Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Paxil Addled Soccer Mom Yoga #8

Today is Madhavi’s class. Oddly enough, it’s the first Indian teacher I’ve come across, California included. In a little Michigan republican town, this is an oddity. There was a total of 6 Indian kids at my high school, population 1200, and here I am with this woman, the first person who can pronounce all the Sanskrit terms correctly, even better than Subramanya nĂ© Larry in California Yoga Central. I, admittedly, am waiting with much anticipation; I want to see how much of the standard spirtual dogma she injects in her class.

The answer? Little or none. She doesn’t bother with Om-ing or centering or anything- she just says

“Let’s start our practice with tadasana, hands on your mat, moving your right leg back into a lunge…”

She doesn’t even use a mat herself, and I am thrilled. It is with just a twinge of guilt and cultural self-rightousness that I want her to kick our asses, to do it in proper desi style, to get into some seriously challenging yoga, because it will validate my notion that all the “Spirit of Birdsong Blessings” yoga CD’s might be circumventing the fact that yoga might include a measure of actual work. She compliments me on my practice after the class, and I’m ashamed to say that I felt pretty proud of myself, out-yoga-ing the septuagenarian grandparents on the other side of the studio. A beat later, I think of my mother, at home, unconsciously holding her breast as she walks around the house, worried that she might never see it again, incapable of even thinking about attending yoga class. All of the sudden, I’m an asshole again, feeling proud for being privileged.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Paxil Addled Soccer Mom Yoga #7

Having both your mother and your counselor in the throes of cancer makes it very easy to ‘set an intention’ – as all yoga teachers are apt to say- at the beginning of class. I don’t need to thank myself for bringing me here. I don’t need to share my practice with anybody. I’m here because I need to take care of myself, if only for the reason that I have done a poor job of this in the past, and if I die before my mom, I will have failed her terribly. Shit, I’m at home again, borrowing her car to come to class, reliant on her careful family planning and my father’s financial savvy, again, after years of being gainfully employed. Maybe nobody sets up their mats by me because I emanate guilt.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Paxil-Addled Soccer Mom Yoga #6

I find, even as I like to poke fun at Greg, that I really like him. He goes out of his way to be friendly to me (no pun intended) and even suggests that I might like to attend the retreat coming up this weekend. He doesn’t do this to sell the studio, at least I don’t think he does; he’s complimenting me on my practice, suggesting that I will find more challenging yoga at the retreat. I’m trying to downplay the role of ego in my life, but it does feel good when someone strokes it. I’m as bad as a cat in this respect.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Paxil-Addled Soccer Mom Yoga #5

Greg Friendlyberry is the teacher today at the yoga studio. His name isn’t Greg Friendlyberry, but it is truly similar. He is heavy on the Namaste, maybe overly-friendly, but I’m finding I no longer mind.

I don’t know if it is a consequence of Paxil® or just a nod to the fact that worse things can happen than slightly ridiculous New-Age Starbucks SUV-piloting suburban soccer moms all chanting ‘OM’ in different keys, but I find I don’t care about it anymore. I still can’t say ‘Namaste’ and bow in a pseudo-spiritual 'the-light-in-me recognizes-and-honorsthe-light-in-you Om-Shanti-Shanti-Om let-me-thank-myself-for-my-practice' sort of way, but if everybody else wants to do it, that’s just fine with me. They can even play that “Sounds of Nirvana” CD, the one with a tinkling faucet, a few carefully placed sitar notes, and a Casio-constructed orchestral background. It’s silly, but soothing in a way. I even like the aromatherapy candles.

All that said, I was still a little shocked- well, mildly surprised might be the more appropriate Paxil grammar- by Mr. Friendlyberry’s shivasana at the end of class. It was just normal at first, falling into that half-conscious state of supreme relaxation, but after a minute or two, I heard a sound I could only describe as exactly like stirring ground beef in a bowl with a wooden spoon. It turns out, this is the exact same sound of someone lathering their hands with goopy lavender hand lotion. I break shivasana etiquette and open my eyes, only to be looking up Greg’s shorts, as he is straddling me in the method of someone spotting a weightlifter in the gym. I really don’t know what to say or do, so I just close my eyes again, hoping he isn’t planning on molesting me in a spiritual way. He smears the lotion on my shoulders, which is just plain weird, but I play along, figuring supple shoulder skin isn’t too bad a consequence for not screaming “WTF are you doing!?!”. I figure it is over after a minute, but no, he then cups his hands over my ears, and the lotion has the effect of hermetically sealing my satellite dishes off from the world, and now I feel terribly odd, cut off from the rest of the world for a moment. He finishes by rubbing a lavender-scented bhindi on my forehead- the religious locale that ash is rubbed on when you enter a Hindu temple- and frankly the Paxil takes over. I figure this is the suburban ceremony, and as long as he removes his crotch from my direct line of sight, I will go along with it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Paxil-Addled Soccer Mom Yoga #4

