About Me

Yoga changed my Life and it's just too good a thing to keep to myself! I have been practicing yoga since 1995 and am a certified yoga instructor. I teach a combination of classical Hatha, Ashtanga and Vinyasa Flow. My teaching style is safe, compassionate and challenging at the same time. I teach at a number of studios, and also offer private and group lessons!

In addition to my schedule, I post other writings here, about yoga and Life in general. For private or group lessons, contact me at: workofheartyoga@gmail.com .

Thursday, December 13, 2007

It is what it is...the human Yogi

I was going to find something funny and witty to write about for my first blog posting. Something to break the ice that would encourage a swift trail of emails from my contacts to their contacts and friends forwarding my blog address (www.workofheartyoga.com) because it was just too hilarious to keep to them selves. I even toyed with the idea of writing a piece about the elusive topic of "the yoga fart." (Don't be surprised if it actually pops up again...the posting, not the actual...well, you get the point.)

But a few nights ago something important happened.

I was making dinner with my husband, Casey, and told him I was struggling with deciding on my next yoga teacher training. Although I'm already trained and certified, it's important to get refreshers. But finding the right teacher to train under is really hard. They are not just teaching you how to do poses, they are teaching you about the health benefits of yoga, how to adjust students safely, anatomy, and equally important, about ethics, how to study one's own mind and body, and how to look more deeply into one's own life. So you don't just take a training from any old Joe-Shmoe!

I turned to Casey and somewhat absentmindedly remarked, "Sometimes it's like I'm looking for a mentor that doesn't exist." We both paused with the weight of this realization, sad and expanding.

But, later in the evening I came across a book I still haven't read cover to cover. Uncharacteristically, I flipped straight to the end...

Rodney Yee wrote the final chapter to his book, "Yoga, The Poetry of the Body," which is largely about his own experience of yoga, and written in a conversational style with his co-author, Nina Zolotow (2002). When she asked him to write something to "wrap-up the book," he was frustrated with the idea of summing up his experience in a neat little bow. Instead, he chose to call the chapter, "Unwrapping."

In it, he says, "if there's one thing I've learned in all these years of yoga, it's that when you inquire deeply into anything, you're basically left with a bunch of confusion and conflicting answers. And I don't necessarily think that's ever going to clear up." He goes on to say that during his practice and throughout his daily life, it's not all just focused, pure thoughts, meditation and bliss...he too is filled with questions, have to's, family, kids, and occasionally self-doubt. He goes on, "And for me, yoga simply means continuing to be with what is and allowing that to be a crazy, chaotic mess..." He explains that even after decades of yoga practice he still has desires, some healthful and some not. And that meditation does not automatically lead to the end of all frustrations, suffering, and mistakes.

He reminds us that we spend so much of our time wishing for something other than what is, rather than choosing how to respond to what is: "God I wish my hips were smaller," "Geez I wish my injury would heal already," "I wish I weren't in this damn traffic jam," or "I really wish I had the new iPhone for Christmas..." He reminds us that even when we alleviate one desire, others are sure to follow. In other words, we are human. That because we are living, there will be things to suffer in the future, just as there will be great joy.

This may sound like we should just accept our suffering which, as a social worker and community organizer who has spent over a decade working on social justice, does not sit well with me. However, thinking more about it, I don't think he means people should just accept their own or other's suffering, but that we should be aware that suffering exists: death, loss, wants that we can't always fulfill, mistakes, worries, etc. And I do not believe the acceptance that suffering exists is the same thing as rolling over and passively allowing one's suffering to continue.

I believe that suffering is to be explored and great healing can come from that exploration. What parts of my suffering originate internally, and which are externally imposed? What is within my power to change? How do I want it to change? What will happen if I can't change it, or if I can?

There is great liberation in knowing that we have choices in how we deal with suffering. And because we are human, we will inevitably falter and make a mess of it sometimes. And that's o.k. too, because we will have other opportunities in the future to do it differently.

My point? Well, my point is to say "KUDOS!" to Rodney Yee for allowing his readers to see that he too is human, and catches himself going over his daily "to-do" list while meditating. And for reminding us that yoga not only builds tight abs, and limber joints, but that it can help us be more aware of our human condition.

So maybe my mentor does exist. Maybe it's Rodney, maybe not, maybe I learn from my students as much as I do from my teachers. Maybe my mentor is deep within me and I just have to learn to listen more closely. I like that idea. And I would love to hear what you all think about Rodney's thoughts, or mine.

For those that would like to take some of this "being with what is," stuff and mix it into your yoga practice, try these poses:

1) Virabadrasana II (Warrior II): Standing, feet spread wide apart (3-4 feet), turn the right foot out 90 degrees, turn the left toes in 45 degrees. Ground through your legs by engaging the thigh muscles. Raise the arms shoulder-height and look over your right fingers. Inhale standing tall. As you exhale, bend the right knee, keeping the back leg straight and strong, and torso upright. Make sure the right knee does not come forward of the ankle, and points over the middle toes. Keep breathing as you hold the pose. How long you choose to hold the pose it up to you. Try the pose on both sides. (*For women who are pregnant or those who feel unstable in the pose, slide a chair under the bent leg, but still engage the thigh muscles.)

2) Utkatasana (Chair Pose): Standing with your feet close together, Inhale and raise the arms up to the ceiling. As you exhale, swan-dive forward, bending at the hips and bend the knees so the fingers touch the floor. Keeping the knees bent and above the ankles, drop your hips a few inches, as you inhale next, raise your torso off your thighs and your arms up. The shoulders are down, away from the ears. You should feel this in your thighs, glutes, hips and shoulders. To come out of the pose, on the inhale, use strong thighs to straighten the knees and push up through standing, then relax the arms down at your sides.

3) Vrkrasana (Tree Pose): Standing with feet close together, root down through the legs. Shift the weight to your left leg, and bring the right foot to the inside of the left ankle, right knee pointed out to the right. (If you'd like you can slide the foot up to the calf or above the knee on the thigh or in the crux of the groin. Just keep the right knee pointed to the right.) Push the left foot firmly against the floor to lift out of the left hip and stand tall. Now raise your arms above your head palms facing towards each other or open the arms with the palms facing up. If you can, try looking up.

*In all three poses: Try to focus your attention on whichever muscles you feel working. Hold the pose just to the point that you naturally want to come out of it. Then notice you have a choice: you can stay for a bit longer, see what that feels like, or you can back off slightly and stay there for a few more breathes, or you can come out of the pose entirely. Think about your choice, are you coming out of it because you are bored or feeling lazy? Or are you staying in it to punish yourself or because you think you are weak if you don't? In #3, Vrkrasana, if you fall out of the balancing pose, do you get mad or frustrated with yourself or can you giggle? Notice any thoughts or judgments that may pop up, and try to just observe them. Just take a breathe when you notice them, and then choose how you would like to respond.