It’s Not About Me. What a Relief.

Sit still already, I inwardly commanded. The final day of a weekend-long gathering with fellow certified Baptiste Power Yoga teachers, I wriggled restlessly on a foam block atop my mat attempting to get comfortable. Maybe I need two blocks. Damn hips. No, straighten out my right leg, the one with a stiff knee devoid of any remaining cartilage. That’s what I get for insisting on just one more marathon. A little spinal twist right and left. That’ll bring some relief…

It’s not about me.”

It's not about me.

It’s not about me. YogaSoul NJ 2013.

Her words stopped me mid-spiral in my poor-me and my woeful stiff back descent. Because until that moment, I was solely focused on me. Not the amazing group of teachers preparing for certification around me. Not the giant rainbow of mats canvasing the studio floor supporting our collective growth as teachers to serve them, our students and communities, not ourselves. Hearing this simple phrase – the mantra that teacher leader Bethany Lyons (owner of Lyons Den Power Yoga) uses when she finds herself caught up in her thoughts while teaching, elicited a smack-in-the-head reality check with what I’ve been spending way too much time doing: making it all about me.

Make it about him.”

Six people showed up for my class yesterday. The room can hold, I don’t know, 60 yogis? Before I launched into my WTF litany of whys, however – are my classes too hard, does my voice grate, did my students go with a Rodney Yee DVD practice in lieu of my class – I  summoned Bethany’s words and paused long enough to meet the gaze of a man struggling in Warrior II. It’s about him, Shannon. He came to your class, along with the five other yogis, and needs your support. In that moment I stepped out of my thoughts and got present to what he needed: a gentle adjustment of his front knee, an invitation to relax his toes, his jaw, and deepen his breath. I stayed with him until I saw it happen, and his gift to me was a smile and complete shift in energy.

And it isn’t limited to yoga. Limiting the practice of making it about others instead of me to the studio floor would be to miss out entirely. Yoga practice, and teaching, for me, are a microcosm of life. How am I showing up for others in the grocery store line? The hipster coffee shop down the street – can I relax and interact with the nattily-decked out couple with retro-cool Sperry topsiders, designer sunglasses and motorcycle jackets without worrying about my getup of sweaty tights and tangled hair after my AM class? Can I hold a conversation with the new neighbors next door without prattling on about soles-of-feet woes from walking barefoot on hardwood floors all day? It’s about them, not me.

Dogs provide the biggest head-check, I’ve found. Volunteering at an animal rescue in Pennsylvania before moving to Boston pulled me out of me zone time and again. Duchess, the female Boxer recovering from a horrible experience in a puppy mill retreated away from me every time she sensed I was somewhere else. She, along with Monty the pitt bull retriever, and Piper, the small in size but giant in attitude terrier taught me to put 100% attention on them. No time for ruing in my head, just gentle strokes behind the ears and an awesome game of Kong toy toss and fetch worked best.

“Then do it for someone else!”

Getting out of my head in my yoga practice is probably the biggest challenge. Comparing – to anything – the student next to me, the practice I did yesterday, the teenage butt I had thirty years ago, is a frequent head space I find myself in. As is what’s for breakfast after class – kale smoothie or ten croissants? But calling to mind someone else generally pulls me out of it. A former teacher of mine implored the entire class to “do it for someone else!” during a marathon round of Wheel pose. My late papa was suffering at the time and would have given anything to pop up out of his library wing chair and into a big heart-opening Wheel pose. So I did it for him. Ten times.

Because in that moment, I made it about him. And I’m working toward adding more moments of making it about them instead of me.

Because in the end that is when I’m my best ‘Me’.

 

Lessons from a failed pet adoption

What was supposed to be a glorious start to 2016 has quickly spiraled into an bitter gumbo of painful emotions ranging from guilt to fear to compassion to regret to sorrow and round and round the coil of pain turns. All over a dog.

IMG_0040Yes a dog. Not just any dog, but a sweet, equal parts energetic and happy-to-chill at your feet rescue dog. Her Facebook photos, a short video clip, and one or two phone conversations with her handlers convinced me she would fit beautifully into our home.

She didn’t. And through no fault of her own.

My heart got ahead of my head.”

