Heart murmurs. 

So the saying goes, the only people who can’t do yoga are lazy people…yet there are exceptions. One such exception, is sick with a fever. Building heat with a high temperature is dangerous, and I have been layed up with the flu all week. The high fever, not only technically meant no practice, I truly didn’t have the energy to do more than lift a mug of tea or cup of water to my feverishly parched lips. My family enjoys making fun of my dramatic flare, like when they ask how I’m feeling. I guess most people might respond, “achy and weak”, but I sigh and moan, saying it feels as if someone has stragically placed ten pound sacks of sharp, cold and dirty gravel all over my body, is that not the same thing? I honestly didn’t think of that first, brief, accurate synopsis, until suggested to me, by my husband, as he was chuckling at my words, and yes, I laugh, but still those bags are heavy, moving is tricky. 🙂 

I thought today might be the day of getting a few sun salutations on the mat, as my fever broke yesterday, but alas, my body told me differently after I got out of the shower. The effort to do more than put on a fresh pair of pajamas and climb into bed, was too much. Anyone who knows me well, knows this is not my normal modus operandi, considering I usually have to tone myself back a notch. I haven’t felt  so completely exhausted with a flu bug, ever. 

A few friends have kindly checked on me, and comically about half asked me point blank about the flu shot, had I gotten one? The answer is no, I didn’t. I swear I don’t understand why asking that helps, if I did get the shot, well, then what? It didn’t work? Bummer. But if I didn’t get the flu shot, do I deserve the flu? Is there less empathy for my lack of conformity? Do I have to defend my choices and the validity? Will my allergy to the ingredients to the shot make that ok again? Why do I feel so annoyed by this? Am I over reacting? We may all be human, but the medical aspects or choices are not one size fits all, nor is anything else except for being human, flawed and all. Where oh where is the tolerance and compassion over the dogma? 

Dogma is defined by the Oxford dictionary as such: 

dog·ma

ˈdôɡmə/

noun

a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.

Interestingly enough, the origin of dogma, from Ancient Greek and Latin,  came to use in the mid 16th century: via late Latin from Greek dogma ‘opinion,’ from dokein ‘seem good, think.’ Seem good, think. Just look at it, ‘seem good, think,’ also regarded as opinion. I’m too sick to really go off on the tangents I’d normally explore without getting lost or sidetracked. However, I think the concept, in line with Plato’s quote of Socrates,  “I know that I know nothing” or “I know one thing: that I know nothing,” are much better starting points for life, for practice, for asana, for everything, than a perspective of black and white irrefutable dogma. The more we judge,assume we know, claim to be wise or elevate ourselves against the differences or choices anyone else has made the more we open ourselves up to sensations of different than, anger, distain, fear, disgust, and detest, instead of love. I recently read a speech given by a favorite author and poet, Sherman Alexie, something he said in it, resonated with me. “I’m going to approach everything I do with as much love as possible. I fail impossibly like most of us, but I still try.” I think that’s the secret when we don’t get to caught up in ego, start with love, it really does make everything easier, maybe even kapotasana. 


Art work by Rachel Giannascoli, I love this drawing, it’s from an album cover, for Alex G. Beach Music, take a listen! 

Advertisements

It comes and goes

What’s your motivation? Like most people I vacillate between various states, I’d say there are really just two underlying everything, love and fear. When love is in charge, all is good, even when it’s not, because there is empathy, compassion, clarity, understanding, among other positive points, however, fear, though at times helpful, brings out worry, anger, irrational thoughts, impulsive choices, and stress. Firefighters are helpful when needed but they break doors and windows to get the job done…in other words you don’t need to pull out the cannons to get rid of the anthill, keep perspective! 

