Does yoga make you lazy?

Standard

I’ve been spending the last two months acting like a teenager, fawning about the magic of yoga. And to be sure, it has felt like an overwhelmingly positive experience that I want to continue.

But I’ve also noticed that yoga makes me feel naturally high, blissed out and carefree. Does this mean yoga is making me lazy in other parts of my life?

First, I work hard in my job and feel better equipped to leave work worries at the office. I perceive this to be a good thing. But I’ve also noticed that I have almost zero desire to open up the laptop at home to spend an hour or two digging out of work email, or doing some prep work to get organized for the week ahead. I take this to be more my relationship with my current job than anything else, but still, it’s something that I’ve noticed.

Second, I’ve noticed that my intellectual interests have changed from where they were six or twelve months ago. I used to be a news junkie, devouring the opinion pages of the New York Times and sometimes the Wall Street Journal to hear the opposing viewpoint. I used to watch the cable nighttime news as a ritual, with Chris, Anderson and Rachel informing me and getting me fired up about Washington hypocrisy and partisanship. I used to take pride on being informed and developing my political and news opinions based on facts, and a sense of what’s right. These days, my thirst for news is low, and in that sense I sometimes worry if I am getting intellectually lazy. At the same time, I HAVE been reading and intellectually curious about other things. But my reading has shifted to Elephant Journal, and books on yoga practice.

Finally, I’ve noticed that I might be getting lazy at home. To begin with, I’ve been more calm and relaxed at home. My home is my sanctuary from the office and the rest of the world. But I’ve also been less productive on home projects, less likely to clean the bathroom, less likely to attempt new elaborate recipes in the kitchen, just less active in general. Maybe I’ve been overworked at the office, but maybe the practice has made me so relaxed that I need and appreciate the quiet time doing nothing.

Maybe it’s just due to the brutal winter, but I’m wondering if my practice has also contributed to these changes. Maybe this is all just part of a necessary shift in my life.

But I really should get better about scrubbing that bathtub.

Jai!

Standard

It’s Saturday, and it was a hectic week. Work has been frantic, I had dinner on Wednesday with a development person from my college, and job hunting has cranked up to overdrive.

After several phone interviews over the last few weeks, on Friday I had my first on-site interview in about a year. I didn’t practice asanas on the day of the interview, but I did go through a 20 minute meditation from Elsie’s Yoga Podcast to calm my nerves.

The interview felt like it went quite well, but I had to run right to the office after it, sneaking into a McDonalds bathroom on the way to the office to change into jeans so as not to raise suspicion wearing dress pants and polished shoes to work on a Friday.

Last night I slept like a baby, and did not set the alarm. The extra sleep worked wonders.

Fortunately, I woke with enough time for a cup of coffee, a quick walk with the dog and time to make it to the 10:00 class at Dharma Yoga.

Today’s class was a great one.

The teacher was one I’ve had many times before, and a few weeks ago I was starting to feel like her classes were getting too scripted for me. But today’s class really resonated.

The sequencing was mostly familiar, but the teacher took some breaks during the class to explain some of the postures in-depth. I really enjoy studying, exploring and understanding, and this type of instruction really helps me deepen my practice.

Throughout the course of the class, I also noticed photos of Sri Dharma Mittra in the studio, staring at me with kind, gentle and encouraging eyes.

The asanas felt good. I felt strong in extended side angle and triangle, and continued to work on my shoulder stand. My balance was pretty good through most of the practice.

But the savasana and close of class felt truly inspired, under my teacher’s soulful guidance. Apparently it resonated for other students as well, based on the sniffling I heard at the end.

The whole experience helped me understand the concept of surrender. I put my best forward in the job interview, I wrote an awesome and bold thank you letter to the hiring manager, and I now will surrender to the outcome.

It also made me feel softer and more vulnerable, in a good way. Since I had no breakfast, I went looking for lunch after class. For whatever reason, I did not feel like having anything with meat. Not with the feeling of surrender to the practice that I felt today, not with the image of Sri Dharma starting at me in photos throughout class and still in my mind as I looked for lunch.

Veggie Burrito!

