Sunday, May 31, 2009

Weekend reading!

Not much writing this weekend, too busy practicing! :) Doing lots of doubles to get ready for advanced seminar at the end of the month, based on the theory that building some extra strength and stamina now will help prevent me from being turned into a puddle of mush after the first class of the seminar - because then I would miss out on enjoying the rest of the classes. It's not masochism, it's just a good investment.

Meanwhile, I got a new book this week called How Yoga Works by Geshe Michael Roach and Christie McNally, and it is freaking awesome. I'm only a quarter of the way in and I already love it, and I can't wait to see where it is going. I was up reading it til 1:30 in the morning on Friday night (because yes, I am THAT big of a dork).

The book is all about yoga, of course, but it's told in narrative form. The plot follows a teenaged girl who is traveling from Tibet and is put into prison. Once she's in prison, she starts teaching the captain about yoga, to help relieve his bad back. The writing is really simple, and sometimes funny, which I like, because it lets all the information shine through so clearly. (If any of you have read Sophie's World, it reminds me of that book a lot.) In just the first few chapters, the book covers things like the importance of not skipping and of trying the right way - yay! - and then it moves on into topics like breath and chakras and energy, presented in a really straight-forward and non mumbo-jumbo kind of way. I'm actually learning a lot. Here is a little teaser:
"... did you ever wonder, why yoga seems to work for some people, but not for others?"

He shrugged, as if it didn't strike him as very important. "I don't know, everyone's different. Some people try it and take to it, some people try it and don't."

"But they try it," I said. "That's the point, you see. They try it, because they think it might help them - help them feel better, help them look better. And then it works for some of them, and it doesn't work for others. Didn't you ever wonder why?"

He shrugged again, looking a little bored.

"But it's important, you see. Yoga is a pretty serious thing to start. It takes a good amount of effort and it takes a good amount of time. And in many cases people try it for some very serious reasons - they've hurt themselves somehow, or they need to make a big change in their lives. And so they try. But why try, and try so hard, if you can't be sure it's going to work for you?"

This caught his attention - it dawned on him that we were also talking about whether or not yoga would work for him.

"I see your point," he said, with more thought now, "but I don't see where you're going. Yoga just works for some people, and doesn't work for others. You just have to try and find out which type you are. That's just the way it is."

I shook my head with violence... "Just the way it is doesn't exist. 'Just the way it is' is a lie. And it's a lie that people use to cover up the fact that they won't take the time or the trouble to figure out how things really work.

"Now yoga works. It works for the people that it works for... and would also work for the ones that it doesn't seem to work for; they just need someone to teach them how it works. It's a terrible thing to think of someone going around for the rest of their life with something that hurts as much as your back does, just because no one ever showed them first how yoga works."

I'm not gonna tell you how it works right now though. ;-) I really can't do it justice. Find the book! I will try to give some kind of review of the whole book when I am finished with it, but so far, I just can't recommend it enough!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Coyote tales

In North American folklore, Coyote is the trickster, the force of nature, the shaper, the creator. He plays by his own rules, he wreaks havoc where he goes, and as he goes, he reshapes the world. He is not a romantic figure - his actions are often disgusting, shocking, perverse and not bound by any moral compass. But he is always sneaky-clever, and his cleverness is his power.

I grew up with a collection of Coyote books, and in one story, Coyote's line was, "Maybe I will do something." And as soon as this idea came into his head, inevitably he would do something, destroy and create and transform a piece of the world, and then move on, always making tracks. Tracks, tracks, tracks.

Sometimes I can see a piece of Coyote in Bikram, this man who created this yoga system. In his brilliance, his vulgarity, and his power to create. Traveling the globe, changing it piece by piece, always making tracks, tracks, tracks. The master trickster, the mechanic, the shaper.

In my practice today, I unexpectedly met my own gaze in the mirror and thought, "Maybe I will do something." And I tried to pick up a piece of that same spirit and create, shape, change. Annihilate the comfortable. Get ugly, get messy. Do something. Change. Leave a different world in your wake.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"Practical use for yoga"

Here's something that HUGELY cheered me up just now!

