Monday, June 29, 2009

The Teenage Soundtrack

By now, I'm sure we're all a little tired of the Michael Jackson coverage. I'm a bit surprised why so many people (myself included) are so moved by this event , but I guess it's sort of a perfect storm of celebrity: tragically young performer, 15 yrs. of freakish behavior, child molestation charges, a potential comeback in the works, orphaned (?) children, and, of course, the legacy of the music.

When a famous young musician dies, it's always a big deal--not just because of the premature death, but because of the ownership fans have over the music and the person that created it. Many intense memories are attached to specific songs, and even just a few beginning beats can evoke a whole range of emotion and thoughts. MJ's catalogue covers a quarter of a century and, for people my age, that covers a lot of significant events.

Coincidentally, there was an interesting article in the NYT Science section last week about how--and what--humans hear. The sophisticated interaction of the brain and the ears has specific implications for what we like to hear; we can process the subtle sounds of language and humans are far more responsive to music than any other animal. Given the choice, most animals (including monkeys) would prefer silence to a gentle lullaby. Maybe the results would have been different, if they had played "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough."

So, it makes sense that the endless loops of "Thriller" and Jackson 5 are filling our ears, at this point. Elementary school sleepovers, junior high dances, and high school MTV marathons are also playing on the mental movie screen. It's not really the person of Michael Jackson who is being mourned, but the maker of music and creator of sound--not a bad dancer, either.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Yoga True Believers

The post was inspired by the thoughtful interview Nadine had with Crescence Krueger, one of her yoga "mothers." Crescence speaks of how the powerful experience of motherhood brought her in tune with her body and, as a result, her personal yoga practice. This deepening encouraged her to pursue training as a doula, which also affected her role as a teacher. It got me to thinking about the moment, if you can pinpoint it, that your practice becomes something greater than just a series of poses.

It's what I call becoming a "true believer." And this becoming usually leads to teaching, because you want to share your personal discovery of yoga with those near and dear.

My conversion was a result of finding physical release in classes I had with a very strong and moving teacher in Washington DC. Oya Horiguchi was Iyengar-trained and also a Phoenix Rising therapist, and her sequences always brought me great relief during stressful periods (which was most of the time) while I worked in the costume design biz. I grew to crave the open, satisfied, and calm feeling I always had driving home from her studio in Falls Church. I wanted to share this feeling with my colleagues and friends, and I began a year-long apprenticeship with her, which became the beginning of my teacher career (and, subsequently, my writing one).

Pregnancy and motherhood also affected my practice, because it made labor and delivery so bearable (easy is definitely not the right word) and made me appreciate the 10 minutes here and there that I can actually slip into a Dog or two, or a short session of pranayama. The release and centering it provides is priceless when chasing two little monkeys around.

I suspect, for most people it is a combination of inspiring teacher and significant life event--whether happy (childbirth, career change) or upsetting (life-threatening accident, addicition, violent relationship). Yoga offers a way to deal with all of these situations, and with an understanding, skilled mentor it can affect your world in profound ways. You sort of become a yoga evangelist and want to share the "word" with everyone who still sees yoga as a bunch of twisty poses by goofballs in turbans (or simply a sexy workout).

Some believers can be sort of annoying, I suppose, if the urge to share is too in-your-face, but most seem peaceful, generous, and nurturing. Of course, I'm talking about all of you. You wouldn't be writing and reading if you weren't finding peace, right?

So, tell me, when did you become a true believer?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Inner Control Freak, your time is Up!

Back when I lived in a City, my friends and I would joke about the Voice--the nag inside our heads urging us to work harder, exercise more, send weekly resumes, rearrange the portfolio, etc etc all in the interest of being successful free-lancers. Some of the nag was useful, because it kept you on your toes instead of slacking off, but it could also be a distracting voice of self-doubt that just made you feel guilty and disappointed with yourself.

I referred to mine as my I.C.F.--my Inner Control Freak.

And, like I said, in the old days I got a lot done with that voice in my head, but I've noticed that it has become less useful and more frustrating as my landscape and responsibilities have changed. There is only so much that will get done with two little boys around, no matter how loud and insistent the nagging becomes. It tends to make me irritable and dissatisfied, because, as much as I try to organize my time, there are forces beyond my control that keep me from being the coffee achiever I like to think I am.

In my one free half-hour a day that everything personal has to happen, I was watching an old Margaret Cho special. Funny, naughty and surprisingly inspiring. She had a bit about her struggles with her weight and told how she began to calculate how much time could be saved if she refrained from scolding herself about being fat (97 minutes a week!).

