Hooded Eyes & Shedding Weight

I recently learned via a series of makeup tutorials on Youtube that the shape of my eyes, or more precisely my eyelids, is considered to be a difficult misfortune in the makeup world.  There's even a special term for them: they are "hooded eyes."

Hooded eyes are eyes which have a very deep eyelid crease, sometimes to the extent that the fold of the eyelid comes all the way down to the lash line when the eyes are fully open.  Hooded eyes can look small or puffy because there is so much skin from lash line to brow (think Renee Zellweger).  Also, because the crease of the lid is so deep, eye shadows and eyeliners tend to be concealed, or "hooded," by the eyelid, making it difficult for people with hooded eyes to wear eye makeup well.

Before I saw these videos three weeks ago, the concept of hooded eyes--the very fact that there is a hooded eye delineation--was completely unknown to me.  I had no idea that, all my life, makeup artists and perhaps others had been looking at me and my hooded eyes with pity, possibly scorn.  Since this realization, I am having great difficulty seeing myself without also seeing "hooded eyes." Suddenly, this term is occupying far more of my cognitive space than I think it warrants or deserves.

When I was in the second grade, I sat beside a boy named Jeremy.  One day, without warning, Jeremy looked down into my lap and remarked on the girth of my thighs.  I don't remember his exact words, but I remember my reaction well.  At first, I was stunned.  At eight years old, it had not occurred to me to be concerned about the size or shape of my thighs.  All I knew then was that I was strong--as strong as all the boys, and just as fast.  I always held my own in wrestling matches or fights on the playground, and often won the footraces at recess.  As the idea that the size of my thighs somehow mattered and that mine were too big began to sink in, I felt myself begin to fill with red-faced shame.  Desperately, I placed a notebook over my lap to conceal my thighs before anyone else could have a chance to marvel at their enormity.  When the time came to go home that afternoon, I tried to pulled my jacket down over my legs to cover up.

Jeremy's insensitive proclamation, however innocent it might have been, changed my life forever.  Through this first tender wound, ideas like "wear dark colors because they're slimming" and "only thin girls look good in shorts" began to seep into my consciousness.  Gradually, I began to scrutinize and question the attractiveness of every square inch of my body.  My breasts were too small.  My belly was too big.  My arms were too thick and my hair was too curly.  It became clear rather quickly that I was not pretty enough and that being an attractive person would require a lot of work--I would need to eat very little or purge somehow if I didn't have the self control.  I would have to wear makeup every day to conceal the imperfections on my skin, and dress in carefully selected clothing to create the illusion of an attractive figure.

As I progressed through junior high and high school, the message that my value as an individual hung on these details became louder and more distinct.  With so much of my mental energy swarming around my insecurities and appearance, there was little remaining at this important developmental stage to recognize the things that I was good at, to practice the things I truly loved, or experience the things that made me feel human.  My growth was stunted by the burden of needing to be beautiful, my spirit crushed by the weight of worrying that I was not. Sadly, I would not be able to shed this weight for many years to come.  Even more sadly, perhaps I never will.  Here I am at nearly thirty years of age, stumbling upon new ways in which I am not making the cut.

But somehow, through all the years of paralyzing judgment, I had never found cause to dislike my facial features.  Now, there's a term for my eyes.  Of course, the yoga has been a force of truth in my relationship to self and body.  Through practice, I have shed so much illusion; I have learned that I am so much infinitely more than shape and size because I have observed within.  In time, I will forget about my hooded eyes, but I will always remember this: The body is soil to the seed of my consciousness.  I am reborn in the sweetness of body over and over again. 


Surya Namaskara Workshop 6/20 @ Bfree Yoga Austin

Join me Saturday June 20th at Bfree Yoga Austin for an exploration of the Surya Namaskara.  Space is limited so sign up early!


Mental Laziness and Pain

"Old man, stiff man, weak man, sick man, they can all take practice, but only a lazy man cannot take practice."
 - Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
 "Now I ask the reader to pay attention to what I am going to say.  When we venture into some affair expecting a huge profit, only by being prepared to suffer any obstacles that we may encounter along the way will we then accrue the desired benefits.  If you leave it halfway, it is like falling down.  I ask you to bear the difficulty and pain you may encounter." 
- Krishnamacharya
This weekend I will finish my 500 hour RYT certification.  Next month, I will begin a 2-year yoga therapy training here in Austin.  I am on a mission to build a therapeutic haven within the Ashtanga community, where evidence-based therapeutics are largely lacking and dogmatic adherence to the method is a risk some students run.

My approach toward my own practice has always been therapeutic.  Not having had health insurance for most of my adult life, I have endeavored to heal myself with yoga many times.  Through practice, I have overcome stress-induced migraines which plagued me from a tragically young age.  I have worked within the sequence to rehabilitate sprained ankles, a frozen shoulder, two bulging discs, a host of knee injuries, a foot sprain, a wrist sprain, and various muscle pulls, tweaks, and tears.  With Ashtanga yoga, I have healed addiction, depression, and heartache.  I have overcome nihilism, pessimism, hostility, and hate.

