Saturday, December 26, 2015

There's no place like home


Around the holidays I become disjointed. My brain is over-stimulated and emotionally I become unmoored. The combination leaves me in a state of "half-way-in," a life space that is not quite satisfying. I'm getting through-- I'm not depressed or upset or despondent, but I'm not all in. The joy and whimsy of the holidays eludes me when I'm living "half-way-in." I would love to find a way through, and ultimately a permanent way out of this holiday state.

Yoga is a practice of finding a joining, a balance, a quiet conversation between the mental/emotional and the physical. It is in my Yoga practice that I am "all in," all the time. It's been twenty-two years since I started practicing Yoga and my greatest accomplishment in my practice is absolutely not physical flexibility.  My true victory from Yoga is that there is a guaranteed place where I can be "all in." I am eternally grateful to have this space, to understand what this fullness and connection means, how it feels.

Yesterday, on Christmas Day, I taught one class. I was happy to do it, thrilled to be there. Even though I wasn't practicing myself, I would be in that familiar, happy space of being really present as a  teacher with the amazing students. There were about twenty Christmas Yoga Warriors in the class and,  as is often the case on holiday classes, they were a focused, hardworking bunch.

At one point as I was guiding them into Savasana, I said, "tap your heels together and let your feet fall open." As I said it, I had the image of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, tapping her heels together reciting the epic line, "There's no place like home" over and over, until she finally arrived back in Kansas.

For me, and I know for many others, Savasana is indeed like finally getting back home after a long journey.  Getting to this state does not follow a prescribed path. I can't remember the moment, or even the month or year that I actually noticed that I was "all in" during Savasana. I do know that every practice I listened to my teachers. I let them guide me into Savasana: "let it go", "take a deep breath", "relax your mind." And eventually the words became my own, the message a part of me. One big hump of the holidays is over, but there's still the new year to get through. I want to be "all-in" for it. I'm getting ready to go practice Yoga now. I can't wait to be in that moment of clicking my heels together. There's no place like home.......

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

It's too vulnerable

My daughter Lucia is a gifted musician. She plays piano and guitar and she sings (like an angel!). Like any eleven-year-old, she's partial to musicians like Adele and John Legend, and of course Taylor Swift. The other day Lucia was playing an "All of Me" by John Legend, sounding beautiful, soulful, and adorable. I asked her if she'd ever consider writing her own songs to which she replied, "Nope."
"Why not?," I queried.
"Too vulnerable" she said, very matter-of-factly.

Ever since Lucia made that statement, I've been thinking about my vocation, teaching Yoga. In the fifteen years of doing this work, my teaching has indeed evolved. It's evolved because I have taken different teachers classes, been through burn out and back, and because in the last few years, I've exposed myself to many more styles or Yoga, styles in which I am indeed a beginner, lacking skill and proficiency. It is perhaps the lessons in my journey as student that I have developed my greatest strengths as a teacher.

Part of the job of owning a studio is creating a vision for what I want to offer; for articulating and training to what I think makes a good teacher. To me, a good teacher is generous. They give something of themselves. A good teacher takes risks and tries new things. They are vulnerable in their process of learning how to be the best teacher they can be. Adele's declaration of what makes a good song reinforces this idea that you have to go deep, reach into the heart, to create something beautiful.

It's true that Lucia sounds beautiful singing John Legend and Taylor Swift and Adele. And, I think she'd sound even more amazing singing music that she wrote herself. As I continue to work hard to be a good teacher, a strong studio owner, I am keenly aware of how important it is for me to cultivate and nurture vulnerability in myself and my teachers.

For me, the vulnerability comes in that moment when I decide to step out of my comfort zone and introduce something new in class. Most students probably don't even see it happening. I'm still teaching the same posture, holding it about the same length of time. But I know it's happening. It's scary. It's uncomfortable. I'm vulnerable. I'm learning from each trial, and if I fail, it's okay. It's all  part of the bigger process to create something beautiful.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

On the road again.

Last weekend four of my good friends and I went to Portland for the weekend. We left the kids and the spouses behind, took the mini-van on the road, and shacked up in a rented town house overlooking the 405. It was brilliant in a million ways.

We travelled as a pack. We ate together, slept together, shopped together, and on the road home Sunday night in the minivan, we sang together. All weekend, we'd been reveling in the lightness we felt being on our own in Portland. At one point during dinner on Friday night, I became disoriented (the pre-dinner 'brownie' might have played into this) about what era of our lives we were in. I momentarily felt like I was back to my twenties when going out to dinner with a gaggle of girl friends was commonplace.

With a van full of Christmas presents and some personal indulgences for ourselves, we hit the road north back to Seattle on Sunday afternoon. We stopped at an incredible Mexican restaurant in Centralia to mark our halfway point, none of us fully ready to return to "normal." Once we were back on I-5, Jenna, the owner of the minivan, started playing DJ. We heard Sade, Simon & Garfunkel, Tori Amos, and Etta James among others. Eventually we started singing our own tunes-- The Eagles, Bette Middler, John Denver.

From the darkness of our minivan, we belted out songs we all knew. We harmonized. We sang back up. It was the perfect finale to a weekend of debauched bliss. There was so much goodness in the van, so much happy energy.  It is a moment I want to remember always.

The next morning, Monday, I taught class at 930am. I can't say I was thrilled to be back from my weekend escape, but I was happily surprised, as I almost always am, to be back teaching.  It was many usual practitioners, people I know well and love; all hard workers, focused Yogis. During Pranayama breathing, watching the students in the room, I had this wonderful reminiscence of my friends singing harmony in the minivan the night before. All of the different bodies, breathing separately but also together. It made me so happy to be simultaneously experiencing last night's memory and the present moment's reality.

Yoga is a big part of my life. It's my home, my away, my safe and my scary. My everyday practice gives me the grounding I need to move through the world sanely, and sometimes I have a class that is very, very hard, uncomfortable, unmooring.  I still practice though because I know that through my practice I'll find my way home.  Lately I've been expanding my practice-- still Bikram but also Vinyasa and Yin. It's refreshing and disorienting in all the best ways. The new practice energizes my old practice; it breathes new and different energy into it.

My relationship with my friends is similar. With each of them I've had countless moments of complete elation as well as periods of hard times and struggle. The everyday coordination of playdates, carpools, parenting advice is a critical structure in my life, but getting away from all of that is important too. Our trip to Portland, without the parameters that normally define us, gave us each a way to see each other differently, open ourselves up to new experiences, and sing our hearts out.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Let Your Practice Be Light

One of the things I notice around the holidays is that I start to feel a bit heavy. There's the food and drink that makes me feel more physically burdened than usual, but mostly it's the emotional burden of expectations, anticipation, and incessant social planning.

