Retreating In Silence

A silent meditation retreat naturally appeals to me. I’ve always been quiet. The hardships of being in public include having to talk to people when I don’t feel like it. At a silent retreat, I’d be out in public but not forced to chit chat. I’d be able to do a deep dive into my own brain with the guidance of a guru. I found Kadampa Meditation Center. They offer Silence Is Golden retreats that last from five to six hours. That’s about the speed to ease into this thing.

My morning pre-retreat found me excited, looking forward to all the not talking I’d be doing. The excitement turned to anxiety as my GPS decided to test all that is calm and focused within me by taking me to not-the-mediation center. It kept telling me I was there when I was not there. I wasn’t really anywhere. It kept exclaiming You have arrived! when there was nothing to arrive to except for the backs of buildings. I figured it might be on a corner. Nope. I drove in a few circles. Then by the grace of all that is not GPS, I spotted it on a wider swath of circuity.

After checking in, a lovely woman brought me over to where the coats and shoes were, and showed me where the meditation room was. Thankful, I peeled off my jacket and my boots. I headed into a room filled with meditative souls, sitting on bolsters on the floors and on chairs. I took a chair. I took in the Buddha inspired vibrant paintings. Then everyone stood up. So I stood up. Oh, here was the leader. This is some heavy meditation respect.

The leader is a lovely woman who began with basics of why we meditate and why in silence. She spoke of people finding a challenge in keeping quiet. Ha. Nope, not me. This was heaven. I can only imagine how tiring this day was for her because her energy radiated in every moment.

We meditated through her guidance and readings. We took a break. They served mini Mrs. Fields cookies. No one talked. There was tea. This is what life should be.

We meditated again for a longer while. This took us to lunch, which they provided. All vegetarian. Soup. Quinoa. Vegetables. Fruit. More tea. No one talked. I went for a walk around the block. Then I circled again. These circles were a lot calmer than the GPS anxiety ones.

We meditated again. And then it was done. Five and a half hours of silent contemplation, cookies, soup, and tea.

I can’t explain how I felt afterwards. Driving home, an exhaustion overtook me. I couldn’t wait to pull into my driveway. Then when I got to my street, I drove past my house in a burst of energy and did some errands. Then I got home and felt somewhere between those two. Ah, I’d found equilibrium, which is exactly what we’d been meditating on. This stuff ? Works.

 

 

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Solsticing Still

June 21 was the Summer Solstice as usual. Also, as usual, Times Square filled up with yogis endeavoring to slot minds over madness. This year, the session I took turned out to be the best yoga class I’ve ever taken. If you find yourself with the chance to take a class with Catherine Cignac, do it.

While finding inner peace is all well and good, the real reason I return to NYC every year to partake is something apart from that. It’s not even the free stuff. I mean, that’s a big reason. We all know I love free stuff. The Yoga Village is filled with free samples from food to delicious water (not all bottled water is equal, yo) to holistic soap. I got a pretty new mat. I got a bag of stuff. The bag? Also free.

Still, the one thing that pulls me back is the opportunity to lie down in the middle of the city. I’m sure I could probably do that somewhere and not be looked at as odd. Odder things happen in the city all the time. However, I’d probably get stepped on. Here, corralled into safely taped-off sections of midtown, we all get to lie back, stare up at the cityscape, and really feel the wonder of it all.

Namaste.

 

The World Is Sound

IMG_0625The Rubin Museum of Art brings the East to the West. The Himalayan art makes a strong impact in scrolls and statues. In addition to the visual, audio was the focus in The World Is Sound, an exhibit that offers chants, instruments, artistic snippets of sound, and a ceiling to floor soundtrack from the first floor to the top and back down. Really, sound is everywhere all the time, and in this exhibit, it’s electric.

Normally, I skip elevators, but since I was starting on the top floor and working my way down, I took it. The elevators played interviews with artists about sound. This is how all-encompassing this exhibit is.

IMG_0626The curators want everyone to experience sound with your entire body through all five senses, so some art appeared next to signs that read Touch To Hear, and you could hear the vibration of a chant that went along with a piece of art. I like museums that encourage touching stuff. I also like museums that don’t allow you to touch stuff so that I can try to touch stuff and feel a bit of a rebel when I pull it off.