In most cases – and I truly believe this – it’s better to put your heart ahead of your head. But in this case the consequences proved disastrous. By not considering all the potential (ok, probable) variables of bringing a dog into our home I broke a few hearts. Starting with mine:

  • Will she peacefully cohabitate with my cat?
  • Will I have the time and resources to train her?
  • Do I know enough about her background?
  • Is our urban environment the best fit for this dog?

If I’d listened to my head, the answer would have been a resounding NO on all counts. Alas, my heart got ahead of me, and we drove three hours to retrieve her. The immersion process did not go well, and it is largely because I did not consider the above. After tearful discussion over what was best for this dog, my husband and I chose to surrender her back to the rescue.

Now Shannon. What have we learned?”

About this time last year, I lost my stepfather, who raised me and helped instill a core value of taking accountability for all my mistakes. “Don’t let yourself off the hook until you’ve learned and grown from this, Shannon,” he used to say.  Since his passing, he frequently appears in my consciousness as a loving compass directing me back toward the right path forward through life. His spirit was there at the ready as my tears refused to dry and the path forward filled with a dense fog of sadness. To be honest, I don’t know what the lessons here are yet, other than I f***ed up on this decision, and there’s pain to go around that extends beyond me…to the dog, her rescuers, to those I shared this happy story with, to my husband who despite all efforts can’t console me right now.

Much as I did not want to share this story of woe, perhaps it can serve as a lesson for others.

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.

Count your lucky scars: the secret blessings I’ve found in mine

Diligent as I am with the SPF50, I can’t hide it. It’s mid-July. Morning runs down the Somerville Community Path, bike rides navigating pothole-punctured roads alongside horn-happy Boston drivers to and from my yoga studio, and easy strolls through outdoor arts fests nearby are turning my face a shade darker. Except for an egg-sized patch on my lower right cheek. There’s no pigment there. Get close enough, and you see it. No amount of sun block or Clinique “Even Better” foundation can cover it up. It’ll just melt off, leaving me with a stark reminder of a painful point in time 7 years ago.

And that’s a good thing. Really.

Because that scar, along with the others accumulated over my 46 years, has taught me what it means to be truly alive. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from getting a little banged up, and why you might consider celebrating your scars too:

1. I learned to shine without the gloss. The faint egg-shaped patch on my cheek, 7 years ago, was at that time a nasty abrasion that needed full exposure to air to heal properly. “No bandages!” my dermatologist warned, sending me off with a jar of prescription antibiotic goo to rub in multiple times a day. As you might imagine, I wasn’t too keen on heading back to my job as membership director of a swanky downtown athletic club, where on a typical day I conducted tours to prospective members, sat around a board table with upper management and tolerated the fast-witted tongue of a colleague who was sure to launch a jab or two at the open wound on my face. Embarrassment not counting as an approved reason for excused time off, I had to park my vanity and face the world. Looking back, I’m so glad I did. I got to share something of myself beyond the polished, glossy image I presented every day at my job to those who asked: that I had a passion for road cycling, trained every weekend, was preparing for a 200-mile ride at the time. I got to experience bold compassion from complete strangers: a young woman coming out of an elevator, for example: “I’ve been there. You’ll heal. Hang in there.”

a little banged up but  not broken

a little banged up but not broken

2. Others want to help you – especially your mother. That same accident crushed my right hand, which broke my fall and got tangled in the spokes. After four days I finally called my mom (with my left hand). Dunking my head in the sink as she lathered shampoo and massaged my scalp transported me back to age four, when she did the same. Tears of love and gratitude helped rinse the grit – both physical and emotional, from my hair. A few months ago one of my favorite yoga teachers in class reminded us to not rob others of their opportunity to support us. I was in Downward Facing Dog, and the scars on my right hand took me back to that loving moment with my head under the sink, Mama washing away the pain.

Petunia and my husband

Petunia and my husband

3. Love bold enough to get hurt. It’s so worth it. My first foray into dog rescue work scared the shit out of me. The dogs that needed me most weren’t the little yappy cuties that fit into designer sweaters. More like muscular boxers and pitties whose barks rang several octaves lower. It took me three weeks to lock myself into Petunia’s dog run, slip her collar on, and somehow get her out into the field without face planting. But I did. Again and again for several months before relocating to another city. She and I would play until I ran out of gas, and when I settled into the Adirondack chair she’d climb into my lap and snuggle close. A white streak across my left ankle is a vivid reflection of the time she climbed up into my lap a little too quickly, eager to prove how much love she had to offer to the good soul out there who would one day adopt her.

