Falling on my back

"Egg-y shape. Making the egg-y shape." 

Is what I think to myself every time I attempt to do a headstand without the wall. My teacher trainer's voice echoing in my head the correct form as I place the top of my head on the floor between my forearms, lift out of my shoulders, and attempt to stack my hips in line with my shoulders. 

Proper form starts with engaging your abs so you can tuck your knees in (like an egg). One you are stable here, it is simply a matter of lifting your legs into the air and not breaking your neck.

But nothing is ever simple. I got the egg-y pretty down, but something happens to me when I try to extend my feet. My alignment shifts, I loose my balance, and freak out. 

This particular day, I felt the sway of my feet and remembered that quesy feeling of fear. "Don't break your neck." I think to myself. It's strange though because it's always in my mother's voice. The correct way to fall out of an inversion is to go into a backbend. That way, you land on your feet like a peaceful yoga cat.

Unless you are me. In which case, you panic and end up launching yourself from your forearm grip on your head into what can only be described as a belly flop for your back. That is what happened this time. I lay there motionless. What did I just do? Am I OK?

Nothing hurts. I'm OK, but my shoulder blades will smart tomorrow. I'm the teacher. Aren't I supposed to know how to do this by now? When am I going to be granted the gift of yoga grace that lithesome teachers delicately walk around with like some sort of zen ballerina?

I get up. Nothing bruised except my pride.  

Why does it always seem like whenever I finally get everything in alignment, something comes to throw me off kilter?

This month has been filled with no. No, you don't get a permanent class to teach. No, you didn't get that writing job. No, no time to date/see friends/have a life.

And all I'm trying to do is to stack everything in alignment: To build my perfect life piece by piece until I am standing on my head, but I am doing it with ease and tranquility. However, each time I try, it seems that I fall on my back. Hard. How can I build a life without having everything I'm working on topple over from week to week?

Fear is really the obstacle to get over when practicing inversions. As young children, we aren't afraid of falling. We love hanging upside down from monkey bars, unafraid of the consequences. Not even thinking about the space between our heads and the ground below. There is so much that that space contains: lack of control, pain, emptiness. As adults, we don't like the feeling of turning our world in the other direction. We want to keep two feet on the ground---eyes on the horizon. 

But recently, I have been leaning into the unknown. Letting go of what no longer serves me and taking chances with an upside down kind of life. Starting out as a yoga teacher is not exactly the most steady of professions. With each step, the world flips in a different direction, and 9 times out of 10, I fall on my back.

I got up and brushed myself off. A little shaken. No more inversions for today. 

But tomorrow....tomorrow I will practice again. Until I can get the egg-y right. 


The buildings are too tall

My sister doesn't like New York. "The buildings are too tall," she says.

A statement like this seems silly, but sometimes I get the feeling. Some days, the buildings seem like they are closing you in. Claustrophobia grips you as you walk down a busy street where everyone seems to treat you like the one obstacle between them and the safety of their home. The subways is extra packed on those days, and the air in the train car isn't enough for everyone. You grip your throat, suffocating slowly. No one notices that you are slowly dying. Everyone is looking at their phones. You want to scream "help me!" But you have no air in order to operate your vocal chords into sounds. Terror builds inside. Before you die, the train screeches to its stop. Everyone exits, and you are able to catch your breath again. You had it all along.

On those days, the buildings are too tall.

"Hold for five breaths." goes the yoga teacher mantra. I used to think this was a lie: it takes me ten breaths in the time they count to five. But then I had a thought: Is it their counting? Or, is it my breathing? Are my breaths short and stunted?

Why couldn't I inhale? Was it because I had always been worried about the space I take up in this world? Always feeling like I needed to be tinier, thiner, less? If I breathe in, my lungs fill to accommodate the air. My chest, ribs, and stomach extend. My yoga t-shirt is lifting up to reveal the skin on my belly and back. How shameful.

