Monday, April 26, 2010

Yoga-- The Spleen of My Life.

I'm doing the Danskin Triathlon. Swimming is my gig so I'm not worried about that part. Biking too (except for the sore bum-bum). But not running. Running really hurts my knees. The morning after running, it is like I have someone else's legs. I can't sit cross-legged. Squatting creates a snap-crackle-pop that is pretty disgusting. Today when I was doing Suptavajrasana (fixed firm pose), I barely made it down to my elbows. "Shit, this posture is hard after running", I thought to myself. That's when I realized the irony of yoga. Yoga makes my running practice easier (See "Serenity Now!" post)..... And running makes my yoga practice much more difficult.

It is the same with my emotional state. When I am emotionally adrift, forlorn, shaken, I struggle more than ever with my yoga practice. I resist going, I am scattered, fidgety. But when I am done, my emotional condition is always exponentially improved.

Oh my GOD!!! Yoga is the spleen of my life. Yoga makes it so I can function in other areas. My Life-Spleen (Yoga) cleans out the yucky stuff (aches, pains, drama, mental chatter) and sends me out into the world strong and armored (limber joints, quiet mind, grounded self). And then I go back out there again and get infected and weak and vulnerable and I come back to yoga and I get all cleaned up, ready to face the world.

Sure I could live without a spleen. I'm sure my liver would pick up the slack. The problem is that I have no idea what my Life-Liver is. Until I figure that out, I think I'll keep practicing yoga.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

SERENITY NOW!!!!

I've started my irregular running practice again and, as always, it is hard. I stop for months at a time and then I run again, mostly out of necessity. I run when I have no other exercise options. I'm limited by time or geography or lack of appropriate facilities. At the beginning of every run I am excited. "I'm running. This is fun!" About 20 minutes in, whether I am in my own neighborhood or in Phoenix or San Diego or Chicago, something happens. It's a little bit like when the electricity goes out and the TV (the old fashioned kind) powers down. I lose momentum, and the joy of running is gone. My mind is on just getting home. I look at my watch. And then I force myself to not look at my watch. Suddenly the music on my iPod makes me mad. My runs pretty much always end with sheer relief that I don't have to do that again for a while.

I've never gotten beyond this point. Then the other day at the I was talking to a student (a runner) lamenting my ongoing struggle with running,"It's so hard. I hate the hills. Blah blah blah." The student nodded through my whining, and then, when I stopped for a breath he said, "Bring some serenity to it." Duh. Just like I do in my yoga practice. I tell myself and my students everyday to be in the moment, to make space for the range of moods in their practice, to ride through the different sensations, physical and mental. But with running, it never occurred to me to do this.

The day after this sage advice, I went running and about 15 minutes in, at the base of the hill on my regular neighborhood route, I got that sinking feeling. "This isn't fun. I have to make it back up the hill. I hate Jimmy Cliff." In the middle of the swarm of negative thoughts swirling around my head flashed the words, "bring some serenity to it." And I did.

The run was still hard, but now I was inside of the experience instead of fighting to get out of it. I could smell that post-rain-wet-sidewalk smell I love. I turned the music up. I gave myself permission to walk up the steepest part of the hill.  I know running will still be a struggle, just like yoga and a thousand other things in my life. But I also know that, if I can remember to bring some serenity to my running, I will struggle just a little bit less.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cece Loves Rock 'n' Roll...

Last week Lucia's best friend Cece got her hair chopped off. Cece's always had beautiful, long, dark hair and thick bangs. Now she's in kindergarten and she likes "to wook wike a wock and whoa-ler." She likes black nail polish and black t-shirts with skulls and crossbones. And she wanted a rock 'n' roll hair cut too. So her mom took her to get her hair cut like Joan Jett.

When I saw Cece for the first time with her new haircut, it was as if I was meeting a new person. The haircut somehow made her more Cece-ish. She was radiant. Her smile looked more beautiful, her eyes were more twinkly, she was more Cece than Cece had ever been!

I've never had a haircut that made me feel the way Cece seems to feel in her new do. When I was eleven, I had a seersucker skirt-blouse ensemble that, with french braids, really suited me, but even then I am not sure I was completely in my skin. I was always shy, self-conscious, not sure, so feeling like "me" was often elusive. I don't think that amazing look of joy that Cece had right after her haircut was not in my repertoire of facial expressions. At age 6, I was more the kid sneaking a look at the girl next to me to see if my shoes were as cool as her's.

Finding my way into my skin came through yoga. Something happened when I started practicing. Whether my practice of the day sucked or soared was irrelevant. I was newly, often uncomfortably looking at myself, eventually seeing myself through a different lens. I had to listen to my body. My defenses were broken down and somewhere along the way I shed my self-consciousness and there I was. Me.

Then I started teaching yoga, and I had to do it all over again-- lose the self-consciousness, the fear of being looked at, of saying something stupid, of losing composure in a room of strangers. Sometimes I still feel like an impostor when I am practicing or teaching. More often, though, I get that twinkly-eyed feeling like Cece. The feeling that my skin suits me and I'm exactly where I should be.

Practice Sucks

No matter what kind of yoga you practice, whether you Om, use blocks, stretch naked in your bathtub, or sweat your brains out for 90 minutes, the constant of any yoga practice is that you are doing a practice. Practice, by definition is "to do or perform customarily or habitually." I know this because I just looked it up to win an argument with my 5-year-old. Lucia is taking guitar. I argued that playing Frere Jaques once is not a practice, that it had to be done at least twice, and then I looked up "practice" in the dictionary and won the argument.

