Seahorsin’ Around

Try this right now: Be a seahorse. Stand on one leg and let the other float off the ground behind you. Tuck your elbows into your ribs. Extend your forearms straight ahead. And start wiggling your fingers.

seahorse-e1501961886918.jpgThis was the very first pose I did during a three-day yin yoga workshop earlier this week. “Chi, chi,” our leader chanted, encouraging even more life force into our seahorse. I stared in bewilderment at the yin founder himself, Paulie Zink. He and his workshop were nothing like I expected.

How did the art of stillness turn into the art of silliness? And weren’t we supposed to be glued to the mat in solemn, long holds accompanied by the sound of our breath?

He reminded us again and again, “yin isn’t dead yoga.” We flowed. We paused and allowed. We emulated the elements. We embraced our animal spirits.

My seahorse turned into a parading penguin. The next day I crawled like a bear while transforming my breath into low growls. I learned to move steady like earth, flow like water, spring like wood, hop like fire and be rigid like metal.

I had signed up for the course to learn to be quieter, slower, and more mindful. And Master Zink taught me these things by encouraging me to be more alive. Alive with joy. Alive with energy. And most of all, alive with feeling.

Because there is stillness in motion. And when you really feel, you’ll find you’re really present. And when you let go of trying so hard – letting go of what a pose should look like – you discover how quickly ease and joy blossom.

These lessons however simple have changed my world on and off the mat. (These along with “T-rex” pose, which is kind of like a stomping seahorse advancing forward, because how can you not smile while doing this?)

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A Paddle & Perspective

During my standup paddleboard outing this morning, my companion found herself in the middle of the lake without a paddle. Somewhere in between doing our yoga poses, it had silently glided overboard.

I loaned her mine as we started our search, circling the nearby area to no avail. I couldn’t believe how calmly she accepted it was lost as we gazed across the choppy waters to our launch point. The winds were still making paddling a bit of a challenge.

I looked back at the single paddle for the two of us and I told her to keep it. I had no problem laying on top of the board and pretending to be a surfer chasing the next big wave.

And so we started our journey back to shore, letting go of the missing paddle that was supposed to float. A few strokes in, I saw something pale yellow bobbing up ahead – right at my eye level. “The paddle,” I cheered.

In the afternoon, I went into my home office to write. I had a sense that today was the day to open the piece I had been struggling with for months, which I haven’t touched for weeks. And it was – something was different, something clicked. I got further in this new draft than in the dozen or so before it.

Just like with the missing paddle, in letting go, the perspective that was needed emerged. By letting go instead of forcing, I am now finding my way both in that challenging piece and back here on my blog after quite the hiatus.

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I almost cheated…

I almost cheated today, day 12 of my 40-day yoga challenge. I stared longingly at the Moscow mule cocktail I wanted to order, imagining what the delightful blend of bourbon, ginger and lime juice would taste like. But then I realized how big a difference there would be between cheating and failing.

The cheat would have been premeditated. I knew the sequence of events that would follow. I’d get a little tipsy off my one drink since I so rarely have one. My short-lived laughter would fade into exhaustion. And my yoga practice would fall into the absolute minimum category. It’d be a quick restorative legs-up-wall pose or maybe a downward dog.

Both options would technically be acceptable for the challenge. There’s no time requirement for my daily practice even though the overachiever in me has been addicted to fitting in as many power yoga classes as possible. But I knew I could do better than the minimum. I knew that for me today the minimum was not only a cop out, it wasn’t what I needed.

Cheat

When I passed on the drink, my thoughts immediately turned to the gym. I could still get my cardio in with a late-evening session. My husband was headed there. Why not join him? With so much yoga, I hadn’t gotten a lot of outside cardio done either.

But that was a cop out too. It was the same as the drink. I would push myself into complete exhaustion, pretend it was a good reason for a super abbreviated yoga practice and given the frantic pace of the week leave little energy for tomorrow.

So I did what I find most difficult to do. I opted out of the gym. I ventured into my home office and selected my most challenging practice – something slow and restorative. And when I stepped off my mat feeling better than I have all day, I wondered why I had fought so hard against what I needed most.

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Seizing the New Year: The Great Pit Bull Adventure

I had plans to start 2016 on the slow side. No sweeping change. A leisurely coffee. A little tidying up. And then I’d get back to the novel I’d been enjoying during this past week of vacation.

