Real vs. Virtual: how some of my favorite phone apps can sabotage human connection

It wasn’t until I climbed atop my home spin bike, popped in my earbuds, and touched the little app on my phone to follow along with one of my favorite Peloton instructors that it hit me: there’s a perfectly beautiful bike leaning against the kitchen side door. My husband brought it up from storage last week to motivate us. Tires are freshly pumped, and the weather Gods have gifted Boston with a couple of glorious 70-something degree days.

And yet…

Instead of taking my real bike out on a real ride into the real world, I took a virtual ride. In my basement, plugged into cues from an instructor inside a NYC studio who wouldn’t be able to discern whether his Boston basement rider was actually riding or simply listening in while sipping gin out of her water bottle.

I completed my virtual ride, and enjoyed the workout (sans the gin – in case you thought I was serious), but realized afterward what I’d missed – an opportunity to connect – to life, to nature, to human beings I can see, hear and touch.

cycling the Cape Cod Rail Trail 2016

This basic desire – to see, hear, touch, connect – to other human beings is the number one reason I teach yoga. The burgeoning pile of apps hitting the market designed to save us time, get us fit, keep us connected – is in many ways doing the opposite. Get too ‘connected’ to any of my apps, and I could literally sequester myself to the basement with no connection other than an occasional interaction with one of my grumpy cats who’s come trolling for dinner (a bowl of kibbles ordered from my Amazon app).

Who needs a gym membership? 

I love my Peloton app. I do. And until a week ago, riding on a real bike outdoors would have involved a full length LL Bean parka straying into my gear chain, perilous streets with black ice and snow clumps, and a run-in with a pissed off driver cursing at our April Fools Day hit of snow (for real – in Boston). I’ll spin indoors, thank you. I also love that many once-yogaphobes are finally giving it a shot. My former linebacker Dad even asked what poses would heal his trashed-out knees (his words, not mine). If it takes an online app with the comfort of knowing one can practice in the privacy of their own kitchen floor to get someone to experience the benefits, I’m a fan.

But a virtual yoga teacher, personal trainer, spin instructor, can’t give you feedback or encouragement based on what’s really happening RIGHT NOW. They can’t put their hands on your back in Child’s pose when the expression on your face is screaming, “fuck this, I can’t go on.” A teacher in a real live classroom, fully present, is capable of assuring you that hell yeah, you CAN go on. There’s even a few 200-hour yoga teacher training programs offered online. As in, learning to teach a live class with real people – all from a laptop. Yikes. Alas…

I miss my Frangos

They’ve since been bought by Seattle Chocolates, taste the same, and the pretty little individually-wrapped truffles still come in the iconic hexagonal-shaped box I remember from childhood. Fellow Seattle natives know what I’m talking about, as these little delights still make their way into many a corporate gift basket every Holiday season. But it’s the origin of these precious little mints that I miss sorely. Purchasing a box today is simple as tapping the yellow smiley icon on my phone. Two or three clicks later and that smiley starts to look like a smirk: one more transaction taken out of the hands of a real life sales person behind a counter and into the virtual marketplace. Buying Frangos used to mean accompanying my mom to the grand, opulent, Frederick & Nelson department store downtown. We dressed for the occasion – and it was an occasion. You didn’t enter through the brass doors wearing yoga tights and sneakers. Not if you wanted any help from the well-groomed sales staff. Yes, there was parking to contend with, time out of your day to allot, the chance your size wasn’t available. But touching the goods, talking to others, extending the outing to include a lunch break nearby, made buying a box of Frangos an experience vs. a last minute I-forgot-to-get-my-uncle-a-gift swipe of the phone.

I shop online all the time. In many cases it’s just easier. If I bust my leg and need milk and bananas I’ll tap my InstaCart app. But I do that knowing I can’t ask the cashier how her day is going, or get advice from the guy behind the cheese counter on what’s the best brick of Cheddar. The clothes I buy to look halfway hip in are mostly worn when I’m out shopping, not tapping the Nordstrom app on my phone. I save that to make sure my nieces’ on the other side of the country get their birthday gifts on time.

So, I guess the message here is, use your apps, but don’t get swallowed into your phone. Get out and see, hear, touch people. And come to my yoga class while you’re at it 🙂



How a cheap bracelet put a little gold on my heart.

I barely noticed him. It was dark, my eyes drawn to the Saturday night parade of young, scantily-dressed, impeccably groomed tanned and toned celeb lookalikes heading toward their next $30 cocktail on Collins Avenue in South Beach. By contrast, my post-beach getup of frizzy hair, flip flops and workout shorts didn’t catch any return attention save for a “Go Pats!” acknowledgement of my SuperBowl t-shirt. I was tired, it was our last night of vacation, and all I desired was a night in the hotel room watching CNN with an accompanying bag of peanut M&Ms from the honor bar. A few strides further along, my husband tugged at my arm. “Wait a sec, babe,” he commanded.

South Beach, Miami, 2017

South Beach, Miami, 2017

Then I noticed him. Crouched on a makeshift stool sitting behind a small table of bracelets, earrings and necklaces, he looked up and smiled. His skin was dark and leathery. Hair a salt and pepper tangle of wavy curls, he simultaneously blended in and stood out. “This one,” he said, pointing to a champagne hued stone leather bracelet. It didn’t sparkle or stand out, but looked handcrafted from what my naked eye could see. Nothing on the table cost more than ten bucks, and I really wasn’t interested. I rarely wear jewelry. Too much hassle. But over the next few moments, he convinced me this wasn’t just another cheap bracelet.

“I’m an artist. I lived in Amsterdam for a while before…” he rambled as he pulled out more bracelets to show me. His words were difficult to decipher. Could have been his accent, several missing teeth, or a perhaps a really hard life crafting and merchandising his wares everyday to absent-minded, distracted tourists intent on haggling his price down. But his eyes spoke volumes, and bore right into my heart. I looked through several  more bracelets, shared bits of my life and what brought me to Miami (my birthday, an escape from the New England chill – literally and a little bit figuratively too – sun, water and the simple delight of sand between my toes).

After 20 minutes or so, I settled on the bracelet he chose for me. He asked for $10, I gave him $15. He stood, shook my husband’s hand, and kissed the back of mine as what I now believe were small tears welling in his eyes and multiple thank yous.

Best piece of jewelry I’ve ever bought.

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.




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!