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Did you ever walk into a yoga class and have the teacher ask you your political affiliation, ethnicity or to which god(s) you pray? Of course not! (If you answered yes, please find another place to practice, unless is was contextually appropriate.)

 

Teaching yoga and meditation allows for expansion in ways that do not require definitions, yet we apply language to communicate, movement to experience and silence to absorb. There’s no talk of political, religious or socio-economic status while on the mat, there’s just spirit. (Discursive mind chatter may draw these things in, but this is part of the work.)

 

Working to dissolve duality in an inherently dualistic world is challenging, especially during an election cycle. Politics are, by nature, partitioning. I practice daily to work at the level of interconnectedness and yet, I fall deep into the divide created by our politics. Sometimes I am able to tap into the oneness, but often fail to meet the mark as emotions are stirred and fear dons its many masks.

 

There are many opportunities in our practice to embrace all beings. Upeksha is the Sanskrit word for equanimity, not holding any being above or below another; letting go.

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I’m finding myself getting stuck at Upeksha when I think of Donald Trump. And, I know from friends, some who support him and others who were staunchly for Bernie, that they feel the same way about Hillary. Every election is divisive, but this one seems dangerously disruptive on a whole new scale. It has ignited a fire in my heart that seems to be raging out of control. It began as a flicker of amusement and quickly spread to my base emotions. I actually feel angry when I see his image, hear his voice or encounter attempts to humanize him. Yet, as a Bernie Sanders fan, I was easily able to switch gears to refine and soften my media-driven view of Hillary, through thoughtful research and fact-finding.

 

What would happen if I spent the same effort to personalize Trump and actually found something to which I could tether my anger? Who would I be if I could see him reflected in the basic goodness with which we are all born? What would happen to my reaction to the hate-filled sound-bytes for which he and his supporters are so well known? Would any of this change the landscape of bigotry and fear he inspires? If it were to change me, how could I still fight injustice with the passion and courage of my principles and values?

 

I am a teacher but in so many ways I am a student crying out for a guide to light the way.

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Occasionally, I’ll see posts from colleagues who are speaking from their yoga-informed hearts, working hard to be direct and clear without compromising their integrity. As long as our words are being seen by others, we will always run the risk of criticism or offense. How do we act from the source of our highest vibrations while standing firm in our convictions? Can one have convictions within a non-dualistic landscape? Is it possible to be an activist and live the sacred tenets of yoga? So many questions.

 

This is where I seek out my teachers’ unsolicited voices, yet many seem silent. Do we equate silence with peace, wisdom, enlightenment? We have a wonderful opportunity to teach and learn how to live our yoga, off the mat, during heated times, but we need maps and navigators. We can’t allow fear to keep us from making mistakes or speaking our truth.

 

I had a theatre director years ago who once said, “If you’re going to make a mistake, make it loud enough for all to hear.” I was recently called out on my FB page, by a fellow yoga teacher, after I posted my intention to elevate the political conversation from a place of peace and love, while almost immediately descending to name-calling and word-baiting. She courageously used her informed voice and gentle tone to challenge me. I accepted the challenge.

 

Caught in the emotional riptide of what I saw as hypocrisy, she led me to the reasonable threshold of starting where we agreed and worked from there. Rather than allowing my bruised ego to take the lead (and it was bruised), I decided to engage with her and ended up learning a great deal about myself. She didn’t shut me down, she offered me the gifts of introspection and insight. So, rather than create unrealistic expectations of myself as a yoga teacher and human being, I embrace my contradictions and hope, with time and practice, to find my truest rhythm.  As teachers and students (which we all are), we cannot be afraid to fuck up. Fucking up for all to see is a path to accountability. I am grateful to her for showing up when I needed a teacher.

 

By speaking up without talking down to me, she helped me widen the aperture of understanding.

 

Politics require us to choose a side. Often our choices are clear as they mesh with our ideals and values. Sometimes it’s a tougher call. Either way, we are necessarily separating ourselves from those with different views.

 

In yoga, we get to work at the level of unity; we talk about impermanence, connection to each other and our planet, trusting the universe, being where we are and meeting ourselves there. When I walk into the studio, all of the lines that divide us dissolve into love. How do I take that with me when I leave?

 

How can we participate in our great democracy and be true to ourselves—fierce, mild, chatty, taciturn, peaceful, assertive, loud, quiet, short, tall, young, old, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Northern, Southern, Eastern, Western, Republican, Democrat? Within these characterizations lies a deeper truth that can surface if we know how to rise above these sandy lines.

