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Day 30: De-Throning The Iguana

I am sitting here at 1 PM on the afternoon of the last day of the 30 Day Yoga Challenge.  Only one more class left, a little party after that, and it will be over.  Tomorrow it will be May.

Two people made it to the studio every single day this month.  Lots made it 25 times or more.  Tons came in the teens.  Only a few came fewer than 10 times and only 2 never showed up at all.

Ordinarily, in a month, the most anyone practices is 4 times (once a week). And these are the “regulars.”  Lots of people who are not “regulars” did a whole lot of yoga this month and I am especially anxious to talk to them tonight about how they did it; how they were able to fight the big lizard of resistance.

Because this is not easy.  It’s not easy to roll out the mat.  Especially when there’s a big old Iguana of Resistance parked on it, defying you to shoo him off.

It takes a lot of guts to stare down that Iguana, poke it with a stick and tell it, “Scram!  Go find another perch, you scaly beast!” And then take your rightful place on your throne/mat.

Some days you just don’t have the energy to deal with the damned thing.  Some days it’s just easier to let it doze in its patch of sun, while you get a little more sleep, or play on-line, or do a load of wash, or watch TV.

So this is huge, this upping the ante on the practice.  Lots of Iguanas were de-throned this month, lots of Resistance was vanquished.  To practice yoga 10 times in month instead of 4?  20 times instead of 4? 25, 26, 29 times?  30 times instead of 4?  Or none? Whoah.  That’s a big deal!

So now what?  You’d think that after being poked day after day for a whole month, the stupid Iguana of Resistance would trundle off and find a new hangout, but no.  It’s an Iguana.  Its brain is the size of a jellybean. It’s going to sit on your mat every. single. day.  For the rest of your life.  I kid you not.  It will never ever get easier.

So what happens from here?  Do you decide: “Well that was an interesting experiment.” And file it away under: Yoga: No.”

Or do you decide: “That was flippin amazing!  I want some more of that mojo!” And wake up on May 1st and kick out a few Suns, throw down a Pigeon or two and Twist Again Like We Did Last Summer?

So as I see it, it all depends on what you want.

And what do you want?  If you know, do you want it enough to de-throne the Iguana every day, put up with its spit, and its attitude, and its stubborn persistence?

Do you have the fortitude to stare down your Iguanas to get what you really want? Whether what you want is yoga and its increased energy and awareness, or musical proficiency on the piano, or a sprinter’s fast-twitch muscles, or a clear writer’s voice?

What this Yoga Challenge has shown the participants, I hope, is that commitment to a thing, anything, gives you a place to stand, a place of stability and discipline and integrity, such that even if every thing else in your life comes crashing down around your ears, you know that you have your practice to stand on, and it will support you.  (See this post for more on that.)

I will not be here tomorrow.  Tomorrow is the River Towns Half Marathon.  Tomorrow is Saturday.  Tomorrow I will run, then rest, and continue to rest on Sunday, and then on Monday I will be back here, hopefully with pics from tonight’s party!

For all of you who have been doing the Challenge “Virtually” I plan to make us a website so we can continue to schmooze about our practices.  So a link and instructions to that will be coming soon.

Thanks to everyone who’s been following along at home. I love and appreciate you all for your readership, your kindness and most especially for your comments.

Love and Namaste.

Kath

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Guest Post: Jennifer Schmid

This is a Guest Post by Jennifer Schmid (www.jenniferschmid.com) who used to practice at Main Street Yoga before moving to California 2 years ago.  While she was here, we taught a 6-Week Yoga for Weight Loss session, which I have to say, was one of the absolute highlights of my collaborative teaching experiences.  Jennifer did the “diet and nutrition” part of the course, and I did the yoga. I wish to this day she would make her handouts for that class into a book!

I opened my inbox this morning to find this“Comment” under my post yesterday called “Getting Good At Yoga.”  I have been loving ALL the comments from the “Virtual Challengers” this month (and you too, Archan!) but this one seemed especially juicy, and rich, and deserving of the spotlight.