This year we're hosting Thanksgiving. I'm excited and happy to do it, but it's a lot of cooking and cleaning and hosting. Then there's Christmas. There's always the managing of gift giving and receiving. I try to find the perfect balance (impossible!) during Christmas where I indulge my daughter enough so she gets the excitement and thrill of this fun holiday, but not so much that it's gross. I stress about if anyone will invite us to a New Years Eve party and if they don't what kind of ritual will I make up that will sufficiently bring us into 2016.

The other day when I was teaching, I noticed a student looking forlorn and frustrated. It was one of those days when his balance was off and he was low on stamina. It's not uncommon to see people's practice change around the holidays; everyone's managing the stress of the season. As the class progressed, his frustration seemed to deepen. I had this very clear image of baggage. It's like when you go on a trip and pack too much but insist on doing carry-on (me, every single time). It's too much. It takes a lot of energy to carry that baggage onto light rail, through security, to your gate and then squeeze it onto the plane all the while getting snarky looks from normal packers.

Each Yoga class is a journey and we can alter the path by making certain mental choices during our practice. Often when I teach Yoga, I invite students to clear their minds after each posture. I remind them that carrying each posture into the next will create a very heavy practice, ultimately a much harder one. "Don't make yourself carry extra baggage," I tell the class. "Let each posture go mentally when you physically release it. Try not to dwell on it, evaluate it, or judge it." There will be time tomorrow to try Eagle pose again. For today, let it go.

Like everything, this letting go and moving on takes practice. I'm trying to engage in a similar practice this holiday season of getting through one holiday before moving onto the next. Right now I will focus on Thanksgiving. When I find myself thinking about Christmas or New Years, I tell myself to let it go, to just focus on Thanksgiving. The media, my family, old habits all make this practice difficult, but I'm trying. Changing old habits is always hard. The Yoga room is a great place to try it out. This season, let your practice be light.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A daily practice in Bora Bora

At the end of the summer, after a very loosey-goosey few months, I recommitted to doing a daily practice. My practice usually includes a Yoga class in the studio with other students, led by a teacher. I find that I am the most focused, most motivated, most energized in the class enviroment. I get a lot from the community energy. Sometimes I simply cannot fit in a class between my own work schedule and my child care and social obligations and so  I have expanded my notion of  what "daily practice" is.

Committing to a "daily practice" that is more loosely defined has been incredibly liberating.  Sometimes my practice involves 40 minutes on my mat between classes at The SweatBox. Other days it's a 3 mile run with my 11-year-old at her pace. Some really busy days, it is a seated meditation in my living room at 5:30am before the rest of the house is awake.

I'm nearly 47 years old and I know that I am a better human being when I feel nourished, rested, and cared for. The mind-body connection that Yoga, meditation, and other physical exercise brings me is a life saver. Yoga, for me, is a symbol representing the notion that "I am here. I am awake. I am alive." It is a momentary pause in life to remind me to slow down, even full stop and notice the connection that exists with my body and my mind.

Last month, I did the 30-Day Challenge at The SweatBox. I practiced with others in the hot studio, deriving energy and strength from the bodies around me. On days when I couldn't fit in a scheduled class, I practiced on my own. This week,  it is Yoga on my deck in Bora Bora. We are here to celebrate a milestone birthday for Nancy. It is the most beautiful place in the world (that I've visited).  It is paradise. Yesterday we cracked open a coconut from the beach and drank the water. Then we shredded the coconut meat into a plate made out of palm leaves and ate it. It's the kind of place where people drink Pina Coladas at 11am and nap all afternoon.  It's remarkably indulgent and luxurious.

During our time here, I have gratefully pulled out my yoga mat every day and done my practice. I simply do the postures that my body calls me to do and I'm done when my body says I'm done. The classroom structure is not there, but my practice is. It might last fifteen minutes, it might last 30.  It might be a series of spine twisting postures; it might just be practicing head stands on the beach until I cannot endure any more sand in my suit. It's not what I am doing; it is that I am doing. A simple pause, even here in paradise, is a reminder that I am here. Conscious. Alive.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Little red notebook

Over the summer, during an incredibly stressful two weeks of my life-- negotiating the sale of one studio and the buy out of the other,  Nancy and I went to San Francisco for a retreat away from the madness that was life here in Seattle. The timing of the getaway not only helped us escape from the hideousness of SeaFair, but it was a welcome break from the flood of details and decisions that have were occupying my mind vis-a-vis The SweatBox.

When I arrived at the hotel at 9pm after a short but very turbulent flight, I informed Nancy by text that I just needed a bath and bourbon. I was really on the edge, needing to chill in a big way. Our hotel was old and beautiful and perfectly located for our two days wandering around San Francisco and spending time with my sister and nephew. By the end of our two days, we were indeed restored, relaxed, renewed.

On Sunday, after a leisurely morning in our beautiful hotel, we decided to leave our bags with the bellhop and go to the Asian Art Museum. We both had our laptops and work stuff-- Nancy some files from a case she was working on and me, a folder and a notebook with my imminent work materials. We left about noon and planned to get back by four so we could make our 6:00pm flight back to Seattle. The exhibit was amazing. We ate a yummy lunch. All was well-- our relaxation mission was accomplished and we were ready to get back home.

When I gave our bag ticket to the bellhop to retrieve our luggage, he went to the luggage room and returned with one small bag-- Nancy's case files. We said, "There should be two carry-ons-- one black and one grey-- and they each have one laptop inside." As I am known to do, I immediately panicked. The hotel manager went to the basement to review video surveillance to see if someone had walked off with our bags. Other men in bellhop suits were summoned to try to solve the case. Long story short, the case went unsolved and we raced to the airport with just our small purses and Nancy's bag of files.

On the plane, wearing my San Fransisco tourist sweatshirt from the airport newsstand, we tallied our lost items-- from face cream to jewelry, favorite boots to laptops. As we jotted down our items and their value, I realized that my little red notebook was among the lost items. My red notebook holds three years worth of thoughts, ideas, passwords, and contacts. Of all the items, even my laptop, this was my greatest loss by far because it was irreplaceable.

They did find our bags late the next day (they'd been delivered to someone else's room!) but I had already spun my yarn about what life would be like without my little red notebook and come out on the other side. I'd already raged, grieved, angsted and resigned myself over the loss. I would carry on without my favorite boots and my little red notebook. Letting go of all of it was more possible than I'd ever imagined.

I was very very glad to get all of my things, especially my notebook, back from San Francisco, and I am not glad for that events that stole much of my much needed peace on that weekend, but I am grateful for the exercise in letting go that came from the experience. It's been more than two months since the red notebook disaster took place and I haven't opened it once.



Friday, October 23, 2015

Placebo?

Last Sunday morning during a rainy morning jog in Seward Park, I listened to a podcast about the science of mindfulness with Ellen Langer.  At one point, Dr. Langer shared a quote (I can't remember from where) which was something like, "Placebo is a way of unlocking your brain's pharmacy." I had to stop running and jot it in my notes because it struck me so intensely.

