Monthly Archives: September 2011

A nasal-retentive reminder

A lot of people around me have been sick lately, and I have zero interest in joining their ranks. It seems to be a cold that’s going around, so I am paying extra attention to my immune system, making sure to drink lots of water and get plenty of sleep and vitamin C as preventative measures.

And when I woke up this morning with a lump in my throat and an “uh-oh” in my thoughts, I remembered something else I can do to help my body fight off the germs that want to invade it: Neti pot!

I won’t go into the specifics right now, but I’ve done so before here and here, so if you don’t already know how to neti or why you might want to try it, I suggest checking out my old posts or doing an internet search yourself. Long story short, keeping your nasal passages clear is a quick and easy way to discourage unwelcome pathogens from friending you.

Fingers crossed my defenses hold strong!

Fancy and feather free

I don’t usually go to upscale salons to practice yoga, but that’s definitely what I did yesterday: In the course of my two-and-a-half-hour haircut, I had ample opportunity to focus on my breath, connect to my body (image), and become aware of my ego. I even stood in tadasana for part of the time, and ultimately surrendered to what is and accepted my present circumstances.

Haircuts can be traumatizing, as they tend to involve change. I recently watched a woman on What Not to Wear sob at the thought of chopping her locks, and I can relate to the apprehension. Fortunately I have confidence in who does my hair–I’m not comfortable spending a lot of money on my appearance, but thanks to a high-level training program at a fancy salon nearby, I can count on top quality, as long as I’m willing to put in the time.

Two-and-a-half hours is a long time for a haircut, but since it’s the result of perfectionist professionalism, I don’t complain. I just stay still, breathe, and trust that whatever is happening to my head is going to be all right. (Yoga, yoga, and more yoga.)

But yesterday I was caught off guard when human error jarred my placid perspective. Namely: dude ruined my feathers!

Feather extensions are still cool in NYC, and though I enjoyed the attention mine sometimes attracted, it wasn’t like I’d been trying hard to follow the trend. No, my feathers came on the cheap from an impulse buy at a Tibetan store in Boulder, and until they were taken from me, I didn’t think I cared about them.

After all, I’d worn them since June, and I felt I’d gotten my money’s worth. Summer is over, and I was over feathers, ready to let them go along with however much hair the stylist thought I could spare.

So it’s weird how happy I felt when I heard the head stylist and the training stylist discussing my new look and agreeing that the feather extensions should stay. From my seat of detached observation, I felt a thrill of the ego: Stylists at a high-end salon appreciated my low-maintenance fashion statement!

Gaining approval never gets old, apparently.

So maybe it serves me right that a few minutes later, one too many careless tugs of the comb rendered me featherless. My unexpected happiness instantly flipped to unexpected sadness and anger, and I struggled to appear calm and composed (because who freaks out over hair feathers?). But since I suck at faking feelings, I couldn’t help allowing a passive-aggressive utterance: “Oh well, I guess this is why I signed a waiver!” Heh. Heh. GRRR.

As the cut continued on (and on), I marveled at the emotions roiling inside of me. Why did I even care? We are talking about two feathers, here! Two silly, unnecessary, overhyped feathers that I’d been willing to let go of when I walked in the door, but, having revised my expectations, now felt very pained to lose.

Pain accompanies the loss of anything we are attached to, whether it be an imaginary vision of the future, the real presence of a loved one, or even the whimsical appeal of a hair accessory.

But, to quote the head stylist as he coached the training stylist on some minute detail of hair cutting technique, “the reality is, everything is connected.”

Too true! It doesn’t matter whether it’s an idea, a person, or an object–attachment is bound to happen, and the resulting pain is thus inevitable, and so the best thing I can do is to care without caring too much. To keep my attention not on the object of my affection, but on the essence of my caring, which is love.

Love what I love while it is here, and love what I lose after it’s gone. For it is love that will stay, not what I attach it to.

And anyway, I don’t need feathers to fly.

Transformation, in the space of a breath

“Transformation can be as simple as returning to the breath.”

Yesterday I received that wisdom from Cheri Huber, a monk whose work I admire and whose tweets I receive as texts because they’re designed to keep me in the present moment.

I’m not going to become a monk. And I’m often far from Zen. But I don’t ignore texts as often as I ignore other technology, so Huber’s strategy is mostly effective–even if I am annoyed by an uplifting axiom, I am still absorbing the energy of the thought, and that counts for something. Sometimes it counts for a lot.

Transforming via the breath is a concept that intrigues me; in a recent yoga class we focused on inhaling the sound/idea of “sa,” for inspiration, and exhaling the sound/idea of “hum,” for transformation. Since then I’ve played with the idea of attaching meaning to my breath, with unremarkable results. Rather than feeling inspired or transformed, for the last week or so I’ve actually felt somewhat stuck and discouraged.