 

I ask my teachers who are further along the path to speak up and lead by example. In the tools of our yoga practice—articulating through language, moving our bodies and discovering the silence in the spaces in between—there is an opening for deeper understanding, expression and experience.

It’s up to us. We must not be silent. I ask that you please pass your hard-earned wisdom on; we need to hear from you!

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I’m chatty by nature.

When I was in fourth grade, my morning mantra was, “I’m not going to talk today, I’m not going to talk today, …”  By the time I got to school, that mantra evaporated into the ether and all of the events since the day before came flooding out.  This chatty trend extended into Junior High School where I was ostracized from the circle of desks in my English class for lack of a location that would silence me.  My desk was moved outside the circle, next to the door.

It’s my nature.

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I not only like to talk, but I love words.  I love finding the right word to describe a feeling that is otherwise indescribable.  I love the poetry of the world around me and must share it in various ways.  Reading, writing, acting (early in my life), teaching, sharing ideas, experiences and perceptions all factor into a passion for expression which continues to evolve.

 

A couple of years ago, I went on my first silent retreat and LOVED it!  It had a profound effect on my nature, reminding me that silence is the other side of the chatty coin.  My meditation practice teaches me that in small daily doses, but three days of silent communication, softened my voice and opened my ears.  The discipline of being silent yielded to the art of listening revealing a nature long ignored.      IMG_1013

 

Like all insights resulting from an intentional experience, they fade and require periodic booster shots to remain potent.  The Universe has many ways to administer said shots and not all are our choice.

Nearly a week ago I was silenced, not intentionally, but by a raging sore throat unlike anything I’ve ever experienced (and I’ve known my share of sore throats).  Red and swollen, swallowing became torturous and sleep, a dream.  Expecting the normal remedies to work (gargling with salt water, local honey, warm honey & lemon water, chicken soup, neti pot, etc.), I endured.  Four days later, I succumbed and went to the doctor.  A cursory examination left me with a prescription for Amoxicillin and no definitive diagnosis.  More than 48 hours after my first dose, my relief is minimal but gratitude is rising around me.

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Unable to meet my calendar commitments, including teaching yoga (one of the absolute joys of my life) and caring for my children (another absolute joy), I was forced inside literally and figuratively.  The message was clear ~ slow down.  But how?  It’s not just my list that needs tending.  Striking a daily balance is challenging; my pendulum tends to swing in extremes throughout the day in order to get everything taken care of; when it’s all done and day has morphed into night, it barely swings in my appeal to chill out.  Somewhere in between is a balance resembling the Holy Grail (and just as elusive).

 

Here is a glimpse of the power of being silenced:

  • Moments when I might raise my voice are tempered by my pain.
  • Moments I might speak over others to make my point come second to listening first.
  • Moments of creativity flow through my fingers rather than the vibrations of my voice.
  • Moments I think of as monumental must-do’s are not so big when viewed through the lens of honoring my body.
  • Moments previously focused on the computer turn to well-needed rest & connection.
  • Moments of conversation use fewer words.
  • Moments of hugging loved ones are never overrated!
  • Moments are life’s beads and gratitude is the cord upon which they are strung.

So much more has been logged in my storehouse of memory and meaning than listed here.   Knowing that these bullet points will soon fade into memory as my voice returns, I take this moment to ponder.  Perhaps these are not just bullet points but mantras to practice with to balance my excessive Vissudha Chakra (throat chakra).

That the discomfort is another way to wake up to here and now is not lost on me.  While I hope the pain subsides soon, I sit in the muck of now knowing its impermanence is what I must remember to fully take this seat.  I won’t pretend that it’s easy, only that it is.

I bow deeply to the unseen forces that work on my behalf, reminding me to pay attention and do the work.  Being silenced does not feel so much like losing my voice, but recognizing its power and accepting my nature as part of the ebb & flow.  Identifying as chatty is accurate, but it is equally true that I embrace the quiet space between words.

It’s my nature.

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Did you ever notice that as soon as you are sure about something, any critical thinking or discernment to the contrary no longer exists?  Once that sense of permanence becomes foreground, it is much easier to fall into a self-righteous stance.  Where then, is the opportunity for growth or innovation?

I say this because I have fallen into this trap and hope, through practice, to find and hold the space for unexpected breakthroughs so that I may continue to grow.

