The Spirituality of Whimsicality

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(This is an older post)

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?

How I Spent my Self-Designed Summer

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I freakin’ nailed it. Best summer in a very long time. When I heard the drums of Autumn (the marching band practicing), I was not the slightest bit queasy.
So, if you’ll remember, my problem going into summer was this: Since time seems to speed up in the summer (and I love summer so much and never want it to end) how could I slow it down?
My strategy consisted of:
Mindful Mondays (which included:)
*Intermittent fast
*Severe limits on screen time
*Double meditation time
Plus:
Champagne Thursdays
Photo-A-Day
and
Read fiction
And it worked. It totally worked. I am astonished that it took so little to make me so happy. I noticed the wildflowers (and took pictures of many of them).
I paid attention to my rhythms, especially hunger and satiety (intermittent fasting was great for that). I scheduled time for self-indulgence (Champagne on the deck every  Thursday after yoga, and long afternoons spent reading novels in the hammock).
Now all my needs for relaxation and rejuvenation and fun have been met in spades and I am going into this next season feeling generous and ready to take on new projects and challenges.
Now, what to do about Fall and Winter? Could I do the same thing? Could I design those seasons too, and make it so they don’t seem to drag and feel so dreary? Is there anything I could do, any rituals I could perform to prevent Fall and Winter from killing this nice summer fire?
I do know that all my deepest thinking and reading and creating happen in the fall and winter, and I do love and appreciate the deep interiority of winter, but I also hate not feeling sparkly and energetic a lot of the time, particularly in January and February. If there were only more daylight hours to play in, or at least more bright sunlight in those days, that would help a lot.
But the reality is that I’m not going to move from the cloud belt of northern PA this winter, so I need a…I almost said “survival plan” but what I actually need is a “sur-thrival plan.” Survival isn’t the issue. The issue is how to thrive, and flourish, and appreciate, and get important work done, and nurture relationships, and have a whole lot of fun doing it?
I’m wondering if there’s a way to blend fun and sparkle into introspection and interiority?
I’m challenging myself to come up with a plan. Stay tuned.
Do YOU do anything specific to ease the transition from summer to fall?  Do you have any habits or rituals or ways of motivating yourself? Tell me in the comments. I’d really, really appreciate it.

The Difference between Fun and Pleasure

Today’s Photo-A-Day theme is: FUN. And so far this has been the hardest theme, philosophically, for me to wrap my brain around.  I have been trying to figure out the difference between things that are “fun” and things that are just “enjoyable” or “pleasurable.”

Laying around all afternoon reading and making notes in the margins of books is one of my most delicious of pleasures, but I wouldn’t call it “fun.”

When I think of all the things I like to do, (writing and yoga come to mind), I don’t think of these things as “fun” particularly.

They are richly satisfying, enjoyable and engrossing, but there is often a lot of resistance going in. They require discipline. I find the process of trying to articulate an idea really pleasurable, even though it is hard. (And I love having written most of all.) And when I go into my yoga room, I get totally and completely absorbed. But it’s often physically painful and mentally frustrating. (I have been known to cry and howl like an animal on my mat.)  But I never fail to exit my yoga room in total bliss. Practicing yoga daily is  pleasurable, but I would never call it “Fun.”  But last summer I tried Aerial yoga for the first time,–now that was fun! 

Doing unusual yoga is fun

So I think the way I would distinguish fun from pleasure is that fun is novel. Fun takes you out of your routine.

Today I went for a bike ride. It was really fun. But if I was training for a Triathalon and had to get in shape and ride a certain amount of miles per day on my bike to do so, my training might be pleasureable, but it probably wouldn’t be “fun.”

Last summer we went to Colorado and climbed some high mountains. The hikes were rigorous at times, but it was really, really fun.

Climbing high mountains is fun

But If I had to climb high mountains every day in order to get water, for example, mountain climbing would lose its allure.

This summer we did some wine tasting in the Wilamette Valley. I left the winery thinking: “I love wine tasting! Why don’t I do this more often? This is fun!”

Wine tasting is fun

But if I were a vintner and my business involved tasting wine all the time, not so much fun, methinks.

So it’s novelty and the breaking of routine that makes an activity “fun” for me. That’s why it’s so important for me to remind myself to, “Shake it up, Kath! Get out of your rut. Lose the routine. Be spontaneous!”

It’s hard to have fun sometimes.

Yoga on the Ball

The balls are strangely okay this time around. I can’t figure out what is making this session of Yoga on the Ball different from the last time I taught it, when I vowed never to teach it again.

Yoga on the Ball never felt like “yoga” to me; it felt gimmicky, more “yogic” than “yoga.”  Add to that the plastic-y smell of the balls, the rude noises they made as people rolled around on them–in short, the whole thing was disgusting.

Except of course for the back bending over them, which was sublime.

And the forward bending over them, which was so comforting.

And just the happy, buoyancy of the damn things, which makes yoga feel fun even when you are holding Bridge till every fibrous tissue in your legs are burning from the effort to keep your feet from rolling off.

