At The Gym, With Tim

I still feel a bit sore in my body today because last Friday I did a weight workout with Tim.

I resist resistance training.  I don’t like weights. They smell funny and they’re heavy and I hate the counting and the shaking and the grunting and the dropping.  It feels like slavery.  It feels like I should be wearing a striped jumpsuit and have a ball and chain attached to my ankle.

There is something about this whole weight training scene that is a total turn-off.  And this is what I told Tim.

Yet, I know there is the potential for realizing new things about myself in this activity.  I just need “a way in.”

A door.

An introduction.

Weight lifting and I have gotten off on the wrong foot.

We’ve met under less than ideal circumstances.

In a Dr.’s office.

The Dr. said: “Hey, your bone density test shows you have osteopenia.  Your bones are becoming porous.

The Dr. said: “I want you to take X,Y and Z drugs.”

I said (nicely), “No.”

(I did not say, “Go to hell,”which is what I wanted to say.)

Instead, I said, “I’ll just do more weight bearing exercises and try to build my bones up that way.”

The Dr. said, “Suit yourself. I have said my piece.”

“Fine,” I said.

“Fine,” she said.

So I picked up the weights.  They were heavy and they smelled like a cross between the dentist and high school shop class and it was hate at first sight.  I hated the look of them, the smell of them but mostly the heaviness of them.

They reminded me of burdens. All burdens.  They represented to me every psychological and physical burden I have ever tried to carry.  And most of all they reminded me that I was betraying my life’s central mantra, which is:

“If it’s not fun, it’s not done.”

These weights were calling me out.  They were saying, in effect: “Hey, whatever happened to your mantra?  Did you forget?  Don’t you subscribe to that anymore?  Are you going back to that old Catholic “penance” paradigm?  Don’t tell me we have to do that trip again!  I’m so tired of penance!  Enough.  Put down those weights and go do some vinyasa flow yoga.  This penance shit isn’t your scene anymore.”

So I did.  I put down the weights and went back to the familiar and the known and the safe.

But all the while I knew that I had to challenge myself, or “churn” as Yoganand, my yoga teacher always says.

Yoganand says this:

“Because the universe is vibrating way up here (he holds his hand way above his head) and we vibrate way down here (hand practically on the floor), if we want to live fully alive (you do want that, right? I nod) then you’ve got to churn.  You’ve got to break out of your comfy (slow) energy pattern and boost yourself into a new energy level.  Like a rocket has to boost itself out of the atmosphere into the stratosphere and beyond.  And to do that you’ve got to challenge your edge, banish your inertia.  You’ve got to churn yourself.

There’s a yogic way to do that, of course. (You hold difficult postures for a long time and breathe like a mother.)

And then there are ways that involve lifting heavy things and moving them around: logs, pianos, beds, topsoil, your grandmother. Or, weights at the gym.  It’s not penance, it’s “a challenge.”

So that’s what brought me to the gym with Tim. Because he’s so happy and he smiles all the time and he thinks feeling strong is a kick, and fun.  And he likes to play.  He’s lighthearted and he’s not into penance.  He’s into fun.

So we played with the weights.  We played follow the leader (with barbells on our shoulders).  We jumped up and down and twirled around in between.  During that part I remembered old jump rope rhymes and started chanting them.

We sweated. We laughed. I said “Oh my god, you’ve got to be kidding me!” a lot (mostly to myself).

He said: “I want you to be able to do 30 push-ups in a minute by the end of a month.”  (I can now do one whole push-up in a minute.)

So, needless to say, it’s gonna be a challenge for me.  I’m gonna churn.  But, surprisingly, I’m actually looking forward to it.  It kinda feels a little bit like fun.

The Biggest Loser

I rushed to yoga this morning with my right contact inside out because I overslept.  I stayed up way past my bedtime to watch the season finale of The Biggest Loser.

I am/was shamefully addicted to this show!

I know, I know…

I know all the arguments for why I shouldn’t like it.  I know people on the long, hard path to weight loss who find The Biggest Loser irritating in the extreme.

These Biggest Loser contestants are living in a weight-loss terrarium filled with perfect food, personal trainers, state-of- the-art gym equipment, a team of health care professionals at the ready, and are totally guarded and protected from the outside world and its stressors of kids, relationships  and job.  For them it is a 24-7 focus on weight loss.  Period.

My friends who are trying to lose weight say: Sure!  Put me in that situation and I could lose weight too!  Easy Breezy!

And they’re right, of course.

But still, I am transfixed.  It is like watching an epic, like The Odyssey.  The contestants, like Odysseus, long to return to the homes of their healthy bodies, but on the way they have to travel from the Land of the Lotus Eaters (food addictions), battle with Polyphemous the Cyclops (Jillian screaming: “Unless you faint, puke or die, keep going!!”), have a love affair with the witch-goddess Circe (face food temptations, the eating of which will turn the contestants into swine), and be tempted by the deadly Sirens (going off the Ranch as a reward and being tempted by restaurant food and drink).

