Saturday, December 31, 2011

Friday, December 30, 2011

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air: a raw, foggy day at the beach.


Hey kids.

New Year's Eve is just around the corner, so if you don't yet have plans, you've got two shots to spend it with me, Ganesha, and a few other sweaty folks:
  1. Tomorrow morning, 11am, at Urban Flow. Sleep in, roll up at 10:59, and we'll get some thick sweat and some strong chant going to twist out the old year and ring in the new. Gonna be good. Come.
  2. Tomorrow evening, 5pm, at Flying Yoga. Our wee candlelight jam session's looking like it just might hit capacity. So come early or sign in online ahead of time to make sure you've got a spot. We're gonna jam.
Love to you on this last Friday of 2011. I'm grateful for a year beyond imagination. Bring it, 2012.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture: raw cotton.



We are all works in progress.

I am thinking a lot here in these latter days of the year about Ganesha. And about what it means to be raw.

And I'm not talking about veggies.

Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu god who represents our own ability to get unstuck, to move things around, to be that always-emerging work of art, ever in progress. And I am thinking about the ways in which that very same Ganesha imagery shows up in Christian process theology, and in Buddhist notions of impermanence, and in queer and postmodern theories postulating the liberating and fundamental lack of essential identity, and in that ubiquitous contemporary progressive theological understanding of the world, our lives, our realities as being always in creative flux.

(Also known as: raw. Unprocessed. Unfinished. Unhewn.)

And I am loving the ways in which that theme of the universal process of constantly unfolding, of constantly becoming, of being created again and again, over and over, in every moment, in every breath, (in every year!), echoes throughout myriad spiritual traditions, in different words, in different ways.

There's wisdom in this rawness. Trust it. Unfold. Keep becoming.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air: a raw, foggy day at the beach.





Yup, it's true.

I'm headed for some serious
Bhakti Flow, Nebraska-style.

Details at left.
Get ready, kids.

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.



How can you not love this?

Our New Year's Eve pay-what-you-can
jam session at Flying Yoga is gonna help
make this happen. So rad. Please join us.
Saturday, 5pm.

Candlelight Jam Session with
Rachel Meyer Yoga

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.



True that.
Happy Christmas Eve!
May it be beautiful.

*

It is very important that you only do what you love to do. You may be poor, you may go hungry, you may lose your car, you may have to move into a shabby place to live, but you will totally live. And at the end of your days you will bless your life because you have done what you came here to do. Otherwise, you will live your life as a prostitute, you will do things only for a reason, to please other people, and you will never have lived...
— EKR

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Raw, adjective: 6. ignorant, inexperienced, or untrained: a raw recruit.


This is a very good article on relationship.

Sounds boring, right? Ugh. Shoot me in the face, already.

But, truly. One of the greatest teachings that the study of Buddhist and yogic thought has wrought in my own life — a life that had quite proudly always relied upon that stubborn Simon and Garfunkel-esque notion of being a rock and an island — is the understanding that we really only exist in relationship. Our realities are contingent upon the realities around us that construct our lives, our patterns, our foundations, our networks, our experiences. And just as every aspect of our lives arises as a result of that interconnection, so too can we never quite wholly step back from that interwoven reality.

Sucks, eh? We're stuck with the messy and the rich and the complicated and the divine.

So we sure as hell'd better try to figure out how to operate kindly and compassionately and authentically and vulnerably in that relationship, eh?

We're talking relationships on a broad scale here. Your relationship with your mailman, the clerk at Whole Foods, the stranger on the internet whose article you diss, Henry David Thoreau and the way his 150-year-old writing still makes your heart stop, that one co-worker you always secretly want to punch, your lovable but annoying little brother, your adoring but stupid and fat old cat, the bus driver whose name you don't know but who picks you up every day at 8:05 on the dot, your houseplants who rely on you not to suck at watering them, the field worker in Costa Rica who picks the strawberries you buy on the shelf at Safeway. You get my drift.

That's relationship. All of it. Not just what we think of when we say the "R" word.

I grew up watching a lot of women be super-needy. And I've spent a lot of years as the aloof bartender standing behind a granite slab pretending not to listen but constantly overhearing women a few cocktails in getting all weepy and needy and desperate for the imagined completion of a stereotypical heteronormative relationship. And I've gotta say, I'm still not a fan of the uber-neediness of a lot of the chicks my age. I think that's why I've mostly hung out with and identified more as a dude myself all these years. (Bullheadedly independent, that is. And determined to not be the normative female, wholly defined by her relationships.)

But then you meet Buddhism, and Process theology, with its emphasis on all beings emerging in process with one another, and eco-feminist Christian theology, which is all about co-creation and bringing about the divine through relationality, and you go: oh, hey. Cool. Maybe relationship doesn't have to look the way we've always imagined it must. Maybe healthy relationships don't have to be needy.

When you shift your mindset to that bhakti notion of offering, of asking yourself, "What can I give?", living in relationship — whether it's with your mailman or your teacher or your beloved — becomes less about getting, and more about simply being present for someone else. And, well, that's pretty damn liberating.

So get in there:
To open yourself up to need, longing, dependency, and reliance on others means opening yourself to the truth that none of us can do this on our own. We really do need each other, just as we need parents and teachers. We need all those people in our lives who make us feel so uncertain. Our practice is not about finally getting to a place where we are going to escape all that but about creating a container that allows us to be more and more human, to feel more and more. ...

We learn to keep our relationships and support systems in good repair because we admit to ourselves how much we need them. We take care of others for our own sake as well as theirs. We begin to see that all our relationships are part of a broad spectrum of interconnectedness, and we respect not only the most intimate or most longed-for of our relationships but also all the relationships we have — from the most personal to the most public — which together are always defining who we are and what we need in order to become fully ourselves.
A yoga practice teaches us, slowly, over the course of the years, to soften, to unfurl, to open up, without fear. So if yoga is union, and our relationships create our reality, then, dude: get connected. Nothing fancy. It's really just the practice of seeing the humanity, the Krishna, the suffering in the person across the dinner table, or across the road, or across the hall. Pretty simple stuff, if you ask me. No islands necessary.

