Friday, September 23, 2016

Turn it off

On Monday, I went to hear Anne Patchett at Benaroya Hall. I thought she was going to read from her new book, Commonwealth  but she didn't. She stood on stage in front of a very full house and waxed on about her approach to writing, her philosophy about reading, and some wonderful anecdotes about her personal life. She was funny and brilliant and awesome in all kinds of ways.

If you are a fan of Anne Patchett's, you know that her fiction is fiercely imaginative, sometimes far-fetched, and that it clearly takes a ton of research and coordination to pull together each of her novels. At the end of Anne Patchett's talk, the Director of Seattle Arts and Lectures interviewed her.  She asked Anne, who, in addition to writing amazing fiction and non-fiction, owns an independent bookstore in Nashville and seems to have read every book of every genre of all points in history, how she could be both such a prolific reader and writer.

I'm guessing Anne Patchett has been asked that question before because she answered right away. "I have a fifteen-year-old flip phone and I've never texted. I don't own a television and I have never once looked at Facebook," she replied. "I have a lot of extra time."

I'm sure many audience members sank into a bit of despair to hear that. We all know what a time suck innane texting is, what a silly habit Facebook is, and how television can drain hours from an otherwise productive day if we're not careful. As an avid writer and reader myself, I left Benaroya feeling inspired by Anne Patchett, but also a little downtrodden about my own distracted focus and commitment to my writing and reading practices.

But the very next day I went into the studio to practice yoga and had an immediate sense of gratitude and pride for the fact that there are NO screens in the studio. There never have been and there never will be. While I am not reading or writing in my yoga practice, my brain is getting served. Almost every blog topic I've ever written has come to me in the yoga room, either while practicing or teaching. Most of my big life decisions have been made on my mat.

Not everyone can be an Anne Patchett, who knew at a very young age that she wanted to be a writer. Most of us wander through life testing out different waters and landing somewhere for a while before moving on more than a few times. I'm so happy to have been inspired by the brilliant Anne Patchett. I'll continue to read the books she writes and keep my ears open for books she recommends. I'll look to her and other great writers for inspiration. But most importantly, I'll keep coming into the yoga room everyday, the one and only place in my life where there are no screens to suck my time, focus, and energy. I hope you'll join me!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Human Kindness

Last week I had an experience that left me with an unsettled feeling-- a combination of gratitude and elation tinged with seeking and inspiration.  I feel its presence subtly, at different times during the day, but mostly when I'm teaching or practicing yoga. Kelly, a wonderful yoga student of mine and now teacher of me, invited me to help her in a class she teaches called Adaptive Yoga. Adaptive Yoga offers people with mobility restrictions (spinal cord injuries, Cerebral Palsy, Parkinson's Disease) accessible yoga instruction. And, as I experienced last week, it is so much more than that.

There were just two students in the class I attended, a small group for that session. One of the students was quadriplegic and the other paraplegic. Kelly and the other teacher Julie led the small group through seated postures and then moved them to the floor for a series of supine postures.

I hesitate to even try to describe my emotional experience in this class because I don't have the technical writing skills to really explain it. There were so many moments, moments when Kelly or Julie gently laid hands on a body that "couldn't feel." But was that right? Who was I to say what another person could feel. Watching the teachers, I was brought to the brink of tears. Why? I'm not sure. I've been trying to sort it out all week. I suspect that maybe it was the recognition of my own assumptions about people who are paralyzed. Or the beautiful message from the instructor to feel what was happening internally when the physical body was in a posture, regardless of their paralyzed status. The energy in the room, the combination of vulnerability, determination, and human kindness literally overwhelmed me.

What I'm left with in this time before I go back to volunteer again (which I plan to do as often as I can), is the sense of how small the world can become when we define "feeling" in only a handful of ways. I, being an able-bodied, fully "feeling" person, was knocked out of my comfortable state being a part of this class--- in a really good way. That unsettled feeling-- elation and gratitude and seeking and inspiration-- come to me when I practice. Today when Rachael had us do 27 sun salutations, I closed my eyes during a lot of it so that I could feel in a different way, a deeper way. And when I teach, I am so filled with gratitude for being able to teach yoga, a practice that goes beyond just physical postures. I am grateful to be in this newly seeking place, to explore more deeply myself and to be able to invite my students to do the same.  Thank you Kelly.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

You can do anything for ten seconds

I recently started watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It's a series about a young woman who is rescued from a cult in Indiana and sets off to create a new life in New York City. I've only seen three episodes, but I'm keen on Kimmy. She's possessed by a combination of extreme naiveté and intense optimism.

One of the things Kimmy learned in her cult captivity was to endure intense boredom and monotony. Though she doesn't share her bizarre past life with her new friends in NYC, she does share jewels of wisdom from her cult-life, like her regularly doled out advice, "You can do anything for 10 seconds." She says this to herself and to other people in her life who seem to be unable to manage whatever situation they are in.

Ten seconds is not very long.  It's the time it takes to turn on the water tap and fill a glass of water. It's writing a quick grocery list in the morning or bringing in the mail. It's about the length of time it takes to inhale in Pranayama deep breathing.

