Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Just Say No to Snow

Please, God, don't let it snow! I want to go to yoga tomorrow morning!

They're calling for snow here in our lovely little city. The hysteria has begun. Guess if I am snowed in, it's yoga at home, which is never fun when your Doberman decides to lick your ear or get under you while in Downward Facing Dog. Hey, I don't bother him when he's doing is Downward/Upward vinyasa!

Gone Bananas
While we're talking snow, I went by the grocery store tonight...cupboards were totally bare since I've been in yoga teacher training the last six days. I fully expected to see the bread and milk wiped out, because, you know, when it snows in the South, it lasts forever (wink, wink). But dude, NO BANANAS? What the? What, now a wintry mix means a run on bananas? I will never understand this city, even if I love it.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Yoga Teacher Training, Day 6, Module 1

Today was our last day of yoga teacher training for module one. It was a bittersweet day...six 12-hour days in a row, two-hour practices daily, and not getting enough sleep definitely take their toll. Our lives outside yoga and this training have come to a screeching halt, so from that perspective, it's nice to finally have gotten through it.

But...

We've had so much fun living, eating, and breathing yoga for six straight days! We've had a blast getting to know each other throughout this endeavor. And aside from the yoga, the opportunity to spend so many hours with Dolly—a humble, gifted, and enlightened soul if there ever was—was just such a blessing. If I could clone her, I would. She would likely never accept the label, but she is a guru in her own right. She is a very, very special person, and just so cool. For me, she will always be the yogini against which all others are measured.

Balances and Inversions
Before practicing today, we studied arm balances like Crow, and inversions like Tripod Headstand. Check out this video (Dolly Floats to Crow) of Dolly demonstrating how to go straight from Downward Facing Dog to Crow—she's so steady, so controlled, it's sick. If you don't do yoga, let me just tell you this: this is hard as hell to do! Don't believe me? Try to mimic it!

You can also view photos of our class working balances and inversions.

Our Practice Today
Oh boy...this is the practice we've been dreading since we got our assignments yesterday. Dolly split up a typical 90-minute Power Vinyasa sequence into 15-minute increments focusing on warm-up, Sun Salutations, standing postures, and floorwork (none of us could teach Savasana...damn!) Each person in the class had to sequence and teach their 15-minute segment. Cay and Lauren both have some experience teaching yoga or fitness classes, so I don't think they were are freaked as Marge and me who have zero experience whatsoever. If Greg was worried, he never let on.

A 15-minute sequence?! Crap! I was up til midnight last night working on sequencing Side Angle, Revolved Side Angle, Ardha Chandrasana/Half Moon, Standing Splits, Bird of Paradise, Eagle, and all the transitions required to move people from one asana to the next. And I still ran about two minutes short, but overall, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Don't get me wrong...it was very difficult for me, and I forgot to cue breathing for the first bit of the sequence, but overall, I wasn't as nerved up as I thought I'd be. As I pointed out in the discussion after, I'm not sure I would have been able to feel nerves because my heart was already pounding, and I was already sweating bullets because I'd been participating in the practice up until I took over teaching my sequence. I honestly thought I was really going to flounder, but I managed to remember to cue the next posture by name, then give details if needed, and that helped a lot.

Despite little issues here and there, overall, I think our first practice teaching session was really very good. Physically, it was challenging and all the sequences adequately prepared us for the asanas to come. No one totally lost it it or full-on floundered. It felt awesome to see and experience our final product and to know that we all made so many strides in doing it. And when it was over, we were elated to go out for Thai food and call it a week!



Namaste!

PS: Please visit again soon. I may not blog here for the next couple of days—but I will be attending a Rolf Gates weekend workshop February 9-11, 2007, and will definitely be blogging about that. Of course, if the urge hits me I may be back before then.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Yoga Teacher Training, Day 5, Module 1

Today was such a surreal day, I almost don't know where to begin. Our class and practice focused on back bends, and Dolly warned us that sometimes back bends trigger emotional reactions. In our teaching manual, she wrote, "Moving into Back Bends requires that we expose our raw and vulnerable underbelly, the soft yin place that can leave us feeling threatened or insecure. Many deal with surges of emotion when doing powerful Back Bending, cleaning their temple of emotional debris."

I have to be honest—Dolly has told us multiple times that certain postures, like back bends and hip openers, often have deep emotional effects—but I found this really hard to believe. I'm a pretty well-adjusted person, strong of will and mind, so for me, it's ludicrous to think I might be affected emotionally (I mean deep, cathartic, gut-wrenching emotion) by doing yoga. Me, cry from doing yoga? Sounds impossible, actually.

