The Body That Practices

I finally brought my notes together into a rough draft of the workshop on Metta Yoga, “Union with Loving-Kindness”. I’ve been thinking about this for so long and tonight a question from a Dharma Sister wondering if I’d set a date in a few weeks reminded me I needed to not loose focus. I’d brought up to Hogen that I was deeply committed to teaching this workshop, that I see it is so necessary to cultivate love and compassion for the body that practices.

Once I started writing down times and what practice went where I was surprised at how quickly I brought it together. A morning introducing Metta practice before moving into Asana to warm the body and open the hips before resting. Sharing lunch, including some time to just eat, perhaps even 10 minutes of silent eating before people talk. Then gather people back together for discussion about the body, how we view it, how we compare it, and how we stop that cycle in favor of cultivating gratitude and compassion for it. Deep focus on Pranayama after discussion before moving into another hour of Asana practice to open the heart and focus the mind. Time to practice Metta during meditation and then ending in full Savasana.

There it was, a full day of yoga built around Loving-Kindness practice, cultivating love for our body. A part of me feels like a big fake. I have a lot of days where I rush to put my clothes on, even more disappointed with my body after weight loss than I was when I weighed 290 pounds! I certainly have times when I feel entirely unqualified to teach anything and no one wants to hear about my experiences.

And then I’m brought back to center. I become present to my body, that which supports me even on days like today when I don’t feel very good. I’ve become better at recognizing when I need to rely upon the loving support and encouragement from CK, my friends, my Dharma family, and even my Mom. These people are all my Sangha, the good company of people seeking the Way. Like falling backwards into the thousand arms of AvalokiteĊ›vara, I let myself feel the support of all of those hands of my Sangha and through that find belief in the truth they see in me in those moments I am unable to see it myself.

I am grateful for the belief of my Sangha and for my body which supports my practice, the Sagha of me.

Body

It was one of those realizations during zazen that felt like it kind of thumped into me. Why writing about, talking about the weight loss is so difficult.

I feel shame for having gained all that weight in the first place. For having abused my body so much.

Every day I’m reminded of it by the skin. I mention it sometimes, like wanting to wear something with long sleeves to cover my upper arms, the underside of which have a great deal of loose skin. People shrug and say how that happens to a lot of people, it is genetic.

Only really, this isn’t like that. It is extra skin. One of my dearest friends, who has had a lap band surgery, calls them her “Bat Wings”. More exercise and different body care products will not make the skin go away. There or any of the extra on my belly (upper and lower abdomen), breasts, and thighs particularly. There is quite possibly 10 extra pounds of skin. That’s what happens when someone goes from 290+ to 140 +/- (I stay within a few pounds of that in either direction).

I mentioned it to Chozen and Hogen after sitting. I was reminded that instead of shame I need to honor my accomplishment by helping others. I joked with Hogen, asking if he kept a tally sheet under the sazen cushion for how many times I’m told this lesson. He laughed and said only for me. Chozen noted that I needed to go back to the piece I’m writing for her with this mindset.

And Loving-Kindness, of course.

I haven’t done it yet. We were in Sacramento all weekend visiting CK’s family. It was an inferno there compared to Portland, painfully bright. There was a lot of family dynamics and tension I was getting introduced to at the same time. It brought up some tough stuff in my past.

On top of that CK’s step-dad, a professional photographer, took a series of photographs of me. Well over an hour of going through yoga poses again and again, turning to get different angles. It was exhausting on so many levels.

I shouldn’t have looked at the images mid-way, but he was making a light adjustment for me to do standing asana, so I looked. He was complimenting my chaturunga, how great it looked to get it in series. He does yoga, so often he had a comment or suggested a couple of poses I hadn’t done.

I couldn’t stop looking at the way the loose skin on my upper abdomen hangs down. Gravity being what it is there’s just this round line. It doesn’t matter how strong or lean my core muscles are in my abdomen, nothing will make that skin hang smooth against my body again.

