Water, Water…

Class 33 with Dionne was no more challenging than the others.  This time though, I found a special preoccupation with my water.  I’d frozen a 1.5 liter bottle the night before and it took its sweet time melting throughout class.  I couldn’t win.  The water would melt.  I would gulp.  Then I would have to wait.  What was I expected to do between desperate sips of icy cold water?

Oh, that’s right, do my Bikram practice.  That’s what I was there for so I guess I should pay attention to that.  Remember way back when, some posts back, when I said I’d like to see if I could practice without water?  I lied.  I never want to go through a class without drinking water.  What was I thinking?  I guess in an ideal world where I was well hydrated and such, I could entertain the idea of braving that hot room without my water crutch.  Until then it’s water, water, water for me baby–nothing’s gonna tear us apart.

Seriously though, whether it’s water or wiping off sweat, there is always something waiting to distract me in class.  Often that distraction is manifest from some corner of my brain where I trick myself into believing that I didn’t manufacture it myself.  It’s a lovely game.  Really.  It’s either that or focus.  In the end the focus wins.  It has to.  Bikram practice is demanding in that way and I can play with my water for but so long.  68 more days to see if this continues to hold true.

Stay Strong

Class 31 with Angela was tough, no doubt about it. She’s a great teacher and her corrections are magic. Actually all the teachers at Bikram Yoga East Harlem are great. Each one brings something new to my practice.

Today Angela reminded me to “stay strong”. Most teachers say that often and, it seems, today was one of those days when I actually listened. I was completely worn out by the middle of standing series and it was those words that kept me from curling into a ball on my mat. It was those same words that beckoned me to hold on and do tree pose before a desperately needed savasana. I’m really glad I did.

As I begin my next 30 days, I’m committed to alignment. I want to increase my flexibility but not at the expense of doing the postures correctly. That can be difficult when I just want to throw myself into them and tough my through them. It doesn’t work for the long term or my body. So slow and steady it remains for me.

I saw an improvement in toe stand on my left where I had my foot vey close to being under my belly but I did not have as much control so I will need to work on strengthening my core.

One other thing that Angela said stayed with me. Mind you, some other teacher has probably said this to me before, but today it landed. “You often come into this room with strength or flexibility. Rarely do you come in with both and that’s a gift. Rather, you use your strength to increase your flexibility or your flexibility to increase your strength.”

I believe I have a little bit of both but when it comes down to it, right now in my practice, I have strength. The longer I have gone, the tighter things have become, decreasing my normal flexibility. It is my job, for the next month, to coax my flexibility back using my strength and determination. 31 days down and 70 to go. Let’s do this!

Bikram 101: Day 30

30 days flew by so fast. Brian taught today’s class and even that flew by. I guess when you’re focused, the session just zooms by.

Brian told me that he could see that I’m getting stronger, particularly during standing bow.

These first 30 days are the tip of the iceberg of healing. Lower back pain is gone although my hamstrings are constant work in progress. They are tight and have yet to open up.

With 71 more days to go, I have room for many healing miracle. Cannot wait!

Permission

Class 25 with Stephanie was less rough than yesterday.  It was challenging as usual but I wasn’t lamenting my crazy choice to do this yoga every day for 101 days.

Some days are like that. They beat the fight out of you.  Thankfully, today was not one of those . Today was a day of very deliberate motion.  I spent the class noticing and asking.  I noticed where I was misaligned or weak.  I noticed the symmetry of my body.  I asked my body for permission every step of the way.  With each concession, my body opened up for me and I went deeper in my asanas.

Yoga is about specific, deliberate movement.  Jerky movements not only destroy the sanctity of your asanas, they leave you susceptible to injury.  If you cannot do a posture without throwing your body wildly around, then you’re not ready for that posture.

Your body’s gift to you manifests itself through yoga.  You realize that nothing gets done without the complicit agreement of your body.  Today my body and mind worked to strengthen standing forehead to knee.  I stayed in the first part of the posture for the entire minute.

Every day my body, at my quiet requests, opens up and surprises me with its strength and resilience.  I’m privileged to experience this every day.  76 more to go!

