Wednesday, September 19, 2012


I tried a new yoga class yesterday.   It was mildly disastrous.  I've been practicing Ashtanga yoga off and on for 10 years. I never bought into the yoga culture 100% because, frankly, I'm not that flexible. I'm strong, but I have limited range of motion and I'll never be doing the Madonna poses. Just a fact of life and the nature of my connective tissue.  Ain't gonna happen.

I love yoga. I love the asanas or poses.  I love the feeling of sweating a lot and contorting my body in ways that I wouldn't otherwise ever know were possible for hominids.   However, for the past 6 years, I practiced alone with one teacher one specific kind of practice.  So I got used to having lots of attention and instruction directed at me.  Oh yeah, and there was no music.

So yesterday I tried this Hot Vinyasa class at a local studio.  I had to rent a mat for $3 bucks because my cat vomited all over my nice Lotus mat.  It's a nice room that I took yoga in years ago with the boys when they were less than 2 years old.  That's another story entirely.  The instructor started class with moon salutations.  I'm not sure but I think she said that, because it was a new moon, they do those instead of sun salutations.  In any case, I was not familiar with the sequence of movements in a moon salutation; a fact which was clear to her.  So she came over to me during the first song and said that I could do my sun salutes instead. She seemed cool.  Anyway, I continued through the first song and second song.  On the third song, the woman cranked up the music and wandered as far away from me (I was in the back corner) as she could possibly get and still be in the room.  She went up to the front of the dark room and started giving directions about poses in an absolutely inaudible voice, oddly, all while staring directly at me. 

I kept looking up from my mat at the other 6 people in the class and looking at the teacher for direction but I just couldn't hear her.  What happened next really surprised me.  When I made it clear to her that I couldn't hear her, she turned the music up some more and just stared at me struggling in the corner.  One of the large speakers was situated right next to my mat.  So the episode started to take on a Seinfeld/Friends/Fellini kind of vibe.  There are no large mirrors in this space from which to glean any instruction from my classmates without having to look up.  Also, it was clear the rest of the participants had been in this class practicing forever as they basically did their vinyasas (flow sequences) all at different paces.

I went into child's pose which is a universal restorative pose to regain my composure. But when I did this I was so distracted by the stinky foot smell of my rented mat that I found no comfort there.  By this time I was beginning to feel a lump forming in my throat.   I felt trapped. A bit humiliated.  When I looked at the clock on my cellphone, the instructor strode over to remind me that we have a choice--a space between stimulus and response--where we can chose not to respond.  Uh, yeah. I was looking at my watch to see how much time I would have to endure this bullsh*t in order to finish this class.  I thought to myself as I smiled weakly at her.  I am not a photo-tropic plant responding to a light source. I'm trying to form an exit strategy here so I don't cry in front of you.

I thought, if I roll this mat up, I can be home and walking in less than 15 minutes. After all, "I didn't come here for abuse, I came here for an argument" I chuckled to myself recalling the "Argument Clinic" sequence from Monty Python.

There is something in modern American yoga culture (I have found a few different places) that feels a lot like the in-crowd in high school.  Exclusivity is what it feels like. And I'm on the outer ring. Makes for a smallishness in the pit of my chest that I can scarcely convey in words.  The uniform of these flexible soldiers is LuLulemon.  

Anyway, I skated. As I was exiting, the instructor said, "awwww, thanks for trying."  I took a deep breath and said, Namaste. What I was really thinking was something more like Warrior 2 with some brass knuckles--cuz that's how I roll...n-sh*t.  But of course a smile is much more powerful and disarming.

I cried on the way home, talked it through with my sister -- who said that's why she never does group yoga classes-- and then promptly went on the nicest 50 minute walk in the fall sunshine. A great substitute.

I've been reading a lot about vulnerability.  It's the soul of having a wholehearted and connected life so I don't want to just chuck mine in the garbage when it gets wounded.  But I learned an important lesson.  A person (tiny or big) is never more vulnerable than when they are learning something new.  A teacher is the person entrusted with nurturing that budding spark.  Any false moves during that budding process can effect a person for a lifetime.  It was such a good lesson. It was one I obviously needed so that I could see the impact on my kids when I teach them something new. 

I will try again with a different instructor.   But the next time, I won't take it personally--not even for 15 minutes. It dawned on me that 1) that was not 'yoga' 2) it was mean as hell 3) and most importantly it had nothing to do with me. 

I love it when people poke fun at themselves.  Here is a great yoga video by the guy who did  It's getting real in the Whole Foods Parking Lot.  DJ Dave Wittman.  Enjoy.  The people featured in this video have a sense of themselves and yoga that I found refreshing.  Serious, but not taking themselves too seriously.

Namaste, y'all.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Conquering Heights 

I have spent a lot of time and energy the past 20 years trying to avoid pain and discomfort.  Prior to that, it had dawned on me (sometime in my late teens and early twenties) that if I were going to live a life worth breathing about, I was going to have to confront and "lean into" some uncomfortable stuff.  So when an old friend of mine invited me to the top of the World Trade Center one Sunday morning in late April of 1986, I just couldn't decline.   Let me preface the rest of this by saying I am terrified of heights.  I have a sort of mix of agoraphobia and acrophobia. I more hate the feeling of exposure and openness than of the actual height.  In fact, happily ensconced in an airplane seat, I could stare out at the world below me for hours on end.

But that fateful morning 26 and half years ago, I was a wide-eyed college junior staying on the East River in a swank pied-à-terre with some very lovely and interesting people.  The last thing I wanted to do was come back to the apartment and tell everybody what a p***y I was.

