Yoga Flow-chart: Is Yoga for you?

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Yoga Flow-chart:  Is Yoga for you?

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35 Life Lessons I Learned before Turning 35

Life Lessons by Rob Pollak

1. There’s no cure for a hangover, but good Lo Mein comes damn close.

A drawing by Rob Pollak - How to cure a hangover:  Lo Mein

2. There are three things that are always worth the money: International travel, excellent food, and Blu Rays.

3. When you make a list of thirty-five things, don’t number the items until you’ve finished the whole list. That way, when you’re editing your list and realize number three is stupid, you don’t have to make up some ridiculous lesson to avoid renumbering the whole thing.

4. No matter how much your parents annoy you, piss you off, yell at you, or tell you that you need to wait before hitting your driver (even though the group in front of you is 400 yards away), they do it because they love you and want the best for you. Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way, but it’s true. Take a step back to see things from their perspective. It may help you appreciate why they do all that annoying shit.

5. When you get good service, tip more than expected. The few extra dollars won’t kill you and will mean a lot to the person who provided the excellent service.

6. Stop being scared. If there’s something you want to do but aren’t doing because you’re scared, suck it up and do it. The only things in life to truly fear are (a) stepping in dog shit, and (b) asking the one question that makes a public speaker take back the claim that “there’s no such thing as a dumb question.”

7. When you find a blog you like (like this one) go out of your way to tell the person (genius) that writes it (me) how great (best thing in the entire world) it is. Share the content with your closest friends (the whole world). You may think you’re being stalkerish (you probably are) by reading something that you think isn’t aimed at you (it probably wasn’t). But if someone took the time to create something and put it on the web, it’s because that person is an attention whore (and he will be happy to hear from you regardless of his initial intent). And attention whores crave lots of attention (from anyone). To be helpful, I drafted a template for you in case you decide to follow my advice:

Dear [ROB],
I know we last spoke at Hebrew camp in 1991, but I have been enjoying your blog since we reconnected when you spammed my facebook page. I especially liked your post about when lawyers can go home. You have an excellent command of logic and the handwriting of an armless nine-year-old blind child. I wish there were more people like you in the world. You also look trimmer than you did when you were 13. Well done! How did you manage to trick a beautiful intelligent woman into marrying you? I never would have expected that from you. I remember a time when you refused to play on the skins team in a shirts vs skins basketball game. Boy were you fat. I wish you well in the future. Here’s a few dollars. Buy yourself something nice. I learned about the importance of tipping from your blog.
Love,
[Mom]

8. Don’t believe anything the Mayans say. They keep predicting the end of the world, but they never get it right. I wish they would just go away already.

9. Anything that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler do together is funny. Women are funny. Deal with it old men. Here’s my favorite:

10. Three things that are never worth it: (a) Holding grudges, (b) extended warranties, and (c) super-sizing your meal.

11. Nothing good ever comes from drinking a beverage with an ä in its name.

A drawing by Rob Pollak

12. Don’t be scared to request the vacation time you’re entitled to at work. Other people will tell you the “right way to go about vacation time.” Those people are assholes. If you’re in a job that doesn’t let you go on vacation, that job is stupid and you’ll burn yourself out. Vacation refreshes you to go back and do a good job. At least for the first 3-4 hours after it ends. Then you need another vacation on the books so you have something to look forward to.

13. Coleslaw is disgusting. Mistrust anyone who likes it. Unless it’s vinegar-based and atop a pulled pork sandwich. Then it’s majestic.

14. Be wary of anyone who likes some combination of the following teams: Lakers, Cowboys, Yankees, and Notre Dame.

15. Stop hating the foods you’ve hated since you were a kid. You might surprise yourself and find out that brussel sprouts are really good now. Most restaurants put bacon in them.

16. After two weeks of pure torture, exercise becomes amazing. If you don’t exercise now, commit for two weeks. Suck it up. Force yourself to do it. Whatever it takes. If at the end of two weeks, you don’t feel the pull to keep it up, then you can stop. But after one day of stopping, at least try to force yourself to do another two weeks. Keep repeating this until you realize how amazing you feel. If you don’t feel amazing after three tries, then stop eating all that fast food, idiot.

17. If you want to be a news anchor, realize that you have to spend years and years reporting from the coastline during natural disasters. Ask yourself: is it worth it?

18. Never set out to make a list of 35 things without thinking it through first. Thirty five is a lot. Even more than you think. By the time you get half way, you’ll probably regret your decision.

19. Have you ever seen a piece of fruit the color of a Maraschino cherry? That’s why you shouldn’t eat them.

20. Have you ever eaten a Maraschino cherry? They’re amazing. Sometimes just trust your instincts even though you know the consequences.

The Maraschino Cherry - Life Lessons by Rob Pollak

21. The Cosby Show holds up better than Seinfeld.

22. Proofread everything on more time than you think you have too.

23. If you do anything because you want other people to think you’re cool, stop doing that thing. That makes you a poser. Do things because you like to do them. That makes you interesting and awesome.

24. Trust your own taste in music, movies, and beer. Even though people will make fun of you for liking 4 non blondes, you still know What’s Up.

25. Resist the urge to Google the answer to every question. Yes, there is an objective answer to the question on Google, but sometimes it’s more fun to just see how it plays out. I know this because I always Google, and everyone hates me.

26. Say “yes” to pretty much any request, especially when it’s something easy like seeing a movie, attending a wedding, or supporting a friend. Your friends will appreciate you, your life experience will increase, and your comfort zone will continue to expand.

27. Make a prank call at least once a year.

A drawing by Rob Pollak

27a.  If you are the recipient of a prank call, laugh it off. No one likes the guy who thinks he’s above a little humor:

28. If a particular food gives you diarrhea, don’t ever eat that food again. No matter how good it tastes (the food, not the diarrhea).

29. Always give directions to those who ask or who look like they might need directions. If you have a few extra minutes, walk them to the destination and pretend you’re a college tour guide.

30. Try meditation. I thought it was stupid for the longest time. It can do amazing things if you give it a chance. If you think it’s stupid, you probably don’t know what it is. It can have nothing to do with religion or spirituality if that’s what you’re scared of.

31. People older than you don’t have it all figured out. They may speak with authority, but they mostly make it up just like you do. Most of them are full of shit. That said, listen to their advice. There’s a lot of wisdom in that shit.

32. The following things are fake: (a) emails from Nigerian princes, (b) the four hour work week, (c) Lance Armstrong, and (d) those funny autocorrects you read about on the internet.

A drawing by Rob Pollak

33. Ignore the instructions on everything except crazy glue, hot sauce, and power tools.

34. If you can run three miles, you can run six miles. You may not think you can, and it may be painful and miserable, but you can 100 percent do it.

35. No matter how wise it seems, don’t trust any advice you get from the Internet.

(Note – This also appears on Elephant Journal.  If you made it all the way down here, you might as well click this link and then follow me on Facebook!)

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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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.

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