Off Your Mat

Bringing yoga off your mat into your life, one pose at a time.


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The Out of the Mouth of Babes Pose: The Practice of Listening

Erin Hanson Poem

The above poem has gone viral. It has been pinned & tumbled across the internet. I came across it today in someone else’s blog. Having been a poetry buff, I was annoyed with myself because I was sure I knew the poem, but I couldn’t figure out who had written it. I was confident it was a portion of a poem of someone I read in college and the name had since faded from memory.

So I googled it. Only to discover the prose was written by a 19-year-old (That’s right. 19.) Australian girl called Erin Hanson. Here she is…

You can learn more about her in this interview with Julia Mason. She is inspiring. Along with writing and managing her poetry blog, she does crafts and tutors kids in math and was a gymnastics coach. She makes me want to go back in time and give my 19-year-old self a serious talking to.

This young woman is a reminder that age isn’t the only path to wisdom and sometimes young eyes find the truest path. She (and her poem) make me hope that as my small daughter grows, I am careful enough to listen to her dreams and brave enough not to stifle them.

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The Practice of Having Fun: The Work Pose

In a world where technology has made things so easy, I’m always interested when someone takes the longer road to accomplishing a task. It isn’t always necessary but it is refreshing.

I spend my days like most people in my part of the world, tapping the screen of my phone, instantly connecting and communicating, pressing buttons for heat, lifting faucets for water. Life is easy. However, I still enjoy sitting down and hand writing a letter or growing my own food from seed or playing the telephone game using two paper cups and a string with my daughter. It requires some work but it’s so much fun.

I appreciate when someone decides to shy away from cutting edge technology and try something a little old school.

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Kiesza

In light of that, I’m sharing a video called “Hideaway” by an up and coming star named Kiesza. Her music could be classified as techno-pop or house. The amazing thing about the video is that they shot it all in one take. Like Dillon’s Subterranean Homesick Blues or Weezer’s Sweater Song or Feist’s 1234 before it, the artist lets the camera roll through one full performance. No cuts, no edits. It is what it is.

In the video we follow Kiesza dancing down a NYC street. In her choreography she pays homage to early Madonna, Michael Jackson, and if I’m not mistaken, Solid Gold dancers. We even get treated to a little roger rabbit, running man and What’s Happening? ReRun style pop and lock. This girl knows her stuff and executes her moves beautifully.

I challenge you to watch this and not smile. Whether Kiesza’s music is your cup of tea or not, the amount of coordination, technique, talent and joy that went into this video cannot be ignored. It obviously took work.

The end result reminds me that a bit of extra work can be so much fun.


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The Tao Porchon-Lynch Pose: The Practice of Living

tao porchon-lynch

Tao Porchon-Lynch posing for Robert Sturman

Tao Porchon-Lynch. You have probably heard of her. She has become the yogini face of aging gracefully.

I have recently become preoccupied with her story. I watched a video of Tao speaking at a TEDx event. It was titled “There is nothing you cannot do.” She was fascinating. Her natural enthusiasm was contagious. Her lithe movements and physical ability defied her age.

I googled her and discovered hundreds of current photos and links to articles about her advanced age. But that wasn’t what I was interested in, I wanted to see her in her youth or middle-aged. I wanted to see a 30 or 40-something Tao Porchon-Lynch. What did she wear? How did she move? Did she care for children? Did she work?

I researched and got answers to my questions. I also came upon this photo.

tao porchon lynch

Wowza

I was delighted. I mean, this is a woman with some chutzpah. The more I read, the more I found her age to be the least interesting thing about her. Everyone is subject to aging, it is the decisions and the choices she made throughout her life that makes her fascinating to me.

Looking at the way she lives her life, it doesn’t surprise me that she is thriving at 96 years old.

At the age of eight she came across some boys practicing yoga on the beach in India. She joined in. At the time, her Aunt (who was raising her) discouraged her from practicing yoga, stating that it was for boys and not a proper activity for a girl. She didn’t listen and pursued the practice anyway. Was she just being a defiant child or did she intuitively know the direction she wanted to take? I don’t have the answer and I’m not sure it matters, but that decision began a pattern.

