On body dysmorphia, misogyny, body-shaming, the Silicon Valley, and being pretty: Or, why I practice yoga.

I finally got back in the yoga studio yesterday. Oddly, I did not want to go. This is very unusual for me – I am pretty dedicated to my practice and I know without qualification that no matter how I am feeling, I always feel better after I go to yoga. Still, I did not want to go.

I had not been practicing for several weeks. There are lots of reasons – there always are. For one, I got really sick in the first week of June. Like really sick. I imagine if you live in the Bay Area you got some variety of this sickness or know someone who did because it was insidious and vicious. After days of a sore throat that prevented swallowing anything, talking much at all, and sleeping soundly – all amplified by the fact that I was in the final week of instruction at school dealing with surly teenagers and oh yeah, also packing up for a major job transition – the sick morphed into some sort of monstrous hacking chest cough. “At least it was productive.”

The Pantone array of my phlegm rainbow.

And then some.

This lasted from 7 June through 17 June. I realize that this is not actually an eternity, but whatever.  In this same time I conducted final projects for around 100 students, graded said projects, deleted untold numbers of unauthorized selfies on my phone, tried to be an adult and be mad at my students for participating in the very-rapey senior streak that happens at BHS but still endorse my one student who dressed up as a giant dick as a protest statement, packed up my classroom wherein I downsized 20+ years of my “teacher life” into fewer than 10 boxes, said goodbye to some people I will really miss, was mature enough also to say goodbye to some people I will not miss at all, watched every minute of the NBA finals (okay, except for 28 minutes of Game 4, which I am certain contributed to the longevity of my illness), got my hair done and attempted to get headshots for my new job (not wildly successful), packed my bags and went to the wilds of North Idaho to visit my parents with my boyfriend.

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NBD.

While en route to Idaho I read Roxane Gay‘s new memoir, Hunger. It is an important read for a lot of reasons, but I found it especially significant as I was spiraling into my 1980s-programmed body dysmorphic mind as a consequence of the 80s (obviously) but also from being sick and a little depressed, overly tired and not being able to do the things I have convinced myself I must do in order to feel a certain way – which no matter how much I wish was not connected to how I look, is completely connected to how I (think I) look.

This is not a new problem, nor is it a particularly unique problem. One of my favorite (now former) coworkers and I have an ongoing “joke” when we get teased by our young  female students of color for having “no cakes” [a term I had to actually research via Urban Dictionary after my girls were first discussing my said lack of cakes in class while I was writing on the board] telling them that we grew up in the 80s, so no cakes is a win for us. Sometimes I have gone so far as to say – out loud – that one of my adolescent goals, in spite of Sir Mix-A-Lot, was to be a stick insect. I know this is not exactly true (in my personal chronology only) because I co-opted the expression from Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones  many years after high school, which only goes to show that my body issues are not bound by any decade. Interestingly, this year I inadvertently served as a nutrition guide for several of the young women in my class as we often found ourselves discussing how we felt hungry – or not – and how our food was influencing our energy levels in various capacities (many of them are incredible dancers… and wondered why they felt like shit after a breakfast of Hot Cheetos.) Also of note, these students are some of the most honest and authentic people I know about body reality – as well they embrace reality literally and figuratively. One of them was the one dressed as a giant dick in the streak. They get things I never even thought of at their age. They somehow escaped the neuroses that I continue to adhere to in spite of many supposedly healthier, confidence-inspiring, and therapied years later.

So, feeling shitty, literally and figuratively, and then reading Gay’s book gave me pause. In particular the articulate way she wrote about how/why women are viewed and valued in society and how maintenance of said ‘value’ is inherently dangerous spoke to me. I thought about how almost always the best compliment a person can think to give a woman is that she “looks like she has lost weight!” or that she “looks so tiny!” I thought about all those coveted compliments, and their intentional double entendre. They punctuate the times in my life I was certain I looked best. When I returned from living in the ashram in India and had stopped having my period because I had lost so much weight, I felt so proud of how everyone loved how I looked (except for A – she said I looked sick. She was probably right.) Still, I think about how my clothes fit then and I get pissed off with myself now.

At this point I decided to stop at Yoke’s north of Sandpoint to buy a bunch of fashion magazines and then go back to the parentals house and drink a ton of wine. Seems legit. I did not go to yoga. And I continued my self-care by rewarding every hike with cold beer. I was on vacation after all. And I told my boyfriend, who truly and sincerely does not have a single issue with how I look (not to be confused with having not a single issue with me, btw) that if he posted any photos of me I had better look thin. Repeatedly.

