Sunday, February 27, 2011

Raw, adjective: 6. ignorant, inexperienced, or untrained: a raw recruit.


What's your drishti?
Drishti ("view/sight"): yogic gazing, such as at the tip of the nose or the spot between the eyebrows
Sure, you can say, oh hey, my drishti's at the tip of my nose during Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, or it's upward toward my hand during Trikonasana. But that's not really what I mean. I mean, what the hell are you looking toward? What's your one-pointed focus? Hmmm?

A few Wednesdays ago, my friend V and I were having a chat. I'd just come on for the evening behind the bar, and she'd been lingering for a late lunch, having run into several old friends in the course of the afternoon. 4 o'clockish by now, she was a few glasses in, and her bullshit regulators were gone. You know, that old "alcohol is the truth serum" kind of idea? Well, it was in full effect - much to my eventual benefit.

So we got to talking about life and love and goals and all that existential stuff, as one is wont to do on a quiet late-afternoon behind the bar when there's nothing to be cleaned or stocked and you're just waiting for the rush to hit. I had a birthday coming up, and V had run into those aforementioned old acquaintances, all of whom reminded her of former selves. Ex-husbands, ex-jobs, ex-travels, ex-loves and old routines were made new again in the remembering, bittersweet and not. Our conversation turned to questions of purpose and direction and memory, leaving us chuckling resignedly about how very different our lives end up looking from the way we necessarily imagine they might when we're 9 or 19 or 29 or 49. We weren't lamenting - not at all, as both of us are quite happy with where the less-traveled paths have taken us - but rather just kind of laughing at the very human naiveté of the thought that we might control or plan for these wild lives of ours.

I mentioned to V how every year when my birthday comes and goes, there's kind of this automatic tendency to analyze where I've been and where I'm going, whether I've achieved what I'd wanted to by now [also known as: Type A bullshit]. And V, several glasses in, leaned over, grasped my hand across the bar, looked me in the eyes and interrupted me, saying, in the most charmingly slurred kind of way:

"Rachel. You've gotta set your intentions. You've gotta stop being distracted by the little things, the daily diversions, the dudes - as fun as hell as they are, don't get me wrong - and stop being diverted by this and that other sparkly charming adventure, excursion, flavor of the moment, whatever that might be, and set your intentions. Decide what you want to do, to be, and do it, be it, now, every day. No bullshit, nothing else getting in the way. Srrrrrss-iously."

And I tell ya - that was weeks ago, three, maybe? - and V's vino-induced no-bullshit mandate has really stuck with me since then. She's a wise one, this dame, having achieved enormous success in her career, and now, finding herself quite wealthy as a result, enjoys the time and the resources and the fire and the freedom to do whatever the hell she wants, culminating in fabulous stories of pilot's licenses and sommelier courses and scuba-diving certifications and lovers and travels and oh-so-many good ways of being alive. The woman is an inspiration. A belly-laughing, down-to-earth, damn successful inspiration.

On top of all that, she serves on the board for a major Buddhist organization which I hold in particularly high esteem. So when this bodacious broad, who is in so many ways what I'd like to be, tells me I've gotta set my intentions and cut the crap with the distractions, I listen. And the days since have been driven, focused, charged by that intention. Every day, every morning, as I walk downtown to teach, as I roll out of bed to practice, as I dry my hair in the wee hours, as I come home exhausted on the train, I think of it.

I write it on my wrist, in the mornings: drishti. One-pointed focus. Concentration.

The idea of a drishti, that soft gazing point that grounds and centers the practice, is really quite parallel to that of dharana, the sixth limb of Ashtanga yoga, the notion of one-pointed concentration that is part and parcel of meditation. If we truly aspire to live our lives in a dedicated fashion, mindfully, consciously directing our energies, our prana, toward that which is life-giving, life-creating, removing-of-suffering, we can find this meditative drishti in everything we do.

My mother used to sit in church, all of us lined up like ducks in the back pew, and make her Sunday shopping lists while my father preached. I think of that sometimes when I strive to be present in a yoga practice or even in a conversation. Put the list down. Put the phone down. Be there. Listen. Guide all your attention to that gazing point. Let your drishti - whether it's another person, your teacher, the play you're watching, the book you're reading, the music you're playing - really receive all of your attention.

I like to practice this when I'm folding laundry. I do a lot of laundry, you see, what with all the yoga, and most days there's something to be folded. It's tempting to multi-task, to knock out some phone calls while I fold, to listen to music while I hurriedly stuff socks into drawers. And part of the practice of really finding that one-pointed concentration is to sit down in Hero Pose, or Half-Lotus, and slow my breath, turn off the music, and turn the folding into a seated moving meditation. The drishti goes to the leggings, the long-sleeved t-shirt, the yoga skirts. And before I know it, the swirling thoughts and to-do lists and fears have all slowed down, assuaged, softened, there at the hands of fresh yoga tanks smelling of mountain air detergent and maybe a little laundry softener.

As my dear teacher Rusty often reminds us in class: if you're here, really be here. If you're balancing in Crouching Warrior and wanting to cry while your calf cramps up, be there. If you're in Virabhadrasana B, stop looking around, stop mind-wandering, focus your drishti past your middle finger, and be there. If you're having a conversation, be in it, really be there. If you're in a relationship, be in it, all the way, no half-assedness. If you're watching a play, be there, don't let your mind take you outside of the theater and into your to-do list.

The end result of all this, of course, is full presence. It's a really being-here-now. It's a one-pointed concentration that, in effect, slows the mind, clears the thoughts, allows us to be where we are with what we are and really finish it, live it, experience it, know it.

David Life - he of Jivamukti fame - has written an excellent piece on the tradition and history of the drishti for Yoga Journal. Life writes that
A fixed gaze can help enormously in balancing poses like Vrksasana (Tree Pose), Garudasana (Eagle Pose), Virabhadrasana III (Warrior Pose III), and the various stages of Hasta Padangusthasana (Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose). By fixing the gaze on an unmoving point, you can assume the characteristics of that point, becoming stable and balanced. More importantly, constant application of drishti develops ekagraha, single-pointed focus. When you restrict your visual focus to one point, your attention isn't dragged from object to object. In addition, without these distractions, it's much easier for you to notice the internal wanderings of your attention and maintain balance in mind as well as body.
Makes sense, right?

Life goes on to describe how
The bhakti yogi uses drishti in a slightly different way, constantly turning a loving, longing gaze toward God. Through imagination the vision of the Divine appears in the form of Krishna, and the whole world becomes prasad (holy nourishment). .... As we gaze at others, we perceive our own form, which is Love itself. We no longer see the suffering of other beings as separate from our own; our heart is filled with compassion for the struggling of all these souls to find happiness. The yogic gaze emerges from an intense desire to achieve the highest goal of unitive consciousness, rather than from egoistic motives that create separation, limitation, judgment, and suffering. Like all yogic practices, drishti uses the blessed gifts of a human body and mind as a starting place for connecting to our full potential—the wellspring that is the source of both body and mind.
Beautiful.

