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.

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