Dharma Talks

A Dharma Talk is used to open a yoga class. It’s used to set the theme of the class, share insights, teachings or philosophy. It is typically comprised of themes, subjects or issues the instructor is currently navigating or studying. Depending on how long the class is, the talking portion can last three and a half to five minutes. I have been in class with a very experienced, senior teacher and she spoke for about fifteen minutes. She had stuff to say. Anyone with sense in their head chose to listen.

Last weekend I went to a yoga event in Alabama. It was a celebration of a yoga teacher training graduation. Four gradates taught an hour and half yoga class to open the day’s events.

There were three women and one man. The man opens the class from behind a harmonium, a squeeze box type of instrument not unusual to yoga studios. He is sitting cross-legged behind the instrument. When he begins speaking on the theme of the day I really recognize he has something to say. He is practiced and prepared with the material.

The subject of the Dharma Talk is the Heart, the light of our being, the ability to be present and compassionate in the world without losing our bearings. He quotes his teacher, he uses poetry, personal stories and humor in his monologue. He talks for about twenty minutes, which are not part of the hour and a half class. There is a brief intermission when he is finished speaking.

The first five minutes the group of a hundred or more people are attentive and sitting with up-right posture. But then it happens; shoulders slump when it seems obvious this guy is talking for more than the unofficially acceptable three and a half minutes at the beginning of yoga class. I see heads lolling around, phones coming out, legs stretched out, bathroom breaks become contagious.

Most of the students present remain attentive, but I know that the majority of those who are twitching like Samantha’s nose are not reacting to the speaker or the topic. For the first ten or so years of practice it’s a struggle just to keep your ass still while you try to do the more quiet, reflective practices. I get it, any instructor whose been at it long enough understands it is hard to sit still. There is a whole practice devoted to just that!

What is interesting is that Dharma Talks as a topic have been on my mind lately. It intrigues me that I end up at a large scale gathering of practitioners and see the dynamics between speaker, topic and students magnified by such a large number and massive space (we were in a church gymnasium).

I could design a whole Dharma Talk around its very topic, which in a way is what blogs are anyway. So if you have a hard time sitting still or refraining from looking at your phone when you’re not wholly engaged with your body in headstand or crow pose, I have been thinking of you. This post is for you.

I know that sometimes when you arrive to a yoga class you may have just left an office where you sat at a desk for seven plus hours. I know your back might ache or your hips are tight or your mood is sour.

I know that sometimes, you have been standing behind a chair all day, curling, straightening, coloring and perming hair and smoothing wrinkles from crumpled personalities and sprinkling fabulous where you can. Perhaps you spent the day folding laundry or zooming around in your car in a lifestyle that is the complete opposite of #workfromhome. I know you need to stretch and move your muscles so you can remember what it feels like to move like an animal again, to breathe like the wind again, to flow like the river again.

I know this, these sometimes, because I have experienced feeling an urgency to get on with it, to begin movement, for the instructor to shut the hell up already! Because, as a student, I have felt itchy at the beginning of class, have been agitated and restless on my mat, I do not take it personally when I am leading a class and see you fidgeting, eyes rolling all over the room in desperation, your hand roving around for your phone.

I understand. Really, I do.

As a student, I have been in a class when the instructor was really on to something. They said something really pertinent to what was happening in my life even though they might not have known it. More than once an instructor has started class with an innocent reading or idea or by simply sharing something they heard on NPR and I suddenly felt less alone in whatever storm I was experiencing in my life.

When I am the one opening or leading a class I don’t know what is going on with everyone in the room. Rarely do I have the slightest indication of what is churning beneath the surface in the folks who come to my classes. I know they are there for a yoga practice and I just try to do a really good job. Part of that job is relating teachings to the best of my ability and sharing stories I think might be helpful. Part of my job is to say what arises and what comes from my heart, whether it’s funny, important or relatable remains to be seen. It is not my job to know if it lands anywhere.

You never know who that person is who needs to hear the thing, whatever it is that day. It might be you, but only later, after rolling your eyes back into your head like a wild horse crossing a craggy mountain in a lightening storm at the end of the world, do you realize that something you heard opened a dark space inside you and let a little light in.

It’s my job to share what I study. It is your job to pay attention.

