Really a wonderful group of folks. You can tell just by looking, eh? I wish we would've had a week longer to get to know one another over vegan blackberry waffles and slabs of chocolate cake.
Here are a few quick pics. Big love.
Ten weeks after my son was born, I returned to teaching yoga. Between diaper changes and feedings, I hadn't had much (OK, any) time to do asana. I'd barely done a full 90-minute practice. But I'd had a helluva lot of time to do yoga: the kind of practice that looked like chanting lullabies at 3 am whilst bouncing on a blue exercise ball for hours on end, crying babe in arms, trying to stay calm.
It was the hardest yoga I'd ever done. Way harder than Kapotasana. And it was also the most rewarding.
Having a baby has been tremendously educational, for my body, mind and spirit. With that, here are seven things having a baby has taught me about yoga....
To follow through with Cohen’s “advice” doesn’t require “guts.” Sleep training an 8-week-old doesn't require "guts." The instinct to respond to a baby's cries is empathetic, wise, and vitally important to the healthy development of future generations.
What requires "guts" is seeking out a new pediatrician when one's current doctor advocates medically sanctioned abuse and neglect. It takes "guts" to change our federal maternity leave system and finally catch up with the ethical and family-friendly legislation that characterizes the modern world. It takes "guts" to be present and respond to a baby who isn't physiologically wired to "sleep through the night." It's healthy for babies (and toddlers) to wake and breastfeed and connect. It's normal.
It takes courage to respond to our most vulnerable with compassion, connection, and evidenced-based clarity in America today. We stand together in opposing the neglectful abuse of our elderly. Authorities would shut down any nursing home that practiced the neglect described [here]. It’s time we stand firm in opposing the purposeful nighttime neglect of our children.
I don’t want to be part of a yoga world of happy talk about unending potential and perfect happiness. I don’t have much time for the kind of self-impressed platitudes that give yoga a bad name. Like so many of the secular, health-oriented, somewhat prideful members of my clan, I do yoga to quiet my brain, not to fill it with nonsense.
And yet nonsense abounds. Several years ago, I dropped in on a class at another studio. As class began, the teacher offered her thoughts about the goodness of the world and its benevolence toward us. “If you just reach out with your intention,” she said sagely, “the universe will rise to meet you half-way.” I almost walked out. The earthquake in Japan had happened the day before.
The point is that the practice of attentiveness — the fundamental practice that yoga cultivates — should lead us to contemplate the full reality of our life, which includes its inevitable end. As the yogi Richard Freeman puts it:
“Yoga is a rehearsal for death.”That is the universe rising up to meet you.
For me, this discussion was a rare moment when I had some inclination of what “yoga spirituality” might mean, particularly for someone who doesn’t actually believe in spirituality. In this version, there is no promise of health or happiness. There is only our embrace of reality, in both its quiet joys and its suffering. We recognize ourselves as part of the universe, and we accept that universe’s fundamental indifference to us. Then we see what flows from that.
I suspect that this embrace of death, and life, doesn’t arise from an act of will or from reading the right books. Maybe, though, it comes from the act of the placing one’s feet in exactly the right alignment, and paying attention.
Some of the most advanced yogis I've met in my life have never taken a yoga class. They don't speak self-empowerment mantras and they don't have websites proclaiming them healers and masters.
They're the old church ladies who bring tuna casseroles when someone dies. They're the quiet farmers who shovel the neighbor's driveway at 4am after a blizzard. They're the kind elderly women who knit teeny hats for premature babies in the NICU. They're the ones who show up, humbly offering, asking nothing in return. No glory necessary.
That's yoga. That's what I wanna be someday.
This is great news, right?
Because it means that we are so close to each other, we really know each other well; we are deeply, poignantly connected. It's almost heartbreaking how connected we all are as human beings. More than we can ever imagine....
All the suffering in the world is not a mistake. It's not your fault, and it's not my fault, and it's not anybody's fault. It's not our parents' fault, it's not our ancestors' fault. It's what connects us to each other. It's what binds us to one another. If only we could have the courage to allow ourselves to feel the suffering and the loss fully, we would appreciate it for what it is: the nature of the world. Not a mistake.
The nature of how things actually are, that they're here at all, means that later they won't be.
And that's the pain, and that's the love.
That's the love. And that's the miracle.
— Zen priest and teacher Norman Fischer
Here on my chest.
Squishy lips open, no longer clamping the Ergo, head precariously tipped to one side.
His eyebrows glint blonde in the sun.
In every instant, his hair changes color. It's a game-show of guessing what it'll end up. In some lights, mouse-brown like mine as a kid. In others, towhead blonde, like Robb's was. In others, undeniably red.
