Wednesday, May 25, 2016

What Death Taught Me About Living Fully

I wrote this new piece for Yoga International. It's dear to my heart.

"On a pristine Sunday evening in late spring, we memorialized the life of my old friend Greg.

It was a perfectly Aloha party, an anti-funeral on the rooftop deck of a restaurant under the Bay Bridge, complete with Hawaiian shirts and rollicking toasts and great seafood. The weather even behaved on behalf of the celebration: no fog in sight.
At the request of Greg’s friends and family, I’d agreed to officiate the memorial.

This left me anxious as hell.

The morning of the service, I woke up with an unnameable knot in my belly. The pressure to sum up a beloved friend’s life in a few brief words completely trumps the pressure of doing, well, pretty much anything else...."

Grateful for yoga's ongoing reminder to relax into authenticity, and to savor the shadows along with the sun.

You can read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Four Months, Awake

Mamalode published this piece I wrote when my little guy was just 4 months old. I am delighted to be a part of their May theme: ‪#‎cherish. Such a good reminder to cherish every moment, both the wonderful and the challenging. We don't get this life forever.

Here's a blurb:

Four Months, Awake

He's fallen asleep, finally, finally.
His teething mouth is clamped onto the Ergo strap.
Is he breathing?
I check.  
Yes, phew, breathing.
I am so tired. He is so tired.
He's been up every hour the last two nights.
Out of the blue, after settling into a nice pattern of sleeping for 6-7 hour chunks, followed by a quick 3am feeding, then cuddling in the big bed til 7am. It had become a lovely routine.
We took it for granted.
He hates to nap. He needs to nap.
I need for him to nap. Desperately.
Those naps save me.

Read the full piece here.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

When A Zen Yoga Teacher Gets Real About Postpartum Depression

I wrote this for today's Washington Post. It's deeply personal, and pretty scary to publish. But it's a piece that's been writing itself on my heart for a long time now. And the personal is political. So if it makes even one woman feel less alone, then it was worth it.

My son was born on my birthday.

February 22: George Washington’s birthday. Drew Barrymore’s birthday. And mine.

My phone pinged with Facebook notifications as I stood over the hospital trash bin and retched. Three times I emptied my stomach of the apples and peanut butter my husband had lovingly sliced a few hours before. Once into the trash can. Again. And then again into the birthing tub laced with lavender essential oils.

Fiercely feminist, I’d always been ambivalent about having children. I’d watched my peers spawn with nary a twinge of jealousy, content with my books and my yoga. I told myself, “If it happens: great. If it doesn’t: great.”

On our first date, I teased my future husband, Robb, that I’d likely go the way of Sylvia Plath, making the kids sandwiches and sticking my head in the oven.

Six months later, drinking champagne on a pier overlooking Tomales Bay, we were engaged.

A year later, I was pregnant. Robb promised parenthood would make me a better yoga teacher. I rolled my eyes and took a swig of my chai, wishing it were vodka.

He was right. Motherhood has made me a much better yoga teacher.

But I was unprepared for the shattering.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Finding Your Dharma In A Bookstore

Later this afternoon, I'll be teaching a History of Yoga workshop for the YoYoYogi teacher training.

For the last week or so, I've been up into the wee hours each night nerding out on Indra Devi and the Bhagavad Gita and more Marilyn Monroe asana pictures than you knew existed. I should be so tired from not sleeping, but I'm not — the exact opposite, in fact: I feel fired up and jazzed to have an excuse to spend time and energy on all this philosophy and history.

When I first moved to San Francisco in August 2003 (and started practicing yoga for the first time 2 weeks later), I didn't know a soul. I was a bookish introvert quite happy to be quietly surrounded by books and music and art. So I spent all my evenings and weekends trolling around SF's iconic bookstores reading geeky yoga philosophy books. There weren't many at the time, but I'd dig out the dishy ones and plop on the floor in City Lights in North Beach or Barnes and Noble overlooking Union Square and lose foggy hours to those texts.

They lit up my mind and stoked my heart and changed my life.

I certainly never sat down to read those books thinking I'd ever have a career in them. That didn't even seem possible. I just did it because they made me hungry for more. They made me feel connected to something deeper. And they made sense of the world in a holistic, intelligent way I'd only ever imagined possible.

So I kept reading. And 13 years later, I get paid to do what I'd do for free, for fun, for the sheer love of it: talk about yoga philosophy!

You can major in Business and decide you're going to be an accountant. You can go to law school and set a clear career path. But if you, like so many of us, wonder what your life's purpose (or dharma) really is, ask yourself: if I could wander into a bookstore and just get lost for a few hours, what would I read first? Which section would I make a beeline for? Where could I disappear and only come up for air hours later, not realizing any time had passed?

That's your heart. That's your passion. THAT'S what wants to be your life's work.

Trust it. Keep reading. You never know where it might take you.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Holy Crap.

Holy crap. Front page of HuffPost Women. Chillin' with Monica Lewinsky. :)

Thanks so much for reading, and relating, y'all. This was one of those pieces that I almost didn't post. Too intimate. My heart raced for a good hour or so after publishing. (Those heart-racers are usually the ones that people end up relating to most. Never fails.)

I always say that good writing should make us feel less alone. The act of writing is blessedly (wonderfully) solitary. The sharing of said writing is incredibly intimate and vulnerable, like sharing a piece of one's innermost self. It's usually, erm, terrifying.

So I am ever and always grateful to anyone who takes the time to read. Thank you.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Spring Newsletter

Just sent out my Spring newsletter. I rarely send these anymore because too much email. If you want to subscribe, there's a button top left. Cheers.

Thursday, April 14, 2016


Yesterday my family and I went to the library, hiked a state park, mailed a letter, and waved to a fire truck. ‪#‎ThanksSocialism‬ ‪#‎FeelTheBern‬

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

An Insider's Guide To The Definition Of Yoga

Thanks to BeYogi for publishing my latest, An Insider's Guide to the Definition of Yoga:

"And there, right there, in the messy middle of all of it — this is where the yoga starts.

It starts when the breath gets ragged. When you’re not sure why but your chest tightens up, your jaw is suddenly stone, and your mind races. Suddenly you’re worthless and you’ve accomplished nothing and what are you doing with your life anyway, silly?"

You can find the whole thing here.

Yoga Philosophy For Dummies

Delighted to teach a Yoga Philosophy For Dummies workshop at YoYoYogi next month. Open to all, whether you know anything about yoga or not. I promise it won't be woo-woo.

Sign up here.

Monday, April 11, 2016

When I'm An Old Lady, I'll Be Glad I Took This Picture

This is a selfie.

I talk a lot of shit about selfies. Have for a long time. You know, that they're narcissistic and precious and self-conscious and misguided and pretty much the downfall of the yoga world these days. All about "The Gaze," all about "being seen" rather than just "being." The practice lost to the performance. No small thing.

But, shit. That's a goddamned selfie.

And you know what?

I fucking love it.

Do you know how people take yoga selfies? There's not a single graceful thing about it.

That effortless Handstand-on-the-beach? She took 62 shots of that and they were all sandy and shitty. That relaxed Pigeon in the park? He ran back and forth to the camera 17 times before he could actually get into the pose in time. That Natarajasana on the mountain top? She about lost her shit and fell into the Grand Canyon.

I had to prop my iPhone up on a wooden stool and stack a children's book on top of the stool and then a Vitamix pitcher on top of that, and lean the iPhone precariously against the blender. My kid was napping and he'd already been asleep for two hours and was due to wake up any second and my husband was at the gym and it was just me and the afternoon light and my stupid smartphone there for a few rushed minutes. I'd just finished an hour's practice listening to Elizabeth Gilbert and Brene Brown and Cheryl Strayed and was feeling open and strong and unraveled and said to myself, Ahhhhh, fuck it,

I want to take a goddamned picture of this healthy strong bendy resilient 37-year-old body of mine.