Jennifer Schmid

I’ve definitely noticed a change in my yoga, particularly in the poses that challenged me most intensely — 3-legged Dog, Pigeon, Frog, Bridge, Camel (finally got it last night. Yay!). I don’t look like a protege of Rodney Yee, nor do I want to. But I *like* the poses now. I absolutely struggle (and I’m sure I look silly), but I have gotten to the point where I’m starting to soften what needs to soften, and activate what needs to be activated, and I can still breathe (barely).

This is especially true with Pigeon. I guess I’ve always “liked” Pigeon, but it wasn’t until I decided to make it my “must do everyday” pose that I started to see a shift. Finally, after the 7th day or so, I softened. I walked out my back toes just a hair. I breathed. I found the bandhas. Yeah, baby.

More importantly, though, is how my yoga has changed me on the inside. I’m not taking things as personally. (This is huge; I was born under a Cancer sun and moon, and sensitivity is my specialty.) I’m setting boundaries and not taking on everyone else’s s#!t. I’m figuring out what the heck I want in this life. I’m more intuitive. And my heart is opening, thanks to all those hip-openers and back bends.

When I finally got to my yoga last night (day 28, whoo hoo), I was thinking about why all of those changes have been taking place, wondering how yoga makes that possible. It came to me during Happy Baby. I was imagining Brynne in her Happy Baby (thank you, Brynne).

When we do yoga, we’re opening our chakras. We’re letting in the light to those very special centers of our being. Happy Baby opens our first chakra; Mountain pose opens many, but especially our crown (7) and third eye (6). Back bends are particularly important for our hearts and emotions. It’s impossible to do a back bend while closing off your heart — you have to be open.

Kath, can you imagine facilitating a workshop called “Chakra yoga”? 15 minutes of gentle centering, then some writing about areas in one’s life where one struggles (this doesn’t have to be shared, can just be for self-exploration). Next comes a workshop on the chakras and their meaning (including a little centering to “feel” each one), then 60-75 minutes of yoga, exploring which chakras one feels opening during each pose, followed by a long savasana… I get tingly just thinking about it.

Lastly, because I’m sure everyone is wondering how much coffee I’ve had this morning (for the record, none, just yoga, green tea, and the energy that comes with life’s uncertainties), I was wishing in my practice last night that there was a “moon salutation,” because it didn’t feel right to be doing suns at 10pm. I just Googled it — there are a couple different ones, but I really like the one that was put together at Kripalu. (check out http://www.lauracornell.com/moon.html) Kath, we’ll have to do this under the full moon. 🙂 (At Fred’s, maybe? Think he’d go for that?)

**note:** I recently ran a 6 Week Chakra Yoga session at the studio that didn’t follow that exact format, but was really well-received!!  And yes, I do think Fred would go for that!

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Day 28: Getting Good At Yoga

I asked my class last night what they had learned, if anything, from the Yoga Challenge.

I got blank stares.

“Are you getting any better at yoga?” I asked

Then they started pointing to defined biceps, and saying how they could finally do a Chaturanga, and hold plank without their arms quivering like jello.

The other day someone said they got their head to their knee for the first time in seated forward fold.  Another person said that they touched their nose to the floor in Upavista Konasana (wide-angle seated forward fold.)

I was so happy for them!  I know what it feels like to make progress in a posture, to finally be able to go up in Crow, or to extend the leg out fully in Padagustasana. It’s a trip!  You want to show people.  You want to say: “Look!  Watch me cross my ankles behind my head and bind behind my back!”(Yoga Nidrasana)

But the funny thing is, as soon as you are able to do a difficult posture, you realize:

1.  There are hundreds of difficult postures yet to master,

and

2.  Mastering the postures isn’t the point.

True enlightenment in yoga comes the day you realize that it’s okay to suck at yoga; that it doesn’t matter if you can touch your head to your knee or bring your sternum to the floor.

True enlightenment comes the day you get up from your mat and realize that nobody is going to put your picture on the cover of Yoga Journal or even on their refrigerator door, and that’s fine ‘n dandy!

True enlightenment comes the day you realize (cliche alert!) that it’s all about the journey, and that there really is no destination.

So I’m happy that my students’ arms are getting cut, that they can finally hold Navasana without breaking into tears, but I am waiting for the day when one of them comes in boasting a tee that proudly announces:

I SUCK AT YOGA.

(and then says in smaller letters, “And I’ve had a daily practice for 10 years!”)

That’s the teacher I want to study with!

