New Moon Resolution

How have ya’ll been doing with the daily downward facing dog practice? I’ve got something cool cooked up for us to try next month, but stay with the daily posture practice, even if you vary it a little. Maybe spend some time in puppy pose or child’s pose as variations.

On the topic if daily practice, I cannot help but think about to-do lists. I don’t know if you’re into that sort of thing, but I am. I don’t try to be, but I find myself with my pastel colored index card writing out a pretty little list of stuff I want to do that day. Not only that, but what needs to get done that day.

Look, I’m not putting “go to work” on this list, because that’s a given. So is “go teach that class” and “stop by Target for cat litter”. I have all the major bases covered. What I have to itemize are the things that will fall through the cracks on me when I’m not looking.

Sometimes it feels ridiculous, the things I put on this index card. Sometimes it feels so important that I get to all of it. When I inevitably don’t get to everything it is such a major letdown that I double up on the items for tomorrow’s list, because that is a helpful remedy for time constraints and one’s sense of self efficacy, right?

I’ve been feeling a little pinched for time lately, and for no reason. I don’t have a nine to five job *whew!* and I don’t have children. What I do have is an incredibly flighty mind, a few social media accounts and no little talent for online shopping.

We have the new moon upon us Monday evening. The new moon invites us to practice restoration, withdrawal from the busy-ness of our daily grind, the ability to look at what is working in our lives and what is not and to make resolutions accordingly from the clarity we find in meditation and silent reflection.

This is a time to plant seeds, too. What do you want to watch grow over the coming weeks? Where do you want to invest your energy and attention? These are powerful questions when asked with consciousness because we answer these questions every day sometimes with a great lack of awareness.

In what do you want to invest your energy? In what way do you want to direct your Prana?

Well, I for one don’t want to invest myself in the vast wasteland of my imagined plans. I don’t want to sap my strength for real expression by running on the rodent wheel of to-do lists laid to waste by the unexpected turns of life, weariness or varying priorities. I might have had “write a blog post” on my list for yesterday, but if a friend sent me a mala to be repaired maybe I’ll choose to work on that, instead. It is not a waste of energy, just re-direction. The waste of energy is in the regret of an un-checked off list; in reality, the list is mutable. It is the mind that makes it rigid.

By some divine inspiration, I am certain, I was inspired to work with the concept of a to-do list on this New Moon in Aries. Aries, a fresh fiery sign already associated with the Spring, it’d be easy to ride the coattails of this energy and make bigger, better faster to-do lists for these longer, brighter days. Ruled by Mars, Aries energy could make it easier to use these lists and aspirations as a road to ruination. How many times have I beaten myself up over (as yet) unfulfilled dreams or poorly planned good intentions? Let’s use the spark of this sign to energize our focus on where we DO want to invest our sacred energy.

So instead of getting all “tasky” on myself at the height of my frustration with my inability to get anything done (though, in truth dear Reader, I get plenty done) I decided to turn the art of task listing on its ass.

I made a do-not-do list. You are welcome to join me.

I started by asking myself what is the project on which I wish to spend the most time. The answer is a writing project. I finished the first leg of it and am now in the perilous land of reading what I have completed – all nine hundred and seventy two pages of it (it’s not really that long, but, you know…) Essentially I have a push you pull me relationship with the love of my creative life.

So, I figured out where I don’t spend my time. So what in the hell am I doing when I am seated in my writing chair with the computer on? Come one…one more guess…

Yup. Internetting. Flipping channels between Instagram (@electricmala) facebook and ye ‘ole gmail – for no good reason. Also, amazon, because I wanted to see what kind of coin belts they have for belly dancing. I might also need a cross-body pouch for all of my outdoor activities (of which there are none). There is a new moon oracle that is back in stock from an indie publisher….

You see how this goes.

Instead torturing myself with stuff I need to get done and then doing things that are the opposite of that, I have made a New Moon in Aries resolution to not make a to-do list (for at least these two days ripe with new moon energy). I’d like to see what I gravitate towards and where I invest my energy without the guilt of a looming index card of shame.

There is no cajoling myself towards one project when I feel pulled towards something else. I might color, or read Outlander’s most recent installment – Drums of Autumn – perhaps I’ll write that blog post or practice yoga outside. I might drink coffee and think quietly to myself – which is quite the new moon activity to do.

On the other side of this New Moon Resolution is a certain level of restraint. The moon is a powerful symbol of time and presents a fantastic reflection for working with one’s relationship with time. As I admitted, I waste a lot of time internetting, pointlessly so. If I need new shoes or yoga pants I don’t take five hours in the mall shopping for them so why in the hell does it take so much longer on the internet?

So, in addition to not making a list or itemizing my activities in an effort to legitimize my existence, also, there will be no internetting.

