NotSoZen YogaJen

Archive for the ‘Contentment’ Category

Angry woman
After a hectic day at work today, I ran out of the office and dashed downtown to make it to yoga. I was anticipating a hardcore Power Vinyasa class that would stretch out my body and soothe my mind, to a soundtrack of John Mayer, Adele, and possibly some D’Angelo thrown in, as the teachers at this particular studio are known to play pop music and the occasional R&B.

The first thing that was off when I arrived was that all the rooms I normally take classes in were already full, so I was directed to a room I hadn’t been in before. A smaller room. But the lights were low and even though there was no coat rack and I had to ball up my jacket and shove it in my bag, I felt like I could still have a soothing class here. I could be open to change. Even though this was not how I’d envisioned it, I could transcend my disappointment and embrace this new yoga experience. I could become one with the (small) room.

Then, as I was trying to squeeze my bags onto a make-shift shelf that was really just a crowded table in the back of the room, a girl said to me in a condescending, bratty voice, “It’s not your fault.”

“Oh–what?” I asked, thinking that maybe I’d accidentally bumped into her when I was trying to maneuver my bags.

“Nah-thing,” she quipped (bratty voice still applies), giving me a stern look before returning to arranging her bag.

And then the yoga rage started to percolate like a burning in my chest and seep into my veins. What? What’s not my fault? That I’m a sub-par, unaware human being who isn’t enlightened enough to know when I accidentally bump into someone? Is that what you meant, bitch?

Taking deep breaths and trying to get myself into the calm yogic state I’d envisioned being transported to in class, I walked back to my mat at the front of the room and sat down. To my left was a good-looking guy, and on the other side of him, the bratty girl plunked down.

“Ohhh, you work in finance?” I heard her say to him. “That’s soooo interesting! Hi! I’m Shawn, nice to meet you!” she said, jutting out her hand to shake his.

WTF?! I thought. One minute, you’re going to be an asshole to me, and the next minute you’re going to flirt? In yoga?

My yoga rage was bubbling over as class started and the teacher dimmed the lights. But I couldn’t focus on class; I was lost in my interior monologue telling this girl off for being a bitch when all I wanted was a nice, peaceful yoga class to restore me to balance. A few minutes into class, I found myself standing with my arms raised above my head when I noticed that everyone else had their arms by their sides. A vague recollection of the teacher saying, “Drop your arms” a few moments earlier came back to me. I swung my arms around ala when you trip and recreate the trip to pretend you did it on purpose.

OK! I thought. Let go of the rage and focus!

But when I focused, I noticed that there was no music. Did this small, shitty, coat rack-less room not have a sound system? Frantically, I glanced around, and my gaze fell on speakers in the windowsill. But where was the music?

“Today,” the teacher said, “we have the opportunity to practice in silence. Not by choice, but by circumstance. So I want you to breeeeaaaatttthhhhhe extra loudly, and let the breath be our music.”

I don’t want musical breath! I want John Mayer in Warrior One, Adele in Extended Side Angle, D’Angelo in Pigeon Pose!

“Just think,” the teacher continued, “now I’m innnnnnnnnnhaling, now I’m exxxxxxxxxxhaling.”

Which is when I noticed that her voice sounded like a kindergarten teacher played by a Disney character. And it started to grate on me.

At the end of class, I didn’t luxuriate in Savasana like I normally do; I popped up quickly, eager to bring this yoga disaster to an end. I’d made it through class, I’d done all the poses (albeit sometimes with a slight time delay) but I hadn’t been present for maybe even 30 seconds of the 60 minutes. I hadn’t by a long shot had the invigorating and nourishing class I’d desired.

In the hallway as I was putting on my shoes, I heard someone say, “Oh, sorry.” I looked up and saw that it was the bratty girl, apologizing for bumping into me as she reached for her shoes, only she actually hadn’t. I smiled at her, and felt like things had come full-circle, that we were cool now. She’d apologized, and I accepted. For something other than the original offense, but still, it seemed significant. And I felt my yoga rage melt away and evaporate.

Walking out onto the street, I didn’t have that post-yogic high that I love, where everything seems to be right in the world. I wasn’t paying attention in class and I just phoned it in. But even so, just going through the motions, by the end of class I wasn’t enraged anymore–at the girl or the different room or the lack of music or the teacher’s voice. I wasn’t high, but I wasn’t low. A class filled with annoyances and disappointments threw me into an internal ranty rage, and then restored me to neutrality. Which, relatively speaking, felt pretty balanced.

