Breathing through the “crazy New York life”
New York City - if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere, right? Those of us who dare to venture into the big city come willing to do whatever it takes. We work 7 jobs, with 40-hour days, neurotically attached to our iPhone/Blackberry/e-mail/etc for any “opportunity” to bend over backwards for someone else.
Over time, in theory we “succeed.” Our reward? More emails, more meetings, more responsibilities pulling us in 45 different directions. Thus we must work faster, try harder, budget better. But damn it, we’re “making it” in New York! Hooray!
This crazy New York lifestyle is all too familiar - its the security blanket we love to hate. Many of us have no idea how to exist without the constant flow of adrenaline pushing us to keep our head juuuuust above water. Lets be honest, theres always something new and shiny I’m sure I can fit into my to-do list…
A former gym-junkie, with an extreme type-A personality, I’m the first to admit that I hated yoga the first 5 times I tried it. I mean, seriously people, working out involves running, jumping, lifting, spinning, and every other action I can perform to exert every last ounce of energy I have left in my body. Sitting still is not only uncomfortable, it wastes time I could be doing something productive. I was all to happy to leave that “yoga-shit” to the hippies in California.
Given the prevalence of yoga mats being toted around the city though, it was only a matter of time before I gave it another shot. Through one of those cheap online deals, I fell into a studio that actually made sweat (and no, not because it was hot yoga). Ok, I’ll come back…but only because you promised me a yoga butt.
While I was lured into yoga with the promise of a perfect body and flat abs, my practice soon became an addiction that delivered on a much deeper level. A level that essentially saved my life.
Yoga is first and foremost a spiritual practice, based in meditation and self-exploration of your mind and body. While the asanas (physical postures), especially in western culture, do invigorate the physical body, the sequence is designed to invigorate the mind (whether or not the student is aware).
The more I practiced yoga, the better I felt. And not just in the physical “look how healthy/skinny/strong/revived” I am. I suddenly found that I was less likely to bitch out the cab that tried to run me over in the street and more willing to say yes to that potentially annoying favor. In fact, my even boss yelled at me for being “too calm”…wtf!?
Over 2000 years ago, Patanjali compiled the Yoga Sutras, a collection of “truths” that are essentially the core of the yoga ideology. Yoga Sutra 2.46 talks about how your seat (or whatever pose/asana/position you’re in) should be steady, stable, and filled with comfort/ease.
Now, if you’ve taken a yoga class, you know this sounds mildly absurd. Comfort in Utthita Hasta Padagustasana (Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose), balancing precariously on my left foot with my right foot being pulled out to the side? Ease in Utkatasana, (Chair Pose), where I’m fairly certain one more second here will rip my quadricep in half?! Absurd.
Yet the core of the yoga practice lies in the breath. Vinyasa is the pair of the movement with the breath (and the intention, but I won’t get into that right now). The beauty of yoga is that you breathe through everything you’re feeling - physically, mentally, and emotionally. The more I practiced, the more I could breathe through an uncomfortable pose and remain steady, even calm.
Plus, as opposed to everything else in my life, in yoga you want to try less. Yep, less. Tensing up and exerting more effort gets you no where - releasing and letting the tension go allows you to relax into a pose naturally and (more) easily.
Guess what? The same idea applies to life. The stronger my practice got, the more equipped I was to breathe through an uncomfortable situation OFF the mat. Annoying project? Inhale. Rude subway rider? Exhale. Overwhelming to-do list? Inhale. Coffee down my shirt? Exhale.
Now lets not get carried away: I am ridiculously far from perfect. Life is messy, people let you down, shit happens…every fucking day. But practicing yoga, I practice that pause - that extra breath that acts as a filter between me and my next panic attack.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali defines “yoga” as the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. So when you’re practicing, you’re working on calming all that mind-shit (chitta-vritti) that clutters up your focus all day.
There is no such thing as “yoga perfect,” but my daily “yoga practice” has enabled me to be more steady, stable, calm, at ease, focused, etc., despite the level of chaos my life reaches on a daily basis.
People ask me all the time why I’m such a yoga dork, specifically why I went through extensive lengths to get certified to teach. I tell them, honestly, yoga saved my type-A New Yorker ass and all I want to do is share what I’ve learned.
Bonus: now I have a killer yoga butt.
Escaping to Yoga Island!!
Lululemon sponsored an incredible event on Governor’s Island yesterday: Escape to Yoga Island. And, lets be honest, it was serious yoga dork heaven. And I looooooooved every second of it.
