Friday, December 21, 2012

Whole Light

When I traveled in Guatemala two years ago, I vowed to not return anywhere near the supposed end of times.  In fact, I purposefully scheduled the yoga retreat I'll bring to Lake Atitlan for 2014.  I had conversations with Mayan Kakchiquel while in Guatemala about their understanding of this cycle.  They all felt their belief system signifies this time as one of transition-- & that of the doomsday prophecies were nonsense.

Then I woke this morning to the floods.  I worried I wouldn't make it to my 6 am yoga class while the car swam through high water by Cooper River.  I started scanning for swarms of locusts.  Rings of fire.

By 8 am the sun shone.

The other day Kevin heard an anthropologist explain his understanding of some Mayan foundational beliefs.  Mayans believe they were crafted in maize and sacred blood.  They understand themselves to be whole.  The contrast is against Judeo-Christian belief in original sin.  Apocalyptic beliefs are atonement-- the day of Reckoning for original sin.  If we're fundamentally sacred there is no need for atonement.  There is no beginning & no end.  Just cycles.  Transitions.

This belief system is markedly similar to the beliefs being reflected in the early records of yogic teachings, Hinduism, and Buddhism.  We are understood to be fundamentally holy beings, complete, and sacred.  Our flaws are superficial, and meant to be transcended to return to our true state.  There is no atoning-- just restoration.

Mayan Kakchiquel crabber at sunset in holy Lake Atitlan
As the solstice invites us to turn in, find light in dark, fold and reconnect, I'm hunting for that primal seed.  A kernal, inkling of True Self.  Allowing it to be illuminated in Darkness-- to shine brighter as the world tilts.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


I woke at 4:40 am & completed 108 sun salutations.

There are a few more details to include.

I woke with several nagging anxieties.  & carrying others unconsciously.

Walking in the studio, one miscommunication was resolved easily & readily.  Sweet relief, as it was with someone I care about deeply.  I sank onto my mat, into my community, and nearer my body.

This photo was taken after I led a mala during the summer solstice.  My friends said I looked like The Fonz.
Moving repetitively becomes meditation.  Meditation allows so much to surface.  The practice was process.  Like running a Half Marathon there were moments when it felt impossible and moments when it felt surprisingly easy.  Given that we're nearing the Solstice & a moment on the Mayan calendar, my sweet teacher had included several End of the World songs on the playlist. A cover of "Ring of Fire"!  I felt burnished and cleansed.  While I giggled.  (An aside about the Mayan Calendar that also makes me very, very happy-- the following Facebook status from Kevin's Uncle Bill: "Contrary to popular internet misconceptions, the Mayans are not dead and gone but alive and well in Central America.  In fact, I work with a Mayan woman everyday at St. Gregs.  She assures me that A: the world is not going to end on Dec. 21st and B: that white people are crazy.")

The practice revealed my body more fully to me.  There are areas in my body that tell me they are tight or unavailable.  However, in this repetition I could find other asymmetries.  I've had a growing suspicion that tightness in the front of my right hip might be linked to some other point on the right side of my body.  I've begun to notice that I place my hands unevenly-- the right hand nearer & the left hand further.  This impacts my shoulders, my back... my hips.  I tried to steadily even my alignment, even though that felt odd.  Making what's most healthy feel normal.

My practice has given me what I needed to stay steady through the final sun salutations.  They did feel apocalyptic.  Last night, Kevin told me about a practice he's recently begun of pretending it's the last time you'll do any task.  Even in mundane situations, you imagine you'll never again find yourself in this place.  When he was caught in traffic he imagined this would be his last opportunity to be in traffic.  From that vantage, he watched the trees more closely.  He was comfortable being present to that moment.

In the same way, knowing I was finishing this momentous practice, I took joy in the last few flows.  If only I could do that every time!  It's proof that I am sufficiently strong.  I just need to stay present to strength.  To joy.

Afterwards I met a friend for breakfast.  The conversation wandered between us, but I wound up sharing a lot about work I'm trying to do with my family of origin.  She had lovely ideas for me & generously offered her thoughts & own experiences.  I left, ran around doing holiday errands, & found my way back home.  I was faced with another piece from my parents: the boxes they continue to deposit in my home.  In the last few years my Mom has tried to clear out her house.  I understand wanting to rid oneself of clutter.  She does have a lot of room, though.  She's continually gifting me my childhood.  I receive boxes of old trophies, photos, clothes, crafts I made.  I've gone through boxes like this before when someone died.  My parents are still living.

