Saturday, November 30, 2013

Back to the Blog: Never Hold Your Best Stuff

This is the story of how I became a real writer, quit my job as a real writer, and realized (again) that I will always be a writer so long as I am writing. For your sake (also, let's face it, I'm trying to keep the drama at bay), I'm going to keep it brief.

For the past few months, I have been writing a weekly column about yoga for an online magazine. The editor of said magazine had reached out to ask me to be a contributor after reading the yoga posts on my blog and I nearly up and died of happiness. Seriously, it was a close one and I actually cannot believe that I am still here and able to write to you today because I was nearly dead at the thought of it. I've wanted to be a writer since I could hold a pencil and couldn't believe that a Real Live Editor wanted to pay ME to write. In my head at this point, by the way, I am frantically trying to decide what would be the most sensible location to start my book tour. Anyhow, we got the paperwork sorted and eventually we were live and I was writing, a Real Writer, just like I always wanted to be.

I submitted my first piece like a proud parent, carefully crafting, uploading and triumphantly smacking that send button and was admittedly a bit taken aback to see it edited down significantly "for length" and published without my approval. I brushed aside that nagging stinging feeling, told myself that it was just a matter of getting used to having an editor, that she was just doing her job, which was true. You guys were reading it and liking it! So that was fun, and I decided would get used to it - on to the next. The second piece was also sliced and diced and shortened, as was the third. The frustration built as I struggled to convince myself that the points I had included in the pieces were unimportant, knowing I didn't believe it to be true. And again, positive feedback, and again I swept the hurt under the rug.

After a thorough round of editing, I found the fourth piece to be completely unrecognizable in meaning and in tone. It was published after I forbade and even tearfully begged the editor not to do so, lest they publish sensationalist fluff under my name. This, of course, was the instant where I could choose to either throw a temper tantrum at the overt unfairness and (my opinion) horrendous editing and quit in an explosive show of fireworks, or choose to do and see and say and be something else.

It was tough, but I ended up going with option B and kindly explained that it was a liability to my career as a yoga teacher (ummm... also as a WRITER) to have my words edited and published without my approval. And that I would like to be released from my contract, please and thank you. And they agreed to, very graciously, and that was that.

Only that wasn't that, because I got all kinds of really nice feedback from my circle of friends, asking me to continue writing. So I am going to keep doing these posts as my schedule allows, trying to bring you an asana of the week (or some other yoga tidbit on a weekly basis) here on my own blog, my own little chunk of the tubes where I always have been, and always will be, a Real Writer.

I've reposted the four pieces here on the blog in their original versions, for your viewing pleasure.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga, Injury and YOU (this is the one that caused all the trouble)
The Warrior Poses, and Why They are Cool
Chaturanga: Seriously, You Can Do It
Downward-Facing Dog: A How-To

I'm also sharing this article, because it was sent to me by a friend as I was writing this post. If that ain't the universe trying to tell me something, I don't know what is. The late Peter Kaplan, on writing - from Clay Felker's obituary tribute.

There were Felkerian adages:
1. Never hold your best stuff.
2. Put something shocking at the top of the page.
3. Women are the best reporters.
4. Point of view is everything.
5. Personal is better.
6. Never hold your best stuff.

I will no longer be holding my best stuff. And I am going to be the filter, because I am fully capable of deciding what's good. And that's all I have to say about that.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga, Injury and YOU

This article was originally posted on TheKnow on Nov 8, 2013, in an edited format.

The New York Times put out an article earlier this week showing that yoga can be seriously detrimental to the body, causing severe pain to the hips of fairly serious female yogis. My social media feed blew up more or less immediately as all my peeps started to rabble and grumble and several friends with hip issues swore off yoga forever. Three of my friends emailed the article to me directly – "What do you think about THIS, yoga-face?" – people all up in arms, because the whole thing is supposed to help you live forever and whatnot.

So, fine. I am not a 20-year yoga practitioner; I am not a doctor. I am but a speck in the universe with no fancy data or degree. I AM, however, a yoga teacher (and the owner of a pair of very stubborn hips) and as I've been encouraging you to explore your own practice and truly believe you should continue to do so, I feel like I should respond. So here's what I think.

This all seems like an inevitability. And kind of obvious. Blerg. Depressing but true. Hear me out, if you would.

Yoga has been widely adopted as a hot, hot piece of the get-fit pie in Western cultures. Here in America in particular, the word lends to images of bending and twisting and sweating in stretchy clothes on colorful rubber mats. I am a large proponent of colorful paraphernalia. People seriously love this version of yoga. It is approachable and super fun! High fives for everyone, because yoga can be such an incredible force towards the good, and if desire for fitness and a LuluLemon sports bra is the way in, then I'm all for it. However... a tiny, gentle reminder this isn't exactly the intention, nor the promise, of the practice.

Yoga, as defined by the Yoga Sutras (the oldest recorded yoga text), is this and only this: we become whole by stopping the mind from turning things in the wrong way.

Translation: the practice of yoga is that which helps the sadhaka, or practitioner, to clear away the mental muck and see some real truth, to see the true Self.

Quoi? What about the handstands?

The asana are one limb (out of eight) of the yogic path to enlightenment. The other seven limbs are about discipline, breath and meditation work and definitely do not mention anything about handstands. The asana practice may be a gateway drug to a happier, healthier life, but it is not, on its own, the yoga.

The asana practice is a physical purifier, essentially - it was designed to create a healthy body, as well as to move energy from all over your body into your central channels so that your enlightenment potential is tip-top and you're set up to sort out that chitta vritti, or twisty-turny mind-stuff, without bloating or a sore knee getting in the way. It is definitely not intended to be practiced in a silo. Certain traditions don't even recommend attempting the asana until your meditation is in a good place, because let's face it, our brains are kind of a mess and the asana is a grueling practice requiring acute mental sharpness. Which brings me back to the hips thing.

Truth is, the majority of American yogis are not practicing eight limbs. And they are so important. But, I mean, right? Probably not. Four days out of five, I am also a "probably not." This doesn't makes us bad people; it's just the reality of the busy-bee culture. However, it is likely the lack of attention to those seven less-glamorous limbs that makes modern yogis susceptible to injury.

Three reasons why:

1. The asana are HARD. The practice as a whole is meant to be hard, so as to burn away the gunk and purify the body from the inside out. IT IS SUPER HARD. Do not be fooled by the cute outfits.
2. You are a unique snowflake and not every pose works exactly the same way on every body.
3. We have eyeballs and like to compete with the people around us, because, who knows. (hint: it's that mind stuff from earlier)

Because the majority of us are not working on our mind-stuff as per the other seven limbs (which might help us away from a quest for physical perfection), we are likely always pushing ourselves harder than makes sense for our bodies. If your brain is twisting your perceptions around, you're not likely to be listening to your body for the subtle cues that something isn't right. Also, you're likely to be attempting to out-handstand Red Yoga Pants next to you for no real reason other than your need to be the winner.

Even if it's just the tiniest bit harder because Red Yoga Pants is a total show-off, even if your left hip is only off by the tiniest of smidges in your Warrior I, this is the kind of shit that will wear on your body over time, guaranteed. Have you ever practiced blindfolded? It FEELS different, and I can guarantee you that your poses look different because you are more likely to be honoring your body and making the modifications, however slight, that make sense for you. This doesn't mean avoiding any and all discomfort, but it does mean taking a quick scan of that discomfort and categorizing it as safe and endurance-building tension versus pain. Always, always back off of anything that is causing pain! It might be a tiny tiny pain, but it is your red flag that something is not right. The poses were designed for and by people who were on a journey to clean their minds and who were listening like hell to everything their bodies were saying. They were avoiding injury like the plague because injury would only hinder their ability to achieve enlightenment, which was the only goal of the whole thing.

