Monday, July 31, 2006

I practiced yoga today

Really practiced yoga - in the sense that I was feeling stiff and tired from my silly long practice yesterday, and my legs felt roughly the same as they did after running a marathon: quads so tight I could barely walk down the stairs. Luckily, the only stairs I have to walk down are the ones from the street to Shala X.

Thus, I got to really work on some yoga practices:

  • discipline - making myself practice because it is the right thing to do, even though I soooo did not want to. That is when (some say) the real yoga begins: when you get to the mat despite all of the resistance you feel. We often feel resistance to our practice (counterintuitive, eh? I mean when did we ever leave practice and not feel amazing, and yet still the next day, the resistance burbles up again), and the theory is that we should welcome it as a challenge to overcome.
  • dispassion (i.e., equanimity) - getting through my practice without too much disappointment over how long it took me to get through the standing poses, without too much elation over being able to bind in spite of my stiffness (not in Supta K of course).
  • ahimsa - getting through my entire practice without taking too much of a mental beating from my mind (which sometimes forgets that talking trash about the body that sustains it is only going to alienate and intimidate the body and further xaggerate the identification that the mind already makes with itself and with the physical body, when in fact the mind should be quieted of such antics to make way for the everpresent but quiet and unassuming true self to bubble forth.
  • satya - being honest with myself about my limitations today, not racing to get through practice quickly when that isn't what my body was capable of doing, not pushing myself to touch hands down in Prasarita Padotannasana C, when I got much more mileage out of stretching them outward from my back, a few inches above the floor.
  • asteya - not seeking out adjustments on poses I don't really need adjustments on - like Uttitha Hasta Padangusthasana. I can do it just fine by myself. To stand there waiting for Mark to come over to hold my leg up, which I don't even need, would be stealing from the other 30-some-odd people in the room, including him.
There were probably quite a few others. But they elude me at the moment. And I wanted to get a chance to say: I DROPPED BACK AGAIN!! FOUR TIMES!

Ego, ego, ego...what will we do with you, ego, my friend. I am not my backbends. Repeat, I am not my bacbends.

But it is FUN FUN FUN to drop back. It is awesomely fun to feel strong enough to rely on your hands to support you after you let gravity take hold for a brief moment. It is amazingly empowering to realize that you are strong enough and supple enough to do this and that the only thing holding you back was fear (and a little leg work which can be accomplished in some real and honest to goodness Warrior poses....if you want to strengthen your legs enough to drop back safely, then no more phoning in the more 1-900-Virabadra, $.06 per quickie breath).

There was a moment there when I thought I was not brave enough to attempt it at the shala. I really didn't want anyone to see. I am not sure how criminal it is to do my own dropping back without having been "taught". But it's not like I am skipping any poses here. I am just getting into my Urdvha Dhanurasana from standing, instead of from lying on my back.

So first, I did three super-long Urdvha D's. Mark came to help me lift my chest higher. Then after those three, I did three more. Then I stood up, looking perhaps a bit sheepish, put my hands in prayer at my heart center, looked up, lifted my chest and when I could lift no more, reached my arms overhead and gently found the floor.

Then I "stood up" onto my knees, a la Ustrasana. I guess the standing up from backbends will come a bit later. Then I did it three more times. Then I brought my mat to the back of the room to prepare for closing poses, and I dropped back once again. Ahhhhhhhhhhh.

Closing poses, drove home and stopped at three different fruit stands looking for a Mexican mango. Why are all the Mangos at the fruit stands from Haiti this month? Bought one anyway. It is just too sweet. It's as if they married a pure-bred Mango with a mixed breed Mango - one with long-ago family ties to the Papaya.

And here I sit, having finished my Mango and a banana and now working on a piece of Alvarado Street Bakery Sprouted Wheat Bread. YUM!!


Sunday, July 30, 2006

Put on your ice skates, get out those parkas....

because Hell just froze over: I dropped back. Unassisted.

And I dropped again. UNASSISTED. And I did it again, and again and again and again because even I did not think it was possible. After about 20 repeats, I called The Husband and Brian and Adam in to be my witnesses. And after 20 some-odd drop-backs, I dropped back yet again. No sloping grassy hill. Just me, the mat, my fears and the destroyer of fear...action.

(I was self-practicing because I am away at the beach this weekend.)

How did I do it? How I did it may not help anyone else because we each have our own particular, unique challlenges. But for me, I knew it was coming when I pressed up into Setu Bandhasana with my arms crossed over my chest (yes, I practiced full Primary today...I was alone, I was feeling it...and so....I did it...okay, I'm lying...I actually went further than that even...I bound in Pasasana (very very sloppily) with a pillow under my heels and then easily tackled Krounchasana and the tummy-down backbends, including Bhekasana - no, my feet don't touch the floor, but are pretty close....this has always been pretty easy for me - and then Ustrasana and Laghu Vajrasana - which is also easy for me with my hands in my knee-pits...but five VERY quick breaths or I get stuck down at the bottom - and then finally, and this was the kicker, I dropped back into Kapotasana touching my hands to the floor first, and walking them in before my head touched the floor).

Now, despite that in my approximation of Kapo, my hands were six inches from my feet, the feeling of dropping back was all there. One hundred percent. I could feel it. That and the strength in my legs in Laghu Vaj (can I call you that? Laghy Vaj? Thanks...).

So, having reached my apex, and gone beyond, I did several backbends from the floor. And then I stood up to drop back, fully intending to drop onto my knees once I got scared....but here is the thing: I never got scared, and there my hands were, on the floor, never having had to drop down onto my knees. And I did it again. And again. Ad nauseum.

So, that was how it worked for me. I would say leg strength leg strength leg strength and minimally open chest and shoulders. Minimally, I stress. These two together seemed way way more relevant than a super-bendy back or outrageously open shoulders and chest, which I do not have.

Will it ever happen again without first doing the first part of Second, which "legally", I am not allowed to do? Will I ever bind Supta Kurmasana so that I can get past it and beyond to the many poses that I actually CAN do?

Time will tell....


Friday, July 28, 2006

Four years ago this weekend...

I was taking a nice, luxurious shower in our Westport summer rental, exfoliating in anticipation of my weekly self-tanning application, planning in my head, the menu for a late afternoon barbecue for a group of friend who were driving in from the city, when I found it.

I know that hindsight is 20/20, but you have to believe me when I tell you that I knew at that moment that my life was going to change forever as soon as I got myself to a doctor. Which is why I didn't call the doctor until later that week. Normally, upon making a worrisome discovery, I would call my doctor immediately, seeking reassurance. In this case, I knew that there could be no reassurance. This wasn't a worrisome discovery; this was a black hole of dread.

My entire body simultaneously tingled with energy and went limp, a sensation that I could feel in my teeth, on my scalp, on the tips of my fingers. Suddenly the memory of a dream from the night before crept into my conscious mind. In the dream, I had discovered multiple tumors in my breast. There was terror in the dream, and yet somehow, I didn't wake up screaming. Instead, I woke up, stood under a spray of steaming hot water and let my unconscious mind guide my fingers to the most prominent of what would ultimately turn out to be three tumors in my right breast, only one of which was palpable and only two of which were detectable on ultrasound. The third was discovered only upon the dissection of my amputated breast.

Had I not opted for a mastectomy, it is entirely possible that the third tumor would have gone undetected. Perhaps, in that case, chemotherapy would have eradicated all traces of breast cancer in my body, including the hidden tumor, which medically speaking, and quite appropriately, is referred to as an "occult" tumor (cue the sound of an evil cackle). Or perhaps, well, perhaps not.

All I know is that I am lucky to be here. Some of it was good planning. And some of it is just dumb luck.

I asked my breast surgeon how she measures a patient's time of survival, and, as expected, she replied that to her, a patient's survival dates back to the date the breast cancer was excised surgically from the body. But, of course. And, of course, it will come as no surprise that the way I measure my survival is to date it back to the moment that changed my life forever...the moment when I just knew.


Happiness is...

