A Day of Rest

fullsizeoutput_3d4What does a day of rest look like? Close your eyes. Imagine it. But be practical. Given everything you have around you right now – the blessings, the responsibilities, the attachments, the gifts – what does your day of rest look like? Is it something you can create right here and now?

My day of rest begins alone with the dawn for an hour’s walk at Shoreline. It’s my meditation, these walks. My day of rest ends with Ben and I together, sharing a glass of wine on our little porch.

What happens in between?

If it is Sunday we go to the Farmer’s Market just a block away. I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve been there in the three years I’ve lived on this street. The truth is I have an aversion to meandering. I can’t stroll. And that seems to be what people do at farmers’ markets. People meander, stroll and stop to compare prices of broccoli between two identical looking organic stalls before waving to friends half a block away who are sampling some juicy white fleshed peaches.

But it’s my day of rest and I’m happy to ‘fake it ‘till I make it’. I slow my natural gallop to an easy trot. Pretty soon I’m learning everything there is to know about raw brined olives in a lecture delivered by a stranger from Half Moon Bay while Ben decides between the oils the stall owner has poured into tiny paper communion cups.
An hour later we have two canvas bags filled with fresh fruit and vegetables to last us the week and 12 ounces of expensive extra virgin with which to dress the heirloom tomatoes.

And I have learned how to meander and stroll.

On my day of rest, which is Ben’s day of rest, too, we walk home to put our bounty away and then head out again for a late brunch. We find a place within walking distance where we can sit outside bathed in sunlight and surrounded by the joy of children running circles around their parents’ legs and the bright colors of summer. We linger over the meal and soak in the sounds of life – sounds so different from the ones to which we are accustomed. Layers of happy conversation, the bossy ‘cawk’ of a crow, the yip of a curly-haired doodle dog, the occasional cry of an infant. The sounds of life. A different sort of music.

On our day of rest we return from brunch and settle with a cup of tea. We read for leisure the books we started months ago. Books with pages made of paper that we turn one by one. Or we walk to the movie theater not twenty minutes away and take in an early matinee with all the other people who don’t like to stay out too late on a Sunday. Or we nap. It’s our day of rest. We can do anything we want.

Towards the end of our day of rest, Ben and I open that bottle of Pinot that’s been waiting for a moment like this. We sit on our little porch and talk to one another like two people deeply in love and separated for too long by work and commitments to other things. We talk to one another with real words that float up from our hearts and linger in the air around us. The sky changes from bright blue to dusky pink and pale orange.

What does your day of rest look like?


Self-care in the Time of Anger

IMG_3426I’ve been out from under the long winter of discontent I wrote about two weeks ago for a few months now and each day I feel more present. I’m standing, strong and solid. I feel familiar to myself again. What characterized my depression was the disconnect I experienced. I listened to what I was saying in conversations and was shocked by the harsh words coming from my mouth. I observed the choices I made and often asked “why?” I felt the connections with friends and family fraying no matter how hard I tried to hold on. But when that little white pill began to work it’s magic on my brain I was able to reintroduce myself to the woman I knew before I took a walk on the dark side. And I like her.

Chemistry, in the form of that pill, opened the door and let the light back in. But what now? How do I keep that light shining?

Self-care.

We live in curious times. There is anger in the air and in the constant stream of information hitting us via the news we stream, the Facebook posts we read and the Twitter streams we follow. It’s confusing. Frustrating. Exhausting. It’s hurting our health.

And that’s why self-care is a practice that is important for everyone to remember. Especially in this stressful time. Because the better we can take care of ourselves the better we will be able to take care of one another.

