Thursday, March 31, 2011

no, you can't rush tai chi...

Throughout March, we visited three different tai chi practices and/or classes.  We checked out many tai chi books and DVD's from the Seattle Public Library.  We Netflixed and rented many Kung-fu movies, starting with of course, Tai Chi Master.  It seems the more you focus on something, the more you see it.  We have seen so many people practicing tai chi in public this month.  As we were coming home from our 30th day of yoga, we saw the man in the picture here below, and promptly turned the car around and Amy got out and took his picture.  Oh yeah, we also completed another 30-day Bikram yoga challenge, just had to add that non-tai chi passion.

Random man practicing tai chi.  Photo by Amy
Here is what we have to pass on, if you would like to make tai chi a part of your life:
  1. You can't rush tai chi.  Whether you are finding the right place to learn, group to practice with or learning the form...take your time and slow down.  
  2. Find the right teacher.  Look around, interview teachers, sit in on classes, whatever it takes to make sure you found the teacher that best suits your learning style.  Different teachers are inspiring and motivating to different people.  Trust that you will be brought to the teacher you need, but be patient, it might not be the first one you meet.
  3. Tai chi is a lifetime of learning and practice.  Some things this blog has taken on, like learning the Single Ladies dance for instance...can be done in a month.  Maybe not as well as Beyonce, but nevertheless, we did learn it.  We found that tai chi is not something you can learn in a month, make a bigger commitment if this is something you are considering making a part of your life. 
  4. What do you want in your "medicine cabinet" later in life?  You can learn tai chi when you are young and really have it as a practice as you age, bringing you health, happiness and peace.  But you should never feel like it is too late, start your tai chi practice now, no matter what your age.  It is accessible to everyone, and you'll find a wide population practicing it wherever you are.
  5. Check out some good ole kung fu movies.  I know, this really doesn't have a lot to do with tai chi, but somehow we convinced ourselves that it did.  And I (Melissa) really enjoyed some quality films that I otherwise would have never considered. 
We hope you enjoyed reading along with our tai chi journey.  We really love having this blog, and we so appreciate all of you readers.  Here's to tomorrow, and the start of April: Mushroom Foraging!  We are pretty excited to see what we can learn about mushrooms....and look forward to you joining us, and sharing your thoughts and learnings in your own journeys as well.

Melissa and Amy

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What are your sentiments?

posted by Melissa

This week I have had two momentous points of finishing something I set out to accomplish.  And after tomorrow it will be three things, although the third is not quite as satisfying.

On Monday night, I finished All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy.  I have been working on this book since the late Autumn.  And here it is Spring.  Reading books is something I wish I did more of, like eating fish or having patience with my kids.  I find it extremely hard to find books that capture my attention enough for me to get past the first few pages.  Short attention span maybe?  Or refined literary taste?  Sadly, I think I know the answer.

*            *          *

Today, I finished my 30 day challenge of Bikram yoga at the SweatBox here in Capitol Hill.  Amy and I went to the morning class, and my friend Kristy came along.  Our teacher, Laura, made the class special in so many ways (she often does).  Today she read an inspiring poem at the beginning of class and another at the end.  I swallowed back the urge to cry during the poem she read as we all rested in our final savasana.  The feeling of gratitude for being able to show up everyday, the depth of her appreciation for our dedication to ourselves and the words of the poem all came together and hit me right in the center of my chest.

The Good People

The Good People everywhere
will teach anyone who wants to know
how to fix all things breaking and broken in this world –
including hearts and dreams –
and along the way we will learn such things as
why we are here
and what we are supposed to be doing
with our hands and minds and souls and our time.
That way, we can hope to find out why
we were given a human heart,
and that way, we can hope to know
the hearts of other human beings
and the heart of the world.

Danny Siegel

*         *          *

And tomorrow I will finish tai chi month.  Wishing I had done more.  But being OK with simply learning about the ancient practice, opening my horizons to kung-fu movies, and incorporating 5 minutes of walking meditation into my daily life.

I think it is through the yoga that I learn to expand my attention span so I could reach my goal of finishing the novel.  It is also through practicing simple things like slow walking or walking meditation for just 5 minutes a day, even if it is in the midst of children yelling and pushing to get to the bathroom.  Leads me to wonder what other books might I now be able to finish?  What other uncomfortable situations might I be able to bear without letting it shake my foundation?  

In All the Pretty Horses McCarthy writes, "In the end we all come to be cured of our sentiments.  Those whom life does not cure death will.  The world is quite ruthless in selecting between the dream and the reality, even where we will not.  Between the wish and the thing the world lies waiting."

The word sentiment can be defined as: A view of or attitude toward a situation or event; an opinion.

Yoga cures me of my sentiments.  

in gratitude,


Monday, March 28, 2011

"I feel like I am worrying about something that hasn't happened yet."

posted by Melissa
Last night as I was turning off the lamp to get Tallulah to sleep, she turned to me and said,
      "Mama, I feel like I am worrying about something that hasn't even happened yet."

It reminded me of my blog post from the other day when I  was all worked up over everything I had to do, assuming it was going to be awful, before it even happened.  In her case it was that she was thinking about how her brother Levi often has a fit over something or another every morning, and she was thinking about that before bed.  And in her case, the thing she was worrying about, mostly likely would happen.

How do you explain to a 5 year old, that you didn't even know had the capacity to come up with that statement, how to let go of those worries?

by Melissa
One way I thought of was the slow walking.  It wasn't a way to directly answer her question, but as something to add to all three of my kids day that would help them calm down.  To give her a tool to use that would help her body and mind not get so worked up.  Lord knows, everyone in my family can use a bit of that.

This morning before I set the timer to 5 minutes, I asked my kids if they would like to join me in my slow walking.  An emphatic "NO!" resounded through the long narrow hallway to the kitchen where I stood.  I continued on, starting the timer and taking my slow steps.  Heel to toe, left to right, knees slightly bent, breathing slowly in and out through my nose.
(Note to self:   Next time, do not walk toward the children. Positivity, in any form, seems to piss off the "tweener" child.  As does calm talking.)

