing yoga nearly every day is sometimes a logistical jigsaw puzzle. And traveling adds complexity to that. The good news is always that “a mat is a mat” and once one lands on the mat, time and space become relatively unimportant.

All that said, today was one of the most difficult classes, from the standpoint of environmental conditions, that I can ever recall at Be Luminous. We had four rows of between ten and twelve people, for a total of about 45 students in the half studio. Typically, this class would have the room spread open into the larger space, but that didn’t happen today. As such, the situation started off crowded and chaotic, and became oppressive, primarily from the humidity, as the class progressed. I would even venture to say that the temperature was nowhere near 90 degrees, probably somewhere between 80-85, but it made no difference as our sweat steamed up the room, and oxygen became progressively scarcer.

But do not doubt for a second that Tina was going to bring the fire, regardless of these circumstances. I don’t even know what it was about the sequence that felt extra difficult, but it was just an unrelenting series of Chaturangas. We hit upon everything one would typically find in a longer Baptiste Journey Into Power class, except that the 60 minute format meant the transitions between each loop were lightning fast. 
Nonetheless, Tina is amazing at packing it in without compromising the duration of the breath. I never feel like I am unable to keep up in her classes. That, to me, is the mark of the truly experienced teachers. They know how to drive pace and intensity without losing the integrity of a proper breath cycle. This is probably true of fewer than half the teachers out there in the yoga community at large (though, I have found that Be Luminous is quite consistent in this respect). And, for that matter, perhaps some people like it faster. It may just be that, me being an old fogey and all, I prefer the pace of 5 breaths per minute, as opposed to some younger yogis who can push double that pace.

Given how packed the room was, I had some expectations (never a good idea) that we wouldn’t be doing certain types of poses that require space. I had figured, for instance, that we’d not do Airplane or Dancer’s Pose. Wrong. We did both. I was so exhausted by the time we hit Dancer’s Pose, that I decided to experiment with placing my hand flat against the front wall, since I was in the front row, to provide a little stability and enable a better stretch without needing to battle my hamstring to maintain balance. That is actually quite a nice way of doing it, and I had never tried before.


By the end of class, I was completely wiped out, but in a good way. There were times during the class where the humidity, and the stinging sweat blinding me and irritating me by running up and down my face were driving me crazy. But I weathered it. That’s what we do. 

29 May, 2013

Go see Alice

Today was Vinyasa with Alice Harper at Live Love Flow.

Alice is a fantastic teacher, and if you haven't taken her class, get on over to LLF and check it out.

I have always noted that she does interesting, long, challenging flows. Today, I managed to remember the longest and most complicated of them in its entirety. The class started with about 5 Sun A, and then we went into Mandala Sun B sequences, linking the forward and backward facing with Star Pose. We did two rounds of that Sun B Mandala, and then added some Knee-To-Nose into the Mandala for two more rounds. Next was the mother of all flows, which I am listing here for your perusal:

Downward Dog
Extend Right Leg
Right Knee to Nose - Hold
Right Knee to Right Elbow - Hold
Right Knee to Left Elbow - Hold
Extend Right Leg
Step Through to Warrior I - Hold
Open to Warrior II - Hold
Reverse Warrior
Side Angle Pose - Hold
Warrior II
Star Pose
Pivot to Warrior II toward back of room
Reverse Warrior
Half Moon Pose - Hold
Standing Splits - Hold
Step to Crescent Lunge - Hold
Launch into Airplane - Hold
Tadasana
Circle Sweep
Chair Pose
Raise onto Toes and lower slowly into deepest squat
Sit into Boat Pose - Hold
Cross the legs and roll over feet
High Plank
Vinyasa
Repeat above on Left Side

After doing the entire series on both sides, repeat the entire thing again, but without the long holds, adding the following modifications:

On the initial "Knee-to-XXX" include an extend leg between each step (nose, extend, left elbow, extend, right elbow, extend)
When you get to Side Angle, 3x alternate between Reverse Warrior & Side Angle
When you get to Airplane, 3x alternate between Airplane and leg extended in front with arms up
When you get to Boat Pose - 8x Bicycle Crunches in Boat Pose

There was one final flow that basically went as follows:

Warrior I
Humble Warrior
Warrior I
Warrior II
Triangle
Standing Straddle Forward Fold
Lizard Pose
Add Quadricep Stretch
Vinyasa
Repeat on other side

Then we hit the floor and it was mellow from there. The biggest challenge in her classes is the knowing that these long flows will be repeated on another side, and then often repeated again on both sides. There's something psychological about long flows. It's like climbing a mountain, as opposed to running laps around a track. My intention today was to try to have fun and to find ease. And even with that best of intentions, there's a wall that I sort of hit where it became more challenging. But I think I did manage to keep a certain lightness throughout the class. I never felt physically weighed down.

Good stuff.

28 May, 2013

Lucky to be here

Today was Gentle Yoga with Elizabeth McElveen.

The class, in spite of its name, was anything but gentle, as is often the case. But it was incredibly inspiring and I felt so lucky to be a part of the experience. For some reason, from moment #1, it was clear that class would be "different" today. Elizabeth suggested that we all line up facing one another, on opposite sides of the room, the way classes are done at Acme Yoga and The White Studio. There's something right away about that experience of seeing people that intensifies a class. Though we're in our own practice, and we aren't technically supposed to be looking around the room, there's still a kind of connection of being in these rows. The next big thing, at least for me, was that there were a handful of teachers in the small group that attended class today. Carley was there. So were Jessica and Vanessa. I don't know why, but for some reason, it made the class seem extra-special, and I even felt a kind of nervous energy with all that yoga talent in the room. I know it's silly.

Elizabeth told us that we'd be using the wall to help us split our legs apart in 3-legged downward dog. This is something I have spoken about in previous posts, and something I enjoy doing. So I was overjoyed that this would be part of the agenda. She also indicated that we'd be doing inversions on the wall. That generated a mixture of curiosity and a little bit of fear, since I generally don't do such things. I also knew that, if it came to it, I would be doing it today, because I am taking a different approach to the whole deal of things I don't usually do.

Her words were of the usual gravity and inspiration, but perhaps somewhat fewer than usual. The practice itself involved a surprisingly similar series of transitions, from Warrior poses, to Half Moon, to Revolved Half Moon, that we'd seen in Vanessa's class the previous day. I was surprised at how much fire we got in this class, but I guess she must have been reading the energy and experience in the room. People certainly seemed up for it, and I guess I was too.

When it came time for the inversions, I opted for a handstand, starting with my back to the wall. So I would walk my feet up the wall until vertical, and then begin walking my hands a little closer to the wall. I saw that I actually walked my hands quite close to the wall, and that I felt pretty stable and strong. I wasn't able (nor did I try too hard) to get the legs off the wall. But I went up three times, and felt good every time. It's huge progress from where I would have been a year ago, or maybe even 3 months ago.

I wish I could relate the sensations I experienced during class, just being there. Every class with Elizabeth is a blessing and a treat, and these are moments that are easy to cherish.

27 May, 2013

Not boot camp, but might as well have been

Today was Power Vinyasa with Vanessa.

Being Memorial Day, it was the only class offered today at Be Luminous. As such, it was very crowded in the room, and the humidity climbed precipitously as the class progressed. It reminded me of my early days in hotter wetter environments.

Vanessa's class would have been tough under any circumstances. It was a packed-agenda Baptiste series, with a few extra rounds of this and that on top of the usual sequences. We spent so much time on one leg during the balance poses, going from Half Moon to Airplane to Revolved Half Moon, and then supposedly back again (I lost track), that I ended up needing to modify and skip a rather significant chunk of it, because my form was just being compromised too much. The classes I've taken over the past few days in the Bay Area left me very sore, especially in my hamstrings, and it just didn't make sense to me to continue to make the hamstrings even sorer than they already are. I did what I could, and tried to maintain integrity.

