Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Big Kids

I teach yoga in a studio that uses the Jivamukti Focus of the Month as a theme guide.  This past month, every class I taught had something to do with Gopal, the child incarnation of Krisna.  Simultaneously, I began reading Neil Gaiman for the first time since high school.  I'm currently main-lining The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  The narrator explains the vulnerability and fear children experience.  They're small.  Adults are bossy.  I remember that feeling completely.  Adults can be so freaking arbitrary.

In some ways, that memory of being at adult's mercy is plain and clear.  In other ways, that sense feels a bit distant.  I'm trying to pull that knowledge closer, mostly to be an adult who listens to children.  Among the lessons Gopal and Gaiman are offering me are that children are Divine.  Thankfully, I'm around a community who largely agrees.  Years ago a friend said to me: "Prejudice against children is the last acceptable prejudice."  I paused, and then thought of my grandparent's neighbor who had said to me, "Children should be seen, not heard," or how many adults don't feel that children are owed explanations for their decisions.

Of course, this is all written within reason.  I'm not a parent, & I acknowledge that there are plenty of moments when debate with a little one is ill-advised.  However, this past summer I spent a week with my husband's cousin, his wife, and their daughter.  Both adults explained why she had to come up from the beach when she did.  They told her why they wanted her to eat the food they offered.  She listened.  She's a quick one, but most kids are capable of getting simple, clear communication.  Because they were reasonable with her, she's reasonable with them.  She didn't think her parents were simply mean or arbitrary.  They afforded her the respect of explanation.

I know plenty of adults who don't want to explain their reasoning nor actions to other adults, let alone kids.  And these same people often are frustrated when communication breaks down or problems arise.  It's frustrating to be in the midst of muddiness when you're grown, and have recourse.  But when you're little?  Trying to figure out the world?  Everybody is big?  Way worse.

Two children in Ocean at the End of the Lane tried to make sense of adults: "Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either.  Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing.  Inside, they look just like they always have.  Like they did when they were your age.  The truth is, there aren't any grown-ups.  Not one, in the whole wide world."  The narrator, "wondered if that was true: if they were all really children wrapped in adult bodies, like children's books hidden in the middle of dull, long adult books, the kind with no pictures or conversations."  Adults are just that.  Divine, holy children in bigger bodies, bumbling along.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

No need to escape

It always feels like Christmas Eve.  As we approach our next trip, I excitedly skip through the possibilities in my head.  What unexpected delight can I potentially expect?  What will it be like?  Will this corner of the world match my imagination or feel completely unprecedented?

It's exciting because it's new.  In recent years, I've taken trips that don't exceed a month, because I can't afford longer excursions.  In years past, I spent several months in various destinations.  Comparatively, I know that my crap catches up with me.  Once the novelty wears off I'm left with routines, responsibilities, & myself, in a new locale.  The Havana that was charmingly crumbled and echoing with music becomes the place that houses daily classes and various annoyances.  The Buenos Aires that felt haunted, dramatic, sharp, and cool becomes the place of another grind.  Get up, on the bus, downtown, & back again.

A month isn't enough time to set up routines, to create accountability, nor to fall into a rut.  A month is long enough to be reminded of the excitement of something else... & then maybe to breathe fresh life into the something known.  

I still travel for new experiences.  The world is so impossibly beautiful and I want to see it.  People are so unendingly creative and I want to learn from them.  

But I no longer want to escape my life.  My life is mine no matter where I am.  My life continues along its path of ruts and valleys and wide open runs.  I get to cast light on dissatisfaction, potentially illuminating that contentment, like the yogis teach, is a practice.  I've never found where it lives on the planet, because it doesn't.  It's sweet and elusive and present only when nourished.  

Now I travel, in part, to remember to make my life feel like Christmas morning.  What unexpected delight awaits me in my routine?  What can I be open to in the daily grind?  

