Mala Puja

My first mala was a silver capped Rudraksha I ordered on the internet about twelve years ago. It’s a half mala made of 54 beads and doesn’t fit all the way around my wrist in the bohemian chic yoga fashion we have all come to know and love, but it’s a good mala anyway. I learned there is such a thing as Shiva, mantra, and prayer beads as a necessary accessory simultaneously – I shopped immediately and with abandon.

I chose the silver, chain linked number for the same reason I bought that shirt with the zipper all the way up the back that time – style and function. By my estimation, if it’s chain linked then my mala isn’t likely to break, which back then would have been a travesty because I didn’t yet know how to make or repair them. This mala needed to be sturdy because I was hell on wheels; determined to do both spiritual practice and maintain the half drunk social life I cultivated all the way back in beauty school, it wasn’t uncommon for me to do my japa (mantra repetition) in the CVS parking lot where I bought my cigarettes on my way to the bar.

This mala, in particular, has seen the best and the worst I have ever had to offer. This mala witnessed nightmare boyfriends, all night benders and career changes at the speed of light. It was with me in teacher training and the first time I went to Kashi Atlanta; I wore this mala around my neck and I felt both conspicuous and liberated.

At some point, I wanted a new mala. This is when I decided to learn how to make my own and the rest is history. I make prayer beads all the time now; for sale, for gifts, for friends and teachers in training and I feel very lucky to to do it. That first mala is something special because I realized it could be done, that I could envision it and then have it in hand. It is black ebony with gold flecked acrylic accent beads and a black and gold elephant charm beneath a small Rudraksha (the same brown seed bead of which my first ever mala was entirely made) – this mala looks like it should be around Michelle Pfriffer’s neck in Married to the Mob.

married to the mob

You may wonder whatever happened to that unbreakable chain linked mala that got me all the way to the cushion to begin with? When I learned that it’s appropriate to drape a mala over a picture of a beloved Teacher or Guru, that’s exactly what I did. I don’t know how long those Rudraksha beads circled Neem Karoli’s image, but it seems like a long time. The silver began to look dull and the tiny dog tag with Shiva in place of a tassel tarnished so it was hard to make out the image of the meditating Lord.

I’m not sure exactly when, but that mala fell into a tea light so that two of the silver capped beads were coated in white wax. I wasn’t sure how to clean wax out of the crevices of Rudraksha beads and, having decided that it lent an authentic, well loved took to my altar, left them alone until last week when I wrote “clean wax off mala” on my to-do list in my dot journal.

I don’t know what inspired me to add this to my to-do list, but once it was there I felt like I should actually do it. I’d moved the mala from the wood frame to the bowl of a blue lotus candle holder once I decided to clean it, and I retrieved it from its ceramic cradle last night. I looked dubiously at the tarnished metal, uncertain of my plan to rehabilitate it and not even sure why I felt inclined.

Alas, I took it to the kitchen sink over which I began to pick at the wax with my thumb nail. I was delighted that it flaked off easily enough, but there was still the matter of more deeply embedded wax. My plan was to boil it out with hot tap water, which worked like a charm. The wax melted out of the small channels of the dark beads quickly.

I turned on the cold tap and gathered the mala in my hand so the water could wash like prayers over the entire strand and with the cool water running over my hands my mind wandered back to Kashi. I thought about the Kali puja I attended with my Teacher. It was the February weekend workshop that culminated in a timeless practice of devotion through which I sang kirtan among my friends.

I witnessed my Teacher offer her hands to the care of Kali in the temple where we practice and learn. The room was awash in sunlight but we were all transfixed by the devotion and offering of time and attention taking place before us. There were candles and incense, fruit and chocolate, ghee poured onto a flame, there was a garland and flowers for the Mother. There was a palpable awareness that none of us would ever be the same.

Like the snap back of the space/time rubber band, I realized standing at the sink with my hands and prayer beads in running water that to practice puja means to take care, to tend to, to attend to. In a flash, this realization changed the whole feeling of cleaning this mala from the physical removal of debris to an act of devotion to that which is in service of the Divine. What else is a Mala meant to serve?

I dried this mala and noticed it felt lighter and sparkly, though the beads remained dark from the recent flood of water and years of use. I oiled the beads with jasmine oil and a silent passage of mantra over the beads to tune into the mantra, the mala and the Divine. I spent some time polishing that silver tag bearing Shiva’s likeness so that the tarnish lightened to a patina.

I realize as much as I have wanted to be told what book to read or which website might teach me about puja, it’s actually something that dawns like light in the heart. I might have been told a million times in a thousand lives, but having been shown is like the equivalent of muscle memory in the energy body – retrievable, irreversible, immanent. It is actually and absolutely the product of Grace.

