Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Week 5: An Energetics Washout

A few weeks ago, I decided I wanted the focus of my final Pilot Program class to be the energetic body.  This started with me toying with the idea of having a color focus (Everyone think about the color yellow) and grew into one of the more esoteric aspects of yoga:  a chakra meditation.  Wouldn't that be fun??  My home studio is O2 Yoga, a place whose motto is "Up Dog, Down Dog, No Dogma." You don't go to O2 to talk about your feelings or release emotion from your tight hips -- you go to practice asanas or postures -- you go to achieve a physical center, not for a therapy session.  Of course, anyone who practices yoga on a regular basis will likely tell you that you have emotional or psychological experiences even if that's not what the teacher is cuing you to do, but a studio like O2 lets students explore that less tangible result on an individual basis.  That doesn't mean that we don't do our fair share of oming or engage mudras (or spiritual/energetic seals) -- we certainly do -- but students aren't forced to battle demons on their mats. Just show up, do your practice to the best of your ability, and see ya next time.  It's something I appreciate as a yoga student -- my practice is truly my own that way.

While Sarah B and I were doing our teacher training, however, we did participate in a two-hour class/workshop at O2 that focused on the energetic body -- and part of that class was the before-mentioned chakra meditation.  Chakras are believed to be the centers in the body that generate our auras.  Literally translating from Sanskrit as "wheels," these invisible beams of light project out and swirl together to make us who we are.  I really loved this class -- a standout for me in teacher training -- and thought it might work as a nice compliment to Dedication Yoga's premise of focusing each practice on a specific goal.

As soon as I made this decision, it seemed like the universe got right in my face with all kinds of chakra talk.  A dear friend of mine was about to embark on a teacher training of her own with Kripalu's JourneyDance, a chakra-centric, empowering-your-inner-goddess dance form, and the day before she set out, we were lost in conversation about energy and how it's shared and how the impact is felt.  Shortly after that, a group of friends learned about the healing power of Shamballa, whose main belief is the power of love.  And then after that I attended my first Kundalini class, a yoga practice that is 100% in line with aligning your chakras to reach a state of enlightenment.  It was a very unusual and unforgettable couple of days.

And in case you're curious, I took an online quiz once and learned I was 47% hippie.  So that means that 53% of me leaned over these conversations and experiences with a skeptical eye.  I don't live my life by any of these philosophies or ideals -- but I find them interesting and conversation-worthy.  And I was VERY excited to share the chakra concept with the Dedication Yoga community.

Then Sunday morning arrived -- and it was raining.  The sky was heavy and gray and so was my attitude.  I had so looked forward to this -- I had gushed about it to so many people -- and now it was all ruined (cue the dramatic music).  I got up anyway and cut through Prospect Hill Park on my way to class at O2 and deemed the ground a little wet but not a total swamp, so I sighed and wondered what it would be like a few hours when it was class time.  To cancel class or not to cancel class -- that became the question.  I was so incredibly bummed.

But that's the best time to get on my mat -- when I feel defeated.  Yoga brings me back to myself, it revs me up, it reminds me.  So after an incredibly stellar practice, I left O2 and felt bouncy and hopeful -- the sky was still full of clouds but perhaps lightening in color and the rain had stopped.  It was even warmer.  So I called Sarah B and said I would go to the hill and see who came.  

There were just three of us-- one student, Sarah B, and me -- but we practiced anyway under that relentlessly gray sky.  I opted to save the chakra mediation for another time when the sun was in attendance and, instead, let the two students choose their own focus.  It was actually very lovely to have such a small group and my students were both so in-sync, it was beautiful to watch and instruct them.  And when the asana part of class was over, both students asked for time to write -- something that literally warmed my heart.  And afterwards as the three of us sat and shared a meal and talked about our lives, the sun came out, even if just for a few minutes.

I guess it was a class on energetics after all.

The light in me honors the light in you --

Sarah W.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

I am, here now

This Sunday many of our "regular" students were away for the weekend and I expected a small class, but by the time my iPhone struck noon, we had more than 10 yogis expectantly waiting for the practice to begin.