Each time she was given a standard or an expected limitation, she disregarded it and carved her own path. She made choices that allowed her to defy statistics and beat odds. She is amazing and not just because of her age.

She inspires me to reflect on my own choices and ask: When have I let other’s expectations set my standard?  Have I blindly done what was expected of me simply because it was expected. Or worse, when have I decided that I couldn’t do something because of someone else’s limits? These questions are helpful. Especially now, with middle age settled resolutely on my doorstep. Often there is a predisposition to consider pushing boundaries the territory of youth. Tao Porchon-Lynch reminds me that healthy rebellion and good gut instincts can thrive at any age.

I think the lesson we should be learning from Tao is not how to age, but how to live.


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Asking the Right Questions Pose: How ESPN’s Hannah Storm Gave Me Hope

When I was in my 20’s I was a volunteer crisis counselor for a domestic violence hotline in Philadelphia. For two nights a week, I waited for the phone to ring, prepared with lists of shelters, crisis procedures, a working knowledge of how to obtain a restraining order and an open heart.

The voices I heard on the other end of the line belonged to women of every walk of life. They fit no stereotype. What they had in common was that they were physically injured, in danger, frightened and ashamed. I listened and helped them through one of the darkest moments of their lives.

Given that experience, I have been following the Ray Rice story closely, watching the familiar circular media banter that surrounds public domestic violence cases. It is amazing to me the repetition of the naive and ill-informed questions of Why didn’t she leave?, Why did she marry him?, Why would she stay?, Why would she provoke him?

These are the wrong questions.

It makes me sad that there is a large percentage of the public that doesn’t understand the dynamics of an abusive relationship. Again and again the public asks about her choices, when he is the one who chose to knock her out. His choice was extreme violence and I have yet to see one news program call in an expert to discuss why he chose to hit her. I was losing hope.

Until today. I came across a story that gave me hope. So much so, that I had to share it.

The article was recapping a commentary by ESPN anchor Hannah Storm. She said the following:

“On Monday morning, I was genuinely excited to come to work and break down what I thought was a fascinating first weekend in the NFL. Instead, I kicked off ESPN’s coverage of the horrific Ray Rice elevator video. Meanwhile, one of my daughters has her first Fantasy Football team this season. But at breakfast this week, instead of discussing how her team was doing, we watched the Ray Rice video play out again in all its ugliness,” said Storm. “I spent this week answering seemingly impossible questions about the league’s biggest stars: ‘Mom, why did he do that? Why isn’t he in jail? Why didn’t he get fired?’ And yesterday, ‘Why don’t they even have control of their own players?'”

“So here’s a question: What does all of this mean for the future? What does it mean for female fans, whose dollars are so coveted by the NFL, who make up an estimated 45 percent of the NFL’s fan base?” she asked. “Are fans and are families, are we as parents supposed to compartmentalize everything that’s happening? Are we supposed to simply separate a violent game on the field from violent acts off the field? And if we do, what message does that send?”

And that, ladies and gentleman, is called: Asking the right questions.

Thank you, Hannah Storm, for landing on the right side of this terribly amorphous issue, thank you for passing that same critical eye for the truth to your daughter, and thank you, most of all, for using your platform to speak out with clarity on this issue.


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The Embracing Pose: Thank you, Elizabeth Gilbert

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I came across a Facebook post the other day that stopped me in my tracks. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote something on Facebook that forced me to reevaluate a word.

Here it is:

“I felt the need to speak out once more against the subtle tyranny of the word BALANCE, which I think haunts and punishes modern women more and more every day. 

We are constantly being told that we should be achieving balance — that we should somehow exquisitely be negotiating the relationships between our work lives, our home lives, our romantic lives, our health and well-being, our spiritual selves. You can’t read an interview with a famous woman these days that the journalist does not applaud her for having achieved BALANCE….and then if you turn the pages of that magazine, you will find ten more articles showing how you can achieve balance. too!

Be careful. 

The word BALANCE has tilted dangerously close, I fear, to the word PERFECT — another word that women use as weapons against themselves and each other. 