I just clicked over to the website for Diane's studio a minute ago (because this is one of the things I do when I'm a little bit bored/homesick - look at the webpages of my old yoga studios - it's a little weird but go with it.) She's got a new testimonial listed from one of her students, entitled Practical Use for Yoga, that I just have to pass along!
I just had to share this with you all. I got locked out of my house so I had to use a 30-foot ladder up to my bedroom window. I climbed up, used a screwdriver to cut the screen, pushed up the window and climbed in. All this without a problem thanks to the flexibility from yoga. Not bad for a senior citizen. The 30-foot ladder was no problem either. --Ann P., 70+
Yeah!! A++ for Ann P and Bikram yoga! This put such a huge smile on my face. THAT'S what it's all about. That's what your investment is for... so that when you are 70+, you will still be bouncing around like a teenage, scaling 30-foot ladders and climbing through windows. Love it.

In a similar vein, I also want to recommend this awesome article to everyone. I've made SO many of my friends read it. I think I sent it to my dad two or three times. (Oops.) It's an older article (2003) about all the male firemen, cops, and construction workers from south Boston who started practicing yoga at Diane's studio. The writing is clear and funny, the testimonials are convincing, and it is all just soooo Boston. "Now when I'm driving and somebody cuts me off, rather than try to sideswipe 'em, I blow it off." Ha! Yoga!! Always makes me happy.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Forgot to knock on wood...

*insert ridiculously long, Napoleon Dynamite style sigh here* "Nghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...."

What sort of person is dumb enough to write something along the lines of "boy do I feel great now, so I expect that I will feel like shit very soon!" and NOT at least knock on wood?

I am so NOT interested in publicly airing all of my personal woes and self-created drama, because that's my problem, not your problem, but I just want to vent/bitch/WHINE for 2 seconds. So here goes. It is very hard for me, at this moment, to handle being where I am (which is grad school) instead of somewhere else (specifically the teacher training that's going on right now at Palm Springs, where my friends are, where my incredible teachers are, where Bikram is, and where, in a parallel life, I could be halfway to a Bikram yoga teaching certificate right now.) Very hard. I'd probably be in the normal 2-weeks-til-the-end-of-the-semester-slump right now anyway, so this distraction is not helping me out. I have been virtually incapable of getting any work done for the last couple of days. I don't even know where these days have gone. I snapped out of it last night, but seem to have snapped back into it this afternoon.


It should be ok soon. Bound and rebound, right? Bound and rebound.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Bound and rebound

Happy Memorial Day weekend!! This is basically a video supplement to my previous post. It's a 5 minute long Pixar short film which I think summarizes a very good yogic philosophy. :) I actually have most of it memorized. (I have a memory like a damn tape recorder.) Favorite part:

"Now sometimes you're up
And sometimes you're down
When you find that you're down
Well, just look around!
You've still got a body
Good legs and fine feet
Get your head in the right place
And hey, you're complete."

I also like the owl. :D

I just love this.

Was hoping to make it out to visit training at Palm Springs this weekend, but that did not happen. Kind of a bummer, but was not meant to be. Instead stayed home and practiced a lot. Did 9th and 10th classes of the week yesterday - the second was advanced class, which I hadn't done in a couple weeks - and I couldn't BELIEVE how good my body felt. It just cannot get enough of this yoga! I was FINALLY sore this morning, for the first time this week, and it felt good, I am sore in all the right places. And I had an intent discussion about my backbends with one of my teachers after class yesterday while we snacked on pistachios - lets just say lots of stick figures were involved in the explanations - so now I have some important things to work on. Yay, evolution...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Like waves in the ocean...

I think one of the things that we all come to terms with as we settle into a long-term practice is that progress in yoga is NOT linear and never will be.  This is such a basic truth, and yet somehow it always manages to take us by surprise!  Doesn't it?  It's such an easy concept to hear, to conceptualize, to say "yes, I understand that", but it doesn't necessarily make the highs and lows any less startling.

One metaphor I've heard quite a few times - I think it comes from Bikram originally - it that the yoga is like riding waves in the ocean.  At one moment, you're up high on the crest of the wave and you can see all around you for miles, and you feel like you're at the top of the world.  Then the wave comes down and the undertow gets hold of you, and you are down under the water and all you can see is water all around you, and you can't even imagine a place where there could be light or air.  But then you kick your legs, the current changes, and you get picked up by another wave and start the ascent back to the top.  Rise and fall, and then rise again.  

Or as Bikram (definitely!) says: If you feeling great and everything is perfect in your life, you'd better watch out, something bad it coming.  But if things are going terrible and you feel like shit, be happy!!  Good things are going to come soon!

It's just so funny how literally I can see this play out in my yoga practice, and how I am starting to be aware of it while it happens.  Last week I was not in such a great place in my yoga or in my body.  But then while I was in my slump, I took a look in my yoga notebook and saw that just 2 weeks prior, I had been writing things after class like "best H2K since I came to this studio", "best locust EVER", and "f-ing ROCK STAR practice today!"  (That is pretty much verbatim.)  So I said to myself, "Hmmmmm!!  Very interesting.  I guess I am on a pretty high-speed cycle right now.  Hope that means I'll be back up soon!"

And sure enough, I've totally turned a corner this week.  Got in 8 classes in the last 6 days (which almost always helps me - I do well with high frequency!) and felt awesome in both the 8am and 10am classes this morning.  It's been a while since I did the back-to-back thing, and I was actually a little bit apprehensive about it, but it couldn't have gone better.  Feeling kinda sleepy now, but my practice felt great, and the extra few pounds that were bothering me this month are already sliding off like butter.  I'm feeling moderately sore in my back and arms, which I love because it means I am actually doing something.  And I get to go practice the advanced series tomorrow - with other people! - which is always a great bonus.

Of course, based on my theory, I guess I should already be looking out for the next slump, which will surely hit eventually... but there's not really any point in anticipating things like that.  I'm just enjoying where I am!  And I hope my wave is still going up... it feels so good to climb up and up and get that awesome view of the whole horizon at the top... but whatever happens will happen, and whatever happens will be ok!

One more thing, which is not related to this topic at all.  (Well, there is some water and yoga involved.)  We did an outdoor yoga photoshoot on Thursday afternoon - me, another student, and a few of the teachers from the studio were the models and this guy who is a friend of the owner did the photography.  Well... it ended up including one of the funniest moments of my entire life.  Let's just say that there now exists a photograph of me... on a rock... in the middle of a river... in full cobra pose (i.e. backbending with feet on face, hands holding knees)... soaking wet, covered in mud... and topless.  OH yes.  None of this was my idea.  I can't believe I'm even telling you this, but it's just too funny to keep to myself.  It was for ART, people, ART!!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bikram in my pocket!

On my Ipod, that is.  :)  (That was almost a Dr. Seuss moment - anyone else remember "Wocket in my Pocket?"  No?  Maybe it is just me.)

I let myself into the yoga studio early this morning, before the first class (with permission), and practiced by myself to Bikram's class CD, which I have loaded onto my Ipod from Itunes.  It was SO much fun!  Way more fun than I expected.  I've practiced to the CD plenty of times before, but it's been a while, and I've never listened to it alone before.  I think it actually made a difference that I was listening on headphones!  It made it sort of intimate and direct, like I was having Bikram's voice piped directly into my brain.

I was really struck today by how many funny, interesting, important, and even profound things Bikram says on the CD.  I had been planning to skip through some of the set-ups once I got to the floor series to save time, but I ended up listening to the recording straight through because I wanted to hear everything that he had to say!  Seriously, there is SO much there.

One of my favorite lines has always been the bit about, "if anyone can steal your peace from you, YOU are the loser."  But I'd totally forgotten something that he says right before that: "Your investment is worthwhile."  I loved hearing that this morning.  It felt so validating.  Cause you know, we come in all the time, every day, at crazy hours, and do all these difficult, uncomfortable things with our bodies, and to a large extent we do it all on faith.  So I think that is important and special, just to hear somebody say, yes, this has a purpose, this has a meaning, this is a good investment, this work is worthwhile.  Here's the full transcript of that little moment (from "Locust Pose IV" for those of you with the CD):

"Elbow hurt?  Arms hurts?  Back hurts?  Hair hurt?  Hands hurt?  Good for you.  Your investment - time, money, energy - is worthwhile.  One day, all the pain in the world is not going to take happiness, peace away from you.  If anybody can make you angry, you are the loser.  If anyone can steal your happiness, peace away from you, you are loser."