In life, we don't have control over much. Shit happens. The other night I saw a friend who's long-term relationship suddenly ended. She was shocked, bewildered, and heart broken. She had no control over the break up, it just happened and now she was slowly blinking her way out of the wreckage. What I said to her, which is what a kind soul offered me when I was in a similar situation many years ago, was "all feelings pass." It helped me and I hope it helps her. In times of deep sorrow, crazed anger, or intense fear, I told myself, "this is a  temporary feeling. I will not be here forever. It will pass." And the feelings did pass. They came back with great regularity, like the garbage truck every Thursday, but they also didn't stay, and eventually, I got through it, ten seconds at time.

Sometimes the experiences we think we can't endure are short, like when Half-Moon pose feels like it is going to go on for 30 minutes. Break it down. Remind yourself, as Kimmy would, "You can do anything for ten seconds." And once those ten seconds are over, you're onto a new feeling, different sensations. Other times, the struggles are longer, harder-- a break up, the loss of a job, a death. It's the same game plan-- break it down. Take a deep breath and give yourself time and space for things to shift. Even in the worst of times, remind yourself that you can do anything for ten seconds.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Beauty of Human Variation

I come from a tradition of Bikram Yoga, a practice that is very regimented, rigorous, and black and white. For many years, for myriad reasons, this practice worked well for me. As I've grown older and found myself wandering into the mysterious waters of menopause, my physical flexibility has lessened, but my mental flexibility has flourished. Over the past few years, my changing flexibilities have led me to broaden my yoga practice.

As the owner of a yoga studio, I am in the unique and thrilling position of creating a vision. In the fifteen years that I've been doing this work, I've learned a lot. For example, I know that it takes a village to run a business. I am blessed to be surrounded by people who share and support the vision of The SweatBox. As The SweatBox visionary, I am excited to share my expanded view, one that acknowledges all yoga as good yoga and all bodies as perfect bodies.

Something that's become crystal clear to me as I've expanded my personal yoga practice and teaching knowledge over the years, is how significant human variation is and how important it is to honor these differences. There is no one "right" human. We are all different and perfect in our own way. As a yoga teacher and student, I have found that expanding my view of "the right way" to practice yoga has been profoundly liberating. I want to share that with my community.

Bikram Yoga everyday is great for many bodies, but it's not great for ALL bodies. The Pranayama that we do in Bikram, for example is an amazing exercise that develops lung capacity, efficiency, and oxygen flow in the body. The repetition of postures in Bikram Yoga can, for many of us, create an unparalleled moving meditation that leads to significant stress reduction.

Vinyasa Yoga everyday is wonderful if you have the strength and agility. The unexpected nature of the flow offered by the teacher, the new and different challenges that come with every unique class help us stay creative and open-minded. But a daily Vinyasa Yoga practice is also not the magic bullet for all bodies.

A Bikram Yoga practice is a therapeutic, healing practice to be sure. Adding Vinyasa and Yin Yoga (which are also healing and therapeutic) into a regular yoga practice, can facilitate create a greater sense of physical and mental balance in one’s life. Many Vinyasa students who have been staunchly Vinyasa-based will find themselves surprised and delighted by how a regular practice of Bikram provides healing and respite for their tender shoulders and wrists.  

Yin Yoga is the counter, the balance for both Bikram and Vinyasa practitioners that brings a greater state of physical, mental and emotional equanimity to all bodies. This technologically turned-on world we live in is fast-paced and often relentless. Yin gives us all an opportunity to slow down, to step off the moving walkway.

Each of our skeletons, the placement of our organs, the hormones that course through our bodies, are individual and unique. As such, we need to experience a variety of yoga options to understand what serves us. This will lead to a greater understanding of who we are and what we need. It might be one kind of yoga one day and another kind another day. It might be practicing one style more, one style less. It might mean adding Qi Gong. It might be practicing at a different time of day or making subtle modifications to what you've been doing the same way for decades. Only by trying new things can we know what best serves us and helps us grow.

I believe a daily yoga practice is important—whether it is a Sunday morning home practice of Yin with your partner combined with six days a week of more Yang yoga at your favorite studio or yoga in the woods with your family every morning with a periodic visit to the studio. It doesn’t matter what yoga you do, it’s that you do it. In expanding my own vision of what yoga is good yoga, I have been able to commit more deeply to my own yoga practice. I invite you to do the same. Try something you haven’t tried. Challenge your body and your mind in new ways. Be a beginner again. Practice some good yoga everyday.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Navigation--Old School

This past week I've been in Vancouver, BC for a Yin Yoga training. It's the first time in a long time that I've been by myself for more than a day or two.  It's been luxurious and challenging at the same time. Most people think I am pretty outgoing, and I am, but I'm also a person who needs a lot of alone time and I'm very shy in new situations.

This week by myself has given me a lot of alone time that I need (and don't get enough of on a daily basis.) But it has also challenged me because my shy, introverted self has been in unfamiliar surroundings with no partner, friend, or family to bolster me into bravery. To make matters worse, I've been without cellular service so I haven't been able to use my phone as a social prop or for navigation in a new city.

