Off Your Mat

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


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Dear Prince,

I learned of your death on my lunch break. I opened the news and read the headline. I found myself blinking back tears. I did not realize how connected I felt to you until you were gone. You were my high school and college soundtrack, you were the song I always turned up.

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I texted my sister and friends. I listened to tribute stations. I poured over every article. I was grateful for the collective grief. I was glad Paris and New York were lit up in purple. You deserve it.

The news soon turned, first speculating, then confirming your overdose. In the little I have learned about your purposely private life, I can only guess that you would not have wanted these articles picking apart your every move, examining your family, describing your lonely body, silent and still in an elevator.

I know when the toxic hand of addiction wraps itself around a person’s heart and seeps into their blood, it is godless, soulless, friendless, without empathy, and brutally selfish. It steals away our most loving, talented, smart and kind people. They become vacant, then gone.

If you were struggling with an opiate addiction, I know your wealth, fame, need for privacy, and insistence on complete control could have made it difficult, if not impossible, to get the kind of help you needed. I also know the people closest to you might not have had the skills to understand what was happening. Without a clear working knowledge of what you are looking at, opiate addiction is hard to see close up. Addicts can be brilliant at blurring the lines and boundaries between help and hurt.

If the reports about some of the doctors are true, I have no words for them. They had an opportunity to help you. They didn’t.

Even while you were surrounded by a team of people, I’m sure you felt alone. Even with seemingly limitless resources, I’m sure you felt trapped. Despite your carefully cultivated aloof image, there must have been a terrified part of you that could see what was happening. There must have been another equally terrified part of you that could not stop. You might have felt shame and fear of being exposed. You might have made promises to yourself or God and found you could not keep them.  You might have rationalized away the choices that frightened you.

On stage, you never slipped up. You were perfection, always in command, lovingly inclusive with your collaborations, joyfully pushing limits. We looked to you, knowing you would transport us. You always delivered, bringing us with you every time. You became something a little more than human.

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As far-fetched and naive as it sounds, I wish we could have helped you. For all the joy, release and affirmation you gave, I wish all the millions that loved you could have known that our perfect song genius, our James Brown-Jimmy Hendrix love child, our beloved matador-harlequin-pixie-minotaur-pimp-daddy-preacher-soul-funk man needed help.

I wish we had known just how human and vulnerable you were, just like us.


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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 Flash Fiction Pose: Not My Typical Post

In my yoga practice, I try to switch things up to keep it interesting. When I find myself less than mindful or engaged in my practice, I do something to re-inspire myself. I might try a new studio or seek out a different type of yoga. I try to breathe some new life into it by creating change. It works.

This weekend I found myself less than enthusiastic about my blog. I was uninspired. I thought about drumming up a guest blogger or finding a reason to skip a week. Those options felt like a cop out. I needed inspiration. So I went to my fellow bloggers and looked at what they were doing. Sure enough, I found what I was looking for.

My inspiration came in the form of The Tipsy Lit Flash Fiction Contest. Tipsy Lit is a blog that seeks out gritty, raw writing – something very different than what I have been doing here. The challenge to Flash Fiction is that it is short with a 500 word limit. Below you will find my submission, a figurative splash of cold water on the face of my sleepy blog.The Flash Fiction Pose

Timothy’s Escape

The room came slowly into focus as Timothy surfaced from his nod.  Seeing the low drop ceiling with creeping stains he remembered he was in Yvette’s sagging bed. To his right, he noticed she had gathered his works on the night table in a neat pile.  Last night had been a desperate sweating scramble to get his dope.

Getting up, he was careful not to wake Yvette, whose wet snores ripped through the room.  Everything about her repulsed him.  Her stick thin, bruised legs and ridiculous choice of crop tops that allowed her bloated mid-section to bunch and jiggle with every move. Her stringy ponytail worn on the side of her head in an effort to appear youthful that only succeeded in making her look demented. The way she clung to his arm, throwing back her head in a throaty laugh that exposed her missing molar and ended in a wheezing cough.  And especially the way she would turn her fleshy and worn face to him thrilled and expectant.

Her apartment harbored the aroma of cat pee cloaked in cheap air freshener.  There was a cat that lived there but Timothy had yet to see it. It hid under the couch and let out a low growl if anyone came near.  A cage in the living room housed two parakeets that constantly squawked and furiously batted their wings.  Then there was Butch, an old crooked dog with cataracts and breath like a sewer. When the animal was awake, he shuffled behind Timothy from room to room.

Since they met, Yvette clung to Timothy. She shared her disability checks and rationed out her dope.  He came and went as he pleased and she never complained as he drank all her beer.  When he showed up on her doorstep at 3 a.m. shaking for a fix, she welcomed him in.

Now he needed to get out of there.  Timothy moved into the kitchen where she kept her purse and flipped on the fluorescent light. Squinting in the winking glare he found her wallet and pulled out the bills. Stuffing them in his pocket he reached for the light switch and stopped short.

“Jesus, Butch, I almost stepped on you.” Butch was laying on the kitchen floor panting hard.  His water and food bowl were empty. Timothy crouched down, folding his tall bony frame to scratch the old mutt behind the ears. “You thirsty buddy?”

He filled one bowl with fresh water and scooped kibble into the other.  While he was at it, he got water and food for the cat and the birds too. He felt for the animals. He couldn’t imagine being trapped like that.