Practicing yoga has been a portal into the depths of possibility, a platform for inquiry, a place to discover and gather the tools necessary to shift with changes as they occur.  The notion of impermanence gives rise to this conversation that is often camouflaged by the illusion that there is a correct, unchanging answer that is right for everyone.  Listen to political conversations between different parties (if they’re still even happening) and you can hear heels digging into dirt to hold their ground.  I’ve been there, digging in.

Even in the yoga world there are those who hold to absolute truths.  This practice is, in some ways, a 5,000 year-old game of Whisper Down the Lane.  We know what we know because of our teachers and guides.  How do they know what they know?  And, because we tend to hear and see things as informed by our own experiences, how do we maintain the integrity of the teachings as we pass them on?  Even if we are successful in transmitting what we think is the truth, we cannot possibly control how another person hears, integrates or passes it on.

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If we are students of yoga, and not just asana, how do we reconcile karma and honor the fact that we all view the world through the lenses we created through possibly lifetimes of words, thoughts & actions.  How do we recognize our own places in this practice while honoring others’ whose ideas may differ from ours and replace judgment with curiosity?

 

When I look at the path that brought me to my opinions, I can see that it is not a straight line; it is a winding road with lessons as landmarks.  I’m so grateful for my teachers who remind me to notice when I become rigid so I can begin again by holding the space for myself.

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I was talking with a friend & colleague about doing handstand; after 16 years, I am still struggling with handstand.  My rationalization has been that yoga is not about doing the big poses and that by not being able to do it, I remain humble and focused on the Yoga (as soon as I said this it sounded self-righteous).   My friend, who is proficient in handstand among the myriad teachings & practices, said that for her, it was more about overcoming limitations and feeling the infinite power and possibilities of which we are capable.   Sounds about right!

I needed to hold onto my reasoning more for ego than for the larger learning waiting for me.  As my teaching & practice have evolved, I can see many similar “opinions” that sprang from my ego and have since melted into the larger pool of spirit once my experiences changed.   Things that I tend to hold onto keep me tethered to one spot, while life is soaring in all directions.  There is freedom in letting go, and this includes releasing rigidity of thought.  Some learning arrives in hindsight and others while wallowing.  One day I may float into handstand unassisted and my thoughts will most definitely shift with the feeling of overcoming my own limitations.  I might even feel elated!  If it never happens, there will always be boundaries to break on and off the mat; in body, mind and spirit; there is no hierarchy in our pursuits to ascend.

I am not without my strong opinions; many are the results of careful deliberations and life experiences and some are brewing in the same pot as my politics.  My hope is to keep opening my heart and mind to those with whom I share a different view.  My demon of self-righteousness may rear its ugly head occasionally, but I have it in my sights, ready to dissolve it by remaining vigilant toward more expansive truths.

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Love & Peace from the Path ~

 

 

 

 

 

Recipe for Bliss

You know that feeling you have after a yoga class.  For lack of a more all-inclusive word, we often call it Bliss (or, more specifically, Yoga Bliss).  It’s funny because it doesn’t really matter if it’s a gentle, restorative or vigorous class, or if you are a beginner or advanced practitioner; the result is the same and is wrapped in this blissful blanket.

The idea of taking yoga off the mat is intrinsic to this practice that encourages union in our dualistic world.  That which seems in conflict is often harmony yet to be composed.  While we root ourselves to the earth, connecting and grounding to one source, we float and rise to greet the divine expression of another source; these opposing actions create the space and wholeness for the harmonic, melodic symphony to play.

Thinking about yoga off the mat evokes images of service to others, showing compassion as a daily ritual and meeting challenges (great and small) with wisdom.  I offer, too, that yoga off the mat includes invoking this blissful feeling on demand.  On days when getting to an asana class is not in the cards or you just want to bring that bliss into your life, it is possible!

Several months ago I was driving home, craving a coffee and scone; I happened to be passing our local bakery that makes amazing scones.  The problem was that their scones are enormous and my willpower, questionable.  In that moment, it occurred to me that making my own scones couldn’t be that difficult and I could make them a reasonable size (even two wouldn’t equal one of the bakery’s).  I went home, searched Google for a recipe, added a few extra ingredients of my own and enjoyed warm, delicious scones.  And, my house smelled divine!

All I needed to enjoy this simple treat were the right ingredients.  It seems to me the same is true for anything we want; we just need the right ingredients.

When imagining your recipe for bliss, start with something that creates that condition within you.  For this purpose, I will be using Yoga Asana as the inspiration for this dish.

