alarm bells and silver linings: a few holiday lessons

“How about you put your passion, sweat, and physical effort into your Christmas tree instead?” my Dad urged on the other end of the phone. “Sit down, relax and have some fun, will ya?”

I’m trying, pops. If only it were that simple. With an all-of-a-sudden giant amount of unexpected free time in the midst of a job shift, I’m trying to find that elusive silver lining inside the granite cloud of uncertainty hovering over my head.

Fundamentally I know there’s silver on the horizon waiting to reveal a glint of hope, and deep down in my heart I knew this when I chose not to continue teaching under new ownership of the studio I’ve been teaching at since moving to Boston over a year ago. But the emotional waves of change, compounded by a recent death in the family, are now oscillating in wild enough degrees to make it impossible to complete a conversation with anyone – even the barista asking if I want room for milk – without a Kleenex at the ready. Yes, I need room for milk, and more room to get a handle on what the year ahead will look like. What the day ahead will look like.

As I’ve said, encountering death has a way of jerking your priorities into line,” – James C. Dobson

Shan and Greg's Mama, 2015

Shan and Greg’s Mama, 2015

Change is hard. Especially unexpected change. My husband’s mama passed away recently, and we attended her service in Lancaster, PA this weekend. What initially felt like a double dose of pain is now beginning to show a flicker of silver, however. Blanketed in the supportive arms of extended family we rarely see and stories shared of how she touched us all, I discovered how much I actually enjoy company, and my nagging tendency to self-sequester. Images on a photo board at the entrance of the church sanctuary chronicling every stage of her life implored me to spend mine wisely. Yes that includes yoga, but not at the expense of other areas that bring me joy. Holding her mama’s hand as a little girl reminded me to stay close to my mama on the opposite coast. Presenting a cake she just baked was a message to celebrate – whatever the occasion. Holding my husband-as-toddler at the beach in one photo, confidently grasping a hunting rifle in another, kissing grand babies and looking out over a ship’s deck – all visual reminders to live multidimensionally in this precious life of mine.

Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Facebook messages, texts, phone calls and emails from caring friends I didn’t know I had in the past few days has revealed yet another streak of silver. Offerings to talk to so and so, notes thanking me for how I brought inspiration to the class, invitations to share a coffee and croissant are convincing me I’m on the right path. Even if I have no idea what’s at the end of it. For the first time since moving to Boston I’m exploring new places to practice, new bookstores to troll, new streets to wander. Just two blocks away every house is decked to the nines in icicle lights, blow up Santas, reindeer on the front lawn and an invitation to experience it in all its glory after the sun goes down.

The abrupt shift in income (none cometh through teaching) is challenging me to trust my faith will see me through this transition. God, my love and experience of the practice, and positive outlook will reap the fruits of my labor of love once again. Not sure when, but it will.

There’s always someone who’s got it a whole lot worse than you.” – a past co-worker of mine in Seattle who was always volunteering for one good cause or another

The lovely souls suffering in Syria, homeless folks without food or shelter, animals awaiting loving homes. The list goes on. I’m so blessed, and this shift is getting me present to it.

Christmas cookies for Community Cooks - a volunteer organization

Christmas cookies for Community Cooks – a volunteer organization

Here’s hoping that whatever you’re going through, you’ll keep looking for the silver linings and allow the alarm bells to fade.

Love My Blog? Help Me Help Others.

With Millie from AYP

With Millie from AYP

The past three days my email has been flooded with deals: “30% off with an additional 15% off if purchased by noon”; “buy three get one free”; “one-day sale only!”. My head is spinning. These emails have reminded me, however, how frivolous spending can get, and strengthened my resolve to meet my $4000 fundraising goal to support an organization that really needs my dollars – Africa Yoga Project. This organization changes lives and communities for the better, and I’ve seen this first hand through graduates I’ve met. So much so I’ve chosen to travel to Nairobi, Kenya next April to assist a 200-hour Teacher Training Program. None of the $4000 I’m raising will be used to cover my personal expenses, but rather go directly toward supporting the program.

I hope you enjoy my blog, and if so, the best form of a thank you would be considering a donation to the fund. Whether it’s $10 or $100, no amount is too small. Donating is easy, simply click on this link and follow the prompts: Shannon’s Africa Yoga Project Fundraising Page

If you do donate, please post a comment so I can properly thank you!