For most of my life I have been "anti-medication." I once had a cough for six weeks straight and finally succumbed to the use of a steroid inhaler and Flonaze. Ultimately what cured me of that cough was acupuncture, further reinforcing my "anti" stance.

I believe that believing is powerful medicine. When Ellen Langer talked about the actual science of placebo, how using one's mind to alter one's body, I was hooked in, validated, inspired.

For years I've heard people suggest that Yoga is a placebo, that it really does nothing. Sure, many people who practice Yoga experience no real life change, physically, mentally, or emotionally, but I would contend that those of us who bring some intention, some belief into our practice, actually do experience life shifts on all levels.

It's subtle, the intention-bringing, and as much as I would love to hone this message down into three words, I cannot, because, above anything, I am truly a student of all of this, trying my best like everyone else.  What I do know is that becoming more mindful, more deliberate on our Yoga mats (and everywhere in our lives), comes from breaking down the moments into smaller moments that we can really digest and truly experience.

In Standing Head to Knee, as soon as you start to fold forward, are you already starting to think about kicking out? It's okay if you are, but try to slow down and just be bending. Experience that before you jump to the "one day moment" when your forehead will be on your knee. You will find your learning, both physically and mentally grows exponentially.

It's hard work. I am a colossal failure at being a mindful parent, for example. This morning, as I packed a lunch box and heated up a baguette for the family breakfast, I had a video from the Mindfulness Summit playing in the background. No small moments or digestible pieces in that picture. For me, my Yoga mat is my one true place. I am grateful for this space to live my life little by little, step by step. For me it's harder in other areas to bring this intentionality. For you, it might be your Yoga mat where you struggle. No matter where you are, what you're doing, just keep trying, baby step by baby step.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Fifth Grade Camp

Today Lucia went to Fifth Grade Camp with her school. It's two nights of 120 fifth graders staying in cabins on an island doing fifth grade stuff. Quite honestly, it might be a bigger deal for me than it is for her. Last night I wrote Lucia a letter with an emergency sesame snack and ear plugs.

I'm a sentimental mom. I always write Lucia notes when she goes on trips without me or when she goes to camp; I even write Lucia a little note everyday in her lunch box. I'm not sure if she even reads them, but I love to write them.

In her Fifth Grade Camp letter, I wished Lucia lots of adventures during her two days away. While writing, I thought about what is was like to be eleven. So much is new, exciting, a little bit scary. Last night Lucia was convinced that her suitcase was going to be the biggest one, that no one else would pack their sleeping bag and pillow in a Hefty trash bag, that bringing rain boots was silly.

In Lucia's Fifth Grade Camp letter, I talked about how ready she was for this new experience, how fun it would be to do all the amazing things only a critical mass of 10 and 11 year olds can do. As I wrote, I imagined all the new things the kids would have to negotiate without their parents-- who sleeps on the top bunk; where to stash dirty laundry; how to find the toilet in the middle of the night. And all of the amazing activities they'll do that will bond them during this tender prepubescent time-- campfire songs, Capture the Flag, ropes courses, baby crushes.

Almost all of the activities at Fifth Grade Camp-- the scary and the amazing-- will put Lucia and her peers outside of their comfort zone.  I worry that my kid will be the one who gets desperately homesick or the poor thing who breaks her wrist on the balance beam challenge course.  But if she does, it's still okay. She'll be doing something new, working shit out with her friends, learning to take steps into more independence.

Yoga takes me to this place sometimes. Hard to balance postures, teachers who hold me in one place until I feel as though I might die, resistance to practicing at all some days-- all of these experiences put me in a place that feels awkward, uncomfortable, sometimes downright bad. But when I've finished practice and roll up my mat, I feel good. I got through it. I did it.

I'll pick Lucia up from the Fifth Grade Camp bus on Friday afternoon. I can so clearly imagine it. Her hair will be greasy. Her jeans will be filthy.  She will be ready to get home and back to her comfy bed, her stack of books. But in my image of picking her up, I also envision Lucia's exhausted face radiating the glow of strength, courage, and pride because it was a little hard, a little intense, but in the end, she did it.


Thursday, October 8, 2015

What's in a number?

We've just started offering 60 minute classes at The SweatBox. As you might expect, they are faster moving, with fewer breaks and more flow. They are fast and fun and different.

Why take a 60-minute class when you could take a 90 minute class? Why take a 90-minute class when you could take a 60-minute class? Here's my explanation, and like all of my blog posts, it's personal, but I am posting it because I think it might help you understand how to get the most out of your Yoga practice, regardless of how many minutes it is!

When you take a 90-minute class at The SweatBox, we give you lots of rests, fairly long stints in Savasana where you have to work at keeping your mind calm. It's a big part of the practice. In addition to the incredible physical challenges that come your way during the 90-minute class, you are asked to find mental stillness. The quiet between the postures challenges you to override your pounding heart beat and mental madness.

In a 60-minute class, you are working consistently hard with minimal breaks. You have much less time to be physically still. This kind of pacing offers a different kind of mental "wind down." You're really moving the whole time and those quiet moments in Savasana where distracting thoughts or temptations to fidget with clothes, hair, water, just aren't there. All of your energy is going to the physical practice so your chattering mind is at rest.

Each experience requires a different kind of discipline. There is no better, no worse. You might prefer one practice one day, another a different day. Or maybe one just fits into your schedule better one day. There is value in both practices, and we can deepen our Yoga practice by opening ourselves up to the differences, noticing what skills and strengths we bring to each practice, how we feel during and after each practice.





Monday, October 5, 2015

Beep Test

Yesterday Lucia said she wanted to go running. She and I go running a few times a month, usually when she instigates it. It was a leisurely Sunday and we ran down to Seward Park, her young, lithe, little body next to my older, clunkier one.

As we ran, we chatted. It was nice. There's something about talking while running that feels easier, freer. "Mom," Lucia said, "I want to run more regularly so I can be the top scorer on the Beep test at school." The Beep test is a test in gym that measures stamina and speed. "I'm already one of the top scorers for girls, but I want to beat the boys," Lucia chattered on as she galloped along next to me.

Had we not been running, I might have taken this opportunity to make some kind of a lesson out of this statement. You don't need to compete. You're perfect just the way you are. It's not about winning. But I didn't. I thought to myself, "Why not?" Why not try to beat the boys? If this ten-year-old child wants to train her body to run faster and longer, who am I to tame that dream?

Later on the way to meet some friends at a pumpkin patch, I asked Lucia what she thought she'd do when she grew up. As usual, her immediate reply was, "I don't know." I pushed a little bit, "If you had to say one thing, right now, no choice, what would it be? No right, no wrong...." She thought and thought and thought. "A soccer player," she said.

Carl Jung said, “Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.” I think about how often I want to jump into Lucia's brain and direct her, to steer her in a direction I wish I had been steered in my own childhood. 

When Lucia said she wanted to be a soccer player, I had to glue my tongue to the roof of my mouth to hold in the words in my brain "I thought you wanted to be a surgeon?!" Being a parent is a constant exercise in letting go of expectations and making room for surprises. Last month Lucia did want to be a surgeon, and this month, right now, in this moment in time, she wants to be a soccer player. And she wants to kick ass on the Beep Test.

