Thursday, August 25, 2011

Como se llama?

One of the most frequent comments I hear about Bikram Yoga is,
"it's f%$#*ing hard!" That's the point-- to work so hard physically that you get yourself to a different place mentally. For those of us who are nervous, crazy nutbags, practicing Bikram Yoga is just basic mental health maintenance.

Most people who do Bikram Yoga are, if not competitive, a little intense. I see it every day when I teach-- people sigh in frustration when they lose their balance, students sit up, lie down, sit down again, trying to fight their dizziness. The combination of wanting to work hard and wanting to be "good" can leave students feeling confused about how to find peace in their practice.

Bikram Yoga is like learning a new language. I remember when I started learning Spanish. My first mastery of a conversation piece made me so happy. "Como se llama?" became my most favorite group of sounds. I worked at perfecting my accent for those three words. I eventually learned more, but never felt really confident. There were always things I couldn't say. Elbow, for example. Garage? How do you say that? So I played it safe, rotating my small arsenal of words and phrases. This worked for me. My Spanish was for entertainment purposes, I didn't really need it.

Then, when I was twenty, I went to Spain to live for a year. The beginning was awful. I was so glaringly not a Spanish speaker and I was screwed because I didn't have a choice to speak Spanish or not. Smoking cigarettes helped me feel a little bit more native, but even with that prop, I couldn't go round just asking everyone what their name was. The conversation would always progress and I had to say something.

After about three months, I was able to have regular conversations. I was still nervous, awkward, not able to conjure every Spanish phrase I needed, but I was really working at it, trying all the time. I had no choice, and eventually it just became my way-- cigarrette in hand, I'd talk to anyone, say anything. When I left Spain after 12 months, I was fluent. While Spanish would never be my first language, I felt like I belonged, like I was in my second home. I even talked myself out of being arrested by the policia after passing out in the post office. They thought I was drunk, and I was able to explain in great Spanish detail that I was wasn't drunk, but had in fact just returned from Greece and had a bottle of Ouzo in my pocket that I was planning to bring to a friend (in my fall from fainting, the bottle had broken in my pocket). For several years after my return from Spain, I felt really confident about my Spanish. Then I stopped practicing. Now, I'm somewhere between "como se llama" and fluent.

Bikram Yoga practice follows a similar trajectory. At first, it's so huge, there are so many pieces, that we are overwhelmed. We keep it safe, cling to the postures we're good at, that are easy for us. Then, as we learn a little bit more, we push a bit harder, take some risks. Eventually, we really lean in, going for it, trying new things, even if it means we do something wrong, fall out, need a break. Fluency is about being fully in it, moving beyond "como se llama" even if we never learn "garage." Bikram yoga is f%$#*ing hard. It's like learning a language. Keep practicing. It will get easier and eventually, you'll find your peace and feel right at home, exactly where you belong.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Do you always eat too many red vines? I do.

I've been here before... What makes a practice? What behaviors of mine have become a practice? How many times do I do something in a row for it to qualify as a practice? If I do something twice is it a practice? Ten times?

Since April, my hummingbird feeder has been empty. This hummingbird feeder is prominently placed at the front of my house in front of a window that spans the entirety of my living room. I have walked from my driveway right in front of the hummingbird feeder multiple times a day for the last five months. And every time I walked by that damn feeder, I said to myself, "Gotta fill that feeder." I can't say how many times I sat on my living room couch looking at the view, thinking, "God, I really need to fill that feeder." Sweet little hummingbirds, remembering the former bounty of the feeder, would hover, pausing to see if the feeder had been filled, and then leave quickly seeing that the damn feeder was still empty.

I have several regular habits that, at this point are definitely ingrained enough to be considered "practices." Since I was a kid, I've been a regular picker. It's not something I'm proud of, but it's true. I know I'm not alone in my compulsion to leave no scab unturned. It's routine now. Get a cut, let it scab, pick. You know you're in trouble when your six-year-old tries to physically restrain you from drawing blood on an almost-healed owie.

Another of my no-longer-secret, deeply entrenched habits is leaving the dirty coffee filter in overnight. It's not a huge deal, but imagine how great it would be to not have to clean the coffee filter in the morning. That'd be awesome.

This next practice, leaving my sock drawer slightly open ALL THE TIME, is a mystery. It would be so easy to close it, but, time and time again, I just walk by, like a sassy teenager, "screw you sock drawer, stay open."

There are others, like putting the salad spinner away crooked consistently, not dusting my base molding ever, eating red vines til my tummy hurts. These habits have become practices. I have created pathways in my brain that say, "Laura, you always do it this way", so I continue to do it that way, even if it is bad for me. Or just stupid.

Last week, I finally took the hummingbird feeder down. I don't know where the impulse came from, I just did it. I said to myself, "Laura, you keep walking by this empty hummingbird feeder. Either take it down and throw it out, or take it down and fill it up." And I did. I climbed onto the ledge of my brick planter box and grabbed the hummingbird feeder. While I boiled new hummingbird juice on the stove, I scrubbed the feeder clean. This was an exciting moment--I was breaking out of an old, dysfunctional practice. But when the time came to open the bottom of the feeder to pour in the juice, it was stuck. I tried everything. I soaked the entire feeder in hot water, ran the whole thing through the dishwasher, pried it with a knife, but I couldn't get it open.

So, yes, another lesson learned. I waited and waited and waited to change my pattern with the hummingbird feeder, and when I finally changed my ways, the damn thing was stuck. Two days later, after lots more scrubbing and soaking, I was able to open the feeder, pour in the nectar and rehang it for the birds. Change is always possible, but the longer you wait, the harder it is. You know what's coming.... What's your practice?