Dear Future Lauren,

June 14, 2011

I’m writing to warn you. At some point, you will begin to find Ashtanga (and by “Ashtanga”, I mean the Mysore style of it, practiced with a teacher’s guidance) “annoying”. You will begin to rebel against your teacher’s instructions. You will being to resent getting out of the house by 8:15 in the morning, when you could stay home and go back to sleep. This could happen in the summer when your kids are at camp. Or it could happen in the winter when your light-sensitivity kicks in and you start to go all morose and lethargic. I don’t know when it will happen, but I can assure you IT WILL HAPPEN.

And so you must resist. You will have many reasons not to resist. You will say that you can do the poses in the comfort of your own home, you will say that you don’t need to pay shala fees for poses you can do yourself. You will say that you resent having to pay to be taught poses you already know. You will say that you don’t like the paternalistic nature of it all. You may have a disagreement with your teacher. You may find your teacher to be disappointing in some way. You may find your teacher is just a human being like yourself, and that may come as a disappointment to you, Future Lauren.

But I’m here to tell you that all of those arguments are the disease, not the cure. If you think Ashtanga is your addiction, I will tell you without a doubt that your running from it is your true addiction. You have done it countless times. You have left one teacher for another. You have left the practice entirely. And what good has come from it? You have gained weight, you have gotten sloppy and unfocused, you have become lazy.

From where I sit, you are back on track. You have had a month of being back in the warm Ashtanga fold. Every ounce of weight that you gained from your countless surgeries last year is gone, and for the most part, it all fell off in the last month while you were practicing Ashtanga diligently with a teacher. You get up every morning with your kids and you get your day started. After you are done practicing, you still have so much of the day left that you don’t feel stressed. You get things done on your to-do list. You are organized. You managed to clean your own house last week when your housekeeper called in sick. And even though it was stressful, you managed to do it. Your garden has never looked better.

When you are feeling that urge to run from Ashtanga, remember how good you were feeling when this letter got written. Sure, you think your reasons are justified. Sure, you think that I just can’t see what you’re going through, Future Lauren. But it’s a mirage. It won’t lead to anything better than what you’ve got going on right now.

So, Future Lauren, whenever this letter finds you, I implore you to resist the urge to run. Stay with the program. It works, or as you told a newbie the other day, “It’s like magic, except it’s real.”


On the Ashtanga Express

June 8, 2011

I intended to go slowly today. I ended up finishing Primary in less than an hour. I even asked Stan – did I skip something??? He was like no, you’re just cruising along. He seemed okay with it. I am pretty much okay with it, but I don’t want it to get any faster.

Wrist bind in Mari D today and full bind with ankles crossed behind head in Supta K. Still no hope of doing it MYSELF though. I suppose that Stan’s way of assisting will help pave the way for me to get into it someday via Dwi Pada, instead of that ugly, squiggly way I used to get into it myself. At the moment though, it’s a challenge holding the bind, especially when I am instructed to flex my feet while my ankles are crossed…that’s when the whole thing falls apart. No worries though. I feel so so so so damn good.

I have no idea when and if I will ever be re-taught Second Series. And I really don’t care at all. I feel as if Primary is what saves me in every way. It’s like a religion for me. I can count on it to bring me peace, to create structure and inspire discipline. That’s what religion does, and that’s what Primary does for me. It gives me a stronger constitution, spiritually, emotionally, and yeah, of course, physically.

No practice yesterday due to a long-ass, exhausting class trip to Groton, Connecticut where this landlubber had to spend an hour on a fishing boat, an hour in a marine life lab and an hour at the beach watching kids conduct experiments in the (smelly) shallow estuary. I came home and realized why I can’t seem to cook in the summer, or to put it more accurately, why I can only seem to cook in the winter: energy depletion. In the winter, I have so much energy to burn, and hardly any activities with which to burn it. So, I cook, and I clean up after myself, and by the time I’m done, I’m in balance again. But in the summer, all that energy goes into gardening and walking places, even just walking around my property to see what gardening tasks need to be done. And the sun depletes me. So, by the time it’s time to cook, I have no mojo left at all.

