I was super excited when I unexpectedly ran into AcroYogi/Thai Massage Therapist/Yoga Teacher extraordinaire Lila Donnolo at Open Eye Cafe here in Carrboro yesterday. I met her when she taught a partner yoga workshop at Heart of Yoga School last spring and was immediately drawn to her playful spirit and creative, precise teaching style. I had a fantastic time practicing with her and looked forward to the next time our paths would cross. She is in town mainly to do some Thai Massage work, but said she was open to throwing together a spontaneous semi-private AcroYoga session at The Flowjo. So, it’s on! Tomorrow, 4:30-6:30 p.m., $25. Lila is open to suggestions for whatever students want to work on, so bring your suggestions or just an open mind. If you have some yoga experience, this event is totally appropriate for you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions, or just show up at 4:30.
Several years before I moved to North Carolina, when I lived back in my hometown of Baltimore, around 2002, before I ever considered becoming a yoga teacher myself, one of my yoga teachers, Charm City Yoga’s wonderful Kim Manfredi, would frequently quote Ashtanga Yoga guru Sri K. Pattabhi Jois: “Do your practice and all is coming,” he purportedly said. How long do I have to do it for, and what does he mean by “all”? I mused, focused entirely on what I could gain personally from this practice, “Great health? An attractive body? Happiness? Success?” I wondered. And whatever “all” was, I wanted it, and I wanted it now. I’d yet to encounter Yoga Sutra 1.14: “Practice becomes firmly established when it has been cultivated uninterruptedly and with devotion over a prolonged period of time.” (Edwin Bryant’s translation)
I didn’t think about Pattabhi Jois’s statement for a while, but I kept doing my practice with varying regularity for a variety of reasons: I developed more strength and flexibility, my panic disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder improved dramatically, the challenge of a new pose was fun, the ritual of rolling out my mat comforted me, and I enjoyed breathing and sweating with a community of other people who were all in this together (read: there were hot guys in Kim’s Monday night Hot Vinyasa class).
Fast forward about ten years. I’m a yoga teacher, with a daily yoga practice comprised of some combination of asana (poses), pranayama (breathing exercises), mantra, and study of the Yoga Sutra, Bhagavad Gita, and other texts. Some days my practice is 15 minutes of Sun Salutations in my kitchen (the best floor surface for practicing in my apartment), some days it’s a 90-minute vinyasa class, and some days it’s me and the Sutras and a notebook for a couple of solitary hours. I never worked up the courage to ask Kim what “all” I was going to get from my practice, but I recently reflected on how grateful I am for all I have gained from my practice–so much more than I ever thought!–and it occurred to me that Jois’s statement is about faith. Like Buddhist nun Pema Chodron emphasizes in her teachings, the fundamental human predicament is groundlessness. We never know where our paths will take us, when we might lose a job or a loved one, meet a teacher who changes our lives, become ill, receive a large inheritance, or stumble upon our dream career. “In difficult times the stress of trying to find solid ground–something predictable and safe to stand on–seems to intensify,” she says, “But in truth, the very nature of our existence is forever in flux.” Despite this state of uncertainty in which we all naturally exist, I now know I can always get in touch with my breath or step onto my mat. (And so can you!) Through my practice, I’ve developed a sense of faith that the universe really is unfolding exactly as it should, and I am exactly where I am supposed to be. How do I know? I just do. I have no proof, but I experience a sense of deep peace that I can access a lot of the time. (Not all the time, but “all” is coming, right?) As Kahlil Gibran reminds us, “Faith is an oasis in the heart which can never be reached by the caravan of thinking.”
Check out my recent post for Carrboro Yoga Company on kids’ yoga and my Monday class, Lil’ Asana for young yogis ages 6-12, 4-5 p.m. every week.
