Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Year's 2012

Why make a New Year’s resolution?

Let’s be honest, we celebrate January 1st as the New Year for ultimately arbitrary reasons. It’s our obsession with time that forces us to mark calendars and plan ahead. And while time is a necessary part of our lives and we need it to make our world work, we definitely put way too much emphasis on it. We plan and we wait, we anticipate and we disappoint. Something needs to happen now or something needs to wait for something else to happen. I’ll just be happy when this one thing happens. Speed up time, slow it down. If I could just do this one thing, everything would be ok. 
A common theme throughout much of what I have read lately points to the idea of nonresistance. It seems something has been tugging me to write about it. The idea of not resisting reality, not resisting time. 
In A New Earth Eckhart Tolle talks about the legend of a King who was constantly in emotional turmoil. He was the modern day equivalent of bipolar and just couldn’t seem to get his head right. He had heard of a wise old man and brought the man to his castle, asking him what the secret to happiness was. The old man gave him a simple ring inscribed with the words “this, too, shall pass”. He told the King to stop and look at the ring before he reacted to any event. This was the key to happiness. Whether good or bad, everything is transient, so relying on any outside source for happiness is misguided. Things will change, people will move on, bank accounts will fluctuate. Can you react to the good and the bad with equal non-attachment? Can you accept where you are right now and move forward from a place of quiet contentment? 
The Tao Te Ching says:
“Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?
Do you have the patience to wait until the right action arises by itself?”
Tolle simplifies this a bit when he says you must act from a place of stillness, it does nothing to act out of anger or hurt. He says, if you are stuck in the mud you must accept that you are stuck in the mud before you can get out.  Getting worked up and angry, or even worse making the situation bigger than it is (I think we’ve all had those ‘the world is out to get me and only me!’ moments) will do nothing to help you get out and will most likely make the situation worse. 
I think most of us make New Year’s resolutions from places of shame or anger or hurt. We resolve to lose weight because we’re unhappy with our bodies, we resolve to make more money, we resolve to get a better job....whatever it may be it comes from a place of discontent.  Maybe this is why so many of us fail. This random moment in time becomes a symbol to us of a wiping away of everything that we currently dislike about our lives. We examine our situations and try to figure out what we need to make us happy. The thought process becomes “I am unhappy now, but if I just lose those 15lbs. I can be happy”. We’re doing it wrong. The end result will never make us truly happy. 
On a side note, I think there is something to be said for a collective dusting off of our lives. A resounding “let’s do it” that makes everyone feel like anything is possible. If we could capture that energy and separate it from the negative lining, I think this time of year would be incredibly invigorating and as we saw our lives increasing, there would be no February drop off, no collective giving up and slowly drudging back into old habits until another round of resolutions. We could maintain. 
So, let us resolve this year to stop resisting what is. Let us resolve to make resolutions not out of guilt or shame or self-loathing, but out of a genuine desire to live fuller. Let us resolve to recognize that our own happiness can come from nowhere but ourselves; no relationship, no food, no electronic device, no numbers in a bank account. Let us resolve to be still and listen to ourselves, to what we really want and how to get it. And let us resolve to be happy, even if it’s not what we expected. 


Monday, December 12, 2011

Teach me Tolle!

“Stay present. Stay conscious. Be the ever alert guardian of your inner space.” 
Eckhart Tolle 