No Gain (Tricycle)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Raw, adjective: 8. brutally harsh or unfair: a raw deal


I squeezed in a Bikram class just now, and as per usual lately, the 90-minute moving meditation turned into more of 90-minute planning session-slash-article-brainstorm. I guess a little auto-pilot's to be expected when you've done the same 26 postures every day for 8 years. Oy. (No wonder freestyle vinyasa keeps me more in the moment. Three cheers for Urban Flow. But I digress.)

So while I was standing there in the 4th Natarajasana of the day, I got to thinking. About how the holidays really are in full swing now, no going back, and how this year I feel particularly, weirdly jolly. Yeah. Weird. Life is good and rich and full, bursting at the seams most places, and most days I feel wildly on fire for the work I'm blessed to do, and most evenings and mornings, in the wee quiet moments between people and places, I often find myself so overwhelmed by the number of folks who I want to love, and love well, that I can't quite even breathe. And on top of all that jolly goodness, the backbends are coming back, and the hamstrings are waaaaay happy, and the fridge is full of melons and grapefruits and kale and hummus, and the sun sets beyond my window at 5 o'clock on the rare evenings when I'm lucky to be home in that twilight to knock out a few words. And I still have dental insurance, and a full set of teeth, and an old trumpet that's waiting to be picked up again, and a rad black tarantula scarf that keeps me warm on nippy San Francisco nights, and my post-Thailand faux-malaria has just about been cured.

And that crabby neighbor? He doesn't yell anymore. He just plays bluegrass. Which I can totally get down with.

So, yeah. Pretty damn jolly.

Weird.

Weird because some recent Christmases, well, they've struggled to be so.

Grief changes things, you know? It doesn't matter who you lose, or when, but once you do suffer the kind of blow that strikes and lingers for awhile, well, the holidays just aren't ever quite the same. We grieve, all of us, of course, for lost memories and lost homes and broken relationships and broken china and shattered dreams and shattered femurs. We grieve in so many ways. And — speaking from my one experience of only having lost my father, which I know is pretty lucky, relative to some — I find that the suffering of losing a parent shadows the holidays in ways that folks who haven't been there, or felt that loss, can't quite — to no fault of their own — understand.

It's been nearly 6 years now since that first Christmas without my father, and I tell the story of that most pathetic Yule to anybody I meet who's also struggling through their first Christmas sans, whether that's sans parent or partner or child. The loss, the absence, the strange empty void; it's the same no matter the particular situation.

And although all relationships are difficult and damaged and laden with layers, to be sure, and although I hesitate to romanticize the extent of the suffering we all feel at one time or another, a part of me — the part of me that sat on the sofa that Christmas 2005 alone and wept, and watched the Yule Log burn on Comcast and listened to bad 1973 versions of Little Drummer Boy playing in the background, and wept a little more, and then called my siblings across the country and commiserated about how much the holiday sucked, and then hung up and heated up some frozen lasagna in the microwave and ate it out of the plastic box, and then wept a little more, and then filled up my coffee mug with cheap red wine and chugged a little of that, and then turned up the Yule Log on the TV and wept a little more — well, that pathetic part of me will always remember: remember what it's like to feel like you're the only one alone, the only one feeling complicated and confused and melancholy and maybe a little bitter and maybe a lot depressed on Christmas Day, of all jolly holidays.

We make such great, loving, warm space for celebration and gaiety this time of year. And that's so important, especially here in the shortest, darkest days of the winter, to look to the light and remind ourselves that sun and spring and life will return. And I love the twinkly lights of solstice celebrations for reminding us of hope, and laughter, and vitality. But these years later, the grief having softened into more of a wistful half-smiling memory of days long gone, the sharp sorrow having melted into an adult understanding of the constantly changing nature of things, the ways in which every sweet memory inevitably churns on into impermanence and nostalgia and new traditions and a letting go of the old, now more than ever I feel a sense of dharma, of duty, to hold the kind of space for folks who still rest in that fresh pain, that deep suffering, the kind that feels impossible to pull oneself out of, the kind that feels like a heavy weeping fearful body curled up on a blue sofa just trying to get through, just trying to remember how to breathe.

It matters to me as a yoga teacher, the honoring that universal human experience of suffering. That's why, especially these days, I try to give mention, even just a little lip service, to the possibility that folks on the mat are feeling things a little more complicated than just excitement and anticipation. We grow up and the holidays grow around us; they change; the ostensibly simple branches of that O Tannenbaum Christmas tree wrap and wrestle and convolute, and sometimes we feel stuck, suffocated by the apparent ease and joy of the people around us.

It's really just about making space. I find that as soon as you open that relief valve, just release the pressure a bit by allowing for adult feelings beyond the black and white, folks can rest, they can soften, they can know it's ok, it's normal, it's human to feel twisty and gnarled and dried-up and numb.

That twisting, that numbness, it's all a part of the process. We'll all know it at one point or another, for sure; some of us were just graced with that life-changing knowledge a little sooner than others. I remember resenting so much the early loss, the fact that I was only 23 when my Pops was diagnosed, and 26 when he died. And even now, I see friends who have family homes to retreat to over the holidays, friends who look to parents who are yet young and present and thriving and able to share in their own adult lives, and my stomach drops. I look at my sweet niece and know she'll never know a Christmas with her grandfather. And my heart melts for her lack, in the same way it aches for the lack, the absence, the deadness, that so many people dear to me right now are braving silently, thinking they're alone, not realizing they're surrounded by others who are trudging through the exact same unfamiliar waters.

Last night I sat down at my computer after a long, well-lived-in day, and I saw there news that the kind, philanthropic, beloved-by-many father of my friend J had just died. My heart sank. I sat there and felt her certain sorrow, felt it coming on here in this most joyous week of the year, and I knew right there in that breath how drastically her experience of the holidays would be changed for the rest of her life. And I wanted with everything in me to reach out to her, to hold her close, to tell her she wasn't alone. But I didn't have a way.

So this morning, when I turned around at the studio, minutes away from teaching, and saw her walk in, my chest cracked open with the kind of love I can only feel for people who I know are so swept up in suffering that they can do nothing else but numbly move through the world. I looked at her and hugged her close and wanted so badly to relieve her pain, and I couldn't, none of us could, and so I made a dumb joke about weeping through Bikram classes back in the day and set her up with some Kleenex and we barreled through class.

