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!

practically perfect

Why do we do Yoga?  For each person who practices there is likely to be a different answer.  I know why I went for the first class; my friend Katrina made me feel like I’d be missing something if I didn’t go.  Why did I go back?  I’m not sure exactly, except that it had to do with a feeling.  In hindsight this feeling embodied a limitless sense of possibility and pure joy.

In the years since that first class, I’ve experienced many feelings, some that evoke that initial whiff of the infinite and others that run the gamut from elation to frustration.  It is that first feeling, however, that lives in my bones and had hooked me from the start, sustaining me through my life on the mat.

Lately, a shift occurred on my mat in my approach to my practice.  I’ve been almost distracted by “perfecting” my alignment, whatever that means, so that I may discover something previously hidden by habitual pattern.  Deepening my practice on the physical level, so I might have the feeling of flight that some of the poses seem to promise, became my prime directive.  This new feeling that is no less inspiring to my purpose, ironically, is happening during physical distress in my body that is imposing its own limitations.

Last week I was reacquainted with a part of myself I didn’t realize was lost.  I went to Beth’s class; Beth, whose voice softly echoes the kernels of my better self.  Her lilting tones reflect a love so deep I dare anyone not to be affected in her presence.  Her authenticity and depth of feeling reached out from her heart and grabbed me by mine and shook it just enough to wake me up.  I was jolted by a physical memory of that first feeling and smiled.  I am grateful for every waking moment!

While alignment is essential to good form, progress and keeping the body safer from injury, it is only part of the picture.  With practice, the alignment integrates itself and becomes as effortless as the breathing we do on the mat.  Tapping beginner’s mind with every breath brings mindfulness to the otherwise second nature intuition of the body.

I have found that seeking out different voices born from different experiences on the mat, creates a wholeness in my practice that keeps me fresh.  I don’t have to choose alignment over the spirit of the practice; they are each part of the same whole and to be honored with intention and integrity.

If, on your journey, you catch a bit of that feeling, don’t trade it for the perfect pose.  There is a way to enjoy both experiences without forsaking either one!

CAYA Yoga ~ Come As You Are

To begin with a total oversimplification, here is a sample of some of the styles of yoga we enjoy today:

Anusara, heart-based/alignment-focused yoga (John Friend)

Ashtanga, power yoga (K. Pattabhi Jois)

Bikram, hot yoga (Bikram Choudhury)

Iyengar, detail/alignment-based (B.K.S. Iyengar)

Kundalini, releases Kundalini energy (Yogi Bhajan)

Viniyoga (Vinyasa), connecting breath with movement (Sri T. Krishnamacharya–teacher of Iyengar & Jois, and father of T.K.V. Desikachar)

Got it?  (There are many other styles, including Jivamukti that seems to be a blend of many–as are many others, but you get the point)  There’s something for everyone.

As many styles of yoga there are, there are as may ways to practice.  Some yogi(ni)s are purest, when they find a style they love, that’s it.  Others go through phases where different styles speak to them at different times in their lives.  Others studio and style-hop, finding that the ever-present lightbulb illuminates with certain teachers and not necessarily a specific style.  Perhaps your practice style is not reflected in these reduced descriptions; I’d love to hear what makes your yoga tick.

The lightbulb started flickering for me today when I realized what to call my form of yoga:  CAYA Yoga™ ~ Come As You Are Yoga™.  Characterized by its intention to serve the individual as seen as part of the whole, CAYA Yoga™ touches something different in each person while honoring that sacred space that binds us all.  Then I realized that’s what Yoga, in general, is all about!  It’s ALL CAYA Yoga™!  Whew!  What a relief!

CAYA Yoga™ does not have a studio or structure out which it is disseminated, rather it is the yoga you take with you when you step onto your mat to practice whatever style calls you!  Perhaps the distinction is that a sense of humor is required if you’re going to call your style CAYA Yoga™.

Approach your practice with a light heart and an inner smile. That is my one proprietary rule.  Otherwise, just Come As You Are!

ps.  Adding the was my way of having fun with the, sometimes, proprietary nature/language of yoga today. None of these thoughts are original, I just express them in my words. Yoga belongs to the world, I’m just happy to be part of the world that enjoys yoga!

