Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mommy, why you so busy?

Today I woke up at 4am. I knew immediately that I wouldn't be going back to sleep. Brutal, I thought as I ticked off the 18 hours ahead of me. It was one of those days. Too much to do. Too much to think about. Too much. Put the mail on hold. Find the birth certificate. Finish health care paperwork. Update financials for work. Find something to wear for the concert. Pack for trip. Hang new blinds. Package toffee for the neighbors. Change Lucia's sheets. Might as well change my sheets......

I thought that once Lucia started Kindergarten I'd be like a suburban house-Frau. I'd play tennis (or start playing), have luncheons, go shopping, create a pristine garden, live in a clean house. I have had a few good rounds at Goodwill, but none of the other parts of my fantasy have been realized.

I must get something from existing in this busy state, because once I have a moment of time, before I know it, the moment is filled, like water in a sand castle moat. Zzzjooop. The time is gone. I'm volunteering in Lucia's school or planning a party or writing a blog.

I proposed my too-busy dilemma to my on-again-off-again therapist. I imagined that he would have time management tips for me or some analysis of how I was escaping into busy-ness or instructions for extracting X or Y or Z activities from my life. But he didn't. He said that as long as he's known me, this is my resting state. He said that my busy-ness would be less stressful if I simply accepted it. Essentially, he was telling me to not judge it, to just be in it and take away the added energy of trying to change it. "Basically," he said, "you are going to be this way until you are someway else." What!? I have to live like this?

The truth is that, outside of paying bills and doing laundry, there is nothing in my life I want to give up. But I'm tired. So how do I reconcile this? Surprisingly, the same way I deal with my feelings. I just let my busy-ness be. I stop detaching myself from my busy-ness, stop treating it like some sort of plague that's ruining my life, and ride the wave. So what if I end up going into work on my day off or wearing the same socks two days in a row. It happens. The more I stress out about being busy, the less I enjoy the things that create the busy. I get to go to The Nutcracker with my daughter for the third year in a row. I get to run a yoga studio that I adore. I get to see my 92-year-old neighbor Lois smile when Lucia delivers a bag of treats. I get to start 12,000 craft projects that maybe I'll never finish, but while I'm working on them, give me moments of ecstatic joy.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Let's do nothing

This morning I heard the same story on KUOW for the third time in three days. The odds of this made me think that there must be a reason behind it. Why was I hearing the repeated weeping of the surviving mother of an Iraqi war casualty three times in three days? Maybe I was hearing it because my 6-year-old is pushing every button in my body and I feel unmotherly feelings of less than love for her! Maybe there was a message for me in this woman's tragedy being aired on public radio?

I'm always surprised by what I hear. So often the radio or a conversation at a party can be white noise for me, with just snippets becoming audible. This happens for me constantly in yoga. Last night I practiced in a state of exhaustion, which is often the most relaxing kind of class for me. I love it. Mostly Kristen's voice was background music, but periodically I heard, "Let it go" or "Let your muscles relax." Different instructions that began with "Let." It was the perfect combination for me in my fatigued state. I didn't have to do anything, I just had to let myself be some way.

It was kind of epiphanic for me. Instead of telling myself to relax or release the tension in my neck or my toes, I just had to let myself do nothing to get to this natural state. We all have this capacity. It's like a baby sleeping. Their shoulders and hips and knees seem almost double-jointed in their relaxed state. It's because they aren't doing anything with their bodies. They are void of all the repeated movements, traumas, stressors that we adults have quietly absorbed in our years of development.

So, when Kristen told us last night to "Let our jaws be slack" or "Let our brows soften", I heard it anew. "Don't do anything" I told myself. Do the opposite and see what happens. So far so good.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"I'm sorry I'm so emotional......."

My partner Nancy said to me the other day, "I'm sorry I'm so emotional, I just got my period." Being one of a cluster of sisters and a gaggle of great women friends, I have heard this sentiment thousands of times in my lifetime. For some reason, on this occasion, I heard the words differently. I got indignant, borderline angry! "You don't have to have a reason for being emotional!" I snapped. "Maybe it's hormones, maybe it's the holidays. Maybe there is no explanation for why you are emotional." Clearly a personal button had been pushed.

In the land of emotional indulgence-- therapy, self-help books, 'find yourself' workshops-- it is natural to want to understand the origin of our feelings, to want to dissect our emotional patterns and find "a cure." Full disclosure-- I am a big fat fan of therapy and self-help books but, I think there is another way to navigate emotional terrain, a (dare I say it) better way.

It's exactly what we learn in yoga every day. Let go. Be in the moment. Find your present self. Be in that experience. Blah blah blah. Only it's not blah blah blah. It's brilliant. The phrase that catalyzed the writing of this blog, "All feelings pass" explains it. The problem is, most of us are impatient or over-analytical, or just simply too uncomfortable to wait it out.

What yoga teaches us is to wait in a different way, not like waiting for a plane to land or waiting for GRE scores. It is a totally different kind of waiting. We learn to wait for the unknown. It sounds crazy-making, but the truth is, it's the easiest thing in the world, and really the most logical. If I spin my wheels and wonder why I am emotional and belabor the topic with everyone in my wake, I am still waiting to get out of whatever emotional gridlock I am in, I am just doing it way more spastically.

If, on the other hand, I refrain for labeling or judging or explaining my feelings, if I just give them a break and let them live in peace for a while, eventually they will change. They will move. It's a choice. Hunker down, get comfy with your feelings and know that they're going to stay for as long as they're going to stay or run around like a rabid squirrel.

I'm not a pro. It's way easier for me to preach this stuff than to actually practice it myself. What I do know is that practicing yoga is my every day reminder. For example, I struggle mightily with Standing Head to Knee Pose. Progress is slow. I worry about my left knee. My right hip is perpetually tight. On the contrary, I adore Standing Bow Pulling Pose. I know that I can't race through Standing Head to Knee to get to Standing Bow Pulling. I have to wait for it. I trust that eventually my sad posture will end and my happy posture will arrive.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Mean Mommy

Lately, Lucia has been saying, "you're the meanest Mommy in the world." At first it kind of smarted when she said that. Lately though, (like tonight when she chanted it naked from her bathtub while I, like a maidservant searched for the bedtime book she wanted) the words bounced off of me with barely a sting. After Lucia's raging tantrum and full-on tirade declaring me "the meanest Mommy in the world", we talked in bed. "Lucia", I said, "just because you are mad or sad or tired, does not give you permission to be unkind to me. It is my job to make rules for you and sometimes you won't like them. Sometimes it will seem like I am mean but I love you all the time, even when I'm mean." Now, calm and sweet and irresistible with her eau de Johnson & Johnson's baby shampoo, Lucia explained emphatically, "Mommy, I know you're not really mean. Sometimes I just need to cry it out. But I always know you love me." Whatever. Maybe I'll crack the code to parenting and maybe I won't, but in the meantime, I'll still make rules.

Lucia knows that I will always be her mom. She knows that when she pours water in her gym shoes and puts glitter all over her scalp I will still love her. She knows that she can roll her eyes at me and slam the door in my face and I will still love her. She knows that she can hate me and be ragingly frustrated with the rules I impose on her and that I'll still be here. I'll still be her mom. Like all moms, I am her touchstone. She'll go away from me and come back, sometimes staying for a long time, calm and content and then she'll run from me, stifled and needing independence. Just like I did with my mom. Some days it feels thankless. "I birthed you and this is how you treat me?!" I know that, just like me, Lucia is in a process, feeling her feelings, finding her way with Mean Mommy.

For me, Mean Mommy comes in the form of my yoga practice. Anyone who has read my blog knows that I often go to yoga feeling resistant. I make myself go because I know I will always always always feel better after I practice. In the time I have been doing yoga I have gone through great times, good times, mediocre times and don't- want-to-get-out-of-bed-can't-eat-a-thing-don't-want-to-brush-my-teeth bad times. No matter where on the emotional continuum I start my practice for the day, I am invariably better after practice. My better feelings might last for an hour or a week or a month. When I go on vacation and eat crap and don't exercise for a week, I know what will make me feel better. Yoga. When I forget to pay my gas bill for three months and feel like a loser. Yoga. It's like Visa. Yoga is priceless. For me, it can make me feel better about almost anything.

My job as Lucia's mom is to keep her safe, teach her the rules, guide her so she is equipped to navigate through her world. My yoga practice does the same thing for me. When I am a spinning out of control maniac trying to manage a business, parenting, friendships, emotions, Yoga keeps me sane. Just like Lucia knows I will always love her, always be there, I know that about my practice. I might resent it, push away from it, even avoid it, but I know my yoga practice is always there. It will always love me.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It's inside.