Here are ten changes, listed in no particular order, that I’ve put into my own self-care practice. Maybe my ideas will be a springboard for your own vision of what self-care means.
1. Exercise more. It was difficult. I didn’t want to do it. But the thing is, each day I rode my bike to the studio and every time I walked – it became easier. I’ve made it a part of my life (and don’t tell anyone but this morning I actually started jogging).
2. Sleep more. This was difficult, too. There’s always one more item to cross off the to-do list, one more email to write, one more check of social media. But good sleep hygiene – setting a regular bed time and wake-up time – keeps my mind clear and my energy levels high.
3. Play more. I am not the most spontaneous woman in the world. But I’m trying. I’m trying to be less rigid with my schedule and more open to last minute adventures like movies and walks with friends.
4. Eat more. What I mean, of course, is choosing healthy foods and eating more of them. I’ve begun spending more time in the kitchen again (the proof is here). This is a great time of year to be creative with the bright, fresh produce available at the local farmer’s market.
5. Back away from the news. This year has been nerve rattling and I spent the first few months watching the evening news every evening for hours. During the day I would check my phone for breaking headlines at every opportunity. And if I wasn’t looking at the news I was looking at Facebook. To be honest I still do spend a bit of time each day reading posts (self-care is a practice – I’m doing my best). But sometime around March I realized how much of my own life I was missing out on by watching every one else’s.
6. Choose your battles. After November 8th I tried to take it all on. I wanted to march in every march, write a dozen post cards every week, call my representatives every day. I didn’t know why I was fighting, only that I had to. It wasn’t long before battle fatigue defeated me. And now I have one or two pet issues that I focus on. Collectively, we’ll get there, but I have to choose one or two battles at a time.
7. Remember that home is where your heart is, not your office. The truth? Home is where my office is, too. Ben and I both have a little space carved out in our 600 square foot condo. Because where we live is so compact, our office spaces were an ever present reminder. What that meant is that when we at home we were in our brains working and not in our hearts living. A few months ago I pushed some furniture around, ordered some beautiful rattan screens and now when we’re at home we can keep work out of sight (and out of mind).
8. Indulge more. How do I indulge? Sometimes it’s a little piece of English Toffee from Molly Stone’s bulk bins. Sometimes it’s a mani/pedi. Sometimes, when I’m feeling extravagant, it’s a Thai massage. And sometimes it’s a simple as spending an extra hour in bed on a Sunday morning.
9. Touch more. I’m not much of a hugger, but I’m learning. When I was in high school I read an article about the power of touch and how, as our society was becoming more automated, we were losing contact with one another.
10. Love more – your work, your friends, your cat, your self.

 

 


Feeling True Again

CIMG1075Yoga has been my ‘centering place’ for thirty years – the one true place to which I turn when my soul needs to celebrate or my heart needs mending. I can stretch the blues away with a few flying dragons or settle unbridled joy by closing my eyes to breathe.

Or at least I could.

Even though I’m now on the other side of the depressive episode that turned my otherwise colorful world black and white, I struggle to find the words to describe the guilt I feel for having fallen ill and the remorse that stains my recovery.

I am a yoga teacher. Today’s ‘californicated’ version of the simple practice I embraced in 1984 promises, with a fixed smile and soft focused gaze, that with the right intention, a few appropriately placed crystals and the strike of a gong all chugged down with a bottle of organic kombucha we can keep the demons from our door and hold close our health and wellness.

I believe this. Or at least most of it. I believe in the power of yoga. I believe in a mind/body connection and that what we think affects what we feel. I have experienced the healing vibration of bells, gongs, tuning forks and even, sometimes, pretty rocks. While I don’t always choose wisely, for the most part my diet is vegetable based and, on occasion, includes the weird tasting fermented fungus otherwise known as kombucha. It’s true. I believe all these things help to sustain our health and wellness. If we’re already pretty much healthy and well.

But last year I wasn’t healthy and well. I needed an allopathic intervention of therapy and pharmaceuticals to change the course of the path I was on.

I’ve experienced three episodes of depression in the past decade. It’s possible I fought my way through the first two but more likely all three are part of the same fluctuating persistent depressive disorder. The last dip, triggered about two years ago, was the most severe and included increased anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Still, I resisted seeking help because I believed, as a yoga teacher, I had the tools to lift myself out of the dark pit I had fallen into. I thought if I could just think the right thoughts, practice enough gratitude and eat good food a bit of light would once again fill my heart. I didn’t want to admit that what was happening to me was more than a bad mood or the blues. I didn’t want to admit that I wasn’t strong enough to heal on my own. I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t yoga my way to better mental health.

I was convinced that if what I knew about yoga and complementary therapies after working in the industry for twenty-five years wasn’t enough to restore me – that if I had to resort to pharmaceutical intervention – then my practice and my teaching was based on a lie. I was a fraud. If I was a fraud, then what did my life mean?
That’s how ill I was.

I’m not alone.

Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental disorders in the United States. In fact, in 2014 almost 16 million adults over the age of eighteen or older had experienced at least one depressive episode in the previous twelve months. You may be one of the 40 million adults in America who suffer from debilitating anxiety. Most individuals who have anxiety are also depressed.

At the same time, we read reports about the over-prescribing of antidepressants. But if I’d not been given the prescription I’ve been taking since the beginning of winter, this summer would be looking very, very different.

When I finally let go of the idea I’ve heard so many yoga teachers express to their students – that the magical cure for what ails us can’t be found in an orange bottle of little white pills – that’s when the downhill slide I was on began to level. I filled the prescription my doctor offered and within four weeks began to smile in the morning. A few weeks later I could feel my soul warm and now, nine months on the journey, I’m writing again. I’m walking and riding my bike again. Most of all I’m laughing and loving again. I feel better than I have in many years. My yoga practice is strong and my love of teaching has blossomed.

