Monday, December 21, 2009

Re-gifting

I've started attending a monthly meditation class at Lazy Dog Studio in Roscoe, Il. The owner, Rachel Bixby, has been inviting a Buddhist monk to lead the class each month. (Check the website for next year's schedule) I decided that I needed a bit more mindfulness in my life, and this seemed like a good place to start.

Wonderful. This weekend's class was led by Bhante Sujatha, of Blue Lotus Temple, and it was truly a joy to participate. He started with a short talk and then followed with a half-hour of metta (loving-kindness) meditation. It was simple and basic, but spending a half hour just thinking good thoughts about my family, friends, and *gulp* humankind was a great way to stop and appreciate. Just sitting on the floor for half and hour was killer, and I'm starting to understand the idea of "yoga as a way to prepare the body for meditation." At eight minutes, I had to rearrange my blanket and myself against the wall because I can't sit unsupported for any longer than that. Whew.

Sujatha had such a nice message for the season, too. He reminded us that most of the stress from the holiday season comes from expectations; stop expecting and you will be much happier, or at least calmer. He said, "If you give a gift, then it must go away."--meaning that if you are truly giving, then you must not care about how the gift is received, whether happily, indifferently, or with disappointment. You can only control your own feelings about the gift, but nobody else's. Giving is a wonderful thing, and that you are giving is what you must take pleasure in. What happens after that, is not for you to worry about. (Unless you're giving Play-Doh, as I am, in which case you have a lot to worry about after that gift is opened...)

So, I want to pass that message on to you, as my Christmas gift: Enjoy the acts of giving this season and stop there. That you are able to gather something together and offer it to some one else is a beautiful gesture. Be happy that you can do that. May your giftee
s be gracious, but, if they're not, it's not your problem.

And if your giftees are armed with Play-doh, well, be grateful that it's machine-washable. Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Secret to Flexibility...

What do you get if you cross an elephant and a rhinoceros? Elifino!
Har, har.
I have been trying to add an aerobic element to my weekly exercise; I'm not ready for running, yet, so I've been using the elliptical machine three times a week. Post-workout, I do a few stretches for the legs to loosen everything. I gotta say, sometimes it's nice to use asana for purely physical reasons, no measured breathing, no turning inward, just letting the work of the muscles be the only work.

Sometimes the chosen pose--usually gomukhasana-gets the attention of fellow gym-goers so (as long as I'm in a good mood) I can use the moment for a bit of yoga-promotion. Pressed for details, I will go so far as to invite the curious to one of my classes. Spreading the word, if you will (*gasp*).

A couple of times I've traded pleasantries with a very strong, muscle-bound fellow. Yesterday, he called out, "So, Yoga Lady, what's the secret to getting more flexible?" Hmmm, teachable moment, thought I. So I chatted with him for a bit about not pushing past a muscle's capability, but allowing the body to open with the breath; listening to what's too much and backing off a bit when the muscle starts to resist a stretch; coming to class (of course); not getting mad when you can't do the same thing as your 17-yr-old body did in Tai Kwon Do.

I'm starting to see more students in class with the express purpose of increasing flexibility, which is nice. Maybe we've starting to move beyond tight, hards bodies (a little bit). I figure getting them in the room is the biggest hurdle and then I can slowly let yoga work its magic. If they stick it out, they increase flexibility...and often pick up some other skills in the process.

But, the Secret to Flexibility, in 25 words or less?
Uhhh, hell if I know.

(For more animal mash-ups, click here)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Yoga for Pain Relief

My first contact with Kelly McGonigal was in 2006, when I interviewed her for an article in Yoga Journal's My Yoga Mentor about her online yoga course Open Mind, Open Body. We chatted for a half an hour about yoga and the Internet; I was impressed with her intelligence, thoughtfulness and how she had combined her love of yoga with her scholarship. A number of times I've turned to her for suggestions or contacts for other articles and she has always been generous with her information.

Here's my opportunity to return the favor. Last week Kelly contacted me to see if I was interested in participating in the "blog tour" for her latest book, Yoga for Pain Relief: Simple Practices to Calm Your Mind and Heal Your Pain. I decided to talk with her about the process of writing; so many of us have free-lance writing gigs, blogs, etc., I thought it would be interesting to hear about the discipline required in putting together a whole book.

So, without further ado, here are some of Kelly's thoughts:


How did you come to write this book?
The publisher reached out to me and asked if I was interested in writing a book applying mind-body practices and psychology. The catch was, they wanted it to be a book for a specific problem, such as depression or heart disease, which is not how I usually teach (or think!).

I sat down and made two lists: all of the key messages in my teaching
(e.g. “befriend your body,” “your mind is in your body, not separate from your body”), and the populations/problems I work with most often in my teaching. I ended up choosing pain because I have been working with pain sufferers for 10 years, have suffered from chronic pain myself, and every key message in my teaching applies to pain.

But the whole time I was writing the book, I was aware that pain was
an opportunity to communicate ideas that apply to all forms of suffering, physical, emotional, or spiritual.

Did you have a reader in mind as you wrote?

I had two readers in mind— (1) a specific woman I know who is in her
mid-fifties, suffers from chronic headaches and back pain, and is a little intimidated by yoga, and (2) a yoga teacher who is interested in yoga as therapy, but hasn’t been exposed to what it can look like when adapted to individuals.

It was a bit tricky to walk the line. For example, a number of readers
with pain have told me they found the science chapter interesting but challenging. Yoga teachers, on the other hand, think it's the best chapter in the book. My publisher had another key audience in mind—healthcare providers. I decided that I would write directly to the person suffering, in language that hopefully healthcare providers could connect to.

The whole writing and editing process, I had three words written on a
piece of paper to guide my choices about what to include and how to say it: compassionate, authoritative, and encouraging. When in doubt, I asked if this section, sentence, or study supported those three goals. For example, I ended up cutting a section summarizing research on how pain medications sensitize the nervous system to pain. It was fascinating from a scientific perspective, but I realized it would be too discouraging to people who need pain medications to get through the day. I was thrilled when early readers, including my editors, used the word “compassionate” to describe the voice of the book.

Was it challenging to write a book in six months?

I had heard from other writers that once you have a contract signed,
you go through a crisis of confidence. I really didn’t think this would happen to me, since I had picked a topic I’d been writing and teaching about for so long. But sure enough, I had my ugly doubts. It hits you like a car accident—out of nowhere, and totally disorienting.

I’ll tell you what helped: during the writing process, I ended up
having a minor surgery with a painful recovery process. I used the pain relief techniques I was writing about to deal with it. The pain paradoxically made me feel better! It reminded me of the power of the techniques. How comforting a mantra meditation is, or how a restorative yoga pose can give you the sense that you are taking care of yourself. I think it would have been a different book if I hadn’t been suffering during the writing process. I felt vulnerable because of the pain, and I hope that vulnerability comes across in the book as a kind of compassion or authenticity.

I’m also an editor, so I could have edited the book for another three
years. I never would have been satisfied with it. Even after my publisher had signed off on drafts of the first few chapters, I completely rewrote them. Literally started from scratch with the most research-heavy chapter, “Understanding Your Pain.” So it was good to have a real deadline and just turn it over to the publisher.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dem Bones

While waiting for his little brother's nap to end, Eamonn and I sat watching old Pink Panther cartoons. In one, Pink was being chased around and into a grandfather clock by a skeleton haunting an abandoned hotel. After much smashing and crashing in the body of the clock, the two emerged and Pink whacked the skeleton, rendering him a jumbled pile of bones. With a world-weary sigh, Eamonn commented, "Well, that's what happens to skeletons." Spoken as a five-year-old who has seen it all, as far as cartoon verities go.

