The Culmination of My Spiritual Journey

For the past 18 months or so, I have been on a spiritual journey that I didn’t quite understand.  First, it was yoga.  I told myself it was for the physical benefits and tough core workouts.  Then, I tried meditating.  I told myself it would make for a funny blog post (it did).     And that was just the beginning.  Before you’d know it, I was knee-deep in self-help books, psychiatry, and even open to attending a hypnobirthing class, where they tested every boundary I’d ever considered myself to have.

A quick digression to list some quick notes about hypnobirthing:

  1. I’ve learned that inducing labor should be avoided if at all possible.  To have a natural progression into labor, hypnobirthing recommends a) Eggplant Parmigiano, b) an enema, c) sex (not in that order).
  2. When the teacher says to practice birth breathing by “bearing down and pretending like you’re pooping out an elephant,” that is not a joke and not a time to give a knowing “I’ve been there before, yo” laugh.
  3. Eggplant parm’s ruined for me.  Ruined.

Through this spiritual journey, I have become a calmer and gentler version of me.  But I didn’t understand why.  At least until now.  Last week, I discovered a book called Golf is not a Game of Perfect, by Dr. Bob Rotella, or Guru Rotella as I call him.  This book essentially describes all the ways one can be a head case on the golf course.  I don’t recall how I discovered this book.  Sometimes you seek out Guru Rotella, sometimes he just appears.  For me, he just appeared when I downloaded his book from audible and listened to it on the car ride to one of my appointments.

Who wouldn’t listen to this man?

A week later, I am on a nightly regimen of using an app called Refresh, which leads me through positive affirmations about all facets of my golf game like these:

  • My short game has all the shots.
  • I am a wizard from the bunkers.
  • I hit bombs.
  • I am a great golfer.
  • I check the course conditions when I get to the course.
  • I drink enough water.
  • I swing my irons with a smooth tempo.

photo (21)

Junk like that.  It’s funny, but as I’m writing this, I went to link up to the app and I couldn’t find it on Google.  It probably only existed for a brief period of time.  Like the machine in the movie Big that granted the kid’s wish.  Maybe I shouldn’t tell you about it?

Guru Bob advocates that golfers stay in the present, focusing only on the shot in front of them and choosing the smallest possible target.  I’ve been trying to do this for the last week and my game has improved to epic proportions.  I legitimately think I could play on the senior PGA tour if a) Anne lets me, b) I practice nonstop for the next 15 years, c) the kid we have likes golf as much as I plan to make him/her, and d) Anne lets me.

The fascinating part of this spiritual journey is that without the yoga and meditation, I honestly don’t think I’d be able to come close to any of the things Dr. Bob suggests.  After years of being a complete head case, these activities have taught me how many of the things that we think are predetermined are actually in our control.  Like just because I started with pars on the first seven holes, doesn’t mean that I need to make a quadruple bogey on the eighth hole to even things out.  Even though that happens a lot and still happens, Bikram Bob has taught me how to bring my focus back to the task in front of me.

All of this is just a long-winded way of saying that the weather has improved and now the time I was spending at the yoga studio or meditating is now spent on the golf course.  I just want to justify that to my loyal readers.  

 

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Operation 80 to Baby.

Although it would have been hilarious for me, a lot of people would have been angry if last week’s big announcement was an elaborate April Fool’s prank.  Thankfully it wasn’t.  Neither is the sympathy weight I’ve been packing on.  That’s why yesterday, when I re-entered the world after a nice baby-free vacation, Anne and I launched our latest project.  Operation 80 to Baby.

Operation 80 to Baby is an elaborate workout program that I developed to make sure that my future kid does not have a morbidly obese dad.  Here’s how it works.

Step one:  Make a chart.

photo (17)

 

Anne’s participating as well, but she’s stuck on step one.  Her chart has to be all pretty.  Mine is purely functional.  I used construction paper and a blue pen.

Step 2:  Write 80 numbers on the chart, one for each day that you plan to work out.  I chose 80 because the baby is due in about 20 weeks.  If I can work out an average of 4 days per week every week until the baby’s supposed to arrive, then I will have successfully created a habit that won’t go away post baby.  When I was moping around saying to Anne, “Blah blah I’m so lazy Blah Blah,” she reminded me that it will probably be easier to start now and continue than it will be to restart from nothing in a few months.  Point taken.

