Passing Fancies & Becoming a Super Yogi

Unknown-2My life is filled with passing fancies.

When I wrote about my client Margaret and her experiences piloting military aircraft in World War II, I immersed myself so deeply in the history of the Women Airforce Service Pilots that I took my acrophobic self on a twenty minute flight in an open cockpit Stearman biplane. I remember waking up pre-dawn to write a fictional account of her story. I did that until I reached 180,000 words (give or take a few) and then moved on. Her story remains in a box under my bookshelf.

When I wanted to know everything I could know about anatomy for the yogi I took the journey all the way to Gil Hedley’s cadaver lab. I was cocky enough to consider myself more informed than the average yoga teacher on all things regarding attachments, insertions and bony prominences. I was wrong.

I’m telling you this because then I met Louis Jackson. Louis is a senior teacher at Samyama Yoga Center. He also is an integral part of our Dharma Path Teacher Training and co-teaches with John Berg our landmark course in beginning yoga, Building the Temple. When Louis found yoga, it wasn’t a passing fancy. That’s true for most teachers, of course, but Louis’s yogic path has risen so high and so far that he has become one of a handful of gifted and genuine master teachers I’ve met in thirty years of practice. I feel sometimes that while I skim the surface, Louis dives deep.

He would disagree, of course, but in my mind humility is the touchstone that keeps us learning and growing. Louis is a powerful and humble teacher.

This video is proof. Shot by the gifted Devin Begley, Louis takes two minutes to describe the beauty of the breath and gorgeousness of that marvelous dome of muscle we call the diaphragm.

Want to learn something new today?


Breaking Bad

I’ve grown accustomed to avoiding what matters in order to remain dull by existing in a malaise of repetition. But habits can be broken.

Yesterday was the first day of the Build a Better Me project. I successfully avoided time sucking activities that kept me from moving toward the values and activities that are important to me. Most importantly, I didn’t lose three hours of my life obsessed by the MSNBC Chris, Rachel, Lawrence trifecta, thereby easing my obsession with the sorrow that is the current state of our government (part of the BBMP is staying true to and not hedging on my beliefs/opinions and communicating them honestly – but not offensively – when appropriate).

Of course – Monday was only one 24-hour period. There’s the whole rest of my life to consider. Baby steps, right? Yet according to statistics life expectancy in the US has dropped for the second year in a row. That means the whole ‘rest of my life’ amounts to two decades, give or take a few months. Which is the sort of realization I didn’t want to consider so early on a Tuesday morning. Then again, they say that daily contemplation of one’s death is the key to happiness.

 

A commentator to Practically Twisted shared this prescription for working Ayurvedically with habits. I’ve known people for whom going ‘cold turkey’ was the only route to success – my mother quit her heavy dependence on alcohol cold turkey. But for most of us, the calculated but gentle transition Ayurveda suggests may be the more compassionate approach.

After all, when we set the goal of running a marathon we don’t begin our training with a 26.2 mile run. We begin slowly and build our endurance. Yesterday was good but I know I can expect some days where I might feel energetically depleted and temporarily fall back into the stupefied somnambulance that has been my life for the past sixteen months. That’s ok. The benefits of living according to my values for the next two decades will be all the impetus I need to brush off any setback. This is a spiritual marathon, not a jog around the block.


Building a Better Me

rsTUx8ifQBWRDyXc9SJ1zwWhen The Counter restaurant chain first began to remodel the building on California Avenue, they had a banner to announce their arrival which read, Build a Better Burger.

Unlike the dozens of restaurants on the long thoroughfare outside my window that have opened, closed and morphed into new and doomed eateries, The Counter is still thriving. Most in my neighborhood will remember the gourmet hotdog restaurant that opened and closed faster than you can say ‘kielbasa’. They offered choices, too, but the options were off-putting and the posh wieners were priced higher than what most sane individuals would pay for a quick bite. Ten years on, however, The Counter remains packed with people for loud weekday lunches, after work suppers and jammed with hungry families every weekend. It turns out that, given a multitude of reasonably priced choices, any combination of patty, bun and condiment actually CAN be a better burger.

The choices we’re offered and the price we have to pay are the keys, right? In food and in life. When we remind ourselves that no matter where we are in life we have spiritually affordable options, living transforms from a dull, soggy bun to something scrumptious.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with ‘two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickle-onion on a sesame seed bun’ – but it’s easy to fall into a rut. What if I want to try a veggie burger, hold the onion or special sauce, on a toasted ciabatta?

