Sunday, August 22, 2010

mid-life crisis

Keeping time as we humans do, I turned 36 on August 15th. This previous year had not been kind to me, and an acquaintance with a fascination for things psychic and predictive told me (a mere three days before my birthday, and during a very serendipitous encounter) that 3-6 means good fortune. Dear sweet baby Jesus all swaddled in your manger: I hope she's right.

I've been home for a day and a half from what I coined EPIC BIRTHDAY VACATION, which included vast amounts of amazing and high-level roller derby, consumption of enormous quantities of vegan victuals, mass socializing with loved ones and three whole days on the Bonneville Salt Flats during Speed Week. Oh, and lots of backside soreness due to riding in the mister's 1931 Model A Ford pick-up. I felt maddeningly alive, in positive and negative ways, during the epicness... only to return home to the same old malaise, even though I have yet to set foot at the studio.

Backing up a bit: it might make sense to point out that ever since I started my young adult life as a nomad, I've never called any one place home for more than a few years at a time. In all fairness I did log nearly a decade in the Boston area, but in two shifts. My five-year tenure in Ashland marks the longest stretch in one place since my formative years in Queens. I've gone against my nature to set roots in this small town, mostly on account of that foolish thing we call "being in love." Coming home from EPIC BIRTHDAY VACATION (yes, it always deserves all caps) made me realize that maybe love isn't enough to keep me here.

While walking to the grocery store earlier I pondered the idea of experiencing my own mid-life crisis. For a change the timing actually fits. I used to joke about such things in my late teens and early twenties, because back then I had myself convinced I'd be six feet under well before 30. Oh, ha ha. But now it makes sense.

So I guess it's time I bought myself a fancy and expensive road bike (my equivalent of the little red sports car) and hit the road. Again.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

to be or not to be an asshole... that is the question

Many moons ago, when I pretended that pursuing an expensive secondary education might have some merit, I found myself immersed in a world full of self-righteous trustafarians. They directed their youthful zeal towards anyone forced to listen, and anyone who erroneously did not toe their party line. I recall an attempt at a quiet evening with my friend (and comrade in the struggle against parent-funded self-righteousness) Will that was interrupted by one of said trusties trying to out-vegan me. I hate when that happens now, so imagine my fury back then before recovery and yoga. My instinctive response was to very loudly and deliberately point out to Queen of the Vegans that the Guinness she was drinking wasn't vegan. This sent Will into paroxysms of laughter. Once he caught his breath, he said to me, "I got it. You're the gadfly."

I like the American Heritage dictionary's definitions for gadfly: a persistent irritating critic; a nuisance; or, one that acts as a provocative stimulus; a goad. And I liked Will's nickname for me so much that it stuck, and to this day I have a beautiful rendering of a fly I'd like to use as a tattoo.

What's this got to do with the price of tea in China? Pretty much everything.

When you mention you're a yoga teacher, in most circles someone will imagine you wearing flowing, earth-toned garments (perhaps with some excessively beady jewelry) and that someone will likely assume you're some kind of a mellow chanting type who only wishes the best for all beings. That someone would be about one-third right.

The longer I teach yoga, and the longer I pursue the idea of a spiritual practice, the more I realize that we've got it all wrong if we're assuming that yoga and meditation should lead to everyone getting all quiet and zen, man. Because some of us are born to be assholes. Or gadflies, if the coarse language offends.

Meditation isn't supposed to be easy. If it were, everyone would do it. (In a perfect world everyone would. But I digress.) If one can find a morsel of peace in the insanity that is our world, one's got one up on just about everyone. Part of that insanity will come from folks on your journey, or the ones you look to as teachers. Read enough of the books and you'll learn that Buddha and just about every monk following him acted like total pricks a lot of the time. Because you're supposed to know the answers already. If you're asking me, you're asking the wrong person. All I'm going to say is, "Really, dude? You don't already know?"

Doesn't that make me an asshole? No. It makes you distracted. Cut through the bullshit and see through the haze, and eventually you'll discover that you arrived at this school called Life with all your textbooks in hand and all the tools you need. You are your own best teacher. Give yourself time and space to pursue your study. Eventually I just fade into the background like the buzzing of so many insects.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

cruel summer

It's been a while. Teaching pretty much non-stop, since it's summer and that means everyone else's needs come before mine. In a way this is good because this gives me much to meditate on, and plenty of distraction when things do not go smoothly. Long stretches of teaching affect my practice, however, because it means I teach instead of practice with others, and I have to rely on myself to lead my own practice. Often easier said and intended than done.

