Raw, adjective: 6. ignorant, inexperienced, or untrained: a raw recruit.
So, y'all know how I feel about core work.
It's funny; since writing that rant, I've had such inspired, challenging, authentic, and yes, often-times humbling conversations with folks about abs and yoga and sweating and mindfulness and the like. And while I realize that I managed to piss a few people off with that piece, the whole experience has also taught me a lot: about how important it is to speak truth, even when your voice shakes, about the danger of trying to define what yoga is and what it is not, and about making black and white generalizations. And about how sometimes when you speak your mind, you end up realizing you should've made room for a few escape clauses.
Like, for instance, since then, sometimes I really get the urge to teach crunches, and I feel like I can't, cuz that'd make me a liar. And a hypocrite. And that'd be bad. And what if somebody came to my class expressly because they didn't wanna do abs, because they thought it was an ab-free safe zone? Who am I to violate that false advertising, baby?
But then I take a really great ass-kickin' class and I walk out of the studio shattered and I laugh and I sweat and I curse and I crack open along the way, and I realize, hey, maybe all abs aren't so evil after all. As long as they're taught (and practiced) with a yogic, mindful attention, and a sense of humor, and the kind of intention that makes them more about meditation, about connecting the breath, and not so much about getting a six-pack or burning 500 calories, then sure, we can make friends with them, right? (And maybe you should stop projecting your old shit onto something new and let your enemy become your friend, mmmkay, Rach?)
That in mind, I decided to try to make amends with core work, to repair some of the damage to our hanging-by-a-thread intimate relationship. We go way back, you know, even if ours used to be kind of an abusive affair. Because secretly, sometimes ab work feels really good, in that masochistic, sadistic kind of way. And, as so many readers pointed out, a strong core is super central to a strong body and a safe practice.
So I ordered Ana Forrest's book Fierce Medicine with a mind turned toward studying up on all that solid Forrest-style core work, as so many friends and colleagues have recommended. And I practiced a lot, a lot, of Navasanas and forearm planks and Vasisthasana variations. And I pulled out a few of Rusty's old audio CDs so I could get a good dose of core strengthening whilst on the road.
And then last night, lingering over a starlit dinner, green juice and Indian cabbage and bok choy from ginger-shallot heaven having been hungrily downed, I noticed that this morning's 7:30 class was Pilates.
It's strange; I've been kind of unconsciously avoiding the group wellness classes here at Kamalaya. Not because there's anything wrong with them. I mean, they're beyond lovely.
They're all held in this most-beautiful treehouse yoga pavilion in the sky, overlooking the Gulf, where geckos shimmy across the floor and the ceiling while you're lying there in Ardha Bhekasana and you hear birdsong twittering between Ujjayi breaths and feel the humidity in the air steaming up your joints and it's generally a better place to practice asana than anywhere else you could possibly even imagine.
It's just, I've always been a lone ranger type, a kind of desert solitaire, especially when it comes to working out. Never did understand it in college when my girlfriends would buddy up to go to the gym. I was always like: dude, cut the socializing, this is not cocktail hour, this is workout time!! Didn't wanna be bothered with small talk and chatter about pedicures and reality TV while I was getting my treadmill on. So I usually hauled my ass up to the fitness center or the swimming pool in the wee hours of the morning, while all of the other undergrads were sleeping off their 2 a.m. pizza and Natty Light hangovers, and squeezed in a few miles or a few laps on my own. It was a meditation, for sure, even though I didn't realize it at the time.
(On top of that, I'm just stubborn and bossy, and don't like to be told what to do.)
But I've been trying to recapture that beginner's mind again, you know, that sense of always being a student, always being open to new methodologies, new verbiage, new ways of doing, outside of my own comfortable rut. There's so much I have yet to learn.
So, in that spirit, the first morning here, I hit up a private tai chi lesson there in that peaceful yoga pavilion, an hour after sunrise, and it was fab, if a little more suited for your Chinese grandma in Washington Square Park than for your average early-thirty-something wanting to get her ass kicked. I felt calm and gentle and present when it was done, and was shocked by how difficult those little movements came to be after a certain amount of repetition, and how sore my muscles were from those simple variations.
And then I rolled up for a Hatha Yoga class after that, thinking, Ok, it's cool, no expectations, I'll slink in with a beginner's mind and be patient and just connect my breath. And there were lots of beginners, lots of sweet, confused-looking, adorable yoga newbies. I tried so hard to be patient, to remember what it was like to be brand new and so completely overwhelmed. But when 30 minutes into class we were just getting to Cat/Cow, it was all I could do not to jump out of my skin. Talk about a teacher. This fiery, impatient, bull-headed, aggro pitta was getting her cosmic smackdown.
(It's not a coincidence that I can't sit through Yin Yoga classes very well, either. They're such a teeth-gritting teacher for me. The kind of teacher that looks like a Catholic nun who slaps you on the wrist with a ruler when you fall asleep in class. No es bueno.)
I held in as long as I could, trying not to be a jerk, and then finally slipped out when we hit Bhujangasana toward the end of class. I zipped home and threw down about 16 rounds of heat-building sun salutations on my own mat. And felt a lot better.
Since then, I've been kind of doing my own thing, yoga-wise. Stealing up to the yoga pavilion around noon, getting my requisite sweat on. They never schedule group fitness classes then because it's too damn hot and humid in the middle of the day. Which makes it a perfect practice opportunity for this heat-seeking whore. Two hours later, after moving through the Rachel-Meyer-Ashtanga-Bhakti-Bikram-Jivamukti Primary Series, I am wrung out, shattered, sweaty as hell, and happy as a clam. I sit on the beach for a few hours and read and pretend to write, and then I haul up to the lap pool, which is like something out of Greek mythology, so stunningly serene and lush and jungle-y and beyond expectation, and knock out 20 laps of freestyle and breaststroke and sidestroke, and then my ass is suitably kicked.
