Some observations on yoga as lifestyle.

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I just came out of a really nice yoga class, and I feel really good. Yoga has been doing that for me more and more, leaving me feeling differently from how I felt when I went in, but also very distincl from the feeling I used to get after a really satisfying gym workout, or run, or competitive athletic endeavor. It is interesting to pay attention to how I respond to different activities in my life, and as of late I have been really trying to look at how yoga makes me feel. This has been inspired by a number of things not the least of which is my physical well-being. I have not been able to put my finger on to what it is that is different about the yoga feeling, but I have been thinking about it a lot and I have a feeling it may have something to do with this idea of a “yoga lifestyle.”

I find the phrase “yoga lifestyle” hilarious. However, I think it bears consideration that yoga is a lifestyle.

  • If your yoga lifestyle means wearing $100 Lululemon and drinking wine – that is a lifestyle, and it has its own kind of balance.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is putting your freaking amazeballs body in a tiny (probably very expensive) bikini and taking some photos of yourself in impressive asana, that too has its own sort of balance, and is a lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is pretending you have a sanskrit (or you thought it was sanskrit) name and chanting and teaching yoga to other people who feel good in this environment, then that too is a yoga lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is aggressively athletic: lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is rigorously ascetic or disciplined: lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is loud: lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is quiet: lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is expensive and opulent: lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is homemade and in the park: lifestyle.

Hippe, hottie, gay, straight, earthy, commercial… it is all a lifestyle. So, I find it really strange when yoga people find it necessary to judge all these other lifestyles. And the judgement comes in so many guises, I honestly think that some people think they are not judging, or that they are fooling people into thinking they are not judging (no.) I have been thinking about this a lot lately as so many entities are taking it upon themselves to educate us about what a yoga lifestyle is. (I suppose that is some sort of lifestyle too.) And it is weird because I do not see this intra-community judgment between sports and gym traditions, or Zumba and spinning or something. This is yoga people telling all sorts of other yoga people how they are “doing it right” or not.

What really got me on to this was trying to picture my first yoga teacher participating in this kind of ‘education.’ I had to laugh trying to picture Veer telling people how what they were doing was not yoga, or had the wrong intentions, or was spreading the wrong message.

As if.

Now, to be fair, I began yoga in a unique way, I came to it later in life (I was 37) while living overseas, and I began with a group of teachers who could not have been more authentic: they were native Indians who actually speak and read sanskrit, and had been practicing yoga as a daily element of their lives since birth for no other reason than it is a fundamental part of their lives. That is a lifestyle. These men – they were all men – were extremely orthodox. They were not burning sage, or telling me about my moon cycle and my divine feminine, or being self deprecating and silly, or having live music, or wearing fancy clothes; and they would have never criticized another tradition or practice (read: lifestyle) because that is not their focus. They came to class. The opened with mantra. They instructed and guided the class. They ended the class. Certainly they explained the benefits of poses and explained how women should not practice certain asana and pranayama at certain times, and no one should practice certain asana and pranayama at certain times. They were unforgiving and diligent in their dedication to the practice, and if you wanted to be under their wing, to your practice as well.

This was the yoga imprint I came up with. As a result I happen to have a very orthodox practice. I have strong alignment. I know the sutras. I know the history. I understand how to listen to my body. I also enjoyed the traditional and disciplined nature of my early teachers. They sent me to India and I found myself in an ashram that would never make the cut for my current studio. Simply put, it is too Indian. This too, is a lifestyle.

The thing is, I still like the #whitepeopledoingyoga thing that is going on here in the US. I do not find my yoga background and the myriad interpretations of yogic lifestyle mutually exclusive. Different, yes. But I think the combination lets me get more out of my practice.

These days as I continue to grow my own practice I find myself observing a lot more. This is a big step for me to be able to relax and look outward rather than be fraught with concern about whether or not someone (who I have a 99% probability of not even knowing based on my reluctance to make my yoga lifestyle overly social) thinks I am “doing it right” or “good enough”. When the teacher says “Okay Level 2 and Level 3…” and the ego kicks in desiring to be Level 2 or Level 3, I am better at knowing what is Level Me. (This whole levels thing? So #whitepeopledoingyoga.)

