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Dirty Yoga Redux

This is a bonus post, since I now have some Dirty Yoga to report:

My first real day of practicing Dirty Yoga happened on one of the worst days possible. Namely, it has been unbelievably gorgeous here in Seattle, and I really wanted to be outside. Unfortunately, my flat is anything but – we’re located on a hill worthy of San Francisco, so level places to lay out my mat were not very prevalent.

I settled for opening the back door and singing “Aquarius” (Leeeeeettttt the Sunshiiiine…Leeetttttt the Sun. Shine. In.). And then I went to work.

Most of the beginning went fine – I was very mindful of Jess’s email, and tried to make sure my face wasn’t contorting, etc. I’m not sure I actually tried any less to get my body into the poses (variations rooted in a plank-downward dog-upward dog asana, in case you’re wondering) but I did try to keep my face calm and serene. When I did find myself at one point making a face, it was a good cue to check my body and pull back a little.

The session lasts about 35 minutes, and is divided into roughly four equal parts. In between each part is an “inspirational” quotation (like “Sleep is the best meditation“). But there’s no music, no beaches, no gongs – just Jess, in shorts and a t-shirt, showing how to do the poses.

The main problem for me and my umbilical hernia seems to be the “twist” section of the workout. However, again, I was mindful of his words, and instead of putting my elbow on the outside of my knee and forcing my body to turn, I just…turned. And that seemed to be enough.

I did have a minor technical difficulty, in that the video suddenly quit just before I did the last sequence of twist poses. It may have just been my iPhone browser. I was able to log back on and fast-forward to the proper part fairly quickly, though. It is really nice to have the clear voice and high-contrast video on the iPhone, though, because it makes for an easy way to put the image of the instructor somewhere you can see it, even while in the poses.

One day done!

A Dirty Yoga Practice

I’m not sure where I found it first – perhaps the august people at Art of Manliness – but I really enjoyed surfing through the Dirty Yoga site. Admittedly, I have a weakness for all things retro (I’d be 100% steampunkified if I could afford it) but more than that I have a weakness for straight talk.

Dirty Yoga Co. makes a virtue of that. It’s not “dirty” in any puerile sense (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but it’s dirty as in “quick and dirty.” As in: I have to wait half an hour for my computer to crunch that video into usable form, let’s throw out the yoga mat and do some asanas. No beaches, no glissandoes, no oiled bodies in spandex tights. Just a regular guy doing regular yoga.

Asana? I Barely KNOW Ya!

this is kalaripayat. But not me.

I should come clean here: I don’t like yoga. I’ve done it on and off for years, both in studios, at University, at artist’s retreats, and most consistently via a Rodney Yee DVD that I’ve had for about a decade. Never found one I enjoyed (unless you count an intensive on kaluripayat that I took for a year as part of my dance degree, but that’s to yoga what kung fu is to tai chi).

On the other hand, I couldn’t deny that I did enjoy the effects of yoga on my body. I’ve got some wear and tear on my knees and other areas from military and dance practices, so things like running and high-intensity cardio will often leave me sore for days. Yoga, on the other hand, always left me feeling limber, relaxed, and calm…which might be the problem.

I like adrenaline. I like overcoming obstacles. I like the feeling of having “won“. In fact, I fell right into the sort-of tongue-in-cheek marketing of “Man-Yoga“, which states that one of the reasons men don’t try it is simply “Men don’t know how to win at yoga.

But there is another compelling advantage of yoga for me: it doesn’t require a lot of room or a lot of equipment. Heck, technically a mat is a luxury, and if I’m alone, naked yoga saves on laundry. I can do yoga on the road, in a field, wherever.

I just don’t like it. I got bored easily. My monkey-brain wanted distraction. So I’ve never been able to establish a really consistent yoga practice.

Yogaccountability

When I offered to try out the Dirty Yoga Co site for a month (and review it), the crew there were very friendly and very straightforward. I’d talked about my past experience with things like the Insanity workouts, and they were quick to stress: Dirty Yoga is a maintainenance program, not a get-fit-quick or lose-weight program. It’s just an easy, convenient way to do something that’s good for you.

That appealed to me, actually. Kind of like the goal of this site, which is not to solve all your problems and bring you peace and happiness forever after, but rather to simply help make things a little better, a little happier.

I assured them that I wasn’t expecting to suddenly reach enlightenment either in tems of consciousness or weight gain. I’m also going to be doing other exercises like running and weightlifting (something which, to my surprise, I do enjoy. Maybe because I feel like I’m winning…). But by publicly reviewing their site and also monitoring the effects on my body and mind, I’m also following one of the techniques that is very successful for forming habits: public accountability.

I haven’t actually started the “practice” yet, but I have done a couple of the sessions. You get three new ones per week, plus a couple of short “core strength” and “stretching” sessions. The full yoga sessions are a little more than 1/2 hour.