About three weeks ago, I started noticing a new pain in the top of my hands. It came on suddenly one morning, so badly I couldn’t put any weight into them, especially the right. I couldn’t do a sun salutation at all, and I panicked. I knew aging and my Rheumotoid arthritis could alter my practice, but I never thought I’d lose a basic down dog. It scared me, badly. I mean, seriously, yoga helped me through my worst, first starting out, what could I do without being able to put any weight in my hands? I freaked out inside because if a flare could take away this, I just wanted to give up…..( fear negating rational and compassionate thought!) 

I went into denial on the outside. I wrapped my right hand for support, went back to practice and teaching the next day popping a couple of Advil. But I wasn’t ok, I was afraid. Afraid of losing control, and as a recovering control freak, this was unpleasant at best. I haven’t always been so kind to myself, everyone is their own worst critic usually, and I can admit, my self loathing had been a consistent piece of who I was, until I found peace on the mat and forgiveness in my failures. I clearly remember the first moment that sensation of compassion filled my heart, ( yet even as I write that statement, I hear Arnold Schwarzenegger in my head from The Terminator talking about skynet becoming self aware..lol) it was overwhelming in the best way…yet as a human being, I forgot to remember it’s ok to still fail at times in things we don’t usually fail. Oh the joys of a monkey brain! 

The most remarkable part of this is I didn’t figure out why I was being such a crazed impatient psycho until I was quietly suffering from a massive panic attack during intense turbulence on a flight down to the Caribbean for a family vacation last week. I was breathing through it, knowing the competence of the pilot, knowing the logic of the safety of air travel, when it dawned on me, I wasn’t in control of the plane, just like I felt I wasn’t in control of my illness.  I had forgotten to have faith because I had let fear be my motivator for the past few weeks in just about everything, instead of love. 

What’s funny is about a month prior I had reached out to anatomy guru, David Keil, for insight on how to keep my grips with a crappy pincher grasp due to this on going flare, his response was awesome, but at the time I wanted something more concrete: 

I think you know the answer to your own questions. But just in case you need to hear it from someone else…. Modify as necessary when you’re flaring. More importantly, work on the inner judge who is having a problem with the modifications when they’re necessary. Look at the frustration, which of course is anger. Be compassionate to yourself.

The asanas themselves are not that important, but how you relate to doing them is critical for growth.

Om shanti,

David

Yes, how I relate to doing them. In other words, motivation through love of trying not fear of failing. Thank you David! 

The week away of vitamin D did me well to soothe my soul, relax and let go of the fear…the view didn’t hurt either!  

 

As for practice on vacation? Everyday, nice and smooth, I’m happy to say, with the toughest part in picking where…the tile floor of the hotel room or the “sanctuary” room off the gym, that had the uncanny ability to blast Party Rock Anthem while attempting kapotasana:) I went for the music distractions over the cement floor. 

 

Overwhelming

Yesterday was a tough day for me, but I know worse for many. The 13th anniversary of such horrific loss as 9/11. I lived across from the World Trade Center in Battery Park City for years. I had moved out soon before, but not willingly. I loved living in Manhattan, but with three children, it had become hard to afford. We had such a vibrant community tucked on the water, an esplanade and parks galore at our doorsteps and the World Financial Center and Trade Center were our rainy day indoor stomping grounds. Great friendships and a really nice family community were a truly special part of the enclave. Stolen nights away from young ones were spent across the street at the Marriott in the Trade Center, while my mom watched them. Our view from the apartment was a glorious corner of trade center and north city views with the Hudson River to the left.

My family and I had just been down there Sunday the 9th, for a child’s birthday party. I so missed my friends and neighborhood. I was lamenting the decision to move out to the suburbs, trying to guilt my husband into the possibility we had made a poor decision by leaving. Just two days later a piece of fuselage incinerated the inside of my old bedroom.

