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.


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.


Karma Yoga in the Age of Zoom

When the world shut down last March, like so many other yoga teachers, I turned to Zoom. Unlike most teachers, I wore my pajamas and led a 30-minute chair class from my desk. That was eight months ago. It feels like eight weeks. Or maybe eighty years.

Now my classes are an hour long and have moved to a light filled corner of my home every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning. And, to the relief of all, I’ve changed from my pajamas to my yoga duds which, truth be told, feel a lot like pajamas.

I’ve come to realize, after all these long COVID months, that my reasons for holding Zoom classes were never about maintaining an asana practice. I began the classes to hold the community together. To keep those who chose to attend energetically connected. I began the classes so we might breathe together. Move together. So that we could have one thing that felt almost normal. 

Asana is what brings us together three times a week but it’s not what holds us together. Yoga holds us together.

When I first began leading classes 27 years ago it was all about asana. I taught the same sequences and told the same jokes as my beloved teachers, who were students of BKS Iyengar and who studied with the Iyengar family in Pune. It took several years before I began to trust my own voice, my own intuition. It’s only now, in these past few years, that I’ve learned who I am – and who I am not – as a teacher.

In these extraordinary times it doesn’t feel right to root the classes I teach in strong, challenging work. Now feels like the right time to root ourselves in healing, restorative practices. Practices that are more about how the body feels and less about what it can do. 

Now feels like the right time to root ourselves in truth. 

What do I mean by that? Beats me. I think what I mean is that in this terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad year we would do well to think less about ourselves and more about others. Maybe what I mean is that we need to move beyond just thinking about others to doing for others with no expectation of what we might receive in return. What I am trying to express is that we need to practice Karma Yoga.

Karma Yoga is one of four schools of yoga. The other three are Jnana (self-study), Raja (meditation) and Bhakti (devotion). Karma Yoga is the yoga of action. It is selfless service towards others. That means cultivating the correct attitude and right motives. To release, as one text explained, ‘selfish desires’.

We should always be prepared to practice Karma Yoga but it seems more important than ever right now. 

Two things happened this morning to bring that point home to me and to bring this post to a close (thank goodness!).

Fareed Zacaria had Jose Andres, a chef and founder of World Central Kitchen. His organization is shining a light on food scarcity and the hunger crises in part caused by the economic challenges created by the pandemic. He spoke so eloquently and with so much passion that even the stoic Zacaria was verkelmpt. Andres is practicing Karma Yoga. Selfless service.

And then Sunday’s Brain Pickings landed in my inbox featuring poet Robinson Jeffers and his thoughts on ‘moral beauty’. It included several quotes but this one, I think, speaks to the practice of Karma Yoga.

“I believe that the universe is one being, all its parts are different expressions of the same energy,

and they are all in communication with each other, influencing each other, therefore parts of one organic whole.”

If Jeffers is right, and we are all connected, then selfless service does not serve one person, or one group or one cause. It serves us all.


what next.

We had two days of blue skies in my little patch of Northern California. The giddiness was palpable. Even the birds around the feeder on our porch seemed happier. But when the news broke at 5:00 PM on Friday, September 18th all that was over. We were found out. Whatever parallel universe we had encroached upon for the previous forty-eight hours had discovered our tenuous joy and decided to boot us right back to the other, uglier parallel universe from whence we came.

A quiet Rosh Hashanah dinner for two with a nice salad, grilled salmon and a little wine (in the nice glasses!) turned into leftovers seasoned with our sorrow and a little too much wine.

I scrolled through social media to read the reactions of my friends and found a reply to my simple post of ‘No.’ My friend, like all of us, was seeking comfort – a nice quote to quiet our panic, simple words of wisdom from anyone to use as a balm on our heart. But I had nothing.

I still have nothing. When I woke this morning, for a quick little moment I didn’t remember. But then, as I boiled the kettle and put three scoops of French Roast in the cafetière, the dark morning settled on me. It may be a feeble attempt to find a spark of strength but I take comfort in knowing I’m not alone.