What a brilliant way to think about energy wasted on the Inner Control Freak, I thought. I could gain at least one more half hour weekly, just by quitting the daily fret about projects not started (or finished), exercise regimes discontinued, floors unswiffed, photo albums unlabelled, blah blah blah. I'm sure I would be a lot less crabby and, who knows, all that stuff might eventually get done anyway, but without the scolding.

So, I'm trying to stop listening to the I.C.F. and channelling the juice in other directions. I should invent some sort of watch that keeps track of how much time you don't spend berating yourself, so you can come up with an alternative activity (
the Notorious C.H.O suggests a ceramics class). Or no activity at all and just enjoy the free time. We'll see how it goes.

Synchronize watches...the clock starts, tick, tick, NOW!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Quick Link

Just back from a lovely weekend at the beach...child-free, if you can believe it. The wireless connection was non-existent, so my plans for a lovely, leisurely posting went unrealized. Tomorrow.

In the meantime, here is the link to the latest My Yoga Mentor article on yoga without chanting. Let me know what you think!

Saturday, June 06, 2009

In a class my myself... to speak. I'm trying to find a class for me to take, but living in a small town means finding something that is at the right time, not too far and my style is an awfully tall order. And I am not filling it.

I tried a class the other day at a new studio in a nearby town. It was a lovely space, with a very knowledgeable teacher. But, I was the only person that showed up for class and, even though we practiced, I got the feeling that this was a bit of an inconvenience.

I've been trying to decide if this was the teacher's fault, or mine for being too aware of how teaching a group class to one person can be a real energy drain. I remember when I was a student, I loved classes that were on the small side, because it felt like a personal session and we all got more attention. As a teacher, though, I always feel a bit self-conscious--trying not to make the person feel like I'm staring at them or evaluating their poses, trying not to be disappointed that more people didn't show up. I usually try to make it feel like a private session ("do you have anything you would like to work on?"), to convey a sense gratitude to the student who made the effort to come.

Who knows what was going on. Maybe it's been a slow season and the studio is hurting for students, maybe the teacher wasn't feeling well (she did make herself a cup of tea during class), maybe I'm thinking about it too much.

What do you think? How do you deal with (unintentionally) small classes? How do you feel if you are taking one of these classes? I'd like to think I'm just being super-sensitive, but I'm inclined to cross this one off the list...

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Happy vs Satisfied

Last week, I was listening to an interview with sociology prof. Andrew Cherlin about his book, The Marriage-Go-Round. In it, he analyzes trends in marriage patterns in the United States and how they differ from the rest of the world. He writes about how Americans tend to get married more often, and more frequently, than other nationalities. He suggests that this high rate for wedding and then divorcing is, in part, due to Americans' strong belief that they deserve to be happy. If you are not happy, this beliefs goes, then that is a significant problem and it needs to be corrected no matter what the consequences to a spouse and children.

It got me to thinking about the elusive nature of happiness and that maybe there is a better way to think about one's well-being.

To me, Happiness is best symbolized by a balloon. It's a big, round, shiny, brightly-colored, inflated emotion that is fun and cheerful, but can immediately be deflated by the prick of a pin. And, no matter how tightly knotted, eventually deflates anyway into a shrivelled pile of rubber. A delight to have around, but temporary and unsustainable.

Like a balloon that needs some one to blow it up, happiness is a state of being that is often dependent on factors out of your control--having a great boss, being thin, working at a stimulating job, living with well-behaved children. If this is what could make you happy, you don't have much control over your happiness--your actions can't always improve the situation, no matter what your intention; some bosses are just jerks, kids get cranky, your pelvis bone is wide.

So I'm about Satisfaction as the goal. To me, "satisfied" suggests being pleased with an outcome you directly affected. You control the situation, you decide when it is completed, there is closure. I've been trying this mind-set out and I find myself in a much better mood. I'll be satisfied when this kid is dried off, in pajamas and in bed. I'm satisfied that I worked up a sweat mowing the lawn and got some exercise. This chocolate pudding is pure satisfaction. It breaks the desire down into an achievable goal and then it actually happens, so you get the, uh, satisfaction of a job well done. You're dealing with specifics, instead of grand, sweeping abstractions.

All semantics and mind games, I suppose. But, like shortening your to-do list, if it works...why not?

And that, my friends, makes me happy.