how I experience, practice & teach yoga
There’s nothing meditative about waking up at 5:30am to your alarm clock screaming it’s equivalent of YOOOOOGA at you. It’s not really relaxing. It doesn’t immediately make your hips feel more open. And the thought of leaving your warm bed for a hot sweaty room can be daunting.
So then, why did I find myself awake at 5:30, out of the house by 5:45 and on my mat by 6:30?
I’ll be honest – I did it for my two friends I promised I’d be there. Typically speaking I can promise you that you will not find me on my mat before 12pm and usually not before 6pm. I’m an evening yogi. I like how my hips feel, I have more energy and I like the idea of meditating on the day I’ve had.
But with that slightly lengthy disclaimer being said I do find one aspect of a morning practice intriguing. It’s a lot like waking up… but longer.
You walk to yoga in a dream like haze. If you’re lucky you’ve got a good book (like the Isaacson Biography about Steve Jobs) to tide you over. That’s not even really like being awake – when the sun isn’t even up yet that is essentially sleep walking with just a drop more direction.
When you roll into the studio and mumble at someone that you’re there for class, try hard to spell your name, then drop your yoga mat, startle yourself and annunciate. That sequence of events is like the snooze button. I’m awake, but I don’t want to be; quit bothering me.
Then you roll out your mat and find yourself in child’s pose before the teacher walks in. That’s basically those extra five minutes you’d get as a kid before mom would come in a shake you awake again.
When your instructor finally walks in and shakes you out of your child-like slumber (pun intended) and asks you to get into your first pose – that’s when you know it’s on – even if it’s a seated posture (which you hope to God it is).
Om is like that moment when you decide for yourself you want to get up. That moment when you go from sitting on the edge of your bed to really starting your day. Allow the day to commence.
Your first couple breaths in down dog are like that yawning stretching feeling you get right after you stand up. You kind of shake and feel your spine extend what feels like three inches. Several things pop and slowly but surely your foggy eyes focus on your toes behind you.
The first Sun A is easy; like getting in the shower on a cold morning. You’re moving and awake and the day has begun, but you’re taking it slow – letting each pose feel like that extra second you’re buying yourself before you have to enter back into that chilly reality. You savor it.
By the time Sun B hits you’re feeling warmed up. It’s like getting dressed. You’re mapping out your day, deciding how you’ll present yourself the rest of the day. This is one of those crucial moments when you’re deciding what post 7:30am will feel like. It’s like brushing your teeth – a clean fresh start.
Getting into the strong poses like your warriors and side angles is like your cup of coffee. They are energizing and motivating. They make you feel like maybe the rest of the day will not only be conquerable, but invigorating.
By the time you’re in your standing poses you’ve got your keys. And are about to hit it out the door. You feel prepared for the rest of your day.
An inversion at 7:20am feels like that last thing you almost forgot to do. Something that at another time of the day would be routine and easy, but at this exact moment feels like climbing Everest.
Savasana is like being on the road and out the door. Calming because it’s so routine. You’re beginning your commute.
Coming out of savasana on the other hand is a lot like waking up from that dream where you were getting ready and then wake up and it’s five til 8am and you have to get it moving. It’s like a jolt, a shock to the system, but one that you needed.
That final Om is the real start to your day. The icing on the cake. Surprise – you’re suddenly 100% totally awake.
Good morning, NYC!
Sounds to me like you guys could use a couple of things: 1) yoga, 2) a lecture from a kindergarten teacher, 3) a serious pay cut and 4) a healthy dose of perspective. Allow me to break it down.
On the issue of Yoga: Perhaps if you incorporated a healthy 10-minutes of meditation into your schedule you could all settle down before you make huge decisions that affect myself and the other 313.9 million people in this country. Maybe working an hour-long yoga practice into your weekly routine would also give you the ability to pull your heads out of your own keasters so you could see clearly that you were elected into this office by the people of this country to make decisions… not bitch like school girls. Bringing me to my next point…
On the issue of kindergarten: In kindergarten I learned that the best way to resolve a problem was through clear communication. We actually had peer mediators who coached us through disagreements and helped us come to a clear, rational solutions on the playground so chaos didn’t ensue… I just wish as adults me and my countrymen had someone similar to that… You know a group of our peers that we elect to lead us and help us resolve important issues… any idea where we could find some folks like that?
On the issue of a pay cut: I feel very confident that if, at my job, I decided the best way to deal with a conflict was to totally shut down and stop speaking to the person with whom I disagreed I would either be demoted or asked to leave altogether. My question is this: why is that not true of my elected officials? So you’ve shut the government down… I work in retail – a job I take quite seriously and find to be important in its own ways, but somehow less influential than say the position of a national leader – and if I decided one day to just not open the store I would receive a pay cut at the least.
