Friday, December 15, 2017

Love and Light

A few weeks ago my friends and I went on our annual trip to Portland. My partner Nancy calls this group of friends my "Bossy Posse." We go to Portland every year to do all of our holiday shopping in one efficient weekend. We also have a "YES" policy on this trip-- everything everyone wants to do gets a resounding "YES!" Last year that meant we ate three dinners one night.

This year there were six of us. We piled into my friend Jenna's Toyota minivan equipped with ample snacks, reusable shopping bags, and comfortable walking shoes. We were ready to party (in the way only middle-aged women without their kids can party!)

We rented a gorgeous apartment in a turn of the century building in Nob Hill with a fantastic balcony, plenty of beds for all of us, and a great living room with comfortable spaces for all of our middle-aged bodies.

On Saturday morning we planned to go to Powells first, about a mile walk from our apartment. I am always the first one awake and ready to go. I was ready well before the rest of Bossy Posse so I told them I'd meet them outside. Even though it was raining, it wasn't cold and I wanted to get some fresh air. I walked down from the second-story apartment through the small vestibule into the drizzle and noticed a woman draped in a piece of black cloth wearing red pajama pants with white hearts moving erratically on the sidewalk in front of the building. She was barefoot and moaning. Before I could figure out what was happening she looked up and saw me and started to make her way towards me. I panicked. As quickly as I could, I made a b-line for the little vestibule of our building.  I pulled out the keys to our VRBO and let myself in. The woman followed me into the vestibule and started banging on the glass door, pulling and pushing the doorknob, all the while screaming something I couldn't understand.

I scurried up the stairs to our apartment to talk to the posse, to figure out what to do. Among the six of us, three of us have Masters Degrees in Counseling or Social Work and another works for an organization specializing in grief and addiction services. We are all parents of teenagers. But in the face of this poor woman's plea for help, we all became momentarily lost. None of us knew what to do for this scared, cold, confused young woman.

Eventually, Jenna opened the vestibule door and talked to the woman. She was still yelling and crying. She wanted water and socks. She was speaking nonsensically and the therapists in the group diagnosed psychosis, possibly drug-induced. We got her some warm socks and food and water and called the non-emergency 911 service to come assess her further.

I thought about that woman all day. What had I been afraid of in that moment? Was I afraid that I couldn't help her? Was I afraid of how like her I am? How, without the support of my family and friends, without the benefits of my education and my privilege, I might have been like this woman? Was I just simply frightened of how out of control the situation felt?

As we wandered around Portland that Saturday I saw lots of people who needed dry clothes, food, water. The image of the barefoot, crying, yelling woman in the vestibule running like the baseline through all of these other images. I felt plagued. What happened to me? Why did I turn my back on that poor woman for even a moment?

And then this week we lost a student. A woman. Cece. She was just 40 years old. She died of a heart attack and when she did, the hearts of hundreds, maybe thousands, in our community cracked open a little bit. The outpouring of sadness, of love that flowed like a rushing river in the studio for one woman, one special beautiful woman, brought me back the image of the woman in the vestibule.  Who cries for her? Misses her? Everyone is special and perfect in her own way. Cece was that and more. All of us who knew her were touched by her goodness and her light.

And that woman in the vestibule, the one just like you, just like me, was special and perfect too. I'll never know what happened to her, if she got help, if she found a place to be held and loved and cared for the way we cared for Cece and she cared for so many of us. I wish I could have, would have done more for the woman in the vestibule. I take momentary comfort in the light and love that surround Cece in her end of life; in being a part of a community that is so full of generosity and goodness, but I still think about that woman in the vestibule every day.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

If at first you don't succeed...

Last Thursday when I picked Lucia up from school, she surprised me by launching right into conversation. Usually, the first thing Lucia does is look in the glove compartment to see if I have the kind of bar she likes (I always keep a stash of granola bars in the glove compartment).  As soon as Lucia buckled herself in, instead of foraging, she turned towards me and said, "Mom, I have an ethical dilemma."

"I'm listening," I said.

"Well, we're trying out for solos in choir and I really want to try out but I don't think I should try out because Emma wants to try out too," Lucia explained.

"Why can't you both try out?" I probed, already worried about Lucia's long-term co-dependence issues.

Lucia went on, "I'm worried because the odds are that, between me and Emma, I'll probably get the solo, even though we probably both won't get the solo, but if one of us did, it would probably be me.... and I don't want Emma to feel bad for not getting the solo."

Now my hackles really went up. What the hell?! Instead of launching into the lecture about autonomy and self-preservation and healthy empathy, I stopped myself and presented Lucia with a question.

"If I were to tell you this same thing, that I didn't want to try out for a solo because I was worried about my friend feeling bad, what would you tell me?"

Lucia thought for a moment and then replied, "Well, I tried out for every single solo last year and I only got two. So I guess telling Emma that even if she fails, she has to try would be a good thing for her to know.  She'll probably fail just like me before she gets a solo."

We processed this a bit more, but the ethical dilemma felt solved for the most part. The solution felt clean and clear and perfect. And, Lucia had come to it on her own which made the outcome that much sweeter.

Being a parent is hard. Trying to shield your child from pain is a natural parental response. Last year when Lucia got the solos, she was so happy and I was so happy for her. But I didn't really think about the times she didn't get the solos. The failure was just part of the journey for her, part of getting to the success.

Too often I forget this, that failure is part of the journey. I fall into the trap of wanting things to just happen. For example, when I offer a new workshop at the studio and I don't get the enrollment I want, I feel like a failure and I resist offering it again. But that's not the answer. The answer is to get back on the horse and try again. Neither Lucia nor Emma got the solo this time, but I hope they'll both keep trying.

Friday, October 27, 2017

¡Solo Español!

My seventh grade daughter Lucia is taking her first year of Spanish. After a summer of worrying if she'd get Spanish (instead of French of Japanese), Lucia was thrilled to learn that she would be enrolled in her language of choice.

