Sunday, August 29, 2010

Yin times

I am one of those people that will tend to plan her day so much that I've forgotten to schedule in lunch. I do this all the time, actually, taking on as many projects as I can in between work, play, friends, and family. Boredom is the thing I fear absolutely the most. When I was a kid, I remember, I was so afraid of being bored that I made a list that I kept in my room of things I could do if i got bored. "Play with Barbies. Call a friend. Easy-Bake something. Smash head against wall." These were quite literally lifelines so that I never had to be still. When I was about 14, I had a summer off, and I was bored, so I made a play. I chose it ["The Ugly Duckling" by A.A. Milne], bought the rights to use it, cast it, directed it, rented a stage and rehearsal space, put it on, and made something like 24 bucks in profit.

It's pretty cool that I made a play when I was 14, but when I think about it, it's such a perfect example of how ridculously type A I am [you wouldn't have wanted to know me before yoga] but also, I think, this is indicative of the kind of world we live in all the time: a very Yang world, very active, fiery, and full of stress. Great fun indeed, but I often come home at the end of the day feeling like the end of a hungry, frayed rope.

Over the past week, I have been participating in a Yin Yoga Teacher Training with Bernie Clark at Semperviva on Granville Island. We wake up at the crack of 5:30 for a 2 hour Yin practice and then long lectures on anatomy, the energy body, meditation, the history of yoga and the religions that shaped it (Hinduism, Tantra, Buddhism, Zen etc). It's been delicious, and feeling absolutely indulgent. I have loved the meditative, passive practice of Yin since I discovered it a couple of years ago, but I have never had the chance to do it every single day for a week.

And man, my hips feel WEIRD. But also, I think, this training has been teaching me a lot about being still and resting. We need stress to live, says Bernie. The problem in the west is not that we have too much stress, but that we never rest.

I've taken the week off from Vinyasa yoga (excpet for teaching) so that I can experience softness and stillness for awhile in my own body. And if you read my last post, you may have noticed that I've been getting particularly frustrated with my practice recently and feeling like my chaturanga doesn't look right, my arms are not strong enough, and getting angry that I can't do certain poses. The whole point of Yin is to go where your body will go naturally, accept that place, and just be with it. We spent many hours talking about the innumerable variations within the human skeleton, and the major thing we learned is that you cannot know what someone is feeling by looking at them. And yoga is not about what you look like, it's what you feel like. Yin is empowering me in my practice again with these principles of stillness and acceptance, so I've been spending time walking more slowly, talking more slowly, eating thick, luxurious 10% yogurt and adding more butter to everything, sitting in meditation, watching Planet Earth with my man. Next week will be the real challenge: can I integrate more stillness and less compulsive filling of time into my daily life when 2 hours of Yin is not planned in?

Anyway I think this post is long enough for now--more later, but until then, I will leave you with this Yin/Yang Prayer:

“Lord, grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change,
he courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.” -- St. Francis

Friday, August 20, 2010

Why am I doing this?

This is a question I ask my students a fair amount in my yoga classes. Usually in this context: "If this is feeling good, try putting your foot behind your head. If that hurts, ask yourself why you are doing it!"

But this becomes a bigger question for me sometimes as well: why am I doing this? Why am I teaching yoga? And why do I practice yoga? This thing, this spiritual practice or exercise regime, whatever you want to think of it as, has become my entire life--everything I do is a part of my yoga, and that question comes up all the time, you know, like, a) why do I drink so much wine? Or b) why will I stay home tonight and watch movies instead of go to my friend's party? [answers include a) because I LOVE it and b) because I'd rather teach a good class tomorrow morning)

Well one of the reasons I am doing this is that yoga has helped me to deal with a lifetime of issues with anxiety and many difficult periods in my life. Yoga has made me feel strong when I haven't been, and its showed me that my body was capable of things that I didn't think were possible, so it gave me the hope that everything is possible. It's just yoga, sure, and that's important to remember when we as teachers worry too much about what our students think of us. But at the same time yoga has been a sacred thing to a lot of people for a lot of different reasons.

And I think the direction yoga in Vancouver is going is kind of...interesting. There seems to be a lot of emphasis lately on what I've been calling 'celebrity poses': forearm stand, handstand, scorpion, crow pose and its variations, and all kinds of other arm balances. Now, don't get me wrong, I love those poses, I love inverting, and figuring out how to do them to the degree I have has afforded me a lot of self confidence. But everyone's body is different [and let's be honest, many of these poses are easier for a man's upper body strength and higher centre of gravity] and those aren't the poses that made me fall in love with yoga. I didn't even know what they WERE until about a year ago.

I should also be clear that I am no last bastion for classical yoga in the West--I'm a pretty Western yogi, and I'm all about doing whatever works for you. But I can't help but get the feeling that something is getting lost in some of these classes that have been about 5% core, 80% arm balancing, and 15% sun saluting, especially when I leave the room feeling...weak, small, skinny, powerless, and worse, injured from trying to do a pose my body wasn't ready for. I may be a teacher now, but I still offer myself up to my teachers as a student to create all that magic I've relied on for years now.

And then I realized and compassion are really difficult to feel when you are angry at yourself and frustrated because you can't do something other people can! Love and compassion often are accompanied by a feeling of power, and powerlessness makes it a lot easier to be bitter and hateful.

Well THAT's interesting. And something I'm going to need to work on. And for this work, I will head to those teachers that have that amazing talent of making me feel awesome no matter what I can do. [Hey Ego! Oh, good to know you're still here!] And thank goodness, there are lots of those teachers in this city too. Love and compassion. And biceps. Here I come.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

how to be an adult

When exactly does one become an adult? I sort of think you are pushed into it on some level when you leave the soft comforting womb of school. When I moved away from Montreal and my Master's degree in English Literature, my plan was to become a bartender and a bellydancer. That was the plan. It failed pretty completely, but landed me somewhere else entirely--I am now a full time yoga teacher and I own half of an awesome yoga studio on Commercial Drive [].

Last night I had this recurring dream again--that I was in the halls of my old high school. I can never remember my class schedule (this is similar to yoga teaching-thank Gs for google cal), so I wander around looking for the room I am supposed to be in. Each one looks like it could be my classroom--the faces and the material looks familiar, but I'm not entirely sure it's where I've been slotted, not sure it's the one I've chosen.

Now my dreams can be quite intense sometimes, and quite hilariously obvious in their metaphors. I once was going through a breakup, and I dreamt that someone put a steak knife in my heart. So.

This dream, I think, is about figuring out the difference between what you chose and what someone else chose for you. And going in a certain direction that seems right, but you are never really sure if you've made it to the right place.

School gives you this feeling like you have very specific goals to work towards and a very specific timeline on how it's all going to pan out. Life, adult life, I suppose, is not so much like that. When you have a job, even one you are lucky enough to adore, and you are just doing your best day to day, it's weird to think about what you should be doing in your downtime. Like, now that you don't have a math test on Tuesday and an English paper due in two weeks, what are you supposed to be preparing for? School is also a great way of not having to decide exactly what it is you want to do. People are always telling you who to be in that situation. In fact, I think a lot of us probably feel like people are telling us who to be all the time. I guess that decision, that Ultimate Question: who am I and what should i be doing? carries a hell of a lot of responsibility.

Well, luckily, my dream last night gave me a really good answer to these eternal questions. Through all the stress of what was going on in the dream, a cat appeared at a window and stared at me for a long time like it had something to tell me. Suddenly the curtain waved in the wind and the answer came to me...


Seriously. I told you my dreams were obvious.