Thursday, April 19, 2018

Intuition. It's Real.

Last week Nancy and I went to Mexico for a grown up getaway. We'd both been burning it with work and life obligations and I was deperately feeling the need for a decompressing getaway. We went to Isla Holbox, a remote island in the Yucatan that neither of us had been to. To get there, we'd fly to Cancun, take a car two hours north, and then get on a ferry to the Holbox.

We'd hired a car with the hotel and were expecting to see a placard with our names on it when we exited the airport. It was a madhouse and we couldn't find anyone who looked like they were coming to get us. A nice man in a uniform asked me if he'd like me to call our hotel and find out where our car was. I speak Spanish which is always helpful when traveling in Mexico. I generally feel pretty confident in my communication. "That's strangely nice." I thought to myself as he started dialing. But then I felt a little tug in my belly and I had the thought, "This is weird."

That's where my suspicions started. "Let me see the phone screen," I said and he showed me the number he'd dialed. It matched that of our hotel. I heard the man talking in Spanish to someone on the other line. He was talking about our ride, where was it, what was happening. Then the nice man looked at us and said, "Your ride says the van broke down and you should take a cab."

"Let me talk to the person you're talking to," I said. My suspicions that this was a scam were mounting.

I talked to the person on the phone who confirmed that the van had broken down and that we should take a taxi and save the receipt. The hotel would pay once we arrived. The guy in the uniform waited patiently while I finished the phone call and then led us to an area where we would meet the "taxi." It seemed odd that he took us to a more secluded area of the airport parking lot where no one could see us. I asked him to call our hotel again. He did and I again confirmed the plan with the person on the end of the line.

Finally a van came and we got in. Nancy is much more easy-going than I am and she's very trusting. I, on the other hand and borderline clinically anxious and I'm a skeptic. As we climbed into the van, I felt a surge of panic. "Nancy!" I practically screamed as I half stood in the van, "this is not right. We need to get out of this van." At this point our luggage was in the back and we were getting ready to make our way to a cash machine to take out the $320 (!!!!) we'd need to pay the driver.

"Laura," Nancy coaxed in the voice she so often uses to calm me down, "It's okay. This is just a change." I took a deep breath, sat back in my seat, and hoped for the best.

We did make it to the ferry. When we got there I asked the driver to call our hotel and tell them were we catching the ferry to the other side. He called and then reported back to us in Spanish, "The hotel said they were waiting for you at the airport for two hours but you never showed up. I just wanted you to know that they're saying they sent a car."

It was a scam. When we finally got to our hotel, we confirmed it. Those guys at the airport had a fine-tuned, well-honed plan to "help" tourists like us. Once we settled in I had the realization that we were really lucky to have gotten to our destination at all. We had prepaid the $320 and they really didn't need to drive us 100 miles north. I also had the realization that I knew the whole time that we were being swindled and I didn't listen to my gut. I was mad at myself for ignoring that voice and I was mad at Nancy for shutting it down.

I spent a good 48 hours feeling really mad-- at Nancy. And at myself. Countless times, as I sat stewing in my lounge chair under a palapa in paradise, Nancy would lean over and say things like, "Laura, I am so sorry I didn't listen to your intuition." After about the tenth apology I was finally able to engage in a conversation.

Nancy and I are different. I operate on an almost purely gut level all the time. I very rarely make pros and cons lists, do cost-benefit analyses, or take time to really look at the rationale behind my decisions. Nancy, on the other hand, is very analytical, a thorough processor.  Neither way of being in the world is right or wrong or better or worse. They are just different ways of being in the world. The experience at the Cancun airport highlighted the importance of making space for all ways.  Because I'm so anxious, Nancy and I both dismissed the strong gut feelings I was having. If we'd listened, separated the anxiety from the intuition, the outcome would have been different. We would have slowed down, called the hotel on our own phones, gone back inside the airport and regrouped.

In the end we were safe. We had a wonderful vacation and an important conversation. I'm not mad anymore. The next time my intuition rears strongly like it did last week I'll listen to it. And I think Nancy will too.

Monday, April 2, 2018

It wasn't so bad.

