Give thanks; get thanks.

I think we all know how good it feels to be thanked. Truly thanked. So consider this.

In yoga, we do asana to cultivate strength and movement in the body. We do this, believe it or not, consciously or otherwise, as an act of gratitude for these fleshy vessels that carry us. Sure, you may also want nice looking deltoids. And a yoga butt. Ultimately, however, acts of mindful movement are powered by a deeper knowing that these bodies deserve our attention and care. That maintenance of these bodies can’t be outsourced. That we are our own custodians.

Sometimes, unfortunately, the attention can go wonky. We haven’t upskilled and we pretend like we’re still 18. Like, for example, we turn upside down into handstands at 8:30pm with an expectation that we’ll fall into a calm sleep shortly after. Or we let our egos push your bodies into poses they can’t cash. These efforts are a misguided attempt at gratitude—something like giving your Grandma your favorite mix of dubstep and expecting that she’ll want to hoof it out to some illegal dance party with you. You gotta be thoughtful about your attention, capeeesh? You got to be considerate about your care. Good custodians know that maintenance should be both effective and appropriate.

Which is why I’m so grateful for my training in Viniyoga with Gary Kraftsow. The yoga I teach—thanks to his guidance—is less about what you think yoga should be and more about discovering what yoga will be for you. You may be ready for more pranayama. For more concentration. Or maybe there’s structural issues that can be improved. Maybe you’re tired of your patterns. This is the yoga that answers your needs. Which is a lovely gesture toward yourself—body and mind.

When you start giving yourself this kindness, you’ll start to realize how sweet it is to feel thankful for this life you have. That gratitude means understanding that what you have is plenty. And you’ll be inspired to offer what you have to others. And you’ll enjoy the feeling of gratitude from within and without.

So pay attention to your decisions. To the way you practice your yoga. And if you’re interested in developing a practice that honors your physical and emotional conditions without the demands of your ego, let me know. I’d love to help you consider a deeper path.

And thank you. Truly.

 

 

Yoga to go.

I teach yoga almost everyday. For this, I’m grateful. And fortunate.

I love the students who show up with their mats and their water. They have their special clothes and they like a certain place in the room. Sometimes, they pick themselves up and try another corner. Sometimes, they find their space taken by someone new and they have to accommodate a change they didn’t want. Ah well. Such is life. They move and find a new space to inhabit. It’s a lesson, whether they realize it at the moment or not.

Someone asked me recently what my favorite part of yoga class is. ‘That’s easy,’ I said. ‘The sangha.’

She shrugged.

‘The community of folks,’ I said. ‘All of us hanging out.’

She clarified. ‘No, no, I mean, like the sun salutes or the backbends or handstands.’

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Then it’s the breath.’ It’s true: I do love hearing everyone breathing. It’s hypnotic. And slightly euphoric.

She shrugged again and I felt like I should just stop answering her questions. I made nice and said that I like teaching all the poses and I love the hello and good-bye portion of class. (Also true. People come in a little scattered; people leave with bright eyes. It makes me melt a little to see them transit through these phases.)

The woman told me that she liked savasana.

‘Yay,’ I said. ‘Me too.’ Because sometimes I try to make nicer than nice. (Though I do love savasana. I mean, come on. I’m not totally crazy!)

As I thought about this interaction later, I wondered if I’d been unnecessarily obtuse. I thought that maybe I should have just picked a pose or two. It’s not like I don’t know that asana classes are comprised of a sequence of poses. I spend a lot of time putting these sequences together for my students, and I always hope I do a good job. When I teach, I enjoy almost all of the asana I include. When there’s a pose I don’t like to teach, I intentionally teach it again and again. When there’s a pose I’m not enjoying, I try to find ways to do it with pleasure. So, surely, I could have just told this woman that I like all the parts of a yoga class for different reasons.

Then again, I told her the truth. My favorite part of a yoga asana class IS the community. It inspires me to refine my personal practice, to think compassionately about the limitations of my body and other bodies, and to share my happiness with others.

All of which, in my mind, contributes to the greater purpose of a yoga class: to make yoga a to-go affair. It should be prepared and packaged up special order to each and every person interested in living a good life. It should be seasoned to taste and delicious to the practitioner’s unique experiential taste buds.

Which is a big ask out of a 75-minute class, one or two times a week.

Which is why a few private yoga sessions can be a nice supplement to a developing practice. Yoga, essentially, is a science intended to help us develop the wisdom to pursue lives appropriate to our natures. It may start in the studio but it doesn’t have to stay there. Yoga can come and go from the studio. It can develop anywhere, really. On the beach. In your room. On the lawn. Even distractions don’t really detract from a yoga practice if you decide to accept their place in this world without letting them interfere in yours. (That’s harder when it’s a kid or a spouse with a demand, but communication helps this kind of conundrum. As in, ‘Not just now, thanks. In a moment.’) (Okay, MAYBE the kid will get it. The spouse? That depends on the training you’ve done with each other.)

So here’s an exercise for you. A real life yoga exercise. Try it at home. Or anywhere.

