Thursday, June 30, 2011

Savasana in Bikram Yoga: Set Your Intention or Suffer

Its at least 105 degrees. You are sweating your brains out. You are tired, you are giving your all in this Bikram class. Whether its your first class or your 100th, when that first laying down savasana comes, we all tend to collapse in a heap on the floor, panting for breath.

What if, in your savasana, while you are "complete relax, complete relax, complete relax", your mind is also letting go of listening to how tired and hard working your body is.

What's going on in that mind of yours?
What if in those 20 seconds, you are laying there filling yourself with the positive energy you will need for the next posture?

I did an experiment in my last three classes. I noticed that at first I was collapsing on the floor and while I was completely relaxing, I was also completely experiencing how tired I was. I the complete relax was attached to how hard the work had been.

The next savasana, I asked myself if I could let go of my attachment to my "hard work" of the past and just be here now. Not here in the sense of indulging what my body was saying to me about the past, but could I return my breathing to normal in two breaths?

Could I then spend the savasana filling my body with energy, so that the next posture I'd be rejuvenated and ready?

The floor series has always been the hardest part for me. It feels relentless, and the savasana almost makes it worse.

After a week of testing my hypothesis,  realized that the floor series was becoming easier, was less dreaded. And therefore, I could re prioritize my means of approach.

In the past, I'd thought, okay, I hate the floor series. I'm not good at it, its hard, and its hard to drink water. I'm tired and floor bow is the most brutal posture ever. So therefore, floor bow is now my favorite posture and I dedicate all my energy of excellence to that posture.

The problem was that by the time I got there, I was so tired, I had a really hard time giving my positive energy to the posture. I've never been able to give my all and see what I can do in that posture because I just don't have that much to give.

After shifting my intention in savasana from observing how hard it had been to energizing myself for what would be, without worry or projection, like a battery attached to a solar panel, I was soaking up my breath as my charge went up.

The ultimate expression of floor bow.
Suddenly, when we got to bow, I was surprised to already be there, and able to give it a little more. Camel doesn't make me feel like I'm going to pass out, and I'm not fighting lip service in Floor Bow, I'm actively participating, able to care if my knees are apart or my alignment is good.

I think about how this works in the rest of life. We know that suffering is wishing something was other than it is. I don't think I was laying in savasana suffering, I think I was observing, but also dwelling. I wonder if there isn't another step of freedom from suffering which is first acceptance, then letting go of the information that's informing your understanding so that other possibilities of this present moment can be observed as well.

Yes, I'm sweating, yes, my heart rate is up. Yes, I feel strong, alive, able, growing, and strengthening. Yes, my breath feels like water feeding my body. Yes, I am ready for the next posture.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Vipassana Meditation Classes begin!

Do you experience anxiety? Do you wonder, and worry? Come experience the tranquility and peace that a meditation practice can offer you! Right here in Aspen at the T Lazy 7 Ranch!

Classes begin this Sunday, July 3 from 8 to 9 am. Bring a yoga mat and a blanket if you have either, or a meditation cushion if you have one.

Can't sit on the ground? No worries, I have lawn chairs! Dress in layers as we will be outside, weather permitting. It may be chilly in the morning!

First class: Two fifteen minute sittings with a short break in between and tea after.

Classes are on a donation basis, so you are free to pay with a hug!  Sign up to attend by clicking on the "Schedule Now" button on the top right hand sidebar of the Skiing in the Shower Website!

Thanks for coming!


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Solving the Puzzle of Bikram

So here's another reason why I'm a huge fan of Bikram yoga. Don't get me wrong, I love all the practices, I like a flow class, a strict Iyengar session, I think they all have their merits and produce great results.

Right now, I'm on the Bikram ball. I love it because its the same 26 postures over and over again. Ironically, I thought this would be something that I would hate about it. I longed for the unexpected creativity of the flow class.

But here is the genius behind the same 26 postures: the fear is removed. That whole entire, gee I wonder how far we are through the class, I wonder how much harder this is going to get, I wonder if I can do it when it gets even harder is removed completely.

Because you know exactly whats coming, you can commit everything you have to every posture every time you do it. It is completely clear how much time there is left, how hard it is going to get, and if you can rally later when its so hard right now.

Another brilliant piece is that you have a benchmark in every class. But because you are dealing with a body that changes daily, you have to accept and let go of the benchmark. Its an awesome opportunity to be present with the results you have in the now, and then let go of them. No judgement, whether its positive or negative. It just doesn't help.

Because the series is the same every time, your human mind is tempted to compare one set to the next, one class to the next.

But that is futile. You can look at the overall arching picture, but if you get lost in "This is my best posture! I'm going to impress my teacher SO MUCH right now!" guess what? You've popped right out of your body and right into your monkey mind, your focus is gone, and you are probably going to fall out of the posture anyway. That's what you get for going there in your head, congratulations.