Hamburgers on the grill last night ws about all I could muster, and even that was too much for me. I had to have the husband flip them, and I couldn’t even clean up afterward (nor should I have had to, since I don’t even EAT hamburgers! I made and cleaned my own non-red-meat-centric meal separately, as often is the case.).

Being tired sucks. I was just so friggin tired last night. Now I know how babies and toddlers feel when they miss their nap. I was just cranky as all getout.

Took a couple of Benadryl before bed to help me fall asleep (it’s hard to fall asleep when you’re overtired!), and woke up refreshed and ready to practice.

It occurs to me that I am really really done recovering from my surgery, which took place a year ago next week. I LOOK recovered. I feel recovered. I am back in the swing of the yoga practice, for real now, the way I like it. As everyone knows, life must be lived forwards but can only be understood backwards, but, well, hell yeah…I spent the better part of this past 12 months thinking that I was done with Ashtanga, done with Mysore, that I was back to the gym grind. But it was really that my body wasn’t ready for the rigors of the Mysore practice until…well, until sometime last month. And then it all kind of came together again.

And now I’m just enjoying the ride and trying not to get too attached, which I already am, trying not to think thoughts like, “when is the love affair going to end?” and “what if I injure myself like I seem to do every summer?” Because THAT is attachment. And you can love something and enjoy the moment without clinging to it. Right?



Such a nice practice today

June 6, 2011

From the first inhale to the last exhale before Savasana, it was 64 minutes. While certain aspects of my practice are in recovery mode (e.g., I used to be able to self-bind in Supta K; now I need the assist), one aspect of my practice is better than ever: my focus. I don’t fiddle, I don’t dawdle. I don’t do research poses. I just whip through the whole thing, trying to stay synchronized between movement and breath. And it’s working.

Had a strong bind in Supta K, so strong that I kind of expected that I wouldn’t lose it when my ankles crossed behind my head. Well, not immediately, at least. The behind-the-head action is so intense, that I just automatically let my hands spring apart. Gotta work on that. Then Stan brought them back together and he helped me hold them together as I took my five breaths. Then for the first time, ever, I think, I pressed up with the ankles still crossed. Dwi Pada!

Tomorrow I have to skip because it’s an all-day class trip with my Sixth Grader. Something with Connecticut and a boat, and, I suppose, marine life. I will try to get to the gym after we return – but that will be around 5 p.m., and I don’t know what I am going to want to do at that point. I tend to feel exhausted after having to be in one place, sort of against my will, for such a long time. It’s a great mental effort.

After practice today, Gina and I went over to Home Depot and purchased, between the two of us nearly 60 cubic feet of beautiful brown mulch. I raced home and got my portion all spread out. I’ve already put 48 cubic feet down, and I probably still need about 50 more. This is the first time I’ve ever mulched my garden beds. It looks so neat and pretty! And my hope is to avoid the intense weeds I’ve been dealing with for the past four summers. Also, I feel as if the plants that have been mulched are healthier and happier – they don’t seem to be as wilty in the afternoon. The mulch seems to keep the ground cooler and moister…a plus when you have heavy clay soil like we do up here in northern Westchester.

I also spent a bit of time doing my ritual smackdown of Bittersweet vine. That stuff is evil. It’s like garden cancer. It spreads underground in long, ropy underground vines. The underground vines choke off any plant roots in their way. And then each vine then sends up shoots that if allowed to grow unchecked, will wrap around trees and become woody and thick, eventually melding with the trees around which they are wrapped, killing them dead. Like I said, it’s like garden cancer. You can tell Bittersweet by its orange root. And the vines have orange bark. And they’re ropy and almost elastic before they turn into wood. Oh yeah, and Bittersweet also bears fruit. And when the fruit is finished, it spills all over the place, releasing seeds which can survive all winter long, bringing thousands of new bittersweet seedlings in the spring.