And lastly, on the issue of perspective: Here’s the thing, you were elected to do a job. You were elected by the people of the United States Of America to do a job well, at that. You are the leaders of an enormously influential country. You have power the likes of which most people will never fully understand. Many of you have gone to Ivy’s and all of you have received educations that people in your own country could not imagine affording or receiving. Generally speaking you come from well-to-do family’s that probably didn’t have to undergo near financial suffocation due to student loans or medical bills or foreclosures. You are our leaders. At no point when we, the people of America elected you, our Congressmen, did we invite you to have a tantrum on our dime. We’re sick of the finger-pointing. We’re sick of the he said/she said. We’re tired of excuses and the blame game. You are adults. You are leaders. You are accountable for this country. Most of all: You were elected to do a job – so stop fucking around and do it.
Yours in true dismay and disgust,
#30daysonthemat sounds like a great idea, and while yes I do think taking those 30 days to commit to my practice was muchos powerful; and yes I am closer to handstand than ever before (held it for 10 seconds the other day without touching a wall once!!), I still have to say following the word yoga with the word challenge kind of inevitably throws the ego in the mix and then suddenly you’re missing the point.
My first week of yoga I was thrilled to be so committed to my practice. Every time I threw down my mat I got a little high. I felt more committed to yoga than I had in a year. By week two, I was back from my Miami vacation and fitting yoga into my everyday life was becoming a bit more of a hassle. Suddenly I was leaving early for work to hit yoga, showing up really sweaty and smelling for 8-hours at my tolerant co-workers. Still, I was committed.
When I missed one day in week three, and yes, I missed one day (honestly I missed two), I felt lousy. I was a failure and I wouldn’t let it happen again. First of all, I did let it happen again (hence the second time) and second of all I had to. My hamstrings were feeling tight, my hips were hurting and my back was screaming for a break from back-bending. That’s when I started to get the real point of my #30daysonthemat.
My committment to getting on my mat was not about could I do 30 days of asana. I had answered that years before when I did a teacher training for 3-months and practiced every day for 90 days and listened to philosophy talk for 10 hours a weekend. It wasn’t about the physical practice at all, it was about the desire and intention to get back on my mat. It was about committing to my yoga practice mentally, not physically.
There are days when practicing asana just doesn’t feel good. There are days when meditation just isn’t happening and there are days when your hips don’t want to do pigeon and your shoulders don’t want to do *gasp* handstand. The one thing I didn’t love about my yoga challenge (and don’t get me wrong, on the whole I loved what it did for my practice) was the competition it introduced to my practice. It’s good to push yourself, but there’s no reason for yoga to be causing you physical pain or mental anguish. The very moment I felt a pull in my hamstrings I should have stopped, but I didn’t, because I didn’t want to back down from “the challenge.”
The lesson, I think, is this: you cannot make your yoga practice about the ego. After committing to #missionhandstand I became obsessed with instavideos of the best and strongest yogis pressing into handstand. I bemoaned my inability to do certain transitions and I started to hate on my lack of handstand. Instavideos are great and pushing yourself in your practice because you know you can is one thing. But doing anything because your ego told you to be like another yogi is straight up bull shit. Because your practice is your own; physically, mentally, emotionally it will literally never look or feel like anyone else’s because it is unique to only you.
So will I be doing another yoga challenge in the future? Nay - life is hard enough without making my yoga practice “a challenge”. But I will set goals of getting on my mat 3x a week… and then maybe surprise myself with a fourth and fifth if that’s what feels right for my hips and brain. And am I giving up on #missionhandstand? Hell to the no. But I’m going to focus on the practice, give my body time, do the work and then one day I know handstand will just happen in a far more beautiful way than I can ever have imagined.
xo for now, yogis!
It may be a cliche by now – it’s however many years later with a new show about a very different set of Girls taking over HBO airtime – but still… I think Carrie Bradshaw said it best:
“There is a time of year in New York when, even before the first leaf falls, you feel the seasons click. The air is crisp, the summer is gone. For the first night in a long time, you need a blanket on your bed.”
Well today, in NYC, more than one leaf has fallen. It’s beautiful out, the perfect temperature with a crisp, clean breeze brushing around Brooklyn. And while I do love the moderate temperature and the sounds of leaves running along the sidewalk, I’m not a fan of Pumpkin Spice lattes (yeah, I said it) and more than that it’s a time of year that makes me nostalgic.