I continued on with the asana, working up a real sweat in the warm house in my yoga outfit with long sleeves and pants. CK expressed surprise several times, noting how I could do some poses she didn’t even realize I was capable of. I wasn’t able to move away from feeling shameful about my body for a while, it wasn’t until I looked at other poses that I could work my way back to appreciating my alignment in the asana the way a teacher would. Moving towards looking at my body as just a students, not actually my own.

Back to the writing for Chozen. Now that I’m out of excuses and have zeroed in on at least one big reason I’m so uncomfortable with it. I suspect there’s others but this appears to be a good one to start with.

New Tattoos and First Workshop

After the sadness and quiet of Friday we slept in late on Saturday before hitting a very full day. We popped by the annual Buddhist Festival in the Park and dropped of flyers for my class today as well as running over to the Dharma Center to pick up the post cards CK had printed of the various meditation times. Saw several members of ZCO there and we had planned to get back, but the day’s errands just took over!

We decided we would take advantage of the Let Live fundraiser being held by Scapegoat Tattoo, a $30 tattoo with a vegan and/or animal rights theme. We lucked out and were the last ones to get our names on the list for my 9th and CK’s first tattoos. It was a good thing we had several errands since we ended up being all bandaged up around 11:30PM. Afterwards we went off to Whiffies to get celebratory pies!

Today CK made some maple walnut cookies to share after my yoga class in the morning. Given that we hadn’t had much time at all to publicize the event and there were so many conflicts this weekend (the biggie being Pride) I was thrilled that 3 students came and donated money towards the Heart of Wisdom down payment fund.

I learned a lot teaching this mini-workshop on Metta Yoga. I started by doing some simple stretches to open the body a little in preparation for meditation. I allowed several minutes to just settle into the breath and then introductions the three phrases of loving-kindness practice for five minutes each. After meditation we moved into an asana practice that included sun salutations, abdominals, and a warming of the legs in preparation for some heart openers. I offered Side Bow as a challenge option at the end before moving into some twists and forward bends, still opening the hips up. I allowed over 15 minutes for a long savasana and used a guided body scan that offered appreciation and loving-kindness to the body. At the very end I read the translation of the Metta Sutra from the San Francisco Zen Center that Chozen read to us one of the days during the Loving-Kindness Sesshin.

I would like to offer this workshop again in the fall, maybe September and perhaps for 3 hours. I don’t want to cut down the meditation at the beginning or the body scan at the end, but the asana practice in the middle felt a bit rushed to me. I’d wanted to do a few more poses to go more deeply into the hips and legs, especially prepping for bow pose at the end. I also felt like I offered too few hands-on adjustments since I was moving quite quickly – only getting up to correct in bridge (four-footed-pose) since the precision is very important for the feet & knees.

I had a good chat with another member of ZCO after teaching and a meeting for the Founder’s Dinner next Sunday. I expressed that I was feeling like I was to a point where I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep teaching at the community center. More than anything I’m tired of asking students to come put their faces down on a floor that is often covered in glitter, dried mud, Skittles, and bits of popcorn. I also walk around on this floor barefoot – ick! The absolute privilege and joy of getting to teach at the Dharma Center highlights just how nice it feels to teach in an enviroment that supports practice.

I don’t require a fancy location, but I look forward to a clean environment that supports the practice (Saucha!). To that end I expressed interest in working out teaching a couple of classes at Heart of Wisdom, when we have our own building, instead. I just felt that if I was splitting the earnings from teaching with a studio space, I’d rather split that money with my Zen center to help support it. It was wonderful to hear her agree that this seems like a good fit for Heart of Wisdom and my practice of teaching. I really look forward to working towards this goal in the future and helping support my sangha in this way.

Open Source Bridge Butterflies

Back during the craziness in March, finishing up teacher training, relationships all sliding around, that’s when proposals for Open Source Bridge were due. I really wanted to find something to present but felt so swamped with finishing up stuff that I wasn’t sure if I could do anything and resigned myself to just going as a participant.

