Walking on my Feet vs. Standing on my Hands: an Ending (and Beginning)

“The teacher’s job is to reveal the inner truth of the student’s divine self.  When that job is done, this relationship must end.  This is the final representation of yoga’s ultimate goal, which is liberation.  It is counterproductive for a student to remain with a teacher beyond the scope of his or her learning” (Kaivalya 64). 

Five years ago, I embarked on my own transformation from yoga as a form of exercise to yoga as a way to liberate myself from, well, myself, as it turned out.  Part of this transformation was to complete a teacher training program.  I had no desire to teach yoga at the time; I was already a burned out high school teacher looking to get out of teaching, not deeper into it, thank you very much.  I wanted to know that I was doing my crow pose right.  And I really wanted to do advanced inversions and I had neither the core nor the upper body strength to do them.  So, those were my goals as a student in teacher training: master crow pose, and be able to stand on my hands.  Deep, huh.

When I met my teachers, though, and one teacher in particular, they both validated and challenged my goals by agreeing that it’s really fun to be able to stand on your hands….but…the ability to stand on your hands isn’t a lot different, ultimately, than the ability to stand on your feet. As I would come to find out, for some standing on their hands is actually easier than standing on their own two feet, who knew.

I had a lot to learn, and, fortunately, my teachers were up to the challenge.  “The teacher and student within the context of yoga exists for one purpose: to guide the student home to their highest truth” (Kaivalya 63).  The teacher with whom I identified the most and considered my primary “teacher,” did just this.  I became her student beyond teacher training; I attended her classes nearly exclusively for the next four years.  She questioned me, challenged me, pushed me physically and mentally, and I fell into the role of student very willingly.  As a full-time teacher, it can be hard to feel permission to be a student.  Of course you can ask any teacher and the stock answer is, “We are all always students; we are all always learning.”  This is a true statement, but teachers (of any grade, subject, philosophy or concept) feel a greater responsibility than most to be self-taught.  It can be a challenge to give up the teacher persona and give oneself over completely to the seat of student.  Again, ask any teacher and they will say their toughest audience is…a room full of other teachers!

My yoga teacher said to me over and over again, “Just be yourself.”  “Just be yourself.”  “Just be yourself.”  My “highest truth” revolved (and still does) around cultivating a level of authenticity that I wasn’t allowed to have through most of my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood.  In fact, my greatest life challenge, like it may be for a lot of people, is to “just be myself.”  My teacher’s early sense of this, her willingness to push the lesson over and over again both on and off the mat, created a connection that, at times, seemed both deeply satisfying and deeply unsatisfying.  Satisfying because I was learning amazing lessons….unsatisfying because learning is hard, and I was especially uncomfortable with not knowing all of the answers.

The time has come, inevitably, for my teacher-student relationship with my teacher to end.  Because the universe has its own way of doing things, this has not come by my choice, or hers, but, rather, by a series of events that have naturally progressed to her relocating to another state.  Though I believe very strongly that it’s the teacher’s role to empower her students to realize their own gifts, their own strengths, their own ability to go forward and find new teachers, it’s not easy; it’s scary.  But, there’s a lesson in all things.  By being so myopically dependent on my one teacher to the exclusion of all others, did I misappropriate undue power to her?  Did she, by not pushing me to explore other teachers, miss out on an opportunity to teach me; and, can I take a lesson from that in my own seat as teacher?

Tonight should be my last class with my teacher, but I’m fully prepared to accept that my last class with her may have already happened.  Every year in my role as a high school teacher I would say goodbye to my seniors, wish them well, offer them the privilege of calling me by my first name (few do, even 10-15 years after they graduate), and tell them to “keep in touch.”  While there are some students I miss seeing and talking with, my sense of loss has never equaled my sense of joy and pride as I watched them move to their next stage.  I’m now understanding a little more why some of them acted out in the last weeks of school, became overly emotional, stressed, or sassy.  It’s fear.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of letting go of a teacher.  Fear of an inability to take their lessons and move forward.  All the fears I’m having now.

