Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Yoga as Science

Last week we had Lucia's seventh grade school conference. Lucia is getting an A in every class, including science.  But when I ask Lucia what she's studying or how it's going in science, she tells me that the classroom is totally out of control, that she's not learning anything and she can't describe what aspect of physical science her class is working on. I asked how in the world she's getting an A and she said that she retakes every test and redoes every homework. She does this during her lunch period when she should be farting around with her friends and getting a break.

When I expressed concern to her science teacher in an email, the teacher replied, "It's tough. I have 34 students and I do a lot of classroom management. Lucia is actually one of the really good students."
"But she's not interested in science." I wrote back. "She can't tell me what she's studying in science. and the only reason she's one of the 'good' students is because she spends all of her spare time redoing the works and she still isn't getting it."
The conversation hit a stand still and I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do next.

I'm proud of Lucia for getting straight As. But I could give a rat's ass that she's getting straight As if she's not learning anything. For girls, 7th grade is the time when they are most likely to abandon math and science, to proclaim that they aren't good at it, to eliminate it from their list of future career options. We have a book about women in science, women who changed the world with their discoveries----Marie Curie, Barbara McClintock, Shirley Ann Jackson, Rachel Carson. I'm bummed about Lucia's experience with science this year. Instead of being part of an environment where she is becoming curious, asking questions, uncovering mysteries, she is doing grunt memorization and busy work and dealing with a handful of kids who mess around during science instead of lunch.

We live in a culture that looks at the end product. What are your grades? What does your body look like at the end of your diet or exercise regime? What kind of house did your big job allow you to buy? Because yoga has become so commonplace and many people put it in the category of "working out," there's a risk that we can get caught up in this idea of achieving a final result with our yoga practice.

Yoga is a lifetime process. It is about finding ourselves through exploration. We do this through postures, through breath, through chanting and meditation. Some of us do all of this, others only pieces. It doesn't matter what you choose to be part of your practice. It matters that you practice. You do what works for you. It's easy to get caught up in the end product--- what your triangle posture looks like or how long you can balance in standing bow pose. But that's not the point. The point is to investigate and be curious about the process of your practice. Just like science. What happens if you don't practice in your favorite spot this morning? What would if feel like to take a totally different class than you usually take tomorrow? Would the world collapse if you gave that teacher you didn't like another try? Yoga is like a science project. Stepping onto your mat is stepping into the unknown. It's a time to abandon assumptions and expectations, to become curious about potential discoveries, to uncover information that could change your world.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Finding your own path

I just came back from my first trip to India. I've been wanting to visit India for a long time but I always got overwhelmed when the idea of planning a trip there came up. India is so big. There are so many people and languages. Then this year one of my teachers invited me to go with her to see her guru.

She asked me during a class I was taking with her over the summer. "Do you want to go to India?" she said, very casually. I said, "I've always wanted to go to India....." but I didn't commit at that moment. I said, "I'll have to think about it." But I knew when she asked me that I'd go. I knew in my gut and with every cell in my body. 

I trust this teacher implicitly and, while I'm still trying to figure out if I have a guru (or multiple gurus), if I were to commit to one, she would be at the top of the list. 

We went to my teacher's guru's Ashram near Vellore in the south of India. My eight days at the Ashram were some of the most colorful, energetic, spiritually rich days of my life. It would take me hours and days to document the different rituals and ceremonies I was privileged to be a part of; and because I was technology free, I have no photos of any of my experiences in these sacred places. It's all in my mind, in my own private little memory vault of life experiences. It feels right that I can only relive these moments in my own mind, free from any outside lens of my own or anyone else.

While we were in India, I had a momentary crisis of faith and I confided in my teacher that I was struggling. In the midst of such intense devotion around me, was my spiritual expression enough? Why did my spiritual path look so different from so many of the people around me? 

My teacher looked at me with complete acceptance, openness, and said, "Laura, you have to do what works for you." She gestured with her hand in a circle across all of the devotees sitting near us, "this path is healing for me. I have my own story and you have yours. You have to follow the path that is healing for you."

