The Mysticism of Mondays

About a year ago I sat with the resident tarot intuitive, Uma Simon, at Kashi Florida and had my cards read. About a year previous to this she did a reading for me over the phone. At the conclusion of this reading, I told her that I, too, once read cards. I hadn’t realized I’d been missing it until the admission fell from my lips.

I’d stopped reading tarot cards when I realized how ardently I’d been wrestling with them. Somewhere between terrible romantic relationships for my entire adult life and going into yoga teacher training I became exhausted by the various methods of mental and energetic martial arts I employed against the Universe. My plea was often, “Tell me what in the f*ck to do!” while attempting to get the Cosmos to submit in a badly executed leg lock.

Uma gave me some advice at the end of that conversation that opened the door to reading cards without the plastic and superficial focus of fortune telling. It seems when we try to foresee the future it can cheapen the moment; from this I have learned from my renewed interest in tarot that what it really deals with is the present moment and everything we bring with us into it. It deals with the same space as meditation and other spiritual practices, making tarot its own sadhana. In this way, tarot may offer inspiration and perspective without the gravity of neediness that accompanies the desperation of, “Tell me what in the f*ck to do!”

I’d gotten rid of all my decks except for the Ancient Egyptian Tarot, which interestingly can be found on Amazon right now for about three hundred dollars, used. No you can’t have mine and no, it isn’t for sale. I also kept the Tarot of the Cat People and Halloween Tarot, all of which I kept with the same reverence I store old paperback romance novels I can’t bring myself to get rid of, up to and including Quantum Leap fan fiction (I am not kidding).

Invigorated by my conversation with Uma, I began buying new decks. I relish the new, independent decks out there now, from the wild and naked She Wolfe Tarot to the demure, tea stained Ophidia Rosa Tarot. Dear Reader, I became a tarot slut. I love being able to look at the cards online before I buy the deck and all the unboxing videos. I think the colors and audacity and sometimes irreverent simplicity of twenty-first century decks are amazing. I feel like a time traveler in a new era. I also bought the Rider-Waite Smith deck because that is what Uma used and I wanted to have it in my collection as an homage to her because she empowered my reading so sincerely.

My most recent purchase is Mystic Mondays – Good Vibes Only  – which is an independently published tarot deck that probably went through a fundraising cycle for its first few incarnations before getting picked up by a publisher (congratulations). I’ve looked at this deck before and thought to myself, “Prana Devi, you can’t take all of them home.”

Some of you may remember Monastic Mondays, a practice I had years ago when I was in teacher training. Sometimes called my Pants-less Holiday, I’d resolve not to do anything any more necessary than meditate, write and possibly go for a run (I would wear pants for that). Monday is a day sacred to Shiva, so I adopted this practice as a devotional practice, sometimes doing a semi-fast or practicing a coffee puja – you know, normal stuff.

It was the one day of the week on which I was uncompromising. I wouldn’t take or make an appointment, I wouldn’t even leave the house. This time of hermitage is important and sacred because I work in the public, with the public, almost every other day of the week. But then I started teaching yoga, which in some ways is just another way of working with the public, even though you can usually assume the clientele will behave a little less like the damn public and a little more like human beings.

I taught two classes on Monday, adding this to my schedule thinking that teaching a yoga class couldn’t possibly impinge on my monastic holiday but would, in fact, enhance it. Teaching yoga is a sacred offering, after all. Y’all, I was a new teacher and didn’t know any better. By the time I realized I’d sold my only sacrosanct day of the week it was too late; the studio owner held my feet to the fire. Of course, I allowed it, so bad on me.

When the Mystic Mondays tarot crossed my screen on Instagram with the announcement that this was the last round of self-published decks and the next batch would be printed by a publisher (congratulations) I felt a flutter of panic because there is something innately special about the effort and quality of the self-published tarot deck. They seem to have a little more of the artists’ hand on them, they are a little closer to the origin of all art. So I visited the website, where I read the inspiration for Mystic Mondays tarot: The name Mystic Mondays is inspired by fresh starts and new beginnings. We have the power to set intentions that will carry on with us for the day, week, year, or even a lifetime. Mystic Mondays is a lighthearted way to introduce spirituality into your daily life, and most of all, to have some fun while you’re doing it!