I’m sitting with my mother in our normal 11:00 tea session, usually when I roll out of bed. I haven’t shaken California time, not because I haven’t been in the Mitten long enough, but because the medication makes me sleepy. We are just chit-chatting about nothing, dealing with dishes and dinner plans and the locations of food stuff in her kitchen.

“Mom, where’s the milk?” *, I ask.

“In the pitcher on the top shelf of the fridge. There’s Splenda® in the cupboard.”

I should mention that my father is diabetic, and my mother has been on a perpetual diet- one that gets thrown out around noon every day- ever since I reached an age in double-digits. As a result, everything in our house is fat-free, sugar-free, and flavor-free. I’m also 35, getting uglier by the day, worried about my dating prospects, and currently rubbing generic Rogain® ( the Meijer’s Thrifty Acres substitute) on to my growing solar panel. Even the tea we are drinking is a British version of Lipton. I realize, sitting at the counter with my mother, that I’m drinking fake tea with fake milk and fake sugar, watching the fake gas-powered fireplace, growing fake hair, feeling fake happiness with my fake mood, preparing to go to fake yoga, and fretting over the fact that my mother might have to get a fake boob. I tell her as such, and we laugh, the only real moment born of plastic parts.

*Being a family of both Anglo and Indian stock, we take milk in our tea on both sides of the Raj**. We don’t want lemons, and if you are a waitress, please ask before you dump a bunch of coffee on top of it. It’s TEA, damn it, and that’s important to us. Just sayin’.

** “Raj” meaning “king”, it refers to the British occupation of India from the 1800’s until Partition in 1947.

Paxil Addled Soccer Mom Yoga #3

I play with my belly. Often. It is subconscious, and something my ex often chided me for, as I would pull it out in the middle of formal dinner parties.

I only mention this because I was resting my paws on their natural mantle during shivasana (the resting corpse pose) when the teacher suddenly tried to smother me with a yoga blanket. Was I that unwelcome?

I didn’t realize that paws-on-belly is code for ‘cover me with a blanket’ something not done in California. I consulted Em, and she confirmed that this is common practice in colder climates, as it is often difficult to prevent icy gusts slipping in under the door, and consequently chilling the studio. People like blankets after yoga. Still, it was shocking. They seemed like such nice people before they tried to kill me.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Paxil Addled Soccer Mom Yoga #2

The yoga studio is, as the Yoga Cop described so eloquently, a soccer mom yoga deal. I’m no spring chicken, but I am unfailingly the youngest one there, and usually the only guy. The conversation- if you were to transcribe it- seems innocuous enough; what the best high schools are, the advantages of X university over Y college, etc etc, but on paper it lacks the subtle cadence of suburban mothers verbally competing to have the most talented child. I think most of the patrons wonder why I am here, and if I set up my mat on one side of the studio, they unfailingly all set up their mats on the opposite side. This is our routine.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Paxil®-addled Soccer-Mom Yoga: Practicing “Enchanted Mi(chigan)tten” Style

I am back in suburbia, Metro-Deetroit to be specific, in the little, almost entirely white, predominantly republican town I grew up in. There are manicured lawns, albeit under a thin crust of icy snow at the moment, a dearth of bike lanes, and SUV’s larger than beejeezus (this is the heart of the auto industry, for however long it lasts).

I have been doing yoga with soccer moms, at the very same studio our friend the Yoga Cop visited. Still, before we get to that, I should explain how I got here.

