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.


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.


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.


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”


The Day After: Teaching Yoga in the Storm

Even though I saw it coming. Even though we all saw it coming. There was an element of stunned surprise as we watched it happen.

It’s morning. I’ve had my coffee. I’ve watched Stephen Colbert’s opening monologue from last night (it’s worth fourteen minutes of your life). I’m flipping between CNN, MSNBC and Fox (yes, I am). What I believed, what I thought was right and my innate optimism is scattered across the floor this morning like a bucket of spilled Lego blocks. And now I’m left to figure out how to put my faith in who we are as a nation back together. How the Legos stack. They’ll never align the same way. I’m shook.

Are you? You should be.

But before I dig out my pink pussy hat from 2016 and run off to the nearest march, I have yoga classes to teach. People to coach. Papers to write and a Noom account to manage.

So. As yoga teachers, what do we do? When we log into Zoom today do we pretend it never happened? Is this the day we pull out the Ahimsa trope and rehash all the cliches’ we’ve gathered about non-violence over three decades of teaching? Do we set aside the vigorous flow we had planned and trade it in for quiet reflection? I don’t know. I guess it depends on who we are as teachers. 

Something is happening. We preach ‘be here now’ without ever really understanding what that means. Be here now. Stay awake. Remain present. Do not sweep what is happening in our country under the yoga mat.

This morning I’m reactive. I’m responding thoughtfully (I hope) to comments I see in my Facebook feed from strangers across the Atlantic who are describing yesterday as ‘amusing’ or ‘not as bad as…’ (choose any atrocity in Northern Ireland).  I sent a lengthy text to a dear friend wondering why the stock market is up today because my brain is filled with images of gleeful brokers in suits and Italian leather shoes surrounded by money and oblivious to the carnage around them. Every time I hear a talking head say, “this is not who we are” I ask myself, “then who are we?”

Like I said. I’m reactive. I’m reactive when I want to be active. Reactivity is impulsive and not well-thought out. We witnessed reactivity yesterday. And while we watched the capital stormed by thousands of maskless souls, three thousand nine hundred other souls died of COVID. But that’s another story.

I don’t want to react. I want to act. By that I mean I want to be informed. Even when that means tuning into news that may lean toward a political philosophy that is different from my own. I want to be responsive and responsible.

As a yoga teacher, as a yoga therapist, as a coach – it’s an obligation I intend to fulfill.


Resolve & Clarity

There was a time when New Year’s resolutions meant everything to me. This is how it typically played out:

  1. In December I begin to create a list of goals impossibly long and non-specific
  2. By mid-January I’m inching toward failure
  3. February arrives and the goals and aspirations I imagined for myself in December are forgotten
  4. Guilt ensues

I’m not alone. By February most resolution loving humans have become fickle wrecks, rationalizing all the reasons why the promises we made to ourselves were broken. Why no amount of good intention was enough to realize change.

After many decades of repeating this pattern I decided resolutions were a fools errand and stopped torturing myself. Until now. This year, 2021, is different. I’m not certain why. Perhaps  the chaos and commotion of 2020 has left me feeling untethered and the only way to anchor myself in the present is to build a framework for the future.

I’ve read that one of the reasons why our resolve fails after a few short weeks is because the goals we set for ourselves are not specific enough. For instance, it’s not enough for me to tell myself “In 2021 I want to be published.” What does ‘be published’ mean? Do I mean a letter to the editor of my local newspaper or a feature in O Magazine? It’s more helpful for me to set this intention: “In 2021 I want to be published in the Readers Write column of The Sun.” That still may not happen, but the specificity of the intent allows me to create a plan of action that moves me forward toward that goal.

In the past, like many, ‘lose weight’ and it’s sidekick ‘exercise more’ has made an appearance on my list of resolutions. Even when my weight was well in the realm of ‘average’ and I was hitting the magic number of steps. It landed on my list this year but I had to wonder why. And so, it’s been helpful to take time to consider what I actually mean when less weight and more exercise land on the list. It hasn’t taken long for me to realize these goals are really not about weight loss and exercise. They’re about health and wellness. They weren’t about fitting into the embossed leather pencil skirt a friend outgrew and passed on to me. They’re about living life with vibrancy. With clarity. Besides, can you see me teaching yoga in an embossed leather pencil skirt?

So how do I find vibrancy? Where is the clarity I seek?