Now, if you're practicing asana three to five times per week and the idea of a yogic path is a bit much for you, that makes you an athlete. For real. Go you! Because yoga makes you feel good and involves soft lighting and emotional music and sometimes maybe makes you cry, it often gets dumped into the 'soft lady workouts' bucket. Do not be deceived. As mentioned above, this shit is for real. It is bodyweight resistance training, it is a serious endurance workout, it is incredibly hard and super strenuous. A baseball pitcher who pitches for an hour 3-5 days per week, if he or she is not SUPER careful, might end up with a sore rotator cuff that needs reconstruction in ten years. Nobody would argue that that person is an athlete, and nobody would be surprised about the sore rotator cuff. Why is this any different? Is it the pants?

Do not, under any circumstance, let society or your twisted mind-stuff tell you that you are not an athlete. You are, totally and completely. Even if you ARE on the eightfold path, you're still an athlete. Be careful with your body. It is your vessel! And you are stuck with this one for the time being – you want to keep it feeling good.

Please keep practicing. Please look into the rest of it, if it piques your interest at all, because it is kind of the majority of the thing and will improve your asana practice, guaranteed. Above all else, do what works for you, and leave the rest, but do so from an educated perspective, keeping your own best interests (and those of your body) in mind.

That is all I have to say about that.

The Warrior Poses, and why they are cool.

This article was originally posted on TheKnow on Nov 1, 2013, in an edited format.

Photo Credit

Hey there pretty hero-friends! The asana of the week is virabhadrasana, otherwise known as the warrior poses (last week was chaturanga, and we hit up adho mukha the week prior). We are going to do things a bit differently this week, because the warriors are the actual coolest and I want to tell you the backstory prior to breaking things down.

Okay? Okay.

Quick pause here, because, um. I know. It is now week three, and we are still not on scorpion. Two things: A. slow your roll, toots, we're getting there, and B. this isn't gymnastics - you're not being judged on degree of difficulty, or at all. Yoga is living in the now and the now is the warrior series. So calm down first and then get excited because you are honestly going to love this.

In Sanskrit (respect!): Virabhadrasana I, II & III
Pronunciation: vee-rah-bah-DRAH-sah-nah

Vira, meaning hero
Bhadra, meaning friend (in this context)
Asana, meaning pose, posture, seat

Virabhadrasana actually translates to hero-friend pose, which probably makes very little sense if you don't know the story. We usually call them warrior one, two and three - referring to Virabhadra, actually, which was the name of an extremely bad-ass warrior, hence the translation.

Why these poses?
The warrior poses are foundational postures for any standing sequence, so they come up a lot and it's nice to feel like you've really got them nailed. Because they are plays on balance and involve quite a bit of bodyweight resistance, they are fabulous for building core strength. And, despite being weighted to one side or the other, they are built around around a drawing of everything into your center, which is what it's all about.

The Origin Story
Because you are at yoga and not spin class, you're actually studying an ancient philosophy that's all tied up in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions and all the stories that go with. Most of the really important stories find their way into the practice in one way or another and manifest in the poses, and then those poses ended up with Sanskrit names that nod to the stories. Virabhadrasana is one of those poses that gets a cool story. The stories are fun, sure, but they also can help you to channel the energy that was intended to accompany the pose - this being a brilliant example.

The story goes that Lord Shiva the Destroyer and Shakti the creator, the sacred feminine, were being shunned by Shakti's father, who didn't approve of their union. On this particular occasion, Shakti's dad throws a huge celebration for the whole town and bans Shiva and Shakti from attending. They are super pissed/totally shocked and completely infuriated at having been left out. Shakti finds a way past the guards and busts into the party, throws a huge tantrum, and essentially commits suicide by throwing herself into a great fire when her dad refuses to change his mind. Normal.

Shiva is so incredibly devastated when he hears what happens that he starts rending his hair, ripping out dreadlock after dreadlock and from his dreadlocks is born mighty Virabhadra, our hero-friend. Normal. This great warrior and Shiva-incarnate is then sent to the party to avenge Shiva's one true love.

This is where it gets good. Also, relevant.

It is said that Virabhadra arrived at the party not through a door, but by rising up from the ground in a cloud of smoke, two daggers clenched in his raised hands.

Photo Credit
He saw Shakti's father from across the room and set his gaze on his target,

Photo Credit
And struck, cutting off Shakti's dad's head - attacking the ego, so to speak.

Photo Credit
And then Shiva kind of shows up and reabsorbs Virabhadra, Shakti is reborn and everything is cool again. Shakti’s dad gets to live with a goat-head in service of Shiva for eternity. THE END.

In sum, Virabhadra was a super bad-ass warrior who was born out of a dreadlock and killed a guy to avenge the loss of a lover, like some sort of Hindu Romeo superhero. WITH DAGGERS. In his two hands. The very hands that you are emulating when you're doing the warrior poses. Think about that next time you're in your warrior I and then just try to justify having limp warm lettuce fingers and wet noodle arms.

Stay tuned for the breakdown - ! All three warriors, coming up soon. And then yes, for Pete's sake, we'll move on to something more interesting.

Chaturanga: seriously, you can do it.

This article was originally posted on TheKnow on Oct 25, 2013, in an edited format.

Chaturanga dandasana is the asana of the week! Wild applause! Last week, downward-facing dog.

I see you cringing over there, in the blue shirt. Never fear, brave yogi, you're definitely in the majority. For the most part, the students I encounter seem to either A.) have their chaturangas totally nailed or B.) they're powering through each one mega-awkwardly because chaturanga makes zero sense to them whatsoever and fear of the thing is literally making them sweat. I see very little in-between.

It's definitely a tricky one - I think we've all been there. I actually had this sweet old lady instructor once at a fancy not-to-be-named gym yoga class who STOPPED THE WHOLE CLASS to come over to me and ask me what I was doing (um, chaturanga, natch) and fix me in front of everyone (what?!) and I STILL didn't really understand what was going on with chaturanga until I got to that section of my teacher training, three years later.

If you're banging out chaturangas left and right, then carry on, good Sir or Madam, and may hasta banda be with you. If you're in the second bucket, more of a 'what in the actual name of Ganesh is this pose supposed to be' bucket, then buckle up and get ready to join group A. Not only does chaturanga no longer make me want to cry, but now it's one of my all-time faves. Getting this one into a more solid place will change your whole vinyasa experience*, I swear it. Plus, triceps!

In Sanskrit (respect!): Chaturanga Dandasana
Pronunciation: chah-tuhr-UNG-gah dahn-DAH-sah-nah

Catur, meaning four
Anga, meaning limb
Danda, meaning staff
Asana, meaning pose, posture, seat

Chaturanga dandasana translates to four-legged staff pose, with the 'staff' portion referring to the spine. Sometime also called a low plank (versus a high plank - arms straight).

Typically follows: plank, ardha uttanasana (half-forward bend / flat back)

Why this pose?
Chaturanga dandasana is an essential piece of the vinyasa flow puzzle - you'll move through this pose many times in each and every class. It's a strenuous, cleansing pose and, if done improperly over and over, can start to be a bit wearing on the delicate little tendons around your shoulders, which isn't good. It's an important one to get right.

Breaking it down
Start in your high plank pose - shoulders over wrists, wide fingers, ribs knitted together, core zipped up tight - strong straight long line from head to heels. Big breath in here, filling all the way up.

This is where it starts to get weird. Listen carefully - as you exhale, keeping your arms tucked in at your sides, move your chest FORWARD and DOWN until your elbows are bent at 90 degrees ONLY. Seriously, do not bend past 90 degrees. That is a right angle. Like in a square.

Because you stopped at 90 degrees like a champ, your forearms are still totally perpendicular to the mat.

Your back is still 100% as straight and strong as it was in your plank, because you've got your ribs zipped up and your head in the game. Gaze to the ground 6-10 inches in front of your fingertips.

Your upper arms and elbows are superglued to your ribs. No chicken wings!

Because you moved forward, you are now kind of towards the tips of your toes, which sets you up perfectly to roll onto the tops of your feet in just a minute here.

Exhale entirely, and then press into your palms, fingertips and the tops of your feet to find your upward-facing dog as you inhale.

Exhale back, downward-facing dog.