Last month I witnessed a group of people practicing yoga every day for thirty days. This means these people spent over 45 hours yogastudio. They committed to doing this challenge for a range of personal reasons. Private reasons. They were not graded nor judged nor paid. The rewards came from within. These 30-Dayers reported feeling happier, more energetic, calmer. They told me they slept better, ate better, smiled more. I received so much joy from teaching the 30-Dayers. They were (and are) strong, radiating energy and strength from within. Amazingly, though very few factors in their lives changed during their challenge (stress at work, relationship challenges, financial woes), they were happier, inside out, bones to the skin.

I've always been an over-achiever. If a teacher told me to do it, I’d do it. No shortcuts. The more tedious the assignment, the better. If I struggled more, I felt more accomplished because there was always the reward at the end of the task in the form of a grade or a compliment. I was forever competing with my twin sister or my classmates. When my partying high school girlfriends opted for a free period junior and senior years, I balked, signing up instead for the non-required Physics and Chemistry. When my swim coach gave us a ball-busting workout, I joined in the moaning and groaning of my teammates, but inside I was thrilled. I could work harder, show my coach that I was stronger. Then he’d pat me on the back and say, “Good work today Culberg.”

But what reward was I getting internally? Was I feeding my own sense of accomplishment or was I just ticking off achievements to tally at the end of each day? It was not until I was years into my yoga practice that I started to move away from being mostly externally motivated in my actions. Yoga is personal. It is a process of seeking the divinity within. In my yoga practice, I began to recognize the satisfaction of approving myself. It was enough to be proud of myself in standing head to knee pose. I stopped worrying (and even noticing) if I needed to take more breaks than the 75 year old woman practicing next to me. I practiced because I wanted to, because it was a gift I could give to myself.

Understanding the power of self-satisfaction has affected almost every part of my life. Of course I still struggle. I find myself in petty emotional predicaments with friends and family. The trouble is almost always rooted in some kind of disconnect I am having internally. I’m trying to be the most popular friend or the number one daughter. The difference is that now I can see when I am playing that old game. I can step back and say to myself, “What do you want? What do you need? And how are you going to get it?” And, like the 30-Dayers, in my process of finding what I need inside, I am exponentially happier, calmer, and more satisfied with the world outside.

Monday, October 4, 2010

It's chronic......

For the past four months I've had a cough or a cold or asthma. I'm not sure what it is. It rotates. Finally, after teaching yoga with the voice of a pack-a-day Parliament smoking granny, I decided to take care of my "condition." Convinced I had allergies, I very resistantly went to the allergist to get myself figured out. They tested me for everything. The good news, I don't have allergies. The bad news, if I don't have allergies, what the hell is wrong with me? The allergist referred me to an Ear-Nose-Throat doctor. While reading my chart, this ENT peeked over the file and said, "I see from your chart that you are medication-resistant." So awesome, I thought, "This doctor gets me." "I am too" he said, "That's why I'm a surgeon." He then proceeded to tell me that, while he had no idea what was wrong with me, he was sure that I had given myself a chronic condition, one that needed to be dealt with seriously. In the short ten-minute appointment, the ENT seemed to forget about my resistance to medications. He prescribed me three different drugs and threw in a referral for a CT scan of my sinuses. I thanked the good doctor, took the prescriptions I would never fill and ran from the building.

A week later I found myself in the office of an acupuncturist. I spent an hour in his dimly lit office talking about all the parts of my life, my respiratory system, my diet, my exercise habits, my love life, my own ideas about what might be wrong with me. After listening to me, he did his treatment and then we talked. "Based on the information I have about your lifestyle", he said, "I think you have created something chronic." Great, I thought to myself, this guy is just like the last doctor. "Because you created it", he continued, "you can un-create it." I agreed to eat a lot more red meat, committed to practicing some exercises, and made another appointment.

Like so many experiences in my life outside of the studio, the acupuncturist's approach made me think about yoga, how nothing is permanent. A physical ailment, a state of mind, feelings of the heart can change. What's more, they are all related and interactive. The heart affects the mind affects the body affects the heart affects the mind affects the body. When I wake up and my congestion seems worse than the day before, I remember the words of the acupuncturist. I can un-create this. Everyday students tell me about things that are wrong, or hard, or bad. Knee injury, break up, allergies. I don't believe that we necessarily create these conditions but I do believe that things can and do change. All feelings pass. The pain in knee. The ache in the heart. Nothing is static.

In dealing with my new "chronic" life condition, I understand this idea of change more clearly. "Chronic"- never-ending, constant, persistent, unremitting- means something else to me now. "Chronic" is a state that may be constant, but it is not without change. I'm still congested, coughing, slightly asthmatic. I'm still seeking a cure, an answer, but my chronic state feels better now. I'm in a persistent process, not stuck in a state. Like in yoga, every day is different. Every posture, every moment, every breath.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Cougar of the month

Last week, my daughter, who is three-weeks into kindergarten, won "Cougar of the Month" at her school. Cougars are her school mascot. Lucia was bestowed the honor, her teacher said, "because 99.999 percent of the time, Lucia is doing what she is supposed to be doing in kindergarten." Was I proud? Extremely!!! The teacher also said other things like, "Lucia is friendly to everyone, she helps without being asked...." But, nestled within my radiant pride, I also carried a smidge of concern that Lucia might be a super-conformer. Is she a kindergarten automaton? Or, is she just good at following directions? I've been thinking a lot about this.

Here's what I figured out. Lucia loves school. She asked on Saturday why she had to have such a long vacation from school. "I wish Sunday was Monday," she whined. Like me, Lucia relaxes in structure. If I know the plan, I'm open to anything. If it is wide and vast and unformulated, I'm not my best self. Maybe this is why I stuck with competitive swimming for fourteen years and yoga for almost twenty. It's comfortable, familiar. Lucia in school. Me in my yoga practice. Sameness, structure, expectations. These things create and hold a form that allows each of us to relax into the experience and find newness, excitement, and ultimately joy.

I've experienced the gamut of physical sensations and emotional hills and valleys in my yoga practice, but I've never been bored. Really. Every practice I experience differently. For example, last night, I was worried about practicing because my class the day before had been really difficult. So last night, I set my intention to focus on that practice and try not to bring the previous practice baggage with me. I stood somewhere new in the room, really close to the teacher (Kristen). Her fabulous turquoise outfit was surely a distraction, but I managed to focus and work hard in spite of it. I followed every single thing she said. I always try to do this, but, like everyone, sometimes I get distracted. Last night was different. Word by word, step by step, I let myself be carried through the 90 minutes. I learned so much! Like Lucia and kindergarten, I could hardly wait to do it again.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Karaoke Heals the Soul

Tonight at dinner, after her twelfth day of kindergarten (but who's counting?), Lucia proudly told me that she knows the definition of "desperate." "Desperate", she said, "is when you really really really want something." Desperate isn't necessarily a negative thing. Sometimes it is exciting, thrilling, intoxicating. That's how I feel about singing Karaoke. Once I decide to do it, I'm desperate to sing my heart out.

About a month ago I found myself in a Karaoke Bar in the International District with my partner Nancy, my 27-year-old brother David and five of his law school buddies. I'm basically old enough to be their mother and have thankfully almost outgrown the self-conscious phase of young adulthood. I went through a phase in my early twenties where I did a lot of Karaoke. At that time I was crazy about any song that involved Dolly Parton. I loved to sing "Islands in the Stream", her fabulously uplifting duet with Kenny "The Gambler" Rogers.

The Karaoke Bar on this night was immediately my favorite place in the whole world. Everyone was so different (age, size, race, style) yet they were all the same. Karaoke does that. In Karaoke land, I've often gravitated to Stevie Nicks (fashion aside). Put a mike in my hand and I sound exactly like her. Almost. Kind of. Well, not really. Anyway, I wanted to sing "Stop Draggin My Heart Around" which as you should all know, is a duet between Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks. My sister Katherine and I almost won a Grammy singing that song at a divey bar in Chicago. I asked all of my brother's friends and my Nancy who boldly accompanied me on this mission to do the duet with me. They all declined. Repeatedly. So I asked the Karaoke host if he'd sing it with me. I mean, come on, the night was early so there wasn't a huge backlog of performers. I could be a great warm up act, a novice like me with the host.... He said no.

I watched a few acts. These crazy people were singing their hearts out and they were good. They were great. I loved each one of them profoundly. I was growing increasingly desperate, agitated. As I scanned the bar for someone who might sing with me, a humongous, crew-cutted man wearing a t-shirt that could fit a baby elephant got up and sang so beautifully I thought it was a joke. He was a regular. "Smoosh" was his name. Completely star struck and embarrassingly uninhibited in my desperation, I watched Smoosh exit the stage on which he barely fit. He lumbered to the back of the dark bar where he was surrounded by his friends (fans?) and sat down like a king holding court. Before losing my nerve, I marched back to him in my Value Village sundress and said, "Smoosh, will you be Tom Petty in 'Stop Draggin' My Heart Around'?" He said yes!!! What a gentleman. What a benevolent, kind man to say yes to this holly hobby looking Karaoke beginner. I was ecstatic.