Namaste!

Real Yoga Housewives ~ It’s not all OMs & Namastes

Just for fun, here's Bethenny Frankel, former Real Housewife NYC, in Side Crow @ Yogamaya in NYC (My friend Stacey's Studio)

Okay, so I watch the Real Housewives series with alternating giggles and shakes of my head.  I am intrigued, disgusted, amused and often rapt by these post-modern personalities.  The pendulum swings between extremes that are more typical on reality television than in reality, itself.  It is the voyeuristic, passive view, distanced by the medium of television, that sets my heart racing and oh so grateful for my life as it is.

I love how shows like these tap into the unexpected in people.  Well, maybe I should rephrase that.  I love how unexpected people tap into these shows.  (Sort of like my 30+ year addiction to General Hospital – or as I call it, my residence in Port Charles – often elicits gasps or giggles from people who know me.)

There are no secrets on Facebook, so I got to gasp and giggle when I saw that many of my Yogi(ni) friends were present among the droves who “Like” certain Housewives.  There’s divine poetry in a Universe that Yokes seemingly disparate aspects into something whole.  Isn’t that the definition of Yoga?

As I delve deeper into this bottomless (and dare I say topless) practice, I am awed by everyday examples of off-the-mat yoga.  Profound, sometimes, in its ameba-like simplicity and other times challenging in its utter complexity, the Yoga pendulum swings freely with an open invitation to take the ride or observe it with wakeful eyeballs.

The challenges I face in my asana practice off the mat are largely logistic.  I am often torn between a visceral desire (and need) to be ever present for my children and husband and charging toward the divine finger that beacons me toward a different bliss.  Remaining present with each choice is as much a part of the practice as perfecting my downward dog or learning to effortlessly float and invert.

I want to include my family on this amazing journey.  I want my children to feel a certain non-attached ownership with yoga and not see it as the reason mommy wasn’t around for hours at a time.  I want my husband to experience the openings, discoveries and overall magic of this practice for himself and not just take my word for it.  Looking at this paragraph, I see a lot of statements that start with, “I want.”  I’m not exactly attached to the outcome of these desires, but would love to see them play out nonetheless.  After all, it’s just yoga.

Following my bliss (thank you for the language Joseph Campbell), I must also adhere to  the cardinal rule of Ahimsa, doing no harm, to my family or else it’s really all in vain.  The tight rope is shrinking and challenging my balance with every choice I make.  This is also yoga!

A Real Housewives show featuring Yoga Housewives is one I hope is never produced for the masses.  The idea of this show, however, is one at least worth examining both from the perspective of the Yogini Housewife, as well as, that of her family who are directly affected by her treading this path.

Conflict and coping are part of life.  Yoga is a beautiful context within which to figure it all out, or just be okay with not knowing a thing!

A couple of end notes:

The following clip would suggest a yoga seed growing in the RH franchise:  LINK TO YOGA IN RH NYC

Check out Yogamaya when you’re in Manhattan!

Yoga Highlights, Hair & Hippie, Hippy Namaskar!

It’s been a while since I’ve written here.  When I’m smack dab in the eye of a creative storm, inspiration for writing becomes that elusive shiny thing gleaming ever in the background waiting patiently for the storm to pass.

This recent respite began around the time I took the Seane Corn workshop at Yogaphoria.  

I was just beginning to re-enter my body after months of sciatic/SI joint discomfort which often left me at my most limited range of motion.  Thankful for balance, these physical limitations yielded to a broader & deeper spiritual response.  By the time I got to my mat, I was ready to revisit my edge.

Excited to take my body and mind to unexpected places – and sharing the experience with some of my favorite yogi(ni)s while meeting new friends – my anticipation met the reality with wonder and love.  I was not disappointed.

Seane Corn, in addition to humoring my need for “the hair” shot, enhanced my personal practice while informing my newly developing “teacher’s mind.”  Seane tapped into something much bigger than the individual, while bringing the work right back to the mat.  We practiced asana in her beautifully specific style, detoxed our bodies while redirecting our thoughts, stepped in and out of various shadows and returned to the light.

