Archive | August, 2012

The Places That Piss You Off

30 Aug

I like the fact that this conveniently says, “Click to LOOK INSIDE” . Yeah, that’s exactly what I DON’T want to do, thank you very much.

 

I think a lot in the wee hours of the morning about the places where 12 step recovery and Ashtanga practice intersect.

“We have ceased fighting anything and anyone, even alcohol. “–page 84 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous

Even yoga practice.

Even getting up at 5am.

Even being stuck over and over again.

Even those places that are injured.

Even experiencing repetitive pain.

Even tears and sadness.

Even our limitations.

Even our age, our weight, our history, our failures.

Even our successes.

Even our jobs.

Even our talents, our skills, our joy.

We just ceased.

Right now I can’t even imagine what this cessation would look or feel like, how it would taste or sound. I only know struggle and taking the bit in my mouth over and over again lately. Every time that I think I have surrendered (hello step 3), I find myself in that familiar place of ego, resistance, anger, being shitty and human and imperfect and pissed off about it all. I don’t want the Places That Scare Me. I want:

Yes, I WOULD like to look inside!

That’s what I’m talking about! The fun, Seussian, Pisces version of life, preferably technicolor and full of greyhounds, fluffy bunnies, unlimited candy and a heavy metal soundtrack. Like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, as scored by Slayer. Not this samskaras and tapas business.

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Glossin’

28 Aug

 

“It is an apparent paradox, but it is not therefore the less true, that those ideas, or phenomena, that are most familiar to us, should frequently be the most difficult to explain. This is particularly the case with the subject of the present Essay.” An essay towards a definition of animal vitality: read at the theatre, Guy’s Hospital, January 26, 1793; in which several of the opinions of the celebrated John Hunter are examined and controverted.–Thelwall, John, 1764-1834

The phrase “animal vitality” has been running through my head lately quite a bit. I was on my way to a meeting yesterday morning and I experienced this incredible surge of something (power? energy? kunda-freakin-lini?) that seemed to start in my pelvis and blew straight through the top of my head…while I was driving. Driving, drinking coffee and listening to the Eagles of Death Metal. Surely  this sort of thing cannot be safe! Help! This has been happening on and off at various times and I of course have no control over it. It especially seems to like to happen while I am driving. Sometimes I feel so full of energy and–well–“animal vitality” that my skin does not feel big enough to contain me. Part of my does not like this at all, surprise surprise. After spending decades feeling nothing due to being numbed out on one substance or another, this feeling is rather alarming. I am not just used to feeling much of anything, never mind feeling ecstatically good.

Of course, the science geek in me wants to get to the bottom of this. And, it being Sunday, I started thinking about Church. My mother is a fundamentalist Christian and as a child, I was terrified by people speaking in tongues. I was dragged to all sorts of prayer meetings where people were “slain in the spirit”, and let me tell you I did not like that shit one single bit. I found an article from the New York Times called “A Neuroscientific Look at Speaking in Tongues” (which, by the way, is more properly referred to as “Glossolalia”):

“In the study, the researchers used imaging techniques to track changes in blood flow in each woman’s brain in two conditions, once as she sang a gospel song and again while speaking in tongues. By comparing the patterns created by these two emotional, devotional activities, the researchers could pinpoint blood-flow peaks and valleys unique to speaking in tongues.

Ms. Morgan, a co-author of the study, was also a research subject. She is a born-again Christian who says she considers the ability to speak in tongues a gift. “You’re aware of your surroundings,” she said. “You’re not really out of control. But you have no control over what’s happening. You’re just flowing. You’re in a realm of peace and comfort, and it’s a fantastic feeling.”

Contrary to what may be a common perception, studies suggest that people who speak in tongues rarely suffer from mental problems. A recent study of nearly 1,000 evangelical Christians in England found that those who engaged in the practice were more emotionally stable than those who did not. Researchers have identified at least two forms of the practice, one ecstatic and frenzied, the other subdued and nearly silent.

The new findings contrasted sharply with images taken of other spiritually inspired mental states like meditation, which is often a highly focused mental exercise, activating the frontal lobes.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/07/health/07brain.html
Clearly, I need more meditation time and less driving time.

