Photo by Monica Felix @ www.monicafelix.com

Committing to stillness

Photo by Monica Felix @ www.monicafelix.com

Photo by Monica Felix @ www.monicafelix.com

After years of practicing yoga, I’ve found my instincts to be sharper than ever before because the most challenging component of practicing yoga is the stillness.

Especially in Bikram, when it’s a hundred degree and sweat gushes out of every pore of your body for ninety minutes straight. Kind of hard not to wipe, itch, scratch, pick, pull or adjust something.

But that’s the whole point. To be able to practice perfect stillness amidst surrounding chaos. That’s when you’re confronted with who you really are. That’s when you can’t hide from your truth.

Sounds simple, but it’s actually the most challenging part of class. Anyone can touch head to knee. But to just sit there and do nothing for sixty seconds? Yikes.

Most people are so voluntarily overbooked and crazybusy that the mere thought of absolute stillness gives them an ulcer.

But if you can practice stillness in the studio, you can practice stillness anywhere. Muscle memory is a beautiful thing.

From stillness comes lucidity. And from lucidity comes the ability to listen to your intuition.

Ask anyone who does yoga: The highest benefits are found outside the studio. Those instincts will get sharp as steel.

How much time did you spend yesterday just sitting?

Scott Ginsberg is a writer, daily practitioner and work study volunteer at Bikram Yoga Park Slope.

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Absorb some of the weight bearing responsibility

 

Photo by Monica Felix @ www.monicafelix.com

Photo by Monica Felix @ www.monicafelix.com

Here’s something my yoga teacher recently asked the class during a difficult balancing pose.

“If the floor disappeared right now, which muscles would you be engaging?”

It’s a tough question. Because it confronts us with another one our unconscious yoga habits, gripping the floor with the fingers or toes to maintain balance.

When it’s just a crutch. An attachment. A shortcut. The floor shouldn’t be the thing we depend on, our muscles should be.

And so, instead of turning our limbs into fleshy vice grips, it’s smarter to engage the core and flex the surrounding muscle groups.

This creates a durable foundation that absorbs some of the weight bearing responsibility from our fingers and toes.

What unconscious yoga habits are you trying to break?

Scott Ginsberg is a writer, daily practitioner and work study volunteer at Bikram Yoga Park Slope.

Photo by Monica Felix @ www.monicafelix.com

Yoga is as hard as we want it to be

Photo by Monica Felix @ www.monicafelix.com

Photo by Monica Felix @ www.monicafelix.com

Is yoga hard?

Like many things in life, it’s as hard as we want it to be.

That’s the beauty of the practice. It meets us where we are. It invites us to engage the level of intensity that works best for our bodies.

And so, if we’re feeling especially strong and energetic one morning and want to go deep and long in every posture, that’s awesome. That will be a tough class.

On the other hand, if it’s been a stressful day and we feel depleted and just want to lay in savasana in the back of the room until we start sawing logs, that class will feel a cakewalk.

Everybody is different, and every body is different.

Hard or easy is completely up to us.

What fears are preventing you from trying a new practice?

Scott Ginsberg is a writer, daily practitioner and work study volunteer at Bikram Yoga Park Slope.

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Yoga as an anxiety reduction subroutine

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Photo by Monica Felix @ www.monicafelix.com

Yoga is one of many strategies that I employ to manage my anxiety in a healthy way.

In part because practicing is an aerobic activity that boosts my brain’s dopamine levels and provides endorphins.

But also because my studio is a supportive community of compassionate people. We all struggle and thrive and fail and persevere on the mat together, even if we don’t know each other’s names, even if we don’t know each other’s lives outside the hot room.

And so, anytime I find myself shrouded in a cloud of melancholy, it’s simply a matter of launching the anxiety reduction subroutine.

Works every time.

What emotions does anxiety help you manage?

Scott Ginsberg is a writer, daily practitioner and work study volunteer at Bikram Yoga Park Slope.

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Yoga isn’t a competition

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Photo by Monica Felix @ monicafelix.com

When we finish a yoga class, our first instinct to ask ourselves, well, how’d we do? Did we have a good class?

But the problem with this kind of thinking is, it’s trapped in the binary, goal oriented construct of good or bad, right or wrong, win or lose.

