Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Keppe


Kiss me on my eyelids, make bad things go away. Kiss me on my forehead, make everything okay. ~ Kissalude, Basement Jaxx

When I was little, I didn’t really have a forehead.

I had a keppe instead.

Keppe is the Yiddish word for forehead. As a child, I was always kissed on the keppe, and I was tucked in at night with instructions to put my keppe in the pillow. If I was ever hurt, a kiss on the keppe would always make things better.

Of course, my children grew up with kisses on their keppes, too, and I’d tuck them in at night with a game, a kind of Goodnight Moon for the senses.

I’d call out and point to the parts of their faces, starting with their noses, followed by a light tap on each. I’d say eye and other eye, and they’d turn their faces toward mine and close their lids for another tap; then, one cheek and next the other, then their ears, their mouths and chins.

And finally, the keppe, and they’d let me put my hand on their brows and rock them goodnight on their pillows.

It was a game of acknowledgement, and they never tired of it. In a few moments with just these parts, we named and recognized all that was them.

To this day, any reference to the keppe conjures notions of nurturing, and I was more than surprised to hear about it at yoga.

Early on, I was in class, building some courage for Crow. Lots of us were new, and we were doing our best to balance on our hands with our knees on the backs of our arms.

And as in my children’s game, the instructor called out parts of us to recognize, but for this it was our knees, our elbows, our bellies and more. We were encouraged to find a teeter point, and I tucked in my knees and lifted my feet ever so slightly off the ground before tipping back to safety in my Squat.
From there, I remember looking around and fearing a face plant for us all. But I wanted to stay in the game, and so I continued the effort with the others, and that’s when I heard what I’ll never forget.

Be careful of your keppes!

The instructor had called out our keppes! I couldn’t believe it. There on the mat, I was little again, and the words came at me in a wave of kindness that I doubt he even knew he expressed.

I don’t know why I was so touched. No one else seemed to be.

In yoga, there’s talk about energy centers in our bodies. These energy centers are called chakras, and they exist in the subtle body, the non-physical body. The chakras are the meeting places of the channels through which our bodies’ energy moves. We can’t point them out, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there.

The Sixth Chakra is the Third Eye, and it’s located at the center of our foreheads, right above the eyebrows. It’s the point of intuition; the place of perception. It’s the part of us that senses beyond our five senses. It’s what we use to make sense of what we can’t name.

It’s the keppe!

To see through the Third Eye is to see the truth, whatever that is. This is the kind of sight we see when we turn our faces and close each lid for the clearest visions we’ve ever known.

And now the goodnight game from long ago makes so much more sense. A final goodnight has to be granted to even the keppe, so this eye can close for the truest rest to be attained.

It seems I’ve grown cautious of my keppe without even realizing it. It doesn’t escape me that my forehead is never really on display. In fact, the most important part of my visit to the hairdresser is our continuing discussion about my bangs, as if we’re forever designing a curtain over my Third Eye.

But yoga is the one place where I pin back my bangs, where I see myself and let myself be seen.

It’s no wonder why it’s a bit of a big deal for me when an instructor places a hand on my forehead during Savasana, or final resting pose. These adjustments are not out of the ordinary, but to me, they are anything but.

A hand on my forehead is for me as it was for my children. It’s as if I am being wholly named and recognized without anyone necessarily knowing me.

And, most important, I am putting myself in a position for this to happen. For that brief moment at the end of practice, I allow myself to feel cared for in a way I usually don’t, and I think that’s a good thing for me to practice, too.   

The other day, I was at the dentist, a place I used to dread. But, these days, I adore my dentist and everyone in his office, and nothing ever really hurts. The visits are always more than okay.

This time, though, I needed Novocain, and there was going to be some drilling. I spent the day prior calling out the tasks that I knew would help me relax, so that I could arrive at my teeter point without any fear of a face plant.

I was proud to make it through the appointment. After, I lay in the chair feeling like I do in Savasana, rested and with a sense of accomplishment.

Then, right before I turned to get up, I felt someone lean over my head and plant a kiss atop my bangs.

You did a really good job, Anne.

It was the dentist, sending me off with a kiss on the keppe.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

New Again

This is for the ones who stand, for the ones who try again, for the ones who need a hand, for the ones who think they can.~ Comes and Goes (In Waves), Greg Laswell

My handstands had left the building.

My yoga schedule was off, and so was my usual inclination to go upside down.

My handstands were missing, and I didn’t know how to find them. And I wondered if rearranging the furniture hadn’t actually been the best idea. After all, the armoire against which I’d practice my handstands had left the building, too. Maybe that was the reason?

It was a Monday night, and I arrived at practice for the first time in a week. I set up my mat and told the instructor what had happened, that my handstands had disappeared. It was not the first time they’d gone missing, and it made me feel back at Square One.

When you ask who’s new tonight, I said, I may not raise my hand, but I’m the one who’s new again.

