Monday, April 29, 2013

“Namasstee” Yoga in the South

Almost seven years ago, I worked as an Assistant Manager in a large clothing store in the local mall.  For anyone who has ever worked long hours of retail, you know that rest is not usually a luxury one gets to experience while on the clock.  You know that retail is a different form of stress altogether. You know that often you are working while you are not on the clock. You know that even if you happen to be in a clothing store, you will gain a better workout lifting, hanging, sorting, pricing, etc. than you ever possibly could at the local gym.  My endurance was in prime form.  My muscles were beginning to tone.  I was sore all day, all over, all the time.

Someone in passing suggested that I try yoga to balance out my retail issues, and while I do not remember who made the suggestion now, I do remember, quite vividly, my first week doing yoga.  First, I followed a fifteen minute basic flow from a DVD.  I practiced three or four times a week.  My body felt so much better, so quickly that I began practicing yoga more often, and I began lengthening my meditation times at the end of each practice, and soon I was feeling so good that I found myself advocating the miraculous healing aspects of yoga and meditation to anyone who would listen.

I love yoga.  I have faithfully practiced for years and am always eager to talk to people about my practice in the hopes that they too might find the joy and better health that I discovered.  Regretfully, this is rarely the case here in the South.  The concept of yoga, an activity that is now so popular that it can be seen daily on TV commercials, on the internet, and on supposedly “healthy” items found at the grocery, should be one that is easily accessible now to people from all places and all walks of life.  Trust me when I say this…it is not.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, in the South people will look you straight in the eye and say something “nice” that is meant to be demeaning in some way.  I think most people have experienced this at some point.  My own personal taunts usually sound something like this. “You are so cheerful and optimistic every time I see you. You don’t see that all the time.” “I never leave the house without doing my face. Aren’t you lucky you do not have to wear makeup?”  And my favorite spoken in whispers between two women, “She is so small and petite.” “It’s because she doesn’t eat anything and does that yogi stuff you see on TV.” “Yeah, I could never do that.  They chant weird words and mediate.” “We didn’t cover that in church.”

Erm….needless to say, there are some huge misconceptions about yoga in the South.  To be fair there was a time that yoga was a new concept for me as well.  I was not born with the innate knowledge on the meaning of Adho Mukha Svanasana and  Virabhadrasana.  These Sanskrit words were once completely unknown to me as well.  I was unsure how chanting mantras to gods I was only vaguely familiar with would fit into my own deep spiritual beliefs.  Most importantly, remember I tried out yoga for health reasons; I was not convinced that a series of poses would alter my life in any valuable way, but I was willing to try something new.  Thank goodness I gave it a shot.  When I first began yoga, there was no local class to attend. If a person wanted to practice yoga, they had to buy a DVD and practice in the comfort of their own home.  Now, there is a local class that manages to bridge the gap between yoga and the South.  The class is run with lovely classical music playing softly in the background.  Asanas are referred to as poses or good stretches.  The “poses” are called only by their English name, and at no point is there ever any chanting. "Om" does not exist. The hour long class is ended with a nice 5 minute meditation, where the teacher ends the class with a nice anjali mudra “hands brought together below the heart” and Namaste. Namaste, to which our teacher very carefully explains while keeping any deeper meaning out of the equation, “the light in me recognizes the light in you,” is usually met with general befuddled silence.  I giggle through almost every class because almost no one replies.  They are afraid of the word as if it were a black cat crossing a road in front of them while they are driving.  Only once did we have a brave soul, who dared to reply the sacred salutation back to our delightful teacher…and he replied with heartfelt sincerity and a jolly smile, “Namasstee.”

Yoga in its various forms may not ever be accepted fully here in Southern United States, at least not in the more rural areas. I may not ever be able to convince someone that yoga could help their health problems, and I might not ever be able to fully advocate all of the good things that yoga does for a person’s well-being, but in this Southern land full of set-in- stone ideas of religion, misconstrued conceptions of health and a natural aversion to change, it is encouraging to know that there are a few people out there willing to try something new, offer a sincere smile and proudly announce to a room full of people, “Namasstee.”

Monday, April 22, 2013

Vegetarian/Vegan/Virgin What's the Difference?

“Yer hungry all the time, aren’t ya? Man, I just can’t do that.  I gotta have protein.”

“You eat chicken or fish?  They aren't really meat.” 

When I made the decision many years ago to become a complete vegetarian, I had no idea the grief my sustenance preference would cause so many people.  I naively thought that my choice was one that affected only me, as the food that I eat only goes into my body.  I have never liked meat…Really...  Never.  As summertime rolls around and the grills begin firing up, my mouth starts watering at the thought of grilled pineapple, and corn on the cob, cold watermelon…etc…not anywhere in my mind do the standards of cheeseburgers, steaks and chicken wings float around beckoning me to take the big Chomp.  Admittedly, this could be a malfunction on my part, but given this knowledge, I naturally, or so I thought, became a vegetarian.  Over the course of time, since my return here to fertile Southern soil, I have learned how mistaken I truly was to think that my reasoning was mine alone.  Really, I should have asked before I made yet another Southern social blunder.