We lost one of our beloved hens in May. I don't think I ever wrote much about our birds on this blog, but for some reason my fellow decided that our country life would not be complete without some country critters. He met a chicken who needed rescuing, and last year we took Carolina Chicken (also known as CC) into our home and hearts. (For reference: she is the hen on the right in the photo. The other we call Ninja.) Our faithful pit mutt Natasha somehow learned to love sharing us and her land with CC, and the two became fast friends.

This would explain why, when CC fell ill, our Natasha suffered as well. Tashy was creeping past sixteen years of a full life, so she certainly started showing signs of age well before CC's illness. I had to take note, though, of her melancholy when her hen pal began acting lethargic. We treated her illness and saw some improvement and a return to vitality... for a short time.

One morning we awoke to the sounds of Ninja squawking more loudly than we'd ever heard. The only time we hear such sounds, we know we've got an intruder on the premises. Except this time Natasha accompanied the ruckus with whining, crying and pacing.

The mister went outside to find our CC dead.

Neither of us humans expected to be so moved by the loss of a chicken. The mister openly wondered what it would be like when we had to let Natasha go. We tried not to think about that very real inevitability.

Natasha never really recovered from the loss of her henpal. We knew these two unrelated species somehow got along famously, but we had no idea how much they'd bonded. Tashy's walks went from already shortened to nonexistent, as she seemed to lose all energy.

An unexpected visit from out-of-town friends brought two more dog pals into the mix. We could catch little glimmers of the old spark in Tashy's eyes as she held court for her guests... only to spend the entire next day after their departure asleep in her bed.

That night she woke us with cries, again. This time she needed to go outside, but was unable to lift herself up on her own. The mister and I accepted what had to come next.

Luckily we had a vet friend who made house calls. The next day we were able to say goodbye to our best canine friend in the comfort of our own home, on one of her favorite blankets. The mister had never witnessed the loss of a loved one so directly, which made it all the sadder for me. It's already hard enough to watch someone you love die; watching someone else you love in pain only compounds the suffering.

Some days are better than others. Just like in one's practice. The postures might be the same but the body and mind are different. I can feel sun on my face as I try to dig out of my hole. Perhaps soon I can get back on track to living the more examined life. Until then, I'll keep breathing and missing my friend.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

working for the weekend

Last time I sat on my couch typey-typing a new blog entry, the Mr. and I had the television tuned to Thursday night awesome. Hmm. How time flies when you're busy. Teaching solo for three days in a row left me with little time or desire to write. Friday and Saturday both, I had scheduled my days in such a way, I left myself with no free time between classes. In a way, that's kind of "whatever" since once upon a time I used to pull something like a 9-to-5. It's also kind of good, because movement and busy-ness leaves little time for feeling sorry for myself or doing stupid shit. But it also means no time to write, or think, really.

Lots of stuff came up during the course of my teaching marathon. Except I don't feel much like recapping it now. I just want to rest up for the week ahead.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

this ain't no picnic

Morning: teaching. I slept terribly last night, with no desire to teach or interact with humans before noon. My eyes struggled to open, but when they did I could see plenty of sun and blue sky. I did what I could to fight my way out of bed, assuming I'd probably have a small class on such a gorgeous morning.

Instead I found five students on the patio by 8:25. Apparently the sun roused everyone in town but me. The energy in the room ran so high from minute one. I worried that I'd be unable to keep up or inspire. On top of my fatigue, I discovered that the clock in the studio somehow broke.

One of my regulars brought me a gallon of home-brewed kombucha. I needed that.

20 students total in the morning class. My tired ass taught without a clock, and still managed to finish with three minutes to spare. By the time I got students into Ardha Matyendrasana I was ready to kick the day right in the babymaker. Yeah, sometimes my job rules. One student told me she felt the flow of the class was better than ever. Imagine that.

Afternoon: practice. I arrive at the studio to learn that my scheduled instructor tried to reach me so I could cover her class. *sigh* I accepted the possibility of missing a practice. We secretly wished for no one to arrive. Sounds terrible, but if no one shows up I could practice on my own. Or if regulars arrive I can lead them in a silent class, and let my instructor take care of her personal business.

Always take care when making wishes.

One of my favorite regulars arrives, and we discuss our collective desire for a silent class. Then a new student walks in the door. Honestly it's good to have more business, so I accept this new turn of events and prepare for class. Apparently said newbie will have another friend joining her. Because of the triumphant arrival of spring, we have very few folks in class. It's me, my favorite regular, another woman with a great practice, and three new students.

