Sunday, May 30, 2010

Book Report: My Stroke of Insight

Many of us spend an inordinate amount of time and energy degrading, insulting, and criticizing ourselves (and others) for having made a "wrong" or "bad" decision.  When you berate yourself, have you ever questioned:  Who inside of you is doing the yelling, and at whom are you yelling?

One of the things I'd love to utilize my lovely little blog for - book reports!

There are always dozens of books that I want to read on any given day, and ever since I moved to the city and started pursuing yoga as a career, about a million more books have been added to that reading list.

Whenever I read fiction, I can easily speed read and plow through fairly quickly.  Nonfiction or "educational" books, however - especially those that delve into the insanely deep territory yoga can cover - take me a lot longer to absorb.  I often feel the need to spend a month on one whole book just so I feel like I absorbed part of it, and even then it feels like it's eluding my grasp.

Hence - a book report.

I decided to go with My Stroke of Insight for the first of this series.  Ironically, the book doesn't mention the word yoga one single time.  Its principals and revelations, however, are unbelievably relevant to yoga, and I think this book should be required reading for everyone who can possibly manage to get their hands on it.  It is truly phenomenal.

As a brief skeletal sketch - My Stroke of Insight is written by brain scientist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor chronicling what happened to her when she woke up one morning to find she was experiencing a severe stroke.  With incredible ingenuity and determination she managed to save herself by calling an ambulance (even when she couldn't distinguish the numbers on the phone or which ones to call - truly a terrifying chapter).  She ultimately survived (obviously) and wrote this book to tell us all what she learned about the brain from this first hand encounter.  Dr. Taylor obviously know a great deal about the brain before her stroke, but what makes this amazing is that her knowledge went from being merely academic or rote to being deeply ingrained, personal, and a present part of her everyday life.

I read this book at the behest of my boyfriend who read it after one of our favorite yoga teachers, Joe Somodi, recommended it highly during a meditation workshop.  While reading it he couldn't stop telling me all the fascinating things he was learning, and as soon as he finished it I picked it up.  Joe recommended this book so highly because, despite the fact that it's not "about" yoga, strictly speaking, it empowers us with the revelation of just how much control over our thoughts and emotions we have - more than you ever would have thought possible before reading this book, even if you're an experienced meditator / yogi.

Dr. Taylor's stroke took place in the left part of her brain, severely damaging it, leaving her right brain to take over for a good long time.  The difference she illustrates between our left and right brain go far, far beyond "math vs." art, and she illustrates it both in scientific terms and visceral, personal terms.  She's a deeply skilled teacher and storyteller - her ability to impart complex knowledge while keeping it clear and accessible is impressive.

Here she is describing the sensation she was given as she was ruled by her right brain in the aftermath of her stroke:

I could not determine how my body was positioned, where it began or where it ended.  Without the traditional sense of my physical boundaries, I felt that I was at one with the vastness of the universe.

 If that's not yogic...

Though the entire book is fascinating and worth a read, the real gems are in the last couple of chapters.  The biggest revelation for me was that physically, our emotional response (via the limbic system) to any given situation only lasts 90 seconds.  As Dr. Taylor puts it, " takes less than ninety seconds for one of these programs to be triggered, surge through our body, and then be completely flushed out of our bloodstream...if, however, I remain angry after those ninety seconds, then it is because I have chosen to let that circuit continue to run."

I felt a lot of disbelief after reading that.  It made me almost feel like a robot, or that she was suggesting I could have the emotional control of something robot-like.  After a really traumatizing or upsetting event - a death, a breakup, a physical trauma - it sure doesn't feel like I regain perfect control after 90 seconds.

The thing to remember, though, is that Dr. Taylor doesn't say it's easy or simple to let it go and tap back into the perfect bliss that always exists in the right brain after the 90 seconds.  It's a choice, despite the fact that it rarely feels like it.  If it was easy and simple, everyone would be happier all the time and we would all always feel connected and empowered.  Dr. Taylor refers to the work of discovering that empowerment as "tending the gardens of our minds."  It's work and it's every day.  Although her stroke has given her a major ability to access that joy and bliss, she still lives and struggles in this world like the rest of us and has to work to make that decision to choose calm over frustration, forgiveness over anger.

