Thursday, June 22, 2017

Goo Goo Gaa Gaa

I've just finished listening to Esther Perel's new podcast, "Where Should We Begin." It's seven episodes of couples therapy, each episode a different couple. In one episode, Perel has one member of the couple blindfold herself and the other member speak only in French. Perel reminds the couple, and all of us listening to the podcast, that most humans are non-verbal for at least the first 18 months of our lives. Prior to speaking, we communicated through our bodies. Our first language is non-verbal;  body language. When we were pre-verbal, we could tell our parents if we were happy, sad, curious, hungry, in pain, constipated, hot or cold with our bodies.

As a hyper-verbal person, this is an important reminder. I often get caught up in the intellectualization of an experience because I am quick to attach words to it. How would I describe that?, I often find myself thinking in the middle of a feeling.

As a yoga student and teacher, I am in the unique position to reconnect and more deeply connect with my first language, the body. The other day before class, I shared this idea-- try to notice what language you are using to experience your yoga practice. To be able to be in a posture and just feel it instead of attaching words is a gift. The words usually come with judgement or analysis, thoughts that take us off the path to becoming more connected with our true selves. Feeling, through the body, on the other hand, is where true healing and liberation can happen.

When I was twenty I lived in Spain for a year. I flew home from Madrid via Kennedy Airport. I remember, as I waited in the terminal for my connection to O'Hare, how disoriented I felt.  It had been so long since I'd spoken English regularly that I couldn't remember certain words. So when I think about the 20 or 30 or 50 years we live speaking a language other than the one we were born with, it makes sense that rediscovering our body language would be challenging. It might feel at times impossible.

The couple who wore the blindfold and spoke French were trying to reconnect with one another by experiencing each other as different people with the idea that, seeing each other in this new way would enable them to see each other more completely. They were opening the door to that idea that we are never just one way. How we act most of the time is not who we are all of the time.

Yoga opens that door too. I'm shy and guarded and a little bit worried all the time, but that's not all I am.  Yoga gives me the opportunity to take a break from seeing only that, from being only that. The experience of yoga is hard to put into words. Right, because it's in the body.

Friday, June 9, 2017

You're the best!

In my little family, we have a frequent saying around the house. "You're the best!", I will say to Lucia when, in search for her black leggings in the dryer, unsolicited, she brings the whole load of laundry up from the basement. When either Nancy or I bring the other coffee in bed, the act is always met with "You're the best."  Sometimes when we're hurrying out the door to school,  Nancy will yell, "Lu, you're the best!" giving some props and support for another hard day of sixth grade.

This morning Lucia had three tests before fourth period and was losing it a little bit. Nancy was mediating a very difficult case that would likely go well into the evening hours. As I ran around the kitchen doing breakfast things, they sat at opposite ends of the kitchen counter with their laptops open, scrawling notes-- Lucia for her science test and Nancy for her case.

My day ahead involved a tapestry of lots of little things all over town--- I had to go deal with a heat glitch at the studio; I needed to go down to the Seattle Department of Transportation to get a truck permit for an upcoming project; I had to meet the landscaper at the rental house; I wanted to get the first draft of the newsletter written; and I was on a mission to replace two evergreen clematis that recently died. I was a little stressed about getting it all done.

About a year ago, I started writing daily messages on a little kitchen chalkboard. I try to get Nancy and Lu to come up with ideas, and sometimes they are good sports, but usually it's me. As I looked across as these two dear souls, working hard, stressing hard, as I scurried to get all the ducks in a row for my own day, the message of the day popped into my head clear as rain. "Your best is the best." I scratched it onto the board and propped it on the counter so they could both see. "Your best is the BEST!" I screamed, rejoicing at the pure truth of it, hoping it would bring some ease to the furrowed brows hovering over the four eyes across from me.

"Good one," Nancy said, "did you make that up?"
"Yes!" I exclaimed.
"Mom, if I get an JS [that's an F] on my health test, it's not the best, it's a JS" Lucia groaned, punctuating her sentence with a grand roll of her eyes.

Needless to say, Lucia didn't get an JS, but if she had, and if she'd done her best, I would still have given her the house standard, "You're the best!" because I believe it. It sounds simple because it is simple. Doing our own personal best is all we have in each of our little galaxies. Finding it--our personal best-- is the journey every day. It's trying our hardest and being present to whatever it is we are doing, whether it's being a lawyer, memorizing sixth grade geology, or making time for all the moving pieces of life. Try hard. Engage. Face the challenge. Do your best.

