Category Archives: self-awareness

Family Vacation

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 9.40.31 AM

I’m in Peru with my family, and I’m so happy to be here. I’m also grouchy. My digestion doesn’t know what to make of the ceviche, the weird fried park food, or the massive amount of fruit I’m eating. My body is complaining about the combination of airplanes and miles of walking. My sleep has been good, but it’s hot at night so my dreams are craaaazy. As a result of the state my system is in, the charms and delights of discovering another culture and country are annoying me. Dave says I’ve officially reached middle age.

In the yoga classes I teach, we’ll do something hard and then rest. It’s an opportunity to notice how easily we are able to adjust and shift between the variety of situations we find ourselves in. If we were just attempting 20 repetitions of utkatasana (they look a lot like squats), but now find it’s time to lie down and rest, can the heart rate, the muscles, and the mind let go of that effort and exertion and be with what is happening now? Can we move gracefully from situation to situation and be present with what is?

The longer I’m here, the better I am at remembering my perspective is influenced both by the state I’m in, the ways I care for myself, and what I choose to focus on.  When I notice what’s happening and take appropriate action, I can more easily enjoy what is in front of me. Today, I woke up and could peek in on my girls sleeping together in the same bed, cheeks pink from the warmth of sleep and yesterday’s sun. I appreciate the glimpse of my sister’s life in Lima—her office, her apartment, her grocery store. I get to hear the way she expresses herself in another language and spend time with some of the people in her life that are so special to her. There’s so much more, and the true gift of yoga practice is the expanding ability to choose what to focus on and to be with these special moments when they come.

That thing we hate about our personality might actually save us one day

IMG_0013

I have two kids. When our whole family is out and people see how much Nora looks like Dave and Hazel like me, we often get the comment. “looks like you got one of each.” We laugh a little because if that observant, friendly stranger hung out at our house, there would be no doubt. Hazel is her own person, but she and I have a lot of the same tendencies and personality traits. You could say the same about Nora and Dave.

One of the things that Hazel and I share is sensitivity. If we get hurt, it hurts a lot. If we are sad, we feel it so deeply that it can be overwhelming. If someone in our presence is having a great/bad/emotional moment, we feel great, bad, or emotional right along with her or him. When I was a kid, I was labeled as moody.  I knew that my sensitivity could be hard on my relationships with other people, and it was also hard for me. At the time, I managed this sensitivity by ignoring it and by pretending to be different than I was. That didn’t work out very well for me so I’m trying my best to help Hazel develop a healthy relationship with this aspect of her personality – something I am still in the process of doing for myself.

I had an appointment with my yoga mentor this week and he asked about Hazel. He knows that Hazel is a special kid with a lot of sensitivity to what is happening around her. The question helped me to reflect on how this process is going for her, and to appreciate how good she is, even at her young age, at self-regulating. When she starts to feel overwhelmed, she usually knows what to do to get grounded again. She’ll take some space from a person or situation. She spends a lot of time alone, reading, listening to music, and especially drawing. If she needs it, she’ll come over to me for a hug and then stay there a while and I can feel her settling. Because she has ways of managing her emotional world and taking care of herself, she doesn’t struggle in the same way I did.  I really think she sees her sensitivity as a special part of who she is. I think she even appreciates it.

Just writing this makes me choke up because this is amazing to me. We all have things inside of us that are the difficult and wondrous gifts. The yoga sutras talk about the functions of the mind, the vṛttis, as kliśta akliśta (I.5). The same mental function can be helpful or not, just like the very same aspect of our personality can be great help in some situations or the very thing that gets us into trouble in others. When we know ourselves well and have a perspective that lets us accept and work with our personality traits instead of wishing we didn’t have them, it gives so much meaning to why we are who we are. Maybe this kind of acceptance and self-awareness even brings us closer to understanding what we are here to do, our dharma. Those are really lofty ideas, but for me, today, it boils down to this… I’m so grateful that Hazel can be herself and like her self.  I deeply admire the emotional intelligence she’s cultivating. And if I have some small part in helping her be able to do this, then I’m here to tell you, this motherhood thing I’m involved in is worthwhile and meaningful.  I’m grateful to be able to watch this magic happen.

Registration Opens soon! 


Ojai Valley Women’s Retreat:

Practical Transformation from the Inside Out

August 31st to Sept 5th, 2016

Inside Pavilion1

 with Amanda Green and Carol Prentice


 

Spend five days in the beautiful Ojai Valley immersed in good company, gourmet Ayurvedic cuisine and the transformational teachings of Yoga, Ayurveda, Alexander technique.

*Private and double occupancy rooms available.

Peppertree Retreat Center, Ojai, California

IMG0172 IMG0171 IMG0118a

A story for the new year.

