Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tracking the Etymology of 'Local' and 'Loco'

The long lazy days of summertime seem to have never gotten the memo that they are supposed to be long and lazy. I'd like to blame some cosmic mix-up, but far more productive to face the truth: I'm the one not getting the memo about being long and lazy. It's no surprise that June flew by of course, with the 30-day yoga challenge and the wisdom tooth removal, but I had hoped that by July things would settle down. Relax, relax...there's still time. In this part of the world September is apt to feel like a gentler August, and October is apt to still offer a few beach-worthy days, depending on luck and how picky you are. Getting out of sorts about it being nearly August is only pushing away the rest of a lengthy season only half-way done. If that.

My favourite way to slow down and take stock of the moment along the yearly cycle I'm in is with this deceptively simple question: What's in the farmer's market during these days? The short answer is: everything.

Ok, so the asparagus is gone, and the strawberries were all too soon a blissful memory, but you still have time to snap up sweet cherries, more varieties of plums than you can dream of, fuzzy peaches, smooth nectarines, and I'm even still spotting blueberries! This is the time to keep your eyes out for your favourite fruit, pick a preserving method, and make like the ant instead of the grasshopper.
It's not just the sweet and the juicy to tempt us though: the heirloom tomatoes are slowly but surely beginning to make their appearance. I always wait this one out, saying no to the greenhouse varieties, and even the field-ripened small and evenly red specimens, waiting for the absurd complexity of flavour brought on by equally absurd shapes and colors of the heirlooms. Bell peppers are popping up, and starting to costume change from slightly bitter green to sweet, beautiful red. Get your grill on and char those babies up!! The sweet corn is getting close to the 50 cents an ear price I like best to see. So easy to boil it tender and then oven dry it for corn chowder all Winter long! Beautiful string beans for pickling, drying, and freezing, cucumbers for slicing, pickling, and blending and sieving into aqua fresco, summer squash for a quick saute, or if you're brave, an amazing summer-time lasagna!
I get so excited about food, it's the best way for me to slow down and appreciate these languid days. Even in the dark days of February, particularly once my birthday is no longer on the horizon to cheer me up, I turn to my favourite comfort food: flavourful bean soup in a roasted winter squash half! Winter is the season for biscuits, meat and potatoes smothered in gravy...mmmm...nothing like ham with butter-rum gravy. I can pull out those frozen asparagus spears for a taste of something fresh, or cook up some cold-frame greens if I miss those vitamin infusions in my life. So, no, in answer to your next question, I really don't miss the abundance of summertime. It'll be back again before I know it!

And here it is!

Which is not to say that there's no downside to livin' la vida local. Bananas.

My husband reminded me this morning that I can't talk about bananas as an issue without pausing for a lengthy explanation because, like me, most of us were raised with bananas lounging on our kitchen counters, as at home there as the paper towels! I like to think we're turning more toward washable rags and the paper towels don't have such a permanent stake in counter-top real-estate either, but baby steps...lets talk bananas.
You probably know, if you've give it any thought, that bananas don't grow in the northern United States. Or the midwest. Or the southwest. Or the deep south. Not even california! True story: you won't even see these guys in any part of Mexico you're likely to make it to! Bananas are a true tropical fruit, and they can't be tricked by a hot summer and lots of irrigation. Trees are clever like that. Our bananas come from points further south, maybe Central, probably South America. That's a long way to ship a food that doesn't offer nutrition lacking in foods closer to home, don't you think? Or have you ever thought about it? Shouldn't bananas cost a fortune and New Jersey peaches be a bargain? Well, the funny thing is, our tax dollars 100% subsidize the cost of shipping food around this country. Dole has to pay to fly those green, rock-hard bananas into this country, but from there we're footing the bill, so that grocery sticker looks pretty cheap! And bananas are such an agreeable fruit, ripening to yellow and spotty with no help from artificial ethylene gas, and tasting sugary sweet even without extensive sugar-developing time on the plant! No wonder no one questions the normalcy and down-home familiarity of such exotic delicacies as banana bread.

Ok, ok, so bananas may not deserve the commonality of apples in our lives, but what's the big deal? They're here, they're nutritious, and I love banana bread!

