Friday, January 20, 2017

The Lessons of Our Teachers

My first grade teacher Ms. Koehler was my least favorite teacher and my second grade teacher Mrs. Fruchter was my most favorite, but I remember them both with equal detail. During first grade my parents got separated and I went a little crazy. Typically a pretty shy, reserved kid, that year I stood on the toilet seat in the girls' bathroom and peeked over the stall. After getting punished for that, I peed at my desk because I was afraid to ask to go to the bathroom. We had reading group EVERY day. Ms. Koehler, in my mind was a mean, ruler-wielding, scolding machine. Mrs. Fruchter, on the other hand, took us to the Jay's Potato Chip Factory and the Lincoln Park Zoo. We did tons of art in her class and I don't remember reading group. I loved Mrs. Fruchter.

In life, we gravitate towards teachers that feel good, loving, compassionate. It's easy to relate to these teachers. They energize us, inspire us, make us feel good about ourselves. The harder, less relatable teachers are ones we don't seek out, but they teach us just the same, maybe even more.

At The SweatBox, my home away from home, I am blessed with many wonderful teachers who nourish and inspire me. But this month, a new, uninvited teacher showed up. After a pretty good streak of no injuries, Voilà, I'm smacked with a shoulder injury that screams and yells at me all day long.

Yesterday I went to a physical therapist, a holistically minded healer who, after seeing me for about an hour said a few simple words that shone a big bright light on my situation. "Injuries are our best teachers," she said with a smile, "the teach us everything we need to know." My shoulder injury had rendered me helpless and filled with self-blame for doing something wrong, making a mis-step in my yoga practice, going down a road I shouldn't have. But when this healer reframed this for me, I was able to see things from a new point of view.

This teacher, my shoulder, is telling me to slow down. A lot. Not only should I just move more slowly, but this injury reminds me to pay attention to other aspects of my life that are out of balance.  I don't like this teacher. It is causing me discomfort, pain and confusion. But I am learning from it. For example, after doing a few hours of work at the studio today, I left to finish up at home because another class would be starting and the temptation to practice was too great. On the way home from the studio as I felt sorry for myself, I thought, "Laura, you've not been writing. Take advantage of having time off of your yoga practice to write!"

Today happens to be inauguration day as well, a day filled with fear, sadness, and hopelessness for many. This morning at the studio as a few of my teachers and I bemoaned the state of our nation, I couldn't help but think of the parallels with my shoulder. I don't want to have a shoulder injury. Who would? But what can I learn from it? I don't want Donald Trump to be president, but he is.

Some people have speculated that now that we are in this profoundly despairing and frightening political climate, maybe we can step into a greater place of action. This uncomfortable, unfamiliar experience of shifting leadership can now be our teacher. What can we learn? What changes in our own lives can we make to bring things back into balance? Back to a place where we (and our communities) feel healthy and whole again? That's a much longer blog and a very personal journey for each of us, but it is a worthwhile thought. Who are your teachers? In what forms do your teachers show up in your life?  Teachers are not all good or perfect or loving, but truth be told, Ms. Koehler's the one who taught me to read.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Best is Yet to Come

When 2017 rolled around last week, one of the first things I thought was, "I am going to be 49 years old this year." Forty-Nine. That's not young. Strangely though, the older I get, the more permission I feel to be me. When I was 47, I was closer to 45 which is closer to 40. Now I am firmly on the far-side of 40 and practically spooning 50. I'm further away from the land of "shoulds."

On Friday, one of my teachers, Emily had a birthday. She turned 36 and said that she'd spent the last year of her life really "adult-ing." Emily has a way with words and her use of "adult" as a verb was the first time I'd ever heard it played that way. "Adult-ing." It's a thing. It really happens.

In my late thirties and early forties, I was definitely concerned with where I should be-- in my career, in my relationship, in my status as parent, in my financial stability. I was in the process of "adult-ing." But that feels less significant for me now. I'm fully in acceptance mode that I am pretty much where I will be and where I want to be. I do not take for granted my good fortune to have a job and community that nourish my soul, a partner whom I love, a daughter I adore and am honored and delighted to parent, and a warm roof over my head.  I'm an adult and it feels good. Of course there are the very clear physical markers that come with age--less flexibility (even with a daily YOGA PRACTICE), more wrinkles and gray hair, the revisiting of mood swings reminiscent of adolescence.  But I also have a level of comfort and security internally that hums through me all the time. It's a good feeling-- I am what I am.