My next stage will be to take a step back.  I’m not just saying goodbye to my teacher, with all of the gratitude within me for her constant, steady presence in my life; I’m saying goodbye to a stage of my yoga life.  I began yoga, as many do, from a very physical mindset.  I wanted to lose weight and touch my toes.  In teacher training, I wanted to advance those physical abilities.  But now, my teacher has, unknowingly yet forcefully, issued one final challenge: to look for my yoga beyond the physical.  Beyond the dance.  Beyond the vinyasa.  Beyond the asana. To see that there are other limbs of yoga and to move toward a new level of liberation.  To push deeper to find that authenticity that is my highest truth.

I’ve been preparing for this on some level since the day our paths crossed.  Every beginning means an ending is in sight. Every hello means an eventual goodbye.  Every rise into an inversion means an inevitable descent.  Every savasana is a period at the end of a practice…and the next sentence must come.  The teacher in each of these beginnings is to move gracefully from a goodbye; the teacher in each goodbye is to trust that a beginning, too, is taking place.

~~~

Works Cited:

Kaivalya, Alanna. Sacred Sound: Discovering the Myth & Meaning of Mantra & Kirtan. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2014. Print.

Armed with Cagney and Lacey, Carl Jung, a Bunch of 8th Graders, and a Fair Amount of Xanax, I Soldier On.

We over here at Examination of This Life have been in kind of a downward spiral as of late.  This downward spiral has resembled what modern medicine (and my therapist) refer to as a “depression” (I think I get to add the term “clinical” if it lasts a few more weeks), and my medical caretakers have rallied the troops, battened down the hatches, and armed themselves for battle on my behalf.  This included my therapist making me promise to call her anytime, 24 hours a day, if I “needed to,” and my doctors prescribing an interesting cocktail of medications designed to “relax” me (numb me) just enough to give me pause in case I decide to do anything drastic and help my brain understand that we are not engaged in an epic battle here, we’re just trying to move through life intact.

The combined downward spiral and interventions have resulted in the following:  I deactivated my Facebook page, turned my phone off as soon as I got home from work each day, and stopped responding to any email that wasn’t a 4-alarm fire.  I started subbing out my yoga classes, and, while I still go to my day job (those bills gotta be paid), to say that I’m doing the best job I’m capable of doing simply isn’t true.  So, as Dr. Phil would say (and I promise this is the first and last time I will quote him…ew), “How’s that workin’ for ya?”  My friend Alanna says that the number one thing people fear isn’t death; it’s disconnection.  When she brought this concept up at a workshop earlier in the year, a participant in the workshop said that was illustrated by the concept of suicide.  He felt that people who attempt suicide are not driven to do so by a fear of dying, but the very reality of this lack of connection, or the lack of feeling as though they have connection.

Don’t worry: I’m not going to kill myself; this is not a universal, InterWebs cry for help.

This experience did, however, heighten my awareness of my own self-imposed isolation.  Big time.  And in my numbed-out-medicated-therapist-on-speed-dial funk, I did the only thing I could think of to address that fear of disconnection: I watched tv.

Surprised?  Don’t be.  Television has been my companion since I was born.  An only child, latchkey kid, my siblings were the girls on the Facts of Life, Cagney and Lacey (more Cagney, to be honest, she was badass), the Keatons, the Cosbys, and Molly Dodd (you may need to google that one, but you’re my soulsister/-brother if you don’t).  I turned to television this time without a real awareness I was doing so.  To Dexter, to Bones, to The Sopranos, to X-Files, to Warehouse 13.  Then I turned to TedTalks.  Documentaries.  Real life, real world, inspirational, sad, moving shit. People forging through their lives with me sitting back and cheering them on, leaning on them for support, judging them, rolling my eyes, crying, laughing, etc.  I created my own connections with people who wouldn’t–couldn’t–connect directly back. It’s been working brilliantly.