I get it, I do too, but here's the thing: you know how oil is a non-renewable resource? Bananas are but one symptom of a food system that is turning food into a non-renewable resource by highly centralizing our edibles so we can only obtain them via lots and lots of oil! Shit!! Seriously, it would be more energy-efficient to crack open a cold bottle of motor oil and drink it then to do things in the current fashion.
Mmmmmmmmmmmm...

I heard that, along with a whole lot of other facts, and knew I could never go back to living in ignorance of how we're marching ourselves right into the maw of famine every day. I was not going to go gently into that dark night. A bare minimum of 50% of everything we eat comes from the Farmer's Market: farms and ranches within a reasonable truck drive of NYC! Let the pipeline of corn syrup and soy lecithin collapse; my family will not starve! I'm constantly working toward increasing that number. I started small and you can, too! One trip a week just to see what you can pick up will make a difference!

With this one step I'm combating global warming, seriously shrinking my energy footprint, supporting my local economy, directly contributing to the livelyhood of families who are working their asses off to stay on their land and do the work they love against monumental odds, safe-guarding my ability to eat well come what may, seriously limiting my family's exposure to pesticides, genetically modified foods, artificial fertilizers,growth hormones, antibiotics, antiobiotic-resistent e-coli, salmonella, mad-cow disease, etc., allowing cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, rabbits, ostriches, and fish to live their lives with dignity and without suffering in ways that enrich the planet instead of destroying it, connecting to our mother earth and allowing this place I call home to sustain me moment to moment in an incredible real, beautiful, and grounding way, and enjoying some absurdly delicious produce, dairy, meat, honey, wine, beer, maple syrup and sugar, and baked goods.

Converted yet? Ok, ok, I know, what about the bananas?? Don't panic. I'm not a purist and you don't have to be, either. You know fair-trade organic coffee? If you don't, you should. You can get basically all the same benefits listed above through choosing organic fairtrade coffee, minus the ones tied immediately to choosing foods close by, and believe it or not, such a distinction exists for bananas! Look for the "Rainforest Alliance Certified" sticker (there's a picture of it below). You'll often see it on cut flowers as well, but anytime you have a choice between a product with this emblem and one without, grab that frog!! This certification ensures fairtrade, organic, and sustainable conditions were all met for those bananas, or what have you, to make their way to your part of the world. All the delicious taste and potassium (or divine beauty and fragrance, or whatever it may be); none of the guilt! Bread, smoothies, grilled peanut-butter and banana sandwiches with honey...the world is your oyster...er, banana!

I think we've covered a lot of ground for today. I'll leave you to soak it in. Maybe put down your pineapples for a while in favor of what's available right now, and so close by!

Live Omily-love the gifts you're given, when you're given them!
~em

P.S. All these gorgeous pictures of produce are local excepting the bananas and the glamour shot of peaches and cherries and including the one of the beach! I can't get over that gorgeous tomato, or that amazing spread of summer treats!! Yay Farmers' Market!!!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tough Love

So I'm sitting on an uptown F train, on my way to either an ill-fated open-workout (it got canceled) or my husband's work so we could take off for small-town Ohio (I don't remember which trip this was). Business as usual, crowded train, reading a book, wondering why the MTA thought the subway cars needed to be cold enough to hang meat from the bars overhead (bet they'd save a ton of money if they'd just crank those thermostats up to something reasonable), when a young man standing by the door with an acquaintance said, quite loudly,

"What's with all these white bitches? Where are the black girls??"

I live in New York City. I hear stupid, ignorant, foolish, or just rather odd things on a daily basis. But this one stuck. I think that it might have landed in the category of odd things had it not been for the discrepancy of words used to refer to females used. I was a white bitch. A white bitch who apparently wasn't supposed to be on the F train running under Soho?

Allow me to digress.

Having grown up in a very small town, with very limited exposure to anyone other than white Christians (the Greek-orthodox Christian church was considered super-exotic), I had very limited opportunities to learn acceptance of differences. When I moved to NYC I kept hearing these recordings in my brain about people who weren't like me that I didn't realize I thought, that, in fact, I was pretty sure I didn't actually think: Associations between minorities and poverty, and not as a sad statistic; negative thoughts about gay people blaming them for proclivities that didn't match my own; utter dismissal of religions I hadn't been raised in, it was down-right humiliating to realize how much ignorance and close-mindedness had snuck into my manner of thinking without my realizing it.