“Ah ha! Prana Devi!” You might say, “I caught you! Already internetting! Are you not in the internet writing this blog post right now?”

That’s right, you caught me. I am, in fact, on the internet right now. But I am writing – a perfectly honorable and important endeavor to my sense of fulfillment as a human being. I am not, however, trolling zappos to see what Patagonia might have in the way of slinky sandals appropriate for drum circle dancing at the beach.

Let me tell you something, the seductive glow of the information screen has a way of shifting your perception of time. I think it also changes cognitive function and our ability to focus, which has everything to do with one’s ability to get things done, feel good about oneself and, also, reflect on the moon, which is of the utmost importance in our fast-paced daily grind.

So, even for a few minutes, stand still and watch your breathing. In the very least, instead of thinking of everything you ought to be doing, take a moment and appreciate all that you have done. Itemize each accomplishment, large and small, over the last day, week or month. Give yourself three minutes in this space and see how differently you feel from the gratitude that wells up. And know that even though from the outside it might not look like time well spent, time not wasted in unwarranted urgency is priceless.

 

 

 

Moon Hand Sun Hand

On Friday I went to Atlanta for a workshop called The Yogic Teachings of the Moon. Who wouldn’t want to go learn about all of that?

We may have been learning about the cooling light of the moon, but my Swami was on fire all weekend. She walked in Friday night with Shakti blazing and it was all Celestial from there. I wouldn’t begin to give a synopsis of the teachings, so this isn’t what the post is about. It’s about left and right, my friend, and my relationship with it.

The right side of the body is associated with the sun, brilliance, intellect and the masculine. The left side of the body is the moon, creativity, and the feminine. There are pranayama (breath practices) one can use to bring the left and right sides of the brain into harmony, so neither dominates the other. This leads to a stillness in the mind that helps us enter into deeper states of quiet and meditation. It is a point of balance so brilliant and illuminating that it is comparable to the sun and the moon.

I often think of the left and right side of the body, being a yoga instructor I deal in one side at a time. I am also intrigued with handed-ness. I quickly notice if I am dealing with a left handed person; one of my managers at the restaurant, the tattoo guy who put Bastet on my leg, the students at Uru Yoga and Beyond who sign their name on the clip-board, having to turn their bodies just so to the negotiate the pen on the straight line.

As a kid, my first urges to retrieve a Crayon or a fork was with my left hand. At the same time, I had a wonderfully well-meaning great-grandmother who wasn’t having any of that. Her name was Honey and she worked with me all the time. She taught me how to spell and write when I was very young. This is, in part, why I am so advanced to this day. I also credit her with my love of writing and books of all kinds. Granted, this love has sometimes become a bit of an obsession with reading materials, but also it is still a blessing.

While she was teaching me how to write my name and other important things like colors and animals, she insisted that I use my right hand in spite of my left handed tendencies. She was superstitious and believed that left handedness was a sign of witchcraft and other devilry that we didn’t want around. And so, my left hand was abandoned for the more wholesome right hand.

Well, it seems that left handed people are known for their creative brilliance. They are wildly innovative and successful like someone born under the sign of Leo without a single malefic planet buggering their aspirations. This is the left handed person. The right handed person, infinitely more common, is analytical and thinks ‘like the rest of us’.

Here I am, in handedness purgatory. I feel cheated. I am not ambidextrous. If I tried to write something with my left hand the entire appendage would look something like a writhing turtle chewing the eraser end of a pencil. However, there are some things I do like a left handed person, like when I went boxing I stood like someone who’d used their left hand their whole life.

I have often wondered if this little well intended change to my handedness didn’t hinder my ability to fully harness the creativity I feel coursing through me like currents of good ideas grounded too soon, like lightening with poor depth perception. I have wondered if my brain didn’t fire the way it was supposed to and so, I didn’t fire the  way I was meant to.

Last Saturday, after we learned about the Moon and Her Yogic Secrets, me and a whole bunch of ravenous yogis went to an Indian restaurant and ate our weight in delicious food. While I am scooping up some spicy brown sauce I notice the woman across from me eating with her left hand. She is a stroke survivor and now teaches yoga to other stroke survivors. I am compelled to ask, “Were you right handed before your stroke?”

She was right handed before her stroke. I was interested in the process of changing one’s handedness as an adult and due to such an intense circumstance at that. Changing her dominate hand was not a choice but a fierce act of healing. I felt a little ridiculous when I told her about Honey and my obsession with hand dominance in light of her life and death ordeal.

This woman has large brown eyes swimming in smooth, dark skin. Her hair is very short with a shock of white near her hairline, which makes her youthful appearance look very wise.  When asked about her experience, and my reason for asking, the space between us felt very quiet, held  in the silent grasp of her clear gaze.

