The Unbearable Lightness of MailChimp

mailchimp-buttonIs there anything more banal than work stress? There are, at any given moment, about a dozen better things to be hypervigilant about. And yet, there’s my mind, running on a constant hamster wheel of worry, a ticker tape parade of immanent disasters raining down, of balls I am about to drop, or worse, am already dropping but don’t realize it. To fall asleep composing an email and then wake up composing an email feels like the height of human absurdity, a complete divorce from the heart and soul of what it should mean to be human. Especially when you’re a mostly rational person who understands that the success or failure of said email corresponds to no matter of lasting importance. And more especially when one is self-employed, and one has no one to blame for one’s overwhelm but one’s self.

I made a decision recently that the only way beyond this stress was truly to go through it. So I decided that on one particular Monday I would sit down and essentially not get up until everything was done. Well, everything that could possibly be done in a day. I sat down in front of my computer at 7:30am, and with one break for a brisk walk in pouring rain, I didn’t get back up from it until 7pm. I realize there are those for whom that is a not-abnormal workday. My marathon days are usually spent giving massages and teaching yoga, so to spend a day exporting email lists and designing marketing materials was bizarre but not without it’s satisfactions and small victories.

Which is why it was especially heartbreaking the next morning, when I went to send a test-email of my newsletter to my own email address, and it arrived in my inbox with almost no content, just a series of barely visible ellipses that mysteriously contained the hidden content if one found them and clicked on them. Everything I had worked on for the bulk of the previous day was invisible. A wave of disappointment and failure broke over me and I burst into tears. This was the kind of wailing, hiccuping cry usually reserved for loss of a loved one. It was total nonsense, yet an utter relief. It was, in it’s keen pain, a satisfying moment, when the careening, animal terror of even the most banal human moments broke through and demanded acknowledgement.

You’ll be relieved to hear the newsletter got fixed, by one of my partners, who is much more patient than I. When it was time to send the message for real, MailChimp showed me a graphic of a sweating, shaking monkey arm about to push a button. Picture the paw above, but trembling, with blue drops of sweat rolling down. “This is it,” the text read. “Your moment of glory.” I laughed out loud. How did this program know me so well? Is this the universal human experience of newsletter sending? It would appear I am not alone in my foibles, in the incomprehensible things I waste my valuable life force on. I smiled, shook my head and hit “send.”

(If you are dying to read the fruits of my newsletter labors, click here. And for those of you interested in my classes, I announce availability there first, so sign up if you want first dibs!)

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Late For Now

“Now we begin the practice of Yoga.” – (Yoga Sutra 1.1)

I arrived at my first class in my new teaching space with 30 minutes of prep work to do and 15 minutes to do it in. The other 15 minutes had been spent at the breakfast bar in my kitchen repeatedly swiping a credit card through the reader I had just bought at Target that ultimately would never work. I would have to take my chances with manual card entry and nervous fingers. 

Body Advantage Prop Shelf

The blocks in question, shrinkwrapped for your protection.

My fresh cork blocks just delivered that day did make it out of the boxes and onto the shelves, but not out of their shrinkwrap. I forgot to erase the workout for the previous occupant of the room from the dry erase board. I ran about clearing items and cleaning and lighting candles in such a rush that by the time I slid open the pocket door to greet the first three students gathered there, I was a slightly sweaty mess. People kindly ignored that and remarked upon the coziness of the space, a sweet little room that feels like a secret vacation cabin, complete with fireplace. Somebody saw the workout outlined on the dry erase board and jokingly asked if we were doing burpees. Students good-naturedly peeled shrinkwrap off of blocks and agreed to wait until after class for me take my chances with my newly installed credit card app.

Finally, as has happened at the beginning of class hundreds (thousands?) of times over the last 11 years, students stepped onto their mats, lay down, and closed their eyes. I said a quick prayer that the skills I’d cultivated over those years and classes would still be accessible from my current location. 

Body Advantage Altar

A new space requires a new altar.

Before I said a word, I paused, and I took a breath, and I looked. And here’s what I saw: everyone was smiling. It is possible I am exaggerating, but that is exactly what it looked like. Faces were lit up in a way I hadn’t exactly experienced (or noticed?) before. Each of these people, so dear to my heart, looked simply happy to be there, and to be with me. And I felt happy to be with them, too. 