Typing that really highlights how completely annoying that must have been.

On my return to the city, I knew I would be going back to yoga. But for the first time that I can really remember, I felt uncomfortable about it – like not in shape enough to be allowed to take care of myself or something. I have heard about this phenomenon – even seen it in action, remember this peach? I know rationally it is totally fucking stupid. But there it was taking up space in my brain. And, just to be clear, I have a totally healthy build, there is nothing wrong with me. I am 5’10” and weigh between 150 and 155 pounds (I can push it to 160 easily and have been down to 140 and some change in my adult life – see the India reference above) but I really am just, you know, fine.

Plus my yoga studio is downstairs from my house, so seriously, not to cop a phrase, but just do it already.

Before I went downstairs for yoga, I caught up on some breaking news out of the Silicon Valley. For those of you who do not follow this kind of stuff, the gist of it is that it seems like finally some of the rapey, bro culture in the tech/venture capital world is getting called out with some actual consequence. This is due on large part to the investigative work of people like Sarah Lacy at Pando.com and it would be worth reading her stories about Uber (she warned us all about them years ago) and Binary Capital (the story of whose behavior inspired this worthy purchase.) I read the latest article (Binary related) and left a comment on the post expressing my surprise that people seemed to be taking umbrage with the photos in the story and not the actually rapey/gropey/assault covered in the story.

Clearly it was time to return to yoga.

As soon as I sat on my mat, I felt better. I always do and I know this. It felt safe, and positive, and welcoming. LIKE.IT.ALWAYS.DOES. I was so glad to be back in class.

When I got home I saw that someone had responded to my comment and tried to (re)explain her counterargument to me – a position I had totally understood, just disagreed with. She kept coming at me doing that thing people do who believe that if they say something over and over and over again they will get people to agree with them. This is not an effective approach with me. When she would not stop I went to her Facebook page to see who she was. She describes herself thusly: Wellness Professional. Practice Financing. Personal Health. Relationships . I am not even sure I understand what that means as a single declarative sentence. She also has an unbelievable number of public photos (odd considering this was her beef about the original post in question) of which I could have poached any. Here is one that gives you an idea.

Sally Albright: What’s she look like?
Marie: Thin. Pretty. Big tits. Your basic nightmare.

As soon as I saw her, I had an immediate reaction that maybe I should rethink my behavior in the comments because of how she looked. I am completely serious. It was this weird thing like, no matter that she could not spell (true statement) or that she was being totally patriarchally-bound (also true) and generally snotty (💯 my opinion) she suddenly mattered more, or was someone I would want to be allied with because she was hot (this seems rather objective – although this too can be misleading).

Acknowledging this reaction, I was so pissed at myself for wasting all the good intentions of a yoga class (which, for what it’s worth, was amazing, re-centering, welcoming, challenging, and generally perfect while I was there) to come up against this. I closed Facebook and turned on Law & Order SVU (as an aside with added context in this post, when I saw Roxane Gay speak last spring she talked about how she watches this show incessantly so I have accepted that this addiction of mine is okay.) Sitting there watching an episode I have probably seen ten times, the power of social media compelled me and I found myself (again) scrolling through my feed where I came across two articles (shout out to Colette for both posts). One I will only screenshot because it deserves no hits, and one I will link because it should be widely read.

The first article is by a random white guy (not a doctor) telling people they are psycho if they do not have kids. He claims to have three. I feel confident he did not birth one of them. The second is about the privilege of prettiness by Janet Mock who should need no introduction, but if she does you can go here.

These two articles present diametrically opposed ideological bookends to my earlier train(s) of thought. To be fair, random-not-a-doctor-dude was not only calling out women, (but really, who has the babies after all and what valuation is placed on those women who do/not) and let’s not forget how women’s bodies are dissected in terms of how they change (or should change) around pregnancy and childbirth (this was also “coincidentally” covered extensively in the fashion magazines I purchased to enhance my dysmorphic slide while in the wilds of Idaho. )

Janet Mock talks eloquently and effectively about the privileges that looks bequeath upon those who manage to meet the societal mark of having looks. Her take is especially valuable and addresses intersectionality with great clarity.