I learned the "I am, here now" mantra from Sarah W. She had borrowed it from another yoga teacher and made it her own, and I liked the idea of doing the same, of bringing my own interpretation to the simple phrase. One of my biggest challenges, both teaching and practicing, is to stay present. Breaking down the huge task of living in the moment into one phrase paired with one inhale and one exhale was wonderfully manageable. As a type A, it's easy for me to get caught up not only in multitasking and dispersing my attention, but also in berating myself for doing so. It's a vicious cycle, and I wanted to take the opportunity of teaching this class to escape it, at least temporarily.

I looked out at the class, their legs crossed, their hands by their sides, and their eyes gently shut, and I felt inspired. The words "I am, here now," along with their studied focus, swept me along smoothly through the 60-minute class, and as we came to a close, heads bowed, watching the rise and fall of our own breath, I felt present too. I felt like we were all in it together. I don't often consciously think about the priority we place on our individuality, but moments of community like this remind me that it's importance to find a counter balance. 

Sarah B.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Being Present

Sarah B. taught Week 4 where the theme was being present, using the mantra "I Am/Here Now."  This is what I wrote!

- Sarah W.

Sarah said something during class today that I made a mental note to remember and then promptly forgot.  That's how brilliance works sometimes.  Subtly. Invading the bloodstream as anonymous cells that keep things moving.  I know what she said was a play on words about being in the moment.  The Dependable Now.  That's not it, though.  Someday it'll manifest itself as a thought in my head and I'll think of Sarah and smile, perhaps without fully understanding why.

Take right now.  I have Kelly Clarkson's voice in my head singing, "I forgive you, I forgive me.  Now do I start feeling again?"  What brings this song to my head?  Why these words on relentless repeat on a beautiful day on a hill overlooking the city, surrounded by the peace bestowed by yoga?  This is my moment.  This is how it's being absorbed by my bloodstream.  A murmur of conversation floats nearby and I think of earlier when Sarah and I walked around administering savasana adjustments on the group as a family of five wandered by, their conversation replaced by slack-jawed staring as they solemnly strolled by our concluding practice.  They didn't know what they were witnessing, but they knew enough to witness it without the laughter and competitive hear me hear me hear me tone of voice they'd used only moments before passing by.  Intuition plays an instrumental role in defining now, even for people who are out with an intention different than your own.  There can be solidarity in this gray space, this fleeting moment.

For me, it's a song about forgiveness.  If I went around and asked every practioner, a different answer would be given.  It adds perspective to this place.

There is a subtle influence in the way we breathe and how that breath is inevitably mingled.  There is a lesson being learned, even if we don't know what it is until later.  


Ahimsa:   (Sanskrit:  अहिंसा) is a term meaning to do no harm (literally: the avoidance of violence – himsa). The word is derived from the Sanskrit root hims – to strike; himsa is injury or harm, a-himsa is the opposite of this, i.e. non harming or nonviolence.

These are a few poems written during the ahimsa-focused class from Week 2.


When everyone else retreats
to the shade, I move to the sun,
like the heat of nature is where
I literally can shine.  This is a kindness
to myself, a way to let my solstice
come to life.  Without this choice --
light or dark -- I don't know
what I'd be.  Maybe a swirl
of hot and cold, like
the nature of it all.

Ahimsa B

You won't understand
why I'm crying
so I put on sunglasses
and fall in line.
There is no easy way
to tell this story
of self-punishment
for a crime I didn't know
I committed until someone said,
Hey, hey you, you fucked
this up.  I did, I guess, I did.
Why else would the words
be said?  My wounds
aren't exactly self-inflicted --
they're more like absent
until you rip away the scabs.
All this time, I thought it was solid
flesh but now I know it's not.
And that's probably my fault, too.
This is a kindness -- it is a wake up
call, it is a dawning of the day
as it is, as it should be, as it always
will be from this moment on.
If you could see my eyes,
you'd know the depth of this truth.

But I will keep my sunglasses on
and do my best to conceal
the aftermath of me, ripped apart,
but healing from the inside out.

