On paper, a personal revolution fit perfectly between Golden Week and the last day of school before summer vacation. A revolution that fit around real life sounded like the ideal plan, but as de Tocqueville so aptly stated, “In a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end.”
PURE Yoga Hong Kong was offering Baron Baptiste’s ‘40-Day Personal Revolution Programme’ taught by a lovely former snowboarder turned yogi from British Columbia. From the brochure I picked up, the program seemed the perfect combination of structure and flexibility. I rationalized that the six, two-and-a-half-hour Saturday afternoon sessions would nestle in between morning kid activities and evening social obligations without too much family disruption. From a cursory look at the textbook, the rest of the program was pretty flexible, encouraging daily yoga and meditation in increasing durations and a generally healthy but un-prescribed whole foods diet. No problem-o. I got this revolution thing in the bag.
But why launch a revolution at the busiest time of the school year when I was gearing up to leave town for two months with three kids in tow? Well, because I have a disability that it’s high time I address. I’m metaphysically challenged. I’m like the black sheep of the new age world. Not that I really know anything about it, but when I talk with people who do, I get the sense that I have a rather disagreeable metaphysical composition. I’m a Virgo, numerology 8, and a 9 on the Enneagram. Put those all together and you get an organized peacemaker with visions of grandeur. Time to get to the bottom of this personal narrative, and what better than a disciplined program of physical and mental growth to cap off another season in Hong Kong?
Ironically, I missed the first Saturday class on “Presence” because I was having my energy rebalanced at a swanky wellness retreat with my husband in Hua Hin, Thailand. I know, so cliché, but the trip had been planned for a while, and as I said, I was fitting revolution in AROUND my regular life. I read the first hundred pages of the book, donned my new citrine bracelet to balance my solar plexus chakra and headed back to Hong Kong for week one of my revolution. Our marching orders were simply to “be” where we are. The twelve “Laws of Transformation” prescribed by Baptiste provided the framework for excavating our best essential selves. I was on my way to revolution.
I rocked the first week. Five minutes of mediation twice a day? Check. Twenty minutes of yoga daily? I did more. Mindful eating? I mulled over every morsel. Revolution? No problem.
When I finally joined my fellow revolutionaries at the start of week two, “Vitality,” I was surprised to walk into the room and see sixty unfamiliar faces. Sounds strange, but despite the high density living, the chain yoga set is an insular little group in Hong Kong and can feel downright provincial at times. Never one to miss an opportunity to meet someone with a good story, I was pleasantly surprised with the potential that surrounded me. My fellow revolutionaries were similarly bursting with self-awareness and healthy habits on their own personal voyages. As I sat listening to each and every one of them share the details of their week, I had my first lesson in patience and presence, but I was actually surprised by how charming it was. We made an agreement that information shared in the studio would stay there, so I will respect that and not tell any stories unrelated to my own experience, but suffice it to say that in competitive Hong Kong, the athletic yoga component was generally easier for folks than the quiet meditation.
The class assistant passed out a nifty matrix each week on which we were encouraged to record our mediation minutes, every morsel we consumed and our yoga practice. Being goal oriented, I found this sheet to be entirely motivating and was often the sole reason I would sit in meditation some evenings instead of diving straight into bed. It worked, but as days passed I began to feel that I was missing the point.
The jump from five to ten minutes of mediation that week was huge. I can do just about anything for five minutes. A few long deep breaths and some exercises to notice thoughts without reacting to them, and the timer sounded before I knew it. But ten minutes requires an actual practice and discipline that I just didn’t have in my conscious bag of tricks. Despite my mother being a meditation teacher, I’ve never been able to do it well. As soon as I sat that week, I was transfixed by the image of each thought as an enormous fish caught on the line as it thrashed itself to submission in its attempt at liberation. “Get off. Seriously, go! Get off, get off, get OFF!” I would implore my fishy thoughts to leave, but the more I battled, the more they stayed on the line. Ten minutes of this battling felt interminable, but would eventually pass and I’d finish feeling more relieved to be back on shore than enlightened.