At the start of class, Vanessa talked about setting an intention for the class. This was one of those days where nothing came to me. I had no intention available. It's rough when that occurs, because I feel like if I am unable to even define an intention then it will, by necessity, be difficult to work toward any sort of intention. I should probably have one on reserve. But what it probably speaks to at a higher level is that my head was not in the game of working toward intentions. There was clearly a willful kind of resistance to letting go and choosing, and then following it. And I suspect that may be part of the reason why the class was so difficult for me.

The one small victory I can claim today was that, in spite of the desire to really shut down, I regained composure, and didn't bail on the Wheel poses, although I very much wanted to bail. When she called out Wheel, I stayed on my back, thinking "Nope. Not doing Wheel." But now that I have started training myself to listen to that "No" voice, I immediately followed that thought with "Ok! Goddamn it! Yes, I am doing the Wheels. Alright? Alright? Are you happy now?!" And I did the Wheels. And, of course, they didn't hurt. And I survived. And I need to keep on myself with respect to that unjustified "letting off the hook" that I tend to do in that situation. Contrasting that with what I would consider the valid decision to modify in the middle of the class when my physical and actual experience was "My body cannot do this right now without compromising integrity." There's such a clear difference between the two things. But sometimes, in the moment, my mind has a hard time telling the difference.

Since I am complaining today, I will also add that the person in front of me, who was much closer than usual, due to the fullness of the room, had smelly feet. As my fatigue grew, and my concentration wavered, I began to become a touch irritated at the smelly feet, and with being occasionally kicked in the head by them.

But what can you do?

Sometimes life gives you roses. And sometimes life gives you things that are not roses.

26 May, 2013

Back to what works

The best thing about coming back to what works is when it works like it did when you decided that it’s what works.

At a certain point in time, my passion for writing in this blog wavered, and I found it becoming a chore that was almost Herculean in its insurmountability (to coin a word). I would miss one day, two days, sometimes several. And I would force myself to dredge up the memories of those days so that I could stick to the commitment I had made to write about every class. But, by losing the consistency and allowing it to become a burden that I was not handling in a timely fashion, I had lost the spirit of the original intention. It would be like missing 4 days of yoga, and then thinking I could do a quadruple class on a Saturday and get the benefits of a regular yoga practice. It didn’t work, and I recognized it was not working.

Initially, I thought that perhaps I was being too Draconian on myself, demanding that I write every day. I had done it for a very long time, and maybe it had outlasted its value. So I tried to reformulate the intention into something different, namely, that I would write when I felt like it, and that I would focus on a new agenda. But without the commitment or the schedule, that didn’t actually happen either, and it wasn’t long before I had ceased writing altogether. Looking back, I think I have a different understanding of what was happening. I think I stopped writing because I no longer wanted to take a close, daily look at what was occurring inside my mind and my life. I basically wanted to “go dark” because the trajectories I was taking were not ones that could withstand any kind of inquiry. Going really “Baptistian” here, I think that this blog has, for me, been serving as the “Inquiry” part of the practice. And when I stopped writing, I had slid down that ladder of personal growth back to a point where all I had was the Asana. This is not to say that Asana alone is not a great thing. And it’s also not to say that I am a “Grand Inquisitor” of my own behaviors. But certainly, I had something more, and shut it down.

Of course, the truth, and we all know it, is that you can’t actually play Peek-A-Boo with yourself; certainly not for more than a little while. There came a point a few weeks ago when I recognized that I needed to get back on the program that worked. And that agenda was writing after every class, and having the writing serve as a connection between the practice and my life. It’s been maybe 3 weeks since I returned to this routine, and the dividends are already clear. It’s working. I can’t say that I know exactly what I am doing or where I am going, but I am not “doing anything” or “going anywhere” without “observing.” That is what has changed.

Extreme clarity in a bottle


Today was Gentle Hatha with Nicole Becker at Ojas Yoga in El Cerrito.

I visited this studio around the start of the year, when I last visited friends here. I liked it, so I was excited to go back again. Because of it being Memorial Day weekend, there was only one class offered, and it was a gentle Hatha class, taught by the owner, Nicole, with whom I had the fortune of taking class last time as well. She comes from a family of yogis, she said. Her mom owns and operates a retreat center near Lake Sonoma. She grew up with meditation and yoga in her household. All this, I heard in the lobby after class, as Nicole answered questions that someone else had about her origins.

When I arrived to sign in, Nicole informed me that I still had one pass left from my previous visit and that, although it had technically “expired,” she would be happy to honor that pass. This was a complete surprise to me, but I graciously accepted it, feeling only a little guilty that a small business bends their policies to better serve an out-of-towner. I suppose that’s what karma is all about.

Class was full, for this small studio, which amounted to around 25 people in the class. It was an older crowd. I may have been the 2nd or 3rd youngest person in the room. And she served up a very gentle sequence, focused on stretching above all else. There were no Chaturangas. There were no Warrior I or Warrior II poses (though, we saw that can go in either direction, as in the case of Edna’s class last week). We did a couple of Chair poses. We did some Low Lunges. The “peak intensity” of the class, just before going down toward the floor, was a Triangle that we were told we would hold for 2-3 full minutes on each side, and that we should adjust our intensity accordingly to achieve that hold, perhaps by not extending the top arm the entire time. I did break a sweat, even in the cool room, during that hold. There were a couple of excellent stretches that Nicole offered, which I don’t often see in classes. One was called “Deer Pose,” which was a kind of seated twist where the leg position resulted in feeling a really amazing stretch along some lower abdominal and side muscles that don’t often get stretched very well. We also did one for the side of the neck where you bind your hands behind you and then pull the grip around one hip, and then let the head fall toward that side. Good for all parts of the neck and trapezius muscles.

Nicole has a very airy, playful feel to her teaching, which I like. And a gentle class was exactly what I needed today. We did some meditative things near the beginning and the end of class. And she spritzed some aromatherapy business as we lay in Savasana.

After class, in the lobby, I heard Nicole talking about essential oils with a woman. Apparently, part of her business is that she prepares and mixes various essential oils (she also does massage, and probably other things in the realm of “All Things Eastern”). The woman was telling Nicole that, by the end of each day, she feels incredibly wound up, almost angry, and really needs something to calm her down. Nicole offered a particular calming blend, and suggested she could put a couple of drops on her skin, or on her forehead, or in a bath, or rub in her hands, or the soles of her feet, or just to breathe in the scent, and this would quickly permeate her olfactory system into her brain, or pass through her skin into the bloodstream. You know, coming from my Western background of engineering and neuroscience, I am not really sure if I believe that the application of particular essential oils will result in particular psychological outcomes. But I am also not really sure why I wouldn’t believe it either. Plus, I have always loved the scents and always had an unexplored fascination with aromatherapy. So, as I listened, I decided that after Nicole was done with this woman, I would ask her about a blend that might work for my needs, although I wasn’t entirely sure how to describe what those needs were.

When Nicole finished and sent the woman home with her recipe for deep calm, I asked her if maybe she could help me out. She asked what I was looking for. I told her “Well, something to help me with ‘letting go’” Nicole seemed as if she thought this was interesting, and it was obviously not one that she’s accustomed to hearing. She asked me what I meant… “Do you mean letting go of grief? Letting go of pain? What are you trying to let go of?” So I told her about the quote from Elizabeth’s class a few weeks ago – the part about “gracefully letting go of that which is not meant for me...” And Nicole smiled, and said “Hm…” She decided to start by letting me smell a few fragrances to see if anything would “speak” to me. So that’s what we did, and I sorted them into groups of “yes” and “maybe” and “no.” Bergamot was a yes, as it has always been. Basil was a no. Lemongrass was a yes. Myrtle was a maybe. She continued asking me a few questions, which I don’t really recall, but eventually she said something that included the word “Clarity” and I jumped. “Yes! Clarity! That is what I am looking for!” And she laughed. I told her my joke about being so unclear that I am not even clear about whether I am actually lacking clarity. We laughed. She suggested a blend of Lavender, Rosemary and Mint that she often uses for clarity (or perhaps she said this because she wanted to make me feel like there was a blend to accommodate my cuckoo needs). I said that would work, but perhaps light on the Lavender, because I am more of a fan of the Mint and Rosemary. And she said she could do that.

