31 July, 2013

In my own zone

Today was Power Vinyasa with Will Cristobal at Yoga Belly in Mountain View.

Today's class was a little more like a typical Vinyasa class than the "yoga belly" style he taught last time. But it was definitely a Level 2, with a whole section devoted to arm balances. I took that opportunity to do some seated stretches, as I don't want to do anything that has a chance of aggravating my back, which is slowly on the mend. I was able to do the arm balance that comes from Chaturanga with one knee on the triceps. That was the only one I tried because I knew it wouldn't hurt me. The others, I cannot honestly say I was paying attention. I went into my own zone and tuned it out. It was no disrespect intended and also not a desire not to learn. I did glance at some students who were "rocking it" but it was more spectatorship than intent to absorb. This is where I am at. I thought pretty hard about taking the day off and actually had some offers to do dinner with folks down there. But when push came to shove, I chose yoga. I am not sure why that is. My day was a lot of information and meeting many people. Something in me just wanted to rinse it all out. Sometimes I feel like I don't even know what is driving me to keep choosing yoga. It's possibly obsession. It's possibly something else. Who knows.

At least it's a healthy obsession.

The day off will come.

One of the most interesting poses Will has us attempt is starting from table top, we do spinal balance (e.g. right arm forward, left leg back) and then go to a bow pose on hand and knee (hold left foot with left hand). From there, he has us try to push back into a two-legged downward dog, still holding the foot with hand. It's freaking hard and almost no one could do it. He referred to it as a "wtf moment" which I liked.

I bought a 5 class pack, acknowledging I will be there again. Probably soon.

30 July, 2013

Trying harder

Today was gentle yoga with Elizabeth McElveen.

I didn't think I would be able to attend this 4pm class anymore but it turns out that schedules sometimes permit the unexpected. Since I am about to travel at work and I have been getting into work at the impressive hour of 7:30am, I am able to make some adjustments.

Elizabeth had much to say today. It was about fire. About warriors. About Warriors. About trying. She said that when we say we are trying but we are not moving toward our goals maybe it means we aren't really trying. Or not hard enough. Or that we don't really want what we say we want. Because when we really want it, we just go.

The energy was intense and mellow at the same time. It's a special energy that Elizabeth creates.

I am taking large quantities of ibuprofen. 4 x 3 a day. I don't know how much longer until this subsides. I know it will. But when? Surprisingly, the things I feared like forward fold and upward dog were not painful at all. The thing that nearly broke me was seated straddle forward fold near the end of class.

Mindfulness without anticipation. There's no time for distraction with an injury. One lapse in focus and the injury is made worse.

This is the practice...

29 July, 2013

More seems like old times

Today was Hatha with Patrick.

After yesterday's visit to Heidi's class, I was feeling nostalgic for others whom I have not seen in many months. I went back to UYS for Hatha with Patrick. This was, in part, because I really felt that a Hatha class would be better for my low back (which is now in a not-good state) than doing a whole bunch of Sun Salutations.

So many familiar faces in class today, it was truly wonderful. When I had last been attending this class regularly, it was right around the "New Year's Resolution" time window, and the class was absolutely packed with unfamiliar faces. These were people who were likely to only come for a few months until their resolve faded, save for the few for whom yoga became a way of living. So it was a treat to return and find a moderate sized class, with about half a dozen faces that I have always been fond of saying hello to. This clientele is comprised partially of "Patrick Devotees." And there are quite a few of them.

The upside of coming back to UYS: the friendly faces.

The downside of coming back to UYS: it was an absolute inferno in the room.

Fortunately, a Hatha class can bear a lot more heat than a Vinyasa, due to the relative lack of flow, but I truly felt like I was laying on the pavement in the middle of the desert in Arizona. There was a brief break from the heat near the midpoint of class, but then it escalated back up again, seeming to hit a crescendo around the time that we were in Floor Bow. I always forget how close I come to passing out in a hot Hatha class. There seems to be a point, right around Pyramid Pose, where the lightheaded sensation from folding and bending and standing and twisting hits a peak.

Anyway, I don't want to dwell on the same old same old that I have complained to you about a million times. The thing to me that is most interesting is why, now, I have this desire to reconnect with the community. It's not that I am disillusioned with my other yoga choices. It's just that I felt a sudden urge to have some sense of belonging to that community. I guess there's no limit on how many communities one can touch?

I spend a fair amount of time, as you must notice, trying to read the tea leaves of my own actions, in retrospect, trying to decipher if there is some deeper intent than the stated or the obvious. The reason I do this is not because of some type of self-obsession (though I am sure it could appear that way). It's because there almost always is something else happening underneath. It's curious to me that I have gone from extremes of thinking "I don't expect I will ever go there again" to "I really want to reconnect." I have a hard time understanding that part of myself, and it is not completely isolated to the topic of yoga studios. It has happened with friendships: "I am not going to hang out with X anymore" changing to "Maybe I should get together with X again?"

I don't think I have the answers today.

28 July, 2013

Old friends

Today was Power Vinyasa with Heidi Suke.

My options today, based on my schedule, were home practice or to see who might be teaching the 2pm community class at Urban Yoga Spa (since they're the only studio I know of that has a mid-afternoon class in Seattle). It turned out, to my good fortune, that UYS had Heidi on the schedule. It's been quite a long time since I have taken her class. I cannot even venture a guess how long. The last one that I documented in this blog was in September of 2012, but I suspect there might have been one during the period where I had stopped writing the blog.

The community class had modest attendance, and it was a moderate intensity class. Heidi did one very long flow, that included a mandala sequence with some unusual transitions, complex enough that I doubt I could recall it here for you if I tried. The tempo felt good and, though it was hot, I never felt like I was not in a good place. On the way into the studio, I saw both Gordy and Kathy. They were very friendly to me, which felt special. I especially appreciated it, because I haven't been there often at all, and it is nice to still feel like a connection even if my life is presently taking me down other paths.

It has been a bumpy road. I think it's a good road, and it's headed in a good direction. But there have been bumps. Seriously. And somehow, I am starting to feel confident that I might be hitting upon a more evenly paved stretch. It's also possible that it's all a matter of how you look at the road.

Okay, enough weak metaphors for one night. I am tired.

27 July, 2013

Inhale... Let... Exhale... Go

Today was Power Vinyasa with J. Politi.

Having endured the dancing on the edge in Scott's class yesterday, it was a day for recovery. This came in the form of the slower, and more deliberate "Basics" class that I often attend on Saturdays. This one turned out to be surprisingly physically laborious, in spite of us moving rather slowly. A theme that J. brought up in class today was the idea of using the phrase "Let Go" as part of a breathing mantra, throughout the class, particularly when things are challenging. To inhale with the word "Let" and exhale the word "Go" can be helpful an manifesting that in our practice. I tried it, and found that it did work well for me, although I did not find myself having a specific need of letting go, it was still a good relaxation tool.

I am continuing the enjoy the breadth of experiences that different instructors bring for me, and I am inclined to broaden even further, rather than to narrow myself. The concluding thought I had in my previous entry following Scott's class really resonates for me still; the idea that the variety of different styles of yoga and different instructors can help me to become more adaptable to shifting environments. I do not know if I am correct. I see the logic behind going deep with one teacher, because it removes a variable (or variables) from the equation. Perhaps I am just not ready to go deep yet? Maybe I am still searching?

Pretty soon, perhaps in the next few weeks, I will join a new studio, at least in the form of obtaining a class pack. Likely one of the Fremont studios, and I am leaning toward The Yoga Tree, though I don't know anything about it yet, other than its location being reasonably convenient for my work. It could be a way for me to take a class during the daytime. Though I don't know if it's really close enough for me to do lunch classes.

We shall see. If it's not close enough for lunchtime, all it really would provide is the opportunity for me to hit a class in Fremont if the traffic is too bad to make it back toward South Lake Union. That's probably still a good enough reason to give it a shot.

26 July, 2013

The pose you need the most...

Today was Power Vinyasa + Meditation with Scott Francis.

