Sunday, March 15, 2020

Yoga / work / life balance

After a couple weeks of volatility and then this historic week in the market - there simply wasn’t time for any extras. Yesterday I took a shower, tied back my hair, put on that lip and went straight to work. Reaching out to clients, reviewing research, making updates - today my throat is raw from so much talking. 

I always set my day with my morning yoga practice but yesterday I had to press it down into a single moment of prayer and hummed my little chants on the way to the office. After I finished up (there is always more to do) I headed home where all my instincts said to curl up with Olive under a blanket and turn out the lights or watch show after show until I went numb. Instead, I pulled out that youtube playlist I made (you can access it here) with led classes. There is one of my teacher Sharath Jois leading a class in Russia. I rolled out my mat and hit “play”. I am instantly transported to Mysore, India. 

 Maybe it looks mentally and physically easy. It isn’t. When I started twenty years ago, I could not touch my toes or hold even the top of a push up position. I can remember my arms trembling and then collapsing beneath me. I have a touch of asthma that made any kind of physical exertion a challenge. Add in a sprinkle of scoliosis and years of PE teachers yelling that I was weak and how I “throw like a girl”. Each pose has taken years to become accessible. Going from 5 minutes a day to anything beyond that is a testament to how well this works for me. 

 And mentally? Well- at first my mind is replaying every story of the day and always through the voice of the very judgmental and evil imaginary overlord in my head. Then comes the pulls of the all the senses - listen to that, what is that in the corner?, this itches, my hair is in my face, etc. And my mind having to swat away each thought and focus on my breath, pose, gaze, my teacher’s voice steadily counting one, two, three. 

 I can feel all the inflammation and stress bloating from the day. The smoothie I try not to expel. I can feel all the reasons to stop the yoga and do something else. And then it shifts. I suddenly realize that my thoughts have stopped. I am just here. Inhaling, exhaling, lift up, jump back. Inside of myself, outside of myself. Residual panic and anxiety from others is now removed. The impossible has happened - I feel centered and grounded.

 My background is not in finance. It is in yoga. I used to try to hide that fact. I was scared people would think I wasn’t good enough. This wasn’t only in my mind. People told me. With time and perspective I now understand a bit more how it all comes together. How it makes perfect sense and how an Ashtanga Yoga practice can help to prepare you mentally for anything. I remember my interview. I remember saying something about how obviously I don’t have a background in finance but that knowledge can be learned and I can learn. The real question was that when you are stuck in an elevator who do you want with you? I have a ton of stories from India, I know how to sit with uncomfortable situations, and I know how to keep showing up each day no matter what. They hired me.

My point is that we all need to develop skills to cope with life, keep healthy, help the world. Skills can be learned.

My thoughts and prayers go out to anyone suffering as a result of the current state of the planet. I’d like to recognize the local business YogaZo for their recent initiative- cancel to keep safe but also continue to pay staff and offer help to anyone in need. This is the kind of thinking we need more of right now.

 I am reminded of something Sharath once said to a student years ago. They said they had so much energy - what should they do for an afternoon practice? His response was that if you have extra energy (even after your morning yoga asana practice) you should volunteer and take care of others.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Travel Diaries: Sayulita

There is so much trust involved when you travel.

"What’s your favorite taco on the menu?" you ask, you risk, you hope for the culinary discovery of a lifetime.  Or "is this drink going to be drugged? Or give me explosive diarrhea or worse?" you think, you pray, you take a leap of faith. You have to forget all of the horror stories you’ve ever read for a moment and follow your gut.  No one wants a bad review. They aren’t going to serve you something here with tap water. It’s not worth the risk of you completely destroying their bathroom. They have seen enough of that.

My gut leads me to my happy place - wandering the side streets of Sayulita. Rows and rows of eye-popping vendors. Each more beautiful and colorful and interesting than the next. I am realizing how lost I am in my own thoughts as I take it all in when suddenly I see a women sitting in the shade of her tent stitching a colorful thread into fabric.

"These are yours!" I exclaim.
"Of course," she replies.

But you see when I went on a wild and incredible journey in 2015 tracing embroidery and textiles all around Mexico I learned that these styles - this style - the sometimes monochromatic and sometimes colorful embroidery on cotton fabric isn't from here.  It is Otomi.  South of here near Veracruz and Puebla. When you want to find the source of a particular color or design or technique, you have to find where this piece was actually made (because it was usually brought here, wherever you are), and then you have to go to the town, and you have to go door knocking to find the maker.  Sometimes it is a factory but more often than not the garment or style or technique can be traced to someone’s grandmother on this particular block in this particular town and that other one is from someone else’s aunt down the street.

It is always like this.  There is a complete shock and awe that comes with the novelty of seeing something for the first time. And then you realize that this particular item that caught your eye is absolutely everywhere.  This is when it gets interesting.  You learn where they are from.  You learn how to see the details that tell you if it was made by hand or machine. You begin to gain a small understanding of what is a complete rip-off and what is an incredible price. And then there is that moment years later when you find something new. An innovation. The person in front of you is adding pom poms from one places to the tapestry from another.  Are these pom poms Huichol?  (That's this area...)  Or are they from Chiapas? (Very south of Mexico bordering Guatemala and Belize...)

My mind is absolutely blown. These pieces in front of me were not shipped in or factory made.  They are being created and edited and adapted and embellished right now, right here.  She is expecting me to bargain and I can’t at all because I'm too busy explaining that "no, seriously this IS special!" I'm trying to explain it in my broken Spanish and the way she looks at me with the thread and needle still in her hand, I know she knows it too.

I wander to the beach where I sink into a lounge chair. I describe what feelings I want from my drink - refreshing, fresh, not really sweet, non-alcoholic - and I don’t know what is delivered but it is hitting the spot. It tastes like bubbly water with lemon, strawberries ice and a little sugar. Maybe it’s simply Mexican Sprite with strawberries. It’s good. U2 is playing in the background over children laughing and the waves and vendors calling out their wares.  It’s a Monday and the beach is packed with locals. Can life be like this?

