The Urban Yoga Den

…where it's all yoga.

Remember When I Quit Teaching Yoga? September 7, 2016

Forgive me WordPress readers, it’s been…10 months since my last confession. I mean, since my last blog.

“Fearless” was a rather brief, mid-winter explosion that came just one month after – in the previous blog and all over social media – I announced that I’d quit teaching yoga. “Fearless” disclosed how unsafe I’d been feeling in the world, how my busy-ness helped me hide from that feeling, and, how a friend’s yoga class invited me to be still…and find clarity. In short: “I learned I can simultaneously – and calmly – feel afraid and be safe. If I had run, or hid, or drowned, or denied…if I had not faced and inquired about my fear, I wouldn’t have understood it the way I do now. Although not completely liberated from fear (I need to find the tools to be present and clear with certain everyday things), I own it; and, I distinguish it from situations, places and people. Today, I realized that the hearts of those formerly-perceived scary people are just like mine – and, they are at the fingertips of my fearless, outstretched arms.”

“Fearless” launched months of deep work with my PTSD triggers (which had been popping up since November, and would continue through the holidays), and, a 10-month disappearance from this blog site.

*  *  *
THWL2(18June2011)My November departure from yoga teaching had been abrupt and self-centered.

As explored in my “Taking Stock” blog, “I quit teaching yoga last week. There were so many reasons why; and it was a long time comin’. Still, my decision was rash and reactive – a result of not being honest with myself and not holding myself to truths untold. I might blog about the decision eventually. … The response to my Facebook announcement was full of solidarity from friends, yoga teachers, students and studio owners who are all struggling with, questioning or strategizing against yoga’s shift away from its mindful roots.”

I was scared. Scared that nobody liked my mindful style of teaching anymore. Scared that students would continue to complain. Scared that studio owners would continually pressure me to be something I’m not. And it became hard to remember …what was I, anyway? Was I a traditional Hatha teacher? A modern Vinyasa teacher? An alignment-based teacher? A Chakra teacher? A beginners teacher? A seasoned Pranayama and Meditation teacher? A philosophy teacher?

One thing was certain – I was not an exercise teacher. But yoga trends and studio feedback said “move more, instruct less, explain nothing.” So, I quit. But for my annual New Year’s Eve “Let Your Intentions Flow” workshop, I stopped teaching yoga.

I don’t know what I was thinking! Hahahahaha…

Gradually, I started to get my confidence back. I am a traditional Hatha teacher; a modern Vinyasa teacher; an alignment-based teacher; a Chakra teacher; a beginners teacher; a seasoned Pranayama and Meditation teacher; a philosophy teacher. My practice and teaching was rooted in my first experience with Kundalini yoga, has grown through a variety of teachings and traditions, and, is now thick with 20+ years of reverence for yoga’s incredible value beyond the class slot. Therefore, my classes are never about exercise. They are about passing on every single gem that all of my teachers so generously shared with me. Practical tools that enhance outer strength and inner peace in everyday life – for the rest of our lives.

So, I came back. Tenderly, carefully and perhaps cautiously, I tip-toed toward the yoga arena.

One of the main reasons that I felt secure returning? An invitation from Faith Hunter, the owner of Embrace Yoga DC. Embrace itself had seen its share of pushing/pulling/tugging/nudging/elbowing from the yoga universe. Opened in spring 2012 as a space where Faith could build her brand, guide her Yoga Teacher Trainings, and, develop her trainees as instructors, the studio morphed through a number of incarnations and disappearances over its years. At one point, with the studio offering a skeleton schedule, Faith moved to New York to focus on practicing with her own teachers. Little did we know what else was brewing.

In February of this year, she tenderly, carefully and perhaps cautiously stepped back into the yoga studio biz. Still living in New York, she put the word out to DC teachers: teach from your heart at Embrace. That’s when I dipped my toe in the now-welcoming waters. I offered “Follow Your Heart,” another of my signature, annual workshops. And I started teaching “Yoga For Life,” a weekly pay-what-you-can class.

Over the summer, Faith planted both feet back in DC and cultivated a rock-solid teaching, customer service and management team. In its same bright, beautiful Adams Morgan location, Embrace now offers a full schedule of weekly classes with an amazing group of seasoned teachers. We are one of the most diverse studio staffs in the city – an eclectic collection of yoga influences, cultural backgrounds and life experience.

I am honored to share the schedule, practice and work with these noble beings.

*  *  *
At this moment of writing, I am choked-up with tearful gratitude. The universe works in mysterious ways. And I am just wrapping my head around where I’ve landed, and, what the near future brings.