Step 3:  Every time you work out, cross one of the numbers off.  I like to do this in order, but you really don’t have to.  Anne’s still trying to figure out what she should put on her chart.  This morning she thought that taping 80 little pictures of babies would be “fun.”  I told her it was creepy.  But she didn’t hear me.  So she won’t get mad that I said that until right now when she reads this.

WARNING – BLATANT PRODUCT PLUG ABOUT TO HAPPEN – WARNING:  

For my first work out, I did a little yoga at home.  Recently, YogaJack, a company that has developed a line of yoga products specifically targeted to manly men like myself, was kind enough to send me one of their mats to review.

mat1_1024x1024

As a man (and a particularly sweaty and chubby one), I can say that I’ve put this thing through the ringer.  My initial impression was that I wanted it to be a little stickier.  The more I use it, however, the better it gets.  Apparently yoga mats have a weird sheen on them at the beginning that wears off over time.  This one was no exception.

I don’t know what makes a yoga mat manly (but why would I?  I don’t even know what makes a man manly), but here’s why I like this mat:

  1. It’s long. 
  2. It’s thick.
  3. It feels good in my hands.

Uh.  Hm.  Jeez.  That really didn’t come out right, did it?

I do know one thing that made it manly.  The mat clearly has a top and bottom.  When I used it, I correctly placed the mat so that the “top” was facing up and the “bottom” was touching the dirty floor.  Anne tried the mat, and she had it upside down.  Women, right???

Final note, before I started using the YogaJack mat, I had a lululemon mat.  In all fairness, this mat was “stickier” than the YogaJack mat, but it smelled like a plastic fart, which is not a smell that is nice when your face is literally pressed against the mat.  I’ll take care of making a mat smell like death in my own time, I don’t need it to start out that way.  But not only does the lululemon mat smell like fart, it also sounds like fart if it gets wet and your skin touches it at all.  So basically, if you use the lululemon mat, everyone will just think you’re ripping away, and they’ll believe it too because it will smell like that.

Step 4:  Share your plan with the internet.  Let them hold you accountable when you slack off.  When you see me, if it looks like I’ve gained 80 lbs of sympathy weight, remember that’s not how the plan works.  Feel free to poke my belly.  If I laugh like a doughboy, the plan’s not working.

Step 5:  six-pack abs.

And that’s it.  If you’re interested in a personalized plan for yourself, please email me.  How much would you guess such a plan would cost?  10,000 dollars?  One million dollars?  No dollars?  Oh no, you can have a plan of your own for just $199.99.  That’s right.  For just $199.99, a mildly successful blogger will create a plan exclusively for you.  You can pick the color of the construction paper and the color of the pen to match all of your fitness needs.  But wait, there’s more.

I couldn’t think of anything to offer for the more part, so forget I said it, okay?

With just a little bit of work, this could be you in 80 days:

A drawing by Rob Pollak - 80 day workout plan for fathers to be

 

Yoga Flow(chart): What should you wear to yoga class?

Given the recent lululemon controversy, a lot of yogis are confused about what they should wear to class.  You may be surprised to learn that I’m an expert on yoga fashion, particularly see-through pants.

So I put together a flow chart to help guide you in picking the right attire for your next class:

A flow chart by Rob Pollak answering the question, what should you wear to yoga class.  Are your pants see through?  Are you a woman?  Wear whatever you want, but for the love of god, wear boxer briefs.  Try Lululemon, but double bag it.  Try lululemon or naked yoga.  Don't wear white.  It's see through.

How to be cool

How to be cool (Reposted from Elephant Journal)

I just want to be cool.

That emotional craving guided my life for many years. Only recently did I learn the truth. For all those years, I was doing it wrong. The desire to be cool was actually the thing making me uncool.

Yoga changed that. Through the practice of yoga, I learned that most people—including this guy—do the opposite of what we really want to do. Okay, you caught me. Maybe I’m giving too much credit to yoga. I first learned it from an episode of Seinfeld (My name is George, I’m unemployed, and I live with my parents), but it sunk in when I started to practice yoga.

Let me break it down with an example.