Winter sky and tree branchesI went to yoga once last week. I usually go to three classes a week, that’s my goal. And I don’t beat myself up if I fall short of my yoga goal. But I like to make it to that many classes a week because that generally feels manageable with my schedule, and generally makes me feel really good. It gives me energy and calm that helps me navigate the ups and downs of life.

But last week was cold. And dark. And I was tired. So, so tired. On Sundays I go to a really active power Vinyasa class, but given said tiredness, I opted for an evening candle-lit restorative class. And that is progress–to pay attention to how I feel and give into it instead of pushing myself to muscle through. Then Thursday night I was planning to go to yoga but I just needed to go home. Because I had commitments almost every night last week, and sometimes I just need to go home after work and do nothing. Or in this case, laundry. Which wasn’t quite so replenishing but necessary nonetheless.

On Saturdays I go to a morning yoga class in my neighborhood, but I had a hair appointment in the early afternoon and I didn’t have enough time to make it to class beforehand. And I wasn’t planning to go afterwards because I didn’t want to mess up my newly done hair. Then it was snowing anyway, in October, and trying to get around Manhattan in the snow was extra-exhausting so I came home and took a nap, even if that meant messing up my hair.

I want to get back on the wagon and hit my goal this week because not doing enough yoga throws me off. But another thing that’s been throwing me off is the seasons changing in the direction of winter. The cold. The dark. It seemed like everyone I talked to last week was tired and having a hard time adjusting. The cool temperatures can feel brisk and invigorating, and it can be cozy and contemplative to hibernate when it’s chilly outside. But I wasn’t quite there yet last week. Last week I was just tired. When my alarm went off in the morning and it was still pitch black outside, my reaction early in the week was, Really? Already??? and progressed as the days went on to, NOOOOOO!!!!!

I refused to get out of bed when there was not even a sliver of light in the sky yet, and this caused me to leave my apartment 10-20 minutes later than I normally do. Which then brought me smack into the middle of jam-packed-train rush hour commuting time, instead of the easy, utopian commute I usually enjoy where I don’t have to wait long for a subway, the train isn’t full, and I can get a seat. By the time I flew off the packed train at my stop practically gasping for breath, I got to Starbucks later than usual and didn’t have time to write in my journal while I sipped my morning iced tea. And then I didn’t get to work as early as I like to so I can get settled at a leisurely pace and slowly ease into the day. And then I was too tired from all the stress and rushing and waking up in the dark to go to yoga after work.

Every day this past week as I’ve been standing on a crowded subway platform anxiously waiting–and waiting–for the next train, then packed tightly in it when it arrives, I curse myself for hitting the snooze button that extra time or two, and swear that tomorrow will be different! Tomorrow, I shall rise before the sun no matter how tired I am! I will get back on track, and I will not press snooze!

Yoga makes me feel good. Journaling in the morning at Starbucks makes me feel good. Being on my routine makes me feel good. But sometimes, things like the changing seasons interrupt my routine. Historically, I’ve felt totally upended with my schedule goes off-track. But I’m getting better at going with the flow. Paying attention to how I feel and not pushing myself if I’m tired. Skipping yoga if I’m run-down or hitting the snooze button an extra time or two if it’s still freakin’ the dark of night when my alarm goes off! And finding a balance between sticking to my routine, and taking care of myself when seasons change or days grow darker or I just need to slow down and rest.

But I swear, tomorrow I will rise before the sun so I don’t have to have such a crappy commute!

Read about my self-help overdose, detox, and road to recovery in my article “How I Overdosed On Self-Help” on The Frisky!

I’m writing a blog on PsychologyToday.com called Progress Not Perfection and this is my first post!

“I Was Diagnosed with OCD”

Please check it out!

Not to be a fickle-hearted yogini, because I know half the time I am professing my love for Bikram (especially when I am not getting along with Vinyasa as I recover from an injury) but I don’t think Bikram yoga and I can ever have a deep, committed, monogamous long-term relationship.  I just love Vinyasa too damn much.  It was the first kind of yoga that I practiced, and I don’t think I can ever get over my first love.  Nor do I want to.