So, she started to prepare the mix, and then realized that her Lavender stock is apparently messed up, because it wouldn’t go into solution – kept separating – the conclusion was that her assistant must have accidentally dissolved it in a water-based solvent (hydrosol) instead of oil. I don’t understand this business. But the main point here was that we’d need to come up with an alternative to Lavender, since it was not gonna happen. Of course, one could also interpret this as a signal from the gods that clarity is not in the cards for me at this time, but I won’t be that cynical. She thought about it a bit, and we settled on Myrtle as being a viable substitute. So she did some mixing, and smelling, and mixing, and then she proclaimed “Wow! I like this. I think this is gonna be good!” So I told her that she should brand it as “Extreme Clarity” and she thought that was a great idea.

It was only $12, but it made me feel a little better about the free class. More importantly, I was thankful for the opportunity to have that little extra connection with someone who seems to have lived a very special life.

So now I’ve got this little bottle which will potentially bring illumination to all of the shadowy and elusive truths lurking in my consciousness.

Perhaps it’s a good time to start believing in this stuff?

25 May, 2013

Finding true north can be a bumpy road

This week I attended the True North workshop with Michel and Nicole.

I'd recently attended a Baptiste workshop, so I had some sense of what would be happening here. But I was enthusiastic about doing this type of work with my local teachers, local community, home studio.

There were 13 of us, I think. The idea is that we start off and spend some time exploring proper alignment in a basic pose - Tadasana - the root of all poses. This involved hands on adjustments in pairs work which was kind of interesting since I had never "adjusted" anyone before. My partner was named Heidi. I recognized her from the teacher training grand finale. She'd been one of the teachers. We were supposed to help one another achieve right alignment. I discovered it is a lot of energy to get consciously into every aspect of the body position. And I had taken Elizabeth's class earlier that day so it may have been a mistake being fatigued already.

After these exercises we talked about the sensations. I didn't feel anything magical. Only fatigue. And then we did a moderate one hour practice that was supposed to be highlighting proper alignment - true north - in every pose. Problem was my body was so spent that I didn't really feel like I had a special northerly experience. It just felt like dead-tired yoga.

After the yoga we paired off again, this time I was with a woman named Linda whom I hadn't met before. We were supposed to talk about how being out of alignment in our lives shows up in our bodies. What are our triggers. I know that mine include feeling a true gut feeling below my solar plexus when something isn't right for me. Waking up with my teeth hurting from grinding (rarely happens but always indicates something). Or getting adrenalized. Then we talked about what causes this for us. Then we talked about what our intention is for our lives. What does true north mean for us. It was hard to talk about. And I wasn't feeling incredibly open. But I tried and I am sure I seemed open.

I came away with the realization that I have some conflicting desires. How does one have connection and freedom simultaneously? How does one have stability and possibility simultaneously? I feel that I sometimes am striving for A + not(A). And that logic doesn't go so well.

I am glad I did the true north workshop but I didn't come away with a blissful feeling. One of the Baptiste tenets is "give up what you must." And that one scares me more than any of the other catch phrases because I worry about what it will be that I must give up.

The days after the workshop were rocky for me. Often that happens when I do "work" - I come out of it in an internal struggle. And it's usually because I don't like the "inconvenient truths" that often arise for me.

But to run away from the truth is a fruitless endeavor.

Exactly where I am supposed to be...

Today was 90 minute Vinyasa with Laura Burkhart at Yoga Tree in San Francisco.

Some people want to know where is the nearest transit or bar or ice cream whenever they visit a new place. For me, it's the scoping of the yoga studio options. So I was happy to learn that Yoga Tree was located only 3 blocks from my friends' place in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco. I was a little concerned about a "90 minute Level 2/3" class but it turned out to be nearly identical in difficulty to classes taught by Michel or Carley at Be Luminous. A few optional arm balances. The advanced poses were offered as fuller expressions as opposed to the "easier" poses being modifications.

The studio consist of one giant funky high ceiling room with cool looking wooden floors and a retro kind of dance studio feel to it. As I arrived the class before me was letting out and it was packed! Probably 80 people. But this class was much more open with maybe 40 attendees of all different levels. I was probably about the middle in terms of experience.

Laura taught a challenging but very well paced class that mixed stretching poses in with the more intense flows sequences. I guess the studio has a strong Anna Forest connection from what I saw on their website.

At the end of class, the instructor mentioned a couple of yoga retreats coming up. The first one she mentioned was in South Africa and it is in December. Then she mentioned a retreat in July in Peru, involving trip to Machu Picchu among other things. And the first thought in my mind was "I am going to do this." So now it seems I am working out the logistics of getting signed up because I have been thinking about what will be the next big experience in my life. The next big trip.

And just like that. Here it is. All because there happened to be a yoga class right around the corner.



24 May, 2013

Journey Into Power never sounded so good

Today was Power Vinyasa with Tina Whiteside.

After yesterday's venture into the land of discomfort, it was a huge relief, during the opening moments of today's class, where it became evident that Tina would be doing the Baptiste series. Somehow I knew it from the cadence of the first words out of her mouth... "Alright, everyone, come into Child's Pose..." Just the way she said it... I knew that she would next say "Begin to come into your breath... Let go of your day..." And she did. And the rest went exactly as expected. For some reason, I felt a huge wave of emotion when she started because I needed that comfort today. That feeling that no matter where I go, I can be safe, comfortable, find familiarity, and be in sync with something that I have learned well.

Turns out, Tina is from Seattle. She taught and trained at Shakti under Lisa Black. She's done Baptiste "boot camps." In short, she's at least loosely part of the same circles that I move in.

The class came with excellent hands-on adjustments and a very steady pace that happened to be well matched to the rhythm of my breath.

I would say that sometimes the universe gives you what you need. But it would probably be more accurate to say that most of the time the universe gives you exactly what you need.

And sometimes you like it.

23 May, 2013

Laughing outside the comfort zone

Today was Power Yoga with Edna Barr, at Yoga Belly in Mountain View.

"I haven't met a single YB yogi or yogini who isn't a huge fan of the insanely talented, warm, focused, and hilarious Edna Barr"

That is a quote from the blog on the studio's website, and it pretty much sums it up. Edna was all of those things. She's petite, ridiculously strong and flexible, and had the energy like I have never seen in a yoga teacher ever. At the start of the class, she introduced herself to each of the new students, of whom there were several. And, in spite of her seemingly (and self-admitted) ADHD, she remembered everyone's name the entire class, and repeatedly would call out people by name to encourage them, assist them, or make us laugh with playful teasing if we weren't working as hard as she perceived us to be capable of working. She asked me what kind of yoga I practiced, and when I mentioned Baptiste Power Yoga, she commented that she could try to do a standard Power class, but that she has a hard time sticking to that kind of a plan. "And plus," she said, "There are 84,000 yoga poses... you need to get *beyond* Warrior 1 and Warrior 2!"

