Open Letter to a Yoga Teacher

Yoga to the People Standing Bow

Dear Katherine-

When I realized that you were teaching class today I got nervous first and choked up, second. Your standing bow pose looks at me every time I walk into the locker room. But taking class with the person on the poster wasn’t the reason for the lump.

It’s funny, the day before another amazing teacher asked if we adjust our expectations based on who is teaching, when instead we should look internally when it comes to our practice.

Several months have passed since I took a class with you. Since then, life has changed exponentially.

I’ve started teaching yoga.

Your classes played a big part in that decision.

A year and a half ago I walked into your 6:30 pm class. I had never been so far away from myself- emotionally or physically. That class ripped me apart. 90 minutes in the heat.

Your voice was firm, focused and freeing.

Work hard but rest when you need to.

Find limits and grow but be intelligent about choices you make.

You can be comfortable or change, but you can’t have both. 

I know it’s yoga but it is also life. I didn’t know back then that I’d end up teaching- but that night was the flicker.  It was a spark that had to light from a puddle of sweat and tears.

Class was so f*cking hard. But I’d never been more grateful.

That night, I picked up my towel and soul off the mat.

I’d wash the towel. My soul was another story. It was shaky. And tired. You are never more lost until you are found.

At home, I crumbled. Cried until my eyes were puffy. No more hiding. No more running. It was time to start my life over, again.

I’m sure you’ve heard this a thousand times. Trying to articulate this after class would have resulted in me crying- not because I was embarrassed but until being confronted with seeing you- I didn’t actually realize how much I have changed. Or changed back to who I was before the fall.

In this day and age of the over share- the whys, whats and wheres aren’t important, but thanking people is a lost art.

So thank you, Katherine.

Your class makes me tap into something deeper and lighter. I have become my own best teacher.

Namaste.

Adventures in Yoga – Time.

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I left home this morning in what I thought was more than ample time to catch the train to Manhattan for a Sunday morning hot yoga class.

Oops- holiday schedule.

I was wrong. But as any city dweller who is at the mercy of public transit knows, you must just go with the flow.

For about 10 seconds I debated if I  should even bother heading into the city- there was a really good chance I’d miss class. It would be a wasted trip. With less frequent trains to boot…

Instead I decided, bah- why not. I’d use the ride to continue working on my 6pm class. With headphones on, iPad mini in hand and caffeine in my veins I waited to see what would happen.

The train came at 9:35 and dropped me at my stop at 9:57. I ran to the studio in leather flip-flops to class. Though this may seem contradictory- my mind was surprisingly chill. I figured if I make it, I make it. Running in leather flip-flops however, sucks.

Arrived at 10:02. The door was locked. I knocked anyway. Still, no sinking feeling.

(I should  have mentioned- I’m never late to class. Ever. I’m the goof who more often than not arrives 20 minutes early. )

I got the affectionate side-eye from a teacher and was told to hustle.

My heart was racing but I just turned myself over to the practice. I knew I was having the right experience, because shit, it was the one I was having.

I was expecting a 90 minute class, but class was only 60.

Class beat me up, down, sideways and turned me inside out.

It was freaking glorious.

I’d never had a more challenging class. I couldn’t quite sync up my body and breath. And the heat was a distraction, not its usual sweltering embrace.

After class splayed out making sweat angels, I smiled.

It was hard. So what? I can handle anything for 60 minutes.

Not to be stopped I headed back home to order my new bike. I figured I’d be back in the park the following weekend.

As I was wrapping up the guy said, “Do you want to wait? They’re working on it now- should be about 20 minutes.”

Huh? Wha?

I dashed home to get my helmet.

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Time. Time. Time.

It’s like a challenging pose- when you resist, it pushes back. But if you inhale and find a way to move inside the spaces, it brings you right where you need to be.

Namaste y’all.

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Tantric TV Yoga

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I used to do a lot of binge watching.

Just shove a whole season down my throat because somehow it tasted better.

But lately, my television experience is a lot more tantric.

Like many, many other people I been watching Orange is the New Black.

