Thursday, June 25, 2009

Radio silence

Ok, I now need to pack, and then LEAVE.  Whoops.  Hope to see some of you guys (you know who you are) in Harvard Square tomorrow night!  Might write from my Mom's house this weekend, but I'm planning on more or less "radio silence" for the next week and a half so I can focus on just taking everything in!!

....yeah, that person is sometimes me.

See you on the other side!!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

System overload!

Wow... I think I'm having writer's block!  Or blogger's block.  Whatever.

I had about 10 different topics in my head that I want to talk about, but I just tried writing about a couple of them and I was just NOT getting anything coherent.  Now I have 4 saved drafts to be revisited at a later time.  Yoga brain on overload!

I am so excited for next week!  The excitement really didn't hit me until tonight, 1o minutes before class.  I walked into the studio and the owner asked me "when are you leaving?" and I said "tomorrow night!"  Which I am!  (And I'm not even packed!!)  I'm driving down to LA tomorrow night, taking the red eye into Boston, hanging around Boston on Friday, then driving out to western Mass for my Dad's wedding on Sunday, and then getting up at 4am on Monday to drive to the airport, fly back to LA, and drive to Palms Springs for advanced!  Augh!!  Anyhow... after I said that to the owner, I went into the yoga room, sat down on my mat, and suddenly realized, "Oh my god!  I'm actually going to spend all of next week doing yoga with Bikram and Raj and all the crazy champion advanced people!  That is so awesome!!"  I had to get up, run out of the room, share this revelation with a couple people, and then bounce around like a pinball until class started.

A word on "all the crazy champion advanced people."  Some people have the misconception that I fall into this category.  Many teachers have told me that I am "very advanced."  This is a lovely compliment which makes me feel good about myself, but first of all, I hate that label for its implied value judgement, and second of all, I don't think it's even accurate.  In the grand scheme of things, if I HAD to put a label to it, I'd like to call myself like a middle intermediate.  High intermediate, max.  I have SEEN the real yoga champions, and while I think I might get to a similar level SOMEDAY, that will probably take me another 5 or 10 years of really hard work!

So for the most part, I just LOVE hanging around with the hardcore pros.  I love being closer to the middle of the bell curve, where I can look around at the other people in the room and think "how the HELL are they doing that?"  It gets me so inspired.

But there are always these fine lines, which I've been acutely aware of in the past few days.  There is a fine line between well-deserved pride and vanity, and there is another fine line between inspiration and jealousy.

Jealousy is a pattern that yoga has really, really helped me to break away from.  Back when I was in ballet, jealousy was a way of life.  "Look at her great feet" and "I hate her" were always said in the same breath.  You might say that you were happy for someone, but you never really were.  In yoga, it's been really different.  When I see someone else making progress, I'm really excited for them and really inspired to do better myself.

Or at least... I think I am.  Usually.  At least... it's easy to be excited for someone who is really improving... unless someone improves so much that they're suddenly doing better than ME... and then... yeah... there's still this nasty, uncomfortable side of me... it's very quiet, but I can still hear it sometimes... and it says that that's not ok, you can't let that person get ahead of you.... why is it so easy for her when you had to work for so long... that's not okay....

I really hate that voice.

This is kind of a confession.  (I'm not a Catholic, but you know, sometimes I feel like confessing to someone!  I have no freaking clue where that urge comes from.)  I was looking at pictures a couple night ago of a wonderful friend of mine who's at teacher training.  I met her at championships last fall, we've practiced together in LA, we're always so happy to see each other, she is a total rock star, and I love her for it.  And her new pictures are STUNNING.  She can do SO many amazing advanced postures now.  Ones that I still can't do.  And my gut reaction to these pictures - it was "WOW, beautiful" and "SHIT, NO, she's gotten so much better than me" all in one heartbeat.  Jealousy: there it is, uninvited.

I think I'm writing about this just to purge it from my system!  Because those emotions (which are few and far between) are some of the last traces of the lifestyle that was no good for me, that I've been leaving behind.