Every morning for one week, set aside five minutes—that’s nothing, really—to do the following:

  1. Stand with very good posture and find your breath. Pay attention to it as you inhale and exhale. Feel the details of your ribcage moving, your spine moving, your deepening breath, your increasing height as your breath deepens. Do this for 10 breaths.
  2. With a slow inhale, reach your hands over head. With a slow exhale, take your hands to your sides. Do this 5 times. Try to come up on your toes as you inhale! Notice if it feels different to breath while moving your arms compared to breathing without moving your arms. (Just notice!)
  3. From your standing position, inhale slowly to bring your hands over head. Clasp your hands and bend toward the right on an exhale. Inhale back to center then bend to your left on an exhale. Do this two times on each side. Feel the long lines of the left and right sides of your body. Notice whether the sides of your body feel different from each other.
  4. From your standing position, place your hands on your hips and, with a slow exhale, fold forward. With an inhale, come back to standing. Notice the strength you have to use in your legs and tummy. Try to keep your shoulders away from your ears. See whether it’s easier or harder to inhale or exhale in this movement.
  5. In your standing position, close your eyes and notice how you feel after just this little bit of breath and movement. Feel the structure of your body—the stability of your bones, the sensation of muscles that have stretched and moved, the circulation of your blood. Feel the way your energy moves in your body. Notice the light behind your eyelids. Consider your breath again. Then open your eyes.

At the end, smile. Go get a glass of water and tell someone you love them. Why not? That’s the best way to learn that our very highest purpose is to create and share love with others. The movement and the breath are just the tools we use to do this without too much interference from negative stuff. (Of course, yoga offers other tools as well. Meditation is one that’s particularly nice. But more on that later.)

Finally, let me know how it goes, hey? And if you want some guidance, ring me up. I’m happy to help. Seriously, it’s what I love to do.

And remember! You can always find me at Eight Elements West in La Jolla.

 

A man in his element?

I wonder if this has ever happened?

A man walks into a yoga studio and unrolls his mat. The yoga teacher welcomes him and asks, ‘why are you here?’ The man says, ‘I wanna study the contours of my existence.’ The yoga teacher faints, revives and lets the man lead the class. He doesn’t have a playlist but all the students are moved. Somewhere, someone weeps.

I ask because I just read a Yoga Trail article that advises yoga teachers– especially women– to mind our yoga talk when men come in the room. As in, cool it with the convo about ancient wisdom and hooha because guys just want a workout. As in, dudes aren’t reflective beasts so let them scratch themselves. As in, grunt roar burp. (To be fair, the writer lists a few common restrictions in the male body that can present a challenge in asana. But yoga, remember, is not all physical.)

Which brings me back to this: Poor men. It’s a sad stereotype they’re expected to abide. And, I think, an incorrect one. I’m not sure I can lead a charge to free them of it, but I’d like to provide three examples of perfectly manly men who manage to tolerate– read: teach me a thing or two about– introspection.

Example One: This morning, I taught A Restorative Yoga Class at PB Yoga & Healing Arts.
(FYI: You can find me there every Sunday at 9am, or every Wednesday at 6pm, or every Tuesday and Thursday at 8:45am, or, starting August 3, every day in my massage room! Oh, that’s big news that will be trumpeted later.) A new student (to me, anyway), male, entered the studio and asked, ‘So what’re we doing this morning?’

‘Did you really just stumble into my restorative class?’ I asked.

‘I don’t like to have any expectations,’ he said. ‘Where do I sit?’

Let’s all consider, for a second, just how awesome that preference is. It’s a perfectly good representation of how our circumstances are mostly irrelevant. They arise; they pass. They transit and leave us behind. This guy knew he was going to yoga. Beyond that, he was free. He was the constant. He claimed his space with himself. He settled into a lazy boy of blankets and let go a few groans. He never once complained that he would have preferred to bench press the bolsters. He even stuck around to chat and admire the rain.

Example Dos: Two of my current teachers– Gary Kraftsow and Juris Zinbergs— are guys. Developed of an XY chromosome and yet, somehow, compelled to inspire me to re-examine my relationship with yoga philosophy. From them, I understood that this was where my body wanted to be. That I was ready to practice yoga in a new way so that I can better know myself. Also, so I can join the discussion. Four of my former teachers are also men. In fact, I can’t even say that they’re former teachers as any of them, except the dead one, would likely take my call and blow my mind with something that is not at all about crunching abs but crunching old patterns of thought.

Example Three: This one is not so much an example as a statement of fact. Every man is capable and competent in perceiving his own thought, emotion, condition and mortality because every man is human. While a certain feminist spirit kindles in me that women have claimed a few modern soapboxes to remind their communities to occasionally peer within– just, I might add, as some revered yogini were known to do in the wayback– it’s still the case that the past few millenia of history have been largely recorded and contemplated by men. They are certainly capable of managing a moment of insight in a yoga studio.

So, yay men, I suppose, and yay to women as well. Seriously. Whoever you are and however you identify, there’s great intelligence available for you if you start listening in. It’s one of the burdens and blessings of being alive.

And that, to man or woman, can be a frightening proposition.