She moves her food around with the fork as we move into a conversational tone on this topic, other friends nearby chime in here and there. While she is talking to me, I notice her right hand resting tranquilly in her lap. Then she says, “Maybe this change helped you somehow.”

I feel my head turn to the side, like a dog who isn’t sure if its human asked if it needed to go outside or if it wants a treat. She says it again, in a slightly different way, but I just hold my breath in this novel idea’s wake.

What if being forced to use my non-dominate hand during early development was somehow a boon to my thinking processes. Perhaps creativity has flourished in distinct and unprecedented ways because of my superstitious great-grandmother?

Let me tell you something, Reader, this never occurred to me. If I hadn’t been sitting down at the table, I would have had to sit down for a minute under the weight of this implication. What if my effervescent personality, quirks and all, are the product of the way my brain adapted to changing from left to right dominance when I was two? Maybe this is why I am good at mirroring a fitness class when I teach it, perhaps this is the reason you like my writing, I can draw really good horses, I make such fine malas and understand the language of cats.

This was a lesson not in handed-ness but in the thinking mind’s processes and its gravitation towards the negative. I had not even thought there could be a positive to this and so never believed in it.

This year, with the same Swami I just went to see, we are studying the Yoga Sutras. This is the instruction manual for yoga practice, and unlike my previous post I ain’t just talking about downward facing dog. In this text there is a lot of talk about the mind and its ‘fluctuations’. In this study is the invitation to choose one’s thoughts, which I think is a really seductive practice, perhaps even more appealing than floating between handstand and scorpion pose. The ability to choose my thoughts, and recognize that I am not my thoughts, is one of the wildest and most healing benefits of yoga.

I see that I was creating separation between one side of myself and the other; the left and right at odds with each other and my ability to be in the world as my fabulous self hinging on the outcome of this battle. However, if my left handedness and right handedness combined to work on behalf of  the still point between the sun and the moon within me, then I empower that unity by dis-empowering the negative mind.

This is real wild territory. Perhaps uncharted territory, but a landscape that is rich with the potential to be free from the barrage of negative thoughts. This feels like the landscape of the Cosmos, the very same one that spins within each and every heart on the planet, not too hot like the sun and not too cool like the moon, but just perfect as it beats in time to the rhythm of life. Who wouldn’t want to go learn about all of that?

 

The Daily Dog

For the well of creativity churning within my being, the best I could come up with for this title is The Daily Dog. It’s predictable, which I don’t care for at all, but is counter-balanced by the fact that it somehow reminds me of a newspaper. In spite of all the writerly dreams and aspirations I have suffered, I never once wanted to be a journalist or reporter, though if I had this would be my chance to feel like one. “Yes, I’m a writer for The Daily Dog, I have a few questions…”

If you have studied with me, you know I am an advocate for home yoga practice. I sometimes teach a workshop to help folks interested in a daily yoga practice get started. The beginning stages of anything are daunting, most especially a yoga practice at home, and it’s nice to get a few pointers and a little encouragement.

I remember when I started trying to practice yoga at home. I had a collection of Yoga Journal yoga sequences I’d torn out and lovingly placed in plastic sleeves which then went into a green binder. I schlepped this binder around with me for I don’t know how long before I ever actually tried to practice out of it.

The reason for the binder is that when I started to take my yoga practice beyond the confines of the studio I discovered that, no matter how long I’d been practicing under the guidance of a teacher, I completely forgot what to do next. I remember being in a hotel room with my yoga mat and feeling very yogier than thou with it, thankyouverymuch. Come on! Who doesn’t want to be so yogi that they do yoga on vacation?

Out comes the mat, unsnapped as unceremoniously as a yoga teacher trainee who just got their first subbing gig. There I was, alone with this mat beneath me. I stand, coming into mountain pose upon the gargantuan size nine and a half feet the good lord gave me. My hands are in prayer pose, the little acrylic tips of my fake nails click together just above my sternum in a very sincere gesture of introspection.

I reach my arms out and up, diving into the sky on the zephyr that is my breath then dive! deep beyond the ruddy carpet into the depths of my own soul. Then, dear Reader, I completely forget what comes next in the sun salutation sequence. I languish there in a bored lunge pose, eventually making my way to downward facing dog.

By the time I do a few standing poses, I’ve given up on going much further in this yoga session. It is extremely likely I smoked a few cigarettes on the narrow patio at the edge of the moist, green golf course on which my little cabana was situated. The night is a swirl of green and black made hazy by a late night mist. I sit there, on the cement side of the patio like a sleeper sure not to let their toe move beyond the periphery of the bed, uncertain as I was of what might be out there lurking past the dolphin fountain and clubhouse.

