Last week my family and I traveled to Utah to ski. It was my first time ever skiing out west and it was quite spectacular to be in the mountains, the vistas were magical. I’ve gotten very disenchanted with skiing over the years with what I was sure was my declining ability. This trip for me was really more about being together as a family, as one of our boys was home from college on spring break.
Day 1: We made it to the mountain, and not surprisingly for me the first couple of runs were bad, with less control and more fear and tension than I could bear. So when lunchtime finally came I called it quits. While everyone went back out to ski, I brought my 15-year old rusty skis to be sharpened and waxed (I got yelled out by the technician!), and learned that my trusty old ski boots were a full size too big (!). No wonder skiing felt like I was trying to grab molasses. You must know what happened next: I bought a new pair of boots to go with my sharpened skis. I needed to know if the trouble was me or my equipment and it seemed right to figure it out on the first day of the mini ski vacation.
Day 2: Opposite day. It was a dream. After over a decade of being the slowest most cautious person (and scared!) on the trail, I found myself moving with confidence and at a good clip. It was like all the mental lessons that I had been holding onto finally clicked. The kids and my husband were shocked, tossing me nicknames like “ski queen” and “ski mamma.” Mid way down on the first run one of them even said, “Wow. You can really ski!”
For years and years and years I had been in the ski game purely to be with my family, not because I loved the sport. And as the kids grew, it was a prime opportunity to be with them in an unplugged way and connect doing something in the great outdoors. But now things had changed. It wasn’t a terrifying adventure each time I got off the chairlift. It was actually fun. I was at ease, finally enjoying skiing.
At one point along the way, I spotted a sign, “Go With The Flow.” Oh, indeed.
And this image below is not me, just a skier in dancer pose for your enjoyment 😉
Last week three separate people approached me to talk about the struggles they are having as they are dealing with parents that are ageing, some focused on end of life issues. And those are only the ones who spoke up. My classes seem to attract my own demographic: women between the ages of 45 and 55 who are in what is called “the sandwich generation.” They are tending to their people (blood related or otherwise) as they age and pass into the next life, and to their children, uncomfortably sandwiched in between. Not to mention if they work–not like tending to those we love is not work, it certainly is real and meaningful work–but providing income and stability for a family is no small thing. Regardless of your situation, there is a LOT to hold up and show up for, and we do. That’s just what we do, no matter the circumstance.
When you sit back and look at all that responsibility it is stunning. I want to put a crown on everyone in my classes, this whole generation, really. So it’s no small surprise that people show up to yoga for rejuvenation and nourishment. They need it like they need a daily vitamin: to hit pause, regroup, and reconnect with themselves.
My classes this week are focusing on tuning into the breath as a tool for navigating not just our yoga practice on the mat, but also the challenges in our lives. When the mind is distracted whether it be from the myriad of devices, challenges, stresses, you name it in our lives, there is just a storm–like a snow globe. The mind is compromised, distracted. And a distracted mind is not a powerful one. So we tune into the breath to bring clarity, presence and peace. So you can keep showing up and soldiering on in your life.
I offer a deep bow to you for all that you do. Namaste.
On Friday I taught a yoga class to benefit Saint Rock Haiti Foundation, a group that supports impoverished people in Haiti by, among other things, providing clean water, a clinic and an orphanage. I themed the class to support their upcoming gala, “Building Hope Together” and we raised over $1,000 for the cause.
When I began preparing for the class themed on hope, I was thinking that “hope” sounded so trite, so cute, and that it was going to be hard to pull something off. But honestly the more I sat with it, the more excited I became. Hope is a life boat to climb upon, pulling you up into the light out of the darkness. And it’s concerted work; it’s hard to remember to have hope at all, since we have the negative bias of the brain that enjoys wading in the dark and twisty waters of the mind. But even a little hope goes a long way. I’d even offer that there is no such thing as “false hope” because even if things don’t turn out to your exact liking, you had that hope to pull you through.
