30 June, 2013

Finding Gravity

Today was The Primary Series with Elizabeth McElveen at The White Studio.

There were only 4 of us in class today. I don't know how I managed to get out of bed, given the minimal, poor sleep. But I had decided I was committed to this 8:30am session, and I found a way there. I don't like the idea of skipping a planned yoga class, under any circumstances.

Even though my energy was lacking, and my eyes were barely open, by the time we got through the 5 Sun As, I was feeling about as awake as usual. It doesn't take much of it to wake one up, it seems.

Elizabeth spoke about thinking about how gravity is playing a role in our practice. About applying force down, in order to extend up. And that these types of equal and opposite forces can happen along any of the various axes that we move in the different poses. Sometimes we are extending forward and backward, sometimes up and down. Sometimes it's our head that's up, other times, our foot is reaching back. But there's always this elongation.

What I have started to notice is that, in the absence of extreme heat, once I am in the practice, I do not worry about time, and I do not get particularly distracted. The major distraction for me in classes is the heat, the sweat, the loss of breath from the environmental conditions. Apparently, I boil easily, and perhaps there is something to recognize in that, with respect to the rest of my life, though I don't think I have a particularly short temper. But there are other ways to unravel besides anger. Perhaps my quick fuse is related to fear, or avoidance of discomfort, or seeking pleasure. Or perhaps not all of these metaphors are applicable.

Tomorrow I get on an airplane to head to Boston. I feel a little bit anxious about my state of imagined limbo. I am not really in limbo. I am here. Sitting in a chair. In my house. In Seattle. I know exactly where I am. And tomorrow, I know exactly where I will be. And I have plenty of plans for this trip. But my internal state is apparently what is in limbo, because I feel a sense of unease. Today was a little tougher than yesterday. But everything is really okay. Lack of sleep is exacerbating these uneasy states, and the combination of whatever is driving that sleeplessness internally, plus the external factors of the heat and light, is really wearing on me. At least in Boston there will be air conditioning.

And there will be yoga.

29 June, 2013

There is always a choice

Today was Yoga Basics with J. Politi.

I was tired from staying up late. And, as has been the case for weeks, I did not sleep well. When people who are normally excellent sleepers stop sleeping, something is going on. So, uneven sleep, waking with a feeling of dehydration from yesterday's yoga, and staying in bed so long that I really had barely enough time to get myself up and moving for a noon yoga class. I am never particularly pleased with myself when I sleep later than 8:30 or 9:00 so this was way past that limit, though I can't call it sleep.

When I arrived on the mat for this class that I wasn't entirely sure I was ready for, immediately thoughts crept into my mind about feeling alone. First of all, I am not really alone. But that's how I felt. I am between jobs, which is surely unsettling at some level. I am not in a relationship, which has its positive aspects of feeling freedom, but the negative of not knowing what to do with myself without that kind of connection. Long story short, I started to panic. And I had to immediately shift to J's voice, telling us to really feel our breath and recognize all of the sensations in the body. Turns out, my "panic" was not physical. My breath was calm. My heart was steady. My stomach was settled. This panic was my head. Thoughts about non-essential things. Fear that I will have all this time on my hands and be alone and blah blah blah. I was able to reel it in.

Later in class, it bubbled up again, as I was drenched and fatigued. The thought of being in Hawaii, for a week, alone. To some of you that sounds like a dream. Paradise. For me, there can be a fear in the anticipation of that aloneness. Panicking about then "what ifs" of me having some kind of meltdown. I had one of those meltdowns once in Mississippi in 1995 during an aborted attempt at a solo cross-country soul-searching drive. I was at a pay phone at a gas station in the middle of nowhere and I called my brother in a panic. But that's not the same me. It is 18 years later and I have grown. The times I have done things alone, I have learned to thrive. But there's a place in me that still has a visceral reaction in avoidance of being A-L-O-N-E. Once again I was able to reel it in, though it was harder when fatigued.

Yoga teaches us to process with objectivity and presence even in chaos.

Today, I finally resigned myself to start modifying Triangle to accommodate the heel pain. It looks like my Triangle will be a little more like a Hatha approach with front knee bent. That removes the force from my heel. I love Triangle so it's hard to let go of that. But I need to modify it today so that I can keep doing yoga tomorrow.

There is a lesson in there. Delaying an immediate, though damaging gratification in order to create the possibility for a lasting and healthy reward in the long run.

Yoga. It works.

28 June, 2013

Onward

Today was Power Vinyasa with Elizabeth Thomas.

I handed my ID, my bus pass, and my laptop to my manager. We shook hands, and we said farewell at the 5th floor elevators. Down I went, and out the door, for the final time. I stepped out onto the sidewalk to start the rest of my life. And it was fitting, therefore, that the rest of my life began, immediately, with a yoga class. It's the constant. It's the glue. It's the springboard. It's the root system. It's the sanctuary. As I walked across the street, I had one of those almost eerie calm feelings I sometimes get in big moments, where it feels so calm it is almost unreal. I recognize the gravity of it. But I feel extreme nonchalance. I want to believe it's non-attachment, but some part of me fears that it is actually disconnection. It's really hard to be sure between the two, which it is.

It was pretty hot and humid, and Elizabeth seemed to have not really even turned on the heat, since the room was ready-heated with the ambient conditions. She started class, as she always does, asking us to each introduce ourselves, and to share something. Sometimes she asks us to state one word that describes how we feel at this moment. I was starting to mentally prepare for that question, since it was a particularly poignant question for this very moment. Surprisingly, she went in a different direction today, though, and she asked us to name something that is a "dealbreaker" for us, being intentionally vague about the context of the term. I didn't immediately have one that came to mind, or at least not one that I necessarily wanted to share. And the introductions were making their way toward me, so I had to think fast. It wasn't difficult for me to come up with one. I said "Selfishness." It encompasses a lot of things. It could be leaving bad tips. It could be not being present for a friend when they need support. It could be emotional selfishness. It could be self-centeredness. It could be any of those things. It was a good question, and I was rather glad I didn't need to share one word for how I felt. I am not sure what it would have been. Free? Calm? Alone? Unsteady? Limbo? Anxious? How can one be anxious and calm at the same time? That might be a fair question...