I am now the Studio Manager at Embrace. During my part-time hours, I team up with Faith, advisers, vendors, teachers and studio assistants who tackle our business head on! We have accomplished so much since my May start; and I am thrilled with the positive energy and outcomes we are generating.

Beginning this week, I am teaching three (!) classes on the Embrace schedule. On Mondays at 7:30pm, I’m leading our “Basics/Level 2” practice, where we dissect and fine-tune sequences, poses and breathing found in typical Open Level classes. We have “Breathe & Meditate” on Wednesdays at 7:45pm, which re-awakens our wonderful weekly mindfulness community, cultivated in 2014. And “Yoga For Life,” our venue for life-long yogic traditions, continues on Sunday mornings at 8:45am.

This coming Sunday, Embrace will observe the 15th anniversary of 9/11 with “9/11: Urban Oasis.” Our regularly-scheduled classes – including Yoga For Life – will be free. Surrounding those practices, the studio will stay open from 8am-8pm, with Embrace staff welcoming yogis, friends and community to a peaceful space for rest and reflection. I hope to share some time with you (away from the crowd of Adams Morgan Day, BTW).

When Faith is away for weekend teaching travels, we are scheduling “guest teachers” in her Sunday 11am slot. From October 16 through November 6, I will guide “Come Together,” a four-week, pre-election exploration of yoga’s immense resources for individual serenity and community harmony. After warming up with intention-based Sankalpa Vinyasa, we will practice partner and group poses, bringing a sense of collaboration and levity to increasingly tense times.

In the midst of all this, “Diwali Intentions” – our annual observation of this 5-day Hindu holiday – will be held by candlelight at Embrace on Sunday, October 30th, 8-9:30pm. This Sankalpa Vinyasa practice supports the sacred inner work of inventory and intention-setting, and serves as a precursor to our New Year’s Eve gathering.

Faith has graciously offered me – and all Embrace instructors – the freedom to bring our hearts to the table in our teachings. In addition, she has entrusted me with staff guidance, operations supervision and community relations. Perhaps, though, the most breathtaking invitation came when Faith asked me to consider being a lead instructor for her Spiritually Fly Yoga Teacher Training, starting this November. This was one of the greatest honors I’ve ever received. I had to sit down for a moment. I cried a little. My heart swelled with gratitude. I said yes.

I can’t lie (nothing to hide, as always) – all of this feels at once exhilarating and daunting. This is the most that I’ve taught since 2011, when my classes were full and the yoga-workout trend was barely blooming. Beyond shadow of a doubt, I am excited to be once-again teaching my most earnest and foundational offerings. Still, at moments…well… Y’know that feeling when you organize a big party or event, and then fear that nobody will show up? Yup. That happens. Inside of my chest. That anxiety arises at times.

Plus, as a Yoga Teacher Training instructor, my responsibility is deep. Not only must I petition divine guidance to humbly serve in this capacity…I also have to design some pretty serious curriculum! (Which I love doing, BTW. I am eager to start.)

*  *  *
Being asked to teach teachers acknowledged the worth of my long and devoted journey with my beloved yoga.

The invitation came after a very committed period of inner sacred work, surrounding self-doubt, relationship fears, trust issues and more. It came when the fruits of this rich work were ripe. It came from a person who is my friend, my teacher and my boss! Coming full circle since I quit teaching last November, I see that I wasn’t done…I was just resting. I am re-rooted in the ancient discipline that shapes every moment of my present existence.

And, although feeling a little anxious, my “Fearless” blog reminds me: “…stability and risk co-exist.”

Great gratitude to the gods, goddesses, gurus, guides, guardian angels, great spirits, eternal mysteries and teachers that accompany my direction and decisions. Thank you knowledge, thank you nature, thank you love. Thank YOU.

May we all know that quitting is sometimes resting, and that resting is always empowering. OM Shanti.

 

Yoga Focus: Taking Stock November 9, 2015

8 November, 2015

This week marks the Indian holiday of Diwali, which is generally known as the Indian Festival Of Lights. Yet, it signifies so much more. Most markedly, the 5-day festival celebrates the triumph of Light over Darkness by recalling the many battles won by virtuous warriors over evil demons. On a social level, it represents a time of families gathering to share sweets and sweetness, couples honoring their partnerships and siblings acknowledging their love. On a practical level, the holiday signifies a fiscal new year, when businesses start a new financial calendar, take inventory and take stock.

For me, the arrival of Diwali marks a period of taking stock in all areas of life, and, of beginning to shape intentions for the next calendar year.

