Tuesday, March 31, 2015

I'm a teacher, not a caterer.

Sometimes I have so much to say or share that I end up not saying anything because I'm not sure where to start. So, here's what I'll offer today. It's about my teaching.

I don't cater to students, though I do always try to be in service to students.

When I look out at the classroom, I see the folks who have in some way connected to my classes, whether it's the storytelling, the alignment focus, the homey vibe, the other students in the community. I see the students who are specifically connected to what I have to offer.

I don't try to win over a potential student by changing my teaching to suit them or by adding things that feel inauthentic to me.  You want it hotter? I can point you in the direction of 30 classes at this exact same time that will give you that. Want me to spend less time on philosophy, meditation, and pranayama so you can do more "vinyasas?" I'm not your gal. Don't want to learn about alignment? Again, there are plenty of classes out there for you, but I will not let you hurt yourself on my watch.

One of the many problems of the yoga industry is that many people are confused and think that yoga teachers are in the "service industry" and that the customer is always right. We aren't and they aren't.  Creating the problem is that yoga instructors often feel they have to cater to students because we get paid by the student (in general), which means if I cater to you, you might like me, and come back and then I'll make enough money from you on that day to buy a kombucha and if I cater to enough people, I might even be able to pay my rent.  When teachers pander to students, the students then don't see yoga as an education process and the teacher as, well, a teacher.  So, they then expect to have their expectations of what they want in a class met by any class they attend. 

The way I see it, there are more than enough yoga classes in the world that will meet the wants and needs of those who want it hotter, faster, less spiritual, whatever. Way more of those than there is of me.  Those are the students who have a hard time finding what they want.  If people come to my class, it's because there's something in it they didn't find elsewhere. If I cater to potential students, I actually am disrespecting the students who are coming for what it is that I uniquely add to the mix.  We've created a community together over 13 years. I no longer am the sole magnet for my classes, my students magnetize the students.

So, if you stumble into my class, I am going to welcome you wholeheartedly. I am going to be excited that my community may have discovered a new friend. I'll introduce you to the folks on the mat near you. I am going to give my utmost and best to serve you, to teach you and to offer something that may be valuable not only on your mat, but in your life.  And also, if I'm not the right fit for you, ask me and I will tell you where and with who you might find the right fit...

but I will not cater to you.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Circular Living and How I Came to Follow the Wheel of the Year

