Emotionally Bypassing Joy and Sorrow

Shadow Bridge IEach week I open and close my yoga classes with a reading.  I try to choose passages that have heart and meaning in my own life.  I hope that if the words I share touch my emotional center then they may have resonance for others.  It doesnt matter to me where I find inspiration.  Over the past month Ive read quotes from F. Scott Fitzgerald, Martha Graham and Albert Einstein.  This past week, however, I was reading from The Pocket Pema Chödrön.  Each day last week, sometimes several times each day, I heard myself deliver Pemas thoughts on our desire for certainty and happiness.  I heard myself, through Pema, encourage my students to touch the center of their pain and to be present with it.  In that way, rather than becoming weaker through our endless craving for security we might be opened.  We might find strength.

These are powerful ideas.  Not only does she want us to sit in our own discomfort, she wants us to sit with the suffering of the person to our right and to our left.  She wants us to take on all suffering so that we can learn to find a way to be at home in our own.  Pema wants us to be still in the suffering.

Yet I cant help but believe that we must also be still in the joy of each moment.  I dont know that its true we brush by suffering in order to find our happy.  What I see in my life is this:  I brush by everything (the joy and the sorrow) in order to tick one more to do off my daily list.  I wrap myself in a façade of good intentioned optimism that functions as an emotional bypass.  And so, while I fail to touch the center of my pain I also dont touch the center of my joy.

This week I will hold space for both sorrow and joy. I will resolve to not rush by the sadness I feel for a friends suffering.  Instead I will notice how it feels in my breath and my body.  I will resolve to not rush by the joy I feel for life – for the birdsong outside my window or the sweet stubble of the nasturtiums seeds I planted that are just now beginning to break out of the soil.

There is suffering all around us.  But there is joy, too.  Take time for both.

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Vision, Clarity and Cataracts

A few hours after surgery.

A few hours after surgery.

For the twenty-four months that I was in graduate school I struggled to complete reading assignments. I labeled myself lazy. I was convinced I lacked discipline when it felt impossible to read more than three or four pages at a time.

The truth was I struggled to complete reading assignments because I was struggling to see.

Over twenty million Americans over the age of forty have cataracts and in 2015 approximately three million will have cataract surgery. I am one of those three million. Two weeks ago the vision in my left eye hovered around 20/400. Today my distance vision in the same eye is 20/20. In a few months I’ll have the cataract in my right eye removed. I hope for the same sparkling results.

It’s true. The world, through my left eye, sparkles. I’m shocked by the clarity and crisp edges, the color and the detail. How did I not know what I was missing?

I guess cataracts sneak up on us. The diminishing light isn’t noticed. It’s not until an ophthalmologist sees the clouding of the lens and says, “Oh! You have a cataract!” that we realize we’ve been missing out. We’ve not been able to see all that this beautiful world has to offer.

In that way, cataracts are a bit like habits we ignore until we can no longer notice the impact they have on our lives.

I have some habits, some cycles I go through, that diminish the quality of my life in the same way that pesky cataract diminished my vision. The patterns that I bump into again and again dull my spirit. They include disparaging thought loops and actions that I know are harmful. They include choices that do not support health and wellness and spoken words that weaken the positive energy I wish to carry into the studio classes I teach, my work with individual clients and the loving relationships I’m blessed to have in my life.

Becoming aware of the patterns that make it difficult to live our best and brightest life and then taking action to bring about a return to clarity reminds us that we all hold a vision in our hearts.

This simple procedure to repair my broken vision has led me to ask myself once again, “How do I want to walk through this life?”

For now, at least, I can see that walk a little more clearly.

 

 

 


Joy and the Fearless Heart

IMG_2910My hair went through a few changes last year. From spirals to straight and back again. No bangs to total bangs. And then last April, just when I was finally learning to embrace the curl and the fringe, without a second thought I chopped it all off.

There was a time when I believed that changing my hair would change my life. In my thirties I kept my hair in a graduated bob that would make Mary Crowley proud. And then, influenced by my new-found crush on all things Irish I took an electric razor to my head. I wasn’t quite brave enough to cut as close a shave as Sinead O’Connor but it was enough to turn a few heads – especially those times that I forgot to attach my #5 blade and carved random bald spots onto my pate.

Sigh. Those were the days.

Then there was the color. Various shades of red sometimes verging on purple. Dark brown leaning toward black. Platinum blond (just once for about ten days).

Not to mention the clothes. Vintage dresses layered with suit jackets and vests from the men’s section of the local charity shop. A cheap knock-off of the black Doc Marten boots I craved and fishnet stockings. Paisley with hound’s-tooth with plaid.

Those were, indeed, the days.