Following are the ingredients (Elements of Practice), that in proper combination (different for each person), will take you where you wish to go.  You may augment this recipe according to those elements of the practice that nourish you and contribute to your overall sense of well-being.  Add your own; be creative.  There is room in this recipe to improvise.

[Ingredients are in Bold.]

Recipe:

Prep time:  as long as it takes; times may vary

Bake:  at least 5 minutes (though 10+ minutes will add significantly to the bliss)

Preheat your space by setting an intention and dedicating it to a greater good or higher purpose (that could include your higher self); from this point on, Ahimsa (non-harming) should be kneaded into the dough of the bliss we are baking.

Draw your attention to your breath (allow your peripheral awareness to remain active while your razor sharp attention rests on your breath).  Keep the breath long, slow and even in and out through the nose.  Baker’s note:  You can always reconnect with your breath at any time.

Foundation:  make sure you are grounded before moving on.  You can close your eyes and go inside, physically feel the earth beneath you, visualize the color red around your feet or the base of your spine, whatever helps you feel grounded.  Baker’s note:  Like the breath, you can always reestablish foundation if you wander.

Rejoice.

From your grounded place make the choice to be willing to let go of habits, behaviors and attitudes that do not serve you.  It is important to be specific.

Rejoice.

Add equal parts effort & ease to the activities of your day.  The effort will help you progress and move forward while the ease will allow you to surrender to the moment.

Rejoice.

Mix in the understanding that strength and flexibility are partners and should be balanced.

Rejoice.

Cultivate a sense of gratitude.

Rejoice.

Blend (on high) your family and community with a larger sense of connection to all beings.

Rejoice.

Sprinkle with equal parts mindfulness, openness and LOVE.

Rejoice.

Recall your intention, rededicate it and BAKE while in Savasana for at least 5 minutes (see above for baking time).

Option:  Depending on your preference, listening to music or being in silence may increase your capacity for bliss.

Feel the Bliss and pass it on!

Time to Unpack

“One man gathers what another man spills.” – Grateful Dead (St. Stephen)

When I finally get around to clearing the clutter pile that’s been growing in the dining room for months, my breath deepens with the awareness that the space it reveals has been there the whole time!

Leaving a yoga class that ends with a satisfying Sivasana, I feel the same way; space that’s opened inside my body has been there the whole time!  Thank the goddesses for yoga so I can clear my inner piles & blockages regularly!

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself procrastinating around the seasonal bins of clothing that require regular attention.  Kids grow, seasons change and the clothing that has accumulated and gotten passed down from friends and siblings awaits the sorting and re-stowing.   This year, I decided to do it a different way; instead of re-organizing the bins (which, let’s be honest, just become enablers for the clutter & dust of the unseen), I unpacked them and whatever could fit on the closet shelves stayed, the rest got handed down or given away.

The 20 hours’ worth of work for the three kids resulted in easier breathing and the realization that they now all had functional closets rather than storage spaces!  (What 10, 8 or 6 year old needs a storage space?)

Of course, being a yoga practitioner, I immediately inhale the potent metaphor as it infuses a bigger truth on a multitude of levels.  It also brings up questions, that like the bins, require cyclical examination.

Are we honoring our physical containers by organizing the things that nourish us and putting them in places that create space?  Or are we just mobile storage spaces with things to do?  What’s the difference?  Do we hoard sentiment, memory and habitual behaviors like we do items in our lives we expect to use at a later time?  By holding on, can we actually learn the lessons they were laid down to teach us so we can move on?  Is it the item or its meaning which actually serves us?  How can we make the space necessary for moving from understanding to knowing?

These questions may be used as objects for meditation and contemplation if their answers are not obvious or easily accessible.  After all, the answers may lurk beneath a pile of trapped prana (inner breath/life-force).  Yoga Asana is one way to move through the process of unblocking, softening and creating pathways for the prana to flow unobstructed.

There is a cause & effect experience that often happens during asana practice where, sometimes, profound discoveries and “aha” moments occur.  Clearing clutter, physical, emotional, spiritual or habitual, reveals space where new experiences (and those discoveries) can arise.

When unpacking a suitcase after a long journey, there is often dirty laundry, mystery items that at the time may have seemed unforgettable, random pieces of trash, unidentifiable odors and gems collected along the way.  So we unpack, do a load of laundry, sort the mysteries, pitch the trash, air out the bag and save the precious gems.

So it is with unpacking what we accumulate on this life journey.  It takes effort, discernment & detachment to move through this process.