Where we are in time and space: Today we’ve hit the mid-way point of September, a month that, to me, is all about settling back into the rhythm of our lives after the long-march of the summer scatter.  I’m starting to feel my feet more on the ground and my mind more focused than it’s been since Summer hit in earnest 3 months ago.  In the Northern Hemisphere, the balance of our year will tip towards darkness in just over a week, and yet we still have the amazing autumn months that seem to be everyone’s favorites no matter where you live.  There’s a pull inward, and yet there is still so much warmth and beautiful light, we stay out just a little longer, as if we are children who’ve already been called in for dinner once and can’t seem to stop while there is still even a hint of light.
About 10 years ago, an odd series of thoughts led me to a book that was all the rage when I was growing up, but I was too young then to read it or appreciate it.  The book (which over time became a series of books) was called Foxfire, and it was born of a quarterly magazine created by a group of high school students and their teacher in Georgia in 1966.  It was an exercise in gathering the oral history of their elders as old ways of life were quickly fading.  Foxfire celebrated the home life, seasonal living, and storytelling traditions of Appalachia.
My Mammaw and Papaw around 1970.
I grew up in a university city in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, near the Appalachian range, which runs from Newfoundland to Alabama, though we primarily think of their expression in Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, West Virginia,  and Georgia.  The mountains there are soft and rolling, and the seasons—at least during my upbringing, though I fear with human-induced climate change that has likely changed—were distinct and clear cut.
My great grandparents on my father’s side were mountain farmers who lived and farmed in the Cumberland Mountains in the southeastern section of the Appalachian chain.  I remember as a very young child driving what seemed an incredible distance every so often to visit their farm.  I remember they had an outhouse, which was thrilling to a pre-schooler.  My great grandfather wore “overhauls” and my great grandmother wore calico printed dresses with a full apron, work boots, and a bonnet on top.  It was like Little House on the Prairie!  Mammaw wore her long hair, which was gray with auburn streaks, braided and in a neat bun.  The farmed tobacco, grew their own food, and kept bees. I remember, in particular, how they spoke in what I later learned was old English.  Appalachia and the southern mountain ranges were really the last part of the country to have television in the household. They were cloistered and with no outer influence via network television, they spoke as their ancestors had.  They said “thee,” “thy,” thou,” “ye,” and “yon.”
When I discovered Foxfire, it was like discovering my great grandparents and their way of life—an incredible gift.  I learned about the tradition of planting by the moon, and, in fact, using the moon for all manner of things from planting above ground crops (waxing moon) to below ground crops (waning) to cutting your hair for more growth while the moon waxed and for less growth while it waned.  I was fascinated and started paying more attention to the cycles of the moon and the seasons than I had before.  Perhaps, because I had moved to Northern California, which natives will tell you has seasons, which of course is true, they are just  . . . subtle . . . I had a yearning for a seasonal rhythm that I had not even realized I was deeply connected to until I moved to the Golden State.  Paying attention felt right in my cells, and I knew that it was more than just me,  but all of us who must be yearning for something known that had been lost.
In 2008, during an October trip to New Mexico, I made a conscious decision to begin living my life more based on the earth wisdom and natural cycles that my ancestors (all of our ancestors!) had moved with.  Trust me, I’m not someone who is interested in turning back the clock to some silly idea that long-ago and far-away was better.  (We may be battling superbugs that have adapted to antibiotics, but, really, it’s just silly to think that we were better off without them, and if you aren’t sure about that, you wouldn’t have to go far back in your own family’s history to find the child that died from something ridiculous to us now.)  So, what is it to follow the Old Ways in 21st century California?
When I say “the Old Ways,” I’m talking about realizing that our lives have rhythms and cycles.  They ebb and flow.  There are outward periods and inward periods.  There are times more conducive to growing and more conducive to releasing and everything in between.  Time is a circle, not a line.  Problem is, our modern life doesn’t acknowledge it whatsoever.  We can have daylight at any time of day, 72 degree heat in winter and 68 degree air conditioning in summer. We can eat tomatoes from California or Mexico all year round, and even my beloved autumn persimmons can be procured from the Southern Hemisphere in the spring if I so desire.
We’ve lost our connection to nature—our own nature and the nature around us.
The good news is: it’s actually a pretty easy fix—start paying attention.  Watch the moon. Feel the subtle shift of the season before it’s outwardly obvious because you are spending time outside every single day. Yes—eat local and in season, and if you live in Maine where local and in season looks different than in California, maybe consider learning to “put up” the bounty of the summer.  Use the dark half of the year to do projects that are more inward. Honestly, it’s not that hard. We are wired for this. We just forgot.
I had forgotten, and I’m still learning..  And, what I’m finding since embarking on this path 10 years ago casually, 6 years ago actively, and late this spring formally—it is such a rich way of engaging in the world. At first, to be honest, so much feels impossible, counter-intuitive, because at this point, we’ve grown up outside of this rhythm.  But, you see, your DNA is old and wise. It knows the Old Ways.  I’m not a farmer, nor much of a gardener, but I follow the cycles across the wheel of the year in the rhythms of my life and day.  Some projects are better suited to June than January.  And when nature speeds up or slows down, and I’m attuned to that, I actually live and work at optimal amounts of ease and effort. I more readily delight and adapt to change.
Following the cycles of nature and her seasons is something we should all be able to agree upon regardless of religion or political persuasion, and the fact that we can’t, is the very proof of how far off we’ve gotten.  We may have screwed a lot up. That’s a fact. But, I really do believe that a lot more than we realize could actually be solved by paying attention to our own nature and to nature itself, because they are one and the same. My by-the-moon planting great-grandparents were down-home, red-state, backwoods Christians.  Your Jewish grandparents were (and are) following the moon for Rosh Hashanna,  Sukkot, and Passover.  Stepping into this flow doesn’t need a label, though there are words people use to describe themselves or others who do it.  If you need a label for this, here’s a suggestion: call it being a Human Being.
            I’m a human who is finding her human-ness reflected in the seasons.
            I’m a woman finding her womanliness reflected in the moon.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Trust Me. I've Been There

Odds are that if you are reading this blog, you are doing one thing to nurture yourself--practicing yoga. It's probably how we know each other.  Take a moment to acknowledge and affirm yourself for that. Certainly, with a career, trying to make the house payment, people who depend on you (spouse, kids, parents, dogs, cats, students), getting to class a few times a week is an amazing accomplishment. Well done.