Ready or not, now had begun.

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Fresh Starts

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This Friday, Fed Ex will deliver the two largest boxes ever to my front porch. In one will be ten dark blue yoga bolsters, and in the other 20 fresh cork blocks. I am busily outfitting my new yoga space, and I’ve got a breathless sense of back to school anticipation.

You could also call it anxiety. Will people like the new place? Will they be able to find it? In what unforeseen way will I disappoint them?

For the first time in ten years, I am transitioning where I teach. During that decade, It’s All Yoga was my sacred nest – the place that nurtured my teaching and my life. Each person that walked in the door altered my chemistry for the better, and I hope I altered theirs beneficially, too. 

I’m hopping out of that nest now, trusting that, if I don’t fly, exactly, a new branch might appear partway down. I am joining a group of wellness practitioners that include yoga, massage, chiropractic and personal training, and I’m excited to be part of such a complementary and collaborative approach. 

Should you want to hang out on this branch with me, here’s the September schedule:

INTRODUCTION TO YOGA

Special two week workshop, $60

Sat, September 12th & 19th, 1:30-3:30pm

For those entirely new to yoga, or just in need of a brush up. Longer class time will allow us to dive deeper into the foundations of the poses. Students will receive handouts for home practice. 

BODY/MIND CENTERING YOGA

Tuesdays: 5:30pm 

Thursdays: 4:30pm 

Mixed level: fundamental enough for beginners, but deep and subtle enough for experienced practitioners. Offered as ongoing series that start at the beginning of each month. Next start dates:

Tues, September 8th – 4 wks, $60 – FULL! (ask re: waitlist)

Thurs, September 10th, 3 wks, $45

 

All Classes at BODY ADVANTAGE

1754 36th Street, Sacramento

ADVANCE REGISTRATION REQUIRED:

Phone: 916.290.2693

email: mad@madyoga.org

Posted in Teaching, Uncategorized | Tagged | 1 Comment

Abandoning Hope and Beginning Again

(***AUTHOR’S NOTE:*** There are three and a half years between this post and the one that follows it. I took a little break from writing. Just a heads up so you know all this is well behind me now, and I’m doing just fine. Well, depending on the day. 😉

 

Last Wednesday, while preparing to step into the bath, I took a quick glance in the mirror. Then I took a second glance. A vein that I had never noticed before had sprung up dark blue on the left side of my face, around the jaw. It threaded its way alongside the jugular towards my chest, where it spread out like rivers on a map, moving down my left breast and across my left shoulder. I looked away and looked back quite a few times, unsure of what I was seeing. I became aware of a marked tingling sensation over the area. I called my spouse, Joy, who told me she was leaving work to take me to the doctor. I cried the hopeless tears of someone who doesn’t want to go to the doctor, but understands they will probably have to go anyway. When the doctor mentioned the possibility of a blood clot, I cried again, one of those embarrassing hiccup sobs that drown out words, and made the nurse practitioner put a reassuring arm around me, while the doctor, apparently genetically unable to stop smiling, continued to talk. I had that thought, for a few moments: “Ah, this is the appointment you don’t come home from. Almost everyone has one, and this is yours.” I did come home. It was, thank goodness, not a clot. However, unfortunately, it is still not entirely clear what it is. In the meantime, it has been suggested that I move my left arm as little as possible, and not engage in contact pressure, which pretty much describes the sum total of what I do for a living. Until I see a vascular surgeon, and possibly afterwards, I am in a limbo, uncertain what I can safely do. I am a cataclysmically cranky patient. For the next few days, I curled myself into a dense ball of toxicity and frustration. My poor spouse, Joy, scrambled to care for me and cheer me up, making me meals, taking me for a sunny drive down the Delta. I stared out at the sparkling river and grew angrier and angrier. Its beauty was an affront to my self-pity, and it offended me. I pictured the unknowable space inside my left armpit, under my collarbone, dense, darkening, growing fractal, poisonous blockages that would swallow me entirely. It took me fully until Saturday morning to be willing to allow someone to tell me to knock it off.  Here’s the paragraph I turned to in Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart: “In Tibetan there’s an interesting word: ye tang che…(it) means “totally tired out.” We might say “totally fed up.” It describes an experience of complete hopelessness, of completely giving up hope. This is an important point. This is the beginning of the beginning. Without giving up hope – that there’s somewhere better to be, that there’s someone better to be – we will never relax with where we are or who we are.” Ye tang che might as well have been tattooed across my chest in blue at that moment. The first part of my suffering was this unknown condition cutting off circulation to a crucial part of me. But the second part, the more torturous part, was the wondering and hoping: when will I be able to return to work? When will I do a down dog again? Who will I be if I can no longer do those things? In one of Joy’s many valiant attempts to cheer me up, she told me to think about football players. They become profoundly, consistently injured, and they deal with it, and they move on. Mostly, they find a way to play again. Sometimes, they don’t. All of them, it would seem, have made a decision that the game is worth the risk. At a certain level, they have to give up the hope that they can remain completely uninjured while playing professional football. Their bodies, which at some point will get used up anyways, become acceptable currency for the exhilarating ride of the sport. At some point, my body will be used up, and I will have to step off the yoga mat, away from the massage table. Dear reader, I sincerely hope that day is a long ways off. My prayer today is to find a way to be grateful now for this opportunity to practice letting go. A moment in which I can let myself get totally tired out, totally fed up, and begin the beginning again.

