Monday, July 20, 2015

The gift of not being able to do yoga

Yoga asana, physical practice, is a rare creature that has held my attention since I first encountered it. I get bored and lose interest in plenty of pursuits, but even though my energy and enthusiasm doesn't remain consistent, I do my best to stay attentive to practicing yoga.

Certain aspects of yoga feel more approachable than others. For example, I feel very motivated to practice the yamas, or behavioral considerations with others and niyamas, or ways of restraining my own behavior. I'm drawn to these behavioral aspects because I am a hot mess and I want to be in less conflict with myself and those around me. I'm really grateful that these prescriptions exist and that their application helps me be calmer and more closely aligned with those in my midst.

I'm significantly less motivated to practice meditation and even the asana always feels challenging to me. I'm not a person who is naturally adept at the physical practice. Some say this is at least in part attributed to past karmas, or past actions. These would be karmas I've created since birth as well as past lives, if you buy that. I kind of get this in a material way. I descend from a number of WASPs. Those folks aren't known for expansive movement. They tend to waltz or maybe do the Charleston. My Dad is incredibly tight and stiff. His Dad was incredibly tight and stiff. These are karmas. Remember-- karmas aren't necessarily good or bad, they just are. I descend from tight folks and as such, I'm tight. It's not a sentence, but it is a reality.

In time, I am finding more mobility and it feels great. This is also an opportunity in any incarnation-- to move through past karmas and feel less bound by them. 

Certain asanas still feel truly elusive. I spoke to a friend and student recently who talks often to his colleagues about "doing the set-up." This refers back to the time he spent setting up for sirsasana, or headstand, without any real belief that he'd ever ascend into the inversion. As the teacher instructed, he continued to press into his elbows and wrists, pull his shoulders from his ears, and engage his core. He now practices sirsasana regularly, but the full expression of the pose came as a surprise. He did the set-up and released the fruits of his actions. I don't know if he knows this, but he arrived at a very central instruction from The Bhagavad Gita.

There are so many poses in my own practice where I can only do the set-up and do my best to release expectation. I thought the other day about how many years I've remained unable to reach poses that so many find without struggle. And then I thought about how impatient I am. I am incredibly impatient. My Dad is incredibly impatient. Recall the karmas? Maybe I am being motivated to stay engaged in the practice, but kept grounded, in part as a practice in patience. Maybe it's not about the asana. Maybe it's about my own ability to be present.

Kevin heard an interview recently with a yogini who feels the physical emphasis on the practice is misleading. She advised students to practice asana until they felt calmer and at that time direct more of their energies towards meditation and other limbs of yoga. She said that in some ways these limbs are all portals. If we get stuck being obsessed with the body, we won't integrate other aspects of yoga. We'll self-defeat in a way, though no effort is wasted. It just probably means another cycle around the karmic wheel to then extricate from the over-involvement with the material.

This feels really self-affirming to me. "I'm so highly evolved! I can't do a lot of the physical so aren't I better as I focus elsewhere!" But completely untrue. I aspire to an understanding offered by Kevin's yogini. In reality, my struggles with asana are multi-dimensional. They keep me interested in asana but also interested in other limbs where I feel more adept. I do hear what this teacher said, as told to me by Kevin. This yogini (and I refer to her as this because he couldn't remember her name) said that as we progress spiritually, our energy is needed. Strenuous physical exertion is at times a misapplication of our energies.

Again, I'm far from there. I should still safely sweat. Not even that settled down. Asana serves.

I see her point though. The teachers that I often turn to-- Radhanath Swami, Ram Dass, Krishna Das-- they don't practice a lot of asana. I think they're perfectly capable! Radhanath Swami said his sirsasana is pretty steady! But their energies are turned in a different direction. They move, walk, swim, and engage but they don't need to do advanced contortionist asana.

I'm grateful for the path of this practice and how it can engage each of us wherever we are. For now, I will continue to sweat and strive and attempt to release expectation. I'll work on being, whether it's upside down or seated quite still.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Writing Yoga and Moving Words

A few years ago, I drove down the highway into Philly and had to pull over. I had a blast of insight: a yoga workshop with writing! And not only the idea (which is by no means original) but how to structure it: vignettes of movement narrated by a story. Meditation. Partner work. A related prompt and time to respond to it. Swapping writing silently with the yoga partner. Providing constructive feedback. Rinse. Repeat.

I've offered iterations of this intial idea several times in many locations. It's such an interesting thing-- these workshops don't fill as quickly as say, a retreat to Vietnam. Yet, when studios or students contact me, it's probably the first offering they request.

One of my students and friends finished her senior year at Smith College. She invited me upto Smith to offer a yoga and writing workshop during the VegFest conference on campus. (This friend is also a badass animal right's activist.) It was such a treat to head back to Northampton. I hadn't been since I was an undergrad student at nearby Mount Holyoke. The town had changed drastically and yet I still knew it intimately. I brunched at a Smith dining hall with my friend and other students. I remembered doing the same many, many times with Smith friends during my stint in the Pioneer Valley.