 

My First Ashtanga Workshop…

26 Aug

 

 

…actually my first yoga workshop ever, period. It’s today: Sunday, August 26th, at Blue Sky Yoga here in Vegas: 3:30pm-6pm with Jen Knox, whom I believed studied with Tim Miller. The Tim Miller. Pray for me, Asthanga brothers and sisters. I’m posting this so that I commit to leaving the safety of my home practice at the Slayer Shala (AKA my yoga room downstairs) and actually go practice in public. In yoga clothes. With other Ashtanga practitioners. And no heavy metal.

http://www.blueskyyogalv.com/events.html

“This isn’t easy. This is a friggin’ discipline.”

26 Aug

 

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about  “power” and yoga practice  lately, so this was a very timely thing to stumble across. Frequently—well, honestly, mostly all of the time—lately I feel the distinct lack of power during my practice. I am still so new to Ashtanga that many of the physical movements are difficult and humbling. I always thought I was really strong because of my years of bodybuilding but ohhhh no, I was so wrong. Ashtanga makes me feel weak as a newborn and stiff as a broomstick. I also feel the lack of spiritual and emotional power during practice. Ashtanga hammers home that concept of powerlessness that I am so familiar with because of my time spent in recovery. The number of breakdowns and breakthroughs that I’ve experienced on and off the mat since starting Ashtanga is frankly a wee bit freaking overwhelming. But that’s a topic for a whole separate post…

Origin magazine comes through again for me with a really great interview with Beryl Bender Birch, author of Power Yoga.

This was the second yoga book I ever owned–the first being the classic Richard Hittleman book. Actually, I might have bought this and Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar at the same time, come to think of it. At the time, I didn’t know anything about Ashtanga or much about yoga at all (and I still don’t, ha ha). I also had a VHS copy of Power Yoga and all I can remember was that it brutally kicked my ass.

 

Power Yoga was one of those “aspirational” yoga books that I kept around for a long time without any hope of ever actually *doing* that kind of practice. I even hopefully purchased a companion copy of Beyond Power Yoga—without laughing!
Honestly, I can’t say that lately I have much hope of doing that kind of practice either. It’s 2012, I’m 42, and this stuff kicked my ass brutally when I was 30 and hadn’t had three surgeries and multiple car accidents. Never mind the emotional and spiritual skeletons in my Psychic Closet that I’ve accumulated. Guess it’s a good thing that I’m a stubborn cuss, then.

Some of my favorite bits and pieces of the interview:

“Ever since I wrote “Beyond Power Yoga,” one of my campaigns has been to make sure people understand that yoga is not synonymous with asana. I try to teach people the meaning of practice, abhyasa. Practice means making an effort to keep your mind steady. Yoga is about learning to pay attention. That’s what drives transformation. You don’t have to try to transform or be all spiritual, you just have to do the practice. You become more conscious, more aware, you get a little more tuned in to what’s going on in the world, become more compassionate, more joyful. You have more loving kindness—it works!

I always ask people why are you here for this weekend or this training? Why do you want to do this? This isn’t easy. This is a friggin discipline. You could be out partying with your friends. And it gets them thinking about why do I want to do this? Eventually they get around to, you know, I want to be happy, and my stuff isn’t making me happy the way I thought it was going to. I thought I was my name, I thought I was my job, my relationship. You slowly realize that all of those things change.”

I was out last night with one of my friends on the Strip here in Vegas and these lines kept running through my head. Looking around the casino at all of the people partying and on vacation was interesting and fun, but boy I was really glad to get home and go to bed! People were also, ironically, not having fun at all. Everyone at the event was angry and tense because of the long lines and the wait. Now I remembered why I usually go out during the day on the weekends with friends and stay home at night and relax. I’ve been totally corrupted by my early morning Ashtanga practice!

