Friday, February 28, 2014

BIKRAM YOGA. I TOO DISLIKE IT.

This afternoon while I was practicing Bikram yoga, I flashed on the first line of Marianne Moore's poem "Poetry" which begins, (as many of you already know) with the stunning revelation: "I too dislike it."

 There I was doing my standing head to knee and my bow pulling pose, and I couldn't help but smile.  Because it seemed that Moore's poem applied absolutely to Bikram yoga - which nobody who seriously engages in it can claim to like.  And yet, as Moore does in Poetry, we 'find in it a place for the genuine'.

I have a crush on Bikram yoga.  That is, I'm scared of it,  and it makes my heart beat faster and when I pass the studio where I routinely practice, I  turn my head and look at the sign - and at any given hour, even if I'm not in the studio, I mentally calculate what stage they will be in their practice.  At 10:30 am for instance, I might think to myself - just about now they will be finishing their eagle pose and having a sip of water - and then they'll be on to the balancing series.

When I wake up each morning, yes - it sounds pathetic, for those who DONT have this crush - I check my email, and then I check the "Best Hot Yoga in Virginia Bikram Falls Church" page to see who is teaching at 4 o clock. Why? Because that's the hour I usually practice.   Not that it makes any difference in absolute terms, because the dialog is always the same. The practice is identical no matter who the teacher. But it's just to orient myself. To anticipate the practice to come.  Oh, it's Jamie today. Or oh, it's Carol.

Pathetic?  Anyone who has a crush is a little bit pathetic.  They've discovered something that lights their private fire, and the light is exhilarating and doesn't depend on what others think or feel. In fact, to hell with what everyone else thinks,  because this is all about your inner life.

Amazing when I think how I started out,  a little more than a year ago. I hated this yoga. I endured it only because my daughter Rozzie was convinced it would help my frozen shoulder.  I agonized - and I thought those who did 30 day challenges must be absolutely out of their minds.  Now I am one of them.  As another yogi in our studio says,  I've drunk the Kool Aid.  And PS, my frozen shoulder is healed.

On Thursday after my practice I spoke with another student in the studio who I have often seen before. She told me she often thinks to herself What am I doing here.  Why did I come.  It isn't enjoyable.  It isn't fun.  It is, however, a community.  But even though I've got more used to the 105% degree temperature, I still can't predict one day to the next how my practice will go.  Sometimes it feels smooth as silk.  Others it's an almighty struggle. Nothing changes but me. And I don't know what I'm bringing into the hot room until I am actually there. I try not to bring expectations.  I try to stay present, in each posture as it comes up - without any thought or dread of what's to come.  But it changes every time.

I think it's safe to say that most practitioners have a love/hate relationship with this yoga. They know it heals and that's why they return.  But healing is not always easy, even though within it, like Marianne Moore,  we find a place for the genuine.  And as Marianne Moore found in Poetry, we find that it is useful. We know that it is raw.  And if your soul and body demand what is raw and what is also genuine, you too may be interested in Bikram yoga!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

BACK FROM THE LAND DOWN UNDER

Blue Mountains
                                           

On Thursday, we returned from our visit to Australia and one of the consequences of traveling across date lines, miles and seasons is that I am now wide awake at 3:15 am.  No point calculating what time my body thinks it is though, because I have the impulse to share my impressions.  I learned a lot on my wonderful visit - but bear in mind we went only to Sydney and Melbourne.

 IT'S FURTHER THAN YOU THINK
 Though your plane is zooming for hours at 875 mph, the journey itself is an actual place. You board a plane at Dulles and the season is deep winter. You fly for six hours to LAX -and transfer to Auckland - a trip which takes eleven hours.  You read and doze and watch endless films and you are on a journey that may last forever. Don't bother to figure out what time of day you think it is.  Go with the flow.   Because after Auckland, which you thought was basically next door - it's another three plus hours to Sydney - and yet another time change. You skip one day entirely.   But it's no longer winter when you arrive in woolies like a wooly mammoth.  Your beloved son Alex will greet you at the airport in shorts and flip flops. That's how long it takes to get there.

 SYDNEY LOOKS LIKE CALIFORNIA. BUT ISN'T
The hills of Sydney are reminiscent of San Francisco, and the views of San Francisco Bay from Sausalito. But when you stroll round Sydney Harbor down the many wonderful paths, there's more than a whiff of Captain Cook. The harbor's massive.  And wild. And dangerous looking in places. You get the sense that some of this will never be tamed.  But the shops are smaller and the houses are smaller  and their awnings make it quaint.  The charming houses with wrought iron balconies, and rubber plants in front gardens remind you this is a different place with different priorities.  It's warmer than San Francisco, and the people dress more casually.  There are a lot of white people who are very tanned. It's a city with a beach and radio culture. 

