The Urban Yoga Den

…where it's all yoga.

The Yoga of Being Mugged June 29, 2011

Last weekend I was mugged.

Taking yoga off the mat and into the world means forgiving my mugger. (Photo: Larkin Goff)

Sorry to alarm you.  Rest assured, I am fine – with the exception of some anxiety around the ‘hood, a maxed-out adrenal system from the stress, a sore shoulder from wrestling with the mugger, a cut and bruised finger (see photo of fingers) from my purse being yanked out of my hand, and very sore hamstrings from chasing down my mugger barefoot on pavement (see photo of broken sandals).  Help in many forms arrived quickly.  Although we did not catch my mugger, we recovered my purse and all of its contents, except the cash and some chocolate.  The situation made for a late night, yet I was able to wake up early the next morning, enjoy teaching meditation and yoga classes, and spend time with yoga friends.

Lots to be grateful for.

A few things strike me about the situation: my reaction of fighting back; my impulse to ask (and scream and yell) for help; and my ability to completely forgive my mugger and wish him well.  With a smile.  A giggle, even.

Here’s how it went down…

At about 11pm Saturday night, I returned to D.C. from a week in Tennessee.  Shortly after midnight, I left my apartment building to take a gift of local Nashville artisan chocolate (58% dark) to a friend.  I was carrying the gift bag and a small canvas purse in my hand.  Less than 1/2 block from my doorway, two chubby, sweet-faced black youths approached.  One lunged at me and grabbed my purse.  After a struggle, he ran off with it.

His friend kept strolling slowly along.

I kicked off my sandals and took off after the thief.  As I passed the friend, I punched him HARD in the arm and vented “F*** YOU.” 

I think I heard him respond, “I didn’t do anything, m’am.”

I kicked off (and broke) my sandals.

I chased the mugger for a few blocks, screaming for help the entire time.  People perked up, but not quite in time.  I lost him as he disappeared around a corner.  Thankfully, a neighbor saw which direction he’d headed.  I gave up my pursuit in exchange for calling the police.  They came quickly, neighbors offered support, everyone was great.  After much report-taking, one of the officers and I traced the mugger’s steps and recovered my belongings except the chocolate and about $60.  Overall, it could have been worse.

Fighting back felt great.  Wrestling, screaming, punching, running.  Paying attention to details served well.  Following, searching, finding.  Asking for help was a huge relief.  Not-alone, cared for.

Still, what to do with the mixed emotions and adrenaline at the end of the night’s events?

Yoga.

Yoga and related practices, I should add.  I was wired trying to fall asleep, so I accessed my Somatic Experiencing resources, laying flat on my back with my hands on my hips, breathing deeply and settling myself a bit.   After a little while, I was able to turn on my side, curl up, and drift off.

Before falling asleep, though, I giggled at a vision of this young punk, at home with the video game, chili dog and Big Gulp he just bought with my cash…and digging into a big bar of frou-frou artisan chocolate!  He’d be ruined forever.  I could see it – the next day, his friends offer him some M&Ms and he’s like, “Ick, gross, no way.”

The morning after the mugging, I taught my weekly meditation and yoga classes.  For the guided meditation, we practiced an adaptation of Buddhist Metta.  “May all beings be well,” we inhaled.  “May all beings be free of suffering,” we exhaled.  I included my mugger and his friend in those wishes.  After meditation, a student noted, “It can be hard to wish well for those who’ve harmed me.”  I shared that the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (and a great therapist) helped me understand that people who cause pain are most likely in pain themselves.  If I meditate on their well-being and direct compassion toward them, perhaps they will hurt less and therefore hurt others less frequently.

We continued with a set of Asana and Pranayama, focusing on alternate nostril breathing.  I read a story from Integral Yoga’s Swami Ashokananda, where his practice of this calming breath helped him navigate a potentially serious conflict with perfect peace and ease.  These stories motivate me to continue my yoga and other balancing practices no matter what.

It was a powerful “morning after.”

The cord of my purse cut and bruised my finger.

Since the mugging, as I walk my sore body cautiously and anxiously around my ‘hood, I keep my eyes open for my attackers.  If I see them, I am to contact the case detective.  And I hope I do.  Because I have another vision – as part of his punishment, my mugger must do 90 days of yoga classes with me.  I sincerely believe in yoga’s power to transform harmful little punks into helpful human beings.

I believe because it worked for me.

I can’t be sure why this kid stole from me.  But I can guess that he’s in some kind of emotional pain – as I was, for decades.  Through yoga and other tools of recovery, I have changed.  Today, someone asked me, “What keeps you happy?” and I answered, “The chance to help others by sharing the things that have helped me heal.”  Opportunities to practice Karma Yoga keep me happy.

So who knows – maybe this kid and I will share yoga and chocolate and there will be one less hurting/hurtful human being on the streets.  More will be revealed.

Wishing all beings peace, joy, love and light.

 

A Jewish Yogini at Midnight Mass December 29, 2009

24 December, 2009, 1pm

I have Christmas fever!  The spiritual kind, not the shopping kind.  I mean, this is big.  What a beautiful ritual to acknowledge the birth of Jesus – or as Isaiah says, “the wonderful, the counselor, the prince of peace.”  An all around GOOD guy.

To me, Jesus represents the ultimate human – flawed, open-minded, willing, seeking, serving and striving for goodness.

I just listened to classical WETA’s (public classical radio in DC) live broadcast of the King’s College Chapel Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols for Christmas Eve 2009.  Here is the program (http://www.kings.cam.ac.uk/files/services/nine-lessons-2009.pdf).  The music was very traditional this year.  I was checking out the 2008 program, which included songs by Bertolt Brecht and William Blake.  Pretty modern.  Maybe someone complained, so they went old school this year.

