Rob Pollak: American Hero

Although I’m not usually one to draw attention to my own accomplishments, last night I had a moment so life-defining and heroic, that I had no choice.  I had to tell you about how I single-handedly saved New York with the help of three others.

It was 9:00 pm and almost a foot of snow had piled up on the roads.  For many people, the conditions were treacherous, but I learned how to drive a storm when I lived in the tundra of Central New York.  In Central, NY, it’s not appropriate to even wipe the snow off the front windshield until it has piled up to at least 14 inches.

But in New York City, which Central New Yorkers refer to as “the South,” things are different.  The mayor holds a full press conference at the sight of a little kid with a sno cone.  And if we get three inches (god forbid), schools shut down for a week and Whole Foods sells out of bread and water.  But not English muffins or fizzy water.  Who can afford such lavishness in the face of our own demise?

Last night the roads were bad.  Not “we need to plow” bad, but bad enough that a number of inexperienced snow drivers spun out like crazy and freaked out when they had to go up a hill.  I had a good laugh at these people.

By Rob Pollak By Rob Pollak

At least until I hit the spot where the Bronx River Parkway merges onto the Cross County Parkway.  Things had been moving steadily at 15 miles below the posted speed limit up to that point.  But as I approached the merge, traffic halted.  A slight incline in the road caused a few drivers to freak the fuck out, stop, and then rev their tires as fast as they could while not moving.  This created a doubly bad result:  They didn’t move and they turned the drivable snow into a slush-ice combination.

At first, cars sputtered and then figured it out.  But one dickwad in a van started spinning like crazy.  And then he spun some more and some more until he was basically stopped.

All the while, I was sitting in my toasty car listening to a book on tape. My current selection is Willful Blindness:  Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril, a book about, well, exactly what the title says it’s about.  Anyway, right before the insane snow drive, I listened to a chapter discussing the ways people conform to expectations when in a group setting and don’t help others out if a lot of people are around.

With that in mind, I’m sitting there watching these cars literally spinning their wheels (I bet that’s where the term comes from!!), and everyone else is sitting in the car thinking “man, I hope a plow comes.”  But, I was not going to sit around and be willfully blind to accepting that my night was ruined.  I flung open the door and started sprinting past all the cars in front of me.  Five cars to be exact.

Note – it’s hard to sprint in a foot of snow while wearing sneakers.  I almost fell and busted my face/ass.  That’s probably why most people sit in the car.

Anyway, I finally get to the van and start pushing.  Less than a minute later, three other good citizens were by my side pushing the car with me.  If I hadn’t run out there and started pushing, science says that no one would have.  Because we conform to the pressures of society that say it’s embarrassing to get out of the car and go out in the snow.  We may even make the problem worse.  Then everyone will be mad at us.

By rob pollak

Then we pushed three or four more cars up the hill.  Per usual, I was very sweaty.  But I got back in my car and climbed up that hill with no problems of my own.  Thank you Hamilton College for actually teaching me one thing:  how to drive in the snow.

And that’s how I saved America.

Epilogue:  Three of the four cars that I pushed up the hill were in accidents or stuck again on the other side of the hill.  But at that point, I was moving.  So fuck ’em.

 

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What to really expect at your first yoga class

Are you thinking about hitting up your first yoga class?

If so, then you’ve probably spent a good deal of time researching what to expect.  In fact, I’d guess that before reading this, you just read fifteen identical articles by someone with a name like “Blissful Yogini.”  Congratulations!  Now you know to “Drink water!” and “Breathe!”  Did those tips set your mind at ease about what to expect in your first class?

Well, if your brain is anything close to the train wreck happening between my ears, chances are those articles just made you feel more anxious.

So, I’m here to break it down for you.  Based entirely on personal experience (which I have embellished for dramatic purposes), here’s a rundown of what you can realistically expect at your first yoga class.

The Regulars

When you walk into the room, you’ll be freaked out.  A number of people will have already set up their mats.  Most likely, these “regulars” claim the same spot at that class every time it is offered.  Look for spots on the floor that have been “marked” by regular’s sweat.  Steer clear of those locations.  Whatever you do, don’t look a regular in the eyes – it may be wrongly perceived as a territory grab.

For your first class, It’s best to arrive between 4 and 7 minutes prior to the beginning of class.  That way, the neurotic regulars will have already set out their mats, but the haggard late arrivers will not yet have started to trickle in.

Where to set up your mat

I recommend grabbing a spot as far in the back left or right corner as possible.

a cartoon by rob pollak - yoga for beginners

You will inevitably think that everyone in the class will stare at you and judge you while you’re doing yoga.  That’s not true:  Only some of the people will be doing that.

