Glee, Lady Gaga, and other things that I learn life lessons from

I feel like I’ve been keeping a secret from you. Not just you, but my yogi friends, my yogi teachers, my yogi students. It’s kind of an embarrassing secret, one that might ruin my credibility (in some people’s eyes). But, I’ve been trying to practice satya or truthfulness, so it’s time to come clean. And man, that episode of Glee the other night really made me feel like celebrating what I’m insecure about, because after all, it’s what makes me interesting. Yes, it was mainly Glee (and Lady Gaga, naturally) that prompted me to write about this. Satya…not so much. Patanjali would be so proud. Here it goes…

I can’t do this pose:

Yep, that’s right. I can’t sit in a cross-legged position. Makes me feel even better about myself that this is called “easy pose” or sukhasana. For me, this ain’t easy. In fact, it hurts like hell.

I was born this way baby.

Well, not really. I can’t sit this way because my hips are so tight, namely my IT bands, that they pull on their attachments to my knees, which makes for a LOT of pain while sitting cross-legged. Years of running, hiking, gymnastics, cycling, climbing, and other hip-intensive activity has caused this. So I wasn’t really born this way, but I’ll just pretend I was because I love that damn song.

Gaga does yoga

At the beginning of this yoga training (can you believe I’m less than a month away from graduating?) I felt all weird that I couldn’t even do the supposed easiest pose in yoga. I found myself thinking…Georgie, not only is this the “easiest” pose, but it’s also the quintessential yoga pose. When someone thinks yoga, they probably think of suhkasana. And I couldn’t (still can’t) do it. This pose is also the base for a lot of other poses, like janu shirshasana and ardha baddha padmottanasana and many, many others–none of which, I can do.

This used to frustrate the hell out of me, mainly because I could remember back to a time when I could do all of those poses, and they used to feel really good. I still haven’t found a pose that feels as good on my lower back and hips and hamstrings as janu shirshasana. But I was also embarrassed–I would dread the seated sequences in class because I knew that there would, undoubtedly, be a pose that I couldn’t do.

And more importantly….how the hell was I going to teach all these yoga classes and have people learn from me if I couldn’t even sit on my damn mat?

Well, it turns out that I can sit on my mat, just in a different way–thunderbolt pose (legs bent underneath you, sitting on your heels, aka kneeling). Sometimes students ask me why I sit that way, and for a while I would say that it was just more comfortable. But now, I tell them the whole truth–my hips suck, so my knees suck.

About five nights a week before I go to bed, I practice yin yoga, where I hold the poses for a long time and really relax down into the mat. Hip openers are what I do the most of, because they feel really good and help me sleep. I don’t do them in desperate hopes of being able to sit cross-legged, not anymore at least. Although, every once in a while, I sit down and slowly cross my legs, just to see where I’m at, if I’ve gotten more flexible, if maybe my knees don’t hurt. But, they always hurt. They hurt a lot.

Shitty, is usually the first thought that comes to mind.

Yes, it sucks. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I’m totally at peace with my knees. But what I’ve learned is that by letting go of wanting my body to be different than it is now, with open hips and knees that can do all sorts of awesome shit, I can also let go of those feelings of being weird or sucky at yoga.

We all have some physical, bodily thing that we wish we could change about ourselves. This thing brings us insecurity and that feeling of being different–something that we are all scared shitless of. But these differences in our physical beings are super, super interesting. They aren’t shameful. Yes, they are weird and odd, but they are the good kind of weird and odd.

Yoga will make these things stick out even more. All of the sudden, every imperfection that your physical body contains starts to either hurt or show itself. Even a tiny paper cut on my pinky finger was stinging like hell during my practice this morning. While on your mat, all of your physical (and emotional) ailments will start talking, and this can be an experience that isn’t so fun.

Yoga is for the brave.

Whatever physical shit you’ve got going on–face it, accept it, live with it. You don’t have to love it, because I’m sure as hell never going to love having painful knees, but do admit that it’s there. Most physical stuff that we don’t like about ourselves is permanent–I don’t know if my ailment is a permanent one, but after five years of practicing yoga I haven’t seen much improvement. I keep going though, practicing hip openers because they feel awesome and if they someday help my knees, then great. And hey, my problem is not half, not one one-hundredth of what some people have got going on. Be thankful.

My hips have opened a lot though, because on Tuesday I finally did this pose, which requires a lot of hip flexibility:

Yep, I can do this pose but I can’t sit the hell down. Yoga is weird like that. The body is weird like that.

So whether you were born this way or not, this is what we have. Work with it. Do what you can do, and to all of the stuff you can’t do, say you’re awesome but not today, friend.

You’re on the right track baby. : )

Yogic Civil War

Before one of my flow classes last week, a woman came up to me and asked, “You’re Georgie, right?”

I said yes.

“I heard that you “don’t care” (and yes, she made little quotation marks with her fingers, bunny ears style) about alignment of the body in yoga poses. How can you not care? Yoga is all about alignment.”

