Wednesday, November 27, 2013

An uncommon thanksgiving

          Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year.   I love it more than Christmas.  More than the last day of winter.  More than the first day of vacation.  As a gluten/starch-free vegan, the feast isn't the reason for my adoration, although I do appreciate a yummy, crust-less pumpkin pie now and again.
          For more than a decade, I've spent Thanksgiving in peaceful recognition for what the past year has brought into my life.  And I've learned the incredibly subtle difference between gratitude and appreciation.  In the past I've often said how thankful I am to have a warm house, healthy food to eat, and work that I love.  Now I see that gratitude as a response to how I've felt when those things were missing. 
          Because of financial issues, logistical circumstances, and just plain living life, I've had to endure long periods when I didn't get what I want.  When I set my thermostat at fifty-eight degrees to avoid a huge gas bill.  When I ate Ramen noodles and ketchup for dinner night after night after night.  When I slogged through long hours working in jobs that sapped my spirit and paid me a pittance.            
          And during those times, I bitterly complained about it all. 
         This month, as I prepare the manuscript of my memoir for publication in 2014, I've revisited many of those years.  Actually, the majority of my adult life was spent in limbo waiting for that which had not yet arrived.  A husband.  A child.  A publishing contract.  In writing my life's story thus far, it's clear to me that for the past couple of years I've truly been able to appreciate and honor the enormous spaces in not having any of those things.  And I've also come to understand that appreciation is a state of mind that accepts things as they are, not a fear of losing something I have or grasping for something I don't.
           Last January I put an empty jar on my desk.  Whenever something happened that touched my heart or lifted my spirit, I wrote it down and put it into the jar, knowing I'd open it when Thanksgiving week arrived.  Now as I sift through the notes, I see how my practice of appreciation is overflowing into every aspect of my life:
          "A new free bike!"
          "Satish fell asleep in my cute!"
          "Forest comes home from the hospital!"
          "Blessed to have a new bed."
          "Waking up and feeling like I'm finally at home."
          It's curious to recognize that I've written about every one of these blessings here in Open Road.  What a joy and a grace to be able to share my abundance with you all.  More than ever, this Thanksgiving, I'll meditate on the last few lines I wrote in the introduction to OPEN ROAD: a life worth waiting for:

            "Occasionally, I remember my life twenty years ago when I first began to unravel who I thought I was supposed to be in search of someone for whom I had no tangible roadmap.  And in remembering, I remain thankful for all the things I had once desperately wanted, yet never received.
            What a revelation to learn that empty hands are fertile soil for growing a life worth waiting for."

          May you and yours have a blessed, peaceful celebration.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Line 'em up

          Teaching yoga, like anything else in my life, is an ever-evolving journey.  I recently celebrated my seventeenth year on the mat and am drawn to my practice now more than ever.  Watching my students grow and change, heal and evolve, is a privilege and a joy, for each of them teaches me how to be more observant.  To notice the subtle, the inherent.  The mysterious. 
          I often weave my Rolfing experiences into our classes, encouraging my students to find their inner line, that space that is the center of their physical and metaphysical being.  Most easily found in mountain pose, the central line is felt in the space in front of the spine, and I often liken it to a slinky made of the lightest balsa wood.  It has shape and continuity while also embodying flow and movement.  "Finding the line" is where we begin...and everything evolves from there.  We find the line as we transition, as we hold poses, as we breathe deeply.  
          When I was a kid, I took tennis lessons and my coach would always remind me, "After each hit, come back to your center.  If you're in your center, you can shift and move and cover the court with greater ease."
          And so it is on my yoga mat...and off of it as well.  When I am able to move back to my center, whatever comes next is easier to manage.  I respond instead of react.  I see the bigger picture...the forest for the trees.

          In 2010 my car was hit broadside while I was driving.  After calling the police, I called my Rolfer who is good friend of mine.
          "Are you okay?" Tony asked.  "Did you stand up in your line?"
          "I'm standing in it right now," I replied, my voice shaky, but my feet steady. 
          "Good...stay in it as long as you can."
          For the rest of the day and into the next week, I did my best to remain in my stand tall, but relaxed and open.  To release the impulse to contract around the experience and allow my body to figure out how to integrate the accident into the space I was creating.  It worked beautifully.  I only had minor residual pain which lessened quickly.
          When I fell off my bike last September, I did the same.  My first instinct was to get up and stand in my line.  Although I could feel the impact on my hip and shoulder, once I got up, the pain immediately lessened and I was able to find my balance.  No longer frozen in shock or discomfort, my body found its natural rhythm and healed itself within a week. 

          A couple of years ago, one of my ongoing students fell and (unbeknownst to her at the time) shattered her ankle.  Linda told me recently, "I couldn't get up, but after all the yoga I had practiced, I instinctively knew to get into my line in any way I could.  So I laid on the floor and lined up my spine." 
          "That's amazing," I smiled. 
          "Yeah, and I don't even remember having that much was as if it took it away when I found my alignment."
          "That's incredible," I told her.  "Isn't yoga a wonderful thing?"
          Linda's healing journey continues as she comes to class week after week, finding her strength, rediscovering her flexibility and, most importantly, continuing the ongoing dialog between her body, breath, and awareness.

          Just yesterday afternoon, my friend, Barb, was in a minor hit-and-run accident on her way to yoga class.  When she called to let me know, the first words out of her mouth were, "I'm okay...I'm standing in my line." 
          Reiterating Tony's wise words to her, I said, "That's great...stay there as long as you can."
          I checked in on her last night and Barb's continuing to do well.  Standing in her line or resting on the couch, she's listening to her body.  Listening to what it needs to stay open and pliable, allowing her strong, yet malleable line to hold her steady. 

          As the holiday shopping season approaches, I'm reminded that standing in line will soon be a common occurrence.  I don't mind.  More time to practice standing tall.  Standing calm.  Standing in my center. 
          It's funny how people respond when I'm quietly alert, peaceful and attentive.  Fretting children often take one look at me, wrinkle their brow, then give me a goofy grin.  Some folks start friendly conversations.  Some don't, but give me a gentle smile. 
          In any event, it's a great opportunity to practice yoga off the bring a centered sense of peace to wherever I happen to be.  Line by line, breath by breath...I'm quietly creating the change I want to see in the world.