I’ve been practicing yoga for fifteen years and, after living in Santa Monica for more than a decade, healthy eating has become so ingrained that neither of these elements of the program presented a big challenge. Getting to Central for the daily yoga class was the only tricky part, but on days that I didn’t make it to class I found the YogaGlow website to be useful. There I could take classes from global favorites like Amy Ipoliti in the comfort of my own room and for the duration I had available. Gotta love the Internet!
Rounding the corner into week three, “Equanimity,” I was hitting my stride and feeling really great. We learned some new meditation techniques to try at home, and talked about Baptiste’s principles for stepping to the edge. Sitting knee to knee with the person sitting next to us in the room, we had to share about our week. We were asked to pay particular attention to our intuition this week and to let it guide our actions. Bingo, that solar plexus chakra thing was all about listening to intuition, so this would be the week it all came together for me. Right? Sure.
The meditation increased to fifteen minutes in week three and I was surprised that something clicked and I was getting it. I actually had a few of those buzzy moments where the top of my head was electrified without a specific thought in mind. Could it be that I just fell asleep momentarily or was I really meditating? I was never able to discern the difference between the two, but I got a feeling that’s what it feels like when you do it right.
My oldest son was initially surprisingly uncomfortable with the idea of me meditating, and even walked in on me one time with the same shocked expression as if I were doing that other thing kids walk in on in the bedroom. But modeling positive behavior is a parenting fundamental, so I did it anyway and was rewarded with two sweet moments that week.
My five year old, who has an uncanny psychic connection to my biorhythms, opens his eyes in the morning at precisely the same time I do each day (5:25). There’s no getting up before him to meditate. If I’m up, so is he. So one morning I asked if he would join me instead of just wandering about. He sat right down, criss-cross-applesauce, placed his thumb and pointer finger together, turned them to the sky, and, gently resting them on his knees, closed his eyes. We made it for 3 delicious minutes and it was a great meditation. Later that week I told my 12 year old that I was going to my room to mediate and he actually didn’t roll his eyes. Ten or so minutes into my mediation I heard footsteps and something being slid under the door. I was torn. Should I get up and see what it was, or continue for another five minutes first? Well, I tried to stick it out, but curiosity won out and I got up to find a slip of paper from my nine-year-old little girl that said, “Mom please read to me when your done meditating – “Sidewalk.”” Needless to say, I went right in to read and returned to finish the mediation after she fell asleep.
But as far as “equanimity” went, I was a failure. Wow, there’s something about where you place your attention that can expose a bigger problem and make it worse! Focusing on equanimity made me angrier and more reactive to the mundane injustice of it all. Easy to say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” but being a successful wife and mother of three kids in hectic Hong Kong is precisely about the extent to which the small stuff gets done right.
I paid particular attention to sugar consumption this week and realized that I really don’t eat much. What I do consume is often the result of a gift or gesture. I ate a cinnamon roll that a friend had carefully selected just for the occasion of our lovely breakfast, and I enjoyed it because I enjoy her and the fact that she invited me over to her home. Baptiste calls these wholesome foods and acknowledges the role they play in our lives. I like that about his philosophy and believe it whole-heartedly.
Which is why I approached week four, “Restoration” with not a little trepidation. The one red flag in an otherwise solid program was a random three-day fruit cleanse that was neither medically substantiated nor even well laid out in the book. Basically we were told to pick any three days within the week and eat only fruit. We were reminded that avocados and tomatoes count and encouraged to be good to ourselves this week, but still show up for yoga.
Having worked for a nutrition company in an office full of nutrition scientists for a few years, I have strong feelings about detox/clense diets and I generally don’t believe in them. Still, I didn’t want to be the party pooper of the revolution, so I decided to embrace a modified version by cutting out wheat, dairy, meat, and alcohol from my diet for the three days. I ate primarily raw vegetables, fruit and the occasional Ryvita cracker, but found my stomach was in knots and I didn’t really feel very well. I felt even worse when I spoke with a fellow revolutionary in the locker room who claimed to have subsisted on coconut water alone for all three days. That class meeting our facilitator asked us to think about intuition and how we’d used our intuition that week. I wanted to scream that my intuition told me that eating only fruit for three days was a stupid thing to do, but I kept my mouth shut and privately reasoned that at this point I’ve pretty much figured out what my body needs to be fed and I shouldn’t mess with it.