Correction

Day 21 of my 101-day Bikram yoga challenge was my most enlightening so far. With a few taps of her fingertips, Kyoko completely reshaped my practice.

One of the things that I’ve had to come to terms with in my years of practicing Bikram yoga is the harsh reality that you will never get a posture “right”. Not only does it never get easier, ever, there are opportunities for adjustment even at a microscopic level. Suck in your stomach. Square your hips. Leg up. Left shoulder forward.

There is no hanging out in perfection on Bikram. You never reach there. You’re not even aiming for there. You’re gunning for your personal best in that moment and then you let go and try for the same in another posture until you collapse, a sopping wet mess, in savasana at the end. Then come back the next day and do it again. Rinse. Repeat.

Today with Kyoko was, I daresay, life altering. But, hey, everything I do in that hot room is life altering. It’s just that Kyoko is a true master at what she does. She can see adjustments that you have no idea you needed.

My standing bow is pretty strong. That’s because it’s my favorite posture. To me, it’s quite beautiful. I will bust out in that posture on the beach, at a party, anywhere and for free! Today, Kyoko pointed out some things, tapped my hip, told me to square it and I’m back to square one on my right side. Its no longer my strongest posture. After her correction, I actually have to do the posture correctly and it’s hard!

On my left side–my strongest in that asana–I had to fight to do it and fell forward out of it. I had a teacher once say that you’re not doing standing bow correctly if you don’t fall out of it every once in a while and fall forward out of it at that. Today I finally fell forward–violently, ecstatically and somehow uninjured and in control thanks to Kyoko.

She also gave me an adjustment that might just transform tree pose for me and my super tight hips. I’m just grateful for the daily opportunity to improve and the privilege of having incredible teachers who dole out corrections that will never stop in my life long practice. Glad I have 80 more days of yoga heaven!

Baby Steps

Day 9 wasn’t bad at all.  Stephanie taught.  It was so warm I was drenched before I even started the first posture.  It was a juicy one and it was glorious!

As I was walking into the room, there were murmurs from students who’d taken the class before about the room getting too hot and someone fainting.  That is not the way you want to start class.  Later on, I learned that the student hadn’t passed out but had a moment and the instructor attended to her by opening the windows.  No one has ever made that room cooler for me so I guess she was in a bad way and the teacher took care of her.

After hearing all of this, I decided that it wasn’t too hot in there and class was going to be a piece of cake.  In the end, it wasn’t too hot but it wasn’t easy.  I made it through all the postures though.  That’s what I’m standing for during this challenge–doing each posture every time.  So far I haven’t had to sit any of them out and I will push to make myself get right back up if I take a breather.  So far, so good.

Today I focused on engaging all my muscles and diagnosing why some postures were so difficult for me.  For instance, in standing head to knee (aka the bane of my existence), I realize I need to use every single muscle to keep from dragging myself down and hurting my lower back.  Stephanie also pointed out that we tend to go down too low when we grab our foot.  She said to lift it and meet it half way.  That made a big difference.

I’m looking forward to the next 92 classes.  I’m extra excited about tomorrow because I will be doing a double.  One class at Bikram Yoga East Harlem and then another with Bikram’s wife Rajashree Choudhury for Solstice in Times Square: Athleta Mind Over Madness Yoga at 12:30pm.  Read about it here.  See you in the Square!

Also, please help Bikram Yoga East Harlem get a chance to win a$250,000 grant from Chase and LivingSocial by voting for them at Mission: Small Business.  You will need a Facebook account to participate.  Visit the page.  Log in with your Facebook account.  At the bottom of the page under “business name” type in “Bikram”, leave the state and city blank and click on “Search”.  Scroll down until you see Bikram Yoga East Harlem and click on “Vote” on the right.  Thank you for supporting an incredible small business!

Little Things

You know how they say big things come in small packages? Well today, Day 7 of my challenge, I met tiny Kyoko who packed a punch!

This morning was tough. I didn’t want to get out of bed. In spite of sleeping over eight hours, I was inexplicably exhausted. I made it to class anyway, assured that I would have to go easy because I was not feeling up to it.

