Describe a scene: a beach in north Seattle

One of my biggest fears with growing older is getting stuck on memory lane with no off-ramp in sight. Yes it’s a cliche, but the phrase going down memory lane gives me shivers. I’ve seen it imprison many a loved one, who begin every sentence with “do you remember when?” and end every conversation with “that was so much fun back then.” Or something along those lines.

describe a scene: a North Seattle beach

describe a scene: a North Seattle beach

But memory lane can afflict anyone, at any age, at any moment. Especially when visiting a long ago place from the past. A visit to my hometown of Seattle last week required a steely sheath of willpower at every corner: the marina where my ex and I once moored a boat I never felt welcome on; the tucked away neighborhood park with a backdrop of Seattle’s skyline I practiced cartwheels on; the dive bar that used to pour cheap strong bloody mary’s now turned hipster joint serving frilly overpriced whatchamacallits. Horrors…

So when I considered visiting a favorite beach of my younger years, I hesitated. Am I gonna cry? Pine for the old days of gossiping with girlfriends atop neon beach towels over who stole whose boyfriend and how did that space cadet ever make it into the honors program? Would I wish for a way to get back here more to watch my nieces grow and cuddle with my mama’s new 7-pound Shih Tzu? Stare at the distant ferry and reflect back on past training rides around hilly Bainbridge Island? Actually I did all that. But I also recognized exactly what I was doing: going down memory lane. And then I sought a way out. And what resulted has since inspired a new category for my blog, that aligns with my overall theme of And Pause Here:

Describe a scene: a beach in North Seattle”

nature's art

nature’s art

Getting present, or living life as it is happening, as opposed to playing dead by ruing over what already happened (memory) or anticipating what has not yet happened (future) and may actually never happen, requires conscious attention. Seeing what you see in front of you. Hearing what you hear around you. Smelling what you smell near you. Feeling what you feel physically. Yoga is an incredible conduit into presence. Through action in the flow of the poses, through conscious breathing and drishti (gaze). If you teach, through observation and giving tools to your students in the moment based on what you see.

drifting to wherever...

drifting to wherever…

But writing a scene as it unfolds in front of me is also, I discovered through this exercise, an avenue into presence. I didn’t have a pen and paper handy as I typically do, but the Notes app on my iPhone worked fine. The phrases that emerged through the exercise isn’t of much importance to me, because looking back at the result now is really just another trip down memory lane. But the very act of recording my experience got me more present than I recall being in a very long time, and for that I’m intrigued and inspired by how describing a scene can be a huge awakening into my life as it is unfolding right now.

 

see what you see

see what you see

Here’s what I recorded, and remember, the purpose here wasn’t to create some poetic masterpiece or generate any oohs or ahhs, but to simply describe life as I saw it in the moment:

  • dried seaweed mottled shades of pickled green underfoot giving off an odor most would pinch their nose at but made me flare my nostrils wider with remembrance
  • a familiar marine breeze tickling my skin on this late August afternoon – neither dry nor humid, something else entirely, specific to this northwest corner of the world
  • rogue doggy turds here and there that missed the scoop bag
  • driftwood turned sculpture via nature’s moods
  • small laps of Puget Sound waters curling at the rocky edge
  • giggly kiddos bent low foraging for interesting rocks minded by back packed parents not quite warm enough to ditch the sleeves
  • multi car freight train competing with the water’s symphony. Not sure who won…
  • pointy-topped evergreens providing the backdrop behind me
  • stiff bottom atop a splintered half log I can’t yet bring myself to leave…it’s become this morning’s silent narrator of the magnificent scene surrounding me, keeping me present, and protected from the past
  • off-kilter seagull happy to let the tide drift him to wherever
  • shadowy, ghostlike mountain range peering back at me, only revealing a silhouette of its soul
  • my own shadow reflected back at me through the meandering foundation of sand, seaweed, stones and wood particles – so that’s the shape of me knee, my elbow..

 

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I’m not a Master teacher. Nor need I be.

Scan a few studio websites, read a few yoga bios, and you’re bound to land on it: so and so is a Master teacher. Not just a pedestrian, dime a dozen yoga teacher, but a Master teacher. Supporting the designation will perhaps include several bullet points highlighting credentials earned; years trained; lineages studied; trainings led; books published; Yoga Journal covers graced and so on.

All awesome. Really. I’ve followed and trained from a totally valid list of Master teachers since developing a life long obsession with this practice, and wouldn’t question the validity behind their designation for a second. Except that where my own path of yoga teaching is concerned, I’m far more interested in the process of mastery than ever becoming a Master. The minute I call myself a Master of anything (though I think I’m a Master of loving up any dog – from pipsqueak pug to massive mastiff – that comes within petting distance), the book sort of closes for me. As in, chapter over, you finished it, go find something else. Labeling myself a Master teacher doesn’t allow for the natural fuck ups and foibles that go along with the process of discovery. The process of mastery.

So you’re a civilian today, are you?”

Choosing mastery over the pressure of being a Master lets me continue what I love most: being a student. As I rolled out my mat in a fellow teacher’s class this morning, one of my students scratched his head over seeing me set up in the back of the room as opposed to the front. Yes sir, I’m a civilian. A student just like you, working to master these poses and all the internal crap that followed me into the room just like you. Today and every day after.