The track changes to Hotel California. This is only Day 2.
The track is a reminder that Day 7 is coming soon.  And also what lies beyond that if you stayed.

I didn’t wear my signature red lip today. A choice I made as I tied my bikini and headed out the door. A choice the receptionist noticed as well and I’m pretty sure she thought I should go back upstairs and put it on. I know because she told me. My mirror musings confirmed.

But I’m here to eat. And while absolutely nothing will take off this lipstick (except peanut butter) I’m not sure what kind of culinary adventure I’m getting into and the last thing I want to think about is that spot in the middle of your lips that forms when you’ve had oil pass your lips. Naked lips are fine. Red lips are good too. But that halfway lip looks like your swimsuit came untied.

Walking back from the beach at the edge of the market sits two taco stands. The kind of street food establishments where I am forced to go deep inside and trust my gut. That and the checklist of adventurous eater wisdom I’ve picked up over the years.

1. Are there locals present?
Yes, at the second one.
2. Is it in the shade?
Yes, both are in the shade.
3. What does my gut tell me?
The one with the locals.

I ask the owner to tell me her favorite item on the menu. A huge smile creeps across her face. She reminds me of my godmother. Quiet authority that you know you will follow.

"Los camarrones."

A plate arrives with two tacos filled with gently breaded and fried shrimp, lettuce, tomatoes. It’s served on a plastic plate wrapped in a plastic bag. Easy and quick cleanup I assume without the hazard of sick-making tap water when cleaning.

The spread looks fresh and delicious. There’s a bowl with pickled onions in front of me. (My favorite.) There are two squeeze bottles - one with a white sauce the other with pale orange. I add a little of each and take my first bite. I never want to leave.
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Monday, March 2, 2020

On Retreat with David Robson & Jelena Vesnic

The thing is that once you have a steady Mysore practice, it goes with you when you travel.  Sometimes the particulars of making that happen are easy but in my experience they usually are not.  Most often I find myself sandwiched between two beds on a carpeted floor keeping my drishti so that I wouldn't have to see what was lurking under the bed with the AC blasting in my face.  Then there is the food disaster where yes, you are grateful you have food but are also mentally preparing yourself for how this highly processed meal is going to feel tomorrow in Marichasana D (foot in gut now twist).  Or Pasasana (squat and thighs smash guts now twist). Or Purna Matsyendrasana (more foot in gut and twisting action).  

These are things you don't want to have to think about.

Enter yoga vacation aka yoga retreat.  You get to have your practice and eat well too. Sometimes you want to mostly vacation, sometimes you want to mostly retreat, other times you want a healthy mix of both. My recent retreat with David Robson and Jelena Vesnic was just that.

Sayulita is a small surfer town north of Puerto Vallarta. You can take the bus or taxi or have a car arranged by your hotel.  You don't really need a map because vegan and vegetarian and organic and farm fresh local food and taco stands are waiting to be discovered around every corner. Design-forward local makers abound.  Eco-conscious mostly everything and recycling bins aplenty.  The beach...

We stayed at Hotelito de los Suenos where we also had our morning Mysore practice. Rooms were simple, clean, and with air conditioning.  Post-practice breakfast was offered daily with everything from chilaquiles (kind of like breakfast nachos) to avocado toast.  Lately, I have preferred to have my first meal around noon so after practice I would wander off through town just as it woke up.  I love this moment anywhere.  The air is different.  The birds in the trees.  The "just before".  I would wander through the sleepy streets to Organi-k for the "No Bad Days" smoothie (alt milk, cacao, banana, chia, hemp, peanut butter...) that I would have for lunch.  It is really something that bringing your own reusable cup is starting to be the standard everywhere.

We had three workshops - just the right amount.  I'm not so into geeking out on these things so much these days but sometimes we all need a little encouragement and reassurance that we are on the right path.  When you practice on your own most of the time, you need this.  (Well, I suppose you don't need it, but it is nice.) And when your teacher is in India and you aren't, reassurance takes longer to receive. You'd think that being authorized means that everyone is offering the same information.  This isn't always the case.  Life can get lonely.  But with David and Jelena, I felt right at home.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Are my nadis showing?

Karandavasana in Intermediate Series

I remember once, years ago, we were at conference in Mysore ("conference" is a talk or Q & A with my teacher, Sharath at the main shala in Mysore, India) and I can't recall if someone asked the question or if Sharath had it in mind for that day.  I remember being jarred by something that sounded close to "everyone comes to India twice".

I looked around the room filled with people of all ages and all genders and all nationalities and all shapes and sizes.  I am sure many if not most were on their first trip to India.  And what a feat that is.  You have to take leave from work or quit or be able to work remotely and you have to pay for expenses at home and abroad and what will you do when you get back?  Will work still be available?  And what if you have a family that depends on you?  What then?  Going to India just once is a massive deal.

You go back home after that trip to India and you smooth things over with everyone and everything.  And maybe that is enough.  Some people somehow choose to rip their lives to shreds in order to do it a second time -- imagine!  That's usually enough to not be able or need to do it again.  Go back to regular life.  Enjoy your local shala.  Try another traditional or brand or fitness routine.  And remember those trips to India?  So glad we did that.  What an experience!

It may have been the same conference, maybe not.  I think the number was 7.  (I don't feel like digging up my notes now.)  In order to keep practicing beyond 7 years, the intention had to be spiritual.

When you have a daily Mysore practice (that's what Ashtanga is called when you do it every day) you will eventually get bored with having to master something before learning something else unless you are there for a reason beyond the asana.  You will get bored or frustrated or angry or plateau or whatever.  You'll move on to something else.  That's totally okay.  The world is filled with so many amazing teachers and practices within yoga and beyond.  But for some, there's something deeper there.  Beyond the asana and the physical health and the teacher, even.