I sat and reread Ms. Mock’s article. I thought about Ms. Gay’s book. I revisited Ms. Lacy’s story of the women founders in Silicon Valley being groped and demeaned all the while maintaining necessary (literally prescribed, it turns out) appearances in order to get entry to the club (though not necessarily a seat at the table).  While it is not directly tied to the chitta vritti I’m currently battling, it all explains perfectly why we – I – would be so caught up in appearances, why I might freak out if I feel “fat” because I missed a yoga class, why I might rethink my “place” in taking a stand against a pretty girl (would I have felt different if she had not been traditionally attractive?)

Our appearance is often the primary currency with which we – women – are able to trade: it is a core element of my societal value.

While I was in Idaho I was talking a with a friend – a sister, really, because I have known her since she was in utero – who is now 28 (I think that puts her in a different generation than me). We were talking about how we have capitalized on people’s prejudices at various times (specifically we were speaking of fake-woke-feminists vs. blatant sexists) and it got us talking about bodies and image. She said, “Yeah, you know? I have decided that if my body works and does the things I want it to do, then I look just fine.”  I hope she really, really means this. I don’t know if I am there yet, but as they say: #goals.

I do not look the way I think I look. I know this when I see photos and I am surprised positively or negatively by the image looking back at me. This is my issue. But my concern about my value to this society – my actual self-worth – is not some internal psychosis. It is real, and it has been put on me, though it has become my cross to bear.

And this is why I went to yoga again today.

And why I will go tomorrow.

Is that truly getting at the heart of this matter?

You be the judge.

 

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My First Yoga Retreat.

*** Author’s Note:  I began writing this post on July 1, two days after I came back from Mexico. But then I realized I had to do a few other things and here it sat. Until now. But hey, who doesn’t love a good flashback?

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As we rode towards the center (we thought) of Cancun, SP and I clearly felt confused. This in and of itself was confusing because we are both well travelled and SP is a native Mexican and so a simple bus ride into to town should not leave us nonplussed. As we rolled by an Outback Steakhouse I said, “Shoot me now.” This comment caught the attention of a young gringa in front of us who told us we “just had to go to the Montero Steak House because it was so authentic” with such earnestness I almost felt like she needed a hug (the restaurant appears to be German owned, for what it’s worth).

When we finally stepped off the city bus in the part of Cancun that everyone apparently thought we were trying to find we looked at each other and looked around, and had no idea what the heck was happening. Eventually we got a map and saw – to some degree – what had gone wrong. Simply wanting an easy night out, maybe a margarita, on our last night in Mexico after thirteen amazing days in Xcalak & Tulum, we had asked every wrong person where to go and thus stumbled into a Samuel Beckett-like evening of absurdity.

Walking along a weird avenue that backed up to gigantic mega-hotels with water on either side of us and not a bar or restaurant in sight, our confusion increased. Eventually we reached the part of the “Riviera” where we were told the bars and restaurants were. It was a full frontal assault of awful that nearly had us breaking into a full sprint to escape.

By the time we reached The Fiesta Americana we were just like, “Get us to an air-conditioned hotel bar away from this hideousness.” And so we found one and sat down.

But they had no food.

So we went to another restaurant in the hotel someone recommended. We sat down in a lovely little spot and ordered drinks. And then were told that the only meal option was a buffet.

Are you kidding me?

So off we went to another restaurant in the same hotel. It was Mexican. How bizarre. It was a totally odd place with super high ceilings and even more super loud mariachis. But they had food and a/c.

By the time we left we were ready to spend every last peso on a taxi home just to get out of Cancun and back to our airport hotel. I can’t really say if Cancun itself was so bad, but the Zona Hoteleria was vile, and our sensibilities were not ready for it after two weeks of bliss.

Which brings to light the point of this post: The Bliss. Our yoga retreat and entry into to said retreat were amazing. So amazing in fact, that the weirdest night I have ever had in Mexico (and I have had some doozies) could not even dispel the amazingness.

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I cannot remember my original motivation to do a yoga retreat – I have never done one before – but I do remember making the decision to do this retreat. And the decision brought up interesting (unfamiliar) feelings around my yoga life. If I were to describe my yoga practice I would use words like: disciplined, traditional, focused, quiet, solitary, consistent, serious, quiet. It is not that I am antisocial, although Veer did tell me long ago, I needed to work harder to be a part of the group – the kula. I didn’t know why it mattered at the time, like really and truly, I couldn’t understand why it mattered that I get socially involved with the group of Hong Kong Chinese women I practiced with. Everyday. For three to four hours.

