Friday, December 30, 2011

Tabula Rasa

I realized this week that I'm terribly fond of one particular grudge. Like a story from glory days, I'll happily chat you up about how much one person really chaps my hide, supported with many examples of just how ridiculous this person is so that hopefully you will share in the holiday joy that comes with lambasting someone you've never met.

Think for a moment of the stories that you cling to. Perhaps your neighbors' penchant for nude hot tubbing midday which has lead you to the conclusion that they must be unemployed perverts who show off their lady parts just to spite you? Or your coworker's extended afternoon appointments which you've spun into a wildly illicit affair, supplemented by a complete disregard for the important work of designing holiday cards (or whatever it is that you do). Maybe your husband's singlehanded plot to cover every surface in your home with a combination of toothpaste, discarded socks, and coffee rings?

I happen to know not only that you tell yourself these kinds of stories, but that you lack the awareness that you do so. The good news about this? You could always pick up a second job writing for a situation comedy, because they thrive on the absurdity that is daily life. The bad news? You're living in a sitcom, minus the laugh track, perfect hair, and commercial underwriting.

In the 90's, all we could hope for was a little sitcom life. We idealized Friends, Frasier, and in my case, Dharma and Greg, and wanted nothing but fun bits where everyone spent time together in coffee shops bemoaning the curse of adulthood. The time has come to move on. The menu of TV options should be a clue that times have changed, what with the horrific choices of shows that romanticize homicide. Rather than plugging into the despair, or writing your own sitcom, consider your favorite YouTube videos, those viral little bits of joy that pop up on occasion. This is the time of Otters Holding Hands, Baby Panda Sneezing, Emerson: Mommy Blows Her Nose.

The next time you open your mouth to share some vile sludge about your neighbors, family, or coworkers, instead pick up your nearest iDevice and watch a little baby monkey riding backwards on a pig. Enjoy the unrivaled bliss of laughing until you cry.

As we step forwards into a year the Mayans couldn't even conceive of, how will you greet the dawn?

As this year dies, what will you allow to die with it?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Average, schmaverage

I love Lake Wobegon from A Prairie Home Companion... where everyone is above average. This idea beautifully describes the way we see the world both on and off the mat, doesn't it? A silently screaming mass of people attempting to be above, or in the case of weight, just below average. Does this seem silly to you? An arbitrary benchmark that you try like hell to stay close to?

It should.

There is one area where we settle for average and hope for normal: our health. If your cholesterol is above 200, or your blood pressure above 120/80, or waist above 30" your doctor will tell you to eat less fat, sugar, salt, cholesterol, etc. If you manage to squeak in below these magical numbers, your doctor may not tell you anything at all, because you are normal.

And you're fine with that?


If you are like me, you go in for your yearly physical and they tell you that your iron, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, sugars and everything else are normal. You tell them that you are tired, you worry about things, you wonder when the rat race will end and you can just live life again. They tell you to take a multivitamin and keep doing what you're doing, and that this is the way that life is. You should feel fortunate for being normal. There should be some level of comfort in knowing that everyone else feels this way too.


So then we go home and feel tired, and cranky, and icky. We drink eight glasses of water a day, sleep eight hours at night, get 30 minutes of exercise three times a week, and go through the life motions grateful to be in the company of a culture who is also tired and cranky and icky.

What would happen if we started with yoga? If we started with ahimsa for real and didn't allow ourselves to wake when we were still tired, didn't force ourselves to drink water when we weren't thirsty (subsequently waking us in the night to use the facilities and lose a bit of sleep), didn't drag our bodies to the gym when we were exhausted or let ourselves off easily because we had finished the prescribed run for the week?

What if we tried to get as far away from average as possible? What if our goal was to feel above average? Ask yourself (no one else is watching): do I remember what it actually feels like to be well rested? Hungry? Full?