It was as if a giant blister had been popped. I felt utter relief, a visceral release, to have confided in my teacher, to have been honest and clear about who I was and what I was thinking. For the rest of my time in India I did my own spiritual practices within the other ceremonies and rituals at the Ashram. In making them mine, I was able to connect with myself, and I was able to connect with the people around me. I was on my spiritual path, riding alongside all these other people, all of them on their own paths. It felt real and good and deep. I'm counting the days until I can go back to India.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Timing is Everything

I'm leaving for my first trip to India in about 46 hours. I've been desperately, painfully anxious about leaving--- my family, the studio, my familiar daily habits. It's pretty obvious that I'm sort of losing it. Last night my friend (and student, and teacher) Erika emailed me a podcast that she thought might be of value during this tumultuous emotional time. The podcast, by Tara Brach, is called Remembering and Choosing Loving Presence.

This morning I had to drop my car off on Beacon Hill to get new brakes. I decided to walk to work and use this bonus time to listen to the podcast. I love walking and relished the rain free morning to be in the city. It was commuting time and the hustle and bustle was alive and well all around-- the buses, light rail commuters, the kids going to school. One of the things I've made a personal commitment to do in the last few years is to look at as many strangers as I can in the eyes-- to smile or say hi, to just make contact and feel like the world is still small enough that we see each other individually.

As I got to the bottom of Fourteenth Avenue to the base of the Jose Rizal Bridge, I noticed someone walking much faster than I was coming from behind to pass me. I turned to see his face and looked into his eyes and smiled. In reply, he said, "You nasty ass tramp......" (I couldn't hear the rest over my ear buds once he passed in front of me).

I was surprised, hurt, and a little bit scared. This comment came at the exact time that Tara Brach was guiding her listeners to contemplate how we want people to see us in the world. I got to a crosswalk just after the man passed and, though it was against the side of the street I would eventually need to be on, opted to wait for the light and cross the street. I needed to symbolically cross away from that sentiment in my life.

The timing of this was profound. I continued walking up Twelfth and felt some of my joy returning. The colors of the International District, the smells, the murals on the street cars and dragons hanging from the electrical poles all brought me back to that urban wonder I love so much. The podcast continued on about opening up, allowing for loving presence in our lives, not grasping for what we don't have, making space for what it here now.

As I got closer to work I felt good. The man who called me a tramp was just a glimmer. I stopped at Stumptown Coffee to get a tea. When I got to the front of the line and prepared to pay, the barista said, "Your drink is on Cole today." Cole, at the other end of the coffee bar is a regular SweatBox student. His generosity smiled on my whole being with that complimentary cup of tea and I felt like everything was going to be okay. I'm going to India and all will be well.

Sunday, January 14, 2018


Lucia has been wanting Instagram since she got a phone for her twelfth birthday. Now she's thirteen-and-a-half. I've known for a long time that eventually I will say yes to her request. Last night while shopping at Nordstrom Rack for sports bras, she asked me again if she could get Instagram. "Yes," I said. Her eyes bulged in excitement. "But," I continued, "give me a little time to think about it."

"To come up with a contract?" she asked.

"Yes." I said, "I want to think more about why I'm resisting it and make a plan with you about how and why to use it."

"Can I write you an essay?" Lucia shot back. "I want to write you an essay about why I want it."

"That would be perfect." I said, so relieved for this solution and temporary stay on the inevitable Instagram activation. Lucia is a great writer and fantastic arguer. I hope debate and/or a career in law are in her future because then her arguments will be against other people and not me. Expecting a more typical teenage rant about what an uptight mom I am, I was pleasantly surprised by Lucia's response. She's been patient. Most of her friends have Instagram and/or SnapChat or other social media. I get why she wants it, but I also get how it is the path of no return and I want to step really thoughtfully onto that path.

I use Instagram and FaceBook for marketing for the yoga studio and even as a business persona, it makes me incredibly insecure and I often feel inadequate after a scroll through those sites. The other day I told my partner Nancy that I think I want to have another career. "The yoga industry is too competitive," I whined. "I don't want to be in this game."

"You've been on social media" Nancy half-questioned/half-stated. "Don't do that Laura. It's really bad for you."

She was right. I had been on Instagram scrolling through all of the incredibly creative retreats and classes and videos that people in Yoga Land were promoting and it made me feel like a little old raisin in a rocking chair with zero cool factor. I am grateful for Nancy's reminder. It snapped me out of that tailspin and I remembered who I was. I am in this business because I love yoga. I love my community. I love my job. That's real. Instagram isn't.

So as I embark on this conversation about Instagram for Lucia, what do I want her to know?

