Saturday, August 11, 2012

Art is art, everything else is yoga.

I'll start with an anecdote. This is about me. When I was 17, during my last summer in Colorado before college, I was cuddling in the grass beneath the trees with my then boyfriend when he was startled by something he felt on my back. A bird had relieved itself on my light summer jacket. This was the first of at least seven times that I can count that I have been targeted by the birds in twelve years- Indiana, 2001, hair and shoulder; Masada, Israel, 2002, leg; Indiana, 2004, shoulder; Marseille, France, 2006, shoulder; Aix-en-Provence, France, 2012, hair and shoulder; Montpellier, France, 2012, hair.

I had a few free years in the middle in which I thought that period of my life was over, but just last month I felt a heavy drop on my head while walking on a sunny day.

 My husband has a very logical theory for why this happens so often to me. Simply, I walk slow. Very slow. I move slowly in most everything I do. I am used to it now and though it obviously has it's drawbacks, I embrace it as a way to take in each experience to the fullest. That is my art.

In English, we can use the term "artist" loosely. Anything can be artfully done and anyone that does something well with attention and intention is an artist in that craft, from folding laundry to fixing automobiles.

I was once issued a warning at a restaurant in New York where I worked as a waitress that moving faster would be crucial to keeping my job. My manager, who had been watching my every, very slow move, described to me that when i placed a glass on a table, I moved my arm around in a curving motion instead of moving it straight to the table top. I ended up getting fired and found a job at a smaller restaurant where my graceful and interesting way of moving was better appreciated.

I found a job that better suited me in yoga teaching, where moving quickly means as much as a law degree from Bolivia while living in France.

Over the past few years, being slow has even become a trend, from slow food to slow travel. That makes me not only à la mode, but ahead of the times. For once, I am ahead.

As I become deeply entrenched in the yoga universe in which I work, the word "yoga" is used much like the word "art", to describe everything. The way in which we react to a traffic jam when we are already late is our yoga, sharing a disappointingly small portion of ice cream with a friend is our yoga, even missing yoga class due to an unexpected obstacle is our yoga.

In order to understand the difference between the way in which our lives become "art" and the way in which they become "yoga", I came up with this analogy: The way we choose to do things is art, and the way we deal with things we don't choose, that are out of our control, is yoga.

 As everything we choose to do will evidently have it's share of unforeseen happenings, yoga is imperative to the survival of any artist.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Overeaters Anonymous

