Saturday, January 30, 2016

To be a teacher

Yesterday I had a conversation with two SweatBox teachers, Frani and Rachael, about how we feel about being teachers. Sometimes I cannot believe that I've been practicing yoga for 23 years. When I started practicing at age 24, I never thought I'd become a teacher.  In retrospect, I think I leaned into yoga because my dad was at the beginning of a three year battle with cancer which would ultimately take his life. Yoga was a new hobby, an exotic adventure, a place to escape the sorrow of my father's sickness and death. Of the 15 years that I've been a teacher, I would say I've really only been truly teaching for about half that time.

As a new teacher, I had so much to learn. A few years into my teaching career, I had a baby, a physical and emotional journey that took all of my love, energy and attention. I took six weeks off from teaching when Lucia was born, but went right back to a regular schedule after that break. I taught, I worked hard, I gave it my all, but I can see now that, though I thought I was all there, my focus was with my baby; as much as I loved teaching, my heart was always with the tiny being who needed me to survive.  I was always happiest when I could get back to her and press my nose to her tiny, delicious head while she nursed or hear her breathing while she napped beside me.

A few years after that, I went through a brutal heart-break-- betrayal, confusion, despair. I taught through that period as well, sometimes hiding my tears while I taught with the sweat that came from the hot room. As much as I wanted to be all in with my teaching, I could not because all of my resources went to tending my broken heart.

My daughter is now 11, spreading her wings, needing space, forging the beginnings of her adolescent path. My heart is healed and I have found new, enduring love. Through all of this, I have been a "yoga teacher." And through all of this, I have been learning, healing, evolving as a teacher. I often tell my students that it is in the struggle, the discomfort, that change comes. I really hated being away from my baby when she could barely hold her head up. And when all I wanted to do was weep from heartache, to stay in bed and indulge that need, I still taught. I had a job to do. I was, and I am a teacher.

As I look back at my fifteen years of doing this work, I am grateful that I had and still have yoga--as a student and a teacher-- to shepherd me through whatever else is going on in my life. There is a beautiful process that happens between a teacher and students, a subtle, symbiotic process. I can see now that, for me living through those struggles, with my students and with my teachers, I have become a stronger teacher, a more empathic, present, and passionate teacher. And it makes me realize too, how much there is still to learn, how wide open and expansive the space is for me to grow personally and as a teacher.

What I've thought about most from that short conversation with Frani and Rachael yesterday is how grateful I am to be a teacher and a student. I have profound, immeasurable gratitude for all of the teachers and students in my life who make up this complex universe of change and growth. Thank you.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Guest Blogger- The Evolution of the New SweatBox by Darrell Cooley

When I first saw The SweatBox in the summer of 2015, is was from across the street through a tangle of trucks, men, and equipment in the process of making a new sidewalk out front. A little jewel waiting to be uncovered, standing alone like an island in the middle of a flood tide called that is slowly but surely saturating every corner of our beloved Capitol Hill with new high rise apartments, restaurants, and people.
            The awesome old style steel roll-up door was wide open allowing the late summer sun to saturate every corner of the ‘feng shui infraction’ lobby; spilling a soft shaft of light into the muted studio that swirled through the studio where people had sweat out their demons for the last fourteen years. My kind of place!
            Good resonance with the building and good resonance with the owner and so it is time to figure out the remodel plan. Sometimes a project will speak to you; we could hear voices as we looked around and the format unfolded, both physically and metaphysically; lots of light, love, feng shui, and Sacred Geometry.    
            The physical part of the project, floating bamboo floors, ground and polished concrete, new paint, showers, new entry desk, and lighting were woven together between Laura and myself. We had a great time and lots of fun recreating the finishes at the good old SweatBox; and working together was smooth and easy because Mr. Ego could not be found in this part of town.
            The metaphysical part that we incorporated is based upon building practices that I have had the good fortune to discover over the past 30+ years. Ancient builders and architects have used Sacred Geometry, golden mean, and Fibonacci components in buildings, places, and spaces all over the world for millennia. We like to use intention to work with golden mean proportions which we decided upon for all of the rectangles in the studio; and somehow seven such spaces appeared on the south wall, and seven is the number of chakras in the human body. 
So we painted the colors that correlate to the various chakras in the proper sequence across the seven spaces and then placed the corresponding Sanskrit symbols for each chakra in the appropriate rectangle--powerful palpable energy that permeates the entire yoga space with a somehow familiar song of peace and relaxation.
            The Flower of Life is also a favorite tool we like to use for lifting up the energy of any place, space or person. This is an incredible symbol that has been found all over the world in ancient and sacred sites. We painted the Flower of Life using stencils and golden spray paint on the concrete underneath the hardwood floor before we installed it.  There are over  fifty flowers underneath the studio floor putting out massive vibrations of light that that rise up through the bamboo and illuminate the room, kind of like a in-floor heating system of psychic energy.
            The crown jewel of our creation is the large Flower of Life that greets you like a huge search light beam of positive vibrations as you enter the lobby. It is so strong that we recommend seat belts for the overly sensitive people who might just fly away.  It was hand painted by a beautiful Russian Angel who somehow landed in the lobby for a few days and imparted some magic upon us all.  Another Golden Mean rectangle surrounds this incredible piece of art and comingles to greet everyone who enters with a 10.0 energy quake on the Renegade Richter Scale of seismic salutations. Can you feel it ?!
            It is always an honor to have to opportunity to participate on a project like this, and sometimes the work takes on a life of it’s own and we all just watch excitedly as it unfolds.  This was one of those times. Of course if you want to see the true source of the Energy that illuminates The SweatBox today, well if you get a chance just take a look into Laura’s eyes. End of Story!!!