I took Spanish all four years of high school and majored in Spanish in college. I spent a year living in Spain. Sadly I rarely use Spanish in my day-to-day life, but now that Lucia has Spanish homework and quizzes and tests, I speak it much more than I have in the past twenty years.

Lucia is filled with questions about Spanish, "Is there a way to say 'high five' in Spanish?"; "How do people who speak Spanish say 'um'?"; "Why do they use upside down question marks and explanation points in Spanish?" It is so fun to have this new concept to talk about together.

Our neighbor Ella, also in first year Spanish often carpools to soccer with Lucia. At the beginning of the school year, hearing the girls talking about their new language, I implemented a new soccer carpool policy: ¡Solo Español! (Only Spanish).

With ¡Solo Español!, I speak to the girls only in Spanish and they have to try to figure out what I'm saying. I give them lots of hints, do as much hand gesticulating as possible while driving, and I put one of my old Spanish-English dictionaries in the back seat for them to reference (though they'd much rather use their phones.)

Last night after a late practice that finished close to 9pm, driving home I started speaking in Spanish. I talked about the leaves on the trees on Lake Washington turning yellow, red, and orange. Since they had learned colors, after several attempts they were able to deduce that I was talking about the trees. I asked if they were hungry and they could answer, "Sí.I asked if practice was fun and they could say, "Sí, muy bueno."

There were lots of things the girls didn't understand, but we still had a conversation. And, most important, we had fun. I often get so frustrated dealing with areas in my life I don't comprehend fully. I anticipated this feeling yesterday when I called my insurance carrier to figure out where my family will land with Trump's demolition of Obamacare. I went into the call with a sense of dread but I ended up spending an hour-and-a-half on the phone with three incredibly helpful customer service agents. One guy, Owen, said at the beginning of our conversation, "Good. You're asking questions. When you don't understand, keep asking me questions. That's what I'm here for."

We can't be experts in everything. We need each other to learn, especially new things. The idea that learning can be fun is something every parent hopes for their kids--that they are exposed to teachers who are creative and energetic and enthusiastic in ways that give kids joy when they are learning.  The idea that learning can be fun is important as an adult too. When I take a yoga class or training, I want to feel excited and engaged. When the teacher gives me enough information to feel like I know what I'm doing and room to be confused and a little bit lost, I am in a situation where I feel safe enough to try new things, to take risks, but also to fail as often as I succeed.

By the end of my talk with Owen, even though I was still a little bit confused when we hung up, I felt great. I felt confident that I'd learned enough (though not everything) and I felt certain that Owen had heard my concerns and given me as much help as he could. I had to send a few more emails and make a few more phone calls, but I wasn't cranky or distraught. I was in a surprisingly good mood.

Last night after soccer when we dropped Ella off around the corner, as she got out of the back seat, I yelled, "Hasta el Sabado," (see you Saturday), and she stammered, "uh, uh?"

Then I tried, "Buenas noches."

Ella looked back from her front walkway, ¿Qué? 

"Adios", Lucia and finally yelled together.

"Ohhhhh....Adios", Ella replied with a big fat smile on her face.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Pioneer Days

I have a binge TV watching habit. Currently I am on Season 3 of The Americans. I justify this habit by telling myself that everyone needs to check out sometimes. Nancy reverts to reading The New York Times and The Washington Post on her phone fifteen times a day. My friend Alia follows every detail of each victim of every disaster in the news. All three of us are spending time that could be spent elsewhere, doing other things, real life activities that would make us feel happier.

I love all things Prairie Days. I was a devotee of the whole Little House on the Prairie series (books and television) and I love Willa Cather. The wholesomeness and completeness of the lives of pioneers makes sense to me. I sometimes wonder if Laura Ingalls Wilder ever had "check out" time.  It's not that the lives of the pioneers were without struggle or drama, but the necessary tasks to make daily life function kept everyone on track and focused and in constant connection with each other.

Recently Nancy quit her news habit in preparation for a week-long retreat where she'd be without internet,  phone or any other kind of media. When she came back she stayed off her devices, especially the news sites. The day she got back she said to me, "Laura, my Lyft driver in California kept talking about Las Vegas. What happened in Las Vegas?" This was several days after the massacre. About a week later she started to tell me about a Tom Petty video a friend had emailed her. 

"It's so sad that Tom Petty died" I said.  

"Tom Petty died!!!!?" Nancy screamed in surprise from the couch.

The changes I've noticed with Nancy being mostly news free (she only reads it on Sunday now), are that she seems happier; she reports feeling better overall, more at ease and balanced. Nancy has replaced her news time with meditation, spending time with her family and friends, and reconnecting on the phone with other people she loves. This summer when I started a garden as a habit to counter my after-work screen tendencies, I too felt happier and more balanced. Being outside, seeing the fruits of my labor has given me a sense of joy and accomplishment. The shift from vacantly filling time (escaping into media) to engaging in something real is a choice that Laura Ingalls Wilder never had to make.

For many of us, the drive to escape from the intensity of life is strong. Most of us are inundated with details about news and other life issues even if we don't want to hear them. Living in a city, having a job, raising families, we have to be connected to function. There are tasks we need to be engaged with-- driving carpool, paying bills, cooking dinner, organizing work tasks. It's the modern day version of Laura Ingalls Wilder's family responsibilities-- sowing the wheat, building the barn, churning the butter, planning the church picnic.

The problem is that a lot of these current era daily functions bring us to our phones or laptops. Look up a recipe online, pay bills with online banking, text the parents from soccer carpool. We have too much connection. We're so used to this information overload that we fill our quiet time with more of it, exacerbating the problem and systematically destroying our ability to be without our devices.