I even found a catchy moniker for “hope:”
This weekend, in fact immediately after the fundraising class, I was off to CT for a college visit with my son and his friend. Stopping on the highway for gas I started groping around for my purse in the usual spots only to find that I had forgotten it at home. I went into the convenience store checkout area and had a brief conversation with the manager involving me asking and almost begging to pay with the credit card number memorized in my head, paypal, or a bank transfer that I could perform on my telephone which had somehow come along for the ride. The manager looked at me in disbelief, just shaking her head in a “nope, nope, nope” kind of way. After all my offers, I think I actually said, “Oh no, what am I going to do?” and a voice behind me replied, “Well, you could borrow $100 from me to get through the day.” Yes, it was a perfect stranger offering me a loan out of the good of his heart. He offered me hope and the ability to make good on my promises. I think I gave him three hugs before writing down his name so I could send him his money back that evening.
The universe did not stop there. That day I received two phone calls from a wine merchant across the country who had a “suspicious order in a large amount in my name.” We connected the next day. This kind person had taken the time to look me up on Facebook (“I figured a yoga instructor didn’t want an order of $4,000 in expensive champagne,” he said, adding yet another chapter in my unwritten book of how yoga saved my life). I was able to dodge that identity theft bullet from the kindness of a person whom I’d never met.
Offering hope to someone else creates a deepening in our faith in humanity which is needed these days now more than ever. Hope is truly a game changer. You’ve experienced it first hand, we all have. You’ve been in that “oh-no-what-will-I-do-now” place. It’s called desperation. And desperation can only be dispelled by hope. Hope is like pure grace, turning things around. It brings a feeling of safety like a warm blanket. So you can breathe again, smile again.
I started out the week thinking hope was going to be hard to teach about. And then the universe reminded me of the good in people, the ability of people to help each other, to connect and pull someone out of the darkness into the light. You have certainly done that for someone, or offered a voice for those who don’t have one, or taken action through activism. These are moments of grace, offering hope where there wasn’t any, offering light.
Peace and hope to you ❤
I confess I’m late to the knitting the pussy hat game. I had commitments that prohibited me from marching so I didn’t knit myself a hat for the march. Distressed that I couldn’t go, I spent far too much time viewing the amazing and inspiring photos of my many friends and family members at various marches throughout the country on Facebook. It was an obsession to try to experience the march through their images. And then I saw a photo that took my breath away, my “Aunt” Molly at the New York march. Molly, in her 70s now, is my best friend from childhood’s mother. I think I spent more time at their house than mine growing up and she was never “Mrs” to me, always “Aunt.” Anyway, after I razzed my friend about her lack of a hat I learned that she would really love one. So I’m knitting again after about a six or seven year hiatus.
I used to say that I stopped knitting because the slice of time in my pie that was reserved for knitting migrated to yoga. But getting something back on my needles has been so amazing, so grounding, allowing me to “just be” in a way that I haven’t indulged in for far too long.
This December I lost my dear sweet father. And during the couple of months before he passed I was glued to my phone as a method of getting updates on his condition from family, listening to it back and forth on my drives home, reading the news and email in the waiting room in the hospital, making yoga playlists, the list just goes on and on. Let’s just say it hasn’t been healthy and balanced.
Knitting is like opposite day. Simply feeling the texture of the yarn, the needles gliding back and forth, focusing on whatever my own thoughts decide I should dwell on or problem solve, or being completely present with the people around me in a way that I was unable to when it was just me and my phone.
I feel like this hat has directed me back to solid ground. From the distraction and disruption of checking/reading/calling, to sitting and knitting for someone I love. I feel so connected to Aunt Molly and the movement that I am a part of (even if I couldn’t march!) and equally, I am finally here, not somewhere my phone wants to take me. Happily grounded.
I’ve been traveling a lot lately to a bucolic area where I grew up to be with family. I’ve been making regular trips to visit my father who has been hospitalized since mid-November, and to be with my mother. At first I thought I’d really enjoy the car rides and tried listening to audio books but my mind seems to wander away from the narrator and music doesn’t offer a better distraction. In a vulnerable state last weekend, I found myself tuned into NPR’s The Moth radio show. I listened to podcast after podcast finding a weird kinship in the suffering shared by these everyday people telling their personal, often heart wrenching, stories. It was riveting. I was reminded that we all have something that we are dealing with, big or small, and that the holiday season can actually make it a little harder to cope.