We got in the cab and off we went.  We arrived at the now infamous Gothic revival pointed metal arches and breezed in past the door men.  I don't remember getting on the elevator as much as I remember my ears popping incessantly on the very long ride up.

We arrived at the observation deck and I walked outside without pausing to think about how frightened I was.  Because, in my memory,  I was less frightened than excited to be confronting a fear.  I was actually more excited to kick my own ass about something than about being on top of the world.  Odd, but there it is.

I even went to the edge of the railing, which was actually a concentric square (can you say that?) that was maybe 15-20 feet from the actual edge.  I looked over the entirety of Manhattan and frankly half of New Jersey because it seemed like I could see forever.  It was such a crisp, clear and calm morning.  And there I was up there with the angels--scared shitless and doing it anyway.

Pride was the driving factor, for sure.  Or maybe I should say impetus.  But for some reason it wasn't the actual chutzpa that got me out there.  That was this internal dialogue that sounded something like, "hey, let's just give this a try. What could it hurt? I hear you're scared. Don't think. You can do this. Other people do this all the time. This is fun. This is what life is all about. I'm here with you. You can do this but you don't have to if it's too much, etc."

The internal dialogue was incredibly healthy.  My instincts were good at 21.

But then, shortly after this mighty triumph, the personal losses started to pile up as real life started happening.  And with loss comes the feeling that life is messy.  At 21, I erroneously thought that there was an incorruptible causal relationship between effort and outcome.  A direct unaffected relationship between "being good" and "enjoying a good life." And, you know what, it just doesn't work like that because shit happens--even when we're "good."  Not so incidentally,  the two big byproducts of my grief were anger and resentment. 

Instead of leaning into the anger and resentment, feeling them and then letting them go, I made suits out of them and wore them around like battle armor.   In so doing, I cut off not only my connections with others but also that sweet, compassionate, empathic, encouraging voice inside that coaxed me out to the edge and quietly celebrated my internal triumph with me.   That voice was the voice of vulnerability-embraced, not dominated.  But that vulnerability got mixed up with pain and that sweet voice--well she was largely silent for long stretches of the interim years.  

But I'm learning through the book Daring Greatly by Brene Brown that vulnerability is the soul of connection.  At the top of the list of connectees is ourselves. I can't give with an open heart until I receive with an open heart.  Open means vulnerable.  I might get hurt.  No need to gun-up or put on a flack jacket.   Just be with it.  I'll most likely survive.

I read recently in a book called The Biology of Belief that an organism (the scientist was talking about cellular biology) cannot simultaneously fight off multiple attackers, grow and reproduce.  There are simply not enough cellular resources to do all of those things.  If attacked, all it can do is defend.  There are obvious parallels between my own personal struggles with embracing vulnerability and our world's struggles with it.

Apparently they exist on a cellular level, as well.  That should tell us something.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Church Lady Gets her Groove On

There is a part of me that is self-righteous, indignant and extremely judgmental.   It's the same part of me that is ruled by shame--the shame of being, well, human, I guess for lack of a better descriptive.   That part of me, the darkest part of my soul, is not the largest part -- not even close.  I think I have a big heart and expansive soul full of love for most of God's creation.  But that little nasty part is powerful.  And I don't mean powerful in a good way.  I mean that bitch will tear through my life like a CAT 5 Tornado without a backward glance or the offer of a tissue.

The one thing I have practiced often in my life (and some may say have even perfected) is giving up on myself.  I have caved in on pretty much every meaningful pursuit that I've undertaken since I was about 19.  The problem with doing something repeatedly -- anything -- is that you get better at it. It gets easier.  That can be dangerous sometimes. 

Anyway, what I mean to say about that is that even at forty-shma-ma years old, I can do something different with my future.  I can learn to not give up on myself.  I just saw the coolest quote from Peter Drucker:

The best way to predict the future is to create it. 

This claiming and creating a more fulfilling future would never have been possible without first slaying a few internal dragons--the first of whom was the dastardly church lady self-righteous wench at the heart of my shame.  Her weapon of choice: Perfectionism. She uses it like Christian Grey uses floggers in his Red Room of Pain.  Funny to think of the Church Lady in the Red Room of Pain.  Not the best place for her as it would probably take her all of 17 seconds to be seduced by the dark side.  Because, let's face it, the behavior exhibited by those at the extremes of righteousness and abject impropriety are but a hair's breadth apart.  I think self-righteousness belongs under the noon-day sun.   My ex-husband used to say "Sunshine is the greatest antiseptic."  I love it.  (Even if he is an unabashed Michigan Fan) Because it's true.   Shame and perfectionism belong right there, too.

I'm going to fire up a burn barrel at noon with those three witches inside. 

I've decided to replaced self-righteousness with the phrase "It is what it is, baby."
Perfectionism will be supplanted by good enough.
Judgment out, empathy in. 

Judgment, well, that's just so damn lame and frankly rather un-Christian.   I don't know somebody's whole story.  I know that excessive drinking causes liver cancer but that's no excuse to have any judgment for an alcoholic with cancer.   I'm not inside that person's head. I don't know what compelled them to do what they did.  (And who the hell am I, anyway!?) But I do know that loving them while they're sick is better than judging them. 

Jeff says something even more profound than my first husband's nugget of wisdom:

We don't need more criticism. We need more encouragement. 

As hard as this is to admit, the most important person to start with in that whole equation is me.  But after a lifetime on my back forcing me to give up on myself repeatedly for my imperfections, it's going to be an adjustment process for the Church Lady.  So I've decided to coax her down with the promise of some salsa lessons. 
Church Lady Drools over Justin Bieber while doing the Superior Dance
Cuz the Church Lady loves to get her groove on!