June 21, 2015 § 6 Comments
Life and practice has been all about the pain in the past six weeks. Not physical pain, but emotional pain. Overwhelming, distraught, wordless pain that resides deep inside the body. A residue of past trauma, of physical and emotional abuse that still haunts me to this day. I thought I was over these chapters of my past, especially now that I’m living a new life far far away from the place and people of my childhood. But clearly my body has not forgotten, and Kapotasana has proven to be an effective trigger in resurfacing the pain and its attendant emotions: fear and grief, but most of all, worthlessness.
It’s not the first time that this pose has made me cry. The first round was in December 2014, a period of time I will never forget because I was depressed for weeks. I had no idea what was going on. This practice that nourishes me suddenly left me atomized, utterly broken and unable to do much more than mope around and weep. That phase eventually subsided, but resurfaced again a few weeks ago. This time I had the support of a bodyworker/osteopath/white witch who I’ve been seeing for the past two years. Her hypothesis that I’ve stored the pain of physical abuse in my quads has not only proven accurate, it’s also been followed by a series of events that tap deep into the heart of the pain that’s shaped me: shame, guilt and worthlessness. All of it is coming out now, one way or another. Old baggage from relationships that I want to hide forever and never have to deal with, coming to the forefront of my consciousness, resurrecting past ghosts, the past self of mine who believed that she was never good enough and who never quite fit in. And I still don’t. After all, it’s hard to fit in when you’re the only one crying in the Mysore room, every fucking time.
“The deeper the catharsis, the bigger the transformation”, says one of my yoga teachers when I clued her in on what’s going on. I cannot see beyond the pangs of this catharsis at the moment because identifying the cause of my pain has led to an unpacking of all the baggage I’ve been carrying around. It is one fucking mess after another. A cascade of painful realizations from past hurts. I am trying to rise above the ‘optional suffering’ that comes with the pain built-in into life, but some days it is too bloody hard. I have so many questions that will never be answered. Wounds so deep that I cannot see the day when they will heal, even if I know, intellectually, that they will. John Waters’ commencement speech spoke to me on a multitude of levels, but his remark about not being surrounded by assholes in his personal and professional life really stood out. Because this pain I’m processing at the moment is a product of the wonderful assholes who brought me into existence and weaved the cultural and religious environment of my upbringing for the better part of 30 years. I knew that moving away from “home” was one of the best things to ever happen to me, but it is in revisiting my past ghosts that I can fully appreciate the significance of this life event. By taking myself out of a toxic environment, I finally have the space and freedom to find my self, heal and build a new life. I have never felt more certain about being exactly where I need to be, and despite the pain, I know that time is on my side.
May 14, 2015 § 3 Comments
1. Driving tightens my adductors.
2. I’m not great at following the prescribed rules. I often begin with compliance, but eventually a tendency towards questioning takes over. I like to analyze, contextualize, extract meaning and find resonance. I guess you can say I’m a bona fide shithead.
3. Traumatic stress resides in my nervous system. And it’s no fun when the full impact of stressful emotions you’ve been carrying around manifests itself on the physical plane. Pain. Lots of it.
4. The Ashtanga practice can be done by anyone with an inkling of interest, but most definitely not by those who spend 12-14 hours a day on their feet lugging light stands, backdrops and heavy wood surfaces.
5. Kapotasana B is currently the finely honed razor’s edge of my existence.
6. Sometimes, a dropback can give you the most satisfying, chiropractor-like adjustment in the upper back.
7. My anxieties have a common root: one of feeling as if I have something to prove.
8. I feel like a fraud a lot of the time. Doesn’t seem like that’s going to change.
9. Committing to a daily practice is really about committing to bravery, courage and fearlessness.
10. Holding, instead of grasping, one’s awareness, both physically and psychically is practically an art form.
April 21, 2015 § Leave a comment
Come on by if you’re in the area May 21. It’s the evening of the Piedmont Avenue Art Stroll in Oakland and the entire street will be closed off for art, wine and shopping. These prints will be on display in Oakland until June 20, after which they’re going to decorate the walls of a couple of cafes and yoga studios in Silicon Valley throughout the summer. All works available for purchase in 16×20 or 20×30 formats, printed on archival paper and mounted with a brushed steel finish. Send me a note if you’re interested in purchasing or displaying the work in your yoga studio.
March 2, 2015 § 3 Comments
I first encountered the notion of ‘being a zero’ in this post, nine months before my maiden trip to Mysore. It was an illuminating notion and, along with tips from my teacher, went a long way to shape my expectations about what practicing at KPJAYI would be like. Looking back now, I realize that, as long as I’m prepared for it, consciously subsuming my ego and lowering my expectations for recognition is entirely doable, provided there is a clear start and end date. Returning to a Western life intimately connected with social media and suddenly ‘being a zero’ doesn’t work as well. It’s uncomfortable to be a zero in a world of ‘likes’ and ‘social engagement’, where everyone is building their ‘personal brand’. As a self-employed extrovert, it is too easy to get sucked into the metrics and vrttis of disembodied interactions on a screen, imbibing every single beautiful/funny/heart-wrenching/banal/disappointing/horrifying update that appears in my newsfeed. Monitoring the number of likes/comments/shares on each post. Comparing statistics. Letting whatever spare ounce of energy I have leak into a screen in my palm, 24/7.
Given my extroverted tendencies, then, I’m entirely fascinated with a new-found attraction towards being a zero in my current life. Perhaps this cold-turned-dry-hacking-cough I’m nursing has something to do with it. When you’re bed-ridden and the only window to your social world is your smartphone, you start to see its effects on you a lot more clearly. In any case, seeking out Zero-ness dovetails nicely with a recent shift towards cultivating intentionality in my relationships instead of succumbing to some abstract idea that I should be friends with everyone I meet and seek out their approval. I’m starting to recognize that approval seeking is a big part of my social agenda and it’s one that is unsustainable. Bye Bye blank checks of friendship. Hello Intention.
