A Lesson in the Music

January 6, 2009 at 4:43 pm | Posted in inspiration, learning and growing, meditations, observations, philosophy, practice off the mat, the Universe craves balance | Leave a comment

The other day, I was driving home from a wonderful visit with a dear friend when the Universe offered up yet another gift to me.

I was listening, as is my wont, to NPR.  On this day, All Things Considered was doing a focus piece on a musician by the name of Richard Crandell.  Formerly an extremely gifted guitarist, Crandell suffers from essential tremor syndrome, which prevents him from playing his instrument with anything but a frustrating imprecision.

At one point several years ago, Crandell was asked to drive a tour bus for a group of African traditional musicians.  When he returned with the bus, he found an mbira (pronounced em-beer-ah) under one of the seats.  Sometimes called a “thumb piano,” the mbira is a sacred instrument of the Shona people of Zimbabwe.  He started goofing around with it and, to his surprise, discovered that his hands didn’t shake when he played.

I was so struck by this story, and by the beautiful feel of the music that Crandell played (both with his guitar, from before his diagnosis, and his mbira today) that I opened iTunes as soon as I got in the house and bought everything they had of his work.

I started playing Spring Steel for my yoga classes this morning.  Before we began, I told the two women who came to the session at Local U. Crandell’s story and asked them to keep in mind that, more often than not, the Universe holds a new door open as it simultaneously closes an old, comfortable one.  Even though we may resist the “loss” of something we held dear and familiar, we need to remember to stay open to the possibility of new experiences, and to recognize that it is often in those spaces where we find growth.


Peeling Garlic

November 30, 2008 at 7:10 pm | Posted in inspiration, learning and growing, meditations, observations, philosophy, practice off the mat, The Eight Limbs, the Universe craves balance | 3 Comments

I’ve been a little off my center lately.  There are a lot of reasons for that, most prominent among them being an extended discussion / disagreement I had with someone I thought I knew better than it seems I do, the fact that the terms are ending at both TCC AND Local U., and, of course, the approach of the holidays.  While I’m trying my best to keep everything in perspective, sometimes it’s harder than others to stop and recognize when one is spinning one’s wheels and focusing on stuff that, in the big picture, should probably not be given as much attention as we give it.

That being the case, I’ve been actively trying to divert my attention elsewhere.  This afternoon, for example, I found myself with three heads of garlic that needed peeling and roasting.  “Perfect!” I thought as I set out a roasting pan and dragged the trash can next to the counter for a solid half hour of mindfulness.

Thich Nhat Hanh, in his little book The Miracle of Mindfulness, talks about being present and focusing on the task at hand and about the wonder that can be found in simple acts like washing the dishes or eating a tangerine.  Being aware of what we’re doing right here, right now brings us to a level of consciousness and purpose that most of us – at least, most of the people *I* know, myself included – don’t often experience.  Speaking for myself, I find that entire days – weeks, even – can go by without my ever having been really aware of where I was or what I was doing.  I, and I imagine that a lot of us, tend to be primarily reactive; we respond to the stimuli of our lives and most often think we’re lucky if we feel like we’re just keeping up.

It takes a lot of practice to be mindful and present more often than one is reactionary, but I’m starting to get the hang of it.  While I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a master, I am starting to notice, more and more often, when an opportunity presents itself for me to stop and take stock.  While I’m waiting at a red light, for instance, I can focus on my breath and my posture.  I can really see the images outside my windshield and notice the vibration of the car’s motor and the feel of the wheel in my hands.  When I’m brushing my teeth, or walking to class, or taking a shower, I try to remember to be present – to notice everything I can about what’s happening right here, right now – and to appreciate the fact that I’m right in the middle of it.

I’ve found that, along with being very calming and centering, the practice of mindfulness also brings with it a heightened appreciation for one’s surroundings and condition.  I glory in the feel of warm water on my body in the shower.  I’m grateful for the force of my muscles and the strength of my balance as I walk from one place to another.  I can bring all my attention to the feel of papery garlic skins in my fingers, and relish the heady scent of the cloves as they undress


and, just for those few moments, I can be here and no where else, which is exactly where I’m supposed to be.

