To the Other Black Woman I See in Yoga

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I love the blog post Open Letter to the  Fat Girl in Hot Yoga by Joshilyn Jackson. The world of yoga is definitely becoming more diverse, but I really identified with the sense of ‘otherness’ that was poignantly captured in Jackson’s essay.

There’s a small smile and nod I get and give when I see a Black woman in a yoga class.

I want to tell her that I’m so glad to see her in class because African-American women get more unhealthy each year. I smile at her because even though there are still so many people who think we all know each other, in this moment I do know her.

I know that’s it’s nice to see walls broken down. Not the walls of a yoga studio but the walls of our own community. Our community that tries to tell us that certain things are ‘Blacker’ than others.

Yoga will help change that. 

Yoga is/was not Black (Though I am convinced it is the new Black). And though some people will say, will ask, why does something have to be Black or White? I will say that it doesn’t but  (because of reasons that are too long to explain here) they are, for now anyway.

Yoga will help change that. 

I will say that I recognize that snicker or look  from ‘the’ community when you do something this is out of the ‘norm’ or realm of Blackness.

Makes me think of Lisa Bonet on the Cosby show, Lenny Kravitz, Living Color and Bad Brains…

I get frustrated as I try to explain that we are not one single experience. We are not one neighborhood, TV show, music channel or type of food.

I turn to my mat to think. Black history shouldn’t be celebrated for one month, but every day along with women’s history, Latino history, Asian history, Native American history and every other group who has come here in search of a better life.

I wish that more of America looked like the 6:30pm Yoga to the People class on 27th St in NYC. It is a sea of color drenched in sweat  in the 105° heat. Sweating with common purpose and smiling because everyone completed class together.

Yoga will help change that. 

I don’t want to admit it, but it’s nice to see a face like mine and feel like I’m back in the club, if only for a moment before my music, book or music choices get my privileges suspended again.

Yoga will help change that. 

I’m part of something. Something bigger than me.

Before, sacrifices were made to be called ‘Black’ enough. But seeing her in the studio, a space that is my church, I am happy. I am smiling, I am peace.

Peaceful as I flow through class.

Sometimes the class is Bikram. Sometimes it’s vinyasa.

We chat after, for a moment. Chat about hair or how long we have been practicing. It’s never a long conversation, but it’s nice. It’s even nicer now when I tell her that I’m a teacher and she wants to know where I teach, because her friends want to practice and she thinks it will be helpful or inspiring for them to see a Black teacher. We agree that yoga is amazing and it has invariably changed us forever.

Our differences make all of us stronger, not weaker.

And as I take my yoga off the mat I keep my hands in a metaphorical prayer and say:

Lokah samasta sukhino bhavantu

“May all beings everywhere be peaceful and free”

 

This is yoga. And with any luck it will change the world.

Namaste y’all.

relaxation

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Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing.

Misty morning…don’t see no sun. 

I know you’re out there somewhere, having fun

– Bob Marley ‘ Misty Morning‘  

It was a cold, rainy, wet walk to the studio this morning, but I was beaming. The route takes me past the parking lot where my car sits.

It sits because I can’t drive it. During Superstorm Sandy the Hudson River came down the street and covered most of what was in its path. I was lucky. I just lost my car. The attendant watching the cars that night stood on top of a file cabinet, on top of a counter, in the booth terrified of the water because he can’t swim, let alone the floating cars that could have crashed into him. I only lost my car. Many people lost much, much more.

As you can imagine, I’m hoofing it quite a bit. It gives me time to do walking meditation, take in my neighborhood and think about, whatever. Did you know that in movies (at least ones that follow the rules of story telling) rain means change? Given as I am to flights of fancy, I envisioned that I was in the movie of my life. It was raining. And I was changing.

I was off to teach a yoga class.

BOOYAH, as the kids used to say.

I mentioned in my last post that most of what we face in life is articulated in tunes by Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley and Prince. Well, I didn’t actually express my thought exactly like that, but rest assured I meant to.

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With that cleared up and whatnot…

Class was exhilarating. I’m teaching a hot class and there were several students who were new to this style of yoga. It was lovely to see the students hold each other up with their energy. This was my third time teaching. With every class that passes I’m even more in my groove. Maybe it helps that I coached and led people in my previous career. Whatever it is, I know that this is what I’m meant to be doing right now.

