Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Space

“I’ll rise up, in spite of the ache. I’ll rise up, and I’ll do it a thousand times again.” ~ Rise Up, Andra Day

My daughter had a tragic loss that's left a gaping space. And so I’m spending time beside her, as she struggles to find her place.

In yoga, I hear so much about space. We’re supposed to make space, clear space and even hold space. When I first started practicing, I didn’t understand. But soon the practice grabbed a hold of me, and, like a key, it opened up a space inside. And it’s in this space where all my incremental shifts take place.

My daughter’s world has shifted. She’s lost her love. Without warning, the man who was always there was suddenly nowhere. And even though she knows he’s gone, she can’t help but try to find him. She searches for him and yearns for him and wants to talk to him.

“He’s at my fingertips!” she cries, incredulously. “He’s at the tip of my tongue!”

In her grief she looks around and shows me all their special spots in town. She points out a restaurant, a park, a store, and she tells me what they ate and said and more. We walk and talk and laugh and cry, and she begs to understand the reasons.

She has big questions. She asks if they were right to share a sacred space, or whether they had tempted fate. She didn’t know a storm was rolling in and asks me why she couldn’t save him.

Her questions, I tell her, are too big for answers. They are of matters Divine, and so we don’t get to know why in this lifetime. Our task now, I say, is to believe in the Light, even though we are in the dark. And then I tell her that they did everything right, and that it's important to have faith and know that she’s safe, and to be patient as she waits for her incremental shifts to take place.  

We’ve been told that grief is like a river. Water finds its way, no matter what’s in the way. This is why there is a lot of work ahead; the tears that flow need a place to go. And so I practice for us both, to fortify my faith and to hold my daughter’s space.

And at night I ask the Light to help her on her way.

There’s really no instruction on how best to hold another person’s space. It’s something that takes practice, and it’s likely easier to do if it’s been done for you. And so I considered myself lucky one day after class, when I got the chance to let someone hold mine. And, since that's not something I would ordinarily do, I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that I didn’t get it right the first time. 

I met a man who could actually hold people up in the air. And even though we’d never met, I let him lift me up on his feet. But right away I braced myself instead of leaning in, and that’s when he stopped and offered what turned out to be some lifelong instruction. 

“Relax,” he said, as I dangled above, and he wiggled my arms to loosen me up.

“It’s time to let someone help you. You’ve done too much on your own.”

His words skipped along the surface of the river, and, just like that, I let go and let him guide me upside down and all around.

From high up in the air I listened as he told me what to do and pulled me this way and that. I even closed my eyes. With just his hands and feet, he held my inside space and made some room for yet another shift to take place.

“Thanks for jumping on my feet and trusting,” he later said to me.

Trust is also a practice that acts like a key. It opens up space for more accessibility. I saw this happen with my daughter. She had chosen a man who had chosen her, too, and this had made her heart expand. And then I watched as she carefully placed it in his hands. Slowly, she let surrender become part of her plan, and I saw her contentment grow. To me, it was as if she had flown on his feet in the air, and then closed her eyes and found balance there.

And now she's grieving deeply and has a lot of healing to do. Her space is empty without him. It’s hard for her to feel safe and have faith and to wait for her incremental shifts to take place. She frets that he’s not coming back, and she longs to know exactly where he is.

The days move on, and we continue to talk of things Divine, and I listen as she speaks her mind. And I remind her that she’s been left intact, that inside she still has her Light. In fact, I tell her that because of him, she’s even more of herself than before. And then, one day, as if to prove my point, her Light inside was recognized.

We were at a practice bursting with yogis in a bright and beautiful space. The instructor led a vigorous flow, while circling around the room. She gave instructions through a microphone, and she asked a lot of questions. But they weren’t the kind to be answered. They were only the kind to be asked.

“Why do some people get to live to the age of 96, while others move on too soon?

We stared at one another. The question seemed to have come out of nowhere, and then the instructor seemed to come out of nowhere, too. She popped up in front of my daughter and faced her at the front of her mat, nose-to-nose in Mountain pose. And then she looked her in the eye.

