Sunday, December 28, 2014

New Beginnings: A Review

Yesterday I taught a class with two new students, both first time to The SweatBox and completely new to Bikram Yoga. At the end of the class, one student came out with wide eyes, bright eyes and a little grin. "You did great!" I said, "How do you feel?"

"That was tough," he chuckled back, "but I'll be here tomorrow."

The other new student came out and bolted for the door. When she was already out of my sight, I hollered, "Goodbye...... did you have any questions?" She quipped back, clearly agitated, "Nope" and was gone.  A few moments later a regular student came out and told me that,while changing in the dressing room, this student was pretty vocally unhappy about her experience. I don't think she'll be back.

This drastically different response to the same exact experience made me think about my own responses to struggle, change, new things because, I, like many of us, push back against things that are hard. And how perfect to reflect on this when we are just days away from ringing in a new year. Every year the New Year sneaks up on me and I want to be a cynic and hater. By this point in 2014, I am fully holi-Dayed out. But I'm actually not a hater. I'm a lover. A lover or fresh starts, new beginnings, clean slates.

Last year, I committed to meditating three times a week.

In 2013, I decided to give up half and half.

The year before, my daughter and I made a joint resolution to "not be perfect."

In 2011 I did my first every Polar Bear Plunge.

And, I didn't start this blog until February of 2010, so I don't know if I had any resolutions that year!

As far as meditating goes, I've maintained my average, sometimes skipping weeks, other times doing it daily. I am still half-and-half free. For about a year, I gritted my way through black coffee. I now have a new plan involving milk that I feel really great about. Perfectionism is in my blood. I still hate to be wrong and I struggle to accept change gracefully, but having a daughter who I see battling with similar issues is my best and most constant reminder to model being open to change, open to failure, and proud of doing my best.  The Polar Bear Plunge.... been there. Done that!

Right now, in this moment of reflection, I feel very very grateful for this blog. This is one of the most grounding places in my world. It helps me remember the things I'm sure of, the things I'm still learning, and the profound number of things I don't know, at times when I most need reminding.  It is through teaching Yoga and trying my best to be a good partner and parent and friend that these lessons come.

I still have a few days to come up with my resolutions for 2015. I'm open to ideas........

Friday, December 19, 2014

Do you really want to use a calculator for that?

My daughter Lucia is learning Algebra right now. She's forever trying to figure out what 92 is divisible by or if 3X=194, is there a remainder.... There is so much she doesn't know, so much she has to parse apart to get to an answer. Once, after Lucia went to bed, I tried to do her math-- without a calculator-- and it was truly work for me. My math muscles have most definitely atrophied since fourth grade.

For those of you who have taken my class, you know that I draw some hard lines with Standing Head to Knee Pose. For many reasons, I feel 100% committed to teaching this posture really true to form. For one, it is really hard to balance when the posture's foundation is compromised (bent standing knee); two, you could hurt your back if you don't have proper alignment and a solid foundation; and three (and most important), if you skip the hard work to get through the steps of the posture, you've missed the most important part of the posture! Last week I said to one class, "Kicking out on a bent knee is like doing math with a calculator!"

But still I see it every day, people kicking out on a bent knee, or bending their elbows with a bent knee, even trying to touch forehead to knee with two bent knees! If you are a regular practitioner, you know what  I'm talking about. I know this shortcutting I see is just human nature. People are excited to "get there", to that final position of the posture. That's only natural; we are trained from toddlerhood to get to the finish line, to make the goal, to hit a home run.

In Yoga we are practicing a different paradigm. It's not the end point, it is the process of getting there.  In the process, our muscles develop, both physically and mentally. In Standing Head to Knee Pose, our quads strengthen and new neural pathways get established, but only if we give them the time and space to do the work.

It is so like Lucia doing her math. I've watched over these three months of fourth grade: the first week complete confusion over what an integer is; how the heck long division makes sense; those pesky word problems! Day in and day out though, math homework comes home and Lucia struggles with these problems from the beginning, sometimes going back a unit to refresh certain concepts, but she's getting stronger and more solid in her math practice.

Some days when I practice Standing Head to Knee and my back feels good and my knees are happy,  I can kick out and hold my form. Other days, I'm not so strong, or my muscles are tight, or I have an injury, and I have to back track, refrain from kicking out first set, or maybe both sets. Every time I do the pose, I have to connect with what my body knows, what part of the posture is clicking into place, before I move onto the next part of the posture. Only then will I be able to get to the next part of the equation.

In not taking shortcuts, in not assuming our bodies "know it all" every time we practice, we're basically choosing not to use a calculator to get the final answer. We're choosing to use opportunities to build our strength, to learn new things, to uncover what we don't know.




Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A different kind of mirror

I spend a lot of time looking in the mirror. In Bikram Yoga, looking in the mirror is a big part of practice. What I love about it is that, because so much else is going on,  it feels very different from normal looking in the mirror. It's more like seeing or witnessing. When I have been in my greatest depths of sorrow-- a break up I was sure I would never survive, the death of my Nana who made me feel more special than anyone else in the world, post-partum blues-- the mirror, like my trusted friends and confidants, was a place to just see myself as I was. I could bring myself to the mirror in whatever state I was in for that moment.

