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, 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.

 

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

Strengthening You Inside & Out: An Interview with Yours Truly

One of my students, Ajay, interviewed me a few weeks ago for an assignment for his journalism class. We had a long conversation, a few tidbits of which are included below. Mostly, I’m always gratified to discover I do make sense when I’m talking. My favorite part of the interview: in discussing challenging situations in the room, I mentioned how yoga allows me to be patient with crazy students as well as patient with myself when I get angry or frustrated at aforementioned students’ behavior. Ajay exclaimed that he’d never seen me get angry in class, and was shocked to think sometime I was. My answer? “Good! That means I’m doing my job right!” It’s not about me. I never want to express or take out my negative feelings on my students.

In any case, here is the result. I have edited out the parts introducing Bikram Yoga, since hopefully you are all already aware of the practice.

Triangle PoseEnthusiasm

 

 

 

 

 

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT : JESSICA PERFORMING TRIANGLE POSTURE ; JESSICA WITH HER SIGNATURE SMILE.

“It requires a lot of vigilance to avoid injury-which is the nature of any physical activity–and vigilance is one of the things that is continuously being taught in the room,” was her reply when she was questioned whether somebody could hurt themselves in the hot room. After hearing her reply, I was able to gather the reason as to why so much emphasis was always laid on being alert of your body. The vigilance in class supported safe practice of yoga.

She told me that having been practicing yoga 4-5 times a week has not only made her a stronger version of herself but has also made her more patient and compassionate. “It makes me a lot kinder towards myself and other people” she adds. When pushed into revealing more benefits of Bikram Yoga other than the obvious she jokingly replies that now she has got a “crap ton” more flexibility.

When the question arose as to whether the students should try to push themselves in the hot room in order to receive more benefits from their practice, she advises that students should try to improve every single class but they should also be aware of their own capabilities. Hence as long as you were performing with proper form and not with your ego you were receiving the benefits. “You never win an ego contest. Never, ever.”

When asked if there was any secret behind having a great class, she replies, “If you can smile in here (in class) you can smile anywhere.” Now I could figure out as to why she always had on her 1000-volt smile. I was sure that everyone who did hot yoga could completely relate to what she was saying because if a person who was trying to do a yoga posture against odds such as heat, humidity, sweat, mind-boggling thoughts etc. and still could smile, then it could be made damn sure that person could smile on the face of any challenges that faced in the outside world. After this our conversation ended and her words of wisdom kept ringing in my ears even after a few days literally (well not that literally but you should get the meaning by now).

Two years, and a snapshot

A few weeks in now, and I’m definitely settling in to both the studio and the city.

My days revolve around teaching, practicing, eating and adventuring– walks to local parks, or heading into Melbourne to explore different parts of the city. Although I’m out in quiet little Werribee,  a ways out from the city (45 minute train ride), Melbourne itself is wonderful. Easy public transportation, tons of cute little neighborhoods, overflowing with interesting architecture, public art, and cafes and amazing food of every time (particularly dessert). I can definitely understand why everyone falls in love with living here.

Standing Bow Pulling Pose in front of the War Memorial, overlooking the Central Business District

Standing Bow Pulling Pose in front of the War Memorial, overlooking the Central Business District

 

I don’t have easy internet access, so I’m using that to practice more and explore more. As a result, my posts here will be less frequent…. does that make them more valuable?

Also, this week marks my two-year anniversary for teaching. I can’t believe how the time has flown by! The last year especially, as I have been teaching full-time the whole time. To celebrate, a few of us from our teaching training who are in the area got together to have lunch. Always good to mark these sorts of occasions and remember how far we’ve come (in my case, capably as well as geographically!).

a self-care memorial

Seven years ago today, my mom died. So much of who I am and my life now has been shaped by her, both in living and in dying. Her love overwhelms me still.

This morning, at the end of teaching class #2, I mentioned what today meant for me and how it contributed to me becoming a teacher. What I said wasn’t thought out or particularly well articulated, but it was heartfelt. And in yet another demonstration that we never know how our words affects others, one of my students, Tracy, came to me afterwards and asked if she could share it on her own page. Here is what she said (I think she said it better than me):

Tracy and Me

Completely unexpected….this morning’s yoga practice lead by one of my favorite instructors, Jessica, ended with her sharing something very personal. Today was the 7th anniversary of her mother’s passing, and that event in Jessica’s life was a strong motivating factor to why she wanted to teach. Helping people become stronger, healthier, and stay that way is THE best way for all of us to take care of the people that we love. Always “doing” for others doesn’t mean neglecting ourselves….in fact it may be just the opposite.