Something in How Yoga Works really struck a chord with me.  The girl was talking with her student about the fine line between well-deserved pride and vanity.  She tells him that since it is so easy to slip from being honestly happy at our own progress into thoughts of vanity or negative competitiveness, the best thing to do is to keep an eye on our feelings towards others.  She says:

"... if we're doing yoga because we want to inspire other to do it too, so they can heal themselves too, then if someone like the Sergeant began to do yoga, and suddenly got very good at it - able to do things we ourselves hadn't been able to do even after years of work - then I think our feelings about that would tell the story."

"I mean, if our motivation was pure, then we'd be excited and supportive: we'd let him know what a wonderful job he was doing.  And if on the other hand we had started to slip into vanity, then I think we'd feel threatened somehow: we'd feel unhappy about his progress.  And then that - that very basic, disappointing form of dislike for someone - would really start to choke our own channels, and ruin whatever progress we had been making"

And the student's answer is great.  He says: "I do see, and I can tell you freely that my motivation, as always, was sort of mixed: a little hoping to inspire the men, and also hoping that they'd be impressed with me."  And the teacher admits that we probably all have that same problem.

So I would like to be as good as that student, and admit freely that I also can struggle to stay on the right side of this very fine line.  And I know that I've been living on the right side of that line more and more, and I am very happy about that!

And one thing that really kills any of my lingering ego is the experience of being part of a big group of amazing yogis, because vanity is such an individual emotion, you know?  When you're swallowed up in the room, part of this awesome collective of powerful energy, nasty little ideas like that don't even stand a chance.  There's no place for comparison, no room to be self-conscious.  You just do, and strive, and everyone is doing it together, pulling together, increasing our energy exponentially, and if just one person in that room is healed, we are all healed together, and we are so much better together than any of us could be alone.

And in a place like that, there's no room to look at someone with any kind of negativity.  Only inspiration.  Only "how did you do that, can you show me?"  Only "that's amazing, you're beautiful."  Only "let me help you, I bet you can do this, too."  Only, "YES, you've got it, that's right, good for you," with total sincerity.  Only inspiration.

I am excited.  :)

EDIT TO ADD:  I just had another thought!!  And I think it's more useful that all these other long-winded ramblings.  The thing about all these other forms of competition - in school, or the workplace, or athletics - is that they are a zero-sum game.  One person's gain is always going to be someone else's loss.  Yoga is not a zero-sum game.  When one person gains, we ALL gain!  That's what changes everything.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Heat is on!

I just checked the weather forecast for Palm Springs next week and could NOT stop laughing...

Heaters?! Who needs them?!? Looks like moving training etc. to the desert was a truly brilliant move by the Bikram folks... they don't need to heat the room anymore, they just need to open the windows and doors.

No escape!!!

I think I'm gonna buy a bigger water bottle...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sorry no write...

... but it's now only one week til advanced seminar and the countdown is ON! Yikes! I've been splitting my time this week between getting in as many yoga classes as possible and getting as much WORK done as possible before I ditch for a week. So I've been cutting down the computer time, which was a good idea. But I figured I'd pop on today, say hi, talk about myself, be boring... I always feel like I'm being really boring when I write about my own practice, but oh well, I don't have anything else on my mind this morning.

This has been an interesting month practice-wise. The numbers have been weird. I did a week of 10 class, a week of 9 classes, then finals hit and I only did 4 classes, and then this week I did 10 again. I think my body was kind of alarmed by the abrupt changes because yesterday I felt really sick and achy all day like I had the flu. That's happened to me a few times before, and it's a bummer, but it's ok. Dragged myself through class, picked up take-away from my favorite restaurant, watched some Pixar shorts, and was in bed by 9pm. Woke up feeling cured!

I've also been COMPLETELY deconstructing and reconstructing all of my backbends. This was prompted by having a teacher tell me that if I kept relying on my lumbar spine for the depth in all my backbends, I would have crazy back pain in 10 years. So he made me stay WAY higher up in my backbends and just try to bend in the middle and upper back. Naturally, there was a part of me that absolutely HATED this, cause you know, everyone thinks that deep backbends are so beautiful and impressive, and everyone's told me how mine is so great, and of course I was proud of that! But I wanted to try to change, I really did, so I kept going back to this teacher and showing him my half moon backbend and letting him correct it, even though at first I didn't like his corrections! I had to take it on faith and keep trying it. And it took a few weeks for me to understand what needed to happen. But after a couple weeks of experimenting, I started to figure out what it really means to bend in the middle and upper back, and I started to feel something happening, and that was cool. And then a week later, I discovered that when I use this approach, I can actually get my arms down past parallel and still keep my arms with my ears. Holy shit you guys. Ever since I took my first Bikram class five years ago, I've thought that this was just a physical impossibility for me. I thought my shoulders were too tight. Never say never.

