Tuesday, February 19, 2013

My Yoga Book Report: Edges, Lines and Intro Poses

I kind of hate to admit it, but I was Very Excited when I saw we were past the meditation portion and moving on to poses. All that meditation business was starting to make me feel grossly under-qualified to be teaching anyone anything having to do with yoga, whereas the practical yoga, or hatha yoga - that, I can actually DO, kind of. Added bonus - a good portion of the poses section so far has been pictures, which makes me feel a little better about how many pages I still have left to read and dissect (three hundred and twenty-three).

There are a few chapters about edges and lines prior to jumping into the poses. These are very long, prose-y sections that I will sum up in a few quick bullet points:


  • Edges are personal boundaries; they change on a minute-to-minute basis and determine the depth of the pose (for you).
  • Lines are established coordinates for your energies and determine the shape of the pose.
  • Edges and lines are what define where you are and where you're going within a pose.


  • Always listen to your own body.

I think the stuff about edges and lines may be the most crucial part of the hatha yoga section of the book, so my apologies if I've minimized their importance. They're complex concepts but they boil down very simply. If you want to get the meaty version, or Erich's take on it anyhow, I suggest reading the book.

And now, the poses, hooray! Erich is starting to get the hang of how I operate, because he opens the section with something about how you probably don't have time to do the poses as he describes them, so just picture it in your head and feel it in your body as you read the instructions. Done and done, says me, as the subway train lurches around yet another corner.

He starts with the most basic of poses - mountain pose - and begins to build off that one to some of the other classics. He patiently walks through each detail of each pose, most of which start out pretty much the same (I'm guessing he was doing a lot of copy and paste during this portion) and peppers in black-and-white photographs of the bendiest people I've ever seen, absolutely dominating their rotated triangles and whatnot. Their lines are tremendous, to say the least. His brand of yoga is different from what I've practiced - deliberate and slow, with lots of talk of cat-tilts and dog-tilts. Definitely no music, definitely no vinyasa flow. His warrior II looks different and his transitions are nothing I've ever seen before. When he finally puts together a sequence, there's no down-dog (he has yet to mention down-dog at all, actually) and he jumps from mountain to warrior II to half-moon - what?! - but it's all good, because he's teaching and I'm learning and the whole thing is starting to make a lot of sense.

Despite the fact that I will absolutely be going straight back to fiction after finishing things up with Erich, I continue to admit to myself how much fun I'm having with the instructional-style writing. He's got that amazing tripping teaching cadence and flow - even as a writer, I can just tell. He's also full of all kinds of great nonsense, the kind of stuff that starts to speak to you once you're doing this stuff often enough. I love, for example, his constant use of ridiculous descriptions, such as "gaze straight backwards into infinity," "orchestrate this action perfectly" and "'do' and 'not-do' at the same time." He's also always using very silly non-yoga words - for example, he is constantly telling me to 'snuggle' my foot down into the ground (while I'm creating the lines). Never 'plant,' 'ground' or 'root,' but always 'snuggle.' If my palm is also on the ground, like in triangle pose, I'm to snuggle that, too. Snuggle! This is how I know we're best friends.

When I am a yoga teacher, I hope to:

  • Speak with a lovely tripping cadence
  • Use fantastic word choices to inspire energy and keep things interesting
  • Not intimidate my students by bending into a perfect pretzel every time I demonstrate anything (chances of this happening at my current level of flexibility are slim to nil anyhow)
  • Be funny and relatable, always

Monday, February 18, 2013

My Yoga Book Report: The Scared is Scared

Now a few weeks into things, I've started to work on reading ahead in the book as much as possible during my morning and evening commutes. If I want to complete the book before teacher training starts in two weeks, I don't have the luxury of stopping after each exercise to wait to have time to give it a try before moving on. I am getting quite chummy with the witty and illustrious Erich, whose instructions include helpful tips such as "do this for the perfect amount of time." He guides me through the exercises as best he can - "please understand," he says, "that what I am attempting to describe is an activity that is essentially non-verbal" - and I visualize myself doing the movements (or lack thereof) as the train hurtles on, carrying me to and from Manhattan each day. He is patient with me as I attempt to pay attention to reading that which is not a story and I am patient with him as he tries to explain the unexplainable.