This whole thing will feel weird for the first few times, guaranteed, but once you can get this form logged into your muscle memory you will be so gravy. Go do 50 chaturangas, or however many it takes to do this with your eyes closed. Literally, once you've got it, try doing it with your eyes closed. Take a second to wear the pose, feel it in your bones and breath and make that the focus, rather than what it looks like. And then maybe you will start jumping back into the pose like a boss, which is where you really start to fly.

Note: Jump into your bent elbows, please! No jumping into straight arms!
With love, your shoulders and elbows xoxo

Important reminder - I love writing about alignment, as a perfectionist and as a student. As a teacher, I beg you, please remember that every pose looks different on every body, and what the pose looks like on you matters ZERO to your practice and your overall experience. We really only cue alignment in an effort to help you target the right muscle groups and to keep you from getting hurt. If something feels painful in your body, DON'T DO IT, even if it looks right. Find the expression of the pose that works for you.

Go forth and chaturanga!

*I know I said that same thing about down dog. But having that lightbulb moment on pretty much any pose can really alter your whole thing, no?

Downward-Facing Dog: A How-to

This article was originally posted on TheKnow on Oct 15, 2013, in an edited format.

Could totally just be me projecting my own interests out into the universe (highly likely), but I feel like everyone I meet nowadays is getting into the yoga spirit. There’s a studio on just about every corner here in NYC (some corners have two) and men, women, kids, dogs, babies, grandmas, what-have-you – nearly everybody I know seems to be, at the very least, yoga-curious.

This is essentially the ultimate situation and lights me up like a Christmas tree – if only the world could find a practice together, maybe we could use NPR for, I don’t know. Ice cream recipe broadcast or something. We wouldn’t need to hear about poverty and hatred and all the horrendous stuff that’s going on all over the place and would have a ton of empty airtime due to everyone being so high on yogi love all the time, is what I’m trying to say.

Anyhow, I am one such proud owner of a happy yogi soul and am so looking forward to sharing some asana love with you on the regular. I’ll be passing on a cultivation of insights from my amazing teachers as well as what I’ve learned from my own body as I move through my practice each day.

I teach and practice Vinyasa yoga, meaning that postures are placed in a specific order and all movement is inspired by the breath. Vinyasa is lovely and flowy, like flying, really, but can get a bit loosey-goosey with all the inhales and exhales - sometimes it flies a touch too quickly and I find myself halfway into the next pose before I’ve reached the crux of whatever I was supposed to be getting into at the time. So, somewhat out of keeping with the Western mindset, we’re going to slow things down a touch and laser-focus in on one pose at a time, hopefully giving you something to chew on and keep in your back pocket for when you hit the mat.
You know, one pose, ish. Some of this is going to require a bit more context.

The Asana of the Week for this, our very first week, is Downward-Facing Dog.

In Sanskrit (respect!): Adho Mukha Svanasana
Pronunciation: ahhh-duh moo-kah sfahn-AHH-sah-nah

Adho, meaning down, downward
Mukha, meaning face
Svana, meaning dog
Asana, meaning pose, posture, seat

Adho mukha svanasana actually translates exactly to… downward-facing dog pose. The full expression of the pose resembles that delicious just-woke-up stretch that you’ve seen your dog do a million times – front paws splayed wide, ribcage on the ground, tail and triumphant doggie booty to the sky.

Typically follows: urdva mukha svanasana (upward-facing dog), plank

Why this pose?
Downward-facing dog, as you know if you’ve ever darkened the doorway of a Vinyasa studio, is a foundational pose for all Vinyasa yoga – in an hour or ninety-minute practice, you’ll hit adho mukha at least twenty times. It’s a palate-cleanser, a super active and energizing resting pose that stretches and tones and creates space from your fingertips to your toes. It seems a bit basic, but working towards a strong downward dog can be a total game-changer for your practice.

Breaking it down
Start by lying facedown on your mat. Tuck your toes underneath you, feet about hip-width distance apart, and place your palms on the mat underneath and just wider than your armpits, spreading your fingers apart to create a strong base. Take a deep inhale through your nose.

As you exhale, press yourself up into a plank, creating one long line from the crown of your skull straight out through the backs of your heels. Shoulders directly in line with wrists, press down through each fingerpad and knuckle with fingers spread wide. I'm going to say it again: wide. Like a gecko. Pull your belly in and up towards your spine, keeping your glutes relaxed and sacrum flat. Soften that icy spot between your shoulder blades, giving your sternum room to reach forwards. Your drishti is soft, eyes to the mat an inch or two in front of your fingertips. Take a few deep breaths here, giving your muscles a minute to get all warm and trembly, ending with an inhale.

As you exhale, lift your hips up and back until your body forms an inverted V shape, tail high in the air and heels softening towards the mat. Your hands and feet should stay right where they were in your plank, planting down into the mat with splayed (wide!) fingers and toes. All that space between your hands is going to mirror across your chest, giving you so much room to breathe and expand. Rotate your elbow creases forward, shoulder blades softening down your back and away from your ears. Your head is heavy, neck relaxed and your heart is reaching towards your thighs, navel scooping up and in. Parallel the outer edges of your feet to the sides of your mat, creating a slight pigeon-toe as your inner thighs rotate inwards and out towards the back of the room. Sometimes I like to tuck a foam block between my thighs here to encourage that rotation – it creates muscle memory for future alignment and just plain feels excellent, which is how yoga should feel. Set your drishti either right past your feet or towards your navel, eyes soft and easy (or hell, closed).

Breathe here, sending your tailbone to the sky with each inhale and softening your heels towards the earth with each exhale. Your heels, by the way, might never reach the ground. Mine don’t. Doesn’t matter. Wiggle around – pedal out your feet, stretch up to the tips of your toes, send your hips side to side – whatever feels right, eventually settling into stillness. Observe how while your external body comes to a halt, everything on the inside is still vibrant and alive and moving and growing with your breath. Stay here for three to five long breaths.

Seriously guys, downward-facing dog. Longer and stronger all over and such a great place to start to really grow your practice. This is a fantastic pose to take in the office when things are getting nutty or when you need to wake up a little bit. You will look a little weird. Yes. But so good - it’s technically an inversion (hips higher than head and heart) and all that fresh blood to the brain is about a thousand times better than a shot of espresso when mid-afternoon hits.
I mostly drink herbal tea, so I actually wouldn’t know. But you follow, yeah? It’s the best.

Tails in the air, happy practicing!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

New York anniversary, year 3.

Over the long weekend, we caught up with a friend of ours who is wrestling with a decision to take a dream job in another city. Seriously, this is a Dream Job/Career Maker, and the potential city is, from what I've heard, a very nice place to live (details withheld to protect a lovely person who didn't ask for his/her life to be publicized here). Seems like a no-brainer, but said person is not entirely sure he/she is ready to leave New York.

Of course, I was all, pfft, dream job! You can come back! Live while you're young! and so forth, but I think that the idea of an unbreakable tie to the city is something that, despite all my talk of Colorado dreams, I'm finally starting to get.


Today marks three years since I first set foot in Manhattan without a return ticket. Three years! And as I start to round the corner towards my twenty-eighth birthday (no-longer-a-spring-chicken-hood looming ever closer), it grows increasingly obvious that the most significant relationship of my twenties is this one, the one between myself and the city. My partnership with this pulsating, roiling, vibrantly enthusiastic, stubborn, sullen and always richly incredible place. 'Place' doesn't seem like a quite substantial enough word, but I suppose she can be found on a map, and 'state of mind' seemed to err on the side of perhaps a bit poetic, which didn't seem right here. I'm officially putting a fork in it, calling her my most main of squeezes (sorry darling) mostly because of the unparalleled part she's played in helping me to foster and cultivate my relationship with myself.

Actually, I should probably be my real main squeeze. So she's like, number 2 (again, sorry honey).

