31 December 2016

Looking Back, Looking Forward

My fifteenth and final entry for 2016.

I sit here in my bedroom and try to put 366 days into words. Historians will certainly have much to say about this year. Political upheaval. Humanitarian failures. The loss of iconic celebrities. Hell, even the Cubs and Cavaliers won championships in their respective sports.

However, all of that is the province of historians to analyze. As for me?

(Pours a Bushmills. Neat.)

I learned how ungrateful some people can be.
I learned how destructive some people can be.
I learned (well, relearned) how hateful people can be.
I watched people in pure anguish fearing for their children, their parents, their future.
I (once again) was forced to "make things work" after yet another decision was made without consulting me, or by ignoring my wishes outright.
I watched co-workers become more and more bitter, burned out, and leave.
I shed more tears than I have in a long time (including Christmas morning and this morning).

My year in yoga was difficult as well. I attempted another long duration challenge. My last goal was 120 days but I stopped at 104. It was the complete opposite of the previous year: instead of improving and feeling better and better, it was horrible. It was like trying to practice in quicksand at times. It got so bad I couldn't even make myself walk in the room at times. Then in November, the studio was forced to close its doors -- attendance had dwindled so that continued operation became untenable. I was part of the collective mourning of my yoga friends as they scrambled to find new or similar venues. I'm still searching for a full time studio -- and the money to pay for it (work-study was such a blessing).

Without a regular yoga practice, and with the holidays looming, I retreated to darkness. Depression. Hopelessness. For the last six weeks, I have had the most empty feeling most of the time. Eating half of Fort Worth hasn't helped. I hesitate to step on the scale but I will do so tomorrow just to see where I'm starting from. I turn 50 in ten months... right now I feel like I'm 70. I feel empty. Used up. Nothing left to give.

On the good side, I rediscovered writing. If you follow my Twitter account, you see I post poetry there. I truly enjoy writing, and I have met so many fellow writers who encourage and inspire me. I am also part of an extended yoga family that has kept up with and encouraged each other since the studio closed. My yoga journey is not over by any means. I simply have to figure out how to make it happen. Lastly, there a few people that I hold dearest to me. People that check in, make sure I'm ok, let me rant or cry, and basically keep me going. I may not see them often, if at all, but they are quite special to me.

So, for 2017:
I have to figure out how to make LIFE happen again. I've been on this merry-go-round far too long. I cannot bear the thought of taking another turn. I have places to go. People to see. Yoga to practice. Time is short for all of us. I have a lot of life to live and love to give. I matter. I have meaning. My life has meaning.

I am enough.
I am enough.
I am enough.

Thank you for reading and following. Hang with me a little longer.

You. Are. Loved.


14 December 2016


In my quest to find a new place to practice yoga of any kind, I tried a couple of vinyasa classes in the past week at two different studios. They were both listed as vinyasa but could not have been more different.

The first was at a studio I had never visited before in the nearby hospital district. A simple, beautiful space with lots of natural light. Took class from the studio owner. The class is not a hot or heated class but, with cool temps outside, I did notice the thermostat was reading 76 degrees.

This was a 75 minute class. I don't think we stopped for the first 45-50 minutes. It was continuous and the vinyasa "flow" included lots of planks and Downward Dogs. There was music in the background which threw me early on but I adjusted. Chair pose with twists, as well as a lot of stretching and lunges, had me pouring sweat. This actually felt GOOD to me, as the Yin classes I take are cool and quiet. For a brief moment I felt at home, especially when the heat kicked on for a few minutes. Overall, I enjoyed it quite a lot. Felt sore but good. Felt grateful.

Then just a couple nights ago, I tried a Vinyasa class at the studio where I practice Yin. The room was cooler. Darker. Quieter. The class could not have been more different. In this one we held poses longer without so much flow. Also, the poses we did try were harder for me by far. For example: when doing a plank or down dog, we were instructed not to lock the arms out but to bend the arms slightly at the elbows with hands on the floor and elbows pointing to your knees ( that was exceedingly difficult ). I would get behind, fall out, and try to resume. Balance was a difficult thing to maintain, especially in poses where we were balanced on one knee or foot. I never broke a sweat, and once more I was questioning my sanity and my attempts to find a new place to practice. I fell out of poses because my body hurt and I was slow to resume. I didn't feel good about this class.

All of which brings me to... December.

I hate December. I don't need it. Christmas is for couples, lovers, and children. Not me. Work gets more difficult. More business. More shoppers. Far more work. Pressure levels rise. I eat lots of junk, come home, and pass out. One afternoon last week my I got home at 3:00, passed out on the bed at 4:00, and slept straight through until almost 8:00AM. That happens a lot in December and January for me. I've lost the desire to practice yoga. My great new yoga app sits dormant. I'm exhausted. All. The. Time. Hell, I keep fading out while trying to write this... New Years is almost worse, what with resolutions and plans to improve and all that bullshit. I've gone into "survival mode" for the next two weeks. Strange hours. Bad coffee. Lots and lots of sugar. I wake up around 3 most every day. Little or no yoga or exercise of any sort. My body hurts and I cannot find comfort. Usually this feeling dissipates after Dec 25. I'm not sure, this year. I really hurt and my sleep is so screwed up...

That's all for now. Peace and Good Night.