Next thing I know, Levi is yelling at me,

"Mom! Stop it!  What are you doing?!" in his whine/cry high pitched desperate way his voice gets.

"I am slow walking, Levi, like I told you.  It is calming, let's your body know everything is ok." I replied.

Levi walks past me into the bathroom, "Slow walking is stupid!" as he pushes me.

Tallulah has me cornered in the hall, arms stretched out so I cannot walk any further.

"Tallulah, pumpkin, please move so Mama can keep walking." I said in a calm, self-help CD kind of way.

"No, Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama!  Stop.  Stop.  Mama!", she cries back at me, still arms outstretched, not budging.

The thing is, walking slowly doesn't build up enough momentum to knock her over.  So I turned.  She scurried to that side of me and held out her arms again, repeating Mama without any reason for needing my attention.  All the while Levi is still yelling at me from the bathroom.  And it's 8:30am, half hour til we leave for school, and Lily isn't even out of bed.

Oh well, one less child to yell at me, I am thinking.

Somehow I managed to get my 5 minutes in.  I wasn't able to consistently breathe slowly, but I did keep my cool.  Now there's a novel idea for the Baumgarts.  Maybe I have to slow walk all day.  Maybe we all should.

The calming effect didn't last long.  By 8:50am I was yelling at Levi for being on the computer before school, yelling like no one else was watching...until I realized our front door was open and my neighbor was standing right outside.
"Good morning,"  I said, sarcastically, with a big wide smile.

How was your morning?


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bones to Skin Mega Constellation

Posted by Amy Baranski
The past few weeks have proven particularly challenging. A gradual and persistent cold stealthily unloaded all its home furnishings from a microscopic U-haul truck and redecorated my sinuses. I'm all for new neighbors but this one keeps me up at night and in the early morning. Banging on the walls to tell them to turn down their raging party has had little to no effect. In return, there were several days that I thought about throwing in the towel on the March 30 day yoga challenge.

Doodle by Amy Baranski.
It was just in January that I completed a 30 day challenge with Melissa. And in February I think I put in a good solid 20 days. So I deserve a break and besides maybe my body was telling me to slow the fuck down. And so on day 22 I moped about pretty much deciding to call it off. I mentioned the decision to Melissa who simply replied: you are? About an hour later I was packing up my yoga stuff and heading out to the Sweatbox.

What happened was a series of visualizations and one realization.

Visualization #1: Day 30 - there's palpable excitement in the air. The teacher congratulates everyone who completed the 30 day challenge. There may be "goodies" in the studio. People clap and smile. I'm lying on my stomach in Savasana feeling like I don't deserve a pat on the back for participating. A single tear drops from the corner of my eye.

Visualization #2: Day 30 - after class I go to the big chart on the wall where we track our progress by awarding ourselves stars for each day we've completed. I look at the chart and the overwhelming number of stars it contains. I see a black-hole in this bones to skin mega-constellation. The black-hole sucks me into its disappointing depths. I try to cough up the hard and painful golf ball in my throat.

Visualization #3: Day 30 - I run into Melissa who's completed the 30 day challenge. She's ready to go out and celebrate. We go to Big Mario's for a slice and a pint. We toast. She says congratulations. I smirk and say I don't deserve it. I sit hunched over in the booth eating my pizza unsatisfied.

Ultimately finding little to no merit in this daydreams I decided they were unwarranted, uneeded, and competitive thoughts. I decided not to go to yoga and perpetuate some kind of competitive mind-fuck I was (now conciously) putting myself through. This felt like a real grown up decision, rational and self-loving.

After more consideration I thought, if I'm not doing the 30 day challenge "to win" then why did I really start it in the first place? I realized that for me, the purpose of the 30 day challenge has been about establishing a dedicated practice of yoga. Going 30 days in a row teaches my mind and my body to make room and space for yoga, no matter how late my neighbors keep me up at night. It forces me to not give up on this, like I have on so many other physical pursuits. It teaches my muscles to move every day and never let go of loving my body and my health. So I gathered my mat, towel, and water bottle and went. And I keep going and I will keep going and going.

how do you slow down?

posted by Melissa

Take a deep breath.

That what I needed to do several, no hundreds of times, in the past few days.  And after all that getting worked up, it wasn't as bad as I had imagined it would be in my head.  Looking back to when I sat here writing my last post, I feel like I was a little Tasmanian devil whirling around typing furiously.  I can't believe how much we can stress about things that haven't even happened yet.  It's no wonder I was having a bad yoga class that day.
Tallulah June, fashion show 3/25/11

Lily's party was so fun....we did hair and makeup and had a music filled fashion show with the runway right down the middle of our dining room.  Lily loved it all...and so did I.  I would post a picture of her, except her idea of high fashion involved some hot pants that I just do not want seen in a picture of her out on the Internet.  Seriously.  I can't believe how grown up 11 years old is.  Here is one of Tallulah though, way more appropriate.  Very 5 years old.

Tai chi.  I know this month is about tai chi, not birthday parties or yoga.  Even though that is what has been consuming me this week.  I really wish I could have gone to that class on Thursday, that is what I need to learn tai chi.  A teacher, a class, and clear step by step instruction.  Repeat.  Repeat again.  And again.  Then it begins to sink in.

Currently, tai chi looks like this for me: I get out my tai chi books and try to follow along as I have the book sitting on the table in front of me.  I get to the third step, just after the part where you step your feet apart and raise your arms up and down...and that is about it.  I am able to do the "slow walking" that Saul taught us, as painfully slow as that is.  It is amazing how much my thighs hurt and how wobbly my balance gets just shifting weight from one foot to another, and moving forward very slowly.  
And this is before I have a glass of wine, or have shotgunned a PBR!

Even if slow walking is all I learned from tai chi month, it can still be meaningful.  If, and I stress that word if...If I use it in my life.  I think that taking a deep breath could have helped me through this week when I reached my frazzled, whiny states.  Slow walking would have also helped.  Just realizing I have 5 minutes to be slow would have sent a message to my charged endocrine system to also slow down.  That everything is ok, and we don't need to be in flight or fright mode 24/7.

