The Undiscovered Country

I don’t know if other countries allow medicines to be advertised as freely as they are in the USA, but it seems every time the tv is on there is some ad for something that cures or treats some terrible affliction, like restless leg syndrome. What I find most remarkable is the list of side effects, read quickly so that maybe you might not think much of these bizarre complications like uncontrollable gambling or sexual urges. The fact that these potential oddities are included, makes me wonder, just how many poor hapless souls lost their fortunes or morals before the correlation was figured out? Just how many test subjects count, to make the warning? 

I thankfully don’t have restless leg syndrome, but I did have the flu, and some minor complications from it, the walk in clinic prescribed me an antibiotic. Four little pills changed my life last week. Four doses of levaquin. Here’s the FDA’s warning box about it.

Tendon rupture or swelling of the tendon (tendinitis).
• Tendon problems can happen in people of all ages who take LEVAQUIN. Tendons are tough cords of tissue that connect muscles to bones.
Some tendon problems include pain, swelling, tears, and inflammation of tendons including the back of the ankle (Achilles), shoulder, hand, or other tendon sites.

So, that happened, rather abruptly, painfully, unexpectedly, to me. I haven’t been able to walk in over a week. It is still unknown what my recovery will be, from a stand point of can the tendons regenerate and heal, or was four pills enough to cause permanent damage. Regardless, I have 5-6 weeks of extremely limited movement based on my hospital stay last weekend, and follow up with an orthopedist and amazing infectious disease antibiotic expert. I let the pity party last a week, no shame, I needed to cry, let my frustrations and fears get out instead of fester. Practice has taught me more than anything else, to accept myself when I’m vulnerable, when I need help, because nothing makes you stronger or more capable of compassion, than allowing compassion for yourself. That knowledge has been a a great gift. 

So I’m no longer wondering if I’ll be able to come back up on my own in karanvandasana when Sharath is in New York next month. I don’t know if I will even go, except to watch, if I’m allowed 🙂 I’m not quite sure when I’ll be standing in samasthiti or holding a down dog again…it depends on when and how I heal, if my tendons rupture, if they unravel. I sure hope not, I hope they are mending.  But what I do know is this, I will be at my son’s high school graduation cheering him no matter if I’m in a wheel chair or crutches and I will get on my mat again. I will try. I don’t know what my practice will look like. What does that even mean? I obviously work at my asana, that’s just my wiring, I want to figure them out finding stability and ease though alignment synchronized to breathe. Quite frankly I never know how I look. Is my correct, correct, and what is correct exactly? I just know how I feel, when it’s aligned,  tristhana, breath, bundhas, and gazing point, making magic. 

So I plan on trying to make some magic, modifying creatively, with some advice from sports medicine experts, with mindful intent that this is a practice for life, done to enhance my life, not to live for practice, much less a picture perfect one.  I may cry, I may laugh, I may get scared,  I may heal, one breath at a time. I just know that I will try, with compassion. The possibilities are endless. 

The only thing to fear, is fear itself. 

Long ago, when my first baby, was still learning to walk without a wobble, I was semi sleeping resting on the couch after a very long day alone with my sweet baby. I hadn’t yet fully taken in the lesson that day’s can be long, but time in those innocent moments is so short, I should savor it, regardless of the sleep deprivation. My husband was away on business and I was missing him, longing for, not just his companionship, but teamwork with the young one. Single parenting is hard, especially when you’re a young novice. 

So there I was, eyes closing, letting go of conscious thoughts as I was too spent to shift to my bed, when suddenly I heard a loud electronic BAA right behind me. I startled awake wondering as I glanced around if I really heard anything. The couch was in a curved shape, big and cozy for a New York City apartment. I liked the curve as I could store things behind it, the clutter of large plastic brightly colored toddler gadgets had become my latest decorating style, but I hadn’t fully adapted the look, so I liked to pretend it wasn’t there, hence behind the curvy couch for my feigned feng shui. I decided I had dreamt the noise, my baby was quietly sleeping ( so shocking at that stage!) as was my dog, it was just a nightmare of weird sounds, so I shook my head, repositioned and closed my eyes, again, a loud BAA! Oh. My. God. My heart almost lept right out of my chest with fear, how could this be happening? It was coming from right behind me, as was the hallway to my front door. My imagination had completely taken over, as I envisioned a psychotic 6’4″ killer standing right behind me, machete raised overhead to strike while he pressed on the sheep button at the kiddie play table hidden by the curve in the couch. 