She was remarkable. Powerful. Present. Willing to sit with the sorrow, the numbness, the shock, the grief, the loss, and be in it. All the while holding Vasisthasana like a badass in the process.

(This in contrast to those of us who just decided to numb it away with frozen lasagna and cheap red wine. Just sayin'.)

I can only smile. I can only smile, lovingly, at that former self who knew no other way to sit with the suffering, the grief in the midst of so much gaiety. And if there's any gift I could give to the beloveds (too many this year, so many; is this what happens as you grow older?) who are sitting with the same sorrow, trying to make sense of holidays that don't feel particularly holy or bright or alive, it's that yogic permission to just be. To just sit, to let the feelings blow by like clouds in the sky, and to remember, to always remember: they will pass. This depth of grief will pass. This blackness will pass.

One day you'll feel joyful again; not fake-joyful, or joyful-for-someone-else's sake, or joyful-because-you-just-poured-two-shots-of-bourbon-in-your-morning-coffee, but joyful, really truly grounded-in-the-awareness-of-the-transience-of-life-joyful, and this new normal will not hurt so much, and this indescribably devastating shift will feel ok.

And it will be your teacher. Your lasagna-eating, cheap red wine-drinking, Yule Log-watching teacher.

And it will lend you grace.

*

Love and light to so many of you who are sitting with the Shiva that is loss,
destruction, uncertainty, and change right now. You're so close to my heart.
Know that you are not alone in the depths. Know that they will pass.
As all things do.

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air: a raw, foggy day at the beach.


Ever since the stuck-in-a-Nebraska-blizzard-with-no-tequila debacle of two years ago, I've been more than content to park my weenie California-girl ass here in 50-degrees-and-sunny San Francisco for the holidays. This year is no exception. (Well, that and the fact that I just returned from a two-week escape to the tropics makes it a helluva lot easier, too.)

So it's my turn to stick around and hold down the fort, teach a few extra classes, sneak in a little ice skating down in Union Square, and linger over a few long dinners with friends in a deserted City by the Bay. And that suits me just fine.

But I know a lot of y'all are just preparing to pack up the woolen sweaters and head East to hunker down for the holidays in the cold. And we've all known and dreaded that particular brand of crazy that comes from being good old-fashioned stuck: stuck in a house with loony relatives, too much fruitcake, and not enough beer; stuck in an airport terminal with delayed flights that just keep getting pushed further and further back; stuck in a barren prairie blizzard that's literally socked you in with snow, unable to leave the house, even to get the mail.

And those moments, my friends? Those are when the real yoga comes into play.

Because, damn, if it isn't easy to talk about joy and bliss and peace and compassion when you're sitting on the mat in a sunlit studio in San Francisco, your practice sandwiched lovingly between a breakfast date and a coffee rendezvous — to which you wear, naturally, flip-flops and a light parka, because, well, it's December in California, babydoll. Rainbows and unicorns for everyone!

It's another story completely when you're stuck in that snowed-in basement, surrounded by old National Geographics and momentos of your awkward middle school years, or trapped at your Uncle Judd's annual holiday hunting extravaganza, talking politics with your favorite, um, "differently-inclined" relatives, or, worst case scenario, braving the crabby crowds at the airport as you're reminded, once again, by ice storms and power outages and unpredictable Nor'easters, of how very little control we really do have.

My bhakti sister and colleague Jennifer Jarrett just suffered through that very experience, and she's written a smart, honest, authentic piece on what it means to really sit down with the prospect of staring a 3-hour airport delay in the face, trying to make friends with it in the far corner of Terminal C, and falling back on the yoga, the meditation, the awareness, the noticing, in those inconvenient moments wherein it'd be much easier to slam a few cocktails and get angry and march around, yelling at the powerless flight attendants.

We've all been there. I've spent years resorting to the vodka martinis and the futile marching around, usually in some dingy airport in Pennsylvania or Texas. It didn't ever get me very far — the vodka OR the marching. So here's another option from a very self-aware Jennifer:
This layover was different. I was tired and just over it. The holiday spirit was all around me, but I was feeling every part of bah humbug. I knew I needed to do something to shake it up and shake myself out of this mood. I needed to move my whole body and I needed to move forwards and backwards and side to side, and, more importantly, I needed to really breathe. I needed to get out of the frenzy of frenetic holiday travelers, to quiet the sharp sounds of overhead announcements and to restore a bit of equanimity to my body and my mind. I needed to hit the reset button.
So, I found a relatively quiet place in the Denver airport, took off my shoes and started to practice. I thought I would just move through a few sun salutations, but the next thing I knew it was 45 minutes later and I had completed a pretty comprehensive practice. I even did bakasana! Did people stare? Indeed, they did. Did moments of insecurity creep in? For sure. Did it really matter? Not at all. Because when I was finished, I felt lighter, yet more grounded and stable. The creakiness and crankiness that can sometimes accompany me in travel were replaced with a sense of fluidity, suppleness and freedom. I was calm, relaxed and actually felt joyful. Simply stated, I felt better.

Simply stated, I was better. I was able to return to the chaos of the world around me a better version of myself.
I love that. How many of us really turn into better versions of ourselves when we're faced with this kind of delay, or a freak blizzard, or even — gulp — having to just sit with our own families? Many of us — present company included, as my siblings will lovingly vouch — turn into the ugliest, least graceful, most whiny, most monstrous 14-year-old versions of ourselves in these kinds of moments.

Thanks, Jennifer, for the reminder that, even in those darkest, most frustrating, most powerless moments, we have a choice. We can choose. To just notice. To move. To breathe. To open. To bow forward in that most simple, classic, elegant, liberating salute to the sun.

And that's enough.

Airport Asana: Sun Salutations in Terminal C (MindBodyGreen)

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture: raw cotton.

Powerful take on the whole lululemon "Who is John Galt?" marketing campaign from teacher and yoga philosopher Michael Stone. Especially strong points circa 3:30 and beyond. Watch.

CTV lululemon interview from Centre of Gravity on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

I'm teaching at Urban Flow a lot in the next week. And just couldn't be happier about that.

So come already, yeah? My heart beats for this place and the people who make it pulse. You can feel that vibe, just walking in the door. We'll be holding it down:
Monday Dec 19th 9am
Tuesday Dec 20th 4:30pm
Wednesday Dec 21st 9am
Thursday Dec 22nd 9am
Thursday Dec 22nd 4:30pm
Friday Dec 23rd 9am
See you on the mat, lovers.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air: a raw, foggy day at the beach.




