If only he’d begun again. Before the bacon and booze won.

I used to love January. Back in my corporate days, as membership director of a tony athletic club in downtown Seattle, January sales numbers were DOPE. New members. New resolutions. New vows – one new member told me – to swear off bacon and booze for good. Even if it meant cursing his new personal trainer. He swore he’d finally climb Mt. Rainier. GOALZZZ.

Chin up – don’t quit. Somerville Community Path 2016

cycling the Cape Cod Rail Trail 2016

Then came February. Mountain climber dude cancelled his membership. Spin girl psyched to ride her first century called it quits too. In under 30 days, these well-intenders, and throngs more the world over, threw in the workout towel before their goals could take form. Not all, but enough to warrant a mass ‘where’dja go?’ promo mailing by spring.

I’ve managed to stay pretty fit throughout my life, but not without quitting. A LOT. Like, daily. In fact I quit this morning. Head full of snot post red-eye flight flu earlier in the week, I climbed on my home spin bike only to get off two minutes later. Fuck it. I don’t wanna…

But I got back on, and employed a tactic that works every time:

BEGIN AGAIN.

That’s it, actually. Simple. And of course, hard. Any time I simply begin again, I circumvent my own version of bacon and booze (copious quantities of animal cookies and cashews) and get back on the path of whatever it is I’m pursuing. Here’s how:

  1. I pick a mole hill instead of a mountain. Beginning again doesn’t need to look the same as it did with the first attempt. What started out as a 45-minute killer ride pedaling to a Peloton app instructor I like changed courses quickly. My wheezing lungs and heavy legs said no. But a 20-minute low intensity ride with several water breaks? Sure. I can do that. It works in life too. During a painful divorce a decade ago, my pop reminded me daily not to climb the entire staircase. Just get to the first landing darlin’, catch your breath, and stay put as long as you need to.
  2. I ditch the drama. Just as the first chapter of my “Why She Can’t Hack It” autobiography started to form, I got back on the bike and started pedaling to a gentler tune. I ditch the drama in my yoga practice too. Half Moon crash landings and teetering Trees frequently show up unannounced, and in the early days of my practice, I blanched. WTF?? my why-don’t-I-got-this mind screamed. I now know the wobbles and falls are fertile ground for discovery. For examining new routes to balance and control. Ditching the drama works off the mat too. I’ve closed the chapter titled “I’m An Outsider” I initially wrote with the several moves due to my husband’s job changes, and recognized I’m home wherever I land. Especially through the built in communities every yoga studio I’ve stepped into has provided.
  3. I erase the finish line. Exasperating for sure. But relieving too. Exasperating in times I’m so fixated on getting somewhere I forget where I am right now. Saying goodbye to an amazing teaching gig in Boston and clamoring to dive into a new studio 1100 miles away before the boxes were unpacked hurled me back to square one. For three months. But after shifting my mindset, and beginning the process again after a much needed break, doors are opening for me in the new year. Because I’m not fixated on getting anywhere, I’m enjoying where I’m going. With no end in sight.
  4. I add more ingredients. I haven’t been diagnosed as such, but given that I cannot read a news article to completion without simultaneously eating a bowl of oatmeal, petting a cat on my lap, scrolling through Instagram and thinking about my next yoga practice, I think it’s fair to say I have some degree of ADHD. So yeah, I gotta mix it up in the workout department. Boredom isn’t an option here. When I can’t look at the spin bike, I roll out my yoga mat. When a Downward Facing Dog won’t get me out of my head, a walk outside usually will. I recently dug out a jump rope. Tripped over the damn thing several times, but I did it. It was new. Different. Fun in a sick sort of way.

Whatever is getting in your way, don’t reach for the bacon and booze. Just Begin Again.

Happy New Year.

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Broken china no more – how a set of discarded dishes could butter up a hardened heart

Every time I butter my bread now I’ll be thinking of Aunt Karen and Uncle Freddy. At least when placing said bread atop a lovely Wedgwood fine bone china dish recently acquired trolling about a random consignment shop near Sea Pines Circle last weekend.

new life, new love

I have no idea who they are, Aunt Karen and Uncle Freddy. Nor do I have a clue as to just what inspired my “antiquing gives me hives” husband to abruptly pivot off road and into Annie’s Consignment shop. But it happened. And I now have a gorgeous set of never-before-used dishes to adorn our newly acquired contemporary dining room table. Dishes that were intended for – we discovered a day later – Jessica and Jeff.