And that, she did. We didn't do a single Warrior 1 or Warrior 2 in that class. It was a very fluid flow. If Liz Doyle and Ginger Saunders flow like a river, Edna was like an ocean current, unrelenting. The class was, indeed, insanely difficult, with lots of twisting while balancing on one foot, and bringing one elbow up to one knee, launching into a balance pose from Chair Pose (and then back down to Chair again), and lifting one arm off the ground from 3-Legged Downward Dog. It truly catapulted me into a different realm of "What is possible?" The flows were long, and I don't even know that we repeated the same things on the left and right sides, and I am not even sure that was necessarily on her agenda (at a couple of points, she would say "What are we doing next?" and I couldn't actually tell if she was serious, or just getting us fired up for the next sequence).

But even though it was, by all accounts, past my "edge," it was still fun, and I found myself laughing, and trying in spite of it all. The music was blasting, and Edna was running all around the room assisting people, and giving encouragement while, somehow, still doing about 90% of the class along with us.

There was so much grace in her movements, it was truly an inspiration. Even watching her do a simple Sun A, when her arms would circle up, she would go into a wide-armed back bend that had her arched almost like Camel Pose, while standing. It was amazing.

Anyhow, it was an honest ass-kicking.

After the class, I spoke for quite some time with some Spanish women who were working at the front desk, and learned a bit about the studio, and about some of the other teachers. People were friendly. The studio, in Downtown Mountain View, had a very welcoming feel to it.

Think I'll give it another go. But perhaps I will seek a little earth to slow down that water.

21 May, 2013

Seeking

Today was Gentle Yoga with Elizabeth McElveen.

Today was not that intense, in terms of number of poses, but I still found it to be intense, in terms of the depth of the poses we did. And I also felt a great amount of fatigue due to Michel's class the day before. The plan was to do this class, and then go to the "True North" workshop immediately after. So it was important that I have enough energy. This was somewhat jeopardized by only having seven hours of sleep, which I have been learning is not enough. My low back was aching. And when it came time for Half Moon pose, I was actually amused at how weak and unstable I felt. It was an act of extreme concentration to finally "stick it" on each side.

The room was full of many of the usual faces, and the crowd is growing. I feel like Elizabeth's magic is spreading, and more people know about her and are attending regularly. There is a small army of friends who have a passion for her style of teaching, and who attend almost religiously. It is a kind of religion. We're all seeking something, it seems. And we are seeking in a similar way. There are some students in the class with whom I have regular conversations. And there are others with whom I have barely exchanged a word, although we may often be side-by-side. And in both cases, I know there's something in Elizabeth's style and words that speaks to us. And I like that there can be this shared connection even if only through mutual gravitation.

A friend of mine, also a yoga teacher, has been writing about the challenges of balancing the art and purity of the teaching of yoga with the more practical side of making a living doing it, including building a following, a community, and becoming "successful" at it. There's a paradox in there, because popularity is essential to success and income, but it is also easily a feeder of ego, which takes us in the opposite direction of what the entire practice is about. Fortunately, I don't think this plays itself in any negative ways with respect to Elizabeth's classes, except that now I am often trying to find "a good spot" in a room of 25-30 people, instead of 12 people.

There were some pretty deep stretches today. I feel that I have a lot of bendy-ness in my low back, which perhaps is not a good thing with the pain that I tend to have there. I don't have much difficulty, from the perspective of my back, in doing forward folding. But I am not sure how good it is for me.

Perhaps it would be better to judge that after I have had enough sleep.

20 May, 2013

Again with the wheels... seriously

Today was Power Vinyasa with Michel.

I was worried about this class a little bit because my body ached before class even started. Tired muscles. Dreading 3-Legged Downward Dog because my ass muscles were still fried from previous days of it. My Achilles' still hurting from its usual random reasons. So, I showed up with the questions in my head about what my body would, or would not be able to do. But, sure enough, once I *actually* showed up on the mat, I found that I was able to do most everything that came my way. Toward the end of class, I opted out of a few of the optional Chaturangas that string together the final series of poses, because I felt like I was probably compromising my form a little bit.

Then, it came time for back bending, and I immediately said to myself "I am not doing Wheel today." Not sure why I immediately say that, but I sure do it a lot. Michel called out an initial Bridge pose, which I took as a supported Bridge. Then she called for five Wheel poses. And, somewhere between "I am not doing Wheel today" and supported Bridge, something clicked in my head, and said "Just do the goddamn Wheels and see if they actually hurt." And they didn't. I did five Wheels. I didn't hold them for quite as long as others, though Michel did offer me a hella-assist that nearly lifted my hands right off the floor on the final Wheel. But I did them all.

Why is this pose the one that I say "no" to? And it's not subtle. It's very clear. Wheel? Nope. Not gonna do it. Wouldn't be prudent (only funny if you say it in the Dana Carvey impersonation of George Bush Sr. voice). There's something going on there, and I don't know what it is.

Otherwise, it was a fairly emotional day on the mat. Not sure why, but several of the things Michel said really made me feel like I was going to completely start crying. I wish I could remember what they were.

But themomentisgone...

19 May, 2013

You will get injured...

Today was Gentle Yoga with Elizabeth McElveen.

Before class, she talked about one of her former teachers, who she heard on a podcast, I think, that morning. Somehow, the story she was telling came around to the subject of people getting injured doing yoga. And the matter-of-fact is that you will get injured. On the mat. Doing yoga. It's inevitable. Well, it has certainly been true for me. She said that injuries will tend to come about, and then move from one part of the body to another, over time. Yep. That happened too. I have told you all about it, in excruciating detail. I guess I look around at the 25 year old yogis and wonder why they never seem hurt. Well, the truth is, I don't actually know if they're hurt. It's not like they're all wearing ace bandages, and neither am I. Nobody in class would look at me and say "His low back is clearly killing him, and he's nursing a groin pull." Because the practice just evolves to tolerate those issues.

It is comforting to know that this is the reality of getting into the body. As we learn, we damage things. And I suppose, over time, we learn how to not damage things, either by keeping the ego under control, or getting stronger or more flexible. A combination of all three, likely. And the lessons apply off the mat too. Strength is the ability to endure tough times. Flexibility is the ability to adapt to the situation. And the ego? Well, that's pretty much the same thing on or off the mat. We don't need to metaphorize that one.

18 May, 2013

Day of leisure

Today was Power Vinyasa with Sean.

Another "long-time-no-see" class. It had been at least 3 months, perhaps longer, since I took class with Sean. Again it's the schedule patterns being unfavorable. But today it worked out, and he kicked my ass. There's plenty of humor and levity in the class but not a lot of down time. The thing I love about Sean's class is that in spite of being very intense, the flow is very much at the pace of my breath and he places a lot of emphasis on not rushing things.

Today was a day of mainly leisure and self care. I walked to Cafe Presse for breakfast and did some work that needed to be done to keep ahead of the curve. I walked down Broadway and had a massage with Phil, who was excellent and I recommend him. And then wandered back through Cal Anderson park and got a slice of pizza at Mario's before walking home and heading to yoga.

Laundry, including sheets that were horrifyingly overdue, and whites that had been waiting for a full white load for months.

And other than yoga class, my day to this point has been in solitude. I used to not like that. Over the last few years I have started to enjoy it more. Perhaps in the near future I will no longer have any need for human interaction as I achieve complete self-actualization.

Yeah. That's gonna happen.

17 May, 2013

Here come the wheels

Today was Power Vinyasa with Liz Doyle.

It was nice to take a class with Liz since I don't have the opportunity very often. She adhered to a more traditional Baptiste sequence than her standard class because she was substituting for a Level 1 class. The energy was mellow, and the "Oms" where probably among the most harmonious I have ever heard.

Well, after all my talk about letting myself off the hook, it was clear to me as class wore on that I would eventually be confronted with a series of Wheel poses that I would not want to do. About halfway through class was when it popped into my mind. It wasn't a distraction and it wasn't all-encompassing. But I certainly made note that today I would be doing all the wheels.