I’m not sure why I had to confess, but I wanted someone to know!

The instructor thought for a moment, and then exclaimed that it was good to be new again, that I’d have the chance to learn from scratch.

Months earlier, a friend and I had stayed after class to work on our handstands. At that time, I had them down, and this same instructor came over to see what was up. He stood on his hands while telling us that handstands need to be fed every day. This made sense to me as I had been serving mine breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I tried a few of my own before standing up to hear what I hoped would be some good inversion tips.

But the instructor skipped over any such tips. This young man who could probably cross the room on his hands instead sat on the windowsill and at once began to talk about the point of the postures, especially the handstands.

He spoke of compassion and loving others and loving ourselves in order to love others. And before I knew it, he was talking about the need to heal over and over in an effort to find this compassion and this love for ourselves and for others.

Suddenly, my day turned as upside down as I had set out to be, and I hoped it didn’t show how much work it was for me to remain upright. Having felt so good from both my practices that day, I was surprised at how unsteady this topic made me.

I listened to him and forgot about the handstands. Instead, I asked how he came to know all this and how one is supposed to go about this healing.

I learn from my teachers, he said, and I surround myself with people who are good to me.

I didn’t know that healing and handstands were one and the same, that both were practices that needed to be fed every day.

It was several months past this discussion when I found myself in the week of my missing handstands. It was the Tuesday after the Monday I was new again, and I was putting my overclothes in a cubby at yet another practice as another instructor stood nearby.

While I stuffed away my shoes and my shirt, I declared that my handstands had left.

He obviously didn’t know from such catastrophic thinking, but his reassurances didn’t stop me from mine. And I didn’t mention how I’d connected the dots to conclude that my practice had left, as well. I struggled through the very hot practice that followed and was secretly relieved when there were no opportunities to invert. I hadn’t even been ready to try.

We sealed our practice with three Oms and, before I left the room, I stepped aside to look for my handstands. I lifted first one leg and then the other and felt my hips float into the air. I pressed into my hands and pulled in my core, and, slowly, the ceiling became the floor.

Do you see they’re still here? It was the instructor. The room had emptied as I lingered upside down before standing up to hear what I hoped might be some good inversion tips.

But this instructor also skipped over any such tips and, before I knew it, I was back in that same conversation, the one that had nothing to do with handstands.

I thought they were gone, I said, as if my handstands had feet that could walk away.

Don’t even think that sh*t!

That was all it took for him to explain that it was me who had left and not my handstands. And I quickly understood that my search for handstands was indeed the same as a search for healing.
And so, in this apparent effort to heal, I made a bold reply.

As someone who gets teased for her clean language, I repeated his words, more to myself than to anyone else. And then he said it again to make it sink in, and I said it right back, so it would. I wanted to seal this message as I did my practice, so it could be with me for a while.

And then I got dizzy from what I think was the heat, and I had to sit down to rest. And from there I explained the way I’d connected the dots, because I had to further confess. And he told me some more, without mincing words, but he spoke from compassion and love.

And that night I left with my hope intact, and the next day my practice was back!

My handstands returned from all that I learned, and I knew some healing had happened.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Fierce

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. ~Romeo & Juliet, William Shakespeare

I met a man named Adeoye.

I’d met him before. He works in a store I frequent when I arrive at yoga too early and need a place to go before class.

I didn’t know his name then. He is a beautiful man, with a beautiful voice and smile to match, who serves as the greeter for the store.

And he does a good job greeting. I even remember what he said the first time he greeted me. He paid me a compliment. He told me I looked fierce.

I smiled back and thanked him. It was early on a weekend morning, and I was feeling far from fierce. I was dressed in a hodgepodge outfit with my hair half done. I had blown out my bangs but left the rest to dry in every direction. Wearing barely any makeup, I had on my yoga gear and what I call my supersonic socks, the rugby socks my son had bought while backpacking abroad. Emblazoned with the words, All Blacks, the socks pay tribute to the New Zealand men’s rugby team, the nickname earned more than 100 years ago for wearing all black while on tour.

I didn’t think I’d ever before been called fierce. I figured it must be the socks, or maybe it was just one of the many words the greeter conjured as he spent his day saying hello. But the compliment worked. I was happy to be called fierce!

I think I could have been fiercer before. I think it would have served me well. I was always fierce in my convictions but not always in my actions. Somehow, I let happen things I thought would never, and it’s hard to excuse myself for not having taken better care.

Maybe, now, that’s why I’m so thrilled to be called some names I’ve never before been called. Names create beliefs, and they can stick like the All Blacks for 100 years to come.

When I started yoga, I was surrounded by lots of strong people. I was determined to get strong, too, and with regular practice, I started to get more powerful. I didn’t know it then, but what I wanted to be was fierce, and that apparently starts with a little insanity.

