Archive for the ‘yoga’ category

Blocking Writer’s Block – Swallowing Rejection (With Bhavana)

March 22, 2011

Rejection- Hurts Going Down

Today, I thought I’d focus on one of the biggest blocks to a struggling writer:  rejection.

Rejection feels awful to anyone, whether it arrives in one’s personal or professional life, but it presents a double-whammy for a writer, perhaps because it automatically hits on both the personal and professional level.

Hard for anyone to swallow, it is an especially stony lump for someone who regularly focuses on “voice.”

It doesn’t help much to hear about the zillions of rejection letters received by famous writers.

For one thing, those famous writers are not you (and they were eventually famous.)

For another, writing is hard work; it takes time and has significant opportunity costs.  While success/acknowledgement may not make the work fundamentally easier, it does seem to offer the struggling writer more time to write.  It also offers a channel, a place and encouragement for “flow.”  And a sense of respect.  It can be easy to feel stopped up without those things.

What to do?

I am reminded of a yoga teacher who talked about the distinction between the sanskrit terms “bhava” and “bhavana.”  He described Bhava as a state of spiritual ecstasy; bhavana as the cultivation of spirituality, the actual practices of devotion.

The fact is, he said, that you cannot force bhava–you can’t even be sure whether spiritual practice or any particular effort will induce it.  But, while you are waiting and hoping (uncertainly) for enlightenment, you can at least go through some set of motions.  You can, in other words, cultivate a discipline that feels like the groundwork for ecstasy, even understanding the quantum leap between discipline and ecstasy, and in that practice, you can, perhaps, achieve at least a certain contentment.

So (I tell myself), you cannot force success in the writing world, no matter how hard you work and scheme and (literally) plot.

But you can take steps to grant yourself some of the benefits you think that success would give.

More time?  To the extent practicable, allow yourself to take that time.

A channel?  At least get a writing-minded friend.

Respect is harder to come by, but at least try to respect yourself enough to finish what you begin.

Most importantly, keep in mind what started you writing to begin with;  that you enjoy saying things.  In print.

Neck In Knots

August 17, 2010


People who do yoga regularly (i.e. me, ManicDDaily) are not supposed to get painful knots in their necks and shoulders.   But people who do manicddaily yoga – i.e. speed yoga – and then do other manicddaily things  – like speed-hanging shower curtains, catching a speedy nap in a weird hard bed or in a hard airconditioned bus seat, hauling about loose weights (speedily) in an effort to squeeze in more exercise – do not have always have yogic protection from such painful knots.

When you get older (if you are like me), your mental memory is not all that seems to slip a bit; so does your bodily memory.  Meaning that you can’t remember exactly what gave you these painful knots that make it hard to sit up or turn over.

When you get older (if you are like me), your mental reaction time may also slow a bit;  so does your bodily reaction time.   Meaning that your body doesn’t tell you right away when those awful knots are being tied.

Meaning… ouch.

One Reason I like Yoga Better Than Benchpressing

July 20, 2010

Trying Handstand in Middle of Floor

I have a hard time standing up straight.  This is not totally a function of age.  I remember the father of a good friend coming up behind me as a teenager and jabbing a knuckle into the middle of my spine.  I’m not sure if this was a sign of my closeness to this particular family, or his abhorrence of slouching. All I can say is that his own kids had excellent posture.

My current style of yoga, which manages to be both speedy and desultory at once, does not do that much to relieve the natural compression of my spine.    (Part of the problem is that standing up straight takes not just flexibility but strength and attention and speed yoga tends to sidestep these.)  That said, the one yoga posture that I find almost instantly makes me straighter, taller, perkier, is a handstand.  They are just wonderful – for the inside of the solar plexus as well as the out;  they seem to literally take a weight off of your chest; they illuminate the momentary lightness of being.

Unfortunately, I don’t do enough of them.  In my home yoga practice, they rely upon the shutting of a particular door—this requires moving my voluminous yoga mats, taking down the Robert Pattinson calendar which hangs about the place my feet reach, and then too, the Tibetan Thangka which some embarrassed family member has hung over the Robert Pattinson calendar.   This is a laborious operation, which does not fit into my daily speed yoga routine.