Here’s my favorite sutra from Patanjali:

“That practice is truly grounded when it is done incessantly, with reverence, for a long time.”

So practice on, Yogarians!  Practice on!

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Day 27: The Spirituality of Whimsicality

As a yoga teacher, the hardest and most terrifying class for me to teach is the first day of Beginner Yoga.  The students walk in pale, fat, worried, neurotic, clutching their little bottles of Dasani like they’re some totemic objects that will protect them from weird, patchouli smelling Hindu spirits, and me.

I don’t claim clairvoyance, or clairaudience, but I can hear their thoughts as clearly as if they’re coming through a bullhorn:“I won’t be able to do this because I can’t even touch my toes for goddsakes.  What the hell was I thinking??!!  What am I doing? I’m sitting in YOGA  for cryin out loud ! How do I get OUT of this??”

They don’t understand the activity, or me.

Yet.

At the opposite end of the yoga teacher “fright spectrum” is the day I walk into Day 27 of the April Yoga Challenge.  OMG.  Soooo easy!

What do we need today? Block? Strap?  Are you going to kill us?  Please don’t kill us?  Oh shut up! I want to be killed!  Kill us!  Kill us!  Can we do savasana for an hour??  I’m still aching from yesterday!”

Sometimes I wonder what a person eavesdropping on the other side of the door to my yoga room would think is going on in there.  It certainly doesn’t sound very spiritual, that’s for sure.

When students step into my yoga room and encounter my style, which is slightly kooky, oftentimes irreverent, and frequently playful, they might mistake this approach to yoga as “not very spiritual,” when in fact, what I am doing is setting up the yoga room to be spirit’s playground.

I think when you follow your inner promptings, your intuition, your body’s wisdom, that is the act of honoring the spirit, the soul, the non-material part of your nature.

And this is a very hard practice.  And a deep practice.  And a self-revelatory practice.

When you are allowed, and encouraged, and truly supported in the act of  giving yourself over to whimsy in your yoga practice and can  throw away the script, ignore the cue cards, and disregard all social conventions that say you should act a certain way because you are “this old” or have “this important responsible job,” you open up a Pandora’s Box of Crazy.

A whimsical approach to yoga does not mean you deliberately set out to defy all conventions or act the rebel. I’m not saying that. It just means that you are permitting something deeper inside to come out.  And in letting it out, you are honoring it.

Because this thing is dying to be expressed.  It has been repressed and smothered and tramped on and beaten and thrown water on and shoes at. Whimsy has been conditioned the hell out of you.

Outside the yoga room, whimsy is not always well-received.  Whimsy blurts.  Whimsy can be juvenile, unseemly, and downright silly.

Whimsicality in yoga postures steps away from strict adherence to form or architecture, and may look a bit chaotic from the outside, but that’s just because whimsy has different rules, rules not fully understood from the outside, but completely known and understood from the inside.

The spirituality of whimsicality is the practice of allowing spirit out of the box. It’s the antithesis of liturgy.  Liturgy is comfortable, predictable, reproducible, whereas whimsy is like letting a 3-year-old loose in a room full of balloons. Yeah, a few will break.  Yeah, there’s going to be moments of startle, and tears, and mess. But man, it’s going to be a blast!

Tragically, whimsicality is one of the first things to get kicked to the curb in the process of maturing.  And then, when we get older and realize what serious damage we’ve done, and what a huge a mistake it was, we then spend the rest of our lives trying to CPR some of it back into our lives, with variable success.

But if we can come into the yoga room and have somebody guide us into a whimsical practice, tell us to shake our tail feathers, and make horse sounds with our mouths, and jog in place and let our arms and legs go all loosey-goosey, what would happen?

If we are permitted the uninhibited freedom to snort like pigs, and breathe through alternate nostrils, and pump our stomachs like we’re trying to hork up hairballs, and go into our turtle shells, and kick away all the stuff that’s not serving us, and sigh out all our tension with a big, fat, audible ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh…..

Maybe, just maybe, the dying embers of what little whimsy is left in our bodies, hearts, and lives can be coaxed back to life.

And what if  it turns out that this whimsicality is the deepest practice of all?

