Yoga Vida Tucson

Yoga Vida Tucson

It’s strange to come back to Tucson because I have a lot of history here. I moved here in the mid 90’s on a whim and stayed for a decade, which was slightly longer than was good for me. In hindsight I only stayed long enough to do everything I needed to do, it just took longer than I thought. By the time I left I practically ran out of town.

Since 2006, I’ve been back to Tucson (usually reluctantly) every year or so to visit my friends and my storage shed. Normally I only stay for a brief few days but for one period of time in 2011, I moved back to Tucson temporarily to write a book and during that time I started going to this yoga studio regularly.

Being on the road all the time, I enjoy the familiarity of Bikram studios all across the nation. I know what I’m getting into and yet I have a different experience in each class. Bonnie and Yoga Vida are directly responsible for my love of yoga studios that teach the Bikram method without the dialogue. I can appreciate the need for dialogue and the emphasis on certain Bikram-specific practices (LOCK YOUR KNEE!)  but there’s a yoga spirit that can be lost in a Bikram class because of the stridency of the speech. What I really enjoy is doing a familiar sequence of poses with instructors that extemporize verbally, correct postures, tell stories and don’t talk about Japanese ham sandwiches. Plus I always come away with something to think about.

In class this weekend Bonnie started by saying “Let’s go into this slow. Work as hard as you want, but let’s start slow.”

That is pretty much the exact opposite of everything I hear in my normal life. Everything around me (including the drill sergeant in my head) says move fast, hit the ground running, catch up, you’re getting left behind. Nothing says “Go slow. Think about the work before you do the work. Easing in is ok…”

She followed this by saying “Let’s pretend we don’t know what these poses look like and focus on what they feel like.” In other words, lifting out of the arch of my foot doesn’t look like much but it feels gigantic. Shifting my gaze from my knee to my navel might not change anything about my posture but it changes everything about my intent. If I’m always depending on some exterior source, like a mirror, for corrections, I won’t ever know what it feels like to do it correctly because sometimes the changes are too small to be seen.

Interestingly, both of these sentiments can be flipped around. Some days are about starting fast, moving more and visually correcting myself. Pushing harder than I want to but getting further than I expect.

The trick is knowing what day it is.

 

Being Seen

I wrote here about how I feel like most of the yoga work I’m doing is internal and no one sees it or feels it but me. I assume most people feel this way, especially when our efforts are so small and focused.

Yoga is full of small focused efforts towards things that feel impossible. Daily (yogic) success seems to rest in some as yet unquantifiable combination of fine muscle movements, mental focus and weight shifts, the process of which varies in any given day and goes mostly unseen. Except when it doesn’t.

In the past week, Greg has talked a lot about changing the way we think and thus the way we behave in tree pose. Perhaps in that pose particularly it’s easy to focus on length exclusively and so he’s instructed us to focus on expanding our bodies side to side and front to back as well as up and down. It’s a weird instruction, as if you could unhinge yourself from the inside and expand in all directions.

But something about the instruction worked for me the other day while I balanced in tree pose and I felt something somewhere loosen. I let go, microscopically it seemed. But at the same time from across the room, Greg said “Good, Kaitlyn.”

He saw it. Whatever it was, it was visible to him. No matter how small and imperceptible that internal shift seemed, someone else witnessed it.

This feels important somehow.

Stuck

All yoga teachers say “work with the body you have today,” which I think is intended to encourage us to be in the present moment.

Today in class Bonnie talked about the ways in which we respond to Bikram differently from day to day. Some days the poses come easily and depth and relaxation follow. Other days, it’s all work. She said that when it’s work, it’s easy to get mentally stuck remembering that it was easier yesterday or last week or when we weren’t injured or tired or over it.

Then she said, “Let yourself be stuck but not miserable.”

So you’re stuck. The poses used to be easier, you used to be more flexible, you felt better yesterday and had more focus and walked out of class feeling like a yoga superstar. Good for you.

Today is different. So what.

Be stuck. It’s where you are. You don’t have control over the elements and the tides and the moons aligning or the sick kids, cranky boss, terrible traffic or whatever else piled up to contribute to your lack of focus and flexibility in class. But don’t be miserable about it because you do have control over that, even if it’s just for 90 minutes in a hot room.

And if you’re miserable, find a way to back off so you’re stuck but not miserable. As Bonnie also points out, it’s just yoga.

Breathe.

Futzing

Greg told a story in Bikram today about a man dithering at a buffet. He couldn’t figure out what he wanted, what might taste good, maybe he wasn’t hungry, he couldn’t tell. He stood there so long that his wife finally said “Good grief, just eat something!”

Then Greg paused and said “and you’re probably wondering why this is relevant…”

We laughed and he said that a lot of us do Bikram like that man. We think too much, consider too many options and dither around. Greg said, “When you go into the pose, don’t futz, pant, stretch and press. Instead, go in and hold it. Wherever you are.”