This time, I went for the tofu and Swiss chard burrito from Tomate. Excellent. It was better than the last one I got, because it felt less carb-loaded than the last one. It came with a deep green tomatillo hot sauce that was the perfect accompaniment to the burrito.

Jai!

My deepest thanks to my teachers who have shared their light with me.

And to the burrito cooks of Tomate.

Yes, Dad, I’m doing yoga

Standard

It was a somewhat awkward catch up call with Dad today. We went through the usual updates – I cooked out last night, went to the driving range, weather is finally better, dog is fine and so on.

And then he asked, “so I heard you’re doing yoga, huh?”

Turns out my wife replied to an email from my step-mom earlier today, and she casually mentioned that I was always going to yoga class after work these days.

“Yes, Dad, I’m doing yoga.”

“So how do you like it?”

“It’s fun, Dad, I’m getting into it. Learning to breathe. I think it might help me on the golf course too.”

“So can you put your foot behind your head?”

“No, Dad, I can’t do that yet. Not sure if I can in this lifetime, but that’s OK.”

Then the voice of my step-mom from the background: “ask him if he’s doing the tree pose!”

“Yes, Dad, I’m doing tree pose. Sometimes I fall out, but sometimes I can hold it.”

“Hum. Sounds good.”

“So, how are the French classes going?”

Smoked asanas today

Standard

Today was the perfect day to explore some of the core elements of this blog. My wife and I went out for dinner last night at Trattoria D.O.C., and had some great authentic wood fired Italian style pizza. Mine was the Pizza Rustica, topped with Mozzarella, red onion, mushroom, sun-dried tomato and olives. Vegetarian. I had a glass of Chianti with dinner, and we went home and watched the excellent documentary SOMM – a tale of a group of guys studying to take the staggeringly difficult Master Sommelier exam.

An enjoyable night out, but I ate too much and had a bourbon neat and Manhattan at home as well. I try not to beat myself up, but I should learn to stop at two drinks rather than three.

This morning I was a little slower than normal, but not too bad. The forecast called for warmer weather, but at 9:00 am it was still only 30 degrees or so.

I went to Dharma for a 10:00 class, and sweated out the toxins. We closed class with some alternate nostril pranayama practice. Hopefully it will knock out the last remnants of my sinus and chest congestion.

After today’s practice, I felt that I could learn to practice moderation and have fewer nights like the one I had last night. It wasn’t like I went all-out like I did in the old days, but it was still obviously too indulgent.

But something is changing inside me. I feel like I can and will learn moderation. I feel like it won’t be deprivation, but the new normal. It’s a gradual process, to be sure, but I feel like the awareness of when I’ve strayed from moderation is a gift in itself.

The temperature climbed to 50 today, and the sun was shining. After practicing the asanas and having lunch, I went out to hit some golf balls at the driving range. I was hitting most of my clubs pretty well, and found the practice meditative and relaxing. It reminded me that I should re-read the excellent book Buddha Plays 18, written by my Uncle Eddie. His book brings mindfulness to your golf game, and has helped me learn to enjoy the process and the journey more than the result. I should probably take another look at Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons as well.

This evening I pulled the grill out of the garage, and made some BBQ chicken breasts with spice rub and sauce from Hecky’s. Hard to call it BBQ if it was just fast grilled over gas, but whatever. I was cooking out, and I haven’t done that since the Prime Rib for Christmas Eve.

Dinner was not overindulgent, but it did bring me full circle to the contradiction in my mind and my blog. I want to continue to grow and travel down the mindful path, but I am still drawn to the primal pleasure of cooking meat over fire. I know this is in conflict with ahimsa. Perhaps the first step should be to walk away from mindless meat consumption like the Jimmy John’s subs that I tend to eat for lunch during the week.

Before I think of cutting anything out (be it meat, alcohol or leather shoes), my intention is to learn how to practice moderation more effectively.

Breaking out of the rut

Standard

I went to my usual class with R on Monday, and to the studio again on Tuesday and Wednesday. In the back of my mind, I’ve been wondering if I’ve been getting into a rut.