  • a brand new Tapas travel mat that weighs like half an ounce
  • feeling your foot massaging your gut in Mari D.
  • using the ropes wall in the Iyengar room at Yoga Sutra to do my own standing-up and dropping-back from Urdhva D.
  • teaching a class that just "feels" like it's gelling...or, perhaps, even gellin'.
  • the weekend...even though I don't work an office job, the weekend still feels like a nice break from the day-to-day
  • being all caught up on laundry
  • Lewis being in a good mood
  • Mung bean dal that I made all by myself
  • a perfectly ripe Mexican mango
  • discovering a nifty trick to do R&D for Supta K, using the wall
  • getting my chin to the mat in Buja P.
  • realizing that I have never, not once, stopped making progress in my practice
  • gratitude
  • priceless

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Two boobs away from Supta K

The big bath towel worked like a charm. It absorbed all my sweat and was entirely wet by the time I was done practicing today in the 87 degrees (farenheit) heat and the God-only-knows how high humidity. Practice was sweet. I was focused, I was working hard, I was undistracted, even by my practice. I did spend a bit too much time in Parivritta Parsvakonasana, but I am really, really into twisting right now. And I did get up to steal a bit of cool (relatively speaking) air from the vestibule of the shala between Part I of my practice, as I seem to be delineating it these days (everthing up through Janu Sirsasana C) and Part II of my practice (everything up until Backbends, also known as Urdvha D). But other than that, it was super nice...Mari C and D were REALLY deep, and I am beginning to make it a habit of feeling that internal massage in Mari D, where the foot is really pressed hard into the abdomen as the twist gets deeper. And this was without any adjustment. Come to think of it, I didn't get even ONE adjustment until Supta Kurmasana. Not a single one. And this, despite that I came EARLY today (a shala mate and I were discussing the possibility of being "punished" for showing up late by not getting adjustments). No, wait. I'm lying. I did get a couple of standing poses!! I had forgotten this completely since I am unaccustomed to getting adjusted in standing poses. But Mark pays amazing attention to detail in the standing poses, and I am reminded that he is giving a workshop at the shala on the standing poses. As he says, "You can't build upon a shaky foundation" or something like that.

So, guess what? My shoulders are having a bit of trouble in Supta Kurmasana....but here's the rub: I am beginning to understand what I am really up against here. I had the pleasure of lunching with Ms. Facing Inward today at Candle Cafe, and of course, the discussion came round and round again to Ashtanga, and in particular, to challenges facing girls who have breasts that won't quit, literally. If only I could draw like Sweaty Brain, I could show you with a simple line drawing how the little domes sitting high up on my chest hold me suspended about two inches off the floor in Kurmasana, and how when I reach my arms around behind my back in Supta Kurmasana, my shoulders are completely ungrounded and basically fall forward to support me...thus using gravity against me and making the bind a near (or possibly complete) impossibility.


Now, I could talk to Sir or Mark about this problem, perhaps see if this will get me out of the duty to bind in Supta K before moving onto the next pose. Or perhaps see if I can get a note from Guruji to get out of Supta K (thank you Anonymous Shala X-mate, once again for the brilliant idea) on this basis. But the thing is, the problem will only come back to haunt me in later postures...Yoga Nidrasana for sure, if not sooner, assuming I can ever get that far, and yeah, I guess I am assuming I can, although Pasasana would be quite the roadblock with those non-movable little boobies in the way of my twisting.

But this reminds me: I overcame the obstacle of the boobs in Mari C and Mari D. I simply push them out of the way and twist past them. In fact, Mari C and D are quite a bit easier for me than Mari B most of the time, and I attribute this to the fact that I had to learn to twist even FURTHER in order to surpass the whole boob roadblock.

And thus, I am inspired to overcome the problem again in Supta K, even if it takes me years. I am wondering, however, if it might be helpful for me to shoulders with a blanket under each one, like the way vinyasa students sometimes support their bent-knee hip with a blanket in order to ultimately go deeper. THIS is something that I would consider discussing with Mark. Perhaps tomorrow if I have the guts.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Down dog

Lewis the Bagle is a feeling a bit down this week because his aunt Fergie (full name: Sarah Ferguson, Dutchess of Yorkshire Terrier) has come for a visit while her parents (who are my parents too..which makes Fergie my 16-year old sister) are in Eastern Europe gettin' in touch with their roots. Last I heard they were in Helsinki, but I do not believe that they made it over to see Petri, assuming Petri is even there now.

Fergie is quite the little handful for a two pound Yorkie. She doesn't really walk on a leash, so that means I have to carry her around while walking Lewis, or else make two trips. I had to give her a bath yesterday because her eyes were all goopy. Then I decided to give her a little hair cut to get rid of all the long droopy hair that was getting in her eyes, causing the goopiness in the first place. She looks much better now. Like a little princess. Or dutchess.

Practice was weird today - all vata above the neck, all pitta in the body. My mind was spinning wildly, but nothing really outside of the practice, just thinking ABOUT the practice, getting overly obsessive about aligning myself in postures in JUST the right way so that I could enhance the corresponding later postures. I realized I needed to get my act together when I completely forgot about Parsvotanasana about halfway through Uttitha Hasta Padangusthasana.

Mark gave me a great adjustment in Supta K and in Urdvha Dhanurasana. I forgot how much I love to be adjusted in Urdvha D. At one point he asked me, "Do they not have towels on the Upper East Side", which had more than one person in the shala laughing their ass off. I am quite famous for my Bounty now, and not in a good way. I am soooooo embarassed. And I want so much to get rid of the Bounty at this point, but I am just sooooo stubborn: I don't want to get rid of it just because everyone is scoffing at me...the fact that I have begun to make an ass out of myself with the Bounty is only making me more attached to it.

Sooo.....if I get rid of the Bounty, it is only because I have begun to see it as really idiotic when, as Mark pointed out, a really big beach towel would do the same thing (without decimating the East Coast's forests or leaving a trail of soaking wet paper wherever I go).

It is NOT because everyone else sees it as idiotic.




Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Ah, good times, good times

I just got an invitation to a party being thrown for alumni of the law firm at which I spent my final days as a practicing attorney. "Please join us for a night of good times, shared memories and renewed friendships," it beckons.

Upon clicking on the invitation graphic, the invitee is taken to an RSVP form that asks the invitee to submit his or her favorite memory from his or her days at The Law Firm (or, rather, his or her favorite memory from one of the three firms that merged to form the 900+ attorney international conglomerate). This strikes me as funny since law firms are not exactly known for providing their employees with happy memories. But then, it doesn't actually ask for "happy" memories. Just "favorite" memories.

Which makes it a whole lot easier.

And so, not being one to shy away from my duty to contribute to a written work when asked, I began to think about what I might list as a "favorite memory" of my tenure at "The Law Firm." And so, I give to you..."Yoga Chickie's Favorite Memory From The Good Ole Days at The Law Firm":

[sound of crickets chirping]

[more sounds of crickets chirping]

right...okay...just give me one second....

[visual of Yoga Chickie, sitting motionless at the computer, brows furrowed]

hmmm....that show Adam's watching, what's it called...Ben 10, I think....looks reeeeeallly compelling....

So, yeah, I think I have to get back to you on that one.


I scooped Slate! I scooped Slate!

Cuz I thought of it first, na na nana na.

(Okay, now, I am neither egotistical enough nor insane enough to assume that Seth Stevenson and his Slate editors actually READ Yoga Chickie...nevertheless, chronologically speaking, I did, in fact, tackle it "head on" one day earlier than they).

Apply directly to the head!


Yo ho ho

I am positively bleary-eyed as I write this. And I need to warn you beforehand, I am only writing to kill time as I wait for the neighborhood pet store to open so that I can buy some of that PetTastic stuff that takes the poop smell out of the carpet. So, you may not find anything worthwhile here, assuming that is, indeed, what you came here for.

Yesterday was Adam's visiting evening at day camp. By the time the evening was over, it was 10:00 p.m., and I had enjoyed a Vodka Collins straight up (this is my new summer cocktail of choice as it incorporates vodka, lemonade and a bit of fizz, which is as close to heaven for me as a summer cocktail can get), a salad topped with freshly sauteed fungus, I mean mushrooms (NOT a yoga-practice-supporting meal) and a slice of thin-crust extruded-dead-animal pizza, or rather, sausage pizza (again, such carnage is NOT yoga-practice-supporting). Yet I smirked through my non-vegetarian guilt, knowing that although my karma might be very very bad, at least my yoga practice won't suffer for it, seeing as today is a MOON DAY! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

Famous last I woke up and realized that today I am teaching not one, but TWO vinyasa classes at Yoga Sutra, which means that I had better do at least some self-practice before I set about to teach (I always like to do some practice before teaching as it settles my mind and brings clarity to my spoken words, not to mention I am warm enough to demonstrate a posture here and there if called upon to do so).

Furthermore, when we arrived home from our dead-flesh and fungus eating fest, we discovered that the karma delivery truck had arrived early: Lewis had a stomach bug and had soiled himself, his crate, his beloved stuffed monkey and even his water dish. I fed him an Immodium only to have THAT backfire as well: when I woke up this morning, I discovered that I had given poor Lewis a case of constipation-induced doggie hemorrhoids. I won't go further into a description of what that meant to my wood floors and living room carpet. But it wasn't pretty. Isn't pretty. Thus, I wait for the pet supply shop to open.

Oh, yeah, the yo ho ho thing: I saw Pirates of the Carribean this weekend. It was disgustingly gross and not even remotely interesting. Moreover, Orlando Bloom is a girly man, Johnny Depp desperately needs to bathe, Keira Knightley looked FAT (not really) and all of the other characters were so interchangeable that I found it nearly impossible to figure out what was going on. My kids loved it.

So there you have it. Nine a.m. Off I go.