When we do violence to ourselves, we do violence to the world. If we offer help from a place of illness, work from a place of apathy, or extend compassion for others in a void of compassion for ourselves, we do nothing of service. Conversely, if we do anything from a place of rest and intention, we do it mindfully without room for error.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Significantly insignificant

Moments in my life remind me how small I am in the context of the greater world: beautiful things like fall colors and crisp mornings, scary things like the bears who spelunked in my garbage last night, and humbling things like learning that I'm six hundred and twelfth in line for the next available representative. All of these lessons are good lessons, even if they alternately make me want to live in a cave and live in the concrete jungle.

As I hear other teachers mention the same stories I've told, or pick up on my mannerisms, I am humbled. On a daily basis I joke about my kind of yoga being called Kari Kwinn Vinyasa Flow Yoga, because I think that naming one particular practice after oneself is a bit... pompous. But at the same time I realize that what I'm teaching is Kari Kwinn Vinyasa Flow Yoga. It is a combination of the yoga classes my four year old self took on crisp autumn mornings instead of physical education, the years of participating in improv comedy and stand up as the 'straight man,' the shame of living years of my life trying to be someone I wasn't, and the joy in living my right life.

My teaching is informed by my every move, and I've come to realize that others who have taken my classes have absorbed bits of my verbiage and style and created their own yoga. This yoga evolves in the way that language evolves. It is a living thing that takes root in each of us and expands to the limits of our interpersonal reactions. It becomes the way we tell our story and share our personal significance with the world.

Can you recall a particularly profound yoga class you have taken? Where you were moved to tears or felt a few fleeting moments of bliss? That is a part of you today, it is in the conversations you have with loved ones and interactions with the clerk at the grocery store. Whether that moment stays at the forefront of your memory, it is the reason you take a breath instead of yelling at the driver who cut you off, or the reason you give away your last five dollars against your better judgment. If you teach yoga, it flows through you and ripples out into the world.

Your yoga is not your yoga, it simply flows through you.

Om bolo sat guru bhagavan ki

Friday, October 14, 2011

Boundless Boundaries

If you are relatively new to yoga, you might think that there are no boundaries in yoga. Case in point, I recently visited a studio out of state where I was 'adjusted' by a burly man who simply picked me up, rearranged my limbs according to his preference for the pose, and returned me to my mat. I literally hung in the air waffling between a state of terror and finding the situation more than amusing. It was a WWJD kind of moment. Like, seriously, what would Jesus have done?

I'm not sure any religious scholars have every contemplated this particular tidbit, but I think that he would have felt rather like me: uncomfortable. This is the best part of meeting new people and traveling to new places. I hear in some parts of Asia you are expected to snuggle with strangers on public transportation, while my parents would most like to greet you from the other room. And stay there. For dinner.

At the studio where I spend most of my time, people lay their mats down until they are nearly touching. Sometimes they bonk heads to tails or legs to walls, or feet to mirrors. The mat isn't like a magic carpet where your arms and legs must stay inside the ride at all times, the mat is a suggestion. A practice boundary.

Touching also happens. I've never actually lifted off of a yoga mat before (except in meditation, of course), but I've inadvertently grazed the wrong part of someone else's body with the wrong part of mine. I've stepped on toes, adjusted too harshly and otherwise invaded the space of others. I hate to admit it, but I've even grabbed the wrong water bottle. When all goes well in a flow based yoga class, we most resemble a school of fish, moving in tandem without making any contact.

Yoga is a singular experience. And it is about the union of self and everything else that isn't self. We don't often think of boundaries in our lives unless someone crosses one. Sure, if you mistakenly step on my mat as you fall out of a posture, no big deal. But if I walk into class and you're on my mat, practicing? We have an issue. I might feel comfortable with you using my toothpaste, but my toothbrush? Not on your life. Asana practice helps us explore those boundaries we've yet to discover in the rest of our lives and gives us an opportunity to assert them again. It is kind of like a return to Kindergarten.

"By the practice of the limbs of Yoga, the impurities dwindle away and there dawns the light of wisdom, leading to discriminative discernment."II 29, The Yoga Sutras

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Aha, Aparigraha

The people who say "it is better to give than to receive" seem like the people with the least stuff, right? They are giving the stuff. They should have the least stuff. I have always like to think of myself as a give-r, not a have-r or (heaven forbid) a keep-er.

