Monday, December 7, 2009

From High On My Soapbox

"I actually thought about getting breast implants because I'm a radical, militant feminist and a hypocrite, it turns out." --Maria Bamford

Hypocrisy. Not a pretty word. Within it is wrapped lying, deception, harmful selfishness, and mistrust. It is something most of us have (intentionally or not) dabbled in and all of us have been subject to.

This weekend I was witness to hypocrisy in action within a world that I have cherished (naively, of course) as a safe haven from such unfortunate human characteristics. I witnessed a yoga teacher, a person I automatically included on my "people-that-are-awesome-by-virtue-of-knowing-where-mula-bandha-is" list being a violent, intentionally cruel person without cause towards someone who was just trying to do their job.

(I should probably mention that none of this really involved me, so arguably it's time to get off my soapbox and talk about things that I've directly experienced but this really made me all itchy and bothered inside and I've got some time on my hands and have missed writing in my blog. So there.)

This is obviously pretty regrettable behavior in anybody, but something that makes me incredibly sad and depressed about in a person who should know better. Because yoga, just like most religions or spiritual traditions in the world today, encourages people to follow simple rules of behavior. In yogic philosophy, these are known as the yamas and niyamas.

In short order, the yamas: non-harming in thoughts, words and deeds (ahimsa), tell the truth (satya), don't steal (asteya), don't be promiscuous (brahmacharya), live minimally with respect to your needs (aparigraha).

(Side note: These are more "guidelines" than "rules" due to the fact that yoga is all about you, on a personal and individual level, living life consciously enough to recognize when actions and thoughts have positive value. So take what works and leave the rest--just like anything in yoga--but these tenets are simply a common sense way to live a more positive, content lifestyle.)

Common sense though, wouldn't you say? Which is why this incident, and others that I have experienced recently, make me sad. This person's actions were in complete disregard to ahimsa and arguably asteya (What did she steal? My respect! The respect of students and other teachers! Possibly keys to the studio! Gah!).

For me this person's actions were tantamount to witnessing a Christian get a bit judgy (for thou shalt not, lest that get turned around on you and ye be judged) or watching a member of PETA kick a puppy or seeing a vegan indulging in veal marsala or seeing an emo dressed in goth or observing a researcher manipulate data.

It's just not cool.

I'm not trying to attack any of these people or their convictions, I'm just trying to use obvious examples of hypocrisy. My point (I'm getting there, seriously) is this: if you choose to follow any system of belief, be it spiritual or social or dietary or whatever, your actions should reflect that system. When you choose a label, such as "yoga teacher" or "self-proclaimed follower of yogic philosophy," you take on the role of ambassador for that label. Not only did this person's actions harm herself and others, but also have negative reflections on yoga as a whole. Which obviously really bugs me.

Okay, we all slip. But I think the more we live with conscious acknowledgment of the impact our thoughts and actions have on us and those around us, the more content we can be.

In the end, what is left of a person after you strip away their convictions and the integrity behind them?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I'm sciencing as fast as I can!

My thoughts tend towards the future.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed

"Approach everything you do with excitement and enthusiasm." --Vishvaji

I am ridiculously excited. I am wicked enthusiastic. Because I may get a chance, as a teacher, to share everything I love about yoga with my students.

At the ashram, I got a glimpse into how I felt about teaching yoga. Part of the training involved teaching 80-minute classes with a partner, each partner taking half of the class. And if I wasn't sure of my becoming-a-yoga-teacher feelings before the training, it took only those few experiences to show me how much I love it. As a teacher, you get a chance to use your creativity and your passion to transmit the benefits of yoga to students. What is amazing about the whole experience is that a teacher is not forcing any realizations upon the student, but is simply opening a channel for the student to make their own self inquiry.

I don't know if it's what I want to do as a career, but I do want to teach yoga no matter what form it takes in my life. If it's just teaching family and friends, or teaching a free community based class, or having a weekly class at a studio, I'll still get to be teaching. And that thought makes me feel all bubbly and delicious and content.

One step at a time, though. I'm trying to take everything I learned at the ashram--the training, the lifestyle, the philosophy--gradually enough to really use it all with honesty in my life. I don't want to be the bright-eyed little girl who sees one things that's beautiful and can't let it go, that can't understand that there is an infinite selection of beautiful in the world. The ashram environment was amazingly conducive to living in a beautiful way, but I can only adapt from what I learned, not recreate the experience.

Am I making any sense?

Baby steps, Po. Baby steps.

I set three goals for myself when I left India: to treat my body and mind as things of value, to have a daily yoga practice, and to approach life with equanimity. And as I'm writing this I'm going to add a fourth: to forgive myself if I screw up a bit.

Though these give me a focus for now, I have heaps of other big ideas about the way I want to live. But like I said before, if I do this, I want to do it right. A complete revamp of my life, I feel, would have great potential for me to become a hypocrite. I want to digest all of this slowly so I can know the choices I make have been made with integrity, not with whim.


On a different note, I've had some of you ask me about sitting down to talk about some of this stuff, to which I say "call me! email me! show up on my front doorstep I'll make cookies!"

Lots of love.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009



At least, back in Fort Collins. Home is kinda tough for me to define right now. Can you feel homesick and at home at the same time?

My first steps on US soil in Chicago were excited--"Look! Drinking fountains! Drinking fountains that you can drink out of!"

My next thoughts--"Everything here is so...gray. And weirdly clean. And, why did the waitress at a sit down restaurant just hand me disposable plastic eating utensils? Surely they wash them later?"

So anyway, I'm back and I'm safe and now I'm just playing it by ear. I know I slacked majorly on posting anything in the later parts of my trip, but I'm going to try and fill in some bits and pieces. It was an amazing, intense experience and I want to give it due justice. Plus I was kinda spending my rupees in India in more productive ways than at the internet cafe. Like on pomegranates.

One thing about being back--there's a lot of alone time in Colorado. In the ashram, I was surrounded by 30 some incredible people who were always ready with support, be it a shoulder to cry on or a buddy to sneak out to Tulsi Restaurant with and eat Banofee pie (Oh. Wow. Salty graham cracker crust layered with caramel layered with marshmallow paste layered with bananas. Mmm...) with. I love the people I have here, but it's tougher for me to relate to them about ashram living, or yogic living, or living in India living. Conveying how incredible and how emotionally physically mentally digestively intense the experience was is going to be tricksy.

But I like a good challenge.

A question I keep getting: are you different? Are you changed? To which I say yes. But no. But a lot of yes.

I'm working on thinking through all the stuff that has been layered into my head over the past month. They weren't messing around when they called this an "intensive" course. I learned a lot, but it's going to take some time to sort through everything and decide what I'd like to keep in my own life and what I'll leave behind. What I love though, is that I finally feel like I have the knowledge to work out myself.

Big thing that I finally get: yoga is so much more than postures. In early yogic texts, postures are barely even mentioned and are used mostly to get the body ready for mediation when you're lower back is all twitchy and unhappy. The Western world kind of removed asana (the postures) away from all the rest of yoga, which is ridiculous once you start to delve into the rest of the the tradition a little bit more. So much of it is almost common sense, but also so valuable to everyday life: be nice to others, be balanced, allow yourself to find quiet, be content. Recognize your own value, try to be conscious of your actions, learn how to listen first. Breathe.

Yoga just helps define what I think we all intuitively know to be true.

One of my favorite aspects of the philosophy of Akhanda yoga is that you are your own guru, meaning that you hold within yourself the guidance you need to find contentment. You only need to learn how to quiet yourself enough to learn how to listen to him (my inner guru is definitely male. He wears suspenders and is fond of tiramisu and sunrises. I try to accomodate). I love this take on things, because it empowers you to find and use the key to your own happiness. In the past, I've had a bad tendency to give that key out, depending on an experience or person to make me happy. We all do this, "I'll be happy when...I get a new car, get engaged, get a puppy, etc." Which is unfortunate, especially when depending on someone else to keep tabs on your key. First off, you're giving up something you have an inherent right to. Second, you're forcing upon someone else a responsibility that they can't hope to always fulfill. It's just not the best plan in the long run.

Vishvaji also encouraged us to think of yoga as a science, which totally appeals to me because it makes the whole thing feel a bit more manageable for analytically minded people who like evidence and experience to come to conclusions (Not that I'm one. But I know someone). Be your own lab, right? That means that you can experiment and play with different poses, different ideas, whatever, and see what works for you. And if it doesn't work or feel right, time to try something new. Yoga is non-dogmatic, so take what you like and leave the rest.

In a book called The Wisdom of Yoga by Stephen Cope, he cites a Buddhist story that describes a state known as samvega, wherein we come to the realization that constantly grasping for happiness from things that can't hope to provide it is, well, silly.

"A dog stumbles across a bone that has been exposed to the elements for many months, and is therefore bleached of any residual flesh or marrow. The dog gnaws on it for some time before he finally determines that he is not finding any satisfaction in the bone, and he thus turns away in disgust. It is not that the bone is intrinsically disgusting; it is rather the case that the dog's raging desire for meat will just not be satisfied by the bone...when he wakes up to the truth that the bone is empty of anything that will offer him satisfaction, he becomes disenchanted, and spits it out in disgust."

It may take us a really long time to understand that fundamentally, it's ridiculous for the bone to provide us with anything that it doesn't have. Objects like people or things or jobs all may have intrinsic value, but lack the "meat" that is guaranteed to satisfy that need we have for happiness. It takes a moment to step back, to breathe, and to look at ourselves critically. This trip helped solidify my desire to understand the source of my own happiness.

I feel a bit like a little kid with a huge plastic pumpkin spilling over with of different candies right now with all the stories and thoughts and questions I want to share. How to choose which one to savor next?

But anyway it's this little kid's bedtime. More later.I'm working on pictures, but below is one my favorites of the Ganga at sunrise. So pretty, eh?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009



I am overwhelmed.

They aren't afraid of getting really Real here. So much that has happened, I wish that I could word it, that I could transport whatever it is across the ocean because I want everyone who cares about me to understand how very Real it can get. I don't think I was ready for some of this stuff, for other bits I've put it off for way too long. Some of it may be too far beyond my grasp for a very long time. I can't even decide if I like any of it.

I'm sorry that I don't know how to be less vague right now. I'm just not sure how to translate all of this. Mostly...


Lots of love.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Po feels Po-etic

Ah, India.

You, my darling, are a land of many contradictions.

From all over the world to meditate in your breathtaking scenery, to absorb the wisdom of the ancients. And yet, strangely to me, so much of you is chaos. An erratic assortment of modern and ancient, a veritable mosaic of bright colors mixed with the dullness of hard packed earth.

Why is it, India, that your streets offer a breathtaking buffet of tasty bits, but those bits cannot be eaten without a great deal of risk? Is it a struggle you relish in imposing on those with unfortunately weak intestinal systems?

Why is it, India, that the ceremonies performed here to worship the gods, the sun, the greatness of life are not complete without the heavy dollop of cheesy kitsch?

Why is it, India, that your people call the might river Ganges "Holy," yet worship it with offerings like industrial runoff and garbage? Do you enjoy the mixture of your ancients ashes mixed with the refuse of a nation?

Is this all part of your plan, India? To provide a land so full of extremes? To force those who live in you to find the balance in the chaos, the middle ground that provides the only sanity in between?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A bit of toilet humor (finally)

Yesterday, Vishva held out a little bottle of pills and shook them over and over again, giggling. Vishvaji giggles a lot, I think he's the happiest and most centered person I've ever met. He easily commands a room but lightens the atmosphere with just a grin.

Anyway, the pills.

"Two things is happening when peoples they come to India. Either things gets very exciting, lots of fun trips to bathroom. Or no excitement for days. Most peoples experience this sometime when get to India. These pills they fix the non-excitement. You come, we talk, if you need less excitement in your life. I pass these around you take."

So amazing.

The students here have formed a "C" team and a "D" team.

Take from that what you will.

On another fun bodily function/fluid note, this morning, at 6 am in the glorious morning, my nostrils were cleaned with a neti pot. This involves taking a specially designed pot, filling it with lukewarm water and Himalayan rock salt, and running this through both sides of your nose. It was weirdly satisfying. Weirdly. I can't upload picture, but just google image "jal neti" there's lot of quality images that give the general idea.

Honestly my breathing has never felt so clean. Also, because we dried our noses and then rubbed the inside with ghee, everything today has kind of smelled like popcorn butter. Which has been wonderful.



I've been thinking about it, and I'm not sure I've every really felt this healthy. I haven't been here long, keep in mind but in the last 10 days no alcohol, drugs of any kind (including caffeine), nothing but wholesome vegetarian meals have passed these lips.

It's strange to me how little I really miss from home.

My creature comforts here are: my bowl, my plate, my cup, my spoon. I have a blanket, a pillow, and a key to lock my room. All I've needed to bathe is a bucket and a small cup.

I have clean water to drink.

My yoga mat acts as my meditation cushion, my desk, my chair, and of course, my asana floor.

A few days ago, two of my three pairs of pants got pretty mouldy from me accidentally leaving them in the rain. I have found, however, that the third pair of pants is more than sufficient at clothing my bottom half. Also it's a wonderfully lazy way to live when the pants act as both pajama pants and day pants. I find it saves up a lot of the useful time I was wasting on putting on/taking off pants.

The other day at breakfast, a bit of honey nearly put the students here wet our pants (number one this time) with excitement.

When I look at it, the short time I've been here has shown me the most austere lifestyle that I've yet been exposed to. Lots of the things that I left at home aren't here. I just can't remember, really, what those things were needed for.

Sometimes, I feel a little bit silly.

Here we are, perched contemplatively at the foot of the Himalayas, dissecting yoga and purpose and better living. We debate and lecture over finding our paths and finding ourselves.

Those of us perched were each able to buy both a plane ticket to India and to pay for this teacher training.

We each have a closet full of clothes waiting for us back home.

Surrounding this ashram are people who cannot even imagine ever leaving Rishikesh, much less India. Surrounding this ashram are people who have one everyday outfit and one festival sari.

Hence, I feel silly.

I'm trying to remember that this ashram was built to serve as a sanctuary for introspection. And inevitably, part of introspection requires a selfishness, and a turning a way from the world. I came to this ashram to learn about me. Not surprisingly, turns out that there's a hell of a lot more here to learn about.

Socioeconomic problems, sanitation problems, the incredible differences in wealth. The world, as it turns out, is a very big place with lots and lots of unfairness. Duh, you say. I know, but give me this time to realize how very naive I have been.

I am so ridiculously priviledged, even by Western standards. I have the luxury of taking an entire month off to go learn about a rather esoteric lifestyle and philosophy in a country on the other side of the world.

For the first time ever, I'm really starting to believe that there should be a balance. Those with priviledge need to not only find contentment in what they do but also have a responsibility to try and reflect that contentment out onto others.

Let me clarify. Sometimes I think we associate being socially responsible with personal sacrifice--we all need to join the Peace Corps or volunteer or donate or whatever. But really, maybe there are small things that we can do that contribute that really take nothing away from us. Individuals are not going to feed the world, or save the environment, or stop bad people from doing bad things.

In yogic philosophy, there is the concept of dharma. From what I understand, this is the idea that we each have a specific niche in the world that we best fit in. It's not our destiny or our fate, really, but just a place where we find our Selves comfortably settled in. Like, for my sciency people out there, the place where all your entropy is lowest. A place, a job, a mindset where you energy is the calmest and most removed from its normally chaotic state.

Once you find your dharma, you kind of automatically are giving back. Think of the most content, most centered people you know. Doesn't it just make you feel better to be around them? They don't even have to do anything, really other than be their very own Selves.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but I'm pretty sure I'm taking a sharp veer into Idealistic Youthton. Population me.

...can you be a cynic and an idealist by the way?

Is this place just getting to me?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Taking the angle out of theta

So hum, so hum, so hum.

I am That, I am That, I am That.

We chant it, we sing it, we meditate to this mantra. All with the hopes of putting our minds into a place where we understand that all is One (the capital on the "O" is important), that there is a greater (insert what you believe here, some examples: God, power, energy, lifeforce, thingy) out there that we are all a part of.

Yoga, I am finally starting to really understand, is so much more than the poses. Though asana, the physical practice, is a definitely a part of a yogic philosophy, it is only a small part of a much greater entity. Yoga is all about finding the divine, the beauty, in the present moment. Asana, breath with movement, can help to take you there--giving you that, "ah..." moment where everything is right in the world, where you can really settle in a relish the here and now. A yogic lifestyle is all about finding those "ah..." moment in most of, if not all of, our days.

If you will, take a moment and think about how your normal thought patterns run. Mine are, almost exclusively tuned into:
1) Funny/stupid moments in my past.
2) What, exactly I'm doing with my future.
3) What and when I'm going to eat again.
4) Really good times I've had with people I love.
5) How wonderful toilet paper is (I think about this one a lot in India)

Point is, without conscious intent, it is very very very difficult, if not impossible for everyday human beings to live just within the "ah..." moment.

Hence, yoga.

They tell me that there are three main brainwaves that everyone experiences. Beta waves, which comprise the jumping, leapfrogging thoughts we have, the busy bee waves. Alpha waves, which we have when we're relaxed but still have some jumping. And theta waves, the "yogic" thought waves, which we have when we are relaxed and thoroughly within the moment. No jumping, no wanting, no present and no future.

Delicious, theta waves, they are. So much so that people will dedicate their entire lives to finding them.

I'm not sure where I lie in all of this. I'm a pretty skeptical, cynical person--and today I sat in a class where we discussed the negative energy of sarcasm. From an analytical perspective, I really do see how a "yogic" lifestyle would be pretty, you know, awesome.

What if I can't still be me? I'm starting to realize that what I'm learning here has the potential to transform the way I view my life. I just don't know if I really am ready for that, if I even want that.

Sometimes, especially here, I wonder how in the world I'm going to find a balance in all that I'm learning here with all that I already am. Vishvaji, the guru/teacher here, always tells us in our asana practice to "appreciate what we have." I have a lot of trouble with that one, myself.

On a different note, have you ever had a gooseberry? I wouldn't. But try the buttermilk, it's fantastic.

I wish I could upload some photos. The hills here pretty much break my heart every time I look at them they are so ridiculously beautiful.

Friday, October 2, 2009


Yeah made it!

After a 2 hour flight to Chicago, a 5 hour layover, a 14 hour flight to Delhi, and a 10 hour bus ride to Rishikesh...I am here, I am safe, and I am wondering what the heck I got myself into. I'm also wicked excited. The jet lag isn't as bad as I thought it would be, but part of that could be attributed to the fact that I slept nearly every one of those hours on the plane before crashing in the hotel. I don't think I've slept that much, like, must of been some 20 or so hours that I was essentially in a row. It was fantastic.


Driving from Delhi was a really fun adventure. Delhi, to start off with, is a city that I will be happy never to see again. It cracked me up to hear the pilot describe it as "misty." What he really meant was "polluted as hell, so much so that you can't see the sky even in the middle of the day when the sun is at its zenith." Take L.A., maybe some Rio, and pile it all on top of London during the Industrial Revolution. Then drive a fleet of poorly maintained gas guzzlers over it until you form...icky. I wasn't a fan, but fortunately I won't be spending many hours there.

Okay, anyway the drive. Oh...the drive was hilarious. My roommate (Kate!) and I couldn't stop cracking up at the ridiculousness of it all. Bikes, mopeds, rickshaws, trucks, cars, pedestrians, cows, donkeys, you name it all freely sharing the freeway. Lots of honking, as far as I can tell, is key to survival when driving here. So is gunning it even when it may seem to the inexperienced observer like a terrible idea. But despite the chaos, I had complete faith in our driver. There's something to be said for how alert everyone has to be to handle driving here--no texting or eating or shaving while you drive cause these may lead to certain death. Jsut honking, and lots of glaring.

A 10 hour journey later (at somepoint we stopped at an Ayurvedic healing center and got delicious sweet things that were carroty and nutty and oh so right it was fantastic).

And so the ashram. Anand Prakash Ashram, located in Rishikesh, the mouth of the Himalayas. Considered one of the most sacred places in India, it is located next to the Holy Ganges and the well known city of Haridwar. The building is a yellowish gold with red trim (what else is there to say...there's a garden! It's pretty too!).

I am in a group of 30 soon-to-be-yoga teachers, all from around the world. We have people from Japan, South Korea, Sweden, Austria, Latvia, Lithuania, the US (a definite minority), and lots and lots of Canadians. I can already feel my "o's" getting a bit longer, my speech slowing down a bit to match the rhythm of my Northern neighbor's. My roommate, Kate, is from Alberta. I think. Apparently I suck at Canadian geography but anyway I'm excited to have a buddy to share this experience with.

Will probably not have a chance to much updating of my blog while I'm here. The schedule is pretty intense, and I have a feeling I might need a vacation from this trip when I finally get home. They definitely keep us busy:

5:30 wakeup
6:00-7:30 Yoga practice
7:30-7:50 Mantra and meditation
8:00-8:30 Breakfast
8:30-9:00 Fire Puja
9:00-10:30 Philosophy class
10:40-12:20 Techniques class
12:30-1:00 Lunch
1:00-2: 30 FREE TIME!!!
2:40-6:00 Techniques, asana class, practicum
6:00-6:45 Dinner
7:00-9:00 Kirtan, story sharing
9 pm-I pass out from exhaustion

Silence in the ashram is observed from 9 pm - 9 am. I love it and think it should be observed worldwide. There's something about waking up to the perfection of the misty (it's real mist in Rishikesh, not just nasty) foothills of the Himalayas, having a silent yoga class, and eating delicious (oh, the food!) breakfast in complete quiet. All while still sharing the experience with a group of focused and dedicated students...pretty cool! It's a bit like the military, really. Honestly I think the only way I could really handle this mentally is with the structure they provide. It will hopefully keep us all busy and social and sane.

So I know you all want to hear about the food to which I say HOLY COW (there are some of those around) I WOULD LIVE HERE JUST TO HAVE THE FOOD. Right? Eh? Alright, I couldn't live here long term but the food is definitely in the ashram's favor. It's very simple, vegetarian Indian food--dal, chapati, rice, a veggie (cauliflower/okra thus far), maybe some tea. Loving the simplicity, the spices, the heavy use of ginger. I'll probably get tired of it eventually, but right now I am perfectly content with it. We have each been given a plate, a spoon, a cup and a bowl and strict instructions to wash and dry (drying is key to killing amoebas...mmm...). There is a bell rung at mealtimes and we all meet in the dining room where there are little tables that we sit in front of while the "karma yogis" serve us little bits at a time.

Simplicity and austerity. I kind of feel as though I'm living in a monastery. I kind of am.

I hope you all are doing well. I will do my best to update around once a week but I can't promise anything. Computers are a bit more accessible in the states.

Much love to all,

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Bubbly, giddy, dancing-on-the-toes-we're-going-to-Disneyland-excited!

I leave today :).

This is going to be an amazing trip--it has to be, it incorporates nearly all of my favorites things: travel, yoga, Indian food, learning, and potentially long walks next to a river (but the river Ganges, yeah? Yeah!).

I am so lucky to be able to have this opportunity. Thank you all for your love, your support, your general awesomeness. I will update with news of my safe arrival as soon as I can reasonably find a computer in Rishikesh.

Much love.

Monday, September 28, 2009


No articulating tonight. Just lists.

Things I am feeling sad about:

1) Being an idiot in the past.
2) Feeling like I have to put my heart inside a jar for a bit to keep it from hurting.
3) How cruel people can be towards each other.

Things I am feeling happy about:

1) Not being an idiot in the present (or future, let's hope).
2) Having a wonderful reason for my heart to hurt a bit.
3) Sun salutations, long walks, smells that evoke.
4) Butterscotch cookies.

Things that make my thinkerbox hurt:

1) Math.
2) The lack of scotch in butterscotch.
3) Buying toilet paper.

Self-exploration: a rather unapproachable dish for those souls with a prepared palate. Must be served with a hearty side of feelings. Top liberally with confusion, serve lukewarm with uncertainty. Nibble with caution.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Hold Me?

I'm starting to get so very very nervous. I know it's ridiculous--I'm gone what, five weeks total? Five weeks is a drop in the ocean of time. I'm not going to be gone for months or years or to go live in the forests of India forever.

And I really do want to do this. For reals. The excitement I feel is just heavily layered with nervous anticipation right now.

I don't think I'm as nervous about culture shock or potential illness or anything like that. What is scampering around in my mind a lot lately is how, like, contemplate and stuff this trip is going to be. When I distill my anticipation down to a single point, I am nervous about the sheer amount of time that I will be spending alone. In silence, more or less, unless I develop a fun habit of muttering to myself.

When I'm not surrounded by the people I love or by the stressors that pervade my everyday life or simply by the habits that are so integrated into me, is there anything of value left over? Because what happens when the constant stimuli I have here is stripped away and I am left to my own devices? Part of why I was so interested, and am now so nervous about this journey, is that I want to find out exactly that.

I really struggle with what exactly makes me, well, me. And though I think that this will be an amazing, albeit short, chance for me to view my life from a different perspective, I know that there is also going to be some grasping around to find something to hold on to while I do this.

I've had a lot of people ask me about all the attachments I'm leaving behind here and how I'll be able to cope with them. That is an excellent question. "Attachments" have such a bad connotation, but when you think about the actual word, I don't think it's such a bad thing to have a little of. I am happy to be attached to some of the people and things in my life--they anchor me, keeping my from floating adrift, aloof, alone.

So I guess we (or I, singular, soon?) shall see. Hmmm boy.

...Two days...!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Newton's Third Law

The other day, one of my roommates asked me an interesting question.

"What are you most afraid of? And it has to be something tangible. It can't be, like loneliness."

We were both standing in the kitchen munching on cereal when she asked this. While we crunched away, I realized that I couldn't think of anything really good that was actually true. When I was 4, I would have said monsters in my room. Probably up until 3 or so years ago, it would have been creepy-crawlies (I am now Po the Warrior Princess against all with >4 legs, both fearless and bloodthirsty).

When I asked her what her greatest fear was, my roommate answered without hesitation, "Sharks." I wish I'd thought of that one. Fear of shark is a solid, well-grounded, and respectable fear. (Looking back, if I had been on my game that day, I would have said ninjas. But that's still only half true...).

I'm not saying that I don't have any fears, because I most definitely do. For instance, I really don't like being on planes because I'm pretty sure the recirculating air is carrying tuberculosis. And given the choice, I'd rather watch Discovery Channel videos on cave exploring rather than spelunk myself.

What I found most interesting about her question was the condition that the fear had to be something "tangible." Something that can be sensed and categorized, some fear that is probably based on our evolutionary desire to, you know, survive. So for my ancestors, maybe stale air and darkness were really good things to avoid, right up there with man-eating sharks.

Maybe it was just the bit she tacked on at the end that took my mind down this road, but I was disappointed to find that I couldn't get past the "not loneliness" bit of the question. Because as I poked at my bowl of raisin bran (mmm...) I couldn't seem to get my mind off all the intangible fears that I have been carrying around with me for so long.

Loneliness, depression, anxiety, being thrown helplessly into the darker pits of my personality-- my greatest fear is of these things attaching themselves relentlessly to my life, refusing to give up their hold. At times I have been able to shake them off, certain that I have abandoned their dark demands for good. But as experience tells me neither distance nor time nor force of will can permanently remove them from my life. The frustrating part of these aspects of my life is their very weightless, slippery, non-tangibleness. There are no easy ways to avoid them, and being fearful of their presence does me little to no good. I can't simply avoid swimming in the open ocean or opt to take a train or canoe instead of the airplane. I can't laughingly ask my friends to take pictures of the inside of the cave while I bask in the open sunshine outside, learning kung fu (to fight the ninjas). There is no direct action I can take to battle these fears away for good.

I think the point I'm trying, albeit rather unsuccessfully, to get at is this: fear can be an emotion that overwhelms us with its needs. It compels us to react to avoid the cause of our fear or to cling to what we perceive will protect us. When given free reign, fear will readily take up command at the forefront of our minds, guiding all of our thoughts and actions.

The problem lies within our attachment to the fear itself--at some point, we need to be able to distinguish a healthy, useful fear from one that can give us nothing but stress.

So when we're in shark infested waters it's probably a good thing to be afraid. The fear of the sharks and the sharks themselves are both motivating factors for us to remove ourselves from the threat. In this instance, fear is a useful survival tool that propels us to act in ways that encourage our personal safety.

On the other hand my fear of things like depression, anxiety and loneliness has also led me to react, but in ways that are either completely useless or harmful.

Feeling fearful and, well, anxious about anxiety creeping up on me is a little like running soapy water over a barely-touched dish before putting it directly in the dishwasher. It's useless, unrewarding, and wasteful. Not to mention just plain silly.

I think it would be very beneficial for me to learn how to detach myself from this fear I have--to acknowledge and accept that the things I'm afraid of may be in my life for a while, but I don't have to let the worry over them consume my life. Or even if I can't abandon the fear itself, maybe I can at least limit my reaction to (revolutionary!) things that actually help me.

Radical, I know, but something that has not been blaringly obvious to me in the past.

"Detachment" is a common theme in yoga philosophy and one that I am only just starting to come to terms with. Along with it comes the understanding that you can have a thought without being the thought, have an emotion without being the emotion. Just as we observe clouds work their way through the sky, so we can observe the workings of our mind ("Look! That thought is shaped like a duck!"). From this vantage point, we may even come to realize that we can act as a witness, one who is able to remove us from the action/reaction cycles that are so embedded in our lives.

So (what was I getting at?): acknowledging the fear but not being the fear. Stepping back and recognizing when the fear proves a useful function and when it only acts as a detriment. Being able to pick those bad apples of my thoughts out, choosing the shiny delicious ones to hold with me.

...Looking back, this may just have to be one of those rambling posts that only make sense to me. I should try and work on these ideas when it's not 4:30 in the morning :). In any case, your thoughts on my thoughts greatly appreciated...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Drooling Monkey Children of the Mind

So...I've been thinking about taking up a meditation practice again. Thinking about trying. Thinking about trying to attempt taking up a meditation practice again. Maybe.

I'm a bit hesitant.

I know I'm being silly. There is good reason for me to try this again, the most obvious of which is that meditating, just hummin' along with the song of the universe, would be really, epically, cool. I love the image that gets into my head--sitting in lotus position high within the foothills of the Himalayas while I radiate inner peace and eternal contentment.

When distilled away from any sort of spiritual tradition or philosophy, meditating can be simply regarded as sitting. Just that. Sounds easy, yeah? Sure, we can all sit, maybe even in lotus position if we're feeling super fancy. If we can learn to sit with a quiet mind, we can learn how to find that ever-elusive present moment--the one in which there are no demands, no distractions, nothing but ahhhhhh....good. We all get glimpses into this state in the daily instances that we strive to hold on to. Long walks and beautiful sunsets, kisses, really good food, runner's highs, vacations, when you're nowhere else but Here and Here is so very good.

The thing is, meditation is tough stuff. Therein lies my struggle with it. Sure, I can sit in lotus position and close my eyes and be on a mountain top. But quiet my mind, much less hum with the song of the universe? My past meditation practice has left me feeling lifetimes away from even picking up the tune.

In yoga tradition, the everyday mind is often referred to as the "monkey" or "puppy" mind. Always distracted, our thoughts swing from vine to vine, from shiny object to tasty treat with barely a breath in between. For me, my meditation practice has been plagued with "4-year-old child" mind.

Let me describe what my meditation practice has been like in the past. I set a timer, intent upon doing my recommended dosage of sitting. I fold myself into a comfortable seated position, my hands resting gently in my lap, a blanket around my shoulders, a pillow helping my posture. I am going to rock this meditation.

For the first two seconds,
"Look at me, meditating...oh! I should stop thinking now."

After a few more,
"Man, this is so easy. I bet I could sit for like, hours, and not even be phased. I'm so glad I'm doing this. Oh! Stopping thinking now!"

It only takes a few more before my the 4-year-0ld child of my mind makes her entrance. Our interaction proceeds as follows:
Tugging on my sleeve, the child whines:
"Po? Po? Po! I'm bored."
Me: "Shhh...I'm trying to connect with the universe right now. Go away we'll talk later."
Child momentarily pauses.
Child: "Why?"
Me: "Because I want to achieve inner peace."
Child: "Why?"
Me: "Because I think it will help me be a happier person."
Child: "Why?"
Me: "Because being able to find stillness within the chaos that is...wait, I'm not thinking now!"
Child: "Why?"
Me: "Alright, no seriously you have to go away."
Child moves dejectedly to a corner for a brief pout.
Me: "Oh man she is tough to get rid of. Good thing I'm not thinking now."
Then, seeing my obvious weaknesses, the child pounces upon my non-thinkingness again.
Child: "Po? Po? Po! I'm hungry. And bored."

And it's about now that either Eye of the Tiger or that song from Mulan (Look at me/I will never pass for a perfect bride/or a perfect daughter) start playing, scratched-record-like, repeatedly in my head.

When I finally look down at the timer, certain that it must be broken, that hours have passed, it has been--dear lord--4.5 minutes.

But I know that I should try this again, and keep in mind that it's called a meditation practice for a reason. It can take years and years of daily intention to find even five minutes of a stilling of the mind. There are all sorts of useful techniques that are out there to help qualm the drooling monkey children that play so freely in our heads.

Because despite the hurdles I have encountered with meditation, I have also caught glimpses of quiet. Though they have been transient and elusive, they suggest a goal worth striving for.

I could totally dig some humming with the universe.

So maybe, just maybe, it's time to try again?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Feel Better Soon

Increased heart rate. Shortness of breath. Impaired vision. That slow, smoldering burn of emotion that emerges when we perceive to have been wronged.

If you or anyone you know have experienced these symptoms, you may be familiar with the disorder known as Righteous Rage, often associated with the disease Spiraling Emotions.

We've all been there. It could take something as simple as a car cutting us off on the freeway or a server forgetting our side of guacamole to start us down the path towards royally pissed off. And in situations like this it can be, at the time, immensely satisfying to wiggle your favorite finger at that crap driver or leave a penny tip for that incompetent waitress.

In these moments, we feel that the only cure for our anger--the only medication that can truly right the wrong that has been done to us--lies in the sweet retaliation to follow. In the manner of the great Hammurabi ("eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth") we have done right by ourselves by taking the hurt someone has imposed on us and turning it right around. So. There. Ha.

Unfortunately, this cure can have terrible side effects. Instead of feeling our anger flow into well-earned contentment as we had hoped, it is replaced instead by guilt and dissatisfaction with the result. We are left to wonder what happened--surely the situation demanded this sort of action, right? But then why are we left feel so confoundedly crappy?

And it is at this point that it is all too easy to let this simple act compound into a series of emotions that lead to a bad day. 'Cause dammit, you earned these emotions and like hell you're going to just move on with your day. Best just to let them simmer around inside you, cooking into a rant that you can later vent out on some poor soul close to you.

Here's a truth that should be obvious: Getting angry is a waste of time. Getting angry and then taking it out on someone else is an exercise in how ridiculous we humans can be when we get all attached and bothered by our emotions. Human beings are emotional creatures, yes. But human beings are also rational creatures who really should learn how to distinguish things-that-make-us-feel-light-and-happy from things-that-make-us-feel-icky-and-gross.

If only the truth was easy to incorporate into our own lives. It is so ingrained in us to believe that we have to hold on to our feelings, letting one emotion lead to another lead to another until they spiral into some sinister monster completely out of our control.

Here is a skill I would love to to learn: To step back, to stop, to pause and acknowledge the emotion but not let it own me. To find patience and to discover the calm within the storm. To not allow myself to feel all icky and gross. 'Cause...ew.

I feel like I have often been the victim of Righteous Rage and that I am a long time sufferer from Spiraling Emotions. You too may be prey to these same afflictions. Join me in the struggle against them and forever banish those emotions that threaten to pull you down. Together, we can find a cure.

There is Hope.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Peanut Butter and Pickle Sandwich

Keeping in mind that I have had a little too much time to myself these past few days, let me indulge in a little bit of self-directed analyzing...

Have you (you have) ever known those People who, upon meeting them, allow for no doubts as to their nature? These People are so unapologetically themselves, with such a strong sense of self, that they leave with no questions about who they are. It's not that they necessarily have really strong opinions on the issues or even that they come off as especially assertive or tough. They are, to put it simply, wholly comfortable within their own bodies and souls. Nothing to prove, nothing to display, nothing to change here.

Among a few of the goals that I have consciously stated for myself, one of the fundamental ones is to one day be one of those People.

But, like many, I often lose myself to the situation--like any good chameleon, my colors will change based on my situation and the desires I feel projected upon me by myself and others. Personally, the bit that I've been chewing on a lot lately is this: How many seemingly opposing attributes can I try and cram into my body and soul before someone gets kicked out? How dichotomous can the nature of a person be before they inevitably are at odds with their own selves?

Take for instance, my potential choice of careers. I have spent the past three years working in a research lab trying to keep up with the fast paced and demanding field that is molecular biology. And so far, despite some hurdles, I've enjoyed it enough to consider taking it a step further and pursuing a higher degree in graduate school with the intent of one day entering the world of academia for good. So there's that as an option. But on the other hand...

...I'm going to India. To become a yoga teacher. And while these two fields may not necessarily war against each other, they tend to demand entirely different skills. Yoga philosophy encourages the student to let go, to stop trying to control the situation, to relax into simply being. Which is all fine and good until I walk into my lab and the type A perfectionist I-can-hold-the-world-up-all-by-myself-thank-you-very-much aspect of my personality comes roaring to the surface.

Up until about 6 months ago, I was a pretty good lacto-ovo vegetarian (okay, bacon was allowed but c''s bacon). Somehow I now find myself having conversations about the value of a good Pittsburgh rare steak and how to properly roast a whole chicken all while eating a delicious meal of beef tripe and tendon. The thing is, I feel like the vegetarian I once was is still lurking inside somewhere, and though I'm not quite sure where she went, I have a feeling she could easily resurface given the right environment.

The title I chose for the post alludes to the delicious combination of peanut butter and pickle that lends itself to a bizarre but wonderful experience. It doesn't seem like the ingredients should mix but there is perfection in the combinations of salt and sugar, cool and creamy found in this creation. So. Yummy. Seriously.

But I'm also reminded of a story one of my best friends told me about a meal she and her husband were preparing together. Every week, they will choose a recipe that sounds fun and proceed to make it together. The recipe they chose (though if you ask her, her husband chose, period) was for Root Beer Pulled Pork Sandwiches. Presumably, this was recipe was read to be both saucy and delicious. At one point, as my friend later regaled to me, she was pouring--she'll mention how wrong she felt just doing it--root beer and enchilada sauce into a pan. After the addition of a few more ingredients this combination was to put on the pork in an au jus sort of situation. And it was, unfortunately, saucy not delicious. In this instance, two good ingredients did not combine to make a bizarre and wonderful experience. Though probably bizarre, the experience was mostly gross, later humorous, and a great example of how good things don't necessarily mix.

The question is this--can I still be one of those People with all these at-odds attributes (to this you might say that I've only mentioned a few and to that I plead a bit of laziness and an attempt at keeping this blog both tasteful and PG), or must I dig deeper to find that Real Self?

How does a person become a Person?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Behind door number one...

One of my favorite aspects of life is its ability to surprise me.

I never, ever dreamed of being a yoga teacher when I was a littler person. I was more the studious type who played in the school orchestra and dreamed more of being like Madame Curie, then, say, Mary Lou Retton. The world of sports is still a world that doesn't really employ my personal skill set. As I will tell my sports-loving friends, it's not that I dislike the sports. It's just that they, if I'm being completely honest, do not like me. So, as with any relationship based on mutual understanding, they (the sports) and I (glasses wearing Asian mildly afraid of objects hurtling through the air) have decided to keep a healthy distance apart. I find this an agreeable solution.

Except...bummer. There's a lot of pretty nifty things that come of sports. And until I met yoga, I was busy excluding myself from this whole realm of healthy fun entertainment that is encompassed under the "sports" label.

And like any good story, yoga and I fell in love at first sight. And like any good lover, yoga has stuck to me like a molasses laden bow upon a newborn baby's fuzzy bald head.

Some people would argue that yoga isn't just a sport.

And those people...they are totally my people.

Yes, there is a rigorous physical aspect to yoga. And a personal goal setting aspect to yoga. There can even be a teamwork component to yoga in certain partnery classes.

But yoga, if I may take the turn down Dramatic Road here for a bit, is not merely a sport. Yoga is a lifestyle. The practice of asana took my life, spun it around a few hundred degrees and demanded that I make something more of my spiritual self. All this while challenging me to test the limits of my physical self through countless sun salutations, arm balances, inversions, and the ever elusive marichiasanas (woot my yoga people out there).

And so we come full circle to making something of this 22 year old's dream. Come September 29th, I will be hopping on a 14 hour plane ride to live in Rishikesh, India. For one month I will be meditating, practicing asana, and most of all, learning how to transmit the love I have for this more-than-a-sport to other people.

Can I get a Weeeehhhaaaaawww????????

Oh dear...

Writer's block. A curse so easily imposed upon the first time blog writer. A first entry should be deep, insightful. Or if not that, then at least full of useful information or humorous anecdotes.

No pressure...