I took a bit of a blog writing hiatus. Over the last month, I took a stand up comedy class and I started performing at open mics in the DC area. This has been an emotional roller coaster ride. I will write more about that some day. For today, I will share the video of my graduation class performance. The jokes are all yoga related so it is still on brand.
This is a question I often ask myself. I grew up in rural mid-Michigan but I would prefer if people didn’t know that about me. I try to blend in with my urban surroundings in DC. There are moments however, when I say something so country that I have to ask, is my red neck showing?
Again, I don’t really care for the town where I grew up. Part of the reason I chose the college that I did was because no other graduates from my high school were going there. I could leave it all behind me. I never felt I fit in after moving to town in third grade because, in a small town, social statuses are handed out in kindergarten. Let’s just say I had missed the boat. Have you noticed that I haven’t even mentioned the name of the town yet? Yeah, that is how much I don’t like to bring it up. Oh! And it isn’t even a town. It is technically classified as a village.
Chesaning. That is the place where I grew up. If you are from there, you do not pronounce the ‘a’ in it. It sounds more like Chezning.
I have tried to run from this place in many ways. Like I mentioned it started in college by going somewhere that didn’t have a trace of Chesaning there (no CHS grads ahead of me or behind me in all my 4 years). Then I moved with my husband to Madison, Wisconsin. From there we headed to DC where we plan to stay.
But Chesaning finds ways to draw me back. Last fall it was when an old friend found me in the Be Here Now booth at Barracks Row Festival. Last week it was in the form of a hilarious rooster story shared by another high school friend. Yup, you read that right. A story about a rooster attack reminded this person of me. Is my red neck showing?
These subtle reminders of my former life keep coming. And I have to admit that Chesaning is a part of me. I spent almost half my life there. It is in my being.
When I reflect on all of this I try to find some meaning. And what I have come to is the notion that the pain we do not transform only gets transferred. Middle and high school are challenging times for everyone. I was reminded of this reading an Instagram post shared by yet another Chesaning acquaintance. Most teens and tweens are carrying pain that they do not know how to effectively transform so they end up transferring it onto others through bullying or mean girling. Even worse is when we carry this pain into adulthood without transforming it.
Yoga has helped me recognize, connect with, and transform a lot of pain. There are heaps still to go! But with every practice, when I feel my heart beating as I lie in savasana, I know that I am healing. With every cleansing exhale I am releasing fears and anxieties carried from lifetimes ago. I pray that in some small way my teaching can provide this healing space for others. Yes, I like my classes to laugh and have fun. But what was that saying about laughter as the best medicine? I can’t outrun my past but I can learn to transform those experiences into something beautiful.
I often refer to myself as a fiercely independent person. I tend to prefer working alone. I am an introvert who recharges by being by herself. This tendency comes in part from being a member of a large family. It always felt like I had 6 parents instead of 2 (my 4 older siblings all feel largely responsible for raising me). And it is hard to please that many people and to live up to that many expectations. If I instead operate outside of those expectations, and keep to myself, I am much happier.
The trouble comes when I use my preference for independence as an excuse to isolate myself. This happens a lot in social situations. I will be invited to join some gathering and, rather than participate, I avoid it. I am an incredibly reluctant leader. Any position I was ever given was not my first choice and I made that clear. In fact, I am so prone to doing this that my friends are often surprised to learn that I was president of my sorority. “But you hate people!” is their reaction.
Now, I don’t think I am a full on misanthrope. I don’t hate people. I am often annoyed by them. But who among us isn’t annoyed by other people?
Anyway, the point is that I have made isolating myself a habit. It is such a strong habit that I have begun confusing it with my true nature. In Yoga, we learn about samskaras or the deep impressions we create through repeated actions. They influence our future actions as we repeatedly choose the same path. The way that we begin to change these impressions is by making choices that re-pattern our lives.
This is a huge undertaking especially when it comes to the deepest impressions in our brains. Like my habit of isolating myself, the habits that we have accepted as personality traits can be the most difficult to change. When it comes to making progress in re-patterning you should start small. We (meaning all of humanity, anyone who tried to create a good habit) know the best way to make positive change in our lives is by going incrementally, seeing progress, and then building upon that progress. If we try to tackle the biggest issues, and fail, we might not try again.
So how am I going to be less of an isolationist if I see as part of who I am? Well, I am going to start by saying yes. I will say yes to lunch. I will say yes to coffee. And then, we shall see.
I learned a long time ago to never judge a client’s physical ability based on appearance. This lesson first smacked me in the face when I was a group fitness instructor. I was training in a new format and I met a group of ladies who were older than myself (I was a whole 25 at the times, so it wasn’t hard to be older than me). I assumed that I would be a stand out in the training because I was younger, and presumably, in better shape than these ladies. NOPE. They crushed it and I was dragging ass. They were powerful and awesome. Lesson learned.
I have tried to keep that lesson with me in my Yoga teaching. I try to never judge what level a client might be at physically. That means I typically teach with a “try it and see what happens” approach. Sometimes a client might surprise themself and get into a pose they hadn’t before. Sometimes they learn about a limitation in their body.
