Friday, December 31, 2010

Gift of Laughter

December 30 – Gift Prompt: Gift. This month, gifts and gift-giving can seem inescapable. What’s the most memorable gift, tangible or emotional, you received this year? 

The scene: After the oncologist visit. Our favorite Italian restaurant.

The actors: Me, my mom and my sister.

Act 2:

I can't write out the script from our lunch. We should have been discussing details and final plans. Instead we laughed. And laughed. And laughed.

I can't write what we were laughing about because cancer and death aren't supposed to be funny. Our jokes were horribly inappropriate and I'm sure offensive.

But we laughed. 

We laughed until our sides hurt. Laughed until we peed our pants. And laughed until we cried.

Laughter is what we needed. It was the gift cancer gave us that day.

Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.
 -- Dolly Parton in Steel Magnolias

Thursday, December 30, 2010

One Moment One Word

December 29 – Defining Moment Describe a defining moment or series of events that has affected your life this year. (Author: Kathryn Fitzmaurice)

The scene: The oncologists office

The actors: My mom who has just heard that she needs to decide whether to continue chemo or stop treatment, my dad being the calm optimistic one, and me having an emotional breakdown.

Act 1:

Me: (screaming through tears at the doctor) She wasn't sick and old until she started your chemo treatments!

Doctor: She'd be dead by now if she hadn't had chemo.

Dead. That word stops me. Dead. 

My mom is going to die? 

My mom is going to die.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Joyful Chaos

December 27 – Ordinary Joy Our most profound joy is often experienced during ordinary moments. What was one of your most joyful ordinary moments this year? (Author: BrenĂ© Brown) 

Today my sister and I took the kids on the train for a day spent exploring Center City Philadelphia.

Just so you have an accurate picture of what that means, today's trip included two adults, three surly teen-age boys who were "bored", two pre-teens who had money burning a hole in their pocket and four elementary-aged kids who were hungry, tired, thirsty, cold, had sore feet and were hungry again. 

All 9 kids at Love Park in Philly
It was frustrating and annoying and when I wasn't threatening to kill one of the kids absolutely wonderful.

And a superb lesson in enjoying the ordinary moments of life.

Stop. Breathe. Enjoy.

Funny how those same children who five minutes ago were being so obnoxious I seriously wondered if they came from my womb, can in an instant transform themselves and remind me to just stop, breathe and be present.

Captivated by the Macy's
Christmas light display
Their complaints of "he's squishing me" and my exhaustion disappear as I watch their faces become awestruck by the same light display I watched as a child so many years ago. Back then Macy's was Wannamakers Department Store and it was my mom wondering if I was really her child. And today I sat in that same spot and watched my kids, yes even the surly teen boys, become mesmerized by bright lights set to music.

Stop. Breathe. Enjoy.

I'm sure to people passing by I seemed totally OCD as I kept doing a head count. Do we have 9? Who are we missing now? (If it was one of the surly teen boys missing I didn't get concerned. They'd show up when they got hungry - again.) 

Maggie (child 9 on this trip)
tasting her first cannoli
Yet everyone gravitated together when I pulled out the freshly made cannolis from Philadelphia's famous Termini Brother's Bakery.

Stop. Breathe. Enjoy.

It was a long, chaotic day. We walked a lot of city blocks, spent a lot of money and I hope made some great memories. Tonight as I came upstairs to put some laundry away and clean up, I was struck again by an ordinary moment that made my heart swell with joy.

Sweet dreams
Four of my six children all crawled into bed together, sound asleep. 

Stop. Breathe. Enjoy.

Friday, December 24, 2010

It's Not Over Yet

December 24 Prompt – Everything’s OK What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright? And how will you incorporate that discovery into the year ahead? 

I read this quote this year somewhere. I'm not even sure where I read it, but most likely it was in an Elephant Journal article (

Everything will be ok in the end. 
If it's not ok, it's not the end.

My story isn't over yet. There are still chapters to play out. There's still time to fulfill the  happy ending that I believe has already been written.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Namaste TV iPhone App

Don't leave home this holiday season without first downloading the Namaste Yoga TV app.

The chaos and stress of the holidays can make it difficult to continue with a daily yoga practice. Now, thanks to Namaste Yoga TV, it's easier than ever to take yoga with you anywhere you go.

Available for both iPhone and iPad, the new Namaste Yoga TV app stands out among the crowd of monotonous yoga apps and podcasts.

Unlike other apps that are nothing more than a series of still shots or audio only, the Namaste Yoga TV app is a complete set of 13 full tv episodes.

Each episode is about 22 minutes, perfect for a quick early morning routine or mid-day break. A couple days when I had more time, I would play two episodes back to back, getting in almost an hours worth of yoga.