This was one of my hardest practices. Once upon a time I preferred smaller classes so we'd have plenty of personal space. Now a small class proves challenging. When you're leading it, you're essentially carrying everyone along in their practice. It works well when it's a small group of regulars. Sometimes you can turn it into a mini-clinic, or take chances to make deeper corrections. A small class with a lot of new students is another matter altogether. New students rely on regulars to show them the way, literally and figuratively. I knew I had three pairs of eyes watching me through my practice. I had to represent. No rest for the wicked.

I realized that I am still an asshole after all this practice. I couldn't find enough compassion for my instructor and her issues. I had to remember my first Bikram class and how much I struggled and fought so I wouldn't get frustrated at my newbies. This trying to make yourself better with practice shit is hard. Maybe I have to let go of trying to be better, or at least better for other people. The goal is just as much an attachment as anything else.

I imagine my full day will lead to a restful night. I need all the sleep I can get, considering I have a weekend full of teaching doubles on my horizon.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

roll the die!

My friend in yoga and blogging (amongst other things) Suzie D. coined the term "yoga roulette" to describe taking one's chances with location in the studio. A huge part of practice includes letting go of attachment and staying present, which means sometimes you don't get to lay your mat down in that sweet spot right next to the instructor or the window that lets in a crack of fresh air. I've been meaning to spring a game of yoga roulette on my morning class, because I have at least three students who should literally pay me rent for their specific locations. I do get it. You have a spot you like, and there's already enough to challenge you. Why not control what you can control? But we miss the point when we're that attached. And if I am being completely honest (which is pretty much my M.O.) it bores me to see people in the same spots every day.

I didn't even have to roll the die or spin the wheel this morning. I don't know what happened, but two of my regulars got displaced. I felt like I had a new job. Seriously. It was an entirely different experience for me as a teacher. I realized how much I've let my students' attachment turn into a rut for me. I needed this kick in the pants for sure.

I need a lot more than a kick in the pants to get me out of my life rut, but I'll take what I can get. It dawned on me this evening that I neglected to celebrate my five-year anniversary here in Ashland. Hmm. That's all I got on that subject.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

always trust your first instinct

I don't like to abuse the privilege of studio ownership as a rule, but today I arrived at the studio before my instructor after running some studio-related errands. I feared going home first, because I could totally see myself wussing out and skipping practice. So I went, and let myself in because I could. This means first pick of location in the room. I keep thinking i want to move back into the back of the room, but when I practice behind people I get so terribly distracted. I hate to say it but it's true. I chose the front corner spot, furthest from the door. I hoped this would reduce my chances of folks setting up right on top of me in an effort to stay near the door.

Then one of my favorite regulars comes in to practice. Since I've become the morning go-to instructor, I don't see her as often as I'd like. She hints that she'd really like it if I practiced next to her. I give in and move my mat.

Of course that means that one of my most distracting students would set up right behind me once I moved.

I feel like I will never live a life without challenge. That reads like a total "DUH" statement, but it merits mention. I don't know if I really want true smooth sailing, but one day I'd love it if all the petty shit would just effortlessly roll off my back. Truth is: I am the person responsible for making that happen. If I am completely honest, I have to admit that I've gotten much, much better. I know my practice has kept me from spiraling deep into self-destruction, to put it mildly. This is why I keep coming back to the mat. I know this shit works. I fear that if I stop, I'll just fall back into old bad habits.

So even on days when I want to throttle people around me, I keep coming. Sometimes I use them as inspiration, which is completely stupid and a total contradiction to the intent of the practice. But I do it anyway, because it keeps me in the room and I can keep going. Besides, I know the urge to throttle is temporary. For today, at least.

Monday, May 10, 2010

there went the weekend

On the subject of daily writing: I tried. Better luck next time, as the adage goes.

Folks of a professional bent often suggest that one finds one's passion and follow it in terms of creating a career. You'll be devoting so much of your time and energy to this career, you might as well love what you're doing. Such is the logic, yes? I have to admit I challenged that notion not long after starting to work in exchange for a wage. Yes, I love riding my bike, but won't I start hating it if I do it for a living? Same goes for making photos or working on bicycles or building bicycles. I resisted turning my passions into a paycheck because I wanted to enjoy my life and my hobbies (if you can call them that). Despite my resistance, somehow I managed to avoid falling into the "I hate my job" trap.

Right now I'm on a "teaching six mornings a week" tear. And I am the farthest thing from a morning person. I wake up so damned grumpy every morning, even when the sun streams into my room and I wake next to my fellow sleeping like an angel and our elderly dog snoring at our feet on the bed. I want to ease into my day at my own pace. Such a delightful privilege, no? It's one I had hoped to enjoy once I owned my own business.