It got me to thinking about how we learn these cultural axioms: if some one runs off a cliff he won't realize it until he looks down; when you start running there is a boo-ga-dee, boo-ga-dee sound until your legs generate enough speed to take off; dogs hate cats; the tinkling run of a
backward scale on a xylophone means a skeleton is disintegrating. They become safe reference points to guide us through the treachery of childhood.

Same with teaching yoga--you learn your sequences, the best way to teach a pose, basic modifications--and you head out on your merry way to change the world. But, like a pre-teen realizing that culture norms are a good thing to rebel against, a more experienced teacher starts to let go of the static and, perhaps, begins to experiment. How would a different arrangement of poses affect a class? Help some students understand the alignment better? Make a more comfortable forward bend?

In all our discussions of authentic yoga and teaching, we only barely touched on dealing with asana. We cited lots of texts to consider and traditions to uphold, but we didn't go very far into the physical. More superficial, perhaps, but still a very vital part of the practice to a majority of us.

I love to modify. All of this stems from a class I taught a few weeks ago, where I tried to make Surya Namaskara more palatable for an older group of students. Basically we came to standing in between each pose, so everyone could regain their balance before moving on. And they loved it and many came up to me after class thanking me for teaching a Sun Salute they could finally do. Was that wrong? It certainly wasn't Ashtangi (not that I ever pretended to be one), but it reached a lot more people than it would have otherwise.

So I want to know--how do you feel about asana? Do you feel at ease modifying poses for your students on the fly? Do you go with what you already know, or do you experiment? Is experimenting allowed in your style of yoga? Is there something that you would consider going "too far"? Is this another "hands-off-the-tradition" situation, or something more maleable?

Does your skeleton defiantly pick up his skull and keep running, or not?






Sunday, December 06, 2009

Taking Yoga to the Mat

Last night we ate at my favorite neighborhood tacqueria. Usually the wide-screen TV is tuned to conjunto music videos, but yesterday some one different won the coin-toss and they were broadcasting a mixed-martial arts contest. I tried to look away, but my eyes were drawn to the grappling, barefoot men; I did a double-take at the logo on one fellow's short that included the letters MMA, which I mis-read as "NAMASTE." A thought occurred to me:

Since we're dispensing with inner peace in exchange for competition, glistening bodies and corporate endorsement, anyway...let's go for the jugular: YOGA CAGE MATCH! Think of the advertising, the energy, the untouched demographic we could get! Everyone is already barefoot! Kapalabhati breathing until some one bleeds--holding Parsvakonasana despite a knee to the quads--Virabhasdrasana III until a contestant taps out--can you think of anything more exciting?!?!

An Olympics bid is for sissies! Who cares about 100 vs 5000 yr.s ago--what's more elemental than hand-to-hand combat yoga? This is Cain-and-Abel time, Baby!

Who should I approach for sponsorship, first--Red Bull or Lululemon?



Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Where's the Oprah of Yoga?

Ah, yes, the Yoga Star Hot Scale. Leave it to Yoga Dawg to help us laugh instead of cry. It got me to thinking, with all the chatter about skinny white yoginis as the face of yoga and "spreading the word" and endorsement deals and yoga competitions--what do students want?

Kristin, of Namaste from Duluth, posted that query a few months back when we were discussing "American False Idols" and I wanted to get back to that thought. As more and more ex-models and actresses and dancers get into the teaching act, and corporations choose whippet-thin bodies to hawk their yoga wares, I get frustrated. For me, for potential students, for everyone who can't touch their foot to their head or has a non-European family history but studies yoga. Is this really what we want yoga to look like? (I'm not questioning teaching credentials--I'm talking about an image, here).

What I want, and what I suspect many practitioners want, is not a teacher to admire or be awed by (lust after? be jealous of?), but a teacher that inspires and gives you the feeling that you can attain. The yoga industry, such as it is, is missing a huge opportunity here. Why is Oprah such a phenomenon? Because she presents herself as one of the crowd--some one who has been around the block a few times and has weaknesses and enthusiasms and overdoes it once and awhile. (
Obviously, most of us will never be Oprah, but you know what I mean.)

That's what I want in a teacher. Some one who has a sense of the human condition, who has had to work for what she's earned. Some one whose talents seem within reach. I want some one more experienced than me, who can guide me, but also some one who offers a vision of what--with practice--I could be some day. Strong, peaceful, dignified. I don't really care what lip gloss she uses...I want her vibe.

Kripalu has figured it out. Their ads show students of all sizes and races, peacefully engaged in Sukhasana or Tadasana, and it gives you a feeling of calm centeredness. To me, it's an honest depiction of what a yogi should look like--focused, a smile playing on the lips, a lifetime of sustainable practice evidenced in a healthy body.

Seriously, marketing to kids is a fools' game. If we really want to "spread the word," let's show who yoga has helped, who is still figuring it out, who can't do Bakasana to save his life but can nail Trikonasana. Let's talk about the mental benefits instead of just the physical. Let's honor the flexibility of the average backbone. This isn't Cirque du Soleil, people, it's real life!



Monday, November 30, 2009

Expand Your Reach

I hope you all had a lovely holiday (those of you celebrating Thanksgiving in November). I was so distracted with side dishes and a full belly, I missed the release of my latest article for Yoga Journal's My Yoga Mentor: "Expand Your Reach." It's about teaching yoga online, which is a really interesting proposition--no adjustments or close contact, but a ton of other ways to teach at your fingertips. In addition to some interviews with online teachers, I included several tools you can use to help set up your own site. I'm really interested to see how all of this develops, because there are a lot of exciting distance-learning examples out there in other disciplines. How will yogis take advantage of the Internet?

If you already have something going on, or need encouragement to start your own podcast, Jamie Kent of Yoga Downloads, noted that her site allows teachers to link their own classes, if they are up to snuff (so to speak). The link gives more information...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sometimes a Cigar is just a Cigar...but most of the time it isn't

This was kinda fun. A facebook friend was looking for interviews for an article on messy/neat couples and, since she is a marriage therapist, she couldn't recommend any of her clients. So I sent her my contact info, because I though it sounded like an amusing project to think about. The journalist contacted me, I told some stories (with the husb.'s permission, of course) and there you are. One of my mother's neighbors ran a fresh copy of the Wall Street Journal over to their house, as soon as she read it. Fame in Ames, Iowa.

It's a light-hearted look, but some of the couples scared me a bit. I scared myself, remembering the rage that led to two less martini glasses, lo those many years ago (I plead as charged, but my defense was grad school stress). What is it about being a part of a couple that gives you (one) a sense of invincibility? You couldn't really get away with crushing your best friend's sunglasses on purpose, or throwing away your co-worker's clothing, or *gulp* distroying your roommate's cocktailware. At least not more than once. You'd get voted off the island.

And yet, with our best beloved we misbehave. Is it a holdover from childhood? Your parents have to love you no matter what and, since they're not around, you look to the next greatest love? Is it that you feel safe to overreact? That your passions are greater and emotions are felt more strongly that you act like a spoiled brat without fear of major repercussions?

It's interesting to think about because, probably, we have all taken our significant other for granted and not been the best partner. Maybe that is the security built into a strong, lasting relationship--that most transgressions will be forgiven to maintain the partnership. Like the article says, usually the problem isn't dirty socks on the floor, anyway, but something bigger.