The class was at play in inversions, and I had my mat against the wall with the others. I was in a Scorpion handstand, my feet doing their best to meet the top of my head while upside down. And from across the room, I heard the instructor pointing out those who practiced regularly in an effort to get another yogi to build her practice, too.

That’s Anne, he said, pointing at me. She’s insane!

Hearing this, I could feel my feet get that much closer to my head. I was proud to be insane!

It wouldn’t be the last time I’d be introduced as such, but it was the first time, and from then on, I knew that things could be different, that I could be different. With this practice, I believed something for me could change, and I could be stronger than I ever was.

The other day, Adeoye was dressed as Santa Claus. Bare-chested, he wore only pants and a red cape with white fur. I walked into the store, and he wrapped his arms around me for a great, big greeting.
What are we going to do about all this after Christmas? I asked, pointing out his outfit from head to toe. I wanted to know who he’d be after the holidays.

And that’s when he told me his name.

Adeoye, he answered. And when I repeated it so I could get it right and remember it, he sang it to me as a song, and his smile was so big that I wondered if he had invented his own name. And then the song stuck, and I found myself singing it in the days that followed.

I remember when my son earned himself another name. When he was young, he was small for his age in the sports he played. But he always knew that he was fierce; his fighting spirit was more than big enough. And one day his coach stepped aside to exclaim to me about my son’s tenacity.

Samit is a beast! he said.

And to this day, the name has stuck. He is a beast, and I tell him so whenever he accomplishes anything.
Adeoye did not make up his name. With pride, he told me its meaning. Crown of God, he said. And in the way that he said this, and in the way that he didn’t say more, I saw that this man in the Santa outfit was indeed Divine. He believed it, and so he was.

Shortly after I met Adeoye, I forgot the meaning of his name. I researched it and somehow landed on a new meaning, A vision of mercy. I checked in with him to confirm, and was surprised to hear that I had it wrong. But, he made it okay, saying that he loved my invention. He told me that he would hold on to it as his spiritual name and then he thanked me for christening him.

The other day, I was at yoga, and I can’t even remember on what we were working. I recall the music playing, the class flowing, and the instructor suddenly calling me out. I think it was the jump backs. I’ve been trying to jump back without hitting the ground, pushing myself up and swinging my legs under and through to land in Chaturanga, or low push-up.

With the instructor’s encouragement, I hoisted myself up and back with the barest of pit stops. And in this effort, I earned myself another name. Out loud and from across the room, the instructor called me a beast, and that was better than any jump back I could have done.

I felt fierce like my son!

And I want to believe it, so I will be. I want to walk around in my supersonic socks as the most insane beast for 100 years to come.

And so these days, I’m taking better care, so I can serve myself well.


And now it makes sense why, ever since Adeoye told me his name, it’s been on repeat in my head. It’s because in order to be fierce, I have to know that I am Divine, too. And there needs to be a vision of mercy for all the times that came before, when I forgot.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Bareness

Look for the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities. Forget about your worries and your strife. ~ The Bare Necessities, The Jungle Book

I usually get up and get dressed every morning, except for Saturdays. On Saturday mornings, I get up and get undressed.

This is the morning of my hot yoga practice, and it’s a bare one. The room is fairly bare. There’s a big Om on the wall, but that’s all. I am almost bare, my pants are cropped and so is my top. Even the instructor’s mat is bare. It lies empty while he teaches from all corners of the room.

It’s just too hot for any sort of cover. One step into the room, and the heat has already stripped away whatever I may have on. By the time I unroll my mat, I’ve no choice but to be there bare.

On this particular Saturday, it is overcast and quiet and, somehow, at just one day past Halloween, it is already a true November. There’s a chill in the air and the wind is blowing, baring the trees of their leaves that have only recently begun to change. At this early hour, downtown has yet to be dressed, too, and I easily find parking in the empty streets.

I grab my mat from the seat of my car. I am traveling light this morning, with my wallet and towel and phone in the same case as my mat, carrying so much less than what I bring to my evening practices. I walk the short way alongside the shops, down the brick walk and through an alley to a flight of stairs. I pass the restaurant that’s tucked at the bottom and then cross a little street. From there, I turn toward the river before ducking down another alley which takes me right to the studio.

As I walk along, I can see around me all that is exposed: the sidewalks and the streets, even the dumpsters and the parking lot. And I can’t help but think how much I love this part of the city. I love its brick walks, its roads, its steps, its alleys, its views of the water. Nothing hides here, and I see lots of beauty in the bareness of all that’s revealed at this early hour.

I don’t know why my connection to this place runs so deep, but when I’m here, I feel like nothing’s missing. And that’s fine for Saturday mornings when I’m traveling light, fresh from the shower, my hair still wet, without much makeup and without much else, really. And with not many others around and all that I don’t have with me at the moment, I am surprised at how abundant everything appears and how dear to me all of it is.