When I say it like that it feels pretty ridiculous to think I needed someone to tell me I had to intentionally and meaningfully engage with a group of people I was in close contact with every single day.

But, I did.

And then years later as I continued to grow my practice and get to know new teachers, I was maintaining my practice in a very similar way. There were some people I got to know by virtue of frequent proximity, and I would go so far as to say I even had a few yoga friends. So to suddenly join a yoga retreat in Mexico with a group of people – who I may or may not really know – would definitely be categorized in the “out-of-character” file.

But I did.

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Before joining (I can hear S.P. right now saying: “Look at you, you joiner!”) the retreat (with my friend in and out of yoga, S.P.) we went to Xcalak to visit my former building managers. These are two of the more amazing people I have met in my life. I met them in the way that you meet the people who run your apartment building, but a little bit more than that. And then when they told me they were totally changing their lives and moving off the grid to a (rad) rural part of the Mayan Riviera they had a going away party, which I attended, and at which they said “Come visit! Really!”

Now people say this kind of thing a lot. And I often wonder if they really mean it, not like it is disingenuous, but more like the likelihood of future visits being, well, not that likely make it easier to say? I took a chance that they meant it. The type of people R & C are are not the type of people who would ever tell someone to come visit if they didn’t mean it. I know that now for sure if I did not before.

This meant we had five gorgeous days in a really special place that I am not really super interested in telling people about because: too special. There were great talks, perfect silences, friendly ducks, grumpy geese, clever chickens, snorkeling, Sargassum, stand up paddle boarding, cold beers, delicious food, and immeasurable generosity.

One week after finishing the school year, I could not have asked for more.

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Next we were off to Tulum for a week-long yoga retreat with a teacher I admire and know well and have grown to really trust. This, I imagine, is why I found my self there, at a yoga retreat.

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The retreat basically kicked off on the Summer Solstice, which is cool. (This also happens to be the date that the Indian government pushed the UN to adopt as International Yoga Day… a notion that if one does any amount of research upon will leave one quite… fraught.) But waking up on the Mayan Riviera for a Summer Solstice sunrise is pretty awesome regardless of any other circumstances…

And so here I was. With some people I knew. And some I did not. Joining.

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The retreat itself was very special, and as with my previous week, I am not super interested in spelling out all the more intimate ways that it was special, because it seems like something that feels more comfortable taking up residence in my own conscience. I am not sure how it would compare to other yoga retreats because I have never done a yoga retreat. I can assure you it was very (VERY) different from living in the ashram… as it should be.

We did yoga. We ate good food. There was a lot of time to relax or contemplate, or tan, or get spa treatments (I mentioned it was not like my ashram, right?)

It was gentle.

And the thing is, I think I need more gentle in my life. I do not default to gentle. I get after it. I work hard. I do lots (and lots and lots) of things. I push myself (and yeah, others too, sorry.) That is all fine, but gentle might be too. It gives you time to do different things.

I made a bunch of new friends. Real friends, who live in my neighborhood and have priorities in line with my own in lots of ways. I joined things. We rode bikes to ruins, we floated down crystal clear canals through ancient mangroves, we had warm white wine and rolled up Velveeta cheese. We laughed a lot. One of our group who attends yoga retreats regularly said that this retreat was totally unlike any she had done before because everyone at this retreat had come because of their connection to this particular teacher. She said it was a completely different feeling of community. Like I said, I cannot compare, but I can certainly agree.

This experience both changed my entire reality at home – in the yoga studio and around my neighborhood – and set the tone for my entire summer. My kula has grown and I am really glad. It is not always easy to develop community in a bustling urban situation, but, here we are. Better for it.

Namaste.

 

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Some observations on yoga as lifestyle.

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I just came out of a really nice yoga class, and I feel really good. Yoga has been doing that for me more and more, leaving me feeling differently from how I felt when I went in, but also very distincl from the feeling I used to get after a really satisfying gym workout, or run, or competitive athletic endeavor. It is interesting to pay attention to how I respond to different activities in my life, and as of late I have been really trying to look at how yoga makes me feel. This has been inspired by a number of things not the least of which is my physical well-being. I have not been able to put my finger on to what it is that is different about the yoga feeling, but I have been thinking about it a lot and I have a feeling it may have something to do with this idea of a “yoga lifestyle.”

