Gather round now: getting it together with the help of others.

Lying in a puddle of my own sweat atop a thin mat at the conclusion of a challenging 90-minute hot yoga class yesterday, I wondered for a moment just how it was I could be enjoying this. Sure there’s the relativity of the moment – compared to the countless thigh-torching Warrior poses and low push up transitions just prior – this felt like bliss. But yesterday I experienced something else. Beyond physical. I’ve taken hundreds (thousands perhaps) hot vinyasa classes over the past several years and know that final rest-in-your-own-sweat is a bizarre sort of reward we power yogis chase after. But this particular morning, my rest wasn’t self-centered, as it often is. Free of self-gloating (I nailed that handstand!) Or resignation (where was my focus??), I basked instead in the quiet harmony enveloping the room. Surrounded by 25 or so human souls saturated in their own sweat, I felt connected to every one of them. Didn’t know their names, what brought them to this practice, or where they came from. And it didn’t matter.

Because right now, in a time of monumental division in this country, I need to gather. Whether it’s in a puddle of sweat surrounded by others, on a video conference call with fellow yoga teachers from around the world, allowing the woman sitting two tables over at my favorite coffee shop to peer at my book and share that she loved that author too.

Gathering with yogis. Baptiste L2, Oct. 2014.

Gathering with yogis. Baptiste L2, Oct. 2014

Gather round the fire. The table. The yoga room. The coffee shop WITHOUT your laptop and headphones. The fill in the blank, wherever you like, so long as it’s congregating with others. This is what I’m discovering for myself is required when alienating, fear-inducing political shit keeps hitting the fan. I’m not writing a political piece here – just to be clear – rather a plea to gather round and connect with others regardless of where you’re leaning on the he’s awesome/he’s a f***ing disaster spectrum. Gathering round with others has proven especially comforting to me of late. It’s also kept me rooted in the now. The now of, for example, a fantastic sharing amongst peers of how to accommodate both an advanced yogi and absolute beginner in an all levels class, as we did on our group video call last week. In contrast, a walk alone earlier in the day left me with tunnel vision lost in thoughts of what to make of the morning headlines. Who knows how many dogs I failed to notice and pat along the way.

As yoga teachers, we gather. It’s what we do.”

Saturday nights are schedule-free zones when the man is in town. A typical evening could be warming a couple of bar stools and losing ourselves in french fries and micro beers, or allowing the cat to wedge between us on the sofa as we watch another episode of Breaking Bad. But me moseying off to a yoga teacher’s study group for 3+ hours is definitely breaking the don’t-touch-our-date-night rules. But with his encouragement I went. Because I needed to gather amongst a group of trusted teachers who too are teaching in really weird times. Our facilitator (Coeli Marsh) drove home the privilege, and all the responsibility that goes with it, of what we do by reminding us that as yoga teachers, we gather people. As I haven’t been teaching regularly since December, I left with a stronger resolve to get back to it.

Remember no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Many friends marched last week and shared their experiences gathering round amongst tens of thousands to support women. I’m not a marcher (and have a phobia of mass gatherings and parades of any kind), but appreciated the solidarity shown. Other friends shared experiences celebrating the Inauguration. Updos, gorgeous gowns and exclamation points embedded in their Facebook posts made me smile too. I love all my friends. Even those I don’t agree with. Whether in protest or celebration, gathering with others is powerful, and essential in making our world better.

Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” – Michael Jordan

Home gym, 2017.

Home gym, 2017.

A resolute intention to build more physical strength in 2017 has resulted in an amped home gym (and an excited husband who can now justify some hefty – pun intended – purchases from Rogue Fitness) and a twice-weekly date with a crew of rabid Crossfit 6:30 AMers. So unlike my yoga class comfort zone, most days I have no idea what the hell I’m doing ahead of time in Crossfit. Every drill requires additional instruction (just drop the barbell at the end of the set Shannon, you don’t have to make it look graceful), and a lot of encouragement from the new circle of friends I’m gathering round with. High fives, ‘you got this’, ‘we’ll see you Thursday, yes?’ are constant affirmations that I’m not alone, and that I can put all the political discord on the shelf and simply bathe in the support and hard physical/mental effort of the group.

Where do you gather and how has it helped? I’d love to know.

 

 

 

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WOD the hell am I doing – why this yogi added Crossfit to the mix

The ripped girl with a pixie cut and sweet disposition beautifully masked any sign of shock as a never-seen-before variation of a standard exercise began to perilously emerge: “um, you might want to bend your knees, and please open your chest. ” Not every day a Crossfit coach lands a yoga teacher/barbell newbie attempting to turn a deadlift into a hamstring-lengthening Uttanasana (standing forward fold) pose.

handstand check, now working to complete a pull-up.

handstand check, now working to complete a pull-up.

And so it went like that from start to finish through my first Crossfit class. Accustomed to hauling my own  body weight around through poses, I found it comically difficult five minutes in to secure plates at each end of the barbell. Leave it to me to struggle with assembling the equipment before even using it. “Just pinch and snap, Shannon. You’ll get the hang of it!”

Later in, as I hung pathetically from a pull up bar that my body had no intention of cresting, I reached for my internal mental bat to slug away at all forthcoming negative thoughts: I’m not cut out for this; my limbs are too long; that dude next to me thinks I’m a sissy; oh God how the hell am I going to jump on that box without falling on my ass? Or get smacked in the head as this odd-shaped Wall ball rebounds?