Still, as adults, I wonder why we allow ourselves to be that childish. Especially since, at some point, there may be a trangression that is unforgiveable. Goodbye island.

I'm much better about cleanliness, now that I've been beaten down by two tykes far messier than JRR. They say you get the kids that you deserve and I suspect the gods looked down six years ago, chuckled, and said, "Check this fussy chick out. Let's send her a couple of sons." So, I try not to get mad and ignore the Legos and Hot Wheels strewn about.
Plus we have a lot more plastic dishes, so knocking them off the counter would just be noisy but not particularly dramatic.

Whadaya think, armchair psychologists? With the holidays soon upon us, this issue could come up more times than we'd like. What's the consensus? Security? Regression? The desire for new glassware?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Yuck.

Here we go again with the Choudhurys and their never-ending quest to popularize Birkram yoga: not that this information on their Olympic quest is anything new. If you haven't heard by now, they are trying to get yoga to be included as an Olympic sport. Just asana, of course--lots of lithe, bendy yogis touching their feet to their heads. The article notes that contestants are judged on strength, flexibility, alignment, difficulty of the optional poses and overall execution, but not their spirituality.

If you just boil it down to asana without any kind of inner reflection, then isn't it just floor exercise? Gymnastics is already an Olympic sport, so the ancient Greeks beat the Choudhurys to the punch. By about 2,786 years.

Bela Karolyi, you can sleep easy...

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Toe as Tail?

Still doing some housecleaning--next on the to-do list is sort out the links list and even, gasp, update my template. This turquoise green number is getting awfully dated-looking. Old School, and not in a good way.

But first, I'm freshly returned from Minneapolis, where I spent the whole weekend with modern dancers and--by extension--their bare feet. This was actually a costume design project for a fundraiser for the Peace House school in Tanzania. But feet were unshod and I was looking to answer my questions about toe mobility. There certainly was plenty of evidence for the benefits of working without shoes to strengthen the feet.

As I watched the dancers balance and spin, adjusting the weight of a body on a foot by moving the third toe or stretching all toes apart to provide a more stable base, I was impressed by the awareness each student had throughout her whole foot. I watched them when they were getting their notes after rehearsal, and still their feet were constantly in motion--not big movements, but subtle adjustments and shifting. Even during the dance, in a moment of pause, a toe would wiggle here or lift there, in anticipation of the next move.

It made me think of days bygone in summer school classes. If a teacher was particularly boring, or an un-airconditioned classroom was particularly warm, my mind would wander and I often studied my fellow summer schoolers' feet (in those days, in horrid fascination). What was so amusing was how much their toes would move around when they were just sitting there. It was almost as if toes took on the unconscious movement that a tail would make, if we still had one.

I don't know, maybe every movement of a tail is purposeful, but it seems like sometimes my cats just switch or "tap" their tails because they aren't doing anything else with it. Is that what happens with toes in a loose, comfortable shoe? A little expenditure of energy because nothing else is really moving? It's hard to check on yourself, since as soon as you think about your toes, you are aware of their actions...but sneak a peak at some one nearby (trickier, these days, if you're in a hemisphere with late fall)--maybe in class, or watching television at night.

Thoughts? Any experts on toes (or tails, for that matter)? I hadn't thought about the toe-tail thing for awhile, but now I'm on a bender. I guess it's a good thing feet don't gross me out any more...


Monday, November 09, 2009

Super-Late Link Love...

Gracious, this is woefully overdue. I sincerely apologize to everyone that has posted a link to GTTSB and hasn't received a shout-back yet. Hopefully I caught you on this list, but if I didn't, please let me know and I'll do another list in a week or so. There's a lot of good stuff out there, these days. A wide variety of themes, experiences and tones...which is kind of nice. I feel like one of the (sorta) Old Ladies of Blog (since 2006, Baby!) and it's been fun to watch this whole community grow.

In no particular order...
Yogini with a Twist Tina is doing slackline yoga, now! An strong, honest voice in the yoga blog world. Nice sequences, too.
Highs and Lows of a Suburban Yogini
Some reasoned thinking about yoga from Across the Pond. Rachel has a nice personal discussion of her practice, life and other non-yoga projects.
The Devil Wears Prana Michelle offers tidbits of yoga wisdom, interviews, food for thought sprinkled with lovely pictures of her practice.
Yoga for Cynics Dr. Jay has a sly way with a turn of phrase...not cynical, exactly, but not one to suffer fools gladly, either. Beautiful photos.
Yogic Muse Brooks Hall shares her observations on her practice and her own habits, with good suggestions for dealing with it all.
Kitty This eco-chick offers several blogs on makeup, household products, etc. so her's a link to her profile...browse for yourself for some great suggestions of brands to try, strategies to adopt.
Yoga in my School Donna offers a very comprehensive site on teaching to kids, how to approach poses, and more.
Yoga Spy A truthful, gimlet-eyed look at yoga and the yoga culture here in the US.
Yoga Demystified Bob is everywhere, these days. Check out his latest push for "Yobo" and "Ratra"--dude can brand yoga faster than a Kapalabhati exhale!
It's All Yoga, Baby Roseanne has a keen eye for yoga controversies and hypocrisies...the discussions are thrilling. Check out the massive back-and-forth that came after her posts about Addidas yoga.
elephant journal This online magazine out of Boulder, CO covers a lot of eco-topics, but the yoga articles are very interesting and also get a lot of feedback. It also solicits articles from readers, if you are a writer and want some exposure.
Petals Yoga An upbeat report from Portland, OR.
Random Thoughts Just what it says it is...but it's a nice selection of observations from an Indian in the US--especially on the "my yoga is better than your yoga" debate.
Yoga Dork A close look at yoga developments from NYC. Lately lots of giveaways, too.
Enlightenment Ward A breathtakingly comprehensive list of Buddhist sites out there. And a tad snarky, which is fun. I'm meaning to take more time with this site because of all the new stuff (and I was having trouble keeping up with the yoga blogosphere...).

[Oof, now I know why I get so far behind in these lists...they take a lot of time. I'm going to stick with this all week, so give me a couple of days to catch everyone and update my page.]

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Toe-ing the line...

Okay, dancer costumes delivered, YJ article edited...I think I'm ready for extracurricular writing again. Thank you for your patience.

I've been thinking about feet. As yogis, don't we all. The choreographer I am working with commented on how she could identify all of her dancers just by looking at a picture of their feet. At first I thought that was remarkable, but then I realized that I could probably do the same thing with my students with fairly accurate results. Where do you start when checking how someone is grounding in balance poses? The feet...and with that you see who polishes, who trims, who has bunions, who has an extra-long second toe, etc etc. Very personal, these appendages.

Feet used to completely gross me out (still not crazy about dirty toenails), but now I find them rather amazing--as I've said before. This article in last week's NYT Science section confirmed my fascination with the mechanics of the foot. But it didn't answer a question I've been pondering for years...what happens to mobility and flexibility to the toes?
I often do this sequence early in a a session, to get people thinking about their toes:

[Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Lift all your toes at once, and feel the rest of the foot settle into your mat. Now lower just the big toes. Now lift the big toes and just lower the little toes. Now lower the big toes, but keep all the toes in between lifted. Is this easy or hard? You can help yourself a bit, by mimicking the actions of the toes with the fingers (I don't know why this helps, but it does). Now lower all toes, so that each one has its own space to settle and notice how much more solid your stance is.]