I was already in a panic before it happened. I was rushing to the hospital the morning of 9/11, I had gotten a call my father had collapsed at his pulmonary exercise class and was being rushed by ambulance, with no idea how he even was, as I headed out. My husband called me on my cell, very disturbed, telling me, that he had just seen a plane hit into the side of the building. I didn’t want to believe him, it seemed so improbable. I told him to head home. I called a dear friend from the old hood right after to ask if she was ok, as we were speaking, she watched and screamed in terror as the second plane was coming in, we were cut off the moment it hit, taking out the cell connection from the top of the tower. So many people I loved were there in the midst of hell, and I could do nothing but pray and hope, make sure my dad was alright for the moment, than rush home to get my kids from kindergarten and preschool to be safe with me. As the second building went down, I watched a mom from preschool collapse to the ground in front of me knowing her husband was gone. It was all so terrible, and I was in shock.

I lost two close friends that day amongst all the victims, but knew many others. My old neighborhood was decimated and my family and friends living and working there, were in pure survival mode. My husband did not get home for an excruciating and harrowing 16 hours. It wasn’t just an iconic symbol of America to me, but a home where I had worked and my kids played and read books in the Borders book store with an incredible tree inside the children’s section on the ground level of the Trade Center, where I walked my dog and let her off leash to run around when it was quiet at night. It was gone.

There were plenty of moms and dads and nannies and young ones at home in Battery Park City when this happened. I had breakfast this morning, post practice, with my sweet friend I had been on the phone with as the nightmarish events played out. She and I were reminiscing some of it as the day just brings it flooding back to the surface. She didn’t realize she and her younger son were part of the footage in a short documentary, The Boat Lift. It’s how they escaped. She’s an amazing woman, resilient and was crying and laughing about her bossiness in getting people on to the boats, saving not just their lungs from the thickness of the death and debris in the air but possibly their lives. Her older son, just five was in kindergarten in Brooklyn, his dad walked across the bridge to get him and until he saw his mom, that poor innocent boy thought she was dead. It’s most definitely worth watching if you are capable. My husband still can not watch any footage, it just brings too much of the emotions of everything he went though.

Here is the film.

Like so many, my friends were homeless afterwards. Months and months of hotel and temporary housing, before they could go back and pick up the pieces. Though the acts of terror, murder, and destruction hold much in memory, there were also countless acts of courage and kindness that day and in the weeks and months that followed.

I feel guilty even wanting to mention my yoga practice in the midst of this, and in all honesty, it was hard to practice today, even, with a rare opportunity to do led intermediate with Sharath, more so than yesterday. On top of this background of samskaras, I had dinner last night with two childhood friends, one is fighting brain cancer right now, while the other is watching her mom suffer through the last stages of COPD. It’s sometimes only possible to just offer love and and ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on. Life can change in a flash for any of us.

It was my very first Led intermediate. My nerves were a bit shattered and this was nerve cleansing to a count. I decided to dedicate my energy to my sick friend. I had no expectations of success or failure, just trying. Eddie Stern stopped me before my normal end of pinchu, at bakasana b…I dragged my left big toe jumping into it. It was fine. I was overwhelmed from my own PTSD of 9/11 and how I was feeling about the awful illnesses my friends had thrust upon them as well as the backlash of not normally drinking, yet having more cocktails than usual as I hadn’t wanted to squash my friends imbibing with my nerdy teetotaler yogi ways. Watching the rest of it until joining back in for closing was amazing. I was emotional afterwards, not because I was stopped, but because of everything else. As I’ve processed it more, I’m just impressed I made it through the back-bending sequence and kapo in one attempt (only reaching my toes) without losing my breath completely, as there were no extra pauses. It was my best for today and that’s all any of us can ever do. As for tomorrow? Who knows, but I’ll try again.

The ripple effect

While studying in India, part of the after morning practice routine was a well needed stop at the coconut stand. Most mornings I was just spent and blissed out greedily quenching my thirst, not taking in much around me other than the fact that there were others in the same transfixed state of needing to replenish some lost fluids with this amazing gift of nutritious coconut water gloriously and skillfully machete chopped open right before my eyes.

