Connecting with Disconnect

trust

I feel disconnected from yoga right now.  One week in New York City, full of social obligations—aka: drinking and eating and then back in Montreal for three days before a sudden and unexpected house guest arrived, which meant more eating and drinking and there just hasn’t been a lot of time for yoga these days.

And it makes me wonder about this thing called balance.  Is balance supposed to be something one strives for on a daily basis?  Yearly basis?  Life-ly basis?  Do things find equilibrium over time, with periods of want and periods of plenty finding homeostasis at some point or another?

I still step onto my mat each day, for I am learning a new sequence right now that I need to practice, but there is a lack of curiosity.  A lack of joy.  I connect to my body and to my breath and inevitably I feel better afterwards, but what is it that’s missing?  Inherently, it makes me question my abilities as a teacher, because if I can’t connect to the practice, how can I possibly teach others to do the same?

But then the other day, something happened.  A date that I had been planning for, preparing for; a date that is not romantic in nature, but is nevertheless as dreamy as Ryan Gosling knocking on my door, winning the lottery, and creating world peace all condensed into one long end of a brittle wishbone was postponed, indefinitely.  And this date is related to a very big goal that I have been working towards for a long time now (more on that later) so naturally, I was crestfallen.

And instantly I realized that practicing yoga is not about how many times per week or day you perform asana.  It is not about what juice cleanse you’re on or whether or not you drank a bottle of wine last night; it’s not about what bendy shapes you can transform your body into, or how many hours you sit in meditation.  Practice is about plugging into your life in a thoughtful and meaningful way.

We practice asana because as we physically manipulate our bodies towards specific shapes, we start to see what obstacles we must face before we get there.  The process, which can take weeks, months or even years teaches us patience and diligence.  It teaches us to be humble and to learn when to back off, or otherwise face torn muscles and injury.

A teacher of mine said once, “Everything you do on your mat is a metaphor for your life.”

But what I failed to remember, is that the converse is also true.  Life can teach me about asana.  That when I find the ability to take every “shape” life throws at me and move into it to the best of my ability, this is practicing yoga.

And so as I wrestle with feelings of disappointment and notions of anticipation and expectation, I am grateful.  For the opportunity to connect to practice in a way that makes so much more sense to me right now than 100 chaturangas.

Once again, I am humbled by the journey and I am grateful,
because I am still learning.

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Do You Believe in Magic?

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars”  —Jack Kerouac

I’ve been watching the Harry Potter films recently.  Somehow, I’ve never managed to watch more than sporadic scenes from the first two films, even in all of my days as a professional nanny and daycare instructor.  So inevitably, with all of those wizards, and warlocks and dragons and wands, one cannot help but to think about magic.

How do you define magic in modern day terms?  When something is enchanted or magnificent beyond explanation, when you are bewitched or befuddled, in awe, wonderment, or just plain stupefied?

Yoga has helped me believe in magic.  When you live in the present moment, the mundane can easily become mystical.  When you believe that everything has its place, its moment, its reason, its purpose, life becomes riddled with omens and enchantment, glamour and pizazz; abracadabra and hocus-pocus.

I remember growing up feeling like my dad was a little bit like a magician.  One year on Easter, when I was maybe thirteen, I woke up and opened my bedroom door at the end of our hallway and criss-crossing every inch of that hallway was a rainbow-colored spider web of yarn blocking the way into the rest of the house.  I mean, it was like Spiderman ate some mushrooms and just got really INTO it, you know?  My teenaged jaw dropped simultaneously in awe and annoyance, “What on Earth?”  He heard me wake up (my dad, not tripped-out Spidey) and then rushed out of his room, with a gleam in his eye that could only be described as childish delight and said, “wait, wait!”  He ducked back into his room and came out with an empty toilet paper roll.  My sister woke up to the commotion, and then my mom, both with mouth agape and sleepy-eyed eyes wide, and were each handed a cardboard roll.  We had to wind up the color of yarn that corresponded to our door and follow it throughout the house.  My dad must have stayed up FOR HOURS, because it took me at least forty-five minutes to follow my yarn to its end.  It wound through the house, into the back garden, through a key hole and a locked door (no idea how he did THAT), into a shoe, and even was frozen into an ice cube tray before finally leading to the dryer, where stashed inside was my Easter basket.

