Rethinking The Great American Eclipse

This is the day before the Great American Eclipse and let me tell you something – I’m tired of hearing about it. I’m tired of seeing articles on it and talking about it, too. I read horoscopes and Vedic astrology and like any decent new age kid I follow The Hood Witch, Mystic Mamma and Serpentfire on Instagram, so I kinda already know everything about all the woo woo of this eclipse in Leo. Just saying.

Right now I’m over it all. There is an expectation in the air for this eclipse, like we’re collectively going to be able to release dogmas that have held us back from being our best, brightest and most enlightened selves. We’re going to break through or jump over this eclipse portal to be somehow different and better than before. It’s like 2012 all over again without the hysteria and subterranean fear of aliens no one wanted to talk about until after it was over.

This eclipse portal and all its fetishized implications, the least of which is that this country’s leadership will somehow come under the control of someone with some sense, makes me feel like an under achiever. There’s lots of internet chatter, which I have resolved to henceforth ignore unless it’s in regards to this blog or my Etsy shop, about this eclipse aligning us with our true purpose, our dharma, our raison d’etre. I’ve heard that before and now it’s just starting to piss me off.

Maybe it’s because I have a cold and feel like an under achiever, because all I want to do is drink ginger tea and eat noodles, but I feel pissy about this topic of dharma and purpose. Does this mean that in my pissy-ness I will neglect my practices, that I won’t do my mantra or that I’ll say to hell with you all and those damn cardboard glasses that make everyone who puts them on look like ALF?

Of course I will do my practices, but I’m not doing them with any certainty that lightening will crack open the sky and I’ll have a clear vision of my own raison d’etre – eclipse or no. In fact, I’m not so sure about that whole reason for being anymore, at least not in the great sweeping sense of finality that has made me feel like a desperate yogi on the lookout from some outpost on the edge of the world. Maybe we’re not supposed to have the one, explicit unchangeable thing that we are – poet, doctor, lover, priest, garbageman, physicist…. What if the work isn’t to discover what we are but, instead, to peel away everything we are not.

I spent six years thinking, decidedly, that my purpose on this planet was to teach yoga classes. I fell in with a crowd who I let convince me that “job” and “calling” must coincide and I’ve been miserable ever since. By the time I wrapped that up a few months ago, I felt strained resentment for the “profession” and annoyance at the decidedly shiny happy people who insist on yoga #everydamnday and never ever admitting to feelings of sadness, frustration or anything below the acceptable baseline of utter joy.

Sometime around my first year of teaching yoga I did Rod Stryker’s online workshop on The Four Desires, which is a book about helping the aspirant uncover the fundamental intention of their soul and purpose for walking upon this Earth. The book talks about intention, decision and the four aims of life which are the investment of oneself equally in duty, wealth, pleasure and the pursuit of liberation. I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty much me #everydamnday

Upon further contemplation and a few years under my belt, I am given pause at the audacity of someone implying I must qualify my existence with an acceptable statement of intent.  All of the stream of consciousness writing I did during this online workshop with The Four Desires left me feeling as confounded as reading about the implications of this eclipse we’re looking at tomorrow. If there is work to do, I don’t know what it is. If there are special maaracas I am supposed to shake, then I don’t know where they are. If I am supposed to be something more or different than myself after the moon dances in front of the sun tomorrow afternoon, I don’t know what that looks like.

Dear Reader, have you ever practiced puja or prayers in which you left offerings on your meditation table or altar? Perhaps a bouquet of flowers or a small cup of water in front of a picture of the Black Madonna or Jesus? Have you ever removed the pits from dates and left them before a statue of the Buddha? Have you ever dared to leave dark chocolate before an image of Kali?

Well, I have (or variations thereof), and sometimes I wondered if there was something else I was supposed to do other than leave the milk, the oats, the water or incense. Should I do something more than leave an offering? Ought I to say a special mantra specifically designed for aspirants on the spiritual path to say while making devotionals? If so, I don’t know what it is and am confounded by that, too.

Then, like lightening opening the sky, one night it struck me that it’s not my job to know what to do with the offerings. I hand it over for a reason…. I give over the chocolate, the flowers, the water, the flame and I set it down. Setting it down is part of the practice. Perhaps, for some of us, it is the hardest part of the practice. But by the very virtue of being the one leaving the offering, I am not the one who has to know what to do with it.

So here we are on the precipice of this magnificent celestial event, and if you’re anything like me you might have cultivated all sorts of spiritual expectations and psychic implications around it. It’s okay, as you can see, clearly I have too. But I’ve been doing some writing today, and I’ve been doing the one practice I have clung to during the maelstrom of information, astrological guidance and implicit warnings regarding the path of the moon’s shadow passing over our great nation.

That one practice to which I have clung is the silent mantra, which is a great tool for overcoming the shadow of negative thinking that stretches across the mind during times of transformation and change. Sometimes, negativity manifests as expectation. Think about it – has doing something awesome ever made you feel like crap? No, it hasn’t. But any wall of expectation you built around the awesome thing you did might have made you feel like crap. If it didn’t then you’re more enlightened than me, so…..call me, tell me your ways. Because if I write and publish a book and it’s anything less than a run away best seller, I’m going to feel like a failure. See, isn’t that crazy? That’s what I’m talking about.

I see the real potential for this eclipse to leave folks deflated and a little depressed, like the wake of a few weeks into the New Year, because I’ve seen a lot of talk regarding the expectations of this eclipse. There is a heightened sense of something, and even though we don’t know what it is or even if it’ll be good, at least it’ll be different.

