Friday, November 21, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Shoulders Back, Belly In, Breathe

I went to Iowa City with my mom for the last two days, and I was lucky enough to find a yoga studio in the same building as our hotel.  

The studio, called Heartland Yoga, was one big practice room on the second floor with lots of windows overlooking the street below.  They had manduka mats for us to borrow, which was a treat I've never experienced.  I was one of only three students.  Abby, the instructor, led a guided meditation to start.  She immediately introduced some of the cues she would continue to give in every pose-shoulders back and down, relax your jaw, stay present in the room, and breathe.

We moved through a couple moon salutations relatively slowly but deliberately and with enough emphasis on the breath and the core that I quickly felt warm and loose.  Abby's way of moving gives her away as a dancer, and sure enough, her biography on the website says that her mother was a ballet dancer, and she's been doing ballet since age 3.  I enjoyed trying to copy her graceful movements.  

It's amazing how the same cues, heard over and over again, continue to be helpful.  You think you're doing everything you can and then you hear "breathe" or "relax your jaw" and the pose morphs from something statuesque into something organic and healing.  Or the moment suddenly takes on new dimension, revealing previously unseen vividness.  During tree pose, the suggestion to "stay present in the room" seemed like the most brilliant new idea.  I balanced, suspended in the skewed position like some ant in amber, softly conscious of the white and red headlights moving, moving, moving below.  

Above: Suspended in time, full of light.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Tonight I went to Maggie's class at Firehouse Yoga in Des Moines.  She opened the class with a meditation on gratitude (from Yoga Journal).  As we inhaled we were instructed to think of three things from today that we were grateful for.  As we exhaled, we were to imagine ourselves being the cause of that gratitude for others.  I liked how Maggie emphasized that it didn't have to be big; what mattered was that we were able to find something to be grateful for in any situation.  I went with the first three things that came to me: the taste of my chai, the friendly smile of a stranger, and the sense of arrival when I got to the yoga studio.  

Gratitude is something I've only recently begun to 'believe in.'  It's a little talked-about feeling.  I know you can feel happy or sad.  But grateful?  'Grateful' hasn't ever been in my feelings-vocabulary.  I spend far more time wanting than I do just being content.  I thought maybe gratitude would come to me when I finally had everything I wanted.  

So I was appreciative when Maggie said even when you are feeling anxious or frustrated, you can still always find even something miniscule to be grateful for, and start from there.  During the poses, this practice became very helpful.  This was my first experience of Firehouse's Level II Vinyasa class and it was a lot harder than I expected.  I began to feel wary when I saw that I was the only one in long sleeves (and a scarf, and wool socks) and everyone else brought water bottles.  

I almost felt like I'd never done yoga before.  I thought I'd achieved some high level of yoga by studying in California (in my mind it's the new India when it comes to the study of yoga).  But apparently, Iowans know how to do their vinyasa flows: not just a few here and there, but THREE after what seemed like every pose.  I felt frustration and despair (I will NEVER be a yoga teacher if I can't do this stuff) but I stayed afloat by clinging to the bits of gratitude I could find (she's really allowing us to have a lot of freedom and yay!  i'm sweating!).

I've been interested in gratitude since the Crib, because during the last savasana on the last day of the week, Arturo and Cheri asked us to feel grateful.  And for some reason, I felt it so clearly that I thought, ok, I finally know what that is.  But I haven't been able to get it back until now.  

I don't have to have just spent a week in yoga bliss for gratitude to find me.  In any moment there's always something that is nourishing us.  Right now I'm enjoying the feel of a warm wool coat around my shoulders and the soft sound of my keys clicking in a silent dark room.  My breathing is soft and relaxed.  And that's enough for this moment.  

Friday, November 14, 2008

i have nothing to give you except everything

Above: How to write and do yoga (AND take your own photograph) at the same time.

"i have nothing to give you except everything--all the good and the bad" 
Rilo Kiley

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Erich Schiffmann

Everyone should watch Erich's talk from the Crib.  It's about googling the internet of mind.  And intuition on the highest level.  And love.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

2 Views of a Yoga Practitioner

I should have done this in two posts......................oh well.

Yesterday and today I rolled out my mat at home in Iowa and practiced along with Kira's Sweet Vinyasa classes in California.  Miraculous.  I did two online classes, both with similar sequencing.  During both classes I took notes on my thoughts.  

Day One (Wed. Nov 5 Sweet Vinyasa):  My first yoga class in a while.  I had a lot of mental and physical toxins to get rid of.  Thank goodness for yoga or I would just stuff all those toxins right into my body/mind.

For some reason warrior II dance inspires me to improvise.  Maybe it's the symbolic language Kira uses to bring us into it.  She says "gather your resources" as you raise your arms and "offer them out" as you lower them to horizontal.  My mind's instant reaction today was "I'm keeping my resources.  I need them."  So I kept my hands in prayer at my heart. 

in general during this class i got cut off from myself every time Kira used the word 'charge' or asked us to feel lines of energy.  so i wrote "skipping plank and 'the lines' thing."  i was tired.