Annually, from late July (my birthday) through the early Autumn (Equinox, Jewish New Year and my sobriety anniversary), I spend time reflecting on the prior year. That reverse reflection shifts into all-wheel-drive when Diwali arrives. There is something about the shift in weather that energizes me inwardly. My dreams start to spark up, my passions start to speak up. I begin taking stock of what I presently “have,” why I presently live and how I presently love. And so on. As I inventory my life, I start to look forward with deep intention. By late December (Winter Solstice and traditional New Year), I am feeling a positive pull toward productivity and manifestation.

So while most yoga studios, yoga teachers and people in general are jumping on the Gratitude bandwagon for November, I am pausing to inventory my life – so I can jump on the approaching Sankalpa train with as much discernment, clarity and resolve as possible.

***

I quit teaching yoga last week.

There were so many reasons why; and it was a long time comin’. Still, my decision was rash and reactive – a result of not being honest with myself and not holding myself to truths untold. I might blog about the decision eventually. But, for now, I’m consumed with planning my New Year’s Eve Sankalpa Vinyasa workshop.

Wait – didn’t I just say that I quit teaching yoga?

The response to my Facebook announcement was full of solidarity from friends, yoga teachers, students and studio owners who are all struggling with, questioning or strategizing against yoga’s shift away from its mindful roots. And among the post’s comments was one question: “What about New Year’s Eve?” I’ve taught my “Let Your Intentions Flow” workshop for five years in DC. Teaching that late-night session of sacred inner work not only facilitates students’ New Year “resolutions,” it fuels me with purpose. So…when my teacher, who also owns a studio, mentioned that I could hold the workshop there, I said “Yes.”

This in itself marks a huge period of Autumn-supported reflection and inventory – I may change what I offer and how I offer it. As this change brews, I’m excited to look into some dark corners and see what I might illuminate going forward.

***

Which brings me back to Diwali. Yoga has always given me permission to be authentic, my whole self. It has encouraged me to look squarely at my past, my present and my potential. It has kept me safe through dark times. It has made me curious about that darkness. And it has consistently guided me toward the light of truth.

For this week’s Diwali observance, I’m re-reading and re-posting 2012 and 2009 blogs about the holiday – my perspectives and experiences have not changed. The ideas and practices are tried and true. I hope you enjoy them.

Happy Diwali! OM Shanti.

***

November 15, 2012 – Diwali Class Featured in Huffington Post!

Photo: Rita Maximilian

Photo: Rita Maximilian

I am honored (floored, really) to be featured in this Huffington Post blog (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dawn-cherie-araujo/diwali-columbia-heights_b_2131582.html) – “Diwali Yoga in Columbia Heights,” by religion journalist Dawn Cherie Araujo – about our special yoga class last night.

As my friend Sachin notes in the article, the practice was mind-blowing.  I will not take credit for that outcome, however – it’s the result of the yoga itself, and a roomful of very strong intentions.  Heartfelt thanks to our students, from our wonderful little 8-year-old guest to the rest of the yoga veterans in the class.

Yoga is such a gift.  Love love love…  OM Shanti.

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November 13, 2012 – Diwali’s Balance of Darkness with Light

“What is important for a movie?  Both – light to make it; darkness to show it.  The minute you learn to respect and see both sides of the coin as equally good, you can enjoy both.  It is only a matter of understanding and acceptance.  Let us have that light of understanding.  Accept things as they are.  Then, life is worth living.  The world becomes a heaven on earth for you.”
– Swami Satchidananda

In less than one hour, I’ll teach my annual Diwali-themed yoga class.  This Indian holiday is commonly known as the “Festival of Lights,” signifying the triumph of light over darkness.  Ancient history tells of a number of battles across the nation ending, with great victories over evil forces.  To welcome home the heroic warriors on the dark eve of a New Moon, villagers lit their paths with glowing oil lamps.

Hence the ongoing tradition of celebrating this particular New Moon with lamps, fireworks and other uplifting festivities.

For me, Diwali reminds me of the necessity of both darkness and light.

I used to be very, very scared of the “dark.”  The moment a hint of sadness or lowness or depression showed up, I was in action – figuratively lighting my oil lamps to brighten things up.  These days, I have found a strength in welcoming times of darkness, struggle, challenge.  Not that I like to dwell there for long – I can appreciate a rough patch and at the same time know that I must do some reflection and practice to shed light on its lesson.

So there is a balance.  Darkness and light must exist.

As for battles – I will admit that sometime my greatest battle is with myself.  Although I have come to be at peace during most of my dark times, there are still situations where my fears can get the best of me.  They can lead me into poor choices, rash decisions, intense self-protection.  But less and less.  Thankfully.

