Mirrors around the Mat

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There seems to be a trend in yoga studios now:  a lack of mirrors.

In the early 2000s, when I first started practicing yoga, every studio I went to had a wall of mirrors.

Oh no...look at these poor shlubs practicing yoga in front of a mirror!

Oh no…look at these poor shlubs practicing yoga in front of a mirror!

 

Nobody seemed bothered by this and only one studio, out of many, had curtains that instructors could draw across the mirrors if they wanted to.

But when I was in Vegas this past weekend, the yoga studio at the hotel had mirrors—on every wall.   At first I felt like those “how I think I look pictures” (see below) and my dream, my idealized vision of myself, was shattered.

This is why I don't run anymore.

This is why I don’t run anymore.

But once I got over the initial shock of seeing myself in some unflattering poses—why does my face look so weird when I am upside down in a forward fold and WOW my butt looks huge in Warrior 2 – I embraced the mirrors.

I found that the mirrors actually helped challenge me to move further into various asanas or yoga poses, like during Warrior 2 where I wasn’t bending my front knee as deeply as I had thought.

By observing, without judgment, how I looked practicing yoga, I was able to get a clearer sense of what my body was actually doing compared to what I thought it was doing.  Plus the mirrors gave me a little motivation to work on some parts of my body that I’ve been ignoring (hello booty!).

Curious to see what others thought of mirrors in yoga studios, I did a quick internet search and the results will shock you! (Well, maybe not, but they are amusing.)

1. “We don’t have mirrors in our studios because we want people to focus on their internal vision of themselves, freeing them to be their authentic self.” 

Who knew that getting rid of a mirror was all it took was for us to find our authentic selves?

2. “Mirrors can introduce doubts in your mind about whether you’re doing the practice “correctly” or if the person on the next mat is “correct.” And mirrors can introduce self-judgment about your abilities compared to the other people in the class.

Let’s be honest, with or without mirrors, we are always comparing ourselves to others.  When I’m wearing a large tunic and long flowing pants and the 20-year-old woman in front of me is wearing booty shorts and a tiny sports bra, I don’t need a mirror to tell me that our bodies are very, very different!  Plus, when I have to “just lie on my back” or put my legs up the wall while everyone else moves into backbends, handstands, or headstands, it’s pretty hard not to judge my abilities even without that dreaded mirror.

3. “Yoga is about looking within yourself in search of personal transformation, health, and wellness. For this reason, most yoga studios don’t have mirrors.” 

Ah ha! The evil mirror thwarting our search for enlightenment!  Never mind our addictions to our cell phones and technology—be on guard against the great and powerful MIRROR!

4. “Anyone who knows anything about yoga knows that mirrors don’t belong in the studio. There are some straightforward reasons for this, namely; we practice yoga to go inside, to transcend the ego, and to find peace. Mirrors are roadblocks to all these pursuits, pulling us back to the shallow surface of ourselves as relentlessly as the moon pulls the sea.

Maybe I was being shallow as I gazed at myself in the mirror, admiring my tattoos, my ample bosom, my tan…wait, what were we talking about?

5. “We have no mirrors in our yoga spaces so don’t worry about what you look like.

Uhhh…I will probably still worry about what I look like even without mirrors, which is why I wear yoga pants and not shorts.  Seeing how cellulite-y my legs look in downward facing dog is not pretty my friends.

 

Do we really think that without mirrors people will be more likely to “go inside” and use yoga as a technique to encourage total transformation?

Isn’t the purpose to make your yoga practice more meaningful even in the face of external distractions?  I’m not saying that mirrors are the answer, but I’m also not ready to vilify them either.

Quick! Get that baby away from the mirror!

Quick! Get that baby away from the mirror!

What’s your opinion?  Do you think mirrors in a yoga studio are helpful or hurtful?

Please excuse all typos and terseness: I was busy looking at myself in a mirror.

 

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Extravagance off the mat

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As I was practicing yoga this weekend, I found myself thinking about extravagance.

Did you know that the first meaning of “extravagance” had its origins in the ideas of wandering outside of, wandering beyond and roaming?

It wasn’t until the late 1500’s that the word became associated with the ideas of “excessive or extreme” and “wasteful and lavish.”

Extravagant?