People can adapt. I’m blessed that I had a car to lose. There are so many people who are still suffering from Superstorm Sandy without power or even their homes. The human spirit triumphs if we let a sliver of sun shine in.

If we can’t  do that we learn to love the rain.

A student  told me that she appreciated how I connected with the class.

In the end that’s all we really have.

This is yoga. It’s what I do. And I love it.

Namaste y’all. We’re all in this thing together.

Don’t you worry ’bout a thing.

I Stopped Telling Myself Lies and Found Joy (And a New Life)

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Yoga Teacher Training is finished next week. It feels like the ‘official’ start to a new career and life. Embarking on a second act career was something I secretly thought of doing over 10 years ago, but it’s hard to think of walking away from something that you and everyone around you thought was your identity. With that trapped mindset I spent 10 more years convincing myself that I wanted to be someplace where I didn’t. You can tell yourself a series of lies so the story makes sense. If you’re lucky (or get pushed) you can make a break for it. It won’t be easy, but anything you love is worth fighting for. When I got swift kick to take a long hard look at my life I decided to stop lying and get busy making changes. What did I have to lose except a life that wasn’t bringing me joy?

  1. You’re too old to do what you love.  I thought that at 40 I might be crazy to embark on a second career. The truth is I’ve never been happier and it shows. I just saw a story on Rodriguez, an unknown American rock icon who wasn’t rediscovered until he was 70. Or Tim and Nina Zagat who launched Zagat guides when they were 51.  I stopped telling myself this lie and it set me free.
  2. I have to wait for the perfect time. There is no perfect time for anything. And the truth is I needed an uncomfortable push to realize that I was more ready than I thought to start my own business.
  3. Everyone will be supportive. The truth is some people think that what I’m doing is risky or indulgent. One of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned is that I have to rely on my own instincts and pleasing everyone can’t be on the list of things that concern me. I have a great support system of friends and some family members that truly understand what it means to be an entrepreneur. You can’t be your own boss if you can’t bet on yourself and trust yourself in the face of doubt.
  4. I need stuff. I thought that I’d have to sacrifice a lot to start over. But guess what? I didn’t need half of what I was able to let go. My old life was was unsatisfying. I didn’t realize how much I was using stuff to fill a void. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not living like a monk. Things don’t have the same weight that they did. I’m enjoying being in my own skin more so there’s no hole to fill.

Now there’s nothing in my way. Life has never been more terrifying and thrilling, but most of all it’s all mine and the truth. How can I not be doing the right thing?

This is yoga. And I love it.

Namaste.

Adventures in Yoga Teacher Training – Leaving Room for Maybe

Yoga at sunset- mudra

Maybe. It’s a word that used to annoy me. It seemed so non-committal.

Until recently.

Before the start of yoga class our teacher said something so eye opening that I could feel my heart swell in my chest. She said that if we could, ‘leave room for maybe’. That if we can leave room for maybe anything is possible. It’s a space that we can open up with that word might only be flicker. But a flicker becomes a spark and a spark a blaze.

Maybe. I never thought of it that way before. In the past maybe meant that a commitment wasn’t going to be met. ‘Maybe I’ll call you later (but probably not)’.

Now I was seeing things differently. And it makes sense, so much of my life has been changing. Instantly I swirled my new ‘maybe’ around my brain.

Maybe, if I’m a little vulnerable I can begin healing a broken heart/problem/relationship/promise/spirit... Maybe.

Maybe, if I listen to my body and don’t push so hard I can open up into a pose that has been challenging… Maybe.

Maybe, if I trust what I know is my own truth I will be less afraid and make different decisions that will bring me a greater sense of peace.

The list went on and on in my head. Maybe became the mantra of my practice that day. With every inhale, I said maybe. With every exhale, I said maybe. Flowing freely from one position to the next, I did some poses well and fumbled and struggled in others. But with a small sliver of maybe in my heart I felt so open to accept what was happening in the moment.

One of my favorite sayings comes from Wayne Dyer, “When you change the way you look at things, the way you look at things change.”

Maybe I’m on to something.

Adventures in Yoga Teacher Training – Blissed Out

Thai Yoga Massage

Over the weekend we did a Thai Yoga massage workshop. It was an introduction to Thai yoga as well as a basic exploration of energy and its affect on the body and mind. This kind of massage relies on a trusting partnership between the giver and receiver. It also leaves both parties exposed and vulnerable as this exchange takes place. We pressed and twisted each other until we were loosey goosey. I mention this because someone described us as looking blissed out after it was all over.