I've noticed that it's extremely difficult for most people to move their toes individually. Is it shoes? Muscle development? Toe length? Both my boys (2 and 5) can drum their toes as if playing the piano, but it seems that few people over the age of 10 can barely isolate the big toe from the rest. I can, but I've spent a lot of time working on it. Do toes have the potential of fingers at birth, but the neural pathways are never built?

What do you think/know? It seems that having flexible, isolate-able toe movement would be something to work for--better balance, stronger feet and ankles--but is it something that is lost forever? How do you get it back? I will watch the modern dancers at our next dress rehearsal, because I suspect they have to be expressive down to each bare toe...

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

What ever happened to Dignity?

To me, dignity seems a noble goal. If you carry yourself with dignity, you present yourself with self-assurance and self-respect; you take your cues from within. You move with a sureness and calmness that suggests you are at peace with yourself and your choices (this is starting to sound like a facebook fortune). At least, this is how I see it.

I got to thinking about dignity when I was listening to an interview with economist Charles Kinney on NPR yesterday. He was talking about how access to television has moved women's rights forward in many third-world countries because of empowering stories on soap operas, etc. That may be the case in Brazil and Saudi Arabia, but TV in this country seems to have turned everyone into external validation junkies.

What is it with the "look at me, look at me! I'll do anything if you pay me/if you record me" all the time?!?! Remember when humiliating reality TV was eating a sheep's eyeball on Fear Factor? Now people expose
their bodies, their habits, their families, their addictions, their souls in a constant, desperate attempt to get any producer's attention. I'm thinking, of course, of those pitiful parents in Colorado, who hid their six-year-old and told him to lie when they launched their balloon in order to get themselves another reality series (as if Wife Swap wasn't enough fame and adulation).

You would think yoga would be the perfect antidote for this insecurity. And yet even the yoga community seems full of practitioners keen on branding themselves and selling yoga shoes to "help spread the word"--as if the word wasn't spreading just fine on its own without a lot of pictures of hot, young bodies doing arm balances.

Didn't anyone's parents pay enough attention to them when they were kids?

So here's my idea: let's bring dignity back! Let's celebrate quiet satisfaction and inner peace. Let's value thinking and contemplation and shed the childish demands for attention. Cool it with the material desires...get internal!

How's that sound...anyone with me?


Thursday, October 15, 2009

So You Think You Can Teach...

I'm surrounded by Eggheads. Professional Eggheads. Of my immediate relatives, there are seven Ph.Ds, five Masters' degrees, four university positions, at least one emeritus professorship, as well as publications, honors, titles, chairmanships, etc etc. This is a crowd that takes its education seriously. You can see why I get hung up on qualifications and trainings. I tear up during "Pomp and Circumstance."

With all the talk about "authentic" yoga, and asana teachers as fitness instructors and who should be teaching, and who is making a mockery of the whole discipline, I wonder, "What makes you think you can teach?" It's sounds like I'm being cheeky and rhetorical, but, honestly, I want to know.

If one has a solid, standard training--say six months to a year--meeting over weekends and learning all the asana, how to sequence them, modifications, a discussion of philosophy and history, maybe learning a bit of pranayama, student teaching--what is s/he really qualified to teach? To me, it seems, like s/he is ready to lead students through a safe, carefully-considered Hatha Yoga class. But, what about beyond that?

Yoga Alliance requires 20 (30 hr.s total) contact hours of instruction in yoga philosophy, yoga lifestyle and ethics for the 200 hr. R.Y.T. designation. The program is heavily weighted to asana, altho the techniques, training, and practice section (100 hrs.) includes kriya, mantras and meditation, evenly weighted between technique and teacher training. So how much time does that really leave for the spritual elements of yoga? And I'm not saying that this is a bad mix, but just that it's not a lot of time left for non-asana.

I suppose there is self-study to familiarize yourself with the texts most traditions refer to, but does that do anything beyod expand your own awareness? Does close-reading really prepare you to deal with your students' issues? Does reading the Bible make you a minister? Does investigating the Freudian canon make you qualified to psychoanalyze?

I think it's great to provide students with a context for their asana practice; to show them that Hatha is just one part of a much larger system. But this is as far as I go, because I just don't feel like I am qualified go beyond a simplified definition and explantion of the yamas and niyama or the other seven limbs. Do you?

I really want to know...how do other trainings prepare a teacher to go beyond asana? How much time did you spend on the spiritual aspects of yoga in your preparation to be a teacher? Are we really teaching it or giving lip-service to the rest of the discipline so that we're not "just" fitness instructors?

I've been thinking about this a lot and this is why I ask. What do you think: are we really qualified to teach this stuff or should it be left to the counselors, ministers, monks, and therapists?




Thursday, October 08, 2009

American False Idols

Oh man, are there some juicy discussions going on out there in the yoga blogosphere(yogaspy, it's all yoga, baby, YogaChickie). I've been hanging back, without commenting, trying to decide what I think and I'm a little late to the conversation, but here goes.

What seems to be the general theme floating around these postings and the resultant commentary is what we--in the West--expect of our teachers, and what they see as their responsibility to us. What's really interesting to me is why these issues and expectations around the yoga student-teacher relationship seem so loaded and emotional. Are these really our spiritual leaders we're talking about? Someone invested in our mental well-being and development, who will let us down and disappoint us they turn out to exhibit human frailties? Why do some teachers encourage this kind of dependence?

Aside from a handful of senior teachers, aren't most people teaching primarily asana? Or at least, isn't this what most teachers are qualified to teach, without a lot of extra training in religion or counseling or psychotherapy? Why would you expect your yoga teacher to have any idea how to handle your spiritual development aside from leading a few chants or focused breathing exercises? Why would a teacher presume to be able to?

Am I mistaken? Does my role as a yoga teacher suggest I owe my students more than an effective sequence of poses and explanation to help create awareness of their own bodies? I don't want to be responsible for anyone else's spiritual life but my own. My classes are not hot or sweaty or competitive, but I never go beyond the basic physical aspect of the asana. If chemicals are released in the brain (and I suspect that they are) that calm my students and make them feel more satisfied or happy or mindful, that's great, but I would never tell them to interpret it as anything more than that.

Would you? Am I missing something?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Life Lessons from a Fishtank

As you know (or maybe you don't), we now have fish. Plural. We bought a Chinese Golden Algae Eater to clean up the tank and to keep Hot Wheels company. I know, they can be rough on goldfish, but so far everyone has enough food and space, and the only inhabitant getting harrassed is the snail (cuz he's been a bit mossy).

So, it was time to move onto interior decorating. One benefit of a geologist husband is I have a go-to guy for aquarium rocks that are fish-friendly and won't leach anything into the water or dissolve, etc. So we assembled a lovely tower of specimens and then transferred it into the tank to give everyone something to swim under and hang out one. Generally, just liven up the joint.

I knew it would be a bit traumatic for the fishes to have a pile of granite introduced into their space, but I figured they'd get over it. Well, all the finned inhabitants of our tank fluttered around the edges of the tank for hours, speeding past the rocks occasionally, without a second look.

Apple Snail (whether he is one or not, is still under debate, but this is now his name) sat quietly for about 10 minutes and then glacially, majestically sidled up to the sculpture to check it out. He stretched out of his shell the farthest I've ever seen to touch the rocks with his feelers and foot and then gracefully hoisted himself onto the rocks to continue his exploration.

