Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Pioneer Days

I have a binge TV watching habit. Currently I am on Season 3 of The Americans. I justify this habit by telling myself that everyone needs to check out sometimes. Nancy reverts to reading The New York Times and The Washington Post on her phone fifteen times a day. My friend Alia follows every detail of each victim of every disaster in the news. All three of us are spending time that could be spent elsewhere, doing other things, real life activities that would make us feel happier.

I love all things Prairie Days. I was a devotee of the whole Little House on the Prairie series (books and television) and I love Willa Cather. The wholesomeness and completeness of the lives of pioneers makes sense to me. I sometimes wonder if Laura Ingalls Wilder ever had "check out" time.  It's not that the lives of the pioneers were without struggle or drama, but the necessary tasks to make daily life function kept everyone on track and focused and in constant connection with each other.

Recently Nancy quit her news habit in preparation for a week-long retreat where she'd be without internet,  phone or any other kind of media. When she came back she stayed off her devices, especially the news sites. The day she got back she said to me, "Laura, my Lyft driver in California kept talking about Las Vegas. What happened in Las Vegas?" This was several days after the massacre. About a week later she started to tell me about a Tom Petty video a friend had emailed her. 

"It's so sad that Tom Petty died" I said.  

"Tom Petty died!!!!?" Nancy screamed in surprise from the couch.

The changes I've noticed with Nancy being mostly news free (she only reads it on Sunday now), are that she seems happier; she reports feeling better overall, more at ease and balanced. Nancy has replaced her news time with meditation, spending time with her family and friends, and reconnecting on the phone with other people she loves. This summer when I started a garden as a habit to counter my after-work screen tendencies, I too felt happier and more balanced. Being outside, seeing the fruits of my labor has given me a sense of joy and accomplishment. The shift from vacantly filling time (escaping into media) to engaging in something real is a choice that Laura Ingalls Wilder never had to make.

For many of us, the drive to escape from the intensity of life is strong. Most of us are inundated with details about news and other life issues even if we don't want to hear them. Living in a city, having a job, raising families, we have to be connected to function. There are tasks we need to be engaged with-- driving carpool, paying bills, cooking dinner, organizing work tasks. It's the modern day version of Laura Ingalls Wilder's family responsibilities-- sowing the wheat, building the barn, churning the butter, planning the church picnic.

The problem is that a lot of these current era daily functions bring us to our phones or laptops. Look up a recipe online, pay bills with online banking, text the parents from soccer carpool. We have too much connection. We're so used to this information overload that we fill our quiet time with more of it, exacerbating the problem and systematically destroying our ability to be without our devices.

The two times I am actually without my phone on a regular basis are in the yoga room and in my bed. I always plug my phone in downstairs in the kitchen when I go to sleep and we have a cell phone free yoga studio, so the phone stays quiet when I am practicing or teaching. I'm grateful for these few hours of each day that remind me that I don't need to be connected to my device to be connected to the world, the real world.  Divesting from our devices is a practice, just like quitting caffeine or meditating. I will still use my device to coordinate and plan and organize and get information, but I'm committed to being ever mindful of where my true connections are-- with myself, with other people, with real life.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

My beautiful mug

Last year for Mother's Day Lucia made me a mug at one of those paint-and-go ceramics places. Lucia is close to thirteen, past her enthusiastic arts and crafts days. It's rare that I get handmade gifts anymore, and I really cherished that mug. Beyond the fact that Lucia made the mug, I loved the thickness of the lip and of the handle. They felt perfect for my mouth and my hand.

I used that mug every morning. My partner Nancy and I have a ritual of setting up the coffee maker the night before and then, whoever gets up first (usually me) goes down and turns it on, warms the milk and then brings coffee to whomever is still in bed. Every morning that mug sat at our little coffee station waiting for me. Every morning I derived immense joy from sipping my perfectly prepared coffee in my special mug. I almost always drank a second cup on my way to work. I hand washed the mug so it wouldn't fade in the dishwasher.

One afternoon, arms full of groceries, I tossed the mug into my yoga bag to bring into the house. I dropped my yoga bag full of sweaty clothes on the landing to the basement as I always do. This time though, in addition to the normal thud, I heard a loud crash. I knew immediately that I had broken "the mug." I was heartbroken, devastated, anguished. Lucia, who was standing there immediately said, "Mom, it's no big deal."

