Yoga will need a little more time

February 6, 2011 § 2 Comments

While it was easy enough to get out and take yoga classes this week, I think it will take a much longer time to truly explore and understand yoga. In a week’s time I felt like I only started to know where to begin.

Yoga can be so many different things and can involve so many different variables – style, instructor, philosophy, spirituality. I think it takes a lot of trial and error to find what’s right for you.

When I started doing yoga back in LA a few years ago, I just found a studio close to home (Yoga Works) and thought of it in terms of levels, not in terms of philosophy or style. I went from beginner to intermediate over the year I went there.

This week I really tried to go to places that were “true” yoga studios, where there was someone leading it that had practiced a life of yoga (in many cases from Indian yogis) that had a discipline and a philosophy. I didn’t want to go to a place that just viewed it as exercise. I wanted to think of it in terms of “craft”. I went to 3 very different studios:

Yoga Workshop (Boulder) – This is Richard Freeman’s studio where I took a beginner Ashtanga class focused on alignment of poses through a vinyasa flow. I think I will try an intermediate class here since I felt this was a little too beginner.

Maha Yoga (LA) – Whoa. I went with my friend Amy to Steve Ross’s vinyasa class. The author of Happy Yoga led a loud hip hop vinyasa flow and would come by now and then to get me to “lighten up” by knocking me off balance when I’d be struggling with a pose. This class was not for me but yoga can sometimes take itself a little seriously, as I often do, so it did help me approach the whole thing with a bit more lightheartedness. I did do a shoulder stand incorrectly though that was killing my neck for the next two days.

Bikram Yoga International Headquarters (LA) – Amy and I met Bikram himself there (he is truly a character) and took a class from one of his excellent teachers, Lisa. This was by far my favorite. It was the closest thing I felt to a real yoga practice. There was a clear philosophy, the instructor made sure you were doing things correctly and it felt amazing after.

I also want to check out Anusara and Iyengar this week, but all in all I got a fairly good start to yoga. The one thing I felt myself getting clarity on was that I’m not someone who wants to be told how or what to think. I feel fine practicing yoga when the instructor is helping me get the physical poses right and is encouraging me to “soften my gaze” so that I am in more of a meditative state. What I don’t like is when an instructor applies “therapy” to classes. When it starts getting into stuff like “let the stress of your day fall away” or “push those negative thoughts you carry around away” I don’t respond. In fact it makes me think more about them when I wasn’t really thinking them in the first place. Many instructors also apply their own wacky spiritual advice to yoga which I really don’t respond to.

I like when yoga gets your body and breathing to slow down so your mind can slow down. When I’ve done it right, I can start to manage my own thoughts (whatever they may be) and let them be vs having someone else tell me what I’m thinking. I really liked Bikram yoga for this reason.

I think this week was a pretty good start to understanding yoga and has put me on the right path with it. After only 3 days, it did wonders to how I felt physically and mentally put me in the right place for my pitch I was working on, which went very well by the way.  Yoga will definitely be something I continue to explore.

In the meantime, “Go Steelers!”

A visit to my favorite LA “yoga studio”

February 4, 2011 § 8 Comments

Today is kind of a big day. I have a pitch at one of the major Hollywood studios. It’s a pretty exciting opportunity and could be a pretty fun gig. I’m not going to lie; I feel a few butterflies. It’s been about 5 years since I’ve been on a pitch. I’ve never been a huge fan of standing in a room full of people I don’t know convincing them of why we should work together. Kind of funny I work in advertising. I guess I just like convincing people of things from afar.

I decided it was a good morning to pay a visit to my favorite “yoga place”, the beach. It is the one thing I really miss living in Boulder. We used to live 2 blocks off the beach when we lived in LA, and it always helped balance the craziness. It always reminded me take deep breaths. My husband and I would try to make it a point to start our day with a walk together by the beach before work set in and took over. It was a good call this morning. It helped me bring my thoughts back to the excitement of the possibility of working together on something cool rather than worrying about “selling”. Yoga has been great this week at helping me redirect my thoughts that way.

I will also be channeling one of my favorite account people I worked with at Arnold today, Will Burns. Will is one of those people who has an uncanny ability to get clients to remember how to be excited about what it is they do. He’s even ventured off on his own with an exciting new company based on the power of ideas called Ideasicle.  When I worked with him in Boston, he always used to talk about the ” getting the universe to conspire on your behalf”. I always loved that. I’d say that’s a pretty yoga appropriate thought.