“Awesome job, Shannon!” my ripped coach kept encouraging. And gradually, gradually, I began to believe her. Here’s why:

  1. I chose to show up and suck. I prattle this off to my newbie yogis all the time, but I’ve been practicing yoga for so long I’d forgotten what it’s like to show up for something new and give myself permission to suck at it.
  2. I chose this change. Last month, change chose me, in the form of my beloved yoga studio closing and being left without a routine of classes I loved teaching. But rather than crawl into a too-much-time-with-nowhere-to-teach trap, I opened myself up to new goals: guest teaching on vacation (recently at Baptiste Yoga SF), writing and blogging more, cooking instead of pre-heating last night’s doggie bag, and Crossfit.
  3. I chose to knock it off. To stop knocking it before trying it. Too much yoga at the expense of every other physical activity was bringing the snob out in me. I had a yoga answer to everything – spinning isn’t mindful, running isn’t balanced, Crossfit isn’t safe. Now I’m pedaling to phat beats on my home spin bike or alongside SoulCyle dynamos; running when my hip tolerates it; jumping on a wood block in front of a “you’re awesome!” supportive Crossfit coach. Can’t wait to discover what else is available by knocking it off with the yoga or nothing at all approach. Maybe boxing…
  4. I chose to believe. That I will get over that bar. That I will complete a deadlift correctly. That the dude next to me doesn’t think I’m a sissy – he high-fived me big time after class.

I’m off to a great 2017 thanks to choosing a few new beginnings. It’s that simple. And that hard, but worth it completely. How about you?

 

What’s Rocky Balboa got to do with my yoga? A lot, actually.

“Oh…little one. I think I’m going to call you Rocky,” my loving teacher half-joked whilst kneading the rocks between my shoulder blades in Child’s Pose this morning. And I thought they were just hard earned rhomboids from daily handstands the past six years.

handstand 2015

handstand 2015

Last time someone called me Rocky was my pop back when I was 7 years old. Pissed off at my brother pulling my pigtails one too many times, I clocked him in the lower teeth sending a temporarily capped tooth flying. Mom was even more pissed, as the original tooth perished with an ambitious date with a candy cane. But dad took it in stride. Fight when you gotta kiddo, but without the fists next time. Since then I can’t recall more than once or twice in the decades that followed ever lashing out at anyone or anything other than a psycho driver who tried to run me over for walking in front of his car to drop off a box at a Goodwill truck. My good will went out the window and yes, a fist landed on his windshield. But honestly, no other fists have flown since. I swear.

Anger isn’t something I identify with. Let down, disappointed, regretful, frustrated, irritated, sure. But anger. Nah, not me. That’s something out-of-control, non yogic hotheads in trucks with buzzcuts and short tempers and long commutes to wherever they don’t want to be driving to have to drive to contend with. Not this calm, cool, yoga chick.

Until my rocky shoulders gave it away. There’s anger in there, alright. Except it’s bound up in my muscle tissue instead of a pair of boxing gloves. As crazy as this epiphany felt (literally, figuratively), I left class grateful for once again, discovering something new about myself through the magical practice of yoga. I realized as the day went on that I’ve been angry. Angry. And that’s ok, so long as no one’s tooth is involved in my manifestation of it. Today’s practice opened the door to identifying, and working through it. And some really good shit is coming out of all that. Including:

Embrace unpredictability.”

A giant eraser wiped out my weekly routine, not sticking around long enough to erase the tears of shock that initially came with it. But now, two weeks later, I’m taking classes at times I normally would have been teaching, sleeping late enough to see shades of light peek through the wooden blinds, leaving my truck (yes, the irony…) idle instead of joining the buzzed cut road ragers out there to get to the studio on time.

Teach like a human. Not a guru.”

I’ve always loved teachers who share the not-so-yogic parts of themselves in class: an anecdote of what blocked them in their own practice, what pose they too struggle with, where they feel fear. Acknowledging I had anger bound up within me today connected me more deeply to those around me and those I serve. Yes, I get pissed off too, and I get you yogis. We are more alike than different. When I teach again I’ll do it from an even more human, connected state, thanks to acknowledging that I’m working through some anger too.

Perfection is selfish.”

Prior to getting present to my pissed off shoulders this morning, I had a running checklist of when/where/how often/what I’d be teaching by X date (TBD, early enough to look like a ‘perfect’ teacher who took an ever-so-brief break, late enough so as not to fail at meeting said goal). Oh, and make all your poses and transitions perfect enough to impress everyone around you in your ‘student’ status along the way. The result of this perfection pursuit has shown up as a rock garden in my back, and made me realize how f***ing selfish I’ve been in the pursuit. My globe-jumping, overworked CFO husband who can’t put his phone down for fear of missing a corporate fire needing extinguishing has been lovingly pleading for more snuggle time and help with home workouts. My family in Seattle is penciling in dates to catch up with wine, post-Christmas sales, and a stroll along the waterfront of my past during next week’s visit to my hometown. My friends have been asking to please say yes to the cup of coffee I now have time for. My body is screaming – angrily – for rest. Or at least a longer Child’s pose.

So, Rocky fans. Take heart. Get angry, and then get on your mat and learn from it. Soften. It’ll all work out without a fist needing to fly.

 

 

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.