So, we did our two-hour practice from 3:30pm to 5:30pm. Back bends galore. I loved it. I was feeling great actually being able to get my foot into the crook of my elbow and hand over the top in Dancer, even if only for a minute. It's a place I haven't been before. We took Savasana, wrapped up class, grabbed dinner, and reconvened for the last hour of class.

Finding Our Voices
Dolly had asked all of us to read The Laws of Spirit: A Tale of Transformation, and write a one page essay about the law that most resonated with us. In that last hour of class, we read our responses, and when Marge read hers, I just welled up and the tears just continued to flow through almost all the other responses I heard. Cay's response referenced my blog and my first entry about teacher training, in which I wrote that Cay is an enigma to me, and somehow that word, enigma, was a catalyst for her and she very eloquently tied it back to the Law of Integrity (Living Our Truth), I believe it was. I was so stunned, first by the fact that my initial impression of Cay was accurate (according to her!); second, that someone could connect so deeply with something I wrote—and that it could move them in a positive direction; and finally, that someone would think and say the very kind things Cay wrote about me in her response. I loved hearing Cay's realization—I was happy and flattered, and again, feeling Cay's emotion as well as my own.

Then Amber read her response, and she's such a bright, gentle soul, with a purity that's so rare these days, that of course, I was deeply touched by her words as well. She's like a little bird that you just want to take under your wing and protect, not because she isn't strong on her own, but because she has this aura of innocence...I can't really put my finger on exactly what it is. But she just radiates light.

When Greg sat down to respond, his writer's block suddenly lifted after many years, he told us, and so he wrote a story that just captivated us all. He is a very talented writer—I really hope he keeps at it because the world needs words like his out there. As Greg read, I wept, not only because of the eloquence of his writing, but because he wove a story so deeply entrenched in his own emotion and grace that I almost felt like I was inside his heart as he read it. I think he's very close to finding his purpose, perfect and right.

Never Say Never
To close class, Dolly asked us to come into a circle and join hands. As we sat there, with hands linked and our eyes closed, Dolly asked us to breathe in the love and energy of the person on our left and send it through our hearts to the person on the right. We did this for a couple minutes, perhaps, and as I breathed in and out, imagining Greg's energy on my left flowing in through my heart to Lauren on my right, I hit a wave of emotion that was rising to a crescendo with every breath. I was on the verge of sobbing, weeping steadily, because the more I breathed in, the harder it became to breathe. It was almost like I was so full of everyone's energy that there was no more room for my own breath. I know this sounds out there, but if you know me, you know that I am a very grounded person. When I say that this was a real and profound experience, I am dead serious. I've never felt anything like it before in my life.

So...me, cry from doing yoga? Uh, yeah, absolutely. It took a couple hours, but the back bends turned on a faucet in me that is still dripping ever so slightly even as I write. I wept half the time I was driving home. It's crazy, so crazy, and I swear I sound like one of those "out there" people, but you know what? That's OK. I know what I felt, what I feel, and I'm OK with that. I feel good.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Yoga Teacher Training, Day 4, Module 1

Today we worked on Standing Postures...my favorite! As such, I volunteered to demo postures so Dolly could show us assists and modifications. It's funny—I was really dragging physically today. Despite being tired, I felt the need to volunteer as much as possible for a few reasons:

  1. To face my dislike of certain postures (Revolved Triangle) and learn techniques for improvement.
  2. To test the quality of my Standing Postures—I like many of them, because I really like twists, and my body seems to have a decent degree of twistiness (er, rotation!). By being the demo, I can hear first-hand from Dolly what I can improve and how I can deepen the posture.
  3. To face my fear of being the center of attention at the front of a room of people. Demonstrating crazy physical postures is probably the third most frightening thing I could do in front of an audience...the first being singing (since I can't sing a lick—more about that in a minute), the second being speaking.

It was a fantastic experience, demonstrating for the class. The more I put myself in the spotlight that way, the more I'm able to get over myself. I'm a pretty serious person—I'm not the type to make screwy faces for the camera or do anything to intentionally make myself look stupid, even for a second. It's just not my nature. So this is kind of the next best way for me to divorce myself from my ego and my vanity for a bit, to put myself out there (and feel OK after too!).