December 2007, I attended a meeting in Manhattan of the OA, an organization of self diagnosed women participating that evening in order to work towards healing their illnesses. OA is not limited to women, but the problem is most often that of a woman. OA stands for Overeaters Anonymous, but of the 30 or so in the room that night, only one or two were over-weight. OA in Manhattan has little to do with obesity. It is about an obsession with food. Everyone in the room had disordered eating to varying extents, most people diagnosing themselves or having been diagnosed by a doctor with Anorexia or Bulimia.
The friend who had agreed to come with me and I arrived a little after 7pm. When we entered the large fluorescent-lit meeting room, a woman had already begun to recount her story. She was pale-skinned, in her late 20s with black shoulder length hair. She looked worn, but not unhealthy, thin but not skinny. I remember noticing that I liked her boots and the knee height striped socks she wore underneath them.
“I would spend days in my room, too ashamed to go out,” she said, “I would numb my emotional pain by eating. I would eat an entire tub of ice cream, than throw it up back into its tub. There were times when, after I had thrown it up, I would eat it again.”
Another girl who was there I recognized. She had been a yoga student of mine. I had been teaching yoga for just over a year and still thought I could maintain an image of super humanness with my students. Now I was embarrassed, belittled and flawed. But I had tried attending this meeting to fix that.
Traditionally, after the meetings, the attendees go out to eat together. I remember the anxiety I felt about having to order and eat in front of these people. What will they order? Most importantly, what will they think of what I order? I felt they were watching me and judging me. After having talked about and analyzed food compulsions and habits so closely, the idea of eating felt unnatural. Was I even hungry? I didn’t know. What I ended up ordering, I don’t remember. I do remember a feeling of abnormality that accompanied every bight.
The girls at the dinner table closest to me knew each other.
“ I didn’t see you on Tuesday night.”
“No, I couldn’t go to the NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meeting this week. But I went to the DA (Debtors Anonymous) meeting on Wednesday.”
“Oh yeah, I should start going to that one! I can’t stop buying new clothes I can’t afford.”
One of the girls turned to me and asked, “Do you go to meetings?”
“First time.” I said… Meetings? Some of the girls had compulsive behaviors besides their eating habits: The addiction to meetings, AA, OA, NA, DA, you name it, there’s a meeting for it.
I came to realize why my problem was even more complex than the complicated mess it had already seemed.
It is a problem of the Media, the skinny girls on television and in magazines, then wanting to… needing to… be thin like them. But not only.
It is a problem of Discomfort, turning to sugar and fat like drugs for momentary relief. But not only.
It is a problem of Control, eating hardly anything to watch the number on the scale descend and feel a complete and artificial control over something in our lives, and then experiencing the total loss of control when we become too afraid to eat at all, or eat everything we’ve been depriving ourselves of. But not only.
It is a problem of Attention, feeling no one, or the most important person doesn’t notice us, and wondering if they’d notice if we disappeared. But not only.
It is a problem of a PROBLEM; this way humans have, especially in the United States, of diagnosing everything. So, we take the first step. We say, “I have a problem.” We feel good because we are no longer living in denial. We say, “I’m bulimic/alcoholic/addict/insert your problem here!” and we feel better because we know what we are. We own it. It works its way into the marrow of our bones. So after a while, when we’ve had enough, redefining ourselves as someone without a problem is like not knowing who we are anymore.
“Hello, my name is Hilary and I… I…” The words escape me. I have to learn, instead of being something, to just be.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Coffee and yoga

The two things that will undoubtedly make me feel happy regardless of what state I was in before are yoga and coffee. And listening to Frank Sinatra, but Frank's voice got me through high school, so these days when I listen, I feel happy but also think that maybe I should move on, as I kept thinking all four years between 1996 and 2000.

For most yoga teachers that I have had that strive to apply yoga to their daily lives, coffee is bad for your health and should be stopped. I respect these teachers, and perhaps one day I will be ready to test their theory, but I strongly believe at this time health is simply moderation. There is nothing that is purely evil or good in this world and mixing the two achieves a ballance.

One of my yoga influences, Mark Twain, suggested that even moderation should be taken in moderation. This means forgiving ourselves for eating an entire box of cookies if such a rare incident is to occur, and enjoying it, because what's the point of eating a box of cookies if not to enjoy? This means throwing yourself fully into yoga, try practicing every day for 30 days, then twice a day if you have the opportunity... But recognize when you've become obsessed. Take a break for a day, or two, or even three. But then get off your lazy butt and jump back into the regular yoga practice you found sustainable.

We are constantly drifting between circumstances in which we have a pattern and a sense of control over our lives, or in which our paths are irregular and not of our choosing or of our choosing by pure coincidence. Strive to be consistent when the world around you is haphazard but also to let in spontaneity when the grind of the day to day is numbing your senses.

How? In the summer of '95 before I discovered Frank, I was a miserable and maladjusted adolecent. With a group of girls from summer camp, I took to writing a "happiness list". Every day we would add an item or several to our own lists. Sometimes they were names of people at camp(though that was never consistent and I found the very person that made me happy one day made me miserable the next), sometimes descriptions of occurences. All in all, the happiness list, which counted about six-hundred items at the end of the summer, was a good idea, but I would get lost in fantasies of places I had never seen and people I was unlikely to meet, (#42, Johnny Depp). Today, I propose the idea of the happiness list to be aware of the present and remind ourselves what we appreciate in our lives.

