Saturday, May 9, 2015

Imagination

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

Nighttime


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. 

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.