My Own Words Coming Back at Me

March 28, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Posted in compassion and connection, inspiration, practice off the mat | 5 Comments

(Hey! I’m still here! Didja miss me?)

I’ve been feeling like I’m on the verge of something for a while now, and the truth of it is that I’m probably on the verge of a lot of somethings. For the purposes of this post, though, I’m going to talk about something very specific.

I, like everyone else who’s ever lived, have heard my elders complain as they watched me eat whatever I wanted to no ill effect. “Just you wait,” they’d tell me. “Once you hit 35, your body’s going to betray you.”

Well, I don’t know if I’d call it a betrayal, exactly, but I do know that, in this stage of my life (the 40-something stage), the rules of the game have definitely changed.

I’ve been thinking for a while now about the condition of my physical being and recognizing that the events in the last year or so of my life have not been conducive to the healthiest me I could be. I spent most of last year on the couch at my mother’s bedside, and my level of physical activity since she died hasn’t increased much (though, to be fair, my level of activity goes down when the weather gets cold, anyway; don’t think that I’m blaming my current state on my mother, because I’m not).

My observation is that human beings don’t effect change until things get “bad enough” that the status quo can’t – or shouldn’t – be maintained. I’m pretty sure that I’ve gotten to that point, and I’ve been doing the typical stressing that I do before something gives. I’ve become far more aware of the fact that I don’t “do” anything – that is, I’m not moving my body around nearly as much as is probably healthy. I’m reminded, every work day, that I’m not in very good shape as I huff and puff my way up the five floors of stairs I climb to get to school. I have noticed that my clothes don’t fit the way they used to, and I’m starting to get self-conscious about the way I look.

I was talking about this to my Weeble after yoga class today. He’s someone I can bitch to about this stuff because he gets it; he isn’t going to give me that “just make the time” crap because he has a job and a wife and a son and a life, too, and he knows that it’s not always that easy to take time for yourself when you’re intimately tied to other people. Anyway, just a few minutes ago, this popped up in my inbox:


We are all so fortunate to have you and your words every week. Based on our conversation today, it is fitting that the spirit of your words reflects back to you…

There are things in all of us we don’t like. It is OK to have self-critical thoughts but always try to be patient and kind to yourself. Celebrate those things that you do so well and use those positive feelings to propel you forward in areas that you feel need improvement. Ask friends what they do. Try something you’ve never done. If that is not fun or effective, try something else. Be discouraged, laugh it off and bounce back.

Be happy for the journey even if the destination seems unreachable.


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THIS is why I keep teaching this class (the only one I teach at the health club. I’m pretty sure I spend more in gas to get there and back than I earn a week). In it, I have a strong, supportive, loving community to remind me to be kind to myself and that doing what I can is enough.

I think I’m the fortunate one in this story….


I Love the Idea…

April 1, 2009 at 10:50 am | Posted in compassion and connection, inspiration, learning and growing, questions and conundrums | 5 Comments

….but I’m not sure it would fly.

What do you think of this?

I mean, I can TOTALLY get behind the premise, and I completely trust the science, too; it just feels like laughing would be a huge component to a healthy life, so the scientific findings bearing that out make sense to me.

What I’m wondering, though, is would you come back to a class where the instructor started off by telling you to take a deep breath and just start laughing?  Would you think the instructer were off of his or her nut?  Would you feel like an idiot doing it?

Before the video was even over, I was chuckling, so I think that the infectious nature of laughter would help to take care of any initial awkwardness.  I love that laughing would do all the physiological things that it does AND that people would kind of be forced to not take their practices so seriously (it’s supposed to be FUN, People!).  I wonder, though, if I’d turn someone fatally off by trying this at the end of one of my classes.


A Lesson in the Music

January 6, 2009 at 4:43 pm | Posted in inspiration, learning and growing, meditations, observations, philosophy, practice off the mat, the Universe craves balance | Leave a comment

The other day, I was driving home from a wonderful visit with a dear friend when the Universe offered up yet another gift to me.

I was listening, as is my wont, to NPR.  On this day, All Things Considered was doing a focus piece on a musician by the name of Richard Crandell.  Formerly an extremely gifted guitarist, Crandell suffers from essential tremor syndrome, which prevents him from playing his instrument with anything but a frustrating imprecision.

At one point several years ago, Crandell was asked to drive a tour bus for a group of African traditional musicians.  When he returned with the bus, he found an mbira (pronounced em-beer-ah) under one of the seats.  Sometimes called a “thumb piano,” the mbira is a sacred instrument of the Shona people of Zimbabwe.  He started goofing around with it and, to his surprise, discovered that his hands didn’t shake when he played.

I was so struck by this story, and by the beautiful feel of the music that Crandell played (both with his guitar, from before his diagnosis, and his mbira today) that I opened iTunes as soon as I got in the house and bought everything they had of his work.

I started playing Spring Steel for my yoga classes this morning.  Before we began, I told the two women who came to the session at Local U. Crandell’s story and asked them to keep in mind that, more often than not, the Universe holds a new door open as it simultaneously closes an old, comfortable one.  Even though we may resist the “loss” of something we held dear and familiar, we need to remember to stay open to the possibility of new experiences, and to recognize that it is often in those spaces where we find growth.

Peeling Garlic

November 30, 2008 at 7:10 pm | Posted in inspiration, learning and growing, meditations, observations, philosophy, practice off the mat, The Eight Limbs, the Universe craves balance | 3 Comments

I’ve been a little off my center lately.  There are a lot of reasons for that, most prominent among them being an extended discussion / disagreement I had with someone I thought I knew better than it seems I do, the fact that the terms are ending at both TCC AND Local U., and, of course, the approach of the holidays.  While I’m trying my best to keep everything in perspective, sometimes it’s harder than others to stop and recognize when one is spinning one’s wheels and focusing on stuff that, in the big picture, should probably not be given as much attention as we give it.