My body has plenty of limitations. I am not the most flexible yogi on Instagram. I remember being in a Yoga class learning lizard pose and thinking, “Never in my life will I be able to come down to my forearms here.” I was wrong about that but it took me YEARS of practice to get those forearms down. My straddle fold is miserable. Most things that require mobility in the hips are a struggle for me. What I have learned is that years and years of horseback riding, accompanied with middle and high school athletics, have made my hips strong but tight.
Now, certain things come easily in my body. I have long limbs and a long torso. Twisting poses come a little more naturally because I have length in my middle to wring out. Eagle pose comes to mind as one that is fairly easy in my body because wrapping long limbs is a simpler task than wrapping shorter ones. I am aware of how my build influences my practice and I try to balance the poses that work naturally for me with those that challenge me.
Yesterday, I was teaching a workshop on crow pose. The only way I know to come at my teaching is to share what I have learned, what has worked for me, and my own understanding of the practice. This meant that the first form of crow I taught was the “baby” version of the pose on the forearms. This pose came easier to me than the full arm balance. It dawned on me yesterday that this variation comes easier to me because I have long arms and because my hips are built wider than my shoulders. So the action of bringing my knees high on my arms and squeezing my in, while coming down onto my forearms for balance, all worked in my body. This was not the case for many folks in the workshop. They found this pose to be much more difficult than trying to balance on the hands. Luckily, I had other tips and tricks to teach but it was not the aha moment I planned.
I believe that if you want to make a pose happen in your body, you can. It might take years of dedicated practice and you have think about whether the work is worth the benefits. But when we come up against our limitations, or when we recognize where we excel, we are practicing Svadhyaya. Svadhyaya is one of the Niyamas and it is the practice of self-study or inner exploration. When you look at why a pose might come naturally to you it can reveal things about your true nature. I am a fairly grounded and steady person therefore I naturally favor standing balance postures. When you find a limitation you can understand where in your life you might need work. I struggle with accepting my shape, particularly that of my hips, and don’t embrace my feminine side. Therefore in poses where hip mobility and channeling the feminine come into play, I suffer.
Our bodies are one of the greatest teachers we will ever have. They are a compilation of our choices and a direct result of the lives we lead. If we take the time to go deeper into what we experience in a pose, we can learn so much about our true selves.
Ok, I love my husband. I love my dog. I love my chinchilla. Those are all obvious things that I can say I love. I love my family and I love my Yoga family. But I wanted to share some of the things you might not expect that I love. You might know these things about me. You might not. Hopefully, it is fun to read my hot takes on the following items.
I love nachos with a passion as fiery as the queso that tops them. Nachos are my go-to comfort food. They have just enough veggies as toppings for me to defend their nutritional value. And they also have cheese. Truly, is there a more perfect food? If you disagree, we might not be on speaking terms any longer.
2- 90s Music
I caught the tail end of the 80s, being born in 88, but I became aware of media in the 90s. This is why the music of the 90s speaks to my soul. The Spice Girls taught me about girl power. Reba McIntyre’s Fancy is my get pumped jam. Like Taylor Swift, when you think Tim McGraw I hope you think of me. The Goo Goo Dolls, Third Eye Blind, Toad the Wet Sprocket, the list could keep going and it would draw from many genres. The music of my childhood gets me singing in the grocery store (often dancing too).
3- The National Zoo
The Zoo is hands down my favorite place in DC. I could watch the pandas for hours. I love watching the big cats play just like house cats. Zoo lights is one of the few things in DC that feels Christmas-y to me (and only if there is snow). The Zoo is an all around good time. AND it is free.
4- Spider-Man and Harry Potter
If you have known me since I was kid, this one will not be a surprise to you. I love these two fictitious characters so much. I love the Spider-Man cartoons from my childhood and I love the films with Toby Maguire as Peter Parker. It was too soon to reboot so I will not watch the new movies. The Harry Potter books are modern classics. JK Rowling is an inspiration. There is too much to say that I can’t even begin.
5- Spiral Bound Notebooks
I always have one with me when I teach because that is where my planning happens. They must be spiral bound because I like to be able to fold them over. They generally come from TJ Maxx.
6- Papermate Flair Pens
I think color is one of the greatest reasons for living; so why would I write with just blue or black ink? I also like that it feels a bit like I am writing with markers.
Those are just a few of the things that I love. Happy Valentine’s Day!
This week I have been reflecting on my teacher training experience. How have I changed since that time? Who am I becoming as a teacher? Those sorts of thoughts have been swimming around my brain. I keep coming back to one experience that I would like to share with folks.
First, let me explain the title of this post. I was raised Catholic. I still identify as being Catholic. My marriage is blessed by the Church, I am confirmed, and the teachings still resonate with me. These days, I tend to prefer the teachings of Mystical Catholicism. And I really appreciate Richard Rohr’s work for introducing me to these teachings. Catholicism for me is like a native tongue through which I can communicate my spirituality.
Yoga, however, has been like taking an ESL class. It gives me a new vocabulary to describe the divine. Much like learning a new language allows you to express thoughts and feelings your native language might not describe, Yoga has taught me how to understand and experience the spiritual in a way that the Catholic Church did not. One is not better or more important to me. They complement each other and allow me to express a fuller and more beautiful understanding of God. This is because Yoga is not a religion. It is considered a science, or a system, that allows you to work toward oneness with the Divine.