Surprisingly, I gave my all. There is no soft-shoeing it in Bikram for me anymore. It truly is all or nothing. Kyoko kicked my butt with helpful correction after correction. I know my practice improved because of her or, rather, my listening to her.

I’m learning that all I have to do is listen, the rest will fall into place. I still have to be mindful of injury and know the difference between a stretch and a strain. I want to last the other 94 days. I’ll keep pushing.

Every Other Day

Day 6 out of 101 kicked my butt as usual. It’s either that it’s an every other day thing for me to have a tougher. Time with class or it’s that classes with Stephanie are just plain tough. It may be both.

Today was great because as I type this, I’m long done with class. I got some intense corrections. Particularly in triangle. I have to move into position in one move instead of my usual step-by-step. Stephanie says it challenges my core. Ok. Dang. My core and I were fine just the way we were but since she pointed it out to me, there’s no going back.

I was able to hold back from kicking in the first set of head-to-knee. I tried to complete during second set but I can’t hold it. Will keep trying.

Today’s victory was touching my forehead to the ground during standing separate leg stretching by simple listening to Stephanie’s coaching.

After all is said and done, I am spent. Ready to rest and prep for another day. Praying I improve and protect myself from injury.

And I Will Always…

I woke up this morning in Nigeria to the news of the untimely passing of Whitney Houston.  The night had been troubled and feverish leading to a slow morning made more surreal by unbelievable news delivered by text and Blackberry Messenger.

Of course it wasn’t true.  I wasn’t even going to hunt down the news.  No.  There were more electronic messages and then the harbinger of social media.  Finally, I could not ignore my friend’s voicemail about how upset she was.  It became inescapably true.  Whitney Houston was dead.

When Michael died we were blindsided.  I was in denial for hours awaiting confirmation.  With this news of Whitney, it was irrevocable.   The passing had been confirmed for hours.  I had nothing to face but the truth that this woman who was everything when I was growing was gone.  Suddenly, unceremoniously. Gone.

What bubbled up in me was not sorrow, though.  It was a quiet, humming rage that got louder as I read the missives on social media.  That rage grew to deafening thudding of my heart in my ears.

Why all this now?  Where were we when she was alive?  What difference does our outpouring make now that she is gone to us?  How dare you comment about her “wasted” talent?  How could you look at her legacy of astounding achievement and twist your finger to type “waste”?  Was she not potential realized?  Did she not burn bright only to come down and be among us, human?

The rage has long simmered down, making way for speechless sorrow.  I wish we had honored her in life the way death compels us.  I wish we had acknowledged her impact on our lives.  She was everything to the little growing Black girl that I was.  I sang along horribly as she serenaded me from childhood to adolescence and finally drifted away into adulthood.

She was my hero and like everyone else, I used her voice to fuel my dreams.  When that voice stopped booming, I cast her aside and moved on.  I shrugged off her struggles expecting her to overcome.  When it took longer than expected, I shelved my concern, biding my time, looking away, refusing to acknowledge what was attempting to replace my icon.

Then one day she came back to us, scarred, voice lost to her battle for life.  I was happy though I mourned such a beautiful thing now burned away.  That is when I, like everyone else who already had, took her down from her pedestal believing that I had gotten all that I could have from her.

Whitney Houston was no wasted talent.  In her short life, she accomplished more than many of us could dream to achieve many lifetimes over with just her voice.  In our greed, we wanted more and more from this phenom who gave us infinitely more than we could imagine.  She did not stop until she was spent and used up by our insatiable need for constant affirmation.  When she proved to be human like the rest of us, we went searching for another brightness to bask in until that light dimmed as well.

Little did I know that Whitney would one day trump all the naysayers.  She did so by dying.  Her passing has caused us to finally recognize her impact and honor her like we refused to in her last days.

In passing, Whitney Houston taught the ultimate message.  Nothing is forever.  Our heroes are not forever.  Let us honor our heroes often and always, letting them know they have don’t have to keep producing to retain our love.  Let us let them be human.

