Friday, April 29, 2016

Only the first 100 years

I went to a Conscious Parenting Class the other night and the teacher Kelly opened the class with a story about how when she was a new, exhausted mother to her 6-week-old son, her mother-in-law, at that time, mother to 6 and grandmother to 15, said, "Don't worry. Parenting is only hard for the first 100 years." As any new (or not so new) mother would be, Kelly was brought to her knees to hear that news.

I went to this class because, for me, parenting seems to be getting progressively more challenging as Lucia ages. I am the mother to one child-- a hyper-verbal, very smart, hilarious eleven-year-old. Sometimes after school, Lucia will tell me a story about what's going on in North Korea, or she'll share a ridiculous Donald Trump anecdote, or maybe she'll explain the reproductive system of a fern. Often she greets me with an emotional tirade about something I truly cannot understand. With every expansive turn Lucia's brain takes, I feel simultaneously excited and scared. How long will it be before this child completely launches and I can no longer keep up with her?

The hardness of not knowing what to expect on this parenting road is not dissimilar from other paths we take in our lives. Is anything ever really known?  When I hear Lucia talking about politics or math or stupid boys in her class, it doesn't help me know where she'll be in ten years, twenty years, one hundred years.

When I heard Kelly share that advice, "parenting is only hard for the first 100 years," in a way it was a relief. Hard is not necessarily bad, it's just hard. Every single time I practice yoga, I have moments that are very difficult, hard. It doesn't deter me from practicing. It actually does the opposite-- I feel motivated to keep trying. And things do change. Some of the things that felt difficult get easier and other things get harder.

Yoga and parenting continue to be my greatest teachers. When I am teaching, I often encourage students to truly lean into the struggle because there is always a reward on the other side of it. Yesterday in Penni's class, I felt a fatigue I hadn't felt in a long time. After a short rest, I was able to get up for triangle pose, one of my favorite, most satisfying postures.  Last night I had a wonderful moment with Lucia---a shared moment of singing and dancing to our favorite Hamilton song in the kitchen. Later, when it was time for bed, I found myself in the familiar role of nagging to get teeth brushed, face washed.  It all balances out. Sure it's hard, but there's always the good that comes after.

Friday, April 22, 2016

What Padmah Lakshmi made me think about...

I went to see Padmah Lakshmi read from her new memoir a couple of months ago. One of the things she talked about was how her experience toggling between two cultures- American and Indian- helped form who she is today.  A big part of her life, and of her memoir, is presented through the lens of food, but it is not just her palate that is challenged from being in these two different cultures, it her mental, emotional, spiritual bodies.

I grew up with a pretty homogeneous cultural experience. My dad was Jewish. My mom was not.
Eventually, both of my stepparents ended up being Jewish as well, with my Dad's household being much more Jewish identified. Overall, I was basically "Jewish-light". I never thought of my two households being that culturally different, but they were. At Dad's we got to have hot dogs and use a microwave. We could drink soda, eat fast food, go bowling and to movies, play board games. At Mom's we didn't get fast food or soda and we rarely did activities like bowling or Monopoly. We did a lot of crafts and chores and ate stir fry and homemade pasta. I never thought of the back and forth as a cultural shift, but in retrospect, it was.

Now that I am an adult who has been managing my own household for over 25 years, I can see how significantly both life experiences played into making me who I am. And of course, there is the me I was born with somewhere in the mix as well. My sisters and I, all raised in this two household childhood, share some quirky habits. For example, my mom's house didn't have a television until she married my stepdad when we were tweens. My dad's house had multiple TVs. Television is not a big part of any of our lives, until it is. I, for example, don't own a television, but if I have a spare hour (or four), I can veg out on my laptop watching Shameless like a true TV pro. Similarly, my sisters and I are all really healthy- we eat healthily as a rule and we exercise regularly, but given the chance, we'll throw down Diet Pepsi and Red Vines over a marathon Monopoly game without a second thought.