“You think I can’t see the Divine in you?” she demanded into her microphone. “I see the Divine in you!”

For us it was a profound moment. And yet her words, like mine, fall short of comfort.

Still, each day I watch as my daughter rises up and moves through her grief in the same graceful way as she moves through her flow. Somehow she manages to bring us all together, in spite of feeling alone. She rides the river with her head above water, while every day doing what’s next and while every minute missing him.

Soon it will be time for me to go home. It’s going to be very hard to leave. For I think that then I’ll have time to take it all in, and that’s when the big questions will rise up again. And then it'll be me who will have to have faith and know that I’m safe and wait for my incremental shifts to take place.

But in the end I think that’s okay. There’s healing to do, and asking is how we begin. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Soul

But where are you now? Where are you now? ~ Where Are You Now, Mumford and Sons

It’s said that our souls are too big for our bodies.

This mystical fact has its roots in many ancient religions and it’s believed by many today.

It’s almost a relief to be one of the believers, because then, on the days when we wonder if we’re too small to matter, we can remember that we’re actually so big that we don’t even fit inside ourselves.

This idea helps in times of grief, and so it’s helping us now because we are grieving. We’re feeling so small because our questions are so big. They hardly fit inside our brains. Whereas before we used to wonder what to wear or where to go, we now ponder questions as big as our souls.

Where did he go? Why did this happen?

When I first started yoga I thought I was asking all the big questions. I thought the big questions had to do with my practice. I wanted answers so that I could exercise and get fit. So the only questions I ever thought to ask were about where to put my elbows or how to position my feet. I even took some private lessons so that I could ask some more.

But the more I learned, the more questions I had. Every time I thought I had enough information, I discovered that there was still more to learn! Every pose could be taken deeper, so there was never really an endpoint.

There was no final answer.

When questions have no answers, we’re left to turn to our faith. But what if we question that, too? What if what happens also makes us question our faith?

Grief requires a lot of faith, but that doesn’t mean we stop asking questions. Even if we believe there is a place where he’s gone and a higher purpose to what’s happened, we still want to know where he is and why he’s there. We still want him back.

I didn’t know the practice of yoga required any sort of faith. In fact, up until the day I first stepped into the yoga studio, I hadn’t really given my faith much thought. I had been away from it for a long time.

But then as I practiced my questions grew larger than just the ones about the poses. I’m not sure why moving on the mat makes me wonder about where I am and why things happen, but that’s what happens. Soon I started listening in on the conversations that take place in the nooks and crannies of the studio, the ones before and after class and sometimes on the sidewalk outside. These conversations were all about energy and our subtle bodies, about our chakras and our spirit.

My instructors tell me it’s all about the energy. They say we are all made up of energy.

“I didn’t even know there was such a thing as energy in me,” I told them.

“Yes you did,” they said. “You just didn’t have the words for it.”

So now I have the words. Now I know that inside all of us is something called prana, or energy. And when we practice, our prana moves through our chakras, or energy centers. The practice helps shift our energy, and when our energy is flowing well, we are okay physically, emotionally and spiritually. This is how the practice becomes about so much more than where we put our elbows or how we position our feet.

But when painful things happen to us, our chakras get blocked and our energy gets stuck. And we have to practice grieving for our energy to flow again.

The loss of a loved one reaches deep into our chakras. It impacts our sense of family (the first chakra, or root chakra); our relationships (the second chakra, or sacral chakra); our sense of self (the third chakra, or solar plexus chakra); our hearts (the fourth chakra, or heart chakra); our levels of communication (the fifth chakra, or throat chakra); our intuition (the sixth chakra, or third eye chakra), and our spirituality (the seventh chakra, or crown chakra).

I think the first step in facing grief is to simply understand that something major has happened. Loss can be like the size of our souls. It’s often so big that it’s impossible to grasp.

We went to a hot yoga class the other night. In our grief, we were seeking the heat. In this healing room, the instructor opened the class with a few words on energy and pain. She spoke about the Hindu gods and their energies. One of them was Shiva, the god with the energy of destruction. Another one was Brahma, the god with the energy of creation.