So I propped up the shit and turned on the light and set the timer for 10-second-delay and hurriedly softly carefully pushed the button on the precariously-blender-supported iPhone and ran over and dropped on my butt on the wood and took some goddamned selfies.

And most of them suck. Most of them have a foot cut out or a knuckle missing or a hideous slant. Or my thighs groan like hamhocks or my red cheeks glow even in the shit lighting.

But you know what?

One or two, I fucking love. They make me feel fierce and flexible and strong. And, ok, I'll say it: beautiful. They make me feel beautiful.

We are not supposed to say that out loud.

We are not supposed to admit that.

But I will.

When you call yourself beautiful, and really mean it, you are no longer prey to their not-enoughness.

You are no longer at someone else's mercy.
You are no longer living in externally-imposed lack.
You are no longer a slave to the capitalist-misogynistic beauty industry.
Because you no longer need their approval.
And you no longer need to buy their shit.
And you have no desire for $95 pants.
Or $27 mascara.
So you win.

And goddamn, if that isn't liberating.

My first childhood dance teacher just died. Nevorah, she of the long legs and the fishnets and the high-heeled tap shoes and the vague resemblance to a 63-year-old Lucille Ball. (At least in my 5-year-old mind's eye, that is.)

She who hoofed it out with us up on the second floor of a dusty wooden studio there in Brookings, South Dakota, Nevorah and my sister and me, tapping it out to the Beach Boys and Me and My Shadow and god knows what else.

You don't realize the huge impact you can have. Even then, I looked at her and thought: I want to be like this woman. I want to move through life like this tall elegant creature. I want to be able to kick my nose when I'm 63.

Talk about motivation. I think of her still.

She ended up an elderly woman with a broken hip and a dancing spirit. (As we all do, if we're lucky.) And she surely had no idea what an impact she made on a shy little South Dakota girl.

And I realize, even now, that one day I'll be the one in the recliner with the oxygen machine and the twinkly eyes and the broken hip.

So I'll take the damn selfie, in the body that still bends, wearing three-year-old hand-me-down leggings from a teacher-friend and an old black shirt from Target, make-up all sweated off, heels cracked.

And I'll look at that photo and feel like a fucking queen. Regal, all size-8-and-not-size-0 of her. And I'll raise a glass to what she has been through, and that size-0 does not equal joy, and that picnics and books and coconut milk chai teas do, and the baby that body has grown and birthed, and the cupcakes she's eaten and the broccoli she's cooked and the stairs she's climbed and the house she's built and the dirt she's tilled and the lawns she's mowed and the airport floors those hips have slept on and the wooden floors those bare feet have danced on and the crow's feet those eyes have earned and the pots of coffee she's chugged and the grey hairs coming in and the tired eyes who've not slept for two years and the cracked heels and the stubbed toes and the despair and the delight and all of it right there in that body

right there!

resilient as fuck


selfie, my ass.

There is no-self. (Haven't you heard?) Anatta, no-self, that idea that we exist only in relationship, that our notions of permanent selves are ever in co-creation, ever fluid. It's a Buddhist thing. But it's also process theology, and ecofeminist theology, and yoga.

And as soon as you drop the notion that you are this particular form, life gets so much easier. Once you were an infant. Now, you're not. Once you were a kindergartener in a duck tutu and tap shoes. Now, you're not. Some day, if you're lucky, you'll be elderly. Now, you're not. Follow me?

I always give a private nod to this reminder at the end of every class. Right as folks are rolling back up into their seats for the final OM, I lead them through one last oh-so-simple head circle, rolling their heads first slowly to the right, and then reversing, circling to the left.

I do it for me, selfishly, that one day if the only yoga-asana my body can manage to do is a simple neck roll, I might remember that it's holy, and it's real, and good, and life-giving, and that I've been practicing for that moment all my life.

I do it for you, too, that even if you don't realize it, you might one day give yourself the same grace, if your body will no longer let you stand on your hands or fly into Hanumanasana.

You are not "you." You are not your selfies. You are not your twists or your arm balances or your vertical splits. You are just this moment. This Sunday-afternoon squeezed-in selfie before the iPhone fell to the floor and the kid woke up and the husband got home and the light changed.

Isn't that a relief?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

New Article: 7 Tips For Teaching A Kick-Ass Vinyasa Class

I wrote this new piece for Yoga International, published today. I've long respected their work, and am thrilled to contribute to this thoughtful, intelligent magazine.

Pretty much my personal teaching philosophy, right here.

A little preview:
Let’s be honest: there are tons of vinyasa classes out there these days.

What can you do to ensure yours is terrific? What are the essentials for designing a really solid class, beyond the basics (like safe sequencing, cueing the breath, and making sure no one passes out)? And how can you make your class the kind of can’t-miss experience that keeps students coming back for more?

Here are seven keys:

1. Be yourself.

Don't get your "yoga-voice" on. I've taken classes from a number of rad, funny, cool yoga teacher friends who, once they step in front of a class, totally lose their personalities and become yoga automatons. Don't be afraid to be real—to speak in your normal tone, like you would in everyday conversation, and maybe even (gasp!) swear once or twice (if that’s normally how you’d talk). People are more relaxed in the presence of a confident leader, and your students will feel at home when you’re at ease. That said…

2. Don't talk too much. For real.

This is the feedback I hear most often from students who have negative class experiences. Have you ever taken a class where the teacher's so eager to fill all the silent spaces that they jabber the whole way through? Honor the introverted, meditative nature of the practice. Nonstop chatter makes it really tough to settle into a meditative flow, and it can be, quite frankly, invasive, unhelpful, and really annoying. So step back. Don't feel like you need to explain everything you've ever learned about a pose or a philosophical topic in the span of five breaths. Offer the basic instructions necessary, count out a few breaths as you go along, and then STFU. Your students will thank you.

3. Keep a nice rhythmic pace, as though you’re playing an instrument.

And I don't mean choreographing your routines to the Skrillex song playing in the background. Let your vinyasa pulse like a heartbeat.
There's much more. Read the whole thing here.

Monday, April 4, 2016

June 26th Yoga + Hiking Retreat

Yes, we're doing it again! 

I'll be back in Northern California the last weekend of June, and summer should be bustin' out all over. Looking forward to sharing another yoga + hiking retreat with you. It's a great chance to get a dose of sky, bust out an old-school vinyasa, luxuriate in a long meditation, and ramble together over sunburned conversation in the woods. 

So please do join us.  

What: Day-long Point Reyes Yoga + Hiking Retreat  

When: Sunday, June 26th, 12-5ish pm  

Where: Toby’s Feed Barn, located at 11250 California Hwy 1, Point Reyes Station, CA. (About an hour northwest of SF and Oakland.) Drive up anytime Sunday morning to enjoy Point Reyes Station. Make your way to YogaToes Studio (MC Yogi and Amanda Giacomini's home studio) between 12-12:15pm for check-in and brief hellos. We’ll share a full vinyasa + meditation practice, take a quick break to change and refuel, and then head out for a 2-3 hour hike in the wilds of Inverness and Point Reyes National Seashore.  

What To Bring: yoga mat, water bottle, solid hiking shoes, sunblock, rain gear (if it’s wet), and comfortable clothes. Wear layers, as temps can drop when the fog rolls in.  

Registration: $50 covers a 2-hr hike and a 2-hr yoga/meditation class. Link is below! (Studio space is limited to 35, so it will definitely fill up.)  

