yogaversary.

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Two years ago Sunday, I walked down the hill in Grandview Park on Mount Washington, accompanied by some pretty significant misgivings, for my first yoga class. In spite of my nerves, that morning was close to perfect: sunny and warm, but not at all uncomfortable.

Two years later — on Sunday morning — I walked down same hill under a stack of gray, drizzling clouds, and headed for the bandstand, which would shelter us from the rain that was starting to strengthen. And feeling none of the apprehension I had in 2014.

***

I’ve written before about what I felt before that first class, and how it translated to a mental block I had constructed for myself over the last year. I wrapped up the workshop weekend feeling confident that I was going to work through that block — the one about doing shoulder stand — but at that point, I hadn’t done it yet.

Here’s what happened since: I did it. With a lot of help.

One of my teachers, Holly, definitely read the part of the wrap-up post where I said I needed to have a stronger core; in the very next class I had with her, she hammered us with core work — and then stood over my mat while explaining that that’s probably what I should expect when I wrote about needed more core work. I’m almost positive that I could hear her smirking while she spoke … but I don’t know for sure because I had too much sweat dripping in my eyes.

Starting the Saturday after Chrissy Carter was in town, my other teacher, Ashley, started a three-week series of classes built to prep her Saturday Morning Yoga Party students for … wait for it … shoulder stand.

The coincidence is incredible, right?

This involved a more core work, plus extra time opening shoulders so we’d have a strong platform to build from. On the second Saturday, Ashley hauled out the chairs — backless versions of the basic metal folding chairs we all know — for prep work for the Week Three climax. Part of this was using the chairs to help us into halasana, a pretty common jumping-off point for shoulder stand.

chrissy chairAnd that’s when it changed. Ashley was sitting right next to me, ready to help swing my legs all the way over my head; as I started, I said, out loud, “I don’t think I’ll be able to do this” … as I tucked my legs into my chest and then straightened them out to the seat of the chair behind my head.

I could have done shoulder stand right then, but I was so surprised at myself and the strength I didn’t know I had that I sort of forgot what I was doing.

But I didn’t forget the following Saturday.  when Ashley brought out the chairs again, I did what Chrissy demonstrated in her workshop. I even felt like I could have held it for a while.

The fear was gone, replaced by the strength I needed to really do the pose for the first time. Another thing had vanished, as well: the voice in my head that tries to convince me that I can’t do the thing I’m trying to do. There were two best parts about this process of the last month: the first is being able to set aside that voice — even if only for a little while — and doing what I wanted to do.

The other best part? If you guessed it was getting shoulder stand, you’re incorrect. The other best part is that my two teachers took it upon themselves to help me get there. I’ve mentioned this before: this is my yoga family. For some reason, the universe took me up to Mount Washington for that first outdoor class two years ago. It also took me up that long flight of stairs to BYS the following August. That’s where I was supposed to be; these are the people — all the teachers and all the people I practice with — I am supposed to accompany as we all walk this path together.

This is home.

***

After we wrapped up Sunday’s class under the bandstand, I told Ashley and Kristi that I wanted a picture with the two of them, to commemorate my second anniversary.

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As is often the case with these people, I got more; I wasn’t the only one celebrating an anniversary. As the director at BYS, Kristi was one of the first to offer outdoor classes in Pittsburgh, now a pretty common thing here through the summer. Ashley walked into her first class at BYS ten years ago this week. And Ashley’s mom, Dee, started with an outdoor class a few years before I did.

So I got a photo with four yogis, and four anniversaries. And I got a final bit of wisdom from Kristi:

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Always take the jumping pic. Always. See?

Happy anniversary, yoga family. And thank you, so much.

showtime.

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That’s Chrissy.

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If you need proof that I was there, check out the guy in the blue bandana.

And this is the pose — a variation of it, anyway — that caused me to freak out a bit while trying to decide whether to attend Chrissy’s workshop this weekend.

Here’s your spoiler alert: I am so happy I did.

