Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Comfort Zone

I love it when my yoga classes reverberate off the mat. One of the things my favorite teacher, Sherman Morris, says in every class is: "Get out of your comfort zone," or "If you don't feel anything, you're wasting your time." Although he says this often, it always cuts through the gathering mists and brings me back to the mat. Not that I'm ever comfortable in yoga class. I'm more comfortable in some asanas than in others, like everyone, but seeing as I'm not comfortable half naked in public -- it's not my nature to flip the cruise control switch and coast into savasana.

For me to step out of my comfort zone, I have to attempt the asanas that both scare and excite me. These are usually the poses that defy gravity, and because I'm a longstanding musical theater geek, I confess that I sing along to "Defying Gravity" from Wicked at least once a day. I associate the song with doing something that's scary joyful, like Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm Stand).

There were years where I couldn't get near Bakasana (crow pose) -- any arm balance was far outside the realm of pose-ability. I almost always tried it, though, picking up pointers from different teachers along the way. Jerry Bianchini gave me the tip that made it all click into place. I can't remember his exact words, just the image -- but he suggested I think of a string attached to my sternum, stretching through my middle back to the ceiling -- I turned myself into a chubby comma and suddenly my feet lifted off the floor. Now Bakasana resides just inside the border of my comfort zone.

Outside the studio, things are no different. I am comfortable as a soap writer. I know what's expected of me, and I know I can more than deliver. But I have spent the past few years working on a book, and this week I met with my awesome agent, Erin, to hand over my completed book proposal. It's now in her hands. She'll soon be sending it to editors. My dream is becoming very real. While we sat at lunch the other day, Erin said, "We're going to get you out of your comfort zone. Are you ready?" Hell, yes! I'm prepared and I'm terrified, but it's curious, anticipatory terror -- the good kind. When Erin echoed Sherman, I took at as a sign that I was in exactly the right place.

When things are right, I get a squirrelly feeling in my solar plexus -- my power chakra. I used to call it "my vulnerability spot." If I'm writing from a dangerous place (emotionally dangerous, not the crow's nest of a schooner in a storm) -- my third chakra lets me know I'm on the right track. It's far from comfortable. In fact, it can get so uncomfortable that I want to run away, shake it off, go eat half a cow on white bread. But these days I write through it, aware that I've hit the good stuff. As a reminder, I had a lotus flower tattooed right over the vulnerability spot. Confucian scholar, Zhou Dunyi, said: "I love the lotus because while growing from mud, it is unstained." That is why I write: to transform the mud into something beautiful.

From writing practice back to yoga practice. I haven't felt terribly well all week. I'm drained and pale. This is my 21st day as a vegan, and I'm probably not eating the optimal variety of foods. Here, again, I am far outside my comfort zone. At the same time, I feel much lighter and clearer. I sleep better -- weird dreams though. In yoga class, my twists feel different. Oh, and my boobs shrunk an entire cup size in three weeks. Why can't weight loss start from the bottom and work upward? I have to put more effort into shopping and preparing things to have around. Not only do I like cooking, it's one of the highest forms of self-care. I don't have the hang of it quite yet, but I am not giving up. It's not like I didn't mess up my diet daily while I was a carnivore. Both my moods and my blood sugar were on a constant seesaw.

In the meanwhile, I've only managed to make restorative practices this week. First there was Jessica Caplan's Sunday night class at Pure. I was shocked to see it so crowded. I was also shocked by the loud screams emanating from my hip joints in the world's longest Happy Baby pose. Yow. Pigeon pose on the right was similarly noisy. The left: no problem. There is obviously a banshee making her home in my right hip joint. Good to know. Class was excellent, but, to be honest, I was yearning for one of those pillowy restorative practices where the teacher stretches your neck and rubs oils into your forehead. Who gives those anymore?

Yesterday, I was feeling too wispy to make it through Sherman's 9:30 vinyasa class, so I went to Jerry Bianchini's 10:30 Restorative across the hall. Jerry is an extraordinary teacher. I've been in his class at various venues for ten years now, and I never leave without something new to think about. We worked on backbending with chairs, and my lungs are grateful. But the class began with sudden onset yoga rage.

To the elderly couple who showed up 13 minutes late to a one-hour practice: What the f**k? (If you think this might be you, it is. If you're in doubt, sir, you wore an Upper West Side t-shirt, so I know where to find you.) Slipping in along the side and unobtrusively joining in is bad enough. Walking to the center of the room and standing there waiting to be serviced -- whining that there's no room -- forcing the instructor to stop teaching and take care of you -- was not freaking restorative! Aaaaarrrrrggggggghhhhhh. Plus, there were no more chairs. So, Pure, perhaps you should limit the size of the class to the number of props you have. But more importantly, I think what separates a true yoga studio from a gym is class discipline. Don't allow students to come in late. I mean, five minutes... and quietly... maybe. Gym yoga often sucks because management won't allow such sensible restrictions. But despite its affiliation with Equinox, Pure is a yoga studio. That's why I joined. (Oh, and it would be so great if you could have cups by the "tea station." And maybe... tea. I'm just saying.)

I know this bitchery is not yogic. So I'll go for it. There's a guy I've been practicing with for at least five years -- he goes to Yogaworks and he owns a cluster of high-end NYC clothing boutiques -- this guy has never once come to class on time. Any class. Any teacher. Any time of day or night. He's always ten minutes late, but comes unabashedly to the front of the room, slaps down his mat -- and usually drinks coffee throughout his practice. I think his biggest yoga challenge would be to show up on time.

Yes, I am the queen-size Nellie Olesen of yoga class. I should try to subsume my bratty tendencies. Is there a pose for that?

If you don't remember Nellie, for your viewing pleasure:

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