Thursday, May 30, 2019

Doing "nothing"

Last week I was lying on my daughter Lucia's bed before saying goodnight. It's my favorite time with her these days. At fourteen most of her waking hours are focused on separating from me and I am grateful for a few minutes of being needed and wanted like the old days. Lucia and I were talking about about school, work, her friends and summer plans and it felt like the conversation had reached its natural end. I was getting ready to kiss her goodnight when she started talking again. "Mom, " she said, "the other day I was reading a book about Hamilton which was really boring and I just started staring out into space..... I realized that I never do that. I'm always at school or at soccer or vocal jazz or piano or I'm on my phone or with other people. I'm never just doing nothing."

Inside I felt broken-hearted. The state of existence these days is to be on all the time. I felt for Lucia and her peers who, with the presence of cell phones, are really mired in the culture of always being tuned in. The pressure to be doing something all the time is so intense and there is very little opportunity to tune out. But I didn't tell her that, I just asked, "How did that feel?"

"Great!" she said.

We talked a little bit about finding ways to get to that place in the future, making time to just be instead of always doing, and then we said goodnight. I struggle as a parent to help Lucia find balance and in helping her, I become aware of my own imbalance, my increasing inability to find comfort in the existence of just being.

The next day I practiced yoga. I went to class and from the moment I settled into Savasana at the beginning of class to wait for the Frani to turn on the lights to begin,  I was there. I was just being. I felt a swell of gratitude for this feeling and the presence of this practice in my life. Yoga is a lot of things and it means something different for everyone. For me these days yoga is a respite from the "doing," a haven from technology and chores and to-do-lists. It is a sanctuary of openness and grace. It's a reminder that underneath all of the things I do to be me, I'm still alive and vibrant and filled with energy. It's a gift. I hope you feel it too.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Listen for the birds...

I've been teaching yoga for almost 20 years, practicing for twenty-five years. This practice has been part of my life for half of my life. This past week my friend Nina and I have been leading a Yin Yoga Immersion for people who want to deepen their understanding of Yin Yoga. As I always do, I over-prepared, over-worried, over-thought every aspect of this training. I prepared a power point presentation. I included extra articles in the manual at the last minute. I lost sleep worrying that it wouldn't be good enough. The most important thing for me was to do right by these people who had entrusted me, enlisted me, to teach them what I know.

One of the things I have learned as a teacher is that I can only teach what I know. I can only share the experiences that live in my own body and my own heart.  When I was a new teacher I tried to regurgitate things I'd heard other people say, things that kind of made sense to me, but not completely. It didn't work. I felt discordant in my own body when I shared that stuff. It was like walking barefoot on a floor that feels clean but you can tell it isn't because every once in a while you feel crumbs underneath your heel or big toe and you have to stop, bend down and brush off the crumbs.

Teaching what is embodied is like walking on a clean floor. It is smooth, clean, and comfortable. I'm aware, as I sit in front of these ten bodies who've made time and given energy to be part of this immersion that Nina and I created, that they want to learn. I am aware that it is our job to give them what they want. Over the last three long days of training I have shared some of my power point about Yin Yoga. I have taught classes, workshopped postures, and offered my thoughts on Yin Yoga philosophy. I have loved sharing what I know.

When I think of my teachers, the ones who have made me go deeper into my own practice of life, not just yoga, I think about the little jewels they have shared with me. I think about the snippets of wisdom from their own lives they have imparted and how seemingly random they were to me at the time that they shared them, but how they have revisited me in my own life often and unexpectedly.

Last night at the end of our long day I had a flash moment of homework for the class. It was unplanned and seemingly arbitrary in the moment I shared it, but I shared it anyway. "Listen for the birds at least three times between tonight and tomorrow" I instructed the class. In the moment, I second-guessed myself; I thought to myself, these people must think I'm crazy.

