For those of you who don’t know, I’m 51. My husband just turned 52 which means soon I’ll be there too. We’ve been playing the “work out, eat right, practice Yoga game” for decades. Maybe you have as well. Are we cool with aging? Am I- as a Yoga Teacher- accepting of what’s happening with my body as I get older? Well……
We’re all facing the inevitable signs of aging and I’m curious about how this process affects people who have been working out, practicing Yoga and eating clean for decades- like I have. OK before some of you get all “It’s not what’s on the outside that matters, Sandee”, and start throwing Yogic Sutras at me… whether I teach Yoga, work at a Hair Salon, am a Nurse, Nun or Neurosurgeon…I am just like you. I still see and feel the effects of aging and as much as I’d like to be in denial-the music is gettin’ louder and it’s time I face it!
The only anti-aging beauty regimen I performed until I was 40ish was applying sunscreen to my face. I lived a healthy lifestyle because it felt good. Back in my late teens, my friends thought I was a total idiot because I’d say “I have to work out” before we hit up the clubs.
Relatives laughed when Peter and I toted Boca Burgers to barbecues and passed on the ice cream cakes at kids’ parties. Fellow vacationers couldn’t understand why we’d get up extra early to work out before breakfast. Any of our work schedules had our workouts before or after them or sometimes both. Our choices have kept us feeling and looking healthy and out of the doctor’s office yet when it comes to visible aging, lately it seems like Father Time is gaining on us no matter which running shoes we switch to.
When I worked as the Receptionist at a local Hair Salon I was immersed in the beauty regimes of the clients. I remember secretly thinking “Really?” when women in their early 50s would squint and pull back their credit card slips to see them before signing. Then six weeks later at the end of their next appointment, they’d fish around for their “new readers”, and whip out these hot pink, leopard, ugly ass, oldies specks- almost with pride. I used to say to myself, “Ugh… that’s such an old fart thing to do; I’ll never wear them!” (I bought a pair but Peter’s stolen them. Me? I just ask someone else to read what I need or squint harder- adding more furrows to my forehead.)
Thinning hair discussions, pancake makeup, wigs and hair extensions-coupled with constant talk of anti-aging serums, creams and surgeries permeated the salon floor but I just stayed in my Yogic Bubble and listened, feigning interest yet secretly thinking “That’s never gonna happen to me. All my years of working out and practicing Yoga…I doubt I’ll worry about such a silly think as aging.”
Once- I believe I was around 45- while swiping someone’s credit card, I swatted away what felt like a bug under my arm. Nope- ‘nothing there. It happened the next day and the day after that until I finally turned to see what was on my arm every time I swiped a credit card. I’ll never forget the moment I realized it was my arm flapping! Seriously. I was crestfallen. Could this be happening?
The changes were coming maybe every year. I’d notice a new birthmark, my feet seemed crustier, teeth seemed to dull more easily, back was stiffer if I sat too long. “Word on the street” was that the REAL changes would be seen/felt after hitting 50.
Well, here we are; It’s all happening now- to me and to Peter. ‘Perks of marrying someone your own age is that we’re truly in this together. I think the biggest changes for us began at 51. We’ve got wrinkles that have morphed into furrows regardless of sunscreen, teeth that dull with every glass of Merlot, spots that one could play connect-the-dots with for fun, thinning hair, sprouting hair where you don’t expect to, failing eyesight and aches and pains we have no idea how originated.
I joke with my students about my eyesight- that I can barely recognize who’s in my class until I’m about 6 inches away from them. Once my own daughter was in class and I didn’t even know it ’til halfway in. My friend Pam and I are known in our Yogic community to dim the lights when we teach- joking that by the time we reach 60, we’ll be teaching with flashlights in the dark.
I asked my daughter to find me a mascara that didn’t leave marks under my brows and she told me it’s not the mascara. She said, “Your eyelids are drooping now so your lashes are hitting the skin.” Why thank you young, bright-eyed beauty whose eye shadow looks model-perfect even after a Hot Yoga sesh.
They say Karma is a bitch? No…GRAVITY IS! Years of weight training had taught us how to maintain our musculature yet no amount of knowledge or training can chase this dragon. I can squat til the cows come home and my old butt will not return. Mine now resides on my daughter’s backside. Round derrieres seem to be in vogue these days so I proudly pass the torch.
Our 18 year old son can go to the gym 3 days in a row and keep visibly adding to his 6 pack, eating anything his heart desires… yet we could break sit up records or skip a few meals and not much is gonna change.
“But you look great for your age!” The first time I heard that-around 42- I was completely insulted. Today? That’s high praise and I’ll gladly gush like a teenager and say, “Awe…why thank you!” or do that thing we women do: start alerting you to my flaws.
A topic we ladies of a certain age discuss is Menopause. The hot flashes I hear my friends describing sound dreadful and-like death and paying taxes-are inevitable. Hot Yoga aficionados going through Menopause often times end up switching to Yoga in A/C or huddling around the one lone fan. I get it. And no: wearing teeny tiny shorts ain’t happening for the most of us. That ship has sailed if it ever was in port.
So what can be done? Hair color, extensions, eye lifts, Botox, fillers, veneers, implants, tummy tucks, Lipo, rejuvenation, spray tans, fillers, expensive facials, serums, anti-aging creams… all viable solutions with various costs and risks to be considered. But it’s like decorating your home. ‘Buy new drapes and your carpets will look old. Where does it end? It’s like chasing something you can never catch.
Must I add “No judgement”? Puh-lease! Like Joan Rivers says, “Grow UP!” I could give a rat’s ass what anyone- even Joan Rivers- does to help alleviate looking or feeling the effects of age, so seriously: don’t bore me the inevitable “Beauty comes from within.”
For me, now’s the time to pull out the big guns and dig even deeper into Yoga-which teaches us acceptance, awareness and appreciation of one’s blessings- rather than blemishes. Yes: I will buy more heavy-duty tights that compress my over-50, saggy skin more efficiently, Crest White Strip my teeth, maybe get some hair-thickening shampoo and apply more sunscreen… but unless someone wants to fund my treatments, there’s not much I can do besides shift my perspective.
I write a lot about perspective and this topic requires a very positive one. Sometimes I’m strong enough to face it, sometimes… not so much. This morning before class, I was talking to one of my students about why I was wearing bangs. (The ladies at the salon taught me “bangs before Botox”) and as the students trickled in, each of us added something to the mix. No matter how Yogic we are, we all have mirrors, and eyes, that- when used with corrective lenses- see the changes occurring.
Yesterday after class I was chatting with my student Molly. She’s also in the fitness biz as the owner of a Karate Dojo. I was telling her how I’d just seen my old high school friend after years and how fascinating it was seeing how well my friend is aging when she never works out at all. Molly’s in her early 40s and she and her husband enjoy a lifestyle that reminds me much of mine with Peter. I advised her to maybe lighten up on her routine- how Peter and I have most likely overdone it and how we all need to give our bodies a break. She agreed and said she was probably taking the rest of the day off.
When I got home, I texted Molly asking how she felt after my class and she admitted she was going for a run with her hubby. I laughed because I was heading to the gym for a big blast of a workout myself! Oh well… “Take more days off” sounded good but who were we kidding? Old habits die hard and I guess in the long run- even if we’re putting more mileage on our bodies, getting more sun than we should and experiencing aches and pains where and when we hadn’t in the past, we’ll probably be this way well into our golden years.
When I teach, I say “It’s not a competition, comparison or critique….” and in Yoga- it certainly isn’t. So now I am mustering up all my words to remind myself when it comes to this crazy part of the journey called aging. I am vowing to give myself a break, laugh at these changes rather than loathe them and know that my body is truly only my shell- the best stuff is on the inside. (Oh yeah… and bangs…’definitely gonna be rockin’ the bangs!)
