On Re-Entry


Amazing to see this mountain again.

So, we’ve landed back in the States. The flight was easy enough, even with the three felines and the toddler (who slept almost the entire way, bless his heart). We arrived sleepy and smelly and completely confused time-wise, but none the worse for wear.

Now that our internal clocks have almost completely adjusted we are more able to focus on getting settled. None of our things have arrived yet, so there is little we can do in terms of physically settling. Mentally and emotionally settling are all we can attempt right now, though I can’t help but think that having the things that are familiar and comfortable surrounding us would certainly help.

Sleeping on an air mattress while in the third trimester of pregnancy for over 5 weeks and counting has been a particular challenge. Entertaining a toddler with the same half a dozen toys has required immense creativity. I came down with the flu within hours of landing and our son injured his foot within 10 days. It’s been spectacularly rainy and cold. All this to say, we’re overall totally fine, but it’s been rough. Add these difficulties to the completely overwhelming sensation of being a stranger in a strange land, which seems an odd thing to say when one is returning to the place of one’s birth, but the culture shock has indeed been more pronounced coming this way. Doubly true for the little guy, who has never lived here and only visited once when we was just months old.

It’s one thing to feel like an outsider in Korea, where I was indeed an outsider. It’s another thing to feel it in your own country. I know it will pass and I know it will get better. Our things will arrive, we’ll get into a routine, we’ll feel settled and comfortable again. All this will happen. In the meantime, our current circumstances are wearing thin.

Lent began yesterday and as I was reflecting on my lenten practice last year I was reminded of something: every thing we have, every moment we experience, is a gift. Lent calls us not only to seek justice and heal our relationships, it also calls us to see the reality that all of life’s blessings and challenges are gifts when we allow them to be. When we seek justice and beloved community, this truth becomes obvious.

So, my practice this year it seems will be about trusting that as physically, mentally, and emotionally uncomfortable as I am right now, as long as I focus on what matters – my relationships, my community – all the pieces will fall into place. And in the meantime, rather than waiting for things to arrive and the house to be organized to feel like I can start living here,  I need to just start living.

Namaste, yogis. Thank you for reading my ponderings for the last three years. It was a great adventure.

This will be my last post on this site. I will continue to write on my other blog I Don’t Know and can be found on Twitter @MsVKH. 

Lessons Abroad – Part III – There Will Always Be More Sunrises

When I was doing my yoga teacher training, I had the privilege of studying alongside a woman from Portland, Oregon named Cory. She

The sun rises over The Land of The Morning Calm

The sun rises over The Land of The Morning Calm

was about my mother’s age, but the similarities stopped there. On our last night of teacher training I invited her to come watch the “last sunset” with all of us and she said, “Is this the last sunset? There will always be more sunsets, but if you’d like me to share this one with you, I will”.

I thought of this as I watched the sunrise this morning. Our apartment, which we have now moved out of, was west-facing and we used to watch the sunset over the mountains. The hotel we’re staying in until we fly on Saturday is east-facing, so we’ve traded sunsets for sunrises for our last few days here. As I watched the sky go from purple to orange to blue I heard myself thinking, “One of our last sunrises.” And it is one of the last sunrises I’ll see in Korea, but of course, it is not the last sunrise I’ll ever see. Even if it were, the sun would go on rising and setting without me.

Cory’s wisdom came flooding back. The world, the universe, keeps moving in it’s rhythm. Life goes on as it always has and as it always will. We’ve been gone for three years and this has been true about life back home. Our friends and family have changed and grown, through both circumstance and choice. And life here in Korea has been humming along. The changes we’ve undergone as individuals and as a family have been huge.

Our time here has been so special and I have cherished it so much. I have to remember that all of the learning and growth and change will continue, no matter where we are. A lot of what we’ve experienced and learned has been because of where we are, but not all of it. And the human experience is much more common and similar than geographical boundaries, cultural differences, and language barriers would have us believe.

Humans are far more alike than they are different, and we all watch the same sun rise and set. There will always be more sunrises.

Namaste, yogis.

Lessons Abroad – Part II – Social Harmony

Nine days to go! Now that the movers have come and gone and we are 3281330927_d5fd02d9ab_oliving out of suitcases and sleeping on air mattresses, the impending move is becoming much more real and I am closer to making my peace with it.

One of the things I’ve been reflecting on quite a bit, as I prepare to return to the land of individualism, is the Korean emphasis on social harmony. Having been born in a country that is defined by it’s emphasis on individual rights and freedoms, this has been quite an eye-opening experience.

