A Storybook About Life

When I was fifteen I got my first deck of tarot cards. They were a Christmas present from my dad, though they were not a surprise because I made him take me to the store to pick them out – The Tarot of the Cat People by Karen Kuykendall and I loved them.

The Star Cat People

The Star can indicate the refreshment and re-alignment with life purpose. It can mean the harmonious blending of resources for self-improvement and inspiration.

Almost immediately my uncle had a fit. He is about as tall as I was in 1995. His eyes have a tendency to run out of their sockets when provoked. Tarot of the Cat People, with its retro vibe and muted jewel tone color pallet, was enough to provoke the hell out of him.

He had a marvelous fit over my tarot cards and they ended up back at the bookstore, both my father and I effectively frightened by Early’s histrionics. Yes, his name really is Early. A year or so later, with the distance of another state between us, I realized my uncle wasn’t mature enough for Tarot of the Cat People, which I promptly re-purchased and still have, wrapped in a piece of pillowcase from the eighties and nestled in a dark wood box.

Since turning seventeen, I read lots of tarot cards and collected numerous decks. My favorites were The Cat People and The Egyptian Tarot, which is now out of print.  I also had a fun, kitschy Halloween tarot deck that is whimsical and retro. Though I parred my collection down, I kept these. The Egyptian Tarot was a particular favorite because of the liberal use of deities and sunlight.

Egyptian Tarot Death

The Death Card symbolizes transformation and releasing unhealthy attachments. Pictured here is Anubis, God of the Underworld.

Several years ago now, I dated “the wrong man” I wanted so badly to be the love of my life. We were a long distance hot mess couple who were terrible for each other but there was this gripping determination I had choking my heart and all reason.

I took to the cards to give me answers. I wrestled with them, demanded answers that fit with the way I wanted things to be. I was willful and tense until I realized I was wrestling with something so much bigger than I was. It wasn’t the cards but the Universe in question, and the Universe doesn’t so much win or lose but simply IS.

About the same time I realized I was no longer in control, or wanted to be, I met my Teacher and my spiritual practices changed. I wanted more to see where I was going than to dictate where I would go. I started to feel something uncoiling from within me which felt infinitely more freeing than investing in wrangling something outside myself.

Hanged man Halloween tarot

The Hanged Man, from The Halloween Tarot, can reflect that you’re feeling stuck or restricted, which is kinda why I got in touch with Uma in the first place.

Last December I was in turmoil because teaching yoga hadn’t quite worked out the way I’d hoped when I went into yoga teacher training seven or so years ago. I thought I was making a career change for the better but what I was investing myself in began to feel like a multi-level marketing business with fitness professionals at the top and raggedy ass cronies at the bottom driving all over the coast teaching yoga classes. This is not what I put on my vision board, people.

While contemplating where my vision board might have gone wrong, I had a random idea; Have a reading with Uma, the idea urged, and that’s what I did.

Uma Simon is a monk and resident at Kashi Florida, the ashram where my Guru lived and taught and where my own Teacher studied. Uma lives there and reads tarot for a living. I considered that, even though I’d begun to doubt the depth or purpose of tarot, certainly having a reading with someone who lives on the very ashram where the Teacher of my heart studied has merit! Uma greeted my email warmly and we had an appointment early the next week.

I felt like I’d met her before, and I very well may have when I was last there. She was easy to talk to even though I could hear myself as though in third person and felt like I sounded like a hot mess. Hot mess or no, she didn’t treat me like one. She was very nice to me and had helpful things to say.

Before we got off the phone I asked her about reading tarot. I explained that I’d lost confidence in tarot and that I felt like I’d just been swimming upstream with the cards. I didn’t even know what I expected to get out of them anymore.

There was a thoughtful pause at the other end before she said one of the two sentences I replay for myself often, “Reading the cards can just be a vehicle for your intuition…”

I felt refreshed by this, like I’d taken myself off of restriction and could go play with my friends outside. I went to my decks and unwrapped them, though they no longer felt familiar to me. Not sure if it was me or them, I turned to ye ‘ole reliable internets and shopped for a new deck.

Shopping for new tarot decks after a seven year hiatus has got to be its own blog post, but just let me say here that a lot has changed since 1999 and I had to order from the bookstore or mail order from The Witch’s Almanac. There is this thing called “indie decks” which are published by independent artists that’ll make you feel like the Universe is sending you post cards.

What I experience now with tarot is that my hope isn’t to be told what to do or where to go, but to experience the landscape of my mind and life’s events with both detachment and understanding. I am learning that tarot is not divination as we think of it as fortune-telling, but that it is a means by which we may communicate with clear consciousness from where wise insights and inspiration comes. It is by tuning into this visual, symbolic tool that we intuit guidance for ourselves and others.

