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.

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You Don’t Have Lungs in Your Stomach and Other (Obvious) Mind-Blowing Facts

yoga breathing

 

ob·tuse (b-ts, -tys, b-)

adj. ob·tus·er, ob·tus·est

1.

a. Lacking quickness of perception or intellect.
b. Characterized by a lack of intelligence or sensitivity: an obtuse remark.
c. Not distinctly felt: an obtuse pain.

 

I can be obtuse. Sometimes it’s on purpose. This is obnoxious I know, but sometimes I just don’t feel like taking someone’s conversation bait. Usually this is because I’m feeling more honest than usual and like my mom said, if you can’t say something nice

She actually never said that. However, she did say never to use the word hate or call someone ugly– both useful pieces of advice.

I digress.

I’m obtuse. Sometimes, not on purpose. Maybe it’s a processing thing, because when I have an ‘aha’ moment it’s usually over something benign and embarrassingly obvious.

Flashback.

It was already a perfect Saturday. I rose and shone (as it were) early and refreshed. Took the pupster on a long walk (she, too was wagging her tail) and took a 10am hot class.

Sometimes you have one of those days when you metaphorically hit every green light. Nothin’ special is happening- but things… just click.

The rundown:

Had a great class- bam. Was hungry and realized I couldn’t buy anything because of my 2 week challenge but remembered I packed a few apples- bam.

You get the idea.

It’s as if you are moving with the flow of energy and not resisting.

My bad- I digress, again. When you are hitting every green light it’s easy to get off track. Things get real shiny, real quick.

At 2pm I took a Yoga Anatomy workshop at Yoga to the People.

I had Anatomy with yoga teacher training but things don’t always sink in for me the first go ’round. And I need lots of structure, so $20 for 2 hours of yoga body talk seemed like a freakin’ steal. Walking away with one nugget of wisdom would make it worth my time.

Um- I got so much more than I bargained. Just in case there’s someone like me reading this, I’m gonna repeat that- I got so much more than I bargained.

  • If some part of the body is not moving enough, another part is moving too much
  • It’s important to looks for a little movement in lots of places rather than just lots of movement in one place
  • Symmetry doesn’t mean balance, the body naturally looks to create balance.
  • Changing patterns in the body is a process. If it took 20 years to create a movement pattern it may take as long to create a new one

But the biggest moment was when I heard, “I know you all know this, but we don’t have lungs in the belly. Lots of times students push down to get air out when we need to lift up to get air out.”

This led to a deeper discussion about the actions of a belly breath. More importantly, it became really clear that as a teacher my words need to be clear so I’m not cueing a student to do some that doesn’t make sense.

A belly breath is important, but I need to get specific about what it is and how to do it properly. Because we don’t have lungs in the belly.

I get it. I get it. I get it.

It takes awhile. And then, every I hit every green light.

Namaste y’all.

 

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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Adventures in Yoga- Necessity is a Mutha

 

Wild Thing

“The greatest step towards a life of simplicity is to learn to let go.” 
― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

“Necessity is a Mutha”

– A. Mays

 

These words of wisdom were spoken to me yesterday. Chatting with Dad Dude (that’s how he shows up in my phone) I mentioned that necessity was the mother of intention. I thought I was so clever. Ever the wordsmith.

Without missing a beat he says, “Necessity is a mutha”.

Gotta be quick in the Mays family. Quips are flipped, stripped and dipped.

Yet, there’s always a point to be made. Alas, I will get to mine.

A few weeks back I mentioned that I had been holding on a bit tightly to my practice.

Wait. That’s not quite right.

I actually talked about my issues with over correcting my own practice.

Accuracy. Sigh. It’s not always important but in this case, it’s necessary.

Because I am me, I obsessed about this. I focused on trying to have fun.

Who does that? Who has to focus on fun?

Me apparently…And not successfully.

While I stopped adjusting myself every five seconds, I wasn’t relaxed.

Until today.

The 10am class was a bunch of regulars. There was lots of room (in a NYC yoga studio, this is a glorious luxury) and the vibe was focused but somehow chill. With one of my favorite teachers leading and me feeling mellow, I set an intention to let go of the stuff I didn’t need. Necessity isn’t just the mother of invention. Sometimes we get to a point when when the only choice left is the best one.

Bam. 

