What’s it all about, Yogi?

My recent time at the Evolution Asia Yoga Conference was, as I have mentioned, wonderful. In addition to spending several straight hours with Dharma Mittra, I also took a two-hour backbending class from Jason Crandell. One of the reasons I chose this particular class was because I’m not a huge fan of backbends. I know some people love them, and I do love them, but only when they’re over. To me, nothing feels quite as great as coming out of a backbend.

Interestingly, Jason began the class by asking who loved and who did not love backbends. I was in the majority, as it turned out. The practice was great, and I was able to enjoy some backbends thanks to Jason’s excellent instruction and suggestions. Indeed, Jason is known for his deep knowledge of anatomy. It is very obvious when you take a class from Jason – he knows how the body works.

The thing that has stuck with me the most from his class, though, was not about backbends at all, but rather about Yoga in general. He said Yoga has almost nothing to do with range of motion or flexibility. We like to make it about those things because they are easily quantifiable. Flexibility is valuable but it does not determine quality. Yoga is really about equanimity – of body, mind, and spirit.

As Jason was saying this I was trying very hard not to come out of the pose I was in and nod my head vigorously in agreement. He put into these few sentences the message that I so desperately try to get across to my students and to people who ask me about Yoga.

Yoga is about balance and unity, not flexibility. It is this fact that makes Yoga something that EVERY PERSON can do no matter their physical condition. It was this realization about Yoga that led me to create,with a partner,  Samdhana-Karana Yoga: A Healing Arts Center.

I was so pleased and grateful to get to spend those few hours with Jason. He has been named “one of the next generation of teachers shaping yoga’s future”. I hope that’s true.




Reflections on Birthing

Wow! Just … wow!

Little Elden is three weeks old and I am still basking in post-birth awe. It’s hard to believe that this little person was inside of me just a few weeks ago.  He is thriving and we are learning, as all new parents do.

During the last few weeks before he was born, as we were waiting, waiting, waiting, struggling to find patience, I kept reminding myself of something that Kundalini yogini Gurmukh wrote in her book Bountiful, Beautiful, Blissful. She says there is a month of grace surrounding a baby’s due date and all babies are born at exactly the moment they are meant to. Reflecting on our birthing experience, I know this to be true. Elden could not have been born anywhere else, anytime else, to anyone else.

There is much I could say about our birthing experience, and I could talk about it for much longer than anyone would care to hear, but if I had to sum it up in one word that word would be healing. To experience the depth of what my body is capable of was incredibly profound. The only other time or place I’ve experienced such a healing has been through my Yoga practice. Yoga does amazing things for body image issues. Not only do we learn through the philosophy of Yoga that we are more than our body, but through asana we learn to appreciate our bodies and all they can do. We build strength and flexibility while simultaneously learning to let go of the illusion of perfection and damaging self-talk. We learn to accept what is, including our bodies, and to love ourselves as a reflection of the Divine.

Even after my years of Yoga practice, having experienced this healing over and over again, I still struggle with body image issues. It is very difficult not to in our air-brushed society which puts so much pressure on women to live up to impossible ideals of beauty.  And, I have to take responsibility for my own inner voice, which doesn’t always dismiss these pressures but rather internalizes them. (Thank goodness we call Yoga a “practice”. Means we can keep working on it for a long time.)

My birthing experience, much like my first Yoga experiences did, has once again shifted my self-image. After 27 hours of active natural labor and childbirth, I feel like there is nothing my body cannot do. I look at my son and I cannot believe that my body nurtured him, protected him, gave him all he needed to grow, and then delivered him into this world.  Doctors don’t “deliver” babies, women’s bodies do. And they do it so perfectly. It is not easy, but a woman’s body is meant to do it. Knowing this, how can I now look at my reflection in the mirror and find fault in my arms or my midsection? How can I complain about my thighs? It seems so frivolous compared to the incredible power that I now know is housed deep within each limb and body part.

And yet, I know that I will still have those moments. I won’t always love my reflection, and I’ll probably still find myself criticizing something about my body. But hopefully, this will happen less and less. Hopefully, I will internalize what I learned through birthing: I am woman, hear me roar.

Ode to Fletcher

Those of you who have taken many classes from me have probably heard me talk about my dog, Fletcher. He is among my greatest Yoga teachers. Not a day has gone by since we’ve had the pleasure of being his humans that he hasn’t reinforced a lesson or taught me something completely new.

I grew up with dogs, and have had many in my life. Fletcher is the only dog I’ve had as an adult and he is by far the quirkiest. To say he has personality is an understatement. He is smart, incredibly stubborn, and only motivated by human affection.  His capacity to love is giant and marvelous and beautiful. All day, every day, is about giving and receiving love.

A dog’s ability to be loyal, humble, joyful, playful, curious and always in the present moment serves as an excellent example of how to approach our Yoga practice. In Hindu imagery, Shiva is often depicted with dogs. Dogs can represent the lowly ones of society, but are also sometimes representative of faithfulness. Patanjali tells us in the Yoga Sutras that by approaching our practice from a place of faithfulness and humility, without any attachment to the outcome, we will progress.

Fletcher has been a living example for me each day. He has taught me incredible patience both with myself and others. He has reminded me of the necessity to love and accept people, including myself,  as they are in each moment, trusting that where they are is exactly where they are meant to be. We have spent many hours together walking, smelling, exploring and enjoying the simple pleasures of each moment. Most of all, he reminds me to let all of my actions spring from unabashed love.  Allowing others to see our desire to love and to be loved can be a very vulnerable experience, but it is always the right choice.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Fletcher made it across the big sea like a total champ. He came out of his crate after the long journey happy as always, affectionate, a little thirsty, and excited to see us. He immediately started investigating his new surroundings, being sure to never wander far enough away from us that we would be out of his line of vision. For a few days all was well as we started to settle in. Then, one day, while out for a walk, he suddenly started yelping in pain. We had no idea what happened, but it was clear he was experiencing some pain in his hind legs. We got him back to the apartment as quickly as we could and immediately got in touch with a vet. The vet told us to treat him like an injured athlete – rest and pain meds – and to call if it didn’t get any better. Over the next few days it got progressively worse and so we brought him in. Now, weeks later, we’ve been back and forth to the vet several times, and still don’t quite know what is wrong. We do know that he is in a great deal of pain. We know that he is suffering. We know that there is nothing that can be done.

We’ve made the impossible decision to let him die  peacefully and it seems my dog, my Fletcher, is teaching me the hardest lesson yet – letting go. This whole year is shaping up to be one giant lesson in non-attachment and acceptance of change. It is one thing to recognize that intellectually, but it is another thing entirely to actually move through acceptance. I am beyond attached to Fletcher. Letting go of him feels like letting go of an organ essential for life. I NEED him. Or so it feels. And yet, I know through my Yoga practice that all beings enter our lives for a reason, leave for a reason, and that a part of them stays with us always. Change is eternal. Dogs are not.

The timing of all of this feels awful, but when is a good time to lose someone you love? We will be welcoming new life into our home so very soon, and I know that this baby will become one of my Yoga teachers. My heart will expand in ways I cannot even imagine and the love in our life will increase exponentially.

The Universe, in her entirety, is full of lessons. Every being, every living thing, has something to teach us, if only we are open to it. Right now, in this moment, I am trying to celebrate Fletcher’s life, appreciate all that he has taught me, and be grateful for the opportunity to learn from a humble, loyal, quirky, stubborn, magnificent dog.