The focus of the month this January at Loving Kindness Yoga School is acceptance. When love is hard, acceptance is an alternative, a move in the direction of love. This morning Ti elaborated by saying (I am paraphrasing here) that if you’re in a situation that is unacceptable and you accept it, you’re essentially telling the universe that you want more of the same. If a situation is unacceptable, in order for a shift to happen, we have to take action to change it. This teaching is reminiscent of Pema Chodron’s teachings on “getting unstuck”–instead of resisting reality, we soften into the present, see the situation for what it is, then act accordingly.
On a separate note, rumors of overnight SNOW are swirling about the Triangle. If there is snow, my 9 a.m. Flow Yoga class at Carrboro Yoga Company is ON. Southerners’ reactions to the threat of snow still make me giggle after nearly five years in North Carolina.
In class recently with Ti Harmony, who I consider one of my main yoga teachers, a student joked about never being able to enter his expression of hanumanasana in the USA Yoga National Yoga Asana Championship. I giggled along with several of my classmates. It was a funny joke to those of us who practice yoga primarily as a spiritual path rather than a path to physical fitness (although this is an equally valid reason to practice), and was not intended to be mean-spirited. One of the reasons I love Ti’s classes is that humor is encouraged–we feel like we’re all in this together, whatever the challenging moment is–and we are. But Ti does encourage us to get better at asana, along with cultivating more love, compassion, and empathy, so there’s a healthy balance.
I have another spiritually-oriented teacher whose teaching, over time, has evolved to include the belief that what the asana looks like is unimportant as long as the practitioner is not performing a movement that would injure their body. It’s all about linking breath and movement. For months, I thought this teacher was totally “right” (not that there is a right or wrong here, there’s not), and I focused on my breath, did my usual daily practice, and didn’t really do anything new, asana-wise. Boredom started to rear its head. I wanted to do scorpion, lotus, and hanumanasana, and do them well! Maybe I misunderstood the teaching, but I felt like my asana practice was regressing as I practiced this way for a few months. I have a tendency toward swinging all the way one way or the other, and I am aware of that. That probably was in play here to some degree. I also want to emphasize that I absolutely believe that the connection between breath and movement is essential. The breath is the vehicle on which prana (energy) rides, so obviously it is so important.
This past Monday night, in between my kids’ yoga class and my Flow Yoga 101 series, I decided to stick around Carrboro Yoga Company for Molly Drake’s class rather than dashing downstairs to Weaver Street Market for a cupcake and an ALOdrink (weird combo, I know, but I like it). A few years ago, I used to take Molly’s Monday night class fairly often, then my schedule shifted so I stopped. I can’t say enough wonderful things about her as a teacher–her style is playful, exploratory, and mellow. She led a masterfully crafted sequence of poses to encourage grounding through the legs and lower chakras, then reviewed some material from the previous week when the class was working on inversions and grounding through the forearms. With her verbal, energetic, and physical guidance, I found myself in pinca mayurasana without kicking up to it or otherwise physically forcing my body to do anything. I followed her instructions on how to align the shoulders over the elbows (which I know, but she led it verbally in a way I haven’t heard before, so it seemed new), how to feel a strong connection with the ground through the forearms, and a few other refinements, and I practically floated up. Her class is called Gentle Yoga, and it is gentle, but it does not neglect the mastery of asana as a goal. It’s more like mastery of asana is a side effect of exploring the movement and energy.
These three experiences have me thinking a lot about the place of asana in Patanjali’s eight-limbed path as laid out in the Yoga Sutras, the emphasis on asana in modern yoga studios, and on my own ego’s desire to perfect asana. Right now, I think it’s about intention and balance–in some practices I might really be focusing on working on handstand, and in others on connecting to my breath with less emphasis on any specific asana-related goals. Patanjali didn’t say much about asana in his Sutras, but what he did say was succint: sthira sukham asanam, “Posture should be steady and comfortable.” (Bryant’s translation) We yoga teachers often interpret this Sutra in a way that polarizes effort (sthira) and relaxation (sukha). Is effort the same thing as steadiness, though? Or do we mean a steady effort (this is what I usually teach in class)? Or maybe, the Sutras should be our guide to the attainment of liberation, and we should focus more on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika or some other text or texts, ancient or modern, for asana guidance?
