Tuesday, July 31, 2012

It Begins Again

I received an email prompt for a steeply discounted flight booking.  Usually my husband & I travel together every February.  It's our promise to one another-- barring illness, lost job, or other unforeseen occurrence we will prioritize a trip together every year.  Generally, I book flights for February when prices drop after Thanksgiving.  However, last year, had I booked in the summer I would have saved money.  So I looked.

The prices were really reasonable.

I'm jittery.  I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve.  I booked a round trip flight for Kevin & I for three weeks in Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands in February.  I'll start the next step soon-- hunting around for a great spot to stay our first & last night.  Apart from that I have a general idea of places I don't want to miss visiting-- the market in Otavalo, the Galapagos Islands, los Banos... otherwise we'll see where the winds blow us.

That's how we're arriving in Ecuador.  I can't think of anywhere in the world I'm uninterested in visiting.  My travels have taught me that there are dynamic people, landscapes, & surprises lurking just about anywhere.  Ecuador has always been appealing.  The reason we're landing there next year is thanks to a fortuitous dinner in a Vietnam port-town last year.  Kevin & I had spent two days biking through the Mekong Delta.  We had a night to kill in Rach Gia before catching the morning ferry to Phu Quoc island.  An evening walk through town showed us that Rach Gia is a lovely town where folks live & work.  Not a lot past that.  We kept circling another couple, also referencing a map.  It became obvious we were all looking for a good dinner.  We wound up sharing a table at a family restaurant in the center of town.

The owner's little daughter played cards & charades with us while we waited for steaming bowls of Pho.  Our dinner companions were a couple who had been maintaining a long-distance relationship (Houston to London).  They quit their jobs & had been travelling the globe for over a year.  They'd been on the Trans-Siberian railroad, taken safaris in Namibia, spent time with family in Bombay, weeks in Madagascar, & now Vietnam.  I asked them their favorite places on earth.  Top three?  Galapagos Islands, New Zealand, & Namibia.

Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam
Our destination following a fortuitous conversation
Next stop Galapagos.

Monday, July 30, 2012


San Marcos, Guatemala
Yesterday my husband & I had seven hours to kill as we drove home through the Eastern Shore.  It's a great drive.  Tons of crape myrtles & roadside farms.  Tons of time to swap stories & listen to music.  

Kevin recently came across a story of a man who had been eating only what he grew.  Certainly no easy feat, but a recognizable goal as many of us become increasingly attentive to place, environment, & health.  Over time, he decided to instead eat only what he could forage.  His explanation was that pleasure seeking ultimately resulted in suffering.  My ears perked, because this idea is found in much Buddhist thinking, though I don't believe this man self-identified as Buddhist.  He felt that seeking certain flavors or foods ultimately limited his exposure to knowing deeply what the world already provides.  I'm sure he experienced sacrifice & struggle, but he spoke of finding abundance & sheer, unexpected joy.

He embarked upon a journey of receptivity.  The goal was to see what was already around him in his nearby environment.  It was such a lovely idea.  Certainly, it sounds a bit more ambitious an undertaking than I'm ready for (I really like cheese) but it also helped me understand the breadth & depth of relinquishing control & opening.  

When I practice yoga I often try to still my competitive impulse towards "succeeding" in the practice.  In some way, I have categorized receptivity to certain areas of my life.  I definitely don't apply the concept to my eating habits, & perhaps I'm not all that consistent with it's application in my yoga practice.

It reminded me of reading another environmentalist several years ago.  He reccomended laying in your yard & just watching life unfold around you.  Suddenly, what can be conceived of as mundane can feel like a teeming wilderness.  Watching soil breathe, ants work, & the breeze's sculpting arm.  It reminds me that wildness isn't necessarily far off.  Wildness, wilderness, can be wherever I am.  It can be what I am.

I do pleasure seek.  I enjoy my practice & cultivate joy in my practice.  I love travelling & chose a photo to illustrate this blog from San Marcos, Guatemala, one of my favorite places on the planet.  Certainly, in time I would love to find more satisfaction & less seeking.  Perhaps the consistency & attention are moving me towards that place.  Maybe I can be receptive to being exactly where I'm supposed to be.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


Last Friday at 5 am the air was finally cool.  Wednesday had (yet again!) reached over 100 degrees.  Storms broke Thursday & by Friday I began to remember what it felt like to be refreshed.  I joined my students for a sweaty, steamy yoga practice at 6 am.  I love practicing when the rain drums outside.  It seems to pull everything in a little bit tighter.

I've mentioned previously on this blog that I do my best to attend to theme.  I teach in a studio that also considers the Jivamukti Yoga School's theme of the month.  July is Yoga & Sexuality.  When I first heard I was so hesitant to speak overtly about sexuality in a yoga class.  I know some students come to yoga to work through sexual trauma.  I know some students are partnered and some aren't.  Sexuality means so many things to people.