Here's a very abreviated and spur of the moment list of what wakes me up, reminds me what I love about what I have:

Yoga (sometimes only after I've finished)
One cup of rich coffee
Frank Sinatra, "Fly Me to the Moon"
Fresh basil
Lying on the ground and gazing at the night sky
Jumping in freezing cold water (and climbing out again immediately)
Living with an artist
The constant existance of the moon (this might be a bit obtuse, so I'll blog about it next time)

How would you start your list?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

One summer morning

I've been getting telephone calls periodically from a certain Geneviève in Béziers, France, who once tried Bikram Yoga in New Zealand and wants to become a certified teacher, open a studio, get rich and live happily ever after. I gave her the straight deal. The only place to get certified is with Bikram, in LA or wherever he happens to feel like holding a certification. In order to get there, you have to practice his yoga regularly for a minimum of six month, dish out a bunch of cash you consider an investment for the future. I felt it best to hold on to the information that in addition to the two Bikram classes a day in a burning hot room full of some of the most intense people you've ever met, you have to stay awake as Bikram talks about Peace, and Happiness, and Money, and Fame and Women until three in the morning. I told Geneviève to come and see me and we'd talk more in depth.

Two months later she called again. "Does it really have to be six months, or can I just practice a little less? If I go to the certification, am I guaranteed to get certified? Then can I open my own studio?" I haven't met her, so I re-state the six month requirement firmly. I tell her most people that finish the 9 week certification leave with a certificate. I ask her what her reasons are for choosing Bikram Yoga.

"Well, I did some research and the Bikram certification is the quickest one."

I realized she wasn't calling me for information regarding my certificate, but desperately seeking assurance that everything will be alright, and that it will be alright right now!

Goodness, I know how she feels. I know very little about her and I know nothing about her current situation, but I have been guilty several times in my life of reaching out to people I hardly knew because of their apparent success or experience or motivation, even sometimes good looks, seeking a reading of my future in which I am successful. It's what most of us would refer to as being lost; more consumed by the contemplation of the action than the action itself.

So what has brought me to this point, in which I hold the crystal ball? I suppose it is because I am being consumed by the action. But all Geneviève sees is the action, and not that I'm being consumed. I am the owner of a yoga school. After years of scattered pre-meditation, I opened it. Here, I teach Bikram yoga.

I'll cut to the chase. Though I was granted permission by Bikram to teach his very unique form yoga, I don't have permission to open a Bikram Yoga school because I don't have a lot of what's included in his brand name. Mainly, 300 square meters or 3,200 square feet of space all dedicated to nothing but Bikram Yoga. I was also pre-occupied up until recently applying for permission from France to teach any yoga at all (see previous entry).

In the seasonal town of Aix-en-Provence, where the population is small or twice as small depending on the time of year, I'm posing my own questions about success.

But what does this have to do with yoga? I'm interpreting what Geneviève needs, based on the unspoken, but I want to tell her that everything is going to be alright. Everything is always alright. Yoga comes into play when we don't know when.

Patience and perseverance. The progress taking place in our lives is, most of the time, invisible. But it's happening ever so subtly under the surface, even when we are suffering, or especially when we are suffering. And in one night it will bloom, like summer in Provence. In the morning you wake up and the Hawthorn tree has buried the cars parked outside in thick pink blossoms.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