Perhaps I was afraid of what I would breathe in. The world around me has always seemed so uncertain. The room is full of people I don't know. The class is going to places I didn't expect. The teacher is new.  What if I take in something that I can't control?

I try to take a deeper breath, but my chest hurts. It feels as if there is a hand pressing down on my heart. I try it again: letting go this time. Just breathing.

Pranayama is the control of breath. Prana meaning breath or life force.  If breathing is my life force, it is surprising how many times I forget to do it or feel like I can't do it. 

However, I breathe and I can slip into the pose easier, sending breath to anywhere that gives me discomfort.  Suddenly, everything is more manageable.

I breathe and the building shrink. I walk at their level, looking down on their rooftops.

Pulling your pants down in class

I wish this was a metaphor. Sadly, it seems that overtime I step onto the streets of this city, Murphy's law applies to how much I can embarrass myself in any given situation. 

Lying in bed that morning, I listened to the beat of my alarm without moving. "Go to class," I said to myself. "You will feel better if you go. You have to go. Being in bed feels good too but probably has less of the physical and mental benefits a consistent yoga practice will give you." And more of the same pep talks I give myself in those moments of half-wake to convince myself to not hide from the day.

When I finally muster up the energy to leave my bed, I realize I only have ten minutes to change and run to class before being late. It's not too far, but a quick subway ride should do it. If the train leaves on time...

I quickly jump into my yoga shorts. That day, the New York City heat was such that one feels like they are walking through a sauna or practicing Bikram just by crossing the street, so I decided that practicing in the tiniest clothes I could find would be appropriate. However, walking down the block probably wouldn't be. I jumped into some short sweats and was on my way.

Frantically rushing into a yoga class is an art that I've perfected. I'm always almost late. But hey, if I'm going to practice being zen, I might as well get my stress up to optimum levels in order to see the contrast. Right?

The teacher is at the front of the class asking everyone to turn to him. I lay my mat down. In this classroom, there are cubbies in the back to throw your stuff. I toss my bag in whichever one I can find, turn to the teacher, and pull my sweatpants down. 

Or at least I thought I did. It dawned on me, when I was staring down at the stripey underwear I, for some reason, own (and thinking to myself "my shorts aren't that color, are they?"), that I had in fact pulled both my sweatpants and shorts down. After a second of realizing my mistake, I quickly corrected it. 

"Of course I just did that." I thought to myself. "Why am I always rushing? This wouldn't happen if I was less klutzy, careless, more refined, etc." 

But somehow, throughout the class, the dialogue in my head shifted. I began to laugh at myself. I realized that if I hadn't been late, I probably would have put my mat in front of the class like the teacher's pet I am. If I hadn't been late, people would have been milling about instead of facing the teacher at attention. Basically, at the point my pants were down, everyone's back was to me. The only real consequence seemed to be a slight pause I heard in the instructor's voice as he went down the alignment cues for tadasana. Most likely, he, and only he, was the one that saw my stripe underwear (they were on sale!).

Looking at the situation like this gave me a new perspective and a new story to tell in my head. The event doesn't define me. It is just something that happened. It is good to notice them, just as we notice sounds and thoughts during meditation, and perhaps learn from them (maybe those shorts are for home practice only). But, in the end, we let them go. 

Perhaps, the next morning, my inner monologue will change the story. Perhaps I will tell myself "I get to practice yoga." rather than "I have to." Perhaps. Maybe. It may take a long practice to be able to get out of bed easily, but I will try to reserve judgement on myself. 

Asmita and an Open Mic

ekatmata iva asmita

False-identification is confusing the nature of the seer or Self with the nature of the instrument of perception. In other words, false identification happens when we mistake the mind, body, or senses for the true Self.
— Yoga Sutra 11.6

Most of the time, when people speak about Ego, they are talking about people who are full of themselves. "That person has a huge ego." translates into "They think they are hot stuff." But ego can also be how we view ourselves. We tend to define ourselves by what changes: our looks, our financial status, our friends. Not always do these things uplift us. Sometimes, we can feel downright awful about how we view ourselves.