Ok, so what does all that have to do with my experience of Yoga Teacher Training? I wasn’t always in such an understanding place when it comes to my spirituality as dual languages. I often felt conflicted in pursuing a deeper understanding of Eastern spiritual practices when I was raised in a very Western way. One example of this came up when we were given our mala beads.
Mala beads are used for mantra practice. The mantra can be anything that resonates with you and can be given to you by a guru if you have one. As my teacher said, “Your mantra can be ‘I love Jesus’ if you want it to be.” You repeat the mantra 108 times because 108 is a sacred and auspicious number. The repetition creates a meditative state.
Mala beads, their purpose and their practice, draws a lot of parallels with the Rosary. Historically speaking, mala beads came into practice first (around the 8th century BC) and it is clear that Christians adapted them into a new form. Praying the Rosary involves the recitation of different prayers and reflection on the mysteries of Jesus and Mary’s lives. A rosary is considered a very sacred object and in that stature they are not treated as jewelry. They are not to be worn. Mala beads, however, are sacred but are meant to be kept close to your heart. They are to meant to be worn.
This conflict was incredibly difficult for me in my teacher training. I also had a hard time describing why this was such an internal struggle. I was lucky enough to have another teacher who was also raised Catholic and could empathize with me. He and I talked through what I was feeling and I was able to resolve my internal conflict.
I am lucky to now work for both teachers that are referenced in this story. They are two of my best friends and help me muddle through all manner of spiritual questions. When I think about who I am becoming as a teacher, I see that I am becoming better at speaking different spiritual languages. I can see that I am able to share the spiritual teachings of Yoga with other Christians in my life. And we can all benefit from this contemplative living.
This is my second post referencing lessons given to us by the legendary Mr. Rogers. I am almost positive that this won’t by my last post quoting him either. Today, I was reading about how science is coming in line with Mr. Rogers’ thinking. We know that emotional intelligence is crucial to life long success and that is exactly what Mr. Rogers taught his viewers. He showed us to how identify and talk about our feelings.
At the end of the piece, it mentioned that Mr. Rogers gave a lesson for nearly every news story we come across.
In one episode from the very first week of the show, the hand-puppet King Friday XIII opposes change. So he decides to build a wall around his kingdom. Some of the other puppets and people float balloons over the wall with messages like LOVE and PEACEFUL COEXISTENCE, warming the king's heart. The wall comes down. - NPR
Now, I will make the disclaimer that this blog is about Simone the person/yoga teacher. It is just me here. I am about to share fully my life experience with our current president and his choices.
My husband worked on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. I believed so much in what she represents and believes that I was willing to share my partner’s talents with her. Bill and I lived apart for months while he worked at the campaign headquarters in Brooklyn. The night of the election we called each other weeping. I felt personally betrayed by our country. I had sacrificed my marriage to better this nation that I love. And what had I gotten in return? A president who spends more time trying to build walls between people than bridges.
Let me get back to Mr. Rogers. In DC, we are currently feeling the effects of a government halted. Folks across this country feel the effects too; but, DC residents are impacted by the federal government’s closure more acutely than most. The shutdown doesn’t make me feel very neighborly toward our president. He has created national chaos over a wall that represents hate and division.
I have found myself floundering to teach in this moment. I have been without inspiration. But this shutdown has introduced several furloughed workers to yoga. Folks who normally don’t have the time to practice are finding themselves in classes looking to calm frayed nerves. So what message should I bring to this moment?
Love. Compassion. Acceptance.
Mr. Rogers was a minister and a true Yogi in the way he lived his life. He said that his mission was to convey as much love as he could in every episode hoping that it would reach one child in need. These are the same teachings as Yoga. There is no need to reinvent the wheel with a new theme or inspiring quote. I only need to show up and offer as much love, compassion, and acceptance as I can.
I have never been one for making New Year’s resolutions. It seems silly to me. But I will take some time to look back at 2018, what I have learned, how I will move forward, and share those thoughts.
In 2018 I moved into a new decade: my 30s. I recently described this time in a woman’s life as when her facial products transition from a focus on acne to a focus on wrinkles. I will admit that I have started using a night cream and an eye cream to prevent my skin from creasing. But as I start to see those little lines around my eyes, I know that they represent a life being lived. I have laughed at a lot of things. I have cried over a lot of things. And my face is a reflection of those emotions being fully felt. I also really see my mother in my reflection. I guess it is true, we all turn into our mothers some day. And it is Nanette’s smile I see shining out in every photo I take.
Most of my teaching jokes have stayed the same. I still make the same joke about not needing a chair in chair pose because you have strong legs. I still joke about American lizards being on the look out for snacks in lizard pose as a reminder to keep looking forward. But I have started working new poses and themes into the mix. Baby grasshopper was a new arm balance for me and my classes. I have started teaching half lotus variations where I would not have dared to before. And I have become much more comfortable talking about the ethical teachings of Yoga and not just the poses.
