Friday, October 15, 2010

Compassion for the French Tipped

This morning, I was in yoga class, and I was struggling. Not with the postures which our esteemed teacher decided it would be prudent and beneficial to hold for an interminable amount of time, but with my own person, judgments, and ego.

And then, if you are open, you can maybe move to the full expression of the pose...
  For my birthday, my wonderful and loving partner, Michael, bought me 45 days of unlimited yoga at the o2 studio in Aspen. This is an incredible gift, I haven't had a consistent yoga practice in ten years at least, and it feels amazing to begin every day with yoga, and to sometimes be ridiculous enough to stay for Pilates and bend my belly into ski shape.

My favorite thing about trying to do yoga every day at the same time is that you end up going no matter if you are tired, or sad, or happy, or energized. It doesn't become about "feeling" like going, but just about going, and finding your practice every time you show up.  What does today's practice mean? Is it about continuously committing to trying, in every moment, because you really don't want to be there and you are just waiting for the class to be over?

Spending an hour and twenty minutes trying to change that attitude from one of depressive negativism into positive change, and then hold onto that slippery sucker and make it stick so that when you leave the studio, you not only feel glad that you came, but like you overcame and emerged changed as well is a wonderful experience.

I'll be honest, I was glad that Bodhi had been puking all night yesterday (well, I wasn't glad that he was sick, that's a bummer for him, but the repercussions meant that I could say to Michael, sorry, honey, I'm staying home with him just in case he's sick again.) and I got out of yoga.

What a funny thing to say. I got out of having to go to yoga. This practice which is by me, for me, which forces me to work on compassion, for myself, for my body, and for everyone else in the room, this practice which strengthens my body and makes my Fibromyalgia feel soooo much better, this practice which helps me to begin my day grounded, focused and alive, calm and deep into my open heart, I managed to get out of it yesterday.

This makes me smile at my human folly, and brings up another subject that I've been thinking about, that of abdicating our responsibility for our own health and happiness.  But that's another post.

Each of us gets benefit no matter how deeply we go.
Today, I want to talk about the fact that I did NOT get out of going to yoga today, I went, I was glad to go. I walked into the studio feeling sad that I had missed class the day before, and unhappy with myself for eating a half a box of Wheat Thins last night while I was devouring a fascinating book called Shocktrauma about the first dedicated trauma hospital in the nation, built in the 1970s. I was trying not to miss Michael, who left for Africa after yoga class yesterday.

 So into yoga this morning, I carried my belly, a bit distended and unhappy with me, and I carried only one mat, as Michael is gone for 35 days, and the rhythm of my new life with him begins to show itself, here for a month, gone for a month, here for a month, gone for a month, and I begin to learn what it means to live with and without him as I continue to walk down my path.

I wore a shirt that falls off my belly when I do inversions, and consequently, I had the opportunity to view my belly every time I went back into Downdog. Today, I set my intention for my practice at compassion for my belly. Which is getting stronger every day, which made two people, was a house for them, and now hangs a bit slack (I try to think of it as gloriously slack, but that doesn't always work).  If I looked through my legs past my belly, I could see the Aspen that everyone thinks of when they think of Aspen on their mats behind me.

To be honest, this is the first time that I've encountered this in class. This studio, while expensive and quite beautiful, tends to attract people with a deep practice and an open heart.

A friend once told me when I was about to move here that Aspen is a skier's town. Yes, there are rich, and beautiful and plastic people that come here five weeks out of each season, and some of them even live here year round, but you choose the circle you travel in, and every single kind of circle seems to be well represented here. The population as a whole is fit, healthy, and outside.

And every once in a while, either on my table in massage, and now in yoga class, I come across someone that I have trouble loving. And in that moment, I have an opportunity to listen to that old, nagging voice... "What is the lesson you are meant to learn here?" In cases like this the lesson is that my ego has taken hold again when I wasn't paying attention, and it is time to practice peeling it off, setting it aside and really being open to the person who is in front of me, who is now my teacher, and I their humble student.

The well put together woman. Including french tips.
There were two women in class today, each with french tipped manicures. They were both beautiful in that sculpted with a knife kind of way, each woman in her mid fifties, each with high, firm, round breasts popping precariously out of their beautiful designer yoga tops. Each was wearing an enormous shining diamond ring, each had a low ponytail that never seemed to get mussed of beautifully colored blonde hair.  Each was ripped. And I mean RIPPED. These ladies had sculpted hard bodies, tasteful makeup, and seventy dollar yoga mats in their own designer sack. As the thought occurred to me that these were my teachers today, I rebelled. Any lessons they had to teach me, I did not want to learn. Which meant, of course, that it was probably a really important lesson, and today was the day to learn it.