And here are a couple of my other favorite moments, just off the top of my head:

"Don't look so sad. Don't look lonely."

45 min into class:  "Good mooorning everybody!  Welcome to Bikram yoga torture chamber, to kill yourself for 90 minutes!"

backbending: "Do you trust me?  Do you have a choice?  No, is Indian marriage, no choice, very quick."

singing:  "Don't look so saaaad... it's not oo-ooo-ver... long way from home... to kill yourself... that's why you pay for... that's why I am here..."

standing bow, all-time favorite instruction:  "What are you waiting for?  Somebody come and help you?!  Bring your body DOWN!"

If you guys are ever stuck without a studio or just can't make it to class, I totally recommend getting the CD, heating up your bathroom, and practicing to Bikram's voice.  You are bound to get something out of it, especially if you've never had his class before.  He's an awesome teacher.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dialogue = Love

Have I mentioned yet that I absolutely love the Bikram Dialogue?  I do.  I love it.  One of my favorite things about being back in Boston - aside from seeing friends and family - is hearing clear, clean dialogue in basically every yoga class I take.  Between the main Boston studios, where they are big believers in pure dialogue, and the greater Boston area studios, where Diane is a massive force for correct dialogue, I think that the New England area probably has some of the strongest Bikram yoga taught anywhere.

NOT that I am biased or anything!!

This story is a little tribute to my original home studio in Boston...

I think that a big part of being a Bikram yoga student (and we are all students, even the most senior teachers) is having faith in the correctness and effectiveness of the dialogue.  (There's one of those 5 qualities of the mind again...)  That's what it means to do this yoga the right way.

I am a scientist and an experimentalist, so faith is not something that I usually invoke as rationale.  So like a good scientist, I have put this faith to the test before accepting it.  I think my defining moment was in March of last year, and it came about through cobra pose.  My back was starting to get really strong at that time, so I was coming up higher and higher in cobra, to the point where I was looking down the wall behind me, sometimes past the ballet barre.  Belly-button touching the floor?  Not so much.  I asked one of my teacher friends about that line, "belly button only touching the floor", and she said "oh yeah, mine doesn't touch either," so I figured it was ok.  Did the pose that way for a few weeks, maybe.  Teachers were impressed by it.  Teachers asked me to demonstrate it to the class, they were so impressed.  So I figured I was doing good.

Finally, one day I'm in class with one of the studio owners, he's in the middle of teaching cobra, and he says "come up halfway only, until only your belly button is touching the floor.  Belly button touching the floor.  Belly button touching the floor.  Belly button touching the floor."  Everyone else in the class is definitely thinking "whoever is doing that wrong, can you please fix it so we can come out of the pose?" and I finally realize "oh crap, that's for me!"  I come down like 12 inches.  I'm pissed.  Totally frustrated.  What the heck.  I thought I was so good at this pose. Why do I have to do it this way.  This way doesn't make any sense.  My way was so great.  I talked to my teacher after class.  I say, "but my back muscles are getting so strong this way!" He says, "belly button touching the floor."  I say, "but I think I can get even more compression in my back when I come all the way up."  He says, "belly button touching the floor."  It's like boxing with a glacier.  I go home pissed.  I think ungenerous thoughts towards my teacher.  I make a decision.  I will try doing the posture this way for my next 30 classes and see if it works.  If it doesn't, I'm switching back to "my" way.

For the next week, I do cobra strictly according to the dialogue and hate it.  Every time I'm in it, I'm thinking, "this is stupid, this is totally holding me back, I like the other way so much better."

A week or two after that, I discover about 10 new lower back muscles.  My advanced postures improve by leaps and bounds.

Dialogue was right.  (And so was my teacher.  I adore him.)

