Do Clothes Make the Yoga Teacher?

You wouldn’t know it to look at me but I love clothes. It doesn’t matter that my daily uniform rotates around a tee shirt paired with yoga pants or two identical pairs of Target jeans bought in two different sizes on sale for a tenner each – I love clothes.

Who knew I needed a pea green bomber jacket?

I love the expressive nature of clothes. How the colors you choose can reflect the mood you are in and how the way you style your clothes can shout to the world, ‘here I am!’ or whisper ‘shhh…I’m thinking’. I love how a structured shoulder can help you ‘fake it ’til you make it’ and how cutting cloth on the bias changes the drape of a dress. Clothes can indicate where you stand politically. Clothes can shine a light on your inner artist or reflect your relationship with nature. 

Thirty-five years ago I loved nothing more than to spend a Saturday afternoon at the Goodwill on El Camino Real in Mountain View scouring the racks for vintage dresses. I paired my findings with fishnet stockings, Doc Marten knock-offs and baggy houndstooth jackets with fabulous, patterned satin linings from the men’s section. I was making jewelry at the time – huge brooches made with old watch parts and those tiny spoons you find in salt cellars – and I’d have one pinned to an oversized collar or maybe use one to replace a missing button. The look had a grunge-goth vibe that I embraced. The style was trendy, of course – I mean, what self-respecting Goth didn’t have a pair of Doc Martens? – but those clothes also told a story. Anyone looking at me would know, without asking a single question, a little bit about me.

I don’t dress to impress or express these days. While the pandemic influenced an even more relaxed approach to my sartorial splendor, I’ve been rolling through life in baggy clothes and graphic tees for awhile now. The only story I’m telling through the clothes I pull on each morning is the one that says ‘I’m not worth the effort’. How sad is that?

But maybe that’s about to change.

Last week a woman who plays the role of ‘cool, older aunt’ in my life cleaned out her closet and offered the clothes she no longer wore to me. 

I took them.

These are not clothes with worn out knees or thread bare elbows. These are clothes my bank account would never allow me to purchase for myself. These are beautiful, classic, never going out-of-style clothes.

I slipped my arms through the sleeves of a well-tailored jacket and caught a glimpse of myself in my friend’s mirror. Who was that? I recognized my face, but everything else about me had changed. For one thing, I had a waist. For another, the chatter in my mind shifted from the typical self-deprecating ramblings to which I’m accustomed into something approaching pride. 

I brought the clothes home that evening and the next day purged my own closet. And the day after that? I started showing up for my Zoom meetings sitting a little bit taller and a little bit more confident.

And then I started thinking.

You wouldn’t know it to look at me but I love clothes.

That being said, I’m conflicted. I know clothes are nothing more than the means by which we keep our bodies – our souls’ temporary home – protected from the elements. So why should clothes matter? But if our naked bodies are a blank canvas then clothes are the paint by which we express to the world who we are and who we aspire to be.

Who will you be today?

ps…As a yoga instructor I will continue to wear baggy tee shirts and budget leggings to class. It’s my small protest against the Yoga Industrial Complex and the sexualization of a practice that means so much to me.


A Sacred Space

I’m often reminded of my yoga ‘origin story’ – how, for years, I studied with Iyengar instructors. How, back then, my practice was informed by hard-edged alignment principles and yoga mats placed in perfect rows on the studio floor. I loved it.

But things change. My body changed. My practice changed. I changed. Over the years those hard edges have softened. I’ve even been known to teach a class with mats placed in a circle like the petals of a flower. Gasp! Quelle horreur!

But have I left all of my Iyengar sensibilities behind? I don’t think so. It’s true that I traded hands-on adjustments for precise verbal cues a decade ago. And I stopped expecting cookie cutter correctness once I gained a greater understanding of human anatomy. My hope for students is that when they step on their mat they let go of expectation, judgement and agenda. When a student steps on their mat I hope they are also stepping into the present moment and meeting their body where it stands.

The yogasana I’m interested in practicing now – the yogasana I’m interested in teaching – is not about doing. It’s about sensing. The yogasana I’m interested in is not about pushing through forms. It’s about noticing the sensations that rise in my body as I move through those forms. It’s about noticing my breath, my thoughts, the attitude I bring to my practice. The yogasana I’m interested in is about paying attention. It’s about discipline.