Well, there's only one cure for ignorance: I sought out friends who weren't like me, and I made a massive fool of myself asking inappropriate questions. I think my favourite was directed at a black friend: "So...when you close your eyes, does it look darker than when I close my eyes?" Apparently my good intentions shown through, as nobody accused me of being a bigoted asshole. Owning up to your ignorance is a powerful thing.

This process continued throughout college, in fact when necessary it still continues, and now two years after graduation, I am proud to say that I have overcome my ignorance and conditioning and now habitually seek to understand others, to see how we are the same, and to embrace how we are different. I do want to add that this is not a hate-letter to small-town Ohio. My family is not racist. But you cannot know what you aren't taught. Humans fear the unknown. Humans hate what they fear.

So my point is, I know why and how racism happens, and even a prejudiced person is someone I seek to understand and accept, without accepting his or her misguided beliefs. The young man who made the afore-mentioned comment was black, and was wondering where in the hell the people-like-him were: the people he understood and felt safe around. I would venture a guess that he hadn't spent much time talking to 'white bitches.' He had little understanding of them as human beings with feelings like himself. On the other hand maybe he just didn't feel comfortable hitting on a white woman and was on the prowl. It amounts to the same thing.

I say a good deal of this in the name of total disclosure. If you haven't already put together the yoga tye-in, then take a moment and picture a yoga teacher in your mind.

Is this person...
black?
elderly?
Hispanic?
male?
homosexual?
Asian?
Christian?
heavy-set?

Probably not. The question of race pops up pretty rarely in yoga teacher culture because we're a pretty homogenous population: young, white, straight, slender, 'spiritual' women. Plenty of yoga teachers do exist that don't fit into those narrow lines, but a surprisingly high percentage do fit into those parameters. What gives?

The concern that yoga is being priced out of the reach of all but the relatively wealthy is a concern that definitely figures in here: Guess who's likely to be able to afford yoga classes at a high-end studio with a teacher training program several times a week or more. I think largely though, it's a self-perpetuating stereo-type. I can see that the perception of yoga as not 'tough' enough for men is changing, but so far only among white men as far as is presenting itself to me. The fact that we often don't see the many talented instructors who don't fit the image in our head reinforces this theory. I know, just off the top of my head, three male teachers, among other less common representatives of the trade, and yet the stock image in my head for 'yoga teacher' doesn't include them. So maybe I have some new de-programming work to do. In the name of doing just that, I'll include pictures of what could be called 'atypical' yoga teachers throughout the remainder of the post.
On the other end of the spectrum, I find it really frustrating when racial tension prevents me from speaking my mind when I'm only making an observation. It would have felt loaded to me to even refer to the young man with the comment as black before explaining what his comment was. On one hand, that information wasn't really relevant before the comment was stated, but on the other hand, it's not sexist to state that he was a man, and not a woman! I sometimes think we're hyper-sensitized to percieved discrimination. Maybe I shouldn't even have been offended by his comment at all. Maybe I was just being nit-picky.

I want to feel like we're all held to the same standards, but I see over and over comments similar to his in the sense that one can say nasty things about those in the majority, or those in the minority but percieved as being in the more fortunate situation, with impunity. When I refused to respond to a black man's street-hastling, he called me racist. Girls who don't carry a larger percentage of body fat, who aren't voluptuous, get referred to as "skinny bitches", "prepubescent", "anorexic". Ever hear, "Real women have curves"? News flash: real women have curves, and real women also don't have curves, and women who aren't over-weight have curves also. I often hesitate to talk about my religious beliefs to other yoga teachers. It doesn't feel exactly ok to be a practicing Catholic among my anti-patriarchal, pro-sexual freedom sisters and brothers. Is it really so hard for all of us to just love and respect one-another?
Apparently, yes. When you percieve judgement from someone, it's incredibly difficult to resist wanting to throw judgement right back. I can admit that my mental response to the comment that started this discussion included a reference to the absurdity of expecting to find black women in Soho. And when the perceived judgement is coming from society as a whole, it gets a whole lot harder to see the real live white people, slender girls, loving Christians, straight people with legitimate concerns about changing marriage laws, wealthy individuals, etc. who are capable of having their feelings hurt.