Narrated by the soothing and almost hypnotic voice of Kate Potter, the episodes offer a warm up, dynamic flow, cool down and short savasana. The episodes include beginner, intermediate and advanced practices. The vinyasa flows are introduced in such a progressive way that even the most basic beginner will find success in each episode.

I've been using the app for two weeks now and haven't experienced any of the technical issues some apps frustrate their users with. Each episode played smoothly with no screen freezes.

I'll be travelling myself next week and will certainly be using my yoga mat and Namaste Yoga TV iPhone app to help me keep the holiday craziness in check.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Itchy Feet

December 22 – Travel How did you travel in 2010? How and/or where would you like to travel next year? (Author: Tara Hunt)

My lovely Aunt Gert use to say I had itchy feet. 

I always wanted to go somewhere else and do something else and see somewhere else. I still do. 

It's probably why I adapted so well to the lifestyle of being a military spouse for 20 years. We'd move every 3 years which was just enough time to get settled in to a new place, explore the local offerings, and just as I was about to get bored it was time to move on. 

Now that we are settled here in Memphis my itchy feet need to be scratched with family vacations and yoga trips.

Me doing wheel pose in front of
Santa Monica Pier ferris wheel
Last year started off with a big bang trip to Los Angeles for a yoga training, which I'm sure I've blogged about to death. 
But, let's just indulge in one more picture!

My summer travels were spent going weekly from my home north of Memphis into the city to LeBonheur Children's Hospital. Yeah, not the most sought after vacation destination. It was the summer of broken bones in my house and just as one kid would finish orthopedic surgery, it was time for another kid to take a fall and back to the ER we'd go. 

The end of the year had two unexpected trips for me. My mom was diagnosed with stage 4 liver, lung and brain cancer. What do you do when you are so far away and your mom is sick? You call the airlines and hop a plane. I went home twice this fall to be with her. 

And in just three days I'll be spending my Christmas day traveling through airports with six kids in tow. It will be the first Christmas ever spent together with my parents, my sisters kids and my kids. Five adults and nine kids in a three bedroom house with one bathroom. Can you say chaos? It's going to be wonderful chaos!

Next year I'd really like to skip the emergency room trips. Instead, I've got planned:

- Another trip to California for yoga training
- A weekend get away to New Orleans for me to attend a John Friend workshop and my husband to catch up with old friends. It will be the first time I've been back to New Orleans since we evacuated Hurricane Katrina. 
- A family vacation to Disney World! But shh, don't tell the kids! I don't have all the details worked out yet but I'm really saving my pennies for this one. My oldest will be almost 17 and family vacation time with him is coming to an end. My youngest will be six, so I'm hoping she'll be old enough to remember her trip to the Magic Kingdom.

If those trips don't soothe my itchy feet, I'll have to pull out the map and start driving somewhere!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Welcome Fitness Newbies

It's almost January. And if you spend any time in the fitness center you know what that means - we are about to be inundated with New Year's Resolution newbies taking over "our" space. 

So to make the transition smoother for everyone, let's cut the hopefully-soon-to-be fitness buffs a break. And for those that are new, here are a few pointers:

-       No one is looking at you. Honest. See all those mirrors lining the walls of the fitness floor and aerobic studio? Those are for people to look at themselves. And people in the midst of sweating through their time here are far too conceited about their own workout to bother looking at you.

-       It’s obvious on the fitness floor when you are unsure what you’re doing. Ask someone!  Gym rats are always eager to show off their knowledge and advice. A smile and a “can you show me this machine?” will go a long way.

-       Yes you are taking someone’s spot in the group x class. It’s ok, they’ll get over it.

-       If you are new to the class, are pregnant or have an injury, please tell me. I want you to have fun, but most importantly I want you to have a safe and effective workout. I won’t judge you, I’ll show you how to do what we’re doing in a way that is best for you. Remember, I want you to come back because my job depends on you enjoying your time here.  So it’s in my best interest to be sure you have fun!

-       Yes you are going to get sweaty and stinky. Yes your body is going to hurt and your quads will be so sore you’ll have trouble standing up. That’s good! That means you are working hard, getting stronger and getting healthier. Believe me when I tell you that soon you’ll love that sore feeling because you’ll know you’ve accomplished something.

-       Endorphins are real and you will find them. And you may even become addicted to them. This is a good addiction! But endorphins don’t kick in until you’ve raised your heart and put it in a good workout.

-       Whatever keeps you on that treadmill is fine with me. But really, I don’t want to hear your cell conversation about the fight with your sister-in-law. Try an iPod instead.

-       There is no perfect exercise or magic class to help you look like a supermodel. Good health and a strong body take time and commitment. Don’t get discouraged when you don’t see the results you want in a week or even a month.

-       Stick with it and next year you’ll be one of the regulars complaining that there is nowhere to park and you have to wait for the leg press.