Putting others first is not an excuse to neglect your own health and happiness….and it may be counter productive anyway.

You can check out Tracy’s incredible fitness story here. I am so, so lucky to have the opportunity to get to know my students.

Please, remember take care of your health and well-being. I believe that yoga (and particularly Bikram yoga) is a great way of doing that–but if I can’t convince you of that, than please, at least do something.

mastering the mind

Using my vacation to artistically add to my teaching journal

Using my vacation to artistically add to my teaching journal… Happy new year from Colorado!

lead by example

Have I mentioned before how unbelievably wonderful and lucky I am to be situated within my particular local yoga community? We’ve got amazing studios, world-class teachers, and perhaps even more unique, the studios and studio owners work togetherAlthough I’d like to say that was universally true within the global Bikram community, more often than not local studios compete with each other–often with full-time teachers getting caught in the crossfire. It’s disappointing, but often true. But not where I live!

Our yoga community is kick ass, which is the #1 reason I live in this area despite the astronomical cost of living.

A few of the teachers I admire, and oddly my only photo despite the 32 hours we spent together over the 3 days.

A few of the teachers I admire, and oddly my only photo despite the 32 hours we (and about  15 others) spent together over the three days of the seminar.

And although it’s all well and good to be thankful (wasn’t there a holiday for that or something?), I am especially appreciative at the moment because this past weekend, I had the incredible opportunity to participate in a three-day seminar with Craig Villani hosted by my home studio. What distinguished his visit from many other posture clinics I have attended–each of which were inspiring and informative–is that instead of focusing almost solely on technical aspects of the postures, Craig focused on technical aspects of teaching. As a result of these three days, I have a better vocabulary for analyzing my strengths and areas to improve on as a teacher. I can already tell the information I learned will be invaluable.

This weekend helped me reexamine what to work towards in terms of teaching, especially in terms of strengthening my connection with the students. I’m looking forward to getting started!

And for those of you familiar with Awkward pose and Craig Villani’s infamous reputation of holding the second part of the posture for an unholy length of time, this weekend also made me re-examine (and renew!) my dislike for Awkward! My thighs stopped cooperating pretty quickly. I understand the need for the posture, the benefits of the posture, but uuuugh.

In the spirit of renewal, I’m will post more often–I don’t promise to be profound or even necessarily interesting, but at least more timely! Happy holidays, all.

a worthwhile interruption: lessons in awareness

The view from pada-hastasana

The view from pada-hastasana: I’m a rebel! Look at that gap between my toes and heels!

I debated whether to leave and rush back for advanced class.
Feeling a little roasted from teaching four classes in less than a day, instead I lingered.
I breathed, settling myself into pranayama, taking in the ocean air.
Sufficiently oxygenated, I continued moving, flowing into the advanced series. Sun salutations, then half moon.
About to do my backbend, I paused, facing the ocean–
Dolphins! Their fins peeking up and out, then down. Over and over and over.
And to think that, had I not paused to breath, had I turned and left, I never would have seen or known.
I would have missed it.
So appreciative of my choice to be slow, to be still.
When the cascade of dorsal fins were too far to distinguish, I dove back into the flow of postures.
Another reward: standing up from Wheel pose for the first time. Finally finding, accessing, engaging those leg muscles for the initial plunge against gravity. A whole new realm of possibility.

The other (more breath-taking) view.

The other (more breath-taking) view.

I’m cherishing these post-teaching Friday afternoon meditations with the ocean. They may not be yoga in the conventional-hot-and-sweaty-posture sense, but they manage to cultivate that union that is the reason why we “do” yoga in the first place. I get a chance to read yoga books, write in my teaching journal, meditate in lotus… and occasionally break out some serendipitous, spontaneous asanas. Cheers to other limbs and exploring new ways to go deeper!

Here’s what I am curious about: how are you doing your yoga (asana or otherwise) outside the room?