Last night we had a big SweatBox fundraiser. It was incredibly vulnerable and I was painfully nervous to get in front of all of these people from whom I needed something.  Earlier that day one of my students said, "Laura, why are you nervous, your JOB is speaking in front of people." But this was different. I am usually the one who is giving to this crowd, teaching and offering my love and support to my beloved students. Last night the tables were turned. When I got up to do the little schpeel, I was voice-shaking nervous.  And then I saw all of those faces, familiar faces, filled with love, not judging not criticizing, but loving! I could see it in their eyes, in their smiles. I could feel the energy in the room, and it was calm and comforting and LOVING.

The room of bad-ass Yogis became my mirror. They were there for me, supporting me in my nervous state, my vulnerable state. And maybe I was boring or irrelevant or tangential, but it didn't matter. What I got from the audience mirror was what I get from the mirror when I practice-- a witness to who I am, however I am. What a gift.  Thank you everyone.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Your body is an ecosystem

Last night my friend Alia, who is a nutritionist and a yogini and a dancer and a mother, not necessarily in that order, said "I think of the human body as an ecosystem." She was talking about one of her passions, nutrition. She talked about many other cool concepts related to the gut and our health and how we process proteins and all kinds of things I could have listened to for hours, but it was this idea of the body as an ecosystem, a tiny little complex planet, that lodged in my brain.

I looked up "Ecosystem" this morning. One definition is: "a complex network or interconnected system."  Another: "a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment." When Alia was using "Ecosystem" as a metaphor, she explained that, just like the earth needs to find balance, so do our bodies. The oil spills, the plastics leaching into our water and soil, deforestation, all of these things are leading us to a frightening imbalance in our ecosystem.

I don't have a fraction of the knowledge that Alia has about nutrition or the digestive and elimination systems, nor am I an expert on the delicate nature of balancing our earth. But I am committed to finding balance, both as a student and a teacher in the Yoga room.

When you think about the body as an ecosystem, you have to include the mind. And yoga, of course, means "union" or connection, between the body and the mind. In practice, it is easy to focus just on the asanas--  are my shoulders level, can I balance for one whole minute, is my spine straight? But there is so much more. We are each a complete ecosystem, most of us rife with pollutants. The body, the mind, the heart, all the energy swimming through our bodies is interconnected. Everything must work with everything else to make balance.

For me, the pollutants that inhabit my ecosystem come in the form of coffee, poor night's sleep, too much screen time, shabby diet, a terribly busy life. I need to practice regularly to counter the energy that comes from being who I am, how I am. Sometimes when I practice, I am mentally hijacked- worried, stressed, tingling with nervous and chaotic energy. On those days, when the toxins originate in my mental and emotion body, I know that the most immediate path to balancing my ecosystem is to bust my own ass physically. I know that process will clean out some of the pollution. I need to work so hard that every thought, every fiber in my body is channeled into my practice so my mind, the part of my ecosystem that is nearing dangerous levels of contamination, can get a break. 

Other days, in less stressful times, when my mind quieter, cleaner, my brain chatter a little bit less active, I have mental energy to practice differently. I can be more focused on the nuances of each asana, trusting that my brain won't take me to judgement or competition or other sentiments that inevitably lead me outside of my practice. My body still gets the physical practice; the process of balancing my ecosystem is still happening, but from a slightly different angle. On days like this, balance comes from drawing a little more from the mental part of my ecosystem.

Everyday when you practice Yoga, your little world needs something different. The end result is the same- balance. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Change is gradual. Until it's sudden


Change is gradual. Until it's sudden. All my life I have been athletic. I started swimming competitively when I was five and practiced multiple times a week until I was 17. By that time I was fully identified as a good swimmer, a really good swimmer, sometimes a great swimmer. When I went to college, I stopped practicing. I was tired of swimming, tired of competing, tired of being "a swimmer." I gave up that feeling of being proficient, good at something for smoking cigarettes and eating bad dorm food. During my sophomore year in college I moved off campus. Occasionally I would visit the pool at my university and attempt a workout from the olden days, but it was always unsatisfying. I wasn't really a swimmer any more. I didn't fit with the competitive bodies still actively participating in my old sport. I was an outsider.

Despite my attempt at a new identity- "smoking, quad-sitting co-ed", my body still craved exercise. So, I ran. I ran in the park near my new apartment off campus. I never ran very far, and I was inconsistent. After my daughter Lucia was born I inherited a baby jogger and I forged a plan to run off my baby bulge by running a half-marathon. I ran, but not that far. During that period in college and post part, I lost patience with how hard it was to improve. After having been so strong at another sport, I couldn't abide the pace it was taking to improve. I never got to the point where I was when I was a swimmer. That was twenty-five years ago and, in fits and starts I have always run a little bit at different stages of my life.

When I started practicing Bikram Yoga in 1994, I felt fulfilled physically. And I became more nourished mentally and emotionally than I ever was as a swimmer. In the last five years, for myriad reasons, I started running again--- a group of friends and I wanted to do a triathlon, I wanted to be outside more, my friend Kate invited me to run with her. At first my running felt very much like it had during college or after Lucia was born-- half-baked and noncommittal.  But then after a few years, I started noticing that running felt easier, more fun. I set some goals, I made some personal distance records, and I kept going. After all these years, I was finally noticing some change.

Last week my running buddy Kate and I went for a run to the lake. It was 28 degrees out and windy. We set out for our six-mile loop through and around Seward Park, eyes watering from the cold and wind. "I actually feel like a runner." I said to Kate, "When we started running before the triathlon, I never thought it would feel like this." Kate squeeled in agreement , "IIIIIII know!" It can take years, decades, a lifetime for a body to change, a mind to change, a life to change. And then, in one joyous moment, you notice it. Change is gradual. Until it's sudden.