I’m pretty sure my life is wonderful. But I can’t be absolutely certain because most of it moves by me without my being aware. I’ve fallen into the mucky rut of too much screen time. Not screen time like this, when I’m engaged in something that offers my life meaning. I’m thinking of screen time that includes my news addiction, my mindless scrolling through Facebook posts and the countless games of solitaire I play on the iPad before bed (which, I might add, really screws with the quality of my sleep).

It’s time to try something different. It’s time to build a better me.

We’re force-fed an onslaught of images – especially on social media – that make us feel ‘less-than’. I want to be clear: my plan to Build a Better Mimm has nothing to do with the notion that I’m not good enough. If anything, it’s the opposite. I am good enough. Good enough to have a life that feeds my soul. So are you. We are all good enough. But sometimes our gorgeous heart-light is dulled by less-than satisfying habits that don’t support the values we want to honor. Our habits divert us away from the choices our heart wants to make. The choices that keep us true to who we are. Our ‘heart-choices’ aren’t always the comfortable ones, but they undoubtedly keep us on the path that gives life meaning.

These ideas rose up for me because of the connection I feel and the inspiration I receive from the individuals I work with both through the Dharma Path Teacher Training program at Samyama Yoga Center and the clients who have become friends through the Artfully Twisted program I share with pain clinics in the Bay Area.

In both these groups we’ve worked to discover our values – those things that give our lives meaning. There is a critical connection between what we value and how we care for ourselves. Over the last fourteen months my preoccupation with the news and the escape I found through mesmerizing social media scrolls and smothering gaming habits created a disconnect. I lost touch with my values and was left feeling numb. Incomplete. A little like a bun-less burger left alone on a plate and under the heat lamp just a minute too long.

I bet I’m not alone.

Do you remember what you value? What has heart and meaning? The things you lost over the past year but know, if you find them, you’ll feel whole again?


What Do We Value?

 

fullsizeoutput_62dThis winter I’ve been spending some time considering the difference between the goals we set and the values we admire. As a life long goal setter and resolution maker, I’m accustomed to the rigidity of goals, the frequent concessions to failure and, when a goal is achieved, the empty sense of wondering “what next?”

I had a recent opportunity, however, to immerse myself in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is a form of therapy that seeks to increase psychological flexibility through acceptance and mindfulness strategies. The technique does not ask for us to eliminate difficult feelings, nor to simply let go of the negative. Instead, ACT supports our being present for life’s sometimes bumpy ride. With ACT we practice being open to difficulty and in that way learn to accept and to not over-react to situations that are unpleasant or emotionally painful.

In ACT, we work to move toward what provides heart and meaning. While setting finite, achievable goals is useful, having an understanding of what truly matters to us – those things that sing in our soul – requires that we have clarity about our values.

Values are about who we want to be in the world. Values are not about what we want from life but what we can offer. They are not rules but qualities that resonate from a place deep within. Knowing what our values are brings life into focus and empowers us to choose how we behave when we are witnesses to pain, injustice or bullying.

What are your values?

In 2018 what can we do to hold our values as we walk through the world? What choices will we make to honor our values?


Toxic/Not Toxic

This is toxic:

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This is not toxic:

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And that’s why I don’t use the word ‘detox’. Yes, it’s time for my yearly campaign to ban the word ‘detox’ and any associated eating plan that encourages us to either eliminate entire classes of macronutrients, requires a blood test before we meal plan or encourages us to subsist on lemon, cayenne and honey.

Why don’t we call what most of us are about to embark on in a few days’ time what it actually is: an opportunity to practice mindful eating.

The problem with a ‘detox’ program – or any strictly defined and limiting diet that promises more than it can deliver – is that it is finite. The rules and edges are so sharply defined that we are almost guaranteed to fail.

If instead we reframe our efforts as an opportunity to slow down and to consider our food choices, we allow ourselves room to explore, to try something new, to reset and – most importantly – to change our relationship to food, our bodies and the intentions we hold when we eat.

 


Me, too.

CIMG2733The hashtag ‘me, too’ isn’t enough and I am not man-bashing. I’m asking the question, “when are boys taught that certain behaviors towards girls are all right and who does the teaching?”

As a girl I was taught to be either flattered, to shrug it off because ‘boys will be boys’ or to wonder what I did wrong. And now I’m asking the question, “when are girls taught that being objectified by a boy is something to aspire to and who does the teaching?”

I was taught by observing my mother and my older sister, their behavior with men and the behavior of the men they chose to have in their lives. But I was also taught by what I watched on television, by the books I read, and by the screaming silence.

How can we teach our children? By no longer being silent.

I’ve decided to share seven experiences that shaped my life.