After class today, I approached Scott to ask if he had time for a question. I was a little concerned about how to ask the question in such a way that wouldn't be perceived as a criticism, because it was not. I was also concerned about whether it was a question that even needed to be asked. It was something that was in my mind off and on for chunks of the class, and I had, at some point, decided I would ask him after class. The struggle about whether or not to ask stemmed from the fact that the mere asking of a question might lie in the fact that I am not just letting things be what they are. But anyway, this is the process that was happening inside of me.

So, the question:

"I am experiencing your flow as being fast for my breath cycle. I wanted to understand if this is a case of my breath cycle just being longer than a typical cycle, or are you intentionally pushing us to a kind of edge that creates a bit of challenge to maintain?"

The experience I had in class, one that I have had in perhaps a quarter of all classes I take, is that the flow was too fast for me to keep up, without starting to feel like my breath is labored, or my form is compromised and, eventually, that my calm starts to dissolve, with thoughts creeping in, such as "What is wrong with me? Why is everyone else able to keep up, but I can't? Why is the teacher going so fast? Blah? Blah? Blah?" That is the pattern. I would say that the sequence is pretty much like that: breath, form, calm. There are less experienced teachers out there, for whom I would attribute the pace as being related to their inexperience. But this is not the case with Scott. I trust that the pace that he is calling a flow would be a pace that is appropriate. Ironically, this triggered in me the worst of those negative emotions, "What's wrong with me?!" which is actually harder for me to swallow than "What's wrong with the teacher?!" But I decided to try to explore in a curious fashion rather than just put up a wall and proclaim (to myself) that I don't like Scott's class.

Sometimes, when this happens to me in class, I would just struggle to keep up, because I didn't want to miss a pose. Because, of course, missing a pose would mean there's SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME. But today, I decided that I would simply maintain my own breath cycle, and do all the poses, and fall behind. And be okay with it. I am thinking about the teachings of some of my teachers, who would say that we should always follow the rhythm of our own breath, and maintain integrity above all else. I was able to maintain calm by doing this. But I also experienced a subtle emotion of subversion. I was not following the class. And the most tangible negative consequence of this was that I was getting in the way of my neighbors. When I was transitioning to Warrior II, they were doing something else, and my arm would hit their arm. I was out of sync, and I was disrupting the class.

So I had a quandary. Do I respect the rhythm of my breath and the integrity of my motion, at the expense of being in harmony with my surroundings? Do I sacrifice my calm, and push the pace, maintaining to the best of my ability the other variables, and keeping sync with the class? Do I sacrifice the completeness of the sequences, doing less, while maintaining relative sync and calm? Do I maintain all except the rhythm of the breath, keeping my movements in sync, but allowing my breath to occur as it needs to occur?

The latter two options were the ones that Scott suggested to me. And both triggered different kinds of feelings in me. Skipping poses triggered the "I'm not good enough" feeling. And losing sync of movement and breath triggered the "I'm not doing this right" feeling. Scott suggested that I might try just letting the class move me, rather than me trying to control everything. This was an interesting suggestion, and I am not sure how to do that yet, because I have started becoming set in a way of locking all these things together, movement, breath, cues. This is likely due to the teachings that I have gravitated towards.

He was incredibly patient with me, and we talked about it quite a bit. As the conversation continued, I realized that there's something in me, not just on the yoga mat, but in all things, that has a resistance to aligning the rhythm of my world with the external "standard." I will get caught up in comparison and blame.

So here I am. Realizing that perhaps the yoga is not a static thing, where I do the same exact thing every day, every class, regardless of what is happening around me. I could choose to only see one teacher, and this could all be avoided. But I am not sure that would prepare me for the life that's out there "off the mat." That life is not the same every day. And each day will be a different teacher. Some will be in sync with my rhythm, and some will not.

The yoga is being adaptable.

To me, this translates into "more classes with Scott."

25 July, 2013

Ready to receive

Today was Power Vinyasa with Jaime Schmitz.

I was supposed to take yoga at 6:45pm today with Tina. I had planned to do the gentle yoga class that she teaches. I have never tried it, and keep hearing great things about it. The schedule today at my new job actually worked quite well for me staying a little bit late, and then heading over to Be Luminous. I figured that, at that time, getting there would be no problem. Wrong. Allowing myself about 25 minutes, I didn't even make it half way there, because of utterly insane traffic on Westlake, caused by the ridiculous and never-ending construction project in the Mercer area. At first, I was frustrated, because I could have left early enough to make it. And then, I became a little negative, thinking about how I can't deal with this commute, and that I need to move across town, and how am I ever going to make it to yoga class. Of course, I should note, all these thoughts are in the wake of only having had five hours of sleep last night, which is one of my most likely situations for negative thinking.

A little research while sitting in traffic revealed that there was Jamie's class, at Live Love Flow, which I could take at 7:30pm if I didn't make it to Tina's (which I did not even come close to making). In fact, at one point, I wasn't even sure I would make it to Jaime's class, but traffic cleared past a certain point (Mercer) and I made it just fine.

Jaime is the owner of Live Love Flow. The last time I took her class, I was unable to appreciate the positive energy that she brings, because I was in some sort of really dark space. It was a shame, really, since I could tell that she is a special teacher. But my brain was resistant to even the most inspirational words that day. So I had looked forward to the opportunity to take her class again, and the luck of traffic brought me there today. I had a nice chat with her after class, too, so it was totally a case of things going just the way they should go.

I think because I was so tired, I felt pretty emotional today. It was a big week for me, with travel, and new job, and lots of tiny shifts in perspective, and I found myself pretty much letting go and crying through the first fifteen minutes of class. I doubt anyone noticed. But now I am telling you, and the whole world will soon know that Mick Feeble cried in yoga class. Again. Boo hoo.

Jaime really is amazing. Her flows are good, and she mixes good cues of alignment and form with many inspirational words, and a very spiritual tone.

It is true that I need to decide what the optimal commute will be for this new 4 mile trek across town. It seems odd that 4 miles versus 2 miles would require strategizing, but it does, because it goes through the "Belly of the Beast" in the Mercer exchange area. I wonder if the problem will seem much more tenable when I have slept a little bit.

I am glad today's traffic landed me in Jaime's class.

23 July, 2013

Iyengar, ropes, and props

Today was Iyengar yoga with Lori Neumann at California Yoga Center in Mountain View.

I had never taken an Iyengar class before but I thought I knew what to expect since it had to be similar to Ashtanga. Wrong. This was my first time here and I almost didn't make it, with the fabulous traffic. The studio was reasonable-sized and one wall was adorned with many many ropes connected and hanging. I had no idea what they were for or if we would use them. There were only 7 or 8 of us, all women except for me. There was a spread of ages from a little younger than me to senior citizen. It was interesting to be in a class with that much diversity.

Lori had us do most of the poses using interesting types of self-assist. We did a lot of poses against the wall, such as Triangle and Half Moon (with one side of our body against the wall). We did Gomukhasana against the wall, first getting the bottom arm pushed tightly against the wall, and then turning around to get the top arm pressed tightly against the wall. It was extremely intense. Then we did a series of poses like Pyramid and Seated Twist, using a folding chair with the backrest removed as a prop. It was interesting. Never thought of it before. And in the middle of class, she had us work on form in Downward Dog, by slipping our legs through the rope straps on the wall and then practically draping our body forward with the ropes holding our thighs, and allowing the upper body to fall forward into Downward Dog. It was a very different feeling than anything I could do myself without a serious assist.

The class was not a flow class. It felt like a slow workshop and we probably spent more time not doing poses than doing poses. I didn't even necessarily feel like there was an opportunity for any type of connection with a quiet inner place. I did gain much benefit from the effect of these props we used, and learned something about alignment in the class. But I am left wondering "Is this what an Iyengar class is like?" That's the funny thing about having one-off experiences with genres of yoga, is that it's not clear if I have a good understanding. After class, I spoke with Lori for a few minutes, recommending to her some teachers at Be Luminous, since she's going to be visiting Seattle soon. She was very enthusiastic about Power Vinyasa, and about heated yoga, saying that she loved these kinds of classes. That surprised me, because I would have expected an Iyengar teacher to look down upon a Baptiste class. I don't know why I assume that. I just did. Maybe because I hear how Ashtanga practitioners talk about it. But, again, Lori is one instructor, and may not be representative of the Iyengar community as a whole.