My yoga workshop weekend, Day Two:

I knew going in that I didn’t have the core strength to hold a full version of shoulder stand on my own. But that’s not really what I wanted to accomplish anyway. In a class about a year ago, we did some inversion kind of stuff at the wall; I remember leaving that class feeling that inversions were something attainable. But in the time since, I lost that confidence and enthusiasm, and more importantly, I lost a sense of how inversions felt. In my regular classes we occasionally do a block-supported thing kind of similar to shoulder stand, but my legs feel like I’m treading water in a swimming pool. Without feeling the weight, I didn’t have a feel for how the pose should work. I wanted to recover that, and I wanted to remove the barriers I had constructed in my head.

As we packed up to head home after Saturday’s second session, I spoke with Chrissy a bit about being excited and nervous about the shoulder stand class. That was the right thing to do; she made a point of checking on me as she got us warmed up and explained out our options for the pose. They included doing shoulder stand from a chair — that’s the demonstration above — which I am (now, after the fact) dying to try.

I opted to approach from bridge pose — one I’m comfortable with — set up on the wall. That was a great way to do it; I could still feel how the full pose plays with gravity — the weight in my shoulders and upper arms, and the strength I’ll need in my core to hold my legs in place — while in the relative security of the modified pose.

And that was the successful end of our two-hour trip. Listening to someone talk in detail about how the pose works removed the mystery behind it; getting my legs in the air gave me back my sense of how the pose should feel. I still need to do the core work, and I will. I’m excited to keep trying, because of the workshop.

And that’s the point, right? For me, this wasn’t just about the pose (although I would be lying if I tried to tell you that eventually getting to shoulder stand isn’t a thing for me), it’s about understanding the pieces of shoulder stand and then getting back a sense of how the pose feel. Mysteries dispelled, fears dissipated.

And the best thing: taking a step outside of my comfort zone and — with the support of my teachers and friends — trusting that it would work.

It did. It was amazing. And I’m grateful that I had the chance.

a learning experience.

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My yoga workshop weekend, Day One:

  • I got better in crow and learned some tweaks with my hands and arms that will help as I move toward other arm balances.
  • My core needs to be stronger.
  • Practicing with my teachers is inspiring — they are strong and fearless — and reassuring — they struggle with some of this stuff too.
  • I have a pretty good idea of where to not to go for a quick lunch on Carson Street. A slow lunch might be OK, though; I’ll let you know as soon as my food shows up.
  • I realized in this afternoon’s discussion of the yoga sutras — kind of the philosophy behind a complete yoga practice, rather than just the physical postures — exactly how much the mental side of the practice has helped me, especially in the last few weeks.
  • I’m still scared and excited and scared about tomorrow’s shoulderstand session.
  • I love my studio and my yoga family is awesome.
  • And so is Chrissy Carter.

See you back there tomorrow, yinz guys.

nerves.

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I took that shot as I awaited the start of my very first real yoga class.

I was nervous. Nervous enough that I almost didn’t get seated in the grass. Nervous enough that I almost left.

I had been through a couple of demonstration classes at Venture Outdoors Fest two weeks before; I did those with a friend, and I enjoyed them enough that I talked myself into following up with a studio. I met a woman who owned a studio in Bellevue, just a few minutes from my house at the festival, and geography made that choice a natural one. But I also picked up a flier for a summer-long series of classes — at Grandview Park on Mount Washington and in the little park at South Side Works — and those sounded interesting too.

They were interesting enough, in fact, that that’s where I headed for my first yoga class.

And I was fine with that decision. Until I got there.

I parked and walked up the crest of a hill in the park, the one you have to walk over to really get a look at the stunning view of Pittsburgh over there on the other side of the Mon.

I should have noticed the downtown skyline; what I noticed instead was all of the athletic-looking people — mostly women, and all at least 20 years younger than me — walking over the hill with me.

“I do not belong here,” I thought as I slowed my pace up the hill to a shuffle. “I am too old to start this. And I should just go home.”

I froze on the top of the hill, seconds away from turning around, chucking my brand new mat in the back of my car and heading to Carson Street to find a breakfast suitable for a fat old guy.