Wish me luck, and let’s hope the universe conspires on my behalf.

a bear hug from Bikram

February 3, 2011 § 2 Comments

That’s me and Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram Yoga. If you read about Bikram you might think he’s the real “spiritual gangsta”. He’s definitely one of the most fascinating yogis. He’s not shy and has been quoted as saying “I have balls like atom bombs, two of them, 100 megatons each. Nobody fucks with me.” He’s been aggressive about copyrighting his “26 pose hot yoga” practice. He owns more than 40 vintage Rolls Royces and Bentleys, some owned by the Queen Mother and the Beatles. Some might wonder how this ego plays out in the world of yoga?

If Steve Ross’s Happy Yoga was associated with the Hindu God of Ganesh, then I would say Bikram’s style  would be more associated with Shiva, The Destroyer or Transformer. He’s on a self-proclaimed mission to save lives through yoga. I’ve only read a few pages so far of his book, but he talks about his love of cars & yoga. What the media doesn’t mention is that he rebuilds all of his vintage cars himself since he worked as a mechanic throughout his life. He sees our bodies in much the same way as rebuilding a car. He likes fixer-uppers. He likes to help transform people.

He wasn’t teaching my class last night but my instructor, Lisa, was wonderful. Walking into a room that’s 105 degrees knowing you’ll be doing yoga can be intimidating. She made my friend and I feel comfortable and encouraged us throughout the practice. I was expecting we would be doing a flow during the class but it is a series of holding 26 poses. Easier said than done in that heat! Bikram takes things head on and the heat actually helps you focus. It also helps you stretch. I should mention the room was not filled with 20 somethings like the night before but with 60-70 year olds who amazed me with their flexibility. Many afterward congratulated me on my first class and told me how the yoga had changed their lives.

Lisa was around afterward and was really helpful in terms of answering questions about poses and yoga in general. A great teacher. Everyone at the Bikram Yoga International Headquarters was so nice.

So far this week, this class was my favorite. The heat is definitely something you’d have to get used to but I like being able to focus on a series of poses that doesn’t change. I felt so good afterward. Some may like “Happy Yoga”, but I guess maybe I like a little challenge.

Yoga to the Snoop d-o double g

February 2, 2011 § 5 Comments

This shirt for sale at Maha Yoga says it all.  In case I’d forgotten, I’m back in LA. It was definitely the most unusual yoga class I’ve ever taken so I decided to sleep on it instead of making any rash judgments about it.

Ganesh, the “gangsta” featured on the shirt is the Hindu deity revered as the Remover of Obstacles. I would say the interpretation of Ganesh as a gangsta is a good example of Steve Ross’s sense of humor about yoga. He wrote a book called Happy Yoga. His whole philosophy centers around the fact that yoga should be as joyous and lighthearted as he encountered it in India, a side he feels was lost in translation as yoga traveled west. He’s pals with Eckhart Tolle and has been called “Yogi to the Stars” by InStyle magazine. My friend Amy, who treated me last night, often sees Jeremy Piven in her class channeling his “Ari Gold”.

Steve is a happy man. He exudes happiness. He started the class, not with quiet breathing exercise but by pumping up the hip hop and immediately getting into stretching. I was sweating 5 minutes in. I’m not going to lie, I felt like I didn’t know how to make sense of this class at first. It bothered me and felt like a bit of an affront to yoga. Then I remembered my airport experience and tried to just let the music be and let it push me through the poses. Music is a huge part of his practice…really loud music. You can barely hear him calling the poses. It’s good music though and I did find it energizing. The last 20 minutes of the class also involved music but more of a Gregorian chant soundtrack as we winded down. I found it actually helped me push my thoughts out and settle.

Throughout the class Steve would come by and smile and even knock me off balance sometimes when I was trying too hard. Maybe he could tell (as well as my husband does) that I often take myself too seriously.

I should say I was in an advanced class last night, so most everyone in there already knew the yoga poses. I knew most of them so I was okay. I could see a class like that being potentially dangerous for injuries as he doesn’t tell you how to correct the poses. It’s not about perfecting poses but having fun with your yoga.

I will probably go back and give it another try. I felt slightly disoriented throughout but also good somehow by the end. Maybe Ganesh, the gangsta, removed some obstacles for me.

airports are the perfect bootcamp for learning yoga

February 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

One of the times I feel least yoga-like is when I have to fly somewhere. It’s easy to stay calm and focused in a nice, warm studio, but an airport is another story. As I flew out of the Denver airport to LAX today I was really trying to think about yoga. I was trying to imagine how the yogis handle going through security and the jostling crowds. I was trying to adopt that mentality of “so be it”. It was pretty hard to do. There were a lot of distractions that took my mind away.