So, for the next 5 days, that is my commitment for the blog.  I will spend at least 5 minutes slow walking.  Anyone else up for the challenge?  It's just 5 days.  I can see it now, people across the US and Switzerland (I know where my audience is) slow walking in their homes, in the park, to the grocery store.  It will be a phenomenon, the new "it" thing to do.   This is a link to a walking meditation instruction, which is the closest thing I have found to what we learned that day in class.  Check it out and give it a try.

So much in life tells us to be faster, keep moving, onto the next thing.  I feel like it could be so useful to have more stimuli to the brain and body letting it know it is ok to slow down.  That is why savasana is so hard sometimes, it can be easier to sweat and work your muscles til they burn, than to lie still and rest.  At least when we are moving we are "doing" something...and that's the American way.

What ways do you slow down?  OR do you feel like going, going, going is it for you...that it works?  If so, why does it work?  Leave me a comment, let me know your thoughts on being slow....


Thursday, March 24, 2011

when even savasana hurts

Tai chi update:

  • There is a class tonight at 6:30p, only a few blocks from my apartment.  Awesome!
  • My son, Levi, has baseball practice at 5:30pm and my daughter, Lily, has soccer practice at 5:15pm.  Both need to be picked up around 7pm.  (Yes, I have suddenly become on of those moms that have their kids in all these things,  the kind of mom that I just mocked and judged about 2 days ago.)
  • It is Lily's first sports team ever, so we are super excited for her.  And hope she likes it.
  • I have to go shopping (during the practices), decorate and cook for my daughter's 11th birthday party tomorrow...tonight.  (that was confusing, I shop/decorate/cook tonight, the party is tomorrow)
  • I am doing it all tonight because I have to get up and go to yoga at 6am tomorrow (day 25!), then come home to get the kids ready for school, take them to school, go to a meeting from 10a-2p, then pick up 6 girls and my kids for a sleepover party that will start as soon as we get home.  I get to do all the girls hair and makeup for a fashion show they are putting on in our living room.  And then between cooking and cleaning, just try all evening and late into the night to keep the squealing down to a reasonable level.  Surely I'll give up by midnight.  (It'll be super fun, don't let me make it sound like a chore.)
  • All this complaining is simply to say, there will sadly be no tai chi class for me tonight.                 Not Awesome.
Yoga update:
  • Today was day 24 of this new 30 day challenge.  
  • Today sucked.  My body felt like someone switched my muscles with lead while I was sleeping lat night.
  • Everything is not only heavy, but sore.  My back hurts.  It hurts to lay in savasana.
  • I feel like a whiney little bitch. 
  • I feel weak, and lazy.
  • Maybe tomorrow will be better.  I just want day 19 back, that was awesome!
  • Now I am talking to myself out loud...."Just be where you're at, Melissa.  No judgements."
So, thanks everyone...after that verbal explosion of whining, I think I feel better.  My back still hurts, and my muscles still ache...but my heart feels lighter.  And thanks for reading.  I promise I won't use the blog as my tantrum space too often.  

and now it is time to fall back on one of my life mottos: 
"It's only a couple days.  I can do anything for a couple days."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Being a beginner

pushing hands @ Cal Anderson Park
When I was in grad school at Tai Sophia Institute in Maryland, I had to take what they called a philosophy class named SOPHIA skills.  It stood for School of Philosophy of Healing in Action.  The Program catalog from 2003 describes the course as such :
Based on the cycles of nature, this 10-day intensive unit introduces the notion of life force as well as a language and theory of healing.  Students learn observation skills as well as the language and concepts of Tai Sophia's philosophy of healing.
The class continued on past the intense 10 day, 8-hours-a-day, aptly named, intensive (maybe brainwashing seemed a better term, I thought at the time).  Every week we would learn more about rapport building, sensory awareness, being an observer and interpersonal skills.  A lot of the time I resisted the strict adherence to the language chosen by the school.  We could not veer from the "language" of SOPHIA.  Ever.  Here are a couple rules I remember:

"Replace but with and...we do not use the word but here."   
       "I like the class, but I have a hard time with the language."  -NO                  
       "I like the class, AND I have a hard time with the language." -YES

Or the one where you can't say to someone... 
"You look beautiful in that color shirt."   
Instead, you could say... 
"In the presence of you wearing that purple shirt, I know life as beautiful."
I also resisted the way the class (and teachers) would bring me to my edge, of learning about myself and life.  I would see this image of myself standing at a cliff, timidly looking over the edge as rocks started crumbling beneath my feet and falling way, way down into the unknown.  It was an image I had seen before in my mind.
Every time, I would turn and run to solid ground.  How dare they push me?  They don't know what lies over that edge.  They won't be there with me at night when I lose it because I went too far.
I found the whole thing irresponsible on their part.

I was a beginner and I was afraid.  Ironically, it was in SOPHIA class where I learned the concept of honoring being a beginner.  I found myself talking about it today in my kitchen with Amy.   Back then, I was not ok with being a beginner in learning about my edges.  I got all indignant about the people that I perceived as pushing me, instead of being gentle with myself and being ok with where I was.  I was not ready to jump off that edge. And somehow I saw interpreted that as a bad thing.

In life, I find that we often stay on comfortable solid ground.  We find what works for us and we keep doing that.  Even when it is no longer working,

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

maybe you are exactly where you need to be

posted by Melissa

Are the birds always chirping early in the morning?  Or is it truly only after we set our clocks ahead and lose an hour of if their sweet delicate sounds are our consolation for that one less hour of sleep.  Works for me.  I can hear them now as I type, the rest of the house still by my keyboard, laundry started, birthday cake ordered (yes, I am not making Lily's birthday cake this year, so, now you know I don't milk my own goats and I am not making my 11 year old's birthday cake.  But I usually do.  Let go, Melissa)...the sun is sorta peeking through the trees and I have time to blog.
Not my backyard, but a photo I took at Seward Park.  Sun and trees
The math test is done.  I scored very well on the Pre-Algebra, and so-so on the Algebra.  Someone I talked to said I placed as high as I could, but I am left to wonder if that is true after looking at the nursing program's prerequisites.  I have a couple meetings today at the school to see what is what.  I can tell you, I am feeling hopeful.  Cautiously optimistic.