Thank you, Melanie, for inviting bright stars into our universe, creating a most unique and formidable constellation under which we can all practice, contemplate and grow.  Your bright light casts its glow wide enough to warm us all!

Still riding the incredible wave generated by that weekend, I hurled myself into planning for the two classes I was to teach to complete my teacher training program.*

Noticing that my back issues were in part due to tight hips, I decided to design a double sequence called, “Hippie Hippy Namaskar,” complete with groovy tunes.  As the Surya Namaskars greet and salute the sun, these series would do the same for our hips and our inner hippies.  (I think only one person fled the room to challenge authority and protest in the streets;-).

While I love the chants and verses that are often the soundtrack to a yoga class, I felt that a compilation of some of my favorite classic rock songs would be more appropriate to the theme.  The first class was a diverse playlist including the Grateful Dead, The Beatles, John Lennon, Cat Stevens, Janis Joplin, The Rolling Stones, Joni Mitchell and CSNY.  The second class, but for the first song which was the Grateful Dead, was entirely Beatles.  There’s something about snuggling close to your edge while hearing Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds that is strangely satisfying.

The outpouring of love was amazing!  Friends filled the studio for both classes, adding that extra cushion of support that carried me through to Sivasana.

The songs I find myself gravitating toward for Sivasana all have references to death.  This seems poetic to me since Sivasana is Corpse Pose.  What a gift it is to have regular practice for this Final Pose, knowing that it is just a rehearsal.  And hey, a melodic reminder is only that, a reminder set to music.

I have so much still to process from those first two classes as I embark on imagining future classes.  Perhaps this examination will show up in the next blog.  So, stay tuned…

*  I am so grateful to have a number of wonderful yoga studios to embrace.  I’ve said it before, but when I left NYC I was convinced that was the end to the standard of quality to which I had become accustomed.  I am happy to say how wrong I was!  In the nine years we’ve lived in Bucks County, the yoga world has exploded with amazing and various teachers, styles and studios.  You know who you are!  (Prancing Peacock, Yogaphoria, Yogasphere, YogaLove, Dig Yoga).   If I’m missing any, please leave a comment with your favorite!  Inclusion and diversity is what serves me and I hope you are nourished as much by the numerous offerings!!

I must mention Liz from the Prancing Peacock and thank her for meeting me where I am, allowing me to even entertain the idea of teaching this awesome practice!  You are a most generous “River Guide.”  😉

Namaste!

Bon Om!

What does French cooking have to do with Yoga?

When the movie “Julie & Julia” was in the theaters, I dragged my husband to see it.  Every so often he would nudge me or squeeze my hand in those moments when he recognized some idiosyncratic similarity between Julie and me.

The movie touched on some of my favorite things:  Writing, cooking, storytelling, eating & biography were the main entrees.  Besides being backdropped by my favorite city, I was skewered by the wonderful aromas and flavors the juxtaposing stories evoked.  Each story was seasoned by the telling of the other.

While I love to cook, I am admittedly more of a “mad scientist” kind of cook than a recipe-following chef.  Among the many jobs I’ve held, working at the Fancy Food Show was responsible for some of my favorite “rocking chair story” memories.  I worked at one in Washington, DC, where I saw Julia Child in a group of three, standing at the top of the escalators, deep in conversation.  My connection to her, then, was the Dan Aykroyd sketch on Saturday Night Live and disjointed blurbs from her television show.  But, looking at her in her small group, she not only loomed over the other two, she was larger than life.

“Who’s your vote for Yoga’s Julia Child?” I asked on my Facebook page.  Excited to get a conversation rolling, I was hoping for a snowball effect of votes.  One beautiful vote came in, but the polls are not closed…yet.

I had an epiphany when I posted this question.  Julia Child brought the otherwise inaccessible art of French cooking to masses of American households.  And now here comes the connection:  Lilias Folan did the same thing with Yoga.  Her 1972 PBS TV show, “Lilias! Yoga & You” was Yoga’s answer to “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”

I know about as much about Lilias Folan as I did about Julia Child, so went to her website, to learn more about this person whose vague, but potent, identity had appeared so boldly in my blogosphere.

