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.

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“Keep it Light”

Yesterday was day 30 of my 60 day challenge. 30 consecutive days of yoga, and I am halfway there!

And it has been a challenge, emotionally most of all. I was deeply reluctant about signing up. My practice hasn’t been the same since I came home from Australia (never take breaks, kids, that’s the lesson… just kidding). Over the holidays I struggled and suffered and dragged myself through every single class. My hip flexors were chronically, painfully tight and class only seemed to make them ache worse. Standing Bow almost always sent me into a physiological and psychological nosedive. Any corrections, and my faith in myself and my abilities crumbled. Teaching was fine, but practicing was a nightmare. I started to wonder whether I would ever be able to handle the heat again, and my mind quickly devolved into an identity crisis.

The idea of having to go through that every day…… Shudder. BUT, inspired by my friend Chris, who has brain cancer and is currently undergoing radiation and chemotherapy yet again, I mustered up my determination and committed to the challenge.

And it definitely has not been easy. My hip flexors feel better (thanks actually to keeping up a regular advanced practice and being diligent about my after-class hip-stretching homework). I still have had some really rough days–for instance, one where my teacher-friend hugged me when I burst into tears after class, or another where a different teacher-friend hugged me because I cried through the last half an hour of class (I love my teacher-friends). And every Standing Bow still feels like a psychological roller coaster. I have also had some anxiety flare-ups, and while practicing helps, the difficulty breathing also makes practicing even more challenging and even less fun.

This time around, I do not push. Right now, for me, pushing only leads to failure and frustration.

Cynthia taught my class yesterday afternoon, and during party time she reminded us to “keep it light.” To let go of the struggle, the suffering, the resistance that only makes what we fight against stronger. My practice has felt heavy, I have felt heavy. This was the perfect time, and the perfect reminder: I become preoccupied during Standing Head to Knee that Standing Bow is just around the corner, and I fear it coming. Keep it light. And for now, that’s the best I can do. In Standing Bow, I pour all of my energy into changing the pattern, all of my focus into remembering that I can feel strong and good in the posture. And when I waver, I remind myself that how I might feel now is not how I will feel forever or even tomorrow. Keep it light. This stayed with me for the rest of my class.

At BYSJ, we begin the year with a pack of Angel cards which have themes for meditation written on them. We invite everyone to choose a card to act as a guide or intention for the year. Mine? Exactly what I needed.

My 2015 Angel Card

My 2015 Angel Card

Release
1. allow or enable to escape from confinement; set free.
2. allow (something) to move, act, or flow freely.

Yes, please. 

Saturday Snapshot: Family yoga

kidsyogatriangle

Teaching Triangle Pose: Undoubtedly, I am talking about stretching the left arm up in this moment.

On Saturday, I had the privilege and pleasure to teach the first family yoga class at BYMV. And what an experience it was! We had seven kids and seven parents, which I consider quite a reasonable turnout for the first one. One hour, unheated, one set of all the postures.

Lessons for the next go-around:

  •  Teaching Pranayama and Triangle to kids is hard! So many technical, alignment details that make such a big difference.
  • Definitely give them a visual for the trickier postures: I had grown-ups demonstrate Standing Bow and Triangle, but I wish I had done it for Standing Head-to-Knee, too.
  • It’s hard NOT to say the dialogue! I kept finding myself slipping into that wonderfully familiar rhythm, even when it wasn’t appropriate to do so. I needed to continuously translate the dialogue into kid-speak, which required quite a lot of mental energy.

Highlights:

  • Having the kids demonstrate postures they were really good at: my bonus nephew does an awesome Scorpion pose so I had him show everyone after Locust, and one of the little girls had an absolutely beautiful Camel pose that I asked her to demonstrate. When she lay back down on her mat for Dead Body pose, she gave me a thumbs-up and a proud little smile. It was heart-meltingly adorable.
  • One of the older boys got stuck in Fixed Firm so I got to help him out. 🙂
  • Seeing everybody lie still in Dead Body pose at the end of class, actually still…. except A, who had rolled himself up in his mat sideways. It was surprisingly peaceful.

All in all, it was the awesome kind of chaos you’d exactly expect!

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.

Saturday Snapshot: Tuladandasana

Yoga Asana Champion Ky Ha giving me pointers in Balancing Stick

Yoga Asana Champion Ky Ha giving me pointers in Balancing Stick

Today Ky Ha, 2007 Yoga Asana Championships and generally awesome yogi, gave a posture clinic at my home studio…. more facts and pictures on that later! For now, enjoy this preview. 🙂

intentions matter

demonstrating Standing Bow Pulling Pose to a student after class in my badass new  Swift Tank (Title Nine) and Skull shorts (Onzie). Both really comfortable and highly recommended for comfort on and off the podium!

Just like in your own asana practice, every time I teach I set an intention–a teaching skill I intend to practice or a certain message I want to emphasize. I’ve really been challenging myself to practice giving students individual feedback and corrections.  It’s a skill that incorporates several variables, as you have to:

  • see their bodies and what they’re doing wrong, or right! (the easy part),
  • know their names (harder, especially in a big class and/or with lots of newbies)
  • time the moment so it won’t interrupt the class or take away from other students, and
  • read that person psychologically and phrase it in a tone that will be effective for that individual (veeeeery different depending on when in the class it happens and based on individual temperament)
  • find the courage to make mistakes (hardest part for me, because I like my comfort zone!)