Certainly as a place of congregation there was always snippets of conversation floating about. Though many spoke of details of practice, struggles, or bragging rights, there was also just some getting to know each other. I made a few friends by the stand. I overheard a conversation where someone was discussing something about his astrological chart, he mentioned that the astrologer had told him, in this life he wasn’t meant to do anything great or spectacular. I couldn’t help myself, but to turn, and say, wow, that wasn’t a very good astrologer, because how could they possibly know the full ripple effect of your existence? Maybe you won’t be the next Gandhi, but who’s to say that you smiling at a random stranger didn’t change them, or something you said didn’t inspire someone else to start a revolution of peace or kindness or just getting back on the right path? I mean it’s like past life regression, not everyone was Joan of Arc or Confucius, but maybe, if you believe in it, maybe you were the person who gave Da Vinci his first paper and charcoal or read Shakespeare his first poem? Who knows how fully our actions effect this world around us, and why wouldn’t just showing compassion be great enough? The gift of love is liberating and inspiring. We became friends.😊

This morning, my son was telling me a story of his experiences doing community service in Sicily two summers ago. He was working with a group of teens helping build and refurbish a community center and orphanage. As they were only there for two glorious weeks and all aspects of this work was done in stages, his stage was part of some of the finishing touches around the main home. The home was already completed but a courtyard still needed to be made and construction debris, which was basically stone, that had to be moved to a safer place or where it could be used. So much of their work involved literally picking stones up from one side of the road and bringing them to the other side. One of the other boys, my son explained, complained that this work was boring and didn’t seem as grand or noble, to just pick things up and put them down again. The counselor in charge shook his head laughing stating it might not seem like much, but that each facet was just as important to making the project a success. I was thrilled my son understood this. That all the work to make this project safe and welcoming was needed, that the cherry on top came from the effort and the process may not always be glamorous but that the little things matter.

Who will come from that home? Who will be raised there? Will they change the world? Will they have a better life? Will my son? Will I? I have no idea, but I will try to appreciate and love this journey of life. With everything, it’s about the process, not the product. The Bhagavad Gita states in 12.12 “Give up the belief that inner peace depends on results of action. That result-renouncing state is pure inner peace.” So lovely to think, yet I know how hard that is to maintain, hence 99% practice!

Did you know the coconut is a drift nut?
20140619-145939-53979708.jpg

The smell of love

Ok so maybe, the smell of an apple blueberry pie baking isn’t your idea of love but to me the smell of any yummy goodness in the oven signifies comfort, nurturing, home and love. Yesterday was the first day I felt human enough to try and be me again! I went to practice for the first time since coming home, and doing a Mysore primary felt great while doing it, but I have paid the price in soreness last night and today..baby steps are a good thing. I need to remember that advice sometime! I painted, did the mommy run around and made some favorites for dinner ( baked ziti, salad, warmed buttered naan bread and pie for dessert)

I know it sounds silly, but the domesticity made me feel better, as if the week of recovery was now behind me and I am strong and well again. ( minus the sore triceps, quads, and hammies)

My pie was inspired by the new Honey Maid graham cracker campaign. I highly suggest you watch to see the response to ignorance, it’s quite beautiful. I made a graham cracker crumb topping for the pie, indulgent and homey at the same time. Worth trying!

Blueberry Apple Pie

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

1 bottom pie crust in a 9″ shell ( I make them occasionally, but I used store bought, organic, by Immaculate, fine for speeding up the process and mess)
4-5 large Fiji or Gala apples peeled and sliced into about 1″ chunks
1/2 pint blueberries washed and picked over
3-4 Tbs sugar
1tsp cinnamon
2 Tbs corn starch or flour
I tsp vanilla

Mix together gently and place in pie shell

Topping

1/2 C graham cracker crumbs
1/3 C brown sugar
4 Tbs melted butter
1 tsp vanilla

Mix together and crumble on top of pie filling, feel free to make more topping to your tastes. Bake on a baking sheet for about 40 minutes until bubbly and edges golden. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

20140408-150627.jpg

20140408-151633.jpg

Crazy yogi

So, here I sit, in Mysore India, it’s 90 degrees. My family is home in Connecticut sleeping as there is ten and a half hours and 80 degrees cooler(brrr!) between us. I’m gone from their daily routines for a total of 38 days while I immerse in study, in my yoga practice at the Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Institute. I adore my family, yet left, albeit briefly in the large scheme of things, and they can’t quite understand why, and better yet, I have an extremely difficult time putting it into a coherent rational explanation.