A quick side note that seems worth mentioning: I'm going to continue to bless her with that holiest of pronouns ("she"), in agreement with the hordes of songwriters, authors, screenwriters, poets and otherwise artists who have labeled her as such over the years. The energy of the city, while sometimes dark and violent, does feel uniquely (and sometimes divinely) feminine to me. I see in her Shakti, Diana, Gaia, Aphrodite. Creator and destroyer, pursuer and seductress, muse to many and unmistakably motherly - she is She, a modern-day and ever-morphing goddess; she is all that is love.

Looking back on my first anniversary post, it is painfully obvious that I was too young to understand, that I was so scared to commit. That I was frustrated with her for not eagerly reaching out to me as I arrived on her shores. Even my eventual understanding was shallow (although throw a couple more years at it and I'm sure this will look puny as well, but here we are). It wasn't about whether she had the time; I needed her validation to be able to grow and she was unwilling to give it to me. I hated her for keeping it from me, something Chicago had so easily given.

But she needed to know that I was serious about her, that I was serious about me. She needed to know that I would, at some point, be able to let go of my attachment and be that validation for myself.

And I have.

So now I've relaxed, she's opened up, and we've settled into something comfortable, something familiar. I see her, through the dirt and chaos and frustration and hate and hurt and all that's been dumped on her over the years. I see the pure electric love throbbing at her core, pumping through the streets and tunnels and rivers as she cradles these millions of people in her arms. She's more mature than I gave her credit for, quietly and non-judgmentally allowing her masses to walk all over her and blame her and use her as a stepping stone to becoming what they want to be. Day after day after day she takes beating after beating after beating, and she thrives and blooms and flourishes around her scars, shining so through all the ashes.

And somewhere in the midst of all of that, she sees me and returns the favor.

For every crowded subway ride through Manhattan, she trades me a moment of cobble-laden silence on a Brooklyn evening. And for each gray and dreary morning, a lunchtime seat warmed by sunlight in Meatpacking plaza. One terrifying hurricane in exchange for crisp afternoons spent with old and new friends at the tiniest and best dive bar garden in Red Hook, which I'm so thankful can continue to thrive. We go on like that, me being patient with her as she fusses and fumes, her rewarding me for my time with shy and stolen moments that she's taught me to seek, that I've learned to find. The more time I give, the more she helps me to see.

And it's me, along with the city, that comes into ever-clearer focus.

So tonight I raise a glass to you, sweet city, in honor of our three years together. I've said it before, but it still rings true - in exchange for my residency, I will continue to try, to take it in, to expand, to arrive. And I will know for certain that I am always enough.

And I will never again be alone, not here.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Almost time for brunch.

So now we're up to May, I've turned into an unrecognizable yoga monster and there are only three weekends left in my training schedule. Three! Because this weekend we have off for Memorial Day and then it's just three more weekends until June 16. That's like, ten minutes, not even, in the overall scheme of things. I seriously cannot believe it, not for one minute. I remember feeling so apprehensive about the thing, knowing for SURE I was going to get bored with it (14 weekends? March - June? are you kidding me?) long before our graduation weekend.

And now

and I am so scared for it to be over.

Because... well, because I don't want to go back to my life before and I'm afraid that without the training, I won't know how to hold on to this. Like maybe it's all been just a really lovely dream and if so, I'm afraid to wake up. I don't even entirely understand what THIS is, and how one might be able to hold onto it. And of course it's all beside the point, since the whole purpose is to live in the moment and I'm not doing that at all. I'm so worried about being able to find this again that I'm not even able to see that I AM here right now, at this very second.

But, I'm still worrying, because I feel like a different person now; I feel so, so different. I look and sound different and I don't know what to do with it. I'm practicing my sanskrit and telling jokes about chaturanga and doodling the ashtanga primary series on the side of my notebook and getting up early to practice and staying out late to practice and reading all kinds of books with funny names full of funny pictures and trying to think what, exactly, would be the best way to explain someone up into a chin-stand and wondering when I can try to get back to Friday meditations at Integral and humming that chant from that one seriously amazing kirtan under my breath. And nobody on the train is trying to pick me up by asking what I'm reading anymore (I'm talking to you, guy-who-so-brazenly-asked-me-about 50 Shades of Grey). And I am carrying my mat with me everywhere, secretly imagining it to be protecting me and my special soul, a neon floral-print quiver for my karmic arrows. I'm thinking about buying a second mat. And maybe some blocks. And a strap? And every morning and every night I do a headstand and say a fervent prayer of gratitude to my teachers, to the Self and to my own self in an attempt to open up my ribcage and let the light in, to reach and pull and beg and plead and gasp and choke and shake and weep and finally fill my gaping, dusty, frozen chest cavity with pure raw unfiltered love.

And my closest friends are kind of looking at me a bit wide-eyed and hesitant because I am acting like a maniac, and I can't stop smiling.

I can't stop shaking.

I'm so unbelievably happy, so comfortable in this skin. Now that I've finally wriggled it on, it's so overwhelmingly familiar. Despite the fact that my body feels different. My mind feels different, easier. My whole heart feels different, bigger.

Not always easier, in that territory. But definitely bigger, definitely better.

There's a yogic philosophy that states that a person will practice yoga because they did so in a previous birth, and as such will always feel inexplicably drawn towards the practice until he or she gets him or herself to the mat. I am still sorting out how I feel about philosophy and births and all that malarkey, but damned if I did not feel so inexplicably drawn to this practice. I felt it years ago when I first picked up Eat Pray Love and started a three-year relationship with a story, reading it over and over and over again, not yet understanding why I felt so connected, why I was reading and re-reading as though my knowledge of the text might someday cure my own cancer. Why I felt as though I had written it myself, about me, from the future. I said it to Christy when I realized that I had signed up for a yoga retreat without a buddy - not really something I do on the regular (or would ever do in a million years). I said it aloud, when introducing myself to the group on the first day of training. I said, "I honestly don't know why I'm here."

But there I was, and despite whatever it is I may think about being the master of my own destiny, I truly believe that I was always going to get there.

For real. That's the sort of thing I am into these days. Not even joking.

When I first wrote about teacher training, my awesome web-friend Anna Edwards commented that she thought it was cool that I was doing the training - that she didn't know normal people did that. And I was all like, lolsies I know right? Because I am totally normal and I'm going to go learn to be a fitness instructor now, let's get brunch in June, at which point I will be exactly the same + a six pack and some sweet arm muscles.

Dear Anna Edwards, I am sorry to disappoint you, but I will never again be able to put my hands on the ground without thinking about planting, plugging, spreading through the fingerbeds and drawing up through long arm-bones the energy bursting forth from the earth. Even in New York, where everything is filthy and nobody should be touching the ground ever, this is what I'm thinking.

Not even the slightest bit normal. Also, not sanitary. But that's life, fucking incredible beautiful breath-taking breath-giving life.

It's MY life, and I'm so relieved that it's finally here.

(I still really want us to go to brunch, though. Please call me.)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The little whip and me.

Melting snow and an end to the winter chill leads inevitably, in our household, to the great bike tune-up. I think we get to a point where we just can't bear to look at them sitting motionless any longer, so we polish and tweak and raise and lower and tighten and pump, maybe even trot out the trainer for a test-run. The office turns into a bit of a disaster zone as Clay plays mechanic and I offer very sweet and polite little suggestions (which are often deemed to be wrong, but I assure you, my heart is in the right place). Tubes and wrenches and grease all over, and then the sun peeks out and we're out the door on two wheels.

I have two bikes, lucky lady. Both Treks, both white. I like my stuff to look clean (and Italian) and I like it matchy-matchy, so white bikes it is. Neither are super fancy but both turn my pupils into tiny heart-shaped laser beams anytime I look their way. The first is my road bike, purchased in Chicago in 2009 with a backyard full of lakefront bike path and a heart nearly bursting with triathlon dreams (quick trivia: I have yet to participate in a triathlon). The second is my little whip, a scrappy single-speed purchased in 2010 during my first few weeks in NYC. Completely utilitarian - I honestly purchased this bike with the intention of riding it brunch in Greenpoint and the Ice House in Red Hook, something I wouldn't feel bad locking up.