But my sweet Elliot had other plans for embracing the new year – ones that followed along the lines of “seize the pit bull day” and “find your adventure.” Gone was the dog of 2015 who patiently stayed in the doorway while I put out the recyclables. He looked like the same innocent, home-loving pooch as he did last week, at least for the 20 seconds before he bolted.

Before I knew it Elliot was on the lam, dashing across the front yard and into our neighbor’s on a mission to make his first morning of the year his most exciting yet. I made my first mistake of the year running after him in my fleece sleep sheep pajamas. It was game on for Elliot – keep away from the parents.

My husband shouted for me to stop chasing him. I shouted maniacally for my beloved pooch who was venturing farther and farther away, making sweeping circles from one backyard to the next and sprinting like a jackrabbit.

ElliotI asked my husband to grab treats but Elliot was no fool. He’d snatch one up and continue on the ridiculous game while my head filled with visions of traffic coming down the road. I swapped my chase with a slower trot to keep him in my sights. The one thing that never came to mind was trying out the “totally reliable recall” training, which we shamefully hadn’t practiced in months.

But luckily there’s one thing Elliot still loved more than being a completely free-range pooch. He loves new people and couldn’t resist greeting our concerned neighbor who had come out into her driveway after hearing the commotion. As I shouted, “be careful he’s a jumper” given his tendency to try to get his paws on every person’s shoulders to move in for the kiss, she slowly bent down and said hello.

She was the every bit of calm I wasn’t so Elliot wasn’t the least bit suspecting of being apprehended. While she held his attention, I swiftly scooped up the nearly 60-pound canine rebel and carried him back home while offering a chorus of thanks.

Elliot was apparently tuckered out by the adventure and spent the rest of the day snoozing under a pile of blankets on the couch. And I returned to my novel as initially planned while sneaking glances of the now-angelic bull and soaking in the reminder to be more careful and calm.

 

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Losing the Way

I got there again – that place where I become a grumpy, frantic lunatic that just oozes negativity. The one who can’t remember how she was ever happy, loses her connection to creativity, and doubts everything in her life. And while I was there, I didn’t realize how far I’d driven myself beyond exhaustion.

Luckily, my über patient fiancé was kind enough to treat me like a 33-year-old toddler having a tantrum. He knew that with lots of rest and a yoga session I’d regain my much cheerier self.

DSCN1032I felt like an abysmal failure since my inner monster had resurfaced with a vengeance. It had been a tumultuous few weeks but I found little satisfaction in the excuses.

The why didn’t matter because this little episode served as glaring proof that I can’t change. I can read all my wonderful Buddhism texts, meditate, find beauty in my morning walks, hell even find beauty while nervously pacing outside a hospital for news, but I couldn’t stop the freight train of negativity.

But then my Thursday night hot yoga session revived me.  In my post-practice haze, I started thinking about the many terrific quotes on failure, especially the wise words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

I had always thought those words were reserved for the bigger failures of life like the screenplay that had fallen short of acceptance and my most disastrous relationship. But this relapse has taught me that the smaller, repeat failures matter just as much because you still need to pick yourself up. It’s the only way to live boldly and fully – you have to be willing to fail repeatedly and, most importantly, risk failing bigger.

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Time & Intention

On those three nights or so I glue myself to the chair to write, I commit to putting in the time. I literally set a timer for 15 minutes knowing that whatever happens there will be a cheery musical symphony announcing my liberation.

I remind myself that it’s just about showing up. I don’t have to write marvelous scenes or concoct exotic sentences. There’s no set topic and no commitment to writing a blog post. All I have to do is keep that pen moving across the page.

Time IntentionBut it’s not enough. My words never escape from the lined pages of my journal. They just dwell, bound by their lack of significance and purpose.

Lately, I’ve been asking myself: why isn’t this process working? Why am I at such a loss for inspiration? Why for the first time I can remember do I feel like I have nothing interesting to say?

Yesterday, I started thinking about some of my other passions – my workouts and the countless hours I spend with my pit bull companion. Sure, my workouts like my writing are usually time (or mile) bound. But when have I ever showed up saying I’ll be here for the duration but I’m not going to push myself to work hard? Never. I show up when my legs feel like concrete, when my workout is postponed to after 9 p.m. and even when I’m simply exhausted but give it everything I got.