I suppose this was something we were used to by now.  He is the guy that you’d want to draw your name for the Christmas gift exchange, because he would wrap your gift in a box inside a box inside a box inside a pumpkin!  Never mind that the pumpkin, he’d been stashing in the basement since Halloween.  One year, when my sister lost a tooth, he snuck into her room while she was sleeping and hung individual candies from fishing line from her ceiling.  Imagine, being a seven year-old, who still believes in the Tooth Fairy, waking up to a cloud full of candies seemingly hung from gossamer threads, suspended in mid-air by none other than that mischievous Dental Dryad, herself.

What I’m getting at is that I think it’s important to make a little magic for someone from time to time.  Be it a friend, a lover, a child or a parent.  To go that extra effort to make something extra special, extra romantic, extra impossible, extra un-ordinary.  To sneak and plot and plan and scheme, all with the goal of imbuing an eye-popping, cheek-slapping, mouth-gaping expression of delight on the recipient.

Because, who doesn’t need a little magic in their lives from time to time?

Happy Belated Father’s Day, Bobbio.  Thank you for infusing my life with magic.

V-Day or D-day?

If I were in a relationship and you were my boyfriend, I would probably tell you that I don’t believe in Valentine’s Day: that roses are the tacky flower from the eighties and only serve to remind me of a bad Jon Bon Jovi ballad, those chocolates are the same as the Christmas candy that you just spent the last month in the gym working off your ass but in a different shaped box, or that it’s a consumerist-centered holiday based on Disney fairytales where true love always conquers all, and don’t we know, that ain’t the truth!

Let’s be serious.  You can call it a Hallmark card holiday, you can pooh-pooh all of the roses, the hearts, the flowers and the chocolate and haughtily claim that we should express love every day, not just on one dumb day to keep us spending money between Christmas and St. Paddy’s …..but that is something that girls in relationships say to pretend that they don’t actually want their boyfriends’ to surprise them with something quirky and spontaneous.  If you were my boyfriend, I might tell you all of that, but I wouldn’t want you to believe me.  I’d secretly want the indie rom-com; creative and romantic, but not overly conventional.  I’d want take-out sushi and a chocolate fondue pot.

As a girl that has been single for quite some time now, I have become accustomed to the solo life.  I can take myself out to the movies and not feel awkward.  I starfish out in my bed, taking up every last inch of space, and I am well versed in Single Girl Behavior  (the things we do when no one is watching.)  For instance, using a piece of dark chocolate to scoop the peanut butter out of the jar at the kitchen counter with a cucumber mask on your face in ugly undies—I NEVER do that!  In the yoga world there is a code of ethics loosely or strictly followed by some yogis called Brahmacharya, which translates to celibacy or containment of sexual energy.  There has not been any heat between my sheets in over a year, and this is not a Scientologist-inspired, consciousness-raising, self-imposed hiatus.

I have only two words: Brahmacharya sucks.

The older I get the more cynical I’ve become when it comes to matters of the heart.  With each broken heart it becomes a little more of a calculated risk to wage the war of love again.  The walls we put up around our hearts in the name of independence, strength, feminism and choice are perhaps smoke screens of self-preservation.  Evasive maneuvers that set the heartstrings to hibernate.   Each heartbreak creates a scar that gets thicker and tougher over time, and before you know it, your arterial walls are a fortress and ain’t nuthin’ passing through.  So I will admit, it’s tempting to drown my singleness in one (or five) bottles of wine today and pull a living-room Renee Zellewegger.