When he was done he moved quietly back into to the bedroom and eased open Yvette’s top dresser drawer.  He found the white baggy he was looking for and tucked it in his sneaker. Without looking back, Timothy walked through the fetid rooms fleeing into the fresh pink dawn of the morning.


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Resting Pose: The Practice of Doing Nothing

Child’s pose (Balasana) is a resting pose.

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Balasana – Child’s Pose

Child’s pose can also be an active, resting pose.

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Extended child’s pose

To actively engage in this restful pose, the fingers should be spread, finger pads and palms gently pressed into the floor. Elbows should be raised. Knees can be together to release the lower back or wide to release the hips.

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Child’s pose – knees apart to release hips

The pose itself appears like nothing is happening, but internally your body is working.

Whether you actively work the pose or allow your muscles to completely rest you will benefit in the following ways:

  • Gently stretches the hips, thighs, and ankles
  • Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and fatigue
  • Relieves back and neck pain when done with head and torso supported

Although child’s pose is simple and restful, it is not a pose you should move away from with experience. It is a pose to be repeated and savored daily. It allows the practitioner, either experienced or new, to regain breath, calm the mind and release tension. It is a place to gather and recharge before or after more vigorous practice.

I cannot think of one yoga class I have attended where the instructor did not encourage use of child’s pose. Students are always reminded that child’s pose is available to them if they are feeling fatigued or need to regroup. There is no shame or defeat in stepping away from the class flow to a private reprieve on your mat.

What a wonderful concept.

Can you imagine the possibilities if we let that practice translate into our everyday?

What if there was no shame in figuratively putting your head down and resting on your laurels?

There are times I find this simple practice happening naturally. For example: I do not write my blog posts in one sitting. I write. I stop. I reflect. I write again. If I never stepped away and reflected, I would never sharpen some of the finer points. The active work would not be as good.

However, there are plenty places in my daily living I forget this gentle practice of resting. I push and strive when the smarter path might be to sit back, take a moment and do nothing.


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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 Writing Challenge Pose: Neighborly Regret

The Daily Post – Weekly Writing Challenge: Honey vs Vinegar

For this week’s writing challenge, ponder the significance of kindness in your life. That may mean: Sharing the details of your last act of kindness, or when you wish you had been kinder when you weren’t.


 

Neighborly Regret

We live next to a park that used to be train tracks. The park is a narrow stretch of grass with a bike path that runs from one end of town to the other.

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The Bike Path

Across the park there is a low white rancher. There was a little gray haired woman that lived in the house with her dog. Her windows sparkled, her grass was trim and we often saw her puttering around her yard, neatly dressed, old white terrier shuffling behind.

Once a week her son would visit. His pick up looked too big sitting in her immaculate driveway. She would meet him at the door with a fluttery hug. I imagined him fixing a dripping faucet or moving a heavy TV or taking down holiday decorations then staying for a meal.

I never saw anyone else visit.

As neighbors do, we became aware of her routine.  We marveled at all the yard work she did. Her frail little body bending and reaching for errant sticks and weeds. I was always happy to see her and I felt a feeling close to relief every time we saw her son’s truck in the driveway.

We discussed walking across our narrow park and introducing ourselves. She was alone, we could be there for her. I planned on baking a pie or maybe bread and bringing it over. We discussed giving her our phone number in case she needed anything.  She seemed so sweet and it was the right thing to do.

We meant to do that. We talked about it. We didn’t do it.

We were pulling up to our house when we saw it.

Her front window, right next to the front door, had been broken. It looked as if someone broke the window to reach in and open the door from the inside. The hole in the glass was patched up with card board and tape. Something had happened, but whatever it was – was over. There was no sign of our across-the-park friend or her faithful dog.

For days there was no movement, no change.

One day I saw her son’s truck, then it was gone.

Shortly after, the house sold and we watched as new neighbors took over her tidy home.

I still don’t know what happened.

I do know this:

We never brought her a pie, bread, or the reassurance that someone was there for her, right across the park.

 

 

 

 


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Father’s Day: The Remembering Pose

When I started this blog I committed to writing a post once a week. It has never slipped my mind.

Until this week. I totally forgot to write.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t think of something to write. It was that I didn’t even remember to write.

When I did think of it, I had the same feeling as remembering an appointment a half hour after it was supposed to happen. I was shocked by my own absent-mindedness.

It was Father’s Day weekend and I had forgotten that I wanted to write about my dad.

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I was lucky to have a great dad.  I was unlucky to have lost him at 18.

It has been a long time since I have seen him.  The decades since his sudden death have smoothed some of the edges of my grief.  Thinking about him no longer creates an instant constriction of my heart and throat, now it is more of an eye watering ache.

I might have forgotten the task of writing, but thinking of dad never slips my mind.

I have a hand full of jewel-like memories that never fade.

Swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, my kid arms wrapped around his neck while we rode waves into the beach. Playing on his office floor, listening to him “talk business” on the phone. Visiting the Museum of Natural History in New York City with him and running in the whale room. Sitting on his shoulders watching the Philadelphia Mummer’s Parade. Sailing around Townsends Inlet in his tiny sail boat, The Blue Baron. Listening to him answer the house phone and chat with my friends as if they had called for him.

And then, there was his ridiculous sense of humor.

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He went to great lengths when it was time to be silly.

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I was lucky to have a great dad.

That is one thing I will never forget.