 

Your mat or the front door? Why you should stay. Even if your beloved yoga teacher is away.

I wanted to curse back. I really did. Yep. Even yoga teachers get pissed. I didn’t, of course, as my commitment to ahimsa (non-violence) kicked in before any four letter words flew. But what happened in between concluding my own class, and checking students into the one that followed, got my blood boiling to a degree that nearly sent me into Ninja mode. I won’t say when it happened, or where, because it doesn’t matter. What does matter is what I learned from the experience, and how I circumvented a primal instinct to lash out. Instead I breathed, paused, and chose to see a human being across the desk from me instead of a vulture. I’m no angel either. Thank you Yoga.

But dammit anyway.

Teaching at YogaSoul Princeton. 2013.

Teaching, 2013.

She blitzed in two minutes past class start time, scanned her class tag in the system, and, upon learning the class underway wasn’t being taught by her favorite teacher, recoiled. An audible gasp, accusatory ‘how dare you!” narrowed eyes, and full on tantrum ensued. Others nearby caught her ugly drift and likely spent their first breaths of class exhaling her bullshit out. All because a sub was teaching the class. Fortunately the teacher was in the studio and away from the ridiculous scene unfolding before me. Inwardly seething, I outwardly responded as calmly as I could: “Your mat or the front door? Decide now, please.”

“You should update the website sooner! I come all this way to get here!”

But here’s the thing. You haven’t traveled nearly as far as the teacher inside the studio waiting for you. Or any of the teachers who’ve dedicated themselves to mastering an art form that no matter how hard we try, aren’t going to please everyone. The teacher inside has journeyed through endless trainings, extra work shifts to pay for those trainings, bumpy hills and valleys and countless teeth-chattering, nerve-wracking first year classes grooming her chops so that she can show up trained and prepared to support you and all the baggage you bring into the space every time you choose to stay.

Is that someone you really want to walk away from?

I’ve been subbing classes since my early 20s. High impact aerobics, belly blasters, bootcamp basics, yoga, you name it. Goes with the teaching territory. And if I had let the not-so-subtle reactions of disappointed students pining for their favorite teacher instead of me get into my head, I’d have thrown in the gym towel long, long ago. I understand it’s human nature to get disappointed when a favorite teacher isn’t there as planned. Especially when I’ve arranged my day around a favorite class. But someone stepped in to show up for me. And to turn around and walk out the door isn’t the answer. Think about it. Here’s what you’d be walking away from:

  • A healthy time out for yourself. To get fit. To get real. To get out of your head and into your body.
  • A chance to support another teacher. A teacher you might actually love, and learn something new from.
  • A calmer drive home. One not laced with four-letter words and frustration over missing a class you’d intended to get to otherwise.
  • Appreciation and support for your favorite teacher, who can take a needed day off with zero guilt over no one showing up for their sub.

I don’t recall whether she left or stayed. But I did. I took that class and it ROCKED. God love our subs.

She’s passed now. But our visits are imprinted on my heart forever.

Greg & Mama

Greg & Mama

My husband’s Mama, Mary Weaver, passed away the other day. Peacefully in her sleep, not unexpectedly. At 87, her once decisive mind succumbed to dementia’s darkness, and a faulty liver could function no more. Her health and quality of life had been declining for some time now, and it was just a matter of time. This is what happens with old age, and it sucks.

Reflecting on our many visits together at her facility in a small, rural town in Pennsylvania before she died, it’s not so much what we did together I miss so much.

 

It’s what we didn’t do:

  • We didn’t look at our phones.
  • We didn’t watch TV. Even if it was on. We didn’t turn it off, as its purpose at this stage of life is sadly that of surrogate companion when family isn’t around. But when we were together, we paid it no mind.
  • We didn’t interrupt her. Or ask for clarity around an intermittent phrase hijacked by dementia.
  • We didn’t look at the time. Time with her, and each other, was never long enough.
  • We didn’t let go of her hand.
  • We didn’t stop her from spoiling her dinner with afternoon peppermint patties and cupcakes we occasionally smuggled in. Loving staff looked the other way.
  • We didn’t fill natural silence with artificial chatter.
  • We didn’t keep her inside – regardless the wheelchair – when a sunny day and nearby horses in the pastoral setting beckoned.