Questions: Email me at 


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Are You Afraid To Sing OM?

are you afraid to sing OM?

don't be


OM is

the song of your breath
the hum of your heartbeat
the thrum of your lungs
the whistle of the wind in your ears
the scurry of the squirrel in the tree across the street
the golfer whacking the ball out on the green
the garbage man dumping beer bottles with a CRASH
the timer on the oven telling you the fries are done

it's Kanye and Kim (ok, North and Saint, too)
it's Woody and Buzz (you've got a friend, you do)
it's Bernie and Donald (yes, even Ted and Hillary, too)

the familiar hush of your mother's voice
the low rumble of your father's lullaby
the lilt of your son's sing-song toddler voice
the holler of his wails when you stop him from coloring on the walls
the ache of your muscles aging
the groan of your bones heaving
the creak of your hips and the wrinkle of your eyes
the realizing
you are your mother now, too, and she, hers

It's OM
the vinyasa that is your life
the dance that is birth + death

not something to be afraid of
your voice especially
even though you think you're not a singer, i know
and that one time in 3rd grade they told you to lip-sync the words
so you didn't ruin the song

and you haven't sung since

f*ck that


OM is you
your quiet breath when you're alone and still and realize
this won't always be

so you sing

in spite of yourself
the harmonies delight

Saturday, March 26, 2016


I can't stop thinking about the #BirdieSanders thing yesterday. It was totally yoga.

Did you see how light and open everybody got when it happened? Not to mention Bernie's childlike, wise response: super-present, just smiling quietly, watching, appreciating. It was like everybody in that huge dome just dropped their masks and let go.

And it was spontaneous. Unplanned. A rare uncrafted moment in a political world shellacked with premeditated words and catch-phrases and selves. The present moment flitted in. Literally. And it took everyone off guard.

Feels so good to have a dose of levity inserted into the hatred and malevolence and fear that have characterized this election. Thanks, little finch. You brought a world of good, just by doing your thang.


Friday, March 25, 2016

Two Hospitals, Three Yoga Studios

Today is Good Friday.

I'm home, working in the office, hearing the pound-pound-pound of footsteps upstairs as the little guy runs around with Tessa, blowing bubbles and littering crumbs and toppling block towers up above.

Good Friday always makes me a little quiet and reflective. Comes with the territory. Certainly helps that the skies here in Portland are naturally grey. Suits the mood, eh? Plenty of time for pastels and sunshine come Easter morning.

I stumbled across this piece from three years ago today — three years ago, exactly, Good Friday — and the passage of time crashed over me like a wave.

Brand-new baby Logan is now three. Dear old Greg is now gone, three years. Life looks so different. And not at all.

It churns on.

Friday, March 29, 2013

What a strange 24 hours it's been.

I spent yesterday in two hospitals and three yoga studios. It was a day bizarrely bookended by all kinds of life cycle shit.

And I mean "shit" in the most reverent, awestruck, sacred kind of way.

* * *

My dear old college friends Aaron and Courtney had a baby Wednesday night. Court's a rockstar and the baby slipped out like a kid on a waterslide. We got the heads-up that she was about to bust a move into delivery around 3pm. By 7, little Logan Page had arrived.

She's a damn purty little girl. (Way to go, team.)

I spent Thursday morning in an excited rush of gathering: getting my stuff together for teaching, wrapping up some bubbles and Cowgirl Creamery cheese for the new mama, and heading into the City a little early. Taught a sweaty noon class at Urban Flow and then hustled over to the hospital to meet the little lady.

She was what, about 18 hours old by the time I met her? And a sweet little kitten in every way, 7 pounds of quietude and warmth and cuddles.

After about 45 minutes, I zoomed back to the studio for a meeting, headed to OMpower to teach, discovered the melée of Giants/Athletics fans that had overtaken the 'hood for an exhibition game, and had just settled back into my car to head to Oakland when I got a phone call.

It was to be a Maundy Thursday bookended by hospital visits: one to a wee newborn babe, the other to say goodbye to an old friend who was on his way out of this world.

* * *

G had a stroke last Friday night. He's young, and healthy, and mad-fit; the kind of guy who climbs mountains and does triathlons and all that. He went out to dinner that evening to celebrate his daughter's 13th birthday, came home, and his brain crumbled. The firetrucks were out front by 2:30am.

I stopped at the hospital to see him on Sunday afternoon. He was more coherent than I expected, slurring a bit, yes, but recognized me and tried to make a few patched-together jokes. The words didn't come easily. He fell asleep mid-conversation, and the ICU nurses hustled us out so he could rest.

Monday night brought an emergency 7-hour brain surgery. They shaved off part of his spinal cord and cut out part of his brain to reduce the cranial swelling. Tuesday, he remained in a medically-induced coma. Wednesday night the neurosurgeons predicted that he had an 89% chance of full recovery.

Thursday afternoon he was braindead.

I found a voicemail waiting when I left the studio at 6:30pm.

Knew in my gut things weren't well. Got the word from our mutual friend E that there had been a series of strokes the night before, and G's brain could no longer wake his body up. The breath was gone. The brain was swelling again. The family had all been at the hospital saying goodbye since late afternoon, and the doctors would pull the plug later that night. I could likely stop by to see G one last time if I got there before midnight or so.

And that was it.

I did fine on the phone, kept it together, asked how E was holding up (they were long-time best friends, he and G, the kind that go to Vegas and Fiji together and stand up for one another in their weddings), and hung up the phone.

Sat stunned for a few minutes, disbelieving, numb.

Called the Mister and fell apart. Tears.

Speaking those words: "Ohmygod, honey: G is braindead" took everything to a whole new level. I understood. It was real. He'd just had a birthday two weeks ago. And now he was gone.

I wept my way across the Bay Bridge on my way to Oakland, windows rolled down, cold wind in my face, inching along in late rush hour traffic. I contemplated calling the studio manager to see if someone might be able to step in to teach for me. Figured there was no way I could get through class. But it was 7:15 already, and another teacher would need to be there in fifteen minutes. No way. Totally impossible.

So I sucked it up and said, "Rach, get it together. You have to get through this. Be present; find equanimity. This is your yoga." The Mister had already suggested that I dedicate my class to G. There seemed no better way to honor him than to dive into a place of sweat and breath and being absolutely one-hundred-percent fully alive.

I parked the car, wiped my eyes, put on some new mascara, blew my nose, and headed in.

There were 35 beautiful living breathing loving creatures in there waiting to get their yoga on. I knew as soon as I walked in: I had done the right thing.

* * *

There are few classes in which I remember being so fully present, so completely aware of the rich joyful heartbreaking cycle of life. I'd just come from squeezing a less-than-day-old baby, and after class I'd be driving straight to the hospital to say goodbye to my old friend.

In the meantime: sun salutations.

What a mind-fuck. What a grace. What a bookend of a day.

Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, and Guru Devo Maheshwara all wrapped into one.

This body we're born into; the life we live, day-to-day, in the wretched and the exquisite; the moments of chaos, of destruction, of dissolution, of loss. The moment she takes her first gasp of air after 9 months in the womb. The moment you get the call that he's braindead, when two days earlier he'd just emailed you, "Thanks for the birthday wishes and let's connect soon!"

Guru Sakshath, Parambrahma: the God that is nearby, within, here, and the God that is beyond all this, vast, formless and supreme.

I felt each and every one of those sparks of divinity, there in that room.

I felt so aware of the breath, the ruach, the spirit, that literal life force — call it prana or the Holy Spirit or qi or what-have-you — pulsing around me, walking up and down the studio floor calling out instructions, literally surrounded by, enveloped in breath; the urgent, rhythmic, conscious, musical soundtrack, that heat-building, nervous-system-calming, life-transforming Ujjayi ocean wave rising, falling, victorious, triumphant, alive.

I thought of Logan's little soft kitten breath there in my arms 5 hours before, whispering, delicate, oh-so-fragile, just barely begun.

I thought of G's heavy, labored, machine-driven breath 2 hours later as I stood next to him at the hospital bed holding his warm pulsing hand, listening to the machines beeping at my right, his swollen tongue pushing out of his mouth.

I looked down and saw the hospital band on his wrist with his name and birthdate: 3/18/51.

And I thought of the same plastic band on Logan's wrist, not even a day old: 3/27/13.

And I felt my own living breathing body sitting there cross-legged in the midst of a sweaty room of yogis, wrapping up a day swaddled in so much mind-blowing life and death, so much Brahma and Vishnu and Shiva, Shiva, Shiva.