This morning I woke up and lay in my warm bed under the sheets opening and closing my eyes a few times to get connected to the light and I listened for the birds. I heard the robins that live outside our window. They are so loud they wake me in the summer when we sleep with the windows open. I came downstairs to make coffee and sit on the couch and I listened again. I could hear the chickadees chirping outside and the seagulls down by the lake. Hearing the birds made me so happy. It always does. And then I knew why I'd assigned that homework.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Cell Phone Challenge

Since we opened The SweatBox eighteen years ago, we've never had a wall clock in the studio. This is deliberate. We want people to try to practice and be in the moment. I remember in high school the wall clock was like a plague, keeping us tortured students abreast of every painstaking second we endured in geometry or chemistry or world history. We wanted to create a different experience for people in the yoga room, an experience where time, for just a few hours, was suspended.

Some people do wear watches to practice, but the majority of people take them off to practice because they are uncomfortable. I've noticed an interesting new phenomenon at the studio lately of people wearing their Apple watches into practice. I sometimes see these people looking at their watches. Not having one myself, I don't know if they are checking their text messages or checking the time.

A few days ago someone actually had their phone next to their mat. Occasionally we'll have a medical professional who is on-call for work and they have a pager or phone, but we have an otherwise strict no-phone in the studio policy. But what of these new Apple watches? Do they invite the same kind of checking that we do on our smart phones?

When we practice yoga, we are doing a form of moving meditation. In this action, we are creating new neuro-pathways, opening doorways to new patterns of thinking. We are experiencing life in real time, in the present moment. This is an important (I might even say critical) part of creating life balance. There is too much screen time for all of us. This is no secret. It has become a public health issue.

Sometimes after taking class when I'm in the shower room getting dressed I'll notice people sitting, still in their sweaty yoga clothes, with their phones, scrolling to see what they missed during their yoga class.  I would probably do it as well except my phone is never in the dressing room with me. As I watched a woman last week, eyes glazed on her screen post-class, I thought of a challenge for myself and for anyone who wants to try it.

What if, for a half-hour after every yoga class we practice, we DON'T look at our phones? What would that be like? Would we notice that calm, energetic quality we have after final Savasana settling in a little bit deeper? Would a half-hour turn into an hour or two hours of just being in the present moment?

It's a big challenge. It will take a mighty effort for me to do this. I'll probably linger longer in final Savasana. I might hang out in the dressing room and lobby talking to people for more time than normal, but I want to try it. I want to see how it makes me feel.  One half-hour, thirty-minutes, after yoga class- no screen time. Can I do it? Can you? I invite you to take the challenge.

Monday, January 14, 2019


I turned 50 in November. Three weeks later I got glasses. For several months, I had noticed that driving at night had become perilous. Sometimes I'd just grip the wheel, hold on tight and hope for the best. But for some reason I didn't put the pieces together that glasses might help. I didn't know I needed glasses until one day my partner Nancy and my friend Genessa and I were looking out our dining room window towards the lake. "Look at that guy in that tiny boat out there," Genessa said and Nancy replied, "Oooh, yeah, he looks so small out there." What they were seeing to me looked like a sea otter splashing. It was then that I made an appointment with the eye doctor.

The eye doctor informed me that I am near-sighted with an astigmatism that would require me to get progressives-- distance above, close up below. I got the glasses and for the last month have been stumbling around, struggling with putting them on then taking them off. I fell down my front stairs because I misjudged the placement of the last two steps of our front porch. Part of me really thought that I didn't need glasses, that I was better off missing a few little things here and there and going without the hassle of equipment on my face.

Yesterday, I went back to the eye doctor, a month after my initial glasses consult, to get re-examined, to make really sure that I truly am a glasses candidate. This second opinion ophthalmologist confirmed my prescription and gave me some pointers about how I should be wearing progressives.

After work this afternoon I took a walk down to the lake. Last night there was a fire at the marina at the end of our street and I wanted to see what the damage looked like. I remembered to bring my glasses, knowing that I wouldn't be able to see what had happened without them. As I walked down to the lake in the dusk of the afternoon, I appreciated that I could see the coots and geese along the shoreline. I could see the detail of the cormorant's wings on the buoy beyond the coots and geese. Why was I so resistant to glasses? They helped me see in the dark. They enabled me to see nature in detail. They helped keep me safe behind the wheel.