While on this quest for coolness, I imagined what a cool person would do if confronted with my specific situation. Like if I was at a wedding and the photographer said, “do something crazy!” I’d think really hard about how to look cool while “going crazy,” hemming and hawing between options: Should I give the West Coast Rap Sign or the Backwards Peace Sign? Do those U.S. Weekly people really say “prune” right before a picture? Is my left or right side the less pudgy one? If I jump in the air, will everyone jump higher than I do? Won’t that look lame?

It’s impossible to look cool after that much thought. The end result was photos like this:


A cartoon by Rob Pollak for Elephant Journal

 

A cartoon by Rob Pollak for Elephant Journal

Who looks like the asshole in the second picture? The people jumping up and down, making stupid faces? Or the one schmuck with his shoulders scrunched up to his ears and his hands in his pockets?

In other words, I tried to look cool by not looking uncool, a strategy which actually made me look the least cool of all.  Those who did whatever they wanted looked the best. But why? Rumi said it best:

“When you do things from your soul, other people totally dig that shit.”

When we do things to protect ourselves, we wind up with the exact consequences we tried to avoid in the first place.

Don’t believe me?

Did you ever procrastinate because you didn’t want to screw a project up? Then at the last minute, you were forced to half-ass it just to get it done on time? And the work wasn’t your best? So something got screwed up? And you were all, “Whatever dude, I didn’t put in a full effort anyway.” That’s what I’m talking about.

What is it about yoga that made me realize I was doing it wrong? For one thing, when I first tried yoga, I immediately felt like an outlier. And not in the Malcolm Gladwell, you’re going to do 10,000 hours of hard work and end up as the best yogi of all time, outlier kind of way. More in the Ugly Duckling way. I was the sweatiest, chubbiest, manliest, hairiest, stiffest, anxious-est person in the room, and I was convinced that everyone was looking at me and judging me.

That self-image was a lot of baggage to take into the yoga room, and I struggled to feel comfortable in my skin—my sweaty pale skin. But after awhile, I just stopped caring. I can’t pinpoint exactly when or how it happened, but it absolutely happened.

One day, I no longer cared that a small puddle of sweat would start to accumulate in front of my mat and forge a stream towards my neighbors mat. Instead, I started to see that disgusting sweat river as a sign of triumph, and root for it to infiltrate her $110 Lululemon pants. Actually, that’s a terrible example. Sweat rivers are disgusting.

Regardless, yoga taught me how to be aware of my emotions, creating a mindset that carried off the yoga mat and bled into the rest of my life. I started to care less about what you assholes think of me. And once I stopped caring what other people think, I became the coolest guy in the whole world, unafraid to take pictures like this:

Rob and Anne Pollak

Meditation: I Think I’m Doing It Wrong

(This also appears on the Elephant Journal.  Click through if you really love me)

My legs are shaking uncontrollably, but I can’t focus on the discomfort because my mind keeps jumping from topic to topic:

“Shit, I need an accountant to figure out my taxes”
“Wait, where did I park the car?”
“It’s cold out. I don’t want to go back out there”
“I need to write more or I’ll lose all my readers”
“Anna Kendrick is so hot”
“I should write more”
“Why do I suck at finishing things.”
“Breathe in.”
“Ahhhhh. I feel amazing.”
“Shit. I really need to contact that accountant.”
“I suck at this.”
“ARGHHHHHHHHH.”
“I should write a blog post about how I suck at meditation   I can start it by saying, ‘My legs are shaking uncontrollably, but I can’t focus on the discomfort…'”
“Nah.  That’s stupid.”
“Think about your breath, asshole.”

Don’t be surprised if you don’t recognize it from my description, but, apparently this is ‘meditation.’

A cartoon chart explaining how to meditate - By Rob Pollak

Just the thought of meditation used to make me vomit, a reaction born out of deep genetic coding.  Imagine for a second that Oprah’s spirit animal married Larry David’s.  Actually, you don’t have to imagine it because those two beings did reproduce, and the result was me.

Don’t believe me?  Here’s a brief profile sketch of my parents:

Mom:  Doesn’t eat gluten or sugar.
Dad:  In recognition of his dedicated patronage, was once gifted a stool from a hot dog joint called “Swanky Franks.”

