reality bites. confessions of an imperfect yogi

holy crap. I suck.

Last night my sweet, patient, loving partner said these words to me: “If only people knew you weren’t the person you portray on your blog”. Ouch. I’m not?

Apparently, the person I am at home can be really impatient and snappy with a cynical edge…

And yet here I am thinking I’m on this pilgrimage toward enlightenment with hopes of being patient, kind, compassionate, witty and good. And, for the most part, that’s what the world sees…unless we’re related or I’m really hungry or I was just cut off in traffic, of course. And it never fails that when I’m mean-spirited, impatient, or brazen in a bad way, I experience a major guilt complex afterward and I get all judgy and in my own face.

some of the horrible things I say to myself:

 A real yogi wouldn’t act that way.

Someone who is really good or compassionate or kind wouldn’t do that really terrible thing you just did.

You’re a yogi hypocrite.

You don’t practice Ahimsa or Satya or Asteya, (enter any number of yogic terms, here), blah, blah, blah.

You need to get the hell out of contact with people. You’re totally irrational and super freaky, sister.

Wow, you have some serious karma to work off.

What the hell are you thinking? Are you insane? Yes. You’re insane.

Now you’ve blown it. That person sees the real you.

No wonder you got cancer.

wtf?!?

Ok. I’m lying. I’m actually way meaner in my head. And I curse more. Way more.  But I don’t know that it means I’m not the person I portray here on my little blog. Maybe it means that I’m constantly changing and that I’m totally imperfect, but in a human on a journey to be a better person kind of a way. Because every pilgrim and every seeker has different experiences and struggles that they need to go through in order to be a better person. My path might just be a windier one….

But here’s the grab. I’m open about my imperfections, and in a large part, I accept myself as a work in progress. This life is ever changing, and I am always working on cultivating forgiveness and patience. When I catch myself saying a variation of any of the cruel statements above in my head (about myself or anyone), I try to slow down to notice it. Where’s that coming from? Is that the real truth (answer: NO). And when that fails (as is often the case), I try to reflect later to think about what the real truth is; the truth isn’t that I’m a terrible person. The truth is that I may have had a moment (or longer) when I was irrational or mean (or any number of things), and that I’m a human being on this human journey. I make mistakes (sometimes really big ones) and I try my best to make up for it, grow from it, and learn about myself and others.  And that, my friends, makes me a freaking righteous yogi. Just one with an attitude.

Yamas and Niyamas- Bicycle Style

 

bicycle at Fisherman's Terminal

shifting light & changing gears

The quality of light has shifted in the past couple of weeks, reminding me that summer is coming to an end soon. There are fewer birds in the trees on my morning bike ride and the geese that I’ve witnessed turn from chartreuse gosling to awkward adolescent have finally made it to full-fledged goose.  I’ve planted winter crops in the p-patch, begun to empty my closet of summer wear and pulled out my socks and boots in preparation for fall and winter. And just as the trees are beginning to change color, my wardrobe is beginning to move back toward my basic black.

Usually this time of year makes me a bit wistful about what I’ve missed out on during the long, lazy days of summer, but with the overwhelming events of the summer, I’m feeling ready to hunker down for the dark days. That is, except for my bike commute to work…I’ve been riding my bike to work regularly since early spring of this year, and I’m not quite used to riding in the dark or the rain. I’ll be damned if I’ll be a fair weather rider again, and so I wanted to inspire myself to take my cycling journey more seriously. I realized I needed to pull out the big guns. I decided to look at my cycling through a yogic lens of the Yamas and Niyamas.

my journey of bicycle riding through the first two limbs of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga

Yamas: Moral principles and social behaviors (some call these the “restraints”). If followed, these five precepts can help anyone to find balance- which is always good when one is riding a bike.

  • Ahimsa (Non-Violence):  Donna Farhi describes Ahimsa as “a state of living free from fear”, which is the perfect reminder for my bicycle riding. It’s impossible for me to ride a bike without experiencing some amount of healthy fear, but I can’t allow this to impact the entire experience. I have to trust that I will not necessarily fly over my handlebars or be slammed into by a texting driver. As regularly as riding a bike brings me in touch with my mortality, I have to understand that nobody is out to hurt me intentionally. And riding a bike subsequently causes less harm to the planet than my driving a car- which makes me (and my body) happy.
  • Satya (Truthfulness): Honesty is moral and good, and so is following rules. So, to be completely truthful here, there are times when I run red lights or blow through stop signs on my bike (like at 5:40 in the morning when there’s no traffic at all). The important thing is to have a commitment to being an upright person in thought, action and speech. This means being honest with myself and others as well as living as impeccably as I possibly can. Sort of like confession- I speak my truth to you about being a morning stop sign runner and now I am forgiven (ok…not really).
  • Asteya (Non-Stealing): Asteya has as much to do with not taking from others as it does not stealing from ourselves. It could relate to not cutting someone off or riding too close- stealing space. It can also be an opportunity to practice being generous- welcoming another biker to take the lead, offering assistance to someone who is broken down or offering up an extra bike to someone who needs one (this is really generous and builds up positive biking karma).
  • Brahmacharya (Celibacy/ Self Control): It’s important to hold back sometimes to conserve some much needed energy and to notice the small things that might have seemed insignificant before. If we’re only going full speed ahead searching for that biking orgasm, we aren’t going to notice the little thrills along the way. And isn’t noticing the small sensory details one of the best things about biking?
  • Aparigraha (Non-Grasping): Be here now. This moment matters, and if you’re grasping onto what just happened or where you need to get to, you’re potentially missing out. You’re also likely distracted from paying attention to things like cars, other bikers, pedestrians, rodents, potholes, etc.  Another perspective is this: riding a bike is just about riding a bike. All of the gear in the world doesn’t take that away. Your bike just needs to get you from point A to point B. Everything else, my gear-head friends, is icing on the bicycle cake. I may want the Linus bike, but do I really need it? Probably not (but don’t tell Santa…).