Fat chance. I work more now than I ever did. I did expect to, in a way, though I wasn't starting from scratch with a brand new business. I knew it would take time to become solvent and experience a modicum of success. I didn't know that, even with a staff, I would pretty much be working alone. (That part's probably best left for another day, or maybe never.)

My own stresses disappear once my feet hit the podium when I teach. On the days I have to skip my own practice because the rest of my life creeps in, I can still get some peace of mind and quiet when I teach. I am lucky this way. I know this. My job doesn't feel like a job when I'm actually doing it.

That doesn't change the fact that I don't have a weekend. I have one day off from teaching a week. It does not coincide with either of my fellow's days off. Two years of this has made me tired. I don't know any other way to describe it. Again, I'm lucky that the fatigue melts away once I start working. The same thing happens when I practice... if I practice. Sometimes I just want to stay home and read in my yard. Or walk my dog. Or ride bikes through the orchards with my fellow. Because all of that means I AM NOT AT WORK.

And we haven't even hit summer yet, when my only reliable instructor disappears for two months.

If anyone could epitomize practicing yoga off the mat more than me, I'd like to meet that person. I sure could use some advice for making this work.

Friday, May 7, 2010

everybody's somebody's momma

I can say only one thing about today:

My students gave me a Mother's Day card. Not just any card. An OVERSIZED card. I need to get a photo. It is hilarious. I do love the sentiment; the student who brought the card told me I deserve it because I am the yoga mom. Yeah, hilarious... especially since I can easily be the daughter of three-quarters of my students. I suppose inheriting my own mother's nurturing instinct finally has an outlet.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

how do you achieve enlightenment? practice practice practice

Yesterday I wrote of cycles, and attempting to learn from past experiences and situations. Of course today would present to me the opportunity to put my money where my mouth is.

Fairly standard class this morning. 16 students, if I recall correctly. One newbie, two late arrivals and a second newb who pulled on the locked studio door at 9:01 (for my 9am class) and acted surprised that I wasn't interested in letting her in. I especially liked the fact that she told me she'd never been to our studio before and she also had to drop her daughter off at school. If I could have scratched my head at that comment, i would have, but instead I apologized and told her I had a class to teach.

Right now I keep mulling over the difference between being a disciplinarian and a control freak. Some would call me the latter, and some have in the past. I think I'm learning how to let go of what I cannot control, and this pleases me. This does not mean, however, that I just take shit as it comes. A 9am class should start at 9am, dig? A ninety-minute class should finish in ninety minutes, if you smell what I'm cookin'. Insisting on punctuality and continuity feels more like discipline to me, not control. So I can insist that you're ready to practice at 9am, but I won't stress out if I can't control your tardiness.

My afternoon practice meant more time to mull over this distinction. First I noticed several students setting up their mats rather haphazardly, basically insisting on being as close to doors and windows as possible despite anyone who might have already staked claim in that real estate. This meant I had a student literally on top of me (and I was in the second row!) as well as another student who parked himself right in front of me, leaving me no room to see myself in the mirror. No worries. I just took my breaths and got on with my practice.

The fellow in front of me also happens to be one of my challenges. He chooses to do postures his own way, despite the fact that the Bikram series is rather specific. When I have him in my class I do what I can to keep him working with us, but it's often for naught. It seems my staff must agree, because no one else calls him on it. It definitely messed with my own practice, because how is it that someone who isn't representing the practice properly gets to stand in front of, and block, a teacher? But really... whatever. I can't control it. All I can control is what I do and how I present myself.

As much as I hope to step out of my mind when I practice, dealing with this challenging student inspired me. I came up with a few ways to encourage students to try the practice as we deliver it. Let's see if it works.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

the more things change

In an attempt to satisfy my curiosity. I re-read my old entries. Long before I settled into a regular yoga practice, I had to acknowledge how my life moves in cycles. Everyone's lives do, in some way, but it started to feel crazy how I'd find myself in similar situations over and over again. I began to wonder if things happened for a reason, perhaps so I could finally learn something from all the messy predicaments in which I'd find myself. It took me a while, but I started learning. I began to accept the places where I could change things and the places where I couldn't. I can't always control what happens, but I can control my reactions and actions.

Now, to clarify: I'm not the type who buys into all the manifestation/The Secret-type BS. I can accept that karma exists, and sometimes we have to lie in the beds we've made. I am, however, the type of person who believes one should learn from one's successes and mistakes.

