The Yoga Teacher As Skunk

Skunk in Backyard Patio

I walk around the yoga room and everyone I come close to kinda freezes, like they’d do if a skunk walked by them unexpectedly.

Breaths and bodies become refined as I patrol the room. They are either happy or relieved if I touch them. But they are always keenly aware that the skunk is watching them.

When I practice by myself or with a video, I miss having a skunk in the room.  The screen teacher is too predictable, and when it’s just me, I won’t spray myself so there’s no risk, no danger. I have no skin in the game. 

When there’s no skunk ominously parading by to snap me to attention, my mind logs off. With no one watching me I become a test pattern: steady but boring. I have no incentive to make subtle refinements in breath or body, and therefore I have no shot at flow.

And getting into flow is the reason I  practice.  

For me, yoga doesn’t mean “to yoke,” it means “to get into flow.” Flow is a mental state so focused, so grounded in the present moment, so locked and loaded into reality, that nothing else matters, nothing else really exists. 

It’s super-hard to pull off. Mostly impossible, unless you’re into extreme sports.  

But if you ever get a taste of it, you want it. All. The. Time.

You want the “yoga” of running, the “yoga” of skiing, the “yoga” of biking, the “yoga” of mountain climbing, the “yoga” of doing the dishes, the “yoga” of folding the laundry, the “yoga” of doing the taxes, walking the dog, changing the litter. 

 That’s why you come into the room with the skunk.  You come because you want to learn how to make the “secret sauce,” the “yoga,” so that you can stir it into everything else you do.

The skunk in the room may not know a single thing about skiing or mountain climbing or federal tax laws, but the skunk knows the recipe for flow. She’ll scare you a little, make you take a risk, and then goad you to stay in that scary place and wallow in it. She’ll encourage you to watch your never ending brain/ biofeedback loop. She’ll cue this “watching” over and over and over.

She’ll tell you, “Stay still, right there, and let yourself marinate in this a while.”

She’ll say,“Breathe fast.” And then she’ll say, “Breathe slowly.” 

She’ll tell you to breathe long, and then tell you to breathe short. She’ll tell you to hold your breath until you practically pass out.  And then, at the last moment, she’ll say, “Breeeeathe.” 

And you will. 

And you’ll start to notice stuff you never saw before: Mental movies will play out in epic grandiosity in your crazy brain; you’re bodily systems will cook, then braise, then saute, and then transform. 

And if you persist at this long enough and eventually learn this exquisite art of attention; if you don’t flake out,….

Flow will show up.

 Right there. 

In the next breath.

  The room will suddenly drop away. And so will the skunk. 

You’ll find yourself there. Calm and focused. Locked and loaded. In the only place you ever wanted to be:

Here.

Say What You Mean

I was on such a roll this morning! Totally absorbed in my book project, getting places, making connections. It was sweet. I was humming.

But then I had to break to meet a client and all my momentum died. I thought I would come home and pick it up again, but it didn’t happen.

At my meeting with my client, things went differently than he expected, and he said, “I feel like we wasted an hour.”

That’s not what he meant, though. He meant that things didn’t go as he expected and he worried that he had wasted MY time. He didn’t think HE wasted time.

But that’s what he SAID.

So we spent some time talking about how words matter. You can’t say words, and then say: But that’s not what I MEANT. You have to say what you mean.

Which takes discernment and discretion. I think you learn discernment by watching. So we sat and did a guided meditation and then both of us were more aware.

I then reminded him of all the progress he’s made since we started working together. I reminded him of what he was.

And that’s part of my work: to remind people who they are.

And I’m pretty good at it.

 

 

Blessing the Space

There has been a frost warning the last 2 nights. I wore a jacket into the studio this morning and felt happy that I didn’t have any plans to go fishing today with G and her father. (Brrrrr….)

(As it turned out it was a beautiful day for fishing and they caught 5 trout.)

The studio was so warm and cozy this morning. And filled with sun. I took my spot under the skylight and did lots and lots of backbends. Not because I like backbends, or need backbends, but because I was entranced with the light raining on me from above.

Filtered light. Blue sky light. Early May light. The skylight is framed in white painted wood. The windows framed a perfect blue sky. It always reminds me of a lifeguard chair.