I have no idea, how I didn’t have a heart attack, or how long it took me to get the courage to look behind me and peak behind the couch. There was nothing there except the big plastic garden containing the farm play table. I’m pretty sure, in looking at the buttons, my realization that the table had a a moo, quack, oink, but no BAA, helped me reach around and grab it. I turned it upside down to the on/off buttons, where in small print, it clearly said, when the batteries need replacing, a curtesy sound of sheep will play randomly. I closed my eyes in relief while manically laughing over the fact Mr. Clean hadn’t broken in to torture me with inane eclectric animal sounds before hacking me to pieces. 

Why do I share this insanity? What is the significance? Well it’s ridiculous and funny, but it also shows just how potent fear can become. Fear can paralyze and take away all rational thought, fear can be stored from past moments and be triggered as if it’s happening again. Fear can make us believe we shouldn’t try, fear takes our breath away if we let it. Fear sucks big time. 

I did turn around though. I did get the courage to look,(though in that time lapse perspective of fear, it could have been a ten second pause or two hours, I’m fascinated how time gets warped with adrenaline) and see it was all just smoke and mirrors of one too many Steven King or Dean Koontz novels in my youth. My chicken little moment of panic had passed. I still see that same fear rise in me, at times. A blessing of my yoga practice, is that my body and breath awareness lets me feel it more mindfully now. No, I haven’t found a magic switch to make it just disappear,nor should it,  but I can at least pause more now, even when my body still physically reacts, I can take a compassionate approach and grasp better choices, with more realistic odds of truth.

This past winter, I walked in on a couple of guys robbing my house at 10 in the morning. It was shocking, it was scary, but they ran off without hurting me or my dogs. They broke a cabinet and my feeling of safety briefly. The police were wonderful, I was surprisingly calm. It was a Thursday and I thought a nice Friday led Ashtanga primary would be just the ticket to soothe my rattled soul. I was mistaken.  Don’t get me wrong, I went through all the right motions, it was right to be there, to try, but my breathing was on high alert, stability was an elusive joke and savassana was a torturous attempt to be still and relax… My body couldn’t release the fear yet, I had used up all its coping mechanisms the day before. 

Because we are all human and have bad days, my teacher, a dear friend, stopped me as I was leaving and  yelled at me for not even trying to surrender my breath during rest. I don’t think yelling at someone to rest is beneficial.   I was so stunned by his anger, I couldn’t explain what had transpired the day before. I just simply stated, I did try, I tried really hard. I’d love to say we recovered from this horrid moment in time, but alas, with a culmination of closeness breeding contempt, I left a few weeks later midway through my practice, realizing I had lost trust and faith. There was more to it, as it’s never just one reason, but it was the right decision even though it hurt to do it. I knew I was hurting myself more by staying. I don’t blame either of us, just the circumstances of where we each had been in on our own bullshit, I didn’t even like to practice anymore. 

Communication isn’t always easy when fear is part of the equation, but we can always communicate with prayer, especially the Buddhist Prayer of Forgiveness.

“If I have harmed any one in any way,

either knowingly or unknowingly

through my own confusions,

I ask their forgiveness.

If any one has harmed me in any way,

either knowingly or unknowingly

through their own confusions,

I forgive them.

And if there is a situation

I am not yet ready to forgive,

I forgive myself for that.

For all the ways that I harm myself,

negate, doubt, belittle myself,

judge or be unkind to myself,

through my own confusions,

I forgive myself.” 

 The practice of yoga transcends individual frailties. I realized I had to put things into perspective and move on. 