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Middle Ground


I practice yoga every day because it makes me feel good. Oh, and it keeps me sane. I often struggle when I practice. Sometimes it's really hard physically, other times mentally, oftentimes both. The usual pattern: I start in a resistant, amped state of mind and by the time I land in Savasana, I'm in that glorious end zone of tranquility. But between these polarized places, there is the space in between, the peanut butter and jelly that I live in the majority of the time I'm practicing. The magic of yoga is the union of the physical and the mental, the body and the breath. This energetic tandem play creates a magical state---perfect and beautiful, though temporary and fleeting.

I've been trying to think of a term for this enchanted space. It's a real thing, this space in between the angst and the grace. I visualize it as a something invisible but with form. It pushes and it pulls, it moves around the body, kind of like the slime in Ghostbusters, only very friendly, very loving, and very gentle.  It's the opposite of destructive. It's integration, happening even without me knowing or trying. It comes through me, takes over, becomes the strongest sensation. It's not the amped up starting point, nor is it the blissed out end point. It's the space between the two, created only because the other states exist. Its the Middle Ground.

For my lifestyle-- parenting, running a business, managing a household-- I recognize that I can't stay in the Middle Ground all the time. But I think that because I have had a daily yoga practice for many years, there is resonance when other Middle Ground moments show up throughout my day when I am not doing yoga. It's during morning coffee in bed talking to my sweetheart about nothing and everything, floating in those moments between being asleep and brushing my teeth to start the clock on the beginning of another long, usually harried day. I find it driving my daughter to school, between rushing out the door and saying a hasty goodbye "do you have your lunch?" at the crosswalk. I experience the Middle Ground when I take the time to walk instead of drive the two miles to the community center where I volunteer on Tuesday nights.

It's a relief and a reward. I don't imagine that I would ever stop practicing yoga, but if for some reason I had to, I would know that the magic slime shows up in other ways. And a reward because, hot damn, all those years of in the yoga room have seriously paid off!


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Forgiveness

Several months ago I did a very, very bad thing. It was more than bad. It was cruel and unconscious and deeply unkind. Like the bitter flavor that sits on your tongue after eating a bad walnut, it's the kind of bad thing that lingers.

In a catty, rushed email, I inadvertently cc'd someone when I meant to just copy and paste their address. Long story short, I said some things that were jugemental and obnoxious and hurtful in an email to another friend, inadvertently ccing the person who's email address I only intended to copy and paste. The victim of my nastiness confronted me immediately. I owned my actions whole-heartedly and apologized profusely via voicemail and email. But there was never really closure. I had hurt someone with my words and I drifted in and out of that shame limbo for months.

Fast forward seven months-- to today. This morning as I mounted my bike after dropping my car at the mechanic, I heard someone calling my name. When I looked behind me, I saw the person calling me was the woman with whom I'd created this terrible email foible.

"I've been thinking about you," she said.

"I've thought about you so many times," I replied. "I am so so sorry for being such an asshole."

She looked at me straight in the eye and said, "I forgive you. You should forgive yourself. You're a good person Laura."

We discussed getting together to talk more about the experience we'd shared and then we parted ways. We said goodbye, but with the expectation that we'd see each other again. We left it that I'd reach out to her next if I wanted to continue the conversation.

I got on my bike and rode towards Capitol Hill. I felt like my heart and my stomach were both in my throat. Having seen this person in the flesh after all these months had left me with a lurching, nauseated feeling, but the gift of forgiveness she offered pumped my heart so full, I can barely remember pedaling the three miles to the studio.

It was a gift, her forgiveness, an unprecedented offering that I am not sure I deserve. I don't use this word lightly. I rarely use it at all, but I consider her act a blessing. The lessons I learned from the initial unkind acts I engaged in with my bloopered email were profound. The shame I carried and the hurt I caused another person shone a light on places where I want and need to be a kinder, more conscious person. Like most people, I've had different incarnations of these shame-filled lessons throughout my life and I am sure I'll have others.

But the lesson that came from being forgiven this morning is a much rarer one. Today I was the recipient of true open-heartedness. It's not everywhere, this kind of bold, generous gesture. I recognized it's specialness and I could feel it in my body like a blood transfusion.  A blessing, a gift, an offering, an act of grace. I am forever humbled, eternally grateful.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Did you ever wear rainbow jammies?

Writer's block is a real thing. It manifests in different ways for different people. For me, I periodically get stuck with the feeling that I don't have anything new to say so I should just keep quiet. But writing for me is a therapy, an indulgence, a place where I can feel my clear channel showing up, so I am glad that my writer's block always goes away.
Usually a life event, a conversation or experience sparks me to write. It's to the point where, after a big talk or long walk, my 12-year-old daughter Lucia will say, "Mom, are you going to write about that?" This morning when I woke up, I was thinking about my weekend visitors. My cousin Kirsten and two of her friends came up to Seattle from Salem to see the U2 concert. My partner Nancy, Lucia and I babysat Kirsten's three-year-old daughter Emily for the night.

