Ouch!

Yoga doesn’t hurt.

It can be uncomfortable.  Physically.  Mentally.  Socially.  But, it doesn’t hurt.

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krish-150pxThe physical discomfort is obvious.  Adho Muka Svanasana (Downward Dog) can be bliss or purgatory, depending on your alignment.  If the hands are cupped, the wrists will hurt.  If the toes are turned outward and the ribs collapse towards the floor, the lower back will hurt.  Maybe not in the short term, but definitely in the long run.  Do you want to practice for a little while or forever?  I’ve had students in their 70′s practice Primary series with more focus and ease than the 30-somethings in the room.  That’s pretty awesome.  Krishnamacharya was only 50 in the famous video from 1938 and he practiced for another 50 years.

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The mental discomfort is interesting to watch as a teacher.  That scowl on students’ faces when they realise that a sub (gasp!) is covering for  their favourite teacher is amusing.  I get it.  I drove to Santa Monica a day earlier than I needed to be in the L.A. area just to take class with one of my favourite teachers-Bryan Kest.  I always get great parking across the street from the studio, just above the Radio Shack.  There was never a line for the 4:30pm, level 3-4 class.  I ran upstairs and got my spot next to the painting in the corner.  Yes, I’m attached to a certain spot in the room.  Note:  I understand the need to have a certain space but don’t let it ruin the practice.  Usually, there are about 80-90 students in that class.  The room never filled up past 50 and some strange guy walked to the front of the room.  I put my best yoga teacher face on but I was NOT happy.  I drove 6hrs for sub!  That sub is now one of my favourite teachers.  Vytas is really cool and not just because he’s on tv right now.  If I had avoided the class or walked out, the way some others did, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to add another reason to drive to Santa Monica for yoga.

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The social discomfort is a little trickier.  Some students don’t want to be next to other students because of the colour of their skin or hair.  Some don’t want to be next to people who are too young or too old.  Too large or too thin.  Some only want to be next to the right kind of person–by their own definition.  I’ve observed and experienced that many times.  It’s a hard one to address.  Ultimately, we all should be focused on our own mat.  Who’s on the next mat doesn’t matter.  Ultimately, we’re all in the room for a shared experience.  Who’s on the next mat matters greatly.  Their practice is our practice.  I’m not saying that a fart in class should be celebrated.  But, it happens…to all of us.  If you avoid being next to the person who is more fit, attractive, flexible, whatever, etc than you or if you “don’t like” a certain teacher for reasons that you can’t honestly say out loud, then reconsider your own practice.  If the sequence doesn’t work or the teacher isn’t experienced enough, that’s one thing.  If the teacher doesn’t seem “yogic enough”, that’s something else entirely.

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Facing a challenge is uncomfortable.  But, it only hurts if let you it.

Coming back for more

It’s pretty rare that I’ll re-read a book or re-watch a movie that I haven’t seen in years.  The first time I read Catcher in the Rye, I was about 12 or 13.  I read it again in my late-20′s.  It was a completely different book.  I’m still not sure if I’m happy or disappointed that it was so different.  It was as if I couldn’t trust my own memory.

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The first time I saw the movie Xiu Xiu was at the Opera Plaza when it first came out.  The theater was nearly empty in that sad, arthouse way.  I was completely engrossed.  The movie left me angry, heartbroken and crying.  I mean really crying, non-stop, during the last 20 minutes.

It’s one of my favourite movies of all time.

I got a chance to see it on the big screen again at the SF International Film Festival a few years ago.  I remembered the story.  I knew the ending.  There’s no way I would cry.  I wasn’t surprised that I wasn’t angry.  There’s a maturity that comes from time.  I now see the story from several sides without blaming any one person or group in the situation.  But, those last 20 minutes hit me hard again.  Two waterfalls silently poured down my face while I stood against the side wall.

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When the lights came up, I looked through my wet, bloodshot eyes at the woman standing next to me.  It was the director, Joan Chen.  She gave me a smile and walked to the podium for the Q&A.  Listening to her talk about the challenges and obstacles that she and the team faced to make the movie was awesome.  She talked about her own family at that moment in history.  How lucky she and her siblings were.  And, why she wanted to tell that story in that way.

Now, when I choose to watch this move again, I’ll have a deeper understanding from the artist’s point of view.  And, a nice memory of looking at Joan Chen seeing me totally lose it.  And, I’ll probably cry.

It’s just like yoga.

You may think you remember your first downward facing dog.  But, like reading Catcher in the Rye, the memory may not be quite accurate.

It’s hard to forget the first class that made you feel great though.  That’s why we come back to the mat.  Just like watching Xiu Xiu, there’s a new and familiar feeling.

And, hopefully, it gets better every time.