One of my students shared something with a few other students after class the other day. We were discussing binding in a Yoga pose and she said, “Once Sandee told me (in a private session) that I may be able to bind if I lost 10 pounds.” At first I said, “No way! Did I say THAT?” We were all giggling and then I explained that I probably said, “Binds could be easier for us all if we lost ten pounds.”
In MY defense, I was including myself and my point was that for me, I find a little less weight makes it easier to slide under my thigh and clasp my other hand. A bind (and there are different types) is a grip on hands, ankles, toes- when in a Yoga pose- that’ll take you deeper, yet is never the AIM of the pose. Regardless of ones’ weight, it’s not always possible or even necessary. I’ve also told my students, “I’m a cupcake away from binding”. I never meant that this gal (who also happens to be my friend), should lose weight and I’ve made sure she knows that.
Clearly this statement had an effect on her for her to remember it. What other flippant things have I said that maybe didn’t “land right”? I’m trying to be careful with my words yet as a no-filtered, smartass from way back… it’s not always easy. This lead me to dredging up some key moments in my life when what someone said to me was taken a certain way- not always adversely- just in a way that I’ve never forgotten it.
Here are a few of MY life-changers: random things people have said to me that have stuck:
My 8th grade Catholic School Teacher sure laid one on me. She was one of the “lay Teachers”: meaning not one of the nuns (Oh I remember much of what THEY used to say to me- all of which was more amusing than anything.) Since as far back as I can remember, I questioned what we were being taught. Much of it fascinated me and as I got older confused me even more. After 8 years of Catholic School, mandatory church attendance on Holy days, the 40 days of Lent, all of our religious instruction, plays, choral performances… Mrs. Davies said, “You all know that everything we taught you throughout these 8 years were all just STORIES, right? Adam and Eve, the loaves and fishes, water into wine… they were all made-up stories from the Bible we used for teaching you lessons.”
I remember feeling betrayed since I seemed to be the only one asking for scientific proof, only to be told “Have more faith and don’t question.” That day I decided I no longer wanted to be part of something that was based on lies. (That’s how my mind worked at 13.)
Fast forward to me graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology in my early 20s. Armed and ready to take on Manhattan and trade my internship at Calvin Klein into a full-time gig, there I was in my interview, at the point when salary is brought up. “Don’t accept anything under $15,000/year,” we were advised, so I went in and plead my case to which my boss stated the annual starting salary was what she thought a generous $12,000. When I told her it wasn’t enough, she stood up from behind her desk, slammed her hands down and yelled, “Oh yeah? Well…WAR IS HELL AND LIFE IS ROUGH, SISTER!” What the WHAT? To this day I have no idea what she meant yet have replayed that scene in my head so many times- something right out of The Devil Wears Prada. Cut to me standing in a payphone on Broadway crying to my Dad. I moved out of Manhattan and said good-bye to the rag biz forever. (MY 20 year old brain hadn’t evolved much from my 13 year old brain, in retrospect.)
Once when I was selling a family membership at the Health Club where I worked-when filling out the contract-I said to the woman, “…and if you put your son’s birth date back a year- making him 11- he’ll get a free membership for a year.” This was our standard way of “throwing the customer a bone” since we didn’t offer much for kids under 12 anyway. It was a sales tool that made us look like we were giving them a freebie when we needed to close the deal. I’ll never forget how she looked me in the eye and said so sincerely, “Oh thank you, Sandee, but I can’t do that. I’m a Jehovah’s Witness; I don’t lie.” I was flabbergasted! I mean- what could I say? “Yeah… well I went to Catholic School where we were lied to on a daily… now I’m a Salesperson and I lie…” #awkward
Here’s another line that’s emblazoned in my skull. My ex-husband (yes: I-like many of you- have an ex) once turned to me and said in a casual way, “Gee. For someone who runs 50 miles a week, I can’t figure out how you still have cellulite.” Tears streaming down my eyes, I’ll never forget exactly how that remark hit me like a ton of bricks. From that second on I hated him. That’s right. (And did I mention he’s my ex?) Of course that’s not the only thing he did or dumbass thing he said, yet that one insensitive comment- which clearly hit the nerve of that century- epitomized the metaphor for everything I didn’t want in a life partner. See ya, dude!
Another memorable moment in my life which I’ve written about before is the time when- after going through mega hours of trying to push my daughter out only to have a C-section- (8 hours of pushing to be exact but who’s counting?)- the doctor came to see me the next day, listened to me talk about the experience and how I had “trained hard to have a perfect birth”. He laughed, shook his head and he said, “The most beautiful, easy and effortless births are from women who are usually extremely out of shape. They just lay there and the baby slides right out.” Words can’t describe how THAT made me feel. It was like, “Oh thanks for telling me NOW!” (In retrospect I couldn’t have had it any other way but hormone-scattered, post-partum mothers shouldn’t be messed with like that, right?)
Once in this Unitarian Universalist Church I was taking the kids to, I was describing someone to my friend and fellow Unitarian Judith. The woman I was describing was probably in her 60s and had some really deep wrinkles on her face. She was a hip, California-type, ex-Hippie and I was trying to remember her name. Before saying “She’s got a lot of wrinkles” my friend said, “Oh I know… it’s the woman with the really interesting face!” At the time, I hadn’t thought of them as “interesting”- only wrinkles. Looking back, my friend Judith was so spot on. They WERE interesting and SHE was interesting. I always remember Judith’s perspective when I see my own new wrinkles now and try to see them as “interesting”.
Which brings me to the next mind-blower: the day my Mom looked at my forehead when I was speaking (a few years ago), stopped me mid-sentence and blurted out, “Oh Sandee. You have to stop using so much expression! Your forehead is loaded with wrinkles! Can’t you just be a little less animated?’ Um… no, Mom, I can’t. Thanks though. Couldn’t you just consider your daughter’s face “interesting”?
I like to remind my students that we can’t control everything in life- or actually anything. We can, however, control our reactions and shift our perspectives. Before we react unfavorably to something someone says to us, it’s probably best to decipher the context in which it was said. When I realized that my “10 pounds comment” was innocent, meaningless, and I was including myself in it- yet my friend may have taken it to heart… I took a look back at some of the game changing phrases I think of often and for what reasons they had an affect on me.
Getting older is rather freeing, yet for someone who has always spoken her mind my “work” is knowing when to temper my words. We’re all a work in progress and never know how our words will affect the people we speak to. My aim is for someone to remember something I’ve said or written and remember it as honest, positive and hopefully inspiring!
I know you may envision your teacher sitting in meditation for a half hour prior to class-(and this is not to say some don’t)-speaking for myself and my teacher friends, we’re pretty much doing the same thing you’re doing prior to the music starting. I’m usually texting my son to “Please take Lou out before he explodes” or chatting up a student prior to class asking if her daughter’s still being a shithead that day. (And commiserating with her if MINE is…) Even if you have one of those teachers who purposely arrives late to every class in that “I’ve arrived. My time is more valuable than yours so we start when I make my entrance” kind of way, teachers are just like you.
Yoga Teachers have Yoga skills that you pay for and benefit from, yet we’re not in any way elevated from you. In my teacher training, the topic was brought up: Should we socialize with our students? The consensus was that we should remain kind of “elevated” … be private. That’s not who I am. If I like you and I’m seeing you a couple of times a week for years, then I’m interested in you and feel it’s ok to share should you be interested in me. I’m teaching you Yoga-not curing cancer, solving world conflict or feeding hungry people. It’s Yoga.