Week after week, you watch them struggle, step on the scale, fall below the yellow line, throw somebody else off.

Week after week, you watch them struggle with their demons, but they persist.

It takes a long time.  But they keep going.  And we TV watchers get to see the drama and the incremental changes, week after week.

Change is soooo slow, but it happens.  It happens in 2, 8 11, sometimes 15 pound increments.

Week after week, it doesn’t seem like anything is changing, until BAM!, there’s that one week you go:  Whoah!  Look at her!  Look at him!  Holy shit!

The thing that so inspires me about these contestants is that they persist.  They persist over time. They go slowly. They encounter major frustrations and roadblocks and even hellish weeks when they workout like fiends and don’t lose an ounce, and sometimes even gain!  And yet, they persist.

In the end, they lose huge amounts of weight.  They lose whole people.  The girl I hoped would win (Tara) lost 155 pounds!  It’s crazy!  She’s transformed into a completely different person by the end.  Inside and out.

Then, when they return home, just like Odysseus, they are not recognized at first by their loved ones.  They have to clean up their houses, throw out the suitors (all the crap food in the cabinets) and re-establish their relationships with their “Penelopes”(wives, husbands, friends, kids).

It’s the path of transformation.

In the case of The Biggest Loser it comes via weight loss, but it’s the same process for any transformation.

Slow persistent practice over time.

It’s an Odyssey.

And it inspires the hell out of me.

There’s No Place Like Home

“The only constant is change.”

That quote is from Heraclitus.  True dat.

I went to Kripalu to “fill my cup” after the “30 Days for $30 Yoga Challenge.”  .

I needed lots of sleep, good food (that I did not have to prepare), and lots of yoga (that I did not have to lead.)

For me, Kripalu has always been my destination of choice for a few days of R&R.  It is one of my favorite HDIZs (High Density Inspiration Zones.)  It’s a place that is totally “count-on-able” for meeting my physical and spiritual needs.

Except this time it didn’t.  And it “didn’t” in a big way.  And here is where Heraclitus steps in (again).

‘You cannot step into the same river twice, for fresh waters are ever flowing in upon you.’

Damn that Heraclitus.

I don’t know if Kripalu has changed or I have changed but the experience did not meet my needs for inspiration.  I found the yoga classes flat, boring, uninspired.  The teachers seemed tired and just “phoning it in.”

I used to love going to Kripalu mainly because I loved being in an environment where people were streaming out of classes all lit up by their programs or the yoga they just experienced.

I loved over-hearing them bubble over with joy and excitement.  It was crazy, infectious and I felt a tribal affinity there.  This time, all I heard were dull, cranky conversations about nothing from the people exiting the practice rooms.

But since I have taken a vow of non-complaining, (ahem), here’s all I want to say:  Either  I have changed, or it has changed, but something changed, and as a result, I won’t be going back to Kripalu again for R&R.

I was in deep mourning about this for awhile, but I have come to realize that, just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz who goes looking for her heart’s desire over the rainbow, but comes to find out that it was in her own backyard all along, I too have a High Density Inspiration Zone right here at Main Street Yoga.

During the month of April, I would come home from my classes reeling, my head spinning from all the vitality, the energy, the smiles, the expressed gratitude of my students.  I could not fall asleep at night because I was so high from it all.  It was such a rush!  The small container of “me” couldn’t contain all of it.

It was powerful, but also exhausting.  That’s why, when it ended, I needed to rest and be nurtured. I was hoping to surrender my body to the reliable guidance of Kripalu yoga teachers whose cups were full and who could lead me into new places in my own practice.  I was hoping that I could then bring the news of those new places back to my own students.  “Hey guys!  Look what I found!  And I can show you how to get there, too!

But, no.

Instead, my trip became a cautionary tale.  Here is what I learned:

I learned that to do the work I do, it is not just good to be inspired, it is absolutely essential.

I learned that the most important part of being a yoga teacher is to love your students.  Swami Kripalu once said:  “I have not come here to teach you; I have come here to love you.  The love itself will teach you.”

I learned that this kind of “love” is not a “job.”   But teaching yoga can be relegated to “job” status, but as soon as it does, it’s time to walk away from it until you can find the juice in it, the love in it, the joy in it again.

I learned to never, never, never step on the teacher’s mat unless I am full of love, and feeling “juicy.”

My teachers at Kripalu this time were burnt out.  It was clear.  It was unmistakable.  It was sad.

I was sad for them.  I was sad for me.  The whole experience was pathetic and regrettable.

I learned (again) the importance of staying inspired and juicy in my life.

I learned that “There’s no place like home.”