So today, my greatest victory is not when I “win a battle,” but when I surrender my fears and allow the battle to dissolve.

What are your battles?  Which have you “won?”  Celebrate them tonight!  And which have you surrendered from?  Celebrate them, too.  Recognize your victories.  If you are currently in a dark time, have hope for the triumph of light.

‘Tis the season of shortening days.  Autumn calls us to enjoy the comfort of candles, fires, warmth.  To cultivate our own light.  This very natural, womb-like, growing darkness can be an invitation to experience a balance of darkness with light, of light with darkness.  Enjoy.

Happy Diwali.

OM Shanti.

*  *  *

October 20, 2009 – Where the Wild Things Are

“You need good light to make a movie, is it not so?  And then you need good darkness in which to show it.  Isn’t that funny?”  – Swami Satchidananda, founder of Integral Yoga

I have a confession:  I’m scared of the dark.

Well, not “the dark,” as in a dark room, or a dark forest or dark places like that.  I’m afraid of the dark-ness within me.  That’s right, folks.  This Diwali-celebrating, Jewish-new-year-observing, eight-limbs-of-yoga-loving gal gets sucked into the tunnels of doubt, despair and even depression at times.

Another confession: I think sometimes I try too hard to “dissolve” that darkness.

Heaven forbid I head back to that bottom mentioned in my 9/24 “Welcome to the Urban Yoga Den” entry.  Even now, nearly 20 years later, when darkness taps at my door, I feel terrified.  My solution?  Do something.  Quick.  Light candles, exhale and let go, practice more rituals.  Do, do, do.

Y’know all this new moon/Autumn/Diwali activity that I’ve been writing about and practicing lately?  Is it healthy and positive, or is it my way of escaping the discomfort of life’s dark moments?  The fact is – life hurts sometimes.  The question is – should I run away by engaging in non-stop activity; or should I take a deep breath, stick around and see what happens?

I saw Where the Wild Things Are last night.  When I first saw the trailer back in July, I sobbed.  That kid’s pain leaped off the screen and into my chest.  And when he leaped into his fantasy world…wow…without getting into the details of my childhood, let’s just say I related big-time.  And that was only the trailer!

In the original Where the Wild Things Are storybook, it take Max 12 pages to travel from his bedroom forest to the wild things’ island.  His journey in that little sailboat lasts “through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year.”  All of that time and effort to leave the past, the pain, the ickiness behind!  And in the end, where does he end up?  Where the wild things are – an island of monsters.

Seems familiar to me.  Hmmm.

How gratifying to finally see the film after so much anticipation.  Spike Jonze hit the nail on the head.  I’m getting choked up simply recalling how vividly he portrays a child’s reactions to confusion, betrayal, neglect and alienation.  How a child creates a fantasy world in order to cope.  How that child learns that, even in his imaginary kingdom, there is confusion, betrayal, neglect and alienation.

I’m that child.  I mean right now.  I’m that kid.  It’s taken a while, but I’m learning that even with the warm glow of Diwali’s lights, even with the sacred space of yoga, even with the refuge of doing, doing, doing – life happens.

Monsters will always show up – on far-off islands, at home, in loved ones and within my own self.  Where humans are involved, there will be pain.  There will also be joy.  Where reality exists, there will be darkness.  And there will also be light.

So there’s nothing to be scared of after all.

“What is important for a movie?  Both – light to make it; darkness to show it.  The minute you learn to respect and see both sides of the coin as equally good, you can enjoy both.  It is only a matter of understanding and acceptance.  Let us have that light of understanding.  Accept things as they are.  Then, life is worth living.  The world becomes a heaven on earth for you.”  – Swami Satchidananda

*  *  *

October 15, 2009 – Diwali Intentions

Sometimes I feel very emotional after teaching a particularly energized Integral Yoga class.  Tonight was one of those times.

For the months of September and October, our classes have focused on Pranayama (see Tips-n-Tools for more on our bi-monthly focus), or breathing practices.  Complemented by this week’s waning moon and the coming of Fall, our exhales have come to mean more than a mere letting go of air.  Indeed, they’ve become symbols of transformation.

So at tonight’s IY class at Past Tense Studio, under a rainy sky and just four days before the new moon, we imagined our battles, troubles and trials in the palms of our hands.  Holding our palms together at heart-center, we honored this darkness, and perhaps grew to understand it.

Next, after inhaling our fingertips toward the sky, we exhaled and allowed our arms to open wide, releasing our darkness.  With each exhale we began to dissolve what no longer serves.

The intention in the room felt so deeply human, even vulnerable.  How could one not be moved?