Crying in gomukasana

So I just laugh to myself when someone is concerned with my alignment (are my nadis showing???) or whatever it is they think I am doing that will hurt.  Or when someone tells me ashtanga is fast-paced or aggressive or really intense or whatever.  I laugh.  Yoga can be whatever we make it.  The Yoga Sutras have only one instruction for asana -- it should be steady and sweet...Sthiram Sukham Asanam.  You're lucky if you find that day one.  Otherwise, on some days, that's part of the practice.
1. Show up
2. Steady and sweet
3.  Don't identify with thoughts

Exit: "Plastic Soul" Mondo Cozmo

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Day Thirty - Observing

I took an actual vacation. So nourishing practicing at Mysore Phoenix.

I can't explain why I haven't written.  Perhaps it was because I told myself that all things were on hold until the 30 days were through.  After that I would decide where I wanted to put my energy next.  Perhaps that scared me.  Because there's so much on my mind.  And decisions that will have to be made.  And when I commit to one thing, I am saying no to everything else in the world. And I'm overthinking it.  Could be so many other things and reasons and excuses.  That one just seems the most available.  The first in line. Like I said, I can't explain. I search for why but the answer keeps hiding around corners just beyond my reach.

And anyway, I suppose that is what this blog -- the first 30 days at least -- that is what it is/was supposed to be about.  Attempting to write for 30 days.  Or 30 posts, as it came to be.

The trouble is overthinking it.  And getting distracted.  1+2= no post today for a few days now I suppose.  How easy it is to just give up.

But here we are.  All my writing notes and plans and ideas tucked away somewhere in a bag and I am just writing.  Just showing up.

These 30 days of trying a new habit, a creative habit, have reminded me of a few common patterns that we share.

1.  It is easy to get distracted.
That is what the mind does.  It moves to the next shiny, loud, dangerous thing because it doesn't want to get killed in the jungle, right?  We haven't changed so much.  I try to remind myself of this.  To not be so hard on myself.  To sit with what is.  To decide how to move forward, present in each tiny step.

2.  It takes time to adjust to change.
Habits start far in the distance.  With time they move closer and closer.  Arm distance.  Warmth distance. Skin distance.  The tricky part is they have to go inside your skin.  The deeper they go toward your center, the more likely they will continue as things change.  And things absolutely will change.  And we will move with the change and leave the habit behind.  And then we remember.  And then we try to bring the habit in again.  This is normal.

3. Give from your overflow.
Everyone always says to "fill up your cup" so you have something to give.  What happens when your cup is empty again?  Exhaustion, burn out, health issues, etc.  The part where I am convinced that I just don't do things as well as everyone else.  I'm damaged...  The math is simple.  You always keep your cup full and give from the overflow.  Even little things start to make sense.

4.  If you are used to your cup never overflowing then you will be confused when it nears the top.
You don't know what it is like to be full so you think that the increased vitality that you are feeling is overflow.  You know that this is the case when you commit to something and don't complete it.  Or not the way you meant to or you nail it but then are completely exhausted lying on the floor in the dark don't talk to me please.

5.  It is really hard to be honest, open, and vulnerable.
But we are all better off when we are.  We don't have time for BS in this life.  If something can be improved, healed, helped, we have to do it.

It isn't over.  There is a lot I want to write about.  I am just taking time with the words.  Message me if you have a subject on your mind.  That will help.

Exit: "A Silver Song" Conspiracy of Owls

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Day Twenty-Nine - Time to digest

Me practicing Galavasana in third series.  I seriously thought this was physically impossible.  My teacher always believes in me more that I believe in myself.  The challenge of it makes the whole world disappear.  No thinking, just being.  

That last post on yoga teaching burn out took me a minute to digest.  A lot of things do.  That is something that I am noticing.  It is like when you eat breakfast and now it is time for lunch but you aren't hungry yet.  You still have not completely digested breakfast but you eat anyway and so it is just stuff on stuff on stuff.

We all need a minute to digest, process, absorb nutrients and eliminate toxins and waste.

I notice this need for time and space -- for pause -- after I host an event or gathering or teaching... the world feels as if it is moving so fast...  Everything spinning.  Like someone has two handfuls of glitter and then tosses them into the air.  They float for quite some time and then slowly begin to settle on the chair, the table, my arms, the floor -- or not at all.  They keep twisting and turning in the air and new handfuls are tossed up too and it continues on and on.

Life moves in cycles and spirals and waves.  I can remember times of great stillness and silence and moving from some sort of sage-like tranquility.  I can remember the exact opposite.  It isn't just one thing that tosses the glitter again and again.  It is always shifting.  Age, hormones, life circumstances, relationships, food, political climate, weather, where we are in asana practice, so many factors that are constantly changing and shifting all around us.

I am arriving on the beach after a riptide and a hurricane and general stormy weather.  I wanted to swim but I can't actually live in the water.  The morning ritual is there -- a steady, reassuring hum like the sun rising and like gravity.  I wake up and I am no longer wrapped in anxiety.  Things are changing.  I wake up and I get ready for my yoga practice and I feel joyful and I am covered in glitter inside and out -- almost.  The magic is coming back.

It is the day that is the trouble and the night.  I forgot my systems and rituals.  Space for new ones arriving.  I guess it is time.  I am rounding another 7 years in this body (kind of) and it makes sense.

The seeds for the rituals for both day and night are the same.  So many threads that can easily be remembered from years of yoga philosophy study ...  Effort toward steadiness of mind.  Yoga is the non-identification with the thought fluctuations of the mind. maitrī karuṇā mudito-pekṣāṇāṁ-sukha-duḥkha puṇya-apuṇya-viṣayāṇāṁ bhāvanātaḥ citta-prasādanamव्याधिस्त्यानसंशयप्रमादालस्याविरतिभ्रान्तिदर्शनालब्धभूमिकत्वानवस्थितत्वानि चित्तविक्षेपास्तेऽन्तरायाः.  Yet the challenge is what to do when we are in it, triggered and hooked.