Bliss was not a word I used very often. And I love to wear a word out.

I don’t think I used the word bliss because it was something that I didn’t think was attainable. Bliss was more a location than a state of mind.

Bliss was a beach in St. Martin. And now that I’m thinking about it, if I visualized my blissful place I wasn’t even in the picture.

Yoga teacher training has rearranged all that nonsense. Yoga is an exercise in addition by subtraction. Removing attachments adds love to my life and makes it more peaceful. Eliminating negative thinking leaves room for acceptance of the impossible.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the first Yoga Sutra lately, which loosely translates to ‘and now the discourse on yoga begins’. My practice is the jumping off point for me to begin meditation.

I used to shy away from this aspect of yoga, it felt too uncomfortable. This is embarrassing to admit, but I didn’t want to be accountable to the spiritual. I wanted the physical benefits without having to look deeper. So much of my life before yoga was this way.

Shedding that person has been easy in private and difficult in public. I still have work to do regarding attachment to ego and public expectations. But I’m hoping because I see this, there’s a chance I’m headed in the right direction. These revelations leave me feeling naked.

Previous thinking whispers that I should be wiser than I am at this age.

This is yoga. Is this bliss? I don’t know, but I do love it.

Namaste.

Adventures in Teacher Training – Heart Openers

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Heart opening poses should be called bullshit eliminators.

Really. If you are hiding emotions or bottling up stress and anxiety, I dare you to try Camel Pose. With your chest exposed and hip flexors engaged, powerful feelings can bubble to the surface. The first time it happens it can be overwhelming to suddenly feel a sob or guffaw rise up from nowhere.

Be smart and don’t fight it, I say. There’s nothing quite so cathartic as allowing your emotions to float free during practice. You can embrace what makes you feel good and drop the bullshit. And by bullshit, I mean the stuff that weighs us down – other people’s perceptions, fears, insecurity…

You know, all that negative noise that does nothing good for the spirit.

Leave it. Right there. What doesn’t serve you shouldn’t be on you or in you.

On you like a cheap suit (or yoga bra) getting in the way and not giving you the support you need.

In you like a cramp that makes your shoulders move up to your the sides of your head until your armpits look like door knocker earrings.

On Sunday, I was participated in a heart opening workshop. What an amazing experience. It was empowering to let go of 2012 and clean the slate for 2013.

It was a mix of an invigorating flow woven with heart openers. I liked being reminded that heart openers don’t have to be big like Wheel, that even a strong Mountain Pose  or Volcano can expand our chest so light can shine. I know that some people feel the study of chakras is hooey, but I respectfully disagree. I think that we are connected both mind and spirit, flesh and feelings. Moving the body in certain ways can open up stuck energy and help us feel better or make better decisions.

But what I love most about heart openers is their ability to facilitate emotional healing.

No matter what, we always have room to let in love.

This is yoga. This is the beginning of 2013, and I love it.

Happy New You Y’all.

Namaste.

Yoga Blues – When Your Practice is Just ‘Meh’

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It’s been grey, damp and cold the past few days. Makes me wanna spend time alone. The weather is even depressed, bitter cold is too much effort so instead we get a blasé shrug of dampness that’s not freezing and not warm. Tuesday just wasn’t productive, I spun my wheels all day and then found myself rushing to class (how does that happen?). With teacher training happening right after, I wasn’t really feelin’ it.

Not the right attitude but no one said that this yoga life was going to be peachy every day.

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To add insult to injury we started class in virasana (seated hero’s pose). Bitchy laughter started to rise from deep inside, but I stopped it from coming out.  I hate this pose. I know, it seems silly to say that I hate a pose, but I do. Virasana brings up all sorts of crap whenever I do it. My IT bands are tight but not so tight that I can’t do the pose, it simply makes me uncomfortable.

Very uncomfortable.

In addition, there was a flourescent light on which is usually turned off during practice. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Thankfully, K picked up on my pyschic vibes that I was having a mild freak out and turned off the lights.

Why was I being such a baby? Why was my monkey mind getting the best of me? The flip side of deepening a yoga practice is that you see everything more clearly, the good and the bad. I need to become more comfortable with being uncomfortable.