So that was my first experiment, the first test.  It wasn't the last one; I've gone through similar trial and error periods with other postures.  And you know what?  In the end, I always arrive at the same solution: the dialogue was right all along.  And that is just one of the reasons why I love it and trust it.  I think my faith is well-earned and well-placed.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A little bit of a homecoming

I spent this weekend in Boston, and I'm still there! I'm writing this post in a free minute from the office of Bikram Yoga Harvard Square - more on that in a second. :)

This past (almost!) year has been pretty interesting (and challenging!) for me. It's been a constant tug-of-war between exploring new cities, meeting new people, settling into a new place, and being pulled back to the places and people and teachers that I left behind.

I got in late on Friday night and I'm leaving tomorrow morning. All day Sunday was for family stuff, so I have just two days to try to catch up with everyone (and I have to say, I've done a good job so far!) I wish I had more time here, it is NEVER enough time, but I'm happy to get this much. It's a little bit surreal, how few things have changed since I was last here. I notice lots of small differences, but mostly I feel like I never left. I feel like California was a dream, the entire last year was a dream, like the end of the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy wakes up after trying so desperately to get back home and finds out that she never left.

And where exactly IS that home? It's not like I have an apartment here anymore. But I DO have a lot of friends here, including a few wonderful and generous people who own the yoga studios. I took class from one of the studio owners on Saturday morning, practiced next to his awesome wife, and then we had a picnic lunch in the office. They asked me, "Where are you staying?? Where are you staying??" and I told them that I had stayed on my sister's floor that night (literally) and hadn't made plans for the rest of the weekend. They said "Well, you know you can always stay here, right? This couch opens out into a bed..." and the next thing I knew I had all the keys to the yoga studio. So, YES! I am living the dream right now - I am living out of a yoga studio! The downside was waking up at 5:15am (2:15 California time!!) when the teacher came in to open up the studio for the 6am class, but the huge upside was that when I decided to practice at 8am, I just rolled off the couch, showered, and strolled into the yoga room to take my friend's class. I have been pulling my weight and helping out a little bit around the place, but there's no manual labor until after we go out for post-yoga lunch and cupcakes, and the manual labor consists of putting paper towels on a shelf while chatting with some of my favorite people.

It's a pretty simple thing - we don't really go for big dramatic gestures or sweeping statements of affection - but it's these little actions that we don't even think twice about that mean the most sometimes. I'm happy to be reminded that I always have a family and a home in my favorite city.

Lots of other things to talk about... more later... :)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The body never lies...

I don't usually talk about my specific personal experiences from classes here (which is deliberate, by the way), but I had an interesting one last night that reminded me of an important truth about Bikram yoga: the body never lies.

First, I have to admit to what I consider two of my biggest flaws: I am a workaholic AND a procrastinator!  This will be my downfall someday, but I usually just work with it.  I think I pulled my first all-nighter at the tender ago of about 13 and didn't think it was really a big deal.  When I was an undergraduate, the all-nighter was more or less a monthly ritual.  I never thought that this was ideal, but I thought I pulled it off ok.

But whoaaa, boy, once I started doing yoga, I quickly found out otherwise.  Because your mind will lie to you day in and day out, but your body never lies, especially in that hot room.  Nothing but honestly there, nothing but you and your sweat and your body, telling its own story.

I bring this up because, yes, I ended up with way too much work piled up on me this week and ended up staying up from 9am Monday until 11pm Wednesday, with no yoga on Tuesday.  There was no napping except for one accidental 15-minute one during the weekly nitrides seminar. (I woke up to the sound of clapping at the end to read the final PowerPoint slide that said "thank you for (hopefully) not falling asleep!" My bad.)  And there was way, WAY too much caffeine.

And I honestly would not have realized just how unhappy my body was about this if I hadn't taken the 6:30pm class on Wednesday evening.

I was basically tighter than I've been in the last two years, without exaggeration.  Also my balance was shot (which was no surprise), and things actually HURT!  All those moments in the dialogue when they say "your bad is going to hurt like hell, don't be scared" or "your elbows might hurt like hell"... oh my gosh, they're not kidding!  I honestly had forgotten how true those lines are because my body usually doesn't hurt at all.  Sometimes I do get really sore, but never stiff to the extent that it feels like things are gonna start breaking.  So you know, that was actually a good experience for me!  I went through the class with this scientific detached interest in my body, noticing "oh wow, that kills my elbow" or "sheesh, when did my feet get so far away?"  I think that's good.  Relatively speaking, I have a pretty "easy" body and practicing usually feels challenging, but great, so this was one of those days when I kept thinking, "oh man, is this what other people feel like in class all the time??"  It gave me so much respect for the level of difficulty that can exist within this simple class, and the pure torture that it must present to the people who are really injured, stiff or out of shape.