I realized I previously treated Monday like a reset point, a day home following sometimes grueling weekends of restaurant work. Monday, of all days, was a daylong spiritual retreat. I found for myself something opposite of the Monday blues, where we set and forget intentions for our day, week, year or lifetime.

Mystic Mondays arrived on Monday, which I take as an auspicious sign. My life is different than it was when I was in teacher training, I am busier but the nature of my work is no longer chaotic. I’m not strung out with the dogged determination to be a full-time yoga teacher; I am content right now with the work I do because of the freedom it gives me. Even so, I go through days when I think about challenging the Universe, to rush and wrestle, perhaps against the stream, for the life I imagined for myself eight or ten years ago.

I’m inspired anew to take these goals, intentions and moments of simple being Monday to Monday, perhaps day by day, and if I’m really smart, moment to moment. The future is waiting ahead of a million choices and breaths, the past can not breathe for us. But in the moment is where every inspiration has been brought through into reality. The moment is where I wish to sit, enlivened perhaps by brightly colored pictures of inspiration and perspective.

 

 

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Kicking Up Into Headstand and Other Bad Advice

queen

Sitting at my dark-wood roll-top desk, legs crossed under me on a grey armless chair, I turn my head to see Queen on SiriusXM radio, Another One Bites the Dust. I keep it on the 80’s on 8 channel because, you know. The volume is muted so I have to look at the album cover to see what’s playing. It makes no sense, I know, but neither does a lot of things.

When I was twenty-four, I worked at Dillard’s salon. Retail cosmetology is the absolute worst, the only consolation the multitude of stores in which to spend money while I await the promised clientele. At the same time, I dated an idiot who I let convince me I should become a real estate agent. As advice goes, this was pretty bad.

As a twenty-five year old real estate agent I was just terrible. I didn’t even do all the post licensing rigmarole because the National Association of Realtors took all my money in exchange for access to house listings and a lapel pin in the shape of an “R”. By the way, it’s pronounced “real-TOR!” and not “reel-AH-tor” as we like to say in the south. Get it right.

Thankfully, neither the guy or the real estate career worked out. While they stewed together in the sewer, I went and got a nice job waiting tables where the lapel pins were shaped like grapes and not like a ridiculous “R”.

A few years later on a cold December night, whilst rattling around in a lonesome stupor helped along by a large bottle of moderately good wine, my mother suggested to me that, perhaps, I could teach yoga. I immediately railed at her about what a horrible idea that is, given that I didn’t think my six or so years of practice constituted a decent level of experience to teach the stuff. Not only that, but there was not a single yoga teacher training academy in Pensacola.

A year later I take her relatively helpful advice, having decided for myself that a career in fitness and wellness could lift me out of the doldrums of food service, which might have inspired the previous year’s malaise. A new career was thus launched after a year of training and in less than three years I find myself enmeshed in the new and budding yoga teacher training programs in Pensacola as an instructor and mentor.

I might add that it took me a year to follow this good advice to go to teacher training, so it is plainly obvious that the speed with which I act on given advice is inverse to how good it is. For example, You say “This apple pie is hot, let it cool before you eat it.” Me – already chewing.

When I began teaching yoga I also started doing hair again. I was working at a high end salon. It was a pretty good gig because I could go teach a yoga class between clients. I could even schedule yoga classes around my budding clientele. However, I was getting advice from two corners; the salon owner advised me to dress like a stylist and less like a fitness professional at beauty boot camp and the yoga studio owner advised me to quit my job and teach yoga full time.

In response, I quit the salon and waited tables on the weekends so I could be all piss and vinegar during the yoga teaching workweek to which I was newly committed. Quitting the salon job was terrible advice. So was leaving the restaurant, which I refused to do, given its ability to pay bills and afford me the luxury of new books, high end cat food and  – ironically – flip-flops made out of yoga mats. This move might have ultimately cost me opportunities, since I didn’t really offer a great show of force in my commitment to yoga.

I’ve maneuvered, like a street magician’s sleight of hand of where’s the marble, around the three jobs of food service, cosmetology and teaching yoga, and the marble that ended up in the magician’s sleeve was teaching. Eventually I had to let something go. I was becoming a cynical instructor secretly hoping no one showed up to class. I took the advice of my own counsel and quit teaching at the studio.

