Friday, August 26, 2011

The physical requirements of various sporting activities

I went down to the swing-a-ring this morning to play on it, and I was as terrible as I expected to be. It looks like one needs three things:
  1. Chalk. The advice on how to swing says you should chalk your hands, but I didn't have any. (Even when indoor climbing, I never used it.) I simply couldn't get a one-handed grip without chalk.
  2. Arm strength. Many people who haven't rock climbed assume you need a lot of upper-body strength, but most of your power actually comes from your legs. Oh, sure, I wouldn't want to climb with both arms in casts, but it's less about the arms than you expect. Well. This is not rock climbing. Your legs are dangling in the air, practically no use at all; your entire body weight is hanging from one arm.
  3. Core strength. Your arms are holding you up, but it's your abs on down that are swinging you. I probably have enough of this already, although it would likely take time to figure out how to channel it.

  4. Oh yeah and one more thing: Lots and lots of practice.

    But I bet that if I got strong enough to do the rings, I would have a killer handstand.

    Speaking of handstands, this was about the time we were supposed to be down in Brazil, and I wanted to be able to get into a handstand from a cartwheel. Well, can I? No. Not that I haven't been practicing my handstands. I can tell they're getting better - and for that matter, so are my cartwheels - but I'm not there yet.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

On Forrest Yoga

I hate Forrest Yoga.

Let's back up a minute. Recently one of my friends was trying to convince me that I should add Iyengar to my practice, and I told him no, I hated it. Too much fussing around with props - it's so slow and yet it's not meditative - and there's no reason you can't get alignment in a faster-paced class, like anusara. Still, I gave it another shot and found that I still didn't like Iyengar. At. All.

So when I signed up for a cheap month at Om Factory, I went to a Forrest class without knowing what I was getting into. I knew it was created by Ana Forrest and it went on a little bit too much about spirituality for my taste. If I had known more, I never would have bothered going. In fact, if I had read that people cried, I probably would have moved to Jersey just to be safe.

For a class that is slow-paced, doesn't contain a lot of advanced poses, and is more static than flowing, Forrest is incredibly hard. Iyengar bores me; in Forrest, I wonder when the suffering is going to end. (For the record, I've seen some descriptions of Forrest as "vinyasa-style," but that does not mesh at all with my experience. You don't flow between most poses, and you hold every pose for many breaths.) It's more meditative than Iyengar, too - at least, there's room for some oms between the ows.

Lately, I've been having some discomfort in my low-low back, around my sacrum. While it hasn't stopped me from doing anything, it has bothered me. After all, I've always been of the arrogant opinion that anyone with back issues either had been in some kind of accident or just didn't take care of themselves, and I haven't been in an accident. When I told Emilia, Om's Forrest teacher, that a pose was bothering my back, she poked and prodded at me and then had me modify it - not to make the pain go away, but to start fixing the problem - and not just in that pose, but for the rest of the class. I'm afraid to tell her that my right ankle bothers me at times for fear she'll fix that, too.

In short, a Forrest class is an hour and a half of pure suffering. It's comprised of nearly everything I'm not looking for in a yoga class. Go back to crescent pose instead of warrior I? Embarrassing. Not even begin to bend backwards in camel because I can't keep my pubic bone on the wall when I do? LAME. I'd rather be doing vinyasa. I'd rather be reading. Honestly, I'd rather be cleaning the bathroom. I'd rather be cleaning someone else's bathroom. And yet I went home after my first class and immediately signed up for that class every week for the duration of my trial period, because my back already felt like I was holding it differently.

I hate Forrest because it takes almost nothing for me to break a sweat. I hate it because it shatters my illusions about how advanced a yogi I am. I hate it because I can't get away with any kind of shortcut. I hate that I come out of it more sore than after an ashtanga class. I hate that it's exactly what I need.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

On not doing ashtanga

After the first ashtanga class I ever took, I went home and took a three-hour nap, and then my arms felt like useless t-rex arms for about a week. Or maybe two. But I like the discipline, as well as being able to compare your practice over time. Not that I could handle a strict diet of ashtanga, being one of those undisciplined Westerners used to having my monkey-mind catered to.

But here in Manhattan, what you get is a diet of strict ashtanga. Ashtanga studios are serious about it, and if you take ashtanga seriously there are a lot of rules to follow. All classes are mysore (that means, you better have memorized the sequence, and, uh, I have to admit I haven't. Not completely). They don't offer classes on moon days (look that one up yourself.) So maybe what I like is Gillian teaching ashtanga, which isn't quite the same thing as liking ashtanga.

