The churning heart

I have not written in a month.

My mind and my heart have been churning.

Among the churning, I have been trying to discern if what my heart has been telling me is merely my mind’s cunning trickery.

I have been grappling with the idea of impermanence, and why, seeing the nature of impermanence, why does loss cause so much sadness?

I have been disappointed and slightly disillusioned, but again is this my ego creating  expectations built from illusions?

So with this, I embrace turning within. I accept this feeling of unsettleness.

And I appreciate when yoga feels good with breath, asana, sweat, smile. Quiet.The.Mind.

And I close my eyes.  inhale. exhale. I feel this breath.

suburban yoga vs. city yoga

Have you ever heard of ‘grade inflation’ when you were in school? Certain professors would grade more generously than others or a C average in a science class equals an A in a history class… or something like that?

I have a theory that this occurs in yoga in terms of class level. You see, I live and regularly practice at a suburban studio quite distant from the Los Angeles Yoga Mecca of Santa Monica and Venice  (also referred as city yoga for the purpose of this article). Having ventured away from my regular studio lately, I’ve come to learn very quickly that level 2-3 at my regular suburban studio is like a level 1-2 in Yoga Mecca.  From only a handful of visits to the city, I have ‘downgraded’ my practice- while I thought I was an intermediate practitioner in the suburbs, I appeared to myself as a beginner yogi in the city.  In addition to this very humbling observation,  here are my other observations of city yoga vs. suburban yoga:

First, a note about my suburban yoga- LA is huge with its whole urban sprawl. My ‘suburb’ is in an area away from the beach with mostly families, with one state university in the neighborhood. It is definitely not yuppy, and it’s diverse economically and ethnically. I say this because many neighborhoods totally unlike mine are also in the suburb.  For example, Manhattan Beach is on the water and very wealthy. I will refer to these yuppy beach neighborhood studios as beach city yoga.

Class size: City yoga tends to be mat to mat, Yoga Mecca studios with celebriguru guarantees mat to mat attendance. Suburban yoga tends to be more spacious. Beach city yoga is also very packed.

Parking: (Sorry, as we are in the LA area, so this is a big deal). City yoga means very limited parking. Need to allocate at least extra 10 minutes to find parking. There is almost never free parking, so need to have lots of quarters handy. Oh, the yoga mecca studios tend to be close to the beach. In this summer, parking is sometimes impossible. (yes, you can take the bus, or ride a bicycle, but I am driving from 40 miles away) Having been a suburban yogi, I didn’t realize I have been so spoiled as there is always ample free parking.

Room Temperature: Most of my suburban classes tend to be airy and comfy, the city & beach area classes are always not air conditioned, few ventilation of any, HOT, steamy, smelly.

Prices: Except for a few well known national chain studios (these tend to be more expensive), the individual class prices at independent studios in both the city and the suburbs are actually quite similar. My suburban studio has a generous discount offered at the beginning of the year for unlimited one year pass. I paid about $550 for one  year of unlimited yoga at my suburban studio.

Class Variety: City yoga studios seems to have a bigger variety of classes. My studio has basically 2 types: easy hatha/flow to more vigorous vinyasa flow, and there is 1 prenatal class weekly. However, some suburban studios have a diverse set of classes, as they offer ‘meditative yoga’ ‘chakra and yoga’ and ‘candlelight flow’ class.  There are no anusara classes in the suburban area near me, though.

Teachers:  This is interesting and undoubtedly controversial. I am only basing my observations on what I have seen here in the Yoga Mecca city area (Santa Monica, Venice). The yoga mecca studios tend to feature celebrity teachers, as that is the main draw. I do appreciate that  a common peasant yogi like me can take a class from internationally known instructor. This is not to say in anyway that the teachers at the suburban studio is less capable.

I have seen many newer teachers (teaching for 3 years or less) at suburban yoga studios. Many of my instructors from the suburban studio took their training with Yoga Works.

The city teachers tend to be quite well known in the Los Angeles yoga scene, if not the overall yoga scene. The suburban teachers tend to be very familiar in the local region (for example: South Bay, South Orange County, North Orange County…etc.)

Classmates/Fellow Yogis: I am definitely biased. I’ve been going to the same suburban studio for 6 years now, so I am probably a ‘regular’. However, if I am next to a new person at my regular studio, I usually greet the person next to me.

At the super yoga mecca studio, my visits has always been mat to mat. However, it just seems more aloof to me. At least for me, there was no eye contact or ‘hello’ or anything.