Yesterday I watched Kelly McGonigal’s ‘How to Make Stress Your Friend‘ (yes please).  Then I watched Ramsey Musallam’s ‘3 Rules to Spark Learning’ (preach it, man), and finally, last night, I watched the documentary Paper Clips, in which a middle school in a tiny, unknown town, Whitwell, Tennessee, put themselves in the global spotlight by asking the question, during a unit on the Holocaust, “What does 6 million look like?”  As chemical as depression is, as impossible to control as it is, I dare you to try to give into your downward spiral while watching 8th graders gather paper clips to represent those murdered during the Holocaust, listening to stories of survivors, and having their world absolutely shaken to the core by the realization of how bad someone’s suffering can be—and how they can survive it.

Carl Jung would say that I’m exactly on target in the process of individuation: the beginning. He entered his “crisis” around the age of 38 and spent, as near as I can tell, the next 6 years trying to figure out what the hell was going on.  With no access to a television family, Xanax, or TedTalks, he had to figure it out for himself.  And he did, by trying over and over again to access his unconscious until, one day (probably a couple of them, let’s be real), he did.  I’m still learning the details of his process, but, suffice to say, he came out on the other side with the knowledge that we are not whole, complete beings at the age of 18, as so much of American culture would like us to believe.  Rather, we are, in the second half of our lives, only at the tip of our meaning.  Our truth.  Our Self.  We’re just beginning the journey to who we are.  Kind of like a person, say, at age 37, disbanding her blog called ‘I Am Who I Am’ and beginning a new blog entitled, oh, I don’t know, ‘Examination of This Life.’  For example.  Hypothetically speaking.  Hashtag Me.

The more we think we know, the less we know.  The less we know we know, the more equipped we are to figure “it” out.  Whatever “it” is.  I don’t know.  Maybe someone else has got it and just hasn’t posted it as a TedTalk yet.  If you’ve got the secret to life, clue me in, yeah? In the meantime, I’m feeling like less Xanax and more Jung might be the answer.  Maybe I’ll even build a tower throughout the latter half of my life, who knows?

Yoga Questions Answered: Part 1

I get asked questions all the time as a yoga instructor.  Most of the questions are along the lines of: “am I doing this right?” or “how do I do this right?”  But sometimes I get questions like, “What does it mean to match breath to movement?” or “What should I set as my intention?”  Suffice to say, the more a person practices yoga, the questions don’t get answered with statements; they get answered with more questions.

Last week I threw out the invitation to Facebook and Twitter to ask me yoga questions and I would answer them.  It seemed benign; I love talking about yoga, I know something about it, and I have this nifty blog.  Well, people asked me some damn good questions.  They asked me questions from the heart, and I needed to look to my own heart (and my books, and my teachers, and the internet) to feel like I could answer intelligently.  In this post, I’m answering 3 of the questions I received, which means that this will be an ongoing post as I answer more questions.  I loved the process of researching and contemplating answers to these questions, and they are a mixture of my own experience and what I’ve learned in trainings and in my research.  Know that these answers aren’t definitive and they don’t constitute medical advice; they won’t make you rich and famous, or bendy-flexy.  As always, if you’re going to change up your life, or try to put your foot behind your ear, consult someone other than the interwebs.

Okay, without further ado, here we go.

Down dog is never fun for me – tight hammies and the weight on my palms really hurts! Any suggestions? (Leah)

My first yoga teacher told my class one night “Eventually, downward facing dog will be a comfortable posture for you.”  It was an 8 week long beginner workshop, and we had to stop for about a 3 minute laughing break.  We collected ourselves and moved on.  Now, 7 years later, I find she was right, but I still chuckle about it.  You’re not alone if you feel like Downward Facing Dog is not a relaxing place to hang out. Here are some tips to make down dog more comfortable.  First, make sure your hands and feet are far enough apart (or close enough together).  Measure by coming to a high plank pose, stack your shoulders over your wrists, drop your hips in line with the rest of you, and reach through your heels.  Then, lift  your hips and draw your chest toward the back of the room.  Before you fall from the shaking, bend your knees a little.  This will give your hamstrings some relief.  Spread your fingers wide, and bring the weight into the triad of your hand (the space between your index finger and your thumb), as that’s the strongest/most stable part of your wrist and arm.  Engage your core (helps support the spine and will create a “lift” that will help to reduce rounding in the back).  Then, smile, and don’t worry about touching your heels to the mat; it has nothing to do with the benefits of the posture, Drop your heels down so you’re not holding them in the air getting leg cramps, but they may never touch the mat and that’s just fine.  And, build up to your Down Dog.  If you spend two breaths in it and decide that’s enough, drop down to Table-Top or drop into Child’s Pose, even if the teacher still has you in Down Dog.  Your practice, your body, honor it.  After awhile, you’ll notice you can be there for 2, 3, or 4 breaths.  Then five.  Then ten.  And Child’s Pose will always be there for you.

