Excuses

Starting in late-November, my home yoga practice, never that strong to begin with, fell off. I also stopped going to group class as much which is sad because I love going to group classes. I became too lazy to update this site.

My excuse? Our new puppy. My yoga became my puppy. Staying mindful and calm in the midst of her adolescent willfulness required all the knowledge and self-awareness I’ve gleaned from my years of yoga and meditation.

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8 tips for beginning yogis

I taught my third group yoga class last week, and boy do I have a lot to learn about teaching. At one point a dude in class asked loudly, in frustration, “What leg should I use?” A few minutes later he said again, “I don’t understand what to do!” I guess I wasn’t providing clear enough instructions. At the same time, an older, overweight woman who was taking yoga for the first time started to walk around fanning herself and saying, “Wooh, I need to rest.”

The rest of the class proceeded without interruption, but I realized how much I take for granted as a seasoned yoga class goer, how much I better I could communicate as a teacher, and how strange the yoga world must seem to an outsider. This is the advice I’d give to a yoga newbie:

1) Find a basics or beginners class. Even if you are an athletic person, and can do demanding things with your body, you don’t know the alignment, or the sequence, or the poses. Find a class for beginners. You’ll benefit so much more, because the teacher will slow the sequence down, explain things more, and create an environment in which you’re less likely to injure yourself. You’d be cocky to go to an advanced level flute class having never played the instrument before even if you were already a maestro on the piano. You’d probably pick up the flute quickly, if you tried, but you still need to learn the basics: how to purse your lips, regulate your breath, and the physical configuration of the notes on the flute itself. Yoga asanas need time and space for learning. Basics doesn’t have to mean “easy” though. Basics classes can be physically challenging, and can even be more so than an “advanced” class–because when you hold poses for a while and with proper alignment, you are using muscles you normally don’t use. This is hard. Which brings me to my next point.

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No Clarity, No Direction: No Problem.

Krishna and Arjun on the chariot, Mahabharata,...

Krishna and Arjuna on the battlefield

Who is ? I don’t know. He’s an Indian dude with wisdom to share. I’ve very much enjoyed two of his posts on elephant journal. The latest one (No Clarity, No Direction, No Problem), in particular, speaks to me, as holidays approach, and I have no plan 8 months after quitting my job (yikes). I am in perfectly fine spirits (we’re getting a dog! I have time for yoga, to cook, to sleep!), but boy oh boy do I want to do something. What? how?

Mr.  calls this the “Arjuna syndrome”, these moments in our lives when the only thing the brain is filled with is confusion, frustration and dejection. Continue reading

Letting Go (of Wall Street)

While bombshells fall in the yogaworld I am stuck in my head. I wonder: should I open up a yoga studio? I love the idea of starting a business; I love yoga. I need a job.

Could this be me someday?

I don’t have a yoga following, let alone much teaching experience, but the school won’t be about me. It would be about the teachers (from all styles! Ashtanga, Jivamukti, Iyengar, Kundalini, you name it, even pilates!) and the community. It would be a business. My neighborhood has been gentrifying, needs “services”, and could possibly support a studio. I am excited about marketing, sales, HR policy, e.g. running this as a for-profit venture with philosophical, spiritual, physical benefits. I continue to think.

But my insecurities and fears stand in the way. Am I good enough? Do this in New York City, where yoga studios are like Starbucks, one on every corner? Gamble with our savings?

Anything gives me self doubt. I compare myself to others.

For example–the Wall Street Journal profiled this 32 year old guy, a former investment banker now Hindu monk, who recently led a meditation session at the Occupy Wall Street protests. He’s got an MBA, like me, but was more “successful” in the business world than me (he was investment banker at Bank of America), and, having quit the corporate world (as I did) seems to be more committed to his dharmic path (he’s a celibate monk at a Hindu monestary in the East Village, giving talks about mindfulness at Citi and B of A, while I sit around doing very little). I think, I am so cautious; others are not. Why do I think I can do this? What to do?

My mantra these days has been to soften and be receptive, and when I do this, I find his teachings instructive. He says: don’t allow fear, ego and selfishness to stand in the way of making the right business decisions.

Simple Things

I’ve renewed my appreciation for Yoga Journal in the course of writing this blog, I’ve discovered a treasure of knowledge in the website’s archives. Although I find the blogs less appealing, I might rethink that opinion due to this lovely YJ blog post called Simple Things. The author writes that, as her yoga practice matures, her attitude about it gets simpler. She writes:

I am less concerned than ever about where I place my mat in class, what I’m wearing, whether or not I’ll ever do a handstand without a wall (OK, I still dream about this one), and whether home practice is better than class. I have cared deeply about every one of these, but they’re receding in the rear view mirror.

What I do contemplate now, on and off the mat, are things like this:

Open is better than closed. Open body, open mind, open heart. Not always easier, but always preferable.

Discomfort goes away when I don’t meet it with resistance. 

Pushing doesn’t work. Google Sisyphus.

Accepting what is grants me immediate freedom. All of a sudden my head is 90 percent quieter.

Joy makes me healthy.

And as always, love wins.

Making meditation less scary

I am a stuggling yogi. I like the physical practice but understand that this is just the tip of the iceberg. In particular: meditation. It is scary, boring, of dubious value, and I fear failure.

Stop my mind from its constant buzzing and worry and fear? Not in this lifetime.