I started this blog and this website! I have engaged in the business side of Yoga a little more. This might seem like a weird milestone to share but I will explain why it matters. For a while, I didn’t think it was possible to make my living as a teacher and as a studio manager. I thought that I was just playing for a while until I figured out what my next move would be. But this year, I had to admit that my passion is in my teaching. I was challenged by this job in ways that I would never have predicted and I grew into a new kind of GM. I feel more confident in my role and more confident that this is truly a career. Isn’t it funny that it is hard to admit we are working when we actually like our job?
Along those lines, I have branched out in my teaching. I led my first series for beginner yogis (happening again starting January 26) and I led parts of the 200 Hr. Yoga Teacher Training. This year I will be leading more workshops and pose “clinics” to help people figure out some poses that challenge us but also help us feel accomplished. I also hope to work more one-on-one with folks who are new to the practice. There are still so many opportunities that I haven’t even begun to explore.
In 2019, I am not resolved to do anything in particular. I am more or less just along for the ride. I hope to keep learning and sharing what I learn along the way.
This post is the result of an idea given to me by my friend and fellow yogini, Sophia Hyder Hock. She’s the jam.
This month I have been experimenting with using an intro song in my classes. This song serves dual purposes for me; it introduces my theme and helps me sneak the occasional pop song into the mix. Here are the selections I made recently along with the theme they represent.
I will be honest, I tried this first with Superman’s theme song (a John Williams classic I must say). No one got it; so, I recalibrated based on my audience and Enrique was a big hit. My heroic themed classes focused on the concept of Virya. Virya is the energy, or the vigor, you put into your practice so that you might achieve the goals of Yoga. We tried a variety of super “flying” poses throughout the practice. My favorite variation was in Shalabasana (Locust pose). I had clients take the pose with the arms extended forward and had them whoosh back and forth. Sound effects were optional but highly encouraged. While this was a fun and lighthearted class, our intention was to be someone else’s hero. I asked that they offer the benefits of their practice to someone in their life who really needed it. We lifted those folks up with our heroic practice.
I most frequently associate fire, or heat, in Yoga as the product of Tapas. Now, this does not mean you ate spicy snacks at a small plates restaurant. I can actually go on a full scale rant about my disdain for small plates, but I digress. Tapas in yogic terms is the fire we create to burn off impurities. You could describe Tapas as the practice of self-discipline or fervor. The heat in the body is created by friction — the friction caused by going against what is easy. In class we started with heat building movement later accompanied by longer holds and deeper stretches. Some of us have a hard time, or run into friction, when trying to connect breath with movement. For some of us, it can be easy to flow and move but incredibly difficult to be still and breathe. We made our way into the pose, Fire Log. This pose requires a good amount of warm up and a good amount of holding to receive the benefits.
Winter Song was saved for my class on the winter solstice. During the winter solstice we are celebrating a return to the light. Longer days are coming! To get us through the darkest day of the year, we practiced stoking our internal fires. (Has anyone noticed that it has been a very vigorous month for me? I am sure that means something. It will come to me later.) We used Sun Salutations and one breath, one movement sequences to create heat in the body. I asked folks to set an intention to burn up the things that are holding them back. I asked them to think of a trait they can work on releasing. For example, being a worrier is one way many of us get in our own way. You can visualize your worries going into the fire you create with your practice. See that fire consuming your worries and sending them up as dust.
Well, that is it for this edition of Simone’s Song Selections. Who knows, maybe next month I will chill out a bit more in my theming? But probably not.
Some people are surprised to learn that I am an introvert. I think this comes from a misunderstanding of what being an introvert actually means. I don’t have any great fear of public speaking. I am generally at ease in groups of people and find carrying on conversations pretty easy. But these things EXHAUST me. This is how I found myself with a holiday hangover this week. Too much time spent extroverting and not enough time recovering. Let me explain…
My week of extroverting began with a midweek holiday concert with a friend. It was a great show (check out Ingrid Michaelson’s holiday album if you want to know what we were listening to) and I had been really looking forward to it. I was tired the next day but mostly from being out past my usual bedtime.
Then over the weekend, a good friend was holding a celebratory brunch at her house. I went there almost directly from teaching my Saturday morning class. The two extroverting activities back to back meant I went home and recharged with Netflix. But I was doing ok. Not overwhelmed yet.
Then I hosted a cookie decorating gathering at my home. I had prepped the sugar cookies the night before and ordered quiches from a local pie shop to minimize my own cooking requirements. It was fantastic. I caught up with some people I love and had a very fun afternoon with them. Then I had to run off to teach my Sunday evening class. And by Monday it hit me…
TOO MUCH CHRISTMAS! This is something the priest from my church growing up would talk about at the holidays. It is that point when kids start arguing and crying. When family members get on one another’s last nerves. It was the point my extroverting had brought me to and it isn’t even Christmas yet!
This Monday, I was a complete and total crabby patty. Things that usually wouldn’t bother me were extreme irritations. And I still had one more gathering to attend. That was the last straw for my introverted self. I came home from said gathering and sobbed. I was tired and frustrated. I felt unappreciated. I had pushed myself too far all while knowing that it wouldn’t end well. It felt very much like a hangover. I had indulged too much, my body aching and wanting rest, but the memories were great! Right?