The problem with being a yoga teacher without a studio home is that I sometimes see via the marvel of social media students share their practice. How is this a problem, you might wonder?

Last week I saw a video of a local student kick up into headstand. She was proud of headstand, which is a commendable pursuit and a practice with grounding and depth. It has cautions that come with it, along with important alignment cues and stability practices. One of the things I remember from my own teacher training is the emphasis on  taking care of the cervical spine and the importance of lifting into headstand with control and keeping a neutral neck in shoulder-stand. Kick right the hell up into handstand, put a hole in the wall with your foot if you want, but control is key in headstand.

I thought about leaving a comment on the clip – what do they call those now, gifs? I considered all the ways I might direct, assist or inform but felt uninvited and, quite frankly, like a troll. I have enough of that feeling when I go to Panera Bread and they tell me they are out of sprouted grain rolls for the day and I have to restrain the expression on my face – very troll like.

From my perspective I must, at best, look like an armchair quarterback. At worst, a cynical out of work yoga teacher with control issues. But I am not out of work – not with all those jobs – and if I do have control issues, the issue is with not taking responsibility  for my life sooner.

Yoga is not my main source of income and teaching it is no longer my career. With this realization comes a great bit of freedom, including the ability to teach whatever in the hell kind of class I want because paying my light bill no longer hinges on the number of students who show up. It is my job to reassure and instruct, but not necessarily to make you like me.

This also means I can say whatever I want, in the name of safe and healthy alignment, so I’m going to give everyone some good advice – don’t kick up into headstand. Ask yourself, “What would Iyengar do?” and then do that.

I realized this week, between the dance between biting my tongue about technique and finding empowerment around the freedom of teaching off the clock, that giving up on my profession was the best thing I could have ever done for my practice. I am also renewed in teaching, as any good teacher will tell you, Dear Reader, because the practice informs what instructors are best able to teach.

Here’s a fantastic video on safely practicing headstand. She gives great cues and alignment instruction. https://supersisterfitness.com/safely-properly-headstand-for-beginners/ 

 

Under the Mat

In the world of hairdressing, there is a saying “Behind the chair…” which is code for tips, tricks and horror stories. Tonight a Yogi in teacher training messaged me about my “worst deer in the headlights yoga teaching moments.” I was referred to him by a friend. My response might become a new blog series. These are my tales from under the mat….

At the beginning of my yoga class I like to ask students what they want to work on. I like this opportunity to interact before class begins and it allows time for those who are on time to settle into the space.

Once, not so very long ago, a man replied to my inquiry, “I’d like to learn one handed handstand.”

Dear Reader, I do not practice one handed handstand for so many reasons, but it’s lucky for this guy that I know enough about alignment and stuff that I can effectively teach it. If you’re in yoga teacher training and reading this, please be advised that you don’t have to be able to perform every pose to teach every pose so long as you understand what you’re teaching. Got it? Also, there is usually someone in the room who can do it; use them to demonstrate the pose.

One handed handstand it is. I begin the class with everything we’re going to need for this posture, though I am not sure if Iyengar included it in his work Light on Yoga, but what the hell, right? We say mantras for supple joints and I pass out calcium supplements just to be safe. We do shoulder stuff and activate our abdominal muscles and everything. At the end of this class I move me over to the wall, where we shall discuss and perhaps consider this pose for ourselves.

I invite the man who suggested this pose of the day to the wall with me, where I will assist, coach and encourage him. And do you know what he says to me?

“I was just kidding.”

“What?” I ask with the late afternoon sun shining through the window onto my perplexed face. “What?”

Well, he might have been kidding but there I was, up against a wall and an entire room of yoga students expecting a demonstration. I demonstrated a perfectly respectable handstand and, while up-side-down, described what one might expect of a one handed handstand were I to demonstrate that, which I did not.

Then, most of the students go to the wall and they practice perfectly respectable handstands… with both hands firmly on the ground thankyouverymuch.

Another story that comes to mind is about a mother and daughter who visited Uru Yoga studio when it first opened. They were both very nice, they were both really into yoga and they were both almost always late.

I don’t know if you’ve ever taken a yoga class, but the first five -ish minutes of class are introspective and meditative. This is so even at the gyms, where it is equally important to settle in and focus on the breath before movement.