How cool, how relaxed, how in control of the situation. In my habit of anthropomorphizing everything, I decided that this was a lovely example of how to deal with change. Approach with deliberate caution, check the situation out, explore thoroughly and embrace. I have never seen this snail from so many different angles as his cruised around his rocks. The other fish had come to terms with them by morning, but were still a bit flighty and suspicious (anthropo. again).

So I keep A.S. in mind. Something is always coming out from left field and I think I could learn a few things from a snail, my new, slimy role model. (And a bit less mossy, too, thanks to CGAE--called Nolo after a Hot Wheels Acceleracers character.)



Sunday, September 27, 2009

The End of Overscheduling (yeah, right!)

It's always bittersweet when a job ends. You no longer see people, but you don't have to deal with the annoying ones anymore. You stop participating in certain activities, but you have time for others. It's a big disruption to the routine, but it's an opportunity to start something new.

I recently stepped away from a project that I was throwing myself into, but just couldn't keep up with, both energy- and emotion-wise. So I went against type and decided to quit rather than just keep limping along--it was time for a break. Guess what, the first night after that I had the best sleep in weeks. Hmmm.

All of a sudden I feel like I can focus, and the other projects that were only getting 30% attention (perhaps I should say, non-mommy attention), get boosted up to 50%. What's the point of over-extending, if everything gets short shrift...and I get tension headaches and can't sleep and am a real pill to live with.

The plate has been slightly cleared. Sitting there quietly to the side, was my dear friend Yoga, just waiting for me to get over this crazy urge to cure this country's bad eating habits and get back to business. So now I am thinking about the next chapter--a certification? a retreat? more writing? more blog?

Anyway, here's my challenge to you: take a look at your schedule and see if there's anything that can go. Surely there's something that is keeping you awake and could probably do without your brilliant contributions. Just think how much your other projects will thrive with that additional percentage point of attention. What's been quietly waiting for you to satisfy the urge?!?

Now I just have to finish the Yoga Journal article...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Neti, sweet Neti

Jen, of McSmithleyville asked the timely question: "I wonder if your readers have any thoughts on adjustments given that flu & cold season is approaching. One of the universities I teach at has documented cases of H1N1 flu and it makes me wonder if I should be "hands off" for the season, or longer?"

And just like that I, too, was laid low with the bug. I don't know if it's H1N1 (in deference to the pork producers in my home state of Iowa), but it's definitely respiratory and they say there is widespread flu activity in 21 states and almost all of it has tested as H1N1. So there you go.

On the plus side, it mostly seems like a really aggressive cold. The down side is now the boys are starting to droop...two weeks ahead of the vaccination. Sigh.

Here's what I'm doing:
1. Cancelled all my classes, so as not to be a vector.
Plus, I had no energy to teach, anyway. For next week, I think focusing on verbal cues is probably the way to go, since this thing is so easy passed.
2. Got some major cold meds, so I could pass the day in a haze, without too much goo.
3. Brewing many pots of tea, kept warm with a lovely lamb tea cozy my mom knit me...constant hot liquids (Tazo's Wild Orange and Stash's Caffeine-free Peppermint are in the current rotation.)
4. Went out and got a Neti pot. I'm going to go all Ecoyogini here, but I can't say enough good things about how soothing this little item is. This is nothing special, just a plastic jobber from CVS (called a Sinus Wash), but I feel much clearer, post-Neti, and if hand-washing can eliminate 70% of the H1N1 germs, think how effective sinus-washing is! It's a bit odd (one of my students described it as self-water boarding), but not particularly gross and--like I said--completely soothing. I have some mild seasonal and dust allergies, so this should help, as well.

So, Yogis, how are you dealing with the bugs? Any problems with sick students showing up? Sick teachers? Any cute, handmade pots on Etsy I should take a look at?

Monday, September 14, 2009

My Two Cent's Worth

First, Read, then Discuss: Yoga Journal's article, and then Dawg's link.

The topic of teacher training licensing caught my eye in last week's My Yoga Mentor, and now Yoga Dawg linked a quick (rather annoying) bit from Katie Couric, so I thought I'd weigh in. Apparently, there is some talk of requiring NY yoga studios to be licensed by the state to run teacher training programs (14 other states already include such a requirement). Some see this as unnecessary government interference--a way to make a bit of money off of popular programs. Others think this will dilute trainings to some generic set of information far removed from yoga's original message. Will it guarantee quality, or just cookie-cutter-ness? Will it squeeze little studios out of existence and benefit big corporate entities? Will it force studios to take their programs seriously and not treat trainings as just a lucrative revenue stream?

I don't mind the idea of regulation. I think all the above situations are possible, positive and negative, but I think regulation by a neutral third party is not a bad idea, especially if it will help "legitimize" yoga--in the same way that licensing of massage therapists, acupuncturists, and chiropractors helped bring the benefits of such healing practices to a broader audience. Perhaps it will let new students use their medical insurance to pay for their classes, as some companies pay gym fees and the cost of other alternative therapies. It seems to me that this sort of standardization will give yoga a new audience and help bring students to the practice that would otherwise have been scared off by images of turbans and chanting and spiritual peer pressure (undeserved or no).

The YJ article says that most states base their assessment on Yoga Alliance's standards, which are by no means wishy-washy or reduce the tradition to a series of exercises. Perhaps teachers can use this type of training as a starting point and would use later workshops and retreats as a way to augment their basic knowledge...and could market themselves and licensed, trained, and specializing in whatever.

I've been researching teacher training programs
myself and wondering if they were really worth the $2500 (perhaps students would be able to apply for gov't aid, if schools were licensed). My training was more of an apprenticeship and, while I know it was thorough and effective, a future employer would have no way to evaluate my background. I would like to have some sort of certification and I would rather have a designation that was meaningful to people outside the yoga world, rather than just a piece of paper with a cute seal.

A university Master's Degree confers a certain amount of authority because it is awarded by an institution that is accredited and recognized by a legislating body as insuring a level of expertise. Don't we want the same level of respect for our trainings from everyone, not just the yoga in-crowd?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Back-to-School

Well, here it is, the day-after-labor-day and not only can we be grateful that white heels have to go back in the closet, but it's time to get excited about school. Or at least enjoy that new-beginnings/fall-semester energy that comes this time of year. My eldest headed off to kindergarten, anxious but proud. He's still not sure about the all-day, all-week aspect of school, but is keen on the idea of school-provided hot lunch (yuck) and jungle gyms at recess.

As much as I hate to see days shorten and temperatures cool, I say good riddance to this year's cold, wet summer in the Midwest.
All my tomatoes died from Blight last week and if that's how this season is going to reward all my hard work, I say, who needs it. Bring on the falling leaves and knitted garments!

The Y's classes start this week, so it's back to my regular teaching routine. I'm trying to incorporate more regular exercise this fall, too, to counteract stressful overscheduling and increase my stamina. Swimming is still a lovely workout, and I'm going to try to add some walking and perhaps a yoga class.

I have yet to find a local option that will work, but I'm going to branch out into the online world. I sampled a couple of classes at Yoga Download, that were quite acceptable, so I might give that a more regular go. Does anyone have other suggestions of podcasts of downloadable classes that they like?

This query is both for myself and for the next YJ article on creating an online yoga class. I'm fascinated by the internet as a teaching tool and how people have figured out how to exploit its potential in new and imaginative ways. The world gets smaller and smaller and, even though I really miss a hands-on, personal yoga class, I think there's some cool stuff to try out there...

So, whadaya think? Any thoughts on the matter? Secrets to share? I'm all ears, now that I don't have to schedule gardening into the mix (or making tomato sauce, for that matter...rats!).