A Letter To Myself

December 21 – Future Self. Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead? (Bonus: Write a note to yourself 10 years ago. What would you tell your younger self?) (Author: Jenny Blake)

Dear Future Me - 

Congratulations, you've made it this far. Wait until you see what's still to come!

But please, I beg of you, stop searching for the crystal ball. And if you do find it, smash it. It's a huge burden that you just don't need in your life.

Do you really want to see the days ahead where you are so angry you dare to curse God? Do you want to see the nights ahead where you drop to your knees sobbing absolutely convinced you will die of a broken heart? Do you want to witness the pain your loved ones are going to go through as they get sick? Or the utter grief you'll go through as their death overwhelms you?

Your children are going to disappoint you, scare you and shock the hell out of you. You don't yet need to know the absolute depths of hell you'll be willing to walk to save them.

There are going to be times in your life when you will question whether you can go on.

 The good news is, not only will you get up off your knees and face another day, but there will be days of such joy and delight that you won't want them to end.

You are going to sing and dance with abandon. You are going to laugh until it hurts. The love you are going to give and receive will swell your heart to a size you never knew possible.

Not only will your wishes come true, but you'll find new dreams that will lead you on a path you never expected. 

Your life is going to be the worlds greatest roller coaster. Get ready, it's going to be one hell of a ride.

Future You

I teach yoga/pilates to a wonderful group of teen-age dancers at a local dance studio. Even though I'm quite a bit older than them, the teen-age turmoil they are going through now is the same as it was when I was in high school. Inspired by them, I wrote this letter to my much younger self a couple months ago.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Lunar Love

The moon is magic.

The sun is necessary and purposeful. But the moon, the moon moves the tides. The moon takes her time manifesting her fullness. She shows off her round and glorious waves for a short time, and then fades again.

The moon is the genesis of fantasy and dreams. Men have died trying to reach the moon just to touch its magic dust and leave their footprints on its surface.

Lovers share a first kiss and whisper their devotions under the moon.

Poets have gazed at the moon and found the inspiration to put pen to paper in honor of her beauty.

Lost souls drop to their knees and cry out their prayers to God after being awe-struck by the moon.

Demons are released by howling at the moon.

Tonight is the darkest, longest night of the year. The moon, the sun and the planet are aligning in invitation to stand in awe, to dream, to weep, to love, to pray and to howl.

"Stay with the dark.....until you forgive yourself, lose yourself, love yourself, become your Self. See you on the other side of the Moon when she delivers the Sun. Blessed Be." ♥ - BJ Galvan

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Healing Within

December 19 – Healing. What healed you this year? Was it sudden, or a drip-by-drip evolution? How would you like to be healed in 2011? (Author: Leonie Allan)

Healing happens when we come out of hiding. 

Every baby step of acknowledgment, every admission of imperfection and every concession to reality brings us a little bit closer to wholeness within ourselves. 

Speak truth, hear truth
Speak change, see change
Speak fear, release fear

Want to be healed? 
See it, speak it, be it.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

These Are Not New Year's Resolutions!

December 18 – Try What do you want to try next year? Is there something you wanted to try in 2010? What happened when you did / didn’t go for it? (Author: Kaileen Elise)

I don't make New Year's Resolutions. They tend to be the same things year after year. They also tend to be short-term goal oriented rather than life-long lasting change. 

And at what point do you deem the resolution a success or a failure? Is March the appropriate amount of time to lose weight? Should I have a daily meditation practice by June? 

So instead of concrete resolutions, next year I will focus on continuing to evolve as a yogi, a mom, a wife, a friend and a human.

Next year I will try  to:

 - Take my own advice. I'm pretty smart and should listen to myself more often.
 - Stand up for myself even if it means people won't think I'm nice
 - Say yes more often when the kids want to "help" me
 - Admit I'm not Super Woman and accept help when it's offered
 - Convince my family eating more of a vegetarian diet won't kill them
 - Make more time for friends outside of work/family functions
 - Yet not apologize for choosing family over friends
 - Take all those things I'd like to do and accept that even small actions toward doing them is a step in the right direction
 - Expect as much of those around me as I do myself
 -  Be a little easier on myself

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Minutes Of Memories But A Lifetime of Lessons

Every experience is a lesson, every loss is a gain.
                                          --  Sri Sathya Sai Baba

Today's reverb10 prompt: December 15 – 5 Minutes Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2010 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2010. (Author: Patti Digh)

Just reading the prompt initially gave me amnesia. Out of the past 349 days what could I narrow down to just 5 minutes to remember? I'm stumped.

And then the memories started to flow. Some good.  Some not good.  But all of them memorable.

So I decided instead of narrowing down the year to five minutes of memories, I'd rather keep the lifetime of lessons learned.