I'm not saying there's no longer a need to stand up for groups that have been historically, that are still being, discriminated against in ways big, small, systematic, and subtle: minorities, gays, the over-weight, etc. I am saying that in the midst of fighting that battle you are only shooting yourself in the foot if you turn to the same weapons being used against you: ignorance and nastiness.
We all want to be loved and accepted, and we can all work toward loving and accepting others, regardless of whether it seems like those others are doing the same for us. What do you think? Shall we give it a try? You're ok, Black-guy-from-the-F-train! I hope you found your black girls!

Live Omily,
~em

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Yogically Inclined Blog in Current-Events Variation of Aerial Pose


Those of you living in the NYC area have probably heard by now of the death-defying escapades of one Seanna Sharpe: climbing up the Williamsburg Bridge, rigging a silk-cloud, and performing for fifteen minutes. If you aren't already familiar, here is a video of said performance, and here is an article concerning it. Seanna being my first aerial instructor, I was in the loop that this was going to happen, and managed to locate my husband and myself on the bridge at the appropriate time to witness the performance first-hand. It was pretty intense, exciting, beautiful, terrifying, exhilarating, inspiring! In spite of my husband stating several times, needlessly I might add, that I was never, ever, ever to do such a thing.

Although the adventure was not my own, I found there was a certain small portion of bragging rights afforded to direct witnesses and associates of the performer, and I did relish the telling and retelling of the tale of Seanna's brave feat.

Imagine my surprise when, later in the week, I found myself privy to an opinion quite different from my own. I over-heard a professional aerialist explaining to a fellow student that, overall, she felt Seanna's actions were more foolish than noble: her antics were bad publicity for her fellow aerialists, suggesting they were all likely to do something insanely risky. She pointed out the potential backlash of raised insurance rates, and increased restrictions on performers and instructors. She was particularly dismayed because Seanna is an instructor, and she felt her performance set a bad example of fool-hardy risk-taking to the next generation of aerialists under her wing. While she did specifically state that Seanna deserved props for her nerve, and for doing what she felt she needed to do, overall she was unimpressed with the stunt, and left pondering why exactly she had done it. It hadn't been in support of any larger, established cause.

Seanna had stated that the purpose for her performance was to face her own fears, and encourage others to do the same. She added:

“When we say face your fear, we are not telling you to do anything and everything that scares you. That’s just stupidity. We are challenging you to examine your mind, consider the source of your fear, and take responsibility for how you choose to live.”

That's an incredibly noble cause to support if you ask me, and very much living Omily. My perspective though, is that of a student, and a student and friend of hers no less. My view certainly isn't objective.

I was really intrigued by the alternative view, particularly because it hadn't occurred to me at all, and although I'm not a professional or an instructor, I do consider myself an aerialist. I have to concede the point about insurance rates and restrictions. Assuming this stunt does attract enough attention to cause changes on either of those two fronts, they will undoubtedly make it more difficult to earn a living out of this profession, not less so. But to be fair Seanna has made public the fact that her stunt was carefully planned with safety in mind. Specifically, she tells us,

"We took great measures to minimize risk, using staggered placement, carefully calculated timing, and safety rigging above a lower beam with no pedestrian or vehicular traffic below. We are happy to confirm that there were no accidents among any civilians, bicyclists, drivers, police officers, or ourselves."

She also points out that she has performed at over three-hundred venues over the course of the last seven years, and she has never once fallen. That is an impressive record of precision, skill, and knowing her limits.

To speak to the concern specifically of Seanna's influence with aerial students, I don't think any of Seanna's students, or any students in general, watched that performance and concluded that this was something they should attempt when they've advanced their skills sufficiently. If this is the kind of thing you're going to do, someone setting a precedent of having done it already is more likely to be a deterrent, since it makes it less impressive, than an encouragement. Seanna specifically does not encourage her students to attempt similar feats, saying,

“We do not advocate reckless behavior, nor do we encourage that anybody imitate our actions. Rather, we hope that individuals are inspired to create their own art, to tap into the power of their creative imagination, and to live fuller and freer lives."

