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

 

 

Advertisements

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!

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

When Worlds Meet the Moment

After a ten year sabbatical from fight training I returned to the “ring” this evening at Title Boxing, which just opened on Nine Mile Road. The ring is actually a mirror lined room evenly peppered with hundred pound heavy bags like meat carcasses in a freezer (thank you Rocky) with well hidden speakers pumping bass jams into the arena.

Let me tell you, first, that yoga is the only exercise I do – ever. Sometimes I walk but more to get outside than for fitness because I do not walk very fast. I saunter and sometimes take my mala beads or a notebook, inspired by Mary Oliver to do so.

So, for ten years or so I’ve done plenty of yoga poses, flow, sequences and whatnot. In the last four years or so I have deepened my relationship with breath practices and meditation. I have not been running, walking up or down a treadmill or taking Zumba classes. There just isn’t enough time in the day to do all my delicious yoga stuff and also be Billy Badass.

When I went into the gym today I felt a rush of nostalgia infused with adrenaline and the unique feeling I’d forgotten comes from the experience of kicking something’s ass. When we approached the desk a very pleasant lady asked what we usually do for exercise, which was nice given she formed her question with the assumption that we did something. My sister told the lady that I teach yoga, which was nice of her since I didn’t want to brag.

There is a semi-circle of benches wherein the trainer wraps our hands so we don’t get blistered in the gloves. While the bearded former Marine spins the blue wraps across my knuckles there was a surreal moment of different times in my life meeting in one singular moment. This moment, of getting my hands wrapped is not different from unrolling my mat, not different from opening my computer to write.

I did ask him, pro to pro, if this is his only job. I salivated when he said “yes” this is his only job. I could have foregone the class and picked his brain on how to make the fitness industry work in one’s favor. He seemed chatty enough but there were other folks to wrap and he still had to show us where the water fountains and bathrooms are.

When the warm-up began I started to get a little nervous. It all started to come back to me – the jumping jacks, jumping rope, oh mah god the push ups! Damn! This is going to be more than just hitting the bag.

I wonder when I’ll start to sweat and if I’m going to need my little sister to carry me out of there. If this happens, I might regret telling those people where I teach. I would hate to give Uru the reputation of housing weak ass yoga teachers.

Round 1. I love it. I am not sure what my sister thinks but we smile a few times in the mirror after we discover we might live.

Round 2. A combination of jabs and hooks, my favorite. I observe my breathing, accelerated but steady. My face isn’t contorted and my feet feel light. This does not hurt my knees, though I want to kick the bag even though this is not a “kicking the bag” class.

Round 3. Still not dead. In fact, quite alive thankyouverymuch. I catch a glimpse in the mirror and see my shoulders are buff from exertion. Yoga shoulders, I might add. Yoga breathing, I might add. Yoga focus, I might add. Kinda Yoga Badass.

Round 4. I realize my sister signed us up for eight rounds. I realize, also, I do not have speed. I start to remember that speed is where I struggled and failed. My hands are not fast and neither are my feet. But I can get very low for my upper-cut, so there is that.

Round 5. There are sixty seconds between each round in which we do some exercise but also rest. I think about getting water but am afraid because I had noodles kinda close to this class and don’t want to throw up. I still want to kick the bag.

Round 6. I might have kicked the bag. But only a little bit and just with my knee, so everything is okay. My stance is left-handed, so my right foot is forward. I remember that I was left handed when I began writing at an impressively young age and my well-meaning great-grand mother made me use my right hand so that I didn’t grow up to be a witch. She did not manage to effect my boxing stance, probably because she didn’t yet know I had one.

Round 7. Freestyle. I like this because we get to use our own combinations, but still no legs. I might have to go back for a kick boxing class, if my knees can take. Due to a longtime running habit my knees get crunchy when the weather is cold. It is either from the running or I am an old lady, I am not sure.

Round 8. I am SO not an old lady. I did finally get a very small sip of water and I did not throw up. The last round is a bunch of speed series at which I fail miserably. I sort of stand there bopping the bag with my gloves repeatedly.

The cool down is actually abdominal conditioning. No one does abs like Kali Natha Yoga, so this is, if not easy, then not the worst of it. Since I have been practicing Kali Natha yoga with Swami I have the strongest abs. This is all very spiritual and very convenient  when one ends up in a boxing class.

Finally, downward facing dog for some reason. It is awesome. I want to hang out there for many, many breaths but the class is over. The music is still blaring but it would seem strange if I hung out in down dog when everyone wants to leave.

A few things I learned; yoga is also conditioning. I do not know how it works because we do not hop around in yoga class and we certainly do not do jumping jacks, jumping rope or oh mah god the push ups. Okay, so yes push ups but they are very fine yoga push ups which we call “low plank” which makes them somehow more palatable. We do fire breath and I wonder if this isn’t something like cardio conditioning.

