Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Summer Blues

I woke up this morning and walked to the coffee maker. As I stood, half-asleep staring out the window while I filled the water pitcher, I realized that I have found a new battle. The weather! As a control freak/perfectionist letting go is one of my big life projects. It's why I do yoga. It's why I'm spiritual. It's why I go to therapy. And I have developed my ability to let go in many ways. I let go, for example of having my house and yard look a certain way (though I still have bouts of trying, I'm not consumed). I let go of having the same parenting style as my ex, and that's oftentimes frustrating. I let go of Lucia's school not having an art program.

This last week a new stuckness has emerged for me. The weather. I hate it. I'm angry at it. I feel deprived and resentful and utterly cranky about it-- a deeply irrational response to something I really have no control over. But I do. When I wake up, I look outside and it's gray. I pull out my BOOTS to wear. I put on an UNDERSHIRT. Seattle is a stunningly beautiful city in so many ways. It is always green. The snow-capped mountains surround us, water on every side. Where is my gratitude? When it's 53 degrees in June, I have none. I'm too pissed off.

Both my sisters used to live in Seattle. It was perfect. The three of us are close in age (all within 21 months of each other) and being together is one of the highlights of my life, but since they both ran for the hills in search of better weather, I'm here in RainLand on my own. When they visit, they know to come late in the summer.

On Monday when I was spewing negativity in response to the weather, wishing I lived anywhere else, barking, "I hate Seattle. I really do. I hate Seattle," my girlfriend said, "Laura, you can't hate where you live. You have to love where you live. You live here."

And she's right. The weather is like anything else. It's part of who we are. It directly affects our energy level, our mood, our interactions with the world. Many of us know the feeling of hating our bodies, or our jobs, or even a person. That kind of negativity is toxic for the soul and the body. And now, as if I needed another issue to contend with, I've added Seattle in June to my list of things I have to let go of.

When I came into The SweatBox to practice this morning, Frani and I commiserated about the weather. She was exhausted. I was exhausted. She was depressed. I was depressed. Seattle in June was consuming me. And then class started. I was warm and cozy in my familiar cocoon of yoga. And it hit me! My gratitude. Here it is! I am grateful for this place, The SweatBox, where I can come to let go of Seattle in June (or any of my other myriad issues).

Monday, June 18, 2012

Do you wish you looked more like you?



During my last hair coloring appointment, my hair stylist Katie, who is also one of my yoga students, shared this great quote with me, "Do you wish you looked more like you?" She was of course using this line in reference to finding the perfect style, the perfect color.

I love that quote. Looking more like me is where I get when I do yoga. In my life, I have spent too much time trying to get it just right. The right haircut, the right body, the right job, the right partner. Everyone searches for something, some of us more that others. The problem is that the search, while focused on an individual, is too often motivated by external factors.

This morning one of the students in my class said, "I am going to do my best to not hate myself when I look at myself in my yoga clothes." She bravely said aloud what many, many people (women and men) think in their heads. In response, I told this courageous, honest student, "When you start that nonsense in your head, work harder, sweat more, get yourself out of your head."

Those of you who practice yoga know what I'm talking about. It's kind of magical. While nothing external changes over the course of your practice, you start to look different in those 90 minutes. You see yourself through a different lens. At the beginning of class you see your thighs or your belly or your eye bags. But by the end of class, that stuff, while it's still there, isn't the predominant image in the mirror.

It's almost like the inside comes out. The outside stuff becomes less visible, less relevant. Through the hard work, the sweat, focus, you've set the inside stuff free.

The other day in class, Kristen repeatedly encouraged us to see ourselves in the front mirror. "Look up", she'd say or "Look at yourself." "Don't look down!!! Look at your beautiful reflection." At the beginning of the class, this direction was hard for some of us. It's hard to look at something you don't want to see. It happens for me every single time I practice. But by the end of class, I truly am more me. I feel more like me. I look more like me. At the end of class, the image in the front mirror is so much more than my thighs and my belly and my wrinkles.

Katie's a great hair stylist and I always feel more like me when she's finished with my hair. But I can only justify getting my hair done every few months, so in between appointments, yoga will get me to that place- looking (and feeling) more like me.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

It only gets easier after it's harder

Right now my daughter Lucia is learning a new song on the piano. It's by Brandi Carlile-- "Before it Breaks." It's really cute to see her playing a real song. When she first started practicing this song, she was still new to combining the chords with the melody and she struggled mightily. She reached peak frustration minutes after starting her piano practice. I tried different techniques-- play the right hand separately from the left. Just sing the song. Take a break and play another song. But the truth was, it was going to be hard for the first little bit while she learned it. One day before practicing, to get Lucia geared up, I found a YouTube video of Brandi Carlile playing "Before it Breaks". In the video , she introduces the song by saying, "I'm just learning how to play piano live. This song took me 9 hours to play. I cried twice."

Lucia snickered a little bit. "9 hours!", she gasped, feeling smug that she could probably get the song in less time than that. But she got the message-- learning this song was going to be hard work. The rest of the video, of course, is Brandi Carlile crooning and playing the piano with what seems like very little effort. I watched Lucia as she mouthed the lyrics and watched this "rock star" singing the song she was learning. Riveted. Inspired. Excited.
For the next week or so, Lucia practiced "Before it Breaks" a lot. And it got easier for her. A lot easier. She memorized it. She loved it. And next week, she's playing the song in a recital.

Sometimes I use Lucia's piano playing when I teach as an analogy for how yoga practice, and certain postures in particular can sometimes feel. Some days, practice is so goddamned hard. It feels pointless. You wonder why you bothered to come to this literal torture chamber. You ask yourself when it will ever get easier. And why isn't it getting easier. It's because it is always harder before it gets easier. I am not sure what it is about the human brain, but we tend to focus on the experiences that are hard and barely give a wink to the moment when "it" (piano, yoga, fill in the blank) finally gets easier.

The next time you are practicing yoga, or piano, or your challenge of the moment, try to remember that, if you're in a rough patch, a hard time, that you're on a path that's taking you somewhere else. Eventually, you'll get to the place where whatever it is isn't so hard, and maybe one day it will even be easy. The easy part only comes from experiencing the hard stuff. And, then, when you reach that moment, like when Lucia finally "got" the song, take a moment to appreciate that you got there.