Extravagant?

I like the original meaning of the word and this may be the reason why I love Las Vegas—it’s a place that is “outside of” our normal, day-to-day experiences.  Unless your normal life involves rotating through a series of buffets and watching topless circus acts.

This father’s day weekend, my hubby and I had the chance to get outside of our normal day-to-day life and spend a long weekend in Las Vegas, without the kids.

This was extravagant.

I was able to take few yoga classes at our hotel and “wandered beyond” what I normally practice: I was in a new studio, with a new teacher, new views, and new expectations.

This was extravagant.

We slept in, ordered room service, laid out by the pool.

This was definitely extravagant.

I call this one "Extravagant Breakfast: Oatmeal and Muesli."

I call this one “Extravagant Breakfast: Oatmeal and Muesli.”

But I think what was really extravagant was getting outside of our normal routine.

Anyone with kids knows that it’s fairly easy to get into a routine rut; for example, a typical day for our family during the summer usually includes me getting up, drinking coffee, making the kids their breakfast, writing, working out, making the kids their lunch, reading, making the kids their dinner, cleaning up, reading, going to bed.  We seem to have a food theme going on here…

But now that I have a better idea of what extravagance can mean, I will try to build in ways to be extravagant throughout my day by taking new yoga classes with new teachers at new times, or I might take the kids on walks where we go to new places and “move beyond” the typical route.  Or maybe even have the kids make dinner–now that would be extravagant!

How will you be extravagant this summer?

Please excuse all typos and terseness: I spent four extravagant days in Vegas. 

Namaste.

 

Balancing on, and off, the mat

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Yesterday, I was working on balancing in some variation of hand to toe pose, like this:

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This isn’t me…

While I didn’t look even close to the image of the pose, unless a hunched back, bent legs, and panting is what the pose looks like, I remembered my yoga quote of the day: “yoga is the study of balance, and balance is the aim of all living creatures; it is our home.”  So instead of working on straightening my legs, I worked on breathing, smiling, and cultivating balance.

Our family is moving this summer and yoga has been especially helpful throughout this sometimes stressful process—while I am flowing through a sequence, I don’t really think about much except my breathing, and the underwear that’s riding up my butt, or the fact that my tank top is too small, or that the person next to me really should have taken a shower…or wait, is that me?

Anyway, by specifically focusing on balance within my yoga practice, I have been able to incorporate that focus off the mat as well.  One area, in particular, that requires balance is the tendency to hold on to material items—to possess them.  Moving to a new place, and also moving our bodies with a yoga practice, offers an opportunity to get rid of that which no longer serves us.  Moving also allows us to reflect on those items that mean so much to us: like the horseshoe from my grandparent’s ranch, or the picture of Willie Nelson given to me by my dad, or the weird little dried flower thing my mom gave me on Mother’s Day.  

I love you Willie!

I love you Willie!

Although I’m still (and always will be) working on balance, today I feel excited about the many ways in which I can apply balance to my life and my yoga practice.

How do you incorporate balance in your life?  How do you apply balance to your yoga practice?

Please excuse all typos and terseness: I ate too many s’mores last night. 

Namaste.

 

 

 

Is Yoga Art?

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Note:  Generally, I see the world through sarcastic humor.  Much like Chandler Bing on Friends, humor is my coping mechanism.  But at a writing workshop this weekend (which I’ll write about later), Anne Lamott reminded us that humor can often mask the real feelings, thoughts, experiences that live within us.  So in honor of her words, this post is a little more serious (and maybe less entertaining) than I’m used to.  Bear with me as I stretch my writing wings!

Recently I was re-reading an article discussing yoga as art (the article has some great pictures) and it got me thinking about how our society defines art and how we define yoga.  Now, I know very little about art and, to be honest, I’m just not that into it.  I have never chosen to go to a museum or an art gallery and I just can’t see why some paintings are so popular while others aren’t.

I much prefer to walk around and people watch or go to the beach and stare at the sea thinking artistic thoughts.

Thinking artistic thoughts

Thinking artistic thoughts

I guess what I’m saying is that I appreciate the art that is living and present in our daily lives.

Our bodies are living art.

When I head to the mat today, I will remember this as I grunt into an arm balance or “relax” into pigeon pose.