It’s also kind of fun to hold the ball aloft in Warrior 1. And then even more fun to put the heavy, sand-filled thing DOWN.

I think maybe the first time I taught it I thought it was going to be “YOGA …on the ball,” rather than ” Yoga …on the BALL.”  Maybe the reason it is so much fun this time is that I’ve shifted my paradigm.

But more than that, I think it’s the people. The people in this class are what’s making this so much fun. None of them are new to yoga. All of them have practiced the hard, serious, “deep end of the pool” yoga.  These are people who do crazy amounts of kapalabhati, hold kumbaks forever, know how to listen inside, and tune me out most of the time.

So, to give this kind of student a big, loud, smelly physio ball and say, “Hey, you think you can sit on this and do Vira 2?” They are totally cool with it. It’s fun to see these “deep end swimmers,” splashing around in the kiddie pool.

I took my new Kodak Share camera to class tonight, but the light was too dim, so I just hacked the shit out of this photo in Snapseed.  This is a few of my deep end swimmers in Child’s pose on the Ball:

Yoga on the Ball

Fun Ruts

The other day I posted on Facebook that I was compiling my summer reading list and asked all my FB friends for one “must read” recommendation.

I asked because I’ve been in a book rut.  I read the same kinds of books all the time: new age, spiritual classics, non-fiction, with the occasional novel thrown in for good measure.

So now, thanks to FB,  I have a whole list of intriguing book recs that I am currently contemplating and I’m definitely going to be reading some great new stuff this summer.

Every year before Memorial Day G and I make a “Fun List” for the summer.  I’m sitting here now, looking at this list and it kind of looks like last year’s: a bike trip, a ball game, a trip to the beach, flying a kite, an impromptu party, a new kayak area, a star-gazing trip to Cherry Springs and lots of other super-fun things.

But as ridiculous as it sounds–no, not ridiculous, as oxymoronic as it sounds, I think I may be in a “fun rut.”

I want to break out, go on an escapade, have a lark, do something so totally unlike what I would ever consider doing, that it would skyrocket me into a whole new stratosphere of fun.

So here’s what I want from you: Suggest something.  What are you going to do for fun this summer?  What do you think I ought to try?  If I take your suggestion I’ll take pics or video of me doing it and post them here.

Deal?  Okay, GO!

Day 21: If It’s Not Fun…

Here’s the motto I try to live by: “If it’s not fun, it’s not done.”

Now, I know that everything is not “fun,” but the challenge is to see if you can find a way to make something that’s inherently dreary, or hard, or painful or boring, fun.  This can really challenge your imagination at times, but it’s always worth the effort.  If you find that you cannot make a disagreeable activity “fun” then you should try to delegate it to someone else, or find a way to abandon it altogether.

Now sometimes yoga is not fun.  It’s challenging. Like holding plank pose for a long time.  After a while your arms begin to shiver and give out, and your back threatens to collapse.

Or, sometimes when you hold Warrior 2 for a while, the quads start to burn, and then they catch fire and smoke starts to rise from them.

So if the guiding principle is: “If it’s not fun, it’s not done,” what do you then?

You do this:

Riding The Fred Wave

Fred’s got a great plank, I’ve got a decent Warrior 2, so after morning yoga the other day we started to play around.  It took assisting from Cheryl to help me up there and get my feet placed, and Tim took the picture, but man, did we have fun?  Yes we did!

What’s New

I have decided to give my training regimen a focus, some goal event that I will train toward.  My man “Timbo”(as he likes to be called), trains for marathons and triathalons.  But I have no interest in “running” –either as a sport or a training activity.  I used to run 10Ks back in the day, but now I find running too hard on the old bod.

I do like to walk, though.  And I love to hike, so Tim suggested I do a ‘Trail Run,” but instead of “running” it, hike it.  Power hike it.  Hike it like my hair is on fire and the nearest water is 13 miles away.  No strolling or bird-watching allowed.

So yesterday I sent my registrations in for not 1, but 2 Trail Challenges.  The first one is on September 20th in Mifflinburg, PA.  It’s called the Dam Half.  It’s a half marathon (13 miles). Jackie, Tim’s wife, is going to do it with me. She’s going hold my hand and tell me I’m doing great,– kinda like a doula at a natural birth. And when I cry out in anguish as death’s clammy paw scrapes at my hamstrings, she will be there to assure me that death will all be worthwhile because the tee-shirts in heaven are awesome.

The second event is the Ives Run Trail Challenge on September 26.  This is a shorter run, and much closer to home.  But it comes on the day when I will have ended a 12 hour fast with the drawing of 2 vials of blood.  It’s Community Multiple Blood Analysis Day, an event I look forward to all year as an opportunity to see how my blood is doing.

Should be interesting.

Today Tim sent me my training schedule for the next 3 weeks…  And you want to know what is listed as Priority 1?

“HAVE FUN.”

I can totally do that.

No problemo.

Gold medal for me.