I've eaten all of my meals alone, asked for directions to every place I've wanted to go, alone, studied alone, woken up alone, gone to sleep alone. Now, at the end of this week I am done with alone. Yesterday, I took a walk, alone. I am notoriously horrible with directions so I definitely geared myself up for this independent adventure. My daughter regularly asks if we are lost, even when Siri is telling me which left or right to make. On this walk, in a new city, alone, I had no Siri, no navigation, no map. Just me.

As I walked, I noted where the water was so I could use it as frame of reference. I paid attention to different buildings, pieces of art, notable gardens. I had no phone, no clock, so I just walked until I had to pee really badly and then I turned around. Being without the familiar crutch of my phone to tell me where to go or my partner to reassure me that we weren't getting lost, made me use my own senses more- to notice where I was walking visually, to feel what direction made sense in my own body.

The whole experience of being alone and fending for myself made me realize that that way of life isn't sustainable for me. I am not an island. I like to be alone sometimes but I definitely don't want to exist permanently in that state. It also gave me an opportunity to push myself in ways that shed light on my own strengths and abilities which so often lie dormant.

Another great part about this extended alone time is how excited I am to go home. I still have to get to the airport, find my gate, eat a few more meals--alone. But then I get to go home to my family and friends and bed and porch and cell service and face lotion. There's no place like home.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Tennis Anyone?

Last weekend I took my daughter Lucia (now eleven) out to play tennis. She's been asking to learn for a while and we finally had a moment in the middle of an unseasonably hot, sunny Seattle day. I'm not a great tennis player; I took lessons as a kid and went to a few camps; I'm not good but I can play.  Lucia and I share the unfortunate trait of being stubborn, and we're both kind of know-it-alls. So when we got out to the court and I began giving Lucia some tips about grip, follow through, and body placement, it did not go smoothly.

I got a lot of eye rolls, 'yeah, yeah, yeahs" and stomping to the back of the court. It was hot and Lucia was scheduled to babysit so we only played for about 40 minutes. It was more than enough for both of us. Lucia wasn't half bad at tennis even though she acted as if she hated every moment. As we left the courts in search of a quick 7-11 Slurpee before her babysitting job, Lucia said, "Mom, you're a good teacher."

As is often the case when I am parenting, I was surprised (and secretly delighted) to hear Lucia's assessment of the tennis experience.  It happens all the time when I think I am teaching my child a lesson and she is simultaneously teaching me something else. 'Right, Lucia, I am a teacher," I realized as she complimented me. It's what I do every day. It's what I love to do, what gives me energy and creativity and happiness. I forget sometimes, because I love it so much, that the person (or people) on the other side of my voice have a different experience. They may not love every moment. They might feel irritated or frustrated or pushed somewhere they don't feel like going in the moment.

But when I teach, just like when I parent, I am motivated by love. I love to share what I know and I love to see people learn and grow and challenge themselves. I love to encourage and nurture and support the growth process.  And I love to be a student as well--to hear what the teacher wants to share, to wonder how s/he fine tuned the idea or the technique. It's an honor to be in the role of teacher and a gift to be a lifelong student. If I am your teacher, this is a gentle reminder that I do it all from a place of love. If you are my teacher, please know that I love every minute.

Friday, June 17, 2016

It's just a few rocks

I have a tendency to jump ahead. Maybe it's why yoga has been such a pivotal force in my life. I struggle to stay in the present and fully be in the moment. I've had several "companies" that emerged out of hobbies. I had a fleece hat business, a baby t-shirt business, a blackberry jam business, an ebay business, even a fabric brooch business. In my great enjoyment of doing something-- usually a craft-- I made the assumption many times that I should take that enjoyment to another level.

The only business that actually stuck for me was yoga. After several years of practicing, I moved into teaching and running a studio. It's been 15 years and I still love it. When I was with Tony Sanchez a few weeks ago studying a new style of yoga, he said, "When Neil Armstrong went to the moon, all he got was a few rocks." Tony shared this in the context of how we practice yoga.

Since I studied with Tony, I've been thinking about how to take what I learned to the next level. What should I call this new class? How will I market it? Who will like it? Who will teach it? And then I remember what Tony said. Getting the rocks from the moon was easy (relatively). I don't know for sure, but I'm assuming Neil and his guys just grabbed them and put them on the ship. But getting to the moon-- planning, studying, practicing, and failing and failing again---that's where the real experience was.

Practicing yoga, even one single posture, can be looked at through the same lens. It's not about finally getting into toe stand or crow pose. It's about building the strength, the focus, the balance to get there. It's easy to focus on the end point but really practicing yoga teaches us that an end point truly does not exist.

Yoga has taught me to be in a process, on a path. Perhaps the reason I keep practicing, continue trying, is because I have so much learning. I don't regret any of my past cottage industries; they were each short-lived and fun for the stints they existed. I have no intentions of giving up yoga as a practice or as my "business." It's a great life, a challenging, interesting, sometimes scary path and, as far as I can tell, there's no end in sight.