But with this information regarding puja, it opens the practice of puja to limitless possibilities. Even self care can be a form of puja to the Divine dwelling within the body; drink plenty of water, eat good food, walk on the Earth.

Make effort on behalf of the good.

Give your full attention whenever possible.

As my Guru would conclude her emails, “This is my puja, and this is my prayer.”

Sunlight made visible
the whole length of a sky,
movement of wind,
leaf, flower, all six colours
on tree, bush and creeper:
all this
is the day’s worship.

Night and day
in your worship
I forget myself
O lord white as jasmine. 

 

 

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Practical Magic

queen of cups

This New Year’s day happens to fall on the very same day in which the moon, our luminous satellite, is full in the night sky.

This is very auspicious.

Since getting on Instagram and enjoying all of the belly dance, tarot card and cat picture posts by resident witches, pagans and gypsies from around the world, I’ve discovered that everyone on the planet is an authority on astrology. I’ll be scrolling and see a long, emoji peppered post by a yoga teacher talking about how the moon is in Virgo so we better watch out, because it ain’t exalted there – or whatever.

I’m always like, “How do y’all know that? Where do you get your information?” Because I’m over here with my We’moon calendar trying to figure out what the symbol with the squiggly lines and horned dots is supposed to mean while the rest of y’all are planning your month around Pluto’s transits and solar flares.

The moon, on the other hand, is less foreign to me. The moon changes signs once about every two and a half days, so if you eff up a perfectly decent Moon in Libra by fighting with your spouse, you’ll get a re-do in about twenty eight days.

The new moon is a time for starting new projects and for setting intentions for what we would like to see increase in our lives. Think setting goals, re-aligning with your dreams, growing a business plan. Intention is something like a resolution, of which there are plenty at the New Year. Start a diet, get fit, finish the book, start the book, become a yoga celebrity, start college, ditch the loser, find a partner, quit drinking, quit smoking… you know what I’m talking about.

This is thinking in terms of, “I’m gonna do.” Not bad, but let’s turn it around.

The full moon is a good time to start thinking about what you would like to let go of, what you would like to see decrease in your life, what no longer upholds your dreams and aspirations or supports your work, whether that’s spiritually, mentally or physically. Think about what holds you back or enables procrastination. Y’all, the cosmos has set us up to do exactly that right here at the new year.

Turn your powers of discernment towards your day to day habits, contemplate what you want for your life and see where the two points are at odds. Question what you have set in place that keeps you from it. Instead of making a list of resolutions that you’re gonna start doing, decipher how you can get out of your own way and focus on that.

 

Now we’ve gotten around to the point of this post – your practice, should you choose to accept it. First, let me tell you that I have learned the fine art of using index cards in my spiritual practice from my beloved Teacher, Swami Jaya Devi. She has us write stuff on index cards all the time.

So here we go, starting right now, start thinking about habits that get in the way of what you really want to be doing with your life. Immediately one or two might come to you, but stay with it and see if there is anything beneath the surface. You can even take this into your meditation and sit with a nice, slow fire breath for about a minute and then sit in the stillness to see what comes up.

There may be one big hurdle that you want to focus all of your energy and upon which you wish all of the moon’s brilliant rays to shine. However, there may be a lot of small ways in which you sabotage yourself, so just write that stuff down, too. Now is a good time to remind you to approach this practice without judgement or criticism of yourself. Just remember that you’re trying to make a little room in your life to start a flower bed but you have to shovel out some dirt, first. Full moon is for excavation, new moon is for planting.

On New Year’s eve or day build yourself a nice little bonfire. Invite the kids and get some marshmallows and vegan hot dogs. Invite your family and friends and have plenty of index cards. Say a sweet prayer for guidance and protection to whomever you entrust your path and practice then invite everyone to write on their index card. No one needs to read anyone else’s, but between bites of s’mores place your card in the flames.

You may not be set up for a bonfire. Don’t worry about it. A fireplace or a coffee can in the driveway works nicely, too. But let me tell you something, this practice doesn’t have to be so woo woo. You can write, think, text, email your list to yourself and then delete it, recycle it, bury it. What you’re going for is awareness of self-limiting habits and then a method in which to transform it.

Don’t expect overnight magic, though we can hope, can’t we? We’ll have to work at it and remain mindful, but this is deeply symbolic to the human psyche and a powerful method of solidifying your intentions. Consider what you put in the fire to be an offering to your highest Self and to the inspiration you wish to have and to be. I wish you all the luck and all the space to express your creativity, compassion and genius in the new year. Remember to work with fire responsibly, make an effort on behalf of the good and share your stories with me if you’d like.