But then again, it has always been about discipline. I learned that studying Iyengar yoga all those years ago.

Discipline is not my strong suit. Except when I am on my mat. When I am on my mat I am in the practice whether I’m teaching, practicing on my own or attending a class. 

I think Zoom challenges our ability to remain present and focused on our practice. I think it makes sustained discipline difficult. We have the challenge of finding dust kitties under the bookshelf in downward dog, the aroma of coffee as our partner prepares breakfast for the kids and our animal companions demanding a morning cuddle. At the same time we don’t have the energy of a purpose built studio that feels like a sacred space. We don’t have the energy of a living, breathing community gathered together for one purpose. 

In the best of times it takes effort to sustain a yogasana practice with diligence, discernment and discipline. But now, when our yoga community consists of tiny, flat rectangles on a laptop screen, it can feel impossible.

But it isn’t impossible. 

Practice with intention. Remember why you practice in the first place. For the hour you are on your mat, find the strength to maintain your focus. Treat that little rectangle on the floor – your yoga mat – like the sacred space it is.


Power Tools

While training with International Coach Academy, Power Tools were the bane of my existence. A coaching concept to help shift the perspective of clients, at the time a Power Tool felt too much like mental slight-of-hand, as if a few well-timed questions gave me the ability to trick my client into moving from doubt to trust, from trying to committing, or from reacting to responding. It all seemed too easy. Too magical. Akin to a magazine article proclaiming ‘Ten Days to a New You!’

But coaching isn’t magic (although it can feel that way sometimes). Change doesn’t happen overnight. And, as a coach, it’s not my job to shift a client’s perspective. The client can do that all on their own. My job is to remain present, to remain curious and to ask a few well-timed and on-point questions. When I do my job well a client can move from doubting themselves to trusting themselves, from trying to achieve a goal to committing to a goal, and from reacting to a situation to responding to a situation. 

My changing perspective began when I experienced first-hand how substituting one word for another had the potential to displace a less than desirable attitude for one that offered joy.

Such a simple thing. Changing one word. Simple, in fact, to the point of being embarrassing.

How many times do you find yourself saying a version of any of the following:

  • I need to get up
  • I need to go to work
  • I need to do the laundry
  • I need to email (fill in any name)
  • I need to cook dinner

What would happen if we changed those needs into wants? As in:

  • I want to get up
  • I want to go to work
  • I want to do the laundry
  • I want to email (fill in any name)
  • I want to cook dinner

I told you it was simple. But did you feel it? Did you notice a shift in how you felt about each one of those sentences? A shift from avoidance to engagement, procrastination to anticipation and drudgery toward achievement.

Words have power. They have the power to influence our perceptions and perspectives. Words are tools we use to find clarity and understanding. When we understand their power, we see our world through a different lens. 

Words are tools. 

They’re…wait for it…Power Tools.


Life through a New Lens

This past Tuesday Ben and I drove to Pleasanton so that I could receive my first dose of the Moderna vaccine. Ben made the same trip solo two days later and took his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Other than a few hours of extreme fatigue that provided a great night’s sleep for me and a power nap for Ben we’ve had no side effects. Not counting, of course, the sore but tolerable upper arm.

Choosing to not be vaccinated was never an option for us. Looking beyond the politics, the pseudo science and the conspiracy theories that are aching to plant seeds of doubt, Ben and I believe taking the injection is a moment of self-care that supplements our already healthy lifestyle. We also believe it is an act of selflessness. We are protecting ourselves from severe illness. More than that we are protecting our community. We are part of the reason why that light we see at the end of the tunnel is burning a little brighter.

And that’s something to celebrate, right? Right?

I’ll be honest. I’m a little apprehensive about the New Normal that awaits. Of course I want the world to open again. I want to see family and to have a good reason to wear something other than sweatpants just like everyone else. I guess what concerns me is the possibility of falling back into old habits, relentless work and unfulfilled goals.

As we begin to hope again, we have an opportunity to view life through a new lens. Who do we want to be when the New Normal arrives? What ways of thinking no longer serve us? What attitudes need to shift? What can we let go of?