The main concept that I'm coming around to is that the backbend is "lower back, middle back, upper back" - what it says in the dialogue! - not "lower back, lower back, and more lower back." And even though basically all of my backbends have been completely wrong, I don't really believe that I've done anything wrong, because it's natural to take advantage of whatever flexibility you have, but now that I know better, I have to do better. :)

One more fun thing that's happened lately is that I've been working more on the advanced series either alone or with a friend, and it's been really nice. It feels organic and old-fashioned, the way yoga used to be practiced, just one girl doing her yoga, or a couple of people working together and sharing information. It's not really by the book or kosher (so "shhhhh!") but this is the way that even the regular Bikram practice started off: people practicing by themselves with the book, or people learning the series and then taking it home and doing it with friends in small groups. I like it. It feels like coming back to the root a little bit.

That's enough for now, gotta get ready to take a couple more classes (and then will probably "take it easy" for the rest of the week)... will write again before I take off for Palm Springs! Happy Solstice, happy Father's Day, happy summer, and happy Sunday. :)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Secret worlds

(Please click on the image to see the whole thing.  I think the browser is cutting off the right hand side, but I wanted to use the full-size version!)

I agree with this on every level.

It's part of what makes yoga practice so stunningly beautiful to me.

All these ordinary people start to... unfold.  People discover just how much they are carrying inside of them.

All the people in the whole world... have unimaginable power... magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing...    yes...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Focus again, in another flavor

I am still slooowwwly making my way through How Yoga Works, and I can't even describe how great it is!  It's got everything in it.  There's a lot that I can't really paraphrase, cause it needs to be taken in the context of the book's development, but here is one little bit that I wanted to share.

It's about focus.  The girl in the book is teaching her student, and has him standing in a warrior pose, gazing out over his hand.  Then she tells him:

"Now focus your gaze on your finger," and another breath passed.
"Then on the tips of your fingers," and I let two breaths pass.
"And now on your fingernails," one more breath.  "And then the fingernail of yor middle finger only," two more breaths.  "And now on the end of that fingernail; on the curve of fingernail at the end. " And he did, for three breaths.
"Good," I said, "now relax."
He stood up straight and looked at me steadily.  "That's the longest you've ever held that pose," I said.  "Twice as long as before, in fact." 
He raised his eyebrows.  "Sure didn't feel like that..."

I love this!  It's "the left eye of the bird" all over again, practically word for word, but slightly different.  I thought about this passage in class yesterday morning during standing bow and it was a great success.  I was so much more stable than usual.

It's really great to see how often Bikram's philosophy is in perfect lock-step with the other yoga writings.  It shouldn't come as any surprise, considering Bikram's background, but it's sometimes easy to forget his teachings are part of a much larger context.  I think the one place where the Bikram yoga community falls down sometimes is in our easy dismissal of other styles.  There are so many Bikram teachers who never tried any other styles of yoga before becoming certified.  There are so many of us, myself included, who practice Bikram's class almost exclusively.  And I don't think that's a bad thing at all, but I think we have to be conscious that there's a risk of becoming insular and close-minded and forgetting that there is a lot of other good yoga out there.  There is plenty of crap yoga, too!  ("Mickey Mouse!!")  But there is other good yoga that we can always learn from.

And for me, every time I study another book or take a different good class, it just reaffirms my belief in Bikram and his system, because so many other teachings align perfectly with his.  I think he gets it all right, and his class is second to none.  But he's not the only one.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Brilliant Emmy

I was in LA yesterday morning taking my roommate to the airport, so we stopped at Headquarters to take the 10am class, and we were lucky enough to have the brilliant Emmy Cleaves as the instructor.