I met Greg’s Mama six years ago, when she was still relatively independent and perfectly capable of blaring the horn in her white Camry at the rude guy that cut her off in traffic. Don’t mess with this 4’11” pistol. When able to pry the keys away, my husband would drive us through Lancaster County as Mama would share a lifetime of knowledge growing up amongst the Amish: “it’s Sunday, Shannon. The couples in the open carriage buggies are courting. Closed buggies mean they are married.” She was known and trusted in this closed community, and rewarded with access to their delicious pot pies that we later enjoyed together in her small apartment.

Shan and Greg's Mama

Shan and Greg’s Mama

Moving her into the assisted living facility was a major life adjustment that took some time to adapt to, but she did, winning the hearts of several staff members with her feisty conviction and grateful heart. I witnessed on almost every visit at least one interchange of ‘backatcha’ wit from Mama to anyone who tested her. Topped off with a loving smile of course.

I’m sad she’s gone. And memories of spending time with her keep poking my heart and spewing out tears. But I’m also learning from my time with her how much fuller life can be when we put aside the crap that sabotages honest human connection:

  • Pathological distraction.
  • Interaction through devices, at the expense of those right in front of you.
  • Inflating the value of a bullshit work deadline over spending time with an older family member.
  • Fear of being surrounded by physical and mental decline.

Our visits with Mama didn’t always end on a joyful note. Some days she felt tired and resigned, or greeted us with tears and feelings of abandonment. But we always, always, held each other close, prayed together, and felt a palpable sensation of love that carried us through until we met again a week later. I painted her nails. Greg combed her hair. We giggled at memories she shared of Greg as a precocious little boy. I can feel her hands now, and miss her firm grip.

Sweet Mama we love you. And I’m so grateful you left me with a lesson on what not to do in order to live a love-filled life.

 

More than smokes and lotto tickets: what I discovered running by a convenience store

It’s easy to miss – the gritty convenience store on Somerville Avenue – when I’m running full-stride toward home on my predawn 4-mile loop. It’s always in my periphery, but I think of this joint as nothing more than a mile marker. I whoosh past the fluorescent glow covering the sidewalk, catch a quick glance at the craggy customer buying a pack of smokes on his way to some temporary construction job, and inwardly applaud that YES, I got that hill I hate out of the way, and I’m in the home stretch. It says 6:02 AM on my pink 20-buck plastic sports watch, and I’ll be done in less than ten minutes. I don’t think about the store. Don’t imagine myself ever going in. I’m decades past any post-kegger Marlboro Lights or Funyuns cravings.

But now I’m thinking about it.

Running, yoga, spinning, whatever physical movement I take on first thing in the morning, is my ticket into presence. Inhale, step, exhale, step. I get keenly attuned to what’s right in front of me. No guilt-laden memory lane fuck ups to stew over. Stay present, watch my gait, don’t trip off the curb. No future to dos or hellish lists of tasks to look over. Peek above and wink at the moon, listen for a distant yap from a dog navigating someone’s yard. Embrace the body’s miraculous ability to simultaneously heat my blood and cool my skin through the physical effort and mental discipline of running for a purpose. I’m present. And not thinking about anything. Certainly not about that gritty store.

But now I’m thinking about it.

Got home, finished up 47 pushups (my age), looked over at a half-full bowl of unclaimed trick-or-treat candy on my entryway altar table, and zeroed in on a fun-size box of Milk Duds. And then Bam. I was transported back to that damn store. Mental slides of the fluorescent glow, tattered awning, “get your lottery tickets here” sign, and 60-something year old cashier smiling and waving through the window during my run this morning flicked through my head. The slides turned into a movie reel of good times hanging out with my Pop and siblings every other weekend in the 70s and early 80s. The days when metal dental braces, painter pants, Donna Summer, Vans and big hair were cool. A dearth of disposable cash meant big fun came from small pleasures: throwing a baseball in the park, pizza and Charlie Chaplin silent films at Shakey’s (random pairing, but it somehow worked), Rocky double-features at the discount theatre a few miles away. And Milk Duds from the corner convenience store down the street.

Here’s ten bucks. Go to that joint down the street. I like them better.”

a 70s weekend at Pop's house

a 70s weekend at Pop’s house

There was a 7-11 closer, but he insisted we walk to this one instead. “A nice foreign couple runs it. You give them my ten bucks. They can’t understand a word you say but it doesn’t matter. They work their asses off.” Fine, Pop, my preteen mind thought, giving no thought to where I spent a few bucks on a box of Milk Duds. As long as the candy shelves are full, I thought, who cares?