So why do I have SO MUCH CRAP?

Have you ever experienced the beauty of this inner dialogue? Well, my darlings, the problem is in thinking we must always be ready to give, because IT IS BETTER TO GIVE than to receive. Do you follow? This little ditty implies that I must always have something to give, lest I ever be in a position to receive. Perhaps this is the reason that I have seventy bottles of wine, socks that don't fit me, and teething rings. This could explain my compulsion to purchase bird seed when it is on clearance, even though I have no birds and putting bird seed out in my neighborhood defies various covenants. My house is teeming with well intentioned purchases or acquisitions that are just standing by, waiting to be given at a moment's notice.

It is true that my friends appreciate my boyscout nature. You can be certain that whenever we travel together I will have the ibuprofen, the lotion, kleenex, bobby pin or quarter that you need. However, it recently dawned on me that it is just a tad unreasonable for me to take a condom with me on a business trip away from my husband, lest someone else need one.

You might be surprised to learn that no one has yet asked me for this valuable and well-traveled commodity in my five years of work travel

Perhaps the examples in your life are closer to reasonable. You have artificial sweetener on hand at home in case someone drops in who needs it, except you haven't had a soul in your home in the last five years requesting an artificial sweetener? You are equally as compelled as I am to obtain every last tiny, crappy hotel soap that has ever crossed your path even though you have yet to use one and you're starting to run out of space in your closet for unused soap (that guests might use if you ever had guests who wanted to use their own individual bar of soap).

What hole in my life am I trying to fill with tiny soaps?

What hole are you trying to fill with tiny soaps?

This is the blessing and curse of this yama. Non-grasping is what we're going for, and yet, we can't grasp for it. We must work towards placing what is clenched tightly in our fists into the open begging hands of the world, both figuratively and literally. Stop taking what you don't need. Start clearing out one thing every day that no longer serves you, whether it is an idea, a habit, or a million tiny soaps. Use them, or at least stop allowing them to use you.

It is better to give than to hoard, to keep, to hold tightly.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Warrior what?

If yoga is all about peace and unions, then what’s with the Warriors? Is it a bad translation? A way to relate to those who do not seek peace? Did we run out of animal names that looked like these poses?

Perhaps. For those interested in the mythology, the great story of Virabhadra talks of a vengeful god, born of rage as lord Shiva tore a lock of hair from his head and threw it into the ground. Up from the ground (warrior one) came a fierce multi-armed-eyed-and-weaponed Virabhadra. He did lots of nasty, merciless things, destroyed a lot of sacred stuff and royally irritated everyone around. To make matters worse, he cut off one particularly important head (warrior two).

Really? Is this the energy I’m manifesting in my yoga classes… this seems like a bad plan.

Yes. However, after his rage burned out (and he had a firm talking to from some other god-friends), Shiva recognized the pain he had caused and replaced Daksha’s missing head with the head of a goat as an act of reconciliation. Peace (warrior three).

Yoga does not prevent us from feeling rage, from making poor decisions, or operating without a perfect plan. Some days I wish that it did. Others I know that I wouldn’t relate well to others if I didn’t experience the same myriad of emotions that they do.

Instead, asana animates this ancient story of confronting one’s rage and making amends. By sensing the power of what is planted beneath us (w1), we redirect it into everything we do (w2), and it takes balance and attention to lower the gaze to the earth, allow the heart and mind to live on the same plane, and restore sanctity to what we have overlooked or chaos we have created (w3). By finding balance, pushing into the earth with just as much force as the earth presses into us, we deliver what we can truly offer, no more, no less.

"Nothing in the Universe survives without mercy..."

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Weary Warrior

Virabhadra was born of rage. He had lots of arms. He was cutting off heads, poisoning sacred oils, breaking stuff, poking people with sticks, holding a flaming lotus, shooting arrows all at the same time.

Does this sound familiar to you? You’re probably not quite as destructive as Virabhadra was, but you likely have only two arms. Have you wished for more? Have you heard others (or yourself) say something like “I only have two hands!” Would you say this is more often during times when you are closer to or further from the emotion of ‘rageful’?