I was really feeling the need to be out of my comfort zone today (could this be akin to self-flagellation?), because the very thing I blogged about yesterday came to fruition today. Dolly handed out cards with different chants on them for us to practice with as a group. The Shanti/Ashtangi chant was on there, and I volunteered to chant it Madonna style! AM I OUT OF MY MIND? Sing/chant with no accompaniment whatsoever? I hardly recognize myself. Madonna bloody made me do it, because I have always loved that song! Actually, my fellow classmate Greg also inspired me to do it—he told us about how he and his buds would do what they called "Kamikaze Karaoke," (see below) and that if you can make it through that, you can make it through anything. Those poor people had to listen to me, a miserable singer, chant the first stanza:

Vunde gurunam caranaravinde
Sandarsita svatma sukhavabodhe
Nihsreyase jangalikayamane
Sansara halahala moha santyai
Hala hala

They were kind enough to say it wasn't so bad, which was cool. Regardless, again, I just have to keep putting myself out there. The sooner I stop taking myself so seriously, the sooner my nervous reaction to public speaking will dissipate.

Our Practice Today
Since we studied Standing Postures, our practice focused on these postures. We did lots of Side Angles, Revolved Side Angles, binds, Birds of Paradise, Standing Splits, Crescent Lunges, Prayer Twists, and more. It was good fun! We also did a great exercise where you practice Standing Splits against a wall, using the wall as an assist to deepen the split—I'll definitely be trying that one at home to work on developing full splits. Savasana was Legs Up the Wall, yet another posture I've never experienced. It was a very physically demanding practice, as usual, but God, just so rewarding. I love being challenged like that.

An Ancient Greek Yogi
Sidenote here. While at the studio yesterday I picked up an old issue of Yoga Journal and flipped through. My eye caught a page about the Mediterranean Diet, so I scanned the article quickly. Turns out that around 600 BCE, there was a well-known ashram in Southern Europe that people flocked to, founded by none other than Pythagoras, yes, of the Pythagorean Theorem (I obviously did not inherit THAT gene from my people—I'm numbers-challenged). Anyway, it really tripped my trigger to know that the ancient Greeks, especially Pythagoras, who was so revered, were enlightened in so many ways beyond their well-known mathematical and philosophical contributions.

What in the Hell is Kamikaze Karaoke?
According to Greg, he and his friends would hit a karaoke bar, and the guys would pick a song for someone in the group to sing. So the singer had absolutely no idea what he'd be singing until he got on stage! The only rule was that the song choice had to provide the singer with some potential for success. How fun must that have been? I bet they had an absolute blast!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Yoga Teacher Training, Day 3, Module 1

I'm exhausted! Exhilarated, but tired. My knees are starting to feel the strain of sitting on the floor all day long. I'm not a pill-popper by nature, but just to make sure I'm ready for the next day's practice, I am taking an Aleve at night to minimize any inflammation. It would kill me if I had to sit out of our two-hour practices, so better to err on the side of caution. Enough bellyaching!

We continued watching the Anatomy for Yoga DVD, which, as Dolly said, should be required for all teachers. It's kind of scary to think that it's not, because it gives you critical information about the structure and movement of the body's key joints, and how greatly these movements vary from body to body.

Our Practice Today
After covering the Sun Salutations for Power Vinyasa in our manual, we rolled out our mats and got to work. Dolly had all of us cue breathing and movement for our classmates while moving through Sun Salutations A and B ourselves. Although I stumbled a bit through my instruction, mostly because I could hardly breathe, think, move, and talk at the same time, I still felt more comfortable teaching them since I've heard them and done them so many times in Dolly's classes. Although I imagine that a class that endlessly repeats Sun Salutations would be boring, the set pattern is kind of nice to fall back on. It's certainly easier that sequencing on the fly. But I'm pretty sure that with time, the creative sequencing I've experienced in the classes I've taken will be far more interesting to me as a teacher. I know as a student, I crave creativity, switching it up, and never knowing what we're going to do that day. That's what keeps me coming back for more.

The Blindfolds are Back!
After our teaching practice, Dolly had us all put on blindfolds and in silence, at our own pace, move through the Sun Salutations ourselves for 15 minutes. It was a great exercise! It almost felt like a dance, and knowing no one else could see you, and that you couldn't watch yourself in the mirror was very liberating. Moving through without sight—especially when jumping from Downward-Facing Dog to the front of your mat—forces you to trust yourself, to really feel the postures instead of thinking your way through them. I think with a class of regular, intermediate students, this would be a valuable exercise to help them better grasp the connection between breath and movement.

After rounding out the rest of our practice, we took Savasana, and Dolly again treated us with her extra-special touch...she totally makes it feel like the icing on the cake. After relaxing well into Corpse Pose, she placed a cold, damp washcloth infused with a little lavender and eucalyptus over our closed eyes. Like yesterday's cold stone on the third eye, it cools you down and seems to push you further into relaxation.