When this is over the world will have changed. I hope I’ll have changed, too.


What Makes Today Special?

What makes today so special? What makes any day special? Is it the blinding blue sky or grey torrents of rain? Maybe the four mourning doves who have found their way to my home, who have sat in my potted herb garden – have shat in it, too – and eaten my thyme. Maybe that’s what makes today special.

I’ll go for a walk later, toward end of day when the blue turns pearly and pink through the branches of the redwood trees. It’s the time of day that dogs are walked and children run in circles as if life were to be lived with reckless abandon. Sweaty and red faced they won’t notice the cool breeze blowing in from the Pacific while I tighten the drawstrings for the hood of my favorite sweatshirt.

If, while I’m on this walk, I look toward the Santa Cruz mountains, I’ll see pure white pillows of fog folding over the ridge and slipping down the slope to fill nooks and crannies. It’s my favorite thing. A beauteous thing. 

After I’m home and have had a bowl of soup I’ll step out onto the mirpesset to watch the full moon rise over the buildings of this town, its light reflecting back to me the stories of everyone who has ever looked up and dreamed. I’ll look for the planets, lined up like soldiers across the ecliptic plane. Not long ago Jupiter and Saturn were so close they almost kissed. And before that Mars, all bold and red, was as big as I’d ever seen. Before I go back in I’ll take a moment to marvel at the stars I can see and to wonder if anyone is marveling at me.


My Grandma’s Cellar

I’m lucky. Blessed, even. Grateful. I am surviving a global pandemic (knock on wood). So is Ben. We are surviving. We are grateful. The pandemic has only a small impact on my income. I know just a handful of souls that have contracted COVID-19. They’ve all emerged on the other side. No one I know has contracted the virus and lost their life.

There is no doubt I’m fortunate. But this collective global experience is not easy, is it? We’ve been angry, sad and exhausted. We’ve been giddy with good news until hope crumbles. During these times I fall into what I’ve begun to call ‘pandemic malaise’. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The word ‘malaise’ may be too tender a descriptor. Pandemic Malaise is much more than general unease. 

As a child I was dumped at my grandparent’s little row home most weekends because my mother was the lead singer in my step-father’s country and western band. They had gigs most weekends and when they did I spent Fridays and Saturdays at grandma and grandpas. I didn’t mind too much. There was a playground with swings just across the street and my grandmother made my favorite foods – BLTs or Minute Steak sandwiches with horseradish and catsup sauce. At night we’d play gin rummy sipping 7-Up and eating pretzel sticks. 

But at least once every weekend I was asked to fetch something from the basement. Pandemic Malaise is like my grandparent’s basement in Allentown, Pennsylvania because my grandparent’s basement was this young child’s worst nightmare.

I hated being sent ‘down the basement’. The stairs, simple unfinished planks of wood, creaked and threatened to send me plummeting to the hard cement floor with every step. The single lightbulb dangling from the dark beams above me cast deep and endless shadows filled with ghosts, spiders and bogeymen across the detritus of my grandparent’s long lives. The dank, sulfurous air chilled my bones. Even in summer. Sometimes a breeze from the kitchen’s open window would cause the hinges of the door to moan. The door would close. The warm light from upstairs would disappear and I knew I’d be trapped forever.

When I fall into Pandemic Malaise it feels as though I’m a ten-year-old trapped in my grandparent’s dark basement uncertain as to when I’ll be able to see light again.

As the light at the end of this long tunnel begins to grow a little brighter, we may be tempted to compare our experience of the pandemic with someone else’s. We might even determine that a friend’s experience doesn’t begin to compare with the horror of our own.

We cannot do that because we cannot begin to understand someone else’s journey these past thirteen months. All we can do is offer the compassion and empathy that comes with knowing that we’ve all been through, and are still working our way through this huge, calamitous, extraordinary event.


Fear or Faith: My Choice

Can you keep a secret? The trainings in which I’ve been entrenched since before the pandemic’s shutdown began are coming to a welcome end and I find myself with a strange amount of time on my hands. But please. Let’s agree to keep this little admission between friends. I don’t want the universe catching wind of my twiddling thumbs because you know as well as I do that empty space loves to be filled. I’d like a chance to see what I do with all this spare time before that happens.