The instructor explained why Shiva is considered the first guru.

“Why would a god of destruction be ahead of the god of creation?” she asked.

We were poised to practice, so no one had the answer.

“Because there is more to learn from destruction than from creation,” she said.

I don’t think she knew that she was speaking to the confusion of our grief. It’s confusing to have to learn from pain and suffering. But that’s the thing about grief. It’s never our choice. We would never choose what happened as the price for whatever it is we are supposed to learn.

In our grief, our energy shifts daily. These shifts are incremental, and they are taking place in the places unnoticed, in the nooks and crannies of our bodies and our minds and our spirits. Every day is a practice, and all our questions are the poses.

And it’s these subtle shifts of energy that have to serve as our answers, because, as with the practice, there just are no final answers.

I guess in this way everything really is all about the energy. I am the energy inside of me. I am the part of my soul that fills my body. Our souls fill us all to capacity.

And this brings me to the biggest question yet, one so big that the answer requires every ounce of faith.

The question is: If someone is no longer here, does it really mean that he has left?

To answer this we must speak to a belief that is the only solace in our grief. For we think his energy simply made a monumental shift, one that’s sent him to the place where all his soul can fit.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Protect Your Heart

Baby if you hold me, then all of this will go away.” ~ Budapest, George Ezra
I looked at my social media the other day and scrolled through more slogans than I could count. My feeds were overflowing with advice on everything from how to be happy to how to find love to how to be loved.
I even walked through Brooklyn on my visit last week and stepped on some sidewalk art that told me to protect my heart.
It seems in every direction, people are looking for the right direction.
Some of us are lucky enough to give up the search. I think Jeff was one of these lucky ones. I think by the time he met Alexandra, this young man had already grown into himself, and I think in her he found what he was searching for.
After their first date, Alexandra called me with her report. It was to the point, and it was short.
"Mom, he is just so alive,” she said.
And she proceeded to fall in love with the life force that was Jeff, and I continued to receive from Alexandra her reports. I heard how happy and energetic he always was. I heard how handsome he was. I heard how he cared for her.
And I heard how he loved her. This report came by text.
“We were running on the West Side Highway,” she said. “And he said, ‘I’m happy I have you’. And I said, ‘I’m happy I have you, too.’ And then he said, ‘I love you.’ And I said, ‘I love you, too!’”
And in revealing his heart to her like this, Jeff made it okay for Alexandra to reveal her own heart, too. It was a first for Alexandra to let anyone that close. This young man that was Jeff earned a tremendous amount of trust from Alexandra, and he did it by being consistent, dependable and honest. But, really, I don’t think he could have been anything else, because I think this was actually his true nature. He made it safe for Alexandra to let herself be known and to see that she was still loved, and this was his most precious gift to her.
Jeff’s devotion and enormous love fostered in my daughter a peace and contentment for which only a mother could pray. I can’t really explain what I saw in my daughter during her years with him except to say that he enabled her to grow into herself, too. The brightness in Jeff illuminated Alexandra, and I watched her become her best self by his side.
Most people think that Alexandra and Jeff met on a dating App, but she and her brother and I know different. I’ve often asked her whether this young man whom she found so alive was aware that she ordered him at the time she was five. There’s no question that G-d sent this man with the curly hair and big heart, a man she would call Jeff Paul Bart.
Alexandra and Jeff not only found each other, but they also found Brooklyn. And there they set up a home. For whatever reason, their apartment building always reminded me of the television show, I Dream of Jeannie. I think it was the building’s decor, but now I think it was so much more. To me, their apartment was a genie’s bottle, cozy and with lots of magic inside, a home the two of them created with pride.
And together they lived on hope and faith and trust, with plans for a future that weren’t supposed to combust.
And now my heart breaks at my daughter’s new report. “He was so happy, Mom," she said. “He’d be so upset if he knew what happened. He wouldn’t like this at all. He had so much he wanted to do. He wanted a family. He wanted children. He wanted me. We were not supposed to grow old separately.”
I am very grateful that Jeff was so expressive. He was able to tell Alexandra how he felt about her. In fact, he was able to tell us all how he felt about us. He professed his love openly. There are no words left unsaid because he was able to say them all, and so those of us around him were able to say them, too. This was the generous gift that was Jeff.
And I’m also very grateful that Jeff was so demonstrative. He was able to show Alexandra how he felt about her. In fact, he was able to show us all how he felt about us. He was uninhibited in his affection, and that made it easy for us to give that back to him. This was the other generous gift that was Jeff.
And how can I discuss Jeff without mentioning how much he meant to my son, Benjamin? I watched them form a quick and easy bond that wasn’t supposed to end. And now in losing Jeff, my son has lost his brother.
I stayed at Alexandra and Jeff’s happy home just this past weekend. Before leaving, he made us breakfast and then served himself. I watched as he carefully spread avocado on his rice cake. Then he added just cut pieces of lox on top and then sprinkled some of the chives he’d just chopped. And as I watched him add the eggs, I couldn’t help but think how incredible it was that Alexandra had found this young man, a man who only wanted to be there with her and build their life in the same careful way he was building his breakfast.
Then I looked at him again and saw he had a slogan on his shirt, and maybe the words explained my joy. There across his chest was the sentence, “Everyone loves a Jewish boy”.
After breakfast it was time for Alexandra and me to leave. Jeff would leave later in the day. I watched him wrap his arms around her, and I watched her step into his safe embrace. They kissed. She held him. He patted the back of her head and said, “Goodbye, Sweetie.”
It was a few days later when I returned because he did not. I was back in Brooklyn and walking with my son. And I pointed out the sidewalk art, the one with the slogan that read, “Protect Your Heart”.
But we just kept on walking and passed it by, because it only made me wonder why. For how in the world could any of us ever have protected our hearts when it came to loving Jeff? How could we have loved him in any other way but in the big way that he loved us all, and in the even bigger way that he loved Alexandra.
There is just no slogan that can protect our hearts from being broken.
There is only hope for the pain to cease. I know that Jeff would wish us peace.
In memory of Jeffrey Paul Bart, contributions may be made to Jewish Social Services Agency or The Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Peace