It's not the glasses. It's the change. I've always felt healthy and unencumbered. Glasses make me feel like I've lost a bit of that. This week my 91-year-old stepfather Al decided to go on hospice. He's got a few ailments that need tending, but for the most part, he's a typical 91-year-old. He's a lot slower than he was ten years ago. He's shaky and tired. He went on hospice as a way to acknowledge the changes that are coming, the things that are happening to him, that will continue happening to him as he moves from this year to next year and beyond. My mom said that the hospice workers are affirming of his wishes. They are good listeners and respectful of his opinions and values. She said since taking the step towards hospice his energy changed, his demeanor changed. He got an oxygen tank and has been able to sleep through the night.

There is grace in leaning into change like Al has. In not fighting it, he can find the peace within it. I've been thinking a lot about Al these days. It's hard to talk on the phone with him and he lives 2000 miles away. I get reports from my mom about how things are going.  I wonder how I would approach what Al is dealing with in his life right now. What I do know, what came to me as I walked down the hill seeing the lake clearly in my glasses, feeling different, knowing I looked older, more encumbered than I have in years past, is that change happens whether we fight it or not. I'll take a cue from Al and lean into these glasses, this new look. Just like Al, I'm getting older with each year that passes. To fight it will make it harder. To accept, maybe even embrace it, will bring me closer to peace.

Friday, December 14, 2018

True Nature

This year at my family’s annual holiday party I was talking to my friend Heidi, a physical therapist/wise woman who has two teenage daughters and is herself in peri-menopause. “I’m totally in puberty” she said. “ The difference is that now I can see it. I can see from outside looking in what is happening to me and I have some clarity about it. Some perspective.” When girls are in puberty they don’t have perspective. They don’t have the years of experience to tell them that this is a moment in time, that this emotion, body change, or crush will change. They are flooded with the here and now of hormones and life experiences.

At fifty, I am just entering menopause and I can see what Heidi is talking about. The mood swings, the drama, the frustration at not being able to control the texture of my skin or my energy level are all here, just like in puberty. But I have wisdom and clarity. I am connected with my inner voice that tells me that I am driving this train. These changes that are happening to me do not define me. It took me years to come back to this true nature. I am still aware of times when I shush it, turn down the volume to accommodate someone or something else. As a fifty-year-old woman I can now reflect back on my own path. I can see where my inner voice was loud and clear. I can remember when I closed it down and boxed it up to make room for what I thought was expected of me. And I can feel now how it is showing back up, loud and clear, awake and aware.

Women share a hormonal and a historical connection that is powerful and illuminating. My mother’s story--- her strength and resilience as well as what she lost and sacrificed-- informed my own experiences as a girl and a woman. And what I’ve learned from my mother and my own experiences informs my own daughter’s path. What we all share is an inherent true nature. This is the thread that runs through us at all stages of life and connects us to our power. That's pretty awesome.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Guest Blog- Menopause Mentoring

Menopause Mentoring by Kate Poux
This is my grandma and her sisters in 1954,  when they were in their late 40s/early 50s. I admire their easy middle-aged glamour. I am the same age as they are in the photo.  I wish I could  be part of their midlife summer barbeques. What would they say to me about this time of life? What will I say to my daughters and nieces and grand daughters 30  years from now? What are they learning right now by watching me live it?

When my daughter was 3 she would watch me get out of the shower and get ready for the day, and ask for some of my lotion to rub on her legs like me. One day as she bent over, going through my same lotion motions she said, “I do what you do, Mommy.” I am struck  by how much she took in as a toddler watching me, and how much she must notice now as a teenager, sometimes seeking connection to me and many times doing the hard work of separating from me.

My dad died 28 years ago. I spend November remembering him, and every year I notice how much more I am like him. This year I dug through an old box  at my mom’s house and collected photos. He’s the guy at the block parties with a clipboard, putting up the flags, playing the “head on a table” in the haunted house, wearing make up for his part in the Kismet chorus, singing real loud in church, whistling, drinking coffee in the front yard, running with the dog. I live so much of my life like he did, mostly unaware of this deep subconscious connection. He doesn’t tell me to do all these things, I just do what he did.