  • Instagram isn't real. It's like a video game and an art project. People are creating ideas, constructing future worlds, managing images. 
  • Instagram isn't you. It's a veil of a part of you, but it's not your authentic self. It's the outfit you wear for going to a specific party or restaurant or play. It's not your cozies that you put on when you're hanging at home with your bestie. 
  • Instagram doesn't endure. It's short lived and fleeting. It doesn't help to build your character or internal compass as you move into adulthood. It doesn't remind you when you're acting petty or immature. It doesn't guide you on a path towards a creative, inspiring career or relationship. You get that from your friends, your family, not from your followers.

As I work through all of these things about Instagram I want to share with Lucia, I'm keenly aware of how relevant they are for me. I'm going to say yes to Instagram and it will be soon. I'm scared and I'm worried, but it will happen. My hope is that Lucia will be able to play and have fun with Instagram, to feel like she's a part of the big video game of life, but that she will also keep in mind what is good and true about herself, that she will always have people in her life who remind her what is real.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Tell More Stories

This New Year's Eve I spent with my family and another family-- four adults, two teens and a ten-year-old. Our dinner of black-eyed-peas and collards was the perfect meal after a long day of skiing. After dinner we all wrote down things we wanted to purge in 2018-- grudges, bad habits, dysfunctional patterns. The plan was to share these with our little community so we could have support in letting go of these things and staying on course in the new year. The final action would be burning papers in the fire pit on the front patio of our rental house.

In addition to the things we wanted to let go of, we also wrote down things we wanted to do more of in 2018. Among mine were eating less sugar and assuming best intentions of people in my life. Bea, the ten-year-old, wrote, "Tell more stories." This struck me as profound for many reasons. What does that mean? To tell more stories. Is it to share what happened at school during dinner with the family? Is it making up a fairy tale before bedtime?

Bea is a very articulate, incredibly creative ten-year-old and she tells amazing stories. I've tried to remember myself at that age, in the era of much less technology, a time when we spent so much more time talking to each other than talking to our phones and laptops. Sometimes before bed my daughter Lucia will ask me to tell a story of my childhood and I struggle to conjure one. I have a hard time recalling in detail how I was forty years ago, but I do remember how my sisters and I would make up scenarios all the time: imagining that we were the proprietors of a grocery store or the managers of a hotel, or movie stars or veterinarians or olympic swimmers.

I worry a lot about how technology is changing our world, how it is hindering the creativity and imagination of my child, but maybe I'm worrying unnecessarily. This morning Bea's older sister shared a virtual story of our family ski trip complete with photos, videos and a pop music soundtrack. It's a different kind of story, but it's still a story. It's creative and beautiful and it highlights the wonderful time our families shared.

I remember when my grandmother was 94, trying to explain email to her. I  remember showing her pictures on my laptop seeing the wonder in her face. This year I will turn 50. I got my AARP membership card in the mail yesterday. I'm getting older and the world around me is changing. But there are still stories. We might tell them differently now, but there are still here. There will always be stories to tell.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Love and Light

A few weeks ago my friends and I went on our annual trip to Portland. My partner Nancy calls this group of friends my "Bossy Posse." We go to Portland every year to do all of our holiday shopping in one efficient weekend. We also have a "YES" policy on this trip-- everything everyone wants to do gets a resounding "YES!" Last year that meant we ate three dinners one night.

This year there were six of us. We piled into my friend Jenna's Toyota minivan equipped with ample snacks, reusable shopping bags and comfortable walking shoes. We were ready to party (in the way only middle-aged women without their kids can party!)

We rented a gorgeous apartment in a turn of the century building in Nob Hill with a fantastic balcony, plenty of beds for all of us and a great living room with comfortable spaces for all of our middle aged bodies.

On Saturday morning we planned to go to Powells first, about a mile walk from our apartment. I am always the first one awake and ready to go. I was ready well before the rest of Bossy Posse so I told them I'd meet them outside. Even though it was raining, it wasn't cold and I wanted to get some fresh air. I walked down from the second story apartment through the small vestibule into the drizzle and noticed a woman draped in a piece of black cloth wearing red pajama pants with white hearts moving erratically on the sidewalk in front of the building. She was barefoot and moaning. Before I could figure out what was happening she looked up and saw me and started to make her way towards me. I panicked. As quickly as I could, I made a b-line for the little vestibule of our building.  I pulled out the keys to our VRBO and let myself in. The woman followed me into the vestibule and started banging on the glass door, pulling and pushing the doorknob, all the while screaming something I couldn't understand.