It's said that we will repeat the lesson over and over until we master it. I know I've been repeating a lot of lessons. My hope for the new year is that I am on my way to conquering the past, and moving on better equipped for the future.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I've Been Tagged

I’ve been tagged by Sherri at her random thoughts.  I wasn’t sure what it meant at first, but it’s a way to get to know other bloggers. If you haven’t read her random thoughts, make sure you check out Post It Note Tuesday. She has the best posts on Tuesdays and it’s seriously making me consider speaking in Post It Notes only!

4 Shows I Watch
1 – True Blood
2 – Criminal Minds
3 – Real Housewives series (Don’t judge. I’m being honest)
4 – Entourage

4 Things I’m Passionate About
1 – My kids
2 – Yoga
3 – Reading
4 – Family

4 Phrases I Say A Lot
1 – Just because
2 – There’s no chocolate in this house!
3 – What do you want for dinner? No I don’t want that pick something else
4 – If there’s any fighting you all go to bed

4 Things I Have Learned From the Past
1 – Time does heal all wounds it just doesn’t take away the scars
2 – It’s easy to forgive but hard to forget
3 – Giving up hope is just giving up
4 – You always have a choice

4 Places I Would Like To Go
1 – Hawaii
2 – Key West
3 – Colorado
4 – New Mexico

4 Things I Did This Weekend
1 – Celebrated kid #2 and kid #5’s  birthday
2 – Went to three different stores in search of winter coats for the kids. It’s mid-December and we had a hard time finding a decent winter coat!
3 – Dusted, vacuumed, cleaned
4 – Saw a shooting star

4 Things I Am Looking Forward To
1 – Going home for Christmas
2 – Continuing yoga teacher training
3 – This year being over
4 – Watching the local yoga community grow

4 Things I Love About Winter
1 – Wearing boots – not snow boots but stylish, fun boots
2 – Snuggling on the couch with a blanket
3 – Soup Sundays
4 – Snow days

4 Things On My Wishlist
1 – My mom to be healthy
2 – To win Powerball to pay off all the bills
3 – To continue yoga teacher training
4 – A better year next year

4 People I Tag
1 – Natalie - a fun blog from my friend and first time mom. She's got a great sense of humor and is a way cool mom! May The Schwartz Be With You
2 – Jilda - great, thought provoking writing from a wonderful soul. Transformation Information
3 - Emma Magenta - an Anusara yoga teacher in New Jersey, which is close enough to home for me to like her automatically  Emma Magenta Blog - To Move and Be Moved
4. Meredith LeBlanc - a fellow yogi and dog lover The Pondering Yogini

Monday, December 13, 2010

Aspirations and Fear

Every man, through fear, mugs his aspirations a dozen times a day.
--Brendan Francis

If money, time and family obligations were no object, what would you be doing with your life? Where would you be? What would your career be? Where would you live?

So what's stopping you?

Oh yeah, what's stopping me is money, time and family obligations!

Those are easy, convenient excuses anyway. Of course money, time and family obligations need to be a consideration in a job or lifestyle change, but ultimately, I need to honestly evaluate if I don't change my job or lifestyle because of the kids or if it's because I've grown comfortable. 

Failure doesn't change who I am. Failure changes what I've done and alters the course of my life. Success doesn't change who I am. Yet success also changes what I've done and alters the course of my life. 

Change is scary. The fear of failure is really just fear of the unknown.

So what's stopping me? Me.

I need to get out of my own damn way, trust there is a future beyond the one now, and have faith that the change it takes to get there will be worth it.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sweat Then Stretch

I see it in the gym all the time. A guy comes in, works out hard, sweats, runs, lifts and grunts his way to better health. Then he grabs a drink of water and leaves the gym, skipping a vital part of his exercise routine.

What did he forget? He didn’t stretch.

Stretching after a workout helps elongate muscles that have been shortened during the exercise session, promote healing, provide flexibility and enhanced range of motion, and prevent future injury.
  •         During exercise, muscles contract as the body is tensed. Stretching will help re-lengthen them.
  •         As the body works harder, oxygen may be limited. Lactic acid builds up in the muscles as a way to allow energy production to continue. Some studies have determined this lactic acid is responsible for DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness. Stretching allows the lactic acid to leave the muscles and diminish DOMS.
  •         Stretching also releases synovial fluids which help lubricate the joints, protects them from friction and allows them to move through their full range of motion.  A healthy joint with full range of motion is less likely to get injured in sports, accidents or daily activities. 

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends stretching all major muscle groups after regular exercise, preferably five to seven days per week.

So what are the best stretches to do on the gym floor after your workout? At a minimum target the legs, shoulders and back muscles. All stretches should be static. Those old ballistic, bouncy stretches we learned way back in high school actual lead to tearing of the muscles.  Hold each stretch for up to 30 seconds.