To say that someone has found the secret to a balanced life is to suggest that they have solved life, and that they now float through their days in a constant state of grace and ease, never suffering stress, ambivalence, confusion, exhaustion, anger, fear, or regret. Which is a wonderful description of nobody, ever. 

Balance, when we do find it, is a breathtakingly temporary condition. We stand upon a world that spins at 2000 miles an hour. Our minds, meanwhile, spin at 200,000 miles an hour. We collide every day with other humans who are also sliding and spinning wildly. The landscape of our lives, therefore, changes by the minute. You find your balance one day and think, “Hooray! I have solved it” and then five minutes later the world utterly transforms again, and you’re knocked on your ass one more time.

That’s just how life is on this planet — messy, fast, out of control, unpredictable. It’s all terribly interesting, but also terribly unstable.” 

She was dead right and I was crestfallen.

An amorphous gray area of our daily language had been clarified with concrete implications. I found myself mourning a word that I had come to depend on.

Here, I thought I was trying to achieve balance, but I was really just trying to be perfect.

Drat.

CAUTION: The above image may cause damage to your self-esteem

CAUTION: The above image is unattainable and may cause damage to your self-esteem

The word balance, it seems, is going the way of the word beauty. There are generations of women who were raised believing beauty was defined by the likes of Glamour, Vogue, Playboy, and Sports Illustrated. If their faces / bodies / clothes didn’t match those pictures, they had to deal with that fact, one way or another.

I was one of them.

It wasn’t until much later that I understood how much these images had skewed my understanding of the true meaning of beauty.

Now I feel, I have been duped again.

In previous posts, I explored the concept of balance as an inconsistent state, not a form of perfection. Being balanced is being accepting of what is happening in that moment and dealing with it. That includes the mess, grief, confusion, frustration and disappointments that life brings.

But that is not the way the word is being used in most places.

Balance has morphed into an airbrushed size 2, running errands in designer wear, delighting in all things social, and achieving professional success while never sweating through her blouse, screaming at her husband or forgetting to send a thank you note.

So thank you, Ms. Gilbert, for being the Paul Revere of semantics.

My vision of Elizabeth Gilbert

I didn’t see that one coming.

I forgot how vulnerable we all are to self-criticism cloaked in the language self-improvement.


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The Community Pose: Hey Ladies! It’s a Round-Up.

I prefer practicing yoga in a studio rather than at home. There is a sense of community that dwells there. Every person brings their own energy and every instructor has their own personality. A million little details allow each class to develop a life of its own. I like being a part of it. When I started practicing yoga, I didn’t realize how important that community would be to me.

The same thing has happened here. Originally, I started Off Your Mat as a writing exercise. I wasn’t tuned in to the blogosphere.  But since I took on this endeavor, I found I am suddenly part of a huge community. Each blog is a portal into someone’s unique, carefully created world and these worlds are not isolated.

My new virtual neighbors are warm and supportive. They reach out, give feedback and create opportunities to interact. I am thankful to be rubbing shoulders with some amazing talent.  No matter how different I might be from anyone one of these bloggers, I feel a kinship with all of these people howling into the abyss.

This week, to show a little hospitality, I am doing a round-up of the top 5 women’s blogs that completely inspire me.

Why just women?

Because I am one.

1) A Buick in the Land of Lexus

The first time I read A Buick in the Land of Lexus, I thought “this is everything my blog is not” and I loved it.  Samara is brash, ballsy, unapologetic and had front row tickets to everything I worshiped as a 20-something coming up in Philly.

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2) Andrea Reads America

You have to love someone who gives herself a reading assignment that includes 153 books. Reader, blogger, and essayist Andrea Badgley plans to visit the entire United States through literature. She will read 3 books set in each of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia. Brainy! She had me at “plus the District of Columbia.”

Also, she is collecting “Show Us Your State” stories for her Andrea Reads America website. Submission guidelines are here if you would like to participate.

 

 3) Bucket List Publications

When I say this girl gets around, I mean it in the best possible way. Lesley Carter is bright, brave, traveling and kind enough to bring us into her universe.