I found the Om Room that plays recordings of people chanting om. I sat and hummed and listened. I went back a second time before leaving the museum because it was really neat and relaxing.

Next to that was a video that showed graphics of space and molecules and talked about sound vibrations. It was stunning with a vibrant gold statue of a bodhisattva next to it. A bodhisattva is someone reaching toward enlightenment who helps others do the same, one step down from being a Buddha, one who has attained enlightenment. See how much you can learn in one trip to the museum?

There was a bank of headphones to listen to short compositions of sound and song. I like almost all of them. While I usually refrain from putting on public headphones, these were necessary for the full experience and did not seem germy at all. The descriptions of the compositions were also artistic.

Then came my favorite thing in the whole exhibit aside from the Om Room. I did this twice. They had a recording of someone reading the Bardo Thodol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead. To experience the reading, there was a bench, and you lay yourself down on the bench to listen. Some people were sitting. I laid down. Then I went back and laid down again because I like laying down in places, especially in NYC (see: Yoga In Times Square and that trip to the Whitney where after you lie down you find out you’ve been temperature recorded). I want to find that recording because I would lie down and listen to it every day.

After taking in the permanents and other exhibits on the other floors, all the while listening to the sounds coming from the center of the museums spiral staircase, I headed back to Penn. On my way, I found the key to the city.

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YTT v. PT Gone Wrong

If you’ll recall, last time I checked in here, I was limping around, unable to sit or move really. The positive update is that I can walk. The negative update is that not only do I still have patellar chonromalacia in my left knee, but the exercises the “expert” physical therapist gave me to fix that problem by opening up my tight hips successfully tore open the labrum of my right hip. That’s what the limping has been all about.

Meanwhile, I’m yoga-ing. Well, not really. I’m watching people yoga while I yoga in my brain. Fact: like 5 % of yoga is physical practice. The rest of it is all in your mind. Yeah, I know. Mind-blown, aren’t you?

On a complete sidenote: National Grid has been digging up the streets around my block for the past month and my dead end has been a storage place for their big yellow pipe thingies and various-sized piles of loose asphalt. This week, a port-a-potty appeared. I haven’t seen anyone go in it or come out of it, but it’s not like I’m watching it. I bring this up right now only because there’s a new kind of truck outside, and chains are rattling again. Either they’re moving more yellow pipe thingies in or moving them out. Guaranteed that plastic craphouse will still be standing when the truck leaves.

Anyway, focused meditation and breathing are what yoga is all about. Clearly, my focus is off (see paragraph above). I’m working towards passing this yoga course with every  element of willpower I own. I passed the written test and enjoyed a lovely ayurvedic meal with the yoga women afterwarrds. I would say I helped cook it, but mostly, I ate, and then I did what I do best with homecooked meals–I helped clean up. It’s the Virgo in me. I like it neat. Here, “it” means every gosh darn thing in the entire world.

The off-track-kneecap stopped hurting for a while. Then it started acting up again this week. The hip is nowhere near as painful as it was, but the pain is still there, moving from front to side to back to butt to all around and down and up and in again. Mostly, I’m annoyed. I work out six days a week on the usual. Now I’m kind of doing my weights for my arms and abs, and then every other day I do some PT exercises I looked up for both my knee and my hip.

FYI: Nowhere in the knee PT does it say to do any of the hip opening exercises the therapist told me to do. Ditto for the hip PT. That therapist? Is an ass. Did I mention he stretched out my right leg and then told the assistant it was my right knee? Yeah, that happened, which makes me even more convinced that he’s the reason my right hip is falling apart from the inside.

This leaves us here: I have my practicum on Friday at 2 if I can get two people to practice for me. I was planning to show up for the gals who are going before me, but yesterday was an achy setback, so I’m not sure if a physical practice in which I have to, like, move my legs is in the near future. This seems unfair to everyone–take my class but I can’t take yours. If it doesn’t work out for Friday, I’ll just teach the final some time in the future.