We can honor what we unpack, knowing it’s there for a reason.  The quote above, “One man gathers what another man spills,” can be both literal and figurative.  When we offer up our unused pranic energy, we can imagine taking it to a “Cosmic Dump” where it can transform into pranic mulch.  What is nourished by that recycled energy may be just what another Being needs to move forward on her path.

This clarity could not have come at a better time.

I’m embarking on a 300 hour training next month and am tingling with anticipation.  Typically, I approach trainings, workshops & classes with an unspoken (and often unconscious) intention of being filled up.  For the better part of 14 years, regarding my yoga practice, I’ve been filling my vessel with information, experiences, expectations, memories, opinions, judgments, habits, hopes, dreams and fears.  I am a nomadic Yogini – have mat, will travel!  My heart overflows with love and respect for the path I’ve taken and the direction I’m going.  After all, everything until now has brought me here.

What’s different for this next training adventure is my intention.  I plan to unpack my inner suitcases and live fully in the space of not knowing, created by the act of emptying.  If I continue to empty or fill my container, the poetry of each exchange will be dictated by the moment.

Like the bins, which I procrastinated unloading, this has been long coming.  I smile when I think of the space that already exists beneath my pranic piles and the process that plucks them from their perches.  Curiosity and Beginner’s Mind are amazing guides through empty space and they are awaiting my arrival.

I look forward to running, playing & singing in my empty, energetic, echo-filled pathways – and to later unpack the gems and recycle what no longer serves.

Here’s to nothing and all it implies!

Happy Trails!

The Monkey on the Mat**

We talk a lot about taking our yoga off the mat, as if off-the-mat is any different than on-the-mat.

As a teacher, it is very instructive to witness the various machinations of the mind while bodies are moving in space on the mat.  The curious element, for me, is how during a practice of mindful movement, we can so easily turn off to the bigger picture of mindfulness which requires union of mind and body; in other words, Yoga!

Some people come to Yoga for the physical wellbeing it promises and others for spiritual awakening using the body as the doorway to that light.  Both are happening at any given time for all who take this yogic leap of faith, by the simple act of unrolling their mats.

What happens, sometimes, is that we separate the experiences of life on and off the mat; we expect a certain intentional atmosphere including calm, lilting music, perhaps some soothing aroma or the dulcet tones of an already enlightened teacher who will compassionately guide us to our own version of Nirvana.  If that is the quest, and it is a lovely one, a spa retreat might be the thing you seek (though finding an already enlightened teacher may be a different path on this journey).  I suggest that Yoga practice requires a broader definition of what peace means, which may include a hurdle of discomfort essential to finding that peace.

For a practitioner of Yoga, the challenges include facing yourself, wherever you are, and dealing with whatever circumstances arise.  If you are in your car, driving sanely and mindfully, and the person behind you is riding your tail in an aggressive way, what do you do?  Some might move into harsh language (I’ve been there) or might slow down just to annoy them further; others might pull over to let the car pass or take a deep breath or ten and keep going.  Actually, I’ve experienced each one of these scenarios and find the ones that create change in me a better service than trying to change the driving habits of the other person.  I’m always telling my kids, when they are confronted with seemingly annoying behaviors, that the only person they can change is themselves.

Now, you’re on the mat and the music is not what you expected and is beginning to irritate you or the person next to you smells or makes sounds that distract you from your otherwise peaceful practice.  Is it the teacher’s job to create a level playing field for all to mindlessly and calmly move through their practice?  I don’t think so.  When I was studying meditation at the Shambhala Center in NYC, there were jack-hammers going all day long!  What could we do?  We practiced!

It is my deep feeling that some of the most potent and lasting lessons come from meeting discomfort or agitation head-on.  Pema Chödrön, the esteemed American Buddhist Nun of the Shambhala lineage, teaches to “lean into the sharp points” and to “meditate on whatever provokes resentment.”

Meditation is the key that has the potential to open these locks which prevent us entry to that peaceful feeling we seek.  These locks insulate us from listening to the instruction to notice what arises and truly hear it; they give us permission to maintain the status quo of our habitual reactions; they are roadblocks to moving further on the path.  Adding a regular meditation practice to your asana practice may loosen those locks and allow entry to a more malleable experience in the world.

If Yoga means, “Union,” why would we expect special treatment on the mat?  When we truly meet ourselves where we are, sometimes what we meet does not fit the perfect picture of how we wish to see ourselves.  That’s when the work begins.