But, have you ever wanted to go to a weekend workshop, or even a retreat and had this sentence come across your mind:

 “I would so love to go to that. I really could use that time for myself. . .

“It’s just not the right time. Maybe next year.”

Trust me. I’ve been there.

It seems that for the better part of my 16 years practicing yoga, everyone was going on some sort of a yoga trip. Inwardly I whined and moaned that they were single or didn’t have kids or had more money than I did. I would sit around and think about all the yoga trips I would go on when it was the RIGHT time, which was never in the present moment or even that year. The right time always involved the children being somewhat older than they were at that moment and life being somewhat more easeful than it was in that moment. Somehow in the mystical and magical future, I would have loads of money and I would be so free of responsibility that no one would even notice I was gone (which sounds just horrible, doesn’t it?).

 I have a secret for you. It will never be the right time. It will never be a good time.

There will always be something or someone that is demanding your attention away from yourself.

One day, when my children were at truly one of the most busy stages of life-10 and 12 and each playing on a competitive club sports team-in passing, I said to my husband (who worked full-time in Silicon Valley an hour+ commute each way; was a full-time, first-year law student; as well as a baseball coach of a club team) “I wish I could go on this great yoga retreat in Costa Rica with two of my favorite teachers. Maybe I’ll work on making it happen in a few years.”

You know what came back? “You should go. There’s going to be a lot of logistics to deal with all we’ve got going on, but you should go.”

It wasn’t even an issue! Only I was making it an issue! And in that moment, I figured out that the right time or a better time really was an expert tactic in martyrdom and self-sabotage. In that moment, I finally MADE the time I needed to not only take care of myself, but to be taken care of (and to model to my children that I was WORTH taking are of)?

I called in a lot of favors. My husband graciously juggled and made it work taking on all my responsibilities on top of his own. The retreat was one of the most amazing weeks of my life, and when I returned to my family, I was a better me than the one who left. I was refreshed and had been able to do some deep transformative work that made me a better version of myself. I got to model for my children that we have to take care of ourselves, nurture and nourish ourselves so that we can make our best offering to those we love and serve. When I came home from more than a week in Costa Rica, they were alive, happy, and had enjoyed the time away from me as much as I enjoyed my time away.

So, I understand, because I’ve been there.

If you need to take the next step in nourishing yourself, I’m here to help you figure that out. It may start with an afternoon that you dedicate to a special yoga class followed by a massage and dinner with friends. Or it maybe it’s a one-day urban retreat or a close-by weekend retreat. Or, maybe, just maybe, like me, you realize that there is no better time, and take the plunge to go on a longer retreat, such as the retreats I’m offering in Costa Rica this April (event link below). 

Whether it’s a retreat with me, or something closer to home, I can point you in the right direction because I know so many amazing yoga teachers all over the country and world. There IS something for you. And, I promise you, there will not be a “right” time, which means now is the right time. Let me know what I can do to help you nourish yourself as part of our year of cultivating the Pilgrim Heart. 

Today is the new moon and the beginning of the Year of the Wooden Horse. It’s time to take the reins of our own nourishment in 2014!

Details for my upcoming Costa Rica Retreats can be found at:

or feel free to email me at yogabohemian@gmail.com


Friday, April 12, 2013

The Waiting Game and Saying Yes to the Random

Here in Northern California, the rains of winter have subsided and the summer fog has not yet arrived.  All around, people are basking in the sun . . . something precious and often rare here.  Even as I write, I’m sitting at a favorite corner cafĂ© where the sun kisses my shoulders and dapples its light through the new leaves.  We entered the New Moon in Aries a few days ago and are headed to the great Beltane Feast on May 1.  The floodgates of life, creativity and new beginnings have toppled and a surge of creativity is in the air.

The Oxbow, by Thomas Cole, 1836
For me, I feel that I’ve finally emerged from a year of intentional quiet and waiting.  After my yoga community was rocked to its foundation in the first half of 2012, I knew that I wanted and needed space and a lot of it in order to organically evolve my practices and my teaching.  I only made two decisive changes to my classes—I started chanting the long-lost second verse of the invocation I had been chanting for 15 years, and I uncompromisingly reserved the last 15 minutes of class for pranayama, meditation and savasana.  With those two things, after a year, I find that my personal practices and my teaching have indeed unfolded and evolved in ways that feel natural and authentic.   When I resigned from Anusara, I openly said that I would take the rest of the year to lie fallow.  It wasn’t that I was pining away for what had been and was gone. I was clear, but  I knew wholeheartedly that I didn’t want to rush into something false for me just for the sake of “moving on.” And so I waited. Or, more truthfully, I was waiting.