Korean culture is changing rapidly, so who knows what it might look like in 25 years? For now, though, it is still very rooted in Confucian principles, the entire goal of which is social harmony. Ideally this means that every interaction and choice is framed within the question: what will create the most harmonious outcome?

While the benefits of this are many, there are also some drawbacks. There is a great deal of emphasis on the common good, which benefits everyone immensely. The flip side is, there isn’t much space for individual expression or carving out a new way. It can be done, but with a great deal of resistance.

But I’m not here to debate the pros and cons of the way Korean society organizes itself. I can only speak to the way it has impacted me and the way I see the world and operate in it. And while before coming here I considered myself as someone who made an effort to be aware of the common good and to always operate from this ethical point of view, existing in a society where it is practiced almost without exception, I have become aware of how much room there is for improvement.

For me, the word harmony is really key. While conflict should not always be avoided, it sometimes can and should be. I recently saw somewhere the phrase, “You don’t have to attend every argument to which you are invited.” I’ll be the first to admit that I have a tendency to be argumentative and confrontational, when perhaps this isn’t necessary or helpful. It’s been easy to justify this by saying I’m just expressing myself, or standing up for myself, or being who I am. Notice the theme? Me, me, me, I, I, I, myself, myself, myself.

Of course, the answer never lies in one or the other, but a balance of both. Choosing harmony and peace whenever possible and knowing when we need to assert ourselves and stand our ground; this is a tricky balance. One I’m working towards, bit by bit.

Namaste, yogis.

Lessons Abroad – Part I – Letting Go

Wawwojeong Temple

Wawwojeong Temple

Our time here is very quickly drawing to a close despite my best efforts to pretend otherwise. Each time I’ve sat down intent on writing about and reflecting on all I’ve learned while living here, I am overcome with sadness and  a deep desire for more time. I’ve known since we arrived that my time here would be limited and yet I am still having a very hard time accepting that these really are the final weeks.

This strikes me as amusing, to say the least. I sit here struggling to let go of my experience here, even as most, if not all, of what I’ve learned here can be summed up as learning the art of letting go. The past three years have been an exercise in nothing less.

From letting go of control and daily involvement in the studio back home, to letting go of the plans and expectations I had about birthing in the US, to letting go of close contact with my friends and community, the whole process of moving here was a long series of goodbyes and releasing of control and facing the unknown.

After arrival, my first big lesson in letting go was saying goodbye to my perfectly imperfect dog Fletcher.

Weeks later I was moving into motherhood and letting go, not only of all of my (completely wrong) ideas about motherhood, but also the very specific identity that I hadn’t realized meant so much to me. I struggled for a long time to see my new role as mother as an enhancement or addition to who I previously was, rather than a replacement of who I had been. As months passed and I began to have more time and space to reconnect with myself, I discovered that while I was still there, the experience had changed me deeply. This required further letting go of what was and concentrated effort to accept new realities. (An ongoing process)

Living as an expat among other expats provides ample opportunity to practice letting go. The shared experience of navigating a culture that is not your own makes for quick formation of intimate friendships that are, by nature, completely temporary. You make a friend, become close, and with little to no warning, they receive another assignment and are off to the next locale.

And, of course, the backdrop to all of these opportunities for growth has been Korea, a unique place with a unique culture that I had never experienced before coming here. There has been a lot of letting go of preconceived notions and ideas I had about Asia and Asian culture and society as well as a great deal of learning about and adopting new customs and social rituals as best I can as an outsider. Within this context, I’ve had to become very aware of the ways I am distinctly western and how this affects the way I see the world. In order to enjoy my time here, I’ve had to, at least temporarily, let go of the western way of doing most things. At times I’ve done so willingly, at times kicking and screaming.

And now I am struggling to let go of the life we’ve built here and all that I love about it. Korea has been good to me and overall I have been very comfortable and happy living here. (Plus, I really love our apartment! How will I ever live without floor-to-ceiling windows again?) The trick now is to cherish and be grateful for the experience, the memories, the lessons and let go of the desire for more.

I’m working on it.

Namaste, yogis.

New Beginnings

It’s New Year’s Eve here in Asia, dear yogis. I cannot believe I will be bidding 2013 adieu in mere hours (assuming I can stay awake).

