A life message found in my polar fleece.

I pulled an old favorite off the hanger this morning on my way to yoga practice. An avocado green and heather gray zip up with a distinct North Face logo on the front. I’m a dead giveaway, my husband says each time I put it on:

What is it with Seattle people and their North Face obsession?”

My North Face jacket and a pup I met on a walk

My North Face jacket and a pup I met on a walk

He says this in a spirit of love, of course, knowing that at least five other hangers are housing a variation of my North Face theme: a silver gray fuzzy number with embroidered pink ribbon that helps me remember a dear friend who lost her battle with cancer; a figure flattering black mid-weight jacket I can rock with skinny jeans and boots; a dough-boy puffy coat reserved for the wickedest New England storm. These coats have followed me coast to coast, and endured heavy downpours, my kitty’s claws, an accidental turn in the dryer, and sweaty bike rides to and from the studio. Each one is as familiar as my thousandth downward facing dog.

But today as I was zipping up, I glanced at the inner edge of my seam and lingered over the three powerful words sewn in:

Never Stop Exploring”

As a former marketing grunt, I so totally appreciate the brilliance of this tagline. But on my walk to the studio this morning, it represented more to me than just badass branding.

In regarding the phrase, the events of my life that turn the corners of my mouth up upon reflection are the ones that involved uninhibited curiosity, fascination over fear, and a gnawing hunger to dive deeper. Times when I never stopped exploring:

  • An Eastern Asian Studies professor in college who taught solely from direct experience and extensive research on the Chinese dynasties, coupled with my late father’s vast library of Asian art history detailing woodcarving, calligraphy, porcelain and architecture through the centuries cultivated in me a fascination with this part of the world. A part of the world I simply had to explore. Four individual trips canvasing China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand sparked memories I will hold dear the rest of my life. Slopping through muddy paths in flip flops to reach an authentic open market in the Tonkinese Alps to see Blue Hmong villagers sell their handcrafted textiles. Warming at the sight of a lovely young Vietnamese woman from behind – long black mane cascading down her white Ao Dai, an angel on a piano bench – play my favorite Debussy classic , Claire de Lune, while I dined in the heart of bustling Ho Chi Minh City.
  • Carving a month out of my life to settle into a small Berkshires town and step into a 200-hour yoga training immersion, the only thread of familiarity my beat up Manduka mat, which collected countless tears as I tackled fear, self-doubt, and explored all the hidden treasures and debilitating patterns swirling around inside me. My exploration into the history, philosophies, and possibility this practice has to offer has indeed left me hungry to journey further into its infinite wisdom. Wisdom to be expressed on and off the mat through my own individual interpretation.
  • I laugh now as I recall all four paws of the biggest pit bull I’d ever seen meet the glass door, daring me to enter his dog run at a rescue I volunteered at. After about five deep Ujhayi breaths to overcome my no fucking way reaction to the vision in front of me, I locked myself in (part of the procedure to get him collared up and ready to play, I was instructed). What do I do now? What methods can I use with my own body language, voice, and focus to make this possible? Dog rescue work was an entirely new form of exploring for me, and as I danced with fear, frustration, and eventual joy over calming my new friend down enough to get him out on God’s green earth to play like all our four-legged angels are meant to do, I felt that same passion and inner fire that yelled, YES. You are meant to do this. Keep exploring!

So keep exploring. Even if you have to put on your dorky Seattle fleece to do it.

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Why my kitchen table is no place to write

my new desk

my new desk

If I can finish this sentence without popping another Nespresso pod into the machine that will be something. So too if I can leave the dirty pan from last night’s home stir fry well alone. These are my challenges with thinking the granite island in the middle of my kitchen could ever serve as a suitable space with which to write. Expecting something more insightful to emerge than a scribbled post-it shopping list of avocados and Rau’s pasta while sitting here is a stretch.

But my special space is coming. Thank God. I’ve just chosen a lovely desk to adorn the snug room upstairs that’s sat empty since moving here four months ago. Windows flank both walls, my kitty can curl up next to me in the corner rattan chair, and the Chinese rug conjures countless memories of those I’ve known and loved that have walked across it. Here, I will be able to fully express myself. Uninterrupted.