Not that I'll be able to find out for sure. Literally every ashtanga studio in Manhattan, and there are a bunch, does it during the day. The morning classes run until past 8, and the very latest classes start before 5. Who is doing all this ashtanga? Is there another rule I didn't know about, one that requires you to be a bartender, student, or housewife? Even if I went to mysore at 6:30, and I am not a morning person, I might be done by 8, but then I'd still have to go home, shower, and go to work. That's not super-cool where I work, and I'm not even an accountant or something at a staid, 8-5, conservative firm.

It does seem that with half a dozen ashtanga studios in Manhattan alone, someone could cater to the 8-to-5 crowd. Maybe that's how I'll make my millions.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

NY Loves Yoga, but I just want to be friends

Rant: What's with people on Yelp saying, "I've been doing yoga for six months, and only at this place, but I am confident it is the best yoga in the city"? Not that newbies can't have useful opinions ("The students were welcoming but their basics classes aren't basic enough"), but if you'd only ever eaten at one restaurant in your life, would you proclaim that it was the best ever?

Maybe you would. I saw a review for The Popover Cafe that complained that they'd never had a popover before, but the one they had there was far too eggy. Mayhaps they should have looked into what a popover was before trying one. End rant.

So, anyway, I'm looking for a studio here in Manhattan. My friends back in Nashville gave me some good recommendations, and of course there are about a million options here, so the task is a little daunting. (Especially if a studio has a ton of different teachers, "trying it" doesn't mean going to just one class.)

The first studio I tried was not mentioned to me by anyone, but it is conveniently located on the UWS. (It seems like all the suggested studios are downtown, which is a serious commute.) NY Loves Yoga is very new, although it rose from the ashes of another studio in the same location, which may be one reason its name didn't come up.

In its favor, the space is nice, and the studio isn't too crowded - none of the mat-to-mat stuff you hear about in the celebrity studios. In fact, the vibe and class size are similar to what you'd find back in Nashville. The owner is a really nice guy, too. Most of the teachers seem pretty good, making corrections, giving students individual attention, and acting like nice human beings.

The studio itself seems to have a heavy Iyengar influence - every class seems to ask you to grab several blankets, a couple of blocks, a strap, and maybe a bolster. Iyengar isn't really my thing, though. And I've found that most the classes are more beginner-oriented than I would like, even those labeled level 2-3 (out of 3 levels). I'm really a vinyasa girl, and most of their vinyasa classes are at lunch (which doesn't work with my teaching schedule) and only an hour long. What this means is that while I think this is a good studio, I don't think it's really my flavor; I like my yoga a little crazier. However, I would definitely recommend it to folks as a good studio that offers quality yoga without hassles.

Next up? A studio offering $100 for a month of all-you-can-eat yoga. I don't think they know yet what a fiscal disaster that's going to be for them.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Living in someone else's New York

Those of us who didn't grow up in New York have had our images of it shaped by the media we consume: Friends. Seinfeld. Sex and the City. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. For me, my formative images of New York came from reading a lot of Madeleine L'Engle as a child. Much of her adult fiction and non-fiction is set in the city, primarily Morningside Heights and Greenwich Village, but the book I knew the best was The Young Unicorns. In the novel, the small-town Austin family moves to New York for a year and discovers the dangers of the city are very close to home. The book introduced me the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which I now find myself living very near.

In fact, I am wondering if my choice of Manhattan Valley for a neighborhood wasn't so much the result of a rational balance of choices (distance, cost) leavened by personal predilections for certain charms and amenities as much as was an instinctive gravitation to what my subconscious defines as "really New York." Human beings haven't evolved that far from baby ducks.

When I realized how close I was to the events of the book, I naturally did the nerdcore thing and mapped it out here. Some of the events occur at real places, such as the Cathedral. Others occur at renamed but real places, such as the childrens' school. Some appear not to actually exist but simply are plausible for the neighborhood, such as the home the Austins relocate to. (Alarmingly, the only buildings that it might actually be are frighteningly close to my apartment.) I am most disappointed that the synagogue, Adath Shomai-el, appears to be utterly fictional; I'd love to see someone prove me wrong on that.

Now, excuse me, I have to go walk my dog in Riverside Park, enjoying the fog and watching the lights of New Jersey.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

We need to talk

I'm not 100 percent moved in - the tough stuff to unpack is still in boxes on the floor - but I'm trying to plunge right in to my new life. I'm working, of course, and I've been going to yoga (more on that in a later post). I've also been going to capoeira.

Our group back in Nashville was rather small, so I got rather used to playing with the same few people. Sure, new people showed up occasionally, or we saw out-of-town friends once or twice a year at events, but in the general run of things, I knew what to anticipate from my friends in the roda. I had a sense of people's style, of who would be aggressive, of who would kick my ass (which is not the same as who could).

But most of the people I have played with here are new to me. Playing with strangers, even in your own school, is more challenging, since you never know what they're going to do. However, some people are more challenging than others.