After the mala, I'm realizing that it feels as though I'm being purged.  My parents & I don't have a close relationship.  I love them & I love what they've done for me, but there are still many unresolved issues.  I know that they're not trying to hurt me.  I don't think it's occurred to them what it might feel like to give me back my childhood.

I guess I want them to treasure these items.  I want them to hold these items & hold me.  But this process doesn't have to speak of anything than them cleaning their house.

I'm holding these feelings... & then working towards release.  I'm going through these boxes, throwing out what's dusty, ripped, & beyond repair.  Putting much towards Good Will.  Figuring out how to hold onto my own past in a way that isn't stagnating.  I might take photos of some of the artwork I did as a kid.  & let it go.

I woke at 4:40 & by noon I feel nearer to myself.  Move, breathe, repeat.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Grow Into

Kevin looked through my CDs, exclaiming, "You have Pharaohe Monch?"  Yup.  But I am absolutely not that hip.

I had that CD, Talib Kweli, and so many others in my early 20s when I also wore big hoop earrings.  My friend, Kieu, gave me several hand-me-downs when we were roommates in Cuba, so I had some of her legitimate hip hop gear on my legitimately suburban self.  Kevin & I met when I was 21, just returned from Cuba, & living in West Philadelphia.  I knew I wanted to be in radical community doing social justice organizing.  It was important to me to have race consciousness and accountability.  Most of the folks I knew who were like-minded honestly loved hip hop as an art form.

So... I respect it!  But most doesn't really resonate with me.  I have been to some great hip hop shows-- Dead Prez and the OK Player tour were super fun.  I love the poetry & conscience of artists like Common and Mos Def.  For whatever reason, Latin Alternative resonates with me on a deeper level.  Play some Manu Chao or go back to old school Nueva Trova like Mercedes Sosa & Silvio Rodriguez-- I will freak out!

Kevin began ribbing me for posing with the backpack rap.  In all honesty, I just didn't know myself well. 

I was joking about this with my friend Sonora this morning.  She also went through a phase of adopting a culture that she also really respected, but didn't truly relate to.  In her instance, she was a biker chick!  Custom made leather jacket!  Holy cow! 

Both of us glanced at our current attire (in that moment yoga wear), our current musical preferences, & other assorted likes and affiliations.  We both feel a bit more honest in our inclinations.

I had to grow into myself a good bit.  Moving from West Philly to South Jersey ultimately comforted me.  I relate much better to the suburbs than urban centers or rural areas.  Over time I've found that my body responds best to early rising, lots of time outdoors, and a vegetarian diet. 

I'm trying to assess why there was so much distance between the life I was leading in my early 20s & my true aptitudes & inclinations.  I guess in large part I came from a fairly homogenous culture.  I grew up in a predominantly white upper-middle-class suburb where most folks did sedentary white collar work.  The plan was to go to school & get a "good" job where you were paid well to stay indoors and think, write, and talk.  I can absolutely pass in that environment, but it doesn't bring out my greatest strengths nor joys.  On a larger level I think that way of living isn't terribly sustainable nor beneficial for communities and environment.

Part of why I have to wake early and be active is to quell anxiety.  When I woke up later and went to a desk for school I had too much bound energy that spun its way into worry.   Kevin & I are now learning to recognize our food as it grows in our garden, to shift our behaviors and diet towards optimal health, & be attentive to our surroundings.  This way of living feels good to me & inspiring.  Interestingly, my grandfather knew most of what Kevin & I now research in books!  It was really only lost on one generation!  My Mom was interested in more sustainable living, but met an intractable force with my father. 

Coming from that fairly rigid way of living, I had to explore a bit.  I tried on an urban identity.  I lived abroad.  Eventually, coming home I found my way back to suburbia, but suburbs inhabited by multi-racial working class families.  & a little more access to land.  & ultimately, a little more access to my own true self.