You never need to be ashamed or embarrassed by your behavior. I see you on Facebook. You go out, party, rant about what irks you and basically be human. While I may not post the things I do so much…believe me- I’ve got stories too. I occasionally overeat, drink, party, stay up too late watching trash TV and wonder if my ass is getting fat in my tights and if you can tell. I’m like you.
In the same way you cringe when I come over to adjust you, hoping you’re not sweating too much and stinkin’ up the studio… I, too, wonder if you’ll possibly object to my sweaty hands touching YOU.
I like to espouse the benefits of meditation yet struggle-like you perhaps-to successfully carve out the time to sit silently, watching my thoughts come and go like I’m watching a movie. (What the hell does that mean, anyway?) My mind moves as fast as the next gal’s- flitting from one kids’ schedule, to parents’ wishes and hubby’s needs all in a New York minute. Meditation is no easier for a me than it is for you but I do try. Sometimes I’m successful and manage to gain a little inner peace, then my washer stops and I run to retrieve my tights before Peter puts them in the dryer. Meditation interrupted. Next!
Do you think I’m talking to YOU during class when I say, “Practice the art of nonreactivity”? I’m actually speaking to myself. When you wonder if I have some sort of sixth sense because I’m saying “Let that crap from your day GO.” Nope. I’m reminding myself out loud to just forget about the fact that my son keeps reminding me, “You’ve never looked older.” Well, DUH! You haven’t either, manboy and just you WAIT…! (See? ‘Just like you.)
Do you think I’m Superwoman because I can do some fancy pants Yoga moves that elude you? For every one I CAN do, there are three I CAN’T! How can I balance so well while talking you ask? (I could probably send my hubby a sexy text simultaneously at this point.) It’s called REPETITION! I do these moves several times every day. I mean… it’d be sad if I couldn’t, at this point.
When I’m the student in a class- when the tables are turned- I’m exactly like you are! I recently took a class where all the other students were not only jumping their feet between their hands, landing at the top of their mats… no- THESE rock stars were all piking up into Handstands with soft landings! Shouldn’t I be doing that? I complimented myself on having no ego or jealousy because I do what I can. ‘Ain’t gonna lie though: I was giddy like a school girl when the teacher unknowingly snuck in one of my faves- YOU know-the one where we sit in seated staff pose and press our hands to the mat to lift our lower bodies? Yay ME: I NAILED that shit and the other gals didn’t! #playingfieldleveled
‘Impressed with my Sanskrit or how I can remember it all? Put me at your job for one day and- unless it’s at a retail store, gym or hair salon- I’m pretty inept. And don’t expect to teach me quickly: it took me 6 months to figure out how to close out the register at the hair salon where I worked and I almost got an ulcer in the process.
Oh and about that Sanskrit. Again: studying and repetition. I remember once when I put my students into reverse tabletop and proudly called it by its Sanskrit name: Chatus Pada Pitham. Then I took my friend Tamara’s class (who had taken the class and heard my pronunciation), heard The way SHE said it and felt like a Yogic dumbass because hers made mine sound ridiculous! I now stay away from that one, because try as I do… my New York accent totally annihilates it.
Now if it’s eloquent Sanskrit, stories from the Bhagavad Gita or lofty explanations of every asana, you’d have to take my friend Philip’s class. With his sexy South African accent and bombastic delivery, his class reminds me of a High Holy day in my old church where the priest seemed to be speaking in tongues (minus the sexy part). If you want hands-on adjustments that’ll send you into the next stratosphere, that’d be my friend James. One of his his hands spread open is the size of most men’s two hands. He’s a magnet for the sweet spot. You like listening to the voice of an angel? That’d be my friend Michelle. She’s got a voice that could lull you to sleep. Juliana’s classes are for those in need of healing in her creative way and her Venezuelan accent is to die for. (Especially the time she called Instagram “Instant Gram” repeatedly. So. Classic.) Me? I can probably make you laugh so hard you’ll forget what was bothering you when you got to class. Yet are we “Gurus”? Nah.
If you’re looking for a Guru, ask yourself why. YOU are your best teacher. If you’re just looking to figure out your shit and learn some tools to help you deal with it, then connect to someone you like and realize that we’re all in this together. We teachers are students as well. It’s actually amazing how Yoga Teachers can lead a big class then turn around, unroll our mats, and switch to BEING lead.
So next time you read a Yoga Teacher’s class post using inspirational words of wisdom and you wonder if it’s tailor-made for YOU… remember we speak to ourselves while we’re teaching you. Yoga teachers, Yoga students, Yoga Studio owners and Yoga Studio cleaning people… we’re ALL just trying to find our way sharing the common bond called YOGA. There’s no hierarchy, trust me.
A current trend in Yoga that has me befuddled yet amused is the practice of Yoga Teachers and exuberant practitioners (most likely FUTURE Yoga Teachers) posting their Facebook and Instagram pics-infusing YOGA into everything and anything they share. ‘Seems that Yoga has become so uber-trendy that it can be configured into any situation.
At this point, I’m immune to it yet I always wonder what other people think …and if they’d be honest with their assessments.
OK let me just preface this by saying 1) Stop reading if you take yourself too seriously and 2) Feel free to comment afterwards by hopefully adding something funny. If this offends you in any way then I apologize in advance. It’s Yoga, people… we ain’t coming up with a cure for cancer or solving world peace.
I understand why Yogis post pics and videos of themselves and/or their Yoga classes. I get it. We’re promoting Yoga in today’s visual world and for those who may still be curious or those who currently can’t get enough, these shots will be inspirational, educational and beautiful. I do it. Yeah… it used to bother me but I’ve jumped on the bandwagon and taken pics, gotten my share of likes and patted myself on the back for being able to suck in my stomach long enough for a photo to make it look effortless.
How much YOGA on social media can one take and are we making ourselves look unbalanced by infusing Yoga into parts of life that really need not be “Yogic”? Yoga’s a big part of my life- it’s my profession- yet I don’t see other people shoving their job in my face ad nauseam.
One student/friend of mine had me teach a birthday Yoga class. That was totally cool since we combined her love of the practice with some goofy post-class Yoga poses against a backdrop of “Keep Calm and Do Yoga”. ‘Best part was the special little Champagne splits she handed out as favors with the labels reading “Namasté, bitch”. ‘Great balance between her Yogic life and her real (Irish) life.
Another student/friend is now a Yoga Teacher AND a financial guy helping divorced women navigate their finances after their break-ups. At first I couldn’t wrap my head around how he was going to mix his Yogic life with his professional life, but damned if he isn’t making it work. I love how he does Tree Pose in his suit balancing on his pool ledge. Hey- if nothing else, Yoga’s a great place to meet potential clients depending upon what you’re selling. Yoga tends to attract people in transition so kudos to him!
But what about the incessant postings of Yogis whipping into their poses in random public places? Am I odd? Because when I go out to the movies, for example… the last thing on my mind is having Peter get a shot of me balancing a tub of popcorn on my prayer-posed hands while standing on one leg. I may be able to lead a packed Yoga class without getting nervous now, yet when in Rome…I wouldn’t even think of doing Yoga where others were enjoying the venue. (Nor does Peter ever say, “Hey hon: before we walk in to this funeral, I just noticed this great little ledge that I think your Astavakrasana would look AWESOME on!”)
I feel a Yoga Studio is the perfect place for asanas as is the beach or whatever natural, woodsy area you’re in… if you’re visiting a beautiful place and want a backdrop of your poses for your cover page or something. I get that. I’m talking about breaking out in Yoga poses in the airport or straddling your kitchen counters. (Ok the one my friend did was friggin’ hysterical and her friend mocking her was even BETTER). It’s getting crazier by the minute with the maniacal postings of poses- as if Yogis actually live this way.
