Loving your Body, Yoga, and Community

A few months ago, I had the pleasure to participate in filming this video about BYMV. I have seen my fair number of studios, but few could even attempt to rival the magic at BYMV– the loving details of the studio, the wonderful staff, our students.

They also managed to catch me talking about one of the biggest ways yoga has helped me: self-image. There’s a great quote from the spoken-word poet Andrea Gibson:

“I realized I was looking at my body like my body was my enemy, and if I didn’t learn how to be an ally to my body, I was going to feel like shit for the rest of my life.”
-Andrea Gibson

Yoga helps me be an ally to my body, and keeps me from feeling like shit. I ingested that self-loathing of the body that is all too common, especially for women. I hated how I looked, and so I hated myself. Even though I always played sports, and gained coordination and physical strength, it was only a stop-gap. It prevented me from feeling worse about myself, but it didn’t change me for the better. Only yoga has been able to do that.

Even if I never practiced yoga asana again (would not happen), the hours I have put in to so far have already irrevocably transformed my relationship to myself in ways I never could have predicted. I still have more than my share of moments of doubt and negativity, but I also have a well-worn path out of that dark place. I know what to do to help myself feel better. And now, when I practice, it is as a reminder to love myself. To be compassionate with the things I cannot yet love, and to appreciate all the rest.

Showing Up: Lessons from Chris

In yoga, we talk all the time about how important consistency is to your practice. The same is true of any other pursuit, and boy, have I failed when it comes to writing here! As with any other lapse, there are many reasons. One of the biggest was the death of Chris.

First it was because he was in his final days, then he died and we had his funeral, followed a few weeks later by a memorial at our studio. Much of my time and energy was devoted to planning & promoting these things, and stepping up so that our studio owner could have the space and time to process. Dying and grieving are two long arcs with no prescribed timeline.

I, unfortunately, didn’t have the chance to know Chris super well– the seizures that marked the diagnosis of his brain cancer happened about a half a year after I started at BYSJ, and after that point he wasn’t able to be at the studio every day anymore. But in all the time that I’ve been there, his impact shows in every detail of the studio.

A rare photo of Chris & me

Loved this guy, and so grateful for all he did that has made my life now possible

Chris’ impact on me is more about the ripple effect: for almost ten years, he showed up every day and simply cared about people and doing his best. His work at BYSJ was a great testament–especially in this time and technology-saturated area–that you don’t need a flashy career or materialistic wealth for your life to matter. It is enough, more than enough, to show up every day and be kind and helpful and care about others.

Lessons from Chris shared at his memorial:

  • Be aware of who you are being towards others in the world.
  • Have something you want to accomplish? Throw your hat over the fence and then figure out how to go get it!
  • Give encouraging words to beginning students & take good care of them.
  • Afraid? Don’t think you can do it? Just wing it!

I’ll talk to you again soon, friends.

Yoga for everybody: Dad edition!

 

Dad and me after his first yoga class

Dad and me after his first yoga class

Proof that my dad survived his first yoga class last weekend. Although I definitely heard him mutter “I’m going to kill you” to me during savasana after camel, he even volunteered to come to family yoga again for at least a few months. He did great, and I’m SO proud of him for trying something new and intimidating! Just goes to show…..

“You’re never too old, never too bad, never too late and never too sick to start from scratch once again.” – BC

Yoga, Not Asana: Pratyahara

Recently, life has felt busier than ever. Full of great things, as I’ve been very conscious of the shape and direction of each of the commitments I’ve taken on, but busier nonetheless. I find myself in rare, spare moments missing the afternoons of only a few years ago, when I would often spend time just sitting in a park, reading or talking with friends, enjoying the sunshine.

Looking at my schedule, I knew that I had this one day off from teaching for at least twelve days in row, not to mention my other never-finished list of tasks for the studio. Weighing the benefits of practicing against the physical dehydration, mental exhaustion and preoccupation of going to the studio, I knew I just needed one day of physical space to nourish some mental space.