I find the phrase “yoga lifestyle” hilarious. However, I think it bears consideration that yoga is a lifestyle.

  • If your yoga lifestyle means wearing $100 Lululemon and drinking wine – that is a lifestyle, and it has its own kind of balance.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is putting your freaking amazeballs body in a tiny (probably very expensive) bikini and taking some photos of yourself in impressive asana, that too has its own sort of balance, and is a lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is pretending you have a sanskrit (or you thought it was sanskrit) name and chanting and teaching yoga to other people who feel good in this environment, then that too is a yoga lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is aggressively athletic: lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is rigorously ascetic or disciplined: lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is loud: lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is quiet: lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is expensive and opulent: lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is homemade and in the park: lifestyle.

Hippe, hottie, gay, straight, earthy, commercial… it is all a lifestyle. So, I find it really strange when yoga people find it necessary to judge all these other lifestyles. And the judgement comes in so many guises, I honestly think that some people think they are not judging, or that they are fooling people into thinking they are not judging (no.) I have been thinking about this a lot lately as so many entities are taking it upon themselves to educate us about what a yoga lifestyle is. (I suppose that is some sort of lifestyle too.) And it is weird because I do not see this intra-community judgment between sports and gym traditions, or Zumba and spinning or something. This is yoga people telling all sorts of other yoga people how they are “doing it right” or not.

What really got me on to this was trying to picture my first yoga teacher participating in this kind of ‘education.’ I had to laugh trying to picture Veer telling people how what they were doing was not yoga, or had the wrong intentions, or was spreading the wrong message.

As if.

Now, to be fair, I began yoga in a unique way, I came to it later in life (I was 37) while living overseas, and I began with a group of teachers who could not have been more authentic: they were native Indians who actually speak and read sanskrit, and had been practicing yoga as a daily element of their lives since birth for no other reason than it is a fundamental part of their lives. That is a lifestyle. These men – they were all men – were extremely orthodox. They were not burning sage, or telling me about my moon cycle and my divine feminine, or being self deprecating and silly, or having live music, or wearing fancy clothes; and they would have never criticized another tradition or practice (read: lifestyle) because that is not their focus. They came to class. The opened with mantra. They instructed and guided the class. They ended the class. Certainly they explained the benefits of poses and explained how women should not practice certain asana and pranayama at certain times, and no one should practice certain asana and pranayama at certain times. They were unforgiving and diligent in their dedication to the practice, and if you wanted to be under their wing, to your practice as well.

This was the yoga imprint I came up with. As a result I happen to have a very orthodox practice. I have strong alignment. I know the sutras. I know the history. I understand how to listen to my body. I also enjoyed the traditional and disciplined nature of my early teachers. They sent me to India and I found myself in an ashram that would never make the cut for my current studio. Simply put, it is too Indian. This too, is a lifestyle.

The thing is, I still like the #whitepeopledoingyoga thing that is going on here in the US. I do not find my yoga background and the myriad interpretations of yogic lifestyle mutually exclusive. Different, yes. But I think the combination lets me get more out of my practice.

These days as I continue to grow my own practice I find myself observing a lot more. This is a big step for me to be able to relax and look outward rather than be fraught with concern about whether or not someone (who I have a 99% probability of not even knowing based on my reluctance to make my yoga lifestyle overly social) thinks I am “doing it right” or “good enough”. When the teacher says “Okay Level 2 and Level 3…” and the ego kicks in desiring to be Level 2 or Level 3, I am better at knowing what is Level Me. (This whole levels thing? So #whitepeopledoingyoga.)

As someone who has always considered herself somewhat of an athlete (save for that 18 month period in which I took a seriously over-zealous approach to the Freshman 15), and also someone who simply does not know how to not be self-conscious about her body, I have found yoga to be a salvation. I love the physicality of it, and I am stronger now than I have been probably at any other time in my life in spite of a less functional body. I love the way I feel when I go into the studio and that I no longer have that feeling like yoga is on my to do list for the day – but that it is a part of my day. I love that I can do some crazy hard asanas and I am earning to accept that I may never be able to do some others. I love that I can surprise my students by beating them in a handstand contest. I love that I am learning  – after eight years of effort – to actually meditate. I love that I have a life that allows me to do yoga whenever I want. I love wearing yoga pants… all the time. I love looking at amazing and beautiful people doing insane asana in beautiful places. I love that #whitpeopledoingyoga in San Francisco underestimate my yoga knowledge all the time because they just finished a 200 hour teacher training. I love that yoga is so dynamic that I can see the changes in my body, my classmates, the demographics and styles of the classes.