My plan is to do one every day that I write a post – Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I’ll leave a little paragraph at the end of each post just to say what it felt like, what stuck out. If you don’t see that paragraph – call me out on it. Email me (gray at lovelifepractice dot com) and ask me “WTF?”

Then again, maybe seeing that little paragraph will also nudge you, just a bit, to do your own practice for physical health, whatever that may be.

Can I Recommend Yoga?

Warrior 3 (note: this is not me, either)

So far I can. Dirty Yoga, in fact. I find I still dislike doing the poses…but the instructor is just so affable and straightforward about it, it feels ok. He often says things like “No big deal…” about poses that have always felt like a big deal to me before (like Warrior 3). That kind of simple reassurance goes a long way in just making it a yoga practice, not an attempt at emulating a yogic karmic event.

They are also supremely focused. No set at all – just the instructor against a white screen, talking through the poses and demonstrating them (occasionally he stops and says “And now you’re going to go into chataranga…now up to down dog…” while he’s just sitting there, but all the poses are adequately demonstrated). I laughed out loud a few times, when he’d say something like “So, my students hate this pose…but we’re going to do it anyway.

Basically, it’s a yoga teacher who just wants to show you how to do some yoga, on a site that works well to keep it simple. Take a look at a sample of the kind of teaching at their “Dirty Yoga Tips” page, but stay tuned: I’ll be letting you know how my own practice goes as we travel through the month of May.

Old Man Yoga

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I dislike yoga. Perhaps, though, “dislike” is the wrong word. I would hate to be thought one of those ridiculous examples of toxic masculinity that pretends that yoga is somehow emasculates a person. I would never claim that yoga is easy, or ineffective. Because it’s yoga’s very effectiveness that is one of the reasons that I dislike it.

Yoga works. Having been in a regular practice (pretty much daily) for several months now, I have seen definite benefits.

And I resent that, because I find yoga boring. I’m not sure why. I enjoy related exercise programs like Pilates or t’ai chi, and I’m no stranger to the idea of centering and focusing on breath and one’s body.

And every time I mention this to someone who is a yogi, I get the same litany of Have you tried… and they mention some ancient or new-fangled version of yoga practice. The answer, usually, is “yes.” I’ve tried kundalini, ashtanga, hatha, and yin (I find the latter to be the least boring, precisely because it doesn’t try to be anything but what it is). I refuse to try Bikram because I know too much about the culture, and I don’t want to do hot yoga because I already sweat enough.

You Can’t Keep an Old Dog Downward

But I still get up in the morning, I still unroll the mat, and I grumble while I look through the video offerings of Yoga With Adriene, Yoga With Kassandra, or (if I’m feeling especially masochistic) Boho Beautiful. I also occasionally dip into 5 Parks Yoga and Fightmaster Yoga (the latter just because the name appeals to an aging jarhead).

Why do I still bother? Simply put, because (grumble) it works. I recently was pointed at a list of “18 Amazing Benefits of Yoga, According to Science” (which of course appeals to my curmudgeonly skeptical ways) and scanning through it, I thought it might be worth it to describe the top three that apply to my own yoga experience.

In no particular order:

  1. Regular Yoga Practice Relieves Stress and AnxietyThe controlled breathing that is inherent in practicing yoga is probably the biggest factor in reducing stress. When focused on breathing, participants have little room to engage in irrational fear, worry, or other obsessive thoughts, many of which are contributing to their stress levels.
    Pardon me while I cough politely at the “controlled breathing” idea. My breathing while trying to hold half-moon pose is anything but “controlled”. But there is a lot of encouragement to control breath, and by the time we’re down in shavasana and I’m letting out those deep diaphragmatic breaths, it’s true that the stresses of the day — whether impending or cumulative — tend to lose their power.
  2. Those Who Practice Yoga Are More Aware of What’s Going on in Their BodiesYoga is also based on being aware of what your body is and is not capable of. Because no pose should be forced, those who are practicing yoga must listen to their body and make adjustments based on what it is telling them.
    That’s the dirty little secret behind doing Old Man Yoga. Yes, you become more aware — more aware of the parts that are tight and hard to move, that are painful and dangerous to hold, or just more aware that while you may be doing what the instructor on the screen is doing, you don’t look like them.
    But that’s ok. It’s actually one of the best lessons I’ve learned about yoga. It’s a personal journey, and it’s good for life. Yoga fits your range of motion where you are now, where you were, and where you will be — there’s always some kind of yoga you can do.
    Sure, I get in touch with my body, and it tells me that I’m no longer an energetic modern dancer or a hard-charging devil dog, but what I am — an Old Man Yogi — is just fine, as long as I keep showing up on the mat.
  3. Practicing Yoga Can Help Treat ArthritisThe gentle stretching of yoga can ease joint discomfort and the focused breathing can help those in pain distance deal with the chronic distress.
    I was discharged from the Marines because of problems with my knee joints. Earning a degree in Dance didn’t exactly improve that situation, but having a focus on Eastern forms of dance — t’ai chi, kaluripayat, Javanese — and Modern and improv, which tend to be lower to the ground and lower impact, helped keep me moving.
    However, twenty years later, the bad knees have expanded to bursitis in the shoulders, lower back pain, the occasional ankle strain (because dancers are the least graceful walkers you’ve ever seen) and a recurring spasm in my left trapezius. Mix that with the interesting climate of Wisconsin, and it makes for quite a symphony of stiff joints. I remember, several years ago, asking my physician what was wrong with me.
    “Nothing’s wrong,” she said. “You’re getting old.”
    I have a few easy metrics of how my arthritis is doing. I live on the second floor of my apartment complex; I often work at events where I’m on my feet for 20 or so hours at a time; and occasionally I get to drive a friend’s fancy sportscar, which is low to the ground.
    How hard it is to get out of the sportscar, or how much my legs hurt at the end of a long day, or how much I have to use the handrail to get up the stairs — these are all the metrics of how my body is dealing with getting old. And since I’ve been doing yoga on a regular basis? All of them have gotten easier.
    Not easy, mind you. At the end of the 47th Annual Madfest Juggling Festival here last weekend, I felt like every joint was yelling at me to stop trying to recapture my circus days of youth. But a “Restore and Reboot” yin yoga session with Kassandra eases the aches, and calms the fears of mortality that accompany them.

What Will Yoga Do For You?

It’s worth visiting the rest of Jenn Miller’s article about yoga to see which of the eighteen benefits (backed by science!) might apply to you.

I’m not going to tell you it’s fun. But even if you don’t enjoy doing it, I can promise that you will enjoy having done it. Regardless of where you are in age, flexibility, or experience, it’s never too late to start your own practice.

Get on the mat, already!

This Is My Life

courtesy Aurelien Bellanger via Unsplash.com

Let me tell you about my day:

I woke up around 5am, the consequence of having drifted off to sleep early and relaxed last night. I lay in my warm bed in the dark snuggled up to my partner until the alarms went off at 5:15 and 5:20 (she likes a 5-minute “snooze” time).

I turned on the light and grabbed my 5-Minute Journal, stumbling over to my desk and starting to write down the three things I was grateful for at that moment. Natasha interrupted me with the reminder of a cold glass of water and the medication I have to take every day; I thanked her for that, and continued to write:

I am grateful for:

  1. Quality time with my partner.
  2. Drifting off to sleep.
  3. Friends in far-off cities.

Today will be great because:

  1. I will teach a great class in Chicago
  2. I will pack everything for my trip easily
  3. I will do my complete morning protocols.

Word Up: Enough.

Then I got dressed and went outside to warm up the car to get her to work by 6:30.

When I got back home, it was still dark. I grumbled and tossed out the yoga mat, wincing as my left knee reminded me that it’s forty-five years old. After a few asanas I turned on the coffee maker and sat zazen for fifteen minutes. Trying to “clear your mind” the day before you’re flying off for two weeks literally crossing the country is a very funny thought. I managed to remind myself to come back to here twice, though, and that’s enough for a win (high-five, Buddha!). 

Pouring some coffee, I took it to my chair and pulled out my journal, letting the pleasure of a heavy fountain pen and a leather-bound book of thick paper draw the casual words from my mind and onto the lines. After a page I went back to the kitchen to make “Memphis Toast” – whole-grain bread slathered with sugar-free coconut peanut butter and banana slices. I sat back down in my chair and browsed the TED App to look for interesting talks. Navi Radjou’s talk on “frugal innovation” throughout the world seemed interesting, and I let him educate me as I enjoyed the breakfast. Then I logged it in the MyFitnessPal app, because my nutritionist (and a lot of research) says that’s a good idea.

Time to Write! But first…

Finally I decided to get my blog post (the one you’re reading) done, so that the one Absolutely Essential Task would be finished. On the spur of the moment I decided to work at my podium, looking out over the snow-covered trees outside my apartment. Of course, opening my laptop instantly alerted me to some emails I hadn’t replied to, and an event listing I needed to post, and another event that I needed to promote. Emails off to friends-I’ve-never-met on both coasts took care of the signal boost, and a quick addition of a web page to a client’s blog completed the task. I also discovered an event that I’d not yet added to my calendar nor told my partner about (both of which are recipes for disaster). After both of those were fixed, the event listing I’d created had generated two more emails – not urgent, but from people who would be grateful for a prompt reply.