Ahimsa C

There are so many variations
on this pose, so many opportunities
to shine in a new way.  Say,
did you ever take the time to say
thank you for being here today?
And when I say here, I mean
in this literal limited moment
on this pinpointed spot
just as you are, no more,
no less.  It's hard to know
when you've done enough --
being grateful for the splitting seconds
is a full time job where the deadlines
burn you out and then build you up,
the proverbial phoenix, the conduit
of momentary bliss followed
by momentary bliss on repeat.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Week 3 -- All About Balance

 I chose balance as the theme for this week's class for a number of reasons.  Most cosmetically, I'd had a series of conversations with one of our regular Dedication Yoga participants about his work towards finding balance in his own life and through that dialogue, I started to think about balance in my own life and how I worked towards achieving it.  The answer, for me, traced easily back to my yoga practice.  So it seemed like a good focus for class, both in a literal and more interpretive sense.  I asked students to think "Yellow Sun" on the inhale and "Grey Moon" on the exhale -- stark contrasts between day and night, hot and cold, vibrant and dull.  And what is in the middle to even those ends of the spectrum out?  Why, today's practice, of course.

During the writing time, I wrote this piece about why balance that I would like to share.

I chose the theme of balance for today's class because it's fundamental to a strong practice of yoga but also to a strong grounding in life.  Being able to stand in tree pose for an hour is only beneficial if I can do so on the other side as well.  Otherwise, why do it?  If there is anything I've learned from yoga, it's that achieving the same effort on both sides yields a practice that's both physically and mentally rewarding.  Catering to your "more flexible side" isn't doing anyone any favors.  You should be considering why the less flexible side is so and how you might work to bring the two sides to the same level.  And you should also feel free to read into this as metaphor.  I thought about the differences between day and night (yellow sun, grey moon) and how these extremes can equal vastly different aspects of life -- different personalities, even.  Professional versus recreational.  Sober versus intoxicated.  Calm versus rowdy.  We all house the capabilities of being these extremes.  Through the practice of yoga, I have seen a change in how I approach these external things.  It is clearer to me what is necessary and what is not and how to best spend my time.  Yoga pushes me to be In This Moment Only for a manageable length of time ("This will be a seventy-five minute intermediate class...") and then frees me to try and apply that momentum to life off my mat.  Much like yoga is the stepping stone towards mediation, it is also the reverse -- it's the guide to stabilizing what is likely a chaotic or unfocused life.  Yoga is all of these things in one.  It is what balances me most of all.

Thanks again to everyone who's come to practice with us. 

Sarah W.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Second Time Out at Prospect Hill

Sarah W. taught DY last week, and although I was nervous about attendance and how people would react to the practice, overall the pressure was off. After all, I wasn't in charge! She had to remember the sequence. She had to keep her lefts and rights straight. She had to speak clearly. I was able to participate as much or as little as I wanted to, and despite feeling a bit tentative, I wound up enjoying demonstrating and adjusting.

As this week's class approached, however, I started to tense up. My right-hand woman (Sarah W., obviously! keep up, kids) was away visiting family, so I wasn't able to cue her through the class and get feedback. I coerced two loyal friends into being guinea pigs for an abbreviated version of DY, and although nothing went grossly wrong, I left their house feeling inadequate. Yoga teachers--any experienced teachers, really--making teaching look easy. But the truth of the matter is that teaching is very different from practicing, and it's extremely difficult. It takes a lot of thought and preparation, and no matter how many times you go over the class in your head (and believe me, I put in some hours), you don't really know what a class is going to be like until you get there.

Today was a beautiful, sunny, and HOT July day. I had my doubts about how many people would actually show up. But when I got to Prospect Hill a half hour before class started, Sarah W. and two friendly yoginis were already there waiting. As it got closer to noon, more people arrived. A woman I went to college with who I hadn't seen in years surprised me by showing up, with a bright orange mat and an awesome attitude. A couple I met just last week, one of whom has trouble bending his knees, pulled up their mats and jumped right in. I don't know what the final head count was, but there were more than 10 students by noon, and they all made the experience positive.

It was a focused group, but the atmosphere was chill. People laughed and smiled. Some of them even pretended to laugh at my jokes (and they all took pity on me and ignored the fact that I had sunscreen dripping into my eyes and looked like I was crying for a good portion of the hour class).

We dedicated our practice to ahimsa, the concept of doing no harm in the world. It's a way of interacting with people and our environment, but it's also internal. You can practice ahimsa by having compassion for yourself. I think we all did that in our practice today. The students had compassion for the me as a new teacher (they didn't get frustrated when I missed a part of the sequence and backtracked), and for themselves as students (they didn't sigh or give up when they couldn't "land" a pose, something you see more frequently in yoga than you'd think).

I think the physical setting (the park), the tone of the class (instructive but not too serious), and the fact that we focus on a specific concept (the dedication) are all factors that come together to build a unique sense of community. Getting an ID card in the mail that pronounced me an official RYT didn't make me feel like I was a teacher. It really took everyone coming out today to DY and practicing with me and Sarah W. to feel like this teaching thing is real. That's an incredible feeling. I am very thankful for it, and I can't wait until next Sunday, and the Sunday after that.

Namaste, yogis.

-Sarah B

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Pilot Program, Take One!

Today, the "studio" was a hot-and-sweaty ninety-plus degrees but with a lovely breeze and a wide blue sky above -- perfect for the start of our Dedication Yoga pilot program.  We had six practioners of varying skill levels join us for the one hour practice plus twenty minutes of writing on Prospect Hill in Somerville, Mass.  For those of you who don't know, this spot offers a gorgeous view of the Boston skyline.  Sarah and I had snuck up there last week to do a trial run and I'd been pleasantly surprised by how quiet and peaceful that corner of Somerville turned out to be.  Today was no different as our students arrived with yoga mats and water bottles in hand.  Sarah and I decided to rotate teaching, so I was on deck for the first class (she'll take the reins next week).  As I taught, Sarah did some adjusting as well as demonstrating and before either of us knew it, I was cuing the group into savasana, the final resting posture.  Then everyone found a spot in the shade (or if they were crazy like me, in the sun) and got to work writing or drawing about this week's dedication, the mantra "I am/here now."  Even though I taught, I opted to write as well, finding myself writing a few poems, a genre that I love but rarely write these days.  

Here are some samples of what I wrote:

Untitled Poem 

A conversation for another day:
sparks fly off of rooftops,
nerves frayed and worn.
What could complete this cycle?
What could seal this fate?
I sit in the full stare
of the sun, shining with hard 
earned sweat, and I barely remember
the cold of winter as the welcome
breeze strolls by.  Here, I am face to face
with bees at work and I think
how pretty the weeds are, even, on this day.
I know there's a change in season
and a time for it all to be so clear,
but as I flick away the buzzing
near my ear, I don't even pretend to care
about what will come when it will come

Prospect Hill

It's a sleepy hill and an active town --
why, just down these cement steps
is a square full of bars and cars with people
in them.  Seems funny here, though,
where the only sound is a flag flapping
in the breeze and the occasional song
from a bird.  It's like they all forgot 
about this place.  But I never could.

Some prose:

I haven't written poetry for a few months now.  I'm all about fiction these days.  But the idea of "I am/here now" draws my focus to lyric verses and line breaks and well cadenced word choices.  Poetry for me is about simultaneously looking out and looking in.  It is simple and reflective.  It's creating a life that's already established, just making it arty.  Fiction writing is a labor of love -- it's starting from scratch -- it's building flesh and bone from the first dividing cell.  So when I decided to focus on fiction this year, I subsequently lost sight of poetry.  I barely write it anymore.  My creativity is already stretched so thin.  But when asking a class to think about the phrase "I am/here now," it brings my mind immediately to poetry.  It brings me into my verse.

Today was simply amazing.  Thank you to everyone who came out and who shared their practice, their art, and their time with us.  We'll see you next week.

Sarah W.