In my imagination, adventures await in seemingly exotic locations like Mongolia or Tunisia.  In reality, I live adventure in domesticity, community-- with myself.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Offering Yoga to Deaf Students

Recently, I had an opportunity to make a yoga workshop more accessible for participating deaf students.  I am not one iota of an expert, but I wanted to share my experience in case it's of use to other instructors creating space for students.

Orientation: I am a hearing instructor.  I don't have a lot of experience working with hard-of-hearing nor deaf students.  Thankfully, a fellow instructor, Erik Marrero, has taught a deaf student in an open-level vinyasa class for some time now.  He also has done independent research.  He and I shared resources in advance of my workshop and I did some further research.  Erik shared that a lot of communication with deaf students is visual.  Demonstrating poses within their line of sight can be of great use.  It can be challenging to rouse a deaf student from savasana, given that their eyes are closed.  Erik began placing a singing bowl on the student's sternum.  He gently strikes the bowl to create a vibration to resonate with the student and alert them that the class is coming to a seat and concluding.  (This practice has been well-received.  A deaf student told Erik that in the past she had been left with no communication from the instructor.  When she opened her eyes after savasana she found that everyone in the room had left!)

The information I found on offering yoga to deaf students focused on a regular vinyasa practice.  Like Erik, this instruction emphasized being visible to students.  They also suggested using vibration.  If students are folding, slap the floor so that the vibration is felt, thereby alerting the students to come back to seated.

The workshop I was offering was not a regular vinyasa yoga class.  This workshop was geared towards other instructors who wanted to become more proficient in offering adjusts and assists to their students in back-bending poses.  I love adjusting and assisting students.  Part of what I find rewarding is delving more deeply into communicating with students via touch.  The description of the workshop emphasized this aspect of honing adjusting and assisting skills.  The deaf students who enrolled mentioned this as a draw.

These workshops usually involve the participants sitting, getting to know one another, and then going through an abbreviated practice to warm up.  Readied, I then demonstrate adjusts and assists on a volunteer while the other students watch.  Afterwards, they partner off and practice what they saw.

Obviously, there is lots of talking.  I hoped that my deaf students might read lips but learned that they didn't.  They requested an interpreter.  Our studio found an interpreter who was a great resource for me.  We met in advance of the workshop so that she could learn to sign names of poses and understand how the day would unfold.

I created materials for the workshop-- pages with stick figures assuming the poses we'd practice adjusting and assisting, along with the typed name of the pose in sanskrit and english, and space for notes.  I forgot that deaf students are visual communicators.  They can't listen to instructions and write in their own short-hand.  In the future, I'll make bullet-point notes.  As I became aware of this oversight, I promised to email notes to these students.

In the course of the workshop I tried to speak less.  Generally, I'm working on this with my teaching.  More breathing room, more quiet, seems to really serve students.  In a workshop like this, content-heavy, it was a challenge, but I worked towards being truly concise.  As the interpreter had suggested, I looked at deaf students when we spoke, not at the interpreter.  I tried to slow down.

I thought about how to work on pranayama with deaf students.  It made me aware of how heard ujjayi and other breath practices can be.  The only idea I've come up with, and this is untested, is first explaining to the student that we'll work on lengthening breath.  Elaborate on how to create ujjayi, how to make it soft, steady, seamless.  Then sit back to back with the student demonstrating the long, smooth breaths so the student can feel the practice.

Teaching this workshop was a powerful experience, and I'm so glad to have had the opportunity to work on making yoga more accessible for deaf students.  I would love to expand my skill set to meet the needs of other student populations.  I'd also love to hear from other instructors, deaf and hearing, to skill share resources.

Key Tips:
-Be visible to your students, especially if working on asana or physical movement
-Look at the student when communicating, not at the interpreter
-Prepare in advance.  Written notes and visuals for students can be helpful
-Speak less
-Remember to coax a deaf student from savasana or meditation.  A singing bowl on the sternum is a lovely way to gently lure them back into the room.

Friday, August 16, 2013

I walked away

I walked away.

I walked away from the pressure-cooker.  I walked away from the ever-quickening treadmill of career and ambition.  I walked away from prestige and resumes and one-dimensionality.