So set your drishti - whether that's in asana or in life, that one-pointed focus that can calm your mind and slow your body and really bring you into the here and now, letting distractions fall away, enjoying them for what they are but always drawing you back to that main intention, that base goal, that central foundation. Come back to it. Let it restore balance, channel your energy, drive your practice. And then watch everything you do, every conversation you have, every stroll you take, every clean sock you fold, turn into a moving meditation.

Yoga Tradition & History: The Eye of the Beholder (YJ)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.


And on the heels of all that talk of anahata, Sherry blessed me yesterday morn with this necessary and heart-cracking piece of correspondence between modern dancers Martha Graham and Agnes DeMille (she of the Oklahoma! dream ballet choreography):
There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate YOU. Keep the channel open… No artist is pleased… There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.
"Queer, divine dissatisfaction;" yes.
"A blessed unrest;" yes.
"No artist is pleased;" yes.

All of the above. I am feeling those things this morning, this blessed unrest, this sense of queer dissatisfaction. In spite of a most excellent week and more excellence to come for the weekend, there's too much I want to get done, there are boatloads to be written, there are revisions that need to be made, there are sequences that want to be developed, there are cakes that need to be baked, there are past-due emails that should've been sent, there's a queue of articles waiting to be read, and I can't seem to step beyond this block, this queer sense of dissatisfaction, unrest, in spite of an early morning walk through the glistening Tenderloin past City Hall, roaring prairie wind in my face, in spite of an always-fantastic class assisting R and then another solid class taught downtown, listening to that same wind whip around that 19th floor skyscraper mezzanine while we sat and breathed, eyes closed, in half-lotus/half-virasana. Unrest. In spite of the fab fingerless gloves and the earthy new Over the Rhine album and the little things that we fumbling-toward-enlightenment types are supposed to find and value and notice and let be enough. This morning, they don't feel like enough.

(Santosha? Wherefore art thou?)

Strange, this dissatisfaction. And yet, I am grateful for it, that unrest, that hunger that is Shiva, that perpetual cycle of creation and destruction, desire, dissolution. There is too much to do and not enough time to do it, and yet there's perfectly the right amount of time, always, in spite of our monkey minds' assumptions to the contrary. So we sit. And breathe. And try not to numb, or race, or plan.

The sun has come out, vibrantly, defiantly, committedly. The City's been abuzz for days now about the supposed snow that's due to hit today, and instead, the sun's out.

And my apricot tree has buds.

It begins. Keep the channel open. Undo. Therein, prana lies. Thanks, Martha, and thanks, Sherry, for the reminder.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture


un·do
   /ʌnˈdu/ [uhn-doo]

– verb (used with object), -did, -done, -do·ing.
1. to reverse the doing of; cause to be as if never done: Murder once done can never be undone.
2. to do away with; erase; efface: to undo the havoc done by the storm.
3. to bring to ruin or disaster; destroy: In the end his lies undid him.
4. to unfasten by releasing: to undo a gate; to undo a button.
5. to untie or loose (a knot, rope, etc.).
6. to open (a package, wrapping, etc.).
7. Archaic. to explain; interpret.

Origin:
Before 900; Middle English; Old English undōn; cognate with Dutch ontdoen.

I've always liked the undone better than the done.

Those prom hairdos? You know the ones: the artificially-curling-ironed Shirley Temple tendrils spiraling out just above each ear, oh-so-contrivedly released from the updo itself, which has been, of course, artfully stacked upon the wearer's head with the utmost of care, and then protectively shellacked with enough canned Aquanet to freeze it there for days, or at least long enough to survive a few hours' awkward "step-touch, step-touching" on the ballroom dance floor?

Yeah. Hated those. Ha-ted.

Or, while we're on hair: the dudes with the thick gelled hair [cough:: Newsom ::cough] swept to the side, carefully parted, frozen in time like some 1950s Levittown businessman on the train back to the 'burbs after a day at the office? No thanks. Hate it. Always have.

I prefer things undone.

Shirts - untucked. Hair - unruly, mussed, wild. (The unrulier, the better). Scruff - unshaven. Foreheads - unbotoxed. Boobs - unaugmented. Eyebrows - untouched. Fingernails - bare. And don't even get me started on cologne.

[Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture: raw cotton.]

The rawness, that undone-ness, well, I guess it just feels more real, more honest. Sure, there's some measure of aesthetic satisfaction, some cosmetic something-or-other, some notion of constructed beauty which we've sort of collectively come to culturally agree upon as "pretty" or "desirable" or "cute." Just take a look at any of those parodies-of-femininity grasping after their 15 minutes of fame on The Bachelor, or their equally caricatured Bachelorette counterparts rocking hard abs and freshly-ironed-but-contrivedly-unbuttoned-Marina-dude shirts, or any of the contestants on any of the beauty pageants or reality shows or talent contests that we have deemed worthy of determining who is hot/smart/talented/clever/charismatic or not. Real Housewives of New Jersey, anyone?

Done. All done. Every hair in place, every boob carefully lifted, every nail painted just so. The definition of done. Processed. Manufactured. Constructed. Altered. And that's fine, if that's yer thing. Not mine. Feels too artificial, too contrived, too mainstream, too expected. I'd rather have a bit of grit and dirt and muss and, well, authenticity. Less effort spent on self-presentation and more on self-development, being, learning, thinking, loving, doing.

At my house, growing up, my sisters and I were always done with a capital D. Done, baby, done. Teal blue accessories matching teal blue ribbon matching lacy white socks matching teal blue belt matching teal blue jelly shoes matching teal blue barrettes clasping carefully-curled ringlets matching teal blue purse matching teal blue ughhhh, and on and on, ad infinitum. Not my style, this vast attempt at being "done" - though that childhood influence surely explains why, of course. (And, even now, I admittedly dig a certain ironic done-ness, that red-lipped, vintage, retro kind of beauty, so over-the-top that its doneness becomes a kind of self-parody. I can go for that, for sure. But that's neither here nor there.)

Point of all that is: undone. Damn, do I dig the undone.

The intuitive, the instinctive, the unbuffered, the unsanded, the rough-around-the-edges raw loose gritty real earthy authentic unprocessed unmeasured unprotected vulnerable undone.

We spend our lives doing. Doing what we think we're supposed to be doing, with whom we're supposed to do it all, with the skills and words and thoughts and sayings we're supposed to be using, doing, doing, doing. Crossing things off the to-do lists. Hitting certain markers at certain points in our lives - college degrees, a few solo adventures, marriages, mortgages, kids, you name it. And we feel, often, in spite of ourselves, that if we haven't "done" those "doings" at certain times, in certain places, in certain ways, to certain degrees, well, we've failed.

