The Gift Part II: How Mimm Got Her Mojo Back

When I was in my late twenties there was a nightclub with a mezzanine and lots of ferns on Bryant Street in downtown Palo Alto called 42nd Street. It later became O’Connell’s Pub – a place I loved and, if my memory serves, the place where I saw the band Black 47 for the first time. But when it was still 42nd Street I was taken there after a dinner date. We had a drink or two to loosen the truth and then he said something I’ve never forgotten:

“I think the reason why you keep yourself so busy is to avoid meeting people.”

It was a small but pointed observation. While at the time I was keeping busy in order to avoid a second date (very nice guy but not my type), his words stung. But as the saying goes, the truth hurts.

It was never my intention to be a busy person. My natural inclination leans more toward sloth than to hare. And yet, here I am. A busy person.

Being busy has its benefits. I’ve worked hard enough over the past decade to purchase my own BMR home. I’ve worked hard enough to keep myself clothed with mark downs at Nordstrom’s Rack and I’ve worked hard enough to keep myself a little too well fed. I’ve even worked hard enough to enjoy the occasional splurge. The latest? Lash extensions and a mani/pedi so I could feel full-on girlie girl at the wedding Ben and I attended last month in Atlanta. 

Being busy has cost me, too. Being busy has kept me from the things that help me feel whole. No amount of lash extensions and freshly painted toes can replace a quiet hour of writing or a day given over to kumihimo, basket making or taking photographs at Shoreline. 

But now we’ve landed on the second Monday since the start of the Zombie Apocalypse. It feels less like eight days and more like eight years. Still, I’ve been given the precious gift of time. What have I done with it all?

On the first Monday, when I took my walk to the pain clinic and found it closed, the novelvirus was as described: novel. I didn’t give the sudden change in circumstances much thought. I was feeling a bit giddy – a little like the feeling I have after an earthquake that’s big enough to remind me life is fragile but not so big as to break the Simon Pearse vase given to me as a housewarming gift.

By Tuesday I was pulling my hair out.

On Wednesday my beloved Ben was thinking about finding an office space to rent. Yes, I was that bad. So I took myself to Shoreline and began to ponder how we would survive. Ben joked if the virus didn’t kill him, I would (SO not true!).

I spent some virtual time with my new peer coach, Evan, on Thursday. By the end of our Discovery Meeting I had an action plan in place. I resolved not only to write an hour a day or 500 words – which ever came first – I also made a promise to myself to create a schedule. I realized my heightened anxiety was fueled by a sense of being unmoored. When all my work ended I was set adrift. A schedule would anchor me once again. I just had to be certain it was a schedule that focused less on creating Busy Person Mimm and more on Taking Care of Mimm.

By Friday I had free online yoga classes organized for my students and friends – you can find the schedule here. I filled my academic calendar with the classes I now have time to take to complete my coaching certification. And I scheduled time for walks, for art, for self-care. 

And today? The second Monday since the start of the Zombie Apocalypse? Well, it’s possible that today I got my mojo back.


Three Weeks From Now

I’m watching Brian Stelter on CNN this morning. He makes an important point: it’s not SOCIAL distancing, it’s PHYSICAL distancing we’re meant to practice. And then he asks, “Three weeks ago, what did you think you’d be doing today?”

Three weeks ago I thought today would be the day Ben and I celebrate his birthday a few days late. I imagined a sunny drive to Half Moon Bay and a walk along the bluffs. I imagined a wonderful lunch – maybe at Duarte’s in Pescardero. I imagined a stop at Harley Farms to pet the goats and to stock up on hand salve and habanero jam. Instead, he’s in Ohio helping his son move from his dorm and back home. The campus is closed and for the foreseeable future his classes will be online.