To be sure, I am still challenged in every class I attend, and I always find poses that I can’t grasp yet. Shoulder stand is still a challenge, but I am learning to hold it a bit longer every time that I try it. I am not there with crow yet, but it feels like it’s getting closer. Sometimes I can lift one foot, and then the other one, but I’m still not holding it for more than a second or two.

But beyond the challenge of certain poses, sometimes I feel like there is too much of a script in some classes. When there is too much of a script, I am not as mindful going into each pose, and I am wondering if I am just going through the motions. I think that’s part of the challenge of the practice – to continue to be mindful of even the most routine movements and to be present.

Even if I have been in a rut, I still feel the benefits of the practice outside of the classroom. I feel more calm at work, and yoga has given me new ways to deal with stress and adversity. So maybe this is a new normal, and I’m past the youthful romance of the first few months of practice.

But Wednesday’s class was totally different. It was my first class with the studio owner. She walked our class through half a dozen poses I have never done before, and also gave an entirely new perspective to even the most routine poses like downward facing dog or uttanasana (forgive me if I have missed a sanskrit accent mark or two).

It was a wonderful reminder that there is ALWAYS something new to learn in yoga, and that our journey is never complete. It was a very mellow practice, and inspiring to know that there is so much more to explore on the road ahead. It wrapped up with the students seated in a circle in the dark for a candle meditation. I’m not sure I fully “got it,” but it’s fun to think that I might someday.

She also shared that her guru, Dharma Mittra, would be visiting town in June, and that we should mark our calendars to meet him. Calendar marked.

Today is a day off from class, so I dutifully dropped by Hecky’s to pick up a whole BBQ chicken, sauced. The Spanish red from Montstant was a perfect accompaniment.

Some things may never change.

Coming back to my people

Standard

I returned to the studio this morning, after a week and a half away from yoga class.

We had a sub today, which turned out to be a good thing. I always enjoy hearing a new perspective, and today was no exception.

Class started in with meditation and a light bell, and was taught at a slower pace than the usual Saturday class.

The instructor had some good insight on a new way to enter shoulder stand, which helped me hold it longer than I ever have before. Still not feeling plow, I think because I feel like there is too much weight in my midsection. But a couple months ago, I felt there was too much weight in my midsection for shoulder stand, so plow might be another barrier that I can overcome.

Our teacher took us through pigeon, again with detailed instruction that helped me feel the pose and discover parts that I never have before.

I’m starting to feel, ever so gradually, that these are my people.

St. Patrick’s Day Green Juice Cleanse

Standard

St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago is an epic event. I’ve lived in the area since 2001, and I enthusiastically participated in pub crawls and Irish excess during my first few years in the city.

I met my future wife on the Saturday before St. Pat’s Day, through mutual friends, at a bar in Chicago. Ginger Man Tavern, just north of Wrigley Field. We hit it off immediately, and went on our first date the next day.

A year and a half later, we were married. Nights out gradually became more tame, and the epic St. Pat’s Day benders became a think of the past. I don’t really miss them, but I can look back on them with nostalgia and somewhat fond memories.

This year, I’ve got a different plan. My first ever juice cleanse! After finding a Groupon for a three day cleanse from Peeled Evanston, I decided to take the plunge and give it a shot. I pick up my juice order on Friday afternoon, and will start on Saturday morning.

The package includes six juices a day, including a green veg juice, a maroon beet juice, cayenne lemonade and cashew milk. I’m not sure what I will learn from it, but I think it’s a significant milestone that I am even considering doing it. It’s never even crossed my mind before. I’m a little nervous about that beet juice – yech!

I hope it helps my digestive system, I hope it helps me reset some bad eating habits, I hope it shows me that I have inner strength to do something like this.

To be honest, it’s not something I’ve studied at length, and I don’t know what to expect. But this is a time of change, and I am open to see what it reveals.

I’ve heard that the breath can help you get through the moments of hunger and difficulty.

Carrots and Asanas Win Fat Tuesday

Standard

After a great practice on Monday night, I went into Fat Tuesday with a balanced and focused mind. At the office, our admin assistant brought in about five dozen Paczkis. I summoned my inner strength, and didn’t touch them (not even a little bite).