The more I teach, the easier this becomes. Not only because I feel comfortable enough to know how to keep the rest of the class going, but more because I’ve gotten to know the students. Especially at the studio where I teach the most, because I now have a stable schedule there each week–I teach at certain times every week, and thus I get to know the students that can make it at that time and regularly practice then. It’s much more rewarding! I get to know what each person is struggling with, when they feel low on energy, and even how to make them smile!

Slight tangent: It’s really hard to make folks smile in class! When they do smile, they’re re-energized and the whole atmosphere of the class changes in a great way. As you may know from practicing, attitude is everything. Inevitably, the worst classes are the ones where you feel defeated and negative the whole time because then the postures just feel so. much. harder. Even if only a handful smile and one or two think I’m silly,  it makes all my fumbled efforts worth it. The people who won’t smile have made up their minds, but most just need a little reminder and are really thankful for the reprieve from seriousness.

This morning felt great– I gave corrections and feedback to most of the students and have built relationships with most of them. After class is over, I get to talk to them about how things have been changing for them–and that one-on-one time greatly improves my ability to give them targeted feedback in class. Even if I talk to them for just a minute, I can get at least a partial read on their psychological challenges, their personality (some want to smile and have you correct them as much as possible, others want to be left entirely alone and rue you if you mix those two up), how long they’ve been practicing, and what aspects or postures they find especially difficult.

My class this afternoon wasn’t as stellar, but it was still good. I don’t teach at regular times there, so even though that’s the studio where I practice the most, I don’t know the students as well. As a result, I’m not as confident about offering feedback and I’ve got a lot more names to keep straight! Still, I did give feedback and kept at it the whole class–and it’s crucial that I give myself credit for trying.

After all, as the dialogue goes,
as long as you try the right way,
and don’t give up,
that’s the ultimate destination.

(Does this mean I’m already there? And where is “there,” exactly?)

bruised hips, drunk guys, tears… and a whole lot of love

This weekend, I had opportunity to share Bikram Yoga with a whole lot of people.

Our town was having their local Art & Wine Festival, and one of my studios had a booth. As much fun as it is handing out Introductory Offer cards to people who look at you and think you’re a nut job (or potentially associated with those evangelical Christians shouting about fearing God down the road….. I think regardless of your religious beliefs, we can all come together and resent the guys who try to shame you into the “right” path).

/End rant.

In any case, I found I was better suited to demonstrating postures than approaching strangers. I do a lot of talking with strangers and breaking the proverbial ice (hello, working in retail), and while I’m pretty good at it I never love doing it. Turns out, though, I do love doing yoga. Even on solid concrete. Even when I end up with bruises on my hips and feet from doing it over and over and over again.

Two of us would demonstrate the postures & breathing exercises (one set of each in a hold-maximum-expression-for-5-seconds, flow-y style), which left others to talk to the passersby. It was much more successful this way.

Doing Locust Pose in the middle of the street…. Yoga everywhere!

It was a fun day filled with interesting moments. I’m pretty sure someone recorded a video of us at some point. Also, got lengthily hit on by a drunk guy who didn’t understand personal space (it was a lot more fun watching him try Standing Bow Pulling Pose). All in all, I took 8 AM class, taught 10 AM, then demo’d yoga in the sunshine all afternoon with fellow teachers/friends….what could be better?

My favorite moment, however:

While demonstrating with the studio manager, I saw a woman roll her wheelchair-bound mother up to a spot right in front of us. They stood there, watching the demonstration from the beginning to our final bow & namaste. After, she walked up to us and asked us if we would mind saying namaste to her mother and explaining what it meant. We both approached her, brought our hands into namaskar, bowed, and said “Namaste.” Then Jen explained.

Namaste

I honor the place in you where the entire Universe resides
I honor the place in you of love, of light, of truth, of peace
I honor the place in you, where, when you are in that place in you,
and I am in that place in me,
there is only one of us.

As we left her, I could see tears in her eyes.

And that, my friends, is the full beauty of this yoga. It’s not just locking the knee so you get strong, well-defined quadriceps muscles or lose weight–though these things certainly help, they are only side effects. We can forget this sometimes. But really, it’s about finding and sharing the best in ourselves with each other.

And I’m lucky enough that I get paid to do this now. BOO YA.

Happy birthday!

Today is the 1st year anniversary of one of my studios, Bikram Yoga Mountain View.

So today, I just want to say happy birthday to you, BYMV!

Thanks to you, I did my first 60-day challenge.
Thanks to you, I finally nailed the “head-to-knee” part of Standing Head-to-Knee.
Thanks to you, I stood up on the hallowed podium and taught my first class.

Cynthia and Jen really put their hearts and souls into designing and running this studio, and it shows (oh, how it shows). They’ve created this beautiful purple palace that has nurtured and changed the lives of so many yogis over the past 365 days. And that was only the warming up exercise–now the real BYMV begins.

So many sweaty, happy BYMV yogis!

I can’t wait to watch the next year unfold!