1.  Get in the habit of observing
-Food diary
-Screen time monitoring
-Budget tracking

2.  Notice subsequent habits that work in any moment to allow the glitter to settle before moving on to the next thing.  From breath to breath, thought to thought, meal to meal, encounter to encounter, and so on.

3.  Notice that it is a way of life.  Like a road.  And at times you accidentally wander.  Notice and realign.  Move on.  Move forward.

For people who don't have a yoga practice (or an Ashtanga practice in particular) it is hard to explain.  It is hard to explain why me getting up at dumb-o'clock, and going to bed early like a child and eating a specific way... why it is so important. It isn't about something outside.  It is inside.  It isn't like brushing your teeth.  It is more like flossing.  All the things I don't know how to process any other way except through the asana, the moving and the constant redirecting of focus... That intensity of sitting with the good and the bad, the easy and the hard, the comfortable and the terrifying.  I need that.  Yes, I have to get through the whole marathon even when I don't want to.    And yes, sometimes my digestion is great.  Basic input output system.   One in one out.  And then the practice shifts and it turns into magic and becomes something else where there's energy to give.  So much energy to give.  As tantalizing as that possibility sounds, we need both.  The struggle connects us.

I remember hearing a talk by Pema Chodron years ago.  It was something about how we all think enlightenment is this pyramid going up but we have it wrong.  It is a pyramid going straight down into the earth with slippery walls and we all slide down down down into the mud and into the shit and how important that is.  Suffering like that. We look around and we see that we are all there together.  We are all suffering.  That's where the compassion is.

We've got to simplify yoga.  Not because we are but because it should be just enough to let all that we are shine through.  And we have got to simplify our lives because we are so much more than stuff on stuff on stuff.

Exit: "Tinfoil" Rainer Maria

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Day Twenty-Eight - Yoga teaching burn out

Me, up at 3:45am, practice before teaching, before a full day of work at the office.

Maybe they do tell us...but I never listened.  If you are teaching yoga, you have got to have a serious self care practice or you will get burned out.  I thought if I ate well, practiced with my teacher, slept decently, kept to teaching, read yoga philosophy, did my yoga practice that that was all I needed to thrive.  Maybe it is enough for you but it has taken me over a decade to realize that it is not enough for me to stay healthy, energized and happy.

Krishnamacharya would say that yes, you need the asana and the philosophy and the food and a good teacher but you also need counseling at times and every other holistic modality you can think of to support the unfolding of your process. I am finally ready to admit that it is true — we have to be open to our current state and to change, whatever that may be.

Teaching yoga was all I really ever knew.  Yes, I did other side jobs here and there but teaching yoga has been my main profession for the majority of my adult life.  When it is all you know and people aren’t telling you or you just aren’t listening or you just don’t think you have the money or time you forget about yourself.  And maybe you really don’t have the time and money to take care of yourself and see no end in sight...maybe teaching yoga isn’t the thing.  And that is ok.

Let’s be clear.  Burn out does not mean that I am just bored with yoga or teaching.  Absolutely not.  Burn out is when I am working so hard and pushing myself to the absolute limits without break or rest or care for so long that all systems begin to break down.  It is physical and/or emotional exhaustion.

In my 15ish years as a yoga teacher, here is what I have learned...

You know you are burned out when:

-You haven’t made the time to take care of your basic health (you haven’t had a checkup, seen the gyno, gone to the dentist, etc. in more than a year)

-You aren’t saving for retirement

-You don’t have an emergency fund

-You are always sore or tired or angry

-You have no life outside of work

-You aren’t doing your own yoga practice

-When people want to talk about yoga you need to leave the room

-You don’t have patience like you used to

-You aren’t enjoying teaching or practice

-You feel uninspired

-You are having trouble sleeping

-You are getting sick a lot

How to get out of burnout/avoid:

-Make good sleep a priority.

-Keep a food diary and consider seeing a nutritionist.

-Do your own practice first.

-Find local teachers you can drop into once in a while.  I get it, maybe there aren’t any teachers in your tradition locally.  Still, just getting in a class and letting someone else drive once in a while feels so rejuvenating.

-Find other body movement modalities to participate in once in a while.  Just moving in a new way can have enormous positive effects on the body and mind.

-Generate income outside of teaching yoga.  It takes the pressure off.

-Budget track.  This is basic self care.  We need to start talking about money.  Knowing exactly where your money comes from and where it goes is key to understanding what kind of income you need to generate and zeroing in on how you can be more efficient with your time.

-Save for retirement.  Yes, you should be doing this.

-Start emergency fund.  Emergencies will happen.  I fell in the shower a few years ago and sustained a serious injury.  I did not have an emergency fund and could not take time off from teaching.  Don’t do what I did.

-Take a break and a real vacation.  Teaching a yoga retreat or travel teaching is work.  That is not a vacation.  Everyone needs time to rest, restore, and decompress at the very least.  Rejuvenate is even better.

-Make and keep doctor appointments.

-Develop other skills.  This will give you a sense of confidence, self, and identity outside of yoga.  Diversifying is most always a good idea.

-Get body work done.  This might feel indulgent but as a yoga teacher and practitioner, you basically need to treat yourself like a professional athlete.  Because you are.  This might mean massages or physical therapy or energy healing.  Just find out what works for you and be sure to shake it up once in a while.

-Explore activities that help you relax.

-Explore activities that bring you joy.

-Explore activities that bring you energy.

-Learn how to say “no”.

-Check in with your emotions and how your body feels regularly.

-Read a book.  Give yourself permission to have true downtime.

-Make sure you are getting paid fairly and if not, negotiate a higher rate or walk away.  Time is something that you will never get back.

Me, blissed out on an actual vacation in Tulum with my favorite -  Paletas! 

Exit: “Light” San Holo

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Day Twenty-Seven - Facebook detox

Wow -- Facebook really triggers me.