Which is, of course, a load of hooey.

One of my long-adored, favorite definitions of yoga - one which I increasingly find myself falling back upon as I teach, watching folks fight to attain one twisty pretzel-y ninja trick or another - is that yoga is simply a process of undoing. Some years ago, so long ago now that I don't really recall where or when, I first read this definition, and I thought to myself: "Hellz yeah. Now, ain't that the truth?"

Yoga - union, yoking, drawing together, mind, body, spirit, the ostensibly separate into the certainly whole - is not about doing. There's nothing you need to do, there's nothing you need to achieve, there's nowhere you need to be. You don't need to master that one-armed handstand, you don't need to pop into a vertical split, you don't need to balance on your one pinky toe whilst spinning hula hoops and juggling balls with the other. Screw that. You need only to stay. You need only to undo. You need only to open into that Pigeon twist, to thread the needle and feel your shoulders softening, your jaw melting, your eyes closing, your hips opening. Now, that's yoga.

Undoing. Undoing the impulse to get up and run out of the room when difficult sensations arise. Undoing the years of grace and sorrow, joy and frustration stored in your bones. Undoing the temptation for your mind to judge and curse and wonder and wander. Undoing every harsh word, every learned tendency toward destructive self-talk. Undoing the accumulated samskaras, those emotional and psychological ruts, grooves, you've worn into your being over these years in the body that is yours. Undoing the habits, undoing the patterns, undoing the immediate urge to react, to judge, to close off, to shut down, to tighten, to constrict.

Many of us come to the mat having already gotten very good at driving ourselves into the ground. We've spent years slamming our bodies around, earning shin splints and bruises and ripped muscles and damaged joints in the meantime. We're quite talented at turning ostensibly healthy, life-giving hobbies - beautiful, artistic, prana-rich pastimes like dance and hiking and running and gymnastics and swimming and cycling and the like - into punitive means of grinding our bodies into the earth. We've been practicing a long time, reaching, always striving, to achieve certain race times, to be cast in certain dance roles, to check off names of mountains climbed.

What's really radical, then, after so much practice at this doing - and you see this revelation amongst yogis when they're first offered that initial glimpse of grace, of ahimsa, non-suffering, the unfamiliar freedom to back off a bit - is encouraging the undoing, the coming undone. This idea that we already come to the mat with everything we need, and usually quite a lot more - a little baggage here, a little extra oomph there, a little extra ego there - is the engine of the practice. So our work - or, rather, our unwork - is to release all that baggage, to soften the oomph, to deflate the ego a bit.

To undo.

To undo the expectations we have for ourselves, for our practice, for our asana, yes, but also for our meditation, our minds, our lives. To undo the temptation to judge when we fall out of Virabhadrasana III or our minds run to the memory of last night's date instead of staying here in half-lotus with the incense and the silence and the patter of the rain on the sidewalk outside. To undo the ego's need for constant ambition, constant achievement, constant goal-setting, constant affirmation.

To undo the stories we bring with us, the histories that we think define us (hint: they don't) and the concepts we think limit us (hint: they don't) and the doubts we think trap us (yup, you guessed it: they don't). To undo yesterday and undo tomorrow and just be right here, right now, undone, hair in the face, belly flopping all over the place, pants falling down, pedicure chipped, heels cracking, old mat leaving traces of rubber all over our ever-wrinkling skin.

It's so easy to be done. We're good at it, culturally, personally, so well-packaged. We train to be so, from little-on-up. We learn to primp and perfect and curl and tweeze and iron and present and spray and shazaam, once that's all done, life's supposed to be perfect; but hey, friends, don't we all know: no matter how much Aquanet you spray, that pouffy prom 'do is gonna fall out all over the place once you hit the dance floor and kick off your heels and start shaking your groove thang. Yeah, you'll be an unruly, gown-clad disaster in no time, tendrils flying, sweat dripping, bobby pins flinging, bangs flopping.

Totally undone.

And that's the point. Because in that undoing, in that sweat-dripping and hairspray-failing and tendril-flinging, you're dancing, you're living, you're breathing heavily, your heart's beating, you're smiling, you're laughing, you're out of your head, you're standing too close to someone and smelling the shampoo in his sweaty no-longer-perfectly-gelled hair, and babydoll, you're more alive than you'd ever be had you just stood on the wall and nursed a cocktail, afraid to move lest your perfect updo be spoiled in the process.

So undo. Dive into Kurmasana and stay there and really feel your hamstrings ease, and your spine open up, and your eyes well up. Fold forward into Paschimottanasana and notice your jaw loosen and your low back decompress and your breath slow and your mind become gentle. Fall back into Ustrasana and watch your hair flop back and your sternum crack open and your belly hang out and your hips thrust forward and your quads engage and your heart release.

Undo the tension. Undo the fear. Undo the tendency to stay closed off and tight and fearful and controlled. And chuck the goddamned Aquanet already, mmmkay, babes?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.


We sleep to time's hurdy-gurdy; we wake, if ever we wake, to the silence of God. And then, when we wake to the deep shores of time uncreated, then when the dazzling dark breaks over the far slopes of time, then it's time to toss things, like our reason, and our will; then it's time to break our necks for home.

There are no events but thoughts and the heart's hard turning, the heart's slow learning where to love and whom. The rest is merely gossip, and tales for other times.

~ Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm

Monday, February 21, 2011

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.


My brother has been in town from Montreal for an audition since last Wednesday, and San Francisco welcomed him with three days' of torrential rain. Unusual for us. So our plans for parks and exploring went out the window, and instead we lingered over lunch at a little French-Italian cafe and made our (soggy) way to the Metreon for an overdue screening of The Social Network.

I'd heard raves. Wasn't disappointed. Was, however, left considering the very many implications for this relatively new social media-driven lifestyle of ours for mindfulness, presence and real-true-interpersonal connection. Fascinating, really, the way the film closes with a lingering shot of the filthy-rich-yet-perpetually-socially-peripheral Mark Zuckerberg ogling the Facebook profile of his long-ago unrequited love.

So this morning when I read Ethan Nichtern's HuffPo piece on mindful social networking, I couldn't help but remember that final glimpse of the successful-yet-lonely young entrepreneur. And I got to thinking about how much of a threat this whole social media thing can be to our ability to stay here in the present moment, not checking the phone with every ding of a notification, not running to find the newest comments, resisting the urge to keep one ear perpetually turned to the online world. Perhaps now, more than ever, we need to fall back on mindfulness to resist the compulsion to always, only, be half-present where we are, here, in this body, this breath, enough.

That's why it's always felt, and continues to feel, so radical to me to embrace that yogic practice of being in the moment, right now, right here, and why stepping away from our laptops and into our bodies, turning off the ringer, committing to an hour and a half of breath and silence and motion and engagement, can be such a powerful practice.