Until this morning, after I ran past this gritty little store, that made me think a little deeper. That man who smiled and waved through the window, I recalled, was the same guy sitting outside on a plastic chair earlier this summer encouraging me on with a “go get ’em girl!” greeting every time I strode by. Customers and suppliers going in and out never do it in silence. There’s always a shared laugh or slap on the back. Early morning. Fully present. Connecting with each other.

Pop & me, 2014

Pop & me, 2014

This little store, I realized this morning, probably has more soul than the Whole Foods I spent ten bucks at for a forgettable smoothie the other day. Or the Rite-Aid down the street with similar fluorescent lights blaring, but no one smiling or cheering me to go get ’em girl.

Maybe next run I’ll stop at this gritty little store, think of my Pop, think of the hardworking proprietors, go inside, and buy myself a pack of Milk Duds.

 

 

Bubbly or flat? What a 5AM run revealed to me about Energy

Woke at 4 AM feeling like an over-fizzed bottle of Pellegrino shaken and uncapped before the bubbles could settle. So much Energy. Surprising considering I taught and took four hot yoga classes yesterday. This was supposed to be a morning to sleep in (granted for me that’s still before 7 AM). What gives?

standing split at the wall

standing split at the wall

Still succumbing to the residual effects of last week’s head cold, I laced up my neon running shoes anyway and savored every step of a pre-dawn, pre-asshole driver/speeder/texter 4-mile run. Between several snot-clearing strides, in the outdoor sleeping city calmness, I thought about the bubbles I woke up with this morning: wouldn’t it be wonderful to bottle that kind Energy and uncap it at will?

Maybe, maybe not. Waking up with a distinct deficit in Energy has its place too. It implores me to dive below the surface, reflect on what’s going on in my life and recalibrate – take a few classes off the plate, dial back on late night fistfuls of animal cookies, eradicate the words sorry and it doesn’t matter (when it clearly does matter), for example.

But I’ll stick to today’s experience of bubbling over with Energy. Where did it come from, what can I learn from it?

Your work in the world is meant to be about expressing the power and spirit that’s within you.” – Baron Baptiste

Reflecting on everything I experienced yesterday, I traced this morning’s Energy boost back to my first Baptiste Power yoga class seven years ago at a studio in Seattle. Rolling out my mat at the end of a long day locked in my head combing through data, stuck in meeting rooms brainstorming with sales and creative teams on how to boost membership at a tony athletic/business club in the midst of a spooky recession, and wedged into a pair of heels I wanted to hurl out my office window, I doubted I’d make it through a 90-minute hot practice. No Energy. No chance. Until I started to move. Expand. Express. The Energy came out of nowhere. How could I – I wondered at the end of that class seven years ago – leave feeling so energized after an impossibly long and frustrating day at work?

Baron’s quote above captures it for me. Any endeavor that allows me to fully express the power and spirit within me comes with built in carbonation. My previous career taught me much, but grew flat and zapped my energy. Subsequent post-work classes that first year helped me recognize I could no longer tolerate another pair of 9-hour heels or meeting room swivel chair. My path into teaching yoga has since given me access to so many bubbles. Bubbles that can burst, however, if taken for granted.

During my run this morning I thought about the two classes I taught, and the two classes I took yesterday. All so different, but all infused with an inner desire to express and share my joy of movement with others. Through moving my own body to the words shared by my teachers. Through my words reflected in the bodies of my own students.

To keep my bubbles present, I have to practice. A lot. From many teachers. I know some teachers who rarely practice, and yet somehow manage to breeze in, sprinkle the class with genius, and leave me feeling amazing. I’m not that teacher. I say with both pride and a little bit of shame that I work my ass off in other teachers’ classes and still struggle to sprinkle even the smallest fleck of genius in my own classes. In the two classes I took yesterday – one with a seasoned teacher, the other with two newer teachers tag-teaming a Community class – I left with some lovely flecks of genius: a personal story shared that enhanced my Half Pigeon pose; a hands-on assist in Prasarita I got to replicate in my own class one hour later; a reminder to press down through the inner edge of my front foot.

