Doing Nothing and Being Still Are Not The Same Thing

photo credit wikipedia.com

headstand

“Smile, breathe and go slowly.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh

 

Over a year ago, my practice became spotty. I’d been adjusting to a new schedule and trying to force old routines into new. I should have taken a moment to be still. Answers rise to the surface when there’s quiet.

I did nothing. I missed a class here. Missed a class there. No bueno.

Skipping classes wasn’t the problem. One thing this yoga life has taught me is to embrace fluidity. There are times that I need to practice twice a day for weeks. Sometimes five days a week is plenty. When I’m connected to my spirit it’s all good, as the kids say. Yoga is my life when my life isn’t in the way. Yoga needs to be my life as life is happening.

‘Taking yoga off the mat’ is a popular mantra. For some, yoga is great physical exercise that gets them in shape. My practice gets my spirit in shape. Every day I learn something about myself or how I view the world. Small consistent awakenings help me make my world and the planet better.

During a Brikram practice, my mind used to race in between poses. The goal in a Bikram class is not to fidget and fix your clothes, wipe sweat, look at the woman in front of you (and say when I lose 5 pounds I’m going to come to class half naked like her) or think about how hot the room is. The goal is to be present. You’re to observe yourself in the mirror. Not for vanity’s sake (though it’s really hard not to judge yourself) but for the sake of focus and form.

Instead, I was thinking about what I needed to do after class. I was thinking about how maybe 105 degrees for a yoga class is crazy. I was thinking that I didn’t know that I could actually sweat from the back of my elbow. Suddenly I heard the instructor say, ‘Doing nothing is not the same thing as being still’.

She should have dropped the mic and walked out because as far as I was concerned she had schooled me. Class dismissed.

I was doing nothing and not being still. If I had just remembered that it’s okay to not be okay with your schedule, a solution would have come to me. A different studio has a schedule that works for me right now so I’ll be taking classes there (I know, big duh). It’s not my regular studio but it’s not forever. And then I remember I’m not just trying to make my body more flexible.

Ah– I see. I see. I see.

Namsate y’all!

Adventures in Hot Yoga – Half Locust Pose

Tony Parrish has a football yoga workout. This is pretty great for a variety of reasons.

I’ve mentioned that I’m a heat junkie. Can’t lie- it does something for me. The heat makes me pliable and that pliability helps me look deeper inside. With all that is going on with Bikram and his latest stroke of idiocy, it would seem easy to dismiss the practice.

I want to, I really do. The guy seems to have taken the yoga out of yoga. One thing I’ve learned though is that lessons are everywhere, the people we find distasteful can teach us the most.

I’ve learned from Bikram, beware the ego for it will take you over and take everything from you if you aren’t careful.

So hot yoga and I aren’t breaking up anytime soon. With all yoga I love when my body leads me to deconstruct a pose. It’s like learning it again, but inside out, or something like that. ,

Lately I’ve been focused on locust pose (pictured).

Before getting in it the teacher instructs, “Put your mouth to your mat”.

I always end up trying to sneak in a pucker- is that weird? Bear in mind you are already covered in sweat- this is the downhill part of class as far as I’m concerned.

After you ‘put your mouth to the mat, you roll onto your arms until they disappear underneath you. Doesn’t sound so hard- but- wait for it- your palms are facing down. If you don’t think this hurts- I’m not judging but you’re crazy. It was so painful at first I looked up at my teacher and I swear horns were sprouting from her head.

Mouth to the mat.

Roll on your arms so they disappear.

Palms down.

Lift one leg up.

Hold.

Then the other.

Hold.

Then- both. The first time I tried this it felt like my legs were glued to the floor. And I’m no punk. I can get my legs up much higher now- but one day I’d really love to look like the photo.

The Journal of American Medicine (JAMA) has an article about Carpal Tunnel treatment and yoga. This pose is mentioned. Pretty cool.

Every time my practice deepens- I discover another little nugget about the world and myself. I’m less shy than I was and engage in conversations with strangers more often. This may sound strange coming from a yoga teacher, and frankly when I tell people I’m shy I get eye rolls and ‘Oh yeah, sure Oneika, you’re really shy.’ But I am, seriously.

I guess my point is that living and teaching yoga is a daily practice both on and off the mat. I love it and I love what it has done for my mind body and spirit. I feel different, I look different, I act different.

I am different.

But I do wonder if I’m starting to replace yoga for other things, like dating. Normally I’d obsess about it. But I’m not going to worry about it right now. I’ll let my yoga take me there.