In every life cycle, yoga provides a metaphor for the process we are going through. For aging, I would say the metaphor can be found in Yin Yoga.  In my Yin class last week, I opened with a Maya Angelou poem called "On Aging." I interpret this poem as a message to honor that aging process, rather than pitying it. I opened with this poem as a way to encourage the class to honor the hardness of the practice they were doing, to respect all of the physical and emotional experiences that accompany each class.

Getting through the "adult-ing" phase is a good feeling, not unlike that feeling I get at the end of a Yin practice. After the long holds, the internal struggles that accompany Yin practice, when I come out of a Yin class, I leave with a feeling of wholeness. It's a feeling of integration of my different layers, much like this feeling I have as I transition toward the milestone of living for a half-century.

I didn't know, couldn't have known, ten years ago, that I would feel this way. It wouldn't have even made sense at the time, back then when I was striving to "become." I'm not saying that I have no future goals or dreams. I fantasize about writing a book or becoming an expert in (fill in one of 15-20 blanks on any given day), living in Spain, running a marathon. I have not given up those dreams, but I find that I conceive of them differently. It's more of a calm contemplation than a panicking reaction that I will "miss out" on something if I don't keep these unfinished dreams at the fore of my mind. For all of you folks in the "adult-ing" phase, the news is good. The future is bright. The best is yet to come.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Bravery in a different package.

In September my daughter Lucia started sixth grade at a huge public middle school with over 1200 kids. Lucia is a natural at school. It comes easy to her and she loves it. The transition to this new environment went well too, with the exception of one seventh grade girl who consistently bugged Lucia. The bugging turned to teasing and after a few months, it was just downright bullying.

Lucia wanted to handle it on her own. She didn't want her parents to talk to the teachers or the school counselor or the other girl's parents. We coached her as well as we could, role playing things to say, brainstorming what, if anything, might be provoking the behavior. My partner Nancy even gave her a boxing lesson one night after dinner.

A few days before winter vacation, the bullying behavior peaked. This was the same day that Lucia had told the girl face-to-face, in a serious tone, that she did not appreciate or like her behavior and she wanted her, in no uncertain terms, to STOP.

The final straw was when the girl stole Lucia's lunch box out of her locker, took it onto her bus and taunted Lucia from a bus full of other kids. Somehow Lucia got the lunchbox back. When she finally made it to my car, she said, "I'm done Mom. I want you to call her parents."

The rest is really history. I called her mom. She was incredibly gracious, and the next day at school was great. Lucia reported that things felt really different (and good).

Lucia tried. She tried really hard. She asked for advice, for guidance, for support. But in the end, she just needed a break, some help. Asking for help is one of the hardest things to do. To say, "I can't do it alone" takes courage. I'm certain that Lucia's experience this year won't be her last battle in middle school. She'll have other opportunities to stand up against bullies, to find her strength and fight back. But I'm proud of her for asking for help, for listening to what she needed.

In the yoga room when I'm practicing, I push myself. I get a lot from trying hard. I like the challenge. I like the way it makes me feel, the endorphin rush I get, the pride that comes from the struggle. There are times though that I need a break. I can't stand on one leg any longer. My body needs a rest. Sometimes I ignore that message and I keep fighting. That's the moment when my yoga practice goes out the window. I'm no longer listening to what I need, I'm just pushing myself to stay in the fight. When I do listen, when I rest in Savasana or Child's Pose, that's when I'm still doing my yoga. I'm listening to myself and truly hearing the internal messages.

How we are in our yoga practice is a microcosm of how we are in life. For many of us, asking for help is hard to do. We often ignore that message when we hear it, choosing instead to stand in a place of pride from doing it on our own. A daily yoga practice that offers us challenges is a great place to start listening more deeply to ourselves. Work hard on your mat, fight the good fight, and practice listening to what you need.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Failure is not a dirty word

Last week I took Aimée's Vinyasa class. About halfway through the class, she stopped us and gave a little introduction about the next posture we would do. She said, "a lot of this sequence is built around failure. When we do this next pose, be open to failing."

