"Short people are quick to temper, and they like to do backbends, especially Viparita Chakrasana." And with that comment from Geeta Iyengar, Maty Ezraty and I looked at each other from across the yoga hall and could barely resist bursting out laughing. Her eyes were huge pools of blue with a mile wide smile that was many miles deeper. She was a fellow short person. We liked backbends. It is still hard to fathom that Geeta and Maty are no longer with us.
I spent time with Maty when we were both studying in Pune, India. Our paths crossed on a few trips. One time she was there with her then-partner, Chuck. On another trip, when I really got to know her, she was alone. I was, too, and I will never forget our intimate conversations, walking on Fergusson College Road, looking for WiFi sticks or shopping, joking about our shared anxiety around technology, and having what felt like forbidden conversations about yoga, and relationships, over idli and sambar and numerous cups of chai.
Maty was a senior teacher of Ashtanga yoga. She was also an avid student of Iyengar yoga. To me, and for all practical purposes, she was as much a teacher of Iyengar yoga as of Ashtanga. Read More
Play is my Tao. It fuses the yoga and movement practices I share. So much so that I am writing a book about it. To play in a yoga or movement practice—any practice, really—does not mean that there is no discipline. In fact, the discipline itself (for many people) can be a source of enjoyment and experienced as a type of play.
Play can take many forms. It can involve taking risks, like the risk I am taking by writing this. And it can greatly enhance the meaning, joy, and fulfillment of what it is to be human. For me, the process (and practice) of play are endlessly fascinating inquiries, and they can inform and change our lives for the better.
But one thing is important. Play—if it is truly play—is voluntary. We are not forced to do it. We cannot force ourselves or others to do it. Then it is not play. I feel the same way about the practice of yoga. Read More
We named her Alice. She was seventy-four years old and 119 pounds at the time of her death. We did not know how she died. We did not have her story, only the story of her life written in her body.
Dear Alice, You looked as if you had kind eyes, as if you were a kind person. I really have no way of knowing that, but I know that you donated your body for people like me to learn. You gave the gift of your very flesh and its history—the most literally visceral part of your story for some of us to actually touch with our bodies. This seeing and touching of the no longer living human form is something that very few people have the opportunity (or even the desire) to do. Yet I feel connected to you and not because I held your bodily tissues in my hands. I feel connected to you in a way that I cannot even articulate, though I am trying to do so here on this page.
I want to thank you for your gift you gave. I want to thank you for penetrating my own defenses, for cutting into me though you were not the one to wield the scalpel. I held the scalpel; you pierced me. Your body moved its way into my nose, hands and my imagination. It slipped and seeped into my heart, and I will never be the same. You gave all of us such an immeasurable gift. The gift of our own insight. Read More
This past June I was walking down a street in beautiful Port Tel Aviv. I was there to teach a workshop. I had been doing some afternoon grocery shopping and was hauling my bounty on my back in the backpack that I travel with expressly for this purpose. Groceries can be heavy.
It was hot and sunny as it usually is in this part pf the world in late June. The buildings were a bright white, reflecting the the light of the sun which can be intense in this part of the world. I like Tel Aviv. It reminds me of New York City in many ways. The people have a similar friendly directness, sometimes called gruffness. It is like New York City with better weather, and beaches!
I looked across the street and my eyes rested on a large black block letters spaced just so on the white stucco facade of a building. T R A N S I T I O N. Whoa. I stopped. I starred. "T r a n s i t i o n," I said slowly, sounding it out phonetically like it was not word that I knew. The meaning was right there in the slow sounding of the word, the feeling of its meaning, the feeling that this was not an accident. Read More
Feel the rain on your skin
no one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
Over and over we heard the words of this pop song like background music beneath our sadness as we rode uptown in an Uber. We were on West End Avenue, our way home—without our boy.
The Sundance Kid died on Friday afternoon, August 3, 2018. I felt the raindrops on my skin as if they were tears from the sky. It really felt as if the sky was crying.
We walked in the rain until we found a shoe shop with umbrellas. One for Tom, one for me. We walked toward the far end of West 57th St. We walked away from the animal hospital and toward the new green living apartment towers we like to fantasize about moving into.
Ohhh, we can begin again, Shed our skin, let the sun shine in.
At the edge of the ocean we can start over again.
Another pop song...we talk of California... Santa Monica.
