Archive | February 2011

Transformation…this one is for the guys.

Another gorgeous day!  No really, what is it about a beautiful Sunday morning that just makes everything seem like it actually will be OK. This particular Sunday I am still floating high from doing a very successful yoga photo shoot the day before – as soon as the pictures are ready I will publish them right here on the blog.   I teach Vinyasa Yoga Sunday mornings at Equinox (Columbus Circle, Sundays 9am-shameless plug).  Sunday is a special day and morning is a special time to teach. It is the day people often use to restore, to reflect, to piece together whatever good, bad, ugly or in between that may have transpired the week before – and move forward towards a new week.  It is an honor to be part of that process.  Today’s class was all regulars.  Not a single person I had not had in class before. Imagine!  It feels rewarding to build and foster a community of like minded people who come together to transform themselves on some level, as I mentioned, whether it be to release stress from the previous week or to build energy for what may be to come…no matter, really.  The end result is the same.  Ahhh….that after-yoga bliss we all love and crave time and again.

As is often my ritual, I stand at the door as students exit, saying my hellos or goodbyes, kind of a yoga flirting if you will.  Its often a chance to get someones name, tell someone how well they did their this-or-that pose, or ask them how such-and-such a joint/injury/muscle ache is going this week.  Today I had the pleasure to speak with one of my regular male students, lets call him Tom (not real name).  Tom is active, muscular, and loves yoga.  Tom loves yoga as in he is early to class, he has his own mat, he prefers a certain spot in the room, he is dedicated and works hard.  Tom is also your typical male, in that many poses are a challenge for him.  For Tom, this is not a hindrance.  He actively works towards the flexibility he seeks, and enthusiastically approaches his practice with the intention to make progress,  unlock tight fibers, transform and transcend.  The main body of his commentary today was him telling me that previous to really committing to yoga, he resisted it.  He resisted because, well, of course, it is hard!  Not only can yoga be hard, but it is a process that benefits from consistency, and for almost all of us, sincere humility, compassion for ourselves and patience.    It is entirely true that in a vinyasa yoga yclass you may be asked to do things that seem completely and totally impossible, at which point your inner monologue might resemble this… put what where???  And breathe?  At the same time?????  now? or in my next life?

We all know deep down somewhere that the process of transformation is possible – we see it all the time in the media.  Sometimes we are witness to the sad downward spiral of a young celebrity.  Sometimes it is the feel-good story of someone down on their luck who is given another chance and paves a new path for themselves.  Sometimes we witness the transformation of an entire group, nation or culture of people.  As Tom and I talked further, he mentioned that it was his yoga practice that enabled him to excel at all the other things he loves doing .  We talked about biking, running, swimming, lifting weights.   Everything gets easier if muscles have balance and full range of motion, if the respiratory system is able to bring oxygen to working muscles that much more efficiently, if the brain can stay focused on the breath, and work through discomfort and fear while staying grounded and calm…that’s yoga!  True, that’s asana practice and there is much more to yoga than just the poses we practice in the studio.  But if that’s where we start, if through the physical practice of yoga we can build and pave a new way for us to deepen our experience of other things we already enjoy, well what could be better than that?

Humility, compassion and patience can seem like tremendous obstacles –  most likely because we have not yet taken the time to consider or expose ourselves to what awaits us in return.  On a purely practical standpoint, we receive benefits to each of the many systems of the body – respiratory, lymphatic, skeletal, muscular, nervous, endocrine and digestive.  We connect our brain to our muscles, we calm the sympathetic fight-or-flight response, we learn something new as we gain body awareness we can use towards our other athletic endeavors. That is a process that is so amazing is has no price, and no obstacle stands a chance.  As I write this post, I am thinking about all the male yoga clients I have -quite a few actually.  They are unique and different in their own way of course – how they are similar is how grateful they are and how each one of them tells me more often than not how yoga has had a positive impact on their lives.  They especially appreciate being able to recover from or progress in the various athletic pursuits they enjoy.

If you are a man reading this, think about transformation and how it is just there waiting for you.  All you have to do is be open to it. You will be happy you did.