And the things I do not like about yoga it turns out are the same things I don’t like in the world: inauthenticity and falseness, insecurity, inaccuracy, gimmickry, arrogance… But the best thing about yoga is I can look at those things now and not like them and let them go. It is like my own little serenity prayer: yoga grant me the mindfulness to accept the things I cannot change, the focus to change the things I can, and the balance to know it is probably all my perception anyhow.

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108.

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The Summer Solstice was yesterday. Most hours of daylight all year for us in the Northern Hemisphere, and we were not disappointed in San Francisco, that is for sure. It was sunny and warm, even at Ocean Beach. And the light did last long. It was a pretty day and lots of people did lots of super spiritual things to emphasize the day and the significance of the day. I imagine there was much thought to new beginnings and letting in the light, and doing innumerable sun salutations, and getting in touch with one goddess or another, or preaching about the right way to live (don’t eat this, don’t drink that, believe this, do that, be like Me to be happier, be like him to be happier, look at me look at me look at me)to achieve a higher self, or better understanding, or… something.

I am not absent a good sense of irony here. After all, yesterday I planned to write about how I have begun a yoga challenge (108 days of yoga) and I felt like I wanted to go on this big explanation of the significance of the number 108, which of course I investigated when I started wondering about all these people obsessed with doing not 30, not 100, not 365, (all numbers that held more obvious logic to me) but 108 days. I was planning on writing about this and how it was all spiritual and coincidental and (self) important. The significance of the number is interesting, but like so many things the meaning it takes on depends on how you might be feeling at any given moment. [The individual digits comprising 108 represent one thing, nothing, and everything (infinity), representing the belief that the ultimate reality of the universe as being (paradoxically) simultaneously one, emptiness, and infinite.] It suddenly seemed overly self-conscious, and  totally cliché.

My writing has become more and more self-conscious is this medium, which for me compromises authenticity. I cannot tell you how many people have gotten on my case about things I have written, or even considered writing about, here. Everyone has advice, an opinion… an accusation of motive. But really, when I started blogging and was very aware that no one was reading it, I was writing for myself. For catharsis and, frankly, more often than not, to make myself laugh. Maybe to record my version of a memory or story that I didn’t want to forget, which also usually cracked me up. I treated it like it was just about me, it is my blog after all. Following lots of instances of critique, criticism, and actual hurt feelings, it turns out, even the most self-indulgent writing a person can do – blogging – is not really an individual activity. It has an effect on others. One – nothing – everything.

The temporary nature of things is an interesting conundrum – after all it is what might compel me to tell a story here (which, by the way are all true insofar as I remember them… so we can say, all based on actual events) because I want to remember something inherently temporary. The temporary nature of things also offers us the chance to remain sane: nothing lasts forever. Thank fuck for that. The temporary nature of things also allows us an excuse for lots of things that should not really be excusable. Example, my constant mental debate: I will just throw away this recyclable item this one time because I really want to dispose of the trash and I don’t feel like finding the recycle receptacle. No, if you throw one recyclable item away, and everyone on the planet throws one recyclable thing away, then where are we? But it is just this once, I will recycle forever more. And on and on it goes, generally until I take the shit to the recycling bin. Throwing away trash, while momentary, seems much less temporary somehow.

But, with the nothing lasts forever, and everything is temporary attitude, no one seems really concerned with long-term stuff. Live in the moment, people say. Do what makes you happy, people say. Embrace the now, people say. And in so doing, relinquish responsibility for the future we face. Rather than consider that there may be consequences to things, even if categorical proof is absent, people say, No. No, that is not a problem. It is not a problem because it is not a problem right now. And if it is not a problem right now, why should I believe it will be a problem then? [A more animal brain based instinct would say if there is a potential to cause catastrophe, that should be enough to avoid something….]

Because after all, you keep saying nothing lasts forever. Even you yoga challengers… after 108 days, then what?