Read Nichtern's piece. As he writes, "It's said that anything can become a mindfulness practice with the right intention, that we can actually cultivate our minds and hearts 24/7/365. So for all of us who spend too many hours online, here's our chance." Go.

Mindful Social Networking: Going Online Without Losing Your Mind (HuffPo)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.


Keeps it real, eh?

Shout-out to the ever-lovely Claudia for the heads-up on the fantastic organization behind this brilliant and inspired t-shirt. The InterDependence Project (IDP) is a NYC-based group that
brings a secular and highly accessible approach to studying and practicing Buddhist meditation, psychology, and philosophy. IDP is committed to bridging the gap between personal development and collective engagement in our world, combining the principles of mindfulness and interdependence with activism, arts, and media.
Check out their site for more. Here's what they have to say about this particular t-shirt design:
Don't forget this basic truth, and don't let your friends forget it either. Wearing this tee is a reminder to stay in touch with the reality of impermanence as well as a way to support the efforts of the Interdependence Project. ....This T-Shirt is based on the Four Reminders, a Buddhist Teaching about the basic truths of reality.
And while you're mind-wandering, spend some time with the writings of Ethan Nichtern and Michael Stone. Nichtern's new to me (thanks again, Claud), but Stone's been one of my favorite yoga philosophers for some time. Rich stuff for a rainy Saturday afternoon - or any Saturday afternoon. Dive in.

The InterDependence Project

Friday, February 18, 2011

Raw, adjective: 6. ignorant, inexperienced, or untrained: a raw recruit.


Looking to streeeeeeeetch yourself a bit? Spend your Presidents' Day weekend with me in the East Bay.

It's so easy to get attached to one particular studio, or one particular teacher, or one particular style. Part of our practice - as important as the regular repetition of the asanas themselves, really - is to come to the mat with that ever-fresh beginner's mind. And often we get to the point where we anticipate cues, assume flow sequences, or resist any kind of change. (In other words: we get our ego on.) So we shake it up a bit.

Which leads me to...two fabulous studios for you to check out. Maybe they're not your usual; maybe they're a few blocks (or a bridge or two) away. Cool. New spaces humble us. They remind us how very much we have to learn. I'm chuffed to be teaching at two great East Bay studios this weekend: Saturday afternoon Bhakti flow (vinyasa) at 4:30, per usual, at Flying Yoga Shala in Temescal. And Sunday morning, subbing for my dear colleague Pradeep, who's away rocking Washington, DC this weekend, at Yoga Mandala: Berkeley. Join me there for back-to-back advanced vinyasa classes at 9 and 10:30am.

We'll breathe some new air, savor the way the light falls differently, and sing out in resounding new spaces. Sweet, all around. Do it for George, and Abe, and Franklin D., and John F., and all of those other dead presidents, who no doubt could have used some serious yoga.

(And if you're headed to Tahoe with the snow-loving masses: enjoy. Should be a killer weekend for skiing, though your pranayama might come in handy whilst dealing with mad mountain traffic en route to the slopes.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air: a raw, foggy day at the beach.


Couple of sharp new pieces on yoga in the national media the last few days. Head on over to Mindful.org for this excellent book review courtesy of Shambhala Sun editor Andrea Miller, oh-so-cleverly titled "Yoga's Twisted History." You'll get the lowdown on Mark Singleton and Stefanie Syman's new books on the history of yoga, and a few more unexpected treats, as well.

Then hit the NYT for this piece on the delicate matter of yoga adjustments. You know, when the yoga teacher walks around and corrects your stance, or softens your shoulders, or lifts your torso? Adjustments can be at once powerful, revelatory, intimate, dangerous, and potentially injurious. The piece does well to highlight a few of those elements, though I imagine there's plenty of material out there for an article that does more than just skim the surface. Get in there.

(And if you haven't already, please bookmark Rachel Meyer Yoga. I'll often throw up interesting articles like this - the kind that deserve a good blogging - when I don't have much time between classes or, well, life. You can always find new dishy material there.)

Happy reading. We've got wind and cold and rain here in the City, our first dose in some time, really, so we're all fighting the impulse to complain about this actual winter weather. Perfect reading weather, I say. So curl up with a good rag or a dog-eared novel, tuck your feet into a comfortable half-lotus, and just get lost.

Yoga's Twisted History (Mindful.org)
Yoga Adjustments Tread a Fine Line of Personal Space (NYT)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.


I am thinking about love.

I am thinking about the giddy couples I saw across the bar tonight, more possessive, more tender, than usual.

I am thinking about the morose couples I saw across the bar tonight, resentful, silent, simmering in obligatory celebration.

I am thinking about the young couple arguing over their martinis, and him slapping her, and the man across from him calling him out on it, and him leaving, drunk, and her crying.

I am thinking about sitting in the sun today on a bench with peeling green paint at Washington Square Park, sun on my face, leaving traces of burn, soy chai in hand, shoes kicked off, eyes closed, listening. And how that felt like love.

I am thinking of a roomful of yogis Saturday night, eyes closed, seated in half-lotus, right hands over their hearts, breathing, in and out, inhaling, exhaling, Ujjayi breath, and how that felt like love.

I am thinking of anahata chakras, anahata the Sanskrit for "unstruck," as though no pain, emotional transgression, heartbreak, sorrow or disappointment has ever occurred.

(I am thinking how we all have broken hearts. Every one.)

I am thinking even more of anahata and the power of it all, the power of being new in every moment, the power of opening and softening and offering and softening and opening and offering over and over and over again in spite of those already-broken hearts. The power of stepping into every interaction, every conversation, every exchange, brand new. Unstruck.

(What broke yours? Or who? It doesn't really matter. That's not so much the point.)

I am thinking about over-and-over again breaking, of the reality of being alive in a body that means constantly learning about change and loss and sorrow and impermanence amidst flashes of joy and grace and beauty and immanent divinity. I am thinking about namaste-ing Ryan and Jenny across the bar tonight, knowing that the next time I see them they'll be Mr and Mrs. I am thinking about how in so doing, in drawing our palms together at the unstruck sternum and bowing our heads ever-so-slightly, the divine in me salutes the divine in you. And how really quite radical that notion is, that assumption of immanent divinity, that assertion of shared sacrality.

(I just said sacrality on a blog. Officially a theology nerd.)

I am thinking about the crazy man, certainly on drugs, definitely cracked out, who took his mangy dog swimming in the fountain this afternoon and then, shaking, tried to heave a chair at the floor-to-ceiling glass window while we just stood and watched, dumbfounded, in disbelief. I am thinking that he needs to be loved. Hard. And well.