Posted in Death and Dying, Letting Go | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

How Being Human Can Wreck Your Body

The yoga championships came to town yesterday.

I will leave the evaluation of the evolution of these competitions to the yoga historians, although I don’t have to be Georg Feuerstein or Mark Singleton to have some pretty serious doubts that they are a “longstanding tradition in India that spans thousands of years” – to quote their promotional materials. They also explain that while “the majority of points earned are for physical ability, there are points awarded to reflect the character (emotional, mental and spiritual) of the competitor as a whole.”  I wish that I could have gone just to determine how one is judged on their spiritual character, but I was at the studio teaching my Saturday morning class.

This yoga circus comes fast on the heels a recent New York Times article entitled “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” by William J. Broad. This expose on the dangers of yoga suggests that most of us would be wise to quit yoga before we succumb to a debilitating injury or a stroke.

While the subject matter was thought-provoking, I believed the tone of it was needlessly alarmist. As a yoga teacher, though, I felt a little too biased towards the benefits of the practice to comment neutrally on such a piece. Luckily for me, my students felt no such restrictions. “Did you see the New York Times article?” one asked me.  “What utter bullshit. I have no idea what they’re talking about. I don’t even know what those poses were they were supposedly doing.”

She made a good point. The illustrations accompanying the article were photographs of dancers demonstrating ill-conceived versions of shoulderstand and plow, both poses that have a high risk of injury if performed carelessly. Considering that the article essentially painted these poses as a stroke waiting to happen, it seems unconscionable that they endangered these poor dancers careers by asking them to hold the poses for the camera, and hold them so very wrongly.

I teach shoulderstand infrequently, but when I do I teach it carefully, step by step, and with I hope adequate explanation of its risks and benefits. In one such class, I had a student bent on insubordination. Any time I mentioned something I didn’t want the class to do, she seemed to choose to do just that. As we performed various stages of shoulderstand at the wall, I asked that once students were in any version of the pose, not to turn their heads to the side, but stay centered. (If you’ll notice, that is exactly what the poor, put upon NYT models are doing. Ouch.) Immediately, this woman popped up into shoulderstand, turned her head strongly, and smiled at me. I made a beeline to stand at her side and ask her to bring her head back to neutral. She just gave a little giggle. In a voice I had never before and have never since used in my teaching career, I said: “I need you to come out of this pose. NOW.”

When we step onto the yoga mat, we are truly captains of our own ship. It’s not generally a contact sport like football, where someone is going to tackle us and throw our bodies somewhere we didn’t choose to go. Our practice reflects our own habits, our predilections and prejudices, our decisions. Of course you can hurt yourself in yoga practice. It would be silly and naïve to assert otherwise. But might this be evidence not of the pitfalls of any particular physical practice, but a tendency inherent to human beings?  Any discipline can either refine and restrain our more unfortunate and reckless habits, or reinforce them in a ritualized ego stroke. Yoga is not immune.

The article takes as its primary subject the schools of yoga that are extremely physically vigorous  – the power flow and the hot yoga you are likely to find down the street at the Yoga Championships. This is a very visible aspect of the yoga population. But my instinct tells me that, just as in religion or politics, a vocal minority can often drown out a  quiet majority.

