Thursday, September 29, 2016

Wombmates

I recently listened to a Dharma talk by Sarah Powers; she talked about how interpersonal relationships are such an important part of the yogic path. When we can find a place of equanimity physically and emotionally, and when we can achieve a level of consistent mindfulness, only then, can we start to truly reach new levels interpersonally. 

It makes sense. How can we love another being if we don't love ourselves. As a twin, I have always struggled with getting connected to my whole self, my own true identity. As a result, I struggle to find a satisfying connection with my twin sister Katherine. Since my conception, I've shared space, been in reaction to another being. First we shared a womb (Katherine refers to us as "wombmates") and then, even though we weren't identical, from the time we were born, we were seen in reference to the other.

I was tall, she was short. I was shy, she was funny. I was crabby, she was playful. I did sports, she did theater. And now, even though we are adults and have maneuvered our way into our own "identities", vestiges of this shared identity remain. Hearing Sarah Powers talk about equanimity made me think a lot about my twin identity. Do I have individual emotional equanimity? No. Will I ever have it? I hope so, but I realize that, because I am a twin, living in this consistently co-reflective space (albeit subconscious most of the time), I might have to work a little bit harder, dig a little bit deeper.

One place where I don't share identity space with my twin sister is in my yoga life. Maybe that's why it's such a big part of my life, a important daily touchstone for me. It's only me. It's mine. Katherine has an equally vibrant, deep connection to her own work in her life in the Bay area, and I'm guessing that she feels equally enriched from having something that is solely hers.

I'm in a particularly uncomfortable time with Katherine right now. We are struggling to connect, to celebrate each other. Even though in current time, we are very, very different from each other, we still struggle with this complicated shared identity; we are still reacting to each other. Yoga helps remind me who I am. I always say that yoga is a lifetime process. It's a wave we ride, up, down, over, in, out and through. It's not all good or fun or calm, but it's a path that gets us to where we need to go. And once again, yoga, my greatest teacher reminds me that my relationship with my twin is a process as well. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Turn it off

On Monday, I went to hear Anne Patchett at Benaroya Hall. I thought she was going to read from her new book, Commonwealth  but she didn't. She stood on stage in front of a very full house and waxed on about her approach to writing, her philosophy about reading, and some wonderful anecdotes about her personal life. She was funny and brilliant and awesome in all kinds of ways.

If you are a fan of Anne Patchett's, you know that her fiction is fiercely imaginative, sometimes far-fetched, and that it clearly takes a ton of research and coordination to pull together each of her novels. At the end of Anne Patchett's talk, the Director of Seattle Arts and Lectures interviewed her.  She asked Anne, who, in addition to writing amazing fiction and non-fiction, owns an independent bookstore in Nashville and seems to have read every book of every genre of all points in history, how she could be both such a prolific reader and writer.

I'm guessing Anne Patchett has been asked that question before because she answered right away. "I have a fifteen-year-old flip phone and I've never texted. I don't own a television and I have never once looked at Facebook," she replied. "I have a lot of extra time."

I'm sure many audience members sank into a bit of despair to hear that. We all know what a time suck innane texting is, what a silly habit Facebook is, and how television can drain hours from an otherwise productive day if we're not careful. As an avid writer and reader myself, I left Benaroya feeling inspired by Anne Patchett, but also a little downtrodden about my own distracted focus and commitment to my writing and reading practices.

But the very next day I went into the studio to practice yoga and had an immediate sense of gratitude and pride for the fact that there are NO screens in the studio. There never have been and there never will be. While I am not reading or writing in my yoga practice, my brain is getting served. Almost every blog topic I've ever written has come to me in the yoga room, either while practicing or teaching. Most of my big life decisions have been made on my mat.

Not everyone can be an Anne Patchett, who knew at a very young age that she wanted to be a writer. Most of us wander through life testing out different waters and landing somewhere for a while before moving on more than a few times. I'm so happy to have been inspired by the brilliant Anne Patchett. I'll continue to read the books she writes and keep my ears open for books she recommends. I'll look to her and other great writers for inspiration. But most importantly, I'll keep coming into the yoga room everyday, the one and only place in my life where there are no screens to suck my time, focus, and energy. I hope you'll join me!