A joy lies inside the waiting to watch the next episode. Netflix makes it hard because they release the whole season at once, however, I have shown a shockingly huge amount of discipline.

Yeah I know, it’s a prison show full of stereotypes- but the writing isn’t all bad.

We can spend time judging my tastes later, more interesting things await.

So since I’m really taking my time with every episode every word sinks in.

Jengi Kohan, the creator must know that I love a good turn of phrase and quippy dialogue that feels real.

It’s. Absolutely Satisfying.

(And Natasha Lyonne is fcuking awesome, but again I digress)

Episode 10 deals with bad teens and the Scared Straight program. In one scene the main character talks to a young banger girl in a wheelchair.

It starts at minute 2:44 but the whole five minutes is great. (the language is rough, so the kids need to walk away)

“It’s coming face-to-face with who you really are.” 

I know I’ve mentioned that yoga is my therapy, my church, my medicine and my safe place.

But really, it just brought me face-to-face with myself.

It happens every time I practice, but I feel myself most when I’m in the hot room.

I don’t know what it is about the heat or the ritual I have about setting up my mat, but if I’m running from something I can be sure that it’s going to be waiting for me when I sit my ass down and fold my legs to open my hips. Baddha Konasana will never be the same.

One of these moments happened today.

I got to class. I changed. I chatted. I kept looking at the entrance to the hot room sideways, like it was about to come for me. (And I hadn’t even watched Episode 10 yet! )

I stopped bullshitting and went to face the heat.

Feelings started to well up and I felt my eyes leak (I’m so happy the room is dark).

But I realized that I wasn’t upset about anything.

I. Was. Okay.

The past 12 months were more stressful than I can describe, and I didn’t talk about it as much as I should have to my family and friends.

Now, on the other side I realized that it was my mat and practice that had been my confidantes.

The hot room is where I came when it felt confusing, dark and on some days without any hope.

And now that the storm is over, I can exhale. It sounds stupid but I wanted to cry did cry and thanked the room for being there.

You can run but you can’t hide in 105°.

Staying in the moment helped me stay in the moment off the mat.

Being present can get you through a world of stress.

These next 12 months may prove to be the most challenging of my life.

But with a mat, a hot room, myself and the truth, I’ll be better than okay.

It isn’t prison, but hot yoga made me her bitch. And her truth has set me free.

Namaste y’all. 

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Be Where You Are, When You Are

Budha in Garden

“You’re running and you’re running and you’re running away. You’re running and running but you can’t run away from yourself.”

– Bob Marley

I checked out during my hot class. It happens, I’m human.

The slip took place in between poses. The ‘in between’ is a big part of my yoga.

Am I moving mindfully as I transition? Or do I wander somewhere? In the instance mentioned above, go somewhere I did. I wasn’t where I went that mattered. The issue was leaving.

It’s almost too easy to run away. When the going gets tough, ducking out seems like the best option.

In a real or perceived crisis making my exit and kissing it all goodbye seems better than what I used to do- which is fight. Meeting obstacle with obstacle.

Also not a good plan.

There’s middle ground. It’s not all or nothing.
But what would happen if instead of checking out, I checked in? Instead of meeting the heat with a brute force attitude. What if I just hung with it for a sec?

It was only an instant but I came back to the heat. It wasn’t as bad as I had initially thought.

As if she was in my head the teacher started talking about a cabbie who’s sage advice was to be where you are when you are.

I wanted to get up and leave class- not because it was hot, but because that was the answer to the question I didn’t know I was asking.

Un. Freaking. Believable.

Have you had those kinds of moment on your mat?

I checked back in.

Leaving is never the answer.

Deal with being uncomfortable.

Things are never as bad as they seem if you stay.

In fact, things can only get better.

This is yoga and it’s always there for you. So stay.

Namaste y’all.

Vegan Diaries – PIZZA!!!!

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After class on Friday I picked up some veggies from the fruit market and stopped at the local pizza joint.

‘Dough please!’