The two times I am actually without my phone on a regular basis are in the yoga room and in my bed. I always plug my phone in downstairs in the kitchen when I go to sleep and we have a cell phone free yoga studio, so the phone stays quiet when I am practicing or teaching. I'm grateful for these few hours of each day that remind me that I don't need to be connected to my device to be connected to the world, the real world.  Divesting from our devices is a practice, just like quitting caffeine or meditating. I will still use my device to coordinate and plan and organize and get information, but I'm committed to being ever mindful of where my true connections are-- with myself, with other people, with real life.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

My beautiful mug

Last year for Mother's Day Lucia made me a mug at one of those paint-and-go ceramics places. Lucia is close to thirteen, past her enthusiastic arts and crafts days. It's rare that I get handmade gifts anymore, and I really cherished that mug. Beyond the fact that Lucia made the mug, I loved the thickness of the lip and of the handle. They felt perfect for my mouth and my hand.

I used that mug every morning. My partner Nancy and I have a ritual of setting up the coffee maker the night before and then, whoever gets up first (usually me) goes down and turns it on, warms the milk and then brings coffee to whomever is still in bed. Every morning that mug sat at our little coffee station waiting for me. Every morning I derived immense joy from sipping my perfectly prepared coffee in my special mug. I almost always drank a second cup on my way to work. I hand washed the mug so it wouldn't fade in the dishwasher.

One afternoon, arms full of groceries, I tossed the mug into my yoga bag to bring into the house. I dropped my yoga bag full of sweaty clothes on the landing to the basement as I always do. This time though, in addition to the normal thud, I heard a loud crash. I knew immediately that I had broken "the mug." I was heartbroken, devastated, anguished. Lucia, who was standing there immediately said, "Mom, it's no big deal."

I continued moving around the house, getting dinner ready, putting away laundry, checking my email and periodically I'd let out a moan, "OOOOhhhh, I can't believe I broke the mug." Lucia was always right there reminding me, "Mom, it's no big deal. What is wrong with you?!!!"

When Nancy came home a few hours later I told her, as if I'd lost my first born child, "Honey, I broke my mug."

"Darn," she said as she flipped through the day's mail, "That's a bummer."

Based on the reactions of my family members, I was clearly over-reacting to this broken piece of porcelain. The remnants of the mug sat pathetically on the dining room table for a few days. The sad pieces were definitely not glue-able but I couldn't bring myself to part with them.

Then one morning I woke up and did my usual morning mediation. When I came downstairs and saw the ceramic remains still on the dining room table, I knew that I would move past this "drama" by giving the mug a new life. I took the broken shards and put them in my garden around a basil plant and the rest, extra special because it had Lucia's initials and mine on the bottom, I put on my altar. It fits my little vial of eclipse water just perfectly.

What's the lesson? I see now that this beautiful, perfect mug, this predictable, stable part of my life, could not last forever because nothing lasts forever. Nothing stays the same. The weather changes. Our roles as parents change. Our relationships with our partners change. Our positions in our work lives change.  Sometimes it's a slow change, subtle and calm. Other times, like the mug, it comes with an unexpected crash. The result is the same. With change, we need to shift gears, redirect, repurpose, find new ways to make meaning out of what is left.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Find myself. Repeat.

I do yoga five or six days a week. I do it because I love it.  I love the practice. I love the teachers. I love the community. I know that if I didn't do yoga, the slow build of fatigue, emotional despair and inflexibility would take over. I know this because I've had periods of not doing yoga. When I neglect my practice, my body misses it for sure, but mentally I notice it more. I tend to get lost; a little adrift and unclear of where I am headed. I am more who I want to be when I practice. Doing yoga is not so much about fixing myself as finding myself.

When I first started practicing in my twenties, my practice was very isolated. I practiced my yoga and then I left, very quickly. Yoga class was an efficient way of re-centering during the tumbleweed storm of my twenties. There was very little spillover, at least consciously, from the yoga room to other parts of my world. I lived my crazy life, went to yoga a few times a week where I focused on slowing down, watching my breath, relaxing. Then I'd change clothes and head back into the chaos. I didn't really think about how yoga affected the other parts of my life.

Nearly twenty-five years later, I can see how different my practice has become. I'm almost fifty-years-old, so maturity naturally accounts for some of my evolution, but it's also the years of practice.  I notice when I am in a regular practice cycle that I am more calm, more patient, more kind-- to myself and others. Sometimes Lucia, my twelve-year-old, says to me, "Mom, maybe you need yoga." Neither Lucia, nor my partner Nancy has ever once complained about my going to yoga at the studio or doing yoga at home. They are in full support because they know it makes me my best self.

It's not that I learn something new each time I practice, it's that I reconnect with the lessons I've lost. Though I'm a much calmer, more grounded being than I was two decades ago, I am still vulnerable to the forces of stress and distraction that I have always been. When I practice and a teacher reminds me, for example, that "nothing is permanent" or that "breathing normally will calm my nervous system," it's not that I don't know those jewels of wisdom, it's that I need to be reminded of them.

I'm always been a high-intensity person. It's in my DNA. I get satisfaction and self-esteem from being a doer, making shit happen, taking on more than I can chew. I don't know how I got so lucky to make yoga my life's work. I can't imagine where I would be mentally, physically or emotionally without it. I mean, if I had chosen, for example, to become a day-trader (which I think would be super exciting and fun), I might very well be dead by now. As it is, I have several ventures outside of being a yoga teacher that keep me amped up. Being a high-gear personality, I need the daily reset of yoga to quiet me down. I know I'm not alone. Many of us need yoga or something like it to balance the crazy. I'm eternally grateful that going to work everyday is the very thing that keeps me sane. When I think of how lucky I am that this is my life, I simply have no words.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Loving Kindness

Sometimes I pick up my almost 13-year-old daughter Lucia from school and try to hug her. It's kind of like hugging a stick. She's embarrassed and annoyed. Duh. Why can't I remember that feeling in the moment. When I stop and think about it, I clearly remember feeling that way towards my own mother when I was a teenager. What happens to us that we fall right into behaviors that we actively committed to never doing? That's surely fodder for another blog.