Mom:  Believes in and is devoted to a higher being.
Dad:  Calls me immediately after natural disasters and mass shootings to remind me that they “explicitly prove the non-existence of god.”  Also frequently quotes Christopher Hitchens.

Mom:  Calls everything good that happens “a sign.”
Dad:  Doesn’t think anything good ever happens.

Mom:  Trusts that when God closes a door, he opens a window.
Dad:  Closes the door himself, then checks the lock fifteen times – just to make sure –  before he can go to bed.

Mom:  Is an artist.
Dad:  Thought the movie the Artist could have used a few more words.

Mom:  Sent me on a yoga retreat for my birthday last year
Dad:  Calls me “yoga boy” in a mocking tone.

What does this have to do with meditation?  Well, to this point, not much.  But maybe it helps to explain where I’m coming from and why I have so resisted meditation.

To me, meditation doesn’t represent a time to contemplate and cleanse the mind.  Rather, it represents a choice between (a) facing the judgment of my father and (b) immediately turning into my mother.  Yes, that’s an irrational and self-created decision.  But it’s one that paralyzes me and has led me to recruit an army of therapists who will now be able to drive Jaguars for years to come.

How I meditate - a cartoon drawing by Rob Pollak

But let me back up.

I was first introduced to meditation during yoga classes when teachers would discuss the benefits and invite the class to join a guided practice.  Upon hearing the word – that terrifying, icky word – a flood of anxiety rushed through me.  “Ew!  Meditation.  Bleck.  No thank you.  Ercnhr.  I’d rather not.”  A moment later, the teacher would instruct us to close our eyes and to start paying attention to the breath.  I would comply while patiently waiting for the meditation to start, so I could internally criticize the stupidity of it.

As I waited – eyes closed and mind focused on the breath – I’d start to calm down while I imagined the judgment I would unleash when the meditation started.

You know, meditation, right?  Contemplating your existence while subconsciously being forced to join a cult.

There would be gongs and Buddhists, incense and butterflies, spiritual awakenings and a mass Ebay sale of my favorite technological gadgets.  It starts with one meditation, then before you know it.  Boom. I’m in Tibet eating meals of broth after a quick prayer only to  resurface a few years later on the  front page New York Times, where there’d be an article about either (a) my peaceful protest to save the birch tree, or (b) a mass cult suicide commemorating the latest last day of the Mayan calendar.

That’s what I would think about while I waited for the teacher to begin the meditation.  All the while preparing to pounce with an air of judgmental superiority once we started.

But a funny thing happened.  It never started.  Not once.  The teachers would just ramble on about how we were supposed to focus on our breath.  So I would do it.  Eventually, for like one-tenth of a second, the craziness would be gone.  I’d be thinking about only my breath, and it would actually feel nice.

And just as I was on the verge of connecting with myself, the teacher would snatch me away from my mind and start class.  For the next hour, I had no choice but to think about my breath because if I did otherwise, I would fall down, hurt myself, and probably die.  At the end of class, when my mind slowly returned to thinking about all the nuisances and annoyances in my life, I’d feel more calm about them because I’d had a brief respite during class.

My mind was blown when I recently stumbled upon an article explaining meditation, which basically boils meditation down to focusing on the breath and trying to clear your mind.  In other words, sort of, kind of, exactly what I had been doing.

After an initial panic, I realized that I still regular binge eat gluten and sugar and I only check the lock on the door 10 times before going to sleep.  Meditation hadn’t led to all the things I feared, it just made me feel a little bit better.

And that’s one of the unspoken secrets about yoga and meditation   No one can tell you when you’re ready to try it, but eventually you figure it out on your own.

At first, you think that everyone else has it figured out, that you’re the only fuck up who can’t get his mind quiet when he closes his eyes.  Perhaps that’s true in Tibet.  But at your yoga studio, in your apartment, in your mind, it’s probably not.

We’re all head cases in our own way.  I know because one time I opened my eyes (my dad side) and looked around the room and I made accidental eye contact with three other people doing the same thing.  We all quickly shut our eyes and pretended it didn’t happen.  But it happened.

I know it, you know it, Tibet knows it, and my mom probably heard about it from god.

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