That little white pill may have saved my life. Even if it didn’t, even if I would have finally been all right without it, this little morning pill has given me the strength to open my heart once again to all the self-care tools that have kept me strong in the past – before depression and anxiety had their way with me.

My message? If you are struggling and you think that a deeper asana practice is the cure, or that all the other tools in your self-care plan will bring you back to yourself – maybe they will. But if you suspect, or if someone suggests to you, that you may be seriously depressed, please find a doctor you trust and let them help you.
Besides loving Ben, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. I feel true again.


New Year, New Practice

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What sort of teacher will I be this year?  What can I promise my students? What intentions should I set?

2017 marks my twenty-fourth year of teaching.  To the best of my recollection the first yoga class I taught was on behalf of Mountain View Adult Education.  Or maybe it was the Parks and Recreation department.  In any case, my ‘studio’ was a carpeted classroom filled with desks.  Every Saturday morning I arrived early to push aside them aside in order to create space for all five (on a good day) of my students.  We didn’t have mats.  Instead we rolled out towels or worked on the carpet.  We wore tee shirts and shorts and had no props or music.  This was well before yoga teachers doubled as mix masters; before the Yoga Industrial Complex entered the stratosphere .

I taught the class as I had been taught:  demonstrate, practice, refine, demonstrate and then move to the next asana.  There may have been vinyasa classes happening somewhere but not in my cloistered Iyengar yoga community.

Two and a half decades has seen tremendous change.  I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling a twinge of nostalgia for the way things used to be.  I miss teaching for the love of teaching. Sometimes these days it feels as though there’s a competition to see who’ll be featured at the next Wonderlust gig or land the cover of Yoga Journal.

Back in the late 20th century we were so earnest. There was something so pure about it all.  There was never any hope of my surviving and thriving as a yoga teacher and that was fine. In fact, unless you were that rare breed – a studio owner (and when I began teaching the Iyengar Yoga Center was the only studio in town; Yoga Source wouldn’t open until 1994) you had no choice but to keep the day job.  Of course, back then I was a starving artist and a fledgling yoga teacher. What was I thinking? No wonder I packed it in and headed for Ireland!

But that was then and this is now.  For a time I tried to keep up with it all. I completed my 200-hour training and then a few more trainings after that. I joined Yoga Alliance.  As recently as last year I upgraded my YA designations and became a Continuing Education Provider but now I’m wondering ‘why‘?

The answer is so that I can find my place in this 21st  century iteration of yoga.  And there is a place for me – the older teacher.  I’m happy to hand off much of what modern yoga is to the more ambitious.  Knowing that I can me brings a bittersweet strength and liberation.

So. What sort of teacher will I be this year? I know I’ll continue to teach my truth.  And for what it’s worth, that is my intention and my promise.


For the New Teacher: The Business of Yoga

IMG_0168Sometimes it’s hard to think of those two words together: business and yoga. But yoga is a business. It’s a very big business. In fact, it’s a $27 billion dollar industry. And as yoga teachers we have a choice. It begins with asking the questions, “What does success as a yoga teacher mean to me? Is it about money? Fame?” Maybe it is. Maybe that’s your dharma. There’s no shame in being a yoga rock star who travels the world leading workshops or lands the cover of Yoga Journal. But what if your dharma is leading one class a week for seniors at the local recreation center? Or teaching underserved populations? Or not teaching at all?

I think for most of us there’s a middle path. I think most of us envision teaching three, maybe four classes a week, taking on some private clients, teaching a few specialized workshops and finding a local studio that holds space for our work and encourages us to grow. A studio we can call our yoga home.

It won’t happen over night, but if that’s what you want there is some groundwork you can put in place that will support the journey:

Join Yoga Alliance. Your 200-hour certificate will allow you to register with YA with the designation “RYT.” As you begin to teach you’ll keep track of your hours and you’ll be able to upgrade your designation. In time you’ll also qualify as a Yoga Alliance Continuing Education Provider (YACEP). This is a good thing. It means that, eventually and with enough experience, you will be able to offer workshops through which students can accrue continuing education units. As members of YA we are required to continue our education. This can include contact hours like workshops or additional trainings or it can include non-contact hours like research and publishing. Joining Yoga Alliance won’t make you a better teacher. But it’s a great resource. There is a yearly membership fee involved but there are also member benefits. Explore the Yoga Alliance website to see if it’s a good fit for you.

Have adequate insurance. Some studios will have policies that will cover you but if you intend to rent space to teach or to see private clients in their homes you must have liability insurance. The Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance websites will have information about how to find low cost insurance.

Continue learning. Attend classes, take workshops, read the latest research. Practice what you teach.

Cultivate a professional reputation:  Show up for classes on time, start class on time and finish on time, be present for your students – be an active listener, do not speak disparagingly of fellow teachers or studios, take the Yamas and the Niyamas to heart.