For me, I can't help but compare, but its becoming a fun game to compare and then let the comparative results go into the ether and be wherever I am in the day.

I really thought that my hamstrings would never change. That I was just built this way. Inflexible. But that's not so. My body is changing so fast, I can't believe it.

And then, I went to my first 7am class. I've worked out a bunch early in the morning, even Yoga. But because of the magic of the Bikram series, how it is built, that I know it by heart now, I went in with expectations.

In that 7am class, suddenly, I felt like I was back at square one. I was out in the hallway after and one of the super flexi yogi girls smiled at me and said, "Don't worry, I couldn't touch my toes either when I first started." My egoic mind wanted to chase after her and say, "no no no! I can lock my legs out in standing head to knee! I'm working on pulling my elbows down! That was a hard place to get to! I've been working hard! Give me some CREDIT I DESERVE IT!"

But of course, the lesson in this moment was humility, there was no reason to need to validate my practice or prove my worth. She's right, I am still a beginner in this series and I will be for years to come. I couldn't touch my toes today, and it doesn't matter at all that I could yesterday.

I came back for 4:30 class and rocked it. Had my best class ever, and felt like I didn't deserve to be moving that well and working that hard and sweating that much because I'd been caught in the trap of my ego earlier. I was shamed, and relearned again, and then tried to look at the afternoon class as just what IS, not what has become and therefore something that points to how it WILL BE.

Yesterday, when I went to class, I was injured and my whole body had gotten tight. Even though I was trying to work hard for the rest of my body, it had tightened up SO MUCH guarding the injury that even the arches of my feet were tight.

I tried to be present with the fact that this was my body protecting itself. I tried to make space for the fear that my body had snapped like an elastic band back into place, and that I would not be able to put my head on my knee ever again. I felt a bit like I'd eaten a whole family size pack of Oreos and knew I'd need to take two weeks to hike them off and get back to where I had been JUST THAT MORNING.

Today, I went into class feeling like I'd surrendered into that lesson. I didn't care how my practice would be, I knew that I needed to be in the room, that I'd work as hard as was intelligent for my shoulder, and that I wouldn't know how hard I could go until each posture came up.

And guess what? I had my deepest class yet. For the first time ever I locked out both my legs and flexed my toes back and pulled my elbows down. I've never been there. And it wasn't a struggle, I picked up my foot, the stretch felt good in my shoulder and my leg locked out all by itself. I was shocked.

I got excited to see where my body was going to take me, but I was along for the ride, a patient observer. I felt so grateful to go internal, work hard, and experience the play of my body, tight yesterday, protecting, loose today, opening and healing.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Pain in Practice

Today, I was in Bikram yoga. I love yoga, I've had a practice on and off for a long time, and I've always disliked the issues that seem to go on between the schools of thought in yoga. Of course, I used to play a part in that myself.

I found Bikram yoga to be ridiculous. Yoga is already hard, why do it in a hot room? What is this competitive nature? What? A POWER HOUR? Screw it. That's not Yoga, I'm not goin'.

Sounds a bit closed minded for a girl who likes to think of herself as open hearted. (Knock, knock, Kate... what is the lesson you are meant to learn here? Hmmm.) So then, I meet this guy who I love to spend time with, and guess what? He's a Bikram instructor. Sigh.

I dug my prejudices out and looked at them. If you need me, I'll be over here at the "real" studio, practicing Hatha Flow with an Iyengar base. Thanks.

I always thought Bikram was for all the wannabes who followed Gweneth Paltrow into practice after her "Yoga Bodies!" photo came out in US Weekly in the 90s.

Can you hear it? I couldn't. I couldn't even see the prejudices that I had built right into my practice. Anyhow, this is a few years ago now, and of course, I had to suck it up and go, right? He was cute, I was in love with him, any yoga is better than no yoga. And I am a firm believer in experiencing the things that the one you love loves. That's how you share your heart.

So I walk into the studio and the first thing that takes me by surprise is the full on near nakedness. All five of the girls in the front row are HOT. Yes, I mean sweaty, but I also mean ripped, toned, tan, all their hair is to their butts at least. None of them have it tied up sensibly. They are wearing "shorts" that are smaller than my underwear and some of them have a little bandeaux top on. The others are wearing micro sports bras.

And, of course, they are all incredibly, intimidatingly flexible. And annoyingly nice, welcoming and whatever. I'm not going to like this. I've decided that before I even walked in the door, so we are good to go. As long as I keep looking around for ideas that match my prejudices and reinforce them, I should be safe in the knowledge that I am right. I'm here to show this boy that I've had a good Iyengar practice for years and I can DO this. (Even though I don't believe that yoga is competitive, for anyone else, or that you should every be in the practice with the thought of any other person or body or thought being a part of it... clearly I'm not letting my emotional, egoic self run insanely around the room, keeping me safe... oh wait.)