Three weeks ago I thought that later today, after the birthday celebrations, I’d be planning my week, scheduling meetings, thinking about lesson plans, thinking about my first class of the week at Subud House and preparing practices for my individual clients. Instead, I’m filling an empty schedule with the theory classes I need to complete via Zoom as part of the requirements of the 18-month program in coaching through ICA that I enrolled in at the start of the year. I’m thinking about how I can remain physically distant from students and yet still hold on to the continuity of a regular group practice. And of course I’m thinking about all the goals I set for myself at the start of the year that I let go of as life became too full.

But now life isn’t full. Samyama Yoga Center has closed through April. Clients I see in their own homes have pressed ‘pause’ and the pain management programs I’m part of are hanging on by tenterhooks and I would not be surprised if they, too, shuttered for a few weeks.  

I have the mental space I’ve been craving but it does not make me happy. It makes me feel unmoored.  I’m filled with an unnerving mix of acceptance and anxiety.  I peeled myself away from the news just long enough to watch the movie Contagion.

Three weeks ago it was easy to think about what I’d be doing today. Ask me what I’ll be doing three weeks from now and I don’t have an answer.

This brings home the truth that our only constant is change and the most important thing we can do to feel safe in an uncertain world is to remain rooted in our practice.

As Seltzer ended his segment he suggested social media can be a force for good. And why not? It doesn’t matter if it’s filled with saccharine quotes, fake news and cute cat videos. It can also be a place where we can still be together. 

Hang in there. Stay healthy and in cyber-touch.  Wash your hands, moisturize and don’t hoard toilet paper. 


Is it Just Me or is it Getting Hot in Here?

Someone shared a recent critique of my asana classes: “We didn’t sweat enough.”

While some might disagree, for the most part it’s true. My classes are not the ones to attend if you’re looking to leave the studio dripping wet. If you need more sweat Samyama has plenty of strong vinyasa classes taught by instructors happy to crank the thermostat – not to Bikram levels, of course, but high enough to make me feel nostalgic for the flush-filled glow of peri-menopause. 

A certain amount of slowly rising internal heat is good for me. I love when my muscles and bones are warmed by a gentle sequence of standing poses. Yet my asana practice doesn’t ask for nor does it need the intensity delivered by a super heated studio and breathless flow. That doesn’t mean a heated studio is wrong for everyone. But it’s wrong for me and for most of the students who attend my classes.

As a student I was never overly concerned about the temperature of the yoga studio. I never gravitated toward a heated flow but I didn’t shy away either. After the alignment-focused lineage I’d been attached to at the hip for so many years gently loosened its grip I became more open to other methods of practice. I was more inclined to dropping-in to studio classes based on my work schedule rather than on my preference. I even dipped my sweaty toe into the afore-mentioned Bikram class three or four times.

My ego loved Bikram. My body not so much. My ego loved the hyper-mobility achieved during those repetitive ninety minutes of practice while glistening beads of sweat from the forty people crammed into the dank room co-mingled in the humid atmosphere and then rained onto our mats. Hours later my body, still depleted from the effort, with each move would beg to never have to go through the experience again. 

I know. There are some who will offer advice: drink more water before class or try a different teacher – a different heated class. The advice might even be the same advice I offer my students: listen to your body.

Around the same time that I began to follow my own advice I began to ask myself why I  practice asana in the first place. Is it for exercise? To sweat? Do I want to lose weight? Or do I want to look like the the models on the cover of Yoga Journal (when I first began to study yoga – long before the ‘body positive movement’  – the majority of Yoga Journal covers were still graced with young, white and very thin women)?

As I continue to ponder these questions, and as my body changes and begins to send different messages – messages I’ve learned to listen to – my motivation for continuing asana practice evolves. And I’ll be honest – my ego is like a little toddler tugging at my sleeve, challenging my discipline, disrupting my equilibrium and sometimes throwing a tantrum that fills me with self-doubt. But I’m ok with that. It’s part of the human experience.

These questions – which seem trivial compared to…well…pretty much everything else – remind me of how much I still have to learn. How yoga is so much more than our body. So much more than our studio asana practice.