This morning I noticed that the first thing that I reached for after coffee was a screen.  Any screen.  I don't know why.  I haven't written in three days - demerits.  I think I was searching for a writing prompt.  I picked up a book and put it down.  Stared at my notebook in the distance and didn't pick it up. Opened and closed email without even reading anything.  Opened Facebook.  Didn't even scroll -- just an onslaught of information and things that I missed and am not a part of and a whole world that exists, a secret club that I am not allowed into.  All the things that I failed to do.  All the credit I didn't receive.

After taking so much time off from social media, my baseline state is no longer a hardy mix of anxiety and stress. Instead, it is a neutral flow.  It has taken months, actually - even years, to get here.  And so when I gaze at the open Facebook page I can notice in a very real way how triggered I am.  It feels similar to when you are off sugar for a while and then eat a processed snack.  All you taste is plastic.

Facebook didn't originally have "likes".  It was just status updates.  I forgot about this evolution until I was recently reminded by an interview with Cal Newport. (Digital Minimalism is on my reading list.)   And then came the algorithm that made sure that you only got "likes" some of the time.  Essentially following the Vegas models that made sure you lost and won "likes" just enough to keep you coming back for more.

Should I delete Facebook?  You can download your photos and always start a new page...  But all of the modern marketing teachings echo in my head: remember that it is a useful tool that offers a place for us to build supportive communities, share valuable information, and stay connected.  The key here is using the tool rather than the tool using us.

The minimalist decision tree
1. Does it feel good?
      2.  No
           3. Is it necessary?
                4. If Yes --> Only in small doses
                4. If No --> Don't do it/buy it/keep it/think it
      2.  Yes
           3. Is it depleting, neutral, or energizing?
                4. Focus on energizing and neutral, minimize depleting

I should delete Facebook.  But I can't.

Belize 2019.  Off the grid and so happy.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Day Twenty-Six - No more bullying in yoga is allowed

As the spiritual decluttering continues and I am less numb and more willing to "sit with what is", old memories come up.  Samskaras.  I kind of wish that I could just do my practice and bliss out and connect with the infinite yay.  But I am also kind of glad that I am actually moving through these things finally instead of moving around them.

So there I am practicing and I am remembering how ever since I was a child people (adults) would remark "oh, you look so ethnic".  This was not a compliment.  How kids on the playground would make fun of my nose so much that my secret forever wish was to someday get plastic surgery.  All the times my body was different than everyone else's and I was called "fat".  The first instance was when I was little -- maybe 4?  Oh, and what it is like to be "developed" when you are a kid and everyone lets you know.  Now you are a sexual being, a woman, a temptation, a liability, a distraction.

I wish I could say that all that came to an end when I reached adulthood.  That society changed and we all evolved as humans.  Not exactly.

Yesterday I am in the middle of my practice and the thought of "fear" just keeps coming into my mind and as I explore it I remember so many times as an adult that I was bullied, shutdown, made fun of, discouraged, etc.  So much so that the first thing I see when I see images of myself in asana practice is a "roll" or "fat".  It takes my eyes a minute and sometimes a day to focus so that what I see is everything else.  Everything else that I see in anyone else rather than being hyper aware of anything that might be pointed out and made fun of. Strength, grace, beauty, hard work, ease, humanness, dedication...

We used to hate fashion magazines for depicting unrealistic images of beauty.  Now we have social media doing exactly the same.  News flash: most everyone gets a roll when they squish their body in one way or another.  Also, there's nothing wrong with having rolls. News flash: I know plenty of people who do "cleanses" or "eat light" before yoga asana photo shoots.  Maybe it is to "feel light" in their practice.  Maybe.

In the yoga community, I have been told that I am too heavy, that "life has caught up with me", I am too young, too old, the wrong shape, too stiff, too flexible, that my teacher disapproves of me and will kick me out of the shala, to stop writing, take down my blog, stop teaching, that I can't make it in India, my teacher made a mistake, that things just "come natural" to me, that I should stop teaching.  In this process of spiritual decluttering, I pick up each thing, realize it does not bring value and joy, tell it thank you and kindly discard.  What is interesting to me is that none of this bullying or negativity came from my teacher.  That I do have a select group of people in my life who are very supportive and when things get cluttered all I hear and remember is the hate.

Social media is a great tool to stay connected.  To encourage and build each other up.  To spread helpful information.  We need this.  Life can be lonely.  We need to support each other.  We need to raise the lowest common denominator and operate from a place of abundance rather than scarcity.  We need to be honest and truthful and consistent and respectful and move from a place of integrity.  We need to honor vulnerability, courageousness, bravery, generosity and kindness.  If we aren't doing these things, what are we doing?  What is the point?  We need to care for each other and for ourselves.  Nourish our bodies and our relationships and the planet.  Set boundaries and respect the boundaries of others.  Admit mistakes and make things better.  Follow the niyamas and yamas.  That's pretty basic.

Oh, and it is no longer cool to comment on someone else's body or creativity with the intent to cut them down.  Even accidentally.

I want to be recognized for the quality of my character and hard work and dedication and grit and for being consistent and fair and kind and taking good care of myself.  Not for looking a certain way or just being nice or popular or just going along with everything even if it isn't right.

And urdva kukkutasana b is really hard.  REALLY hard until it isn't.  And I tell you what... I eat dinner and have a "normal" job and grind day in and day out alone and for me what it took and what it takes each day is an extreme and crazy belief that I can do it.  That I am strong and capable and light and I am just moving energy.  I repeat this again and again so much that I believe it.  I shut out "you're too heavy you're not strong you ate dinner this is too hard for you you'll never do it".  And I go back to "I am strong and capable and light and I am just moving energy".  That I am enough. I repeat this again and again so much that I believe it.  For me, that's how much of this yoga asana challenge/plateau/impossibility has come and gone.  Nose, mulabandha, positive thinking, let energy move.  Simplify.  That's where the grace is.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Day Twenty-Five - Obstacles

When you go to Mysore, India to study at the shala you have your morning asana practice, chanting some afternoons, and the rest of your day free to fill as you see fit.  On my last trip I took yoga philosophy classes (my usual MO) a few days per week.  A group of yoga students climb the stairs in the women's dressing room, grab a carpet square, and sit cross-legged on the floor in an amorphous semicircle facing our teacher.  It is usually fairly hot and humid with mosquitoes flying around and my legs fall asleep and my hips ache and I'm fairly certain all of these things only really happen to me but I don't mind one bit.  I love sitting there with atrophied feet listening to my teacher walk through yoga philosophy from an Indian perspective punctuated by the birds outside, honking and laughing in the street, and the perplexed faces of students trying to make out his accent or English in general (because some of the students don't speak English at all) and whether or not the explanations he makes and stories he tells are real.