Mom has breast cancer. She, in her own words, “got off easy”- it hasn’t metastasized, and the worst-case scenario is that she will need a mastectomy. That said, it is a scary ordeal, being confronted with mortality, for both me, the son, and mom the….well, mom. On top of this, my high school friend’s mother has a mass in her abdomen, and the prognosis doesn’t look great. His father died of liver cancer only 18 months ago. On top of that the Zeeb- my counselor and friend, and my best friend’s counselor and friend- has undergone, in quick succession, a diagnosis of diabetes and a stroke. He rallied from these with incredible strength- regaining his language skills in less than a month- only to find a blockage in his colon two months later. When they opened him up, they found a mess of cancer all throughout his abdomen, a sticky spider web of malignant slime-mould permeating all of his internal organs. The doctors say he’s got 6-12 months.

I don’t mean to laundry list a sob story- I just need preamble how and why I am now doing yoga with Midwestern suburban wives of auto executives in a haze of anti-depressant medication.

What with residual pains from the shingles-which I mistook for a giant lung tumor- a smoking habit that I am having similar success kicking as our president-elect, and a propensity towards hypochondria when I get stressed out, I convinced myself that I, too, had cancer. I’d call up my high school buddy in the throes of a panic attack, detailing my symptoms, explaining exactly how and why I was going to die, researched thoroughly on the internet. He advised me to take care of it, get a doctors appointment, and, for fuck’s sake, go and see my mother. I was all for guidance at this point, incapable of thinking clearly for myself, so I booked a plane ticket, fully expecting that mom and I could at least occupy the same room in the oncology ward. Who says mothers and sons don’t do things together anymore?

So I came home. To support mom, of course, but also to clear up my issues. ‘Fess up, if you will. I hastily bought health insurance and set off on the plane, shooting pains and swollen lymph nodes all part and parcel.

Mom’s second surgery was still a few weeks away when I arrived, so I scheduled an appointment for myself, figuring that would give us both time to arrange our shared hospital room and perhaps decide on a television viewing schedule, as she favors programs featuring Welsh choirs while I go for crime dramas. I anticipated conflict over the remote.

Suffice to say I was being, if not melodramatic, than at least highly paranoid. I won’t elaborate too much, only say that I got chided by the doctor for poking my lymph nodes with enough fear and force and regularity that they became, duh, swollen. She took blood, poked me in what I assume was a medical way, and decided that I was freaking out. Because I was freaking out, she decided I was depressed and anxious, enough to prescribe Paxil®.

I can’t describe exactly what this drug feels like, although it is eerily similar to taking Threraflu, or any other haze-inducing cold medicine. It is not good, it is not bad, it is just…… zero. It is a curious detachment. Becoming anxious or panicked is simply not an option- whatever brain center was previously responsible for this has been completely deactivated. It can best described by my experience coping with driving in the snow.

I had borrowed dad’s car ( and make no mistake, living at my parents’ house means being 16 again, whether I like it or not) and the roads were terrible, bad enough to start fishtailing on a particularly precarious incline. It was a major road, the closest you can get to a freeway, and a collision would likely mean blood and death and spilled, lacerated organs. You’d figure, being as there were only stalwart aluminum railings that would, should you hit them, only serve to bounce you back into oncoming traffic like a billiard ball, that I would be concerned.

I wasn’t concerned. I wasn’t able. That curious, mandatory calmness didn’t let me.

I have to say it probably helped. I didn’t panic, just adjusted and regained control of the car. Still, I was alarmed at my detachment at the situation. OK, that’s not true. I didn’t feel alarmed at all. I had some sort of abstract perception that I SHOULD be alarmed, but …….nothing. Zero. I just thought

“Well, this sure seems dangerous. I suppose I should do something.”

Although there was no physical or emotional reaction whatsoever, I did recognize the fact that this should be scary, but only in the same way that reading a newspaper article about a homicide in an adjacent neighborhood is scary. I understood that there was danger, and that I could be subject to it, but it was not at all immediate, the type of bowel-twisting fear we are all wired to feel in such situations. Being unable to feel spookiness, it was again academic.