We had a beautiful, intimate workshop at a research station on Smith's campus. This workshop delved into tonglen meditation, activism, and used sample poems by Mary Oliver, Aracelis Girmay, and Naomi Shihab Nye, to aid participants in cultivating the internal reserves to be activists, the necessary compassion, and insight.

I was invited to offer this workshop again in Philadelphia at The Wellnest. This workshop focused on ego, fear, purpose, and transcendence as illuminated by yoga poses and related poems. After feeling the poses in their own bodies, participants read related pieces by Denise Duhamel, Theodore Roethke, Wendell Berry, and TS Eliot. Looking through my own notes from that evening, I found the following snippet from my own response to a prompt:

When it rains the wndow remembers our fingers drawing constellations in steam.
When it rains the door blows open and the neighbor's cat claims the corner sofa.
When it rains my skin is humid and unapologetic.
When it rains the earth sucks and receives.

My feet tattoo soil.
My steps stain the floor.

Until the wind blows the rain sideways and all trace of me is gone.

I'm grateful to have received another invitation to offer one of these workshops. I met my friend, Abby, while training in India. She's a beautiful human, yogini, and director of Hamptons Yoga and Healing Arts. The workshop will be Saturday July 25, 1-4 pm. For those considering enrolling, Abby has offered to help with housing. I can help with rides from Philly and my friend and fellow India trainee, Aaron, is willing to take folks with him from NYC. Email me if you would like to coordinate rides. 

Still curious about the relationship between yoga and writing? My Mythic Beings Retreat collaborator, Caits Meissner, and I wrote companion pieces on just this topic! (Psst! Come with us on retreat!) Read Caits' piece on how yoga can make you a better writer on MindBodyGreen. My friends at Rebelle Society published my piece on writing informing yoga. (This was my first piece that generated fan mail! Rush!) 

I'm steadily in awe of the space yoga creates in my body, breath, and mind. In that space, there is creative generation. There's healing. There's wonder.

Thursday, July 2, 2015


I sat down to write one of those "my apologies and here are my excuses" pieces to explain my absence. But that's not very interesting reading.

My writing presence has been a flickering light. I get flashes of ideas. There are some stories and thoughts that need time and space to be teased out. Last week I spent a few glorious days in a tiny cabin by a rushing creek. I considered bringing this laptop as a keyboard moves at the pace of my thoughts. I thought I might write. I decided if I was going to write, I would have to be patient with my own fingers, their curl around a pen, and it's contact with a page.

And I didn't write.

I see that my last post is dated March 30. At that time, I was slowly untangling my experience of training as a Jivamukti yoga teacher in India. I'm still engaged in that process and likely will be for some time to come. Since that time my teachers have trained students in upstate New York and again in Costa Rica. Each time I see that another training is beginning or concluding I sort of gasp and inwardly sigh. I'm so happy for those students and slightly jealous. I imagine where they are in their process. I hope that they're relishing every delicious moment.

Since March 30 I've worked to help Kevin keep Rooted Landscaping humming along. And it is. Each year we feel increasingly organized and calm about running a business, which is sort of miraculous. Steady improvement. Constant attention to work-life balance. Kevin is enjoying the projects he's taking on. His customers are impressed and so happy to have him make their home environments beautiful and inviting.

I've married a lot of people. Like, a LOT of people. I did a few weddings in April. I think the end tally was that I married 9 couples in May. I wed a few more couples in June. I teared up several times. I felt honored to share in those precious moments.

I've taught a lot of yoga. And I try to stay present to being a student first. When you teach a lot, it can be challenging to make time for your own practice. I have a lot of private students right now and I really get why they schedule private sessions-- you're accountable! Each day, I make my schedule for when I'll practice yoga, run, and or swim. Obviously, I need to stay present to my own health. I also need to be accountable to my own practice to stay invested and inspired in ways that serve my students.

And I play with our cats a lot. I'm pretty enamored of George. He's long and slinky and black and sort of a badass. I think he's bullying his sister, Estelle, but she's more up front by hissing in retaliation and standing up to him. I love them both, chastise George very slightly, respect Estelle a ton, and still find myself drawn in by George's wiles. He reminds me of Laz when Laz was at his full strength. George is terrorizing baby rabbits and mice. He gives me gifts.

We're sort of shifting Estelle's name to Daria, because that's her doppelganger. Estelle is so over everything, except Maurice. She loves him. Maurice is just ridiculously cute. I don't even understand his cuteness. It's almost excessive.

Their happiness makes me really happy. I love seeing them together, snuggling, or bathing one another. I love to watch them run around and chase each other. I love the way their fur gets silky while they bask in the fresh air, the clarity of their eyes, their strength and alertness. I love their health and vigor. I am reminded why we should care for other creatures.

I've attended to a lot but not my writing. I am working to change that. I'm working to shed steady light on voice.