I prefer to end a hard sweaty workout in the gym with one complete top to bottom stretch . In yoga we call it downdog at the wall.

Standing at the wall, place hands about shoulder height. Walk feet back until you are at a right angle and push hips back. Your head should be between your arms, ears in line with your elbows. You can peddle the feet to stretch the back of the legs. Stay here as long as you want, taking full deep breaths.

If you prefer to stretch each muscle group individually, try these easy beginner stretches:
  •         Hamstrings – stand with one foot in front, push hips back and point toes of front foot upward. Switch legs.
  •         Quadriceps – balance on one foot, reach back and grab inside ankle of opposite foot. Make sure knee is pointing straight down to stretch the front of the thigh. Switch legs.
  •         Calf – standing close to a wall, put toes up on wall with heel on floor. Lean into the stretch. This is great not only for the calves, but also to stretch the bottom of the foot preventing plantar fasciitis.
  •         Back/Shoulders – standing with legs wide, lean halfway forward, resting hands on thighs. Round the back like a cat, then flatten. Drop right shoulder to left knee, return to center, drop left shoulder to right knee. Return to center, arch like a cat and roll up slowly.
Add in some flexibility training to your cardio and strength training and you'll be on your way to a well-rounded exercise routine.

Of course though, as a yoga teacher, I can't let this opportunity go by without saying that if you really want to take your exercise and health to a new level, come on in to one of my yoga classes. I guarantee you'll find muscles you didn't know you had!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sing With All Your Heart

At the beginning of this year I did something I've never done before. I'd heard about it. I'd read about it. I wondered it I'd like it. But didn't only "those" kind of people do those things? Was I brave enough to fly all the way to Los Angeles and give it a try?

What did I do that was so intimidating? I attended my first kirtan. A kirtan is Sanskrit for  a call and response chant. You can picture it:  a bunch of hippy dippy yogi's, mixed in with LA beautiful people all sitting on the floor swaying to the music and singing in a language not many people understand.

It is wonderful!

Since I was in LA for a yoga teacher training, it didn't take much persuading on my part to find four other new friends to travel from Manhattan Beach to Santa Monica on a Saturday night to Steve Ross's Maha Yoga studio. And it certainly helped that one of the ladies lived in LA and had a car so we didn't have to pay the $90 one-way cab fee.

If you aren't familiar with Steve Ross, he is the real deal. An honest to goodness, down to earth genuine real guy. He has quite a history in rock and roll music, but now he's a yogi to the stars, to the LA scene, and to us regular people with stars in our eyes and a yoga mat.

So after a long day of teacher training, four of us piled into her car and made the drive. Only my new friend the lovely Jerri had been to a kirtan before. As we took off our shoes to enter the studio, Jerri said, "Now if I start crying just ignore me I'm fine." Well why would she start crying? We were just going to sing right? I was more than a little nervous.

We found a spot among the very crowded floor and sat down on our bolsters and pillows. Someone was handing out flyers with the words of the chants printed on them. Uh oh, it really was all Sanskrit and I have no idea what it means.

I asked the guy next to me if he needed a flyer and he said no, he knew all the words he came to the chants every month. We chatted before everything began, and this was actually his last weekend in LA. He was moving the following week to Paris, France to do cancer research. Oh wow. Yeah, I just live in Memphis and I teach at the YMCA. I was still a little star struck and intimidated at this point.

And then Steve began to play his guitar. He welcomed everyone and asked if this was anyones first time. Thankfully I wasn't the only one to raise my hand. He said not to worry about knowing the words. The words don't matter. What matters is our intention.  The purpose of chanting is to get closer to and identify with the Higher Power within us.

He said we could sing "Bolo Bolo Sada Shiva Bolo" and be hoping it'll get us a new car. Or we can sing "Coca Cola Coca Cola Dr Pepper Diet Pepsi" with a pure heart and true intentions and we'll find ourselves closer to God.

Whew, that at least took some of the pressure off!

And then he started playing. And the group started singing. Suddenly it didn't matter I didn't know the words, or that I was still dressed in the yoga clothes I wore all day, or that I lived in Memphis or that I can't carry a tune. I was uplifted and supported and transported along as my voice blended with everyone else. At one point I looked behind me, and the room was full to the max. I don't know how many people fit into one yoga studio, or how that many people who didn't know each other and came from such different places all sang as one.

And then, I started crying. Yep, the tears started flowing. And I kept singing. With all my heart I sang Chamundayai Kali Ma Kali Ma Kali Ma, which Steve explained is a song about the Divine Mother. He said "just sing to yourself with love, because what is a mother but love?"

We are exhausted and rejuvenated
after the kirtan.
 The energy in that room was something I've never experienced before.           How we didn't sing the roof off, shut the city down, or cause the earth to rumble I don't know.