What kept me from leaving? I met the guy who was signing people in for the class, an instructor at BYS who appeared to be about my age and then seeing two friends who had already unrolled their mats and were waiting for the class to begin.

Seeing friends there was good. Seeing someone there who reminded me of, well, me — and a yoga teacher, no less — was even better. I was still nervous. But I stayed.

It’s been nearly two years since that class. There were more that summer, and more after than in the studio. Yoga — both in the broad sense and specifically with my teachers and my friends at what has become, without question, my studio — is now a pretty important part of my life.

And, oddly, as I approach this weekend, I’m feeling a little bit like I did when I walked up to that first class on June 1, 2014.

I’m signed up for three workshops with a visiting teacher on Saturday and Sunday. And I’m nervous about it.

The situation is a little different this time. Before that first class, I really had no idea what we would be doing. But I know pretty much exactly what’s coming in two of the three sessions, and one of those — Sunday’s shoulderstand workshop — is massively intimidating.

I know how this is going to go — we’ll break down poses into their component pieces, and I’ll be ready to do them or not — and this isn’t the same kind of doubt I felt two years ago. Part of what I’m feeling is excitement. But for the first time in a long time, I’m also feeling a little anxious about going to the studio as well.

No, I’m not going to turn around before I get to the top of the stairs at BYS. I’m not going to skip out on the workshop for a breakfast at Piper’s. Even if I’m feeling like a new guy again.

1. hey.

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I used to do this as a matter of course.

But it’s been years since I’ve regularly written stuff here, much less successfully completed a National Blog Posting Month month. I’m not sure why I’ve neglected a tool that I used to appreciate so much — perhaps it’s because my jobs came to too closely resemble what I used to do here — but over the last several years, that’s what’s happened.

So I’m going to try to have some fun with Uncle Crappy — the blog — this month. NaBloPoMo used to be a thing I did regularly; I even remember approaching that first November with some trepidation about mustering one post a day for an entire month … and then coming up with something like 36 posts in the course of a month.

NaBloPoMo_2015I have no idea whether I have 36 posts in me this month. I have no idea whether I have 30 posts in me this month. And, frankly, I have no idea whether NaBloPoMo is even still a thing these days. (If you read this and you’re doing it too, leave me a comment, willya?)

But I’m going to give this a try.

Folks who have been reading here for a long time will know some of this stuff. For the rest of you: By way of an introduction, here are 10 things you might read about during the course of the month.

Weather. I’m kind of a freak about the weather. And we’re solidly in the middle of my favorite time of year, weather(and other)wise.

Diabetes. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, this is a new development. I’m doing pretty well with my goal of not letting diabetes define who I am, but there are moments of frustration, like the one I experienced today: Hungry, standing in a Sheetz in eastern Ohio and understanding that there is basically nothing in the entire building that I can eat. I get that from time to time; in other instances, I’m able to convince myself that a bowl of raspberries and plain Greek yogurt is every bit as good as a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Of note this month: As we approach the holidays, the diabeetus is going to make things interesting.

Food. No, I’m not trying to be funny. I love cooking. I love eating. And the fun part of my diagnosis has been searching for healthier alternatives to replace some of the crap I can no longer get away with eating. My favorite so far: Whole wheat flatbread pizza with onions and turkey pepperoni.

Beer. This is also a challenge, given the diabeetus, because I still need to keep up with my professional obligations. On my own time, the solution is easy: Drink much less, but drink much better.

Yoga. If there’s something on this list that should define me, it’s this. It’s been a tough fall, because work and our trips to Columbus have really taken away from the time I would spend in the studio, and I notice the absence, physically and — especially — mentally and emotionally. That’ll get better this month, because we travel only two weekends … and man, I need it. I am a different person now than I was 18 months ago because of yoga and the things that come with it, and I can’t wait to really jump back in.

Football. Mrs. Crappy and I are Ohio State football season ticket holders and in the fall, traveling back and forth to Columbus kind of overshadows everything else. We love it — especially the tailgate parties, which we manage for my folks — but by this point of the season, it can be exhausting. You may also hear about my long-tortured existence as a Cleveland Browns fan. My mostly successful plan for enjoying the current NFL season: Caring less means more fun.