 

 4) Deborah Rose Reeves

She’s a poet and she definitely knows it.  An Irish writer living in Portland and sharing out.  I especially love her Writing & Reading Resources.

 

5) Yoga Peach

Keli is the busiest, nuttiest yogi I know.  I met her in yoga teacher training and I never know what she will be up to next. Clicking here might be the only way you can keep up with her.

 

Tell me about the blogs you love.  Tech? Music? Fashion? Sports? Niché hobby? Politics? Gardening? Don’t leave me hanging, I wanna hear about them.


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The Mother Pose

Around the age of 30, I apologized to my mother for my behavior between the ages of 13 to 19.  I felt it was the right thing to do.

At the time of my apology, I was single and had no children.  My empathy was not because I was going through the trials and tribulations of parenting.  It was perspective that prompted my act of contrition.  There were over ten years stretching between me and my distant adolescence. From my adult vantage point, I was appropriately ashamed.

Upon hearing my apology, just as appropriately, Mom laughed.  She accepted it though, with an all in a day’s work kind of response.  These days we still laugh about it.  But it was an important moment for us.

Mom & me

Mom & me

This year, I will be celebrating my 4th Mother’s Day as a mom.  Right now, my kid thinks I’m the bee’s knees.  She is so taken with me that there are times she will stop her constant busyness to hold my face in her sticky hands and tell me she loves me.  Over pizza the other day, looking at me across the pizzeria’s chipped linoleum table, she said, “Oh mommy, I love your eyes.”  Best pizza date ever.

I realize this will change. I do not look forward to it. There will be a day when she figures out I’m not so cool.  The prospect is chilling.

This particular fear gets me thinking about balancing poses.  There are days when your balance is off.  Even if it is not visible to others, balancing can become a truly daunting task when your mind is not right.

In a balance, our instructors might say, “Find your drishti” or “Soften your gaze” or “Breathe.” These are all great cues. But if you are wobbling away, drishti or no drishti, there are times when gravity or your own unsteadiness wins out and you just have to let go of the pose.

Looking back at those moments, I realize I get so caught up in my own thoughts about balancing, the act of balancing is impossible.  It goes something like this:

Here comes Tree. Ok, no big deal you’ve done this for years. Nothing to prove. Ok a little wobbly. Wait where is my drishti?  I like that spot. Or maybe I should look a little higher. Oops. Ok. ok. Little wobbly but graceful.  Trees blow in the wind. Am I throwing off the people behind me? Melting my shoulders down my back. What is that guy doing? a toe hold?  I can’t do that today. Should I try that? My foot hits the mat.

There are other days when I will literally float into a balance.  I honestly can’t recall what I might be thinking at those moments.  Its more of a feeling.  I am consciously taking all the cues.  Gazing softly at my drishti, breathing, relaxed, foot rooted, everything as it should be.  Bird of Paradise, here I come.

The difference between the two is in the first I am thinking about the moment, in the second I am in the moment.

So what does balancing have to do with my daughter’s impermanent adulation?

In yoga class, a drishti is an unmoving point of your choice that you focus on to assist your pose.  However, the full meaning of drishti isn’t limited to its use in yoga class. In Sanskrit, drishti can also mean a vision, a point of view, or intelligence and wisdom. Yoga Journal does a nice job of exploring the concept here.

Point of view. Wisdom. The only thing that allowed me to have the insight to apologize to mom for my teenage misdeeds and general jerkiness was my perspective.  My point of view gave me wisdom.

Today my daughter has made me the focus of her small scale idol worship.  (During the typing of this post she stopped me multiple times to look into my eyes, kiss my face and tell me she loved my ponytail.)  In a few years her perspective will change along with her opinions about my appearance. I could let the worry of all those changes headed my way trump this outpouring of child love. I could busy myself with what to expect instead of what is happening.

I choose, in this moment, to gaze softly upon this ever moving 3 year old vision that loves me, whether I’m wobbly or still.

 

I would love to hear about your favorite “mom” moment, whether it is about your mom or about being a mom. Please share in the comments.

 

Mother's Day 2013

Happy Mother’s Day!