And when it came, I did them. I can't even remember if we did two or three but I was up every time. I can't say that I feel "proud" of myself or that I am a trooper for following through. But I guess not every act of self-discipline pays immediate dividends. To most people that would be obvious. And I guess it is to me too when it comes to the big pictures, such as doing yoga at all, or eating well, etc. For smaller acts, like giving it all on a single pose that I don't like... Well, I guess there's a reason teachers always say that we all have a "no" pose and that's probably the one we need the most.

I am just trying to understand why I need Wheel? What does it mean?!

16 May, 2013

Letting myself off the hook

Today was Power Vinyasa with Nicole.

It was pretty close to a standard Journey Into Power sequence by Baptiste, in the 60 minute format. As the class neared its end, and we arrived at back-bending, Nicole called for 3 Wheel poses. If I remember correctly, I did the first two, and then I did not do the third one. I decided that I had had enough. I told myself that my body doesn't need any more Wheels today. I told myself that I had generated enough heat and it was time to begin coming down. Lying there on my back, I heard Nicole encouraging people to do that final Wheel. I heard her ask us, if we chose not to do it, to notice that we were making that choice. And I found myself in a bit of a quandary. What is the line between listening to my body and letting myself off the hook? It's a simple question, but it's also a difficult question. Because all of the games that we play when we trick ourselves around that grey line off the mat will also come into play on the mat. Nicole actually spoke about that notion of "Wherever you go, there you are" a few times during class. I could have done the third Wheel. There have been times in the past where I have been injured, where the right number of Wheel poses for me was zero. There have been times where I have tentatively tested the waters, and done a Wheel, and felt a little sore, and then laid off the pose. But there have been many times, recently, where I have simply decided "Today I am not doing Wheel."

I asked Nicole after class how we can determine the difference, and what is the right choice. We discussed it briefly. She asked me if was feeling pain, and I said no. And the conclusion I came to, especially in the context of my life in general, is that I let myself off the hook. I was just discussing the other day the fact that I never achieved my potential as a runner in high school, not because I wasn't talented, but because I never was willing to push myself to the edge. When it got tough, I backed off. I never explored that point. In our training workouts, I would always run among the leaders and, each year, the coaches had the expectation that this would be my year to shine. And each year, my performance fell short of expectations. And it was absolutely because of letting myself off the hook. And when I think about my attitude toward work, music, or any other thing that requires a certain level of holding the pedal to the metal, I always grant myself passes.

Nicole asked me why I hold back like this in my life, and I told her it was because I always feel like I need to hold something in reserve, just in case. She asked me what I am holding these reserves for, and I didn't really have an answer. The best I can say was "Just in case."

What am I afraid of? Why do I shy away from working "too hard?" What am I holding on to with these reserves?

So many questions.

14 May, 2013

Letting go gracefully

Today was Gentle Yoga with Elizabeth McElveen.

And today, it was, in fact, quite gentle. In contrast with Sunday, where Elizabeth came right in with lots to say, we started today very quiet. There's an energy of almost anticipation in the air when Elizabeth is *not* speaking, at least for me, because I am always hoping that she will soon *be* speaking. She always seems to have something to say that I need to hear.

We started class differently today. Instead of going right to Sun Salutations, which is the nearly obligatory start to every one of our classes, we began on the floor, doing stretches - Dragon Pose. Elizabeth must have sensed the energy in the room was low. And that was curious to me, because I have found, more often than not, that when Elizabeth reads the energy of the class and decides to go high or low intensity, that the collective energy is in alignment with mine. I don't understand how that is. But it seems to be a trend.

At the end, she read a quote that a friend had sent her:

What matters most is... how much you loved, how gently you lived,
and how gracefully you let go of the things that were not meant for you.

That's a big one.

She commented that some friends of hers noted that they "suck" at that last part. I'd like to say "Well, maybe we all do, especially in our culture." But I don't think it's true that we all do.

I know that this is a place where I struggle. In the past, I did not let go of anything, whether it was meant for me, or not. And I suffered. In more recent times, I have learned to let go of what is not meant for me. But I have not done it gracefully. And others have suffered.

I suppose that's progress?

But somehow, in hindsight, the previous way seemed more noble.

And, I guess, in the end, I am still suffering, because I feel regret and shame for pain I cause.

13 May, 2013

You are ready now, Maren

Today was Power Vinyasa with Maren Rhodin.

I'd planned on taking a late class this evening, partly because of my work schedule, but also to visit Vanessa, whose class I have missed for months. The yoga gods shuffled that deck, and it sounded like the option was going to be Gaylinet, since there had been a schedule change. No problem. That would be exciting, because she is another of the many Seattle yoga teachers from whom I have not yet taken a class.

So, I arrived at Be Luminous to a very crowded room. There was chatter in the room about how we might need to do a self-practice, which I assumed meant that people didn't know they'd found a substitute for Vanessa. But I didn't realize, because I had no idea who Gaylinet is, that they actually needed a substitute for her as well! And they didn't have one. At a few minutes past the start time of the class, Maren walked into the room and announced that she'd be teaching the class. I knew that she had just finished teacher training, and it turns out this was her first class ever, made all the more exciting for her by the fact that she had no idea she'd be teaching it until that very moment.

Well, I suppose coming from the mindset of "You are ready now!" this would be perfect opportunity to jump right in and live that mantra. And that's what Maren did.

The class was fun, and everyone had a spirit of support for her, as well as gratitude for someone being there to step in and teach. The class was not too easy, not too hard. Though Maren's new, and she must have been nervous teaching without even a chance to think about what she was going to say, she still had a message and a "stage presence" (if I can use that expression) that was much more than just calling out the poses.

So that was exciting. But now I still want to get back and take Vanessa's class. And I still want to seek out and try Gaylinet's class as well.

So much yoga to do, and only seven days in a week.


12 May, 2013

Sometimes, what you let go of comes back

Today was Gentle Yoga with Elizabeth McElveen.

Over the past year, I met and came to know a new friend. After spending a couple of stints in Seattle, she ended up back on the East Coast again. But this weekend, she was in town, and we were reunited in Elizabeth's class, front row, in a place that had become part of the connection we shared. With her, as with many of my friends who have moved away, there had been this sad feeling of loss, knowing that the convenience of a weekly dinner will no longer be an option. This has happened so many times, with so many people, I am starting to lose track. It is actually becoming viable for me to potentially move to a new city, and have a ready-to-go set of explanted friends to build a social life there. The obvious location would be San Francisco, where everyone seems to go when they leave Seattle.

Sure enough, though, we get to visit these people. And they visit us. And sometimes, they come back to stay for a while longer.

The yoga is part of the process of learning to let go of what we must. It's about coming to accept the impermanence of all things. The good things pass. The bad things pass. The easy poses don't last for long enough, and the hard poses are over before you know it. That is the way of all things.

Elizabeth spoke in class, at great length, today about the Dalai Lama, quoting him via someone who had heard the speech. I don't remember all of her words, but one thing she shared was that we need to think about the pace at which we move, and whether that is the right pace for us - for our lives. Not necessarily talking about how fast one moves through a Sun Salutation, though that could be an excellent metaphor. But, more importantly, the pace of our lives. How much do we try to fit into it? And is it the right pace? By and large, she said, we all need to slow down. I don't know. I feel like I am pretty slow. But where could I slow down even further?

