Yoga Youth Day

One of my teachers organized a “Yoga Youth Day” two Saturdays ago and I haven’t had a chance to blog about it.  In its original concept, the day was to involve several bikram studios in the tri-state area and invite low income kids from the community to take a class with the hope that these kids could somehow continue practicing through some kind of financial assistance program.

Unfortunately, 3 of the 4 studios originally intending to participate had to back out.  But my studio remained.  Weeks ago, my teacher invited me to join the event and asked if I could be one of the adults standing in the front row to be an example for the kids to mimic.  I was honored at the invitation and I was excited to participate!

Although the intention was to have boys and girls participate, the school assigned to our studio happened to be The Young Women’s Leadership School in East Harlem (cool little tidbit:  this all-girl’s public school has been so successful in preparing low-income girls of color for college that the school has been and is being replicated throughout NYC and the country).  We had 20 sweet girls between the ages of 14-17 practice today with 6 adults in the front, two of them teachers at my studio.  We had a blast!  My teacher managed to get new mats and t-shirts with the “Yoga Youth Day” logo donated for the girls and Vita Coco and electrolyte water donated for the class.


It really is amazing to practice with youth — the energy in the room was powerful and positive.  Here’s what the young women taught me that day:

Lightheartedness
When some of my teachers notice a lot of us adults getting frustrated, they’ll say, “Smile!  It’s only yoga.”  During warm up, in the first set of backbend, the girls after trying a few seconds just busted out laughing and then the whole room was giggling even the adults.  My sense is that none of them had ever done a backbend before.  Unlike the adults who huff and puff and muscle their way through a backbend, the girls just laughed.  Laughed.  When was the last time you smiled in the mirror after a you fall out of a tough pose?

Fearlessness
As my teacher delivered the dialogue for toe stand, those girls were down and in the pose faster than you can say “bikram”.  No hesitation.  No fear.  I was in serious awe.  A lot of newbies in my studio can’t go into toe stand.  The physical act is so foreign to them that my teachers always keep encouraging newbies to try it step by step.  And even regulars like me hesitate with toe stand.  I can go into toe stand just fine on the left side.  But the right side, with my “bad” right knee?  Not so much.  And I will admit that sometimes it is physical pain that holds me back but most of the time, it is mental.  I anticipate that I will feel pain and because I don’t want to feel pain, I am afraid to try.  It’s something I work on every day.  Those girls were an inspiration.

Faith
Every single one of those girls was in camel.  I know because I stayed in camel and I was in the front row and could see and feel stillness in the room.  Nobody came out early.  Nobody turned around and went into savasana.  Those girls tilted their head back, pushed their hips forward, and reached for their heels, trusting they were there.  They breathed and they stayed.  Beautiful. 

Lead by Example
In my studio, those in the front row serve as the leaders and role models for the class.  During class, when the teacher thinks the front row isn’t working hard enough or is sloppy, (s)he will say, “Front row:  be the role models!” and everyone straightens up.  Practicing in front of those girls, I was focused and solid yet still lighthearted.  I worked harder for them so they could see, learn, and perhaps be inspired.  In turn, they taught me so much.

I never had so much fun doing bikram until today!  And those 90 minutes just flew by.  Wouldn’t it be cool if our regular practice could fly by in the same way?

Whoa Camel!

There have been some crazy cool things that my body experienced this week during bikram practice.  Last Tuesday, in final savasana, I felt a vibration going up and down my body.  The feeling was more like little zings akin to a taught guitar string being plucked.  The zings happened first in my hands.  Then at my elbows, shoulders, chest, stomach, legs, feet.  Kinda cool.

And then there was last night’s class.  Whoa.  Remember how I posted an article earlier about yoga making you horny?  Before you get your mind in the gutter, this post is not about my getting horny last night.  When I read first read that article, I asked myself how it is possible to feel moments of ecstasy when all I feel during my practice is the opposite?

But something cool and yes, admittedly kinda freaky (I’m not gonna be all zen about it and lie) happened during camel.  In the first set, I got into it fine and by the middle of it, I started getting nauseous.  I kept my breathing steady and my pinpoint focus.  Thankfully, my teacher called out “change” and I quickly went into savasana and just kept breathing, allowing my queasy feelings to go.  I forced myself to do a sit up and as I set up for second set, the wave of nausea hit me again and my teacher’s voice sounded distant.  My mind panicked and screamed, “You’re going to faint!”  I looked straight into my eyes in the mirror and remembered what my teacher once told me, “Your mind will quit before your body will.”  As I finished this thought and searched for my strength somewhere deep inside, my teacher said, “I want all of us to commit to staying in this posture the whole time.  If you come out early, I guarantee you are not getting 100% of the emotional benefits.” 