We do it with our children and we do it with ourselves- impose limits, expectations, think in terms of decades instead of days or hours. I am grateful for the little jog on the lake with Lucia, a moment in time that reminds me to appreciate the moments and live in the present.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Notice the moon.

What might happen?
If the shelving for the new bathrooms isn't built on time?
If the art isn't all hung?
If there is not enough cheese at the party?
If I don't have time to make the brownies?
If the ballet bar doesn't get rehung?
If I don't have time to set up the desk?
If my cold gets worse and worse and worse and I lose my voice and I can't teach on our first day open?

These are all thoughts that interrupted me as I mediated this morning at 5:00am. I can't sleep. I can't fall asleep and I can't stay asleep. At times like this I remind myself to be grateful for those nights where I can go into that deep warm tunnel of slumber. I'll get back there soon I hope, but right now that place is very, very elusive.

My thoughts, the plague of perfection, are the reason Yoga is so important to me. For me, Yoga is like a squeegee that wipes away all of the writing on a wipe board at the end (or the beginning) of the day. Mental floss, many people call it.

What I miss when my brain, my life, become so encumbered with these thoughts, is the wholeness of life. Like yesterday morning when I was hanging the mirrors at the studio and my friend Kate called to ask if I thought a Halloween game of Capture the Flag in a cemetery was weird. I was too crazed to answer the call, but when I listened to her message later, I thought how fun it would have been to talk about that idea with her.

Or last night at 7:00pm when I was scrubbing the men's dressing room floors and Nancy called to remind me to look at the blood moon. I raced through my cleaning to go outside. I drove like a maniac home to get to a place where I could see it. By the time I finally got to enjoy the majesty of the moon we only see once every 18 years, I was agitated and exhausted. Seeing the moon was like one more thing to check off my list.

So what would happen if I didn't get any of that stuff done? I would disappoint people. I would disappoint myself. I would feel angry at the contractor who I adore for failing me. I would fear the anger from my students for not having my shit together. But the world would go on. No one would miss the brownies or the cheese.

It goes back to the lesson I try to teach daily in Yoga. "Do your best." If I shake things up and talk to myself like I would talk to my 10-year old daughter, I would be so much more compassionate, loving, forgiving.  "Lucia," I would say, "did you try your best?" I would reach out my arms and pull her towards me and sit her long legs sideways across mine and let her put her head on my shoulder. "Yes," she'd say. And we'd sit like that for a while, letting that idea sink in.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Yom Kippur

Today is Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. I am what you might call Jewish-ish. My mother is not Jewish so that makes me unofficial to lots of folks. But my dad was Jewish and my stepmother and stepfather are both Jewish. I've related culturally to Judaism for the bulk of my life. I celebrate sporadically most holidays, except for Yom Kippur.

I always fast on this day, no matter what else going on. My partner Nancy jokingly says I fast because I have remnants of an adolescent eating disorder. But it's not that. It's so much more. In my life challenge to get conscious, to be present, to live in the moment, there is a great tangibility to those struggles when I fast.

If I were a truly observant Jew, I would not be working today. I would not be writing or going to Yoga in an hour. The one thing I do is fast. During many many moments of the day, I feel myself hungry and then I am reminded that today I will not eat until sundown. This prompts me to think about what I have done in the year behind me that I wish I had done differently or better. Ways I could have acted kinder or more generously. Times when I could have listened more whole-heartedly to my partner or my child or my friends or my employees.

I do not self- flagellate on this day. I reflect. I notice those hungry moments and take in the thoughts that accompany them.  I make commitments for the future. I will not respond to texts during dinner. I will wait a few more minutes before answering that heated email. I will always say "I love you" when I can.

Tonight we will have a Break Fast, when we celebrate at sundown by eating together. This is another beautiful moment for me on this day. Most days I eat on the run or sporadically, unconsciously. Yesterday, after 8 hours of work, before another 3, I grabbed a bar from my glove box and plowed on. Tonight when I eat, it will be different. The anticipation of the first bite, the sensation of swallowing, the joy in eating together with people I love, are all moments that I often miss, being present, conscious, awake.

Life will continue on as normal tomorrow, hopefully with some residual memory of where I am today. These hours of fasting will change me a little bit. I will be in the world a little more alert, engaged.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

We're Molting






I've been regularly posting photos of The SweatBox remodel on Facebook to keep people in the know about where we are in the process. Today one of our regular students Carlo commented on a photo I posted with "You're molting." 

This process of recreating one of the most important spaces in my world has been fun, creative, and exciting. It's also been GRUELING. I feel like there's a pinball machine living in my head and there is unlimited play. I find closure on one idea (floor color will be Merlot), another one comes, bounces around for a while, and is then replaced and replaced and replaced. It shouldn't surprise me. I've done more remodels that most normal people-- big ones, small ones, business ones, home ones. They're all taxing, but in the end, incredibly rewarding.
The comment Carlo made, "You're molting" gave me a new lens in which to see this renovation process. To "MOLT", according to Wikipedia:

"In biologymolting , also known as sloughingshedding, or in many invertebratesecdysis, is the manner in which an animal routinely casts off a part of its body (often, but not always, an outer layer or covering), either at specific times of the year, or at specific points in its life cycle.



Yes! We are shedding our old skin, even different body parts and making room for the new-- new energy, new floors, new paint. But what also speaks to me in this Wikipedia definition is the idea of a life cycle. The SweatBox is 14 years old. Full on puberty. This makes sense. We're finding our voice, forging our path, creating our independence. 

As we do when we move from middle school to high school, we are casting off the stagnancy of our awkward junior high years and deciding who we want to be now.  I remember the time in my own life. No more quilted Japanese jackets courtesy of my grandfather's travels to Asia. No more Danish sweaters (from my mom's childhood trunk). I would choose my own 1980s style- berets and double belts, lots of ear piercings. Thank God I've moved on from that style!

It's exciting, this molting. I imagine how much energy goes into a Hermit crab sloughing it's shell and then having to rebuild a new exoskeleton. That's what's happening now at The SweatBox. We've molted- shed the old, and are steadily creating our new home.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Make space to become creative.

When the Seattle Public School teachers started grumbling about a strike a few days before school started I talked to my teacher friend Kate about it. She schooled me on some of the issues, one of them being a decent amount of recess. Actually the teachers are only asking for a half-hour of recess which, if you ask me, isn't really decent, but it's a lot better than nothing.

We are heading into the fifth day of a Seattle Public Schools strike and, while I am getting a bit nervous, maybe even slightly scared of what will come, I fully support the plight of the teachers for more money, more control over testing and evaluation, and more RECESS. We don't think about recess much as adults. We grow up and it's time to go to work. Most of us squeeze in play time and don't give ourselves much of a chance to let loose and shake off our worries like we used to on the playground during recess.