I'm probably preaching to the choir here, but just so you guys know, this Bikram yoga shit is hard!  You just have to give respect to everyone in that room.

The coda to this story is that when I practiced again tonight, everything was about 90% of the way back to normal, but hopefully I have learned a little lesson from this.  You can lie to yourself anywhere you want out in your day-to-day life, but in yoga, forget about it!  But that doesn't mean you shouldn't GO to yoga.  Go to class, go to class, go to class no matter what, and find out the truth about the state of your body, even when it's not pretty.  Especially then!  You'll get nothing but truth, and that's a powerful and awesome thing.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Picture perfect

I'm shamelessly yanking this photograph from Jen's TT blog ("Flower petal blooming..." on my sidebar) just because I have decided it is my favorite. Picture. EVER. Of Bikram and Emmy. It is soooooo them. I don't have anything eloquent to say right now, but I can always use a smile in the middle of the week!

EDIT TO ADD: Ok, I just found out that Jen took this picture herself! Jen gets an A+++ for capturing awesome moments on film! Mad photography skills AND yoga skills...

Monday, May 11, 2009

"Having doesn't mean ANYTHING..."

"... unless you know how to what?  Use it!"  Or: "I have biggest swimming pool in Beverly Hills.  Is useless to me.  Know why?  (Why boss?)  I don't know how to swim!!"

We hear this all the time, but that doesn't make it any less true.  It applies in practically every situation you can think of.  Bikram applies it to your body, mind, and spirit, saying that you can unlock their full potential by practicing yoga.  I love that, and I think he's right.

I was thinking about that sentence today in relation to the yoga itself.  I remember last summer during my last week in Boston, when I went out for lunch with two of my favorite teachers (husband and wife) and we sat around in the upper level of this great Algerian hole-in-the-wall cafe in Harvard Square and had tea and pancakes and talked for hours, about yoga, about our studio, about our lives.  I remember that one of the things my teacher said to me, which planted something warm and glowing deep in my sternum, was "we have watched you do so much with this yoga."

At the time, I mainly just heard his praise, which was still so important to me, but now I'm thinking of it in a different light.  We all have this yoga, but we are the ones who decide what to do with it.  Over time, we have to learn how to use it.  At first - for the first days, weeks, months, or even years - just showing up might be enough.  Just getting through that class can be a really big deal, and if the instructor is good and the student follows the instructions, a whole new world opens up automatically.

But for those of us who practice faithfully for years, I think it's absolutely vital that we learn how to use the yoga postures that we have, rather than just falling into the same routine and going along for the same ride every day.  Take the posture, study it, understand it, own it, and then USE IT, for whatever you need that day, that week, that year.  Flexible but not so strong?  Find the strength in every posture and use it.  Strong but stiff?  Find those places where your strength can be used to open your body, and use them.  Aching back, hips, joints?  Find the theraputic benefit of each posture and use it.  You can give yourself anything you need in those 26 postures - a burst of energy, a full body massage, a release from anxiety, anything - and sometimes it will happen on its own, organically, but sometimes you have to "do something" with the yoga.  You can use it as your personal tool box to make absolutely anything you want, and man, it is so cool when you start to figure out how to do that.  I'm pretty sure I've barely tapped in.  You have everything you need, but as they say, that doesn't mean anything unless you know. How.  To use it.  

The series is so powerful, so intelligent in its own right, but sometimes people come in day after day after day and their bodies are not changing, their lives are not changing, nothing is happening, because they have the biggest swimming pool in Beverly Hills but they don't know how to swim...

Learn how to swim.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

On expectations

Just a quick observation, mostly for my own benefit:

I need to eliminate the sentence "But I used to be able to do this posture!" from my brain.

Just do the posture, already!!