I awoke to Dolly chanting—I've never heard her chant before, so it was really a treat. I've heard what she was chanting on one of my yoga CDs, so even though I don't know the words, the chant was familiar and she was awesome at it. I really admire the courage it takes to chant, because I know I don't have it. The closest I think I might ever get is half-singing Madonna's Shanti/Ashtangi, which I loved long before I ever loved yoga, ironically. But the beautiful thing about being a yoga teacher is you get to decide what yogic conventions to incorporate and to what degree. Expressing yoga according to your authentic personality is largely what makes or breaks a teacher's success. It seems to me that there is still room for innovative and interesting teachers even though yoga is now everywhere. I absolutely adore Dolly and her classes enlighten and challenge me, and the conventions she employs are so authentic to her that I feel right at home being in her classes, even though I don't think my personality will manifest itself in the same way. But that is what I really love about yoga—it pushes me to my limits, asks me to explore new ideas, and forces me to reevaluate who I really am. Who needs a shrink when you've got yoga?!

PS: Got back from class and The Y Catalog was in my mailbox. It's pretty cool, and the range of products is good. Just something to check out.

Nighty night!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Yoga Teacher Training, Day 2, Module 1

Wow. Today was illuminating in so many ways!

We had a very challenging practice, continued studying floor poses, did a 20-minute practice teaching session, and watched a phenomenal DVD called Anatomy for Yoga. The DVD covered the eight major joints, and how skeletal compression (bone against bone) and tissue tension affect our yoga practice. I'm sure some of what was covered is fairly obvious to most people, but it totally redefined the meaning of "physical limitation" for me. I have a totally new perspective on my own practice as a result, and should I actually teach, it has forever altered the way I would I view a student's capabilities. An excellent, excellent DVD.

Playing Teacher
Man, it is HARD to try to sequence and teach for just 15 minutes—even if you've done the postures hundreds of times. I was paired up with Lauren, who already teaches to some degree, and she's just so good at it. Then you also have a teacher like Dolly who makes it seem effortless.

For me, it was like getting up to make a speech and forgetting the words. It's going to take me a lot of practice to get to the point where I could actually teach a class. I do plan to practice with my workout partner (as long as she'll let me) and my sister-in-law and others til I get comfortable enough to progress further. There is just so much to remember in sequencing and so many other elements to consider (time holding poses, breathing, assisting)—honestly, it is completely overwhelming for me now. I know I will eventually get it, but not without a hell of a lot of practice!

Our Practice Today
Mmm. It was heart-thumping, gut-busting, thigh-shaking good! Typically Dolly class, only longer (two hours), with the best Savasana ever! We did some serious hip opening, and I can't lie...I was on the edge and really struggling at several points. In my head I was begging for it to be over. And my balance was way off— c'est la vie, right? But Dolly is so kind, so good, you almost want to be able to do it just for her. She definitely brings out the very best in you.

Now lets get to Savasana. Yesterday, Dolly brought and played her "singing bowl"—a 16-inch, lead crystal bowl that not only gongs/chimes, but creates the most beautiful vibration I've ever heard. It was amazing, for sure, and an experience I've never had, but would love to incorporate into my teaching should I decide to go that far.

Today's Savasana was not extraordinary on the level of the singing bowl, but after a serious yoga practice, one final touch sealed the deal for me. Dolly placed a flat stone that had been refrigerated and sprayed with a little lavender on the third eye chakra. The cooling sensation and weight of the stone just put me right out. I actually started dreaming! It was just so wonderful. I can't put into words what it feels like to be in that state, but when you hit it, it just rocks.

Photos from Day 2
From left-to-right, first photo: Dolly, Greg, Marge. Second photo: Lauren and Amber. Third photo: Greg and Marge again, and me!





Thursday, January 25, 2007

Yoga Teacher Training, Day 1, Module 1

Today was my first day of my first yoga teacher training module, and I think it's definitely money well-spent. The teaching manual Dolly put together is wonderful, and despite the long hours in class, the day flew by! I'm in unchartered territory, that's for sure. But I think this is going to be very, very good for me.

Who are my classmates?
They are Lauren, Cay, Marge, Amber, and Greg. Age range is, I'm guessing, mid-20s to early 50s. We're a total of six students, an absolutely perfect number because we can pair off or split the class straight down the middle. We also get lots of individual attention this way as well.