Last year, before I had my surgery, I made it my fulltime job to rid my garden of as much bittersweet as I could with the goal being to never ever ever allow another bittersweet vine to ripen into the fruit stage. I dug up every seedling, and I chopped down every climber. Then I dug up as many vines as I could. In some areas, this required me to dig up an entire flower bed or section of lawn. It was a vast, overwhelming job. And at the end of the summer, I thought I was done with Bittersweet forever.

Nope. There will always be more. It’s like a chronic illness, like a cancer that has become systemic in the garden. You hope to contain it. That’s what I’m hoping at least. Today, I dug up two wheelbarrows full of shoots and vines. But that is a HUGE improvement from where I was at this time last year, with bag after bag after bag (big, garbage can size paper gardening bags) of the evil, vile stuff.

Sometimes I have fantasies of just bulldozing my entire property to get rid of every last bit of Bittersweet. But then what would I do with all of my hydrangeas??


Tits and Ass: My Story

June 5, 2011

This might help fill in some of the blanks of what I did on my yearlong vacation from blogging: CLICK HERE


After practice, before beautification…

June 3, 2011

Stan, BBB and Gina


Beryl Bender Birch in the House!

June 3, 2011

Led Primary this morning, and BBB was there. She was super nice and friendly and approachable, and we chatted and took some photos, which I will post later, when Gina gets them emailed to me. Tina was there too, but she had to leave as soon as class was over (it was two Spice girls and one Ginger today, as Amy had parent-teacher conferences).

After having eaten like 15 Oreos after dinner, for some inexplicable reason (I don’t even love Oreos), I woke up with a weird and wonky tummy. It was growling for food and looked kind of bloated. I knew class would be a challenge today. And it was. And Stan went super super super slow, which should have made it easier. But instead, I was just kind of desperate to get out of each pose well before the fifth breath.

Of course, it’s all relative. I mean, I think back to my early Ashtanga days and the way I would not really feel like I could touch the floor in Utanasana until well after the fifth Sun Salutation, and the way I would be leaking my prana (i.e., life force/energy) all over the place by the time I got to Marychiasana A, in anticipation of Mari C and Mari D. I’d be panting and palpitating, which did me no favors at all. Now, I’m smooth all the way through, generally speaking. And I qualify that only because I was shaking by my fifth super-long-hold Navasana. SHAKING.

When I practice Mysore style, I’m done with Primary in an hour flat. And that includes Backbends AND dropbacks. Add another five minutes, and I’m done with the Closing Sequence. When we do led at Stan’s, it’s 90 minutes, including a 7 or 8 minute (by my estimate) Savasana. So…yeah…it’s a LOT of long holds. Holding my leg straight out in front of me and bending over to touch my knee while balancing on the other for five long breaths: challenging.

Anyway, yada yada yada, I couldn’t even get my legs straight in Kurmasana, let alone even attempt to get into Supta K. Whatever. Do I care? Kinda. But mostly, no. I really don’t. If I can’t even straighten out my legs in Kurmasana, I know (a) it’s a FLUKE because my hamstrings are very flexy, even if they weren’t today and (b) there’s no point in even thinking about Supta K, at least for me…I need my legs to be straight and my toes pointed and my legs lifted off of my shoulders. And thankfully, Stan didn’t even bother trying to assist me…it would have been a lost cause anyway. And I don’t really care. Except I kinda do. But I mostly don’t. Really mostly don’t.

On the other hand, I felt the flow in backbending. On the third one, I decided to really press my feet down – heels AND toes – while pressing up…and…BOING! I turned my toes in (it probably looked like parallel, but it “feels” like turned in) and … SPROING! I felt great. Couldn’t bear to be in a 10-breath paschimotannasana afterwards, as my yoga pants were brand new and they had that new clothing smell that I hate. I tried sticking my nose between my knees to bypass the pants, but nothing worked.

Imagine 10 breaths… a mere 10 breaths…being so unbearable? Had nothing to do with the physical yoga…but I suppose it speaks volumes about my chitta vrittis.