Previously in this post I said how I know this and that about your day. The truth is I don’t know anything at all except that these practices work. I also know that they are not one dimensional, exclusively physical or easy. I know they are worth it. I urge you not to give up, especially on the stillness. It is there, it really is.

If you find yourself struggling with being able to settle into the beginning of your yoga class, here are a few things to consider.

If you feel frazzled or jangled when you arrive, consider taking a class later in the afternoon so you don’t feel frenzied leaving work or harried by afternoon traffic. Conversely, if the afternoon is a struggle, consider taking earlier classes like a lunch hour practice. Try different times and see if that effects your ability to show up mentally and emotionally as well as physically.

Be on time, or five minutes early. Settle down on your mat, make yourself a cup of tea, lie in Savasana. It’ll help ground you. Try arriving twenty minutes early and taking a nice walk around the block at a slow pace to center and ground the different facets of your being.

Eat light a couple of hours before practice. A heavy meal before practice can make you feel sluggish or drowsy. If you don’t eat enough it can make you feel un-grounded and focus can be a challenge. Experiment with what is right for your constitution. Try a smoothie or protein shake and see how that improves your practice.

Set an intention to bring all of yourself to practice. Ask the Universe to help unite your body, mind and spirit and see how this request changes your experience. Ask to learn something, ask to hear just the right inspiration that you need. And show up, bring all of you to the mat and shine.

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Breaking Mala

merry mala 013

Last year I went to Durga Puja, an annual celebration in honor of the Divine Mother, which is celebrated around the world. I was in Kashi Florida with my Swami and friends and we danced around the Ganga with torches, ate marvelous food and generally had a most excellent time.

The previous February I’d made a mala of ebony and skulls. This is when I learned how to make malas. I knew exactly what I wanted in a prayer bead design and I couldn’t find it. I could find ebony malas and there were an abundance of skull malas but nothing that was exactly right. I took it upon myself to learn how to make prayer beads and it was such a gift that I wasn’t able to find exactly what I wanted because now I am a mala wallah.

It is this same mala I have around my neck on Sunday afternoon following Durga Puja, after more delicious food prepared by a certain Swami Rudra Das, when I am packing my things for the return trip home. When I pack for a yoga weekend I am not messing around with a light duffel and make-up bag, not when sequins are called for on Saturday night. I have plenty to track down and stuff into my large suitcase, which I manage well.

Etsy Mala and Halloween 016 Upon appraising the scene I see that I’ve got most everything together. I lean down to retrieve my yoga mat bag and in the leaning over my mala explodes. Now you might say, “Prana Devi, come on now. Malas don’t just explode…” and wag your finger at me like you’ve caught me in a lie.

I say this to you; malas most certainly do explode. Also, sometimes they’ll slide off your neck like a lazy snake and hit the floor. That could happen too. But on this occasion I mean this thing blew off my neck and scattered across the floor like it didn’t want to leave the property when I drove off in my Dodge. I had black ebony beads caught in my hair that I shook out like victory. Skull beads fell out of the hollow of my collar-bone into my yoga mat bag. It was pandemonium and very exciting!

I scoop up what I can find. I place the  sad tassel on the bed with the remainder of the beads and wander off in search of a plastic baggy. A very nice lady is in the kitchen. She looks up to see me tap dancing in the doorway. I explain my situation.

She clucks at me while she finds the bag. She is sorry for me that my mala has broken, she says.

But no! I tell her it’s my understanding that when a mala breaks it is a most auspicious event. I liken it to getting enough coins in a Super Mario game and getting to level up, energetically perhaps, but it’s a good sign. Perhaps whatever the theme of your sadhana (practice) has been while working with that mala has come to fruition or there is new or stronger energy coming in to support the practice in a different way (when I got home I emailed Swami just in case).

I am not the one to ask about specifics of how this works exactly, but it is grand news, if not a little sad that my favorite mala broke.

The lady is excited at this news, too, as she says she always looked at a broken mala as an inconvenience at best. Well now you know. She kindly agreed to place any errant beads left behind in a prayer room in the house, which pleases me greatly.

When I got home I placed the beads in a glass bowl so they may rest. I had another mala to work with and I didn’t know what I was going to do with the broken one. I even thought of making it into something else by using pieces of it for a necklace or bracelet. Then one day I walked by the bowl and beads and felt this urge to re-string them NOW!