I returned to my shy table of  attorneys and waited. Desperate. Finally, they called us, "Laura and Smoosh." Two mikes, one screen. His words in blue, mine in pink, our harmonies in yellow. Boom boom boom!!! We were on. My voice cracked in the beginning. I knew the only way to do this was to really be a rock star. Me and Smoosh. Stevie and Tom. One and the same. I actually have no idea how we really sounded or what was happening in the audience, but in my amped up, wanna be a rock star mind, we took down the house. I wanted to hug Smoosh. Kiss Smoosh. He was my partner in this Karaoke ecstasy. I didn't actually make physical contact with Smoosh, but I did make an internal note to self to go back the next Tuesday and sing with him again.

When I left the bar that night, I was joyous in a way that I rarely am. These people! Smoosh, the man in the pristine white suit and Frank Sinatra hat they all called "Uncle Bob", the librarian looking guy in the beret who belted out Nina Simone like a champ. They were fantastic. I felt connected to them. I felt hopeful, alive, part of something bigger (even if it was being a Karaoke singer in a bar in the I.D.). The next day I sent an email to five of my good friends. The subject line, "Karaoke Heals the Soul" and I invited them to come sing the next Tuesday. The response wasn't great. I didn't go sing that next Tuesday nor have I made time to go since then. But, as I write this, the moments on stage I had--giving it all up, channelling Steve Nicks, singing my heart out with Smoosh, being the same in all of the difference-- are clear as if I just finished my encore. Karaoke does heal the soul. And I'm desperate for more.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Break it down....

Ninety-five percent of the time I practice yoga I am deeply resistant at the beginning of class. I feel the weight of my life on my shoulders. I see the long dark hallway of physical exertion and mental focus stretching out in front of me, and I have the strong desire to run from the room. My beginning of class mantra is, "only 90 minutes." I remind myself that that's a blip in time when I consider that I was in labor with my daughter for 42 hours.

Pranayama feels interminable. How am I going to DO this? I feel a little bit more calm for a split second when the instructor say, "last two breaths." Then comes the half-moon series. Arms up. Straight spine. No. No. No. No. NO! I don't want to do this. And it is three parts. Half moon then backward bending then forward bending. And then, come ON, a second set?!

At some point during the half-moon series, I lose some of my resistance. I stop so actively fighting with myself. I still struggle, but it is different. I'm in relationship with the struggle. My body and mind seem to be in it together. Somehow, the fact that they are keeping one another company makes it easier. Like jogging with a friend. The physical and mental are a team, each carrying part of the heavy load.

By the end of the awkward series, I am just about committed to this craziness. I still have to push away my tendency to calculate how many more minutes I'll be in the room, how many more postures there are, but I'm not so actively in resistance. Something has shifted. Eagle pose comes next. I'm madly in love with eagle. It's so efficient. We're doing so much in just one posture and it's sufficiently hard and doable.

By the time the balancing on one leg series comes, I can't really remember why I balked at the idea of practicing. It's not that it's not hard. It is. Really hard. It's that suddenly I am lighter. I am no longer the lone Sherpa of resistance. Posture by posture, I have slowly discarded weight from the over-stuffed backpack I started with.

Once I hit the floor series for my first Savasana, I have actually let go. Any residual heaviness sinks into the floor below me and I feel lighter right away. Like everyone, I have ups and downs during the floor series but the mental heft is almost undetectable. Like a piece of hard clay that's eventually malleable after lots of kneading, I'm finally soft. I'm there, in the room, in my practice. And so it goes practice after practice. I start heavy, encumbered, resistant, questioning my ability and strength. Then I slowly break it all down. I leave lighter, carrying less, looking forward, ready for the next thing.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hazel and Sienna

This summer I taught a group of kids yoga at a day camp. The class was comprised of nine girls between the ages of 3-5. All girls that age are cute, but there were two that I've thought about repeatedly in the last month since the camp finished. Hazel and Sienna, both 3-years-old. Hazel was one of the littlest at the camp. She watched the bigger girls, observed them, found entries into activities when she could, but was consistently calm, quiet and contained.  I wondered at times if she was actually verbal. Sienna, on the other hand, was hyper and very kinesthetic. Sienna was a major plushy. She loved her stuffed animals and had a running monologue of who her animals were and where they should sit during yoga. At any given moment, Sienna carried between 3 and 7 stuffed kittens, bears, dogs. They overflowed from her short little arms, making yoga postures difficult to perform. Sienna moved constantly in all directions. Her face seemed to be in an ongoing state of manic smiling.

Over the course of the week-long camp I practiced Savasana with the girls at least once per class. I played Deva Premal, dimmed the lights, and read them meditations while they practiced Savasana. I had the girls close their eyes and, once they were still, put a beany baby on each of their bellies so they could feel it rise and fall with their breath. You can imagine how a stuffed toy on Sienna's belly must have tempted the poor little energizer bunny. Sienna needed extra help to find her stillness. I learned to put my hands on her head or her arm or leg, a little weight to help her stay contained. She still wiggled, her eyes shutting for just split seconds, but she was able to find moments of being still. Hazel, on the other hand, was shockingly capable. As soon as the lights dimmed, Hazel was down. Her body still, eyes closed, brow relaxed. She didn't even open her eyes when I put the beany baby on her belly. Savasana was seemingly easy for her.

I hear it all the time in reference to my own child--- kids are born with a personality. They have their own special characteristics that, no matter how we try to chisel them into a certain form, they come out their own way. Being with Hazel and Sienna over the summer, two children with such starkly different natures, reinforced this idea for me. Of course they have different homes, are exposed to different foods, play with different kids, but it was obvious to me watching them that they each came into this world with a way of being.

This idea has helped me in my own role as yoga student and teacher. I think I am somewhere between Hazel and Sienna. Most people are. For me, Savasana is sometimes really really difficult. Other times, not. I remember when I first started practicing yoga in my twenties, Savasana felt as foreign as playing the bagpipes, (I was definitely closer to Sienna's wiggly state in those days). As I've practiced more, I've inched my way closer to Hazel's nature.

So how was I born? I am pretty sure I came out closer to Sienna-style. Over the years, with practice, I've changed. It's possible. A student said to me the other day, "I hate it when the teacher tells me to calm my mind." She hates it because it's hard right now. It will get easier as she practices more. It's not her nature, so she has to work harder than someone like Hazel.

Everyone has to work hard at achieving stillness in Savasana. Even Hazel. And some people have to work even harder. These people, the more active, energetic ones, might excel in an Evelyn Wood speed reading class. It all balances out in the end. We work harder at the things that don't come easy and we get a little break when we do the things we were born to do. Even Steven. No right. No wrong. No better, no worse. We all have to work hard at something.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Clear Channel

I posted my first yogamakesyouyou blog on February 14, 2010. It's been almost seven months since I committed to writing once a week about whatever is on my mind. I've done above average some weeks, performed sub-par others. My posting patterns reflect what is happening in my life. If I am busy, engaged, stimulated, I post less. If I have more alone time, I tend to post more frequently.

My new girlfriend Nancy has nicknamed me 'Clear Channel.' It comes from another source. My psychic told me about a year ago that I am a clear channel and I should be writing about Yoga. So I started writing, sometimes about Yoga and sometimes not, and then I started this blog. Nancy co-opted 'Clear Channel.' She frequently asks after I teach a yoga class if there were any clear channel moments. And here's the thing-- if there are, I don't remember them. The same thing often happens when I write a blog post. I can't remember twenty minutes after posting what I've written about. It's a strange kind of mid-consciousness. I am clearly conscious because I am writing and spelling and forming paragraphs, and I am really in it when I am writing, but once I'm done, it's gone from my consciousness. I press PUBLISH POST and it is out of my mind. Sometimes, months later I go back and read something and it's like someone else has written it.

When I go a few weeks without writing a post, I feel like I am neglecting some part of me. It's like winter vacations with my family. I eat crap, forget that I know how to exercise, read or participate in adult conversation. Like many people, I engage in childish family dynamics. I often wonder in those moments how I so easily abandon all of the things that make me feel good. This blog originated on one such family visit. I found that writing the blog and then posting it was incredibly grounding. It reminded me that, even when I'm mired in the dysfunction of my family of origin, I am a free-thinking, autonomous individual with a life of my own and feelings of my own. Writing the blog gave me something to give to my family. I liked who I was and found it easier to be that person instead of the weird teenager who usually shows up.

And now in my everyday life, I find that posting my blog is a way of clearing out my emotional drain. Every week or so, I feel the need to get my shit together, regroup, figure out what I need, what I want, where I'm headed. I am often resistant to the process of writing or I am dubious about my ability to locate my emotions. Without fail though, it works. I write, I read, I reread, I post and I am clear. The drain is open and ready to catch the residue that shows up in my life. In and out. Clear Channel.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Integration is on my mind. Especially this summer, I observe myself moving between radically different life experiences from day to day; I find myself feeling choppy, transitioning roughly from milieu to milieu. Mom one day, yoga teacher the next, romantic the next, triathlon trainee the next. I've found it hard to create a seamless transition from place to place.