Setting up in the back allows you to see what other people are doing most of the time.  You will think that it will also make you invisible to the rest of the class, but it won’t.  Remember that half the time the class will have their heads buried between their legs or will be in some weird twist that allows them to make direct eye contact with you.  Try your best to avoid feeling self-conscious when everyone in the room is looking in the general direction of the midsection bulge that makes you feel badly about yourself.  Everyone is too self involved to notice.

Before Class Starts

In general, people sit quietly before class starts.  Other articles will tell you that this is a good time to sit mindfully and think about the events that are about to transpire.  In actuality, this time should be spent trying to avoid making eye contact with anyone else in class.  This is particularly difficult when there is a mirror in the front of the room.   Just stare blatantly at others only until they’re just about to catch your gaze, then quickly avert your eyes.

Meanwhile, you may notice that a few of the regulars (particularly the older ones) will be “warming up.”  A proper warmup consists of 3-5 minutes dedicated to dry humping the yoga mat.  Although it will be difficult, try not to react to the audible moans or mmmmmms that they emit while in a warm up.  Those sounds are totally normal.  Actually, they’re not normal.  They’re totally tolerated.

Gender Specific Advice

A brief side note for the guys:  Being surrounded by attractive women in yoga pants is an enormous benefit to this form of exercise.  Don’t screw it up by gawking.  There will be plenty of opportunities for a little peek during class.  But be discreet so you don’t Eff it up for everyone else.

A brief note for the ladies:  You know those purple yoga pants you wear?  Well, they become see through when stretched in a certain way.  Like totally completely transparent.  Thought you might want to know.  Nice thong by the way.

What happens to yoga pants when stretched - a drawing

The Beginning of Class

Eventually, the teacher will enter the room.  If you aren’t sure if the teacher has arrived, wait to see if a regular has jumped up to enthusiastically hug someone.  That’s the teacher.  Most likely, their friendship is entirely one-sided, but just forget I mentioned that when you become a regular yourself.

Many classes begin with the teacher asking you to come to a comfortable seat.  Note that by “comfortable” the teacher really means that you should sit with a completely erect back, your legs crossed in an unnatural way, your shoulders pulled back, your chin slightly protruding up, and your hands resting awkwardly on your thighs.  It is not only completely not comfortable, but also painful.

You may be asked to close your eyes and look within yourself.  For the first six months of my yoga practice, I used this time to awkwardly gaze around the room and ask myself, “what the hell am I doing here?”  You may catch eyes with the other person who is incapable of closing his eyes.  If that occurs, immediately close your eyes and pretend like it never happened.

The Poses

Once class gets underway, the teacher will guide you through various poses.  Sometimes, these will be called out in Sanskrit.  You will have no idea what is happening.  Just look around and do what everyone else does.  For reference, I’ve put together a chart of poses that you’re likely to encounter during your first class:

Yoga poses for beginners explained through pictures - A drawing by Rob Pollak

During these poses, the teacher will be instructing you on how to breathe.  Things like “Breathe in” – pause – “Breathe out” – pause.  These instructions in no way mirror the actuality of your breath.  For each “breathe in” instruction, I typically have 7-10 in breaths and 3-5 out breath gasps.

The final pose

The final pose is called Shavasana.  You lie on your back like a corpse and rest.  Of all the things you’ve done during your first class, none will make you feel more like an idiot than lying on the floor and resting.  The teacher will explain the purpose of this pose and instruct you to try to stop thinking about all the anxieties that you have in life.  This instruction will call all those anxieties, which you had not been thinking about until that very moment, to the forefront of your attention.  You may get angry and frustrated.  You’ll wonder how long you could possibly have to lie there.  You will hate yoga.  You will try to look at the clock. And then, for one brief second, you’ll get it.  Something incredible will happen and you will feel rested and amazing and about ready to succumb to the belief that there is something greater in the world.

At that very moment, the teacher will call you back to attention and tell you to sit up.  A second later, you will forget the revelation that you just had.  You will be frustrated.

But at the end of class, when you stand up, a bit of that feeling will return.  You won’t know what exactly just happened to you or understand why, but you’ll feel taller, smarter, more self aware, stronger, thinner, fitter, healthier, heartier, more loving, funnier, and confident.  Congratulations, you’re now a yogi.

(If you love, click on this article at the Elephant Journal and join me on Facebook)

Please Don’t Kill Yourself When You Read This

Recently, a few people have found my blog by searching for “Can I kill myself?” At first, I assumed this was in reaction to reading my blog. But it wasn’t. Apparently I had some quite harsh things to say about Les Miserables and they may have lead some deeply hurt individuals to my blog.