  1. When I was a pre-teen my first step-father liked to wrestle with me. We wrestled on his and my mother’s bed. He always pulled on my training bra until it opened.
  2. When I was a teenager my second-step father told me I had nice breasts.
  3. Around that same time, a local boy told me he needed help with is homework and asked if I would come to his house. When I arrived he talked me into crawling through the hay bale tunnel he had built with a friend. The friend was waiting in the fort, trapping me in the middle. I managed to talk them out of whatever they planned to do, came home and took a bath.
  4. When I was a senior in high school, a member of the football team stopped me in the hallway to the gym and asked me to unbutton my blouse. I remember thinking how stupid his request was and called his bluff. He was disappointed I was wearing a bra.
  5. When I was a college freshman a plumber who was at my apartment to fix a radiator finished the job and then thought it was appropriate to hug me and grab my bottom.
  6. Several years ago I was in an psychologically abusive relationship. I was called ugly. I was called stupid and told I would amount to nothing. My words and opinions were laughed at. Why didn’t I leave? I was beginning to believe him and I was afraid of his reaction if I began to pack my bags.
  7. A few months ago I was in a local hardware store having a key made. A man working there thought it was all right for him to lean his body against my body and pull me uncomfortably close.

I know that it goes both ways. Women are capable of questionable behavior and sexual predation, too. But I can tell you that in my fifty-nine years I have never wrestled with a boy to feel him up. I’ve never told a man he has a nice package. I have never trapped a boy in a hay bale fort nor have I ever asked a boy to pull down his pants. I have never hugged a plumber so that I could grab his bottom. I’ve never frightened a man until he believed there was no hope. I have never leaned my body against a stranger in order to pull him close.

There are moments in my life when I made poor choices. So let’s teach our children about making choices. Let’s teach our children. Let’s not be silent anymore.


The Strike

pall-mall_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqzyQdcCpPOOS38rrQ0wuMX6qLSLVZhK3e2pU3liKIgNIIsn’t it funny how just when we are beginning to believe that our feelings or thoughts will remain the same forever, they change like the direction of the wind? How does that happen? Is it the food we eat? An unexpected smile from a stranger? A happy memory that floats to the surface or a dream that sweetens and soothes our subconscious? Maybe it’s the perfect yoga practice or a soothing few moments of quiet meditation.

All I know is that there has been a welcome shift. I have too many good things piled on my plate to spend time in the stinky muck of overcooked wallow.

I didn’t find it easy to write my last post’s pity fest. To be honest, I haven’t found writing easy at all. The world is overwhelmed and overwhelming. Stepping away from a writing practice was my way of holding space for others to tell more important stories.

But all stories are important. Even the small stories because they are the stories that bring us together. They are the stories we’ve all experienced.

When I was a girl – I may have still been in elementary school – my mother decided to go on strike. She set up camp on the orange Levitt Brothers sofa in our living room with our black and white television console, the afghan my great aunt had crocheted and the coffee table pulled close. My mother piled the coffee table high with supplies including several good novels, a few packs of Pall Malls, a ceramic ash tray and her ever-present plastic mug of black percolated coffee. She was never without that mug. It was white with a turquoise rim. The inside of the mug was stained dirty brown by endless cups of Maxwell House and so, from time to time, she would scrub it clean with Ajax.

My mother’s strike lasted at least a week and possibly two. During this time she refused to cook or clean.

My sister and I were old enough to walk ourselves to the bus stop in the morning and to heat up a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup at night and in all honesty our mother probably roused herself enough to make certain her children remained alive. It’s possible, too, that Margaret and I enjoyed the brief respite from rules and order.

What I remember most about my mother’s strike is coming home from school in the afternoon and seeing her stretched out on the couch watching Mike Douglas.

I also remember the cold silence that rose above the sound of the television and that made me walk through the house as though I was walking on shards of shattered ice.

As a girl I didn’t understand the anger between my parents or why my mother might want to teach us the lesson of what our lives might be like without her. But now, looking back, I think she believed there was no outlet for her unhappiness and no cure for her invisibility except for that orange Levitt Brothers sofa, her stack of books, a lukewarm cup of coffee to go along with her smoldering Pall Mall and Mike Douglas in the afternoon.

This is the point in the story where I am supposed to describe the lesson we all learned from my mother’s strike. The thing is, the strike ended and nobody noticed. I came home from school on a sticky afternoon and my mother was in the kitchen, once again resigned to standing over the stove with a spoon in one hand and cigarette in the other, exhaling a cloud of grey over the evening’s meal.

We didn’t know then what we know now. Maybe that is the lesson.