So: being a zero. A lot of it so far is watching the FOMO-fueled discomfort that arises out of my intention to cultivate some degree of invisibility both online and off. Seeing the discomfort (and the thoughts that flow with it) rise and fall over and over again, and eventually, this state transforms from one of suffering and anguish into an object of amusement. Another element of my experiment with Zero-ness is a fascination with home practice and the intimacy that it provides. Without the performative element intrinsic to practicing in a Mysore room, I’m discovering a whole new depth to the linking of breath and movement and it’s addictive. Never thought of myself as the sort of person cut out for home practice, but perhaps in the current incarnation of my personhood, that’s where I’ve ended up.
February 4, 2015 § Leave a comment
I think it’s almost a year now since I started the Intermediate series. But honestly, it wasn’t until October that I embraced it as part of my regular practice. Meaning, doing all of Primary + whatever in Intermediate I was given without question. Without trying to negotiate (read: shorten) the length of my practice for any kind of reason. There was a phase of wrist pain that required some backing off before it resolved itself, followed by some hip tension that also resolved itself. The most persistent ‘pain’ has been in the left psoas/hip+femur region with a consistent twinge in almost all the forward bends. I’ve lost track of how many months it’s been and have come to accept that there will always be a part of my body that will talk more loudly than others over the course of this practice. All I can do is listen, observe and give it space. C’est la vie.
Anyway. I can’t put a finger on what specifically changed in or around the October timeframe, but I think a couple of sessions with Peter Sanson, plus the return of both of our shala teachers to a regular teaching schedule helped. I re-committed to the practice, no questions asked and I discovered the more I adopted this attitude of non-negotiability and acceptance, the easier it was to just get on with it and filter out the hemming and hawing. It’s a lesson that returns every so often.
In the months since this re-commitment, it’s been fascinating to observe the practice’s impact on my life and my experience of being in the world. Physically not so much, but emotional and mental – goodness gracious. This nerve-cleansing business is intense, ugly, messy and pretty dark, but also compelling in a way that is very beautiful. It is most certainly transformative, and the most obvious effect is in the clarity of seeing. I see everything, and I mean everything, going on in my stream of consciousness so much more clearly than before. It is breathtaking to witness the thunderous current of thoughts and also very humbling to realize what I snarky bitch I am and how I just can’t seem to stop myself. It is tearing apart the social mask I wear (or think I wear) and showing me how much work there is to be done to master this mind. The poses are challenging me to cultivate a mental stamina that feels impossible on the mat, and showing up my tendencies towards fear and anxiety when faced with the uncomfortable and the unexpected. How I cling to the polarities (usually negative) when things don’t go according to plan and how easily my story-making mind weaves illusions and scenarios about people and their intentions. How all of these tendencies fundamentally come from a place of fear and a deep sense of worthlessness.
I see all this and wonder where I can even begin to effect change in this mental paradigm. Perhaps ‘change’ is not the goal, but in ’embracing’ this person that I see, warts and all, without judgement. Embracing my shadows: easy to say, hard to put into practice. Good thing I have the rest of my life to keep trying.
January 21, 2015 § 5 Comments
Last November I had an idea to create a different kind of yoga portrait. One that really focused on the form of different asanas instead of the individual. The opposite of the yoga selfie, or of any sort of instructional application really. I could see the images in my mind before we created them, and already knew who I wanted as my models to do which poses. The clarity of the vision was compelling, and although this would be the biggest photography project I had ever undertaken, I knew I had to do it. Fortunately everything fell into place pretty quickly. I had an overwhelming response to the call for models, we set up shop in the studio on a Saturday afternoon and my teacher was on-hand for asana guidance and assistance.
When it came time for me to articulate the statement for this project, shadows were the first thing that came to mind. Specifically, our own shadows and embracing them. That’s one of the secrets to unlocking the power of this practice in my opinion. If you really want this practice to change – transform – you and your life, it begins with looking at your shadows, accepting them and releasing them. Little did I know that just over a month after wrapping up this shoot I would have the opportunity to experience this in a very direct way, marking a new phase in my practice. I suppose that is what a Second Series practice does to you, but that is a story for another day. For now: photos. Enjoy.
January 5, 2015 § Leave a comment
The easiest answer to this question can be found in the way one reacts when things do not go the way you would like. When you do not get what you want. When your buttons are pressed. When shit hits the fan and you realize that what is actually happening is not the outcome you envisioned, it’s not happening the way it is supposed to. Suppositions are dangerous, possibly lethal, to long-term happiness if taken too far.
The upending of our expectations is fertile ground for practicing the yamas and niyamas. And since daily life is inherently full of upended expectations with very little guarantee of the certainty of our plans, we have lots of material to work with. ‘Grist for the mill’, as my teacher likes to say. The yamas and niyamas are the real yoga practice, folks. Asana practice just habituates us to the discomfort of not always having things go our way, of developing receptivity to what comes up, but backbending and putting your leg behind your head is kindergarten compared to walking away in a heat of an argument and holding your tongue from snarky retorts. Was it Tim Miller who said that Ashtanga is the ‘Yoga of No’? He couldn’t have been more accurate. It is totally the yoga of no because it is in encountering the ‘No’ that provides the opportunities for growth. Something tells me that 2015 is going to be about learning to embrace the ‘No’ in my life. I’m sure I will get through to the other side, but it will be quite a ride to get there.