Monday, September 19, 2016

Human Kindness

Last week I had an experience that left me with an unsettled feeling-- a combination of gratitude and elation tinged with seeking and inspiration.  I feel its presence subtly, at different times during the day, but mostly when I'm teaching or practicing yoga. Kelly, a wonderful yoga student of mine and now teacher of me, invited me to help her in a class she teaches called Adaptive Yoga. Adaptive Yoga offers people with mobility restrictions (spinal cord injuries, Cerebral Palsy, Parkinson's Disease) accessible yoga instruction. And, as I experienced last week, it is so much more than that.

There were just two students in the class I attended, a small group for that session. One of the students was quadriplegic and the other paraplegic. Kelly and the other teacher Julie led the small group through seated postures and then moved them to the floor for a series of supine postures.

I hesitate to even try to describe my emotional experience in this class because I don't have the technical writing skills to really explain it. There were so many moments, moments when Kelly or Julie gently laid hands on a body that "couldn't feel." But was that right? Who was I to say what another person could feel. Watching the teachers, I was brought to the brink of tears. Why? I'm not sure. I've been trying to sort it out all week. I suspect that maybe it was the recognition of my own assumptions about people who are paralyzed. Or the beautiful message from the instructor to feel what was happening internally when the physical body was in a posture, regardless of their paralyzed status. The energy in the room, the combination of vulnerability, determination, and human kindness literally overwhelmed me.

What I'm left with in this time before I go back to volunteer again (which I plan to do as often as I can), is the sense of how small the world can become when we define "feeling" in only a handful of ways. I, being an able-bodied, fully "feeling" person, was knocked out of my comfortable state being a part of this class--- in a really good way. That unsettled feeling-- elation and gratitude and seeking and inspiration-- come to me when I practice. Today when Rachael had us do 27 sun salutations, I closed my eyes during a lot of it so that I could feel in a different way, a deeper way. And when I teach, I am so filled with gratitude for being able to teach yoga, a practice that goes beyond just physical postures. I am grateful to be in this newly seeking place, to explore more deeply myself and to be able to invite my students to do the same.  Thank you Kelly.


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

You can do anything for ten seconds

I recently started watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It's a series about a young woman who is rescued from a cult in Indiana and sets off to create a new life in New York City. I've only seen three episodes, but I'm keen on Kimmy. She's possessed by a combination of extreme naiveté and intense optimism.

One of the things Kimmy learned in her cult captivity was to endure intense boredom and monotony. Though she doesn't share her bizarre past life with her new friends in NYC, she does share jewels of wisdom from her cult-life, like her regularly doled out advice, "You can do anything for 10 seconds." She says this to herself and to other people in her life who seem to be unable to manage whatever situation they are in.

Ten seconds is not very long.  It's the time it takes to turn on the water tap and fill a glass of water. It's writing a quick grocery list in the morning or bringing in the mail. It's about the length of time it takes to inhale in Pranayama deep breathing.

In life, we don't have control over much. Shit happens. The other night I saw a friend who's long-term relationship suddenly ended. She was shocked, bewildered, and heart broken. She had no control over the break up, it just happened and now she was slowly blinking her way out of the wreckage. What I said to her, which is what a kind soul offered me when I was in a similar situation many years ago, was "all feelings pass." It helped me and I hope it helps her. In times of deep sorrow, crazed anger, or intense fear, I told myself, "this is a  temporary feeling. I will not be here forever. It will pass." And the feelings did pass. They came back with great regularity, like the garbage truck every Thursday, but they also didn't stay, and eventually, I got through it, ten seconds at time.

Sometimes the experiences we think we can't endure are short, like when Half-Moon pose feels like it is going to go on for 30 minutes. Break it down. Remind yourself, as Kimmy would, "You can do anything for ten seconds." And once those ten seconds are over, you're onto a new feeling, different sensations. Other times, the struggles are longer, harder-- a break up, the loss of a job, a death. It's the same game plan-- break it down. Take a deep breath and give yourself time and space for things to shift. Even in the worst of times, remind yourself that you can do anything for ten seconds.