Observation without judgment, without attachment. It's a big idea, and it's the main reason I got interested in this yoga in the first place. And judgment comes from expectations, right? Better to let those go and just do some good yoga. The postures come, then go, and then come back again. Just try, and don't do it wrong, and try again! At the end of the day, the postures don't matter and there is plenty of time.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Operation Get-to-Ventura-and-take-a-yoga-class: success

It took me forever to get there yesterday, but I made it to the 4pm class in Ventura last night and the 11am this morning and had two awesome classes.  It felt ridiculously good to practice again (and I was decently strong, for me, but I was also super bendy, which was a pleasant surprise).  I missed a total of 3 days of yoga this week - HARDLY a catastrophe - but I missed it so much.  Couldn't focus, couldn't settle down, couldn't sleep, couldn't wake up.  Pretty weird! 

I was stretching out before class this morning, doing a couple backbends, and the woman on the mat next to me asked how long I'd been practicing.  I told her I'd been coming regularly for almost 2 years now (and by the way, when the hell did that happen?!) and she said "wow, so have you seen a lot of benefits?"  All I could think of to say was, "YES."

The truth is, I don't even know where I would be right now or what I would be like without this yoga in my life.  All the neuroses I would still be holding on to, all the bad habits and patterns... how bad would they be?  Which problems have I eliminated by doing this yoga, and which ones am I just constantly holding at bay?  That's a slightly unsettling idea.  One thing Bikram always says is that the yoga is only a "cure" for disease in the sense that, if you do it consistently, it will relieve your symptoms, and if you stop doing it, your symptoms will come back.

It's not like I had an awful life without yoga, but without going into detail, I have to say that it is a lot better with the yoga.  I'm not really interested in me-without-yoga.  Sure, I could definitely live without it.  I could also live without showering or brushing my teeth.  But that would just be unpleasant for everyone.  With is definitely better.  It's a good life.  :)

Friday, May 8, 2009

California snow

Nothing new on the yoga front... studio is under fire evacuation, and evacuation area is moving closer to my area. We also have a nice "California snow" going on right - white ash falling steadily from the sky. It gets in my eyes every time I go outside. Seriously? This is why you shouldn't name it the "BABY JESUS FIRE." Got an email from my department saying that we don't have to come in to work today, but got that email AFTER I came in to take a mid-term. I love grad school. On one hand: "Emergency!!" On the other hand: "Come take your test at 10am, and there's a seminar this afternoon that you guys should really go to." Screw that! I'm getting out of here... just as soon as I talk to a couple people about this project that's due Monday...

I'm gonna see if I can get through all the craziness in the downtown area to practice at the Ventura studio tonight. I want my yoga! :( Can't really take the back roads as they are all on fire, but hopefully the freeway won't be too backed up with emergency vehicles. SHEESH.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

No yoga today...

... because the yoga studio is in the evacuation warning area for the huge freaking fire that is spreading on the edge of my town!!  Looks like more than HALF of downtown Santa Barbara is under mandatory evacuation right now.

Good thing I live 10 miles to the west!!  I can see the flames, tho.

Seriously, didn't this JUST happen!?  This is the second big fire we've had since I moved out here 8 months ago.  Not cool.  Nobody in my area is terribly alarmed, since this literally happens ALL THE TIME and we are out of harm's way, but I'm still not crazy about it...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Emotional Illusions

So here's the state of my week: I'm being moderately pressured to produce results on three completely separate research projects, I have a lab project to finish and a paper to write in the next week, I have a midterm exam in a couple days for the class that has been killing me this quarter, I'm hitting the espresso again like it's my job, and I didn't even go to yoga yesterday.  (Yes, even I miss days.)  Oh yeah, and the hills on the edge of my town are on fire.  Again.

Came home to my apartment after a long day's work, changed from jeans and tee into my favorite sundress, grabbed my mat, and practiced the 6:30 class.

Class was fine.  Not awful, not brilliant, not unusual.  It was class.

Left class, turned on a great CD, rolled down the car windows to feel the warm night air, stopped at the grocery store for spinach and mango juice, and drove home with the inexplicable but powerful feeling that there could be absolutely nothing wrong, anywhere in the world.