Another good bit on the athleticism and spirituality of Ashtanga:

“I am just so fascinated by the methodology. I always tell people, I can’t teach you yoga. Nobody can teach you yoga. I can’t teach you to teach yoga. All I can do is teach you a set of instructions and if you follow these instructions, hopefully it will lead you to the experience of yoga. And the experience of yoga is unspeakable. It’s the experience of samadhi. It’s the experience of connectedness, of oneness, boundlessness, merging with God consciousness…even if it’s just for an instant. Patanjali really looked at asana as practice for meditation. It’s what gets you started.

I remember people saying to me, oh, you do that jock yoga, that athletic yoga. What about the more spiritual kind? I would say, uh, this is the more spiritual kind. They’d say, you know, the more meditative kind. I’d say this is the meditative kind, what else did you want to know? It’s funny how people felt that because it was athletic, it couldn’t be spiritual. Separation of mind and body, that’s been around since the Greeks.”

Beryl Bender Birch, courtesy of Originmagazine,com

 

Check it out here at:

http://www.originmagazine.com/2012/05/10/beryl-bender-birch-interview-abhyasa-and-avoiding-flying-tomatoes/

Traps, Treason, Rebellion, My War, Lollipops and Sunshine

23 Aug

This morning’s practice was rough to the nth degree. Out of nowhere—I’m on my mat doing my thing, feeling good and then I became so enraged during my Surya Bs that it was totally overwhelming. I could barely finish practice. I could barely breathe. My body became tighter and tighter as my practice went on and I ended up having to stop early. I don’t even know how I had the energy to be that pissed off at 6 in the morning! It seems like a bad dream now. I spent all of Savasana crying. WTF? My car ride to work after practice was like being trapped in a mobile insane asylum. Sometimes, the inside of my own head is the LAST place I want to be. Sometimes, I really hate yoga.

I seriously considered just quitting my practice this morning. “Ashtanga’s not for me,” I thought (more like cursed than thought), “it’s for skinny people who are spiritual and flexible, not for injured, bitter, stiff, old, angry quasi-agnostics who want to punch someone in the fucking face right now.” This is actually what went through my head during downward dog, I think in between breaths 3 and 5. Fun times. For the entire way to work, I felt like I was caught in the throes of this hellish stew of rebellion and fuck-it-all-ness. I was like, that’s it, I am quitting: this is just making everything worse, I am accomplishing nothing, I am embarrassing myself, there is no point to this alleged practice, the spiritual stuff is bullshit/I am not a Hindu/Fuck Hanuman, Screw God, I am way too fat to do this shit, etc etc etc. I finally calmed down after a healthy dose of aural Valium (AKA Fiona Apple), but man—what a scary three hour chunk of time that was. Jesus, Mary and Jehoshaphat. I have no idea what was going on with that, but I am scared shitless to get on the mat tomorrow. My landlord is upstairs drilling in our floor for no apparent reason and I need to go to bed, dammit. 5 am is right around the corner. Ugh.

A is for August

18 Aug

 

 

…and Ashtanga, and Ass. Sweaty, sweaty ass. My little Slayer Shala is not air conditioned and I have been sweating like a beast in the mornings—even at 5:30 am. Back into a somewhat “normal” practice for me post-surgery, post-sickness and post the death of my little dog. Life goes on, albeit slowly and painfully. Trying to work up the courage to go to the level one Ashtanga class on Tuesday at Yoga Sanctuary. Oooooh it gives me the willies!!
Interestingly, I have no desire to look at asanas beyond where I currently am in the Primary Series. All I care about is whatever moment I am in on the mat, period. Thinking about asanas I haven’t learned yet is just playing with fire. I get discouraged and overwhelmed and my ego gets involved and I just want to give up. I just keep plugging away and practicing. This week, I have been learning Purvattanasana. Oh, there is a love hate relationship going on. Mostly hate. During a google search, I discovered that allegedly Shiva Rea hates this asana. Yes! I am not the only one. I hurt myself in this asana when I was doing Baptiste yoga last year and it was no bueno, man. The first time trying it out this week I almost had a panic attack. I have been feeling all of this fear and tightness, even in the super modified David Swenson Practice Manual version. I went hunting for a picture of the modification and I can’t even find it online. Yeah, I am bringing the Ashtanga “D” game, baby!