* Image “Queen of Cups” from Danielle Noel’s forthcoming tarot deck Moon Child, shadow deck to the Star Child Tarot. @moonchildtarot starchildtarot.com

Turn that Hot Mess into a Happy Little Tree

Back in June if you saw me with a sock on my forearm I had no compunction with telling you why it was there. You might have also noticed I was totally unwilling to show you what was under it.

I went and got a tattoo I couldn’t stand to look at. Now, you may be wondering a few things, like didn’t I see it before they put it on me? Why yes, I did. But looking at a tattoo outline is a little like looking at faces on a dating site – it’s not always accurate. The famous last words, “But when we add color and shading….” sealed the deal for real estate on my lower arm.

You might wonder if I went to a place I’d never been. Perhaps I decided to go the disreputable and half assed rout. Alas, no, I went to a custom shop where I’ve gotten work before. It is for this reason that I was willing to ignore my little voice and churning guts that had a very bad feeling and plenty to say.

Do you know what I said in response to that little feeling? “It’ll be fine.”

The artist was late and hadn’t drawn up the design, so it was all sort of a rush job which I willfully ignored because, you know, it’ll be fine.

The following day I taught my very first out of town workshop to a large group of yoga teacher trainees. So horrified by the affliction of this horrible tattoo, made worse by the swelling despair of its recipient, I re-purposed a brown stocking sock by removing its toe.  I swiped this sock from my host and dear friend to whom I am forever indebted; thank you for having such nice footwear.

I had a six hour drive home after this roller-coaster weekend of tattooing and teaching. I had plenty of time to decide what in the hell I was gonna do with the hot mess on my arm. Only recently I’d been referred to an artist in Pensacola and, after reviewing her work, called for a consultation from the exit onto I-85 south bound.

I pleaded, “I know you can’t do anything with it right now, but if I can just come in so you can tell me you can fix it, I’ll feel so much better.”

When I arrived the next day and peeled the sock away from the gooey mess of a fresh tattoo she said, “I can do something with that.” It felt like a balloon of tension and anxiety popped right there in the middle of The Psychedelic Shack. I made my appointment for a month later. This is a list of things I learned while I waited it out –

1. People are a lot more sympathetic than we give them credit. Sierra Kay, my tattoo artist and one of top twelve favorite people, made me feel a hundred times better just by meaningfully saying, “I know how you feel.”

When I explained the sock on my arm to clients or students, people seemed to understand. It was like being stuck in an outfit I hated but couldn’t take off. Everyone was nice and didn’t give me a hard time about it. Most people either tried to reassure me or make me feel better by sharing their own tattoo tale of woe. It was all very sweet.

2. Detachment is just a yogic concept until you have to take care of someone or something that you really don’t like. A tattoo is, essentially, a controlled wound that requires special care. Just because I couldn’t stand the sight of it didn’t mean I could just let it wither and crust up on my arm because it was on my arm. I had to wash it, dry it, put the stuff on it, make sure it didn’t get bumped or harpooned even though on more than one occasion the serrated edge of a butter knife looked like an appealing alternative. This teaching potentially translates well to challenging family, friends and customers. Also, the car you may no longer be in love with still requires an oil change. This is sorta reminiscent of that teaching, “People are assholes, love them anyway….” especially if you are somehow attached to them.

3. Things you think of as permanent aren’t necessarily so. I signed a waiver at a tattoo shop where I got that hot mess put on and that waiver said I understood I was having something permanent put on my body. Permanent is relative given how quickly I got it fixed, just saying.

This teaching could extend to that new haircut you hate, that boyfriend you wish you’d never met, those lip injections or that job – it can be changed, adjusted or perhaps, if you’re lucky, totally transformed.

4. Perhaps the most important thing I learned is to never, ever, under any circumstance ignore that little voice, especially when it joins with your guts. It was almost an act of will to stay in the shop when I felt things going awry. The artist was late, unprepared and distracted and I knew it. All of this is really on me, you know, because I could have left. But I didn’t. Let me tell you something, Reader, this teaching has already paid off because since getting that tattoo I have thought to myself, “it’ll be fine…” and now relate that dialogue with, “No the hell it won’t.” There is no telling how much grief and misery I may avoid because of this new found faith in my intuition.

5. Everyone has bad days, even the most lauded professionals. I’ve had yoga classes I tried to teach with laryngitis. I’ve gone to work at the restaurant so hungover I thought about throwing up in the garbage can near the Coke station (I’ll happily list the benefits of sobriety if there’s sufficient interest – not being tempted to throw up at work would make the top ten). I have had receptionists book me clients for services I was not trained to perform but tried to do anyway.

I never thought of this before, but I think part of professionalism is recognizing when we are not prepared for the work. This doesn’t mean to sub your yoga class when you get a hang nail on your pinkie toe, but if you really have something going on show compassion to yourself and your students, clients or customers.

