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Yesterday was the first day of Summer, and the hottest day of the year so far. To celebrate, there was a (free!) massive (and massively sponsored) yoga event  in Times Square–what started with 3 people a few years ago grew into 14,000 participants this year. It was a unique yoga experience to be sure.

I took the 3:30pm class, and when I arrived at 42nd street and Broadway (aka Hell on Earth to any New Yorker) the line for registered ticket holders winded around the block while a yoga clothes fashion show took place on the stage and blasted from the dozens of speakers. After a short wait, I was given a free yoga mat (!) and a bag of goodies from the sponsors (hummus, water, magazines, yogurt, etc)  and then ushered by the NYPD to a spot of pavement smack dab in the center of it all (and unfortunately right next to a heat blowing vent for one of those flashy electronic signs).

There were peppered amongst the thousands, some hardcore yogis (there was even a couple showing off some acroyoga when the class ended), but at least around me, it seemed a lot of first timers or at least people who don’t practice regularly. Which is pretty awesome, if I was new to yoga I don’t think I’m choose a 95 degree day in Times Square with thousands  of other people to try it out. And while thousands preregistered, there was also a sizable line of people (some dressed for yoga, some in business or street clothes!) that just walked up and decided to do some yoga in the middle of the hottest and longest day of the year.

The event was called “Mind Over Madness” with the tag line: “ Anyone can find tranquility on top of a mountain.
Can you find it in the middle of Times Square?”  And yes, it was more distracting than a quiet zen studio class, but I’m kind of used to classes with noise coming in from the hallway or weight rooms, or  from the street below, or practicing in the park with lots of noises, or in my living room with the cats going crazy and the birds chirping. And there was nary a moment of silence in the room when I taught a bunch of 5 year olds yoga.  Yoga is a practice of drawing your senses inward and noticing but not attaching to the distractions and thoughts vying for your attention.

More distracting than the noise of Times Square was the spectators–dozens of people lined the barriers and just watched and took pictures and a giant screen projected the class and the instructor. I was towards the center but off to the side, so my mug never made it up on the big screen, but I’m sure I’m sweating  in a lot of strangers’ photos.

It was a unique and fun yoga experience, and even if you’re not into yoga at all it’s kind of a once in a life time experience to lie in the middle of the road in Times Square and stare up at the clouds in the blue sky past the buildings.

As you may know I got married two weeks ago (more on that here). We took our honeymoon driving up the California coast in a mini cooper convertible from Santa Barbara to Napa with stops in Big Sur, Hearst Castle, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Napa, and Muir Woods. We flew out of San Francisco International Airport, and after a hellish unexpected 4-hour layover in LAX at the start of the trip (note: LAX isn’t a good place to be a vegetarian), SFO was like an airport dream come true.

Aside from the wide selection of food and shopping options that I’d be interested in even if I wasn’t held captive, there’s the famed new yoga room.   Seeing it was like spotting an oasis–I was sad that the trip was ending and that we had a cramped 6-hour flight in front of us (don’t believe what you’ve heard about honeymoon upgrades). The room is small and dimly lit–I would guess less than 5-6 people could comfortably practice in it, and while you can still here the frequent terminal announcements, it still felt like a place of refuge.

I used the room for only about 15 minutes just before boarding my flight and there was only one other person in the room the whole time–a woman who for the first 10 minutes I’m pretty sure was napping. The room is stocked with mats, blocks and bolsters and while I wasn’t wearing yoga clothes, my traveling outfit still afforded enough movement to move though some hip-openers, twists, and a couple sun salutations.  During the time I was in there, the door was opened about 10 times with curious travelers peeking in then leaving, but I imagine as it’s around for longer that will taper off. When I was done I felt soooo much more relaxed and that combined with the presence of my new husband helped me through the next 6 hours with a baby screaming throwing things at us.   Every airport should have a yoga room–it makes the constant degradation of air travel so much more bearable.

With my wedding less than a week away, things are getting stressful around these parts. But even without  planning a wedding, life gives all of us many moments where we want to scream, or run and hide.

