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Not many people like being photographed from behind, but living with a photographer, I am used to hearing the shutter flutter whenever my backside is facing him.

Sorry, Sir Mixalot, not like that. More like this:

The photos above are all from our 2006 trip to China, when every step I took was the beginning of an adventure into the unknown, whether it be onto an airplane leaving the Tibetan plateau, a wooden pathway through the luscious greenery of Jiuzhaigou Valley, or aboard the dingiest water vessel I have ever set foot on.

Caught in time is one foot in front of the other, a poetic symbol of a journey about to begin. I am not posed, but I am poised.

I wish images like this could be captured each time I walk into a 5Rhythms practice, but then there’d be photo after photo after photo—millions of photos—because sometimes I feel like it’s not just stepping inside the studio that’s the beginning of a journey but each individual step within the 2- or 3-hour class that has me embarking on a new adventure, exploring unfamiliar terrain.

One minute I’m throwing my body across the room in a frenzy of Chaos, and then—just like that—I find my center and twirl around myself like a whirling dervish.
I lean against the wall, roll on the floor.
Slide up next to a woman with a bum knee sitting in a folding chair and engage in a seated version of dancing.
My hands and feet are claws, then feathers.
My face dances as we pair up for a dueling Staccato, one person exclaiming “Yes!” and the other “No!”…
…The sensation of hearing my voice during a dance class is both foreign and exhilarating.
I glissade with a partner as though she and I are ballerinas; when partnered with a male to the same music, we are friendly warriors, all angles with a touch of lightness.
Stillness comes, and I think I don’t want to go on the floor, but without thought I am soon on the floor, curled up like a fetus, expanding like a stretching cat.
I am breathing audibly, entranced by the soft music my lungs have created for me.

So many snapshots, so many destinations in one class. With each step, I have boarded a plane, skipped through a grassy field, balanced myself on railroad tracks, jumped into the ocean, fallen off a cliff. Where will my next step take me?

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

I am so excited to be adding a new item into my toolbox of mind-body-spirit “flowtation” devices: tai chi!

Starting this week, my sister and I (and hopefully our grandmother) will be taking a 10-week series in tai chi chuan.

It is not the first time I have dabbled in tai chi. My gym offers a class (led by a master instructor), which I’ve dropped into a few times, and then in the summer of 2010 I took a 6-week series in tai chi chih. I took the chih class during a very stressful time in my life, and that weekly gathering kept me grounded. My mind was all over the place that summer, and that one hour and 15 minutes each week was my lifeline. However, as much as the practice contributed to my well-being, in the end, I definitely felt a greater attraction toward the chuan style of tai chi.

Tai chi chuan is the style most people are familiar with, the steady flow from posture to posture that resembles an underwater dance. Tai chi chih, on the other hand, is a series of 19 movements that are done more like repetitions in a set. They are just as flowing as the movements in the chuan style, but they are not linked as seamlessly and it is not considered a martial art like chuan.

My sister, her boyfriend, and I took a free introductory class last week. My grandmother–who we’re trying to encourage to attend class–backed out at the last minute due to painful sciatica flare. We are trying to rally as many people as we can to take this class; as this article describes, there is pretty much no reason not to do tai chi. It helps improve memory and balance, can lower blood pressure, and helps reduce depression. The day of last week’s free class, as if on cue, this article popped up on my Google Reader from the New York Times wellness blog, about a study touting the benefits of tai chi for individuals with Parkinson’s disease.

Even after practicing for an hour under bright florescent lights (ugh!) and an overhead fan (on a 35-degree night–brr!), I left last week’s class feeling pretty darn good. I had been trying to get my lower back to crack all day; it had felt “stuck” since 7 a.m. Sure enough, after class I pressed my hands against my sacrum and pop! Relief. I loved the class’ gentle warm-ups, the way the movements felt like a dance to me, but one in which I had to exercise concentration and control. The instructor is also a certified hypnotherapist, and I swear after listening to his steady voice for 60 minutes, my brain had shifted into a very peaceful state of mind. It was not the workout I am used to at all, but it gave me that same focused and centered mind that I usually achieve after doing yoga.

Finding this class–convenient in terms of location, time, and cost–as well as the fact that we’ve got some family involved, makes me feel good. Really good. If only I could get the whole family to try it out, and then we could turn suburban New Jersey into a mini Beijing:

Common sight as we drove through China. (June 2006)

Ahhh, September. The start of National Yoga Month. Yet as all my fellow downward dawgs unfurl their mats to begin a month of celebration, contemplation, and meditation, I’m leaving my asana behind in New Jersey and heading to a land of not one but FOUR mountain poses: Space, Big Thunder, Splash, and Everest.

As the old saying goes, “I’m going to Disney World!”

Although I’ll still do a few hotel room sun salutations in the morning and most likely prop my achy legs up into Viparita Karani after a long day walking around World Showcase, the truth is that–for me–this first week of National Yoga Month will probably include very little yoga.

Well…let me rephrase that. It will probably include very little PHYSICAL yoga.

Unless you’re a yoga teacher, long-time student, or someone very devoted to the tenets of yoga philosophy, your vision of yoga is most likely the ol’ headstand-in-the-middle-of-the-room, foot-behind-the-head variety. The vision of yoga that makes you say, “I’m not flexible; I can’t do yoga.” The kind of yoga that requires a sticky mat, some kind of Lycra wardrobe, and either an instructional DVD or a gym membership.

But here’s the thing: That kind of yoga is only 1/8 of the practice.

The physical postures of yoga that we’re all most familiar with–termed asana in Sanskrit–is just one serving of a multiple-course meal. I didn’t know this myself until I had been taking yoga classes for about a year and was interested enough to pick up an issue of Yoga Journal, but it made sense. What had started as me taking some classes at my gym to improve my balance and flexibility gradually turned into something bigger. I felt kinder toward others after doing yoga. I developed a deeper appreciation of my body after doing yoga. I felt compelled to sit in silence and meditate and breathe after doing yoga.