This is NOT me. From ihanuman.com

 

I bought myself a bamboo seiza bench for zazen after wanting one for a couple of years now. I was sitting last night and it suddenly dawned upon me why I love seiza benches so much—they’re like the Zen version of  the kneelers in Catholic churches! Man, you can take the girl out of 13 years of Catholic School, but you apparently can’t take hundreds of years of Catholic genetics out of the girl.  I feel a lot safer with the seiza bench than I do Purvattanasana.

Your Body Is Not A Wonderland, It’s A Wasteland

9 Aug

I’ve been thinking a lot about the very Western fascination with “detox” lately and way it intersects with yoga practice. I have mixed feelings. The health food freak in me (hey, I worked for Whole Foods Market for 17 flipping years—I can’t help it!) likes the idea of organic produce, lots of water and green juices/smoothies. Then part of me is like, why not all of the time? Why do I need to “detox” just so I can “retox” at a later date? My biggest so-called-“vices” are the occasional bag of Pop Chips, vegan pizza and coffee. If I’m in a situation where other people are drinking “festively”, I have been known to drink Diet Coke. Burn me at the stake! I saw an article on Elephant Journal the other day with a pic of what happens to your innards when you drink soda that nearly made my eyes bulge out. I got this image from the blog littlebitbetter.org:

It’s obvious that eating, drinking and slathering your body with lots of toxic crap is not practicing ahimsa. Hurts you, hurts the environment, hurts other animals and humans. But the hysterical prudishness and rhetoric behind most of the “Detox” diets, websites, books and e-books just leaves me with a bad, toxic taste in my mouth. A lot of it just seems like thinly veiled anti-fat, “obesity epidemic” hatred.

And, quite frankly, some of it just doesn’t make any damn sense. There’s a lot of woo-woo BS that gets touted as nutritional fact and I am just not down with that. Just disregard my love of Ayurveda and TCM here for a minute and bear with me, OK? I recently picked up a copy of Kimberly Snyder’s The Beauty Detox Solution at the lovely Las Vegas library (our library system ROCKS!). Part of me wants to buy what she’s selling hook, line, and vegan sinker. She’s so cute and healthy looking and I like the color of her book. And the green smoothie recipe looks really good! But then I had to dig a little more and look at what she actually wants me to DO.

For Phase One of her plan (“Blossoming Beauty”), she wants me to drink hot lemon water and take some probiotics when I first wake up. WTF is the deal with all of these alternative health gurus and lemons? There are 2.4 million studies on Pub Med alone. Do any of the studies reference the miraculous alkaline power of an acidic citrus fruit? If you find this information, please email me immediately. I did find some interesting studies on Citrus species and a drug made from them for sickle cell anemia, however. Very interesting. I will have to do some more digging on this topic because it has been seriously nagging me for years.

Next on this phase, I get to eat “two or three” celery sticks and dry toast for breakfast. But only if I am hungry. Seriously? Lunch is kale salad and soup (rice crackers optional) and snack is, you guessed it, raw veggies. Yay! Dinner is more salad with oil free dressing and either fish (ewww) or a alkaline grain veggie burger. Then, this is the kicker: “LATE NIGHT: if you experience cravings, have herbal tea with stevia or more veggie sticks dipped in Sally’s Salsa or Green Bean Miso Dip.” “If” I experience cravings? It’s more like when. All I have to say is that someone would be getting HURT if that was how I had to eat every day. Cravings? Ya think? Just writing this made me hungry!

I’m sure there’s plenty in this book that is useful information. I just can’t get past the starvation part. The total caloric content of the food I listed above? 913 calories, with the optional extra carrot sticks at night. I would be diving head first into a vegan pizza followed by a bag of Uncle Eddie’s, I can see it now. So I will continue on my merry way, making my body toxic in the morning with coffee before my Ashtanga practice and eating lots of healthy vegan stuff for the rest of the day. In the meantime, I do not feel like my body is a wonderland (screw you, John Mayer) or a wasteland. It’s just my human, imperfect, and awesome body. I try to honor the temple as much as I can and treat it with gratitude, respect and love.

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