It is during this quiet time, before the music starts and I start hollering cues, that these two women would inevitably open the door and stomp down the ramp that leads into the large practice space. They sounded like Lipizzaner stallions high stepping in their tennis shoes, which they wore as they walked all the way across the long room to the opposite end of the space.

Inevitably, one would unroll her mat like she was trying to kill something with it and I’d see the rest of the class, trying to pretend like an Army platoon hadn’t just descended on the yoga studio on leave, flinch from the sudden and loud noises of their revelry. I’d keep talking, “Breath in and listen to the sound of your breath…” and I’d watch while these women roll around on their mats, removing tennis shoes and socks and putting their hair in ponytails. I’d say, “Continue to listen to the sound of your breathing, soft “H” sound on the inhale…” as though this was normal, average start of class protocol.

It happened around the time that this mother/daughter team were torturing classes that the studio held a meeting/potluck/getting to know you wherein we sat in a large circle and introduced ourselves. Before we were set loose on the hummus and vegan mayonnaise mango salad we were asked if there were any issues we’d like to address.

I thought this was the perfect time to lodge my complaint with a very reasonable solution. I gave a Reader’s Digest version of these ladies’ shenanigans and suggested that we make a very nice sign covering the basics of studio etiquette. For instance, it might say…

If you are late to class, please enter quietly….

If you must leave class early, please exit quietly….

Please remove your shoes before entering the practice space….

I had no way to foresee how egregious this recommendation would be. Following my monologue, it was suggested to me whilst still sitting in this large circle, that if I was having experiences of people disrupting classes I was teaching it might be that I was entertaining disruptive thoughts prior to class and the real solution to this quandary might be to sit in my car before class and think pleasant, uplifted and non-disruptive thoughts so I could manifest a tranquil and peaceful environment in which to guide yoga classes.

“What?” I think, with the late afternoon sun shining through the window onto my perplexed face. Even while I wonder where in the hell I might have sounded unreasonable, I consider the possibility of being in a sequel to The Secret and then, I notice that none of the other yoga teachers are making eye contact with me.

Having dispatched my problem, the same question is asked again,”Is there anything else we would like to bring up or address?” There are a whole bunch of yoga teachers looking at the floor, undoubtedly manifesting thoughts of warm lentils and glitter.

As it was, by the time we got to the food the lentils were, in fact, cold. It is fortunate that I like cold lentils. Those ladies eventually quit going to yoga classes, but it wasn’t because of anything I said. I think, if I had that race to run over again, I would say something to them. I’d say something very nice, like, “If you’re running late, please come on in, but wait until opening meditation is over so you don’t startle everyone.”

This is the most reasonable way, I think, given that you can clearly see into the studio through two observation windows and a glass door! I would also contemplate tranquil scenes and up-lifting thoughts, just to cover all of my bases.

 

 

 

 

Write Like a Champ

rocky 2

You may wonder why I haven’t posted a blog in over a month. Well, dear Reader, I was wondering the same damn thing, so here we are. I’ve been screwing around with that book, the one mentioned in my previous post more than a month ago.

The truth of it is that the first draft, which I thought kicked my ass plenty, was just the start of it. The second draft is harder because I have to keep the good stuff, get rid of the bad stuff and add new stuff to fill in the gaps. I’ve decided that the wish to be a writer is like having a mental illness; you don’t choose it, it manifests at inconvenient times and never shows itself when you need it to.

I decided that the stages of writing a novel really do follow the Rocky franchise, and I’m about to tell you how.

During the first draft, I was slumming. I hadn’t written in a while, and when I did I sent stuff to small-time gilt edged literary journals with a pay entry for competitions. I don’t write for the love of it alone, it’s more like a driving madness. Suddenly, perhaps it’s in a turn of phrase I overheard at the Olive Garden or the galactic shock of Michael Jackson’s death, but I have an opening line for something more substantial than a haiku. I think I’ve got a shot at a best selling title and I sincerely want to go the distance.

That’s the heart of the first draft – I want to finish it. I (pretend like I’m gonna) wake up early or stay up (really) late but I attend to it with the same care that Rocky drank those gross raw eggs. Going ten rounds with Apollo Creed is not unlike how I felt when the first draft was finally done. I felt kinda punchy but I made it.