The above is not easy. I think this is a fact that I have not fully acknowledged until moments ago. I suppose I thought that becoming conscious, allowing yourself to be who you truly are and being able to have love for everyone (even enemies!) would be easy once I realized the wonders of non-dualism. Ha. It seems I have missed a few things. 
First off, The ego loves to be in pain. The ego loves to be justifiably wronged because it loves so much to be right. When we are hurt by someone, we make it a bigger deal than it is because it makes us feel better to be right, to feel like the victim. We point our finger at “that asshole” because it makes them bad and us good. As my teacher, Philip Urso says “the assholes are your gurus”. We learn our biggest lessons from the assholes in our lives and generally it’s because they are representing something that we cannot forgive in ourselves. Unfortunately,  just knowing that the ego does this does not make it stop. I have caught myself in the middle of a rampage, feeling so justifiably angry over the behavior of some inconsiderate, self-absorbed asshole....right. Shit. I did it again. What’s worse is I have become aware of it (the fact that the ego was running my mind) and chose to let it continue! Why? Because it felt good to be right. Because crucifying someone else made me feel better, and thinking it through...well that would require some pain. It would require me recognizing flaws in myself and forgiving them as well as forgiving this other ill-mannered person. Sometimes it’s easier just to stay pissed. So it’s clear to me that I have actually chosen being right over being happy and at peace. Goddamnit!   
Secondly, understanding something intellectually is not the same as understanding it with your whole being. When you understand something intellectually, it’s hard to use that understanding to correct a behavior. All the reasoning in the world will still have a hard time overcoming ingrained instinct, and our instinct to follow the ego is deeply ingrained. Which brings me to the last thing I missed. 
Lastly and perhaps most important, it’s hard! During yoga training I didn’t fully grasp why my teacher referred to presence as requiring “endurance”. I mentioned that while teaching a class I felt like I was slipping in and out of presence. I would be there, fully present and before I knew it I would recognize that I wasn’t present and have to pull myself back to the room. Being the “ever alert guardian of your inner space” requires a diligence that I am currently severely lacking but trying to obtain.
Many teachers have provided guideposts to help you get present. Both Tolle and the Dalai Lama talk about focusing on your breathing. Tolle suggests being aware of your body when doing mundane tasks such as washing your hands or walking up the stairs. All of this is definitely effective and helpful when I’m remembering that I need to be present, I just wish there was something to smack me upside the head (gently) whenever I’m complaining or gossiping or just in general being a miserable person. I know we all fall prey to the ego, but it’s frustrating when you start to realize how little control you currently have over your own thoughts. 
 As someone who has been through the ringer with mental anguish (depression, anxiety/panic attacks, etc.,) learning about the ego and meditation was incredible. The idea that I could make myself better without the assistance of chemicals (either prescribed or otherwise), was life-changing, it was uplifting. It was everything I had ever hoped for but never dared to expect. In moments of peace I feel inspired by Tolle’s teachings, however when I’m stressed out at work, experiencing a not very kind person or just plain being angry about something, I lose sight of how difficult this process can really be. I get angry with myself and feel like I’ve taken numerous steps back. I sometimes forget that we have to allow ourselves to screw up and that simply by being aware of the ego, wether you can get present or not, you are actually taking huge steps in the right direction. 
The idea that we intentionally compromise our happiness like this is mind-boggling and as Tolle says, it is the true disease of our generation. Our stories are more important than being happy. We must cling to our identity. Our identity is more important than contentment. Our identity is more important than being whole. When will we learn that we are only hurting ourselves by pushing everyone else away?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Real Journey Has Begun

Hi friends, I wrote this when we finished up and just got around to posting it. I haven't been very good about this blog but hopefully now that the "real journey" has begun, I 'll be more on top of it. 

Yoga Teacher Training:

I’m not sure what I expected when I signed up for yoga teacher training. I imagine it was something along the lines of chanting and deep discussions about alignment. I expected that I would be vastly unprepared and severely lacking in significant knowledge. I had no idea how anyone could take me from uninformed yoga student to capable yoga teacher in 15 days. I’m pretty sure I remember wondering if my yoga teacher trainer (Philip Urso) had any idea of what he was getting himself into. Yet somehow, as I write this I am excited and empowered to teach. I can’t wait to get in front of a class and give them an experience. A real, invigorating experience. The 15 days in which I was immersed in teacher training with 8 amazing, yet equally bewildered people, were truly transformative and while it seems like what happened was magic, it was truly the simplest thing in the world. 
Our training started out with a discussion of the basic elements of unconditional love. What it means to truly love someone without conditions. Not a single one. I would venture to say that none of us in training had ever thought about it. Sure, we imagined our parents loved us unconditionally, we loved our families unconditionally, but as we would soon discover, this was not the case. We put subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) expectations on those we love, we hold grudges, we demand love. Philip shook our world a bit when he said “You can’t love someone unless they love you back? When you demand love you are taking their greatest gift and making it a requirement.” What a powerful way to think about the way we relate to others. How our expectations of them put them in a cage and warp our relationships. From the moment we walked into training, Philip was teaching us about love. 

Philip is a co-founder of Live Love Teach (check them out, they’re amazing). Live Love Teach has 12 principles that they use to train their teachers, the leading principle being “Teach from love”. We quickly learned the difference between a teacher teaching from love and someone teaching from fear. All that we learned boiled down to these two options-love or fear. You can choose to be in front of your class and be afraid, you can be worried that you’re not good enough, that you don’t know enough, that you’ll mess up the sequence. You can hide behind excessive alignment, esoteric spirituality and a word for word script, OR you can trust that you are good enough, you do know enough and your passion will allow you to teach something that you love. Your love for yoga and  your students will allow you (if you truly trust it) to deliver a kick-ass class. 

Sure, we learned sequence, how to adjust people, history, anatomy, alignment, the sutras etc. but within each of these lessons was the ultimate lesson of love. Perhaps the most effective exercise we did in our 15 days was Byron Katie’s 4 questions. For those of you that haven’t read her books, if you do so, she just might change your life. Without getting too in-depth as to what she’s about, Katie has an exercise that helps you to see the lies your ego tells you. She helps you to see how your ego is constantly isolating you from others, making you right and them wrong, making you feel superior or even inferior. She helps you to forgive yourself and others. The effect is immediate and enlightening. Your heart gets light, your eyes open and your breath flows a bit easier. There is possibility. The world seems a touch more lovely. I am sure if you asked anyone in my training they would say that some of the most beautiful moments they had ever witnessed happened when they saw someone forgive. The physical change, the energetic change, is truly amazing. Through this work we became closer than most people are with their best friends. We looked our fears in the face and allowed ourselves to be achingly vulnerable. The love and support that we gave each other has given us the strength to continue this vulnerability in our everyday lives. We helped each other chose love and we found understanding in even some of the darkest of places.  This is what has truly made us yoga teachers. 