So I did. I have a working mala made of ebony beads and skulls that I’m going to take with me to Durga Puja again this year. I’ll dance around the Ganga with torchlight reflecting on the water and I’ll eat delicious prasad when the night concludes.

I was inspired to write this post because breaking is part of a malas job. It holds energy and then lets it go. It’s a tool of transformation if used with that intention. When I make a mala for myself, a friend or to sell in my shop it is with the greatest care for the finished design and the components while I work with them. I focus on crafting meditation tools that are able to stand up to long use, however, they are not meant to last forever.

I am adding a restringing option to my Etsy shop so that folks who have broken malas littering their altar drawer or kitchen window (sunlight is an excellent way of cleansing stones) can see their malas back up and running. If you would like them made into bracelets or another commemorative piece of jewelry we can talk about that too.

If you have purchased a mala from me and it breaks within 60 days of receipt I will restring it for you at no charge and guarantee it for another 60 days following its repair. If your mala breaks after the 60 days the fee will apply to restringing your mala.

Bonus! Care and feeding of your mala:

Please keep it dry to the best of your ability as wetting the cord, whether hemp or silk, will weaken and stretch it over time. Malas are typically worn as a necklace. Wearing your mala wrapped around your wrist for extended periods of time weakens the material. I love to sometimes wear my mala around my wrist for special classes with my Teacher and this is fine. Just be aware that it can cause strain. It is also nice to have a mala bag or box for the storage and transport of your mala. It depends on your preferences.

I am also a fan of sleeping with my mala. I like to place it near my bed or tucked under my pillow. Sleeping with your mala around your neck can be hazardous to yourself and your mala, especially if you are a busy sleeper. Keep that in mind and perhaps make or buy a little satchel in which to stow your mala beneath your pillow. Sweet dreams!

Your mala loves sunlight and moonlight (gemstones have their own preference). Cleanse your mala in the sun or beneath the silvery moon periodically. Repetition of holy names helps keep your mala clear as does taking it to darshan and kirtans 🙂 Have your mala blessed by a holy person if you can; if no holy person is available may I suggest having your cat sneeze on it.

Message me with questions. Is there anything I forgot on mala care? How do you take care of your mala?

shiva moon

Slow Flow Is Not Old Lady Yoga

First, let me say that there is an eighty something year old woman who comes to my yoga class and she consistently makes the young and the nubile look weathered and worn, such is the grace of her practice. So “Old Lady” yoga by definition is a little bad ass which makes this blog title a misnomer.

When I began taking yoga classes I don’t think there was even that much of a class description on the schedule; it was Yoga at whatever time with whomever teaching. There was no distinction between newbie yoga and advanced burn your ass up flow, so in a way I was spoiled with the simplicity.

Slow Flow is a staple class description here in small town Florida. There is a little bit of a stigma attached to slow flow, namely that it is easy. It is the yoga class one chooses when they don’t want to work too hard or put forth too much effort.

Back before yoga teacher training was a flicker on the event horizon of my life, I went to Slow Flow weekly. I thought it was Just Yoga. The class had all the stuff one thinks of yoga class as having; opening and chant, sit, breathe, warm-up, sun salutation, standing poses, twisting poses, balance and back-bends, forward folds and inversions though not in that particular order. Things wrapped up with a nice relaxation period and some meditation. That’s a hell of a lot of stuff happening in an hour and a half. It was anything but easy.

I inherited two Slow Flow classes which I now teach at Uru Yoga and Beyond. Since Uru opened its doors and a whole new world of Yoga practitioners crossed its threshold let me tell you something, people act like slow flow yoga is the easy yoga. They act like it’s the yoga you go to when you’re recovering from an injury or sickness or childbirth.

This, my friends, is not the case.

I teach my Slow Flow classes the way I learned to practice, and then teach, yoga. We sit, breathe, warm-up and flow. What distinguishes these classes from what is typically considered an “advanced” or “strong” class is the pace at which the class moves. Hence, the slow flow.

The transitions between poses are given the same amount of importance as the postures themselves. Students spend more time in the postures, deepening their experience of the pose in relation to their own body and breath. This style of practice builds a strong body and a steady mind, neither of which is easily won.

Because it grows tiresome trying to change students’ ideas of what a Slow Flow class is, I have renamed my classes on the schedule. The new class title is Vital Yoga: The Principal Practices.