Nebraskans: I'm coming for you!!!

Save the dates: Jan 21-22nd.

And start hydrating now.
You're gonna need it.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.


Music matters. We know this.

The rhythm of a strong asana practice mirrors the rhythm of a heartbeat, a metronome, the breath. So what better way to bid sayonara to the old year and ring in the new than by jamming out and getting your sweat on for a good cause?

Join me at Flying Yoga for a special New Year's Eve Candlelight Jam session, Sat night Dec. 31st. It's donation-based, which means: hey, cool, pay what you can. We'll start at 5, just after twilight, when the studio's gotten all twinkly. We'll rock and sweat and breathe and jam and wring out the last year, bhakti-style, on behalf of a few kids who deserve to rock, too, and then send you out the door in time to get your party on, or to go home and crochet.

Either way, you win.

And so do the aspiring rocker grrls at Bay Area Girls Rock Camp. Because we're going to donate the profits to them. How can you not love these little goddesses?

So come on out. Because, really, what's more countercultural than saying:
1. You are not your car. You are not your salary. You are not your clothes. You are not your Hanumanasana.
2. Drop the masks. Be dangerously real.
3. Question reality. Question the scripts. Question your patterns. Question your mind.
4. You're brand new in every breath, every day, every practice.
5. Hey, you already have everything you need.
That's yoga. That's anti-establishment. That's rock. So bring your passion and your breath, wear some black sequins, get ready to wave adios to 2011, throw in a little head-banging and a lot of chaturangas, and there you go.

See you on the 31st.

Flying Yoga
Bay Area Girls Rock Camp
Rachel Meyer Yoga
Official Facebook Invitation

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.




Save your New Year's Eve. You're
spending it with me.

Details to come.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.


I'm teaching a free class today at
the Women's Building.

Take refuge in a dose of simple stillness.
Nothing fancy. Just the breath.

230pm — 3543 18th St (at Valencia)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air: a raw, foggy day at the beach.


Pulling a favorite cold December post out of the archives.

In the midst of all the glitter, do you sometimes feel obligated to be jolly? Garrison Keillor offers a hilarious shout-out to letting yourself be real.

Authenticity rocks. Especially in those moments wherein we feel we're "supposed" to feel (and thus behave) one way or the other. Just because we're celebrating a season of light and tinsel and halls decked with boughs of holly doesn't mean you've gotta pack away the melancholy and the blasé that can be just as much a part of being alive, day to day.

Just watch the feelings, all of them. The joy and the celebration and the bittersweet sadness that can sometimes creep in, too, when you're marking holidays for the first time in someone's absence, or miles away from the people you love, or sitting in front of the TV watching the Yule Log burn, or standing in line at Macy's behind sixteen tired and crabby people waiting for your gifts to get wrapped.

Step back, watch them, smile at how human they are, know they'll pass by like clouds in the barren winter prairie sky, and then? Just come back to the breath. It's a yuletide meditation, yo.

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.


I find my work constantly returning to this theme of yoga in the vernacular: "folk" yoga, one might say; what yoga (and mindfulness, and Buddhism, and progressive Christianity, and all of it) looks like off the mat, in the dirt, grounded in the day-to-day, the ostensibly mundane.

This interview with Korean Zen Master Samu Sunim beautifully articulates some of the reasons for that.

Here's a blurb:
We need to talk about a balance. Frankly, I think Asian monastics probably spend too much time sitting in meditation looking inward, and not enough time outdoors. They have to go out, as Shakyamuni did, and find out how people are living in society. But in the West, it’s the opposite problem. People spend all their time in the outer world. They’ve been successful in business, in their professional lives, but they have no relief from the stress of their lives. They need to sit down and settle the body and mind, instead of always running around feeling agitated inside.
....
I think we have to talk in terms of high Buddhism and folk Buddhism. I think we need both. When I say high Buddhism, I mean monastic Buddhism; I mean monks and nuns living a protected life in a monastery so that they can devote themselves entirely to spiritual cultivation in order to ensure dharma transmission. But we need what I would call “folk” Buddhism as well — people who go out, as bodhisattvas, into the marketplace, actively involving themselves with people. Those of us who are doing high Buddhism have to understand that we are not the only ones who are capable of transmitting the dharma. We have to understand the transmission of Buddha-dharma in a wider sense.
Man, do I hear him on the "Westerners needing a bit of inward emphasis" bit. And this contrast behind "high" Buddhism and "folk" Buddhism? Yes. Yes. That's where the craft of living well really comes into play: the being the bodhisattva in the marketplace, on the street corner, in the checkout line at Walgreens, on the bus, as an office drone, at the grocery store.

Opportunities for practice are waiting in each of those moments. This folk yoga, this engaged Buddhism? It's about transcending the idea that legit practice is relegated to the cushion or the mat. That's so old-school, dude.

Let it spill out into every breath, every step, every minute, every hour. Ok?

Buddha in the Market (Tricyle)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture: raw cotton.





So many exciting projects burbling
here at Chez Rach.

My mind's whirring, 24/7.

Here's a hint. And that pic at left?
That's a hint, too.
Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air: a raw, foggy day at the beach.




I'm teaching mornings at Urban Flow this week.

Join me Monday and Wednesday at 9am
for some all levels action,
mmmkay, babes?

Raw, adjective: 8. brutally harsh or unfair: a raw deal


Love this new post from Susan Piver.

Do you ever feel like your meditation or yoga practice is an escape? Like, hey, there are six thousand things you should be doing instead, and there's that grossly-overdue Inbox, and there's the mountain of laundry, and there's the filthy shower, and there's that uncomfortable conversation with so-and-so that you've been putting off and you really should just take care of it right now in spite of how tough it will be, but instead, oh gosh, if I leave now, I can just barely make the 6:15 class!, so you run, because once you get to the studio and silence your phone and unroll your mat it's all about turning off the mind and everything being ok just as it is, and so maybe for those few minutes of the day you can just escape from all the stuff that needs to be dealt with and finished up and grappled with and the like?

I can sure relate to that. Especially the part of the post that references the reader's Midwestern Protestant work ethic, which makes sitting down and doing nothing seem selfish, silly, lazy, wrong.