I work so carefully to not take on more than I can, leaving so much on the table, both in my work, as well as my hobbies. I used to beat myself up for it constantly. Now I just look at it all and think, "Well, I guess that's just not going to happen right now." I won't tell you that I don't beat myself up over some things, like not doing more music than I am presently doing (which is nearly none). But I have been willfully and mindfully disengaging myself from that "get to the next level" mindset that is ingrained into us by our culture. Do more. Have more. Be more. I don't really buy it, because I have never seen it work. I get jealous, sometimes, of those who have more than I have. But then I look at what they have that I don't want, and realize that everything comes with a price. I remember hearing a teacher talk about how the more we could let go of, the more attachments we could forego, the better chance of us finding peace. And that, I think, is because there is a limit to how little you can want. And as we let go of more and more, approaching that limit, nearing the "basic needs only" point, there becomes less and less far to go. There's less and less struggle, perhaps (I am hypothesizing), because we are ever-increasing our capacity to deal with the few things we have and the fewer things we are still working on letting go of. In the other direction, the problem gets harder and harder. The more we become attached to, the more we become attached. To more and more and more. And that results in an ever-decreasing bandwidth for dealing with any of it. No solitude. No peace of mind. No time. No satisfaction.

Getting better at letting go creates an opportunity to be grateful for whatever we do receive, because we don't squander the moment worrying about how long we'll have it. We just know that it won't be forever.

But it is for right now.

11 May, 2013

Neither "Basic" nor "Gentle" mean "Easy"

Today was Yoga Basics (a.k.a. Power Vinyasa) with J. Politi.

As the title of this entry alludes, Yoga Basics is not "the easy class." It's nearly a full series of the poses one would do in a Baptiste Power Yoga class, with the main exception being that there are fewer repetitions of the Sun Salutations, there's sometimes an exclusion of a few poses, such as Half Moon or Standing Splits, and the tempo of the class is slower. But the flip side of a slowed tempo is that the holds in each pose are longer. While slowing down means there are not as many Chatturangas and, thus, not as much intensity in the upper body work, there is often more intensity in the lower body work because of staying in poses and really finding depth.

The thing I like about these slower flows is that it not only gives my shoulders a much needed rest, but it also gives me time to make adjustments to aspects of my form and practice that cannot be as easily addressed in the standard Power sequence, because everything happens so transiently.

Not a lot to say today. Not much is hurting right now. Even the pesky groin pull has been behaving. Best not to gloat about that too much, though.

10 May, 2013

You don't need to have all the answers

Today was Power Vinyasa with Nicole Tsong.

"You don't need to have all the answers..."

That was the thought that went through my mind at the start of class today, and it's the thought that might best be mantra-ized into my life for the foreseeable future. Because that is the reality of things. I am always trying to know everything, and to be ready for everything, and to have a course of action for any contingency. And, there's a line between "preparedness" and "reactivity" that is pretty broad.

Still riding the wave of consecutive tough classes, today was another hard one. Still not sleeping that well, but I am starting to find a way to do this power yoga and dial up or down the intensity, even just a little bit, without extreme modification. It was nice to take Nicole's class, as she is another teacher whom I've missed for several months.

This is one of my favorite things about yoga. The variety of teachers we have available to us, even just at one studio. And when I add drop-ins at other studios, there are 12-15 different teachers whose class I could potentially take in any week. The yoga is always the yoga, but my emotions will obviously be colored by who the instructor is, how they teach on that day, and by my association or experiences with that instructor based on conversations I may have had with them. I enjoy having this luxury in my life of a series guides who help me, in their own subtly unique ways, to pursue my goals and get clarity in my life.

This week, I noticed for the first time that "knee-to-nose" is happening in a different mechanical degree than ever before. I recall, a year ago, in classes at Urban Yoga Spa, when we'd do this pose, my knee would squeeze in to somewhere around mid-chest, and that's all there was. I would even think to myself, "Knee to nose? That's never going to happen!" This week, I must have been feeling motivated on one particular day and, instead of doing what I normally do, without even thinking about it, which would be "knee-to-chest," I consciously went a little further to see where it took me. Perhaps it was the specific language used by the instructor (I think it might have been Carley, but I am not sure). And what I discovered, to my surprise, was that I could do knee-to-forehead!! I had no idea this was possible for me, and I also don't know how long it may have been possible before I ever tried it. And I also don't have a clear understanding of what has changed in me to enable that. Is my core stronger? Is my low back more flexible? Is my upper back more flexible? I have no idea. But there it is. A yoga milestone.

There have been a few milestones since I started practicing yoga that were things that were distinct limitations  that, at some point, I believed would always be limitations:
  • Knee-to-nose (we just talked about that one)
  • Wrapping right foot on Eagle (I hurt myself in the "old days" forcing it, but now it comes easily)
  • Sitting in Hero's Pose at all
  • Right foot to my upper thigh on Tree (used to only be able to do it on the left side)
There are other things I still cannot yet do, that I often wonder if I'll "ever" be able to do:
  • Utthita hasta padangusthasana (standing hand-to-foot pose)
  • Seated Half Lotus
  • Any sort of unassisted headstand or handstand
  • Bird of Paradise
  • Hanumanasana (seated forward split)
In each of those poses, I have a very clear idea of what is preventing me from doing them at this time. The biggest factors are hamstring flexibility, hip joint flexibility, hip flexor flexibility, shoulder joint flexibility, core strength, and fear. So, in short, everything that we spend all our time working on when practicing yoga. But I can't look at my practice, over the past year and a half, and then look to the future, and say "never." I don't know when these things will happen. That is true. It could be 6 months. It could be 3 years. It could be 15 years. 

Fortunately, I don't need to have all the answers.

09 May, 2013

Change in perspective

Today was Power Vinyasa with Tina Templeman.

This is another class that I have been regularly visiting on the calendar the last month or so, though it was substituted for a couple of weeks. In truth, I would probably be better served by staying later and doing Tina's gentle yoga class that comes right after this one, because it would move me into a more sensible hard/easy/hard/easy schedule. But, as things go, I tend not to want to be getting out of a yoga class at 8pm on a Thursday night, so I suck it up and do the power class.

Today's class was super-intense. Tina was clearly inspired by something out of the ordinary, because our sequences were far deviating from the standard Baptiste flow, and we even did a mandala. My change in perspective came from being in the back row of class. I took advantage of the wall directly behind me, and used that wall to really raise my leg high during three-legged downward dog poses. This had two benefits. First, my butt is so fatigued and sore from all the yoga I've been doing, I really don't feel like my body is dying for that intensity. But also, by climbing that top leg up the wall, it is possible for me to get two really good stretches - bottom hamstring and top hip flexor - that I am not yet strong and/or flexible enough to see fully in a free-standing version of the pose. So it was good, and I took advantage of that throughout the class.

I felt reasonably strong, even though, at a broader level, I feel completely wiped out. I realize that's a contradiction, but that's what is happening.

It's funny. When I first took Tina's class, her ebullient demeanor was almost too much for me to handle. I think it's something about having someone calling out a series of poses that is destroying me, with a gleeful cheer in their voice. I tend to go more for the pensive teachers. But I have now come to appreciate this never-faltering positivity.

I don't have a lot of clarity right now.

In fact, the issue is profound enough that I am not even clear on whether I am lacking clarity.

08 May, 2013

What is my satya?

Today was Power Vinyasa with Alice Harper.

The Wednesday class at Live Love Flow is becoming a regular thing. Alice's class challenges me every time, never really letting up until the very end. The flow sequences are long, intricate, intense. But they are also methodical, interesting, and grounding. Today I was tired from yesterday's 90 minute class, combined with having done a fair bit of walking to and/or from work lately. I think that walking, uphill, home from work, immediately before class probably played a significant role in my quadriceps being on fire.

Alice spoke just a little bit about the 8 limbs at the beginning of class today. She mentioned "Satya" which is absolute or inner truth. And she suggested we try to find what is true inside of us during our practice. When I let those thoughts start percolating in my mind, it's easy to get some really strong emotions, as well as an overwhelming sense of "I don't know what's true for me!" But sometimes it's not so complicated as being a massive mind-boggling inner truth. Sometimes it's a simple truth... "Today, my body is sore. I will respect that." That's about the extent of what I could find for truths.

