Off Your Mat

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


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The Truthful Pose

A lie has many variations the truth noneIt is so important to stay honest in yoga practice. When yogis and yoginis are not honest with themselves about their abilities they can risk injury or disappointment. When we practice, there is an inherent responsibility to be truthful with oneself.

This responsibility extends way beyond our practice into our lives. Unfortunately, in everyday life, people can be dishonest.

There are “white lies” that are often born from the intent to protect a person. There are blatant lies told to manipulate or to cover up a shameful truth. Either way, when a lie is told, it shows disrespect for another’s ability to handle or accept the truth. It also shows that the person telling the lie is too fearful to face the consequences of the truth. Every time a lie is told there is real damage done to trust and love.

So what does it mean when we lie to ourselves?see no evilAs humans, we have an amazing ability to adapt, survive and persevere through an untold range of challenges. Our minds have ancient coping and survival skills that protect our ability to function and carry out tasks on a daily basis.  If our prehistoric ancestors where so crippled with fear by their precarious position in the food chain, they would never have had the heart to pursue fresh drinking water and new food sources. Everyday they walked out into a potentially deadly landscape and did what they had to do to survive. Despite the horrible truth that they were potential prey.

Now, in our cocoon of modern amenities and considerable daily safety, our minds still have an uncanny ability to dismiss ugly truths. This is not always a bad thing. This little trick of our human mind has allowed some amazing things to happen. It has allowed people to beat insurmountable odds and flourish in desolate conditions. Think: Harriet Tubman, Hellen Keller, Ghandi, or Elie Wiesel. If they had focused on the hopelessness of their circumstances, they might have never have achieved such accomplishments.quote-even-if-you-are-a-minority-of-one-the-truth-is-the-truth-mahatma-gandhi-68003However, there is another kind of self deception that leaves the best part of ourselves hidden in fear. As people who need to get up everyday and walk into the world, often we can refuse to look things in the face and know them for what they are. Fear of change can keep us blind to many sad but true circumstances. That denial of the truth lays waste to the natural love we have for ourselves and trust in our own abilities.

The upside to this is that the truth never changes. It is always there, always available to visit, no matter how far one has wandered away. Despite our ability to lie to ourselves, despite the wreckage that can be created by the human ability to live with deception, there is always the resilience of the human heart. We can learn the truth, deal with it, heal and once again, find the strength to love and trust.


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The Book Lovers Pose

I love my first downward facing dog pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana) of the day.  My hamstrings open up.  My back stretches. My neck loosens. It’s a relief.

A woman in the yoga position downward facing dog

The perfect morning

I remember my first introduction to down dog. I walked into my gym and noticed a yoga class was just starting, I thought it would be a nice alternative to the treadmill and jumped in. After our warm up, we stayed in down dog for an extended period of time.

After a few minutes, my muscles were trembling, I was sweating and I didn’t know what was supposed to be rejuvenating about the pose.  Then, it was as if my body had an epiphany and downward facing dog became a wonderful place to be. By the end of that class, I yearned for my next down dog.

Now, it is my go to pose when I need to relax, stretch and re-center myself.

I feel the same way about picking up a book.  Reading was paramount when I was a child.  As a girl, occasionally, on very rainy days, my mom would keep me home from school so we could spend the day at the local library.  After she selected her book , we would go to the children’s section and pick out a stack of colorful books for me. That crooked pillar of books looked like a pile of presents just waiting to be opened.

We would settle into a quiet corner with a large window where the rain drummed and read for hours.

Since then, I have always been reading something.

Opening a book gives me the same mindful relief as settling into down dog.  My mind goes quiet, muscles relax. I can be anywhere, a subway, an airport, a waiting room, a hospital bed, jury duty or any other of life’s holding patterns and if I have a book, I’m fine.

I always have my eye open for something else to read. Recently I discovered a great reading list on open culture that inspired me to curate my own book list.

Over the years, there are certain books that painted such vivid images, birthed such perfect characters or captured such truthful moments that they became part of my personal lexicon. I never let them go.

So this week, I have featured them in a new page called My Favorite Books.

I invite you to visit.

If there is a book on that list you haven’t read, I hope you pick it up.

On the other hand, if there is a book you don’t see on that list, tell me about it in the comments. I’m always in the market for my next read. Enjoy.


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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!

 


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The Easter Rabbit Yoga Pose

Easter Sunday 2013 I attended the early morning power yoga class at my favorite studio.  I wasn’t thinking much about the class.  I had a full day ahead of me and this was an item I was checking off my list.  I was getting something done for myself before I went to celebrate Easter.  A lot of people must have been doing that because the studio was full.

I knew our instructor John, a little.  Previously we had chatted about becoming certified in yoga and teaching school in Camden, NJ, which we had both done.  A few weeks before, he shared with our class that he had practiced yoga with his granddaughter.  He had said he was so glad that she would have that memory after he was gone.  I always thought of that precious image when I saw him.

Starting the class, he announced we would be practicing Rabbit Pose for Easter.  The last time I had done the pose was when I dropped in on a Bikram class years before.  When he mentioned it, I wasn’t sure if I could recall the exact pose.