But this year, I’ve decided I’m going to do something radical for Valentine’s Day.  This year I am going to choose to believe in love.  I am going to believe that somewhere out there, there is a Harry to my Sally, a pea to my carrot, a friend and a partner to my crime.   Somewhere out there is a person who doesn’t complete me (for I learned my co-dependent lesson long ago) but who thinks that I am just the coolest thing.  Someone who might want to walk the road with me for a spell.  Somewhere out there, real, true, meant-to-be love exists and not just in the Notebook.  I don’t know if I believe in forever ever after, but I think I can believe in forever, ever now.

I’m breakin’ down these walls, Berlin-style.  So bring on the heart-shaped box of chocolates and the Bon Jovi ballads.  Cupid, hit me with your best shot.

“The best love is the kind that awakens the soul and makes us reach for more.”

And I, for ONE, am going to celebrate.

 Happy Valentine’s Day.

Ode to an Animal

 

As I looked down at my dog the other day, I realized that she is almost ten years old.  Not that that is all that miraculous.  Lots of dogs turn ten all the time.  Probably every day.

What struck me as significant, as I gazed at the always-glad-to-see me lump of fur breathing beneath me, is that I have somehow kept the mutt alive for her entire ten years.  From the first day I brought her home, 8 weeks old, curling her little body on the tops of both of my feet while I chopped vegetables at the kitchen counter, to now: still alive.

My pet history started at the county fair.  For 25-cents you got a bucket-full of ping-pong balls.  If the ping-pong balls landed in one of the tiny goldfish bowls filled with colored water, lined up side-by-side, you won a goldfish.  The balls pinged and ponged off of the edges of the fishbowls and somehow, much to my mother’s dismay, you always won a goldfish.

“I swear you guys.  No goldfish this time.  If you bring home a goldfish, I’m not letting you keep it,” she would yell at our backs as we headed to the fair.  We always brought home a goldfish (or five) and she always let us keep them.  Most likely banking on the fact that half of them usually died the next day anyhow.

Until the day that my sister boiled the goldfish.

To keep things fair, we would alternate who got to keep the goldfish in her room.  My sister has an internal thermometer that rivals that of a cold-blooded amphibian.  I now understand why she lives in L.A.  Let’s just say, she likes things hot.

So in an attempt to bring her room temperature up to her acceptable comfort zone (like a living room in a volcano), she blasted the thermostat, shut the door, and promptly left for the day, forgetting about the five little fishies garbling away happily in their watery den.

By days end:  all 5 fishies belly up in a tank warmer than my bath.

On to Pet Number 2.

Feety.  My pet salamander that was a result of winning the science-class terrarium project in Seattle.  Seeing the opportunity for Feety to broaden his horizons, I smuggled him on the airplane headed for California, where we spent our summers with our Dad.  Consider flying nowadays and let me repeat:

I smuggled a salamander onto an airplane.

Feety lived happily in his terrarium far away from the misty rainforests of the wild and wet Pacific Northwest.  Sometimes, just to re-enact his days of paddling through muddy puddles, I would make him a “kiddie pool” not unlike the one in my Dad’s backyard.  I put him in a bowl of water with an upturned bowl in the center to serve as an island; an oasis of reprieve for when he got tired of swimming.

Thinking my bases covered, for there was no way he could climb up the slippery sides of his water world, I left.  But my pets are amazing animals and I often underestimate them.  Climb out he did and I spent the next two days searching my dad’s house, calling out his name, “Feeee—eety.  Feety.  Where ARE you?”  As if he, a salamander, might actually hear my cries and come crawling back into my outstretched arms.

On the third day I found him.  Dead in the closet and closely resembling a fossil.  His little ribs showed through wrinkled and leathery skin.  Oh dear….

–but wait!  Was that movement in his lungs???

“FEETY YOU’RE ALIVE!!!!”

I rushed him back to his terrarium and started dumping cupfuls of water on him.  His thoroughly dehydrated form soaked up that water like a sponge, as if he had descended from a long family line of Sea Monkeys—JUST ADD WATER!!  Miraculous!!!