The road bike is sleek and fast with decent components and a nice new saddle that I spent some money on; the little whip has an off-sounding click somewhere in the crank, dirty Oury grips and an awkward stem and handbar that I've flipped upside-down in an effort to look cool.

I love them both. BUT, I've always, always always preferred my road bike - it was my first baby, my favorite child. I trust it entirely; it makes me feel safe and supported and strong and capable and FAST. I clip in and am absorbed into the machine - it anticipates my every move and I know there's always something that can be adjusted when the road gets tough. I am a cyclist; I have kits and gloves and shoes and hats. I am CYCLING and I feel amazing. 

The little whip is a bit of a wild-card - standard pedals, no gears, nothing to add and nowhere to hide. I am powering the machine, but from the outside, wobbly. I am no cyclist; just myself, with the added element of instability and balanced atop skinny wheels. I don't like to stand, I don't care to push it super fast. I don't trust the machine and I don't trust myself. I am not cycling, just riding my bike - the same way I did when I was ten. And I feel whatever.

The road bike makes me a better rider; the little whip amplifies my misgivings. But there's a time and a place for both - whip when I need to get around and roadie when I want to fly.

The weather is still kind of on and off, so I haven't been riding much - pretty much just to teacher training and back. I ride back and forth to Prana twice a day on training days - Myrtle to Jay, Jay becomes Smith, left on Schermerhorn, right on Hoyt, right on Butler, back to Smith, right at Myrtle. And again and again and again, unless it's raining. It's maybe like a two-mile loop, nothing substantial. Just long enough to feel a bit of pavement pushing past, the wind in my face, maybe dodge a few doors. 

Since my road bike was missing some spacers and a front wheel (my 'mechanic' had 'borrowed' some items at some point over the winter on a foray into bike-building), I set out for the season on my little whip, who was surprised and exuberant to have been selected. He was so perfectly suited to the task! He was ready to help in any way he could. So we set out, me clumsy with loosey-goosey feet and my whip clicking away on the left crank, and we ride like that, back and forth and back and forth and back and forth. 

We melt away March and move into April together, me and the whip and the whip and me. My legs grow stronger, my grip more assured. We started to weave in traffic, confident, leaving the wobbles miles behind. I bring myself to stand tentatively, cautiously at first, then with conviction, tail high and letting my back arch as we sail down Myrtle promenade, balanced and somehow grounded through both feet. I am pushing steadily into the pedals, giving the clicky crank a run for its money, and it holds strong. I can feel, I am earning every inch of pavement beneath me.

I don't miss you, gears.

I don't miss you, clippy pedals (well, maybe a little).

I don't need a fancy machine to help me to fly.

Now, I am definitely not about to bring the little whip along with me if and when I get around to that triathlon, or even a road race. He's never going to work miracles for me in Prospect Park, he's not going to help me ride with a pack on the West Side highway. But I will never forget that one time, during a period of rapid personal growth, my jenky little single-speed bike couldn't help me but instead gave me the tools to help myself, to bring myself to stand on my own two feet. 

And at that time, in that moment, that was exactly what I needed.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

More Yoga Homework: Affirmations

Yes! More yoga homework! Just when you thought the book report was over, it’s time for assignment #2, affirmation cards. Lucky for you, this is a one-post sort of deal, so we can keep the eye-rolling and suffering through my lessons learned to a minimum.

This assignment is to choose an affirmation from a deck of affirmation cards published by Taylor Wells, founder of Prana Power (my training studio). The idea is that you keep your card with you and read it often throughout the day, allowing it to influence your thoughts and impact your life. Maybe in a big way, maybe in a tiny way – I think it all depends on you.

This, of course, is exactly the kind of cheese-ball yoga nonsense (OR IS IT) that makes my inner skeptic start to itch. I don't mean to offend, just being honest.

Anyhow, the assignment remains, so I close my eyes, fan out the deck and pick a card. Makes sense to leave this one to divine providence, right? Pick a random card, let it do its thing?

Here it is:

I feel the power of the universe assisting me.

Right. So.


Despite much carrying-on from my inner skeptic, I begin to put my affirmation into action. As prescribed, I glance at the card throughout the day. After a few days, I really start to remember to look at it. Sometimes, I find myself looking FOR it. I want to see it. I need to understand it.

I feel the power of the universe assisting me.

It bothers me.

I write it on a little post-it and put on the bottom of my computer monitor. I post it as the lock screen on my cell phone. I pen it on the tender underside of my right wrist, where middle-school Jen used to ink the initials of boys she was crushing on. Remember that? Glitter gel pen scrawlings, sealed up in a heart as a badge of allegiance – the earliest indicators of a fledgling tattoonicorn.

This sort of thing is actually really quite well-suited to my obsessive personality.

I feel the power of the universe assisting me.

I feel the power of the universe assisting me.

I feel the power of the universe assisting me.

When the train is late, when my clients are irritating, when the math isn’t working out, when I am struggling in my personal life, when the cats are destroying the furniture.

I feel the power of the universe assisting me.

When I start to panic, when I can’t breathe, when I just don’t know what to do.

I feel the power of the universe assisting me.

Slowly but surely (and let’s be honest, I think we all knew where this was going), it begins to creep in, seep in: under my hairline, in between my eyelashes, into the creases in my elbows, that icy cold spot between my shoulder blades and into the soft flesh between each finger and toe until it’s running through my veins alongside my vital juices, powering my engine from within.

I feel the power of the universe assisting me.

Along this process of opening my heart to yoga (which has, at times, felt an awful lot like a physical spreading of my ribcage), I have come up against an undeniable friction – all the illusions I’ve built up throughout my life, about my life and about myself, struggling to keep me within their reigns. It’s physically and emotionally painful, releasing and believing and allowing this great love to worry away at that which is not really me, burning up until there’s nothing left but Self and ash.

And I don’t ever want it to stop. I’m really only seeing the momentum increasing from this point forward – that’s the universe, right? Assisting me?

I feel the power of the universe assisting me.

As previously mentioned, I've found that things tend to play on repeat for a reason. Eventually, it has to click.

When Taylor visited our teacher training, she asked each of us what our word for the training would be – you know, like a defining thought. At the moment I thought my word was BALANCE, but I’m beginning to find that it may be more along the lines of SKEPTICISM.

A clouded, all-encompassing and once quite-tenacious skepticism that continues to crumble, breaking away in small but significant pieces, allowing the piercing light of BELIEF to shine through.

Of course I can feel the power of the universe assisting me. I AM the universe. As an active participant in the whole thing, I have no choice but to assist myself, and be assisted. I cannot help but draw myself in this direction, like a magnet, bringing myself here, right to where I was meant to be.

I was always going to find myself here. And I can feel, have felt, will continue to feel the power of the universe assisting me along the way.



Dear yoga: you win again.


And you fools thought I was learning to teach fitness classes.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Spotlight Speakeasy.

Friday evening, I took two of my loveliest and oldest work friends to meet some of my loveliest and newest yoga friends for a poetry-reading/concert at a beautiful space called ABC Sanctuary.

<< this is so not the sort of thing i am into >>

I first found the Sanctuary a little over a month ago now, slipping out of work early on a Friday evening to take ever more classes with a teacher I truly adore (the unbelievable Be. Shakti, ladies and gentlemen). I went alone, with only the slightest whisper of confidence in my back pocket.

<< i mean i really hate trying new things by myself, makes more sense to stick with what i know >>

The space was incredible, the community warm and enveloping. Physical asana gave way to dharma and I found myself coming back week after week. Still by myself, but no longer alone.

<< i really shouldn't be leaving work early; why am i sharing myself like this >>

And so I decided I was going to this event, this concert. The concert was part of a series of community events they call Spotlight Speakeasy, featuring local poet Nicole Callihan and local musicians Bird Courage. And I was dragging poor Emma and Allison along with me.

<< how good could this be, really, i've never heard of any of these people >>

I couldn't believe how many people came.

I couldn't believe how much I loved the poetry. I mean, I really, really loved it.