Not sure what Jessica and Jeff are up to, but I suspect they aren’t antiquing around town. Most certainly not together, anyway.

They’re still in the original boxes…”

“She dug ’em out of a forgotten closet during the divorce,” the proprietor sighed as I ran my finger around the silver rimmed saucer bearing nary a scratch. Only a stubborn bar code never removed. As my husband admired the intricately finespun sky blue pattern bordering a serving dish, my heart softened. And time-traveled back to hardened time – my own breakup 8 years ago. Jessica and Jeff, I can relate, I realized in that moment. He didn’t say as much, but I think my husband’s heart warmed a few degrees in the moment too – he with his own who-gets-the-crystal-and-china breakup story of yore.

So in spite of his proclivity toward beefy brand new Pottery Barn man mugs to pretty little teacups, my husband agreed to purchase the entire set (at a fabulous discount – treasures do exist within the dusty cornices of your local consignment shop) of dishes to give them new life. Life inside a happy Hilton Head home of a second-time-around marriage of a couple who love each other deeply and whose hearts are soft and warm. Just like butter.

So thank you Aunt Karen and Uncle Freddy, whoever you are.

Now someone please pass the bread.

 

Back in her write-ful place: a chair, my late papa, and the joy of taking a seat

It sits in stark contrast with the rest of the room. Doesn’t go with the minimal, reclaimed wood Crate & Barrel writing desk, nor does it complement the sage-hued walls or beefy leather chair poised in another corner of the room. No, my beloved antique chair would make any designer worth their showroom discount give a disapproving shake of the head and gentle pleading to please move her somewhere else. The unfurnished bedroom over the garage, perhaps…

“Rose” a gift from my late papa.

I tried that. And cried for a week. That’s how much I love her. To be clear, this isn’t a one man’s junk is another’s treasure sort of chair. The same designer tsk tsk-ing her placement in my office-slash-master bedroom would clearly agree she’s special, just not in this room. The Italian Louis XVI style side chair was a gift from my late papa, Dorsey, he himself a revered designer and antiques connoisseur whose store graced the corner of 5th Avenue and University St. in Seattle for decades. After acquiring the chair on a buying trip to Florence in the early 80s, he refused to put her out on the showroom floor. Or in a client’s home. Instinctively – I now believe – he knew she’d play a significant role in my life. Knew that when I was old enough to live on my own, I’d be able to feel his artistry, unconditional love and support every time I sat down. That I rely on her to support me every time I write is what brought me to tears last week.

It’s not worth a damn if it isn’t copacetic”

I tried another chair. A handsome, chestnut leather iron wrought arm chair that didn’t fit properly in my husband’s new home office. It looked smashing – but felt ghastly. I squirmed, winced, sighed. No room to tuck my left foot under my right thigh – the stiff arm got in the way. Too heavy to shift forward, back or side to side – I never sit still. Dorsey knew this, thus my nimble, move-all-you-must-dear, beloved chair. Dorsey was an artist, but every decision in creating a space was rooted in logic – is it agreeable? Will you and your guests feel warm and at home? Or gasp – is it mere decoration? I know the idea landed early on – as evidenced in an elementary school book report dotted with heavy use of the word copacetic.

Not just a chair”

I’ve given her a name – Rose – and am enjoying aging along with her. Every life transition, since my first walk up apartment in downtown Seattle overlooking Lake Union to what I hope now is my final home in Hilton Head, SC, she’s been along for the ride. She’s lived on a boat, a beach house, a series of apartments in Philly and Boston, and now here.

Dorsey injected life into Rose, a piece of his soul if you will, before presenting her to me at age 21. He painted her wood a subtle shade of cornflower blue, and employed a skilled process of sanding down and finishing her grooves and cornices with flecks of Chinese red and silver. He changed the upholstery on the seat and back to a soft, velvet rose, with double-welted finishes to ensure she’d endure a lifetime of holding my weight.

“Bring her back,” my husband begged. She now sits in her write-ful place, tucked up behind my desk waiting for me to sit back down, let my thoughts and emotions flow, and feel the love from my papa above.

 

 

 

Living my yoga: how Hurricane Irma is messing with my sequence

“Do y’all have an evacuation plan in place?” our realtor asked during the walk through. Um, no…should we? Arriving in Hilton Head days ago with a buttoned up plan to close on our new home here has taken a major detour.

I don’t like detours. Nor does my uber-organized husband.