Lucia and I have a lot of very similar characteristics. We're both like sticks when people try to hug us and we're not prepared for it. We both turn inwards and become remote when we are disappointed or hurt. We're both resistant to new things. We both love to read. Despite all of our similarities, Lucia is clearly her own person and there are countless things I learn about her everyday.

Our nighttime ritual has always been reading together before bed. Even now when the two of us barely fit into her bed, we read. I usually read out loud to Lucia. Sometimes she reads out loud to me and sometimes we take turns reading to each other. The books have become more mature and I am as riveted by their content as she is. Oftentimes I'm more excited to get to the night reading than she is. When we are done reading, Lucia takes off her glasses, turns off her bedside lamp, and we have a "chitty-chat"-- a short debrief of the day or a conversation about what's on her mind. Sometimes it's a question about what I was like as a kid or something related to the book we are reading. Other times the chat is related a political issue in our world or something going on with her friends at school.

Recently during our "chitty-chat," Lucia said, "Mom, why do you think I'm like this at night?"

"Like how?" I asked.

"No matter what happens during the day, I always feel so loving and kind at night when we get into bed and read" she explained.

I'm not sure how I answered, but I think about this all the time. Our nightly reading ritual is a a very peaceful part of the day. It's a twenty-minute infusion of calm. When I teach yoga, I often describe the classas a "moving meditation," a time to slow down the mind, even as the body is moving. The reading ritual that Lucia and I share is similar. Like Savasana, it is a familiar ritual that we do every night. Though the content might be different in the book we are reading or the conversation we are having, the ceremony of it is the same. There is a comfort and safety that allows for a deep state of relaxation and openness (or as Lucia describes it, being "loving" and "kind").

I occasionally panic about the inevitable ending of this nightly practice. Will Lucia want to stop when she's fourteen? Sixteen? Tomorrow? I have no way of knowing the answer. For now, I relish our time together every night.

Friday, September 15, 2017

I woke up like this.

Last week I took Emily's Vinyasa class. She had her hair in a really cool top knot braid extravaganza that looked like something from the pages of Italian Vogue. The next morning Emily came in to take my class with her hair in the same super-styled top knot. A student sitting on the bench said, "Your hair is so amazing!" Even in its slightly frizzed and fluffy state from being slept on, it was indeed still amazing.

In response to the student's comment, Emily sarcastically smiled and said, "I woke up like this." It was funny, especially funny to me because I knew that she really had just woken up like that.

Beyoncé has a song called Flawless where she repeats that line, "I woke up like this" over and over. When Emily said those same words about her slept-on-seen-better-days hair style, I immediately heard Beyoncé's voice in my head.

In my house Beyoncé is the favored musical artist, possibly the most favored human being on the planet. Both Nancy and Lucia adore all things Beyoncé  I like Beyoncé a lot, but my love for her does not come close the love my family feels for her.

So, as students signed in and got set up for class, Beyoncé's voice singing, "I woke up like this" echoed in my head. Beyoncé's idealized status in our house is, in part because she's really an amazing singer and performer, but also because she's a bad-ass. She's intelligent. She's a feminist, an activist, an amazing role model for girls and boys alike. And, she does yoga.

As I prepared to teach with images of Nancy and Lucia standing in our kitchen bellowing,  "I woke up like this", it occurred to me how truly powerful those words are. "I woke up like this" means to me that we are, all of us, perfect just as we are.  Our perfection, our true essence is inside of us, from the moment we wake up with our messy hair and unwashed face. Perfection.

I took Beyoncé's (and Emily's) message in with me to the studio. "You're all perfection," I told the class. "Remember through the class, you woke up like this. Perfection."

Yoga is a profoundly beautiful experience because it's about uncovering our own "flawlessness." It's not physical perfection that we seek in yoga. It's self-realization, digging deep down to find our internal diamond in the rough. You see, whatever is supposed to be there is already there. It's you. You really do wake up like this. You wake up as you. Thanks Beyoncé and Emily for the inspirational reminder.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

There's goodness out there.

Yesterday I woke up with ash all over my car. I went to the grocery store to do shopping for the thousands of 7th grade meals that will happen starting today, listened to the news, and slowly felt my heart beat faster and faster with every new piece of information. DACA. Global Warming. Hurricane Harvey. Hurricane Irma. Fires everywhere. My little baby in SEVENTH GRADE. My anxiety was mounting at an unhealthy clip, so I did what always helps. I went to yoga.

I looked at my email on my phone briefly before walking into the studio and saw an email from a Smita, a regular, long-time student. It started like this,

"I have been a student with SweatBox Yoga for a while. And I am taking a moment to thank people around me who have been open-minded and appreciative of racial diversity. Yesterday my husband and I were walking on Capitol Hill towards Trader Joe's when a crazy guy said racial slurs such as 'From where these Indians come?' 'Go back to your country!'"

I felt my heart start beating a little bit harder. What is becoming of this world? How can I raise a child in this climate of hate and fear? I continued reading the letter. This poor woman's husband was assaulted before she was able to get the police and find help. Towards the end of the letter Smita wrote,

"This incident impacted me big time.....I almost didn't sleep the whole night. I remember at The SweatBox in classes how you guys talk about the diversity and supporting all people with different races. I didn't realize what great work you guys do until yesterday. By spreading a message of love and kindness, if we can turn one hater into a good person even that would be a big achievement." 

I read the letter out loud to Emily who was sitting behind the desk waiting for her students to arrive. We shared a moment of being sad, broken-hearted with what the world looks like right now. But we also shared a great comfort to be with each other, in that space, knowing that there is much goodness around us. It is in me, in you, it is in most people.

This morning after class one of my long-time students/friends said, "Laura, what words of wisdom do you have?" It's easy to get mired in the state of the world as it is. I've been there a lot lately--- defeated, frightened, pessimistic, flat out sad.