Of course, I am also trying to do the exercises described whenever I get a free moment. I start each little meditation session with a round of the counting-backwards technique to find stillness before moving into the new exercises. For the past few sessions, I have been working on something Erich calls 'heart breathing.' This involves laying on your back, closing your eyes and breathing deeply, physically feeling the expansion in your ribcage with your fingers while focusing on the metaphysical feeling you get in your heart as fresh oxygen enters and leaves the body.

My first attempt at heart breathing is a total bust. Clay is home and walking around doing his own projects, and I can feel his footsteps in the floor and just can't get myself to focus on what's going on in my body. So, I table it for a later date, when I have the house to myself. Even then, while it goes a bit better, clearly this is not for me - I can only lay on the floor, eyes closed, breathing deeply for a minute or two before I start to fall asleep (something I am already quite good at).

So I move on to expanded heart breathing - the seated version. This exercise has me sitting in stillness for a moment before taking some deep, exaggerated breaths - first in and out smoothly, then after a while, holding in to feel the stretch and expansion before the release. This is intended to help you to better feel your energy vibration not just inside, but specifically within the heart. This I am able to do, although it makes me nervous to make exaggerated movements while trying to stay in a deep meditative state - definitely out of line with what had previously been instructed, about staying as relaxed and still as possible. Which is a bit confusing, but I try not to beat myself up over it and instead move on to the next.

We do some other exercises, me and Erich, with some aaahhhhh breathing sounds, some new mantras, some different postures and focuses. I am not really that great at any of them, and I just really can't seem to find the time of day to commit to what this whole thing seems to require. I tried once to get up early in the morning and do it, just for a few minutes in what has to be the quietest moment of the whole day, but the recency of having been asleep was problematic - this is somewhat sleepy stuff, meant to be practiced while fully awake. So, I need to work on how I'm going to make this work in my noisy, activity-filled life.

My success with the exercises aside, I am definitely following what he's trying to say, which is that you (and you, and you and you) are not YOU - we are all part of a collective, connected experience. We exist in a state of muffled energy, and if we can strip away the years and layers of self-concept and ego that we've built up mainly from what we've been told about ourselves by others, we have the capability to see who we really are and benefit from that amplification of energy, that forgiveness. Meditation gives us the opportunity to find that pure you-ness that's been buried - hence why it's such an important pillar of the yoga practice. It also reminds us that we have the capability to control what goes on inside our heads - just one of the reasons yoga is commonly touted as a remedy for depression. With practice, it helps us to accept the negative thoughts for what they are and let them swirl away with the rest of the bathwater.

Kids know all this better than adults, I think, because they're still tapped into their imaginations and not super concerned with what anyone thinks of them. They do not see the realm of imagination as any less real than anything else, which is really a very pleasant way to go about your business and allows for fantastic access to all that you-ness inside.

Christy sent me the below video, which I found to be so incredible and truly illustrative of all the points above. Keep watching it all the way to the end - the beginning is a little less relevant (although a great example of that rich imagination) but right at about four minutes, shit starts to get real.

"Just think of something else until the nervous has gone out of you - I let that thing disappear out of my head."

This kid manages to articulate everything Erich is trying to say about meditation in a total of approximately three minutes of babble. Pretty interesting stuff.

I am trying to remember to let the stuff out of my head. My scared is scared of pizza, too.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A quick break for wedding dresses.

Taking a break from the book-reporting for a somewhat intense week, culminating in a visit from my lovely friend Cherie. We've been friends since childhood and hadn't seen each other in a few years so we were tickled to be able to spend a few days together. She's a confident midwesterner and a seasoned world traveler, and it was hilarious and delightful to watch her march all over the big city (her first time in NY!) like she owned it, me half-walking, half-running to keep up with her long strides.

We accomplished a lot in three days, but I think the most notable accomplishment was - drum roll, please - I finally bought a wedding dress! Cherie and Christy accompanied me to Lovely Bride for my second time to that particular salon and third overall dress-shopping excursion. I was totally prepared this time, with a list of gowns in-hand (first go-round had been a bit willy-nilly). I'm very pleased to say that I've actually managed to keep the winning dress from Clay entirely so I'm not going to tease anything about it here (he's a very good guesser). I will say that I am thrilled with my choice, regardless of whether or not I may have completely blown my dress budget.

Which, I decided, was entirely besides the point.

Thank you Christy, Emma and Cherie for putting up with me during my dress-hunt! Here's a quick look back at the (beautiful) losers.