I scurried up the stairs to our apartment to talk to the posse, to figure out what to do. Among the six of us, three of us have Masters Degrees in Counseling or Social Work and another works for an organization specializing in grief and addiction services. We are all parents of teenagers. But in the face of this poor woman's plea for help, we all became momentarily lost. None of us knew what to do for this scared, cold, confused young woman.

Eventually Jenna opened the vestibule door and talked to the woman. She was still yelling and crying. She wanted water and socks. She was speaking nonsensically and the therapists in the group diagnosed psychosis, possibly drug induced. We got her some warm socks and food and water and called the non-emergency 911 service to come assess her further.

I thought about that woman all day. What had I been afraid of in that moment? Was I afraid that I couldn't help her? Was I afraid of how like her I am? How, without the support of my family and friends, without the benefits of my education and my privilege, I might have been like this woman? Was I just simply frightened of how out of control the situation felt?

As we wandered around Portland that Saturday I saw lots of people who needed dry clothes, food, water. The image of the barefoot, crying, yelling woman in the vestibule running like the baseline through all of these other images. I felt plagued. What happened to me? Why did I turn my back on that poor woman for even a moment?

And then this week we lost a student. A woman. Cece. She was just 40 years old. She died of a heart attack and when she did, the hearts of hundreds, maybe thousands, in our community cracked open a little bit. The outpouring of sadness, of love that flowed like a rushing river in the studio for one woman, one special beautiful woman, brought me back the image of the woman in the vestibule.  Who cries for her? Misses her? Everyone is special and perfect in her own way. Cece was that and more. All of us who knew her were touched by her goodness and her light.

And that woman in the vestibule, the one just like you, just like me, was special and perfect too. I'll never know what happened to her, if she got help, if she found a place to be held and loved and cared for the way we cared for Cece and she cared for so many of us. I wish I could have, would have done more for the woman in the vestibule. I take momentary comfort in the light and love that surround Cece in her end of life; in being a part of a community that is so full of generosity and goodness, but I still think about that woman in the vestibule every day.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

If at first you don't succeed...

Last Thursday when I picked Lucia up from school, she surprised me by launching right into conversation. Usually the first thing Lucia does is look in the glove compartment to see if I have the kind of bar she likes (I always keep a stash of granola bars in the glove compartment).  As soon as Lucia buckled herself in, instead of foraging, she turned towards me and said, "Mom, I have an ethical dilemma."

"I'm listening," I said.

"Well, we're trying out for solos in choir and I really want to try out but I don't think I should try out because Emma wants to try out too." Lucia explained.

"Why can't you both try out?" I probed, already worried about Lucia's long-term co-dependence issues.

Lucia went on, "I'm worried because the odds are that, between me and Emma, I'll probably get the solo, even though we probably both won't get the solo, but if one of us did, it would probably be me.... and I don't want Emma to feel bad for not getting the solo."

Now my hackles really went up. What the hell?! Instead of launching into the lecture about autonomy and self-preservation and healthy empathy, I stopped myself and presented Lucia with a question.

"If I were to tell you this same thing, that I didn't want to try out for a solo because I was worried about my friend feeling bad, what would you tell me?"

Lucia thought for a moment and then replied, "Well, I tried out for every single solo last year and I only got two. So I guess telling Emma that even if she fails, she has to try would be a good thing for her to know.  She'll probably fail just like me before she gets a solo."

We processed this a bit more, but the ethical dilemma felt solved for the most part. The solution felt clean and clear and perfect. And, Lucia had come to it on her own which made the outcome that much sweeter.

Being a parent is hard. Trying to shield your child from pain is a natural parental response. Last year when Lucia got the solos, she was so happy and I was so happy for her. But I didn't really think about the times she didn't get the solos. The failure was just part of the journey for her, part of getting to the success.

Too often I forget this, that failure is part of the journey. I fall into the trap of wanting things to just happen. For example, when I offer a new workshop at the studio and I don't get the enrollment I want, I feel like a failure and I resist offering it again. But that's not the answer. The answer is to get back on the horse and try again. Neither Lucia nor Emma got the solo this time, but I hope they'll both keep trying.