It is my firm belief that, when approached with the right balance of faith, curiosity, diligence, and determination, the Ashtanga practice can be an incredibly effective tool for physical healing and personal growth.  But this practice has also taught me to discern truth and to love truth, so here's a little truth for you: Ashtanga is not magic.  It doesn't work if you don't do it.  It doesn't work if you don't pay attention.  It doesn't work if you don't acknowledge and respond appropriately to your pain.

Some discomfort in practice is inevitable, even necessary, but persistent aches and injuries will not heal if you don't change the way you practice, no matter how much you hope or trust they will.  Most of you will recognize the famous Jois-ism about how the only people who cannot practice yoga are lazy people, and this might be accurate.  One would think that if there is anything an every day Ashtangi is not, that thing is lazy.  On the other hand, the Ashtanga method lends itself to mental laziness.  We do the same practice every day, and we like the way we do it.  It is so tempting to seek familiarity over function.  I see this tendency so often in my students, and in myself.  Mental laziness perpetuates our suffering, an effect that is augmented if we continue to move forward through the sequence without making the necessary change.

I have been reading Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda and found the quote above to be especially provocative.  Krishnamacharya himself asks us to "bear the difficulty and pain" we may encounter, but it seems to me that to simply bear it is not enough.  This yoga is a mental practice.  Through the precise pairing of breath and movement, we train the mind.  If that pairing is compromised or ignored in favor of postural acquisition or attainment of sensation, suffering will ensue.  If that suffering is merely ignored or begrudgingly borne, injury is likely to occur.  Your pain is not a punishment, it is a call to action.  Do your practice.  Pay attention.  Heed that call.


Winter Wedding

Winter is the time for pain.  While the summer months are free and easy, every year in late December, the wreckage of every injury I've ever had grows tight, weak, or inflamed.  My knees ache, my wrists click, and my shoulders stiffen and twinge.  This suffering humbles me, it quiets me, it puts me back into my body.  Winter is the time for coming home.

I began this blog five years ago, almost to the day.  Though I have written less over the past two years, it is in this archived pile that the origins and heart of my practice have remained.  Occasionally, I'll get a soulful email from a reader or a new comment on a years-old post, and be inspired to share with you, my darling friends and readers, once again.  But time has been so fleeting, and busyness the common mode.  However, now that school is over and I have finished my degree, I hope to reinvest my time in writing.  Writing is the key.  So much has happened in the last two years, too much and too uninteresting to tell, but in the spirit of transparency and friendship, I will summarize as briefly as I can.

I went back to school.  I studied English and Philosophy.  I graduated with a 4.0.  I met my partner.  In him, I found the sweetness I have needed.  He is an essential source of wisdom and support.  I have been healing.  I have been teaching.  My students are my inspiration.  Their awesome strength and beauty strikes me speechless every day.  I have done my practice.  It has served me.  I have matured beyond feeling the Ashtanga method as a burden.  This has freed more time and energy for things that really matter.  As a result, my life has flowered.  I see opportunities in all directions.  I am grounded, I am hopeful, and I am largely unafraid.

But winter is far from over.  This weekend, I will fly home to meet my family and attend my sister's wedding.  I will breathe deeply all the way there, and all the way back.  In between the travel, I will surely sob and gasp, and watch the young ones promise their lives to one another as the early sunset of these shortest days, framed by wall-to-ceiling windows, falls just beyond the lovers' eager smiles.  I will reflect on my first love and feel all the pain and disappointment, and hope they learn their lessons far more gently than I did.  There is a certain darkness to winter weddings.  One feels stiff and heavy, and hopes the brightness in the lovers' eyes will last well into spring.

Photo credit: Janelle Elise Photography


The Swell

Ocean Swell I by Deborah Dryden

My practice has entered a new phase of growth.  I have begun working with third series.  When second began to feel like home, it seemed right to journey on again.

I am practicing all of second plus the first several advanced postures.  Second series is a joy, but right around Chakorasana ensue the grunting and sighs.  The work is hard.  The practice is becoming larger, and it will grow much larger still before it snaps back on itself and I am left to start again.

Still, it's good practice for everything else.  Things are on the rise.  This fall I will finish my dual degree.  By January, I will have completed my 500-hour training.  I sense big things lurking in the distance.  If I squint my eyes, I can just about make out their shapes.  But I might get crow's feet if I squint too hard.  With my birthday fast approaching, I see my actual age and my felt age gradually becoming one.  As a child and into early adulthood, I behaved as a person much older than I was.  As young as twelve years old, I was routinely mistaken for an adult.  I used to have a sort of pride attached to my deceptively old persona.  Now, of course, I am less thrilled when others misjudge my years.  I feel younger and more free than I did when I was young, but as a well-meaning friend recently said, "You're 28 going on 50."

Damn.  It's true.

Meanwhile, my siblings are getting married and having babies.  It seems like every time I go up north to visit, there is one more smiling spouse or one more little pair of shining eyes.  The family is becoming larger, and it will grow much larger still.  This is a good thing, or not a bad thing.  But I am a far-off satellite in Texas, only occasionally pulled to home.  The faster the family grows, the fewer are the members of my own family that I know.  This is strange and alienating.  Like a new posture.  You mean, now I have to put my leg behind my head and stand up? Who is this new person?  How does this work?

And this is just the beginning.  The postures keep coming.  The family keeps growing.  Certificates are piling up.  The question is what do I do with this stuff?  With all these new additions, how do I make it work?