Self-expression, to me, is living – in full presence – connected to the little flame deep down in my heart that so many of life’s daily requirements and “should do” rules conspire to blow out at any given moment. It comes in so many forms. For me, it’s blogging, practicing and teaching yoga, pairing an emerald green heirloom pin from my late grandmother with a vintage sweater, stumbling through homemade granola and Thai curry recipes. Your have your ways to express too.

But we need space to do that. Space from people, distractions, and perhaps even environmental triggers that can conjure up self-squashing doubts that keep our creativity harnessed and unexpressed. I endured a period of years without appreciating the importance of space, allowing others, coupled with my own marginalized sense of worth, to lock me in a state of numbness as I moved through my day.

Now Shannon. That’s just not copacetic…”

My late father used to say this mid-head shake any time he visited a restaurant, church, or public space lacking any sense of aesthetic. As a prolific interior designer and revered artist, he ingrained in me early on the difference between craftsmanship and garishness, thoughtfulness and neglect. In spaces and personalities. “You’ll never think clearly in a room painted this ghastly shade of purple,” he warned before helping me opt instead for a soft rose hue in a former beach house I once lived in.

He nodded his head in knowing when I cried in desperation over not being able to absorb the fire hydrant of suggestions from various well-meaning but at times overbearing family and friends as I was going through a divorce at age 40. “Go outside, away from what you see everyday, by yourself, and walk. Slowly. Notice everything around you,” he offered.

I’m happy to say I’ve done that repeatedly since our talk. Five moves in five years, I can describe in detail the particulars of a bench on the towpath in Princeton facing the Delaware & Raritan Canal. The family of deer who’d greet me before dawn as I walked, flashlight in hand, through a wooded area of a development community in Pennsylvania. And now the Somerville Community Path, where I grin at the continuous parade of retrievers, pit bulls, poodles and their cousins on my way to the yoga studio.

Close your eyes here and look inside…”

In my home studio downstairs, the only one watching me is a beautifully carved Indonesian Buddha calmly blessing my practice from the corner of the room. Even so, I can get self-conscious trying on new variations of a pose, especially if it involves the hips. I’m reminded by a fabulous mentor and teacher that sometimes we have to close our eyes, and get out of our own way to re-ignite our inner creative fire.

With these thoughts in mind, I’ll close here. And succumb to the Nespresso machine already…

Thanks for reading

This post is timely, heart-warming, at times heart-breaking, and I’m so glad I stumbled across. Who – gay, straight, transgender, male, female, black, white, latino, asian, anyone – can’t relate on some level to the human emotions surrounding insecurity, lack of confidence, isolation? I’ve felt it, and thank God every day for meeting and marrying a special man who came into my life after a failed marriage and sense of hopelessness. Marriage is special, and I’m thrilled for these two as they embark on a beautiful life journey together.

izzygutierrez

By Israel Gutierrez

I’ve been agonizing for months trying to figure out how to do this.

It’s been incredibly difficult, to the point where I usually talk myself in circles and end up making very little sense.

So I decided on this simple blog entry. No formalities, no restrictions, just me letting you into a portion of my life I’ve kept largely separate from my professional career.

I’m gay, which plenty of people, I’m sure, have either deduced or just guessed as much over the years.

But this isn’t me “coming out.” The truth is, I’ve been out to friends and family for more than six years.

The reason I’m tackling this now is, primarily, because I’m getting married on September 12. And besides the fact that it would be annoying to tell my story every time someone sees my wedding ring, it just seemed like a natural time to…

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I can no longer put my leg behind my head. And I don’t give a shit.

Twenty some odd years ago, in the basement of a hippie-ish Seattle yoga studio bedecked in ferns, funky palms (probably a cannabis variety too), incense and candle wax, I marveled at the skinny, half-naked dude in the front corner of the room effortlessly weaving a femur bone behind his head. How long’s he gonna sit like that? On a hard block with the other leg in half lotus? And how many hours will it take in this room, or on my living room floor, at my desk, or in my sister’s backyard, til I can tangle my body up like that? My 23-year old mind pleaded. Because of course then all my problems would be solved…

Tree Pose

Tree Pose

Now on the back side of my 40s, I know better. But not before doing hard time yanking my leg behind my head at every opportunity in the early days of my practice. It’s taken years of Sun Salutations, nudges to ‘back off’ from experienced teachers, and a ton of self-inquiry to recognize that tangling myself up in yoga knots isn’t going to make my phobia of loud noises, struggle to accept the physical changes in my body, or any crappy issue I’m dealing with go away.

