Call me Yoga Bear

Yoga

Remember around this time last summer when I published that handy guide on how to make it look like you’re exercising without actually having to do anything?  Apparently I didn’t either, because I went to my first ever yoga class this week.  (Not counting those trial classes of Bikram yoga I took three years ago. That was less about exercising and more about not dying from a heart attack, heat stroke, or the stifling stench of hipster B.O.)

Besides, this yoga class was free!

As it happens, I’m away for an opera gig for the next three weeks. One of the perks of this particular contract (apart from getting to stay in a fabulous estate on Martha’s Vineyard) is a free gym membership. So despite my hated of all things exercise, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity. Because honestly, the only thing I hate more than exercise is turning down free stuff.

I chose yoga class because I already own a mat with matching bag (both of which have been languishing in the trunk of my car for the last eight months) and I thought it was high time I got some use out of them.  Also, because my only other option was to hop on an elliptical machine for an hour, which usually ends with me becoming so engrossed in watching my fellow gym-goers or a Maury Povich marathon on TV, that twenty minutes will go by before I realize my legs have stopped moving.

So I went to yoga. It had a fancier name, but I don’t remember what it was called. I only know of two types of yoga anyway: the unbearably hot, imminent death-inducing kind, and regular. This was regular yoga.

As expected, I fell down a lot.

The instructor’s name was Sian.  Not Sean or Shawn, but SheAhn.  She was lovely, and British and impossibly flexible with wild hair and lots of tattoos – the epitome of cool.

The way I see it, if your parents name you Sian, there are only two possible career paths open to you: yoga instructor or massage therapist…possibly a nutritionist or an herbalist or a life coach, but you’re for sure going to be working in the health and wellness sector.

Sian had us put our mats in a circle so we could make eye contact with one another, and so no one (namely me) could hide in the back.

I placed my mat next to an elderly woman we’ll call Agnes.  I’d put Agnes at about eighty-three years old, roughly 5’7 and 160-170lbs. Compared to all the other toned, tanned, middle-aged women (and one dude) in the class, I felt my chances of looking like an idiot would be somewhat diminished if I sat next to someone who was both elderly and probably at least a little bit infirmed.

The class started and Agnes gave me an encouraging smile. I smiled back and before I knew it, I was ass-up in child’s pose, breathing loudly through my nose as per Sian’s instructions. I tried to quiet my mind and focus on my breath, but I couldn’t seem to shut off my inner monologue.

What the hell am I doing here? Everyone else looks like they’re a professional yogi and I’m wearing sweat pants and an old t-shirt. If I’m going to keep doing this, I should go to Lulu Lemon and buy some proper yoga clothes. I also should have gone to the bathroom on my way to class. I wonder if that hot guy will still be in the weight room when class is over? I’m really glad I remembered to put on make-up before I left the house. Man, I could go for a grilled ham and cheese sandwich right now.  Oh crap, everyone else is standing up. Get up, you mouth-breathing mongoloid!

My inner monologue can be kind of a bitch sometimes.

On top of that, I kept getting distracted by the smears of make-up and sunscreen staining my pristine new mat. I tried to wipe them away as discreetly as possible, but I didn’t have a towel or anything, so the only cloth at my disposal was my black sweatpants, which was infinitely worse.

Note to self: Wearing zinc-based sunscreen and a full face of makeup to the gym was not your best idea ever.

As the class progressed it became increasingly clear I was out of my depth. I had to take a knee, or drop into child’s pose – the yogic equivalent thereof, several times. Sian was very understanding and encouraged everyone to work at their own pace, though for most people it meant contorting their bodies into even more frightening positions in order to ‘increase the stretch.’

When we got to side planks my arm was shaking so violently I fell down. Twice. As I lay panting on my still trembling forearm, I noticed Agnes’ arm was solid as a rock. A rock with a lot of underarm flab, perhaps, but a rock nonetheless. I couldn’t help but be impressed and I silently cheered her on as I hoisted myself back up and moved into downward dog pose.

Then Sian instructed us to move into three-legged dog, which is basically regular downward dog with one leg in the air, knee bent like you’re about to take a leak on a giant invisible fire hydrant. Feel the stretch as the hip joint opens. But all I felt was hot, tired, and a little bit ridiculous. There we were, an entire room of adult women (and one dude) bent over with their legs in the air. I wondered idly if three-legged dog was a real yoga pose at all and not just some inside joke known only to yoga instructors that they trot out whenever class starts to get dull.