Let’s just say that prior to all of our photo opps and selfies, one would never consider doing a Handstand on a restaurant table next to dining patrons or straddling one of those red balls in front of Target ( which are used to stop cars from plowing through the front doors and killing shoppers, by the way. NOT as Yoga props.) How ’bout wearing a bikini at a rock concert? Yeah… that seems like a good place to break into Standing Split.
Would we even be doing these acts of “look- at- me- showing- off- in- public” if there wasn’t someone photographing us? (‘Assuming we’re not shit-faced and/or in college.)
Why don’t people in other professions infuse what they do outside their work environment? I have a student/friend who’s an Ophthalmologist and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t go up to fellow restaurant patrons while waiting for her meal asking them to cover one eye and answer her when she asks, “Which one is clearer: A or B? One or Two?” I’ve never seen a Ballerina pirouette across the Post Office floor while waiting in a Christmas time line or a Weightlifter feel the urge to bench press little people and children. Do Race Car Drivers get to practice every time they drive their kids to school or Runway Models walk the mall like they’re walking a catwalk? Yet Yogis ’round the world are programmed to strike a pose wherever and whenever it suits them. I mean… it’s not like anyone’s looking at them. Oh wait! EVERYBODY’S looking at them! Yet isn’t that the point?
The very people who espouse humility, non-ego and self-discipline just can’t seem to control these Yogic urges, huh?
Even Pilates people abstain from this ridiculousness. I have many Pilates friends and I’ve never seen one Facebook pic of ‘em break into their “hundred” in a Doctor’s office waiting room let alone in front of the Eiffel Tower. (They’ll actually LOVE this blog, by the way… but for real: Yogis are totally guilty of indulging. Damn those Pilates people: they ARE better than us!)
I’m wondering if your family thinks you’ve gone mad once you’ve immersed yourself in Yoga. Have your friends abandoned you? I don’t know about you but if I’d ever attempt a Yoga pose in a nonyogic setting-and my kids or childhood pals were there to witness it, they’d rip me a new one but fast! (Remember: my “kids” are now sarcastic adults.)
Here’s a classic example: My daughter cruises through our apartment with Yogic radar tuned to her highest setting. ‘Times I don’t even think she’s listening and I’m talking to Peter when she’ll walk by singing “Everything’s always about Yoga!” (in her faux operatic, mocking voice.)
My son will wait a few days- maybe a week-and ask me when my next class is. He waits ’til when he knows I’m running around distracted, and when I say, “Why? ‘You wanna come?” He says, “Yes I was thinking maybe today’s the day…..”, then he breaks down in a fit of snorting laughter mumbling, “Gotcha!”
In all seriousness I find the truest Yogis are the ones NOT engaging in social media. (Yes I know I’ll get slammed big time for this and yes I realize that by saying this, I run the risk of branding myself inauthentic.) Lord knows I love my social media, pop culture and staying connected to people that jazz me. I guess once again it all comes down to balance- a running theme in my blogs and something I- like you-struggle to maintain.
If you can come up with any instances of busting someone taking their profession into normal civilian life, please share. And don’t include dancers or athletes. Dancers dance on dance floors and they’re expected to be better than everyone else. Athletes can’t help being awesome when they’re playing for fun, yet I’m sure they don’t pinch hit or slam dunk in inappropriate arenas. I want to know why Yogis have the right to practice asanas while going about their day to day or flashing mudras like gang gestures in every selfie. (‘Also guilty.)
What is it about Yoga that allows us to lose our minds and blur the lines between our practice and the real world? Could it be all the Yogic breathing that’s causing this bombastical boasting or has this ancient practice just become a trendy way for people to seem edgy and cool wherever they choose? Enlighten me.
When recently subbing a class for my friend, a student walked in, saw me setting up and nervously asked if I was subbing. When I told her I was, she got a pained looked on her face and said, “Oh… you’re HARD.” I asked her what she meant and she said, “You teach a hard class; You push us.” Reluctantly she and her friend decided to stay.
As the class progressed I noticed that this particular student was doing what I always notice a “rebel student” does: In my experience, they tend to set up their boundaries and show who’s boss by not listening to what I’m saying. In this case, it wasn’t the “moves” (In Yoga the poses are called asanas), rather the Yogic breathing. She chose to breathe her way, (panting through her mouth) as opposed to the Yogic breathing I’d explained (reverse breathing through the nose)- thus creating her own “hard class”.
At first I saw a kind of “Ain’t nobody’s got time fo’ DAT” kind of attitude. (“Breathing the way SHE’S telling me to breathe? Yeah… NO!”) Okay- fair enough. No matter how many times I demonstrated and reminded them, this lady was going to show ME, alright. She breathed through her mouth and proceeded to pant, sign, bitch and moan through every advanced option SHE chose.
When I teach a class, I offer usually 3-4 options in every asana. It’s like looking at a menu when you’re pressed for time. You make a quick decision based on what you’re feeling and order! You don’t just grab something you’re unsure about- especially if you’re not really that hungry and new to the restaurant. Capiche?
I show the different versions of the pose- sometimes I only do the first “expression”…other times I’ll maybe point out someone doing the “final expression”. Once the class gets rolling, it’s pretty apparent there are enough choices for each student to make that everyone can move along pretty freely.
That said, why did she say I was “hard”? Seriously- if she truly listened to what I was saying, shouldn’t she have realized that the class is only as hard as you make it? There’s permission to be prudent, to fall… to experiment and fall on your ASS or to just lie in Child’s Pose. As a teacher, it’s funny to me that some students will grunt, groan and muscle their way into a pose that clearly ain’t happenin’ for them that day (nor maybe ANY day) as if they’re trying to impress me. I really could give a rat’s ass, by the way. Honestly I’m most concerned with the personalities, habits and tendencies that the practice exposes than seeing any fancy pants pose someone can “perform”.
Don’t get me wrong: I have practiced, taught and had my mind blown by some epic feats of grace, strength and fearlessness. yes I DO love when my students – and when I- nail a pose we’ve been working on. What I mean is that there are different levels of the poses and with Yoga, you can’t really be labeled a beginner just as you can’t be labeled advanced. First off, our bodies are so different, curvatures of the spine, past injuries, age, stress levels off the mat…all of these affect our “level” and it changes on a daily. I have students who are working towards certain poses for years with the possibility of attaining them…or the possible reality of NOT.
To clarify, let me give an example: Anyone on Facebook or Instagram- who practices Yoga- can agree that there are a plethora of photos streaming the ‘feed. (Mine looks like one continuous Yoga Journal magazine.) While it truly is amazing to see what the human body is capable of, or what exactly the Grasshopper pose is supposed to look like… it is by no means THAT incredible that some bodies are simply just more bendy than others. ‘Same in class. The very people who are hyper-flexible, are often times incapable of holding any pose for more than a few seconds because they lack focus and concentration.
If I notice that happening, I tend to beam in on them and have the class hold their asanas longer than usual. I mean- where will the growth or the challenge be to have someone move swiftly from one pose to another if “their work” is more in the feeling and maintaining said pose? How can these asanas even be beneficial if your body’s not in them long enough to register the physical and mental benefits?
The problem- or work- that this particular student had (in my opinion for that night) wasn’t that of a physical obstacle- but more of an attitude adjustment. She walked in, saw me, had taken my class before and deemed my class “hard”. So her entire experience was now how she was proving to herself and me that SHE was right: my class was hard. She let her perception and preconceived expectations tarnish her ability to stay in the moment. If she truly listened to my breathing cues, and subtle reminders to take appropriate options she would have realized that my class was only as hard as she made it for herself!