At the risk of tempting fate – what next? As I write at 6:00 AM on Saturday, September 19th there are one hundred and four days left to this horrid year. This is the year that began with my mother passing. When she died there was a part of me that thought the one hard knock of the year had happened and it was clear(ish) sailing for the remaining eleven months. 

But the hits keep coming and now I’m at my desk, with MSNBC’s Velshi breaking my heart with scenes of people, candles lit and singing Imagine in front of the Supreme Court.

We are remarkable. My tribe – a tribe that values integrity, that puts people and our planet over politics and knows that we are a heartbeat away from losing it all – is remarkable. We have been through so much these past four years. And now we’ve lost the most amazing woman. On Rosh Hashanah no less.

What should we do with the loss we feel?

It’s time to push back with something more. Reposting messages of indignant outrage on social medial might help me feel better but these are facile gesture. I know the rule of law does not serve all citizens equally. I recognize lies when I hear them and I know our government is using one untruth after another to gaslight every single one of us. 

What are we going to do? 

Please vote.  


Underlying Beliefs

UnknownThe Black Lives Matter protests have, I hope, encouraged us to reflect on our values and beliefs. Each of us have values that we try to live by and beliefs we hold that support those values. But sometimes our beliefs, our values and our actions are not in harmony. Sometimes they clash. Sometimes they are inert.

For example, I value equality. I believe all people should be treated equally. I value education. I believe every child deserves an epic education, teachers deserve a living wage and schools need adequate funding. I value health and wellness. I believe every human deserves access to the best medical care available and the resources to support a vibrant and healthy lifestyle. These are three of my values and beliefs but, while I can talk the talk, the truth is I don’t know that I always walk the walk. Do I treat everyone I meet with fairness and equality? Do I support the teachers I know or nearby school districts in underserved communities? Do I petition my government officials when health care is on the line?

You might ask, “What’s stopping you?” What’s stopping any of us? I believe our deeper, underlying beliefs are silent influencers that direct how we relate to the values by which we want to live. Our underlying beliefs don’t make us bad people, but they might prevent us from being the best versions of ourselves.

Underlying beliefs – the elusive beliefs we can’t always name – become so much a part of who we are that we lose sight of them. Since fourth grade, when I was laughed at for taking too long to answer a simple multiplication problem at the black board, I’ve believed I’m bad at arithmetic. From the age of ten I told myself ‘I can’t do math’ until it settled into a truth I’ve carried with me for fifty years. Likewise, from the moment Mrs. Arnold took interest in an essay I wrote on the themes of transcendentalism in the music of John Denver for eleventh grade English I believed I had a facility for writing. While I won’t score in the highest percentile in math tests it doesn’t mean that I can’t do math. And while I may have the ability to write a coherent sentence from time to time it doesn’t mean I’m on the path to a Pulitzer. 

Underlying beliefs begin to slip into our psyche at a young age. They are fed to us – almost always unwittingly – by parents, teachers, friends or our own observations. Sometimes they are positive and serve to support how we navigate life. Other times the underlying beliefs that form are negative. They limit and sabotage the steps we take to add meaning to our existence.  Neither the boy who laughed because I couldn’t multiply nor Mrs. Arnold who loved my writing would ever know the impact of their interactions with me. 

The experiences I had in school formed very personal underlying beliefs. But in these times, I’ve been questioning the role of underlying beliefs in the collective unconscious of all our communities, whether they be indigenous communities, the community of white privilege to which I belong or communities of color. I’m not so foolish to believe our conflicts are caused by underlying beliefs alone. But when I hold my backpack a little tighter because the person walking toward me is of a different color, or when I assume the driver taking a sharp turn with no signal is from a different culture – it’s proof that sometimes the underlying beliefs we thought we vanquished long ago can rise to the surface. We cannot deny that our histories have built thick walls of mistrust. Yet when I see a line of police officers taking a knee with a line of protesters I feel a rush of hope. I see underlying beliefs crumbling like dust. Still, my white community is not absolved from the crimes it has committed. There’s more work to do. Centuries of work. 