I enter the studio and check in at the front desk. Apparently, I’m mistaken in thinking I have all that I need, because I’ve left my water bottle in the car. So, I buy some water, stow my jacket and overclothes in a cubby, and open the door to the practice room. The heat comes at me from the earlier class, and I move inside and let it wrap around me. I lay out my mat, have a seat and put up my hair.

It’s quiet and still. The room starts to fill with other yogis who have traveled light like me. And then the instructor appears, and one of the yogis asks about his missing watch. She wants to know why his wrist is bare.

Why do I need to know what time it is? he jokes. We’ll just practice for a long time!

We’re going to be here until it’s lunch, I said, making my own joke that without the little pink watch he usually wears, we’d practice three times as long.

But the 90-minute class actually goes by in what seems like less than an hour. We start in the usual manner, with some inhales and exhales and reaches and folds. We say our three Oms. And then we move through the Sun A’s and then through the Sun B’s. And then we land in Warrior II, and I finally feel like I’m here.

It takes all this moving around for me to finally appear. This is when I start to get hot. This is when I feel immersed, when the heat in me matches the heat in the studio. It’s when I start to sweat, and when my mind tells me, I’m in it now. And it’s as if I’m walking along the brick sidewalks again, going down the steps and through the alleys and toward the water. Here, I feel connected. Here, I feel like nothing’s missing. Here, there’s no need for much else.

And when the practice is over, I lie in Savasana, or final resting pose, with my hair wetter than when I earlier stepped out of the shower. I wipe away whatever makeup’s left from under my eyes, and I feel the sweat travel from the top of my bare belly, over my sides, around my back and onto the mat. 

I am uncovered now and, somehow, the heat has made this happen. Really, that’s why there’s no need for a watch, because the practice has melted me in its own time, taking with it whatever I never needed, anyway.

I roll to the right and rise to a seated position, placing my hands at my heart, readying myself with the others for the closing three Oms.

And as I sit here with all that I don’t have with me at the moment, I am again surprised at how abundant everything appears and how dear to me all of it is. I am grateful for the heat, for the ability to move on my mat, for the room, for the practice and the people.

Nothing hides here, either, and for the second time in the same morning, I get to see all the beauty in the bareness that’s been revealed.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Adaptation

A change is gonna come. I see it now. ~ A Change I Gonna Come, Seal. 

At first, I fit yoga into my life. Now, I fit my life into yoga.

And once upon a time, I never even did yoga.

That time is hard to imagine now. What did I do before? I fill so much of my time with yoga that there’s hardly any room left in a day, and I wonder how I filled it before.

Change is challenging for me, and so taking up something like yoga, and doing it as frequently as I do, is something I would never have anticipated. I usually like to do the same thing I’ve always done, even if now I can’t remember what exactly that was.

I am a creature of habit, as my son likes to point out. I find a restaurant I love, and it’s the only place I want to go. I’m at a job where lots of people come and go, but I tease everyone that I will be the last one standing. I’m the only one of my siblings who has remained local and, in fact, I raised my children right down the street from where I grew up.

Nothing stays the same, Mom, my daughter tells me.

This is something she already knows as a young adult, but it’s something I’ve only come to recognize at a much later date. And I’m not sure how this is so, because not much has been status quo.

At yoga, I’ve learned that we have a front body and a back body. I never knew this until I was instructed to breathe into my back body. I didn’t know I even had a back body and, even though I might have been asking the obvious, I had to be shown where it was. The part I breathe into is behind my heart, and when I breathe in this direction, I can expand the area on my back between my shoulders. I can do the opposite, too, and breathe into my front body, filling my lungs and lifting my heart.

I just have to know in which direction, and then all I have to do is breathe.

How else to adapt to change? None of us can remain the same, and I don’t think we’re supposed to, either. I used to think the goal was to get settled into whatever the most settled place would be, but now I know differently. Even my practice changes, from where I practice, to how I practice, to when I practice. Change happens and, I think, even though it’s not always easy, it’s best to do as I do in the practice, and that’s to go with the flow. It’s the only way to stay in the game.

It’s the only way forward.

So now what I do is return my daughter’s wisdom, and when she wants to know what’s next, I reassure her with my own experience that it’s not always necessary to know. All that’s needed to know is that something is next, and what it is can be discovered upon arrival.

We were in Pigeon pose the other day, and I lay there in a heap after an hour of practice. I welcomed the rest, and I breathed into my back body. This is a pose in which we are encouraged to let go and, if the instructor says something at this point, it’s usually along these lines.

Let go of something, he said. Only you know what that is.

Then he made a few suggestions, one of which caused me to raise my head from my heap.

Maybe you have a 40-year-plan that you have to let go, even if you don’t know what’s next.

I think he was talking to me! Just becoming a yogi was a big change in itself and, if I think about it, that transformation should prove to me that I’m able to adapt to other changes, too. It just takes me a little while to settle into something new as I have a tendency to look more backward than forward.