 

Class started. When it came to the inversions portion of our class we all took Rabbit Pose, then we moved on.  It was a great class.  I remember feeling good, every challenge was an opportunity. Mostly, I was really impressed with myself that I made it to a early class on a Sunday.

During savasana, which is normally a welcomed respite, my mind was racing.  I had an outside egg hunt planned with the neighbors for the afternoon and it was supposed to rain. My mom and mother-in-law were coming over. I had a lot going on.

We sat up from savasana, legs crossed, hands at heart center.  Keeping our eyes closed we raised our hands to our third eye, opening our palms to let in love and light. Finally we bowed, saying “Namaste.”  Upon opening our eyes, each of us discovered a shiny plastic Easter egg at the top of our mat.  We opened our eggs to find two baby carrots.

It is silly, but I was overwhelmed with emotion.  I was incredibly touched by this small, festive gesture.  The sight of a bright blue egg, appearing where previously nothing had been, was the first true surprise I had experienced in a long time.  Hiding my misty eyed emotion, mostly because it was confusing to me, I waved a thank you to John and left the studio to move on with my day.

I thought about that class often.  It finally struck me why the carrot stuffed egg pulled at my heart strings.

It was John’s thoughtfulness, planning for a group of people who weren’t expecting anything except a class. In my case anyway, I was just happy to fit the class into my day.  There were probably a million reasons for John to not make the extra effort, but he did.  I pictured him at his kitchen counter or table diligently packing those baby carrots into Easter eggs.  How sweet!

Also, the shared experience of finding our eggs created an instant shared memory. It bonded the temporary tribe of our class. I remember giggling when I found it and looking to my neighbors.  When normally, I would have been hustling to roll up my mat and move on.

Lastly, he could have easily handed them out at the end of class or put them in a basket near the door, letting us know we were welcome to an egg.  Instead, as we rested, he silently placed one in front of each of us.  It was a whimsical act that harkened back to the wonder of egg hunts and the delight of finding an egg where you weren’t expecting it.

That is exactly what happened.  Without expecting it, I was swept up by the magic of that little plastic egg that held so much more than two carrots.

 


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The Cooking Pose: Clay Pot Practice

Clay Pot Cooking and Yoga.

They are ancient. They are earthy. They are delightful.

Both require patience and hydration.

The pots themselves are a lot like yogis.  They come in all shapes and sizes and each is unique.

I stumbled onto cooking with a clay pot when I came into the possession of a Romertofp Pot along with a little recipe book.  Having never seen one before I was intimidated, so I let it sit in its box, tucked away, until I uncovered it during a move.

My clay pot

My clay pot

At the time I discovered the pot, I was experiencing my own little cooking renaissance.  Until then, I had never considered myself much of a cook. Anytime spent in the kitchen was for organizing salads or reheating someone else’s dish. Throughout college and the years following, I depended on other’s culinary skills and the miracle of take out.

On New Year’s Day in 2005 I checked my office voicemail from home to learn that the company I was working for had declared bankruptcy and the entire workforce was laid off.  Suddenly, I had a lot of time on my hands.

Sitting on my couch, avoiding my job search, I thumbed through a macrobiotic cookbook given to me by my sister.  It was my jumping off point.  Before I knew it, cooking became a daily obsession.  I loved hunting down hard to find ingredients, bringing them home and following the happy formula of the recipe.  Nothing gave me pause.  I cooked with seaweed, umi plum vinegar, kuzu root and miso paste.  I got bolder and started examining other cookbooks.  Soon I was steaming my own bagels, roasting beets and whipping up chicken tamale casseroles.  By Mother’s Day I had the culinary confidence to cook a full meal for 10 people.

It was around this time I found the clay pot, never unboxed, sitting in a lonely corner of my basement.  This time, I saw it with new eyes.  Finding the clay pot, earthen and humble, all but forgotten, reminded me of getting my first bike.  I had never ridden before, but I was dying to take it for a spin.

What does this have to do with taking our practice off our mat?

First, the word practice. I had weeks of cooking practice under my belt.  My practice gave me confidence to try something new, something that had previously been indecipherable and intimidating. Just like yoga.  As we build our practice on our mat, the impossible becomes possible.

Second, one of my favorite yoga instructors has a great way of articulating an instruction.  In class we will be holding a particularly long pose and she will invite us to take the pose to the next level by saying “because you can.” For example, we will be in a side angle bind, holding through a long count of 5 and she will say “Let your heart shine to the ceiling, because you can.”  Speaking those three little words, she is empowering us to take advantage of all our abilities. You’ve got muscles, strength, flexibility and will. Use it. Because you can.

Looking back, rediscovering my clay pot was a “because you can moment.  I didn’t worry about my lack of experience or the baffling simplicity of the pot itself.  I had the pot, I had an oven and I could cook.

Taking your practice off your mat isn’t always a conscious thing.  It is something you just do  – because you can.

Click here to check out an unbelievably delicious Clay Pot Indonesian Beggar’s Chicken recipe.