But yesterday’s tweet/text has stayed with me for whatever reason, and today I noticed how, in the space of a breath, it can happen: a sudden shift of consciousness that allows negativity energy to dissolve. For me, it happened like this:

I was browsing the archives of this blog, because that’s sometimes what I do after I refer a stranger to my website–as if to assure myself that, yes, these words accurately represent me (as much as anything digital can, anyway). And when I got as far back as my first time teaching kids, I let out a sigh that became a smile, and I was transformed.

Transformed, simply by my breath. Because the sigh wasn’t one of frustration but of realization: Ahhhhhhh, yes. Of course.

“Love. Energy. That’s about it.”

I’ve been preoccupied with a desire for understanding, for wanting details and answers in light of perceived setbacks I’ve suffered. But I don’t need details or answers, I need love and energy. I need breath. Like the breath, transformation is inevitable as long as I live–and awareness will get me where I need to go.

Inhale. Exhale. We are all right.

Common yoga

Common's new book is beyond inspirational.

If you’ve been into hip-hop anytime since the 90s you have probably heard of Common, but if you haven’t, all you need to know is that he is an honorable man who has found huge success by staying true to his core values.

I recently heard him talk about life and discuss his new book, and was fortunate enough to chat with him for a minute while he signed a copy for me.

I told him I was so glad he started the Common Ground Foundation, his platform for bringing health and self-worth to youth, and mentioned that I teach yoga to inner-city kids with a similar intention. He told me to keep it up, which I will.

And then he said, “I love yoga.”

Day. Made!

Angry yoga

I’m mad, and so I’ll meditate.

I don’t particularly want to meditate, mind you, but yoga is my go-to solution because it’s the least destructive way I know of to cope with my problems.

It’s funny, how well I can pull off the Zen thing at times (see previous post) and how at others I just want to sob hysterically and throw shit at the wall.

Right now is one of those times. I’m reacting to some upsetting news, and even though ultimately it changes nothing about my life, well, that’s sort of the problem. I’m ready for my life to change! I have been working hard for months, keeping positive, staying open…so where the hell is the payoff?

Yes, I know that’s not how things work, but in these types of “why me” meltdown moments, I have to admit that the yogic, all-is-okay-so-just-chill-out-and-take-a-deep-breath approach seems like a load of crap. (YOU take a deep breath!)

Since I don’t usually write posts when I’m in a bad mood, you might get the impression I’m always calm, collected, and reflective. But, wrong. I get pissed and irritated and sometimes I feel like using my rolled-up yoga mat as a baseball bat and smashing in a few windshields.

Of course, not only is foam an ineffective way to break glass, but that behavior is hardly an appropriate way to experience my emotions.

A less violent and more socially accepted choice would be to hit the bars after work and simply drink down my distress. Don’t think I haven’t considered it.

But alcohol is a depressant and I’m already sad enough, not to mention angry, and no good has ever come of mixing alcohol and outrage.

So. Default. Yoga. I can be as grouchy as I want, and not only will I hurt no one, I might even feel better afterward.

I hope.

Not by a longshot

I’ve been pretty much prepared to get “bad” news for a few days now, because in my experience, more than a week after a final job interview, no news is not good news.

Nonetheless I’ve done my best to stay neutral, persistently telling myself that I wouldn’t really know the answer until I received it, and I’ve kept a bottle of champagne on hand as a reminder that, whatever the outcome, it would be worth celebrating.

So I was surprised but not shocked to find I received an email at 11:41 p.m. last night thanking me for my time and telling me I wasn’t getting a job offer.

When I saw the message at 7 a.m. this morning I expected to feel upset and waited for the tears to come. But they didn’t. Not then, anyway.

I’ve spent three months holding my arms open wide and willingly embracing uncertainty, and in the process have put several aspects of my life on hold. So learning something, anything, inevitably brings stability that I am grateful for.

Now I know what to do next: Send in that wedding RSVP, proceed with vacation plans, sign up for the weekend workshop I’ve had my eye on. Commit to serving my local community with yoga. All very good stuff.

However, I resisted the urge to smother my disappointment with these genuine positives. I got back into bed and lay still in savasana, holding space for any feelings of distress that wanted to surface. Before long I thought, “Oh well, it was a longshot.”

And that’s when I burst into tears.

Tears of joy and relief, in gratitude to my true self for immediately correcting my ego: It was NOT a longshot, not by far! I was and am worthy of the role I won’t be taking on, and the rejection is unrelated to my ability or value, of that much I am sure. To get as far as I did, truly, is an achievement in itself.