But I’m wondering…now that I have the chance to dive into all those ‘things’ I’ve always wanted to do but never had time for…what’s stopping me?

I’d like to blame the bout of ‘pandemic malaise’ I’m experiencing but to be truthful the malaise I’ve encountered on and off these past twelve months is fleeting. Maybe it has more to do with the weather, which has been unseasonably chilly and wet for mid-March in Northern California. Or maybe what looks like malaise on the outside is really, on the inside, indecision and fear.

Indecision I understand. I’ve always seen both sides of every coin. But why fear? What’s that about?

In a recent coaching conversation I wondered if the fear my client experienced was less about feeling unprepared for the tasks she needed to complete in order to move her project forward and more a fear of wasting time. It was easy for me to share that observation because that is where most of my fear is rooted. I’ve been alive longer than I have years left to live. I don’t want my time wasted. Besides, I need to earn my keep while my jiggly human form still takes up space on this planet. I need to draw a salary. Make money. Pay bills. I don’t have time for flights of fancy.

I wonder, though, if my excuse, “I don’t have time for that”, masks a harder truth. My interests, outside of teaching yoga, require focused attention. Commitment. Awareness of both my strengths and my weaknesses. They require a willingness to learn.

Yeah. Who has time for that? Especially if the final result is an amorphous unknown.

Another friend of mine is an artist. Seven or eight years ago, when we first met, she was learning to paint. Now she wins awards, exhibits regularly and is about to have her work published in two books.

I wonder if she felt her time was wasted while she was learning to turn a flat circle into a sphere? I wonder, when she first picked up a paint brush, if she even considered time?

It’s funny, isn’t it, how we give fear permission to stop us in our tracks? It can be fear of the unknown, fear of time wasted, fear of hard work or fear of financial insecurity. Or, in my case, all four.

Rather than giving fear carte blanche to run our lives, maybe it’s faith we need? 

So. Will turning my fears of the unknown into faith in myself lift the malaise? Will it help me find the motivation and momentum I need to make the transformation from someone who watches from the sidelines into someone who’s willing to take a chance on herself?

Good question. I can’t wait to find out.


What I Did During the Pandemic: Take a Writing Class

I thought I’d mix things up a bit and decided to take a 6-week writing class. The format of the class is simple: a writing prompt is presented, we take fifteen minutes (give or take) to write, and then we read what we wrote. Comments and questions are welcome. There’s no critique.

I struggle to write on command. I’m a lazy writer who waits for the muse to strike and when she doesn’t moves on to others things on the ‘to do’ list. And so this class is tickling my brain in new ways. In good ways. 

One of yesterday’s prompts – a poem by Langston Hughes – tickled this:

The sun slipped behind the moon. It seems so simple as I write the words: the sun slipped behind the moon. And in that moment – that singular moment – spirit was made visible. The universe became a sanctuary of peace. The banter of strangers and the rhythmic click of camera lenses being attached to tripods and trained toward the Australian dawn stopped. Just like that. Everything stopped. Birds called on one another, confused. Sandy termite mounds turned red in the changing light. The air fell on my skin cool and moist. At least I think it did. And then the sun slipped out from behind the moon and we took our first new breath. I expected my life to be different after witnessing the infinite. That perfect black hole in the sky. But it was an illusion. I forgot. It was only the moon. It was the moon all along.

It’s not faux humility that has me admitting the obvious: this is not award winning writing. But it’s something. Something that made me think and process an event that happened almost a decade ago (which seems unbelievable to me).

Things are shifting. Changing. More of my friends and acquaintances are receiving vaccines. But it’s not over and we will have to balance solitude and hope in our hearts for a wee while longer.

So – twelve months in – what are you doing now to challenge yourself that you weren’t doing a year ago? 


In Search of the Elusive Authentic Self

In my coaching practice the issue of authenticity is a featured player. More often than not clients will, at some point in the session, tell me they are either:

  1. Searching for their authentic self
  2. Struggling to live an authentic life
  3. Questioning whether their motives are coming from an authentic place.