I'll bet that most of you guys have heard of Emmy, so I'll spare you the long ramblings.  (But definitely look her up if you don't know who she is!  A good article is here.)  She is Bikram's principal teacher, she was one of his first students back when he first came to LA, she is 80+ and cool as hell.  She leads the advanced classes in LA, so I've done quite a few of those with her, but I'd never actually taken her beginner's class.  So this was a real treat for me.

I just have to say... I was blown away.  I am in total awe of her knowledge and skill.  She knows all the postures inside and out, just as well as Bikram does, but she also explains everything explicitly and simply in way that Bikram almost never does.  It was the first time - ever - that I have listened to a teacher deviating from the dialogue (she doesn't use the dialogue at all) and thought, "wow, that actually IS a much better way to explain this posture!"  She included a lot of nuance, while keeping the physical instructions crystal clear and making the more subtle points of the postures seem transparent.  I want to go back and take her class again and again and study all of it.

I wish I'd had a tape recorder or something, because I was half asleep that morning and struggling so hard to stay alert and attentive, especially once we hit the floor!  But something kind of awesome happened in the floor series.  Emmy had my friend Beth hop up on the podium to demo the sit-ups, because she said that we were all doing them terrible.  Which was actually true - mine were half-assed at best.  But after she reamed us out for our sloppy sit-ups, I started really attacking mine with my eyes wide open, and oh.  Wow!  They freaking WORK!  I've heard so many times, "the sit-ups are designed to give you energy," but I'd never experienced it so intensely.  I literally got a big burst of energy EVERY time I did a sit-up after that, so that between fixed firm and spine twist I went from nearly dead asleep to wide awake.  It was the craziest thing!  Lesson of the day: never underestimate a good strong Bikram sit-up.  I tried doing them the same way again today, and they worked again!  

In conclusion... Emmy is brilliant, and I'm wondering if I can find some sort of water-resistant notebook so that I can take notes at advanced seminar with her and Bikram in two weeks.

And totally off topic: I hadn't looked at my calendar in days and was convinced that seminar was three weeks away.  Turns out it is only TWO weeks away.  I had no idea it was already mid-June.  I am somewhat alarmed by this.  Gotta get my practice nice and solid, and quick!!  It crumbled a bit this week, but I know it'll bounce back...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Getting a grip!

Grad school update: done with classes until September!  YESSS!  Now I have the whole summer to just focus on my research and hopefully get some good work done.  With no homework, and a super flexible schedule that should let me practice yoga every day.  That will be lovely.

I missed three consecutive days of yoga in a row this week, Tuesday through Thursday, which is semi-catastrophic for me.  That has only happened to me one other time in the past two years, and it was the finals week of last quarter.  Go figure.

By Friday my body felt like crap in all kinds of ways, from the combination of sleep deprivation and yoga deprivation (not sure which is worse!) and I was so thrilled to get back to class that evening.  From a technical standpoint, the class was an absolute train wreck, but I honestly didn't even care.  I told the teacher afterwards, "that was probably one of the messiest classes I've ever done, but I enjoyed the heck out of it!"

It's always fascinating and bizarre to observe the changes in my practice after any kind of weird disruption.  The one thing that surprised me last night AND this morning was the effect on my HANDS.  My grip felt so weak!  I noticed it even in half moon, and then I seriously felt it in standing head to knee and standing bow when I could barely hang onto my foot or ankle.  I had to literally work to get a grip again.  I thought this was an apt metaphor for the work of a yoga class, especially at the end of a long and stressful week.  Just come in, concentrate, and get a grip.  On everything.  Don't lose the grip...

That is all for now.  :)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Grad school: Don't let it happen to you!

I adore the fact that the 3am janitor just came into my office, declared that it looks like it'll be ok if he waits until next week to vacuum, and then wished me good luck on finals.

I'm always a hot mess during finals. I admit it. I just lose the academic will to live. It will pass when the week ends. But for the moment, this hilarious little comic is pretty fitting:

Sorry that this post is not about yoga. I do have a yoga analogy, though: grad school is like one really long Bikram class. There's the period in the beginning (first quarter = first 10 minutes of class) where you wonder what the heck you've just gotten yourself into, then there's the period where it starts to get really uncomfortable (around end of first year = maybe eagle pose?) and you seriously consider making a run for the door... but you don't, cause you figure this is all going somewhere and you'd better follow through on what you started, cause apparently it's gonna pay off in the end...

