Stealing from Myself

Last night I taught my usual Tuesday night yoga class, the one I’ve been teaching now for a year and a half. It’s typically a small class, with some regulars and some drop-in’s who attend intermittently. The pace is even and the asanas are mildly challenging.

For the past couple weeks, some of the students attending this class have been teacher trainees from another yoga studio; part of their training encourages them to go to different studios and experience different styles (very cool, I must say).

Last night’s visiting attendees were two women: one instructor and one trainee. Both were young and energetic, the instructor thin and lithe, her upper body overlaid with colorful tattoos. Her asanas were nearly perfect and lovely to watch.

Like most instructors, I’m sure, I always feel a little intimidated when an instructor shows up for my class; feeling not so much that I’m being judged, but watched. Very carefully. I do the same when I attend a fellow teacher’s class. I’m not judging, but always searching. Searching for new ways to explain a pose or inspire students (or myself). I recognize that my style is mine, that theirs is theirs, and that instructors can’t be compared. I have tremendous respect for all teachers. What intimidates me, however, is knowledge.

Yoga is so deep and vast that when I meet other teachers (especially if they practice a different style), I am always overwhelmed at how much I DON’T know. I am suddenly reduced to a student, a child seeking approval, feeling inadequate.

“No, I don’t remember what my dosha is.”

“No, I’ve never practiced ashtanga yoga (at least I don’t think I have).”

“Nope, never heard of the hasta or the pada bandhas.”

“No, I haven’t read the Bhagavad Gita from beginning to end.”

“No, I can’t do a handstand or hold a hip balance with straight arms and legs for more than a few breaths.”

“No, I don’t make a habit of adjusting my students.”

Cerebrally, I know that we are never “done” when it comes to yoga; that the depth of this practice is vast and never-ending. So why do I feel so less-than when I discover something I don’t know? And how do I release the self-judgement for not knowing everything about something which is fundamentally unknowable?

As always, I look to the Yamas and Niyamas for guidance. The Yamas and the Niyamas are the first two limbs of the 8-Fold path of yogic philosophy. Taken from the Yoga Sutras, there are five Yamas, or restraints, and five Niyamas, or observances.

For this particular experience, Astaya, the Yama of non-stealing, spoke to me. According to Deborah Adele, in her book, The Yamas and the Niyamas, “Astaya guides our attempts and tendencies to look outwardly for satisfaction.” In looking outward, we are stealing our joy and ability to look inward. Astaya asks us to shift our awareness of others to ourselves.

So in looking inward, I can appreciate how far I’ve come, without the distraction of comparing myself to others; because comparing either leaves you feeling dejected or superior, and neither is a healthy alternative. And often what we reach for is not necessarily what we want, but what may look good at the time. In our culture, we have much to compete with. There are pretty little baubles, bangles and beads in front of us wherever we go. If we keep reaching out for things just because they are there, we aren’t fulfilling our truth.

I don’t see myself as a teacher, really, but a guide. I share what I know and take in what my students teach me. I don’t feel I will ever be one of those instructors that people seek out, revered as a master in my field. I work full-time, have a family, so my ability (and let’s face it, energy) to study and immerse myself are limited. But I love my class and my students and take the moments I do have very seriously.

No, I am not trained in Ayurveda. No, I can’t twist my 49 year-old body into asanas that a tattooed twenty-something can do. And yes, there is an enormous amount of knowledge yet to be discovered. Astaya encourages me to “be where I am,” appreciate the journey and discover where I really want to go.

Oh, and I don’t have any tattoos. Just sayin’.

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Speed Limit Zero

Since the weekend before Thanksgiving, I have been battling a virus of some sort which yesterday turned into an infection.  One of the hazards of working in an elementary school, I suppose. In those twenty days, I missed most of Thanksgiving, teaching four yoga classes, practicing yoga, five days of work, two holiday parties, Christmas traditions like sending cards and baking, and spending precious time with my husband, boys (two of whom became sick, as well) and friends.

When someone I know gets sick, my classic response, whether stated or not, is, “Someone is telling you you need to slow down.”  Yeah, I get all pedantic with my bad self.  Funny to hear your own words when your head feels like it’s going to explode. Clearly someone really wanted me to slow down.  As I always do, however, I am trying to find the good, and have had plenty of time to reflect.