I’m back home again, at least that’s how it feels, back where I first started practicing Ashtanga. I’m very lucky to have my first teacher take me in and advise me to just learn to enjoy it again.  It has been very healing, for both my body and mind, like comfort food for the soul. I’m smiling during practice again, enjoying chuckling when I screw something up, knowing the practice will take all the time it needs to find the steadiness, and hopefully now, I will have a bit more patience, and let go of the fear, and take rest. 

Oh oh Its Magic, you know, never believe it’s not so. 

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” ― W.B. Yeats 





Though I forget this all the time, asana practice is about the overall journey, not the asana itself. In being honest, of course I want to do the asana I’m attempting. I want to figure it out, and find that place of peaceful stability, regardless of how challenging or dynamic, that place does exist. Elusive as it may seem, and variable from day to day, maintaining a steady, calm breath in the most intense asana, can and does happen occasionally. 

I admit, many times, when I first saw someone else try to balance on one leg, headstand, drop backs, legs behind their heads, lotus, lotus in a forearm handstand, Mari D, heck even a foreword fold with a straight back, all these and more, had my mind in a tizzy thinking that is never going to happen. I was in awe, and thought, how am I thinking that I belong in a room with a group of people who could run off and join the circus? I would shake my head thinking I’m just the clown and not a very good one at that because, I’m too fraught with anxiety to laugh at these impossible feats. Doubt, fear, lack of experience, or conversely past failures all used to overwhelm my senses and place imaginary limitations on my capabilities. How much of what we don’t do is based on thinking we can’t because we never have? Just because it may not seem likely, does not mean an asana is out of reach. The mind truly is more rigid than the body. 

In no particular order, here are things I have found to make the process easier. 

We are unique. Stop comparing yourself to anyone else, please. Aspirations are one thing, but envy will get you no where but angry. Personal bests come to mind. We are not just shaped different physically, but with different strengths and weaknesses. That super flexy pretzel in the corner may have no stamina or strength, the amazing inversion guy might have such tight shoulders, his back bend goal is just to get beyond a half bridge, the flat backed folder may not have any twisting capability what so ever. Finally, even if someone looks “good” doing it, it doesn’t mean they don’t still struggle everyday, that the challenge isn’t there, because, it is, it’s just about something different than your own.

Come to practice clean and empty, if you can. A hot shower not only loosens you up, but keeps you from focusing on smelling or feeling dirty when you sweat. Anything in your stomach will just look for a way out, and is uncomfortable at best. 

Say the opening chant to yourself, and/or set a positive intention when you get on your mat. It sets the mind to a place a gratitude right from the start.

Learn to breathe. Let the asana teach you how to breathe, that is just one of the many gifts practice gives back. Steady, equal breaths timed to movement are the key to any forward progress. If it becomes labored, find a safe rest place like tadasana, dandasana, down dog or up dog to hold until your breathing calms during Mysore practice. Be compassionate but aware. 

Relax. Surrender to the process. Twists happen when we stop grasping and start paying attention. Tension in the mind, creates tension in the body, tightening muscles instead of lengthening. The first time I really felt right in pashasana was when I, in pure exhaustion, let my weight go completely into my feet and released all the tension from my shoulders and spine. 

Let yourself be a witness instead of a participant in an assist sometimes. Body awareness can be different from one limb to another, let yourself feel how the instructor worked your body into it instead of rushing to help them, just pay attention. 

Hint of a smile. In otherwords, don’t be too serious. There are no failures, just attempts that didn’t work. Laugh when you can, accept your flaws with compassion, they won’t get any better with a critical lens but a receptive one. Allow yourself a chance to grow and learn. Non-attachment at its finest! 

Show up. Come to the mat everyday you can. If you don’t make an effort, nothing will change. Even if you only have 15 minutes, do your sun salutations and a simple closing. I promise, you will feel better for the grounding you’ve given yourself for the day, and your body will thank you next time you get in a longer practice.

Stability matters. It’s how the asana feels, not how it looks. I know, when teaching, I’m looking to align, but it’s not to help for the pretty selfie, but to prevent injury and for the stability of the Self. 