Just like yoga. And I need to get back in the posture! No leaving the room yet! Back to the lecture notes now!!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"Pizza" postscript

After reading the awesome comments on my last post, I realized that I want to add a couple more things.

First, that this is obviously my personal experience, and I definitely do not want to detract from the weight loss efforts of all the men and women who struggle with obesity.  I am so inspired by watching people fight to get healthy.  I don't think anyone really took my post the wrong way, anyway, cause you guys are awesome, but I figured I should say that!

Second, since I've opened up this whole can of worms, I guess I might as well outline my personal "diet" philosophy a little more fully.

- Any diet that involves extreme restriction and self-deprivation is doomed to fail.  It creates too much tension, so at some point you are bound to snap back.  It's not sustainable.

- Cutting out entire food groups leads people to completely bizarre conclusions, such as "oh I can't have that little glass of orange juice, it has sugar in it."  What!?  It's just oranges!  Fruit is good for you!!  (If it's medical, like celiacs or something, then ok, I can understand.)  There is an entire industry devoted to ripping you off by convincing you that one or another vital food group - protein, carb, or fat, the 3 components of a balanced diet - is making you fat.  Did you realize that before the "low carb diet craze" there was a "high carb diet craze," but our actual knowledge of food science hasn't really changed at all in that time?  It's insane.  As one of my comments pointed out, now "trans-fats" are bad for you but "lard" is in.  What?!  It makes my head hurt.

- If you don't eat the food that you are craving, you will go nuts.  So indulge your cravings, but go for quality over quantity.  If you are dying for chocolate, go and have a little square of delicious dark chocolate and enjoy the heck out of it, instead of agonizing for weeks and then having a million-calorie mediocre-tasting fast-food chocolate shake.

-  Enjoy your food.  Invent recipes.  Cook something delicious that you've never tried.  The better it tastes, the more satisfying it will be.

- Enjoy your body NOW.  This is the real heart of the matter.  And of course it's the hardest part, and it's going to be a different process for everyone.  But I just... I don't think it's ever okay to postpone your happiness, even though we all do it all the time.  "If only I had a boyfriend...", "if only I could get promoted...", "if only I could lose 10 pounds..." - NO.  Enough excuses.*  Fuck that.  Feel better NOW.  It is okay to still have goals for the future, but don't fool yourself into thinking, "well I'm not happy yet, but once I lose 10 pounds I will be."  If you can be happy now, if you can really like yourself, then it will be easier to do good things for yourself and you will actually lose weight, if you need to.

Believe it or not, self-respect can be a much more powerful and effective motivator than self-loathing.  It will get you to your goals without destroying you in the process.

And now I think the postscript might be longer than the first post, so I'm gonna cut myself off.

* To bring in the yoga connection, even Bikram says this.  He says this ALL THE TIME.  "You always think you are too fat, too skinny, too sick, too old, too young, too lazy, too busy, too poor - you always look for an excuse.  That is called lack of self-realization."  

** One more thing.  It totally makes me cringe that I am about to recommend a self-help book *shudder!!!* but "When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair" by Geneen Roth is one of the best books I've ever read about food and our relationships to it.  It had a pretty big influence on me.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Pizza is good for you!

I am a BIG fan of food.  I love good healthy homemade foods, whole foods, fruits and greens,trail mix, juice, whole grains... and ALSO cookies, frozen yogurt, salt and vinegar chips, cheezits, wine, chocolate, and pizza!

As much as I love healthy food, I do get a lot of entertainment out of teasing the health food fanatics.  My roommate at championships in LA gave me a hard time the whole weekend about the box of Cheezits that I carried around everywher.  "J!!  Where's your fiber?!"  I was like, "What?  They're cheap and delicious!  I have some trail mix and Gatorade, too."  "Gatorade?!  J!!"  Etc.  We are rooming together again for advanced seminar and I'm bringing a couple Costco sized boxes of Cheezits (you know, the 3 lb. ones) to see if I can give her a stroke.  Because this is my idea of HILARITY.  