During dinner, Emily, Lucia, Nancy and I were talking about fairies when Emily let us know that her favorite color was rainbow. Then, in a very earnest, serious way, she told us that when she was in her mommy's belly, she wore rainbow jammies. There is no way to possibly recreate the tone, the face, the rounded vowels, the overall image that came with little Emily's rainbow monologue.

"When I was in my mommy's belly I was wearing rainbow jammies," created a moment for all of us-- of pure joy, inspiration, and connection. The evening evolved into more fairy conversation. We shared with Emily that she was really lucky because the Rainbow Fairy actually lives in Seattle. The spoon she ate her ice cream with became a special fairy spoon. Emily and Lucia made Rainbow Fairy dolls. We made her a Rainbow Fairy card that welcomed her to the Fairy world and left it as a surprise on her suitcase for the morning. 

Thinking about Emily thinking about the rainbow jammies she wore in her mommy's belly is not a radical concept. It is a radical moment. A moment where all the other issues, problems, crisis in the world come to a full stop and for a blip in time, fantasy becomes the fabric that connects us. It's still in my head, that perfect moment, "When I was in my mommy's belly I was wearing rainbow jammies." It makes me smile and my heart beats a little bit faster from the internal laughter.  I can see the faces of Nancy and Lucia, the glow of delight as Emily looked to each one of them to make sure they heard her.  I'm so happy that I woke up with images from Rainbow Fairy night. This feeling is a necessary respite from reality. Today I will be a mom, go to work, attend a fundraiser and a soccer parents team meeting. I have no idea what other surprises are in store for my day, but whatever comes, I'm grateful it's starting like this. Thank you Emily.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Hurry where?



When the winter starts to bloom into spring, when the first warm days become clear and certain, I feel the invitation to revisit how I'm living my life. The longer days and sun on my skin remind me to slow down and notice things about my daily way of being that I want to shed, at least temporarily. 

I am lucky to live near Lake Washington. The lake is stunning in all seasons, but it becomes alive and inviting in wholly new ways when the sun comes out and the spring blooms burst. The scenery goes from monotone to technicolor for all of the senses and I feel drawn to its shore more than ever.

Last night I went for a walk at dusk. I put on my favorite podcast, On Being and listened to an interview with Marie Howe, the Poet Laureate of New York. As I got to the bottom of my hill in sight of the lake, I was struck by the intense beauty of a single tree. I've walked by that tree hundreds of times, but last night the tree was uniquely hugged by blue sky and emotional clouds, sunlight painting the leaves a shimmery silver. I rarely take photos of nature, but I stopped short and took a picture of that magnificent tree. I continued my walk south along the lake and towards the middle of the interview, Marie Howe read her poem Hurry. I remember the moment I heard it because I was just coming to the roundabout in Seward Park and everything in the center garden was in full bloom. I was walking fast as I always do and I stopped in my tracks. Where am I hurrying? 

Hurry. Hurry. Hurry. The range of ways I bring that word into my life every day with my own family-- "come on"; "let's go" ;"last five minutes"; "two more minutes"; "there's no more time"; "we're out of time"; "you lost your chance"; "time to go"; "we're going to be late";"hurry up!"

In my pause at the park, listening to the poem, I felt a moment of sadness for all of that hurrying. 

    And just like everything, I am reminded that this too is a practice, the not hurrying. Hurrying, imposing my hurrying on others is a thing I wish to shed, a change I'd like to make for myself and for my family, even just temporarily.
    
    The lake is a good reminder. There is profound beauty there, infinite reminders of what is visible when we are not hurrying.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Bolognese AND Black Beans

Pulitzer prize winning author Annie Dillard said, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."

Of course! But what does that truly mean?

As I get closer to my half-century mark on this planet, I question how I live my life on a daily basis. Who am I? What is my purpose? Why am I here? I used to worry more about my legacy. What would I be remembered for? What actual products would there be to commemorate my life's work? The older I get, the more I realize that I'm not actually that important. I'm a mere spec on the earth, so what I do in the eyes of the world isn't that significant. It's knowing that I'm living as my truest, best self that feels important now.

My meditation teacher says that one of the reasons we meditate is to clear our minds in order to get closer to our intuition. "Intuition," she says, "is very patient. It will wait in the shadows until we are quiet. Then it will show up."

