Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Jumping back, sort of.

Tonight I did a jump back from side-crow, sort of.

I could feel that it was not pretty and somewhat half-baked, I didn't land in the right spot and my bandhas (as per usual) were nowhere to be found, but nonetheless - it happened, sort of.

'Sort of' gets chalked right up in the failure column in my book, but I guess sort of doing something is about a million times better than doing nothing at all. Maybe tomorrow sort of will turn into kind of, and then the day after that you'll be at about an almost, and at some point you're bound to hit a YES, none of which will ever happen when you've chosen not to try.

Last week Sunday, I learned a jump-back from chaturanga. Last week Tuesday, I finally lifted tentatively into a side crow, first time! On Monday, I did the side crow jump-back and fell flat on my face (straight-up fail, and I hurt my beak a little). Rapid period of growth slams to an ugly/embarrassing halt.

Better keep trying, because by Wednesday I had it, sort of.

Sort of was the span of two days' time and a bit of mental adjustment, nothing more. All fires have to start somewhere, and if sort of is the spark, then I think that can be good enough for me. I think, in that way, sort of is more than good enough.

I am grateful for my sort of tonight, as well as for this body that grounds me (and apparently is still down to learn new tricks) and my amazing teachers, who are bringing me ever closer to flying.

Also, sort of - what is that? The more times I type it, the more ridiculous it looks. Are these even words?

Sort of.
Sort of.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Stage 2: Shaking, Trembling

Bob Ballard - 2nd from the right

About a year ago, I had the distinct pleasure of happening upon a man who would become a personal idol of mine, my very own real-life hero. Dr. Robert Ballard (Bob), best known for his discovery of the Titanic and other (much more enormous but potentially less famous) contributions to the field of oceanography ('contributions' could not be a tinier word for this, really). He's essentially the man, the pioneer, the Godfather when it comes to ocean exploration - more or less everything that's currently possible in the field, he either discovered, invented or had, at the very least, a fairly strong hand in.

Anyhow, so there I was, at the 125th anniversary celebration for National Geographic (swoon-festival, don't even get me started), which centered around a guided discussion with various notable explorers in honor of the pursuit of exploration. Good ol' Bob was on the panel and I fell in love with him nearly immediately. Bob can pinpoint the start of his study of oceanography to his reading of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea when he was seven years old (or some similarly ridiculous young age). He essentially became obsessed with the idea of the infinite possibilities held beneath the surface of the oceans and has pursued ocean exploration SINCE THAT DAY. Long story short, he is now 70 years old (quick math: 63 YEARS) and has contributed obscene amounts to the field and invented so many things to help make exploration possible and founded an institute for oceanography and teaches and travels and lectures and writes and has a submarine - a submarine! The sub is named 'the Nautilus', after Captain Nemo's ship in 20,000 Leagues. And I will never forget how his eyes, his smile, his whole face lit up when he was talking about the ocean, about being an explorer, about his JOB, for pete's sake. About this incredibly noble thing he has dedicated his entire life to, and (from the looks of it) will never, ever tire of until his last breath leaves his body. This guy is, I repeat, 70 years old and just looked so hungry for more. He looked just as young and enthralled as I imagine he did that day when he was seven years old and decided that ocean exploration was going to be his life's journey, his own personal legend.

I remember coming out of my slack-jawed, glassy-eyed state of awe into a feeling of complete emptiness as I realized that there was nothing in my entire life that I had ever loved as much as Bob loves the ocean. And I honestly didn't see that there ever would be. This guy dedicated his life to being an explorer of the infinite abyss, and I work in advertising. The whole thing both inspired and completely crushed me, because that's the ultimate, right? Being able to have your life's work be the thing that scratches all your itches and fires up your very soul - this is the dream, amiright?

Well. To me it is. And to not only not have that in your life, but to not even be able to fathom what it might possibly be, was something just short of devastating.

I mean, good for him though.


Fast forward a year later, and here I am in my yoga teacher training - something, as I said, I couldn't explain why I wanted but flat-out knew, I just KNEW that I needed. We're about a month into the training now, and I've found myself entirely unable to write anything about the experience thus far. So much has gone down in the past few weeks and I just haven't been able think of anything adequate to organize it all around. It's physical, yes, but it's so much more a mental game, a complete reorganization of my brain and my synapses have not been firing correctly as a result. Plus, some of it is just too personal and some of it is a bit frustrating/negative, and that's not really an image that I like to project here (although I have well learned that image is not something meant to be concerned with).