Monday, July 24, 2006

Rice - it's not just for dinner anymore

And by rice, I mean brown rice or any whole grain rice. Otherwise, why bother? I mean, you might as well eat Wonder Bread rather than going to the bother of preparing constipation-inducing, bland-tasting white rice.

After our Saturday morning led practice (I'm talking about Yoga Shala Summer Camp again), we helped ourselves to a bountiful buffet of diced fruit, granola, yogurt and brown rice, and possibly some other goodies I may be forgetting (possibly leftover dal?). I was positively psyched to have the opportunity to eat brown rice for breakfast. You see, I have had this idea brewing on the backburner of my brain for quite some time that rice could, in fact, be used as a cereal for the morning meal. I have gone so far as to make brown rice and then stir in some milk and maple syrup. Of course, the looks I have gotten from my boys (and by boys, I am including the Husband as well as the Sons) have given me pause to consider that perhaps this is not normal. Perhaps it even amounts, somehow, to some sort of disordered eating.

But now I know (and this is, I guess, Lesson Number Three that I learned from Yoga Shala Summer Camp - or are we up to Four? In any event....):

Good eating knows not what time it is.

Brown rice in the morning for breakfast? Bring it on. Chai in the evening as a sort of yogic apertif? Ladle it up.

But a few caveats: the later into the evening that you eat, the more you feel it in your morning practice.

And eating BEFORE practice is a recipe for binding difficulties as well as excessive belching and even, at times (as I have observed), the alarming feeling of suddenly needing to (as my boys say) "wahk". If you don't know what I mean, then say it out loud.

As for eating AFTER practice, my understanding is that there is some window of time immediately after practice asana during which your body should have the opportunity to settle into its asana-induced calm. Coffee during this time period would be counter-productive to such calm. (Sir told me that he does not drink coffee right after I lifted my mug to my lips....) I believe that Yoga Mala advises waiting half an hour between the end of practice and the beginning of the morning meal.
Just now, at 1:00 p.m., more than two hours after I finished my morning practice, I had a delicious bowl of steel cut oats. And I have to say, I feel damn good. But what I ate after practice is only one part of the why-I-feel-so-good equation. Add to the steel cut oats a few additional factors:
  • Mark is back!!!
  • I had a super-calm and focused practice today and had no trouble binding in any bound poses, including Mari C and D and even including Badha Padmasana.
  • Did I mention Mark is back?
  • Head on! Apply directly to your forehead! ( did that get in there?)
  • Mark and Xtina two-on-oned me in Supta K and had my hands thiiiis close even WITH my ankles totally crossed over my head. Afterwards, they said, "your hands were thiiiis close", so that's how I know.
  • I got 8 hours of sleep last night.
  • I ate my own homemade dal for dinner last night (hoping to reproduce a recipe here soon)
  • I'm having a good hair day.
  • I'm seeing my friend L today. She's taking me on a tour of her adopted hometown of Scahhhsdale...just in case we ever decide to leave the city and eschew my dream of a white picket fence in Westport. This is not going to happen. I repeat. Not. Gonna.
  • I am finding that I am calmly dealing with the fact that my parents' 16-year old Yorkshire Terrier (Terrorist?), who is crashing with the Yoga Chickie family while my parents take a cruise to Eastern Europe (that's right...a cruise....I know...I don't understand it either), is peeing all over my home with utter impunity. She is very spoiled, this little dog, she is.
Off I must go to walk the now famous Lewis the Bagle before heading up to the burbs.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

Head On! Apply Directly To the Forehead!

Head On! Apply directly to the forehead!

I was just minding my own business, watching CNN, and THIS comes on.

Head on! Apply directly to the forehead! Head on! Apply directly to the forehead! Head on! Apply directly to the forehead! Head on! Apply directly to the forehead! Head on! Apply directly to the forehead!

It's not at all clear from the commercial that Head On is a migraine medication, although it is clear that you apply it directly to the forehead. Apply directly to the forehead. Apply it where? Apply directly to the forehead. And just in case it isn't clear, or in case you are, perhaps, hearing impaired, there is an arresting visual of an attractive woman applying it directly to her forehead. It kind of looks like she's rubbing a glue stick on her brow. Or maybe a solid deodorant stick. What is it? Who knows. But you apply it directly to the forehead.

And it's available without a prescription!

Which just might come in handy after you watch this ad.

Don't say I didn't warn you.


The Ego has Landed

Alright. So, I have regrounded myself and am prepared for another day of struggle with my practice.

If it isn't a struggle, great.

If it is, well then, thank you very much.


Lesson Number 2: Taking a led class with your teacher does not mean you have been given the entire Primary Series

Now, I mean no disprespect when I write this. So, let's just clear that up right now. And for that matter, let's clear something else up: Lesson Number 2, as aforementioned, falls into the category of "mundane" and "silly , as opposed to the category of "sacred" or "solemn". Nevertheless, it is a lesson that is worth mentioning, at least in my mind.

It was a joy to delve into the entire Primary Series, yes. And a nudging, winking joke was made by me to my teacher to the effect of, "Hey, thanks for giving me all those poses. It will be great to be practicing the full primary from now on..." But here is the truth: it matters not whether you are practicing Surya Namaskar A and then lying down in Savasana or whether you are practicing Advanced C (if that actually exists). And here is the (hopefully) non-mundane , non-silly Summer Camp lesson note that goes with this truism:

Yoga is what you do while you're practicing Asana (the physical practice). Not the other way around. Every body is in need of something different. The asana practice provides a framework for playing out the dramas we experience courtesy of our constantly vritti-ing minds. The structure of the Mysore style teaches us surrender - to things as they are, to that which we can't control, to an understanding that there is something to be learned by those who have treaded the path before us.
There was some discussion after class about the usefulness of discussing asanas ad nauseum as some of us have been known to do (guilty as charged). I suggested in my infinite (oh, wait, I think I meant to say "infantile") wisdom that perhaps "if one, hypothetically speaking, were to obsess over what it takes to get into certain postures, perhaps such obsession would actually help that hypothetical person to calm her hypothetical giving her something else to think about...hypothetically." Sir didn't exactly agree. Instead, he likened this obsession-transference to something akin to what happens when the kids in The Cat in The Hat Comes Back try to clean up the "pink mess" left by the Cat in the bathtub:
The water ran out
And then I SAW THE RING!
A ring in the tub!
And, oh boy! What a thing!
A big long pink cat ring!
It looked like pink ink!
And I said, "Will this ever
Come off? I don't think!"
First, the Cat uses "Mother's white dress", but that left the tub all clean, while the dress was a mess. So, the Cat smacks the dress against the wall, moving the pink mess to the wall. The wall spots get removed by Dad's shoes, the shoe spots get removed by the rug, from the rug to the bed, from the bed to the snow. The more the Cat tried to clean the pink off of the snow, the more the pink mess spread all over the snow until everything was blanketed in pink. Ultimately, and kind of sadly now that I think about it, the only thing that worked to remove the pink mess, which was now EVERYWHERE, was "VOOM!" A massive, apocolyptic explosion set forth by the Cat's little helper, "Little Cat Z".

From a yogic standpoint (as well as from a psychotherapy/Freudian anlysis standpoint), you can see that moving the "mess" accomplishes, at best, simply moving the mess to some other place, and, at worst, messing everything else up. (On a whole other level, you can look at The Cat in The Hat Comes Back as a nihilistic allegory of politics as an insane and sartorially challenged feline that will continue to spread evil throughout the world until there is no choice but to blow it all up.

But I digress.

The point is: we practice to practice, not to get the next pose. And if we're practicing to get the next pose, then we are either missing out on an important aspect of yoga, although said "missing out" could be merely part of the journey.

And to this, I feel the need to add: My Marichiasana D sucked big-time today. It was nothing like my Mari D nirvana from last week. And worse, I felt doubly awful as I struggled to hook my slippery fingers together because it was Mark's first day back at the shala since last summer, and it felt as if I had made no progress whatsoever since he had last seen me. I know it doesn't matter. I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know.

But DAMN. Why couldn't I have had a good Mari D day today???


Playing "Yoga Shala Summer Camp" on my Blue Guitar

"They said, "You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are."

The man replied, "Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar."

And they said then, "But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are."

I cannot bring a world quite round,
Although I patch it as I can.

I sing a hero's head, large eye,
And bearded bronze, but not a man,

Altough I patch him as I can
And reach through him almost to man.

If to serenade almost to man
Is to miss by that, things as they are,

Say that it is the serenade
Of a man that plays a blue guitar.
- Wallace Stevens "The Man With The Blue Guitar"

Yeah, I know, this is coming in a bit past deadline (!). But, damn, I have been suffering some severe writer's block when it comes to depicting the weekend at Fireplace Farm, also known (by me) as" Eco-Hampton", also known (to Shala X'ers and readers of this blog) as "Yoga Shala Summer Camp".