“It is the truth we ourselves speak rather than the treatment we receive that heals us.”  (O. Hobart Mowrer  1966)

Ambivalence…

As has been my good fortune, today February 20th was another gorgeous Sunday morning in Manhattan.  As I write today’s blog, I would first like to acknowledge and thank all of you readers. There has been an overwhelming amount of positive feedback about this blog, as well as insightful comments and supportive text messages.  Thank you!  As I mentioned in my very first post, I never would have imagined I would take to blogging as I have.  At this moment, writing this blog is one major highlight of my week.   Life is so amazing-   we can stumble onto something that enriches us so much – all we have to do is be open to it,  most of the time not being fully aware of what that thing will be.  Any number of my friends can testify to the vast barren space that is my computer literacy.  Yet here I am.   Blogging.  Incredible.

I was originally going to title todays post “Commitment and Fear”.  What loaded words those are!  And as I thought about what those terms mean to me through my yoga practice, my yoga teaching and my life outside the yoga studio, I found myself looking at the space between…that is ambivalence.   Of course what I mean here is both the metaphorical state of being ambivalent, vacillating between two points, not sure which way to go or what direction to follow, as well as the more concrete feeling of just not knowing what to do.  Being stuck, and living there for a while.  What is on the two opposing ends of ambivalence is commitment on one side, and fear on the other.  Commitment implies making a decision, knowing there are good and bad aspects to everything, yet sticking with the path and consciously deciding to work through the bad parts, and relish and enhance the good parts.  My students who regularly come to 9am yoga class on Sunday morning certainly are committed.  They have decided that the good outweighs the bad, and their dedication to their practice is far more important than any inconvenience of getting up early or reigning it in a bit the night before.  I made my commitment to yoga a long time ago, when I fell head over heels in love with what it had to teach me, with the intense vulnerability I felt, and with the deepening of awareness I continue to cultivate after each time I teach, each time I practice, each time I devote myself towards being the best me I can be.

But what about the things in life where we cannot commit?  Lets stay away from the obvious relationship example – too loaded, plus we will all probably go there in our own mind anyway – and use a yogic metaphor.  Lets explore two poses:  one grounded, the other inverted.  Lets look first at downward facing dog, the pillar of any yoga practice.  Often in downward dog there is such an intense sensation of stretch and lengthening, I see students really pull away from it rather than deepen it.  What is this really telling us?  Well for one, there is an absence of the commitment to take the stretch deeper.  When you see someone fully committed to their downward dog, it is a sight to behold. Their heels stretch and reach towards the floor, simultaneously their hips are stretching and reaching towards the ceiling.  Their shoulder blades are drawn into the middle of their back, allowing space for the full rotation of the scapula and therefore full extension of the shoulder.  Everyone does not have the range in the musculature for this, which is really not so important in terms of their commitment.  Commitment isn’t something you have when everything is perfect – its what you need while you are on your way there.

Sometimes something is damaged beyond repair and commitment isn’t the issue- the issue is should you even be there in the first place – what is keeping you in a place/asana that is not open, not structurally healthy, not able to receive stretch and grow, closed off.

What is often mirroring commitment?  Fear.  Fear brings us to our inverted asana.  The group that I had today in class was phenomenal.  We did handstand today for our first inversion.  Handstand, either using a wall or not, involves really confronting fear, and yes, gathering up commitment.  If either of these elements are not in place, the experience will be ambivalence…”I want to, but I don’t.”  ” I want to, but I am afraid.”  “I want to, but I don’t know how and I am scared to try and learn.”  “I want to, but I am stuck and cant seem to get unstuck.”  What does it take to try something that we are afraid of?  What does it take to examine ambivalence and ask ourselves what is our obstacle towards progress?  Well, in yoga class it takes breath, awareness, patience and commitment.  Commitment to the process of letting go-  letting go of worries, fears, hang-ups, insecurities…things that stand in our way of making commitments to our asanas, that stop us from having that deeper experience where we do indeed meet our fear, and move past it.