I recently listened to a podcast by a neuropsychologist named Rex Jung who studies creativity. We cannot be in a constant state of knowledge acquisition, he says. We need to give our brain a chance to check out a bit, to have recess, in order to spread out and open up, to put things together. This is how creativity comes to us.

The teachers' strike comes at an interesting time for me. I planned The SweatBox remodel during this first week of school, after a busy summer filled with child care duties, knowing that I'd have lots of time to be at the studio-- working, planning, organizing, getting shit done. And I am, but this strike, and some of the teachers' motivation behind it, reminds me that part of getting my brain into a state of creativity-- making the new schedule, choosing the best paint colors, placing the art--- means shutting it off a little bit too.

During most of the year I use my Yoga practice as my recess. Or I go for a run. But when I'm very busy, like when I'm cramming a pretty significant renovation into 10 days, those practices fall away. "This is time limited," I tell myself. "After a week I'll be back to my regular activities. I can hunker down and be all in for this remodel until it's done. " I can do that, but should I? After hearing that podcast and listening to the teachers' share their passion for balanced learning through this strike, I'm pretty sure it's not the best approach for me.

On Thursday the contractors are grinding down the floors of the studio. It will be messy and loud. Today Darrell, my wonderful, very creative contractor said, "Laura, on Thursday and Friday it's going to be chaotic as hell in here. Take your daughter and go to the ocean. Turn your brain off and don't think about this project for a few days." That sounds like a really good idea. Unless, of course, there's school.....


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Best is Yet to Come



In 2012, after many years of avoiding and side-stepping, Barak Obama made the public statement that he was in favor of legalizing gay marriage. It is a rare moment when a very public figure declares, with grace and humility, that he has evolved, changed, grown. Obama's public acknowledgment was a humble gift to his public. It wasn't just his proclamation that he changed his opinion that touched so many; it was his public acknowledgment that he had evolved. Ultimately after the Supreme Court decision in June 2015, Obama came out in exultant celebration of legalized gay marriage.

"Progress on this journey often comes in small increments, sometimes two steps forward, one step back, propelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens," he said. "And then sometimes, there are days like this when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt."

That famous moment in time changed the lives of millions. 
Why did Obama change his mind? What small experiences in his life led him to open his heart and face his fears? Did he meet one person who radically changed his perspective? Or was it incremental, like he suggested, "two steps forward, one step back," lots of little experiences that ultimately shifted his perspective? I'm not sure it matters. When people open their minds to new and different ideas, when they face their fears, change comes and good things happen.

For the last two decades, Yoga has occupied a significant place in my heart and in my mind. I have deep gratitude for the way my practice has grounded me. For the past few years though, my Yoga has started to feel less like grounding and more like an anchor; I have noticed myself feeling stuck. I still love it, and I feel myself going through an evolution. A dedicated Bikram practitioner for over twenty years, I have found myself questioning my loyalty to a single practice, wondering if I am doing justice to myself and my students by practicing and offering just one style of Yoga. It is not that I have fallen out of favor with the practice. No way. I love the Yoga and I feel grateful that my 46-year-old knees can do the things they do. I thank my Bikram practice for that.

My personal perspective vis-a-vis Yoga has been to keep it safe, familiar-- Bikram Yoga is what I do. Bikram Yoga is what I know. And so, like Obama, I have clung tightly to what I know, what feels safe and free of conflict. My evolution has come in the form of many little baby steps of curiosity. What else is out there? Who else is wandering the streets of this amazingly Yoga saturated city? What are the students learning? What are the teachers saying? And so I began exploring. I went on my own Yoga adventure. It was scary at first to dive into this new world. I took lots of different classes, talked to different teachers, dipped my toes in the scary waters  of  "What if?" 
And here's what I've found. Like Obama, I take two steps forward--Vinyasa Flow is hard and fun! And one step back-- I need my Bikram to keep my knees healthy and my hips open. Hot Fusion is so efficient. But Bikram lets me really relax mentally. And with every new Yoga experience I have (and there are a lot of choices out there!), I find my perspective shifting. I want my home practice, my stable, grounding, familiar Bikram practice. And I want more. The world of Yoga has grown in leaps and bounds. The community has gone from itty bitty to ginormous in the past two decades. 

What I teach my students every day when I am at the front of the class guiding them is to take risks, to have adventure, to be open. And so here I sit, writing this proclamation of my own, acknowledging that I have had a closed mind, that I have been afraid. In my recent Yoga adventure I've seen so many great things, Bikram Yoga included. How will the future of The SweatBox look? Of course we'll maintain our regular amazing classes and teachers; changes will be slow and steady.The beautiful bright cherry red door that opens into The SweatBox will still open into The SweatBox. Who we are fundamentally will not change. We will always be caring, compassionate, knowledgeable teachers, committed to our students. But our door will be open a little bit wider, making room for new ideas, new visions. And if you're scared, tentative about the changes, I want you to know that I get it. I've been there. I still go there. But my mind is open now and it feels good! Remember your daily Yoga practice--everyday is different; it is a process that never ends. As we move into the future SweatBox, remind yourself that we are all a part of this process of discovery. Where this journey will take us isn't clear. If it was, it wouldn't be a journey. One thing I know for sure is that the best is yet to come. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

I get by with a little help from my friends.

On Friday at 3:00pm I headed back from Shoreline to Seattle. I had scheduled a 4:00pm meeting with my friend Genessa in Columbia City and a 5:00pm meeting with my friend Molly in Mount Baker. I'm never late, and often have to force myself not to be early.

At 3:45pm I had only gotten about 40 blocks on Aurora so I called Genessa and told her there was no way that I'd get to her by 4:00pm. She called me and we did some of our meeting on the phone. Genessa was completely empathetic to my situation. She told me how she'd been in gridlock two days before and had almost called the Seattle non-emergency police number to get out of it.

By this point, I had gotten off in Fremont to try and circumnavigate the traffic. After about 45 minutes of almost getting killed by doing illegal sprints across different intersections, I realized that the Fremont Bridge was also not an option.  I headed towards the University Bridge. I realized after 20 minutes that I'd never get over it so I turned back towards Fremont where I found myself hitting another wall of despair. I turned around again and headed down Northlake thinking, if I could just get to the Montlake Bridge, I could make my way to Lake Washington and finally get back to the south end. An aerial view of my car would have looked like a PacMan guy spazzing out.

I was completely clear at this point that I was not going to get to Molly's house in South Seattle by 5:00pm. Molly is a Seattle native. She's also got a really solid head on her shoulders and is one of the best people I know to help process and/or put out fires. I texted Molly that I'd never get there in time (for those of you wondering about all this texting in the car, I use voice texting).


Molly's response, "Take deep breaths and relax into it" was the last communication I had with anyone until I finally pulled into my driveway at 6:00pm. After getting Molly's text, I spent another 40 minutes trying to get to the Montlake Bridge, but once I got over, it was relatively smooth sailing.

