Friday, May 31, 2013

Its Just Another Posture

So the ironic thing is that right after I wrote that post about accepting where you are and not needing more, I was asked to do Bhujapidasana. Rhada told me that I would do it on Sunday, after the rest day. 

Bhudjapidasana. Part One. 

I spent all day Saturday with the thought in the back of my mind. Would I be able to do it? Did she give it to me because she thinks that I think that I want to move on? I really do only want to move on if it is appropriate, and i trust my teacher completely to be the one to tell me if its time or not.

One of the things that I’ve learned is that what I’m capable of and what is appropriate to do in a long term day to day practice may be two different things. Could I haul myself up into a headstand? Yup. But I am not strong enough in my shoulders, forearms, back and core to keep myself lifted, to keep my head just barely touching the floor. So I don’t do them yet. And I wont do them until I’m so strong and so ready that I just kind of float on up there. 

Sunday morning came, and it was one of those random “stiff” days, where I just felt kinda tight. My “rest” day here is not truly a rest day. Bodhi and I get on the motorbike and ride through heavy traffic to Kuta Beach right after practice on Friday. He goes surfing and I either surf, swim, or get some work done on my tattoo. We mission around Kuta getting food and mosquito smoke, sleep badly in our hot, still, shitty fan room at the Sukah beach inn, and do it all again the next day. 

We head back Saturday evening, usually in a rainstorm after Bodhi is done surfing. By the time I hit my bed in Ubud Saturday night, I’m wiped. Sunday’s practice is usually a jolt of plugging back in to my breath and my practice after the intensity of our two day break. There might be a lesson for me here, as well. 

So Sunday’s practice was slow, tight. I was okay with that, I’ve learned to stop wishing and just find out where my body is on that day at that time and work from there. I got to Navassana, and Rhada came over. 

“Okay, now jump your legs past your shoulders, feet in front of your hands. Bend your elbows, and hook your right foot over your left foot in front of your face. Go.”

I did. I went. 

And I did not fall over, and I breathed and it felt good. Challenging, and good. 

And as I was sitting there breathing, I realized that it was just as challenging as Janushershassana A had been for me six months ago. Its just another pose. Not even that its the “next” pose, because that implies some sort of linear progress, but just a pose. And as I was propped up there, I saw this infinite number of poses and modifications stretching out ahead of me, and I was at this little point somewhere along the line, at a place where my body was challenged. 
Janushersasana A. This used to be impossible for me. I still have work to do here, but as Prem would say, 'Is possible."
I came out and sat down. I was satisfied, there is something nice about being ready to challenge your body and meet the challenge. I felt good, strong, safe and happy. I went into my finishing postures.

Later in the series, I was rolling back into Hallasana, and I felt that my back and neck were still kind of tight. I decided not to do the full closing sequence. I’ve always known to listen to my body and adjust my practice. Rhada makes me be even more diligent than I have been in the past about that. 

As I rolled out, I pulled a muscle in my neck. Its posterior scalene, on the left side, a main postural muscle that was severely challenged by my surgery. Its weak, but it has been becoming so much stronger. I’m not sure why it tweaked today, if it had anything to do with trying a new posture, or if it was just in the right position to be tweaked and it would have gone anyway. No one can tell.

The result of that is that I’m in big pain again. Three days of sensations similar to post surgery. There is fear there. Anxiety. My body has been healing, I want it to continue. Yoga is supposed to be good for me, why am I hurting? 

Because I’m human, and I have some muscles that are still healing, and honestly, there is a part of my physicality that will always be affected by my surgery, even though I’ve come so far. 
Halasana, plow posture. 

The next day, I went through the whole series, eager to get to the shoulder binds, hoping they would stretch my neck out. They did, but I was fatigued from pain. This was not my place of benefit. 

The next day, my practice was just the sun salutations A and B. That was my place of benefit, I had no wish or desire to even know another posture existed. With Rhadas patient and gentle help, I focused on my breath. I am trying to cultivate this juicy, incredible sound that Rhada can make in her throat, this warming breath. 

And so on and so on. Now, I’m back into the seated postures, my neck is healing. But slowly. Its just a posture, the one I’m currently doing. There is no point of having a goal, that takes the purpose of this healing practice and throws it right out the window. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Question from a Reader: What do I do when I don't have a passion for anything?

I have a couple of friends who have asked me this question over the years. This is a hard one. Losing (or never finding to begin with) our passion often means we've lost our compass. Our internal compass that points the way to what is right and true for us.

Sometimes, we feel flat. Passionless, lost. Often times, we reach into the past, trying to recreate something that made us feel like we had promise. Sometimes, when we do that, we start living "in the glory days". All of our life in the present is focused on the fact that it was once good in the past and it will never be as good as it was.

Now, we are wishing. And wishing that something is other than it is is suffering.

This is also a trap for your will and your spirit. Looking up from the bottom of the well when things are not feeling so good is hard to do. Trusting that there is something out there for you, but you don't know what it is yet is VERY hard to do.

Our minds have an innate fear of the unknown. And if we find ourselves in a place where things are passionless, but familiar, we will tend to hang on to that feeling. Familiar, even when its unhealthy, feels safe.

The challenge here is to find your support group. Reaching out for help so you can have faith in yourself and in the future you will create is also hard. It means telling your closest friends, maybe only one or two of them, that you want to try something that is frightening to you. Maybe the thing you want to try is just admitting that you are unhappy. That can feel as scary as jumping off a cliff.

The thing that is beautiful is that there IS a path for you. That first step to health, the first step away from the flat, emotionless place is the hardest. Just in emailing me this question, my friend has taken that scary step.

Imagine you are standing on a grassy hill. There is a river below you. Across the river is your safe haven. A home, a place where people understand you, a place where a teacher will help you find your way. To get there, you have to cross a bridge. The bridge is made of glass. It looks like it is not there. The first step onto the bridge is going to be terrifying. Will it hold you? Can you stand on it? Are you crazy to even try? Once you take that step and you feel your feet underneath you, listen for the voices that are encouraging you on. Strain to hear them over everything in your mind that is telling you to turn back, this is unfamiliar and frightening.