"The universe is a good place," I said to the student. I imagine that sounds a little pollyanna-ish to some ears, but I hold onto that truth more and more as my own internal fear mounts.  I believe it. There is so much good all around. If I don't acknowledge it, make space for that truth to be part of all the other news, dinner table conversations, calls to action, I will lose my mind.

I'm grateful that Smita shared her experience with me. It's a reminder that there is goodness in many places. Maybe it's in your yoga studio. Maybe it's how your regular barista puts a heart on the top of every latte. Maybe the caregiver who takes care of your child sings the sweetest songs that melt your heart. Maybe it's the way your partner always plays with the clasp on your necklace right before bed or how your daughter plays footsie when you read together.

We are in a crisis. Shit is bad. We all share a responsibility to stand up for what is right, fight the good fight, act against bigotry, hatred, intolerance, and ignorance. To do this, we need energy, sustenance, love and comfort. When you get a chance, appreciate the goodness around you. Acknowledge it to the good people in your life and acknowledge it within yourself. A little goodness goes a long way. If we put it all together, we might just heal this world.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Back to Back

Last night in Adaptive Yoga we were volunteer heavy. Adaptive yoga is a class specifically designed for students with significant mobility issues. Volunteers assist in helping the students to move their bodies into poses and act as props or supports to facilitate certain postures.

Since there were a lot of volunteers, I opted to just observe. It had been a few weeks since I was at class and I wanted to get back in the groove. About halfway into the class, an additional student, Carl, came and we were suddenly in need of my volunteer support.

Carl arrived just as the class was getting ready to transition from chairs to the floor. This process takes a bit of time because volunteers have to transfer each student from their wheelchair to the floor mats. Once Carl was transferred, Joan, another volunteer, and I worked with Carl. Carl is maybe 30 years old, about 6'2" with a strong, athletic build. Carl is paralyzed almost entirely from his neck down with some very specific and limited movement in his arms.

The first exercise on the floor was to go back to back and work on forward and back bends and then side to side flexion. Because Carl and I are both tall, I volunteered to be back to back with him for this exercise. The teacher Kelly and volunteer Joan helped support Carl while I shimmied in behind him and found a comfortable place where we could both balance. Kelly and Joan helped us to hook our arms with each other  and we began moving forward and back and side to side with Nicole's (another teacher) cues.

"I don't have much control", Carl said,  as I folded forward supporting the length of his torso on my back. Then I pushed him back up and laid my upper body weight onto the length of his back. Back and forth we went.

I've done this posture before. About a year ago, I taught a room of couples for a Valentine's Day Yin workshop and was surprised by how challenging it was, even for couples, to let go of control and give in to the posture. I noticed right away how comfortable and relaxed I was doing this posture with Carl. Was it me knowing of his inability to control his body that gave me permission to let go of my grip on the posture?  Was it the vulnerability he modeled when he said, "I don't have much control?"

I think it was both, and I consider the experience a moment of grace, one of those magical moments where I both learn something profound and feel an overwhelming surge of gratitude. In Yin today, I shared this story with my students."Try releasing some of your own control in these postures," I said. I wanted them to feel what I felt, to energetically receive the release that came from really letting go.

I don't know if it worked. I really hope it did.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


On Sunday Lucia and Nan and I took Amtrak down to Salem to stay with my aunt Gretchen and see the total eclipse. Nan had reserved train tickets months before in preparation, but at the last minute I resisted going because I was two days away from finishing The SweatBox upgrades and I felt stressed about managing the final stages remotely. I rationalized that the eclipse in Seattle would be at 92% of totality and that seemed good enough.

But Lucia and Nan convinced me that seeing a total solar eclipse was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I could manage The SweatBox from afar. We'd avoid traffic because we'd be on the train. We had a place to sleep, a place to watch the eclipse, and my favorite aunt waiting for us with eclipse glasses. Nancy even looked up a couple of eclipse rituals: One, to put water in jars and expose it to the two minutes of totality, and save it for times when we might need some extra energy or support.  A second idea we all did was to treat the eclipse like a time of renewal. The idea was to set intentions for what we wanted to let go of or release from our lives as well as things we hoped to manifest. For me, one of the things I struggle to release is control, especially while traveling. I included this in my eclipse renewal list.

Our trip down on the train was uneventful. We played four hours of gin rummy, hearts, and solitaire in the club car and ate a steady stream of alternating salty and sweet snacks.

The next morning we filled our eclipse water bottles and set up to watch the eclipse in a huge open field behind Auntie Gretchen's house. It was just us and one other family in a vast stretch of prairie. We started seeing the moon cross over the sun at a little after 9am and the events that followed were nothing short of miraculous.  Perhaps more than seeing the moon pass in front of the sun, what affected me most were the shifts in our immediate environment. When we started watching the sun through our eclipse glasses, the air was hot and the sky was bright. As soon as the moon covered about 70 percent of the sun, we noticed the light around us starting to change. It got chilly and, as the eclipse reached totality, it got REALLY cold and the light turned eerie, like we were on a movie set with no natural light. And the animals started to react. Lucia said she heard owls. We saw three bats racing overhead. Birds of all kinds chirped maniacially. Dogs barked at random. And then, just was quickly, the world came back to normal. The temperature started rising, the light got warmer. We shifted back to regular life, but I felt kind of funny--tired, weak, borderline nauseous.

I told Nancy that I felt like I'd had a physiological shift from the eclipse. I'm inclined towards high woo woo and Nancy is a die hard pragmatist. "Laura," she said, "you had a lot of coffee and there was a lot of build up to the eclipse. Maybe that's what you're feeling."  But I felt like it was something more. I'm not a physicist and I don't understand much about the earth's magnetic pull, but if felt related to that, like my own equilibrium was off, something had shifted.

A few hours later it was time to get back on the train and make our way north to Seattle. As predicted, the train depot was mobbed and our northbound train was late. True to my anxious nature, I was managing an imminent panic response. There were so many people. I was sure if we got seats at all,  they'd be crappy seats; surely we wouldn't be able to sit together.  We waited in the massive line to board the train and got assigned three seats, two together and one directly across the aisle that looked occupied. I circled back to talk to the conductor, a petite raspy-voiced woman in her late fifties (I soon learned her name was Maureen). "My seat looks occupied by an employee," I told her. "Aw, don't worry about that, just push my stuff over" she croaked.