Today marks the opening of the Indian holy days called Diwali – from the crescent to the new moon, as that pie-in-the-sky whittles away to nothing, Hindus, Sikhs and others celebrate the proverbial triumph of good over evil within individuals.  During this Festival of Lights, as the night sky darkens to moonless, the golden glow of oil lamps fills streets and homes.

Indian folkloric tales share the journeys of historical characters returning from exile, imprisonment and battles to be welcomed by candlelit temples and rows of oil lamps.

And here in the Mid-Atlantic, as the moon disappears and the change of seasons falls upon us, we exhale in yoga class and let go, let go, let go – making room for more light within.

In Autumn, nature begins its own process of letting go.  Green grass turns dry brown, leaves turn brilliant colors then drop to the ground, blue skies surrender to misty grey and the sun sinks lower each day.  Things appear to be dying in the fall.  At the same time, gardeners plant bulbs that nestle in the ground to be nurtured by fall’s fertilizers.

‘Tis the season to say goodbye to the old, to let it die off and sink away.  So plant your bulbs and let them rest while you live each changing moment of autumn.  Light a candle, wish your darkness farewell, then let yourself glow.

I am setting a Diwali intention.  Between today and the new moon of Sunday, October 18th, as that sliver of a moon disappears, I invite you to join me in envisioning your darkness between the palms of your hands – embrace it, honor it, understand it.  Lift your fingertips to the sky, and exhale to let go, let go, let go.

May the light of truth overcome all the darkness.  OM Shanti.

(P.S.  Gratitude to Liz Workman of Nashville’s Belmont Lotus, and many others who believe that our obstacles can be teachers, for the inspiration.)

 

Out Like A Lamb April 1, 2013

DarrowsEasterJesus(Mar31)

Photo: Darrow Montgomery (by permission)

By its nature, Spring brings sudden and intense change.  In my March yoga practice and classes, I like to focus on transition and balance on the mat, often taking the 75 minutes to bloom from an earthy Tadasana (reclining on the back in Mountain Pose), into mindfully flowing, heating sequences, and then peaking with an uplifted Nataraja (Dancer Pose).  I emphasize how many breaths, steps, tiny movements and gradual transitions it requires to grow from lying on our backs, to gracefully lifting our hearts while balancing on one foot!

And this is life off the mat, as well.

We rise up, we take a step.  We wobble, we fall.  We flow, we breathe.  We balance, we sway.  We take one step forward and two steps back.  We awaken.  We move forward again.  We bloom…we lift our hearts…and…we wobble some more.

*  *  *

I tried with all my well-intentioned heart to allow myself some “chill time” yesterday morning.  Friday night before bed, I gave myself permission to sleep in, and then lazily listen to NPR all day.  When I woke up, I did the minimum morning Sadhana – my eye-opening prayers (at around 10am!); but then went directly to the radio and turned on “Car Talk.”  I thought that laughter might be an enjoyable continuation of my relaxed awakening…that cultivating some free-spirited silliness would be an appropriate manifestation of my new freedom from a tendency toward rigid plans and decisions.

However.

The longer I listened to “Click and Clack,” with their truly hilarious banter, the more I became tense and aggravated.  After 30 minutes of the show, I chose radio silence – I opened the windows to fresh Spring air and sounds, lit a candle and a stick of incense, sat for Pranayama, stayed still for meditation, and centered with Shiva chants.

Afterward, I had no desire for radio comedy.  Since pausing, I yearned to continue aligning with my intuition.  To tune in with that presence.  To arise, awaken, sense, breathe and be.

Thanks to the radio’s helpful annoyance, I awakened to my true needs and changed directions.  Despite my best intentions to allow some harmless, unstructured time, I still structured it!  Before I went to bed, I made a plan!  And, that plan did not allow for true openness; and, it did not include the fail-safe and simple 30-minute preamble of Sadhana – mindful morning practices that set the tone for intuition, and, insure avoidance of tension and aggravation.  But it’s all good.  As I said, thankfully I paid attention to the discomfort; and I rewound.  We can start the day over at any time, y’know.

Planning to be present is still planning; and being present sometimes requires a change of plans.

*  *  *

Speaking of change.

For years, since my Fall 2008 Yoga Teacher Training, I have practiced a specific breathing affirmation meditation, suggested by one of the YTT staff.  I sought this Swami’s advice because I was really suffering within my soul throughout the training.  Daily, I was negatively triggered by the dynamics in our large and eclectic group of future Yoga Teachers.  I believe there were about 30 of us, between the ages of 25 and 70, with a wide range of motivations and personalities.  YTTs in general can be a shaky venue for any individual – there is so much vulnerability, passion, excitement, judgment (both of self and of/from others), clique-iness, button pushing, fear and love.  All of this among a bunch of people who may or may not become your trusted friends after journeying together.  For me, YTT was a hot bed of painful family dynamic memories, which led to self-loathing and perceived threats.  I though I might quit, and/or drive myself into a tree, and/or go drinking.  Not good for someone with 6 years of recovery from addiction.  Clearly, I was being seriously triggered into PTSD.