She gave us word and song.   They are left behind, a shadow of the incomparable voice and woman that sang until she could sing no more for us.   Thank you for this:

I hope life treats you kind
And I hope you have all you’ve dreamed of.
And I wish to you, joy and happiness.
But above all this, I wish you love.

And I will always love you.

May we learn our lesson and honor loved ones, heroes and icons before death and after the music stops.  May we embrace our and others’ humanity.   May your soul rest in perfect peace, Whitney Elizabeth Houston.  You are loved.

Nigeria Strikes Back: A Primer

harmattan, hot, dry wind that blows from the northeast or east in the western Sahara and is strongest in late fall and winter (late November to mid-March). Source: Britannica Online Encyclopedia

It’s New Year’s Day.  You wake but you cannot go to church today as you do every year.  You stay home like you did on Christmas day.  Rightfully so, considering that Boko Haram attacked a church that day and killed almost 40 people.  You decide to brave the outdoors to get some petrol for the generator.  To your surprise, without warning, overnight, fuel prices have more than tripled.  You learn that the government has suddenly revoked the fuel subsidy with no preamble.  You remember them discussing this a while back but there was no timetable.  You’re in the village, miles away from work, visiting family.  In an instant, the money you saved to travel back to the city is not enough, you will need four to five times that amount to pay for transport.  Until you figure that out, you’re stuck and you will probably lose  your job.  You wonder why the government implemented this law when they have not addressed the insecurity that has you afraid of going to church and has your friends grumbling about revenge.  Clearly you are not a priority for your government.  This is the last straw.

As you read this, day 15 of the revocation of the fuel subsidy in Nigeria has passed.  Nigerian citizens concluded the 14th day of protests and 1 week of strike.  Some have lost their lives protesting.  Banks are closed.  Commerce is halted.  Oil and gas exports are threatening to shut down.  Nigeria is at a standstill.   This is the crossroad.

The ongoing protest in Nigeria in response to the sudden removal of the fuel subsidy on New Year’s Day has been dubbed OccupyNigeria by many, although the activism here well predates the movement in the US.  The strike is the largest in recent times with participation from crucial areas in Nigerian commerce.  I have read some pieces from Westerners who, in their analysis, miss the nuances of such a movement and dismiss it as a misguided group of disgruntled seekers of entitlement refusing to let go of a hampering practice.  Not only are such assessments offensive, they are grossly off base.  As someone who is currently in Nigeria and spent the bulk of my life in the US, I believe I have a unique perspective as I watch history unfold.

Let us examine the oil subsidy and the root of Nigerian citizens’ furor.  State-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has the duty of regulating the petroleum industry yet has done little to build or repair existing oil refineries.  In the years that it has been active, that organization has operated far afield from its mandate.  Instead it has served to enrich those who can tap into its corrupt inner workings.

The fuel subsidy was put in place in to provide relief to citizens who have the undue burden of filling in for a failed power system.  The removal of the subsidy has been lauded here and abroad as an opportunity for the Nigerian government to retain funds which it can use to address many of its failings.  Apparently, the faulty power grid, disastrous infrastructure and various other ills are to be solved by removing the one thing the government provided consistently for Nigerian citizens, relief from the burden of high fuel costs.  The subsidy has been the sole relief for citizens who feel that Nigeria provides them with little else although it reportedly exported $59 billion worth of oil in 2010.

At this time, Nigerians are heavily dependent on petrol.  While Nigeria is a major oil producer, it is also a major importer of refined petroleum products with barely any functional refineries in the country.  In essence, Nigeria sells the oil and then has to buy it back in refined form, primarily as petroleum to fuel cars and homes.  There is no escaping petrol usage in Nigeria.  It is a part of daily life here more so than anywhere else.