Please let me know what you think–I’d love to hear others’ perspectives.
Check out this story from ABC News regarding the increasing popularity of yoga for kids.
I’m still feeling a bit under the weather, so Kathy Peillot will sub my Flow class tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. I’ll be back to teaching on Sunday, when I sub all-levels, open Yoga at Heart of Yoga School for Jasmine, 6:00-7:15 p.m. and on Monday my Flow Yoga 101 series at Carrboro Yoga Company starts at 7:15 p.m. (drop in for $15–$10 if you’re a student–or sign up for the whole series for $75). We’ll be talking about what to expect in a Flow Yoga class, standing poses, and introduction to sun salutations. I’ll have handouts and a syllabus ready, too, for you visual learners like me. I hope to see you next week!
Happy new year, y’all. I’m starting it off with bronchitis and a sinus infection, but I’m hopeful and optimistic nonetheless. Yesterday, I had intended to write about my intentions for the new year, but I made banana bread instead, deciding I would blog today. (Speaking of blogging, I am participating in the #365yoga blogging challenge this year. Three posts a week for a whole year. Join us!) A long-standing new year’s tradition of mine is to allow myself a three-day “grace period” for the transition to the new, good habits I intend to cultivate in any given new year. Since one of the things I worked on in the latter half of 2012 was being more honest with myself, I’ll just call that what it is: procrastination. That banana bread–Isa Chandra’s recipe–sure is delicious though. Later this week, I really will write about my intentions for the coming (already started!) year. For the moment, I offer you this wonderful article from Kelly McGonigal of the Himalayan Institute regarding sankalpa (resolve). (Many thanks to Lori Burgwyn of Franklin Street Yoga Center for tweeting it.)
Last Thursday, after several of my colleagues at Provence and several of my kids’ yoga students had all contracted a winter upper respiratory infection which I thought I’d avoided this time, I started feeling a little sniffly. I had a headache, my throat was a little scratchy, but no big deal. It wasn’t too bad. I kept working and teaching, but slept more, ate extra nourishing foods, and downed some Emergen-C for good measure. It seemed like I would not get any sicker. On Saturday, it started to get worse. I taught a class in the morning (one of my better ones to date, dare I say), took a nap, then went in to work at Provence. My wonderful manager could see I wasn’t feeling well, so I was off the hook for that shift. I went home, rested even more, excited to teach a donation class for Piedmont Farm Animal Refuge the next afternoon. On Sunday morning, I felt terrible. Dizzy, achy, coughing, congested. Gross. Fortunately, I found an amazing teacher–Carrboro Yoga Company ’s Lauren Sacks–to step in for me, and they raised $125 for the Refuge. I’m so thankful to Lauren for her willingness to teach (for free) on almost no notice. I rested some more on Sunday and during the day on Monday. I knew I absolutely had to work at the restaurant on New Year’s Eve, one of the busiest days of the year, so I was really chilling out. Most of my shift Monday night went well–I waited on some great people, regulars and newbies, service was smooth and fun, and our staff meal was over-the-top delicious. Executive Chef/Owner Baptist, Chef de Cuisine Justin, and the rest of our culinary team are brilliant! (If you haven’t eaten at Provence, you should seriously consider it for your next nice evening out or brunch.) Around 9:00 p.m., I started to feel really depleted, so I had my fourth hot tea of the evening and reminded myself that the night was almost over and I had all of Tuesday to rest and recover. On Tuesday, I felt sick in the morning, but better as the day progressed. In the afternoon and evening, I got lesson plans done for my classes this week, including an appropriate immune-boosting flow planned for today that will now make an appearance on Friday in Flow Yoga, 9:00 a.m., Carrboro Yoga Company. I did laundry. I baked banana bread and made dinner. I read a bit of The Raising, a great novel passed on to me by my sweet friend Caroline. I watched part of Dance Moms, then turned it off. (Don’t judge. You have your guilty pleasures, too.) I went to bed early, ready to teach at Durham Yoga Company this morning. I woke up SO SICK. I was coughing uncontrollably; I had almost no voice. No way I could teach. I immediately thought, “I should have had a sub in place for this morning just in case. How stupid.” Tons of other self-deprecating, negative thoughts rolled through, and then I realized I was hooked by a story line and needed to let it go and take appropriate action. I took a few breaths, mostly through my mouth because my nose is so stuffy, and made the calls and sent the emails I needed to send to get my classes covered. I’m so grateful to Sage, Lies, and Olynda (co-owners of Durham Yoga Company) for, instead of insisting I call every teacher in the Triangle at the crack of dawn so the studio didn’t lose a dollar (which is typical of most yoga studios, honestly), telling me not to worry, just to rest, they would handle it. They are the most professional yoga business owners I have ever met, and this is just a single example of many.
