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The Zen Zone: Yoga in Aspen

Jamie Lynn Miller's picture

I took the craziest yoga class tonight. It blew my pretty darn open mind wide open, like hot-air balloon open. Convertible open. It was a head rush of openness. Actually, that was probably the hanging upside-down part. There were straps and chairs and ropes and cirque du soleil positions from unsuspecting audience members like myself, who needed help with all the props and adjusting the straps: “Tighter!” the teacher said, binding my legs so I couldn’t get out.

There was really nothing lascivious about it. It was restorative yoga, and though I left class feeling nauseous, I’m sure it was simply the fact that the off the wall – literally – poses were designed to "irrigate" my brain. My head is rather big, diameter-wise, so I think maybe it got over-hydrated. I slumped in the chair in the women’s locker room for about 20 minutes and let it dry out.

I’ve wanted to write about yoga for a long time. My sister went to a psychic once who got a vision of me, not her. Bummer. She saw a man who made furniture, she said my late-father was following our lives and wanted me to be careful in something I was doing; and she told my sister that yoga would greatly benefit me. While I knew the furniture man was really Aidan from Sex in the City and I assumed Dad meant be careful climbing, I was struck by her keen sense that I needed to do more yoga. Years later, someone else told me yoga would be really good for me. When people start telling you "you should try yoga" you start to wonder what the hell they’re trying to say. Then you start to wonder about yoga.

One of my goals in life has become to become a yoga addict (right behind becoming a morning person). It’s good to have goals. The problem is, I don’t really have an addictive personality. There’s all sorts of classes, all times of day and all locations but for some reason, I’m still not a junkie. Yet every time I do go, I feel that much more evolved, relaxed, limber, capable of dealing and just – better. Inside and out. Tonight’s teacher told us we are not physical beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a physical experience. I like that.

Finding the right class is important, but finding the right teacher is essential. The chanting in tongues, the new-age musak, the melodramatic tone seem hocus-pocus and do nothing to feed my addiction. One teacher went walked around the class and dabbed Sandalwood on each of our wrists, aromatherapy meets Duck Duck Goose; of course, I was allergic to the sandalwood and started itching. Can they do that? Just run around pouring essential oils on people?

I do like it when the teacher adjusts me, though, presses my back, or kneads my neck or massages my scalp; it means I’m not doing the pose correctly, but I already knew that. I’ll try harder. Just finish the massage.

One teacher read from a book of poems, something about a cobbler and a blacksmith and a bell, in no particular order, then started to sing in a high pitch voice to give us something to focus on. My mind closed a little that day, I have to admit.

Then there are teachers who can’t stop talking. The inability to be quiet strikes me as rather un-yoga like. They were a husband and wife team with a serious cult following. They always struck me as grifters, for some reason; they came to town, gathered yoga disciples and a band of groupies and then just as impressively, they vanished. The essence of hocus-pocus.

The man knew his poses and his yoga history and in fact, seemed to know it all, and he’d tell us all about it during a 90-minute monologue, interrupted only by the rhetorical “not quite getting it yet, ah?” It occurred to me after about 20 minutes of verbal soundtrack that maybe he, too, should focus on his breath. The ladies in the locker room waxed enthusiastic about what a great a class it was while I thought to myself how nice it would have been to hear myself think.

Being chastised during yoga is not part of my goal. I tried Bikram’s hot yoga for awhile, as friends in all places swore by its regimented poses and its tropical studio. The heat wasn’t for me (though the humidity was great for my hair), nor was the negative reinforcement. I remember running late one morning, stopped in traffic while they painted lines on Main Street (and it was a morning class, so of course I was already running late). I opened the door and quietly took my place at the back of the room. The next pose called for straight arms. An old snowboard injury left me with a crooked left arm, so straight arms aren’t really my handle. The teacher interpreted my lop-sided pose as blatant disregard: “I said straight arms. If you’d been here on time, and not disrupted the whole class, you’d be able to keep up!” I dropped the offending arm and smiled at her. I gathered my belongings and disrupted the class once again by letting the door slam on the way out. Another teacher barked: “Don’t look at me!? Look in the mirror! Focus on yourself!” Bikram’s was like going to some sort of Buddhist dominatrix. When I want to be beat up, I go crack climbing. Which is free.