Because of winter weather from the East Coast my flight was delayed so I was late getting into LA. This wasn’t so bad because my meetings aren’t until tomorrow. No big deal.

I found myself overhearing dozens of loud cell phone conversations around me. Why do so many people talk so loudly as though no one is around them? Why can’t I tune out their conversations? I felt badly for the person getting chewed out on the other line.

It got a little harder as I got on the plane. A parent behind me didn’t seem to mind their 5 year old constantly kicking the back of my seat as much as I did. Hard to keep a calm mind when your head keeps jerking forward.

My thoughts drifted further…I couldn’t stop wondering if I would be waking up tomorrow with the some of the colds I could hear people coughing up around me. I don’t really want to say “so be it” to that. I’d rather say “can you please cover your mouth?”

I finally found my “yoga place” looking out the window and letting all the voices around me drown out in the hum of the engine, but it took a lot of effort.

How do the yogis do it?

I’m off to Maha Yoga in Brentwood with my good friend Amy to do some “Happy Yoga”.

 

a snowy night of Ashtanga yoga

January 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

With all the snow today, this would have been one of those nights the old me would have said the conditions weren’t so great out for going to yoga and were much better for staying in and opening a bottle of wine. But look how warm & inviting the Yoga Workshop studio looked as I walked up and it was nice and toasty inside.

Tonight I took a beginner Ashtanga Vinyasa class. As with many things, yoga has been reinterpreted in so many ways and in the US has even become another power fitness aerobics class at certain studios.  To each his own I guess. So be it.

What I liked about the Yoga Workshop was that it’s focused on teaching the craft of yoga. They probably wouldn’t describe it that way, but I like thinking about it as a craft. It’s kind of cool because Richard Freeman who started this studio 20 years ago, was one of the first Western teachers to be certified under a key influential yogi, K. Pattahbi Jois who learned under Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, a teacher of many modern forms of yoga. That may sound meaningless, but what it means is that in the eyes of true Indian yoga, this American is legit in terms of understanding the result of thousands of years of yoga. And he teaches here in Boulder.

This class reminded me a lot of my downhill skiing lesson last week. I could feel myself wanting to just go and get going with it, but the instructor took it slow and focused on making sure we understood each pose and focused on the alignment of it. I did not sweat as much as I’m used to but I did notice my balance and focus was much better than normal. This felt like a studio where I could really learn yoga from the ground up in a way that would feel like I was doing it right instead of just getting a workout.

So be it

January 31, 2011 § 6 Comments

The first time I ever did yoga was in Bangalore, India on a business school exchange after grad school one summer. Yoga wasn’t quite as popular 10 years ago in SC as it is just about everywhere today. My expectations were that it would be a lot of stretching and flexibility exercises, which it was, but there was also something the teacher kept saying that has stuck with me: “so be it”. Anytime we’d be doing a series of poses that would push us, she would say “if your breathing quickens, so be it.” Her tone was more of a “whatever” or “no worries”…shit happens.

My friend Adair and I traveled around India and Nepal for a month afterward and that phrase became our funny short-hand reply for whenever something would happen that wasn’t quite as planned, which was pretty much a daily occurrence. It was our Indian adventure version of “C’est la vie” or “lo que sea”. It is what it is.

I decided after all of last week’s winter activities that yoga would be the perfect thing to pick up again to work out all those sore muscles. I’ll also be working in LA this week, so yoga is something Boulder and LA have very much in common. So be it.

My aim is to try different forms of yoga and see which one feels right for me. When I did yoga in LA it was very much to cope with a stressful job and to get a little exercise. I didn’t think about it much beyond that. I’d like to pursue it a bit further this week. My friend Alicia, talks about yoga in her blog as a practice. I’m hoping by the end of the week that I might find yoga to be something I see as more than just a little exercise but as a practice I can incorporate into my life.

I think “so be it” can mean a couple of things. Since that yoga class it’s always meant “go with the flow” to me, which is something I need to remind myself of. I think there’s another interpretation of it I’ve gotten a glimpse of in yoga before, which is “just be”. To me, the former is a way to cope with things as they happen to you while the latter is adopting an approach or a philosophy to life. I may be splitting hairs here, but it’s something I’ll be thinking about as I’m doing yoga this week.

I will be starting with Ashtanga Vinyasa tonight at the Yoga Workshop in Boulder. It will be fun to compare Boulder yoga with LA yoga. Something tells me Boulder will be more my speed, but we’ll see!

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