 It was a truly amazing, transformational and unforgettable night.

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<-- This is supposed to be a reverb10 button. I don't know why it won't work. Reverb 10 is a series of daily prompts for bloggers and everyone to reflect on the past year and manifest for the next. Check it out at And if anyone can help me figure out why the button won't show, I'd be much appreciated!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What Makes A Community

I wrote in an earlier post about yoga satsang – community. (
This year has seen a welcome boom in the size of my yoga community.

Close to home, I’ve begun teaching yoga in different locations which has allowed me to meet many new and interesting people. People that you pass on the street and would never think would try yoga have stepped on to a yoga mat with me for the first time this year.

And they, in turn, have taken yoga and introduced it to other new people. One woman very tentatively walked into a free yoga in the park class this summer. She wasn’t sure she belonged in yoga. But of course, after that one morning she knew she was meant to be there. So much so, that after only a few months she began teaching yoga to her teen-girls youth group at church.

A regular yoga member and friend who did yoga all through her pregnancy, hounded me enough about prenatal yoga that I started a special class for mothers-to-be. That one special session has turned into three sessions and seven beautiful babies and future yogis. Another special class for runners has turned hard-core marathoners into devout yogis who are as proud of their urdvha dhanurasana as they are their run times!

On a bigger scale, Facebook lets me keep in touch with yoga friends I meet at teacher trainings.  We spend four or five days sweating and learning together, and then go home. But Facebook lets us keep in touch and keep encouraging each other through good times and bad. When a fellow teacher in California lost her husband recently, I couldn’t be there for her physically. But through Facebook we’ve been able to talk. Hopefully I’ve been able to take away some of her pain or at least offer an ear to listen and a forum to cry when she needs to.

Even Twitter has become a welcome addition to my yoga satsang. Where else would I be able to talk to an Anusara teacher leading an immersion in New Zealand?  Or join a book group discussion with not only a writer from Elephant Journal but also the actual author herself?

At my Anusara workshop last month, John Friend said we need to “think and act locally to change globally.”  I’ve learned this year that the local yoga community isn’t as small as I thought it was, and the global yoga community isn’t as far away as I feared it was.

When we stand on our mats together, we really are one satsang.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ten Things That Make Me Feel Good

There's a thread being passed around the internet now asking people to name 10 things that make them feel good. At first I wasn't sure what to write, then I had a hard time stopping at just 10! In no particular order, here is my list.

1 - Browsing a book store. Any bookstore, anywhere. New or used. It doesn't matter. Just drop me off in the middle of a bookstore and I'm content.

2 - Taking the long way home so me and the kids can finish singing along to our favorite song in the car. And if that song is Freebird, well I'll drive way out of the way to listen to my 5 year old sing along to Lynyrd Skynyrd.

3 - Teaching a yoga class when everything just clicks and there's lots of positive energy flowing through the room.

Catching candy at the 2009 Munford Christmas parade
4 - Waking up early to find it's a snow day - from school and work!

5 - Sitting on a roadside curb in the cold to watch a Christmas parade. I'm sure this stems from my many years as a child watching and marching in the Hatboro Christmas parade up home. And of course every parade since then has been compared to that parade. Even the Mardi Gras parades from my time in New Orleans were fun, but they were no Hatboro parade! And now I get to enjoy the fun with my kids watching them wave to the floats, catch the candy being thrown and groove along to the marching bands.

6 - Riding horses.

7 - Hiking through State Parks.

8 - Genuine laughter that is unexpected and so hard it makes my sides hurt.

9 - Sand on my toes and the sun on my face during the day. Listening to the sound of the ocean at night.

10 - Realizing I have way more than ten things that make me feel good and smile!

What are your Feel Good 10?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

How To Start A Yoga Home Practice

When I first began my yoga teacher training, we were encouraged to start a home practice. Riiighht. Let me fit that in between my six kids, two dogs, making dinner, studying Sanskrit vocabulary and checking the kids homework.

Occasionally in those early days  I would attempt to be a good yogi and I'd roll out my mat and begin. But then the baby would cry. Or I'd be in wheel pose and from upside down I'd see the ever-growing laundry pile. More often than not my at-home practice ended in frustration rather than bliss.

But as I grew as a yoga student and yoga teacher, I began to not only understand the importance of a home practice, but I began to want one. Carving out time for myself on the mat became much more important in my daily routine. My time alone on the mat allowed me the luxury to stay in a pose as long as I wanted, exploring the physical alignment of it, tweaking it, and understanding it more.