Returning to this practice feels like writing again after ignoring my work or shredding my journals. I forgot how much I enjoyed it and what a comfort simply shuffling the cards can be. There is a difference in maturity in myself that I can see now, and that the break from the cards served an important task of giving me perspective. I am mighty glad for the inspiration to return.

I’d like to share a fitting quote from The Hoodwitch, a most excellent mystic I follow on my new favorite social media platform – Instagram. She says, Fear is dangerous, not the tarot. The tarot represents the spectrum of the human condition, the good, the evil, the light, and the dark. Do not fear the darker aspects of the human condition. Understand them. The tarot is a storybook about life, about the greatness of human accomplishment, and also the ugliness we are each capable of. @thehoodwitch

I could not have said it better myself.

If you’d like to know more about Uma or to book a reading check out her website UMASIMON.COM

Knight of Swords starchild

The Knight of Swords begins new projects with critical thinking aligned with inspiration and fresh energy. This card reminds us not to rush but to remain excited. This is one of my favorite cards in tarot.

Starchild Tarot by Danielle Noel – starchildtarot.com

 

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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

 

 

 

Vintage Word

If you have not read Night Circus yet, I suggest you put your tablet down and go buy it. Get yourself a nice paperback copy, it feels nice in the hands. Be sure and clear your calendar, you’re not going to be available for a while. When you’re finished, come on back.

I was so enamored with the book that I looked up the author, who is almost as interesting as her work (would that someone would say that about me one day!) and her website does not disappoint. I am curious about authors who have crossed the rainbow bridge into the world of publishing, and in particular the author of Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern.

Because she is a good person, she has a page on her website for aspiring writers. You see, she was an unknown who was published by cold calling agents and editors (le sigh). I’ll have what she’s having, thankyouverymuch. I figure she knows what she’s talking about, even if she is a fly by the seat of your acrobat leotard kinda girl.

In her post on writing she says that she writes on a program called Scrivener. Well, obviously I need that, too. Right? But I have written on Microsoft Word for so long that it stands to reason it’s best not to waste time teaching old dogs new tricks, or more accurately, a sassy nearly middle aged cat who isn’t interested in learning anything new.

I pecked and searched my way through quite a lot of my first draft before my computer broke. It wasn’t sudden, either. I got to watch it wither and wilt with periodic spasms and death rattles. Damn the machine! I was in a frenzy to save this long drawn out document that may one day be my retirement from all of the jobs (except the ones I love, and I’ll leave it up to you to guess which ones they are).

I go get myself a new computer with no little whining about having to learn a new operating system. The worst part, I think, is getting accustomed to the new keyboard. It never feels just right until all of the sudden it does. When that moment arrives, good luck if you have to change again; old dogs and all.

I saved my stuff online with great displeasure. I am dubious of online storage things. My precious work, the words over which I labored and have not yet brought to conclusion, what if it ends up in the wrong hands? What if it is pirated? What if it is somehow spoiled or abducted by sand fleas and made to perform in small tents?

Then it occurred to me that I have plenty of content I put on the internet on purpose and very few people read it. I can’t drive traffic to my blog, and I’m worried someone is gonna go and pirate something I’ve written? Are they somehow going to go and get famous with work I can’t hock for free? Doubtful.

So, I started writing on a word processing program and I actually finished the first draft. I wasn’t happy about the way the word processing program felt, much like the new keyboard. The program didn’t have formatting up to my nearly professional standards (standards which I only discovered moments before my previous computer ceased its operations). This online writing program felt hollow and I knew it was a short term relationship, not unlike a passionate and combustible love affair.

Today that manuscript and how to proceed has rattled around in my mind. How to enter the next phase of editing? The Apollo phase, I like to call it. My nerves can’t take another moment of this online program, it’s too blank and generic. The obvious answer is to do what Erin Morgenstern did – write on Scrivener.

This program is confusing as hell. I’ve tried to learn it in the past and concluded it must be an operator error. There are sticky notes, cork board applications, there are even little digital push pins where you can hang your ideas and stuff. In the event you, Reader, and I have met in real life you know that I only have so much tolerance for fancy technologically advanced stuff and by my estimation there isn’t much more advanced stuff than digital pushpins and internet cork boards unless we’re talking intergalactic travel, in which case that might be more advanced.

I went running back to Microsoft Word. I’m not sure why I waited for so long. It came pre-installed but not activated on this new PC. Maybe I was trying to be different, technologically advanced or a good protege of Erin Morgenstern. But I just now put Word on my computer; it is offline and pretty much just the same as it was on my old, long lost computer. I swear even my keyboard feels better with my characters dancing around on a familiar word processor, not that my characters dance much. I will tell you that they don’t do too much yoga, either. I add this because folks are sometimes under the impression that I must be writing some sort of treatise on yoga or other advanced spirituality themed work of inspirational aphorisms.