Each time I changed my hair or wore a new tattered treasure I thought, “If I look like this then I’ll be more like that.By ‘that I think I meant whatever quality I believed I lacked. In those years I hoped to be brave and confident, artful and hip. Those were the years I struggled as an artist and I hoped that if looked more like what I believed an artist should look like then I’d have a better chance at success. It didn’t occur to me that showing up each day and working hard, allowing my authentic voice to speak through my images and facing the world with a fearless heart would be more effective than a haircut or a pair of boots.

I’m thinking about my past and I’m thinking about now, from time to time, those same ideas rise up in me. About how I need to be a certain body type or wear a certain brand of yoga attire in order to look like what I think yoga teachers should look like.

Fortunately I’m older and maybe I’m a bit wiser, too. It’s not long before I remember all those things I wish I knew back when I was shaving my head with a #5 blade.   It’s not long before I remember my authentic voice and who I am as a teacher. It’s not long before I remember that who I am is someone who shows up to the studio with a fearless heart. It’s not what I look like that makes me a yoga teacher. If you asked me I think I’d say it’s the joy I feel when I teach. That’s what makes me a yoga teacher. The fact that I am filled with joy each time I walk into a studio. Even those days when my alter ego Snarky McSnarkington tries to take over. Joy still wins.

February was a fierce month. But now it’s March. I’ve settled into my new home and my new life. Those cravings and longings that I wrote about just a few weeks ago belong to someone else. Those couldn’t be my words. Those emotions, the desperation, they were all fleeting moments. But I moved through them. And I’m home.


Who Is That Woman and What Has She Done to Mimm?

CIMG0083Im not feeling myself these days.  Wait.  Thats not entirely true.  I feel very much like myself when Im in the studio practicing asana with a group of students.  Thats where I feel fully present.  In the moment.  At ease.  Loving and loved.

Im very grateful, therefore, that in a few hours Ill be in the studio teaching my facilitated Yin workshop, Giving and Receiving.  Ive been looking forward to this workshop from the moment it was added to the Samyama schedule.

I am looking forward to it for all the right reasons.  Its another opportunity to share the benefits of a quiet and soulful practice.  Plus partnered yin – an offshoot of traditional yin practice that asks two individuals to work as one – builds on a foundation of open trust.  Melting into the asana with your partner’s support explores ideas of control and release, surrender and outcome.

Meanwhile, outside of the studio, I have a stranglehold on control and outcome.  Theres little room for surrender and release.  I am preparing to move into my new home and have a clear image in my mind of how this should unfold.  But the image in my mind – the story Im telling myself of how this should all happen – is not congruent with reality.  Im surrounded by what I believe is chaos. My soft edges have begun to harden into corners.  Ive lost my ability to roll.  Ive lost my practice.

It doesnt matter that the hurdles in front of me are joyful pursuits.  It doesnt matter that the end-result, when the chaos around me clears and the dust settles, will be a home of my own.

I am desperate to be finished so that I can return to being the woman who remembers that this mad pursuit is like running a race with ghosts.  These walls that I call mine, this carpet, that furniture – these are all ghosts that will one day crumble to dust.  Yet I am desperate for the illusion of warmth and safety to wrap itself around me. I am desperate to wake each morning with the man I love snoring beside me. Desperate for a fresh cup of coffee and the latest Economist on a quiet Sunday.  I am desperate and I am in this race so that I can have the story Ive told myself but there is no traction, my feet spin but I cannot move.

These cravings have filled the space once held by my practice.

Wanting to shape the future I see for myself is not a bad thing.  Locking in the trajectory of my future without accounting for all the variables that make life interesting is.  I want a home.  But if Im ever to find it I need to surrender.  I need to loosen the grip I have on the outcome I see in my minds eye.  I need to soften my hard edges and learn to roll.


Samyama’s Mini-sabbatical

The Patanjali mural at Samyama Yoga Center in Palo Alto

The Patanjali mural at Samyama Yoga Center in Palo Alto

Life is filled with small blessings. When word arrived that we were going to take a ten-day ‘mini-sabbatical’ at Samyama Yoga Center I accepted the news but couldn’t help but ask “Why?” It’s unsettling when the schedules we’ve created for ourselves shift. It feels like a violation of our trust. It feels as if everything is out of our control. But it serves as a reminder that all we have is change. The good news about this particular change is that it will be brief and very soon order will be restored. We should remember, however, that sometimes the change we push against turns out to be exactly what we need.

In Yin I talk about creating space. Our little Samyama Sabbatical is doing exactly that. It’s creating space. It’s offering a few days of self-reflection and a shift in perspective. We can take time to consider our personal yoga practice and how we bring it into the world. We can take time to consider what it means to practice yoga. Is yoga only about showing up at the studio for asana class? What would happen if we used the time Samyama’s sabbatical is giving us to volunteer? To offer something of service to our community?