Oh, hell yeah.

Q: I often find that when I am getting ready to meditate or meditating, I feel like it is an “escape” and that I am avoiding “real work.” I suspect this comes from my Midwestern protestant work ethic upbringing. How common is that and what are good ways to let it go?

A: Thank you for this question. I’m sure others can relate to it, myself included. We are all so busy and engaged with important and/or necessary work. It can be tempting to think of meditation as self-indulgent, a waste of time, or escapist.

I could come up with a whole line of reasoning backed up by scientific research to prove that meditation is good for you, good for those around you, and could be more accurately described as the “practice of no-escape” rather than the opposite. But this isn’t really the point. Once we get in a debate with our practice, there will always be a good opposing argument, no matter what side you start out representing. So, rather than trying to establish a fool-proof rationale, you could simply label all of this “thinking” and come back to your breath.

As you know (or will soon discover), meditation is about resting attention on breath and when it strays, bringing it back. Whether it strays into thoughts that are vicious, brilliant, or dull is irrelevant. When you notice that you are caught up in thought while meditating, you simply (and gently) let that thought go and simply (and gently) come back to your breath.

So when you sit down to practice and the thought arises, “I am avoiding my real work right now,” let that thought go and come back to the breath. When the thought arises, “this practice runs counter to my work ethic and is an escape from my real responsibilities” you could let that go too, and come back to breath. Similarly, when the thought arises, “this is great, I am meditating anyway and I really, really see how meditation can support my work ethic” or, “work ethic, shmwork ethic, meditation is good for me and I’m going to do it!” please let those thoughts go as well and come back to breath.

When in doubt, let go. And come back.
Thanks, Susan.

There've definitely been moments in my life — usually times of great change and uncertainty, like when my father was dying, or I was writing (meaning: not writing) my masters thesis, or confronting a cancer scare, or dealing with difficult decisions that seemed to have no good possible eventual resolution — when I've run to the studio as a balm, as an escape, because it was the only place that I knew would offer even momentary relief, that quiet dark refuge that wouldn't ask me to grapple, or work, or deal. And in talking with friends over the years, I know that I'm not alone in doing so.

And, honestly, you know what? That's ok. That's really ok.

Sometimes I find we take refuge in the mat or the meditation cushion and we're even aware that in so doing we're avoiding dealing with all the difficult stuff of life that begs our attention. The first step is really even just becoming aware of that tendency, and approaching that realization with gentleness and compassion, instead of flogging ourselves for being escapist and lazy. Once you can face your escape hatch with a certain amount of love and grace, even gratitude and a sense of self-deprecating humor, it's a lot easier to tiptoe back toward those sources of confusion and uncertainty, armed with the reason, the patience and the peace that comes from the very practice to which we escape — Protestant work ethic be damned.

And, ironically, what I've come to realize, anyway, is that this granting ourselves even just a few minutes of stillness can oftentimes allow us to become even more productive in the end, because we're rested, we're grounded, we're fed, we're balanced. So everybody wins. Even John Calvin and that never-ending drive to achieve.

Achieve stillness. There's a start.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Raw, adjective: 6. ignorant, inexperienced, or untrained: a raw recruit.


I'm so happy to be returning to Oakwood to teach another Master Class this weekend. Please join me this Saturday afternoon the 10th, 1:30pm, for a core extravaganza.

Here's a little more on December's theme:
A strong core is vital to a healthy body, on and off the mat. Mid-section strength around the spinal column supports long-term, whole-body health, especially as we age.

This month, join me for a vigorous vinyasa practice emphasizing a variety of core strengtheners, and watch your practice evolve. We'll play with a few arm balances along the way, and offer tips for building a stronger core, from thigh to shoulder, too.
Can you say Tittibhasana?!?

See you Saturday, doves.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.


I'm a bit behind the times on the latest yoga dish, having been very busy of late drinking out of coconuts and sleeping on the beach. Ahem.

But there are a couple of hot topics that've been buzzing around the yoga-sphere these last few weeks, and if you're at all interested in the stuff beyond what happens on the mat, you owe yourselves a few minutes with these controversial stories:

1. The whole lululemon Ayn Rand "Who is John Galt?" marketing campaign hubbub. We've got all kinds of drama thanks to lulu's vague reference to Rand's Atlas Shrugged, which is, incidentally, a tome pretty steeped in notions of free market individualism — the kind of ideals some of us might argue are not particularly yogic, in terms of the denial of interrelation and whatnot. Here's a little background from the NY Times:
Lululemon Athletica, the retailer of yoga pants and hoodies, has long decorated shopping bags with slogans that appear to have been lifted from self-help books. But this month its bags have asked a question that some may find more provocative: “Who is John Galt?”

The question is the opening line of “Atlas Shrugged,” the novel by Ayn Rand that was published in 1957. Followers of Rand’s free market philosophy, which promotes the idea of individuals living for their self-interest and dismisses altruism, sometimes use the question to signal their allegiance.
As a shameless commie myself, you can imagine how I feel about the whole thing. It's quite troubling. Read up on it here at the NYT and at Yoga Dork, too. I could write a book. I will resist.

2. You've heard of the Yoga Alliance, right? It's that [very vague] umbrella-style accreditation association that's supposedly going to wrangle the wild, woolly world of yoga-teaching into something that looks like a systematized structure.

YA gets mixed reviews from both teachers and studios. Aspiring teachers complete their 200-hour training, thinking it'll give them a sheen of professional legitimacy once they can follow their name up with RYT ("Registered Yoga Teacher"). I've done it myself. Rachel Meyer, RYT. Doesn't mean a whole lot, though, really.

You see, the argument from prominent teachers like Bryan Kest and Baron Baptiste, who've distanced their training programs from Yoga Alliance affiliation in the past few years, is that the accreditation is so vague and loosely-enforced that it effectively means, well, nothing. And the steep annual dues the applicants pay for those three letters? No one really knows where that money goes, or if it accomplishes anything productive.

I've decided not to renew mine. No stress. I don't think those three letters will make me any better a teacher. And while the Yoga Alliance's intentions toward standardization seem honorable, it's such a vastly complicated undertaking to try to streamline such different traditions in this multifaceted profession, which involves playing the roles of country pastor, personal trainer, and motivational speaker, often all at once.