Class was hard, in standard Elizabeth fashion, so I won't belabor it, other than to note that I did a lot of modification, to stay within my own boundaries of integrity.

Given that this class is a 4pm Friday class, I don't know for certain if or when I will be able to attend it again. I have some anxiety about my routine being disrupted. I have had the luxury of doing whatever I want, whenever I want. I may need to get creative and very flexible in my routine, when I begin traveling more. I might find myself doing yoga alone, or with a video or podcast. I know that some say that the "real yoga" is that yoga we guide ourselves through alone. And that scares the living shit out of me. Alone. Alone. Alone. I am going to Hawaii alone, and all I can think about is "How will I feel by myself?" I am wondering if I will be lonely. Will I lose my shit? Some people would travel alone and be in a state of complete bliss. For me, it is like going into the wilderness where there could be avalanches, tigers, or other unspeakable hidden dangers. Alone is what I fear most. And the question I still struggle with is whether I must do what I fear most, or whether I need not do what I fear most. And I am curious about what there is to be learned by attempting to confront this fear. Am I about to grow? Or, on the contrary, am I just wasting time that could be spent in constant connection with others?

I think I know that you know that I know the answer to those questions.

26 June, 2013

Where Ha-Tha you been?

Today was Hatha with Diane.

It's been a long, long, long time since I have done a Hatha class. I guess it was technically in El Cerrito, California, but that was a modified sort of Hatha, different from the Bikram-like sequence we do at Urban Yoga Spa. It was nice to see Diane again, and it was amazing to notice how different the audience was in the  room compared to the last time I attended that same class. There's actually a fair amount of turnover at any yoga studio. When you go every day, it might not be noticed, but it becomes more apparent during a drop-in, discovering that all the faces have changed.

The Hatha series felt familiar, even though it had been months since I had last taken Patrick's class. There's such an interesting psychological difference between a Hatha class and a Power Vinyasa class, when it comes to the energy, the mindset, the "expectation" (that we are not supposed to allow ourselves to have). My favorite thing about Hatha is that there are these landmarks in the series that indicate a particular progress point through the class, sort of like on a long hike that you may be grueling at parts, but you know the route, and have memories and associations with the various steps of it. I do enjoy having poses like Eagle and Dancer's Pose occurring early in a class when my balance and focus is fresh, in comparison to Vinyasa, where those poses typically appear at a time where I am pretty much fried.

I was talking with a friend last night about the fact that I often feel like these blog entries are really dull and lacking in insight of any sort as I am composing them, only to go back a week later and realize that I actually had a lot to say. It serves as a reflection for me of what often happens on the mat during a tough day. I recall last week having a day that I felt like I was, to paraphrase, a "fat, wet, slothlike rat" I think. But, I am guessing that my practice was actually pretty good and that this was just what I was telling myself as I was doing it. That's kind of a sad message to be repeating to myself. It makes me feel worse when I say that to myself, much as it makes it harder for me to write when I am telling myself that I have nothing useful to say.

The power of suggestion is most powerful with the suggestions we make to ourselves.


25 June, 2013

Just like a hamstring

Today was Gentle Yoga with Elizabeth McElveen.

We did a lot of things really slowly today. I don't think we even did Sun B, which is atypical. We usually do Sun B. We usually do Sun A, then Sun B, then whatever else comes to mind. But today, we did Sun A. Then we went straight to a very slow, very deep exploration in Half Moon. How slow can you go into Half Moon? And how little can you use your arms to support yourself? These are good questions. When we move slowly, we understand every aspect of how we fall out of balance, as well as every aspect of what maintains that balance. It's an intriguing experience, and it uses the muscles more fully, as it does the consciousness as well. I can feel it in my ass today. Half Moon is an ass pose.

There's a place in my right hip that often aches. It's a place deep in the joint that feels a little arthritic, and a little stuck, and a little bit like I should be paranoid that I'll be having a hip replacement in twenty years. It's a place in hip that screams out for Supta Badakonasana. It's a place that really loves Tree pose when my body cooperates. And when I stand on that leg and go into Half Moon pose, it's a place that is profoundly released as I rotate my top hip upward and out.

After we went into Half Moon as slowly as we could, we were to come out of Half Moon equally slowly. That's not easy either.

We did some or other poses after that. I think we did Pyramid. Then we found ourselves on the floor for a few poses, one of which was the Splits. As I have mentioned before, this is not a pose that I can go very deep at all. Not even deep enough to sit on a block. The best I can do is get a block under my calf muscle to provide a little bit of stability. The hamstrings are really that tight. And it got me thinking that the hamstrings are sort of a good example of the things that I want to change in my life that are not easy or fast to change. I can't rush them. There's no quick fix. Sometimes they feel like they're getting tighter even though I am working on them all the time. It's easy to get frustrated with the seeming lack of progress.

Okay, that's all.

24 June, 2013

90 Minute Metaphor

Today was Power Vinyasa (90 minutes) with Chelle Swierz at Be Luminous.

