Misery on the Mat

Not so long ago, I was having what was known as a bad day.  I was under pressure from a lot of directions, and feeling overwhelmed, and irritable, and all those things that happen to constitute a bad day.  The next morning, I woke up early, as I do, and headed off to my yoga class.  I had some extra time, so I took it.  What happened was magical.  Each movement was languid, and I absolutely luxuriated in it.  My breath was long and slow.  I held every pose for double the length.  It almost felt like I was moving in warm soup, with slow pressure and easy movement.  At a certain juncture, I realized that in a sense, my mat had become my magic carpet and had lifted me a bit above from my despair.  And further, I realized that all of those situations that were distressing me were already ghosts.  It had already happened!  It wasn’t still happening.  And then I was able to live in the moment, there in my practice.

At the end of all of that, I realized that my yoga practice has never been so good as when I am a mess.  The more miserable I am, the more I can show up to my mat, push everything aside and really be present in my practice.  Happiness rarely gravitates me conscientiously to the mat, not without a lot of effort at least.  My mind wanders, and I have to wrestle it back in.  I’m thinking about all the fun to be had, and my balance suffers.

This is where yoga truly becomes a discipline.  I can always make it to the mat miserable.  Making it when I’m happy takes commitment.  I’m happy to say that over the last three years, I’ve kept my commitment, but it’s taken me years of doing yoga to finally build that consistency.  Because of the steady practice, this time, I had the skills and the focus to have an almost out of body experience, which gave me true wisdom in my situation.

When do you practice yoga?  Can you find your pattern?  Let me know how it goes for you in the comments.

Foundational Integrity

This week, we’ve had Peter Bertero visit us at Downtown Yoga Shala.  I didn’t get to meet with him during his workshop on Saturday, so I booked a private session with him.  When I was a new student of Ashtanga a couple of years ago, we had the great privilege to have him as our teacher for an extended period of time.  Because I was new to this style of yoga, I was still struggling through everything, and trying to rush through the poses.  I famously remember him telling me to start over once, and to do the standing sequence again, but more slowly, which, as you might imagine, was miserable.  But, I never rushed those poses again.

Well, in my private session, I got the same advice, but for different reasons.  As my practice has grown to about 90 minutes, without even meaning to, I would move through it like I was “mowing the lawn.”  My intention hasn’t stayed with every pose with integrity.  I’ve been putting my focus on the new things I’m trying to learn to master, and less on my foundation, from which all ability springs.  So today, I did things differently.  I didn’t worry about doing every single pose.  I luxuriated through my sun salutations, breathed every moment of the standing postures, holding them for twice the length.  I didn’t worry about my “goal” of busting through every single asana.  In this way, my old practice became new again.  In refining each of my foundational poses, it felt new.  I went deeper, intentionally moving my body in new and challenging ways, building off of what I already knew.  I wouldn’t have been capable of feeling these poses in this way before, because my abilities have deepened, but had I not revisited my foundation, I couldn’t really progress in the new poses either.

Recently, we received a bounty of acceptance letters for our two almost kindergarteners for their schooling.  I’m kind of one of those people who prefers being hemmed in by decisions sometimes.  “Oh well, I didn’t get xyz, I guess it’s up to fate!”  Nothing sends me into a tailspin of anxiety like too many open doors.  Well, we got a bunch of open doors, and ultimately, it came down to one school vs. another.  Both are good choices, but I found myself wanting to go with the path of least resistance, picking the closer school, going where I know we have friends.  Finally, I went and revisited my initial choice, and had a bit of a realization.  I remembered my foundations for what I wanted for my children.  What is my educational philosophy?  Well, it’s this one!  So, why was I getting so distracted with everything else?