So for one day, I didn’t drive, didn’t work, didn’t do anything I didn’t feel like doing. I only left the house for a mile-long leisurely bike ride to pick up nails from the hardware store.  I barely said a word all day (especially nice when teaching requires 90 minutes of uninterrupted speaking– such a luxury to feel no need to talk). And so I listened to the interviews and videos that I’d kept open for weeks on my internet browser, waiting for the elusive “right time.” One of the things I listened to was an audio recording from a book, and the following words in particular were exactly what I needed to hear:

“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence, or a vice. It is as indispensable to the brain as Vitamin D is to the body.”
– Tim Kreider, from “Lazy: A Manifesto”

I sat in my new home and enjoyed the quiet, the light.

Simple, clean, quiet

Simple, clean, quiet

I didn’t feel guilty about doing this, but I did do feel protective. I heard that little voice in my head,  that demands constant productivity, that unnecessarily and preemptively fears judgement and needs to justify any lapses. But the time was MINE, and it felt good.

Now, in retrospect, I recognize that this was my time for pratyahara. Pratyahara, the fifth limb according to the yoga sutras, means withdrawal of the senses. I needed to get away from the noise, the stimulation, the stress. I needed the space so I could connect the dots.

Yoga asana is important, and crucial. But it is also incomplete. I want to get better at recognizing and making space for the practices that will help ALL of me thrive. To practice yoga, but not necessarily asana. Please do the same for yourself, and I promise we will all be better human beings because of it.

 

Celebrate good times, c’mon!

Of course, after the 60 day challenge comes the 60 day challenge PARTY! We gather, we eat, we share stories, we take goofy pictures. What’s not to love?

One of several aforementioned goofy photos: group shot from the end of the night

One of several aforementioned goofy photos: group shot from the end of the night

Regardless of whether or not I did the challenge, I love going to the challenge parties. They are the rare chance for us to come together and share. As a teacher, I have the friends, the time, and the spaces to talk about and reflect on my yoga practice a lot. But for most students, this may be the only time the whole year (or ever) that they share the journey of their practice, and that, as a teacher, I get to peek inside their world from their eyes. On the podium and in the studio I see glimpses: when they have a tough day, when they can finally grab both feet in Bow Pose–but rarely will I be able to know why it happens or what it means to them.

At these parties, I finally get to hear their story. And there were SO MANY GREAT STORIES. One student shared how, having watched past challenges, this was the first time she found the courage and did it herself, and how much it has helped her running. Another made his speech, carrying his young son in one arm and with his wife and young daughter beaming with pride nearby. One student even wrote a rap song about what this yoga means for her and performed it with her daughter, with lyrics that were both hilarious and touchingly honest and vulnerable. One Challenger’s husband– not a yogi–came up and made a speech about how her yoga practice had inspired him to take better care of himself and be more active. Hilariously, one student admitted to not telling her husband when she had finished her challenge, all so that she could keep coming every day. Over and over, people shared how much better they felt– but even more, they shared how much it had affected their relationship with their family, their loved ones.

Me and one of my frequent students, Reema, who shared her new personal mantra

Me and one of my frequent students, Reema, who shared her new personal mantra

Caught up in the mundanities, it’s easy to forget sometimes how much impact we have as teachers. One student I didn’t even know mentioned me and how much my classes had helped her. Another student said that she took on a new mantra based on something I had said off-hand one day while students were really struggling in class:

LESS DRAMA, MORE PRANA. In other words, think less, breathe more. Although I had appropriated this from one time another teacher said this while I was practicing in a class over a year ago at a different studio (I did give her credit), these words were given a whole new life as they took on meaning and power for more students.

Just like the yoga: it’s a ripple effect, one drop repeating over, growing and widening. We may not know, or see, or be aware of what it’s doing– all the same, it is happening.

I did it! Fourth challenge (if BYTT counts), second time at BYSJ

I did it! Fourth challenge (if BYTT counts), second time at BYSJ

in sickness and in health

Cock Pose requires quite a bit of strength... though my knees are still far from my armpits, it's taken a while for me to even keep my arms straight and to lift my legs using strength rather than momentum.

Cock Pose: though my knees are still far from my armpits, it’s taken a while for me to even keep my arms straight and to lift myself using strength rather than momentum.

Yesterday, a bunch of teachers practiced advanced in Aptos with Zeb Homison, the 2014 US Asana Championship. I love when we get the chance to break from our normal yoga routines and gather– naturally, most of the time it’s for more yoga.

