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
I also feel that my somewhat nomadic life of late has given me a sense of perspective that goes something like this: the sense of isolation and silos (what our governments and peoples seem to be grappling with on a global scale at the moment) is a huge illusion/delusion. This has never felt so palpable, so crystal clear. We simply cannot build walls high enough to stop our minds from expanding and our roots from connecting, or our spirits and imaginations from flying toward and into one another. And like the trees of Hong Kong, the mind and its consciousness will find ways to go around or even through the walls that others build up to contain it. There is a force, a life force (prana, perhaps) that is limitless and will find a way to live through us. It will find a way or a means to express itself. Read More
Life is unpredictable. It is full of curve balls and random events and encounters that we hope we can navigate with grace and ease. These wonderful variables, these "obstacles," are not problems; they are required if we are interested in cultivating resilience and adaptability. These encounters force us to wake up and make new connections within ourselves, and develop a fluid mind-state that recognizes the dynamic nature of stability. We learn not to waste vital energy on trying to control all the particularities within our immediate environment and are better able to devote our energy toward developing greater levels of awareness and presence.
Hiking, walking, or exploring in natural, unpredictable, and obstacle-laden environments provides a rich landscape of proprioceptive stimuli that is like food for our complex organism. The unevenness, randomness, and inconsistencies of such a landscape require an alert responsive nervous system. We must adapt and change our movements moment by moment, constantly responding and adapting to the diversity presenting itself. Read More
Yoga is a place of refuge. Yoga can be a sanctuary for those heartbroken, stressed out, and weary from the barrage of bad news. It can be respite from the steady stream of fear-mongering and isolationist rhetoric. It is a place where, at least for awhile, we can listen to what our body is saying, have a space in which to relax, and even a space in which to entertain another point of view. We create a space in which we can loosen our grip a bit, and learn not to hold on so tightly or cling so fervently to who we think we are. It is a space where we can allow empathy to flow freely with one another and within ourselves. It is a space to explore a deeper connection and even a type of intimacy with our fellow human animals, non-human animals, and the planet as a whole. Read More
In the ever-changing process of living in our body environment and the environment in general, do we have to have the capacity to change, to adapt, and to flow with the current of life? In other words, is the idea of alignment ever separate from context? Are we aligning ourselves within these various contexts (and within ourselves) in a functional, healthy, and sustainable manner? Since context (like our own body) is dynamic and always changing, we too must find our own dynamic alignment within this flux and change. We too must be adaptable and malleable in order to be aligned with and tuned into both the inner and outer contexts in which we find ourselves.
The dynamic alignment of our body, heart, mind, and breath into a harmonious whole in any given moment, or in any given yoga pose, will be a unique manifestation of this dynamic inner harmony. When we are aligned in this way might experience something like a sense of embodied music, or embodied poetry, or an inner dance. Our embodied expression (like a good metaphor) holds so much more than words can ever convey. Read More
The way she turned her head, turned her head sideways into the light as we walked on the beach that day—perfectly evocative of the poet David Whyte's phrase, "turn sideways into the light"—tugged just so on the sides of my own heart. She turned toward the light, over and over, even as we drove away. It was her turning, her sheer looking that caught my eye and mind as it seemed to have a longing in it (or so it seemed to me). Or maybe it was just deep appreciation. At this time in her life, I think she needs to see that beauty, to remind herself that it exists, that she exists, and to take it all in. But isn't that true for all of us? That we can soak up and nurture ourselves with nature’s dappled beauty like the essential nutrient that it is. And she does this knowing, I think, that this moment's light is what it is—a passing thing, an ephemeral thing, like the wispy clouds that she remarked on again and again as we walked along the cool damp surface of sand. Read More