You really do have to settle on one thing, whatever that one thing is. For me it was yoga. When I met my Teacher I focused all of my attention and devotion on the practices and techniques that she teaches. I had to let some stuff go because there isn’t enough time in the day for all of the delicious yoga practices and also being Billy Badass.

Incidentally, it’s the devotion that makes the Badass. It’s focus that helps us grow. Daily practice doesn’t hurt, either. And in the future when a yoga student asks about what I do to stay in shape and I tell them that, honestly, all I do is yoga I have a reference to support that yoga is enough.

 

 

n experience to back it up that yoga is enough.

2017, Day 2

Monday, as the second day of the new year, was dazzled by storms. I do not like storms. I like rain. I like rainy days in which I do not have to leave my house. I like thunder in the distance and perhaps a sharp pop of lightening as a way of reminding me of unseen marvels just waiting to reveal themselves. I do not like whirling wind that drops chunks of ice through shivering tree branches.

Monday, I was at the studio at three o’clock to tie silk tinsel in someone’s hair. While working in the lounge I hear something like a bag of rocks emptied onto the roof. I am afraid to look out the window.

The front door got sucked open by an outside vacuum and another rock or two pelted the building. My young client and I move to an interior space along with other hanger-outers at the studio. Folks with smart phones start looking at weather alerts and subsequent warnings. With my heart alerting me to new levels of anxiety I realize, with no little detachment, that if we’re about to be struck by any type of weather, by the time it is on anyone’s phone it’ll be too late.

Because there are children in the room I keep this to myself. Instead, I try to regain some control of my pulse and blood pressure. The studio owner, standing there with her phone in its pink case, puts her hand on my back. It is an intimate feeling to know that she can feel my heart beat its rapid staccato. Imagine, dear Reader, someone able to feel your heartbeat right this moment. How close would they have to be, and how wild would its rhythm have to be, to share itself with someone else?

My anxiety thus exposed by my pounding heart, I mention with a surprisingly casual air, “If no one shows up for my 4:30 class then I want to cancel my 6 o’clock.” It is reasonable, after all, to imagine that no one would dare tempt the weather for a yoga class. There are, on a given day, about thirty nine opportunities to take a yoga class within about a ten and a half mile radius. Just saying.

Three people show up. I have the audacity to be surprised. After twenty some odd years of working with the public in various venues they still manage to surprise me. Let me say, never have I ever not wanted to teach so badly. I felt ill and heavy, like someone poured lead into my guts and it cooled and hardened into smooth, metallic fear.

I am nothing if not professional. Perhaps too business oriented these days, but that topic is for later. While I walk down the ramp to teach, my mind whirls with the same agitations as the wind; I feel unreasonably mad at the people who are there to take class.Two of the people are teacher trainees and I want to tell them they don’t want this job. I want to stay in the interior of the building where I can’t see the angry wind, where I can only hear and feel my heart beat.

I remember something from my teacher training that has served me well. On a Wednesday about halfway through my training, my instructor flew into the studio with only moments to spare before class. He’d had to drive from Destin to Fort Walton and got stuck in traffic the likes of which can only be seen in Florida in Summer. He was in a mood. A bad one.

I knew we were in for it when he did a whole bunch of plank poses and down dogs and standing poses right at the beginning. Suddenly, the standing poses became like a lightening rod for everyone in the room, including my pissed off teacher. While he was teaching his voice came back to the timbre I knew. It was like the grounding quality of an intense standing pose practice effected him, even though he was only in the room guiding the practice.

He held the trainees after class and talked about standing poses. He said, and I’ll never forget it, “When you don’t feel like teaching yoga that day, teach standing poses.”

Naturally, I wondered what in the hell could ever happen that would make me not want to teach yoga. Let me tell you, lots of things happen all the time that make me not want to teach yoga. I would not still be in this line of work were it not for the many things that happen that make me wonder what might happen if I continue to teach yoga, weather permitting.

I have another class to teach this stormy Monday evening.  I think certainly no one will show up. Oh yes they do. I unroll my mat because I am teaching Kali Natha yoga, a scripted yoga practice that I practice with the class. The weather has become worse. I recall a poetic something of black rainbows and sideways lightening when Swami taught a weekend on Living the Reality of Shiva.

There is a blond woman on the front row with a high pony tail and exhilarated look on her face. She likes Kali Natha yoga and says something that reminds me of the Rudra Asana series. Rudra is the storm God, an aspect of Shiva – the Lord of Yoga, who can assist with controlling the seemingly untamable storms of the mind.

Why yes, dear Reader, I did pause before committing to practice with three other souls a yoga series devoted to a storm god while it sounded like the world was getting torn apart outside. At the same time, I was committed to the practices, rain or shine, whether I liked it or not. I decided to trust the deity who came forward in that moment.

Yes, there was another pause when I went into downward facing dog and saw out the window, from upside down, lightening flash like an arrow into the ground and thunder rattle the windows in the exact same moment. I wondered if I shouldn’t have chosen a different asana series, something like, oh I don’t know, a tranquil lotus sequence or perhaps a series dedicated to a calm lake.