A few years ago when I went to New Orleans for a week, the yoga studio sprinkler system went haywire and we had a flood. A big one. It took us two weeks of being closed with industrial sized fans to dry out the place.

Yesterday morning, while I was in Chicago celebrating Passover with stepmother, my four siblings and our families, I received a phone call in the middle of the night from the Seattle Police Department that someone had broken into The SweatBox. I didn't get the message until I woke up in the morning, four hours after the incident. The message said that someone had broken in and done damage. They needed someone to identify what items had been stolen. I was in Chicago, twelve hours away from my 8pm flight time that night.

I panicked right away because that's how I roll. Panic first, think later.  I called Nancy who was home in Seattle but she didn't answer. Then I called Seth who was teaching that morning and asked if he could go a bit early and assess the damage. I was deep into a melt down imagining the computer gone, our modest cash box depleted.  I didn't stop to think that there really wasn't much to steal from a yoga studio......

Eventually I got a hold of Nancy who met Seth and the police at the studio. Between the two of them they managed to get the full scoop from the police, clean up the place and get students ready for Seth's 8am class.

They assessed that the burglar, who the police actually caught, had taken nothing. He had, however caused significant damage. In addition to the front lobby window he broke through, he smashed one of our bathroom toilets and, in an attempt to escape police, actually kicked through a wall in the men's dressing room into the main area of our building.

Once I got the story from Nancy and talked to the officer on duty, I was able to take a breath. A patron at Neumos, the night club down the street had seen the guy break the window at 2:30am and called the cops which ultimately resulted in his arrest.

No one was hurt. Students checked in while the police took the report and classes would continue as normal all day long, despite the broken toilet and demolished wall.  I hung up the phone, took a deep breath and went on to enjoy my last hours with my siblings and their kids before flying back to Seattle.

When I arrived to the studio today, tired from a midnight arrival last night and very little sleep for the worry I was holding over the repairs to be done to the studio, I was pleasantly surprised. It was the same. Yes, the front window was boarded up, but as I walked in at 7:30am, greeting the 6am students who were leaving and the 8am students who were just arriving, it was as if none of it had happened. The energy was the same as it always is. People were laughing and chatting and sweating. I shared the bits and pieces of the burglar's escapades with people and we all laughed imagining someone escaping by kicking through an actual wall!!!

By the time I left today the toilet had been replaced, the men's dressing room wall had a preliminary sheetrock patch, and all of the glass shards were safely in the belly of the shop vac. The insurance claim was filed and it felt like business as usual. Just like that.  I felt actual happiness, joy even for the fact that it all worked out.

I'm not surprised that our studio was broken into. Times are desperate. So many people are struggling-- with poverty, addiction, anger and despair. Maybe the guy who did this was just pissed at the world and needed a place to rage. Maybe he really thought he'd get some cash from a little yoga studio. I'm not glad this happened. It will cost me money and it caused a great deal of stress for me and many other people, but it also renewed my sense of community, of gratitude for the connections we have in our little village of Capitol Hill in our growing city of Seattle. The SweatBox is open and ready to serve. All are welcome.


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Where's your pool's edge?


I'm rereading the book Untangled by Lisa Damour. It's book designed to coach parents through some of the natural behaviors in their teenage girls. The author does a great job clarifying some of the ways teen girls treat their parents and demystifying the reasons behind these behaviors.

I lent the book to a friend and then, after a few days of really hard mother-daughter time, I hastily borrowed it back. As I was rereading it over the weekend I came across Damour's swimming pool analogy.

Teenagers are breaking out of childhood, basically taking a big plunge towards adulthood. It's like they are in a swimming pool, playing, splashing around, goofing off with their friends, treading water, trying to stay afloat. But every so often they have to come to the pool's edge and hang on. They have to catch their breath. When my daughter is splashing around in her pool she has no time for me. I frustrate her. I'm uncool and annoying. My rules about her phone and her chores have no place at her pool party. She wants to be with her friends, float on her raft, have underwater tea parties. But when she gets tired of splashing around, when she's done holding her breath and doing back flips she'll need some support. She'll need to hold onto the wall and take some deep breaths. We parents are the pool's edge. We represent the clear support and comfort that comes during childhood. Our poor teenagers are in the middle, neither kids not adults, so they toggle back and forth between the two worlds, never sure of where to settle.