 

Bundled sage for energy clearing

One evening this week, my friend Katherine was visiting and she found this bundle of dried sage on my kitchen counter. This dried sage is for energy clearing. You set the thing on fire then blow it out and the bundle smolders making all of this wonderful smoke. You can then poke the smoky bundle into open doors, drawers and cupboards and wave it around doorways and windows clearing out any stagnant energy. This kind of thing is right up my alley. And I’m here to tell you, it makes a huge difference in how my house feels.

Katherine already knew all of this because I had given her her own sage when she moved into her new house. She hasn’t yet used it so I told her about the most recent sage-ing ceremony I had, thinking it might inspire her.

One afternoon, Dave and I were home alone together and I decided it was time. We opened all the doors, windows and drawers and then lit the sage. I held the bundle as we went through the girls’ rooms, but then I got a little obsessed with wiping down the dirty door frames so Dave willingly took over and continued down the hall and into the back of the house, whisps of smoke trailing behind him. When I came out of my cleaning trance, I walked into the living room to find Dave dancing around lifting his knees and elbows like a kokopelli. He was wielding sage in one hand and playing a renaissance festival bamboo flute with his other. It was awesome and hilarious. He was really into this sage-ing business, I could tell.

kokopelli

Katherine and I laughed about the story then went on to have a really fun night together.

I got a call from Katherine the next day and she said she was really touched by the story of the sage ceremony. She had shared it with a couple of people during the day and she wanted to tell me why.  She said that it was an example of so many things going really right in my relationship. I didn’t have too many expectations that the sage-thing go a particular way and Dave was open to this kooky plan and he was willing to participate in it with me. In the end we had this really fun and sweet time together. A time that might not have been possible if we weren’t both willing to turn towards each other and stay open to the variety of experience that each of us brought.

I was so touched that she had given this so much thought and that she took the time to share this with me. I felt appreciated and seen and loved by Katherine, and there’s not much better than receiving that gift from a dear friend. Her story also gave me an opportunity to reflect on and to appreciate where Dave and I are in our relationship. Katherine has known us for years. She’s seen us through the early days, our traumatic break up and subsequent separation. She’s been a part of our lives as we cautiously dated, repaired what seemed too broken, and eventually got back together. Dave and I have always had funny, happy moments, but there was a time when they weren’t so easy and pure. An adversarial undercurrent was always there.  Now, I’m freed of that feeling and these happy, funny moments happen all of the time– Easy. Loving. Pure.

On the phone with Katherine, listening to her retell my story, I had an opportunity and the time to swim around in this realization of how things have changed in my relationship and to appreciate it. She acknowledged it with me in a way that showed me that she was seeing me and that by seeing me she was able to see something in herself. And it all feels so wonderfully human and connecting –to know someone really well and to still love them, a friend, a partner, your friend’s partner. It’s something really special to appreciate all that we are and all that we’ve been through, to witness each other changing and to believe in it. It’s so hopeful. My friend helped bring all of this to the surface in a way it usually isn’t there for me. And it tasted so sweet.

 

Here’s to more of this sweetness in each of our lives in the upcoming year. Welcome 2016.

 

 

 

 

Yoga Sutra I.38 – Dreams can give us insight

 

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 12.04.28 PM.png

Yoga Sūtra I.38 svapna-nidrā jñāna-ālambanaṁ vā

Inquiry into dreams and sleep and our experiences during our around these states can help to clarify some of our problems.

-T.K.V Desikachar, Heart of Yoga

 

If everyone is born with a central issue that they’ll live and work with throughout life, mine is loneliness. The feeling isn’t always acute, but every year, around Christmas, it comes up and I wonder why I’m sensitive and moodyuntil I remember, “Oh yeah. Me + loneliness… We have a thing.” Then I attempt to consider the experience as yet another opportunity to be with this feeling and to see how we are doing.

I’ve been feeling the loneliness over the last few weeks, but life continues and as you may know, our house has been home to rats since October. Though we have made a big dent in the local population, we know there is at least one hearty and resourceful survivor. We don’t see evidence of this rat every day, but then we’ll hear it running in the attic or see a nibbled piece of fruit and we are reminded that it isn’t going down without a fight.

Last night, I had this dream.

I went into my bathroom and though it was the middle of the day, it was really dark. I guess there was some sort of storm outside. As I walked in, I encountered a dozen rats just hanging out, like they were having a meeting. I freaked out because now I could see that this rat problem was so much worse than I thought. I had to capture and kill them. The rats ran out of the bathroom and I followed them into the sunny entryway of my childhood house. As the rats went along the 1970’s flecked marble-like tile, they morphed into these large, soft, docile, bunny creatures. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to capture them, but then they slowed and allowed me to pick them up.