As I alluded to in another post, and as has probably been apparent from my as-yet-unmet promises of a full report on the weekend, I have been struggling with how to "sing" my weekend of living yoga when all I can really do with this here "blue guitar" is strum "an extraordinary setting", "my teacher's wise words taken out of context" and "harmonious community". As those who regularly read this blog know, my "blue guitar" has its own peculiar timbre, resonating the sacred with the mundane, or perhaps less presumptuously, the solemn with the silly (hence, to answer a question someone asked me long ago, wherefor the name "Yoga Chickie: "yoga" juxtaposed with "chickie").

And while I know that "Yoga Chickie" is enjoyed by many readers, I also know that there are some of you who feel that my blog is the living example of "yoga blogging gone wrong" (despite the fact that you continue to read it). And I can feel you people. I can. How do you write about something that simply "is", that we simply "do", without changing it? How can writing about yoga EVER convey yoga? At best, all I can do is to recognize (and to at times remind you, my readers) that what I write is my translation, perhaps even my imaginings, of it all.
"[S]he was the maker of the song she sang.
The ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea
Was merely a place by which she walked to sing.
Whose spirit is this? we said, because we knew
It was the spirit that we sought and knew
That we should ask this often as she sang. "

-Wallace Stevens "The Idea of Order in Key West"

So, yeah, I know that try as I might, to "sing beyond the genius of the sea," the water will never truly form "to mind or voice" (to paraphrase Stevens in "Key West"), and I give you the caveat that it will always be my voice and not "the sea" you hear. Nevertheless, this internal inconsistency of trying to write about yoga yogically causes me to be concerned with not only sullying the experience of that which I am trying to write, but also with offending the hand that adjusts me.

If I weren't quoting so much 20th Century American poetry, I would say I was sounding a bit like a lawyer, with all my caveats and exceptions. So, enough already, and onto the song, which begins like this:

I knew that I had arrived at Sara and Max Gillingham-Ryan's sprawling East Hampton property when I saw the small white sign, handlettered in red paint, hanging from a tree branch near the front gate that said, "We 'heart' yogis". It was not yet 9 a.m. on Saturday morning, but I had already been up since 4:30, had already cabbed it up to East 86th Street and Third Avenue (duffel bag and pup tent in tow), to catch the 5:30 a.m. Eastern Long Island Jitney, had already had an Otis Spunkmeyer corporate blueberry muffin and a high-fructose corn syrup concoction passing for apple juice pressed into my hands by a bus attendant (kind of like a flight attendant, but without all of the cool in-case-of-emergency arm-vogueing), had already slept my way (literally) from the "inner city" to the chic hamlet of East Hampton, and had already taken my second taxi of the day from the carnivorous urbanesque Palm at the Huntting Inn to its polar opposite: Fireplace Farm, 18 acres of thickly wooded enclaves surrounded by wide open grassy fields overlooking the quiet, rocky beach of Gardiner's Bay, where the 19th century barn that serves as the social gathering space, yoga studio, professional grade kitchen and, essentially, the beating heart center of Fireplace Farm, is a harmonious marriage of form, function and eco-conciousness.

When the taxi let me out in front of the Farm's vegetable garden (and informal dining room, pictured here), I was greated by a beautiful and currently pregnant Sara, who then introduced me to Nell, and pointed towards the barn where our Sir and Madam were practicing. Their daughter, the ridiculously adorable "Jewel" (and I am not saying that to win any points with anyone - this child is truly precious) was being tended to by one of my shala mates and introduced herself to me as follows: "I am a cat named Marmalade...I am the color of marmalade and zero years old."

Immediately to the left of the vegetable garden, I could see two small tents, much like the one I would be putting up at some point that day. I dropped by bags, including said tent (all wrapped up in its own carrying bag), by the front of the barn (shown here). The group was beginning to gather in the barn's kitchen area for pre-practice coffee and conversation. Some of our group was busy chopping fresh fruit into bite sized pieces and taking out the previous night's brown rice and dal to warm up naturally to room temperature (i.e., not on the stove, and heaven forbid, not by microwave) before breakfast.
Note: There is a lesson here in eating to support a yoga practice: food should be freshly made, and you should know who has made it; however, leftovers are okay, as long as they are not spoiled, and as long as you do not reheat them.
The atmosphere was very warm and friendly. I believe there were about 12 of us altogether gathered in the barn. Sir and Madam finished their practice and joined us on patio behind the barn as some of our group readied the rear of the barn for practice (moving the buffet/dining table and chairs out the way, sweeping the wide-plank wood floors). And then it was time to start our led practice.

I was excited because it was the first time I was going to be led by Sir, and it was the first time he was going to let me finish the entire Primary Series. He had us standing in two rows, facing each other. We began with uddiyana pranayama and some variations thereof (not Nauli though), none of which was new to me since I had taken Sir's Philosophy and Pranayama course. And then we were off and running. I was pleasantly surprised that Sir led us in English (other than the Sanskrit pose names) and in his own voice. So often, I hear teachers lead the Primary Series in what I can only describe as "Guruji-voice", counting the vinyasas, and doing so in Sanskrit and more or less shrugging off their own accents and inflections in favor of a sort of pseudo-Indian, pseudo-Guruji timbre. Instead of counting the vinyasas of Surya Namaskar A in Sanskrit, Sir gave us the simplest of instructions: "Inhale, raise your arms and look up past your hands." And when it came time to hold downward facing dog, he simply let us breath in silence, at our own pace. It was quite the breath of fresh air.

Practice, itself, was non-eventful. I quite enjoy doing all of Primary, but I also understand why I don't most of the time.

(to be continued....)


Friday, July 21, 2006

Sonic Slam Book

I received a rather disturbing email just now. It was from the owners of Sonic Yoga here in NYC, and here is what it said:

"Hey Gang,

We want to know what you think of our teachers and give you a chance to be heard...and, maybe even win a free month of yoga, too!

Click the link below, fill out the short online survey, tell us what you like, don't like and who you'd like to see more or less of.


The attachment to the email is a list of names of all of the Sonic Yoga teachers, with spaces in which to write things like "I like him as a teacher, but he has really bad body odor", "I wish he wouldn't close his eyes when he talked or touch me inappropriately" or perhaps, hopefully, "She ROCKS, more like this one please."

There is no place in the "survey" in which one can say anything about the types of classes offered, like, "Please have more Ashtanga classes" or "Hot Nude Yoga would really improve my morale" or "Please include Yoga Pole Dancing on next month's schedule".

Apparently, the whole thing is all about: which teachers get the most glowing reviews. And which don't.

And frankly, although I think I already said this, I find this appalling.

First of all, let me just say that I do not teach, nor have I ever taught, at Sonic Yoga. I don't even take classes at Sonic, nor have I ever even set foot in the place, so I don't know why I am on their Slam Book Mailing List.

I just feel that this solicitation to "tell us which teachers you like, and which you would like to see canned" to be highly disturbing. It reminds me of those surreptitiously passed-around contests in high school that had titles like, "Best Hair and Boy does She Know It" and "Least Likely To Catch a Punchline, but Most Likely to Catch a Social Disease". Perhaps worse, it reminds me of those slam books we girlie girls used to pass around when were in, like, Fifth Grade, that invited us to say mean things about our "friends", anonymously of course, and then to read what all of our "friends" had said about us, anonymously of course.

It's nice that Sonic wants to please its students (clients? students?). But don't the numbers speak for themselves? And if somehow the numbers do not speak for themselves, can't the owners of Sonic take their teachers' classes and see about the quality of the teaching and the way the teachings seem to resonate amongst the students?

As it is, this Survey is anything but scientific. Not everyone will respond. And those who do may have a propensity to bitch and nitpick. I know that I would never respond to a survey like this, even if I didn't like a particular teacher.

Please remind me to never ever work at Sonic Yoga.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Matheads of the world, unite

As you can see, I have added a poll to my blog, wherein you are cordially invited to vote "yes" or "no" to the now famously loaded question: Is yoga your cardio?

A few clarifications:

  1. If you bike to yoga class, you don't have to vote "no" unless your intention in biking to yoga class is to take care of your daily cardio. Only you can know your intentions....
  2. If you rollerblade, skateboard, walk the dog, take long walks along the water, etc., you don't have to vote "no" unless you're doing so with the intention of getting in your cardio. If you feel that your yoga that day WAS your cardio, and that this additional exercise is merely for enjoyment without the cardio agenda, then you should vote "yes".
  3. If you only do yoga, and don't "do" cardio, but only because of time constraints, and if you had the time you WOULD go to the gym and spend 4o minutes on the stairmaster, then you should probably think about voting "no".
  4. This poll is fully anonymous.
  5. You can only vote once - the poll remembers IP addresses, even if it doesn't identify you personally.
  6. Please vote! This ought to be interesting!


Apparently Fifth Avenue's Ancient Playground is as beloved by The Gothamist as it is by my kids and Lewis the Bagle.