With the hot sun beating down, we started the day with a fabulous class with Rima Rabbath. A puddle of sweat and some seriously awkward tan lines later, I found myself blissfully reminded of how much I adore yoga under a wide open sky. Blissful.
Given that we had an hour to kill before our session with the one and only Dharma Mittra, it seemed only appropriate we start playing around, yoga style =) The beauty of having yoga dork friends is that, when you have time to kill, they’re just as happy to geek out on tricky poses. And photograph them!
Getting up early to go to bikram is hard. Getting up early to go to bikram when its also 103 degrees outside is nearly impossible. I have an incredible ability to rationalize staying in bed and, more often than not lately, that “rational side” wins out.
Now I can blame the heat, or the fact that my busy schedule is keeping me up later, but the fact of the matter is I’m creating a pattern of laziness. Once I skip one morning, its 400 times easier to skip the next day. Sigh…time to break the cycle!
Now this morning (yes, Saturday - go me!) I kicked myself out of bed and onto the subway towards the 8am class in midtown. And as class progressed, with the windows open because its literally over 100 degrees in nyc, I began to lose steam.
I’ve realized that pushing through a class is an active decision. Over and over. Because once I’ve kicked myself outta bed and dragged my sleepy butt to the studio, I then have two options:
Congratulate myself for making it to class. I’m not still in bed, I made it here, go me. With this option, as class progresses and I grow tired, my rationalizing reappears. I begin to think that perhaps I don’t have to push so hard. I mean, I’m here, that’s all that matters right? If I want to sit down for that second “camel” or I don’t want to try and see how much further I can lift myself in lotus, that’s ok. At least I’m here.
Realize that I’m only here for 90 minutes and then its over…I’m already here so why wouldn’t I want to get the most out of my practice today? This next pose is literally 30 seconds of effort…
On paper, obviously we all want to choose option 2. We come to class ready to test ourselves, learn more, and make progress. Yet, more often than not I find myself tempted by (and yes giving into) option 1.
This morning, as I felt my heart pounding into the floor during savasana, I was tempted to cut myself some slack since it was so frickin hot. And Saturday! And seriously, at least I made it to class. But I caught myself rationalizing my laziness and refused to give in. It was hard but I pushed through and finished strong. And I feel seriously amazing.
Life is a series of temptations. I’m still learning to pick the options that are good for me, rather than easy. In the end, those are the options that are exponentially more rewarding.
A change of focus
Two months ago I extended my practice into the world of Bikram. I have a lot of friends that are obsessed and, once there was a deal online, I decided to give it a shot. To be fair though, I went in with some apprehension….
A) I wasn’t sure how the heat would affect my joints - if they fall out (dislocate) in normal temperatures, wouldn’t the probability go up in 105 degrees of humid heat?
B) Honestly, I have an addictive personality. If I liked it, I could guarantee I would add it to my list of addictions, which are staaaarting to get a bit pricey.
Well…here we are. I’m still in one piece, yet completely addicted. I find that Bikram and Vinyassa complement each other so well that, if I’m lucky, I’ll start my day in a 6:45 am bikram class at Bikram Yoga NYC and finish it with a vinyassa flow class at Yoga Vida NYC after work. Think of it as a morning of intense cardio and an evening of weight lifting/toning (to put it in “normal workout terms”). Either way I view it as more of a practice than a work out anyways.
The fascinating part about Bikram is that its the same 26 postures every class. Nothing ever changes except your body. And everyday my body is different. Even though I make progress over time, the things I can do completely change from day to day. One day I’m super flexible, the next my toes seem 4,000 miles away. Either way, I think I figure out some small new thing, or new challenge, about a posture every day. I suppose thats why I never get bored.
Todays revelation came during “Standing Separated Leg Head to Knee” pose:
Not the most complex pose, yet there are little things about it that require a boatload of concentration. The goal is to a) press your forehead to your knee, b) straighten your legs, and c) stretch your arms forward so your elbows are locked and your hands are in a prayer, pinkies on the ground. As easy as a) and b) are for me, c) is trickier. My knees have some difficulties locking out completely, therefore occasionally compromising my balance. And for whatever reason, keeping my hands in prayer is significantly easier on my left side than my right.
Today, though, I actually listened when my instructor said to tuck my chin into my chest and stare at my tummy as I folded over. Previously, I would always lock my gaze on my knee as the end goal for my forehead. I changed my focus and, surprise surprise, keeping my hands together and my body in balance suddenly clicked!
Maybe there is something to this listening thing…or perhaps too often when I find myself off balance I’m focussing on the wrong thing.