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I Did… But Then I Took it Back…

November 2, 2008 at 8:13 pm | Posted in coworkers and colleagues, learning and growing, questions and conundrums, the Universe craves balance | 1 Comment

So, I did it.  I sent in my resignation letter.  It was scary to hit the “send” button, but I did it, and I was prepared to live with the decision.

Because the place where I work can often be like a high school – where rumors pop up like so many dandelions in springtime – I decided to send a copy of my letter to my coworkers who also teach yoga.  I didn’t want them to hear that Chili had stormed into the bosses’ offices and threw things and uttered vicious swears and cried, screaming “I QUIT” at the top of her voice.  I wanted them to hear it from ME exactly the way I intended it to be heard.

I wasn’t prepared for the reaction.  Three of the five people I emailed responded that same afternoon that they were more than happy to cover my classes for me and wished that I’d reconsider my decision to quit.

I thought about it for all of five minutes, then sent another email to the bosses asking them if they’d mind very much if I retracted my resignation.  If it was okay with them that quite a lot of my upcoming classes be taught by my colleagues, then I’d like very much to keep my job.  I was surprised when the big boss emailed back that he was pleased I’d be staying on and that, as long as the members were okay with the subs, whatever arrangements we came to as a department were fine with him.

I taught my Sunday class today, and everyone there understands that they likely won’t be seeing me again until after Thanksgiving.  Mr. Chili is leaving for an extended business trip to New Mexico on Wednesday, I explained, and it’s damned near impossible to find child care on Sunday mornings.  They all said they’d miss me and look forward to my return.

I’m glad that I don’t have to quit.  While I’m not pleased with the working environment at the health club (though I do love my yoga colleagues!), I really love my classes and the people who attend them.  I’m really glad I don’t have to leave them just yet.

The Universe provides.

To Whom it May Concern

October 16, 2008 at 5:55 pm | Posted in learning and growing, observations, philosophy, questions and conundrums, the Universe craves balance | 1 Comment

I’m going to hand in my resignation at the health club tomorrow.  I’ve been thinking about letting this part of my life go for a while now, and I think it’s finally time.

I’ve been teaching at the health club for going on about 8 years now; I joined the club as a member after Beanie was born and started as an instructor about a year later.  In the course of those eight years, I’ve taught step and aqua aerobics, pre-natal fitness and weight-training, and, of course, yoga.  I’ve also made a lot of friends.

My decision to leave is one that’s been brewing for quite some time.  The idea came to me, I think, when my step class was reassigned to another instructor and was reinforced when a class that I was recruited for was also reassigned.  The instability of the environment is a big factor in my wanting to leave; the attendance at my Friday yoga class has been low over the past few months and I suspect that considerations are being made to either drop the class off the schedule or give it to another instructor.  I don’t find my supervisor to be a very stable or supportive presence in that part of my professional life, and I dislike the condescending emails that are periodically sent to the staff, scolding us for things like not parking in “designated areas” (with apologies to those who actually lived through that era, the emails feel very much like we’re being told to use the “colored” entrance).  While my work there has never been about the money, I’m not getting enough joy out of the job to make up for the fact that I’m only earning 28 dollars a week (before taxes).

My “other” life is interfering with my yoga schedule at the health club, too.  Because of professional and personal commitments (workshops, visiting relatives, Mr. Chili’s business travel), I’ve had to (and WILL have to) sub out a LOT of my classes.  That’s not going to fly with the boss for much longer, and I don’t really think it’s fair to the members, either.  I can’t give the club enough of a commitment for me to feel good about the job.  It’s best if I give my notice now.

While I’m relieved to have made the decision, I am going to be sad to go.  I really do love my classes there, especially my Sunday morning group.  We’ve laughed, we’ve grown, we’ve had a good time, and I’m going to miss a LOT of people who have practiced every week with me for the better part of a decade.

The thing is, though, that I need to balance my values against my affection for them.  I have rules in my classes, you see.  Rule number one is that you may not do anything that hurts in my class.  Challenging is good; painful is bad – unless you’re in labor, this is always true.  Rule number two is that you don’t have to look like me (or her, or him, or anyone else).  Do what you can do today and be content with that.  Rule number three is if you have a question in the middle of class, ask it in the middle of class.  Don’t worry about disrupting the energy or anything like that – I’m here to help you in any way that I can, and if that means calling me over to adjust your pose (or standing behind you to keep you from falling), then do that.  Finally, rule number four derives from the wisdom of the Ben and Jerry’s bumper sticker (which, of course, I can’t find online right now) that says “If it’s not fun, why do it?”  Yoga classes should be fun, safe, and welcoming.  Enjoy yourself.  Laugh (or cry).  Be where you are now.  It’s THIS rule that I feel I’m breaking by staying at the health club.

I’m going to compose my resignation letter and drop it by after my class tomorrow morning.  My last day at the health club will be October 31st, unless the boss finds a replacement before then (or the boss already has one lined up, which is a distinct possibility).

Moving on…

Hot Yoga

September 12, 2008 at 3:41 pm | Posted in compassion and connection, learning and growing, philosophy, the Universe craves balance | 3 Comments

And no, I don’t mean the kind of yoga practiced in a 105° room, either.

I’m talking about me, being hopping mad about the experience a friend of mine had in a yoga class.  Go on over to Ciboulette’s site and read about what happened.  Go ahead, I’ll wait; you’ll need to read it to understand what I’m so mad about, anyway…

You back?  Okay, first of all never, and I mean NEVER, stay in a class where the instructor tells you that pain is to be expected!  EVER!!  The very FIRST thing I say at the beginning of EVERY yoga class I teach is that if it hurts, don’t do it. Challenging is good, painful is bad, and unless one is in labor, this is ALWAYS true.  Please promise me, y’all, that you’ll get up, roll up your mat, and make for the door as soon as you hear an instructor tell you that you need to work through the pain.  You NEVER work through the pain unless you’re delivering a baby.  Promise me.

Look, I have nothing against Bikram yoga in principle.  The poses themselves are very similar to yoga poses taught in other traditions (not much changes in that respect – yoga poses have been pretty much the same for the last 5,000 years) and, as long as someone is well-hydrated and not prone to heat exhaustion, I think that hot yoga is fine, if you’re into that sort of thing (personally, I don’t particularly enjoy sweating/melting, so I’m not really a fan).

What I DO take issue with are teachers who teach students not to honor their bodies or their intution.  I dislike teachers who don’t offer modifications to students, who expect students to do the pose THIS WAY, DAMMIT! without any consideration for the different levels people occupy or the different ways in which people are physically built.

It may be true that, because of someone’s bone structure, they will never be able to get into a “full” expression of a pose, and no amount of focus or dedication or practice will change someone’s bone structure, folks.  If someone (like me) has a short neck between the body and the head of one’s femur, for example, one is never going to be able to do a full split; it’s not a matter of making the muscles work in certain ways, it’s a matter of the physics of bone against bone – once the head of the femur hits the hip bone, it’s not going any further no matter HOW much yoga one practices.

I really think that responsible yoga teachers would encourage their students to work within their physical edges.  I tell my students to do what they can and ONLY what they can.  They are certainly allowed to gently nudge those edges – if you don’t go a little beyond what you always do, you’ll never really improve – but they are admonished to never, ever force themselves into poses.  It’s just not worth the risk of injury.  And for the love of Goddess; if it hurts, stop.  Let’s not fail to take into consideration the fact that you may have tweaked your shoulder lifting the baby out of the tub, or that you slipped on the stairs and have a fussy ankle now.  Those bits need to be treated gently while they heal, and your instructor should be telling you that during every single class.

Finally, a good teacher is one who will encourage you to be kind to yourself.  Don’t allow yourself to be bullied or intimidated in a class – yoga, at least as I understand it, is intended to teach us how to interact with ourselves, each other, and the world around us.  We’ve got plenty of influences telling us to compete and strive and push ourselves.  What we really need are loving, counter-balancing messages of relax and accept and flow.  You should leave your yoga class feeling joyful and renewed.  If you don’t, don’t go back; keep going to classes until you find a teacher who clicks with you – you’ll know them when you find them.

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