Here’s the clip from the class schedule –

“Vital means both “absolutely necessary, important and essential” but it also means to be vibrant and full of energy.

The Principal Practices of Yoga is predominately a flow yoga open to seasoned yogis as well as practitioners with minimal practice experience, as postures may be modified for challenging sequences. Flow practices emphasize the unity of breath, movement and intention which leads to increased physical strength, flexibility and mental acuity. In addition to the flowing class style, anatomy and postural alignment instruction is offered.

The classes are designed to strengthen and enhance flexibility of the body through movement and postures. Practices designed to bring stability to the mind through breath work, meditation and mindfulness are also included in the practice session. This hour and a half yoga practice is balanced to support the yoga student in their pursuit of health, wellness, strength and serenity.”

There is nothing necessarily easy about pursuing health, wellness, strength and serenity. However, it is vitally important to do so.

While I’m doing up-dates and all, my Monday 6 pm class is now Kali Natha Yoga so we can practice it together twice a week now. The main difference between the Saturday and Monday class is that on the weekend we will work with the same sequence for a month whereas on Monday the offerings will vary week to week. I love this style of yoga like no other.

The class description from the website says, “Like the dance of Shiva and Shakti keeping the Universe in perfect equilibrium, a balanced and consistent yoga practice balances body, mind and spirit. Kali Natha Yoga brings the exotic and essential elements of yoga to all levels of experience so practitioners can safely and effectively deepen their yoga practice.

Kali Natha Yoga is a series of flowing yoga movements. It is suitable for students of all levels and abilities. The instructor will guide you through movement accompanied by breath techniques. Together, these practices enhance your energy system, energize you, calm the nervous system and leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated on all levels. Founded by Ma Jaya at Kashi Ashram, Kali Natha yoga allows the student to feel Yoga’s deep essence and meaning.

At the end of the practice, you will feel a deep quiet as you restore in final relaxation. Kali Natha Yoga is a moving meditation, a prayer in motion and the unspoken poetry of the soul. Prana Devi cannot wait to practice with you.”

I used information from the Kashi website to make sure I represented Kali Natha yoga well on my own teaching schedule. I love the language used to express the practice but really, you’ve got to experience it for yourself. I hope you can join me.

Lastly, for those of you who have been taking my Slow Flow and suddenly see a new description, don’t worry. Nothing is changing in the actual class, just the language used to describe it so people who might benefit won’t stay away just because they equate slow with infirm. Yoga is unity and effort for the good. Most importantly, Yoga is for everyone.

See you on the mat. xo

 

 

What I Am Reading

Stephen King strongly urges aspiring authors to read as voraciously as they write. Granted, as an aspiring author, I admit being prone to fits of despair around the whole topic of it and wallowing not in productivity but in procrastination. What a waste of talent, I know.

I used to read a lot more than I do now. There are shiny distractions, interactions and general malaise that keeps me from a few of my favorite things. But, because Stephen King has done something I have yet to do, parlay story-telling into an art and career, I figure his advice ought to be heeded. And I’ll tell you something; the man is right – writing comes a little easier if you’re reading good writing.

I travel to Atlanta fairly often. I occupy myself on the drive by paying attention to the road, drinking coffee, listening to Michael Jackson and talking on the phone. Stephen King, in his book On Writing, offers that listening to audio books is the same as reading, if one is reading to be a better writer.

I went to the library (yes, there are still such a thing as those). I took To Kill a Mockingbird and something else I cannot remember to the counter for checkout. I hand over my little library card. It is declined.

I am not kidding.

I feel like I’m standing at the grocery store with a six pack of Miller Lite and a box of Magnums without the money to pay for them, so snarling and dismissive is the expression smeared across the face of this young librarian dressed in mute tones.

“Madam, you are mistaken.” I say. I hand over my card again, certain there are funds left on it.

“You are no longer a residence of this county. We need proof of your address.” She holds my driver’s license between us, proof of my unworthiness. She’d asked to see my license so as to renew my library card, I couldn’t have known I was walking into a trap.

“The devil with you!” I bellow at the quiet library desk where no one pays me the slightest bit of attention.