Just about that time my knee reminded me that perhaps this whole standing-desk thing was not the way to go, and I turned away from my podium, feeling bad about being so diverted from my Absolutely Essential Task of writing the blog post (the one you’re reading). I had a momentary twinge of guilt, exacerbated by my recent deep thinking about following passion, because I wasn’t at a real job. I had just been futzing about in email, blog posting, etc, after all…and that’s when it hit me.

This is my life.

The emails that I sent, the events I planned, the blogs I wrote…these are the things that enable this warm apartment, the car that took my partner to work, the trips to visit friends in distant cities. It’s not a sensible job – there’s no job description that would even remotely describe how I earn my living.

But it is a living. Every part of it, from the way I went to sleep last night to the way my palms feel on my laptop right now, it is my life. For just a moment there I saw it as a whole thing – not a “work-life” balance, not a “passion/sensible” division, just one big whole piece of existing.

It wasn’t a bad feeling. What was startling was the two follow-up realizations: one, that anyone would bother to criticize someone else’s life as a whole, because how could they know? And two, the realization that I’ve got it good. Am I rich? Yes, because I have enough. Word up, indeed.

I’m not sure why it felt important to write this as the Life Post today. I’m certainly back in the to-do mode now, trying to find a decent conclusion to this post so I can go take care of the last few errands before packing. Perhaps the point is this: we spend a lot of time trying to tweak individual elements of our lives. Nothing wrong with that – it’s how we get through hard times happier. But maybe it’s important to remember that it’s more than the sum of its parts.

And so is everyone else’s.

Making Practice Easier by Making It Attractive

SEALs in my Ears and a Spring in my Step

I’m sitting in Boston Logan International Airport, looking out at the cool airplanes from the comfort of a nice wooden rocking chair. Thanks to several of the practices I talked about in the last trip, it’s been a pretty smooth travel day, including productivity like writing an article for a client on distance technology and relationship building as well as taking care of customers from other websites. But it also included listening to two of my favorite podcasts – Dan Carlin’s Common Sense and The Art of Manliness.

The latter had an interview with Mark Divine, creator of SEALfit and author of “The Way of the SEAL.” As you might expect, the guy is a former Navy SEAL, and does a lot of work bringing the SEAL forms of training into the civilian world. Interestingly, he also has apparently consulted with the Navy to bring several Eastern forms of training – meditation, aikido, and yoga, to name a few – into the intake process for SEALs, with positive results.

I Still Hate Yoga

And it’s for the usual reasons – as Jess over at Dirty Yoga would say, I can’t figure out how to win. But even though I’m a former jarhead, I admit that occasionally the SEALs have some pretty good moves*. Hearing that part of their situational awareness training designed for the most covert, the most dangerous, the most totally-outta-hand missions is to do some downward dog and camel’s pose while breathing deeply into their d’an dien suddenly has me impatient for my own next session.

While I am constantly a student of becoming self-aware, I am also a product of my culture, conditioned by my upbringing with certain mythic resonations such as the SEAL. When I was twelve, that meant I created “The Star Wars Workout” with Han Solo Pushups and Jedi Balance Moves and the like (my parents were quite indulgent). Now it’s a little more graceful and hidden, but you can bet that when I next lift my spine and try not to re-invent Fallen Tree Pose I will be, on some level, imagining that I am doing the same exercise that the fiercest warriors of my time do.

Whatever Works

Am I really going to become a SEAL doing yoga? Of course not. But I will benefit from doing yoga, and if imagining the SEALs doing it gets me on the mat, that’s a good thing.

So whatever that thing is you wish you did more of – writing, maybe? – try to find out who else does it. There’s probably some person, some career, some archetype that you can latch in on. You can borrow their strength to help you through your own personal journey, and the burden of building a habit will be that much lighter.

A Seal and a Yogi on the beach

owning your practice

A Rose By Any Other Name

RoseTo be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you
–the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she’s more important
than all the hundreds of you other roses:
because it is she that I have watered;
because it is she that I have put under the glass globe;
because it is for her that I’ve killed the caterpillars
(except the two or three we saved to become butterflies);
because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled,
or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing.
Because she is MY rose.

– Le Petit Prince, Antoine St. Exupery

I’ve discovered the secret to yoga.

That’s right, the man who swears at Dirty Yoga, who grumbles imprecations at Tara Stiles, who still is convinced there’s a secret Yogi Path to Victory, has discovered a way to enjoy the consarned practice. And that secret is…

Do it myself.

It happened quite by accident – after a couple of weeks of doing the Stiles Full-Body yoga workout, one morning I was in a place without easy web access. But I was pretty sure I remembered the asanas…and so I gave it a try. Pose by pose, breath by breath, opener by opener, I went through it and found some pleasure in it. Without the external impetus of the video, I was feeling more present in my body, I was holding the poses until it felt right to progress, I was actually breathing more easily.

This seemed strange…so I gave it some thought.

