NotSoZen YogaJen

Archive for April 2010

Yesterday I was talking to a friend about how you can have a negative thought about yourself and then feel bad/wrong about having that thought, and that makes your initial thought so much worse/more painful.  A few days ago, I went to a lecture that Kamini Desai gave at Yoga to the People about a type of meditation called Yoga Nidra.  She talked about this exact thing and how if you are thinking a thought, and then you fight the thought and try to force yourself to have another different, possibly better or more positive thought, then you are having double thoughts, which creates even more internal conflict (!).  So the idea is not to fight your thoughts, but to get to place where you can disidentify with them.  She compared this state to listening to a TV that is in another room and hearing it off in the distance without actively engaging in what you are hearing, or those moments right before you fall asleep when you are aware that your thoughts are floating by but you just let them go without grasping on to them, as you drift peacefully off to sleep…

This made me think about how, even if you have the best of intentions, you can sometimes use self-help, positive thinking, and affirmations against yourself to cause more internal conflict.  Five years ago I started taking self-help classes, and the teacher said that your thoughts create your reality, and to look around at your life and circumstances to see what you’ve been thinking.  So I looked around.  And this was my thought, “I’m broke.  I’m single.  My job is unfulfilling.  Huh.  Not really crazy about these circumstances.”  And then this was my thought about that thought, “I created this?  What the f*ck is wrong with me?  Is this all I believe I deserve?!” And THEN, this was my thought about the thought about the thought, “Stop being so negative!  Stop dwelling on what you don’t have!  Think about the positive and what you want or else you’re just going to create more of the same shitty circumstances!”

Ugh!  Internal conflict is exhausting. Whenever you judge or criticize your thoughts as wrong, it adds another layer of agitation.  But if you do that, don’t then beat yourself up for doing it because that adds a third thought layer, and triple-decker mental agitation is hard to calm down from!

Detaching from your thoughts is totally easy to say and totally hard to do.  But one layer of thoughts is enough to deal with as it is!  So it’s good to practice, in whatever way you can, watching your thoughts go by like a far-off TV playing a show that you’re not really all that interested in, instead of jumping in and clutching on for dear life as they speed into a downward spiral of thoughts upon thoughts upon thoughts upon thoughts upon thoughts, and take you down with them.  When you see a thought coming on, and then another one layering on top of that one, and sense that a violent internal wrestling match is about to ensure, choose to practice non-violence instead.  Just put your hands in the air, and STEP AWAY FROM THE THOUGHTS.

What are your thoughts about your thoughts?

Namaste!

YogaJen

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I went to an awesome yoga class early this morning at a studio I’d never been to before with a friend.  The awesome teacher created a really great flow, a totally fun vibe, and played hip-hip and R&B music to boot, which, whenever my two favorites of yoga and hip-hop/R&B are combined, the result is Nirvana.  After class, my friend and I were talking to the teacher, and I told her about my new yoga blog and she asked me what it was about.  “Well,” I said cheerfully,  “it’s about how I’m really anxious and depressed and how yoga really helps me!”

You’re depressed?” she asked.

“She hides it well,” my friend said.

“I’m highly functional!” I said.

I might possibly be one of the most upbeat and optimistic people you’ll ever meet.  But I’ve also struggled with severe depression for much of my life, which you wouldn’t know unless you walked in on me crying on the floor of my apartment.  I’m dramatic, so when I’m depressed I like to go for it full-out and hit the floor.  I live in a studio which makes it really convenient – I can cry on my bedroom floor, kitchen floor, and study floor by just moving a few feet this way or that.  And my favorite floor, when I reaalllyyy want to relish in my depression, and made popular by Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat Pray Love, is the bathroom floor.

At my last job, I had a co-worker who used to ask me, “Has anyone ever called you Polyanna?” and “Are you ever not in a good mood?”  I’d smile and shrug in way that subliminally conveyed, That’s me!  Always happy!  I hide it well.  I’m highly functional.  But I’m not so into hiding it anymore.

I’m getting better at managing my depression, which isn’t to say that it still doesn’t take me out every once in a while.  But yoga makes me happy.  There are studies to support this but I don’t know what they are offhand so I’m not going to cite them here, and this may not be true for everyone, but for me, yoga lifts me up when I’m feeling down.  It puts the brakes on my thoughts when they’re racing fast and furious.  And when I consistently practice, it helps me to live in a more equanimous and balanced way day-to-day.  I’m rarely completely balanced and blissed-out, but it takes the edge off my high highs and my low lows.  To quote Naughty By Nature’s Hip Hop Hooray, yoga helps me “Smooth it out now!”

What benefits do you experience from your yoga practice?  How do you feel when you get away from it?  And then when you go back to it?

Namaste!