The synopsis of Rocky II is that Rocky and Apollo fight again, then become friends. This is the stage where I went back and read my book like a regular reader from start to finish. Sure I made notes, but I didn’t make many changes. I noticed discrepancies and added commas where necessary. There were secrets kept from me in the first draft that are apparent to me now as I read thru. Characters developed during the writing and I can see them more clearly. I did get lazy in writing discipline while I let the manuscript rest, so I had to go back into training so I could make it another ten rounds. Training includes deep breathing, reading good writing and turning Netflix off. It also helps to write everyday, even if its long-hand

In Rocky III the tables are turned. The Stallion is now in the position Creed held in Rocky I. Clubber Lang is thirsty like Balboa was back in the day. After I made friends with my novel during the re-write I started to feel like I could be a real writer, one with a career and not just a notebook in my purse and a desperate look in my eye. I felt over-confident from my many triumphant wins during the read through, like witticisms I forgot I wrote or off the charts shenanigans that are brilliant. Rocky III takes me down a few notches, when the notes I made during the reading have to be instituted. This is the cutting room floor, y’all. The re-write beat me down. This is where I am now. I pity the fool!

Rocky IV is perhaps my favorite. Though I’ve seen this installment more than the others, I am far from its equivalent in my writing career. This is where I imagine dealing with the publishing industry. The cold, hard tundra of business and negotiations on behalf of something that could’ve taken eight or so years to write. I can clearly see the tiny Balboa looking up at that giant blond Russian played by Dolph Lundgren. That is how I feel about this stage of my career. When the agents and editors say, “I must break you” I mustn’t let them.

Rocky V is the one I pretend didn’t get made. This is the equivalent of what should end up on the cutting room floor; where the files of bad ideas, false starts and sketchy backstories I might think of resurrecting later for a sequel land. I suggest skipping this stage, and this movie, and go straight to Rocky Balboa.

This installment of the Rocky franchise came later. I saw Balboa in the theater with my grandmother. When Rocky I came out in 1976 I wasn’t born yet. Rocky Balboa shows a much older Rocky back on the old block. He owns a restaurant now, he’s a mostly happy widow with a jerky hitch in his step like he could walk into a hay-maker on his way out of the kitchen. We can still see The Italian Stallion in this old guy, we know he’s in there. Writers have that same stalwart psyche; it’s part of who we are, and if properly provoked we’ll come directly out of retirement swinging wildly. This is where I admit that I’ve considered giving it up, the angst and uncertainty of a writing life is so not glamorous, but sometimes you’ve just got to show ’em what you’re made of.

Creed, the most recent installment had me like….. hold on, I need a minute.

Apollo’s son shows up on Rocky’s door hoping the champ will train him. Rocky is old, y’all, they didn’t even try to make him look good, but he still has that slow brown eyed sincerity. And of course he trains the kid, and this is the stage of writing known as mentorship.

Let me tell you something, right now you don’t want me as your writing mentor. I haven’t done anything but self-published content on a blog I bought and, also, hammer out a few first drafts in typical genres. I also fill notebooks with beautiful handwriting that is as easy to read as classical Sanskrit.

My mentors are Stephen King, who wrote the manual for us would-be authors, On Writing, and Natalie Goldberg because she is so damn consistent about writing for a writer is as necessary as coffee and peanut-butter. It’s part of our well-being. I should add that I’ve never actually met these people, so if you see Stephen King and tell him, “Oh, I read a blog post written by your protege, it was wonderful.” He’ll have no idea what you’re talking about and I’ll probably get a cease and desist order in the mail.

When I’m feeling really lost about the business side of writing I go look at websites for authors I admire. I also read books that create for me what I aspire to give my Readers. Currently Drums of Autumn performs this task for me, but so has The Mists of Avalon, Clan of the Cave Bear and Ann Rice’s The Wolf Gift.

When Apollo’s son went into the ring Rocky was right there by his side, just like Micky was there for him. That’s what a trainer is supposed to do and that’s how mentors work. The thing with Writing is that it’s a job in which the fighter must be in their own corner, which is sometimes the hardest part of the craft. Certainly we have friends who support us, a mentor we rely on, a Teacher we trust. But in the midnight hour, they’re all asleep! Writing is a solitary career, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s a worthy one, like anything you put your heart into.

rocky

 

 

 

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.

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.