I had a little distraction coming into this class, probably deriving from the fact that I wasn't sure I was going to make it there on time. And I probably also had a little distraction knowing that I would be facing California traffic to head to the airport immediately after class. I created that urgency for myself with the choices I made, and I did not (much) freak out over the timing. But I think, whether I experienced it or not consciously, there was a bit of anxiety in me.

And that ends another yoga field-trip to Mountain View.

22 July, 2013

Definitely moving in the direction of the discomfort

Today was Power Yoga with Will Cristobal at Yoga Belly in Mountain View.

The official title of the class is the same as the name of the studio: "Yoga Belly." What they mean by this is that the class focuses heavily on core exercises. Of course, I recall one teacher at Be Luminous quipping that it's a bit silly to ask if we're going to focus on "core strength" since, honestly, all yoga focuses on core strength all the time. But the interpretation here is that there will be extra focus. Since it was a 75 minute class, that will come at the expense of some other series in the class.

Will was a funny guy, with a lot of energy, and the room was packed. The weather in Mountain View was uncharacteristically cloudy, cool, and humid. The class prior to his must have cranked up the heat, so it was really unpleasant in the room at the start of class. As such, Will stated that he was not planning on heating the room at all, because it didn't feel like the right thing to do. Hallelujah! Will also said that the theme of today's class would be "Back Bends." He said that we would be doing a lot of back bends today. As you know, I have been complaining about my back for at least 5 days now, so the thought I initially had was "Great! I'm in big trouble!" But I didn't really believe I was in big trouble, because I just knew this would mean I needed to be very mindful the entire class, which is never a bad idea anyway. My back actually feels better after a long class full of back bends than it does after a class with 1000 forward folds in it. I think the 1600mg of ibuprofen I have taken today probably play a factor in that. Nonetheless, I found myself, literally (rather than the usual figuratively) moving in the direction of the discomfort. And it wasn't half bad!

There were some kinda silly warm-up exercises that we did at the start of class, which felt more like dance. Will asked us to pretend we were skiing, whatever that looks like, and swing our arms and our hips to get all the juices flowing. Perhaps it was a good idea, because my back did feel pretty good from the start (the ibuprofen, though). What we didn't do in class today was much in the way of standing balance poses, other than one Warrior III pose. But we did a ton of abdominal work in the first 15 minutes of class, including lots of crunches with Eagle legs, and some hip loosening exercises where we'd quickly flip between Eagle legs left, and Eagle legs right, lying on our backs, while swinging our legs in wide circles in the transition. Silly, but effective.

Yoga Belly is a nice studio. I've been there 3 times now, though, and two of the classes I have taken have gone pretty far outside the lines of my comfort zone. I am not saying it's a bad thing. But I feel like they're catering more to an audience that is looking for heavy on the "fun intense workout" and light on the "spirituality and philosophy." I guess I like the line we dance somewhere between, at the studios and classes I tend to frequent most. That said, I believe it's another good varietal to have in my collection of yoga experiences.

Today was my first day at a new job. That's why I was down here in Mountain View, for orientation. I find myself rather calm and nonchalant about the whole thing. There's this stuff I did during the day, filling out forms, getting a new computer, doing silly group activities, learning about the company, meeting lots of people. And then, I walk out the door, get in my car, and drive to yoga. In that sense, life is the same, here, there, or anywhere. There will be the unpredictability and flurry of activities in each day, be they whatever they may be. Then, there will be the mat. It has its own unpredictability, in different studios, different teachers, the changing tides within my own body and focus. But it's still a mat, and it's a place to wash it all out.

And this is my place to hang it up to dry.

21 July, 2013

Something different for Sunday

Today was Gentle Yoga with Yoshi Kohno at Be Luminous.

Same time, different program. Elizabeth had a substitute today, and Gentle Yoga was most definitely what my body is demanding (if not "no yoga"), so it was a great opportunity to take a class with Yoshi for the first time. He finished the teacher training earlier this year, and I had the opportunity to meet him last fall in a book group we were in together.

A theme in today's class was to "breathe in compassion and breathe out love." When he first said it, I thought it was maybe a little hokey, but as the class went on, and the mantra repeated, I recognized the value and power in these suggestive intentions. We need to remind ourselves of what we want to bring to our lives. And the breath is powerful, and placing such valuable cargo on such a vehicle is an effective way of getting where you want to go.

My low back is starting to be on the mend, partly because of several large doses of ibuprofen (dang it, I forgot to take more this evening), but more likely because the number of days since I last snorkeled is slowly increasing. I know it's not an Injury (with a capital I). It's just a susceptibility I have to inflammation there. One can imagine that the spaces between the vertebrae are not particularly large, and it doesn't take much swelling at all to lead to serious pain, and for good reason.

The most important thing to me is to find a way to take good enough care of myself that I don't need to skip yoga more than the routine day off. It's almost like a challenge to see if I can stay healthy and work through these things that come up from time to time.

It's a period of transition right now. All sorts of things have shifted. There are things that are absent from my life. There are things that are now present in my life. It's different than it was 3 weeks ago. It's again different than it was 3 months ago. It's also different than it was 1 week ago, when I was in Hawaii. It's been constant change, but now I think I want to stop shaking the snow globe for a little bit and see what this new life looks like.

Of course, it's an illusion that things won't change again. But, for the time being, I will leave the shaking to the universe.

20 July, 2013

Basics with Vanessa

Today was Yoga Basics with Vanessa Garibaldi.

This class is usually taught by J. Politi. He teaches it with a very light, carefree energy, almost like "Don't Worry, Be Happy!" kind of energy. Vanessa taught with a kind of serious, reserved energy. The class was fundamentally the same "genre," but the vibe was different. After class, someone commented in the locker room that it was "intense." I thought that was interesting, and maybe not exactly the way I'd characterize it, since I chat with Vanessa a bit, and I think I know where she's coming from. What I am hearing in her teaching now is the influence of her teacher, Troy. I have only had his class once, and I know she's been going to him quite regularly. But there's an unmistakable tone and precision that I experienced in that one class, and now I hear his influence in her style as she evolves. So, to me, rather than saying "intense," I would say "specific."

The back was a hair better than yesterday, which was a hair better than the day before. I think the worst of it was Thursday, and that probably means I made a good decision not doing one final morning of snorkeling before getting on the airplane ride home. Part of me felt like "I am going to regret not having had one last time to get in the water to see the fish" or "I should really do it again while I am here, because it's a waste not to go." But another part of me thought "I have seen enough fish. I have snorkeled enough. Going one more time is not going to be the make or break of this trip." I chose yoga that day over snorkeling, really. Interesting, because I chose the activity to which I am most committed, but can do anywhere, anytime, over my favorite "activity" in the world, which can only be done sometimes, in some places. I suppose that says something about me? Probably that I am more obsessed with yoga than snorkeling!

This weekend, my head has been slightly out of the game. I would say my drishti has been suffering. Interestingly, it shows up in places like Tree Pose. That's a pose that I can "rock" on most days, but when my focus is a little off, I am flapping in the breeze like a palm tree in a hurricane. But I understand where it's coming from.

Perhaps winds of change make for shaky trees?

19 July, 2013

Giving and receiving

Today was power vinyasa with Elizabeth Thomas.

She started class today with a question, as she always does: "What was the best gift you have ever received?" I had a hard time with this because I have been tough to buy gifts for my whole life. I usually don't make my needs known and, if I have a need, I usually address it myself. So I really had to think. I ended up settling on a small nothing my sister gave me 25 years ago. It was a little wooden cow on a stick stuffed into a little base. It probably only stands 5 inches high. Between the stick and the base she attached a dollar bill. It became known as "Cow and a Dollar Bill" and it always reminded me of my sister. I have taken it with me wherever I have gone. It's survived many moves including across the country. My sister isn't around anymore, even, and the cow still stands. I guess it has taken on more meaning now. There is another story about that cow and the dollar bill but maybe I will save it.