Friday, December 7, 2012


Recently I've been toying with my next moves in my yoga education.  I completed my 200 hour vinyasa teaching certification in 2010.  At that time, I was incredibly clear on my intention to study and teach yoga.  My relationship with yoga had largely shaped my life-- my Mom taught yoga while she was pregnant with me. As a child I was always peripherally aware of yoga, though I didn't attend my first class until I was 16.  I remember the lesson of breathing with movement-- exhaling when contracting and inhaling with expanding-- informed all my subsequent actions.  

I began practicing more consistently in my 20s to cope with the pressures of non-profit and grassroots work.  When my grandmother passed away, she left me a small inheritance.  I decided to use the money to cover tuition for a 200 hour teacher training program.  In this way, every time I taught would be thanks to my grandmother.  Also, I knew that teaching would offer me more practice because teachers can often practice for free in their home studios.  I hoped to teach yoga to others involved in social justice work so we could collectively sustain against burn-out.

In the last two and half years I have offered yoga seva, or yoga service classes.  I offered a free series of yoga classes at the A-Space, one of my activist homes, in West Philadelphia to activists and social workers. From that experience I offered on-site yoga at the Philadelphia Refugee and Resettlement Organization, through Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers at Northgate II, and beyond.  I still want to mindfully connect yoga with my organizing work, but I haven't figured out exactly how to do that.  Most of my organizing colleagues are time-starved.  Furthermore, there are a range of mobility levels and interest in yoga.  I'm holding the intention of creating space for health & sustenance.

Meanwhile, I continue to offer vinyasa classes at my home studio and to work with clients privately.  To grow as an instructor I pursue on-going education.  Last year I focused on adjusting and assisting training.  This year I've focused on anatomy and alignment.  

Part of my journey is in assessing where to take my training. I was absolutely clear on my purpose with 200 hour teacher training. That process made my life feel truly boundless. I'm continually surprised by the opportunities I've found as a certified, insured yoga instructor. I love yoga-- studying it, and sharing it with such a lovely community. But my 200 hour certification is kind of like an undergrad degree. Many yoga instructors go on to pursue a 500 hour certification, in which you specialize, as in a PhD. Here are some of the paths I've considered:

I attended one workshop with Ana Forrest a few years ago. I really loved learning from her. I could go on for Advanced certification with her method. The Forrest method is always practiced in a heated studio, emphasizing physical strength to work towards emotional health. That certification is usually a 9 day intensive. For more time learning from her, I would spend a month doing another 200 hour certification process.

To teach Jivamukti yoga I would have to take another 200 hour teacher training with Sharon Gannon and David Life, living at Omega or another training center for a month. They don't recognize other certifications. To then grow as a Jivamukti teacher I would need to find an instructor in NY to take me on as an apprentice. Plus, the training is one of the most expensive-- about $8,000! I'm continually drawn to the Jivamukti practice because of the soul-stirring joy. I would love to learn with Sharon & David. However, I'm unclear on how I would use that investment to best serve my students and my purpose.

I'm not all that versed in Anusara, but this past fall I've taken a few workshops on Anusara Therapeutics, a method of using yoga asana to help heal and prevent injury. There's some controversy with Anusara because it's founder, John Friend, was caught having affairs with married instructors and smoking pot. In my mind, his actions don't discredit the whole method of alignment-centric practice.

I don't have sufficient exposure to Anusara classes, but I have found a highly reputable studio in Philly that offers a 500 hour Anusara training. I'm not sure the costs, but it's close to home, & offers students the chance to specialize. I'm leaning in this direction because I love using yoga to heal. It feels consistent with my first goals of allowing yoga to sustain social justice work. So many social justice organizers have hard-won compassion stemming from trauma. I would love to have more to offer my colleagues.

Philadelphia is lucky to be home to a Senior-level Iyengar instructor, Joan White. Joan spent years studying with BKS Iyengar in Pune, India. I've been lucky enough to study with her this past semester. I plan to continue learning from Joan. Every class feels like a workshop-- I get to systematically understand each asana much more intimately.

Iyengar is the method that informed Anusara. Anusara is distinct in that it's a more flow-based practice whereas Iyengar tends to spotlight each pose. They share a heightened interest in anatomy, alignment, and rehabilitation.