The ego feeds off your desire to be something else” – Osho

In the early days, with each newly acquired fancy-looking variation of a pose came a greedy hunger for more. A now that I can do this, I damn well better learn to do that mentality. And a feeling of not being enough. My yoga started to feel like a trip to the mall – filling up shopping bags of pricey tattered denims and Stuart Weizman stilettos – then discarding them as soon as the next cycle of fast fashion promotions came steamrolling through the media. And speaking of media, today’s yogi stands little chance avoiding the onslaught of Instagrammed beauties in handstands on cliffs (when I see a #yogaeverydamnday! I have to brace myself…), studio workshop emails promising to “open your hips!”, and retailers portraying hundred-buck tights on toned tushes clogging my FB scroll.

Thankfully, discovering a yoga style (Baptiste Power Yoga) that dismisses mirrors and encourages single-pointed focus (in other words, eyes on your own mat – not the skinny dude with a leg behind his head) has helped, but that’s not all.

All people are born with different constitutions” -B.K.S. Iyengar

I recently started taking French at the Cultural Center in Boston because frankly, after two trips to Europe in the past four months I felt like a jackass not having a second language when it seems the rest of the world does. After a brief phone interview, I got placed in a higher level than absolute basics, and upon arrival to my first class measured up my fellow students as though we were about to face off in some sort of vocabulary smackdown. I caught myself, but it took a few minutes to recognize how I completely missed that these people were here to learn with me, not against me.

It can happen in the yoga studio too – the girl with the skinnier butt in back; the guy whose Chaturanga jump backs are more graceful than mine. Get into teaching and the wheels can really come off…she’s got more students in her class; my Utkatasana cues come out garbled. And on it goes.

The simplicity in Iyengar’s reminder can stop it in its tracks, however. Because really, even if I’d been sprinting around an oval 24/7 since age 2, I’m no match for Usain Bolt. He’s he. I’m me. Totally cool.

You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting your natural state” – Sharon Gannon

With each passing year I try to hang on. To memories. Abilities. Even states of ignorance. My husband and I booked a weekend to stay at the same, humble motel near where I completed my 200-hour training that we celebrated four years ago, only to cancel it last minute. Because after further thought, I realized my 200-hour celebration was a moment in time. One that couldn’t, nor shouldn’t be repeated. Life flows. And every now and then I need to remind myself to ride the wave and experience what’s happening right in front of me. My yoga practice helps me this way.

I also stare at the pair of Brooks running shoes in the corner of my closet, and feel a small tug (actually some days it’s more like an aggressive yank) of wanting. Wanting to lace them up and float above the pavement for ten miles as I breathe, sweat, smile, and rejoice in how, for so many years, God allowed me to run for miles and miles as though it was the most natural thing in the world. But I can’t anymore. My right knee creaks with each descent down a stair. My left Achilles is mottled with scar tissue. I’m no longer able to run, but I can roll out my yoga mat. And I’m okay with that, just as soon as I look away from those shoes.

The knowledge I’ve acquired through my practice is a blessing, but it can also suck. Because I now know what’s really happening to my shoulder joint when taking the deep bind variation of Extended Side Angle (it’s a tangle of twinging tendons and muscles that have not been happily placed), I can’t satisfy my mind’s image of beauty in motion. I now take a less aesthetically pleasing, but more core-strengthening variation that is enhancing other areas of my practice I never would have imagined had I hung on to my former ways. I’m growing up, in my practice and my life. And part of that process requires accepting the aging process and changes that go with it.

So I invite you to detangle. Let your hair down and work to find your natural state regardless how you think it’s supposed to look. Surrender and let the Universe do its thing.

Namaste.