JCrew - Bettina

JCrew - Bettina

JCrew - Bettina

JCrew - Carenna

JCrew - Clover

JCrew - Lucinda

JCrew - Tulipe

JCrew - Percy

Sarah Seven - Cascade

Sarah Seven - Enchanted

Sarah Seven - Graceful

Sarah Seven - Golden Lights

Sarah Seven - Fields of Flowers

Sarah Seven - Amour

Sarah Seven - Amour

Amour and Percy were my second and third favorites, I think.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Monday, February 11, 2013

My Yoga Book Report: A Break for Headstands

I've read a few more chapters of my book now, and have attempted several other meditation techniques. I have some stuff to say about all of it (spoiler alert: did not go nearly as well as the first round) and I have more exercises to try per my most recent commute. As it were, I have neither the time nor the mental capacity to do so tonight, so instead I take a break for some headstands. Oh, also - confession, I may have skipped ahead in the book a bit. To the headstand part. I'll go back.

Anyhow, here I am, kneeling in front of the wall on the bedroom rug. I place the crown of my head on the ground, butting tightly into my clasped hands. Forearms on the ground, elbows in as close as they'll allow. Then it's heels on the ground, booty in the air (this is called dolphin pose). I pause here for a second to clean up the pose before slowly starting to walk my dolphin-flipper feet closer to my head, until my torso is more or less vertical. Then I squeezed my perfect abs and core tight and my lithe legs and feet magically floated upwards until I was perpendicular to the ground, where I stayed, effortlessly flying for several hours.

Just kidding. I definitely kicked my way up like a little kid, using the wall behind me for balance until I could get my core in line and my shoulders down. But by the third or fourth try, I am able to do it more or less without the wall, and by focusing on my center as opposed to grinding my forearms into the ground. I can hold it for twenty, maybe thirty seconds, during which time my computer-crunched spine practically weeps in thanksgiving for the brief inversion.

Headstands are fun! Yoga is fun and makes me feel good! Even on my off-days, it makes me stronger and it turns me upside-down, hooray!

That's it for tonight. Hooray!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

My Yoga Book Report: Meditation, Part 2

And now, the fun begins. I am home sick from work and around noon, decide to take a break from email and give it a go with the meditation. Please note that despite my immense enjoyment of the book so far, I am still 100% convinced that I am way too practical, rational and high-strung to be able to talk myself into believing any of this malarkey. And from what I can tell, I'm pretty sure you have to believe the malarkey to be able to achieve anything, from a meditation standpoint. So this is all more or less a ridiculous and completely pointless waste of time.

And yet, here I am.

I flip back to a few chapters to page 45, aptly titled 'How to Start.' Erich (we're on a first name basis now) is pretty cool about cutting right to the chase, which I appreciate. He outlines two different techniques for developing stillness, both built around breathing exercises (typical yoga). In the first, you count backwards from fifty on your inhales and exhales, while sitting still, stiller than still. Not holding still, just relaxing and dropping into the floor and being still. In the second technique, you take three deep breaths, hold them each for a moment, and exhale them out slowly, thinly, over the course of a few seconds. After the three breaths, just sit and breathe - with an IN-OUT mantra, if you need it - and regard what it feels like to breathe, what happens to your body and mind as you inhale and exhale. In either scenario, I'm to try to notice my thoughts as they come floating up. Once I've noticed them, I am to dismiss them and return to the mantra and the regarding of the breath and the effect that the breath is having on the body. And the mind. AND THE VIBRATIONS IT CAUSES (come on now). While sitting straight and relaxing and being still. For six to seven minutes, or longer.

No problem.

So, I grab a blanket and close myself into the study, where I perch on the floor, cross-legged on my folded blanket. I spend a few minutes getting situated, straightening my spine, sending my head to the ceiling and my sitz bones comfortably into the blanket. I rest my wrists on my knees, palms facing down (no reason, just felt comfortable). I make a note of the time (11:57 AM - and yes, I do intend to judge my meditation on whether I can last the seven minutes prescribed), remove my glasses and let my eyelids float shut.


As I begin to count, I work on stillness, actively relaxing into my bones in an attempt to recreate that sinking, heavy, falling feeling I can sometimes find in savasana after a particularly taxing practice. It pretty much works, if slightly less comfortable from a seated position. After a bit, I can feel that my back has started to slacken in an attempt to get comfortable. Erich said to sit up straight, so I go to work restacking my spine, but slowly, in line with my exhales. It goes against everything I know to do this instead of snapping into posture, but I am trying really hard not to lose the sinking and the stillness, so slowly it is.