The action is everywhere. Each asana recreates tadasana or dandasana, so to speak. No matter what else you are attempting, your feet, hands, head and spine are on duty, engaged and dynamic, but not tense! 

Flourish is pretty but not necessary. Learn to be efficient instead of fidgety. Take the time to learn the steps to get into an asana, but once you do, work on consolidating the steps to the proper breath count. Save your energy for the practice, stamina grows over time, give it a chance to happen. 

Bundhas are the base. Once you find your bundhas, everything becomes easier. Check in on hooking your engagement of bundhas at the start of each count, right before your first inhale, if you can’t find them, you are not stabile. 

Dristhi. The looking place ties it all together. Outward distractions can’t take hold if your gaze stays close and focused. It’s hard enough to quiet inside the mind without worrying about what’s happening across the room. 

Stop thinking with perimeters that limit your mind’s perception of what you can and can not do. Self defeating mind sets halt the limitless potential of possibilities. Let trust overcome fear. Never give up, but please surrender to the process. 

Build heat, work to the best of your capabilities that day and sweat! Internal heat is an important piece of the puzzle. 

Don’t skimp on your closing sequence. If you don’t have time for a full practice, this is not the area to leave out. Regardless of where your struggles may be, keep away your ego of progressing forward if today is not the day, avoid rushing and leave enough time to close and rest. The closing inversions and lotus postures all work at bringing the benefits of practice to the right places. As well, “taking rest” calms your breathing to a regular pace at the end of practice so you can be fresh for the rest of your day. 

Patience. Remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Enjoy the journey. Do your practice and all is coming. 

Devotion, dogma, and ladies holiday

I don’t particularly love take out Chinese food, but my family does, especially my son. I do love fortune cookies though. Not the taste, I only eat them when I like the fortune…I got this one a few weeks ago.IMG_0783.JPG

I not only ate it, I saved it:) Rest not from duty, but find rest in it. I certainly try, but as I’ve thought about it more, in seeing it displayed out where I have it. What does it mean? Should I really fold my fitted sheets into perfect flat rectangles? When I cave into the sensation, that it’s good enough to get them into a puffy folded wad that might be a rectangle, as I’m aware that there are four beds I’m doing this for, and my linen closet is bulging from the past attempt of wadding folding? How important is this duty? Should I strive to do a better job with it? At what point does conceding defeat develop into right action?

I had no idea of moon days, six day a week practice or ladies holiday my first year of practicing ashtanga. Quite frankly, as I got more and more passionate about my practice, I was doing so, just about everyday. Alas, it was difficult to force myself into the mindset, that not doing asana, was also a practice, a duty to be compassionate to my body. There have been times I’ve been frustrated as I’m on the verge of figuring something out and a break, albeit, even a brief one, has seemed to be a detriment. Yet, as well, I have come to appreciate and need these days off from asana. However, there can also be a dangerous monkey mind rationalization in aiding and abetting a complacent laziness in avoiding best effort and progress. How do we wrestle which choice is the right action? How much fear or avoidance plays into a decision not to practice, versus doing so because it is the right action, or duty to rest.

Ladies holiday was the hardest for me to incorporate. I admit, I found the concept antiquated and chauvinistic when I first learned about it. I scoffed and figured, just ignore it. I admit though, there had been times, practice and menstruation just didn’t work well, in rather mortifying fashions…leaks, sounds, and gushes, oh my…sorry too much info, I know. Yet I persevered, until, I started becoming irregular, skipping or spotting. The perks of being a woman at times, oh joy. I wrote it off at first, I’m not getting any younger, living with my daughters hormone spikes, stress, and any other possible option besides utilizing ladies holiday.

I finally asked my teacher about it, because of my irregular skip/spotty cycle. She told me a number of women who don’t always get a period, tack on an extra day or two of rest next to a moon day. That many post menopausal women as well as women with different medical or hormonal reasons who don’t menstruate regularly, take this approach of an extra rest day by either new or full moon, to pick one and make it part of my routine.

