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Yoga and Politics - I'm With Her

Yoga and Politics: I’m With Her

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Every few years during the election cycle, my yoga-teaching friends and I found ourselves in a unique and rare place. We spoke freely on almost every topic most months of the year and around election time; we started clamming up. It was sort of an unofficial and unspoken agreement we had that in order to hold space for all of our students, it was necessary to keep quiet when it came to issues surrounding politics. To be frank, we are a mix of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents and it just always worked the best when we didn’t mix politics and yoga. For the last seven years, that has just been the way that it went.

I’m breaking that unspoken rule today. Last week I watched most evenings of the Republican National Convention. As an Independent voter turned Democrat raised in a Democrat/ Republican household and married to a Democrat raised by two very liberal parents, I was open to hearing the arguments. If I’m being honest, in the past, I enjoyed gleaning observations from the Republicans that I could use in a discussion with my husband when I thought he was too left-leaning.

On Thursday night, I drove home from Baltimore to Pittsburgh for a quick work trip which put my drive situated squarely in the middle of Donald Trump’s acceptance of the GOP’s nomination. I drove alone in the dark and listened to his speech. It felt Orwellian and terrifying and at times, like science fiction. I listened to him describe the continued need for separation. Alongside angry group chants of “build a wall, build a wall”, he continued to speak of his plan for closing off countries until we could vet the religions and intentions of those seeking to live in the United States. He called himself the “law and order” candidate and made promises no politician can keep regarding the “reform” of inner cities and education. And again this notion of “Make America great again”.

I just don’t know of which time period anyone is referring. Do you mean when slavery existed? Do you mean when women couldn’t vote? Do you mean when Carnegie and Frick waged class warfare against the labor unions? And you can blame Kennedy or Reagan or both, but was America great when mental health care “shifted” and as a country we dumped the mentally ill onto the streets with zero resources?

I believe we can find hate and we can find love in almost every moment of American history. I’m not interested in continuing to divide the country alongside the lines of hate. I’m not going to be stockpiling resources and food in the hopes that I’ll keep my loved ones safer than yours. I want us all to be safe. I want us all to make it. I don’t want to divide my neighbors into armed and unarmed.

My family was gifted several guns years ago and I asked the giver, very politely, to keep them. As someone who suffered through a decade of suicidal thoughts, I know better than to keep any guns in my home. I also know that in the event of some catastrophic war on the streets of the U.S., I’m not going to use any violence to keep myself alive and fed while you and your family suffer. We all make it or none of us makes it.

Call me naïve or idealistic. I run a free yoga program so it won’t be the first time that I’ve heard it.

None of us can afford to be quiet about the upcoming election in November. I love Bernie Sanders and I hope that we can take his message and energy and genuine care for the welfare of all Americans and include it in the Democratic Party. While I don’t agree with her on everything, I do think Hillary Clinton is brave and overly-qualified for the highest office in the land. I’m also aware that she’s made major mistakes with casualties. I’d challenge anyone to find someone working at her level who hasn’t made mistakes and bad choices. I believe that with Sanders’ historic run, the Clinton campaign has been forced into listening to issues that would’ve otherwise fallen by the wayside.

I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t excited about the upcoming historic acceptance speech by Clinton as the first female Presidential nominee for the Democratic Party. When I was a kid, my Barbies were Rockstar/Astronaut/Presidents and now for the first time, the President part doesn’t seem like the most far-fetched career choice.

I still believe that political opinions have no place inside a yoga class. You can wear a “Trump 4 Prez” tank top and I’ll continue to welcome you to class. My job is to hold safe space for all of my students and that remains un-changed. But, this time for the first year ever, I get to tell you; I’m with her.

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Glow Stick Meditation

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Eric Rosse said about Tori Amos – “Everyone goes through a phase where you want to be something you’re not.”

I’ve spent a larger portion of my life than I care to admit trying to be somebody else. It was no one specific. It was often “let me be anyone other than who I am”. It’s only within the last five years that I have begun to know who I am and not only accept it but also embrace it.

I have spent decades as a cynic. I have hidden for years in sarcasm and I have used it as a coping mechanism and a deflection. Being logical is, what I have told myself, adults do.