“I’ll just take these…” she says, sliding my selections across the counter with a sly smile that ejects me from the library of my hometown of nearly twenty years. I watch Harper Lee disappear behind a stack of Harlequin Romances meant for the friends of the library book sale.

I stew and fume and bemoan my lot in life. I do not want to visit the library on the other side of the bridge where I now live. It feels so inner city and downtown and large. The other side of the bridge has always felt like its own country, in the very least a different state.

I drive over the bridge. I drive around the looming, dark civic center and I skirt the edge of the cool part of town. I slide beneath a warm streetlight and park on the rain shiny curb, which feels dangerous and wild. I go into the downtown library. There is a massive marble staircase and a little grand piano.

This place is not unlike the library of my home, not the one from which I was just ejected but the town in Alabama where I grew up. This library is sprawling and wrought iron and new. It feels like the majesty of Scarlet’s mansion, Tara, before the Civil War. There is the smell of books and the long distant fragrance of coffee someone brought in at lunch. Now it is after dark and I am leaving for Atlanta in two days. I don’t have the luxury of admiring everything, I am there for a book on tape – er, CD.

Perhaps the coolest part of this venture, other than that Charlie Brown is on my library card, is that my library card is issued to Prana Devi. On this night, with my new library privileges in a facility far beyond the grandeur and selections of that place from which I was previously excluded most coldly, I check out The Isle of the Sequinned Love Nun by Christopher Moore.

I listen to this book all the way to Atlanta and back again. It is awesome. The narrator is funny and has a voice for each character, even the ladies. I think perhaps the narrator is a little bit crazy and wonder what he looks like. Probably very handsome, if crazy is any indicator.

I find when I get back from my trip my writing impulses start firing. I begin keeping a notebook in the console of my car again, to make notations during stop lights and in parking places. I have ideas and more than anything else, renewed interest.

The next book on tape I check out is The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman. I find myself staying in my car extra, sitting in the driveway to get to the end of each chapter. There are three narrators for three different main characters and each is wonderful. I find myself wondering what it might take to be a narrator for books like these.

The third book I borrow is The Secret Magdelene by Ki Longfellow. This is the most remarkable book by far, and I am grateful to be able to listen and not to have to read because there are words and names I wouldn’t know how to pronounce by sight, phonics or no.

And then the CD starts skipping. This is not a book that you can miss a few words in. In fact, this is a book written in such poetic language I had to pause in my listening to make sure my heart’s beat hadn’t become too quiet for the listening.

I took the scratched CDs back to the library and checked out the book instead. I’d heard enough to know how the main characters names are pronounced, anyway. Finally, even while holding this book on my lap, I ordered my very own copy so I could sleep with it on the covers at night and leave hearts and stars in the margins in sky blue ink.

This is my companion for my stay-cation, this book and my cats. For the next two days I don’t plan on leaving my house unless its nice out and I take my mat outside for some poolside yoga. There is a slim possibility I will go for a walk between chapters, writing or reading, I am not sure.

My Thursday classes have substitute teachers who will probably play better music than I do, anyway. I will be home reading.

 

 

Throwing Shade

Last night at the restaurant, I served a table of eight people of varying ages. Whilst grating cheese upon a large portion of pasta, I overhear (I overhear a lot whilst grating cheese) “so and so….blah blah….throwing shade….blah blah…”

More than half the restaurant is closed now, so there are plenty of tables upstairs for servers to await their last tables’ desert orders and conversations to conclude. It’s a long hard process, this. I join my co-workers and without preamble ask, “What does it mean to throw shade?”

One woman in particular with an especially expressive face stops chewing her casserole and looks up at me through thick lashes. I wonder if she is doing it now, so I might experience it.

From behind me I hear, “Is someone messing with you?” It’s Sam, tall dreamy and about nineteen.

“Not that I know of.” I reply, but wonder what hornets’ nest I’ve stepped off in by asking this question.

The woman, now resuming attention on her casserole, explains between bites that throwing shade is when you give someone a backhanded compliment in an effort to be a complete asshole. Furthermore, it doesn’t matter if that person knows you’re throwing shade or not, if one’s intention is to shade the situation with ass-holery then the deed is done.