When I confided in the Swami, she gave me the following practice: During all of our meditations (two to three 30-minutes sessions per day), I was to do the nerve-balancing alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Suddhi Pranayama), silently saying “My true nature is peace” on the inhale, and “Nothing can disturb my peace” on the exhale.  And it worked.  That practice helped me stick around, stay alive and keep sober.  To this day, it has the same effect.

It was tough work at first, to pretty much force out unreasonable, trigger-based fears with this devoted practice.  The affirmation basically elbowed the negative stories out of my mind so I could be present and thrive.  Ah, the power of replacing negative thoughts with positive beliefs!  Pratipaksha Bhavana, indeed.

As I always tell students, cultivating positive affirmations and intentions neither erases nor stuffs the very real and valid challenges we face.   For me, the practices of using Pratipaksha Bhavana or setting Sankalpa allow me to address the situation with more peace and strength.  In addition, these practices give me a little break from the very powerful negative mind sets and fears I can encounter as a trauma survivor; and, in that little break, I can clearly see what part of my past might need additional examination and processing.

Like the discomfort of listening to “Car Talk” yesterday, even larger triggers are helpful information.  They guide me to revisit and heal my family history and personal resentments through yoga, therapy and 12-Step recovery program work.  Since my 2008 YTT, I’ve attended many additional trainings and have not been triggered.

Which leads me back to that mention of “change,” at the top of this section.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that – without deliberately trying – I’d switched around my 5-year breathing affirmation practice.  Totally organically, I’d started silently repeating “Nothing can disturb my peace” on the inhale, and “My true nature is peace” on the exhale.  It’s as if, after much intention toward living Ahimsa (avoidance of violence) in my everyday life, it finally, naturally, sunk in.  By inwardly affirming and strengthening the peace, I am outwardly sharing it more and more consistently.

I hope and aim to continue cultivating peace, both within and around me.  At the same time, I know from experience that, as long as I am human (!), times of discomfort, aggravation and even violence will arise – and, those times will hold valuable information, which will shed light on opportunities for ongoing healing, growth and change.

*  *  *

Since my March 6th “In Like A Lion” post, I’ve enjoyed an amazing month.  Spring is bursting with positive, renewing momentum.

Last week, I gave up teaching all but two of my studio-based yoga classes, for a few reasons.  First, since the winter holidays, I’d been considering resigning from the studio where I taught most of my classes; and I finally came clear on that decision.  Second, for a number of reasons, I wanted to focus my energy toward the studio where I still lead my two classes.  Third, I realized that, as long as I gained income from my numerous studio classes, I would continue fooling myself to believe that teaching yoga supports my financial responsibilities – and it does not.  Fourth, with more time and less income, my search for full-time work has a new spark beneath it!  Fifth and finally, the fewer studio classes I teach, the more community and Seva classes I can offer.

Letting go of my attachment to being some kind of “important” studio-based yoga teacher brought a welcome humbling.  Now there’s more room in my heart and my ego to be of service.  In fact, since resigning from the studio where I taught most of my classes and workshops, I drew up a plan for incubating my long-envisioned Urban Yoga Den/Ahimsa Now non-profit project idea.

The refreshing energy of Spring has also inspired me to evaluate and get honest about my relationships.  My resentment list is way too long for my conscience and some healing work is in order.  In addiction recovery programs, when we have a resentment, we are certain to look at our potential responsibility in the offending situation.  Another humbling exercise!  This process can reveal that we are accountable for part of the problem, and that we need to admit our wrongs; on the other hand, it can also reveal that the problem was the relationship itself, and that it might be time to address issues, or, let go.

Under the energy of our last Full Moon, I wrote a list of people to whom I owe apologies and amends, and with whom I hope for reconciliation.  Skilled and loving communication will be key as I approach people.  And because there is more consistent peace in my heart, despite feeling a little nervous, I am looking forward to reaching out and seeing what some earnest efforts will yield.

The second half of March has been about connecting.  I am now rehearsing and performing regularly with a sweet little trio, in which we re-imagine known songs as new arrangements.  The work challenges and pushes me in all of the right ways – creatively, collaboratively and personally.  I have also enjoyed road trips and reunions with some yoga teacher colleagues – clearly, this is a new day and age for me, when I can celebrate the trusted friendships cultivated at Yoga Teacher Trainings!