Coming home last week from a two-day camping trip, Lucia (5 years old) went from monster meltdown to perfect princess to monster again in a period of 86 minutes. In response to her, while doing laundry, dishes, emails, dinner prep, I went through the same range of emotions. I thought summer was supposed to be relaxing, regenerating, but I am finding that it is just the opposite. I long for the expected, the known, the rigor that is school and work and exercise, a structure that is abandoned during the summer.

I need to find a way to feel integrated in my life. I wear too many hats (and scarves, and boots, and skirts.....) There is no way that there will ever be actual cross-over with all of the pieces of my life, but it must be possible to feel less like a glued-together humpty-dumpty.

Lately I've been talking a lot about integration when I teach yoga. Savasana is where our bodies and minds integrate the information that emerges through our practice. Sometimes I tell students that the breath is the natural bridge between the body and the mind. Focus on your breath and you'll find the connection, the joining, the integration. Amazingly, giving up the effort to make something happen is where it all happens in Savasana. The hard part is just being still and trusting that the integration will happen. Today while teaching, I had a clear channel moment. Maybe I am trying too hard to find the bridge, to tighten up the seams between the seemingly disparate parts of my life. I thought, "Maybe what is making me feel dis-integrated is not the multifarious nature of my life, but my focus on it."

There is no part of my life that I am willing to give up. I can't imagine a life without my daughter, my work, my health, romance, dinner parties. These pieces don't need to be integrated. These pieces are who I am. The only ingredient I need to extract from the mix is the attention I give to how many or how different the parts of my life are. If I am quiet and let all the parts co-exist, let them be what they are, I think I'll find that there is room for all of it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Land Line

I just got my first smart phone. The smart phone has changed my life. In the week I've had it, I've grown to love it profoundly.  It was a pretty big effort to not take my phone when I went running with some friends last weekend. Four of us are training for the Danskin Triathlon in August. After every run, swim or bike training we drink a beer and plan our next training session. One of the foursome, Kate, after hearing me brag about the capabilities of my new smart phone, told us she was thinking about going back to her land line to simplify her life. Now that I have crossed over to smart phone land, I cannot imagine what Kate is talking about. Simplify? What? Why?

Before saying goodbye, we took a few minutes to plan our next month's training schedule. Sara had her Blackberry, I grabbed my smart phone from my car, Amy with a brain like a steel trap needed nothing, and Kate pulled out her wall calendar from her bike bag. "Land line", Kate giggled as she held up her calendar. Land Line- concrete, simple, obvious. Smart phone- complex, multifaceted, electronic, advanced.

One of the things I talk about in yoga is simplifying. This is the point of Savasana. Being quiet and still so there is room for buried things, hidden things, latent things to make their way in or out or through, physically, mentally, and emotionally. As long as we are moving, chattering, processing, there is no space for that stuff to move.

I find myself in a constant state of contact with my smart phone. It tells me when I have a meeting. It tells me when someone is thinking about me. It tells me what song is playing in a restaurant and what the weather and time is. Last night while I was at work my phone died. It lost its juice and I had no charger. Only a week into this smart phone relationship and I was panicked. I was going to a friend's house for dinner and I couldn't call to let her know I was on my way. I couldn't text my sisters or add to my to do list. I got in my car and started driving. Even when I plugged my phone into the car charger, it still wouldn't work, so I rolled down my windows, opened the sun roof and was quiet. Usually I would take the fastest route, but it felt so good to be untethered that I uncharacteristically took a sharp left and made my way down to the lake. I drove along the water the whole way there. No phone. No music. No nothing. For those fifteen minutes I was back to a Land Line. And it felt pretty damn good.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Free falling

The other day during Savasana, I told the class as I always do to "let go." About 30 seconds into Savasana as I sipped my tea and scanned the room, I saw clenched fists, jaw bones pulsing, eyelashes fluttering, toes curled. Seeing the collective struggle, I tried to push them a little bit, "Holding on is easy people. Letting go is hard." Some slight changes were evident. Slight. Bodies shifted, big breaths were breathed, brows intermittently softened, but the struggle continued. Tight muscles, scattered focus.

This idea of "letting go" has been a prevailing theme in my life forever. Why is letting go so difficult? And why is holding on, the act of gritting through change, physically, mentally and emotionally, an easier place to be? Because staying tethered to things and ideas that are known, while not necessarily more comfortable, is so much safer. "I hate my job." Instead of quitting (stepping into the abyss that is the unknown) we keep the crappy, energy-sucking, life-draining, dead-end job. "I'm unhappy in my relationship." We plug away, staying in the mediocrity instead of listening to the heart.

The idea of stepping into the unknown is scary. Things might get worse before they get better. They might not ever get better. But we don't know if we hang out on the edge of the diving board day after day, week after week, year after year. If we never step off the edge and tread the waters of fear, we can never know what letting go feels like.

The times in I my life when I have been the most frightened, the most confused, the most devastated, have been the times in my life when I have had let go-- letting go of a marriage, a career, a city. At the time these decisions felt like I had no choice. I know now that I needed to some part of me deep down knew I had to make those choices. Not letting go, not moving on, for me was impossible. Each time I have been faced with big change, I have held on tight, pushed against it with Olympic heavy-weight force, before finally taking the leap.

The first time I consciously let go in a big way, I existed in a state of free-fall that I can still remember as the most horrifying experience of my life. Now each time I do it (which is not a lot), it gets easier. Taking a relationship risk I never would have made ten years ago or making a business decision that feels right but makes no sense on paper. There are moments in these times when I feel like I am ruining my life or throwing so much to chance that I am literally petrified, paralyzed like in a scary dream. And then, I am out of the free fall. The fear is gone and I am on solid ground, hardly able to remember that the fear existed.

Whether you are lying in Savasana wishing the person to your left would stop nose-whistling or sitting in your idling car at 2am pondering the meaning of your life, the act of letting go is the same. It is trusting that letting go will take you somewhere different. Letting go makes room for new feelings, ideas, sensations, pushing aside what would usually fill that mental, emotional and physical space. Angst, anticipation, analysis, anger. For most of us, these experiences are familiar, comfortable. Instead of staying there, try something different. Soften your jaw, relax your toes, let your fingertips curl. You'll be scared, uneasy, for a few seconds, maybe a minute, maybe a week or a month. But then you're there--in the land of the unknown. And that's just the beginning.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Home Base

At Lucia's preschool, the kids start every sunny day outside in the playground. They run their little pants off. Unless you are a sandbox kid, pretty much all of the games involve running in some form. Last week when I was working at school, I was selected as the "base." Over the course of the 45 minutes of outside time, I stood stone-still while adorable 40-inch tall bodies slammed into my legs, threw their arms around my knees, buried their faces in my thighs and screamed "BAAAAASE" to the gaggle of kids tumbling after them.

The kid on base holds great power. As long as she in physical contact with the base, she is untouchable. The chasers hover at arm's length jumping, lunging, pointing and sticking out their tongues as the leg-hugger shimmies around the base, until at an inexplicably random moment, she bolts, running away again, hotly pursued by the chasers for a few dramatic moments before ultimately slamming once again into base.

Base-- safety, freedom, power, comfort, control. We all need a base. In my ideal, fully-evolved world where I am enlightened, emotionally mature and competent, my base is internal (home base) and I can access it on demand. In this fantasy, I push a little magic button that lives somewhere in my torso when I want to feel secure, comfortable, safe.

In reality, this doesn't happen as often as I would like. I frequently find myself going outside myself to find a base. I go to one of my sisters to get affirmation about my embarrassing crush-induced behaviors. I ask a friend to tell me that my latest obsession with long sweaters is not too middle-aged. Touching base is equivalent to someone saying, "You are okay." I go to an external base when I forget that I can (and should) get that same message from myself.

The other day, in a panic of general insecurity about all aspects of my life, I ran headlong (metaphorically) to a friend for comfort. I needed to touch BASE. I was desperate to for her to tell me that I was okay. And though she tried to comfort me with words, the "you are okay" feeling wasn't coming. I actually started feeling worse. Touching base with this friend who I consider grounded, calm, smart, loving, honest, genuine was making me feel less secure, less okay.

Theoretically, there is nothing wrong with needing to touch an outside base, unless you step outside so much that you forget about your home base. For me, I often jump to an outside base before even checking in to see what my home base says. When advice from my sisters or my friends feels wrong or uncomfortably discordant, I find myself looking inward anyway. And now I am screwed because, by going to this external base, I have introduced a new voice to the mix and that voice is wreaking havoc with my home base.

It's like the kids who ran to my legs as a base of safety. They could only stay for so long before they were compelled to go out on their own again. They had to run on their own, to feel their own power. That's the key I guess. Touching base with people in your life who you love, respect, relate to, is great. The balance is in remembering your own legs, your own strength, your own home base.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Is that the best you can do?