There was a lengthy internal dialog around which class I would do today. First, I thought, "Maybe I'll do Michel's 5:30" but I didn't want to take that brutal 90 minute class. Then I thought, "Oh, I know what I'll do! I'll take Chelle Swierz 7:15 class! It's still 90 minutes, but it's a Yoga Basics class!" but I started thinking I didn't want to do a 90 minute class no matter what the difficulty level. So, the next thought was "I can take Vanessa's 7:15! That's only an hour and I haven't seen Vanessa in a long time!" but as the day wore on, I couldn't imagine sticking around late enough for a 7:15 class, even if the reward would be a shorter 60 minute class. So, after all that spinning around and around, I landed back at Michel's 5:30 class, only to discover that Chelle was substituting for her. This was, after all, a welcome surprise, since (as you know) I enjoy any opportunity to take a class with a teacher I haven't had before.

And that's where the fun ended. 

To say that I felt slow, fat, heavy, and like a disgusting wet rat today would be to make slow, fat, heavy, and disgusting rats feel insecure about themselves. The entire class, dripping wet, I just felt like I could barely keep my body in motion. Interestingly, it wasn't the kind of fatigue that is usually accompanied by extra pain in the joints. It was just a sloth-like feeling, and weakness. Few of Chelle's flows were garden variety. She had a little something extra for the "Level 2" patrons in just about every sequence (how about throwing in a Crow right after Chair in every Sun B?!). 

I did the best I could, which involved a flat-out decision to modify liberally, dropping much of the extra hot sauce throughout the class. I decided, the way I felt, that whatever it took to maintain integrity without letting myself off the hook would be what I would do. It worked pretty well, but man did I go hard on myself internally. Thoughts of "What is wrong with me?" as I sideways-glanced around seeing all the other people lock-step with her instructions. I know it's my practice. And I know that I shouldn't be comparing myself. And I know that it doesn't matter what anyone else is doing. And, for that matter, I know that I didn't actually see what everyone was doing, or how they were doing it. But what I did see just fueled this feeling of inadequacy and feeling inexplicably worse than everyone else. I guess that's where my head was today, since it's what I saw. And now, the next morning, I awaken with a yoga hangover, from dehydration that was not properly addressed the night before.

The 90 minute classes tend to do this to me. And no matter how much I become cognizant of the tendency for this self-fulfilling prophecy, I continue to dole out that experience to myself. I wonder how many of these classes I would need to take before I learn to stop looking forward in tortuous anticipation. Perhaps this says something about how I approach "The Long Haul" in life? I am good at the short sprints of the psyche, but when I know it's a bigger commitment, I waver. I wish that didn't sound like me, but it does. And I really don't like that the lesson is so plain and obvious. 

So, do I avoid the 90 minute classes? Or do I charge them head-on?

Man, do I hate those 90 minute classes.

23 June, 2013

Stirring the well

Today was Gentle Yoga with Elizabeth McElveen.

Lately, I have had a lot of strange "stuff" coming up. All of a sudden, I am thinking about my childhood again, in ways I haven't thought about it for a long time. Trying to get at what must have, or might have been the circumstances that shaped who I am today. And it's not because I started seeing Dr. Freud, or anything. I think what's happening is that the practice I have been doing has been stirring up the muck at the bottom of the well. And it's a deep well, so I don't even know all of what's down there. And the paddle doesn't even go all the way to the bottom, so I stir, and then it might be days, weeks, months before everything that is going to come up comes up.

And stuff is coming up.

I suppose it is a good thing because that stuff is down there. And if it doesn't come up, it's just... down there... even though I may not see it or know it, stuff we don't know about surely "flavors" the water in the well.

It was another day that I wasn't very excited to go to yoga. I still have not been sleeping well, and I took Saturday off. Sometimes skipping a day of yoga makes me not want to go to yoga. I need to stay on top of the routine, because it's easy to decide that being a sloth is relaxing.

Lots is in transition. The job, travel, you name it.

Where will I land?

21 June, 2013

Never forget your teachers

Today was Power Vinyasa with Cassandra (woo-hoo!).

It had been a long time since I'd been over to UYS, and a long time since I had taken Cassandra's class. Facebook reminds me of these friendly faces, and there's always a "I need to get over there!" thought in my head. But it's easy to stick with the routine, and I also know that my body will pay a price from the added heat. Nonetheless, I miss the people. So, this afternoon, when a friend who works at UYS sent me a message asking me when I was going to come back and visit, I decided that the time would be now. It was around 3:30pm, and I was just getting ready to think about walking across to Elizabeth Thomas's class. But this seemed like a perfect day to catch up.

As always, there's something about Cassandra's voice, and her very personal and open style, that cut right to my emotional core. In some sense, just hearing her voice again, while I am on a yoga mat, brings me back to that feeling of home that one associates with long-lost friends, family, or memories we never want to forget. After all, it's Cassandra's class that made me want to become a yogi. Perhaps I was moving in the direction, and I certainly acknowledge that "showing up" is 90% of the battle. But her words, her inspiration, was what made me want to search for something more.

Class was hot. I won't lie. And my body felt the effects afterward. I noticed that the extra 10+ degrees results in me feeling a slightly fluttery, panicky feeling in my heart when I am in Savasana at the end of class. I don't have that feeling in a 95 degree class. I think I had not had a true taste of what Savasana "should" feel like when I was only doing the super-hot classes, because I always had that fluttery sensation. I was talking with a friend after class about "Doshas" and she pointed out that I am probably "Pitta" which is characterized by internal heat. I seem to remember taking some quiz that also told me this. And people of this type apparently don't do very well with lots of heat, perhaps because we generate so much internally. I would agree with that idea, and maybe this explains why I don't like the really hot classes.

Near the end of class, Cassandra talked about how, before she became an instructor, she had this strong feeling of aspiring toward it. And that now, there's a little bit of sadness associated with that aspiration having been achieved. That there was something special about the hoping aspect of it, I suppose. I understand that sentiment, that there is certain romance with working toward something. And then, once we achieve it, all we can do is figure out, over time, what is the next thing we will work toward. I mean, that is sort of what the yoga is, right? There are 84,000 poses. We are never done. Set the intention. Work toward it. Someday, achieve it (maybe). Set another intention. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Anyway, never forget your teachers.