Keep your gaze focused on what will really help you change your life, become who you want to become, healthier, happier, more YOU, more sure of yourself. Look across the bridge, not at your feet. Take another step. Eventually, you will know the bridge is there, and each step gets easier, as though there is sand sprinkled in the glass, and then some steel rods appear a little further on, eventually the bridge is wood and iron, sold and true. And then, you are on solid ground.

The reason we often get stuck in a flat, emotionless, passionless place is because something sad or traumatic has happened along the way. We begin to wish it hadn't happened. We see how things COULD have been, if only we had made a different choice, or not made a certain mistake, or been more patient, or loving, or giving. Or just a better person. We go down this spiral of self judgement that is so loud, and so full of blame, that it is paralyzing.

No wonder you can't find your passion. You've lost your sense of you. Your self worth. Step one: act compassionately toward yourself.

Do not judge.
Minimize harm.
Know that this will pass.

Say this out loud a couple of times. It is sound advice, and sound brain science from the folks who wrote "Wired for Joy" and run the Emotional Brain Training website. (Check it out, it is a powerful tool for change, based on the latest brain science.)

Step two: Find a friend or two that you trust and tell them you are trying to make a change.

Step three: Let go of needing to be in crisis and focus all of your energy on finding little places where you can make a positive choice. Make yourself a cup of tea. Turn off the television. Hug someone. Call your mom. Stand in the sun and feel the warmth on your skin. Hug your kid. Tiny things like this make cracks where joy can leak in.

Step four: Put yourself physically in places that inspire you. If you love the ocean but you are stuck at work, walk outside and stand by a fountain so you can hear the water. Let go of wishing you were at the beach and be appreciative of your love for water. Pay attention to what it is about the water that you love. Find gratitude for your connection.

Over time, you will find your feet, your compass will spin less violently, and you will be able to lift your head and notice, you may feel interested in something. This is the first step toward finding your passion.

I hope this helps!!

Much love,

If YOU have a question please ask it in the comments below! I'll do my best to answer it or find someone who can point you in the right direction. Thanks for reading!

Question from a Reader: How do I get past wishing?

  • I got this email from a reader friend, and I thought it was worth sharing. In the Skiing in the Shower community, people tend to ask their questions privately to me, but some are so important for the rest of us, that they deserve their own post. 
    Thank you to my brave friend for sending in this question, and I hope the answer is helpful. If YOU have a question or a comment about anything you read here, or something you are facing in your life, feel free to post it as a comment, and I will happily do my best to answer you. I don't always have THE answer, but I think our experiences as humans are so similar, it helps to talk them out and realize you are not alone in your struggle, or in your joy. 

    From the Reader:
    I read your new post about loving someone who is gone. You said "If, in the space of missing we begin wishing, this is when attachment begets suffering". I agree with that. What i struggle with is how do i get out of the wishing phase. I get stuck here, feeling that suffering, trying to change the world to suit my wishing. How can i move from wishing to accepting?

    From Kate:

  • This is a good question! Wishing is the root of all suffering, it's what we as humans are wired to do. It's hard to change.
    Think about it this way. If you cut your foot, it is cut. You can't go back in time and unmake the wound. And wishing it wasn't cut isn't productive, all it does is focus on the unchangeable aspect.
    If you can look at your foot and say, well, my foot is cut. I accept that as my new reality. Things will be different for a while while this wound heals.
    Now, you can make proactive choices around healing. Maybe stop the bleeding first. Wash it. Bandage it. Then care for it as it heals.
    Your heart is just the same. Accepting that the one you love is gone is hard. Work toward that place first. Don't try to fill that place with blame or anger or sadness or happiness or someone else. Just let that wound be there. Accept that you have a wound. Then, stop the bleeding. Let go of wishing it was different. Begin to do things that help you to heal. Be with friends, ride your bike. A broken heart is like a broken bone. It takes time and patience to heal well. Compassion for yourself without going into self pity or blame for the other person goes a long, long way.
    Xoxo I hope this helps.

I'll start tomorrow, and other bullshit we believe.

A few days ago, I caught myself being lazy. I wonder how often I have this pattern happen in life and don’t notice it. I discovered it during Mysore practice, where the volume seems to be turned up on my awareness so much that my consciousness is shouting in my ear while everything else is very very silent. 

The room has only the sound of deep, slow breath, and the plop plop plop of bare feet jumping back and landing softly on the hardwood floor in the humid jungle. It sounds like there is an ocean in the distance, and as though you’ve walked through a field of large toads who are all hopping away. Otherwise, its very still in the shala. 

As I went to jump back, being my own little barefoot toad in the jungle, I noticed that I wasn’t crossing my feet the “other” direction. I tend to cross my feet with the right one on top of the left one every time and jump back. 

Switch feet, frog!

A month ago, I took a workshop with Prem and Rhada, my yoga teachers, and they asked us to please switch feet every time so that the body is balanced. 

In my infinite wisdom, I am not doing that. In fact, I’m avoiding doing that. A few days ago, this whisper that says “Is this the same foot as last time?” turned into a very loud voice. 

“SWITCH FEET.”  Oh. I hadn’t really realized I wasn’t. Only that’s not quite true. Somewhere, part of me knew that I wasn’t switching feet. Its hard to switch feet. I jump back much better with my right over my left. 

My awareness had been something like “Switch feet! Oh, I am already jumping back, this is a good one, I feel strong. I’ll make sure I switch feet tomorrow. That will be next on my list of disciplines I change in my practice.”

But its been a month. When does tomorrow start? It makes me wonder... in what other aspect of my life am I using this avoidant attitude? Do we all? 

Well, I’ve broken my diet, I might as well eat my way to the bottom of the bag. Well, I’ve picked up a cigarette even though I havent smoked in five days, I’ve blown it, I’m a smoker again, I’ll have to start again tomorrow. 

Bullshit. Bullshit to us all. 

Sit back down. Cross your feet the other way. Struggle through the “hard” side. This is the only way you will get strong. Not by doing it tomorrow, or in the seated series later, even in the next jump back. This moment. You have the power to make a different choice in this moment right now. 

Let go of needing to be right. Let go of protecting your ego and your anger. Let go of explaining endlessly why you’ve done it this way or that, and when you plan to do it better. Hug the person you just yelled at. Pick up the pen you keep putting down. Sit back down at the editing machine. Pick your face up and smile at the person across from you. 

We can all be better. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Don’t become a yoga instructor, everyone is doing that.