We've all heard it since we were kids. "Do your best." But what does this actually mean? When I teach yoga, I regularly emphasize this idea to my students. "Do your best. That's all you can do." Just like any overly used phrase, "Do your best" has lost meaning along the way for many of us. Oftentimes we hear it as "Just do something" or "Try not to slack."

"Do your best" means dig deep, try hard, push against your easiest-to-reach-limits. Your best is the unknown. Unidentifiable because it always changes, constantly evolves. In yoga practice, as we get stronger, more flexible, more focused, our best becomes better, deeper, harder. In other parts of life, as we practice different things, like cooking instead of eating out, not yelling at our kids, driving the speed limit, the more we actually commit to really doing our best, the better at it we become.

So how do you know if you are doing your best? You become present. You accept that you are not perfect and you d o y o u r b e s t to work hard always. And, within that commitment, you will notice time and time again that from wherever you are, there is always somewhere else to go. For example, when I weed my garden, I regularly leave the dandelion roots, opting for a quick handful of leaves and stem instead of walking to my garage to get the weeding tool that will surely capture the nagging root. I know in those weed-pulling moments that I am absolutely not doing my best.

On the flipside, though, there are times when it is clear as day to me that I am trying my hardest. The other day, I was talking to a friend about the fact that I have a really hard time accepting praise. I said that I was working on breaking that habit. She asked me if I am hard on myself when I falter, fall back into old patterns. I had to think for a moment, but ultimately realized that no, I am not hard on myself because I do my best. I really do. I recognize each time I shut down a praise-giver and I commit to do it differently the next time. I do this over and over and over.

I can tell the difference between this and blowing off serious weeding. There is a consciousness in both instances. In one, the weeding, I consciously decide that I don't really care if I have weeds. In the case of my inability to graciously accept praise, I am deeply aware of where and how I want to develop emotionally and I do my best to push against my bad habit every time it shows up.

Yoga is a great place to practice doing your best. For many of us, the fact that there is a physical component makes doing our best more tangible. Does camel pose make you feel like you are going to lose your breakfast? But you do it for one more second anyway? If you've been there, you know exactly what I mean. That's your best. Once we understand the physical expression of doing our best, doing it mentally and emotionally makes more sense. Like anything, it is a practice. We do our best to do our best, checking in to see if we have more to give, deeper to go. We ask ourselves, every time, "Is that the best you can do?"

Monday, May 24, 2010

What are you waiting for?

Waiting to exhale.
Waiting in line.
Waiting in vain.

I've always had a negative association with waiting. To me, the act of waiting seemed like the opposite of action, the antithesis of actualization. I remember when my father was dying, I was so frustrated with him. I felt like he was just waiting. I wanted him to do something, take charge, be enraged. He just waited. Somehow, the fact that he had terminal cancer didn't really matter to me.

Waiting means something else to me these days. A few months ago, my psychic told me that in my normal mode of functioning, I do as much in a half-day as some people do in a week. There is a reason why I have random bruises, cuts and burns on my body, stains on my clothes, two unchipped drinking glasses, and frosting on my ceiling. It is because I do 12 million things at a time. Lucia calls me "Clumsy Mommy."

Because I am so recklessly fast in getting my myriad of life tasks accomplished, I crave calm. A lot. To slow my frenetic pace down is not easy. The transition doesn't make sense. It's like driving sixty miles per hour and suddenly needing to be idling. This drastic action creates skid marks, sometimes car wrecks.

So, I've been practicing a new idea. In my speedy brain, when I notice that I need to slow down, I set that intention. Then I wait. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it doesn't. When it works, I get to a calm place. My heart rate slows, my brain quiets down, I get in touch with one thing I am doing (instead of twenty). When it doesn't work, I go back to my octopus-mode. What is different though, is that I've had the waiting moments, and even if I do go back to multi-tasking, I'm less crazy. The waiting takes me out of the chaos, even if I can't stay out.

In my Yoga practice, I've started waiting as well. Sometimes when I am in a posture and I feel tired, like I can't hold it for another second, instead of going right to my immediate response of falling out, I wait a second or two to see if something changes. Often, that little pause gives me a different perspective. New ideas occur to me, "Maybe I'm not that tired." "So what if my legs are shaking." "Maybe I can hold this bad boy a little bit longer."

Waiting has helped me most in Savasana. Savasana is the attempt to consciously relax, be still, open, receiving. This is hard for me; hard for most of us. At the end of my practice, I want to be there already. I want to be in that relaxed state because I've worked hard and now I am ready. I want to experience that amazing feeling where the floor holds me, my body is weightless, tingly, my mind somewhere just between waking up first thing in the morning and falling into a late afternoon nap. But it's a big change to move into Savasana from anywhere, even a yoga practice. So, I get physically into my Savasana, and then I wait. I just wait. Will it come? Will my mind slow down? Will my body be still? I'm waiting to see, and, while I'm waiting, doing nothing really, it usually comes.

Friday, May 14, 2010


There's a concept that parents talk about a lot nowadays called "Executive Function." As adults, we use executive function to perform such activities as planning, organizing, strategizing and paying attention to and remembering details. Developing these skills in childhood is critical for future successful functioning in adulthood.

I am a fan of executive function. I say YES to executive function! HOORAY for executive function! On a personal level, some of the executive function features I possess are the ability to multi-task, analyze my performance, read, write, and keep track of time. I am grateful that I have these skills and abilities. Without them, I would likely not be able to own my own home or business. I would struggle to manage my finances. Organizing my child's schedule would be difficult.

When I teach yoga, I often espouse the idea that "planning" is counter-productive to being in the present moment. I try to promote a mindset of not planning. The idea-- think like a beginner, like someone who doesn't know the answer or what's coming next-- and life will be more interesting, more full, more present. Granted, this is in the context of yoga practice, but it begs the question, "How does one find balance between planning and open-mindedness in everyday life?"

I recognize my inability to stay in open-mindedness at some point every time I practice yoga. My mind wanders. The teacher says, "Don't be sad" or, "Try not to anticipate" or  "Breathe." I come back to being open---for a moment.

Being without a plan when I am not practicing or teaching yoga is exponentially more challenging. I have always been someone who makes things happen-- plane tickets four months ahead of time, oil changes ten miles before I need them, birthday parties, cookie parties, block watch meetings. Planning has worked for me professionally. It has worked financially. For the most part, it has worked socially.

For years (maybe all of my years), I have unsuccessfully attempted to also plan emotionally. In crisis, in joy, in anger, in fear, I've attempted to anticipate my next move. That seemed efficient, like good management.

As I get older and find myself more willing to be vulnerable, I realize that managing emotions is just the opposite of efficient. When I find myself planning emotionally, I feel tired, depleted, off-balance. The burden of carrying the unknown is cumbersome and unwieldy. When I can sit in the unfamiliar, sometimes scary territory of not knowing what is next, there is less baggage. The elusive balance between planning and open-mindedness in everyday life can be found only when we stop trying to find it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"You have to practice napping"

Since Lucia was born (over five years ago), I have not napped. I grew up in a house where my stepfather Al napped every day at 4:30pm for 60-90 minutes. He'd climb up to his third floor "nap room" (seriously), put the sound proof curtains across the attic door and sleep. Al is a sleep researcher and believes in the powerful benefits of napping. His circadian rhythms are set strictly at this point, so that if he isn't napping at the time he is supposed to be, he just falls asleep wherever he is. He once fell asleep at a parent teacher conference.

It's not that I don't want to nap. It's not that I don't need to nap. I love to nap. I can still conjure the feeling of a summer afternoon nap. Falling asleep with the sun on my face, waking up with sweaty hair, warm sheets, a tight neck, and a parched mouth..... I just can't do it anymore. There's always something that seems to needs attention-- bills to pay, dishes to wash, books to read, friends to see.  But those activities never stopped me from napping before. Why somehow I've lost my ability.

Two days a week I wake up at 5:00am, which means I usually get between five and six hours of sleep on those nights. By 3:00pm the next day, I just power down. I need a nap. Yesterday was a day I really needed a nap. I was emotionally and physically exhausted. I drove home from work at 3:00pm, resisted engaging in any significant distractions in my house and marched right to my bed. I lay there for ten minutes and quickly realized this attempt was, as usual, futile and stupid.

So I went to yoga. Still frustrated at my napping incompetence, I walked into the studio and asked the teacher Frances how she was. She yawned, stretched her arms over her head in a big praise to the sun circle, cocked her head towards me and said, "I just had the best nap." What the fuck?! "I can't naaaaaaaapppppp." I moaned, eyes rolling up to my forehead. Without missing a beat, Frances said calmly (I swear she had sheet wrinkles on her cheek), "You have to practice napping."

O H. M Y. G O D. You have to practice napping too? You have to practice doing yoga. You have to practice listening to your child's messages. You have to practice eating well. You have to practice EVERYTHING. Even napping. "You can't just take a 15-minuter" Frances explained, "I tried that and it just doesn't give you enough time to practice." Of course she's right. For whatever reason in my life-- my age, my sign, the position of Mercury, this is what all things point to. Practice. Find a practice. Make a practice. Do a practice.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Unlatching the Thing.