To assume in Yoga makes an ass out of you and… as for me…? Jeez,I tend to make an ass out of myself pretty much every class in some fashion by keeping it light and having fun. If you walk into a class and set yourself up for failure, you could possibly “fail”. Yet the reality is if you allow yourself to just let it happen organically, learn how to back off and remember you’re there to FEEL something… ANYTHING… then every time you practice you’ll learn more about yourself than you ever thought possible.
My class is only “hard” if you want it to be.
I have a confession to make and what better forum to raise the awareness of addiction than here? I went well over a month without writing my blog because of a secret obsession that took hold of me.
One Saturday in between teaching Yoga, my husband Peter and I sat down to watch TV. We cruised Netflix and landed on the Showtime series we had heard about-although never partaken of: Dexter.
Let’s back up here. About the name: My maiden name is Dexter. Even stranger is the character’s full name: Dexter Morgan. My grandmother’s maiden name was Morgan. The names Dexter and Morgan are used commonly in our family after my Dad’s mother. My son Julian’s middle name is Dexter, and my nephew Stephen Dexter- an actor- is regularly asked if Dexter’s his “stage name”. I always wondered how someone with a famous name connected to crime or serial killing… like the name Dahmer for instance…would keep the name. I always told Peter, “I’m happy to have the name Versace. (It speaks to my fashion sense and can get us a table in any restaurant rather quickly). At least I didn’t marry someone with the name of a serial killer.” Little did I know my name WOULD someday be associated with one!
So why did this show become an addiction- causing me to temporarily lose my mind? After the first ten minutes of watching one of my favorite actors- Michael C. Hall- cruising through the streets of downtown Miami, looking for bad guys while his narration described the mind of a sociopath… I was hooked. The unusual premise, coupled with fast-moving story lines where anyone could be here today and gone tomorrow kept me glued to the tube. Thus began the obsession: my escape from peace, love and light by day to blood spatter (only amateurs say “splatter”), syringes of Etorphine (an animal tranquilizer), and precision, well-thought out hack jobs by night.
Much like seeing the name Versace everywhere, it was fun hearing the name “Dexter Morgan”, “Dexter” and “Dex” (my Dad’s nickname) peppered throughout every episode. I also liked that the show was set in Miami making it fun to spot locations-(many were actually filmed on sets in Cali.)-or the possibility I’d spot “extras” I might know.
Without giving any of the plot lines away (should you decide you can take a whiff of this and escape full-on addiction), it’s fascinating to learn how the brain works- how a sociopath justifies his “kills’ and how even a Yoga Teacher can root for the killer. After the first victim gets cellophane-taped to the killing table and forced to atone for his sins only to be punished by Dexter, the knives, blood, torture and murder become de rigueur.
Anyone’s who’s watched The Sopranos knows that when the writing’s superb and the killers are shown to have a human side- even a “killing code”- it’s easy to root for the bad guy. After all- they’re ridding society of even WORSE guys, right?
I realize that people may think a Yoga Teacher spends their off-time chanting, meditating and devising new Yoga sequences. Well… I do, I do… yet- being the multi-faceted, balanced being that I AM…I also enjoyed a program with a sinister theme, rich character developments and riveting story lines- something so polar opposite to what I’m immersed in 24/7. I never worried that I’d go to the dark side or pollute my meditative mind with anything evil… it was merely entertainment.
I compare watching Dexter to when I homeschooled. My world consisted of breastfeeding, Barney, workbooks, playgrounds and puppet shows by day., yet at night as my kiddies were fast asleep, I’d dip back into adulthood watching Howard Stern. Not the America’s Got Talent Howard: the original outrageous Baba Booey and Robin Quivers Howard: you remember… the foul-mouthed chauvinistic angry Howard who sanctioned tossing baloney on strippers? Doing something harmlessly contradictory to your persona feels good sometimes.
The only part of my Dexter addiction I regret was the length of its run. Lasting from 2006-2013 meant a lot of shows so for about 6 weeks, I “raced” my son – who was also hooked- to watch all 8 seasons. That’s 12 episodes per season which spanned 7 years on Showtime yet thanks to Netflix can be ‘binge-watched” in record time. It felt wrong.
What started as something Peter and I could enjoy together on his two nights off from work, became my nightly guilty pleasure. So after I bid my last Yoga student farewell, I’d go home, hope no one else was there and settle in for 2-3 episodes of Dexter. Sometimes the last one would take me to past 1:00 AM when I needed to wake up the following morning at 6:00 AM to teach. Not being big on sleeping, I seemed to tolerate this schedule well. The problem began when I’d try and catch an episode (or two) during the day between classes.
The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.
I’ll admit it now. I lied a few times when asked to do other things in between classes. I told my Mom I was finally going to “rest” the way she’s always telling me I need to. I wasn’t resting. I was watching Dexter trying to stay ahead of my son. and concocting stories about how I spent my days- stories as elaborate and secretive as Dexter’s cover ups1 It was then I realized where my son gets his obsessive behavior from; he was doing the same thing! In lieu of making music, he was watching Dexter just like I was rather than writing my blog, playing our piano or accomplishing other necessary tasks.
It got to the point where I couldn’t wait for it to end. My son-who beat me to the end- waited for me to catch up and then we both enjoyed the final episode together. There. Done! We’re FREE- just in time for Orange Is The new Black! (OK: THIS one only has two seasons which means my daughter and I finished our long-awaited, second season in a week!) The apples don’t fall far from the tree.
So when people “invite me” to play Candy Crush, or insist I HAVE to watch Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones… I just shake my head, say “No thank you” and do something else that seems innocuous… like… I don’t know… Facebook! Surely THAT’S not addictive, right?
We ALL have our tendencies, habits…even addictions. I prefer to keep mine as healthy as possible and continue using my Yoga practice to remind me that maintaining balance is a lifelong effort and we’re all a work in progress. (Just like Dexter was… is…) no spoiler alert here!
Now that I’ve been teaching Yoga full-time for four years, I’ve noticed the same pattern I saw back when I managed a team of salespeople for a major New York Health Club in the 80s. People come in looking to change their lives going full blazes into their work out or their Yoga practice. (We Yoga Teachers like to refer to it as our “work IN”.) They make it part of their routines and ‘next thing you know…they’re “regulars”.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the students whom I no longer see in class- the ones who used to arrange their work and family schedules around my classes, purchase multiple class packages in multiple studios and message/text me asking where I was teaching that day. Their groove was set and they needed their fix. Yet something happened and I stopped seeing them in class. How does this happen? How can something so vital to their well-being at one time get away from them, fading into a mere memory?
I’ve heard it takes 30 days to make something a habit. This is why I’m a big fan of a 30 day trial heath club membership or a Groupon of 10 classes to a Yoga Studio. I feel that if someone allows a full month to integrate their new routine into their life, there’s a pretty good chance I can keep them.
Practicing Yoga awakens ones’ body, mind and spirit. After the first few classes, you feel muscles you never knew existed. Beyond this obvious wake-up call to the body, you take in more oxygen than you possibly ever have, producing a euphoric, calm and relaxed state of being. Couple this with the obvious aesthetic changes and BOOM: a new healthy habit has been formed and you’re on your way to enlightenment.
So what are some of the reasons people fall out of their practice? I’ve noticed that whenever there’s a change in schedule, time change, move, injury, procedure… something’s gotta give and that can unfortunately be one’s Yoga practice. I’ve lost students to the obvious move out of the area. Some have turned to other fitness modalities and upon catching up regularly…I find that they’re perhaps spinning for a few months, then running, then Pilates and maybe finally BACK to Yoga. Some people get bored more easily than others or perhaps don’t see or feel the changes they’re looking for. For me, it’s a combination, yet for some- finding the combo that works can be a lifelong mission.