To tell you the truth, what I thought it might mean wasn’t very far off. I thought it meant to cut your eyes at someone in such a way as to diss them; diss is a term used in the eighties and nineties meant to besmirch someone, or in essence, rudely “dismiss’ them. In my imagination, throwing shade included creative use of one’s eyelashes, not backhanded compliments. Kids these days, totally missing an opportunity to use their eyelashes the way God intended.

Today I am at my sister’s house where I have commanded my niece to demonstrate what she has learned in color guard practice. Because it is completely impossible to command a thirteen year old to do anything, she is standing in the yard and holding her purple flag, looking at me like I have lost my mind.

“Gimme that flag.” I command. She obeys this time. I proceed to dance around the yard, high stepping like any decent majorette. I also sling that flag around the yard like it’s a Samurai sword. I snap it to attention, swing it around, toss it into the air where is spins, spins, twirls and lands like it is thus magnetized into my waiting hand.

I am explaining how she needs to look more intense. Make those gorgeous Egyptian eyes sizzle! This is her time to stomp the yard if ever there was one. This is her moment not to be shy but to be awesome, purple flag and all. I snap the billowing flag’s pole to my hip and tell her to throw shade on the field.

I am imagining creative use of eyelashes and not backhanded compliments when I give her this instruction.

My use of modern slang floors my niece so much she nearly smiles. “Do you know what that means?”

“To be mean to someone.” I answer, choosing to use the loose interpretation I got from my more knowledgeable co-workers the previous night. I look at the tree to my right, whimsically thinking of its generous and cooling shade.

“Mom, I can’t believe she knows what that means.” My niece says to my little sister who then commands her thirteen year old daughter into the house, flag and all.

A little while later she asks if I know how to use my new Instagram account and offers to show me how it works, if I want her to. I take a rather long sip of my coffee and avert my eyes, not wanting her to know how grateful I would be for the tutoring.

Let me tell you something, in case you should look up @electricmala – the first picture I uploaded was of my cat. It just felt right. And the only reason I really got involved with it in the first place is because I want to promote my Etsy shop and see what those crazy yoga cats are up to. So there.

Be warned, yogis. Instagram is not for people who think # is still a pound sign. You will be greatly disappointed. In fact, this is now a litmus test for how old you are; whether you call # a pound sign or a hashtag. I don’t even know what that means!

Also, Instagram is not for people who want to read articles. They have no articles on Instagram, though  I did see a few motivational memes I’ll share this week to promote my class @URUYOGA

See how good I’m getting at this already? Apparently, @ still means one is “at the place to which they refer in the post”. See, not so scary after all. As in, I’ll be @URUYOGA tomorrow teaching at 4:30 and 6 o’clock.

And the best thing about Instagram? #catlady is a real thing.

 

Chain Linked Mala Connects

As a non-Catholic attending Saint Pius the Tenth elementary school, I was constantly on edge. I did not grow up in a religious family. I have aunts on my father’s side who are Baptists. My great-grandmother was a Baptist but never acted like one. On my mother’s side my grandmother went to the Methodist church on occasion; we were the Easter Christians who took up parking spaces so people who went every Sunday of the world had to park in Egypt. That was us.

My great-grandmother on my mother’s side, Honey, read the National Inquirer like it was her bible. We were both intrigued with Bat Boy, she and I with fifty years between us. She had a rosary, but to my knowledge had no religious affiliation. I still have that black matte rosary with its rusted chain linked beads.

At Saint Pius, much to my dismay, we had a crucifix in every classroom. I spent my entire first grade year just getting used to looking at it. I much preferred the bronze or otherwise once removed from reality medium as opposed to the very lifelike version that lolled above Mrs. Jordan’s head while she tried her level best to get me to pronounce the word pen without the colloquially southern “Y” addition; as in “give me that damn pey-un.”

In the second grade Mrs. Alverez, with her blond mullet and insistence on art class, announced there was a small contingent of children from across the street – where the middle and high school is located – who take their entire lunch hour to recite the rosary in the grotto. I hadn’t heard much of this grotto, but I knew I walked outside its gate once when I was dressed as Betsy Ross for our school wide American history parade.

I felt intrigued with this rosary, though I never learned it. I saw glimpses and sparkling hints of jewels stashed within book bag pockets and silvery crucifixes that were molded in the shape of the Christ without the blood that made me look away.