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Wisdom from the Masters...

Oh my dears. How neglectful I have been. I've been gobsmacked by life, lately (haven't we all) and just haven't been able to put pen to paper (so to speak). Back-to-school for husb and son #1, heart surgery for Dad, four juggled projects and renovations to the home. Not particularly settling or calming.

My BFF during all of this is Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese monk and author of the book Peace in Every Step. He should be required bedside reading for everyone. The book consists of many one-to two-page chapters reminding us to see beauty in all things, be mindful of the wonder of life, and to smile when confronted with adversity. He comes across as very sweet rather than naive and his writings serve as a good reminder to live in the moment, instead of fretting about things outside of our control. A perfect something to ingest before going to sleep and help quiet the thoughts.

He reminds me (or vice versa) of the wise and gentle turtle, Master Oogway, from Kung Fu Panda, who delivers many aphorisms during the film: "Yesterday is history; tomorrow is a mystery; but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present." (I'm not the only fan, check this out!) He, too, can teach us something about calming the "fluctuations."

So chill with some sages this month. Go for something more thoughtful from TNH, or lighter--yet just as insightful--with KFP. Anything to keep the mind clear and the thoughts positive.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The B*tch is Back...

Oh look, my old (friend) work-related stress has returned.

Just when it seemed like I was getting enough sleep on a regular basis, here I am at 3:30am, stewing about this thing and another--or just thinking--for a couple of hours. Motherhood-related stress was aggravating, but at least I got to the end of the day tired enough to just conk out for 6 or 7 hrs.(then waking up could be blamed on a young'un).

I'm juggling four different projects, these days, plus some home renovations that will require painting, and I can't get my mind to settle. It's not that the projects are all that aggravating, it's just that I feel kind of stretched and unable to give each enough attention. Oh yeah, and the boys. So, I've been getting headaches (again) and now this sleep-thing. I tried to limit caffeine today *sobs* and didn't take a nap, so I'd be good and exhausted when bedtime rolled around.

I've done a bit of consulting, too. Roger Cole has a useful chapter in Tim McCall's Yoga As Medicine that I intend to implement tonite, if necessary. Kelly McGonigal also has a informative article on stress on YJ's site (she has been a good source for a couple of articles and is an editor of International Journal of Yoga Therapy).

So, I am well-armed for this evening. Hopefully, I won't need it, but we'll see. ZZZzzzzzz

Friday, August 07, 2009

Speaking of Fishing...

I'm working on a new set of pitches (article ideas) for Yoga Journal's My Yoga Mentor, newsletter for teachers. (If you teach, you might like to subscribe...there are often some useful ideas and suggestions. And it's free!) However, I'm feeling a bit idea-less. Any suggestions for something you've been wondering about and would like some one else to do the research on? Issues that ought to be addressed?

A couple of ideas I've had are teaching yoga to boys, and creating an online yoga class. But I'd like to have a few more possibilities. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Something Fishy is Going On...

I've always found fish tanks (stocked, of course) fascinating. Fish are so lovely, so graceful in the water with their fins waving in the current like streamers of silk. And the colors--bright orange and yellow, black and cobalt striped, iridescent green. So I've always thought I would like to have my own tankful to admire.

Well, I've got my chance. Eamonn brought a single goldfish home in a plastic baggie from the county fair on Friday and deposited it directly into my hands. This could be cool, I thought, or this could be an early lesson in death.

Since I never miss an opportunity to create more work for myself, I rushed over to the pet store to pick up a "Goldfish kit" to create a suitable, watery habitat for little "Hot Wheels." Meanwhile, the husb looked up "goldfish habitat" online and discovered that if we really wanted to take care of this newest member of the family, he'd need a much bigger tank, filter, etc etc.

Today Hot Wheels moved into 10x as much water as he had been swimming in, with geologically-appropriate gravel (my color-coordinated neon blue stuff was nixed) and 2 snails to keep him company. I suspect there are some more piscine friends in the future and I look forward to the naming process...

Apparently, watching fish has been proven to lower stress levels and blood pressure, so I'm thinking I have a new backdrop for my home yoga practice. If you've ever sat in front of a tank of jellyfish at an aquarium, you can certainly understand how watching our watery friends glide around would be calming. I'll have to do some research on appropriate tank mates, but, for now I have a new yoga buddy.

Ohm, Hot Wheels, Ohm.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Juicy Juice

If you haven't already been over there, check out Connie's new site at Dirty Footprints Studio--art, yoga, enthusiasm. It's a very inspiring page, with lots of pictures of paint pots and crayons and ideas for jump starting your creativity. She calls it your creative, juicy life. It's a lot of fun to read and just makes you want to surround yourself with art supplies and draw.

So, it's great timing for me, as I'm starting my first design project in years (six, to be exact). I'm very curious to see how the confluence of motherhood, yoga and costumes comes together. It's a really wonderful project; a collaboration with a dance professor at Beloit College who took a group of students to Tanzania to work at a school for AIDS orphans, called The Peace House. These are African teenagers who have applied to attend the boarding school, and who receive training to do such things as teach and help set up small businesses in their home villages. Chris and her dancers worked with these kids for a week, exploring ways to use movement and dance as a way to communicate and teach.

I didn't get to go to Africa (phooey), but I have been working with Chris upon her return--reacting to extensive photo documentation and collecting additional imagery as she begins the tricky process of turning her experience into choreography. This is my favorite part of any design project--trying to convert an emotional, ephemeral jumble of ideas into a concrete reality. A watchable production. It's probably the art historian in me, but I just can't get enough of listening to other artists try to describe their influences and, together, figuring out how to translate these thoughts into a new piece.

And then I have to express that with the clothes. I've never done dance before, but I've always found it very compelling. The design is essential to the realization of the piece because the costumes are one of the dancers' props. They emphasize movement, or hinder it, or make bigger (imagine a shaking flapper without her fringe). So the designer has to really understand the choreographers' intention and work closely as the dance develops to make sure the garments serve the final product.

We've had a couple of really exciting conversations in the last few weeks. Watching (and helping) Chris start to "unlock" this dance has been so gratifying...something I have missed. I look at Connie's blog and it makes me so happy to wearing my artist's hat (beret?) again.

If my past experience is any indicator, yoga is going to be extremely important to the process--stress reliever, brain releaser, calming device. And then there's the boys--how have these little monkeys changed my approach? I assume I'll be able to keep the whole thing in perspective a bit better (if you have to step away to remove a splinter, wipe up a chewed crayon, rescue a cat from a remote-controlled tarantula, you can't get too worked up about leotard choices). But I wonder what else has changed.

Exciting. Intriguing. Juicy.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

5th Anniversary

Not only is today Eamonn's birthday, but it is also the fifth anniversary of my becoming a mother. Both momentous (and simultaneous) occasions in our household; the earth shifted and everything changed.

I often think about what a curious hazing early parenthood is--no sleep, a wailing baby, lots of blood and other bodily fluids, a complete lack of control. Also intense love, a desire to protect, possessiveness, joy, relief. All of these mighty emotions combined with the physical demands of healing and exhaustion rewire you completely. I wonder how different my brain chemistry is now compared to 2003--what neural pathways were connected to make sure I always think of the children first, hear a faint cry in the night, keep track of many disparate yet essential elements.