I myself have wished for additional arms now and again. I’d love to be able to chop, grate and peel at the same time. I long for additional arms when the time comes to match and fold socks. It would be convenient to have at least one extra hand while wrapping a present. How on earth are we expected to wash the dog with only two hands? And god help you if you have to wash a cat.

While it would be irrefutably easier to have a third, and possibly fourth, hand while changing diapers, there are few tasks where our wish aligns with only a single task. Many times we entertain these multi-limbed fantasies because our minds are already attempting the multi-task mambo. With few exceptions, our minds really like to be in one place, managing one concept at once. This has become a strange and foreign concept. We prefer to fantasize about the possibilities of accomplishing many tasks simultaneously. Like scaling a fish, changing our contact lenses, and hamstring curls.


It is just as silly to consider walking the dog while earnestly learning French on your iDevice as your toenail polish dries. Texting and driving? Or perhaps eating in the shower? To save time? If you can seriously tell me you love nothing more than eating a Reuben in the shower, by all means, live it up. But just because these multitasking scenarios are more plausible than the insane scene I painted above doesn’t mean they make any more sense to your brain.

Reasonable multitasking scenarios:
- Enjoying a sunset while resting on the beach.
- Running and listening to music.
- Eating and enjoying a conversation with a friend.

Next time a loved one calls, try focusing in on the conversation. Stop everything else. Sit. (ok, enjoy the breeze). Virabhadra could take a lesson from you and your two arms.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Dear Charlie

Dear Charlie,

I've missed you in my workshop the past three weeks. I was truly looking forward to learning more from you, from your wry smile and tepid questions. Having you in my class a few months ago challenged me to be a better teacher (really... I thought harder when preparing my next several classes because of you). My explanations were never quite what you were hoping for, but rather than frustrating me or hardening my skin, your questions inspired stronger answers.

You helped me grow. The only thing we hope to offer as teachers is room for growth in our students, openness to the questions beyond, and a willingness to open your eyes.

I'm not sure I can imagine the storm you must have been in, the fury and finality. I missed the telltale look in your eyes, even though I've seen it a few times before. Did I mistake desperation for challenge? My memory is too foggy to see through.

I hope that wherever you are now, in ground or sky or on the wind at night that you have found peace. You remind me to relish each day, each student, each interaction. You remind me that the student is the true teacher, and the teacher merely a humble student.

The light in me sees, honors, and reflects the light in you. I hope that in your favorable rebirth, we may meet again. Namaste.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


I have an inordinate number of pictures of myself facing the ocean, looking into the sunset. This is strange because I live in a desert thousands of miles from any given ocean. Even my inland pictures are frequently of bruised skies mourning the sun.

There is something magical about a sunset.

When I was five, my father explained sunsets to me. He said that the colors in the sunset are always there, but we can't see them because of the angle of the sun/atmosphere/something else about physics. Do you know? I can't remember the exact description, but I do remember the key element. The colors in the sunset are always there, we just don't always get to see them.

So much exists that we can't see unless we are lucky enough to look at just the right time, from the perfect angle. This is true in yoga. When we slog through our days and start to look down at the ground, we forget to look up and we forget to look within. Stepping onto the mat we put ourselves in the right place for an amount of time that something might fall away and we might just see the colors in the sky. We salute the sun, we sit, we lie down, and if we are lucky enough we drive home just in time to see the sunset. We see what has always been there. That which is within us begins to reflect the brilliance of what is around us, which in turn, shines more brightly inside of us.

We set the world ablaze.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


If we were in a yoga class right now and I said "Hanuman" you would probably:
a) cringe, grimace and find an excuse to fix your clothing, mat, hair, etc.
b) become frustrated, enraged, and irritated that some idiot came up with this pose.
c) worry intensely about how your groin will feel for the next several minutes.
d) one of you would get really excited. Maybe.

So many yoga classes depart from the history of the postures, with one exception. Hanuman is the story you hear over and over again, his devotion, his leap of faith, blah blah blah while the teacher tries desperately to keep you distracted from the OUCH my CROTCH mantra that has taken over your mind.