As someone who has always considered herself somewhat of an athlete (save for that 18 month period in which I took a seriously over-zealous approach to the Freshman 15), and also someone who simply does not know how to not be self-conscious about her body, I have found yoga to be a salvation. I love the physicality of it, and I am stronger now than I have been probably at any other time in my life in spite of a less functional body. I love the way I feel when I go into the studio and that I no longer have that feeling like yoga is on my to do list for the day – but that it is a part of my day. I love that I can do some crazy hard asanas and I am earning to accept that I may never be able to do some others. I love that I can surprise my students by beating them in a handstand contest. I love that I am learning  – after eight years of effort – to actually meditate. I love that I have a life that allows me to do yoga whenever I want. I love wearing yoga pants… all the time. I love looking at amazing and beautiful people doing insane asana in beautiful places. I love that #whitpeopledoingyoga in San Francisco underestimate my yoga knowledge all the time because they just finished a 200 hour teacher training. I love that yoga is so dynamic that I can see the changes in my body, my classmates, the demographics and styles of the classes.

And the things I do not like about yoga it turns out are the same things I don’t like in the world: inauthenticity and falseness, insecurity, inaccuracy, gimmickry, arrogance… But the best thing about yoga is I can look at those things now and not like them and let them go. It is like my own little serenity prayer: yoga grant me the mindfulness to accept the things I cannot change, the focus to change the things I can, and the balance to know it is probably all my perception anyhow.

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Death & Taxes. Or as some folks call it, Valentine’s Day.

“…but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Valentine’s Day fell on a Saturday this year. I am not really wrapped up in Valentine’s Day. Of course, if I say this out loud people seem to think it means I am some sort of bitter singleton, so let me just clarify: single – Yes; bitter – No.

True story,

On this Valentine’s Day (smack in the middle of a four-day weekend – oh yes, you heard that right, a four-day weekend) I decided to take care of some business. After all I was going to revisit my youth seeing Tainted Love with some friends in the evening, so no time like the present. I got my house cleaned up, had a lovely cup of coffee and decided to finish my income taxes.

Ah, the joy.

Funny thing is, I used to really enjoy doing my taxes. Back when the songs Tainted Love sing were actually in the pop music rotation, my taxes were simple, and I always got a nice fat check back from the government. It was nice. But, no more. My taxes have not gotten a lot more complicated, and I certainly have not seen a personal income that rivals even half of my neighbors, but… no more fat check.

What gives?

As I worked my way through the forms, (alright, alright, as I entered the information into TurboTax) I got to thinking, why is it that I pay more than 25% of my income to the government? I am a public school teacher for goodness sakes. What is up with that? I have a pretty small carbon footprint, I am conscientious. I am not wasteful. I do not rely on many public services. As I punched in the numbers I tried to think about it, what was different from the days of “fun” taxes to now?

And then it hit me.

I enjoyed the tax season when I was in my twenties. I was earning money, but not too much. I was not supposed to be making much. Nor was I supposed to be married and procreating and buying large-scale items like cars and houses. Back then, when I was in my twenties, nobody raised their eyebrows (at best) or gave me the pity shrug (much worse) when they heard I was single. I was supposed to be single, and society and the government agreed on this.

Now, in my forties, I am still earning money (not too much, but really, enough), I am still not married, still not procreating, still not buying cars and houses. Basically, still single. However, now, in my forties, it seems it is not just society who thinks this is some sort of unnatural aberration, but the government has decided that I deserve to be punished as well.

It is time for these singleton focused inquisitions to be cool. It is not as if I am dead, people. I am just, single. As if well-meaning pity (is there such a thing?) and general social mockery as evidenced by cat lady and spinster jokes – or this, my personal favorite:

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… wasn’t enough, the government is in on this lifestyle condemnation as well. [ps: Charlie and his fiancé broke up. I wonder if everyone is asking why?]