For out on the edge of darkness there runs the peace train. ~ Peace Train, Cat Stevens

A new instructor had arrived on the scene, and instead of bowing with a Namaste, he put his hands in prayer with something new to say.

“Om Shanti. Peace. Peace. Peace.”

After several years of practice I was surprised not to have heard these words before! In fact, I could hardly hear them now, because he seemed to murmur them more so to himself than to the rest of us.

I wondered what he knew that I didn’t, and so when I got home I looked up the chant on the Internet.

I’d already learned about the word, Om. We say it all the time. It represents the universe, and it means everything. It’s all the colors and all the sounds and even all the moments in time.

Shanti, however, was a new word for me. It’s defined as the state of being in peace, and it’s usually chanted three times. The first time addresses divine disturbances from unforeseen forces; the second time addresses upsets in our immediate environments, and the third time addresses the turmoil found inside of us.

For a while, I’d almost given up on the idea of peace. It has proved hard to come by. But the thought of calling it forth with a chant was intriguing.

Until recently I thought that peace existed only in the absence of anxiety, something that’s been a challenge for me. But lately I’ve felt a peace so deep that I know it must come from something more. Sometimes it actually overcomes me, as nothing I’ve ever felt before. And so when it’s here, I stop what I’m doing and make sure to offer up some grace.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” I say aloud from my room or my car or from wherever else I am.

I don’t know if it’s really possible to write about this bottomless peace, because I don’t know whether it can adequately be described. A good start would probably be a discussion about the harmony of opposites as found in the Book of Tao, but that could take a long time. If I dared to say it in one sentence, I’d say that to truly experience something good, its negative counterpart must be fully understood.

This winter we experienced the biggest, baddest blizzard in decades. Stuck inside, I watched this divine disturbance through my kitchen window like a black and white movie. Outside was quiet and without color. Even the sky was white. The thick snowflakes that first fell languidly from the sky quickly turned into tiny white ones which spun in circles for days, as if the outside world wasn’t sure which end was up.