Not entirely. Now those people who had the unfortunate experience of talking to me on a bad day have that burned into their memories. And I can’t take back the way that I made those folks feel. This is why paying attention and listening to our bodies is so important. It has a direct relationship with our day to day actions.
In yoga, we learn to pay attention to our energy levels. We try to find practices that complement what our bodies need. This has given me new insight into how my introversion works and how I can manage it (usually). I know that being around people for too long a stretch without “me time” un-grounds me. I need time to process and regroup. I need to turn off for a bit.
The best way I know to get back to myself is spending time alone. I love being alone. I was always good at independent play and now I enjoy privately practicing as my adult playtime. I spend a great amount of time just daydreaming when I am alone. I am not trying to think about anything in particular but allowing my mind to wander freely. It is actually how I come to write these blog posts! I always have a first draft in my head. I know that I need these things before I spend time with family this Christmas.
So this holiday season, love the introverts in your life but give them some space. Don’t assume they are upset if they go for some alone time. Don’t worry if they would rather read than play a game. They will come around when they have recharged their extroverting batteries.
Warning this post is going to be a little crass. These thoughts have been weighing on my mind this week.
After my Beginners yoga class on Monday, I had a student stop me with a few questions. This is totally normal with beginning yogis. Often they have questions they are a little embarrassed to ask in front of the group. I knew this student because she had attended class for a few weeks in a row. She had previously shared that she has a background in ballet. This background gives her a good baseline of body awareness and a strong focus on technique. She wanted to ask some follow up questions about bridge pose.
I will say there is a “great debate” among yoga teachers about whether or not to engage your glutes in bridge pose. I am a fan of using your bum to help you lift and support your hips. This engagement also helps draw your tailbone down and maintains safer alignment in your spine. For these reasons, I am pro squeezing the butt. This student wanted to know about when and how to engage your butt, not only in bridge but other back bending poses, to keep her back safer. She mentioned that this kind of muscle engagement is new to her because in ballet, “you don’t use your butt because you don’t want to have a butt.”
Now I was of the mindset that in our post Sir Mix-a-Lot and JLo era we were all on board with having a booty. But this moment made me realize that I was very mistaken. There are still areas of our culture where people are pressured to look a certain way or to fit a certain mold. That is pretty messed up.
My week of the booty continued when I was taking pictures for a workshop I will be hosting in January. The workshop is focused on the pose chaturanga dandasana or low plank. There is a habit of practicing what I call the “ass-up” chaturanga where the hips are slightly piked and the shoulders are dipped low. Naturally, I didn’t want to have an ass-up chaturanga in my pictures since I am leading this workshop on the pose. So I asked the teacher who was taking the pictures to mention if I lifted my hips too high. I think the end result photo is pretty good considering holding chaturanga is not the easiest thing to do.
But another person mentioned to me that it looked like my ass might be slightly up. To this I responded, “You know, I think it is just the fact that I have an ass.” I do! But we are not used to seeing yogis of different body types. Things are starting to change on that front; but most people are only familiar with the yoga-pants-model aesthetic.
All of this booty talk led me back to the Yoga Sutras. The concept that seemed to fit my current moment was Asmita, one of the afflictions of our mind. Asmita is false-identification of our True Nature as the mind, body, or senses. We often think of Asmita in terms of the ego. We connect who we are with things like our jobs, our bodies, our thoughts. But all those things can and will change over time. Our True Nature is steady and unchanged; it is the observer of our bodies and minds.
So does it matter if I have a booty or not? Not really. It is just one piece of the vessel that is carrying me through this life. Does it matter if you engage your glutes in bridge pose or pike your hips in chaturanga? Yes! Well, not really because any pose is just a shape. It is an exercise meant to prepare the body for the real work of meditation. I care as a teacher because I want to keep your body safe and feeling good. All of this to say, can everyone get on board with butts being ok?
I have probably said that exact phrase 547 times over the past week. Being home for Thanksgiving brought out some of my less flattering tendencies: my need to argue and my need to be right. I was right about a family matter. I was right about how to do a yoga pose. I was right about Harry Potter trivia. I was out of control.
The reason it feels so good to be “right” is the sense of power it gives us. We feel superior in our rightness. But one of my teachers reminded me that this power isn’t real and it impedes our ability to connect meaningfully with others. She called me out with one question, “Do you want to make a case or do you want to make a connection?”
It has not been an easy question to ask myself. I am still drawn to the power in being right. It still feels good to be right. But when it comes to my family, I do want to connect which means letting go of that need to not only be “right” but to be recognized as being right. (Remember when I mentioned that Non-Attachment lesson that keeps coming around? Tada, here it is!)
I took a walk down memory lane last night to reflect on some times when I have been very wrong. I did this in a pretty light way looking at my terrible hair choices through the years. Speaking of things that are unflattering on me, let’s look at some times when I have been oh so very wrong:
Long hair don’t care
Cow licks, fly aways, general scraggliness
Rogue face framing
Highlights only in the front inspired by X-men
Cap highlights: always leave your roots showing!
Middle part in bangs
Also Sun-In spray highlights that turn your hair into straw
Ok so clearly, I am not always right. I am a human making choices based on the information I have at the moment. At that moment in 9th grade, I thought color contacts and collared shirts were high fashion. The difficulty on my latest journey will be leaving myself open to connecting with others. I have to recognize they too are humans making the best decisions they can in that moment. This might be my most challenging lesson in non-attachment yet.
