Sunday, August 28, 2011

Feel At Home

A really good friend of mine today bemoaned the fact she hasn't been to yoga in awhile. She said her body and heart and mind all missed it. She's been neglecting this important and basic way of taking care of herself, and now she's feeling it. At a time when she needs it most (school, kids, relationships, LIFE), she let it go.
Without yoga, her well was running dry. And even though she was hiking and biking, her body missed the consummate depth and body/mind/spirit connection of a yoga practice.
Now she's committed to coming back again and taking care of herself as a first priority, as a way of replenishing the source.

There really is something special about a yoga practice. The way it meets the needs of both body and soul is hard to replace. The way it gives such a focus to all the other aspects of life. The way it energizes you and provides deep relaxation. The way it makes everything make sense.

Does this situation sound familiar? We all go through this. And sometimes it can be difficult and overwhelming to come back. But, like my friend, you eventually reach the point of understanding that going to yoga practice is about honoring yourself. Taking care of yourself is taking care of all the other aspects of your life. Besides, it just feels so dad gum good.

Even if you can't make it to a practice, on your own do 5 minutes of something: a few favorite asanas, some deep breathing, some smiling. Try counting your breaths down from 50, focusing on LONG exhales.

So I invite you to come back. You'll be met with a smile. And it'll feel great.
Welcome back home,

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Good Student

First and foremost, I am a student of yoga. I feel that my ability to teach first comes from my ability to learn and experience. Sometimes we give the teacher role too much credit. There is a great value in being an effective student. I teach private yoga lessons to a gentleman who is much more intelligent than I and who has had many more experiences in life than I, yet when we are in session together he honors me with the utmost respect as the teacher. He ponders and practices what I say and asks the most thoughtful questions. And I believe it is because of his studentship rather than any profound teaching that he progresses so abundantly in his practice.

What are the qualities of a good student? What does it mean to be teachable? Certainly the ability to listen is key. As a good student, one must listen not only to what the teacher is saying but more importantly, one must listen to that quiet inner-teacher. I practice listening to the words of the teacher and how the experience of the practice on my body resonates with that deeper part of my mind and soul. I feel that any teacher worth their salt will always point you back to the real teacher—yourself. Of course listening to your own limits in yoga practice is essential and an effective teacher will help to invite and encourage you to explore those boundaries safely and with awareness.

No matter the level of talent or the experience level of the teacher, I make it a point to always try to learn something from each teacher. You could expand this idea to try to learn something from every conversation you have with another person. As a student, it is easy to become trapped in cynicism incredulity and close off to something potentially opening and changing. There is no one way to practice yoga. Yoga is thousands of years old and what we practice today is most likely the amalgam of several different traditions. Yoga serves the people practicing it. So, to think that there is fundamentally only one way to do a posture is preposterous. The joke is this. How many yogis does it take to change a light bulb? 10: one to change the light bulb and 9 others to say they learned how to do it differently. Since there are several ways to approach what we call yoga, try doing something different in your practice, even if you learned it differently from someone else. Even if what you end up practicing is being humble and teachable. Of course you must honor your physical limits over the instruction of the teacher. Hopefully a skillful teacher will give you permission to navigate that skillfully.

This week in and out of practice, I propose we all practice being good students. I invite you to consider what makes a good student and employ that in your dealings with others as well as yoga practice. See you in practice.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Yoga Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook

One of my favorite and most useful books in my library is one called The Complete Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook. Its bright yellow hard-backed cover makes it durable so I can take it with me everywhere and easy to find when I'm in a pinch. This Survival Handbook, contains a lot of essential information; you know, practical and essential know-how for things like giving your cat the Heimlich Maneuver, how to escape your car when it has been completely submerged in water, and how to escape from killer bees.

One section that is glaringly absent from this essential how-to is a section on what to do for those "Worst-Case Scenarios" involving your yoga practice. So, in the interest of helping humanity avoid any preventable disasters (and I realize I may be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for this) I would like to offer my own appendage to this already very informative book. I offer this information from personal experience either in practice or teaching. It cannot be overstated that I have experienced or seen everything in a yoga class--EVERYTHING.

What to Do in Class When Your Cell Phone Rings
1. Look disapprovingly at someone else in the room.
2. Pretend it didn't ring and pray the battery in your phone dies.
3. Calmly walk over and silence then turn off your phone. Under NO circumstance should you answer the call.
4. If you are a doctor or have a young child at home who may call you during an emergency, tell the instructor before class that you will put your phone on vibrate and if in the rare circumstance it should ring, that you'll discretely leave and take the call out of the studio.

How to Come in Late to or Leave Early from Class
If possible, plan your day to arrive early, and leave un-rushed from yoga class. If that’s not possible, I'd personally rather people come late or leave early than not come at all.
1. If coming late, while standing outside the studio, unroll your yoga mat and place it long-ways over your shoulder. Do not whip open your mat in the studio.
2. If possible, scout a spot in the studio to place your mat quickly and quietly.
3. Before entering the studio, listen at the door and make sure to come into the studio after the class has chanted and once the class begins moving.
4. If you are leaving early, tell the instructor beforehand that you'll be leaving. Plan to sit or rest in savasana for a few minutes before you leave.