The moral of the story is, the training has thrown me for an absolute and total loop. To the unaided eye, I've been acting like a total lunatic. I'm a complete mess, I'm emotional for no reason, I can't get my head together. I am talking in incomplete sentences and thinking in unfinished thoughts. But in a fantastic, unbelievable sort of way - I just don't know how to process it. Friends, coworkers, if you've felt like I'm on a totally different planet lately, it's because I am. Wait for me, I beg you. I've never felt so alive - I had no idea, but apparently I was starving for this expansion and the process of getting me there feels like it's killing me, burning away at me, at all the buildup surrounding who and what I thought I was.

It sounds so negative, but I mean it in such a good way.

Either way, now I'm writing you a tiny glimpse of the thing because I found it, I found my organizing principle! I found it when my incredible and gracious friend/yoga mentor (friendtor?) Be said for the fourth, fifth, sixth time? in class today - from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, we move through experiences in three stages:

First, perspiration, as heat builds in the body, 

then quivering (as a muscle will quiver/shake/tremble when you hold any strenuous position for a while), 

and then finally moving into steadiness, into stillness - that's the reward, if you can make it through the trembling without throwing in the towel. 


PS - mini lesson - if life, or your teachers in their various forms, keep repeating to you something that sounds super basic or potentially irrelevant or maybe even a bit like a weight-lifting strategy, keep listening. It'll click eventually.

This teacher training is my experience. I built up heat, perspiration, anxiety as I worked through the book report and got myself all nervous to begin. Now I am thrashing against all the internal walls I've built over the course of my life and the intensity of it all is causing me to shake, to tremble. And if I can find a way to allow this apparently necessary expansion, if I can push on and breathe through this test, I will find steadiness.

And, I know I can do it. The hard part - admitting I needed it - is already over. Now it's time to ride the tremble - maybe until June, maybe for the rest of my life - until I reach stillness, and can relax in my own reward.

I mean, COME ON. Right?! I could not have dreamed this up any better.


So back to Bob - you guessed it, yoga is my thing. I have a thing now!

I mean, I guess I don't know that. I guess it could be a phase, and I am definitely not seven years old. But one thing I know with absolutely certainty is that I saw myself in the mirror today and saw in my eyes the hunger, the joy and the complete adoration that I had once seen pour forth from a man who inspired me, and it occurred to me that I've happened upon a path that I am able to pursue for the rest of my life. I have happened upon something that I have the capacity to love with everything I have for the rest of my life. I have found a path that can BE my life, that will make me better while simultaneously improving the world around me.

I AM an explorer, and my mind is my ocean.

I'm so excited. I'm so everything. And I can't stop shaking.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

My Yoga Book Report: Coming Full-Circle

So, the end of the book. Not a whole lot left, right?


I don't know what to say about the fact that the last 20-something pages of the book took me the longest to read, if you look at it on a minutes-per-page basis. For some reason, Erich dove from the poses right back into meditation, and for some reason, I was just having none of it. Seriously, it pained me to read. I can only imagine the show I must have put on for my fellow subway-commuters (my poker face leaves much to be desired).

I think maybe I was just antsy to ditch the book and get started with training? Maybe I was a teensy bit annoyed to revisit that which I seemed to just not be able to grasp, and re-emphasize my inability to grasp it? Maybe the whole thing was just making me ever more nervous about my inadequacy as a yogi, given that training was about to begin? Because, here's all this stuff about meditation being a fundamental of yoga, and I'm really not very good at it, and aside from meditation boy am I ever not really capable of doing most of the poses correctly. And then that was it and the book was over, and good luck with your teacher training. You have read these words now but in real life you are still completely inflexible with a monkey-brain. Seriously, good luck to you.

And the 'you' I'm talking to is, of course, me.

I'm pretty sure that's it. I'm pretty sure it's that every time he describes diving further and further into meditative bliss - all this, "now that you've mastered X, move on to Y and Z while sitting perfectly in your lotus!' when I'm still fumbling with step one and my lotus looks uncannily reminiscent of kindergarten cross-legged circle-sitting - I'm picturing him sitting underneath a giant neon sign that reads I AM A YOGA TEACHER. THIS IS WHAT A YOGA TEACHER LOOKS LIKE AND YOU ARE CLEARLY NOT IT. OBVIOUSLY. WHY ARE YOU EVEN HERE. NO REALLY, WHY ARE YOU HERE.