Pre-Irma bliss in Hilton Head

Every step of our transition out of Boston and into the slower-paced, inviting environs of South Carolina thus far has been planned and executed down to the smallest detail. House in Boston vacated and sold? Check. House in Hilton Head on target to close 7 days later? Check. Cars serviced/fueled/prepped to drive 1100 miles south? Check. Hotel reservations complete with rewards points plugged in and back entrances scouted out to sneak our shotgun-riding cat in undetected? Check, check, check!

Passing through NYC en route to Hilton Head

But like a carefully thought out yoga sequence I bring to a class, things can take a turn. Quickly. The first-time yogi with replacement knees isn’t going to appreciate my pre-planned extended series of Half Pigeon pose. Fine. Rotate him on his back and teach a modification. A packed room with an inch between mats isn’t going to Flip their Dogs without at least one ugly kick in the face, so scrap it and stick with three-legged dog. No big. As a mindful and well-trained teacher, I look out for these live, in the moment realities, and make changes on the fly as I go.

In life and off the mat? Hurricane Irma is testing me.

Um, no. We don’t have an evacuation plan in place…”

Not knowing where we are in the ‘cone’ of the impending storm, we took our realtor’s advice and got on the phone and internet simultaneously to find another hotel to escape to for a few days outside of wherever the hell the ‘cone’ lies. “How about Montgomery? It’s west of Georgia we outta be safe there,” my sweet husband suggested. Great plan, only everyone escaping Florida has the same idea. So several attempts later we now have a room somewhere in Tuscaloosa. Ya..I had to look on a map too. It’s in Alabama, I think.

Junior guarding the hotel room somewhere in Virginia

Phew. Oh..but wait. Another sequence change. Our moving truck with our entire home contents is headed here. Irma’s having none of that, nor is the house we’ve not yet closed on. Doors are locked and closed for the moment. As we scrambled to find temporary storage, thankfully my husband got the owner of the moving company on the phone and turned the drivers halfway through Connecticut back from whence they came.

 

Like it or not, I’m living my yoga, and grateful as hell for the sequence changes we’ve been able to make thus far. Now to roll my mat out and practice. Because for now anyway, this is this closest to home I feel.

Toss the scale: how this yoga teacher learned to ditch an obsession with class size numbers

Only once in my entire experience teaching yoga has a student been turned away due to class size. It was about five years ago and I remember it well. Dude! I thought at the time. I packed the room!! My ego rejoiced. So what if the room was the size of a walk-in closet? That class gave this then-fragile teacher a jolt of joy that validated everything I thought mattered in my decision to become a yoga teacher.

And therein began the obsession with numbers. It’s not unlike a fixation with the scale, this obsession with class size numbers. Three pounds lighter? Pass the dessert! Twenty yogis already pre-registered for tomorrow’s AM flow? Hot damn I’m a rock star!

But oh, the delusion.

at YogaSoul, Princeton, NJ 2014

Teachers know better than to use their class numbers to validate their teaching worth. We know other circumstances factor in. Students stuck in traffic. The newly opened competing studio around the corner. The crappy time slot (8 PM on a Friday night anyone?). The weather and time of year (hot power flow on an even hotter, humid day? Right…).

Except we don’t. Class numbers can mess with even the most grounded, experienced yoga teacher. The amount of time, energy, investment, and focus put into teaching just one class can make facing three students feel like an ugly crash landing out of handstand. It hurts. Especially when it’s part of an ongoing downward slide, putting the class itself at risk of getting cut from the schedule. Ouch.

I’ve taught packed rooms with 30-40 students doing their best not to kick each other in the face, and hour and a half classes where I could cartwheel around the room without touching a mat. Some days I get a bonanza. Others a drought. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Anything we cling to causes a maintenance problem for us,” – Deborah Adele, author