But this blog post on elephant journal–called 5 obstacles to meditation— makes me feel more hopeful. The author is a retired Yale prof of medicine and psychologist who I think studied with Jack Kornfield, a leading US authority on meditation. (Kornfield’s book, A Path with Heart, was required reading for my yoga teacher training and references a Yale psychologist who becomes a skillful meditator). Seth Segall writes:

Can we let go of expectations that our minds will always be clear, calm, and steady? No matter how much practice you have had, it’s unreasonable to expect anything else. After all, our minds, like everything else, are affected by causes and conditions. Can we extend compassion and lovingkindness to ourselves in such moments?

It’s said that when we practice meditation we are actually practicing three separate skills: 1) staying with the object of meditation, 2) recognizing when we’ve drifted off, and 3) returning to the object without fuss or judgment. When we have a “good meditation,” i.e, when our concentration is good and we’re able to stay with our object of meditation, we are developing the first skill. When we keep drifting and returning, even if we do it 100 times in a sitting, we’re developing the second and third skills. These, in fact, may be the most important skills in terms of improving our daily lives: recognizing when we’re no longer present and returning to mindfulness.

The poet William Blake wrote in the Marriage of Heaven and Hell that “if the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.” Keep watching your mind just as it is. Turning poison into wisdom is the path of the Buddhas.

My first yoga class (as a teacher)

Roll up your yoga mats and get out of dodge, because there is a new yoga teacher in town.

This week I taught a community class (eg, by donation) at Laughing Lotus (“LL”) NYC as the last requirement of our teacher training. I had a great turnout: 6 fellow grads from my teacher training (thanks buddies!), all lined up in the front row, and 7 randoms. Things went wrong. I forgot my sequence. I forgot to do some poses on the left side. I didn’t give great insight about the breath or drop mad philosophical insights. I had no idea if the randoms hated or loved it; they looked bored and unhappy. No Laughing Lotus teacher was there to give me feedback (I had expected one would be there), but my peeps complemented my music selection. After I begged for criticism, one yoga buddy said that I should speak louder, and that the other stuff (forgetting sequence, etc) will come with practice. Oh, how I cringed at the unsparing critiques at my last job but how I could use a little bit now.

My post-mortem:

  • It was scary and so much fun. I love the practice and teaching spreads the love.
  • Some teachers are great, some teachers are exceptional, and I can’t pinpoint why.
  • Being an adequate teacher isn’t hard because the poses (when done safely) speak for themselves. I realized this when I practiced teaching my hubbie, who’s not really into yoga but let me use him as a guinea pig. He always told me he felt great after “class”, and I figured that despite how little yogic widsom I imparted, I know my alignment and poses and was able to make husband move in new, healthy ways which made him feel better.
  • Yoga schools are pumping out little armies, and the armies aren’t necessarily well trained. Teaching well requires time and discipline. Yoga school exposed me to new things (the Yoga Sutras, Sanskrit, anatomy, pranayama), put me in front of some seriously gifted teachers (including but not limited to Dana Flynn, LL teacher extraordinare), but most importantly it gave me confidence–by forcing me to teach, by giving me feedback about my teaching, by giving me a framework in which I could structure a class. The school was just a taste–how could 200 hours begin to uncover the vast body of knowledge–and my understanding of asana comes not from yoga school but from years and years of previous and continual study.
  • I am not a wizened old teacher, but I am not young either and I have something to say, dammit. For example, due to neck and back problems, I focus on releasing neck and shoulder tension and proper alignment of the spine. I also have another take on Indian/yogic/Hindu life philosophy, having absorbed it from my parents. My experience is unique. I am a filter of the material and therefore can bring the teachings alive in new ways.
  • Home practice is key. Dana stresses the importance of discipline and a daily home practice. I have always preferred going to group classes, but in preparation for teaching, I practiced at home, as advised. I moved in ways that felt good to me. I explored sequencing. I thought about alignment in my own body. And it helped me come up with an interesting class.
  • Teaching/trying to explain this stuff is a phenomenal way to taste the material. For example, during yoga school, I had to give a talk on one of the lines in the Yoga Sutra–“ishvara pranidhanat va“–which means something along the lines of “devoting yourself fully to God leads to yoga.” God wha? Full devotion wha? But in a personal experiment, while preparing for my talk, I tried to do this ishvara pranidhana, this devotion to something outside of myself. Which is hard, because my enormous, buoyant ego is hard to submerge. When I found myself daydreaming about being an adored and powerful teacher, I’d think: “Not about me! About the students! About the teachings!” And like the miracle of little baby Jesus, I felt a dawn of understanding: I am but a servant.
  • I like yoga so much I don’t want to make it my job at present. Because that would be stressful and hard. Plus a girl needs to pay off grad school.
  • I want and need to practice teaching a lot more.

Bad yoga joke #1

If I earned a nickel anytime I heard a variation of the ass/asana play on words, including “shake your asana” and “kick-asana”, I’d buy myself a turmeric juice. (Never had one, but see them at studios everywhere. Maybe I’ll cough up the $5 and try one. Sadly I’m not getting rich off of stale yoga jokes.)

Genesis

My husband, henceforth to be called “the Brit,” suggested I start this blog while we were visiting San Francisco one weekend not so long ago. Even though we were in town only for a few days, I had managed to visit three yoga different yoga studios. Whenever I travel I try to check out a local studio, and the Brit thought I could draw on my experience to create a website with yoga studio reviews. He primarily believed it would become a money making enterprise (my family and friends hope I’ll eventually combine my MBA and my passion for yoga into a billion-dollar business) but he also thought it would also be fun for me. I agreed that it would be fun for me, especially as I had just visited a studio so lovely it made me want to post pictures of the place on the web. So the Brit’s suggestion was fortuitous, we got excited, and here’s the blog, although the Brit will be sad to realize that this will not make him rich.