At Lucia's last parent-teacher conference, in discussing her periodic 5-year-old meltdowns, her teacher Julie said, "Sometimes she just needs to get to the cry." I have thought about this sentence a thousand times in the last three months.

I always tell students that crying in class is not bad. It is actually good. If your practice is making you cry, then, even if you don't know what you're crying about, you need to cry. Don't analyze it, just do it.

I just finished a book called The Sky Below by Stacey D'Erasmo. There is one line in the book that stung me. "The thing in me unlatched." I read it ten times and then I put a post it on page 95 so I could read it again later.

As I read the words, "The thing in me unlatched", I had a flash of clarity. "Unlatched." Getting to the cry. Same thing. Letting it all out or in or through. "The thing"--the heart, the ego, the breath.

Generally, I take great comfort in recognizing that my struggles are no bigger or more important than anyone else's. Life is hard sometimes. It just is. It's hard if you're rich. It's hard if you're poor. It's hard if you are thin or fat or do yoga or smoke cigarettes. It's hard if you don't have kids and hard if you do.

AND, while the "life is hard" attitude serves me most of the time, I can see now that it isn't always what I need. Everyone needs to find a way to let "the thing unlatch", whatever it is for us in any particular moment. Maybe it is just giving ourselves permission to cry. Or listening a little more carefully to the feeling that comes when we are misunderstood. Maybe it is leaning into the very big feelings instead of holding them at arm's length. I'm still figuring this one out. Trying to find the thing. Figuring out how to unlatch.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Yoga-- The Spleen of My Life.

I'm doing the Danskin Triathlon. Swimming is my gig so I'm not worried about that part. Biking too (except for the sore bum-bum). But not running. Running really hurts my knees. The morning after running, it is like I have someone else's legs. I can't sit cross-legged. Squatting creates a snap-crackle-pop that is pretty disgusting. Today when I was doing Suptavajrasana (fixed firm pose), I barely made it down to my elbows. "Shit, this posture is hard after running", I thought to myself. That's when I realized the irony of yoga. Yoga makes my running practice easier (See "Serenity Now!" post)..... And running makes my yoga practice much more difficult.

It is the same with my emotional state. When I am emotionally adrift, forlorn, shaken, I struggle more than ever with my yoga practice. I resist going, I am scattered, fidgety. But when I am done, my emotional condition is always exponentially improved.

Oh my GOD!!! Yoga is the spleen of my life. Yoga makes it so I can function in other areas. My Life-Spleen (Yoga) cleans out the yucky stuff (aches, pains, drama, mental chatter) and sends me out into the world strong and armored (limber joints, quiet mind, grounded self). And then I go back out there again and get infected and weak and vulnerable and I come back to yoga and I get all cleaned up, ready to face the world.

Sure I could live without a spleen. I'm sure my liver would pick up the slack. The problem is that I have no idea what my Life-Liver is. Until I figure that out, I think I'll keep practicing yoga.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


I've started my irregular running practice again and, as always, it is hard. I stop for months at a time and then I run again, mostly out of necessity. I run when I have no other exercise options. I'm limited by time or geography or lack of appropriate facilities. At the beginning of every run I am excited. "I'm running. This is fun!" About 20 minutes in, whether I am in my own neighborhood or in Phoenix or San Diego or Chicago, something happens. It's a little bit like when the electricity goes out and the TV (the old fashioned kind) powers down. I lose momentum, and the joy of running is gone. My mind is on just getting home. I look at my watch. And then I force myself to not look at my watch. Suddenly the music on my iPod makes me mad. My runs pretty much always end with sheer relief that I don't have to do that again for a while.

I've never gotten beyond this point. Then the other day at the I was talking to a student (a runner) lamenting my ongoing struggle with running,"It's so hard. I hate the hills. Blah blah blah." The student nodded through my whining, and then, when I stopped for a breath he said, "Bring some serenity to it." Duh. Just like I do in my yoga practice. I tell myself and my students everyday to be in the moment, to make space for the range of moods in their practice, to ride through the different sensations, physical and mental. But with running, it never occurred to me to do this.

The day after this sage advice, I went running and about 15 minutes in, at the base of the hill on my regular neighborhood route, I got that sinking feeling. "This isn't fun. I have to make it back up the hill. I hate Jimmy Cliff." In the middle of the swarm of negative thoughts swirling around my head flashed the words, "bring some serenity to it." And I did.

The run was still hard, but now I was inside of the experience instead of fighting to get out of it. I could smell that post-rain-wet-sidewalk smell I love. I turned the music up. I gave myself permission to walk up the steepest part of the hill.  I know running will still be a struggle, just like yoga and a thousand other things in my life. But I also know that, if I can remember to bring some serenity to my running, I will struggle just a little bit less.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cece Loves Rock 'n' Roll...

Last week Lucia's best friend Cece got her hair chopped off. Cece's always had beautiful, long, dark hair and thick bangs. Now she's in kindergarten and she likes "to wook wike a wock and whoa-ler." She likes black nail polish and black t-shirts with skulls and crossbones. And she wanted a rock 'n' roll hair cut too. So her mom took her to get her hair cut like Joan Jett.

When I saw Cece for the first time with her new haircut, it was as if I was meeting a new person. The haircut somehow made her more Cece-ish. She was radiant. Her smile looked more beautiful, her eyes were more twinkly, she was more Cece than Cece had ever been!

I've never had a haircut that made me feel the way Cece seems to feel in her new do. When I was eleven, I had a seersucker skirt-blouse ensemble that, with french braids, really suited me, but even then I am not sure I was completely in my skin. I was always shy, self-conscious, not sure, so feeling like "me" was often elusive. I don't think that amazing look of joy that Cece had right after her haircut was not in my repertoire of facial expressions. At age 6, I was more the kid sneaking a look at the girl next to me to see if my shoes were as cool as her's.

Finding my way into my skin came through yoga. Something happened when I started practicing. Whether my practice of the day sucked or soared was irrelevant. I was newly, often uncomfortably looking at myself, eventually seeing myself through a different lens. I had to listen to my body. My defenses were broken down and somewhere along the way I shed my self-consciousness and there I was. Me.

Then I started teaching yoga, and I had to do it all over again-- lose the self-consciousness, the fear of being looked at, of saying something stupid, of losing composure in a room of strangers. Sometimes I still feel like an impostor when I am practicing or teaching. More often, though, I get that twinkly-eyed feeling like Cece. The feeling that my skin suits me and I'm exactly where I should be.

Practice Sucks

No matter what kind of yoga you practice, whether you Om, use blocks, stretch naked in your bathtub, or sweat your brains out for 90 minutes, the constant of any yoga practice is that you are doing a practice. Practice, by definition is "to do or perform customarily or habitually." I know this because I just looked it up to win an argument with my 5-year-old. Lucia is taking guitar. I argued that playing Frere Jaques once is not a practice, that it had to be done at least twice, and then I looked up "practice" in the dictionary and won the argument.

"It's hard" Lucia says. "I know honey." I say, "But you still have to practice. It will get harder and easier and harder again and easier again." For me, guitar practice means sitting with Lucia while she lectures about the different parts of the guitar (the bridge, the neck, the frets, the sound hole, the strings....), comments about how my guitar looks different from her's, stops to have a sip of orange juice or just has to stop practicing a minute to tell me this funny story about Greta (her guitar teacher). A ten-minute guitar practice turns into 40 minutes. It takes ever fiber of self-restraint in my body to sit in my chair acting like I am enjoying myself, pretending to be interested in her philosophy of why you use the first or second finger for different strings, smiling through the up-down-up-down-up-up-down strumming exercise, grinding my teeth through the achingly halting rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

The act of practicing anything is a challenge. Try it- practice putting all of your clothes away exactly where they go every night. Practice not swearing. Practice fifteen minutes of morning mediation. Practice hanging up your phone while you drive. Practice anything that doesn't come easily for you. Whether you are adding something or eliminating something, it's like swimming against a current. It's hard. And in the end, satisfying. For me, nothing is less easy or more uncomfortable than my yoga practice. It is the thing in my life that I love and hate the most. It's hard for me. It makes me mad. And, it makes me so happy, so connected, so grounded. All of it.

For me, the hardness of the practice, the discomfort of it, brings me closer to who I think I am supposed to be. I never feel more like myself than when I am practicing yoga. The idea that something being hard is good is a difficult concept to explain to a five-year-old (I tried), but I think Lucia is subconsciously getting it. After our last grueling practice where Lucia whined and cried and tried to bribe me out of practicing, at the end of it she said, "Mommy, let's do the hard parts one more time."

Monday, April 5, 2010


On Sunday morning at 8am, Lucia said, "Mommy, this is the best day ever." Four hours later, after brunch with a bunch of friends and a few kiddie-altercations under her belt, she said, "Mommy, this is the worst day ever." What?