The ability to sequence is an excellent skill, knowing proper alignment is incredibly important, being able to speak intelligently on the history of yoga and styles is necessary, but none of these things are effective without the ability to teach from love. In addition to teach from love, Live Love Teach has a variety of principles that come together to create a fantastic vinyasa class that is challenging and accessible. They empower their teachers to deliver energetic classes and really, if you get the first principle, they all come together. Sort of like the sutras, if you get satya and ahimsa....the rest will all fall into place. 
Teach from love. What a better way to be. Turns out teaching yoga IS yoga. Who would’ve thought?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

New York, what's going on here?

I have now been in New York for one year and it has been so difficult for me to find a Yoga school/teacher/class that matches what I have idolized in my previous teacher out of Rhode Island. My question is, was I dreaming? Have I just raised the bar so high for a yoga teacher that it is impossible for me to find what I’m looking for? It can’t be. 
I think the problem for many yoga school’s and teachers is that they don’t clearly define to what extent they are going to honor the spirituality of yoga and to what extent they will teach it as a physical practice. My previous teacher...we’ll call him “Ed”, somehow struck the perfect balance between the two. he was a student of Baptiste Power Yoga and taught 1hr to 1hr and half heated vinyasa flow classes that required immense amounts of stamina and focus. If you were attending yoga simply to get into shape, this class would do that for you. 
“Ed”, however, was also a student of “A Crash Course in Miracles”...which, I am ashamed to admit, I have yet to read. He presented it as a sort of “catch all” for all the wonderful ideas and tenets that all religions express. It was religion without all the bullshit that religions require...and all the terrible history that comes along with them. “Ed” didn’t preach, but he clearly saw the connection between this spirituality and the spirituality of yoga. He also realized that yoga is a practice that ultimately is helping us to be in the moment; when you’re standing for 10 breaths in Warrior II, sweating buckets, arms shaking, struggling to hold onto your ujjay’s hard to think about anything but exactly what is happening in that moment. “Ed” saw that and used it as an opportunity to draw parallels between these moments of distress that our bodies experience, and the moments of distress that our minds experience in everyday life. He showed us how to take our yoga practice outside of the classroom and apply it to our lives. He was not perfect, but he was capable of seeing how he and “we” could be better. 
Maybe my yoga standard is high, but I don’t think I’m looking for anything too ridiculous. I want a solid yoga practice that makes my body strong in a healthy and long lasting way and a teacher that is able to guide me to mindful living through my practice. They don’t have to be fact, I don’t think it would work if they were. I don’t want insincere spirituality, as if we all need to pretend we wish we were in India, 
and I don’t want straight up exercise....I can muscle through the gym rats if that’s what I’m looking for.

(This is not what I'm looking for. "Gym mind" as in...'5 more, c'mon , you can do it!" is not conducive to the yogic mind)

 I just thought, in a city as diverse as New York City, it wouldn’t be that hard to find a sincere, effective yoga class. I guess I’ll just keep looking...or maybe “Ed” will come to NYC? 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Yoga trials in NYC

I haven't posted here in awhile. It seems that my relationship with my writing is similar to my relationship to Yoga...on again off again. To top it off, getting into the habit of going to yoga consistently has been seriously hindered by A. finding a studio in NYC that is right for me and B. the outrageous prices of most of the Yoga studios near me. Isn't it a bit contradictory for yoga to be something that people rape your wallet and require your first born in order to practice?

I have found a few places that are relatively cheap and I think that I will devote future posts on this blog to rating the variety of studios I try until I find one that fits me just right. And hey, what do I know really, my last Yoga teacher, Phillip, turned out to be slut who ran off on his wife for one of his students...for the second time. Eesh. Someone has a case of do as I say not as I do.

Recently I've been attending Yoga Vida  and Yoga to the People in addition to doing the above mentioned's podcasts at home (hey, he may be a cheat but the man can lead a vinyasa!). Yoga Vida has some great workshops....I've attended both an inversions workshop and a "Hip Hop Yoga" workshop at their studio. The workshops were both really interesting and had a price tag of only $20. Their drop in classes are only $10 and are a vinyasa flow but they tend to be hit or miss. Some teachers seem to be really knowledgable, are great at aligning students and  have a deep understanding of how they feel about yoga, others seem to be newer teachers who are unsure of themselves. I should have some compassion because new teachers have to start somewhere, but I would rather not be spending my money on those classes.

I have yet to find a heated power yoga class that doesn't cost my life savings, but that's the next goal.  Hopefully all these rich upper east side moms will move on to some other fad so the price of yoga can go down to somewhere near affordable. So someday I can do this...maybe....but probably not.