And I'm definitely not worrying about burning calories.  After I did back-to-back classes yesterday morning (8am - ouch and 10am - fabulous), a friend of mine told me that according to her heart rate monitor she had just burned 500+ calories in the 10am class.  I've heard this plenty of times before (ahem... Missus...), but at that moment I was taken aback by the idea that I could have burned 1000+ calories before even having breakfast.  I was so struck by this observation that I immediately had a peanut butter smoothie, followed it with 2 slices of cheesy pizza, and then took a long nap.

The thing is, my attitude used to be SO completely different.  I lived in a constant state of "I think I should really lose 5 or 10 pounds" from age 12 until maybe.... 20 or 21?  With a few exceptions, but just a few.  And when it came to counting calories, ones burned and ones consumed, I could be scientific and ruthless.  At one point there were food journals with Excel spreadsheets involved.  Oh yes.

My traditional New Year's resolution for years was to eliminate junk food.  I'm sure you can imagine how well THAT worked, since I made it every year.  Then one year - and I honestly can't tell you why this happened - instead of resolving to lose 5 (totally healthy) pounds, I resolved to stop calling myself fat.  And holy shit!  That turned out to be the first New Year's Resolution I actually did a decent job at sticking with, and I LOVED it.  It was a total paradigm shift.  It felt good.

Shortly after that, I got seriously into Bikram yoga, and that was the thing that finally made me fall truly in love with my body.  Not for how it looks or what size pants it fits into, but for what it can do for me, how it functions, how it moves, how it is flexible and capable and strong.  Bikram got me to look myself in the mirror every single day and just see myself instead of judging.  That was, and still is, the most important thing that I've gotten from the yoga, especially because after I learned to look at myself this way, I started looking at the whole world that way, which is another serious paradigm shift.

My posts have been getting away from me lately!  This is the second time in a row that I've started off writing about one thing, and ended up on a different (and much more personal) topic!  What's up with that?!

All I wanted to say here was, I love food, and I am a huge believer in just following your cravings.  If you eat what you like and move your body every day, you'll probably be healthy.  And HAPPY.  And that's what matters.

Friday, June 5, 2009

All together now... (Origins)

I've decided that I really like that Bikram yoga is an all-level's class.

I think the benefit to beginners is pretty clear: the new students get to follow the visual example set by the more experienced students, and they can get help and encouragement from the veterans as they enter into the practice.

It might be less obvious how the more "advanced" students can benefit from being surrounded by totally confused and clueless beginners who spend half the class chugging on their water and the other half of the class trying to find an escape route...

But oh my god, I have been LOVING the influx of new people lately, because I sit out on the patio with them after class and listen to them and talk with them, and everything is so fresh and new.  As I was laying down my mat before class this evening, the woman behind me asked me, "Is there a reason why this is so addictive?  I just came to my first class, and I've already been in five times this week!"  I told her something that Emmy has said: "Your body intuitively recognizes something that is so good for you and craves more of it." She said she felt so much better, so much less stressed.  I love seeing this raw excitement of discovery in the new students.  It reminds me of why we are all here in the first place.  It reminds me of that moment when you realize, oh my god, this isn't just going to fix my back or give me a cuter butt, this is maybe going to change my life.  And I love talking to the new people and trying to answer their questions, because even though I might be giving them the same simple advice that I've given and received a hundred times in the past few years, it's new to them.  Which means that it matters equally every single time.

I've had a couple of classes this week that were only so-so, but I ended up leaving the studio totally energized because I stood in the lobby for 15 minutes talking to someone who had just finished his first week and was already totally hooked on the yoga and hungry to hear more about it.

It's easy sometimes to take the yoga for granted, when you've been coming regularly for years and it's just a solid part of your life.  So I like being constantly reminded of how the journey starts, because it's all there, really, all your subconscious hopes and fears and motivations are already present in you the first time you step into the room, the whole path is already laid out before you, invisible, but real.  All you have to do is move forward.  (The postures are the same, by the way; in so many of them, you can tell exactly what the finished posture is going to look like just from the set-up.)