Three things came to my mind. 1. Who did she hear this from, 2. Did I possibly say something in one of my classes along the lines of not giving a shit about alignment, and 3. Hello, Miss Anusara practitioner.

I laughed a little, because I didn’t know what else to do, but then responded. “I care very much about alignment–what have you heard that would make you think otherwise?”

And before she said anything, I knew the answer. It was in a hot flow class, warrior 1 pose, when I was describing how to have your feet. I did in fact say, I don’t care about the alignment of your feet but then went on to give them option after option of ways to position each foot. I told them to do whatever way felt best for their hips.

This is my attitude with all of the yoga poses. There are so many damn ways to do each pose that it’s overwhelming. I remember when I first started practicing yoga how frustrating it was to go to different classes and have teachers tell me conflicting ways to do each pose. Warrior 1 is one of those poses that no two schools of yoga seem to agree on. Some say hips squared with the front edge of your mat, others say to square the hips but to still maintain openness in the sacrum, some say tuck the tail bone, some say stick the butt out slightly, some tell us to roll the left stomach forward while drawing the right stomach back, and once I was told to melt my right butt cheek into my right upper thigh.

Then, instead of practicing yoga, my mind is like, I wonder if my hips are squared? Is my sacrum open? What does having an open sacrum even feel like? Since when do I have a right stomach and a left stomach? How the hell do I make my ass cheeks melt?

After years of practicing yoga, I still have no fucking clue how to do Warrior 1. And neither does anyone else.

Back to the woman who thought I didn’t give a shit about everything I had been taught by my yoga teachers (I’ve learned more about alignment than anything else). I knew that she was an Anusara practitioner because she was so OMG about hearing that I “didn’t care” about alignment. Anusara teachers and practitioners are really lighthearted and hilarious and fun but when it comes to how your sacrum should be in triangle pose, you better get it right. Then once you’re doing the pose correctly, you can smile and giggle and open your (correctly aligned) heart to grace.

I told the woman that I had been trained in alignment based yoga (Iyengar yoga) and that I was now in a teacher training program that emphasizes body alignment.

“Well, I practice Anusara,” she said. (Duh).

“Sometimes, so do I,” I replied.

She was confused by this, but took my class anyways. The truth is, I don’t practice or teach one certain kind of yoga day after day. Some say that this is because I’m a young, immature yogini, a “questioning” yogini, a poor little confused yogini. My practice and my classes are a mix of many different styles of yoga because I don’t think one single type has it completely figured out. I was going to tell the woman that my classes are Iyengar meets vinyasa flow meets anusara meets ashtanaga meets bhakti meets I don’t give a fuck what you do in this class as long as it’s safe but I thought I’d just let her take the class for herself.

Anusara is awesome because the teachers are always these little cute things that make you laugh and feel like a little kid in a candy shop while on your yoga mat. All of the poses become super fun and light (after, of course, you get your alignment right). Iyengar is cool because you get to really feel the poses for what they’re worth, no flow-ey, dance-ey “bullshit” (yes I have heard an Iyengar teacher call flow yoga “bullshit”) to distract you from what shape your body is in. Flow yoga is nice because you get to move a lot–the entire class, and you get to dance around and be creative on your mat. Ashtanga is awesome because it tells you what’s up. The teachers and the practice itself are like, um actually, you CAN do that pose that you thought you couldn’t, but actually, you CAN’T do that pose that you thought you could. Jivamukti yoga makes you want to save the world. Kundalini is fun because it makes you feel like you’re on crack.

I could go on and on with my stereotypes of each kind of yoga, but I’ll stop there. Bottom line is that every type of yoga thinks it has it right, figured out, the purest and most perfect form of the practice. It’s a damn yogic civil war out there.

Each kind of yoga has something good to offer me, and things that I don’t care for. I pick out the good stuff and go with it. Some days I like a certain style better than others. Some days one way of doing Warrior 1 feels best, the next day a different way works.

I admire yogis who have found the one practice that jives with them. I’m just not like that. Or maybe I’m just not there yet.

This civil war between styles of yoga can be seen everywhere, not just in yoga. This happens in climbing too, but even worse. Trad climbers hate sport climbers, sport climbers hate trad climbers, and everyone hates boulderers.

This WE ARE RIGHT mindset happens within every group of people. Religion vs. religion, race vs. race, country vs. country, soy milk drinkers vs. almond milk drinkers, the people who add the laundry detergent BEFORE putting the dirty clothes in, those who add it AFTER the clothes. I’m right, you’re wrong, I’m smart and you’re dumb as hell, and I ain’t stopping until you agree with me.

Why are we so worried about being right?

And why do we think everyone else is so wrong?

It is so hard for us to remember that although we are all humans, all connected in that way, we are also vastly different from one another. What I believe to be the “right” way of doing things may really not be right for you.