Physical lessons aside, my yoga home practice gives me much needed me time to grow as a yoga student/teacher and human being. Maybe I finally succeed in a pose that has been bothering me, but the bigger lesson is the journey I took to get there. Why was I so determined to do a headstand? What did I think would happen when I was finally upside down? What does it say about me as a student/teacher/human that I just had to do this pose? My home practice forces me to face when I'm being competitive, when I'm being stubborn, when I'm scared and when I'm being kind of lazy. When it's just you on the mat, there's no one to blame but you.

There are some mornings I wake up, and before I'm out of bed I'm thinking about getting to the mat. Sometimes before my feet hit the floor I know my body needs hip openers. Other days I know to pull out my yoga bolster because I'm going to have a quieter, restorative practice. By committing to a home practice I'm much more in tune with my body and what it needs.

So how do you start a home practice? Well, you just do. Get on the mat, find child's pose, breathe and listen. What do you feel? What are you thinking? Just be quiet for a few moments and your body will tell you where to go.

Many of my students have asked me to write out a yoga routine for them. Here's a basic routine to get you started. It's intentionally short. I encourage you to take the time to breathe into each pose, listen and then go where your body tells you. Don't feel obligated to follow the flow, make your own. Enjoy!

1. Child's Pose
2. Downdog - peddle the feet stretching out your calf muscles
3. Plank/Downdog flow
4. Walk your feet to the top of the mat into forward fold
5. Inhale arms up, exhale into forward fold.
6. Downdog
7. Sun Salutations
8. Warrior II into Side Angle right side
9. Side Plank left hand down
10. Warrior II into Side Angle left side
11. Side Plank right hand down
12. Locust into Child's Pose
13. Cow Face Pose right and left
14. Supine Spinal Twist right and left
15. Savasana

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Perfect Night

Tonight was a perfect Friday night. I didn't go out with friends, no dancing at the clubs on Beale Street, and no yoga workshops. It was quiet, the lights were off, and no cell phones, laptops or gaming systems could be heard.

Instead all six kids snuggled under blankets with me and we watched Toy Story 3. That may not sound like great exciting fun, but it's a rare occurrence that I find an activity that both the elementary school kids and the teenagers are interested in. When those moments happen, I cherish them.

At first kid #1, the 16 year old, said he'd watch later. But then I noticed him standing in the doorway watching.

"Come on, there's room over here" I said hopefully.  And he sat down next to me. And lay down against me. Almost a snuggle! Although at one point I put my arm around him and he muttered "Don't even." Hey, you can't blame a mom for trying.

I even caught a couple of the kids sharing blankets with each other. For an hour and a half I had all my kids with me, no fighting and all laughing together.

And yes, I admit, I did get teary eyed at the end of the movie when Andy leaves for college and gives away his beloved Woody toy. I know in the blink of an eye my oldest will be leaving home, followed too soon by the next brother in line. I remember when kid #1 slept with his own Woody toy and had toy Story themed birthday parties.  And here he is now, all 6 feet of him, snuggled up on the couch with me watching the movie.

If I could have stopped time as easily as I could have paused the movie, I'd have sat in my darkened living room all night just enjoying everyone being together.

But I can't stop time, and even in the movies kids grow up, give away their toys and leave home. But not yet.  Grab a blanket and we'll watch a movie together.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

My Weekend with John Friend


I was more than my usual amount of nervous before going to the full weekend of workshops with the founder of Anusara Yoga himself, John Friend. You actually have to apply to attend one of his workshops, and well, I was a little more confident on my application than in real life. Previous Anusara experience? Oh sure! Ability to do a handstand unassisted? Of course!

I needn’t have worried. The first thing that struck me was how nice everyone was. I mean really, really nice and friendly. There were many master Anusara yoga teachers there to assist at the workshops, yet there were no egos. No divas. Just genuinely friendly and encouraging yogis.

The weekend began with his Dharma Talk at the beautiful Glencairn Museum in Bryn Athyn, PA.  Almost 200 of us sat on an intricate 150-year-old rug in the front room waiting for John Friend to make his entrance.

Since most of us didn’t know we would be sitting on the floor, we jokingly apologized for our tight jeans and any whale tails that might be showing to the person behind us. The woman to my right was a costume designer for the Pennsylvania Ballet Company and had studied with John Friend once before. The man to my left was from Washington, DC and used all his vacation time to follow John Friend throughout the year on his Melt Your Heart Blow Your Mind Tour.

I don’t think he got my joke when I asked if yoga tours were to our generation what Grateful Dead tours were to our parent’s generation.

And that’s when it occurred to me, this yoga tour has a name? Melt Your Heart and Blow Your Mind. Don’t rock bands name their tours? Who does this John Friend guy think he is? Elvis?

And then, kind of like I imagine Elvis did, John made his entrance. And like I imagine the young screaming girls at an Elvis concert, I was enchanted.