We give good lip service to Shiva, we yoga teachers. We talk about learning to stay cool and calm and equanimous in those moments of our lives when everything falls apart. We preach about cultivating peace and softness and gentleness in the midst of pain.

And then there you are standing next to the man whom you once knew and who will tomorrow be a corpse, and you think of his 13-year-old daughter, whose life will never be the same, and you wonder if she'll be ok, and you know she will, because she's scrappy, and beloved, and strong, and you will all come together and teach her to surf and teach her to love and teach her to cry and remind her that she is not alone.

I sat on the floor in the middle of the room last night after savasana as all of the students had curled their knees into their chests and rolled over into the fetal position ready to close out the practice. I saw them there, vulnerable, soft, child-like, open, brand-new, and I thought of the way we move through the entire life cycle in the course of just one practice: hitting the mat strong, present, fully alive in the breath; we work our way up to that peak pose, the backbend or the Scorpion or the Kurmasana or whatever it might be; we slow down, melt into forward folds, slip into a seated meditation, watching the breath, watching the breath, and then softly, OM shanti shanti shanti, lengthening into Corpse Pose, savasana, a literal little death.

Letting it all go.

Practicing for later, for the day it will be us.

It's Good Friday. It's a day when I would've thought a lot about death anyway. Holy Week always was and will remain a sacred time for me, a quiet few days wherein I draw close to my family and remember, remember, walking the path of Maundy Thursday into Good Friday into Holy Saturday into the joy of Easter Sunday. It's a time when I feel the loss of my father all over again, and remember his fearlessness, his joy, in stepping into death these almost 8 years ago now. It's a time when spring's busting out all over and I'm reminded of the perpetual cycles of our lives, the way there will always be new babies, and they, too, will age, and one day find grey hairs popping up and wrinkles folding in.

And I think about the suffering in my midst.

I think about the way we resist it. Or fail to speak it, out of fear, out of loneliness.

I think about the ones who are aching to get pregnant and can't. I think about the ones who are struggling to parent, to keep it together on no sleep and too-few hugs and a too-small salary. I think about the ones who are grappling with old age; I think about G's 85-year-old mother with her red eyes last night who had to drive in from Grass Valley to bid goodbye to her baby; and I think about wee little Logan Page, who is all brightness, all lightness, all fresh hope, new beginnings, clean slates. How much eager hope her parents have for her life. And how the cycles of life keep churning, whether we give them permission to do so or not.

All of life is holy ground.

Be in it.

Be in it all the way, balls-out, fearless, open, honest, relaxed.

I sat there in the midst of all those sweaty bodies last night at the end of class, after a day of one hospital, three classes, and another hospital yet to come, and I felt the stillness of just being with what is. We sat in meditation and I offered my practice, my class, my teaching to G, that my breath, my song, might lend him peace, might remind him that he matters. And I felt the oneness of the breath as we hollered out that final OM, heard the echo hang in the silence, and knew I was right where I should be.

That we're all right where we should be.

Let your practice crack you open. We don't know how long it is until it's our turn. We don't know how many breaths we have left.

Be in it.

Be in it all the way.

The Anti-preneur Manifesto

Bless Adbusters for this.  One big holy YES for speaking truth.

I don’t want to be a designer, a marketer, an illustrator, a brander, a social media consultant, a multi-platform guru, an interface wizard, a writer of copy, a technological assistant, an applicator, an aesthetic king, a notable user, a profit-maximizer, a bottom-line analyzer, a meme generator, a hit tracker, a re-poster, a sponsored blogger, a starred commentator, an online retailer, a viral relayer, a handle, a font or a page. I don’t want to be linked in, tuned in, ‘liked’, incorporated, listed or programmed. 
I don’t want to be a brand, a representative, an ambassador, a bestseller or a chart-topper. I don’t want to be a human resource or part of your human capital.

I don’t want to be an entrepreneur of myself.

Don’t listen to the founders, the employers, the newspapers, the pundits, the editors, the forecasters, the researchers, the branders, the career counselors, the prime minister, the job market, Michel Foucault or your haughty brother in finance – there’s something else!

I want to be a lover, a teacher, a wanderer, an assembler of words, a sculptor of immaterial, a maker of instruments, a Socratic philosopher and an erratic muse. I want to be a community center, a piece of art, a wonky cursive script and an old-growth tree! I want to be a disrupter, a creator, an apocalyptic visionary, a master of reconfiguration, 
a hypocritical parent, an illegal download and a choose-your-own-adventure! I want to be a renegade agitator! 
A licker of ice cream! An organizer of mischief! A released charge! A double jump on the trampoline! A wayward youth! A volunteer! A partner.

I want to be a curator of myself, an anti-preneur, a person.

Unlimited availabilities. No followers required. Only friends.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

How Bernie Sanders Taught Me Yoga

I wrote this little riff on why Bernie Sanders is my favorite yoga teacher late Thursday night. Delighted to have it published on Yoga Dork today.

Please give it a read. This one's been stewing around in my head and my heart for awhile now and I am so glad to have it out in the world ahead of Tuesday's big primaries.

How Bernie Sanders Taught Me Yoga

I’m a yoga teacher. It’s a weird time to be a yoga teacher.

Ted Cruz is hollering at Donald Trump to “breathe, Donald; breathe.” Marco Rubio’s jabbing him about doing yoga onstage at debates. And both are selling yoga products on their campaign websites.

Since watching that Republican debate, I can’t tell my students to breathe without feeling uncomfortable, like Ted Cruz in leggings and a ponytail.

Some of my colleagues are ignoring the election completely. They think politics is crass, negative, not spiritually relevant. They’d rather be in the studio meditating or chanting loving prayers toward all the candidates. That’s super nice, too, and I’m totally on board with sending some peace and ease to all of those folks, even the ones who make my blood boil, because damn, this election season is a bitch.

But I’m hooked. Hardcore. Can’t get enough.

I rush home after teaching to catch the tail-end of the debates. I spend Saturday nights in front of the TV cringe-watching Donald Trump’s bizarro meandering victory speeches. I troll Twitter in the wee hours of the morning for the latest analysis on who’s projected to win Ohio and Florida.

I haven’t felt this politically invested in years.

I am a progressive Democrat. I am also a lifelong feminist and will support Hillary Clinton tooth-and-nail, should she end up as the Democratic nominee. At first I figured she’d be my candidate all the way. I mean, go first woman President! and all. And who’s more qualified, right?

But, very quickly, very easily, Bernie won me over. His authenticity, his passion, his commitment to economic justice? Well, geez: he’s a total yogi.

Here’s why:

Read the rest over at Yoga Dork.

(And a big thanks to YD for having the guts to go political! Yoga is politics. Politics is yoga. End of story.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The One You Feed

I just celebrated my birthday the other day, and can I tell you what?

It was so fun.

Felt connected and loved and alive. Went out to a hip twinkly restaurant and drank bubbly and ate good food with people I love and wore homemade birthday crowns and baked chocolate cake and licked the frosting bowl with my kid.

(You know, compared to even ten years ago, in those ancient pre-Facebook days, this newfangled technology thing lends a whole new lovely and strangely-intimate-but-not energy to birthdays. All day long, I discovered sweet little messages from long-distance friends from so many different eras of my life, and felt touched and sentimental and open and light.)

It was kinda great.

Back in my twenties, when I was studying a lot of social theory and everything was socially constructed and nothing had meaning so why don't we all just give up already, I went through a long phase of being too cool for birthdays. They were depressing opportunities to get cynical and drink heavily; reminders of all that I felt I hadn't yet accomplished, ticking existentialist time-bombs warning me that I was one year closer to death without having any real achievements to my name.

But then two years ago my son was born on my birthday (crazy, yes; that's another story), and since then, late February is kind of like Second Christmas in our house. Big parties and lots of celebrating and wrapping paper and snail mail and candles and so much sparkle. It's certainly more fun with a little guy running around lifting his sippy cup and yelling "Cheers!"