And god, I am so lucky that I finally came into this yoga, because it really had to chase me down!  It chased me for years.  I'm so glad that it did.  I took my first class 5 years ago this summer, and then I moved away from it, but it kept pulling me back and back, catch and release, invitations coming from random friends - "oh, do you want to come to yoga, I do Bikram yoga..." - like an invisible cosmic bungee cord, until the day two summer ago when I peeked into Jill's office in Bikram Yoga Harvard Square and said, "so, do you still have a work-study spot open?" and she said "sure, sweetie!" and Brad stuck his head around the corner with his hand over the phone receiver saying "...and tell her about the competition, tell her about advanced on Saturday, she should come!" and that was pretty much that.  All in, no hesitations.  Two months later, before I could even figure out what the heck had happened, I'm standing on a stage in a leotard doing standing-head-to-knee and successfully touching my forehead onto my knee (for like half a second) for maybe the 10th time ever, I have a dozen new (life-long!) friends cheering me on, I've just finished the first of many 30-day challenges, and I'm feeling more proud than I can remember feeling in years.  And this weird, sweaty, dorky world that I had only just found out about - it was my world now, too.  And that changed everything.

Welcome to Bikram yoga.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


I started to write a long comment about this in Hannah's blog this morning, but then I remembered, Aha!  This is EXACTLY why I started my OWN blog!   So I just left a short comment, but now I'm gonna ramble on a bit.  :)

I took a lot of elective poetry classes as an undergraduate - just reading, not composing - because I love good poetry and I love trying to get inside the poem and see what makes it work.  I've always remembered one comment that a professor of mine made about writing poetry.  He said that once he had asked another poet whom he admired, "How do you know when you've done enough revising and the poem is finished?"  The other writer answered, "Well, if you're lucky, at some point when you change a word you will hear a click!, and that's when the poem is done."

This reminds me of my favorite quote about sculpture.  Not sure who it's attributed to, if anyone, but the story is that a bystander asked a great sculptor how he had created this beautiful, life-like sculpture of a horse.  He said, "It's easy.  I just chip away everything that doesn't look like a horse."

Different mediums, but same idea: the idea that works of art already exist in the universe somewhere, in their ideal platonic forms, and the work of the artist is simply to unearth the poem or the horse, to conduct it into the physical world, to realize it, to set it free.

I like to think of yoga asanas this way as well.  Each asana has an ideal, platonic form which exists, whether you are executing it at the moment or not.  And the ideal form looks different for every person, on every body, but it is always the same.  Hips and shoulders in line, arm stretching forward, forehead touching knee, spine twisting from coccyx to neck... these are all parts of the form of the postures, and these are the things that we always are trying to attain.

I wrote to Hannah that I often think of the postures like puzzles.  (I've been thinking in puzzles since before I can remember.)  We have to study the details.  The details are our lifeblood.  There is no forest without the trees.  But it's like piecing together a puzzle.  In order to get anywhere, you have to focus closely on the intimate details of each individual piece: its shape, its shading, its light.  You study the pieces and you study their relationships to each other, and slowly, painstakingly, deliberately, you put them in their place.  There is no other way to do it.  But then, at the end, once you've considered each and every detail, the final piece clicks into place, and you are looking at a complete landscape.

So sometimes, if you are lucky, the postures are this simple. 

Sometimes it is just a matter of chipping away everything that doesn't look like standing bow.

And sometimes, after you've studied and memorized every detail, you can let go of the details and see the big picture, and then simultaneously, without conscious thought, just lock your knee, charge your body forward, kick back as hard as possible, bring your body all the way down parallel, aaaaand... CLICK.  There's bow, balanced, suspended, weightless.

That's what it means to "lock it."  You turn the key, aaaand... click.  The posture exists.  Not all the time, not even most of the time, but when it happens... oh, that's just the best.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Breathing as much as possible...

Wow wow wow. Look at this - it was taken at in Palm Springs teacher training last week by a guy named Al Mansfield, who has awesomely posted a huge album on these on Facebook. (This is not a high res image, sadly, but you can see a slightly bigger version if you click on it.)

Hope he doesn't mind that I am borrowing it. I think it's awesome. It kinda gives me chills. And the little person up there on the podium is one of my teachers from home, which I think is so freaking cool.