Have you ever really thought about Hanuman? His life story is a little soap-opera-esque, demi god, half monkey, big fan of the king. But his power came from hearing the voices of people cheering him on as the king asked the impossible: go back to the Himalayas and find the herb that will save my brother. He didn't think he could do it. Onlookers told him he could, and when he got back, he couldn't find the right herb (he was half monkey, after all). Rather than giving up, Hanuman put the entire mountain on his back and jumped back to Sri Lanka, stretching as far as he could and saved the king's brother.

Has this happened in your life? My guess is that it has. Someone has probably asked the impossible of you, supportive people cheered you on, and you made an incredible leap of faith. You're probably not a monkey, and you likely can't carry mountains on your back, but the principle is what is pivotal to the pose. Next time you are there, close your eyes. Hear the supportive groans of your fellow yogi(ni)s, and have faith that the posture will come in time.

Off the mat, the story of Hanuman isn't about the splits, and it isn't even always having faith. The essence of Hanuman is listening to the people in your life who say YOU CAN DO IT.

Sahas badan tumharo yash gaave
(Thousands of living beings are chanting hymns of your glories)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Yoga, on the Rocks

I just spent three days in the wilderness, without internet.

And I survived.

Every year my husband and I (and a small group of our assorted closest friends and relatives) head out into the mountains and spend time eating, sleeping, and staring off into space. We occasionally hike, but more often we daze and allow our minds to reacquaint themselves with the rhythm of life, as dictated by the rise and fall of the sun, tummy rumbling, and whatever the dog happens to be doing.

It is well known that our particular spot is outside of the reaches of the 21st century (namely the 3G network, Wi-Fi, and even microwaves), and yet I still find myself compelled to check The Phone. For the first eight hours of our excursion in the wilderness, I find that I've got about a three-minute window to think of things other than "did I get a new message yet?" or "I wonder what time it is?" As luck would have it, this is also the amount of time it takes the average hospital patient on pain-meds to avoid pressing the morphine button.

The irony is not lost on me.

When I came to the realization this time that my compulsion resembled an addiction, I did not throw the phone into the river, but I did let it die. I threw caution into the wind and took off my watch, and had to rely on the sky to tell me what I needed to know. Slowly peeling my fingers back from the iProduct of the moment, I let the sun kiss my face and said hello. For once, it wasn't time for yoga because it was Time for Yoga, it was simply all that needed to be done.

Yoga, on the rocks.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Spring... Er... Summer cleaning

Winter has done it's best to wipe the slate clean: the ground is ready, animals awake, and boots ready to head into their annual slumber in the back of the hall closet. Fuzzy sweaters and holey socks find new homes and renewed purpose staking tomato plants, scrubbing floors, or keeping someone else warm. 

That's the easy part. Perhaps you don't get around to washing the high windows or buying new car mats, but those are lower on the list that margaritas on the patio and starlit campouts. 

Or at least they should be.

This spring... Er... Summer... I invite you to turn that cleaning bug inward beyond facials and tooth whitening and outward beyond washing windows. What is the one dirty and damaging thing you are doing to yourself inside? Eating something that doesn't fuel you? Drinking something that hurts you? Telling yourself sad stories? Smoking?

Saucha is there for you, friends. Think of it as a green light to clean the thing you've been ignoring (and not the gutters). I invite you to treat your body like you would treat your favorite room in the house. Maybe it is full of garbage and gifts Christmas morning, but the rest of the year it is pretty darn inviting for guests, electricians, and even in-laws. If you can create a welcoming and well cared for self, you'll be a more gracious friend, employer and even in-law.

It's a two-for-one deal: heal yourself and yourself will heal the world. 

Saturday, April 30, 2011


Sometimes when I talk to newbies, I explain my heated vinyasa flow class as an arse-kicking workout followed by a short, supervised nap. 

I am most often greeted by a sideways 'what?' look not unlike the look I get from dogs when I 'jog' through the park. Most of the time they are looking for the arse-kicking, but I firmly believe that they stay for the nap.