One of the most wonderful things about yoga practice is that yes, ideally, we have all those elements:  breath, awareness, patience with ourselves, and commitment to the process of becoming our better selves.  But we really only have to have one of those things at any given time, and the rest will follow – if you have breath that is deep, steady and full, you gain awareness, you gain patience and perspective  and you learn to commit to that breath as you see how much it gives you in return.  There is reciprocity again, my all time favorite elusive quality to be sought after in the goings-on of life.  If you have awareness, you can bring that awareness to the obstacles you may face, or the resistance you experience when you do in fact face them.  With awareness comes patience, as we understand that life is not a race to self understanding but rather a journey that is as magnificent as it is perplexing and beautiful.  Along the way, we may feel ambivalent – should I?  I want to…but I cant, or it is going to be too hard, so I wont…OR, I don’t actually know what to do- so I wont do anything.

Ultimately, whether you dig deeper in your downward dog, fly up into your handstand, or  remain ambivalent is entirely up to you.  Fear is no match for breath, patience and awareness.  Next time ambivalence calls your name, sit with it and learn from it, then move forward.  Life  – and yoga – give you the freedom to make the choice, feel the fear but not be controlled by it and commit yourself towards all the levels of greatness that are waiting for you.

“It is the truth we ourselves speak rather than the treatment we receive that heals us.”  – O. Hobart Mowrer (1966)

 

This entry was posted on February 21, 2011. 3 Comments

Support…

Hello all!  First some admin stuff to get out of the way:  substitute teaching this week, all at various Equinox locations:

Tuesday 2/15 10am Columbus Circle

Wednesday, 2/16 1:15 pm Columbus Circle

Wednesday, 2/16 6:30pm basics, 7:30pm level 2/3 Soho

Friday, 2/18 1:15pm Columbus Circle…lots of options!

Today, Sunday February 13th, is another beautiful, clear Sunday in Manhattan.  Folks are out doing Sunday type things – shopping, carting children and/or dogs around, strolling, eating, going to church, coming back from church, and all types of other in-between things that folks do on Sundays – laundry, relax, an of course, heading to or heading from yoga class.  I was privileged enough to have another brilliant array of students in my 9am vinyasa yoga class, taught at Equinox Columbus Circle.  It is always inspiring to watch people undergo the process of transformation.  That’s really what my job is- I facilitate the process of transformation, and in that facilitation I am witness to, and participate in life’s great poetry – large or small, subtle or striking, once we become present and give ourselves attention, time and breath, we change.  Issues seem manageable, problems fade from our immediate focus, and we deepen our relationship with ourselves just a little more….All that from yoga?  How?  Today we will discuss it in the context of support, and how with the right support at the right time, anything is possible.

We all deal with the concept of support in many aspects of our lives. In the world of movement, personal training, yoga teaching and health education, the concept of support is hugely important. Support is the thing in life – personal, professional, yoga, running, dancing, anything -that can keep us from failing. It holds us up.  It is like the small voice whispering in one ear “don’t give up, you are almost there, you can get through this…I believe in you.” It feels like a hand just hovering at the small of your back, ready to catch you if you should start to fall.  With the proper support in place, we are held up, we can grow, we can explore, we can shine.  In terms of movement and personal training, there is a direct relationship between how well a muscle can perform a certain action and the amount of support it receives from the smaller muscles.  With a well functioning muscle – one that can go through its full range of motion, can contract and relax with reasonable efficiency, and can assist in everyday or sport specific tasks when we need it to, there is an entire system of supporting musculature that facilitates that action.  In yoga the same rules apply.  We have to understand where the support is coming from in order to be able to grow, explore, and shine in our asanas.

There is some basic physiology at play when we talk about supporting muscles – lets take tree pose for an example.  We are standing with our right leg straight, and our left foot pressed up against the middle of the right thigh.  Our left knee is turned out to a 45 or greater angle, and our hips are even left to right, our pelvis is neutral, and our shoulders are aligned right over our hips.  Even though our left leg is the one that is in the tree posture, it is able to do that because of the support it is receiving from the right leg.  In dance we call it the standing side – the one that does the work, that provides support, that gives stability and allows the left leg to express the beauty and calm of a well executed asana.  Were it not for a strong right leg, we would have great difficulty in this pose. Now of course all you exercise physiologists, yogis, dancers, pilates folks and assorted other movement specialists out there are thinking – wait just a minute Melinda!!! what about the trunk, the core, the visual stability, the hip stabilizers????  What about all that support?  Well, yes of course all that is functioning as well.  We can see that a well placed, well timed, well established system of support leads to our ability to first stabilize ourselves, then grow, and then shine.