A few days ago, on the new moon in Aries in fact, I found myself antsy, restless,  and yearning  for something to happen.  I felt in danger of stagnating in this waiting period. I had grown increasingly impatient with the process of evolving, especially since I didn’t (and don’t) have any idea what exactly I’m evolving to.  After 15 years of knowing what was the next step of the process of progression (at least in my professional world), I sit with a big question mark on not only what I’m progressing to, but the necessity of constant forward motion, which can take me to a place of constant striving.  My ansty-ness had reached a crescendo.

And then, a random and funny thing happened. Standing in a parking lot waiting for someone (oh the irony!), a clear voice came into my head, “Stop waiting and get the dulcimer you’ve been wondering about for the past 3 years.”  Without question or thought, I pulled out my phone, did a little research on a good beginner instrument and purchased it. Within 20 minutes, I felt a tremendous excitement and the long year of waiting yielded to a new era to yearning to begin in earnest.  Sometimes, all it takes is saying “yes”  to one random thing that you had stalled on in order to get things moving.  By the next morning, ideas were flooding me and demanding my consideration. 

Today, I don’t feel antsy, but rather, excited at the question marks that still remain.  I have jumped off of the banks and feet first into a new river whose name and character I do not yet know.  It was right of me to stand on the banks for a while. It’s not as if nothing was happening.  A lot was happening at the subtle level, where I believe all things begin. But it is also right that I finally got on the rope swing and let go into the new flow.    Can’t wait to see where She takes me along this river of question marks.

Jai Ma! Jai Ma! Jai Ma!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Days of Awe and Wonder

It's December 1, and this crazy year 2012 enters its last month, I look back with a sometimes gaping jaw that my overarching theme of the year (set forth in late December 2011) has been The Wonder Year: Amazing, Astonishing, Awakening

It's been all that and more.

I had anticipated that there would be much cynicism and heated snark during the presidential election year and just wanted to try a different approach.  I also knew that there would be a degree of fear and unease riding the coat tails of the idea of a major shift in consciousness predicted by the Mayan Calendar (not the literal end of the world, but paradigm shifts).  Turning to the wheel of the Rasas (essence or flavor of experiences), I knew that the way out of the flavor of fear back towards joy was through WONDER (adbhuta).  Think of the experience of wonder as that of taking delight in the unknowable or the mysterious. Think of awe as the ability to step back and just say "Wow" when the unpredictable and unexpected shows up, no matter how it presents itself before you, and as we all know, that doesn't always take the form of a beautiful sunset.  It can also take the form of the dissolution of community, illness, or a monster storm.

A Holy Wow moment is when we choose wonder and awe over cynicism and snarkiness.  They are often followed by stunned silence or short bursts of expression

"Wow," "Whoa," "Unbelievable." 

To open yourself to wonder and awe is an empowered choice of spaciousness and curiousity towards that which is in the shadows and cloaked, just as you would watch the moonrise or a great work of art. Cultivating a sense of wonder opens the door towards the deeper explorations of who we are beyond the layers of the seen and known.

This month, I invite everyone to join me in a strong practice of allowing awe and wonder into our lives more fully.  These ideas move across cultures and religions. These ideas move beyond unchecked consumerism and can help us move our holiday traditions to a higher level of celebration. 

May we soften and enjoy the lights during the darkest nights.
May we turn our hearts towards gathering together in family and community.
May we give of ourselves fully and intentionally.
May we experience Joy, Peace, and Love in our lives and in our hearts.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

It’s Time We had a Little Chat

Yoga students of the world . . . thank you so much for your devotion to your practice and for showing up to class consistently and with receptive hearts.  The world is a better place because of it.  I know that it takes a lot to get to class. We are busy people--jobs, families, obligations--the fact that we make it to class at all shows effort and dedication.

And yet . . .
It’s time we had a little chat about getting to class on time. It’s gotten to be more than an annoyance. It’s a problem.  And since I don’t believe in locking the doors at class start time because you did make the effort (although it’s getting tempting!) Last week, in one of the classes I teach, there were 6 students present and ready to practice at the scheduled start time. The class ended up with 20 people in it.  There was a full 25 minute difference between the time the first student arrived and the last student arrived.  This is just not cool no matter what angle you look at it.

