Friday, May 28, 2010

Where the Magic Happens.

Yoga. You either love it or hate it.

One of my newer students came up to me at the end of class the other night and thanked me for holding postures. I smiled to myself as she walked away.

There is a growing trend in America to speed up Yoga, as only we Americans love to do. Faster means better, right? Faster cars. Faster Internet. Faster stove tops, even. And don't get me wrong, there are many times in my own practice when I love to have a faster practice. But, when it comes to Yoga, faster does not necessarily mean better.

I teach Kripalu Yoga; the Yoga of compassion. The Sanskrit translation of "kripalu" actually is "compassion". We were taught in Yoga school to take integrative pauses between postures so that the prana (life-force energy) has time to be absorbed into the body. This pause is an act of self-compassion. It gives your body time to re-energize. The prana is created through the movement or postures (asanas) and the breathing circulates the prana. When you take a pause to just breathe between postures, the healing energy that the asana generated has time to work.

Each asana has its own prana and energetic story. Even the name of the posture has a specific vibration that contributes to the overall prana of the asana. Take "Utkatasana" for example. We Americans love to translate this as "Chair Pose" when the actual Sanskrit translation of "utkata" is large, immense, and spacious. Feel the energetic difference between "chair" and "spacious". So when you are holding utkatasana for more than one breath, which is a challenge for many of us, it can be more liberating to think about being immense and spacious than to think about sitting in a chair.

Most of the advanced yogis and yoginis I know hold postures for long lengths of time. When was the last time you were in a class where you held utkatasana for 5 minutes? 10 minutes? If you are a regular practitioner your muscles are probably having a visceral response just by reading this. You can probably feel your quads burning.

It is in this holding where the magic happens. It is in the holding when we feel the resistance. This is where we get to explore why and what we are resisting. Maybe, just maybe, then, in this holding we can find the answers. It is in this energetic story of the asana that occurs during the holding where we can experience both a response in the annamaya kosha (physical sheath) as well in the manomaya kosha (mind sheath). With a deep exploration of the responses that are experienced in the holding, one can gain greater growth, both physically and spiritually.

Here's where I think a practice that involves only fast movement fails. In my limited experience of Yoga, I have found that folks who tell me they "hate" Yoga say the reason they hate it is because it's "too slow". What they really hate is the self-exploration that the holding brings. In the continuous fast movement being marketed as "Yoga" these days, you can easily avoid the self-exploration for which the science of traditional Yoga was developed. And I'm sure you get quite a bit of physical benefit from a non-holding practice but my ego says, "Why do a practice where there's no spiritual growth?" But, hey, that's my ego talking....

It is in the holding when we are allowed to feel the sweet spot of release. This is what addicted me to this practice. The first time I felt my body release into a posture was the first time I felt bliss. Bliss is like a divine drug. This heavenly high expands consciousness, the ultimate goal, and is what keeps most of us on the path towards enlightenment.

So, if you are a Yoga hater, explore what it is that you hate. And if you are a Yoga lover and happen to love a vigorous practice know that a slow practice can be just as challenging; try holding chair for 10 minutes.... And whether you love it or hate it, remember that the answers lie in the resistance.

Monday, May 24, 2010

They Keep Ringing the Bell

Nelson? Here. Redente? Here. Comperchio? Here. Roman? Here. Hendrix?.....Hendrix?.....Hendrix?.....

A Yoga teacher friend of mine once told me that the Yoga class is not for the evolution of the student, but really for the evolution of the teacher. She couldn't be more right. The whole process of the class continuously spurs me towards a higher vibration. This could not happen, however, if the students never showed up.

One of my secret little pleasures of leading Yoga is taking roll call in my head. Before I get to class I frequently wonder who will show up. And many times is like a game of BINGO. It might be an odd assortment of bodies and personalities that don't make any sense at all. Sometimes, it's just the four corners but it works. Sometimes I get that perfect straight line that just goes together. But the big winner is when I fill the board with every shape, personality and experience level.

I will celebrate my 5 year anniversary of being a bonafide, certified Yoga teacher on July 1st. Being a Yoga instructor, as with any career, there are ups and downs. Sometimes I'm so on top of my game that I am amazed what comes out. But for the most part, I wonder why the students keep coming back.

(And if you are not one of my students and you are reading this here's how it works:
I have a little control, but not much, over what comes out of my mouth during class. I start each and every class in prayer to my Guru, first and foremost, and then I'll call in other ascended masters if I need more help. Then I'll start class "under my own steam", so to speak, but at some point, an intuitive higher guidance takes over and "we" (the higher vibration and this incarnation called Me) lead the class, kind of, hand in hand. I know it sounds strange and it is extremely hard to explain, but that's the best I can do....)

So, during times of doubt, when I'm wondering why they (my students) keep coming, is when I receive my greatest lessons. It is usually during these times when one or more of the following is occurring:
A) I'm not in tune with my body.
B) I'm cranky/tired/_______ (fill in the blank).
C) I haven't been practicing myself.

It is usually during A, B, and/or C when I have that " I don't want to be doing this" feeling. I'll force myself to go to class and once we get started breathing together as a community, that feeling goes away. By the end of class, I will feel 100% better than when I got there and it is a constant reminder of why I do this. And although my regular students probably know this about me, they still keep coming to class.

Some of my students have been coming to my class for all 5 years and some have only been coming for 5 months. The ones who have been coming for 5 years are the biggest challenge. Some days I say to myself, "I've got nothing left. I've taught them everything I know. They could lead this class better than I can."...... But they keep coming.

This has forced some deep introspection on my part. I have had to find confidence where I frequently think I have none. I have had to dig deeper into my own practice to see if I actually do have something left to give. And I have to pat myself on the back when I find something that I had forgotten I knew even when I have taught that posture or breath a million times.