For shame, PT Therapist, for shame. Yes, I’m blaming everything on him. And on the ortho doc who sent me to PT for my knee in the first place. He could have just said, Don’t do high impact exercise for a week and see what happens because that seemed to make it better overall when I was stuck on the couch for two and a half days unable to sit upright. This is what we call rage. A very calm yoga-like rage.

What does a gal do when she aches and has plans to move and shake? She ices her joints and refuses to accept that she’s got issues. She is me, and I’m doing fine with my ice packs and willpower. That makes a good band name.

Namaste.

YTT Intensive, So Intense

Monday through Thursday from 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM, I go to a yoga studio with a group of women where we all learn yoga philosophy and practice. I also do homework. I haven’t done homework since grad school. I also observe classes. I also read books about yoga and anatomy. I also study. I haven’t studied anything since undergrad, and even then, not really. Yoga is now my life, because when it’s not Monday through Thursday 9:30 to 5:30, I’m doing all these other things.

Also happening: my left knee got all wonky after the first week to the point where I got scared and went to an ortho. X-rays showed a tracking problem–one of my quads is stronger than my other quad and is pulling my knee cap off track. Off to physical therapy.

The PT told me that my hips were tight. I kinda knew that, but didn’t realize how tight. I’ve been doing exercises to open them.

Today, I can’t sit down. I also can’t stand with my feet together. My right hip is in so  much pain that I’m basically a petite version of Lurch, dragging my leg wherever I go. Clearly, I skipped yoga practice this morning. If I can’t sit in the car, I’ll have to skip today. Hopefully it will feel better tomorrow.

So you want intense? This is intense. Mind swirling but learning about meditation. Body breaking while learning about strength. This is my satya–that means truth. See? I learned something already.

The real satya is that I have found a group of amazing gals who get all the reasons I’ve loved yoga — and maybe disliked yoga sometimes, too — and I get them. Intense, but the good kind.

Cheers To Lukewarm Bikram In NYC

June 21 means summer solstice. It’s also National Day of the Gong, National Seashell Day (because summer), National Selfie Day, Go Skateboarding Day, National Daylight Appreciation Day, and National Peaches N Cream Day. [see National Days for proof]. Most importantly, it’s Yoga In Times Square Mind Over Madness Day, also known as Yoga In Times Square, Solstice In Times Square, and International Yoga Day. Also, Lie Down In Times Square Without Getting Arrested Day. Fun for all!

I haven’t been to Summer Solstice Yoga in a few years, so I went this year. I didn’t bring my own mat for the first time, which proved to be freeing and lighter. I did bring a book and wore a backpack. I never wear backpacks–I feel like I’m getting robbed every time I stop walking, I don’t have access to anything, and it’s like carrying a small person around with me. Still, it seemed to be the optimal bag for the day with water and snacks and a change of in-case clothes.

Pit stop: Starbucks 2 in Penn. I grabbed a protein box for lunch that I could eat when I was on line for yoga. I also grabbed a yogurt and sat to read because I’d taken an early train so I could mosey along and not be drenched with sweat before class even started. The cafe had a lot of empty seats. A lot of room for a lot of people. So the very young in love couple dragging luggage behind sat right next to me. Okay fine. Then they started making out. Whenever they stopped making out, they would talk about his future. She knows that he’s going to be a famous director. If you’re interested in this make out session, you can go here. Otherwise, let’s move on.

I walked to Times Square for the 1:30 Bikram class (that would not be over 100 degrees as it has been close to in past years–this year, there was a breeze and the sun came out but not blaringly). Along the way, I passed by a man who was maybe an inch taller than me who was wearing a dapper suit and headphones. When we got to the corner to wait for the light to change, he began dancing off the sidewalk and into the street. Then he danced at me. It’s hard to describe what dancing at someone looks like, but that’s exactly what he did. It’s as if he had a catwalk linked between wherever he went and wherever I was. He would shuffle away in any direction, coming close to cars whizzing by and turning, and then dance towards me, breaking the personal space bubble. I did what any normal person would do–I stood there, not saying a word, not acknowledging the moves, not making eye contact not even through my sunglasses. When the light turned green, I speedily walked around him. We kept passing each other because he would catch up with some fast moves but then slow down to watch himself in window reflections. I lost him after a few blocks. He may still be dancing.