Slowly I’ve been shuffling off the sarcasm. It’s not easy and I definitely find my way back. More often than not, though, if I stay aware and in the joy of the moment, I can let sarcasm be. I can choose to be joyful. I can choose to be open. I can choose to embrace things that are light, silly, and not always logical.

I’ve been writing my first book of essays and meditations. I’ll be focusing on my book rather than my regular blog posts through the end of 2015. If I can’t find a publisher, I’ll self-publish it and promote it with some incredible yoga classes and events in and out of the country. (Friends in Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Switzerland, and Denmark – I’ll be in touch!)

I’m going to offer a sample of one of the meditations from my book on how to let go of these traits that you have taken on as your own that are not actually you. I call it a “glow stick meditation” as a reminder that you have your own light. You don’t need to compare or compete. You are enough. You glow.

 

 

Glow Stick Meditation

This is one of my favorites. When you’re feeling blah or uninspired, try this exercise and see if you can raise your energy level! Put on an upbeat song. Don’t think about it too much, just play something fun!
Stand up! Interlace your fingers at the base of your spine. (If this is not comfortable, hold onto the ends of a small towel or tee shirt with each hand.)
As you press your palms together, imagine that you are snapping a glow stick and feel that opening across the front of your chest. Close your eyes and visualize that initial crack of the glow stick as the opening of your energy. Now just like we need to shake a glow stick to make the chemicals mix and glow – you need to get all of the light and energy glowing and moving all across your body!
Release the interlacing of your fingers and reach your arms into the sky. Close your eyes and quickly shake your wrists from side to side (as if you are quickly screwing and unscrewing a lightbulb).
At the same time turn your head from side to side (as if you are shaking your head to indicate no).
Bend your knees one at a time to transfer weight quickly from one foot to the other.
Continue for the duration of the song and as you move picture your body filling up with bright, neon light. Choose any color you like! Let this light grow stronger as it infuses your limbs. Try to picture every atom of every cell in your body growing and buzzing with light and energy. Continue buzzing and moving throughout the duration of the song!
When the song is finished, come back to stillness while standing and press your hands together at your heart. Continue to let that buzzing energy move around your body. Find deep breaths in and out through your nose (your mouth can be slightly open if you have any congestion). Let these breaths ground you as you remember that this electric glow stick energy is yours to tap into at any time!

 

*The author does not present any exercises on this site as a treatment for any medical condition.  Please consult your wellness professional before using this or any other exercise.

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Baltimore Month Three: Consider This My Dissent

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For the past three months I have written a piece every time a new month passes in our new home in Baltimore. Today is the three-month mark of making Baltimore our new home. Today is five days after 25 year old Freddie Gray died after suffering a severe spinal injury while in police custody on April 12th. Freddie Gray is a black man who was arrested by Baltimore police after a foot chase. All that I have been able to find is that he was “arrested without force or incident” and that police claim he was carrying a knife which we haven’t seen and there are no claims that I’ve heard that he attempted to use it in any way.

I keep going over the published facts. I keep re-watching the video of his arrest. I keep looking for a reason why this man was even arrested, let alone taken down, and is now dead. I want to find a reason to look the other way, to stay distracted, to stay safe and isolated in Canton (which is the super-gentrified part of the city where we live). Here’s the truth: I can’t.

If white silence equals white consent, consider this my dissent. I didn’t feel like I had any license to write about Baltimore because I didn’t grow up here. What right does a white woman from Pittsburgh who lives in an affluent part of town have to write about a city from which she is mostly isolated? And then I remembered the events of Ferguson. And then I remembered that if we’re really all in this together like we keep saying that we are – then we all have to stand up and be counted.

We have to stand up and go to the places physically and mentally that are uncomfortable to say that we won’t stand for continued police brutality. We have to examine the way that we are approaching the work we do for our communities. Are we only doing in a way that is isolated? Are we doing more than writing checks and sending people to third world countries to teach yoga and build schools? That work is important for sure AND there is work of equal importance here that we don’t need to travel so far to find.