My musings were put to an abrupt end when Sian moved from three-legged dog to standing split, which looks exactly like it sounds – one leg straight on the ground, while the other is stuck straight up in the air…or hanging limping at an eighty-degree angle if you’re me.

Agnes couldn’t do it either.

We moved on to some standing poses after that and my confidence grew. It’s a lot harder to fall down with both feet on the ground.

I was bent over in a wide stance, my finger tips barely touching my mat and my head hanging between my legs, giving me a clear (though upside down) view of Agnes, who was in the same position except her head and forearms were resting gently on the floor.  I watched in horror as she braced her arms beside her head and slowly lifted her legs into the air until she was standing on her head. THEN rather than falling to her knees to come out of it like a normal person, she flipped her legs in the other direction, dropping into a back bend.

Bitch did a headstand AND a back bend! At eighty-three! I can’t even touch my toes! While I was hunched over on my mat in a sloppy semblance of child’s pose, head turned to the side so as not to drown in a pool of my own sunscreen-tinted sweat, there was Agnes, upside down, smirking at me, like the back-stabbing bitch that she is.

I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so betrayed.

I left class in a bit of a snit that day. But I was determined to go back and show that Agnes a thing or two.  So the next morning I dragged myself out of bed and, despite the fact that all of my muscles were screaming in pain, I made my way to class.

This was a different type of yoga. I think it was called Kripalu, which, roughly translated, means you will walk with a limp tomorrow.

The instructor for this class was a woman named Jennifer. Her teaching style was very different from Sian’s. Where Sian was badass, Jennifer was gentle. In Sian’s class the music ranged from Tuvan throat singing to “Purple Rain” while Jennifer seemed to prefer mostly repetitive, new age, chant-like tunes.

Jennifer’s class, while by no means easy, was definitely more my speed. Which is to say, slow. I fell down a lot less in her class. Make no mistake; I still fell down during side planks, just not quite as often.

Agnes wasn’t in this class so I couldn’t flaunt my vast improvements, which was a shame.

Even without Agnes the showoff, there were still plenty of opportunities for me to feel ridiculous in class. For instance, Jennifer had us do this weird breathing exercise where you take a deep breath and on the exhalation you stick your tongue out and open your eyes really wide. She called it a lion’s breath.

lion's breath yoga

 

 

 

 

 

 

I call it a Gene Simmons.

kiss-gene-simmons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then she gave us five minutes of free play at the end of class, or as she explained it, time to explore the ways in which your body wants to move. Then we took a ten-minute shavasana. (Which, for all you non-yoga folks, basically means naptime.) I felt like I was in kindergarten again. It was pretty awesome.

I still think I prefer Sian’s class though. She’s much more straightforward. Apart from letting us know which pose came next and how to move your body to get into said pose, Sian didn’t talk much. Sometimes she would get us into a pose and leave the room for a few minutes, whereas Jennifer gave almost nonstop encouragement and instruction.  Things like…

Let’s be in conversation with our hamstrings.  

Explore and honor each life-giving breath.

Allow your mind to focus on the space between the thoughts.

She also had an annoying habit of describing the various poses without using any articles or pronouns.

Head floats above shoulders. Shoulders float above hips. Hands press to earth.

How am I supposed to talk to my hamstrings, honor my breath and focus on the space between my thoughts when I can’t stop mentally correcting her grammar?

This is why I don’t think I’ll ever be good at yoga. I really do want to become stronger and more flexible, but I fear the spiritual aspect may be beyond my reach. For me, turning off the mind and observing without judgment is even harder than side planks.

I’ll try again tomorrow though. I’m far too stubborn to let an improbably flexible octogenarian or an undisciplined mind get the better of me. Well, that, and it’s free.

It’s Not Easy Being Green

In honor of Earth Day, I downloaded a book I’ve been meaning to read for months called ‘The Zero Waste Home’ written by one of my favorite bloggers Bea Johnson.  It’s all about sustainable living and creating less waste in our daily lives.  Zero waste, in fact.