In theory, I liked it. At first, it was annoying, as I didn’t always want to, or even remember but eventually it became a habit, but more importantly, my cycle slowly came back to its normal annoyance, and now incorporated, ladies holiday. Rest from asana practice, is not rest, but duty to be compassionate to your body. I can’t say if there is a medical reason why my body went through these anomalies due to heeding or not heeding ladies holiday, but I’ll take my holiday now, mostly with pleasure, but a side of guilt because I am admittedly crazy in my intensity. On that note, Sharath was asked what should we do when we are restless and missing asana on these days in conference last spring, and his answer was to take a walking meditation outside if the weather allowed it, just don’t do asana. I’m enjoying my rest in duty today, rainy, wet and cold, busing trying to figure out if I should ever care to learn how to fold a fitted sheet better.

Newbie

A few weeks back, I wasn’t at my usual shala. I’m familiar and friendly with many of the ashtangis attending mysore there, but not all. I didn’t realize when I put down my mat the woman next to me was completely new. I saw her sitting, but I didn’t know if she was doing pranayama or meditating, I just minded my space and started on my practice. As I was in the midst of my sun salutations, I heard the teacher talking to her about breathing and getting started. I was smiling to myself, remembering being new, remembering my beginning.

I was quietly rooting for her. Praying she wouldn’t be intimidated, hoping she would find something in her experience and come back. The teacher at the shala is fantastic, she really broke it down, modifying for injury and lack of experience. I wasn’t intentionally listening, and I’m sure I only heard snippets drifting occasionally in my direction, however, she was trying, and that is the best any of us can do, just show up and try.

I didn’t start in the Mysore room. I had peeked in, seen the intensity, and chickened out. As a fresh prospect who knew nothing, I don’t know exactly what asana was so scary or impossible to me, but I hoped my practice now, next to this lovely and brave woman, didn’t give off any pretense of anything other than I’m trying just like you! That sun salutation you are struggling through, well, I struggled too there, but now I’ve got a new struggle. Keep trying, progress happens incrementally and not always how we imagine. I hope she continues❤️

I Suck at Yoga

Yes, it’s true, I’m a terrible yogi. I know, you might see me on that mat and think, is she crazy, her legs are behind her head, or yeah, I want to suck that bad…but it’s still true. Asana is not yoga. Don’t get me wrong, it’s part of the recipe, an integral ingredient, like chocolate chips in chocolate chip cookies, but without the flour, sugars, butter, salt, eggs and vanilla, as yummy as a chocolate chip is on its own, it in no way shape or form is the same as the whole cookie.

I admit, when I first got on the mat, clueless, I defined yoga by its physical movements. I knew no differently. Yet, even that first time, I felt different afterwards, calmer, more at peace and albeit briefly, less reactionary and more present. It not only made me want to go back, but slowly, scratch the surface to learn more.

In the beginning everything was so physically hard, but I was enamored with figuring it out, while having these minor life epiphanies occur during the moment and movement in asana. Tears were common, of joy, grief, awareness, forgiveness. So not me, but I loved it, and soon enough bought my first yoga book, Gregor Maehle’s Ashtanga Yoga Practice and Philosophy. It’s a fabulous book, that has a wealth of information as well as an in-depth practical explanation with pictures of the primary series. I admit, when I first opened the book, I was more interested in learning his wisdom on the asana versus anything about the Yoga Sutras. In some strange way, as much as I have always been a rabid reader, any time I went to read something outside of asana, I would literally fall asleep…his book, for awhile became my go to insomnia aid…I almost feel now, like I wasn’t ready to know more yet, that in my own intensity, the whole package of ashtanga, was too much to take in, and might have led me to throw in the towel.