Only time will tell.
he is up again
and Christ-almighty, he was asleep!
and now he's up
and how did that go so quickly?
and when will the thank-you notes get written if he's always in your arms?
but he won't always want to be in your arms, not much longer, really, he's already so wiggly and curious, you know, and this is the most precious time of his life and you get to witness it, right here, in the VIP club seats, staring down at this most-perfect little bodhisattva, this short guru who's already kicked your butt into knowingness and egolessness and detachment from all that was and will be,
and some day he won't want anything to do with you, he'll ask you ashamedly to drop him off two blocks down the street so his classmates don't see him getting out the car with his nerdy mom, and he'll ignore your calls and be too busy out there to
sleep on your chest with his little legs straddling either side of your soft loose mama belly
and his eyelashes-for-days fluttering innocently against his cheeks
and his teeny ears listening to the whirr of the white noise fan
and he won't look at you with that radiant lit-up grin every time he opens his eyes
and rolling over will no longer be a feat worthy of celebration
and he won't proudly push up into Cobra afterward like a boss
owning the world in that post-roll moment of triumph
with such great love
because you know
it'll all pass
The nature of how things actually are, that they're here at all, means that later they won't be.
And that's the pain, and that's the love.
That's the love. And that's the miracle.
I began practicing Tibetan Buddhism just over three years ago. I am so thankful for this practice, and for the benefits of greater patience, peace, and inspired study which have come from working with these ancient, compassionate teachings.
Last fall my studies expanded to include the Tibetan language. I find the language so joyful, and learning it stretches my mind in a way that my mind loves to be stretched! Now 8 months into my literary (written) Tibetan class, I have learned the 30 character alphabet, am writing and pronouncing words, and slowly getting the hang of grammar and form.
This summer I hope to travel from my home in the San Francisco Bay Area to Charlottesville, VA, to attend the University of Virginia's Summer Language Institute. I have already been accepted to this excellent and select program. Now I need to raise the funds for tuition, travel, and housing BY JUNE 1st, 2014.
The UVa Summer Language Institute creates an intensive language-learning environment on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, VA. 40-hour class weeks, Tibetan-language dorm housing, native-speaking teachers, and a resident tutor provide an almost immersive language learning experience. The result is 2 years of language study achieved in one summer session. This is the most comprehensive program I have found in the country. I consider it a blessing to be able to build this strong of a foundation here in the United States.
Why Tibetan? And why is this important to me?
You may or may not know, but there is a pressing need for translations of Tibetan Buddhist texts. In today's global world, practices like meditation and mindfulness are widely recognized for their benefits to personal health and well-being, and the integration of these methods is currently producing positive results in our classrooms, business environments, prisons, and healthcare facilities. Why has Tibet been such a great container for this wisdom? Because translators hundreds of years ago Translated the Buddhadharma into Tibetan. We are in a new renaissance as this wisdom lands here in the West. It is going to take countless conversations between translators, scholars and teachers to further share Tibetan practices, cultural information, and texts relevant to our culture's needs.
I am studying to become a translator to help fulfill this need and to transition into a new and fulfilling career path. Learning colloquial (spoken) Tibetan at UVa this summer is a way for me to literally bring the language to life, providing an experiential understanding of the language and Tibetan culture, and increasing my nimbleness as a future translator by giving me the ability to connect and dialog personally with Tibetan people.
This path of study is important to me because I have finally found a deep and multi-faceted path of study that I adore. I believe my work in this field can and will actually help people, in ways that I cannot yet begin to imagine.
I would be honored if you would contribute to my Tibetan Study Fund today.
We need to create a space where yoga teachers can be real, without shame or guilt that they're not enough. We need to do it for ourselves, and most certainly for our students. We need to teach them that yoga is not about exercise, or becoming perfect — or even becoming the best we can be. It's about looking in the mirror and seeing what you see, and if it's something you can change easily — great. If not — well, we sit with it and try not to react.....
What this means for us, is that in our rush to enlightenment, or peace, or whatever it is that we think yoga will give us, we're bypassing the experience. We're actually short-changing ourselves and our students. By not copping to our own struggles, we're telling our students that they should aspire to not be human. The work is not to shed the old self — it's to integrate it. And to integrate it means that you can't just get rid of it. Again, the lotus flower doesn't try to get rid of the mud from which it came — it simply reaches for the sun. If its roots were pulled out of the mud, it would die. I'm not saying that we need to unload all our troubles onto our students. Not at all — save that for your therapist. But we do need to let them know that this practice is not all about puppies and rainbows and peace signs and feeling good. We need them to know that feeling bad is part of the process — an important part actually — and it's part of being human....