In the tab “About Lilias,” here is part of the first paragraph:  “Recognized as the “First Lady of Yoga” since her ground breaking 1972 PBS television series, Lilias! Yoga and You, Lilias Folan is regarded as one of America’s most knowledgeable and beloved Master Yoga teachers. Time magazine called Lilias the “Julia Child of Yoga.”

The connection had already been made.

Each of these formidable women broke boundaries of gender, culture and expectation without losing themselves in the process.  I chose the above photo of Julia Child, not to poke fun but to share in the fun she brought to her audience.  And of Lilias, I want to know the person in this photograph.

Thank you, Lilias & Julia!

Namaste & Bon Appetit!

Citizen of the World

I love Manhattan.  It’s a fact of my life.  When it came time to leave the city (I got pregnant with our first child and it became cost & life-prohibitive), we looked in the Hudson River Valley first because I was so reluctant to give up my New York address.  It turned out that a New York address only made sense to me inside the boundaries of the Hudson & East Rivers.  So, south we went toward Philadelphia (home of my birth suburb).

Nearly 17 years of living in a city so vibrant with arts and culture, culinary excellence and human diversity, my resident bubble was big and all-encompassing; but it was still a bubble.  I was of the mind and heart that if it had roots in NYC, it was in the vicinity of being the best.  I’m still inclined toward that position, but now the bubble, with its pin-sized holes has deflated, opening up to include worlds I never before would have imagined or embraced.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever completely give up the inner dialogue that compares goods and services outside the City with those contained within, but the voice has gotten much softer.  My world—while chaotic with a family of five, a growing business and life’s general logistics—has slowed down enough for me to truly appreciate the greatness that exists in other places (and by other places I mean the suburbs and not more exotic locations like those that are found on other continents).

I asked myself, while feeling this piece, if what was actually happening was that I was lowering my standards to acclimate to life outside the City.  This thought makes me laugh; what a New York thought.  The answer is, No.

There are really great chefs & restaurants, yoga teachers & studios, creative minds, hair dressers, farmers’ markets, schools, shoe stores, entertainment and anything else that might nourish the body and soul; they’re just not necessarily within blocks of each other or walking distance from home.

If greatness and authenticity were limited to location then the best Italian food could only be gotten in Italy; Yoga, in its purest form, could only be practiced in India, and the only chance we’d have as outsiders to enjoy these flavors and practices would be to be born into them.

So, I guess the next question is, what is authentic?  Is my devotional practice of Yoga any less authentic because I was not raised in the tradition?  I honor this practice and have no dreams of reinventing (or patenting;-) it.  I am, however, bound to my knowledge by my teachers, the books I read by teachers closer to the source, and my heart.  This practice can be extremely personal, yet it is of the world.

I find myself drawn to a wide variety of teachers, some obvious and others most unlikely, each one offering something of his or herself that contributes to the ongoing evolution of my authentic self.  I keep my eyes open to the world of possibility which includes inviting lessons and experiences by the guru in the turban, as well as, the well-dressed suit, five year old preschooler or checkout person at the grocery store.

I don’t have to wear a tie-dye or be from San Francisco to touch the essence of the Dead Head inside; nor do I have to speak in dulcet tones in order to lull people into my yogic world.  I don’t have to live in NYC to touch the human experience deeply (or know good Chinese food from bad); nor do I need to discount the City for its abundant gifts.  I just have to show up.

Sometimes I feel like I have dual citizenship with New York City and the rest of the country.  What used to be limiting is now liberating!  I am awake to my life and love how it feels, looks and tastes whether I’m in New York, Philly, an unnamed suburb or traveling to global destinations.

That said, there is still no bagel in the world as good as an H & H!  (They are NYC-based, but will deliver! 😉  www.hhbagels.com

Slowly Unwrapping the Gift of Pain

It doesn’t happen immediately.  The pain does not reveal its gifts in the moment it consumes the body, prevents simple tasks and distracts the mind from its priorities.  The gift is wrapped tightly in a process of discovery.