As we set up and attempted Firefly pose, most of us did fail, even the teacher. After class, I told Aimée how fun the sequence was. She looked relieved and said, "I taught that earlier this week and it was a total bust."

"Why?" I asked her.

"Because I didn't tell the students they could fail," she replied with the clarity only someone who'd seen both sides could offer.

For some reason, failure is a dirty word in our culture. But why?  Failure is the only way to get to where we want to go. How can we learn what we need to learn without failure. I will need way stronger arms and core to do Firefly. If I just popped into it when Aimée offered us the posture, that would be a bore.

As a parent, I often think about what "failure" means to my daughter. I see her, even at age 12, resistant to trying new things for fear that she'll fail. When does this message start and how do we counter it, make failure something to expect instead of something to avoid?

Maybe it is the overt invitation to fail, an explicit offering that unifies us in the experience instead of divides us. Some people are naturally more pliable in certain directions, born with openly rotated hips and short arms and punching biceps. Other people, like me, have hips that naturally rotate more internally and long, Olive-Oilesque arms. I'll fail more times at doing arm balances that require deep, open hips and others will struggle more to do binding poses with their arms and legs like eagle.

It's okay to fail. It's important to fail. I invite you, me, all of us to fail. Next time you come into the yoga room, give yourself a strong, clear invitation to flounder a little bit, to teeter, to fall out, to fail. Let this be the starting point for the rest of your life. What have you wanted to do but avoided because you were afraid to fail? Notice what you've been avoiding and step into those places. Reclaim it, rename it if you want to. Failure is not a dirty word. Thanks Aimée.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

An Ode to My People

My little village is comprised of two As, one D, two Es, one F, a J, three Ks, 2 Ms, 2 Ps, Rs, Ss and one Z.

Aimée is an actor and you can definitely tell. Her classes are dramatic and creative as hell.
Alyssa is wise, well beyond her young years. Her knowledge of anatomy makes postures so clear.
Dana's teaching is crisp, precise and merry.  Every Saturday she comes to teach us by ferry.
Emily is fierce is the kindest of ways. She challenges us to open our hearts every day.
Erika is our unique Jivamukti teacher. She learned in Berlin and captivates like a preacher.
Frani, dear Frani is the rock of our village. She's the calm in the storm. Having her by my side is a privilege.
Janet is soft-spoken and peaceful and kind. But she teaches some burners that will challenge and bind.
Katy the singer has a big open heart. Her class is consistent and challenging and smart.
Keely, though often is flying the skies, we love to see her and her sparkling bright eyes.
Kelly has shown me a broader perspective, a way to bring yoga to people who are often neglected.
Mary, sweet Mary has the most contagious smile. She'll teach you everything you need to know about a healthy lifestyle.
Meghan! Yay, you're coming back. One of our original, I welcome you home to this place. I've missed your gentle voice and your beautiful face.
Parvanah, the name says it all, a beautiful butterfly answering her call. 
Penni, you go girl, making us work in that room. Your passion and fire help all of us bloom.
Rachael, my sage, my guide, my advisor. You happened upon me and I am so very much wiser!
Reva, our baby, in all the best ways. You work and you work and I can see the change every day.
Seth, our lone hombre, I appreciate you dearly. You're thoughtful and open and wonderfully cheery.
Sunny, the fierce one, a strong, invigorating energy. You bring to us knowledge that's so complimentary.
Zahr, the last Z, the one I rarely see. It doesn't mean you aren't special to me.  
My village of letters, you are so very much more. You are the people I love and cherish and adore. 
Your presence in the world brings goodness to all who you touch. I am grateful to you and love you so much!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Dignity, Integrity, Humanity

Many years ago my twin sister Katherine gave me a little metal sculpture made of antique spoons. I still have the sculpture, a six-inch tall metal figure with a face on it and on the body, it says, "Dignity, Integrity and Humanity."

A few weeks ago, I parked in front of The SweatBox at 7:45am. As I got out of my car, I noticed a figure in a sleeping bag on the sidewalk of the brand new apartment building across from the studio. Next to the sleeping bag was a wheelchair. What do I do? Do I walk over and wake this person to see if they are okay? Do I call the police? The paramedics? I decided to wait an hour and go back out. When I peeked outside again at 9am, the figure was gone.