Will my super tight hamstrings ever allow me to get to the fullest expression of “Birds of Paradise”? (Jody)

Maybe.  Hamstrings are feisty; the harder you push them, the more they restrict. When we look at the “fullest expression” of a posture, it’s important to remember how different our bodies are based on a fundamental level of anatomy (nevermind yoga experience, past athletic/dance experience, age, etc.).  For some people, Birds of Paradise may not be anatomically possible for reasons that have nothing to do with hamstrings; there may be a factor, for example, in the ball-and-socket hip joint that impacts mobility.  What I like to focus on in BoP (with my bent raised leg and my round spine and my wobbly standing leg) is that Birds of Paradise, like most of our modern yoga postures, is more of an expression of the world we live in than the yoga we seek.  Yoga Journal says, in its master class on BoP, “you’ll benefit when you explore actions that do not come naturally to you.”  They cite Yoga Sutra 2:48, which suggests seeking balance (between strength and softness, flexibility and stability, for example) to achieve a state of peace.  This is a fairly gross oversimplification of the Sutra on my part, but Yoga Journal’s citation of it highlights my point well: Birds of Paradise is not a “natural” posture for our bodies.  Consider, while you’re working toward the full expression, where your mind and your breath are during the process.  In my classes, I teach that the practice of yoga is about maintaining a sense of compassion and constant breath, no matter what muscles are extending or where your left arm is reaching.  If you’re doing that, or working toward it, you’re in a beautiful, full expression of Birds.  If that seems like a delightfully yogic “non-answer,” think of it this way: you’ve likely been in the “fullest expression” of other postures, even if its a resting posture like Child’s Pose, and, you know there’s nothing magical about “achieving” it (except you maybe get a cool Instagram out of some of them).  What you learned along the way—that’s the magic.  So enjoy the expression your body takes in Birds of Paradise.  Keep working those hamstrings and enjoy the path.

I attended a yoga session once as peer support of my sister. I was the only male, was not in shape, and felt incredibly embarassed. Is there a good at-home option for yoga? (Owen)

First of all, that was awesome of you to attend class to support your sister.  And, I’m sorry that your personal experience wasn’t positive.  That happens a lot; people really want to try yoga, and they love when someone invites them along, but the experience doesn’t quite jibe with them and it’s game over. Here’s the thing: there are lots of different styles, studios and environments out there, and it’s important to choose one that will work with your comfort zone.  My first yoga class was a beginner workshop at a tiny studio in Burnsville, MN, with six other women and the most amazing teacher on Earth.  It was a vinyasa style class, but she didn’t have us “flowing” until the 4th week (of 8).  It was the perfect place for me as an out-of-shape mental case who couldn’t touch her toes and was self-conscious about literally everything (I asked her if there was a “right way” to unroll my yoga mat after scoping out the others, who looked like experts, around me).  It was a year before I was able to muster up the confidence to go to CorePower, a corporate studio and a place I now consider my home.  I didn’t even go alone then; I made my Burnsville teacher come with me!

There are classes out there that are for men only.  There are classes for beginners.  There are 6-8 week long beginner workshops as well as single-afternoon workshops.  And, you can always begin at home, as you asked.  I love YogaDownload.com because many of my favorite teachers are there (Alanna Kaivalya and Lisa Richards are two fabulous teachers to start with.  Alanna also has a ridiculous wealth of good yoga stuffs on her website) and you can download one class or you can buy a pass and download or stream whatever you want.  YogaGlo is another good place that offers a variety of classes for all levels with exceptional teachers like Jason Crandell and Noah Maze.  I like the online option over buying DVDs at Target because 1) it’s cheaper, and 2) you get more variety and aren’t stuck with something you thought was something else.   The teachers on YogaDownload and YogaGlo teach classes, sometimes looking right at you, and often offer a regular version of the posture, a modified version, and an advanced version.