I could try some handstands in the middle of the floor or on another wall, but you’d be surprised (i) how intimidating it can be do to a handstand in the middle of the floor—when you are afraid of falling, it’s very hard to kick up; and (ii) how hard it is to find good wall and kicking space in the average New York City apartment.

So right now I’m in Florida.  By the beach.  At my parents’ house.  I tend to take a break from yoga practice at my parents’ – partly because I am pre-occupied and partly because I don’t like doing yoga indoors in airconditioning, or outside on a concrete patio.  The beach is also not great –too sunny, too uneven.

But today, my spine just couldn’t take it anymore.   I cartwheeled in the surf.  Then, despite the lack of wall, I kicked up into numerous sort-of handstands.  (A manic nature and extreme short-sightedness are very useful in these endeavors.  It ‘s kind of a variation on the possible silence of a tree falling in the deserted forest—if you can’t see the people looking at you, is that truly the sound of snickering? )

For a few brief moments, I could feel my solar plexus bloom like a flower on high-speed film, my spine correspondingly straighten.

I’m sure there are gym exercises that give this same feeling of upper back strength.  Push-ups?  Bench-presses?  But I am afraid that all I could bench press would be an empty iron pole, which would be kind of, you know, ignominious, while a handstand—a handstand—has a both inner and outer glory.  With or without a wall.   Or watchers.

Kept Awake By Meditation and Sookie Stackhouse Novel (“Dead” The Next Day)

May 5, 2010

Meditation and Vampire Novels

As some followers of this blog know, I’m a longtime devotee of Astanga yoga (sometimes, unfortunately, known as “power yoga”).  Astanga is a relatively active form of yoga in which the practitioner jumps from pose to pose;  each pose in turn is held for a relatively short set number of breaths.  Because I do “self-practice,” meaning that I do Astanga yoga at home by myself, my practice has somewhat deteriorated over the past few years.  I do it, sure, but the requisite number of breaths has shortened to second hand levels (as in, about one second per pose) and my focus has become increasingly… diffused.

Great returns rarely come from casual investments (i.e. no pain, no gain).  Meaning that my rushed, unfocused yoga, does not yield a significant amount of inner peace.  (Sigh.)

One possible remedy would be to simply give more time and energy to my existing yoga practive.

But that’s not really the ManicD way of handling an issue of this kind.  Instead, what I’ve tried is to add in something else, something which I can also pursue in a slightly desultory way:  meditation.

Ah, meditation.

Meditation is probably harder for the Manic personality than Astanga yoga, as it involves minimal jumping.

But unlike my self-led yoga-practice, I’ve tried to meditate in a mediation session, at a meditation center, with a teacher and pillows, and other, sincere-looking people, and one of those beautiful bells in a bowl.   This structure, given my achievement-oriented personality, actually inspires me to sit still.

Ah.  (Meditation.)

I really do like the sessions.  When I’m in one, I feel more aware, more tolerant, more wise, more balanced.  The problem is that after I come home from one of these sessions, I seem to be driven to some form of extreme behavior. I don’t rent a race car, or go out on the town–I just do things that are, as they say in Buddhist terminology, unskillful.

After last night’s session, for example, I stayed up till about 3:30 a.m. reading the new Sookie Stackhouse mystery from Charlaine Harris—Dead In the Family, the tenth in the series.

With all due respect to Ms. Harris, some of whose work I have truly enjoyed, it’s not a terrifically good book.   The story has gotten very complex, too full of ancillary characters, too dependent on prior knowledge, too rushed, too soap-opery.  If you are not (a) escapist, (b) already addicted to her main characters (Sookie Stackhouse, Bill Compton, and Eric Northman), and possibly (c)  just coming out of a Buddhist meditation session, it is extremely unlikely that you would find it worthy of a virtually all-night read.   (Maybe not even any read.)

But the meditation teacher last night, a very thoughtful and meticulous speaker, had a curiously bloodless quality.  She smiled frequently;she said things that, if not original, were useful; she wore a very tasteful, shawl.  And yet she also left me in a state ripe for self-indulgence, blood–errr—lust, the super-handsome, super- passionate Eric healing Sookie of her post-Fairy-torture trauma.

Ah, vampire novels.

(By way of further excuse, I should note that I’ve only read Sookie Stackhouse novels; I’m not really familiar with the TV series.  Also, to those of you that can’t understand my obsession with these books—umm… about ‘it’s a great way, as a writer, to learn how to put action in one’s work.’)