First of all, let’s get a few disclaimers out of the way:

1) I know nothing about suicide prevention. If you are really suicidal, please please please immediately go and find someone to talk to. (Then when you’re better, please come back and click a lot of links on my page and laugh and comment about all my jokes)

2) Don’t see Les Mis. Seriously.

3) If stick figure drawings have anything to do with your suicidal thoughts, definitely do not scroll down or anywhere else on this site.

Great, now that we’ve gotten those out of the way, here are some things I’d like you to know:

1) It gets better

The original it gets better campaign may not be directed at you. But that doesn’t matter, it’s still a great message. Someone said it to me just the other day. And only because I was getting old. And it was even while I was feeling really good about myself. So it momentarily made me think that I had been complaining too much. Which I had. But mostly because that’s what I do.

A drawing by Rob Pollak

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Psychologists from a university that I’m about to make up confirmed that it gets better and summarized it in this chart:

A drawing by Rob Pollak Charting Happiness by Age

(Source: University of Ticonderoga Dept. of Psychology and Neuroses)

2) I care about you. A lot.

If you ever need someone to talk to, just let me know (and then sign up for my facebook page). I respond to every comment there, so I would do the same for you. Click “like” and I’ll drive you to school every day. What the hell do I care?

A drawing by Rob Pollak

Many other people care about you as well. It might not feel like it when you’re moping around the house. But trust me, they’re out there. Probably closer than you think:

A drawing by Rob Pollak
A drawing by Rob Pollak

3) You’re beautiful

I’m not going to insult you by drawing a stick figure of you looking beautiful. Not because I’m nice, but because I tried and, well, here, see for yourself:

A drawing by Rob Pollak

Full disclosure – I drew the picture after I wrote that last paragraph. That’s beauty right there. And if I can fall in love with a stick figure (I don’t even like blondes) then you can find someone too. So if that’s what your sad about, just know that this poor girl found love. You may have to try internet dating, but there’s not even a stigma attached to that anymore.

4) Les Mis isn’t really that bad.

I mean it’s bad, but not “I don’t want to be on the same earth as it” bad. Like, Anne Hathaway is pretty good, I guess. And Hugh Jackman is alright (at least until he puts on the fat suit). But you should probably go outside during the times when Borat’s on screen.

5) I have to go now

This list is not meant to be exhaustive It’s just that I have to go. I’ll be back. So if you get freaked out, text me or something. I really want you to stick around.

I love you. Seriously.

The 9 Rules Every Yoga Teacher Should Follow

The 9 rules every yoga teacher should follow by Rob Pollak - Tips for yoga teachers and instructors

Nine simple things that every yoga teacher can do to make class a little bit more awesome.

Rule 1: Pay Attention to me!

Most yoga teachers really like yoga and also happen to be very good at it. These traits, however, do not mean that I’m taking your class to watch you be awesome. If that’s what I was seeking, I’d flip on your youtube channel. Please don’t forget the real, live, disgustingly sweaty people right there behind you. So, goddamnit, pay attention to us!

The best teachers strike a balance between showing off their mad skills and watching students struggle to get the little things right. They use their strength and ability to demonstrate or highlight certain aspects of a pose rather than to show off a one-handed side crow headstand that they’ve been working on in their Super-level 8 goddess class.

If I leave class thinking, “Wow, that teacher was sooo good at yoga,” then something went horribly wrong. I should walk by the treadmills on my way out of the gym thinking, “Wow, I am freaking awesome at yoga. Suck it, runners!”

A Yoga drawing by rob pollak - 9 rules every yoga teacher should follow

Rule 2: Introduce yourself to your students:

Loyal readers of mine will remember that I’m working on introducing myself. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t introduce yourself to me first.

All it takes is a one second conversation in which the teacher comes over and says, “Hey, I’m [insert hippie name]. Have you done yoga before? Any questions? Namaste, bro.” Boom – Instant openness and camaraderie.

However, since we’re preaching mindfulness here, just remember to be mindful of your junk:

Rules every yoga teacher should follow - Rule 2 Introduce yourself.  Tips for yoga teachers by Rob Pollak

3. Ignore Anything You Weren’t Supposed to See.

Look, things happen in yoga classes. Like the time I saw the entire left ball of the guy practicing next to me. Or how every time I jump from a standing fold into a push up, my shirt flies up a little bit, exposing the lower portion of my back (aka the upper portion of my ass). Look, I realize that the teacher is going to see everything that’s going on down there. Maybe he or she will even give it a once or twice over to size me up. Totally cool. There’s just no need to draw attention to the fact that I’ve got a little hair down there. Or that my love handles make twisting poses slightly more difficult.

How about we just agree to keep a few things between us?