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

My mother promised me that time would speed up as I got older and she was right, but this year seems to have come and gone even faster than she warned me. This makes me wonder if I spent too much of this year looking backwards and forwards rather than being in the moment, and I suspect I already know the answer. Time flies both when you are having fun and when you are not present. I suppose a fair share of both were part of my year.

The arrival of 2014 is especially significant to me because this is the year, the one that seemed so far away three years ago, in which we are leaving Korea and returning Stateside. And this is happening a month sooner than we expected, in a mere 6 weeks.

As I’d hoped, I’ve had many adventures and learned oh so many lessons, all of which I plan on writing about in the coming weeks. For now I just want to acknowledge the alphabet soup of emotions as I reflect on our impending departure. I feel sad and excited and wholly unprepared, among other things. Most of all, I’m grateful to have had this experience and these very memorable years.

More soon.

Happy New Year, yogis! Wishing you a healthy, joyful, and peaceful 2014, full of new beginnings.

Gratitude and Generosity

So, it’s December. Already. A_yogi_seated_in_a_garden

After a prolonged illness during which I spent much of September, all of October, and most of November bedridden, I have emerged, having missed an entire season and feeling a bit out of it, among other things.

As I readjust and reacquaint myself with life beyond the confines of my increasingly-uncomfortable-the-longer-I-spent-in-it bed, I am filled with a sense of gratitude. I had never been incapacitated that long, and while I am grateful for my good health now, I am also retroactively grateful for all the good health I’ve enjoyed much of my life.

When I was a young teenager, my sister-in-law, the mother of my two toddler nephews, became suddenly ill with a heart condition that necessitated more than one heart transplant, multiple hospital stays, and a lifetime since of precarious health. At the time, as an inexperienced kid, I was simply incapable of understanding what it must have been like for her to be so ill at a time when her children so desperately needed her. Though I understood the situation was dire and difficult, I did not comprehend fully the emotional turmoil that she and her husband and children must have been experiencing.

My experience pales in comparison to the severity of the situation of my sister-in-law, but I did spend a lot of time thinking about her as I recovered. Being sick is hard. Watching someone you love suffer through illness is hard. Being incapable of caring for your young child is excruciating.

I think it is also hard to be honest about just how miserable we are, so great is the pressure to “stay positive” and “get well soon”. Modern society tends to be uncomfortable with discomfort, with dis-ease, with any forced reminder to be in our bodies, vulnerable as they are. And so we tritely tell folks to focus on the positive and to take good care, reassuring them it will all be better soon.

I have certainly done this with others and I caught myself doing it to myself as well. The first few weeks in bed were spent in disbelief and irritation that I was sick at all. The next few weeks in anger. Finally, as I was forced to accept help and generosity from those who love me most, I was able to feel some compassion and empathy for my own suffering. I could see these things in the eyes and feel it in the hands of those who showed up to care for me. Seeing how willing they were to bear my pain and to hold my hand through it, without saying the things you’re supposed to say, I was finally able to accept what was happening.

It feels impossible to fully express my gratefulness for this lesson and for the people who showed up to teach it to me. It feels impossible to fully describe their selfless giving of spirit, heart, and time. And in this season of thankfulness and sharing I am filled to the brim with both my own gratitude and their generosity. I am grateful to have been forced, once again, to inhabit my body fully and to find acceptance there. I am grateful for the humans who surround me with their love. I am grateful for lessons learned. I am newly aware of how generous life is in its ability to constantly surprise and teach us. I am present to the generosity and kindness that exists in the world.

There are no greater gifts I could ask for this holiday season.

Wishing you and yours a holiday season filled with gratitude and generosity, dear yogis. Namaste.

The Monsoon

The monsoon, or changma as it is called here, is winding down. We had a few weeks of 20130731-135733.jpgalmost nonstop rain, and have now experienced a few days with some spots of sun. Weeks ago when we were all going bonkers from being locked up in the house for days on end, I was desperately wishing for the monsoon to end. Now that it does seem to be nearing its conclusion, though, I feel a bit sad, unready to let it go. It could be that this will be my last monsoon season here in Korea and that I am not likely to experience this kind of torrential rain ever again. Or it could be something more.

Before the monsoon begins, the entire peninsula is enveloped in a heat that can only be described as oppressive, a heat that is made less bearable by living in a densely populated urban environment. (Fresh air? What’s that?) Then the rains start and the peninsula is enveloped in -wait for it – more heat with the added bonus of air so thick and humid you think it may choke you. The rain provides zero relief from the heat and only exacerbates the physical discomfort of existing.  And yet, it is quite beautiful and somehow still refreshing. Everything feels cleaner and fresher, even if you yourself are rather smellier.