Here are some of the common reasons I’ve heard people abandon Yoga: They move away from their “home studio” and the drive becomes too much, there aren’t any studios in their area or classes that fit their schedule, (although in SoFlo I find that hard to believe since there seems to be a studio every 1/4 mile and classes on the hour), they gained weight, sustained an injury and never made it back, had a baby, the time changed messed them up, their kids are home from school, their money sitch isn’t allowing them to purchase classes, caring for an elderly and/or sick relative, having to get home after work to walk the dog, opting to sit down and not wanting to get back up to get to a class…and boob jobs: Yes- I’ve lost 3 students to boob jobs. ‘Not sure if their breasts were too tender and painful in certain poses or if the 30 days off just took them in other directions. Basically any change in routine can cause someone to fall out of their practice. It happens. Life gets in the way; I get it.
I myself have no idea firsthand how it feels returning to Yoga after an absence because once I started, I never stopped. ‘Same with working out. Sometimes I wonder what it’d feel like and almost long for that “first time” feeling yet I’m not willing to stop for the experience of being a newbie. (yeah… #healthyaddiction)
Here are some things I’ve heard people enjoy upon resuming their Yoga practice:
The smell of the mat, the incense, the feel of connecting bare feet to a sticky mat, the music (especially the Indianish, Yoga music that most people don’t listen to on their car radios), the deep breathing…fresh oxygen pouring into every nook and cranny, that stretched-out feeling opening every pore and cell of your body, and the camaraderie of fellow Yogis. The hugs. I’ve never felt so much good will and solid people to people connections as I have in the Yoga community.
Some have told me it’s like having a dry spell in sex then returning as a virgin. Hmmmm.
All the feelings you experience as a first-time Yoga practitioner come rushing back when you revisit your mat. No one ever regrets practicing… they only lament NOT practicing. So if you once were really into Yoga -then took a sabbatical for whatever reason-just know it’s all there waiting for you when the time is right and YOU decide it’s time to dig back into your innermost sensations- for better or worse.
I took over 30 days off from writing my blog. I wasn’t sure if I’d resume it but realized that- like Yoga- when the time’s right, and the opportunity presented itself… I’d be back. Hopefully you’ll go right back to enjoying my blogs in the same way I’ll welcome you back to my class should you decide to return. I think I speak for all Yoga Teachers: we just want as many people as possible to be well-adjusted – both physically and emotionally- and we’re always here to guide you back, no explanations necessary.
So smooth out that wrinkled, old Yoga mat in the back of your trunk, find those tights buried in the bottom of your hang out drawer, tell the family you’re taking some much-needed and well-deserved “me time” and get back to your bliss!
Yogis love to insert the phrase “No judgement” into conversations where they may have sounded a bit… judgemental. It’s like the “Jinx. ‘Owe me a beer” phrase we used to use if two people said the same thing at the same time. Talking about someone…then adding “No judgement though.” crosses out the fact that you just talked about someone.
So let’s explore this. What exactly does it mean to be nonjudgemental? I take it to mean a kind of “Live and let live” creedo. Maybe YOU like that, believe in that, live that way or present yourself in that fashion and- although I don’t subscribe to it- we can still find common ground and possibly be friends. (Or at least tolerate each other and coexist- like we do with some family members.)
So when does this “theory of nonjudgementalism” fall to the wayside? I mean… is it ever OK to be judgemental? I truly wonder what people consider to be judgemental or just having an opinion.
Since most of my readers catch my blog via Facebook, let me use our beloved “Book of Face” as an example of judgementalism. Every single time someone posts- whether it’s “Ran errands, treated myself to a Starbucks, made dinner and am now settling in with a glass of vino,” to “15 years ago today I married the love of my life” to “This is my dog Rex doing what Rex does best”… we’re given the chance to judge.
Do we “like” every post- because, after all, everybody on our Facebook list is our friend, right? We sit in our desk chairs, drivers’ seats and lounge chairs with the ultimate power to judge what we “like” and what we don’t. Does not “liking” a post mean we dislike it? Should we toss in a “pity like” when we’re really not sure we like her in that outfit? Maybe we don’t want to appear as if we’re “liking” everything…that’d be gushing. Sometimes we throw out a “LOVE” showing we’re super into the post. Our ability to just scroll through and make no comment can be taken as either “not liking”, “strongly disagreeing” or “blatantly ignoring”. No matter what your criteria for “liking” on Facebook is based upon, let’s be honest: WE’RE JUDGING! The ability to sit back with a cup o’ joe, a few cookies and decide whether I’ll “like” what you’re dishing out or not… is way more fun than, say…cleaning the cat box or working!
There was a time when it appeared that one of my Facebook friends (I had been with her in person a handful of times at that point) “liked” every single post she read. Hearts, hugs and affirmations of love permeated everything on her ‘feed it seemed. I couldn’t accept that she was THAT nice- until I actually hung out with her more and realized… yup… she IS that nice. (I judged her, I’ll admit- because frankly- I had never met anyone so nice; I’m from New York.)
When I see someone overposting, I think “Do they not have anything else to DO?” (Then I realize I appear exactly the same way posting a collage of pics of-as my kids jealously remind me-”someone else’s baby”!) Am I being judged for possibly craving grandchildren? Once a friend of mine asked me if everything was OK in my world. She wondered why I kept posting old pictures. Was I longing for yesteryear? I explained the whole Throwback Thursday thing and assured her I was fine.
You know that project to support cancer survivors by posting a pic sans makeup? Did I join that cause? In spirit I did, but not only am I NOT posting a pic of myself without concealer, I’m not teaching the hottest of hot classes or running to Publix that way either. (‘Can’t take the judgemental stares and basically don’t want to scare myself catching a glance in the mirror!)
What goes through peoples’ minds when they respond and comment on someone’s post? I thoroughly enjoy when people disagree- or better yet- respond in a sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek way. I used to have a policy of not friending young people but now I find that they are the most real, honest and fun Facebook friends. Their lack of “lols”, smiley faces and winky eyes show they just deliver the joke- flaunting their judging status with a devil-may-care attitude and letting the chips fall where they may.
If we’re throwing out every minute detail of our existence, can’t we all just comment what we’re REALLY thinking – without fear of being called judgemental? Come ON, Yogis: I talk to you in person: We think, we judge and we share… just like “civilians”! At least Nonyogis stand by their opinions without adding the phrase “No judgement.”
When I teach Yoga, I’m calling out my sequence for that day and cueing my students to put their foot there and place their hand over there, telling them “These are merely my suggestions and you can modify or do something that works better for you…” yet dare they go into…say…an inversion when the rest of the class is in a twist? You bet I’m judging!
I mean- I try not to sound judgemental… OK: who am I kidding? In my Yoga Tourettes kind of way, I am not above blurting out, “Hey new gal in the orange top! The rest of us are facing LEFT!” I forget I’m expected to keep things to myself unless it’s positive and wrapped in a shroud of love and light. People who know me expect and enjoy this, new people either “get me” or judge me as a hack! Oh well… it’s all in good fun and you can’t please everyone….
A friend starts a new relationship and what’s one of our first questions? “What does he do?” “He’s currently unemployed.” (Insert judgement.) “He made a ton of money in stocks and now he’s looking for something he can be passionate about.” (Insert NEW judgement.) “He’s going through a messy divorce and has a few teenage kids.” (Eye roll coupled with new judgement.) “But they live in Cali with their Mom and her new husband who’s a Dr.”) (And? We’re back!)