The apparel choices are always interesting to me.  There is one beach studio where Lululemon is the unofficial uniform for all the students AND the teachers. Lululemon and Hard Tail have a strong presence in the Yoga Mecca, but the clothing choices seem more diverse.  The suburban studios are the most diverse, and you don’t see as many brands represented. People just wear whatever they feel comfortable for practicing yoga.  I know this is so superficial and super petty, but I am just a freak who likes to observe petty things…

This is enough triviality for the night. In summary, I appreciate all the convenience and comfort at my regular suburban studio- short drive, easy parking, friendly teachers, comfortable temperature. BUT, both my body and my ego is craving a beat up, drenching sweaty practice to make me physically stronger. Talk about all that heat to make 2 gallons of sweat come out of my body. I can finally appreciate the meaning of ‘tapas’. Yes, going to the city yoga mecca or the beach is a pain in the arse: the long drive, the headache parking, the class fee, the crowd. But, I want to get stronger.

I will always be a regular at my suburban studio. As for the ‘city yoga’, I will take it one class at a time… drive, park, get a beat down, sweat, repeat…

Wanderlust Yoga in the City- Right there on 3rd Street promenade in Santa Monica, where there are 3 studios just within 3 blocks or something crazy like that… of course, Lululemon is within walking distance too

When are you going to be happy?

That is the question I have been asking myself throughout my life, and I had always fed myself answers like:

- When I graduate high school

- When I have a boyfriend

- When I graduate college

- When I get married

- When I get a job

- When I get a raise

- When I quit my job

- When I lose 20 lbs.

- When I master a headstand in the middle of the room

But, what about now? Why not be happy, right here and right now?

Truth be told, I am constantly waiting for the next milestone to bring me happiness. But, I realize this is an illusion, there is no milestone. If I do not choose happiness at this moment, I have lost a moment of my life without happiness. Knowing this, why do I not feel the bliss of happiness?

Happiness, like love, or yoga, has a fluid definition. I am not sure what my happiness means, and I confess that I am afraid of happiness. Maybe happiness is so ecstatic and blissful but it could be lost so easily. Perhaps happiness is more subdued like feeling calm, centered, appreciative, present… Maybe I am really trying to say that I want to snap out of my apathy and inertia and feel more interested and engaged in every aspect of my life.  Perhaps I have been reunited with the familiar condition of mild depression.

As I have been learning to observe my emotions and mind patterns, I understand depression will probably come and go throughout my life, and when it arrives, I acknowledge it and treat it.

But beyond the serotonin challenge in the physical body, perhaps learning to be happy is letting go of the definition of happiness.  In A Life Worth Breathing, Max Strom said ” One of the ways we sabotage ourselves from experiencing happiness by demanding our happiness in a certain form”

For me, this means stop beating my mind to submission until I feel a high elation.  It means in the moments of depression and inertia, I notice it, treat it, and have faith more than ever that I am not this mind and ‘this too, shall pass’. It means I start with paying attention to my breath, just my breath. It means I will appreciate the moments of calm, presence, joy, comfort, safety, warmth… because I feel good, and maybe that’s “happiness”.

It means no longer asking myself  “when are you going to be happy?”

photo by: Andrew Turner

my so-called yoga life

Last week, I talked about an impromptu real yoga moment.  Today, I introduce you to the so-called yoga-related things I do.

Unproductive? Yes. Vain? You got it. Silly? Definitely. Lame? Probably.

Typical week night:

1. Get into headstand. No warm ups, no meditation, no sun salutation, nothing. Just go for a headstand. Naturally, I wobble. Feet land at the wall. Of course I am better than ‘that’. Repeat. Go off the wall to ‘challenge’ myself. Fall. Shake the floor. Dog gives me an annoyed look and walks to another room.

2. Of course, that just totally warmed me up to Bakasana (crow pose). Head still a little dizzy. Still, no warm ups, no sun salutation, no  hip openings. I attempt crow, legs slide off.  Attempt again, yes, legs stay, lean forward, elbow plant. Pissed. Repeat. Goddammit I am going to get this, right now. Plant hands on the floor, bring knees up, forget to engage core, FACEPLANT. Repeat 2 more times.

photo by: dejahthoris

obviously, this is not what my bakasana looks like.

3. Ego deflated , wrists sore. Go to computer. Go to Lululemon.com Of course I can’t afford the stuff. I get intimidated by studios filled with hardbod lululemings, but I still browse in ‘We made too much’ page. Hmm.. I still have that gift card from Christmas. Nothing I like is on sale. Go to ‘Crops’ page, see which type would make my ass look more ‘yogic’  Dog watches me to my room.

4. Go to my dresser, pull out the old Lululemon leggings I bought last year. They were on sale. But they are in my ‘Reserve’ apparel collection. ‘Reserved collection’ means things I like so much I save hoard until they become 1) too small 2) totally out of vogue they are not wearable. Somehow adoring my yoga pants them makes me feel like a more skilled yogi.