Despite being hated by parents citywide for its labyrinth-like, "where-the-hell-did-my-kid-just-disappear-to" architecture, featuring pyramids with trap-doors, tunnels and hidden climbing walls, as well as for its Tarzan-ropes that pretty much beg children to play a game called "Knock Me Off the Rope, I Double Dog Dare You",The Ancient Playground has remained virtually unchanged since it first opened, notwithstanding the move toward modernizing playgrounds all around the city.

As parents, we love when our playgrounds are safe, helping us to feel secure in engaging in engrossing conversations, attending to our Blackberries or reading our trashy magazines (the ones we didn't buy, but rather "found" on the park bench), knowing that our children will be fully visible when we finally turn around to look for them. But hey, ultimately, we're quite happy to actually watch our children having fun. So we allow ourselves to be cajoled into taking them to the Ancient Park once in a while.

Will the City Parks Commission have its way and safeti-fy the beloved pyramids of the Ancient Playground? Or will the
Gothamist and other supporters of perhaps the last vestige of childsplay in New York City that doesn't support our kids turning, unwittingly, into wussies, convince the City otherwise?

We shall see. Now where did my kids disapear to? See-saw anyone?


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Does she or doesn't she?

Well, personally, I think it's fairly obvious that she does. But here's the naked confession: I am writing this as I sit here with my hair piled on top of my head, letting the creamy goodness of Excellence by L'Oreal, #6R (light auburn) saturate my strands.

Long day today (so long, in fact, that I began writing this when it still was "today", although now it is, factually speaking, "yesterday").

It began, quite surprisingly, with an automated telephone message from the boys' Day Camp: "Due to severe weather conditions last night, camp will be closed today. We apologize for the inconvenience, and we wish to stress that the camp, itself, is fine, but the streets in the local vicinity are flooded, and electricity is out in the area. We fully expect that camp will be back in session tomorrow."

What to do, what to do. By which I mean, how to get to Shala X? Because, I mean, my kids would have been perfectly happy to sit glued to the television all day long, Brian on Nintendo and Adam watching taped reruns of Avatar: The Last Air Bender on the Cartoon Network. But , leaving them for two and a half hours to do my practice in a far-off neighborhood? Sheesh, even I am not that obsessed.

Instead, friends were rang up, plans were made, and at shortly after 9:00 a.m., my friend K picked up my kids for a playdate. By the time I got to the shala it was well past 9:30, and my chances of getting any adjustments that I really needed were less than nil. But, as Janis Joplin once said, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." And indeed, with little hope for any extra twisting action in Mari C or D, and no hope in hell for any help at all in Supta K, I floated through my practice as if I were the only one in the room.

On the way home, I found myself lured by the monkey bars, parallel bars and zip-line at John Jay Park and so parked on Cherokee Place and did the unthinkable: I entered the playground sans child (unless you count me, which was going to be my story if the playground police stopped me, who happened to not be there, instead replaced by a group of moms who also couldn't send their kids to the Day Camp today). I proceeded to swing like a monkey through the monkey bars, a feat I was unable to do before I began opening up my shoulders in Ashtanga. I proceeded to noodle around with theParallel Bars and the Zipline and Rings Course. I must say: this is amazing R&D for Ashtanga. LOTS of opportunities to use your bhandas - piking your legs, lifting your entire body with your hands pressing down. LOTS of opportunities to stretch out those tight armpits (who hasn't suffered at some point from tight armpits? if only I could open up my armpits, I might be able to achieve vertical arms in Urdvha Dhanurasana).

I think I just might build this playground thing into my daily routine.

Yada yada yada, it was time to pick up Adam from the playdate and drive him down to Battery Park City for a playdate with a friend from Day Camp. This was the second time I had been to Battery Park City, which happens to be right across the street from the World Trade Center site. I must say, this is quite the amazing community. Battery Park City is a complex of around six high-rises, surrounding a small and beautifully kept park. Just beyond the buildings is the beginning of the Hudson River Greenway, a beautiful path that winds up the Hudson River, meandering around playgrounds, concert bandshells, sailboat and kayak rentals, a trapeze school, and a meditation pond inscribed with this wonderfully ashtangic poem by Mark Strand:

Continuous Life

What of the neighborhood homes awash
In a silver light, of children crouched in the bushes,
Watching the grown-ups for signs of surrender,
Signs that the irregular pleasures of moving
From day to day, of being adrift on the swell of duty,
Have run their course? Oh parents, confess
To your little ones the night is a long way off
And your taste for the mundane grows; tell them
Your worship of household chores has barely begun;
Describe the beauty of shovels and rakes, brooms and mops;
Say there will always be cooking and cleaning to do,
That one thing leads to another, which leads to another;
Explain that you live between two great darks, the first
With an ending, the second without one, that the luckiest
Thing is having been born, that you live in a blur
Of hours and days, months and years, and believe
It has meaning, despite the occasional fear
You are slipping away with nothing completed, nothing
To prove you existed. Tell the children to come inside,
That your search goes on for something you lost--a name,
A family album that fell from its own small matter
Into another, a piece of the dark that might have been yours,
You don’t really know. Say that each of you tries
To keep busy, learning to lean down close and hear
The careless breathing of earth and feel its available
Languor come over you, wave after wave, sending
Small tremors of love through your brief,
Undeniable selves, into your days, and beyond.
So, as Adam played with his friend, I explored the Greenway, found a quiet space on one of the beautifully manicured lawns where I practiced the Finishing Sequence (hadn't had time to do so at Shala X) and considered the week's interesting juxtaposition of yoga on the concrete edge of the Hudson followed by a Balance Bar and a Diet Peach Snapple with yoga in an open-sided barn followed by yoga-supportive freshly cut fruit, brown rice and freshly ground organic coffee (although at the retreat, Sir noted that coffee is not necessarily such a great follow-up to a yoga practice since you'r taking a nice, calm, post-practice body and wiring it back up with a Rajasic infusion).

At the end of the afternoon, we drove back to our boring, sterile neighborhood, where I quickly loaded on the hair color, whipped up a pitcher of pink, girlie cocktails (Absolut Citron, Raspberry Liqueur and Peach Schnapps) in anticipation of a visit from my friend S from Manhattan Beach, California. Rinsed the color-crap out of my hair, conditioned, plopped and scrunched (if you haven't been reading the Curly Girl stuff then you might think that this is more scatological humor...but it is's curly hair maintenance), threw on a slip-dress and my new Kork-Ease and ran the five blocks to pick up Brian from K's house, ran home to wait for S to arrive.

The night ended about two cocktails and four hours later. It's 7:30 a.m., and now it's time to start a new day....


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Yoga Chickie hates the heat but loves being hotter than hell

Remember Fannie Dooley from the Original Zoom ("Write Zoom...Box 350 Boston Mass Oh Two ONE three FOUR...Send it to ZOOM!")? Well, that's what I was going for know...Fannie Dooley hates meat but loves beef....Fannie Dooley hates her butt but loves her wait, that one didn't work....

Eh, if you have to explain it....

Many will enter, few will win. Some will read, a scant few will understand.

As you can see, at the moment, my blogging has been reduced to a heat-addled, sweat-muddled, brain-scrambled incomprehensible mess.

But I'll go with it. And you can look away in horror. Or you can read on. Yogi's choice.

Practice is rocking in this heat. Before this week, New York City was merely hot and sweaty, but not quite hot and sweaty enough to justify unrolling my Mysore rug. Practicing on a naked mat meant a very slippery, water-soaked mat, which meant waterlogged heels, toes, fingers and hands and a general feeling of disheveled utter patheticness.

Now that it is hotter than hell, I can justify breaking out the ole Mysore rug, which means that much of my pitta sweat is instantly absorbed right beneath my feet. Sweat that would otherwise have been flying about, dripping down my nose, pooling under my Uttanasana, is now streaming straight onto said rug. The direct result is a practice that does not involve excessive wiping and huffing exasperatedly. The indirect result is that each and every asana is better, steadier, stronger. Marichyasana D, even unassisted, has never been deeper. And I have finally mastered the art of jumping through with straight legs, with one caveat: I seem to have better control over it after I've done my backbends. And so, post practice, I have been practicing the straight-legged jump-through five or six times just to commit it to muscle memory. But alas, I fear that having written this, I have jinxed myself and that it will be another lifetime before I can convince my left leg to remain straight throughout the jump-through (my left leg has a bit of a problem with authority).

Eh, whubbut-ubbev-ubber.

Oh, yeah, and I am really going to write about Yoga Shala Summer Camp soon. I promise. It's just that right now, I have, I don't know, some kind of performance anxiety or somethin'.


Monday, July 17, 2006

It's true what they are what you eat, and I must have eaten a big ole can of obnoxious for dinner last night....

I have so much to say about this weekend in Eco-Hampton, so many anecdotes that have me smiling on the inside, so many links to so much interesting (in my opinion at least) information, that I am experiencing a bit of a writer's block. It's like..where to begin? And how to tell it so that I convey the spectacularity of the setting, the quality of the teachings, the harmony of the sangha?

