Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Sound & Silence

Cory Bryant, Jivamukti Yoga Instructor
Created in this image so God live[s] through us … only love, love, love can reboot us. ~ Wake Up Everybody, Common, Melanie Fiona, John Legend, The Roots

I’ve written a lot about my love of power vinyasa and Rocket yoga, but I haven’t written too much about another kind of yoga I’ve only recently discovered. It’s called Jivamukti.

A Jivamukti instructor subbed our Rocket class, and I found myself with my fellow rocketeers stumbling over his opening chants. I’d never chanted before.

The instructor took us through all the familiar poses, but in a quieter and more deliberate way. His voice was soothing and so was his music. It was a practice that was intense yet gently settling, and I found it to be the perfect complement to the rest of my yoga regimen.

So I went looking for more.

And now I’ve started to attend some Jivamukti classes. And, sure enough, at the beginning of each there is chanting. All of us sit up straight in a comfortable seated position, and cheat sheets are passed around for those like me who may be unfamiliar with the words.

The chanting only lasts a few minutes, but it helps me settle in and makes for a quick connection with those around me. It reminds me of the days when I used to go to synagogue. It’s in another language and sung in unison.  

And I like the sound. It’s calming, and it makes me feel good.

Sound has always been important to me. I start every day with music, and I never drive without it. I even rate movies and television shows by the way they sound. There can be a certain rhythm to the dialogue, and I like those with the most appealing pace.

Even the sound of someone’s voice can mean a lot to me.

I’ve often been drawn to a practice by the sound of an instructor’s voice, and I can honestly say that all of those who have inspired me have done so first with their voices. It’s something I can’t really further explain. I even once hired an attorney based on the sound of his voice!

And once there was live music at yoga. A guitar player sang to us for 75 minutes as we practiced, and I couldn’t help but think there was a hidden microphone somewhere in the room. His music and his voice seemed to wrap around us as we flowed through the practice. And afterward I threw my arms around him and jokingly asked if I could take him home, so he could keep singing to me.

The Jivamukti instructor has written about why we chant.

Sound is God, he writes. Chanting the names of God creates the resonance of God, which exists in you.

He writes that chanting raises our vibration, which is something that exists in all of us. He says this vibration is God, and the effort to tap into it is what marks the yoga practice.

I think there can be as many different reasons for embarking on this practice as there are beliefs in God, but, ultimately, something does happen in this endeavor. Perhaps it’s that we become aware of something greater than ourselves, something inside that we may have forgotten was there in the first place.

And once this awareness strikes, it’s impossible not to want more, no matter what our beliefs.

And so we become seekers. Suddenly, this is why we practice. It’s how I wound up in the Jivamukti class. I liked the idea of using sound as a way to tap into whatever it is that’s inside, because I do think something’s in there!

A while back, a rabbi paid a visit to the yoga center as part of a meditation workshop. His synagogue has a mindfulness center, and he spoke at length about the greatness that exists in each of us. He called it The Source. But instead of accessing it through sound, he taught us how to access it through silence.

In magic marker, he wrote the Hebrew name of God, יהוה, on a piece of paper and passed it around so all could see. There are many names for God in the Jewish religion, but this one is actually never spoken, as it’s considered too holy to speak.

He explained how the letters could be used to meditate. From right to left as Hebrew is written, he said the first letter, Yud, represents the bottom of the exhale, as it’s so little as to almost not be there at all. The second letter, Hey, represents the breath by the very nature of its sound. It’s the inhale. The third letter, Vav, represents the top of the inhale, because it’s long enough to fill the space in which it’s written. And the last letter, another Hey, represents the next breath. It’s the exhale. 

To meditate, the Hebrew letters are silently chanted, over and over with the breath.

Surprisingly, after our short, silent meditations, he softly chanted aloud a little ditty to signal that it was time to open our eyes. 

I think the Jivamukti instructor and the rabbi are both on to the same thing. Both share in the belief that inside all of us is indeed something bigger than ourselves. And whether it’s through sound or silence, both are seeking a means to access it.

And this search appeals to me, even though I find the means to be a bit of a challenge. It’s not easy to sit in silent meditation, a practice I must confess I’ve only just begun. And the chanting is still foreign to me, even though something about it feels very familiar.

Set aside your ego and your judgment, the Jivamukti instructor writes in further explanation for why we chant. Let the rhythm of life move up and through you.

I believe he is teaching what the rabbi taught, because when we fill our lungs with air until we are as full as the letter Vav, isn’t it the same as letting the rhythm of life move up and through us, too? And surely that would leave no room for ego or judgment, by any means.

All that it leaves room for, really, is what has been there all along. It’s what’s deep inside the sound and deep inside the silence and, ultimately, deep inside us all.

It’s that which was always there, and that which we forever seek.

