Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Garden. And Restorative Yoga.

Just posted this at THE GARDEN, Lulu Bandhas' new online yoga community for blogging and getting to know a bunch of super nice fellow yogis. Everyone is welcome to join! I am helping Kira host it, so you will see me if you join!

Wow! I have been without late-night internet access for a month and I've only had a nebulous vision of what would be happening in The Garden. I've started reading through the blogs and I am so excited to get to know you all and share our inspirations and questions and yoga-love!

I taught yoga tonight; I stood in for Alana as the Restorative teacher. It was my first time teaching Restorative and I loved it (almost) as much as I love DOING Restorative. For the same reason: the spaciousness of silence. I was able to sink in myself a little bit and really check in with each student. I felt like a mother hen sitting and keeping on eye on her babies (sorry, I was just living on a farm so chickens are on my mind). I didn't actually sit on anyone, I promise. But once I felt like alignment was clear and I'd given enough guidance towards breathing and releasing, I could just meditate on the moment. It was really nice. I did wonder, were my silences were too long? But then, speaking would have felt so disruptive. There's much I need to work on but I won't go into that today. I just want to enjoy the new fresh experience right now.

Here's my sequence:::

Watering the heart 10 min
Side Lying Rest 5 min
Cat/Cow: a few rounds
Supported swan 3-5 min ea. side
transition: leg extensions or gentle dog
Reclining Bound Angle (Supta Baddha Konasana) 10 min
Side Lying Rest Pose 3 min
Legs Up Wall
Transition: Slide back to Savasana, removing bolster

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Teaching Yoga Basics

A week ago today, I taught Yoga Basics for Alana. Kira came along and observed!! Which makes me pretty much an official yoga teacher now. :)

I can see how much practice I need to get to where I'd like to be, but I try to enjoy the onrush of learning that happens every time I teach. My favorite part is the satisfaction of taking care of people.

I'll be teaching Yoga for Recovery this Saturday and Restorative Yoga on Tuesday. Please come! Here's the schedule...

Restorative Heart Opener on Bolster
Savasana without props, feel the difference
Windshield Wipers
Apanasana with block under sacrum
Hamstring stretch with block under sacrum (I think I need to try this with a block and a blanket because the block starts to feel so hard and uncomfortable after a while)
Seated side seaweed stretching (it's a tongue twister!)
Plank to Down Dog to Belly
Demo of Plank to Down Dog emphasizing the press ("Press all the way to China. Hi Sarah!")
Repeat Plank to Down Dog
Baby Cobra
Extended Child's
Tadasana with Ujjayi Breath
Easy High Lunge Salute with Blocks
Easy Salute with Blocks: high and low lunge
Hug knees to chest, wobble
Eye of the Needle Hip Opener
Easy supine twist
Legs up the wall

Friday, April 16, 2010


This is hilarious! I'm sure a few yoga teachers out there can relate to this tax form:


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Like A Girl Scout, I'm (getting)Prepared

Tonight my yoga practice was folding a load of clothes, a headstand, and ten plank/dolphin pushups while singing along to Peaches. The class I was meant to teach this evening was cancelled, and I'm secretly (not so secretly) glad. It's raining, for the third Tuesday in a row, and although yesterday was a golden tinged spring day, the air is cold and dry. Shanghai springtime is a volatile season, it seems; I'd like to do a cleanse, but with the weather wardrobe swinging between scarves and shorts it feels like a good way to get sick.

I suppose more than anything it's about being prepared. Bringing your umbrella when the sky looks wet and dark, or carrying a sweater in your backpack. I am so often, these days, unprepared. I am unprepared for how tired teaching four classes a day makes me feel, and unprepared for the weight on my shoulders when I roll up to headstand. It doesn't make any sense, though, because intellectually I know my body is heavy, and I will need to support it with my shoulders and arms. I came down and curled into child's pose, not because I wanted to, but because so many other people do after an inversion. It did not serve me well. A crushing sensation set across my shoulders as I reached my arms back, and forward. I wondered for a moment if my heart and lungs were being slowly suffocated by my rib cage and shoulder muscles. My knees were together, and the subsequent support on my chest was too much. I sat up and did some stuff with my shoulders, stretching my triceps and biceps. The crushing let up.

Well, it's been a few days since I wrote all that, and I have not attempted any more headstands. In fact, I've been emphasizing my tight hips and hamstrings. I'm unprepared to suddenly join the masses who complain of inflexible forward folds and hips that won't open. I'm a flexie-bendie! But here I am, wincing in my forward folds and cringing during pigeon. I don't know what happened, but just admitting that I need to take more care was huge. My tired muscles seem no longer willing to melt into any old asana, and thusly I have to prepare more before practicing, before teaching. It's a big lesson, and it extends to all corners of my life. My Chinese visa expires next week, and I've had 90 days to plan for it. But I'm scrambling nonetheless, calling the Exit and Entry Bureau asking for an extension, searching flights to Taiwan or Hong Kong, and counting my savings hoping it multiplied over night. I read somewhere (or probably heard on TV) one definition of 'crazy' is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different outcome. If that's true, then I'm certifiable.