Asana was the key into this wide world of yoga, a practice of not only physical postures but seven other “limbs”:

Yamas (ethical restraints).

Niyamas (personal observances).

Pranayama (breath control).

Pratyahara (sense withdrawal/control).

Dharana (concentration/inner perceptual awareness).

Dhyana (devotion, meditation).

Samadhi (union with the divine).

So, as you can see, asana is just a sliver of lunchmeat in this extra-long hoagie we call yoga, which means it is very possible to still do yoga while walking the dog, doing the dishes, grocery shopping, or traveling.

I’ll never forget the way yoga became my best friend during my 3-week trip to China and Tibet in 2006. I didn’t touch a yoga mat for 21 days and never once had the floor space to even get into Downdog, but the emotional aspect of yoga, pranayama, and lovingkindness meditation completely enriched the adventure. There were so many times I could’ve gone ape sh*t, cried hysterically, or lost it completely, but I’m certain that the mental clarity and focus I cultivated from my then 2 years of asana yoga practice got me through it all and let me go with the flow–even our three days on the pirate ship garbage barge Chinese cruise ship, where stowaways, cockroaches, and the residue of an uncleaned communal squat toilet punctuated our sweaty 72 hours out on the Yangtze.

Stowaways in the hall

Will I be doing Bakasana in the middle of Main Street, USA next week? Probably not. (Although man, that would make an awesome photo…!) Will I be doing yoga? You bet! In fact, I’m pretty sure I can apply all of the 10 yamas and niyamas to life inside the Magic Kingdom, and, as part of YIOM’s observance of National Yoga Month, I hope to blog about it. See what others have to say about the 8 limbs of yoga here…and then go out on a limb and see how you can incorporate a little slice of yoga lunchmeat into your life. 🙂

Free Yoga Classes and Event during National Yoga Month September.

In the summer of 2006, my husband Bryan and I went on a nearly 3-week trip to China and Tibet with a group led by a geography professor from our alma mater. As I mentioned in this post, the trip was certainly life changing, and coming home introduced a whole new set of feelings about my lifestyle, along with a very deep appreciation for my yoga practice. Below is a journal entry I wrote shortly after returning to the States.

Achingly hollow. That’s how I feel right now.

For the past three weeks, I’ve woken up to a day full of new experiences: visual, emotional, and spiritual. Even though some mornings we had to be up at 4:30 or some nights we slept on a 1.5-inch mattress over plywood over eight stools, the days never failed to stimulate, amaze, and captivate my mind, body, and spirit.

For 19 days, we stuck together in our group of 15, becoming closer each day, despite our differences. By the final day, we felt like family. But last night at 8:30 as our families arrived, picked us up, and drove us away in separate vehicles, it felt like everything had dissolved. My family treated Bryan and me to a late-night meal at the diner and we ate like beasts; at home, Bryan and I melted into our uber-soft mattress and slept for 14 hours; this morning, I was able to shower without flip-flops for the first time since June 20th, but none of these coming-home experiences compare to the dirty, grueling, tiring, sweaty, wonderful, enlightening moments I had in China.

I think back to the day we landed in Beijing and, on our measly 3 hours of sleep, were suddenly thrown into a cramped bus decorated with hanging plastic fruit, flew around the crowded roads, and were greeted with steaming pots of beef, lamb, chicken, tofu, and cabbage in a tiny, smoky restaurant where no one spoke English. I struggled with my chopsticks, could hardly get anything into my mouth, and wanted to cry.

Why did I come here? I thought. Why did I leave behind my perfect daily routine of healthy food, the gym, smoke-free buildings, and a normal sleep schedule for this? Why did I have to come all the way to China for a wordly experience? Why not England? Or even Canada, for crying out loud? I’ve never been to Canada, a mere day’s drive from New Jersey, and yet I leave all the comforts of home behind for a weird country all the way around the world?!?!?!

But yesterday, as our plane landed on the Newark runway, Bryan jokingly said, “And now it’s going to turn around and take off again for China.” And I said, “That’s fine with me.” I’m back in my so-called “comfort zone” — a soft bed, clean shower, organic foods, my gym bag, the internet, the daily newspaper on our doorstep — but none of it feels right. My house feels like a movie set, a perfect little playworld where nothing is real and it’s all just for show.

What I do know is this: Yoga helped me greatly through this trip. I didn’t touch a yoga mat for 3 weeks and never once had the floor space to even get into Down dog, but the emotional aspect of yoga, pranayama, and lovingkindness meditation completely enriched the adventure. There were so many times I could’ve gone ape shit, cried hysterically, or lost it completely, but I’m certain that the mental clarity and focus I have cultivated from my last 2 years of asana yoga practice got me through it all and let me go with the flow. Even our 3 days on the pirate ship.

Yes, a pirate ship. OK, it was actually a garbage barge with stowaways sleeping in the hallways, a cockroach infestation, dirty communal squat toilets with no toilet paper, inedible food, minimal air conditioning, half-naked Chinese men who spat on the cigarette-butt littered carpets, and meat locker showers, but we lived like filthy pirates for 3 days, so, therefore, we call it a pirate ship. Yar.

What doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger. I had to repeat that several times throughout this trip, but yeah, it’s true. And Starbucks always helps.

About the Author

Name: Jennifer

Location: Greater Philadelphia Area

Blog Mission:
SHARE my practice experience in conscious dance and yoga,

EXPAND my network of like-minded individuals,

FULFILL my desire to work with words in a more creative and community-building capacity;

FLOW and GROW with the world around me!



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