But this one is an easy one.  Our teacher is talking to us about a monastery in the north of India and how things are done there.  How we kind of don't understand what it is like to be a student and how maybe this illustration will give us a little bit of insight.  Maybe.  At this monastery students go and they wash the floors and clean the toilets and do all sorts of manual labor.  They do this for the "first few years" he says.  Once they complete this stage, that's when the yoga teaching begins.  "How many years is a few years?" Someone asks.  "Ten or eleven."

Last year I had to get a new Visa to travel to India.  Incredibly, my ten year Visa had expired.  I thought I had too.  Washed up maybe. Too something.  But when I heard that simple story in the women's locker room in philosophy class, I realized that the yoga was just beginning.

Me, in the thick of practice (dwi pada shirshasana which is a posture in the intermediate series), photo taken in my last apartment in New York somewhere between 2008 and 2011.

व्याधिस्त्यानसंशयप्रमादालस्याविरतिभ्रान्तिदर्शनालब्धभूमिकत्वानवस्थितत्वानि चित्तविक्षेपास्तेऽन्तरायाः॥३०॥
vyadhi styana samshaya pramada alasya avirati bhranti-darshana alabdha-bhumikatva anavasthitatva chitta vikshepa te antarayah
“Disease, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, sensuality, false perception, failure to reach firm ground and slipping from the ground gained- these distractions of the mind-stuff are the obstacles.”
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1.30 translation by Swami Satchidananda

Exit:  "Million Dollar Bill" Middle Brother

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Day Twenty-Four - Rest day, you take rest

In the Ashtanga yoga tradition, we “take rest” one day per week from asana practice - usually a Saturday or Sunday.  I have always kept the routine of one day off per week (plus new/full moon days and first three days of menstruation). I figure if we are going to take the prescription we should follow the prescription.  In my process this year of coming back to my center, decluttering, minimizing, self-reflection - I am realizing that deep down I truly do not ever rest except for the weekly break from asana.

I am not a rule follower.  I do not do well with authority at all.  The thing is when I believe in something, I commit, and I go hard.  So when my yoga teacher says to take a day off each week from practice - that's exactly what I will do.  The end.

New Mexico is filled with an incredible variety of gorgeous natural retreats.  We found one deep in the mountains, past any road that the average vehicle would travel, so remote that phones were thrown deep into bags because service was so completely out of the question.  Roads unmarked and so questionable that we needed a local to guide us down the same road that we had previously attempted, but deeper.  Much deeper into the tall trees and wild grasses and fresh high altitude air.  Bear country.  Mountain lion country. Rattlesnake country.  As we continued deeper in, the only man made items were those that we curated.  Just the essentials. We instantly fell into the pace and simplicity and didn’t miss TV or books or restaurants or the convenience of anything.  I woke through the night terrified of the sounds of squirrels that I truly believed to be mountain lions.  We woke at peace and relaxed and completely grounded and present.

Hours later I realized that I felt happy.  And that’s when the guilt set in.  

I observed the thought.  It is a feeling that I am going to "get caught" or "get in trouble".  I asked "why?"  The answer that came was that I don’t believe that I am allowed to or deserve to rest or take a break or relax.  Again, I asked "why?"  Silence. Clutter.  System shut down.

Ok, brain.  Let's begin here.  You believe in your yoga practice, right?
Do you think that maybe you could extend that to your life?
Yes, that's the point.
Ok, great.  So, take a day to truly rest.  Or just give yourself a break.
Yes, that's make sense.
Ok, great.  That's how we live now.  Also, you're simplifying everything, right?  And it feels good?
Ok, great.  This one day off a week pattern seems to work and is established in one area of your life.  Why not piggyback on that with other areas so that you have a designated break?
Yes, that makes sense.
Ok, great.  One more thing.  Who establishes the benchmark for your success and expectations?
I do.
Ok, great.  Are you meeting all your personal benchmarks and expectations?
Well, what's missing?
More blank space.  More travel.  More teaching.  More art and creativity and flow time and shala time.
Ok, great.  Maybe that's the guilt.  You felt happy and at peace and were feeling guilty that you aren't  doing that for yourself more.  That you aren't moving from your own inner space.  Could it be that?
I feel guilty again.
Ok, let's just work on more rest time.
Yes.  Ok.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Day Twenty-Three - Missing Mysore

Day 23 of 30 days of challenging myself to write again.  I started blogging back in 2007 the day before I left on my first trip to India.  I didn’t even know what a blog was but it was easier than emailing everyone so I gave it a try and ended up writing almost every day for years.  And then suddenly it drifted away.  I lost the excitement, the motivation, my confidence, my voice.  I didn’t feel like I had anything to say at all.  It was many things.  Exhaustion and stress and overwork and trauma and bullying and self consciousness and everything.  All the things that can happen when you are more and more isolated and deeper in you go.

This year I could feel strongly that I wanted to do something new, to teach, to get back into different projects, art, creativity... but I was just exhausted all the time and between maintaining my corporate job and friends and family I just had nothing left at the end of each day.  I started seeing a therapist and a doctor to look at my nutrition.  We modified my diet and now I keep a food diary and there was the EMDR.  After starting the new year in Mexico I knew big shifts had to happen in order for me to feel centered again and to get my energy back.  I Kon Mari’d as prescribed in one go over a long weekend.  I was surprised at how well this actually did work.  I pulled back from social media until it just was completely gone.  And it is funny... All the things I was trying so hard to do...they just started happening naturally.