20 June, 2013

Gentle Thursdays... and extra ossicles

Today was Gentle Yoga with Lara Herbst.

I've been saying for a while now that I should be doing more gentle classes. Tuesday and Sunday have been the standards. As I mentioned, I may need to give up the Tuesday soon, as my schedule may not permit it, at least until I figure out how to fold it back into the picture of working in Fremont instead of the "Denny Triangle" as it's called. This was a good week to give it a shot, because I am nursing what seems to be an ankle injury that is becoming increasingly limiting. Also, Lara doesn't teach at Be Luminous very often, and I wanted to take her class when I had the chance.

We did some breathing exercises. The alternating nostril stuff. That can be tricky when one is having allergies, and one side of the nose is partly obstructed. But I did the best I could. I am interested to understand, from a neuroscience perspective, what changes occur in the brain during these breathing practices. Perhaps I should become a neuroscientist...

Class was good, and we did a reasonable length of flow, with lots of moon poses, before we moved to stretching. At the end of class, though, I felt myself still wanting more. I suppose there was nothing keeping me from sticking around and doing more, and I did add one more pose before Savasana, as I felt an uncontrollable urge for seated Tree. But it just felt like a day where a lot of Yin might have been called for.

So, about this heel thing. I have been feeling this grinding not good pain in my right heel, deep in the joint. It literally feels like it's between the two bones (the talus and the calcaneus, I learned). The worst poses are Triangle (with right foot forward) or Warrior II, Triangle (with right food backward), or Wide Leg Forward Fold. The entire process that we're encouraged to do with grounding the outer edge of our back foot seems to be what caused this to begin hurting initially, and now it's bad news. Walking sometimes hurts. I had an X-Ray done, and they told me "your Xrays are back and show an extra ossicle lateral area of the ankle. This can occur when a small portion of bone breaks off with a tendon during a sprain." Fantastic! Well, I have had so many sprains of that ankle, it seems quite plausible that's the case. 

The new moral of my story is that I cannot mindlessly follow the instructions of a teacher, and push harder regardless of discomfort. That's what I did for a while in poses, and that's what exacerbated this situation. Now I need to back way off.

It certainly keeps things interesting.

19 June, 2013

Do your best

Today was Power Vinyasa with Brenna Hindman at Live Love Flow.

I did not want to go to yoga today. Really. Really. Really. I knew I was going, because I committed to it, but I did not want to go to yoga today. Even upon arriving, my mind was saying "How am I going to make it through this class." I had never taken class with Brenna before, which often serves as a moderate stimulant to my motivation and attitude, even on days such as this. When class started, the first few moments had a very "Baptiste" feel to them. The choice of words, and the cadence to them reminded me of the most traditional of "Journey Into Power" experiences. That, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. But it triggered this expectation in my head of "Oh no... we're going to be doing a straight Journey Into Power sequence... How am I gonna make it through this?" And that's where it stopped, because Brenna took a left turn from there, and never checked the rear-view mirror.

This was a fantastic class. Somehow, after those initial moments, something Brenna said managed to snap me into the moment, and align me with the true intention of doing yoga in the first place, which is to find each moment interesting and exist fully within it. The class started rather unconventionally with a long series of Sun A. We did either 7 or 8 of them, and the last few were more or less self-guided. She told us to just keep going, without worrying about what anyone else was doing, and to follow our own breath, and to not worry about how many more there would be. And then we went into some longer flow sequences, notably lacking in Warrior I, which we repeated 3 full times, where the first repeat was super-slow. These were good flows, and Brenna also did a lot of encouragement to close our eyes whenever possible, trusting ourselves, and being okay with falling.

At some point early in the class, she offered a phrase of encouragement that hit me just right. She said:

"Do your best."

This was a very interesting phrase to me, because it's different from any other words of pure encouragement. It requires one to do some inquiry. "Am I doing my best? What is my best right now?" And it also reserves judgment. It isn't saying that we should try harder, or move faster. It is merely asking us to recognize what we are doing right now, and to ask if this is what is our best, and potentially to adjust if it is not. This worked for me. I am not sure why, but when someone asks me to do my best, I feel a sense of duty. To myself. Not to anyone else. And I don't want to disappoint myself.

The middle of class included three Plank holds, each a minute long, where we were told we could do whatever kind of Plank we wanted to do. I liked the idea of not specifying for us, but allowing us to choose. That choice, mixed with a healthy dose of "Do your best" probably led to me working much harder than I might normally even work. Then she gave us play time to work on Crow or other types of inversions. I dabbled with the beginnings of a tripod headstand, though I am not quite ready to lift more than one knee at a time off the shelves of my triceps.

By the end of class, I felt completely different than I did at the beginning. I transitioned from feeling dread over going to yoga into feeling gratitude and peace. Not every day will be like this. There will be days where I lose the battle with myself. On those days, the best I can do is show up and endure. But these transformative days are a nice reward for the hard work of practice.

18 June, 2013

June 18th

Today was Gentle Yoga with Elizabeth McElveen.

Sometimes I have clever titles for my posts, and sometimes I sit there for ten minutes trying to think of one. Today, I would rather just give it a date and call it good.

It's a period of transition now. I'm between the pages of life. Yes, it's true that we are always here and now, but some heres and nows are a little less of either than others. Standing in the jungle and confronting a wild boar would be an example of "very here and now" whereas sleeping would be an example of less so.

Perhaps I could find a little more pleasure in presence. It's a pattern for me, during these intermissions, to slide off the face of the earth. Maybe it's a good time to get extra-connected? There's so much right now that I am buffering from though. I feel like I need to walk a careful line to stick to all of my intentions, and my most recent way of accomplishing that has been to disconnect, which is ironic.