I need nurturing and coddling in my yoga practice. What with skiing and climbing and running and swimming, I want to breathe and stretch out and see if I can be still for awhile. Eventually, strength and serenity seem to follow. My friend Shannon is one of my favorite teachers; she’s patient and learned and positive and to Shannon, your breathing is always beautiful, and the way you curl-up in child’s pose is always excellent. It sounds silly, but when you’re trying to stretch yourself in all sorts of ways – physically and spiritually – its comforting to have someone tell you that everything you’re feeling and every ounce of energy you’re expending is just right, every time.

Jacqueline is another phenomenal teacher, a perfect blend of knowledge, intention and levity. I usually sit out the circus performer poses: headstands, shoulder stands and the one where you thread your knees through your forearms, like one of the demons in the Exorcist. I opt to take a time out in child’s pose while others get inverted because I know if I ever tried, I would totally fall over, laugh uncontrollably at myself and have to leave the room.

One night, Jacqueline encouraged us to “just try it if you want. I’ll help you get set-up, just let me know if you’re interested.” I assumed my usual curled-up position and waited out the storm. Suddenly, there was a huge crash. The man in the back row had decided to give it a go, lost his balance and toppled over into the cubbyholes. I felt a fit of giggles coming on and I looked at Jacquelyn who, much to my delight, started laughing as well. She tried to recover, saying, “No that’s good, it’s a tough one to experiment with, it takes some – “ she stopped, still laughing, trying to finish her sentence. She soon regained composure and moved on; but I wasn’t so lucky. The fact that the man didn’t think it was remotely funny made it even funnier. I started shaking with laughter, tears running down my face, and I had to leave the room. That’s the night Jacquelyn and I became friends.

Aaron King has the brilliant idea that cool music you’d actually be inspired by is a good choice for a yoga practice. His yoga feels good, sounds good and makes you want more. He brought me to the brink of addiction; but all things in moderation. I have yet to be a total yoga goner.

In tonight’s wild yoga class, the one that left me light-headed and nauseous but strangely intrigued, I tried to get into the rope handles and up into the air, legs outstretched along the wall up towards the ceiling. The teacher remarked that some of us seemed to be struggling with the "physics of the pose". Was she psychic? I failed physics twice in college; technically, it was a "no pass", but the result was the same: I couldn’t figure out how to maneuver myself towards the gravitational pull of the rope swing. She helped me into the brain-irrigating pose and at last, I relaxed onto the rope and stretched towards the floor, legs pointed towards the heavens and my head at one with yoga mat and the grounding forces below.

She told us that people come to yoga looking for a change. Yet in order to change, we need to seek, to listen, and to make happen. I liked that. I like yoga sayings, proverbs and words of peaceful wisdom, in moderation. I meditated on her words for a few minutes.

Juliana, another fine teacher, talks about Yoga off the Mat, or bringing the presence of mind, the patience, the acceptance back out into the world and applying it to daily life. To practice yoga off the mat may very well be my ultimate yoga goal: to pleasantly smile while on hold with Verizon, to serenely nod at the person yelling into his cell-phone in a nice restaurant and remain blissfully un-phased, once I leave the safety of the Zen Zone. It’s a good, lofty goal and I’m not setting a timeline. In the meantime, I know that I’m a kinder, gentler, more elongated Jamie every time I do yoga. I sound like an addict.

Currently, Aaron King teaches at King Yoga, Jacqueline and Shannon can be found at the Aspen Club, as can Trishka of the revolutionary yoga class. Juliana teaches at the Aspen Club and the ARC. Many excellent teachers are found at various, valley-wide locations, so sample each approach until you find your Zen Zone.