I continued moving around the house, getting dinner ready, putting away laundry, checking my email and periodically I'd let out a moan, "OOOOhhhh, I can't believe I broke the mug." Lucia was always right there reminding me, "Mom, it's no big deal. What is wrong with you?!!!"

When Nancy came home a few hours later I told her, as if I'd lost my first born child, "Honey, I broke my mug."

"Darn," she said as she flipped through the day's mail, "That's a bummer."

Based on the reactions of my family members, I was clearly over-reacting to this broken piece of porcelain. The remnants of the mug sat pathetically on the dining room table for a few days. The sad pieces were definitely not glue-able but I couldn't bring myself to part with them.

Then one morning I woke up and did my usual morning mediation. When I came downstairs and saw the ceramic remains still on the dining room table, I knew that I would move past this "drama" by giving the mug a new life. I took the broken shards and put them in my garden around a basil plant and the rest, extra special because it had Lucia's initials and mine on the bottom, I put on my altar. It fits my little vial of eclipse water just perfectly.

What's the lesson? I see now that this beautiful, perfect mug, this predictable, stable part of my life, could not last forever because nothing lasts forever. Nothing stays the same. The weather changes. Our roles as parents change. Our relationships with our partners change. Our positions in our work lives change.  Sometimes it's a slow change, subtle and calm. Other times, like the mug, it comes with an unexpected crash. The result is the same. With change, we need to shift gears, redirect, repurpose, find new ways to make meaning out of what is left.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Find myself. Repeat.

I do yoga five or six days a week. I do it because I love it.  I love the practice. I love the teachers. I love the community. I know that if I didn't do yoga, the slow build of fatigue, emotional despair and inflexibility would take over. I know this because I've had periods of not doing yoga. When I neglect my practice, my body misses it for sure, but mentally I notice it more. I tend to get lost; a little adrift and unclear of where I am headed. I am more who I want to be when I practice. Doing yoga is not so much about fixing myself as finding myself.

When I first started practicing in my twenties, my practice was very isolated. I practiced my yoga and then I left, very quickly. Yoga class was an efficient way of re-centering during the tumbleweed storm of my twenties. There was very little spillover, at least consciously, from the yoga room to other parts of my world. I lived my crazy life, went to yoga a few times a week where I focused on slowing down, watching my breath, relaxing. Then I'd change clothes and head back into the chaos. I didn't really think about how yoga affected the other parts of my life.

Nearly twenty-five years later, I can see how different my practice has become. I'm almost fifty-years-old, so maturity naturally accounts for some of my evolution, but it's also the years of practice.  I notice when I am in a regular practice cycle that I am more calm, more patient, more kind-- to myself and others. Sometimes Lucia, my twelve-year-old, says to me, "Mom, maybe you need yoga." Neither Lucia, nor my partner Nancy has ever once complained about my going to yoga at the studio or doing yoga at home. They are in full support because they know it makes me my best self.

It's not that I learn something new each time I practice, it's that I reconnect with the lessons I've lost. Though I'm a much calmer, more grounded being than I was two decades ago, I am still vulnerable to the forces of stress and distraction that I have always been. When I practice and a teacher reminds me, for example, that "nothing is permanent" or that "breathing normally will calm my nervous system," it's not that I don't know those jewels of wisdom, it's that I need to be reminded of them.

I'm always been a high-intensity person. It's in my DNA. I get satisfaction and self-esteem from being a doer, making shit happen, taking on more than I can chew. I don't know how I got so lucky to make yoga my life's work. I can't imagine where I would be mentally, physically or emotionally without it. I mean, if I had chosen, for example, to become a day-trader (which I think would be super exciting and fun), I might very well be dead by now. As it is, I have several ventures outside of being a yoga teacher that keep me amped up. Being a high-gear personality, I need the daily reset of yoga to quiet me down. I know I'm not alone. Many of us need yoga or something like it to balance the crazy. I'm eternally grateful that going to work everyday is the very thing that keeps me sane. When I think of how lucky I am that this is my life, I simply have no words.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Loving Kindness

Sometimes I pick up my almost 13-year-old daughter Lucia from school and try to hug her. It's kind of like hugging a stick. She's embarrassed and annoyed. Duh. Why can't I remember that feeling in the moment. When I stop and think about it, I clearly remember feeling that way towards my own mother when I was a teenager. What happens to us that we fall right into behaviors that we actively committed to never doing? That's surely fodder for another blog.

Lucia and I have a lot of very similar characteristics. We're both like sticks when people try to hug us and we're not prepared for it. We both turn inwards and become remote when we are disappointed or hurt. We're both resistant to new things. We both love to read. Despite all of our similarities, Lucia is clearly her own person and there are countless things I learn about her everyday.