Now I'm sitting straight again, but I am still for only a second or two before the thoughts start to pop up. Once I realize that I'm lost in conversation with myself, I clear my mind and go back to focusing on the breath. My eyelids are awash in color, reds when my mind is flitting about but, for those brief seconds that I can focus on breath, a nice, cool green-blue. Blue is good. I work on keeping the blue in sight for as long as possible. Sometimes for two, three breaths at a time.


More of the thinking, noticing, clearing as I run out of numbers and sit in stillness. A good portion of the time, I'm thinking about how surely it's only been a minute or so, because I am definitely way too anxious to be able to sit still for any noticeable portion of time and I probably was counting too fast. I can't be counting fast if I expect this to go on for seven minutes! I sense this judgement and notice it, clear it away, back to the breath.


I am so relaxed. I am so heavy. My mouth is open a little bit. I don't close it, can't close it. Too still. I wonder how long I've been sitting slack-jawed. Surely not more than two minutes, because surely I could never sit still for more than a minute or two. Because surely I - no. Notice. Clear. Breathe.


I begin to develop an itch on my left hand. As soon as I start to think about the itch, a million other itches pop up, the same way they do when I'm sitting at the dryers in the nail salon, freshly manicured and no way to scratch. Well hell if I am going to scratch now - I am MEDITATING, damn it. So I work on noticing the itch and sending my breath towards it (something I read about in Eat Pray Love, so it must be true). I breathe in so deeply, focusing all my energy on my hand. Nothing happens, obviously, so I begin to exhale.

As I exhale, a tangible wave of energy flows from my sternum up into my shoulder, down my arm and out my finger - the one that itches. When it does, the itch subsides, but returns again as the energy flows out of my hand. I breathe in again, sending another, stronger, more noticeable wave of energy down into my hand. I shift my focus to the other hand, my stomach, each of my feet, and send waves their way. It takes a bit more focus to send breath to my feet, but after a few exhales I can feel my feet pulsing, just as my hand did. You might say I could feel it VIBRATING.

Erich, if he had a smug bone in his body, would be dying of smugness right now.

That's pretty much it for technique number one - once I realize what I'm doing, my disbelief sends me back to earth and my eyes flutter open. I paw for my glasses on the rug and check the time.

12:08 PM.

Eleven minutes!! I was meditating for eleven whole minutes! ME - the non-believer, was caught up in new-aged hoo-ha for eleven whole minutes. I could die of happiness. I shake it out for a moment, walk around a bit, then get myself settled right back in for technique number two, making sure, once again, to note the time (12:10 PM).

This time, I have less to do - the deep breathing. Last time I needed all that counting to get myself centered - how am I going to do it again with nothing? So I start again with the counting backwards, easier this time, and lose track somewhere around twenty three, or maybe seventeen or so. I am lost in nothingness for a few seconds before I remember what I'm up to: three deep inhales, long slow exhales.



Everything is faster. My stillness comes quicker, and I am immediately able to play with those pulses of energy, sending them around my body with the breath. I am regarding and noticing and clearing and breathing. Between frenzied red flashes, I am blue, all blue. I feel different all over. But I begin to tire faster as well, begin to feel pain in my spine from sitting too straight, pain in my ankles from having my legs crossed. The pain sends me out of it this time, and I immediately console myself at having not been able to sit for long. Having tried at all is admirable and I should be happy with that.

I fumble for my glasses and my vision swims into focus. Defeated but curious, I can't help but glance at the clock.

12:23 PM. I blink once, twice.

It's 12:23 PM, I have been meditating for THIRTEEN MINUTES (twenty-four if you add the first round) and already I feel different all over.

I could just burst.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

My Yoga Book Report: Meditation, Part 1

Meditation, Part 1 does not amount to much.

More or less, I've read through two chapters of meditation technique without having a chance to try to do any of it. Such is the plight of the subway reader of how-to materials.

It's beautiful writing. I am engrossed. I'm trying so hard to remember all the techniques; I am frantic to remember it. I've highlighted sixteen passages in sixty-two pages. I am learning everything and nothing; I am falling further and further behind.

I do very much hope this stuff works, when I get around to it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

My Yoga Book Report: Introduction

A few weeks ago, I signed up for yoga teacher training.