The traffic was bad that day. Really bad, and I had no control. Nobody had any control. Yet somehow I thought that I alone could figure it out. I knew, after trying nine different routes, that crossing the Ship Canal was going to  be a long journey on that Friday afternoon, but I couldn't accept it. I had things to do, places to be. I couldn't let go of that, so I couldn't let go of the traffic. In not letting go, my anxiety was building. I had to pee. I was hungry. My schedule was being jacked. I was lost in it and unable to break out of my mental chaos.

Enter Molly. Molly's words were just what I needed to get out of my mental spider web. Sometimes, even when we know a truth, it takes an outside reminder to jog it into our consciousness. Thanks Molly. I'm grateful for friends like you who help me put out the fires.




Friday, July 31, 2015

You know what? You're really aggravatin' me.

Last week we hosted our three nieces (Lauren: 18, Nicole: 16 and Kaye:10 years old) plus one nephew, Will, age 7 from New Orleans. Our household isn't quiet-- Nancy and Lucia are big hip-hop fans and, unlike me, they love loud music-- but our household is generally calm. We're all big readers, we like to take baths, eat home-cooked, sit-down meals, play Scrabble.

Having five kids really takes parenting to a new level, even for one short week. I have all new respect for you parents of the masses. You are the shit. The grocery bill alone could bankrupt us. Besides the fact that the shopping selection has to accommodate all the different palate and dietary needs, there are so many mouths to feed.

On the flip-side, having an almost complete soccer team all the time is super fun. We went white water rafting, to a soccer game, took light rail, jumped off the magic tree in Seward Park, paddle boarded, played 1014 games of Bullshit and, when we weren't cooking huge vats of things to feed the masses, we ate dinner and lunch and breakfast all over Seattle. By the end of the seven days, we were all exhausted, in the very best way.

A few days before the nieces and nephew left, we had a big party to celebrate. The party went late and little Will lost his mojo. We put him to bed while the other kids and grown-ups were still raging. As I rubbed Will's back, talking him through a guided relaxation that I have done for years with Lucia, he seemed like he was drifting off. I started to rub his back more slowly and more lightly, employing my well-honed technique that allows me to leave the sleeping child without them knowing. Just as I thought he was asleep, Will turned to me and said, in a tone similar to something you might hear Danny DeVito's character Louie DePalma from Taxi say, "Y'know what? You're really aggravatin' me." I kept rubbing his back, and within minutes, Will was fast asleep.

The morning everyone left, I took Frani's class. Besides one home practice, I hadn't done Yoga in a week and I was really in need. We've been doing significant of changes in The SweatBox infrastructure and the details associated with this in conjunction with parenting five kids, had rendered me a little bit psychotic and a little bit catatonic. Finding my peace in the Yoga room was going to be tough. As Frani talked us into our first Savasana, I had a flash of Will's proclamation, "Y'know what? You're really aggravatin' me." And I could relate. I could totally relate. The voice in my head that was coaxing me to relax, to let go, to find peace was incredibly aggravating!  In that moment of trying to relax, I had literally hundreds of ideas, decisions, negotiations, that occupied every cell of my body.  Trying to disengage from that web was going to take more than a few encouraging words.

And then, like I often tell you guys when I'm the teacher, I told myself, "Laura, just keep trying." I did. And I got there. I found it. My peace. My breath. Myself.  Remember: the aggravation, frustration, irritation that often accompany Savasana are all part of the process. If your path was always direct, if you could always easily get to a place of relaxation, you wouldn't need Yoga. When you have those days, when you think you'll never get to relaxation, just keep trying. When you finally get there, it's a good, good feeling.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Confetti


When I teach Yoga my experience is always unique. Depending on the size, composition, intensity of the class, different things happen every time. A few weeks ago when I was teaching, I had this image, right at the end of class, of confetti floating around the room.

As a student of Yoga, I am familiar with the feeling of stirring things up in different postures. Oftentimes in Yoga, my mind is like a slide show. I'm thinking, then taking myself back to my quiet breath. I'm overheating and taking myself back to my calm focus. Sometimes thoughts I have in Yoga come back to me hours or days later. Some of them I never think about again. It's all part of what makes Yoga Yoga. We quietly let go of some things, and we become shockingly conscious of other things.

When we practice Yoga of any kind, there are releases happening all the time. It's what makes it feel so different, so good, so satisfying. We move our bodies into new and different positions and this also affects our brains, our hearts, our souls. By the end of the class, it's anyone's guess what's really going on inside. The mystery is part of the beauty.

And so that day when I was teaching, I envisioned confetti. The eighteen hard-working students were lying in Savasana, seemingly quiet, still, and calm. Through their hard work, they had used, and also released a lot of energy. It was whirring around the room, like a windy ticker tape parade. These newly cleansed bodies stayed in their quietude as I prepared to leave the Yoga room.  I could see it in my mind's eye so clearly, like confetti, the energy in the room moving. It would settle somewhere, at some point, but none of us knew exactly where. It was so beautiful to watch everyone, perfect in their stillness, open and ready to find out what would come from this festival of energy. Yoga, it's always a party.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Embrace the glory!

Have you ever done something you thought you could never do? Was it so out of your personal realm of possibility that you surprised yourself when it happened?

Since watching the Women's World Cup Soccer game last Sunday, I have been thinking about Carli Lloyd. Did she surprise herself with that hat trick? I read an article after that amazing show of talent and grace that Carli Lloyd actually visualized that she would score four goals at the finals against Japan on Sunday. She made three of those four goals--- in the first sixteen minutes of the game!

For me, the mother of a ten-year-old soccer player and fan who wears her hair now exactly like Alex Morgan, the young, highly endorsed star of the U.S. team (pony tail and stretchy pink headband), I am thrilled at the results of this year's World Cup. The are so many lessons to learn in watching those women play, for adults and kids alike.

When Carli Lloyd scored her third goal from mid-field, I felt my heart stop for a moment. For real. The shot alone was miraculous, but the third one, by the same player, in the first sixteen minutes of the game. It was almost too much to bear. How did Carli feel? How did her teammates and her coach feel? How does one process that amount of glory?

For most of us in our lifetimes, we won't have that degree of triumph in such a short window of time. But we can all have small moments and we owe it to ourselves to revel in those snippets of time, to embrace the glory that comes with surprising ourselves when we show up in new and different ways.

It happens for me in Yoga when I'm in a period of being well-rested, injury free, and full of clear intentions for my practice. In these times, I surprise myself and it feels great. I've written about this before-- about how Nancy and other students smile when they have unexpected moments in their Yoga practice. There's nothing better than witnessing those moments; I wish them upon all of my students, at least one time during every practice.