The process of becoming like our parents and ancestors is deep. As parents and adults in families, we work so hard  to keep children safe, healthy, happy. We make conscious choices in every moment about what to say, do to help them grow, but all the while they are watching us and becoming like us, without either of us being really aware of it. I do what you do. How can I live through this time of menopause in a way that will help it be an easier, fuller time for my daughters and next generations?

I made a  friend on the Claws in your Pause retreat last year who told us that every day at work for her is a +5 on her energy meter. She made changes to her diet a few years ago and feels great, totally reconnected to her body. Being with her changed me. I want to do what she does. Not literally, of course, but I want to embrace opportunities, let go of the energy suckers and love my life like she does. And making it happen for me at this time in my life has an impact on how the young women around me will feel about menopause, now and maybe later.

It’s kind of a lot of pressure to figure it out. Especially on days like today when I pretend to be sick and hide in my bedroom so I don’t have to deal with anyone. This last photo is my daughter around the same age when she used to imitate my showering routine. She’s making a banana phone call. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if banana phones could call back and forth through time, connect past and future generations? She could just call present-me 30 years in the future and say WTF about all this menopause bullshit, Mom! Oona, if you’re still there…

...notice changes in energy, mood, confidence, hair falling out,  temper, libido, weight, heart palpitations in your 40s, open up a dialogue about it with your family, friends, doctor. Track your symptoms, write them down. Keep a timeline. You are not crazy.

… notice what gives you energy, and what depletes it, and practice letting go of the things that don’t bring you joy or energy.  Observe how much more decisive you feel. Reconnect with your intuition.

… find the nearest chapter of Put Some Claws in Your Pause and tell them Mommy sent you. Bond with people about menopause. Say it out loud, often. It’s a comforting, inspiring connection, to find out how other women are handling it or not handling it, how we can learn from each other and shed the shame.

 Kate Poux is an elementary school teacher and co-facilitator of Put Some Claws in Your Pause, a Yoga & Writing Retreat in celebration of Menopause.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Listening for the birds

About ten years ago I was on a family nature walk in Seward Park. My daughter Lucia was about four-years-old at the time and the naturalist leading the hike was a young man who looked barely out of high school. I was a little disappointed. I wondered what I could learn from this young guy. The docent took us along the path pointing out the different barks on the trees, poison oak, variations of ferns and moss. Then he stopped suddenly and became completely silent. We all followed suit, even the kids. After about a minute he said, "No matter where you are in the world, if you stop, be still, and listen, you will hear birds. Even in New York City," he went on, "birds will be there. Birds are everywhere. You just have to stop, be still and listen."

I've followed that naturalist's words at least once a week for the last ten years. He's right. In New York, Chicago, Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma..... the birds are always there.  Today I am completing the fifth day of a meditation training.* This particular training is about coming back to our true nature by welcoming all our experiences. We get to this, in part by opening all of our senses. The training is at a beautiful retreat center in Northern California.  There are deer everywhere, wild turkeys, snakes, lizards, jack rabbits, hawks, owls and so many other birds. For this training, most of the time we're sitting or lying down so every morning for the last five days I've gotten up at 6:30am to walk the hills to prepare my body for the long days of stillness. At 6:30am, when I leave my dorm, the sky is still dark and the sounds of the birds are loud and clear. They too might still be just waking up. In the dark I can't see any of the other creatures, but I can hear the birds.

As I walked the hills at sunrise these last few days, as the sun illuminated the golden grass of the hills, I have spotted deer and a few times, a lucky jack rabbit. I stepped on a snake yesterday and the squirrels, lizards and hawks have been everywhere. This morning I noticed that, as my visual senses came alive with the sunrise, I stopped hearing the sounds of the birds. So as I got to the top of a hill, I closed my eyes and stopped. I stood still. I heard the wind in the grass. I heard the highway in the distance. But I couldn't hear any birds. Just as I began to worry, I heard one.  Then I heard many. They were there. They always are.

*Integrative Restoration Yoga Nidra is a form of yoga and mediation. If you're interested in learning more, sign up for one of Laura's workshops at The SweatBox Loft.