Crazy rich people and Bikram lessons

Left NYC covered in snow like a winter wonderland.

I planned to stay in the DC area with my cousin, Tracy, but I had a few things I wanted to see on the way. Namely the Mercer Museum in Pennsylvania.

I’m not sure if you know this, but the world is full of crazy people. And a reasonable percentage of these crazies have substantial amounts of cash, a bad collecting habit and a need to stash their stuff somewhere. If they were broke, they’d be hoarders. But with lots of money and ambition they can build themselves fortresses to protect themselves from ghosts (Winchester Mansion in CA), odes to their lost loves (Coral Castle in FL) and concrete castles to house their giant collections (Mercer Museum).

I would recommend a visit to the Winchester Mansion if you’re ever in San Jose, CA. It’s the creepiest strangest place with stairs that lead nowhere and rooms that can’t be accessed from inside the house and a decorating obsession with flowers and numbers. I found the Coral Castle bewildering (how did one man build it?) and sad.

The Mercer Museum is less insane than either of these two houses. Henry Mercer collected 19th century stuff that showed how people lived and worked and he needed a place to put it. For 3 years between  1913 and 1916, he and 8 men hand-mixed concrete, built the forms and then hand-poured this entire 6 story castle with the help of a horse named Lucy.

Some pieces he’d collected were so big – gigantic plows, mill stones, wagons, a huge hand poured cast iron pot for rendering whale blubber– that he built the castle around them and you can’t get them out of the place short of a wrecking ball. There’s SO much stuff, it’s staggering.

Every 19th century craft and job has a room or a floor and there are a few additional gee whiz pieces, like this one for your vampire killing needs.

Here’s the sign.

19th century historians come from all over the world to see this collection. As well as people who are trying to recreate old stoves or glass blowing techniques or whatever. I had an enjoyable hour with the place to myself and then skipped out before my eyes started to blur over.

I spent the rest of the afternoon driving over state lines. I’ve crossed through New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Philadelphia, Delaware, DC and Virginia in one day. I had planned to get to Bikram by 530 for a 6pm class but instead I arrived at 5:55, frantic, agitated, hauling all my stuff in my bag. Just a mess.

The proper protocol is to arrive in time to change clothes, transition from where you were to where you are and let your pulse calm down. Racing in fresh off a 3 hour stint of fast driving, throwing clothes on and running in the door of the studio with my mat was the least great way to get there today. But at least I got there.

The teacher – Insel – took one look at me when I walked in and said “Get ready for class. We’ll take care of the money afterwards.” Then commenced the hardest and best classes of my short Bikram career. He started by asking us to think what we wanted to achieve in class and say it three times with our hearts before we began. I asked for mindfulness – something I’m struggling with right now. When we started it was clear that a lot of people – including me – were having a hard time today.

Bikram lesson learned today: Stay in the room.

3 people left the class today. That’s a Bikram no no. Even if you can’t do the poses, you’re supposed to stay in the room. I think it’s a bit like a rough relationship. Resolution comes by staying in the room. Working at it. Not walking away. I definitely have a rough relationship with Bikram and I did manage to stay in the room but it was tough. I couldn’t do all the poses. I would bend backwards and feel dizzy and sick so I’d sit down or lay down.

Savasana – corpse pose – seems like it should be easy. You’re lying on your back and focusing on your body. But it’s a quietly active pose and also where you reap the benefits of the more active poses. That makes it the most important pose, which is good for me since I spent more time there than I should have.

The other thing that Insel emphasized: The most important parts of the 90 minute class are these 20 second savasana poses. Focus here. When you don’t focus here, you are focusing on your vanity. These 20 seconds are what will change you.

Empty your mind. Breathe. Let go. This concrete floor is big enough to take it all. Let it go.

Things I’ll take with me this week as well as the words of another smart man:

Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Tomorrow Appalachians, dinosaurs and North Carolina.

The weather outside is frightful

I woke up to rain falling on top of snow, turning back to snow, turning into hail and then to rain. An icy hazy crust stuck to everything but the freezing watery slushy disaster of the streets didn’t seem to hamper traffic or pedestrians. And so it continued all day.

The perfect day to be inside with a coffee and a good book.

But instead I wandered all over the city running errands, seeing people and fighting the elements. But late afternoon after I’d gone the wrong direction twice on Houston looking for the train station (how is this possible? You’d have to be me to find out…) and had my umbrella turned inside out three times, dousing me with hail each time, I gave up on NYC and started thinking about leaving.

Tomorrow marks the official first day of my road trip and also the first day of my Bikram yoga challenge. I plan to do Bikram yoga every day for 30 days while I’m driving across the country (with one excepted weekend that I’ll talk more about later). It will likely take me longer than 30 days to make this trip and I may decide to do Bikram every day that I’m on the road, but I’m going to see how I feel after 30 days.

Bikram yoga – for those of you who don’t know – is a codified form of yoga consisting of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises done in 90 minutes in rooms heated between 100 and 105 degrees.

You can see a 3 minute time lapse video of a Bikram yoga class here.

That’s the what, and here’s the why.

I find Bikram incredibly difficult. I don’t like being hot. I started classes in Toronto and I find that it’s hard for me to be in the moment. I want to think about all the things that I’d rather be doing instead of Bikram. And how cool it must be outside. And wonder how much longer I have to lay here and sweat before I can get up and go. And how the girl standing in front of me got so flexible. And why no one seems to sweat as much as I do.

Something about the heat forces me to my wit’s end. It breaks me down. I find my emotions coming to the surface and I have to remind myself to let things go. To be in the moment. To be mindful. That the benefit of any exercise comes from being present while I do it. I want to do Bikram because when I do something this strictly codified that’s supposed to be exactly the same in every studio, if something is different from one class to the next, the difference is in me. Will that actually be true? We’ll see.

And besides, why wouldn’t I take an epic road trip and make it even more impossible? It’s what I do!

First stop: Falls Church, Virginia and along the way, possibly a castle.

Stay warm. See you tomorrow.