Still, I had a really powerful week. A month into daily yoga practice and I was really strong. The point on my lower back that is always a little tweaked stopped bothering me and I was able to stand up from wheel pose. I held my handstands longer and joyfully popped in and out of headstand and crow with little effort. A classmate who runs a juice detox company gave me a green drink sample that included spirulina and I felt like I had consumed a double espresso all day. I think I’ve discovered the wonder food for me, and it’s algae, not caffeine.
But things went downhill from there. By week five, “Centering,” my revolution was in tatters. We were supposed to be meditating 25 minutes twice a day, introducing minerals into our diets and practicing daily yoga for an hour. I had a date with my husband, a fiftieth birthday party and a farewell for dear friends, which meant three nights of indulgence instead of piety. How was I supposed to have a revolution with such a busy social schedule?
That week I tried to go to yoga, but I’d maxed out my class allotment for the month, so I would have to pay extra. Since I was already there that day, I reluctantly paid for the only class available at that time. Hot yoga. In June. In Hong Kong. The smell when I walked in the 105-degree room was nauseating. Even before the first asana, sweat poured from the men like a summer storm. The foul common mat beneath my feet stunk, and my feet slid every time I tried for down dog. Compounding the humiliation, I found after my shower that I had forgotten to take a bra and underwear and ended up in a taxi in my little sundress with about an inch of fabric to spare between my root chakra and the gross plastic taxi seat.
My meditation was equally cursed. I never watch TV, but on the rare occasion that my husband goes on a business trip, I catch up on Glee. I know, strange choice, but having grown up in a family of high school music teachers, Glee is my own personal history re-write, where being in show choir is the hottest game in town. Anyway, in the national competition, the Glee cast sings Meatloaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” Never in the history of music has a tune so insidiously worked it’s way into a brain to the point that even my subconscious can’t keep it at bay in a fraught filled meditation. “So now I’m praying for the end of time, so hurry up man arrive!” relentlessly repeated, over and over as visions of Greek Week at college came flooding in along with it. I had to quit the meditation or go mad, and the harder I tried to expel it, the tighter it’s grip. I gave up.
By Thursday I had eaten everything bad in sight and I was about to write off my revolution completely. That morning I had an hour to spare before my youngest’s pre-school concert and I could have switched on YogaGlow and checked that box on my revolution matrix. Instead, I instinctively grabbed my running shoes and headed out the door to do the one thing that always works to settle my mind and increase my confidence. I went for a run. On my regular loop along the South China Sea, I listened to my Telluride Bluegrass play list and I felt clarity seeping into my pores with the breath. As Mumford and Son’s inspirational “Awake My Soul” rang in my ears, I finally saw the way to do the two things I had pledged to accomplish at the start of the 40 days. I crystallized my vision for expanding my women’s hiking group and, if you are reading this and you aren’t related to me, I achieved my second goal too.
I arrived at week 6, “Celebrating,” and shared my story. I found connection, empathy and support from those familiar faces who were now friends. One of our mediations was to sit knee to knee with the person next to us and to stare into his or her eyes without looking away for four minutes. There was uncomfortable laughter in the room, but not from me. My partner was nervous, but I held her there in the space and she settled into it. We connected and I felt good. My yoga practice was strong too. I left that final class feeling confident and centered, went home to kiss my kids, shower and head out to a friend’s house for a BBQ where we ate meat, sugar, carbohydrates, dairy and wine until the wee hours of the morning. What’s a revolution without a dissenter?
So, on the final morning of my revolution, I didn’t meditate, but I did make it to yoga and, as I finish off a homemade coconut chocolate chip cookie, I can picture the revolutionaries shaking their heads at my lack of discipline and self-control. Was my revolution a success or a failure? Depends on how you look at it. I suppose the thing about revolutions is that you just can’t plan how they’ll turn out. Most real revolutions aren’t planned, they are sparked, and that’s just what happened to me on that run. Whether or not the program precipitated that spark I’ll never know, but I suspect it did. As Che Guevara said, “The Revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall.” I prefer to pick apples rather than aggressively agitating to make them fall, but the sentiment is there, and as I fix my gaze and raise my arms to the sky in tree pose, my foundation feels a lot steadier now.