Friday, October 30, 2015


And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, well it’s a hard, and it’s a hard. It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall. ~ A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, Leon Russell
I love the rain. I love any kind of rain.
In fact, the other day after practice, the skies opened up in what I can only describe as a deluge. All the yogis hovered inside the door, waiting for the rain to let up. I wished everybody a good night and flowed right through them like a river into the ocean, eagerly heading out.
I was drenched by the time I reached my car and had to wrap myself in yoga towels for the ride home!
So when I saw that a fellow blogger had written a post titled, The Rain , I clicked on it in the same eager way as I had stepped out into that storm. I was anxious to see what she had to say about the rain.
Her piece was written during Hurricane Joaquin, an early October event that I had totally missed. I was out of town helping my son move. He was only moving 10 blocks, but I was allowed to help! This was a far cry from his earlier days in high school and college when I was relegated to his bedroom doorway whenever he was packing, where he’d be safe from any motherly interference. Only Bubbies, or grandmothers, were allowed in the room at such times, and I’d patiently watch as he and my mother would fold up his life for yet another adventure.
My son’s doorway is where I learned the art of observation. It’s where I learned to listen, a skill that I’d need to hone as he grew older. I’m a talker, and when your child is old enough to be living in another city, it’s imperative to be a good listener in order to keep in good touch.
The most I experienced of Hurricane Joaquin was a single, rainy day, when I happily ran errands around the city in a lovely light drizzle to pick up a few things for my son’s new apartment. I stopped at the street corner and lifted my face to the rain.
My son called from work to check on me. It’s raining! he exclaimed, when I told him I what I was doing. You don’t have to do that, Ma! At least use my umbrella!
My fellow blogger wrote about how it had been raining for so many days that she had lost count. She wondered how it was that people could still practice in such darkness, not just in the darkness that she said was the hurricane, but also in the darkness that she said was sometimes ourselves.
I wonder, she wrote, what does it mean to practice yoga amidst all this, not only on a global or meteorological level, but also amidst the darkness we find sometimes written on our own hearts, be it injury, illness, or any myriad way that loss, dissonance, or hardship can move through us?
I suppose the rain is different for everyone. For her, the unending rain seemed to conjure darker feelings that often take courage to contemplate. But maybe she is the wiser for letting them wash over her, as water is want to do. Maybe this is how she bravely turns her own face to the rain.
I’ve heard it said that yoga can ruin your life, and I think this might be true! But maybe it’s better said that the practice is like a thunderstorm. It comes barreling into our lives but waters us well. It’s an energetic force that clears away blockages. It can get dark, but there are flashes of light. And while there might be turbulence on the mat, there is always stillness and peace at its end.
The other night, I didn’t know it was going to rain. I arrived at yoga, laid out my mat and practiced as the sun fell and the sky darkened. And as I moved through the poses I watched as the windows blinked, again and again, to the point where I wondered whether the outside lights needed new bulbs.
On my drive home I realized that it was lightning that I had seen from the windows. In fact, it hadn’t stopped! This kind of blinking brightness is called heat lightning. It flashes without any rain, like an S.O.S. from the heavens. When I finally arrived home, I saw that my neighborhood streets were wet. As with the hurricane, I had missed the rain again.
In her article about the rain, my fellow blogger writes about facing darkness with faith and belief. In so many words she says that we move through life on a daily basis, and so it only makes sense that we move through our practice on a daily basis, too. I think she is saying that life matters, no matter the darkness, and so continuing to practice has to matter, too.
She writes, … every time we move our bodies through these shapes, it is so much more than the shapes themselves … when we breathe in [and] lift our arms, it is imbued with all that we rise for, [and] when we breathe out [and] fold, [it] contains all that we bow to.
This makes sense to me, and I like how hopeful it sounds. If I listen carefully enough to what she is saying, I hear that just moving our bodies through the shapes is often all that’s needed to help ourselves take care.
I think rainy days are a lot like sitting in the doorway of my son’s room. They are good for making us more observant. They are good for making us better listeners. And that’s all good for figuring out what really matters. And if we find it to be dark, then maybe all that matters is simply moving our bodies through the shapes of the practice.
So for this reason I practice almost every day, rain or shine. And I say to myself what my fellow blogger says in her article: Yes to moving through the shapes and standing on my hands and opening up my hips, because that’s how I participate in my life, no matter what the weather.

Thursday, October 15, 2015


I always feel like someone’s watching me. Tell me, is it just a dream? ~ Somebody’s Watching Me, Rockwell

I believe in ghosts.

There. I said it. And lots of other people do, too. I know this because I picked up some chips and guacamole the other night after yoga, and on the bag was written an essay, titled, Two Minutes About Ghosts, by the author Amy Tan.

Ghosts are among us, she writes. And she counts herself as one of what she says is 42 percent of Americans who believe in ghosts, too.

I have followed Amy Tan as a writer. She writes captivating stories about the intricacies of families throughout many generations. And it’s no matter who is alive and who is not. Her characters love and argue and whisper and holler, often from one realm and into the other.

When my son was several months old, I used to rock him in the nursery. And I remember feeling so peaceful and secure. I’d feed him and sing to him and always feel so sure. I was positive he was supposed to be with me, and that together with his sister we’d always be three. But I also remember something more. I’d watch as he’d stare across the floor, engaged by something I couldn’t see. And it was then that I knew we had some ghostly company!