What is savasana, and why do we stay, sweaty and exhausted when we could pop up and get to the car and get out of there? Don't tell me it is because you might get a foot rub or a savasana adjustment... The following are a few reasons you might stay, and/or what's in it for you.

1.  You might get an adjustment. Ok, fine, perhaps not the best reason to stay, but if you don't have another meaningful human interaction during a given day, the human contact can be just what you need.

2. You might get a foot rub. Where else in the world (please tell me) will you hold still for three minutes and someone will rub your feet?

3. If you are able to close your eyes and let go of the conscious breath, your mind could find the place of stillness, peace, and bliss. The field beyond judgement. Samadhi.

4. If you allow yourself a few minutes of relaxation after a difficult class, your blood vessels will take the opportunity to reset, funnel blood back towards your internal organs and supercharge your digestion and self-maintenance. Sort of like allowing your car's radiator to reset on a hot day.

5. You might find that feeling you did as a child... Lying on the sand after a long swim, sprawling in the grass after a brutal game of soccer, or making a snow angel after an intense day of sledding. Remember that? You've done it before, and that feeling is there for you every time you end a class.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Line

I've heard lately that we are happiest just at the border of our comfort zones. We need to be challenged just to the edge of our capacity. We wallow in our boredom when under stimulated, or burn out when forced into overdrive. I have personally experienced both in life: under stimulation drove me to alphabetize my spices and overstimulation has found me frantically emailing from The Throne in the middle of a conference, eating in the shower, and brushing my teeth while on the phone and doing squats. There are frequently occasions on my calendar in which I am somehow expecting myself to be three places at once.

You can tell which side of the line is my favorite.

It recently occurred to me that this happens on the mat as often as it does of the mat. I notice my fellow yogi(ni)s as well as my reflection trying to squeeze another drop, twist, bind, or balance out of every posture. I leave the line in the dust and push through, which ironically leaves me prepared to fall sleep on the couch/ floor as soon as I make it home. 

My husband teaches meditation, and more importantly, practices what he preaches. He meditates for nearly an hour a day. I have found that I am incapable of meditating without surreptitiously falling fast asleep. This takes precisely five minutes. In order to stay awake I have to think of things, like state capitals, what I will make for dinner tomorrow night, and what I should write my next blog post about. 

I ignore signposts that clearly read, "hey dorkus, the line was back that way," or "last chance for gas/food/restroom for the next 150 miles." who needs gas, food and restrooms? I have YOGA, which means I am fueled from within!

Does this happen to you? Does it sound slightly less logical when I say it?

It sounds less logical when I read it, too. Let's agree to take the first step towards approaching the line, which means finding it. Have you seen your line lately, or is it so beaten down from border crossings that it blends in with the horizon? Let's make an effort to see the line, both on and off the mat. Start in the microcosm that is your mat. Take one full breath before the bind. Find the line. Take child's pose. Close your eyes. Remind yourself that your fellow mat riders aren't racing you. So long as you all start and end class in your mat and breathing, you all win.

Even on this side of the line.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lessons from a Neurotic Yogini, Part 2

A couple of weeks ago I shared a few of the things this modestly obsessive yogini has learned from her fellow yogis, and these few items round out the list.

5. Setting an intention for class is not setting a goal.
I am a list maker, a thing crosser offer, a woman hell-bent on finishing what I’ve started, so the idea that I would have an intention for a class was a tough concept to swallow. At first, I really did want to analyze where I got my energy for class, or brainstorm solutions to war and world hunger. An intention is an opportunity to let my soul wander unhindered by the sticky web of my mind.

6. There are no gold stars in yoga. Ever.
My task-master mentality is flummoxed by the idea that a pose is never finished, but the reality is that no matter how twisted I am, or how upside down, or how balanced on a square inch of skin, the pose is never finished. I will never move into the next division of yogis, nor will I get a badge, a belt, or even a gold star.