With this week’s Passover and Easter celebrations, I have been reflecting deeply about faith, humility, gratitude and service.  I am looking back at this month of weeding the garden, tilling the soil, planting new seeds and cultivating new growth.  And I feel a gentle yet firm tug at my heart, coaxing me onward and upward.

*  *  *

Oh, Spring –
You have been sweet to me this year.
You relieved me of a wobbly winter
and delivered me to your balancing blooms.
You have replaced losses with dreams and visions,
isolation with love,
pain with peace.

Spring –
You are abundant and generous,
as I aim to be.
Show me how I can serve you –
and every season –
in thanks.

Thanks for reading.  OM Shanti.  h*

 

Healing Kids’ Scars With Yoga July 12, 2011

I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC – Potomac, MD to be exact.

Potomac was once known as “The Beverly Hills of the East Coast.”  The town was quite wealthy and had its own brand of celebrities – diplomats, politicians, famous doctors.  Yet there were some plain-old middle class neighborhoods, as well.  That’s where we lived.

I am the youngest of four daughters and was unplanned.  In fact, after the birth of her 3rd girl, my mom had a tubal ligation (aka “had her tubes tied”)…and then I was conceived.  So there’s about 0.02% chance for me to be writing this today.  Yet here I am.

My family members struggled with addiction and endured all that comes with it – violence, chaos, depression, alienation, economic insecurity.  As a young child, I once overheard my parents fighting about family finances.  They said that if I were never born, they wouldn’t have money problems.

This scar has motivated pretty much all of my life patterns (known in yoga as Samskara) – particularly the unhealthy ones.

Believing that I was an unwanted problem, I grew up with a pretty fierce habit of self-destruction.  I’ll spare you the squirmy details of how I used to harm myself and act out.  Due to the amount of pain throughout my entire family, however, there was little attention to or solution for mine.

Once a spiritually inspired, congenial and loving child, I turned into a self-reliant, isolated and troubled teen.  Without the necessary interventions for healing and true growth, I continued my toxic development into adulthood.  No relationship tools, no career path, no future plans.  To be rigorously honest – I spent most of my life either wanting to or trying to die in one way or another.

In my late 20’s, I started to long for inner peace, social connection and maturity.  After finally hitting a spiritual, psychological and physical bottom in 2002, I embraced the right combination of help and have been growing up ever since.

In 2008, I received my yoga teaching certification after 15 years of practice.  My 1st job was designing a yoga program for at-risk youth in a DC public charter school for grades K-7.  The kids were literally climbing the walls.  I once had to yank some down from scaling the hallways by way of door frames.  You might imagine how they initially responded to the yoga program – and to me.  They saw me as a privileged outsider and offered no respect.  To shrink the great divide, I frankly told them about my childhood and consequent adult challenges.  Jaws dropped.  I told them, “If only I’d had the opportunity to escape the chaos inside my classroom, my home and my head to breath, stretch and meditate for one class period, I might have grown up differently.”  Although not all attitudes shifted, a few students opened their minds and hearts and practiced with commitment.  And I enjoyed the incredible honor of witnessing human transformation.

I relate to a great number of inner city kids – we share that core wound of being told in one way or another that we are an unwanted problem.  This brokenness manifests in a variety of destructive behaviors and outcomes.  It fills the streets, supermarkets, buses and trains as urban children endure public shaming and beatings.

In the suburbs, this brokenness and abuse exists behind closed doors.

Like many “do-gooders” I used to focus on working with inner-city populations.  These days I gravitate toward suburban upstarts like me.  Each July and August I teach yoga and percussion to grades 1-6 for a prestigious music school’s summer camp, just four miles from the house where I grew up.  There is a mix of well-adjusted children, kids going through typical growing pains, and others who resemble my own childhood patterns of fear, depression, anxiety, shame, isolation, distraction and destruction.  It is at once heartbreaking and motivating.

I am devoted to the transformational power of ensemble percussion and yoga.  I discovered these amazing practices in adulthood and feel grateful to pass-on their benefits to these summer camp kids.  While learning folkloric Caribbean poly-rhythms, campers open up to team work and trust.  I see the loners gradually shine with talent, the divas turn into helpful guides and the trouble makers take leadership roles.  In yoga class, spazzy and often hyperactive energy transmutes into meditative calm.  Kids who already love and practice yoga (there are more each year) champion the practice; and the troubled ones get a welcome respite from their internal unrest.  In both percussion and yoga class, all are empowered by collaboration and rejuvenation.