This is yoga, heated up stretched out and lifted.

Namaste y’all.

 

half locust

Get Interested in Your Yoga Practice Over and Over and Over Again…

namasteprayer

It’s so easy at the beginning. Your tapas is finely tuned and every pose is new, fresh and exciting. And as my yoga progresses so do the poses. With so many new exciting things happening, as I deepen my practice and begin teaching, it seems critical to stay in touch with my yoga foundation.

Taking classes is a little different now that I teach yoga. My ears prick up even more when I hear something that makes me say ‘Yes!’ That is awesome and needs to be shared with my class.

A few days days ago as I was sweating it out the teacher said, “Get interested. Find new ways to get into a familiar shape.”

‘Um- can you all pause for a quick sec? I need to write this down.’

A big smile covered my face.

Get interested. 

So I did. My koshas seemed like the best place to start. Very briefly, I’ve heard the koshas described as ‘energy lampshades’ or sheaths that cover our light. In yoga our goal is to move inward to a state of purity.

I looked at poses from the inside out and connected with my pranamaya kosha, or what I like to call my energy fascia. It’s the kosha that connects all the koshas to the body. With my breath really in tune with my body I felt like I was doing poses both as an observer and a participant.

It was cool.

Get interested.

In my head as I got into a pose I asked, ‘If I were a teacher how would I adjust this? What verbal cues would I give?’

I was surprised at how I could disappear so deep into the adjustments that I had to back off. I was almost missing my practice.

Eventually I found that sweet spot. It’s the same with students. You have to feel the space of each student. There’s a point when you make the adjustment and let a person explore the shape with their own breath. It’s like I’m the tour guide. You don’t need your tour guide yapping at you the entire trip , but you might want them to point out a spot that shouldn’t be missed.

As my own tour guide I got a little over zealous, but found balance.

I can’t say I’d practice like this daily. And truthfully if I did, eventually it wouldn’t be interesting anymore.

But flipping the script on myself was an challenge I’d do again and will continue to do.

This is yoga. And boy is it interesting….

Namasté y’all.

You Can Run, but You Can’t Hide Sasangasana (Rabbit Pose)

bikram-yoga_grid_6

My spirit takes a journey

My spirit takes a flight

Could not have risen otherwise

And I am not running

I’m choosing

Running is not a choice from the breaking

Breaking is freeing

Broken is freedom

I am not broken

I am free

– Alike from the movie ‘Pariah’

Hellbent, Benjamin Lorr’s book about a regular dude who becomes obsessed with Bikram, both the yoga and the man and writes a journalistic account of the Bikram world. There’s a quote from the movie Pariah that begins one of the chapters.

I am now crushing on Benjamin Lorr.

So savvy to quote a brilliant and understated film about the coming of age of a Black lesbian teenager in Brooklyn.

The journey of healing so many attribute to hot yoga and the parallels with Alike’s journey to self was enough to make me giggle and tap my feet as I read my nook on the PATH train to my own hot yoga class.

I sat on my mat feeling so ready and sure. Reading Hellbent on the train had me stoked to be in the hot room!!!

My bag had been packed to perfection(bag packing for hot yoga is crucial). My water bottle was solid ice. My post class  clothes were in a separate bag.

Couldn’t be more ready. The lights were still off and I looked at myself in the mirror. Suddenly my sukasana felt wobbly. No longer was I easy in my seat.

A lump rose in my throat.

What was I doing taking a class? Had I really decided to make this change and teach yoga? And write? And figure out a strategy to make all of this into a living? Serving the world with yoga? 

The craziness in my head continued….

Panic. Why was I thinking about this now? How did all of those thoughts rush through my head in 20 seconds?

I took to my back to exhale. Class started- and it was a hot, brutal freaking mess. Poses seemed to go on for hours.

But I kept looking at myself in the mirror. This mirror aspect of hot yoga really irks some folks. They say it’s narcissistic. I think it depends on the person. Yoga is what you make of it, no?

Sometimes, I need to square off with my sweaty reflection.

Sometimes I need to look at myself and say, cut the shit Oneika. You. Have. Got. This. So. Suck. It. Up.

I plodded on…One of my favorite teachers adjusted my Rabbit pose. I knew I looked pretty broken throughout class. She was gentle with the adjustment. My legs are long and I am flexible in my back and neck, but I rely on my leg length to get into the pose.

That’s not how yoga works. Yoga is about using strength but finding new ways to reach the final expression of a pose…

Once that is done, you find new ways to grow.