Owning Your Practice Through Personal Touches

In just about every discipline, there comes a point at which the tools you use cease to be just “tools” and become “your tools.” The handle has a slight notch in this one place, one edge of your mat is slightly torn, that G-below-C key is a bit less white. You know the tools so well that they take on personalities, they become either friends or enemies or at least colleagues, one would hope.

That’s when you start to forget about the steps in your practice and start to really work on the form. When you no longer have to become re-acquainted with the accoutrements, when they are simply second-nature, you can move into a much more personalized level of the practice.

The thing that is neatest about that, I think, is the way it changes you, as well. I’m starting to get calluses on my left hand again from guitar playing, for example, even as the strings get duller from repeated playing. I will change the strings, but the strings are also changing me, both in gross external ways and more subtle internal ways as I become re-acquainted with my music.

I don’t think that I can keep doing yoga all by myself. Among other things, I like Jess too much to stop doing Dirty Yoga; he’s a funny guy. But I do think that sometimes the external direction, as useful as it is, can distract us from the ways that our practice becomes more and more personal. Eventually I think that is the goal: to own your practice completely, so that your progress comes from within. Once you reach that point, though, your practice becomes as precious and unique as your fingerprint and your DNA, because while everyone else may see you doing just another Downward Dog, in reality you’re doing your Downward Dog, and that is a breed apart.

And it’s worth working towards. Because at that point, a rose by any other name does not smell nearly as sweet. Because, as the Little Prince said, the rose you’ve named is yours.

making space sacred in your life

Life in Space

There’s been a lot of space in my life lately. Or, at least, the concept has been popping up a lot, which is a good indicator of a need to pay attention to it.

Why? Because if you don’t make space, you don’t notice when your mind starts drawing your attention to the specific things that require space. It’s a subtle thing, and tricky to catch.

For me it started early this week, when I was working at my cobbled-together standing desk (a mishmash of milk crates, storage containers, and screens, computers, and hard drives precariously teetering). While I enjoyed the benefits physically of a standing desk, the clutter of the makeshift platforms was playing havoc with my ability to concentrate.

So in a fit of IKEA-envy I tore it all down. I pared the desk down to the bare minimum, cursing the fact that my video editing workflow actually necessitated two screens instead of one. Other than that, my keyboard and my mouse and my coffee cup were the only things on the desk. I sat down, and breathed in the space…and got back to work.

Putting the Pro in Sacred & Profane

A day or so later I came across Scott Belsky’s 99U article about the loss of sacred, unconnected space in our lives. He had a different kind of twist on that “gravy hose concept I’ve mentioned once or twice.

He links our need to be relevant with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and the craving for connection. For the first time in history, he argues, we actually have the ability to consistently have that need met, through likes and retweets and IM’s and You-Are’s (ok, that last one was mine). However, rather than satisfy, this simply increases the withdrawal symptoms when that reassurance is withdrawn – leading us to engage in what he rather ingeniously calls “insecurity” work.

I can’t say that my own “gravy hose” addiction has benefited (though there is a tiny voice that asks “Is this Insecurity Work, Gray?” whenever I’m about to check twitter). However, there was another quote that really did resonate: “Protect the state of no-intent.” It’s the idea of finding leisure time in your day – in short, getting rid of the glorification of “busy” and actually just opening a space where nothing can happen.

Which is another way of saying anything can. Personally, I’ve stopped scheduling my work segments (video, writing, working out, lunch) back-to-back. Instead, I put fifteen minutes to half an hour between. Most workers get this by factoring in transit times – the times to take the bus, to walk to lunch, to change into your workout clothes. When you work at home, though, lunch is three steps away, the office is 15 feet from your bed, and the gym? Well, on a good day the gym is a walk of about half a block to the fitness center because you’re getting fancy with weights and stuff.

20130807-162111.jpg

Of course, I’m not getting quite so fancy these days – I’m working on another kind of space. The creation of yoga space. The folks at Dirty Yoga Co. have hooked me in again, luring me back with “Dirty Yoga 2.0.” Which has, among many other cool things, a set of workouts called “SPACE.”

This workout is designed to be a stretching kind of workout, bare-bones (like all of Dirty Yoga) with none of the frills that you sometimes find in more “serious” yoga lessons. While I still hate doing it, I also still love having done it. I’ve also found at least three things that are advantageous:

  1. When you’re doing Dirty Yoga in your living room, it does not matter how sweaty you get in your workout clothes. Nobody can see anyway.
  2. Similarly, when Jess blithely suggests you move into yet another agonizing pose, no one can hear you fill the room with invective and depredations aimed at his well-meaning tuchis.
  3. While he keeps insisting that you can’t actually “win” at yoga, I’m convinced that if the pose makes you actually growl you can take comfort in at least being a little scary.