I couldn't believe how insanely exquisite and soul-wrenchingly beautiful the music was. These guys should be so, so famous.

I couldn't believe how exactly perfect that night was; that space, my friends, those people, the music, the overwhelming love. How I had found myself exactly where I needed to be.

I want so badly to believe.

<< who am i? what have i become? >>

There is a school of thought that puts all emotion on a linear spectrum, with fear on one end and love on the other. Fear, they say, is the absence of love, and love, the absence of fear.

<< this is not who i used to be >>

This yoga life, this everyday life is love, pure love. And I am not afraid.

<< i am so much more >>

Yoga poem.

Anyone tired of hearing about yoga yet?

Yesterday at teacher training, Sam said something lovely about part of growth being tied to allowing yourself release. I was probably white-knuckling a pen or my water bottle or something at that exact moment, so I'm sure I have no idea what she was talking about and certainly it has nothing to do with me, I'm totally fine THANKYOUVERYMUCH.

I mean, but clearly not.

I've always kept a very tight grip on my writing, this blog, my image. When I am not writing much, it's usually because I don't think I have anything worthy of putting out to the world (there are a serious amount of partially-edited drafts in the backlogs here). Or I was afraid to write what I really thought because I didn't want to let anyone in. Something along those lines.

Fuck that. I release thee! Here's a hastily-written poem. Welcome to my head.


I permit myself release!

I release control;
I release all emotion;
I release myself

I release these expectations;
I am more/muchier/most

I am strong palms and victorious headstands, splayed toes
five lines of energy, riotous breath

Exhaustion set aside in favor of the non-stop tremble

I am the center of a spinning top
Perpetual motion wrapping tightly 
around precarious balance
please don't let me fall

I don't recognize this person
these explosive thoughts
this strong and capable body
(I am not these thoughts, this body)

I am melting

I don't want it to
I can't 


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Jumping back, sort of.

Tonight I did a jump back from side-crow, sort of.

I could feel that it was not pretty and somewhat half-baked, I didn't land in the right spot and my bandhas (as per usual) were nowhere to be found, but nonetheless - it happened, sort of.

'Sort of' gets chalked right up in the failure column in my book, but I guess sort of doing something is about a million times better than doing nothing at all. Maybe tomorrow sort of will turn into kind of, and then the day after that you'll be at about an almost, and at some point you're bound to hit a YES, none of which will ever happen when you've chosen not to try.

Last week Sunday, I learned a jump-back from chaturanga. Last week Tuesday, I finally lifted tentatively into a side crow, first time! On Monday, I did the side crow jump-back and fell flat on my face (straight-up fail, and I hurt my beak a little). Rapid period of growth slams to an ugly/embarrassing halt.

Better keep trying, because by Wednesday I had it, sort of.

Sort of was the span of two days' time and a bit of mental adjustment, nothing more. All fires have to start somewhere, and if sort of is the spark, then I think that can be good enough for me. I think, in that way, sort of is more than good enough.

I am grateful for my sort of tonight, as well as for this body that grounds me (and apparently is still down to learn new tricks) and my amazing teachers, who are bringing me ever closer to flying.

Also, sort of - what is that? The more times I type it, the more ridiculous it looks. Are these even words?

Sort of.
Sort of.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Stage 2: Shaking, Trembling

Bob Ballard - 2nd from the right

About a year ago, I had the distinct pleasure of happening upon a man who would become a personal idol of mine, my very own real-life hero. Dr. Robert Ballard (Bob), best known for his discovery of the Titanic and other (much more enormous but potentially less famous) contributions to the field of oceanography ('contributions' could not be a tinier word for this, really). He's essentially the man, the pioneer, the Godfather when it comes to ocean exploration - more or less everything that's currently possible in the field, he either discovered, invented or had, at the very least, a fairly strong hand in.

Anyhow, so there I was, at the 125th anniversary celebration for National Geographic (swoon-festival, don't even get me started), which centered around a guided discussion with various notable explorers in honor of the pursuit of exploration. Good ol' Bob was on the panel and I fell in love with him nearly immediately. Bob can pinpoint the start of his study of oceanography to his reading of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea when he was seven years old (or some similarly ridiculous young age). He essentially became obsessed with the idea of the infinite possibilities held beneath the surface of the oceans and has pursued ocean exploration SINCE THAT DAY. Long story short, he is now 70 years old (quick math: 63 YEARS) and has contributed obscene amounts to the field and invented so many things to help make exploration possible and founded an institute for oceanography and teaches and travels and lectures and writes and has a submarine - a submarine! The sub is named 'the Nautilus', after Captain Nemo's ship in 20,000 Leagues. And I will never forget how his eyes, his smile, his whole face lit up when he was talking about the ocean, about being an explorer, about his JOB, for pete's sake. About this incredibly noble thing he has dedicated his entire life to, and (from the looks of it) will never, ever tire of until his last breath leaves his body. This guy is, I repeat, 70 years old and just looked so hungry for more. He looked just as young and enthralled as I imagine he did that day when he was seven years old and decided that ocean exploration was going to be his life's journey, his own personal legend.

I remember coming out of my slack-jawed, glassy-eyed state of awe into a feeling of complete emptiness as I realized that there was nothing in my entire life that I had ever loved as much as Bob loves the ocean. And I honestly didn't see that there ever would be. This guy dedicated his life to being an explorer of the infinite abyss, and I work in advertising. The whole thing both inspired and completely crushed me, because that's the ultimate, right? Being able to have your life's work be the thing that scratches all your itches and fires up your very soul - this is the dream, amiright?

Well. To me it is. And to not only not have that in your life, but to not even be able to fathom what it might possibly be, was something just short of devastating.

I mean, good for him though.


Fast forward a year later, and here I am in my yoga teacher training - something, as I said, I couldn't explain why I wanted but flat-out knew, I just KNEW that I needed. We're about a month into the training now, and I've found myself entirely unable to write anything about the experience thus far. So much has gone down in the past few weeks and I just haven't been able think of anything adequate to organize it all around. It's physical, yes, but it's so much more a mental game, a complete reorganization of my brain and my synapses have not been firing correctly as a result. Plus, some of it is just too personal and some of it is a bit frustrating/negative, and that's not really an image that I like to project here (although I have well learned that image is not something meant to be concerned with).

The moral of the story is, the training has thrown me for an absolute and total loop. To the unaided eye, I've been acting like a total lunatic. I'm a complete mess, I'm emotional for no reason, I can't get my head together. I am talking in incomplete sentences and thinking in unfinished thoughts. But in a fantastic, unbelievable sort of way - I just don't know how to process it. Friends, coworkers, if you've felt like I'm on a totally different planet lately, it's because I am. Wait for me, I beg you. I've never felt so alive - I had no idea, but apparently I was starving for this expansion and the process of getting me there feels like it's killing me, burning away at me, at all the buildup surrounding who and what I thought I was.

It sounds so negative, but I mean it in such a good way.

Either way, now I'm writing you a tiny glimpse of the thing because I found it, I found my organizing principle! I found it when my incredible and gracious friend/yoga mentor (friendtor?) Be said for the fourth, fifth, sixth time? in class today - from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, we move through experiences in three stages:

First, perspiration, as heat builds in the body, 

then quivering (as a muscle will quiver/shake/tremble when you hold any strenuous position for a while), 

and then finally moving into steadiness, into stillness - that's the reward, if you can make it through the trembling without throwing in the towel. 


PS - mini lesson - if life, or your teachers in their various forms, keep repeating to you something that sounds super basic or potentially irrelevant or maybe even a bit like a weight-lifting strategy, keep listening. It'll click eventually.

This teacher training is my experience. I built up heat, perspiration, anxiety as I worked through the book report and got myself all nervous to begin. Now I am thrashing against all the internal walls I've built over the course of my life and the intensity of it all is causing me to shake, to tremble. And if I can find a way to allow this apparently necessary expansion, if I can push on and breathe through this test, I will find steadiness.