Sometimes I feel like I still live in two cultures --- in the yoga room and out. I like to think that I can transcend the demands of my daily life with my finely honed yoga brain, but I think, if that does happen, it will be many years from now. For the time-being, I'll accept that I'm on the path, headed in the right direction. I try to practice yoga almost every day. When I am in the room, I am in the present moment, in my body, experiencing my breath. Just thinking of it now as I type these words gives me a full and grateful heart. When I leave the room, I am still me. I still possess that good stuff that I experienced in the yoga room, but the other parts of me bubble up as well. I have to return the emails. I have to order the supplies for the studio. I have to pick up Lucia from school. I have to do the laundry. I see myself going from the blissed out woman who just did yoga to the frustrated mom of a wonderfully smart and stubborn eleven-year-old.

So here's what I know. It's all me. And it's all okay. The truth is, I'm not sure I'd leave the yoga room with a blissed out body and mind if I didn't live a rich and vibrant and busy life on the other side. And, I could definitely not manage a business, a household, a relationship, and a child if I didn't have the yoga room to nourish me with quiet, calm strength and energy. I'm always grateful for enlightenment, in whatever form it comes. Thanks Padmah for sharing your story and making me think more deeply about mine.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Guest Blogger- Emily Denton- Torture Chambers

I finally tried Bikram Yoga. OMG. I have avoided Bikram for years. I have known several of his devotees that swear by this sequence, but I always was just too weirded out. The carpet? 105 degrees? AN HOUR AND A HALF???

All the controversy around Bikram the man and his ownership of yoga... seemed dramatic and just not my vibe. A good friend of mine recently started the practice and hilariously was calling it “torture yoga” which I thought was adorable and pretty accurate sounding. But she kept going and seemed to really like it. I decided, "Fuck it. Now is the time to try." Also the studio we were going to was not carpeted, and a good friend of mine had just started teaching Vinyasa there. Seemed like a good vibe.

So, she wasn’t being cute when she called it torture yoga. Bikram himself actually refers to the class as a torture chamber. And it is fucking no joke. I have come to the conclusion that for me, this practice is a lot like taking acid. If you go into it with doubts or fear, its gonna be fucking hell. But if you go into it with curiosity and an open mind its totally fine. Bikram didn’t make me hallucinate or anything; that is not what I am saying. But mentally this is a very intense yoga practice, and I think that is where I saw the most benefit. For me, my practice has always been about pushing past fear, going beyond my own self imposed limitations and beliefs. Of all the esoteric practices I have dabbled in, or the different holistic teachings I have studied- yoga has truly shown me the most progress.

Yoga is healing. It makes you face who you are. It makes you sit with yourself. Bikram’s method of 26 postures in 105 degrees in a bright lit room staring at your reflection in the mirror is a really straight  forward approach for getting you to deal with your shit.  At least that is what it felt like for me. Right away I had to make a choice- I could either become very focused and calm or I could freak right the fuck out. I chose to be calm. This is a major breakthrough for me. Thank you yoga.

If you have never been to a Bikram class I totally recommend it. Twenty-six postures including two very intense breathing exercises. Honestly the Pranayama in the beginning of class was what I found the most challenging and terrifying. I had never seen or heard anything like it. My teacher had an interesting way of speaking to it though. She said the Pranayama was like a release or shedding whatever it is you are carrying with you.It was like a gate you had to pass though to step into your practice. It is an integration. Not my usual cozy Balasana, no. Bikram is a no bullshit kind of practice. No fluff. There is no down dog or Chaturanga. In a way its physically less demanding than my Vinyasa practice, which my body has been really craving. No music, which is nice- -I appreciate the space for silence. And the only consistent word that the teacher repeats is “change”, which is them referring to changing your pose, but after about 45 minutes and the only word you really recognize is “change” its kind of a profound experience.