Yeah, you heard me right, I am being punished for my lifestyle choices. Seriously. Think about it, just because I am not towing the societal line, I pay more taxes. I have no write-offs for dependents, for a mortgage, for my children’s college education to ensure they will be future presidents. It is not right.

I do not want a mortgage. I do not want children. However, I do want a functional society. And I do think paying taxes is sort of like the price one pays to live in a functional society. But as a public school teacher, who frankly gives way more at the “office” than one probably should, I feel like this system is pretty out of whack.

I mean, really, I spend a ridiculous amount of time explaining why I am single to just about everyone I know (and I don’t actually have a good answer that is not a Ron-ism (“A lot of these people have complexities I don’t desire”) and now the government has to get in on the mockery?

That is fucked up.

If all that is certain is death and taxes, even on Valentine’s Day, I’m okay with that as I have paid my taxes and as single as I am, I’m not dead yet.

For what it is worth, for the first time in nearly 10 years, it turns out I do not have to pay extra taxes this year (if TurboTax can be trusted). It appears that what I “gave at the office” (as well as that hefty 25% of my yearly gross) might be enough to soothe the savage tax man.

Now, if only there was something I could do to calm all the people who are so concerned about my singleton status. I mean, really, do we look bitter?

Slow your roll lovebirds.

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I could’ve stayed in Reno: part one

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I could have stayed in Reno. But I did not. I think of this sometimes. Not as much as I used to, but sometimes. I thought about it this morning as I took my place in a very crowded yoga class and looked up at the teacher, and thought, Huh. She looks different. This teacher is known for her love of twisting and just as I was thinking how she looked different she said she would not be doing as much twisting and then I thought, Oh. She’s pregnant. And then she said, I am pregnant.

I thought about this announcement, like I always do when I hear someone is pregnant. Reaching down deep inside to see what kind of emotions crop up. Sitting in ardha padmasana, I felt more longing to achieve padmasana than pregnancy. As the lights got lower I looked deeper even still and the closest I got to something approaching wistfulness regret was the thought that I could have had a baby. I could have stayed in Reno, and had a baby.

But I did not.

As we began to focus more on our breathing I (re)considered this: staying in Reno. What would have been like? Interestingly, there is far less mystery to this than there is to seemingly parallel questions (what would it be like to pick up and move to Tasmania, for example.) If I had stayed in Reno, it is quite easy and predictable to see what would have unfolded.

I could have stayed in Reno. Stretching back into adho mukha svanasana that inverted reality materialized in my mind: a perfectly fine house in a perfectly fine suburb, with a perfectly acceptable job, and a perfectly acceptable partner, driving my perfectly acceptable car, shopping at perfectly adequate malls, eating at perfectly decent restaurants, having a perfectly normal wedding, and the making a (hopefully?) perfectly normal (or at least normally put together) baby. Or two. It is frighteningly easy to see it play out. It would have looked a lot like that. If I would have stayed in Reno.

But I did not.

From chaturanga up into urdhva mukha svanasana I reconsidered this: I could have stayed in Reno. There were a few people who not only assumed I would, they planned on it to the tune of sharing a mortgage and buying an engagement ring. I daresay there were some who might have hoped I stayed too, for very different reasons. But I did not.

Get out of town

I did not stay in Reno and consequently I found Hong Kong. I found that I have an urban soul. I found that I can work anywhere. I found homes perfectly suited to me; in the jungle, in foreign ghettos, in ex-pat highrises, on wide open beaches. I found life without a car, without so many things I thought were necessary. I met people who were so different from me they were just like me. I maybe even found me. I probably still could’ve had a baby.

But I did not.

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I could have stayed in Reno… Back to adho mukha svanasana I smiled thinking how people say Reno is so close to Hell you can see Sparks. I never thought it was all that sparkly myself. In leaving I certainly did not take any road less traveled, or discover anything that had not been discovered a hundred times over by a hundred others before me, or otherwise change the world. But I did not stay in Reno, and that has made me all kinds of different.

…chitta vritti nirodhah…
Tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam.

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