And, I know I can do it. The hard part - admitting I needed it - is already over. Now it's time to ride the tremble - maybe until June, maybe for the rest of my life - until I reach stillness, and can relax in my own reward.

I mean, COME ON. Right?! I could not have dreamed this up any better.


So back to Bob - you guessed it, yoga is my thing. I have a thing now!

I mean, I guess I don't know that. I guess it could be a phase, and I am definitely not seven years old. But one thing I know with absolutely certainty is that I saw myself in the mirror today and saw in my eyes the hunger, the joy and the complete adoration that I had once seen pour forth from a man who inspired me, and it occurred to me that I've happened upon a path that I am able to pursue for the rest of my life. I have happened upon something that I have the capacity to love with everything I have for the rest of my life. I have found a path that can BE my life, that will make me better while simultaneously improving the world around me.

I AM an explorer, and my mind is my ocean.

I'm so excited. I'm so everything. And I can't stop shaking.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

My Yoga Book Report: Coming Full-Circle

So, the end of the book. Not a whole lot left, right?


I don't know what to say about the fact that the last 20-something pages of the book took me the longest to read, if you look at it on a minutes-per-page basis. For some reason, Erich dove from the poses right back into meditation, and for some reason, I was just having none of it. Seriously, it pained me to read. I can only imagine the show I must have put on for my fellow subway-commuters (my poker face leaves much to be desired).

I think maybe I was just antsy to ditch the book and get started with training? Maybe I was a teensy bit annoyed to revisit that which I seemed to just not be able to grasp, and re-emphasize my inability to grasp it? Maybe the whole thing was just making me ever more nervous about my inadequacy as a yogi, given that training was about to begin? Because, here's all this stuff about meditation being a fundamental of yoga, and I'm really not very good at it, and aside from meditation boy am I ever not really capable of doing most of the poses correctly. And then that was it and the book was over, and good luck with your teacher training. You have read these words now but in real life you are still completely inflexible with a monkey-brain. Seriously, good luck to you.

And the 'you' I'm talking to is, of course, me.

I'm pretty sure that's it. I'm pretty sure it's that every time he describes diving further and further into meditative bliss - all this, "now that you've mastered X, move on to Y and Z while sitting perfectly in your lotus!' when I'm still fumbling with step one and my lotus looks uncannily reminiscent of kindergarten cross-legged circle-sitting - I'm picturing him sitting underneath a giant neon sign that reads I AM A YOGA TEACHER. THIS IS WHAT A YOGA TEACHER LOOKS LIKE AND YOU ARE CLEARLY NOT IT. OBVIOUSLY. WHY ARE YOU EVEN HERE. NO REALLY, WHY ARE YOU HERE.

Erich, of course, means to say nothing of the sort and I'm sure is a very kind and gracious human, but my subconscious has a bit of a flair for the dramatic, so, here we are.

Which brings me back around to the driver of all of this - why am I here?

I am here because:

  • I like yoga
  • I want to be good at something besides spreadsheets
  • I want to be good specifically at yoga
  • I would like to learn to be a bit more present in all aspects of life - for example, it would have been nice to be able to sit through the Louis CK show I'd eagerly awaited all week without fretting quite so much about how we were going to get home and whether people will want to go out for dessert afterwards (which they did, obviously)
  • Having a large outstanding financial commitment (not to mention something where I will be marked absent if I don't show) seems to be the only way to get myself to show up for something on the regular
  • Yoga seems so strikingly opposite to everything I currently believe myself to be, yet at the same time, I feel like it looks exactly like me (a.k.a. I don't know yet, just know that I want it, leave me alone)
  • I know that the unspoken 'you' in 'leave me alone' is myself, and I truly believe this business about learning to understand my instincts and my true self so that I will be able to leave myself alone and live an easier, more peaceful and better life

I mean, this is the point of the book. Yoga helps you find yourself, and once you have, that will be easier and more peaceful and better. You will be easier and more peaceful and better and everything will be better because of it. The movement facilitates the meditation and the meditation facilitates YOU. You will trust your instincts and you will feel more like yourself than you ever had the capacity to before. You will be larger than you were before (in a good way). You will like it.

That is what I want. That is why I'm here.

I'm giving this whole thing a shot, and here goes. I'm not entirely sure at what point it all starts to take root, but I am entirely sure that I am ready to begin.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

My Yoga Book Report: Skimming through the Poses

Okay, so clearly I fell off the wagon a bit with the book report posts (or any posts at all, for that matter). Clearly my training has already started and I am now way the hell behind, insomuch as a blog post is intended to be somewhat current and speaking to the now and so on. Clearly.

But, good news - I finished my book! And not only did I finish the book, but I've since read one and a half other books. Fiction, of course. The first book I read in a total of four hours over the span of a day and a half, in somewhat of choking-food-down-because-you're-half-starved fashion. Don't get me wrong, I loved the yoga book. But I miss, you know. My stories.

Anyway, I want to go back a little bit and talk about what happened in the remainder of the book, starting with the poses, which is going to be weird. Regardless of timing, it's weird in general to do a book report when using an e-book as the subject. My future offspring will not even understand what I'm trying to say here, but I'm just not used to doing book research without that tactile experience of dog-earing a physical page, scribbling on it, highlighting, flipping back and forth between passages with over-stretched fingers marking my various places, and just appreciating the weight of the book in my hands, oh-so-representative of the heft of the work that went into the writing of the thing.

Yes, I am aware that there are tools for highlighting and bookmarking within my e-book, thankyouverymuch. Yes, I used them and they worked out fine. I'm just saying, it's not the same.


Pages 170 - 520 consisted of 45 poses and sequences - lots of pictures and lots of repetition. I mean, this guy is THOROUGH and based on the photos, has some friends who potentially have no bones. No hip bones, anyway. I admit that I did a bit of skimming in this section, once I got the general gist of it. It's not that it was boring, just Very Detailed and Very Repetitive, seeing as most poses are set up in somewhat of the same way. Erich's yoga is not the flowing vinyasa yoga I'm used to - very little in the way of transitions. He has a patient and plodding method of feeling his way through each pose, adjusting it in a million different ways until everything is entirely perfect (I can't tell you how many times he says "do this perfectly" in the poses section, it's hilarious). When you do the pose perfectly, he says, everything will be effortless and fantastic and feel so great, so just do it perfectly! Why waste time doing things incorrectly when you can just do them perfectly? I am not even doing the poses as I'm reading and already I'm way too impatient to adjust my way through each mental asana until it's perfect before moving on to the next.

His brand of yoga would take hours. Ain't nobody got time for that. Love him though - good for him. He's probably, like, so enlightened.

Is enlightenment even attainable in this city?
Will I someday feel like I have time for that?

Either way, I have been trying to keep all of his instruction in mind throughout my practice, which is not entirely realistic, seeing as one purpose of the practice is to clear the mind. So me and my pockets-full of Erich-learnings are a bit fumbly and behind and out of place.

Always out of place, always. But we're getting there.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

My Yoga Book Report: Edges, Lines and Intro Poses

I kind of hate to admit it, but I was Very Excited when I saw we were past the meditation portion and moving on to poses. All that meditation business was starting to make me feel grossly under-qualified to be teaching anyone anything having to do with yoga, whereas the practical yoga, or hatha yoga - that, I can actually DO, kind of. Added bonus - a good portion of the poses section so far has been pictures, which makes me feel a little better about how many pages I still have left to read and dissect (three hundred and twenty-three).

There are a few chapters about edges and lines prior to jumping into the poses. These are very long, prose-y sections that I will sum up in a few quick bullet points:


  • Edges are personal boundaries; they change on a minute-to-minute basis and determine the depth of the pose (for you).
  • Lines are established coordinates for your energies and determine the shape of the pose.
  • Edges and lines are what define where you are and where you're going within a pose.


  • Always listen to your own body.

I think the stuff about edges and lines may be the most crucial part of the hatha yoga section of the book, so my apologies if I've minimized their importance. They're complex concepts but they boil down very simply. If you want to get the meaty version, or Erich's take on it anyhow, I suggest reading the book.