We're obviously all bonded by our love for yoga, but aside from that, I really like all the personalities very much. There is a wonderful vibe in the class, in large part because Dolly is so positive and nurturing, but also because there is no "judgment" vibe at all. It's a very special thing, and I am grateful that I feel safe enough to work through this process with this vibrant bunch of people:
  • The person I admire most is Marge. She has three sons in their 20s, and she's giving it her all even though she just came to yoga in her 50s. That takes tremendous courage, and my hat is off to her for it. She's seems to be a very kind soul.
  • Greg is the token guy in the class. Greg is also in my regular classes with Dolly, and he brings it every time he hits the mat. He is very focused. From our conversations today, it sounds like he finally feels like he's coming home with yoga, and that is awesome.
  • Lauren is a fitness trainer who is also rounding out her Pilates certification as well as yoga. She's going to be a wonderful yoga teacher, I think. She's already got a lovely cadence and presence, and seems extremely approachable.
  • Amber is a former ballerina who still teaches ballet. She has a face like an angel! Beautiful girl...who can do full splits! We were all envious. I'm thinking she's the baby of our group, and she seems very curious, very ready to turn a major corner in her life.
  • Cay is still a bit of an enigma to me, though I sense she may be a Type A like me. She strikes me as everyone's go-to girl, perhaps a perfectionist, again like me? I could be wrong. But I'm thinking, whatever Cay sets her mind to, she accomplishes. I'm looking forward to getting to know her better.

Some Cool Stuff We Did
We did some wild and very effective exercises today!

In one exercise, we paired off, one acting as the student, one as the teacher. All the teachers were blindfolded and had to adjust/mold the student into a particular pose only by touch—we could not give any verbal direction. Talk about pressure...you're not only blindfolded, but feeling a stranger's body! But a damn good exercise and ice breaker.

In another exercise, we had to instruct our student verbally only, no touch, and could not give the name of the asana as a clue. Suddenly, I couldn't think of how to instruct the pose, despite having heard Dolly do it many times in class. You forget right and left, mix them up, or omit a key element and the student moves into the wrong position. Again, a brilliant exercise for understanding the importance of verbal and visual instruction.

Our last exercise involved blindfolds again. This time, the students were blindfolded and the teacher had to instruct them into an asana without giving the name of the asana. As the student, you're not only moving into a difficult balance pose like Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose), you're doing it blindfolded. I can hardly balance in this pose with all my senses available! As the teacher, again, without being able to show or tell the name of the posture, things become significantly more difficult. Funny—the blindfolds were actually an eye-opening experience.

Our Practice Today
Dolly folded us into one of her normal teaching slots, so our asana practice included other students as well. We did a two-hour deep stretch class, and stretch did we ever. This type of class is not usually my cup of tea, as I was telling my classmates, because I can almost never sit still. So holding poses, most of which really play your edge, is grueling—I'd rather do the fast-paced, hardcore, sweat-inducing classes anyday. But this was a good experience, and Dolly did point out that the flexibility we always seem to crave is acquired through deep stretches that are held and practiced daily. I'm going to be practicing splits in front of the TV from here on out!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Countdown to Teacher Training

I start my first yoga teacher training module tomorrow with Dolly Stavros. I'm really excited, although six 12-hour days seems a bit daunting. It's going to be an adventure, that's for sure.

I never, ever would have thought I'd be doing this. But when you allow your mind to be open to new interests and get outside your routine a little bit, you often discover a whole new world out there. That's kind of what happened to me. I'm the furthest thing from the traditional yoga devotee, but I'm finding that it is a practice that is so malleable that it really can work for everyone in varying degrees, and still have overwhelmingly positive benefits.

Given that I will be in class all day over the next six days, I'm not sure if I'll be able to blog much, or if I'll even have the energy when I get home. I'm taking my camera, though I don't know if there will be opportunities for photos or videos—I plan to be ready just in case. So if you come back and there's nothing going on until at least next Tuesday, I'm off learning yoga and I'll be back!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Stopping Schlumpasana

A recent Yoga Journal email newsletter focused on poses that help correct posture for those who tend to stoop or "schlump" over—read Getting Rid of "Schlumpasana". I got a real kick out of the author's term, "Schlumpasana," because I see it so often and am constantly amazed that:

a) more people don't stand up straight since it feels better than constantly stooping over, and
b) more people don't stand up straight because nothing says loser or victim more than slumped, oblivious posture.

In fact, while I was putting in my cardio time on the elliptical the other day, I watched in slight horror as an obviously well-meaning girl toddled along behind a trainer, with severely slumped shoulders and what seemed like vague interest at best. I wanted to run up behind her, pull her shoulders back and say, hey, here's lesson one: you'll automatically look better and taller if you just stand up straight and look alive.