It’s what makes me a better teacher. A better student. A better human being.”

Warm Potato Salad with Love

Warm Potato Salad with Love

In fact, the more I suck, the more motivated I get to getting better at whatever it is I currently suck at. Two days ago I was tasked with preparing a simple hot veggie dish for a volunteer organization (Community Cooks) that distributes a nice meal prepared by a team of six of us to low-income down on their luck good-hearted people in need. Because I sort of suck at cooking (the book says 15 minute prep time; reality is 60 minute Shan time, as I discern the difference between a colander and a sieve, sigh…), I’m all in. All in for nailing this motherf****er of an epicurean warm new potato salad with grainy mustard. And as the dish left my door for the truck, I delighted in pure gluttonous satisfaction over mastering this one-dish challenge. Because God knows I am no Master in the kitchen. Thank God for that.

Shannon Brady: Non-Master Yoga Teacher…”

If I had to include the word Master in my teacher bio, I think the description would go something like this:

  • She mastered the ability to fall on her ass, laugh loudly, get up and do it again until eventually she held Half Moon pose.
  • She mastered accepting the reality that some students, no matter how much heart and soul she puts into her classes, aren’t coming back. And won’t ever tell her why.
  • She mastered the act of calming her hyperactive mind, restless body, and about-to-sob-out-loud state of emotion through breath, focus and rigorous flow on her mat. Every time.

So yogis, if you’re hung up on whether or not you’re a Master at anything at all, let it go. Try mastery instead. It’s more fun without all the pressure.

Savasana is a yoga pose too. So please stay put already.

Teaching all levels yoga classes presents some interesting challenges. How to accommodate the gentleman in back floating on his hands with clear Drishti (single-pointed gaze) and audible Ujjayi (breath) set, while assuring the young woman grimacing in angst that a gentle twist, not a spine-crunching shout, will do just fine in Revolved Crescent Lunge. But this teacher likes a challenge, and from what I’ve observed, newbies and longtime yogis can co-exist beautifully in all levels classes. In my best classes, there is a palpable spirit of give and receive:

  • Newbies reigniting in longtime yogis a once-dormant passion for the practice through multiple epiphanies (woo hoo! I hovered in Crow Pose! Oh shit! I fell out of Half Moon but I’m laughing at myself!)
  • Longtime yogis giving permission through example that yes, you can breathe like Darth Vader if that’s your thing, or take a breather in Child’s pose if you damn well please.
Sweet Savasana

Sweet Savasana

Which brings me to Savasana, sometimes referred to as Deep Rest. It comes at the end, and involves nothing more than lying down, quieting your mind, and resting for five or so minutes before leaving the room. Through my own practice and teaching I’ve come to believe this is the most challenging pose of the practice. Yes, you read that correctly: lying flat on your back with your eyes closed doing absolutely nothing is the most challenging pose of the practice.

I shouldn’t have watered the lawn at dusk…”

At the end of a powerful 90-minute practice with Jane Cargill at Baptiste Yoga Boston, sweaty and a little shaky from several two-minute holds sprinkled throughout class (Forearm Plank, Downward Facing Dog, Wheel), my mind gushed forth with thoughts like a hose I couldn’t turn off. The mosquito bite on my second toe, unnoticed up until this point, screamed at me with reminders to never water the lawn in bare feet at dusk. My sweet niece needed her letter of recommendation for fall sorority rush completed in a few hours. My cat hasn’t received enough hugs today. And on it goes…the mind. Savasana is Deep Rest not just for the body, but the mind. And it can be oh so hard.

Is your boss, spouse, or dog really gonna notice if you’re away just five more minutes?”

I smile and gently open the door prematurely for at least one student in every class that ‘has to leave 5 minutes early’ for one reason or other. And they always tell me beforehand, and I am completely fine with that. One of the guiding principles of yoga is non-judgment, and I’m grateful for every student who shows up for my class and shares their energy and spirit with me and others. But I’m also a little sad, because they’re missing the opportunity to practice the most challenging pose in the practice, and reap the rewards before heading back out into the chaos of life. There are so many benefits to the pose, and I’m hoping that listing them here will help me appreciate and practice it with intention as well, even with an itchy mosquito bite:

  • Savasana is re-integration. I think of it as my halfway house of support to transport me out of the period of time working on myself and into being of service to others. Leaving the room in slingshot fashion out of a latter-part-of-class pose (classic Headstand or Shoulder Stand for example) and before Savasana leaves me feeling agitated and incomplete. Not how I want to greet those I’m about to come in contact with.
  • Clean the slate of mental anguish. Paint over a wall with too many coats and the texture changes. It gets mottled, hiding the purest, sweetest form of itself. Savasana, when I can put aside the nagging thoughts and itchy bug bite on my toe, helps reveal the purest version of me. Not all my stories, anxieties, checklists and judgments. Just a calm, relaxed, strong woman who loves yoga.
  • The perfect marinade. Lying in my own sweat, shaky from effort, in full surrender I feel totally at home. Because home is in my own body, which has proven once again all that it is capable of and all that is possible from this point forward.

Next time you practice, do take Savasana. Because sometimes it really is better to stay put.