I let go. Relaxed. Breathed. Exhaled. Shook it loose. Set it free. Put it down.

You feel me?

It wasn’t about fun. I was too caught up. I do that. It’s dangerous. It’s why I started yoga in the first place.

Eventually we come full circle, back to the place we started. And (if we are smarter) we do what makes sense.

As I started to move I got out of my head and into my yoga.

Ahhhh

I could feel it.

I could see it.

I could be it.

It felt so good.

It felt like home.

I’m back.

 

This is yoga and you can always come home again.

Namaste y’all.

 

Adventures in Yoga – Silent Retreat (Final Thoughts)

Catskills

When the mind is clear of all noise and self talk, this is when solutions are revealed, artists are inspired, paradigms are shifted.
Stephen J. Kochan 

We entered back into the world of speaking as gently as we left it, with quiet words and a yoga practice.

After we made a circle to share a bit about our experiences. It was lovely. Clearly the weekend meant a lot for the entire group. It was a quite a weekend. Lots of yoga, an intense hike, a sweat ceremony, more yoga all the while drinking nothing but lemon cleanse juice with cayenne pepper.

Tough stuff.

We packed up and lots of us chatted, not urgently but intentionally. Words weren’t wasted.

And finally, we headed back home.

I want to tell you about a huge awakening. Regale you with tales of conversations with my spirit animal in the woods as I was covered in mud. Faint from hunger but strong as a warrior.

Yeah, um- that didn’t happen. Prior to the retreat I think I was half expecting something dramatic. Wondering if this would be some strange tipping point for me- I would fall into the yoga abyss never to return.

Nope.

Here I am. Writing to you.

But seriously- I didn’t walk away empty-handed.

In the quiet I realized that I worked hard over the past year and a half to find my version of happiness.

Guess what?

I found it.

I’ve lived most of my life yappin’ away. I lived a lot of my life looking. Seeking. Yelling even.

In the quiet it turns out- happiness and peace were here all along.

Truth be told- the other half of me suspected that I might discover this in a weekend of quiet.

It’s nice sometimes to confirm exactly what you suspect.

You. Are. Exactly. Where. You. Should. Be.

Rock on.

It feels good.

Sssh.

Namaste y’all.

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Adventures in Yoga – Silent Retreat in the Catskills (Part One)

Menla retreat

Silence is a true friend who never betrays.

– Confucius

When I heard about the Silent Retreat with Yoga to the People last year, I promised myself I would attend the next one.

This year when it was announced, I thought of reasons not to go.

I couldn’t think of one.

Silent retreat here I come.

A weekend in the Catskills with cool peeps.

The weekend would include, hiking, yoga and a sweat lodge ceremony – all while sipping on nothing but Master Cleanse juice.

Sound insane? Looking back maybe it was a little crazy- but it was bad ass fun.

Day One 

After a 3 hour ride in the rain we arrived at Menla Mountain.

The grounds were beautiful and I couldn’t wait for the rain to leave to walk around a bit.

I changed my clothes and headed to do some yoga and a Q&A about the sweat lodge ceremony.

Here’s the thing- I’m sort of socially awkward. Not creepily- just incredibly, painfully shy.

You wouldn’t know it and spending the better part of two decades in retail does a lot to mask that.
I’m the kind of person who always mostly bulldozes through what scares me.
This pushes fear aside without having to deal with it.
A silent retreat seemed like a perfect way to deal  avoid my shyness.  More on this later.
Let’s get back to it…
At the top of our class we had a ceremony that led us into silence.

As soon as the silence set in it was clear that I had not been listening to my surroundings or even myself.

Class started and no joke, MY THOUGHTS WERE SO LOUD that I couldn’t hear the teacher guiding us in a low tone. It took about 20-30 minutes to adjust. At one point I relaxed in balasana (child’s pose).
I used my breath to gently tell my mind shhhhh…. there will be time later, for now just let the body do the asanas.
It was as if the volume turned down in my mind and the teacher’s voice increased. I think by acknowledging that I would deal with whatever came up I was able to release it.
What an amazing practice. There was a tea light on the floor that we could blow out as we left the studio.
I sipped my cleanse drink and headed to bed excited for what the rest of the weekend held.
Sleep came easily.
Day Two 
Sun Menla
I popped up at 5:30 and decided to relax a bit more.
At 7:30 we would get our cleanse drink and find out the schedule.
There was a 2 hour steep hike and then my group would leave for the sweat ceremony.
After the ceremony there was an optional 90 minute class- then more cleanse drink a 60 minute class, a bonfire, then bed.
It was interesting to get the first drink and see folks from the night before. Everyone seemed to mill about comfortably. I smiled but wandered around a bit to check out the grounds.