I am thinking about my sibs, far-flung as they all are across these many time zones, and how gorgeous they are, and how my love for them exceeds any other love I could ever imagine, and how they share not only blood and good genes but memories and experiences no other could ever understand, and how rare and incredible that is, and how they light my life like the sun, and how I would go to the ends of the earth to care for them, and how inadequate our words really are to express that going, and how easy it is to take them for granted.

(Sorry, guys. I will try to hate the phone a little less.)

I am thinking about how my rad baby bro will be here in SF in just a few short days and for those few short days our lives will share the same sidewalks, our lungs will breathe the same air, and how proud I am of him for growing into the man that he is, and again how rare and remarkable these sibling relationships are.

(Even though I still will never understand his joy in talking to strangers, nor his lack of interest in reading books.)

I am thinking that I love the differences that make us all our own.

I am thinking that love is a many-splendored thing and love, love changes everything and love me or leave me and love is for the way you look at me and our love is here to stay and love walked in and smoke gets in your eyes and since i fell for you and more than you know and like a lover and some enchanted evening and people will say we're in love and what I did for love and sorry, grateful and being alive and embraceable you and misty and my one and only love and damn, are there a lot of catchy musical theater-slash-torch song melodies out there about love. Tonight the guys played a swingingly smoky Embraceable You and an equally sultry Misty and I sang under my breath and realized I was at work getting paid to talk to people about their divorces and long-lost loves and their most beloved bad cocktails and I realized then that life is really quite great if I'm getting paid to hum Gershwin under my breath.

(Even the Andrew Lloyd Webber. Yes, even the Andrew Lloyd Webber.)

I am thinking about the power of out-of-the-blue texts like that from B last night or K this eve and how they can change your whole day, shift a moment, light an evening. I am thinking that I'd love to be better at that, loving simply and unexpectedly, in a random text, in a random scrawled handwritten note, in a random delivery 3000 miles away to an unsuspecting and too-long-since-seen old love or soulmate or godchild.

(I am thinking that I've gotta get my ass in gear and get those goddaughters' Valentines in the mail or they won't realize how much they've been on my mind. Even all the way from California.)

I am thinking that love changes all the time, our loving and the colors it takes on and the shapes it shifts into and the names and faces it swells into and that is perfect, that is good, that is so very much all as it should be.

I am thinking about leaning across the bar tonight across from F and talking with him long after close as the bar languished in disarray and I didn't care because there were his accented stories of love and loss and the one love that ended and the other that bloomed and now its subsequent dissolution and the seeds that were planted in both which have since blossomed into one very incredible gift and a few weeds and several very interesting flashes of tangled and twisted glory and pain. And I am thinking of the beauty of how easy it is to connect with a stranger standing there behind the bar open and listening and just offering space wherein he can tell his authentic and true story, sans masks, and to listen to him and really see his pain and sorrow and regret and yet in the very same breath, with the very same eyes, see his relief and his sensibility and his reason and his oh-so-honest and accurate sense that things are as they should be.

I am thinking of how this F will be spending Monday night alone, perhaps with a martini, and how he is at once so relieved and so sorrowful and equally perfectly content with that state of things. And I am remembering his complicated and yet oh-so-common story and nodding my head even more in the realization that our lives are one big long thread of loving and letting go and learning and listening and leading into waters unseen knowing the same cycle will just recur and yet doing it anyway

because really

that's the point

and what do you have to lose?

I am thinking of 20 yogis in Camel Pose (Ustrasana for you Sanskrit lovers), Camel Pose which cracks open the sternum and as I always like to imagine releases the doves of your thoughts and their fluttering wings that have been flying around chaotically, frustratedly in the ribcage that is your heart for these long moments and so you lean back and drop your heavy head so that your eyes glimpse the back wall and press your open hips forward to deepen the bend

and therein lies that perfect (perfectly elusive) balance between strength and softness which we yoga teachers are always harping on. Soften the jaw, soften the shoulders, soften your grip. Strengthen your quads, strengthen your arms, strengthen your resolve to stay, stay, stay.

I am thinking of how you start with Camel - how you see the newer students clenching their teeth and squeezing their butts and tightening their jaws and their shoulders and scrunching up their chests so the idea of leaning into a backbend becomes truly laughable because everything in the body is so damn tight and constricted and closed off. And I am thinking of how, over the years, with practice, day by day, every day, opening, you learn to stop fearing it, you learn to lift up out of your low back and soften your heart, you learn to crack the sternum and drop the head back and revel in the tenderness and the exposure and the ultimate vulnerability that is evidenced in exposing the whole front side body until even the head drops back and, arms reaching, you fall back into Kapotasana, that deep full backbend, softening, strengthening, finally there, finally open, finally arrived.

(And how then you breathe for a sacred 30 seconds or so, and feel the rush of blood to the head, and the release of every fear you've ever held close to your chest, and the wild edge of total cracked-through openness that comes to the very lucky few.)

And how then it's time to press up out of it and your jaw fights to clench and your mind rushes to fear and your back will certainly break and every vertebra fuse because they're so damn compressed and you'll never get up again and you're stuck here with a convex torso for the rest of your life and you forget to inhale and suddenly every breath is frightening and you're stuck stuck stuck and then you remember and slow down and calm your breath and take a big deep one into your belly and reach your arms to the sky and before you know it

there you are.

Back at square one. On your knees. Practicing gratitude. Bowing down to neutralize as fresh blood rushes into your woozy head out your triceps all the way down your forearms and out of your fingers like a waterfall. Every thought you've ever had flooding out through those fingers. Softer than before.

And then you go about your day and you come back the next and the whole fear-open-fear-open cycle hits all over again. On the mat. Off. Doesn't really matter which. It's the same practice. The same clenching, the same constricting, the same fear, the same gritted teeth. Until you remember the softness from last time, and the great opening from which that came, and the mad wild rush to the head, and how alive and renewed and reborn and human you felt, fresh, and so you stand across the bar from F and listen to his story about the marriage he knew he shouldn't have made but he did it anyway because, well, he loved her, yeah, as a good friend, even if they never touched, and there was the whole green card thing, and now the deportation, and well, fuck, whaddya do, really, whaddya do, but keep practicing, and keep falling back into that Kapotasana and trusting that you'll be able to come up out of it this time?

I am thinking about love and St. Valentine's Day and how silly it really is to take a day to think about love because actually we are swimming in it all the time and not ever knowing it. I am thinking about love and how bhakti brings it to the fore, bhakti with its emphasis on love and devotion, with its understanding that we take care of ourselves on the mat so that we can better take care of one another, that we practice being kind and reasonable and measured and non-reactive on the mat so that we can roll it up and walk out the door and be kind and reasonable and measured and non-reactive with the curious dude on the street and the miserable middle-aged lady across the bar ("I'll have water, ahem") and the crazy man outside throwing chairs at your window and yes, even the broken lost confused guy who slapped his girlfriend tonight right there in front of you. We practice the bhakti on the mat, in our singing, in our breathing, in our asana, so that we can make it real, make it live, make it breathe, make it bend in real life.