As I imagine they do for most of us, birthdays always make me think about big topics like Life and Meaning and What's My Purpose and How can I seriously be 37 years old because isn't that someone's mom or mine or my elementary school teacher's age, but definitely not me? And isn't that awfully close to forty? And decidedly middle-aged? 

But then I think: damn, girl. You're still alive. You can still tie your shoes. You can still walk down the street. You can even still do the splits. You've birthed a baby and written a masters thesis and paid your taxes every year since college and you're really doing ok. Even if you're not President of the United States or a multimillionaire tech entrepreneur or Mother Teresa.

It's all about how you look at it, right? 

Birthdays changed for me after my father died at age 58.

I was only 23 when he got sick, and 26 when he died. It was hard to feel hopeful about my ever seeing retirement age. I wondered how anyone could be so foolish as to count on living to see her grandchildren, or what the point was of funneling money into an IRA if you were never going to get to use it.

A sobering revelation hit when I turned 29. I realized that, had I been my father, my life would already be half over. That we never know how many years we get. That, no matter how many chia seeds and kale salads we consume, we can't count on 80 years, or 90, or more. So I should savor these birthdays, these wide-open new years, and never be ashamed as the number grew higher and more wrinkly and grey-haired.

Because some people don't get the pleasure of seeing middle-age.

So now, these days, 37 feels like a gift, a grace, something I want to shout from the rooftops, like, hey, look what I got! Look what I did! Look what I get to wake up to and celebrate!

Holy amazing remarkable 37.

It makes me think of the Gayatri Mantra, a beloved devotional chant sung for thousands of years by Hindus, bowing to the morning sun. The Gayatri Mantra reminds us to look to the light, to meditate upon that luminescence, to turn our faces to that in our lives which is graceful and bright and life-giving.

Now, I have always been deeply suspicious of positive thinking movements a la The Secret. They make me throw up in my mouth. I can't bear the cheery forced positivity of much of the New Age and yoga worlds. My heart beats for sad music and melancholy literature and the real stuff of suffering. This shadow-side feels honest to me, human; rich.

But I also know that you've got to feed your good wolf.

Have you heard this parable before? It's so good.

Ahhhhh! Yes. The one you feed.

Lately, when I practice at home, I'll dial up a philosophy podcast to keep my mind focused and sharp and to prevent it from wandering and ruminating on politics and where I'll move after Trump wins the election and appoints Judge Judy to the Supreme Court and strikes down the Bill of Rights.

I discovered this one several months ago and have been really digging it. The One You Feed explores the parable of the two wolves. The creator-slash-host strikes me as down-to-earth and equally suspicious of simplistic positive thinking. But he also embraces and highlights many fantastic and multi-disciplinary techniques for feeding your good wolf.

I highly recommend his diverse array of interviews. They usually range from 40 minutes to an hour in length, and feature a wonderfully interesting variety of thinkers, activists, philosophers, entrepreneurs, coaches, writers, and more.

Here are a few personal favorites:
  • Rainn Wilson (aka Dwight from The Office)
  • Lodro Rinzler, Buddhist author and meditation teacher
  • Sharon Salzberg, Buddhist author and meditation teacher
  • Rich Roll, vegan endurance athlete
  • Lama Surya Das, Buddhist teacher
  • Susan Piver, Buddhist teacher and writer
  • Glennon Doyle Melton, writer and creator of Momastery
  • Monk Yunrou, Taoist teacher
  • Maria Popova, creator of Brain Pickings
  • Kino MacGregor, Ashtanga yogi and teacher
  • Dan Harris, ABC News anchor and meditator
  • Noah Levine, Buddhist teacher, author, and founder of Against The Stream

Give it a listen. Whether you're someone who has a little downtime in the car during your commute, or at the gym on the treadmill, or at home nursing a baby, or at work procrastinating, or up early to walk your dog, there's always a little time to build in an opportunity to feed your good wolf.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

You Are Not Broken and You Do Not Need To Be Fixed

My laptop is back after a week in the ER.

It's past midnight and my kid is asleep and I should be, too, because he'll be up like a lark in about six hours. But I'm so damn excited to have my hands back on this new shiny-glossy-sparkly-fast machine of mine that I can't wind down enough to get to bed.

(It's either that or the 50%-off post-Valentine's Day chocolate I slammed after teaching tonight. Sugar rush! No crash yet, three hours later. I'll take it.)

I'm consumed by the news cycle surrounding Supreme Court Justice Scalia's death. Fascinated and intrigued by all the political posturing that's resulted. I was lying in bed Saturday afternoon having just put the little guy down for his nap, scrolling through Twitter as I usually do in those first few moments after he's dropped into slumber and I'm waiting til I can pry myself away.

Shocked, like most of us were, to see the news. Voraciously reading every wonky analysis about which brilliant lawyer Obama will nominate and what the Republicans will do to stop it and whether Kamala Harris might be the Chosen One or whether it might in fact be Loretta Lynch and loving every word Elizabeth Warren has to say about the constitutionality of Republican obstructionists acting like jackasses in trying to block the confirmation process til after the Presidential election.

(I say jackasses with the most kindness and gentleness and lovingkindness possible. Naturally. Well, trying.)

Valentine's Day has come and gone.

We stuck sparkly heart stickers on every possible surface. I entertained making pink pancakes for breakfast, and failed to score the necessary beet juice so as not to poison my kid with Red Dye 40. Thanks to a sweet reminder from an old student and friend, I unwittingly revisited an old self from a Valentine's Day spent behind the bar five years ago, and felt some unexpected fondness and nostalgia. We've stashed the glittery frog and hamster cards away in the closet to recycle next February. I've read Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown a thousand times now, and accidentally torn off the pop-out chocolates that Linus bought to give Miss Othmar.

Duke and I tromped to the library today to return our 15 or so children's books and check out 15 more thick philosophical tomes featuring Mickey and Donald and Elmo and Grover. And monkeys and elephants and lions and giraffes. And fire trucks and bulldozers and tractors.

Just the kind of heart-rending literature I've always loved.

They were closed. Presidents' Day. D'oh.

In the event that you're doing a little light reading not involving Oscar the Grouch, here are a few recent favorites not to be missed:

Death, The Prosperity Gospel, and Me: An incredibly powerful piece from the Sunday NYT. A professor of Christian history finds herself diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer at age 35. With a husband and a toddler. Gulp. She's just published a book analyzing positive thinking and the Prosperity Gospel and our contemporary American obsession with proclaiming ourselves "blessed." Please read it.
In my vulnerability, I am seeing my world without the Instagrammed filter of breezy certainties and perfectible moments. I can’t help noticing the brittleness of the walls that keep most people fed, sheltered and whole. I find myself returning to the same thoughts again and again: Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard.
Next up: I am digging everything this new site puts out. Check out Embodied Philosophy for seriously good yoga shit. And I say that with the highest regard. Excellent podcasts with intelligent thinkers. Fantastic articles. Listen to this interview with Buddhist teacher and author Michael Stone first. Follow it up with this saucy one with yoga teacher Alex Auder. She calls out everything about the contemporary yoga "scene" that I'd like to say but am afraid to. Then dive into their archives and learn more than you ever wanted to about yoga philosophy. I can't wait to read further myself.