The line-up for me began on 47th and Broadway. Eight people stood on line before me. Well, okay, there were seven people and then a guy who leaned against the gate, talking to the cars driving by. The woman standing in front of him wore cat ears and a cat tail. This guy wore, well, I don’t know exactly, but I remember the bright socks and black sandals. People wear all kinds of things to yoga class, and yoga people can be a little, shall we say, “out there,” so I wasn’t sure if this guy was actually waiting for yoga or simply shouting at cars. I stood a little behind him, a bit off to the side.

When someone else came up behind me to stand on line as he was talking to the air and still leaning on the gate, I looked at her until she looked up so I could whisper, I’m not really sure if he’s on line, so I’m giving him some room. She got exactly what I meant and moved to the curb on the other side of me. Eventually, she and I struck up a conversation and the guy walked away. He wound up on the drop in line for a while, but then went away completely.

On the way in, we got free mats and bags with stuff that we could fill up with more stuff at the Yoga Village two blocks down. All FREE!

My waiting on line gal pal became my yoga gal pal as we set up our mats next to each other and kept chatting. We both went to post photos on Instagram where I saw a post about waiting for class to start. I was like, Oh, I know someone here. She was like, hey what’s your Instagram? And that’s how you introduce yourself to people today. After sharing Instas, we exchanged names. Ha!

The class started and the sun came out with our first breathing sequence. Bikram has a specific sequence, so following is kind of easy. Surprisingly, I did not drip with sweat. I sweat more standing and waiting on line than I did while practicing. The class proved to be calming and invigorating all at the same time. Several times, we all cheered for ourselves. We didn’t chant together, but we breathed together to end it. Then there was more cheering. The whole thing made me happy that I’d returned and excited to be starting yoga teacher training next week.

B and I went to the yoga village together where we scored more water, fresh mango slices, Luna Bars, crackers, and temporary tattoos.

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We parted ways, making a plan to meet up for yoga again some day. I walked back to Penn as the next session of NYC yogis filed in for their solstice gathering. The breeze blew. The sun stayed out. The absolutely perfect first day of summer.

Back to the Namaste

Remember when I used to teach yoga? It was a long time ago and for a long time. Then I stopped teaching all that often, but I got to sub, and that was fun. I got certified through NESTA, which is an organization that offers correspondence courses. It was a solo learning experience, building on everything I’d taught myself over the years since I’d opened Sassy Magazine and found a yoga sequence when I was a teenager. Certification led to my teaching for Continuing Ed community classes, which led me to the studio where I taught and then subbed.

And this happened once. It’s okay. I’m over it.

Also fun: All those times I went to Summer Solstice in NYC. That time in 2011. That time in 2012. That time in 2013. That time in 2014.

I went to hot yoga once. It was sweaty and gross and the instructor wasn’t great.

I also had a Groupon for yoga at the same studio but not as hot, so those were fun classes on the weekend. That same studio opened another studio closer to  home, so I went there for a few classes, too. Then they closed, so I stopped going.

In the meantime, I’ve practiced on and off at home, sometimes with DVDs by Shiva Rea or Yoga Zone, sometimes using Pinterest inspiration, and sometimes simply doing it because I know what I’m doing.

Lately, I’ve gotten to miss it, so on a whim, I looked up teacher training. There’s a 200 hour course that’s official through the most officially recognized yoga people in the world that I’ve always wanted to take and haven’t had the chance to. Because it’s 200 hours.

Serendipity has struck because I found a studio in RVC that offers it as an intensive several week course during the summer. This is exactly what I’ve wanted. I contacted them. They answered right away. I went to see the studio, and the owner showed me around and offered me a class. I took the class and now I’m hooked again.

The plan: In May, once the semester is over, I’m buying a monthly pack. That gets me to June, when the training begins. That brings me to July, when I’ll finally have my 200 hour course done and done.

I might go back to subbing. I might go back to teaching. I might not do either of those things. I’m just happy to be getting back to yoga.