And you don't need a day for that. You don't need commercialized shit with corn syrup and red cellophane wrapping. You don't need glittery cards or bad puns - though both can be fabulous for sending to the little girls in your life, for sure, those sweet little ones who cannot be told often enough how very much they are loved. You just need a mat, and an intention, and a mind willing to be emptied, and a body willing to be stretched, and a heart willing to be cracked open.

Anahata. Unstruck. As if no transgression, heartbreak, emotional damage, or sorrow has ever occurred. Try it. Walk around with this lightness, this openness, this softness, this radiant core of lovingkindness, as if you've just come up out of Kapotasana. It's really quite remarkable, the compassion that can spew forth.

I am thinking about love. I am thinking about not posting this. I am thinking I'll do it anyway. I am thinking that hearts are made for breaking, and the broken heart is the luckiest of all.

I am thinking about that perfect Joanna Macy quote that has come in and out of my life at the most apropos of times over the last decade, falling out of dusty untouched books, scrawled on a piece of scrap paper that hasn't seen the light of day in eight or ten years:
The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe. Your heart is that large. Trust it. Keep breathing. Through our deepest and innermost responses to our world - to hunger and torture and the threat of annihilation - we touch that boundless heart.
I am thinking of standing onstage at Mitchell ten years ago tonight welcoming a sell-out crowd eager to hear monologues about vaginas. I am thinking about sitting in the back of a tiny bar in 1998 in London's Islip as a naive 19-year-old kid hearing Eve Ensler recite those monologues herself, six or eight of us in the room. I am thinking how grateful I am to have models like Macy and Ensler and Rich and Lorde and Walker and Heyward and Ruether and Spong and Althaus-Reid, thinkers and scholars and writers and theologians who've really demonstrated what a passionately political and activist and social justice-oriented, whole-world-directed love looks like.

I am thinking about all the people I love spread out over all these corners of the earth and how sometimes my heart feels too full, too short on time to give all of these folks what I'd like to give them, too short on time for phone calls and long letters and emails and packages and trips.

I am thinking what a good problem that is to have so many people to love that I don't know how to do it all well.

I am thinking: just be well. Be love. Be in love, not necessarily with any thing at all, but really in it, in the middle of it, swimming in it, surrounding yourself with it.

I am thinking of Peter Walsh and Clarissa Dalloway in Mrs. Dalloway, and how all these years after first meeting those two characters, they're still to me such fond friends, representing the simultaneous beauty and sorrow of complicated loving, the kind of love that draws you together and shoves you apart and never quite fades but never quite blooms, no matter how many years or miles pass, and how Virginia Woolf's perfect understanding of the eternally complicated and unresolved state of loving speaks the truth that so many of us have felt.

I am thinking of Lawrence Selden and Lily Bart in The House of Mirth, and of Edith Wharton's beloved line wherein Selden, in a flash of realization, understands that he'll never wholly be able to sit quietly with the idea of Lily, and of how some 12 years after first reading that, it still stays fresh in my mind, emerging from time to time when it's most relevant, and of what a beautiful gift it is to us humans to be so touched by another that we will never quite be able to sit quietly with the thought of that other, no matter how long ago the flame of passion has itself died. And I am thinking of the dear ones in my life for whom that inability to sit quietly has meant great inner turmoil, great suffering, and I wish for them silence and peace and stillness and some measure of resolve, and gentle release.

I am thinking of the yogis in that raw unhewn sunlit studio in North Beach this morning, right hands over their hearts, and their quiet steady breathing, and the warmth of the noon sun on my back, and the way I could feel their hearts thumping across the room.

And I am thinking, wow, that really is enough.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Raw, idiom, 14a: in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.


Clear your schedule for Wednesday night! My beloved Gary Snyder's at the Herbst.

Screening of his Practice of the Wild documentary is first, then a discussion with Will Hearst and audience question/answer session to follow. Be still my beating heart. Best early birthday gift a girl could ask for.

Details here. City Arts & Lectures rocks my world. Consistently. Pico Iyer, Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan, Adrienne Rich...just to name a few of the great faces they've brought onstage over the years. And now Patti LuPone to come in March, too. Amazing.

City Arts & Lectures: The Practice of the Wild

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture


Haul your hungover ass out of bed tomorrow morning, chug some coffee, and join me for a free vinyasa class, okay?

My lovely friend and colleague Natasha is about two weeks from opening a beautiful new wellness center in the heart of North Beach, just overlooking Washington Square Park. The 'hood's been needing a good yoga space for some time, and this will perfectly fill that need. The studio will officially open in March, but we'll be running a super-informal class tomorrow morn just to get a feel for the space. So please come play. Wear something comfortable, grab your mat and a water bottle, don't think too much, and let's get it on. (Bloody Marys or mimosas to follow?) Cool.

11:30. Glow Yoga SF.
1548 Stockton (at Union).

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.






They have worries, they're counting the miles, they're thinking about where to sleep tonight, how much money for gas, the weather, how they'll get there - and all the time they'll get there anyway, you see.

~ Jack Kerouac, On the Road:
The Original Scroll

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.


If you ever find yourself sans plans on a twilight Thursday eve, you should really head on down to Urban Flow for a dose of MC Yogi. We're so lucky to call this warm and inviting, cozy and well-lit space home, and even moreso now that the ever-fabulous Nicholas Giacomini (aka MC Yogi) is teaching a regular vinyasa class every Thursday night at 6:15.

Bump your dinner plans back an hour or two, fill up your water bottle and meet me at the studio for a remarkable blend of deep asana, rich philosophy, killer rhythms, and a helluva lot of heart. Bhakti, baby. I could just stand in the corner and listen for an hour and a half, and get so much out of it, just being there. Throw in some inspired asana, driving beats, flickering candlelight, and 70 or so sweaty heaving breathing living loving bodies, and deee-amn. If that's not a good Thursday night, I don't know what is.

Please join us. I'll be walking around softening a shoulder and touching a sacrum or two. Maybe yours?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.


One of my favorite poems of all time at left, encapsulating so very much truth - thank you, Hafiz - fundamentally subversive, counter-cultural, and vibrantly defiant in its celebration of the radical understanding of loving = offering, as opposed to the more standard expectation of loving = getting. That we might be that solar light that shines and warms instead of that which expects warmth, draining, depleting, exhausting, always left wanting.

Especially at this time of year, when the Walgreens aisles are packed with crinkly sugared-up sweets and sappy Valentine's Cards and so very much cheesy shit, when the restaurants fill up with amateur diners going out for their yearly obligatory "date night," I'm reminded how very much Hafiz was and remains such a gangster. A gangster of lurve. Totally. Yeah.