After that, for a little gendered reality check, hit up Having It All Kinda Sucks. Amy Westervelt nails the shitty and impossible conundrum of trying to "have it all" as a mother with a family and a career. Nails it. (I think of badass grandma Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who famously acknowledged some variation of: "I've had it all in my life, just not at the same time.") A must-read for anyone who knows how hard it is to both raise a child and maintain your professional passions. And a definite must-read for anyone who doesn't yet know that.
I do think, though, that we should cut it out with the fairy tales already. Stop telling women they can have everything without sacrificing anything. Here's the truth: You want to have a career and kids? You totally can, but both will suffer. You will never feel like you are devoting enough time to either. You will never feel like you are good enough at either. You will never get time off (at least for the first several years). You will always be choosing between things that need your attention, and you will almost never choose yourself. You will be judged for nearly every move you make and you will never measure up to anyone else's expectations.
I'm not talking about crazy special treatment here. I don't think we need to get all Oprah about it and coo on and on about how being a mom is the toughest job in the world. Nor am I saying, as one men's rights advocate put it to me recently on Twitter: "Give me money and special treatment. Because, vagina."
I'm saying let's make it okay for women to admit they're pregnant, or take a little bit of time off to recuperate from having a baby without having to worry about tanking their careers.
Let's redefine "having it all," or better yet let each woman define for herself what the best version of her life might look like. Because when you think about it, reflecting back on the first month of my son's life and reveling in what a good job I'd done at covering up the fact that he exists is pretty fucking sad.

On a more, er, meditative note, check out Omid Safi's beautiful recent On Being column on The Microclimates Of Life. So often when we teach meditation, we describe feeling-states and sensations as being like weather patterns: thoughts and feelings as being like clouds moving through the clear blue sky of our minds, staying for a moment or three, and then blowing by again. I love how Safi mirrors this metaphor here:
I wonder how often I have thought of life as something that happens in perfect, sunshine conditions, instead of thinking of life as the whole thing: the rain and the sunshine, the soaking and the drying, the puddles and the umbrella, the rain gear and the cap, the boots and the water soaked inside the boot....
I wonder how it would change our own relationship with the microclimates of life if we thought of life as being all of it: the tenderness and the anger, the love and the heartache, the hurting and the healing. What if we thought of all of the “climates” and “weathers” of life as necessitating different “clothing choices,” choices that are not permanent, but ones that we put on and take off? What if we thought of these clothing choices not as ultimately who we are, and more as “guests of our guest house?”
Lovely. Do read the whole thing.

Finally (finally!): I follow Susan Piver's Open Heart Project, and in so doing, receive a couple of email meditation practices throughout the week. This particular one, an old February meditation from a few years ago that I happened upon the other day, struck me anew. It speaks about meditation as a practice not of fumbling, desperate self-improvement, but as a practice of learning to allow, to relax, to stop the perpetually churning desire-to-achieve and to rest exactly where we are.
Maybe it’s my objective in meditation that is the problem. As I’ve been taught, the aim is not peace, nor is it bliss. It is to wake up. Another way of saying this is that the aim is to have no aim whatsoever but to relax completely. Absolutely. At this point, awakening is discovered rather than manufactured and suffering ends. The advice to stop, slow down, look within, and allow for both your brilliance and your brokenness flies in the face of conventional self-help. Self-help is not about relaxing with yourself exactly as you are. Meditation is.

Somehow, though, the idea of relaxation has become synonymous with spacing out. This is not what is meant. In my experience as a meditation teacher, basically every student I encounter has to be taught how to relax. It does not come easily to anyone, myself included.

What most of us do to relax is some version of corpse pose on the couch, remote in hand, staring, clicking, clicking, staring. There’s nothing wrong with this–until you try some alternate form of relaxation (say, going on vacation or lying on the couch to read) and you find it impossible. You’re too antsy. You start thinking about dinner and jump up to begin chopping vegetables. Or you think, let me put in one more load of laundry or answer that email that’s been bugging me or wipe down the outside of the refrigerator or take out the recycling or revise the last chapter of my book or find a cure for cancer. (You get the idea.) Hey, we should all chop our veggies in a timely manner and have smudge-free fridges and cures for cancer and whatnot. But let me suggest that we have become so egregiously task-oriented that we are in danger of forgetting how to relax altogether.

Somehow, we have convinced ourselves that we are so broken that a full-on 24/7 surge of endless, repetitive, and unflagging attention to our failings–or, if not our failings, to our “opportunities”– is called for. I would like to tell you something my friend Patti Digh says: You are not broken and you do not need to be fixed. ....

I ask my students, “What do you think would happen if just for one hour, you stopped trying so hard?” What they say is so recognizable to me and also so sad. They say, “I’m afraid everything would fall apart.” As if our lives were held together by spit and yellowing tape. We walk around with the sense that the whole situation is just so tenuous and, if we rest even for a moment, it will break apart. ....

In a very real sense, meditation is the practice of relaxing, nothing more and nothing less. From this relaxation springs joy, creativity, and clarity. It arises with cessation of effort which, after all, is the very definition of relaxation to begin with.

You are not broken and you do not need to be fixed. 

Roll around in that one for a minute or two. Imagine how different your life would look if you walked around knowing that was true, oh-so-deep in your bones.

Then, really, read the whole thing. I found Piver's writing to be incredibly powerful, and deeply radical. Counter-cultural, in the truest sense of the word.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Hello, February

Here we are: February. One month into 2016.

Have you blown your resolutions yet?

Yoga studios always have such a great buzz right around the New Year. Classes are packed and energy's high and people are fired up to get back into their practices, many after a few months away. There's a thrumming hopefulness in the air. 

But I've always liked that late January/early February time a little better: the period some pseudoscientific studies argue is the most depressing time of the year, when the holidays have faded, resolutions have lost their glow, and credit card bills are coming due. It's that grey, cold time when winter sets in and the crowds thin out and some people are already wondering if they should just resign themselves to another year of sweatpants and Netflix, their yoga mats collecting dust in the closet.

Back when I was bartending in grad school, this time of year always amused me, and made me a little sad, all at once. Folks would roll in on January 1st and order iced teas (no sugar) and salads (dressing on the side, no croutons, please). I'd smile and nod and say, "Ok, sure; you got it." By about the third week of January, people were dragging in hungry and exhausted, saying "Ohhh, screw it" and ordering dry martinis and enormous platters of french fries. The strange beast that was Resolution Time faded away, and life behind the bar settled back into its familiar beer-battered rhythm, until the next January circled around.

It was tough to witness people struggling; tough to witness the inevitable crash and burn of such high expectations. Made me feel so tender; so human; so connected.

(And really, who wants to live on iceberg lettuce, anyway?)

Yoga philosophy reminds us that we're brand new every time we take a breath. That in every moment, we get a fresh start, a chance to begin again, to drop all our stories. (You know the ones: I'm schlumpy, I'm a failure, I'm not an athlete, I'll never be able to put my foot behind my head, I'll never fall in love, I'll never get the job I really want, I'll never be able to do an arm balance. You get my drift).

Every inhale, a new beginning.

Every exhale, a chance to let go of what was.

So if you spent the first half of January rocking your resolutions and the second half sprawled on the couch shoving nachos into your face watching Grease Live, then hey. Ok. No big deal. That was then. This is now. And in this breath, in this moment, you get to begin again. Whether it's the new calendar year or the first day of school or some unremarkable morning in June, it's all the same: the first day of the rest of your life.

That said, there are two key instructions you wanna put in your pocket and carry around with you this time of year (and every time of year, to be honest). And they're both totally rooted in your yoga practice.
The first? Be gentle. Treat yourself like you would a small child. When you fall out of natarajasana for the 50th time, or you sleep through morning practice after another late night, or wind up at happy hour instead of at the studio unrolling your mat: be gentle. Nobody ever made good, healthy, lasting change by beating himself up. Nobody ever laid the path to consistent success by flogging herself. So be a little kinder. Trust that you're doing the best you can. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt. And just get up, take a deep breath, and get back on the horse. Or the mat. Or the bike.

The second? Be curious. Rather than judging your creaky body or your too-tight pants or your half-assed push-ups, think to yourself: "Isn't that interesting?" These three words can change your life. "Isn't that interesting? I was stressed out and exhausted so I skipped class, went home, slammed a pint of Ben and Jerry's, drank a bottle of wine, and passed out in front of the TV." It's not good. It's not bad. It just IS. You were probably just trying to take care of yourself in the only way you knew how. And when you can look at your life with the lovingkindness and compassion that you'd offer a small child, you're better able to step back from some of your, erm, uglier moments, and say, "Huh, isn't that interesting. I was really trying to take care of myself by (getting bombed) or (avoiding my family) or (staying in bed all day) or (fill-in-the-blank)." 