Somehow we were pulled to walk to the water, toward these towers on the Hudson River—one of the few places you can feel sky, space, and see light on this rock called Manhattan. We knew it was a way to comfort ourselves, here, in the rain, in our grief.
We knew there was no way to move away from our feelings, no place where we could go and they would not be felt. So we climbed into an Uber and made our way back to Claremont Ave. We were going home without our boy. The rain stopped somewhere on the drive up West End Ave. The air felt less heavy. The sky began to clear a bit. Space for the emptiness. Read More
In yoga, as in the rest of my life, I want to build bridges of connection with those both on AND off my island. I want to be in that place, that space. In a sense I already am. Yet I know I could go further, much further. I want to go further. And yet it is hard, really hard when you have been trained in the type of yoga community that I have been trained in. In some ways it is like an island—an island culture of protectionism and exclusivity. There is (among many) a fear of stepping off the island and out of the box as great as that particular island or box might be.
I have never been very good at staying in boxes, and I get restless on islands. And yet I think I too am afraid sometimes. I am not afraid of stepping out of the box or off the island. I am afraid of not belonging. I think I have always had this fear. I think it is a very human fear.
I wonder: can we help build bridges of connection by saying yes to change and to each other, to tradition and innovation, to discipline and playfulness? To life and to death? Can we honor the island and step off of it at the same time? Can we say yes? I say we can. Read More
My husband and I spent time with my Mom in her skilled nursing facility in New Mexico in the week preceding Christmas. I was excited and nervous (as usual) to see her. I knew it would be emotional. I knew my heart would ache. I knew I would feel things I didn't want to feel. And I know this is what life is all about. Love is everything. It brings the greatest joy and the deepest sorrow.
One day, in her room, as I held her head in my hands, I began stroking her hair, and kissing her head and her face and my heart just took over and started to speak. It was like it bypassed my brain and found its voice. I am not even sure of exactly what I said. I know that I told her how much I loved her. Over and over I said this, just as she has been doing so much lately. I told her how grateful I was for her being her, for my life, for everything. I told her that I loved everything about her, and our lives together. I know that I meant what my heart said. Read More
I have values that I reevaluate regularly. They underlie everything I am trying to do. Play is one of them. So is kindness. So is inquisitiveness. Once I gave myself permission to play—in public—I was able to drop the persona of what I thought an Iyengar teacher should look like, sound like, and be like. I gave myself permission to be a living, breathing, curious, joyful and imperfect process. This is the permission that allows one to be a true explorer with flaws and failures, and most importantly courage. Read More
I can still feel her silky soft hair, and the coolness of the skin on her forearms. Every time I see her I am afraid it will be the last time. There is always that risk, isn't there? Any time we see anyone, it could very well be the very last time. It is probably good to remember this, and act accordingly, though many of us rarely do. It is just as it is with the uncensored excitement we might feel inside when seeing them again after a respite. Delight in the simplicity of an encounter. With my Mom, now at 93, death feels like a not too distant presence drifting about, barely seen, but heard, and felt in the faces of some of the folks that currently inhabit the place where she lives.
This presence of imminent absence seems oddly benevolent, even soft, like her hair. And I am scared. I am scared of losing her; I am scared of being in her situation. She tells me she has lost so many friends in the past year. And that at times she is afraid she will go to sleep and not wake up. Read More
Couldn't we at least be more specific about what, exactly, we are positing regarding the correlation between the shape of the body and the state of the mind? There do seem to be deep and profound connections. We might find interesting areas of consensus, or new questions to ask and explore in the quest to deepen our understanding of one another and our own body/mind connection/integration. Perhaps, if we did this, there would be less harm or confusion.
How can we help? Writing this piece is my way of saying that I find correlations like "crooked body, crooked mind," when taken at face value, potentially troubling. Why? Because I don't know if that is really true. And I would never want any person interested in doing Iyengar yoga to think that their inability to straighten their knee fully in a standing pose or forward bend, is necessarily unhealthy or harmful. And I certainly don't want them to think the difficulty they might have in straightening their limbs is a reflection of a "crooked" mind. Sure, certain asymmetries can cause pain and dysfunction, and pain and dysfunction can impact well being on many levels. More importantly, a person’s body shape or stiffness, or flexibility, or whatever, may or may not be a problem for them. It will end up being a problem if they think that it is. And that is unfortunate. Because it really seems like the best that any of us can really say, with confidence, is that it depends. It depends. Read More