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.

These are not the words of the yoga instructor; instead, they belong to the Danish philosopher and theologian, Soren Kierkegaard. It’s my guess that he knew he had a front and back body, too. He wrote these words in the 1800s, but I find them to be true today as I do my best to move my practice forward and move myself forward, too. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

UNFOLD YOUR MAT, UNFOLD YOURSELF

It's said that yoga can open up a person. It did that for me, and out came 270 pages! My book is up on Amazon (available here)! It's a collection of my essays, edited into sections of 15 Healing Truths. I am very grateful to my teachers and my fellow yogis and my readers for helping to make this happen. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Strength

Put a little love in your heart. And the world will be a better place. ~ Put A Little Love In Your Heart, Dolly Parton


How long does it take to strengthen a heart?

I think that depends on what kind of shape it’s in and whether it is a strong one in the first place. 

The heart is a powerful muscular organ that never rests. It beats continuously throughout a lifetime, and so it’s important to provide it with the necessary nourishment, especially if it’s a big one.

I’ve been trying to strengthen my heart.

It’s a long overdue effort, but apparently my strategy to date hasn’t been the most effective. I’ve basically preserved mine rather than fortified it, and it can’t get stronger without the proper nutrients.

Yoga has worked on my body, and for the first time I’ve got some muscles going on. I could feel them especially in the beginning, when I first started practicing. I remember the aches as every muscle took note of the poses and, even now, my muscles can still hold the memory of a practice, reminding me afterwards of how hard they have worked.

These days, I feel strong, and I am strong, and I make it a point to practice as often as I can, so that I can get even stronger.

And I think it’s affecting my heart.

For the first time in a long time, I can feel some aches there, too, as if my heart has been working as hard as the rest of me.

The other day, at yoga, we moved through the practice in an unusual way. Instead of our regular vinyasas, we did rolling ones, otherwise known as Water Wheels. And we first prepared with a warm up, moving in slow motion from Down Dog into Plank, tilting our chins to our chests, doming our backs and rolling out our spines until we were fully extended. From there, we lifted our chins and brought our hearts forth before tucking again to bring our hearts under. We alternated between these movements, warming up our bodies and warming up our hearts.

I liked practicing in this way, but I didn’t think too much about it at the time. I just moved slowly and with care, concentrating more on keeping my arms straight as I rounded my spine in much the same action as Cow pose, and then arched it in much the same action as Cat pose.

And then came the Water Wheels, and I dipped my knees, and finally bent my elbows as I lowered my chest and then my chin all the way to the ground before pulling into Up Dog and crouching back and through, my heart skimming the floor before making my way back into Down Dog.

Throughout this practice, we continued to dip our hearts, and I did so while unaware. I really just continued to concentrate on the rest of my body, listening to the instructions as to what to do with my legs and my arms and even my navel, pressing it in to tighten my core.

When we lifted our hearts in Capiasana, or Low Runner’s Lunge, I really just focused on opening my hip and pressing my hands up and over my head. And when we lifted our hearts in Skandasana, or Side Lunge, I really just focused on getting low and spreading out my arms. And when we lifted our hearts in Vashistasana, or Side Plank, I really just focused on balancing on one foot and one arm while lifting my knee.

I didn’t know that all along I was feeding my heart the nutrients it needed, just by moving in this way. 

In fact, I didn’t even know my heart was in on the action until we repeated the rolling Planks and Water Wheels again at the end. This time around, I felt a rush of emotion each time my heart dipped low, and it caught me by surprise.

Practicing is my plan to strengthen my heart just like I do my muscles. And I think it’s a good one, too, as I seem to be able to feel it more than before. 

And even if it sometimes catches me by surprise, I think that counts for a lot, because, now, my heart can hold the memory of a practice, too.



Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Swimming

Rock me on the water. Sister, will you soothe my fevered brow? Yeah, rock me on the water, then maybe I'll remember, maybe I'll remember how. ~ Rock Me On The Water, Jackson Browne

Tonight, I was in a yoga class that took place in what I can only describe as The Twilight Zone.

I call it The Twilight Zone because I literally had no sense of time during the practice. I was so incredibly immersed in the movements that the end snuck up on me, and I only knew it was that time because the instructor dimmed the lights.

We start the practice at the top of our mats, the usual place to start.

We press our feet down and lift our toes up, and we’re instructed to extend our arms up and around and back into place, alternating first one and then the other, until the room is like a pool of backstroking yogis.

And even though we are swimming, the instructor asks us, again, to root down into the earth, to press our feet as if we are instead on dry land, and to lift our toes and glide slowly as if we have many more miles to go.

For 75 minutes, we swim these miles, pressing and breathing, always breathing, and coming to a stop only to feel the earth beneath our imaginary pool.

At one point, we rise from the floor to a lunge and somehow, some way, transition to Warrior II and Extended Side Angle. Then, somehow, in the same flow, we wind up on the floor once more, only to rise into a Reverse Side Angle of sorts.