Ok this post will have nothing to do with Charlie Brown or the Peanuts gang. But I will note that my mom always told me I was a bit of a Lucy. I guess that means that you can give me a nickel next time you see me for this bit of thought.
Today is the sixth anniversary of my grandmother Margaret’s passing. It is very fitting that near this anniversary I have focused intention setting in my classes around loss. This is a topic I have wanted to approach for weeks but I wasn’t able to find the right way in. I read about grief trying to understand what universal truth there is in the experience of it. This week, I was given some guidance on how to hold space for my students so they could reflect on loss in a safe way.
I want to back the train up for a moment. There is another reason why it is so fitting that I share this lesson on the anniversary of my grandmother passing — her dying was what first brought me to yoga. I wasn’t looking for anything from yoga other than a way to distract myself from the reality that my last living grandparent was dying. I didn’t know that it would entirely change my life over the course of the next six years.
Margaret Mishler was an amazing woman who was my first example of feminism in action. She was a working mother (and grandmother) who taught her daughters and granddaughters they could do anything. Her laugh filled the room. Her stories were incredible. I wish I had known her better during her time with us on Earth.
When she was diagnosed with liver cancer she knew that it would be her end. I lived in Wisconsin at the time and wasn’t often able to visit her in Michigan during those last months. But I learned that through my yoga practice, I could offer her my strength and could connect to her that way. This is partially the reason I was so drawn to a powerful practice; I needed all the strength I could muster for this mission.
The final time I saw her was on her “last good day” a term that is familiar to folks in the cancer community. She was up and telling us about her trip to a Detroit Tigers (or her boys as she called them) game. I know it was the power of my practice that allowed her to be present with me during that visit. I know this practice can connect, support, heal, and serve us in mysterious ways.
Back to the original purpose of this post…
I wanted to share with my students a way to understand grief through their yoga practice. A teacher of mine explained that the way to approach this topic was not from the “we’re all going to die some day” angle. It is much better to invite my students to cherish the memories they have while mourning that new memories cannot be made. If you can do these things in parallel, you can grieve in a very healthy way.
In my reading, I came across C.S. Lewis’ book “A Grief Observed” chronicling his experience losing his wife. In the very beginning he likens the feeling of grief to that of fear. I thought about how we hold fear in our bodies and where that could hide as tension and pain. Then I came across the words of Thich Nhat Hanh,
“Enlightenment is when the wave realizes it is the ocean.”
These pieces became the building blocks of my teaching. I focused on a sequence that would target the areas in our bodies where we hold fear and grief. And I used the imagery of water to help students think about those they lost as simply in a new state of being.
I was feeling very self-conscious sharing a topic so heavy with my students. I generally have a more lighthearted style. But instead of feeling push back from students, I was greeted with welcoming ears. Someone even thanked me for approaching such a brave topic. The holidays can be a time when the festivities serve as a reminder of who is no longer with us which is another reason it was the right time to share this intention. I am not sure anyone had the same life altering connection with their practice that I had 6 years ago, but maybe they could offer someone they love a bit of strength and power too.
When reading my daily meditation from Richard Rohr (if you haven’t check him out he is a fabulous writer focusing on how to live a contemplative life) I was struck by this simple conclusion:
The only people who change, who are transformed, are people who feel safe, who feel their dignity, and who feel loved. When you feel loved, when you feel safe, and when you know your dignity, you just keep growing! That’s what we do for one another as loving people—offer safe relationships in which we can change. - Richard Rohr
This idea had to tumble around my mind a bit before I came to agree with it. Typically, I think we understand transformation as the outcome of struggle and work. This is usually how I approach my yoga practice as well. While I view it as a form of spiritual expression, and I physically convey what is on my heart, I still want it to be work. I want to put in effort so that my intentions can reach their goals. I think of how we have to face our fears so often in life in order to move forward. To use visual clichés, we have to go out on a limb or pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. How then can transformation only be achieved from a place of safety?
Then I chose to replace the word “safe” with “nurtured.” After the verbal substitution, Rohr’s meaning became clear to me. True and lasting change can only be created if our environment or relationships support the change. We can will ourselves to be different but, if those around us aren’t invested in our success, we are doomed from the start.
Safety, nurturing, love — all these qualities need to be present in our lives in order to be transformed. Without them the changes we make in our lives will be superficial.
I have written before about how headstand is my least favorite pose. I am not confident in my balance in the pose. I have fear about falling. And I don’t practice it consistently enough to change my feelings toward the pose.
Knowing this information, imagine my shock when someone told me that I made going into a tripod headstand look easy. Offended is not the right word, but I was shocked at the very least to hear this. Nothing about headstand comes easily to me. I teach the tripod prep in my classes because that is the variation I am most comfortable demonstrating. But I wouldn’t call it easy for me.
I have practiced the tripod variation over and over again. I have fallen doing it. I have cricked my neck doing it. And then I would do it again. When you add the talking required while teaching the pose you have my living nightmare. But I know it is a pose with many, many benefits and one where students enjoy the challenge. So I have worked at becoming competent in demoing how to build up to the pose. I guess this is how it has come to look easy. And if it is easy, then it is time I do something new in my practice.