Why do I practice asana? Why do you practice asana? Where does it fit into your yoga journey? Where does it fit into our collective yoga journey?


The Art of Yelling at Bicyclists to Relieve Pain

True confession. I ate an entire pint of fig, balsamic and mascarpone ice cream for dinner a few Sundays ago. 

Ten minutes earlier I placed a reasonably sized portion in a small bowl and sat down to stream a few episodes of The Good Place. But on my way to Netflix I made the mistake of stopping by CNN. There was, of course, breaking news.

I know it was only two weeks ago but right now we’re living in the Upside Down and it’s difficult to keep track of the drama and the tragedies. To the best of my recollection either North Korea had launched a second test of short range missiles, the man living in the people’s house had said something ill-advised, offensive and untrue or someone decided to take a semi-automatic rifle and mow down a group of beautiful humans.

Whatever CNN’s bright red, all caps banner headline was screaming at me on that particular Sunday I remember reading it, mumbling something slightly stronger than ‘screw it’, and then grabbing the pint of ice cream from the freezer and a spoon of sufficient size with which to freeze my emotions.

Yoga is not about building a better butt, or meeting friends, or having a reason to purchase flashy overpriced leggings. All those things might happen if you attend asana classes regularly, but it’s not why we practice. When we practice Yoga we are building a strong foundation of self-regulation from which we can observe our actions and reactions. 

But sometimes foundations crack. My self-regulation is crumbling and eating a pint of ice cream for dinner is not my only summer sin.

I’ve taken to screaming at bicyclists who mistake sidewalks for bike paths and then rush past me from behind with nary a warning. Even worse are the ones who speed down the pedestrian tunnel near the train station by my apartment with no thought for the safety of the shuffling, elderly woman wrapped in a coat on a warm August morning pushing her cart full of groceries.

But the salty invectives I hurl are not intended for the two-wheeled speed racers any more than eating a full pint of mascarpone ice cream is about hunger.

They’re simply misplaced reactions to events happening not only in the world but in my personal life. Both my B and I have endured a summer of parental ill health, sudden emergencies and painful loss. At some point in life we all take this journey and I’m grateful to be moving through it with B. Still, while we are each other’s support system the journey is still an intensely personal one and for me it’s one filled with conflict, guilt, lost opportunities and misplaced memories.

And to cope with that internal storm (and because I don’t want to weigh 400 pounds) I yell at bicyclists. I call my sudden rash behavior a ‘stress fart’.  Yes, it’s enough to make a yoga teacher blush but so far no one has yelled back and while it doesn’t feel good at the time it feels wonderful after.

That being said, I’m pretty certain there are better methods of self-care during times of extreme stress…hmmm…like a restorative or yin asana practice, a few extra minutes of meditation, exercise, a healthy diet, a long soak in the bathtub…

Yeah. About that long soak…


Day XIII, Week II, Phase I: I Feel Good

I feel good. And it’s not a lingering sugar high from the emotional ice cream binge I enjoyed a few days ago. I just feel – good.

Two weeks in and the tweaks I’ve made to my wellness routine are beginning to pay dividends.

It’s safe to say my routine needed some major tweaking. I’d begun to lose my way and was beginning to feel too much like a hamster running on an out-of-control wheel.  

My optimal diet is not too far removed from the suggested diet plan from NaturalStart Medicine’s Detox, Flush, Reboot program: fresh, organic, locally sourced vegetables and fruit, whole grains, avoiding (with the goal of eliminating) sugar, caffeine, alcohol, dairy and gluten. Chicken and fish for omnivores. I’m not restricting my calories because my primary reason for being part of this program is not weight loss. Because I’m making healthier choices, however, I won’t complain if I drop a few pounds.