Our nighttime ritual has always been reading together before bed. Even now when the two of us barely fit into her bed, we read. I usually read out loud to Lucia. Sometimes she reads out loud to me and sometimes we take turns reading to each other. The books have become more mature and I am as riveted by their content as she is. Oftentimes I'm more excited to get to the night reading than she is. When we are done reading, Lucia takes off her glasses, turns off her bedside lamp, and we have a "chitty-chat"-- a short debrief of the day or a conversation about what's on her mind. Sometimes it's a question about what I was like as a kid or something related to the book we are reading. Other times the chat is related a political issue in our world or something going on with her friends at school.

Recently during our "chitty-chat," Lucia said, "Mom, why do you think I'm like this at night?"

"Like how?" I asked.

"No matter what happens during the day, I always feel so loving and kind at night when we get into bed and read" she explained.

I'm not sure how I answered, but I think about this all the time. Our nightly reading ritual is a a very peaceful part of the day. It's a twenty-minute infusion of calm. Sometimes I describe yoga as a "moving meditation," a time to slow down the mind, even as the body is moving. The reading ritual that Lucia and I share is similar. Like Savasana, it is a familiar ritual that we do every night. Though the content might be different in the book we are reading or the conversation we have, the ceremony of it is the same. There is a comfort and safety that allows for a deep state of relaxation and openness (or as Lucia describes it, being "loving" and "kind").

I occasionally panic about the inevitable ending of this nightly practice. Will Lucia want to stop when she's fourteen? Sixteen? Tomorrow? I have no way of knowing the answer. For now, I relish our time together every night.

Friday, September 15, 2017

I woke up like this.

Last week I took Emily's Vinyasa class. She had her hair in a really cool top knot braid extravaganza that looked like something from the pages of Italian Vogue. The next morning Emily came in to take my class with her hair in the same super-styled top knot. A student sitting on the bench said, "Your hair is so amazing!" Even in its slightly frizzed and fluffy state from being slept on, it was indeed still amazing.

In response to the student's comment, Emily sarcastically smiled and said, "I woke up like this." It was funny, especially funny to me because I knew that she really had just woken up like that.

Beyoncé has a song called Flawless where she repeats that line, "I woke up like this" over and over. When Emily said those same words about her slept-on-seen-better-days hair style, I immediately heard Beyoncé's voice in my head.

In my house Beyoncé is the favored musical artist, possibly the most favored human being on the planet. Both Nancy and Lucia adore all things Beyoncé  I like Beyoncé a lot, but my love for her does not come close the love my family feels for her; I still hear her music--- lot.

So, as students signed in and got set up for class, Beyoncé's voice singing, "I woke up like this" echoed in my head. Beyoncé's idealized status in our house is, in part because she's really an amazing singer and performer, but also because she's a bad-ass. She's intelligent. She's a feminist, an activist, an amazing role model for girls and boys alike. And, she does yoga.

As I prepared to teach with images of Nancy and Lucia standing in our kitchen bellowing,  "I woke up like this", it occurred to me how truly powerful those words are. "I woke up like this" means to me that we are, all of us, perfect just as we are.  Our perfection, our true essence is inside of us, from the moment we wake up with our messy hair and unwashed face. Perfection.

I took Beyoncé's (and Emily's) message in with me to the studio. "You're all perfection," I told the class. "Remember through the class, you woke up like this. Perfection."

Yoga is a profoundly beautiful experience because it's about uncovering our own "flawlessness." It's not physical perfection that we seek in yoga. It's self-realization, digging deep down to find our internal diamond in the rough. You see, whatever is supposed to be there is already there. It's you. You really do wake up like this. You wake up as you. Thanks Beyoncé and Emily for the inspirational reminder.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

There's goodness out there.

Yesterday I woke up with ash all over my car. I went to the grocery store to do shopping for the thousands of 7th grade meals that will happen starting today, listened to the news, and slowly felt my heart beat faster and faster with every new piece of information. DACA. Global Warming. Hurricane Harvey. Hurricane Irma. Fires everywhere. My little baby in SEVENTH GRADE. My anxiety was mounting at an unhealthy clip, so I did what always helps. I went to yoga.