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.



And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. You need distance, interval. The way to see how beautiful the earth is, is to see it as the moon. The way to see how beautiful life is, is from the vantage point of death.

~ Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed:
An Ambiguous Utopia

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Raw, idiom, 14a: in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.


I've spent a serious chunk of life sitting at my computer overlooking my courtyard garden, windows flung open, the past few days. (This lush secret spot of green is the sole reason I pay waaaay too much for my otherwise-average little 1920s flat. But in the springtime, it feels so worth every penny.) Writing like a banshee, revisiting new and old projects, enjoying the way the rush of the fresh air and the lightening sky infuse my words, and marveling over and over, of course, at the fact that February here in SF looks like blue sky and balmy breezes and mad sun on my face.

I'll take it.

Point of all that is, between chapters I find my mind constantly drawn right out the window into that garden. Plotting new window boxes, watching the little brown field mouse zip along the fence post, wondering when the apricot blossoms will begin to appear. So this morning when I read this little gem of a piece from Tricycle, it felt close.
If you’re out watering your flower garden by hand, you naturally concentrate the flow of water to benefit your beautiful flowers. If there’s an area of weeds, you don’t waste water there. As best you can, you avoid watering the weeds.

It’s the same with your consciousness. You can learn to selectively water the positive seeds and flowers in you by attending to them. There are enough weeds. You don’t have to encourage them.
Really quite obvious, yeah? The piece goes on to simply, lovingly remind you that yes, you have a choice, and no, you don't have to let the "weeds" of your thoughts "colonize your consciousness." (I love that the writer uses "colonize." Rushes me right back to Audre Lorde and Alice Walker and Adrienne Rich and all of those feisty, fiery women writers.)

But, really. You can practice this. The thing I've learned about yoga and mindfulness, well, the one among many, is that our mental and emotional states are really just a matter of choosing. Choosing whether to dwell on the awful, to get lost in the potentially real, to spin out on fear-driven possibilities instead of noticing the lilt of the voice speaking next to you, the sashay of the person walking across the street in front of you, the way the sky shifts at 6:05 as you walk down Van Ness in the midst of the Monday evening commute. You can choose. It's quite simple, and reasonable, and obvious. And yet so fucking difficult.

I've been making a conscientious effort to skip the cabs and walk more again lately, blessed as I am to live smack in the middle of this oh-so-walkable city, and it's been powerful the way that practice alone, that moving meditation, can shift a day. 30 minutes' in the sun, watching, listening, paying attention, turning the phone off, stashing it away, committing to even just that brief time in your body listening to the rhythm of your breath and letting it match the rhythm of your feet and noticing, really noticing, the wind on your face or the way the sun falls at a different angle at this time of day or the peeling paint on the sign for that dry cleaner's shop, well, it's as much a meditation as anything else. And I find that it shifts my mind, my day, my entire way of being.

Surround yourselves with people who are willing to practice seeing the flowers instead of the weeds. It sounds doofy, Pollyanna-ish, perkily annoying. But I don't mean it in some sappy faux-smiley Hallmark kind of way. I mean, be real, be honest, be sad, be fearful, be frightened, be all of those things that make you really fully human, and then meander through the weedy garden that is your mind-state and notice the blooms, notice the field mouse, and instead of fearing the blooms for their allergy-rich pollen or decrying the mouse for being a creepy four-legged-creature in your space, notice them, watch them, love them, affirm that they're living creatures trying to exist, be, breathe in this sometimes not-so-friendly world. And then create the kind of sangha that fills your life with people who encourage and echo that practice themselves.

Make the choice. To leave ten minutes early, and skip the frenzied cab ride, which will leave you in a frenzied heart-state, which will set your day onto a frenzied path, which will stick with you all frenzied day long. You slow down, and see the world, ugly and not, with new beginner's eyes, as if it's the first time you're seeing any of it: garden, weeds, flowers, wrought-iron balcony, scribbled graffiti, corporate dude in an expensive suit standing in line at the Indian curry truck in the Financial District over the lunch hour.

Let it be new. Let your eyes be open. Let them draw to the blooms instead of the bruises. And then watch your day change.

[And hey, that there, to the right? That's my view out the window. My vines. My palm. Love.]

Water the Flowers, Not the Weeds (Tricycle)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Raw, adjective: 8. brutally harsh or unfair: a raw deal; receiving raw treatment from his friends.


Sick, sick, sick. Two and half days' of snotty nose and achy muscles and strangely feverish instability, and I'm finally forced to accept the incontrovertible challenge to that constant bullheaded assertion that no, I do not ever, ever get sick.

Everyone's got the bug right now, of course, and so I sucked it up and tossed back some meds and sweated through bikram Monday afternoon with high hopes for detox and clarity and then rolled into Rusty's class that evening stocked with Kleenex and low expectations and really just a deep, deep desire to undo. We crave that release promised by the practice, that undoing, of course, even when we are so already undone, unbalanced, not our own, alien to these bodies we naively call ours.

I taught yesterday, three classes, and they were harder to get through than any I've taught to this point; a real challenge in coming into the moment and seeing through watery eyes and a nose wholly resistant to Ujjayi breathing. Veit was telling me a story as we sat there on our mats before class waiting for the others to arrive, me just listening there in half-lotus, trying to soften into the morning; his recent engineering trip to Peru wrought new perspective, a fresh lens, on the ostensibly simple process that is being able to take an easy breath. There in the high altitude, every step became an undertaking; required to undergo a physical exam before even heading up the mountain, these strong able-bodied young men were suddenly aware of the heavy exertion of every exhalation, the fragility of each inhalation, the grasping richness of every full breath cycle. I thought of Veit's words again last night teaching, struggling to sing, wanting to sing, unable to sing, realizing how very much I take even that ease of voice for granted, hating the struggle of just trying to walk, heavy head swooning, across the studio.

So easy to take this whole thing for granted, really, the inhales and exhales that come so thoughtlessly for most of us, strong, healthy, stomping through the world as if we own it all, as if these easy-breathing bodies of ours will always be so. We all, god-willing, assuming we stick around that long, will hit a point where every step does become an undertaking, a challenge, a vast difficult journey across the room, across the street, up the sidewalk. And yet, it's so easy to assume we're invincible, that that struggle to breathe is relegated to oxygen-tanked sickies and AIDS-ridden hospital patients and certainly not to us scrappy healthy young folks in bodies that breathe and flip and stretch and chaturanga and generally do whatever the hell we want them to do.

I am struggling even now to sit with this less-than-healthy body, really struggling. How not to power through it, bulldoze over the delicate fragility that is being sick? So many people have known and spoken this struggle on the grandest of life-threatening scales, and in light of that, it seems silly that really just my little flu might be the source of that frustration. Enough melon and enough water and enough meds will surely take care of this within the day, hopefully before tomorrow's busy teaching stretch hits at dawn, and so, knowing that, we remind ourselves, of course, that nothing is permanent, all things change, whether that be our youth or our health or our strength or our sickness.