Shortly after my last post, I got sick (as did quite a few other teachers). I still kept up my daily practice, albeit armed with tissues. I managed to teach most of my classes, albeit armed with tissues and tea and throat drops. I have a renewed gratitude for my voice. Over a week of constant concern about the ability to be heard, about whether, when I open my mouth to speak, sound would come out. Even one of the work-trade students noticed I wasn’t my usual chipper self. Yesterday, she pronounced me well and back to full form as we danced around the front desk prior to my evening class.

51 days down, 9 to go!

Adventure: Maui

One of the best moments of my life: arriving in to Maui, and seeing my guy for the first time in over five months. This then grew into one of the best weeks of my life, as we took our very first vacation in our six-plus years, just us, together. We spent the week lazing about, playing in water (he tried snorkeling for the first time), roaming the island.

On the way home from Hana

They say distance makes the heart grow fonder…. It worked. Here’s us on the way home from Hana.

We spent a day doing the drive to Hana, and instead of turning around and coming back the way we had come (aka what the guidebooks recommend and 90% of visitors do), we took the long, adventurous way around. This was a somewhat harrowing experience given the road conditions–think several hours on a roller coaster, but worth it for the incredible landscapes (I felt like I had been transported to Ireland) and stunning sunset.

An inadequate representation of the beauty of this Maui sunset

An inadequate representation of the beauty of this Maui sunset

Of course, no trip is complete without yoga, and even amidst my lazing about I fit in a few classes at Bikram Yoga Kahalui. I even ended up teaching my second-to-last morning (surprise!), and had a great time with the students. Nice to flex those teaching muscles again before plunging back in to my regular teaching life at home. When you teach all the time, taking even a week-long break feels like ages. You wonder how much you’ll remember, and then 30 seconds in know that you’ll be just fine. Another time of many in which I am so thankful for our dialogue, which provides a solid (Bikram would say bulletproof) foundation to every unique class.

As a pure bonus and perfect end to my series of adventures, I had one final rendezvous with another teacher training littermate who lives and teaches in Maui. Over delicious food and even more amazing pie, Desiree and I caught up on our last two years– hers has taken her from Maui to Seattle to India and back to Maui. We talked about our lives, our partners, teaching, studio politics, getting by financially through teaching, changing trends in the Bikram yoga mini-verse, our sometimes odd but also lovable students…. basically everything. I look forward to doing it again the next time I visit Maui, because these are the connections that sustain us.

Desiree and I, BYTT'12 love forever

Desiree and I, BYTT’12 love forever

After just over a week in Maui, it was time to return home. I couldn’t wait to see all of my lovely yogis at home, to see and soak in my studios, to get back in to the routine of teaching. I was (and remain) so grateful for my time teaching in Australia and the opportunity I had to travel and experience some of the most beautiful places in the world (no exaggeration). I was (and am) also grateful to have such an amazing home to be welcomed back to after. Lucky, lucky me!

Adventure: Brisbane & Noosa

In visiting Brisbane, I was lucky enough to be welcomed to teaching by both Nundah and the Gabba for my few days in town. The students were disciplined and a joy to teach. Every time I return from a break in teaching, no matter how long or short, I experience this odd swirl of trepidation mixed with relief and gratitude to be back where I belong. It’s the latter that’s truly incredible–any studio in the world, and I can feel at least a little like I’m coming home. So although my teaching schedule did not allow me to do much sight-seeing while in Brisbane, I am still glad and appreciative of my time there. Brisbane grows some excellent Bikram yoga studios.

Behold, the perfect work-life balance: Absorbing the sun at Southbank, Brisbane's manmade lagoon, AND refreshing my dialogue for my afternoon classes

Behold, the perfect work-life balance: Absorbing the sun at Southbank, Brisbane’s manmade lagoon, while refreshing my dialogue for my afternoon classes

Most rewarding (or at the very least heart-warming), being in Brisbane meant I got to see two of my group-mates from my Teacher Training. For those of you who have never been to Teacher Training, your group-mates are like your family. You sweat and suffer and struggle together, and you support each other. Two and a half years later, it’s fascinating to see the diverging paths each person has taken since Training, and lucky when we get to converge for even a few short hours.  I adore both James and Julie, and I am really proud of them– both have dealt with some serious stuff since I last saw them, but they are tenacious. It meant quite a lot to me to see them again, and introduced a theme into my travels: they were the first of several Spring 2012 BYTT reunions.