Granted, this was a few years before I went through yoga teacher training, but it was a turning point in regards to what I wanted to get out of my practice. I wanted to have access to it all of the time.

Those of you who have studied with me also know I’m into the whole “daily practice” thing. This is a loaded statement to yogis who think a practice consists of a whole bunch of sun salutes, a couple of arm balances and a round of wheel poses. Certainly the physical postures are important and what we’re about to get into here, but I have to say that daily practice counts as watching your breath for five minutes before you go to work in the morning or at night, before bed. “Daily practice” is something different from daily postures, which is why I chose to distinguish the two with the title of this post.

You will receive the benefits of the postures through only one means; you must actually do them. Though it pains me to say, simply reading about them ain’t gonna cut it. Neither is watching videos or clips on the internet which, I must admit, has become one of my new favorite occupations since discovering Instagram. Just saying.

I had the idea of suggesting one posture to practice a day and see how it goes. If you’re interested you might want to take a picture of yourself on day one and then do one a week to see how the posture changes over the next thirty days.

What I would suggest to you also, especially if you already have a regular yoga practice at home, in the studio or both, is to pay attention to how your body changes and how this one, seemingly simple practice might influence your posture practice overall.

In honor of the blog title and name of this endeavor, let’s do downward facing dog as our first post of the month. If you take pictures, have someone take a picture from four angles. The alignment cue that I suggest is to think of your hands as another set of feet while in this pose. Let your fingers be really long and see that the index fingers and thumbs press down into the mat beneath you so that the weight is evenly balanced across the expanse of your palms. At the same time, be aware of where the feet connect to the floor, bending your knees as you need to.

Try to hold this posture for three to five breaths to begin. See if you can make it to eleven breaths in Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog pose) and see how this changes your relationship with other poses you might practice as well as your everyday walking around posture. Be advised that this is not meant to be a stick with which to beat yourself up if you miss a day here and there. Just go for it and see what happens.

Let me know how it goes and, as always, be sure and check with both your physician and felines before starting any new exercise routine.

Schedule Cha Cha Cha Changes

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Seven and one half years ago I decided to each yoga. I remember the cold, bleak December in which I wandered around the house like a sad and forgotten wolf, locked in some cave out of the sunlight. I would put in a fitness DVD and not press play, but instead amble onto something else. I’d make food and eat it then go out for Chinese. I’d make a pot of coffee and drink it all just to help wash the wine down.

This period of time was brief, like any Florida winter. It was cold and dark and I desperately wanted to feel warm and bright. I was waiting on something but unsure as to what it might be. Maybe an agent will want to see my full manuscript, perhaps I will meet a new man.

On a dark night between Christmas and New Year’s Day my mother suggested I could teach yoga classes, like she was trying to find a hobby for an elderly parent. As a longtime student, the idea of teaching slopped across my mind like a dirty water logged mop, “Absolutely not.” I said, and not because the idea didn’t have appeal.

The idea didn’t have grit. Way back then, there was not a YTT (that’s muggle for yoga teacher training) in Pensacola. If I wanted to pull it off the closest school I knew of was in New Orleans. After about a year of this idea scratching against the inside of my skull, I decided to go to teacher training – New Orleans or bust!

On a sunny day in the Spring I was at the yoga studio inquiring about logistics behind this New Orleans training, a mere three hours away. My local instructor and studio owner never got up from her desk, she just swished her hand in front of her face like she was shooing a gnat from her nose and said, “Go meet Laura at Dragonfly. She’s great and just in Fort Walton.” Fort Walton is a much closer forty-five minutes away.

So I go out there and meet my new teacher at Dragonfly Yoga Studies where I learn how to teach yoga. I realize right off that I have no idea what in the hell I’m doing. I am practiced by about seven or so years when the training starts (a person must have a minimum of one year of study to learn to teach at this studio) and I realize how very little I know. I am exhilarated. I soak it all up and realize, about halfway through, that I have potential to be a very good instructor.

I am going to teach all of the yoga all of the time. This is, in fact, going to be my new job. I’d already quit my job at a salon to go to teacher training, serving tables when not busy perfecting my pronunciation of Sanskrit words.

I made all of the vision boards. I bought a tri-fold piece of cardboard that my five year old nephew could stand straight up behind without fear of being seen. I glued snapshots of all sorts of yogic imagery; postures, mala beads, rivers, the logo of my local yoga studios (and the Atlanta ashram, come to think of it) the sun, the moon, and God. Many aspects of God, most especially Shiva and The Mother.

I pasted new age platitudes on these vision boards, four in total though only one is so large as to be tri-fold. I include the all important Do What You Love and Follow Your Heart and Live the Dream and more of the Do What You Love variations. I began teaching yoga classes at Dragonfly the October before I graduated, right about five and a half years ago. I had a new career. I was doing what I loved.