I’ve thought about my mom, who, nine years ago, this very day, was in a hospital fighting for her life (she lost less than a week before Christmas) and I was fighting through losing her and getting through the holiday season. I always think of that terrible time when the Christmas carols start playing, mind you, but who doesn’t want their mom when they feel lousy?

I’ve also been thinking about how blessed I am to have people who care, who help and wish me well, to have medical care, and a cozy, clean bed, and books, and movies, and tissues. My Lord, the tissues. And hot toddies.  Mostly, though, I’m grateful because I know I’ll get better.  A sinus infection isn’t terminal, even though when you’re in it, it feels like you will never feel better.  I will eventually get out of bed, get outside, and resume my crazy life.  Some people aren’t so lucky.

It’s funny how things do get pared down when you’re sick. You do only what’s essential. Sleep. Eat. Care for yourself. When simply being able to get a shower and put on clean clothes is a small feat; something you do every day, but, when you’re sick, is a luxury that leaves you feeling grateful.

Maybe I did need to slow down. We all do. The trick is to do it before you get sick. Take time to sleep. Enjoy a meal. Dream. Meditate. Pray. Read a book. Enjoy a luxuriating shower.  Do absolutely nothing. It’s so much more enjoyable when your head doesn’t feel like it’s going to explode. Trust me on this.

“There is more to life than increasing its speed.”  ~Mohandas K. Gandhi

Weekend Education

Getting older most certainly has its advantages. Like seeing old friends, feeling the benefits of sharing a history and life’s challenges and joys.  Like the ability to look back, to laugh at old times while creating new ones.  Like having the wisdom to recognize the urgency of seizing the moment and living this life.  Now.

This weekend I had the blessing of revisiting my college days, reuniting with a few sorority sisters for Homecoming Weekend. The leaves were just starting to change and a definite chill was in the air.  Turns out thirty years did not have an effect on our affection for one another.  We caught up on lost time; we drank too much, shared struggles and triumphs with kids, husbands, family and careers.  We were validated.  We laughed until we cried or our stomachs ached, whichever came first.  We created new inside jokes and gave them life.  A lot of life.

Someone we ran into said it perfectly. “Yes, we are connected with people through email, texting and social media; but then we see those people, we hear their voice, we look into their eyes, we witness their mannerisms, and we remember.”

Full disclosure: I have become too reliant on social media to fill my heart and soul.  Full disclosure: they still feel empty.  Not today.  Not after this weekend.  This weekend was a reminder that nothing will ever replace actual human contact.  Of course it can’t.

We are all busy. We are all crazy.  We all have phones that are within an arm’s reach at all times.  We are more connected than ever, but less connected than we have ever been.

We can’t get complacent. Building a history means sharing, face-to-face; creating inside jokes.  And the older you get, the more you need that validation, the more you need that support.  Life happens.  Life gets hard.  Friendship shouldn’t be.

Make that phone call, then put the phone down.  Turn it off.  Meet for a cup of coffee.  Go for a walk.  Connect.  See someone. Really see them: hear their voice, witness their mannerisms, feel their energy and respond to it, remember.  Your heart and soul will fill to overflowing.

Older is sometimes good. I’ll be dammed.

Wrestling with Chance

Today Kris left for his freshman year of college.  It was a bittersweet day, and he will be missed.  We had our last meal together last night, his choice of my “famous ribs” (according to my family), and hugs were shared today.

Kris isn’t our son, but a young man we met a little over a year ago.  He moved here from Kenya when he was five years old and started wrestling at an early age as an act of defiance towards his mom, who wouldn’t let him play football.  As a senior, Kris surpassed even his own expectations and ended his high school career as a state qualifier and place winner in wrestling.  He heads to college with a near full scholarship because of his academic and wrestling achievements.

We’ve gotten to know Kris over the past year through, yes, wrestling.  He and my oldest were on the varsity team together, and, always wanting to improve, Kris would come to any and all practices with our boys.  We would pick him up and take him, with never a word from his parents.  Polite and respectful, we didn’t mind.  He started “coaching” our youngest, going to his matches and tournaments with Chip, my husband (some overnight), and coming over for one-on-one practices in our basement.