But I want to leave space for this beautiful boy to be right, as well. I'm here to experience something that helped change his life. Now, I'm in conflict. I decide that the girls in the front are an anomaly of Aspen, that Bikram people can't possibly dress like that, because that would make this a practice of narcissistic self indulgent show offs. (Was that in my out loud voice?) If you need me, I'll be in the back row in a pair of actual shorts and a sensible long waisted yoga top. Real yoga clothes. Sweating my brains out. Because its HOT. There's a REASON they are nearly naked! Helloo!!

He warned me, by the way, to bring water. I don't drink water during yoga, I drink after, so I brought some, but not much. I looked around. They all had the special hot yoga towel. More crap to buy, I think. Making your yoga soooo special, you need a towel on your mat. Whatever.

Lets skip the nausea, intense feeling that I was going to pass out, the immense amount of sweat, the hard work and dedication I saw all around me, in every single body in every single posture. Lets skip the fact that I had to check closely and look at the boy to see if he had rivers of sweat literally pouring off of him. I was sweaty for sure. It was raining all around me. I hadn't produced anything like that!

At the end of class, I was hooked, but intimidated, and financially crippled. I couldn't do it. I wanted to do it. But I didn't have an extra $20 a month, let alone $100, or $200 if I wanted to belong to 2 studios for "regular" yoga and Bikram as well. I had two kids to feed and clothe, and no financial help with them. I couldn't afford to "drop in" at $20 a class. So while I knew the minute we started breathing that I needed to be in this room, I couldn't do it. I spent the next two years craving it.

Fast forward two years later. The season ends. The summer starts. I get a little help from my friends, I'm not busted flat broke for the first time in years. I'm tired of waiting for company and friends to go to the studio with me, I just want to practice and I don't care any more. I don't have the clothes or the mat or the flexibility, and I've gained 12 pounds after ski season this year. (That's another blog post...) So I just go. I go and I sign up. And then I go to Bikram every single day. And by two weeks, I'm going twice a day.

I spent the last two years listening to the boy tell me that he feels "so good" after he goes to Bikram after a huge ride, when his back is tight, after a huge ski. Its not his work out. Its his re balance. Its his sanity. Its restoration, detoxification, balance.

And he was right.

Apparently, Bikram says "One beautiful day, your head will be on your knee" and two days ago, HEY, it was. I'm making my body. Its becoming strong, flexible, nimble and my balance is improving all the time.

Yesterday, I gave a massage in the morning and then sprinted out the door to class. While I was there, I reached up to get ready for half moon, and I felt that "bad" thing from the car accident I was in two years ago happen in my neck.

Now, let me precede that by saying that two solid months of daily or twice daily Bikram yoga has begun healing my spine in a way that I could never have predicted. Two months ago my "backbend" was me looking up about 30 degrees with a straight spine and pain everywhere. Now, my backbend lets me see my eyes in the mirror behind me. My body is feeling better every day.

The fibromyalgia from the neck injury in the accident is always present, but with a strong, flexible body, its much MUCH more tollerable.

Occasionally, however, the Injury comes back. I backed way off. I stayed in the hot room, I laid down on a yoga block as I felt my shoulder and neck begin to contract in a way that is all to familiar and very scary.

I got home and got Bodhi to walk on my back. I got my self massage tool out and began to dig. I laid on more heat. By the evening, it hurt so badly and I was so restricted in my movement that I wanted to do nothing other than cry and puke and go to the ER and beg for some big guns pain killers. I resisted. I resisted Tylenol. I resisted wallowing in the pain.

I walked around in circles, feeling crazy. It hurt so much I felt like I was near my limit. Bodhi woke up and wanted to tuck in with me, so I gave him the massage tool and he went to town on my back. Slow, deep, sustained pressure of the whole body weight of a 7 year old for about a half an hour. And then more heat. He helped enough that I could sleep.

This morning I got up and it hurt, but I could move. All I wanted to do was go to yoga. Get in that hot room. Get some healing going on.

And so I went. And it was interesting to step into the room where I've been working HARD. Backing off as needed, caring for myself, building a strong practice, and know that this was not going to be a workout, this was going to be me in a hot room wishing I wasn't hurt.

I set my intention for the practice to listen carefully to the neck and shoulder, but do everything else that I could and do it well. Not let the pain in the shoulder be a valid excuse to keep me from going strong on the left leg, for instance.

I wondered if I could make a practice that was strong for the whole body and caring and careful for the injury. My shoulder and neck hurt. A lot. I modified, I skipped postures, I worked harder than I think I ever have in class, and I barely broke a sweat. Which made me sad. I missed my detox, I missed my yoga bliss. I missed sweating out a gallon of water. I hated the pain I was in. I felt robbed of my practice.