My mind suddenly flashed on a line from a John O’Donohue poem about “postponing dreams no longer” so when I’d had quite enough of backbending, I went and found it and copied it onto my mat:

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I haven’t made my Divine Contract yet, but each day as I sit in meditation, I get closer to envisioning who might be waiting for my offering.

Back at home, alone, I set to cleaning and organizing my bedroom, with a heavy emphasis on culling my clothing. My guiding thoughts were: Am I going to look forward to seeing this thing when I pull it out next fall?  And, Kath, You wear 20 percent of your clothes 80 percent of the time. Just keep the 20 percent you wear.

I culled ruthlessly. So proud of myself.

I also changed my bedding from the heavy velvet quilt, to the light, fluffy Zen-inspired duvet. I feel ready now. Ready for lilacs and viburnums and reading on the sunny deck.

Yeah, and I’ll bet money those trout will taste great done in foil on the grill.

A Good Yoga Week

It was a good week. I feel especially happy about my morning practice at the studio. I have a home practice area, but the studio is really sweet. I love the gleaming hardwood floors, the skylights, even the smell which is combination of floor polish, and witch hazel.

I practiced by myself for the most part this week. One day Cheryl joined me for awhile, then changed and left for school (she’s a teacher.)

I sit in the front as the teacher, but I much prefer the back corner for my solo practice. Here is my little setup.

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I light the candle, put on a little soft music and begin. Most mornings I start with some strap stretches for my hamstrings. I looked up and saw my toes sillouetted in the skylight.

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On Wednesday afternoon I taught a Chair Yoga workshop at the University, so on Wednesday morning I  “road tested” my sequence.

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My practice tends to start soft because I am tired and stiff in the morning, but by by the end of the hour I am moving and breathing well and feeling great.

I felt really “glowy” yesterday and took this selfie to remind myself how serene and happy yoga makes me feel.

IMG_1663 (1)After I finish the physical practice I turn the music off and sit meditation for 20 minutes. When I open my eyes, I see this.

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Yeah, It was a good yoga week.

Namaste, everybody.

 

 

The Lone Nut No More

IMG_1638Today I slept in, wrote, took a walk with G and Boomer, taught Happy Hour yoga.

It was a soft day. It is the first of May and the weather is finally, starting to drastically improve.

The Challenge is over and while it was wonderful, it was still exhausting. At the end we sat around eating  Cauliflower Maranca and Kale Quinoa cakes and a Vegan Chocolate Cake and a Gin and Tonic cake. There were also veggies and dip and a variety of crunchy food for grazing.

There was white and red wine, Stella Artois and Guinness draft and Sparkling Cider and a bottle of Maker’s Mark for the bourbon lovers.

It was good to sit around in a circle and talk and listen to my tribe. Vince was there and he said, in relation to my remark that Mansfield is a very difficult place to live, something to the effect that it’s only in difficult places that it is possible to be a pioneer.

He called me a pioneer, and I guess I am. I saw what I thought the town needed (a yoga studio) and made it happen. It took a long time for it to “take” but it did.

His words reminded me of this “leadership” video on my Facebook feed this week. I love the idea of the “first follower.” If you don’t get that first follower, you are just a lone nut. But once you  get that first follower, then you are leader, and from there, if other people join, you can start something pretty great.

I feel so grateful to my first followers: Brynne and Aleta and Judith. Then close behind them, a whole slew of other people who have been practicing at MSY for at least 10 of its 11 years.

It feels very good not to be the lone nut any more.

At least when it comes yoga.

(If you catch my drift.)

The Last Day of the Yoga Challenge

Oh, I am so very tired. It is almost midnight and I just got back from the Yoga Challenge Party which was so wonderful, as usual. I will write more about it tomorrow but I will leave you with a picture. I don’t want to break my streak here!  There are 2 people missing: Sarah Wunderlich who had to miss the very last day (!!) and Shelly Clark who taught on Wednesdays all month. I will rectify this! I swear I will get a photo with everyone before the end of May.

Front row: Sherry Mathews (plank queen), Jes Czako,

Second row: Pam Taggart, Linda Murray, Brittany Tice, Tom Moritz

Back row: Sandy McDivitt (teacher), Me (looking tired).