In that instant, I thought about, as I often do lately, yoga. I thought, "That's just like in camel pose when I feel like I am going to laugh and hurl at the same time."

My sister Kat used to describe this emotional chaos as "happy-sad." "Joey is happy-sad," she'd say and my family would know that her son Joey would be somewhere on the emotional continuum for a while..

When an adult is "happy-sad" they go on anti-depressants. They seek therapy. They find religion. We label these people a pain in the ass. They are unstable. Adults know better than to wear their emotions on the outside. They are supposed to have skills. Maybe kids can teach us something with their emotional candor. Not that we should be explosively regurgitating our baggage all over the place, but that there is room for all of it.

I wonder when we lose that permission to move through our emotions. Tonight at dinner when Lu and I were doing our evening ritual of "roses and thorns" (goods and bads of our day), she began to describe a fight she'd had at school and, just as she started to get emotional, she stopped herself. "Never mind", she said, as if it was just too much work. Maybe she was tired. Maybe she wanted to be done with dinner. Maybe she was over it. Or maybe she's already starting to filter, sensing from me that I'd rather hear about the roses than the thorns.

I frequently tell my students, as I look at them sweating, grimacing, struggling, "Get comfortable being uncomfortable." Basically, be okay not feeling exactly right for a moment, and in the next moment, without even knowing how or why, you'll feel okay again. Give all of your feelings, the good, the bad, the ugly, some space to get out of the way and they will.

Friday, April 2, 2010

How sweet it is.

I am having a renewed love affair with Yoga. Obviously I've always liked Yoga. But something's different. Two weeks ago, I had a class with Meghan that made my skin tingle. Every part of it was lovely. Her voice, her cadence, her tan. And then there was today's class with Frances. After a few really dreadful classes where I just wanted to puke my brains out, I had a boom-chicka-boom-boom class with her. Not nasty boom-chicka-boom-boom, rather, "I'm on fire, I could do these postures all week long chicka-boom." It used to be that I'd regularly get into a cycle of boredom/resentment with my practice. "Why do I have to do this bullshit?" I'd think to myself. "It's too hard. I'm going to go swimming instead and stretch in the sauna afterwards." But then, after doing the Master Cleanse last time, I quit sugar (it's been almost 3 months).

Sugar used to be a little treat, something I got to have because I was a good egg. And I must have been really, really good because I was a major sugar addict. In the health-food-heavy house of my childhood, I was the kid precariously balancing tip-toe on the pantry counter to get my dirty little paws on the Bakers unsweetened chocolate (it was all there was). There was the time I spent all of my allowance on candy before a family road trip, then proceeded to lie to my mother, telling her that Debbie, the clerk at the corner store had forced me to take the candy because, just like Vitamin D, all kids need sugar. When sugar stopped being my treat option, Yoga sneakily slipped into its place. I don't recall it being a conscious replacement, it was just suddenly, "I get to do Yoga? Awesome."

Maybe I am finally mature. Maybe I finally get the idea that gratification is not necessarily the rush of sugar on your tongue, that little burst of energy (that ultimately drops like a ton of bricks). I think I might actually get that, when you wait a little bit, struggle a little bit, sweat a little bit, the treat at the end is much, much sweeter.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A day at the beach

Last weekend I took Lucia to Carlsbad, California to hang out with my sister's family in Lego Land. Lego Land is weird and kind of creepy because the Lego structures are all faded-- it's more like a haunted Lego Land. My sister was obsessed with how the management could ever keep up with the dilapitating Lego structures. It's a valid concern. The 280,000 piece mini Taj Majal must be a bitch to rebuild or even keep clean

Thankfully, we only spent one day at Lego Land. The rest of the time we lazed on the beach with the surfers and stoners. Being in southern California is always a trip for me. I feel like a species from another planet, at the very least from another country. While I sat with my book in my practical black bikini, feeling pale and pasty, musing about about what it would be like to be blonde and tan, Lucia had a wholly different experience.  I remember being a kid at the ocean-- soft sand, infinite water, sun sun sun. I was never bored at the ocean.

I still don't get bored at the ocean. I read, I people watch, I tan, I swim. But I'm a grown up. I know I'll have to leave beach-heaven at some point. I don't get the sand-salt water-sun intoxication I got when I was a kid. Last weekend, I watched Lucia and it all came back. Between applications of sunscreen and snack breaks, she explored with her older cousins. They wandered down the beach to the Boccie Ball game where she and her cousins giggled at the old guys barking "shit, fuck and damn." Lucia went off on her own, and I watched her as she repeatedly stomped on the sand, contemplating the effects of her feet on the sand. She sat for a good 15 minutes, staring at the Pacific, singing to herself.

When I was in my twenties, someone told me that having a child was a great opportunity to have the childhood you never got to have. I actually did get to have that beach-heaven childhood, but, lucky me, now that I'm a parent I get to have it all again.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

You can't always get what you want

There was a period growing up when The Rolling Stones was always playing on our stereo. In dealing with her three rivalrous daughters, Mom had a fairly regular mantra, "You can't always get what you want."

There are probably three times each day when I have to tell my daughter that she can't have something that she really wants (like dessert, or skipping hair washing or a sleepover with Cece on a school night.) No matter how big or small the disappointment, Lucia's frown face is always dinosaur-sized. But her recovery is usually speedy. After a whine, a cry, a kick, she's over it. Usually.

Last week when Lucia really wanted to take a night walk, I blew her off, telling her it had gotten too late. Her disappointment was monstrous and her recovery was not speedy. She had a volcanic melt-down in which, through sobs and head-flailing, she managed to explain that we'd agreed. We had a plan. As I was gearing up to give Lucia my you-can't-always-get-what-you-want speech, I experienced a rare moment or maternal clarity. I understood her disappointment. She wasn't asking me out of the blue to take a night walk. We'd agreed and she'd prepared and she had a plan in her mind. So, in our pajamas, after brushing teeth, we put on our boots and walked to the alley to look at the waning crescent moon and the sun setting over the Olympics. It was lovely.

Since that nanosecond of clarity with Lucia, I've been thinking about my own relationship with disappointment. Whether it is my self-restraint keeping me from buying the $300 boots at Anthropologie, my quiet resolution in accepting that Lucia might not go to a bilingual school, or an unrequited crush, I know the feeling of disappointment. "These things are out of my control" I tell myself. My recovery, like Lucia's, is pretty good. I have the moment, and then I'm over it. There is always the part of me that wants to use the credit card or beg the school district or work magic, but mostly I accept my disappointment and move on.

The next line of the song "You can't always get what you want" is "But if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need." And it's true. In the midst of accepting that I can't have everything I want, it becomes glaringly clear to me that I absolutely do have what I need.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Big Feelings

I met Carol in a writing class. She was close to 70 and had a head full of shock-white hair. During each class we had to read our pieces aloud. When Carol read, she always sounded like Meryl Streep reading a book on tape. The first time I spoke to Carol was a break. I wanted to ask her about the commune she wrote about in her essay about her early life. I squatted down next to her and interrupted her as she flipped through her notebook. She nudged her reading classes up, angled her body slightly toward me, put her hand on my shoulder and looked down at me. I asked my question (something insignificant enough to forget already) and she answered me, never taking her hand off of my shoulder and never shifting her gaze from mine. The interaction was so brief yet I walked back to my seat wanting more. It was a couple days later that I realized that I didn't want more from Carol. I wanted more from myself. I wanted to be that grounded and calm and present.

I took the writing class in part to find a way to integrate all of the new feelings I was having as the result of some big life changes (moving, divorce, parenting) I'd experienced in recent years. I am on a road trip through the land of feelings. My emotions are all over the map- happy, melancholy, nostalgic, angry, mountains, hills and plains. At Lucia's preschool, they call all range of emotional expression "big feelings". I love this term to describe the emotional state of kids. We often have no idea what a 4-year-old is thinking. It's all just a morass of sensations they are trying to figure out. As adults, all we can really do is help the kids to name it. "It's okay honey, you've got big feelings about that toy (or that friend or that blanket or that apple)." I use the term "big feelings" for myself too. I even refer to "big feelings" when I am teaching yoga. It makes sense. Most of the time grown-ups can't decipher what's going on in their heads any more than kids can.

I've always been really good at dealing with physical discomfort. Rigorous chores, 42-hours of labor without meds, lack of sleep, hunger. I'm told that I have an incredible pain threshold and good stamina. But with emotional discomfort I am remedial at best. This past week I was having one of many bouts of big feelings. It felt messy, like the junk was seeping all over the sidewalk. While trying to "manage" my big feelings, Carol popped into my head. Her silver hair, her melodic voice, her clear, calm blue eyes. What would Carol do? She'd put her hand on my shoulder, look me in the eyes, and in her Meryl Streep voice remind me, "It's okay Laura. You've got some big feelings right now."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Expanding my Territory South of the Border

There is a supernatural warmth about Mexico. Sure the temperature is in the mid-80s and the sun is strong all day. The people just look warm. There are brand new babies everywhere and two out of three women between the ages of 15-45 is pregnant or nursing. People seem to eat ice cream cones all day long. No one has acne. Everyone seems to like their body. Parents genuinely like their kids.