They all see me going to practice six days a week. I hope they feel the peace and grounded mindfulness it brings me and ideally my interactions with all of them. They have even all at minimum tried it! My husband has been going with greater regularity and though he states it makes him feel good, he still doesn’t grasp my spiritual connection to the practice. That’s ok, because I do, and he respects that. It’s not a cult, I’m not worshipping a new diety, but I do pray each and every time I get on the mat, grateful for life, contentment, love, joy, and wonder. My practice is not always picture perfect, far from it, sometimes I’m stiff, in pain, annoyed, sad, impatient, frustrated, possibly even in tears, but I always feel better for the attempt, for the realization of my best effort of that day and that moment. Grateful for the energy and heat the sun salutations ignite all the way till the end of practice cooling down in rest where I’m ready to start the rest of my day.

I first felt a calling or whisper in my head saying go study a few years ago, I felt it was a pipe dream. Mysore is about as far from home as I could go. Eighteen hours of flying time( I abhor air travel), 6 hours of driving and a 3 hour stopover in Frankfort. My knowledge of India up to this point had been watching Slum Dog Millionaire, Magnolia Hotel, and Monsoon Wedding. As a recent addition, friends had recommended reading Culture Shock India and Shantaram: A Novel. I’m not a jet setter, though I have travelled, just no where in the Far East, it always had seemed a world away, too far off my comfortably beaten path. I should also add I’m somewhat of a homebody and have never, not once in my life lived alone, or been alone for more than a week, and that week was a tough one.

So why, why would I choose to leave my happy, stabile life for this? Why for missing my husband, my children, my dogs, my bed, fresh water, and a hot bath for a bucket shower, distilled water, and cow dung in the streets? To study ashtanga yoga Mysore style with Sharath at KPJAYI, to chant, to study the yoga sutras, take Sanskrit classes, to immerse without the daily minutiae, without any distractions and face my demons without the excuses that are all too easy in the life of a busy bustling family, because they are the most important pieces of my world. They are the people I love and cherish and live to be with and desire to be happy and healthy. Weather, homework, chores, running around, cooking, work, emotions, effect all of us all day everyday. I’m not running away from them, I desire all of it, and right now a big piece of me has a painful void missing it, yet I’m here, because another piece of me has been begging inside to delve deeper into my practice, to seek and understand those moments on the mat of what yoga truly brings, a stillness of the mind, exploring outside the comfort zone of security, structure, love, and home, no distractions just focus.

My husband worries about non-attachment, will I come back uncaring or cold? I don’t view it that way, non-attachment is not indifference nor does it mean that I would ever relinquish my very loving blessed life at home, but maybe it means I’ll learn to not stress as much about how everything turns out, maybe the negative emotions of worry and fear will fade away to allow me to be completely present, enjoying this moment without attachment to what comes or doesn’t come next. Knowing that all I can ever do, regardless of what happens is my best effort of that day and that moment. I do experience that at times before my brain starts on the list of what ifs, and yes thankfully I’ve added some decent tools to my inner toolbox to try and let them go as they arise inside, but hey I’m human like everyone else and it’s all just practice. For now, I hope and pray my family, who I miss beyond words, will be ok without me for this small period of time, because I know, that their days are longer in missing my presence. I send them loving thoughts and feel tremendous gratitude that they are doing the daily grind without me until April 5th.