Here’s the thing.  Bikram is easier on my injuries.  My muscles don’t tweak out or seize up in those 110 degree studios.  And the post-class yoga bliss is better from Bikram:  my mind is quiet and clear, and I feel energy shooting through my body.  If ever there was a yoga high, Bikram will give it to you.  But the 90-minutes in class are absolutely brutal.  I struggle through them, and once I’m out, I generally don’t want to go back.  Unless my craving for the Bikram high overrides my resistance.  Which happens sometimes, but not often enough for us to really get to know each other, in like, a meaningful way.

Then there’s Vinyasa.  I still get the post-class yoga bliss, it’s just less intense.  And sometimes really really subtle.  When I have injuries, my muscles seize up and tweak out in class.  But the class.  Oh the class.  How I adore those 90 minutes.  The flowing and the moving and the music.  The candles and the incense and the chanting.  The bearable temperatures.  All those things that are not present in Bikram class.  And enjoying actually being in the class instead of fixating on when my yoga fix is going to kick in makes me be present.  Which is one of the main purposes of yoga for me – dragging my mind out of the past, pulling it back from the future, and steadying it here and now.

On Friday night I went to one of my favorite Vinyasa classes.  I hadn’t been there since before I hurt my foot in December.  When I walked into the studio, the familiar scent of incense greeted me as the teacher welcomed me.  In class, under the dimmed lights, I flowed through poses breathing deeply, as “Purple Rain” by Prince played.  And in that moment, I felt so happy to just be there, exactly where I was.  Practicing yoga at the end of the week, night falling outside, moving in this familiar way, music playing, winter turning to spring.  That’s yoga bliss.  That, is true love.

For someone as addicted to yoga as I am, who craves it and goes into withdrawal when I don’t get it, I’ve encountered a lot of obstacles to making it to yoga class this fall.

First there was my pain the neck, which felt better only to then feel worse, plus a hamstring thing thrown into the tweaked-out mix.  But then I was starting to get back my regular Vinyasa yoga practice.  And last week I had a welcome dose of Bikram bliss.  With the cold weather and some difficult  issues to grapple with, I was feining for my next Bikram fix and couldn’t wait to hit that heated studio hard.  I envisioned going to several Bikram classes this week, and vaguely entertained a fantasy of working my way up to the Bikram 30 Day Challenge.  I imagined the bliss, balance, and much-needed tranquility that  it would bring to me and my life.

Then last Saturday, what I hit hard was my toe.  I wish I could stub my toe in delicate ways that involved temporary minor discomfort and hopping around for five minutes tops, and did not involve my foot swelling up and turning blue, but unfortunately this was not the case.  I knew that bruising was usually a sign of breakage, but I also knew that there’s really not much you can do for a broken toe.  However, I was still in pain and hobbling around on Monday, so I called my podiatrist just in case.  I described my foot to the receptionist and asked if I should come into the office, thinking that she would say it was no big deal and would heal on its own.  But she put me on hold to ask the doctor, and when she got back on the phone she said, “The doctor said to come in an hour!”  Yikes.

It turns out that my toe isn’t broken, but the soft tissue is injured.  It turns out that I can’t do yoga for at least two weeks.  And it turns out that I need better peripheral vision.

So two weeks without yoga.  (I’m already halfway through, but honestly, the detox isn’t going so well.  And anyway, it’s supposed to take 21 days to break a habit.  Not that I want to break my yoga habit altogether…)  Plus I am dealing with issues, anxiety, and self-diagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Which means that until December 26th when my yoga ban is lifted, I will have to find other ways to cope.  In my forced detox from yoga, I will have to go to yoga addict rehab.  And I don’t think Dr. Drew handles that, so I’m on my own.

Until I get out of yoga rehab, when I feel these uncomfortable or sad or anxious feelings, I can’t run to yoga class to make them go away.  I have to sit with them.  Yikes.  And find other ways to work through them.   Other practices that will bring me some form of bliss, balance, and much-needed tranquility.

I’m working on this.  But I have big dreams of going to a Bikram yoga class on New Year’s Eve and sweating into the new year.  I really hope my toe heals by then.

How do you feel when you can’t get to yoga class for whatever reason?  What are your other ways of coping with stress and cultivating calm?

My mind is sticky, like the craziest kind of Krazy Glue.  All day long, thoughts Stick! Stick! Stick! like flies on fly paper to my mind, fighting to break free, fighting for their lives, but all their squirming only makes them more and more sticky, and makes me more and more stuck.