There’s also the simple fact that when I am doing the yoga, without anything but me and the workout video on my iPad, I am creating a space for my subconscious to step out of “busy” and get back into my body. This is a kind of micro-sabbath, when I am dedicating myself to improving the only temple I really own, and leaving the “profanity” of everyday life outside of that sacred bubble for just a while.

Finding these spaces in my life over the past week has improved many things…my sleep, my mood, my ability to create. I took a nap space just before writing this today, in fact, as part of research, and it was written in one of the many beautiful spaces here at my home.

It’s not easy, I know, especially in this day and age, but I hope you can start to notice the places where you may be cluttered by the gravy hose and insecurity work. Once you notice them, you can start clearing the space out, and see what comes out of the infinite possibility of no intent.

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All the Things

If you want one surefire way to boost your web traffic, then there’s nothing better than picking some very popular meme and making that your title. Of course, I’m not motivated by numbers (except when I’m feeling guilty, but that’s wednesday) but there really isn’t a better illustration for the practice that I’m suggesting this week than Hyperbole-and-a-Half.

Her particular comic is about the myth of constant, never-ending productivity. The never-ending to-do list (except for that last item, the box with “leave last box unchecked”) and the Getting Things Done You Slacker If Only You Were As Organized As We Are Here Buy This Moleskine It’ll Make You Famous culture.

Dichotomy to the Rescue!

The problem, as I see it, is that there is a big dichotomy in the Wants. There are basically two categories for All The things:

  1. All the things you actually want: chocolate cake, laying in bed, that pair of shoes, that iMax movie, that “better” relationship, that one-more-episode, that fine bottle of whiskey. The things that you see or think about that make you go “Yes. Want.
  2. All the things you want to want: a finished novel, a washboard stomach, an abundant mindset, a well-oiled smoothly-functioning budget, a simple but effective diet and exercise regimen.

Aye, there’s the rub: all the things we actually want, vs. wanting to be the kind of person who wants the things we want to want. As Cheri Huber (and many other Zen philosophers) have put it, the amount of your suffering is precisely the difference between the way things are and the way you want them to be. So how do you reconcile these two warring factions within you?

Damned if I know. Have you been reading this blog? Answers, we ain’t got. What I do have, though is some ideas of the two main tasks involved in the treaty negotiations between the factions:

  1. Take a look at the things you want that you don’t want to want. Pick one (only one: trying to fix more than one thing, much less all the things, is not going to work), and use behavior modification and habit replacement techniques (of which there are many on the internet) to slowly condition yourself to not want the bad thing, often by wantingsomething else (which, one hopes, is more healthy; replacing cigarettes with opium may be effective, but probably won’t be beneficial in the long run).LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY: Really hard. Takes a long time, prone to false starts, lapses, and it’s hard to be really sure  you don’t actually want the thing, or if you’ve just gotten good at convincing yourself you’re the kind of person who doesn’t want the thing.
  2. Take a look at the things you want to want.You can already tell this step is going to be easier, because there’s fewer incidences of the word “want”, right? Pick one (same rule applies as before; things do not like being changed, and trying to change them all is not gonna work) and forgive yourself for not wanting it.LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY: Surprisingly easy, once you get the hang of it.

It might not surprise you to find that, on this Monday morning, I’m tackling the “easy” one here in this post.

De-Guilting Yourself

The reason it’s easy to do the second thing is because you’re not trying to lie to yourself. There’s no doubt about it: that thing you want to want is probably a good thing. The people that do actually want it are good people, and trying to put them down as being elitist malcontents will not really reduce that idea inside that you should want what they want so you can be like them.

I have a hairy om, but I still don’t look like this.

Nor are you trying to tell yourself you’ll never do it; as I mentioned in my Dirty Yoga reviewsI don’t like yoga. I don’t have to, though, to know that it’s good for my body. It’s one of the first lessons kids learn as they begin to grow up: take your medicine, even if it doesn’t taste good. I do yoga, when I do yoga, because it helps my body. I know this, and I also know it’s ok to not enjoy it. Yoga doesn’t care; it will still help my body, even through my swearing and grunting and absurd efforts to find a way to win.

No, all you’re doing is showing yourself some compassion. You’re saying “yep, you’re right, that sucks, and there’s no reason you should like it.” In fact, you can revel in the suckitude of the thing. Make a list of all the reasons there are for not liking it. Take yoga & me:

  1. I look silly
  2. It makes me feel old
  3. It hurts
  4. Twisting poses hurt worse
  5. It gets boring with all that “breathing” stuff
  6. It takes a long time
  7. I’ll never look like Rodney Yee
  8. There’s two many kinds! Hot Bikram Kundalini Power Peace with Coconut Water…how am I supposed to choose?
  9. The mats are always too short

If some of these seem ridiculous to you, that’s probably because you like yoga. In fact, you may have seen some things in that list that you happen to like about yoga, and that’s cool; it’s not your list. I’m sure you and I could make a list about the relative merits of Keanu Reeves that would differ greatly, too. The point is that you’re listening to yourself, not trying to fix anything; you’re saying “yep, that sucks!” and letting it be that way, rather than trying to convince yourself it doesn’t.