Temporary. (One)

Everything with an expiration date. (Nothing)

But not. (Everything)

Regardless of the temporary nature of anything, there is some logic to the infinite nature of things. Would doing 108 days of yoga change you definitively? Lorentz would say yes. If every person on the planet stopped littering would it make a difference? If we chose to consider that it was possible that our influence on the global climate could potentially cause us great harm and therefore we tempered all our behaviors contributing to said change, would it make a difference? Is it worth it?

When you look at it like that, it is pretty clear that the ideas tied up in the spiritual explanation of 108 are getting at something pretty important. It goes like this:

  • In separation from ourselves we achieve unity.
  • So, why can’t we just take care of our own selves and then its all good? a student asked me.
  • I mean, it is logical to say, I’m doing the right thing, so I’m fine.
  • But we are not fine, even if you temporarily are – just have a look.
  • Well, this problem is not mine, it is not me, I am not doing that.
  • It is their fault. I blame them.
  • I dont’ kill sharks, abuse animals, poach endangered species, allow fracking, overly depend on fossil fuels, throw trash in the ocean, blow second-hand smoke in people’s faces, support the international drug cartels, endorse unfair labor practices, purchase inhumanely produced food, GMO food, use plastic. I am not homeless, in debt, obese, greedy, myopic. I recycle, reuse, reduce, buy organic, contribute to charities, give money to those in need when I can, spay and neuter my pets, spread awareness of issues, vote. I do the right things.
  • But everyone says that.
  • And we are not okay.

Which seems like the best evidence that, in fact, the paradox is true in our separateness we are united – like it or not – tied to each other. And while change happens and everything good or bad may be temporary – this connection is a dynamic reality.

I am still going to do the 108 days of yoga (today is day 9), because it will make a difference, possibly temporary, maybe not, in my life. I probably wont think about it being about the paradoxical relationship between separation and union, or nothing and everything, but it you never know, it might show me something about myself or the universe that is super important. I am also going to continue to recycle and try to act conscientiously – even though every day it seems harder to do anything at all while trying to do the right thing. I mean, really what can I buy to eat that is not killing me, the planet, a far off indigenous culture, the habitat of endangered species, wantonly destroying farmed animals by the cruel millions, supporting labor exploitation, dependence on fossil fuels, contributing to economic injustice, gender inequality, social violence, social stigma…. it is paralyzing on a good day.

well informed vs sane

And maybe thinking about all these things will help me to be more gentle in my life. Then again it might not.

But the possibility seems worth respecting.

Feel the Power.

Empowerment is a terribly obvious concept that becomes painfully elusive when a definitive explanation is required. The easy way out is to say it is a deeply personal and therefore entirely subjective notion. But that cannot be true when it is something that is apparent to everyone when they are in the presence of it. So, it is not good shoes. Or a Black Amex. Or being physically intimidating through size or aesthetic. It is not a style or something learned, picked up from the celeb du jour. It is not exactly some higher consciousness or enlightened state. (Though I would be remiss to suggest that none of these things contribute to empowerment.) In the simplest of terms, the only measure of empowerment that I could settle on is eye contact. In every context, manifestation, or situation that I could consider, the greatest equalizer of status, position, persona, and character has always been eye contact.

A while back I was asked to contribute a few words (ha – a few – well, I tried…) to a publication I have been fortunate enough to contribute to a few times on how I would describe empowerment. My contribution is above. But since then, I’ve been thinking about it more. I am lucky, as I have never really felt absent personal power. This is not to say that I have not been in situations and circumstances where I did not have the power I imagined, or that I always effectively exploited my prowess, but at the very least I have felt worthy of being empowered.

When I first was discussing the prompt with the lovely Ginger, editor of the magazine, we were trying to succinctly – as much as one can over cocktails – to get at the heart of empowerment. We tossed a series of ideas back and forth; what were the times we felt empowered, how did we recognize this in others, how did one achieve it… It was delectable food for thought.