If you were an early reader of this post, then you may have seen an attempt on my part to jump right in and start to report on the weekend and its many lessons. Unfortunately, when I woke up this morning and reread it in the cold light of day, I realized that what I had written simply did not do justice to the spirit of the retreat, the earnestness of the teachings, the sense of reverence that I have for my teacher and the practice of Ashtanga yoga. And so, I have decided to remove it and replace it with this statement, which will offer a mere peep at what we learned this weekend about living a yoga-practicing-supporting lifestyle:

What is in the food that you eat is more than just the food itself: it is also the energy, intentions and emotions of those who prepared your food, along with the food was grown, harvested, and if applicable, killed. If you cook with love, your food will reflect it. If you cook with anger, have the Rolaids ready. Apparently, when I asked my children to peel bananas for last night's smoothies, I must not have taken into account their penchant for toilet humor and how it might imbue my writing with the sense of humor of a seven- and a nine-year old boy.

Apologies to those who were offended or misled by the original posting. More appropriate retreat-reporting will follow. Sans scatological humor and references to body parts.

Om shanti,


Sunday, July 16, 2006

Ashtanga Yoga Shala Summer Camp 2006

I slept in a tent!

In the woods!

All by myself!

I took an outdoor shower!

Without a shower curtain!

I ate mung beans!

I did dishes!

Without a dishwasher!

I lived to tell the tale!

It was awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

More later! Must take a long bath and check my body for ticks.

:) YC

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Simple Life

Yesterday was delightful.

I practiced at Shala X in the a.m., got the most rip-roaring Mari C adjustment ever from Xtina, got my increasingly powerful Supta K adjustment from Sir and then made my way uptown to Yoga Sutra, where I was teaching at an event for the publisher of Women's Health magazine and a veritable party bus (okay not really a bus, but I'm trying to paint a picture here) of the publisher's clients (advertisers and such).


When I arrived at Yoga Sutra, there were two totally chic chicks in the lobby area waiting, with clipboards bearing a guest list, beside motherlode of bright red mats emblazoned with the magazine's name to be given to each guest. They took one look at me, black yoga pants, pink "Do Yoga" tanktop and two thick braids hanging down either side of my head and said, "You must be the teacher." We talked briefly about what the guests were expecting out of the yoga class and there was some brief chaos concerning the fact that the guests were hoping to practice to music, but we were going to be practicing in the Ashtanga room where there is no sound system (problem solved with a handy boom box and a Yoga Chickie music mix CD that I had left at the studio long ago for exactly this sort of emergency).

As we talked, the guests poured into the lobby like popes from a Volkswagen. Laughter and friendly chatter swelled to fill the space, and the positive vibes rushed around Yoga Sutra with the speed and lightness of a hummingbird.

We ended up having something like 29 people in the room. My CD skipped only once (that's why I use my iPod now instead of CDs), but no one seemed to notice. The concentration level was astouding despite that most of these guests were fairly new to yoga. I think it must have something to do with publisher's physical culture and active-lifestyle values. At the end of class, the publisher asked us if we could do this every other week, so I am thrilled to say that the Cult that is Mathead may have a whole new slew of joiners.

When class was over the Chic Chicks had these wonderful little gourmet lunch boxes (with a choice of Italian Herb Tuna on Seven Grain Bread or Fresh Roasted Turkey) and bottles of mineral water waiting for everyone. I ended up bringing one home for my kids, who happen to love tuna sandwiches. I didn't have one myself since I had been invited to a little soiree at Salute with a group of Christopher's students, including the delightful Horse Trainer, the Horse Trainer's Teacher, the Pregnant but Practicing Photographer, the Ben Stiller Dead Ringer and the Girl Who Does Evenings Now. Such fun! And allow me to disabuse ya'all of any notion that Ashtangis never consume alcohol, white bread or mushrooms (a.k.a. the ayurvedically inappropriate fungus amongus).

I would have stayed longer and joined in the imbibing except that I had to skeedaddle up to Scarsdale for Visiting Evening at the boys' daycamp, where I came to realize for the first time without a doubt that it's time to move on to the more intense sports program that our chosen sleepaway camp will provide.

At home, much later, I did the unthinkable. I combed my hair. Longing to reach up and touch something smooth, I just had to do it. And you know what? The earth did not stop. The sky did not come crashing in on me. And today, when I woke up, my hair was still smooth but smoothly wavy. And I saw that it was good (to allow for some flexibility in hair...and other?...routines).

Today is the kickoff of Shala Summer Camp! I will not be able to get there until tomorrow, however, since I need to be here this afternoon to pick the kiddies up from the camp bus. So, it will be me on the bus tomorrow, bright and early, off to Camp Ashtangi. Bugs and all. Outhouses and outdoor showers.

Pray for me. It's the Simple LIfe, Yoga Chickie style.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

Mathead. Not to be confused with Meathead.

Excerpted from the Yoga Chickie Wiki:

"mathead (matt' hed) n. a person who takes substantially all of his or her physical exercise while standing, jumping, posing, sitting and/or lying on a yoga mat and who steadfastly refuses to "do" cardio and weight training, despite the goading of well-meaning Western-educated medical professionals and proferrers of dubious research. Matheads may sometimes be found in gyms and health clubs but are, more often than not, there for the sole purpose of taking to their mats....

"Laymen are often able to readly identify matheads by their well-defined triceps, shapely legs, relatively trim midsections, disproportionately huge strength to body size ratio, youthful complexions, admirable posture, well-calloused feet and a tendency to smile easily and not get all whipped up at the slightest provocation (although notable exceptions do exist)....

"Western medical professionals are often unaware that they are in the presence of a mathead when observing their patient's admirably low heart rate, low-end-of-normal blood pressure, cholesterol readings and a tendency to recover quickly and cleanly from even the most complicated surgeries. This is because Western medical professionals are often untrained in matheadology*.

"Matheads are advised to smile beatifically and say, "It must be the yoga" when questioned about their youthful appearance and healthy constitution. It is hoped that someday, matheads will be less misunderstood."

* the study of matheads.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

12 year old boys, my ass

I need to make a statement here about this notion that the Ashtanga system was developed to discipline and curb the "energies" of 12 year old boys in India and therefore may not be appropriate for X-year olds from Western culture. As another blogger who may not want to be identified here said to me recently when we were discussing this notion, "That is such a cop out." I couldn't agree more (with all due respect to Richard-from-Pittsburgh who made the statement about Ashtanga and 12 year old boys in the comment to Ashtangethics).

Ashtanga is for everyone. If taught in the Mysore style, one pose at a time, no new poses until the previous poses have been mastered without modification, then it provides the opportunity for "yoga" to happen. Period. It does not matter how many postures are learned or how long the practice takes. The "yoga", which is to say, the calming and corralling of the fluctuations of the chatterbox mind, simply happens in the context of the poses being practiced, with the entire system and its accompanying desires, fears and other responses as a backdrop.

Yoga Mala makes clear that there is no age at which Ashtanga cannot be practiced (although there may be some advanced age at which there Guruji sees no point in beginning the practice at all). I have heard it said that there is no student who is too weak, too inflexible, too stupid, too annoying, too monkey-minded to practice Ashtanga. The only impediment to the practice of Ashtanga is laziness. And by laziness, I mean, failure to practice, practice, practice.

Now, one who is not as pretzely-bendy as a 12-year old boy may find the practice of Ashtanga to be ego-bruising and frustrating. However, that may mean that Ashtanga is EXACTLY what this student needs. One who is not as energetic as a 12-year old boy may find the practice of Ashtanga to be exhausting and draining. Should he throw up his hands and say, "Heavens to Guruji, I'm just not a 12-year old boy anymore...I give up! Back to Level I Vinyasa for me..."? No! By all means, that student should get more rest and see about changes in his diet that might make his body feel more fit. The act of working through the difficulties in the practice and the transformation into a more mindful eater is exactly what he needs. What if someone is recovering from an illness? Chikitsa, the other word for the Primary Series, means "therapy". This practice is intended to rejigger the body, stretch the fascia, retrain the muscles and joints to embrace life in an open way. I am speaking from experience when I say that Ashtanga is exactly what this person needs.

Some dogs were intended to herd sheep or to pull sleds. That doesn't mean that they don't make great pets.


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Excuse me, ma'am, but do you have a license for that weapon?

Apparently my arms are going to have to be licensed with the state of New York as deadly weapons. It seems that the more deeply I grasp my hands together in Supta K, the more powerfully they spring apart as soon as Sir lets go of my wrists. Like a double-sided sling shot. I may be a superhero after all,Richard.

I did get a "good bind" today from the bestower of poses, notwithstanding the flinging of arms. Ha ha, arms! Geddit?

What is it going to take for my hands to stay together? They are so so so so much more solidly gripping now than they were a few months ago. And yet still, it's as if my right hand and my left hand are repelling each other, like the opposite ends of two magnets.

Other than that, nice, brisk practice. Not particularly high energy. And yet fine. Like settling into a comfortable relationship.