We've all had a clear moment of hearing our intuition. It's a deeper sense of knowing, a true clarity. Most of my decisions that have stuck, I now know were based on intuition. The decision to leave social work, for example, and open a yoga studio was completely spontaneous, ill-advised, and ultimately perfect. Other big life choices that have crumbled around me, I can see were based more on processing, contemplating, over-intellectualizing. Going to the best college I got into, for example, and studying a major that was familiar and comfortable, didn't actually pan out all that well for me.

In my 48th year, I've committed to becoming a student of intuition, to learn more about it, to work more from that place on a daily basis. The truth is, it's just easier. I get so tired of weighing pros and cons, talking to multiple people to get their perspectives, struggling to make big decisions to the point that I lose sleep, weight and hair!

So every day I start small. Last night I had the house to myself. Normally when I get that much space, I indulge in stupid television that no one else wants to watch. I've rationalized that this indulgence, though not actually that satisfying,  is well-deserved and I should take advantage.  Last night though, I tried to get to my intuition instead of my regular pattern. I listened. It was a slow process and many times I nearly defaulted to turning on the laptop and opening Netflix. What happened instead is I found myself in the car heading for the grocery where I bought ingredients for two meals (even though I was the only one at home).

I spent the evening making a huge vat of Bolognese and enough black beans to roll two hundred burritos. In the process I listened to the chanting music that normally gets poo-pooed in my house.
This morning, my intuition was simply to eat a pear before drinking coffee.

The waiting is the hard part. The stillness before the knowing can be a struggle for those of us who feel anchored by being in control. But the payoff is immense. There is a feeling of ease, of calm, that comes from trusting your gut, from listening to intuition. It feels right. It's definitely how I want to live my life.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Seeing through the rain.

The rain gets me down. I've lived in Seattle for 27 of my 48 years and the rain still gets me down. This morning I went running and it was sunny. The Cascades were out. The Olympics were out. I saw Mount Baker and Mount Rainier. I was happy. Joyful.

After my run, I went to yoga and it was a great class. Frani had a tender, creative playlist and it was the usual delicious experience of doing yoga after a run. Hard and necessary. But when I left the studio, it was raining--again. My heart sank.

But why does the rain take my mood towards the bowels of despair? The beauty is still there. I can see so much of it as I sit typing this on my couch. Mount Baker is now hidden by clouds, but I can see the conifers and cherry blossoms down the hill to the lake. The lilacs in my front yard are about the pop and the magnolia tree next to my front door is in full bloom. Yet I pout.

What is it about the rain? I tell myself it's a state of mind, a pattern of thinking. But is it? I wonder sometimes if the mood I get in the presence of clouds and rain helps me to balance out my fast-paced, high-frequency energy. I spend so much time being up, spirited, positive. And I really do feel that when when I'm acting that way, but it's not sustainable. I'd collapse with exhaustion if I maintained that "up-state" of mind all the time.

I wonder if it's like one of my yoga teachers talks about the common cold. The common cold, he says, is there for a reason. It reminds us to slow down and heal. Maybe for a few days or a week we sit on the couch, read more, drink more tea, and in that time, we are giving our bodies a chance to fight the cold naturally, to build our immunity.

Maybe the rain is like that for me. It invites me to shut down a little bit more, to go inside, to settle into the "low" feelings that for me are generally more buried. When I think of it this way, it's a comfort. The rain makes me quiet. It's like a blanket wrapping me up, keeping me warm and calm so I can build up my strength to be who I am when the sun comes out again.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A State of Grace


One of my favorite things to do after a long day is walk on Lake Washington and listen to podcasts. My favorite podcast is OnBeing. Krista Tippett, the host, interviews different theologians, artists, philosophers and scientists about the meaning of life as they see it through their personal existence. Especially now, when the news media is so overblown that it is either undigestibly frightening or absurd, it is refreshing to chisel down the information source to one person's perspective. I always glean at least a few kernels of wisdom from these podcasts.

Yesterday, Richard Rohr was the guest. Rohr is a Franciscan priest and a revered spiritual teacher.
In his interview with Krista Tippett, Rohr talked about a metaphor he uses to teach his students about getting to a state of grace. He suggests using three boxes- Order, Disorder, and Reorder. Rohr goes on to talk about using these boxes, or stages as a path to transformation.

As I listened to Rohr describe these concepts, I thought about my own tendency towards safety. My nickname is "safety patrol." I like to pack healthy snacks for trips (in case there's nothing good at the airport or on the road). I always pack extra undies (you never know if there will be a washer). I struggle with change of any kind. In other words, I crave familiarity. I am a major order junkie.