Class hurt my low back from start to finish. It's injured again from the snorkeling. It seems to always do it. I tried to nurse it but almost everything hurts. And I have not been good about ramping up the ibuprofen yet. Not sure why I don't listen to that need.

Hopefully it gets better fast.

18 July, 2013

Solo Hatha

Today was home practice Hatha.

The schedule for the morning did not align well with the various yoga studio calendars. I had some things I wanted to get done today and the most sensible path was to do a self-guided practice. It's been quite a long time since I last did one. Probably Thailand? And that was abbreviated. This time I did a solid hour of Hatha, following the UYS sequence. My low back hurt really badly this morning. I guess it's from all the snorkeling. Kicking in fins uses that part of the body in ways we don't otherwise. Forward folding was so uncomfortable that I compromised with deeply bent knees to accommodate. Even the low lunges hurt.

I found that my focus was very good for the first 30-40 minutes. I did a solid and serious practice. When transitioning to the floor, I encountered what one might describe as the downside of home practice. A distraction. I peeked at my phone and saw a message that had some minor news that got me thinking. It related to a decision I had made that wasn't optimal and I ended up battling to avoid rethinking it for the remaining 20 minutes. In a studio we at least are only subject to the internal distractions. It is important when practicing at home to pretend you are in a yoga studio. The mat is a zone where outside distractions should not be invited in.

All in all, though, I am glad I did it.

At some point soon I will check out HitPlay. Especially since Michel will have a podcast on there.

Ok. That's all.

17 July, 2013

You won't ever surprise yourself if you don't try

Today was Vinyasa with Tonya in Hawaii.

I am intentionally leaving off the studio name from this entry, and probably spelling her name incorrectly, since the circumstances of her being the teacher were a little wonky. The intended teacher was not present, and there was a scheduled substitute. The scheduled substitute was present, along with two friends of hers, both yoga teachers, and one other woman who was also a yoga teacher (continuing this apparent trend of what seems to be only yoga teachers taking yoga classes at this studio). After a brief discussion, the group of teachers decided that Tonya should teach the class.

Tonya taught an amazing class. It felt very much like something that I might experience with our wonderful teachers at Be Luminous, back in Seattle, but there were some creative variations in the class, such as doing a series around a modified Warrior II, with the back knee down and pivoted, as we went from Warrior II, to Extended Side Angle, to Reversed Warrior II, and finally transitioned from that into Side Plank.

She started class with us on our backs, and we did a fair bit of core work, followed by some stretching, before beginning the poses that evolve from Sun Salutations. The pace was good, there were a reasonable number of Chatturanga, without it being over-the-top. The energy in the room just felt really good, and Tonya did lots of hands-on adjustments and very gentle massages of shoulders and feet at a few points during class, making it feel quite nurturing.

The moment that earned this blog post its title is that, at one point, in the midst of a series of balancing poses, Tonya had us go into Parivrtta Hasta Padangusthasana. This is a pose that I virtually always take in a modified form, holding my knee instead of my foot or big toe. The reason is because THIS IS A POSE THAT I DON'T DO. That's what I tell myself anyway, and it's been the case for many moons that I have not even tried it. Today, for whatever reason, I decided that I was going to go for it, and was surprised that I was able to get the big toe, straighten the elevated leg, keep my standing knee nearly straight, keep my back reasonably upright, and do a little bit of the twist with my free arm behind me. This was a huge milestone for me, to be able to do this pose without a complete loss of integrity. It certainly helps that I was not exhausted by the point in class where it is typically offered, but it's still interesting information.

What else can I do that I don't even try?

16 July, 2013

Familiarity breeds contentment

Today was Vinyasa with Sara Helland at Passion Of Movement.

This was the second time this week where I ended up taking a class with Sara because she substituted for someone else on the schedule. As such, she will turn out to be the teacher in Maui with whom I will have taken the most yoga classes. This time around, knowing her style, I was enthusiastic for the class that I expected she would teach. I guess I was caught a little bit in my head the other day trying to figure out what the heck Kripalu yoga was and, ironically, that might have taken me out of the moment. In a way, it might be better to just have a calendar of yoga classes that doesn't even tell you what type of yoga it is other than the level of vigor likely to be involved. And then, you show up, and you do whatever they say. I do pretty well with situations where it is impossible to have expectations. It's when I think I know what to expect, or am very curious about what to expect, that I start becoming obsessed. I suppose that means I get to work on understanding why that is.

Having done the fairly challenging 11 mile hike up Haleakala the previous day, I had some concerns about how yoga was going to feel today. My calves were very sore, and the initial thought of doing Sun Salutations seemed daunting. It turns out, yoga is pretty damn good for resolving these types of muscle soreness and stiffness. Even in that first Downward Dog, it was possible to restore about half the length and ease in my calf muscles that I had lost from the hike. This is why it seems so sad and ironic to me that many people (including myself, for years) will say "I can't do yoga - I am way too tight!" The first step onto a yoga mat involves little more prerequisite than the willingness to experience discomfort, feel like a beginner, be patient with oneself, and to listen, observe, and quiet the mind of all the chatter that comes in such circumstances. Easier said than done in the execution, but the mere willingness is actually a rather binary decision. Either you are, or you are not willing to keep coming back. And, from my experience, I can now say that coming back again and again, a lot happens without us even necessarily realizing that it is happening. Intention sure helps, but much can be learned through osmosis.

Okay, that was a bit of a soapbox tangent.

One thing that's a beauty of a small studio and small classes is that the teacher knows who you are the second time you take their class. There's something so special and important to me about the connection with the teacher, and it's the reason why I prefer yoga over most any other type of exercise I have ever done. While it's true that the "real yoga" (whatever that means) is a very personal experience, and that, ultimately, we must do all the work ourselves, having a guide or guides is very powerful.

I can't even tell you how excited I become when I am planning on taking a class with a teacher that I haven't seen for a while. There's almost a giddy excitement about the upcoming experience, like I'm going to go back to one of my favorite places. And then, there are those teachers who have been so inspirational to me, either now, or in the past, that I have crafted my entire life schedule so that it would be possible to attend their classes every week, often multiple times.

Our teachers are special because of who they are as people. The poses they favor, or the style of yoga they teach is really secondary to this. Who they are makes me feel a certain way when I am in their presence. I get to share a little of that energy, and I feel it grows me. It makes me a better person. And it helps me remember why I do this practice.

Thank you.

15 July, 2013

House of the Rising Sun

Today was hiking. Eleven miles along the Sliding Sands Trail through Haleakala Crater in Maui.

This is a yoga blog, but today there was no mat. I decided that this physical feat was sufficient to justify taking a rare day off from class. I don't know if I would have thought to do this hike of my own volition. But when I met Patty Simon, teaching yoga on my first night on Maui, and she mentioned she was going on the hike, I was immediately interested in the prospect of doing it. I am sure, at least partly, this interest came from the opportunity to plan something with someone, when I was contemplating being alone the entire week (which was not even really true, since I had another friend coming to visit me for 3 days in the middle of the trip). But I had always heard it was beautiful up there, so I figured what the hell, why not?

After we initially made the plan, Patty had asked me in a confirmatory tone, "Are you sure you can do it?" I hadn't even thought about whether or not I could do it, and hadn't been particularly concerned. But then she reminded me that it is at altitude, and some people are sensitive. Then I started reading online, and heard a mixed bag, with some people saying it was 5 hours, and not that bad at all, and other people saying it was 8 grueling hours of blisters, and altitude sickness, and suffering. I had a suspicion that I am more fit than the unfittest, but not sure about such things as blisters or perhaps even how my ankles would fare on a sandy trail, given my historical weakness there.

