New Year, New Blog

January 1, 2010

Hi friends,

I won’t be blogging here anymore. I have moved all of my content and will now be posting at On the Mats. Please come over and visit!

I did something to my body yesterday in yoga class. Something, something.. no idea what exactly.

I have these days where I do a lot in a day. Many times I teach two classes, I will practice a yoga class, and even train once (or even twice) with my budo teacher. I consider it amazing that I am fit, well and capable enough to do that much. Some see it as crazy, insane, even nutty. You’ve done what today? For me, it just is the practice. The practice of teaching, the practice of practice, the practice of training. I differentiate between practice (yoga) and training (budo) simply for clarity’s sake. Ultimately, it is all practice. Practice practice practice.

I’m a firm believer in do. Do what you can do. What you cannot do, you strive for. But what happens when you cannot do because your body says no? The most obvious answer is that we stop, rest, recuperate and come back slowly.

I’m not good at resting. I’m not good at stopping. I’m not good at slowing down.

As I sit here typing, thinking of my day with no yoga, no budo, no exercise or practice other than putting away laundry and tidying up the house, I feel like I have not done today. I have not pushed myself. Or have I? Is the inability to do, and the requirement to not do, my practice? In theory this should also work in the reverse, right?

I’m trying to see it that way.

Having pain in my body, of any sort, is not overly alarming to me. I know the difference, quite well, between injurious (bad) pain and irritation and sensation from hard work. I know when my back aches whether it’s going to hurt for a day or two or a month. I’ve experience both ends.

I’m not afraid of whatever thing has happened in my body. I’m not really worried that I’ll be immobilized or in pain for an extended time. No, I’ll get a massage tomorrow, take a very gentle class, use the steam room, take hot baths, and continue on with my life.

The anxiety for me lies in the desire to keep pushing. I want to train hard, practice hard, and push forward. But I cannot do that. I have to back off. I have to exercise enough humility to know enough is enough. Maybe for a day, maybe for a week.

That’s my practice for now – to not do.

Taking the fall…

December 5, 2009

This is a blog about budo, not yoga..

I stand five feet and seven inches above the surface of the earth. I’m not that tall by most standards. Average height. The ground is not so far away. Or so I thought.

My mind is consumed lately with the idea of falling. I am learning to fall, slowly, with my sensei. I am learning that the most important thing is to put my chin on my chest. I am learning that you can either control how or when you fall – but never both. I am learning that falling is not so scary. I am also learning that falling can take your breath away. I am learning that falling is an art as much as the intricate kata that I am studying.

When I began my budo training nearly eight months ago, I knew that I would learn to fall eventually. I studied with my teacher, sort of rejoicing that we spent almost five solid months learning other things besides Newton’s 3rd Law. But I knew it was coming. My friend joked with me that everything would change and my perception of the art would be altered when I started facing my body going down to the ground. He was right.

Falling is a different world.

I tell my yoga students that one of our most primal human fears is falling over backwards. We spend a great deal of our time controlling our falling. Walking, afterall, is just graceful, controlled falling. We see kids fall, see babies fall, see leaves fall. And we all avoid it.

Several weeks ago sensei pulled out the mat and said now we fall. I was anxious, but trusted that, like everything else he had taught me, this too would be paced and I would learn it gradually. I have learned a few falls. First, a backward fall. Then the forward rolling, and most recently a side fall. I’m still finding my way with all of these different falls.

I watch my teacher toss himself over on the mat so beautifully. It’s wonderfully graceful and he always comes out so nicely. I remember the first time I saw him take the otoshi (forward roll). I thought surely he did not expect me to do that. Oh, right, he does. Of course. We started with the backfall, which is still our mainstay. For some reason in practice, the backfall does not spook me. But in application when I am actually being thrown, I often grab desperately for my teacher’s keikogi, his wrist, his back, anything I can find. I curl up like a cat. Oh god, the ground, where is it?? My mind screams, and down I go. I am getting better at these and have even enjoyed them a bit recently. But you really cannot explain or understand this until it’s your body going down, carrying that veritable wrecking ball of your teacher’s body drop. You really have no idea what your body and mind will do. Hopefully, with good training, you’ll tuck your chin and go down, keeping the arms extended in front. You might even get a good slap. But all the while, even with proper execution, the monkey brain can be screaming NO NO NO!!! Or at least, that’s what they tell me.

I’ve experienced good and bad falls. Thankfully, none have been injurious. I’ve come away with a sore neck and some sore shoulders. But overall, the falls aren’t that bad. Recently my teacher threw me on a fall I’ve been bailing out of so fast I had no time to even try to bail out. There’s learning all around.