Niyamas: Personal observances that focus on inner discipline and responsibility (connecting with the self) in order to cultivate a connection to the Whole.

  • Shaucha (Cleanliness): Wash up, people. And that means not only your body but your mind, too. Clutter creates chaos, so it’s just as important to clear your mind as it is to clean out that pannier. I like to take a few minutes before getting on my bike to think about my ride and to prepare for entering the world. If I have everything ready the night before, I have the time to setting before setting out in the world.  That way, my ride itself can be meditative. And that’s really a lovely experience.
  • Santosha (Contentment): Contentment doesn’t mean “happy”. It means equanimity- not placing “good” or “bad” on the situation. Traffic is just traffic. Rain is just rain. Sunshine is just sunshine. A flat tire is just flat. And all of this shall pass- the good, the bad and the ugly.
  • Tapas (Fire/Austerity): The amount of energy you put into anything is what you’ll get out of it. I like to think about the idea of alchemy: burning away those things that don’t matter to make room for the things that do. Riding my bike at the end of the day allows me to forget the things that I was freaking out about just minutes before (refer back to Santosha). It also helps me to decide what it is I want to spend my energy and attention on.
  • Svadhyaya (Self-Study): Svadhyaya refers most specifically to study of scripture and ancient texts. In bicycling, this doesn’t exist as far as I know- but might I suggest reading Pedal, Stretch, Breathe by Kelli Refer. It’s a small little book that takes up very little space and costs just a few bucks. It’s sweet and honest and has incredibly simple suggestions for ways to move your body before, during and after riding. And if this doesn’t appeal to you, I would propose that most spiritual texts are meant for you to take the teachings into the world- why not read the Bhagavad Gita and explore the ways riding a bike in the city can make you feel a bit like Arjuna preparing for a battle (and then go deeper into the concept of dharma, morals, ethics and spiritual connection).
  • Ishvarapranidhana (Devotion): When I open up my heart to God, the Divine, that which is greater than me, I see the world with new eyes. My ride becomes less about where I am going and more about the experience of being connected with everything around me. I develop a greater peace and I soften to the subtleties that occur when I’m on my bike.  I notice my heart beat, the resonance of the birds along the canal, the rhythm of the tires on the pavement and the sound of other bikers breathing as they pedal to pass me. When I pay attention, my interconnectedness with everything feels like a great comfort- and this is really what draws me to riding my bike in the first place.

does this yoga make my butt look big?

I’m in a practicum for yoga teacher certification. I believe in the ethical precepts of yoga, read sacred texts, perform yogic breathing, meditate, meet regularly with fellow yogis for inspiration, and practice yoga on a daily basis. I attend challenging yoga classes that make me stretch, twist, jump, and sweat. I’m feeling stronger and more physically capable than I have in a long time, and I’d like to think that my practice has helped me to be a more emotionally stable person. So why the hell do I give a damn that my ass is getting fat? But it is.

My jeans are stretched to capacity, and when I catch the occasional glimpse of my backside in my yoga pants, I see a reflection of a bulging derriere. As much as I want to be all yogic and practice non-attachment, I find my backside expansion to be disconcerting. I want the elusive “yoga butt”! Is that too much to ask for? Ahem.

Before anyone alerts the yoga police, let me clarify. Like many women in this body obsessed culture, I have had body image issues since adolescence. I’ve never been super skinny, and even when I was eating a mostly raw, vegetarian, low fat diet and exercising like a mad woman, I was wearing a size 12 pants. Sometimes 14.Who am I kidding? I’ve pushed the 16/18 boundary several times, too.  And I’ve worked hard at being ok with that- working diligently to love my body and to practice the yogic principle of Ahimsa (non-harming, fearlessness, compassion). Inner voice: this is why they call it “practice”.

My body is strong and healthy, and I am grateful for all that my body can do. But to be honest, I can’t seem to shake the nagging part of me that wants to fit in- not just my pants, but with the crowd of athletic yogis who look so lithe and “healthy” in their Lululemon yoga gear and who adorn the covers of shiny yoga magazines. These yogis are stunning to look at. And….so am I. And so are the masses of “curvy” people who are finally stepping forth to claim a place on the mat or in the front of the room.

These lovely yogis are proving that yoga can be done regardless of size. It’s not just bold; it’s what my friend has proclaimed to be a yoga love revolution. And it’s a powerful and equally beautiful thing to behold. My ass is bigger- yes. And maybe, just maybe, that’s not just because I adore sharing sugary baked goods with my yoga book club friends, but also because my heart has expanded beyond the confines of my rib cage. Perhaps my ass is making room for what my torso can’t hold.