So much has changed. Rather than resist, I’m going with things. Not a bad plan.A few months ago I felt physically stagnant. My asana practice wasn’t feeling the same and I was sluggish and slow. There was never any rule that I only has to practice asana, but I let all the activity fade away. I’m sure this happens to lots of yogis.
But yoga isn’t about asana. For me it’s about uniting movement and breathing in a way that allows me to be present and mindful. I’m not just talking about on my mat but as way of moving through the world.
A few months ago I went to Rush Cycling in Jersey City. The first class was killer and I felt exhausted and out of shape but also strong and inspired. My tapas was reignited. I fell in love. When I’m on that bike my legs burn, my heart pounds and I’m linked with my breathing in a way that feels dare I say almost transcendent. I know, that’s a whole lotta shit to put on a bike. But it’s true. Spin is yoga.
Not surprisingly, I feel more rounded in my asana practice even though it has significantly impacted my flexibility. Let me say that honestly. My ego has been affected because all the riding has impacted my my flexibility. Frankly, I think this is going to extend the life of my asana practice because I’m not able to hang out in my joints the way I used to. I’m not suggesting that’s a good thing. I’m just talking about the way I used to move. As I get older, I’m beginning to appreciate what my body needs to be strong and healthy. It may not mean slowing down but exploring what it means to be active inside my body. Growing older is a gift.
Fear can gently creep inside you. After spin today I realized I didn’t have much left in the tank. That’s a good thing. A few weeks ago I took a class that I thought was going to break me. And it did- but when it was over I still had a lot left. Because I was afraid I wouldn’t finish the class I held back. And for what? Because I’d feel embarrassed or failed? So the fuck what? I wouldn’t have killed me. Well maybe it would have- but I would have been dead, so there you go. I kid. A little. That dream you have? Go after it. That thing you’ve been putting off? Do it. Don’t stop.
You have more left inside than you think. Namaste.
One of the most important things I’ve ever done is become a pet owner. I rescued Dakota when she was six. That was eight years ago.
You know intellectually that dogs get older and will eventually die. In practice it fucking sucks. Dakota has been struggling and while it seems that she’s not going to die tomorrow, I’ve got to start thinking about those hard decisions pet owners must think about.
When is the right time to put her to sleep? Will I be able to tell? What if it’s too soon? Or worse what if I prolong her suffering.
Surprisingly (or not), my yoga practice has been a great comfort and useful. I’ve been more open than I usually am about my feelings of sadness and grief. I’ve talked about how I feel so bad for my dog losing control of her bladder and frustrated at cleaning up what seems to be an endless amount of pee. But by sharing I’ve had an outpouring of support, love and practical suggestions that have helped make both our lives more comfortable.
My asana practice has been a place that I allow myself to both let it all hang out and nurture my spirit (Special shout out to Angela Rauscher and Kaity Shanks for being my rocks the other day).
Daily sits have been challenging and relaxing depending upon how I slept. Mostly though, I’m in the moment. Dakota may not be able to understand how much her companionship means to me but she will be given so much love (endless treats and cheeseburgers) until it’s time for her to transition. It’s the best I can do and in my heart I know it’s enough.
This post is for the pet owners out there.
I made myself a snowball
This post is for the introverts. As much as the big personalities make themselves seen in a place like Rikers, I also see those that are quiet.
In the summer the city gets hot but it feels even hotter at Rikers. Despite the heat students asked if they could work on the core. This made me smile for a variety of reasons. First, it’s awesome to see students feel empowered enough to ask for something. This takes courage. Second, it was HOT and I can’t believe they were looking to get even sweatier. But who am I to argue with passion? I had planned on talking about compassion for the self but instead we discussed our inner fire. How do we light it? Honor it? How does it inspire us?
Miriam practiced with a peaceful determination. She didn’t chat during class but smiled at certain points and it seemed that she was looking inward. In side plank her leg floated in the air and in half-moon she smiled to herself as she explored her possibilities by lifting her hand. This was yoga in action. Half-moon was a way for Miriam to embrace the moment rather than getting the pose right. Miriam had touched her core and lit her inner fire.
So much happens in the boisterous conversations at Rikers but it was really Miriam’s inward reflection that moved me. Sometimes I feel guilty to witness such beauty. But because o know it’s not mine I’m able to let it go and hope that Miriam knows what a powerful spirit she is. Shout out to those who are quiet. Sometimes it’s not the loudest voice that gets heard,but the most sonorous.
“If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough” – G.O.A.T.
Dreaming big doesn’t have to be extravagant- it may scare you to dream of a day when you don’t wake up stressed. It may be scary to dream of a day when you do something that honors your true self. It may be a dream for you to speak your truth regardless of what others may think.
Let’s all dream big. Let’s sit with ourselves in stillness find out what makes us scared shitless and go after it anyway.
