On Selfishness And Yoga

Last week, I celebrated ten years of practicing Bikram Yoga.

After my 10th Anniversary class. Midtown studio, Bikram Yoga NYC

While my practice has admittedly been spotty at times, I could not let the day pass without notice.  Readers of this blog know that Bikram has changed my life in many ways (just search “Bikram Yoga”).

I’m selfish about my yoga and the time it takes.  While I value the friends I’ve made, and the worldwide community I can tap into on my travels, my practice may be the one thing in my life that is all mine.

Think about it – most things you do, if not all, include some element of someone else’s needs.  That may be something you embrace gladly – I hope you do – and I certainly am not suggesting unfettered self-interest is a good idea.  In fact, the selfishness of my practice is one of the ways in which I mentally prepare to look outside myself; to set aside self-interest as much as I can; to keep my head when the world is asking too much.  And it’s where I forgive myself and gather the will to continue when I don’t succeed at those goals (or any others).  My favorite Bikram phrase, after all, is “it’s a practice, not a perfect”.

Playing on the beach – coming out of triangle with a big belly laugh. Punta Serena, Mexico

Hmmm.  I guess I’m not really selfish after all.

 

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Bad Attitude

I just missed being expelled from high school due to my “bad attitude”.  (Okay, well, to be honest, the owner of what was then a for-profit school threatened to pull my scholarship, which would have had the same effect.)  And I’ve always found it more “natural”, whatever that means, to be angry and even unhappy than calm and happy.

I always knew these things about myself, but what I only realized a few years ago was how true it is that misery loves company.  It’s been a very tumultuous several years for me, and I finally realized I needed to make a change to continue.  I guess the first change was actually before all the upheaval, in 2005, when I started my Bikram Yoga practice.  Or maybe even in 2004, when the Evil Ex was finally out of my life – finalized by my moving into an apartment he never shared, early the next year.  Certainly my weight loss journey, which started in 2008, reached a goal in 2009, and is again a journey, was part of it.  But whatever.  Change takes time, and for me, at least, it needs to happen in stages.

And so, I made a conscious decision a few years ago (almost four years ago now, actually), to just stop.  Stop having a bad attitude – stop trying to make it someone else’s, anyone else’s, fault – stop being the force for negativity in the room.  It’s been really hard, and I catch myself backsliding all.the.time.images-5

Most recently, as part of this journey, I came to a very difficult conclusion.  I realized I cannot be part of those circles of people who are like I was.  I cannot participate in those gatherings of negative energy, that no matter what, will spill over into everything else I try to do.

And all of a sudden, I looked around, and realized that I had far fewer friends than I thought, because so many of my supposed friendships had been based on mutual unhappiness.  Now, of COURSE there is still complaining, and sometimes even whining, but now I try to vent it – appropriately – and just fucking move on already already.  It’s been hard to see that distance grow with old friends, and I’ve tried, in many cases, to explain to them how we can stay friends (generally, though I find myself reduced to stammering out something like “I just can’t do it.  I need to stop this.  This negative thing.”), but I know I’m better off.

I mean, we all know that as we move through life, we add and lose friends, for various reasons.  And sometimes, those reasons are because we have to make hard choices about personal well-being.  But in the end, you can only control your own behavior, and you are the only one you can improve, so why the hell not?  At least that’s what I think.  And I’m going to keep trying to move forward, even if it means sometimes I have to leave people behind.  After all, I’m the one person I know for sure I’ll have with me my entire life.

Oh, and this…which I just couldn’t resist: 

Of Course, I Forgot The Most Important One

I took a quiz on Facebook today that was supposed to tell me if I am a good person. Surprisingly, I got “darn good person” (76% good and 24% evil. It asked things like if you would stop your car to check on/help a turtle on its back (yes); would you try to help the elderly, nicely dressed man sobbing in a diner (no); would you park in a handicapped space if the lot is full (no); would you take candy from a baby (well, it depends). You get the idea.image

And this silly quiz reminded me of the most important thing I wanted to say about yoga, to that I missed not once  but twice.

So, here goes:

JUST BECAUSE SOMEONE PRACTICES YOGA DOES NOT MAKE THEM A GOOD – OR EVEN A NICE – PERSON!

I’m serious.  And this matters.  If you want to get the most from your practice, you have to be open to change.   And when you are most vulnerable, you are most easily hurt.  The other side of that coin is that when you are the most open, you may also be the most unkind.

What does that really mean, you ask?  For me, anyway, it’s all about balance. Part of taking care of yourself through your yoga practice has to be, sadly, protecting yourself.  Not that protecting yourself is a bad thing, but a little but can go a long way, and can also really inhibit change.

So, balance.  No, I don’t have any secret tricks to share on how to achieve it – this is the girl, after all, who has a sub-speciality in falling out of the postures in the balancing series.   (And before you say it, oh snarky ones, I do know that I just used a physical example to make a point about a mental issue.  Bite me.).

Just try.  That’s all I’ve got.  Along with bulldog determination and Bengal tiger strength, of course.