Feety  found his final resting place at a hot springs in Idaho, where, leaving him out while we went swimming in a green pool supposedly made of “deodorant minerals”, he dried out.  Again.  This time, no amount of water brought him back to life.

Dum-dum-dum………Pet Number Three.

A parakeet, Skydie.  It was the coolest bird.  Did tricks.  Sat on my shoulder while I did my homework.  Ate Cheerios from the side of my cereal bowl.  Went into the shower and splashed in the spray while I washed.  One morning I woke up and found him dead in the bottom of his cage.  When we brought him back to the pet store to find out what happened, the woman picked him up, looked into his cage and asked, “Have you been feeding him?”  “Yes,” my eight-year old self replied meekly.  She picked up his food dish, looked me in the eye knowingly with disdain and blew.  And all of the husks scattered in freeze-frame slow motion into the wind.  I had thought there was food in his dish, but actually, it was only the shells of seeds.  With that one breath and zero words, she told me that I had starved my pet bird to death.

When the realization of what I had inadvertently done to my sweet and good-tempered feathered friend sunk in, I was silently horrified.  Mortified.  Embarrassed and filled with shame beyond belief.  Jesus.  That is one way to teach a child the responsibility of a pet.  I’m not sure I ever got over that one……

After that there was the replacement parakeet who flew out the window the same day our SPCA rescue dog-from-Hell bit my sister and was promptly returned to the pound.  There was a pet duck, Brutus, whose egg kept getting pushed out of the nest in my grandma’s barn.  When he hatched, being ignored by the mother, I took him in.  He imprinted on me and thought me his mother.  Many a days I spent in front of the fireplace with a small, fuzzy duck curled up underneath my neck.  Apparently his mother knew something I didn’t and he died a couple of weeks later, bleeding from the nostrils and unable to hold his own head up.  There was a ferret I babysat for a summer.  A cat that I think was an extra in the film version of Stephen King’s, Pet Cemetery.  A few rabbits.  A frog.  And, like a long list of lovers, perhaps a couple, give or take a few, that I can’t remember.

So as you can see, it is actually miraculous that my dog has survived her ten whole years.   My furry success story.

After a long year filled with a whole lot of traveling, her staying behind with friends, roommates, neighbours and strangers, I was looking forward to having her by my side.  I mean, who else has stuck by my side for ten whole years?  (besides family—I hear you, Ma.)   I owed her some serious quality time.  Walks along the beach.  Leashless, like her younger days.  Treats.  Bones.  Leftovers.

She has seen me through new apartments, new boyfriends, jealously barking when we embraced.  (and somehow she can suss out the bad ones)  Through new cities, road trips, camping adventures, snowballs, soccer balls, tennis balls (anything round will do), cottages, airplanes, lakes and oceans.  Through sadness and sickness, parties and drunkenness, success and giddiness;  sensitive to it all.  She gets me out walking, giving me fresh air and exercise and she teaches me that life should be so simple: all you need is a game, a meal, a poo and a friend.

She’s been there for so long, and there were days when I would walk into the house and not even say hello.  Too busy with all of my important things.  On autopilot, I would walk her and feed her and not even see her.  But every day she looked up at me anyhow.  Her brown eyes full of love and hopeful.  Unconditional adoration and tireless in her loyalty, every single day.

And suddenly, as if overnight, she is old.  Her eyes are starting to get cloudy, her breathing more laboured, she has difficulty standing and walking.  Not to mention the gas and the snoring.  When she tries to stand and her hindquarters remain on the ground, too sore in the hips and thighs to hoist herself up, she stays seated, gazes up at me, and flops her tail a couple of times as if apologizing or embarrassed.  There were a whole lot of years when I never allowed her up onto the bed.  And now, when I’ve softened around the edges a little, when I want to offer more comfort for her bones, she can’t even make it up on the bed by herself.  I have to lift her up.  It is heart-wrenching to watch her struggle and attempt to pull herself up, only to flounder, sink and then fall.  It’s the first time I’ve had to consider that she is not always going to be by my side.