In fact, if a student mentioned to Seanna a wish to undertake such a performance, she would be in a better position than most to point out the myriad of concerns, fears, difficulties and obstacles such an act would involve, and while, if that person was determined to see it through, I believe Seanna is the last person who would stand in his or her way, she would also strongly discourage anyone from attempting any kind of aerial performance she or he was unprepared to undertake safely.

So what's the conclusion? Watch the video and decide for yourself! I'm biased in favor of ballsy moves involving ridiculous quantities of adrenaline and nerves of steel. To quote Seanna again,

“When I was first asked "why did you do it", the answer I couldn't help but think was: Why Not?...It felt more like flying than anything I've ever experienced, and it was significantly less dangerous than riding a motorcycle.”

Statistically true, but what do you think?

Live Omily; face your fears!
~em

P.S. The only other negative comments I heard were posted by individuals on the Gothamist article about the incident. I will defend an informed and intelligent opinion to the grave, regardless of how different it may be from my own. Those posters' comments don't appear to me to be defensible.

Monday, July 11, 2011

In Which I Re-Think Ink

Tattoos seem to be so ubiquitous in the yoga world. Maybe, rather like the kid who tells his parents that 'everyone ELSE is allowed!!' it only seems that way because I don't have one. That's not a perfectly apt comparison, because though my husband would be less than thrilled, if I was deeply committed to getting a tattoo, not only would he not stand in my way, he would likely come along and hold my hand.

Though I have heard the opinion ascribed to some that a tattoo would desecrate the instrument of the body and is therefor an un-yoga thing to do, I have yet to meet anyone espousing this view. Thinking about the yoga teachers I know personally, there are a couple who may not have tattoos, but most seem to have multiple, or extensive permanent body artwork. The om symbol is of course popular, on the sacrum, or the wrist. The peace sign is common as well.

I've toyed with the idea of getting a tattoo many times. I've had many ideas, the majority permanently dismissed, some returning for further rumination several times. At the risk of exposing myself as a silly person (What's that you say? Too late?), I'll reveal some of the permanently thrown by the wayside ideas:

1. A large, magenta and pink Cheshire Cat tail starting close enough to my butt crack that the bottom would be concealed by any attire on my lower half, and continuing up my back, curving toward the top.

(rather like this one)

2. The Om symbol (Yes, classic, yes, something I'll always relate to, but...just too over-done!)


3. The symbol for Ananda (bliss in Sanskrit) Frankly, I never could find that word written in Sanskrit and even if I could, I can't read Sanskrit and neither can anyone else I know. I am consistently irked by tattoos written in languages the person they're on doesn't speak.

4. My personal favourite: a siamese cat fighting a large octopus. I thought of this in Junior High, and sincerely thought it perfectly symbolically represented the fight between myself, and convention.

Erm...no...not really like that...

If these ideas were dismissed out of hand, it makes sense they haven't made a permanent appearance somewhere on my skin, but what about the ones that pop up as viable repeatedly? With having a tattoo practically an expectation of my field of work, what am I waiting for?

There is a complicated interwoven web of reasons between me and the tattoo parlor. A primary one, and one that, if I truly thought I had found an image I would forever be proud to showcase on my body would not be a concern, is that I'm skittish about things that seem permanent. Strange I know coming from the woman who married at twenty-two, but true nonetheless. I've never dyed my hair in my life. Oh sure, it fades, it grows out...I know very few people who dyed their hair and were able to let it go back to its natural color. It becomes this inane and terrifying cycle of fakeness...I also won't cut off more than a few inches of my hair at a time for the same reason. Do YOU know anyone who chopped off his or her long hair, and later actually succeeded in growing it back out to its former glory? Me neither.