I have taught up to eight classes a week plus workshops in that time, in addition to mentoring other teacher trainees. I still have a day job, which is really a nights and weekends job, that keeps me in plenty of high end cat food and allows me to travel to the Atlanta ashram often enough that half the people think I’m a local. I do some hair at the salon and occasionally a make-over or two.

It is not the busy-ness that has made me withdraw from teaching yoga. That is how I have explained it because that is how I have been able to understand it until, perhaps, this very moment.

I have not been able to explain it to myself, Reader, but maybe I can explain it to you. Teaching for a living made the impersonal something personal. I found it hard to be in the midst of a rapidly changing yoga community, a rapidly expanding yoga community, and remain unattached to my professional life as a teacher.

After five and a half years teaching yoga I realize this is not a business I will ever be able to reply upon for my sole support. At some point this translated into feelings of failure. The business of teaching as I have known it will never be the only thing I do for a living and also  keep the cats in their high end food and luxe treats and, at the same time, afford me to go see Swami as much as I want. That, dear Reader, is all I really want.

I have trimmed my teaching schedule down to one class a week at Uru. I am teaching Kali Natha Yoga, the style of yoga that I study with my Teacher, Swami Jaya Devi, in Atlanta. I am also teaching at Chip’s in Gulf Breeze twice a week. I just sort of opened my hands and let my teaching schedule fall through my fingers and these three classes are all that remained. During the weeks and months leading up to this decision I realized that doing what you love for a living might make you love it less. I learned that doing what you love for a living can make that love conditional.

If I had a nice big class and the stereo worked then that was a good day. Hooray! If two people showed up, one of whom was twenty minutes late to an hour and a half class wherein the stereo played only static and bass, a roach crawled across the floor and I was expected to kill it and the prenatal teacher popped her head in during savasana to complain about the air-conditioner, then I just wanted to crawl out of my skin and put in my notice. On more than one occasion I wanted to exclaim “I resignate!” in the middle of up-dog to down-dog.

I have learned that teaching yoga is like the moon. A regular teacher cannot burn brightly like the sun all of the time, and I suspect those that do were trained to the teeth and are skilled beyond measure. We are lucky to have those Teachers. For the rest of us, there are times when we must follow the cycles of our own energy and capability into the shade where we can rest and drink deeply of the teachings we so ardently share.

Sometimes teaching is an inspiration to one’s own practice and interactions with students is like seeing a reflection of eternity. Sometimes teaching stretches and teaches the instructor, bringing them face to face with their own tensions, hopes and beliefs about the practice. Sometimes, teaching is draining like a reckoning of the spirit and there isn’t anything left but to withdraw the way the moon, every month, escapes into the inky depths of the night sky.

I intend to teach more in the summer, but in a different approach to the practice of giving instruction. I would like to teach pop-up classes, I would like to sub more to get to know different students and different locations. I would like to teach outside  more, in the park, at the beach (twilight yoga anyone?) and I have even had fantasies about teaching at the library. I have successfully taught classes for fundraising and have my eye on the large space at Pet Supermarket to raise money for the humane society.

For now, I am going to visit my Teacher. I’m going to finish the second draft of my novel and practice – at least a little bit – the art of being rather than doing. I look forward to exploring how this changes and enhances my own practice, which I am sure to share with you here, since I’ll have some extra time and evenings at home.

I would like to add that though my love of teaching might seem to wane with my schedule, my devotion to Yoga burns brightly as ever. Besides, who could ever really diagnose devotion but perhaps one whose inner vision was quickened by the very sun? Aside from those few, who can really know another’s heart? And who would dare to say?

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Insight Meditation Timer

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I have never considered myself an activist. I wouldn’t know where to start. I know that we are in a time in which action is necessary and important, if only to show that we are awake – or wish to be – and that caring humans are not so last century. I think that showing support – or lack thereof – by how and where we spend our money is a method to induce change. I think that in addition to taking care of each other and making decisions aligned with the good, a daily spiritual practice is of the utmost importance.

Spiritual practice can be a lonely business. It’s not that you need company or that it’s something anyone can do with you, though we can practice together. There’s the cushion at the zendo where we sat around a big square while a sweet nun made the bell to sing, signalling the start of silent practice. We closed our eyes and though it was a room full of people, the work we did was solitary.

After a period of sitting in this square the bell would sing again and we would turn one hundred and eighty degrees to face the white wall behind us. The bell sings and we sit for about half an hour. Still together, still alone.

Satsang is “a sacred gathering” if you ask Google. It’s the folks with whom you study and practice. You ask, “My hip felt pins and needles when we did that pigeon, how was yours?”

“Pins and needles, yeah. Mine too.” Might be a response from a member of your satsang.