Patty* was new to the dorm. With another quiet morning, I thought class would be light. When I asked if anyone wanted to practice she quietly raised her hand. I could see her hanging back seeing if anyone else would join her, when no one did she came out by herself. ‘I’ve worked out before but never done yoga, I don’t know what I’m doing.’ There was a hard shell around her, one I’ve seen a lot. It‘s necessary to survive the experience. I gave her a mat, blocks and bolster and told her that I would do some poses and she could do what felt right for her. I got a nod and we were off. Again I spoke about the stress response. It’s important. These women live in a state of stress every moment of every day, sometimes even while asleep. When I talk about how yoga may help that as well as the spirit, a compassionate determination rises up. Patty’s gentle movement inspired 6 others and another 3 watched. Conversation picked up. During a lull Patty burst out and said, ‘I was really shy when I first started class. It’s like being 5 at the playground all over again. But I like this’ Carmen*, another student said, ‘I’m glad you did, it’s what made me come over.’ Another said, ‘Yeah, me too.’ Others nodded in agreement. By the time we arrived at meditation Patty had to leave for medical but she looked at me and asked my name again. She’d heard it earlier but decided she was interested in knowing it. I get that. She also gave me her real name and said she’d see me next week.
She felt good.
After class there was more chatting than usual. And even though Patty had left class she was the catalyst. It only takes one. I saw her on my way out and she had her armor back on but she caught my eye and threw me a small nod. There isn’t a day that this work isn’t powerful. You hold the space. It’s not about you. You take care of yourself and your soul because this work demands it and you deserve it. But once in awhile a class can really crack your heart open and make you grateful.
This is yoga and it can quietly change the world.
May all beings be free from suffering.
“I’m in no hurry: the sun and the moon aren’t, either.
Nobody goes faster than the legs they have.
If where I want to go is far away, I’m not there in an instant.”
― Alberto Caeiro, The Collected Poems of Alberto Caeiro
Sometimes it seems easier to not have time. It’s easier to not have time to be healthy. It’s faster to say ‘who has time to meditate or do yoga?’
I was like that. Moving so fast that I didn’t realize that slowing down would give me the time to reevaluate what was important. Sitting still gives me a chance to be in the thick of things even when it’s uncomfortable.
I love waking up much earlier than I need to. Laying in bed just before the sun comes up is precious. It’s time to be quiet with anything that needs attention. Sometimes it’s just nice to be with the silence of my busy Jersey City hood before the activity of the day.
I’ve been thinking about my class yesterday at Rikers. After class a woman who had been watching asked me what yoga was all about. I told her that yoga is a way for me to unite my body and breathing so I can be in the moment. I told her that in many ways it saved my life, which is why I wanted to serve by teaching yoga to isolated communities.
‘Really? It saved your life?’ Her tone wasn’t suspicious but curious.
In that moment it really hit me. Yoga had saved and changed my life. Four years ago I was spiritually at rock bottom.
I had been shoving down feelings of loss over someone who had died.
I was avoiding feelings of confusion over my career.
I was scared to admit that as a full fledged adult I did’t have a fracking clue who I was outside of said career. I was disconnected from myself.
But yoga helped me connect. Now I get to teacher yoga teachers about teaching yoga inside prisons. I’m teaching yoga teachers about teaching therapeutics, mindfulness and trauma. Yoga led me to opening a massage therapy business. Yoga has given me the ability to speak to groups of people about getting and staying healthy through mindfulness and meditation.
Last week my friend Kathleen and I were catching up about yoga and life (which is thankfully these days the same thing). She said something like once you decide what you want to you just have to reach out and grab it.
I’m not saying that all I did was roll out my yoga mat and magically things rearranged. However, by being mindful and in the moment I had a better sense of who I was therefore making better decisions about following a path that honored me.
I’m grateful that I felt so miserable four years ago. Had I felt even a little bit better I would have taken another job and worked hard everyday without purpose. I know now that everything we do is on our own path to enlightenment if we are seeking a better way.
Had a small but mighty class on the fourth floor. Inspired by a class I took the previous evening, I invited everyone to explore moving in slow motion as a way to examine the body and breath. We gently lifted a knee and placed in back down to the floor flowing side to side with Thai Chi like movements. It was playful, challenging and fun. By the end of class everyone was ready for a deep relaxation. Bolsters were placed under knees and blocks were strategically placed for maximum comfort. And then…
A CO called for medical and they had to leave for treatment. ‘Michelle’ (not her real name) said, ‘This is the best part! Ugh.’ Her friend new to class asked if they could do it quickly before lining up. But people were already making their way to the door.
‘You can’t do it fast, that’s the point. It takes time to get inside. You’ll see next week.’
I knew they had to dash but as they were rolling up their mats Michelle said, ‘When I get back I’ll do some relaxation on my bed. It’s kinda quiet there.’
Michelle empowered herself. She was going to make time to breathe whether class was happening or not.
That’s yoga. We don’t always get the class we want, but if we’re open we can find what we need.