The other thing to remember is that not all yoga—or its teachers—are the same.  Remember how you had that absolutely amazing English class in high school with that teacher that changed your life….and then you went to your math class the next hour and thought you simply wanted to die?  Yoga can be the same way.  If your math class happens to be the first class of your high school experience, it may very well sour you on the whole darn thing, but it shouldn’t.  Keep exploring, do some research online (I found that first lovely Burnsville studio by googling “Yoga class” and “Burnsville, MN”), and if you don’t like a class or a teacher, give another studio/teacher/style a chance.  Eventually, you’ll hit on a teacher and a style that you say “Hey, wow, this is nifty stuff,” and you can’t wait to go back for more.  Try it out, either online, at home, or at a studio.  I recommend a studio because you get a teacher there to help you practice safely, which is the most important thing.  Keep looking, and use the online/home options as a supplement. And bring your sister—she owes you!

Have a question you’d like answered in a future ‘Yoga Questions Answered’?  Post in the comments below or contact me:

I don’t need a companion; I need an audience.

Okay, I was going to try to keep this blog all contemplative and serious, but, let’s face it, that’s just not me.  Well, it’s me sometimes.  Other times I end up with brown rice in my hair and every towel in my house soaking wet.  Wanna know what happened? Sure you do.

I was super excited last night to Skype into a lecture on the Yoga Sutras with Alanna Kaivalya at CorePower Yoga: Santa Barbara.  Because of the time difference, it started at 9pm for me.  At 8:30ish I was cleaning the kitchen and decided, not for the first time, that it would be no big deal to throw a big bowl of old brown rice down my garbage disposal.  (Note that the other two times I’ve attempted this, I’ve spent the rest of the evening under the sink pulling apart every pipe I can find and controlling water flow the best I can.  One of these days I’ll learn that brown rice goes in the garbage…..but last night was not that day.)  Here is a timeline of the next 30 minutes:

8:35 — Put rice in disposal with LOTS of water.  Very excited for the Yoga Sutras lecture.  Also, super proud of myself for the clean dishes in the right side of the sink.  Go me.

8:36 — Hear the unmistakable sound of the disposal deciding that it doesn’t like rice.  Heavy sigh. Turn water off, run disposal, pray.

8:40 — Resign myself to pulling out all the under-the-sink stuff and undoing the elbow pipe thingy.

8:43 — Undo the elbow pipe thingy, directing the majority of the water from the sink into my popcorn pan the almost-biggest one I own.  Dump ten pounds of rice into the garbage. Reattach elbow pipe thingy. Dump rice water into the toilet.

8:44 — Turn on water and disposal.  Crap.

8:45 — Pause to text Alanna that I’m online and ready to go.  I am online, but I am clearly not ready to go.

8:47 — Take elbow pipe thingy AND the pipe thingy next to it out.  Catch most of the water, but a fair amount spills into my under-the-sink area.  Drat.  And A-ha! Empty another ten pounds of rice into the garbage. Put sink pipe thingies back together.  Dump rice water into the toilet.

8:50 — Turn on water and disposal.  SUCCESS!! WHOOOHOOO!!!! Then….the other sink, the one full of the clean dishes, suddenly fills with rice water.  Drat.  Spend the next 5 minutes watching my sinks play “swap the rice water.”

Here’s where shit got real.

8:55 — Get back under the sink.  Pull out the elbow pipe thingy, which is full again.  Empty fifty pounds of rice into the garbage. Empty rice water into the toilet.  Undo a pipe I’ve never undone before.  Bask in this moment, but without the hot people:

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If you’ve seen this episode, you know what happens next. I shriek as no fewer than 10,000 gallons of rice water comes shooting right out onto my face and clothes.  Let me tell you, it’s a lot less sexy than when it happened to Bones and Booth.

Do you remember that I’m Skyping at 9pm?  Just checking.  There was some swearing, but also some laughter, because, come on, are you kidding?