I looked at my email on my phone briefly before walking into the studio and saw an email from a Smita, a regular, long-time student. It started like this,

"I have been a student with SweatBox Yoga for a while. And I am taking a moment to thank people around me who have been open-minded and appreciative of racial diversity. Yesterday my husband and I were walking on Capitol Hill towards Trader Joe's when a crazy guy said racial slurs such as 'From where these Indians come?' 'Go back to your country!'"

I felt my heart start beating a little bit harder. What is becoming of this world? How can I raise a child in this climate of hate and fear? I continued reading the letter. This poor woman's husband was assaulted before she was able to get the police and find help. Towards the end of the letter Smita wrote,

"This incident impacted me big time.....I almost didn't sleep the whole night. I remember at The SweatBox in classes how you guys talk about the diversity and supporting all people with different races. I didn't realize what great work you guys do until yesterday. By spreading a message of love and kindness, if we can turn one hater into a good person even that would be a big achievement." 

I read the letter out loud to Emily who was sitting behind the desk waiting for her students to arrive. We shared a moment of being sad, broken-hearted with what the world looks like right now. But we also shared a great comfort to be with each other, in that space, knowing that there is much goodness around us. It is in me, in you, it is in most people.

This morning after class one of my long-time students/friends said, "Laura, what words of wisdom do you have?" It's easy to get mired in the state of the world as it is. I've been there a lot lately--- defeated, frightened, pessimistic, flat out sad.

"The universe is a good place," I said to the student. I imagine that sounds a little pollyanna-ish to some ears, but I hold onto that truth more and more as my own internal fear mounts.  I believe it. There is so much good all around. If I don't acknowledge it, make space for that truth to be part of all the other news, dinner table conversations, calls to action, I will lose my mind.

I'm grateful that Smita shared her experience with me. It's a reminder that there is goodness in many places. Maybe it's in your yoga studio. Maybe it's how your regular barista puts a heart on the top of every latte. Maybe the caregiver who takes care of your child sings the sweetest songs that melt your heart. Maybe it's the way your partner always plays with the clasp on your necklace right before bed or how your daughter plays footsie when you read together.

We are in a crisis. Shit is bad. We all share a responsibility to stand up for what is right, fight the good fight, act against bigotry, hatred, intolerance, and ignorance. To do this, we need energy, sustenance, love and comfort. When you get a chance, appreciate the goodness around you. Acknowledge it to the good people in your life and acknowledge it within yourself. A little goodness goes a long way. If we put it all together, we might just heal this world.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Back to Back

Last night in Adaptive Yoga we were volunteer heavy. Adaptive yoga is a class specifically designed for students with significant mobility issues. Volunteers assist in helping the students to move their bodies into poses and act as props or supports to facilitate certain postures.

Since there were a lot of volunteers, I opted to just observe. It had been a few weeks since I was at class and I wanted to get back in the groove. About halfway into the class, an additional student, Carl, came and we were suddenly in need of my volunteer support.

Carl arrived just as the class was getting ready to transition from chairs to the floor. This process takes a bit of time because volunteers have to transfer each student from their wheelchair to the floor mats. Once Carl was transferred, Joan, another volunteer, and I worked with Carl. Carl is maybe 30 years old, about 6'2" with a strong, athletic build. Carl is paralyzed almost entirely from his neck down with some very specific and limited movement in his arms.

The first exercise on the floor was to go back to back and work on forward and back bends and then side to side flexion. Because Carl and I are both tall, I volunteered to be back to back with him for this exercise. The teacher Kelly and volunteer Joan helped support Carl while I shimmied in behind him and found a comfortable place where we could both balance. Kelly and Joan helped us to hook our arms with each other  and we began moving forward and back and side to side with Nicole's (another teacher) cues.

"I don't have much control", Carl said,  as I folded forward supporting the length of his torso on my back. Then I pushed him back up and laid my upper body weight onto the length of his back. Back and forth we went.

I've done this posture before. About a year ago, I taught a room of couples for a Valentine's Day Yin workshop and was surprised by how challenging it was, even for couples, to let go of control and give in to the posture. I noticed right away how comfortable and relaxed I was doing this posture with Carl. Was it me knowing of his inability to control his body that gave me permission to let go of my grip on the posture?  Was it the vulnerability he modeled when he said, "I don't have much control?"

I think it was both, and I consider the experience a moment of grace, one of those magical moments where I both learn something profound and feel an overwhelming surge of gratitude. In Yin today, I shared this story with my students."Try releasing some of your own control in these postures," I said. I wanted them to feel what I felt, to energetically receive the release that came from really letting go.

I don't know if it worked. I really hope it did.