However, as the month has unfolded it has felt increasingly important to address sexuality in the context of yoga, just as we use this practice to delve a bit deeper into every other area of our lives.  To do my homework, I've been reading "A General Theory of Love."  This book was written by several psychotherapists who consider both the body of art & literature on love as well as psychiatric & scientific studies on the subject.  I've learned a ton thus far from this read.  So much of it smacks of Yogic thinking.  In reading about "limbic resonance" the authors considered gaze.  Limbic resonance refers to the limbic brain, which only mammals have.  It's the part of the brain that enables us to relate & emote.  The resonance develops in relation to one another.  The authors mentioned how different one of us might experience a staring contest with a lizard vs. gazing at our newborn's eyes for the first time or stealing a furtive glance on a first date.  There's a spark or connection in that meeting of eyes that creates a bond, or resonance.

In any yoga practice there should be attention to gaze, or drishti.  Usually, that gaze will help hold the attention internally, like Friday's rain emphasized in my own practice.  I can't think of a moment when we would gaze in another's eyes for the purpose of yoga.  But isn't it lovely & interesting that we are so encouraged to attend to our gaze.  I usually consider drishti linked to pratyahara, the withdrawal of the senses & deepening concentration.  It certainly is.  But isn't it interesting to consider attending to our gaze as cultivating a deeper relationship with ourselves.  Perhaps even allowing for a more profound internal resonance.  This idea isn't mutually exclusive from pratyahara, or any other aspect of practice reinforced by drishti.

As my students & I began steadying in the studio to the drumming rain outside, we considered gaze.  We pulled it hazily back to the tip of the nose, the navel, the corners of our eyes, or towards the third eye, depending on each asana's prescription.  The primacy of gaze caused me to remember other moments of seeing & being seen.

My sister is 11 years older than I am.  She was at college in Bryn Mawr, near where I grew up, when I was about 10.  My mother was in grad school so while she had a night class once a week I joined my sister in her figure drawing class.  I was shy & inhibited so she put me in the corner with homework, playing cards, & my own art supplies.  From time to time I would glance at her or the model.  My own body seemed so strange and foreign.  To see a woman comfortably sharing her own body in this space of respect & learning felt freeing.  None of the side conversations reflected judgment or assessment.  All were about beauty, line, form.

A few years later I modelled for friends of mine who were art students.  I never modelled for a stranger, only people I knew.  Through the process of sitting for them, & later in witnessing their creation, my own gaze of myself shifted.  I saw myself through their eyes or the eyes of others who would consider their sculpture.  I found myself pulling away from self-critique & towards a gradually deepening appreciation to hold form & take shape.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Embodying Story

At summer camp, as a young girl, I took modern dance.  I remember dancing freely with the teacher's voice suggesting I "be a tree."  Reflecting back, it sounds so much less inhibited than I usually recognize myself to be.  It sounds so much more hippie than I generally acknowledge myself to be.  But I came home begging my mother to send me to modern dance lessons.

We lived in the Philly suburbs.  To my knowledge, in the early 90s she probably would have had to commit to drive me to Philly for lessons.  I'm sure it could have been a burden to a working mother.  She found a ballet studio run by two Polish former dancers.  One played the piano & the other kept time by banging her cane.  These ballerinas had danced for survival.  I wanted to dance for something else.

I remember that same spark of recognition when I wandered into Barry's house as a teenager.  His mother took sculpting classes at night.  Their home was filled with nude sculptures of real women with generous thighs, soft shoulders, & round bellies.  As a young woman, growing into my own skin, it suddenly seemed possible that I could find a home there.  I looked closely at what Barry's mother had fashioned: I could see her thumb nail carve out a shoulder blade, her print on a calf, where she had sprayed water to soften, & where she'd allowed clay to harden & form.

I loved working with clay.  I loved the tactile sensation.  I loved sculpting & feeling that lineage to something epic, some sensation of man from earth, imagination to reality.  I took a workshop with Jill Manning where she compared backbending towards throwing a pot on a wheel, slowly centering.

During this time my main expression was writing.  I wrote tons of poetry & short stories.  The poetry was mainly influenced by Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, & Adrienne Rich.  A different voice appealed to me in stories.  I liked something rugged & rich in Flannery O'Connor's tales & generally dug deep in the Southern American cannon for authors.  

All of these authors directed me to their sources.  Sylvia Plath especially sent me towards Biblical stories, Greek, & Roman myths.  I loved the drama.  I loved the crafting of Self.

All of these memories have resurfaced for me recently.  I'm teaching kids yoga, which I don't do often.  I began remembering what felt compelling to me around age nine.  It was movement & story.  That is yoga-- connecting to something deep, rich, & possibly buried within ourselves.  Freeing up & moving through.  Sculpting our own forming bodies into something authentic.  

In recent years I've read many of the stories that shaped yoga practice.  My plan is to allow these young students to embody Virabhadra & then learn about the epic tale between he, Sita, & Daksha.  Teach the students how to inhabit Natarajasana & then explore the significance of Nataraj dancing & stamping out ignorance.  Balance in Ardha Candrasana & giggle at the origin tale of Ganesh hurling his husk at the moon.