And yoga isn’t a competition. It’s a practice. It’s about showing up and seeing what you find that day.

And so, the question might be to ask ourselves, what did we notice? In our bodies and minds and souls, what came up for us?

Because those observations contain everything we need to learn.

Shakespeare must have done yoga considering his observation, for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison. 

How does black and white thinking discolor your yoga practice?

Scott Ginsberg is a writer, daily practitioner and work study volunteer at Bikram Yoga Park Slope.

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Burn calories, not candles

screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-9-44-25-amWhen I was in college, I had lower back problems.

Which is kind of embarrassing when you’re only nineteen and everybody expects you to be strong and flexible and resilient.

But your body never lies to you.

I remember my low point. Literally and figuratively. It was the summer before junior year. Just another night at our house. One minute I was eating dinner with my family, the next I was incapacitated on the living room floor with horrible, shooting lumbar pains that felt like an electric shock.

The worst part was, my eighty year old grandfather had to run to the kitchen to fetch me an ice pack.

Probably a sign that I needed to make a change.

My mom, a personal trainer, suggested I start coming with her to the gym to stretch, strengthen my core muscles and improve my overall posture.

Ugh. Sounded like work to me. No thank you.

Instead, I opted for the deep tissue massage. Sixty bucks, sixty minutes, aromatherapy candles, relaxing music and a cute blonde with strong hands? Felt like the right choice to me.

And that was the problem. Treating the symptom always feels right. Treating the source always feels like work. It’s no wonder my back never healed.

At least, not until years later, when I started practicing yoga.

Maybe my mom was right. If we truly want to make change that sticks, we ought to focus on the solution that involves burning calories, not burning candles.

Are you treating your symptoms or your sources?

Scott Ginsberg is a writer, daily practitioner and work study volunteer at Bikram Yoga Park Slope.

Photo by Monica Felix @ www.monicafelix.com

Everybody does yoga, but not everybody practices it

Photo by Monica Felix @ www.monicafelix.com

Photo by Monica Felix @ www.monicafelix.com

Yoga is an ancient discipline, but it’s also a growth industry.

In multiple studies conducted by national health organizations and sports and fitness associations, approximately ten percent of the adults in this country do yoga. That’s more than twenty four million people.

No wonder classes have been so crowded lately.

And yet, what we discover after showing up on the mat for a few weeks is, everybody does yoga, but not everybody practices. Huge difference.

Practice is about the journey, doing is about the destination. Practice is about deepening your postures, doing about achieving them.

Ask anyone who returns to their mat on a daily basis. The best part of a daily yoga practice is the commitment to seek what is fresh, spontaneous and interesting in the same place they looked for it yesterday. The experience of observing and connecting and surrendering and growing. Not just going through the motions.

It’s like my yoga instructor loves to say right before we start beginning breathing.

Just show up and see what kind of body you have today.

Of course, this principle isn’t exclusive to yoga. Anything can be approached as a practice.

I recently read a fascinating article that interviewed novelists for their opinions on draws and drawbacks as writers. Hamid explained that writing fiction was, in many ways, like a religion. A daily practice, a way of life, a set of rituals and an orientation toward the universe.

The point is, whether you’re doing yoga or putting words on paper, the universal principle still remains.

Show up. Consistently. See what happens. Take notes. Repeat.

Are you doing things or practicing them?

 

Scott Ginsberg is a writer, daily practitioner and work study volunteer at Bikram Yoga Park Slope.

Photo by Monica Felix @ www.monicafelix.com

Generosity in your relationship with yourself

Photo by Monica Felix @ www.monicafelix.com

Photo by Monica Felix @ www.monicafelix.com

The final posture in yoga class is savasana, also known as corpse pose.

It’s widely known as the most important, but also the most challenging posture of any practice.

Which, if you’ve ever taken a class before, might seem a bit strange. Because students are just lying on their mats. Arms and legs are spread, eyes are closed and their whole bodies are relaxing onto the floor with an awareness of the chest and abdomen rising and falling with each breath.

To the untrained eye, people are just taking a nap in a hot room with a bunch of sweaty strangers. Why pay twenty dollars an hour for that?