I’m learning to face some of my fears. Falling is giving me the courage to throw my uke with authority, execute the technique with a little confidence, and even face the unknown.

I know in my head how far I am from the ground (or mat). I know how to fall, from a technical standpoint. I know how to move and what to do. The next step is to get my mind to stop working, stop analyzing, and just take the fall.

Do not try, just do.

December 2, 2009

After teacher training, this should be a piece of cake.

Friends, I am back to boldly proclaim that I am doing a 101 day Bikram Yoga Challenge beginning January 1, 2010.  It’s simple, 101 classes in 101 days.  You know the drill.  Funny enough, I did 102 classes in my nine weeks (63 days) at teacher training.  This should feel like a vacation, right?

I’m gearing up for 2010.  It’s going to be the best year EVER.  I’ve been setting goals, making plans, and this challenge just makes it even sweeter.  Or is it sweatier?

Here is the blog that inspired me.

I’ve got 30 days to prepare for it.  The challenge begins January 1st and ends April 11th 2010. Who’s with me?

Spiritual or not?

November 26, 2009

Bikram yogis like to think of themselves as the workers, the pushers, the knee-lockers.  We are the ones who sweat and sweat and sweat.  We endure the heat, push our bodies to bend, and breathe in spite of our pounding hearts.  We are rarely (if ever) seen as “Spiritual Yogis” and rarely do we label ourselves as such.  Bikram himself says, “you are not ready for that kind of yoga.  First you must discipline the body and mind, only then can you reach the spirit.”

This morning as I was practicing my yoga, on a holiday, sweating and bending, struggling through my little pains and my big pains – I thought about this.  How can this not be spiritual?  There is no other single activity I have devoted more of my time to on this earth than Bikram Yoga.  I have practiced longer than I have been married or been a mother.  Perhaps the only other activity that would come close is my own personal spiritual observances:  prayer, reading, meditating.  But in the recent months and years, as my life has shifted over to what it is now, the Spiritual Karen and the Yogini Karen are becoming harder to distinguish between daily.

I recently passed my one year anniversary of teaching.  When I asked the boss lady how many classes I had taught in my first year she gave me a number that stunned me.  425.  Four hundred and twenty five classes since I returned from Teacher Training.  That’s a lot of hours of teaching.  And not teaching alone, but in addition, I practiced another 242 classes in that year.  That’s a lot of time, or dare I say, devotion?? Funny enough, that’s just at one thousand hours in the hot room in a single year, forty one solid days.

So, is it devotion?  Is all this time a spiritual thing?  Or, am I just addicted?  To be fair, it could be both.  I have benefited more from this practice health-wise than any other thing I’ve done.  It’s helped me in immeasurable ways to be stronger, healthier, happier and more positive.  But it has also served to center me, give me courage, teach me about my limits and help me through incredible emotional battles.  There are days when I need to be on the mat, simply because it is my sanity.  I crave it, I need it, I have to have it.

I do believe you can find spirituality through the physical practice of yoga.  I believe one can find God in the struggle of the hot room just as easily as they can find God in a temple or on top of a mountain.  Our bodies are not only connected to our spirits, but they are infused with our spirit.  Move your body and the heart moves, the spirit wakes up and the search begins.  The courage it takes to hold on in a posture can connect you deeply to the courage required to deal with the junk that plagues our lives.

What I am left with are three basic things.  Practice.  Discipline.  Commitment.  If you break them down individually, they are all virtuous qualities.  But ultimately one leads to the other, which leads to the third.  Without the practice, the discipline fades, without the commitment, the discipline is empty.  And on it goes.  It becomes a circle.

I have learned a few Yoga Mudras, different devotional chants.  I even have a tattoo of the Om symbol on my wrist.  I believe in the power of the spiritual devotion required to maintain a demanding physical yoga practice.  I believe that God can be found in the hot little orange room, and that ultimately the spirit can be fed through the intense refinement of Bikram Yoga.  I believe that sweating can be as purifying as praying (at times) and that each has a distinct place.  I also believe that everyone must find their way to their own “mat” in life.  Spirituality is deeply personal, as it should be.

I truly believe that this yoga practice really is spiritual.  The ninety minutes, while purely physical effort to the naked eye, is as spiritual for me as anything can be.  Many come to the hot room to heal their knees, fix their sore backs or lose a little weight.  Many also come with depression, anger and hurts from their lives, just as I did.  And they come to find that it is the process of healing their knees, fixing their backs and trimming their waistlines that brings them out of the haze of their personal pain.