I said to Ben last night my new morning ritual will be ten sun salutations. Full disclosure: it's morning, and I haven't done any yet. But I plan to. Right now. I'm just getting prepared with a cup of coffee and some blogging.

"Normal people would find this appealing."

Erich Schiffmann is known as Papa Bear at Lulu Bandha's. It's so obvious why in this video, in which he talks about what yoga feels like energetically and emotionally. He gives a much more inspiring description than "you'll feel more relaxed," which sounds great but sort of makes it sound like the goal is to be half asleep. I felt happier just watching this video. Favorite quote: "Normal people would find this appealing."

Yoga on the Farm!

just click on the video and watch it on the youtube page. blogger cuts off so much!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Modern Day Mantras

Here I am. Sitting in a tin can. OM. David Bowie, “Space Oddity” (Especially appropriate if practicing in a spaceship, car, or trailer)

I got weight on my shoulders. And things. On my mind. OM. (Beastie Boys, “The Move”)

I want to have control. I want a perfect body. I want a perfect soul. OM. (Radiohead, “Creep”)

Breathe. Keep Breathing. OM. (Radiohead, “Exit Music For a Film)

I feel it all. OM. (Feist, “I Feel it All”)

My mind is filled with radio cures. Electronic surgical words. OM. (Wilco, “Radio Cures”)

Change is hard. I should know. OM. (She & Him, “Change is Hard”)

Hold me. OM. (Weezer, “Hold Me”)

I’m only a woman. Of flesh and bone. (Rilo Kiley, “I Never”)

This tornado loves you. (Repeat 3 times) OM. (Neko Case, “This Tornado Loves You”)

I don’t want nothing if I have to fake it. OM. (Lucinda Williams, “I Lost It”)

Come with me to the sea of love. OM. (Cat Power’s version, “Sea of Love”)

Everything I think I know is just static on the radio. OM. (Jim White & Aimee Mann, “Static on the Radio”)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Say You Were Split in Fragments and None of the Pieces Would Talk to You

"Say you were split, you were split in fragments, and none of the pieces would talk to you." Aimee Mann

This is my first Yogery post in a while because I’ve moved to a mini-farm and I’m temporarily staying in this girl-ified trailer with pigs, roosters, dogs, goats, chickens, and ducks as neighbors and companions. I have no internet out in the trailer so I’m writing this post offline. I haven’t even checked my email or Facebook in over 36 hours now and I alternate between feeling agitated about that and complete freedom.

Doug Keller visited Lulu Bandha’s this weekend. I got to spend nine hours with friends learning all about the psoas, the sacrum, and yoga and the emotions. Today was dense and inspiring. Doug is a former professor, so I could easily pretend I was back in school, seeing the world open up before me. I know I enjoyed a workshop when I come away wanting a new career. This time I want to be either a sage who just plays with spiritual practices and writes about it all day or an ayurvedic doctor. : )

These are some of my notes and responses to today’s talk on yoga and the emotions; there’s much much more but in the words of Levar Burton, “don’t take my word for it."

-“You have permission to have a spiritual experience in your own way…Peacefulness doesn’t work for everyone.”

-We got a comprehensible overview of the evolution of different traditions and how they eventually led to hatha yoga and ayurveda. Schools of thought have alternately rejected and embraced God/Brahman as a deity. The body as well has been either rejected or embraced as a path or an obstacle to samadhi. Kashmir Shaivism is my favorite school of thought because according to Doug they accepted the world in all its everyday realism and duality but also believed that underneath that is the unified spiritual layer. They accepted all the previous traditions as real and true. I love this. I wonder, would it make any sense at all to say my new stance on God is “I believe in God and I don’t believe in God” ? Both seem incredibly true at different moments. It's not agnostic confusion; it's perspective.

Doug quoted the Dalai Lama, who said that if you just give up your previous beliefs too easily, you become "homeless in your own heart." I teared up in meditation tonight thinking about that. I can be a yogini without giving up my intellectually acquired existentialist leanings? And I can be an existentialist without giving up my previous Catholicism? It’s all good. In order of appearance, my spiritual life has consisted of 1)Wholehearted Catholic Faith, 2)Less wholehearted Catholic dutifulness, 3) Existentialism a la Camus, 4) I’d Rather Just Focus on Getting through College than think about this nonsense aka the Mind is the Only Truth, 5) Zen Buddhism, and 6) Yoga (but mostly as a physical practice and self-help at best, if we are honest with ourselves). With varying "schools of thought" in each of those overarching epochs. Being in love always overrides them all, too. I should probably be less flippant and more edited when talking about this stuff.