I walked away from a "Seven Sister's College."

I "withdrew."  Dropped out.  I left college.

I was a second semester junior.  I had a strong GPA, had studied abroad in two countries, done an internship in NYC after my first year.  I was a solid student.

And I let it go.  Gladly.

I left feeling isolated.  I left feeling that I was worth my grades, my resume, my career.  I left using only my mind and not my body.  I left not having a community.  I left status and prestige.  I left doing what I was supposed to.  I left going through the motions.  I left not knowing how to care for myself

and I learned how to take care of myself.

I learned to get a job.  Any job.  And pay bills. . I learned to find an apartment that I could afford.  I learned to live out of the way, a few subway stops, and be OK.  I learned to live in small spaces with few pieces of furniture and appliances.  I learned to prepare my meals on a budget, to pack a lunch, to take care of myself.

I learned to clean.  I learned to tidy.  I learned to budget.  I learned to manage.

I learned to do work that was fulfilling to multiple aspects of myself-- socially, physically, intellectually.  I learned to do any job well.  I learned about the various types of intelligences one might possess.

I learned to stay with something that is hard and worthwhile.  I learned when it's time to let go.

I walked away.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Dancing at a Funeral

Looks like black
fabric moving gently
looks like elderly women with
hard earned wrinkles keeping regal
posture and hugging tears
in their eyes
and men, in suits, stiffly holding
themselves onto their
dancing at a funeral looks
like a rebellion
against death

Young people hugging, holding
younger people standing on the feet
of middle-aged men
little girls letting their feet be
carried on men's dress shoes
with vigor
with laughter
with the confusion that life is still
being lived
like a rebellion
against death

I'm told that Irish funerals are
raucous and drunk and fun with
dancing.  Is that a stereotype?  I
don't know.  I have been
to Irish American funerals
I have seen the living
descend into drunken
or raise a toast
a salute
to the dead
to death
like a rebellion

Maybe death isn't the enemy.  We
dance because we live and
we die and we dance.  We just
do.  There are legs that
move and there is
fabric that cloaks and
tears that are shed and
alcohol that is drunk and
there are those who live throughout
the every phase of life

there simply is
like a rebellion

This poem was inspired by my friend Amy's summer Spirit Writing course.  She's a great midwife to writers & an artful writer herself.  Find her at

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Barons Rebelled

In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I'd seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

- Woody Guthrie

I love the land.  
I push back against the government.

The Baron's rebelled and held their
wealth.  Not their
land.  The land is under the fingers of
slaves and running through the blood of
Indigenous and it has seeped into
the settlers I
acknowledge (as a settler).

I fight for independence from 
governments who spy and 
prosecute spies like 
Snowden and reject the sovereignty
of nations like Palestine and
incarcerate their own critics like
Bradley Manning and steal taxes and
fair wages from Mexican immigrants after
they moved the border, stealing parts of

I fight for independence from its authority from its
image of just and right.  

I push back.
I love the land.  

I love the land that reached into bodies that
created food and fed us and houses
animals and touches the sky and 
bleeds into the water.

I fight for independence from
the government that waves its colors of
red, white, and blue as an accusation, as bullying, as
obligatory, as blood

My country is earth
no borders
no citizenship

I push back.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


I've learned that I need eight hours of sleep at night.

That I need healthy, nutritious food regularly throughout the day.  And the time to plan ahead for harvesting, storing, and preparing my food.

That I need time to check in with my love.  To remember why we like each other.  To process.  To have fun together.

That I need movement: yoga, running, swimming.

That I need quiet, alone time.  Sometimes I read.  Other times I write.  Often I day-dream.  I need some privacy in order to be present.

That I need to take breaks.  From work.  From socializing.  From being at the house.

All work & no play makes Maiga a dull boy.

I can't always facilitate these conditions.  It's a huge privilege to be able to realize them some of the time.  But I'm glad to know the conditions that invite in my best self.  And I'll do my best to make life livable.

How do you self-care?