What has to happen for the conditions for self-doubt to manifest? When do we begin to feel we’ve lost touch with the image we hold in our mind’s eye of who we believe ourselves to be? And how can we return to the clarity that keeps us grounded and focused on the values we cherish most? When we answer those questions authenticity becomes less of an intention and more of a truth we live. 

When I was a child I was teased for having two left feet. More often than not I had fresh or fading scabs on my elbows and knees from all the falls I took. Like a puppy learning to leash walk I was easily distracted by metaphorical squirrels. I tripped over sidewalk cracks, missed steps when climbing stairs and walked into people, poles and walls in my pursuit of something different from the task at hand.

As an adult, while my elbows and knees have healed, not much else has changed. I’m still easily distracted by bright, shiny objects. I still stumble. I fall, enraptured by the aspirations of others at the expense of my own. My admiration for the high bar others set for themselves ignores the higher bar I’ve set for myself and fills my brain with ‘you should do this’ or ‘you should do that’ at the expense of my heart’s song. This longing to be someone I’m not steals validity from the wonderful life I’m living. It diminishes the dreams I have. It diverts my attention away from the values most important to me and ultimately away from my authentic self.  

The best we have to offer the world is grounded in personal authenticity. When we lose sight of that – when we feel lost – how do we find our way back? The answer to that question is as unique as the journey we’ve chosen for ourselves. But I find these suggestions useful:

  1. Get away from the noise. Take a day to yourself. Set work, obligation and commitment aside and give your heart the space to expand.
  2. Breathe with intention. When you feel unmoored, close your eyes and breathe. Lengthen the exhalation until it’s longer than the inhalation. Imagine the in-breath moving into the soles of your feet and connecting you to the earth.
  3. Trust your instincts but know that the answers aren’t black and white. Some of us choose to listen to our heart. Others listen to our brain. But what about the space in between? What is that space saying to you and how does it align to the authentic life you want to live? Is there an equilibrium to be found?
  4. Honor the truth that journeys change. There are detours, road closures and surprises if we choose to spend some time exploring roads taken less often. It’s these moments that help us take the next step.

When we look carefully, we discover that the sense of self is not a particle that never changes, but rather a flow, a wave of thought and feeling that can increase and decrease and is therefore not permanent.

—Shinzen Young, “Brief Teachings”


Hi. I’m Exhausted. How are You?

There’s a Saki Santorelli quote that asks us to treat ourselves with kindness. If we can learn to treat ourselves with kindness, then we can learn how to treat others with kindness.

If there’s ever been a time to put this in practice, it’s now.

I’m exhausted. Exhausted to the point that it’s hard to speak. Exhausted to the point that if you mention Vice President Harris my eyes well up and I spill joyful tears. And yet I feel as though we’ve been subjected to a forty-eight months long mass psychic trauma and when the valve was opened on Wednesday the grieving for the past four years began.

That’s how it feels. A muddy puddle of joy and grief. I know the mud will eventually settle and I’ll be left with a pool of clear joy but for now this is what I’ve got. Mud. And it’s exhausting.

I don’t think it matters where on the philosophical continuum your beliefs rest. Those of us who ‘won’ mourn the past. Those of us who ‘lost’ are angry about the future. I think it’s important to hold space for the sadness of the previous four years and I think it’s wise to consider what we want for our future. But to dwell in either place for too long serves no one.

So. How do we treat ourselves with kindness? While I’m waiting for the mud to settle, for the grief to pass, how do I treat myself with kindness?

I’m going to stop fighting the exhaustion. I embrace with a full heart the shift in energy that arrived this week, but I need to rest. I need to stop talking about it. I need to spend some time letting go of the frustration and the fear of the last four years. But I need to let go in my own time and at my own pace. That is how I will treat myself with kindness.

I will polish my critical thinking skills and formulate opinions based on what I learn and not on what people tell me. That is how I will treat myself with kindness.

I will practice empathy toward those whose anger is fear-based. It will be difficult when the anger turns to violence, but that is how I will treat myself with kindness. I will not excuse the violence but will do my best to understand the circumstances that caused the violence.

I will treat you with kindness by giving you the space you need to process. When you need silence I will be quiet. When you need to be heard I will listen.

So for now, go treat yourself with kindness. You deserve it. 

We all deserve it.