Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lessons from a Neurotic Yogini, Part 2

A couple of weeks ago I shared a few of the things this modestly obsessive yogini has learned from her fellow yogis, and these few items round out the list.

5. Setting an intention for class is not setting a goal.
I am a list maker, a thing crosser offer, a woman hell-bent on finishing what I’ve started, so the idea that I would have an intention for a class was a tough concept to swallow. At first, I really did want to analyze where I got my energy for class, or brainstorm solutions to war and world hunger. An intention is an opportunity to let my soul wander unhindered by the sticky web of my mind.

6. There are no gold stars in yoga. Ever.
My task-master mentality is flummoxed by the idea that a pose is never finished, but the reality is that no matter how twisted I am, or how upside down, or how balanced on a square inch of skin, the pose is never finished. I will never move into the next division of yogis, nor will I get a badge, a belt, or even a gold star.

7. Sometimes the teacher makes things up, and that’s ok. One of my favorite yoga teachers of all time struggles just a touch with Sanskrit, which is understandable, because it is essentially a ‘sleeping’ language (I much prefer sleeping to dead). It is not my job to a) know the correct pronunciation or b) offer said pronunciation in class. If I am as focused on my practice as I ought to be, the bumblebeeasana should float right over my blissed-out mind, unnoticed.

8. Practice makes... practice. My purple sticky mat is the place where I nurture my yoga and practice it before I take it out into the world... where I practice it again. Each minor irritation, setback, and joy I encounter is another reminder that there is no perfect in yoga or in life. It is all practice.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Every Birthday is a Good Birthday

Most people are downright jealous of my age, I've realized this past week. I’m thirty. I remember thinking that when I was thirty, I would have built my own house with my own hands, won an Oscar, published several books, birthed a dozen children, and retired.

I have fallen only slightly short of these goals.

Women who have passed this landmark only the tiniest bit shy of their own goals tell me how young I look and how much I’ve done. They say this with one eye twitching, like they are trying to peer past the envy and say something - anything - that will help me avoid one second of worrying these inane standards I’ve set for myself. The other eye looks with the wisdom of an extra few years and the compassion that the extra ounces of wisdom bring.

Younger women are wide-eyed, looking on in horror that the next dial will click over. They cannot imagine stepping beyond the twenties, because The Twenties are all about Being Very Successful and they have Things to Do before the next click. For them, life is no longer about possibility, but about the responsibility of being a modern woman who can have her cake and eat it too. A woman who is expected to have and do it all. Secretly, maybe, they look forward to The Thirties, when they anticipate early retirement having made their first billion by twenty whatever.

Last year a woman in my office was diagnosed with breast cancer and for quite awhile the prognosis was grim. We made meals and sent flowers and thanked our own lucky stars that this time we were on this side of the casseroles and carnations. She pulled through, rallied right when we thought it was The End, and we celebrated her birthday last summer. When we sang the last note of our markedly rousing rendition of happy birthday her smile shined brighter than the dryness of her skin, or the bleakness of her wisps of fuzzy peach hair. I saw, possibly for the first time in my life, a woman aging gracefully, a radiant woman as excited to cut her cake as any five year old. She said one sentence that has rattled around in my brain ever since, “Every birthday is a good birthday.”

I’m not sure that is true for everyone, because so many of my friends are fighting the advance of that clock, but it is true for me.

For me, thirty is an accomplishment: another lap around the sun, a list of near misses in traffic, health scares, Important Decisions, new experiences, new lives, and lives lost. It probably came with a few more grey hairs, but I’ve grown accustomed to them by now.

We can fear the click, we can hide from it or deny it, but we can’t stop it. We can radically embrace it. We can face up to a new challenge: outshining our birthday candles.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Finish what's on your plate

Yesterday I realized: I am overwhelmed.

I currently have four jobs (that I get paid for) and sit on three boards. Next to my bed is a stack of books I'm in the middle of, lists of thoughts too important to keep in my fragile head while I sleep, and lots of socks donned before bed and cast off before waking.

It wasn't the overpowering urge to text while driving yesterday that put me over the edge. It wasn't the six bags of props et al I left with in the morning, each prepared for another aspect of the roller coaster day. Yesterday, I realized I was overwhelmed when I drove to a yoga class after the journey of the work day and saw the sunset. February in Colorado is not known for sunsets, because few are like this. If you are in Kansas or Hawai'i, you see the sky change colors over the prairie or the sea, but in Colorado the sun disappears behind the mountains without any warning. Suddenly, it is twilight, the day's eyes are squeezed shut and all that is left is the darkness to remind you that once it was light. Just before a snow blows in, and sometimes near the full moon, the mountains grow at sunset. Maybe this happens every night, and I just miss it. Perhaps the mountains reach up on occasion or there is a mystery of physics and light that explains the phenomenon, but it is nothing short of breathtaking.