One of my friends said this to me about a year ago. He meant well. He is a very linear, logical person, who sees the big picture quite well. 

Jacques Cousteau. Why become a Marine Biologist? There can never be another Cousteau. 

But I thought about it, and turned it over in my mind for a while. He was giving me big picture “the market is flooded” kind of advice, and from that perspective, it is a comment that makes sense. 

But I think we can stop ourselves from having experiences when we think this way. I remember as a child, feeling like my sister was the one who was the photographer, so I shouldn’t do that, explore that. She said she wanted to shoot photographs for National Geographic. That sounded amazing to me, just like something I’d want to do. But I felt like I would be taking her dream if I also did it. 

What happened to being inspired? What happened to mentorships, internships, apprenticeships, where you sit at the feet of the one who did it before, and copy them exactly until you understand the whole of it? 
Reinhold Messner.  "After Messner, the mystery of possibility was gone;
there remained only the mystery of whether you could do it."

- Ed Viesturs
I remember when I was in third grade, I wanted to climb Mt. Everest one day. My principal had gone to Nepal and brought back images of that sacred mountain, and I wanted to climb up it. I wasn’t afraid. I wanted to make my body and my spirit strong enough to stand on the top. 

By the time I was old enough to really begin to think about it, the Scott Fisher expedition had happened. There was a huge backlash that normal people shouldn’t be climbing big mountains, that this had happened because a socialite had paid $60,000 to have her hand held up a mountain that she had no business being on. 

I was a member of the AMGA, I had started going religiously to meetings, I was beginning to focus and hone my climbing skills. I didn’t want to be part of the problem, part of the hoard. The fact that now “everyone could do it” meant that people shouldn’t. That all the “real” people who should already had, and everyone else was an invalid tourist. 

Now, I’m in Ubud, Bali which is apparently a now-famous yoga destination for the freaks and weirdos and truly dedicated as well. They filmed a movie here, Eat Pray Love, all about a woman finding herself. I havent seen it or read the book but I still chafe when people tell me my life is like the movie. 
Krishnamacharya was an original. I'm not even from India, I'm a Lulu lemon lemming. How can I be unique?

But really, why does it matter? If I had known about the movie, would I not have come here, because other people had come before me and it was something that was “done”? When I see that from this perspective, I think about all the incredible experiences I would have missed out on. 

When it was the 80s, I was really into Punk Rock. One of the lessons I learned about being associated with that group was that it was really important to be unique, different, and first. To know the new bands, to love the classics, to eschew the flash in the pan popular sell outs. We spent so much time judging and worrying about being judged in order to make sure that we were unique that we missed out on being us. Which is what is truly unique. 

Ansel Adams is so unique that there are filters and effects in Photoshop named after him. If you aren't going to work your magic like a real artist, and you have photoshop, you don't count, right? Why bother trying? Its been done. 
This moment is unique. You in this moment is unlike what anyone else has been in this moment, even if you are following in the footsteps of someone who came before you. 

Let go of needing to judge your worth and the value of following your passion against how others view its originality. There have always been painters. Photographers, Writers, Yoga Teachers, people who became ex-pats. The market is flooded with them. The challenge is to embrace what has come before, learn all about it, and then bring you, your unique self to what you love. 

Who cares if someone else did it and they made a movie? We get to do it, too. We do it on a scooter, together, my 9 year old son and I. We make our own version of bliss, with thanks to those who came before. 

So become a yoga teacher if you like. No one has done it before quite like you will. Not even if you copy the dialogue exactly. 

This plan subject to change.

Bodhi, after spending a whole day surfing with his best friends in Indonesia. 
Here’s how this happened in the first place. About two years ago, I decided I wanted to go to teacher training for Bikram Yoga. I chose Bikram because I had a daily (sometimes twice daily) practice for about a year. Through that practice, I had held off getting spinal surgery for about two years. After that surgery, I recovered in the yoga studio. My teachers, Caroline Hartritch and Kate Giampapa and Kurt Fehrenbach were like steady lights in the insanity of pain and weakness that was my body. 

I had developed fibromyalgia, and my jobs hurt my body, even though I loved them both. Skiing, being cold and stiff, made my fibro flare up, but the movement, getting exercise helped. Receiving body work helped so much that I had a unique perspective on how relieving it is to get good, deep, compassionate, intuitive touch. But doing body work was hurting my body as well. 

The hot, humid room at Arjuna Yoga was like an island of sanity where I got a break from the pain in my body. My mind would be quiet while I worked, my body had no choice but to let go and surrender. Effort and ease. Assana and Savassana. 

I never wanted to like Bikram, I had heard so many things about who he was and how controversial his series was... in the end it didn’t matter. Bikram himself said “Some people think I am God, some people think I am asshole. I don’t care.” 

I healed my spine doing the series he put together. He provided for me an avenue back into my body. I am grateful. 

Getting certified as a Bikram Teacher was a way to deepen my practice, to make my body lean and strong. Kurt had told me that going through the ten weeks of teacher training was probably when he was healthiest, strongest, most fit. I wanted that for my body. 

I applied for the one scholarship that Bikram gives. I had a 1 in 400 chance of getting it. He offered me a partial scholarship, I had to come up with $3700 for housing for the 10 weeks, as we are required to stay at the Raddison where the training is. $6300 scholarship. I couldn’t do it. My financial situation is slowly improving, thanks to the tutelage of my amazing younger sister, I finally know how to save money. But two years ago, I was still under funded and living paycheck to paycheck. 

I knew that I needed to do this. At some point, I need to get off the sharp end of the stick, and live a more balanced life with fewer broken bones. I need to be able to be a teacher, but have the activity that I’m teaching include less frostbite and pain in my body. 

Then, Sharon Capplain, an amazing yoga instructor who I’ve had the pleasure of taking class from and becoming friends with over the years, started teaching the Ashtanga series at Arjuna. It was amazing. Revelatory. It opened me, emotionally, spiritually, so much. I was hooked. I wanted to know more.
Bodhi hangin out on the bike reading. This is normal for us now. 
Sharon spoke with such reverence for the history of Ashtanga, of its deep root. I wanted to go to the source of yoga. This system seemed to be pointing straight at it. I started thinking about going to a workshop with Annie Pace, or Richard Freeman, two teachers who Sharon really respected. And then it occurred to me that I could go allll the way to India and study at the shala there for a month for less than the cost of going to a ten day immersion in America. 

