Monday, November 24, 2014

Yoga is the gateway drug to joy

Last week when I taught my Roots of Empathy class, I asked my 3rd and 4th graders what they think comforts a baby. When they came up blank, I shared that when my daughter was tiny, turning on the hair dryer immediately calmed her down. The gentle hum of the hair dryer sounds very similar to the hushing sound babies hear in utero. As we develop-- from infant to toddler to child to teenager to adult--- finding the thing that comforts us, brings us that calm, gets more and more elusive. For me, the one constant thing that's offered me comfort like this over the last two decades is Yoga.

But every couple of years,  I get slightly dormant in my Yoga practice. I practice less, and I'm not fully there mentally when I do practice. When I come out of hibernation from my Yoga strike, it is like I've discovered a whole new world. The rush comes right back!

When I am doing a regular Yoga practice, I feel so much happier. My body needs it. I have tight, tight muscles, maybe from my years of swimming or maybe from my newfound love of running, or maybe because I'm an uptight neurotic human. Regardless, I have a body that needs Yoga to stay pain free (maybe everyone does).

My mind needs it. I am a person whose brain goes ALL the time. Not in a bad way, although sometimes the activity can make me feel simultaneously like throwing up and passing out.  I very rarely take time to settle. I need a place to quiet down. That happens for me in the yoga room. My body becomes bigger than my brain and my breath becomes louder than my internal voice(s).

Spiritually, I need yoga. It makes me happy, hopeful, joyful. It is a place where I feel there is something bigger, better, stronger, than me. I feel lighter, held in a way that I rarely feel in other areas of my life. Yoga is my gateway drug to joy.

The joy doesn't come right away, except in the form of endorphins (which are definitely a kind of joy). It comes over time. You start to appreciate you body more, your strength, your flexibility, your intention in your practice. Then you notice how you are actually a little bit quiet mentally in Savasana. Oh, what a relief to have that peace. And then, maybe after years, or decades, you notice that your heart sings a little bit when you practice. All layers combine to bring a sense of joy. And then, for some random reason, you take a break from Yoga. You have an affair with Crossfit or spinning or knitting! But when you come back, the feelings are all there. And it doesn't take long until you're addicted. Again.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Open your Armpits

As we approach Thanksgiving, I am trying to remember to be grateful and thankful daily. One of the things I am so grateful for is the Lake (Washington). It is one of my greatest sources of calm and inspiration. I see it everyday and I run on it often.

The distance from my house to Seward Park, once around the loop and back, if you take just the right extra turns and jogs in the path, is a little over 5 miles. Outside of a slightly longer run that goes through the inner trails, this is my favorite catharsis.  My ritual is to put on my Strava (I'm slightly OCD about mileage), tune Songza to inspirational pop favorites, and run down the hill to the lake.

This afternoon, after a hard interaction with my daughter that left me feeling a little depressed, I knew running would be the antidote to my sorrows. The tip of Seward Park is the half-way point of my run. It's also a popular spot for people to sit on the benches and look out at the lake and across to Mercer Island. Today, as I approached the tip, the clouds were pink, the lake was completely placid and there were a handful of people with their dogs standing, looking at a flock of birds floating on the lake. Everything and everyone was still, even the dogs.

As I approached this idyllic scene, Flo-Rida's "Good Feeling" was playing and I was running at a pretty good pace. I felt SO happy, so energized! The combination of everything was overwhelmingly peaceful and beautiful. I found myself raising my arms over my head with glee. I read recently that one of BKS Iyengar's students heard him say, "If you open your armpits, you'll never get depressed." That thought came into my head as I ran, arms spread, for a few paces.

The remaining miles home were equally blissful. Seattle, and the area around Seward Park where the lake dominates the view for miles, is perfect. People rowing crew, fishermen, eternally hopeful, happy couples walking together, finding time that will make everything better, bikers in their colorful clown-garb, runners, like me, bouncing with happiness at the scene. Open your armpits. And get a good feeling.

Thursday, November 13, 2014


Life offers us a variety of dishes--- some are delicious, tasty, at the very least, palatable. And some are horrible, tasteless, bitter, even rotten. As many of you know, The SweatBox is currently in the process of digesting a rather unsavory meal. We've hit hard times and are working our best to move through it, to get to the other side, to a place where things taste good again.

