Saturday, August 30, 2014

Parts of the Same Soul

Truly, this has been an amazing week. Busy, yes. One step close to complete chaos, yes. But truly magical and amazing.

I'm not ready to talk about the whole thing yet, and I'm still trying to hold on to these memories for as long as I can.

But over this last week or so, I've come to realize that I can recognize when I come into contact with someone who just might be part of the same soul as I am.

There's no way to explain it, other than a feeling in my gut. A connection. It's when you're sitting next to someone in a crowded restaurant and you look at them and suddenly, you're the only two people in the whole place. It's meeting someone for the first time and in the space of an hour feeling like you've known each other your whole lives.

So, while I'm still processing everything that has happened and everything that I'm feeling and where I need to go from here, I'll leave you with a thought from Paulo Coelho:

"Really important meetings are planned by the souls long before the bodies see each other."


Monday, August 11, 2014

Love Your Curves, Part 1: Clothes Do Not Make the Yogi
Okay, let's talk about yoga clothes.

If you've ever taken a yoga class in a studio, maybe one of the first things that you've noticed is, of course, what everyone else is wearing. The instructor. Your fellow yoginis and yogis. And if you're in a hot yoga class, well, maybe what's more important is what everyone isn't wearing. ('Cause, you know, the only way I'm comfortable in 104 degrees is if I'm completely naked.)

Americans in general are obsessed with STUFF. Lots of stuff. The more the better, right? There are hundreds of companies all looking to sell you clothes that are "designed" for yoga. You know the names: Hard Tail. Prana. Lululemon. Cozy Orange. Gaiam.

They want you to believe that in order to do yoga, you really NEED to buy their clothes.

And to some degree, these kinds of clothes are really nice to wear during asana practice: most of them fit reasonably well, they're comfortable, they're pretty and visually appealing, and they allow you to move.

But if you saw what yoga looks like in India, you might think differently about plunking down a hundred bucks for a single pair of spiffy new yoga pants.

In India, yoga is practiced in whatever clothing you happen to be wearing, as long as it's comfortable and you can move around in it.

So, here's what I think about yoga clothes: wear them. Or not.

As long as you can move without restrictions, as long as you can breathe deeply throughout your asana practice, it really doesn't matter one bit what you're wearing.

I'm of the personal opinion that we shouldn't be worrying too much about what we look like when we go to yoga class. As long as your clothes fit comfortably, wear them. As long as you're not going to have any kind of "wardrobe malfunction", you're good.

If you don't have $165 to spend on a pair of yoga pants, who cares? Wear your sweats to yoga class. Wear your favoritest, most comfortable, ratty-looking gym shorts.

My favorite yoga teacher says this quite often: It doesn't matter what a pose looks like; it matters what it feels like.

Same goes for your clothes.

Sure, it's fun to wear a nice outfit to yoga now and then. And I'm not saying that you should completely neglect personal hygiene, just because you're on a spiritual journey. (Heck, even Patanjali talked about saucha, which is translated to cleanliness of thought, mind, and body.)

But unless you're doing "gym" yoga or something that isn't a spiritual practice (because in my head, if it's not a spiritual practice, it ain't yoga), one of the things that we should be cultivating off the mat is asteya, the practice of non-coveting, or even not entering into debt. If you can't afford to spend $65 on a top designed JUST for yoga, it's not a big deal. There are plenty of beautiful, comfortable, and most importantly, affordable options for you at places like your local thrift shop or resale shop. Bonus: most of these thrift shops and resale shops benefit a small business owner or charity. (My favorite thrift shop uses the money from sales of merchandise to fund our local food pantry, and my favorite resale shop is owned by a friend in the next town over - so my dollars are supporting things I believe in!)

When we practice yoga in a studio, we should feel welcome, no matter what we're wearing. It's the responsibility of the studio owners and teachers to create a safe, welcoming environment for yogis of all shapes and sizes, no matter what they wear to practice yoga.

Now that we have THAT out of the way, look later this week for how to take your yoga off the mat and love your body.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Love Your Curves? An Open Letter to Yoga Journal

Okay, for months now, I've been bitching that there hasn't been a whole heck of a lot of diversity in the pages of Yoga Journal, aside from the occasional injection of testosterone from male models. So I was actually kind of excited to see the article called Love Your Curves in the September 2014 issue. (Hilaria Baldwin is on the cover, which is a whole other gripe for another blog.)

But, back to my curves...

So, I at first thought this article was going to be about how to modify poses for curvier bodies. Hallelujah! A way to love your body by practicing asana! Making your practice YOURS, no matter what your body type!

Imagine my shock when right there on the first page was the little text box in the corner that read, "Lucky me, I inherited cellulite. How can I conceal my butt dimples?"


Turns out that the article is all about how to DRESS to "cover up" your "imperfections" and "accentuate" your "assets".

Oh, give me a fucking break.