I want to write about this city in the future and tell you that it’s not divided into the Haves and the Have-Nots. I want to write about this city and tell you that things changed across America because people, all people, stopped distracting themselves and stood up to say that what happened to Freddie Gray in Baltimore in April of 2015 will no longer be tolerated.

I stand for peaceful protesting and I stand for the end of police brutality. I stand for accountability. I stand for all that is love and light in this world and in order for that to happen then I also stand for the end of violence, the end of intimidation, and the end of suspicion because of skin color.

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Learning to Flow

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To say I’m fiery is an understatement. I’m a hot-headed, anxious, impulsive, passionate, get-shit-done-yesterday Aries. It was never a shock to me that the style of yoga I first fell in love with was heated power yoga. Of course it was.

I subscribe to a gorgeous and whimsical magazine called Flow. It’s a Dutch publication, which is self-proclaimed as a magazine for paper lovers with a focus on creativity, mindfulness, and taking it slow. (Stay with me, I’m getting to the point. Promise.) I happened upon my first copy in a bookstore in December. I immediately back-ordered all of the issues and promptly subscribed to all future issues. I was really excited to put my new address on the subscription. Life was changing. We were moving and I had the new address to prove it.

After two weeks had passed and I had not received anything, I reached out via email. A kind and presumably Dutch man wrote to me in broken English that they had received my order and that it was processing. I waited and waited. Every day when I went to check the mail, I just knew it was going to be the day that all of my issues arrived. That day never came. The days were long and cold and I was uninspired and I was waiting for something that was going to change that.

After another two weeks, I reached out via email again. This time, a little less polite and a little more annoyed that I hadn’t received any of my magazines. After about 48 hours, a polite and again presumably Dutch woman told me that I should not be concerned unless I don’t receive my parcels within 2 months. 2 months! I ordered these magazine in January – was it really going to be March before I had these issues in my hand?

The weeks dragged on. I went to yoga. I accepted a job teaching yoga! I wrote a little. I cleaned often. I met a few people. I walked the city. I showed visitors around the city. I continued to bemoan that Baltimore wasn’t home and that it seemed like everything at home was going on without me.

Slowly, at the beginning of March, Flow began appearing in my mailbox. None of the issues were shipped together. Many arrived with a price tag on their covers and it seemed as though each back issue was hunted down from various bookstores and magazine shops in Holland.

One particular issue arrived soaking wet and many of the pages were unreadable. True to form, I fired off a polite but ultimately short-tempered email including a photo of the “ruined” copy and a sincerely sweet, possibly saintly woman responded that they would of course replace it. She gently suggested that I mention it to my postman to see that he takes more care when delivering the mail.

It’s been two months and I have received (and devoured and passed along) each copy of the magazine already. When I was home last week, I saw the latest issue for sale and true to form, even though it will be arriving in my mailbox sometime this coming month, I grabbed it and bought it.

I’ve had the magazine for 5 days now (including 2 hours at the airport) and I have only cracked open one page (upon which I scrawled the names of every arm balance that I taught to my yoga students on Sunday so that I could post it to all forms of social media) and then promptly threw the magazine back in my backpack to read later.

When I sat down to write about my two-month mark in Baltimore, I realized that I was late. The two-month mark happened while I was in Pittsburgh cramming as much teaching and socializing as possible into 5 days. Clearly, I didn’t need to wait two months to get my “issues”. I’m quick to anger, impatient, and driven to the point of seemingly competitive over-ambition. Upon returning home, people asked how it was to be home and I told them the truth. It was wonderful to see everyone and I also remembered why I was ready to leave as I was completely exhausted from the last 5 days.

A funny and really quite obvious thing has happened after years and years of practicing an intensely physical yoga practice – I’ve gotten strong. It takes way more work than it used to take to fatigue myself so that I can begin to drop into a place of mindfulness, to a place of slowing down. As I often remind anyone within earshot, I didn’t get into this practice to be an athlete. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t keep practicing like one, using my physical practice to burn away my over-analytical thoughts and fiery anxiety.

I had built my lifestyle in Pittsburgh into a “can’t-stop-won’t-stop” schedule. No one made me do it. I loved teaching there and so I piled on more and more yoga classes and events and got in the habit of saying yes to everything that fell under the umbrella of work.