I picked them up one-by-one and carefully put them into a paper grocery bag. Each one was so much softer and sweeter than I expected and I realized how hungry I was for gentle touch and connection. I spent a little time with each one before I put it into the bag. I had a change of heart. I knew these rat-bunnies couldn’t go on living in my house, but did they really need to be killed? I decided to call the Animal Shelter so they could be someone’s pet.

In the past, I’ve shrugged off dreams, but since studying the yoga sūtras, and seeing how Patañjali is pretty much right about everything he says, I’ve taken I.38 to heart and look for insight from the dreams I can remember. I’m pretty sure this dream has a lot to offer me in the way of better understanding myself and these feelings of the season.

These themes of connection and alone-ness, of fear and love, of avidyā (misperception) and awareness are familiar ones to me, but having this dream and it’s weird sequence, associated emotions, and rich imagery is something more tangible to work with than mere concepts and ideas. It isn’t unlike what happens after meditation. Something else takes over in meditative state and what I see or experience isn’t exactly of my own conscious creation. My self takes a back seat while something else drives the experience. At the end of meditation, there can be a feeling of “coming out” or “coming back” from somewhere kind of like when I wake from dreaming. Sometimes, the impressions from that place stay with me.  These impressions provide another little window into my being which can enrich my practice of svādhyāya, self-reflection, so I know myself better. They can show me another way of looking at a situation. Each year that comes around and I check in with this central relationship, the one of me+loneliness, my perspective is a little different and my appreciation for what it means grows.

 

 

 

Who knew middle school choir concerts were such a good place to practice yoga?

img201

 

Last night, I attended Hazel’s middle school choir concert. I got there a little later than I’d hoped. A class I attended went long and then I had to fight some gnarly traffic on the way to the school performance hall. When I arrived, I found Dave and Nora in the auditorium easily but then I saw how far away we were from the stage and I almost cried. I snapped at Dave, “You’ve been here for 45 minutes and couldn’t get better seats?”  What a horrible thing to say. Let the traffic and the expectations go… apologize to Dave. I felt a little better and then the show began.

There’s a lot going on at school performances. There’s the very impressive stuff happening on stage and there’s also an impressive amount of stuff happening in the audience.  Younger siblings wiggle and talk, people move through the aisles a lot, and parents stick their phones up in the air to snap photos or take videos throughout the show.  I attempted to harness some yogi powers to focus on the performance and not the rest of the stuff.

With all the possible distractions and in my ragged emotional state, I did pretty well, but there was one thing that had the potential to derail my best intentions. It wasn’t the toddler bouncing on the chair next to me or being awash in light each time the door to the auditorium opened. Instead, I was sucked in by the quiet activity of the grandmother in the row ahead of me. She was on her phone compulsively scrolling through facebook the entire time.

I was unreasonably upset and irritated by this. “You come all the way here and these kids are singing beautifully and you’d rather be on your phone?” I’ll spare you the rest of the rant that was in my head. My own facebook usage has been under self-scrutiny lately. I’m on there way more than I want to be so it felt good to direct that criticism elsewhere for a little while. I interrupted my rant to point out to myself that she may be on fb, but I’m thinking about her being on fb so I’m not really here either. I knew that my attitude was more about me than her. I pulled my eyes off of her screen and back to the show.

This happened at least six times.

Each time I brought my attention back to the show, I made the effort to listen to the kids and the piano and it got a little easier to avoid that screen. When I tried to imagine how much courage it took for those soloists to be there, singing in front of a huge audience, a little more time passed without fretting about facebook-grandma. When the boy choir sang Oh Holy Night, one of my favorite Christmas carols, I was moved to tears. I was far from a state of samādhi, but I did leave the concert happy that I had been there, happy that I could pay attention to the wonderful music, the kids (all dressed up), the accompanying musicians, and the teachers on stage. Who knew middle school choir concerts were a good place to practice yoga?

As I think about the show today, I feel so much appreciation for the performers who gave it their all and the teachers and staff that made it possible. My heart swells with pride and gratitude to know that these kids get to have this kind of experiences. Hazel was exhausted and delighted when it was all over. I know because when she got home, she gave me one of those extra-long hugs where she closes her eyes and sinks into me. I’m grateful for that, too. I’m really glad I went to the concert and even happier that I could really be there.

Foolproof way to amp up your gratitude this Thanksgiving

chair

Thanksgiving is my long-time favorite holiday. It earned that superlative for the family, the turkey, and the day off of my regularly scheduled activities. Thankfulness is part of it, but historically, that part comes after the pumpkin pie and whipped cream and right before the nap. This year is different. Giving thanks has a deeper meaning for me than it has before and it’s been a pivotal piece in helping me to see that every moment of my life is a sacred gift. (How’s that for gratitude?)  It didn’t just happen. My yoga practice has made this possible, along with a special and ongoing meditation practice that I’ll share below.