Somehow, that was exactly what I needed to hear.  Emotional benefits?  Reaping 100% of them?  Yes, sign me up please!  And besides, this bout of nausea during camel came last week with the same teacher and when I just knelt with my hands at the back of my hips in second set, she called me out!  I definitely didn’t want her calling me out this week.

Despite the nausea and a fear of fainting, I set my hands to the back of my hips, pushed them forward and tilted my head back.  I hit my wall but I forced myself to push, push, push past the nausea with my mantra, “BREATHE.”  I saw the ceiling…where the ceiling met the wall…where the wall met the floor…and then the front of someone’s mat in the third row.  I was in the middle of whatever it was.  Suddenly, I felt as if someone stabbed me in my pubic bone and then heat was radiating out of that point.  As my mind screamed “BREATHE!!!!!” the heat kept coming.  When I came out of it, the heat stopped and I was completely spent.

Later, I described what happened to my teacher and she said, “That’s awesome!!!”  You are opening up a chakra!”  As soon as I got home, I tried to identify which chakra it could be and I believe it is the first one, the root chakra or muladhara.  Here’s what this website says about the root chakra:
When the root chakra is balanced you feel grounded, centered, and able to live in the here and now effortlessly. You feel alive with a strong connection to yourself and those around you. Your life is working on all levels, but even if there are areas that are not working you are confident that they will work out. You are healthy and want to take care of yourself, usually manifesting as an interest in your nutritional intake and physical exercise.

Hmmm…interesting.  During my practice, when I need to find my pinpoint focus, I look to my belly button not to the spot between my two eyes.  The navel, or the piko according to Hawaiians, is the center.  It connects us to the source of life. 

Without going into terribly boring details, all my life growing up bicultural, I never felt rooted.  I always felt like a drifter with one foot in Filipino culture and the other foot in American culture.  Two years ago, The Healer said that I needed to go back to the Philippines and feel the place of my birth with my bare feet.  I heeded his advice and it was a beautiful trip.  I brought my husband and introduced him to all those who I loved and loved me.  They loved him.  My family treated me differently, as if I had credibility now as a married woman.  And most importantly, it allowed my dad and I to show affection to each other.  In the last two months, MoJo and I have discussed buying a home and we are currently house hunting.  This self-proclaimed nomad want to put down roots.

Being Present

I got hooked after regularly taking a few bikram yoga classes last spring.  I immediately canceled my gym membership to join a studio.  Weeks after canceling my gym membership, I canceled my trainer who I worked with for five years.  Thank goodness he didn’t take it personally, for which I was grateful.

After seven months of a regular practice, I can finally articulate why I feel so committed to bikram and why this yoga is my only form of exercise.

I am present in the moment.

There are days when this practice kicks my ass and I feel like jelly and can’t seem to hold any posture or run out of the room screaming as if I was on fire.  There are days when my knee is does not cooperate and screams out in pain during a pose and I have to back off with a wince and an irregular breath.  There are days when I feel strong and solid yet supple.  There are days when my body opens and goes further than it ever did even if it is only a quarter of an inch.  Regardless of what my practice is that day, I remain present in that moment.

Despite how hard bikram can be, I still look forward to going.  I never EVER felt that way about going to the gym or seeing my trainer and now I know why.  Every time I ran on a treadmill, pedaled on a bike, or climbed stairs to nowhere, I tried to forget what I was doing.  I watched TV, listened to my ipod, read a book/magazine/newspaper, attempted to solve a puzzle.  I didn’t want to focus on the monotony of movement so I diverted my attention to something else.  My mind and body were disconnected and I was bored and uninspired.

It is impossible to be disconnected during my practice.  My mind is aware but does not think.  It listens to the teacher and heeds my body.  My body moves with intention and purpose.  I exhibit faith, compassion, openness, listening, forgiveness, and fortitude.  This must be why we call this practice a moving meditation.  It requires that we dig deep into ourselves, in a place that houses our spirit, our strength, our divinity.

I can never go back to a gym and I can never again exercise in a cold room.