The hardest, actually, are those who are brand-new. Not new like I am, but in their first month or two: They have little idea what they're doing and are thus almost dangerously unpredictable. Even if they're timid instead of aggressive, it is difficult to have a conversation with them in the roda. Someone who is really advanced, like a mestre, is easier in some ways; not that they won't utterly defeat you, but they are more likely to leave you feeling humiliated than injured. It often ends up being a conversation where you keep saying, "What? What?" over and over again as they repeat themselves with increasing impatience.

In the middle ground, though, I've noticed that some people are a lot easier to play with than others, and it's not necessarily about skill level. Some people are more attuned to the nature of capoeira as a dance or conversation; others seem to be out there to score points. Ironically, if they want to play it that way, it can be easier to "get" them in return - they're so focused on what they're doing that they can get blindsided. Or when we have small rodas after class, some students are much better at practicing the moves and sequences we just went over. You keep giving someone the opening move of a sequence your teacher asked to see, and they keep ignoring it.

But of course, it's important to play with everyone. You have to learn to deal with capoeristas who are unpredictable or hard to read, not just your friends who you screw around with all the time or even your teachers, who slowly but steadily challenge you. So it's a good thing for me to train with strangers, even if I miss my peeps back in Nashville.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Welcome to the neighborhood

So, I'm in a neighborhood called Manhattan Valley, which is not some new designation made up by realtors, but no one has heard of it anyway. Technically, it's what is in-between the Upper West Side (ends at 96th St.) and Morningside Heights (starts at 110th). I can walk to almost anything you could imagine, including the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the Hungarian Pastry Shop, or Tom's Diner. There are three parks within spitting distance - Riverside, Central, and a cute little triangular park for sitting in the shade. The laundromat is three doors down, and the local grocery store is half a block away.

(A word about the grocery store. It's smallish, but it makes Whole Foods look positively downscale. It has an olive bar, and three kinds of Rogue Creamery cheese. Also, butter costs $4.99 on sale. There are two more similarly upscale grocery shops within three blocks. It looks as if I'll have to go to Whole Foods when I want to save money.)

Within a block or two are a hardware store and a decent bagelry - that is, "bagels" that aren't just round squooshy pieces of bread. The subway is three blocks away, and the bus to LaGuardia is a block and a half. Indian food is perilously close, but so far I've resisted the siren song - I do have a budget, after all.

In other words, I'm basically living the dream. My neighborhood is terrific, New York is awesome, and I love my apartment. I'm writing this from my little tiny balcony, with a view of trees and other brownstones on a quiet side street (not to mention the cars of people foolish enough to drive in the city). I'm not quite naive enough to think everything is totally perfect - I can already see that finding a yoga studio is going to be a bigger challenge than I thought - and I recognize that all of this comes at a price, a quite literal monetary cost. But I'm lucky enough to have a job that allows me to afford it, if not opulently, so I am able to pay it.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The move

Shooting a deer by TheTurducken
Shooting a deer, a photo by TheTurducken on Flickr.
Saturday morning, two friends came over to help me load the truck. As we began, the skies opened up and a monsoon came down. It was the kind of rain that soaks you in seconds, so we just made the best of it. Naturally, it cleared up after we loaded!

Uncle Minion, my driving companion - or perhaps I should say "driver," since he drove all the way - and I set out east on I-40 after stopping for lunch. About an hour out, I realized I left some boxes in my back closet. I want to see my Christmas ornaments, sewing machine, and diploma again, so I called my landlord. I asked him to ship them to me, no hurry, and take it out of my deposit. Shipping on a sewing machine is going to be pricy, but it beat going back.

In the northeastern corner of Tennessee, we turned north up through Virginia. We spent the first night in Wyethville (which, the brochure informed us, was "more than just a stop on the interstate). We both turned up our noses at EconoLodge's pathetic "continental" breakfast - no continent would be willing to claim it - and headed out. We had a long haul in Virginia, and we made it longer by spending some time on the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Shenandoah Skyline. There we saw several deer up close, as well as a bear in the road. It ran off as we approached; it was the first time I've seen a bear run.

Then, in short succession, we made our way through West Virginia and Maryland, spending the night in North Plainfield, New Jersey, a rather unpleasant town with no left turns, either at lights or into commercial establishments. Our pace slowed considerably as we hit the Lincoln Tunnel, but our timing ended up being perfect; we got to my apartment just as parking was switching from the left to the right because of street sweeping, which meant we actually were able to park right in front of Chez Turducken. I got the keys and we unloaded - although Uncle Minion did a lot of the heavy lifting.

My apartment actually resembles habitability now, despite several boxes of stuff that I have nowhere else to put. I actually do have some available storage space, but I don't want to put socks in a cupboard! But I'll save the features of my apartment for another post.