A couple Saturdays ago we were watching that advanced tai chi class up on 15th Ave.  As the students began to show up and begin their intimate "pushing hands" warm up, I got this sense that I knew them.  Everyone looked familiar.  It happened again this past Saturday at the tai chi open practice I went to.  Does that ever happen to you?  It's like a deja vu, but different.

I used to think that it meant I had a "soul contract" (something I learned about in my astrology classes) with these people.  And while a soul contract can be a positive thing, meaning we choose before we came here to the Earth to work things out, fall in love, or be a mother to certain other souls.  Only I interpreted it as a message that we were all going to die together.

I used to think about death a lot, and yet it scared me.  I spent years of my life, in a panic that I was about to die at any moment.  So,

Sunday, March 20, 2011

I didn't know math would be involved

posted by Melissa

So, this evening I find myself between kung fu movies, and in the land of "shoulds."  I should be studying for a math test I am taking tomorrow.  I had mentioned before that I am attempting to go back to school for nursing, as a product of losing my job (ok, I left, but it was only because he was not giving me a very good offer).  Through the unemployment office or another related organization, I may be able to get an education that actually has jobs being offered in the real world.  And it will end up being about $60,000 less than (at least) my illustrious herbal medicine degree.

So, here I am looking at sample math problems, for a program I might (that is a huge might) get to start in fall of 2012.  The whole thing seems a little far fetched, but I am drawn to chase it nonetheless.  I remember being in the NICU with our first son (a story for another post), day in and day out for months, and I fell in love with nursing.  I have avoided it ever since.  But have always thought about it.  And now life has brought me back to the possibility of being one of those angels I met in the NICU.

Here are a few of the sample problems:

1. If Lynn can type a page in p minutes, what piece of the page can she do in 5 minutes?
A. 5/p
B. p - 5
C. p + 5
D. p/5
E. 1- p + 5

2. If Sally can paint a house in 4 hours, and John can paint the same house in 6 hour, how long will it take for both of them to paint the house together?
A. 2 hours and 24 minutes
B. 3 hours and 12 minutes
C. 3 hours and 44 minutes
D. 4 hours and 10 minutes
E. 4 hours and 33 minutes

3. Employees of a discount appliance store receive an additional 20% off of the lowest price on an item. If an employee purchases a dishwasher during a 15% off sale, how much will he pay if the dishwasher originally cost $450?
A. $280.90
B. $287
C. $292.50
D. $306
E. $333.89

4. The sales price of a car is $12,590, which is 20% off the original price. What is the original price?
A. $14,310.40
B. $14,990.90
C. $15,290.70
D. $15,737.50
E. $16,935.80

5. Solve the following equation for A : 2A/3 = 8 + 4A
A. -2.4
B. 2.4
C. 1.3
D. -1.3
E. 0

6. If Leah is 6 years older than Sue, and John is 5 years older than Leah, and the total of their ages is 41. Then how old is Sue?
A. 8
B. 10
C. 14
D. 19
E. 21

Seriously, my almost 11 year old answered the first one before me.  wow.

Back to tai chi, I mean, the jackie Chan movie that somehow makes me feel like I am still "doing it for the blog" tonight.  First me and Lily watch Kung Fu Master and now Jamie and I are going to watch Drunken Master.  apt.

Let me know if you have the answers to ANY of the above.  

Math.  Boo.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hello? Is it me you're looking for?

posted by Melissa
(and why do so many of my blog titles involved bad 80's songs?)

Hello again, blogosphere world.  Yes, we are still here.  I think the lack of posts from this week goes to show the human-ness of us two blogging ladies.  Sure, sure I know there are bloggers out there with 12 kids and a job and they run a soup kitchen and sew all their kids clothes, all while milking their own goats and making homemade cheese and ice cream (i know, gross)...and they still find time to blog.  

But really, truly, that is not us.  While we may be super women in our own ways, we don't even have goats.  I doubt we could at our apartment building.  We are, however, striving for balance in life.  This blog is giving us an outlet for creativity and learning new things...but it was never intended to be something that felt like a chore, or exhausted us.  It is to fill us up.  I hope that our faithful readers (love you all!) can understand and find some inspiration in that human-ness that we sometimes show when we are absent for a few days.

Tai chi @ the Greenwood Senior Center
Which reminds me of yoga.  What doesn't remind me of yoga?  
The other night as we were about to fall asleep in bed, Jamie and I were talking about yoga.  
I literally said, "It's like all of life happens right there on your mat."  
Jamie said, "Yoga Nerd!"
But I meant it.  All the mental trials and tribulations of life, all the joys and triumphs, the pain and suffering, the is all happening right there on everyone's mat.  Silently.  I am so inspired by it.  

Yoga offers me a place to live past what I thought my potential was.  I can try everyday to move further into a pose, and yet I have to learn how to know myself and my body enough to know when it is time to rest and not move further.  When to give myself a mental slap in the face to stop my stupid whining, and when to let the whining wash over me and let go of it and take a savasana.  It is like that with the blog.  We do want the experience of moving into situations that may be uncomfortable, like meeting new people at a tai chi class, working through writer's block, waking up early to go to do something "for the blog" when your bed is sooo cozy and find that you learn something life changing or meet someone that says something forever meaningful.   

But we also need to learn when life has become too busy and it is time to slow down.  
And being ok with it, still loving yourself through those feelings of being a total loser.
That can be harder than pushing yourself sometimes.  

So, this morning, I got up and went to another tai chi class.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Spellcheck didn't catch it!

Posted by Amy Baranski

Yes, I have been spelling martial arts incorrectly this whole month. I've been spelling it like the store. And why does martial looks so much like marital?

what beauty lies 11 pages away from where you might give up?

posted by Melissa

Do you ever start books and have a hard time getting through, oh, I don't know...the first 150 pages?  Sometimes, a lot of times, that happens for me.  Even with books that I eventually end up liking, if I ever do get past those first pages.  I started the book, All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy (Don't read the "plot summary" part of the link if you haven't read the book, it gives away the story line.)  about 5 months ago.  Just a week ago or so I made it past page 150, and it finally got gripping.  So much so that last night I was actually angry at Tallulah for not wanting the light on because I wanted to keep reading the book in bed.

