Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The word "Namaste" is overexposed. Played out. But here's why we need it.

My new article is published today on Yoga Trade.

I've been having a hard time writing about yoga lately. It feels crass and trite given everything going down in the world. Here, some thoughts on that overexposed word "Namaste," and why the hell we need it now, more than ever.

(Thanks to Kerri Kelly for inspiring.)

The word “Namaste” is pretty played out these days, isn’t it?

You can find it everywhere: on yoga mats, on bumper stickers, on water bottles. You can buy a “Namaste In Bed” t-shirt on Amazon. You can pick up Namaste bracelets and handbags and trucker hats on Etsy. You can dig into Namaste-brand gluten-free pizza crust and chicken noodle soup. You can walk into Namaste-branded pilates studios and wellness centers.

(Not to mention the hilarious yoga-world-skewering web series Namaste, Bitches.)

The word itself has taken on a certain cultural significance. It’s become a brand, recognizable even to someone who’s never stepped foot on a yoga mat.

Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche called this phenomenon spiritual materialism. Spiritual materialism occurs when a spiritual concept or practice is turned into a product for the purpose of making money. It’s rooted in the idea that you can buy and sell spiritual qualities like peace, grace, or transcendence.

Namastizzle, baby.

There’s no going back now.


I’m having a hard time writing about yoga lately.

There’s such a cruel juxtaposition of things going on in the world.

It’s summer yoga festival season. My FB feed is packed with photos of half-naked tan bendy people decorated with henna tattoos and patterned leggings doing yoga poses on mountains everywhere I look. And they are having so much FUN and sweating and chanting and living and doing their thang, you know? And I’ve been there and done that myself, and oh man yes, is it so fun. Right on, people! Namaste! Jai Ma!

But those yogis-gone-wild posts are bookended with videos of awful shootings in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis and Dallas and heartbreaking massacres on the French Riviera and hand-wringing from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where fiery speakers are calling for gun rights and white supremacists are offering prayers.

How are we supposed to even reconcile the two?

It feels crass, doesn’t it? To share happy-pretty-shiny yoga pictures on Instagram when the world feels like it is, quite literally, devolving into chaos?

I’ve only got one word...

You can read the whole thing here.

Monday, July 25, 2016

In Which This Bernie Gal Says: Sigh, Ok.

 I know I've been an outspoken Bernie Bro. (Since we Sanders voters are all white hetero bros, right? Ahem).

But, can I tell ya? I am really feelin' the DNC right now. Really, lemme say it, excited. Not just because Boyz II Men just sang Motown Philly. Not just because there have been more people of color onstage in the last few hours than in last week's entire RNC. And not just because there's a stellar line-up of speakers this week that pretty much makes me want to camp out in front of my TV with a notepad, nodding, til Thursday night.

But because last week's faux-patriotic Drumpf shitshow reminded me how important it is that we all come together to ensure that this demagogue doesn't get elected. There are smart, passionate folks out there right now like Elizabeth Warren and Robert Reich who also find their hearts more aligned with Sanders' policies. But they GET how important it is that Drumpf not be elected. I mean, the prospects are terrifying. Not just for us, but for our kids.

I think Jill Stein is great and my political stances certainly align more with hers than with Hillary's. Yes, she's more progressive. But she's not going to win. And if I vote for her, that's one more chance Drumpf does. So for the sake of the Supreme Court ALONE, we need to ensure HRC gets elected.

From there, we elect progressives down ballot. We ensure that Bernie continues to lead a movement (and maybe a new party) of New Progressives for folks like us who don't see our leftist values reflected in the current Democratic Party. And we keep chipping away at the establishment bullshit that allowed folks like Debbie Wasserman Schultz to rig the primaries.

Not that I know what I'm talking about. Not that I am a political pundit! Unless perpetually scrolling Twitter in search of more #DemsInPhilly news makes me such. I am a yogi. A student. A human. A mother. And I am looking forward to hearing what the mothers of Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin and Michelle Obama and Joe Biden and Cory Booker and President Obama and yup, even Bill and Chelsea Clinton have to say before the big final HRC speech Thursday night.

Sometimes you gotta know when to let go. That's yoga, right? Don't get attached? Bernie's telling us as much.

I feel sad. But I listen to folks like Gavin Newsom and Elizabeth Warren speak, and I feel a little more hopeful. At least this party affirms LGBTQ rights and religious diversity and the right to choose. It's far preferable to the alternative.

So let's watch. See what happens. Over the course of the last 9 months, I have felt fired up and demoralized and excited and disappointed. But right now I am just grateful there is an alternative to Drumpf, even if a far-from-perfect one. Now we just need to make sure she gets elected.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Poker Chips, Meet Yoga

Hey friends.

First of all, I hope you dig my new fashion inspiration. Gonna be wearing that yellow ensemble on the right tonight to teach.

In all seriousness, I've been doing a lot of thinking and reading and listening lately. There's some really intelligent and thoughtful dialogue in the professional yoga world right now about hands-on adjustments: whether we should actually be adjusting people (since many yoga teachers are not trained bodyworkers), what the purpose is, and how adjustments feel for folks with a history of trauma (which, according to some statistics, is 1 in 4 women — whoa, right?!).

Do the math. That means in your average class of 32 people, you've got 8 or so who might be super-triggered by a seemingly-innocuous adjustment — and that's not even counting men! (I don't have the statistics in front of me right now, but they are sobering, and that's just the reported cases. Glad to dig them up for you if you'd like more info.).

Needless to say, we've come a long way from the days when Pattabhi Jois and BKS Iyengar would just crank students into poses, whether their bodies were ready to go there or not. There's a ton of fantastic cultural commentary coming from folks like Matthew Remski in the wake of the recent Jivamukti scandal (and the many other yoga-world sexual harassment scandals which have preceded that one), much more nuanced than I could ever write. So I encourage you to follow what he's saying, and to stay engaged in the evolving conversation.