The “close your eyes and count to 10” advice is pretty common, but  learning to integrate meditation into small moments of your everyday life is likely more effective. This method that teaches you to start with one minute meditation and work your down to one moment (which can be practiced anywhere!) . Sounds so much more accessible for distracted busy Westerners than the conventional meditation advice about starting with 5 minutes sitting in a quiet place and work your way up to 30 minutes (not that that kind of meditation isn’t beneficial, it’s just intimidating and impractical for many people).

Here’s the video from www.onemomentmeditation.com, created by Martin Boroson author of  One-Moment Meditation: Stillness for People on the Go 

I know I’ll be using this method a lot in the next few days…

It’s easy to feel like you make no real difference in the world, especially if your are a doctor, teacher, or humanitarian. But this story helped to remind me of the little acts of humanity that affect individual’s lives that stay with them sometimes more than the big gestures.

When my dad died 10 years ago I was a college student working in Yellowstone for the summer. I got the news from my mom as I stood at a pay phone. A man, on vacation with his family, walked by and noticed me crying, a minute later he returned alone with a  handful of tissues and wordlessly handed them to me. In the following hours and days many of my friends and aquiantances reached out to me in big and small ways that were very appreciated and meaningful. But that stranger’s compassion, in that tiny gesture remains in my mind a decade later.  This taxi driver’s compassion for a old woman reminded me of those little gestures that really define who a person is. And it made me want to go visit my elderly upstairs neighbor.

Get your tissues ready:

(Taken from Yoga Dork)

A NYC Taxi driver wrote:

I arrived at the address and honked the horn. After waiting a few minutes I honked again. Since this was going to be my last ride of my shift I thought about just driving away, but instead I put the car in park and walked up to the door and knocked.. ‘Just a minute’, answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor.

After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 90′s stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940′s movie.By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets.There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.

‘Would you carry my bag out to the car?’ she said. I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman.
She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb. She kept thanking me for my kindness. ‘It’s nothing’, I told her.. ‘I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother to be treated.’

‘Oh, you’re such a good boy, she said. When we got in the cab, she gave me an address and then asked, ‘Could you drive
through downtown?’

‘It’s not the shortest way,’ I answered quickly..

‘Oh, I don’t mind,’ she said. ‘I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to a hospice.
I looked in the rear-view mirror. Her eyes were glistening. ‘I don’t have any family left,’ she continued in a soft voice..’The doctor says I don’t have very long.’ I quietly reached over and shut off the meter.

‘What route would you like me to take?’ I asked.

For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator.
We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl.
Sometimes she’d ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.

As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, ‘I’m tired.Let’s go now’.
We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico.Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move.
They must have been expecting her. I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair.

‘How much do I owe you?’ She asked, reaching into her purse.

‘Nothing,’ I said

‘You have to make a living,’ she answered.

‘There are other passengers,’ I responded.

Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug.She held onto me tightly.

‘You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,’ she said. ‘Thank you.’

I squeezed her hand, and then walked into the dim morning light.. Behind me, a door shut.It was the sound of the closing of a life..

I didn’t pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly lost in thought. For the rest of that day,I could hardly talk.What if that woman had gotten an angry driver,or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?

On a quick review, I don’t think that I have done anything more important in my life. We’re conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments.

But great moments often catch us unaware-beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.

Anyone who is paying attention in the world of yoga, has by now, read or heard people talking about the New York Times article, “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” . And as a yoga teacher and journalist, I feel almost required to chime in with my reaction. So here it is:

I think the topic of injury and yoga is one that needs more attention, and the author clearly did research to support his thesis, but therein lies the problem. It’s an alarmist article that was likely written in the manner it was to get a reaction–in which case it succeeded. But as well-rounded discussion about yoga, or a balanced piece of journalism, it failed.

The entire stance of the piece seems to be centered around yoga teacher Glenn Black’s assertion that  “the vast majority of people should give up yoga altogether. It’s simply too likely to cause harm.”  The article and Black both then go on to give extreme examples of students sitting in vajrasana for hours a day and deadening their sciatic nerve, or getting strokes and spinal damage from head and neck trauma in inversions.

It  just seems like such a cop-out for a yoga teacher to say people should just stop practicing yoga.It’s a cop-out for the teacher, deciding that it’s too difficult to guide students through poses safely, giving variations, finding out about limitations, and encouraging patience and moderation. And it’s giving up on students to think that they lack self-control to accept the guidance and advice of their teachers and limitations of their bodies.