For my daughter, she tends to hang onto the wall at bedtime, especially on the weekends after a long week of school, socializing and maintaining the expectations that come with being a seventh grader.  I'll lie in bed with her and she'll say, "Mom, let's not read tonight. Let's just chitty chat." She'll lie on her side with her arm over my belly and snuggle in close. We'll chat her about day, her week, or some random observation she's made about the world. It's like old times and it feels good for us both to have a break from the tumult of teenagehood.

We all grow out of adolescence but we'll always need a wall, a place to hold onto, a moment to catch our breath. None of us can be eternally splashing. In life the pool's edge might be represented by a person we love and trust, or a place that's safe and warm and familiar, or an activity that feels grounding. At this stage in my life I am the pool's edge for my daughter. It takes a lot of patience and strength. I need to replenish my energy coffers often. It's a work in progress. Sometimes the wall comes from a good cry on Nancy's shoulder. Sometimes it's from a run with Kate. Often it's my yoga practice.  Life is a great big swimming pool and we're all just figuring out what tricks will keep us afloat.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Suck it social media.

Over the weekend we had a family debate on Instagram. My friend Kate had the idea for the kids to argue our perspective and for the grown ups to argue the kids' perspective. Lucia's and her friend Oona argued against Instagram and Oona's parents Kate and Rupert and I argued for Instagram. Nancy, my partner and a lawyer organized the structure and acted as Chief Justice. My mother, Oona's little sister Bea and her friend Maya acted as the other justices on the bench.

It was a great opportunity for all of us to learn the other side of the story and build some empathy and understanding about how it feels to be a kid or a parent in the world of social media.

As the plaintiffs, Kate, Rupert and I (dressed like British Barristers) opened the proceedings with why Instagram should be granted. Then Oona and Lucia (dressed up like me and Kate) argued against it. The debate, scheduled to last about twenty minutes, lasted an hour-and-a-half.  Lucia and Oona argued well, ultimately winning the debate. Their arguments against Instagram and social media in general were compelling. The girls' main points against social media (Instagram specifically) were:

  • The negative elements of FOMO (fear of missing out)
  • The things posted on social media are not real; they are exaggerated, touched up and fake.
  • The occurrence of Anxiety and Depression with social media
  • Harassment on social media
  • The danger of child predators.
The parental arguments for Instagram were:

  • We're in the social media age and kids need to be exposed at some point; it's better to be exposed in the safety of their families instead of waiting until college when there is no support.
  • We also argued that giving kids Instagram provided opportunities for creativity and new community connections.

One of the most convincing arguments presented by Oona and Lucia was the idea that Instagram allows people to be indirect and this indirectness can really hurt people's feelings; it can contribute to anxiety, isolation and depression. Texting, calling on the phone or saying something to someone directly, they contended, are all better ways to communicate than a public forum where misinterpretation and group think are rampant.

Ultimately the girls won the trial. There arguments against Instagram convinced the judges that the app comes with significant risks and pitfalls. But the judges also decided that Oona and Lucia should both get Instagram accounts with certain parameters.

My personal experience having a professional Instagram profile has been complicated. When I look at other yoga teacher posts I invariably feel like I'm not doing enough, like I'm not creative or captivating or cool. But my mental health isn't compromised. I don't feel like anyone says anything unkind or cruel or excluding like what happens with middle school Instagram.

I share all of this in the midst of another social media experience I am having with a public forum that rates businesses. Recently I got a complaint about something at the studio. I immediately wrote the complainant back and committed to looking into her issue. I then granted this person a full refund, comped her a class and apologized for the inconvenience.  I invited her to call me directly and talk about her experience. A few days later one of our teachers noticed a review on the business rating page and let me know.

I was surprised by the review as I'd reached out to the reviewer just days before offering a remedy to the problem. I wondered why she felt the need to write publicly instead of contact me directly, especially after we'd exchanged several emails and I offered her a refund and free class in addition.  Why did she go public instead of calling me, connecting with me?