When I feel confident that there is an image I'm interested in, I do absurd amounts of research on tattoo-getting and tattoo removal. I suspect I know more about both processes than many people who have actually undergone them. When it comes down to it, I feel silly making an appointment with a dermatologist to explain the tattoo I'm thinking of and find out the likelihood of its being capable of relatively easy, painless, and cheap removal.

There is also something that rankles me about using my body as space to advertize what I believe, or feel, or love. I have a mouth that does that just fine, thank you, and my fingers are none too bad at it, either. I don't need to shove my inner being under people's noses in the form of that so distinct style of artwork. I know who I am, and if I want you to know it, rest assured you will, too, no tat required.

On the other hand, perhaps the tattoo is not to share your beliefs with others but to reaffirm them to yourself. If that's cool for you, it's fine by me but...really? Do you have trouble remembering what you believe or something...? That speaks to a deeper issue that a tattoo will not fix.

But, the reason that cuts deeper to the bone, the reason that I doubt I could ever reconcile, the reason that it took years for me to put into words, is that I object to viewing my body as the canvas, as opposed to the work of art itself. I love and cherish every inch of my incredible, capable, strong, beautiful body so much, there is nothing I could add to it that would make it more beautiful, more an expression of who I am and what I believe. No matter how sincere the attempt at self-expression, be it for myself or for others' benefit, it would be a desecration of this precious temple to stamp a billboard on it. Anything I could add would only take away from the miracle of my body as is.

I have strong opinions on this matter, so I think it's worth pointing out that everyone is going to have their own opinion and should or should not, as the case may dictate, get one or multiple tattoos based on their own. No one should feel bad about their own body artwork because of my opinions on the subject. Theories I may espouse for why other people have tattoos likely apply to some people, and likely do not apply to other people.

That said, the beliefs I espoused regarding tattoos in the paragraph before the preceding one is something that I've extrapolated: I suspect there are those who have tattoos in an effort to make their bodies beautiful, or to distract the eye from the body itself because they don't feel that their body is beautiful. This makes me so sad, because everyone's body is beautiful.

It's such a losing battle to say this in our society, which focuses so much attention on a particular body type that happens to be trendy in a given moment. Has anyone else noticed how pears are falling out of favor and apples are stealing the spotlight? Just look at how current trends showcase legs while keeping the waist pretty vague. I don't have to tell you that I have my own demons in regards to this subject. That's probably already apparent, and also a bit beside the point.

The future of Omily tattoos is another thing that's very vague. I had a deal with myself running that I would (maybe) get a tattoo in honor of my first aerial performance, but the more real that possibility becomes, the less I want "Born to Fly" on my ass for the rest of my life. Go figure. It is a complex thought process, indeed.

While I can't offer more than speculation and second-hand information, it seems before I close I should offer nobler reasons for getting a tattoo than I earlier suggested. Let's see...

1. as a reminder of personal and cherished beliefs
2. as a tribute to something or someone much loved
3. because getting a tattoo feels really cool
4. because it's something this person wanted to do before they died
5. because having a tattoo looks really cool
6. because OMG, the person's parents are willing to let him or her!
7. because a particular tattoo idea is so beautiful that it sweeps aside all concerns about getting one
8. It's an intriguing idea, the stigma is gone, and there are enough people in one's life to cajole one into it
9. as a right of passage into a new phase or stage of life
10. as proof of how much one loves someone or something, and that he or she will always love that someone or something

Ok...few of these reasons are noble...I'm thinking I should cut my losses before my facade of objectivity crumbles completely. Enjoy your tattoos if you have them! If you're not enjoying them I know all about your options for removal...If you have a reason for your body artwork that does not fall under the jurisdiction of the eleven reasons I've included here, I'd be most interested in expanding my repertoire of tattoo motives!

Live Omily, and for those sudden tattoo urges that, tattoo aficionado or not, you suspect you'll regret, have you considered henna?
~em

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Kamottejak Halasana

On Thursday I attended my last class of the 30-Day Yoga challenge. The three of us applauded ourselves at the end. It was, logically, exhilarating to have made it through, but I didn't really feel like I had just survived a trial by fire. June has been quite a month, and the 30-Day challenge was only one small part of the excitement. On the train ride home, I pulled out my notebook to put into words my response to this adventure, and what to consider the greatest mystery: What would I do next?