I can now see that I can be grateful for every single thing in my life because none of it came from me. None of it is owed to me or is my due. It has all been given. Everything I enjoy, everything I do, every experience, my basic existence has been shared, lent, or given as a gift by someone or some power beyond my own. When I think about it now, it is so very humbling and my heart feels so big.

I’ve described the meditation below.  There are lots of places that this process can take you and you’ll make it your own. It’s wonderful to practice again and again and the cumulative effect is pretty darn sweet. (see above paragraph)

Think about something in your life. When you begin, that may be too broad. I think it’s nice to think about something that you are touching or even the room that you are in.   You might become aware of the floor or walls, an item of clothing, a ring on your finger, a chair, the air around you.

 We’ll start with the chair I’m sitting on.

 Notice how the thing feels .

It’s sturdy. The seat is firm. It’s a good height.

–Think about who made it or where it came from most recently.

 This chair belonged to my mom and dad. My mom gave it to me. I remember when the seat broke out of this chair 3 years ago. My mom went online and found a seat bottom that have a bird nest design. She got the replacement seat, stained it to match and repaired the chair.

Thank you online vendor and factory people. Thank you to the people that made the little nails that hold in the seat. Thanks to the craftsperson who designed the little bird in the nest. Thank you mom.

 —Where was it before that? Who was involved in that process and what happened then?

 This chair probably came into our family because someone sold it at a store.

Thank you person who showed up to work on the day that someone I know needed a chair. For helping in whatever way you did. For providing this service.

 —And before that

Someone made the chair. Someone with training and interest. Someone else who showed up to work (even though there are always so many other things that we might need or choose to do), and physically made this chair.

Thank you chair maker.

 —And before that

Someone designed the chair and came up with something that is both sturdy and beautiful.

Thank you person, who designed this chair. Who took time to learn what a good chair needs, what materials are involved and how to make something with tools, hands, and creativity.

And before that

The chair is made of wood. That wood came from a forest and someone cut the wood from the forest, made it into lumber so that it could become this thing that I am now using.

Thank you lumber people.

Before that it was a tree, growing. The tree could only grow with dirt, air, water and an ecosystem that supported it.

Thank you nature and ecosystem, air, and dirt.

 —Before that, the tree was a seed that had some genetic code that held all the information that allowed the tree to grow.

(There’s always a point in this meditation where people are no longer the connection and at this point, I think about Higher power. Seeds and genes and the miracle of life blows my mind and it isn’t something any person made or did and yet, there it is and here we are. I refer to the higher power in my life as God.  Your meditation might take a different turn. You might see it as nature, biology, evolution. It’s a bigger order. It still totally works.)

Thank you God for this miracle of the seed that grew this tree.

 So at this point, I’m usually crying because it’s all so amazing. On the rare day I’m not, I might just sit with this feeling of gratitude because it takes a while to let this stuff sink in: it’s not just the chair I’m sitting on that has come to me in it’s own amazing way, but everything. Everything I’m touching, along with the stuff I can’t actually touch but touches me, have come because of something other than myself. And I like the feeling and the reminder that I’m blessed to be touched by so much.

 

Happy Thanksgiving, readers. I’m so grateful for each of you.

 

 

 

Mundane vs. Miraculous; The Battle Continues

Hazel as a little baby. Parenting a little baby is the ultimate experience of mundane-ity and miracle-ity all in one adorable little package

I have a yoga practice that I do just about every morning. It involves some chanting, movement, breathing, meditation and prayer. It’s the same practice at the same time and in the same place every day. It’s worth doing. My personal practice is the vital and foundational way I connect to myself, to others, and to God.

I practice in the early morning when lights are out and the house is quiet. It’s a special time of day. When I’m connected and really present, each breath can feel like a little miracle — like a conversation with something divine. It brings such sweetness to the day and reminds me of how I want to be.

It’s not always like this, though. This morning, for example, I caught myself going through the motions like some yoga-automaton. I was half way through my second āsana when I realized I’d been reviewing client appointments and thinking about emails that I hadn’t responded to. I’m not waking up at 5:15 am to think about emails. I brought my attention back to my practice then my mouth watered at the thought of the cup of tea I’d make for myself. I wondered what the weather was like outside and if I could go on a walk. I remembered that the library books are overdue. I kept going through the motions, but I wasn’t really there. My thoughts were somewhere disappointingly mundane. There was no little miracle feeling. There was no particular connection to myself and no awareness of God.

And it occurred to me that this may be my primary work right now– moving toward this special connected feeling and being there more and more of the time. If one end of the spectrum looks like going through the motions, (not just in my yoga practice but in teaching, parenting, being a friend) with my mind and my attention somewhere else, then the other end of the spectrum is this present, aware, connected place in which every moment is a blessing and miracle. This is where I want to be.