On my bag of chips and guacamole, Amy Tan writes:

Defying science and reason, my mother sailed into my bedroom the night after she died, looking like a statically charged hologram of light. I was punched breathless with the strongest emotions I have ever felt and they are now stored in my intuition as a writer.

Now, I’ve never seen a ghost fly into my room, but I do believe some spirits have made their presence known, namely my grandmother and my great aunt. Aside from appearing in my freckles and in my taste for butter, they show themselves at every milestone by turning out the lights. Whenever something’s going on, whether good or bad, several bulbs burn out, and it’s then that I know these two are about.

They also hang around when I write at my kitchen table. I turn on my grandmother’s chandelier lights and wind the clocks, and I feel as peaceful and secure as when I rocked my son so many years before.

And just the other day, a friend come over to help around the house. He did some spackling and some painting, and when it came time to wash the brick walk, he grabbed a pair of boots from his truck. And later when we sat down to lunch, he kicked out his feet to exclaim his luck.

Do you know whose boots these were? he asked, as I looked over to see. And before I could guess, he said, These were your uncle’s. He was always good to me!

This was a surprise! It hadn’t been that long since my uncle had passed away. Immediately, I sent a text to my cousin about her father’s boots. And her response surprised me, too. She wrote back to say that this very day was her father’s yahrzeit, the Jewish anniversary of his death.

And here was my friend in his boots, and it was then that I knew my uncle had joined us for lunch.

Such spirited visits aren’t ever really scary; more often, they are simply reassuring. But I have to admit to a few occasions when I’ve awakened in the night to a feeling that’s not alright, when there is a little fear because I know a spirit is near. In the dark I’ve opened my eyes to see a greenish glowing, and it’s then that I know something above me is floating. But all I do is simply roll over. I turn my back and pay no attention. And I don’t think of it further nor give it a mention.

I wonder about the people who don’t believe in ghosts. Where do they think we were before, and where do they think we go after?

Amy Tan writes about her husband who was never a believer until the day he heard the tune to Jeopardy whistled behind his back. And then he heard it again while he was in the shower. She says it took him being naked and alone, but he finally believed!

But to believe what we see, we have to see what we believe, and that always depends on what we perceive.

At yoga, I practice at a studio with a ceiling that’s been insulated with some kind of gray foam. Surrounding the duct work are ripples of foam that form various shapes and shadows with different dips and dents. And throughout the practice when our drishti, or gaze, has us looking up, I see the ceiling’s sights, the formations in the foam like clouds across the sky. 

And I wonder about what it is I think I see. Are the images only there because they’re seen by me?

I see mushrooms and someone in a forward fold. I see Michelangelo’s angels from the chapel of old. And I see lovers and mountains and so much more. And I see Papa Smurf just above the door!

And when I move through the practice, something happens to me. I loosen enough to set myself free. And out pop the ghosts of the innermost me. They come into focus as I twist and reach. I see them all, and I acknowledge each. There’s the little one who needs holding tight, and the older one who tries to do right. And there’s even the one who was the good wife, who finally woke up to her very own life.

The practice uncovers all who I’ve been and strips away each until it’s just me in the end. And I lie there as a form on the floor, ready to be shaped by whatever’s in store. And I greet this new self with a silent sigh, and to the others I bid a heartfelt goodbye.

And I can’t believe that so long ago what I feel was described by Michelangelo.

I saw the angel in the marble, the sculptor said, and I carved until I set him free.

And that’s exactly what the practice does to me. It carves and it carves until I come to be. And it releases the ghosts that none of us see ... except for that smurf who’s still watching me!

Saturday, October 3, 2015


Say yes, say yes, say yes. ~ Say Yes, Langhorne Slim

I was having an ordinary day as part of an ordinary weekend as part of an ordinary week.

For me, it’s the ordinary that’s extraordinary. I find it calming. With a good bit of anxiety behind me, the ordinary provides precious equanimity. That’s why I adore my regular schedule, because it’s so easy to flow when I know where to go.  

I have one yoga instructor who requests at the end of each practice that we be grateful for what most might say is ordinary. After a rigorous practice, she asks us to put our hands in prayer and be thankful for the ability to move on the mat and even for the clarity of our minds.

So several times a week, I put my hands on my heart and recognize the extraordinary in the ordinary.

It just so happened that on this ordinary day I received a group text from a fellow yogi. She wanted to know if we’d like to go down to the river early the next morning for Stand-Up Paddle Boarding (SUP).

For the others on the text, SUP was not extraordinary. For them it was an ordinary way to start any day.  

I hesitated. My weekend was pretty much mapped out with practice plans and dinner plans and more. Plus, I’d never done anything like this before! But, oh, how I’d always wanted to try, and time was almost up. Summer’s end was nigh.

I consider these friends my yogi sisters. They know me from the mat. They think I’m brave! You’ll be fine, Anne!

Okay, let’s do this, I wrote back. I’m in!

That night, I arrived home from a late dinner and laid out everything for the next day. An outfit for the paddle board. My mat and towel for a practice to follow. Another outfit, in case I went overboard, and another towel for that, too. I added to the pile some cash, a credit card and my license, and then I made a mental note to look for the sports bra that had gone missing.