But it’s harder than in it looks. Especially at the end of class, when the reflex is to roll up your mat and towel, grab your water bottle and high tail it out of the room so you can get the good shower and avoid eye contact with that weirdo in the locker room and snag a bagel from the street vendor and catch the nine o’clock train and make into work on time.

And so, the challenge of final savasana isn’t physical as much as it is psychological. We have to take time to give that gift to ourselves. We have to believe that we are deserving of our own care and attention. And we have to accept that generosity and kindness without guilt, trusting that we are not the only ones who benefit when we love ourselves.

My yoga instructor once said, think of the breath as an index of your generosity with yourself.

After all, savasana is a safe haven from the whirling chaos and madness of the rest of the world. There is no better place to get happy in a hurry.

It all depends on how good you’re willing to have it right now.

Perhaps the ancient yogis named it corpse pose for that very reason. To remind us to die to our attachments and just breathe.

What generosity of spirit are you capable of that you never considered?

Scott Ginsberg is a writer, daily practitioner and work study volunteer at Bikram Yoga Park Slope.

Photo by Monica Felix @ www.monicafelix.com

Every day your body is different

Photo by Monica Felix @ www.monicafelix.com

Photo by Monica Felix @ www.monicafelix.com

The dance of yoga is, we show up and see what body we have today.

Trusting that our body is not who we are, it’s just what we are currently experiencing.

Consider my last seven classes.

Monday my neck was stiff from sleeping all weekend.

Tuesday my whole body was dehydrated from the stupid summer heat.

Wednesday my legs felt like powerful tree trunks rooting themselves in the earth.

Thursday my left contact came out during camel pose.

Friday my farts were out of control from eating all that fat free popcorn at work.

Saturday my sweat angel looked like an oversized bowtie.

Sunday my final savasana made me feel like an ice cube blissfully melting into the floor.

It’s like my teacher says, every day your body is different. The yoga doesn’t change, you do. That’s why you never know what you’re working with until you show up and confront your truth in the mirror.

And so, our job is to respect our bodies, not fight them. To turn to ourselves with a compassionate heart, not a cruel eye.

As opposed to the old workaholic approach, which is to just wait around until our body gives out and forces us to rest and take care of it. That’s what got me hospitalized three times in one year.

How often have you ignored or denied your body’s responses and pleas?

Scott Ginsberg is a writer, daily practitioner and work study volunteer at Bikram Yoga Park Slope.

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Readjust your own posture instead

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Photo by Monica Felix @ www.monicafelix.com

When our yoga room is at full capacity, we practice mat to mat.

And it’s awfully tight. Students have to be especially respectful of other people’s space, property and energy. Otherwise it can make for a distracted, frustrating and claustrophobic class.

I was recently practicing within inches of another yogi, when it came time for the standing series. As usual, the instructor suggested we stagger horizontally, so as not to fling sweat or accidentally clip the person next to us. But the woman to my left wasn’t paying attention. She just stood there, hands on hips, chugging water.

And in that moment, I could feel the controlling instinct inside of me welling up. I wanted to tap her on the shoulder and say, just walk towards the mirror, lady. It’s not that hard.

But she still wouldn’t move. It was driving me crazy. To the point of anxiety and paralysis.

How many times have we all been in that same position? Waiting around for somebody else to take the first step before we move? It happens every day. Not just in yoga, but off the mat as well.

What keeps us stuck is the belief that someone else needs to change before we can move forward. That others should align with our implicit expectations, rearranging their existence around our requirements for happiness.

Unless we remind ourselves that people are not here to meet our expectations. Only through taking action do we reduce the intensity of the problem.

And so, instead of making so many unbalanced, burdensome demands on others, we learn to take our own action. To readjust our own posture and position and move closer towards our goals, while granting others the space to do the same. It works in yoga, it works in business, it works in marriage, it works everywhere.

Nobody is going to change as a result of our desires.

And so, instead of working from a place of coercion, asking how we can get other people to change, we ask ourselves, what is the transformation in us that is required first..

What expectations do you have that lead to fear and caution?

Scott Ginsberg is a writer, daily practitioner and work study volunteer at Bikram Yoga Park Slope.