I caught sight of my shoulder in the mirror, all around the injury, the skin was breaking out in big cystic bumps. Something is happening.

I went in to talk to Kate, the instructor, after class. She complimented me on my practice, and when she asked how the injury felt, I told her, "It hurts." and then I started crying. I wanted to sit down on the floor and bawl. Not out of anger, or fear or wishing, but just to acknowledge and honor how much it hurt, how hard it was to change my practice to support the injury, how present I was with the pain. It hurt.

Kate said that Bikram often said that humans are like onions (I think Shrek said that, too). And Kate's hypothesis is that while I'm healing my body in class, I'm peeling back layers of protection and getting closer and closer to the root. And I agree, this is how I feel. I feel like my old body is falling off to show the real me inside, healthier, taller, happier, present, with myself.

Kate said, "And now, you've come to the injury. And that's what's next. Work through this. Keep coming. Lets let your body heal you."

And so I grabbed a tissue or six, my special yoga mat and towel, rolled them into my beautiful yoga tote bag, and pulled on my skirt over my special teeny tiny Bikram shorts and walked all shaken and sad and happy to have gotten to the injury and have the next task before me, back to my car.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Work is Prayer: cultivating gratitude in everything

How do you live this, teach this, and even begin to understand this?
I just finished this painting, (which is painted after and inspired by one of my favorite albums to do massage to). Its in the kitchen over the sink, because we don't have a dishwasher, and I'm not a fan of doing dishes. Three or four or five times a day.

Ethan and Bodhi both asked me, what does "Work is Prayer" mean? Explaining this esoteric concept to myself was dificult enough. Wording it for adults was still a challenge. Eplaining it to a 7 and a 9 year old in a way that they could grasp made it come very clear to me.

I think on the simple level about the problem of the dishes. There are dishes. I don't want to wash them. But there is the fact that I am healthy, my kids are healthy. We have a home and a kitchen and food to cook. We have the means to buy food that is healthy for our bodies.

The dishes exist because of the bounty we live in. There are blessings all around, from the big sloping lawn outside my windows to the stream that flows down it from the trout pond where the kids like to swim.

When I look at the dishes, if I can cultivate gratitude for the task ahead of me, for whatever portion of it I can latch onto, maybe first just that they exist because I've fed my kids and I'm glad to have done that, maybe next that I'm healthy and able to stand and work, and then finally, to find peace, grace, and gratitude in the act of washing.

I think it comes down again to acceptance and wishing. If I wish the dishes did not need doing or did not exist, I'm adding to my suffering. I'm working reluctantly. If I accept that the dishes exist, my wishing isn't going to change that, and so accept the present moment as it is, with neither positives nor negatives, blessings or curses, it is just this moment with everything existing in the world in this moment as it does, I am suddenly free.

Free to call up gratitude for life, for growth, for work, and watch my hands make the dishes clean, taking pride in the thorough job, observing how my heart transforms when I do a task that I'm not fond of with willingness and without judgement.

Work becomes meditation, or prayer. It is a privilege, an opening, a growth, a place of gratitude unfolding.

It is a moment to practice for moments that "really" count. For those moments when you have to wash the dishes of your life, your love, your relationships. When you have to accept the present moment as it is when that present moment may include heart break, loss, love, pain, or joy.

Its a moment of gratitude. Now, if I can just get Ethan to understand that when he has to take the trash out...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

It has been a month since my last...

In that time, the snow has melted, we've moved across the ranch, and spring has come full force. I've attended a Thai Massage training, and spent two weeks practicing out on the lawn by the stream. The boys have ended school and discovered their first summer of completely sleep in unstructured fun.
Bodhi enjoys our first day in the hammock.

Ive had time to get back into my Yoga practice, going twice a day to sweat, heal, and strengthen my body. I'm thinking a lot about skiing, what it means to me, what my future is in it, how I feel about tryouts, about PSIA, about what the team means to the organization, and how I can best be of service.

I'm grateful for how the summer has turned out, with some very timely help from my friends, I bridged the gap of the shoulder season, pre paid my rent, and now I have June, July and August before me to write, paint, hike, and practice.

Ethan (and mom!) attend a Live Foods "cooking" class with Rachel of Beyond Massage Aspen.
I'll be teaching meditation classes at O2 in Aspen, as well as holding meditation and yoga retreats here at the T Lazy 7.

I'll be working on some projects that needed time and space, and spending lots of time with my kids, and my love, cultivating those relationships and doing some deep examination of my path.

I feel so grateful for the time and the space to do this, I've missed my blog, but I needed the rest. Thanks for your patience, and feel free to check back here at least every Tuesday (and perhaps more often), when there will be a new blog post for your reading pleasure!

Much love!