So Nancy and Lu sat on one side and I sat next to Maureen's pig pen.  Somehow I became Maureen's assistant. As the train pulled out of the Salem station, Maureen handed me a dirty piece of paper with wrinkled tape with the wifi password. "Anyone who needs help with the wifi, just talk to Laura here in seat # 37", Maureen yelled to the whole car and then heavily patted me on my head three times before marching towards the dining car.

Throughout the five hour ride, Maureen would stop by and ask me to get her something from her pile of papers, "Go in my purse," she'd say, "and hand me some more of those cafe vouchers" or "Find me my cherries. I need some cherries." Nancy and Lucia laughed from the other side of the aisle every time Maureen came by with a request.  But all I could think about was, "Why did I land in this seat?"

Surprisingly, I wasn't bothered by Maureen. When she woke me up from a little snooze to have me grab something, I was happy to see her, thrilled for the distraction from the monotony of a long train ride. Maybe the shift in my equilibrium from the eclipse drew Maureen to me or me to her. Maybe my intention to relinquish a little bit of control actually worked.

I'm still riding high from seeing the eclipse in totality. I didn't think it would affect me like it did. I didn't think seeing a natural phenomenon would mean this much to me. But it did. It changed my perspective. I got a gift, a beautiful two-minute lifetime within a lifetime that gave me a different lens. At the end of the trip Maureen actually made me leave my seat and find another so she could get her stuff together.  When we disembarked Maureen stepped off the train to ask a passenger walking by for for a puff off of her vape!!! The train ride being Maureen's assistant could have been bad, real bad, but it wasn't. It was hilarious, and fun, and light, even great. The total eclipse of the sun rocked my world. So far, the aftermath has been pretty great too.

Monday, August 14, 2017

4 planes, 3 airports, 28 hours, a flood warning, a bunch of squished frogs, and one really good friend

Tomorrow my good friend Vanessa officially turns 50 years old. She's about a year and a half ahead of me and about a year and a half behind my partner Nancy. Last summer when we were in New York, Vanessa told us to save the date for her 50th- August 2017.

A few months ago when Vanessa finally let us know that the official date of her party would be August 12th, I had to tell her that I couldn't come. Because of existing summer travel, I couldn't leave until Friday and The SweatBox was starting a big renovation the following Monday so I had to be back by Sunday. Vanessa lives in Manhattan and her party would be at her weekend house in upstate New York. It was just too far and convoluted to figure out a way to get there and go to the party leaving Friday and returning Sunday.

Since I don't really feel inclined to have a big party for my 50th, I felt okay telling Vanessa that I couldn't go, but it quickly became apparent that this was not a big party and she really only wanted a handful of good, old friends to come. So, at the last minute we decided that I would surprise Vanessa and go. Nancy used her ridiculously good travel planning skills and got me a ticket. We'd fly via Detroit into Newburgh and rent a car to Vanessa's, only about 45 minutes from Newburgh. I thought it was perfect. We'd avoid New York City traffic and airports and be in and out for the party with no trouble.

Our flight on Friday left at 6am and we planned that I'd park my car at the airport so I could go straight to the studio on Sunday night when I landed (Nancy would stay an extra day). On Friday, we got up at 3:45am and made it through parking and security with no problems. Our flight from Seattle to Detroit took off without a hitch. So far so good.

Once we got to Detroit, we learned that our flight to Newburgh would be an hour late (that's after the planned 2 hour layover). That delay went from one to two to three hours, leaving us in the Detroit airport for 5 1/2 hours. We made the best of it. We wandered, ate snacks, drank Prosecco, people watched. Nancy spoke to Vanessa multiple times, pretending she was traveling alone, stranded solo in Detroit.

By the time we landed in Newburgh there was a full on rainstorm and our phones were sending out emergency warnings for a flash flood. We'd planned to be at Vanessa's by 6pm but by now it was already after 9pm. We followed the Google Maps voice until we were a mile away, at which point I climbed in the back seat to hide for our arrival and we lost service all together. Nancy kept screaming because she was running over errant frogs hopping across the wet country roads. I, prone to motion sickness, was lying on the suitcase with my windows rolled down, offering very little help to poor Nancy. Exhausted, hungry, driving in unfamiliar territory without street lights or cell service, we basically guessed the last one thousand yards to Vanessa's driveway. But we finally made it. Nancy got out first and went into the house and I stumbled in five minutes after, a rumpled, wet, nauseated surprise.

We stayed up late that first night catching up, grateful and excited to be together. We woke up early the next day to set up for the party. It was so great to be there, and Vanessa was so happy! The party was an all day affair around the pool, then the dining room table on the deck, then the pool again, then the fire pit and back inside for second dinner at 1am. It was an epic party.

The next morning, fully sated from the day of fun and eager to get to the studio to set up,  I took our rental car back to Newburgh for a 2pm flight. Mechanical problems turned the 2pm flight turned into 5pm. I missed my connection in Detroit and my 7pm arrival to Seattle turned into midnight. This morning when I went to the studio at 5am with 4 hours of sleep and airplane hair, I calculated my time traveling to Vanessa's party-- 28 hours- 14 there, 14 back. The time I was actually at Vanessa's house was about 38 hours and I slept 12 of those. I can't believe I'm saying this, but it was totally worth it.

Happy Birthday Vanessa!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Crashing waves

My two sisters and I are less than two years apart. Katherine and I are twins and Amy is twenty-one months younger. When we were kids we rotated in different duos within our trio. Although we each had our own bedrooms, we often migrated for periods of time to one of our sister's rooms. Sometimes Katherine and I would share a bedroom, sometimes me and Amy, and sometimes Katherine and Amy. Though we fought like all siblings, I remember more good times than bad with my sisters. We grew up in the 1970s when grown ups, at least our grown ups, were sowing their wild oats, finding themselves, letting us kids figure out how to entertain ourselves with minimal adult supervision.