Sweetly, though I have yet to meet this group of students they've already offered me this exploration in preparing their class.  There is such a richness in the relationship of learning.  I have the blessing & privilege of watching students stride a little more knowledgeably within themselves & in so doing, excavate.

Lavender makes me so happy.  Over the years I've seen that lavender tends to be happiest in the company of other lavender plants.  Our six lavender bushes reach fragrant spikes skyward, spill over the bed edges, & overflow with butterflies & bees.  I try to spend equal time being in the garden as "working."  I'm beginning to see that it will take a lifetime to really know plants the way I would like to.  It will take a lifetime to know my own body that intimately-- safely navigating it into ever more intriguing yoga asana as well as travelling strongly & nimbly into these various stages of my own growth.

I'm working patience in all these areas of practice.  Listening deeply to clients to craft a trip for them that truly sates their spirits.  Piecing together larger portions of clients' lives as we create ceremony.  Learning to love the process.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Land Sandy

Summer 2012 has become the steamy season of Asbury Park.  My husband, Kevin & I have made it down a few times, initially on a friend's reccomendation.  This past week we played hooky & ran down for a day to show this sweet town to Kevin's cousin, Maria.  We ate red velvet pancakes, romped in the waves, dug our toes in the sand while reading, & eventually I began practicing yoga.

Fear presents itself in most people's practice.  Backbends & inversions are common places to get trepidatious.  It's wise to want to keep your spine in tact & not crack your skull!  With consistency, the spine does become pliable & we do retain the core strength & balance to float into beautiful inversions, though the fear may persist.  I feel significantly more comfortable practicing inversions at the beach because sand breaks my fall.

So there I found myself again.  I placed my towel on the sand.  Tried not to be self-conscious about doing something fairly curious in public.  Put my elbows & the crown of my head on the towel.  Dug in for stability. Engaged bandha.  Lifted to sirsasana.  Eventually my legs fell behind me & I landed in dwi pada viparita dandasana, a backbend that really expands the chest.  Up & down I went a few more times.

Stayed with my breath, planted my forearms, lifted my head so I could gaze at my thumbs, one leg up, then the next for pinca mayurasana.  Up... & over.  Inversion to backbend.  Eventually I heard clapping.  I looked up and a group of girls, probably ranging in age from 13 to 15 wanted me to watch as they did gymastic walk-overs, cart-wheeling from yoga wheel to hand stand!  I gave thumbs up & watched wide-eyed while their nimble strong bodies paraded through the sand.  They then became curious about my practice & planted their elbows on the sand.  I mimed instructions about elbows nearing one another, the crown planting in the sand, & they followed.  Legs rose & a sea of young girls lifted into sirsasana.  They then tried pinca mayurasana play & wound up with the same sandy landings I'd found.

I later went and spoke to these girls.  They were gymasts who had heard of yoga, but not yet practiced.  I suggested they do so as they already had such body awareness & fearlessness.  I then returned to the waves to rinse off & refresh.  I felt so much lighter sharing this practice with young women who were finding joy, purpose, & strength in their own bodies.

Friday, July 13, 2012


During my yoga teacher training I had the good fortune to be surrounded by writers & artists.  This meant that developing voice became a big component in learning to teach yoga.  I love this.  I wrote poetry & short stories as a teenager (& hope to resume that activity).  I sat at the edge of my straw bale during story festivals.  I love yoga classes when I get to receive the gift of story & watch it soften my mind & open my body.

For this reason I try to be attentive to theme in a vinyasa yoga class.  There are many different types of yoga & many different ways to teach it.  For the most part, a steady theme to provide access points into body & practice can truly draw a student deeper within themselves & bind a class more tightly to the collective journey.

I teach at least six classes each week.  I try to develop a new theme for each class because students often come to more than one of my classes (for which I'm grateful!).  When I first started teaching I felt like an amateur stand-up comic, trolling for material.  I still feel that I constantly look for something salient & applicable.  It's a great process.  I listen to music differently.  I read a bit more deeply.  I want to apply what's feeding me to this practice that I hold so dearly.

Yoga puts everything in sharper relief.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Inaugural Blog-- Inblogural?

The radio is turned off.  No more NPR, no more traffic report, no more hum of the washing machine.  I see the green leaves of the magnolia tree directly in front of me.  A huge ground hog ran under its branches earlier this afternoon.  I'm trying to get a little more comfortable with quiet, natural light, one task, less stimulus.

In some ways this blog is meant to hold the same space.  I have lots of passions: yoga, travel, creating & officiating ceremony, social justice, community, growing food.  I'm grateful to feel purposeful & engaged in the world.  On the other hand, these passions & general day-to-day living can feel over-stimulating.  Perhaps one of the most valuable aspects of blogging is continual clarificiation-- honing in on ideas, shaping pursuits, grounding.

Towards landing meaningfully wherever you are.