It starts with denial and the pushing through of daily chores, popping the occasional Ibuprofen and believing the pain a temporary and annoying obstacle.  A few days later, prescriptions of rest come flying from loved ones concerned about the escalation of the pain.  And it does escalate.

Frustration follows rest as the lists get longer, the laundry piles up and the forward bends that used to come so readily all but shatter in the shadow of memory.

If you’re lucky enough for the pain to continue without lessening, sooner or later, acceptance settles in.  Acceptance does not mean giving in, rather it is the experience of letting go the expectation that the pain will disappear in a neatly tied-up time frame.  It also can inspire a mission.

I am on a mission.  And I am not my pain.

When I received this particular gift, I had several weeks left of my 200 hour yoga teacher training.  The worst part was that I wasn’t able to swim the in the deep end with the others in my class.  I was forced to wade by the steps, modify everything and slow down.  I guess that part was the ribbon I had to unravel to get to the goodies.

The herniated disc (which may or may not be the source of the pain*) and constant sciatic sensations force me to surround myself with props: blankets and bolsters and blocks, oh my!

Viewing my practice through a fresh lens inside a body requiring a new map to navigate it, began to reveal the subtleties of pain’s gift.  Where I had been convinced that I had tamed the ego beast, I now discovered that it had the ability to seep through the cracks of my yoga identity.  I know now, where there is pain, there is no room for ego.

My pre-pain self that could touch the center of the earth in a standing forward bend, now smiles as my flat back folds its few inches, barely increasing the angle of my rooted Tadasana.  I still long for the feeling of the deeper fold, but I am here now and am endeavoring to find the nourishing feeling of this new place.

Like the child who receives the toy she’s been begging for, and when she gets it, plays with it for a day or two and conveniently forgets all about it, I don’t want to stop appreciating these many gifts.  My fear is that the pain is continuing to keep these lessons learned and not forgotten.

Empathy is a big part of what is contained in this gift; it also informs a major part of my mission and that is to share these nuggets with others who have yet to unwrap their pain.  It will be part of my daily practice to meditate on these revelations so that I’m not destined to keep receiving this sacred gift.

As I write this, my left foot is falling asleep from the pinch in my nerve and the pin point of pain in my sacroiliac (SI) joint keeps me alert to the present moment.  Still, I look forward to taking the classes led by my peers from the training and deepening my practice and understanding of pain’s gift.

But where do I throw the wrapping paper?

* Recommended reading for anyone suffering from neck, shoulder or back pain:  “Healing Back Pain ~ The Mind Body Connection” by John Sarno, MD

Mythasana

I love a good story!  I see “Once Upon a Time” everywhere and love to watch plots, fictional and real life, unfold like a lotus flower.  Like a good story, asana practice has a beginning, middle and end with every unrolling of the mat, from the first OM to the last.

Mythology (specifically Arthur Lore) was a passion of mine for many years.  I couldn’t get enough of the tales of King Arthur and the many characters whose stories arose from this myth.  My yoga path criss-crossed this other love of mine for a while, but each seemed distinctly separate from the other.  I had no idea that one day I would revisit the mythological realm on the yoga mat.

During my teacher training at the Prancing Peacock, I  delved, not only into the prescribed syllabus, but into the literature of the practice; this included a wonderful book called, Myths of the Asanas:  The Stories at the Heart of the Yoga Tradition by, Alanna Kaivalya & Arjuna van der Kooij.  It was from this book that I was able to put a context to some of the stories and origins of the Asanas.

In honor of the Prancing Peacock, I offer this morsel of my inspiration:

Of Yogis, Gods, Sages, Animals & Earth were these asanas born; their stories give us the forms and we infuse them with breath and life.

Like the constellations in the sky, we often need to employ our imagination to make the connections between what we see and what we’re told is there; the same can be said of the names and shapes of the poses we play with on the mat.  The difference here is that every time we practice, we discover something new.  Practicing while guided by the mythological tales from which the asanas were born, shifts the practice from a simple meditation in motion to a timeless meditation in motion nourished by potent images and emotions.