We ran in a neighborhood pack on the South side of Chicago. Our posse-- Christa, Regan, Joby, Frouwkje--with the periodic inclusion of other neighborhood kids, had a regular weekend garage sale on the corner of 57th and Harper in front of Powell's  Bookstore. We'd take the books out of the free box and label them with nickel, dime and quarter price tags and add that to old sheets, kitchen utensils and toys from our respective houses. The police once gave us a warning for selling pillow cases with block labeling "PROPERTY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO" that we'd grabbed from our linen closet.

In many ways our childhood was fantastic. I have great sadness that my daughter doesn't have the freedom to be wild and unaccounted for in the ways I was. But those years were also chaotic and sometimes unsafe and my sisters and I developed a tight bond, one that has lasted into adulthood. But just like our room swapping as kids, we've gone through lots of different relational incarnations with each other.

There have been times when Katherine and I were really close and Amy wasn't deep in the mix. Katherine and Amy have had times of connection and I've been on the outside and Amy and I bond deeply one month and find more distance others. We all live in different states now, so there are very few times when the three of us are all together in one room. Our interactions are mostly via phone calls, email and text.

But every summer we all get together. The sisters, our parents, and the grandkids. Those are amazing times, uproariously funny times. And because we're not familiar with the intensity anymore, they almost always make us a little bit crazy. A few weeks ago we all gathered in Michigan for a reunion. Toward the end of the seven days, I was feeling the familiar frustration that comes from being together intensely. I think Katherine and Amy were feeling it too. Right before dinner when the Lake Michigan waves are high and strong, Katherine and Amy said they were going down to the lake. At the last minute I decided to join them.

Riding the energy of an intense day, we walked down to the lake in relative silence. I felt tense, a familiar upset feeling from finding myself back in that hijacked anxious state that I get when I see myself repeating old familial patterns. I felt like throwing a tantrum or beating the shit out of someone. As we crested the dunes to the lake, we could see that the waves were higher than they'd been all week. There were only two other people on the whole beach.

Within seconds we had all dropped our towels and were running into the waves. We've been diving into those waves our whole lives and the joy we felt as we plunged headfirst into them was visceral. We emerged, bathing suits askew from the force of the water, hair wildly placed in ridiculous sandy combovers, laughing hysterically at ourselves and each other. It was the laughter that I only have with my sisters. The waves beat the shit out of us. For twenty minutes we dove in and the lake spit us out. And then, as if in silent agreement, Katherine walked towards the shore and Amy and I followed. We gathered ourselves into our towels, slipped on our sandals and, bathing suit bottoms filled with sand, walked home for dinner.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Family Yoga

Last week I spent seven days with my family at a house in Michigan. It was my little family-- Nancy  and Lucia (12),  our 12-year old niece Kaye, my sister Amy, her husband Ben and their seven-year-old Sam, my sister Katherine and her two boys, Joe (15 1/2) and Sean (14), my mom (76) and stepfather (89).

All families are intense and dysfunctional in their own special ways. My family is no different. Depending on the year and the individual states of mind among all of the kids and parents, different combinations of people work well and others not so well on our family trips. There are always good times, lots of laughing, game playing, teasing, cooking and eating on our family trips, but there's also a collective tension that builds. By the end, even though we all love each other, we're ready to say goodbye.

This morning as we were cleaning up our rental house, I was washing the dishes and broke a vase. When I told my mom, she said, "Oh God, that's a fancy one. It's an Aalto!" I had no idea what an Aalto was, but I was quickly schooled. Yes, indeed it was a fancy one. "The Aalto Littala" to be specific, retailing for $175 at MOMA.

So the end of my trip was punctuated by bullshit-- texting the owner about replacing a vase that we used for 4 days for flowers that died. I spent fifteen minutes stewing in my room between attempts to find the Aalto Littala on sale, but eventually there was nothing I could do but let it go. A broken glass vase cannot be pieced back together, no matter how many ways you try.

As we left the vacation rental I was stewing. The broken vase compounded by the build up of tension from lots of family time made me feel manic and a little bit violent. As we started the two-hour drive from Michigan to Midway airport in Chicago, I tried to redirect my energy by thinking about all of the great moments we had together. One of my favorite was an impromptu poolside yoga class with my fourteen year old nephew Sean, his 15 year old brother Joe, Lucia and Kaye (12), Nancy, my mom and my two sisters.

We only had beach towels, no mats, and it was 8pm, the end of a full day of swimming, tennis and a huge dinner. But somehow it happened. Nancy and Lucia are used to family yoga; we do it often. But I was truly surprised that anyone else joined in. My nephew Sean was the biggest shocker. Sean is an extreme athlete. He's a trampolinist, a wild flipping scooterer, the kind of kid who jumps off roofs without batting an eye. A few months ago, while jumping off of a roof onto a trampoline doing a triple flip, Sean broke his neck and had surgery to fuse two of his cervical vertebrae. In addition to his recent injury, Sean is also a quintessential teen, spending most of his time on his phone and in his room.

So when I asked Sean to join he said, "Sure, I'll try," I was floored. I started the class quickly so that nothing would distract him away from doing yoga. The class lasted about 40 minutes and was very low key. Sean did every posture and stayed seemingly present the whole time (no phone, eyes closed, snickering undetectable).  I can still his face in final Savasana-- peaceful, quiet, beautiful. I can picture the faces of everyone in my family that evening. I have these moments often at the studio when I look around the room after a class and see my students recalibrating, integrating all of the information from the class. It's why I love my job. It's a gift to me to see the peace that comes to people when they slow down, take away the bullshit, and breathe new life into their bodies. I'm not sure when my family will get together again, but until we do,  I'll so grateful to have the image of their beautiful post-yoga faces to remember.