When I finally went to sleep, it was only for a few hours. I awoke in the middle of the night to a tumultuous current of maybe’s. Maybe I was a little nervous? Maybe I ate too late? Maybe I should cancel?

I turned on the light to turn off my mind and got up to fold some laundry, a therapeutic endeavor no matter the time. I rolled up my mat and spotted my missing sports bra! All that and some tea seemed to settle me, and I climbed back in bed and closed my eyes as the waters calmed for the rest of the night.

And when the morning came, I gave myself no time to think. I popped up and grabbed some coffee and put my many things in the car. My saying yes to this outing was so emphatic that I arrived 20 minutes early!

It was a beautiful morning and the river was calm. I put my bag over my shoulder and walked to the boathouse. Lots of people were strolling around and some were even riding bikes. Everyone seemed to share in a secret called Sunday Morning At The Water, and I sat down at a picnic table to wait for my friends. A message from the universe blasted through the outdoor speakers with the lyrics of a song, Say yes, say yes, say yes!

I looked up to see my friends arrive, one on a bike and the other on foot, their experience apparent in how lightly they traveled. I placed my bag on the ground to make room for them to sit down. And then we signed our lives away on some forms.

We stuffed my stuff in a locker, put on some life jackets and walked down to the pier. A young man served up the boards, and my friends hopped on, paddling away on their knees before standing up.

I told this young man that I’d not done this before, and he showed me how to tie the leash to my ankle. I hopped on my board, balancing on my knees, and he told me which way my paddle should face. I awaited more instructions, but apparently that was all he had to give. So I paddled out to meet the others who had made their way under a bridge.

That spot is your center of gravity, Anne, said one friend. She pointed to the center of my board, and I stood up!

Keep your arms straight when you paddle, said the other. And now use more of your core.

I was thrilled to be upright and still dry, and I happily paddled in circles under the bridge.

There’s an island up there, one said. We could go that way!

Wait! We were going somewhere? I looked up the river and saw three rocky islands, The Three Sisters.

There is an extraordinary tale of three Native American sisters who crossed the river late one night, leaving their tribe on one side for another on the other. But they never made it over. Halfway there, they drowned, and legend has it that their spirits emerged from the water as three barren, rocky islands.

That’s where my friends wanted to go! It’s the deepest part of the river, and most locals know about the tumultuous currents hidden below the deceptively peaceful surface of the water.

But none of that was on my mind this morning.

We paddled up the river, our oars slicing the smooth surface of the water on either side of our boards, first on the left and then on the right. We flowed along with ease, chatting amiably and gliding quietly. Sometimes, one of us moved forward; other times, another fell back. We traveled with a comfortable camaraderie formed from so much shared time on our yoga mats.

I felt buoyant on my board, and I recognized this feeling. It was the same as the one I have when I’m lifted in my practice.

When I practice, my spirit emerges like those of the sisters from the water. On my mat, I am adventurous and daring and ready and able. And that’s the person who formed these friendships. That’s the person who was paddling this morning as if it were nothing out of the ordinary.

I was starting this day as part of three sisters connected by something born at yoga. It was that collective energy created by the practice that lifts us up and ties us together and accompanies us wherever we go.

It’s what enables us to float, and so of course we brought it with us to the water. We carried it here without any effort at all. And it helped us flow safely up the river and back, the same as it does for us on our mats.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Bare Feet

I’m trying to remember why I was afraid to be myself and let the covers fall away. ~ Naked, Avril Lavigne

I climb three flights of stairs to get to my yoga class.

And when I reach the top I am greeted by dozens of shoes. It’s warm outside and the landing is a maze of flip flops and sandals.

I stop and stare at the shoes. For some reason I am so happy to see them, as if I’ve been greeted by the people they fit! I don’t know why I feel this way. They belong to those in the class before mine, and I don’t even know whose they are!

But here are their shoes, their spirits still in them, standing to greet me.

I step into the studio and find the owner behind the front desk.

It makes me feel so good to see all those shoes, I say to him as I check in.

He’s a friendly guy, so I can’t tell by his usual kindly welcome whether he thinks my observation is silly. He’d lost his voice in the past few days, and we talk about that as I sign in and take off my own shoes.

When I first started yoga, I was struck by how everyone walked around in bare feet. To me, it seemed so intimate, because I’m never anywhere with my feet bare. Inside the studio with no shoes, I felt undressed.

I guess it’d be true to say that I really felt quite undressed when I first started practicing. I’d never spent much time in the sun, and it had been forever since I’d been to the pool or the beach. I didn’t even own a bathing suit! I’m fair-skinned and freckly, and I sport what my children affectionately call my freckle patch. It’s high up on my right side, under my arm. It’s where one day all my freckles decided to meet and never part.

In fact, early on when I told my children about my yoga practice and my newfound yoga friends, they responded by teasing me. Really, Mom? They like you? Have they seen your freckle patch?