And that’s pretty much it. Almost…you may want to consider having a professional headshot to use for marketing purposes, creating a basic website to list your classes or, if you’re up to it, creating a blog.  Social media accounts dedicated to your practice and teaching are a nice idea, too.

What about taxes? It’s not as tricky as you think.

If you are an employee at a studio it is like any other job.  You’ll receive tax forms at the end of the year and you will file as usual.
If you are an independent contractor you will need to fill out a Schedule C when you file your taxes.  So keep good records of everything you earn and everything you spend for your yoga business. You might receive 1099 Forms from places you work. You most likely won’t receive these from private clients.
If you are an independent contractor and therefore self-employed, remember that you will owe not only income tax but self-employment tax (Social Security & Medicare) therefore you should pay quarterly estimated taxes.

 

 


We All Have Something to Say

IMG_1815Last month I walked past the sandwich board outside of University Avenue’s Lululemon emporium twice every Tuesday and Thursday for two weeks and each time I wanted to kick it. In my wildest moments I envisioned myself carrying a can of spray paint so no one else would walk past, read its message, and have that little moment of feeling less than. What words did I find so offensive?

My mascara runs faster than you do.

I’m guessing the marketing genius who came up with that tag line believed she was being light-hearted, and that it was meant to inspire those women for whom running is a passion. But for the rest of us – the walkers and Sunday bikers, or the woman balancing work, kids and all of life’s unexpected surprises – it was offensive.

Am I over-reacting? Maybe.

Except that it happens all the time. Social media is crowded with words that, on the surface, appear to inspire. But pick at the corner and peel back the shiny veneer and underneath you’ll find a subtext – intended or not – that is mean spirited and ugly.

If your dreams don’t scare you they’re not big enough.

What?

I have dreams that are small enough to hold in my hand. I have bigger dreams, too, and I have dreams that are the size of all the beating hearts in the world and are unlikely to ever come true – but they still make me smile. Dreams that scare? Those are called nightmares.

We need to consider the words we choose, the words we share.

We’re all writers now and it’s a dangerous thing because it’s so easy to stick to the slick surface of a pretty sentence. But words and sentences and the messages we’re trying to send have layered context and connotations.

There’s an essay making the rounds on social media from a young yoga teacher. You can read that essay here. She screams her way through five hundred or so words, lambasting the yoga industrial complex and layering her argument with more than a few expletives. She ends her rant with this:

…It is ALL f***ing yoga! There is no concrete, set in stone, no if ands or buts way to teach or practice yoga…

As I watched the likes and hearts, the shares and affirmative comments pile up I had to wonder what I was missing.

Because I believe she’s wrong.

And she’s wrong in the same way that Lululemon’s sandwich board sign was wrong and that passive aggressive adages reminding me that my dreams should be scary disguised as deep and meaningful philosophy are wrong.

The nuances of teaching are, of course, up to the individual teacher’s personality and whims but the core of yoga and the asana we practice is part of a system that has evolved over thousands of years. If we play music at savasana does it interfere with our practice of concentration and truthfulness? Yes, it does. It transforms savasana – the most difficult of poses – into sleepy relaxation. What is our intention as teachers? As yogis? If our practice has evolved to a state where anything goes – as this yoga teacher’s essay implies – then I want out.

Yoga, at its core, is about self-regulation. It’s about observing, understanding, reacting – all with clarity and honesty. It’s about being aligned with the Yamas and Niyamas.

I know that a dear friend of mine would suggest I’m taking myself too seriously. Taking yoga too seriously. Of course I am.

Yoga is not a witty aphorism. It’s my life.


Duty Bound

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Researching for a novel I was writing.

Eight months is a long time. It’s two hundred and forty days, give or take. That’s how long it has been since I abandoned my writing practice. My photography? I abandoned that when I packed up my darkroom and sold my printer in 1994. Then, and now, I had my reasons. Life was busy. Work was all consuming. It still is.

When does our sense of commitment to a job and to others supersede abandoning the touchstone that speaks to our heart? When did I trade my creative life for a life of duty?

My work as a yoga teacher and program director at Samyama Yoga Center brings a sense of immense personal accomplishment. My work with chronic pain patients, most recently as someone who offers training to yoga teachers new to working with this demographic, fills me with joy.

But along the way I’ve lost my balance. These activities – these wonderful things that bring food to my plate and keep a roof over my head – have become all consuming. So while I have enough creature comforts to keep me fed, clothed and sheltered my soul feels raw for the lacking.

I crave a wholesome life. I crave a life that supports my happily charging forth duty bound into the fray and a life that is blessed with the time to hold my emotional heart in my hands.

This dilemma is not unique to me and I am grateful that this simple idea of finding balance and that honoring my creative heart is my biggest problem. All in all, I am a very lucky woman.

Still, it feels good to be back.