Last year began with the death of my mother. She was an alcoholic. As was my grandfather.  Two months after the local post office lost and then recovered my mother’s ashes (it could only happen to my mom) we shut down and the life we knew became The Before Times. Overnight we were strategizing new coping mechanisms. 

My coping mechanism was wine. What became a glass or two on weekends morphed into a couple of glasses on weekend nights and a glass or two over the course of the work week which eventually morphed into a glass or two every night of the week. Every now and again I took a break for a few days – just to prove I could – but the next COVID graph would send me back to the Pinot. The amount I was drinking was more than I should but I was convinced my nightly habit relieved the pressure of coping in the weird time in which we live. And besides, I only poured the Pinot as a nightcap before climbing into bed. When I started climbing into bed at 7:00 PM I had to ask myself, ‘how much drinking is too much drinking?’

And the cheap Pinot was not supporting the vibrancy and clarity I want for my life. And so, here I go, walking into this new, amazing year as a non-drinker. I’d like to say this is permanent but I don’t know if that’s true. I want it to be true but I’m just a humble and flawed yoga teacher. So we’ll see.


Pop-Up Coaching

What do you envision for yourself in 2021?

This long, difficult year feels like Groundhog Day. Nothing is what it should be and the fog bank of uncertainty that usually rests in the back of our minds rolls in and pondering the future becomes a fool’s errand. The vision we hold for ourselves isn’t clear because nothing is clear.

Where can you go for a dose of clarity?

Coaching.

A coaching session drills down to what matters most to you. A coaching session clears the fog and brings into focus awarenesses that inspire, motivate and move you forward. Coaching is an effective way to create new habits or maintain current ones. It’s useful when facing challenges at work or when considering a career change. Coaching can help you create structure and to regain control if this past year has you feeling a little out of control.

Now that there is hope on the horizon in the form of a vaccine it’s time to reignite our passion for life, for our dreams and for our future.

Take coaching for a test drive on Saturday, January 2 or Sunday, January 3. Thirty minute appointments are available between 9AM and 3PM. Book your appointment here.

What do you envision for yourself in 2021? Let’s find out.


Pandemic Poundage and the Mystery of Self-Care

I’ve joined Noom, the diet app that changes our relationship with food. For the uninitiated, Noom is an online health and wellness coaching app focused on weight loss. It includes all the typical elements of a healthy eating plan: tracking food and weighing in. But it also includes daily lessons that teach me about my triggers, how to maintain motivation and the benefits of positive reinforcement. Noom also provides an online coach who checks in daily. I’ve yet to determine whether my coach Jessye is a real human or a bot but given the specificity of our conversations I’m leaning toward human. 

For the past two years my body has been gently expanding and the pandemic has accelerated this loathsome process. Given that I’m at the beginning of life’s ‘chapter three’ I know that in order to enjoy the rest of my life story I need to be the best version of me I can muster. What’s the best version of me? The best version of me is:

  • an advocate for her yoga students and coaching clients
  • a woman who demonstrates compassion and caring
  • someone who is not afraid to laugh with gusto at bad jokes and loves fearlessly
  • a person who takes time to nurture the parts of her that makes the heart sing: writing, creating and simple stillness

If I want those visions of who I am to shine, then the best version of me must also be this: 

A strong and healthy woman.

And so, a day after my 62nd birthday and two days before the start of the American Food Fest that we call the ‘holiday season’ I joined Noom. Timing is not my strong suit.

It’s too early to tell if I’ll shift my Pandemic Poundage and while that’s a priority it’s not the priority. The priority for me is not shifting the weight, it’s shifting my attitude about how I choose to take care of myself. 

What is Self-Care?

The concept of self-care has always been, for me, a bit of a mystery. Is it a quick mani/pedi or a long soak in the bathtub? Maybe it’s a glass of Pinot at the end of a long, hard day or a new pair of shoes worn once and then donated to charity. In the Before Times self-care fell under the category of ‘unnecessary gift’ – a small and perhaps selfish indulgence to soothe a bad day. I didn’t see the connection between self-care and good health. 

But during a coaching session a few weeks ago my client arrived at an awareness that is changing both our lives:

My body is my friend. Would I treat a friend the same way I treat my body?

When I heard that simple truth and all the best versions of me that I envision aligned. They challenged me to reflect on my somewhat debauched pandemic behavior and re-affirmed the importance of self-care.