I don't know whether our friend and colleague suffered from depression or not. I have to think that maybe she did. She didn't let on. She didn't tell her best friend. She didn't tell her teacher training community. She didn't tell anyone. I have to think that we didn't create a safe place for her to be real; to cop to "un-yogic" thoughts or actions. In the competition to be the best teacher, have the most fun classes, offer the most awesome sequences, we've boxed ourselves into a lie. We put our best faces forward — and not just in the classroom, but on facebook and other social media outlets. We are bombarded by people with exciting lives, doing fun things, with amazing families who love them. No one posts anything when they're not on the top of their game — well, maybe a couple of people do, but largely, it's a world where we're never enough. We're bombarded with posts to think positively, create our own happiness and reality. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but if you're low, and maybe have been for a while, you tend to think that you're doing something wrong, because everyone else seems to have it all wrapped up. We're constantly comparing ourselves to others — on the mat and off the mat. We do it — we're human. And we usually find that we come up short. We need to let our students know that we're just like them. We're not super-human. We struggle, we suffer — it's probably partly why we teach! And sometimes yoga doesn't work. Or at least we think it's not working, because we're not seeing the results we want to see. I'd argue that it is working, and has been all along. The fullness of the practice includes the darkness. We are darkness and light in equal measure....Wow.
1. I have back fat. It used to be belly, and it's for real. I feel it scrunching on my left side every time I pick up my kid and burp him over my right shoulder. And I hope to create the kind of environment where you feel safe letting yours fly free, too. A good teacher is not necessarily the skinniest, most muscle-y one. Some of my best teachers have been far from nubile or svelte or ripped. And some of my, ahem, "less-best" teachers have been super mad fit. And their fitness didn't mean a damn thing. Their muscles didn't give them the words to change my life, or or the wisdom to slow my racing mind. I want you to feel free and confident to take up space. To own your bodies, to own your stories. To own your size. (It's powerful, you know. It's the most formidable tool you wield as you move through the world.) And to own your scars. And your back fat. 'Cause you've earned 'em.
3. I don't want you to be perfect, either. In fact, I've never had more sympathy for you or your body. (Especially during core work!) Sympathy for every moment of weakness, every soft spot, every source of pain or struggle. (You should see how shitty my sit-ups are these days. And I love them. Navasana, too.) So take Child's Pose. Take it over and over if you'd like. Modify. Skip. Take a breath. Sneak out to pee during the standing series. Do what you need to do in order to take care of yourself. There is no prize for the most Chaturangas. So screw 'em and skip a vinyasa if you need to. Your breath is the whole point, anyway, you know.
4. I don't give a shit what your fancy asana tricks look like. I mean, don't get me wrong; I'm sure they're amazing. And I give you mad credit for putting in the time and effort to practice them until you achieved them to the degree of ease that you can show them off in class while everyone else is in a reclining twist. I don't give a shit because I know they are temporary. I used to be able to rock all kinds of cool things, too. (Sure wish I'd thought to take a few pictures for proof for my grandkids someday. D'oh!) And I can do a few of them already again now, and I may well be able to do them all again some day. Or I may not. Either way, those fancy poses are not me, and never were. And they're not you, either. So don't get too attached. They're impermanent, just like everything else. And someday, one way or another, they'll go.
5. I'm tired, too. I get hopeless and scared, too. I get fearful and obsessive and my mind runs off the rails like a runaway train and I have to rein it in over and over from dwelling on the things that frighten me. And I know anyone who's human has that same experience because hey, duh: we're human. That's why this practice has been such a godsend. And that's why I want to share it with you. Not for the workout or the ego boost or the perpetual gooey talk of love 'n light.
6. I respect your time. Before I had a child I had endless hours to practice. Man, did I take that free time for granted! Man, do I wish I'd known to appreciate it when I had it. Now, just two months into being a parent, I know how rare it is to get even 20 minutes for a jumbled incomplete practice. (I was torn as to whether I should even write this blog today, because I knew that in choosing to use precious naptime to write I'd be sacrificing my asana time for the day.) So I promise not to waste your time. I will do my best to start and end class on time, and to pack the class with a well-rounded flow, a quiet meditation, a soothing savasana, and as much mindful content as I possibly can. Because I know this might be the only time you get for yourself all week. And that being here, just showing up and staying with it all, easy and not, will make you a better mother and partner and person.
7. I want you to know how inherently lovable you are. How beautiful you are. How magnificent you are. That you are a bodhisattva; an awakened one; a beloved Child of God. Looking at my kid while he sleeps (and I can't help doing it all the time, I mean, geez, he's so damn precious it just melts my heart), all of that goodness becomes abundantly clear. It breaks my heart to think that he might ever have even a moment in his life when he forgets his fundamental goodness, his unchanging lovability, his intrinsic sacred being. That deep knowing is all that matters. And that goes for you, too.
Duke (as in Ellington, the jazz great), because it is strong, clear, and unpretentious, and has a musical lineage dear to both of us. And because it sounds so damn good.
Lawrence (in honor of my late father Larry, and Robb's late friend and teacher, Larry Schultz), that our little Larry might be blessed and inspired by their bright spirits, their wide smiles, and the unparalleled love for life that both embodied.Duke's been hitting the yoga mat every morning since he showed up. He hates the swaddle. Totally gets in the way of his Surya Namaskaras. Piano lessons start next week, along with tackling the Transcendentalists. The usual newborn fare.