I also very much appreciate how it has changed my relationship to water. I signed up to do two weeks for $30 (great deal if you live near Capitol Hill, the studio is The Sweatbox Yoga and the
teachers are super nice) so I have now been to 3 classes. If I know I am going to class I start hydrating the night before. I feel that that alone has helped me to feel better. And every time I have left class feeling super accomplished, lighter, and very, very, very calm. A really nice practice to start the day. I am curious where this practice will lead me. It has been refreshing to switch up my practice and the intense focus and concentration required to get through those 90 minutes is just what I needed in my life right now. So namaste Bikram Choudury- your torture chamber is pretty awesome.

About Emily:Emily Denton is a local Vinyasa teachers and founder of the zine and yoga class series “Poseurs”. It is her passion to merge the practice of yoga with the arts, and bring affordable yoga classes to the community. As a true believer in the healing medicine of yoga she is certified to teach many styles including Hot Yoga, Yin Yoga, Yoga Nidra and leads the Hatha based Noise Yoga series at the Frye Art Museum. She is committed to holding space for contemplation and meditation in our urban life. Join Emily at The SweatBox for a Free Mother's Day Vinyasa class- Sunday, May 8th 11:30-12:30pm.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


Last week my friend Darrell treated me to a session with Catherine Shainberg, a world leader in the use of imagery for transformation. Darrell and his wife live on Bainbridge Island, so my day started by walking down to the ferry on a gorgeous, sunny Seattle Thursday. There's something transformational in the very act of making that crossing-- letting go of my business and personal obligations in Seattle and crossing Puget Sound to a different land.

Darrell picked me up from the ferry in his truck and drove me out to his house in the woods. After entering on a windy dirt road past a fully in-bloom mature Magnolia, we arrived at his beautiful home hugged by ancient Cedar trees. Catherine and Darrell's wife Joyce were waiting when I arrived. After a quick hello, Catherine led me into the small office where she was doing her private sessions for the day. I hadn't prepared a question before going to visit, nor did I have any idea really what to expect.

I've always been headstrong. My way or the highway. It's gotten me into lots of trouble, created loads of conflict and discomfort for me with family, friends, colleagues, partners. The older I get, the more I see what a waste of time this is. Life is too short, time is precious. So while I didn't have an exact question in mind for my session with Catherine, I was, and am, very interested in learning ways to move on from my lifelong bullheadedness.

After a few minutes of background questions, Catherine told me, in her lilting French accent, "You are very stubborn." Yes. Very. "Do you know how I know?" she pressed, "That line on your forehead. It tells me you are holding on. You are stubborn."  The night before at our dining room table, my daughter Lucia was sketching picture of me and actually made a comment about that line on my forehead. Two references in less than twelve hours. That's a pretty noticeable line.

Catherine invited me to close my eyes and proceeded to guide me back, through beautiful imagery and breath, to a time where this "stubbornness" might have originated. The process was hard work, emotional, and I felt tears streaming down my cheeks first intermittently, then continuously, until we were done. When I opened my eyes, I could see through the window,  a little brown squirrel perched on the porch chair behind Catherine, peering over her shoulder through the glass, looking right at me. I wondered if that little squirrel had been witnessing my process the whole time-- anguished face, dabbing my tears with kleenex-- or if he'd just shown up to welcome me back to reality.

Catherine then told me that I have a  lot of work to do, a lot of practice to let go of my brow-wrinkling stubbornness. I asked if I could actually get rid of the deep groove in my forehead, and she smiled, "Yes, you can. You just have to keep working."

"It's all there" Catherine explained, "All of the beautiful parts of you are all there. Your work is to let go of what's blocking it." I don't fully understand it, but I basically get it. I have a line in my forehead that reminds me, every time I look in the mirror, to let go of my stubbornness. I don't have to recreate or rebuild or fix some part of myself. I have to look within, imagine, the release of my rigidity, and what's already there will be set free.

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