She told me to relax my shoulders – I did. She told me to lift my hips, but my shoulders hunched up. Relaxed my shoulders but my hips dropped. She couldn’t see my face but I think she could feel my frustration and fear.

‘That’s okay, next time’, she said.

I exhaled. Next time. There is a next time.

I didn’t like my life before because I felt broken. Sometimes in class I feel like I’m breaking…because I am free.

I got home and pulled out my plan. The time has come to readjust. I want and need new things.

Change. It’s familiar and scary at the same time.

I always feel this way jumping off the diving board, that tickle of excitement in my stomach and a big bounce- afraid for a second….flying up…

But then I remember, I am an excellent swimmer.

This is yoga. And I am free.

Namaste y’all. 

It’s Gettin’ Hot in Here….

sweaty back

I remember my first hot yoga class the way that someone who is an ex-smoker remembers their first cigarette. Since I am also the latter I know of what I speak.

My local studio offers both heated and non-heated classes. The teachers are really solid (and I don’t just say that because I now teach there- which is just SO cool to type) and the place has a great vibe. It’s intimate, friendly and the heated  classes get nice and hot. A few years ago I took my first hot class.

Sure I’d done yoga before- but a hot class seemed like an extra juicy piece of fun.

Here’s what happened:

  • It was hot
  • I was sweating through my skin.
  • I was sweating from the palms of my hand
  • I was sweating from my eyebrows
  • I was sweating behind my ears.
  • I was annoyed about having to stay still in between poses
  • I was annoyed that I was told when I could drink water- I mean it’s my freaking water…
  • I was sweating so much that I didn’t know I could sweat this much.
  • I was aggravated and tired

And then two hours later- I was reborn.

I couldn’t wait to do it again. Those of you who have been bitten by the heat bug are pickin’ up what I’m puttin down.

So I kept going back. The classes I took were Bikram inspired classes. Sure the poses were challenging, but I fell in love with the heat.

The ‘feel so hot’ you see stars kind of heat.

Yeah sure, I know it’s not okay. But the feeling you get working out in heat is better than…is better that anything I can conjure.

It’s like you are wringing out your body. Squeezing those toxins and leaving them on your towel. A few hours later- a high sets in.

You can take on the world. Seriously.

I had to know- could a studio get even hotter?

I trekked into the city and took a Yoga to the People class. Word on the street was that these classes got hot- like Africa hot. I was down baby. Down and ready.

I put down my mat in the back- I broke into a sweat just laying the mat down.

Holy Savanasa Batman!

I thought I was going to die. This was the middle of hell during a heat wave kind of hot.

Soaked through my clothes within the 10 minutes. I glanced at the thermostat- it read 110.

I. Was. Home.

I was sure my butt was cooking from the inside out. After class, people would  slice pieces of Oneika rump roast.

My towel was so soaked, I had to wring it out.

Sweat was flinging off bodies as we moved from pose to pose. It would be gross if I wasn’t flinging sweat on the chick next to me but she was so sweaty and focused on herself in the mirror she didn’t notice.

Did I mention that 70 people are in the class? Yeah- so there’s also body heat. I hung out in the back row and observed the scantily clad people and couldn’t wait until I felt that bad and bold. Could. Not. Wait.

English: Bikram Yoga
English: Bikram Yoga (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not here to talk about Bikram or the classes- that’s another post.  (We can get into about Bikram and his attitude, yada yada. But yoga is about non-judgement, so keep an open mind. S’all I’m sayin’)

I have my own problems with some of the poses and the dialogue. I don’t think yoga should hurt. Bikram yoga plays to Type A people who have feelings of insecuirty and superiority.

Which makes them unbearable people to be sure- but for 90 minutes they are broken down into a puddle of mush crying for their mommies promising to be good boy/girl. Which is funny as hell.

Not that I know anyone like that….

If you haven’t read Hellbent, pick it up- it’s a great read for non-yoga and yoga junkies alike. It is a memoir about one’s man’s journey down the ‘Bikram rabbit-hole’.

Though it’s supposed to read like a cautionary tale- heat addicts be warned. It only makes you want to drop the book- pack your bag, energy powder, frozen water bottle, two towels and a change of clothes. I am twitching writing this- giddy with the excitement that happens when you walk into the hot and slightly smelly room and place down your mat. You look at the mirror. Sit cross-legged and smile.

Bring. It. On.

This is yoga. And sometimes it’s gotta be really hot.

Namaste y’all.