So reconsider your scars. They could represent mistakes, yes. But also lessons. Awakenings. Pathways toward your heart center, your strength.

Lost or Found? A Brief Story

Enjoyed exploring this writing style – and thrilled to see it on this awesome site (The Drabble.)

Mid-run, Bentley yanked me backward. Which is something. Thousands of dollars and multiple miles have taught him to stay astride.

A damp, crumpled flyer mid-path caught his eye: “Missing. 8-month old male lab/pit/boxer mix. No collar.”

No phone number. No date. A grainy photo. Nothing else.

Another inexperienced owner. Sigh. “Let’s go Bent …”

No way. Coal eyes locked on mine, tail erect, paws grounded with a singular purpose, we weren’t moving.

Until I found that dog.

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Lost or found? a brief story

*Note: this post is part of a 20-day writing prompt 101 program I’m participating in. Today’s Prompt: “You stumble upon a random letter on the path. Write a story about this encounter in as few words as possible.”

lost or found?

lost or found?

Mid-run, Bentley yanked me backward. Which is something. Thousands of dollars and multiple miles have taught him to stay astride.

A damp, crumpled flyer mid-path caught his eye: “Missing. 8-month old male lab/pit/boxer mix. No collar.”

No phone number. No date. A grainy photo. Nothing else.

Another inexperienced owner. Sigh. “Let’s go Bent…”

No way. Coal eyes locked on mine, tail erect, paws grounded with a singular purpose, we weren’t moving.

Until I found that dog.

 

 

*image courtesy of dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How pets – past and present – have gotten me out of my head and into my heart

Nora at Main Line Animal Rescue

Nora at Main Line Animal Rescue

Three friends on facebook this week have lost, or are about to lose a beloved pet: a yellow lab with soulful eyes; an affectionate cat who prioritized cuddling over everything else; a beautiful brindled coat pit bull terrier whose owner deemed her the best friend he ever had.

Reading these posts, and the long stream of supportive comments below them confirmed my belief that owning and caring for a pet is something every human should experience. Pets have the ability to burst your heart open wide – pulling you out of your head (clogged with future agendas, past regrets) and into the beauty and delight of right now. Give your dog or cat the opportunity, and they’ll show what it means to be 100% in the moment, unconcerned with tomorrow’s meeting with the boss or yesterday’s guilt over chowing down too many Holiday cookies.

Losing a pet sucks, and the pain that came with grieving over my beloved Bentley (a proud, black standard poodle who remained at my side through massive life changes) made me ponder whether I should have owned a pet at all it hurt so bad. But three years since his passing I now cherish the lessons he taught me, and am convinced I would not be living life as fully or with as much gratitude had I not spent 11 precious years with this goofy boy.

After reading and weeping (yep, I cried with each post), I spontaneously sped out to Main Line Animal Rescue to volunteer for an hour in the afternoon. I don’t typically volunteer Thursdays as I have a full morning teaching yoga, but I had to find respite and knew my favorite pups here would provide it. Nora, a one-year old black lab who has yet to get the hang of walking a straight line (left! right! find me a ball to catch!). Windy, a petite, white pit bull terrier with the cutest damn ears I’ve ever seen – so what if they don’t work? (she’s deaf). Casco, who shares a run with Ginger Spice, who didn’t get out because Ginger Spice wasn’t about to let me get him out without taking her too (sorry sweet boy, I’ll grab another volunteer to help me get you out both next time, promise!!) Just an hour with these pups pulled me out of my grieving for my friends’ pets, for my Bentley, and brought me into the joy of the moment.

Scout and Junior, my rescue kitties

Scout and Junior, my rescue kitties

And that evening I sat on a velvet bean bag covered in fur snuggling with my two rescue kitties as they purred and gazed into my eyes, and my heart.

If you’ve never owned a pet, consider it. Visit your local rescue and allow a four-legged pal to show you what it means to really love.