I find this whole tai chi adventure to be similar.  Here we are half way through the month and I am still confused, my attention drifting easily to everything else in my life, and wondering why I am doing this in the first place.  But like the McCarthy book, I have something invested in finishing this out.  With the book it was my love for his other book, The Road, that kept me going.

tough choices 
With tai chi, it is the blog, and my love for finding my way through whatever challenge it brings that keeps me going.  If I had first read the horse book without having read the post-apocalyptic tale beforehand, my guess is that I would have given up on reading about horses.  And if I did have a commitment to this blog, and what I have seen transform in myself through the pursuit of the blog, I would probably have quit you too, tai chi.

And so this morning, instead of finishing my horse book, I will pick up this lovely little gem of a tai chi book and see where it takes me.  Who knows, I might find a passage as moving as the one I will leave you with today.  I found it on page 161 in the horse book...11 little pages past my usual quitting point.  I guess you never know what beauty lies a few page turns away.

"THAT NIGHT he dreamt of horses in a field on a high plain where the spring rains had brought up the grass and the wildflowers out of the ground and the flowers all ran blue and yellow as far as the eye could see and in the dream he was among the horses running and in the dream he himself could run with the horses and they coursed the young mares and fillies over the plain where their rich bay and their rich chestnut colors shone in the sun and the young colts ran with their dams and trampled down all the flowers in a haze of pollen that hung in the sun like powdered gold and they ran he and the horses out along the high mesas where the ground resounded under their running hooves and they flowed and changed and ran and their manes and tails blew off of them like spume and there was nothing else at all in that high world and they moved all of them in a resonance that was like music among them and they were none of them afraid horse nor colt not mare and they ran in that resonance which is the world itself and which cannot be spoken but only praised."  -Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses 

Ok, so I know I said I was leaving you with that quote, but as I wrote the title to the post it got me to thinking.  What else do I give up on?  Why?  Isn't it sometimes good to know when to say something isn't working any more?  How do you know when that time is right?  or wrong?

I, of course, started thinking about yoga.  In class yesterday my teacher, Laura, said something that totally brought me to a new place of my practice.  And one that coincidentally is totally aligned with my writing this morning.  She said something to this effect, "In Bikram yoga it is believed that you get the physical in shape and the spiritual will follow.   Physical, mental and then spiritual."  She had also shared another little nugget of wisdom earlier in the same class about moments of self love and how we come to this class for ourselves.  This is MY practice, wow.  For me.

And it hit me, in every class lately I have so many moments of wanting to quit.  "I'll only do one of those postures."  Even when I can physically, I fall out mentally.  I was showing up for the challenge of the 30 days, for the teachers, for the Sweatbox...but not for me.  This is my life, this is my practice, my body.  It is so motivating to be reminded of what I fell in love with about Bikram yoga.

What beauty lies within me...maybe just one pose away?  I think I am willing to find out.

And now I really will leave you...with one of my favorite Bikram quotes:
"Never too late, never too old, never too bad, and never too sick to do this yoga and start from scratch once again." -Bikram Choudury

Saturday, March 12, 2011

don't take yourself so seriously

posted by Melissa

It was rainy this morning on our walk up to 15th Ave for the advanced tai chi class we sat in on.  Amy met me at my apartment as I was busily sweeping up and gathering dirty dishes from the latest Star Wars viewing of the night before, we are on episode IV. 

We enjoyed some dark ‘n stormys (yum, 2oz rum, 1/2oz fresh lime juice, and 3 oz ginger beer.  I added a mint sprig) last night and I was kinda feeling the after effects, so getting up at 6:30 for tai chi was not exactly what I wanted to do when my alarm rang.  But as Amy says, I did it for the blog. 

a sculpture at Cafe Vita, capitol hill
We arrived early and got to chat a bit with Saul. He told us a little about himself…he grew up in a violent neighborhood in the Bronx, joined the military at age 18 and was stationed in Taiwan.  It was there that he first saw tai chi, and he saw it everywhere.  He said he was drawn to it because of the people, the kind of people it collected in the practice…people that had respect.

Saul talked to us for most of the first half hour of the class while the students practiced “pushing hands.”  As I tried to make eye contact with Saul, I was drawn back to the students again and again.  The practice was so intimate, so close and sensual.   In pairs, they stood with their feet almost touching, facing each other and each one taking turns listening and moving with their hands and arms.  I got to try this at last week’s class, but it was more sterile of an experience for me.  Even though, at the time, I thought it was quite a stretch of the human interaction kind for myself. 

The formal class commenced with a sword lesson, using wooden swords.  So, a little less exciting than the martial arts movies I have been watching every night, but with a little imagination and soft eyes, I could see the foundation of those choreographed moves.  And as Saul said, “Respect the full postures, and they will blend together with the whole melody before long.”   He was referring to how he explained each step in the movements, where the weight was to be held, each hand, the level of the sword.  All of it needs to be precise, and yet within that a looseness of the mind.

“Don’t take yourself so seriously.”  

Follow the form, but don't be an over-achiever.  Saul mentioned how new students are always exaggerating the form and it's movements.  I thought maybe that it simply a part of the process of being a beginner and learning.  

The Intergalatic Be Yourself Association

Posted by Amy Baranski

With the crust of the earth violently splintering on the other side of the Pacific Rim, causing the earth's axis to shift, and giving way to a sequence of events that may result in a nuclear meltdown, I've been contemplating what it means to give up control.

I'm encouraged to control my mind while practicing yoga, yet I'm simultaneously told to cultivate the ability to let go of what the mind attaches to. Attachment--the sense that I am focusing my mind--versus conscious freedom from attachment--the sense that I am letting go of thoughts without letting go of my mind--is the meeting place of my current practice of yoga. It is within, or at the meeting of, these two oppositions where I currently struggle. I discovered a similar theme in the practice of Tai Chi this morning while talking to a student of teacher Saul Krotki.