If only people (especially teen girls) could see the image they project when they walk around huddled over—it's practically like wearing a sign that says NEXT CRIME VICTIM. Slumping over not only dishonors our backs, it is a telltale sign of weakness—criminals who prey on people have repeatedly stated that clueless, oblivious, "weak" looking people are more than likely the ones they pick. Ever see a president walk into a room hunched over? Upright, alert posture is indicative of an alert mind. To be taken seriously, by ourselves and others, we need to project seriousness and confidence from the core of our beings.

Yoga does wonders for curing Schlumpasana, as it brings acute awareness to posture and holding yourself up tall, straight, and proud. It's not easy to keep a straight, flat back in some yoga asanas, or in everyday life—it takes awareness and strength—which also happen to be key components in cultivating a non-victim mentality in every aspect of our lives. We owe it to ourselves, especially if we are healthy and able-bodied, to hold ourselves up with dignity and honor. It's the very least we can do.

To me, nothing feels more centering than sitting up tall in Easy Pose with hands at heart center—it's an alert but restful posture that is like a tonic for our souls.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Teachers and Intention

I recently took a couple classes with teachers I don't regularly practice with. One class was awful, one lovely. But both were a good experience, especially as I begin my first teacher training session next week—they taught a lot about intention and how it affects your class and students.

A Rose by Any Other Name...
One class was at the Y—teachers for this class rotate, so it's a bit of a grab bag in terms of the teacher's style, level of experience, etc. I've never really had a truly bad yoga experience until this class.

I walk into class. This teacher is sitting on her mat smack in the middle of the room, in Easy Pose (Sukhasana, what we used to call "Indian-style)" as kids), looking imperiously at everyone walking into class. First bad sign. Naturally, we students position our mats so that the teacher is always in front of us, so we can see the instruction. Because the teacher put her mat in the middle of class, all of us were scrunched into the back half of the classroom. Instead of picking her ass and her mat up and adjusting to accommodate the now half-full room, she sat there watching us scramble for space with a wide swath of lovely, open floor in full view behind her. Second bad sign.

She starts class and mentally, I manage to get around her abrasive accent and tone, and try to let my initial aggravation go to give her a chance. We do a very short, very ineffective warm-up in a not-hot-enough classroom (this is an 8:00am Saturday class that goes almost 90 minutes), and before I know it, we're doing Cobras and Upward Dogs, and it's not really feeling good. In fact, the warm-up was so inadequate that I could barely even get into proper forward
bends yet. We had plenty of time to get the juices flowing with it being a long class...does it not occur to her that most of us were probably asleep less than an hour before class? Third bad sign.

I'm still trying not to let my aggravation get the best of me. I soldier on, then as we go into Revolved Side Angle, I think it was, she stops beside a guy (who is also in my usual class...he gives it his all) and literally points at him and tells him he's "doing it wrong." What?! I was so pissed off for that guy and so pissed that the teacher had the audacity to point or tell someone they're doing something wrong, instead of just going over and adjusting them quietly and without a scene. I know he was pissed too...I could see it on his face. We're not used to being singled out like that, made to feel inadequate for all the room to witness. Fourth bad sign. I was seething, and no longer able to practice constructively or mindfully. At the half-hour mark, for the first time, I rolled up my mat and left. I just couldn't take that woman anymore. So, instead of leaving yoga exhilarated and refreshed, I'm pissed, and spend the next hour trying to get a grip.

Loving Touches
Fast-forward a week. I'm in a two-hour Power Vinyasa class with a teacher I've taken a couple times before: Litsa K. We warm up slowly. We sweat. We lunge. Oftentimes in class, as we're holding a pose (Warrior II, for example), Litsa will walk around and gently touch the fingertips of our outstretched hands. It's like a little love tap. It feels like she's saying, That's good! I see you. You're doing great! She can never say a word, but those little touches speak volumes about her intention.

And here is the crux of the matter: Your intention will always give you away. My yoga teacher once told me that she could tell by my intention that I was serious about yoga. I wasn't quite sure what she meant when she said that. Now I understand completely. When you bring wholehearted effort and peace to your mat, it's obvious. When you bring contempt or judgments to your mat, people can feel it, they can see it. When we come to our mats, we need to be there completely, or in my opinion, not be there at all. As a teacher in training, I realize now more than ever that what makes a teacher popular or successful is not the yoga per se—it's their "bedside manner," the presentation, the package. Yoga can be had anywhere these days. What makes a teacher stand out is intention. The mood of the teacher. Her cadence. The music. The way they make adjustments or corrections. How they make you feel—do they lift you up or tear you down? It all factors into whether the experience is good or not, and whether we'll be back to that class or not.