And then to the steam cavern I go. Also known as: bliss in a cave.
Anyway. More than you wanted to know about my Kamalaya exercise regimen. (I am not good at sitting still, or taking savasana. Obvs.)
Point of all that is, in between sun salutations and sidestrokes I've been reading all this brilliant philosophy about attachment and aversion and how living well, living soulfully, living authentically, means learning to love that which most challenges us. And how in order to make friends with your enemies, your fears, your resistances, your most dreaded life experiences, you've gotta move through them.
Which brings me to: core work.
Aversion established. So in the interest of moving through this aforementioned resistance, in trying to make friends with this age-old bully, I rolled out of bed early this morning, drank some Nescafe, worked for a bit, threw on my cutest yoga skirt (it helps, duh) and marched up to the yoga pavilion at 7:29 like a woman on a mission. I was going to make friends with this Pilates shit, already.
So. Um. I tried.
It started slowly. We laid there on our backs, breathing.
Ok. Pranayama. I can do this.The hour that ensued was an hour of tiny micro-movements, the kind of secret stealth killers that look simple and painless and boring and blah until you do them 27 times over and over and keep your legs in the air at 90 degrees for thirty minutes without putting them down. We laid there on our backs, knees in the air (open, close, open, close), over and over, looking like a bunch of dead bugs.
Find the yoga in this, Rach.
It doesn't have to be just a workout.
You can turn this into a meditation.
The lady to my left was a dead ringer for Jane Lynch. I've seen her here and there around the resort the last few days, and every time I see her, I think ohmigod, the Glee lady's here! But it's not her.
It was helpfully distracting.
We rolled onto our right sides and did more variations on leg-lifting, up and down and forward and back, wash, rinse, repeat. I was beginning to sense a theme. I thought to myself, between exhales, Jane Lynch's twin sister is looking at my ass, and she can see how bored I am, and she's wondering why that weird chick in the blue is breathing like Darth Vader in and out through her nose.
(What can I say? I thought some Ujjayi might help things.)
I tried to bring my attention back to my breath, and tried to watch my mind. It was, uh, entertaining. It kept asking the universe, God, the cosmos, the geckos scurrying along the ceiling up above: where is the JOY? God, I missed the joy. I missed the exhilaration of flipping my Dog and whipping straight into Warrior 2. I missed the drama of diving down into a deep Chaturanga from a proud Warrior 1. I missed the heart-opening sweeping shattering expansive knock-me-on-my-ass yoga-asana that I know and love.
This was like Salambhasana for repressed WASPy ladies from Nantucket.
I'd never done so many disciplined micro-movements in my life.
It kicked my ass. I'm not good at micro, or at discipline. I used up my discipline quota circa 1996. I know this. I've resigned myself to that reality. But the fact remained, there I was, reclining on my back for an hour straight, lifting my pelvis, tilting, lowering, lifting, tilting, lowering.
Talk about moving through your aversion. I wanted to blast through it. I wanted to blow a hole in the middle of it. I wanted rhythm and pulsation and the kind of driving heartbeat that fuels an Ashtanga practice or a bhakti kirtan or a Janet Jackson dance routine. I wanted the music and the heart-openers and the sweat and the huffing and the joy, baby, joy.
Then we rolled onto our left sides and did more leg lifting. Forward, back, up, down, again, again, again. Jane Lynch was lying there in my sightline, sprawled out reclining on her long lithe left arm like a Titian odalisque, her head resting elegantly on her bicep while her other leg busted ass.
It felt like such a tease. A reverse Pilates mullet of sorts. Party in the front, business in the back.
Again, my impatient Id hollered out: where is the JOY??
You have to work a little harder to find it in Pilates, eh. And maybe that's the point. Maybe the hard work is not the big expansive cardio-busting heart-cracking moves, but it's in the being patient with the smallness, the micro-contractions, the control, the discipline. I know that's true, and I knew it lying there like Venus of Urbino, too, even though I didn't want to admit it just yet.
(I especially didn't want to admit that my ass was getting really damn sore from all those leg lifts.)
Do you find it's easier to lasso the monkey mind when you're in a class versus practicing on your own? So you can focus your drishti on the teacher's words, their directions, and get a little further from the thinking mind? I find that's true for me. No matter how focused I am on my drishti, when I'm practicing solo, my mind can wander to that conversation or this dude or that possible article or that weather forecast or that memory of March 1988. You know how it goes when that drunken monkey swings across the branches of your Vrksasana. It's so hard to bring the attention back to the breath.
So I've been turning to Sharon Gannon and David Life's recommended mantra a lot lately. In their book, they recommend internally repeating "Let" on the inhales and "Go" on the exhales. It's an awesome tactic. The mantra really works. It stills the mind. And most of us have plenty that we could afford to let go of, so every time you use it, you can apply it to a different source of heaviness or stagnation in your life.
I kept trying to do that this time around, to stop my whining, chattering, irritable, impatient monkey mind. I tried to match every inhale (lift the leg!) with "Let" and every exhale (lower the leg!) with "Go." It worked for a little bit, but then the internal mantra kept morphing into
This (inhale)Core work? Baby steps. We'll get there. I promise, soon we'll be BFFs. Or at least friends with benefits and no awkward breakfasts.
But for now, Pilates? I think I'll stick with the yoga.
Don't take it personally.
It's not you. It's me.