About Darrell Cooley
Darrell was born into the building world and has been living there all of his life. Darrell's dad was a builder as are both of his brothers. About 40 years ago Darrell had the opportunity to travel to far away exotic lands-- India, Afghanistan, Nepal and many European countries. He has continued traveling extensively over the past few decades and visited many Sacred Sites all around the globe.  With an inherited eye for building methods and practices Darrell is constantly amazed at what ancient builders and designers manifested centuries and even millennia ago. Darrell has been incorporating some of these magical building formulas into his work for over 20 years now and continues to learn and be fascinated by the grace and beauty of the structures and places his ancestorial building colleagues created so many years ago.   


Last month I had a back-to-back mammogram and thyroid ultrasound. For those of you know what a mammogram feels like, you know that deep breathing and moderate dissociation is part of the process. Fewer of you have probably had a thyroid ultrasound. I have a nodule on my thyroid that I have to have ultrasounded every year. For the ultrasound, you have to lie very still with your head hanging slightly back. I was in that position for about 45 minutes last month.

I've never met a woman who's enjoyed a mammogram. It's just not pleasant, but we undergo the procedure because it's part of being a middle-aged female with breasts in the twenty-first century. Also, not uncommon for women their 40s is thyroid irregularities, hence my periodic thyroid ultrasound.

I attribute my good health to my twenty-odd years of regular yoga practice. My endocrinologist suggested that it is probably through Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee Pose that I have managed to slow the growth of my thyroid nodule. I am sure I've staved off joint pain and other age-related ailments through my practice as well.

During my day of procedures last month, I drew strength and calm from the most important part of my yoga practice- the relaxation postures. Every day that I practice, I work on creating a balance between exertion and relaxation. I toggle the two energies until I reach a state of equanimity.

It is often in the most unexpected of places that we recognize the significance of our passive yoga practice. We often celebrate the health benefits or our more active yoga practice-- smaller thyroid nodules, more energy, thinner arms. But the benefits that come from our passive asanas (corpse pose, child's pose) are oftentimes more subtle.

I felt grateful last month when I was forced to notice the benefits of my passive yoga practice. I won't say that either of the procedures I had were enjoyable. They weren't. But neither were they awful. They just were. I will have these procedures, probably every year or two for the rest of my life and I am grateful that I can stay calm, even relaxed while they are happening.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Polar Bear Plunge

I've written about my conversion from New Year's Resolution curmudgeon to enthusiastic espouser of setting intentions every January 1st. Every year, I sit down with my family and we make a big "Hopes and Dreams for 20XX" poster. We write them down and, if they let me, I hang it on a wall in our living room. Some of our hopes and dreams this year were:

  • Stay away from our devices when we are with each other.
  • Do chores.
  • Run twice a week.
  • Stop eating sugar.

Another New Year's tradition my daughter Lucia and I have every year is to do the Polar Bear Plunge in Lake Washington. In past years, a whole gaggle of friends has rallied to do the plunge, but this year that group energy wasn't there. Lucia and I planned to do it anyway, but on the morning of, when it was 31 degrees, we decided to bag it. "Too cold," we both agreed.