After about 2 solid hours of physically and verbally breaking down arm balances on Sunday, I started to teach from a calmer place. My thoughts were slower and clear and I remembered why I had started practicing and teaching power yoga in the first place.

It’s probably going to be the end of summer by the time my next issue of Flow arrives and since it ships sloooooowly from Holland, it’ll probably arrive more than a little tattered. I hope by then that I have actually taken time to slow down. I hope that I haven’t over-scheduled my days just because I can. I have a feeling that I have a lot to learn from a magazine written by terrifically patient Dutch people.

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Baltimore: Month 1 OR (What I was Going to Do Vs. What I Actually Did)

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Tomorrow will mark the 4 week mark for my move to Baltimore. It’s been 4 weeks since I taught my last Pittsburgh yoga class, packed my belongings, and said goodbye to my friends and family. Here’s what I’ve actually done for the last 4 weeks in writing with no glossy filters.

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What I Was Going To Do: I thought I was going to write. Every day. In a great local coffee shop populated with artists and local eccentrics that quickly warmed to me and welcomed me into their group.

What I Actually Did: I wrote. Scrawled every few days into a journal. One morning I got a coffee at a local coffee shop while I sadly attempted to make the barista my friend.  One morning I bought a man who was home from deployment breakfast while he told me about his family in California. Most mornings I run over to Dunkin Donuts and quickly bring a large coffee home to drink while I call my Mom.

WIWGTD: Decorate our new place! We were going to have a space so clean and warm that we could have friends over at a moment’s notice.  Our adult loft was going to finally reflect the successful and sophisticated adults we are!

WIAD: Decorate our new place! But barely. I sit on the floor. I love that our place is filled with great light and hardwood floors so I bought 2 great area rugs, some stools for our counter, and a few pieces of art for the walls and then just stopped. After seeing a photo, my friend texted me that it looks like a yoga studio. It does. I like it that way. It’s very clean and when you visit we may not have furniture. Deal with it.

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By the way, when are you coming to visit? And if you do visit, please do not expect me to actually know where you are. I’ve been here 4 weeks and I don’t get out much yet… That brings me to my next point.

WIWGTD: I was going to explore! Every nook and cranny of this new city was just waiting for me to find it. I was going to wake early every morning and after I finished canoodling with all of my new artist friends, I was going to trek around this city and learn it!

WIAD: It’s cold here. Like some days it’s wear a pair of jeans over my yoga pants cold. If I see myself in the same grey slouchy winter hat one more time…  I have done a little exploring, mostly with my husband or solo on the rare warm day. I’ve done some of the touristy things… the National Aquarium, the Visionary Museum, been to Federal Hill, a couple of Poe locations, and ate crab cakes all over the place. I have almost daily visited the Harris Teeter (grocery store) and the Target across the street. I’m no adopted local yet. I almost cried when I had to surrender my PA license for my MD one. (It has a crab on it.)

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WIWGTD: I was NOT going to be a workaholic. This was a big one for me. I have kept myself incredibly busy teaching yoga for the past 6 years and I loved every minute of it. Especially the part where I get to tell you how busy I am! That was maybe my favorite deliciously-make-myself-feel-important part!

WIAD: I am NOT a workaholic. I have NOT earned one dime this month. I am zero okay with that. I miss the days of being scheduled within an inch of my life. I miss planning coffee dates months in advance. I miss telling you how busy I am and feeling so important for being that busy!

What I am going to do next:  I miss my friends and my family and my city. But more than anything, I miss teaching yoga. I don’t plan on squandering my time. I gave myself February to get adjusted, to land, to wallow and March brings a new start. In fact, right after I post this, I’ve got a new start.

I swallowed my pride and auditioned to teach yoga in a new studio. I will be starting a weekly teaching schedule very soon. I’m planning more retreats (some solo), and more workshops. Not because my identity hinges on being a yoga teacher. I’ve grown to realize that it doesn’t. (I wasn’t sure for a while.)

Learn my city. Hopefully March will bring warmer temperatures and either way I’ll actually force myself to learn more (not just the Instagram-mable pretty parts).