So, I got married

I changed the title of this blog from "Changing, Never Ending" to something less subtile and philosophic. "Southern French Hot Yoga Life" is simply what I'm living now, and all the rest, Changes, Endings, Beginnings, Happiness, Loss, Loneliness, Love, Etc. Etc. are evidently a part of this experience. I also hoped that by putting "French" and "Hot" in the title, this blog might reach more people.
When I last wrote in June 2010, I was in Vienna, sitting on the floor finishing off a bottle of leftover Prosecco. Since then, I have returned to France, opened a yoga studio in Aix-en-Provence, moved to a bigger studio and gotten married.
I got married two months ago and though I grow happier about that decision daily, I still find it completely bizarre. When asked for my last name, I say "Gaubert" and then smirk. I cannot keep a straight face. I am by now able to fairly smoothly say "mon mari" when talking about "my husband" but have trouble saying it in English or writing it without the quotes.
We were engaged three and a half months ago. After months of living with me as I awaited an official decision regarding my application to stay in France to build my own business, my boyfriend at the time got sick of putting up with my stress. As I remember it, he backed me in to a corner one evening when I had barley stepped in the front door and said, "We're getting married." I took a breath and said, "Okay." I stood up straighter so I would feel more serious and adult, and said "okay" again. Then I called my mother and said, "We're getting married." We decided to get married in a hurry. I was able to lure my immediate family to the South of France a month and a half later with the excuse that I was getting married. So, at the end of March, we had a lovely small wedding, whipped up to perfection in an instant by my mother-in-law.
All the excitement and optimism that leads up to a wedding can only be followed by a down-turn. I was glad our wedding was so quickly planned and over with. I cannot imagine what kind of depression brides that plan their wedding for a year must feel when it's over. Both "my husband" and I were feeling a bit glum afterwards, but thankfully, we were stuck with each other to ride the wave back up again.
We recently went out to eat at a restaurant that we frequent with my mother-in-law. The chef came out of the kitchen to chat with us as he always does. When we told him that we had gotten married, he looked at us wrinkling his forehead for three quarters of a second and then said, " People are still doing that?"

"In America they do it all the time."

I was anti-marriage before I got married. That's why I moved to France. The rising current is vastly more anti-marriage here. Having kids is reasonable and expected, just don't get married to have them. I thought, Americans are so idealistic and naive, stuck in a tradition that no longer serves our society. In America, people of even my generation are getting married.
But under my certain circumstances, I found myself surprised to enjoy an optimism marriage brought my family, still, though they've witnessed the fall of such alliances. This incredible optimism that is deeply ingrained in my culture, that's what I miss the most about America. And if there is one thing I find deep within myself from my culture that I hold on to, I hope it is the optimism.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Prosecco

Someone has to finish the prosecco that has been sitting open in the refrigerator since the grand opening party, or else it will go to waste and that would be an awful shame. I despise seeing things go to waste.
I'm sitting on my bedroom floor in the widening check of the lamplight from outside beside a glass of very old artificially orange flavored Austrian sparkling wine. This is what cough syrup tastes like.
I'm getting used to my ground level room with expansive frosted windows that face the street. When the sun comes up at 4am, the street light outside shuts off. Due to this, I purchased a few days ago a black and pink flower patterned eye cover which I adore because it is not only pretty, but also practical.
In Vienna, the streets are wider and cleaner than I'd remembered them. It's the contrast between here and Marseille that makes the largeness and spotlessness of everything more evident. But I miss the chaos of Marseille, the tight streets ascending and descending sloaps that look out onto the savage sea, the garbage dancing in the Mistral wind and a gold light that is almost violent in tone that encompasses the cathedrals and squares at sundown. And I miss my rebel sweet heart who would probably be arguing with me at this moment for the intrigue of the conversation if I were with him.Cheers to you darling and to anyone anywhere whoever exchanged the new for the old, the clean for the dirty, twenty-eight for thirty... but I guess that's just living, isn't it.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Laundromat

The laundromat at 133 Avenue de Toulon must have been the most broken down place on earth today. It's small and clean and white, just four washers and two driers, and a row of deep blue plastic seats against the empty wall. I brought a few articles of clothing there to dry this afternoon and it wasn't the place that was depressing but the people in it. Three of them, sitting along the wall, empty seats between them. They apparently didn't know each other but had coincidentally all been hit by a tragedy of equal weight. There was a small Asian boy of about 15 years, an older woman with stark white hair and unremarkable dress, and a slightly younger butch woman in jeans and plaid shirt. They all sat staring at the washing machines, but not looking at the washing machines. Their thoughts were elsewhere. At first I thought it was me. I have a washer at home and I just came for the driers. It seemed as though they were willing their machines to finish washing first so they could leap upon a drier before one of the other two does... And then I just strolled in with my already washed clothes and toss them nonchalantly in the drier. An unforeseen complication. I pretended not to notice as I put my money in and pressed start and I did not look at them on the way out. Their expressions caused me pain. When I came back several minutes later to get my things, they were still there, their expressions intensified... And I don't think it was me they were upset about.