5. Try on -the- lulu reserve leggings. They still fit.  well,  they stretch, so they damn well should fit. Do an 180, check out my bum in the mirror. Do they look more ‘yoga hard body’ after my hard core headstand/crow workout? Is this a vinyasa certified ass?  hmm.. these pants do suck me in. check out the front. flat. no lines. good. I guess the extra money is good for something.

photo by: lululemon (disclaimer: this is not my behind. it’s way smaller. naturally. it’s a lululemon model)

Trying to make myself feel better about this purchase. Alright, time to take them off. These pants pill, right? They are my reserve collection. Gotta put it back in the ‘Reserve’ drawer.

6. Go to amazon.com, look exhaustively for free music to add to my yoga playlist. Most of the music is no good. Wait, did I already test listen that one? Preview the album. Meh. By song # 6 I realized I already previewed it 3 days ago. Go to whiteswan.com, look for free Wednesday download. Wait, I already downloaded the same song somewhere else. Dog sits by my computer, giving me the ‘hey, we-gotta-walk-look.’

7. Twitter. Jump to Elephant Journal. Read a blog. Oh Shit. I haven’t written anything in a while. What should I write? I already voiced my frustrations with driving. How about ??? Forget it. Go to Nine West or Piperlime. Look for those nude color heels.  They will make my legs longer, right?  Narrow down to almond shaped toes.  Now only if they actually make them wide enough for my feet. No luck.

8. Dog is whining. He’s been waiting for his you know what walk for the last 3 hours. I can say ‘walk’ here. I am typing. He can’t read what I am typing. go back to amazon.com There is probably some important book about yoga that I should buy.  Dog is now whining and pacing in circles.

9. Grab the leash and 2 baggies. I get off my arse and walk my dog.  The End.

That’s what I call real yoga

photo by: lizjones112

When was the last time you danced without abandon?

Like no one was watching?

Really, without care, without thought, just dancing, getting into the music. I don’t think I’ve ever danced like that in my entire adult life. Sure, I ‘threw my hands in the air and waved them like I didn’t care’. But, that was in Tijuana during my college days with the assistance of beer and tequila shots. And, I danced as though that cute guy was watching. Even during my only Trance Dance class, I danced like someone was watching. I danced like I was watching.

One of my good friends posted a video of her daughter dancing to Shakira’s  Ojos Asi. She stamped her little feet,  twirled her little body 360, gyrated her shoulders, waved her little hands, jazz fingers and all.  She created her groovy belly dance Bollywood fusion.

The whole time, this little girl never looked into the camera. She probably didn’t know her mom was filming her.

It occurred to me: She was completely Present. 

Present, as the whole point of meditation, yoga, mindfulness, bliss… you know, all that good stuff.  Before me was this 6-year-old girl who does not know she is already a yoga teacher, demonstrating ‘being present’. Maybe it is a child’s innocence, maybe it is her overwhelming cuteness, her dancing brought on a sense of nostalgia of simply having fun and not even being aware that she is ‘present’. (mindfully unmindful, ha!)

Just dancing, moving, smiling, enjoying.

That’s what I call Bliss.

Who let the dogs out?

Disclaimer: I like dogs, and I love big dogs. I don’t mean to disparage dogs in any way while I write this. I don’t know how my crazy head came up with this metaphor… here it goes.

Even after I began practicing yoga, I still had anger and irritability issues. I was grateful to not have those issues during the 75 or so minutes on my mat, but overall I was pretty irritable most of the time, mostly due to stress from my previous job and the long commute.  Being a commuter in Los Angeles, I am embarrassed to admit that I have had a few road rage encounters.  These encounters often resulted from my taking other people’s aggressive driving too personally– looking back, I was mostly the provokee, not the provoker, but stupidly I still reacted…

In hindsight, I realized this destructive behavior was the genius work of EGO. Yep, ego again. Ego that nagged ‘I-am-better-than-you. Thugs-like-you-need-to-f*@k-off!’

Road rage is scary as hell: body is literally in full fight-or-flight mode -middle finger, horn leaning, speeding, and all. Heart raced, tight chest- these encounters felt like panic attacks. My mind raced with boiling black steam of rage. My heart cried for help, but the cries are suffocated by the body in shock.

So what does all this have to do with dogs? Human’s best friend.

(Photo by: Jesse Gardner)

I realized the mind’s dynamic of  fights and confrontations are similar to when dogs fight at a dog park with their owners trying to break up the fight.  Pretend every person who goes to the dog park are peaceful and nice human beings, and their dogs are wild. When the dogs meet, they do not get along and they fight, asserting dominance over the other dog. The owners of each dog run to the scene to break up the dogs, but because they understand that the nature of the dogs the owners do not blame and fight each other. They each get their dog and the confrontation ends.