That’s when I got some very positive encouragement, especially from CK, to send in a proposal for a mini yoga class. I thought I could pull that off and sent in a proposal. Immediately upon sending it in my Inner Critic started commenting about what I could possibly be thinking. I mean, really, a yoga class at a conference for developers? Come on…

By the time I left for the Loving-Kindness sesshin I still hadn’t heard back if it was accepted. CK had heard back on one of her proposals, several people had. I guessed that I was right, that although some people were interested, not enough of them to pick yoga for a tech event. I was really OK with this and started thinking about a proposal on change control I could put in next year. Then I went to sesshin.

It was after returned, when popping by to join the monthly Code-n-Splode in April, I got the news in person from the conference chairs that they wanted me to do the yoga session! It was a great surprise, especially since I’d written it off in my mind. Now it is just over two weeks away and I’m feeling a little nervous.

The 45-minute class I did at BarCamp felt like madness! So fast, not a lot of time to do corrections or anything. This is another quick session, 45 minutes at the end of the first day. My Inner Critic has reminded me several times that everyone will leave for beer rather than do yoga after all the “real” sessions. I won’t have any props this time, so talking people through using props isn’t necessary.

I’m going to focus on some breath work and postures that could be done at a desk, in a line, really anywhere. Quick, short things that really help relieve a lot of the wrist/neck/shoulder stuff computer people get. I’ve joked with people that this is the yoga you’ll do when you get out of a frustrating meeting.

It is a stretch for me in that it isn’t my usual free-form approach to a class. It is very focused on a limited area without a lot of time for in-depth answers. I hope people come, have a good chance to wind down after a full day sessions, and THEN go have a beer. Heck, I’ll join them and go on about how I really do think Yoga and Open Source have a lot in common! I am trying not to listen to what my Inner Critic says about it.

Angry Tai Chi Man

First of all… I am feeling sad, cranky, and questioning myself.

Good thing dinner with CK was nice.

I had a good day back in the office after a couple of weeks – and that’s after having been in only one day in three weeks before getting bronchitis. It was nice to reconnect with co-workers, but the day was filled with sad news and my throat hurt by then end of the day.

I’m hoping it is because I’ve been talking so much more.

Then home via Tri-Met. Kind of nice sitting on the bus. Instead of reading on the way home* I put my book away and did Metta practice for everyone instead. I wasn’t able to take part in a Dharma-brother’s “Zen Flash Mob” idea this past Sunday since I was teaching at the time, so it was nice to do this as my evening commute meditation.

A quick change and off to Dishman for my Tuesday class.

And another confrontation with “Angry Tai Chi Man”.

I’ve been teaching a class at 5:45, which was moved to 6PM at the request of students, for about a year now. A month ago I opened the door to my classroom to discover a Tai Chi class underway.

Uhhh…. There went my precious pre-class minutes to get myself set up to teach!

I checked in with the site director who informed me that he’d scheduled the class to end at 5:50, a short 10 minutes before my class started. Pretty tight since students really like to have time to ask questions, gather belongings, etc. He suggested I chat with the other teacher about the close time commitments.

I gathered my courage (I hate confrontation) and let the Tai Chi teacher the next week know about the close scheduling. At that time one of her students, who was listening in despite my efforts to take the other teacher aside and explain things, suddenly jumped in and confronted me angrily, “So what are you saying? To get out?

It left me feeling anxious and upset the rest of the evening. I had tried to explain to him that I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful and that I was offering to start my class even later, just that there was a tight time commitment and it would be most helpful if the Tai Chi class ended on time.

I missed teaching last week and was grateful for it.

This week I waited until 5:55 and went in with my stuff. My mat, very unfortunately, landed on the floor with a thud having slipped from my hand as I went to unroll it (Natural latex, surprisingly heavy). I quietly walked along the edge of the room to hang up my jacket and open the closet where the props are stored.

The Tai Chi class ended and the same student as a few weeks prior rounded upon me immediately in anger with phrases like, How dare I enter their room, obviously projecting my anger at them? How little respect I showed.