Later that day, Nancy, Lucia and I were taking a walk along the lake. Lucia did not want to take a walk and was cranky. She'd had a sleepover the night before and suffered the expected sleep deprivation hangover. But the day was gorgeous and we prevailed on her to join us. We could see Mount Baker and Mount Rainier. Coots and cormorants were having parties all over the lake and the sun was brightly shining. It was about 3:30pm when Lucia turned to me with a genuine smile and said, "Mom, I think we should do the plunge."

Seizing the moment of Lucia's mood change, I said,"Yes! Let's do it!" and we ran home to get our bathing suits before the sun went down. It happened quickly. We changed into our suits, put our bathrobes, wool hats and flip flops and drove the one block to the lake. Nancy and our four-year-old neighbor waited on shore with our robes and Lucia and I ran in together and dove in. As we ran out, freezing and happy, our excitement, joy and pride was palpable.

More than the frigid water itself, what I will remember from this year's plunge with Lucia is the moments right before and immediately after. That glimmer of time when Lucia felt moved and motivated to plunge and she got me on board with her was so thrilling, so connecting, so satisfying. When when we got out, wrapped up in our robes and hats and ran home to get into warm baths, we shared the thrill of accomplishment, of living one small dream together.

Those spontaneous moments, "Let's do the plunge!" moments come all year round, in big and small ways. I tend not to be open to them, not to look for them or see them, but this year I'm going to try. I can already see the little opportunities. "I feel like chopping off all my hair" was a big one for me this week. "I'm going to make a huge vat of granola" was a smaller one. It comes everyday when I make the choice to do Yoga (or not). There's always a choice, always a moment before, to go one direction or the other. And then there's the moment after, that exciting feeling that comes from listening to the whispers of your hopes and dreams.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Embarrassing and Magical Moments

On Monday night I went to see Patti Smith. I'm not a hugely knowledgable rock music connoisseur. I'm actually a barely knowledgable rock music connoisseur. But my partner Nancy is an avid Patti Smith fan and has seen her multiple times. I usually skip loud, live music but after hearing Nancy's raves after each time she's seen Patti, I was more open. Additionally, having read Patti Smith's book about her coming of age with Robert Mapplethorpe, my voyeuristic tendencies were sparked and I was motivated to go see this amazing character.

We went to the concert after a long day of work post New Year's vacation, so our mood was definitely mellow---- until Patti Smith came on stage. We learned during the coarse of the performance, that Patti Smith turned 69 years old this year. Truly the only indicator that would suggest that she has rocked for over five decades, was her head of stark white long hair.

The way Patti Smith jumped, sang, swore, spit and did spoken word rich with profanities and controversial material, was inspiringly YOUNG. I sat in the audience, mouth agape, thinking, "If I can bend my knees and scream like that in twenty-two years, I will be so happy!" Long story short, Patti Smith inspired the crap out of me. When we left the theater, I immediately googled "Does Patti Smith do Yoga?" I didn't find the answer to that question, but I did read this quote her in an article The Telegraph.

‘We just do it,’ she says. Smith suggests that she will never give a perfect performance anyway. ‘I’m a flawed performer – energetic and emotional and flawed. So my goal is that, if not in the beginning then somewhere through the night, we have an authentic connection. That the people and the band become one organism, going through rough moments, ludicrous moments, embarrassing moments and magical moments. That, to me, is what a concert is all about – and coming out of it feeling alive.’

At one point during her concert, referring to her infamous spitting ritual, Patti Smith said, "I spit out of necessity" suggesting that it's just part of this organic experience she creates. In reading Patti Smith's description of her experience with the band, I found myself (surprise, surprise) imagining my experience in a Yoga class-- "the people [in the room] become one organism, going through rough movements, ludicrous movements, embarrassing moments and magical moments." Sometimes it happens when I'm the teacher sometimes the student, but these embarrassing and magical moments show up at some point during every class.

If I can be half the bad-ass that Patti Smith is when I am 69, it will be because of Yoga. I'm not the personality type to take the risks and live the colorful life that Patti Smith has lived, but in the Yoga room, I can find a smidgen of what Smith describes-- finding an authentic connection, going through rough and ludicrous moments. Through it all, I come out feeling more alive. I'm still not a rock music connossieur but I am definitely a Patti Smith fan.

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...