Here’s an Amuse-Bouche (one bite appetizer) to whet your mythological palate:

Mayurasana:  Peacock Pose

Kartikeya is the six-headed son of the Pleiades (six heavenly sisters), originally born as six individual identical sons of the six sisters.  Parvati (Shiva’s consort), under whose wing & heart the boys were reared, squeezed them with her goddess-like strength and equal force of love, forging them into one powerful being.

Only a few months old, Kartikeya was already a formidable warrior.  His choice for transportation was the Peacock (also known as a fierce fighter).  The peacock, in contrast to its beauty and majesty, was able to kill and eat Cobras and transform the deadly venom into something of grace.


It was upon this glorious creature that Kartikeya led an army of gods and demigods into a conflict that was to restore their rightful place in the heavens.  The good of the gods prevailed in no small part due to the fearless and loyal peacock.

Yogic mythology honors the peacock, its sattvic nature & symbolic ferocity, fearlessness & loyalty.  Krishna even wears a peacock feather in his  hair.

Mayurasana, over time, aids in our digestion just as the peacock was able to digest the cobra’s poisonous venom.  Humans digest any number of toxic entities (in our food, air, water, thoughts, words, actions, etc.) that can be transformed into something of beauty.

This is an oversimplification of the myth, but touches on its essential quality and message.  The book merely touches the surface of the potential for discovery we have on the mat; it provides a delightfully fresh lens through which to view and experience asana practice.

Once upon a time…

The End.

Life Warriors

For those who practice yoga solely for its physical benefits, I applaud you for finding your way to the mat.  It will certainly open your body to its possibilities and gradually extend the boundaries of your physical limitations.  Perhaps curiosity will one day move you deeper into the mystery, wisdom & gift that is yoga.  Or not.

Yoga is so much bigger and more inclusive than simply strengthening the core, increasing shoulder range of motion or allowing more flexibility in a back bend or forward fold.  The Strength, Range of Motion & Flexibility stretch far beyond the body to effect change in the world off the mat.  Practicing the poses not only prepares the body to open up and cope with the changes it inevitably undergoes, but helps grow the mind and spirit to follow suit.  So, when life presents a challenge, we are in shape to handle it.

(Pictured: Kim DeZutel)

There are some universal truths that bind us together, East & West, North & South, Religious & Secular (and any other seemingly dualistic pairing you can imagine); that is, the Human Condition.  In addition to the joy, celebration and abundance that is life, there is suffering, pain and loss.  While the experience in our emotional bodies may put celebration and suffering on opposite sides, this practice is a reminder that they are not separate.  We can approach a tight situation with same openness and suppleness that we greet the easier times.

Yoga & meditation are boot camp for living.

The key is practice.  So, when I’m whining about my sciatic pain that has me frustrated and hurting, I have a moment when gratitude squeezes through the walls my habits have built over the years.  A deep fresh breath brings me back and makes me smile.  I’m still hurting, but now I have a growing arsenal of tools I can use to minimize the times when perspective fails me.  And trust me, it does.

Like soldiers who do push-ups, obstacle courses and drills to make their physical bodies prime for unexpected dangers, yoga warriors sit with stillness and mindfulness, stretching their bodies, hearts and minds to make them prime for life’s unexpected challenges.  Both are oversimplifications of the process and the point, but each has a hint of its own truth.

There is a trap to these truths, however, and that is the expectation they create.  The extreme truth is enlightenment and most of us will barely touch the perimeter of the light it casts.  We may seek and practice and focus our intentions and along the way we will judge unnecessarily, complain, gossip, hurt and be hurt.  It is in that moment when we discover our digression that clarity pokes through and reminds us to wake up.

The truth lives in those living moments and not always in the telling of these ideals.

Instead of being disappointed in our teacher, friend or self for being human and perhaps falling off the path, be grateful for the wakeful moments and work toward having more of them than the others.

I write these words as part of the process and not an indication of having arrived anywhere.

I meet and honor you where you are and hope you will do the same for me.