Black cites  seeing students strain so much in down dog that they tear their Achilles tendons. Where were their teachers?  “It’s ego,” he says, “The whole point of yoga is to get rid of ego.” On that I agree with him completely, it’s so anti-yoga, but it happens so much in yoga classes and even whole studios, people obsessed with what they look like contorted in show off poses with expensive clothes and accessories and perfectly toned bodies. Yoga is reportedly a $6 billion a year industry in the U.S. and probably $5 billion of those dollars are ego driven. A good discussion of that topic in response to the article is here.

But I don’t think that’s the majority of people who practice yoga and I don’t think it means that even those people should stop practicing yoga. I think the cases of injuries that the article mentions aren’t the norm, I don’t think most people who practice yoga hurt themselves, and I don’t think yoga is bad for your body–in fact I believe that everybody can and should do yoga (as I’ve mentioned before I’m trying to get my 85-year-old grandmother into yoga).

I think that people need good yoga teachers. He mentions yoga teachers with such bad backs that they have to lie down to teach. Who is going to these teachers and what are they hoping to learn? I don’t agree with the ascertain that most people shouldn’t do yoga, I do believe that some people shouldn’t teach yoga. If you push your body to the point where you can’t stand up, let alone demo poses, you are not a safe yoga teacher, you should not teach. I’ve been practicing yoga for over six years, I’ve been teaching for 6 months. I’m no guru, I know my limitations, and I’m totally fine with them. I’ve had yoga teachers who have said “I can’t do this pose, but if it’s in your practice, I can help guide you into it.”  That’s the mark of a good teacher–not one that can balance her weight on her index finger with her legs wrapped around her neck.

The onus isn’t just on the teachers though–students need to know that there’s risk with any physical activity (and lots of risk in inactivity)–after all most accidents happen in the home–you can throw your back out cleaning the tub if you do it wrong, but that doesn’t mean we should live in filth. They need to know that nothing happens quickly (like I said I’ve been practicing yoga regularly for six years and I can’t stand on my head), and that all bodies are built differently with different limitations (maybe I never will do the splits), and that human bodies aren’t designed do any movement or posture in excess (sitting in hero’s pose for 8 hours a day–or sitting in an office chair for 8 hours a day without moving will damage your body).

So no, yoga can’t wreck your body, you can wreck your body. And like so much of life, in order to “be successful” at yoga, you let go of your ego and expectations, and pay attention. Kind of  sounds like the most basic yoga teaching, doesn’t it.

 

 

It’s a slow rebuilding week for many people; work schedules are lighter and the Holiday frenzy is waning. Countless “best of” and “year in review” listicles are popping up in this slow news week.

While you don’t need a new calendar to reflect on your life or seek improvement/change, the end of the year and a stretch of cold dark months ahead does lend itself well to using this week to put 2011 to rest and prepare for 2012.

I found this Reflection Worksheet a nice way to think about everything I acchompished and everything that challenged me in 2011. Here are the questions:

2011 Reflection

  1. What do you want to acknowledge yourself for in 2011?

What did you create?
What challenges did you face with courage and strength?
What promises did you keep?
What brave choices did you make?
What are you proud of?

2. What is there to grieve about 2011?
What was disappointing?
What was scary?
What was hard?
What can you forgive yourself for?

3. What else do you need to say about the year to declare it complete?
The next step is to say out loud, “I declare 2011 complete!”
How do you feel? If you don’t feel quite right, there might be one more thing to say…

4. The final step is to consider your primary focus for the year to come. What is your primary intention or theme for 2012?
Is it the year of joy?
The year of self-care?
The year of kicking ass?
The year of ease?
“2012 is my year of ________”

That last question leads nicely into planning for 2012. While many people make New Years Resolutions (about 45% of Americans), but more than half of them don’t keep them. There is, it seems, something so innate in us that simultaneously  wants to improve ourselves while setting giving ourselves permission to stay exactly the same.

I really like the idea of having one primary focus for the year, rather than a laundry list of unrelated ideas. I’ve done this for the past couple of years: my only resolution for 2010 was “be happier” and my only resolution for 2011 was to be better about staying in touch with my family and friends. Did I falter on these? For sure.  But I think I understand now what could make me more successful on my 2012 goal (2012 is my year of trying my best): defining what my goal means, how I’ll measure/define being successful at it and what concrete things I’ll do.

