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

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

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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….

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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.

To the Other Black Woman I See in Yoga

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I love the blog post Open Letter to the  Fat Girl in Hot Yoga by Joshilyn Jackson. The world of yoga is definitely becoming more diverse, but I really identified with the sense of ‘otherness’ that was poignantly captured in Jackson’s essay.

There’s a small smile and nod I get and give when I see a Black woman in a yoga class.

I want to tell her that I’m so glad to see her in class because African-American women get more unhealthy each year. I smile at her because even though there are still so many people who think we all know each other, in this moment I do know her.

I know that’s it’s nice to see walls broken down. Not the walls of a yoga studio but the walls of our own community. Our community that tries to tell us that certain things are ‘Blacker’ than others.

Yoga will help change that. 

Yoga is/was not Black (Though I am convinced it is the new Black). And though some people will say, will ask, why does something have to be Black or White? I will say that it doesn’t but  (because of reasons that are too long to explain here) they are, for now anyway.

Yoga will help change that. 

I will say that I recognize that snicker or look  from ‘the’ community when you do something this is out of the ‘norm’ or realm of Blackness.

Makes me think of Lisa Bonet on the Cosby show, Lenny Kravitz, Living Color and Bad Brains…

I get frustrated as I try to explain that we are not one single experience. We are not one neighborhood, TV show, music channel or type of food.

I turn to my mat to think. Black history shouldn’t be celebrated for one month, but every day along with women’s history, Latino history, Asian history, Native American history and every other group who has come here in search of a better life.

I wish that more of America looked like the 6:30pm Yoga to the People class on 27th St in NYC. It is a sea of color drenched in sweat  in the 105° heat. Sweating with common purpose and smiling because everyone completed class together.

Yoga will help change that. 

I don’t want to admit it, but it’s nice to see a face like mine and feel like I’m back in the club, if only for a moment before my music, book or music choices get my privileges suspended again.

Yoga will help change that. 

I’m part of something. Something bigger than me.

Before, sacrifices were made to be called ‘Black’ enough. But seeing her in the studio, a space that is my church, I am happy. I am smiling, I am peace.

Peaceful as I flow through class.

Sometimes the class is Bikram. Sometimes it’s vinyasa.

We chat after, for a moment. Chat about hair or how long we have been practicing. It’s never a long conversation, but it’s nice. It’s even nicer now when I tell her that I’m a teacher and she wants to know where I teach, because her friends want to practice and she thinks it will be helpful or inspiring for them to see a Black teacher. We agree that yoga is amazing and it has invariably changed us forever.

Our differences make all of us stronger, not weaker.

And as I take my yoga off the mat I keep my hands in a metaphorical prayer and say:

Lokah samasta sukhino bhavantu

“May all beings everywhere be peaceful and free”

 

This is yoga. And with any luck it will change the world.

Namaste y’all.

relaxation