And now, the poses, hooray! Erich is starting to get the hang of how I operate, because he opens the section with something about how you probably don't have time to do the poses as he describes them, so just picture it in your head and feel it in your body as you read the instructions. Done and done, says me, as the subway train lurches around yet another corner.

He starts with the most basic of poses - mountain pose - and begins to build off that one to some of the other classics. He patiently walks through each detail of each pose, most of which start out pretty much the same (I'm guessing he was doing a lot of copy and paste during this portion) and peppers in black-and-white photographs of the bendiest people I've ever seen, absolutely dominating their rotated triangles and whatnot. Their lines are tremendous, to say the least. His brand of yoga is different from what I've practiced - deliberate and slow, with lots of talk of cat-tilts and dog-tilts. Definitely no music, definitely no vinyasa flow. His warrior II looks different and his transitions are nothing I've ever seen before. When he finally puts together a sequence, there's no down-dog (he has yet to mention down-dog at all, actually) and he jumps from mountain to warrior II to half-moon - what?! - but it's all good, because he's teaching and I'm learning and the whole thing is starting to make a lot of sense.

Despite the fact that I will absolutely be going straight back to fiction after finishing things up with Erich, I continue to admit to myself how much fun I'm having with the instructional-style writing. He's got that amazing tripping teaching cadence and flow - even as a writer, I can just tell. He's also full of all kinds of great nonsense, the kind of stuff that starts to speak to you once you're doing this stuff often enough. I love, for example, his constant use of ridiculous descriptions, such as "gaze straight backwards into infinity," "orchestrate this action perfectly" and "'do' and 'not-do' at the same time." He's also always using very silly non-yoga words - for example, he is constantly telling me to 'snuggle' my foot down into the ground (while I'm creating the lines). Never 'plant,' 'ground' or 'root,' but always 'snuggle.' If my palm is also on the ground, like in triangle pose, I'm to snuggle that, too. Snuggle! This is how I know we're best friends.

When I am a yoga teacher, I hope to:

  • Speak with a lovely tripping cadence
  • Use fantastic word choices to inspire energy and keep things interesting
  • Not intimidate my students by bending into a perfect pretzel every time I demonstrate anything (chances of this happening at my current level of flexibility are slim to nil anyhow)
  • Be funny and relatable, always

Monday, February 18, 2013

My Yoga Book Report: The Scared is Scared

Now a few weeks into things, I've started to work on reading ahead in the book as much as possible during my morning and evening commutes. If I want to complete the book before teacher training starts in two weeks, I don't have the luxury of stopping after each exercise to wait to have time to give it a try before moving on. I am getting quite chummy with the witty and illustrious Erich, whose instructions include helpful tips such as "do this for the perfect amount of time." He guides me through the exercises as best he can - "please understand," he says, "that what I am attempting to describe is an activity that is essentially non-verbal" - and I visualize myself doing the movements (or lack thereof) as the train hurtles on, carrying me to and from Manhattan each day. He is patient with me as I attempt to pay attention to reading that which is not a story and I am patient with him as he tries to explain the unexplainable.

Of course, I am also trying to do the exercises described whenever I get a free moment. I start each little meditation session with a round of the counting-backwards technique to find stillness before moving into the new exercises. For the past few sessions, I have been working on something Erich calls 'heart breathing.' This involves laying on your back, closing your eyes and breathing deeply, physically feeling the expansion in your ribcage with your fingers while focusing on the metaphysical feeling you get in your heart as fresh oxygen enters and leaves the body.

My first attempt at heart breathing is a total bust. Clay is home and walking around doing his own projects, and I can feel his footsteps in the floor and just can't get myself to focus on what's going on in my body. So, I table it for a later date, when I have the house to myself. Even then, while it goes a bit better, clearly this is not for me - I can only lay on the floor, eyes closed, breathing deeply for a minute or two before I start to fall asleep (something I am already quite good at).

So I move on to expanded heart breathing - the seated version. This exercise has me sitting in stillness for a moment before taking some deep, exaggerated breaths - first in and out smoothly, then after a while, holding in to feel the stretch and expansion before the release. This is intended to help you to better feel your energy vibration not just inside, but specifically within the heart. This I am able to do, although it makes me nervous to make exaggerated movements while trying to stay in a deep meditative state - definitely out of line with what had previously been instructed, about staying as relaxed and still as possible. Which is a bit confusing, but I try not to beat myself up over it and instead move on to the next.

We do some other exercises, me and Erich, with some aaahhhhh breathing sounds, some new mantras, some different postures and focuses. I am not really that great at any of them, and I just really can't seem to find the time of day to commit to what this whole thing seems to require. I tried once to get up early in the morning and do it, just for a few minutes in what has to be the quietest moment of the whole day, but the recency of having been asleep was problematic - this is somewhat sleepy stuff, meant to be practiced while fully awake. So, I need to work on how I'm going to make this work in my noisy, activity-filled life.

My success with the exercises aside, I am definitely following what he's trying to say, which is that you (and you, and you and you) are not YOU - we are all part of a collective, connected experience. We exist in a state of muffled energy, and if we can strip away the years and layers of self-concept and ego that we've built up mainly from what we've been told about ourselves by others, we have the capability to see who we really are and benefit from that amplification of energy, that forgiveness. Meditation gives us the opportunity to find that pure you-ness that's been buried - hence why it's such an important pillar of the yoga practice. It also reminds us that we have the capability to control what goes on inside our heads - just one of the reasons yoga is commonly touted as a remedy for depression. With practice, it helps us to accept the negative thoughts for what they are and let them swirl away with the rest of the bathwater.

Kids know all this better than adults, I think, because they're still tapped into their imaginations and not super concerned with what anyone thinks of them. They do not see the realm of imagination as any less real than anything else, which is really a very pleasant way to go about your business and allows for fantastic access to all that you-ness inside.

Christy sent me the below video, which I found to be so incredible and truly illustrative of all the points above. Keep watching it all the way to the end - the beginning is a little less relevant (although a great example of that rich imagination) but right at about four minutes, shit starts to get real.

"Just think of something else until the nervous has gone out of you - I let that thing disappear out of my head."

This kid manages to articulate everything Erich is trying to say about meditation in a total of approximately three minutes of babble. Pretty interesting stuff.

I am trying to remember to let the stuff out of my head. My scared is scared of pizza, too.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A quick break for wedding dresses.

Taking a break from the book-reporting for a somewhat intense week, culminating in a visit from my lovely friend Cherie. We've been friends since childhood and hadn't seen each other in a few years so we were tickled to be able to spend a few days together. She's a confident midwesterner and a seasoned world traveler, and it was hilarious and delightful to watch her march all over the big city (her first time in NY!) like she owned it, me half-walking, half-running to keep up with her long strides.

We accomplished a lot in three days, but I think the most notable accomplishment was - drum roll, please - I finally bought a wedding dress! Cherie and Christy accompanied me to Lovely Bride for my second time to that particular salon and third overall dress-shopping excursion. I was totally prepared this time, with a list of gowns in-hand (first go-round had been a bit willy-nilly). I'm very pleased to say that I've actually managed to keep the winning dress from Clay entirely so I'm not going to tease anything about it here (he's a very good guesser). I will say that I am thrilled with my choice, regardless of whether or not I may have completely blown my dress budget.

Which, I decided, was entirely besides the point.

Thank you Christy, Emma and Cherie for putting up with me during my dress-hunt! Here's a quick look back at the (beautiful) losers.

JCrew - Bettina

JCrew - Bettina

JCrew - Bettina

JCrew - Carenna

JCrew - Clover

JCrew - Lucinda

JCrew - Tulipe

JCrew - Percy

Sarah Seven - Cascade

Sarah Seven - Enchanted

Sarah Seven - Graceful

Sarah Seven - Golden Lights

Sarah Seven - Fields of Flowers

Sarah Seven - Amour

Sarah Seven - Amour

Amour and Percy were my second and third favorites, I think.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.