I'm not looking for compliments either. I'm just exploring that part in each of us where confidence and belief in ourselves resides. So often we prefer to bash ourselves. I see it in students all the time. So I have to lead by example, right? Even in Yoga. Yikes.

I share a lot about my life with my students. I'm just a student, too. This is really important to me. I want them to know my struggles and how I apply my Yoga to live my life fuller and with more vigor. I think they appreciate that I try to make Yoga accessible to modern life.

I know a lot about many of my students. They, at some point, will divulge things about themselves. It usually starts with their physical issues and then, just as the physical is connected with everything else, the rest of their lives start to take shape. Some of them I know nothing about and embarrassingly admit I can barely remember their names. But they keep coming. Some of them don't want to be known and that is ok. They keep coming too.

There are a handful who are actually my teachers. They teach me about life, call me out when I'm bullshitting and love me when I'm down. There are even a couple who are like guardian angels who magically showed up for no reason at all and have protected me when I needed them. These few I stand in awe of and they know who they are.

I'm a huge Seinfeld fan. I've seen every episode probably 10 times. Geek, I know... There's this one episode when Jerry's hipster dufus neighbor, Kramer, ends up driving a public transit bus as he was being accosted by a robber. As Kramer is relating this adventure to Jerry he reveals that he kept making all of the bus stops to let off the passengers. Jerry, in his disbelief, asks Kramer, "You kept making the stops??!!??" And Kramer replies, "They kept ringing the bell!"

And that's how I feel. I'll keep making the stops as long as they keep ringing the bell.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Leave it to Shiva

I'm a fat Yogini. Zaftig. Rubenesque. Pleasantly plump. Goddess-like.

In the "normal" world, I'm actually below average. On my best days I'm a large size 8 and on my worst, a small size 12. The average American woman is a 14, or so the media tells us. But in the world of Yoga, I'm huge. I look like one of Ruben's models for 'Venus at the Mirror' or Boticelli's goddess emerging from the clam shell.

My struggle with weight has never been a secret to my Yoga students. (see "How It All Began") In fact, many times I am the largest person in the room and I'm the teacher. Most of my students can relate to my weight struggle as well as all of the body image emotional baggage that comes with it. So I think one of the reasons they come to my class is because I understand them and they can relate to me.

Being comfortable with my weight is kind of new. I lost a great deal of weight 7 years ago after beginning Yoga and receiving Shaktipat from my teacher. And even though I lost a lot of weight, I'm still round. It took me a while to gain an appreciation for my new body. Once I did, I started buying new clothes that fit my new shape and had to get rid of my fat clothes. I vividly remember calling my best friend from college crying hysterically because I needed her to talk me into actually taking the Goodwill bag out of the trunk that was full of fat clothes and putting it into the bin. The fear of losing part of myself by getting rid of those clothes scared the hell out of me. She said to me, "When my son is a teenager and his friends come over I want them to say, 'That's your mom?!'" That one statement was my impetus to throw the bag in the bin.

For the most part I have maintained my current weight and Yoga has shaped and toned what I've got. I'm in love with my shape and embrace it, most days. If there wasn't a constant barrage from the media telling me that I'm fat, then I'd probably love it all the time. But on days when I'm feeling good, I'm amazing. Humbly amazing, but amazing none-the-less.

I've learned to love my womanly curves. Women were created to be round and soft. We give life and we nurture life. We couldn't do that without these curves. Why not embrace this in myself? I mean, I'm healthy and consider myself fit. It's really not my business what other people think about how I look. It is my business to be my personal best and that includes taking care of what I have and loving what I have.

There is a Yoga center where I take class when we go on our regular family vacation. This little place is run by a woman that I completely admire and consider a role model. She is a beautiful, full-figured Yogini. She is successful, confident and strong. I learn something everytime I take her class. Often, when I have been in moments of self doubt, my husband will refer to this teacher to shake me out of my slump. And it works. Everytime.

A few years ago when we were on vacation, I went to her Level 2 class. This is a pretty vigorous class and you had better know what you're doing. I was sore and loving it! A couple of days later I went again. This particular morning, she was running a few minutes late. A bunch of us were waiting outside in the beautiful summer morning sun. There were a few women in front of me. I had totally judged them and was wrong as usual. They were thin and wearing $100 Yoga pants. I figured they were experienced New York Yoginis. When the teacher showed up, one of these women said to the others, "I thought Yoga was supposed to make you skinny." Are you f$%#ing kidding me? I totally had to bite my tongue.

We all went in and set up, and I was steaming mad. But I was trying to put this in a Yogic perspective, so I sat down and let Shiva do His work. And the thing about Shiva is that He sometimes takes years or lifetimes to transform you and sometimes He likes an instant karmic response. This was one of those times. hehehe...

Before class started, the teacher asked if everyone knew this was a Level 2 class and was there anyone who had never practiced before. These three women raised their hands. I had a nice little chuckle to myself and we proceeded to have a vigorous Level 2 practice. Oh, Sweet Shiva!

After class was over, I drove past these three women talking in the parking lot. Oh boy, was I tempted to say something, but I bit my tongue again. Let Shiva do this job for me. I'm quite sure they were sore for the next few days and I'm sure that everytime their muscles burned they were reminded that fit does not equal skinny. I've wondered about these strangers from time to time. Wondering if that experience had an impact on how they perceive size? Again, leave it to Shiva.

Your body is your "Soul Vehicle". It's job is to drive your soul around this lifetime. You may not have had your pick on the lot but this is the vehicle Shiva gave you. Take care of it and love it.

And if you're curvy, learn to embrace it. If you have a round woman in your life, appreciate her. You never know the strength that lies beneath those curves. And, for crying out loud, STOP JUDGING! Just leave it to Shiva.