When things get hard, or uncomfortable, unpalatable, for many of us, the tendency is to move out of the way, to get to another space. I have wanted many times, during this last spell of incessant construction that's smothering our studios, to flee, to drop everything and become a kindergarten teacher.  It's hard, it's uncomfortable, it's sucky. And, there is another side.

A few months ago when I was teaching, I noticed that lots of people were going to the bathroom. I'd notice the same people going, at the same times, during each class. One day, in an effort to be more empathetic, more open-minded than usual, I took some time to really think about why these students were in this pattern. It occurred to me that they must believe that something will happen, change, disappear in the bathroom.  I said, "Did y'all know that there is nothing magic in the bathroom?" "Chuckle chuckle", went the class. "The magic is on your mat" I said, "it lives in you, not in the bathroom."

Tomorrow, November 14th, 2014, The SweatBox will officially turn 13 years old! That means that next year, November 14th, 2015, we will be 14 years old. For those of you who don't know, when you turn your age on the date of your birthday, it is considered your GOLDEN BIRTHDAY.  That's pretty special, and it is a good reminder for me to persevere through these hard times. For thirteen years, over 30,000 students have graced us with their presence, every single one bringing with them a little bit of magic! The magic of our studios, thanks to all of you, still lives at The SweatBox. And even though we're struggling financially and are, for the first time, reaching out for help, we still feel it.

When I think about throwing in the sweat-drenched towel, I think about all of the magic years of The SweatBox. Thirteen years, approaching the golden age! Sure I want to go to the bathroom and find something new different, magical. Who wouldn't?! I'm not going to though. I'm not going anywhere. We're not going anywhere. We're going to ride this challenge, hold on tight, and get to the other side. We'll do what we need to because we've got all of your magic driving us to the other side.
This is going to be a great birthday!We sincerely thank you all.

Monday, November 3, 2014

I don't wanna play goalie!

My daughter's soccer team is awesome. They are eleven strong, fast, feisty 9 and 10 year olds.  They are the Meerkats and they are mighty! Many of them have been playing together for close to five years. They are committed and connected. For the most part, the girls are pretty versatile. Their coaches play them all over the field and they usually go with it, except for goalie.

There are only two girls on the team brave enough to volunteer for goalie every time. Usually, each of these two heroines plays goalie one half of every game. A few weeks ago, one of our little goalies got her confidence crushed. Though she played hard, she let lots of  goals in and she felt like she'd let down her team.

I have two friends who played college soccer, one of them was the goalie for Guam's national team. I asked them if they'd do a small coaching session with our two goalies and a few other girls. Graciously, they agreed. Dressed in their soccer duds, these forty-something women gently guided  four goalie-resistant Meerkats through the ins and outs of playing goal keeper.

I watched from the sidelines as they dove, rolled, made upside-down and right side-up "W" shapes with their hands and hobbled like gorillas keeping close to the ground so as to never miss a ball. At the end of the session, as the girls stretched, one of the coaches had the girls go around in a circle and share, "Say one thing you did well today and one thing you want to work on."  Naming what they wanted to work on was easy; saying what they did well was much more challenging.

After the coaches left, the girls all stayed to play Lighting, a fast shooting game where the goalie rotates. Normally, no one wants to play goalie, especially during Lightning. But on this day, all of the girls kept their keeper gloves on (and it wasn't very cold out) and fought to play goalie.

Later that day Lucia said to me, "Mom, I really need to practice playing goalie more." What the hell!? "You like goalie?" I inquired, trying to keep a neutral tone. "Yeah" she quipped, as if it was obvious.

What changed? The girls got a lesson and they had fun. They went into something feeling afraid and their new coaches broke the fear down, lightened it up for them. Do you remember when you first started practicing yoga? I do. I felt completely in the dark. And I often still do. I needed my teachers then, and I need them now, to break things down for me, give me support and strength and guidance.

Today when I taught, as I often do, I felt incredible gratitude for my job. I love it. Every class I teach, I love. The looks on the faces of students struggling to hold balance or find alignment is infinitely inspiring. I know I give a lot of feedback about what students can do better-- "lift your chest more, relax your forehead, balance your weight more evenly across your feet." But I might not say enough, "Think about what you did well today." Forgive me if I don't say it because I think it. You do a lot well. Everyday.

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