Erich, of course, means to say nothing of the sort and I'm sure is a very kind and gracious human, but my subconscious has a bit of a flair for the dramatic, so, here we are.

Which brings me back around to the driver of all of this - why am I here?

I am here because:

  • I like yoga
  • I want to be good at something besides spreadsheets
  • I want to be good specifically at yoga
  • I would like to learn to be a bit more present in all aspects of life - for example, it would have been nice to be able to sit through the Louis CK show I'd eagerly awaited all week without fretting quite so much about how we were going to get home and whether people will want to go out for dessert afterwards (which they did, obviously)
  • Having a large outstanding financial commitment (not to mention something where I will be marked absent if I don't show) seems to be the only way to get myself to show up for something on the regular
  • Yoga seems so strikingly opposite to everything I currently believe myself to be, yet at the same time, I feel like it looks exactly like me (a.k.a. I don't know yet, just know that I want it, leave me alone)
  • I know that the unspoken 'you' in 'leave me alone' is myself, and I truly believe this business about learning to understand my instincts and my true self so that I will be able to leave myself alone and live an easier, more peaceful and better life

I mean, this is the point of the book. Yoga helps you find yourself, and once you have, that will be easier and more peaceful and better. You will be easier and more peaceful and better and everything will be better because of it. The movement facilitates the meditation and the meditation facilitates YOU. You will trust your instincts and you will feel more like yourself than you ever had the capacity to before. You will be larger than you were before (in a good way). You will like it.

That is what I want. That is why I'm here.

I'm giving this whole thing a shot, and here goes. I'm not entirely sure at what point it all starts to take root, but I am entirely sure that I am ready to begin.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

My Yoga Book Report: Skimming through the Poses

Okay, so clearly I fell off the wagon a bit with the book report posts (or any posts at all, for that matter). Clearly my training has already started and I am now way the hell behind, insomuch as a blog post is intended to be somewhat current and speaking to the now and so on. Clearly.

But, good news - I finished my book! And not only did I finish the book, but I've since read one and a half other books. Fiction, of course. The first book I read in a total of four hours over the span of a day and a half, in somewhat of choking-food-down-because-you're-half-starved fashion. Don't get me wrong, I loved the yoga book. But I miss, you know. My stories.

Anyway, I want to go back a little bit and talk about what happened in the remainder of the book, starting with the poses, which is going to be weird. Regardless of timing, it's weird in general to do a book report when using an e-book as the subject. My future offspring will not even understand what I'm trying to say here, but I'm just not used to doing book research without that tactile experience of dog-earing a physical page, scribbling on it, highlighting, flipping back and forth between passages with over-stretched fingers marking my various places, and just appreciating the weight of the book in my hands, oh-so-representative of the heft of the work that went into the writing of the thing.

Yes, I am aware that there are tools for highlighting and bookmarking within my e-book, thankyouverymuch. Yes, I used them and they worked out fine. I'm just saying, it's not the same.


Pages 170 - 520 consisted of 45 poses and sequences - lots of pictures and lots of repetition. I mean, this guy is THOROUGH and based on the photos, has some friends who potentially have no bones. No hip bones, anyway. I admit that I did a bit of skimming in this section, once I got the general gist of it. It's not that it was boring, just Very Detailed and Very Repetitive, seeing as most poses are set up in somewhat of the same way. Erich's yoga is not the flowing vinyasa yoga I'm used to - very little in the way of transitions. He has a patient and plodding method of feeling his way through each pose, adjusting it in a million different ways until everything is entirely perfect (I can't tell you how many times he says "do this perfectly" in the poses section, it's hilarious). When you do the pose perfectly, he says, everything will be effortless and fantastic and feel so great, so just do it perfectly! Why waste time doing things incorrectly when you can just do them perfectly? I am not even doing the poses as I'm reading and already I'm way too impatient to adjust my way through each mental asana until it's perfect before moving on to the next.

His brand of yoga would take hours. Ain't nobody got time for that. Love him though - good for him. He's probably, like, so enlightened.

Is enlightenment even attainable in this city?
Will I someday feel like I have time for that?

Either way, I have been trying to keep all of his instruction in mind throughout my practice, which is not entirely realistic, seeing as one purpose of the practice is to clear the mind. So me and my pockets-full of Erich-learnings are a bit fumbly and behind and out of place.

Always out of place, always. But we're getting there.