I plan to continue studying with Joan, but from what I understand, there's a really stringent process of certifying Iyengar teachers through a national body. It's a little daunting!

I think the bottom line is clarifying my intention. Based on what I've written here I think pursuing the Anusara 500 hour training makes best sense. Of course, I have to clarify dates, cost, and ensure that the studio feels like a good fit.

I always joke that if I had a Sugar Daddy I would do all of these trainings! I'm a little saddened to think that I might never do the Jivamukti training with David Life & Sharon Gannon. However, if I did every training I might never apply what I learned. & I might never consider what motivated me toward each training. While I love how Jivamukti feeds my soul, I have to know exactly how I would utilize that training in my own teaching practice. I'm pretty clear on how I would utilize Anusara 500 hour training-- offering healing and practice to others involved in social justice organizing. I think I need to continue following my intention & as my primary teacher, Beth Filla, instructed me, “let this all be an offering.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Looking for romance in the earth

Kevin & I are currently in a Rutgers class called "Soil & Plant Relationships."  Rutgers has a solid extension program on agriculture, landscaping, & horticulture.  Last year we took a native tree identification class, which was really wonderful.  Lots of time spent wandering the New Brunswick campus & assessing alternating and opposite leaves.

This class is really helpful, but I am craving poetry!  Monday, we had morning lectures with a chemist and afternoon lectures on soil and plant biology.  Both were useful.  Because I never see myself as relating well to science, or grasping the content fully, I have to stay really present and focused to the subject and my ability to comprehend.  I find myself constantly wishing for Wendell Barry poems, or a folk-tale on the earthy depths.  I love thinking of soil and plants in relationship.  As land stewards we're being taught to facilitate the healthiest balance possible-- & find increasing awareness for both the plants' needs & the soil's response to human interference.  Ultimately, it's a project in hospitable environment.

In terms of real content, I took away the practice of regularly testing soil Ph levels & feeding compost to soil.  Perhaps the real-world application offers the most romance.  In the real world I get to know more intimately silty loam and sandy, draining soil.  My own friendships to plants and their needs deepen.

Dark, moving rich soil makes me feel lush, resourceful, and creative.  I'm more mindful of balance and support when considering the layers of humus and geology beneath my feet.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Take Shape

It's taking shape.

For years now I've felt the project of making our yard arable & our home more environmentally-sustainable to be Sisyphean.  There were so many steps before progress felt visibly measurable.  Somewhere, the scales have tipped.  Yvonne pointed out it may have been when the mighty trees were felled this summer.  I'm beginning to see our vision become real!

Already, logs from the felled trees are outlining future raised beds.  We have a new clothes line that can hold three loads of laundry!  Three!  (I tried to understand why Kevin & I create so much laundry.  A part from our physical & often messy jobs I clean almost exclusively with rags, and not throw-away materials.  It means more washing, which is OK.)  We've carved out spaces where fruit trees will be planted.  I'm watching the patterns of light to understand where crops will find their homes.

We're pulling down the previous owner's chain linked fence.  We've elected to forgo replacing the fencing for the foreseeable future.  We're bounding the property with corn, sunflowers, and cords of firewood further back at the edge of the property.  The other night we sat on a log watching a fire burning safely in an outdoor pit.  I looked happily at the cords of wood (which will only really take us through one winter.  Chopping wood is a life-long love affair).  Beyond the stacks I could see the trees emerging from the tract of wood across the dry creek bed from our property.  I felt like I had traveled somewhere fantastic.  I felt how I often do when I find myself in some magical corner of the world that is offering me new information on how to live.  I felt like the mundane had hidden vibrancy.  That we can live our lives like works of art, constantly creating, editing, retouching, learning.

So many of the fears I've gathered over these past few months are dissipating.  I've felt like I was in a strange race with money-- we want to lower our living expenses so our income needs are lower.  However, to set up the internal infrastructure that supports us, allows us to pay for all expenses in cash, & feel secure even in an untenable economy has caused me serious anxiety.  But it's happening.  Our expenses are lower.  Over the past few months many of our appliances have given up & we haven't had to replace them.  We're still not where we want to be, but we're fine.

It's all taking shape.