  • Aparigraha, fragile yogi. The oh-so-important guiding principle in the Yoga Sutras reminds us the dangers associated with attachment, possessiveness. I love how Deborah Adele, author of The Yamas & Niyamas, Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice, describes it. Clinging to anything – the number of students who show up, the verbal acknowledgements after class of how great it was, the positive Yelp reviews, creates an unrealistic expectation to maintain. I’ve learned to let that shit go, lighten up, and stop looking to others to validate my worth as a teacher.
  • Class size has zero to do with Connection. I’ve taught giant classes and been off on an island far, far away from the yogi two inches away. Yes, there’s a built-in energy that comes pre-loaded with a packed room of eager yogis, but that doesn’t guarantee Connection. I’ve since committed to connecting to every student in the room instead of caving to an ego seeking out the biggest bang for it’s insecure buck.
  • It’s harder, and often more rewarding to teach a small class. One studio I teach in can hold 80 yogis. This morning it held 12. Twelve who showed up for me, and their well-being. It’s an absolute privilege as a teacher to have the time and space to touch every one of my students in single class and learn about what the practice means to them. One student didn’t sleep last night but left feeling more connected to her body. Another was working through a cranky hip flexor muscle. Yet another declared she experienced a transformation she didn’t expect. I don’t get this kind of intimate feedback at the end of a packed class.
  • It’s not about me. It’s about THEM. All three students. Or thirty. Or three hundred. Teaching big classes is fun, who am I kidding. But it requires an iron commitment to making it about the students, not the ego. Trying to impress and wow a big group with clever cues and fancy transitions can lead to disaster quickly. Been there done that. In Baptiste Yoga we practice teaching through one body using a Look, Listen, and Give Tools approach. When I direct my energy and focus directly on one student, give them what they need in the moment, regardless how many students are in the room, magic happens.

Can’t wait for my next class. I welcome you. All three or three hundred of you! Join me at Down Under Yoga.

 

 

There’s no app for that: why the live classroom can’t be replaced

Halfway through another mindless FB scroll, I paused on an ad promising to get me into a one-armed handstand in 30 days. Whether it was the promise of achieving such feat, or the lovely chiseled fellow covered in watercolor tattoos pitching how, I don’t know, but I clicked and delved further.

The website was beautifully laid out, and lured me into several additional options. I could flow like a Goddess for 85 bucks. Backbend like Beckham in 6 short videos. Or finesse my footwork should I need to hoist a barbell twice my bodyweight overhead.

at Baptiste L2 2014

I’ve been teaching and taking classes around several towns since my teens. It’s in my fiber – the classroom approach to staying fit. And it’s worked. But with the extraordinary access these days to classes of every ilk – with some pretty damn awesome instructors – available on whatever electronic device I’m nearest to, it’s tempting to bag the brick and mortar version. There are times, whether practicing or teaching, I experience a spike in blood pressure simply getting my ass there on time. There’s a prearranged time and location to shuffle my other activities around. There’s the extra 15 minutes needed to assemble my gear into a duffle bag. And don’t get me started on hitting the mean, too-narrow, potholed streets of Boston where driving feels like a video game – dodging human bullets pulling u-eys whilst texting and honking. Big fun.

But here’s the thing. I will always go to the studio. The gym. ALWAYS. Because despite the bitch of getting from A to B, the experience of taking care of myself in the company of others can’t be replicated. It just can’t. Here’s why:

  1. Betty Badass Can’t SEE you. You might think you’re adopting her cues into the perfect backbend, but she has no idea. And neither do you. As a yoga teacher, my rule of teaching is Look, Listen, Give tools. In the early days I did it all backwards, spewing out endless cues to sound like I knew what I was doing, but it didn’t take long to realize my job to keep students safe and inspired was to LOOK at them. Their bodies, and most importantly, their eyes. To see if my words were registering.
  2. You’ll get a workout. But that’s it. You won’t get the opportunity to meet a cool chick who also likes to ride bikes in the town you just moved to. Or the sweet sound of the collective breath coming from fellow students. The moment of lightness when someone grunts inviting everyone to laugh and grunt with him.
  3. The studio door is a helluva lot harder to bolt from than the pause button on your phone. I spin at home. Most times I hang in there for the whole ride. But not always. Sometimes I just say fuck it and let my racing heart and screaming thighs win. That doesn’t happen at your local SoulCycle. Just sayin…

Online classes are awesome – to a point. To me, they stand as a great accompaniment to an overall fitness regimen. But never a replacement. The studios I teach at – Down Under Yoga – just received the Best of Boston 2017 award for yoga studios, and it’s because the magic in learning and growing comes from gathering and sharing with others. No app can cover that one.

Zero platitudes and so much space: how a brand new teacher sweetened my flow

His pronouncement at the beginning of our 90-minute yoga flow coursed through my Child’s Pose like poison: I’m a new teacher subbing this class. 

Uh oh…

This is my third week teaching, and I can’t wait to share all that I’ve learned with you.