I shared these thoughts with my classes last week. And in digging around to find something more to offer, I found this great excerpt from Carolyn Myss. Her book “Anatomy of the Spirit” creates an understanding of why we need to work through our issues (so essentially they can keep them from finding a home in our tissues). A lot of people asked me for this excerpt, so here it is:
“We are not meant to stay wounded. We are supposed to move through our tragedies and challenges and to help each other move through the many painful episodes of our lives. By remaining stuck in the power of our wounds, we block our own transformation. We overlook the greater gifts inherent in our wounds–the strength to overcome them and the lessons that we are meant to receive through them. Wounds are the means by which we enter the hearts of other people. They are meant to teach us to become compassionate and wise.”
Opening our hearts and sharing–a la The Moth–or in any other way, is vital to making powerful and life-changing connections with others. I’m sure you’ve guessed by now last week’s class featured a lot of back bending, and opening that realm of connection at the heart. When we open the heart we are better able to honor the divine in others.
Wishing you peace and connection to those around you this holiday season!
This past Saturday evening my husband and I were driving to dinner when we spotted the moon. It was not an ordinary moon, but an enormous moon, hovering at the horizon, brightly lit with all kinds of oranges and some clouds. It was a spectacular sight and it stopped us in our tracks. We pulled over and I tried to take a photo that would capture it, to no avail. The beauty and mystery of that moon was greater than any we’d ever seen. I read later it was a super moon, called the Hunter’s moon. This photo was on the National Geographic website.
When we stumble upon something in nature like that, something so breath-taking and amazing, it can wake up a part of us and make us remember that we are but a child of the universe. We are all just children of the universe, here together,to quote Ram Dass, “just walking each other home.” So the moon and other natural wonders reminds us of how connected we all are. In this election season where there is so much division, it’s vital that we take a moment to reflect on this unifying thought. It’s vital and healing for humanity to feel bound together.
I’m a big believer that there is no such thing as a coincidence. Perhaps the timing of that magnificent moon was there as a reminder that we are ALL just children of the universe.
I was away for the past two weeks in a beautiful spot in central Maine. My family and I rented a lakeside house in an exquisite spot that we return to, like migrating birds, each year. It is a place where trappings, wardrobe, and haute cuisine don’t matter. It is a place where your view is drawn back time and again to the breathtaking lake, the mountains in the distance, the sounds and sights of loons and eagles, and jumping fish. And there was no internet service, so we felt completely unplugged.
These two weeks were such a gift. We talked more. We played more games together. We swam and did water sports every day (rather than be shamed out of the 100% club–those that go in the water every day). We connected with each other and took time to ourselves as well to relax without pressure, schedules, and service. In short, without all the wonders of technology, we were able to recharge. The devices that we are accustomed to checking and reading drain us in ways we don’t even realize, leaving us feeling depleted, disconnected and unable to focus. The time without them on the lake was like a pouring in of nature’s energy.
Practicing yoga down by the water on the dock was among the many highlights of my time away. I found myself reflecting on Pantanjali’s eight limbs of yoga, and toward the end of our stay I specifically began reflecting on brahmacharya, the yama which calls us to use our energy correctly–it’s called “the right use of energy.” Rather than directing our energy outward to external desires, brahmacharya suggests we turn the energy inward, toward finding peace and happiness within ourselves. Being at the lake certainly made it easy, and I came home feeling rejuvenated.
As I begin a serious reentry into life (launching new classes, sending our son off to college, getting our other son set up into his sports and routines…..) my challenge is to keep this peace and tranquility with me, and to be parsimonious with how I spend this now full battery of mine.
This week I am focusing my summer classes on “wind.” We’ve all gotten to the beach: slugged our chair and bag to the perfect spot, lathered up with sunblock and settled into the comfort of our beach chair or blanket. Then surprise! a good wind kicks up and the sand is stuck all over you. You know you are nodding your head, you’ve been there!