It’s hard to recall how we get where we’re going, only that we seem to continue to rise from the floor.

We do a lot on one side, working the lunge and the twist and the balance and landing on the same front leg for Toppling Tree before opening into Half Moon. And I’m glad no one can hear me silently call out, Come on, come on, come on! when my quads can barely swim another lap on the mat.

This practice is sort of mesmerizing. We touch down on the mat to rise up again and again. And two or three times the instructor talks about the earth, asking us to feel it through the floor, all the way down to the ground.

And I imagine it solid underneath, even though we’re fluid above. 

And I think it must be like this for everyone else in The Twilight Zone, too.

When it comes time for Savasana, the final resting pose, I lay there as the music plays. The piece is instrumental, and I hear a violin and think to myself to ask the instructor for the name of the song, so I can listen to it again at home.

And I wish I were more relaxed, because I think I’m not.

The violin plays, and I hear in the music the same balance I find in this practice. It is steady and grounding, but it also flows and is fluid.

Before I know it, I am in a deep, deep rest, after all.

It seems in The Twilight Zone that it’s just a trick to think I’m not relaxed. In fact, I’m so flat out that I can feel the earth beneath my mat, even though we are one flight up from the street.

And so I lay there with the others, like a swimmer collapsed from swimming as far as she can go.

It’s quiet, and the instructor walks around the room, reassuring this one and that one with the gentlest of adjustments. I can hear his footsteps as he makes his rounds.

And it’s then that it’s quiet enough, for the first time in a week, for some thoughts that have been too overwhelming to think. It had been that long since some very sad news that I hadn’t yet let surface.

But in The Twilight Zone, time is sort of suspended in the balance between effort and rest. The mat is solid, and the room is safe, and there’s a peace that finally makes it okay for these thoughts to appear without fear.

And then it’s over in a blink, and I can’t even remember the closing except for the three Oms, only one of which I can do because it takes a few moments to collect myself and transition out of the zone.

But once I’m out, I’m out.

And the lights are on and we are back and now there’s talk of what to eat.

And so I get dressed and ready to leave but take a quick look around, just to double check.

Everything is the same as when I arrived, except, that is, for me.

And there is no pool. There never was. Even though I swam for miles.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Blessings


I'll say a little prayer for you. Forever, forever, you'll stay in my heart. ~ I'll Say A Prayer For You, Aretha Franklin

I have a buddha in a bubble!

My children surprised me with a snow globe that houses a golden Buddha, seated in a peaceful womb of gold and glittering with sparkles that alight on his shoulders, his head, his hands, his lap and his feet.

Every morning, I shake my buddha!

And I watch as my vanity lights illuminate the sparkles as they glisten and swirl in a dance to start the day.

At the closing of one of my very first yoga practices, I sat for the first time with my hands in prayer while the instructor said a few words.

He instructed us to exhale what we no longer needed and to inhale some goodness into its place. After the practice, I was so hypnotized, I would have followed any instruction, and this seemed easy enough. I was surprised how visual it was for me, and I exhaled what I imagined as the color gray, and I inhaled what I imagined as the color white.

During subsequent practices, he’d ask us to send some positive energy to someone we loved.

At that point, I hadn’t heard much about energy, but I’d find myself visualizing this, too, and I’d imagine white stars falling on the person to whom I’d choose to send some love.

With some more years of practice under my belt, these stars have turned from white to gold. Somehow, now, for me, imagining these falling, golden stars have become a sort of visual prayer, the kind I say after moving on my mat.

More recently, one of our instructors was not well, and for several practices during his recuperation, I’d find myself imagining him seated like a buddha with gold stars falling all around, landing on his head and sticking to his shoulders like ornaments on a tree.

And, so, it was with surprise that I received this most thoughtful of gifts, my buddha in a bubble, complete with sparkles as gold as the stars I send in my prayers and sitting there like someone who’s been blessed.

Every morning, I look at this buddha, and I see the gold dust all over him. He’s even sitting in some. And, to me, he looks blessed, and I see in this image that it’s possible to be surrounded in blessings whether we know it or not.

Sometimes, for many, it can be hard to see such blessings, especially the kind that can’t be seen or touched.

But the blessings are there, because we are here.

This week, the actor and comedian, Robin Williams, died. So did the daughter of a friend of mine who herself passed away a while back. And it makes me wish that it was possible for them to have been sustained by the golden prayers that I’m sure were sent to them and that I’ve no doubt they had sent to others.

For, I’m thinking that they, too, were sitting in some gold dust, maybe even with some of it resting on their shoulders and in their hair and on their feet.

And, it’s a safe bet, that they’ve even left some behind in their footprints.

I think it can be very difficult to exhale that which no longer serves us.