Monday, July 10, 2006

Oh my God, like, I set up my tent!

I am such a child. I really want to sleep in there tonight with my brand new sleeping bag. But the Husband convinced me that it would make getting the kids ready for camp tomorrow morning next to impossible. And besides, they would want to sleep in it tomorrow night, and it's quite the eyesore sitting there in our foyer.

Just setting up the tent made me realize that I need a few things for my camping excursion: bugspray, a flashlight, a windbreaker, a hammer or something heavy to drive the stakes into the ground (I can't rely on being able to find a heavy enough rock), a big bottle of water, warm socks....but what else? Besides yoga clothes, yoga mat, hand towel, shower towel and changes of clothes? Some energy bars and a jar of peanut butter in case I can't stand homemade Dal?


What he said:

"Go back to your mat RIGHT NOW. There is no leaving the room during my class."

- Scary-Ass Bikram Teacher to Yoga Chickie
Having skipped practice yesterday due to incredible stiffness and exhaustion due to eight hours of driving as part of the final leg of the big Sleepaway Camp Tour, I decided that today I would "do" Bikram (notice I didn't call it "Bikram yoga") instead of strictly observing the Moonday.

And boy was it fun!!!! Um, oh, wait.

The teacher was an 85 pound, 25 year old guy wearing tight short shorts (not exactly Speedos, but pretty intense nonetheless). At first, I was really enjoying his style - not too too talkative, not too too overzealous with the promises of eternal life if only one practices Bikram's yoga six times per week. However, as much as I was enjoying his style, I was not enjoying the heat. I don't understand why I can no longer tolerate extreme heat, when I was able to make it through Bikram classes just fine all through the second three months of chemo, and sometimes even the same DAY as a chemo treatment. But it is what it is, and what it is is an intense detoxification via sweat and water replenishment (can you say 80 ounces in 90 minutes) that is incredibly unpleasant and uncomfortable for me but that I feel that I must endure every now and then. And I'm using the term, "endure" quite loosely. By the time we got to the second pose - the one where you bend your spine in four different directions - I was already sucking wind. I could barely hold my arms up over my head. I certainly couldn't tolerate bending my spine in four different directions (although I did enjoy bending into Uttanasana, which they call "Dandayama Bipaktapada Paschimotanasana"!!).

But I did my best to stick with it. I managed to finish the "warm-up" portion of the class (including three different versions of Uttkatasana, and Garudasana - eagle pose), the part before which you are forbidden to drink any water. And I even got through the first posture in the standing series (a version of Uttitha Hasta Padangusthasana). But when it came time for Natarajasana (which Bikram calls "Dandayamana Dhanurasana"), I found myself phoning in the first side of it, just holding my right foot in my right hand and lifting my left arm over my head, but doing nothing in the way of stretching or opening the shoulders. And then an alarm went off in my head. It was time to get the hell outta there, at least long enough to gasp some oxygen back into my system and stop the cooking process by stepping into the air conditioned lobby (the way one stops a hard-boiled egg from cooking by plunging it into cold water).

That's when Scary-Ass Bikram Teacher stood between me and the door, stared down at me menacingly and spoke the words to which I could only reply, "Sorry, but I don't want to die in your class."

I stayed out in the delightfully cool lobby during the rest of Natarajasana and "Tuladandasana" (people who practice authentic hatha yoga will know this one as Digasana, or Virabadrasana III) and then crept back into the room and finished the class with what dignity I could muster.

But it doesn't seem like this Bikram thing is going too well for me.



This is for the Curly Girls out know who you are...If you haven't tried plopping, you must....especially, if you have an obsessive/compulsive tendency to not be able to leave your hair alone while it's drying (as I do): Plopping completely prevents you from agitating your hair with a towel or your fingers, which tends to separate and fuzzy-up the curls. With plopping, you end up with thick clumps of soft, smooth, shiny, well-defined curls and waves.

Granted, if you are not a spirally-curly girl (which, alas, I am not), then you may wind up with loose, undulating waves (that's not a bad thing, now is it?), but they will be soft and shiny and closer to their "true nature"...which is kind of the essence of the Curly Girl Philosophy. I figure, if I am not fighting my hair to be straight, I shouldn't fight it to be spiral-curly either. I should let it be what it is.

Sorry to bore the rest of you.

Happy Moonday, Yoga Sutra and Ashtanga Yoga Shala!! Enjoy your practice, Ashtanga Yoga New York!!


Saturday, July 08, 2006


Inspired by a post by Jenna and an unrelated, but coincidentally recent, discussion I had with another blogger who wishes to remain anonymous for reasons of privacy, I have been thinking about the issue of whether it is ever okay for a non-authorized teacher to teach the Ashtanga system (or at least what one knows of it) to someone who would not otherwise have access to an authorized teacher (and by "authorized teacher", I mean one who has been authorized to teach the Asthanga system by Guruji, himself).

Here in NYC, we are lucky to have access to more than four studios that specialize in teaching Ashtanga in the Mysore style plus a number of authorized teachers not necessarily affiliated with those studios. But there are plenty of folks out there who wish to practice Ashtanga, or at least to give it a try, but who don't have personal access to an authorized teacher. One of those is my cousin, D, who lives far enough away from the nearest shala to make it completely impractical for her to go there on any regular basis. I asked Sir what D should do, and he suggested that she spend a week at a shala and then go practice on her own for a while, then spend another week at a shala (doesn't have to be the same one as the first) and then go back home and practice again, and so on. Still, this is not practical for D because she has young children and is, herself, in graduate school, and so cannot run off for a week here and a week there. Others, including many who are reading this, have similar stories - no shala within a 50 mile radius, the impossibility of travel, etc.

So, let's say that a wannabe Ashtangi without an authorized teacher discovers that there is someone in town who has studied Ashtanga with an authorized teacher and who maintains a daily personal practice. And let's say that the wannabe Ashtangi without an authorized teacher asks the student who has studied with an authorized teacher to teach her Ashtanga.

Would it be wrong in this case for the student who has studied with an authorized teacher but who is not authorized by Guruji to teach Ashtanga, to teach Asthanga to the wannabe Ashtangi? What would be worse, for the wannabe Ashtangi to be taught by a non-authorized teacher? Or for the wannabe Ashtangi to miss out on the benefits of Ashtanga? What would be worse, for the wannabe Ashtangi to receive a diluted third-hand version of the teachings? Or for the world to be deprived of the birth of another Ashtangi, albeit a somewhat bastardized version?


The Yoga of Anonymous Comments

I know some people like to comment anonymously here. I can imagine that there are some good reasons why. What is not a good reason: wanting to hide one's identity in order to express aggressive thoughts that one is not comfortable owning up to.

If you have something disagreeable, cranky, judgemental or unpleasant to say, then by all means say it...but if you say it, I think you ought to OWN IT.

If you aren't comfortable "owning it", then perhaps you ought to ask yourself why that is.

Do you not wish for others to know that you have aggressive thoughts? Do you not wish for others to know that you are willing to put aside the practice of ahimsa in order to release those aggressive thoughts into the world? Do you believe on some level that by not owning those thoughts that somehow those thoughts unleashed upon the world do not generate bad karma?

The reality is that whether you stand by your words or hide behind "Anonymous", aggressive words can be hurtful, not only to the intended recipient, but to those who read them. Aggressive thoughts generate aggressive thoughts in response, and who knows where the bad karma ends?

Perhaps if you are unwilling to own your aggressive thoughts, then you already realize that the path of least violence, and the path that you would like others to see you taking, is to keep hostile thoughts to yourself and hope that someday you develop the gift for viewing others with a spirit of generosity and equanimity that makes those words obsolete and the feelings behind them nonexistent.


Friday, July 07, 2006

We shall overcome

I THINK, although I am not entirely sure, that Mari C and Mari D are really mine now...that I can actually bind them solidly, even when I haven't stretched out in the shower before practice, even when I abstain from Advil, even when I feel kind of tired, even when it's not my most bendy day. Other postures gradually came to be "mine" after a while - postures that I would have to practice in the shower before going to the shala that ultimately became reliably doable no matter what I did or didn't do before practice, such as Paschimo D (wrists bound), both Ardha Badhas and Janu Sirsasana C (with knee on the ground). Also, I am now almost always able to touch my chest to my thighs in the first Uttanasana of my first Surya Namaskar A. For these gifts, I am happy and grateful, grateful not only to myself for having practiced nearly six days a week for a little bit over a year, but also to whatever power has seen fit to allow me to be healthy, strong and fiscally sound enough to be able to do so.

Taught a vinyasa class with some of my best music ever - including Bruce Springsteen's version of We Shall Overcome and Noa's version of Eye in the Sky (thanks, Sesio!). While teaching, I found my eyes occasionally drifting over to someone practicing Ashtanga in another room, and all I can say Okay, of course I can say more than "wow". I can say that her practice was the most graceful, beautiful, bendy, strong practice I have ever witnessed. And that is saying a lot because I have practiced alongside of some incredibly graceful, beautiful, bendy, strong people. It was inspiring and humbling.