As things turned out, we postponed the hike from Sunday to today because of schedule conflicts for both of us. That provided the added bonus that my friend would already be in town, and he'd be able to join us for the hike too. We met Patty at 6am at a coffee shop down the street (Village Coffee) in Kahana, a short 2 minute drive from my condo. We took separate cars, because the way you do this hike optimally is to have one person park at 8000 feet, where the hike ends, and the other person drive everyone to the summit at 10000 feet, where the hike begins. It took about 90 minutes to get there, with light traffic. We'd brought a bunch of snacks: nuts, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, some fruit, 3 liters of water a piece, some cookies. We started the hike around 9am. The air at the summit was crisp, and the view was beautiful. The temperature was actually close to 60 degrees, which was warm, compared to what it often can be, I am told. As such, I was wearing a long sleeve shirt, shorts, and my sneakers. I had brought a baseball cap, which I foolishly forgot in the car that we left at 8000 feet, much to my later chagrin, when it would turn out that the only part of my body that got sunburned was the top of my head, along my part and in my forehead. The hike starts on a downhill into the crater, through loose sand. It's a wide open landscape, with nearly no vegetation, and the going is rather poor footing because of the loose sand. For me, this was a nightmare. I am bad going downhill anyway. Every 50 feet, I would turn an ankle. Sometimes it was the left, sometimes it was the right. And this was not even keeping good pace with the other two. I was falling back, and still stumbling. This led me to have the initial concerns of either injuring myself, or becoming very fatigued from the added concentration that was required to keep my shit together. I turned my ankles probably about 8 times, and didn't sustain any new injuries, but did a lot of wear and tear, not to mention making all the muscles in my body tight from the attempts to brace myself on this terrain. All the downhill had also cause some of my toes to start to feel like there was a possibility of blisters, which did not seem promising at all. Fortunately, these never blossomed into a problem.

Eventually, after about 2 miles, we plateaued in the crater. There was now a tiny bit of vegetation, beautiful views, and continued trekking through sand, though at least it was now roughly on flat ground. There were only minimal ankle turnings from there onward. We eventually headed up a few slopes, still in sand, and leveled off at another plateau, where the terrain was what might be called sub-alpine scrub. This continued to about the 7 mile mark, where we reached the Holua cabin, which is a good resting spot for lunch. It was probably around 12:30pm at that point. I remember we'd averaged about a half hour per mile, so that would be about right, including our couple of brief stops for water or to shake sand out of our shoes (mostly me, with the sand in shoes). I should note that once we started heading on the first uphill, my friend pulled away from me and Patty, because I think he was content to move at a faster pace and just have his own thoughts or experience or level of intensity. I opted to stay with Patty, partly because I was really enjoying the conversation and didn't want to move ahead of her, but also because I figured it would be much better for my slightly beat-up body to not unnecessarily push. I felt much stronger once those uphills started. I know this about myself. I have great trouble with stability going downhill, but no difficulty cardiovascular-wise going uphill.

At the cabin, we took nearly an hour break, during which time we were joined by a retired French Canadian couple, and two younger women who were hiking together. We all sat at a picnic table, ate our snacks, and made small talk. There was a nene (a Hawaiian descendant of the Canadian Goose that somehow ended up on the islands and evolved its way into a new species). We took a bunch of pictures of it, and it eventually got very bold and approached us, likely hoping for food. We did not feed it.

Eventually, we departed, ahead of the other two couples. The trek started through more of this scrub-like growth, but eventually began climbing, at which point things became very green, and we were headed into never-ending switchbacks, up a mountainside, up, up, up, into, and above the clouds, so that there were intermittently breathtaking views of the landscape below, interspersed with a view of nothing but clouds. I should have been afraid of heights on this part of the trail, because this has historically been the case for me, but this was not the case today. A new piece of information: I am perhaps no longer terrified of heights? We paused often to look at the view. I even leaned over the cliff and looked down, without experiencing any type of vertigo or adrenaline rush. My friend had once again trucked ahead of me and Patty, which was fine. He enjoyed it. We enjoyed it. Patty and I talked for hours about yoga teachers, yoga philosophy, yoga poses, Hawaiian life, her family, my family, really every topic was fair game. I am not sure my friend could have handled that much yoga talk, so it's probably a good thing that he pushed ahead of us! The two girls passed us about two-thirds of the way up the switchbacks, and then the retired couple passed us at the very end of that climb, at which point there was only about a mile remaining, of shallow grade, to the summit, where we ended. There was a little bit of an "Oh My" factor, when we saw the retired couple pass us, but Patty and I can rationalize that they were faster because they had hiking poles to help propel them! Yeah! That's the ticket!

We finished, and we parted ways for the day. We drove back down through heavy fog like pea soup.

It was a lot like a yoga class, actually. There were moments of intensity, there were moments of introspection, there was a Child's Pose in the middle, and a Savasana at the end. There were heart-opening moments of connecting with this new found friend, and there were parts of this "class" where I was pushing my edge, unsure if I would be able to make it to the end, only to realize that going through the discomfort brought the reward of beautiful views and clarity, along with the added bonus of learning that some of my old stories ("I am afraid of heights") maybe aren't true anymore.

I attribute the yoga to helping me approach this hike with a new kind of attitude, with openness, with compassion for myself and others, with patience for myself and others, and with the ability to recognize that Haleakala, like all things in this life, is just a path that will reveal itself to us more through the lens through which we choose to see it, than through any fixed or absolute fashion. I attribute yoga to my ability to recognize that hiking Haleakala is the yoga. And that all things I do have elements of both mat and mountain in them.

On the drive up from 8000 feet to the summit at the start of the day, Patty explained to us that "Hale" means "House" and that "Kala" means "The Sun" and that, loosely translated, "Haleakala" means "House of the Rising Sun."

I kind of like that.

14 July, 2013

Setting reasonable expectations

Today was Ashtanga Yoga with Sandy Harrington at Passion Of Movement.

I was not really ready for this class today. I know there's a saying "You are ready now!" but sometimes we just aren't ready, and we need to use our intelligence to know that. I had a very full day yesterday. There was snorkeling at 7am. There was snorkeling at 1pm. There was snorkeling at 5pm. There was yoga. My muscles were completely fatigued. I was so utterly wiped out that I came home from a nice dinner out, and literally passed out on the bed with the guitar across my chest. I had grand plans of doing some recording last night. I had plans of doing some writing last night. But my body had only one plan, and that was sleep. By 8:45pm, I was down for the count.

Unfortunately for me, sleep was not solid. I woke repeatedly, and developed a headache that smelled a lot like dehydration. I had clearly not drank enough water during the day. One glass of wine with dinner seemed to have had the same impact on me as a night of drinking. Even taking four ibuprofen at 5am didn't seem to help. So, one would wonder, then, why I dragged myself out of bed at 7am so that I could be back in the water snorkeling by 8am. Because that's what I did. It was as if I was compelled to do it. Sometimes I get this way. And, even though every muscle in my body was fatigued when snorkeling this morning, I opted to go to the Ashtanga class today, knowing that it could be a bad idea.

This was a very traditional class. The poses were called out, one after another, with five breaths in each, and no pause between. The teacher did not stand in front of the class. She walked around and made subtle adjustments on the students. There were four of us. If I am not mistaken, two of them were yoga teachers. One of those two, Nathaniel, was built like a gymnast and was clearly a very experienced Ashtanga practitioner. I was intimidated.

The first part of the class was within my abilities, although the 5 Sun B sequences had me pouring sweat off my body. Things continued along passably, until we got to some of the standing balance poses that require flexibility I do not have. It continued from there, with about half of the floor poses leaving me feeling helpless. All the while, Nathaniel next to me, who was the only person I could see, was totally rocking it. I did my best not to look over there, but I knew what was happening over there, and I just felt so incredibly inadequate. I started having thoughts like "The teacher probably wonders why I even came to this class... She's probably angry at me for not trying harder..." I had absolutely zero gas in the tank. I recall, during yesterday's class, I felt like it was effortless, and I was so strong. And today was the diametric opposite of that experience.

There are so many lessons I could learn from this. I hesitate to enumerate them here because I suspect it will feel like I am berating myself, which doesn't really solve anything either. Instead of listing off lessons, I guess the better thing would be to ask myself some questions:

Why do I want to push myself so hard? Is it because I don't want to have down time? Am I compensating for "being alone" by keeping myself 100% busy?

Why am I being hard on myself, instead of being patient and gentle, recognizing that I was pushing up against physical limitations? I don't even have any hypotheses for that one.