Self-care, it turns out, is more than a new pair of blue suede shoes. Self-care is a deliberate act of nurturing that supports our mental, emotional and physical health. A good self-care practice improves our outlook on life. It reduces anxiety. It improves our relationships. Placing a priority on self-care is like putting the oxygen mask on first. Once we can breathe we can help others to do the same.

What Does My Self-Care Practice Look Like?

  • It has it’s own rhythm and flow that moves with my needs and instincts
  • At the same time, it’s a practice that needs to be planned
  • A self-care plan adds and subtracts: I might add more exercise and subtract my habit of checking emails first thing in the morning. I’ll add cut flowers to my environment and put my phone in another room at dinner.
  • My self-care practice includes Noom, which is reminding me to make good (not perfect) nutritional choices.
  • It also includes good sleep hygiene. Like Ben Franklin, I’m early to bed and early to rise. While it might make me healthy, there’s no guarantee it will make me wealthy or wise. One can always hope, I suppose.
  • A self-care plan includes movement. When life pressed ‘pause’ in March I began a walking program that, until a nasty fall, had transitioned to jogging. I’ve now settled on brisk walking. My walks – typically an hour – bring clarity and focus. Even at a brisk pace they relax and unwind me.
  • Most importantly, my self-care plan includes spending quality time with the man I love. With the pandemic keeping us working from home you would think that would be easy. It’s not. Ben and I make certain to eat at least one meal together and to take longs walks together on the weekends. 

Self-care plans are as unique as the individual.

What does your self-care plan look like? What habits no longer serve you? What new habit will bring you closer to the best version of you?


Is Gratitude over-rated?

I’ll be honest. The word ‘gratitude’ annoys me. Feeling grateful is wonderful, of course. I felt grateful this past Friday morning when I was awake early enough to see the brilliant sunrise in all her glory. But gratitude? It’s a trending buzzword and after awhile trending buzzwords relinquish their impact to the next buzzword that comes along. There’s plenty of joy to be found, however, in feeling grateful.

Studies suggest that remembering what brings us joy and recording those moments of gratitude in a journal benefits our mental and physical health. The deliberate act of shifting our energy toward the positive rather than nurturing our habit of catastrophizing the difficulties we encounter builds our emotional resilience and reminds us that living is a group experience. In other words, reflecting on the shared experience of Friday’s sunrise is healthier than reflecting on the shared experience of the pandemic.

Another reason why the word ‘gratitude’ annoys me is this: sometimes the concept just feels too big. It’s difficult for me to winnow down all the moments in my day for which I might be grateful. Am I grateful for the morning cup of fresh-pressed coffee my partner Ben brought to me while I stayed in bed? Sure. Am I grateful for the purrs of contentment my cat Bruce shares when we cuddle? Of course. Am I grateful for the roof over my head? Without a doubt. But while the simple act of opening a journal and creating a daily gratitude list of well-meaning gestures, happy accidents and unexpected outcomes might remind me of the good in life, it fails to satisfy the yearning I feel in my heart to understand how acknowledging these moments feeds my soul.

How can we add depth to the act of recognizing the positive in life? 

In yogic philosophy we study Patanjali’s Sutras. In the Sutras, Patanjali describes five Yamas and five Niyamas. The Yamas describe restraints to practice: non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation and freedom from grasping. The Niyamas are a collection of five virtues: cleanliness, contentment, self-discipline, self-study and surrender. Anchoring the contemplation of gratitude in the fourth Niyama self-study (‘svadhyaya’ in Sanskrit) encourages us to explore the nature of gratitude. It supports our understanding of how we express our gratitude as we walk through life. With that understanding we can more fully embrace those moments for which we are grateful. 

If we want to add a deeper dimension to our gratitude practice we can turn to Naikan – the Japanese practice of introspection. When we practice Naikan we ask three simple questions:

  • What have I received?
  • What have I given?
  • What difficulties have I caused?

The questions might focus on a relationship, a situation, an individual or even an event. For example, if I choose to practice Naikan with my focus on Ben then the questions I ask are:

  • What have I received from Ben?
  • What have I given to Ben?
  • What difficulties have I caused Ben?

The obvious fourth question, “What difficulties has Ben caused me?” is ignored. It is human nature to shine a spotlight on that question. It is, however, through the examination of our answers to the first three questions that we discover aspects of ourselves we didn’t know existed. We learn more about our relationship to gratitude. We move toward enlightenment.

When we open our journal tonight, how will self-study or a Naikan practice influence how we consider gratitude? What would happen if we chose to frame a Naikan practice around those things in our life that cause pain?