What about you?  How would you define art?  Can yoga be artistic?

Please excuse all typos and terseness: I BBQed last night and ate too much potato salad.

Lessons off the mat

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One of my yoga teachers says that the best teacher is “alive and well inside.”  I love this idea because it’s so deceptively simple.  Or…wait, is it deceptively complicated?

I guess what I think this quote means is that what if, intuitively, we already know all that we need to know and our job is to access or tap into that knowledge?  I thank all the yoga teachers who are helping me do this.

Another practice that teaches me more than I ever thought possible is talking with my children.  So, in honor of all teachers everywhere, check out the following conversation I had with my kids.  Be ready to have your mind blown!

Me: Who would you want to be your teacher?

Alex (7 years old):  Frankenstein.

Isabella (10 years old): George Washington to teach me fractions. Harry Potter to teach me how to fight against evil.

Me: What would Frankenstein teach you?

Alex: Long division, cause I don’t really get long division.  It’s confusing

Me: How come Frankenstein could teach you long division?

Alex: He’s good at math.

Me: How do you know if a teacher is a good teacher?

Alex: A good teacher is kind.

Isabella: A good teacher does not whip a student or smack them with a ruler when they don’t know something.

(WTF?!?)

Me: Do you think Papa is a good teacher?

Alex: Yes! Because he’s a good father and does nice things for us.

Isabella: Yes! He’s kind and he teaches us lessons.  He isn’t really that mean. Unless you get in a lot of trouble.  He’s not really that mean.  He’s able to talk to me about weird things.

Me: Do you think I am a good teacher?

Alex: Yes… but I can’t think of any reasons why.  [After 5 minutes] Because you take us to the arcade and let us buy treats.

Isabella: Yes… Because you take me to the mall and get ice cream and we can hang out together. And you buy me stuff from the mall. Like you give me $30 and I can buy whatever I want.  And you let me go to sleepovers and parties.  And you sign us up for summer camp.

(I love the fact that they equate teaching with parenting, because isn’t that the truth! But what’s up with saying the only reason I’m a good teacher/parent is because I buy them stuff?)

Me: What do I teach?

Alex: I don’t know.

Isabella: Something about bodies.  I have no idea.

(I actually teach writing.)

Me: What does Papa teach?

Alex: We don’t go to his school so we don’t know. He teaches about zombies.

Isabella: I don’t know.  I don’t think he’s teaching about zombies.  This summer he’s teaching about vampires and monsters.

(He actually teaches writing.)

Me: Do you want to be a teacher?

Alex: Yes. Because I like teaching. I like teaching math, and words, and science, and fractions, and I think that’s it.

Isabella:  Uhhh…no. Or maybe yes. I don’t know. I’d rather be a dentist.

Today’s lesson:  We all need time to integrate the lessons we learn from our teachers. Note to self: remember that even though the children hear me talk about my job on a daily basis, they apparently need years to integrate that information.

Please excuse all typos and terseness, I was up late watching the Kardashians.

Distractions on the mat

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Just the other day, as I was working through a particularly challenging sequence requiring my utmost concentration to “open my hips,” my 10 year old decided to dump out a container of bottle caps for an art project she’s working on.  Right next to me and my yoga mat. The sound of hundreds of bottle caps hitting the hard wood floor is really quite helpful when you are trying to “focus your attention inward and let go of all external distractions” as the ever helpful yoga teacher video was telling me to do.

As I lightly “floated” into ardha chandrasana (half-moon pose), my 7 year old yells from the kitchen: “When’s dinner?” My husband helpfully yells back that Mom is doing yoga now and dinner will be ready soon.  My 10-year-old then helpfully proceeds to drop each bottle cap back into the plastic container from which she dumped them out of.  This cacophony of sounds was exactly what I had in mind for the background music for my practice.  Wasn’t this track 7 on some sort of sounds of yoga cd?

It was during this particular yoga session that I thought if only I could have a room of my own, as Virginia Woolf wrote in a somewhat confusing essay, I could practice yoga without all these earthly distractions.

 

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Scout and mama doing yoga

For example, I wouldn’t have to try to do a forward fold with my dog sitting on my mat.

 

 

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Someone’s ready for savasana!

