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.

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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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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

9 Things I Learned from My First Year of Yoga

For the first 33 years of my life, I steadfastly refused to try yoga.  At first, it was because I refused to try anything that fell under the umbrella of general health or fitness.  Thankfully that phase of my life ended after my first 29 years.  Then, I had an enlightenment and realized that I’d probably die soon if I didn’t start exercising.  I didn’t realize this horrifying fact from any article or person, but I think that as a 30 year old I just realized that I wasn’t filled with the youthful exuberance that had fueled marathon sessions of watching Real World marathons on MTV.

My impending death got me off the couch, but I didn’t quite know what to do with myself.  I started running because I was deathly afraid of embarrassing myself at the gym.  Years of inactivity meant that I had no idea what to do.  I was fat-ish, weak, lazy, and sweat like . . . hmmm.  I tried to come up with a good analogy here, but I’ve never seen anything else in the world that sweats as furiously and vigorously as I do, so let’s just agree that I sweat a lot.

At first, I was a timid runner.  I’d hide out on the treadmills in the back corner of the gym.  I’d run a quarter mile then walk a quarter mile.  I’d set my speed to 4.6 so I could dust the 94 year old woman on the treadmill next to me.  But over time, my confidence grew and I started to fancy myself a runner.  It defined me to some extent, and it made me look incredibly cool:

runpicbrooklyn

Over time, running morphed into a more general sense of fitness.  I even lifted weights a couple of times.  Periodically, I’d walk past the room with the people doing yoga – mostly women, mostly wearing lululemon, mostly incredibly limber.  On one hand, I was skeptical and judgmental.  I mean, come on, they were lying on the floor half the time.  The other half, I’d peer in and they’d basically be standing still.  It looked like a joke.  On the other hand, they were basically jacked.  It wasn’t for me, though, I couldn’t even touch my toes.

Another year passed, and then one day just before my 34th birthday a muscle in my back popped.  Exploded would be a more apt description actually.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that I was literally paralyzed for years and years.  When I saw the doctor a few days later, he said that the injury was because my core wasn’t strong enough and that I should try yoga.  I laughed.  Yeah, okay bro.  Have you seen me?  I’m a runner:

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The next week, I begrudgingly went to yoga class.  Immediate obsession.  Here are ten things I learned from my year of yoga:

1.  Yoga is really really hard

When you walk past a room full of people and they’re sitting around gently reaching their outstretched arms to one side or the other, it looks really easy.  But when I tried it, I was sweating before the class even started.  (I know that’s not saying much, but if you don’t like Bikram Yoga, then you really should never attend a class with me.  I’m essentially an oversized space heater).  A year in, I continue to find every class I attend constantly challenging to me.  My arms burn when the class is over.  Sitting is hard.  Standing is hard. Balancing is hard.  Relaxing is hard.  Yoga makes everything f*$king hard.

2.  But yoga is also really really easy

Because no matter how many classes I’ve taken, no teacher ever pushes you beyond your limit.  If you feel tired, they tell you how to rest.  If you’re pushing yourself too hard, you take a break.  If you can’t touch your toes, you don’t have to.  Just get as close as you can.  If you can’t balance on your head, don’t even try until you’re ready.  Despite what it looks like from the outside, it’s a very inviting environment, and being cool with what you’ve got makes it much easier and less intimidating than it initially seems.

3.  The “spiritual” BS is kind of nice.

At first, I loathed all the omms or taking an inventory of my inner self.  I was Mr. Cynical about getting in touch with my mind.  Then one day I realized it wasn’t so bad.  I was more confident.  I felt taller.  So a little spirituality won’t kill you, and you might just end up liking it.

4.  There’s a class for everyone, you just have to find it.

I’ve taken a lot of classes.  If you hate a teacher though, you don’t have to go back.  There’s something for everyone.  And even though I’ve gotten to a point where I’m okay with a little of the spiritual BS, it’s still not my favorite, so I’ve clung to teachers that were more dude-centric and allow for a little more normalcy in the class.  My current favorite is YoJo with Anne’s old trainer, Jessa (her website is under construction, I think).  I like it so much, I made a video about it:

5.  No one really cares what you do.

Maybe everyone is looking at me all the time and judging me for the sweat dripping from my face onto the communal mat that I put back on the shelf after class.  Maybe they laugh when I fall down.  Maybe they are disgusted when a little bit of my ass hangs out when I do a forward fold.  Maybe they avoid danger zones.  But if they do, I’m not aware of it.  Hell, the instructors sometimes even do something I wouldn’t even do – they put their hand on my sopping sweaty shirt to make an adjustment during class.  Sure, they immediately regret doing so, but it’s the thought that counts.

6.  If you work at it, you can do cool stuff.

Now, I can totally do a handstand.  Suck it, haters.

7.  You start to get muscles in weird places.

For me, it’s been my arms and my abs.  Who knew?

8.  It made me more comfortable in my own skin.

I’m not even embarrassed to post a picture like this on the internet even though it totally tells the world that I don’t have the same full head of hair that I did back in college:

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That’s kind of yoga that I’m doing there, right?

9.  It focused me in other areas of my life.

I used to be bad at finishing things I started.  Now, after a year of yoga, I’m much better at it.  Just this post for example, I wanted to do this all day, and now I’m getting it done.  I mean, it did start as a list of 20 things I learned this year.  But whatever.  It’s also taught me that we are constantly evolving and that you need to take the good with the bad.