So much goodness though, comes through disorder. I wouldn't have found my current career had I not entered a minor crisis of identity in my last profession. I wouldn't have fallen madly in love if my heart hadn't been broken. I wouldn't have a wonderful daughter if I hadn't gone through all of the scary contemplations of what it means to raise a child in this world and pass through the ongoing myriad of challenges that exist with everyday parenting.

And what has come from the wreckage, the disorder is transformation, the reordering of priorities, of values that make me who I am, that make my life what it is today. Disorder is part of the deal. It's not predictable, it's not negotiable. It's the path.

This idea, this metaphor of Order, Disorder and Reorder is useful to me in every part of my life. The SweatBox, for example, went through a period of transition where we stepped off the pure Bikram train. That was scary. So new, so different, and at times chaotic. But now! Now, we have such a beautiful bouquet of creativity and energy and vibrancy. I am grateful for all of the disordered times in my life. They've brought me to this place, this state of grace,  and I love it here.




Monday, April 3, 2017

Saved by Gratitude

This morning as I drove up the greenbelt that leads to Yesler Way, I had a moment of intense anxiety.  I'm very familiar with anxiety, and for as long as I can remember, I've run "panicky."  I get hit with periodic, unexpected pangs. Usually they are related to an upcoming event, but often I have non-specified panic.

My anxiety this time was related to the demolition and construction that is going to start on The SweatBox tomorrow. Contractors are going to rip out the garage door and build a permanent wall. It's a good thing. We'll have better insulation, new windows, and greater soundproofing from the street noise. In the passenger seat beside me, Lucia, in her adorable 12-year-old voice, was chirping on about her day. I faintly heard her at the same time that my mind wandered towards the impending construction. I felt my chest tensing, my focus blurring, my breath quickening. I remember the moment because the beauty of the tree canopy was so striking as we climbed the hill. Despite my panic, I was still aware of the grandeur of the trees, grateful for their beauty.

Maybe it was the beauty that interrupted my anxiety. Maybe it was something Lucia said. I can't pinpoint exactly the moment, but all of the sudden I had a revelation. "I am having so much anxiety right now," I recall thinking. "But I'm only one person of billions in the world. There's no way my anxiety can be THAT huge." And just like that, I started breathing normally and I was able to hear and see clearly again.

Over the years I've developed lots of tools for managing my anxiety. Of course yoga is my everyday go to. Mindless TV can help. Running, playing scrabble, shopping, all take my mind off of my current anxiety fixation. My thought today-- that I'm just not important enough in the scheme of the world to have that much anxiety-- was one of my first successful attempts to rationalize myself out of an anxious state.

Driving up a beautiful tree-lined road with my healthy, happy daughter by my side, on my way to a job and community I love, it just didn't make sense that I would let a construction project highjack my mental health.  The truth of the matter is that I am unbelievably blessed. As part of a year-long meditation class I'm taking this year, I write ten gratitudes each day to two of my classmates. I think the daily reminder of how much I have to be grateful for played into this shift with my anxiety today. Gratitude gives perspective. No matter what's coming, what stressors (known or unknown) might be in front of you, regardless of the daily conflicts or discomforts in life, if we can find people, things, experiences to be grateful for, that other stuff comes more realistically into focus.  Tomorrow it's a construction project. In two years, it's sending my baby off to high school. In ten years, it's making sure my parents are well cared for. It's always something. The good news is, for every one of those possible stressors, there are at least ten things to be grateful for.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Turns out I'm not a purist anymore


For almost sixteen years, The SweatBox has been the single constant in my life. It's my rock, my respite, the place where I land everyday and can feel grounded and comforted. Periodically I change the schedule at The SweatBox. I make these changes sparingly and I spent months contemplating this round of changes--- talking to teachers and students, to my family and friends. Finally I landed on something I hope will benefit and serve The SweatBox community.

In doing my research for the new schedule, I had an ah-ha moment, the recognition of an internal shift in myself that explains the changing path of The SweatBox. I realized that I'm no longer a purist. For years I took pride in being a purist-- a Bikram Yogini.  Webster's Dictionary defines "purist" as "a person who adheres strictly and often excessively to a tradition."

I stepped onto my yoga path in my early twenties. I had a new graduate degree, an unknown future, a confusing romantic and social life. In that era of my life,  I needed that purity of my yoga practice to ground me, to feel legitimate and safe. As I grew older and my life evolved, my practice grew and my yoga path exposed forks in the road. I dipped my toes into the idea of other traditions, into unknown territory.