How ’bout our current TV selection? American Idol, Dancing With The Stars, The Voice. There are actual JUDGES on these shows throwing up paddles with numbered ratings, deeming that one note “pitchy”, deciding someone’s future based upon whether or not they “fell out of the pocket”. We sit there watching, sometimes yelling at our screens… some of us even take the time to text or call in our votes. Why? Because it’s our time to judge away! Can Yogis engage in this? Can I have a favorite on The Voice or am I supposed to think everyone’s a winner?
We try on clothes and ask our friend, “Does this make me look fat?’ (In other words, “Judge me please.”) We read restaurant and movie reviews to see what they were rated prior to shelling out our dough. Someone was allowed to judge them. Suggestion boxes, surveys and phone numbers on the backs of trucks asking “How’s my driving?” People are just begging to be judged!
When I did my Yoga Teacher Training, we were scrutinized to the letter. “Don’t ever say ‘Flex feet’ Everyone knows there’s no such thing as ‘Flex feet’… you can only dorsiflex or plantarflex your feet.” This was actually said to me a few years after I had already started teaching. I felt humiliated, picked on and judged unfairly. ‘Not sure if that helpful hint made me a better teacher or not but you know what? I’ve never said, “Flex feet” in class again! My point is: YOGA PEOPLE JUDGE! Just like ALL people, and I’m now fine with it.
My gripe is when Yoga people preach “no judgement” and then proceed to rip on someone! I’m not accusing anyone, people… because I do it too. Yup. I judge. I take a friend’s class and then give them a critique afterwards if they want it. True friends welcome it as do I and it’s always peppered with the good stuff as well. This is how we get better.
When I worked at a Hair Salon, should someone ask me which style would flatter them…or when I worked in retail… I had no problem telling them “That hairstyle makes you look older and dated” or “That shirt doesn’t showcase your cleavage the way this one does.” Was I judgemental? Sure. Yet it’s all in how something is said and I believe people appreciate honesty more than having smoke blown up their ass. I do.
‘Next time you hear a Yogi say, “No judgement.”, here’s what you do: Look them right in their third eye and just laugh the loudest belly laugh…wink…maybe give ‘em a hug and know that everyone judges everyone whether they verbalize it or not. We all – at this stage of our lives- allow people to be who they are… and coexist. How boring life would be if no one could have opinions, because to me, judging something is basically having an opinion, and like pie holes…everyone’s got one.
Yesterday I made it halfway through a walk on my gym’s treadmill when the workers came to install Flat screens, asking us to finish up. I wanted to complete my full hour so I decided to take a walk alone- without my hubby- and just do half of what he and I usually do. I’m all about being flexible so I set out to complete my workout alone.
I noticed that my pace was a little slower and without my soundboard next to me, I actually heard something I usually hadn’t heard before: birds chirping. When Peter and I walk, we set out for our 5 mile loop and the conversation just flows. To be honest, it’s usually me talking AT him…from Yoga to the kids to my parents and back to Yoga. Rarely- unless politics or his job creeps in- does he get to initiate a rant of his own. (No surprise there: I know.) Walking alone gave me the opportunity to be quiet and enjoy the sweet, melodic sounds of different birds. I liked it.
Occasionally he and I will cite the beautiful flowers we see or mention how pretty it is- which always gets the “Why would anyone NOT wanna move here from the north…?” convo in gear. On my solo walk I not only noticed MORE flowers and foliage, I paused to photograph these wonders of nature- marveling at the amazingly brilliant colors and even fragrances-when I literally stopped and smelled the roses- (well…not literally, since there weren’t any roses…but…you get where I’m going with this.) Usually we’re walking at such a fast pace where stopping is jarring.
The whole experience was unusual for me because it was truly about being in the moment and savoring the sites, smells and sounds rather than pounding the pavement with purpose and postulating over Prasarita Padotadasana vs. Pilates (and other “lofty” stuff I can go on and on about to make the miles seem quicker.)
How many times do we just go through the motions? Wake up, brush teeth, empty dishwasher, pour coffee, take dog out… Have you ever been in the hospital or had a loved one there and you stayed with them? Your whole world is turned upside down! Orange peanut butter & crackers become a Godsend, you never go to the bathroom properly, sleeping on that recliner… boy- you totally appreciate being back home, huh?
So here was my epiphany: Maybe I work so much on the weekends that I miss all the “events”. Perhaps our finances aren’t allowing us to do much more than watch TV as our “unwind time” or my husband working nights has turned our schedules topsy-turvy. What I decided was that even if I’m doing the “same ‘ole same ‘ole”, I can- yet again- take my Yoga off the mat and put my awareness to the newness in everything I do- however mundane or ordinary it is.
Instead of eating my signature salad like a vulture after my classes at night… sitting in front of the tube mindlessly chowing… I’ll sit at the table and actually look at what I’m enjoying, taking human bites and letting the fact that I HAVE food- register, along with the flavor…proving any mundane activity can turned into a meditation.
At the gym, I’ll do old school push ups in between my sets rather than check my cellphone. When I take my dog Louis out, I’ll get a kick out of seeing him sniff about and find the perfect spot instead of hurrying him along so I can get back inside. I’ll watch different TV shows- maybe even something on the History Channel instead of just checking in with my Housewives to see who’s ratchet or right.
When talking to my parents, I’ll truly listen to the sounds of their voices and register their words rather than roll my eyes waiting for the point of the story- even if I’ve heard it a thousand times before. I’ll think it’s cute and predictable when my Mom says (upon getting out of her car), “One of these days I’d like to fix the tint on that window….” rather than cut her off saying, “I know, I know… we’re gonna get to THAT!”
How does this relate to Yoga? (Well you know I’m going to bring it back to Yoga now, don’t ya?) When I’m teaching or talking to students or Teachers, I listen carefully when the conversation of changing up the flow comes up. (I’m talking about Vinyasa Flow here and not Bikram, people so don’t even GO there.) My regular students who’ve been with me for years now have mostly advanced their Yoga practices to new levels yet we always do Warriors, Triangles, Chaturangas and seated postures. How do we find something new in these “same ‘ole same ‘ole” poses?
Here are a “few suggestions” (as my Mom would say): If you haven’t focused much on Yogic breathing, you try it. If you HAVE, then you lengthen the breaths and the pause in between the inhales and exhales: ‘New sensation. You switch up your focal point or Drishti. Lay your mat down in a different part of the class. See what happens when everyone’s in BACK of you as opposed to in FRONT of you. (One of the reasons I like to have my students change directions a lot). Buy a different mat. Access a different part of your body in a familiar pose, focus on your feet placement, your jaw… hell- you can even wear a different outfit if you think it’ll make you have a new experience!
We’re going to do new poses and new sequences in almost every one of my classes, yet we do the same ones as well. Yoga is an ancient practice with sequences I’ve adopted that make sense. I don’t think it’s up to ME to reinvent the flow and razzle dazzle you with hybrid moves, moving willy-nilly…just to keep your attention and ensure you wake up sore the next morning. Rather, it’s up to YOU to come to your mat like it’s your first time, keeping your practice fresh, perhaps stumbling upon a subtle nuance in the same way I’ve vowed to perceive my ho-hum routines as first-time experiences.
People practice Yoga to learn MINDFULNESS. Let’s take it off the mat now and see what happens. Once again- we’re all in this together- evolving, expanding and emerging every day as a better version of what we were yesterday, right?
Anyone who knows me has most likely seen me wearing a bandanna. Why? Am I trying to look “bad ass’ or “cool”? Not really, folks. The real reason behind me covering my head as often as possible is because I have Psoriasis on my scalp. Yup. It’s not something I love to talk or complain about… but it’s a fact of my life I’ve been dealing with since I was 21.