As I prepared to teach my 9:30am class,  this person was all I could think about. Did I miss a moment to connect with this other human? Have I lost my ability? Is this how the world is? How I am?

Before I started the class, I took a moment before the beautiful group of students to share the experience. "When you walk outside today, remember your humanity," I encouraged them. Spending the next 90 minutes in the yoga room with my students, seeing them all working very hard, struggling, each in their own way, I felt so grateful to be in this environment of love, kindness and vulnerability. At the same time, I felt utterly crestfallen about the state of the world.

My job as a teacher is to support and guide and love my students, to help shepherd them to places where they feel good and whole and at peace. These days, on the streets in Seattle, all over our city, there are people who are struggling, who are without support or love or guidance. They are without shelter, proper clothing, consistent food and water.

At the same time, there is development-- new places to live and eat and shop and do yoga. It's easy to separate, to find emotional safety in crossing the street or lowering your eyes. But what does that say? How does it make a person who is struggling feel? How does it make you feel to avoid or dismiss another human? I come back to the sculpture my sister gave me 20 years ago--"Dignity, Integrity, Humanity"-- a message that is so basic, and so important to remember. Every human being deserves these fundamental things. Our world, communities as small and blocks and as large as countries, will not survive without those things.

We are all human. No matter what your political beliefs, your income bracket, your skin color, your mental health status, national origin or hair color. Think about the heart that you nurture and open and connect with everyday in your yoga practice. Recognize how you feel when you are in a space where you are confident that you are being loved and supported and held. Practicing yoga, opening your heart creates happiness, joy, a sense of peace and ease. When you walk outside today on the Seattle streets that have become hardened and sad and desperate for so many, remind yourself that we are all human. Share what you have by showing humanity to everyone. Do what you can to give everyone some dignity and integrity. Challenge yourself to look at each and every person in their eyes. If you don't have money to give or something to share, don't avoid connection. Be a human in whatever way you can.

All month, you can bring toiletries, new socks and undergarments, personal size toothpaste and deoderant, raincoats, winter clothes to The SweatBox. We will collect and deliver to Mary's Place, a downtown Seattle shelter serving homeless women and children. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Writing the beautiful

Last night my daughter Lucia and I wrote thank you letters to Hillary Clinton.  When Clinton lost the presidential race, writing to her was my first instinct. I needed to tell her what her running for president meant to me. I also needed to find a way for my 12-year-old daughter to process her grief about the loss. I hesitated to write this blog because over the course of the elections, I've experienced many moments in my liberal, third-party, west-coast, community being shamed as "right wing" or "ignorant" or "small-minded" for favoring Hillary Clinton. But, now in the wake of her loss of the election, I am more compelled than ever to be honest and open.

At a writing retreat I attended last month, one of the exercises we did was "writing the beautiful." We had to choose something in our life that was bad, even heinous, and write only the beautiful things about it. I didn't think I could do it, but I did. I got up at dawn on the second day of the retreat and set up my laptop overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I steadily wrote two short essays about things I didn't want to think about and I found the beautiful. I found memories, feelings, details that I hadn't let myself see because I was only looking at the event from one lens.

When Hillary Clinton ran for president, a new level of hope and excitement slowly unfurled for me. I was raised by feminist parents. My father, even back then, was the Board President of Planned Parenthood. He taught my sisters and me to play football and encouraged us to start a team at our school. My mother worked tirelessly for accessible clinic services for young women and helped us write letters of concern and complaint to Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

Even with these feminist roots, I never knew, could never imagine that a woman could be president. Sure, I fantasized, I hoped, but I didn't believe it. A woman would make so much difference. She truly would change the world. Hillary Clinton looked like she was getting close. I let myself believe. The unimaginable became thinkable.

And then she lost. The electoral college declared Voldemort our leader, and my heart broke a little bit. As my partner Nancy and I watched Lucia sob over the results, swimming in teenage tears of disillusionment and disappointment, my heart broke a little bit more. The next morning when the dust had settled a little bit, I told my family that I was going to write to Hillary and tell her what her running for president had meant to me. I invited Lucia to do the same. It's taken a week to get the letters done. They were difficult to write at first because the blow of the loss was too close. But it helped, writing the beautiful, expressing gratitude to Hillary Clinton, a woman who let all of us, especially the 12-year-old girls in the world, believe that the unimaginable is possible.