** Monkey Mind is a reference to the nature of our minds, which we see more clearly as we sit in meditation.  Thoughts are viewed as branches and the Mind as a Monkey.  The monkey swings from branch to branch much the same way the mind flows from thought to thought.  Through meditation we don’t try to eradicate thought, rather still the mind enough to recognize the nature of thinking and not to get stuck on storylines or outcomes.  We simply recognize a thought, label it “thinking” (without judgment) and return to the breath.

I recently had the privilege of hosting the local Buzz in Bucks team at one of my Friday Beginners classes at the Prancing Peacock.  Click the link to get the Buzz in Bucks!

Hope everyone had a great summer!!

Updates to the site are coming soon!

NOT a Yoga Teacher

I am neither a yoga teacher, nor do I teach yoga.

Don’t get me wrong, I AM a yoga teacher and I DO teach yoga.

Confused?  Me too.  I am constantly curious about this practice, questioning what I know and how to effectively communicate it to a room of 15-30 people at a time.  I make an effort to really see my students and toss them verbal cues, but that is not completely possible for me without getting off the mat.

My goal for my teaching in 2012 is to get off the mat!  In order to do that with purpose and embracing the yoga tenet of Ahimsa (doing no harm), I know what I have to do.  Practice!

If you’ve ever taken my class you might recognize that I am verbally instructive, have fun with the practice, add in some element of the spiritual aspects and play, sometimes, unconventional music (always including at least one Grateful Dead song).  I love teaching; I love my students; I love this practice!  After 13 years of practicing and more than a year of teaching I know one thing for sure; I want to be more than a popular teacher, I want to be a great teacher.

I’ve taken extremely satisfying, even transcendent, classes with teachers who don’t leave their mats.  Some of my favorite teachers inspire me without once setting foot off the mat or assisting me in a pose.  That said, when I take a class with a teacher who walks around instructing, adjusting and assisting, my practice takes on new dimensions and I soar down the path, grounded, without touching the ground.

I’m not a particularly conceptual person so verbal cues don’t always translate specifically to the pose in my body.  While it’s nice to feel good in a pose, sometimes that feeling, if not in alignment, can turn into injury over time.  When a teacher assists or adjusts in the pose, the physical touch creates clarity.  It is this clarity that unifies the body, mind & spirit, propelling us forward in the practice.

That is one simplified explanation of why this is called, “Not a Yoga Teacher.”  The other, possibly more important reason for this title has to do with Titles.  Calling myself a Yoga Teacher is another label I attach to my idea of who I am.  If I am a Yoga Teacher who one day cannot teach yoga for one reason or another, then what am I?  Who am I?

Since I was a small child, I only ever wanted to be an actress.  That title carried me through all the shows, camps, programs, classes and even the acting program at NYU’s TISCH School.  There was a point during my studies in college (though I never admitted it then) when that title no longer fit.  But, I’d worn that badge so long and attached it to my idea of myself with such fervor that it seemed inconceivable that I could be me without it.  I don’t want that to happen with being a yoga teacher.

I am happily treading this path, sometimes moving ahead, sometimes stalled and occasionally veering off to one side or another.  Sound familiar?  This makes me more a student of yoga than a teacher.  I practice living my life guided by the lofty love of yoga, but as a human who is not yet enlightened, I sometimes falter.

So, if you see me in the grocery store disciplining my children in a voice foreign to the sultry timbre heard from my mat, try not to judge or make excuses or think things like, “…and SHE’S a YOGA Teacher!”  SHE’s not a yoga teacher; she’s a person who loves yoga and has the privilege to share it while trying to figure out how to live it completely.

What are you NOT?

Yoga Blossoms

I am so grateful that I found yoga.  Or did yoga find me?  It’s a chicken/egg scenario for sure.

In the early days of my yoga practice I lived in New York City.  Everything I did had that Manhattan flavor and all-encompassing feeling of striving for more.  The space where I practiced (the original Om Yoga location on 14th Street) was a beautiful cross-section of NY life. People from every profession, art culture and Being found their way to this unassuming building that offered a transformational practice.

I only took Basic classes at that time and even then the room was often filled with ex-dancers working to retrieve their bodies from a lifetime of encouraging their limbs into counter-intuitive physical forms.  Athletes, gymnasts and dancers of all styles seemed to  flow formlessly into this alternate expression, taking on the asanas with the ease and aptitude of their former disciplines.  It’s difficult to truly harness the memories of the challenges I faced in my practice back then.  I do remember, however, that even when I felt awkward in my own body I took amazing pleasure and inspiration from watching the diverse expressions in the bodies around me.