I’ve always wanted to go to India. Everyone tells me its insane and chaotic and dirty and beautiful all at once. I started to set my sights on India. I got accepted to study in the fall at the Mysore institute. And then I broke my ribs in six places riding my bike. I had JUST been starting to feel strong. I didn’t want to go to India compromised with injuries. So I pushed it back to the end of this last ski season. 

“Can I go with you?” Bodhi asked. I thought for just a split second. 

“Sure.” I said. Its hard to travel with both kids, its really expensive to add another person. But Bodhi could use some toughening up. He’s been facing some really difficult stuff in his life at school, issues with respect, and listening, and working hard, and trying, and believing in himself, and pushing through, and on and on. Having to do what is needed in the moment in a place like India seemed great.

When I changed my dates, it turned out that the Shala in Mysore was closed when I was planing to be there. I was deflated. I really wanted to do this. I’d saved about $5000, I thought I’d be able to go to India for a month. 

I started researching places that I could go study yoga that were excellent like Mysore, India, and maybe then head over to India. I’d never really thought this way, I’m not a world traveler because I can’t afford plane tickets. But my mom had offered to give me her miles to get us there. 

It turns out that there was an amazing Shala in Ubud, Bali where Prem was teaching. This was a man who had been studying with Sri K Patthabi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga Yoga in Mysore, since 1979. Since I was 8. This was the next best thing. 

We hit some more snags, it turns out that my mom had only enough miles for one ticket, we thought we’d booked two. I had already arranged to take Bodhi out of school, I had promised him he was coming. We decided that once we were over here, we might as well live lean and stay as long as possible. Our one month stay in India stretched into a planned two months in Bali and three months in India. Bodhi is slated to land in Colorado about three days before fourth grade starts. 

What were we going to do now? A truly amazing thing happened. My friends rallied. Miles started pouring in. This began to feel like a mission to heal Bodhi and help him grow. That felt right, good. 

We accumulated a total of 275,000 ariline miles thanks to the incredible generosity of some folks, and we booked our tickets. We were going to do it. 

About two weeks before we were slated to leave, I had a massive panic attack. What was I thinking? Traveling to Indonesia by myself with my whiny, scared kid? With only $5000 to last us 5 months? And then India?? Holy shit I was out of my mind. 

All these unexpected expenses started cropping up. Visas were going to be $1200. Vaccinations were going to be $1200. Taxes. Luggage. Food. 

“What are you going to do with Bodhi?” was the question. I didn’t really have an answer. 
Bodhi and his friends learning from Nyoman about wave theory during a break.
“Put him in the Indonesian school, I think, see if he sinks or swims.”

Three days before we left on this mad adventure that I was now sure was a VERY bad idea, I had a financial catastrophe. My student loans are in structured repayment. I had been counting on our tax refund as our travel money. When my refund came in, it was unexpectedly taken by the holder of the loan. We were flat broke. We couldn’t go. 

My sister, Liat, did something truly heroic. “You have to go. I’m going to help you. Bodhi needs this. You need this. You need to go.” 

She held a sale on her website, Knitfreedom, and in 24 hours, she had raised all $5400 we needed to travel. She wired it to my account. The next morning, I woke Bodhi up at 4 am and we left for 47 hours of plane rides, ending in Bali. 

Today, we sit in Seniman Cafe in Ubud. We are relaxed, happy, safe, healthy, and growing. Bodhi has learned to surf, learned to listen, learned to work hard, learned to be respectful. He has made friends, and learned patience and grace and how to stick with it when its hard. 

We were supposed to leave for three months in India next week. But something magical is happening in our accidental stay in Bali. So with the help of a friend again, (I can’t sit on hold with American Airlines for an hour in Bali), we’ve changed our tickets. We are staying in Bali until July 24. Bodhi is going to keep surfing, I’m going to keep writing and going to yoga. We get to dive deeper into this incredible culture, keep making friends, keep living. We are going to follow the path that Bali is showing us, deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole of who we each are, and who we are together. 

We still go to India. But for a month, at the end of our Bali adventure. This feels right. Again, I’m so grateful. We would never be here if it wasn’t for our family and friends, if we both hadn’t been brave enough to step outside of what is normal or sane. 

Run at the thing that scares you!! Theres something wonderful on the other side. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Unstick the idea that you are stuck.

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Samasditihi
“Are you doing advanced postures yet?”

One of my friends who I started studying Ashtanga with sent me this message yesterday. He’s not the first. And as I’ve been studying, looking on the internet at old films of Ashtanga practitioners, I have come across comments about moving along in the Ashtanga series. I often see the comment “I’ve been stuck at Navassana for 18 months...”

Lots of times this comment isn’t complaining, it usually is said with gratitude for the teacher that held them there. But its followed by a celebration. “Now I can do this posture and that posture and the one after it, too!”

Bodhi watches class
Perhaps I should clarify. In a traditional Ashtanga Yoga practice, there are six set sequences of postures. The first is called primary. Many people never get past second series if they practice daily for their whole lives. 

If you do your daily practice with other people, its called “Mysore practice”, named after the town of Mysore, India, where Sri K. Pattabhi Jois started the Ashtanga Yoga Research Center. 

In Mysore practice, everyone does the same series. The room is full of people, some beginners at the back, and generally, as you move forward in the Shala, people have more experience. People in the front of the room might have some third or fourth series postures sprinkled in. 

Everyone practices together, but you are all moving with your breath, so people are doing the same thing, but at different times. More advanced students keep going, but it takes beginner students the same amount of time, because we move slower or take more breaths. 

My friend Carina and I ended up in synch for a while
The teachers walk through the room and work with you on whatever posture you are on. You are supposed to know the sanskrit names of each posture and the order in which you do them. When you get to a posture that is too difficult for you to do, the teacher stops you. That is the end of your practice, every day, until they decide your body, mind and breath are ready for the next posture. That it would be beneficial for you to learn the next posture.

Because we are human animals, we feel rewarded for hard work when we get another posture added to our practice. People get frustrated when they can’t move on, thrilled that they are singled out when they can. Every one struggles with trying to not have a goal, everyone wants recognition. If you work hard, on your breath, on your bundah, on your drishti, on your movement, on your energy, on your intention, you should get another posture. 

But just like going on a diet, just because you join a gym for three weeks and show up diligently and wear your new exercise clothes and work really hard does NOT mean you will look in the mirror on week two or three or six and see much difference. Change, important, lasting change, happens slowly, from the inside. 

I am stopped at Navassana. This is a common stopping place. I came into the Shala worried that my practice would be sloppy but confident that I was strong enough to do all the chatarangas in the practice (there’s lots of them, they are lower down pushups). Turns out everyone is strong enough to do all the chatarangas. Turns out there were people in the class who were on second and third series. 

Navassana. Boat pose. Five times, five breaths. Don't sink your boat!
I knew I was going to be stopped at a posture, I was grateful at first that it was as far along as Navassana. I knew I had a lot of work to do the first day. I couldn’t remember the series, to begin with. 

I thought for sure after a week of hard work, I’d get to do the next posture, which is an arm balance. I love arm balances. Because you don’t have to be strong in your arms. Just well balanced. They make you feel like a rockstar. Like you are capable of anything. Its like all the reward of being able to walk on your hands without actually needing to go upside down. 

But a week went by, and I still was working on my Updog. “Charge your FEET, Kate! Come ON!” Rhada would say, and come over and pull on my feet and slap the backs of my legs. “Why don’t you use your legs???”

I don’t know. I thought I was. 

“Where is your BREATH? BREATHE!”  I thought I was. 

“If you don’t close your mouth, I’m going to get the duct tape.” Prem said one day. “You know duct tape? On your mouth. That’s where I’m going to put it.” 

I thought my mouth was closed. How is it that I can’t tell if my mouth is open or closed? How is this possible that I can’t keep Ujaia breath through the whole practice? Don’t I know how to breathe? 

Mel, super twisty and inspiring, in the grey.
Where in the world was my awareness? I was unknowingly cocky when I came to class. People in the past have complimented me that I have a nice practice, that I look focused and like I am working hard. Giving my all. I feel that, have felt that in my practice. 

Ether this place is a whole new ballgame, or I have awareness of breathing, but not during activity, or being somewhere new has exposed all my defaults or some sort of combination of all of that is going on. Whatever it is, I needed to lose my ego, gain strength, gain flexibility and clean my sloppy practice. Starting with learning the names and knowing how to do updog. 

About a week ago, I had the first of several micro breakthroughs in my practice. My feet, it seems, are stronger and more flexible. I have gained discipline in them, and with that discipline has come some strength and freedom. My updog is more powerful and light, connected, and grounded. My feet are charged. I am using my legs. I didn’t even know what that MEANT until I found my self floating on an inhale and staring up at the ceiling. 

Sharon, my teacher in Aspen, has told me about this sensation. “Eventually, with the breath, and the bundah, you will just feel like you are floating.” 

“Are you kidding? I feel like I weigh a million pounds and I will never float anywhere.” I thought. I had been carrying around the weight of this story, of this belief that I have a big, fat body. That even when its healthy it will be fat. That I can’t be light. That I have to accept my Kapha heaviness and cary it around in extra bags all over the place. I am not a sparrow or a pidgin. 

But while that is true, I am a larger person, holding onto that story has held me in this lie. It has told me that my core is weak, that my arms are strong, but I’m so heavy I can’t lift myself. I’m trapped in an idea of my body that has nothing to do with my ability or possibility. Skiing is possible for me because heavy is a benefit. My legs are strong. I have good balance. 

But maybe, maybe that’s all a story. Maybe if I practice, all will come. Maybe if I show up, every day, and breathe and move from my core, my body will unwind its story and let go and have permission to become what it wants to be. Lighter. Stronger. More flexible. 

Bhujapidassana. The next posture in the series. 
A few days ago, I was having breakfast after practice with Mel, a beautiful woman from Switzerland who can put both her feet behind her head. “They are so wonderful.” she said, referring to our teachers, Prem and Rhada. “I come here and they just clean my practice, you know? Take out all this extra nonsense that is like dirt on my practice.”

I nodded. This is exactly what it feels like to me now. I do not in any way feel stuck at Navassana. I feel like I have SO MUCH work I can and need and want to do in each posture and in each transition and in each breath allll the way to Navassana. 

While I still think doing arm balances would be cool to feel again, I’m not in a hurry to get there. Because I don’t want to fall on my face, or hurt myself or rush my body. Because there is no hurry. Because I am where I am. And where I am is a beginner. I need to learn the basics. I need patience for the foundation.

First, I needed to find my core, my center, mulah bundah. I needed to ground through that place. I’m still working on that, but now its there more than its not. 

Next, I needed to learn how to breathe. I needed to find my inhale, slow and full, in every posture. I needed to slow waaayyyy down until I could move fluidly with that breath. Now I am finishing with the front of the room, like I have a full long practice, even though I am stopped at Navassana. 

In order to work on this, I needed to step over my ego, in every posture, after every class. Not wish for more, not want another posture, not want to hear “Good job, Kate.”

There are no mirrors in Ashtanga. Just feel your body over time. 
And I found that the sooner I laid my ego down, the deeper my practice became. The cleaner it became. A few days ago, I had the experience of bliss in class. This ecstatic sensation as I rolled through my feet into updog. My body is changing. My practice is being scrubbed clean, all the extra sloppiness being flossed away. 

Why would I want to add postures when there is so much work to do in the ones I already have? My body is at its place of benefit stopping at Navassana. I am getting lighter, stronger and more flexible. My shoulders are opening, my hips are opening, my spine is opening. I can twist, I can stand solidly. 

I am finding length, space, and benefit, in each breath, in each movement, in the pursuit of depth and correct practice in each move I make, all the way to Navassana. I am sure, if I keep practicing, that eventually my place of benefit will be further down the series. I see people in front of me who can do beautiful and amazing things with their bodies, and it inspires me to keep working. 

Because I am doing beautiful and amazing things with my body. And I want to keep feeling that: the health, the strength, the opening, the learning, the unwinding, until I am an old, old lady. 

When I get there, to a place where my body can benefit from it, I’m sure my teacher will encourage me to add a posture, because my body is ready for it. 

Until then, I’m grateful to clean my practice and stop at my place of benefit, Navassana. 

There is so much time, and so much to be grateful for right right right where I am now. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The lessons before the lesson begins. Or, loving someone who is gone.

This morning, we all went into the Shala for 8am practice. As usual, Bodhi and his young friends Issac and Abbie came in and stood next to me all in a line for the invocation. Like little devas, they flit around the shala, settling in to visit and bringing great energy to all of us. 

Before we began, our Guru, Prem, asked us to sit down. He had something to tell us. This is kind of an unusual request. If there is something to be said, generally his beautiful partner, Rhada, makes whatever announcement, and then we begin with the usual invocation. 

We all took a seat. Prem began to try to speak, but there was only silence. He took a breath and settled quietly into himself. We waited, wondering. When Prem has something important to share, there is quiet. He does not rush. He listens for his mind and heart to quiet. When I watch, it is like I am watching the human emotion settle like sand to the bottom of the lake, and for space to open up. He becomes taller, but not by straining. When that space is there, he speaks. Watching him prepare to share is as big a lesson as whatever he is about to say. 

He tried to speak a few times, he didn’t seem to struggle against it, trying to get it under control, so much as open his mouth to speak and realize his heart wasn’t prepared. More had to settle. We sat quietly. What could have happened to rock Prem so hard?  Bodhi waited, still, beside me. Abby looked at me, her six year old heart concerned for her friend Prem. 

Prem opened his eyes. “Today is the day that Guruji died.” he said, unable to keep the sadness from his voice. “Four years ago today.” 

Prem and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

He looked up at the photo on the post at the front of the shala. His loss laid bare. Pattabhi Jois was like a father to Prem, he had been his teacher, his guiding heart, his Goo Remover, since 1979. He had touched every part of Prem’s life. Patabi Jois had pushed him, and ignored him, bothered him, and worked with him, and loved him, just like a father. 

Prem took a breath and told us a little about their connection, about how hard it was to be without him, about how much Patabi Jois had touched their lives both Rhada’s and his. He shared as he struggled at the front of the class. 

One of the things that’s magic about Prem is that he can talk to a whole room of people, some of whom he just met today, like he’s talking to a bunch of friends over lunch. One of his many gifts is transparent authenticity. He showed us his loss and his love for Guruji. It was simple, beautiful, sad and grateful. It looked just like love. 

“Today,” he said, “I want to honor all the teachers. They are in front of us and in back of us like an infinite mirror in a fun house. Pattabhi Jois, Krishnamacharya, before him all the way back to Patanjali. And before him, and before him, all the way back to Vishnu, Bramha, Shiva and their Shaktis.” He squeezed Rhada’s hand. She balances him. He honors her for it. 

“Would that be okay? If we dedicate our practice today to Guruji?” he looked at us, searching. Of course. 

As we chanted our gratitude for the teachers, and their teachers, and the infinite lineage of teachings we can receive, I found my own face wet with tears. It wasn’t the loss that I was looking at. It wasn’t longing or attachment, necessarily. It looked like emptiness. What it looked like to me was that Guruji was no longer there for Prem to express gratitude to. And Prem, in that moment, missed him.

I know this feeling. To be full of love, to have so much thanks to give, and to have the vessel you want to pour it into to be incapable of receiving. 

Human attachment is a difficult thing. How do we love, how do we give, how do we intertwine, teach each other, hold each other up, boost each other over obstacles, hold each other’s feet to the fire, and not miss each other when we are gone? 

I think its okay to miss someone. Bodhi and I talk about this a lot. Missing someone means you love them. When you miss them a lot, it is an indication of how strong your love for that person is. If, in that space, we can find gratitude to have felt connection that deep, we are truly blessed. 

If, in the space of missing we begin wishing, this is when attachment begets suffering. I don’t believe that experiencing loss mean you are experiencing attachment and that is a BAD thing. It means you are feeling your human heart. 

We are human. We are meant to feel ourselves, this is how we learn, how we grow, how we become more than we are. There is loss. Feel it. Welcome it. It is now your teacher. To have had a love so great, a guide so strong, a teacher so important vanish from your life is devastating. He is gone. No amount of wishing will change that. But in that hollow, echoey space where Guruji used to be, there is the edge of longing, but also an enormous space, a space big enough to fill with gratitude. With the gratitude of Prem and Rhada, who learned at his feet, and with the gratitude of all the students in an infinite line who sit at their feet. 

I was so grateful that Bodhi was in the shala this morning. I don’t know how much of this is leaking in, but some of it does. And today, Bodhi, who struggles with lessons, saw someone he respects enormously have gratitude for teachers. 

Prem’s voice grew stronger as he chanted the opening prayer. The shala filled with voices. This morning, Prem taught all of us, but today we learned about loss and love and gratitude before we even came to the front of our mat. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

In which we learn an American Lesson with a Balinese Face and tattoo it for good measure.

I came to Bali declaring that I had no agenda. I was going to study yoga for two months in the jungle before going where I "really" wanted to go: India. I stated out loud that I didn't know how I'd change and I wasn't going looking for anything. I was kind of planning on learning whatever profound lessons there were to learn in India, after I had relaxed and played at the beach with Bodhi, and gotten my yoga practice to have a bit more depth before I showed my face in the "real" place.

But you know, I had no agenda. I was open. (Sounds like it, huh?)

I knew on some level that travel always changes you, and that traveling with Bodhi would change us both. I had a feeling we'd become buddies, and I'd have some sort of deeper revelations in the same vein that I have in the yoga studio in Aspen, because its just a stretching arm of a practice that already is teaching me in my life.

I was hoping, maybe, that the exotic location of India would unlock some deeper, mystical concept of myself, after the soaking up of all things good in Bali. Bali was going to be my reprieve, India my hard work. Again, no agenda. No, for real. Its not that I wasn't open to learning, its that I was planing to learn something profound if and when it presented itself when I was in a profound land.

Oh, Kate. Come on. As soon as I stepped off the plane, I knew Bali was more for me than I wanted it to be. It is a strange, beautiful, crazy collision of a place, it feels something like the chaotic inside of my mind.

So okay. I'm here to learn. And let the learning begin in Bali.

But... I feel that I am ready for some more resonant truth, some higher wisdom, I'm tired of the mundane self reflection lessons I have to learn. Maybe in Bali I would understand "Life" a little better.

I did have the idea that Bali would be a paradise, white sand beaches, Thailand with waves, maybe. After the chaos of the ski season, I was looking forward to five months alone with my kid.

I arrived here at first disappointed that I had a safety net of friends accidentally spring up, part of the lesson I was trying to construct for myself was that we had done this on our own and in doing so some deeper truth had been revealed. (But remember, I didn't come here with an agenda or an idea of what I was going to learn).

And then I found gratitude for the friends I found. And then, I met Dewi Sri, and everything changed.

Dewi Sri is the Goddess of Rice. And if that was really all there was to it, she probably would not now occupy a prominent place on my right shoulder and arm in the form of the biggest, most beautiful tattoo I've ever had.

I walked by her statue in Ubud and was completely struck by her. She was breathtaking. She looked gentle, kind, wise, young, old, inviting. I started walking by her on purpose. I don't really believe in the devine. But I do believe in our ability as humans to embody knowledge in packages called Gods.

"Who is this?" I posted on Facebook with a photo of her.

"That's Dewi Sri. Goddess of the rice harvest. Thanks, I needed to see that." came the reply.

Why would she need to see that? Doesn't the girl that responded live in Seattle? Is she really into rice?

I investigated further. It turns out that Dewi Sri is the Goddess of plenty, of bounty. This is symbolized by the rice harvest she holds in her hand. When you are blessed by Dewi Sri, one of the outcomes is that you have a bountiful rice harvest.

But that happens because you have a healthy, happy family who works hard and happily together. You create the wealth in your life through your relationships. She also symbolises Science, as well as beauty and love.

I looked at this statue. I looked around inside my heart. I want a life blessed by Dewi Sri. I want this for my children.  I started to measure my decisions by her. As I used to ask "Will this help me achieve my goal?" as I went for the National Team, now I am asking, "Does this look like a blessing from Dewi Sri? Will this increase the bounty of love, happiness and wealth (of whatever kind) in our family?"

It sounds like an exotic lesson. But I was shocked to have to learn it again. Because it showed up in the form of a very old lesson that I have ALREADY FUCKING LEARNED. Several times. In America. And this time, I felt a bit pinned to the ground while the lesson was water-boarded into me. Do you get it, Kate? Will you learn it this time?

At first I was really sad and disappointed in myself. I know this lesson. I'm familiar with it. I thought I had changed this years ago. I began, in my daily yoga practice, where most of this stuff leaks out of your pores every morning, to be faced inescapably with my truth. I was grateful for it, the lessons come gently and just kind of sit down in front of you, naked and waiting while you work in the shala. But if you see them, and don't take action, the lesson will stare you down until you listen. Sooner or later, you are gonna learn.

So I did the only sensible thing I could, I got sick. I came down with a mad case of Bali Beli, a fever, stomach cramps, I was sick in bed where its really far away from the Shala, sweating, and hurting, and worrying. I missed about eight days. And I suffered. And the lesson kept showing up anyway. In every corner, in every breath, in every way.

Finally, I felt like I was whimpering in the corner. "But I don't want to learn an American lesson from regular life that I already know and already learned and fixed. I want to be evolved enough to learn something GOOD. Come ON!" Boom. Sick again. Just as I was recovering.

Two more days in bed. Two more days aching to go to yoga, where at least I'm growing while I'm staring this thing down. I decided to stop fighting. I rolled over onto my right side, and surrendered to it.

You are right where you need to be to learn the lesson you need to learn. And that lesson is not always pleasant or comfortable. It got quiet in my heart and head.

I went back to class. I blinked, I felt a bit shell shocked, a bit sheepish. "Okay, you don't have to yell." I felt like telling the universe. "I'm here."

We begin again. Follow the breath. Practice and all is coming. Mulah Bundah. Find your center, root to the earth, find length and space. For the breath, for the lesson. I began to breathe again. Rhada told me "Your practice is getting juicier. That's the energy I was looking for, Kate."

Addee took almost six hours to make each detail just so. A dash of color in two weeks. Incredible.
Today, Bodhi and I drove to Kuta, where Addee from Rumble Avenue Tattoo made a beautiful picture of Dewi Sri on my arm. She is coming out of the waves where Bodhi is finding himself and stepping over his own fear. My mundane, unwanted, American lesson has an exotic face. And I'm so grateful for it. Now, its a promise.

And, I suppose I have also been reminded that the next lesson is the next lesson. We don't get to pick. Maybe I'll take that one, as well, and truly try to stop choosing. Maybe I'll
  open my eyes and heart and just listen to what's next.

Thank you, Prem and Rhada for your support and patience. Thank you Bodhi for your love and for letting me teach you. Thank you, Tom and Ethan, for letting us come allll the way here to find ourselves. Thank you, Addee for your incredibly detailed, patient, dedicated hard work. Thank you, Dewi Sri, for finding a form I could relate to, for showing up. And thank you Bali, for being more than I bargained for.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Pulled over by cops on the way to Kuta Beach. Bali adventures continue...

Sitting by the side of the road, there is a thin crust of sweat and dirt across my forehead. The policeman is trying to take my keys out of my scooter, his friend is insisting “300,000 Rupiah. You pay.” 

My nine year old, Bodhi, sits calmly behind me, his surf shorts still damp, his flip flops dangling lazily. He stares, bored, across the street at the other westerners caught in the net of cash hungry cops, every one of them pulling their wallets out. 

“No, I don’t have any money.” I say, and pull my keys back out of the cop’s hand. I’m surprised he doesn’t hold on the them tighter. He wants money, he doesn’t want a scene. What they are doing is quasi legal, they can stop us and look for our papers and give us tickets if we don’t have our shit together. And we don’t. But they aren’t stopping us to hand out tickets, they are stopping us to collect bribes. 

I am supposed to have a “bluie” or a 50k note tucked in with my registration just in case this happened, but I don’t. All my money (and I just went to the ATM), is together in my wallet. If they see it, they will take it all.

Bodhi sweats quietly on the back of the motorbike, shifting. He wants to go surfing. For once in his life, he doesn’t ask a question: “What’s going on? What do they want? Are we in trouble?” He just hangs out, hands limply clasped around me. 

“300,000 you pay. This is the fine, no international driver’s license, this is very bad, you pay.”