The Pain You’re Not Supposed To Have If You Do Yoga Regularly

January 29, 2010

The Non-Multitasking Yogi

Pain.  I have all kinds of handwritten posts about Obama and trust in government that I was going to type up today.  But I wake up (that’s not actually correct since I don’t think I  slept), I get up with a figurative stake of ache in the middle of my upper back, which  precludes me from doing anything but looking absolutely straight in front of me.  (This means I  can’t type anything pre-jotted.)

People who do yoga everyday are not supposed to have back pain.  I do yoga everyday.

The catch is that people who also multi-task nonstop really do not do yoga all that well.  Real yoga involves taking the time to breathe, sustain, to focus.  Multi-tasking yoga is a bit of a whipstitch physically—it may hold body and soul together, but just barely.

I practice ashtanga yoga (a great form for home practice, developed primarily by Shri K. Patabhi Jois).  And yesterday evening, because I had skipped my normal rushed morning’s practice,  I took the time to do it well.   I not only did it well, in my guilt over skipping, I did twice as much as normal.

(Guilt and yoga are not a great combination.)

Ashtanga yoga is done as a series of pre-set exercises.  When you have done a couple of the series for some years, they are pretty much imprinted on your brain and body.  In other words, once you start one, you just kind of go through it like a dance routine or a song.

The power of a routine is incredibly strong.   A routine, in this case, the yoga series can, amazingly, carry you through all kinds of physical or mental failings.   I have done ashtanga with colds, hangovers, pulled muscles, torn cartilege.

The routine, like a memorized song, must be stored in a different part of the brain than the part involved with decision-making, fear, tentativeness, even perhaps common sense.    (I always think of victims of strokes who cannot speak but who can speak or recite poetry.)

While you are in the middle of the routine, you are simply swept along.  But once you are out of the routine’s anesthesizing groove….


After Multi-tasking Yoga

Scoring Yoga (The Fug of Comparison and Nag Champa)

November 21, 2009

I am a bit amazed that anyone would question whether the “spirit of competition is in the soul of yoga.”  (See New York Times article, of November 18, 2009, by Sara Eckel.)

I have done yoga for more years than I like to confess (brownie point 1); many years at famous yoga studios (brownie point 2), with celebrated teachers (all true, also Brownie point 3.)

I have also practiced yoga for the last several years on my own, without aid of teacher or studio (points 4, 5, 6, and an extra .5 for the word “practice.”)

(I just realized that I could have gotten a whole extra point on that last sentence if I’d used the word “shala” instead of studio.  Darn.)

Part of the reason I made the jump to self-practice (7.5) was to get away from the atmosphere of competition and comparison that fogs the atmosphere of most yoga centers as effectively as that sweet fug of Nag Champa and sweat.  (8.5 for use of specific incense name.)  Practicing in a center all the time also got extremely expensive.  (High fees seem to mesh with yoga’s soul just fine.)

I loved my teachers dearly.   As a yoga student, you have a very special relationship with your teachers.  They lie on top of you, they stand on your knees (8.5, 9.5); they place their hands, firmly, on your inner thighs, your shoulder blades, the small of your back, your sternum;  sometimes they even poke around your bum, trying to show you the exact location of mula bandha, a genital-anal muscle lock.  (Brief pause in the brownie points.)

In a physically demanding form of yoga like my practice, Ashtanga (10.5), your teacher will wear you down to a level of intense emotional vulnerability;  to continue in this practice, you need to extend the teacher an immense amount of trust.   If the gift of this trust does not end in orthopedic surgery, you will reap amazing rewards.  With your teacher’s help, you will feel super-human, doing handstanding flips and intertwining parts of your body that had had no previous acquaintance.  (11.5, 12.5.)

Soon, you begin competing with other students for the attention of your beloved teacher (who also happens to be, or at least seem, physically attractive).  You are cheek by jowl with these fellow students in most  NYC studios.  You can’t help but be aware of every touch they receive;  when the teacher seems to give them extra tummy rubs, you feel sick to your stomach.  (Subtle downward dog joke 13.5.)