In just my own anecdotal research, I've discovered tons of hot and cold opinions about adjustments. A lot of people say "Ohmigod, I love them!" Which I totally get. Because usually I do, too. There is nothing like a great forward fold assist to get you just a little further than you realized you could go...especially when you're a bendy person who doesn't feel much in some of those poses by yourself.

So, yes, I usually love them too. That is, unless they feel creepy, or inappropriate, or I don't really know what the teacher's trying to get me to do, or I just ate a huge lunch and I kind of want to be left alone, or I'm having a challenging practice and really want some space, or if I'm not sure if the teacher is really qualified to be giving assists, or if my knee hurts, or I'm pregnant, or injured....

You get the drift. For every person who's told me they loooooove adjustments, there's another who says "Hell no, get out of my space, unless I know you, or you've been my teacher for years, or you ask me ahead of time, and I give you permission." Which I totally understand, too.

I have very distinct memories of being adjusted in Downward Dog some 7 or 8 years ago. I wasn't prepared for anyone to touch me, didn't know the assistants, and was already feeling contracted and anxious on a rough day. The minute the assistant (a wonderful, warm, well-meaning woman) touched my low back, I felt my whole body tense up. I tightened. I retracted. I got angry. I wanted to shove her away, shake her off, scream at her to leave me alone.

But of course I couldn't do that. I just got even quieter, turned even more inward, and stayed tense until she finally moved on to the next person.

Then again, there was that class at Yoga Tree Castro back in 2009. I was hiding in the back row doing my thing. Debbie Mobley (then a stranger, later a dear friend and colleague) came up and adjusted me in Happy Baby. She smiled and made a nice comment and I felt warm and welcome and seen, in the midst of a roomful of sweaty strangers. It made me want to come back.

So, you see? Adjustments are such a shitshow of possibilities. And what I'm learning, the more I listen to senior teachers like Jason Crandell and read nuanced commentary by folks like Matthew Remski, is that maybe the best thing to do right now is step back a bit. It's not enough to just offer folks the ability to say "Thanks, but no thanks." Many people might not feel comfortable doing that in a class setting between vinyasas anyway — especially folks who might not have a strong self-care voice due to past traumas.

Let's be frank here: I have been witness to inappropriate adjustments myself. I have heard too many stories, seen the aftermath of too many invasive and presumptuous adjustments that left students afraid to return to a studio, or a particular teacher. And, honestly? Even the kind of adjustments that left students feeling sexually harassed.

And that's flat-out wrong.

So for the time being, meet my new yoga assistant: poker chips. This cheesy little turquoise OM bag will come with me every time I teach a class, and you can find it on the stereo by my iPod. All you have to do if you want to be left alone is grab one, place it on the top of your mat, and I will happily give you tons of space. Whether it's a matter of being injured or being hungover or just wanting to be alone in your practice, I'm so glad to honor that.

I am grateful to my teacher Rusty Wells and the staff at Urban Flow, who first devised this "No Thanks, No Touch" chip back when we were teaching there. In classes that could sometimes swell to 175 students, it was an easy, elegant way to communicate that desire to just be left alone, for whatever reason. I spent years assisting Rusty and MC Yogi there at Urban Flow, and will always be grateful for those hundreds of hours of hands-on time that offered me an unmatched opportunity to be quietly with people's bodies, in all their sweaty, stretchy glory. And I am glad to be able to share some of that learning with students now.

My sister Mariah and I are in the process of developing a curriculum for trauma-sensitive trainings for yoga teachers. She's a dance/movement therapist who's got a terrific amount of knowledge to share about somatics, embodied trauma, and empowering students to observe and adjust their own bodies. I look forward to sharing more of this with you in the weeks to come. 

Thanks and love to you. See you on the mat. With or without a poker chip.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Guru Purnima

Thank you, teachers. Thank you, life. Thank you, tired aging body. Thank you, grey hair. Thank you, vibrant toddler. Thank you, loud truck outside my window while I'm trying to write. Thank you, every single relationship. Thank you, every single success and every single regret. Thank you, every piece of chocolate cake. Thank you, Donald Trump. Thank you, Hillary Clinton. Thank you for being my teachers. Thank you for teaching me yoga.

Happy Guru Purnima to you.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Get Lost, Start Over: Why Yoga Starts When Things Fall Apart

I wrote this new piece for Yoga Trade. It's a flashback to my first yoga class back in 2003...and that time a few weeks ago when my car died in the middle of the road.

In other words: why the yoga starts when things fall apart.

Delighted to be a regular contributor over at Yoga Trade. Look for more in the months to come.

Get Lost, Start Over: Why Yoga Starts When Things Fall Apart

It’s a cool, grey Saturday morning in Portland.


I’m on the road, cruising along about 45 mph, pleasantly caffeinated, smoothie in hand, headed to teach my 8:15am class.

Life is calm and quiet and good. (The caffeine helps).

Good, that is, until, out of nowhere, smack in the middle of the road, surrounded by other metal deathboxes zooming along at 45 mph, my car just dies.

Shuts off. Loses all power. Sayonara, baby.

The dashboard lights flash once, ominously, and then they die, too. All of them.

Holy shit. What’s going on?! What am I gonna do?!

I shift the weirdly-energyless car into neutral. There’s a parking lot just a few hundred feet ahead to my right, if I can just manage to get there. Deliberately, clenchedly, I steer that lifeless monstrosity of glass and leather and steel into the parking lot, shove it awkwardly into Park, sit for a breathless moment hoping nothing explodes, and turn the ignition off.

Exhaling, I think to myself:

This is why we do yoga.

Read the rest here.