There's a reason we roll onto our sides after savasana and rest, curled up in the fetal position like little children. It's an embodied reminder that we're starting over. We're childlike, open, light, unburdened, having let go of our old stories, last year's baggage, having unraveled the lifetime of knots in our shoulders and hips with a good, soul-shakin' yoga practice or two.

All those places in your life where you might find a whole lot of harsh self-talk and judgment? Try substituting gentleness and curiosity instead. And remember: you're inherently good. You're inherently whole. It's true! You are. Sometimes we just need one another around to remind ourselves.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

You Think

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” 

— James Baldwin

(Quote stolen outright from One Ms. Claire. Thanks for the heads-up. And the shot to the heart.)

New Class Time

Oh hey! That's me. And yes, our Saturday mornings at YoYoYogi now start at 8:15am.

Love to see you then.

Friday, November 20, 2015

O Wise One.

Last night after dinner, we're walking by an antique store. There's a serene Buddha statue meditating in the window. The kid points excitedly and hollers: "BOOBA!!"

Close enough. Love this boy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


Lately the thing I look forward to most in teaching is actually that 2-minute silent meditation at the end of class. Thick humid air still pulsing with the sweat of people moving and breathing. The way you can hear the tick, tock of the clock while we sit motionless. The rush of the cars on the street; the rain coming down outside the window. The knowing it's happy hour and the rest of the prime-time world is buzzing around busily hoisting a martini glass just on the other side of that brick wall. The remarkable way strangers who might not otherwise be comfortable sitting in silence without checking their phones suddenly, easily, drop into heavy stillness, side by side.

A refuge of the breath in the midst of urbanity.

I f$#@in love it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

On Mr. Rogers and Jealousy and Ugly Flowered Wallpaper

Away and home again after a quick trip to Northern California.

We saw dear old yoga family. We had a great retreat at YogaToes in Point Reyes. And we were introduced to the wonders of Daniel Tiger whilst enduring a flight with a wriggly 20-month-old.

I'm so pleasantly surprised by the social-emotional intelligence I've witnessed in just a few episodes of this Fred Rogers-inspired PBS show. We only let Duke watch maybe one a week. But — sing it, brother:

"When you feel so mad, that you wanna ROAR, take a deep breath and...cou-ount to 4."

What?! They're teaching meditation! They're teaching kids how to choose to react! Incredible.

Anyway — wonderful trip. A much-needed dose of My People. Grateful.

We were home for Halloween and it was appropriately gusty and rainy and wet. We trick-or-treated at about 5 houses with our cute little Dalmatian boy, who mostly appreciated ringing the doorbells. "Butt! Butt!" (Meaning "button," of course.)

He is a hoot right now and we are digging the verbal stuff coming out of him willy-nilly. It's incredible to witness the young sponge-like mind making sense of the world.

Spent Halloween day steaming and stripping wallpaper from the powder room of my sister's new house. It's a beautiful and spacious and light home with great bones, and will be even moreso now that all the 1980s floral wallpaper has been stripped and replaced with quietly elegant painted walls. (The house was built in 1996 and yet somehow managed to have fabulously-awful flowers on so. many. walls. This powder room paper was actually the same pink design we had on our bathroom walls in South Dakota back in, like, 1983. Talk about a time warp. Wasn't sure if I was 6 or 36.)

It was a meditation, for sure. The boys were tucked in at home snoozing for naptime, so I dug in. It felt pretty great to go hours without looking at my phone. To have it safely tucked away in my bag upstairs. Liberating and strange. (A sad commentary on how chained-at-the-hip we are these days to our devices, especially those of us with small children.)

Anyway, it was monastically, well, fab. I loved just sitting there with the steamer holding it on the ugly-ass wallpaper until it was wet enough to peel away, leaving sticky glue and messy walls behind. This was old-ass wallpaper and it didn't want to go anywhere. And it took about 3 hours to get through that tiny powder room. But, damn, was it rewarding. So nice to just be in my body (and to sit in Malasana for a good few hours) breathing and watching and listening. Almost enough to make me want to get a part-time job building or decorating or painting or something.


The glue-high probably had something to do with that, too. (Hoping for the sake of my still-nursing toddler that the 1996 toxicity levels weren't through the roof.) I was decently buzzed for a few hours afterward.

Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield wrote a book called "After The Ecstasy, The Laundry: How The Heart Grows Wise On The Spiritual Path." I read a few chapters in the long lazy days right before Duke was born. And I actually threw it in the trunk the day we drove to the birth center, thinking for sure my contractions weren't real and we wouldn't end up having a baby that day. (I was wrong.)

In the time since, I've only been able to flip through it in bits and pieces. I keep meaning to dive in some night when I am not tired and have already practiced and met my writing deadlines and run the dishwasher and the little man is sleepily happily.

I love the idea — so Zen, of course — that some of the richest opportunities for awakening in fact lie right here in our daily manual labor. The washing the dishes. The painting the wall. The scrubbing the floor. That monastic ideal that employs the body to connect with the breath and yoke the chattering mind to our movements so as to quiet the incessant thinking and root down deeply into the body itself.

In other words.


(And hey, you get the laundry folded and the floor scrubbed at the same time. Bonus.)

I felt so quiet internally last Saturday after spending the afternoon stripping wallpaper. I felt grounded and peaceful. I wanted more. We need more of this in our lives.

There's an old vintage train that runs out beyond our house. It's very Mr. Rogers-esque, just three old charming refurbished cars, and it only runs 2-3 times a week. It's a total joy and revelation for my choo-choo-loving kid. And they've been working on refurbishing a 90-something-year-old red caboose for the last month or so, too.

At first when I saw they'd be doing that in sight of our window, I felt disappointed. Ugh. What an eyesore, right?

And then I realized what a magical opportunity it was. Everyday now we run to the window to see the workers' progress. Duke thrills at seeing them stand on top of the caboose, or strip the old walls, or put up plywood, or add shingles. I get emotional watching the workers out there in the rain. They remind me of my Dad, who loved doing shit like that. And they are so in their bodies. Not sitting at computers all day and only getting up to walk to the bathroom or to the office kitchen, where they microwave their frozen dinners and dutifully march back to their cubicles. These guys are alive.

And it makes me want the same thing for Duke, someday. That he might be intellectual and musical and compassionate and spiritual and yes, for sure, all of those things. But that he might also be embodied, willing to get his hands dirty and build and dig and take apart and realize the sacred labor that's involved in all of that kind of work. That he might not denigrate manual labor, or look down upon it, or judge it, or think himself better than that. That he might draw on the farmers' blood in his veins, learning to mow the lawn and change the oil and pull the weeds and be so fully in his body, too, that he can come home at the end of the day high on wallpaper glue, feeling quiet-minded and alive.

I read this article last night and it really slayed me: How Our Housing Choices Make Adult Friendships More Difficult.

The title caught my eye on Twitter (can we talk for a second about how much I love Twitter? So much content. So much less bullshit. So highly recommend) yesterday because I've been thinking a lot about A) housing choices, e.g. urban vs rural, and B) what it looks like to make adult friendships.

You know, how different it is to find Your People when you're a young family starting over in a new city, vs being a 20-something with endless time and space to get out and about to festivals and classes and lectures and the like.