Before long my house was wrapped in a white blanket. I was tucked inside, protected from temperatures so cold that a state of emergency was declared.

I was lucky enough to be able to prepare for this storm. I charged my phones and cooked up some soup, just in case the power went out. I also brewed some coffee in anticipation of possible decaffination. And I hired a snow removal service in advance, so I could count on a way out.

It’s not always easy to anticipate a state of emergency. I know this because I’ve weathered a few of my own. These upsets were always a surprise. I’d be struck unaware without the chance to prepare. And so I suffered high anxiety, and my thoughts would spin in circles like tiny flakes on blizzard winds.

I worked from home the day the blizzard began. With no commute, I had an extra hour’s sleep, and I awoke in a deep state of peace. I said my three thank-yous and got up to make coffee. Friends and family checked in, and I ran a quick errand before the roads got too bad. Then I picked up some lunch and worked from my kitchen table for the rest of the day. That evening I watched a movie under my favorite blanket and slept hard again, waking up the next morning to a peace as deep as the snow.

Recently, I read that anxiety should be considered a gift. The article said it was a red flag for inner turmoil. I was flabbergasted at the idea, as I personally wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But then I got to thinking. Could anxiety be the color we need when all we can see is a black and white movie?

The article stated that anxiety serves as a personal warning mechanism, an alarm that sounds when we’re living outside of our boundaries. And it said that we should embrace our anxiety with stillness and not combat it with fear, because only then are we quiet enough for the answers we need to hear.
   
Yoga has regulated my anxiety in a big way. I have found stillness in a practice of movement! But strangely enough the practices that are best at teaching me how to be still are the ones that are like storms themselves.  

One instructor, in particular, takes us through what is a rather grueling practice. I have to prepare beforehand, hydrating well and eating properly. And I have to move with faith in myself, so I can be strong and balanced and know which end is up, especially in the inversions.     

After the practice, we lie in Savasana, or final resting pose. The instructor walks around, helping us wind down with her soothing words and three spritzes of lavender water.  

“Relax your body and still your busy minds,” she says. “You are done moving now.”

The silence echoes throughout the room that only a moment ago was filled with breath and music. It wraps around me like a blanket of peace, and I lie still until we’re called to our seats.

I can’t really say that I’ll never get anxious again. I suppose it’s to be expected. But at least now I have the practice to prepare as a way out, so I know I can get to the other side. In fact, I’m over there now, and the calmness is startling. At times, the peace is so deep that I wonder where it came from.

How did it get here? What have I done?

I really wish I knew, because when I feel it I’m free. I’m able to realize that all is really okay with me. And then nothing that’s ever happened before really matters so much anymore.

We close the practice with one joyous Om. And as we bow to say Namaste I silently add a few words of my own.   

“Shanti, shanti, shanti,” I say to myself. “Peace. Peace. Peace.”