Recovering Yogi just featured a great deconstruction of this whole certification dilemma. Check it out. The article proffers that eternal question: what makes for a good yoga teacher? A certain number of hours spent in chakra contemplation? A helluva lot of anatomy knowledge at the expense of philosophy? Sweet-ass pecs and a killer tush? Who's to say? I say, go; read; talk amongst yourselves.

Here's a little teaser for you. Laura Riggs writes:
I have worked with many wonderful teachers who have opted to stay as far away from YA as possible and they are, in most cases, more qualified to guide a yoga class (or lead a teacher training) than many of the teachers currently listed in the YA registry. Reason being: YA lacks sufficient internal structure to monitor and hold the registered teachers and schools accountable in order to uphold the standards they have allegedly established. Furthermore, these so-called standards do not give any weight or bearing toward the qualifications actually needed to guide a yoga class in a knowledgeable, empowering, safe and ethical manner.
Whew. Gotcha.


3. Then, finally, my old boy Mr. B is at it again. What are we gonna do with him? Such a hot mess. More legal drama to do with branding and commodification and sequence-copyrighting and making a buck, I'm sad to say. Now the old guy's suing Yoga to the People (a.k.a. super well-intentioned donation-based model that originated in NYC and now has outposts here in SF and Berkeley, as well) for infringing upon his intellectual property.

Bikram's lawyer says YTTP is using Mr. B's own copyrighted sequencing and passing it off as the company's own:
“This 26-pose sequence already has a copyright....It’s like a series of dance steps; like the choreography in a musical. And musicals are copyrighted."
But Greg Gumucio, founder of YTTP, counters that
"This issue is much bigger than Bikram the man, much bigger than Bikram Yoga,” he wrote on his blog YogaTruth.org. “It is much larger than myself or Yoga to the People. This is about whether yoga asanas and the sequencing of asanas that are part of Traditional Knowledge will remain in the public domain for everyone to use, for everyone to teach, and for everyone to practice.”
Oy. Money and intellectual property and copyrighting and ancient history and all of it. For a practice that's supposed to be all about cutting out the drama in life, we've sure got a lot of it, eh? I blame the profit factor. Note that common branding/marketing theme in each of the above showdowns.

How to gracefully combine spirit and business, ethics and capitalism? You've got me. We'll keep practicing. One breath at a time. That's about all we can do. Well, that and drink. Heavily.

Lululemon Athletica Combines Ayn Rand and Yoga (NYT)
RYT, E-RYT, or RYS? BFD! (Recovering Yogi)
Bikram Sues Yoga to the People (Yoga Journal)

Raw, adjective: 5. crude in quality or character; not tempered or refined by art or taste: raw humor.


If something is too hard to do, then it's not worth doing. You just stick that guitar in the closet next to your shortwave radio, your karate outfit and your unicycle and we'll go inside and watch TV.

— Homer Simpson

(Made me laauuuuuugh. Keep practicing, folks. Just keep practicing. Pick up the damn guitar, roll out that untouched mat, pump up that flat tire, just dust it all off. Stop thinking so much, and just put one foot in front of the other, even when it sucks. Because, you know, someday? It won't. Promise.)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Raw, idiom: 14. in the raw, a. in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.





And there's your action shot, kids.

An honor to share in their big moment in some small way. And on the beach, in the shadow of limestone cliffs, no less.

Grateful.

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air: a raw, foggy day at the beach.


Home, darlings, home.

I stepped off the plane late last night to find a twinkly, Christmas card-worthy San Francisco, and the 50-degree temperature difference from the last time I'd breathed fresh air on the other side of the world felt oh-so-right.

Regular teaching schedule is in order, so I'll see you tonight at 4:30, Urban Flow, or at 7:45, Flying Yoga, if the East Bay's more your style. I've missed you.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Raw, adjective: 8. brutally harsh or unfair: a raw deal


Other religions suggest there may be a miracle, or you may go to heaven. But it is strangely comforting to hear from Buddha’s teaching that there is no such thing. This is what it is. This is reality. The Buddha’s teaching says that hope is just the flip side of fear, and fear the flip side of hope. The best thing is just to stay awake and watch it, watch yourself, and feel everything as it is right now.
— Kaz Suzuki,
"A Caregiver's Story"

*

I read this raw, sad story this morning in the rain while putting off the imminent need to pack for the airport.

I've been dreading the return to reality. (That, of course, implies that this is not "reality." Which is a common and flawed assumption for most of us who escape to a slower pace and warmer climes, I suppose. Still.)

But a sobering reality of another sort hit last night when, late in the evening, I received word through my younger brother that a dear, old friend of the family — a young German woman about my age, whose pastor husband had worked closely for my father when he was dying, and whose serious, cherubic 2-year-old daughter Magdalena brought much light and laughter to the somber, death-gripped hospice bed in the living room that year — was killed, unbeknownst to us, several months ago. Collision with a truck in Germany. Death on impact. She went quickly, leaving an injured Thomas and their now four young children behind.

I felt an unexpected severity of grief, a loss of appetite for all things vital on hearing the news.

This reminder of veritable impermanence, of the fact that, yes, life (and death) are really not "fair," and that's how it is, in spite of every resistance to that truth, shook me at a time when I was feeling selfishly wistful about having to leave the island and head back to "reality."

(How lucky we are to have a reality to return to!)

I will think of Ulrike as a caregiver, ever, she in her quiet unassuming way, and I will have such gratitude, always, for the joy she and her family wrought to my own family in a moment of great sadness. And my heart hurts for the family she's left behind, a family for whom the days are and will no doubt continue to be a struggle.

The thing with caregiving, as Kaz Suzuki describes so poignantly above, is that it's a closed circle kind of phenomenon. We give, knowing we'll need to be given to; we care, knowing we'll need to be cared for. I wish I could better care for Thomas and his children, long out of touch now somewhere in Germany; I wish I could offer them the comfort they offered to us, these years ago, now in their own moment of suffering. And I am reminded of the sick grace of terminal illnesses like HIV and cancer, a grace which comes in the ability to plan for death, to expect it, to say the things we want to say before it's too late.
"Raymond was composed strongly. A big-boned, masculine, athletic guy. And when everything else deteriorated, I think his heart kept on pumping. I’d help him put his legs up, and I would touch his belly. I’d help him breathe, help him watch his breath. I would hold his belly and breathe with him. Being aware of breathing had an immediate effect for him, a calming effect. But I would hear my own internal voice say, Am I going to be like this some day? Who is going to take care of me when I get sick? I felt my own fear and terror. But it helped me to see this, to see my own panic rather than be captured by it. I had never watched my breath or his own so intensely before — I don’t think I can reproduce that. That was the deepest meditation I’ve ever experienced."