Sometimes, it can get stuck inside, and I think this may have been some of what happened to these souls. And it makes me wish that more of us would have known of their struggles, so that as many golden prayers could have been sent to help in whatever way they might have.

Last night, at the end of practice, a siren blared as we sat there in prayer with the room quiet and the sky dark. And the instructor said that, growing up, he was taught to say a prayer when a siren went by. And, so, he asked us all to do the same, to say a prayer for someone we didn’t know, but, for whom, if we did, we’d love and bless, all the same. 

I got home later that night and prepared to settle down for the evening, my buddha on the vanity, serenely protected in its globe.

I picked it up and gave it a good shake.

And, as I looked inside, I saw that the vanity lights had formed a halo around his head, and I watched one more time as the golden blessings swirled all around and then settled down for the evening, too.

And, then, I took a picture and sent it to my children, so I could send my love and say good night and give them both my blessings.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Step Up


I just take one step closer to you. And even when I've fallen down, my heart says follow through. ~ One Step Closer, Michael Franti

Step to the top of your mats.

This is what the instructor says at the beginning of most every yoga class.

I hear this so much that it’s automatic to simply step to the top when I’m told. I can be finishing a conversation, coming up from a seat or coming down from a stretch. It doesn’t matter. Everything stops, my mind clears, and I step to the top.

But last week, I heard something else.

Step to the top of your mats, the instructor announced.

And when I did so, my mind, on its own accord, suddenly responded in silence, Reporting for duty!

I’ve never really had a thought surprise me. I usually know what I’m thinking about. But, that day, this response was as automatic as my step to the top. And even though no one could hear my mind speak out, everyone else reported for duty, too.

If you asked me, I’d answer aloud that I practice yoga to stay in shape, the kind of shape that takes all forms. The practice helps keep me fit physically, mentally and spiritually.

But now I know there is another reason. It’s the reason my mind stated, even though that in itself sort of makes me question the state of my mind! Truly, though, practicing has now become my duty, to me and to those I find around me.

Going to yoga is how I have my own back. It’s a vote of confidence in me, by me. It’s how I let myself know that I’m worth maintaining, that my body, my mind and my spirit are all worthwhile.

So, I’m proud to report for duty, almost daily, because with each day, I’m able to see how far I’ve come in caring for myself.

I took a big detour for a generous portion of my life, throwing the care of my body, mind and spirit off course. Somehow, I let someone other than me navigate, and it’s been a very long road back.

Every step to the top of the mat is another step back on track.

The next day comes, and I report for duty as usual. It is a Monday following a long, holiday weekend, and I had been uncharacteristically tired for days. The weekend had a strange pace as I practiced and slept and practiced and slept.

At the end of the week’s first workday, I stop home to eat and change out of my work clothes. Continuing my weekend pattern, I set the alarm for a 45 minute snooze and fall into a deep sleep before putting on my yoga clothes and leaving the house. 

The evening class is crowded, and there’s only one space left for the instructor. The room is hot from the previous class, and the instructor opens the windows to invite in the setting sun and the summer breeze.

Step to the top of your mats, he says.

I automatically take the step, and we’re told to place our feet wider than usual and bring our hands to our hearts. We are asked to set an intention or say a prayer or think of anything meaningful. 

Every time we’re asked to do this, a million things run through my mind, as if I have to figure something out quickly in this very brief moment. Should I bless my children? Should I think of a friend or family member? Should I say a prayer? Should I send good thoughts to someone?  Should I, should I, should I?

This night, I decide to send my thoughts to me, which I don’t usually do. And once again, I hear my mind speak on its own accord, this time simply saying the word, Love.

And then we’re told that we’re going to start slow, and we follow the instructor’s motions as he raises his hands to the ceiling before bringing them back to his heart.

I press my hands together and follow them with my eyes, up and overhead, just in time to see a dozen rainbow polka dots splashed across the ceiling, a picture the setting sun has made as it shines through a prism that hangs in the window.  

The class moves along at what I find is an unusual pace of patience and power. Somehow, the movements are big and small at the same time. We move carefully and slowly in a way that is powerful and strong. The instructor practices with us while telling us what to do, so we can listen and see at the same time.

Periodically, we are told to stop. After a flow, we are supposed to hold still. We are instructed to take Child’s pose. Later, we are told to stay in Down Dog. Still later, we get to choose our stationary pose, and I go into Headstand where I can be still while upside down.

Each time, I’m almost disappointed to stop. I want to keep flowing, and I’m not even aware I need any sort of break until we stop. Only then do I realize how much effort I’ve put forth, and it’s a welcome rest.

Once we’re still, the instructor gives an explanation for why, and the reason is an interesting mix of patience and power, just like the practice.

He says, You work hard, and you rest hard. Work and rest. Work and rest. You give and give, and then you receive.

And I realize then that this rest between flows is the same as the step to the top of the mat. It’s a duty, too. It’s what helps to strengthen the body, the mind and the spirit.

It’s the decision to receive after giving so much.