If I snubbed you for coffee over the last 6 years, I’m sorry. Hopefully putting that open apology out there will bring coffee date friends my way.

*OF NOTE:
Thank you to lululemon Harbor East for asking me to teach for your staff meeting. It may have been a small kindness for you but the fact that you extended it to me meant so much and I hope I didn’t come off too strong when after we said Namaste – I asked you all to find me on social media, or let me buy you a coffee or tea sometime. But seriously, you need a caffeine fix and I need new friends so how about it?

 

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Goodbye Pittsburgh

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2015 is the year that I’m going to be great at goodbyes. You see, I have to be great at goodbyes. After nearly 36 years of calling Pittsburgh home, I’m following my husband to Baltimore at the end of the month.

I’ve lived here all of my life (except for 9 months when I lived in Philly but my friend, Catherine, says it doesn’t count unless it’s at least a year and she’s really wise so I’m inclined to believe her).

Packing has not been easy. We’ve been on the cusp of the move for months and have had to keep it quiet (not my strong suit). In the meantime, I’ve been donating and gifting my possessions as quietly as I could. We’ve downsized in major ways. Our goal is to head to Baltimore at the end of the month in one used red Ford Focus, with a few bags, our rescued cat, and us. (Technically, Paul will go early to start his new job and I will follow after teaching all of my yoga classes this month and we’ll get our cat from my parents after we’ve found a place to live. Details.)

I’m so lucky that I have been able to call Pittsburgh home. I’m inspired by people who are passionate, real, and hard working – this city is full of those people. My parents still live here in West Mifflin and Pittsburgh will truly always be home.

We’re really excited to explore a city we don’t know! I can’t wait to check out the yoga and art scene in Baltimore. I’ll finally write that book that I’ve been talking about for years. Crabs and beer for dinner? Don’t mind if we do!

I’ll be back to visit though! I’m co-leading yoga retreats and workshops out of Pittsburgh that are already scheduled for this Spring. Like I said, Pittsburgh will always be home.

So I have a month to get great at goodbyes. I’ll be teaching the rest of the month while we continue to pack and visit with as many friends as possible. Come and get great at goodbyes with me. No promises though. I’m going to cry. I’m a crier. I might make you cry. It’s fine.

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The Rise of the Ariels

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I keep seeing the meandering, doe-eyed, ethereally lovely boho yoga goddess. She’s lithe and seems unfazed by most things. She Pinterests vacation trips to see fluorescent fish and she doesn’t even appear to own a comb. She seems to maybe run the occasionally errant vintage fork through her amazing waist-length Ariel in the Little Mermaid style hair.

She appears to have an all-access pass to everything Free People stocks. What she hasn’t found there, she has gleaned from some vintage store I’ve never seen. Oh and she makes her own organic vegetable dyes for some hand-sewn clothes as well! The sun naturally highlights her hair while she’s outside practicing yoga or surfing. She’s pro-everything light and love. She doesn’t share an opinion that’s controversial.

The modern boho Ariel is so busy being lovely and magical that she doesn’t take anything on. She is a princess. She won’t challenge the status quo because that’d be icky. She lives in a fairy tale and when shit gets real – she doesn’t engage.

She’s on the side of love. We know. We get that. She’s on the side of animals. She’s on the side of the environment. That is where we all stood when we were five.

I want to know where she stands on Ferguson. I want to know what she thinks about police brutality. How does she suggest we transform that?

How do we find out what the boho Ariel actually thinks? Do we even care?

If the modern bohos won’t engage then their opinions won’t actually be heard. We cannot just share our recipes for smoothies, links for fair-trade yoga pants, and snapshots of yoga photos.

Can we stop embracing this pseudo-new stereotype of a woman whose focus is again on her looks, her softness, her ability to not make waves? How can we encourage all of the bad-asses to stand up off of their yoga mats and be heard and trust that they are still yogis? I want to encourage us to go further than snapping and sharing photos of quotes about peace. I’m all for peace and furthermore I’m all for opinions and solutions created by strong thinkers who practice compassion and empathy.

Stand up ladies and use that thing-a-ma-bob: your voice.