Be yourself - anywhere in the universe!
Doodle by Amy Baranski.
A couple weeks ago in response to my email query Saul invited us to attend one of his Saturday morning classes. It's an advanced class so the opportunity would be to watch and listen and talk with him. Admittedly when he first suggested this I felt disappointed. I wanted more. I wanted control over my experience. I really wanted to know all of the details before coming to class, like most importantly, what do people wear? I also wanted to jump in and do. Watching a class for some reason seemed like a waste of valuable time.

I don't know if trying to control my experience of Tai Chi got tiresome in the last two weeks, or if I've simply succumbed to the flow of life right now, but this morning at 7:15 I found myself walking to Saul's class with Melissa. Entering the studio I was feeling a little nervous. We got there early, there was one student outside carrying what looked like some kind of weapon (it was indeed a sword). Then Saul came down the stairs.

I hadn't told him we'd be showing up today. He had the kind of "who the hell are you" glint in his eye for about a second or so, but he was nonetheless welcoming. After some brief introductions and explanations about our blog, and Saul dubbing us the officers of the Intergalactic Be Yourself Association, I asked Saul how he came to practice Tai Chi. He said he grew up in the Bronx and it was a tough neighborhood and he had a rough childhood because of it. By the time he was a young man in the U.S. service, stationed overseas in Taiwan, he discovered Tai Chi and found that it wasn't just something old people did, but that it brought him into an expression of community where people actually cared for his well-being--something that had been missing from the neighborhood of his early childhood.

In my mind I was immediately like: right on. Or, as my favorite bartender says: right arm. Because I've found, over the past two and half months, an expression of community that cares for its members' well being at The Sweatbox.

Saul remarked, that from his experience as a teacher, those who really commit to the practice of Tai Chi usually show some kind of flair for Eastern culture. I wanted to raise my hand like a happy sixth-grader and interject: I went to China this past summer! I went to China! But instead I chose to listen. His assertion made me think about how Western my thought is--so full of expectations and attachments. I was even trying to fit learning Tai Chi into my Western thought-box, earlier complaining that if I had really wanted to succeed in this month's discovery I would have spent more time planning for it and not also committed to a 30 day yoga challenge. But, after attending Saul's class I've let got of that thought. It's not useful or really it's not anything to think about approaching Tai Chi in that way.

Saul's class ran about 2.5 hours long. During the first 30 minutes the students paired off and worked on hand movements. They stood very close touching each other's hands. It struck me as an incredibly intimate form, or warm up. To be so close with someone and to have a light touch on their hand...rough-housing seemed less intimidating than this! I got the mental giggles just thinking about being paired up with a total stranger and communicating to each other through that kind of movement!

You wouldn't even guess they are holding swords but they are!
The first full hour of class was devoted to their practice of a sword form. The students held the swords so lightly and evenly. I kept wondering how heavy those wooden swords were, but I never got the guts up to ask if I could hold one. It was also very bizarre sitting in front of the class with a notebook jotting down little nuggets of advice that Saul would give, or just random thoughts coming into my head. I wondered if Melissa was feeling the same. And dear God what did the students think of us?!

During the second hour of class Saul invited us to join the group for a few of their warm-up exercises that the do before starting the Tai Chi long form. I found this to be so welcoming. He made sure we were positioned appropriately behind him so that we could try to copy what everyone else was doing. He was also attentive in giving us pointers on where to place our balance, or how the heart of the palm should feel the air, or not to have too wide of a stance. We did slow walking and also practiced White Crane (which I later learned from one of his students is a classic Tai Chi form).

At the end of class Melissa and I chatted with a few students. One even asked if we were going to join the class! Another said how surprised she was that we came to watch as they are an unpublicized class and don't get many visitors. And a few women were interested in our blog, letting us know of other people who have similar try as many things as you can projects or attitudes. I just love all the connections.

Saul mentioned that he may be putting together a class for beginners after Labor depending on what the officers of the Intergalactic Be Yourself Association want to do in the meantime is up to us. I will have to see what happens. Saul will be sending us some information about a very different Seattle Martial Arts group that's led by a woman to check out. He spoke highly of their organization (the name is forthcoming) and suggested it would be worth our time to get a taste of the breadth of martial arts offerings available here.

With that I'll leave you with a nugget from Saul that he offered during class. He said the following in context of a form he was working on with the students, and I find that it applies to my journey in this blog and in all of life: "You have to be subjected to each experimental condition one step at a time."

Amy - Officer of the Intergalactic Be Yourself Association

Friday, March 11, 2011

Hot for Teacher

posted by Melissa

I suppose tai chi is like Bikram yoga in some ways.  In hot yoga (Bikram) we learn the same 26 postures and two breathing exercises every class.  In tai chi, you learn the same form in every class.  In yoga if you have a good teacher, it makes a world of difference.  I think the same is true for tai chi.  When you find good teachers, there is an inherent trust in their authority, and within that trust I find that I can delve deeper into my practice.

checking out books from the SPL.
I am still having a difficult time connecting with tai chi.  I like classroom settings, I learn best with others.  I like to ask questions when I don't understand something.  And sitting here at home with tai chi books and you tube tutorials, it just is not cutting it it for me.  Especially when the subject is so expansive, with so many different types and forms.

So, we did take one class last Saturday, and while I like the teacher, I don't think going to Bothell every week is going to happen.  At that class what I do remember is that after the first thing, where you simply raise your hand up and down.  Yeah, I totally got that.  And that is what I practice over and over again.  And no, I did not do it for 30 minutes.  So, after that first thing we did something called "parting the wild horses mane."  But I can't remember how to do it.  So, I go to my books.  Seriously, none of the books I have mention that movement.  How confusing is that?

Learning tai chi from a book is like learning to knit for me.  I have no patience for body gets all tight, my jaw is like a vice, and my shoulders are up to my earlobes with aggravation.  I could give it more of a chance.  I will give it more of a chance.  But I still get the sense that I need a good teacher.