At the end of the practice, we are asked to bring to mind the intention or prayer that we set at the beginning. I had almost forgotten but remember right away that mine was Love.

The practice has ended, and I realize this love has already come to pass. Somehow, the movements have fortified me, and I feel solid and worthwhile.

I give the instructor a heartfelt hug and tease my friends that it’s time to label the studio wall with our names because we’ll be back before we know it.

We leave, and I walk to the grocery next door with a friend and hug her, too, telling her I’m honored to know her and love her, too.

And then, I turn to shop and see that I’m standing among all the brightly colored fruits and vegetables, an array of rainbows splashed in front of me like those on the ceiling earlier that evening.

And I want to buy them all, because my prayer and my practice worked.

But it’s very close to the time to make my way home, so I can report for duty again tomorrow.

So, I remember instead the mix of patience and power, and buy just the few things I need, along with a treat or two for Love.




Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Stillness

How can I possibly be inconspicuous when my flow is so ridiculous? ~ I’ll Be Around, Cee-lo Green

I was at an evening yoga class with a guest instructor who arrived with a great big welcome, his greeting warming the room, and his smile inviting many in return.

This is a Level Two class, he announced. So, what would you like to work on?

With each answer, he jokingly upped the ante, saying, Oh, hips? That’s a 3.23 class!. Inversions? That’s a 5.67 class! Backbends? That’s a 10.789 class!

He asked us what we wanted and got us laughing when we answered, promising us a high energy class and lifting us with that of his own before landing the room in a quiet meditation with a poem and a chant. 

I was happy to be there, sitting next to a friend who was leaving town and among others I knew as well. I felt cozy as evening fell outside the windows, darkening the room in a stillness filled with the rhythmic voice of the instructor.

I didn’t really take in any of the poem or understand the chant; rather, it was as if the sound of his words blanketed my busy thoughts, tucking them away for the night and settling me into a stillness usually found in the final resting pose of Savasana.

It was as though we were starting at the end, and then what followed was the middle!

The instructor popped up from his seated position, turned on the music and moved us directly into Boat Pose, a pose that works on the abs and is usually found halfway through the class. After more ab work, we moved into an early Crow, balancing on our hands with our knees tucked as high above the backs of our arms as possible.

And then we started to flow, and he even threw in a few handstands between warrior poses. He danced to the music and bounced around the room, adjusting us here and there and singing along, too, as his energy lifted us again before landing the room in the quiet of Warrior Two.

And there we held the pose.

With the others, I settled again into stillness, but this time with much more effort as he implored us to take the pose even deeper. He ran through a checklist, asking us to see every part of our bodies as he outlined the view of our arms, our legs, our bellies, our muscles and more.

I even want you to see the back of your knee, he said. I want you to see your blind spots.

There is something about expending lots of energy while being still. Somehow, everything seems to make sense in the stillness, like understanding the words to a chant with no knowledge of the language.

And it’s in this way that I saw myself as instructed, and I at once remembered an astrologer telling me the stars were such that I should walk the King’s Highway. When I asked for an explanation, I was told that I was not to sit on the side, that I was meant to be seen.

My muscles were working hard, and I felt so alert that it seemed as if I could see out of every pore. And I was so still that I found myself strong enough to look at my blind spots and to understand that it’s okay to be seen. I even pictured the back of my knee.

We held the pose still longer, and the energy was as high as we had been in our handstands earlier in the practice. 

I want you to do this pose as if it’s the last yoga pose you’ll ever do, he said.

This brought some giggles to the room, but he held his ground in much the same way as we held the pose.

Seriously, he said, countering with his smile. This could be the last time you’ll ever do yoga. There is no tomorrow.

And so there I was, standing still in what turned out to be the Just Now, where nothing is hidden if you are brave enough to look. It was a liberating place to be, among my fellow warriors with no tomorrow, doing all that mattered in the moment, and seeing all of myself from the inside out.

We broke the pose and flowed once more, the music never having stopped, and the instructor continuing his beat around the room, singing and dancing and asking us to see ourselves, and somehow getting us to do just that by sending us from stillness to flow and stillness to flow.

Soon after, we moved into reverse side angle. I stepped one foot in front of the other and twisted to my left, placing my right hand to the mat and reaching the other to the ceiling. And as I turned my torso to the side, my eyes passed the window, and I saw a single star, like an eye in the sky blinking back at me.

I gazed at the star, and it stared back, both of us seeing the other in the clarity of the stillness that was the Just Now.

But before I knew it, the flow was upon us again, and I averted my eyes, flowing all the way to the end of the class, until the room finally settled into its sweat and its breath and another poem and another chant.

And I lay there in stillness against the rhythm of the words, and I felt free in the bravery of being bare enough to be seen by even me.

And so when I left the class, I thanked the instructor and, although I know he knows there’s no tomorrow, I asked him to please come back again as if there was.