Nope. It’s fiction and it’s ready to get the second draft treatment. I feel like someone should start the Rocky theme song. Ding. Ding.

The Great Outdoors

For the month of March we endeavored to practice one yoga pose every single day. We went with the same posture; downward facing dog. One down dog every day and see what happens.

I thought about adding onto this, building a pose by month sequence so at the end of the year we’d get up to twelve poses a day. But the weather has been so pretty lately and I can be such a shut-in that I want to offer a variation on home practice.

Let’s practice outside. I know what you’re thinking because it’s the same thing I was thinking when I wanted to practice outside – bugs. Bugs and sunshine. Yuck. Combine the two and you have a perfectly good nightmare.

Last week I ordered an all-weather picnic blanket. The thought of eating outside is almost as horrific as doing yoga outside, so a picnic blanket is not something I thought I’d ever own, but it’s Spring and I’m feeling it. The pattern on my large all-weather picnic blanket is blue flowers on a darker blue background and looks not unlike a sheet set we had when I was five. I love it.

Last Sunday, thanks to Amazon Prime and my decisive internet shopping bonanza, I take my blue hippie flower all-weather blanket outside and find a nice area of the yard free of dog poop. The wind blows through the branches above me, which I take for a good sign. I go in and slather SPF 50 on my dedicates and ink, some of which overlap. Unperturbed by the heat, I grab the dish towel with a faded strawberry pattern to keep handy in case I sweat. Even though the Florida sun cannot possibly be hotter than an unholy hot yoga class, I decide to play it safe. No need slipping in a puddle of sweat and having to wait for someone to find me.

When I begin my practice the sun has arced over head and is on its downward journey to the sea. It is still high enough to be brilliant and warm on my skin like a cosmic heating pad administering healing vibes to my sore muscles. Though it is warm, there is a steady Spring breeze that keeps me cool and inspired. There are a few clouds that hang around above me. They are full, white and comfortable in their powder blue home.

The dogs are displeased with this sojourn into the outside and that it excludes them, but they try to escape through the holes in the fence the raccoons dug and I don’t want to worry about them while I bask in sunlit tranquility. Also, they bark. I leave them inside to sulk.

I do the practices I received the last time I went to see Swami. It’s a beautiful sequence to the bright red moon. There is also a breathing practice and mantra sadhana (chanting practice) included at the conclusion. It’s the real deal, ya’ll, at least as long as a “real” yoga class, if not longer if you include the time I spent just looking up into the trees and sky.

This isn’t practical in the everyday world for a daily practice. It is hard practicing everyday and it is especially difficult if I have in my head it is supposed to look a certain way. But I think, given the warmth and sunshine, this is something I can do once a week for a month to see what happens.

So this is what we’re adding on; practice outside at least once a week for the month of April. I think that an enclosed porch, outdoor patio or balcony counts (one of the most amazing practices I ever enjoyed solo was on a third floor balcony in Gulf Shores around mid-night). If you like the beach and are into sand and that sort of thing, try taking your mat out there. There are also some really nice parks around, but the backyard is nice, too.

At this point, you might have a question you want to ask; Prana Devi, I’d love to practice yoga outside and bask in the tranquility of the sun. But I haven’t been practicing yoga for very long and I don’t know what to do. How do I practice yoga outside when I don’t really know how to practice yoga?

Excellent question! I’ll give you a few options. First, go to the bookstore. Find the magazine section and, I am not kidding, buy a print yoga magazine. This is how I built my own home practice. Most yoga magazines have at least one, if not several, practice sequences with pretty good explanations. Take the magazine outside with you and lay it open on your all-weather picnic blanket. Use crystals, your coffee cup or mala beads to hold the pages open. Do what the pictures tell you.

Your phone is another option. That marvel of modern technology has more computing capability than the first spaceships. Find a good educational yoga website, choose a video and do it – outside on your all-weather picnic blanket. I suggest Yoga International.

Lastly, start taking yoga classes and take notes of sequences you like. Ask the instructor to make a short sequence for you so you can take it home and practice outside on your all-weather picnic blanket. Remember your practice does not have to be long to count and it does not have to be complex to have meaning. You just have to do it. Let me know how it goes.

If you are still practicing the daily down dog stick with it and see how many days you can go. If you want to freshen up your single pose du jour, for the month of April pick an asymmetrical posture like Warrior 1 or seated spinal twist. You’ll have to do both sides which, if you think about it, is like doing two yoga poses a day!

Lastly, if you choose to order an outdoor blanket make sure its measurements are larger than your yoga mat is long. I practice on a longer 72 inch yoga mat so double-check your measurements to avoid disappointment. Who in the hell wants their yoga mat touching the ground? We mat be practicing outside, but we’re not insane!

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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