Here is a little background on the tradition (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nine_Lessons_and_Carols).  “The format was based on an Order drawn up by Edward White Benson, later Archbishop of Canterbury but at that time Bishop of Truro, in Cornwall, for use on Christmas Eve, 1880.  Tradition says that he organized a 10pm service on Christmas Eve in a temporary wooden shed serving as his cathedral and that a key purpose of the service was to keep men out of pubs on Christmas Eve.”

Clever guy, that Benson.  Way to keep those drunks off the streets!

So the King’s College Festival was very moving.  Listening to it live, I couldn’t help imagining the English audience in their Christmas Eve spirit, observing the twilight service in a beautiful chapel with loved ones.  Mmmmmmm.

I love ritual.  In Judaism our High Holy Days happen in the fall – my favorite season due to its cycle of shedding and planting.  The combo of the HHDs, related atonement/reconciliation and autumn awakens me into spiritual action.  Sitting in synagogue with a crowd of repenting Jews is energetically intense!  Add to that, my anniversary of recovery from addiction falls in the Autumn; and my sobriety program includes periodic moral inventories and amends.

Beautiful that my birth religion and current spiritual practices overlap.

Aside from the HHDs, I think Winter Solstice is my 2nd favorite “holy-day.”  Marking winter’s shortest day and longest night – and launching the lengthening of days – Solstice feels like a sparkling promise in the midst of darkening weather.  A tonic for winter’s hibernation tendencies.  A natural yin-yang balance of darkness and light.

How amazing to have spent 2009’s glorious pre-Solstice day in our blizzard, sharing lively, bright energy with my friend Matt and bringing warmth to the cocoon of falling snow and intensity of grey skies.  Again, the balance.

My 3rd favorite holy-day is the festival of Diwali, which also occurs in late Autumn (see “Diwali Intentions” post from October).  Apparently, in India’s history, there were many historical accounts of the triumph of good over evil during this season.  Therefore, most Indian religions (Hindu, Sikh, etc) observe Diwali as a festival of lights.  In preparation, the house is cleaned, oil lamps are lit and sweets are eaten!  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diwali)

Anyway, back to Christmas.

In his 1944 Christmas “speech,” 12-step recovery program pioneer Bill Wilson said, “How privileged we are to understand so well the divine paradox that strength rises from weakness; that humiliation goes before resurrection; that pain is not only the price but the very touchstone of spiritual rebirth.”

This eve I’m heading to a 6:30 yoga class at Past Tense, where I teach.  My mom and I used to have a Christmas Eve tradition of driving around the neighborhoods to look at holiday decorations.  So after class, I’m going to wander Mt. Pleasant and see how the neighbors did this year.  We’ll see if Mom chimes in with her opinions from above.

After that, we’ll see.  I have an idea but I’m not certain…

*  *  *

24 December, 2009, 8:30pm

Mmmm, Chinese food.  I almost forgot about the Jewish tradition of eating Chinese food and watching a movie on Christmas eve.  After flow instructor Emma’s relaxing and Silent Night-esque yoga class (and a cruise through the ‘hood to look at twinkly lights with yoga pal Tippi, who generously donated her hot pink gloves to a hand-less snowman), I stopped by Mayflower Chinese Restaurant.  These noodles are yummy!

Instead of watching a movie, I’m listening to WAMU’s (NPR in DC) old-fashioned radio show, The Big Broadcast, which is airing a very odd story about Joe DiMaggio and a Christmas angel cruising around 1940s NYC saving people from doom and gloom.  Huh?

It’s 9:30.  I’m still trying to decide on something for later…

*  *  *

24 December, 2009, 10:30pm

Some of my friends are really suffering emotionally and psychologically these days.  I feel really, REALLY grateful to be willing to seek and use tools to address suffering.  I must.  They say, “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.”  (Just who are “they,” anyway?)  If I drop into suffering, there’s always the danger of sinking into that gripping darkness that I frequently battle on this life path.  But that’s just my path.  Whether or not my friends are willing to seek and use tools, I need to JUST PRAY for them.  They are in pain.  So I’m shifting my attitude from worry to compassion (Pratipaksha Bhavana, Jai!) immediately.

In fact, I think I’ll dedicate my entire Midnight Mass experience to all who suffer.

Yup, you heard right!  I’m going to Midnight Mass.  Alright, I have to get out the door and down to St. Matthew’s Cathedral.  Merry Christmas, y’all.

*  *  *

25 December, 2009, 11am

Attending Midnight Mass reinforced my love for all fellowships where a group gathers in faith.  All of my life, I have been drawn to the collective conscience of people moving toward one heart-felt purpose.  I have experienced the similarities between separate rituals from different origins, proving our oneness.

Sure, at Midnight Mass, some people are not gathered to connect to a higher power.  Some are there for status, social life, obligation and so on.  (And some are around the corner at a nightclub, drinking their faces off – I know because I had to wade through them after floating blissfully out of the Cathedral at 1:40am.  We need to send the ghost of Archbishop Benson to gather up those drunks next year!)

At the same time, in Midnight Mass, regardless of motive, everyone’s humanness shines through, from the giddy Buddha-like smiles to the rebellious “I don’t want to be here” frowns.  Midnight Mass is the perfect blend of heaven and earth, body and soul, mind and spirit, self and ego.

To me, the differences between religions, faiths and practices is not important.  I embrace and celebrate the common threads among spiritual groups – whether Cuban and Native American ritual, African and Celtic rhythms, Jewish and Christian history, yogic and Buddhist ethics, and on and on and on.

But that’s a whole other conversation on interfaith connections.

Instead, suffice it to say that this Christmas, a Catholic Mass reminded me that we are one.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.