Oftentimes I invite my students to set their intention for what they want from their Yoga class and I usually set an intention for myself when I practice. The invitation to myself since watching the Women's World Cup is to explore new territory for where I can set my intentions-- to think about all of the places I can visualize and be open to thrilling surprises. It is, of course, in my Yoga practice, but it's also everywhere in the world-- in my work, my relationship, my role as parent, friend, sister, daughter, aunt and neighbor. Thank you Carli and all of the players on the U.S. World Cup team for the inspiration!




Friday, July 3, 2015

Panic first. Breathe later.

It's ten degrees hotter right now in Portland than it is in Seattle. Isn't that weird? I always imagine that Seattle and Portland have the same weather. When I was driving down here yesterday, I watched the outside temperature gauge on my car go from 85 to 93 to 97.  When I stopped for gas in Chehalis, I noticed that there was something dripping from the engine. A natural born panicker, I immediately popped the hood and poked around to find the radiator. Having no idea what I was looking for, I went around to my passenger door to dig out the manual from my glove box.

As I pulled out emergency energy bars and spare tampons from the glove compartment to dig out the instructions, a nice woman from Chehalis peeked her face around and kindly asked, "Something dripping?"

"Do you know anything about cars?" I whined.  Visions of being stranded with a broken car had already started infiltrating my headspace.

"It's the air conditioning," she said frankly. "I freaked out the first time I saw this too. It's just condensation."

"You saved me!" I smiled at her, thanking her profusely for taking me off the cliff with her mechanical expertise. I felt my heart rate slow down and my breathing return to normal.

That's when I realized that I have, in my four years of owning this car, never used my air conditioning for any sustained period of time. Now I know that there will be condensation under my engine when I use the air conditioning and I won't panic in the future. Why do I always go to panic first, before gathering full information? I think it is partly nature and partly nurture, and at this point, being almost fifty years old, I don't really care why, I just want to alter my future path so my heart doesn't do somersaults with every unknown that crosses my path.

I've been teaching Bikram Yoga for close to fifteen years, practicing for over twenty. I love teaching. I love my students. I love practicing. And, I want to keep growing. So, over the last several months, in an effort to improve my own teaching and practicing, I have been on an expedition to take many different kinds of Yoga classes with teachers I've never had.  I recognize, before every new class, every new teacher, that I get that panicky feeling of entering into the unknown. I feel my heart rate speed up, my breath get a little shallow.  Then, after class, I am pleasantly rewarded with the feeling of having successfully traversed my resistant path. I am breathing again and can experience that good feeling that comes after a Yoga class.

I could write twenty pages about this. My "panic first, breathe later" approach to life is exhausting and demoralizing at times; I feel like I've been trying to "solve" this problem for my whole adult life. But, as much as I hate the fact that panic takes up so much of my energy, I can appreciate that it is the entranceway to another really important road that I must travel. It is from the point of panic that I find my way to calm. And there's no better feeling than that.







Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Be All In. (Thanks Jen)

The other day I took a Vinyasa class from a really amazing instructor, Jen. I loved her voice. I loved her class. I loved her message. One of the things she said has been burning through my brain for a week. "Be all in" she said. I think she only said it once, but it hooked in and stayed with me.

I've had an upsetting few days due to things happening in my world that are beyond my control. Life feels like it is on high speed and my steering wheel is broken. This morning I really needed Yoga.  As I got my mat set up to take Frani's class,  I told myself to use this 90-minutes wisely. I recommitted during Pranayama deep breathing to be here. To be all in.

During Frani's class, I kept finding myself surprised to be at the posture. "Arms over your head," Frani would say and, as if waking up from a nap, I'd catch up to her setting us up in Half-Tortoise. It felt so good. I really was all in. The gift was that, for those 90-minutes I got a break from the troubles in my heart and head.

I waste so much time on a daily basis trying to slow down the everyday train I'm on. I push, pull, grind, always with the same result--- the brutal reality that I don't have control. It's in Yoga, of course,  that surrendering control gives me exactly what I need. Now, if I could just figure out how to do that during the rest of my life......

Monday, June 15, 2015

What resonates for you?

About 20 years ago, fresh out of graduate school, I ran a program for girls in the King County Juvenile Detention Center. The program, called YWSP (Young Women's Support Project) was designed to serve the emerging number of girls entering the criminal justice system. A lot of the girls were deemed criminals because they were chronically truant. Some were victims or really horrible home lives and were acting it out-- prostitution, using drugs. There wasn't a ton of robbery, burglary, murder, rape, etc.

The "issues" these girls came in with generally created harm to their own beings and not those of around them.  Because the girls were in juvie for really short spells (3-7 days usually), we tried to get them into the program as soon as they were booked into the facility. YWSP consisted of a social worker (me), a health educator, and a nurse. We structured the group as one big infusion- 2 1/2 hours of information sharing, team building, and light group therapy. It was intense-- intense enough that I only lasted a few years. And though teaching Yoga is a much better fit for me, I learned a lifetime in those few years.

Often, I'd see the same girls come into juvie over and over again, doing the same self-destructive behaviors. In a moment of hopelessness and despair, I said to my colleague Ann, "What's the point? This group isn't doing anything. I see the same faces over and over again."

"Laura," Ann said, in her wise, calm voice, "this is just the beginning. The girls are getting a taste of something, a moment where they see themselves differently, feel their feelings in a new way. They are being seen by others with a different lens, maybe a way they've never been seen before."

"It might be next week or next year," Ann went on, "but our hope is that one day, some day, these girls will be in an environment that is healthy, that supports and nurtures them and they will say 'ah-ha'; and the goodness within them will resonate. They will connect to it, and seek more of it."

I feel this in Yoga- both when I am practicing and teaching. There are these perfect moments of self-acceptance, or "being enough" that I notice when I practice. I see it in others when I am teaching. When I am out and about doing my life, I am reminded of these precious glimmers. When I am meeting with bureaucrats from the city or doing my taxes or hosting my in-laws, moments when I am susceptible to feeling swallowed up or overwhelmed, I can find a little bit of it.  The feeling of "I am enough." The feeling might be buried, but it's in there. It's familiar enough that often I can connect with it and feel the sense of goodness that comes along with it.

This morning when I was teaching I told my class to be open to those moments of calm, of peacefulness, quiet breathing, and try to connect with them. "It's practice for your brain," I told them, "and this practice will help you when you need it at other moments." It might take weeks or years, but it will come. All that you create in Yoga will come through for you when you need it.


Monday, June 8, 2015

Let there be light.

Every day at the studio I talk about the weather. I know it must be boring, borderline annoying. But it's so amazing right now. Everyone is so appreciative, so grateful. One of the best things about living in Seattle is the light. We go for months without having it, but when it comes, it is a wonder. For the last few weeks I have heard the birds chirping busily as early as 3:15am. It's my first alarm clock and by 5:30am, I am up and making coffee. I'm not tired and I don't begrudge leaving my cozy covers to start the day. The light is warm and inviting; it reminds me of the time I went to Santorini and opened my windows to the Aegean Sea for the first time.