He parted the room with, How can you call yourself any kind of yoga teacher?”

The worst part?

I couldn’t immediately curl up into a little ball around the wound, the hurt of this anger. No, two new students were waiting for me to teach them. Ugh.

After quickly introducing myself I slipped outside to apologize to the Tai Chi teacher for interrupting her class with the heavy “Thud” of my clumsily dropped mat. I confirmed with her, “You class ends at 5:50, right?”

“No, 5:55.” she answered.

Uh. Problem!

“Oh, the program director told me 5:50!” I said back in surprise.

For weeks I have felt the chafe of irritation that this teacher would consistently end her class 5 minutes late! I felt the irritation turn instead for the activity director who made this ill-timed planing decision without informing either of the teachers involved! Then I took a deep breath.

I left a note at the front desk to tell any students who ask that my class will now start at 6:10, instead of 6PM. This gives ample transition times between the classes and hopefully will mean I may get to avoid another interaction with Angry Tai Chi Man. In addition to offering Metta for my students, the memory of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, and all beings, I tried to offer Metta for the Tai Chi class, teacher, and especially Angry Tai Chi Man.

I forgot about myself. I have a habit, generally considered to be unhelpful, of forgetting myself.

Then I went home and broke one of our new dishes. Admittedly kind of cheap, but I still felt hugely bad about it, growing more and more upset with myself.

After all, I had picked out said cheap dinnerware and I had broken it by microwaving it.

The voice of my inner critic, which had already grown strong stewing over the words about my worthiness of being a yoga teacher, stomped in an angry tantrum all over my heart and I started crying. CK, who had been trying to read me a proposal request, was a little surprised at my upset over a dish. I admitted that the interaction with the Tai Chi student had really hurt and I hadn’t really been able to acknowledge it because students were right there.

She just hugged me an said she was sorry I had to deal with a jerk.

I didn’t feel awful to cry, not that if felt exactly good, but it felt OK. Not as crushing, overwhelming, or anxious feeling as crying usually feels. I just cried a little, with her comforting me, then got back to finishing up dinner.

We’ll see how next week goes. Honestly, I’m hoping to miss Angry Tai Chi Man entirely!

The Gift of Unexpected Back Bends

I went to teach yoga feeling the same fatigue I’ve been fighting with for a week or two now. My throat never gets beyond a little “scratchy” feeling and I’m sneezing a bit (but the trees are starting to get leaves), but never really where I feel sick. Mostly just so tired out and my shoulders felt a little sore from the class I took at Exhale last night.

Three students showed up tonight and one of them, a returning student who has a more advanced practice, asked if we could play around with “wheel” pose. Really this pose is called “Upward Bow” and I had noted a couple of weeks ago I couldn’t teach it because my shoulders were so badly strained. Tonight when she asked I realized I didn’t have to demonstrate how to do the pose perfectly so much as I needed to be very precise in verbally teaching it. That and very mindful of my students.

I put together a class to work towards ending with upward bow pose ; opening the front of the legs, warming up the abdominal muscles, and waking up the strength in the shoulders. Not too vigorous so they would have the energy to lift up at the end of class. I got everyone set up with bricks against the wall for extra length and as I finished helping the two very new students I looked over to see the returning student, L, UP in the pose all on her own!

I believe we were both equally excited about her getting up into the pose when she didn’t think she would be able to!

I then partnered with one of the newer students and we were able to cradle L through a drop backwards into upward bow! The two new students, having both seen and helped someone into the pose, felt brave enough to try it after that! Each of the three students did the supported back bend! There were many smiles, much laughter, occasional “oofs”, and spontaneous applause.

It was just amazing working with them and receiving another lesson in the ways in which my inability to do a pose perfectly, or at all, matters so much as my mindful teaching. I found myself sitting bemused and filled with gratitude while they all lay in savasana at the end of class. How sometimes the manner in which I can be pushed outside of my own limits to realize another way is possible is a delightful experience.

Out of gratitude for the gift of the class tonight I wrote a poem for the 30-day Challenge about learning from my students.