“It’s been hard getting to the cushion lately.” Someone might say and there is someone with an answer or, in the least, words of encouragement like, “I experience that too.” So at least you know you’re not alone.

I recently misplaced the kitchen timer I use in my meditation station. I remembered back before iphones were a thing there were the ipod shuffles. The studio owner where I studied in the single digits of the twenty-first century used one of these things for a meditation timer. She would poke at the sleek glassy screen and cue up a bell that would chime us into and out of the timed meditation practice at the end of yoga class.

I remember that five minutes felt interminable, if we went for ten I was crawling out of my skin. Not too many yoga classes that I have been to conclude with a seated practice. If I am honest, I will admit that I don’t include it in classes I teach because of how tense folks can get in that five minutes. It is daunting, dear Reader, to see the abject dismay on a dozen faces who are not in the mood to sit quietly. I can hear their noisy minds, “I didn’t sign up for this! I came for a yoga practice! Why in the hell are we meditating?”

One night while I was looking at my meditation space and feeling quite sick and tired of myself and my nightly fits of resistance, not unlike those early years of sitting at the end of a yoga class, I remembered that meditation timer from those years ago. I pull out the ‘ole sliver of glass that passes for a telephone and find the app without much difficulty; Insight Meditation Timer.

I’m usually late to discovering the things that have been cool for a decade, so I will not be insulted if you think I’m ridiculous for starting to use this thing last week. I sat down and set the timer. I resolve to one of the first practices I brought home from a weekend immersion with Swami; sit for eleven minutes practicing ujjaii pranayama and look for the spaces between thoughts.

A digital bell sings. I close my eyes, rest my hands lightly on my knees and focus on that sacred movement of breath. The stillness rises and falls like waves. There is a moment when I can see a gap in thinking coming closer to me, it washes across my brow then lets in thoughts of what color I should have colored that dragonfly’s wing in the coloring book I got for Christmas. This is how it goes.

The bell chimes neatly and I hold the space another moment longer. I find that this practice fortifies discipline; not to jump right up when the meditation is over but remain for another five breaths. Creak the eyes open and ride the practice out into the space of daily existence. My Teacher calls this the wake of meditation.

When I regard the phone’s reflective surface the Insight Meditation Timer adds an element to my practice I hadn’t really noticed I was missing; companions. The screen shows that 2,365 people just meditated with me, or 3,477 people meditated with me from around the world. Over 5,000 sat in meditation with me last night.

Germany, Australia, Ohio, New York, New Zealand and Florida where I sit in a dimly lit room. I find the number of people meditating in the middle of the night absolutely staggering and inspiring (though it might not be the middle of the night where they are).

Since I began using this meditation timer the daily news has not gotten any better. The upheavals and divisive rhetoric have not diminished  over the last couple of weeks. I will admit, dear Reader, I have been afraid and at the same time deeply discouraged. The challenges grow and I fall into despairing for our wretched and wonderful world. I temporarily forgot, because I was not able to see, the daily efforts on behalf of the good happening all around me.

I believe there are more people than not pursuing the spiritual path and practices, but these people are not on television, they are not sensational or very public. But this is a pervasive practice wherein one little lamp can quietly touch its flame to a wick nearby. I think of this when practice is at the bottom of the to-do list at the end of a mighty long day. When it isn’t simply practice, but an effort on behalf of the good, motivation changes and inspiration arises! Though we might practice in our small corner of the world there are a million plus lamps lighting the darkness one breath at a time.

That thought kinda makes you want to go meditate right now, doesn’t it?

When Worlds Meet the Moment

After a ten year sabbatical from fight training I returned to the “ring” this evening at Title Boxing, which just opened on Nine Mile Road. The ring is actually a mirror lined room evenly peppered with hundred pound heavy bags like meat carcasses in a freezer (thank you Rocky) with well hidden speakers pumping bass jams into the arena.

Let me tell you, first, that yoga is the only exercise I do – ever. Sometimes I walk but more to get outside than for fitness because I do not walk very fast. I saunter and sometimes take my mala beads or a notebook, inspired by Mary Oliver to do so.

So, for ten years or so I’ve done plenty of yoga poses, flow, sequences and whatnot. In the last four years or so I have deepened my relationship with breath practices and meditation. I have not been running, walking up or down a treadmill or taking Zumba classes. There just isn’t enough time in the day to do all my delicious yoga stuff and also be Billy Badass.

When I went into the gym today I felt a rush of nostalgia infused with adrenaline and the unique feeling I’d forgotten comes from the experience of kicking something’s ass. When we approached the desk a very pleasant lady asked what we usually do for exercise, which was nice given she formed her question with the assumption that we did something. My sister told the lady that I teach yoga, which was nice of her since I didn’t want to brag.