How great, to feel sure of my self-worth! Because back when I submitted my application, I did sort of think it was a longshot. I was confident in offering what I had to give, but secretly I suspected I wasn’t good enough. I was, though. I am. More than good enough–the feedback I’ve received throughout three months of scrutiny has made it clear that doubting my talent is not necessary.

All I need is to trust in myself, and as best I can, the universe. Which is pretty much the same thing, as far as I understand. I am not in charge. Obviously this wasn’t the job for me, or I would have gotten it. Simple enough! And I can rest easy in knowing I am cared for, and that something better awaits.

Stabilized surrender

I’ve been pleased with my recent calm–I’m waiting to hear whether I’ll be offered my dream service job, and in the meantime there is nothing to do but make the most of the present, even though I am also anxious to plan for the future.

Really, there’s nothing like not knowing where you’ll live in a month to keep you in the here and now. And I’ve been doing well, taking things one day at a time and all that. I find comfort in knowing I have put forth my best efforts, and that I no longer have control over the outcome.

Yet still, I have struggled to truly surrender. It’s hard not to want one thing or another, to fully release my will and allow the universe/god/fate/hiring managers to do their things.

Today, though, I took a yoga class that helped. I’d been to the studio once before, for a workshop on teaching beginners, just after completing my 200-hour certification. I didn’t experience a class then, but I left impressed with the quality of instruction–so impressed that I felt insecure about my own training. (Fortunately a real-time blog post helped me regain my self-confidence, and I’ve since learned a fair bit of Sanskrit.)

So when I spotted a one-month special for the studio on a group coupon website, I knew it was way worth the money. And since my current thirty-days-of-fancy-yoga-on-the-cheap is about to expire, the time was right for me to start somewhere different.

Lucky me, my teacher was the same thoroughly competent woman who led the workshop I took, and even luckier me, today was her last class before she leaves for maternity leave. Which means if I had cashed in my coupon even a day later, I would not have had the pleasure of her instruction. Instruction that, luckiest me, exactly matched my own mindset and intention of acceptance and surrender.

We started on our backs and focused on our breath, pairing inhales with the (mental) Sanskrit sound of “sa,” for inspiration, and linking exhales with the thought of “hum,” for transformation. She remarked upon summer’s shift to fall, the constancy of transition, and the futility of resisting change.

As we moved into a solid but gentle sequence of breath-based postures with frequent sa-hum reminders, I became aware of subtle sensations I don’t always feel–energy moving up and down my spine, for example–and by the time we got to the restorative period of class, I trusted the teacher’s every directive. Even when she asked us to use props.

I don’t love props. I’m not against the occasional block or strap, but in general I like to think my body is all I need for good asana. So I’d been skeptical when I arrived to find a veritable mountain of props neatly stacked for each student’s use: a large bolster pillow, a small bolster pillow, two blocks, a blanket, a strap, and an eye pillow. Seriously? What were we going to do with all that?

Learn to let go, as it turned out.

After showing us how to construct a piece of soft furniture out of a block and two bolster pillows with a blanket base, the teacher guided us into a child’s pose the likes of which I had never before experienced.

For one thing, child’s pose is already one of the most relaxed poses there is. You’re not engaging any muscles, and you’re supposed to let the earth support you entirely as you release all tension. So bolster the earth with bolster pillows, and you’ve paved the way for some serious surrender.

I was shocked by how instantly safe and protected I felt once I’d settled into position. It felt like I was curled up on my side and swaddled in a down comforter, except I was neither curled up nor swaddled in anything–just supremely supported.

As I allowed my body to cuddle into the comfort of zero effort, tears leaked from my eyes and I cherished the bewildering but welcome sense of security. And the teacher talked.

Transformation is indeed constant, she affirmed, but transition is easier when you can find the flow of life and then go with it. Finding the flow requires surrender, however, and surrender requires faith. And it is hard to have faith without stability.

I thought about her words as I listened and breathed. I haven’t felt very stable lately. My life is about to change a lot or not very much, or maybe more than I can imagine. This summer’s had its ups and downs, and right now I can’t count on my career prospects or even my living situation.

But I can depend on my breath. I can have faith in its ceaseless flow of inspiration and transformation, sa, hum. And so I can always find the internal stability I need in order to accept uncertainty and change.

The teacher later said relaxing the way we did allows our back bodies to release, better enabling our intuition to give us answers.

I’m not sure about that since the answer I’m waiting for is decidedly external, but I do know I’ve found a renewed sense of strength in surrender, and for that I am sweetly grateful.