And so here I am. Mom’s surgery is in a few days, and I’m trying to fill time. Being as all my shooting pains disappeared after I stopped repeatedly fingering my lymph nodes, I decided it was time to step up and start being proactive about my health. I’ve signed up for a month at the local Yoga studio, and I’m taking Em’s advice, trying to make it every day, maybe twice a day, although this dependent upon when I can borrow the car. It’s odd, playing the role of a teenager again when I’m in my thirties, but there you go. Hopefully, I can use the time to reconcile all my issues with this little ugly hamlet I grew up in, maybe realize that everything I hated about this town was borne of adolescent angst, within me rather than rooted in some imaginary avarice of the residents. I’m crossing my fingers on this one, but only because read somewhere that this might bring me ‘luck’, something a Paxil patient can only understand on paper.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Guest Blogger: Chronically Fabulous

Coming to us from fabulous Colorado, CF articulates her feelings better than I can, actually.....

Proud to be a Yogi from Muskogee
By ChronicallyFabulous (author of the blogs “Chronically Fabulous" and the upcoming "TheYogaExperiment"[link forthcoming])

Confession: I’m an All-American Yogini.

I’ve been practicing and loving yoga since 1994 – before wannabes like Madonna made it trendy. I’ve studied yoga at studios all over the US and Europe, with “famous” instructors. I’ve taught yoga to students who were inspired to begin yoga by my teachings. I know the names and the terms and the videos and the buzzwords enough to establish some old skool “street cred” – or is that “mat cred?”

So here is my confession: I hate sitar music, I’m not learning Sanskrit, I’m converting to any branch of Hinduism, I’ve never been to India…. And what’s more, I’m not interested in any of the preceding things.

I’ve been conflicted about my indifference to India for quite some time. I am of course aware of the ugly history of White Americans appropriating and reselling the cultural riches of other races while leaving those who developed the ideas to languish in poverty and obscurity. And even I have had moments where I have been horribly embarrassed by “American” trends in yoga, such as every yoga teacher brand-naming their yoga teachings, and of course the advertisements for new yoga-themed consumer products (Nike YOGA SHOES …..People who feel that the lower their body fat, the higher their spiritual awareness…Alanis Morrisette shrieking, “thank you India” on Top 40 radio….Russell Simmons headlining yoga events….Excuse me while my spirit barfs)

Plus, there comes a time in the American yoga practitioner’s life when s/he is supposed to make that great spiritual pilgrimage to India. To pursue a deeper, more authentic experience of yoga, and of course, also to be able to show off to the students back home and be accepted into the cool yogi clique (in a deeply spiritual way, of course.) Was I going to stay stuck in a gym-class-yoga mentality unless I booked that (very expensive) airline ticket?

The problem is, the glowing reports of American teachers returning from their passage to India did nothing to increase my desire to visit the subcontinent. A composite report from my former yoga teachers: “I spent a month studying yoga in Goa with Guru X and I got malaria and dysentery and worms, I had explosive diarrhea every night, I was held prisoner by militants, all my luggage was stolen, my Guru sexually molested me….. but it was a deeply spiritual experience that you just can’t understand until you go there, I urge every serious yoga student to experience it for themselves.” Umm……gee, I can’t wait…..

The flip side of White cultural appropriation is White starry-eyed Orientalism. Now that I’ve been in the yoga community long enough, I have discovered that many of the tenets that I believed were part of the ancient Indian wisdom of yoga are actually American ideals. For example, I was taught that yoga is by definition non-competitive, a sign of the Eastern wisdom that was above grasping American competitiveness. Imagine my surprise when I found out that in India, Yoga Competitions are commonplace, where yogis compete publicly for awards for the best physical pose. I was taught that yoga is about “listening to your body” – a phrase you would hear in nearly every class in the US in the past 10 years – about being respectful of your own limitations and never straining or pushing to injury. So imagine my surprise to read the many accounts by Indian yogis of how their beloved gurus would force them into extreme, muscle-ripping poses in order to show off and attract more students.

If we can be embarrassed by American yoga’s cheesiness and excesses, then we can also be proud of the American aspects of yoga that we take for granted: the preponderance of women in a discipline that was until recently men-only; the democratic spread of yoga to all who are interested in a book or a class, without having to make a lifetime commitment to a guru; and the expectation that a teacher/guru will keep his dick in his yoga pants, or face a lawsuit. I think all of these trends are truly spiritual progress. Also, in America we don’t drink our own urine (a trend among certain Indian practitioners, and proof that there IS something out there that tastes worse than wheatgrass.)

So I’ve come to peace with the fact that the yoga I practice and love is a truly American style. Thank you India, and thanks to all my teachers who have braved international travel to study, re-package, and water down this great art for people like me.