So here I am reading through old entries of my progress and experiences as I learn how to teach yoga, and I notice that I'm still experiencing a lot of the same things when I teach now as I did when I started teaching and started writing about it. What's different, though, is me.

Once upon a time I honestly felt it was my job to get people to change through their yoga practice. I also felt that my students had to leave my class happy, or at least in a better mood than when they started. None of this is true, or needs to be true for me to be a competent teacher. Because really, I'm not a teacher. I'm more of a facilitator.

When we're born we're given all the physical and mental tools we need to live. As we grow, shit happens to us and around us that messes up our access to these tools. (For some of us it was a LOT of shit happening. For others, not as much.) If we can give ourselves the space to really look at where we are in the present moment, we might realize that we already have everything we need. We just let ourselves get cluttered and distracted. If it were easy to clear those distractions, I'd imagine everyone would be a bit more content and we'd all be living happier, healthier, safer lives.

This is where I make my entrance.

You walk into my studio and you'll have an opportunity to stare yourself in the face, both literally and figuratively, for ninety minutes at a time. It might sound like I'm forcing you to do some intense stuff with your body, but really all I'm asking is that you turn your brain off, breathe, and take a look at what you've got. Some days that means seeing something awesome you didn't know you had. Other days it means acknowledging that you're in the shit and you might want to reconsider where you are. Either way, all I have to do is ask you to be honest and really look at yourself. And sometimes this means you leave a class with me and you are not happy.

If you're lucky, though, your body feels good enough to make you consider ignoring your cranky and unhappy brain, and you come back.

No matter what the end result of one practice, I'll be back if you want to try again. Whether you like me or not.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

inhale on the start, exhale as you hit

I have to blame roller derby for my absence from writing. It is only fair. I fell in love with something else, and it took me away from self-reflection. This has both positive and negative consequences, of course. My intention here was to blog about my yoga practice and the challenge of maintaining my own truth in the face of assumptions about those who practice yoga. So while a part of me feels a digression about derby means straying from the original path, a greater part of me wants to acknowledge that yoga is a lot more than the semi-pretzel maneuvers we do on a little rubber mat.

Reality is: I'm a big-city girl trapped in a small town that tries to act big. As much as I challenge myself to find peace of mind and contentment by sitting in meditation, I need an outlet for my excess energy and my outsized personality. I grew up watching the old school, banked track derby with my dad, and I spent far too much time attempting fancy tricks on a wooden board with wheels, so the fascination makes sense. Learning that there was a derby team in action nearby supplied me with one more way to burn off that excess energy and meet some more like-minded people.

I feel fortunate that I started this new journey with a few years of spiritual practice under my belt. It is amazing how often we can access the peace of mind that yoga brings even when we're far away from our studio or our mat. Finding myself in this very different, non-metropolitan area forces me to interact with folks who dwell on the polar opposite end of the political and social spectrum. Having patience at the ready makes it much easier to cope when things don't quite go my way.

And the breath! Oh, the breath. How having a reliable breathing practice helps when you're trying to build endurance that will last when you hit a bitch as hard as possible while skating at top speeds. (Classy, huh?) I find myself literally meditating on when to inhale and when to exhale to increase the force of my hip checks. I also appreciate finishing a particularly demanding endurance drill and still having plenty of energy to continue practice, while the rest of my team needs breaks. It stands as a testament to how powerful and not airy-fairy a truly consistent yoga practice can be.

I reckon that from this point forward more roller derby stuff creeps into my daily* introspections. Of course I still have all sorts of stuff rising to the surface about teaching and living my yoga, as well as my own practice. But this is a part of my life and practice now. So, here it is.

* Yes, I would like to say I'll be back to daily blogging. Perhaps as my friends struggle in daily yoga challenges, I will struggle with a regular writing practice. If they can do it...

Monday, May 3, 2010

consider the date upped

No joke. I've been toying with the idea of resurrecting this blog for a while now. With my beloved faraway friend Suzie D.* blogging about her 30-day challenge, this is as good a time as any.

Except right this second frustration and a certain amount of sadness weigh heavily. Not exactly the best place to start again. Especially since I missed my practice today because of some incorrect information, only to spend most of my entire day dealing with a lot of bullshit and needing the serenity that comes with practice.

Lesson for today: do shit for yourself first. Sounds selfish, but it's starting to feel much more correct.

Better update next time.

*Technically Suzie D. is Suzie R. Or should I say legally she is. She'll always be Suzie D. to me.