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?

It’s on. Bring it.

It’s on. Bring it.

Today is April fool’s day. The first day of the Yoga Challenge. A rainy, cold, and crappy day.

I had to get up and get going. I had to be “on.”  Lots of “on.” First-day- of-Yoga-Challenge “on.”

Class started slow, then amped up.  With lots of breathing.

Breathing is hard. Harder than it should be, given that we do it all day long and should be experts at it by now.

But we’re not. It’s exhausting. It’s exhilarating.

After class I sat at my table in the window at Night and Day and played with my Feelings and Needs cards. From the Feelings Deck I picked: Calm, Comfortable, Hopeful, Relaxed, and Open.

From the Needs deck I picked: Authenticity, To Be Seen for Who I Am, Freedom, Balance and Power in My World. Those were the needs that were met, resulting in Calm, Comfortable, Hopeful, etc.

I have a pretty good life. I know it. I appreciate it. I designed it this way. I protect it.

It’s not like it just fell in my lap. It comes fairly easily now, and I get a lot of support to sustain it, but at the same time, I designed it this way. I made certain choices: Partner (huge), and friends, primarily. But also the choice to care, to give a shit, and to support the people around me who are doing good things in the world.

So I sat at my table and felt mellow. And grateful.

And then went home and took a nap.

Because of all the “on.”

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.

Doing the April Yoga Challenge as a Project or a Streak

Empty studio

You can do he April Yoga Challenge as a Project or a Streak.
I make the distinction between the two in my book, The Project-Driven Life.
A “Project” is persistence toward a goal.

A project requires a commitment.
You’re excited about it, yes, but you also know there’ll be hard parts where you’ll just need to suck it up.
The payoff for completing a project is an intense feeling of self-mastery which inevitably catapults you into your next project.

A “Streak” is just a game you play with yourself. Commitment is minimal to none. You streak because you just want to see,

How long can I go before I bonk?

When you do the April Yoga Challenge as a streak, you’re telling yourself that you’re not sure, but you’d be willing to bet you can’t do it for 30 days.

But who knows??

Maybe….

So on April 1st, you start the Streak.

So what’s it going to be: Project or Streak?

Something to think about…

The Sugar Project is Over

The Sugar Project is Over

Boomer sleeps

I really thought it would take longer, but I am here to report that the sugar dragon has been slain. At least for now.

I started this no-sugar project on the 10th thinking it would take me at least 2 weeks to get a handle on this addiction. But no. It’s done. I don’t have any hankering for sugar any more. I don’t crave it, or miss it, or want it.

Done. I feel more in control of my self and my life. (But to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t that big of a sugar freak to begin with.) But I did have certain triggers: Chocolate with wine, for instance. Gelato for creamy comfort when I had a lot of hard work to do. Midel Ginger snaps when I wanted something with tea. Like that.

As soon as I broke the chain reaction and noticed I was perfectly okay with just a glass of wine, or just a cup of tea, and as soon as my brain didn’t associate sugar with reward anymore, I got free.

I’m not saying I will never eat anything with sugar in it ever again, but when I do, it will be a treat, I will have just a tiny bit, and then go off it.

I really don’t think it is going to be like an alcoholic’s one drink and totally off the wagon. I really don’t.

It is also consoling me that I am going to be doing a Purification cleanse with Jennifer next month, so if there is some teetering or backsliding, I have a program in place to address that.

G is in Myrtle Beach with her team this weekend. I don’t know how she is doing, but I suspect it is still hard for her (she really misses her mochas!) but that she is staying clean.

So here’s my advice, for what it’s worth.

You’re going to feel like shit for awhile, that’s a given. You’re going to want to bail. Don’t. There is going to be a moment when the shackles will just magically fall away and you’ll be free, and you’ll feel positively giddy.

Give yourself as long as it takes to get there, knowing that it WILL COME.

Because when at last you are free, you’ll  feel powerful and amazing. You’ll stop peaking and crashing. Your energy will return and you’ll feel Zen and  even-tempered.

Eat healthy fats instead of sugar. Butter, coconut oil, and avocados saved me. Try the Bulletproof coffee. If the butter sounds gross, start with a just teaspoon of coconut oil in your coffee. It’s very calming and soothing to the nervous system.

Take it as a given that you’re going to be tired and grouchy. Get lots of sleep. Whenever you can, indulge in slothful inclinations.

Then take a bath. Do your laundry. Clean something small. It will cheer you up.

Do some yoga. If you can hack it, make it Power Yoga. The endorphin boost will make you feel sooo much better.

I hope you liked reading about this little project, and aren’t sorry it didn’t last the full month.

I must say, once the crappy parts of this no-sugar experiment ended, I’ve felt an up-tick in my cognitive energy, and am hatching a new book project.

Stay tuned!

Thanks for following this little adventure.

It’s All About Energy

Do you ever dream about what it would feel like to max out as a human being? Use yourself up completely?

I wonder about that a lot.

I am fascinated with people like Tim Ferris of The 4-Hour Workweek and Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines. Those guys seem to be living so much larger than I am.

And even though I don’t want to live their lives, I do want to have as much passion and enthusiasm and discipline and moxie for my own interests as they do for theirs.

It’s all about energy. And having a ton of it. When you have energy (are rested and well fed) you can move your projects forward. You feel like a world beater.

When you’re tired and exhausted, or worse, bored, you can’t do squat.

Healthy, active, vital people are the only ones who can make things happen in their own lives, and in the world. Healthy people are the only ones who can move their lives and their projects forward.

They don’t call in sick. They are reliable. They get the job done. And for that reason they are extremely valuable to everyone around them.

Don’t you want to be like that?

To be healthy you have to move your body. There’s no two ways about it.

Walk. Log 10K steps on your Fitbit. Do yoga. Every day. Rain or shine.

Find a body practice you like to do that is not dependent on other people, the weather, or fancy equipment, and do it most days. No tennis, no golf, no swimming. Those are all too complicated. Fun, yes, but not for a daily body practice.  Find something simple with no built-in excuses for why you can’t do it.

Also: watch your fuel. Make sure you put mostly high octane in your tank. If you’ve gotten off-track with your food, get back on track. Hire a health coach for a few months if you have to, and get back to healthy eating. Eat green things every day. And move.

I’m a yoga teacher, so I have a bias towards yoga as the perfect body practice, so let me give you my argument for why yoga should be your daily body thing.

You can do it by yourself, or in a class with others.

You can find free classes and instruction on YouTube.

You don’t need any fancy equipment.

You can start at any age and at any level of fitness.

You don’t have to be bendy or flexible (it will create that in time.)

You will stretch and strengthen your body, and focus your  mind.

In 20 minutes a day.

I am also a huge fan of walking. Get a FitBit or a VivoFit or some gadget you can wear on your wrist and start logging steps. There is a latin saying, solvitur ambulando. It means, walking solves everything.

If you have a problem, take your problem for a walk. Walk long enough and you will solve your problem. Having problems with someone at work? Schedule a “walk and talk.” So much more productive than an office meeting.

Fresh oxygen to the brain cures lethargy and promotes creativity and problem-solving.

Find a body practice and commit to it today. It is key for project development.