embodied recovery

To be on Monhegan is to be surrounded by sea. Twelve miles off the coast, there is only ocean. Blue touching blue, water and sky seamlessly seeping into and becoming an endless one. On the backside, the headlands plunge downwards into icy, turbulent pools from which no one has ever been rescued. And yet from these elements so brutal, there emerges solace and community ~ the possibility of meeting life on life’s terms, trust in the fullness of what could be, and patience in the process, to come to believe. It is on this island, that life becomes illuminated, stripped only to what is essential, merging into the alimental, nurturing and healing. On Monhegan I learned to embrace all of who I am, to no longer merely tread water and believe that was a life. On Monhegan I found the courage to speak, and ultimately the strength to swim, finding my way inshore.

finding your practice

Sixteen years ago, I “found” yoga at the recommendation of my primary care physician. Diagnosed with scoliosis in early adolescence, I believed my current chronic low back pain was directly correlated to being the mother of two small children: first the physical carrying of them in utero, and then the subsequent nestling of them upon my hip. However instead of being handed a referral, my doctor offered a suggestion. ”You know, I’ve been reading that yoga can help alleviate pain. Why don’t you give it a try first, before seeing an orthopedist?”

In 2001, there were not yet yoga studios on every street corner; in fact, there were only two in all of Rochester, NY. I based my criteria solely upon choosing a studio that was close to my home, and that offered classes that fit my schedule. While my beginning postures were wobbly, they became more fluid, and I became stronger through the process of practice, learning through repeatable actions that began to carry over into my life off of my mat. I don’t think my physician knew that his simple suggestion would transpire into a new path of my own making, as a student, as a teacher, as a trainer of teachers, traveling to the temples of South India, working with children in the brothels of Delhi. I certainly could never have imagined this life. And yet, all of these experiences have become the yoga that I practice and that is interwoven into the life I live.

What inspires one person to begin a yoga practice can be completely unique from someone else’s journey. I think the good news is that it truly is all there, but with so much to chose from, the question becomes, where and how to begin?

Finding a yoga class that meets your needs is comparable to standing in front of a bountiful buffet; the choices are seemingly endless.  Are you searching for comfort food? Try a restorative yoga class. Something spicy? Perhaps a hot and sweaty Bikram class will do the trick. The beauty of the buffet is that everything is there for you to choose from, but it can be difficult to know from which end to begin, or to discern what choices will leave you feeling vibrantly full, rather than nauseous or overindulged.

When potential new students approach me, I encourage them to ask themselves what it is they are interested in experiencing from a yoga class? Are they primarily looking for an exercise class, or to improve their flexibility or balance? Are they looking for meditation to be incorporated into the practice?

Whatever the answer I encourage them to do some research, before attending a class, and ARRIVE EARLY to introduce themselves to the teacher. If you are recovering from an injury, or if you have any limitations, your instructor will want to know so they can assist you accordingly. A good teacher will be able to help a student modify their movements accordingly, allowing them to work safely to their appropriate ability.

Don’t be afraid to try different teachers, different studios, and different styles. Discover how each makes you feel. Returning to the buffet metaphor, would you like to go back for seconds of what you just sampled, or would something else be more palatable?

The gift of yoga is that it is intended as a practice, and a practice takes time, especially as you learn to feel your body in a completely new and experiential way. While this can be frustrating to new students, yoga is about you working in relationship to yourself, with your body, on a particular day. Frankly, some days are just better than others. Regardless, every time I practice I am reminded that our bodies as living, breathing entities are simply spectacular. So I show up, and the yoga becomes my map to make meaning, a space where I can both dive deeper, and see what unfolds.

this entry was first featured on mat chat for JUJA Active

first stone

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The shape of the stone nestles into the palm of my hand; its smooth contours a reminder of its island origins, twelve miles off the coast of Maine. Plucked from the many along the shores of Pebble Beach, this stone has become my garlic rock. You might confuse the stone for a quail's egg, until with a casual flick of my wrist, it smashes down upon a garlic claw, crushing the clove, shedding its paper white skin. This stone does not yield under my weight. Instead, it is the clove that splinters often leaving greasy traces upon its porous surface. Speckled egg. Unbreakable. The garlic takes on a new form as it mixes with coarse salt on the scarred wooden board; I rub the two textures together, becoming something entirely unto itself. First destruction, then creation, my stone marks the boundaries of what begins, and what too shall end.