It’s living in the “and then, and then, and then”.  On the mat, I do this, then this, then this, and phew!  I’m done!  For schools, I was thinking in a fear-based way.  Will it be hard to volunteer?  Will the drive be too long?  And darn it, our best friends aren’t going there!  My children will be late and friendless…but then I remembered that everything changes anyway. Being locked in worry and anticipation doesn’t mean that you can avoid upheaval.  It’s coming for you, no matter how much energy you expend trying not to let it happen.

Only by finding my foundation again could I progress in my yoga practice.  And is “progress” what I am after?  What does that mean to me?  Do I want to do a bunch of show-offy things?  Well, yes, but that’s not all I want.  I want to be present.  I want to live the moments that I am living, not thinking of the next thing.  So for now, until it’s not right anymore, I am going to focus on my foundation.  Today, that’s where I put my energy, and not only did it feel like something fresh, difficult, and spectacular, it also brought me to my best headstand yet.

Think about where you’ve gotten distracted.  What is fundamentally true for you that you’ve let slip to the sidelines?  Dig back down to the concrete, and then rebuild your house.

Of Flies and Children

A month or two ago, the excellent Jörgen Christiansson visited us at Downtown Yoga Shala, for an entire week.  We did a lot of yoga, but we also were able to gain a lot of verbal wisdom from his lectures, as he has lived a yogic life.  One of the stories Jörgen told had a particular impact on me, as I’ve found it pretty much applicable to everything.  He described a day in which some flies got into his studio, and all of the students in Mysore class that morning kept batting at the flies, losing their focus, and generally not focusing on their practice.  Finally, Jörgen told them, “stop bothering the flies!”

So, of flies and children.  Sometimes I am not able to get to the studio, or I am working on a sequence at home to teach in the studio.  Now, I look at those inspirational yoga photos that are all over Facebook from time to time, and about 1 out of every 50 features an adorable child following along with their mother or father, practicing something beautiful.  Some have their children plastered to them, but the child is doing yoga too!  My 5 year old twins are not that way.  I’ve tried to do yoga with them, but they horse around like crazy.  One of mine, she likes to ham it up;  pretend to fall over, “slip”, do everything in opposites.  The other just wants to chat.

I’ve tried sneaking to the living room to practice, long before anyone should wake up.  But as soon as I am in a groove, my kids sense it and magically awaken (usually my chief conspirator who gets so silly).  This week, I remembered about the flies, and when my girl wanted to be with me, I got her a mat to use, laid it down next to mine, and just did my thing.  Sometimes I gave her a little advice, but by and large, I let her slip, and giggle, and use all her wrong arms and legs.  You know what?  It worked out.  A little of the time, she did it right.  A lot of the time she just had fun.  And I wrote my sequence, and practiced, and felt good about it.  Maybe someday my kids will love yoga, maybe they won’t.  But, they’ll remember that I love it, and they’ll remember that they had fun.  I am going to “stop bothering” my children, at least when it comes to yoga.


I’ve been on a stint of very early morning awakening lately.  Generally, this comes in handy, as I practice yoga around 6 in the morning and I despise waking up to the sound of an alarm, no matter how I dress it up with soothing ringtones from my phone.  For all that my ringtone is called “Walk in the Forest,” all it really means to me is that I am waking up in an abrupt manner.  This particular morning, I woke up at 4:45 and continued reading Jack Kornfield’s excellent book After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.  In chapter 12, Kornfield is exploring the ideas around the physical body, and the tendency people have in or out of spiritual traditions to either glorify or mortify it.  In this section, he quotes from a writer named Eduardo Galeano:

The church says: The body is a sin.

Science says: The body is a machine.

Advertising says: The body is a business.

The Body says: I am a fiesta.

Now, imagine that!  What if we could stop being at war with our bodies, and just enjoy the fiesta?  This doesn’t mean to elevate the body as something to be worshipped (we have plenty of that here in America), but what if we could celebrate ourselves, here and now?  Celebrate here and now, in the body that you have this day.  Just think–what have we ever gained through self-loathing?  Let’s make it a fiesta, people!