Monday, March 25, 2013

Face your fears

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about finding your voice. This week, I am writing about facing your fears. Last week Penni, our beloved SweatBox teacher, took her first ever 6:00am class. I had the honor of teaching it. Penni has been practicing Bikram Yoga for more than 15 years and she's never braved an early morning class. When she peeked her head in the studio door at 5:45am, I was shocked, but not as shocked as she was.

Penni, despite her prolific, long-term yoga practice, has always been afraid to practice at 6:00am. After Penni practiced her inaugural 6:00am, she reported feeling great! She was surprised, she said, by how much she enjoyed her class and plans to take another very soon. The day after Penni took my 6:00am class, I took her 9:30am class. She talked in class about how proud she was of herself for breaking the mold, practicing at 6:00am, facing her fears, about how we all need to do the things we are afraid to do. Great words Penni.

Last week I was reading an article in the New Yorker about sleep. The writer talked about how people are Larks or Owls. Larks are people who rise early, are perky right off the bat, perform at their best earlier in the day. Owls, on the other hand perform better later in the day and into the night. They take time to get warmed up and often don't reach their optimal activity level until mid-day. I'm a Lark, 100 percent. I write better in the morning, clean better in the morning, cook better, teach yoga better, practice yoga better. All of it.

Watching Penni face her fears made me think about all the ways I am stuck. For example, I would always choose to practice at 6:00am over 7:00pm. By 7:00pm, I'm usually winding down, craving my sheets and heavy comforter, even in the summer. I worry I won't have enough energy to practice well so late in the day. I'm happy for Penni that she's got a brand new practice time, that she's learned about the new and different strengths she possesses. And I've learned from her.

I've watched a lot of people this 30-Day Challenge push their Lark and Owl edges. Owls are crawling in to the 6:00am to get days 14 and 16 done and Larks are yawning through the 8:45pm to squeeze in day 23. Practically speaking, they are getting their yoga class in, but if you look at the bigger picture, they are getting out of the familiar, facing their fears. Great work everybody. I hope to see you soon at the 7:00pm class.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Find your voice.

My daughter Lucia recently added voice lessons to her busy schedule. She's learning how to play Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" on piano and her passion for singing sparked her teacher to add voice lessons to her repertoire. Lucia is a fast and voracious reader and her singing takes on much of the same run-on quality. Before her voice lessons, Lucia would attempt to sing four lines of a song without a single breath, resulting in barely a whisper by the end of the stanza. Lucia has a lovely voice, and now she's learning to use her breath to get some volume behind it.

At her last voice lesson, as Lucia sang, "We could have had it all-lll-lll", her teacher Gretta offered a technique for hitting the high and low notes. "For high notes," Gretta instructed, "bend your knees a little bit. And for low notes, raise your eyebrows." Lucia followed along, striving to get her breathing, her bending and her raising in sync. "These tools are like tricks for the mind." Gretta instructed. "When you are trying to reach a high note that seems out of range, you bend your knees slightly to decrease your anxiety, thereby helping to stay calm and get your voice to sing the high note. And, when you want to go low, you do the opposite, raising your eyebrows a little bit to create the same mental trick."

It's a lot like how yoga works. To get strength behind any of the postures, you have to learn how to breathe. Trying to do a whole side of Half-Moon without breathing will surely result in collapse. And when your body is telling you that your heart is going to pound out of your chest, you focus on yourself and find your normal breathing, reversing the direction of your mind. So, instead of heading to the fight or flight state that the mind often takes when the heart rate elevates, the mind stays calm, even when the body is not.

My favorite thing in the world right now is witnessing my normally shy little eight-year-old bean pole daughter find her voice, watching her belt out a rock song like she's totally in command, embracing it, loving it, finding her inner-Adele. When I'm teaching, I feel a similar throng of pride and joy watching students find their groove, get their footing, experience their strength in their yoga postures. Find it singing, find it in yoga, find your voice.

Monday, March 11, 2013

It's a hard habit to break.

One of my favorite things Frani says when she teaches is, "Breathe well." My interpretation of those two words is to breathe. Simple, remember to breathe-- through the easy postures, through the hard ones, through the stillness, through life. It's such good advice. We grow up hearing, "Eat well", "Sleep well", but "Breathe well" is one that we rarely hear. Breathing well in yoga can make or break your practice. Good breathing promotes a state of calm, as well as an efficient, energized practice.

I recently bought a new car. It's a hybrid, my first one. On my dashboard is a little monitor that tells me how many miles to the gallon I am getting as well as what my average mileage per gallon is. Having a hybrid has made me keenly aware of how I am driving. Pre-hybrid, I was a spaz. I paid zero attention to my speed or how my driving patterns affected my frequency at the gas pump. Now I "drive well." When I'm going an even 63 miles per hour on the freeway, getting 42 miles to the gallon, I think to myself, "why couldn't I do this when I had my non-hybrid car?" I knew then that going at a more regulated speed would offer better fuel economy, but I wasn't alerted visually the impact, so I just ignored it.

In yoga, when Frani says, "breathe well", it's usually a reminder for me, not a direction that changes what I'm doing already. I've been practicing long enough to have a habit of breathing well, but her gentle prompt helps me tap into the importance of good breathing. When I'm driving in my responsible new hybrid car, having big brother remind me how my heavy foot affects my mileage bottom line, I drive better.

Habits can be good and bad. Good habits are harder to form. Why?! I think because they are less fun, less indulgent. It's more fun to speed and whip in and out of the lanes to get to your destination quickly. It's more fun to eat bacon on your salad than just have salad. And once we start on these bad habits, they stick. Breaking the bad habits to create good ones in their place takes commitment and discipline. Having support-- gentle, loving reminders, makes changing these habits from bad to good more palatable.

When my little hybrid monitor shows 99.9 miles to the gallon as I cruise down the hill to my house, I feel like I'm getting an A+ in driving. And I want to have a 4.0 average. I really really do, so I am going to keep driving like that. Eventually it will be my good habit just like breathing well in yoga.