Julie and James (and me), sweetly, briefly reunited!

Julie and James (and me), sweetly, briefly reunited!

Then, it was onwards to Noosa, where I got to reunite with another good friend from Teacher Training, Nzinza–originally from Detroit but in the middle of a global teaching adventure (I love how this happens!). We got to take each other’s class, eat Tim Tams, share teaching philosophies, wander on the beautiful beaches of Noosa, and eat some delicious seafood.

Nzinza's powerful Standing Bow

Nzinza’s powerful Standing Bow

(Apologies: between my travelling schedule and my (lack of) internet access, I am now updating well after the fact…. but chronicle I will!)

Next Up: Teaching yoga on Fraser Island ….at sunset ….on the beach

Adventure: Byron Bay

Three days in paradise.

Byron Bay Beaches

Truly, paradise (the beaches of Byron Bay)

First, in recovering from a 12.5 hour bus ride from Sydney which included little sleep and of even less quality, I wandered the beaches and trekked my way out to Bikram Yoga Byron Bay to practice and put my body back to straights.

The next two days, I had surfing lessons for the first time. The verdict? I am not a natural: I’ve never been a quick learner (rather a persistent one). However, as I suspected, I loved it. Loved the challenge of it, the patience of it. So incredibly fulfilling and satisfying. So much like yoga: both require concentration, determination, patience, and physical strength (though surfing is more agility than flexibility). To excel, you must be mindful.

Extreme Concentration: if you blink your eyes, you might lose your balance!

Extreme Concentration: if you blink your eyes, you might lose your balance!

Small anecdote: in the morning, practicing yoga outside my tent to warm up before my second day surf lesson, I was about to put my head down in Standing Head to Knee pose (the most difficult moment for me to maintain my balance) when two wild turkeys rush past me, chasing each other. And by ‘past me,’ I mean ‘two inches from my standing leg foot.’ In that moment, I learned the limits of my concentration. I lost my focus, therefore lost my balance and fell over. Such a hilarious way to learn that lesson though!

Next Up: Teaching Yoga in Brisbane and Noosa

Adventure: Sydney & the Blue Mountains

And so it begins, my grand East Coast Adventure (ECA).

I flew into Sydney and spent the subsequent days walking the length and breadth of the inner city. On average, I covered upwards 10 km per day in my flip-flops, visiting the CBD, the Rocks, Harbor, Wolloomooloo, Potts Point, Darlinghurst, Surrey Hills, Newtown, Glebe, Haymarket/Chinatown, and Darling Harbour. I walked the Harbour Bridge, I saw the Opera House, I meandered the Botanic Gardens, visited Taronga Zoo, studied design at the Powerhouse Museum, and perused the NSW State Library. I even spent one wonderful beautiful day hiking, strolling, and soaking up the sun on the beaches and paths of Manly. In short, I took in as much as I could of Sydney: its layout, its personalities. And of course I squeezed in a few yoga classes (the nearest studio: Bikram Yoga Darlinghurst).

Sydney Harbour View

Sydney Harbour View

Looking out from Observatory Park

Looking out from Observatory Park

the Manly beachfront

The Manly beachfront

Sydney definitely wins at grandiose, stunning vistas, but it did not capture my heart like Melbourne. My dear Melbourne, with your ubiquitous, charming little cafes. Your mostly lovely public transport (I find buses odious). Your public art and graffiti murals. Your diversity of humanity. Your small-town character but big-city resources.

Amidst people (always so many people), I was silent and isolated, and could go almost the whole day without stringing five sentences together. I felt separated, odd. In contrast, my overnight trip to the Blue Mountains found me more in my natural environ: amazing views, long hikes, and peace and quiet with a touch of mountain charm. While the routine was similar (wake up early, walk everywhere, eat a big lunch or dinner, turn in early), the effect was opposite: here the quiet was natural and normal, and I felt so connected to everything around me. I feel more connected to the world, less connected to people.

Backbends over Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains

Backbends over Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains

Which, of course, with me, has been a wonderful exercise in practicing the yoga quality of staying present, of letting go of fear, of expectations, of routine. No hesitation, no anticipation. (And on that note…..)

Next up: Surfing in the highly recommended Byron Bay