I started reading - easily - again.  Journaling.  Painting.  New ideas coming and inspiration.  But I had to shut out everything in order to find that.  I had to drop out of everything that wasn’t absolutely required.  I had to turn off my phone and delete apps and say “no” to invitations.  I had to stop looking and listening outward and instead go inward.  I didn’t realize how much I allowed my world to move in that direction.  I now very seriously had to set up my environment so that my mind and body could go inward easily.  A safe place to get the muscles back.

In that quiet space the memory of enjoying writing and blogging came back to me.  I was curious.  Is it something that I would enjoy now?  Something that would bring value?  Only one way to find out.  30 day personal blogging challenge.

And in the quiet the other candle that continues to burn in the background is the practice.  Yoga.  Mysore.  The magic.  The feeling of complete centering.  The peak experience.  I want to find it more and everywhere.  It is there in some moments alone and with others in my living room and it was there in moments at The Little Shala (my program here in New Mexico).  It was there when I dropped in in Phoenix and of course, in Mysore at the main shala.  It is the silence.  The sound of breathing and bodies moving through space.  The feeling of heat coming off humans and the sound of hard work.  No conversation, no bullshit.  Just a space filled with people sincerely committed to transformation.  It feels essential and primal and so connected to just being alive.

Right now I am taking a little break before my next teaching season. The Mysore room. I miss it.

My last trip to India was last year.  It was my shortest trip so far... four weeks.  Each day in the shala on my mat I would smile to myself.  There was absolutely nothing that could disturb that absolute gratitude and joy.  I would soak in the feeling of the air and the sounds outside of traffic and birds and students kicking of their sandals and women sweeping their front porches and the sounds inside of students moving and Sharath making little jokes and “one more!”  I would silently thank each person who made it possible for me to be there in one way or another.  And now when I get quiet, I can conjure up the feeling and I am there.

It feels like this.

Day 28, India 2018:  I get the spot in the front corner. The one under the overhang where if I really stretch, my fingers graze the ceiling. Where all the air feels hottest and wettest and smelliest. The floor isn’t slick, it’s wet. The wall is wet. The wall on my right somehow feels more cramped than a wall on the left or people an inch away on any side. (This is not my favorite spot.) I’m boiling. Sweating at first only and then on fire. Soaked in sweat. And then anger. Nonstop anger. The violent kind. I’m so angry. Moving through my practice in a crazy fit of rage. I listen to the conversation in my head on how maybe I’m the villain, not the hero. And whatever. I don’t care.

And I do all the asanas, all the movements even as I feel like an angry brick of cement that burns down everything.

And then I get to third series, Advanced A. Maybe this is a fresh start? No. Anger. And then I get to my latest pose, urdva kukkutasana b. And I do it. With confidence. I own it now. I jump back. I jump through. I look back at whoever and am like “that’s how it’s done #@&$$?!!$”.” And then back bending and then tick tocks and then waiting for vrkshikasana and it’s so intense and now I’m crying. 
Sharath comes after awhile. I’m in handstand and he puts my feet on my head. ‘What you did?’ I tell him ‘I did B but it made me cry’. He says ‘good. You have to let the emotions out’. And I am fully crying as we stand there. (We’ve been here many times over the years.) He does my backbends. He says ‘tomorrow you do galavasana.’ I say ‘galavasana?’ ‘Yes, without crying. You’re too happy to cry.’

Post-practice, Mysore 2018.  That same day.  Sensory deprivation tank.
Exit:  “Sober to Death” Car Seat Headrest 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Day Twenty-Two - My first trip to Mysore, India

We all have our own story, our own legends.  I am remembering my first trip to Mysore.  India had not been on my travel radar but I was serious about yoga and so when an article on yoga popped up in Vanity Fair my grandma clipped it out and gave it to me.  I was so excited to see anything "yoga" and at the time there were not many books or magazines like there are now.  You kind of had to know what you were looking for in order to find it. 

I read through the article and a few pages in there is a spread on Ashtanga Yoga and how it comes from Mysore, India and Pattabhi Jois is still there, an octogenarian, teaching.  And I thought to myself "well, that's it... I have to go" and nothing else mattered.  The image was like looking back in time and I had no idea that I could be a part of that.  I asked my teacher for travel advice and in his typical fashion, he gave none because that's what they all had to do.  Just arrive and discover.  It is part of it.  Okay.  And in a way, he was very right.

Another teacher put me in touch with someone based in Mysore.  Once I bought my ticket, he gave me advice on a taxi and that I should stay in a hotel for the night (because you fly into Bangalore which used to be four hours away) and then head into Mysore where I'd stay for the first week at his bed and breakfast. So I get my visa to travel to India which at the time meant that you had to go to the Indian consulate and it was my first introduction to what it would be like in India.  The rules, not rules.  The feeling that absolutely everything would not be fine and then it would be totally fine don't worry except for those few times but that was magic too.  And I skip the shots because I only have catastrophic health insurance and I don't even know where to begin to find that kind of doctor and I'm sure it will be fine.  There wasn't Pinterest either.  I have no idea how I knew what to pack.

I arrive in India around 3am.  I later learn that this is normal.  And so will be being fully awake at that time. Not just from jet lag.

I arrive in India around 3am and it is just me and a bag or suitcase I can't remember.  I must have had some rupees because I walked outside into the dark completely unable to identify which cars were taxis.  I didn't know what a rickshaw was.  I had the name of a hotel that I was to stay at and the driver took me there.  I paid for a night even though my car was picking me up in just a few hours.  I didn't even have a watch.  No phone.  The hotel was over the top colonial - white with red textiles and gold trim.  I am escorted to my room.  I am exhausted. As soon as the door closes behind me I run toward the huge massive pillow cloud of a bed, leap into the air, and completely back flop onto the hardest, thinnest, best disguised mattress I have ever experienced in my life (up until that point).  I groan myself to sleep.