Back in high school, on the track team, we often had to run more than one race. Everyone understood that you would likely not run your best time in that second race. This was intuitive, because you've spent your energy. It might be useful for me to apply that lenient analogy in situations I experience in my life now. I can choose to give myself proper rest. Or I can choose not to give myself proper rest, because of the desire to do more. But, making the latter choice, I can choose to recognize that my performance will be impacted, and that I can set reasonable expectations for myself.

13 July, 2013

What is Kripalu Yoga anyway?

Today was Vinyasa yoga with Sara Helland.

I spent the entire class trying to understand what the difference is between Vinyasa and Kripalu yoga. When I arrived, I was a bit excited that I would discover a new style of yoga. It is going to be so interesting! Will I understand? Will I know all the poses? Will I recognize the difference between Kripalu and everything I have known before?

So, I was a bit baffled when we did modified Sun Salutations, Warrior series, Triangle, Tree, Dancer, Seated Tree, Bridge, Wheel, Lizard, Pigeon, Eagle... the list goes on... you know these. Because they're the same as what we do back home. She brought us into Ujjayi breath. We did boatloads of Chatturanga. It was essentially a Baptiste sequence, shuffled around a little bit.

At one or two points during class, she mentioned that we want to try to release the energy that we do not any longer need, and make space for what we do want. I thought "Maybe this is Kripalu? Maybe it's about energy?" In which case, I thought that it wasn't really distinct enough to be its own style of yoga.

The only thing in the class which was notably different is that she had us inhale during Cat and exhale during Cow pose. But I am going to go ahead and call that "A Mistake" because I don't think that is a different style of yoga. I opted not to heed that guidance, instead doing it the way I usually do it.

The class was good, though. I had a good workout.

At the end of class, I wanted to check her name, because I couldn't remember it. And I saw that it was Sara. The schedule said it was supposed to be Grace. Sara was substituting for Grace. So, in all likelihood, the reason that I didn't see any difference between Kripalu and what I usually do is that this was not Kripalu. This was whatever style of yoga Sara teaches.

I still don't know what Kripalu looks like. But if you want to read about it, you can go here. From what I read in that article, it sounds pretty much the same as what we do.

12 July, 2013

Try something new

This evening, I went back to Passion of Movement for a "Sound Healing" class with Johnny Cates. It is a style of Qigong.

I really had no idea what it was, except for what I learned about it from Patty, whom I talked to quite a bit between yoga class and a massage session this afternoon. It is a type of energy work. It involves breathing, moving slowly in particular meditative fashion, and making sounds while doing some of the breathing. It is not yoga, but I am putting it in here because it happened at a yoga studio.

Johnny is an ex-firefighter from the mainland. I am not sure exactly where, but I think he might be from the Bay Area. He'd had some type of injury from which he was unable to obtain any relief. As a sort of desperation, he tried Qigong, and says it had a massive impact on his health and his life. Thus, he moved forward to become an instructor of the method. From what I understand it is closely related to Tai Chi, and may even be a type of Tai Chi, or vice versa.

The practice consisted of planting our feet about shoulder width apart, with knees a little soft, pelvis tucked. And for the most part, the entire hour is spent in this posture, with movements of the upper body only. There was a lot of swaying and gentle motion during the first half of class, with movement following breath, in repeating cycles. It was reasonably peaceful and the movement and breath did help to keep the mind mostly quiet, though I did have several thoughts of "What is this doing and how does it work?" but it's easy enough to dismiss those types of thoughts.

I should also note that the magic number was once again 2. There were two students in class, and one appeared to be a friend of Johnny's who had promised to try it out some time.

The second half of class is where things got a little more interesting. There are a series of six different healing sounds, each of which is accompanied by a very specific movement and breath. They are each designed to address a different system. I believe these included heart, spleen, kidney, liver, lung, and a bonus one called Qi, or nicknamed "Triple Burner" (whatever that means). For each of these systems, you'd breath in through a particular motion, and then, on the exhale, breath out with a specific sound, such as "Ssssssss" or "Whoooooo" or "Shooooooo," etcetera, continuing through the specific movement. Each one of these is done six times, on six consecutive long breath cycles. That process took the better part of the second half of class.

I did it. I went through these motions. We were not offered much of an explanation of the insight and "science" behind the practice. But I don't know that Eastern Medicine would translate into a "science" that I would comprehend directly anyway.

I'm not really familiar with Qi, and perhaps if I had an understanding, I could have set more of a focus on the movement of energy during these different movements. Perhaps if I understood the meridians. Perhaps if I understood what it means to move energy or hold energy or release energy. I understand none of those things. But I also recognize that when we first walk in the door to a practice, there is much to know. When I first stepped on a yoga mat, I could not have told you what the purpose was of Triangle Pose. I could not have told you what the proper alignment should be in Chair. Even after nearly two years, you will observe that both of these poses are sometimes stated as having multiple purposes, and multiple different ways of aligning the body, depending on what lineage of yoga training you've had. As such, I knew that, coming in the door to Qigong, I would essentially be "going through the motions." And I did not expect that I should have some major revelation or life changing experience.

I do think my spleen feels particularly perky today, though.

Settling In

Today was Flow Yoga with Lola Christina at Passion Of Movement in Lahaina, Maui.

Once again, I had the good fortune of a class so small it may as well have been a private. It was just me, Lola, and one other experienced yogini named Courtney. This class was called Flow Level 2-3, and it was quite comparable to many of the classes I have taken in Seattle. While we didn't move quickly, we moved with much intensity and vigor. There were lots of core engaging sequences, bringing knee-to-nose, to elbow, etc. We had many twists, and spent a fair amount of time in chair pose. What was interestingly absent from the class were the Warrior poses. No Warrior I, II, or Triangle, or Pyramid. Though we did play with headstands and handstands from tripod and against the wall, respectively.

Lola was a pretty specific teacher with lots of cues about the poses that were catered to what she saw us doing, and that was nice. Instruction is a good thing. Even though it is not a heated studio, and could not have been much over 80 degrees, I was absolutely pouring sweat from the intensity of the class. It was a good balance of stretching mixed in with the more intense poses.

I came to understand that this is a very new studio, and that some of the teachers have clearly only been here a few weeks. I am lucky to have the opportunity and timing to experience it. One hopes that they build a clientele quickly, because so far it looks like they're probably not operating at a profit.

When I arrived yesterday, I immediately went into that tentative mode of not knowing what to do with myself out here all alone. Yesterday's class slowly started dropping me into myself again. I am not flailing. Being away on my own is not a catastrophe, nor is it life-threatening. When Patty was sitting with us in Savasana last night, she stated the 5 "yamas" according to Patanjali. The fifth one was "non-grasping" - there are probably a few different ways of referring to it or translating it. But those words resonated for me. My first reaction when put into an uncomfortable situation is to grasp. It's like a struggle in a fear of some type of emotional drowning. But it's all imagined. It's not happening. What's happening is that I am sitting, on the ground, in my body. To an outside observer, this appears as "peace," and it is only inside the mind that there is a storm.

One thing I know, though, and I have written about it in a previous entry, is that connection, above all other things, is what drives me. I spend so much time berating myself for how important this is to me, but I ask myself now, why is it such a bad thing? Connection can be a gift to others as well, so long as it comes from a place of truth. Non-grasping.

Immediately upon starting to form connections here, even these brief ones via the yoga studio, I started to feel better. I have yet to understand if I am just avoiding myself, or if I am accepting myself as a being who thrives on connection. I don't think I am going to figure it out overnight.

And that's okay.

11 July, 2013

New frontiers

Today was Flow Yoga with Patty Simon at Passion For Movement in Lahaina, Maui.

I arrived at the studio about 10 minutes before class was supposed to begin. The room was vacant, except for one woman sweeping the floor. This was Patty. I would later find out that the previous class, at 5pm, was canceled because nobody showed up. So, Patty was there, awaiting the attendees of the 6pm class. These ended up consisting of me and one other student, "CJ" who is also a yoga instructor at a hotel spa up the street. Patty did the entire class with us, so there were three of us in total.

The studio is in a small strip mall, and it's a medium-sized room, perhaps large enough to accommodate 12-15 students comfortably, or maybe 20 if they really packed the room. The desk with the office computer is in the corner of the studio, along with a sofa. There are mirrors along the front wall, with some Sanskrit-ish painting on the wall above the mirror. It's a new studio, I am told.