I started practicing in the fall, and it wasn’t until the spring when it was warmer that I bought some shorter cropped pants. I was used to being in my bare feet by then, but I felt bared again with even just my calves on display. And it was a good two years before I practiced in a cropped top. I started going to hot yoga and found that I couldn’t tolerate the heat and the sweat while wearing anything over my stomach.

So the more I’ve practiced, the barer I’ve become. And I’ve bared myself in more ways than one.

Practicing yoga has been such a huge turning point for me. I look back over the years, and there’s a new divide. There’s the Before Yoga and there’s the After Yoga. The covered and the uncovered.

In the After Yoga I started to write. I met an editor who asked me to blog on yoga, and I put to use my journalism degree earned in the Before Yoga. I practiced and posted and practiced and posted. I wrote about Warrior I’s and Crows, about Headstands and Handstands. And little by little I uncovered myself. Parts of me were sprinkled throughout my essays like the freckles on my skin.

And now my writings are a blend of my practice and me. Each essay is one big freckle patch that can no longer stay hidden.

I am barer in my writing than I am on the mat. I’ve let parts of me show for the first time, and not just to others but to myself, too. There’s been someone in me whom I’ve been waiting to meet, and I think she is finally here.

She is not afraid. She lets herself be known. She is barefoot in a cropped top and shares about herself. And it’s okay because she is only who she is, and that’s all she needs to be.  

Yesterday at work I posted on the office calendar that I had to leave by five o’clock that evening. I wanted to make it to the six o’clock class at the hot yoga studio downtown, and I knew I’d need the drive time.

Once I arrived I took off my shoes. I changed out of my work clothes and into my cropped top and short pants, and then I set up my mat. Gratefully, I flowed for an hour and a half, showering in the heat and humidity of the practice room.

We worked a lot on the positions of our feet with instructions to root down to rise up. In every pose we were told to press into our feet in order to ground ourselves while reaching up or bending back or folding forward. There was an assistant in the room making adjustments, and she put her bare foot on mine for an even stronger stance.

At the end I sat there with the others, soaked and rooted, and listened to the instructor’s send-off.
She talked about our feet and pointed to hers.

You have to ground down in your feet to get out of your head, she said. If you are too much in your head, you don’t know where you stand.

And right away I thought back to those shoes on the landing from the other day, and I realized why they had made me so happy. All those people who belonged to them were doing the same as me.

We were all just looking for a place to stand. We were there to find our feet.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


Anne flies with instructor Jonathan Ewing (pants by
Fly by night, away from here. Change my life again. ~ Fly By Night, Rush

When I was little, my father used to fly me around on his feet.

He’d lay on his back and put his feet on my stomach and lift me into the air like Superman.

Other times, he’d lay on the floor and put up his knees. I’d climb on top and perch there, placing my feet in his hands, driving an imaginary car while I pressed into his palms with my right foot on the gas and my left one on the brakes.

Of course when my children were little I’d do this with them, too, only we’d drive on top of the bed to accommodate the wild turns. In addition to their imaginary stops for donuts, they’d steer recklessly from atop my knees, flying overboard in all directions for wild and crazy landings softened by the mattress.

And now, after all these years, I am flying again! There is something called Acro yoga, and it’s just the flying game all over again for grownups.

The first time I flew was a little over a year ago. It was a Thursday evening, and I arrived early to yoga. There was a young man in the class who was big on Acro yoga, and he was early, too.

He walked into the practice room and without saying anything pointed at me. Your turn!

And he lay on his back and put his feet on my stomach and lifted me into the air like Superman.

It was scarier than I had imagined! I had seen others do this before the start of class, and I thought it’d be a breeze. But I felt so high up! The floor was a long way down!

He guided me from my stomach to a seat atop his feet. I wrapped my legs around each of his, one at a time, and then I let go of his hands.  And I felt as if I could touch the ceiling if I reached up high, but I sat carefully in the air and instead put my hands in prayer. And he rested his hands by his sides and let me stay up there.  

I don’t remember how I returned to my stomach, back to the tops of his feet and parallel to the ground again, but I do remember him telling me to tilt forward, so that my legs lifted to the ceiling and my torso dropped down.

And then he told me to keep diving, and I had to fully trust as I made my way through the air, upside down to vertical. Maybe he placed his hands on my shoulders to finally brace me once I inverted. I don’t remember.

What I do remember is that as I dove forward, balanced only on his feet, I felt a pull in my heart which surprised me.

I’d never felt that before! Flying on my father’s feet came close, but I was too young then to know how special it was to invest any trust. Maybe the pull was just my heart remembering, and that’s why I was able to dip it down so freely. Maybe that’s how my feet lifted up so easily. 

Inverted, I had no choice but to keep fully trusting, and I wound up hovering there, eye to eye with this young man. And then, without missing a beat, I jokingly put my hands on either side of his face.

I love you! I exclaimed, laughing, upside down. And after this I’m going to tell you all my secrets!

Ten minutes of flying, and I was making jokes about love and trust and disclosures! And this surprised me, too, because these three things aren’t really such laughing matters. Truly, my efforts to balance them have been a little haphazard at best.