And guess what? Sometimes, it’s just a bad day. Like they say, sometimes the only way over is through.

Through I went, grudgingly. My practice was meh. Everything felt creaky and cranky. We had a fantastic lecturer but I had to force myself to stay in the moment.

But I didn’t run from it, I just grabbed myself by the ears and pulled myself back to now. In the past I would have found a way to distract myself from the blech of it all. I reflected on this as I took a shower. With my PJs on and a cup of tea in my hand, I had to admit that all in all, because I stayed in the now- it was a damn good day.

Oneika – 1   Bad day – 0

This is yoga. And I absolutely friggin’ love it- even when I’m grumpy.

Namaste.

Adventures in Teacher Training – Practice Class (It’s Never as Good as the First Time)

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I smile a lot these days. Even when I’m feeling anxious a grin manages to envelop me.

Why, you wonder?

I taught my first 30 minute yoga class. Yoga teacher training has been an amazing experience whether I’m reading the Yoga Sutras or breaking down a pose. I’m learning things about myself. At 40, this seems like quite a feat. We’re always growing and changing blah, blah and I believe that as much as the next person.

Seriously, I believe the platitudes I spout and not in some ironic way. Yet, since I started teacher training I feel like I’ve started to become who I’m supposed to be. I hope this revelation never gets old.

So back to my class- here’s how it went down:

False start. I relied too much on my music. With my phone accidentally on shuffle I skipped a section. I inadvertently attached poses to songs rather than having the songs keep pace for class. I guess that’s the danger of music. No worries, because I started again. What I needed to remember was that it may have been the first time that I was teaching a yoga class it wasn’t my first yoga class or my first time teaching a group of people.

It was better than I could have imagined! I relaxed and started to be me. When the class started to move through the flow I stopped thinking. Moving from pose to pose felt good. I got some technical corrections and some solid feedback.

I also had a chance to practice with my teacher one-on-one. It was spur of the moment. Having structure and the ability to go with the flow are equally important. As I learn and add postures to my yoga ‘repertoire’, I’ll be able to color outside of the lines a bit more. I think that’s more of a function of how I learn more than yoga itself. And oddly enough, taking my teacher through a practice one-on-one wasn’t nearly as intense as I thought.

My biggest takeaway from both experiences is that if you are passionate and study your students will feel that. When you relax and let go the flow comes.

I almost wish that I could go back in time to appreciate what I was doing a bit more, but c’est la vie. There will be plenty of other firsts.

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yoga (Photo credit: GO INTERACTIVE WELLNESS)

Adventures in Yoga Teacher Training – Practice Class or Leaning into Fear

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I’m teaching a 30 minute class in a few days to my teacher and fellow trainees. Can you hear my heart beating a million miles per minute? It’s not fear but more of a fear and excitement cocktail (Shaken). The only way to do it is to do it. I don’t have a fear of public speaking (people who know me are snorting in agreement). And I love yogaAnd I know that this is what I want to do. There’s a strange place that I inhabit right before that leap into the right thing. I hesitate, both enjoying the moment and slightly intimidated by the knowledge that you can’t unring the bell.

I’ve been practicing in my head for days now and while the dog doesn’t make a great student, I’m pretty sure Dakota is ready to do sun salutations if it means I’ll be quiet. 30 minutes goes by more quickly than you would think when you are teaching. A warm-up, a few vinyasas, belly-downs, then savasana and boom- it’s over.  I’m over thinking the process. Obsessively, I’m combing through my music library trying to find songs that match with my personality, the poses and the studio. Weird I know, but as a former bookseller I used to dance with glee when booksellers set up tables with great subjects and covers with colors that complimented each other, so it’s clear I have a few issues.

I like to teach. I always have. Communicating a thought and exchanging ideas is my favorite way to pass the time. Guiding students through a yoga practice is just that so I should chill. I think I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself, but if I fall on my face I’ll be faced with deciding if teaching yoga is a bad idea. Intelligently, I know this isn’t a likely outcome. One of my teachers talks a lot about ‘leaning into fear’.

It’s like I’m at the top of the roller coaster and that click, click sound slows down just before you drop. In fact, even as I write this I’m nodding because this comparison is exactly what I’m feeling as I prep for my practice class, I’m excited and terrified. Most of all- I’m ready, because I know I’m for an amazing ride.

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I’ll let you know how it goes.

Namaste y’all!