Even jet lagged and pretending to sleep in Bangalore I didn't know if I would be able to practice at the shala.  Back then it was called the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute (AYRI).  There was a website and the application was simple: you mail a letter explaining why you wanted to come practice and include a photo of yourself.  The AYRI would write to you if you were not accepted.  Otherwise, you show up.  I was so worried that maybe my rejection letter was lost in the mail.  That I had come all this way...  And maybe it was and maybe it wasn't.  I got to my bed and breakfast.  I registered for classes.  I looked for housing. I had no money as my credit card and debit card were not working in the ATMs.  My banks had shut them down.

That first month was very difficult.  Friends I made would tell me that I should probably go home.  "Some people just weren't made for Asia."  They are probably still right.  But being in the shala, practicing with Saraswati and Guruji and Sharath... it felt like home.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Day Twenty-One - Year of hibernation

A colleague was telling me that she had updated someone on my status.

"Well, what did you say?"

"That you worked a lot and are learning to say 'no' and that you are taking supplements with animal products in them and it is a big deal.  So, not much."

I kind of love this.

My year in pictures...

New Year's on the beach.  Talking to the ocean.  Being in nature.

Reflecting back during my Kon Mari weekend. Watercolors from 2013.

Reflecting way back during Kon Mari weekend to backpacking Europe at 17.  I couldn't stand high school.  Tried to drop out and got on an accelerated program instead.  Graduated years early (really I couldn't get out fast enough), shaved my head, grabbed my jansport and got on a plane.  This is a postcard from a friend I made on one of my last days.

Scene from The Little Shala.  Mysore in Albuquerque is way different than in New York.  It is harder.  The culture is more baked in and harder to work around.  Not impossible, just harder.  Each person who shows up is a hero.  The shared energy of everyone else really gave me the extra boost I needed for my own practice this winter.  

Made friends and friends moved away.  It is just like Mysore, India around here lately.  Magic included.

Found timeless connection where and when it was least expected.

And got lost in time in the desert.  

Quiet moments in Belize.  Nature.  Ocean.

Started painting again.

Slept in a real magic school bus.

Olive forever.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Day Twenty - Never give up

We all seem to be on the same vibe.  The more I talk to people about what I am doing, the more and more I hear the same response -- everyone is reducing their phone use and social media use or at least questioning it.  We are all craving more time outside.  We are going analog.  We still want our phones and tech.  Our phones are calculators and flashlights and cameras and day planners and notebooks and mini computers and how we can easily stay in touch with friends around the world and much more.  As tools, they add incredible value.  We are keeping our phones.

But we are leaving the fear of missing out and the anxiety and the interruptions and the stress and the pressure and constant unbearable suffocating noise.  We are staying present at dinner and finishing the conversation with the person in front of us and reading whole books and we are happy with what we have.  We are content just as we are in our own thoughts.  A moment of pause is welcome.  It is an opportunity to reflect and absorb and process and daydream and imagine.  Wide open blank space.

Memory is increasing.  Creativity increasing.  Energy and possibility increasing.

And yes, yet again, this week I'm thinking to myself how impossible ankle grabbing is and how that's it for me.  I'm over.  I'm 6 pounds heavier with inflammation and grumpy and uncomfortable and nope it is just not possible.  But mula bandha is the same.  And I can look at my nose so that is the same.  And I can steady my breathing.  And I direct the thinking to one steady place.  And there I am, on my "worst" day and I have this feeling of just "whoosh" breaking past all of that and the energy is just moving and some things are always within our reach.  Consistency.  Faith.  Never give up.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Day Nineteen - Moon day vibes

On the first day of each month I burn copal that I picked up in Mexico.  They say burning copal cleans crystals and energy and is a powerful conduit to the spirit world.  It is different than incense.  It seems stronger somehow.  The scent is different, the smoke is different, even when you try to light it you realize it is more like lighting a fire.  The dried resin smokes and fills the room and your house and it is a new month with all the energy of a new year.  So far, that is how 2019 has felt for me.  Each month an entire year in itself.  Pretty soon a decade will have come to pass and one moment I feel so different and the next exactly the same.

But wait -- I still wake throughout the night and with nightmares... I'd say I am a terrible sleeper.  
But wait -- isn't that a massive improvement from not being able to sleep at all?  
But wait -- I've got some major inflammation happening right now so I'd say nothing is working.  
But wait -- isn't it much less than it was?  And isn't it only now actually correlating with normal cycles instead of just a continuous haze of confusion and uncomfortableness?  And what about the tiredness and anxiety and stress?  That's still there.  
But wait -- didn't you used to drink extremely strong coffees with 4 shots each throughout the day?  And have to workout on top of that?  And need to listen to crazy intense music to be able to concentrate?  And struggle with procrastination and finishing projects?  And every other legal self-medication strategy that made sense?  
Aren't you doing a lot more now on and with much less?  Now that you have decluttered?  

Ok, I guess that's true.

So right now here is life, decluttered.

1. Seeing doctor about nutrition
Taking supplements as prescribed, clean diet, food diary

2. Mysore practice

3. Journal
Schedule lives here as well as notes, idea, plans, etc.

4. Kon Mari'd house

5.  Social media detox

6.  Tech detox

7.  Tracking budget

8.  Office 
Decluttering the unnecessary and one thing at a time

9.  One thing at a time
Also, one project at a time

10.  Listen to body/mind

11.  Reading

12. Write for 30 days

And I guess it is true that I have noticed other things besides unresolved feelings...  My memory is getting better.  My attention span longer.  I am maintaining eye contact.  My creativity is coming back.  My voice...  I never realized how much they had all diminished.

FOMO is gone.

Noticing how much my identity is tied up in my yoga practice.  Somehow noticing even more how essential it is.