Pantanjali's sutra on asmita warns us about taking what changes about ourselves to be true. Rather, it clouds us from our purusha, or that which does not change, within us. Since the world is always changing, clinging onto the outside world leads to sadness when things don't work out the way we want them to.

I was sitting in a park not too long ago debating whether to go to my first open mic. I had been around the New York comedy scene as a writer, but never had I gotten up in front of people to tell my jokes. As much as I wanted to, I would always visualize myself, just me up there, with a mic, alone in the dark. In my mind's eye, I stared into silence as my jokes fell flat on judging ears.

I wished I could be one of those that fearlessly walk out on the stage or in life. Those people that make living and breathing look so effortless when everything seems to come so hard to me. Those people that have ego and aren't afraid to use it to their benefit.

It was then I realized that I was also falling into the trap of asmita. I was viewing myself as someone that didn't have the ability. Someone that would fail. I realized that hating on myself was also just my ego. I was putting a label on something that was changeable and acting like that was the immoveable truth. My ego was getting in the way of doing what I wanted.

As Swami Vivekananda says, "whatever you think that you will be.
if you think yourself weak, weak you will be;
if you think yourself strong, you will be."

There in the sun, I became determined to get out of my own way to to calm the fluctuations of my mind telling me who I am before finding out who I could be. I told my ego to shut up.


Top 10 Yoga Moves You See in NYC

Yoga is not just regulated to studios or gyms. It can also be used to navigate through its busy streets of NYC. Here are some yoga poses you may recognize as you go through your day.

1) The Subway Pole Arm Stretch

Finding a place to hold on in a packed subway car can be challenging. Trying to wrap your arm in front of a man in a suit while avoiding crashing into a stroller may feel like taking the bind in side angle pose, but nothing beats that killer shoulder opener.

2) The Rainy Day Curb Lunge

NY1 said clear skies but you are faced with a sudden attack when the humidity breaks into full on monsoon. Your waterproof boots don't really go with your work clothes anyway. But, how to get from the office to happy hour in the downpour? This high lunge helps NYC yogis step over the lakes that rise up between the sidewalk and the street every time it rains. Go on and wear those heels and grab that drink. You've earned it.

3)  The Party Pet Back Bend

You're at your friend's housewarming, when you see that they own a kitten/puppy/small and fluffy anything. Immediately, you make friends with it by reaching down to stroke it's fine fur, arching your back and waking up that spine. Damn apartment rules forbidding animals. At least your building is rent controlled.

4) The Coffee Cup/Bag/Cell/Yoga Mat Arm Balance

There's a packed day in Manhattan ahead of you and not enough time to go back to Woodside in between. That's OK because you have mastered the delicate art of holding your life slung over one shoulder while caffeinating and emailing your boss. 

5) The "Get Me Out of Times Square" Twist

Sometimes this tourist mecca is unavoidable, and an escape plan to avoid being consumed by a crowd of M&M store-goers is inevitable. Those able to twist around in order to lessen their width can squeeze through the school field trip on their way to see Wicked or the couple looking at who knows what in the sky. What is it? Have you not seen buildings before?

6) The Crosswalk Warrior

Successfully getting across the street without being hit by an overzealous driver turning left can feel like a battle. The savvy pedestrian uses their warrior-like focus on their destination and forges ahead with determination and ease.

7) The Free Ticket/Burrito/Show Mountain Pose

There's basically no limit to how long New Yorkers will stand in a line for free stuff. Waiting in Central Park at 5AM for Shakespeare? Sure! Standing around the corner to get a $1 burrito from Chipotle? Alright! Your stance is strong with all four-corners of your feet routed to the Earth. No one is stealing your place in line that you earned through perseverance, sheer will power, and a love of all things free.