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Day 26: The End Is Near

This is a picture of me being hoisted aloft at the End of the Challenge Party last year.  I found it as I was going through the archives today.  In a few days, there will be another party, another toast to our tribe, our yoga sangha, and all of our efforts this month.

Why do we do these things?  How do we pull it off?  It takes a lot of self-discipline and persistence in the face of weariness and not feeling well, and arranging for babysitters and eating later (or earlier) than is ideal.

And at the end, what are the take-aways?  For me, it is knowing that I went the extra mile for my students.  It is seeing my students progress–not just in their postures, but in their self-discipline and in their acceptance of themselves wherever they are in their yoga. It is especially gratifying seeing them taking care of one another, cheering each other on, commiserating and advising and laughing with each other.

It’s been quite the month.

MSY has really become the Inspiration Location.

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Day 25: The Last Sunday

I just got home from the last Sunday class at the studio led by Brenna.  **sniff** The month is very quickly coming to an end.  This Friday will be the last day of the Yoga Challenge.

I hope everyone will come to the party on Friday. (And hey there, you Virtuals??  I see you out there.  Can you come??  Please??  If you can, that would be amazing!)  It will begin right after the 5:30 class, at approximiately 6:30.  There will be munchies and drinks and I will draw for the raffled items, and we’ll all commiserate over the highs and the…hiiiighs.

The morning people will finally get to meet the evening people.  Everyone will get to meet the families of the others (yes! bring your friends and families!).

And everyone will get to see why I love my yogarians so much.  These are the best people in the entire world.

That’s what Brenna and I were talking about tonight after class.  She was expressing how grateful she felt to get to meet the people who practice at MSY.  I reminded her that, “I told you!!” when we first talked about her teaching on Sundays during the Challenge.  I told her, “Just you wait until you meet these people.  These people are a-mazing.

And now she knows.

In a lot of ways I don’t want this Challenge to end.  Cindy Meixel made a comment that she will miss her interaction with the other Virtuals when this is over, and so I am hatching a scheme whereby we can all continue to talk about our practices with each other every day.

(stay tuned!)

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Day 24: Smart Keys

My Prius has something called a “smart key.”  I don’t have to unlock the door with this key, or stick it in the ignition.  I just have to have it on me–in my pocket or my bag–and the car senses it and opens the door when I touch the handle, and starts when I push the power button on the dash.

This “smart key” is one of my favorite things about the Prius (the gas mileage isn’t bad either.)

But lately I’ve been getting the sense that there may be more than one smart key in my bag.  I’m beginning to sense that I have a bunch of  “smart keys” embedded  inside me at the heart or soul level that automatically open and connect me to certain people, places, and even certain activities.

For example, have you ever met a person and just instantly hit it off?  The only explanation is that your internal “smart key” responded to something inside them and made a connection, ignited a spark.

Or did you ever go someplace–a town on vacation, or a new city, or even a restaurant or a bar, and feel instantly at home and comfortable? Like you’d been there before? That somehow you knew instinctively where the bathroom was, or how to get around on the bus system?

And conversely, did you ever meet someone and despite having a million things in common, were never able to connect, ignite, or start a meaningful relationship?

Or have you ever gone someplace that was obviously wonderful and fabulous, someplace all your friends recommended and loved, and felt nothing but boredom and discontent?

Did you ever want, with all your heart, to love a person or a place, and despite all kinds of persistence and manipulation and self-deception have to finally admit that your smart key just wasn’t connecting with their, or its electronics, and resign yourself to the fact that you would never get in, would always be shut out?

Have you ever tried a new sport or activity: running, ballroom dancing, rock climbing, golf, yoga, etc. and felt something unlock and ignite within you, at the body or soul level, and know, without question, that you could DO this, even if at first you were incredibly awkward and clumsy?

I think it’s incredibly important to begin to notice what your “smart keys” are unlocking.  And what they’re not.

I think  we waste our lives when we try to break into a job, or have a relationship, or live in a place, or engage in an activity that’s never going to happen for us, even though we may want it to, or think we should.

But if we have this understanding that inside of us we have many “smart keys,” isn’t it our job, and shouldn’t we take as our life mission to find all the doors that these keys inside of us unlock?

One of the things I say at the end of every yoga class is this: “Notice how you feel.”  Maybe I should ask instead, “Did anything unlock for you today?  Did anything open?