Intention. It's a very powerful concept.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Push-Ups for Better Chaturangas

When I started working out seriously a few months ago, I couldn't do three push ups without pulling something—in fact, the first two times my trainer had me do modified (girl) push-ups, I pulled muscles in separate areas both times. Not fun.

After recuperating from those minor injuries, we kept at the push-ups, but in creative ways: push-ups with one hand on a medicine ball, then rolling it to the other hand; push-ups on risers, moving hands on and off the riser while in plank position, then lowering; push-ups on benches, yada, yada, yada. Along the way, I've made some strides in the push up department. And it has had a very positive impact on my Chaturanga Dandasanas.

Weight-Lifting and Yoga: Yin and Yang
While the hand placement for traditional push-ups and Chaturangas are different, the need for upper body and abdominal strength is common to both. Although many forms of yoga provide a serious workout, I firmly believe that weight-lifting has enabled me to fast-forward through months or even years of building upper body strength through yoga alone—I'm able to hold plank pretty well, and lower in Chaturanga with integrity. Knowing how challenging push-ups were for me just a few months ago, if I hadn't been hitting the gym and gradually increasing the amoung of weight I lift, I seriously doubt I'd be where I am in my practice today. And push-ups are just one aspect that has translated beautifully—all the weighted lunges and wall sits my trainer has me do have also helped me develop key leg muscles I need to go deep in Warrior stances and lunges, and hold them.

Alternating between lifting and yoga—weights Monday, Wednesday, Friday and yoga Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday—helps me feel extraordinarily balanced. Plus, the cardio I also do virtually everyday has been helpful in giving me the stamina I need to make it through 90-minute and two-hour Power Vinyasa classes that take you to the brink in terms of muscle fatigue, cardio, balance, and focus. I know some hardcore yogis are not a fan of lifting because it shortens the muscles, and fatigues them (definitely not good to lift and do "power" yoga the same day). But I think they really go well together and help tone and sculpt the body in a very pleasant way.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Sport of Fashion

Since I'm spending a lot of time in athletic wear these days, between yoga, weight-lifting, and power walking with my dog, the style of my "after-school" and weekend clothes has changed significantly. Used to be that I wouldn't be caught dead in a flat shoe. Used to be that I would dress to the nines for everything. But now that I'm either going to or coming from some athletic endeavor most days, it's a no-brainer that the sport look would eventually seep into my current style (which is actually a good thing, because now that I'm wearing heels a lot less I might not be a total gimp at 50, hobbling around on my stiletto-busted feet).

But I digress.

Not that it really matters, but one fashion trend for Spring 2007 is a sport-influenced look. I'm glad for that, not because it deems activewear outside the gym "acceptable," but because it gives me more ideas on how to blend sport pieces into my casualwear. The February 2007 issue of Bazaar magazine covers this (page 114, "Go Sport: The athlete is the role model of the moment") and references runway looks by Marni (and a $3,960 revamped nylon Prada backpack...are they out of their minds?!!!).

Photo on right: Look from the Marni Spring 2007 show by Marcio Madeira.


Vogue.com also highlights the trend—see the Get Sporty Trend Report. Marni is actually doing what, Y-3, a design/production partership between Adidas and Yohji Yamamoto, has been doing for a while: very chic, athletic-look city wear. It's just nice to see more shows with real-world looks—totally accessible fashion for the less adventurous, though I don't fall into that category. I absolutely appreciate the art of fashion shows, but when it comes down to it, I'm looking for inspiration, ideas I can acutally use, and clothes I can actually wear. This trend is practical and a breath of fresh air. So now we have no excuse for not looking good as we schlep from yoga to the grocery store, or from the gym to the mall!

Photo on left: Look from the Y-3 Spring 2007 show by Marcio Madeira.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Renunciation

I'm reading Meditations from the Matthis year—a wonderful book about yoga recommended by my teacher, Dolly Stavros. Day 10's topic is vairagya, or renunciation. In this passage, Rolf Gates writes,

"The soil of our life is ready for vairagya...Long before we actually die to an old behavior, the way has been paved for a new one. By the time we actually arrive at the decision to let go of something, we shall 'be glad of another death.' When we are ready to let go, we will do so with relief. We will experience renunciation not as a death but as a birth." (p. 14-15 )

Renunciation is a powerful concept, and since I am currently in the early stages of vairagya myself, I can wholly appreciate Gates' insight. While I do not care to share the details of exactly what I am divorcing myself from, all I know is that yoga has primed me for this path, this mindset, and that this renunciation will truly make me "glad of another death." Change can be difficult and chaotic, but without it, we stagnate. How can we transform if we don't go outside our comfort zones? I'm especially bad about that. But I have found that releasing myself from my ego just long enough to try something I'd never normally do hasn't just been good, it's been cathartic in ways I never expected.

