Slow Gardening

My streaks are starting to become hard and wearying. I am struggling with the yoga and I am struggling with what to write each week on the blog. 

The yoga is hard because of the time commitment and also because a lot of the practices are physically hard to do, and continue to be hard to do even after more than 60 days of consistently doing them.

I did the Strength practice the other day and thought: When will this ever get easier?? I have to approach the Balance practice with a sense of humor because it is all but impossible, and if I don’t find a way to laugh, and go easy on myself, I will just quit. 

This blog is hard for other reasons. Mainly because, until lately, I’ve not been reading anything except for newspapers. I’ve also not been consistently doing my 1K a day word dump in Scrivener. I need to develop more consistency in those two things. I need to put the iPad away and read. 

 I’m deathly sick of Facebook but find myself looking at it anyway. I’m actively resisting any urge to engage with anything or anybody. I’ve even stopped happy birthday-ing people. I want to quit it and if I didn’t have the studio I would in a heartbeat. I never leave Facebook feeling informed or uplifted. 

I’ve been feeling this really strong pull toward detachment and solitude. I keep flashing back on my yearly, sometimes more than yearly, retreats at Springwater, how I’d come home from them centered and aligned and inspired. It’s been too long. I almost have a fear of doing that now, not that I have the time for it. And I don’t know why.

I’ve been having escapist fantasies of doing yoga on the beach during my hour of practice each day, imagining lifting up into crescent lunge, opening my arms out wide, gathering it all in… 

In reality, yoga in the sand is crappy and messy and my form falls apart, but if I could find a flat stable piece of ground, that would be so nice, and then afterward, to sit and meditate there? Ahhhh….

My list of household things to do is long and my desire to do any of it is short. I just want to sit and read and write and then read again. The other day we moved the hammock stand into place in the side yard but I haven’t hung the hammock on it yet. I have some idea in my mind that I have to deserve my hammock time. That I have to fall into the hammock in a heap of exhaustion either from doing housework or yard work. There is some bug in my brain that says that lying around is self-indulgent and must be earned. 

The other day I was doing a little gardening, my first spate of gardening of the year.

I warmed up by just walking the yard, taking the measure of the season, noticing how things had survived the winter, or not.  The thing G wanted me to do was plant some marigolds in a planter in the back, but first there was some cleaning and weeding to be done. I took my weeder bucket and trake and started carefully cleaning out dead leaves and weeds, sweeping the flagstones, standing back and admiring things. I swept under the little Buddha statue and then took one of the marigolds, planted it in a little blue ceramic pot, and placed it in front of the statue, kind of like an offering. 

I am not a Buddhist. I am not a person who bows to statues. But I think what these little garden Buddhas represent, with their closed eyes and their meditative stillness is the me who wants to do that, and be like that. I want to be the one who goes into the yard to observe, and appreciate, and weed, and sweep, and call that “gardening.” Or “meditating.”

G is getting the garden done.

G opening the hot tub for the season

She is making great strides with planting and mulching and digging and doing. Whereas I take a different approach. I am more concerned with doing it in a way that slows me down, makes me pay attention to the plant I am weeding around in this moment, watching as it becomes visible as a result of my making a  weedless space around it. I prefer to garden slowly. I don’t care how long it takes. I like taking my time. 

Not a lot will get done at this pace, though. By the time I’m through, the leaves will need to be raked and the hammock again, stored for the winter. 

My Definition of Gentle Yoga

The Yoga Challenge is over and I just put out my May calendar. I have two days back-to-back off from teaching this month. I am reclaiming my old  Wednesdays off, and Jessie is teaching Core Yoga on Thursdays for the month. Not only do I get to take a class (!!!!) but I’ll get some time to make a few videos, which I’ve been wanting, yet deeply resisting, doing.

I want to make some YouTube videos of classes so people who want to practice with me at home can do so. I’m really hoping having this time off this month is going to incentivize me to do this. And I am mentioning it here to keep me accountable, too.

G is home now for a few days, but leaves Tuesday for a week at her Mom’s. While she is gone I want to set up the office/her room for videoing, and start messing around. I don’t really know what I’m doing so this will be interesting.

But one thing I definitely have to decide up front is what kind of classes I want to offer. My instinct is to go Gentle, but what does that really mean?

I’ve been to Gentle yoga classes that were more like Restorative yoga. I think every teacher has to decide what that word “Gentle” means for herself, and make sure her students know what to expect, too.

So here’s a stab at what I mean by Gentle Yoga.

No vinyasa, for one thing. No high push-up, low push-up, cobra, down dog. None of that stuff. . 