And that’s created for me a fear of flying, so to speak. It can be a long way down if I dive too fast.
It’s more than a year later, and now this same young man is an instructor. And it was another Thursday night at yoga, only this time he was our substitute instructor.

We did our Sun A’s and Sun B’s and moved into early Crows and other balances. Midway through, we were instructed in Supta Virasana, or reclining Hero pose. I sat with my legs bent at the knees, my calves folded against the outsides of my quads. My feet reached around and rested on their shoelace sides, and I lay back on the floor.

Are you okay like this? he asked. I nodded to indicate that all was well, and so he pushed his hands into my quads and lifted himself into Crow pose, taking flight above me.

And, as I did more than a year ago, I jokingly put my hands on either side of his face but this time pinched his cheeks so that he was the one who laughed.

After class I requested another flight. I figured I might be braver by now, that it might not feel so high, that the floor might not seem such a long way down.

So he lay on his back and put his feet on my stomach and lifted me into the air like Superman.
And again I moved into a seated position on his feet, and this time around it wasn’t so scary up there. In fact, I lifted my arms from my perch and waved at my friends below.

And then I moved into an Acro Shoulder Stand, inverting while holding his ankles before he caught my shoulders. I almost went overboard, but a fellow yogi stepped up to spot me. And from there I splayed my legs and bent them at the knees, so that I hung from his feet, upside down by my hips.

And then he told me to tuck into a little ball and reach through his legs to grab my own feet. And before I knew it I was spinning above his head as if I were a basketball atop a player’s hands.

Finally, I did my best to lift into a star, inverting into the sky. And I never realized that another yogi had stepped up to spot me, so that when I became a falling star I landed safely on my feet while still shining.

I’m not so sure when the next time will come for me to fly, but I do hope it’s soon. I need to balance and dive and soar, in order to practice all that love and trust and more.

Besides, now that I like it in the air, I’m not so scared to be up there. And that makes me so much lighter, which can only mean that I’ll fly higher. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

My Back

But deep down inside we're coverin' up the pain. It's an old thing. It’s a soul thing. But it's a real thing. ~ Who’s Gonna Help Brother Get Further, Elvis Costello

My back is better. The hurt is gone.

When I first started yoga, I feared for my back. I had sprained it years earlier, and sometimes it still gave me trouble.

It wasn’t long before I realized that with every pose, there really wasn’t much that didn’t involve my back. So I was cautious, and it took a lot of encouragement and a lot of baby steps before I got brave enough to progress. I was grateful for the pace and the patience of a class that allowed for this.

Soon my core got stronger which strengthened my back. Not long after, there was a photographer in the studio, and I was given a photograph of myself in a handstand with my back reflected in the mirror.

I showed this photo to my father to let him in on what I’d been spending all my time doing, and he took one look and exclaimed, You’ve got muscles in your back!

I hadn’t noticed! But once I looked closer, I saw them, too, and I felt suddenly stronger, as if I’d accomplished something big!

Today, my back is my barometer. For me, having a strong and healthy back (A) equates to having a strong and healthy spirit (B). And even though I invented this equation, I think A = B is what’s true for me.  

It’s just that sometimes I get a little thrown off when my back starts to hurt. When this happens I slide back to where I was before I progressed, before I could twist and bend and all the rest. And when this old hurt shows up, others tend to join in. The old stories come back, and I suddenly can’t remember accomplishing anything big at all.

This can happen after the most wonderful times and after my best practices. Suddenly, there’s pain beneath my sacrum in a place where it’s hard for anyone to reach. It hurts to sit at work, in the house and even on my mat.

My yoga practice has its own set of A’s and B’s, but they don’t equate to each other. The B’s are always greater than the A’s, and we always add them together.

We start the practice with several Sun A’s, reaching up and folding over and moving through our vinyasas before landing in our Downward Facing Dogs. Then we move to the Sun B’s, doing the same but adding in Chair poses and Warrior I’s.

And then we rest in Down Dog for five breaths, and this is when one instructor always asks, See how the prana, or energy, has shifted after the Sun B’s? And she’s right. I can feel how fast my heart is beating and how awake I am from head to toe.

Prana is the Sanskrit word for Life Force. When we twist and bend and all the rest, our Life Force gets activated, igniting our bodies and our spirits. Prana has an equation of its own. It equals A + B. When added together, both my back and my spirit are strengthened.

So whenever I start to hurt I know my prana is in the negative. And then it really doesn’t matter the order of my equation, whether my back hurts first and so the old stories creep in, or whether the old stories appear and so my back hurts.

I remember the first few months of my practice when I was starting to feel strong. I surprised myself in wanting to ask for a class so hard that I could feel the hurt. I wanted to flow to the point where it hurt all over.

I have no idea why I was looking to hurt when I was feeling so good, and of course I couldn’t bring myself to ever ask. How would I explain when I didn’t even know the answer myself?

But it’s never necessary to ask for hurt outright. It has a way of appearing on its own, no matter what’s come before. And I do my best to ignore it, but there’s no denying its arrival. Soon it hurts to sit at work or at home or on my mat.