09 December 2016

Getting My Yin On

A busy avenue on the East side of town. Outside, the main rail artery out of town is busy. Warning gates drop and sirens sound every few minutes. Rush hour is winding down but there is still plenty of traffic on the four lane street. At regular intervals, the express bus from downtown stops, drops off, picks up, and moves on.

Inside the tiny yoga studio, it is semi-dark. Room temperature. Parts of the plastered walls are gone, revealing ancient brick beneath. There is a whiff of incense in the air. It is a peaceful place where students learn to block out the background, open their hearts as well as their bodies, and learn to accept what is.

Welcome to Yin yoga.

A few weeks before my Bikram studio closed, one of the instructors saw me continually struggling in the hot room. She also teaches Yin, and suggested I try it. She explained it as follows:

"Bikram yoga is a very Yang type of yoga. Hot. Lots of movement and exertion. It is very masculine. Yin is the opposite. Feminine. Quiet. Cool. Holding poses for minutes at a time. Letting your body slowly open itself. You will feel the effects for days."

So I did a little investigating, found the hole in the wall studio, and signed up. 

The instructor owns the studio with her husband, and together they teach Hatha, Vinyasa, and Yin classes, with a few different classes here and there. When I told her I was a Bikram devotee, she nodded and said her yoga journey began with Bikram as well. She said this would be completely different and that I would love it. So I unrolled my little rubber mat and waited. I have to admit I felt like a stranger in a strange land... no heat, no mirror to fight, no carpet on the floor. I watch as 4-5 regulars walk in, greet each other, and get set up.  The instructor takes her place on her mat, welcomes me, and explains that this class will concentrate on the liver and gallbladder "meridians" -- channels that conduct energy throughout the body. With that, away we went.

The biggest differences:

1) Obviously, the first difference is the lack of heat. I joked that I might need a sweater, but in reality it did not seem to bother me. Recall, Yin is cool and quiet as opposed to Yang which is hot and "busy" or more dynamic. In fact, the instructor believes the heat gives the body a false sense of being truly open and loose. Remember: this person started her journey in Bikram yoga and has taught in hot environments, so she has far more insight than I do.

2) Breathing: In Bikram one of the main mantras is, "Suck your stomach in. Hold it in.", even in Pranayama. Well in Yin (and in the Vinyasa class I took this week) that does not hold. Took a while to get used to pushing the belly out on the inhale, THEN sucking back in on the exhale. Still crosses me up.

3) Postures: I am acquainted with Downward Dog or Half Pigeon, but Cat/Cow? Dolphin? Sphinx?  Frog? I seem to learn a new pose in every class. Sometimes I catch myself trying to find a comparable Bikram pose (usually Cobra) and fall into it instead.

4) Props: Bolsters, blankets, and blocks, oh my! Along with straps and sandbags, no less. Foreign objects to someone who usually only has a water bottle and towel when practicing. Yin is about slowly opening the body and creating new space in both body and mind. The props help the body to relax itself long enough to open. If I recall correctly, she said it takes the body a minute or so to "get used to the idea" and relax the muscles and other tissues. She is right. Time after time we would go into a pose and my body would tense or cramp (almost always on the side OPPOSITE the side that was stretching) but after coming back up, taking a breath, and breathing back into the pose, everything would relax. Now, I did not by any stretch go deeply into a pose, but I did get in.

5) Accoutrements: Sometimes there is soft music. Sometimes it the chimes of Tibetan Singing Bowls (search on YouTube -- I sometimes put them on to sleep to). There might be incense. Last week it was a gong bath -- feeling the sound waves move through you is strangely relaxing. Almost always, she chants in Sanskrit (this lady knows 12 languages!) during Savasana. All add to the novelty... each class in different in its own way.

My takeaways:

First, while I love Bikram and am dearly missing the heat (if you missed the previous post, my Bikram studio was forced to close several weeks ago), this is a wonderful form to practice. Bikram is said to be a "moving meditation", but it can be difficult to meditate when you are sucking air and your heart is pounding after Triangle Pose and, yes, that is one of the goals of the practice. In Yin, there is none of that and I find it to be more meditative. I still fight the thoughts racing through my brain, but it is easier to quiet my mind.

Second, by holding poses for two, three, five minutes or more, my body is more open and I think my progress in postures is quicker.

Third, Yin can be just as intense as any Bikram or hot yoga class. I have walked out of that studio with legs shaking every bit as hard as any hot class I've taken. Look up "Half Saddle Pose" and add a twist to it... Yeah.  Also, it is true... you do feel the effects for days.

Finally, I am far weaker than I thought. Especially in my core. While she does not teach any standing poses, there are times we are asked to lift our legs off of the floor; sometimes even to the vertical. That is really difficult for me to do even with my hands holding my hips. Combine that with my gut preventing much of anything in the way of a forward fold, and I have plenty of work to do.

I have been taking these Yin classes once or twice a week now for about six or eight weeks. I am convinced they are greatness. I love the studio and the souls I practice with. It is a tiny place and I've never seen more than ten people in a class and the intimacy of the space is relaxing. Even as I search for a warmer yoga to practice, I continue to be drawn to this little oasis of calm. I hope you look up a Yin class near you and try one soon!

Next time: the yoga tour continues as I try a Vinyasa class, I try yoga at home from an app, and the trouble with December.