On the landing down to the first floor lives one of the most stunning views in our house. It's all windows and you can see the lake, the I-90 bridge, and, on a clear day, Mount Baker in the distance. It's nearly impossible to feel resentment of any kind regardless of what hour of the day.

The early morning is my favorite time of the day and I am grateful to the birds waking me up to join them. Usually, in the early early hours, I drink my coffee and either read or write in a sunny spot in the house. It's a rare time to appreciate the light that I know will eventually fade and then leave us for many months. Do the birds know this too? Are they aware that they have to maximize their hours in the sun? Does the light make them as happy as it makes me?

On a sunny day like today, I will ride my bike to work. For several miles, my ride is along the lake. I'll ride by the ducks and coots and cormorants, and maybe a lone heron busily doing their day's work on the lake. I'll ride by men and women running, walking, riding their bikes in the sun, happy, smiling, glowing with the energy that comes from all of this beautiful light. It is as if the added hours of the day change us somehow-- our bodies, our brains, our hearts.

How can I hold onto this feeling?  Store it up? Remember it when November comes? Or is this just part of the rain dance. Can we only be this happy with the new light because we live in the darkness for so many months of the year? Maybe. When I am at work today I know I will talk about the weather. Again. I won't be able to help myself. When I do, please forgive me. It's just my way of being grateful for Seattle in the summer.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

I don't knowwwwww...

My daughter Lucia can play piano and guitar, do geometry, read adult books, and play soccer, all really well. She's a hard worker, a good listener (sometimes) and can really focus when she wants to. Her weakest link is decision-making. Whether it be what to eat for dinner, who to invite for a sleepover, what color undershirt to wear, she becomes a complete bonehead. I have theories as to why she might struggle. As the child of divorce myself, I can relate to the divided loyalties that Lucia, as a singleton with divorced parents, experiences as a daily part of her life. Lucia is also a perfectionist and she overthinks every decision. Her prefrontal cortex is way over-active.

When Lucia gets stuck on a decision, "Mommy, I don't know..... I can't decide.... what do you think?",  I try to encourage her to go to the feeling. "Close your eyes," I coax, "and just try to feel what you want. Try not to think about it." Sometimes she can get there, but more often, she just panics and, like ripping off a scab, she makes the decision as quickly as possible.

I'm forty-six years old, and, like Lucia, a perfectionist. If I choose the Carbonara, will I wish I'd chosen the Bolognese? Will salad be too much? Malbec or Tempranillo? Which is the one I really like? Should I text Nancy to see if she remembers if that was the kind I had in New York? Packing for a trip is a saga every time. I love my yellow slacks, but will I really wear them? Does it make more sense to just bring the black, even though the weather is so unpredictable and it might be hot and then I'll really wish I had the yellow... or what about shorts. Shorts might be good. I might really be bummed if I don't have shorts. Maybe I can borrow shorts? But what if they don't fit? I guess I could always go to Target and get some emergency shorts! Jesus Christ! It never stops.

So, finding a way to slow down the brain, get to the feeling, is an important life skill for me to develop. And, it's something I want to do my best to impart to Lucia so she can spend her future days with a little more peace of mind.

For me, releasing the over-thinking only consistently happens in one place-- Yoga. When I practice, especially at the beginning of class, when I am filled with resistance, residual static from life still coursing through my veins, the only way for me to actually get through the postures is to put all of my energy--mental and physical-- into what I'm doing. Usually, by about fifteen minutes into class, I am where I want to be. I am in a different brain state. My reptilian brain is turned on more than my neocortex and I can literally feel a state of calm take over while crazy brain takes a nap.

It is often when I am teaching, when I can see the bodies of other humans, that I start to understand what happens for me in my own practice. Yesterday I had a class with a handful of strugglers. Seeing their bodies, I could imagine what was going on in their minds, and I could totally relate. "Try not to think so much," I said, "just feel what you need, and give yourself that." It's a hard place to get, and it can take years of committed practice to get there.

This permission to simply feel what you need or want, and give it to yourself, is a huge part of Yoga practice. You are not performing, not competing, not trying to be perfect. You are simply practicing--practicing the physical postures as well as the mental exercise of listening to your feelings instead of your thoughts. This mental exercise tells you when you need a break, when you can give more, when you need to cry, laugh, breathe. You'll start to notice both inside and outside of the Yoga room, that life feels easier. Your brain is like a muscle. Like your quads eventually develop the strength to hold you in Standing Bow Pose, your brain will get stronger with practice. Take if from me, packing, though still intense, is way easier than it used to be!


Saturday, May 30, 2015

Angel Wings & Heartache


Last night Lucia and and I had a "sleepover." Nancy's out of town and Lucia slept in bed with me.  The "sleepover" is a long tradition that usually involves going out to dinner and having some kind of treat. At the end, she always gets to sleep in my bed. Last night we ate shaved chow mien at Shanghai Garden, watched Pirates of the Caribbean on my laptop, shared a $100,000 Bar and stayed up till 10:30pm. This morning the birds woke me up at the crack and I carefully peeled Lucia's long clammy leg off of mine to get up without waking her. Lucia is only 10, but, as Nancy's Southern mom Gloria says, "she's a tall drink of water"--all arms and legs.  This morning when I stood above Lucia and saw her shoulder blades, "angel's wings," I've heard them called, I was hit with a combination of utter adoration, sheer love, and heartache. When did her chubby little arms became long, bony shoulders?

I've been struggling lately with getting older myself. I've had injuries I didn't used to have. I have far more responsibility than I ever believed I would take on. I find myself navigating emotional and relationship issues in a much different way than I did in my younger years. It feels like a continuous letting go and moving on.

But watching my child so early in her own growing up process, moving at what seems to me, breakneck speed, invokes feelings of seasickness mixed with being just a little bit stoned. I can see myself in her. I had the same gangly body, big feet, straight hair, and love of books. I can see myself in 4th grade, hanging on to the last vestiges of childhood.

I just gave Lucia permission to read The Hunger Games. She's been persistently begging for over six months. I finally conceded, with the caveat that I read it first. What an amazing story. The main character, Katniss, a capable, competent, fierce sixteen-year-old, is a fitting role model for a 10-year-old girl (even though she does have to kill a lot people). I'm grateful Lucia wants to read that and not Teen Vogue.

This morning as I looked at Lucia's angel wings, I felt gratified that she still wants to have sleepovers with me. And I felt sad that soon she would enter a time (like all girls do) when she will be self-conscious of her long arms, when she won't seek my permission to read certain books. I tell myself every day that, though we have similarities, Lucia is not me. Maybe she'll be like Katniss, much fiercer, more focused, and fascinating than I ever was. I don't know. I can't know.

It's another letting go for me, a big one. For now, I can appreciate Lucia's little angel wings, the space between child and other, where she currently exists. I can focus on the delight we share in talking about Katniss' adventures, having sleepovers, and eating candy together. I sometimes ask Lucia if she worries at all. About getting older? About things changing? These days, she says no. I guess that means she's still a kid. For now.