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.




This makes my heart swell.

*

Lama Gyurme. More here.

Raw, idiom: 14. in the raw, a. in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.


The butterfly counts not months but
moments and has time enough.

— Rabindranath Tagore


(Moments. Yes.)

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture: raw cotton.


Undone.

We talk a lot about "getting undone." Undoing has always been one of my favorite definitions of yoga, and sure enough, it gets a fair amount of lip service in the yoga world.

But what does that really look like?

Your shoelaces come undone, usually accidentally. Your bra comes undone, possibly deliberately. The handle on your fabric grocery bag comes undone while you're carrying 2 melons and 6 kombuchas, definitely not deliberately. (And then you try not to come emotionally undone when your 2 melons and 6 kombuchas roll down the street.) There's even a novel by that name: She's Come Undone. I've not read it, but back in the day it was a NY Times best-seller and chosen for Oprah's Book Club and everything, which implies some narrative mixture of mental illness and tragedy and redemption, wouldn't you guess?

So coming undone is a bad thing, but it's a good thing, but maybe sometimes it's both....so what the hell?

*

The woman in yellow led me up a twisting rock staircase, past hot tubs and leafy hideaways and one of the more stunning views of the ocean I've seen in some time. After I'd trudged up the hill, pretending not to be out of breath, she led me into a room at the top of the staircase, a warm one, specially heated, and promptly laid me out on my belly, slathered hot coconut oil on my back, and started pounding out my shoulders like a construction worker taking a jackhammer to cement.

About thirty seconds in, the woman — her name was Pop — groped her hands around my right shoulder blade, and then froze for a second. The muscles there were so knotted up, she started laughing. I didn't have to ask what was so funny. I knew, too well.

Then she slid her hands to the left shoulder blade, felt around a bit, and started laughing again.

"Same," she giggled.

And then she turned the jackhammer up full throttle.

*

Granthis.

Granthis are knots. They're psychic knots, they're emotional knots, they're the subtle energy kind of knots that block the free movement of prana through the 72,000 energy channels — nadis — of the body. You've likely heard of the sushumna nadi, that central energy line through which the chakras run. Well, you've got ida and pingala, too — corresponding with the left and right sides, and if you want to get all binary up in this, the feminine and masculine — and somewhere in there, a few tens of thousands more.

The goal of Kundalini yoga is to pierce these nadis. (Stick with me here, I know). Because when you're stuck, you're stuck. When you feel heavy and lethargic and sluggish, zero life force, that general sense of emotional or bodily malaise, chances are you've got some powerful business going on in your granthis.

Most scholars say you've got three major granthis, running along the sushumna: the Brahma (at the base chakra), the Vishnu (at the heart chakra), and the Rudra (behind the third eye). Makes sense to me. But I've long found this knot imagery useful, far beyond those three agreed-upon main stations along the line.

We develop psychic knots over time. It's not like you have a bad break-up or your cat kicks the bucket and suddenly Shazaam! you've got a magic new granthi in your forearm. No, these puppies grow in the myriads of times we repeat, we repress, we power through, we move under or over something in our lives that's a challenge, a source of melancholy, a source of pain, a source of fear. They harden, slowly, repeatedly, like big ol' invisible rubber band balls, one rubber band at a time, blocking the easy flow of prana through our bodies.

Still with me? I know, it sounds kind of woo-woo.

But seriously. Think about it.

Granthis can be related to samskaras, for sure — those old habits that wear deep grooves into our behavioral patterns, such that after awhile it's so hard not to automatically snap at someone when they piss you off, or to stop downing a bottle of wine every night in order to fall asleep, or to resist diving into a pint of Ben and Jerry's to avoid feeling the disappointment of being looked over for that promotion yet again.

We hit "restart" to become conscious of some of those samskaras, and to maybe find a way to undo the many self-created granthis in our lives. I think of the change in my own life when I cut out gluten. The difference was palpable, in my energy, my relationships, my health, and my disposition. I suddenly felt unblocked, as if all the knots that had challenged my ability to be happy and productive and social and energized had just quickly dissolved like cubes of raw brown sugar in hot water.

I feel dissolved in that same way now, here, this dark, gloomy Sunday evening in Koh Samui, as the smoke rises over the mountains to my right and the wet, muggy night sets in. Having been pounded by Pop and her thumbs of steel, I am broken-in, undone, unraveled, as though the pain and the struggle of every Chaturanga and every hard decision and every loss that I've ever stored in my shoulders has been dissipated, cracked open, released, and fresh life force is streaming through.

*

We tie ourselves into knots. I see it happen in front of my face, amongst my dearest friends and family. Our minds do the knitting, weaving our lives into intricate fabrics of fears and projections and worries and hypothetical realities. And when slowly, gently, over the years we learn to gradually dissociate with that tightening mind, we better manage to soften, and eventually, if we really work at it, to avoid knotting up in the first place.

But sometimes we need help. Sometimes we need Pop with the hands of a construction worker, or we need a week sans sugar and meat and dairy (I suspect this might be true for many of us), or we need some time sans people, or alarm clocks, or responsibilities, to help us get there, to ease us into that unleashed, unblocked state.

The result? That vaunted undoing. That shedding of skins, that unlearning how to be tense and uptight and self-righteous and fearful. We become more childlike, more trusting, less wound up.

Where are your knots? What heartache are you storing in your hip, and what lost ambition have you lodged in your right calf? What failed relationship are you carrying around knotted up in your belly? And what fear of the future is tangled up in that space just behind your brow?

Start to unravel. The practice teaches us how, you know: we bind in Utthita Parvsakonasana to remind ourselves that we have the power to tie ourselves in chains, to tangle ourselves in knots, and the even greater power to unlock those chains, to undo those same knots.