Marjory the Trash Heap

[Remember Marjory the Trash Heap from Fraggle Rock? Real trash is much less adorable.]

Because I am the highly suggestible type, this book got me all sorts of motivated to embark on a greener lifestyle.  For example…

  •       I donated all my plastic storage containers and replaced them with reusable, environmentally friendly, microwave safe glass.  (Okay, so I haven’t actually done that yet, but I fully intend to – and that totally counts.)
  •       I bring a reusable travel mug with me every time I go to the coffee shop…except on the days when I forget, or my travel mug is in the dishwasher.
  •       I recycle the heck out of my trash. By which I mean that I try really hard to put my recyclables in the designated bins in the trash room in the basement of my building, but it doesn’t always happen because the recycling bins are pretty far away from the trash room door and our trash room is REALLY gross and smelly and full of feral cats so I won’t actually set foot in there if I can help it.  I usually just stand in the doorway, throw the bags in the general direction of the bins and hope for the best. Because I care.

So yeah, I’m pretty much the best environmentalist ever.  I am all about the greenness of my environs and that of the wider world…or at least the parts of it that I hope to visit someday.  Which is why I got so mad this morning when I was confronted with an ALS – Active Littering Situation.

I’m walking down Broadway on the way to my favorite café, reusable mug in hand, when I noticed the man walking in front of me crumple up the wrapper of his disposable drinking straw and casually drop it on the ground.  I am instantly enraged, especially because on this particular section of Broadway there is literally a trashcan on every street corner.  There were two of them not twenty feet from where this lazy, careless, d-bag dropped his trash.

Naturally, I seized the opportunity to flaunt my newfound environmentalism.

However, because I was full of righteous indignation at the time and have very little patience in general, rather than engage this individual in a thoughtful conversation about his choice to sully our fair city with his refuse, I bent down, picked up the straw wrapper and yelled at him.

Hey, asshole!  Is it really so hard to throw your trash in a garbage can? I mean, it’s literally right there.

Then I marched past him, nose in the air, and in a totally passive aggressive and exaggerated manner, placed his trash in the can.

Only then did I turn to look at him to see if the message had been received.

What I saw was a thoroughly confused Mexican man…who also had Down syndrome.

Sarah – 0

Universe – 1

Even when I try to be good, I’m the worst.  Kermit was right.  It’s not easy being green.

Kermit mad face

Unplugged: My 30-day social media sabbatical

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to be more mindful of how I’m spending my time and with whom I’m spending it.  For me, that translated to less time spent alone staring at the ever-glowing screen of my laptop or pocket robot, and more time spent with the people I love, doing the things I enjoy.

Not that I don’t enjoy the quasi connectedness that comes from mobile devices and the social media applications that dwell within them – I am constantly in awe of the many magical things the interewebs can do – but I question the nature of the connection they provide.

LikeAs a dear friend of mine likes to say, “If it’s not on Facebook, it didn’t happen.” Coming from him it’s funny because he doesn’t live his life online, but for others (myself included) that saying can become eerily true.

I would certainly classify myself as a serial poster. Facebook is my vice of choice, but I also dip in to Twitter and Instagram from time to time, and of course there’s the over-sharing I’m often wont to do on this blog.

I began to question my reasons for posting. And I wasn’t entirely happy with my answers.

Like so many ‘artistic types’ I have an insatiable compulsion to perform. Being somewhat of an introverted person by nature, social media became a very attractive, not to mention convenient medium with which to do it.

I tried to tell myself that by constantly posting hilarious dog videos, live-tweeting the Republican National Convention or detailing my latest encounter with the homeless man who likes to expose himself to me on the subway, that I’m helping others by bringing a laugh or a smile to their otherwise dreary day.

But really I just like the attention I get from it.

If enriching the lives of others is somehow an unintended byproduct of my vanity, then great, but I’m not going to kid myself into thinking that my motives are not 99.9999% selfish.

I write things, post photos and make (hopefully) witty commentary solely because I want you to think that I’m awesome. I desperately crave your approval. Yes, faceless internet friends, I’m talking to you. I want all of you to think I’m clever, funny, pretty, whatever…and I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. There are certainly worse things I could be doing.

It’s when that desire for attention and approval from people who ostensibly don’t matter in real life overshadows what you’re doing when you’re with the people who do matter that it becomes a problem.