A class is a co-creation between teacher-student, as well as student-student within a boundary of time and space.  We work as an organism.  Yoga is an individual practice that happens in community, and so respect and etiquette come into play. Yoga isn’t a free for all, do-as-you-please recreational activity. Yoga is a practice, and practices have perimeters, which is also what gives them meaning.

Here’s a little refresher contemplation on Arriving On-Time for Class.

What does “on time” mean?
The scheduled class start time isn't a suggestion.
The class start time isn't the time you arrive at the registration desk.
The class start time isn't the time you cross the threshold to the studio and start putting your stuff away and getting your props.
The class start time isn't the moment you start to move.
"On time" for class means that you are on your mat and completely prepared to begin at the scheduled class start time if not at least 5 minutes before. Belongings stored, phones off, props gathered, sitting on your blanket, ready to start.

Why be on-time?
The hour or 90 minutes that you carved out is your sacred time. Arriving right at the bell or late usually means you arrive anxious and flustered which spills over into your entire practice and is disruptive to the sacred time that others have carved out for themselves.

If your teacher practices grounding, chanting, or contextually setting a theme for the class, you miss or disprupt these practices as they are in process.  If you come late specifically to miss these practices, perhaps you've chosen the wrong teacher.

Your body won't get the proper warm-up prior to more rigorous poses.

Being on time respects the yoga tradition, the other students, your teacher, and yourself.

What if  I did everything I could (really) to be on your mat and ready to practice at the start time, and I got  stuck in traffic, couldn’t find a parking place, etc?

This happens to everyone—teacher’s too.  But first, ask yourself the question? Does this happen to me regularly?  If so, it is more likely that you haven’t taken into account those probabilities and possibilities in your travel time.  Remember, you have to account not just for travel time, but check-in time, changing clothes, preparing your space, etc. You probably want to be at the registration desk no later than 15 minutes before class in order to accomplish that and be ready. Yes. Seriously, I said that.

If you do arrive late and the teacher and students are in grounding practices, sit down in the back of the room quietly and join in the practices. The teacher will help you find a space for your mat at the appropriate time.

If you arrive late and the practice has already begun, first, ask the teacher if it is ok to join. It is possible, if you have arrived too late, that it’s simply not in your best interest to jump right in.

What if I'm just late because I know my teacher always starts late? She doesn't mind?

Honestly, find a new teacher.  Teachers who start and end late perpetuate the problem of students arriving late and leaving early. They aren’t setting a clear and affirming boundary that your time matters.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Process of Becoming Real

“What is REAL?" asked the Velveteen Rabbit one day... "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When [someone] loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

I'd like to share a personal story that, I feel, has much to offer to our current state of broken-ness as an Anusara community and that it is possible rebuild something that is real and lasting. Last year, my 41-year-old sister suffered seven life-threatening strokes and hovered between life and death in a coma for three weeks. During that, the most difficult period of my life, I had the great joy of realizing the efficacy of all that I had learned from Anusara yoga. Living in the unknown became second nature during those long weeks, and the hope that any spark of life would have given would have been celebrated. The first hope, was that she would live. That was soon followed by . . . what if she lives? Will anything ever be the same again? What of her will we get back? Will we get any of her? Will we, her family, be able to take care of her, or will she need professional caregiving for the rest of her life? Is there any possibility of a ful recovery? Or, harder-to imagine, a vital, healthy, vibrant life?

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

Despite all odds (75 percent of those who suffer her same type of stroke die within 30 days), she not only lived, she was, in fact, transformed into a vital and happy woman. Is her life the same? No. There is a "new normal," but she would be the first to tell anyone, that she is much happier. She is restructuring her life around what is life affirming and enhancing. She has had to look at old ways in a clear mirror and step up to make changes, and she continues to live every day with the limitations she is left with. She has come to love the story of the Ganapati in which he takes the broken piece of himself--his tusk--and uses it to write the epic story. Her significant limp is her broken tusk.

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept."

We have this opportunity as a community. Yes, there will always be a clear and distinct moment when "everything changed." It will never be the same again, but I feel great hope that, as is the case with my sister, the brokeness brought with it the gift of creating something sustainable and beautiful in its real-ness, beautiful because it once had a broken tusk.

"Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand... once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always.” ― Margery Williams from The Velveteen Rabbit

If you want to make something Real, love it.
May we love our broken community into Real.