And it’s not just the big things that stick to my mind.  It’s little things, too.  Teeny tiny things that would, at first glance, not appear to be something that someone could worry about at all.  But I will find a way.  I will worry.  And these little things get stuck, and I turn and churn them over in my mind for hours, days, and sometimes even weeks.  And the sticky stuckness seeps down into my neck, shoulders, and stomach, tensing up my whole body and making me sick with worry and anxiety that it feels like I will never escape.

All day long, I try to Rip! Rip! Rip! the thoughts out of the tenacious grip of my sticky mind, and release them to go along their merry way and leave me in peace.  This usually does not work.  My sticky mind does not respond well to violence or intimidation, and even when I try to calmly reason with it, it remains unmoved.

A few weeks ago I took a yoga class with Anya Porter, and the theme of the class was letting go.  She said, “So often, we are holding on to things that are familiar, things we want, and things we used to have.”  Check, check, and check.  And as is often the case for me, all of the above.  She instructed us to focus on the exhale, the emptying and emptiness, which is that place of groundlessness, and to keep returning to that empty groundless place.  I picture open hands and empty palms, not gripping anything at all, I imagine freefalling through a wide-open space without ground.

It’s so easy to get stuck grasping onto things that are familiar, things we want, and things we used to have, especially when your mind is sticky.  It’s so easy to believe that if things stay the same we will be safe and secure, and if we get the things we want, or get back the things we used to have, we will be happy.  It’s easy to get seduced by this false promise and sucked into another cycle of grasping and wanting and disappointment and fear and pain.  It’s hard, and scary, to step out of the cycle, to pry the sticky fingers of your mind open, let go, and freefall into groundlessness, with nothing to hold onto, and nothing there to catch you.

But if fighting and reasoning with my mind to let go don’t work, then what does?

When my mind gets stuck on a thought or I get stuck in this cycle of believing that I NEED something, past or future, to be OK, I can go to yoga class.  And sometimes, not always but sometimes, as I’m moving through the poses on my mat, and some great song, one of my favorite songs, comes on the teacher’s iPod, and the sun is setting outside and the sky is pink and all I’m doing is moving and breathing, and maybe my thoughts haven’t stopped altogether but at least they’ve slowed down considerably, I feel happy and peaceful.  And I remember that even if I never get that thing or person in the future that I think I need so much, and even if that thing or person I loved so much in the past never comes back, I can go to yoga.  I can enjoy taking a class, I can be, in that moment, happy, I can be, I will be, OK.

Also, many years ago I took an acting class where the teacher taught me the power of a gentle suggestion.  Before this class, if I wanted to feel sad on stage, I would beat myself up in my mind into feeling sad.  But instead of forcing emotions, this teacher taught me to just ask myself, “What if I was upset right now?” or “What if I was really scared?” or “What if I was in love with this person?”  No pressure, just, “What if?”  So sometimes, when I’m going through my day and some teeny tiny thought gets superglued to my mind I think, “What if this was no big deal?  What if I could just let this go?  What if?”  And then, sometimes, my mind will relax its grip and just let that thought go along its merry way and leave me in peace.  And it becomes something that really is no big deal, it transforms into something that I really can just let go…

And, exhaling helps.  A deep, full, loud exhale, to just empty empty empty out.

So I go to yoga and exhale loudly and ask myself “What if?,” and sometimes, my sticky mind surprises me.  Instead of Krazy Glue it feels like it’s made of Teflon, and all those thoughts that are kamikaze dive-bombing me all day long just slip and slide right off.  And I am free, in that empty space, no longer holding on and tangled up, and I am grounded, for that moment, in wide-open spacious groundlessness.

“I finally smiled, remembering something I heard Ram Das say on the radio once, about somebodyism–how most of us are raised to be somebodies and what a no-win game that is to buy into, because while you may turn out to be much more somebody than somebody else, a lot of other people are going to be a lot more somebody than you. And you are going to drive yourself crazy.”  -Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird

When I’m striving, to be somewhere else, somewhere further along and farther ahead, full of ambition and trying, trying, trying to make things happen, three things take place in rapid succession:

1)  I look around me at my life and see that I am nowhere near where or who I want to be.  I dream of living in a brownstone; I reside in a small studio.  I desire to attain Total Financial Freedom; I’m basically broke.  I long to meet my soul mate & frolic daily in our happy, healthy marriage; I’m single and I hate dating (if I like a guy and he doesn’t like me I get depressed, if a guy likes me and I don’t like him I get anxious, and honestly I don’t know how anyone ever pairs up without being on serious meds!).  I’d love to be rocking moisture-wicking Lululemon yoga pants that make my butt look hot; while in a forward bend in yoga class, I notice a hole forming in my saggy cotton Alternative Apparel capris.  And so it goes…