Make your expectations like an offering to the Sun – set them down and let ’em go.

At the eleventh hour, when I’ve had quite enough of all this talk of dharma, transformation and upheaval, I’m going to suggest you do whatever it is you’re gonna do and to the best of your ability, let it go. Get grounded before you stare into the sun, set your feet firmly on the path to which you committed and hold onto your practices with both hands. If you’re doing that, then you won’t have a free hand to hang onto expectations and projections so, whether this eclipse is just a really cool astronomical occurrence or a major astrological event that ushers in a time of peace and prosperity, you’ll be receptive and present.

Also – this is what everyone I’ve seen so far looks like wearing their eclipse glasses….

alfglasses

 

 

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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?

 

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

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)

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.

Is It Hot In Here?

20140402-104958I think we all know by now that hot yoga is a thing. People like it, they want to practice it and it’s here to stay. Hot yogis walk into the studio with a beach towel, gallon jug of water and a sweat band across their forehead; there is no need to inquire as to which class they are there for.

You wouldn’t expect me to be teaching a hot yoga class on the schedule at Uru, mostly because I haven’t been able to warm up to the practice – yuk yuk. I mean come on, it’s hot in there! Then there’s all that planning. You’ve got to take a change of clothes or drive home naked so you don’t soak your driver’s seat with sweat and all those toxins you’ve excreted.

Also, please hydrate. If you don’t, you’re looking at a headache later in the day or evening. Also, without enough water you’ll experience tiredness that requires a ten to twenty minute nap with the cats to cure. Admittedly, the napping part is pretty nice.

So let’s talk about what happened that lead me to this….moments before teaching my first hot yoga class ever.

hot yoga

That room I’m sitting in, looking at ten people on beach towel covered yoga mats with gallon jugs of water near ’em, is about 98 degrees. If you look closely there’s a bit of sweat already on my brow.

It started when I took a hot class at Uru on a Wednesday. Normally, I am at home on Wednesdays because my Teacher has class in Atlanta and they stream it so long distance students can participate. The end of August, first of September, she is on retreat, so I decided to take a friend’s hot class at Uru2.

They have those infrared heaters at this studio. I didn’t think there’d be a difference between one hot room and another, but I knew there was something going on when I sat on my mat directly beneath one of these ceiling panels and felt a descent of warmth something like a late afternoon stream of sunbeams alighting on my skin.

I am not kidding.

My friend teaching, Dave, really is a great teacher. He says such nice things and makes everyone feel like he’s just so glad they came to class. So when the next Wednesday comes around and my sweet Swami is still on retreat I go back to Dave’s hot yoga class.

I even have my own hot yoga towel now. I don’t know who I am. It’s like I’ve discovered some type of drug that I have to spend all day preparing to take – hydrate hydrate hydrate people!

In class I stretch in two directions balanced on one foot in Warrior 3 and feel the radiant heat evenly distributing warmth across the entire length of my right leg from the sole of my foot to the small of my back. I feel rather like a goddess illuminated by the flames of a distant star.

I email the studio owner when I get home. The email begins…”I hope you’re sitting down, there’s something I need to tell you.” No doubt she thinks I’m about to put in my resignation or to admit to wrenching a student’s arm out of socket in a mis-guided adjustment, neither of which occurred, fortunately.

The email goes on to tell her that I don’t know what I’m doing exactly but I may want to teach one of these hot classes in which the room is heated with infrared plates in the ceiling; a totally different way of heating a room. My previous experiences with hot yoga have been with air heaters in the corners of the room, which effectively heat the room, but with a different quality of heat.

What I have learned is that the infrared heaters warm surfaces in the room as opposed to heating the air. I am better able to breathe in this heated environment, as the space doesn’t become muggy. I have been looking at studies on infrared heat and its effects on pain management, clinical use for treating inflammation and depression as well as its effects on  cell regeneration (as in wound healing) and relaxation. I am deeply intrigued.

I have also been thinking quite a bit about yoga teachers who I spent time with who were greatly opposed to hot yoga and everything it involved, including hot yogis themselves. There were yogis in my life who were very outspoken against hot yoga and I realize, in retrospect, I took in their opinions as my own. I have been known to be outspoken against hot yoga, too. I don’t like the heat, the risk, the puddles of sweat on the floor.

It wan’ts until I was wandering aimlessly on a Wednesday in need of someone to say nice things to me that I ended up in Dave’s hot yoga class, not because it was hot but because it was Dave, and I gave myself an opportunity to really give the experience a chance. The warmth – of both the ceiling panels and the instructor – were catalysts for the change of heart that would put me on the schedule at Uru3 teaching hot yoga there.

I’m excited and a little nervous because it’s all so new. Learning to teach yoga in a completely new environment enhances my ability to instruct in all environments. It’s interesting to be humbled by admitting to a change of heart and mind and it’s wild to see this whole new group of people in my class. People who simply will not take class in a room temperature room. It’s very nice to meet them.

I have learned there is no distinction between hot yogis and temperate yogis. We are all Yogis, just some of us need to have a change of clothes on hand and an extra towel to mop up that puddle on the floor.

Yoga, the umbrella term under which these physical practices lie, gives us limitless opportunities to grow. I have to say this hot yoga experiment has been a really cool opportunity to grow. I hope you join me on the mat, either basking beneath hot panels like a long tailed Komodo dragon or in a nice, cool room with a steaming cup of ginger tea near your mat. Either way is good.