There has never been anyone who has loved me more.  And maybe it’s too late, but I see you now, sweet girl.  I see you.

Do not take for granted the love of a pet.  Do not take for granted the love of any creature.

Do not take for granted.  Love.

 

 

 

 

 

Heartland

Nothing quite spells Kentucky like a sunny, down-home day at the horse races.  Even though I missed the Kentucky Derby by five months, I was fortunate enough to be in the Bluegrass State for the next best thing:  Keeneland Racetrack.  A student and friend treated me to an all-inclusive horse race experience for my birthday and I soon discovered, Kentuckians don’t horse around when it comes to race day.

We met our coach bus, aka–the Party Wagon, at the local watering hole around 10:45 am and already Bloody Mary’s and Screwdriver’s were being liberally poured out of two gi-normous coolers.  The coolers, snacks, plus 50 eager horse fans boarded the bus and we were underway; our bus winding through the back roads of horse country….God’s Country.

Against a backdrop of a pristine autumn blue sky, layers of orange, gold, vermilion and amber trees lined rolling, green pastures intersected into rectangles by perfect, stark-white fences.

Maybe it was one too many Screwdrivers, or perhaps the fact that I won $60 betting on a horse I’d never heard of.  (As if I’d heard of any of ’em, for that matter)  Maybe it was the smell of horse sweat and hay that dredged up a childhood obsession that started with unicorns and pegasus’, later traded for for the reality of strong steeds, so wild and so free, but I was hooked.  Hooked on horse culture, on bloodlines, stallions, mares, jockeys, the underdog and betting against the odds.

So hooked that I made it a point to sober up early in the afternoon so that I could go home and watch Disney’s, Secretariat, on NetFlix.

The story of a horse won in a coin toss that saved a floundering farm, united a family, and against all odds, went on to win the Triple Crown in one of the most famous horse-races of all time.  He not only won the race, as would be expected in a Disney film, but he won it by 31 full lengths at speeds never again seen before or after.  No one could deny he was special from the moment of his birth.  Not only did he possess speed and stamina, but there was heart in that horse.

And in the two hours that I spent on YouTube after watching the Disney movie, browsing actual footage of the race, plus interviews with his handlers, owners and trainers, like a little girl, I fell in love with that horse.

He has been dead since 1989, fathered over 600 foals and spent his days in retirement at Claiborne Farm, just outside of the Keeneland Race Track.  And when he was finally put down due to a hoof infection, the autopsy discovered that the heart of one of the greatest racehorses ever known was twice the size of a normal thoroughbred.  Twice the size.

I think when I discovered this fact, I was so inspired, my heart grew two sizes.  Imagine the amazing things you can accomplish when you allow your heart to be so open, so big, so full.  Imagine the possibilities if you allow your heart to expand exponentially with every experience, layer by layer…growing and growing, all-encompassing.  Instead of shutting down, closing off, withdrawing inward every time we experience a hurt or a loss or grief.

Imagine being flooded.  Overtaken with compassion, radiating joy from the center of your chest until the warmth presses out into the back of your skin and cannot, will not be contained by your epidermis any longer.  Imagine unconditional acceptance; the people you  may let in when you are overloaded with love and the wonders life may offer up, the judgments you might admonish, the peace that might overwhelm you.

Imagine, with a giant heart like that, in this gnarly race of life,  winning by 31 lengths.

Wishing you ridiculous, inordinate amounts of love.  Happy Holidays.

Sighs in Savasana

Somehow there are only four days left.  I can scarecly believe that “Yoga Camp” as we seemed to have coined the term, is almost over.  Nor can I figure out how to convey this experience to all of you with words.  I hardly expect you to believe my stories or fully understand the transformation.  It’s a Care Bear version of Lost (and then Found) and I don’t blame my dad for calling me Moonbeam in his email responses.  I suppose the “proof is in the pudding” and though I’m not sure I feel confident or knowledgeable enough to go out and start teaching yoga, I do feel confident to share myself to the world as a person.