There is rarely any type of traditional "Sun B" in Alice's class. After initial "Sun A" it is usually right into some long flows, which become longer, eventually become "mandala" flows (first facing front, then facing back, going in a full circle). Crescent Lunge was liberally applied to the point of complete destruction, at least for me. I was forced to humbly take a knee later in the class.

When we neared the end of class, I found myself wanting to spend an extended time in Supta Badakonasa, bypassing several of the other stretches that were occurring. 

I guess I've been working hard lately. My weight is probably at a low for the year, which surprised me, because I didn't feel like I had been losing weight. But there have been a few long, hot classes in a row, so I am probably just seeing dehydration factoring into it.

I am motivated to do yoga right now. I don't want to take days off. I don't want to get injured either, and I will rest when I need to rest, as the saying goes. But I feel like I really need to keep showing up on the mat, like a ritual.

Perhaps that is my truth right now?

07 May, 2013

I forgot how good it was

Today was Power Vinyasa with Carley Ewert.

It has been a long time since I took Carley's class. She's been a go-to class for me for quite some time, and then the schedule change resulted in her only class of the week occurring right after Elizabeth's Gentle Yoga class, which is always a much needed "non-Power" class during the week for me. I can't do 7 days of power yoga, because I am not 22 years old. So, I've had to forego the Carley classes for months.

And today, schedule constraints on my part, would open up the opportunity for me to revisit. And it was really nice to be back. I had forgotten how perfect her words are. Few, but powerful. Quiet, yet commanding. She has a way of using words to alleviate the tedium that can occur when we start to spin off into our heads, by calling out enough subtleties to which we can devote attention, that we're never left feeling that a pose is not, at worst, "interesting."

A 90 minute class, as always, is tough for me. And it took a toll on my body. Even with a day of rest before, I am still feeling the effects.

Today was one of those classes where I kept thinking "Damn it. We still have Triangle and Pyramid." I was expecting that there would be yet another Downward Dog. And yet another Warrior series, to get us to those damn triangle and pyramid. But, much to my surprise, there was no triangle. And there was no pyramid. It's weird that I dread it, since Triangle is one of my favorite poses. Why would I hope we don't do a pose I actually like? Who knows. And Pyramid, I always dread. I never want to do it in class. But if I am not in a yoga class, for instance, standing in a hallway at work, the only thing I want to do is Pyramid! I am doing Pyramid all day long when I'm not on the mat. But on the mat... dread.

There's probably a lesson there.

05 May, 2013

Yoga hangover

Today was Ashtanga with Elizabeth McElveen at The White Studio.

I never recovered from the dehydration of yesterday's class. I should have suspected it would be an issue, and I thought I'd hydrated, but it wasn't enough. My sleep was not great, and I awoke early with what felt like a hangover. Regardless of feeling terrible, I had committed in my mind to attending the 8:15am class no matter what. I dragged myself out of bed, made a smoothie just to give me enough of something in my stomach that I could take four ibuprofen, and made my way off to class.

The Primary Series is what it is, so I did the best I could, and tried to find a way to not be making it harder than it needed to be.

I am thinking back on yesterday's class, with 27 different teachers. There was one teacher who said something that I've heard many teachers say, and it's pretty central to the whole philosophy of practice. What she said was "You're exactly where you're supposed to be, doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing." And it immediately made me feel a wave of emotion. I am not sure why. I guess it's a kind of validating statement to hear. In the midst of whatever struggles or uncertainty we have, this is what our work is right now. To do this. Whatever this is.

I'd like to believe that's true.

04 May, 2013

Being there for others is sometimes just being there

Today was Power Vinyasa at Be Luminous.

It was the culmination of a five month teacher training, featuring one long, 2 hour class, taught by all 27 of the students who took part in the training. There were members of Be Luminous staff there to assist, observe, and show support. And there were about 30 students who came to participate in the event.

I don't know what compelled me to take this particular class. I was tired, and definitely not feeling like two hours of yoga would be a good idea for me. But something just clicked in my mind that I should show up for it. Who knows why.

Each teacher would have about 5 minutes to teach. The class closely followed (if not exactly) the Journey Into Power series, with teachers trading off sometimes between the left and right side of a sequence, and sometimes between sequences. I won't lie. It was a difficult, and enlightening experience. Being that 27 teachers makes for an obviously disjointed yoga class, I will share my thoughts about it in a disjointed fashion as well.

Each new voice was an interesting stimulus, creating a tiny disruption to the flow. I won't call it "distraction" because I don't attach a negative connotation to it. But there was a curiosity with each new voice. What would this teacher be like? How confident would they sound? What message would they convey, if any, in addition to the few poses they would be leading?

I found myself looking up, each time the instructor changed, since I needed to put the face with the voice. It might have been challenging to do such a class with eyes closed the entire time. The teachers were quite varied in style, although they all went through the exact same training. I can only imagine what some of the factors are that underlie the differences. Of course, personality, preparedness, nervousness, the particular poses they're teaching.

As you might expect, the flows were not entirely without surprises. And, in this forum, it was easy to take that as it came, without frustration, without losing focus. Sometimes we might just miss the left side of a sequence. Sometimes we might be breathing out when the instruction is to breath in. Sometimes we might be halfway lifting when we were expecting to stand up tall. This is life, though. The structure of the sequence in a yoga class is a bit artificially predictable and perfected. Life isn't so kind to give us what we expect next. Teachers often challenge our minds, intentionally, by mixing up a sequence to break that cycle of expectation. But even that is a well-choreographed plan. If yoga class were real life, then sometimes completely random and crazy things would happen in class, throwing everyone into chaos. That doesn't happen. And it didn't happen here either. It was just an opportunity to flip the yoga class around the other way. For these teachers, we were showing up to give them someone to lead. It's always the case, right? If Baptiste himself showed up at a studio, but there were no students present, it would not be a yoga class. But the difference here was that these teachers were counting on us to be there for them, to have this experience they've been working toward. This was like the opening night of a play.

The class absolutely destroyed me, because each new teacher arrived with boatloads of energy, yet my energy was waning as the time elapsed. I was operating on a poor night's sleep, and it was a two hour class, double what I have been doing of late. I did the best I could, and then heeded my body's commands, and started taking knees-down Chaturanga, and eventually started just flat-out resting toward the very end. My towel was soaked like the olden days of 108 degree classes, but this was not from extreme heat, but rather, from the duration of moderate heat. As I was on my back, and a new teacher came up to teach, I had a moment's thought of "Am I not showing up for this person? Shouldn't I get my ass in gear and do this poses for them? The last thing they probably want to see is someone in the front row who isn't even doing the poses that they are calling!" But I thought about it only briefly, and decided (not just letting myself off the hook) that this is my practice. It is their class. But it is my practice, and I have to respect my body telling me that the show is over. And, as a teacher, they will undoubtedly experience days where students are on their back, not doing the awesome flow that they planned all night before. And that's part of the process.

I was very glad that I showed up for this class. The gratitude that was shown by the student-teachers as well as the staff was amazing, and it is nice to have a tiny piece in that process.

I've been pushing pretty hard lately.

The thought that sometimes comes to mind is "The yoga doesn't seem to be working right now." I recognize the absurdity of that statement. And it really only means that the internal world doesn't feel so easy lately. I think about lofty attributes like clarity, discernment, intelligence, and sometimes wonder if I am exercising any of these things, or if I am delusional. But I keep showing up on the mat, and trying to pay attention to what comes up.

03 May, 2013

Struggling (only) to (then) find peace

Today was Power Vinyasa + Meditation with Scott.