1.) Take an Asana Break
2.) Be back again tomorrow
3.) Start a 30-Day Meditation Challenge

The thought of embarking on another challenge so soon exhausted me before I had even begun. I quickly decided that I shouldn't start such a challenge until July 2nd, allowing me to finish on the last day of the (31 days long) month. The twenty-four hour reprieve allowed me to relax a bit, and then my time for reflection was over, with an aerial class at 7, and an aerial show at 9. I got back homel ate, and fell into bed with no solid plan in place for the days to come.

On Friday I taught my noon class, and then met my husband in Union Square, where we took a trip around the Farmer's Market and then the clearance racks at H&M. All the while in the back of my mind, a neon schedule of yoga classes remaining that day seared my consciousness. Was there still time to take the L back to Namaste for the 3:00 Restorative? Not for long. Could we still make it home in time for the 5:30 Restorative at Jaya Yoga East? Not quite.

But later, with my husband absorbed by the internet and no plans on the horizon, I found myself unrolling my yoga mat in my living room almost against my will. I just..couldn't...quite...fathom Not Practicing. Of course, I only did a couple moon salutations, some hamstring stretches, a few handstand attempts, and then a more thorough inversion. It wasn't a 90-minute class, but it was a complete practice.

On Saturday I had a chunk of time to kill, with my husband fighting weekend service changes to get out to Bushwick for a hair-cut. I nice, long practice in the park occurred to me, but I was sorely tempted by the Exotic Dance Workout dvd I had picked up from a free box on my block. Finally the question that had been nibbling at my brain since the day before came to a head. What constitutes an Asana practice?

There are, first of all, countless styles of Asana practice, some strictly defined as a specific sequence of poses that never changes, some that are completely un-sequenced, just students in a room doing what they feel like doing with their bodies moment to moment, on a yoga mat with the supervision of an instructor for safety and adjustments. And of course, everything in between.
Ever hear of laughter yoga? It is, literally, mostly vocal exercises designed to stimulate natural laughter. Movements, some recognizable as classic Asanas, some not so much, are used to the same effect, and to free the body and encourage the participants to release their inhibitions and feel light, open, and free. Personally, I think it sound absolutely amazing.
From mommy and me yoga (and I can't imagine doing Down-Dog while holding onto an infant) to chair yoga for the elderly and/or infirm, there seems to be no shortage of different takes on yoga that simplify, complicate, make gentler, make tougher, open up, and pare down what constitutes an Asana practice. Is this like the question, "What is art?" Does it depend strictly on what style you're practicing, and thus whose definition you're using?

While it would probably be very interesting to do research, poll practitioners and teachers, make lists, free-write, consider common threads and disparate conditions, perhaps prepare some charts and graphs...I'm not going to do any of that. But do let me know if someone else has!

I am going to use (exploit, even) the incredibly open arena of what has been called an Asana practice up to this point to give myself license to open my own definition way, way up!

And that's how I found myself lying on the floor trying to do sexy plow pose with a chair to a cheesy video from the 90's. It. Was. Awesome.
Interestingly enough, the biggest thing doing an Asana practice every day for thirty days taught me is something that, in theory, I already knew: our Asana practice isn't actually all that important. It's only 1/8th of what it is to practice yoga, after all. Asana practice gives us an arena in which to work on those other 7/8ths, and it also keeps our bodies fit and limber. If you plan to sit in meditation for any length of time, you'll manage it much easier if you're fit and limber! If you want your body to pipe down so you can tune into your mind and soul, you'd best keep it healthy and so relatively free of disease. With that taken into account, any movement practice that increases awareness, and works and stretches my body constitutes an Asana practice as far as I'm concerned.

I don't know when or where I'll practice tomorrow. I don't really know that I will practice tomorrow, but by being comfortable with any form my practice happens to take, by not worrying about wearing yoga clothes, staying on the mat for a certain amount of time, or doing so many Chaturangas and/or Warriors, I'm fairly certain it'll blossom out of nowhere in its own time. Just like me...

Live Omily, and define your practice, but be sure to give that definition a regular stretching practice of its own!
~em