And it’s hard to find the salve when this happens, and I wonder how I could ever have almost asked for it. It’s like the hurt is in my skin, and I’m the one who let it in. My back hurts and I ache with all the old stories, and I know that I must find my way back to A and B, so I can add them together and get things right again.

In this effort, I continue to practice. And I book an appointment with the sports medicine doctor who’s somehow privy to the prana equation without explanation. Somehow he knows the hurt in my back is the same as the one in my spirit. So he works on me and talks to me. And I rest at home when I usually don’t.  

And slowly things start to add up again. I feel strong once more, and I can sit again at work and at home and on my mat. And I am finally able to put those old stories back to bed.

The hurt is gone and it’s as if it never were. And it suddenly doesn’t matter anymore that once I almost asked for it, or that I ever even felt any at all.

All that matters now is that A and B are back together again. And so am I.

Saturday, May 9, 2015


We are stardust, we are golden. We are billion years old carbon. And we got to get ourselves back to the garden. ~ Woodstock, Crosby, Stills & Nash

I’ve been looking at the sky since I was a little girl.

I look up when I leave the house in the morning, and I look up when I arrive home in the evening. All throughout the day, all I have to do is look out the window. Our offices occupy the top floor of a building, so I get to work right in the sky!

Really, if it were possible to keep my eyes open, I’d watch the stars all night.

There is some kind of tie between yoga and the heavens. It’s taken me a while to figure this out, but for me there seems to be a connection between the practice and what’s going on up there. This seems to be what grounds me.

If I try to put this into words, I’d say the sky is limitless, and when I move on the mat, I feel limitless, too.

It doesn’t matter that I practice indoors. I’m still keenly aware of what’s going on outdoors. I watch as the windows in the practice rooms lighten with the days’ arrivals, and I watch as they darken with the days’ departures.

And the moon is a part of this, too. I follow the moon with an app on my phone and with a moon dial on my clock. I know when it’s full or new or waxing or waning. And the yogis around me know this, too, especially those who practice Mysore, the disciplined Ashtanga practice that starts at five o’clock in the morning.

For them, moon days are days of rest. When there’s a new moon or a full moon, there’s no practice, and for one friend in particular, that always means pancakes.

I wonder why I’ve got this tie to the sky. And I wonder if it’s something that’s inherent in everyone, or whether a practice is needed to cultivate it.

Maybe, really, all that’s needed is a limitless imagination. Maybe that’s what makes us look up for something more. Maybe that’s how we try to be something more.

There’s actually a place right here on earth that’s trying to measure imagination. It’s called the Imagination Institute, and it’s part of the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center. There, the scientific nature of imagination is being studied in an effort to measure how people flourish, how they optimize their potential to become something more.

The institute’s scientific director, Scott Barry Kaufman, says this: You’re only limited by the amount of time you have left on this earth.

Basically, I think what he’s saying is that the sky’s the limit! If we can imagine it, we have a chance to be it.

So maybe what’s in the sky is what’s in us, too. Maybe what’s up there is what enabled Dr. Seuss to rhyme his words and Walt Disney to build his world and Shel Silverstein to plant his Giving Tree.

Maybe my pull to what’s in the sky is one and the same as the pull to what’s in me. Maybe I’m just trying to flourish.

Even the scientist and television personality Bill Nye the Science Guy thinks that we are one and the same as the heavens, that we are symbiotic with the sky, and that there’s even stardust in us. We are the stuff of exploded stars, he says. We are therefore one way the universe knows itself.

But not every day is full of sparkling stars and sunshine. I must confess that I don’t always feel so limitless, not even in my practice. And I’m left to wonder what’s happening, because after several years of yoga, I feel I’m supposed to be as expanded as the universe, and I get a little confused when I’m not.

I arrived at practice the other night under heavy skies. All day, the sun and then the moon remained hidden by rain clouds, and somehow I felt hidden, too. As usual, I was concerned for feeling this way, because I depend on my practice to keep me lifted as high as the heavens.

We flowed for a bit and, once we warmed up, the instructor shifted the format. The class turned into more of a workshop, and the architecture of several arm balances and inversions was broken down and built back up. It was a creative and interactive practice, and afterward we sat with our hands in prayer, waiting for the closing.

The room was as quiet and dark as it was outside, save for the twinkling lights that draped the windows like imaginary stars.

The instructor praised us for our efforts that evening.

It’s good to challenge ourselves as we did tonight, she said, and to not let our limited beliefs hold us back from what our bodies can do.

It was as if she were the director of our own Imagination Institute! Here, she was telling us to look up, to flourish by imagining all that we could do. After all, that’s the only way to land upside down in a handstand or to teeter on one arm in a balance.

Did she even know she was telling us how to access the vast universe that is us?

By the next day, the sun had reappeared, both outside the window and inside of me. And I turned on the computer to do some research. I wanted to read about the stars. And what I found was a quote by Carl Sagan, the astronomer of great and limitless imagination:

The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of star stuff.

And so I write this here for the days when I forget that the stars up there are the same as the ones down here. And this will ground me the same as my tie to the sky, forever endless and without limits, as far as the eye can see.