After years of purity, I felt strong enough, grounded enough to float a little bit, to not be so defined by a single tradition. This non-purity has been liberating and balancing at the same time. When people ask why I'm alternating the 6am class with Bikram and Vinyasa for example, I can tell them with complete certainty that I believe there is balance in diversifying one's practice-- both physically and mentally.

Some people might still feel safer in a single tradition. I get it. I know exactly how that feels. That commitment to purity is not wrong or bad or less. It's just where they are, maybe where you are.

In my Yin class yesterday, I encouraged students to listen for the "unknown" in themselves, to try and be open to things in their bodies that they don't know instead of the familiar feelings, voices, sensations, that they do know. Stepping into the unknown is a very personal experience. You are in charge of making the choice as to how and when you might do that.  My departure from purity has been surprisingly fulfilling. I have abandoned none of my passion my original practice. Stepping into the unknown has only given me more fulfillment in other areas. It's like a beautiful bouquet instead of a single perfect stem.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Finding the afterglow.

Last weekend my daughter Lucia had her first soccer game with a new team she joined for the spring season. She's only had one practice with the team and she wouldn't recognize the coach if he sat next to her on the bus. Lucia is a solid left mid. That's her jam. She's left-footed, likes to score, and has been in that position for years.

During this first game with her new team, midway through the game she got subbed out and I noticed her on the sidelines putting on bright orange jersey (her team was wearing green). "She can't be playing goalie", I said out loud. Her team was losing by a point and Lucia hadn't played goalie since the early days of rotating goalie on her old rec team. She didn't even have goalie gloves!

I watched as Lucia ran downfield towards the goal, switching spots with her team mate. There were another fifteen minutes left in the game, plenty of time for the other team to score, especially on a completely unexperienced goalie.

So many things were racing through my mind. What was Lucia feeling? How would it feel to be a brand new player on a brand new team being in a position of such responsibility? I had a moment of extreme gratitude for all goalies in the world.

The ball stayed on her end of the field, and I watched as she watched. Shot on goal. Boom. She saved it.  Her team tried to move it upfield without success and again, shot on goal. A big jump and a swat batted the ball right out of the goal. This can't go on, I thought to myself, but it did. One more big shot on goal. Lucia blocked it.

Lucia did it. She played goalie, but only because her coach asked her to. She stepped into a place where she had no interest in going. I know it was scary and intimidating and stressful for Lucia to take this step, but she did it. The fact that she was able to prevent the other team from scoring was great, but it wasn't really the point. The afterglow of taking on an experience like that is part of what grows us as humans, what makes us feel alive and enriched, capable and competent.

Kids, because the don't have much control over their lives, are constantly put into positions where they have to feel scared, intimidated, stressed. They have opportunities to experience those glorious moments of doing something they were sure they could not do. As adults, we generally take comfort in the fact that we are in charge, that we don't have to do things we don't want to do. But what if we did? What if we made ourselves try a different sport? Travel to a country where we couldn't read or speak the language?  Try a different style of yoga maybe (wink wink)?  We'd get the same kind of afterglow, that feeling of doing something we were sure we could not do.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Resting in paradise.

Last month Nancy and I went to Panama for an island vacation. We took three planes, two different car rides, and a boat to get to a 600 acre island on the southwest corner of Panama. There were five cottages on this island, no stores, no TVs, no restaurants, no buildings other than the ones people stayed in. We were the only guests there for most of the time, so it was the two of us, lots of howler monkeys and iguanas and a few very helpful staff.

On the plane over, we both noticed that we were getting sort of sniffly. Before we left, Lucia had a cold and we had been worried we'd catch it. By the time we arrived at our island destination, we were both full blown sick. Nancy showed symptoms about one day in front of me, so the intensity of our colds staggered-- she was bad one day, and the next day I followed suit.

The result was that we each had to rest and isolate at different times. On the first day, Nancy rested in our room alone while I took a hike in the jungle and explored the tide pools and the next day, I hunkered down to rest while she felt well enough to do a lagoon hike.

We laughed a lot. Every morning we had to ask housekeeping for extra kleenex. Having no way to replenish our stock of medicines, we rationed our cough drops like lost campers with their last Clif bar.

But we were sick in paradise and it was wonderful. Bernie Clark, one of my teachers, told us that colds are important. Getting the common cold and sitting through it, letting it work through our systems, is a way of strengthening our immunity. It's not unlike the slow build of core strength that happens over the hundreds of times we hold plank or the eventual opening of our shoulders when we do day after day of Bikram Pranayama. The strengthening of our immune system takes time. Getting a cold and following the natural course helps.