8:57 — Run upstairs to change and, apparently, wash ten pounds of rice out of my hair.  Awesome.  Try to come up with some funny reason why my hair is soaking wet and dripping with grain.  Decide the truth is amusing enough.  Grab every towel I own.  Every. Towel. I. Own.  Begin to soak up the mess that is now all over my kitchen floor.  (But my pipes are clear–whoohoo!)

9:03 — Survey my sink and decide I simply cannot let this mess sit while I attend a 3 hour lecture on the Yoga Sutras, so do a quick clean, keeping an ear out for my Skype ring.  Thank goodness Alanna is a few minutes late.

9:06 — Skype rings.  Since yoga is all about living in the moment, I step away from the fifty gallons of rice water being soaked up by every towel I own, pick a few grains of rice out of my hair, and go study my Sutras.

And that, dear friends, is why I really need to have a significant other.  Or roommates.  Or someone to watch and laugh at my antics, because, seriously, don’t you wish you could have seen that in action?

Kirtan

The more this blog evolves, the more you’ll read about the myriad ways yoga has impacted my life.  The initial impact, one that has existed for all the years I’ve been practicing, was an overall improvement in my physical and mental health.  Lately, though, I’ve been given a lot of opportunity to reflect on the people and experiences that have come across my path as a direct result of my relationship with yoga.

Last night was one such experience.  Through a series of tightly-linked, forever-overlapping events that began in October of 2007 when I went to my first yoga class, I found myself at Solomon’s Porch at the invitation of my dear friend Alanna experiencing, with my friend Becka, Dave Stringer‘s Kirtan for the first time.  Kirtan, for the uninitiated, is a call-and-response chanting experience. (Note: that’s a gross over-simplification, but that’s what I have for you for now.)  I dragged Becka with me because she’s experienced Kirtan before and I knew she’d be an excellent guide.  When we arrived at Solomon’s Porch, we were greeted by Colleen, a member of Dave’s band.  When we walked into the space, the energy was palpable.  We took our seats on an open spot of carpet on the floor, and Dave and the band began to warm up.

The more I looked around, the more I realized that this place was an absolute buffet for my people-watching appetite.  The room was full of couches and chairs that were all mis-matched, hand-me-down types, and where there wasn’t a piece of furniture, there was a blanket, a pillow, a rug, or a coat.  Think about a big college house party where everyone is acting vaguely drunk but with no alcohol in sight and no one knows who quite owns the place, but they’re happy they were invited. People of all ages–an infant all the way to someone at least 80–stood talking, holding hands, drinking water, swaying to an unheard energy.  Dave began, and the room quieted….for a moment.

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Dave explained how we would be spending the next few hours: singing, dancing, listening, feeling.  He said that no two Kirtan experiences were ever the same, and that part of what he loved so much about performing was that exact unpredictability.

For my part, I, who tend toward anxiety for anxiety’s sake, was perfectly calm and at home with everything happening.  I was reminded, as the music began, of my childhood summers at camp.  Sitting in a chapel very much like this space, with a band and a whole bunch of people who were strangers yet familiar.  I was able to breathe into complete happiness….and I did.

Throughout the concert, lots of things happened.  A woman went from child’s post to dancing wildly around the room, a mother explained the instruments and Sanskrit to her son, and a young woman reloaded her crystals.  An abundance of dancing, swaying, singing, and laughing.  I found that I couldn’t stop giggling;  Things that would ordinarily have made me smile were dissolving me.  Rather than feel anxious about the unknown, I felt totally okay with giving myself over to this experience, whatever it was going to be.  Becka explained that the energy created through the Kirtan does exactly that: it creates a heightened level of collective euphoria.  What an absolutely brilliant way to spend an evening!

Afterward, I went and introduced myself to Dave and thanked him for….his music? That’s what I said, but the entire experience was so much more.  I so very rarely step outside of my known.  Kirtan is not a new concept to me; I’ve known about it for years, but I’ve never gone.  This was the right time–my new job has opened me significantly to what I’m calling Epic Change (basically taking my whole life and turning it on its head)–and I’m being supported by no shortage of guides and friends that are stepping up to help me make the most of these changes and experiences.