7. Sometimes the teacher makes things up, and that’s ok. One of my favorite yoga teachers of all time struggles just a touch with Sanskrit, which is understandable, because it is essentially a ‘sleeping’ language (I much prefer sleeping to dead). It is not my job to a) know the correct pronunciation or b) offer said pronunciation in class. If I am as focused on my practice as I ought to be, the bumblebeeasana should float right over my blissed-out mind, unnoticed.

8. Practice makes... practice. My purple sticky mat is the place where I nurture my yoga and practice it before I take it out into the world... where I practice it again. Each minor irritation, setback, and joy I encounter is another reminder that there is no perfect in yoga or in life. It is all practice.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Every Birthday is a Good Birthday

Most people are downright jealous of my age, I've realized this past week. I’m thirty. I remember thinking that when I was thirty, I would have built my own house with my own hands, won an Oscar, published several books, birthed a dozen children, and retired.

I have fallen only slightly short of these goals.

Women who have passed this landmark only the tiniest bit shy of their own goals tell me how young I look and how much I’ve done. They say this with one eye twitching, like they are trying to peer past the envy and say something - anything - that will help me avoid one second of worrying these inane standards I’ve set for myself. The other eye looks with the wisdom of an extra few years and the compassion that the extra ounces of wisdom bring.

Younger women are wide-eyed, looking on in horror that the next dial will click over. They cannot imagine stepping beyond the twenties, because The Twenties are all about Being Very Successful and they have Things to Do before the next click. For them, life is no longer about possibility, but about the responsibility of being a modern woman who can have her cake and eat it too. A woman who is expected to have and do it all. Secretly, maybe, they look forward to The Thirties, when they anticipate early retirement having made their first billion by twenty whatever.

Last year a woman in my office was diagnosed with breast cancer and for quite awhile the prognosis was grim. We made meals and sent flowers and thanked our own lucky stars that this time we were on this side of the casseroles and carnations. She pulled through, rallied right when we thought it was The End, and we celebrated her birthday last summer. When we sang the last note of our markedly rousing rendition of happy birthday her smile shined brighter than the dryness of her skin, or the bleakness of her wisps of fuzzy peach hair. I saw, possibly for the first time in my life, a woman aging gracefully, a radiant woman as excited to cut her cake as any five year old. She said one sentence that has rattled around in my brain ever since, “Every birthday is a good birthday.”

I’m not sure that is true for everyone, because so many of my friends are fighting the advance of that clock, but it is true for me.

For me, thirty is an accomplishment: another lap around the sun, a list of near misses in traffic, health scares, Important Decisions, new experiences, new lives, and lives lost. It probably came with a few more grey hairs, but I’ve grown accustomed to them by now.

We can fear the click, we can hide from it or deny it, but we can’t stop it. We can radically embrace it. We can face up to a new challenge: outshining our birthday candles.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Finish what's on your plate

Yesterday I realized: I am overwhelmed.

I currently have four jobs (that I get paid for) and sit on three boards. Next to my bed is a stack of books I'm in the middle of, lists of thoughts too important to keep in my fragile head while I sleep, and lots of socks donned before bed and cast off before waking.

It wasn't the overpowering urge to text while driving yesterday that put me over the edge. It wasn't the six bags of props et al I left with in the morning, each prepared for another aspect of the roller coaster day. Yesterday, I realized I was overwhelmed when I drove to a yoga class after the journey of the work day and saw the sunset. February in Colorado is not known for sunsets, because few are like this. If you are in Kansas or Hawai'i, you see the sky change colors over the prairie or the sea, but in Colorado the sun disappears behind the mountains without any warning. Suddenly, it is twilight, the day's eyes are squeezed shut and all that is left is the darkness to remind you that once it was light. Just before a snow blows in, and sometimes near the full moon, the mountains grow at sunset. Maybe this happens every night, and I just miss it. Perhaps the mountains reach up on occasion or there is a mystery of physics and light that explains the phenomenon, but it is nothing short of breathtaking.

Smallness happens at dusk. We can't see as far. We're forced to look inside.