I did not approach yoga as an extension of any physical practice, sport or dance background; I came to yoga as a hippie! C’mon people, turn on your heart lights!  Yes, I had a history in the theatre which required that I participate in various dance classes and occasionally perform movements to music and song, but a dancer that does not make.  (I am, however, extremely comfy on a colorfully lit dance floor with a D.J. spinning Jackson 5, Lady Gaga & Madonna and a cocktail somewhere in sight, but that’s another whole blog-to-be.)

While I embrace and love the physical aspects of yoga and indulge in the open-ended box of possibilities of the body, I am equally drawn to the spirit which conceived this practice.  Creating a series of poses designed to allow the body to relax into sitting meditation is brilliant!  A practice that reminds people to open their hearts and minds, not to judge themselves or others, to practice ahimsa (non-violence), to explore the edge of life’s experiences, to honor oneself, is beyond brilliant!

I used to wonder what became of radical youth, or even not-so-radical-youth who attached themselves to a “scene” that may express themselves in an extreme way, as they came into adulthood.  I suppose one may say that following the Grateful Dead and enjoying the occasional Rainbow Gathering would place me smack dab in the middle of that description.  The answer to my progression, while not at its inevitable end, has definitely found a solid yet porous expression on my yoga mat.  It was an effortless transition that did not require leaving myself behind, rather it embraced the wholeness of my self while digging ever deeper into the soil of my soul.  

A large common denominator among the loves of my life including: the Theatre, Grateful Dead, Rainbow and Yoga (those mentioned in this blog), are the people.  My mother always says that it’s the people that make the place, and she’s absolutely right!  It’s about community.  Being around people whose intentions are to connect more fully to themselves, the earth and those around them, realizing that we are all just part of the whole (while being whole all on our own) is a liberating and easy feeling and one that speaks directly to me.

My father used to say that I would have been a very successful actress if I never had to audition.  I laugh now at that truth he saw so long ago.  I was just never very competitive (as long as I’m not playing Scrabble 😉 ).  It is poetic and profound to free-fall into yoga and all of the arteries that stem off the main path.  I get to have fun while doing something good for myself and, by extension, my family and friends (and possibly even strangers) without the pressure of having to compete!  Sure, there are things I’d like to experience along the way, but if they don’t happen then, oh well!  I will keep on practicing and cultivating my inner garden, taking great joy in watching it bloom and grow.

Thank you Yoga!

20th Century Readers

I never thought I’d feel grateful for Barnes & Noble Booksellers.  When they slowly and systematically dug the graves of small chains like Shakespeare & Co., small stores like Endicott Books on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and countless other bookstores across the nation, I was pissed.  I’m not a shopper, but I always loved browsing the aisles and striking up conversations with knowledgable book sellers and customers.

tables of $3 B-books ~ felt like a book graveyard

As the digital world continues its expansion, like a media cancer, it seems possible that the behemoth may someday join its prior victims.  Music, movies, books, magazines, newspapers have all felt the hit of this wireless world.

Hearing the news that Barnes & Noble’s only real rival, Border’s Bookstore, was going under I realized that what I used to jokingly refer to as, “the only game in town,” is now “the last bookstore standing.”

I remember, early on in the first days of the Bookstore Revolution, going to the Barnes & Noble at 81st & Broadway with a list of current titles.  The young sales clerk was not only unhelpful, he was borderline ignorant.  His fruitless efforts to locate ANY of the books on my list tapped into the silent rage that had begun bubbling when my favorite little bookstore, Endicott Booksellers, went under.

[I will digress for a moment to recount this bookstore gem, Endicott Booksellers.  It occupied the same street number as the 81st Street B&N but was on Columbus Avenue.  The wooden floors creaked, the winding staircase to the cellar was narrow & a bit treacherous and the aroma was an ancient mixture of dust, books and breath from the countless humans who treaded their boards.  It was magical every time I went inside, like I was entering a portal to another time when books reigned and the people who sold them knew them, understood them and loved them.]

Back to the day that Barnes & Noble had nothing on my list…

In a moment of frustration I barked at the clerk, “If you’re going to be the ONLY game in town, you really OUGHT to have EVERYTHING!”  His delayed response was that they were not the only game in town.  I huffed back, “Well, I guess you must have missed that meeting because you ARE.”  Following a moment of awkward silence (from his end) as he blinked not knowing what else to say, I’m sure I sighed or something connected to breath and sound before leaving the store without any of my books.  I walked right over to the Used & Rare bookstore down on Amsterdam Avenue a few blocks away (I think it was called, Gryffin or Gryphon Books) to let off my pent up literary steam.  I knew they wouldn’t have the books on my list but I would leave with something to remind me of better book days; and I did.

treasures

I walked home with myriad emotions chomping at the bit to be released.  Change was in the air and I was resistant.  I didn’t want to imagine a world without Mom & Pop Book Shops and knowledgable clerks who knew their way around the evolving literary maze.  I didn’t want ill-informed employees with confused looks on their faces, fearful of having to explore the stacks.  I wanted to be the dumbest person in the room!