This stuffy nose will pass. As will this strong quad. As will this soft skin. As will that bruised hand, already healing.

It all passes. That's the point. Good, bad, healthy, sick; it all passes. And that is the simultaneous grace and sorrow of being alive in a body. (Thank you, Buddhism.)

Thomas Moore has written a gorgeous chapter on the body's poetics of illness in his sharp and soulful book, Care of the Soul. The whole thing is really worth your time; I always think of it when someone I know is unwell. Moore writes that
The word disease means "not having your elbows in a relaxed position." "Ease" comes from the Latin ansatus, "having handles," or "elbows akimbo," a relaxed posture, or at least not at work. Dis-ease means no elbows, no elbow room. Ease is a form of pleasure, disease a loss of pleasure.
So you find the pleasure. You find the pleasure in learning to sit still and fold the laundry when really you want to go, go, go. You find the pleasure in collapsing into a rare mid-afternoon nap between classes and noticing the silence of twilight and the ragged sound of your shallow breath and the way the sun falls across the room at 430 for the first time in months. You find the pleasure of breathing through a clear nose, the pleasure of letting it be enough to lift your head without the concomitant rush of fever. (Thank you, neti pot.)

And you are reminded. (Thank you, body.) It is brief. And ever-changing.

I hauled my sick ass out of bed early today, having crashed hard and fast after teaching last night, to find an email from my mother. A childhood friend, a peer, a girl we used to play with in the piano room as kids while our parents talked about Boring Things over coffee in the dining room, has been diagnosed with a massive brain tumor, in Kentucky. It's too large to operate. She's my age. 31. Chemo and radiation. Suddenly everything shifts.

And the flu is not so awful. And the silence is not awful. And I will slog through a class at noon and clear out enough to shake some martinis tonight and it will all be fine. Ease will return. As it always does. Though that ease of being in a body might shapeshift completely. For Ashley, 31 with a brain tumor, that ease will look very, very different. The notion of ease suddenly takes on new meaning. Dis-ease rushes in.

I've been moved to share so many heart-wrenching conversations with so many over the last week or so about dis-ease. Cancer. Breast cancer. Ovarian cancer. Brain cancer. Cancer, cancer, cancer everywhere I fucking turn. And the sick grace of those conversations, of course, is the reminder that we are not alone in the suffering, and the certainty that we will all share some experience of poison, toxicity, an alien life form breathing ache and dis-ease into the body, and the awareness that it all passes, it does, as does everything in this brief life of ours.

It's a sunny clear blue day here in San Francisco. I'd like to be out in it, moving, breathing, running, soaking it up. I'll stay here, my body will dictate, I'll breathe and slow and wait and practice just being instead of doing, doing, doing. And the ease will come. And things will soften, and undo, as all things do.

Love to Ashley and Jennifer and Cynthia and Sylvia and Lochlann and Kamala and Nina and Stacy and Renee and the other Nina and so many others for whom my heart swells in the midst of so much cancer talk. It will pass. Ease will come. I trust.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.


I've been getting a lot of playlist questions lately. Anyone who's taken my class knows how important good music is to my vinyasa. It makes or breaks the whole experience, baby, when you've got a Jane Monheit or an Alexi Murdoch wailing away while you breathe through Gomukhasana or try to soften into Kurmasana.

So, that in mind, here's a list of most of the usual suspects from my recent playlists. I generally switch them up a bit every class, but these tunes will be recognizable to anyone who's sweated through a recent yoga sesh or two.

Get your jam on already.

Song Title, Artist

Dead Things, Philip Glass
Blue Skies, Willie Nelson
Dancing Buddha, DJ Free & Brent Lewis
I Wish I Was the Moon, Neko Case
Discovered, Beats Antique
Sharanay, Prem Joshua
Lokaha, Wah!
My Hands Are Shaking, Sondre Lerche
Jolie Coquine, Caravan Palace
Roustabout (Bassnectar Remix), Beats Antique
Ramana, Prem Joshua
Om Tare Tuttare, Deva Premal
Tabla Toy, Beats Antique
Sky Blue Sky, Wilco
Hari Krishna, Masood Ali Khan
In A Manner of Speaking, Nouvelle Vague
Ganesha, Wah!
Battle, Beats Antique
Fever, A Fine Frenzy
Shanti (Radio Mix), Wah!
Break Me, Beats Antique
Ma Chant (Kali), Wah!
Derivation, Beats Antique
Can't Take My Eyes Off You, Lauryn Hill
Krishna Love (Rasa Lila Remix), MC Yogi
Hari Om Shiva Om, Deva Premal
Maha Deva, Wah!
Om Namah Shivaya, MC Yogi
Let It Be Me, Ray LaMontagne
Wise Up, Aimee Mann
Om Sri Matre, Wah!
Breathe, Alexi Murdoch
Bloodline, Matt Morris
More Than You Know, Jane Monheit
Firefly, Over the Rhine
Atman Kama, Masood Ali Khan
Robbie's Note, Dario Marianelli
The Hours, Philip Glass
Mascagni: Cavalleria Rusticana, Gianandrea Gavazzeni
Moonlight Sonata, Beethoven
Breathe Me, Sia
Om, DJ Free & Brent Lewis
Aquarium from Carnival of the Animals, Camille Saint Saens
Save Me, Aimee Mann
Claire De Lune, Eric Hammerstein
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Eric Hammerstein
Driving Sideways, Aimee Mann
Waisted, Beats Antique
Cry Me A River (Album Version), Justin Timberlake
Stormy Weather, Etta James
Nocturne in E-Flat, Eric Hammerstein
Mission, Beats Antique
Dope Crunk, Beats Antique
Hide and Seek, Imogen Heap
I Wanna Be Like You, The Correspondents
I Try (Album Version), Macy Gray
Poison, Bell Biv Devoe
Getting Late, Rob Thomas
Om Triambakam, Deva Premal
I'm Yours, Jason Mraz
Paint or Pollen, Blind Pilot
Ain't Misbehavin', Willie Nelson
Dance With Me, Nouvelle Vague
Hard Sun, Eddie Vedder
Smooth, Santana feat. Rob Thomas
The Killing Moon, Nouvelle Vague
Little Did I Know, Over the Rhine
Way to Blue, Nick Drake
Harvest Moon, Neil Young
All My Days, Alexi Murdoch
Since I Fell For You, Gladys Knight
Ganesha Sharanam, Jai Uttal
For the Summer, Ray LaMontagne
Skylark, k.d. lang
Chopin: Nocturne #2 in E Flat, Vladimir Ashkenazy
Cello Song, Nick Drake