I always compare the undone feeling to that lightning-fast speed when you reboot your computer after it's been cluttered with open windows and busy applications for one too many days and that whirly-gig colored ball just spins and spins and spins. We open up, restart. New energy flushes in. Revived.

There's no "doing" involved. That's what's so damn hard for many of us, I imagine. And that's why we practice just letting ourselves be there, ready, waiting, trusting in Pop or Pattabhi Jois or what-have-you, resting in that breathless, coconut-oil-slathered state of repose. There's your radical undoing. There's your first step toward flowing.

And then? There's your prana.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Raw, adjective: 1. uncooked, as articles of food: a raw carrot.


In spite of all the tropical distractions, I've been tuned in enough to catch wind of the unexpected closure of Cafe Gratitude (and her slightly-earthier, much more hip younger sister, Gracias Madre).

On hearing the news, my Facebook feed exploded with dramatic exclamations of dismay and disbelief. (This is not surprising, given that I have a lot of hippie yoga friends who try to eat well.) And yet, it's somehow not shocking at all. Hard to say who or what's at fault here. As much as the place has been a refuge of freshness and vitality and good intentions for me and my beloveds for years now, it's also laden with some heavier baggage.

Despite my, erm, gratitude for Cafe Gratitude (it's been well-documented around these parts in the past, here and here, for instance), I've always been weirdly suspicious of their Landmark affiliations. And I wouldn't be surprised if some of the shady cult aspects of that influence are at play here, too. It's disappointing all-around.

But, here in vegan heaven, I've been thinking a lot about Cafe Grat and the remarkable, truly countercultural kinds of offerings they prepare, and how rare it is to walk into a restaurant and feel at once free to enjoy whatever you'd like (most vegetarians can relate to that sense of limitation, no?) and certain that you're channeling your money into the kind of establishment that operates on a slightly enlightened (or making an effort to be enlightened) plane. So it's sad to see it go, if only because the loss really puts a crimp in my regular dates with KRW and crew.

I'm on the final day now of my stay here at Kamalaya [wistful], and eating here has been much like living in a 24/7 paradise island version of Cafe Gratitude (with better, faster, less cheesy and invasive service, I might add). The food is incredible: fresh and green and light and (for the most part) vegan, and so unbelievably full of prana. It's the way I'd like to eat all the time, every day, if I had my druthers:
Fresh fruits for breakfast. Strong coffee (natch). Roasted and sprouted nuts. Olive oil and ginger and garlic. Wok-steamed vegetables with Thai herbal sauces and Indian cabbage and pumpkin curry and zucchini pasta. And on and on and on.
Every evening means starting dinner with the kind of excellent freshly-squeezed vegetable juices that I haven't had time to make since grad school, when I spent hours finding reasons not to write my thesis. (I did a lot of juicing then, needless to say. Juicing and playing piano.) Spinach and kale and parsley and red cabbage and beets and carrots and lime and pineapple and broccoli, juiced. Perfection.

I studied up a lot on juicing when my Pops got cancer, and anyone who's read anything on juicing knows that it's the way to go for the maximum in nutrition with the minimum in digestive effort. That's one of the many habits I'd like to pack up and take home with me when I leave.

This kind of soul work, the project of eating well, so tied to the body, yes, lies at the heart of our mission with Bhakti Kitchen. It's not restrictive, it's not proscriptive, it's not joyless. It leaves plenty of space for flexibility, for being human, for eating the blue-cheese-stuffed olive in your martini or that huge slab of birthday cake. It's just this: we believe that eating well can change one's experience of being in a body, that eating well has a direct causal relationship to living well. Simple.

I've seen it already in just this week, in the difference in my own skin and mind and body and sleep patterns and sense of well-being. And I have no doubt that this easy manifestation of my ideal eating habitsahimsa-driven, high raw, vegan, lightly processed, fresh, and locally sourced — has set a tone for the weeks to come, has shaken me out of the more prana-depleting patterns that come from living a hectic, nomadic urban life, and has reminded me of how easy it is to feel well, to consciously create wellness in and of our own choices, 3+ times a day.

Wanky-sounding, I know. But it's a sentiment that's been reinforced these past days, too, in all the Jivamukti and bhakti and philosophical and theological emphases on compassion, ahimsa, living lightly on the earth and in harmony with the lives that interweave often unknowingly with our own. Click a few of those links above. This one in particular feels especially hep to what I'm feeling today, swimming in green smoothies and fresh pineapple and sauteéd morning glory and the like.

Just choose. Decide to live well, in a spirit of ahimsa, with mindful intent. In every bite.

That said, you just might wanna hustle over to Cafe Gratitude before they shutter. I know I'll be there a lot in the weeks to come. That raw chocolate hazelnut mousse pie? To die for. And don't miss the coconut cream pie, either. Or the Tiramisu, come to think of it.

*

Vegetarianism preserves lives, health, peace, the ecology, creates a more equitable distribution of resources, helps to feed the hungry, encourages nonviolence for the animal and human members of the planet, and is a powerful aid for the spiritual transformation of the body, emotions, mind, and spirit.

— Gabriel Cousens, Conscious Eating

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air: a raw, foggy day at the beach.


To understand how prayer works, consider the sun, which shines everywhere without hesitation or hindrance. Like God or Buddha, it continuously radiates all its power, warmth, and light without differentiation. When the earth turns, it appears to us that the sun no longer shines. But that has nothing to do with the sun; it’s due to our own position on the shadow side of the earth. If we inhabit a deep, dark mine shaft, it’s not the sun’s fault that we feel cold. Or if we live on the earth’s surface but keep our eyes closed, it’s not the sun’s fault that we don’t see light. The sun’s blessings are all-pervasive, whether we are open to them or not. Through prayer, we come out of the mine shaft, open our eyes, become receptive to enlightened presence, the omnipotent love and compassion that exist for all beings.

— Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche,
"Prayer"

I think of the Gayatri Mantra this morning now, reading this as the sun rises in the East, and of the power of pouring oneself out, in that self-emptying kind of way. We look to the light.

Om bhur bhuvah svah
tat-savitur varenyam
bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyo yo nah pracodayat

Friday, December 2, 2011

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.

Find the yoga in this, Rach.

It doesn't have to be just a workout.

You can turn this into a meditation.
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.

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)

Blows (exhale)
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.