This book is a classic example of one I feel the need to read over and over and over again until it's a part of me.  It's so empowering but it's also very frightening.  It has made me acutely aware of the moments I feel attached to negative feelings of worry or anger.  Despite the fact that they're not pleasant and they don't make me feel good, it seems somehow easier to stick with those than to make the choice to be joyful despite whatever challenging realities may be going on in my life.

I recently read a passage from this book to a class of mine during savasana.  I told them it's easier said than done - but it is vitally important to each individual's happiness.  I hope you find it enlightening and I really hope you get a copy of this book and discover your own empowerment for yourself.

Don't have cash to get the book or time to read it right now?  Check out Dr. Taylor's website for more information.

For me, it's really easy to be kind to others when I remember that none of us came into this world with a manual about how to get it all right.  We are ultimately a product of our biology and environment.  Consequently, I choose to be compassionate with others when I consider how much painful emotional baggage we are biologically programed to carry around.  I recognize that mistakes will be made, but this does not mean that I need to either victimize myself or take your actions and mistakes personally.  Your stuff is your stuff, and my stuff is my stuff.  Feeling deep inner peace and sharing kindness is always a choice for either of us.  Forgiving others and forgiving myself is always a choice.  Seeing this moment as a perfect moment is always a choice.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Thai Yoga Massage Level I

Hello, my long lost blog!

First things first - another class announcement regarding Creative Vibrations.  I may be teaching twice on Mondays!  I'm in talks with the owner regarding scheduling, but I think it's going to work out so that I teach an Open Level Yoga class at 5pm and a Yoga Basics (more specifically geared for beginners) at 6:15.  So come on to Ditmars at the end of the N/W line and bring friends!

When I started this dandy little thing last month, my intention was to create an outlet for myself (and hopefully others) to sift through and make sense of all of this newly acquired yogic knowledge I've been swimming in since moving to New York and training to be both a teacher and a more dedicated student of yoga.

And then I began another teacher training program and promptly fell off the face of the earth!  I can't believe how the time has flown since I completed the intensive.  When I emerged from the all consuming world I had a sudden feeling of panic.  I abandoned my normal work and routine for five days to learn this beautiful practice, but the world most definitely didn't slow down to let me catch up! 

It's tough when something like that happens not to feel like you're behind, and that feeling can be plenty overwhelming.  I tend to be a schedule-making calendar-worshipping slightly type A micromanager of my own life.  I let myself get caught up in all the things I hadn't done and needed to catch up on and got down on myself...when my very wise boyfriend reminded me - I had just taken a huge leap forward for my career!  I learned so much in those five days I could never hope to describe it.  It meant a few other things got put on the back burner, but panicking and beating myself for being "behind" was helping no one.

So with that sage wisdom, I plowed through the work that awaited me at my job as well as my Yogini work and have finally begun to emerge for air.  Hence: late blog entry.

Lotus Palm Thai Yoga Massage, Level I Intensive
Wednesday, May 5 was the first day of a five-day journey introducing me into the wonderful world of Thai Yoga Massage, taught by Jyothi K. Watanabe of the Lotus Palm School in Montreal.  It was a whirlwind and a challenge but it was mostly just plain yummy.

It can be a little difficult to describe what Thai Yoga Massage actually is.  I gave it a shot on my website, accompanied by some pictures to give an idea of what a couple of the poses look like.  The best way, I think, is to experience it.  It's not a traditional massage - you're not on a table (though there is a version of TYM that is), you're fully clothed, and most don't stay in one position the whole time.  You start in a seated position and your practitioner performing the massage moves your body for you, basically.  Some poses are relatively still and simple and others are more dynamic.  However, no matter how pretzel-like a pose may appear, you are not required to practice yoga or to even be athletic or flexible to receive a massage.  The practitioner will never force your body to move past its natural range of motion or flexibility.

Jyothi and her amazing assistants, Jenny and Dave, took our class through the entire 90-minute sequence of a standard massage.  She's been teaching the Lotus Palm Method for over ten years and her knowledge and ability to share it is staggering.  Aside from being incredibly smart and intuitive, she's unbelievably funny.  I could have happily gone back to the intensive for five more days to learn from her and practice with my fellow students.