Gashmuit is a Hasidic concept meaning serving God through the physical or material world. The word comes from geshem, a Hebrew word for heavy rain. To use rain to encompass the physical and material, as opposed to the spiritual, does not seem an obvious choice. Rain is not solid like earth or rock. It is, literally, fluid and difficult to harness, in many ways not unlike wind (the base of the word used to describe the spiritual world). But rain we can see, we can feel, we can smell, we can taste.  And rain does have a heaviness to it. Not in the individual rain drops, of course, but in it’s cumulative effect and in it’s capacity to completely soak you in minutes. You can’t outrun it, you can’t escape it, and when it is ready to fall, it will fall. It must be taken seriously, even though you really can’t get your hands on it.

If you think of monsoon rains as something that you cannot control in any way but can have complete and utter control over you, it is perhaps a very fitting symbol for the physical world.

When the rain stops, Seoul will be spotted with lush greenery. The yellow dust that blows through in early summer will have settled. Every body and every thing will be ready to soak up some sun in preparation for a very cold winter. The monsoon will have cleansed and nourished the Earth and reminded us of just how powerful and fierce Nature can be.

So much of our time is spent trying to control, manage, and change physical reality. When we, instead, make an effort to live in harmony with Nature, it settles the dust that clouds our minds and hearts, cleanses and purifies us, and nourishes us for growth.

The last few months have been a time of intense emotional experience for me and I have craved clarity and new beginnings. Perhaps it is this craving that makes me feel unready to let go of the rain just yet. But I have been nourished, through my practice, through my relationships, through my internal rain, and when the rain stops, I will be well-prepared and nourished for growth.

Building Faith

I just read this post in the Well blog at NYTimes.com about a recent study which seems to 2315799128_34796ccc7d_zhave found a correlation between a person’s faith in something bigger than themselves and the effectiveness of therapy. Those who professed a belief in God or Spirit seemed to respond better to treatment and have more positive outcomes. One possible explanation is that faith, once attained, extends beyond the spiritual and into other aspects of our lives.

Faith is basically saying “I’m not sure how or why, but I believe…”. Some might call it wishful thinking. Some might, less generously, call it sticking your head in the sand. And some might see faith as an ability to reflect on past experiences and, using the knowledge and wisdom gained from these experiences, feel confident moving forward.

The findings of the study quoted in the NYTimes were not at all surprising to me. As someone who has spent many years in therapy I see a direct correlation between a person’s ability to let go of the need to know/control/understand everything and the ability to build and maintain healthy boundaries and relationships.

For me, letting go is the very definition of faith. Admitting that we can’t control anything beyond our own actions and that we will always live in a sea of unknowns and that much of it will not be clear to us until after the fact, if ever, is both freeing and terrifying. The terror is managed by the faith.

The conversation in my head goes something like this:

“Things I’ve never wanted to experience have happened. They have been difficult and devastating. But I’m still here, I’m still breathing, I’m still learning and growing and changing. Despite the fact that I have no control over anything that happens outside of me, I’m still okay. I have no reason to think that this will stop being true anytime soon because as far as I can tell, it’s always been true.”

Faith, like everything else that is healthy and good for us, requires effort. To build muscles, we must exercise them continuously. To create good habits, we must do the same things over and over again. To have solid faith, we have to practice letting go. The more we let go, even when it feels impossible, the easier it will become.

I think about this in my asana practice, especially when I’m in a posture that is particularly challenging for me. Agnistambhasana (fire log pose) comes to mind. Nearly without exception, each time I enter into that posture, my mind goes crazy. “This hurts! I hate this! Can I get out now?”. But my years of practice have taught me two things: 1. I’ve never left an asana practice feeling worse than when I went in, and 2. Every pose feels better/works better when I find proper alignment and then release tension. Letting go while in my deepest expression of the pose allows me to experience it and its benefits more fully, even though initially it feels impossible to do.

For asana to be satisfying and beneficial to the body, we must strive for the balance between effort and ease. Trying and letting go.  Life is no different. We are in the Yoga state when we are both doing our best and letting go. This is faith. Do what you know to be good and healthy and right, and let go of the outcomes, trusting that everything will be ok. This is true whether we can name where our faith comes from or not. Is it in God? In Spirit? In Humanity? In the Higher Self? Faith allows you to not even have to answer that question. Knowing the source of your faith will not make it stronger. Only using it will.