I was picking up my eldest daughter from a birthday party last night and was invited in to have a glass of wine

Thursday, March 10, 2011

My Deepest Thanks

Posted by Amy Baranski
I'd like to take this moment to express my deep gratitude for all of the teachers at The Sweatbox. I find practice with each and everyone of you so very unique and meaningful. I haver never felt so welcome in a community.


Seattle Kung Fu Club

Posted by Amy Baranski 

So, on the Tai Chi front - I just spoke with the person at the Seattle Kung Fu Club regarding their Tai Chi class. It's $45 for a uniform, $50 for membership fee, and $95 (monthly) if you go 1 time a week. It's $150 (monthly) if you go to class 2-3 times a week. There's no introductory offer.

Thrilling screenshot of the Seattle Kung Fu Club site.
Where the hell is Groupon when you need them? Oh I forgot, they're raking in millions before their IPO exploiting Tibetans. Tangent - sorry.
I've heard such reputable recommendations about Seattle Kung Fu Club and the Sifu S.S. Leong was endorsed by last weekend's Tai Chi instructor. I might just have to figure out a way to swing this.

After speaking with the nice woman on the phone I learned that the Seattle Kung Fu Club requires you to register as a student and sign up at least two days in advance of your first class. They also offer the option to watch a class, which sounds free. So I could come tonight (except I can't because I have a yoga class) and watch the class and meet with the instructor. Tai Chi classes at the Seattle Kung Fu Club Central location (in the International District) are offered Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6pm to 7:30pm and Saturday from 11am-12:30pm.

I don't know if I can make a commitment to enrolling this month, especially when there are some free weekend sessions, but I can make a commitment to watching a class and meeting with the Sifu this month. Unfortunately because of some scheduling snafus this weekend will not include a trek to the Seattle Kung Fu Club. I'm going to target next Saturday for a visit there. This Saturday however I'm going to watch the advanced class taught at Dance Underground (a space up on 15th Ave.) by Saul Krotki. It starts at 7:30am. That's going to be challenging on a Saturday. But I do it all for the blog. It's all for the blog!

Saul emailed me back and said that they are a mature group of people with students who've been studying 10 years or more. They are devoted to the teachings of Professor Cheng Man-ch'ing. Krotki was his student in New York City in the 1960's.  So I can't wait to meet him!

Note to self: if you want to do something successfully e.g. devoting a whole month to exploring Tai Chi, do some research at least a month in advance, and maybe don't join a 30-day yoga challenge. Just some thoughts.

Day 10 of 30 Day Yoga

Posted by Amy Baranski

UPDATE: Class on Day 10 started out really marvelous until the entire left side of my body cramped up including what felt like an oncoming Charlie Horse in my left calf. I Savasana-ed it up after that and teetered out (almost didn't even attempt the floor series) until my teacher for whatever reason gave me a very compassionate pat on the back. Was it to say you're okay? Or, I understand? Or, you can do it? I don't know but it was the nicest thing that anyone has done for me in awhile. Such a simple, compassionate gesture. It helped me do the next pose which was Cobra. Such a wonderful moment in my practice.

As mentioned previously, there's a 30 day yoga challenge happening at The Sweatbox, my favorite little sweat-filled nook of Capitol Hill (although the Hot House is pretty awesome). Around days 7 and 8 I started noticing some pain in my spine. It feels like a short metal rod is stuck in the midsection. I only feel it when I back bend and forward bend.

Standing Deep Breathing. It's harder than it looks!
It's made a lot of the intense spine work scarier. I've been trying to work through it but started backing off a little (okay a lot). I'm not sure if it's because I'm working on building the support muscles for the spine--my core strength does not feel very strong--or if I've compressed my spine too much. Maybe it's just how it's supposed to feel (which Jamie says probably not). I really hope I'm not doing something wrong.

Jaime and Melissa loaned me their Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class book with photographs of the poses. I've been referencing this since I first started practicing Bikram at the beginning of January. So it's back to the book to read again and try to adjust my entrance into these poses. Pada-Hastasana (Hands to Feed Pose) was super intense on my spine yesterday, at least the first set was. So was Sasangasana, which, WOW, has been opening up my spine in ways I did not know were possible. But, I'm still having a lot of pain/sensation especially the more I suck in my stomach and round my spine. In this pose, though, it kind of "feels good."

Laura, one of my teachers was commenting that during the 30-day challenge this is around the time that students might start feeling tightness in their spine or other areas. I'm also experiencing some serious knots in my left shoulder--which has long been my physical stress vault.

Perhaps related to all this is that I've been having a really difficult time with Pranayama, the Standing Deep Breathing sets we do at the beginning of class. I notice that when I have a difficult time maintaining my mental focus during these sets as well as my physical focus the class can be very inconsistent for me. I've been actually gasping for air, swaying, not maintaining locked knees/hips, my shoulders are getting really tired. I'm just all over the place during Pranayama.

I'm such a beginner, and I kind of like that. I don't feel overwhelmed by the rate of progress I've been making. It just all feels really good. Really, after 2 and half months of practice I feel like I haven't even begun to enter the postures, I'm still working on establishing a good/correct set up. So that's where I'm at on Day 10. I'll update this post later tonight and let you know how class was.

If You Can, You Must

posted by Melissa

"If you can, you must."
we practice @ the Sweatbox!
This is a quote that is often said by teachers in Bikram yoga classes.  I am assuming it comes from the man himself, and after reading his books, I would say that sounds about right.  I hear this phrase all through my yoga class these days, repeating in my head.  Sometimes it is inspiring, and other times I use it to beat myself up.  Five simple words.  It's up to you how you use them.  
I love that about Bikram, I love the way the class pushes us to see the best in ourselves, to see what we are truly capable of.  It is often so much more than I thought I could ever do.  I don't believe his intention in quotes like the above is to have us punish ourselves, and yet it is a habit that comes up again and again for me.  And so, just like in stand head to knee pose, when I want to give up, but I know I can keep holding the is also the same when it comes to the mind, I can keep letting go of those self-judgements.  Yoga strengthens the mind, if you choose to let it.  