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My gratitude for everything that I’ve come to know through my connection to yoga is boundless.  And impossible to imagine.  A night of Kirtan, a retreat to Esalen, a mud ritual in Tulum, a Skyped yoga class from New York City, don’t even begin to describe the depth of awesomeness that has come my way as a result of a decision I made to sign up for a yoga class seven years ago. Kirtan, in all of its wonder, fun, laughter, energy, play, light and love, does a pretty good job of summarizing the whole journey.  Namaste.

Creating Space

A few weeks ago I was driving home from yoga class on a highway on which I spend a lot of time. It’s not a “major” highway, like I94 or 35W, but it can hold its own.  On this highway, some people think it’s a country road (it used to be), and others think it’s the Autobahn.  On this particular Sunday afternoon, I found myself behind a Situation.  A semi was minding his own business in the right lane.  A meanderer was in the left lane parallel to the semi.  Behind the meanderer was Mr. Aggressive (and I know it was a Mr. because I let him pass me, but it could have just as well been a Ms.).  As we see so often, Mr. Aggressive pulled up on Meanderer and became enraged when Meanderer didn’t get out of the way.  Remember—there’s a semi taking up the right lane, so Meanderer actually didn’t have anywhere to go.  Mr. Aggressive doesn’t care.  Makes a big show of trying to pass on the left (where there’s barely a shoulder, so he kicks up a lot of ice, snow, and rocks).  I pull back even further, giving myself as much time as possible to react in the event this Situation turns into a Catastrophe.
Which it very nearly does.  Meanderer starts getting pissed with Mr. Aggressive.  Slows way down.  Mr. Aggressive gets apoplectic and starts tearing all over the road in the GrownUp-Driver-Temper-Tantrum.  Meanderer realizes, as I also have, that this guy is crazy, so he exits.  Mr. Aggressive slams on his brakes and diminishes all but a few hundred feet between he and I (which scares me, so I get pissed, honk the horn and start swearing at him….not my best reaction), and he exits to follow Meanderer.
I keep driving, breathing hard, and praying that Mr. Aggressive doesn’t have a gun in his car and that Meanderer can find a public place to stop.  And then I start to think.

If either one of those drivers had considered the tremendous gift of space, the entire situation could have been averted.  If Meanderer had taken a few breaths (it does seem breathing often helps with space-creation) and gotten ahead of the semi, crisis averted.  If Mr. Aggressive had taken a few breaths and pulled back, crisis averted.  Everyone still gets where they’re going, and everyone is smiling.

Nothing bad happens when we create more space in our lives.  Space in our relationships.  Space on our roads.  Space for our house plants.  Space between our vertebrae.  Space, the physical (or mental, or spiritual) room to step back, to re-assess, and to breathe.  About two years ago a friend and I had a falling out based on a bad decision we made together.  Her response was to pull away; my response was to enlist all the forces of the universe, hunker down and workashardasicould to make things right.  She said, “Kelly.  I need space from you. Everything will be fine; everything IS fine, but we need distance.”  My head was full of the end of our friendship.  I likened it to a cut on your arm; if you want it to heal with minimal damage, you stitch it or use one of those little butterfly bandaids to keep the sides together.  If you pull it apart, the sides heal as separate individuals and never come back together the same.  I panicked, but, out of respect for her, I panicked alone.  And, lo and behold, I discovered space.

Space allows us to extract ourselves from stress.  It allows us to become as objective as we can in seeing situations as they arise.  But, here’s the thing: the more space you want to create, the more trusting you have to be.   Because the gripping we do, the tension we create in our lives, is all based on how willing we are to trust the other force.  We tell children to “hold on tight” to their balloon string–because we know how flaky those balloons can be.  We hug our children tightly to us–literally and metaphorically–because we don’t trust that external forces won’t harm them.  We tailgate on the roads because we don’t trust that we’ll make it to our destination on time if we don’t drive asfastaswecan.