A new year is a wonderful time to consider vairagya. This time of year, when we bundle ourselves up for physical warmth is the perfect time to bundle ourselves mentally just long enough to take stock, evaluate, and move forward. I think sometimes we don't sit with our real selves long enough to really consider our thoughts and actions, and how they've affected our lives to this point. It's not easy to look at yourself and admit your shortcomings. But to do so is to banish your failings to death. Every day is a new day. Renounce the addictions, the overindulgences, the negative self-talk and you often find yourself in a new, more comfortable place. Clear headed and with good intent. I'm sure a little vairagya never hurt anyone.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Ashtanga and the Moon

While perusing some yoga sites, I came across a tidbit that I've not yet heard. Ashtanga yoga devotees are not supposed to practice on the days of a new moon or full moon. Interesting. Rather than paraphrase the reasoning behind it, visit the Ashtanga Yoga Center site to learn more about moon days.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Christy Turlington's Living Yoga

I realize that this book has been out for many years at this point, but it only just came to me this past Christmas when I received it as a gift.

I've never encountered a book quite like this. In Living Yoga: Creating A Life Practice, uber-model Christy Turlington recounts her own journey into yoga—but the book is actually part memoir, part yoga reference book. She gives a very nice history of yoga and the different disciplines within it; touches on the spritiual aspects of yoga, Buddhism, and Hinduism; and descibes asanas, breathing techniques, meditiation, sacred spaces, and more.

Turlington also explores a very appropriate question, I think, for those of us who are avid yoga followers, but are not practicing Buddhists or Hindus—spiritual belief systems that more closely align with yoga than most Christian religions. She wonders how to reconcile her Catholicism with the tenets of yogic belief—something I can fully identify with as a Christian. She eventually discovers that yoga actually fits very neatly into almost any lifestyle or belief system—that it can in fact deepen existing beliefs while at the same time opening your mind to more universal concepts. I loved the fact that she stayed true to herself while becoming a better, more enlightened version of herself—because although I admire the reasoning, it is highly unlikely that I'll ever convert fully to Buddhism or adopt the vegetarian aspect of yoga.

On the subject of vegetarianism, Turlington made a profound, yet obvious observation that really hit home with me. I can't seem to find the exact passage, but Turlington points out that those of us who aren't vegetarian can and should still recognize and give thanks for the sacrifice of animal lives made for our benefit. It's pretty obvious that the meat we consume and leather we wear was once walking around on four legs, but in our sterile North American world, I think many of us compartmentalize the killing aspect of meat consumption, especially if you're a lover of animals. Cruising through our ultra-luxurious grocery stores, it is easy to forget that an animal was bred, slaughtered, weighed, measured, shrink-wrapped, labeled, and shipped just for our consumption. So, at minimum, recognizing the sacrifice and being mindful of this should deepen our appreciation for animal-based foods...and maybe even move the most reticent of us toward a more vegetarian lifestyle.

If you haven't read it, and are the least it curious about yoga, pick up Living Yoga: Creating a Life Practice. It really is a lovely and insightful book, one that I'll probably even re-read from time to time.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Tried and True

Is paying more for gear that promises "high-performance" because of its "sweat-wicking" technology worth it? I say yes.

I recently purchased this outfit from nikewomen.com (one of my favorite sites for really good-looking athletic wear) and while it is pretty cute on, I can tell you that after a recent two-hour Vinyasa class done at about 90 degrees farenheit, Nike's claims are bonafide. As I stood in Eagle pose with sweat literally dripping off the ends of my elbows, my pants showed no embarassing sweat rings, and my top stayed in place, which allowed me to concentrate on holding the pose instead of fidgeting with my clothes. Nothing worse than that. Of course, no matter how comfy some things seem in the dressing room, it's not until you get on your mat that you really know how your clothing is going to hold up.

Featured: Nike Shibuya Bodywear Top and Rebel Capri.

Welcome to The Yogaphile

It occurred to me while blogging on my personal blog, that it was becoming inundated with yoga-related commentary. So I thought, why not start a yoga blog about my journey of yoga discovery?

And so The Yogaphile was born.