I believe yoga culture is already changing in America, with very little fanfare. People, some injured, some not, are emigrating from gym workouts and vigorous flow classes to more inclusive, less dogmatic studios. They are curious about the origins of yoga, and what it really means to their lives, mentally and emotionally as well as physically.

On the day of the championships, I taught Eagle Pose in class. I noticed as I wandered the room that many of the students had their eyes closed, and almost all of the rest had a very soft look about the eyes. I mused aloud about how surprising that seemed, since we generally refer to “Eagle Eyes” as the sharp gaze of a predator.

Responses flowed out of the students:

“Maybe the efficiency of the predator’s gaze comes more from his ability to relax within himself.”

“Maybe his prey is within, not without.”

“The eagle is wrapped within himself, he’s resting.”

“He’s roosting!”

A conversation like this doesn’t make as sensational an article as a yoga induced emergency room visit, but I believe they are happening, noticed or not, at little studios across the country. Students and teachers, one by one, deciding for themselves that the risks of practicing yoga are far outweighed by the risks of not practicing at all.

Posted in Self Study, Teaching | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Chakras – the Chocolate of Yoga

Chakras have always seemed to me the candy of yoga. In a practice that sometimes seems in danger of becoming chronically virtuous, turning my attention to the chakras always feels like it’s time for dessert.

Not to say that the study of chakras is always pleasant. The messages they offer and the meditations they encourage can be unwelcome, or address areas of our lives and bodies that we would prefer to ignore. But, rather than introducing these subjects in an abstract way, they bring them up in a way that I find easily grasped, held, played with.

Chakras are the organs of our energy body. In Hatha Yoga, it is suggested that we are composed not just of a physical (gross) body, but also an energetic (subtle) one. These two bodies are intricately connected, and influence one another, but are not the same.

The chakras are energetic centers of the subtle body that bridge this gap – where the energetic body can most clearly be “seen” to be influencing the physical, and vice versa. In most current, mainstream chakra theories, there are considered to be seven main ones, aligned along the spinal column from the tailbone to the crown of the head.

If this is where you’re starting to feel like chakras might be too hopelessly woo-woo to be of interest to you, let me tell you something else I like about them: the study of them still works even if you don’t believe in them. You can approach the study of chakras organically – accepting that there are colorful, spinning wheels of light within your energy body, and then exploring what they might mean in your life – or – you can approach the study of them logically – using them as an elegant organizational system to better understand experiences that make up a human life. Even if these are ideas pulled out of thin air, they can still function as mirrors that sharpen what you do in fact believe to be true about yourself.

For an example, let’s start at the base.The first chakra, Muladhara, or “root” is said to be located at the tailbone, or the pelvic floor. Of all the chakras, it is considered the “densest,” or most physical. It extends down into the earth, shining like a flashlight into the cellar underneath us. The parts of life that it might be said to govern are basic issues like safety, money, your right to be in the world and take up space. The areas of the physical body associated with Muladhara include the legs and feet, the very low back.

So, let’s say you have a physical issue like sciatica, what I would call a pretty classic first chakra imbalance. (If you’re continuing to wince at the woo-woo of such a statement, stay with me a moment longer…) The organic, or “from the ground up” perspective might take the inquiry to the mat. We might notice in yoga asana that our timidness or low self-esteem causes us to tuck the tailbone, curling the area of muladhara chakra underneath us in an attempt not to be noticed (the right to be here and take up space) which causes energy to get stuck here instead of flowing freely. The logical, or more “top down” perspective might instead point out that sciatica would be a natural side effect from working, say, three jobs that are hard on the body (the right to financial security).

Whether you think these are entities or simply ideas, they are still helpful jumping off points for reflections on where your life is functioning optimally, and where it’s not.

If your curiosity is piqued by these energy centers, I’m offering my fifth annual chakra workshop on Saturday, January 28th, 2-4:30. This year’s theme is “Chakra 101” – an introduction to all seven major centers of the body. We’ll do some yoga together, and explore ways, logical (meditation, journaling) and lighthearted (belly dancing, karaoke) to address and balance these areas, both on and off the mat. It will be a swirl of color and sound and movement, a real yoga lollipop. Hope to see you there!

Sign up at itsallyoga.com or email me for more information: mad@madyoga.org

Posted in Chakras, Teaching | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments