Saturday, April 18, 2015

Girl at the Grinder: Meet Jackie the Boot-fitter. Part one of a series on Women in Skiing.

Last month, I drove to Park City to ski with a client for a few days. While I was there, I had new boots fit by Master Bootfitter Brent Amsbury, a true magician at his craft. He has been in business for over a decade and his little shop has grown from his garage to a small one-room outfit, to a bustling business called Park City Ski Boot where he outfits much of the Park City ski team as well as instructors, competitors and recreational skiers from all over the world. He has also done something unusual in his industry, he has hired a female bootfitter. And she's fierce, talented, and dedicated. 

Jackie Reis of Park City Ski Boot

Watching Jackie with the customers while I was being foamed myself by Brent, I knew I had to ask how she overcame the obstacles of being mistaken for the “girl that answers the phones” to being respected as a professional bootfitter. She was happy to sit down with me for an hour or two while the feeling came back into my toes.

Kate: Hi there. Why don't we start with you introducing yourself.

Jackie: Okay, so I am Jacqueline Reis.  I go by Jackie. 

Kate: How did you get involved in boot fitting?  Tell me the story.

Jackie: When I was growing up, my dad fit my boots when I was ski racing. and then two years ago, I met bootfitter Matt Schiller at Mount Hood.  I started working for Matt at Mountain Summer Ski Camps, and one of my friends was his intern, so I had already been hanging out at the Atomic house where they worked. Eventually, Matt moved to Park City and was doing a fit night for Park City ski team, and I had also moved to Park City where I was coaching the ski team. I ran into Matt at the fit night, and he asked me if I wanted a part-time job.   Initially I came in to do every-day maintenance; computer cleanup, and then Matt told me that I was going to learn how to punch and grind and start learning the skills. I was kind of part-time on the computer, part-time learning, and then, this year I said, “I want to fit full-time.”

Kate: Did you have interest in boot fitting before you got the part-time job or it was being in the environment really spark your interest in becoming a fitter?

Jackie: It was not something that I actively pursued as a career before I got this job, but I had always had an interest in it.  I had found it fascinating when my dad was doing my fitting.

Kate: So what aspect of what your dad did with you that you found most interesting?

Jackie: Both my parents coached skiers, and I grew up in a very skiing-oriented family. It was nice to have something else that I could connect with my dad, and I thought what he was doing was really cool at that time.  I was 12 or 13, and he was measuring me, looking at my canting and doing all these other things to help me be a better skier.

Kate: Did you have that kind of moment of skiing insight ever with your dad’s fitting where you weren’t skiing as well or to your potential, and then a fit changed the way that you were skiing or matched your skiing, or have you experienced that yourself as a skier, with your dad or with Brent or anybody else?

Jackie: You know, for me, I don’t think that anything as far as canting really did that, but as far as comfort level, especially now with coaching, standing around a lot more, and even as a racer being comfortable, I mean, you are still looking for that high-performance fit, but there is going to be a comfort factor there. It’s a really fine line. You go too far one way or the other, you can make someone unhappy but perform well. I'd like to do both. Comfortable and performing their best.

Kate: When you said you wanted to fit full-time, and then you started to move towards that, what drew you to it?  Why did you want to fit full-time?

Jackie: I became more interested in it last year as I was learning the little skills, and it was really fascinating to me that it is a combination of science and art. I got really into it. I did a clinic with Brent at Wintersteiger BD, Intro to Bootfitting, and a lot of skills were things that Brent and Matt had already taught me, but I learned a lot more at the clinic.

Kate: So, as you move forward in your career, are you interested in continuing boot fitting... 

(Brent walks in)

Kate:  I am sorry, your boss is here. Maybe I should wait to ask this question?

Jackie: Oh, no, that’s fine.  Ha, ha, ha.

Kate: Are you interested in diving further into it?

Jackie: For sure.

Kate: What kind of classes or certifications do you have to take to further your career?  

Jackie: [I learn a lot here as an apprentice.] I think that the skills are a little bit more traditional when they are taught in a clinic. When Brent taught the Winterstieger clinic, he was talking to us about the foot anatomy in pronation, supination, kind of technical terms, but then we do a lot of hands-on, made foot beds, and he showed us and then everybody did one… so I was making foot beds.

Kate: Was that scary?

Jackie at the grinder, shaping foot beds at Park City Ski Boot

Jackie: At first it was really scary.  I was like, “Oh, my God.  Let me out!” I feel like I am getting more comfortable with every fitting.  I feel like I can talk more about the boots and about what the person needs and this is what I am seeing.

Kate: Are you seeing it faster?

Jackie: Yes for sure. Brent and I actually did a fit together on Friday, and it was cool to sit back and listen to him. 

Kate: It’s like standing next to the head coach.

Jackie: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Kate: Did you have in your journey so far a real A-HA moment where you suddenly understood, you had a shift in your understanding of what you are doing and how it affects the client?  And if so, what was that?

Jackie: Probably the second or third full fit that I did on my own where I went through the whole process from measurement through the foot bed and the final fitting and handed the client their boots and said, “Here you go, go and try them.” I think it was more of a confidence thing than anything else. Even getting feedback from people saying, “Here are your boots.  Go try them.”  They come back in.  They go, “Yeah, this worked great and need a little bit more here…” 

Kate: So let’s talk about the elephant in the room.

Jackie: Okay.

Kate: What is it like to be a chick in the boot-fitting world?

Jackie: Pretty much like being a chick in any other part of the ski industry.  (Laughs.) A lot of guys have a lot of ego, I mean not so much here at Park City Ski Boot, but in the industry in general. I have noticed that with coaching and just dealing with, even male customers who come in look at me and go, “No, I don’t…  Where is Brent?  Where is Matt? I need a male to talk to.”

Kate: Have people said that to you?

Jackie: Not directly, but some are just looking at me and moving on…

Kate: How do you handle that?  What do you do with it?

Jackie: I am not going to lie. It hurts personally. Any person is going to feel that when somebody looks at you and doesn’t know anything about you and just automatically rejects you because you are female. But I don’t really take it too seriously anymore…

Kate: Are you able to cope with it more easily as you go on?

Jackie: Yes, my confidence is growing, and I know what I know and just because they don’t take the time to understand that I know what I’m doing, it is not taking anything away from me.

Kate: I watched it this afternoon.  Right?  The guy was sitting there, and you were like, “Okay, let’s get you fit.”  And he said, “Oh, it’s you!”

Jackie: Yeah.  (Laughs.)

Kate:  And there was this moment, he walked up and sat down, you said, “Right, put your foot here, blah, blah, blah…” and he kind of had to get over it, and then you could get on with the fitting. What does that feel like to you to step into it and sort of be, “I am the boot fitter.”?

Jackie: There is something empowering when you are just kind of like, “Look, I am ready to go…”  I know I feel like I have gotten so used to it because I have been in the ski industry for a couple of years now, and that’s how I grew up, with some really strong female role models.  My mom - clearly she is my biggest role model. It has been “it is what it is.”  I know what I know.  I love skiing, and I am here to promote the sport, so take it as you will.

Kate: It was cool to watch you do it because it seemed to me like rather than talking about it or apologizing or any of the other avenues that you could take, you really just walked across and did your job. And he really kind of had no choice. 

Jackie: I think that’s something, if we don’t really give people the option to be like, “Oh, no…”  And if you are putting out confidence, then they kind of don’t have a choice.


Kate: That sort of goes toward erasing the gender differences, right, in boot fitting?

Jackie: Yes for sure. 

Kate: What might, if any, be an advantage to being a female boot fitter?  Do you think that your gender brings any sort of bonuses?

Jackie: Hmm, I think as far as fitting female clients, that’s a huge thing as far as the comfort level, and you know, like we talked about, like, “Oh my feet, I am so self-conscious,” so there is that, and just…  I think I just bringing another perspective to it. I think if you only have one perspective, then you are only going to get so far.

Kate: When you collaborate with one of the guys in the shop, do you feel like you are able to solve problems by coming from different perspectives? 

Jackie working with a client at Park City Ski Boot
Jackie: Yeah, I think I am still green and I take away a lot more than I have to offer right now, but I learn a lot. And I want to help and if I see things, I will point them out, and I will say, you know, “This looks like a good shape for this punch” or something like that.

Kate: What do you think about the future of women in boot fitting? Do you want to promote other women to come in and joint it? What happens if you find yourself as eventually as an ambassador for ski boot fitting?

Jackie: It would be sweet.

Kate: Would you feel comfortable in that role, encouraging more women?

Jackie: Yeah for sure!

Kate: And what about if they run into issues with, you know, gender in the locker room as it were, what kind of advice would you give to somebody who feels really passionate about boot fitting or how important it is, but feels reticent because of that, what would you say to somebody?

Jackie: You know, I would say, “Stick to your guns and be true to who you are.”

Brent: You know, I have a few things to say. I wish there were more women boot-fitters. Even though it is a somewhat male dominated sport, men don’t have the empathy that women have from their emotional development…

Jackie:     (laughs in agreement)

Brent: And we actually have probably less skiers today…. because we don’t have enough women boot fitters, because we don’t have as much empathy with the misery and the pain of getting equipment setup. And I think also guys would be happier if there were more women boot fitters because their wives would be happier skiers… They would get better boot fittings from someone whom they would trust more to listen to them, and therefore, we don’t have the guys because a lot of guys don’t get as much ski time because their wives…

Jackie: They are unhappy.

Brent: Because they are unhappy and pissed off. “This sport sucks, I am going to Florida.”

Kate and Jackie: (laugh in agreement)

Brent: I think that if there is a way we could promote more women into boot fitting as a legitimate career, it would be a huge boost to the skiing industry…

Kate: Ski industry in general.  I would agree with that and I would have to say too, as we are talking, two things occur to me.  The first thing is that it is interesting to me that Brent can say because women have empathy, but then it is difficult for Jackie as the female boot fitter who is coming up to say, because I can have empathy that a guy can’t have.

Jackie: That’s true.

Kate: And that’s maybe…  I mean that’s pretty typical of women who are in male dominated industries because part of our job is to be tough enough to belong.  Right?

Jackie: Right, that’s for sure.

Kate: But then when Brent was saying that, it makes me think too if you have someone who comes up and really understands what they are doing and also has that empathetic connection…

Brent: Yes.

Kate: How fantastic might she be fitting a high-end male skier because she can understand him that way.  Right?  Or how might that skill set transfer back and forth in your shop where she is welcome and mentored, you know.

Brent: Absolutely.

Kate: You can realize, “Oh, she is connected in a way that this other person isn’t.”  You know, Jackie is learning one skill set and maybe your male boot fitters are learning her empathy.

Brent: I would like to know why women look at boot fitting as maybe something they are not interested in or they don’t think about it.  Maybe they look at it as it’s too physical, yet it’s not. It’s maybe they are fearful of the emotional appearances of ski boot fitting. You know, that it is male dominated, and there is all this tradition that’s been handed down year after year in this industry, but you know it would be great to see those boundaries broken down and all those fears dispelled because we could use change in the ski industry all the way across the board.

Kate: Brent, you are revolutionary in your thinking. Jackie, it sounds like you are in good hands! Good luck to you and thanks for talking to me today!

Thanks to Brent and Jackie for allowing me to interview them. Photos by Brent Amsbury.

Follow Highland's Patrolman and Type 1 Diabetic Mark Yaeger as he solo thru hikes the Appalachian Trail this summer.

Hello everyone! I wanted to update you that my friend Mark Yaeger left TODAY to begin what is sure to become an epic adventure. He will be thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, 2600 miles over 5 1/2 months.

This in and of itself is quite a feat. What makes is all the more exciting is that Mark is overcoming a significant obstacle along the way. Mark has Type 1 Diabetes, and he will be doing this thru-hike solo.

The Appalachian trail, stretching from Georgia to Maine, where Mark will finish at his own front door in Maine.
In Mark's words...


 I’m a 36 year old professional ski patrolman at Aspen Highlands in Colorado. In 2005,  I developed Type 1 diabetes. Along with the known physical complications and constant difficulty in properly managing the disease, it had another effect on me that proved to be even tougher: It diminished, on a fundamental level, my self-confidence and the belief I once had in my ability to persevere and overcome obstacles and challenges. Having grown into young-adulthood healthy and active, I felt as though I was resigned to living within parameters, as I was faced with the reality of daily medication and inconsistent health.

  I've worked hard to improve my health in a demanding lifestyle, and have been slowly rebuilding the confidence to really challenge myself.
  For years, I've had the dream of "thru-hiking" the Appalachian Trail. Having grown up in northern Maine, I wanted to complete the entire trail and finish, literally, at my front door. After 2005, I had all but given up on the idea, but have finally reached a point at which, I feel, I can make it a reality. 

Mark with some of the generously donated Marmott gear.

Mark's story has been picked up by Outside Magazine, and he is being supported with generous donations of gear from Marmott, Black Diamond, Big Agnes, ULA Ultralight Packs, Frio Diabetic Coolers and hundreds of individual donations at his GoFundMe site. Mark is also associate with the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation and all the funds that he raises off his GoFundMe site which are above and beyond his expenses will go to help find a cure for Type 1 Diabetes.

You can follow Mark's progress over the next six months right here at Skiing in the Shower, where his Tumblr feed is embedded in the sidebar of this blog. Feel free to leave Mark encouraging notes along the way, or share your own stories of overcoming or living with type 1 Diabetes.

You can also visit Mark's GoFundMe site here: http://www.gofundme.com/markyaegerAT and help donate to his walk and to funding a cure for Type 1 Diabetes.

Bon Voyage, Mark, here's to a lengthy and amazing adventure, we are excited to follow along with you!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Can you get Happier?

There are memes everywhere that say it... "The hardest part is starting." "Just let go of what doesn't seem fair." "Haters gonna hate, we rise above." 
While some of these are funny, and some are inspiring, many of them are just... frustrating. Because they lack one key element. HOW?
How do we follow this advice, how do we weave these old sayings and inspirations into our every day lives? How do I let go and still stay focused and diligent? How can we find our passion, in order to follow it? How can we escape the tyranny of what we "SHOULD" be doing, or even worse, who we "should" be?
I believe the first step in this process is letting go of needing to have a perfect end point. "When I cross my list off, then I will feel happy." "When I have 10,000 (or 10,000,000) in the bank, then I will know I have succeeded and I will be happy."
The problem is not in setting the goal of saving money or getting things done. Let's do that. Let's make a college fund, and send our kids to camp, and finish school and train to stand on the top of the podium at that next bike race. But let's also learn that it is the process of becoming Happier along the way that makes success so sweet, it is not the standing on the podium that makes us truly happy. That happiness is momentary, fleeting, and not grounded in the evolution of ourselves. 
What if in keeping your goal, and dedicating yourself to it, you became a more compassionate, more connected person, who was just happier, along the way? 
Keep your goal. We are a driven society, us humans. We like to compete, to succeed and to measure that success. Just make sure you don't lose yourself in the process by mistaking that Happiness is a destination that comes from your success in achieving your goal. 
So, how to get happier? I could post a meme that says "Its about the journey, not the destination." Which doesn't really help, as there's no instructive quality that tells you that if you use the destination as a signpost so you know which way you are going, and you fall in love with all the steps along the way, you just might be on the path to feeling happier. Not happiest. Not happy. Just happiER.
Want to learn more about the nuances of a happier, more fulfilling daily existence? Come to Happier! A week long retreat on the beautiful island of Koh Samui, Thailand May 30-June 6 for an immersive experience that gives you the tools you need to grow in happiness. 
Want to have Kate come speak at your place of work, or event? Kate delivers inspirational talks that leave the audience with real world tools to take back to the workplace, improving communication, conflict resolution, and performance under pressure, whether on the sporting pitch or in the office.
email katehowe@mac.com for more information.  

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Road to 2016 National Alpine Team Tryouts

Hello friends and family and ski buddies from around the world!

I have just returned from my last ski event of the year, the E1 Selection process. It was an incredible and intense couple of days on snow with some of the top instructors in our division, and I was really happy with my results. (Prepping for Day 2 of examiner selection for the RM Division on-snow. My best event yet, and even better because the team trying out was incredibly strong. )

I was not selected to work as an examiner, but I was happy to go to the tryout and give a strong showing. I'm very very proud of SIX good friends who were selected to the Ed Staff, they were inspirational to ski with and fun to train with. As usual, I'm blown away by the strong sense of community in this sport. 

I'm happy to say that my feedback was that I was close to getting selected, and I received strong support from the selectors to continue on my quest for further selections next year. I have work to do in my skiing, and in order to accomplish that, I need to be stronger, more fit, and have more time on snow.

My training so far is paying off, and in order to continue on that path, my training will only increase in intensity from here!

If you would like to be a part of that quest, please leave an encouraging comment or help by contributing toward covering the overall training expenses from September 2015 to the tryouts in April 2016. 

Follow this link to contribute: http://www.gofundme.com/katesteam2016

Please do not feel obligated to contribute, and know that encouraging words mean just as much to me as helping ease the burden on the major sponsors who have been helping me achieve my goals thus far!

If you have friends or family who would like to be a part of this adventure, please feel free to pass this link along. At this time, I am only sharing it directly by email and from my blog, skiingintheshower.com as opposed to openly on social media.

Thanks very much for your time, energy and for all the support over the last eight years!

Kate Howe

A little more about the journey:
(Candidates and Selectors during the 2012 PSIA National Alpine Team Selection)

As many of you know, since 2006 I have had the dream and trained toward becoming a member of our PSIA National Alpine Instructor Team. 

The first six years of training included taking over a dozen pre requisite clinics, driving all over the West, sleeping in my truck and passing four levels of certification in both the Rocky Mountain and Northern Rocky Mountain division. 

It was only through the generous sponsorship of the ski companies that support  me and many other instructor athletes (Blizzard/Tecnica, POC Helmets and Armor, Leki Poles, Strafe Outerwear, Gibbon Slacklines), and the combination of contributions from individual donors (and one major donor without whose support I would not have been able to recover from major spine surgery and find myself on the snow at the 2012 tryout just six months post surgery.) that I have been able to come as far as I have.

And I'm not alone. This is a journey that hundreds of ski instructors embark on, a journey of at least a decade (that's on the short side.) This is an endeavor of training and dedication that is entirely funded by grass roots efforts, friends and family.  

My feedback at the 2012 National Tryout was "We'd like to hire you. Please try out again next time, and please work on your skiing until then!"

This year, after I returning from India with my family in December of 2014, I had identified areas of weakness that I needed support in in order to overcome some obstacles on the journey. They were overall core strength, explosive strength in the hips and legs, mental performance during clutch situations, and depth of technical understanding.

(Ethan in Mysore, India, demonstrating Pascasana, a second series Ashtanga posture.)

I spent some serious soul searching time deciding if I was physically, mentally, and emotionally capable of training at the level that this kind of commitment demands, and I spent a lot of time talking with my kids and their dad about what this would take. 

I am honored to know that my entire family has a deep faith in me, and is squarely behind me in this persuit. With that go-ahead, the fire was lit, and I committed again to trying out for the 2016 National Team. 

(My amazing family, we support each other in all of our crazy adventures. They taught me to go for it, they stand behind me, and I behind them, every step of the way!)

In order to get my skiing up to par, I hired an elite team of trainers and coaches to work with me physically, mentally, and on my skiing. I am honored that these top coaches have agreed to partner with me on my road to 2016. 

They include strength coach Bill Fabrocini PT, OCS, CSCS, and former physical therapist and strength coach of Olympic Snowboard champions Gretchen Bleiler and Chris Klug. Bill is currently the rehabilitation and conditioning advisor to the Chivas de Gaudalajara professional soccer team n Mexico, and strength coach to professional cyclist Tejay Van Garderen. (Bill Fabrocini at the Aspen Club)

Mental Performance Coach Thomas Crum is an author and presenter in the fields of conflict resolution, peak performance, and stress management. He is known throughout the world for his interactive live presentations and his three best-selling books. Recent clients include the NFL’s Miami Dolphins and the Navy SEALs. (Tom Crum delivering inspiration and strength)

Technical Skiing Coach Jonathan Ballou is a current member of the PSIA National Alpine team, and spends his northern hemisphere winters as the Training Manager for the Ski & Snowboard Schools of Aspen/Snowmass and as an Examiner and Alpine Committee Chair for PSIA-Rocky Mountain Division. In the other winter (deep south), Jonathan works as a trainer for the Rookie Academy and an examiner and education coordinator for the New Zealand Snowsports Instructors Alliance.(Jonathan Ballou doing what he does best.)

Training Partners and mentors Kurt Fehrenbach and Megan Harvey were both members of the PSIA National Alpine Team, examiners in the RM division, and current trainers for the ski schools of Aspen/Snowmass.(the unstopable Megan Harvey, my mentor, friend, and faith fuel cell.)
(Kate and Kurt atop Geissler Peak in 2010, training for the 2012 tryouts)

Master Bootfitter Brent Amsbury is the key link in the chain. I can be as strong, present and ready as possible, but without his incredible skill, I wouldn't be able to make a single turn. (Brent Amsbury, Master Bootfitter)

Each one of these outstanding coaches has agreed to put their name next to mine, standing by me in my persuit of my goal, while they are all striving to achieve their own goals in their own lives. I am incredibly honored to be associated with them, and am amazed at the depth of dedication they have to me. Many of them donate their time to my training and mentorship, and that is a gift that I could never ever repay. 

I have worked this team since January of 2015, and the results in my presentation, preparation, and execution under pressure are incredible. In April of 2015 I went to the Examiner Selection in Vail and had my best showing to date in a high level selection mostly due to working with this incredible coaching staff.

I feel confident that if I can continue to work hard with this coaching staff for the next year, I will be a strong candidate for selection at the 2016 National Alpine Team Selection in Snowbird, Utah, as well as for the 2016 Examiner Hiring selection.

Unfortunately, training at this level for a year is incredibly expensive, not just for me, but for all athletes who aspire to this goal. 

If you are able to contribute to my training fund, in gratitude, I will send you a Kate's Team 2016 T-Shirt or Mug of your choice. 

(it's likely the shirt and mug will have this image on it, or one very similar. Because what could be more awesome than a unicorn that snorts flames, ridden by a bad-ass cat?)

(Details on minimum donation for gifts are at the go fund me site http://www.gofundme.com/katesteam2016

Thank you for your time and energy, and all of the support I have recieved over the years!

If you would like to know more about supporting other instructor athletes and the PSIA National Team in general, please visit: https://www.thesnowpros.org/Interski2015.aspx

Kate Howe

Friday, March 13, 2015

Uncover Colorado features Kate Howe (Thanks, Lisa!)


Kate Howe: Ski Instructor, Yoga Teacher, Massage Therapist, Woman of the World



  • Aspen Colorado ski instructor Kate Howe has a blog called Skiing in the Shower. That alone should spark your interest. Adventurous, spiritual yet surprisingly down-to-earth, her blog name is just one of the things that makes her stand out among the red ski jackets. Need inspiration? For the full article Read on!  

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Happier. Not happiest. Just happier, every day.

What holds you back? Is it you? Is it someone else? Is it you thinking what others might think? Is it an old idea, something that happened a long time ago?

Why do you think you can't, or shouldn't do that thing that you secretly wish you were capable of? We explore these concepts in Happier!

https://www.facebook.com/events/742385499167529/

A week-long retreat at Samahita Retreat from May 30 - June 6. Come explore where your limitations come from, and begin to reframe them for Happier living. Teachers: Tamara Gundrum and Kate Howe.

For more information, visit: http://www.samahitaretreat.com/guest-teacher-happier-unpacking.html

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Mosquito Knows my Secret.

It’s 3:45 in the morning, and it’s the mother f***ing mosquito that has woken me up, not my alarm. Fifteen minutes early. At 3:45 in the morning, after a couple of weeks, those fifteen minutes have become something that is precious. I am, needless to say, annoyed at this little bug, who seems to have developed a fondness for reckless flying close to sleeping ears. 

Initially, when I decided to stay, I had thought it would be the getting up in the morning that I would come to regret. I thought about what it meant to stay in India, after being on the road again for eight months this year, both my children in tow, seeing birthdays and American Holidays pass in three different countries, our feet crusted with exploration, but ungrounded in permanence. 

This is why you do it really. I mean. We think we know what's going on and then we look outside and this guy is walking by. "Good morning madame." Well, good morning to you, too. 
Most of the time we stay somewhere just long enough to feel like we live there before the next thing moves us on. It is, as Bodhi has discovered, both a blessing and a curse. We aren’t tourists, we live in places too long. We aren’t residents, once we have routine, family and friends, we are unmooring and saying our goodbyes. 

The rhythm of this strange life is stressful, but rewarding and beautiful for all of us. And at 3:45 in the morning, when the bug is in my ear and the wailing of morning prayers has started down the road and the sound of water offerings and kitchen noises has already begun, everything feels acutely unfamiliar. Sometimes in a traveler’s adventure kind of way, but this morning in particular I am feeling it in a deep, heart felt, longing to be home kind of a way. 
Longing to be home led me here... and this time when we leave, all of what we found at the end of this path (which was just a beginning) comes with us. 
We all go through it over the course of our journey. The boys feel is more often than I do, or they express it more acutely at least. But on the flip side, they’ve learned to surf, sung and danced and slept over at Essica and Neve’s house, saved and lost kittens, fed a baby tiger, learned to eat street food and know how to order dinner in four different languages.

I try to remember that as I take another swing at the mosquito, knowing it is futile, there has been one, just one, mosquito in our bedroom between the hours of 8pm and 5am every single night since we got here, and no amount of incense nor prostrations keeps this creature away. It is a test of patience and sleeping skills. 

He is also a gift of sorts, I suppose. Not because I get an extra fifteen minutes to drink my coffee before heading to the Shala in the still-dark morning, but because he makes me voice the question that wants to come out so badly; “What am I DOING here?” 

And it’s not HERE, in this location. It’s DOING. In general, what kind of choices am I making, how do I think this is going to turn out? Why in the world am I still here?

In the strange, because it is unlike ours, in the different, in the same. There is a mass of humanity everywhere trying to make sense of it all. And we are in it, watching the sense making, working on our own.
This morning, the mosquito revealed to me that I want to go home. The mosquito makes me want to run away. He is that powerful. He brings to the surface in those fragile hours when I haven’t got quite enough rest all the little stories that are sitting right under the surface. I am ready to disappoint, to cut and run. I want to wander into the next room and pour my heart out to someone, but we live alone. I wish for an emergency that would be a big enough excuse not to go to practice. I wish for a boss at Aspen who had said, “NO. Be home on this date or lose your job.” I wish the only affordable ticket home was tomorrow. 

But none of that is the case. And the only reason I am feeling it is because the thing I want to run from is fear. Of myself and my worth and my capacity. I am in the middle, still and always but at the moment acutely, of transformation. As are most people who make the three month journey to Mysore. I didn’t know it would happen when I came here, and I didn’t come here for it to happen. I came here to pay my respects to my teacher’s teacher. I thought we’d make a pilgrimage. To pop in and out. I thought we’d come say hi. 

Transformation seems to come so easily for them, even as they long for familiarity, their realties warp more easily than mine does. They adapt, they embrace. 

About a week into our stay here, Bodhi began to practice. And then, Saraswathi, the 73 year old guru that Ethan, Bodhi and I are studying with walked by me, pointed at me and said, “You are doing full primary serial? You are going back by yourself tomorrow. Possible.” Two days after that, she asked me to stay and assist her in the shala. 

This is an enormous honor. Something that people wait for years for. Other than Bodhi climbing on her lap and kissing her after every practice, we didn’t have a lot tying us together, other than her faith in my broken body. 

After about two weeks of wondering if that is what she actually asked me, and getting some translation from her then current assistant, I realized it was real, she wanted me to assist, along with three other very competent long time practitioners. It would take four of us to replace David, who would be leaving December 1. David is 70 years old and had been a student of Saraswathi’s father, Sri. K. Pataabi Jois, for 36 years. I would begin tomorrow. 

The shala at the end of practice. Only two remains. She has dismissed her assistants. She doesn't need to be here. She's 73. She has a nice house and she could go watch soap operas all day. But she doesn't. She is here to the end, assisting Marichasana C. Again. 
As I was nodding yes, all kinds of wonderings about deserving came up. I questioned her sanity. I questioned my competence, I worried about other yoga students more deserving and more qualified than myself. I worried about my kids staying in India for another month, I worried about my job at home, which I love and miss, and my family and friends at home, and I worried about whether this choice would undo everything I’ve worked for or somehow help me along my path. 

“Well, you don’t really have a choice, do you?” My friend, Kieran said. “You kind of have to stay, don’t you?” I knew he was right. 

This morning, those wonderings are louder than usual. Being “trained up” by Saraswathi consists of showing up every morning and wondering if I’m actually helping. She has a fondness for shouting “No, no, NO!” across the room. “Hand is NOT correct.” She will say. She calls you by the name you are in, “Kormasana foot is not correct.” or the posture that your student is in. 

Evenings are stretching for Dewi Pada, rolling of old stiff muscles and broken bones, daily prayers, practices, contemplations, tea, snuggles and early bed for all of us. 
She calls her Senior assistant, Jessica, by her name. She calls my son, Bodhi, by his name. Everyone else is “Bujipidasana” or “You”. I imagine this must be what it was like to be trained up by Cal Cantrell on the ski field. I think of Squatty and Weems. I think of Michael Hickey. I think of my figure skating coach. 

Every day I have been entering the shala wondering if she regrets asking me and really doesn’t want me to help or find me that helpful, every day I have to step over that and into my competency, trusting her choice and doing the job she has given me as well as I can do it. I am an empty vessel. I am an empty vessel. I am on receive, I am a beginner, I am listening. 

At first it was hard to know if she was talking to me, or to the student I was adjusting. Eventually I realized that when she calls out “NO!” and comes over and takes the student from you, she is teaching you how she wants it done. She teaches the student what to do, and your job is to stand and watch her teach the student, thereby learning how the adjustment should be done. 

There are instances which occur where I am told “No, you don’t do it like that.”  And where she then uses the same technique I was told not to use on the next person. 

I am useless, I want to think. I am amazed at how easily the ideas of incompetence come to the surface. I want to be good for her. I want to ease her burden and be helpful to the students. I want to deserve this. But all of that want fills up time and energy. My job is to move efficiently through the room. Yesterday, I put seventeen people into Supta Kormasana. Last night, I put a hundred of them into it in my dreams, as I was moving through my dream world. My dream was all over India, I was talking to the boys, we were eating and driving and climbing, and we would stop and keep talking and I would tie whoever was prone before me into Supta Kormasana as we continued the conversation. I think I even put a dead cockroach into Supta Kormasana in my dream.

I kind of want to feel like this for her, like I've got it. I'm a cat on a unicorn, I've got it harnessed. But that's not what she needs, and its probably not realistic anyway, as awesome as it would be...
When I feel this desire to attach to the thought that I am useless and be rescued from it by some clue from her that she is glad to have me, I realize that is my ego, this is a klesha, this is wrong thinking, this is in the way. 

I am an empty vessel. I need to be open, I need to be listening. I literally open my eyes wider. I don’t look to her, I look around the room and try to find the thing that I know I can help. I am aware I’ve been standing still too long. I want to be useful, but my job is not to hurry, but to be accurate. 

Maybe she shows me the same adjustment that she tells me not to give for a reason. Maybe there is a nuance I am missing. Like when Jonathan tells me I’m still twisting my ski before I tip it on my turn to the right, even though I can’t feel it. Maybe I need to let go of wanting to be good at this and just learn. Or maybe it will eventually be okay for me to use that adjustment technique on someone, but I need to use a different one first, or understand more first, or touch more bodies first. 

Bodhi decides to go deep for a while, I came in while he was waiting for his chai. Who knows if he is flying space ships in his mind or visiting his own internal galaxy, he is pretty chill, and that's a good place to be. 
Its hot in the room, there are maybe 30 people per batch, and there are four batches practicing. I practice in the second batch and assist the last two. The other assistants practice early and are already assisting when I crack the door open while its still dark outside.  

Saraswathi has been playing with Asana since she was five years old. She has been assisting her father since she was 17, and teaching on her own since she was 35. She has laid her hands on over 800,000 bodies if she touched everyone in her room every day, and by extension of her assistants, who are hand picked and trained up by her, she has. 

I reach in my mind for the ability to let go of attachment to needing this to be about me. What does Saraswathi want? She doesn’t need an ego. She needs an extra pair of hands. She needs me to be who she needs me to be. To be standing in front of the person when they stand up for Uttita Hasta. To know the names of the postures, the order they are in, to be able to speak in these terms instantly.

“You. How much you know? How many asanas you are doing?” This is Kanata for “How long have you been practicing yoga and how far in the series have you gone before coming here?”. 
They get to sleep till 8. I'm not jealous. I chose this. (Just keep telling yourself that...)

All of this is coming again this morning, and today for the first time since I began, I don’t want to go through the exhausting exercise of stepping over my fear, doing the work on myself so I can be clean, open and present for her and her students. 
I put the water on for coffee, and go get in the cold shower, which we are lucky to have as many folks just use a bucket and a pail. The shower head is thoughtfully aimed for the top of the average Indian person’s head, and so hits me squarely between the shoulders. 

I’m waking up. The longing is still in there. I want to run away. I don’t want to have to show up. Oh, that’s what it is. When I’m not assisting, I can be sick, I can be sore, I can be only about me. Now, I’ve made a commitment. And because Saraswathi shows up every single day, so do I. She is teaching me. 

I dry off, mad at myself that I took this on. Did I have it to give? Did I know what it would mean? I’ve had jobs before where you have to show up. I’ve been through ski exams with fevers and selections fresh out of surgery, but those were directly related to gain. My own personal gain. 

This is a dark, sweaty, silent room. This is about giving. Giving myself to her so that she can have some small rest, and giving myself to the students so they can practice more. There is no prize, award, certificate. There were two days in a row where she didn’t correct me, and I couldn’t tell if it was because she found me hopeless or because I was doing it right. Those two days were useful for letting go of fear and doing the best I could do until I heard otherwise. 

I think about what Ethan said as we drove up the road to the Shala in Bali about three weeks after he started this July. “Mom, when does yoga end?” Ah… well, never. It doesn’t end. And it won’t get any easier. It will change, and your relationship and purpose for Asana will change, but the yoga doesn’t end. 

I pour the coffee into the french press and pull on my leggings. Apparently, we are going to yoga. I watch my body go through the preparations. 
There is an origin to ritual, a discipline created by sincere repetition, a commitment by clarity of mind.  This is true in all religions and practices. Somewhere it often becomes dogma. My duty is to stay connected. Here and on the mat.
I light the incense and look at the Buddha. I let my raging human mind run for a moment, watching what it wants to attach to: still wanting to run, still stirred so easily by wanting to be at home, where I don’t have a fever, wanting to be in a clean place with good sanitation, wanting to feel stable, wanting to feel held, wanting to be with the friends in my life who are loading the lift in Aspen and getting ready to celebrate Christmas… my god, what am I doing way over here in India? 

I wait, watching, and then I enter the ritual. This is new, also. I have taken refuge in the teachings of the Buddha, I have committed to a teacher, and I have promised to cary out daily prayers and practices. I have been waiting for this for a long, long time. The ritual is new. The practice is not. I say my prayers, a strange thing to do after so many years of resisting the idea of praying. I focus on the words of my teacher, on the words of the prayer as I stumble over another new language, my tongue trips on the Tibetan words, but they don’t sound strange to me. The bells are ringing in the hindu temple outside. 

I prostrate myself, strange after so many years of worrying about idolatry. I feel my teacher in my heart again, guiding me through the minefield of the past and into the quiet, I embrace my new understanding. I say thank you to Geshele, to Lekden for helping me understand. I feel better, connected. The fear and longing are right there, but from an observable distance. I smile at myself, I asked for this. I went to teacher training. I asked Paul how to navigate my future, I asked Dylan how to find a teacher. I did what they said. And here we are, and these can either be thumb screws of intensity or they can be what happens when you put yourself in the fire of change. You feel the tapas, the work. And you let it mould you. You do not douse the fire, you do not run away.

The coffee is ready. I feel better about drinking it since Saraswathi told me to feed it to Ethan in the morning. Apparently Guruji used to feed it to Sharath, her son, when he was thirteen and lazy. 
But also curious, willing, open, connected...
I roll out my hamstrings, which feel just as tight as they did five years ago even though I can put my leg behind my head now, so they must be much looser. I sit in the cold, institutional green of our Indian apartment, surrounded by instructions taped to the discolored cement telling us to turn off the lights and the fans, and begin to breathe. The pressure of want, the attachment to my desire to go home eases. 

Pranayama is a practice that my teacher Paul gifted us with. My experience with it is interesting, my world dissolves when I begin, I feel like I go very far inward to a calm, expansive place where fear is observable differently than it is from a contemplative place. It looks like a blip on the vata read out of my breath, and then it smooths, and disappears because the breath, the connection, is more powerful than my mind is. 

I stand up, my knees are achy, an hour and a half on the cold floor. I’ve made it through my preparations, and every morning when I stand up I realize they are truly cleansing. I feel like I have washed my body, my mind, from fear. I haven’t even left the apartment yet. I kiss the boys, my Indian friend Pradeep will show up on his tricked out super bike later and wake them, feed them chai and bring them to the shala. It’s only 5:45, they don’t leave till 8:15. 

And then I go to practice, coasting down the hill in the dark on my bike, the street dogs are out, the women are making water offerings and salt drawings on the driveways, the streetlights are still on, the sky is just turning pink. 
This is Lekden's favorite street dog. He survives and shows up even when Lekden is sure he has had it this time.  I haven't got mange, I've got all my hair, and food to eat. I can show up. For her, for them and for me. 
The coconut man is sitting with a knit cap on, only one person has finished and is drinking. She looks like she just came out of a swimming pool. I walkup the stairs and wade through a field of flip flops left outside her door. I can hear the breathing from here. Most days I reach for the handle of the door with gratitude, once I’m through the gate and mounting the stairs, I’m already in it. 

The mosquito was powerful today, I wonder what my practice will be like. I wonder if she will judge my worth for assisting by the power of my practice. Since I have spent the last three and a half weeks recovering from Dengue fever, my practice has come and gone in strength as the fever waxes and wanes. I’m foolish to worry, it’s been three weeks, and she hasn’t fired me yet. I love this woman, I realize, as I pull open the door. 

The dim lights are on, the oil lamps are burning on the altar, the bodies are drenched in sweat and twisted into the advanced postures of the intermediate series, or folded deeply into the most athletic portion of the primary series. I squeeze through the bodies, like a Rube Goldberg machine that’s already in motion, kicked off by sitting up in bed this morning, there is no stopping now. 

I roll out my mat and glance at the clock, still wondering how my body will feel once it is truly moving. Will it be a strong practice? A tough practice? Ritual takes its place again and hands come to heart. I close my eyes. “Vande gurunam…”

And then the first sun salutation, and again everything stops. There is the breath and the immediate relief of movement. My body begins to feel alive in a very essential, elemental way. I don’t care what anyone thinks of my practice, each breath wraps around each movement and each movement is for healing my body. I’m grateful when the anonymous hands appear and help, but I don’t expect them. I am inside. A piece of me files that away for when I step into the role of assisting later. I don’t even know they are there. I’m not wishing for them. They are forces like gravity breath and bhanda, they are grace in the midst of practice. 

It turns out to be a “good” one. Why did I want to run away again? I roll up my mat and go into the spare bedroom to do the finishing postures. People are practicing in her office. I sit up for breathing, I wonder momentarily as I fall inside, deep into my sacrum and my spinal column, as I disappear down the rabbit hole and dissolve just for ten breaths, what I was running from? Was it the power of change? The quiet fly wheel spinning for everyone in this room? 

I change my clothes and step back into the room and watch for a moment. It is silent from this perspective, but I have compassion for the noise and story going on inside each head in that room, punctuated by moments that can feel eternal of blissful silence. 

What is needed? How can I be helpful? All I hear is breathing, because the sound of my own instruction to myself, the voices of my teachers in my practice, the voice of judgement and the teacher removing that judgement are sleeping now. There is the sound of breath, and the gentle plop of feet as they jump back and through back and through 120 times in their two hours. 

I let go again and wrap my arms around a body in the shape of a triangle where someone is peeking around the corner rather than rolling up and open. I fall into assisting, aware that she is watching, aware that I am being “trained up”, and I straddle the line between doing what I know and knowing that I don’t know anything. 

I am a beginner in Saraswathis world, I am a beginner as a human. I am a beginner as a Buddhist, I am a beginner. And that’s what the mosquito was trying to whisper in my ear. It’s hard to be a beginner, there’s lots to learn, it takes a lot of effort. It’s easy to rest on the security that you are valued and know what you are doing. 


Today, I am grateful to the mosquito. He was right all along.