6. You probably saw this one coming, but Bob Ross was right about happy little accidents. Sierra Kay gave me this dreamy bracer piece that takes up about three quarters of my forearm. She designed a marvelous rose quartz skull in the center of a blue lotus matched in detail by lavender plumeria and moonlit waters. The hibiscus that was a little too confederate red for my taste is a dazzling cranberry. The aspects of the tattoo around which communication was stunted is now covered over with a mosaic in which symbols are nestled and held by a totem of steadiness. The whole effect is that of a vintage Hawaiian post card.

I didn’t start out with the design I have on my arm now, and I don’t know how I would have otherwise arrived at it without starting where I did. God blessed the broken road that lead me to the Psychedelic Shack – seriously folks. Thank you Sierra Kay.

They say referrals are the highest compliment – well, that and a nice tip. If you’re in the market for a tattoo artist who is easy to sit with and has a particular talent for tattooing give her a call. Her watercolor work is amazing ~ 850-479-9007

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Schedule Cha Cha Cha Changes

moon

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?

moon-2

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.

Jaded Primitive

I am doing a Mary Oliver sadhana (practice). I totally made it up, but I like it. I like Mary Oliver.

I remember being in class with Laura at Dragonfly Yoga Studies, where I did my 200 hour yoga teacher training. I was one of my first few classes with her in late October before the January training began. Class was hard and intense and I believed that if ever there was a human who could help me become an effective yoga teacher, it was Laura.

I felt insulated and regimented in the hour and fifteen minute class, in which she played no music or tried much of anything fancy, just deep and real instruction. I learned to lean into the discipline of the practice and found satiation there, even with the open wound I carried around with me, my heart still tender from a loss.

She read a poem as we went into savasana, which Mukunda Stiles calls relaxation and absorption pose. Typically known as corpse pose, I stretched out on my back and felt the heaviness of my body rest into the Earth. I felt wrung out from the practice, but also lustrous on the inside like I had been polished in some important way.

The poem she read, In Blackwater Woods, tore through me like a million tiny stallions breaking free of their pens. I had never heard of Mary Oliver before that poem cut channels to my heart from the hard rock shaped by life….

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment…

I felt myself crumbling a little bit when she enchanted the poem over us. Then she began to chant some mantra I had never heard in my years of self-study. It rang through the room and burst through my eyes. She walked around smearing essential oil on our heads like a priestess anointing initiates.

…Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.

I remember the feeling of her fingers, coated with lavender essential oil, pass through the tracks of my tears. I needed this poem and the poet, too, who took me to the edge of lying down and allowed me to bow deeply to my heart.

It is six years later and I have learned that Mary Oliver is one of the unofficial poets of the yoga community. New teachers come along, fresh like I was when Laura held me in her voice, and are smitten by the imagery of this artist’s work. I began to feel like a cliche, at once moved by something that is old hat to the disenfranchised. I watch new teachers make the same discoveries and wonder how I didn’t see myself, silly and new, falling in love. I sometimes feel the rigormortis of cynicism stiffen my mind that rested so easily in corpse pose those years ago.

The Mary Oliver practice is one I devised to brighten my practice of writing and mindfulness. Her work is one of the mysteries, nature and something primitive the mind isn’t advanced enough to understand. Her poetry silences thoughts not unlike Rumi or Ramprasad, but different.

Since my perspective of teaching yoga has changed in the last few months and so has my perception of my other work, like writing. I finished a longer work of fiction which I am allowing to “rest” as Stephen King suggests in his book “On Writing”. Six weeks is the minimum length of time one should step away from the story before attacking it for the second draft.

I’d just gotten my legs back under me to finish this book, which has absolutely nothing to do with yoga, by the way. I’d hate to lose momentum, especially since it’s so damn hard to gain through the discouragement and loneliness of writing.

The Mary Oliver practice consists of writing a poem a day for 40 days. The poem is inspired by something I encounter that lends itself to a feeling, memory or insight. When you see the moon, dear reader, what do you see in your inner landscape, illuminated? When the band of merry raccoons dance around the pool, who are you reminded of? Make a poem out of this.

A poem a day doesn’t sound like a lot, but try it. It is an art of discipline and creativity which are the ingredients necessary for gaining and maintaining momentum, both of which are necessary for spiritual practice as well as artistic endeavors.

If you would like to practice with me I would love to see some of your work – post your poetry in the comments if you’d like to share. If poetry, observation and writing practice bordering on Zen aren’t your thing, you might like to participate in NaNoWriMo with me this year… but more on that later.

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

–Mary Oliver (American Primitive, 1983)