 

speaking up

Voice is complicated, although it seems so utterly natural. Sound expressing desire as uniquely one's own. And yet the act of speaking, of finding words, or rather finding the right words, doesn't always flow from my mouth. I think of a work by the artist Ann Hamilton (although I cannot recall its name) of a mouth. Just a mouth. Lips, teeth, tongue. A mouth filled with marbles that roll and rock and clatter utterances all their own. Sound blocking guttural sound.

How many years have I too felt the coldness of those marbles within my mouth, constricting thoughts, emotions from deeply within? How long have I lived with the fear that if I dare engage my authentic voice that I risk choking, or swallowing myself whole. 

It has always been easier for me to speak my voice with written letters, creating words with form rather than understood as resonant sound. Words flowing onto lined note paper, building layer upon inky layer. But words uttered ~ the act of speaking up for myself? Well, that is another story.

 

the courage to write

Isabel Allende had to publish three novels before she felt comfortable putting writer rather than housewife in the space for Occupation when filling out a form. Writer is "such a big word," explained Allende.

Ralph Keyes 

invisibility/performativity


Take a "City Walk" tour of the Delhi railway station and backstreets bustling with daily activity. Get a look at Indian city life as few outsiders do, led by your English-speaking guide, a former street child who lived in the train station. Visit Salaam Balaak trust, a non-profit organization working to save runaway and abandoned children from the hardships of life on the street.

How do we present ourselves to the world? As I try to digest the sights and sounds of this first full day, over and over, this question reverberates within ~ how do we play the edge between appearing, and disappearing? 

We are met outside of the train station by our guide, Iqbal. At the age of five, his father simply walked away from him in his village market, never to return, and the "aunt" and "uncle" who claimed him put him to work, then physically abused him when his work was not enough. What compels a five year-old to believe his life would be better were he to board a train, bound for anywhere, rather than to stay put? There is nothing in my life, as a mother or a daughter, that could have prepared me for this. 

Invisibility was Iqbal's armor, his protection from government authority, from other children and pimps, all preying off of the other for the sake of their own survival. But, as a child who was saved, he now skillfully walks us down narrow streets, then up three flights of stairs until we are at doors of one of Salaam Balaak's five shelters. It is in these rooms that a different picture emerges. I am confronted with  boys all vying, through their actions or their voices, to be photographed, to be physically in the picture. We shake hands, we exchange names. Whether purely a performance for attention in the moment, whether my presence conditions and contributes to their frenetic actions, I bear witness to children that demand to be seen. 



Fifteen minutes later, it is all over. In silence, we descend the staircase, squeezing disinfectant into our hands, wiping away the human touch, or possibly sanitizing the experience itself? 

As a visitor to India, I try not to draw unnecessary attention to myself. Respectfully, I pin back my hair; I dress in traditional clothing, modestly covered from my shoulders to my ankles. And yet, as a tall, Caucasian, blond woman, how can I be anything other than other? Within this paradox, I take comfort that if I can only be seen as exactly who I am, then let me embrace the possibility of being my whole self. Let my voice be not a performance, let the identity that I construct be one that is authentic and meaningful. Welcome to India. 



* I fully recognize that my reflections, and the luxury to have the time for such contemplations, are a gift of my life circumstances. It is my hope that this recognition will not act as a shield, but rather allow me to see with greater clarity.





dropping back, letting go

And then there is the art of letting go. Being moved to surrender is an act of grace.

Tamar Adler
An Everlasting Meal




If you had told me eleven years ago, when I first stepped onto my mat that I would someday find myself in the seat of the teacher, or preparing for a third trip to India, I would have said you were crazy. For me, asana began as an escape. A physical escape from waking at 5:30 in the morning only to climb aboard a treadmill; an emotional escape from watching the relentless, electronic images of the twin towers falling again, and again. However, as my practice began to unfold, I began to receive something more: permission first to turn inside, and then to trust in being and becoming myself. 

And so today I begin a journey to a place as utterly familiar to me, as it is unknown. Traveling with six other women, I am en route to New Delhi, Mumbai, and to rural communities surrounding Kohlapur. I will be guided through the back streets of Delhi and into the brick kilns where children are still forced into bonded labor. Wherever it takes me, I am dropping back, I am letting go. 

India is calling...






becoming real

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become REAL."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive.

But the skin horse only smiled.

Margery Williams
The Velveteen Rabbit

you want so desperately for your child to be a great kid, just like you, mature, conscious, and cool - you in another body. at the very least, you want your children to have good manners.

Anne Lamott
Imperfect Birds

she felt as if everything she did was in halves: half a mother, half a teacher, half a woman....

Alice Hoffman
The Story Sisters