The removal of the fuel subsidy is a case of putting the cart before the horse.  In discussions about this prospect in 2009 with the government, Nigerian Labour representatives believed that there was an established agreement that a number of key conditions would be met before removal would be considered plausible.  They are:

  1. Consistent power supply –  Aside from being infused in everyday products, petrol is necessary for the generators that practically every Nigerian home operates to supplement the shoddy, inconsistent power grid that blacks out daily if not for days or months on end, providing a few hours of power a day at its highest function.  Petrol is a necessity in Nigeria for even the simplest activities even if you don’t own a car.  Everything electricity-based is moved by fuel when the power grid shuts down.  As I type this, the power has gone out and eventually, I will have to turn on the generator to keep my laptop battery going, burning precious, expensive petrol in the process.
  2. Repairing and building refineries – Doing so would remove the additional cost of importing petroleum products, removing dependence on outside entities to process an abundant national resource for astronomical savings all around.
  3. Infrastructure improvements – Again, providing working railways and repairing and maintaining roads would provide relief to Nigerians and would reduce the overall individual dependence on fuel as they go about their daily lives.
  4. Eliminate oil industry corruption – This would result in cost efficiencies in supply and distribution of petroleum products resulting in overall savings that could be passed down to consumers.  Corruption in general costs Nigeria an estimated $1o billion yearly.  Considering that the subsidy costs $8 billion a year to provide, it would be more cost effective to eliminate the graft pervasive in Nigerian government.

It is quite interesting that items a majority of Nigerians wanted to be in place before removal of the subsidy are the very things that the government says it needs to remove the subsidy to address.  How can the government and its people be so misaligned?  Simple.  The government of Nigeria, as demonstrated through policy and action, has no regard for its people.  Its function is primarily the enrichment of those lucky to participate within its confines.  It has very little interest in anything else and has been quite successful in reaching its goal of augmenting politicians’ wealth.

We can go on for some time about the merits of keeping or removing the subsidy.  The Nigerian government may have a valid point in seeking removal that it says will finally free up funds to fuel change for necessary projects to improve the lives of all Nigerians.  I daresay Nigerians, already used to struggle, would not mind participating in something that would result in something as rewarding as stable electricity and infrastructure as well as reasonable fuel prices.  The greatest issue here lies in the government’s management of the entire fuel subsidy removal process.  Their timing and actions, at best, indicate a disconnect from its citizens’ needs and, at worst, an outright disregard and disdain for the very people who put them in power.  Here is why:

  1. The fuel subsidy was removed on January 1, 2012 in the middle of people’s holiday celebrations.  During the holiday season, most Nigerians travel back to their home villages from city centers and other places of work to reconnect with their families and communities.  These travelers budgeted for their return to work by putting aside money for transportation or fuel for their cars.  With the announcement–with no warning– of the revoking of the subsidy, many people were left stranded and still are to this day.  The sudden hike in fuel cost outstripped the money they had set aside to return.  Petrol and transportation now cost far more than they anticipated and many could not return to work or had to sell items to compensate for their shortfall.  Removing the subsidy without warning during downtime indicates a government that absolutely could care less about inconveniencing its people.
  2. Most importantly, the timing of the removal after horrific attacks by Boko Haram on Christmas day on Christian churches indicates the government is not only disconnected, it is unwilling to address issues of immediate concern to Nigerians.  While it toys with subsidy removal, Nigeria is poised to break out into waves of violence that may result in civil war.  Rather than focus on what is necessary to stave Boko Haram and retaliatory Christian attacks and assure all Nigerians of their security, the impotent Nigerian government continues to keep its eye on those very things that will make it richer.

In 1967, Nigeria entered into the bloodiest war of its history, the Biafra war.  It lasted for thirty months and claimed at least two million lives, a majority of which were children.  After watching their young swim in streams of blood, Nigerians were welcomed with decades of harsh military rule and corruption that taught it that suffering can outstrip war.  Nigerians have  suffered and smiled.  They have quietly tried to get on with their lives.  They have been compliant.  They have tapped into the game.  They have done their best.  They can no longer ignore the rampant hoarding of wealth and resources at their direct expense.

This is the time of the harmattan.  In those winds, a change must come.  I pray that it is a peaceful and enlightened one.  A change is coming.  It is long overdue.

For some more essential reading on the protests, strike and fuel subsidy removal in Nigeria, please read #OccupyNigeria – 7 essential reads about the protests in Nigeria (with additional updates).