It got me thinking about Oona and Lucia's presentation of the pitfalls of Instagram. It's easy to be upset, to judge, to exclude when there's no direct contact, but is it satisfying? Does it make the individual who posts happier? I don't post on business review sites but I do regularly send emails to businesses where I have a good experience or a bad one. I'm old school. I believe that people generally mean well, even if I have a bad experience in their establishment. Mistakes happen. People have bad days. But most people are good and deserve a chance to be better. I want them to know directly, so I tell them.

I get it. Social media is the way of the modern world. We connect through it. We learn through it. But we are still human with hearts and minds and feelings and thoughts. As a parent I struggle to help my child navigate through this morass or messaging, posting, rating. I understand from my Instagram trial prep why people use social media, even why they love it.

As my daughter moves into this brave new world, I will encourage her to remember kindness, to practice forgiveness, to be open-hearted and assume best intentions. I know she'll be hurt, rejected, anxious and sad at different times because of what happens on Instagram. She'll have to find a way to shake that stuff off, to let it go. Like all of us, Lucia will also have conflict and feel hard feelings with actual humans face to face. But in those cases, she'll also be able to look the other person in the eyes, to listen, to offer or receive (or both) an apology, to get some kind closure.

As as I fumble my own way through the jungles of social media, I can see that I too will experience hurt, rejection, anxiety and sadness from social media.  I'm bummed about the interaction I had with the student who chose to use a public forum to talk about her experience at The SweatBox instead of reconciling with me directly which would have given us both a chance to feel closure, maybe even contentment. But that didn't happen so just like Lucia will have to do with negative experiences on Instagram, I'm letting this experience go. I'm shaking it off and moving on.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Pink Ladies



When I was in high school, I hung out with a posse of girls. We called ourselves the Pink Ladies. I'm not sure why we called ourselves that. It was an obvious shout out to the bad asses from Grease, but we weren't bad ass like that. I'm pretty sure our Pink Ladies title came from a service project that we did with our Geometry teacher Mrs. Putnam.

The Pink Ladies are all turning 50 this year. It's special, to be fifty. It's a milestone and an accomplishment. Most people in my life in Seattle have only known me as an adult. Sure I've changed over the thirty years I've lived here, but the Pink Ladies knew me when... When I was shy, awkward, scrawny and scared. And I knew them in their myriad adolescent versions. Now we're turning fifty and we're grown up. We're worldly and wise. The first one to cross the half-century line was Judy. Judy and I both live in Seattle. To surprise Judy for her fiftieth, I invited the Pink Ladies out to Seattle to celebrate with  her. Of the five I invited, three were able to come--- two from Wisconsin and one (my twin sister) from California.

The surprise for Judy involved an elaborate production involving my daughter's emoji masks, flashing bike lights, and my back patio. Once the Pink Ladies were revealed to Judy, we proceeded to spend a high school inspired weekend together. We all slept at my house like a big slumber party. We went out to dinner and shared one pair of readers to order our meals. We stayed up late talking and snapping photos of each other doing ridiculous things. Each of our odd little habits dating back thirty-five years showed up at different times only now instead of getting irritated, we'd chuckle with each other about how some things never change.

They all (except Judy) left yesterday morning. I left for work before they headed to the airport and when I got home I found little remnants of their morning--- coffee and tea cups, dirty bedding and borrowed pajamas piled in a heap in the basement, a left toothbrush, a half-eaten banana, thank you gifts. As I straightened up and did load after load of laundry, I was filled with gratitude for having this time with the Pink Ladies. We've known each other for practically our whole lives. We got our periods in each other's bathrooms. We lost our virginity in each other's basements. We went on vacation with each other's families. We stole our first beers from our parents' kitchens. We survived adolescence together. And since that era, each of us has lived many little lifetimes. We've married, divorced, had kids, had breakdowns, breakthroughs, gained weight, lost weight, gone gray, covered it up. We've had multiple careers and achieved countless degrees. We've lived in cities all over the world.

I didn't know what to expect, bringing us all together like this. I hoped. I planned. I anticipated. But I didn't know, couldn't have possibly imagined the power of history showing up like it did. I had no idea that the legacy of the Pink Ladies could live in each of us all these years and reawaken with such ease, as if no time at all had passed.

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.