There are no clear defining lines in any form of yoga that tell us where the physical ends and the spiritual begins.  Maybe that’s the beauty of it.  All I really know for sure is that journey is worth it.

Not-so-obligatory post.

November 13, 2009

I’m here.  Yet, maybe not.

Hi my name is Karen and I do Bikram Yoga.  I also teach Bikram Yoga.  Basically I live, eat, sleep, shower and dream Bikram Yoga.

I haven’t been bloggin’.  Sure you’ve noticed, right?  Haven’t you?  I haven’t been writing.  But I’ve been practicing, and I for sure have been teaching.  I’ve also been doing Aikibudo, but that’s for later on.  Let’s get back to the practicing.

Yes, practice.  Sri Pattabhi Jois says, practice and all is coming. I am no great interpreter of words, but I think he’s basically saying what Bikram always says, get your shit together and just do the posture.  Do the yoga, do the class, just do..  it.  Practice, practice, practice.

Is it really that easy?  Is it really as easy as showing up, unrolling the mat, and then doing..  it??  Yes, it is.  It’s just that easy.  Yo-ga is easy.  Asana, Pranayama..  it’s easy, right?  Maybe.  Some days it certainly feels easy.  Some days I’d rather stay in bed with a TV remote and a cup of hot chocolate.  Some yogini I am, right?

I find myself reflective this week.  Our studio just finished hosting a huge event, including the state yoga championships.  I was, well, involved with that.  I’ve had several amazing friends in town recently.  I’m also rapidly approaching my one year teaching anniversary.  The train is picking up speed on this whole yoga thing.  And when I look in the mirror, I still see someone I don’t quite recognize.  Who is that girl?  I teach with reasonable confidence, and I usually know every single person’s name in my class.  Who is that girl again??  So, I’m pensive all over again.

I’ve maintained a pretty darned disciplined practice in spite of the momentum of life.  My kids are growing up so fast, my husband is nearing the end of his Master’s degree, life is so good.  I love teaching.  The room is my refuge many days.  Whether I’m behind the mic or on the mat.  I just love it.  The yogini is still there.

Six months ago I started practicing Aikibudo. I have at my disposal an incredible sensei and we train twice a week.  It’s a long story, but the budo is such a part of who I am now that I can’t remember exactly what it was like before I was doing it.  The yoga practice and the budo practice compliment one another in amazing ways.

I’m grateful, that’s the bottom line.  I’m grateful and I have to laugh a little bit sometimes that I get away with having such a cool life.  I mean seriously??  Family, yoga, budo, friends..  That’s my life and my work?  Wow.

I can’t believe I’ve been teaching for almost a year.  I can’t believe I’ve been doing budo for six months.  I can’t believe that in general my biggest concern when I get up in the morning is how I’m going to juggle my practice(s) around my teaching job.

So when I get to my mat (either one) and I feel a little tired or a little grumpy, I’m drawn back to that gratitude.  I chose this life.  I chose to pursue yoga, teaching and most recently budo.  I chose to walk the path.  I’m stronger, healthier, wiser, and more courageous because of it.  All I have to do is practice.  Just do the practice – and all is coming.

 

 

Right in front of me…

October 10, 2009

I haven’t been blogging much.  It’s no secret.

I keep a pretty busy schedule between yoga and budo.  But so many wonderful things have been happening to me on both mats lately that I thought I’d stop in here just to make a note.  It’s been far too long since I’ve made a list like this and a friend of mine this morning inspired me to return to the ritual.  So here goes.

Right in front of me are the most amazing and loving children on this earth.
Right in front of me is the kindest man I have ever known.
Right in front of me is a home, a job, a life, a career, and boundless love.
Right in front of me is a blooming spirit.
Right in front of me is a hot room that has mended me over and again.
Right in front of me is a warm bed, a safe haven, a loving gaze.
Right in front of me is a hope that extends beyond the hours contained in a day.
Right in front of me is a Sensei who teaches me ruthless compassion, discipline, and strength.
Right in front of me are friends of a caliber I cannot explain.
Right in front of me is a body full of life, energy, and breath.
Right in front of me are family, yoga, and budo – all three of which make me who I am.
Right in front of me are skills, talents, gifts, miracles – all which nurture who I want to be.
Right in front of me is a mat that beckons me to push myself to find new depth.
Right in front of me is a door opened enough to entice me walk forward.
Right in front of me is a soft place to land – a place to relinquish fear, and trade it for wisdom.
Right in front of me are books, music, places, people, and sunsets that will draw tears of joy, pain, and wonder in this lifetime.
Right in front of me is right now.

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