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?


Morning Light and Failing Better

fullsizeoutput_746Since it’s Memorial Day, Ben is off from work and is enjoying a lie-in. I, on the other hand, am set to teach my Monday morning class at Samyama. So when the alarm rang at 6AM Ben, blessed soul that he is, continued snoring while I stumbled first to the bathroom and then to the kitchen where I fed Bruce the Cat, boiled the water and ground the beans for the morning brew.

It wasn’t until I was at my computer checking the record low number of emails that fell into my inbox during the night that I remembered. When I wrote, so many months ago, about re-awakening my writer-self; about reviving discipline and being present – this is not what I meant. What I imagined was my waking early, sitting down and arriving for the work I do for me – the work that feeds me.

Which makes me want to pause and ask – what work feeds you?

I managed to honor those good intentions for a few months and then, as happens to so many of us so often, just when the habit was beginning to set it slipped away. It’s easy to understand how that happened. Maybe, one morning, instead of answering the first call of the alarm I hit the snooze button once then twice. Maybe, one morning, I became distracted by something that had happened in the news while I was sleeping. Maybe, one morning, I was pressed by a deadline for work and had no choice but to set aside the ‘other’.

It doesn’t matter. The sweet rhythm of hope that tickled the heart of me stopped beating. So here I am again, charging the metaphorical defibrillator and starting again.

What’s that wonderful Samuel Beckett quote? 

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.

And so I shall.


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?


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?


Duty Bound

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Researching for a novel I was writing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still, it feels good to be back.


Aparigraha

I wrote the following essay in June 2014 for an assignment during my Yoga Therapy Training at Niroga Institute in Oakland. More recently I had the chance to discuss the meaning of Aparigraha with the incredible group of women that comprise Samyama’s Book Club. We’re reading Deborah Adelle’s book The Yamas and Niyamas. We cling to more than those things that fit in our hands. We cling to ideas. To emotions. To states of being. Aparigraha reminds us to step back. To soften our physical and spiritual on things that are simple paper tigers.

 

IMG_0179For the past seven days I have been living the lesson of aparigraha, the fifth of five suggested restraints known as the Yama that Patanjali invites us to practice. An individual who practices aparigraha neither hoards nor clings to possessions, individuals, ideas or ways of being.

Attachment in the form of too many possessions clutters our physical space. We can practice aparigraha in our home environment not by choosing the life of an ascetic (which to me is clinging to a way of being) but by mindful consumption: having what we need but no more, not always buying new, reusing and recycling. I live in a small studio apartment and yet I find my emotional attachment to objects that serve no purpose prevents me from letting go.

Attachment to individuals clutters our thought processes. It can rob us of our autonomy and blur the line between truth and fiction. My friend left for a ten-day visit to see his parents in Israel last week. It was our first time apart for an extended period and his absence, rather than creating space, actually filled my head and heart with stories of my own making. Until I made a conscious effort to step back from the habit of ‘spinning stories’ did I become grounded and focused.

Attachment to ideas clutters our objectivity. The yoga studio where I attended my very first yoga class in 1984 and where I have been teaching for eight years is closing next week. I am attempting to transfer my classes and students to a studio I’ve been teaching at for sixteen months but recently my attachment to what I believe should happen built a wall that prevented me from seeing how it could happen.

Attachment to our way of being clutters our experience of the world. We cling to the words and phrases we use to describe ourselves. Of all the ways attachment might manifest, perhaps our attachment to how we see ourselves is the most important to consider as it relates to yoga therapy.

A client in chronic pain may be afraid to release their attachment to the pain they experience because it is their pain that defines them. Who are they if they are not the individual who always hurts?

As yoga therapists it is important to understand the client’s attachment to the story about their injury and pain. At the same time we must not develop an attachment to the desired outcome. As yoga therapists we might release attachment to the notion of a cure and perhaps shift our focus toward helping the client detach from the story.


Meditate on This: Alan Watts on Nothingness

But to me nothing

-the negative, the empty –

is exceedingly powerful.

-Alan Watts

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In my asana practice it is the space between the poses that holds meaning for me.  Like the space between notes or the space between thoughts – it is precious.  There is space between silence and sound, too.  I experienced this recently when co-teaching a Deeper Realms event at Samyama Yoga Studio.   As we settled into our yin shapes Lindsay Armien chanted.  It was beautiful and resonant but when she finished and the air settled there was a stunning transition – like that moment the sun sinks on the horizon.  All that was left was silence.  And it was beautiful and resonant, too.


Responsibility

IMG_0097Over the past few weeks we’ve been enjoying a discussion about alignment in the studio classes I teach at Samyama Yoga Studio. At the end of my morning class last Monday a student approached as I was packing up. “So what you mean is,” she said, “is that it’s my responsibility?” We both laughed. “Yes, I suppose it is.”

She was beginning to realize that although as a teacher I have a huge commitment to keeping not only her but all of my students safe on their yoga journey, at the end of the day it is their journey – not mine. And to that end, as her practice grows and shifts, while I will remain observant and vigilant, it is ultimately her responsibility to be present during her practice, in her body and with her breath. It is her responsibility to remain in the moment.

We decided it was a bit like being a passenger in a car. We can make the same trip again and again as a passenger, never really paying attention to how we arrive at our destination. And then the day arrives that we’re asked to take the wheel and we have no idea of where we’re going.  Setting the intention to remain present during our practice – of owning our practice – moves our yoga journey ever forward.

You’ll find me at Samyama most days.  I teach Shakti Reboot – a gentle Hatha Flow – on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8:15 to 9:15. On Tuesday and Thursday from 11:30 to 12:45 you can join me for Movement as Meditation. This is a functional yoga class that supports relief from chronic pain, sleeplessness and anxiety. On Tuesday evenings from 7:30 to 8:15 and on Friday afternoons from 1:30 to 2:45 I offer Pure Yin. Remember – your first class at Samyama is always free (and if you don’t have a mat, we’ll give you one!).


Movement as Meditation: A Therapeutic Approach

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There was a time in my teaching journey when my classes consisted predominately of demonstration, repetition and analysis. I was a strong advocate of perfect alignment. It was what my teachers taught me and to this day I encourage individuals new to yoga to spend time studying lineages that encourage strong alignment. Practicing safe alignment early on a yoga path is like practicing piano scales. Once you know them you are free.

As my practice (and my body) changed so did my teaching. My hard, straight edges have softened. My teaching has a flow and an emphasis on breathing with that flow. I still offer alignment cues but the days of strong hands-on adjustments have disappeared. I’ve shifted my awareness from the external form of an asana to the internal. I no longer consider how I look, I consider how I feel.

Beginning on Tuesday, May 5th I am offering a new class at Samyama Yoga Center. We’ll meet each Tuesday and Thursday from 11:30 to 12:45. I’m calling it Movement and Meditation. Our intention will be to examine how our asana practice, in conjunction with our awareness of breath, can draw us toward a flow state as described by positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. After a short opening meditation we’ll transition toward sequences that move through active and passive shapes and encourage a sense of peaceful presence. We will also consider the clinical applications of this practice and how it might bring relief to chronic physical pain, anxiety, sleeplessness and mild mood disorders.

I hope you’ll join me.

Samyama Yoga Center
Tuesday and Thursdays from 11:30 to 12:45 beginning May 5, 2015