Yoga has been a touchstone through it all, especially in the early days when a Down Dog or Supta Baddha Konasana was my only connection to Life Before E. Not only did it unsnarl the painful knots that come from hunching over a helpless babe (why are they born before they can sit up?!?!?), but it helped me settle down and quiet voices that urged me to jump up and get something accomplished (impossible on 5 non-consecutive hours of sleep). Calming the Fluctuations...Pranayama, baby.

So here I am...five years out. A lot more experienced, not a whole lot smarter, but a more interesting person (I think). I live so much of my life outside of myself, these days, I think I have a much more mature perspective than I did back in the old days. After five years of trying to control the uncontrollable, you learn to let go a little bit. Chose your battles carefully. Turn the other cheek.

Here's to you, little man, as old as all the fingers on one hand. Happy Birthday, kiddo, and many Happy Returns!




Thursday, July 16, 2009

You Win a Few...

I lost a student this morning. Nothing tragic, but a sweet, older student came up to me before class and thanked me, saying I was a good teacher, but that she had decided to start taking another exercise class closer to her home. I tried to be gracious, because I could tell she was worried about hurting my feelings. She then continued that she was frustrated that she couldn't do all the poses, even though she had been working on them at home, and that the class made her feel stupid. She was using an apologetic tone, and I could see that she felt betrayed by her body, rather than by the class itself.

I was truly sorry that she decided yoga wasn't for her; it's always frustrating not to reach some one. I feel a little responsible that the modifications I showed her weren't enough and that my encouragement to "work at your own pace" didn't resonate. But there's only so much you can do...

I wrote earlier about "true believers", but I'm pretty good at predicting who is going to leave class, too. It's so hard to get some students to dispense with the notion that this is a class about right and wrong, about being good at yoga and if you use props you are weak and have failed. I try to encourage everyone to consider their own bodies ("keep your eyes to yourself") and what version of the pose is appropriate for their own flexibility and strength--offering a gentle adaption here, suggesting an alternative pose there. Some take the advice and others frown and you can tell they're annoyed that they can't do the "real" pose.

This is not a competition, people! It's a tricky thing to un-learn, the need to achieve and to be the best and to be better than some one else. It's instilled at an early age and encouraged throughout our lives...maybe it can get you ahead in work and win a road race, but it's no help in the yoga studio.

I'm sorry that she decided to leave, but I certainly didn't want her to feel stupid or berate herself for having tight hips. Maybe she will find a better fit with the exercise class. I'll keep slipping blocks under knees or handing out longer belts or rolling blankets under heels and, hopefully, others will find a modification to their liking and stay.

What's a yoga teacher to do? (Inspired by this post at Now,This is Yoga. Thanks, Michelle!)


Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Working Foot

I used to have a fairly regular gig designing costumes for a theatre in Maui, Studio H'poko. It was a total "art with friends" set up, since I loved the people I worked with and the challenges of putting together a Shakespeare show on the islands was always fodder for plenty of adventure. The first show I designed was The Tempest, so I needed a batch of noblemen costumes to contrast with the loose-fitting schmattas of Prospero and his crowd. Shoes, I needed shoes.

I collected actors' measurements before I left for Hawaii, so I could assemble some of the clothes and bring them with me. I was struck by the shoe sizes--everyone had really, really wide feet. So I headed off to Maui with a suitcase full of broad, boxy shoes, sure that people were just trying to get away with extra-comfortable footwear. It didn't occur to me that the result of many year of slapping around in flip-flops (rubbah slippahs), would mean all the actors would have very wide feet. And so it was...the shoes fit fine, although there were lots of complaints about having to wear socks (never mind underwear).

My on-island assistant thought my astonishment was hilarious and noted how every time she went home to Ohio, she was always disgusted by how pale and useless-looking everyone's feet looked. She was used to broad, tan, callused, hard-working paws that spent all day on the beach or clambering around the rocks, caked with red dirt and exposed to the elements instead of carefully-manicured tootsies that only saw the sun through leather sandals.

I thought all about this the other day, when I was trying on birthday sandals (love me some Zappos!). Nothing was too short, but all the shoes were too narrow. 5 yoga classes a week? Shoeless swim workouts? Toting an extra 27 lbs. around in the form of a 2 year old? These plates of meat spend a lot of time unshod, so I guess it's not a surprise that things have spread out a bit.

Thanks to Bev in Pukulani, tho, I like to think of my shoe challenges as due to barefeet with lots of responsibility. These guys do a lot of supporting and grounding and spreading of toes throughout the week. Balance is great, ankles are strong, so I guess I'll take bigger feet as a trade off for lots of yoga.

I'm in Wisconsin, so I'm definitely still pro-sock (no flip-flops in February), but hopefully these dogs would pass muster in the Tropics!

Monday, July 06, 2009

Flying like a Penguin

When I was a kid, more than anything, I wanted to be able to fly. Peter Pan seemed like a dream come true, but no matter how hard I wished or how much Peter Pan Peanut Butter I ate, when I jumped off the kitchen chair I landed on the floor with a disappointing thump. Gravity sucks!

I wonder how flightless birds feel. Do chickens get bummed out when a robin or cardinal zips past their hen house? Is an ostrich jealous of a vulture or hawk, gliding over the open savanna? Do penguins feel inadequate as they waddle along while petrels swoop overhead? Probably not (a good lesson for humans not to covet thy neighbors' mad flying skillz, btw), since each has nicely developed alternatives to get around.

One of the boys' books ended with a quote that "Penguins fly in the water." I've looked for an attribution, because I thought it was so sweet and pithy, but it seems to be a common refrain. It's a nice metaphor--excel and enjoy the medium you do work best in and don't worry about the ones that slow you down.

I've repeated this in my head over the last few weeks, because I've started swimming to add a little aerobic work into my schedule. I love gliding along in the pool with just the sound of bubbles and water splashing in my ears. I feel so streamlined and elegant--unlike the clunky, sloggy feeling I get when trying to run--pound, pound, gasp, wheeze. I feel akin to those little tuxedoed Southerners, darting and spinning beneath the waves.

So I'm all about finding your best medium and taking off. I'm not saying dodge the challenging stuff, but sometimes it's best to let yourself do something you enjoy and can be good at with just a little bit of effort.

For the record, I really like raw seafood, too.


Monday, June 29, 2009

The Teenage Soundtrack

By now, I'm sure we're all a little tired of the Michael Jackson coverage. I'm a bit surprised why so many people (myself included) are so moved by this event , but I guess it's sort of a perfect storm of celebrity: tragically young performer, 15 yrs. of freakish behavior, child molestation charges, a potential comeback in the works, orphaned (?) children, and, of course, the legacy of the music.

When a famous young musician dies, it's always a big deal--not just because of the premature death, but because of the ownership fans have over the music and the person that created it. Many intense memories are attached to specific songs, and even just a few beginning beats can evoke a whole range of emotion and thoughts. MJ's catalogue covers a quarter of a century and, for people my age, that covers a lot of significant events.

Coincidentally, there was an interesting article in the NYT Science section last week about how--and what--humans hear. The sophisticated interaction of the brain and the ears has specific implications for what we like to hear; we can process the subtle sounds of language and humans are far more responsive to music than any other animal. Given the choice, most animals (including monkeys) would prefer silence to a gentle lullaby. Maybe the results would have been different, if they had played "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough."