Re-energize, revitalize, reorganize.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The left eye of the bird...

One of the mental qualities that we try to develop in Bikram yoga is concentration, right?

Here's a cool experiment that will test your powers of concentration.  Bear with me on this one!!  First, you need to watch a short video with two teams of people, one team in white shirts and one team in black shirts, passing a basketball.  Your job is to watch closely and count how many passes the white team completes.  Ready?  GO, here.

Do this before you finish reading this post or you will ruin my cool trick!  Don't cheat! I promise it's not one of those lame videos where something jumps out at you and makes you crap your pants.  You don't even need to watch with the sound on.  Just focus on counting the white team's passes.





One of my favorite parts of Bikram's newest book is the story he tells about concentration: an enlightened teacher gathers all his students together and lines them up in a field, with a single tree standing miles in the distance with a wooden bird in its branches.  Each boy has a bow and a single arrow.  The teacher tells the boys, "Everyone aim at the bird. Then, when I call your name, shoot the bird."

Approaching the first boy, the teacher asks, "What do you see at the end of the field?" 
"I see the bird, Sir!" 
"What else do you see?" 
"I see the tree, Sir!" 
"What else do you see?" 
"I see the sky and everything behind the tree, Sir!" 
"WRONG!  Next boy!"  The teacher goes down the line and asks the same question to 99 more boys, who give 99 different answers, all of which get the same response: "Wrong! Next boy!"

Finally he comes to the last boy, his favorite student.  
"What do you see, Arjun?" 
"I see the bird, Sir!" 
"What else can you see?" 
"Just the bird, Sir!" 
"What part of the bird?" 
"I see the head of the bird, Sir!" 
"What part of the head?" 
"I see the left eyeball, Sir!" 
"What else do you see?" 
"Nothing, Sir!" 

Arjun releases his arrow and pierces the left eye of the bird, passing the test.

I think this is an awesome description of pure concentration.  I put it in the back of my mind sometimes  when I am practicing.  Focus your eyes on one point on your standing knee in the mirror, concentrate very deeply, don't move your eyes, don't blink your eyes.  Lock the knee. What do you see?  Lock the knee. The left eye of the bird.  Lock the knee.  Nothing else.

Now here's my fun trick.  Go back and watch that video again, but this time, don't concentrate on counting the passes, just watch it casually.













I bet you didn't see that gorilla before, right??  (If you did, and you haven't seen this video before, then you are definitely in the minority.  The first time I saw this, I was in a room of 200 MIT students, and there were only 2 or 3 people who saw the gorilla.  I was not one of them.) The video is from an experiment on sustained inattentional blindness.  

I like this because it shows that you really can concentrate on one thing to the exclusion of everything else.  You can theoretically become so focused that a big freaking gorilla could walk through the middle of the yoga room during standing head to knee, and you wouldn't even notice.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Just don't do it wrong!

If I tend to repeat myself here, it's because some things are always true.

I've been having great yoga classes all week - and they haven't just been good, they've been HARD. Every one of them. Surprisingly so. I've been getting my heart beating so fast that I really have to concentrate to remember to breathe. No cruise control!!

All week, I've been going into every posture with new focus, with renewed attention to the details and nuances that I had started to forget or let slide, and with excitement and curiosity about the new bits of information that I've learned. And in every class, I've had my mentor's words in the back of my head: "You can do it!" and "Just don't do it wrong." Always spoken with love, energy, humor, and belief. So simple, so clear, and so true.

Towards the end of practice last night, an old moment from one of her classes floated back into my head. After giving me a correction on alignment, she commented, "see, even the very flexible body always seeks comfort." I love that reminder: "the body always seeks comfort." I love how she says "the body" instead of "you," because it makes the statement not about blame or laziness or anything like that - it's just saying, look, this is a natural thing that's always going to happen, so know that. Pay attention.

I've spent enough time doing Bikram yoga that my body is very familiar with the postures, and the downside is that my body is very good at finding comfort in the practice, even at the wrong times! So now I'm coaxing myself out, finding the strength and alignment, even feeling HOT and out of breath sometimes, and you know... just kill yourself... just don't do it wrong... it's only yoga...