The theme of his Dharma Talk was Enter the Dark and Shine the Light. He asked who among us has not suffered this year?  We shouldn’t be afraid of the dark. Darkness is natural. Radical transformation happens by going into the dark.

He gave the analogy of the beautiful trees surrounding the estate we were on. The leaves were brilliant gold, orange and red. Yet it was almost winter. The trees were dying. 

That’s when I knew John was speaking directly to me. My mom very well may be nearing the end of her time. She is looking at the darkness. Yet earlier that day we had driven down to Bryn Athyn, and we parked under one of the trees John was talking about. As we sat there we said how beautiful the tree was.  It didn’t occur to me then that the tree was dying.  I still hadn’t faced reality that my mom was dying.

“When you hit the darkest bottom and you think this is it – wait a minute. That’s what the caterpillar said before he became a butterfly.” The most beautiful part is near the end.

I left the talk that night and already a shift was taking place inside me. I could hardly sleep that night waiting for the first workshop of the morning.

So how does John Friend teach a workshop to almost 300 people? With lots and lots of help! He had many master trainers from all over the country assisting, answering our questions and adjusting our poses. John himself hopped off the stage and walked between our mats for the two-hour sessions. He was no diva either.

He asked us to soften the limiting ideas of ourselves. Let go of the “I can’t” and the “I’m not good enough”.  He told us the name of the yoga tour was very intentional. Once we melt our heart to the possibility within us, what we’re capable of will truly blow our minds.

The first session of the morning was hip openers. One of my favorite. My classes will attest that I do love pigeon pose. But when John cued us to jump switch our pigeons, I thought, “What the…” But, I’ve set aside my own self-imposed limits so here we go.

Between sessions there was time to mingle and get to know the other wide-eyed yogi’s I was sweating and jumping with.

The man on the mat to my left was there because his son, a certified Anusara teacher  based in Phoenix, convinced him to go. His son was taking the teachers advanced training that weekend, and sat on the bleachers and watched as his dad took the multi-level training with the rest of us.  Pretty neat right? It gets better. His son’s very first yoga class was at 22 years of age when he was in a rehab facility for alcoholism. He was so taken by yoga and how it healed him, he got certified himself and now teaches at that same rehab facility. My new friend told me there were some very dark days when his son was younger, and he honestly believed there were times his son was going to die from his addiction. But he made it through. The power of yoga combined with the power of love.

The couple behind me were lawyers from New York City. She told her boyfriend they were going away for a romantic weekend, and instead surprised him with this yoga  training. And interestingly, there were way more men attending John Friend’s workshops than I’ve ever seen at any yoga training.

Day two arrived and although I was a little sore and tired, I was ready to melt my heart and blow my mind some more.

John Friend teaches his classes in such an amazing way that the progressions are natural and logical. He teaches while you are in the pose. What better way to understand the inner spiral of the thigh muscles than to actually hold trikonasana and micro-adjust until you find the full expression of the pose.

As we were moving through that first class of the morning, I knew we were building to handstand. I knew the time of reckoning was soon. Could I melt my heart enough to do this?

“Ok, let’s just do the pose.” And with that statement John pulled a woman from the audience to the front to demonstrate. But he chose someone who’d never before done handstand.  And it was her 60th birthday!  And yes, with John’s gentle guidance, she did a handstand.

As we walked back to our mats to partner up and try our own handstands, I asked the teacher assistant working my section some inane question about hand placement. The assistant was a young guy from an Anusara studio in Venice Beach, California. He looked like a typical surfer dude from Venice, not a master teacher. In fact, he didn’t even really answer my question. He just looked at me and said, “No worries.” I gave a really intelligent answer of “ok”.

Step 1 – breathe. Step 2 – hand placement. Step 3 – one leg up. Step 4 – am I still breathing? Step 5 – melt my heart. Step 6 – holy shit I’m in handstand! My mind is officially blown.

I came down and was beaming from ear to ear and looked at my partner and asked “Did I really do that?” Yes indeed she confirmed. And with perfect timing here came my Venice yoga guy.

As he walked past, he gave me a smirk and said in that Venice surfer dude voice, “Well alright then.” As John called the class back to refocus and move on, I was the last person to make it back to my mat. I wanted to do just one more handstand!

Yes, a radical shift inside me was happening. Performing advanced asanas and a deeper understanding of anatomy was secondary to the inner heart-felt shift that had happened.

I had to face myself and honestly say that what was holding me back was me -my self-imposed limits. Not just on the mat, but off the mat as well.

And it’s so much more than kicking up into a handstand. It’s the confidence to say no even though it will disappoint someone, to say stop when I feel treated unkindly and to stand up for myself and value my own being as much if not more than those around me.

Me and John Friend at Glencairn Museum
It’s knowing that if I melt my heart, open to the possibility and accept what the universe has to offer, that where I go will absolutely blow my mind.