The culmination of the experience was for the class to pair off and essentially practice the full 90 minute flow on each other, which allows me to say from personal experience and with total confidence that you will feel more open, relaxed, and again, for lack of a better word, yummy after a Thai Yoga Massage than any other physical experience.

I'm still a ways away from getting my certification.  Lotus Palm has a rigorous program for its three levels of certification - Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced.  For a Basic certification, you must complete both Level I & II Intensives, submit 30 documented massages, and experience two one-on-one sessions with Jyothi where you get excellent feedback on your progress.

What does this mean for those of you reading the blog?  It means I need bodies for practice!  So if you and/or someone you know could benefit from 90 minutes of passive stretching and massage, please let me know.

I felt drawn to Thai Yoga Massage when I first read about it last summer, before I even really knew what it was.  Now that I've officially begun my journey, I feel so lucky that it has exceeded my expectation.  This art combines yoga, massage, and most importantly, metta, a Buddhist word that essentially means loving-kindness.  Spending 90 minutes dedicating my mind, intuition, and body to serving another person and deliver them into a state of physical, mental, and spiritual ease is the ultimate metta and meditation for me.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Class Time Change!

Although the update won't be reflected on my website for a few days, my class time at Creative Vibrations has changed!  You'll find me there and ready to teach at 6:15 on Mondays from now on (as opposed to 5, which was the original time)

Located at the last stop on the N/W, Creative Vibrations is a warm, lovely studio that also offers massage and bellydancing classes.  Hope to see you there!


Thai Yoga Massage was AMAZING.  Can't wait to write more about it.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Miscellaneous Update Time!

With very little time to write an actual blog entry tonight, I still wanted to share a few fun things...

First thing's first - my website, Yogini Annie, is officially launched out into the universe of Everyone I've Ever Met today!  Designed by Billy Griffin and featuring photographs by Paul LeVasseur, Gloria Rabinowitz, and Klee Walsh, I'm very proud to share this site.

Yoga in the Park
I had the wonderful opportunity this past Sunday to teach a free yoga class with an awesome initiative, Yoga in the Park.  YIP was developed by Grisel Olivo, a fantastic yogini and all around beautiful person.  We completed Sonic's 200-hour teacher training together and I'm so happy to continue practicing with her.

The day was probably the warmest of the year so far, but we found a shady spot and had ourselves a great practice!  I'll be teaching there again next Sunday, May 16, and I can't wait to venture out of Astoria to meet new "uptown" yogis and yoginis..

Lotus Palm Thai Yoga Massage
Tomorrow is the Big Day...or perhaps the beginning of Five Big Days!  I start Level I Intensive Training for Thai Yoga Massage with the delightful Jyothi Watanabe (check out her bio on the Kripalu center's website).  I've been looking forward to this for so long and I can't wait to get started!  Training takes place at the beautiful Integral Yoga Institute tomorrow through Sunday.  You can learn more about this amazing practice on my website.

Wrap Your Feet Around It

Speaking (kind of) of Thai Yoga Massage, there are four college kids (well, most are soon to be college graduates) on a truly amazing journey right now.  Wrap Your Feet Around It is a journey undertaken on foot by Jeff Gallo and Jake Mills with invaluable vehicular, organizational, moral, and blister-popping support by Kristen Merek and Sammi Geer from Christopher Newport University (also my alma mater) in Newport News, VA to New York City's Times Square.

It's a 16 day journey for the foursome, and upon their arrival in New York I offered to treat them all to a free Thai Yoga Massage courtesy of me.  I can't imagine what 16 straight days of walking and driving will do to them but I hope to just provide them some comfort and support!  They're really inspiring and generous.  Their cause?  Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, a favorite charity of CNU Theatre kids.  Please donate now to support an awesome endeavor and a very worthy cause!

And with that, I wish everyone a Happy Tuesday!

Resurrection of a blog (and a hip)

One year ago today - on a much cloudier, much colder, and quite frankly very hungover morning - I went out to run.  My goal was either 4 mil...