Student-Teacher

I learn from them,
These people called “students“.
That arrive each week
And call me “teacher“.

I have learned that we forget
Self-compassion as easily and as
Quickly as we forget the breath
When experiencing a challenge.

I have felt how laughter helps
To release the deep, sharp
Intensity in a body overly
Familiar with tension.
And how a room filled
With that laughter feels
Warm and welcoming
Even on the coldest days.

A measure of the daring I
Possessed as a child has
Been reintroduced to me
Through people delighted to
Try something simply because
I offered instruction,
Encouragement and support.

Lineage of Yoga & Elephant Jackets

Yesterday I spent the day at the Portland Dharma Center as part of a small workshop on the theme Upholding the Sangha Treasure. I’ve been drained from the intensity of yoga teacher training and this was my only Saturday off since beginning of the year. In some ways it was the most focused discussion I’ve ever been a part of with Sangha members and I finished it just aching from the attention, the searching, the thinking, and often feeling like I wasn’t doing a very good job.

CK had come down with a cold Friday evening and I was exhausted mentally & physically when I returned from the workshop. After minimal discussion I phoned Dalo’s and placed an order. Once we’d enjoyed injera with the veggie platter (spicy lentils, mild split peas, cabbage/carrot/potato, and spinach/onion) we felt up to popping into the video store. Wall-E in hand we went home and curled up to watch it.

I’d wanted to catch Wall-E in the theater, but it didn’t work out. I’ve heard and read nothing but good things about it since the release. I’d already purchased a copy of ‘Down to Earth’ to put on my iPod (well, that’s more due to my decade-long appreciation of Peter Gabriel). It was really comforting to finally get to settle down and watch it, especially when I really felt the need for a quiet night. It was as beautiful, charming, and thoughtful as I’d heard.

Today I woke up feeling kind of shaky, not sure if I’m coming down with CK’s cold, but my head hurt and I felt drained. I did not want to go teach yoga. It was certainly a morning where the commitment to teaching, the fact that people will show wanting me to teach them, sustains my practice. Without the knowledge that students would arrive starting at 11AM I would have easily crawled back under the covers the rest of the day.

That knowledge propelled me into the shower and out the door to Dishman. A brand new student arrived who’d decided to try a class out since she’d gotten tired of her DVDs at home. Dove’s Mom, Claudia is visiting from Eureka. It is always a delight to see both of them. We did some side opening, hip opening, and several poses for the core muscles. I ended the class with the challenge of half-moon pose.

After class there were smiles and people telling me how much better they felt than at the beginning. I too felt better, I nearly always do feel better after teaching a class. It is those classes where the disciple of practice and the respect for my students brings me to the mat, but I just let myself be a vehicle for the five thousand years of history. At those times I am grounded, centered in the practice of upholding the lineage of teaching asana.

When class was over, as people were gathering up their stuff to go, Zoe held up a marvelous white jacket asking if anyone would like to have it before she donated it to Goodwill. The jacket has embroidered patches featuring elephants, beads and small bells. It had been a gift to her from a friend but she no longer wore it. I asked to try it on and everyone still there smiled, saying I had to keep it.

And so I did. I believe I’ll be wearing it at the “graduation” party when teacher training ends. I look forward to a suitably festive ZCO event to wear it to in the future.

Flowing

At Dishman they’ve been splitting my classes into 5-class series and tonight began a new series. A few weeks ago the activity director and I decided we’d set my class start time to 6PM in response to some feedback I’d received from students. The spring calendar will print this, but for the remaining winter class he said that the front desk would just let students know the change in time when they register.

Tonight I set out for Dishman, found some parking and headed back to the room my classes are held in at 5:50. Sitting on the floor of the room looking confused were eight new students. I asked them if they’d been informed of the new start time and all said they had not.

Yikes! And the props closet was locked! I popped my head into the site director’s office and checked — the change in time had never made it into the computer! Well, at least the answer was obvious. I quickly got back to the room

I really dislike it when things like this happen. I make a point to have a few minutes before students arrive to set up my mat and sit for a few moments so my mind is settled. I don’t like feeling rushed in the first place, but feeling rushed around teaching yoga is especially irritating to me and unsettling too!

This are the kind of situations where I really try to remember that when I teach yoga I am representing a lineage of teaching thousands of years old. It doesn’t matter that I’m flustered, I need to be the method by which the teaching is transmitted to others. I just need to rely upon the knowledge in my body and let my words drop into just vocalizing what my body is telling.

The class went just fine. Yes, in being flustered I occasionally was off in the directions I mirror to my students. People were smiling, the class didn’t seem to overly tax anyone, but a new student who’s studied Hatha yoga for a few years still enjoyed herself. The new student who’s been told that she needs to no longer practice Bikram style due to the heat said that the class was very different, but she enjoyed it.

Fast and Slow

I finally tracked my Mom down on Monday by way of calling her husband and asking him to make sure phoned me. My Mom gets into the habit of either a) not calling or b) avoiding calling me because she has bad news. Given the rather serious news she shared with us I was beginning to get worried having not heard from her in over two weeks. She’d also not returned a voice mail I’d left.

When she phoned she said she was doing OK. She doesn’t see the opthamological oncologist at the Casey Eye Institute until the 20th. Having had cancer before she prefers to see an oncologist at Kaiser she’s seen before, however, he’s on sabbatical for February. She should him the first week of March.

There’s all these ways in which I’d wish life would slow down. I find myself surprised that it is February. That it is 2009 seems fantastical at times. Whoosh! The weeks just fly by at an ever increasing clip. The precious hours of doing nothing but resting, enjoying some down time, I wish those times would lengthen out, get to where I can just linger.

Here I was on the phone whit Mom wishing those days and hours gone, done and at least some more information. I’m impatient with waiting for these appointments. This limbo state of
“tentative diagnosis” is uncomfortable and I feel my patience for life itself stretched thin with effort.

She apologizes for not checking in with me. A part of my mind observes how easy it is for her and I to live our very separate lives without talking often. She sometimes remarks at how I used to tell her everything. Only I didn’t, but I don’t break the fondness of her idealized memory. I am aware of the distance there is between us, the unresolved issues that will never know closure.

I am delighted to find out she is still trying to do Nadi Sodhana. She notes that she’s practically stuck her finger in her nose a couple of times. I told her that concentration was the only fix for that problem.

I am truly delighted she is doing this and rather surprised. It is a bit strange, but she’s really trying it out. I didn’t actually think she’d do it without me there, that’s why I’d been looking at recording myself guiding her through the breath practice. It is a pleasant shock to find out she’s doing it on her own.

Grounded in Teaching

Had a great time at my class tonight. Only a couple of students showed up so I tried out the idea I’d had for a class that worked towards doing shoulder stand. I was amused to discover that after doing a series of forward bends and hip openers that my stretched leg was an inch longer than the un-stretched one! Confirmed how stiff I had felt last night after class certainly!

With just the three of us it was a small class with lots of time for questions. It was very comfortable and a lot of fun. I tried out the lift adjustment on a regular student who was there, it was a lot of fun to be able to assist someone further in shoulder stand. With it being just the two students it was very easy to check in with them both often.

The energy of a large group is fun, but it is very special to devote my attention to just a couple of people at a time. My Sunday class has become such a mix of students needing modifications and students who are more practiced that it was really nice having a easy night without a lot of modifications and the space to just flow through the whole class. I think it is the mix of Sunday that makes it challenging since I’m mindful of keeping things moving along for the students who have had more practice or are not injured.

I’ve noticed I feel a little tired after Sunday’s class from the effort of keeping track of everyone. Not that it is bad, I don’t feel drained or exhausted, just noticeably tired mentally. I feel the recharge of teaching, the way it is grounding to me. Just a bit tired from the extra effort to track so many different levels of practice at once. Even still, each class I teach grounds me in the conviction to teach more.

Previous Older Entries