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The Matter of Your Yoga Mat

When a student walks into my studio without a mat, the first thing I think is: newbie.

Not that there is anything wrong with being a newbie. We all started as newbies.

But the thing about walking into a yoga studio without a mat is, unless you are traveling, it means that you really haven’t thought about what you are about to do.

Maybe you are doing it on a whim. Just to see. And while that is okay, what I, personally, like to see from a Newbie is a bit of a commitment, a little bit of forethought.

Walking into a yoga studio without a mat says, “I don’t know what I’m doing or why I’m here.”

So, even if it is your first class, and you strongly suspect that it will be your last, buy a cheap mat. You can get one at any chain discount store for under $20.

Even if you never do yoga again, it’s not a waste of money. Believe me. Cheap yoga mats are good for lots of things. I always keep an old one in my car.     

Here are a few ways they’ve come in handy for me:

They make a perfect impromptu picnic blanket.

They give you a soft place to kneel when you look under your car to see what’s making that sickening, horrible noise.

You can lie on them to find your jack points, and they make the perfect place to insure those lug nuts don’t disappear when you change your tire.

They can double as a water-proof car mat for a muddy dog.

In other words, it won’t go to waste, so get one.

Whatever you do, don’t buy an expensive yoga mat until you are sure yoga is something you are going to be doing for the rest of your life.

When I first started practicing I wanted a Manduka Pro mat, but at close to $100 I couldn’t justify the expense. So I told myself that I would put $1 in a jar every time I practiced, until I had enough money to buy the expensive mat. That way I felt I earned it. If you do it that way you will know how serious you really are. If at the end of a year there is only $12 in your “Mat Fund” stick with your cheap mat.

My first mat was a purple Gaiam. Before that, I practiced on a beach towel on my living room rug.

Mats designed specifically for yoga are much better than beach towels or any other kind of “all-purpose”exercise mats.

Those “all purpose” exercise mats are usually too thick for yoga. They are great for padding your knees when you are doing push-ups, but they are a safety hazard during particular styles of yoga, especially “flow” styles. So get a mat that is expressly for YOGA. If it says it’s good for Pilates too, it’s probably too thick for yoga.

The other reason it is good to have your own mat, is for hygiene purposes. Even it it’s not the best quality, you know that it is YOURS. It has your foot odor on it, your sweat. You will find as you continue to practice, that you will think of it as “sacred space.”

Sometimes people have epiphanies on their mat. Sometimes they break down and cry. You don’t want to have this big moment on a studio rental mat, do you?

A lot of people have personal space issues around their mat, too, so be sure to avoid stepping on anyone’s mat if you can help it. If you do have to walk on another person’s mat, be sure to apologize.

If you continue to practice at a studio, you will hear a lot of talk about mats—their virtues and their vices. Everybody has their favorites. A yoga mat is a very personal item.

Every mat has a different foot-feel. Some mats are lighter than others. Some give better traction. Others are easier to clean. As you talk to your fellow yogis, you will find out a lot of information.

Sometimes if you ask someone about their mat they will let you stand on it, and even bust out a Down Dog or two. Thank them and take advantage of the opportunity for a little road test.

I own a lot of different mats so my students can try different ones out before they commit. That’s the ideal way to go.

The reason I have accumulated so many mats over the years is that I tend to practice “serial monogamy” with mats. I fall in love with a particular brand and style and pledge my undying devotion to it, until I go to a training and see some other mat, try it out, and fall in love with it, and then claim that, no, I was wrong about that other one, and THIS one is REALLY the one I love.

I am like the Zsa Zsa Gabor of yoga mats. Someone once called me a “mat slut” and they were right.

But I’ve been practicing on a Manduka Pro in the studio for over 11 years now. It’s a great mat.

My home practice mat is a Kharma Khare, though. I love it more than the Manduka in a lot of ways, but it is black and it gets really dirty so my lavendar Manduka Pro looks better in the studio.

I’m probably done with sleeping around with a lot of different mats. It’s about time I settled down, I think.

What mat do you practice on? What do you like about it? Let me know in the comments. Can’t hurt to look, right? *wink*