A great example of this method is The Happiness Project. The author, Gretchen Rubin, has even made a downloadable version of her resolutions chart . Her overarching theme for the year was to “be happier” and from there she figured out things that would improve her happiness (getting rid of clutter, quit nagging, etc) and then devoted one month to actions that accomplished that, while keeping her overall goal in mind.

My 2012 goal of “trying my best” has a lot of meanings: not letting myself get distracted when I’m working, learning new things, being proactive, letting go of jealousy,  being a kinder, more patient person, letting myself off the hook when things go wrong, and more.  I plan to write my 2012 goal and post it on my bulletin board at my desk, so I will be reminded of it everyday.

Another great approach to New Years Resolutions is a list like this one: 30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself. Sometimes the best approach to what you want to do is a focus on what you don’t want to do anymore. Maybe a theme for 2012 could be “the year of letting go” and you could devote each month to something you need to let go of.

If, like many people, you have resolutions of “being healthier,” or “losing weight,” think about how you can approach it (taking out meat or soda from your diet a few days a week, signing up for a beginner’s yoga workshop!, going to bed a half hour earlier each night). If health and yoga are part of your 2012 plans, of course I’d love to help (contact me and we’ll work on a resolution plan!) And if you need further inspiration, check out this awesome 91 year old yoga teacher.

There’s a lot in my life that I frustratingly feel like I have no control over. So much effort I put out into the world with little or no results. And especially for beginners yoga can feel that way–it takes so much time to gain strength and flexibility, to master difficult asanas (and sometimes no matter what you do or how many years you try, you’ll body will never cooperate).

Which is why having a tangible task that you can see the results of once you’ve completed it can be so deeply satisfying. I’ve found small home improvement are great for this. I live in a small rental apartment in Brooklyn, so I’m a little more limited than home owners in what I can do, but you don’t need a $10,000 kitchen renovation to feel like you’ve accomplished something.

I painted the main wall of my living room yesterday and it looks great and I feel proud and accomplished. It sounds like a small thing but, aside from having a huge impact on the room, the process felt like such a metaphor. I’ve lived in this apartment for six years, I don’t know how long before I moved in that the wall was painted (the building is over 100 years old). But I see it every day, for hours, and for the last couple of years there has been a few spots of chipped paint that irritate me. But doing something about them seemed like too much of a hassle. And besides, I’m not going to live here forever, I don’t own the place…so I lived day after day, with chipping white walls, feeling mildly irritated.

(the wall before with paint samples)

Finally, I decided to do something about it. I went to Home Depot, picked out a color, talked to the “paint expert” and got all the necessary tools. She told me to chip away at the quarter-sized areas of missing paint until the paint wouldn’t chip anymore and then just paint over it. Simple enough. But when I started chipping, the paint just kept going and going until a giant section of the wall was chipped away.

I was worried, this seemed like a much bigger issue. Back at Home Depot I was told I now needed to rent a power sander and sand the entire wall. I was near tears. Then an alternative was offered, sand the edges with sandpaper, use putty and primer then paint. I was nervous, but I did it, painted over it and the results are beautiful.

How does this relate to yoga, and to life?

There’s something small that’s always in the back of your mind bugging you, you try to ignore it and make excuses for not fixing it. Finally you force yourself to make the change and prepare with all the proper tools, but something goes wrong, you face a setback, things are now worse, you want to quit. But, you can’t, you’ve come to far (you can’t live with a giant patch of missing paint). You persevere, you finish–your results may not be perfect, and it may not be as easy as you planned, but you’re better for having tackled the problem.

It’s easy (especially in New York City) to get image wrapped up with yoga. Yoga has for many, become associated with upper-middle class skinny white women, and can seem from the outside to be very elitist.   Beyond even the comparisons of body types and ability, there is so much consumerism tied into yoga–so many cool yoga mats and props, so many pretty $180 stretchy pants. On one hand I get it, there’s a lot of opportunity to make money and a lot of people willing to spend it. On the other hand though it’s the thing that bothers me the most about yoga.