Lunch was a salad. As stresses from the workday accumulated, my calm mind gave way to a stressed workday mind. By the end of the day, the peace was gone.

After learning my lesson about overtraining last week, I was supposed to make Tuesday a rest day after Monday night Vinyasa class. But I needed some serious calm, and I decided to go to the studio for a 7:00 class.

I tried to be mindful, taking some of the easier variations of poses and taking it easy in the back bends. I was able to hold shoulder stand a little bit longer than last time, and felt fierce in warrior I and II. We took Kali mudra, and it helped bring calm and focus.

After practice, it was carrots and a veggie burger. I slept more soundly than I had in weeks. Fat Tuesday came and went, and since I wasn’t raised in the Catholic tradition, it was barely a blip on the calendar. More importantly, I didn’t use the day as an excuse to eat, drink and be merry. I didn’t use a stressful day as an excuse either.

And now it’s Wednesday, and I just finished another class at the gym. Fortunately this was a pretty mellow class, with starting out with some Yin practice. I took easier pose variations, and did not push too hard.

So I went to class three days in a row this week, but it’s not feeling like overtraining. It’s feeling like an essential part of my day.

Is Yoga something you do or is it who you are?

Standard

I’ve been thinking about this question lately. On the one hand, I think I am still in the honeymoon phase of my young love affair with yoga. I have been reading and studying and practicing with obsessiveness for the last few months. But on the other hand, over the last week or so, yoga hasn’t felt as much a part of life outside of the studio.

Maybe it’s like dating someone new, where you start to settle in after the giddiness of the first few months. You let your new love interest in on your quirks, bad habits and secrets. You let your guard down, and maybe it’s not your best self on display all the time. But I guess that means you are learning to trust your new flame, and that you are opening yourself up for them accept you or not.

So with some of my bad habits on display over the last week, I’ve been thinking about my yoga. I went to class four times in the last week, and am going back to Vinyasa Flow class tomorrow. I’ve been listening to podcasts and reading articles on Elephant Journal . It’s definitely feeling like something I do (a lot).

But it’s still not feeling like who I am. We’ve been dating for a few months now, but I still like to do my own thing sometimes. We are coming to a crossroads pretty soon. I think I am ready to let her move in, but I need to go through the house to clean some things out first. I need to make room for her to become a bigger part of my life.

Back to the mat

Standard

Two days feels like a long time off, and I really need to figure out how to develop the 20 minute restorative practice at home, or the 20 minute mediation. After slipping on Thursday into Hecky’s and wine for stress relief, and the usual Friday Thai carryout with wine (at least the Pad Thai Woon Sen with Tofu was vegetarian), today I made it back to K’s class at the studio.

I sat next to one of the same classmates as last week, and feel like we are part of the community together. K led a Dharma class, and I felt strong through most of it, but was challenged enough to keep it interesting. I was able to lift into a shoulder stand for the first time, and held it for maybe 30 seconds. Not an earth shattering breakthrough, but a small victory that makes me feel like I’m progressing. At the same time, my failure to hold for a long time reminded me that I have so far to go, so much to learn, so much strength yet to develop. That’s something I am learning to appreciate about the practice, finding ways to continue to develop and improve for a lifetime.

It’s been a pretty stressful week at work, and I feel like the practice has helped me manage the stress and keep things in perspective. Still, I found myself falling back into old habits. I feel like I need to ask myself for more from the practice, and continue to find ways to apply it beyond the asanas in the classroom. I need to make the effort to branch out and take action at home, at the office and outside of the studio.

Looking forward, I know I shouldn’t go to a full class tomorrow, because my body needs variety and rest. I have a family commitment with the in-laws tomorrow, but hopefully I can find a way to get to the gym for some cycling and also find a way to practice mediation during the course of the day.

In the meantime, I sit patiently in the waiting room at the Toyota dealership for the scheduled 55,000 mile maintenance on the Prius to be completed. Will this be a one hour job today, two hours, or three?

I look to my breath for calm and acceptance.