In Elizabeth's classes lately there's been a very slow and deliberate, grounded energy. Super-grounded. Like slow things down to the molecular level kind of grounded. That's been a good thing for me.

I'm hemming and hawing against making time for doing this writing again. It's not that I don't want to do it, but that I am not making time for it. The days are passing. That means something. Everything means something. We do what we intend to do. So if I am not doing it, I have not set the intention. And why do I not want to look? Normally, the reluctance to write in here is an unwillingness to look at something. What am I hiding from?

Time to start looking...

16 June, 2013

June 16th

Today was Gentle Yoga with Elizabeth McElveen.

It's been nice having the luxury of coming to her classes twice a week. In fact, I would love to take her classes seven times a week, but the yoga gods don't allow for that in my schedule and budget, and it also does make sense to have a little variety. At least, for me, that works. Pretty soon, my schedule will be different than it is now, and I won't be able to go to the Tuesday afternoon classes. In fact, life might make it so that I'm doing a lot of yoga in other cities, or in hotel rooms, or who knows where. I don't know what life will deal. But I do know that I will take it as it comes, and there will be a way for it to happen. It will remain a priority in my life. It's just that this little window of leisurely luxury of doing whatever I want wherever and whenever I want is coming to a close. And I chose this for myself, because sometimes we need to move the dirt around and create room for new things, and often that involves making things uncomfortable for a little while.

Yoga has helped me to learn that the bad shall pass, and the good shall pass. All shall pass. There's no point in trying to cling to anything and proclaim "This I cannot do without!" or "This I must have!" because we have shockingly little control over these things, in the grand scheme. We can create the illusion of control, and suffer as we attempt to force life into being the way we need it to be. But there's a lot I'd miss out on if I set my primary intention to be "preservation."

Let go, gracefully, of the things that were not meant for me.

Some things are meant for us. But only for a while. Then, we need to shift.

I don't know what is next. I know what it's called and where it is. But I don't know what it will feel like. But I have a pretty good idea that if I am always paying attention to what's going on inside of me, I will always feel like me no matter where I go.

15 June, 2013

June 15th

Today was Power Vinyasa Basics with J. Politi.

This was one of those days where the idea of doing a forward fold just seemed like too much. Just to do rag doll was a tight and fatiguing experience on both the hamstrings and the low back. I can't call it pain, because it wasn't. Just tightness. But the body loosens up after a few minutes and then things are kinda sorta okay from there onward.

The obsession with going to yoga every day persists, even though I have been uniformly tired for days now. I don't know why I am not sleeping that well. But I think it might be the light in the bedroom in the morning from the early sunrises. Or there could be emotional factors at play.

Hanging in there. Not much to say.

14 June, 2013

Rare, Bloody and Ready for Action

Today was Power Vinyasa with Elizabeth Thomas.

I was tired today, and needed to find a way to seek ease in what is always a tough class. As such, there was a lot of modification going on for me. After class, I commented to another student that Elizabeth was relatively gentle on us today. The other student did not concur. Then I realized that I had modified so much that I had actually found that gentler class within the context of her instructions, modifying in such fashion that I didn't even realize that it was the same difficulty class as usual. I guess that's good? For me, it meant that I am able to hear my own guidance, and take from that, as well as the instructor's words, to do what's right for my body.

At one point near the end of the class, Elizabeth was suggesting that we need to listen to ourselves as to whether our "bird is cooked" right now. She was running with that metaphor. And what came next was "Maybe you're not cooked. Maybe you're rare, bloody, and ready for action!" And as soon as she said it, there were a few chuckles, and then Elizabeth realized what she had said and we all laughed.

Yoga doesn't always need to be serious.

13 June, 2013

Finding ground with my head in the cloud

Today was Power Vinyasa with Gaylinet.

I thought it would be Tina T, since it is Thursday evening, but traffic led to us having a substitute teacher for the day. The teacher introduced herself as "Gaylin" and I had no idea this was the "Gaylinet" whom I'd heard much about previously. Nonetheless, it was somewhat of an exciting experience to again have a new teacher that I hadn't seen before.

The class felt really good. In part, yesterday was a day off, so I was somewhat rested. But also, her sequences and timing were just a little different from many other instructors. Though she did work us, the way the class was structured really gave me a feeling of ease throughout.

I've got a lot going on in my head right now. There are a lot of big things happening, and changes on the horizon. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that today was "a big day" for me. Yet, I am still feeling like I am in balance, and still feeling calm and grounded. And, in spite of all the things that could understandably be overloading my circuits, I arrived on the mat and was able to quite effectively let it all melt away and stay in a very enjoyable practice.

The yoga is what enabled this for me on and off the mat.

Learning about non-attachment and getting small tastes of it has been enabling me to feel "ok" about all possibilities, rather than getting too set on one or another outcome being "what must be."

I'd like to keep that going.

11 June, 2013

Getting exactly what you need exactly when you need it

Today was Gentle Yoga, with Elizabeth McElveen.

I thought about what I needed today on the way to class. My hips were so tight and achy that I really felt like there was no amount of stretching, opening, releasing that could conceivably make it better in 75 minutes. I contemplated asking Elizabeth if she could do something for hips, but I know that's a little bit of a silly request because every class in yoga will be about hips. Everything we do is hips. So I didn't say a word. I just let the class be what it would be.

Elizabeth started the class by sharing some words with us, as she does. And then she informed us that we would be going very deeply into our hips today.

Right?

How can you not say that this woman has a magical intuition?

She told us that we should enjoy the peace and stillness of sitting at the start of class, because things were going to get uncomfortable, maybe even painful. It turns out, it wasn't painful, though it did require a good deal of acceptance and letting go to endure some of the poses and get the full benefit from them.