When did I stop making healthy choices? When did convenience become my default mode? Over the past few months I’ve found myself unable to gain traction at work. I blame my Bullet Journal. Any organizational tool that allows me to create a list of projects that I want to complete within a specific period of time dooms me to failure. I simply can’t keep up with the expectations I create for myself. Preoccupied with keeping pace with my to-do list I began to rely too much on avocado toast, frozen veggie burritos, and Friday night pizza for sustenance. I began to self-medicate with a glass (or two) of wine on most evenings. Pulling myself out of bed at 5:30 AM and immediately sitting behind a screen was still not enough to keep pace with the demands I placed on my life.

A ‘detox’ only works if we follow the guidelines. And, of course, that’s why they can be a very effective way to modify unhealthy behaviors.

And that’s why I feel good. To the best of my ability I’ve made thoughtful, considered choices about what to put in my body. It shouldn’t surprise me and yet it does – fourteen days in and healthy, nutritionally dense foods have returned to me the vitality I thought I’d lost.

I’m starting Week III on Monday. If I stick to my schedule I’ll be moving into Phase II of the program –  the ‘flush’ phase. But I’ve not decided yet if that’s what I want to do. I may hang out in Phase I for one more week. I’d like a full week with no wistful cravings for pizza. I’d like a week where I don’t automatically stuff my emotions with ice cream.

Plus, I think it’s important to be psychologically prepared for the flush and I’m not quite certain I’m there yet… 


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.


Change and the Hope of Being a North Star

fullsizeoutput_596My favorite sweatshirt is from The Lost Whale, a bed and breakfast near Trinidad, California. On the front, in bold blue Times New Roman, is the word ‘lost’. On the back, of course, is the word ‘found’. 

I was much better at being lost when I was younger. I thought nothing of exploring foreign cities or wandering off marked trails when hiking the hills near my childhood home.

I now prefer leaving the getting lost to others. I want to believe my resilient and brave self of the past now clings to safety – clings to what is known – because the world has changed.  But as much as the world has changed, so have I.  My fearlessness has been tempered by sixty years of life experience. It emerges from time to time but for the most part I enjoy cheering others as they take great leaps of faith.

Months ago I had a conversation with a student weeks away from graduating from a 200-hour yoga teacher training about how it feels to be lost. This student was filled with deep uncertainty and considered leaving the teacher training and abandoning his yoga practice. Reading a recently published book about yoga in the West triggered deep self-doubt and distrust in a tradition thousands of years old. He felt lost.

My advice? I counseled the student to stay true to himself. I told him to read more books and to embrace feeling unmoored. To trust the unknowing and to not be afraid if he found himself wandering from a well-trod path.

I don’t know if my advice was sound but I can empathize with his dilemma. How do we continue to teach yoga when the practice we love evolves into something that feels far removed from what we understood yoga practice to be when we first began? Change is constant. Are we obligated to be carried along? It can be a positive force but change can be detrimental, too. So how do we discern the difference between change that elevates our practice and change that dilutes the power of our practice?

polaris-2-15-2013-Ken-Christison-NC-sq-e1463582304603Remaining true – living authentic lives – leans against the change that arrives unexpected and uninvited. It leans against the change that is slow and stealth*. Leaning against the latter – against the change that can’t be felt until we look behind and see how it all once was – requires a steadfast awareness of who we are as individuals and what we offer as yoga teachers.

We’re encouraged to ‘be the change we want to see’. That’s nice advice. But what if we turned it around. What if we decided to be a North Star? What if, as teachers, instead of riding change and trends what if we became a shining light? I guess what I’m trying to say is this: be true north for your students. Keep studying. Keep learning. Understand the depths of the tradition we teach.

*the rise of the YIC (Yoga Industrial Complex), the need for yoga teachers to also be adept at creating mix tapes, the presumed need for Yoga Alliance, the glut of factory-like teacher training programs, the focus on asana at the expense of seven other limbs, the revelations of teacher misconduct and the assumption that if you see the words ‘guru’ or ‘master teacher’ in front a name then it must be so, the loss of humility…