We burnt our fears in a bonfire, watching crumpled up pieces of paper inked with our disappointments, regrets, demons and sadness turn into ash and then float away into the sky like the ghosts of lost souls.  I screamed out my anger at the waves, alone on the beach, my voice a mirror of their thunderous rhythmic crash, until I was empty, hoarse and light.

We spent one full day in silence and during this day we were scheduled to have a 5:15 am sunrise yoga class on the beach.  It was raining when the alarm went off and words were not needed to see “This is BULLSHIT!” written all over my face as I got dressed.  Trudging in a silent procession like a funeral march, we made our way through the cold and the damp to the shore.  I can’t say that I have ever practiced yoga in a bathing suit and rain coat until now.  My grumpiness and unease started to dissipate with the poses and rising sun and as it peeked its blushing face into the one patch of blue in a cloud-speckled sky, our instructor silently pointed behind us.  From end to colored end, a full and enormous of not one, but TWO rainbows arched across our village.  I have never witnessed a complete rainbow before, seen it in its entirety or marvelled in its end.  Though there was no pot of gold or dancing Leprechaun, nor did I react like the Double Rainbow Guy in the YouTube video, I did silently weep tears of gratitude.

I have been humbled repeatedly.  We make first-impression assumptions about people we meet and I have never been more acutely aware of really how little we know about someone.  Trish, with her sexual abuse.  Rob, having seen his buddies blown limb from limb in Afghanistan, found yoga to deal with PTSD.  Jen, a chemical engineer at the tender age of 22 , nearly died from Crohn’s disease.  She started taking yoga classes five years ago to help, only to discover recently that she has the same degenerative disease as her brother, which could eventually lead to the fusion of her spine.  We categorize, we rate and we judge and we know so little.  My tattoo means “strength through humility” and I have never fully grasped the importance of its meaning.  The importance of not making assumptions.  That the only really safe assumption is that usually when a person acts or reacts a certain way, it almost assuredly not about you.  Proud heart.  Humble chin.

I found my smile.  It comes easy, free and from the heart and doesn’t feel like my cheeks are glued to my gums.

For once I experienced true love on Valentine’s Day.  Love that doesn’t come from a Hallmark card or a lover or chocolate (although there WAS chocolate and I ate loads) but from that visceral, bloody beating muscle in the center of my chest.

I learned how to release a diaphragm–a technique developed by one of the top osteopaths in Canada and then taught to us by him.  Ask me to do it and you might take your first real breath of air.

I meditated.  I levitated.  Navigated from the psoas to sanskrit, peace to the patella.  I Yin ‘ed and I Yang’ed.  I Warrior One’d and I Warrior Two’d.  I took five minutes to mindfully walk a circle.  I mudra’d and I Mulabhanda-ed.  I travelled into the mystical tales of Shiva and Vishnu and pondered the rise of Kundalini.  I had my aura read and though she told me that in my past life I was a male fire-spinner in a circus circa 1851, I’m pretty sure that you all have clearance to call me Moonbeam from here on out.  Those hippies were really onto something.

Imagine all the politicians and CEO’s, the thinkers and the leaders, the scientists and the skeptics traded their black socks and their pressed business pants for a pair of fisherman pants and bare feet and went to Yoga Camp.  HA!!  Giggle.  I hope, at least, not to wear a bra for the rest of my travels.

As eager as I am to start teaching, I can’t imagine returning to reality before I’ve had a chance to process…to digest.  And I’m not talking about the lentils, chickpeas and brown rice that I’ve been eating for days on end.  Not to mention the cabbage farts that we all share.  This has to sink.  To take root.

So I’m grateful for the second leg of this adventure.  To surf and salsa my way through Central America with sharp perception and an open heart.

And until I can properly and adequately convey the magic of Yoga Camp, you’re going to just have to take my la-la word for it.

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