But when we learn to trust, when we learn that allowing for space can create perspective and actually decrease our stress (how nice when we can drive 10 mph slower with the foot on the gas rather than the jerk-stop-start-slam-stop of tailgating…), this is where the breath comes in and life becomes, simply, easier.  No gripping.  No restricting.  No tension.  Just breath and space for everyone–you, your house plants, the jerk next to you on the road–to all be a little bit better.

How do you create space in your life? Your relationships? Your job?  Post your comments below–I’d love to hear from you!

Inspiration

I work in two middle schools that are separated by a relatively busy road. There’s a sign planted in the middle of the street that directs traffic to stop when people–usually middle school students passing between classes– are present, and 99% of drivers do.  In fact, 99% of people will stop well in advance of anyone crossing the street, leading to the occasional awkward and breathless hustle across the street.  It’s thoughtful and safe.  It’s a sign from the community that they respect their children.

Then there’s the 1% with something to prove. When the crossing guard isn’t present, these folks are emboldened to prove that they are biggerfasterstronger than, well, a 12 year old.  On legs.  Someday, someone in this 1% will be responsible for Something Bad.  That’s just the way things work.  And that 1%er will blame the road, the town, the kid, God, whoever. That, also, is how things work.

And, in keeping with how things work, my story today is not about the 12 times I crossed the street with the 99%; it’s about the one time I encountered the 1%.  Today, this brush with said 1% resulted in me stopping short, making meaningful eye contact with the driver of the car and taking a big ol’ yoga breath when I got “the wave” in response.  As I shrugged off my coat, hat, mittens, and scarf, I thought of Simon Sinek.

ImageSpecifically I thought of his TedTalk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action, and how I used it as a springboard with my seniors during my last year of teaching to encourage them to drive their own cars.  My “Drive Your Car” philosophy is a post for a different day.  Basically, the concept is that once you become a senior in high school, no longer should you expect to be “driven around” by your teachers, your parents, or your friends.  Rather, you must drive your own car.  Forge your own way.  Don’t let the backseat drivers pull you off course, and don’t drive off a cliff.

But, like I said….that’s another day.

Today, my focus is on the brilliant Simon Sinek and how he motivates me with his logic, his attention to detail, and his unwavering belief in the best of humankind.  Whenever I need a lift, whenever I need to know that I need to be my own best friend, whenever I need someone to tell it to me straight, I go to Simon.  It doesn’t matter if you’re in business, education, law, social work, or food service; it doesn’t matter if you’re a millionaire or living so far past your means you don’t even send your means a Christmas card.  Simon Sinek has something for you to hear.

Listen.  Be inspired.  And, if anything he says stands out to you, throw a comment my way; I’d love to hear from you.

Changes

Nine years ago, I started a blog.

Capture

I called it “I Am Who I Am.” I was 28, and the idea of knowing who I was at that age is now simply laughable.  It’s possible I knew that on some level at the time; the description said “…which is too many things to name, which is why I have a blog.”  The purpose of my blog was, unbeknownst to me, to figure out who exactly who that was.

Over the last nine years, I was in a relationship I thought would end in marriage (it didn’t), I began practicing yoga and soon after began to teach it.  I developed a paralyzing fear of flying and overcame said fear.  I welcomed my Gatsby (you’ll hear a lot about him) into the world.  I said goodbye to Simon (the chinchilla), the first pet I ever owned by myself. I went to grad school.  I went to mortuary science school.  I discovered that I love to cook.  I buried four grandparents. I had at least two simply marvelous flings. I left my job as a teacher and became a peer coach.  In short, my life is absolutely nowhere I could have ever imagined at the youthful age of 28.

Which brings me here, today.  Over the last two years, my beautiful blog has languished.  Like trying to fit myself into my high school letter jacket, it felt contrived, false, and just….wrong.  I tried updating, tried making promises to “my public” that I would write, redesigning, rededicating a new purpose, none of it worked.  The best, the only, alternative, is to start fresh.

Welcome!  I’m Kelly.  I am a yogi.  A foodie.  A teacher of many things.  A writer.  A traveler.  A philosopher.  And, most importantly, I’m not bound to any of those labels.  I am who I am?  Frankly, I don’t even know what that means.