Smallness happens at dusk. We can't see as far. We're forced to look inside.

It was in this inward gaze that I realized there was no space inside for thinking, or breathing, or sunsets. My plate was full. My plate is full, and even though yoga is the soul's equivalent of vegetables, I realized I needed to work with what was there before I added more, even if what I was trying to add was nutritious. The sunset drew me westward, home. Once I arrived, I drew my life as I wanted it to look: with plenty of room for sunsets.

Why does it feel so good when nature makes us feel small? Because it silences the bigness in our minds.

Agnaye Swaaha, Agnaye idam na mama. Prajapataye Swaaha, Prajapataye idam na mama.

Catching the Yoga Bug

January is the best time to practice yoga… unless you’ve been practicing all year, in which case you’re likely to be annoyed by these newcomers snatching ‘your spot’ in your favorite class. Perhaps you’ve noticed a territorial streak and you’re perturbed by the overflowing parking lot and the cramped changing room. Sound familiar? I’m certainly not exempt from groaning when I have to walk an extra thirty feet through the snow to get to my class, after griping at other drivers to ‘get out of my way! I’m going to be late for my yoga class and all of those silly new people will get my spot.’ Once I get there, I’m relieved that I got in and got a spot, and quickly settle into the safety of my mat.

And then the teacher says something about welcoming new people and ‘non-hoarding’ right in the middle of my turning inward/personal pity party. Ohm crap. Busted.

The community feel of group practice is why many of us take yoga classes. Whenever I travel I seek out a new studio to have a sense of universal practice. Often, people welcome me with smiles, kind words, and occasionally an offer of companionship for dinner (or at least a great recommendation). Other times I know I’m in someone else’s spot because of the death stare I receive when that person walks into the room. I see myself reflected back in that stare and remember the handful of times I’ve doled it out to others.

Welcoming is as important a practice as any other aspect of yoga. When we begin and end class, we say ‘Namaste,’ which means I see you. If I see you, how can I not make room for you? I may never get into the ‘my mat is your mat’ boat, but at least I can acknowledge you and let you sail next to mine. I can smile, scooch and even whisper welcome. If you see a light in my eyes, maybe the yoga bug will bite you, and that’s the best gift I can offer.

Namaste, spot stealer, Namaste.

Lessons from a Neurotic Yogini, Part 1

I know that 'yoga people' are supposed to be free-loving, relaxed, and perpetually glowing, but the fact is that I am in fact both a yogini and the tiniest bit rigid. Stuck in my ways. Conscientious. Disciplined. Maybe a skosh neurotic.

This works to my advantage in my community of mostly free-loving, mostly relaxed, mostly glowing yogi friends. They love me for who I am, yield to my odd behavior, and have me split the check when we go out to dinner (in fact, I wonder sometimes how they split the bill without me). One of the best things about practicing in class is that I’m consistently exposed to the honey-sweet vibes of yoga people: they are happy, accepting, and generally glad to see me no matter how I might look (or smell) at the time. So here, dear yogi-friends, are a few things I’ve learned from you.

1. 100% compliance is not expected. I am an A student. I dislike doing things wrong, or not doing enough, or having anyone think that I’m not pulling my weight. Yoga people do not care what I do in class, so long as I do not kick them (on purpose) and do not talk on my cell phone. They don’t care if I do what the teacher says, or if I lay flat on my mat. They don’t care if I snore or even fart (not that I ever would). They are that cool.

2. Adjustment does not result from failure. When the teacher says my name or adjusts me in a posture, it is not because I am doing something wrong, it is because I am doing something right and the teacher can see me from all angles. She knows things I can’t know, and it isn’t because I’m a failure, it’s because I don’t have eyes on my butt.

3. The mirrors are tools for success, not reminders of how far I have to go. Some yoga studios don’t even have mirrors, but those that do are not there for me to check my makeup, inform me about what my backside looks like in revolved triangle, or provide commentary about my attire.

4. Yoga is more than twisting, sweating, and balancing on my face. The part of my psyche influenced most directly by Jane Fonda believes that if I go to a yoga class, I am going there to make my body work hard, sweat, get stronger, and possibly hurt some. This is not true in yoga. In fact, breathing is more important in yoga than any posture. As long as I breathe, I am yoga.