You can’t have everything. Where would you put it? – Steven Wright

I’m not one of those “lists solve everything” people, but I do think there’s some potential benefit in making another list at the same time. It probably won’t be as long, and it’s possible that you can just do it in your mind. That’s the list of “What’s the point?”

All the Points

The points are all the things that you believe about this thing you want to want. Again, using yoga as an example, here’s my list:

  1. Yogis supposedly have calmer, more peaceful attitudes.
  2. My body feels better after it’s done than it did before I did it.
  3. My friends really like yoga.
  4. It’s both ultimately portable (I just need the ground) and easily scalable (yoga studios everywhere, including the internet).
  5. Someday I’ll look like Rodney Yee.
  6. It’s something I can do no matter how old I get.

A couple of things may happen as each item gets added to this list. Either you realize that the reason is kind of silly (such as numbers 1 or 5) or else you realize that there’s something there you actually do want (numbers 2, 3, and 6, notably). Or it may be that there’s something in there like number 4 that also applies to something else that you actually want (in my case, body-weight exercises such as push-ups are things I enjoy and share these characteristics).

If it’s silly, then it’s pretty easy to let go. If it’s something you actually do want, then you’ve given yourself a tool: a reward in that whole “replace a bad habit” scenario we talked about before. If I focus more on enjoying the feeling of my body after yoga, or find a yoga partner who makes me giggle as we’re doing asanas, then I won’t look forward to yoga…but I’ll look forward to the results of yoga.

Either way, I don’t have to want it. I can let go of the want to want that thing, and that’s one less way that who I am differs from who I want to be. All the things just got a bit smaller. Rinse, repeat, apply as needed.

Give it a shot. How big are all the things for you? How much smaller can you make all the things by the end of the week?

Want to find out?

overcome obstacles by working with them

Dance, Don’t Scramble

The Man who Make Me Hate Yoga Less

Jess. I love him. I hate him.

Remember Jess from Dirty Yoga, who gave me the very personalized email in response to my question about hernias? A certain part of his email really resonated in my personal quest to overcome obstacles in my yoga practice:

One piece of advice I can give you with yoga is to try to make things look easy when you’re doing it. Keep your face relaxed and your breath smooth. It’s a good gauge to make sure you’re not trying too hard. If you find yourself making faces (grimacing, or clenching parts of your body, or not breathing properly) you’ve gone beyond your current physical limits.

One thing I’ve learned from this month of Dirty Yoga (aside from the fact that it’s going to be difficult to turn yoga into a habit, rather than a practice): that particular piece of advice works in more than just yoga.

Mantra? I Barely Know Ya!

The title to this post actually comes from a goal-setting exercise I did many, many years ago with a partner. One of the parts of the Very Long Exercise (multiple stages, many pauses for meditation, it was intense ) was to come up with three simple themes to carry you through the year. “Dance, don’t scramble,” was one of them, and it’s stuck with me for all the years since.

The idea is that yes, life is going to be hectic, life is going to fast-paced. You can simplify things, but as Einstein said, simplify as much as possible but no further. You could simplify a blues dance by walking out on the floor, hugging someone for four minutes, and then walking off. In some situations, that might even be quite fun. However, you’d be missing a great deal of nuance, communication, the joy of movement and touch and breath and sweat and…you get the idea. The rich complexity of life is something to be cherished, not avoided.

The problem at the time I came up with the mantra was that I had a rich and varied life, but it was complicated. The various parts didn’t really work well together, and in some cases not at all. Life was a constant scramble to try and keep up. My goal was to reach the point where instead of hurtling myself from one thing to the next, I was dancing through them, over them, with them – not obstacles, but partners.

Trying to Overcome Obstacles Like…Gravity

In contact improv dance, you always have two partners: gravity and the ground. Sometimes more, but those two are constant. They are great partners to have, as well, because they are absolutely consistent: gravity always sucks you down, one way, never changing, never getting tired. And the ground is always there, firm, solid, unyielding. As long as you go with these two things, you can use them to do incredible things.

Gray Miller Dancing

Dance taught me to overcome obstacles like gravity.

The problem lies when you try to work against them. Oh, a little resistance is fine – that’s what makes life interesting. But take falling, for instance. When you’re learning how to be lifted, they teach you the rather counter-intuitive skill of falling properly. The instinct is to try and climb up whatever/whoever is supporting you, to prevent the fall. However, as noted, gravity sucks, the ground is hard, and the further you are away from it the more chances of an uncontrolled drop.