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Wall

The only thing I knew how to do was to keep on keepin’ on … ~ Tangled Up In Blue, Bob Dylan
Less from me and more from you!
These were the words of the yoga instructor as we moved through our Sun B’s while we jumped back and forth in our vinyasas. She was asking us to find our bandhas, or locks, and to look for our quiet landings.
I was looking for something else. I was looking for a way past a wall that had appeared in my practice. I was looking for the strength to tear it down.
I started getting annual physicals right before I found yoga. The doctor spoke with me about exercise and strength. Specifically, we talked about the strength of my bones.
She took one look at me and exclaimed, You must be careful!
Why? I asked.
Well, she answered, because you are small and white!
These are things I cannot change! But, apparently, people who are both small and white are more at risk for osteoporosis, or a weakening of the bones. I was sent for a scan and discovered that I was indeed teetering on the brink.
What was also discovered was my family’s now long-running joke about how small and white I am!
And I was left to wonder whether it’s ever possible to return from the brink, or if it’s just inevitable to one day hit a wall – the place where we are only what we think.
Maybe this is why I’ve yet to capture the lift when I jump forward or back, or why my arms sometimes shake after Fire Jumps. And what about Warrior III? My back still feels this pose when I think it shouldn’t. And don’t get me started on the handstands. Oh, the handstands!
The other day after class I was talking about this brink with a friend. He has lots of muscles and teaches something called Chiseled Yoga, a class that incorporates weights. We talked at length while he made several motions this way and that, demonstrating the curls and squats and lifts that he thought might help me in my practice.
And then he lowered his voice. And this, too, he said softly. And I watched as he jumped in place and came down hard, both feet landing at the same time, again and again. Women of a certain age, he whispered, need to jump 10 times a day like this. It’s good for their bones!
My bones! For months, I’d been lagging on my calcium regimen. I made a mental note to start them up again.
Days later, I was at another practice. This was Rocket yoga, a practice on which I count to build my strength. And it was a good practice, too, but still my wall wouldn’t budge. Afterward, I chatted with the instructor as I got ready to leave.
Something’s missing for me in there, I told her, pointing to the practice room from which we’d all just exited.
At one point, she had actually removed another wall for me. She had literally turned my back to it. That’s how I finally got my freestanding handstands and my freestanding Forearm Stands.
So I explained about this new wall. Surely, she had seen it, too.
Her answer was to remind me of how to deepen my practice. She encouraged me in my efforts to drop into a backbend from standing. And, most important, she spoke about the ever elusive bandhas that were causing me so much doubt.
You’ve got them, she said. You have the strength!
We made our way out of the studio, passing the newly painted wall adorned with the golden letters of a chant. She was several steps ahead when she looked back with one more thought.
You just wait, Anne, she said. Those drop backs are heart openers. Once you get those, your life is going to change. It’s already cracked open some.
I was surprised to hear her mention a wall I thought no one else could see. Did she really believe there wasn’t an end to whatever it is we could be? I have to say this was a revelation for me!
Days later, I was practicing again, and I was feeling good. The music was playing and the room was full and I was flowing. We hit the floor and moved into Forearm Plank.
The instructor encouraged us to hold ourselves there, to lift our hearts into our backs, to tighten our quads and press into our forearms.
Be honest! she said. Don’t wait to get stronger later. Get stronger now!
I held myself in the pose and felt a trickle of sweat roll down my forehead and over my nose. I tucked my chin and watched it drop to my mat with a splat.
And in that moment I realized something grand, that perhaps our strength is always at hand. I could see mine right there in that drop of sweat. It was the reason my mat was soaking wet!
And that was all it took for my wall to fall. And now I’m hoping it’s gone, once and for all.
And gone now, too, is the thought of a brink, because my plan is to keep on going. I want to plant my seeds and see what’s sowing!
So this is how I’ve turned a new leaf, which to me has been a huge relief. I’ve made the decision to continue to sweat, because I don’t want to be done just yet.
The practice is only a gift to explore. It’s an effort to feel what I’ve not felt before.
And so I’ll look for my bandhas all day long, because I know the attempt is what’s making me strong. And I’m going to keep on dropping back, because, apparently, I’ve already opened up a crack.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Polka Dots

And here’s the hand my trusty friend, and gives a hand o’ thine! ~ Auld Lang Syne

It’s the holiday season, and it’s dark and cold.

And on this night it’s rainy, too.

I pick up some sushi after work and gratefully arrive home, changing out of my clothes and warming up in a quick, hot bath. Then I go downstairs to turn on the television and pour a glass of wine, quickly deciding not to go to yoga, even though that’s been my usual spot on this night for the past few years.

I text my friend to let her know I’ll be absent from my mat. I’m already tucked into another of my usual spots, the space between the sofa and the coffee table. With so much seating in this room, I rarely take an actual seat. I’m a perfect fit in this cozy nook, and it’s often ideal for watching TV or eating a meal.

I receive an immediate response.

“Noooooo! Get up! Come!”

I have eaten what for me is a lot of sushi. Plus, I have already started on my wine and tell her so.

“You’ll sweat it out in no time,” she responds. “If you can drive, you can come to yoga!”

I remember an evening practice at which some yogis arrived from Happy Hour. They said it was their best practice ever! But even though I’ve only had a few sips, I still don’t know if I will go. There’s the drive. And the parking. And the dark and the rain and the cold. And on top of all that I haven’t slept in two nights because my thumb hurts!