You begin to hate your yoga teacher’s “favorites” in a way that is distinctly unyogic.  If you manage, mindfully, to let go of that hatred, you still try to be better than those students in whatever way is physically possible if only an earnest facial expression).

Comparison, and its side-kick, competition, sneak in even when you don’t much like the teacher.  Asanas (14.5) are sometimes held for a long time;  the teacher drones on.  Bodies are stripped down, clothing-wise; your third eye roves. (15.5)

If you are like me, you can’t help but get a little irritated at the snazzy people who, despite narrow hips, feel hip in their sleek purple body suits.   When they look around the room, they seem to see right through you (the distinctly unhip).  Again, you try to cast off the feeling of resentment (Om), and then you notice that one of those same purple body suits, who chants with closed-eyed fervor, and (you saw in the dressing room) has a nipple ring, cannot support a jump into crow pose.

You breathe deeply/heavily as you balance in your not perfect, but adequate, jumped-into crow.  (17.5)     As your slightly saggy arms shake, you concentrate on the pose (18.5),  and the Higher Self. (19.5) , and the Unity of All Beings.  (20.5), but you also notice that you are suddenly visible to purple body suit, and that, when you jump back into chataranga (21.5), purple body suit even looks impressed.

All of which does not convince me that yoga should be an Olympic sport, but does make me think it was probably wise for me to start practicing in the privacy of my own room.

Yoga Done Right

October 21, 2009

Yesterday, I explained how to rush through the whole Ashtanga primary yoga series in just a couple of short pants (as in breaths, not trousers.)

Below is an illustration of Ashtanga yoga done right, with steadiness, cheefulness, balance, and most importantly, an elephant.  (Also practicing are a little white dog and a yogini mouse.)

The pose depicted is trichonasana (triangle pose).  The animals are really quite good at it, particularly considering all the extra legs.

Elephant - Dog - Mouse Trichonasana

Elephant - Dog - Mouse Trichonasana

(All rights reserved.  Karin Gustafson)

Unfortunately, the elephant-dog-mouse yoga book, from which this picture is taken, is not yet finished.  But, if you like the style, check out 1 Mississippi, by Karin Gustafson at the link above.

How To Do Ashtanga Yoga In One Short Breath

October 20, 2009

I am a longtime and very proud devotee of Ashtanga Yoga. This is a form of yoga pioneered by Shri T. Krishnamacharya and the much beloved Shri K. Patabhi Jois. It involves six fairly long series of poses (though most practitioners stick to the first “Primary” series), which are intended to energize the body, clarify the mind, and purify just about everything.   Ashtanga is supposed to be practiced six days a week, preferably in the morning.  (An empty stomach is recommended; a non-empty stomach is regretted.)

It is a great form of yoga, especially for people, like me, who have a hectic schedule, as it is designed for self-practice.  Not only does Ashtanga provide a  series of pre-set poses, it includes certain transitional movements between each pose. This takes decision-making out of home practice, an immense benefit for those who already have too many other things to think about.

Breathing in Ashtanga, as in all yoga, is super important: each transitional movement corresponds to a specific inhalation or exhalation, and each pose is ideally held for eight steady breaths.  This means that Primary series, if done right, should take between an hour and an hour and a half, to complete.

Some of us, however, have managed to shorten the required time span to approximately fifteen minutes.

Here’s how:

1. First, practice for years. It’s important to know the poses in your bones so that when you whiz through them you don’t need to spend a single extra second thinking about what comes next.

2. Second, be Manic.

3. And slightly depressed.

4. Start a daily blog.

5. But keep your day job.

6. Most importantly, fuel the flames of family and personal drama with long drawn-out conversations or email each morning, so that you really don’t have more than fifteen minutes to do yoga. (Ignore possible effects of yoga’s calming influence, if done correctly.)

7. Don’t mind if you wrench your knee or shoulder throwing yourself into convoluted positions. (Alignment always felt kind of boring anyway.)

8.  Who said you had to do the complete pose?   At least, your bending that wrenched knee.

10. Try not to mind that a practice that is supposed cultivate deep breathing and energetic stillness is whipping by in panting exhaustion

11. Congratulate yourself on the fact that you are practicing yoga at all.

12. (If you can call that practicing . Or Yoga.)

13. But keep practicing anyway. (As that great sage Scarlett O’Hara said, tomorrow is another day.)