Maybe when we watch others we are blinded by the shine, inspired to garner more support so we too can be a bright light in whatever we do -work, school, yoga, exercise, personal relationships, professional relationships.  Maybe we are already working towards our own brilliant shine and our support is not quite functioning as it should.  What do we do?  Breathe – go deeper and breathe more  – go a bit deeper and breathe more – go deeper still and pause – is there another source of support we can tap into?  Are we neglecting some other layer in this intricate dance of support and strength?  Or are we already shining brightly, well equipped with all the support we need?  It is question only we can answer for ourselves.  Our yoga practice is our journey to explore this notion of support and strength, seeing where we are strong, where we are weak, and where we need the hand at the small of the back to hold us up while we become that brilliant light.

This entry was posted on February 13, 2011. 1 Comment

Beautiful Day

Today is a beautiful day.  The sky is clear and sunny, and on my way this morning to teach my 9am vinyasa class at Equinox Columbus Circle I saw the throngs of runners on their way to Central Park for a morning 4 mile race.  I love to see runners because I am one, and they often inspire me and remind me of the passion and commitment that bubbles up when you make the effort – getting up early, putting on the clothes, packing some food, etc etc.  I am so grateful to my students as they too inspire me. They are up early, often in the studio before I get there, warming up, breathing into the space.  Their energy and commitment brings my fulfillment, and we have reciprocity, that elusive quality we are always seeking out in any relationship or endeavor.

Next week I will include some more concrete physiological yoga/how-does-that-work-stuff…but today’s blog is all about much more abstract adaptations of the concepts of helping, giving, receiving and learning –  how do those ideas and concepts play out in our lives…?

This morning in class I was helping a student with her headstand.  This is a particularly dedicated student, always expressive with a  positive attitude, great listening skills and insightful and thoughtful commentary.  As I finished helping her stabilize her inversion, I asked her how it felt to be upside down like that, and if it was OK.  Her reply, was yes, it felt great, and that she was able to do that because of my help.  I thought about that for a second.  It reminded me of how amazing it feels when we encounter something or someone in our lives that brings us to a place we have always wanted to go – but were somehow not able to get there on our own.  This can signify a place internally for us, like an emotional place that perhaps we have always been wary of exploring, fearful of what we may find.  This can be a “place” as in some aspect of ourselves that we didn’t even know was there – maybe creativity, imagination, ambition, intellect.  This can also mean a literal place, or event, like performing a headstand, and experiencing the freedom that comes with confronting fear and accepting whatever assistance we need to take it step by step, inch by inch, until we feel we can manage and “stabilize” without direct help.  So the question is…did I help her?  Or is it more significant that I there at the right time where she was able to accept the help, and discover for herself what was and has always been there – a sense of adventure, strength and fearlessness, curiosity,  investigation – in short, a solid headstand.

I think we all have tremendous potential for various facets of life, whether it gets expressed through the work we perform, the partnerships we create and nurture, or the impact we have on those around us.  I also believe there is a metaphor within yoga practice for discovering this potential, as our bodies become the vehicle for this journey.  Yoga can give us the permission we crave to explore, peek behind corners of tightly bound muscle and connective tissue, and see what lies underneath.  What is waiting to be discovered, led up to a headstand, and eventually sustain itself? Maybe that role of teacher is our professional life, maybe it is someone in our personal life.  If we are fortunate to have a teacher who nurtures that path of discovery, again we have reciprocity. We give and receive, finding balance between strength, practice and stillness.  We can feel satisfied knowing this is a process that never ends, and there are many more beautiful days ahead…

This entry was posted on February 6, 2011. 2 Comments