I rarely turn yoga into a game for my youth classes (except for the really little guys).  We start class with calming three-part breathing; we set an intention/Sankalpa (typically I ask them to think of something beautiful and breathe it into their hearts); we flow through Sun Salutations/Surya Namaskar; and we practice additional poses depending on the energy of the students.  I have led Pratyahara meditations to balance out the senses and decrease distraction; I have read stories of Hindu deities to much delight; and I have introduced breathing exercises/Pranayama (three-part Deergha Swasam calms them immediately; over-the-tongue Sitali cools hot tempers; belly-pumping Kapalabhati wakes them up when lethargic).

Basically, whatever I teach in my adult classes, I also teach in my kids classes.  Below are a few stories of transformation.  I credit yoga for these stories; I’m simply sharing what centuries of teachers have passed on to each other.

Story #1.  Erik, 11-years-old.

During my time at the DC public charter school, I had an 11-year-old student named Erik.  He was one of those kids I had to peel down from high climbs.  When we started group yoga sessions in January he couldn’t follow directions, stay on his mat or concentrate for a second.  He was constantly looking around, hyper-vigilant and completely distracted.  With good reason – his home life was chaotic and violent.  So I recognized his acting out from my own youth.  After three months of weekly yoga, Erik became more eager to participate in yoga, and was able to concentrate most of the time.  On Friday, March 20th, we decided he would assistant-teach our first class upon returning from Spring Break.  Tragically, Erik and his family were murdered by his mother’s boyfriend the next day.

Erik’s destiny was way beyond my control.  It is bittersweet to recall his transformation through yoga’s gifts; I still access this inspiration and hope when teaching yoga to other youth.

Story #2.  Alyson, 10-years-old.

Another student from that Charter School is still a “private client” today.  Back in Spring 2009, “Alyson” awakened after I’d told the kids my life story.  She bee-lined directly to me and said, “You know how you said that yoga helps you heal emotional pain?  Can I do more yoga with you?”  How honest and revealing!  Alyson excelled in all of her school activities and seemed pretty mature; yet, she frequently set herself apart from classmates.  I soon learned that Alyson’s parents were in serious trouble and she was being raised by her grandparents, who encouraged her to do well.  I was happy that she had support; at the same time, I wondered how it felt to lose one’s parents and end up with another family member.  Since the end of that school year, Alyson’s grandmother has brought her to my home about four times a year for a seasonal yoga “tune-up,” during which we catch up on her latest challenges, and practice a yoga set designed to address those stresses.

Over time, I have witnessed Alyson develop into a graceful young woman and tool-using yogini!

Story #3.  Billy.  11-years-old.

Just last Friday, “Billy” freaked out during Games Day at summer camp.  Billy is a super-smart, overly-eager, talkative camper.  More than others, he needs to be heard, he needs to be recognized as doing well – and he tends to dominate and monopolize the class because of these needs.  Last week, in the Bean Bag Toss, he just could not hit the target.  With each miss, his exclamations became more and more dramatic, and included remarks of great self-disgust.  On his third try (and miss) he yelled “F***!” and stomped off to hide behind some bushes.  “Whoa,” I intervened.  “Let’s take a walk.”  During our stroll, I listened.  Billy was angry because he’d forgotten his water bottle; and he was feeling like he couldn’t do anything right.

He was over-heated, over-sensitive and losing it.  I totally related!

While we headed inside for water, I took yoga’s Pratipaksha Bhavana approach and encouraged him to replace his negativity about Games Day with positive thoughts about his many musical accomplishments.  In fact, I reminded Billy, I’d just paid him a huge complement in front of the entire class that very morning.  He embraced this immediately, saying, “You’re right; this is just one thing,” referring to the bean bags.  Then, on the way back outside, we practiced Sitali Pranayama (inhaling through the mouth and over the tongue; exhaling through the nose) to cool his temper.  It worked.  Billy happily joined the campers and jumped right into the next game.

I wouldn’t dare guess whether these children are/were hurting the same way I did at their age.  However, I vividly recall killing my emotional pain with alcohol at age 11.  So, I can’t help but wonder – what if I’d been exposed to yoga in childhood, instead of finally discovering it (and other healing resources) in adult life?

In the inner city and the outer suburbs, I teach yoga so any child who feels like an unwanted problem might find refuge in and strength through these ancient practices for stilling the mind.  “Yogas Citta Vritti Nrodhah,” I tell them.  Yoga restrains disturbances of the mind.  I pray that these generously healing practices might liberate all hurting children from the pain of family or community chaos before their Samskara mirror mine.

Wishing all beings peace, joy, love and light.  OM Shanti.