So, it makes sense that the endless loops of "Thriller" and Jackson 5 are filling our ears, at this point. Elementary school sleepovers, junior high dances, and high school MTV marathons are also playing on the mental movie screen. It's not really the person of Michael Jackson who is being mourned, but the maker of music and creator of sound--not a bad dancer, either.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Yoga True Believers

The post was inspired by the thoughtful interview Nadine had with Crescence Krueger, one of her yoga "mothers." Crescence speaks of how the powerful experience of motherhood brought her in tune with her body and, as a result, her personal yoga practice. This deepening encouraged her to pursue training as a doula, which also affected her role as a teacher. It got me to thinking about the moment, if you can pinpoint it, that your practice becomes something greater than just a series of poses.

It's what I call becoming a "true believer." And this becoming usually leads to teaching, because you want to share your personal discovery of yoga with those near and dear.

My conversion was a result of finding physical release in classes I had with a very strong and moving teacher in Washington DC. Oya Horiguchi was Iyengar-trained and also a Phoenix Rising therapist, and her sequences always brought me great relief during stressful periods (which was most of the time) while I worked in the costume design biz. I grew to crave the open, satisfied, and calm feeling I always had driving home from her studio in Falls Church. I wanted to share this feeling with my colleagues and friends, and I began a year-long apprenticeship with her, which became the beginning of my teacher career (and, subsequently, my writing one).

Pregnancy and motherhood also affected my practice, because it made labor and delivery so bearable (easy is definitely not the right word) and made me appreciate the 10 minutes here and there that I can actually slip into a Dog or two, or a short session of pranayama. The release and centering it provides is priceless when chasing two little monkeys around.

I suspect, for most people it is a combination of inspiring teacher and significant life event--whether happy (childbirth, career change) or upsetting (life-threatening accident, addicition, violent relationship). Yoga offers a way to deal with all of these situations, and with an understanding, skilled mentor it can affect your world in profound ways. You sort of become a yoga evangelist and want to share the "word" with everyone who still sees yoga as a bunch of twisty poses by goofballs in turbans (or simply a sexy workout).

Some believers can be sort of annoying, I suppose, if the urge to share is too in-your-face, but most seem peaceful, generous, and nurturing. Of course, I'm talking about all of you. You wouldn't be writing and reading if you weren't finding peace, right?

So, tell me, when did you become a true believer?


Friday, June 19, 2009

Inner Control Freak, your time is Up!

Back when I lived in a City, my friends and I would joke about the Voice--the nag inside our heads urging us to work harder, exercise more, send weekly resumes, rearrange the portfolio, etc etc all in the interest of being successful free-lancers. Some of the nag was useful, because it kept you on your toes instead of slacking off, but it could also be a distracting voice of self-doubt that just made you feel guilty and disappointed with yourself.

I referred to mine as my I.C.F.--my Inner Control Freak.

And, like I said, in the old days I got a lot done with that voice in my head, but I've noticed that it has become less useful and more frustrating as my landscape and responsibilities have changed. There is only so much that will get done with two little boys around, no matter how loud and insistent the nagging becomes. It tends to make me irritable and dissatisfied, because, as much as I try to organize my time, there are forces beyond my control that keep me from being the coffee achiever I like to think I am.

In my one free half-hour a day that everything personal has to happen, I was watching an old Margaret Cho special. Funny, naughty and surprisingly inspiring. She had a bit about her struggles with her weight and told how she began to calculate how much time could be saved if she refrained from scolding herself about being fat (97 minutes a week!).

What a brilliant way to think about energy wasted on the Inner Control Freak, I thought. I could gain at least one more half hour weekly, just by quitting the daily fret about projects not started (or finished), exercise regimes discontinued, floors unswiffed, photo albums unlabelled, blah blah blah. I'm sure I would be a lot less crabby and, who knows, all that stuff might eventually get done anyway, but without the scolding.

So, I'm trying to stop listening to the I.C.F. and channelling the juice in other directions. I should invent some sort of watch that keeps track of how much time you don't spend berating yourself, so you can come up with an alternative activity (
the Notorious C.H.O suggests a ceramics class). Or no activity at all and just enjoy the free time. We'll see how it goes.

Synchronize watches...the clock starts, tick, tick, NOW!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Quick Link

Just back from a lovely weekend at the beach...child-free, if you can believe it. The wireless connection was non-existent, so my plans for a lovely, leisurely posting went unrealized. Tomorrow.

In the meantime, here is the link to the latest My Yoga Mentor article on yoga without chanting. Let me know what you think!

Saturday, June 06, 2009

In a class my myself...

...so to speak. I'm trying to find a class for me to take, but living in a small town means finding something that is at the right time, not too far and my style is an awfully tall order. And I am not filling it.

I tried a class the other day at a new studio in a nearby town. It was a lovely space, with a very knowledgeable teacher. But, I was the only person that showed up for class and, even though we practiced, I got the feeling that this was a bit of an inconvenience.

I've been trying to decide if this was the teacher's fault, or mine for being too aware of how teaching a group class to one person can be a real energy drain. I remember when I was a student, I loved classes that were on the small side, because it felt like a personal session and we all got more attention. As a teacher, though, I always feel a bit self-conscious--trying not to make the person feel like I'm staring at them or evaluating their poses, trying not to be disappointed that more people didn't show up. I usually try to make it feel like a private session ("do you have anything you would like to work on?"), to convey a sense gratitude to the student who made the effort to come.

Who knows what was going on. Maybe it's been a slow season and the studio is hurting for students, maybe the teacher wasn't feeling well (she did make herself a cup of tea during class), maybe I'm thinking about it too much.

What do you think? How do you deal with (unintentionally) small classes? How do you feel if you are taking one of these classes? I'd like to think I'm just being super-sensitive, but I'm inclined to cross this one off the list...

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Happy vs Satisfied

Last week, I was listening to an interview with sociology prof. Andrew Cherlin about his book, The Marriage-Go-Round. In it, he analyzes trends in marriage patterns in the United States and how they differ from the rest of the world. He writes about how Americans tend to get married more often, and more frequently, than other nationalities. He suggests that this high rate for wedding and then divorcing is, in part, due to Americans' strong belief that they deserve to be happy. If you are not happy, this beliefs goes, then that is a significant problem and it needs to be corrected no matter what the consequences to a spouse and children.

It got me to thinking about the elusive nature of happiness and that maybe there is a better way to think about one's well-being.

To me, Happiness is best symbolized by a balloon. It's a big, round, shiny, brightly-colored, inflated emotion that is fun and cheerful, but can immediately be deflated by the prick of a pin. And, no matter how tightly knotted, eventually deflates anyway into a shrivelled pile of rubber. A delight to have around, but temporary and unsustainable.

Like a balloon that needs some one to blow it up, happiness is a state of being that is often dependent on factors out of your control--having a great boss, being thin, working at a stimulating job, living with well-behaved children. If this is what could make you happy, you don't have much control over your happiness--your actions can't always improve the situation, no matter what your intention; some bosses are just jerks, kids get cranky, your pelvis bone is wide.

So I'm thinking...how about Satisfaction as the goal. To me, "satisfied" suggests being pleased with an outcome you directly affected. You control the situation, you decide when it is completed, there is closure. I've been trying this mind-set out and I find myself in a much better mood. I'll be satisfied when this kid is dried off, in pajamas and in bed. I'm satisfied that I worked up a sweat mowing the lawn and got some exercise. This chocolate pudding is pure satisfaction. It breaks the desire down into an achievable goal and then it actually happens, so you get the, uh, satisfaction of a job well done. You're dealing with specifics, instead of grand, sweeping abstractions.

All semantics and mind games, I suppose. But, like shortening your to-do list, if it works...why not?

And that, my friends, makes me happy.