Five (More) Things You Might Not Know About Yoga

 Just a follow-up to my last post…and there may be more.  But I hope you’re learning things, because I am, as these thoughts drift into my head (usually during class) and onto my blog (whenever I have time)…

  • Your practice will change you, but maybe not in the ways you think.

This just made me laugh.

You may have read or heard from other people about how yoga changed their lives, and honestly, I’ve said that about my Bikram practice. However, I’m pretty sure not all of my results are good, whatever “good” might mean to you. Yes, I’m stronger, more flexible, and my health has improved. I find I have less trouble with my ADHD and also with controlling my temper. And all of that is positive.

But I’m also a little more self-righteous, and I think, a tad judgmental. Leading to my next point…

  • Prepare to judge and be judged.

Before you reflexively say “I’d never do that”, trust me, you will, and you do, and better to admit it than pretend. You look at other yogis and even if it’s just a for a brief second, you notice that flaw – in their body, in their postures, in their silly hairstyle (oops…) – and yes, they are doing the same thing, and sometimes they’re not shy about it. I’ve actually caught fellow yogis looking me over, and then openly commenting to a friend in my presence. They might think I can’t hear them, but for things like that, I’ve got ears like a bat.

But you know what? Everything about our society leads us to this behavior, so I’ve stopped blaming myself. Instead, when I catch myself doing it, I try to examine that moment, because usually, judging someone else is much more about you than them. So if you take the time to think about what you’re really judging, you might learn something.

  • Listening is hard. But if you do, you will always hear something worthwhile.

This honestly surprised me. Listening, like breathing, should be easy and natural, right? After all, I have upwards of twenty years of formal education and more than another twenty years in the workplace, and in both those arenas, you have to listen, right? Well, no. Listening is tricky. Are you really hearing what someone is saying or are you already formulating your (physical) response? The Bikram dialogue may be the same (but really, it’s not) every time you take class, but even if you think it is, every teacher is different. Every teacher will, wittingly or not, emphasize different words/moments/phrases.  

This tendency not to listen is particularly noticeable in Bikram, I think, as you will see yogis begin the postures before the teacher has even given the first instruction – because, you know, “it’s the same every time”. Except it’s not. Really. In fact, just the other day, I heard a teacher say something really helpful that I never heard before. That actually has been happening a lot lately…maybe I’m getting to be a better listener?

  • Yoga is not a cure-all

I think that’s kind of self-explanatory. So go to it, have fun, listen, breathe, and hopefully learn stuff.

Oh, and do share your thoughts on what you know that I might not know about yoga!

Seven Things You Might Not Know About Yoga

Yes, I'm laughing as  I come out of my imperfect triangle with my imperfect body.  But, oh, what fun!

Yes, I’m laughing as I come out of my imperfect triangle with my imperfect body. But, oh, what fun!

Yes, seven.  Though I did not number them, as numbering implies prioritizing and I did not want to do that.  So there.  And so here, in no particular order, seven things:

  • Yogis come in all shapes and sizes.

Yes, despite what you see in Yoga Journal, or in commercials, or modeling yoga clothes, yogis vary.  A lot.  And the “perfect” body may not always indicate the “perfect” practice.  Someday, I hope advertisers and editorial staff (I’m talking to you, Yoga Journal) figure this out and start using photos of real bodies having real fun.

So, that first bullet leads directly to my second (though, still, you know, no particular order…)

  •  It’s as much mental as it is physical.

Okay, you probably did know this, at least if you practice yoga.  But it bears repeating.  It’s easy to spend your class practicing the physical postures, without remembering you’re also there for the mental practice.

  •  Breathing is hard.

Right now, you’re probably laughing.  “Breathing’s not hard.  After all, we all do it without thinking about it!”  But it is hard.  Hard to keep your breathing calm, and to use it correctly, while you’re once again falling over just.as.your.head.touches.your.knee. (DAMN IT!) or when the frustrations of your daily life interrupt your concentration and the “fight or flight” kicks in during Rabbit… or even during Savasana.

  • Savasana is even harder than breathing.

I’ll just point you at this post…because you know, this is hard for me.

  • Not all yogis are “earthy crunchy”.

Not that there is anything wrong with being an organic vegan tree-hugger… No, but seriously, the idea that in order to practice yoga, I had to give up, to offer just one example, booze, kept me away from it for a long time.  I don’t mean to say that I think those who choose to be what I call, for lack of a better phrase, “earthy crunchy”, are wrong.  It’s just not me.  And I’ve discovered over my years of practice, that it’s not a lot of us.

  • Teachers have bad days too.

Yes, we all have bad days.  And sometimes, your teacher may not be able to hide the fact that she’s having one of those… so cut her a break.  How many times have you come into the studio grumpy, and used her positive energy to help change your mood?  Return the favor!

  • Yes, it is all about you.

Your yoga practice may be the one thing in your life that is only and solely about YOU.  What YOU want, what YOU need, what makes YOU better (whatever better means for YOU).  Glory in it.  And you’ll soon find that letting it be all about you ends in it being all about those around you.

 

 

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