2)  It doesn’t take me long to then notice that everyone around me everywhere (No, I don’t want to examine how this belief is faulty and inaccurate, I like wallowing in my misery so leave me alone!) has more and is further along than me and generally just well, better, and I got such good grades in high school and showed such promise and when did I become such a fuck-up?  Everywhere I look people are sporting their Seven Jeans and their cute Lululemon hole-less yoga pants and achieving new unheard of personal and professional heights of success and jet-setting hither and thither and buying brownstones or at least one bedroom apartments and I don’t even own a couch!  I see people who are career-wise doing similar work as I am, only they are infinitely more successful.  I see my friends’ husbands doing ridiculously romantic things for them like packing them a heart-shaped peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch and throwing a love poem they wrote on a Post-It into the brown bag and reciting Rumi to them or spontaneously composing love songs inspired by them while giving them a hot stone massage to usher them out the door to work in the morning, all Soul Mate-Style ‘n shit.  Then I regress back to #1, Examining My Own Life To Catalog All The Many Ways In Which It Is Lacking, and I don’t see any Soul Mate types toting hot stones while strumming love songs and whipping up poetry for me hanging around my apartment; all I see are my stuffed animals glaring back at me.  Judging me?  And this immediately leads me to:

3)  Tumbling into hopelessness, despair, and depression for a day or a week or six months.  I mean, what’s the point anyway?  Because I’m striving and trying and pushing and nothing is moving, which makes me so tired I just have to rest.  Curled up a ball.  For what could be a while.

And then, miraculously, a fourth thing happens, which I always forget about until it actually transpires.

4)  I wake up one morning and I just don’t give a shit anymore about trying to be somewhere or someone I’m not.  I just give up the striving.  And I’ll be walking down my street and the sun will be shining, and I’ll forget that I thought I’d be this other person in this other place by this time in my life.  I’ll just feel the sun on my face and be present and…happy.  Like this:  Ahhhhhhh….. 

I was watching The Bonnie Hunt Show a few weeks ago and she said, “When I’m at a party of actors and someone asks me what I’m working on I like to say absolutely nothing.  Even if I’m working on something.”

I want to be like Bonnie Hunt, and if someone asks me what I’ve accomplished lately, or what I’m working on, I want to say: “I’m working on being a flawed, imperfect, sensitive human being in a harsh and insensitive world.  And that’s enough!  I’ve got my plate full with that, thank you very much!”  !!!

Which reminds me of a story a former co-worker told me about when she was going to get Bat Mizvahed.  And all the other moms were constantly asking her mom, “What’s your daughter’s theme, what’s your daughter’s theme?” expecting an answer like, Carnival! or The Wizard of Oz! or The Lights Are Bright on Broadway! but her mom said (insert Coffee Tawk accent here), “Judaism! Her theme is Judaism!”

Eventually I get sucked into that whole pointless crazy-making striving somebodyism loop again and I have to lather, rinse, and repeat this entire cycle, but for gaps of weeks or days or even seconds in-between lapses, I am absolutely and perfectly content to be exactly who and where I am, and in those seconds/days/weeks, I know that I am and have enough, more than enough even.  I’ll realize that on any given day I can wake-up and go to a 7:15am yoga class (preferably a reduced-price or donation-based class ;)), and then head to Starbucks and sit at my seat to sip a cup of coffee and if my seat is taken, another regular I know gives me an empathetic look, and his seat when he leaves because it is my second favorite seat.  And then I get to spend the rest of the day in my yoga clothes writing and reading, and I can take a walk in the park or sit on a bench or go to a bookstore in the afternoon if I want.  And this is pretty freakin’ amazing. 

And in those moments, it doesn’t matter anymore that I can’t afford Seven Jeans, because I remember that I hate shopping, or that I don’t have enough money right now to take a vacation, because I recall that I’m a homebody who is perfectly content taking a staycation and gets out of sorts when she travels, and is happy anywhere she can curl up with a good book.  And I let go, even if for just a brief flash of time, of needing to be a somebody, any kind of body, other than this one that I like to call, affectionately, and with deep appreciation, Me.

What happens to you when you’re striving?

Namaste!

YogaJen


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