This? Again?

A whole freaking article about which $65 yoga tops and $80 yoga pants will help you take the "angst" out of "dressing" for yoga class.

Other helpful bits of advice from this article:
  • "My bottom doesn't fill out my yoga pants. How can I create curves?"
  • "Which prints look best on thicker thighs?"
  • "My thong underwear rides up in Down Dog, but I don't want my panty lines to show. Should I just go commando?" 
Holy hell, it reads like Cosmo's Guide to Getting Your Yoga On.

Needless to say, I am more than a little upset about this article. It seems to go against some of the very yogic principles I (and millions of other American yogis and yoginis) are pursuing. No wonder people think that American yoga is a big joke!

Stuff like non-attachment to material things ($80 yoga pants, anyone?), acceptance and contentment, compassion for all living things, and celebration of the divine through the self.

The first paragraph of the article talks about how "yoga isn't about achieving the perfect body", and how our own body image issues can cause every yogi a little bit of stress. But instead of telling us how to address these kinds of thoughts and insecurities through our practice of yoga, they tell us that we can solve these problems by how we DRESS.

Wow, YJ. You so totally missed the mark on this one.

According to the article, if you want to feel beautiful on the mat no matter what your body type, it all comes down to what you WEAR.

Tell you what, YJ: you want a REAL article on addressing body image issues on the mat? I'll write one for you, and you can bet it won't include a single sentence about what I'm wearing.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Paschimottanasana and Santosha

Paschimottanasana - if ever there were a yoga pose to send my mind into World War III (as my lovely friend likes to phrase it), this is it.

It's a seated forward bend, easiest to begin by sitting in staff pose, dandasana. Now, dandasana itself is a struggle for me. I have probably the tightest lower back of any yoga teacher in North America, so I need to tuck a blanket right under the edge of my butt for a little bit of support. Then you extend your legs out long in front of you, flexing the feet and pointing the toes back towards the body. The arms come out to the sides and the fingertips can rest on the floor. Then when you're settled in this pose, drawing up on the perineum, drawing the belly button back towards the spine, you drop the chin towards the chest. This engages all 3 energy locks, or bandhas, in the body.

To move into paschimottanasana, you release the chin from the chest, and some folks like to raise the arms up overhead and get nice and long in the torso before hinging from your hips and moving forward, lowering the chest to the thighs and reaching the arms forward, folding the body in half into a graceful sandwich.

That's about as far as I can get. On a good day.

I have a couple of anatomical things working against me, here. First of all, in addition to the tight lower back that keeps me from folding into much of anything, I've got short arms. So even if I could fold myself in half at the waist, I would still have a problem reaching my toes.

And despite two years of a daily yoga practice, my hamstrings are still tighter than an Eskimo drum. (Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, you don't want to overstretch the tendons and ligaments that hold your bones in place.)

When I first started yoga, this pose was a struggle for me. Every. Single. Time.

I would breathe and try to imagine my lower back releasing my upper back down onto my thighs. I would imagine a light attached to my chest, shining forward.

Yeah, okay.

Finally, one day, I just said, fuck it, I'm gonna sit right here where I am and flex the shit outta my feet, press out through those godamn heels, and just be here.

These days, I practice some form of a seated forward bend almost every single day. Whether it's paschimottanasana or janu sirsasana, I sit my ass down on a blanket, flex my feet, and fold as far forward as my body can on that particular day at that particular time.

Sometimes my hands make it all the way down to my ankles. Woot woot!

Sometimes my hands just rest on my knees while I drop my head and breathe into the God-awful sensation running down the backs of my concrete hamstrings. (It's not pain, which is always a bad thing in yoga, it's just a wickedly intense sensation of being stretched like an industrial strength rubber band.)

And then yesterday during yoga class, when I was in what felt like my four thousandth practice of paschimottanasana, I realized something: I wasn't struggling in this pose anymore.

What had changed?

Surely not my body - while I've noticed some amazing changes in the way my body looks and moves in the 2 years since I started a daily yoga practice, my ability to fold forward while seated is not one of them.

What changed was more important - my attitude towards the pose.

Instead of launching into a full-on war of the worlds in my mind, I just sort of followed my breath downward as I folded forward as far as was comfortable. And then I just sat there in it.

No struggle. No pain.

Yoga is just as much a training of the mind as it is of the body.

I was giddy when I left class yesterday, feeling like I have another tool to use in my management of stress and anxiety. Because surely, if I can change my attitude towards paschimottanasana, there's something else in my life that I'm struggling with that could use a little help from an attitude adjustment.

What if today, you picked something that you struggle with. We all have shit in our lives that we struggle with, whether it's a relationship or work and career or money matters. What if, just for today, you decided not to struggle with it? What if you decided to just let it be as it is?

And that, my friends, is how you begin to practice santosha. Acceptance. Contentment.

It goes a lot deeper than my seated forward bend.