At the end of the day, we are all “right.” Whatever you believe in and however you live is correct, for you. Even if it completely contradicts my lifestyle, we both have it figured out. All of our ideas and views on this world are valid, and yes, even the people we disagree with and don’t understand are “right” in their own way.

Why not pick and choose from this awesome sampler platter of ideas and attitudes that we have all put out there, and then make it into something personally customized for our own life?

Out beyond the ideas of right-doing or wrong-doing there is a field- I’ll meet you there. 

Rumi

This is my brain on yoga

I feel……..different.

Good different.

Teaching and doing yoga makes me like everyone, a lot. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone. I like my girl friends and my guy friends and my boyfriend and my sisters and my mama and dad of course…but I like them more than I liked them before I started practicing yoga. But I also like the mailman, the dude making my yerba mate latte (and I like him a LOT more after drinking the yerba mate latte), the guy who plays guitar on Bull Street, I like the woman walking down the street wearing too much perfume, the little boy playing soccer in the park, I like the hipsters, the hippies, the worriers, the dreamers, the Walmart front-door greeters…

I like them all.

I even like myself more. Thank you, yoga. You’re the best.

It’s weird–how does practicing asana (postures), pranayama (breath control) and meditation (sitting around and not doing shit for ten minutes of your life) lead me to really like everyone? It’s like I have a huge crush on everyone I meet and see and already know. How does yoga do that?

During some point in my yoga practice, sometimes in the beginning, sometimes in the end or somewhere in between, I feel vulnerable. That really human kind of vulnerable. That feeling of oh yeah, I’m sad sometimes, and life sucks sometimes, and I have a heart in the center of my chest that can be broken. A little reminder that I am fragile.

But at other times, I feel strong. My body feels alive and electric and light. A moment or two of feeling like yep, life is freakin’ awesome, and sometimes I do and create amazing things, and sometimes I feel like a million bucks and want to celebrate all night. Hell yeah bitches.

Other times, I feel mean when I do yoga. Sometimes I want the teacher to shut up, sometimes I think, Georgie why the hell are your hip flexors so tight, why can’t you do this pose, why can’t you concentrate today, why is your balance off, why won’t the people in the waiting room be quiet, why won’t the cars on the street quit honking their horns, what in God’s name is that smell?

I knew, half-heartedly, that all humans feel these emotions. I knew that we all suffer, that we all have joy. But it wasn’t until I started teaching a lot of yoga classes that I really learned this. I can see it in the students, their little journeys of happiness and frustration and vulnerability, all in an hour and fifteen minute yoga class. When I see this, and know exactly (to an extent) what they’re going through, how they’re feeling, it cultivates a lot of love for those people. I start to like everyone, a lot, because the ability to relate and see your experiences in someone else makes you a compassionate being.

In the Yoga Sutras (think, Ultimate guide on how to practice yoga, on and off the mat, for all aspects of your life) Patanjali gives us a guide for how to treat people according to the emotion that they experiencing. He says to treat the happy with friendliness, the suffering with compassion, the virtuous with delight, and disregard for the wicked. There are many tips in the Yoga Sutras on how to practice yoga, but I really believe that if you only practiced this single sutra, that you would lead a pretty damn good life.

The funny thing about this sutra is that we do not just fall into one of these categories-we are not constantly a happy, suffering, virtuous, or wicked person. Each one of these characteristics lie within each of us, all the time. It just depends on which one is being expressed at the time.

It is especially important to remember that suffering is within us all. We all know how sorrow feels, how dreadful it can seem. When we understand this, our interactions with other people will be from a place of wanting to curb that person’s suffering. Even if it’s just a random person on the street, they too, suffer, just like you and I do. You don’t need to know them on a personal level to understand their suffering. Smile at them.

And how could we possibly contribute to someone else’s suffering when we know how horrible it feels to suffer? Sometimes we forget that people other than ourselves suffer. But just try, endlessly, to remember this one little fact.

Go further: strive to remember even that the person who annoys you the most, the most negative person you have ever met, that guy who just turned without using his blinker, the kill joys, the sexist boss, the homophobes, the murderers…they too, have their stories. Not only do they suffer just like us, but they have a unique view on this world, on how to live, on the Truth. Even these people contain answers.

I want to know all of the stories, all of the things that the people of this world think the be true.

Everyone
Is God speaking.
Why not be polite and
Listen to
Him?
Hafiz

When it comes down to it, we all possess happiness, suffering, virtuousness, and wickedness at some time or another. We have been told for years to treat others the way we want to be treated, but this will come so naturally when we remember that the things we feel are also experienced by everyone else.

Loving everyone won’t just come from reading this blog post. Believe me, I have read about compassion over and over, for years, but never really got it 100%. Like everything else in life, it takes practice, and the practice never ends. Doing eighteen thousand downward facing dogs won’t help either. You’ve got to go out into the world and try it. Look at people in a different way. Look in their eyes and see their sorrow, their happiness, see what is so unmistakably YOU about that person.