Namaste, yogis.

The Abundance and Simplicity of Nature

The moment when planet Earth reaches its maximum axial tilt toward the sun is just a few days away.  Though we think of the summer solstice as something that occurs on a day (21 June, this year) it actually only lasts a single and fleeting moment. After the moment passes, the hours of daylight, having reached their longest length, will again begin to shrink towards their shortest length come winter.

Summer solstice is said to be all about abundance, nature, and fertility. This past weekend we visited a garden just outside of Seoul with over 50,000 species of flowering plants and it felt as though we were drunk on summer. Surrounded by all those blooms and the creatures the blooms attract, including humans, it felt as if Nature was indeed abundant and fertile, overflowing unto itself. The air was thick and hot and heavy, the blooms were fragrant, and the sun was bright. It was gorgeous.


20130619-123716.jpgWe walked through the garden and literally took time to stop and smell the flowers. It was so incredibly nourishing to be outside, surrounded by the beauty of  nature, and it felt as though Nature was generously offering us this beautiful gift of summer; a feast for the eyes and the nose. And perhaps the fact that we know it is fleeting, that we’ll have to wait another year to see the Earth in such bloom, makes us appreciate it even more.


Many long-time yoga practitioners will tell you that the more in tune they are with the rhythms of Nature, the more abundant their lives become.  I think we tend to associate the word abundance with excess. To have an abundance of something often means to have too much. But summer very beautifully demonstrates that abundance is not complicated. The Earth explodes with an abundance of life and yet it is quite simple. Water, soil, sun, and as little interference from humans as possible. That’s it. The less we interfere with nature, the more we can enjoy abundance and simplicity. And isn’t that what we all say we want, for life to be simple?

I recently read a great quote:

The longing for simplicity is a spiritual longing. Asking physical things to meet spiritual needs does not work.

We crave simplicity and dread complication (or at least we want to) because it is the way of nature and we are always more in tune with the spirit when we are in tune with nature. Spending our summer working at a slower pace, taking time to enjoy the abundance of the Earth, and simply being in nature is spiritually fulfilling in a way that no amount of physical things ever could be.

So, I wish you all a beautiful, spiritually-fulfilling, and utterly unproductive and simple summer, as well as abundance and joy.

Namaste, yogis.


Yoga Therapy: Strengthening the Core

My self-prescribed yoga therapy for the last several months has included  a great deal of uttihita chaturanga dandasana aka plank pose. I’ve had low back pain for as long as I can remember due to a combination of my personal body composition (long torso, short legs) along with the years of abuse I’ve heaped upon it through excessive running and innattentive asana practice. Add to this the toll that pregnancy, childbirth, and carting around an ever-growing child take and it is no wonder that my back is constantly crying for some attention.

In the few months since I have added plank to my daily yoga therapy sessions I’ve gone from holding it with proper alignment and breathing for about 30 seconds at a time to up to 8 minutes. My back feels better than it ever has, and my arms and shoulders and abdominal muscles are stronger than they’ve ever been.

Beyond these physical benefits is where I’ve found the really good stuff, though. At our core resides the manipura chakra, right in our solar-plexus-manipura-chakranavel, and it is from this place that we act courageously. Our self-esteem, our sense of self-worth, our fire comes from this energy center. By strengthening and nourishing this life-affirming energy, we can move through the world from a more solid place.

Sometimes when I talk or write about the chakras it feels a bit … fluffy. The language surrounding the energetic body doesn’t seem quite right – always a bit too esoteric and theoretical. And yet, the experience is very real. By strengthening the physical center of my body and attending to the weakness and pain in my spine, I am inhabiting my body in a more assured and comfortable way. Feeling at ease in my body helps me to be more in tune with myself and more grounded in general.

It seems strange that performing a physical exercise with your body can affect your psyche in such a way, but it does. There is something incredibly meditative and calming about plank pose once you move past the initial 45 seconds or so. Breathing deeply, relaxing the jaw, and drawing all of your energy into the space behind the belly button.

It’s done great things for me. I feel solid, strong, capable and this, in turn, empowers me to act courageously; to choose to behave in a way that reflects who I am at the very center of my being, even when I’m fearful of an outside situation or the opinions of others.

Yoga can do all that? Yes it can.

Namaste, yogis.