Off to pick up the kiddies from the camp bus. Signed myself up for shala summer camp today! I am excited but nervous. Can Yoga Chickie really sleep in a tent??


Thursday, July 06, 2006

Yes, I still practice Ashtanga

I don't know why, but I haven't felt like talking about my yoga practice over the past few days...hence the Keira Knightley and Trapeze posts. But I do feel obligated to make a few notes about my practice, mainly for the sake of record-keeping. So, here goes:

  • Thursday, practiced at Shala X
  • Friday, self-practice (with an audience)
  • Saturday, yogi's holiday (had planned to Bikramize but it never panned out, due in part to low motivation to feel myself melting into a puddle)
  • Sunday, practiced 5 A's and 5 B's and the first few standing poses before breakfast and then full practice, minus the shoulder-standing sequence, before dinner.
  • Monday, after hiking up Monument Mountain with the entire Yoga Chickie family, including Lewis the Bagle, eating a late lunch and then traveling three hours North into the White Mountains of New Hampshire to be ready for an early morning visit to yet another sleep-away camp, I found myself, for, perhaps the first time since I began practicing Ashtanga in the Mysore style, looking at 9 p.m. without having practiced and without any good reason other than simply not having fit it into my day. For shame, Yoga Chickie!! But I did rally and squeeze in the entire standing series while we waited for room service to arrive.
  • Tuesday, I practiced in full on my roof after we arrived home, finishing right at sundown (in theory, just in time for the fireworks, although we ended up missing them anyway due to bad planning).
  • Wednesday, back to Shala X and the BEST, I mean BEST, Supta K adjustment EVER. I know I have been saying that quite a lot lately. But this time, I really, really, really mean it. Sir had my hands together for more than five breaths. He seems to be focusing more on getting my hands together than getting my ankles onto the back of my neck, which makes perfect sense to me given that my hips are plenty open, but my chest and shoulders not so much.
  • Today, I woke up EXHAUSTED and ended up taking Christopher's half-primary led class at noon instead of pushing myself to practice at 9 a.m. (okay, more like 9:20, but you get the point). Totally fabulous practice - at Christopher and Erika's 1/2 primary classes, students who practice further than 1/2 primary are welcome to finish their entire practice, and so I did. And yet I somehow managed to catch up to the class by the time I got to the three padmasanas at the end. It was shocking to see that I could finish my entire practice, including savasana, in 60 minutes. Shocking to realize how much dawdling I do when I am leading myself in the Mysore setting.
And that's where I'm at. Basically, nothing really new to report on the practice front. On other fronts, made some plans today to do some yoga tourism with a delightful friend whose name I shall refrain from naming, in order to protect her from the yoga police. Met my friend E for some girly activities (a trip to Devachan, where I parked myself under a nice warm hair dryer and watched E transform into a Curly Girl and then lunch at Balthazar). Picked up Adam from the camp bus (Brian had a sleep-over at a camp friend's house) and spent two hours in the playground. Oh, and my sleeping bag arrived from EMS...looks like I am Yoga Shala Summer Camp bound (I just need my nifty little pup tent to arrive).

I am TIRED. My eyes feel like they're burning, and my lids are desperate to close.

Now why would that BE?



An email that I received this morning:

"Don’t miss the next great event at Kidvillee:


WHO: Kidville, NY and Wilhelmina Kids & Teens - the little sister to Wilhelmina Models - are hosting an open casting call. Wilhelmina Kids & Teens is one of the industry’s leading management companies representing newborns to teens for their modeling and acting careers.

WHAT: Kidville, NY and Wilhelmina Kids & Teens are hosting an open casting call to find the next kiddie supermodel. This event is open to Kidville members and non-members ages newborn through five years old. Wilhelmina Kids & Teens President, Marlene Wallach, will be on hand to lead the search.


WHEN: Wednesday, July 12th, 9:00AM – 12:00 PM.

WHERE: Kidville, NY, 163 East 84th Street (between 3rd and Lexington).

NOTE: Please let us know, via email, if you plan to attend."

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

This was just soooo much fun

Swinging by my knees, originally uploaded by Yoga Chickie.

and the amazing part was realizing that the only thing that stood between me and doing it was fear...and that I managed to skip right over that part!

btw, I did let go of the photo-taker didn't catch that part...ah well....


Flying through the air with a smidgeon of ease

Preparing to dismount, originally uploaded by Yoga Chickie.

I am so so so so so so so so proud of myself for getting over my fear, which started taking over as I ascended the narrow ladder up to the platform where I was to take the trapeze in hand, and just swinging....


A River In Egypt

I guess I shouldn't expect Kiera Knightley to admit that she has a problem with her weight, especially when it is apparently NOT a problem, given that (a) she is getting loads and loads of attention for her washboard ribs and concave abs, (b) she is a big movie star making millions of bucks and working with screen stars like Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom and (c) it is doubtful that her severe weight loss will have any impact on her ability to get work, given that Hollywood appears to handsomely reward women whose bodies have no more flesh than the average 8-year-old boy by giving them more and more and more work.

So, what's a little malnutrition when you can still manage to support the weight of a silk halter dress despite having eaten nothing but a rice cake and a raisin over the past two days (and felt disgustingly guilty for being such a brazen pig at that)?

I for one am hereby boycotting all movies until the madness stops.

Oh...and Kiera? Your hair gives it all away. You might want to consider a hot oil treatment. I hear they don't absorb through the scalp.


Addendum: to give you some perspective, here is what Ms. Knightley looked like before the weight "mysteriously" began to fall off:

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Greetings from the Berkshires!

Last night we drove up the
scenic and snakey Taconic Parkway to Great Barrington, where we are staying as we tour a couple of "sleepaway" camps in the Berkshires, Massachusetts. On the way, we stopped for a deja view of Copake Lake in Columbia, County, New York, which is the non-enthusiastic-driver's answer to the Berkshires, and which is also where the Husband and I had a summer-share in 1992.

Our share house was a total dump, but we were too young to care, and besides, it was right on the Lake and included a rowboat. I logged many a mile back then, running loops around the lake, training for my first of three New York City Marathons (my best time was 3:58:59), and I still have the scar on the front of my right ankle from when I fell down a gravelly hill on one of those training runs. It was eerily fun to show it to my kids, who were nearly a decade away from being born at the time I obtained said scar, as we drove up that hill where I obtained it.

We had dinner at the Four Brothers Pizza place in Hillsdale, which hasn't changed one iota since 1992, from the cheesy wood paneling to the unbelievably incredible Greek salad, made with the freshest, most delicious feta cheese I have ever tasted and a dressing so good that eventually, the Four Brothers got wise and decided to bottle and mass market it. Following dinner, the kids (including the Husband) did some go-cart riding at the place next door to the Four Brothers, while Lewis the Bagle and I explored the adjacent (and vacant) mini-golf course, where Lewis had the momentous experience of relieving himself outside of the tri-state area for perhaps the first time in his life.

When we arrived at our motel in Great Barrington, we were disappointed but not surprised to discover that it is a terrible dump, reminiscent of the Worst Lodging We Have Ever Experienced Which Now Sets The Standard for Frighteningly Bad Accomodations . Let it suffice to say that its major draws (other than location, location, location) are a heart-shaped jacquzzi (which I haven't found yet and definitely don't wanna) and wireless internet (which I did find...obviously). On the other hand, the patio out by the pool is fine for my yoga practice, so fine, in fact, that I actually ended up practicing twice today: once, early this morning, when I was inspired to squeeze in 5 a's and 5 b's but didn't have time for anything else, and later this afternoon, after a day of camp-touring, when I managed to do my entire practice in 75 minutes.

But by far the most amazing and exciting part of my day was when I did THIS!!!! at one of the camps! Addy and I were both totally into it. Brian and the Husband preferred to watch and catch it on film. Photos to come. Stay tuned.

Tomorrow, the plan is to hike at Monument Mountain, perhaps hit a museum and later drive up to New Hampshire, where we will hopefully have a nicer place to stay (although when you make your reservations for July 4th weekend on June 30, you pretty much have to accept what you get) and where we will hopefully find that the camp we are touring is worth the six-hour drive being understood, that if said camp has one of these, or even one of these (and is generous enough to let us have a go at it), then worth it, it will be.


Copyright 2005-2007 Lauren Cahn, all rights reserved. Photos appearing on this blog may be subject to third party copyright ownership. You are free to link to this blog and portions hereof, but the use of any direct content requires the prior written consent of the author.

About Me

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Northern Westchester, New York, United States
I live by a duck pond. I used to live by the East River. I don't work. I used to work a lot. Now, not so much. I used to teach a lot of yoga. Now not so much. I still practice a lot of yoga though. A LOT. I love my kids, being outdoors, taking photos, reading magazines, writing and stirring the pot. Enjoy responsibly.


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