NO WORRIES
The ethos is different - the impression more innocent and old fashioned.  The people we met were absolutely without pretension. There's no stressing - no hurry. "No worries," they say. It takes a lot longer to order restaurant food and get served -but nobody except you cares or notices. They're too busy sipping flat whites and chatting amiably. They seem so casual and warm and they love nicknames.  Every word is shortened to a nickname. It makes you feel loved.

FOOD IS DELICIOUS
We had hamburgers with beetroot and fruit salads with muesli and passion fruit and berries and yogurt, and exotic Thai curries, and delicious pastas. We had buckets of prawns at a beachside cafe, dinner with Ed and Marine at their beautiful apartment overlooking Sydney Harbor - ribs with Anna and Selwyn in Melbourne underneath the trees, dumplings in bamboo steamers in the heart of Sydney. I ate dishes of yogurt for breakfast with honey made from the bees in the garden where we stayed.  I had flat whites at the cafe where they were invented, and icy cocktails in tall glasses, and fresh bread and all of it was fresh and delicious.  Oh, they also have a strange seasoning known as 'chicken salt'.  Huh?

THEY HAVE ENORMOUS BATS AND STRANGE EXOTIC BIRDS
There's one bird whose song my son Elliot described as like Jerry Lewis being punched in the stomach slow motion.  Then there are others with waffling, seemingly random songs of several notes duration, and kookaburras which up until now had only been a WORD in a song I learned as a child.  And they have these weird crane like birds walking round the park - with tiny thin legs and little hooked beaks.  Those are like pigeons to them. Also they have these huge bats which are actually flying foxes. They circle over the park like hawks on speed.  It's more fascinating than creepy though.  I promise. And just so foreign.   Oh, and the parrots.  Cockatoos take off from the treetops squawking as they pass. Didn't see a single kangaroo.

AUSTRALIAN FOOTBALL IS BETTER THAN AMERICAN FOOTBALL
One of Alex's lovely friends works for the Sydney Swans and he invited us to watch a game.  I told my guys that I'd rather watch this than American Football, which still eludes me. I don't understand why American football keeps stopping and starting and I'm not interested in the players because I can't see them through all their helmets and shoulder pads.  But this game has fluidity, and more running. It's a game punctuated by whistles which keep blowing -a whistle is evidently a good thing.  Also you can see the players because they're dressed in shorts.  It seems more friendly and tackle free. They made the game up when someone was tossing a football around the cricket pitch about a hundred and fifty years ago.  It feels more human to me.  Of course, Ben tells me I only liked it because I can be sure that I won't have to watch it, ever, back home!

IT'S WICKEDLY EXPENSIVE  The Australian dollar is worth a bit less than US dollars but even so you go through them like WATER.  A simple lunch of sandwiches and cold drinks might run $40.  You have to pay for carts at the airport. You have to pay for the transfer bus from one terminal to another - and I'm talking 20 bucks.  A bottle of ordinary Australian wine costs more there than it does here. A six pack of beer costs what a case costs here. But oh well, you're on holiday!

DOGS AREN'T ALLOWED BUT PEDESTRIANS ARE Funny, but being a dog lover I noticed that there were many places dogs were not allowed.  Not allowed on trails on the Blue Mountains. Not allowed on beaches.  Maybe they aren't allowed on beaches here, either - Maybe it was only that I missed my dogs back home. But I didn't like those signs of dogs with a thick red line struck through them.  On the other hand, the sign for pedestrian crossing was a hoot: two sides of a triangle - simulating trousers, with little shoes on the end.

NATURE RULES
There are dolphins in the harbor and birds in the air and the overgrowth and undergrowth in the Blue Mountains looked like that film Avatar.  When our friend who lives in Melbourne walks to work - flocks of parrots fly out from the trees as he passes by.  It's as though Nature is saying to you - if you want to live here, you'll have to deal with ME.  I've never seen such beautiful beaches - miles of yellow sand and pounding waves with hardly any people.  And those walks along the cliff edge! And the size of their ordinary spiders! And the rock formations! The smell of eucalyptus and its blue mist over the mountains.  And dipping your feet in a stream of beautiful waters on your hike.  Heaven.



ENERGY
The culture I observed in our brief visit was a culture of enthusiasm, and enthusiasm is energy and energy is life. But now I'm back here at my desk in Virginia and it's now 4:30 am and I'm winding  down.  One last word about energy though: Bikram yoga helps with that considerably.  I practiced twice in Sydney with my son and his girlfriend - and that practice was identical to the one I do here. It was like family and that for me was the cherry on top.