Football (other). I had a brief flirtation with Aston Villa a few years ago, but that was based on common ownership with the Browns … so, naturally, that turned out to be a disaster. Over the past two years, I’ve undergone a more organic Premier League selection process, which has reached this final, carved-in-stone conclusion: Liverpool. On the domestic side, this process has been much easier: Columbus ’til I die.

Music. I can’t overstate the importance of music in my life, from the chill stuff that Kristi plays in her yoga classes to the hippie music that has occupied a huge portion of my life since, uh, junior high school. Coming this month: bluegrass, Johnny Rotten, the annual return of Christmas music and a buildup to a Keller Williams show in early December.

Pittsburgh. I grumble about Pittsburgh during football season, but the secret is that I love being here: the places, the social life and especially all of you. And here’s a not-so-closely-held secret: Pittsburgh during the holiday season is magical.

Mrs. Crappy. I saved the best one for last.

namaste.

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A lot can change in the course of a year.

That was something our instructor talked about a bit at the outset of Tuesday night’s yoga class.

What’s changed for me in 2014? Let’s start here: I was in a yoga class — in a beautiful, candlelit studio — on Dec. 30, about six months after my first tentative attempts at practicing at the Point in May. And that’s not something I ever would have predicted.

But. Yes. I’m still practicing. And it’s made a huge difference.

A remarkable set of unrelated things converged in May to set me on the path I’ve followed since then. On Pittsburgh Marathon day, there was a discussion about music and running and trance — and the suggestion from a friend that I was of the right frame of mind to give yoga a try. A couple weeks later, there was a job offer that came with one terrifying catch — I had to give up tobacco, completely and cold turkey, immediately.

And there was Venture Outdoors Festival, which, among other things, hosted free demo yoga classes at the Point all day long. The same friend who said she thought I would like yoga on marathon day offered to meet me for a 30-minute class or two.

I wasn’t immediately hooked. But I was interested.

While at the Venture Outdoors event, I grabbed a pamphlet from a South Side studio; it offered outdoors classes every Saturday and Sunday during the summer for five bucks a session. To me, that sounded like the perfect opportunity for me to figure out whether or not yoga could be a thing.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the first few classes, but it felt great taking in the stunning view of the city from Mount Washington or spreading out on the grass in the South Side Works. But after a couple weekends, I started coming away from the classes feeling … lighter. Steadier. Things that would normally bug me — especially without the nicotine drip I’d relied on for years to smooth out the rough spots — didn’t have the same kind of grip on my mind and my mood. I found myself feeling disappointed when one of the outdoor classes was rained out. And I found that I was showing up enough that the instructors knew me by name.

And they — Ashley and Paul — were both there once I walked through the door at the studio for my first classes there, along with a group of now-familiar faces — other instructors, the other students who show up regularly for our session first thing every Saturday morning and the couple that runs the studio. The space was immediately comfortable, pretty much what I had hoped a yoga studio would be. And the best part? Before I knew it, I was part of the community that revolves around that space.

Having that kind of support — in that kind of space — makes this process easier. And I need the help: Remembering to breathe. Stretching out my creaky old body as I look for new strength and new length. And — eventually — finding that spot where I’m balanced in crow pose and can hold it for more than a few seconds.

There are other, more important things than trying to avoid (literally) falling on my face. Learning to slow down. Being present. Expressing love and gratitude when I have the opportunity. And shedding at least a portion of the mountain of crap we all seem to collect as we move through our days. Kristi mentioned that last notion during Tuesday’s class and I’ve often felt that way, an addition by subtraction. I’m still figuring out the hows and whys, but it works. I feel it every time I leave the studio and head home.

I’m grateful for the last six months. That it was — and is — BYS Yoga. That it was — and is — Ashley and Paul, and Lynn and Jody and Kristi. That I had that first conversation with Jenny. And that Mrs. Crappy has been so supportive.

Yoga has already changed me, but there is so much more to explore. In 2015, I intend to keep looking.