I am even less comfortable doing the supported or “basket” version of the pose with the forearms down. I like having my hands grounded on the mat in the tripod shape because it gives me a greater sense of control. But our teachers always say that the poses we like the least are the ones we should practice the most. These poses address the physical and energetic imbalances in our body. I mentioned liking the sense of control I have in tripod but this control is just an illusion. It is a comfort I have given myself. None of us really have control over the circumstances in our lives. We can only make the best decisions for ourselves based on those circumstances.
So, I am choosing to practice the variation of the pose that I dislike. I know it will bring a bit of freshness into my personal practice. It will teach me a lot about myself and how I deal with things that are difficult. Maybe someday a student will tell me that I make it look easy. Then it will be on to the next challenge.
I told my class last night that I was having a difficult time working out a theme that was Halloween-relevant without being macabre. All that came to mind was corpse pose, Savasana. While that is a spooky named pose, and sometimes you might wish for an entire class lying in Savasana, it didn’t jive well with teaching a Power class.
Eventually, after doing some personal practice, I came to find inspiration in the concept of moving from darkness to light. I thought about how seeds have to struggle through dirt and muck to make their way toward the sun. These beautiful things have to persevere in order to break through.
I created a class that drew inspiration from the Lotus flower. These flowers, some of the most beautiful, literally have to make their way toward the light out of pond scum. They represent purity and perseverance. They remind us that even when our path seems muddy, difficult, or unclear that beautiful things lie ahead. In class, we used a mudra and a pose to connect with the lotus flower.
Lotus mudra is made by bringing your hands into prayer position at heart-center. You leave the thumbs and the pinkies connected while opening the middle three fingers. Your hands make the shape of a lotus flower. This mudra can be taken in a seated position to help you ground before or after your practice. In our Power Flow, we used this mudra while holding Tree pose (Vrksasana). Taking the mudra overhead, I encouraged students to challenge themselves by looking up to their thumbs.
Later in the practice, after a lot of hip opening and quad stretching, I offered students the option to take Half Lotus pose (Padmasana) in our seated twist. In the half variation of the pose, only one foot at a time is taken onto the opposite thigh. The full pose would bring both feet onto their opposing thigh. This pose can be taken for meditation or pranayama (breathing) practices.
These are two physical ways you could incorporate the essence of the lotus flower into your practice. You can also set an intention to offer your efforts to the perseverance and struggle of others — maybe someone you love who needs the support. In this way, your practice creates a beautiful gift out of the struggle, or effort, of your flow.
I am an extremely sarcastic person. I developed this habit in middle school partly as a defense mechanism and partly because it got laughs. Girls can be quite mean while growing up and becoming sarcastic was my way of being mean with the added benefit of saying I was “just joking.” I was also the youngest of five children and sarcasm was a great way to battle being picked on.
Now in my adulthood, as a manager of people in a service business, I am experiencing a reckoning with my sarcasm. The other night I was ribbing a client for offering too much feedback at the end of my class. This client is a regular and we have a long history of her offering input on everything from the lobby layout to which poses I should teach. I wouldn’t tease all clients in this way because I know not everyone will take my words as being good-natured. So then, why would I speak this way with one client if I know better than to do it with all?
This brought me to reflect on the Yamas and Niyamas (yogi dos and don’ts) and the concept of Satya. Sat translates to “that which is” and the idea of Satya is communicating things as they are. At it’s simplest, it is the practice of being truthful. Sarcasm and Satya cannot coexist in your communication.
Sarcasm, as I already admitted, is a way of deflecting or being indirect. It is an attempt to give yourself an out if what you say is not received well. You were only joking. You didn’t mean to say something hurtful. But in actuality, you did mean to be hurtful or at least to be harsh and pointed. The premise created by sarcasm is one that is false which, according to Yoga’s teachings, it is better to remain silent than to speak falsely.
Now, I also admitted that I did this as a way to be funny and make people laugh. I find great joy in making people smile and in making them take life less seriously. But humor does not require being mean or being untrue. There are sweet and simple ways to make folks laugh. One way that I use in my classes is pointing out the absurdity of a pose. Malasana pose (yogi squat) is an inherently funny shape to be in simply because we never outgrow potty humor.
I know that my pattern of sarcasm will not be an easy one to break. It is another layer that I need to remove to come closer to my higher self. As I clear this habit, I will be opened up to new perspectives and will find the freedom to express who I really am.
I am sure that every yogi with a blog has written about the topic of non-attachment. The concept comes from the Yamas and Niyamas, which are the ethical guidelines laid out in the 8 limbed path of yoga. You can think of them as the dos and don’ts of the yogic lifestyle. Aparigraha, or non-attachment, refers to our fixation on the outcomes of our efforts. We are all raised to want the gold star, am I right?
So this is the basic concept: we work for the experience not for the reward. But I recently found myself in a situation where non-attachment seemed to come easily. If you have been following me, you know the studio I manage is relocating. We are nearing the finish line and are reopening this Friday. I will be teaching the first class in the new studio. And I really believed that, because of all the work I had put into the move, I deserved to teach that first class. No one, save maybe my bosses, deserved to teach that class more than me.