Sunday, February 2, 2014

TOOTSIE AND THE PEEING INCIDENT

just the sky over our garden. nothing to do with the story
'

At a dinner party last night, a gathering which was full of great conversation, much laughter and song, a friend seated next to me turned and whispered in my ear, during dessert.  Evidently someone had made an off color remark to our hostess. I couldn't quite hear what she whispered, didn't know what was at stake.

"What? Whose nipples?" I asked.

"Shhh," my friend responded. She then repeated her words, sotto voce, meanwhile trying to wave down the look of surprise on my face. "shh, Amanda, shhhh...." she said.

"What do you mean? Who said that?"

"Amanda, stop repeating every word I say!"

An hour or so later, when half the guests had left, we found ourselves in the living room - Ben and me, our hostess and her husband as well as two other couples, including the friend who had recounted the offending nipple anecdote.  Together we mulled over the off color remark, heard the whole unpleasant story from start to finish, and concurred it had been in very bad taste.

Then I brought up Tootsie, that 1980's film where Dustin Hoffman plays an out of work actor who dresses up as a woman in order to get a TV part.  Disguised as a woman, he realizes how much sexual harassment women routinely put up with from their bosses - and as a result becomes a role model for women in the workforce. I maintained there was a cut off point in terms of attitude to sexual harassment - Pre-Tootsie and Post-Tootsie.

"And in post-Tootsie days people aren't sexually harassed?" Ben asked.

Everyone laughed. But that wasn't it, I said.  It had to do with how women reacted to off-color remarks and innuendo. If you were Pre-Tootsie, I argued, on a certain level you tolerated such behavior - but might also have had a rejoinder up your sleeve to put the offender in his place without making too many waves.  As a survival tactic, your best option was to keep things running smoothly - to discourage the offender while at the same time moving forward with your own objectives.  I, for one, as a younger woman, had dismissed many such remarks.  I wouldn't have even considered passing them along to other people.

But Post-Tootsie women are much more self assured. Confident that public opinion is on their side when it comes to rude sexual comments, they take the offending men to task and hold them accountable. And with time, men who might be prone to such comments, gradually catch on. They don't harass so freely - and women become more shocked when they do.  But they also don't have practice defusing  these off color comments.

You have to understand that our conversation took place after we'd been plowing through the vino, so that a lot of it was rather flippant and probably not entirely thought through.  Nevertheless although my friends laughed at my theory, I think I have a point worth considering.

 I grew up in an era where you pretty much learned to put up with sexist remarks. I dealt with one boss who asked repeatedly about my sex life, and another who said he wanted to spank me and one time thrust his tongue down my throat.  I never considered reporting these men to Human Resources. Shame on me.  Instead, my instinct was to pass the incidents off as best I could - and to do some serious back peddling, in an attempt to tread the thin line between not insulting the offender's pride and discouraging future advances.  It was quite a trick which many of my generation had to learn, but we paid a price whichever way we turned.

Another woman at last night's party who was maybe ten years older than me, couldn't imagine what the problem was.  In my day she said, people often said this kind of thing. It was either accepted or rejected.  Nobody made a fuss - they might even have been flattered!

But last night, I also told a different story to illustrate the Pre to Post-Tootsie shift.  I guess I was still a bit Pre-Tootsie while my then boyfriend Ben, who is now my husband was Post-Tootsie.  Anyway, we were in our twenties and at a party, and at one point I went to the toilet.  After I peed, I had the strange feeling that I wasn't alone in the bathroom.  I flushed, crossed the room and drew the shower curtain, only to find two young men crouching in the bathtub.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

They looked a little sheepish.

"Jeez," I said  in my pre-Tootsie manner. Oh, I probably said something else too, along the lines of get a life, but basically I left, letting them off scot free.

But on the drive back home to my apartment, with other friends in the car, I mentioned what had happened. Aha... I mentioned it - so I must have be trending towards the Post-Tootsie direction.

"WHAT?" cried my then boyfriend Ben.  He was absolutely outraged.

"Oh, please don't make a big deal about it," I pleaded. Nevertheless, he turned the car around and drove us back to the party.

"OK, who was it," he wanted to know.

I pointed out the guys.  They were drinking beers or smoking weed or something of the sort, deep in the mix of the party.  Then one of them made things easy for us. "Hey!" he cried. "I just saw you pee!"

And boy, did Ben let him have it.

I remember the altercation well. "Hey man. No offense," said this guy.

"What do you mean by no offense..." cried Ben.  "It's nothing but offense!"

I loved that line.  I still love that line, thirty years later.  I guess you could say it was a turning point for me and Ben. And as you see, reader, I married him.