They didn’t hand over money, but they did charge me 5 smackers for a enough dough to make an extra large pie. I got another one to store in the freezer.

Why buy dough you’re asking?

Easy- because I don’t want to make it.

Please. Don’t get it twisted- I can make a mean pizza dough. But as I get closer to the end of 108 days of yoga, I’m learning to be efficient with my energy. Also the pizza guys make dough better than I do.

I had grand plans to make the pizza that night. A fat slice with a glass of wine and Netflix was my idea of a sexy evening.

My body had a different story to tell.

But I did manage to make the toppings.

Grand plans moved to Saturday.

No biggie.

My friend and I caught the 7pm hot class at Yoga to the People and headed to my place for pizza and wine!

Whoop!

She looked at me dubiously- no cheese on pizza?

What fresh hell this?

I whipped up some basil oil and put the dough in a deep dish.

Shredded vegan cheese? Blech.

My eggplant/onion/sun dried tomato mixture was going to be so good cheese wouldn’t even be necessary.

Why ruin it with fake cheese- file this under the category of learning to let things go.

It was on the money honey.

When people wander over to the kitchen to sneak more of something I’ve cooked, I know it’s a hit.

Going the deep dish rustic route was also a good move- sometimes delicious food is best when it has a homey feel.

Good food, conversation and wine. It doesn’t take a lot to live a great life.

This is yoga. Keep it simple.

Namaste y’all.

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Eggplant filling for deep dish vegan pizza

Ingredients

  • 1 eggplant- cubed
  • 5 cloves of garlic minced (I know it sounds like a lot- do 8)
  • 1 medium onion sliced in rings
  • Sun dried tomatoes 1/2 cup chopped
  • 1/2 cup roasted red pepper soup (or pasta sauce)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 handful oregano roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon italian seasoning
  • 1 large pinch sea salt

Preparation

  1. Sauté onions and garlic
  2. Add eggplant tomatoes- stir for 5 minutes
  3. Add soup or sauce and spices
  4. Turn heat to low and cover for 20 minutes checking every 5 to stir
  5. Place filling in a bowl

Pizza Prep

  1. Sauté 3 cups spinach with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper
  2. Work dough in a cast iron skillet or big pan
  3. Distribute eggplant filling evenly
  4. Layer spinach on top
  5. Pour basil oil on top
  6. Add any additional toppings

Cook pizza in a 450° oven for 17 minutes

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

Sometimes Yoga is Just Hard – And That’s Okay.

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I’ve been practicing intensely these past few months. I felt a lot of physical soreness when I started. But that’s since left. My body is stronger than ever, my muscles are leaning out and overall I feel like I’m operating more efficiently.

As far as my diet goes, I’m constantly craving apples (weird) and sleep like a freaking baby.

Drinking a gallon of water on days that I do two hot classes in addition to a vinyasa class doesn’t seem crazy, only necessary.

I’m almost through with a 30 day hot yoga challenge. I say challenge because that’s what most call it, but it’s much more than that for me. This is a journey of discovering myself inside and out. It’s preparation for doing 108 days of yoga in order to help foster awareness and cultivate peace, joy and love.

I know, you can hear Kumbaya and smell patchouli wafting the air. I should change my doorbell to chant the sound of ‘aum’.

Except it’s not all lotus flowers, hands in prayer and smiley faces.

The real challenge comes when class just sucks. Or on the days that I don’t want to go. Worse yet, there are days I don’t want to go but go anyway and guess what? Class sucks. Talk about a twofer.

Shockingly (or not), it’s on these days that I see the most growth. I was telling a friend of mine that we don’t learn much when it’s easy.

You’ve been there, right? Not one posture feels good and everything feels tight. Class seems never ending until savasana, and then you redefine never ending because this is even worse.

And you know what I do?

 I go back to mat the next day. And the next day. And the next.

If I don’t up on yoga, it doesn’t give up on me.

Clearly this applies to everything. And thanks to yoga, when I get knocked down 9 times, I get up 10.

This is yoga. And it makes you strong even when you feel weak.

Namaste y’all.

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