In other words, maybe the moment my naked back and partially naked ass are exposed is not the best time for you to do that adjustment. You know the one. It’s when you grab my hips and pull them back or rest your hand on the sweaty small of my back and push with all your might. Yeah, save that for my first down dog. Just before the sweating starts.

I suspect we’ll both be happy with that agreement.

Tips for yoga teachers - Ignore anything you shouldn't see - a drawing by Rob Pollak

4. If you’re gonna Om, Om loudly.

At first, I admittedly did not like chanting “om.” Now, I can tolerate it. Maybe sometimes it’s kind of nice. Oh whatever. You caught me. I like it. So what. This isn’t the place for judgment.

Listen up, teachers: If you’re going to start with an Om, then do so with gusto-mmmm. Trust me, the class will follow your lead. But if you are timid and mousy with your om, then guess what? Your class will be quiet and timid and self-conscious when they holla’ back.

Also — and this is admittedly quite selfish of me — I’m 100 percent tone-deaf, so if you say it loud and say it proud, then I can join in without others noticing that I am the discordant MF’er ruining spiritual bliss.

Tips for yoga teachers - don't acknowledge tone deaf people during Om.  A drawing by Rob Pollak

5. Remember my name and use it.

We’ve already agreed that introductions are key. Well, that’s the easy part. The hard part is remembering those names and then using them throughout class. A deftly timed “Nice job, Bikram,” or “Sweet crow, Baba,” or “Pull your hips back, Tara” really pulls those people into the class.

But surprisingly, even when the teacher refers to someone else by name, I find that I try harder.

I’m all, “I want that too.” “Hey look at me!” “Don’t you think my crow is good?” “I’m trying so hard over here, you guys!”

Even a “whoa, looking a little sweaty, Rob” wins me over. Or, if you want to ignore rule 3, I’ll even take an “I can see a little bit of your ass crack, Rob. Pull up your pants, you disgusting slob.”

Tips for yoga teachers - Remember my name and I'm yours forever - a drawing by Rob Pollak

6. Go easy on the Rumi, okay?

Oh wow, you studied at an Ashram in India! And then you memorized all of Rumi’s quotes? You don’t say! That’s amazing!!! Sincerely.

But you know who doesn’t even know what an Ashram is? Guess who never took English 101 in college and doesn’t understand “quotes”? Oh yeah, that’s right! This guy.

That doesn’t mean you have to give up on Rumi altogether. What it means is that you should feel free to explain things to me. Even the stuff that seem painfully obvious. Because when you say a quote and then say, “well that speaks for itself,” what I’m thinking is “No. That doesn’t speak for itself. I hate this stupid class. I don’t get it. Wah wah wah poor me.”

While I’m thinking that, I’m sitting there nodding my head pretending to look like I have the slightest clue what you’re saying. Then I start thinking, “Damn, I bet she smoked a tonnnnn of a pot in college. That’s so hot.”

Tips for yoga instructors - keep the lessons simple, especially the rumi. A drawing by Rob Pollak

7. Come On, Speak English.

For the first three months I practiced yoga, I mistakenly thought every Sanskrit word meant Savasana. For any non-yoga people reading this, Savasana is a made up word that literally translates to “lie on the floor while thinking about everything you were supposed to do today but didn’t.”

Yoga teachers of America, you know how to fix that problem? Just speak English. We all understand English (except the Latvian woman who sometimes comes to that Vinyasa flow class on Wednesdays), so everyone will be on the same page when you say “Do crow.”

An added benefit: You may avoid that tattoo in Sanskrit. The one you think means, “Peaceful Warrior” but actually means, “judgmental douchebag” Oops!

Tip number 7 for yoga teachers, sanskrit cartoon by rob pollak

8. Be Considerate of Your Diverse Class When Giving Instructions.

So what if your class is usually all hot limber women? I’m here now, and I’d like to feel welcome, too! In order to make everyone feel at home, yoga teachers should give instructions that are mindful of the entirety of the class, not its largest component.

So no more “put this block under your bra strap,” or “you should feel a good stretch in your vagina.”

The bra strap is not an okay reference point - Rules for yoga teachers - a drawing by Rob Pollak

9. Make Class Fun!

This goes without saying, but if I’m having fun, I’m not thinking about how much I hate the teacher for all of the horrible painful things she’s making me do. So make it fun.

One incredibly easy way to make yoga more fun is by sharing this post with everyone you’ve ever met. And then following this blog at www.robpollak.com or on facebook.

The nine rules for yoga teachers - rule 9 make class fun - a drawing by Rob Pollak

(Selfish note:  This also appears at Elephant Journal:  Click the link so they will give me money)