On Sunday in a Oaxcan tourist market, I met an eight-year-old girl named Estrella (that translates to Star) who, in collaboration with her grandma makes little cell phone bags. When I met Estrella, I had been in Mexico less than 12 hours, most of it sleeping, so an eight-year-old felt like a safe place to start using my rusty Spanish. Estrella´s business is to draw pictures of whatever she wants on a piece of cotton (cowgirl, tree, flower, farmer). She then embroiders what she can and her grandma finishes them up. Estrella makes 5 pesos (about 35 cents) on each bag. After interviewing Estrella on her business model and art skills, I shot a photo of her with the bag I bought for my daugter Lucia.

At the Abastos Market, the market of the people (where we saw not one gringo), I ate divine tamales oaxaños-- they come wrapped in a giant banana leaf and inside are the traditional tamale incredients plus mole negro. Even with the random chicken parts I found in my tamale they were still divine. Luz, the proprietor and I had a nice long platica (chat). She told me that her little restaurant has been there 22 years. At the Abastos market I also bought pillow cases to embroider from Maria who turned 8 that day! Feliz cumpleaños Maria. My pillow cases have love birds with the words ¨Tu eres me amor¨ in an arch above.

Not all of my contacts have been as charmed as my interlude with Estrella and at the Abastos market. One afternoon, while having a solitary moment in the plaza, a short blood-shot-eyed fellow sidled up next to me on the stairs where I was sitting watching a campesino speaking about something political I couldn't quite understand. Juan was so complimentary of my accent (and my boobs). Where had I studied? Had I been to Belgium? He'd recently been deported from Cincinnati after a 12 year stay. After enough eye-boob contact, I made a quick, not very polite exit.

Jorge, the dueño of our bed and breakfast grew up very poor and never knew his father. But he is from one of the original Oaxacan families. His grandfather was 100% Zapotec. Jorge wrote a book for his children to explain his life. It was really easy, he said. In a short time Jorge churned out 186 pages that his daughter (who is a professor in Spain) is working on getting published. Today when I visited Monte Alban, the ruins of the Zapotec people, I thought of Jorge´s grandfather.

Making contact takes effort, especially in another language. Initially it was scary to use my Spanish to all of those people, but I'm so glad I did.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Alphabet Grace

My daughter Lucia loves the alphabet. She loves to sing it, sign it, write it. She loves to discuss it, ¨Mom, did you know that the ABC song is the exact same tune as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star?¨ On a recent trip to the airport Lucia was stuck in the back seat with her howling four-month-old cousin Sam. Lucia´s attempt to placate Sam was to sing the ABCs in a lullaby voice. It didn´t work, but great idea.

Last night I finished reading Lit, Mary Karr´s third memoir which, among other things is about getting sober. At one point in the book when Karr is cynically dismissing the idea of a higher power , her sponsor tells her to get over herself and start being grateful for what she has. Her sponor´s perscription-- write down from A-Z things for which she is grateful. Only when pushed to the point close to relapse does Karr engage in this activity, still reluctant, but desperate. It turns out to be deeply satisfying and comforting.

On a recent mother-daughter trip to the amazingly rich, historic town of Oaxaca, Mexico, I found myself in an insomniac state fueled by many of my regular worries: would I be perpetually single? Would my daughter be okay? Would my business survive this economy? While struggling to find sleep in the pitch blackness of an unfamiliar single bed in a hostel inches from my snoring mother, I decided that I would try the alphabet idea.

Initially, I felt, as Mary Karr had in her first attempt at the assignment, silly. But, like her, I was desperate. With my eyes opento the blackness around me, I silently recited 26 things for which I am grateful from A for amor (love) to X for being on the other side of an 'ex'. I wasn´t close to being asleep, so I tried it again. I don´t remember what I was thankful for after S for swimming, so it must have worked.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Expand your territory

Whenever my sisters and I get together we make brain stew. We dump our thoughts into a common vessel and swim around in it, collectively chewing for a minute or two on a piece of thought and then, still starving, dive back in for another nibblet.

On a recent trip to visit my parents in the concrete jungle of Phoenix, my sister Amy and I took a coveted kid-free walk. A few miles in, baking under the high sun as we walked towards the McDowell mountain range, we started the inevitable sister stew. We ended (as I often directed conversations at that time) to my recent single state. I was stuck in too many months of post heart-break, betrayal and divorce.Amy's contribution was this: "expand your territory." I remember the moment. I locked in. "Remember these words," I told myself.

"Expand your territory" for me reads: open up, get dirty, wallow around in the muck, take risks, MAKE CONTACT. What is most profound for me about this idea is the inherent potential. Anybody can expand their territory. There are billions of people in the world. There are infinite moments of contact between each of us and those billions. The hand gestures with the woman in the Lexus SUV who insists on letting me cross the four-lane busy street with my snail-paced 5-year-old in tow- contact. Negotiating which lane to swim laps in with the profoundly weird man in the purple speedo- contact. Making eyes with the exhausted pony-tailed single dad on the plane who is sitting two rows in front of his nine-year-old daughter because no one will switch seats with him- contact. Cyber-stalking a cute guy from a cafe and emailing him- contact.

The possibilities for expanding your territory are endless. Thanks for the inspiration sis.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Delicious Sam

My nephew Sam is four-months old. He is delicious. How is it possible that I use the exact words my grandmother used on me? I used to think "delicious" was the most ridiculous, slightly creepy descriptor for a human being ever uttered. When my own daughter was four-months old, I was too tired to see her like I do my delicious nephew Sam. While we had our own intense, symbiotic relationship, I was just surviving, processing my own hormonal earthquakes through a fog of massive sleep deprivation. I don't think I ever called her delicious.

The thing about Sam, and I don't say this lightly, is that I can see his soul. His gigantic eyes invite me to come closer and in the same moment let me know exactly how close (not very). He is at once profoundly accessible and completely ethereal. He needs nor wants anything from me, yet here I am. "I can see your soul little guy", I want to whisper in his tiny sea-shell shaped ear, "can't you feel that?"

Sam nurses ALL THE TIME. When I watch my sister sitting, lying, standing, nursing in every possible position, I remember that feeling of being simultaneously thrilled by that role of being "the one" and wanting to hurl the 8-pound leech from my body. When I was a human utter, I felt taxed, beyond exhaustion, unable to do much more than finish one feeding and take a quick pee before the next.

Now I watch Sam, this little creature who I truly feel I have soul-access to and, while he is really just a seventeen-pound blob of developing cells, I can see that this baby is intensely connected. Sometimes Sam nurses with his big eyes open, sucking fast, his body a little bit tense, one hand gripping his mother's blouse, toes curled under, clearly letting her know that the nursing game is on, no exceptions. Other times, when he is relaxed, Sam nurses with his lips slightly loose, his big eyes closed. One hand laying limply over his mother's arm, the other tucked in close to her belly. He is okay, he might even sleep and let his mouth fall off the nipple, give his mom a break. He is in complete control and only 120 days into this world. That's delicious.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Nobody gives a F$%! about your blog

"Nobody gives a F$%! about your blog" used to be my favorite t-shirt slogan. Then my psychic told me that I should be writing about yoga. "But who the hell am I to be writing about yoga?" I thought to myself as soon as the words left her mouth. Though I remain unsure of this process and this medium for expression, I am pushing through my ambivalence because maybe, in the process of writing about what I don't know, I will learn something about what I do know.

I have two favorite expressions--- "All feelings pass" and "Yoga makes you you."
The first one was used on me by a therapist when I was in the depths of my darkest hour. Deep deep depths. She was a batty, boundary-less cuckoo, and exactly what I needed at that time in my life. She'd call me dear heart and drape big afghans over my whole body and offer me diet Pepsi. AND, she said to me at a moment when every fiber of my being was in crisis, "All feelings pass." And she was right. They do. They pass when we let them pass. They pass because we give them the space to pass.

This brings me to my next favorite expression--- "Yoga makes you you."It took me many years to fully understand that yoga has opened a pathway to seeing my true self. If you have an over-active brain like I do, yoga is not a luxury. It is a necessity. Yoga, while it is the union of mind and body, is also a place to rest the mind and live through the body. For me, getting into postures helps me get out of my head. For me, the experience is almost visceral. As soon as I lie down on my mat, I breathe a sigh of relief because I know what is coming. I know that I am going to get a break. Ironic that I will be working my ass off, sweating myself silly, but it is a break. I get to be still in my head while my body moves. In all of the physical movement, feelings are passing and I am getting clear. In these moments, I am me.

Work Life Balance

Yesterday while I was working I thought to myself, “I could do this all day long!” And that’s a good thing because that was the plan. I rece...