So instead you are taught to reach into the the fall, towards the ground that is coming towards you. You’re taught to melt into it with the various parts of your body which are optimally designed with folding hinged joints and muscle and fat deposits to absorb the impact. When you figure that out, you get to the point where you can joyously leap into another person’s arms, no matter the size or velocity, because you know that they’ll either catch and support you or you’ll both be falling to the floor in a heaping gigglepile.

And then you both continue to dance.

The goals I set in that long-ago session have long passed their value in my life. But that one mantra:

Dance, don’t scramble

seems to me to be a worthy goal to pursue, regardless of the circumstances.

A 15 Minute Success Story

Greetings from Ypsilanti, Michigan, where I’m staying with a close friend for a couple of days before heading to Chicago where I’ll be facilitating the biggest unconference of my career. On friday, I’ll be holding an open space for 500-700 people traveling from all over the world for the first day of a four-day conference.

Nervous? Me? Not in the slightest. I have the advantage of being a volunteer. In other words, they can’t fire me. The conference, while beloved to my soul, is on a very niche topic that won’t really affect my work or reputation in any other areas. So if it goes well, it’s a feather in my cap. If it goes poorly…well, at least I tried, and the 700 attendees have three more days of “regular” conference afterwards to forget about any debacles.

 Finding the Time

As part of my volunteering on the staff of this convention I also offered to help run their social media. This was primarily twitter, and I used one of my favorite social networking platforms to run it: Hootsuite. Among the many things I love about it is the ability to schedule tweets in advance – so I could schedule announcements, countdowns, etc to keep people “buzzing” as well as informed about the event.

However, I’ve found that I’m a bit busy these days. In fact, if you look at the list of signs that you may be doing too much I’ve got a whopping six out of seven. That is obviously a problem that will need addressing in later blog posts. Meanwhile, the fact is that in spite of my best intentions, I was beginning to feel that handling the social media for the conference was going to be too much. I contacted the chief administrator, and asked her if I might be able to pass it on.

She was gracious about considering the idea, though she felt that I was best suited to the task. She finally asked “Look, Gray, do you think perhaps you could just commit to fifteen minutes a day?”

Fifteen minutes. Where have I heard that before? I realized that yes, I thought I could commit fifteen minutes to that every day (along with another chunk of time, never more than 45 minutes, spent preparing for the open space). I had my personal assistant add them into my calendar every morning.

Success in Spite of It All

I’m not going to pretend that I hit it every day. Or that every tweet was 140 letters of sheer golden literary treasure. But the event has sold out with a record crowd and the engagement of twitter followers and back-and-forth is far greater than any other year. It’s a great success story, and a good example of how incremental progress can be made by the smallest commitment of time.

Who needs Dirty Yoga Co.?

This is part of my hope for Dirty Yoga, as well. At left is a screen shot from a short video on their site about “Who can benefit from doing Dirty Yoga?” While I don’t drive an Aston Martin or have multiple passports, I am a pretty fair juggler and travel extensively. Being able to just carve out that half hour or so to stretch my body is, I hope, going to reap some good benefits.

It’s hard, though, to have that kind of faith. I still fall into the trap of trying to “win at yoga”, and discover myself pushing, twisting, wrenching my body more than it probably needs to be. Eventually, I’ll get the hang of it – just like today when he suddenly threw “warrior 3” at me unexpectedly (a one-legged balance pose) and my body just lifted up into it – so surprised that I forgot to fall.

The “daredevil twists”, though…they still had me flailing and groping for balance. It’s easy to get discouraged when this happens, feel like I’ve lost so much dance training, or that I’m just getting too old for this kind of thing.

None of that is true, any more than I was failing at getting the social media posts done. I just need to keep doing it, and trust that eventually authentic action will result in improvement.

Coming Soon to a Gray Near You

As a preview of things to come, I can tell you the project I have on deck now that the conference will be over. I had the good fortune to get an “emergency project” towards the end of last week – one of my primary clients needed a website completely put up within two days, with social media integration and content management systems and such. Nothing too complicated, but there’s a lot that goes into it.

I got to spend a good amount of time during those two days really digging deep and focusing on the work. Uninterrupted focus, really getting into the flow of things. It was awesome. And now I’m hoping to find ways to get more of that into my day.

However, that’s going to take some doing, since as I mentioned, I still seem to be doing way too much. I’m considering that some of the answer to my nascent workaholism might be in the concept of the un-schedule.

We’ll be talking about that more later. Meanwhile, I got me some more dirty yoga to do…

 


Special thanks to commenter KarlT
who gave me the heads up on this Ben Folds track
which complements perfectly my “All In” post
and, well, this whole blog.
You have to deal with Facebook,
but I think it’s a rockin’ tune!