Thursday, June 2, 2011

Five minutes of profound love....

I have a student, a sharp-dressing, sassy forty-something woman who's recently discovered Bikram Yoga. A few months ago she said to me, "Every class, I can't say when it will be, but every time I practice, I experience five minutes of profound self-love." Five minutes is a long time. It is one-eighteenth of an entire Bikram class, the length of time it takes to get a mammogram, the number of minutes most people spend eating breakfast. If you think of one side of the first set of Half-Moon Pose and multiply that by five, you realize how long five minutes really is.

There's something about the mirrors in Bikram Yoga that invites self-scrutiny, especially in the beginning of one's Bikram Yoga journey. Looking in the mirror un-self-consciously is something we lose when we're like eight years old. Lucia, who's six, has a mirror at the foot of her bed. It's remarkable how often she looks in that mirror. Several times while getting dressed for school, but even at bedtime when were smooshed into her little twin bed getting ready for stories, she props herself up on her elbows to see how her freshly washed hair is settling or to adjust her new PJ's. I have to restrain myself from saying, "Jeez, Lucia, again?!" She's unaware that such attention to oneself is regarded as vain once we reach a certain age. She's innocently full of joy at her reflection.

At some point we lose that innocence. And, sadly, for many people, that pure joy is replaced with criticism-- "Your belly should be flatter" "Your ass should be smaller." "Your legs should be longer." We all have our own lists. So, when my friend said that she feels five minutes of profound love for herself every time she practices, I felt ecstatic, especially because she's relatively new to the practice.

Seeing oneself without judgment (self-love) is the a big part of yoga, and with Bikram Yoga, the mirrors help push through some of that judgment. We see ourselves, day in and day out, working our asses off, and eventually we have to let go of the scrutiny, and when we do, that moment (or 5 or 10 or 15 minutes) of non-judgment sneaks in to fill the space. It makes sense that my friend called it "profound self-love." Five minutes of something so different, so unexpected is profound. It's amazing. And here's the good news--- five minutes is just the beginning.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Neutral Ground

The other day in Meghan's class, she repeatedly said between postures in the standing series, "Come back to neutral." That was a hard class for me. I struggled from the first set of Pranayama. Although we were deep breathing, I felt like my breath stopped at the top of my throat. I had to sit out one set of triangle and staggered through tree pose. The moments between postures were moments of great relief, and the idea of neutral calmed me through the anxiety that almost always accompanies a physically challenging class.

Each time Meghan said, "Come back to neutral," I thought about New Orleans. In New Orleans, the median strips throughout the city are called "neutral ground." Legend is that this term comes from early New Orleans history when the French and Spanish could only do business between sections of the city by standing on the "neutral ground."

"Neutral ground"-- a place where fighting will not occur, a space that belongs to no particular side, a place of peace. The word "yoga" comes from the Sanskrit root yuj, which means to unite or join or connect. I teach that yoga practice is an opportunity to find the union between the body and the mind, a peaceful place, a connected place.

When I was in New Orleans, I had the unique experience of eating BBQ on neutral ground in the seventh ward (See April 25th post "I like the struggle"). I'm a Nervous Nellie, prone to worry, especially in new situations and environments. Knowing that the place where we sat and ate was called "neutral ground" and knowing the history of this term, made me feel at ease, safe.

When my body and mind were at odds in Meghan's class last week, I needed to be reminded to find a place where they could connect. I pushed myself into the second set of Standing Bow even though I was seeing stars, so that by then end of the posture I was on the verge of full-blown panic. But then it was over and Meghan said, "Come back to neutral" and I was reminded-- "neutral ground," a place where fighting will not occur, a space that belongs to no particular side, a place of peace. And so it went through the class, posture by posture, hearing the words, remembering the connection, finding my peace.