So it was a blessing in disguise that we were sick in paradise with no amenities. We did exactly as we should have done. We rested. We sat with our symptoms and let them run through us. If we'd been back in Seattle, Nancy would would have been running around trying to make it to Saturday morning spin class, squeeze in a tennis game, and have long days at work. I would have been driving Lucia all over the county for soccer, doing as much yoga as possible, and trying to finish taxes.

But we had none of those pulls there. And our sickness took us to a even more quiet place. We just rested in paradise. In Chinese medicine, they don't use the terminology, "catch a cold." They say that your body is out of harmony, that it needs to get back in balance. I believe that. Too much running around, too much of anything, even good things, can take the body out of harmony. Our Panamanian Paradise was the balance shifter. We both needed quiet, rest, and recovery. I felt so grateful, lying in bed with kleenex floating around the sheets and floor, to look out the window and see the Pacific Ocean, watch the geckos scamper across the ceiling, and listen to the howler monkeys and variant birds creating music outside.

When we returned, we were both on the tail ends of the cold. "What a bummer!" our friends and family exclaimed when then heard we'd spent our vacation sick. But neither of us felt that way. We both loved our vacation resting in paradise.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

It's all there.

Last week my daughter Lucia had her sixth-grade "student led" conference. She told us about how she plans her homework time, how she takes a Meta moment when she gets frustrated or angry, and how she is developing a growth mindset in her studies so she'll continue to work hard.

I was so proud of her. I know she was coached by her teacher and had help preparing for this presentation to her parents, but she was so self-possessed, so clear and direct. There are moments when a parent's heart swells and this was one. After the conference, as we walked through the school corridor to the parking lot I said, "Lucia, I think you did a great job leading your conference. How was that for you?"

Lucia rolled her eyes and said, "Ugh Mom, I hated that, but I think I did fine. I just channeled you." We're at that stage of adolescence where I knew that that statement wasn't meant as a compliment, but I pretended it was and we carried on with our day.

The next morning we got a late start. If I got her to school without a tardy it would be a small miracle. As we turned the corner from our house onto Lake Washington Boulevard, Lucia looked over to me from tying her shoes and said, "Hey Mom, let's do gratitudes on the way to school today."

The backstory here is that I am the annoying parent who tries to get our family to have regular "Family Meetings." I like to start the meetings with appreciations and areas of improvement. We each have a time to share about the other family members what we appreciated and what we'd like to see change in the future. Lucia bristles at this activity every single time.

When she suggested doing gratitudes in the car I was pleasantly surprised. "I'm grateful for living near the lake," Lucia started. "I'm grateful for having a warm, dry house," I said. And back and forth we went for the twelve-minute drive to school. It was one of my favorite twelve-minutes of the year so far and another heart-swelling moment for sure.

Twice in two days I found myself in moments of learning from my daughter. What a refreshing, exciting experience. As a parent it's easy to fall into the trap of controlling the learning to try to ensure that the lessons we impart are fully understood and integrated into our children. But the learning process is not linear, it changes over the course of our lifespans, and it is not unilateral. Lucia has as much to teach me as I have to teach her.

The full-circle experience of seeing my daughter sharing concepts, ideas, attitudes that I've tried to teach was incredibly gratifying and affirming for me. But witnessing her do it in her own way, on her own time, in her own voice, offered me a lesson from her-- to loosen the reigns a little bit, to trust and have faith that, whether it seems immediately apparent or not, the lessons are all there. They really are.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Lessons of Our Teachers


My first grade teacher Ms. Koehler was my least favorite teacher and my second grade teacher Mrs. Fruchter was my most favorite, but I remember them both with equal detail. During first grade my parents got separated and I went a little crazy. Typically a pretty shy, reserved kid, that year I stood on the toilet seat in the girls' bathroom and peeked over the stall. After getting punished for that, I peed at my desk because I was afraid to ask to go to the bathroom. We had reading group EVERY day. Ms. Koehler, in my mind was a mean, ruler-wielding, scolding machine. Mrs. Fruchter, on the other hand, took us to the Jay's Potato Chip Factory and the Lincoln Park Zoo. We did tons of art in her class and I don't remember reading group. I loved Mrs. Fruchter.

In life, we gravitate towards teachers that feel good, loving, compassionate. It's easy to relate to these teachers. They energize us, inspire us, make us feel good about ourselves. The harder, less relatable teachers are ones we don't seek out, but they teach us just the same, maybe even more.

At The SweatBox, my home away from home, I am blessed with many wonderful teachers who nourish and inspire me. But this month, a new, uninvited teacher showed up. After a pretty good streak of no injuries, VoilĂ , I'm smacked with a shoulder injury that screams and yells at me all day long.