8) The Meet Up Side Bend

You're sitting at a your local drinking establishment waiting for a friend/OKCupid Date/human. Did they just walk in? How can you look through this crowd of people without giving up the coveted seat by the bar? A lateral side bend does the trick, while noncommittally checking out who just stepped in. "Oh, I wasn't waving to you, person who looks like someone I know, but is someone I def do not know. I was just reaching up to fix my hair."

9) The How Do I Dance to This? Dancer's Pose

EDM, Folk, Country Dubstep? Whatever deep Brooklyn warehouse you find yourself in, you know how to find grace and balance. At least you won't feel self-conscious when everyone else seems just as lost as you. Reach out, grab your foot, balance, and get your groove on.

10) The After a Long Day Shavasana

You've survived another day in the big city! You've earned a good rest before the next one. 

Equanimity and the Subway

This is my secret. I don’t mind what happens.
— Jiddu Krishnamurti


A soft rain fell on NYC. Not a rain that had made a decision to be there, but a soft rain. A rain that dipped its toe in your face to test out the waters of your frustration. I had walked through the rain not minding it per se. As a New Yorker, I had gotten used to the curtain of mist that often hangs in the air on the humid summer days until the sky seems ready to cry it out. 

I had gotten to the train on time. I had a long trip in front of me, but one that I was ready to embark on with my podcasts. Being at the end of the line has its advantages: you always get a seat. I sat there staring at the name of my stop on the electronic board. Kings Hwy. Deep Brooklyn. Got it. After accepting a job as an SAT tutor, I had to travel to far out lands. Just accept and move on.

I continued to stare, the voice of the recently deceased Oliver Sacks in my ears. I drifted off thinking about the shortness of life. 

But then I thought "Man, this train ride is taking a really long time."

My eyes had never left the stop name. 10 stops away. 8 stops away. Tracking my arrival like a hawk. Could there be more than one Kings Hwy stop?

There was. My eyes drifted over to the letter of the train. When I had gotten on, it had been the Q train. But, sadly, now it was the N. Dear God. I was on the completely wrong train, and my tutoring session started in 15 minutes.

A small respite in an above ground stop lead me to pull out my phone and quickly check travel time. Half an hour away by car. An hour by train. I hopped off the train, willing to face the elements of the streets of Brooklyn at 5:30 PM. 

As I exited the station, I could see there were no cabs to be found. Damn, I went so far that I entered suburbia. Thank God I had downloaded the Uber app in order to get my drunk cousin home from a wedding last weekend. 4 mins away. I hop in. 

Sirens not long after. My driver pulls over. A plainclothes policeman steps up to his driver-side window. I close my eyes and breathe. "Not now. Please. I need to get to work." After a brief argument about driving etiquette the policeman seems to have pity on me and goes back to his car. We continue en route. 

I had scheduled the session early in order to make a free fitness class. Not only was I going to miss my class, but I was going to have to pay for the car too. Not a great night.

Upeksha. In sanskrit, it means equanimity, even-mindedness. Not giving a hoot. I sat in the car as it crawled through traffic thinking about it. In most cases, I start to think about equanimity when things have gotten so bad that I have to laugh. No matter how much anxiety I have, I always get a certain clarity when in the midst of a situation I have no power to change. However, when things seem in my control, I stress about them until I immobilize myself out of fear of the unknown. 

I cannot control the subway. Yes, I can control when I leave and judging my time based on all the information I have. But, the subway can seem like an act of God at certain times. A destructive and unpredictable force that we insure ourselves against day in and day out. How can I maintain a level head when I live in the city where "sick passenger" could mean literally anything?

Another breath. I start to slow the rapid heart beating, the racing of the mind. Upeksha. I start to feel better. "Life will go on," I tell myself. "After this moment, is another moment, and another." We cannot control what happens in these moments, but we can control our reactions to them. I can choose to be shaken by this inevitable fact, or I can stand firm, without movement, without judgement, and without minding what happens. 

But I will order a bunch of Mexican food from Seamless afterward because the universe needs balance.