But then family obligations came up. It is no longer a guarantee I will be in DC on Friday to teach that class — the class that is so rightfully mine to teach. And I felt surprisingly ok with that outcome. I was accepting that it might not be “my class” that is the first to happen in the new space. The shift in my life’s priorities made me realize how silly I had been acting. I will teach many classes in the new studio. Some will be great. Others will be off. The first is only significant because I have attached a meaning to it.
When I look at the journey to opening the new studio, I can see just how influential this time will be on me as a person and as a professional. I boast of how I learned to calculate the size of HVAC system a space needs based on use. I have learned about commercial real estate (particularly in DC). I have also learned how detail-oriented construction managers are. Why yes, I did approve the size and swing of every door in the studio. Most importantly, this experience has taught me that I am stronger, more level-headed, and more steadfast than I ever thought possible.
None of those qualities will change if I don’t teach the first class. The journey to opening the new space isn’t any less meaningful. But that does not mean I have mastered Aparigraha. I have only released my attachment because of competing life priorities that have given me some perspective. There is a reason all yogis blog about their attachments. It is a lesson that comes around, and around, and around…
I have run into so many people from my past these last two months that I knew there had to be some lesson I was missing. I thought about it, stewed over it, and tried to come to an answer. Finally, I Googled lessons learned from past friendships. And I came across this quote in one of those Medium listicle pieces:
“Treat people well. The world is small.”
There you have it. A reminder that how you act and how you treat others is bound to return to you. I have been fortunate because all of these encounters have been pleasant. But it got me thinking about how I usually exit relationships.
I have shared on this website and blog how I value being independent but when I choose to love, I love hard. I describe myself as a fiercely loyal friend. I don’t do the casual acquaintance thing. Though when these friendships don’t work out that means it cuts me a little deeper.
I have had many good friends who over the years I cut from my life because of a misunderstanding or a petty feud. I can’t defend these actions because they are petty. As I think about treating people well, I know I have failed at times.
This has created a new intention for me: as much as I work to forgive others, I hope they can forgive me, and I first have to forgive myself. We are not perfect beings. Our emotions drive us to do strange things without understanding the consequences. You do your best to make amends but then you have to let yourself off the hook. Accept that you have learned all you can from that relationship and move forward.
I learned about the five love languages when I was in middle school. It is safe to say that I have been mildly obsessed with love languages ever since. I am a very verbal person so it came as no surprise that my love language is words of affirmation. I will remember every compliment (and disparagement) with crystal clarity. I have a gift for remembering conversations and have always been more of an auditory learner. It drives my husband a bit nuts that I can recall his exact words at the drop of a hat.
You might have guessed that my husband does not share my love language. He is a physical touch person. He likes holding hands, having his hair pet, giving hugs, etc. We are exact opposites in our ranking of these love languages. His preferred method of communicating love is my least favorite and my preferred is his least favorite. How are we even still married? Well, we do share a secondary language of quality time. But we also have worked on understanding how each other expresses our affection. I remember my mother scolding me once when Bill and I were only dating that I needed to “get over it and hold the poor boy’s hand!” Ick. Hands are sweaty and holding them feels controlling. I would much prefer he just told me how great I am. (Alternatively, I can tell Bill he is brilliant until I am blue in the face but he would rather I stroke his hair.)
But this isn’t a marriage blog, it is about my yoga practice. And I have seen how my preferred love language has greatly impacted who I am as a teacher. I am not what I would call a “handsy” teacher. I don’t adjust people physically unless I think it will help them understand the pose better. My first instinct is to change the language that I am using to describe a pose. And I often offer my students feedback and encouragement with my words. The occasional “beautiful expressions of the pose” or “nice self adjustments” is very natural for me to say. I work on keeping my language light and encouraging. I hope that I create an atmosphere where people feel they belong and can practice in a way that suits them.
So that is how my love language has impacted how I teach. But it also impacts how I receive feedback from my students. In the practice, if a student asks a question or laughs at my joke I know they are engaged in what I am offering. But we live in a digital world where opinions are shared through all sorts of methods. When I would read the studio’s reviews to share encouraging feedback with other teachers, I would get stomach aches. Finding out that I did not meet a student’s expectations, that they did not connect with me or my class, was devastating. Even though I know that I will not be the right teacher for every student — that would be unrealistic to expect — reading the words that I was not the right teacher strikes a deep chord with me.
These students are not offering their feedback to hurt me. They are trying to express their opinions to be constructive. But I am who I am. Words have a certain power over me. As much as I love with words, I have used them as a weapon too. Reflecting on all of this, I have created a personal intention to not demean any other person. And it has been difficult. The person who runs the red light in front of my street usually makes me mutter under my breath. But what good did calling that person a name do? They couldn’t hear me and all I am doing is creating an world with more negative energy in it.
The love languages give us a framework to go deeper in our understanding of the ego, the false self, and how we might adjust. I encourage you to learn more about how you express and receive love (you might also learn how you react negatively using this lens as well). And then explore what personal intention you could hold to create a world with more love. The love and energy we put into our lives returns to us.