As a student at Saint Pius, I attend all of the religious functions my class must rehearse as part of their school day. I remember the “first confession” rehearsal and the horror of it. I was standing on the red carpet looking down at my scuffed saddle shoes, which never made it past the first week of school unscathed, wondering what in the hell I was supposed to do next.

Much to my relief someone remembered I’m not Catholic, and unbaptized at that, and ought to be left alone. I did get ushered into a makeshift confessional where I looked briefly at the priest. I admitted to having fought with my sister. He excused me with a pardon of my sins.

There was “first communion”, which I also participated in on the periphery. I got to taste un-blessed wafers with Sister Therese, my third grade teacher. She also took us to where the nuns lived. There was a great crucifix in there and I wondered if it made it hard for them to sleep.

It might have been my third grade year in which I learned, still up to their old tricks in the prayer grotto, that those older children had received a commendation for their devotional efforts during lunch. Someone higher up in the church, a bishop or knight, sent them a special rosary. I imagine the card attached reading, “Keep up the good work!”

Let me tell you something, I felt white hot jealously when I heard those kids got a rosary. Let me clarify, I never learned the rosary. I still don’t know it. And let me tell you something else, too – I wouldn’t skip lunch. There was just something too delicious about that octagonal shaped pizza I liked to fold in half like a burrito. I wouldn’t miss out on that for an afternoon of starvation and heat stroke in the prayer grotto, I’m just saying.

There was a longing that stretched out beneath the surface of my eight year old thoughts. There was a secret wish to join the older kids in the grotto and look up at that large statue of Mary with Her outstretched hands, all white and glowing in the hot Alabama sun. I had an occasion to see inside the grotto once. There was a cement bench I just knew was hot in the summer and bone chilling in the winter. There was also green in varying shades everywhere and birds that sang like they’d just come in from my great-grandmother’s rose garden.

By the fourth grade I found myself in public school and rosaries, frightful crucifixes and octagonal pizza were the least of my worries. I had real concerns by then, like how to fit in without a uniform.

About eighteen years later I pick up one of the threads that wove through my heart. I found it to be chain linked and not quite what I initially thought it might be. I’d been practicing yoga for a while by now but hadn’t gotten too far beneath the surface.

Like lightening in my life I felt overcome, like when you have to sneeze and can’t hold it back because something might bust. The internet was still new to me, as far as shopping goes, but I took to its waters navigating sites and stores with deft skill, as though I wasn’t sailing those capricious winds alone.

My first mala is silver chain linked Rudraksha beads. It is a half mala, made of 54 beads, so if I wanted to practice an entire round I would have to go twice. I thought it would be the only mala I ever needed or wanted. I remember when it arrived in the mail, all shiny and light brown with its zip closure peacock blue storage bag (sold separately). I cherish this mala! I wore it under my clothes and around my wrist. The silver smell mingled with an essential oil and was faintly familiar.

The beads are dark brown now and the silver is the color of a well loved teddy bear with shocks of metallic light peaking through. That mala drapes over a picture, though sometimes I still pull it off my meditation table and chant with it in love.

This mala came in the mail so many years ago; before I knew who or where my Teacher was or had any idea where this path might or could lead, much less what I expected from it. I don’t necessarily have answers to all of those questions now, but I know where I belong and with whom.

I don’t want to credit how much I enjoy working with malas on my three years in Catholic school, but something there made an impression on me. I don’t think its a coincidence that Honey’s black rosary is held together with silvery links like my very first Rudraksha mala, to which I added a very small dog tag embossed with Shiva in meditation.

It is with this nostalgia for the half mala and the season of Easter, in which my Catholic-y tendencies surface, that I made a few half malas for my store, The Electric Mala. There isn’t anything traditional about them, but they’re colorful and beautiful and unique. The same can be said for each  one of us.

The Seat of the Yogi

In my mind Not Yoga is its own genre in the blogosphere. I have a friend who just discussed wanting to write in the Not Yoga genre, though the Yoga genre is also nice. Her idea got me thinking. Of course I like to write about yoga, but when ya’ll aren’t looking I also write about Not Yoga. I do longhand writing practice to stir up ideas and muddy the waters in my mind so it’ll eventually run clear. I work on my novel.

I had a wing-back chair about ten years ago, but it was actually my writing chair. It was the color of dandelion petals with a broad back like every girls’ first crush. This chair sat on graceful wooden legs and had a nice thick cushion. There were tiny scratch marks that ran vertically on both armrests from my cats gaining purchase when they tried to join me in my work.