It was in this inward gaze that I realized there was no space inside for thinking, or breathing, or sunsets. My plate was full. My plate is full, and even though yoga is the soul's equivalent of vegetables, I realized I needed to work with what was there before I added more, even if what I was trying to add was nutritious. The sunset drew me westward, home. Once I arrived, I drew my life as I wanted it to look: with plenty of room for sunsets.

Why does it feel so good when nature makes us feel small? Because it silences the bigness in our minds.

Agnaye Swaaha, Agnaye idam na mama. Prajapataye Swaaha, Prajapataye idam na mama.

Catching the Yoga Bug

January is the best time to practice yoga… unless you’ve been practicing all year, in which case you’re likely to be annoyed by these newcomers snatching ‘your spot’ in your favorite class. Perhaps you’ve noticed a territorial streak and you’re perturbed by the overflowing parking lot and the cramped changing room. Sound familiar? I’m certainly not exempt from groaning when I have to walk an extra thirty feet through the snow to get to my class, after griping at other drivers to ‘get out of my way! I’m going to be late for my yoga class and all of those silly new people will get my spot.’ Once I get there, I’m relieved that I got in and got a spot, and quickly settle into the safety of my mat.

And then the teacher says something about welcoming new people and ‘non-hoarding’ right in the middle of my turning inward/personal pity party. Ohm crap. Busted.

The community feel of group practice is why many of us take yoga classes. Whenever I travel I seek out a new studio to have a sense of universal practice. Often, people welcome me with smiles, kind words, and occasionally an offer of companionship for dinner (or at least a great recommendation). Other times I know I’m in someone else’s spot because of the death stare I receive when that person walks into the room. I see myself reflected back in that stare and remember the handful of times I’ve doled it out to others.

Welcoming is as important a practice as any other aspect of yoga. When we begin and end class, we say ‘Namaste,’ which means I see you. If I see you, how can I not make room for you? I may never get into the ‘my mat is your mat’ boat, but at least I can acknowledge you and let you sail next to mine. I can smile, scooch and even whisper welcome. If you see a light in my eyes, maybe the yoga bug will bite you, and that’s the best gift I can offer.

Namaste, spot stealer, Namaste.

Lessons from a Neurotic Yogini, Part 1

I know that 'yoga people' are supposed to be free-loving, relaxed, and perpetually glowing, but the fact is that I am in fact both a yogini and the tiniest bit rigid. Stuck in my ways. Conscientious. Disciplined. Maybe a skosh neurotic.

This works to my advantage in my community of mostly free-loving, mostly relaxed, mostly glowing yogi friends. They love me for who I am, yield to my odd behavior, and have me split the check when we go out to dinner (in fact, I wonder sometimes how they split the bill without me). One of the best things about practicing in class is that I’m consistently exposed to the honey-sweet vibes of yoga people: they are happy, accepting, and generally glad to see me no matter how I might look (or smell) at the time. So here, dear yogi-friends, are a few things I’ve learned from you.

1. 100% compliance is not expected. I am an A student. I dislike doing things wrong, or not doing enough, or having anyone think that I’m not pulling my weight. Yoga people do not care what I do in class, so long as I do not kick them (on purpose) and do not talk on my cell phone. They don’t care if I do what the teacher says, or if I lay flat on my mat. They don’t care if I snore or even fart (not that I ever would). They are that cool.

2. Adjustment does not result from failure. When the teacher says my name or adjusts me in a posture, it is not because I am doing something wrong, it is because I am doing something right and the teacher can see me from all angles. She knows things I can’t know, and it isn’t because I’m a failure, it’s because I don’t have eyes on my butt.

3. The mirrors are tools for success, not reminders of how far I have to go. Some yoga studios don’t even have mirrors, but those that do are not there for me to check my makeup, inform me about what my backside looks like in revolved triangle, or provide commentary about my attire.

4. Yoga is more than twisting, sweating, and balancing on my face. The part of my psyche influenced most directly by Jane Fonda believes that if I go to a yoga class, I am going there to make my body work hard, sweat, get stronger, and possibly hurt some. This is not true in yoga. In fact, breathing is more important in yoga than any posture. As long as I breathe, I am yoga.