That being the case, I’ve been actively trying to divert my attention elsewhere.  This afternoon, for example, I found myself with three heads of garlic that needed peeling and roasting.  “Perfect!” I thought as I set out a roasting pan and dragged the trash can next to the counter for a solid half hour of mindfulness.

Thich Nhat Hanh, in his little book The Miracle of Mindfulness, talks about being present and focusing on the task at hand and about the wonder that can be found in simple acts like washing the dishes or eating a tangerine.  Being aware of what we’re doing right here, right now brings us to a level of consciousness and purpose that most of us – at least, most of the people *I* know, myself included – don’t often experience.  Speaking for myself, I find that entire days – weeks, even – can go by without my ever having been really aware of where I was or what I was doing.  I, and I imagine that a lot of us, tend to be primarily reactive; we respond to the stimuli of our lives and most often think we’re lucky if we feel like we’re just keeping up.

It takes a lot of practice to be mindful and present more often than one is reactionary, but I’m starting to get the hang of it.  While I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a master, I am starting to notice, more and more often, when an opportunity presents itself for me to stop and take stock.  While I’m waiting at a red light, for instance, I can focus on my breath and my posture.  I can really see the images outside my windshield and notice the vibration of the car’s motor and the feel of the wheel in my hands.  When I’m brushing my teeth, or walking to class, or taking a shower, I try to remember to be present – to notice everything I can about what’s happening right here, right now – and to appreciate the fact that I’m right in the middle of it.

I’ve found that, along with being very calming and centering, the practice of mindfulness also brings with it a heightened appreciation for one’s surroundings and condition.  I glory in the feel of warm water on my body in the shower.  I’m grateful for the force of my muscles and the strength of my balance as I walk from one place to another.  I can bring all my attention to the feel of papery garlic skins in my fingers, and relish the heady scent of the cloves as they undress


and, just for those few moments, I can be here and no where else, which is exactly where I’m supposed to be.

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What’s Your Agenda?

November 14, 2008 at 9:13 pm | Posted in compassion and connection, inspiration, learning and growing, meditations, philosophy, practice off the mat, questions and conundrums, The Eight Limbs | 2 Comments

In addition to teaching yoga, I also teach college-level English.  I’m writing here about both of them because, where this question is concerned, they intersect quite nicely.

I wrote here about a student who left a comment on an  end-of-term survey at one of my jobs.  The short version of the story is that the student felt that I used the class to forward an agenda, and that s/he felt that the class was less about the reading and more about my opinions.

I don’t think that the student was wrong, exactly, but I don’t think that s/he was right, either.  It is not unreasonable for ANY teacher to be who s/he is in the classroom; teachers are not heartless computer programs – it’s never just about the material for the course.  What makes teachers good – or not – is, I think, the level of themselves that they choose  – or not – to share with their students.  I said as much to my boss – you can read my full response here.

I’ve been thinking about this question as it pertains to my yoga instruction, as well.  How much of my “agenda,” which can best be described as lefty-humanist, would I be appropriate in bringing into my classes?  Was it okay for me to remind my students to vote on election day?  Is it appropriate for me to remind my classes that there is much suffering in the world, and that each of us has the power, though our thoughts and words and deeds, to help ameliorate that?  How far can I go in encouraging my participants to take love and kindness and compassion off the mat with them?


I am careful to leave faith out of my yoga classes.  I ask students to play with their own energy, and I refer only to “the Universe” and never to “God.”  I want, though, for the people who come to my yoga classes to leave with a feeling of connection to a higher power, and to feel as though they are a representative of that power in their world.  I tell them that this habit we have of coming to class and unrolling a mat and twisting our bodies into funny shapes is only a tiny portion of a complete yoga practice.  I remind them that yoga can work to help us locate and nurture our highest and best selves, and to use that to inform our choices in everyday life.

I can’t go into a classroom and leave myself at the door, and I don’t think that I should.  Bringing myself – my passion and my energy and my love and my questions – makes me a better teacher…. and a better person.  Isn’t it part of my responsibility as a teacher to model the lessons I’m seeking to teach to others?

I Honor That Place In You…

August 4, 2008 at 10:48 pm | Posted in inspiration, learning and growing, philosophy, practice off the mat | 1 Comment

I had no idea that I did this.

A few weeks ago, while attending the Shoah fellowship, I was approached by one of my colleagues with a question. “I noticed,” he said, “that you do this a lot.” Here, he put his hands in prayer position in front of his heart. “I’ve seen you do it when you meet someone new, and I watch you do it every time someone finishes a lecture. Why do you do that?”

I hadn’t realized that I WAS doing it, but after he pointed it out to me, I acknowledged that I do. I explained to him the idea of namaste – that I believe that there’s a bit of the divine in me and a bit of the divine in everyone else, and that when I’m in that place in me and they’re in that place in them, we are the same being. The prayer pose is my way of honoring the divine in someone else; of extending to them a recognition of and appreciation for the gifts that they bring to me.

Here is a photo of me with Ernie, a survivor of Auschwitz who came to share his story with us. My roommate took the picture – I didn’t know she had her camera out – and caught me in the proverbial act. I was so profoundly moved by this man’s capacity to love and to forgive and to devote his life to telling his story that I couldn’t not honor him in the most respectful way I knew how.

Namaste, indeed.

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