I look at him, his friend is holding on to the back of my bike. My friend Jamie is stopped just ahead of me, all his Kiwi bluster in full bloom. He’s waving his hands and barking at the cop who is hassling him. “No, bro, no way, dude. You just want money. We are not paying.” 

I look at him, his Single Fin ball cap pointed right at the guy’s nose, his surfer’s chest pushed out ahead of him, defiance in his mirrored lenses. He told me this would probably happen. When I first got here, he explained that when the cops get a bug up their butt, they will take whatever they want, and I am not to pull off the road if I can help it, just keep driving. 

If I do get pulled over, I’m to stay close to the road, stay on the bike, not let go of Bodhi, don’t let them take my keys or see my money. I sit on the bike wondering if I should just gun it and if they’d chase me down. 

Bodhi waits, his hands clasped around my middle. The heat is thick and heavy. We are trying to get back to Kuta to catch the big South/Southwest swell. I turn the bike on. The cop behind me holds onto the back of it. I give it a little gas. Jamie looks at me. “Come on, babe, lets go.”

Part of me is worried, I know they arrest people here, I know the penalties for smoking dope in Indonesia are serious and the jails suck. And I’m here with my kid and this Kiwi dude who I barely know. We met this winter in Japan where he was guiding for Black Diamond, and I was traveling with a ski client. We’ve spent exactly nine days in each other’s company. 

It has, over those nine days, become increasingly clear to me that while we share a love of Suicidal Tendencies, Tequila shots and powder skiing, just because both of our countries speak some form of English as our native language, culturally we are about as different as you can get.

Jamie is rough and raw and visceral, and sometimes, the words he says, thick with Kiwi slang in his deep, gravely voice may as well be the Balinese Indonesian that is equally incomprehensible to me. 

I look the cop in the eye. I borrow some of Jamie’s Kiwi bravery. “Your friend said 100,000 Rupiah.” I skid the back tire a little trying to break free. 

Eventually, Jamie pulls 20,000 out of his pocket and waves it around. “Here dude. Here’s your fuckin’ money. That’s what you want. Money, eh? Here you go, Bro!” he says. The cop smoothly pockets the 20k note and suddenly the back of my bike is free, we are back on the road to Nusa Dua, the jungle whipping by on either side, the breeze from the speed cooling my sweaty back. Bodhi squeezes me. 

“How much did Jamie give him?” he asks.

In the last month,  Bodhi has changed. He has learned how to sleep on the back of the motorbike, his body leans fluidly as we cruise into the corner and the last breath of breeze hits my sweaty neck and cools me. We go exactly 347 meters before we hit traffic. 

Suddenly, its time to pay attention, we go up on the sidewalk, off the curb, around a taxi going the wrong way and head on toward a tour bus. We cut across the median and snake our way with the pulse of motorcycles and scooters around the air conditioned roadblocks of useless cars. Like grains of sand flowing past stuck boulders, like bloodcells squeezing through clogged arteries, we wend our way toward the beach. We have a babysitter tonight. 

Everyone told me not to take my kid to Kuta. “Its a crazy party town, you don’t want your kid to be there. It’s not what you want.”

So we went. Impossibly small streets clogged with tattoo shop after tattoo shop, signs for “Yoga Magic Mushroom” and “Mushroom to the Moon: Delivery!” line the streets, which are constantly under construction. Every fourth shop is a surf shop, the locals are dark and long hair’d hard bodies. They carry their surf board tucked under one arm, flip flops and no shirt, navigating the narrow streets at high speeds as though they are un breakable. 

The occasional taxi forces its way down a street barely wide enough for two scooters let alone a hoard of drunk, sunburnt Ausssies, motorbikes with surf racks, motorbikes with four and five people stacked on them and me, trying to remember to stay left, stay left stay LEFT and avoid every pothole so I don’t send my kid flying off my bike like a pogo stick sling shot. 

We pull up at the Suka Beach Inn, ten bucks a night, fan room. The bathroom, to use Jamie’s words, is grotty. The roaches don’t bother to scatter, its too hot. They just sit there, fat and defiant and stare at you. “What’s up, roomie? Got any food?”

Bodhi kicks off his flip flops. “I get the bed by the window!” he declares and flops his body across it. 

We spend the afternoon getting worked in the ocean, I get put through the laundry machine trying to get out, stuck in the impact zone and unable to duck dive my mini mow, I suffer and suffer and decide this can not be the sport for me. Bodhi stands up on every wave in the shore break and has a great time. Jamie rides his short board like a skateboarder and cant understand why I can’t figure out where to sit in the ocean. 

I sit on the sand, drained. A full-on salt water faucet runs out of my nose. I watch as they boys pull their boards up onto the sand and run back in, body surfing in the shore break until the sun is well gone, the tips of the waves stained orange. 

There is freedom here, chaos and freedom. In the midst of this Spring Break gone wrong, no boundaries, massive party town, Bodhi has found his feet, his confidence. There is something beautiful about the pulse of this place. 

Sandy and worked, sinuses and tummies full of salt water, Bodhi begs for Indonesian corn off the street vendor. We walk by Mad-e every day, and he knows Bodhi now. Made smiles at me, the beautiful easy Indonesian smile of the locals. “Hi, mom!” he says, “Mom, corn? Corn mom!?”

Bodhi laughs, “Yeah, mom, corn?” 

Of course. This is the best post-surfing food that there is. That and the Mojito that is waiting for me across the hot asphalt at Prosurf. The back of Made’s scooter is outfitted with a full grill and all the fixins. He grills up a few pices of fat sweet corn and brushes them with spices and butter. We munch greedily, corn is fourty cents. We can have our fill. 

Barefoot across the street to Prosurf, we poach the crystal clear pool, Bodhi happily trading one kind of water for another. He goes under water and feels his body float, he’s learning who he is in this place. 

Jamie takes a running leap off the balcony dive bomb platform above the bar (only in Indonesia would you be encouraged by a sign at the bar saying “Lets get drunk!” and then shown the six meter bomb platform. “Jump off, its fun!!” says the bar owner). 
Bodhi follows Jamie, this, a kid who wouldn’t put his face under water a month ago, who was afraid to pedal a bicycle because speed scared him. Now, he takes a running start, 360 grab spin, and spalshes to the bottom of the deep deep pool. He comes bobbing up like a cork, huge grin on his face. He is a surfer, now. He is finding his soul.