I would like to think that the dog owners represent our true nature-patient, understanding, and compassionate. The wild dogs represent our ego-perhaps confrontational, impatient, angry. When I flipped off the person who tailgated me, it was my ego reacting to that person’s ego. The angry, reactive, irritable, psychotic driver was not my true self. Even then I knew this was not me, and I would feel so angry and disappointed  at myself for committing such violent and stupid acts.

As my yoga practice continued and after I quit my job, my bouts of anger have decreased significantly. As I learned about the concept of ego, I began to understand the dynamic of anger. I still commute, but I am learning to breathe and not feed into my ego, so that it will seek out a nasty confrontation with another person’s ego.

There will still be times where I am just a grump, for no good reason. Like today, when I was waiting for some friends in front of a restaurant at a certain swanky beach town, I felt irritable in the midst of all the hustle and bustle, all the giddy tanned people with their fancy clothes and driving in circles to park their fancy cars.   I know, I am not nice.

Wait, stop!  The ‘dogs’ are coming out!

OK,  long inhale… long exhale… long inhale…long exhale…

And my friends showed up.

This is a cool song for my yoga playlist until I heard the words.

Yogis:  Did this happen to you? You are in the middle of your practice, on your way to a blissful dharana when suddenly some random words to a song with WTF lyrics jabs you out of your practice?

The scenario above is the reason I do not use the songs below for my yoga class, despite that I love the melody, the percussion, the arrangement… until I listened to the lyrics.  Don’t get me wrong, I like these songs so much, it’s really a shame that I find the lyrics ‘inappropriate’ for a yoga class. In the meantime, I suppose I can use the songs below to make a kick ass playlist for my home practice.

What songs would you add to my ‘song is cool but lyrics not so good for yoga’ playlist? Would you mind hearing any of those songs in your yoga class?

1) Take Me Out- Franz Ferdinand

Awesome melody, cool beat, fun, right? Then I listened to the words and realized it was a song about assassination. It’s not a song about take me out to play, but take me out as in killing me. Just slightly too disturbing for yoga.

2) Pumped Up Kicks – Foster the People

I heard this played in a yoga class. I thought the music was cool. Another fun song until I realized that this is a song about a kid who is planning a killing spree. OK, not too cool for yoga. Notice how this song and the previous song are cool tunes about murder?

3) Rolling in the Deep- Adele

I love this song, and so want to play it for yoga. But, this song is about suffering from a painful break up, about being still emotionally attached to the ex. This song might trigger painful memories and therefore potentially distracting for a yoga class. I love Adele, I love her songs, and it’s a shame I can’t use more of her music for yoga class.

4) Stop Me- Mark Ronson

I really like this remake- nice beat and vocals. But once again this song is about a heartbroken bloke who is self-destructive. We’ve all been there but I am not sure if yoga class is a good place to revisit this suffering.

5) Wish You Were Here- Pink Floyd

A slow, melancholic tune supposedly inspired by the mental breakdown of Pink Floyd’s founder, Syd Barrett. Too depressing.

6) Alive- Pearl Jam

My favorite song in the 90s and my favorite Pearl Jam song. I could not figure out what this song is about for the longest time, and upon research I discovered it’s a song about a boy who did not know his biological father. Some interpret the song is also about an incestuous encounter with this mother. Not too good for yoga class.

7) Bizness- Tuneyards

Really cool beat afro-beat on this song. I actually saw this song as a free download at a yoga blog site. This is a toss up. Some have interpreted this as a song about addiction, others took it literally and interpreted this song as about a robbery. I just don’t feel comfortable playing  a song with the verse “I am a victim, yeah. Don’t take my life away. Don’t take my life away”

8) Original Bedroom Rockers- Kruder and Dorfmeister

This piece is actually mostly without words. Great beat, nice groove, until the deep male voice blurting “yeah baby” Eeew, it sounds tacky. If I knew “Yeah Baby” was going to be inserted somewhere, I would not have downloaded this song.

9) Bad Things- Lal Meri

This talented band plays electronica world fusion with Indian influence. Bad Things is one of their best songs. Unfortunately, this is a “I hate my ex” song and remembering “all the bad things you made me do” so, not so useful for yoga class. Otherwise, it’s a great song to listen to.

10) Mad World- Gary Jules

I really like this quiet, haunting, and depressing song. Piano arrangement is beautiful. Memorable lyrics: “The dreams in which I am dying, are the best I’ve ever had”  Another beautiful song too ‘depressing’ for yoga.

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