I don’t think there are many of those, however. I don’t think Kali Natha Yoga has many sequences to tame the tranquil lotus or admire the still pond, though I might be proven wrong. The sequences I have learned so far are designed to move the yogi straight into the heart of the moment accompanied by God – the Storm God, the Goddess of Time, the Jungle Mother, the Fire Lotus.

I hadn’t thought of this practice this way before. This teaching is one of those unseen marvels that keep me on the mat. This is one of those times in which I might not have engaged with the practice as deeply had it not been such a heightened moment. This is one of those times I am aware of the answer to the question; what might happen if I keep teaching yoga? I will grow.

After class, with a calm air outside the studio, I remembered why I fell so in love with this practice. Storms battered Pensacola the rest of the night, but there was a quiet so pervasive that snaked through the room after practice it was as though we were the quiet itself and that we were in it together.

Jaded Primitive

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

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

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

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

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

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

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

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

…Every year
everything
I have ever learned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

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

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

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

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

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

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

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

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

–Mary Oliver (American Primitive, 1983)

Tonic of Longevity and Enlightenment

The first time I met my Teacher I was at Dragonfly Yoga Studies in Fort Walton Beach, where she visits to teach once a year. The room was full of folks, from professional yogis to curious visitors and everyone in between. I was in yoga teacher training and felt nervous and excited just to be there.

During meditation class she drinks from a large mug filled with some steaming substance. There is also a tall cup with water in it. Among the many things I’m intrigued by, I’m really curious about whatever is in that mug.

I imagine the concoction of herbs and exotica cooked for days over a blazing fire so seers can peer between the veils. I imagine blue flames licking the sides of a copper cauldron while this tonic is transformed into its magical brew. I wonder what color the rose petals floating on the drink’s surface might be. I want to know what special drink that is, made for Swamis only. Where in the world do these teas come from and how are they measured and prepared, no doubt in secret, prior to meditation class?

After a couple of years studying with Swami I still wonder what delicious brew is in the cup every time she teaches meditation class. By this time I’ve made friends with other students from the ashram. There are a few with whom I feel comfortable enough to ask my silly questions.

I’m at breakfast after class on a Sunday morning in Greyton Beach. It’s interesting for me to be anywhere having breakfast since this is not my optimal time of day. But here we are, friends with a Teacher in common dining at the crack of dawn (eleven thirty or so).

While asking about the seasonal detox that was coming up, I lean forward with a little conspiratorial whisper and I ask, “What’s Swami drinking from that mug?”

“Hot water.” My friend’s pretty eyes sparkle when she says it, because she knows… She knows as well as I do that I’d cooked up something outrageous and secret because maybe at one time she did too.

“Hot water?” I ask, sitting back in my chair. No secrets of the universe flying across this table at Another Broken Egg.

“Yeah. Hot water.”

She goes on the explain it’s called Ushnodaka, pronounced not unlike it’s spelled, and is often used in Aryuveda as a therapy for dehydration, vata derangement and the various imbalances a human can experience. Aryuveda is a sister science in the yoga tradition that deals with balancing the human condition on all levels using food and lifestyle as affirmative therapies.

Since this conversation over eggs and toast I have participated in 5 detoxes with Swami and every time I am amazed at how wonderful the simple act of hydration makes me feel. Ushnodaka is a primary component in the 10 Yoga Detox and today is the 10 day of the Winter 2016 detox. I’ve been drinking hot water like crazy all week. I look and feel like an 80’s supermodel – ready to trounce around on the beach in my Body Glove one piece at a moment’s notice. Hydration can do that.

Recently I read an article where a woman decided to drink a gallon of water a day for 30 days to see what would happen. Curiosity is such a powerful tool on the road to self-healing and well-being! She takes a picture on day one and then one per week for four weeks. The side by side photos between day one and day thirty speak for themselves.

She looks like she’s been to the plastic surgeon, like she got a chemical peel without the rashy red skin that can sometimes follow. There seems to be some sort of filler in her wrinkles and like the crepey skin under her eyes got scraped off and replaced. The surface of her face has a more even skin tone and her eyes, which showed the greatest transformation, are sparkling and bright.

I saw this article just before the Winter detox began, at a time when I’d neglected my efforts at daily hydration. I redoubled my efforts knowing that during the cleanse water (both room temperature and hot) is emphasized.

That initial curiosity about Swami’s tonic she drinks while she teaches returns to my mind. I remember how caught up I was in its contents, so intrigued by what exotic and top secret tonic of longevity and enlightenment she is drinking.

Water, available to everyone and so simply vital to our existence. As this ten day detox concludes I’m going to try to maintain this wonderful level of hydration I am enjoying right now, where my joints move smoothly and my skin looks fine. If you’d care to join me in my efforts, I’d love to know how it works for you.

To visit the article to which I refer, please visit http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2480491/How-drinking-litres-water-day-took-years-face.html