I wouldn’t have to smell doggie breath.

I wouldn’t have to open my eyes from savasana (corpse pose) and see my dog’s under carriage as she stands over me.  Gross!

20140605_084249

NSFW! Just kidding. It’s a doggie belly 🙂

Yes, it would be glorious to have a room just for me, my yoga mat, and a candle.  With this set up, I’m sure I could achieve some sort of enlightenment or understanding of our collective consciousness (or is it unconsciousness?) or activate my root chakra or something.

You know what, though, I think I’ll take my loud, messy (don’t get me started on the cat hair), somewhat chaotic yoga over a sterile, lonely practice any day.

Practicing yoga in the eye of the storm (or my living room), I get to share this space with my dog, kids, and husband.  My dog gets some extra snuggle time; my kids get to see me work through difficult poses and we all laugh when I fart in happy baby pose (isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?).  My husband gets to support me when he sees me go to the mat day after day.

Isn’t all of this, the movement of life, what makes living and yoga meaningful?

Today’s Lesson: Becoming more present means accepting the realities of what is going on right now—the noise, the mess, the fact that I’m practicing yoga today wearing a flannel and sweatpants and drinking coffee between poses—and not judging the situation or the people around us.

Please excuse all typos and terseness – I had too many cocktails last night.

 

Irritation on the Mat

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Today, while doing a yoga video, I noticed the instructor made a mistake.

Before I get into what, exactly, that mistake was, it should be noted that I have been working on containing my judgmental, non-compassionate, overall generally bitchy self.  I do come to the mat, so-to-speak, several times a week with a general intention to let it all go and achieve enlightenment.  But the reality is that while I’m letting my physical body move around, groove and release all my “stuck energy”, my mind holds onto self-defeating patterns, habits, and expectations.

So this morning, while trying to quiet my “monkey mind” and redirect the chatter in my head, I noticed the instructor said Ustrasana (Camel Pose) instead of Uttanasana (Forward Fold).  My first thought was to turn off the video because, of course, this teacher could no longer be trusted:  she had MADE A MISTAKE!  Then I wanted to criticize someone for not editing the mistake. Then the website for obviously having no standards.  And on, and on.

In a moment of clarity (holding down dog for 2 minutes helps), I asked myself where did I get the idea that making mistakes should be equated with incompetence?  In fact, just the other day I had a “moment” on the yoga mat and started crying because the instructor said that nobody was judging us, that we were all doing just what we needed to do.  And wasn’t it beautiful?  I’m not sure “beautiful” was the word I had in mind as I noticed that it looked like there was a small spot of dried cat vomit on my yoga mat.  Nice.

But yes, it was beautiful to rid myself of the judgment that yoga has to look a certain way.

As I exhaled into down dog and “hugged my shoulders down my back” (what does that even mean?), I realized how enlightened I was becoming.  I could forgive someone for making a mistake! Wow. What a grown up.

Continuing my ujjayi pranayama, feeling like I had let go of all my judgments, I looked up to the screen, only to see a rather distracting case of camel toe. Really distracting.  I immediately worried that I would no longer be considered a feminist because wasn’t I objectifying women or something? Then I reassured myself that if this was a male instructor displaying moose knuckle, I would be equally distracted.

Exhaling into chaturanga, I vowed not to look at my computer screen for the rest of the class.  I would just listen to the instructions. Until…

Until I noticed that the instructor seemed to be doing something weird with her mouth or the microphone was to close or she needed a drink of water.  If you know me, you know how irritated I get when people make mouth noises.  I have been working on this for years and have realized that I can’t be in the same room with certain people (you know who you are) when they eat or drink. I have been known to ask students to leave my class because they are making too many mouth noises while we are doing in class writing.

I know, I’m crazy! I totally get how absurd all of this sounds. Now do you see why I need to do yoga? Every day? I really need to release all this stuff contained inside!

Today’s lesson: Let go of what I am trying so hard to contain.  These reactions to others are irrational and serve nobody. Release the desire to be RIGHT.  Plus, nobody wants to be around someone who criticizes them for drinking too loudly; at least that’s what my husband says!

Namaste.

Please excuse all typos and terseness–I woke up too early today. 

Part of the Daily Post’s Daily Prompt

Prompt #3