I loved every moment of it, regardless the sweat pouring down my face or fire torching my front thigh in Extended Side Angle. I gain knowledge and inspiration from EVERY teacher I practice with, regardless their level of experience, and am ever-grateful to the teachers who share their love of practice in my classes. Giving, receiving, expressing through this extraordinary practice I’ve grown to love so much, I realized on my run this morning, is my direct route into finding Energy.

Feeling flat? Perhaps these words will help you get your bubbles back. Love and peace.

 

 

A Miracle in 10 Days. I experienced it. For Real.

Two flights, two hours jostling atop a bumpy Arizona desert road, and two Advil later I finally arrived at Mago Retreat Center. “Roll out your mat and join the circle!” our team leader Samuel enthused, as I masked a degree of dread behind my “sure thing” response. I came here, as did 17 other yogis, to assist a Baptiste Level 2 week-long yoga program. We arrived a few days prior, and before there was time to dump my bags and comb my hair, I joined the circle in Earth Hall and did my damnedest to create something that resembled Downward Facing Dog.

miracles do happen

After 60 minutes or so softening the cement in my hips and shoulders acquired from spending hours locked into seat 22C, our team concluded by sharing individually what we wanted to create for ourselves and the participants through the program.

What miracle or miracles would you like to see happen?”

Geez, I dunno. To not fuck up? Avoid tripping over one of the 131 mats lined up throughout the room or dropping a 6’5″ dude in Wheel pose with a botched assist was my immediate idea of a miracle. As a first time assistant apprenticing my way through, I had a lot to learn, and a helluva lot at stake. So when Samuel asked us what miracle we’d like to see happen, I failed to see the bigger picture. I realize now why. The first few days of the program, before participants arrived, I made it all about me:

  • Do everything right
  • Make everyone on the team like me
  • Prove that I’m a half-decent teacher that can hold up a 6’5″ dude in Wheel pose no problem

After two days taping the floors, arranging chairs, rehearsing our individual roles, practicing and giving feedback on assists with fellow apprentices (um…Shannon try not grabbing my nipple on that one) and receiving coaching on how best to support our leader/facilitator Paige Elenson, I prepared myself for the participants’ arrival – 131 badass yogis from 8 different countries ranging in age from 16-60.

You want your level of support, challenge, and learning to be a 10″

with Millie at L2

with Millie at L2

Paige implored everyone on our team to up our game, assuring that with support being a 10, it was expected of us to keep the level of challenge and learning equally high. It was at this point I got a taste of my first miracle (I experienced more than one by the end of the training): the power of support. Being constantly reminded by the more experienced assistants on my team that they ‘had my back’, I was free to fail, get up, try harder, and make a breakthrough. Pre-program the former me would have floated through workshop sessions watching participants as though I were a tourist…from the comfort of periphery. Witness instead of engage. But here, channeling the support of my team, I got off the bus and roamed freely, in between mats helping one participant assist another in Crow pose, assuring another participant she didn’t ‘suck at Chatturanga’ pose, she needed a modification – which I demonstrated – to regain her power. I never got the chance to assist a 6’5″ dude in Wheel pose, but I did give my deepest, most love-infused Half Pigeon assist to a woman who later hugged me back in gratitude.

Your word is your world”

Pre-program this phrase would have landed as nothing more than a pithy line to slap on a yogi muscle tee. Daily meditation and discussion with my apprentice team brought the meaning to light in a whole new way. One particular morning I wept for a good five minutes before I could regain enough composure to share with my peer Maureen what was bubbling up with my inner dialogue. For years I believed, and said both inwardly and outwardly that I struggled with showing physical affection: “I’m not a natural when it comes to assisting; I teach best with my projection and voice; I love being hugged but don’t know how to hug back” were common refrains. When our apprentice lead Suzie asked us all to rank our assisting skills before going out on the floor, my participants all gave 9s and 10s. Me? A 3 and a half. None of my peers, who experienced my assists, could understand it. “Honey, you are no 3 and a half. What’s going on in your head?”

My miracle came a day later, when I consciously chose to replace my inner ‘no’ with ‘love’ – love for placing my hands on another, love for the love I was sending into their bodies. And miracle of all miracles, I’m no longer a 3 and a half. I’m a 10 for assisting, a 10 for making my positive word my world from this day forward.

There are other miracles beginning to crystalize even now, several days since returning home, and I’m so excited to keep my level and challenge high on this awesome Baptiste Yoga path because the support is there. And that’s a miracle.

For real.