"It's hard" Lucia says. "I know honey." I say, "But you still have to practice. It will get harder and easier and harder again and easier again." For me, guitar practice means sitting with Lucia while she lectures about the different parts of the guitar (the bridge, the neck, the frets, the sound hole, the strings....), comments about how my guitar looks different from her's, stops to have a sip of orange juice or just has to stop practicing a minute to tell me this funny story about Greta (her guitar teacher). A ten-minute guitar practice turns into 40 minutes. It takes ever fiber of self-restraint in my body to sit in my chair acting like I am enjoying myself, pretending to be interested in her philosophy of why you use the first or second finger for different strings, smiling through the up-down-up-down-up-up-down strumming exercise, grinding my teeth through the achingly halting rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

The act of practicing anything is a challenge. Try it- practice putting all of your clothes away exactly where they go every night. Practice not swearing. Practice fifteen minutes of morning mediation. Practice hanging up your phone while you drive. Practice anything that doesn't come easily for you. Whether you are adding something or eliminating something, it's like swimming against a current. It's hard. And in the end, satisfying. For me, nothing is less easy or more uncomfortable than my yoga practice. It is the thing in my life that I love and hate the most. It's hard for me. It makes me mad. And, it makes me so happy, so connected, so grounded. All of it.

For me, the hardness of the practice, the discomfort of it, brings me closer to who I think I am supposed to be. I never feel more like myself than when I am practicing yoga. The idea that something being hard is good is a difficult concept to explain to a five-year-old (I tried), but I think Lucia is subconsciously getting it. After our last grueling practice where Lucia whined and cried and tried to bribe me out of practicing, at the end of it she said, "Mommy, let's do the hard parts one more time."

Monday, April 5, 2010

Happy-sad

On Sunday morning at 8am, Lucia said, "Mommy, this is the best day ever." Four hours later, after brunch with a bunch of friends and a few kiddie-altercations under her belt, she said, "Mommy, this is the worst day ever." What?

In that instant, I thought about, as I often do lately, yoga. I thought, "That's just like in camel pose when I feel like I am going to laugh and hurl at the same time."

My sister Kat used to describe this emotional chaos as "happy-sad." "Joey is happy-sad," she'd say and my family would know that her son Joey would be somewhere on the emotional continuum for a while..

When an adult is "happy-sad" they go on anti-depressants. They seek therapy. They find religion. We label these people a pain in the ass. They are unstable. Adults know better than to wear their emotions on the outside. They are supposed to have skills. Maybe kids can teach us something with their emotional candor. Not that we should be explosively regurgitating our baggage all over the place, but that there is room for all of it.

I wonder when we lose that permission to move through our emotions. Tonight at dinner when Lu and I were doing our evening ritual of "roses and thorns" (goods and bads of our day), she began to describe a fight she'd had at school and, just as she started to get emotional, she stopped herself. "Never mind", she said, as if it was just too much work. Maybe she was tired. Maybe she wanted to be done with dinner. Maybe she was over it. Or maybe she's already starting to filter, sensing from me that I'd rather hear about the roses than the thorns.

I frequently tell my students, as I look at them sweating, grimacing, struggling, "Get comfortable being uncomfortable." Basically, be okay not feeling exactly right for a moment, and in the next moment, without even knowing how or why, you'll feel okay again. Give all of your feelings, the good, the bad, the ugly, some space to get out of the way and they will.

Friday, April 2, 2010

How sweet it is.

I am having a renewed love affair with Yoga. Obviously I've always liked Yoga. But something's different. Two weeks ago, I had a class with Meghan that made my skin tingle. Every part of it was lovely. Her voice, her cadence, her tan. And then there was today's class with Frances. After a few really dreadful classes where I just wanted to puke my brains out, I had a boom-chicka-boom-boom class with her. Not nasty boom-chicka-boom-boom, rather, "I'm on fire, I could do these postures all week long chicka-boom." It used to be that I'd regularly get into a cycle of boredom/resentment with my practice. "Why do I have to do this bullshit?" I'd think to myself. "It's too hard. I'm going to go swimming instead and stretch in the sauna afterwards." But then, after doing the Master Cleanse last time, I quit sugar (it's been almost 3 months).

Sugar used to be a little treat, something I got to have because I was a good egg. And I must have been really, really good because I was a major sugar addict. In the health-food-heavy house of my childhood, I was the kid precariously balancing tip-toe on the pantry counter to get my dirty little paws on the Bakers unsweetened chocolate (it was all there was). There was the time I spent all of my allowance on candy before a family road trip, then proceeded to lie to my mother, telling her that Debbie, the clerk at the corner store had forced me to take the candy because, just like Vitamin D, all kids need sugar. When sugar stopped being my treat option, Yoga sneakily slipped into its place. I don't recall it being a conscious replacement, it was just suddenly, "I get to do Yoga? Awesome."

Maybe I am finally mature. Maybe I finally get the idea that gratification is not necessarily the rush of sugar on your tongue, that little burst of energy (that ultimately drops like a ton of bricks). I think I might actually get that, when you wait a little bit, struggle a little bit, sweat a little bit, the treat at the end is much, much sweeter.

What am I worth?

For the first time in my adult life I am in the position of not having a "real job." I am on a chosen hiatus from being fully d...