This was the era of Pixie and Merry Weather. Those two cats watched me finish two novels, a collection of short stories and no few poems. Pixie was a black Manx with a personality disorder who I love dearly. She had green eyes set in her wide fluffy face. She was missing one fang from the time she attacked the bulldog. I called her Rambo because she drew first blood.

Merry Weather was the softest being I ever felt. She had an aura like golden cashmere draped across my arms. Her fur had a downy quality that billowed in the softest exhalation near her body. Her blue eyes stared like topaz excavated from a King’s tomb. She was beautiful and sweet and ancient when she died. I still miss her.

I miss that damn yellow chair, too. During a move nearly nine years ago my writing chair got put in the back of the garage. It ended up in the we’ll do something with this later pile. I was at work and so couldn’t tell anyone to put it in my room, for heaven’s sake, if I were ever to get any work done.

It is unfortunate that the we’ll do something with this later pile was in the back of the garage. Nothing ever got done with it. A year and a half ago we moved out of that house and that chair didn’t make it out alive. There was something in the way the thick cushion was discolored in such a way that prevented me from wanting to sit on it. There was a smell that prevented me from being able to really lean back into it or want to go near it.

I have made due. I didn’t really think I missed that chair except for when it came up in a memory during which I was thinking of someone or something else. I have been able to get work done since that chair and I parted ways. In fact, I began working on the floor at a table made just for little ‘ole me. It was measured to the perfect height for writing practice on the floor. It is also the perfect height for me to use as a tea table during meditation practice.

Last night there were tornadoes in my area. Living in the south, I’m not really sure what you call what happened here last night. I know hurricanes and squalls and thunder storms like nobody’s business. Tornadoes are something entirely different.

Not one born with strong nerves to begin with, after looking at the weather radar the night before these storms hit I cleared sitting space in a walk-in closet for me, the cats and my mom’s rotten little dog (mom is safely in Colorado for the week, skiing the slopes). The new cat contingent is remarkable, I should add, though they are unseasoned as far as writer cats go. They have not seen me complete one long work of fiction, though to their credit they’ve watched me finish more than a few malas.

The storms started whipping the skies with noise like a bad metal band. We were in the front room when these new sounds started, and so me, the cats – and my little dog, too – move into the back of the house. I’m not really ready to sit in the closet. It doesn’t feel like closet weather yet.

I have enough books and writing materials to keep me busy for the better part of next week but I do not know where to sit with it all. I do not want to get in bed as the headboard is in front of a large window. I do not want to get in the tub, the curve is terrible on the lumbar spine. I don’t want to sit on the floor yet because I already do plenty of that.

Alas, there is a wing-back chair beside the door that is now closed. I do not know from whence this chair comes as it is one of my mother’s salvage finds. It is pink with a moderately broad back, little wooden legs and a comfortable seat. I cover it with a flannel fitted sheet with a Christmas pattern on it.

I sit down. I have my security blanket (you know you have one, too) and a large book on my lap. I cross my legs and settle in just like I have always had a wing-back chair to catch me when I fall. I nestle to the right, just a bit, so my shoulder blade presses against the corner like a hen settling comfortably in her roost.

For a moment I forget the howling wind and remember every time I sat in my favorite chair. The memory floods my mind in an instant as though that entire part of my life flashes  before my eyes.

When the tornadoes did everything terrible they came to do and I retired to my own room my current working chair hurt my back a little more than usual. It felt a little too high and a little too narrow. The cushion was less forgiving and the word count goal for the day was hard won.

That wing-back chair is in my room now. It’s on loan until I find one for myself. I’m sitting in it right now, in fact, composing this endless missive to you. I am leaning just a bit to the right with my legs crossed like Aladdin riding his magic carpet.

Earlier when I said that I was going to write in the Not Yoga genre I lied a little bit. I have to sneak a little bit in here at the end because it fits so nicely. You see, since one’s seat is so important we’re going to be talking about it tomorrow in both of my classes. Of course, I’ll be talking about sitting in meditation, where the magic happens. I hope you can make it.

As for now, I’m going to try to make magic of a different sort happen, the sort that dreams are made of – hard won word counts and wild ideas.