The mind is much like the wind: mysterious, unpredictable, and it can get us in trouble. We think so many thoughts every day but only remember a fraction of them. In yoga we call this ever-moving mind the “chitta vritti” and our practice endeavors to quiet the winds of the mind by marrying our movement with our breath.
I was teaching at Milton Academy one evening this week and I had just gone through this description when suddenly there were fire engines blaring–and not just for a few seconds, it went on for a while. I couldn’t have asked for a better entree! The mind is like those fire engines, always looking for the emergency. It’s not our fault, we evolved that way. As cave men we were always looking for what could take us out, life was so fragile, and our brains haven’t evolved all that much. So it’s a natural thing to see the negative in life and to allow events to feel like they are all emergencies. It makes it that much more important to make some space through our practice to react gracefully or not at all. It’s an act of self awareness to be able to acknowledge this; it’s an ongoing practice.
The yogic principle of non-grasping is hitting home this summer. Aparigraha, or non-grasping, is a yama, or an observance in a yogic lifestyle. This summer I’ve had to let go in two big facets of my life, learning some lessons along the way.
This spring I started working with a new holistically-minded doctor who suggested an elimination diet to heal leaky gut symptoms. Already living gluten free and almost entirely dairy free, I was surprised to learn I had to also give up all sugar, soy and eggs. Eggs! It has been a challenge–kind of like trying to squeeze into a small box–but I have managed to get comfortable in it. And lo and behold there go the annoying health issues I was trying to shake, and a few pounds to boot. So it’s been a reminder that there is really no need to hold onto a certain lifestyle or way of eating simply “because.” And there is joy to be had even without some summer favorites (think pie). I’ve been finding sweetness in carrots, lettuce leaves and other veggies; and I’ve been savoring fruit, most recently every last drop of a juicy cherry. When you slow down to find the delight in foods, well, it’s just delicious even if the selections are limited. It isn’t as bad as it sounds; getting over the fear of starting is the hardest part.
This August we’ll drive our oldest to college and say good-bye. I feel like it’s been a year of grieving, with every sad song on the radio comes a few tears. I’ve been gazing at him asleep in his bed, eating breakfast, doing anything no matter how mundane, just trying to soak it all up. As if I’ve got to remember every moment we have together this summer. I’ve also started to let go of being a hands-on mom–not easy for me! But it’s been fun to watch his wings sprout as he gets ready to fly off. He’s making his own meals, waking himself up every day and getting to work, and organizing himself for the months ahead. It’s hard when it’s your job to step back and let them fly, even if you knew it was in the job description. But when you see how happy and confident your child is, you are reassured it is the right thing to do.
We often are forced to let go, it is often not a choice. It may be a lifestyle or a loved one or something else altogether for you. Just remember it is going to be alright on the other side, that there are unexpected pleasant surprises and rewards ahead, and an indescribable lightness to embrace.
It’s April and it’s snowing. It’s that in between time when you think you are just about at springtime and wham! you have to take a step backward into winter. It’s unnerving. And yet it’s a necessary part of the journey we are all on.
Transitions are often overlooked in yoga. We are muscling our way into each pose, ignoring the space in between them. It takes patience and mindfulness to draw attention to those important moments. We are often imbalanced, unstable, and ungrounded, making our way to the next pose. When you slow down to experience the transitions in your practice it brings the flow into a kind of mental slow motion so you can appreciate the those spaces in between as their own meaningful poses. Sure, your core will be more fully engaged without all the momentum you’ve been using previously, but more importantly you’ll savor the spaces in between poses, and let’s face it there’s a lot of that in an average class.
This is an important lesson that like all lessons from the mat, translates so beautifully off the mat. We often are looking for the big moments in our lives, and disregard the little ones, the day to day that actually make up the bulk of our lives. How ironic.
There are so many of these seemingly insignificant moments in our lives. Rather than breeze through them, why not slow down and appreciate them? It’s the journey, right? not the destination.
From the ancient yogic text, the Bhagavad Gita:
“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.”