Jules called Bikram a moving meditation and I think that’s the best description of it, when it’s at its best. When Bikram is hard for me is when I’m trying too hard and my mind won’t shut down. I futz. I’m in each pose thinking of all the ways I could or should be doing it better. I can’t be still, inside or out and I don’t have a single second where I relax into the pose and let go of all the futzing.

Letting go isn’t my forte. I’m a World Champion holder on-er, in Bikram and in life. But I want to practice going into a pose and holding it, leaning into the knowledge that I could go deeper or harder or stronger but that I might gain something from stillness.

I wonder what could happen if I stopped futzing.

Taking the Temperature of the Room

Rough Bikram class today.

For me it’s a matter of a couple of degrees between a hot class and a HOT class. A hot class means I can be productive. I sweat, I stretch; it is what it is. A HOT class means I can’t get through everything. I literally feel my body radiating heat and even savasana isn’t a relief. I spend the class counting my breaths and trying to just be in the class without hating it. Most of my classes aren’t like this anymore but this one today was a doozy.

I find that when my tolerance is already low, what I really want is a teacher who is aware of the class mood and environment. I call this “taking the temperature of the room,” which takes on a double meaning in a hot yoga class. By this I mean that they adjust their teaching methods to the class they’ve got instead of making every effort to adjust the class to fit their teaching.

We had the second kind today. He’s a good teacher but he unaffected by heat, he likes to talk and we hold each pose a little longer in his class. Usually that’s fine but today it was excruciating. A lot of veteran people fell out of poses early and the group of new people just didn’t know what to do with themselves. They didn’t take the temperature of the quiet focused room and adjust to it. Instead, they breathed noisily, threw their crackly plastic water bottles around and made such a ruckus that Bonnie (who was taking the class) finally said “Hey! Settle Down!”

Hearing the owner of the studio reprimand someone during class made me feel like a kid hearing my mom yell at my siblings. Part of me thought “ha ha!” (they were seriously so loud) but then the rest of me  got a little scared and tried to be extra quiet and fly under the radar while thinking “Mom’s mad.”

And who can blame her? It’s hot. And only getting hotter. I’m leaving Tucson at the end of the week and my opportunities to do Bikram are going away as well. After this class, I think that isn’t so bad. It was only 90 degrees outside today and the Bikram studio was already super hot. With upcoming summer desert temps of 110 degrees, who needs to spend any extra time in a hot room?

I think I can find something else where I’ll suffer in a different way.

Bikram thoughts

I have such a space issue in Bikram. Perhaps in life, as well, since I know it affects me at the movie theatres too. Why do people come into an empty row and sit right in front of me? Move down a couple seats! What’s wrong with you?

In Bikram, I want people to use all the space in the room and stagger their mats so we’re not on top of each other. I thought of this the other day when a girl set up her mat very close to mine and then didn’t move it even after class started and there was clearly a lot of room for us to spread out.

I started the class irritated at her. I did my pranayama breathing with as little attention paid to it as possible and instead looked around my area to see where I could move my mat to give us more space since she clearly wasn’t disposed to move her mat.

Ah yoga, so peaceful.

But after the first breathing cycle, I chose to push myself and live with it. I decided not to move my mat, to redirect the irritation into something productive and even make an effort to enjoy the experience of working so closely next to someone.

Jules calls this “leaning into the discomfort.”

It was hard. Uncomfortable. It took most of the standing series before I stopped thinking about it. But it was fine. My effort to let it go allowed me to focus on the class instead of my proximity to other people. I even talked to her afterwards. Her name is Kathleen and she’s lovely.

Kindergarten lessons keep coming back, don’t they?  My lesson today: share the space. After all, space doesn’t belong to me so sharing is the only reasonable option. Right?

Bikram Day #1. Again.

I got back to Tucson on Thursday and resolved to go to Bikram on Friday. Then I resolved to go to Bikram on Saturday. Then I decided I’d go on Monday.

Yesterday I looked at the clock and gave myself an ultimatum: Spend the next 90 minutes writing or go to Bikram. So I went to Bikram even though it was a tough choice and I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do less.

There’s something about Mondays. When I can’t force myself to start something new on any other day of the week, I can make it happen on a Monday. I have no answer to this conundrum but I’m grateful that it works for me.

In other news, the first day back sucks. Even when it doesn’t completely suck. I still don’t know what’s so hard about 90 minutes of yoga in a heated room. Why does it make me nauseous and dizzy and seem so freaking hard to keep my arms parallel to the floor for 60 seconds? Why does camel nearly kill me when I haven’t done it for three weeks? Why do I have to let myself give in and come out that pose early? I have no answers to those questions.

I do know that class will be much less hard tomorrow even though it’s only 24 hours from now and the room will be no less hot. Nothing about that makes sense but I know it to be true.

The first time I took a Bikram class in Toronto, I had a spot near the door where the cold air washed over me when the first student left class. I remember thinking “This is what the breath of God feels like.” I still think that might be true.

At the end of class, Bonnie said “Relax into the wonderment of stopping.”

Wonderment.

That is truth.