I truly believe that anyone from any background,  with any body type, at any age, wearing any clothes, standing on any piece of ground can not only do yoga, but benefit from and enjoy it. Which is why I found this blog post on Yoga Journal (by Erica Rodefer). Here’s the outline of the article, click the link to read the whole thing:

The 5 things that yoga does require:

1. An open mind.

2. The willingness to look silly.

3. An adventurous spirit.

4. A sense of humor.

5. Body, breath, and spirit.

I found this list and the entire post very refreshing, and I wholeheartedly agree– I espically love this line:

“It’s a comforting thought that you were born with everything you need to do yoga.”

I would add to the list though the following two items:

6. Patience. I’ve talked about it some already, but it’s really so relevant in all aspects of life and especially in yoga. My wonderful fiance only does yoga because he wants to support my teaching endeavors, and he gets frustrated with himself for not being able to get into some of the poses. He’ll say his body isn’t capable of doing those things, but it is– he’s only done yoga a handful of times, he (and all beginners) just have to keep trying, keep practicing, be patient.

7. A Teacher. This one could be argued, you can certainly learn yoga and pratice yoga all by yourself– and as many people in the “yoga world” will tell you, a good solo pratice is important. But I’d say it’s essential to have as least periodicity practice with a teacher. There’s only so much you can learn from reading or DVDs, and even if you’re practicing in front of a mirror, without a teacher you could have the wrong alignment and never know it. Tiny adjustments, guidance, someone to ask questions to and encourage you, I’d say those things are pretty essential to yoga too. (but of course I would say that, I’m a yoga teacher..)

My fiance and I went to his home state of PA over the long weekend. At one of the small town stores specializing in what I refer to as ‘items of whimsy’ there was a bunch of signs with the quote “Life is About How You Handle Plan B.”

I didn’t think much of it at the time, but the words popped back in my head when we were returning from our weekend away and things started going wrong. Things, that in the grander scheme are petty inconveniences and minor injustices, but that  in the moment felt like one crushing disappointment after another. If the true test of my character is how I handled these situations, than I wasn’t getting very high marks.

The picture of a yoga teacher is typically that of some evolved and enlighted guru. And I’m not, not by a long shot. To quote one of my favorite cheesy movies: ” I wish I could live off creeds and mottoes and all that, but I’m in the real world here, OK?”*

I’m in the real world, and a “yoga mindset” is as much of a practice as the asanas are ( and truthfully a much more difficult one). Through my yoga training and practice I’m starting to become more aware of my reactions and both my ability and inability to choose how to react in any given situation.

One thing that I’ve noticed is how who I’m with can influence how I deal with problems. I’ve noticed that I’m my best self when in the presence of kids, whether it’s my 6-year-old nephew or my 16-year-old Little Sister. I put a positive spin on negative situations, I try to make boring things into fun games, I’m patient and gentle, fair and giving. On the other hand, when I’m with those who love me the most — my future husband, my mom– and something goes wrong, I let myself be upset and complain.

There could be several theories on why this is, and I doubt I’m the only one who has these varied reactions. Do you find yourself reacting differently when you’re alone? With certain people?

The point isn’t becoming perfect, or chastising yourself when you react in a less than ideal way, it’s awareness. Change comes slowly, and in small ways like deciding to use the two hour wait at the bus station to catch up on your reading instead of getting frustrated.

Sometimes though, you just need to scream into a pillow. We are living in the real world after all, and sometimes even adults need to throw a little tantrum.

*extra credit if you guessed the movie (1994’s Reality Bites)

I read a quote the other day:

“Habit is overcome by habit.”

 Thomas a Kempis

I’ve been doing a lot of yoga lately, and trying to write everyday. I’ve been trying to form new habits, but today in the pre-hurricane preparedness everything (from my normal Saturday morning yoga class to the entire MTA system) has shut down. But, even though so far everything is the same at home (it’s just a little dreary and rainy outside, but we still have power and everything), I have let this change of events serve as an excuse to take a “snow day” from all my progress and good habit building. Part of me feels guilty and lazy, another part of me feels like it’s good to let yourself take a break sometimes and just lay on the couch reading listing to the rain outside.

What do you think? What good and bad habits do you notice yourself building?