Also the tempo is slow. Gentle, for me, describes the speed of the class more than anything else. Gentle Yoga’s speed limit is like 35-45 mph.

The practice itself might not feel all that gentle, though.

That’s because even though there aren’t any flowing sequences that require being strong, this yoga nevertheless requires attention. And the ability adjust. And to be on high alert. And to be attentive to your body. And to how you’re feeling.

Also, you have to be a good listener. And that’s not easy because most of us are crappy listeners to both other people and our own bodies.

And this is especially true for me when I’ve been revving around all day, multi-tasking, doing, doing, doing.

Think of how it feels to suddenly decelerate to 45mph after cruising on the interstate at 70 mph+ for a few hours.

That’s exactly how it feels like to do Gentle yoga.

To me, at least.

It can feel a little jarring at first. Even unnatural. Especially when a pose shows up that requires I be careful, slow down, and make some important decisions. Gentle Yoga requires some very deep attention to do what seems ridiculously simple, on the surface. It’s a practice that demands deep attention.

That’s the kind of Gentle class I want to make.

So how about you? What makes a class Gentle for you? I’d love to know.

Use the comments.

The Yoga Of Dog Training

Shortly after we got Stella, I had an epiphany watching some corgis on an Instagram account I follow called Alfuku. 

The owners of these corgis are Japanese, and naturally they talk to their corgis in Japanese. 

When I heard them interact with these dogs, I had no idea what they were saying. But these corgis sure did. 

These dogs are beautiful and funny and trained. They know all kinds of tricks. They even dance in competitions with their owners, weaving in and out of them to music. It’s amazing.

But my epiphany watching them respond to commands in Japanese was— and everyone who has ever trained a dog, will go, “Duh” when I say this,— is that these dogs don’t understand the Japanese language, or any other language, for that matter.  They’ve just learned to decode sound patterns.  

They’ve translated what sounds to me like: ichi washi goobahya into: Bring the rubber chicken here, and drop it at my feet.

Once I fully grasped this, I consciously started monitoring my speech for brevity and consistency when I talked to Stella. No color commentary, no reasons, no verbal expressions of exasperation or complicated feelings and needs.  I needed to shut up, keep all that to myself, and just say,  Come! 

Same with body language. No dancing Shiva arm movements, no fancy footwork. If she was trying to decode me, I needed to send as clear a signal as possible.

One thing that makes Stella easy to train is her attentiveness. She makes eye contact. She seems to be trying to read me. 

When I ask her a question, or, more accurately, when my voice goes up at the end: “You wanna go for a walk?” She cocks her head to one side, as if to say, “What?” 

Then, if I put on my shoes and grab her leash, and always repeat those same sounds every time before a walk, “You wanna go for a walk?” is basically ichi washi goobahya except instead of fetching a rubber chicken, she gets to go outside with me.

My latest project is trying to train her to know the distinction between “Stay With” and “Stay Close.”

I want her to understand that when I say, “Stay With” she should stay within a close proximity to me, maybe 30 yards. I should always be able to see her, and she, me. 

I use Stay Close to mean what most dog trainers mean by “Heel.”  I want Stay Close to mean, “keep exact pace with me.”  

This training has been eye-opening. I have to be totally present and aware of what I’m doing in order to be effective.

 It’s a lot like practicing yoga. I can’t multi-task. I can’t make random, mindless movements or jibber-jabber to her in meaningless paragraphs of mouth noise. 

If I want the signal to be read, I have to reduce the noise. I have to breathe, slow down, make eye contact, be patient, be willing to fail, and try again. And again. I have to make it fun. I have to have treats on me at all times.

Dog training means paying attention to what I’m doing, and what she’s doing, and finding ways to connect.  I have to witness myself and I have to witness her. I have to create a relationship.

When I’m walking alone, without the dog, it’s different. I can and do carry on long conversations with myself, out loud. 

I used to get embarrassed if anyone caught me doing this, but now, in the age of wireless headsets, everyone appears to be talking to themselves as they walk along, anyway.

Yesterday Stella and I were walking on the Hike and Bike trail.  This is where I like to practice stay with, and stay close with her. She had her short, lightweight drag-along leash attached to her collar but I wasn’t holding on to it. 

 It was sunny and warm and I found myself striding along, happily talking to myself about my usual nonsense when I realized I’d lost track of her. And myself.

But thankfully she hadn’t lost track of me. There she was, up ahead, waiting for me to catch up. She was doing a great job of staying with. Whereas I had strayed. I had lost her. And myself. To thought.

Dogs teach us so more than we teach them, if only we would stop thinking and just observe them.

A long time ago I wrote this poem to another dog:

Shasta

My dog knows the universe with his nose,

sips the air for the scent of leaving

after the doorlock clicks.