In the meantime, a recent email from the IAYT (a professional organization for yoga therapists) included this quote from the Rig Veda, one of four ancient Indian collections of Vedic Sanskrit hymns:

“Let us come together! Let us speak together! Let our minds be all of one accord. Let our speech be one; united with our voices! May our minds be in union with the thoughts of the Wise Ones. Let our hearts be joined as one. United be our thoughts. At peace with all, may we live together in harmony.” (X.191)


What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?

Have you ever thought about something, or maybe saw something totally outside the realm of normal and then, for whatever the reason, it’s everywhere? Sort of like when Uno won the Westminster Dog Show and then suddenly we were running into beagles around every corner. 

That happened to me three times this past week. Three times in the span of five days this question appeared: ‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid?’. I first saw the question in an article I was reading online. Then I heard the same question posed to an audience during a TED talk. Finally, the question shows up in the tome my book club is reading,  David Brooks’ The Second Mountain.

It could be that I’m riding the edge of a wave and by the end of next week we won’t be able to turn around without bumping into posters, bumperstickers and tee shirts imploring us to contemplate the answer. Or maybe the universe is directing the question to me and me alone – a little bit like the freeway sign who talks to Steve Martin’s weather man in the movie L.A. Story.

Either way, maybe it’s not such a bad thing to contemplate. What would YOU do if you weren’t afraid?

Maybe you’re already doing it. Maybe not. Does it matter?

I’m all for living fearlessly but the suggestion that we’re holding ourselves back from full self-actualization because we’re afraid is annoying. Why? Because it feeds the idea of individuation during a time in our history when, more than anything, we need to connect. The question encourages us to be selfish during a time in our history when we should be selfless.

Yes, sometimes fear keeps us from walking a certain path but is that always bad? I’ve often thought about getting a tattoo. With a great sigh of relief I happily confess that fear has kept me from the artist’s needle. The saying ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ is not one I choose to embrace. The intention of these ideas, on the surface, do not encourage community building. Instead, they lean us toward a narcissistic variant of introspection.


Day VIII, Week II, Phase I: Oops, I Did it Again

I’m an emotional eater. Always have been. What does that mean? It means when something comes along to jangle my equilibrium – a quiet disagreement, a perceived slight, difficulties at work or even just the voice in my head chipping away at my self-esteem – I eat.

And believe me, I’m not stuffing my face with kale salad. Nope. Remember, sugar is my nemesis.

I reach for ice cream.

I knew there was a half eaten pint of Talenti gelato in our freezer and with a little foresight I would have either finished it or thrown it away before the start of this reboot journey. But I didn’t. You can figure out the rest of the story.

“I’ll just have a spoonful,” I said to myself. Three spoonfuls later I said, “Just one more.” Thankfully, Ben was home and pried the carton from my cold, curled fingers before I could inflict any more self-harm. He and I both knew a few spoonfuls of creamy chocolate goodness wouldn’t derail the progress of my detox/flush/reboot journey. The guilt scheduled to arrive the moment that last spoonful hit my gullet would be my undoing.

What do we do when our best intentions take a back seat to our reflexive instincts?

One of the gifts that a yoga practice offers is self-regulation. Yoga teaches us to have a measured response – the ability to dial down the strong reactions we might have to external events. In other words, instead of reaching for the ice cream I might have reached for the meditation cushion.

But sometimes self-regulation defaults to stress-induced tantrum and before I know it I’m a sticky chocolate mess. When that happens – it’s time to practice forgiveness. When forgiveness opens my heart I remind myself that one of the gifts of this program is the opportunity to look at the small choices we all make each day. Approaching each choice with presence and mindfulness and – sometimes – a little bit of forgiveness is an act of healing.


When Gratitude is Too Big

fullsizeoutput_6e7Over the past few weeks in the creative expression classes I teach we’ve been creating gratitude journals. Gratitude journals are, as they say, ‘trending’. There are studies, in fact, that suggest keeping one benefits our mental and physical health. This might be true. 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. 

But sometimes the concept of gratitude feels too big for me and at the same time too elementary. It’s difficult for me to winnow down all the reasons I have for being grateful.  The simple act of creating a daily list of well-meaning gestures, happy accidents and unexpected outcomes might remind me of the good in life, but it doesn’t 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?  The things that turn our frowns upside down?