We did, among other things, the Splits, near the end of class. I was pleased to see that I am getting just a tiny bit deeper into the pose than I was months ago. It's not a good looking split, by any means. But I can envision a day in 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, where I will achieve it. And I am in no hurry to get there.

I am continually grateful for what I experience in her classes.

10 June, 2013

Suffering continues until you let it stop

Today was Vinyasa with Jaime Schmitz at Live Love Flow.

It was my first time taking class with her. The sun was shining in the room at just the right angle so as to elevate the heat beyond the already roasty 95 degrees that was intended. It was bright enough and harsh enough that some students moved their mats after class started, to get to shelter in corners of the room where the sun didn't shine. I stayed where I was, finding that opening up to a Side Angle pose with the sun straight in my eyes was even more challenging than the regular version of the pose when exhausted. Blindness can be unbalancing, it turns out.

Jaime talked a lot about intention and creating positive energy and about how what we cultivate in our thoughts will permeate every molecule of our bodies. And, with those words, I thought (sadly) "I am fucked today." Because I was just in a place of heaviness, and I not only found myself unable to get out of it, I questioned if I actually deserved to be out of it. She asked us to think of a time where we felt pure joy. None. Blank. I could think of plenty of bittersweet or melancholy times. But today, the joy eluded me.

I recognize this is what I choose to recall, and that this was what I cultivated today. I also recognize that her words are true, and that the unwillingness or inability to find that bright light that shines through my soul meant that I got to move through these intricate vinyasa sequences carrying medicine balls hanging from my heart. And that's just what the mat dealt for me today. I breathed my breath. I did the yoga. I tried my best to find as much focus and acceptance as I could in the experience. And I was happy, if tangentially, to experience a new teacher who had a unique and special energy. But I hope to one day soon take her class when I am able to more freely partake of what she has to offer with her uplifting words.

09 June, 2013

There's something in the air

Today was Gentle Yoga with Elizabeth McElveen.

This is not really going to have anything to do with yoga class. It's not that I couldn't write a page about an Elizabeth class, because there is always so much wonderful in it. But my head is elsewhere.

Intelligence... Discernment... Clarity...

I am so enamored of these virtues, but I sometimes fear I lack all three. That's unfortunately what a little bit of "awareness" can do. I am trying not to beat myself up for my imperfections, but it is not easy sometimes. I continue to doubt myself with respect to the big three virtues. Even when I think I've got them down, the world shifts a few clicks in its little machinery, and perspective is different, and then I am back to being forced to admit I don't know what the truth is.

So much yoga wisdom is out there, but sometimes it seems to not really help move from point A to point B. I don't even know if I am at point A, and I don't even know what point B should be.

Can you see my predicament?

08 June, 2013

Sometimes it feels good to be bad

Today was Power Vinyasa with Sean O'Connor.

I had originally planned on dragging out of bed this morning at 7:30am to go to Alice's class at Live Love Flow. I did succeed in dragging ass out of bed, but some sort of intelligence in me made the decision that my body wasn't really ready for another class that early in the morning, after a few days of tough yoga. Instead, I opted to sitting on the couch with the cat and getting some extra physical recuperation time.

Thus, I landed in Sean's 4pm class. For some reason, his classes have been a struggle for me. I don't think he's too fast, and I don't find anything about his class that I can put my finger on as being "harder" than any other class. But I am repeatedly having a hard time in there, and today was no different. In fact, this was one of the first times in a long time that I got into a mindset of "I'm not doing that. I don't care. I'm done with such and such, or so and so, and I am not doing that." It started with a strange modification of a side plank that he had us do. I've found regular side plank to be a little much for my shoulders to hold the weight in one hand lately, and my wrists haven't been loving it either. Today he did something unusual with the foot positioning, and I tried it on one side, and then pretty much did a "Okay, enough of that" after trying to get into it on the other side. That started the slide downward, which continued for several other poses, perhaps climaxing with my stubborn decision that I was simply not doing Wheel, whether I could do it or not. I don't know if my body didn't need it. I don't know if my body did need it. I don't know if I was letting myself off the hook, and I had decided by that point that I didn't care, and even felt a little defiant about resting peacefully in reclined butterfly blissfully ignorant of what was occurring around me.

I know it's something in me. It's not Sean. And I also know it's probably not even really something in my body, because I was not suffering particularly badly today. It was something in my head, my willingness, my intention. I was a big fat "no" today, and decided to bask in it, giving two middle fingers to Iyengar and perhaps even the Buddha himself! Well, okay, maybe it was not that extreme. I recognize that there was an opportunity for me to work through it, and do what I didn't want to do, even though I didn't want to do it. And there will, I hope, be nine days out of ten that I will do just that, and feel elation afterward that I pushed through it. Today, there was unapologetic glory in just letting it be my yoga class, for no one but me. I've worked hard lately. I could have taken a day off, it's true. But I chose to show up, and be half-assed for about 30 minutes of the 75 minute class.

So there!

07 June, 2013

Early Fridays

Today was Power Vinyasa with Elizabeth Thomas.

I like the early Friday yoga. I am not sure if I will always be able to do it, and may need to make other plans if I want to keep taking classes with Elizabeth as my life and my schedule evolve. Right now I have a luxury. And, as we know, nothing lasts forever. The bad times shall pass. And the good times shall pass. That is the only thing that is certain. Change.

A lot may change soon. 

I sometimes wonder why I am inclined to keep changing my life. In some ways I seek stability and peace, but for some reason I am driven toward change and novelty. When I am stationary, I want to be moving forward. When I am in motion, I look forward eagerly to the return back to peace. Is that a lack of contentment with where I am at, regardless? Or is it just a desire to have both? I don't know.