Psoriasis is not a skin disease, rather an auto-immune disorder that apparently I’ve had since birth- one which shares it’s gene with other autoimmune diseases such as Crohns and Colitis. I have close family members who unfortunately also have Psoriasis, Crohns, Colitis and a rare type of mouth sore. Each of us deals with our autoimmune disease differently.
When I was 21- a common age for Psoriasis to first rear its ugly head via ones’ skin- I noticed this red spot under my knee that’d turn red and flake away dead skin. I was fascinated with this spot and would pick at it, not knowing what it was. One day I woke up with what I thought were pimples on my thigh and within the next few days, these “pimples” had multiplied and spread to every surface area of my skin except my face!
Don’t ask me why, but the doctors had no idea what this mysterious rash was at first. It itched like crazy and was spreading like rapid fire, causing me major stress and making me itch like the worse case of poison ivy ever. I took to wearing dark stockings or pants and long sleeves so as not to draw attention to myself while selling Health Club Memberships. I was putting on quite an act of happy, healthy work out person yet after work…after my work outs, I’d go to my apartment, peel off every piece of clothing, sit in front of a fan to cool my skin and cry at my massive, raging, peeling, “Leprosy-looking” skin…wondering if it’d ever go away.
For a few weeks I bounced between General Doctors and Dermatologists before being diagnosed with Psoriasis. At that time, we didn’t realize that other family members had anything considered Autoimmune. This was the early 80s, pre-Internet where articles about mysterious rashes as a prelude to a full-blown AIDS epidemic were making their way on to the back pages of newspapers. I was convinced for a few days that I may have contracted this disease. (OK, folks… it was the 80s, media hysteria was building about “a mysterious skin rash”, I was 21 and had been living a normal adventurous 21 year old’s life and my mind was racing right over “The heartbreak of Psoriasis” to my swan song!
It was one of the darkest periods of my life. I was embarrassed, ashamed, uninformed and terrified. Having grown up Catholic, I was convinced that Psoriasis was God’s way of punishing me for being vain, for my interest in makeup, hair and for going into the fashion industry. I looked ugly, everyone stared at me and offered me -without me even asking- their “Aunt Tilly’s tried and true remedy” any time my skin was exposed. I was sliding downward into depression and desperation, even after the final diagnoses of Psoriasis because it was made quite certain to me that this disease has no cure. At 21… this seemed like a death sentence.
What did I do to control it? What DIDN’T I try? Both prescription steroid creams and over-the-counter ointments, tar baths, tar soaps, light boxes, tanning beds, adding and eliminating foods, Dead Sea Salt baths…hell- my parents were even considering sending me to bathe in the Dead Sea- (a Psoriasis pilgrimage that many people make.) Please remember that the only information available to me was from books, doctors and other sufferers – if and when I met any.
After a few months of this nonsense- hiding in my parents’ back yard tanning when I could, a local Dermatologist urged me to start Methotrexate- a very strong black box drug used in Chemotherapy that- upon reading the side effects- I opted against.
What happened next was a gift from God. My Dad met someone who suggested this procedure that worked for her. It was natural with no side effects and we felt there was nothing to lose. So for months- first once a week, then once every two weeks, then tapering off…I took an hour drive further upstate New York to a little town called Kerhonksen to a remote, wooded private home where I was treated. Dr. Irving Milberg saw only Psoriasis patients in his cabin office attached to his home. The drive through the mountains was dangerous-especially in the Winter- yet we made this trek for a procedure he had spent his adult life researching called Autohemotherapy. He didn’t invent it, rather it was had been used throughout history as a way to naturally boost the immune system, fight infection and stimulate vitality.
Dr. Milberg, a grandfatherly reassuring old-time healer to me- drew a small amount of blood from my vein, then reinserted it into my butt muscle. The blood was not treated with anything and the premise was that upon reinjecting my own blood, my body’s reaction would be to produce extra, natural Cortisone, thus jump-starting my sluggish immune system and sending the skin lesions into remission. At no time did he claim to have “the cure” for Psoriasis. It was quick, painless and a relatively inexpensive, natural healing procedure that I looked forward to receiving when I needed it.
I was cleared within 3 months and went on to have 2 or maybe 3 more of these major body break outs since then. Each time, I headed right back to my lbeloved Dr. Milberg and all the Hasidic Jews that populated the area. These autoimmune diseases are more prevalent in Jews as we’re always asked at doctors if we’re Jewish. It’s the Eastern European descent. My Mom’s parents are straight from Czechoslovakia and Hungary.
Autohemotherapy was my first experience with alternative practices. The reaction I received from the Dermatologist I had first been diagnosed by was extremely rude and condescending. Rather than be happy I was in remission, he tried to intimidate me saying it was blood-letting and witchcraft! He said there was no documented cases of this working and that any relief I had gotten was merely based on a Placebo effect. I told him that I didn’t care one bit because it had cleared me and all I had at that point were scars- reverse white spots where I had tanned. My skin was spotted but at least the itching, flaking lesions that I considered “Leprosy” were fading and I was getting my self-esteem back. (My first argument with a mainstream medical practitioner).
This whole experience is part of what set me on a path of natural healing and gave me the open mind I needed for all aspects of growth. I haven’t had a full-body break out since before I was pregnant I believe. I didn’t take pictures of even ONE of my episodes because I vowed to never forget looking and feeling the way I did.
Since I started practicing Yoga over 15 years ago, I’ve had no major break outs.No matter what I eat or drink, the topical creams I use… I credit Yoga with keeping it at bay. Where am I at with it today? Back to the bandana. I have a terrible habit of picking the patches on my scalp so, sadly, I go in and out of having Psoriasis on my head. Wearing a bandanna acts as a barrier: it occludes the usual topical cream and/or coconut oil I have slathered throughout my head. It’s actually better for the air to get at it…but I’ll be honest. My compulsion to release these lesions via picking and scratching has lead me to wearing a bandanna to avoid the habit! Like a smoker grabbing a cigarette with a cup of coffee, I have trigger times when I want to scratch. Enter Yogic breathing…or sometimes just typing or texting with friends at night- in lieu of watching TV and scratching away.
Yoga has given me the tools to de-stress, since stress can play a major factor in autoimmune disorder flare ups. Through practicing Yoga I’ve developed patience for the times when I DO see a flare up, and acceptance to handle that this is a relatively minor “cross to bare”.
Having this disorder gives me compassion for those who suffer from any autoimmune disease and anything so openly visual to illicit stares by people in public, questions and a general disdain for something that looks so unattractive.
In a way… Psoriasis is a gift. Any time I see a new wrinkle or complain about any body imperfection- like we ALL do- I quickly remind myself that I could suffer a major flare up at any time. A few mosquito bites in one area is enough to start my wheels turning… which is when I use my Yoga: to relax, breathe and accept what’s to come as my test. The experience opened my eyes to alternative therapies and not putting a doctor in charge of MY health without first researching and feeling comfortable with the treatment. It enabled me to raise my kids more holistically and be an advocate for their needs-without blind faith.
Once my daughter’s preteen friend asked her, “Does your Mom have cancer?” Natalia used to be embarrassed when I wore what she calls a “head scarf”. My mom still hates when I wear my “babushka”, but it’s become such a part of who I am, that I feel a sense of me being me whenever I don my bandanna. The fact that they keep the sweat out of my eyes when working out or practicing Yoga and now give an instant facelift when tied with just the right amount of tightness… bandannas will not be leaving my accessory wardrobe in this lifetime for sure!