Oh boy…

Before I allowed my inner asshole to emerge, I stopped myself, practiced some Ahimsa, and acknowledged two truths:

  1. I was a new teacher once. I’ve faced my share of annoyed weekend not-so-warriors staring back at me as I prayed inwardly not to fuck up my big chance at the front of the yoga room. God put me here for a reason this Sunday morning, and that’s to support this new fellow. Teacher to fellow teacher.
  2. I don’t know how this class is going to go. Could be awful, but then it could be awesome. To presume the class would suck because he was new to teaching yoga is bullshit. That’s misjudging, and I should know better.

After a lengthy preamble of how long and how often he practiced, why he loved yoga, reminders to take Child’s Pose where needed, he began teach. Really teach. Teach in a way I’m still working on five years into this gig. Since taking his class while visiting my hometown of Seattle a few weeks ago, I’ve thought about what it was that left me feeling awesome – yes awesome – as I left the studio. And I’ve since realized it’s what he didn’t do that really did it for me.

He didn’t do what so many new teachers feel they must do in the beginning to prove themselves. By avoiding so many must-do traps new and seasoned teachers frequently fall into, he delivered like a pro. Like a guy who’d been teaching for decades. Here’s what he didn’t do:

  1. Fill moments of insecurity with empty calories. I never know when it’s going to strike – that sudden jolt of self-doubt that threatens to paralyze me in any given moment of teaching. And I’ve taught long enough and frequently enough to know that no amount of preparation, memorization, planning, or high-octane coffee will eradicate the occasional moment of self-doubt. When it hits – say somewhere in the first Warrior Two – my default wants to cover it up. The coverup could show up in the form of an exhaustive succession of verbal cues (lift the arches of your feet! engage Uddiyana! soften your front ribs in! BREATHE!!!). Or perhaps a few laps around the room like a caged animal as I throw a couple of mindless assists in to avoid just standing there. But not with this new teacher. Standing in his True North alignment, he didn’t say a word. He held eye contact. Held the space. And implored the class to go deeper in every pose without needing to say anything at all.
  2. Hide at the front of the room. Sounds like an oxymoron, I know. But a teacher can effectively hide at the front of the room. Statue-like and frozen, one can be there, and not be there. My new teacher in Seattle moved throughout the room, and magically appeared next to me almost telepathically as I pressed into my first wobbly handstand. In my first few months of teaching, my feet were glued to a mat at the front of the room until a tough loving mentor/studio owner yanked my mat from me before teaching a group of 40+ students. That Oh Shit moment opened up a pathway of huge growth. No longer fearful of getting close to my students, I now relish in seeing what’s happening before me, and teaching to what’s needed – in the moment – not to what I think is happening.
  3. Impersonate another teacher. Yes, we borrow cues, sequence ideas, themes for class from several of the amazing teachers who’ve helped get us to the front of the yoga room. And that’s awesome. It’s how this process works. Lineages are passed down teacher by teacher. But the critical element that must be present is authenticity. I might repeat a specific cue gleaned from one of my teachers, but not before trying it on in my own body and practice and sharing it from a place of personal experience. Every time I share a kernel of wisdom I’ve learned from teachers before me, I ask myself: am I sharing it because I think it sounds good? To make me look good? Or am I sharing it because I firmly believe it will make a difference in my students’ experience based on my own experience? When I commit to the latter, the lineage can continue to get passed down to those learning from me, rather than disintegrating to a dust pool of half-assed empty platitudes. My new teacher that morning in Seattle shared 90 minutes of wisdom he’s gleaned from his teachers from a place of pure authenticity – including the offering of sweet, quiet space as a tool to enhance our morning flow. His calm and confident demeanor confirmed he’d embodied all the lessons he’d learned and chose to pass on to us.
  4. Speak instead of sing. Blessed with a lovely Indian accent that could easily be characterized as serenade-like, I never detected any hint of affectation or pretense. This WAS his voice. Not until I had to video my own teaching, review, and forward it to Baptiste certification reviewers did I notice how singsongy my own voice became in moments of insecurity. This was the toughest habit to break for me. Yes I amplify my voice to drive a point home, but when it hits a crazy high octave followed by 5-breath long syllable I know I’m overdoing it. It’s a classroom not Broadway Shannon.

Whether you teach, or don’t, are thinking about it, or thinking about those crazies who do, consider that even the newest teacher can rock a classroom. And if they don’t, with love and support from you – fellow students and teachers – they will very soon!