I spend each day practicing to do

what he does:

Follow my senses,

observe the wind, 

respond to the sense of soil

and not to the flowering of each

fantasy, each upturned rock

of memory.

My pet, 

my guru, 

my teacher on a leash.

From the passing pick-up

it looks as if I am walking you,

but I am the student

following you each morning

from tree

to bush, 

probing the world of gravel

and weed, 

learning the proper response

to air, the infinite 

logarithms of light,

the script of sound

far beyond my range.

The Yoga Of Shoveling

We just got a big dump of snow. Everyone’s buzzing. People here like snow. Especially since it’s only snowed once, back in November. 

Snow days, when the snow is actually falling, are slow days: soup, hot chocolate, movies, naps, games.

But that’s only when the snow is actually falling

When the snow stops falling, and clean-up begins, that’s when a lot of people tend to lose their zen.

Here are some things you might want to keep in mind in the aftermath of a big snow dump.

1. Take your time. There’s no rush. It’s not a race. Do a little bit at a time and focus on your bio-mechanics. Lift with your legs, take a lot of breaks, and do some counter-stretches. Shoveling is a continuous act of forward bending, so you need to counter that. So stop. Take a breath. Look at the sky.  Then take a slow, shallow, little backbend. Do this at regular intervals. 

2. Ta-Da rather than To-Do If you have a lot of snow to shovel it’s easy to get discouraged when you look at what you have left to do. Switch your perspective. Look at what you’ve done thus far instead. Give yourself credit for even a modest effort. Don’t get discouraged. Just keep going, slowly, one shovelful at a time.

3. Become one with the machine.If you’re using equipment, it’s important to pay attention to how your equipment is operating and how you are operating your equipment. Take your time. Pay attention. Don’t get sloppy and go barreling through on momentum. Be deliberate and careful. It’s better that way.

4. Pat yourself on the back.When you’re done, admire your work. Even if it’s not done. Admire what you did. Take some more counter stretches. Then take a hot bath, preferably with epsom salts. Soak away any soreness. 

5. Enjoy a reward. Find some soft clothes to snuggle into and make a nice beverage and get comfortable and do something relaxing: read, watch a little TV, cook, take a nap, look out the window. 

The clean-up after a storm can seem like a daunting task, something you definitely don’t love. But it’s easier to fall in love with your reality if you can find little ways to make your reality easier to love. 

Being a Yoga Teacher Is A Great Gig

On Monday I had an amazing yoga class. 

Here’s what happened.

I started them in Mountain pose. There were about a dozen of them, a mix of men and women,— mostly people who’ve been practicing together for years.  

They know each other. 

They like each other. 

They’re yoga friends.

I started them in Mountain pose and then I called on them, one by one, to take us into the next pose. 

 It was like a Choose Your Own Adventure class. 

Nobody could predict what was coming next, or when their name would be called. They had to be thinking all the time: What will I do next if she happens to call on me?

And I had to be thinking all the time: Who is going to pick something challenging here? And: Who is going to pick something easier?

So I was kinda orchestrating it, based on what I knew about them, and what kind of practice they like.

I told them at the start the only 2 poses that were off-limits were Child and Savasana. 

They groaned. Then laughed.

What transpired was freaking amazing.  

Warriors, a triangle, a balance pose, and a Surya B.

There were some lunges, pigeon, and a bridge. Then fish, and a twist. 

Each person talked the class through their pose. Their sequencing was intelligent and fun. I did it with them. 

It was awesome. They were amazing. I’ve been telling everyone who will listen, about it.

I’ve had a perma-grin since Monday.

Being a yoga teacher is the best gig ever. 

Especially here. With these people. 

I’m so lucky.

Struggling With Consistency

I can’t seem to get any traction going. I can’t seem to get consistency on my big rocks

My scorecard this week: 

Writing 7/7, 

Meditation 5/7, 

Yoga 3/7. 

I blogged last week, so Blog 1/1 

The writing is the easiest. The blogging is the hardest, but since the blogging is only once a week, I managed, at least for the first week, to gut it out.

I credit Nanowrimo for getting me in shape to write 1K a Day. After having to hit that 1667 word-a-day benchmark every day in November, a thousand words a day is puh. 

As for the meditation, even though I haven’t been consistent, I really like the new meditation app I’ve been using. It’s Sam Harris’s Waking Up Course. There are daily, ten-minute guided meditations.  And even though they are talkier than I would normally be able to tolerate, I find, at this stage in my meditation practice, I kinda welcome his intellectual guidance. Having spent decades on the cushion doing zazen, and other techniques, and not quite understanding what the hell I was  doing, Sam’s guidance is causing some of the the mist to dissipate. 