TwitterFor me, the little ding of a Facebook notification or the whistle that accompanies the much-coveted re-tweet (perhaps the most valuable form of internet currency next to Bitcoin) brings with it the same spike in endorphins that come from a real life encounter with a boy I like. It’s a heady thing. It’s also alarmingly addictive.

While it’s by no means on the same level as, say, a heroin addiction, it’s not exactly healthy either.  That’s why, in an effort to ‘heal thyself,’ I went on a diet. A diet consisting of only whole, natural, grass-fed, organic, real life, real time encounters – in other words, no social media…for 30 days.

It was mostly a success.

As with the breaking of any habit, the first week was the toughest. Ignoring the notifications that were demanding my attention felt like a sacrilege. I also couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something, without being able to articulate precisely what.

I couldn’t give up email because it’s such a huge part of the way I do business, and I did have to check my Facebook messages once or twice because I got a few business-related messages that required immediate attention. But other than that, I’ve been totally out of the loop.

For instance, I don’t know what any of you have been eating. I don’t know about all of the adorable things your children have been doing.  I probably missed a couple of New Year’s Eve engagements. Not to mention dozens of birthdays…

Conversely, none of you know about my daily trials and triumphs, like the epic two week stretch I went without having to move my car on account of the Chinese New Year, inclement weather and the memory of a black man’s indomitable dream; or that I’ve been cast in not one, but two shows for which I am currently in rehearsal; or that I started a new exercise program which lasted exactly seven and half minutes; or that I have a new obsession with tiny houses on wheels and how I kind of want to move out west and build one in the woods and live off the grid forever.

By removing the social media interactions from my day, I had much less use for my precious iPhone. Though I still listened to music, audiobooks and podcasts incessantly, those things add value to my life and require almost none of my time and energy in return, so I deemed them okay. I did have to turn off a lot of the notifications on my phone because the constant interruptions were very distracting.

The best part about not being glued to my phone every minute of every day is that it increased the quality of my real world connections exponentially. Nothing ruins good dinner conversation faster than whipping out your phone to take a picture of the meal and then check it a dozen more times to see who ‘liked’ it. Which is absolutely something I’ve been guilty of in the past and hope never to do again.

The other nice thing about taking a step back from my digital life is that I wound up being a lot happier with my real life.  I recently discovered that as much as I love interacting on social media, it often makes me kind of sad.

Intellectually, I know that the majority of the things people post on social media is their personal highlight reel and they’re probably not as blissful as they seem on the screen (at least, I know it’s true in my case), but as a poor, fallible human, I can’t help but compare their seemingly superior circumstances to my own.

Facebook in particular seems to send me into a whirlwind of inadequacy and self-doubt. Unplugging for a while really gave me the opportunity to step back and gain some much-needed perspective. Despite appearances, I’m confident that everyone feels that their life is as mundane and disappointing as mine often feels. Which, in a way, is a comforting thought.

As my social media-free month came to a close, my resolve wavered a little bit. I’ll admit to checking my Facebook notifications more than once. I even ‘liked’ a status or two. But I no longer feel as though I’m living to post – a definite win.

I also received a handful of emails from friends who noticed my absence on their Newsfeed and expressed their concern. Those emails made my day. I even reached out to a few of them (by phone) to express my thanks and to assure them that I was all right.

Now that my self-imposed sabbatical is over, I will definitely go back to sharing my life on the internet, but I hope to do so in a way that is more mindful. I don’t necessarily want to change the sorts of things I post – I’m prepared to be just as ridiculous as ever – so long as I’m clear about the reasons I’m posting and I’m able to maintain a keen awareness for when it’s time to take another break.

So interwebbers, what’d I miss?

S

A Great Way to Make Yourself Feel Ridiculously Accomplished Without Actually Doing Anything

I’m a list-maker. I make a lot of lists. A LOT of lists. I make to-do lists, shopping lists, packing lists, lists of items I’ve donated to charity… Sometimes I make a list of the things I want to make lists for.

For a list to feel truly satisfying, you’re gonna want a good pen. I like gel pens. Preferably in a variety of colors. (The only thing more anal-retentive than a well-written list, is a list that is color coded.)