Before class started, it was just Patty and me in the room and she asked me a bit about what type of yoga I practice, so I told her. She told me about her philosophy, and it sounded like it would be reasonably familiar practice for me. CJ showed up at the last minute, and we actually started class about 10 minutes late, due to conversations, attempts at credit card validation, and the overall air of leisure among people that aren't in a particular hurry to be anywhere else. Very different from the city feel, in a good way.

When we began, Patty mentioned she had been reading about the 8 Limbs of yoga, and she mentioned that the first limb is the "yamas," a series of "restraints," and that the first of these yamas is to "do no harm" (also referred to as "non-violence"). She suggested that, first in foremost in our practice, we should do no harm to ourselves, and recognize and honor our limits. Without this, there can be nothing further. Also, we should seek to exercise this both on and off our mats. I liked that she started class this way, because it gave me a high degree of confidence that I was not attending an aerobics class. I'd already had a sense of this, because Patty had made a few humorous comments about some of the other styles of "yoga" taught at various studios, including this one. Some styles are such mixed methods, including aerobics, pilates, and other things, that they almost cease to be "yoga" because it's all about getting a workout. As you can imagine, this resonated for me as well, given my preferences, and my past experiences.

Class was a slow flow, we did little in the way of complete sun salutations, though we did perform all of the various parts of these sequences, in partial, at various points. But typically, they were strung together with other poses as well. The series was familiar, and combined a blend of standing and seated postures, as well as both Crow and Side Crow, the latter of which I made my best effort at attempting, but I had a hard time getting enough twist in my upper body to do it comfortably.

The studio was not heated, and there were ceiling fans and the door was cracked, keeping the air cool in the room the entire time. I have to say, I didn't even really sweat, which is incredibly unusual for me. At the end of class, as we lay in Savasana, Patty put small cloths with aromatherapy over our foreheads, and made some small adjustments to our heads, necks, feet. She also sprayed the air with another scent. We had ylang ylang, lavender, bergamot, geranium. It was peaceful.

After class, I talked to Patty some more about the other classes offered during the week. This studio offers a wide variety of yoga styles. I may spend a lot of time there. We also talked about potentially going on a hike over the weekend, but I still need to decide if that will work for my schedule, and if I am properly equipped for the proposed hike which sounds pretty serious.

At the start of class, she asked us to set an intention. When I arrived here in Maui today, I was immediately hit with that sensation of "Oh no, I am alone here! What am I doing?! How am I going to make it an entire week?!" My intention at the start of class today was to just give myself a chance to settle down and work through these emotions without letting them consume me. This is what I do. I am familiar with that pattern. And I don't need to spiral in it.

Everything will be alright.

10 July, 2013

Disheartened... Briefly

Today was Power Vinyasa with Carley.

I should note that this was a Level 2 class. In some studios I have visited, that hasn't meant much. But, at Be Luminous, this is truly an advanced class.

I'd been excited about Carley's class for a week, since I planned out all my yoga classes on my Google calendar. That's what you do when you've got three weeks of free time and you're obsessed with yoga as I am. So I was disheartened when I found myself having a difficult, or even impossible time doing some parts of the class. The students in here were more advanced and were rocking their forearm balances and other contortionist moves. To accommodate these extra advanced poses we skipped a lot, like standing balance poses and seated stretches.

I was a sweaty sloppy mess and not feeling like I was "standing in my power." In some ways I even felt a little embarrassed, right there in the front row, creating a pond between me and Carley. I am sure none of this showed, but it was hard to feel dignity.

I stayed within my practice. And when the feeling of "disheartened" arose, I labeled it and moved on. I tried to understand how that might happen in my life. I am not sure it does. I don't know if I allow myself into such situations off the mat. Solidly past my edge. Out of my comfort zone.

One useful extrapolation is that I probably do not seem nearly as discombobulated as I feel. And, thus, I can probably assume that I am usually being harder on myself than anyone else would ever be on me.

Perhaps I need to go past the edge more often if the edge is to ever advance?

09 July, 2013

Find your teacher

Today was Gentle Yoga with Elizabeth McElveen.

Elizabeth walked into class quietly, and rotated her mat so that it was aligned parallel to ours, instead of the usual orientation of perpendicular at the front of the room. She sat down, facing us, and closed her eyes. And that was the indication that class had started. So we sat. Several minutes passed, and she then asked us to find our way to Downward-Facing Dog. From there, we went to Rag Doll, and rolled up to standing in Mountain Pose, as most classes begin. But it was different today because there was this silence at the start of class, where there are typically many words. The words, instead, came here in Mountain Pose. We stood at "yoga attention" as Elizabeth spoke about "finding our teacher." Troy Lucero is Elizabeth's teacher, and it took her many years to find a person she could call her teacher. And she offered us this: Once you have found your teacher, the one who speaks to you in a unique way that you understand, stick with that teacher. The way to go deeper is to find your teacher and then go deep with them. To go to so many different teachers, we will hear many different instructions, some of which may be conflicting, because each teacher and, moreover, each school of yoga, has its own way of doing the poses. It's not that one is right and one is wrong (though there are cases of this), but more importantly, it is hard to move forward if we are moving in many different directions.

It's interesting. That doesn't entirely resonate for me, though I do understand it. I have found, as I said before, that the inner voices that guide me end up being a collage of the "greatest hits" of many of my most treasured teachers. I do not disagree that going most deeply into the purity of a practice might involve a single guru, and a consistent trajectory. But right now, one of the joys of practice for me is having the opportunity to hear these different voices. Maybe it's the difference between being 1-2 years into my practice, versus being 10 years in?

Today, we spent time focusing on the subtleties of the "simplest" poses and sequences. Keeping the legs very straight during the entire Sun A sequence. The change to bending the knees deeply and arching the back in the Sun B series. Back to the straight legs again for Triangle and Half Moon. And then a series of very deep stretches on the floor. The practice, though gentle from the standpoint of heat and speed, is very deep and very intense.

At the end of class, we again broke the standard protocol. Elizabeth had all of us move to a wall, and position ourselves with legs up the wall. We spent a fairly lengthy time resting in the pose. Then we turned around so we were sitting with our backs against the wall, and she offered the closing remarks of class. That had been our Savasana. It was not called out as such, but it was fairly evident that is what it was. It was a very intriguing class today of slight off-centeredness.

Interesting to me (coming back to the teacher topic again) is the fact that I wouldn't want to give up the variety of the different teachers, even at the expense of going deeper. I have seen this pattern play itself out in so many different venues in my life. Regarding career, relationships, hobbies. I am always wanting to broaden my experiences. I am rarely wanting to lock in, narrowing the possibilities. I don't know what to do with that. Is it an area of opportunity for me to potentially recognize that as a flaw that limits me? Or is it a characteristic of "Who I Am" that is not to be discarded, but understood and embraced?

Presumably, all things shall become clear in due time.

07 July, 2013

Through discomfort there will be clarity

Today was gentle yoga with Elizabeth McElveen.

It was definitely nice to be home again. I like yoga on the road. But I like yoga at my home studio too.

Elizabeth started class talking to us as she often does. One thing really stuck with me: "through discomfort we can find clarity."

I think it would be fair to say that this is true on and off the mat. I so do like comfort though. It's hard to be willing to make that tradeoff. I am learning in yoga to do it. Life is a different story. The tradeoff is harder. And it's easy to get confused about whether clarity is really what I want. Or, for that matter, is it really what I lack?

It comes back around to the "maybe I am being too hard on myself" question.

More yoga. That'll help.

06 July, 2013

Working for those magical moments

Today was Power Vinyasa with Bill MacDonald at Open Doors.

At 8:30am it was already over 80 degrees outside. Mercifully, Bill decided not to turn on the heat in the studio at all. It was plenty warm and it made a huge difference compared to yesterday's inferno.

It was a pretty standard Bill class, which I am now coming to know well from many visits home. Open Doors is my home away from home.