My regularly scheduled classes at Samyama are cancelled from Friday the 13th of February through Sunday the 22nd.

They will resume on Monday the 23rd of February.

I will, however, be teaching my partnered Yin workshop “Giving and Receiving” on

Saturday the 14th of February from 1:00 to 3:00 pm. There are still a few spaces left.


A Place Called Home

January 19:

CIMG2014I suppose there is always the chance that something catastrophic will happen.  The seller might change her mind.  Or maybe the numbers wont add up. But those possibilities are, at this point, remote at best.  It looks like escrow really is going to close in seven days.

Ive never owned a home before and until I signed the first sheet of paper that initiated the home buying process I didnt know it was something I wanted.  But my signature on that piece of paper delivered a powerful and unexpected wave of energy that was at once euphoric and grounded.  Some might feel that home ownership ties you to an impossible commitment.  I had the opposite reaction.  For the first time, I felt free.

Of course, that sense of autonomous freedom is tempered by the heavy burden of borrowing enough money to purchase a four-bedroom home in Des Moines, Iowa.  But the Below Market Rate program exists so that individuals like me have an opportunity to stay in the overpriced Bay Area.  Even if instead of a four-bedroom home what Ive found is a perfectly located one-bedroom condo to call my own.

But the burden that follows debt is not the only weight I have to process. As I fill boxes to move and boxes to donate to charity, I am struggling with the weight of accumulation.  Im asking myself if the gathering and release of too many belongings is indicative of a lost yoga practice.  How do I reconcile my yoga life and my worldly life?  Are the boundaries blurred or hard-edged?  Where do they overlap?  Or are these two lives really the same?

January 23rd:

Last week, I made an unsettling decision.  I set the intention to rid myself of ghosts.  Five years ago my move into this small studio apartment was an act of self-preservation.  Personal difficulties offered no alternative. I brought what little furniture I had and gathered what else I needed from gracious and generous friends.

But the pieces of furniture that I brought with me then now hold ghosts from that past.  I cant bring those ghosts with me.  Its time for a new beginning. And so the desk, the book cases, the chair and the fold-up-futon are being sent away to neighbors and strangers who wont notice the memories tucked into the back of a drawer or molded into the crease of a seat cushion.

But I wonder if the willful release of these very functional pieces of furniture demonstrates a lack of fiscal responsibility and an all-consuming selfishness?  As a yogi should it not be part of my practice to mindfully detach from the troubling memories and emotional scars? What surrounds me is little more than an assemblage of particle board and veneers of inexpensive birch.  How can a desk hold the imprint of trauma? How can wood hold memory?  Yet the very glue that binds these pieces together also binds me tight against the energy of events that unfolded years ago.

January 24th:

It doesnt matter if you move across an ocean, to another state or down the block.  Moving creates CIMG1757chaos.  It stirs up dust.  Surrounded by the boxes I began to pack when finding home was still only a hope, Im reminded of the promise I made to myself to live simply.  I ask myself if, after everything that has happened since my return from Ireland, I deserve the happiness Ive enjoyed over this past year.  The answer is easy.  Yes.  Of course I do.  We all deserve happiness and we all deserve a place to call home.  Even me.

And so, for now, this is my practice.  I will remain in the happiness of the present moment.  I will humbly remain mindful of the truth we call change.  With each breath I will be grateful that I am loved and that, as of January 26th, 2015, I have a place on this astounding planet that I can call my home.

 

 


Shakti What?

IMG_3249I’ve been leading early morning practices at Samyama Yoga Center since the studio opened in April of 2013. And I’ll admit that until this moment I had no idea why our wonderful and fearless leader John Berg chose the name Shakti Reset to describe my one-hour classes. I would have gone with something boring like Slow Flow or Beginning Hatha.

Today my inquisitiveness finally inspired me to find out what all this Shakti business was about. I found this:

Shakti energy restores balance and re-establishes order.

It is energy without beginning or end. Energy that alternates between motion and rest.

It turns out John wasn’t simply being clever. He gave my morning classes the perfect name. Labeling a class Slow Flow or Beginning Hatha is adequate but subjective. How slow is slow? And what part of the pantheon of hatha choices are you beginning with?

Shakti Reset is less a name and more a description. In my morning classes we alternate between the flowing motion of an alignment-focused standing sequence and the stillness of soft restorative shapes. We begin the hour with the clarity of collective silence and end with the unifying intention to carry our practice into the world and to keep our thoughts clear, our words kind and our hearts filled with compassion.

I am so pleased that beginning Friday the 16th of January I’ll be able to offer Shakti Reset three times per week. You can now join me on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8:15 to 9:15 AM. The first class at Samyama is always free.