YogaJen

Image credit: Giggle Chick Interactive

Many yoga classes begin with stating an intention for yourself and your practice, so in keeping with this, I thought I’d begin my yoga blog the same way – by stating my intention, and introducing myself.  I am not a yoga teacher (although flatteringly, people sometimes assume that I am because I am such an enthusiastic practitioner).  I am a mere Type A, stressed-out, anxious yoga mortal trying to make my way in the world, and fit as many yoga classes as possible into my my color-coded Outlook schedule – because if I didn’t, things (meaning me) might unravel!  This, is my story…

When I was in college, I thought about doing yoga, and pictured myself in Downward Dog wearing braided pigtails and a super-cute matchy-matchy yoga outfit, but that was about as close as I got to actually taking a class.  When I graduated from college 12 years ago this May, I moved to Manhattan, and within a few weeks I was like, Yo, this place is STRESSFUL! I knew that I had to do something to calm down and fast, so I started going to yoga classes at the local New York Sports Club.  That fall I went to acting school and my modern dance teacher began every class with a hardcore 45-minute yoga warm-up.  And then, two years later in 2000, I had a bad break-up.  Like, it was bad. And that drove me to deepen my practice.  I branched out from yoga at the gym and took classes at yoga studios which incorporated chanting and more spiritual teachings, and had the added benefit of incense and candles, and no booming bass line coming from the Spin class next door.

Which brings me to YogaJen.  As a Jennifer, I’ve grown up surrounded by lots of other Jennifers, and I’ve always had to have some kind of nickname to distinguish myself.  In December, my friend Suzanne, who knows an abundance of Jens, introduced me to her friend Dave as Book Club Jen because we are in the same book club.  However, this didn’t ultimately work because there is another Jen in our book club (it’s 2/5ths Jens), so she had to find another way to name me.  I’ve been known to my friends and their friends as Writer Jen, Teacher Jen, and briefly, Pole Dancing Jen when I was taking pole dancing classes at S Factor a few years ago, although I can say with a fair amount of certainty that that was the least accurate way to describe me.  But Suzanne and I also take yoga classes together, so I became Yoga Jen.

On Friday night we were all at Dave’s watching this week’s LOST, when I started talking about yoga.  “So, are you guys doing any yoga this weekend?  Where are you going to do yoga?”  And Dave was like, “You talk about yoga a lot.”  Then a few minutes passed and we were watching LOST, eating our pizza, drinking our beers, and more yoga thoughts popped into my head.  I tried to suppress them and talk about something else, but I couldn’t do it.  I knew that Suzanne’s boyfriend Pete had an unused Bikram class card so I asked him, “Are you gonna give your Bikram classes to Suzanne?  Suzanne, wanna do Bikram?”  And then Dave was like, “You really are Yoga Jen!”

So I’ve decided to embrace it.  Yes, I really am YogaJen.  I do yoga a lot, I talk about yoga a lot, and I hang out at the Lululemon store just for fun and to chat even when I’m not buying anything.  I reflect about yoga a lot, I’m a reflector.  And now, I’m going to blog about yoga a lot.  Or at least, a fair amount.

I’m not a perfect and serene yogini, but I don’t believe in yogic perfection or perfection of any kind – afterall, it’s a yoga practice not a yoga perfect.  Sometimes I spend entire classes thinking about my To Do list, or worrying about something I said yesterday, or mentally playing out some possible catastrophe that could befall me tomorrow.  And when someone steps on my mat or sweats on me in class, I get yoga rage.  But I practice, and I do my best.  I continue to return to the mat, and bring the teachings from the mat into my everyday life.  Over the years, yoga has helped me with my anxiety and depression, through bad break-ups, and during my most stressful times; it has given me strength of body and peace of mind.

In this blog, I intend to share my oftentimes stressed-out, white-knuckled yogic existence, as well as the quiet moments of Zen that my practice sometimes miraculously brings me.  I want to write about the things I learn along this path, and share the tips and resources that have helped me, from a profound yogic teaching to just the right yoga mat bag, to where to find the best (and cheapest!) yoga classes.  And I’d love to hear from you!  What brought you to your first class?  A bad break-up, bikini season, spiritual curiosity?  What benefits and challenges have you experienced along the way?  Or if you’ve never taken a yoga class but have always wondered about it (perhaps picturing yourself in Downward Dog wearing braids and a matchy-matchy outfit), what is it about yoga that you’re drawn to?  Post a comment and introduce yourself, and tell me about your yogic adventures.  And maybe we can navigate this path together…

As they say at the end of yoga class, Namaste! (the light within me bows to the light within you)

-YogaJen

 

And check out my blog post on “One Writeous Chick” about the process of writing my yoga blog, and why shitty first drafts are eco-conscious!

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