 

Time for the hike.

 

Steep hike was an understatement. Holy f*cking shit.

 

So steep that midway, I had an Arrested Development moment and said to myself or course (because we’re in silence) I think I’ve made a huge mistake.

 

I huffed. My legs hurt. It was steep. The group was moving- quickly. I huffed. My legs hurt. It was steep.

 

The mind can fuck with you. It can tell you that you can’t do something that you actually can. My heart was pounding like crazy. I wasn’t gasping for air. My legs hurt. I was tired. I hadn’t physically pushed myself like this in awhile. I was uncomfortable, not dying.

 

Let me be clear- this was really hard for me.

 

But, how could it be a mistake? The hike was only two hours we were already 20 minutes in. I’m in fairly decent shape for crying out loud. And before I knew it we were at the top.

 

It was at this point my mind suddenly shifted to thinking about my shyness (It’s funny how our brains and emotions work).
I had a rough time with the hike. I have a rough time with being shy. I don’t  have to get over everything. Some things get dealt with in the moment. Not everything has to be handled, fixed or squashed.

 

Some things can just be.

 

This is the thing about tough times- if you aren’t careful you can miss the lesson while it’s happening. At the top- the sun was through the clouds. I was still thinking- wtf, this climb was hard but I was smiling.

 

As I caught my breath covered in sweat I took a look around at the group and the view.

 

On the way down I realized that the hike was definitely a bit much for me- I had fun getting down eventually- but the first few hundred feet there were a few drop offs that made me think of the nightmares you have about walking across bridges…

 

One foot in front of the other.

 

I thought two things- sthira and sukha.

 

That and Dory from Finding Nemo- just keep swimming.

 

I made it down.

 

It was a really big deal and was grateful for the experience.

 

Only 10:15am and I was already feeling more alive that I had felt in a while.

 

I went off to get changed for the sweat lodge ceremony.

 

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s on Love, Sweat and Tears….

 

Namaste y’all.
Hike

Adventures in Yoga – Over Correction Reflection

toes:fingers

My chitta vritti or mindstuff has been getting in the way of my yoga.

My asana practice is a microcosm of what’s going on off the mat.

A few weeks ago while taking class, my teacher told me to relax- more feeling, less thinking.

I wonder if this happens to other new teachers… I’m spending lots of time teaching giving adjustments, living in teaching mode has started to takeover my entire practice.

Don’t get me wrong, being our own best teachers is necessary, we grow in our practice because we learn how to find a deeper expression of a posture using our breath. As my body awareness expands both in depth and breadth, I can tweak a previously unfamiliar muscle or make a minute correction.

It’s awesome.

There is of course a downside.

Anything strength overused becomes a weakness.

Over correction can result in a pose becoming distorted. You could even hurt yourself if you aren’t careful. As you start to get more flexible this is even more an issue.

It may come as no surprise then to know that as I work on my business plan I may need to step back a bit, take a breath and remember the satisfaction that comes from building something. It doesn’t have to be all about furrowed eyebrows and punishing myself until 2am. Every thing takes time, I can’t rush to the next thing if I haven’t finished what I’m supposed to in this moment. Additionally, I don’t have to work on a particular aspect of my plan until it’s almost unrecognizable.

Be in the moment, make adjustments be keep it moving.

I’ve said this about myself before- but it’s worth repeating. Sometimes when you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

And you know what else happens when you over correct? You lose joy. You lose balance.

Yoga is the union of body and breath.

Sometimes I need to remember that. What I seek isn’t in the best expression of a pose.

It’s what’s inside.

It’s what I do after my asana practice is over.

This is what I love about my yoga. My practice tells me when life and not just a posture is out of whack.

Should I be a bit more self-aware. Yeah, but I’m not. Sue me. I’ll get there one day, or maybe not. But every experience brings me closer to enlightenment.

This is yoga and I stand less corrected.

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