Then, about a month ago, Chip got a message from Kris: “Mr. G, I need to talk to you about something important.”  Problems at home were making it difficult for him to stay.  Could he move in with us until he started school?  He would work, do whatever, to earn his keep….

For Chip, the decision was instantaneous.  Of course he would move in.  I, however, was a bit more cautious.  What if he gets hurt in our care?  How will we afford to house and feed another boy?  Are we really ready for the enormous responsibility of another person?  What about our kids? I talked to a friend, talked to Chip, talked to the boys, but in the end, I knew I had to do it.  How could I not?  I almost felt as if he was sent to us.

So…Kris became a part of our family a few weeks ago.  He did chores without being asked, he entertained my youngest (not an easy task), he never failed to say “Thank you for the food,” when I prepared a meal.  He always called or texted if he was out, letting us know when he would be home.  And the day before he left, we found our dog, the dog that Kris feared whenever he came over, asleep on the floor by Kris’ bed in the basement.  He truly had become “part of the pack.”

Last night at dinner I said a prayer thanking God for bringing Kris to us, and asking Him to look over him.  Although I am thrilled for him and the opportunities that await him, my heart breaks for him:  a boy who wants nothing to do with his own family, and who leaves for college without a “home” to return to.

I am beyond grateful and in awe of the serendipitous nature of life.  Had Kris not made the rebellious decision to wrestle, years ago, had my husband not been so involved with wrestling, had we not built the basement addition ten years ago which made it so convenient for Kris to stay here, and had Kris not had the courage to make that call, this never would have happened.  Sure, it may have happened to someone else, but it didn’t.  God has a plan and we don’t know what it is until we look back.

And Chip was a part of it.

He made the connection with Kris.  He nurtured the relationship and made him feel like family, enough that Kris had the courage to make that call.  He knew it would work.  He made a difference.  Thanks to him, Kris has a fighting chance, not just to succeed in wrestling, but in life.

Looking back, like everything in life, the events of the past few weeks have been temporary and fleeting.  And what a difference they made.  The increased water bill (Kris, we discovered, really liked showers), the tri-weekly trips to the grocery store – all over.  And look what we’ve gained.  Another “son.”  A person who might now have a chance.  Who feels loved.  Who feels like he belongs.  Somewhere.  We won this match.

 

 

 

Me, Myself, I

I was given the gift of a solitary weekend while my husband and kids were away. It has been a lovely and thought-provoking time. I spent some time with an old friend Friday night sharing wine, conversation and a ridiculous movie. I taught yoga, I practiced yoga, I sat in meditation in the morning sunshine with a symphony of birds as my accompaniment. I enjoyed an entire cup of coffee, sitting down. I cooked with fresh vegetables and herbs, savoring the smells and textures and tastes of good food. And I was even lucky enough to unexpectedly share it with a friend, with more wine and conversation. I read a magazine on my patio, almost cover to cover. I walked with my pup at dusk. I wrote. And I listened to classical music. Loud.

Nothing mind-blowing here, but I spent the precious time I had doing what I wanted to do, nurturing my soul. Because it needed it. As I sat reading my magazine, comfortable and warm and relaxed on a Saturday mid-afternoon, I wondered why I don’t find myself here more often, when I’m not alone.

What is it about my husband and kids that prevents me from taking time to do what I love, to stop and take time for me? Let’s face it, they are all pretty self-sufficient at this point. They don’t really expect anything from me. Yes, they are not the most organized or neat people on the planet, and sometimes you simply have to take care of responsibilities, but the Earth will not stop rotating because there are dirty socks on the living room floor. In the end, it IS a choice.

I didn’t realize how much I needed it, and, truly, how little time it really takes. In reality, it’s the simple act of recognizing that I am valuable enough to nurture. It’s not selfish. It’s self-preservation. It’s good for your health. Once you can just allow that concept to settle into your bones, you will find yourself doing what you love because, after all, you deserve it. You are valuable enough to nurture. Even it only means turning up the radio and refusing to move from the comfy chair until your cup is empty.

‘Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.’ – Dalai Lama

Old Enough

Awoke this morning with thoughts of church on my mind. Gorgeous day with plenty to do: grocery shopping, sheet changing, checkbook reconciling, and exercising. Any other day I would say I didn’t have time for church. Too busy. But these days, my days are different.