It's a 200-hour vinyasa certification, starting in March and running through mid-June, every weekend, Saturday and Sunday, from 1PM - 9PM each day at the studio in Brooklyn. This, when compared to my current schedule of commitments and extracurriculars (zero), is no small undertaking, but for whatever reason I really need to do it. I am admittedly not very good at yoga, but I like it very much and have a fairly regular practice and when I heard you could go to teacher training, I knew that it was inexplicably and unequivocally for me. I knew it was for me the same way a child knows when he or she first learns that Disney World is a real-life place you can go.

I knew I wanted to do teacher training for about a year before the suitable program presented itself. When it did, I was ready. I filled out my application and turned it in early. I happily handed over my (not exactly small) deposit. Immediately I jumped way ahead of myself, planning the magnificent side crows I'll fly into as my aura guides helpless souls into moving meditation. I was So Very Excited to start.

About a week goes by before I receive an acceptance letter into the program, kind and welcoming words from the people I have come to admire so. My letter is accompanied by a reading list and details of the pre-training assignment. You know, the book report? The book report that definitely nobody ever told me about, ever?

A BOOK REPORT. Ten pages, double-spaced, to be turned in on the second weekend of my teacher training. A book report. On a book. That I have to read. Off a reading list.


It is not to my credit that my immediate thought upon tripping over this tiniest of non-obstacles was, "this teacher training thing, maybe it's not for me..."

It's a very small seed of doubt, but it causes me to lose focus and tumble out of my arm balance. Ugly thoughts begin to bubble up over the course of the next couple of weeks, spluttering and foaming and stampeding about as they try to choke me with their arguments. It's a monologue and a battle at once, my inner voice trying to rationalize while my fears throw a tantrum. I imagine that it looks a little something like this:

I can't write a book report! A book report??
Yes, you can. You totally can! 
I mean, obviously I CAN do it.
You can!! You can do it! 
But I don't want to!
Yes you do! You love yoga, you love books and writing, you paid all this money... 
Ugh exactly - the money! I paid so much money to learn to teach YOGA and I'm being assigned a BOOK REPORT like a... like a child! Don't they know I have a JOB? Don't they know I have a LIFE?
Oh, I see - you had planned on becoming a yoga teacher by doing no work at all. Just showing up in your LuLu for a pat on the back. That makes perfect sense.
Well I mean, sure! Obviously I hadn't planned on doing nothing! But I cannot read one of these books. They're non-fiction! They don't have stories! They're going to be so gawdawful BORING!
How do you know?
Come on! Are you seeing this list? These titles sound like titles people make up when they're making fun of yoga books. There's like... seven of them with 'chakras' in the titles! CHAKRAS!
Well, then why are you here?

Of course, I know the answer before I even have time to ask the question. I'm here, I signed up for this thing because I WANT - desperately, in fact - to believe. Because my body is starting to crave the practice and my being is so obviously improved by the stillness. Because there's a yawning chasm under my ribs where my Catholicism used to be. Because I feel I'm ready to understand it, in all its soothing simplicity. Because the whole thing looks so beautiful and peaceful and I just want it, I just need it all. Because the potential is there for me to resemble the yoga, and for the yoga to resemble me.

So, I give in and pick a book. Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness, by Erich Schiffmann. I start reading it on the morning A train, and immediately feel like a terrible person for having judged it as non-fiction because it starts right away with a lively story about the author and how he came to find yoga. Which happens to be one of my favorite storylines. I then feel vindicated on the evening train, when I get to the part where he explains that this book is not a story, but a how-to - HA! Non-fiction snooze festival, just as I thought. My thoughts move back to shame with how much I like his colorful instructions, and start to churn over to panic when I realize that I can't read this on the train, because how am I going to do the meditations and the poses he describes on the subway? And when am I going to read this godforsaken thing, if not on my commute? At home? During my LIFE?

Yes, at home! In the midst of your wonderful, incredible, unbelievably amazing life!

I'm fairly certain that my italicized inner voice is going to do much better at teacher training than the rest of me. I'm also aware, by the way, that this is the point.

Anyhow, before I get too far into things, this is it - my book report. The story of my preparation for teacher training; the shirt before the shirt, if you will. Really, I just can't imagine reading a 600-page book and then remembering the details of it well enough to churn out a ten-page paper (my thesis-writing friends are finding this hilarious, I'm sure). So, I'm going to instead write down my experiences with the chapters as they unfold. If nothing else, hopefully these notes will help me to cobble together something coherent when the time comes. First up: intro to meditation.

Namaste, bitches.