In yogic philosophy we study Patanjali’s niyamas. The niyamas are a collection of five virtues. One of these virtues is self-study (‘svadhyaya’).  Anchoring the contemplation of gratitude in self-study provides an opportunity to embrace those moments for which we are grateful and then to explore the deeper nature of gratitude and how we can express the gratitude we experience. 

If we want to narrow our focus even further 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 be asked about a relationship, a situation or even an event. For example, if I choose to practice Naikan on my mother then the questions I ask are:

  • What have I received from my mother?
  • What have I given to my mother?
  • What difficulties have I caused my mother?

The obvious fourth questions, What difficulties has my mother caused me?, is ignored. It is human nature to shine a spotlight on that question, but it is through the examination of our answers to the first three questions that we’ll find enlightenment.

When you open your journal tonight, how will self-study or a Naikan practice influence how you consider gratitude?


Judgement and Discernment

IMG_3147I’m a judgmental woman. It’s not charming and not something of which I’m particularly proud. Nevertheless, I own my judgmental nature in the same way that I own my adorableness, my ability to empathize and to be kind, my sense of humor, my lack of math skills, my ability to organize and my fear of driving. I judge. Sometimes harshly, almost always unfairly.

Understanding who we are and owning the qualities that make us who we are – qualities that shift and change shape from moment to moment – opens the door to deep self-inquiry. I am, at times, a judgmental person. If I deny this character flaw then I am unable to observe my actions and correct them when necessary.

Self-inquiry is part of our yoga journey. We can study the self through meditation and journaling or when we step on the mat to take our asana practice. Self-inquiry is also, for me, a daily examination of how I live my life. Did I tell an untruth today? Did I cheat someone or steal from someone? Did I honor my friends and students with kindness and generosity? Or did I snap and growl, caught up in my own story. The truth is I am human. And being a human means that there are moments when the truth eludes me, moments when my integrity sags and moments, too, when my grace and integrity shine as bright as the sun.

Where does judgement come from?

My harsh judgements are reactionary, fleeting, biased and not based on evidence. They momentarily allow me to feel “better than.” My judgements are like sentries protecting me from truths I don’t want to examine. But after the heat of judgement cools the truth still seeps in. When that happens I feel “less than.” My harsh judgements sit next to my fears, just a few pews away from insecurity’s quagmire. That’s where my judgement comes from.

As part of my personal practice, I acknowledge those moments when I judge harshly. I take a step back to consider why I’m being reactive. I look for the evidence and attempt to discern whether my judgement is based on an external reality or is answering an insecurity that I carry within.

Our practice as students of yoga is to understand how judgements can arise, the difference between judgement and discernment, and how right understanding can move us closer to the truth.


The Wonder of a Blood Red Moon

lunar-eclipse-factsI know very little about the science of astronomy, yet I’ve been captivated by stars, satellites and transits since I was a little girl standing in the driveway with my mom in Lynnport, Pennsylvania searching the sky for Perseids. The anticipation I feel when I know we’re about to experience a meteor shower, an eclipse, an unusual alignment of planets along the ecliptic plane or those same planets’ transit across the solar disc is as giddy as a child’s anticipation of Santa Claus.

The cosmos is a vast and constant beauty, as it was on Wednesday morning when the earth’s shadow turned January’s blue moon blood red.

I am compelled to bear witness to these celestial events. When I do, I am one with the motion of the planets. I feel connected to the stars. I feel connected to the spinning earth and the energy of every other creature craning her neck on a frosty pre-dawn. I’m part of a collection of craned necks looking up in amazement and wondering what lies beyond the sparkling dark and inky pool above.

Being present for the stars, the moons and the planets reminds me of my infinitesimal smallness and the terrible burden of weight I place on the most insignificant of circumstances.

It’s a wondrous, wonderful thing to know that on Wednesday the brick red glow reflected back to earth was the light of all the planet’s sunsets and sunrises. For those few hours, anyone who looked up at the moon saw the beginning of every new day and the close of another. It was like looking at the breath of Gaia.