The Tim Miller workshop I went to almost two weeks ago, helped me to accept my truth, I suck at yoga. Why? Because I’m human, I’m internally bombarded with my ego, my judgements, my impatience, my desires, my other flaws. However, as Timji worded it, we must accept who we are, all of it, not just the good but the uncomfortable parts, the ones that are still young or injured or afraid and stop judging so much. How can you move forward by suppressing your quirks? An itch doesn’t go away by pretending it’s not there, and scratching it until you bleed doesn’t help it either. Figuring out why it’s there, being curious, yet compassionate and forgiving can stop all the judgement, eventually.

I don’t know if I will ever happily allow that guy who turns out in front of me driving, even though there is no one behind me and cuts me off making me slam on my brakes while he then proceeds to go ten miles LESS than the speed limit, without wanting to scream some sort of expletive… Yeah, so I suck, because, maybe he’s a nervous driver, and didn’t grasp the timing and once he saw me so close after the turn already started he got more scared and slowed down more… Or my judgement of the judgers…I mean seriously how hypocritical is my annoyance at their annoyance? Everything can be misunderstood. Everything. My yamas, my niyamas, are they interpreted the same way universally? No. And sadly like crazed ex smokers, some folks can get a tad over zealous in the expectations of those around them. We are all on a journey, with different mind sets, wiring, and cultural biases.

So, I love chocolate chip cookies, but I confess I especially like the raw dough…it’s a magical indulgence to me, maybe I’m not ready to fully bake yet..Alton Brown has three different chocolate chip cookie recipes, thin and crispy, puffy, and the chewy, my favorite..here is a link for the recipes. on that note, enjoy your favorite, my goal of the moment is to use less curse words, so namaste mother f#ckers! It’s still a work in progress.😉

Do your practice, all is coming

I went to my first of a weeks worth of led classes with Sharath this morning in NYC. So many people, so much energy! I was in the later grouping, starting at 8:30, we were all talking and fussing about noisily until about ten minutes before we we due to start and then complete silence took over the room. Sharath made a joke, stating not to be quiet on his account, but we were all in that anticipation mode.

Eddie Stern, of AYNY, got up and spoke to kill the time while Sharath drank his much needed coffee before starting promptly at 8:30. Eddie told two jokes…the first: How many Buddhist monks does it take to change a lightbulb? Two, one to change the lightbulb and one to not change….we all laughed though he said most people don’t. 🙂

The second: there was a priest and a rabbi at the Vatican trying to settle once and for all which faith was better, the rabbi only spoke Hebrew and Aramaic while the priest only spoke Latin and Greek, so they could only use sign language…first the priest held up his pointer finger and spun it in a circle, the rabbi answered back with a firm one pointer finger, next the priest held up three fingers, so the rabbi answered with taking his one finger and pressing it down into the outstretched palm of his other hand, finally the priest held up a fish, so the rabbi in turn held up an apple. At that the priest said, fine, you win, I’m done. He went out and explained to all first I showed him God is everywhere and the rabbi answered distinctly he is here, next I explained God has come to us as the father, son, and Holy Spirit, but he answered there is just God, finally I showed him the miracle of Jesus feeding hundreds from the gospel yet he answered with the original sin of which without, we would have never needed miracles, I had no more to top that. The rabbi came out next and spoke, saying first the priest told me to round up all the Jews and get them out of here, so I responded give me a minute, next he said I give you to a count of three, and I answered, no, we are staying right here. All of a sudden he pulls out his lunch, so I did too, then he shrugged his shoulders and left…we all laughed, and if was again reminded of the lovely lesson that everything and anything can be misunderstood.

Sharath led us beautifully of course, then spoke afterwards about the practice. He said many people confuse the yoga sutras meaning, that chitta vritti nirodahah is not stilling the mind to have mind control, but to calm the mind. That we all flit with our thoughts like a monkey but we should strive to be still like a kuala bear, calmly sitting in the tree. He reminded us it’s all practice. Practice first and formost, 99% practice and 1% theory. It’s never just the reading or even the asana, it’s putting all of it into practice, that is what’s spiritual about it, the yamas and niyamas. As an example he said someone can know their religious texts and go to temple, or church or their mosque regularly, but if their daily life encompasses doing bad things, all their theories mean nothing without practicing trying to do right action❤️