Friday, July 7, 2017


A few weeks ago, I was paired with Betty at Adaptive Yoga.  Betty does not use a wheelchair; she has full use of her whole body, but she likes the class.  In adaptive yoga, volunteers like me facilitate movement for people who have limited mobility. Often we do hip openers by moving the legs from bent to straight to bent again. Or we rotate the leg right and left in circles to bring some lubrication to the hip joints.

I offered to help Betty move her legs because, even if you can move your legs on your own, it often feels really good to surrender and let someone else do it for you. Like many people, Betty had a hard time relinquishing control in this exercise.  In fact, she did the opposite of relaxing into the movement.

A few things to know about Betty. She is little, maybe 4 feet 10 inches. And she's old, a surprisingly young, and strong 92 years old. And, she always wears a royal blue sweatsuit.  As I tried to help Betty through the hip circles (and she resisted) I couldn't get over how strong her little 92-year-old legs were. Betty was married to her husband for 68 years and he died last year. She started yoga as a way to keep busy, and healthy. She also started wearing magnetic bracelets and anklets to help channel energy that would help her back pain. She got that idea from the suggestion of a vendor at the mall.

As a yoga teacher, I am surrounded all the time by people who are pretty open-minded. But these people are in their 20s or 30s or 40s. When I was a kid, we used to visit my grandmother in the Drexel Home in South Chicago. Sometimes our school would go to do crafts and sing songs with the old people who lived there. I always loved the visits with my class and with my family. My grandmother and the other residents were always so appreciative. Old people have experienced so much more life and loss than the rest of us that they are simply wiser. What a gift it was to spend time, doing yoga no less, with this special nonagenarian!

As the class came to an end and everyone was getting comfortable in Savasana, the other teacher Nicole came over to Betty to ask her if she needed anything. Betty's eyes were already closed and her face emanated pure bliss. Her little blue sweatsuit-clad body was perfect as it was.  I looked down at her, watching her chest rise and fall with her breath, her anklets and bracelets slack on her ankles and wrists. "She's amazing," I thought to myself. Nicole and I shared a smile of appreciation for this beautiful soul before she moved on to check on the other students.

When I went home that night, I was, as I almost always am after teaching yoga, gleeful, excited, at peace, all at the same time. My heart was full of Betty, of all her goodness-- her open-mindedness, her faith in healing, her ability to be honest about managing the loss of her husband, her perseverance get herself to finally let go at the end of class. Gifts really do come in all sorts of packages.  Thank you Betty!

Thursday, July 6, 2017


Last week we went out on a motor boat on Lake Washington. The temperature peaked at 93 degrees and after hanging at the lake in the heat of the day, we were all excited to hop aboard our friend Andrea's motor boat and get some wind in our hair. Though it was very hot, it was also choppy on the lake and it seemed that every boat and jet ski registered in the greater Seattle area was out for a spin.

I'm prone to motion sickness. When we travel abroad, I alway pack a perscription anti-nausea, but I rarely take it when we're just on the lake. A few weeks ago we went out on the same boat and I was just fine. But last week, I found that I could barely hold on. A few times I jumped into the water to get off the rocking vessel. That provided a temporary solution but the seasickness came right back as soon as I got back on the boat.

Andrea offered to take us on a longer tour, all the way from south of Seward Park to the 520 bridge. Not wanting to be a pooper, I agreed but about halfway in I realized that I couldn't do it. Head between my knees, I told Nancy I was a goner. She told Andrea who graciously complied with this last minute change of plans. We made a B-Line for the west side of the lake so we could turn back and head to the moorage near our house.

I was okay when the boat was speeding, but as soon as we slowed down to pack up our stuff and get ready to dock, the seasickness came back in a furious wave. Andrea suggested she bring the boat a bit closer in so I could swim the 50 yards to shore. Desperate to escape the nausea, I jumped at the opportunity. I've actually followed this protocol before. Several years ago when Nancy and I were kayaking in Belize, I had to abort mission and swim the last leg of our trip because the rocking of the sea waves beneath the kayak was too much for me.

Still very queasy, I leapt from the nose of the boat into the lake. The waves were big, my stomach was inside out, and the lake bottom was nowhere near my toes. I panicked. Even though I was a competitive swimmer for over 15 years, I often forget my skills in open water and lose my calm. I turned over onto my back and treaded water. I tried to take little sips of air, but I couldn't catch a full breath.  I wasn't okay. "Laura, are you alright?!!!" Nancy yelled from the boat. Not wanting to scare Lucia who standing right behind Nancy, I made a face gesture indicating that no, I was not okay. I was literally over my head. I didn't know how to get control. I needed help.

Nancy threw me a life preserver. I managed to wrangle it onto my body and I dog paddled to shore. As I climbed out onto the wall, I could see people sitting up on their towels, on paddle boards, in boats looking at me, wondering if I was okay, trying to figure out what the spectacle of the woman jumping off the boat and needing a life preserver was all about. I didn't care.  I was simply relieved to be safely on land.

In my younger days, I would have died of embarrassment to demonstrate such weakness, such vulnerability. I might have tried to power through somehow, attempt to override my nausea or deny my panic, but these days I am older and wiser. I know that, try as I might, I am not invincible. I am a human being with frailties, fears, and limits. And life is not in my control. The conditions that day on the lake brought me to my knees and I needed help. The only way to take care of myself, on the boat and in the lake, was to admit my weaknesses, to ask for help.

I resist showing my vulnerabilities. I like to be in control. I often find myself in conflict because I can't just admit that I'm scared or hurt or overwhelmed. It's unlikely, but possible, that I could have drowned had I not asked for help that day on the lake. It's one of the great ironies of life, that admitting our weaknesses makes us stronger. It brings us closer to other people because we show up fully, vulnerabilities and all. The experience on the lake was a gift, a reminder that asking for help is a good thing, a necessary part of life.

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


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, daughter 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.

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...