The author, David Roberts, writes:
Our ability to form and maintain friendships is shaped in crucial ways by the physical spaces in which we live. "Land use," as it's rather aridly known, shapes behavior and sociality. And in America we have settled on patterns of land use that might as well have been designed to prevent spontaneous encounters, the kind out of which rich social ties are built....
It's only been comparatively recently (about 10,000 years ago) that we developed agriculture and started living in semi-permanent communities, more recently still that were thrown into cities, crammed up against people we barely know, and more recently still that we bounced out of cities and into suburbs.
So everything about how we live now is "unnatural," at least in terms of our biology. Of course, that doesn't mean it's bad...but it should remind us that socially constructed living patterns have shallower roots than we might think from our parochial perspective.
Point being, each of us living in our own separate nuclear-family castles, with our own little faux-estate lawns, getting in a car to go anywhere, never seeing friends unless we make an effort to schedule it — there's nothing fated or inevitable about it.
Why should it require explicit scheduling to see a friend who lives "within striking distance"? Why shouldn't proximity do some of the work? That answer, for many Americans, is that anywhere beyond a few blocks away might as well be miles; it all requires a car. We do not encounter one another in cars. We grind along together anonymously, often in misery.

When we decided to move to Portland, after endlessly researching neighborhoods and suburbs, we consciously bought a house in the city proper, for a number of reasons. Both my husband and I have largely spent our adulthoods living in urbanity, he in NYC and SF, and me in SF. And we really value the aspects of urbanity that allow for walking everywhere: to the grocery store, to cafes and restaurants, to libraries and parks, to school, you name it. And we cherish the spontaneous opportunities to run into neighbors and community members that come of that. The guy who owns the Thai restaurant. That neighbor with the dog who poops everywhere. Even the lady who runs the flower shop up the street. You get my point.

We ended up buying a beautiful rowhouse — think NYC brownstone — with lots of green leaves and brick walks and the like. I love everything about it: the 3+ levels, the elegant urbanity, the fact that we share walls with neighbors who have ended up being super cool and smart and thoughtful and artistic. It makes me feel urban and connected and present and alive.

That "anonymous grind"? That's what we were looking to avert. And we've been thrilled to have landed in a place where we hardly use our cars. Feels incredible to only fill up the gas tank very rarely. Feels empowering to walk most places. Feels like a relief when my active toddler wants to run and walk and pick up leaves and climb trees and pretty much do anything other than sit strapped into a carseat.

But I had a few pangs the other day, wallpapering. My sister's new house is gorgeous, and spacious, and big, and bright, and it backs up to a bubbling creek, with tons of green space out the kitchen windows and a nature preserve with trails literally just outside their driveway. It's so great. And just a quick 15-minutes out from where we live.

I felt jealous. I questioned whether we'd done the right thing.

Robb and I both know that if we bought a house in the suburbs, I'd end up pulling a Sylvia Plath head-in-the-oven pretty quickly. Too lonely. Too isolated.

And yet, we have no yard. Duke needs to run along the sidewalks or go to the park. I can't just send him out to play in the backyard while I make dinner. He will have to learn to mow over at Mariah's house. (And, oh yes, trust me, he will.) So there's a sadness I feel in not having that kind of space. A regret that when we drum and sing we have to be conscious of making too much noise. You know. City stuff.

It was fascinating to watch my thoughts curl and tangle that day, wallpapering. A whole conversation, a dialogue between urban and suburban, was spinning in my mind. And it left me feeling alternately proud and ashamed and confused and grateful and disappointed and passionate and inadequate and self-knowing and self-righteous and rich and poor and ALL THE THINGS.

This is how our minds work, eh? This is why we meditate. Because our minds would have us run movies about our lives all day long if we let them. So we yoke our thoughts back to the breath, and we steam, or we peel, or we scrub, and we breathe, and we take a deep breath, and count to four.

(Thank you, Daniel Tiger.)

When I read David Roberts' article yesterday, it was so damn affirming. It reminded me that we did exactly the right thing for us. We planted ourselves in a place where Duke can grow up largely sans-cars and deeply, intimately involved in his little Mr. Rogers-like neighborhood, with the chickens and goats up the street, and the tattoo parlor down the block, and the coffee shop and the barre studio and the nail salon and the library and the cigar cart and the grocery store all within walking distance. So that he might have his own little beautiful-day-in-the-neighborhood. So that we might count the blue VW vans every morning when we walk by them on the way to school, and say hi to Grandpa Larry every time, who would've loved those blue VWs like crazy. So that we might say hello to the pumpkins, counting them on every porch, noticing when they've shattered, or rotted, or been turned into pie. So that we might see the same scruffy neighbor parking his car every morning at 8:30am, and wave, and smile, and feel connected, even for a second.

Michael Stone describes enlightenment as intimacy. Yoga. Literally being one with everything. Yes.

Roberts continues: 

Why do we form such strong friendships in college and form so few afterward?
I read a study many years ago that I have thought about many times since, though hours of effort have failed to track it down. The gist was this: The key ingredient for the formation of friendships is repeated spontaneous contact. That's why we make friends in college: because we are, by virtue of where we live and our daily activities, forced into regular contact with the same people. It is the natural soil out of which friendship grows....
Some of this natural social mixing follows us to post-collegiate life. We bond with people we work with every day and the people who share our rented homes and apartments.
But when we marry and start a family, we are pushed, by custom, policy, and expectation, to move into our own houses. And when we have kids, we find ourselves tied to those houses. Many if not most neighborhoods these days are not safe for unsupervised kid frolicking. In lower-income areas there are no sidewalks; in higher-income areas there are wide streets abutted by large garages. In both cases, the neighborhoods are made for cars, not kids. So kids stay inside playing Xbox, and families don't leave except to drive somewhere.
Thus, seeing friends, even friends within "striking distance," requires planning. "We should really get together!" We say it, but we know it means calls and emails, finding an evening free of work, possibly babysitters. We know it would be fun, but it's so much easier just to settle in for a little TV.
Those of you who are married with kids: When was the last time you ran into a friend or "dropped by" a friend's house without planning it? When was the last time you had a spontaneous encounter with anyone who was not a clerk or a barista, someone serving you?
Where would it happen? What public spaces are there in which you mix and mingle freely with people on a regular basis? The mall? Walmart? How about noncommercial spaces? Can you think of one?
(I've been moved witnessing the noncommerical mixing and mingling that my sister and brother-in-law and their family have experienced via their church community. Even though they've just moved here, they've been welcomed with eager hands for painting and drilling and stripping wallpaper and watching the kids while they unpack. Their church community has shown up in the most open-hearted, kind, loving of ways. I am struck and touched and inspired by what I see.)

Roberts goes on:
Say you're a family with children and you don't regularly attend church (as is increasingly common). There are basically two ways to have regular, spontaneous encounters with people. Both are rare in America.
One is living in a real place, with shared public spaces, around which one can move relatively safely. It seems like a simple thing, but such places are rare even in the cities where they exist.
A robust walkshed is an area in which a community of people regularly mingles doing errands, walking their dogs, playing in the parks, going to school and work, etc. Ideally, cities would be composed of clusters of such walksheds, connected by good public transit.
He goes on to discuss "refusing to accept the status quo of default isolation."

Both these alternatives — walkable communities and co-housing — likely sound exotic to American ears. Thanks to shifting baselines, most Americans only know single-family dwellings and auto-dependent land use. They cannot even articulate what they are missing and often misidentify the solution as more or different private consumption.
But I do not think we should just accept that when we marry and start families, we atomize, and our friendships, like our taste in music, freeze where they were in college. We shouldn't just accept a way of living that makes interactions with neighbors and friends a burden that requires special planning.
We should recognize that by shrinking our network of strong social ties to our immediate families, we lose something important to our health and social identities, with the predictable result that we are ridden with anxiety and loneliness. We are meant to have tribes, to be among people who know us and care about us.
To some extent, economic and employment trends have made us rootless. We move around much more and remain in jobs for less time (or work in the "gig economy"). We don't stay in one place the way our parents and grandparents did. Those trends, which have brought good along with bad, are likely irreversible.
But we can do something about the places where we live. We can make them more conducive to community and spontaneous social mixing. We know how to do it — it's just a matter of agreeing that we need it and changing policy accordingly.

And now, for making it through all that sociology-nerd sludge, some gratuitous pics.