Now that era which seems like yesterday is an anachronism.  Change has been sweeping our world at such a competitive rate that I no longer feel the intense tug of resistance when it happens; I often barely notice it happening at all.

Today, however, when I was in our local Barnes & Noble in Bucks County, PA, far from 81st & Broadway, I felt nostalgic.  I was not nostalgic for the scent of dusty books that once haunted my 20th Century sensibilities, rather I was beginning to miss Barnes & Noble and I was standing right in one!  It was a knowledge that one day the bookstore experience will become completely virtual and the sensory experience of book shopping will become a memory.  The clerks in our local branch are extremely bright and know exactly what you want even before you get all the words out.  Not all of the salespeople are like that but enough of them are that they have restored my faith in The Big Game.

All of this said, I recently added Nook & Kindle Apps to my iPad.  I downloaded my first book and am actually really excited to get reading on it!  My hard copy version of “The Fiery Cross” (the 5th book in the Outlander Series) was procured when my husband worked in the book business, so I didn’t feel guilty about double-paying since it was free.  The words in the actual tome are so tiny and the book, nearly 1000 pages, is not so portable.  My 40-something eyes are sure to appreciate the new format and my 20-something self is reconciled to this new world.

So, where am I now?  I still love browsing books first-hand.  I love selecting my next book by how it feels in my hands.  I love being in the community of readers and seekers.  I love bookstores!  If Barnes & Noble is the only game in town and the last store standing, I’ll take it!  I’m grateful to live in a time when bookstores are more than a concept or a memory, but still have value in the brick and mortar world.  I am also grateful for the digital choices that will shape the paradigm for the next generation of readers.  Perhaps it will reveal gifts yet undiscovered as it inspires a love of reading.  That is the point after all.

My mom always told me that if you were reading a book, you always had something to talk about.  My father collected thousands of beautiful antiquarian books which now have been dispersed to other collectors and many to a library in his name.  My image of home is one with shelves lined with books.  My husband and I were talking about clearing some of our clutter and the topic turned to our books, many of which are classics that we always said we’d save for our children. Our children, however, will likely not read books the way we did.  But, I told him, “We are raising the last generation of kids who when they look back on their childhood home will remember it with books!”   More than just having a book to talk about, it looks like the future of books is a topic worth exploring in itself.

What does all of this have to do with yoga?  Maybe not so much regarding the physical asana practice, but it is definitely relevant to dealing with issues of change and being present.  Oh, and not forgetting to breathe!  I could have used a little more of that when I barked at the clerk on 81st Street.  If I had paused and taken the moment to see the big picture, my breath, rather than expressing exasperation, could have informed that moment in a very different way.

To all of my literary-minded friends (high, medium & low-brow ALL), Support Your Local Author in any medium!

Happy Reading & Breathing!

Namaste.

ADDENDUM to 20th CENTURY READER

I just wrote a piece about the path of books and booksellers in the digital world.  It was emotionally inspired, beginning with frustration and becoming acceptance.  (I can’t say it ended with acceptance since I have not yet reached the end of this journey; suffice it say, I am in acceptance at this moment.)

Last night I delved into my Nook book of The Fiery Cross, enlarging the print to accomodate my aging eyeballs.  I had to re-read the first few “pages” several times because I was so distracted by the fact that I was reading a book on my iPad that I wasn’t taking anything in!  I smiled several times at the novelty of it all and at my former narrow field of vision regarding the future of books.

The nighttime light feature allowed me to darken the background while lightening the type, making for an easy & enjoyable read.  I no longer have to worry about keeping my husband awake by keeping my bedside light on since this lovely lighting is subtle and unobtrusive.

The only thing I sort of miss about reading electronically is my method of saving my place.  Since I lived in NYC and used to ride the subway daily, I began using a paper clip to save my space.  It allowed me to be specific about where I ended, without feeling pressured to finish a chapter or section before reaching my station stop.  Admittedly, it’s an insignificant sacrifice.

Count me a 21st Century Reader!

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