There is a semi-circle of benches wherein the trainer wraps our hands so we don’t get blistered in the gloves. While the bearded former Marine spins the blue wraps across my knuckles there was a surreal moment of different times in my life meeting in one singular moment. This moment, of getting my hands wrapped is not different from unrolling my mat, not different from opening my computer to write.

I did ask him, pro to pro, if this is his only job. I salivated when he said “yes” this is his only job. I could have foregone the class and picked his brain on how to make the fitness industry work in one’s favor. He seemed chatty enough but there were other folks to wrap and he still had to show us where the water fountains and bathrooms are.

When the warm-up began I started to get a little nervous. It all started to come back to me – the jumping jacks, jumping rope, oh mah god the push ups! Damn! This is going to be more than just hitting the bag.

I wonder when I’ll start to sweat and if I’m going to need my little sister to carry me out of there. If this happens, I might regret telling those people where I teach. I would hate to give Uru the reputation of housing weak ass yoga teachers.

Round 1. I love it. I am not sure what my sister thinks but we smile a few times in the mirror after we discover we might live.

Round 2. A combination of jabs and hooks, my favorite. I observe my breathing, accelerated but steady. My face isn’t contorted and my feet feel light. This does not hurt my knees, though I want to kick the bag even though this is not a “kicking the bag” class.

Round 3. Still not dead. In fact, quite alive thankyouverymuch. I catch a glimpse in the mirror and see my shoulders are buff from exertion. Yoga shoulders, I might add. Yoga breathing, I might add. Yoga focus, I might add. Kinda Yoga Badass.

Round 4. I realize my sister signed us up for eight rounds. I realize, also, I do not have speed. I start to remember that speed is where I struggled and failed. My hands are not fast and neither are my feet. But I can get very low for my upper-cut, so there is that.

Round 5. There are sixty seconds between each round in which we do some exercise but also rest. I think about getting water but am afraid because I had noodles kinda close to this class and don’t want to throw up. I still want to kick the bag.

Round 6. I might have kicked the bag. But only a little bit and just with my knee, so everything is okay. My stance is left-handed, so my right foot is forward. I remember that I was left handed when I began writing at an impressively young age and my well-meaning great-grand mother made me use my right hand so that I didn’t grow up to be a witch. She did not manage to effect my boxing stance, probably because she didn’t yet know I had one.

Round 7. Freestyle. I like this because we get to use our own combinations, but still no legs. I might have to go back for a kick boxing class, if my knees can take. Due to a longtime running habit my knees get crunchy when the weather is cold. It is either from the running or I am an old lady, I am not sure.

Round 8. I am SO not an old lady. I did finally get a very small sip of water and I did not throw up. The last round is a bunch of speed series at which I fail miserably. I sort of stand there bopping the bag with my gloves repeatedly.

The cool down is actually abdominal conditioning. No one does abs like Kali Natha Yoga, so this is, if not easy, then not the worst of it. Since I have been practicing Kali Natha yoga with Swami I have the strongest abs. This is all very spiritual and very convenient  when one ends up in a boxing class.

Finally, downward facing dog for some reason. It is awesome. I want to hang out there for many, many breaths but the class is over. The music is still blaring but it would seem strange if I hung out in down dog when everyone wants to leave.

A few things I learned; yoga is also conditioning. I do not know how it works because we do not hop around in yoga class and we certainly do not do jumping jacks, jumping rope or oh mah god the push ups. Okay, so yes push ups but they are very fine yoga push ups which we call “low plank” which makes them somehow more palatable. We do fire breath and I wonder if this isn’t something like cardio conditioning.

You really do have to settle on one thing, whatever that one thing is. For me it was yoga. When I met my Teacher I focused all of my attention and devotion on the practices and techniques that she teaches. I had to let some stuff go because there isn’t enough time in the day for all of the delicious yoga practices and also being Billy Badass.

Incidentally, it’s the devotion that makes the Badass. It’s focus that helps us grow. Daily practice doesn’t hurt, either. And in the future when a yoga student asks about what I do to stay in shape and I tell them that, honestly, all I do is yoga I have a reference to support that yoga is enough.

 

 

n experience to back it up that yoga is enough.

2017, Day 2

Monday, as the second day of the new year, was dazzled by storms. I do not like storms. I like rain. I like rainy days in which I do not have to leave my house. I like thunder in the distance and perhaps a sharp pop of lightening as a way of reminding me of unseen marvels just waiting to reveal themselves. I do not like whirling wind that drops chunks of ice through shivering tree branches.

Monday, I was at the studio at three o’clock to tie silk tinsel in someone’s hair. While working in the lounge I hear something like a bag of rocks emptied onto the roof. I am afraid to look out the window.