One of the things I like about the yoga classes is that we always know that there will be a time to move and then a time to bring it back down and recover. They often refer to that recovery period as the opportunity for the work that we just did to really be absorbed into our being. 

Today, as always, was a tough Elizabeth class. She rarely leaves us feeling like we didn't get enough of a workout. For some reason, I never find myself saying "no" in her class, whereas I might say no to the same exact poses in some other class. I have some suspicions about that. Could it be that I am a sucker for a pretty face? But I still try to listen to my body. It's not a case of ego leading me to want to show off. I guess it's just that I show up in her class (and, of course, plenty of other classes) with my mind in a state of "yes," which translates to my being much more willing to push past the internal resistance to staying in the discomfort. 

It scares me a bit that changes in my schedule or my life might one day make these 4pm classes with the Elizabeths impossible, or infrequent. I take for granted, and even turn my schedule upside down to ensure that these are constants. Perhaps I can continue to carve out these boundaries in my world to have things that are important to me available. But I may need to find different ways of having the experience. Fortunately, The White Studio and Misa Yoga provide opportunities for me to continue to take classes with both of these teachers. 

Much as I have found a way to make yoga itself happen regardless of time or place, I will make similar adjustments to find a way to stay connected with the people who inspire me.

06 June, 2013

Trying not to slip up

Today (actually 2 days ago) was Power Vinyasa with Tina Templeman.

I had a little slip up this week where I somehow found myself with three yoga blog entries to write because I fell behind. From past experience, I think that could be an indicator of something, and I will pay close attention to it.

Tina's daughter was in class today. I wouldn't have known, but I heard Tina introducing her before class to someone at the front desk. Her daughter was like a little carbon copy of Tina, and it make me happy to think about Tina teaching a class with her daughter there. I don't know why that makes me happy. It just does.

In spite of Tina having had very little sleep, which she shared with us before class, she still brought the fire like you know she always will. I pointed out to her after class that her "low energy" is like most people's "high energy." 

What can I say about this one? I worked my ass off, and I felt great afterward. But I've been working hard a lot lately, and need to find a little more ease in my practice somehow. As long as I am "in town" there will be the opportunity for two gentle classes a week, which is good. I could up that to three gentle classes a week if I were willing to stick around a little later and do Tina's later class on Thursdays. That might be something to consider, because my shoulders and hips and hamstrings and abs and quads and heels are tired. So tired.

Today I saw an unexpected familiar face at the studio. A guy that I only knew vaguely from a different yoga studio, and with whom I had only spoken few words. Actually, it's a guy about whom I know more than I should, and hold an opinion or two. He was very friendly in a way that I had not previously seen from him. He even offered compliments to me before we started. When the practice started, I found that I couldn't get a spot on my mat that "worked" regarding positioning with respect to him and the woman on my other side. All the training from Elizabeth has really locked me into the rule about starting and ending at the very front of the mat. Neither this guy nor the woman next to me were aware of this "rule" and, as a result, they were all over the place. He was in the front, middle, back. I never knew. I kept trying to adjust my position to compensate, but it was tricky, because she on the other side was always returning to dead center on her mat. Of course, I also learned from Elizabeth that the Ashtanga Sun Salutations involve a wide circling of the arms. Baptiste replaced that with the arms going straight up in front of us, for that very reason of limited space to practice. But I don't like to let go of the freedom of the wide circle, so I try my hardest to position the mat and myself to accommodate this form. And some days it just doesn't work. It's an interesting metaphor for life, because there will be times where people don't know "the rules" or maybe they operate to a different set of rules. And we can spend our time struggling, in our idealism of "how things should be" and try to cling to it, and blame everyone else. Or we can adapt. And there are different ways to adapt. One way is to respond to what is happening around me, to maintain harmony (that is what I tried to do, and it can be difficult). The other way, which I resisted doing, is to "do as the Romans do."

It might behoove me to try that the next time I find myself in Rome.

04 June, 2013

Be the tipping point

Today was Power Vinyasa with Jacqui Bonwell at H.Y.P. in Needham, Massachusetts. We had the extra-special bonus of Erica Magro, singing and playing acoustic guitar beautifully during the class. Her playing was so smooth and melodic, sitting peacefully in the front corner of the room. And her voice was like a better version of Shawn Colvin (yes, better). I told her after class that she played the only version of Led Zeppelin's "Going to California" that I have ever liked.

I'd heard good things about Jacqui from a few people. From my cousin, who is tight with the yoga community in the Boston area, and from Bill MacDonald. What I didn't realize, until I introduced myself after class today, was that Jacqui is Bill's sister! Very cool, that is. An entire family of yogis. Bill, Jacqui, and Bill's wife, Jaime. And all of them are fantastic and inspiring teachers.

Today was a hot, tightly packed room, in this small studio. It was bright and airy, but humid. We were mat to mat, and I had a big guy with dirty feet about 8 inches from my face. But his feet didn't smell, and I adjusted my position on the mat to make it work. Jacqui talked a lot about energy. She's a practitioner of Reiki, so she spoke about low-frequency vibrations and high-frequency vibrations. I don't know about all that, since it's into the Land of Woo-Woo that runs intuitively at odds with my neutrotransmitter/neuron-based model of how things work. But I understand the concept, philosophically, of there being types of energy that will bring us down, and types of energy that will elevate us, and that they come through patterns of thought, movement, action, choice that we can engage. She spoke about taking the energy that we generate in our practice, and bring it out into the world with us. She said that it is "almost irresponsible" not to do so. I liked that idea. Our betterment through yoga is not just about ourselves, but about energy we can create to make the world a better place.

