Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Don't Mess with the Mat...

I had my YIP class on Saturday. Lovely weather (I challenged the gray skies and they turned to power), devoted students; a delightful practice, all in all. As I was setting up--which involved picking up a few cigarette butts, tossing out a beer can and unrolling my mat--a couple was letting their dog chase a few ducks and take a swim. The woman looked over, saw my mat, and gathered her crew, "Oh look, I'm sure the ladies don't want to watch you and a wet dog while they do yoga." They hustled off.

Boy, I thought, yoga has arrived in Beloit, Wisconsin, if all you need to do is unroll a mat and your intention is immediately recognized. No asana, no chanting, not even students at that point, just sitting cross-legged on a mat in the grass and I might as well be unfurling a giant Om banner.

The ultimate yoga icon: The Mat.

More than Vrksasana or namaste or stretchy white chicks...when people see The Mat, they think of yoga. It delineates your individual space in a crowded class (don't step on any one else's!); its ritual unrolling symbolizes the beginning of practice. The colors and pattern represent your personality--soothing lilac, tropical hibiscus, punchy orange. Its material indicates your politics--eco-friendly, thrify, hedonist. Its carrying case a testament your craft cred(how many knitting patterns are out there for a mat bag?), or busy schedule (peeking out of your bulging backpack like a Frenchman's baguette).

[Maybe that's part of why the free mats at NYC's Yoga on the Great Lawn event were such an affront: crass advertising on that most sacred of rectangles! Treating The Mat like a stupid koozie or bumper sticker or ugly ball cap...the nerve!]

Of course, I kid. But as I mulled over the implications of this floppy piece of cushioning, I came to see it as truly symbolic of one's own practice. Your are your Mat, so to speak. Which begs the question...what if you don't use a mat? Purist? Cheap? Have a carpeted living room? Again, it's a sort of
psychological yoga test.

What does your mat say about you...?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Pardon me, your Yoga is showing...

I just got back from a wonderful weekend at the beach. Two dear friends from high school, sand, surf, and no responsibility. It was dreamy...although highly unsustainable. I jogged on the beach, read for hours (more later on Wendy Doniger's The Hindus), did a little yoga on the beach. Am in the process of acclimating to Real Life...

Yoga topical, this week. I'd meant to post before I left, because Yoga Spy left an intriguing comment last week about doing yoga in public and I found it inspiring, if a bit confounding. Now, It's All Yoga, Baby also has a post worth considering in this context, too. There's some back and forth about the giant yoga-in in NYC, but I haven't read up on that, seeing as I was "off-line" when it went down.

For me, our little session in the sand was just a quick amuse bouche. A little stretch-and-commune-with-nature, but nothing particularly deep or moving. However, doing it outside did mean we were on view, and one jogger going by was so distracted he wandered into the incoming wave. (n.b. we were 2 middle-aged ladies and one man in sloppy tees and shorts, no hot yoga bods, here) Still, we felt better afterwards and definitely more calm, so benefits were had.

Which gets me to my (and my fellow bloggers') point. Is yoga outside too distracting to count as yoga? Are you drawing too much attention to yourself? Are you too aware of what else is going on? Does this detract from the practice, or enhance it?

I see the point on both sides. I think a traditional practice--a withdrawing from the senses--probably is made more difficult by being outside, or at least in public with passerbys and whatnot. But I think a modern practice (so to speak) is improved; I think you become more aware of what you are doing and you become very sensitive to your environment. Instead of withdrawing from your senses, you withdraw from the distractions of everday life--demands, obligations, to-do-lists--and become more in tune with your body and your place in nature. One living being among many.

I'm all for quieting the monkey-mind, however it is accomplished. I like to keep the tool box filled, if you will. But I'm really interested in what the rest of you think. Wind, waves, and walkers or serenity, screens, and silence?

(Aah, Topsail Beach in North Carolina...)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Yoga al fresco

Barring any weather developments--this being the Midwest, you never know--I'm teaching my first outdoor yoga class in a couple of Saturdays. I love yoga outside; breezes, smells, flowers, grass, birds. A sensory smorgasbord to add to the mix. I think it makes you feel a little more one-with-the-planet-ish, and certainly more in-tune with nature.

I've done outdoor classes before and I thought I'd try to be a bit more connected to the location of the class, this time around. I usually pick a favorite sequence, maybe add a bit longer meditation or savasana, but this time I want to try something different. Try something that really takes us out of a basic practice, just by the fact that it's happening outside.

How? I dunno, I'm still mulling it. Because the ground will be lumpy and bumpy, I think we'll be on our feet or sitting most of the time, instead of lying down. Because we're in a beautifully-landscaped corner of Beloit's Riverside Park--garden on one side, river on the other, we'll keep our eyes open (focusing on flowers rather than just turning inward). Maybe not too many standing balance poses, but several seated twists to take in all the scenery.

Changing perspective is really cool and a bit trippy outside, so I want to throw in some inversions--Down Dog, Prasarita Padottanasana and look at the tops of trees from the bottom of our feet. I always use a lesson plan, so I don't have to think about the sequence as it unfolds, but I will be a bit looser for this class. Maybe a nearby duck or goose or snake will present an opportunity to modify...snakes always liven the up joint.

I was initially inspired by this Yoga Journal piece, but I figured I'd turn to my favorite online resource--Y'all. So tell me, what yoga do you do outside? Why? What do you change? What changes you?
(Thank to OldOnliner for his gorgeous flickr photos of Riverside Park)

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Simpler Times

In last week's comments I said that one of the things that I like about my new exercise "regimen" is that it frees my yoga practice up to be more-than-exercise. But I've been wasn't that long ago (seven years ago, in my pre-teaching days) that it was just a part of the routine, included to help soften the edges of high-stress workdays and stretch out a tense body.

Sometimes I miss those simpler times, when awareness of the texts or history or different schools of yoga didn't seem to matter that much. Every Thursday evening, I put on my stretchies, gathered up my mat and water bottle and headed off to class for 1 1/2 hours of calming and strengthening. It was a temporary escape from my Washington DC life to put myself in the hands of a strong, experienced teacher, where all I had to do was follow directions and keep my mind clear.

I manage to take a class here and there (it's not easy being one of the few teachers in town), but never with that beginner's mind. I'm always collecting ideas for my own classes or sneaking peaks at adjustments or memorizing clever sequences--I know, I know, mind my own business--but, as they say, once a teacher, always a teacher. And, while I cherish my level of understanding, sometimes I wish it could just be easy again.

I guess that's the trade-off when you decide to pursue a beloved hobby as a profession. Your relationship to the activity changes and it can never be "just" something you do in your free time. You know too much.

Maybe that's what is so nice about the biking and running and swimming. It's "just" exercise. Of course I've looked at various training sites and read about strategies to improve, but it's still just something I slip into the schedule for an hour or so five times a week. No great thoughts, no strong emotion, just some sweat and work.

That would be a good summer goal--to make yoga easy again. Just do the asana and leave the rest for the experts (or for when I'm teaching). Challenging. Appealing. Possible? We'll see...