Yesterday I went to a physical therapist, a holistically minded healer who, after seeing me for about an hour said a few simple words that shone a big bright light on my situation. "Injuries are our best teachers," she said with a smile, "the teach us everything we need to know." My shoulder injury had rendered me helpless and filled with self-blame for doing something wrong, making a mis-step in my yoga practice, going down a road I shouldn't have. But when this healer reframed this for me, I was able to see things from a new point of view.

This teacher, my shoulder, is telling me to slow down. A lot. Not only should I just move more slowly, but this injury reminds me to pay attention to other aspects of my life that are out of balance.  I don't like this teacher. It is causing me discomfort, pain and confusion. But I am learning from it. For example, after doing a few hours of work at the studio today, I left to finish up at home because another class would be starting and the temptation to practice was too great. On the way home from the studio as I felt sorry for myself, I thought, "Laura, you've not been writing. Take advantage of having time off of your yoga practice to write!"

Today happens to be inauguration day as well, a day filled with fear, sadness, and hopelessness for many. This morning at the studio as a few of my teachers and I bemoaned the state of our nation, I couldn't help but think of the parallels with my shoulder. I don't want to have a shoulder injury. Who would? But what can I learn from it? I don't want Donald Trump to be president, but he is.

Some people have speculated that now that we are in this profoundly despairing and frightening political climate, maybe we can step into a greater place of action. This uncomfortable, unfamiliar experience of shifting leadership can now be our teacher. What can we learn? What changes in our own lives can we make to bring things back into balance? Back to a place where we (and our communities) feel healthy and whole again? That's a much longer blog and a very personal journey for each of us, but it is a worthwhile thought. Who are your teachers? In what forms do your teachers show up in your life?  Teachers are not all good or perfect or loving, but truth be told, Ms. Koehler's the one who taught me to read.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Best is Yet to Come

When 2017 rolled around last week, one of the first things I thought was, "I am going to be 49 years old this year." Forty-Nine. That's not young. Strangely though, the older I get, the more permission I feel to be me. When I was 47, I was closer to 45 which is closer to 40. Now I am firmly on the far-side of 40 and practically spooning 50. I'm further away from the land of "shoulds."

On Friday, one of my teachers, Emily had a birthday. She turned 36 and said that she'd spent the last year of her life really "adult-ing." Emily has a way with words and her use of "adult" as a verb was the first time I'd ever heard it played that way. "Adult-ing." It's a thing. It really happens.

In my late thirties and early forties, I was definitely concerned with where I should be-- in my career, in my relationship, in my status as parent, in my financial stability. I was in the process of "adult-ing." But that feels less significant for me now. I'm fully in acceptance mode that I am pretty much where I will be and where I want to be. I do not take for granted my good fortune to have a job and community that nourish my soul, a partner whom I love, a daughter I adore and am honored and delighted to parent, and a warm roof over my head.  I'm an adult and it feels good. Of course there are the very clear physical markers that come with age--less flexibility (even with a daily YOGA PRACTICE), more wrinkles and gray hair, the revisiting of mood swings reminiscent of adolescence.  But I also have a level of comfort and security internally that hums through me all the time. It's a good feeling-- I am what I am.

In every life cycle, yoga provides a metaphor for the process we are going through. For aging, I would say the metaphor can be found in Yin Yoga.  In my Yin class last week, I opened with a Maya Angelou poem called "On Aging." I interpret this poem as a message to honor that aging process, rather than pitying it. I opened with this poem as a way to encourage the class to honor the hardness of the practice they were doing, to respect all of the physical and emotional experiences that accompany each class.

Getting through the "adult-ing" phase is a good feeling, not unlike that feeling I get at the end of a Yin practice. After the long holds, the internal struggles that accompany Yin practice, when I come out of a Yin class, I leave with a feeling of wholeness. It's a feeling of integration of my different layers, much like this feeling I have as I transition toward the milestone of living for a half-century.

I didn't know, couldn't have known, ten years ago, that I would feel this way. It wouldn't have even made sense at the time, back then when I was striving to "become." I'm not saying that I have no future goals or dreams. I fantasize about writing a book or becoming an expert in (fill in one of 15-20 blanks on any given day), living in Spain, running a marathon. I have not given up those dreams, but I find that I conceive of them differently. It's more of a calm contemplation than a panicking reaction that I will "miss out" on something if I don't keep these unfinished dreams at the fore of my mind. For all of you folks in the "adult-ing" phase, the news is good. The future is bright. The best is yet to come.