Near the end of the class, she pointed out that we never know when we might turn out to be the "tipping point" in someone else's life. I have started to have a taste of that. As my practice has changed me, others have started to notice it, and they take an interest in it. I don't think of it like yoga is some sort of "Landmark" scheme where we just try to get other people to sign up and pay. But it's about inspiring others to see the opportunity in what's positive. That has actually been a theme in the classes I have taken over the last few days. Bill spoke of it too. The idea that there is so much positive, compared to the relatively few limitations or negative in our lives. That yoga can help us to focus on that positive.

But I don't really need to tell you this, since you're already there. But, as Jacqui suggested, go on out there and inspire others to find that same place of positivity. It would be irresponsible or, at the very least, a wicked shame, to do anything less!

03 June, 2013

We live in the eye of the storm

Today was Vinyasa with Bill MacDonald.

It was called Level 1, but I have come to realize that not always does Level 1 means the same thing. In this case, it turned out to be a Gentle class, and I was quite glad for it, because I really needed it. Already, I had delayed yoga until the evening, by design, to buy myself 36 hours of rest instead of the usual 24 hours. The class was not very hot and not very intense, though we still had a few series that got me sweating pretty good, since it really doesn't take much to get me there.

At one point in class, Bill said that we should find a calm like we're in the eye of a storm, and that we can always find that place. As soon as he said it, I thought about it a bit and realized that the metaphor is bigger than even what he said. It occurred to me that, in a way, we are very much like a hurricane, moving through our lives. And if we engage in some type of practice that provides clarity and keeps us centered, we can live mostly in that eye of the storm, wreaking no havoc in the world or on others around us. All is well. But if we lose our center, we drift out into those spiraling winds and, suddenly, everything that we encounter suffers damage, destruction, instability, chaos.

It's really important to maintain your center.

Live in the eye of the storm.

02 June, 2013

Life at the Mothership

Today was Power Vinyasa with Emily at Baptiste Power Yoga in Cambridge.

The Mothership, so to speak. Everyone always says, "Have you ever practiced at the original Baptiste studio in Cambridge?" Now I can say I have. It was actually a rather unassuming studio, in a location that I believe did not exist when I last lived in the neighborhood because Baptiste Yoga probably hadn't been invented yet. I found the place easily enough, and arrived early, so I was waiting for the earlier class to be done. In the lobby, things were pretty low-tech, and it felt a lot like any medium-sized community studio. It was humid in Boston. Although it was only 8:30am, the air quality was already rather unpleasant. When we got into the room, I could see the heat settings right in front of me on the digital display in bright orange numbers. There were two numbers, which I was guessing might have been a high and low range for perhaps a heating and cooling system to kick in. The low was 98 degrees and the high was 102 degrees. And then the temperature is displayed as it varies during class. At one point, the reading was 103 degrees, but it's important to not that the humidity was off the charts.

I realize I am not telling you much about the actual class.

The reason this was happening was so I could meet with, and take a class alongside my friend Sue Jones. And, for that reason, this was an experience that meant a lot to me, since it had been since Italy that I haven't seen her. The class itself was the pretty standard 90 minute form of Baptiste Vinyasa with only a few modifications thrown in there. And it was absolutely grueling. I only had 5 hours of sleep the night before, and was worried about sleeping too late, which made my sleep light. Top that off, I needed to drive 45 minutes to get there, bleary eyed, and without coffee or food, other than enough peanut butter (one spoon), a banana, and some orange juice, for the sole purpose of inserting 800mg of ibuprofen into my body for whatever pains were going to be lurking on that sleep deprivation. The Chaturangas felt heavy, and I didn't go very deeply into any of them. The Warrior poses felt heavy. It all felt heavy. It was heavy. Did I say that?

But you gotta do what you gotta do. I wouldn't have missed taking class with Sue for the world. It would have been even better if she'd been teaching, but that didn't work for the schedule of my visit. I have only had the chance to spend one week with Sue, plus a few hours today. But because of who and how she is, it's like landing right back with an old dear friend.

I don't really have anything else to say about the mothership.

But it was a good day.

01 June, 2013

Flowing beyond thought

Today was Vinyasa with Bill MacDonald at Open Doors.

It's great to come to town and see friends and family. And it's great to come to town and see Bill. He has become "yoga for me back home," not just because he's here and I'm here, but because he embodies the East Coast in the good ways that I remember. I feel like I am really back here again, not just visiting, as if I were teleported into another universe where I never left town. And it's kind of cool.

Today, he started off class by asking us to imagine we were watching a musician playing guitar on a stage, and really "shredding" on their instrument. And he noted that this guitar player isn't thinking about what note they're going to play next. They're just completely in the flow, and doing it, because there's no time to think about it. And he talked about how we can strive toward that in our yoga practice as well, and in our lives in a broader sense. This was interesting to me that the topic of "flow" came up again in a class after Elizabeth had just mentioned the very same topic a couple of times, 3000 miles away, over the last couple of weeks. The universe is synergizing around this concept right now, it would seem.

Class today was completely unheated, thanks to Boston providing us with its own built-in 85 degrees and 80% humidity, obviating the need for any artificial heat sources.

As always, Bill's class was interesting, and we did a mostly conventional sequence, with a few dandy items added in for good measure. The most interesting was a transition that took us from Twisted Crescent Lunge, to Warrior II, to Triangle, back to Warrior II, back to Twisted Crescent Lunge, step the back foot forward, staying in the twist so that you're in Twisted Chair, and then (here's the fun part), lift your leg on the side to which you were twisted, until you're standing, still with the twist, and then open into the standing twist with hand on the outside of the knee. Very cool. It made me smile, because it was unexpected and new.

I felt pretty good today.

Tomorrow will be my first time taking class at "The Mother Ship" that is Cambridge Baptiste Yoga, meeting up with my friend and teacher, Sue Jones. I am looking forward to it.