I confess to my silly thumb injury, as well as to my lack of sleep, and receive another quick response.

“Come practice, and you will sleep extra well tonight!”

A part of me must want to go, because suddenly I am up from my spot. I’ve put away my wine and my sushi and am already halfway up the steps to change.

I stand in my closet. There’s no question this evening calls for polka dots.

I know what I wear shouldn’t matter. In fact, none of the trappings at yoga should matter. But there’s a surprising power in polka dots. They help me out the door. They bolster my practice. They have a power similar to that of my navy blue mat, which is even greater on the days when my towel and my pants and my top are all navy blue, too.

And so on this night I put on my underwear with the white polka dots for the cold. And my pants with the gray polka dots for the dark. And my sports bra with the black polka dots for the rain.

And then it’s easy to leave the house.

I hop in the car and turn on the radio and at once I’m glad to be out. The bath, the TV, my spot and the sushi are all quickly behind me. And the drive is amazingly easy, and upon arrival I find a parking spot waiting for me!

The studio is abuzz with energy. The class before mine is full, and mine is about to be. I put down my things and look around. I want to find my friend and thank her for the encouragement.

I remember a time when it was all I could do to leave the house.

“What did you do before this?” a fellow yogi once asked me.

“Nothing,” was my honest answer.

Truth be told, yoga didn’t just get me out of the house. It got me out of a spot that I didn’t even know I was in. Somehow I had tucked myself into a place as comfortable as the one between the sofa and the coffee table, and it wasn’t until I started to move on the mat that I realized how ensconced I’d been.

And so I always practice with gratitude, knowing that once there was a time when I didn’t even know what I was missing, when I never would have dared to dress myself in a galaxy of polka dots.

This evening’s practice is intense and sweaty, and as predicted I sleep deeply afterward. And when I wake up I feel wonderful, and this feeling lasts all day. And so I email my friend to let her know what a good deed it was that she had done for me.

This friend is always out and about. She works and practices yoga, goes to the gym and hikes and swims, all without ever wearing any polka dots. So I am surprised by her response. It seems that without knowing it I had returned the favor.

“You were my inspiration to get myself out of bed [for more yoga] this morning,” she writes. “I thought to myself, ‘Anne did it last night; I can go this morning.’”

Days later, our instructor kicked off the holiday season with a fundraising event. Much of the community showed up to support her cause, and it wasn’t long before the space was filled with a motley mix of mats, polka-dotting the floor with every color of the rainbow and more.

One mat in particular had seen better days, and the owner exclaimed as much.

“It’s time for me to get a new mat,” she said aloud.

A mat is a yogi’s favorite spot, and so it’s not that easy to give up. It’s four feet of a thousand steps and part of every yogi’s story. In fact, there’s an entire story behind my navy blue mat. I first had to leave my purple one behind, which was no easy task!

On this evening the instructor calls us to the tops of our mats and then takes us through an hour of energetic flow. After, the champagne flows, too, and we mingle, shopping at several tables of holiday wares and sharing in some festive treats to eat. And then the evening ends with a raffle.

“Look!” my friend exclaims. “I won a mat! I’m going to give it to the yogi who needs a new one!” She holds it out in front of her, beaming.

“Let me see!” I exclaim back. I want to gauge the potential of this new mat, to check out what will be this yogi’s new spot.

And when she holds it up, I can’t believe my eyes! The power of this mat is just too bold to behold! Glistening from bottom to top and in every spot, it shimmers with a galaxy of golden polka dots!

And I want so badly to express what I see, to describe all that’s wrapped up in that mat. But what to say and where to begin and how to explain it all? So instead I simply snap a picture, because I just can’t document this with words.

And then I gather my things, because it’s time to leave. The holidays have started and soon it will be the New Year. And as I say goodbye, it dawns on me why it was okay that I earlier didn’t know what to say.

It’s because this season belongs to everyone. And that means we’ll all have a chance to connect the dots with the gifts we’re about to receive.  

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.