You’ll also need to establish your list-making medium. Here’s a list of things you can use to make lists:

*Scraps of paper – I tend to avoid using scraps because I usually wind up accidentally throwing them away before I get the chance to complete my list – or, failing that, transferring unfinished tasks onto a new list. (Which I do all the time.)

*Smart phones, iPads and other digital methods – I tried that for a little while, but it didn’t leave me with the same sense of satisfaction that physically crossing an item off a list gives me.

*Other – My mother uses the backs of envelopes. It’s adorable.

I’m a big fan of the yellow legal pad.

legal-yellow-pad_5

Biggest perk of working at a law firm? Access to an unlimited supply of yellow legal pads. (The assistant who worked here before me accidentally bought the wide-ruled legal pads and my boss hates those, so it’s up to me to use them up. And boy, will I!)

I’ve always been a highly goal-oriented individual, and list-making is great way to organize the multitude of ideas that pass through my head on a given day. The trouble is, my goals tend to be rather…lofty. To an almost ludicrous degree.

Take the list I made on Wednesday…

photo (2)

For those of you with a slow internet connection or small-screened smart phone, I’ll recreate the list here:

  • Finish pilot for TV show
  • Start pilot for TV show
  • Write opera libretto
  • Blog about that time you worked in a ruler factory
  • Learn music for concert w/Brian
  • Learn ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ because it’s time
  • Submit opera audition applications
  • Apply for more film & TV work
  • Go grocery shopping
  • Clean out the fridge
  • Clean all the things (donate anything you don’t feel like cleaning to Goodwill)
  • Pay bills
  • Pick up dry cleaning
  • Laundry

That was just Wednesday! Did I mention that I also worked nine hours on Wednesday?

Okay, so I didn’t really expect to finish everything on the list. Hell, I’d be lucky to accomplish even one of those things. This could easily be my to-do list for the next five years – at least!

The truth is, I didn’t accomplish any of those things. I was exhausted. And hungry. And the dry cleaners was closed. I am a failure.

That’s the biggest problem with lists. You kinda feel like shit when you have so many unfinished tasks hanging over your head. At least that’s what happens to me.

So I came up with a solution.

When I got home from my very long day and it became evident that my overly ambitious list was going to be left undone, I made a new list. One that was absolutely manageable – even in my depleted state. It looked like this:

photo (1)

  • Eat some food
  • Don’t feel guilty about the fact that it’s take-out
  • Cuddle with the dog (His name is Wallace and he’s adorable. See below.)
  • Watch: Breaking Bad, Dexter, SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy)
  • Go to bed at 10:15pm

photo (3)

Mission accomplished.

I feel better already.

S

I am a grown-ass woman.

And a reasonably intelligent one at that. Yet, after nearly two decades worth of practice, there are still a few simple tasks that I can’t seem to manage without incident.

1) I cannot operate a curling iron without burning my face, neck, fingers or ears, not to mention my hair.

2) I somehow manage to knick myself pretty much every time I shave my legs. Typically it’s the knee or ankle area, but I’ve been known to randomly slice the middle of my calf…with a safety razor, mind you. It’s not like I’m going all old-school, straight razor Sweeney Todd over here.

3) I am seemingly incapable of removing my right contact lens without it getting lost somewhere in the recesses of my eyelid. I wish I were kidding about this one, but it’s true. I’d estimate that one out of every three removal attempts ends with me in front of the bathroom mirror for a good five to ten minutes, pinching my right eyelid, blinking madly and digging around for the errant lens.

Other things that are inexplicably difficult for me, but are only disastrous some of the time:

*Driving in New Jersey without getting lost, usually because my GPS gets confused at the cluster-fuck that is the NJ highway system.

*Competitive sports of any kind.

*I also have an abysmal track record with eating soup in bed. Suffice it to say, my mattress pad looks like it should be waterproof (and it probably should be), but I assure you that those suspicious looking stains are all soup. All soup.

There are lots of other things that I’m terrible at, but I think we’ve all had enough self-deprecation for one day. I promise that my next post will involve something happier, or I’ll just post another dating story so that at least the self-deprecation will be funny.

Love you bunches,

Sarah

p.s. Did anyone else notice that I numbered the first list and used asterisk/bullet points for the second list? And no, there is absolutely no method to my madness. That’s just how I roll.