My greatest resistance is to my 30 minute daily personal yoga practice.

Is it that I just don’t want to confront how inflexible I’ve become? How physically weak? 

Could be. 

I haven’t come up with a good time-slot for it, either, and that is a stumbling block. Plus, I have this thing about changing my clothes. I hate changing clothes. It takes everything I have to get out of my pajamas into day clothes. And then when it’s time to teach,  I resist getting out of day clothes into yoga clothes. It’s a ridiculous struggle. 

I was talking to a fellow yoga teacher friend and she practices first thing, in her pajamas.  But I don’t like yoga first thing. I like yoga, like third thing, after writing, and meditation. But then the puppy needs a walk, and then the day often derails.

The solution would be to take a regular yoga class. Plop down a lot of money and commit. I’m an Obliger. I need accountability. But there is no regular class or teacher around here. Mine are the regular classes. I am the teacher. 

This needs to be figured out. 

5 Ways To Be A Better Yoga Teacher

Yoga training concept

I’m a sucker for  Advice-driven posts like this. I cannot resist, “3 Ways to Achieve Enlightenment in Your Lifetime,” or “10 ways to Stop Cravings.”. I bite every time. So here’s my own “list post”  giving myself the Yoga Teaching advice I need.

Number 1. Don’t close your eyes when you teach.

This is really hard for me. I see so much clearer when I my eyes are closed.  But when I am a student and I am looking at the teacher and the teacher has her eyes closed I feel disconnected from her. I think (and rightly so) that she is in her own world, and what she’s saying has nothing to do with me. Selfishly, I want the teacher to be there for me. I want the teacher to be present.

When I am teaching and tell the students to close their eyes, that doesn’t give me permission to close MY eyes. I need to remember that. Teachers close their eyes because students are really distracting. Their behavior  can really throw you off.

But I must train myself to keep my eyes open at all times. And look at them. As individuals. Not as a “class.”

This is really hard.. I am still, after all these years, terrible at it. I need to force myself to do it, especially when I am centering them. I think the reason I close my eyes is that I am trying to center myself at the same time I am centering them. And that’s a mistake.  I need to remember to keep my eyes opened. All the time. Never close your eyes if you are a yoga teacher.

Number 2. Don’t be afraid to touch your students.

I am really bad at this, too. Every yoga teacher is taught how to assist. Some are way better at it than others. The ones who are good usually have had teachers who have assisted them really well.

I am afraid to touch my students because I am afraid that the touch will be wrong. The way to get over this is to just touch lightly at first. Just give a fingertip touch. The very lightest of encouragement or tweak.

This is hard to get over if you don’t know how. And sometimes students will take the touch as a correction rather than a cue. So you think maybe not to touch is just better. That is a mistake.  People are starved for touch. Even the lightest touch is a moment of being seen. That’s why everyone in a class should be touched at least once.

Number 3. Don’t talk too much.

Oh boy. This is what I really need to learn. It is okay to have a lot of silence in a yoga class. You don’t have to fill up all the space with chatter. I have to remember this because I am a very chatty teacher.

A few  well-chosen cues, widely spaced, can go a long way. I need to think of words as spices. You don’t want to over salt the dish, you want to go easy on the cayenne, the cumin, the curry.

Let there be space for emptiness and breathing and contemplation. Don’t talk too much. Err on the side of silence.

Number 4. Don’t forget to smile.

You don’t have to crack jokes or smile the whole time like a ninny, but learn to put a smile in your voice. If your students are deep in their practice, breathing and listening for the next direction, if your voice has a smile in it, it is really wonderful.

In oder to put a smile in your voice you have to have a smile on your face. You need to practice this. You know how nice it is when you’re on the phone with someone in customer service, and they seem to have a smiley voice? When you can hear something friendly in their voice, it makes the whole interaction go much better.

That’s what you should aim for in the yoga room. Not jokes, not inauthenticity, just warm friendliness. This takes some mirror practice. Work on it.

Number 5. Don’t pretend to know what you don’t know.

If you don’t live the yamas and niyamas, if you don’t struggle to live them in your own life, don’t bring them up. If, however, you do try to adhere to them in your non-yoga-class life, then by all means bring them up.  It’s like talking about weight-loss when you’ve never had a weight problem. Just don’t.

If you don’t practice handstands, don’t teach handstands. If you don’t have a daily practice, don’t preach daily practice.  Don’t preach about virtues you don’t aspire to, or struggle with, or have. If you’ve never had a chakra awakening, don’t talk about chakra awakenings. Stay honest. Stay in your lane.