Another modification I did happened during malasana.  I was getting stressed trying to align my spine so I did the karuna, or compassion, move from Jasmine's class at the Crib.  Basically, I gave myself a hug during the squat.  It felt nice.  And my 'i hate yoga' thoughts began to decrease.  

some of the nicest moments are when i can't imagine bending to my journal at all.  this inevitably happens after every chant.  i just stand there and i can see the thought fly through my mind "ashley you should write down how nice this is" but i don't respond to it because for that nanosecond....i'm...connected??  

During savasana my thoughts ranged from "i think i do, but do i really TRULY forgive that guy?" to pondering the depth of justin timberlake's latest lyrics to repeating "already healed, already whole, already well" with my hands on my belly.  i also imagined my inner capacity expanding to be able to hold all my thoughts without being taken over by them.

Day TWO (Mon. Nov. 3 Sweet Vinyasa):

This time I knew what tricks my mind would pull.  I knew when it would call me fat, when it would complain about being forced to go through the whole rigamarole of the poses.  So I played the game too and wrote down my beginning state of mind:
  • fairly content with touch of melancholy about mysteries of finding lasting happiness
  • peaceful from reconnecting with old friends
  • would prefer to listen to recently acquired music
  • would also prefer to clean
  • would also prefer to go on a walk
  • would also prefer to blog about yesterday's practice
I love Kira's recent inclusion of easy side plank in the warmup stage.  Except I can't feel my side ribs.  It's freaky.  It helped a little to really press press press my lower hand into the earth.  

This class I had a lot fewer thoughts.  Instead I wrote down the entire sequence as we did it.  Not sure why.  Except maybe as an excuse to skip some planks...hammock is a good pose for writing.  

Again I did not want to offer my resources during the Warrior II dance.  In fact I sort of pushed the world away.  Like setting my boundaries.

One thing Kira said stuck with me all day.  She said that letting the head go is key to relaxing.  All day I've caught myself with my head jutting slightly forward, trying to control everything.  I feel a huge energetic shift when I pull it back ever so slightly and let the rest of me feel what's happening.   

Monday, November 10, 2008

Does he love me?

A nice answer to a common question:

"Does he love me?"

"You're asking the wrong question.  What you need to know is are you in a position to give him the love he needs.  And whatever happens or doesn't happen will be equally gratifying.  Knowing that you are capable of love is enough.  If it isn't him, it will be someone else.  You've discovered a wellspring; simply allow it to flow and it will fill your world.  Don't try to keep a safe distance so as to see what happens.  Don't wait to be certain before you take a step.  What you give, you will receive, although it might sometimes come from the place you least expect."

from The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Online Yoga

Now that I'm in a new place with a proper internet connection (and an awesome bamboo floor), I can rejoin the Lulu Bandha's community--virtually.  

This morning I did 53 minutes of the October 29 Sweet Vinyasa class, as broadcast on Lulu Vu.  I had to take off early to go to an appointment so it was really convenient to be able to do a shorter class.  I also loved being able to do yoga at home in my pajamas without having to think of the poses myself or redo a video I've practiced with a zillion times.  Fun!!!

Second Singers Class

Yesterday taught a similar class to the same peeps. Spent a little more time geeking out on the sun salutes. I also "made" them sit. There were mixed feelings about that, I could tell, and it was difficult to stay in control. Felt conflicted about wanting them to 'like' the class and wanting to create an experience that would last. Yesterday's class was also a bit softer than the first one, partially based in observation of readiness from the first class. There were mixed feelings about that, as well, and one of my peeps cancelled this afternoon. Gotta go to the gym, he said. Oh, well. It was still a good class, and I was pleased with the way it turned out flow wise. I also am getting my play list just right, which obviously isn't that important, but it makes the class feel more real. And once again, socalled's song "You Are Never Alone" got compliments. Best song ever.

The things I paused to break down were downward facing dog, chatarunga, the half lift and ustrasana, which we only did part way. It's hard because one of them can't straighten her knees at all in downward facing dog--she's basically in puppy dog. I was doing a lot of demonstrating, which I think helped them but was exhausting for me to talk and demonstrate. My homework for myself is to come up with three solid cues for each pose, which was totally a CorePower homework assignment that I only did a little bit. Woops.

We also dialed in to the breath. I cued it quite a bit during the actual class, and again paused for three breaths after each vinyasa, which seemed quite helpful. We also cut out the chatarungs and did baby cobra to rocket cat instead.

We did lots of swamp monster rolling into warrior I. Very popular and fun. I made them do sound effects.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Yoga for Obama!

i practiced tonight and dedicated it to Senator Obama.  It must have worked because now he's President-Elect.  He won every state i've ever lived in (colorado, new mexico, california, and of course iowa).  I have felt disillusioned for 8 years and now I already feel more engaged, inspired, and part of my country!  