Sunday, April 12, 2015


You know the nighttime, darling (night and day) is the right time (night and day) to be (night and day) with the one you love, now (night and day) … ~ (Nighttime Is) The Right Time, Ray Charles

Lay down. Take Savasana.

The practice had been hot and strenuous, and at its end the instructor turned off the lights and with these words put us in Savasana, the final resting pose.

I should know by now not to be surprised at the end. I’m aware by now what happens as we draw to a close, how we move from abdominal work to backbends, from folds to twists and, finally, to Savasana.

But on this night, as on so many others, I’m as surprised as ever. Before I know it, it’s over, and I’m startled to hear the instructions to take rest.

But I listen and lie back. I pull the bobby pins from my hair and dismantle my ponytail. I lay out my arms and my legs. I open my hands, palms up on the mat, and I splay out my feet.

You don’t have to do anything now, he said. Nothing else is happening. Nighttime is starting.

It’s only recently that I stopped dreading the night. I would assume most people start sleeping well once they begin practicing yoga, if only from sheer exhaustion. But my practice seems to wake me up, which is great if it’s morning, but not so great if it’s evening.

All the thoughts I thought I never had have seemingly appeared, and I think it’s my practice that’s brought them forth. On the one hand, yoga has made me calmer; but, on the other, I haven’t really been able to sleep. At night when I get into bed, it’s as if I need to hear again the instructor say that nothing’s happening and there’s nothing more to do.

And so I started to take something to help me sleep, just a half of a half of what was prescribed. And that helped me get some shut-eye, even if my sleep was not so deep and was often without dreams. Even so, it helped to know there’d be some help when the nighttime arrived.

Especially helpful were my evening hot yoga practices. It would be late, and I’d watch the nighttime cover the windows as the practice closed. The heat would melt me into a puddle, flat on my mat. And I’d straggle out as the studio closed, too, picking up my bobby pins and packing up my mat while wondering how it was that everyone could change and leave so quickly.

I’d arrive home, grab something to eat and draw a bath with water as hot as the practice. I’d lay back and dunk my head in my own version of Savasana, doing my best to rest.

I’d do all this just to get to the morning, just to get past the point when nighttime was starting.

But, really, I don’t think the point of the night is only to get to the next morning. I think we’re supposed to live the night as much as we do the day, to fall asleep as easily as we awaken.

In fact, research shows that sleep is vital to our well-being. Sleep mimics the yoga practice. When we practice, the poses clear our bodies’ energy channels to wash away any toxic karma, and when we sleep, fluid flushes our brains’ microscopic channels to wash away any toxic buildup from the day.

Sleep is how we refresh. It’s when we recover, so the nighttime really shouldn’t be anything to dread.

It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve finally started to fall asleep without any extra help, and I’m trying to figure out what’s made that happen. It’s springtime now, but I think I turned the corner last fall.

What was it that finally made it okay to take rest? Could it be that I updated our television sets, which prompted a clean-up in the house? I finally cleared out some furniture and made some space. Or maybe it was the fact that I wound the clocks again? I even moved one into the kitchen where I could see it every day. I hear the tick tock as I write, and the soothing chimes tuck me in as they echo up the stairwell. Or was it my wintertime cleanse? I think I cleared out my body in much the same way as I cleared out my house.

Maybe it’s that all of these efforts balanced the space around me and then balanced me, too. Maybe that’s how I’m finally able to sleep.

Or maybe, just maybe, it has something to do with the yoga. Perhaps the practice not only awakened my thoughts but also made it okay to have them.

Maybe that was okay, so I was okay, and so I could sleep again.

We had a substitute the other night at yoga. He teaches a style called Jivamukti and asked us to chant at the opening. He played the harmonium and sang out some words, but we stumbled and mumbled along.

Really? He stopped playing and looked around, disappointed with our meek response. And then he explained the purpose of chanting.

We chant to remember who we are, he said. He further explained that we chant to remember who we were before we learned to define who we’d otherwise be.

Throughout the practice, he assisted us in our poses, while speaking of this remembering.

The class was twisted into Reverse Side Angle, and he helped a yogi twist some more. And he spoke more about our thoughts, and how when we meditate we’re supposed to just watch those thoughts go by.

I don’t really meditate, for the very reason of my busy thoughts, but this much I knew.

Well, who is it that does the watching? he asked.

This I didn’t know! He says it’s our soul. He says we’re trying to reveal our soul when we practice.

That’s why we do yoga, he said. We do the poses to release the karma so we can remember who we are.

It was a lot to think about.

After, I decided to do some reading about this remembering. I visited the Jivamukti website and, interestingly enough, the first paragraph referenced our sleep.

I read that when we sleep deeply, we can access our original natures, what the instructor was calling our souls.

We can remember who we are in our sleep! So I have to remember to sleep, because I have to sleep to remember!

And now I think that’s the real reason why I’m sleeping again. It’s not so much the furniture or the clocks or the cleanse, although I think all of that did help.

Instead, I think it’s just me trying. I’m trying to remember who I am, and in my search, I sleep.