Lately I feel older. Not old, but just old enough. A month shy of my forty-eighth birthday, I feel like a new life has begun, like I have a second chance, and it is thrilling to feel.

I am fully aware that it is only by the grace of God that I have grocery shopping to do and can therefore have food for my entire family, clean sheets on every bed, money in the checkbook to reconcile, and a body that is healthy and strong enough for exercise. All that can wait so I can spend an hour to stop and give thanks.

I am old enough.

Five months ago I started teacher training for yoga, something I never would have dreamed I would do at this age, with two degrees already under my belt. I started work as an aide for kindergarten, content to have no pressure and no real responsibility but to show up, enjoy the children, and do what is needed by teachers.

I’ve had the dream of being a “career woman,” tried it, and realized it wasn’t for me. I’m past feeling dejected about it. I’m ok with not having something terribly interesting to say when I’m at cocktail parties and people ask, “What do you do?” because I know that who I am is much more than what I do for a living.

I’m old enough.

I have two children who are now able to do their own laundry, say “please” and “thank you” without a prompt (at least they better), and have personalities that will continue to develop, but now, it will be on their own, with not nearly as much help from me. And I like them. I really do.

I’m grateful for what I have and who I know and who is here to share this life with. I understand far too well, because I’ve experienced it far too many times, that it won’t always be like this: that people will move, or grow distant either physically or emotionally, or people will get sick and even die.

I want to be present every moment. Because even though I feel like a new life is beginning, in the back of my mind I know the clock is ticking. I am forty seven, after all. I don’t necessarily have my life ahead of me like I did when I left home for college or moved out of my parents’ home for the last time.

However, that ticking clock is no longer a source of fear or sadness, but a reminder that I must take advantage of my time. That it is best spent being comfortable in my skin, being willing to be vulnerable, being grateful, thanking God for my blessings and for the opportunity to still be here and be able to be just old enough.

Happy New Days

The house has been de-Christmased, all the remnants and leftovers of dinners and gatherings have been eaten or disposed of, the refrigerator is ready for the usual fare.  It’s a new year.

This morning when I woke, I wasn’t feeling it.  I wasn’t feeling the anticipation of things new, of starting fresh.  Instead, I woke up thinking, “This is my last day of Christmas vacation, and I don’t feel any different.”

Sure, I got some cool new stuff, saw some great people, did some fun things, and I think I really managed to make some headway with the laundry, but new beginnings?  Not so sure about that.  Mind you, I’ve never been one to make resolutions; I’m an everyday-is-an-opportunity-to-start-fresh kind of person.  However, I can’t help but be impacted when, after entering all the birthdays and critical dates in a new, clean calendar, I throw away the old one, all 365 days, wondering where they went and what I did with them.

After some coffee, l looked around at the laundry and dishes (our dishwasher decided to break yesterday – Happy New Year), and the beautiful sunlight shining in through my smudged windows, highlighting the dust on and under the furniture.  I decided the first step in tackling my day was to get the hell out for some perspective.  I bundled up, grabbed a five dollar bill, my camera, and my very excited (and obviously neglected) dog.

We walked for two hours.

I breathed in the cool winter air and felt my cheeks get red.  We stopped for an occasional photo when the mood struck, or we trekked up hills, peeling off layers. I used the cash for a lovely cup of coffee at my favorite coffee shop (which was blessedly open on New Year’s Day), and chatted with other folks, out getting their own bit of perspective.

I paid attention.  Because I had my camera (a bit of the cool “stuff” I got for Christmas), I looked for beauty everywhere:  in the way my dog pranced, in the bit of snow left on trees and the ground, in the sky, in buildings, in people.  And I realized it’s always there if you are open to it, if you look for it.  That’s the key.  And you need to know when it’s time to start looking.

I came home from our walk to our warm house – our laundry- and dish-filled, dusty, smudged house – and plopped into a comfy chair.

Yes, it’s the first day of a new year.  There were no fireworks for me.  There was no goal-setting or grand plan to make big changes.  I go back to work tomorrow and the usual routine of life.  But there is beauty in that, and everywhere.  Breathe deep, friends.  And pay attention.  Maybe any day can be a Happy New Day.

Wishing you opportunities for being open to beauty and new beginnings – every day of the year.