Bill talked about how the quest for perfection can often prevent us from experiencing the satisfaction of what we do have. This has been a theme for him the last couple of times I attended. He went on to say that the reason we work so hard in whatever we do is often for these brief and magical payoff moments where everything makes sense and we are completely in sync.

We really are engaged in a practice. We are practicing life on our mats. We are teaching ourselves how to be all those things we'd like to be in our lives. Setting the intention and making it real in the relatively controlled environment of the mat, so we can absorb that knowledge and take it with us to all things.

It's a challenging practice.

05 July, 2013

The space between the poses

Today was Power Vinyasa with Sue Bonanno at Open Doors.

Class was so hot and humid, due to Boston weather (over 90 degrees by 10:30am) that Sue had to go easy on us. Thankfully, she did. The challenge became maintaining integrity and focus in the face of limited air, and stinging sweat streaming into my eyes. At the start of class, when we set an intention, my first thought was honestly "Survive." That didn't seem like much of a positive intention, but that was the impulse. I believe I traded up for "Maintain Integrity," which is slightly better.

The thought that occurred repeatedly in today's class was actually a quote of Patrick Gray: "The yoga is in the space between the poses."

That really rang true for me today. Remembering to return to stillness as quickly as possible. Like nothing happened. It's challenging. In some ways, today was a little more like a Bikram class. We would do something intense and then offset it with something to recover. She taught quite well to accommodate the conditions.

Another thing that struck me today is that Patrick's quote is quite like the reading Elizabeth shared about letting go of things gracefully. They for together well. The suffering and struggle of the practice is not meant for is to cling to. The sensations are meant to be experienced fully, but only transiently, as we do the poses. Then we are meant to gracefully return to stillness. This, off the mat, is the holy grail. Stillness with all that is.

I am watching myself get a little attached to ideas. Hoping. Wondering. Anticipating. And these sensations are not "Here & Now." They are states of mind. And as soon as I start doing these things I also begin bracing myself for the opposite outcomes. So I start experiencing both fear and hope simultaneously. Those are strange bedfellows. And not particularly appropriate ones.

Return to stillness as quickly as possible. The past is unreachable. The future is unfathomable.

Problem is, it's kind of fun to hope...

04 July, 2013

The road less traveled

Today was Power Vinyasa with Ashley Webb at Open Doors in North Attleboro, MA.

Today's holiday brought me 40 minutes south to take class in a studio full of like-minded folks, who came to what was almost the only show in town, most studios having canceled classes.

It was a challenging class with flow after flow. The theme this week across the board seems to be standing splits, followed by knee-to-nose while still in the folded position, then rising all the way to standing from there. I am apparently barely able, or completely unable to do this last maneuver. It requires a shitload of core in places I lack it. And it also seems to happen deep into a class where I am fried. We also did a lot of Eagle today, entering it from Warrior II as well as from Crescent Lunge. In any case, Ashley was a fantastic teacher, very sensitive and conscientious about the humidity we were facing, turning off the heat completely and giving us plenty of air, and well-times rests after particularly intense sequences. We didn't do many standing balance poses other than the eagles. We did no back bends, no triangle, no pyramid. Just a lot of creative vinyasa sequences.

Tonight, I am reflecting on life, having visited with many family and friends during my trip home, shaking all manner of nostalgic trees. I took the road less traveled, it would seem. That's what I am thinking about today. Visited with friends who have kids, growing up. Great kids. Adorable, smart kids with interesting lives. My friends are successful. I look at them on this 4th of July and I think "They did everything right." Of course, the flip side of that thought is that I did not... I chose the other road. And surely, as the saying goes, it has made all the difference. But I can't help but wonder what it would have been like if, back in those woods, I chose the beaten path. When I hear people talk about taking their son to hockey practice at 5am, I am just fine and dandy with the path I am on. But when I look at these kids just for *who* they are: amazing creations of the people who are dear to me, adorable and with so much potential ahead of them, so open to possibility, ready to absorb life like a sponge, I think that I might have liked that... if only I had been willing to make the sacrifices/choices (depending on how you choose to label it).

I don't regret the life I have at all. I am content to travel this path wherever it leads me.

This was the intention I set.

03 July, 2013

Finding time for what's important

Today was Power Vinyasa with Jaime MacDonald at Universal Power Yoga in Norwood, MA.

Another new studio, but a return visit to a teacher I've had before, at Open Doors. Jaime is part of the trio of yoga family members, along with her husband Bill, and his sister Jacqui, all of with whom I have had the pleasure of taking class. This morning's trek to Norwood, not much of a stone's throw farther than Canton, was for the purpose of taking class with Jaime again, since my schedule wasn't going to align with her teaching days at the other studio, and I had enjoyed her class before.

It was a very small class, in a roomy, bright, clean new studio. I think there were only six of us. The class was only 80-85 degrees, which was a nice change, since I had been trying to figure out how I was going to find a "gentle" yoga class in my schedule here in Boston. It was a very interesting class, with most of the elements one would find in a Baptiste class, but scrambled up a bit into some different flow sequences of moderate length. Definitely there was a "fingerprint" to this teaching style that was different from any of the studios that I attend in Seattle.

Today, I felt nothing but a happy, positive, light feeling, with the gratitude to have this free time in my life to practice. I create this time in my life. It didn't just appear here. We have time for what is most important to us. Somehow we always do. The friction seems to be when there are things we "wish" we were doing, but we are not, and then we assert that we don't have enough time. But it's possible that I am just not being honest with myself about how important these other things are.

I want to be in a band. I want to be writing music. I want to be spending time recording. I want to be reading more. I want to be cleaning up my place and having it perfectly organized. I want to watch all those cool Netflix series that everyone talks about.

All these things I "want" to do, or "wish" I were doing. But I am doing what I am doing. I do yoga. I play Scrabble online (a guilty pleasure that waxes and wanes as a stress relief mechanism). I goof around on Facebook trying to be clever. I write my blog. I spend time with friends. These are the choices I make. I dream about being this spartan, tidy, introverted "creator" of things. But who I am is a social, slightly chaotic, dabbler, who is most driven by connecting and communicating with others. It's who I am.

There's often a gap between who we are and who we think we should be.

02 July, 2013

Standing Splits until you drop

Today was Power Vinyasa with Meghan Carroll at Open Doors.

It was supposedly a "moderate" class. The humidity here is ridiculous, and there was little that was moderate in the class. After it was over, I said to the teacher, whom I'd never had before "This was a moderate class, right?" And her reply was, "Oh, yeah... but I knew everyone in here, and I knew you could all handle it" with a smile on her face.

And so it went. One of the toughest classes I can recall taking. It was likely due to the staggering humidity, over which there was nothing one could do, and the time difference, having flown yesterday, etc. Every flow sequence began with a Downward Dog that transitioned into a Standing Split at the back of the mat. That would transition forward to High Plank with the leg still raised, and then the Knee-To-Nose business commenced from there. We even found ourselves doing a modified version of Cow/Cat from the Standing Split position. I didn't even know it was possible. These sequences went on and on. It was never a particularly fast flow, but for 75 minutes, we were pushed.

As for where I was at today? It felt good to once again start a series of road-show classes. I have mapped out my entire week, which will take me through 3 studios and 5 teachers, only 3 of whom I've had before. Given what happened in today's class with my fatigue, I am curious as to how tomorrow morning will go, with only 12 hours of rest. We shall see.

I am in Boston. I don't feel alone or disconnected or separated as I feared I would start to feel. It was the anticipation that was the worst. I knew that was the case, and knowing it did help me to cut off that sensation before it took complete hold of me. I guess the next step would be to perhaps allow myself to sit in that sensation and understand its true essence rather than to simply label it as non-essential and dismiss it. I am not really sure which way is the "correct" way of handling those things when they bubble up. I guess meditating in earnest would be a good way to start exploring it.

There's a list of things I would like to be doing more of, or doing at all. There are a list of things I would like to have in my life. These are short lists, but lists nonetheless. None of it is extravagant.

Elizabeth always talks about how, in yoga, something moves down so that something else can move up. And I think it's possible this is true in terms of the things I give my attention and priority to in life. In order to give more to some of these things I am missing, I may need to give less to other things.

What can I do without?