"If you can, you must."
I didn't want to blog this morning.  I went to Levi's class to volunteer with the writer's workshop.  I do love going there, the kid's are so creative and each one unique.  Almost makes me want to be a teacher...after I become a nurse, a midwife, a farmer and maybe a yoga teacher too.  So, I just got home and I have 40 minutes before yoga.  (more white people's problems...between volunteering and yoga it's like I have no time to blog.  ugh.) .  
Last night as we talked instead of finishing another martial arts film, Amy shared a tip from a successful blogger, "Blog everyday.  Even if it is just a sentence."  And so, here I am...sitting at my make-shift desk, blogging.  Because I can.
I love blogging.  I feel alive and engaged with the world.  I know I am actually in my apartment, alone, staring at a keyboard and screen.  In some sorta virtual world.  But I do love it, and in this I have found a passion.  I love knowing you are out there reading this, and that maybe sometimes something that we write matter to someone.  I mean, that is one of my whole deals in life, I want to do things that make a difference...even if small, one person at a time.

"If you can, you must."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

None of These Things is Like the Other

Posted by Amy Baranski
I'd much rather stay home and finish the bag of Fritos I bought yesterday from Safeway on the way home from yoga class than go to day 8 of the 30 day Bikram yoga challenge. Look, Fritos only have three ingredients. You look them up. It's not that bad.
A black and white filter does not make all pictures better.

I didn't mention I'm doing a 30-day Bikram yoga challenge? Yeah, thought I'd top off this month with one more 2-hour activity that I'm committed to doing every day. Somewhere, on some other blog, this would be tagged "white people problems".

In any event, to celebrate my ill-achieved mind-body-centeredness (too many hyphens?) today I'm spending this precious hour before yoga watching a Tai Chi for beginners instructional video, while roasting beets in prepartion for tomorrow's dinner with our neighbors, the Oliver family. Yet, I multitask.

It's just me in the guest room practicing six forms of Tai Chi from a video that's playing very cheesy-lullaby like music. But I will find the value in this video as I almost killed myself yesterday while running from the bank to the library to get it, and then endured shin splints running to yoga class while schleping my yoga gear down Broadway on one shoulder with library books on the other. Maybe that pain in my spine is resentment embodied for not being able to eat my Fritos for another 500,000 hours...

At least there's the blissfull aroma of roasting root vegetables permeating my apartment.

The video: 6 easy lessons for the 6 forms Tai Chi Chuan was written by Dr. Paul Lam, gold medal winner of the international competition in China and chief instructor of better health Tai Chi Chuan.

"Tai Chi Chuan orginates from acient China and is commonly known as Tai Chi, it is nowadays know as the ultimate form of exercise for the improvement and maintenance of health."

From the scant research  I've done (the full extent of which was me copying and pasting "Dr. Paul Lam" into a search engine) it appears that Dr. Lam developed a program of Tai Chi movements to alleviate pain associated with arthritis.

Are you there Dad? It's me Amy.

In 1993, at the third international Tai Chi competition in Beijing China, Dr. Paul Lam won one gold and two silver medals. He composed the 6 forms of Tai Chi Chuan based on the popular 24 forms. So if what we learned last weekend is the short form, this must be the micro form. It's the Twitter of Tai Chi! Someone please rescue this keyboard from my hands.

I made it to form two before my back was to the computer screen and I couldn't see what do do next. I'm finding that I'm extremely impatient with learning this stuff--maybe more the reason to continue on? I just want to know the "moves" and practice Tai Chi at sunrise in the park like all the cool people do. But I guess learning something new takes dedication and commitment. Crikey.

Needless to say I paused the video to write this little puppy, because Tom, a friend of mine from Master Gardener class, was totally unimpressed with my level of activity on the blog. If you knew Tom you'd want to impress him with your blog because he is possibly one of the coolest cats I know. So, Tom this update's for you.

More later...

Monday, March 7, 2011

Take out your notebooks

posted by Melissa
statue on Westlake, Seattle
I am just starting the movie "The Curse of the Golden Flower" by director Yimou Zhang.  (a visually stunning movie)  I know all these martial arts movies I am watching this month, like the Bruce Lee one I started the other night, "Enter the Dragon", aren't about tai chi.  But these are movies I never would have watched and from what I can tell tai chi has it's place in martial arts, so I do feel like I am expanding my cultural horizon, in a way.  

I composed this the rest of this post earlier, taking notes from a tai chi book while listening to Jamie play some jazz music at a cafe, Forza, near the University district.  It was a family event, all three kids were there doing homework and the like....even Amy's husband, Bob, was there helping Tallulah with her workbook.  

As promised, I am going to offer my rendition of the history of Tai Chi, as well as some other important factors about the practice.  I stopped into one of the Seattle Public Libraries today to get some books on tai chi, and the only one they had at the branch was “The New Life Library Tai Chi, Flowing Movements for Harmony and Balance” by Paul Tucker. 

Since I am a novice at tai chi, I claim no authority as to the knowledge found in this book.  I assume since it is a published book with the title it carries that it does have some pretty accurate information…but you never know.  I am sure some hard-core tai chi-er (is there such a thing?) out there may have some better information.  Nevertheless, here you go:

Tai chi purports to give many benefits that bring people worldwide to its practice.  It gently tones and strengthens the organs and muscles.  It improves circulation and the posture.  Tai chi also relaxes the mind and body.  These wide benefits, along with its slow movements make the practice not only accessible to a wide range of people, but attractive to those people as well. 

The practice that Amy and I participated in on Saturday was Yang style short form.  This practice was developed by Cheng man-Ch’ing (1901-1975) and is the most common form practiced in the west.  But tai chi was around for much longer than just the past century. 

Some sources claim that tai chi started 6000 years ago.  More conservative estimates say it goes back a few centuries, and most people believe that Chang San Feng (b. 1247), of the Sung dynasty, was the founder of tai chi. 

The story quoted in many sources, not just the book I am citing this evening goes like this:
            “As a Taoist monk, Chang San Feng saw a crane attacking a snake.  He was inspired by the soft yielding nature of the snake, which out-maneuvered the hard attacking beak of the crane.”