Many times when I get a minor URI, it develops into bronchitis. This has been happening my whole life. No allopathic doctor I’ve met seems to know exactly why I am prone to acute bronchitis, but they do know how to prescribe drugs for it. And most times it happens, it’s a fairly long illness: the coughing irritates my lungs more, which leads to more coughing, which leads to no sleep, which leads to listlessness and fear that it will never end. In Asheville last winter, I was literally sick with this for three weeks. I went through two rounds of azithromycin (it was probably viral, but that’s a whole other post), two Ventolin inhalers, a bottle of Hycodan, a bottle of Tussionex, and tons of OTC meds I tried before I went to the doctor. With health insurance, the whole ordeal cost me over $350. This year, I have no health insurance. I am a waitress and a yoga teacher. I’m not nearly as sick as I was last year, but every time I am sick with something minor, it makes me fearful. I won’t get on my soapbox about the ridiculous health care system in this country, but I will say that the cost of an average urgent care center visit in the Triangle area (minus labs, diagnostic tests, and prescriptions) is about $175. The average prescription cocktail (antibiotic [Z-pack], cough syrup [Hycodan], and inhaler [Ventolin/Proventil]) cost is about $125. (I am not pulling these figures from nowhere–I spent four years working in healthcare in a role where I tried to help uninsured and underinsured patients obtain care.)
Today, I am not interested in exploring the exploding costs of basic health care, or even why those of us with service jobs almost never have any health insurance benefits. I’m more interested in exploring why every time I get sick (once or twice a year, usually around the change of seasons), I beat myself up for all the things I should have done, all the ways I could have prevented getting sick, and why I seem to think it’s my fault. The yoga teacher in me knows that this is a good opportunity for svadhyaya (self-study) and reflection on my habitual tendencies. Rationally, intellectually, I know that bacteria and viruses are all around, and despite excellent (obsessive!) hand hygiene, a healthy diet, and appropriate sleep, we are all susceptible and we all succumb sometimes. My perfectionistic tendencies seem to play out in a big way here in an area where I have little control.
We can contact our inner strength, our natural openness, for short periods before getting swept away. And this is excellent, heroic, a huge step in interrupting and weakening our ancient habits. If we keep a sense of humor and stay with it for the long haul, the ability to be present just naturally evolves. Gradually we lose our appetite for biting the hook. We lose our appetite for aggression. — Pema Chödrön
Healthy habits are the area I can control; others’ habits and the presence of bacteria and viruses, I cannot control. Seems simple, but letting go of the illusion of control is something I still struggle with sometimes. So, this time, instead of struggling against reality–my habitual way to react in this instance–I’m practicing relaxing with what is. I am a little sick. Ok. It will pass at some point soon. Meanwhile, I can feel the feelings and sensations, return to the rhythm of my own breath, and practice gratitude for a day where I can lie in bed with my laptop and blog, for my friends who will bring me soup, and for time to read that awesome novel.
Many of us prefer practices that will not cause discomfort, yet at the same time we want to be healed. But bodhichitta training doesn’t work that way. A warrior accepts that we can never know what will happen to us next. We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable and safe. But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty. This not knowing is part of the adventure, and it’s also what makes us afraid. — Pema Chödrön