  • Empowerment to me means being able to look someone in the eye no matter how they are treating you.
  • Empowerment to me means looking into the eye of those who most people would choose to ignore.
  • Empowerment to me means having the courage to stand up for what you believe in without having to demean others for holding different priorities.
  • Empowerment to me means having the wisdom to know that some people are dangerous, be it physically, psychologically, or emotionally, and you are not weak to walk away.
  • Empowerment to me means recognizing that some people will never hear you or see you or acknowledge you in a way that makes you feel good, and you have to let that go.
  • Empowerment to me means owning your thoughts and actions and knowing you are the only one who has control over them.
  • Empowerment to me means seeing the potential in people.
  • Empowerment to me means understanding that kindness is not weakness,
  • Empowerment to me means keeping your head up when people lay their shit on you, and knowing that it will always, eventually, make its way back to them, and you have no role to play in that reality.
  • Empowerment to me is seeing the students I teach stand up for what is right – and most importantly stand up for themselves.
  • Empowerment to me is knowing that my height, my shoes, my situation, have nothing to do with the presence I can wield…
  • Empowerment to me is knowing which droids are the ones you are looking for.
  • Empowerment to me is understanding that we are all in this together, and those who choose to ignore that fact will eventually realize they were wrong.
  • Empowerment to me is having the courage to be authentic.
  • Empowerment to me is this 11-year-old boy taking down ignorant racists with grace and calm.
  • Empowerment to me is one of my 15-year-old students standing up on a stage all by herself and belting out a classic:

And sitting with all these thoughts on the yoga mat today moving from prasarita padottanasana to sirsasana – my favorite asana for gaining perspective – I thought about how lucky I am to be able to look people in the eyes, something that the shifty, the shady, the less than honest, the insecure, the big talkers with no walk… are unable to do. At the end of my practice sitting in agnistambhasana, I thought about the traditional Hindu/Indian salutation of namaste. It means ‘I bow to you’ in the most literal sense, but in a larger context it suggests the spirit that is me sees the spirit that is you.

That is empowering.

And so are my girls right here… check out the spirit in Kheyaira, Kara & Lud.

Own your shit and look people in the eye… not bad rules to live by.

I could’ve stayed in Reno: part one

Reno Arch

I could have stayed in Reno. But I did not. I think of this sometimes. Not as much as I used to, but sometimes. I thought about it this morning as I took my place in a very crowded yoga class and looked up at the teacher, and thought, Huh. She looks different. This teacher is known for her love of twisting and just as I was thinking how she looked different she said she would not be doing as much twisting and then I thought, Oh. She’s pregnant. And then she said, I am pregnant.

I thought about this announcement, like I always do when I hear someone is pregnant. Reaching down deep inside to see what kind of emotions crop up. Sitting in ardha padmasana, I felt more longing to achieve padmasana than pregnancy. As the lights got lower I looked deeper even still and the closest I got to something approaching wistfulness regret was the thought that I could have had a baby. I could have stayed in Reno, and had a baby.

But I did not.

As we began to focus more on our breathing I (re)considered this: staying in Reno. What would have been like? Interestingly, there is far less mystery to this than there is to seemingly parallel questions (what would it be like to pick up and move to Tasmania, for example.) If I had stayed in Reno, it is quite easy and predictable to see what would have unfolded.

I could have stayed in Reno. Stretching back into adho mukha svanasana that inverted reality materialized in my mind: a perfectly fine house in a perfectly fine suburb, with a perfectly acceptable job, and a perfectly acceptable partner, driving my perfectly acceptable car, shopping at perfectly adequate malls, eating at perfectly decent restaurants, having a perfectly normal wedding, and the making a (hopefully?) perfectly normal (or at least normally put together) baby. Or two. It is frighteningly easy to see it play out. It would have looked a lot like that. If I would have stayed in Reno.

But I did not.

From chaturanga up into urdhva mukha svanasana I reconsidered this: I could have stayed in Reno. There were a few people who not only assumed I would, they planned on it to the tune of sharing a mortgage and buying an engagement ring. I daresay there were some who might have hoped I stayed too, for very different reasons. But I did not.

Get out of town

I did not stay in Reno and consequently I found Hong Kong. I found that I have an urban soul. I found that I can work anywhere. I found homes perfectly suited to me; in the jungle, in foreign ghettos, in ex-pat highrises, on wide open beaches. I found life without a car, without so many things I thought were necessary. I met people who were so different from me they were just like me. I maybe even found me. I probably still could’ve had a baby.

But I did not.

16

I could have stayed in Reno… Back to adho mukha svanasana I smiled thinking how people say Reno is so close to Hell you can see Sparks. I never thought it was all that sparkly myself. In leaving I certainly did not take any road less traveled, or discover anything that had not been discovered a hundred times over by a hundred others before me, or otherwise change the world. But I did not stay in Reno, and that has made me all kinds of different.

…chitta vritti nirodhah…
Tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam.

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