How to Keep from Coughing in Savasana
In this desert climate and with all the ujjai breathing (whisper breath) we do during class, it's common to have a dry throat at the end of class.
1. Hydrate before class and keep water close to your person.
2. Most studios allow students to bring water to class. Swig several ounces right before savasana.
3. If you feel a cough coming on, focus on a different chakra than your throat chakra and repeat this mantra, "I am hydrated. I am calm. I am the ocean. . . or something."
4. If you begin coughing, discretely leave the room and find liquid.

How to Survive if Someone in Class Has Severe Body Odor
Unfortunately some practitioners do not apply the ancient yoga philosophy of Sauca (pronounced sow-cha), the virtue of cleanliness, in body, mind, spirit and relating to personal hygiene.
1. Focus on pranayama (breath work) that emphasizes your exhale.
2. Slip the odoriferous individual a copy of the yoga sutras with highlighted passages pointing to this philosophical tenet of cleanliness
3. Remember that we are all sentient beings (though some of us have more acute senses than others) and each of us are a valued part of the Whole, even those individuals who have really, really, bad B.O.
4. If you realize that you are the one with the B.O., discretely find a restroom and rinse your pits. Hand sanitizer contains mostly alcohol which kills bacteria. Rubbing some under your armpits may neutralize the odor. Shower regularly and use deodorant.

What to Do When You Are Trying to Impress Someone and Can't Do the Pose
1. Fake a cramp.
2. Mutter in semi-audible tones that you are tired from performing this same pose (which is usually very easy) earlier on that day in your 3-hour personal practice and need to rest.
3. Complain that you learned how to do the pose differently.
4. Perform a different pose that you can do very well.

What to Do When You Have a Real Muscle Cramp
The exact cause of muscle cramping is not well understood. Cramps are thought to be the result of overexertion and fatigue of a muscle and loss of vital minerals such as sodium, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium. Oxygen deprivation is also a possible cause for muscles to cramp (inefficient energy resources in the muscles when oxygen is deprived).
1. Stay well hydrated to prevent cramping.
2. Ease your way into and through each pose. Practice the balance of steadiness and ease (Sthirum and Sukam) while performing every pose, especially if it is an unfamiliar pose or you have previously fatigued the targeted muscles.
3. Maintain your deep and slow breathing. Oxygen may help muscles perform regular energy production. See Krebs Cycle.
4. Increase the aforementioned minerals into your diet by eating bananas, watermelon, low-fat milk, kale, spinach, leafy greens, or broccoli however make sure that these foods are appropriate for you Prakruti according to the Ayurveda model. And of course avoid eating anything at least 2 hours before class. Which brings me to my next point . . .

How to Avoid Passing Gas in Class
Yoga is designed to be very cleansing . . . on several levels. Unfortunately social norms don't support all methods of cleansing caused by yoga.
1. Like mentioned earlier, avoid eating at least two hours before class.
2. Visit the restroom before class.
3. If you feel air moving in your digestive organs, discretely leave class, visit the restroom and practice a squat pose until gas is relieved.
4. If you or someone proximal does pass gas, apply similar methods as sections: How to Survive if Someone in Class Has Sever Body Odor and What to Do In Class When Your Cell Phone Rings

How to Avoid Doing Partner Yoga Postures with "Sweaty Guy"
1. Fake a cramp
2. Invent an injury and explain that you will need to do a different pose.
3. Pretend your cell phone rang, that you’re a doctor and need to take the emergency call.
4. Use this opportunity to use the restroom.
5. If you are the "Sweaty Guy," consider bringing a towel to class or and perhaps and extra t-shirt to put on in case you are partnering in poses.

Please comment below and add any other additional "Survival" tactics you have discovered along this sometimes treacherous path of yoga.

For your own copy of The Complete Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook, please support our fabulous local bookshop, The Kings English Bookshop at 15th and 15th. Please know that the Yoga section has yet to be added.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Listening in the Dark

What do you do in life when you are lost, when you don’t know the way? Really, what do you do? I guess I can only speak for myself. For me, I love the honesty of the first lines of Dante’s La Comedia: “In the middle of the road of my life, I awoke in a dark wood where the true way was wholly lost.” I love this because of his voice of vulnerability—he’s saying he doesn’t have the answers. But he says it with a quality that also suggests a willingness to search. While it’s hard to not know where to go, it’s also an amazing opportunity for discovery. Dante finds himself lost and unsure but willing to search and listen and try something new. I love the honesty there. After all, what other choice is there?

I suppose that when we arrive to those dark points in life, we really have no choice but to use our resources and tune into our senses. We must become very grounded and present and first allow ourselves to be exactly where we are—lost. Like I said in my letter a few weeks ago, we have to learn to be here in order to move on. Then, I would imagine that we have to listen really hard. Not just to the sounds, like the crickets chirping out my window somehow in sync with Joshua James playing softly on my stereo, but also to the way our body feels. We must learn to listen to all the things which aren’t said.

Yoga suggests that each part is connected to each other part. Sometimes my body whispers the sentences my heart can’t bear to. I love to look and listen for the symbols that seem to embellish the events of my life with irony and richness, like when I went on a run recently and decided to make a playlist on my iPod that sung to all the different emotions I’m feeling in life right now. I looked down at my heart monitor and it indicated that my heart was almost ready to break. Damn, those Garmin’s are amazing!

So whether you are in a dark place in life, a bright place, or what’s more likely somewhere in between, I invite you to join me at yoga class this week and practice listening to your heart, mind, and body. Come with some of that investigative vulnerability and see what mysterious paths open up for you.
Click here to read one of my favorite poems called Lost.