The weather at the end of summer is so much like it was at the beginning. Those perfect days that you know you can’t hold onto. Those brief moments of being outside in just exactly what you want to wear and you’re 100% comfortable. You can eat ice cream or you can eat soup. The possibilities are endless. And the two sides of summer are just exactly the same, except for one huge difference: one means that a brand new exciting season is starting – beach trips and outdoor yoga classes, tan lines and deliciously ripe tomatoes; and the other means that another summer is gone, you’re guaranteed a couple more wrinkles after that sun exposure and the people of the beach have packed up and left a lonely, sad sandy strip of land behind until next year.
And it’s not that I don’t like this season – not at all. It feels meaningful and inspiring, like you want to start something amazing and see everyone you know for a drink on a deck because you don’t want to miss the chance. But the thing that gets me all nostalgic about that “click” as my pal Carrie calls it, is that, yet again, time has passed.
It’s wonderful on the one hand as we have the pictures and the memories, there are fresh freckles to show for it and, best of all, the hot hung over mornings are behind us. But there’s a certain amount of weight that comes with starting a new Fall. And these moments before the trees are totally naked and long before you’re even thinking about snowflakes or even Halloween, just remind you that it’s going to be another year before you see this same beauty with a side of possibility on the other side of summer.
So with a new season laid out before us, and in the hopes of not becoming overwrought with seasonal affect disorder this year when the days start to shorten – here’s what I’m looking forward to for Fall.
Pumpkin carving | the smell of leaves on the ground | hot coffee | apple cider | the approaching holidays | scarves | brushed wunder unders | warming up with hot yoga | hot chocolate with marshmallows | leg warmers | mittens | hats | light jackets | cool breezes | cuddling | trips to Boston just for family visits & fireplaces | apple season | cozy sweaters that are not at all scratchy | boots on boots on boots | rich colors | the bustle coming back into the city | another new years on the horizon…
And so I don’t lose sight of what I loved so dearly about summer, and so I remember to look forward to next year rather than lament the passing of this – what I loved about summer:
Beach trips with my gal pals | Fourth of July at the Cape | jean-shorts and tank tops | Starbucks refreshers | tomato season & fresh veggies | sandy flip-flops | long days and late nights | the sound of the a/c kicking on | the enjoyable act of standing in front of a fan | cold showers | suntans(burns) | showing a little leg | sleeping with just my feet under the covers | speed shorts | drinking outside | sitting in the park while sipping wine and nibbling crackers & cheese | vacations to my former home in the tropics of Miami…
I guess life’s all about perspective. And the seasons are going to change no matter what. So rather than listlessly wish for the summers of the past, I’m going to look forward to what Fall has to offer and feel appreciative of what next May might just hold.
xo from a nostalgic and hopeful,
Happy Fall 2013, everyone!
When I step onto my yoga mat, right then and there, the rest of the world goes on mute. Everything’s still playing, the movie is still going, the characters are still walking around and talking – I just stop hearing what they have to say. For those 60-minutes, whatever is happening in the world around me and a million miles away from me is silent. Still happening, still important, still valid, but quiet. Because in those 3,600 seconds I’m doing what I need to do to better hear the world when I get off my mat.
I remember my first day of yoga teacher training our teacher asked us “why yoga?”. Once half the class had spoken it became clear to me – yoga is a lot like therapy, but with movement. It’s like going to the gym and a therapist and AA all at once. It is a way of addressing those stressful things in your mind, through physical movement.
The wonderful thing about yoga is that it’s not just meditation, asana or prana – it has to be all three. It makes sense to me because I have to sweat things out of my head and heart. I can’t just talk to someone else about them, I have to mull them over in Warrior 2, in headstand, in handstand. When something is off in my hamstrings chances are something is off in my life and relationships and my Self. It’s never just asana or just meditation or just breath nor is it just physical, mental or emotional - it’s everything. It’s one.
It’s yoga: The yoking of all those things to be one great big whole.
It’s no wonder yoga makes me feel put back together. It’s no wonder that once I’ve muted the world for that hour I can hear it better when I step off my mat – because then I know what I’m listening for. And I know what I want to say in response.
That moment of silence is pure bliss, it’s the reason I get on my mat. But that moment when I step back off of it… when I hear things, once again, more clearly, when I know myself even that little, tiny bit better, that’s why I practice yoga off my mat.
The peace I find through my yoga practice, the way it makes me a better person, that moment after I’ve pressed ‘mute’ – that’s “why yoga?” for me. The one hour of internal silence on my mat that makes me a better person off of it.