The entire class, I felt like I was behind. Always on the back edge of the instructions. Halfway lift? I am still finishing my forward fold. Upward dog? I am still heading down into my low plank. The entire time, the entire class. I am trying to understand. Is it too fast for my breath cycle? Is the timing of Scott's words not familiar to me, and I am just not synchronizing? I try to stay in my practice, but I do take a couple of glances to the sides, and I don't see that people are all over the place. People are in sync with his commands. Of course, there are also some people who are sitting on their mat and not doing the flow at all. I have sometimes wondered if there's a resistance in me that, subconsciously, leads me to intentionally lag the flow that is being called out, with certain teachers. Am I doing it to be subversive? Because, it would seem, if I am always exactly half a pose behind, then maybe I just need to shift my perspective to be in alignment, rather than speed up. But, as the class progressed, I decided that it was, indeed, the pace of the breath not aligning with mine. Have you ever noticed that sometimes there are two beeping sounds coming from different beepers somewhere in the environment. And the beepers sound like they're just offset by a certain amount of time. But, as more time passes, you can notice that the gap between one beep and the next is slowly extending, to the point that, finally, the beeps are momentarily the other way around, with the later one sounding earlier. And then, they briefly align. And then the lag starts all over again. My flow was like that. The reason why there's the illusion of being always just a little behind is that every round of flow ends in a pause in some pose, usually downward dog, and that's a place where everyone re-synchronizes.

So I spent part of the class wondering why my flow is slower than everyone else. These were all fleeting thoughts, and I did keep returning to the breath. But the thoughts ranged from "Why am I slower than everyone else?" to "Why are all these people rushing their breath? They must obviously be rushing their breath to keep up!" to "Why is he teaching so fast? He's the owner of the studio! Why is he going so fast? He should know that it needs to be slower!!" But these are all fleeting thoughts. And I am trying to keep coming back to the breath, because I want to do the work fully, and not just phone it in with body present and mind elsewhere. Making matters worse was the fact that we listened to nothing but Steve Gold. Yes, this is what was going on in my mind.

When class neared the end, we were laying in Savasana, and I noticed that the music was still playing. We are still listening to Steve Gold! And I am thinking, "Why are we still listening to music? Why are we listening to Steve Gold? Usually Scott plays Rolling Stones, or all sorts of cool music! Why? Why?" and I am trying to just let it be.

And then, all of a sudden, I realize... there's a yoga teacher training in the next room. The walls are thin. We are still listening to music because Scott is trying to cover up the background noise of the talking from the training in the other room. He's trying to create a peaceful environment. And then, a series of thoughts fly through my mind. I had asked Jason at the front desk if Scott was teaching, because I thought there might be a substitute due to the teacher training. And Jason said that Scott has been running back and forth, and that he taught his noon class too. And I am now processing this new information and thinking "Today is probably a completely crazy day for Scott." and I am thinking "Maybe we are listening to Steve Gold because Scott's iPod is in the other room with the training." Again, these are all stories, but they're different stories than the ones that were agitating me. And what it served to create for me was a realization that everything is going to be alright. And that the class is not just a student's mindset, but a teacher's mindset too. And we are all in this together.

During the final 15 minutes of class we did a seated meditation. And I found that I became very, very still. So still, that I noticed my body was feeling no discomfort, and I felt almost no urge to move. And I felt complete inner peace. And everything Scott said was right on. At one point during the meditation, the teacher trainees had come out into the hallway and were making quite a bit of noise, and I thought "I wonder if that is irritating Scott?" And sure enough, a few moments later, Scott went to the hallway and asked them to be quiet. This sort of validated my perception that arose that, perhaps, our teacher had a lot on his plate today, and was trying to be 100% for all of these things, and doing the best he can.

And it made me really appreciate a few things. First of all, it made me appreciate the effort that people go through to quietly meet all their responsibilities without complaining or shirking. Second, it made me appreciate the power of perspective, and how it can change everything. And finally, it made me appreciate that yoga and meditation are vehicles that enable us to connect these dots and have these moments of clarity, enabling us to live much more harmoniously and compassionately.

After experiencing 60 minutes of struggle, I walked out of class feeling completely calm and centered, and that period of discomfort was not even in my memory as having been an unpleasant experience.

02 May, 2013

There's no "I" in Ibuprofen... oh, wait...

Today was Power Vinyasa with Lara Herbst.

As I mentioned, I have been hurting for days, and getting back into that mode of wondering when it would stop. I was also aware that the pain could magically disappear at any time, without warning, since that seems to be what happens. And, lucky for me, that's what happened today. But the likely factor underlying this was the four ibuprofen that I took a few hours before the class. It's probably not great to be on an IV drip of Vitamin I, but sometimes it's the needed solution to whatever lingering problem I'm facing. I don't think my pains are typically "injuries" in the classic sense. It seems to be more a case of inflammation that responds very well to treatment.

Aside from having a great class, I still feel like I am floating in space. In flux. This happens to me. Not sure if it's cyclical, or if it's seasonal, or if there are other factors that cause it. I have no difficulty showing up on the mat and getting to "here and now," but I am having a much harder time being enthusiastic about the here and now off the mat.

I recognize that much of the flux I am perceiving is actually being generated from within. And the place where my questions lie pertains to whether this is good flux, bad flux, avoidable flux, or necessary flux.

This feels like a very tangential way of talking, and I apologize to anyone who is reading it. Perhaps you can relate, or perhaps I am babbling about nothing.

Tonight, after class, I raced to the other end of the town to see an art show by Elizabeth McElveen. She is showing photography from Verona, where she was raised. This was at Zeitgeist Coffee, which is one of the many good shops in Seattle. It was nice to have an opportunity to interact with Elizabeth and the community of people who love and support her, in a non-yoga setting. I had a chance to speak with some of the people with whom I have been practicing these past few months.

I had the good fortune to visit Verona, if only for a couple of days, on a trip to Italy a few years ago. I liked imagining that these photos came from this place that I visited. And I liked imagining that this place is where my teacher spent a large part of her childhood. If I visit Verona again, it will be with this richer context attached to my experience.

That's all I have to say right now.

01 May, 2013

Everybody hurts... sometimes

Today was Vinyasa with Alice Harper at Live Love Flow.

I must have awakened some unpleasantness in my low back, because the discomfort was in full bloom in tonight's class. It's not the kind of back pain that causes one to jump or screech, like when you've got a nerve being tweaked right where it comes out of the spinal column. This is more of a diffuse pain that shows up as a dull broad ache across a larger area. It makes any sort of Sun Salutation not fun. It would be useful to understand what makes these pains come and go. I know that sleep is a factor in some cases, but I have not been sleep deprived the last couple of days. I know that doing twists is a factor, but I have avoided those since last week. There are clearly additional factors I have not identified.

But enough about me.

Alice's class is becoming a regular stop on my weekly calendar. Speaking in terms of yoga phylogenetic trees, I would say that her style of teaching is much closer to the Liz Doyle and Ginger Saunders style than to any of the other teachers whom I know in Seattle. The flows are rarely Baptistian, and they often involve a long sequence of poses on one side, before switching sides. In these classes, I often find that my towel gets all scrunched up at both ends of the mat, because I can't figure out how to do the transitions with enough grace and strategy to avoid dragging my feet all over the place.

I didn't want to do yoga tonight at all, actually. But I couldn't come up with a good reason not to, other than not wanting to. Some would say that should be a good enough reason. I'd already taken Monday off, so it seemed like there should be no reason not to take class on Wednesday. And I knew I'd be glad I did it, as soon as class was over. And I guess I was.

Going to Live Love Flow, I feel like I am visiting another city, even though it is around the corner from my house. I don't know anyone. The environment feels unfamiliar. The teachers don't really know me since I go there so rarely. It seems to be a studio catering primarily to Seattle University students, so I am also one of the oldest people in any of the classes. But it's convenient.

I don't really have any words of inspiration today. I am feeling lethargic, and mentally/emotionally heavy.