And I was struggling. I was shocked to find myself looking. Most of the time, yoga is so hard (and this class was no exception) that I get a kind of fuzzed out gaze and just go to work. I had a teacher at the yoga House in Pasadena who once told us "yoga is a practice for yourself. Do not look around and compare yourself to anyone else in the room. You can not be "good" at yoga. Being deeper in the pose does not mean you are Better. A person who is tight in their body gets as much benefit from folding forward and being nowhere near the floor as the person who folds over, lays their belly on their thighs and presses their palms flat to the floor. You go into the pose as deeply as you need to to gain benefit from the pose. As you continue your practice, that place of benefit will change."

I found that statement to be SO relieving and it gave me permission to go to class and "suck at it" from a Western perspective. From that day on, I didn't worry about if my clothes were the cool yoga clothes, or if I was flexible enough or if I was making the teacher impressed or proud, or if other people in the class could tell that I did yoga frequently by how excellent my postures were. On that day, my practice became my own, and it began to become a healing practice for both my heart and my body.

Today, however, I couldn't stop looking at those french tips. I wasn't angry, but I was confused. I was sad. I found myself wondering what they thought of me, I wondered if they thought I was low rent, if they thought they were better than me. I was surprised to find how toxic those thoughts were; suddenly I was having trouble in balancing postures, I was having trouble surrendering to the energy that the posture was creating and allowing it to deepen, I was suddenly struggling and fighting.

 I felt shame come up, because I knew that in projecting those thoughts on those ladies, who, after all, were here in yoga, I was wondering if they were judging me only because I was judging them. I did not want to admit it. I want to be a person who has an open heart for everyone.

I searched for some compassion, and it was hard. Part of me wanted to say, well, they can't possibly be gaining benefit because they are so wrapped up in yoga as exercise, as a parade, that they aren't practicing a deep internal practice, of compassion and love. THEY ARE MISSING THE POINT.

Um, Hello? Are you listening to yourself? Sheepishly, I looked at the women. They were good friends, and I wanted to think of them as catty, gossipy, coffee club kind of girls, the head cheerleader and her best friend. But is there some possibility that I'm pulling that idea forward and imposing it on these women? Who am I to judge why they got their boobs done? Wasn't I just lamenting the sad state of my flaccid belly only moments before? If I had the power to change it with a tummy tuck, I hope that I wouldn't take that temptation, but instead learn to love myself better and deeper, but I'll tell you what. It would be hard to resist.
Each practice is individual, non competitive, and what you wear and how you look while you are doing it don't help you gain benefit from the postures.
And so I started rooting around for some compassion. I wandered through thoughts of sadness about what it must feel like to live in denial of aging to such a degree that your life becomes focused and centered around looking youthful, to such a degree that you become a gross cartoon of a younger body. And then I realized that statement is full of judgment again.

And so I worked some more, sweating, feeling fat and ugly next to these beautiful store bought women, and I realized that I needed not to look for an answer but just to let go of my fear. French tipped manicures mean something in my past which tells me the woman sporting them is a bitch. My job is to recognize that association and sever it, being willing to see the person in front of me regardless of what they are clothed in. Some people wear dread locks and a diaper and ash on their face. Some people put silicone inside their skin and acrylic on their nails. They are both people wearing costumes that indicate clan or culture, bringing the wearer a sense of belonging to a group.

These two ladies belonged to each other, they were of the same tribe, they were fond of each other, and I watched the friendship between them, and felt my judgment melt away. I was surprised at what my practice had offered me this morning. I had guessed that it was going to be about going to yoga on my own without Michael.
Instead, it turned out to be about unearthing, all at once, human prejudice that sits so very close to the surface.


judyanne said...


Unknown said...

Thanks, Judy. Bleh, its hard to admit it publicly when you are being a poooohhhh. :-) Its good to be back, and I figured I might as well come back and take my lumps.

Russ said...

Welcome back Kate. I missed reading of your life, gritty, sweet, poignant, funny. I agree with Judy: The light in me sees the light in you.

Jongira said...

Coincidence, aka synchrony, amazes me. I just read this passage today, a few days after your post (from a novel by Delaney)...
I was thinking about what I said ... about customs and morals keeping people apart, making them different from one another. People are so much more alike than different. So very much more
Glad you shared your thoughts about the 'French Tipped'... prejudice and preconception are invidious, and to be aware of them is the best defense against them... great post!

Aspen Real Life said...

Hello Kate,

We all have our baggage weighting us down. Letting go of our egos is a work in practice but I will say that on the days where I'm on it, the world and all the people in it are much brighter and I'm more at peace.

You make me miss my yoga, I do need it daily but am searching for my yoga guru. Aspen is a tough place to find the real thing since the masters come and go.

If we could all go to yoga more and let go of our egos more than the love, patience and understanding would come a whole lot easier!

Here's one of my yoga pieces that you will relate to: