Protection

“I stand in front of you. I feel the force of the blow.” – Massive Attack, Protection

I’ve been in love twice in my life and both times we were bezzies before we were lovers. (“Lovers”! Ick!)

The first time we broke up because our backgrounds and our futures were so entirely different, and we were young and still growing; and didn’t realise what we had; and disrespected our relationship with drugs and looking elsewhere.

But there was a time we would have done anything for each other and we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together and I believed that he was the most flawed yet all-round beautiful thing I had ever held.

The second time we broke up because he developed a profound mental illness and neither of us knew how to live without control over that; or how to recapture the trust in our future together; and he needed to get out and I needed to protect myself.

But I believe he was the most flawed yet all-round beautiful thing I have ever held and I would still do almost anything for him.

Sometimes I think that my story since then can be summed up as the need to protect oneself being stronger than the need to live.

Everyone has a heartbreak sob story. Boo hoo. Mine happened too late in my life and too early in the history of popular culture to become a reason to audition for X Factor. Thankfully. I guess.

But still, it anchored itself so deeply in my core and fibre that it became a form of paralysis.

Chief among my motivations, had I only known it, was that I should make no sudden movements for fear of getting cut again on a jagged edge. Life is a nightmare when you can’t locate the wound let alone stem the bleeding.

So far, so self-indulgent.

Why is this relevant to a blog about my personal experience of bikram yoga? Perhaps it’s not relevant at all. Perhaps nothing is irrelevant. Perhaps I am putting this down here because I have to let it go. (“Let go”! Ick!) Perhaps this blog is a safe place in the same way the hot room is supposed to be a safe place. (And this is a totally separate issue but before the recent rape allegations I would not have used “probably” in that sentence.) Perhaps the changes I see in the hot room mirror scare me ‘cos I think I’m returning to the body that left me unguarded and allowed me to get hurt so badly.

Maybe when I feel sick, sad, angry, confused and overwhelmed in camel or floor bow or the one before spine twist (“The one before spine twist”! Ick!) What I’m actually feeling is vulnerable and – even though my body is fighting, fighting, fighting me to let go of that protection – vulnerability is the most confusing and alarming state of all.

There’s nothing wrong with you.

A thought struck me on the way home tonight; that since I moved to London in late 1999 the most constant and consistent relationship I’ve had has been with my acupuncturist. He’s also an osteopath and I’ve recently started calling him my osteo or (Sexy Osteo on twitter) ‘cos it’s easier to say and doesn’t invite lots of questions about needles, but when I first went to him 13 years ago – when he was a young man and I was little more than a child – it was because he was an acupuncturist and I wasn’t even aware that he practiced osteopathy also. My point is, he knows me as well as anybody and a lot better than some. He gets paid to know me but I choose to believe that this doesn’t cheapen the bond we share. Also, he’s quite sexy so there’s that.

Anyway, I saw him last week and he suggested that my lower back pain has been partially down to over compensation for immobility in my thoracic spine. Which is totally news to me, which was a little annoying but I went with it. And I started thinking about it a lot and it seemed to me that the couple postures I have real trouble with could be to do with the thoracic spine rather than the lower spine, especially as I have hardly any pain any more. So I went through my big white Bikram book and bookmarked those postures (and a few others) to show him and when I saw him today I said
“I have brought a visual aid”
‘I’m trying to think what that means”
“A book”
“Yes, a book, but you’ve never needed a book before. Why can’t you just show me?”
“I guess I wanted to be absolutely clear so that you can help me understand how to adjust my focus in class”
“OK. Show me the book”

He didn’t roll his eyes ‘cos profoundly gifted healers don’t do that. But I felt it.

Turns out not being able to get your finger tips below your nose in eagle is not to do with your thoracic spice so much as your shoulders. “Also your voluptuosity could be a hindrance.” I must’ve looked at him a certain way because he said “your breasts”. Thanks, I got it.

We looked through the photos:
“So what do you mean you can’t do the posture?”
“I can’t get my head to my knee”
“So what do you do?”
“Well, everything else but I can’t get my head on my knee so the posture hasn’t started yet”
“But you have this leg straight, and this leg straight, and your hands here on the floor”
“Just in front of my foot”
“But your head not on your knee”
“So I bend the front leg up to meet my forehead but it never meets”
“And does everyone else have their head on their knee?”
“I wouldn’t know, I don’t look around, I’m too busy trying to get my head on my knee”
[Pause]
“Do you know how hard this is to do”
“I’m telling you I can’t do it, so, yes”
“No, I mean, really, do you realise how hard this is? I think you think there is something wrong with you because you can’t get your head on your knee”
“A little, perhaps”
“You mustn’t think that, this is really hard to do. And this one – this is even harder, don’t worry if you can’t do this one. This is the last posture?”
“Yes”
“Because it’s really hard, you have to be very free here and here and here. Don’t worry. There is nothing wrong with you”
“Ok”
“Say it”
“Ok”
“No. Say it. There is nothing wrong with you”
“There is nothing wrong with me”
“Ok then. Take your top off”

How did Caesar build Rome? Brick by brick.

Well, there we go. In an almost bewilderingly typical twist of fate, I left critical responsibilities to the last minute and had to do 4 classes in the final 48 hours to complete 30 classes in 30 days. What idiot does that?  Oh, hi; have we met?

But, like everything else today, that doesn’t matter because I completed my 30 day challenge. The best bit was that my two cousins surprised me with a card and a beautiful bouquet after class. It’s so moving to share an achievement like this with family who have known you your whole life and only want good things for you. I heartily recommend it. Plus fresh flowers: never a bad idea.

It was hard to concentrate at work today, I was so nervous. That part I didn’t expect, I thought I was being quite mellow about the whole thing. But it turns out – no! I was a bag of nerves, chattering away about Robbie Williams at the Jubilee concert at the weekend and goodness knows what else. Oh, I know what else. Brad Pitt turned up at my colleague’s husband’s motorcycle repair garage in Ruislip. So, there’s that.

Anyway, I haven’t got much else to say except I am exceptionally grateful to and for all the amazing teachers and other staff at Hot Bikram Yoga London Bridge and Fulham. The gifted and compassionate teachers who have folded their personalities into their classes without losing one iota of the dignity, integrity and passion of bikram yoga.

The dust is still settling. I feel elated, exhausted, incredulous, impressed, pleased, changed, grateful, light, wide-eyed, bullet proof. I feel like I have a secret; like I’ve earned my stripes. My only worry is now that I have completed the challenge I won’t have the drive to keep it up.

But hopefully I can keep reminding myself that for the last 30 days I have treated myself to concentrated care and attention – TLC – opening myself up to light, peace, stretching, healing and unity. And now maybe I am readier to take those things out into the world. Starting here and now. I love you. Spread love.

Failure has no meaning in #bikram #yoga

When I started this blog I had two intentions: to tell the truth, and to be me. My hope was that in telling the truth I would sound like me; if friends read this they would hear me talking. In the playing out of writing about my yoga experiences I have reminded myself of something someone pointed out to me about 20 years ago, that I have a streak of self parody a mile wide. Often this is exactly how I tell the truth. Whether or not that is healthy is another discussion. I think probably in moderation it’s perfectly healthy but can become downright debilitating if it becomes a default position. Anyway, this is of no obvious significance right now. I just wanted it stated for the record.

Today was Day 20 of my 30 day challenge. I haven’t decided how I am going to finance my practice from here on, my preference would be to buy the next twelve months up front. It’s a lot of money to spend in one go and it’s a big commitment but – following my gut – it’s what I really want.

Anyway, I suspected I was going to have a tough class because I had what we in this country call “a few drinks” yesterday, but I had absolutely no idea. It was horrendous, easily one of the worst classes I have ever done. I more or less gave up after eagle, I was totally overwhelmed. I couldn’t do any of it. And the humidity and sweat – my word. Recently when I am in half moon back bend and I catch a glimpse of my forearms above me all I can think of is Apocalypse Now. Because of the sweat. And the funny part is I was scheduled to do a double. Yay!

So, long story short, I had two pretty hideous classes. But I stayed in the room and focused on my breathing and let the tears come and go and listened to the dialogue. And I refused to think about what my fellow students might be thinking about me and I refused to be too hard on myself. And tried to convince myself that these classes count and as long as I attend class I can say I did class today. I haven’t failed – even if all I can do is the belly down series.

It would be nice to think that Day 30 will be a good bikram day. Hopefully at least I’ll be able to stay in the room whatever happens, and convince myself even a “bad” class counts.

 

What is your yoga offering you today?

I used to love to practice with this particular teacher who had a habit of saying “be available to what your yoga is offering you today”, and another one of his favourites was “see where your head goes”. When he said it during savassana I had to ask myself  “Is it ok that my head goes straight to David Boreanaz?”

Anyway, today was day 25 and in savassana I was surprised to realise that I had no pain. Maybe a little discomfort and maybe my legs aren’t totally straight but no pain. And I recall that last week I did my first sit-up since my hiatus and the remarkable thing about that was that I honestly didn’t realise I was doing sit-ups again until I’d done a couple. So, that is what my yoga offered me that day.

In related news, I had a meeting regarding some new work yesterday and today I got a call saying I got the contract. Which is brilliant news all over and could mean a new direction for my career as a whole (if I’m very clever and work it right), but apart from all that there is part of me that is convinced that the yoga helped me get this contract. Helped me to prepare; to look at all I know about my field and stock-take what I had of relevance to offer; helped me in the interview itself to be poised and articulate, to speak with confidence and totally without embarrassment about my skills, experience, strengths, aspirations; helped me listen and respond intelligently; helped me communicate that I’m someone interested in hard work with a purpose and meaning and someone who is “in control”.

I have no evidence but I am sure of it; convinced. Also, it’s arguably significant that I got the message to call the agency a few minutes before class. The message was “please ring ASAP because we need to talk before the long weekend”. And I could have rung right there which would have made me late for class but I didn’t. I put that on pause and took class as normal, didn’t rush anything, kept my nerves and curiosity in check. And so after class I rang and it was good news. So, that is what my yoga offered me today. I grabbed it with both hands.

Questions About Resisting Change

Day 16 threw up something very surprising and not a little crappy.

I have a crummy old armchair which sits kind of low and I got up from it to go to class and my left knee just went. It just went. It was really painful, really burning. So that was worrying. But I was already dressed and packed for class so I went to go out but I could barely get down the stairs and then once I was out on the pavement the limp was so bad I realised I wasn’t going to make it to class on time.

Not that I am scared to practice with it or around it, but I was headed for the 8pm class and I wouldn’t get there on time. If I had booked for the 6pm I could have just waited for the next one but I had no contingency.

But besides all the missing class bull – on day 16 – where did this pain come from? I do have a friend whose opinion I respect greatly who would say there are no accidents. So what role does this pain play? It stops me from going to class, it makes me feel bad about missing a day’s practice, I miss a day’s practice, it makes me self conscious, it makes me pause in achieving my objective rather than being a class and a day closer to my objective.

So, the question becomes, if this is not spontaneous, not an accident. Is it self-sabotage? This good friend of mine would likely suggest that this pain was invented by a part of my brain/mind/whatever that wants me to fail, the part of me that is resisting the change that I seem to be so taken up with right now? That I constantly self-righteously tweet about? Damn, I read my tweets sometimes and they make me want to puke.

What if I worry about not knowing who I would be, this changed version of myself? What if I don’t want to confront the change because it would force me to think about the things in my life/body/appearance/personality/circumstance that I am unhappy about and I’m not sure what would replace them? What if I found out change was actually easy and therefore had to take the rap for tolerating the unhappinesses for so long without taking accountability for them? Or worse, what if I put all this huge physical and emotional effort into this change and made it happen and my life turned out to be just as imperfect? If I’m a failure right now, after all, I know what to blame. If change and I’m still a failure then I am categorically the failure. Me. So right here in the comfort zone is safer, thanks. I’m good with the blaming and the tolerating – maybe Day 15 is as far as I get. What if changing is just too effing hard?

The truth is I don’t know. I just don’t know. I don’t know and not knowing means that this is a leap of faith to some degree. Maybe all of this is just self-indulgence and I just need to do the work, already. Jeez, I’m such a whiner! Whatever, it doesn’t have to be part of a giant life plan, the yoga is good for me, so shut up and go to class, right? All I know is that this happened at exactly the half way point and that is too big a coincidence for me.

The Hot One.

Do you remember in LOST when Jack was about to operate on Sarah (was her name Sarah?) and he came back from running the stadium steps, where he’d met Desmond and twisted his ankle, and he was sweating and he says “I showered but I guess I didn’t cool” and she gives him a quizzical look and he says “I’m intense”. Which at the time drew a quizzical look from me, and I felt validated later when the TWoP recapper more or less called him a douche for saying that. Anyway, THAT.

I have showered and I am still sweating. Poor Jack. Sorry, my love, I take it all back. Hey, I’m intense.

Yet again I was home all day and only got my act together and got to class ‘cos I had booked online. Otherwise I would maybe have skipped. But, yet again, I am thrilled that I went to class. I feel I am, not to speak too soon, getting my standing series groove back for the first time since my bikram hiatus. Lots of things came up for me in class this evening which would make good blog material but the only one I remember is the sweat.

In a class which brought my half moon back to where I left off in early January and my first pain free spine twist, I also rediscovered my deeper sweat response. This class was, ladies and gentlemen, what we technically refer to as a hot one. By the end of pranayama I was more or less drenched. It was the kind of sweat that comes off you in sheets rather than trickles. The kind of sweat that gives you friction-free skin and makes it hard to keep your elbows wrapped in eagle. Indianna Jones in the jungle kind of sweat. Sweat that makes you think washing won’t do for this yoga kit, you’ll have to burn it. Sweat that makes your fingerprints so, so, so wrinkly that you might have well just swum the Channel. Sweat that makes you think you’ll be able to speed skate to the changing rooms ‘cos not even the soles of your feet are dry. Sweat that makes you think those nude yoga practitioners really had it right all along. Sweat that makes you frightened that you’re losing so much DNA that by the end of class your personality will be dramatically altered. Perhaps permanently.

Well, too bad, ‘cos I’m going back tomorrow. Unlucky class 13?

My Challenges for the Next 24 Days

The biggest thing I have learned so far whilst doing my challenge is this: if you want to go to class, don’t spite yourself, just go to class. Often times the biggest challenge is just getting to class. So, if you want to go to class just remember your one and only responsibility is to get to class. Unless the journey to the studio will actually put your life at risk, just get to class and once you’re there the yoga will take care of itself. Twice this week I have felt absolutely exhausted and in days gone by I would have said to myself “too tired”. But now I’m thinking, if you have the energy to get to class, use that energy getting to class and once you’re in class you’ll find your reserves of energy replenished. Abracadabra. Just get to class.
Also: make sure you pee before Pranayama. Teacher no like student leave room. She say: no pee, sweat out instead. Ick.
I am one fifth through my challenge, this is what comes to mind when I think of the next 24 days:
  • Listen to the dialogue not the teacher. (I think we may already have covered this.) Can I keep breathing through everything, including my emotions?

  • I am going to ask you to visualise this one with your mind’s eye: *this* is yoga, *this* is waiting at a bus stop. Can I stop fidgeting completely between standing postures? 

  • There are times when my reflection in the mirror disgusts me still. Can I fall more deeply in love with my own reflection and understand my body as a miracle?

  • I can’t do this but I’m doing it anyway. Can I take my faith in this process to the other mechanics and paths in my life?

  • I’ve come to accept that 9 times out of 10 my mind will give up before my body does. Can I train my mind to trust and follow my body?

  • Lastly, can I forget about setting myself a load of pious challenges and have some fun celebrating my achievements so far? I’ve been to class six times in my new studio now and only just realised there is no clock in the studio and I don’t miss it. Yeah, baby.
Yoga means union.

“You love it, don’t you?”

I’m learning to tell the difference between a tough class and a class which is sub par because my back pain is too restricting. The last three nights I have been so stiff and sore that I have sat out tree, toe, and everything after cobra series – or rather my modified cobra series. I feel very self-conscious although I have stopped feeling like a failure. Strangely – but in a positive way – it never occurs to me to leave. Perhaps partly because getting up off my back is so painful Whatevs.

For the second night in a row I had a new teacher – new to me, but clearly a veteran teacher. It was a very good class; dynamic and up; bright and relaxed with a lovely group energy.

Afterwards I just happened to be right next to the teacher in the changing rooms – our lockers were side by side. And she turned to me and said “you did great”. And I must have looked at her rather dubiously because I thought, I clearly did NOT do great, I only did about 50% of class. But I said thanks rather blankly, not wanting to appear rude despite being yoga stoned. And she said

“You love it, don’t you?”

“I love it”

“I can tell. You can tell. You did great”

“Thank you, I do love it, even if I can’t do it.”

“You can do it, you did it. Don’t worry – everyone’s on their own journey”

“Thanks a lot. I have a tilted pelvis so I get discomfort sometimes. And I haven’t been to class for four months, so. That’s my journey, I guess.”

“Yeah, seriously, don’t worry, it’s fine. You’re here.”

And we talked a little about loving the heat and then said see you next time and that was it. But walking to the tube I thought, she made the – probably minuscule to her because she is clearly someone to whom kindness comes naturally – decision to say something encouraging and kind to me. No drama, just a few nice words but clearly sincere. And that made a huge difference to me. To my experience of that class and my whole day. I do love my yoga and to think it was evident in my practice brings tears of joy and humility to my eyes. (I want to be clear that I waited to get home before welling up, I’m not totally losing my shit.) Not to mention the perfect example she is setting regarding respecting and encouraging fellow students’ practice for everyone earwigging in the locker room!

Anyway, know that if you make the split second decision to say something true and nice and encouraging to someone, you are doing a good thing, even if it seems merely like passing the time to you.

I believe it was Gandhi who said “Be excellent to each other. And. Party on, dudes.”

Triumph turns to tears (not really, I’m being dramatic)

This post is going to be so postmodern it will actually be post-postmodern. You should hurry up and read it before the postmodern element achieves critical mass and begins to exert its own gravitational force, pulling all the other elements towards it until they all collapse in on themselves and disappear into a black hole of self-referential meta-narrative and get commissioned by BBC FOUR, and I spontaneously transform into an episode of LOST.

In the last 24 hours since my studio review I have learned of the dizzy heights and the crashing lows of internet notoriety (netoriety? Can I make that a thing? Your homework is to use that in a sentence, straight-faced, by Friday).

1. Dizzy Height

The owner of the studio I reviewed yesterday got in touch and we had a lovely conversation today. She asked me if I would like to guest blog for their website at some point in the future and – AND AND AND!!! This is the good bit – added 10 complimentary days onto my 20 day intro ticket so I can do a 30 day challenge! How awesome is that? That’s like, share my joy! So, so gracious and kind. I’m a lucky girl.

2. Crashing Low

When I was leaving the studio this evening the happy and smiling guy who greeted me yesterday was reading out my blog – the bit about how he was so unfeasibly happy and smiling. He was smiling as he read it out, but I ain’t too sure about happy. He said to his friends “Is that a compliment?”  So, the person I was describing was reading my description of him and, having written it, I was listening to it being read out loud, and he was unaware I was the person who had written it but he knew I was listening or at the very least could hear him. This, dear reader, is the postmodern part. Large cracks are starting to appear in the walls of my front room and the lights are flickering. I think I just crossed the streams. As postmodern boundaries go, Russsell Brand should be looking for new representation.

So, here’s the thing. I am SO, SO, SO, SO, SO sorry, happy and smiling guy, for making you doubt yourself and probably for giving you that sick feeling in your tummy when you realise someone is talking about you and you’re not 100% sure it’s not quite mean. I didn’t mean it to be mean, I truly didn’t. It’s just a cheap gag. I’m sorry. I’ve been reacting to quite a lot of stuff recently and had kind of free-floating anger and I’m often so pleased with myself and how I can turn a phrase that I incur some collateral damage. I’m sorry. I hope you get to read this as it’s sincere.

I might also add that your friendliness did genuinely take me by surprise as the reception staff at my old home studio, which I won’t name (Old Street) generally avoided eye contact at all costs and only learned “hi” within the last 8 months or so.

Long story short: a) judge not lest ye be judged; b) fame’s a fickle bitch.