I'd thought it would be fun to go to a yoga class this election night and be with my fellow yogis, but I got a little lost along the way and didn't make it in time.  Subconsciously, I think I wasn't really wanting to go because I needed to do my own practice and not do what someone else was telling me.  

Instead I practiced mat-free on the deck of my mom's awesome new place in des moines.  Down the street, the Iowa Democratic Party was getting ready for its victory celebration.  I decided I would put together some poses in an order similar to a class, to see what would come out.  In my head I went through the verbal cues I might give if I were teaching the poses.  

I tried to focus on sending good energy into the world, especially to Obama and his family.  That evolved into feeling grateful at how close we are to true change.  I can't call it anything other than praying, praying that things would work out for the highest good for everyone and for the planet.  I don't like the word prayer for me personally--it's just not something i do--, but what else do you call it when your whole being is hoping and asking for something to happen?  I did a gentle lunar wheel pose and as I pushed up I smiled at the thought that my body was forming part of the letter O.  

Monday, November 3, 2008

First Singers Class

So I taught an hour long class yesterday on the INSEAD campus to two people. Basically I used an outline from one of Kira's Stiff White Guy class and combined it with some random bits and pieces. Kira, thank god for your huge TT manual that I have lugged across the world with me. Overall, it was a good class. My two peeps loved it--in fact, we're doing another one this afternoon. Holding the space was a little hard, as we were in a tiny room on campus where students come for prayer or relaxation. During savasasana, a Muslim man came in for afternoon prayer. It was kind of nice to share that space with him, but I was giving little head rubs and it got a little cramped.
Here's the deal:
sitting side stretch both sides
sitting forward fold
down dog
side plank stretch both sides with knees down
down dog for 3 breaths
hop/step to rag doll/roll up to tadasana
1/4 sun salutation
crescent lunge with three options both sides X 2
vinyasa with baby chat/up dog/down dog
1/4 sun salutation
down dog for 3 breaths
warrior II
extended side angle
peaceful warrior
prasaritta or hammock
warrior II
vinyasa with baby chat/up dog/down dog
same on other side but horse play(horse to five pointed star back to horse) instead of hammock or prasaritta
down dog one breath
pigeon both sides
down dog
hop/walk to standing
1/4 sun salutation
forward fold to malasana
bridge x 2
seated forward fold
knees to chest with some hip play
supine twist

ta da!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Random and no Crib stuff yet..

I'm back in Singapore after a weekend sojourn to Malaysia with Benjamin and his friend Babs. Babs is from Ghana and is perhaps one of the most enthusiastic tourists I've ever seen. He took photos of everything. "It's all good man, it's all good in the hood" was his motto. Or, "I don't wanna mess with that" when he was served up a hot pot of fish balls and noodles. The town we were traveling to has roots in Dutch, Malay and Portugese culture, and the food supposedly reflects it. But we ended up eating at a Thai satay place.

It's quite hot here, as one might imagine being on the equator would be. The humidity is triggering a lot of headaches and migraines and I think I'm still adjusting to the timezone because every night around 10 I get so unbelievably tired I can't keep my head up. I've been doing a practice every day, though, just simple stuff to keep my body lose. I'll post the sequence later on. I woke up one morning with a terrible headache and in my daze thought doing inversions would help. In fact, it did not. As soon as I got into down dog I remembered I had it backwards and thought, no no no!

This afternoon I'm teaching a class to two people from INSEAD. It evolved sort of on its own, after chatting briefly in the garden with a woman about what I do. She got totally excited and started telling me about her neck problems and all her stress. So we're doing a class today on campus. Another friend of Benjamin's also will attend--and hopefully Ben, if he doesn't have class. We'll see how it goes. I'm excited about teaching, but nervous they won't show up.

At the gym the other day I recreated Jasmine's class for myself and worked on Bird of Paradise and binding a lot. It was really fun.

More later.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


5 minutes left on my wi-fi time.  I just moved with my mom to her new apartment in Des Moines and the internet's not hooked up yet.  There's so much newness to adjust to.  

Today I went to "Community Acupuncture" at Firehouse Yoga in Des Moines.  It's a cheaper rate than a regular session, and you get the needles inserted right there in the yoga studio while laying in savasana on a mat.  

I knew I'd be asked what my 'chief concern' was and I'd been obsessing about it for a couple days. There's really nothing wrong with me.  But I'm determined to learn more about this chi stuff everyone's talking about.  And to become more familiar with what my own feels like.  

Is there ever anything 'wrong' with anyone?  Is all disease just a result of blocked or improperly flowing chi?  I have so much to learn about this topic.

Still, I had to name a chief concern for him to work on, so I asked for work on the scar on the back of my neck.  Arturo told me I still have anesthesia there from surgery 9 years ago.  And I don't like that idea at all.  So the acupuncturist put needles on my neck, ears, feet, and hands.   I just laid there and tried to get to know my own energy flow.  

To sum it up briefly, I think maybe acupuncture is good for destressing.  I don't know if it was the needles or the savasana but after the session I felt much more relaxed.  I think I'll go back.