-Humans relate to/communicate with the universe through sacrifice. Fire/agni is the medium between heaven and earth. (fascinating to connect this with Ravi Ravindra’s thoughts on Christ and sacrifice as necessary for the cosmic order)

-"Sound and light are two sides of same coin, so sound can make you realize you are light."

-There was an atheist sage! Kapila rejected Brahman and religion and the caste system. He did believe in eternal souls so I don’t know if I’d really call that atheist but he does get lots of atheist cred for rejecting Brahman. Bold.

-Rasa is the most essential flavor of an experience. Emotions are the rasas of our everyday lives. Good works of art make us feel all the rasas, or all the flavors of life, without necessarily going through the actual experiences being depicted. In this way we safely learn and mature. I was glad to hear confirmation that my taste in culture can be a part of and not contradictory to my yoga life. Watching Revolutionary Road last night was just part of my practice.

-We get stuck in emotions because our body produces certain chemicals that build up over time, thus creating an endless cycle. But we can make the choice and say to ourselves something like, “I don’t want to be an angry person anymore.” And we can change surprisingly quickly. The INTENTION goes a long way towards creating change.

-It is the MIND (manomaya kosha?) that asks if life is worth living when things are rough. We have many other layers. I wondered if then someone who is facing this question could be made aware of all these other layers of identity (annamaya kosha, vijnanamaya kosha, etc) so that the mind doesn’t dominate so much. So many people ask that same question. It’s a central theme to a lot of great art. So why are so many of us asking that question? I take it so much for granted and even expect it; I often distinguish good art from bad by whether it addresses this question. Like, “wow, that movie or book went so deep.” When really it only went to the Mind Layer. Theoretically. Again, Revolutionary Road is a good example.

-The universe didn’t start with a thought; it started with a feeling, a “movement in god’s heart.” (spanda in Sanskrit) The Spanda Karikas is a collection of meditation practices that allow us to feel that spanda sensation. I believe he said they were from the Kashmir Shaivism school. Seems worth a gander.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Eee Chee and Hoo Chee

Testing out the waters of a new class, with mostly Chinese speaking students. It is a totally new animal. Cell phones ring, and are answered, during class. There is coughing, hacking, a little spitting. I speak English, but very little is understood, and thus I demo frequently. In fact, demoing isn't the right description: I practice. The entire class, while speaking. Sweat drips down my back and my breath shreds through my chest. Its like Zen Muffin observed earlier--it's important to do the whole posture when demoing, and the same concept applies here. If I skip the chatarunga, or push half way into wheel and then come back down, my students do, too. But the yoga gets across. They hear 'blah blah blah', but their triangles look great. Holding one hand up like 'stop', or 'stay' holds the pose for me while I make adjustments. A friend taught me the words in Mandarin for breath in (eee-chee) and breath out (hoo-chee). What's amazing is that while saying the words, the breath happens naturally. And for the record, I'm certain I've spelled both of those words incorrectly. I went for phonetic rather than correct.

As for me, lots of eee-chee and hoo-chee. In an effort to make better and cheaper eating choices, we sent our ayi to the market for heaps of vegetables, but they're still in the fridge. I did manage to locate 'the' woman on Wulumuqi Lu who sells things like avocados and blueberries incredibly cheap. All the laowai talk about her; it's as if she discovered what foreigners like, and dedicated her store to providing those things. In the back, she's got a fridge full of creme fraiche and cheese. Eating an avocado last night with a little salt sprinkled on top was such a comforting experience that when it was finished I felt so satisfied the need to hunt for sweets in the cupboard had dissolved.

This is what I'm looking for in my yoga. That defining, satisfying practice that erases the doubt or tension that swirls itself around my bones and embeds in my muscles. And it's so easy to get: just listen. Figure out what you need, and then get it. What amazes me is how often I ignore myself. At the end of my classes, I ask my people to take a breath of gratitude toward themselves and their bodies, for what they are able to do, and having the willingness to do those things. It strikes me occasionally how huge that is, the willingness to do. You have to grow it. It doesn't come from nowhere. Practice. I think about how Kira asks us to listen at the end of class, and I ask the same of my people. Why I get up to make a piece of toast instead is beyond me.

Long ago in training at CPY, we wrote down a phrase or a mantra on a piece of paper and clipped it to the top of our mat. I don't even remember what I wrote now, but I'm sure it was deep and meaningful. Today I'm going to write "figure out what you need, and then get it." Or maybe, "just listen".