Above I mentioned a few comments that I have heard so many times that I can’t narrate them down into their individual small stories.  The South is known for its food, and whether its country ham or bacon at breakfast, hamburger or  a bologna sandwich at lunch or pork chops at dinner, the main dish is always a huge hunk of meat. It’s a way of life. The average person eats three meals a day, so that is three times a day, twenty one times a week, one thousand and ninety two times a year when I have to explain that I eat nothing that ever had a face. This concept seems simple to me, “No Food With Faces,” but perhaps not. 

The typical conversation goes a little like this: “Thanks, but I am a vegetarian.  I’ll just have a salad.” “Won’t you be hungry after that?” “No, I will load it up with plenty of greens and fresh fruit. It will be delicious.” “You must be one of them Vegans I heard about. They are pretty weird.” “No, a vegan typically abstains from the use of any animal byproducts that includes dairy products.  I love cheese, so I am not a vegan.” To which I receive a blank stare and a slow, confused sound, “Uh huh,” which tells me that I lost them at animal byproducts.  I consider explaining this in further detail, and then realize that it would be a fruitless attempt. This is followed by uncomfortable silence, and then the person smiles at me in disbelief and says, “You sure you don’t wanna hamburger?”

Then, there are the times when the typical conversation deviates from its usual script into something that is much more embarrassing. There I was standing amongst five of six of my colleagues at a yearly office party when once again the shocking topic of my vegetarianism came up.  After the normal comments filtered through, see above paragraph for reference, the conversation was joined by an outsider who had only heard part of what we were discussing.  He looked at me with earnest Southern gentlemanly manners and asked, “Are you a virgin?” The silence that followed was deafening.  It was clear from the look on his face that he thought he had asked me something quite different and was unaware of his Freudian slip.  My face turned brighter than the San Marzano tomatoes I love so dearly, and the people in the room erupted with laughter.  By the time he had realized his blunder, it was too late.  To his credit, he was trying to ask if I was Vegan, a topic he was truly interested in discussing.  That conversation never occurred, but the accidental slip up gets retold every year at the annual office party.

Moral of this post:  In the South, you do not just become a vegetarian.  It goes against a way of life.  So, if you ever happen to find yourself in that position, do be aware of three things: 1) Everyone assumes you starve yourself to death. 2) You will forever defend that chicken and fish are indeed considered meat. 3) You might get asked if you are a virgin…erm, I meant Vegan. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Location, Location, Location

All children have defining moments in their childhood which shape and develop the adults that they inevitably grow up to be, those moments that either brought them closer to their peers, children of the same age that are grouped with them at daycare, school, church, etc., or separated them from the crowd.  Growing up in a small rural community allowed only these two options for a child.  In or Out.  The rules are simple: follow the crowd, have no opinion that is not pre-approved, go to church so that you will be well informed of the scandals one’s neighbors are involved in, and always soften a nasty comment with a smile and a “God bless their sweet little hearts.”

As you might have guessed, I am very bad at following the rules. Looking in from the outside, you would not think so. I come from a long line of Southern Tradition. My great-grandmother could have been Scarlett O’Hara’s twin sister in beauty, temperamental disposition and an overall opinion on the way things should be at all times.  The women were high and mighty.  The men were all preachers.  I was a perfect candidate to be “In,” and I would have been a perfect Southern Belle if only I had not inherited that other horrific quality that my family possesses - creativity.  Like most in my family, I was born with natural curiosity and a healthy dose of artistic expression. Already tatting and crocheting, reading and tearing through any music I could get my hands on, I began Elementary school as the girl who did the weird stuff.  This continued but was modified to “the weird girl” by the time I made it to high school. 

Then, I made my great escape…to college where I discovered that I was not “the weird girl.” Instead, all of that time, I had been a victim of location.  All around me were people who thought for themselves and were all busy trying to realize their full potential.   During that time I absorbed as much as I could, I traveled and surprisingly, became nostalgic for the simplicity of home.  So, against all comprehensible belief, I moved back to that rural town in the South where my mind had conveniently forgotten that I was “the weird girl.”  Only this time upon my return to being the oddball in a small town, I have discovered that being the one with a different point of view leaves an abundant amount of room for humor and sarcasm in almost every situation.

Just this week as I sat at my work desk, I was informed that I was a “Creative Person” and not very suitable for office work.  Was this an insult to my ability to do my job? Not at all.  This was a perfect example of a good ole Southern Insult.  “Creative Person” translates to “You aren’t really like the rest of us are you,” while the tone implies, “you poor thing. There just does not seem to be anything we can do to make you like us.”

Thank God, the Goddess and all the powers that be.

Perhaps there was a time when comments like this hurt my feelings, but now they only seem to make me smile.  This blog is my way in sharing the humor in differences and how creativity, bless it’s heart, sure can ruffle feathers.

For all of the creative people, perhaps this passage , taken from The Lessons of St. Francis of Assisi by John Michael Talbot,  explains it best:

Too many people tend to think that humanity is divided into two groups - the creative people…and all the rest.  St. Francis of Assisi taught that creativity comes with humanity.  He believed that all of us were created to create. 
Creativity started with God.
“God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”