The front door got sucked open by an outside vacuum and another rock or two pelted the building. My young client and I move to an interior space along with other hanger-outers at the studio. Folks with smart phones start looking at weather alerts and subsequent warnings. With my heart alerting me to new levels of anxiety I realize, with no little detachment, that if we’re about to be struck by any type of weather, by the time it is on anyone’s phone it’ll be too late.

Because there are children in the room I keep this to myself. Instead, I try to regain some control of my pulse and blood pressure. The studio owner, standing there with her phone in its pink case, puts her hand on my back. It is an intimate feeling to know that she can feel my heart beat its rapid staccato. Imagine, dear Reader, someone able to feel your heartbeat right this moment. How close would they have to be, and how wild would its rhythm have to be, to share itself with someone else?

My anxiety thus exposed by my pounding heart, I mention with a surprisingly casual air, “If no one shows up for my 4:30 class then I want to cancel my 6 o’clock.” It is reasonable, after all, to imagine that no one would dare tempt the weather for a yoga class. There are, on a given day, about thirty nine opportunities to take a yoga class within about a ten and a half mile radius. Just saying.

Three people show up. I have the audacity to be surprised. After twenty some odd years of working with the public in various venues they still manage to surprise me. Let me say, never have I ever not wanted to teach so badly. I felt ill and heavy, like someone poured lead into my guts and it cooled and hardened into smooth, metallic fear.

I am nothing if not professional. Perhaps too business oriented these days, but that topic is for later. While I walk down the ramp to teach, my mind whirls with the same agitations as the wind; I feel unreasonably mad at the people who are there to take class.Two of the people are teacher trainees and I want to tell them they don’t want this job. I want to stay in the interior of the building where I can’t see the angry wind, where I can only hear and feel my heart beat.

I remember something from my teacher training that has served me well. On a Wednesday about halfway through my training, my instructor flew into the studio with only moments to spare before class. He’d had to drive from Destin to Fort Walton and got stuck in traffic the likes of which can only be seen in Florida in Summer. He was in a mood. A bad one.

I knew we were in for it when he did a whole bunch of plank poses and down dogs and standing poses right at the beginning. Suddenly, the standing poses became like a lightening rod for everyone in the room, including my pissed off teacher. While he was teaching his voice came back to the timbre I knew. It was like the grounding quality of an intense standing pose practice effected him, even though he was only in the room guiding the practice.

He held the trainees after class and talked about standing poses. He said, and I’ll never forget it, “When you don’t feel like teaching yoga that day, teach standing poses.”

Naturally, I wondered what in the hell could ever happen that would make me not want to teach yoga. Let me tell you, lots of things happen all the time that make me not want to teach yoga. I would not still be in this line of work were it not for the many things that happen that make me wonder what might happen if I continue to teach yoga, weather permitting.

I have another class to teach this stormy Monday evening.  I think certainly no one will show up. Oh yes they do. I unroll my mat because I am teaching Kali Natha yoga, a scripted yoga practice that I practice with the class. The weather has become worse. I recall a poetic something of black rainbows and sideways lightening when Swami taught a weekend on Living the Reality of Shiva.

There is a blond woman on the front row with a high pony tail and exhilarated look on her face. She likes Kali Natha yoga and says something that reminds me of the Rudra Asana series. Rudra is the storm God, an aspect of Shiva – the Lord of Yoga, who can assist with controlling the seemingly untamable storms of the mind.

Why yes, dear Reader, I did pause before committing to practice with three other souls a yoga series devoted to a storm god while it sounded like the world was getting torn apart outside. At the same time, I was committed to the practices, rain or shine, whether I liked it or not. I decided to trust the deity who came forward in that moment.

Yes, there was another pause when I went into downward facing dog and saw out the window, from upside down, lightening flash like an arrow into the ground and thunder rattle the windows in the exact same moment. I wondered if I shouldn’t have chosen a different asana series, something like, oh I don’t know, a tranquil lotus sequence or perhaps a series dedicated to a calm lake.

I don’t think there are many of those, however. I don’t think Kali Natha Yoga has many sequences to tame the tranquil lotus or admire the still pond, though I might be proven wrong. The sequences I have learned so far are designed to move the yogi straight into the heart of the moment accompanied by God – the Storm God, the Goddess of Time, the Jungle Mother, the Fire Lotus.

I hadn’t thought of this practice this way before. This teaching is one of those unseen marvels that keep me on the mat. This is one of those times in which I might not have engaged with the practice as deeply had it not been such a heightened moment. This is one of those times I am aware of the answer to the question; what might happen if I keep teaching yoga? I will grow.

After class, with a calm air outside the studio, I remembered why I fell so in love with this practice. Storms battered Pensacola the rest of the night, but there was a quiet so pervasive that snaked through the room after practice it was as though we were the quiet itself and that we were in it together.