Anyway….for the first time in … maybe ever? I didn’t want to come out of Savasana when it was time. I consider that to be my biggest achievement today.

Tomorrow, no Ashtanga for me…instead, I will be doing what I’ve been doing every Saturday for the past few weeks: dragging myself to a painfully boring All Levels Anus-ara class at the Gym in Armonk. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the teacher. It’s just that I find Anus-ara not only horribly boring but horrible pretentious. I sit outside the classroom while the teacher sits upon her self-appointed pulpit and preaches about whatever it is that vinyasa teachers preach about these days, and I don’t come in until after the teacher leads the class in the prayer to Shiva. I’m simply not willing to sing a prayer to a Hindu god anymore. I used to put up with that crap. Now it just seems like crap.

What follows is about 75 minutes of lunging, peaceful warriors, half moon posses and workshopping of either backbends, inversions or arm balances. I’m making it sound better than it is. But I go. I go because what else am I going to use the (paid up) Gym membership for? Spin class? OVER it. Weights? OVER it. And Saturday is a non-yoga day on the “Ashtanga Calendar”. Finally, I consider it an exercise in discipline and self-control to be gracious and well-mannered while feeling vaguely annoyed by the unstoppable ego of the teacher.

Here’s an example of the kind of vague annoyance I experience in this particular class: Last Saturday, there was a 22 year old girl in the class, and when we were doing backbends, it became apparent that she was born without a spine. And I was instantly enamoured with her spine-free existence. I was literally droolng over her gorgeous, perfectly formed backbends. Unfortunately for her, teacher did not feel that she could allow this girl to enjoy her beautiful backbends without receiving a lashing for it.

Teacher pointed at this girl and said, “See how nicely her lower back bends? But she really needs to put some backbend into her upper back”.

I’m thinking, “Really? That’s how you’re going to play this, teacher? Down damned ego!!!” There was NOTHING wrong with that girl’s backbend – in fact, her back was perfectly rounded, top to bottom. Her arms were perfectly vertical, her elbows strong and straight, her shoulders like waterfalls, pouring her arms down to the mat. But the teacher felt the need to take the girl down a notch.

That’s what I’m talking about. That’s what’s wrong with vinyasa classes – not all of them, mind you. But too many of them. SO many of them, that you never know what you’re going to get when you walk into a vinyasa classroom. ESPECIALLY an anusara classroom, since those seem to be taught by particularly ego-driven teachers. Not sure why.

If anyone has a theory on why that would be, I would be grateful to hear it.

Anyway, wish me luck and pray that I (a) keep my damn mouth shut and (b) enjoy some Anusara Yoga tomorrow notwithstanding that it is, in my opinion, “Yoga-Lite” with a side order of Pretention.


Ashtanga is like crack.

June 2, 2011

And I’m on the pipe again. At least it’s a healthy obsession. But my monkey is nothing like the one sitting on Gina’s back.

Gina is sitting right next to me. We’re supposed to be watching a concert at the Middle School. But we’re whispering about our practice today. And Gina is confessing that after she got home, she was all over YouTube, researching leg-behind-the-head, and reading Matthew Sweeney – bhandas and breath.

Thankfully, I think my days of incessant reading and watching and researching are behind me. I just do my practice. And some of it is coming.

Today, Stan taught me that thing I always saw the other “kids” do in Sir’s room but that Sir never taught me: after UHP, the leg goes to (nearly) vertical and is held for five breaths. I don’t remember the breath sequence, but I won’t have to do it again until next week, since tomorrow is led Primary. And I’m not going to look it up, nope, not gonna.

Supta K was a bit of a breakthrough today. I managed to hold the bind even when the legs went behind the…neck was it? Who can tell. They did slip after a moment, but I managed to press up with the legs still Dwi Pada-ed.

But here’s the rub: right before Stan came up to me to give me the assist, I told myself to let go of the result. Why do things always happen when I let go of the result?

I hope I keep enjoying this. And I hope I don’t get all crazed and obsessed for real. Right now, I still have some control over this addiction. Famous last words?

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