And on those occasions when I set a timer for Elliot’s morning playtime so I can make it to work on time, when have I ever just said I just need to toss the ball for 10 minutes? Never. I give him all of my energy and enthusiasm, shouting “wild and crazy bully” and “torro, puppy, torro” chasing him around the yard before my coffee has fully kicked in.

My relationship with my writing needs to be the same. It’s time to stop taking the “just show up” mantra to the extreme, using it as proof that I’m trying while dodging the story that creeps into my pages every week.

It’s time to lightly sketch out a path forward and actually show up with the genuine intention to create, rather than cleverly writing to avoid it.

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An Encounter with the Sunday Night Yoga Critic

Sunday night yoga – a time to get present and toss aside anxiety about the transition from weekend to work week. Yes, this was my intention. But what I found on the mat was a super judgmental freak. I’ve noticed her before – butting in occasionally, criticizing my crows or shaming me for not attempting my headstand.

But yesterday she just wouldn’t shut up. My practice literally became a repeated procession of pose and response. Here let me give you a few:

Downward facing dog, dip your heels down to the floor. And she said, “It’s just not anatomically possible for you to ever reach the floor. Years of yoga and you’re still a good inch away.”

Yoga matWarrior two, reach your arm under to take the bind and reach your chest to the sky. “I can’t hold this. I lifted weights yesterday. My legs are shot from all the squats and lunges.”

Half moon, stack your hips and extend your leg with energy. “I was so much better at this last year. I was graceful, now I’m awkward. I’m wobbling.”

Wide leg straddle, reach the crown of your head to the floor and take the inversion if it’s in your practice. “I’m still not there. I can’t believe I’m still not there. I used to do this but I can’t. It doesn’t feel possible.”

Pigeon, send your breath where you need it. “I can’t stand this. I really can’t stand this today. I normally can but I can’t stay here. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.”

Yes, that witch was completely merciless. She kept talking even though no one else was commenting on my yoga practice. There were no adjustments. No prompts to find my edge. No praise of other students. Nothing except a coached flow of poses.

But I’m glad she came out with such intensity her chatter couldn’t be ignored. Who knows how many times a comment here or there went unnoticed as they were ingrained as truths about my capabilities and limits? So I’m grateful for the obnoxious voice that disrupted my Sunday night to take me another step farther on the path to mindfulness where I can permanently remind myself she isn’t real and doesn’t matter.

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Messing Up and Moving On

It was a Tuesday that felt like a terrible re-run of a Monday. My retreat to a post-work weight lifting class compounded the unpleasantness instead of releasing it. I didn’t mean flip my bar over so quickly to add weights to the unloaded side that I accidentally clubbed a classmate in the head. I said I was sorry at least 10 times. I meant it. And she meant it when she muttered, “you really need to pay attention to what you’re doing.”

And so the question that had loomed over the earlier part of the day returned. “What could I have done differently?” I slunk back to my bench in the center of the room without any answers. I made an effort to consolidate my extra weights into the most compact of piles. Maybe I was trying to seem more considerate and harmless to those within a bar’s reach. Or maybe I was trying to shrink my presence in an effort to disappear.

I spent the entire class trying to stay serious, focused and present while never turning my head in the left direction. I couldn’t risk eye contact with the victim of my distraction who luckily was still up for the one-hour workout. There was a fleeting moment when I silently argued that maybe she was positioned a little too close to the weight rack and if she had paid attention to her surroundings she would have escaped the impact. But I knew it was my fault and there’s nothing I hate more than screwing up.

What could I have done differently? It’s only now, three hours later, I’ve realized the question should be “what can I do differently?” And the answer is simple: walk into that gym, prepare for class like I’ve done every other time without incident and enjoy my workout. In other words, see it for what was – an unfortunate mistake, not a pattern.

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The Resurgence of Words

Restarting is hard. Even though I’m a writer deep at my core, laziness and excuses took on their own momentum. And I wound up swapping my words for anything and everything – vacation, holiday preparations, sickness, aimless scrolls through social media feeds and mindless television.

passion

 

The amazing thing is that true passions don’t abandon you even when super neglected. They find a way back in unexpectedly. Tonight, that was during my yoga class – another facet of my life that has been slightly neglected.

Sure, I was supposed to be fascinating on my breath but the writer in me had hopped out of hibernation. There I was in downward dog staring through my legs at the dark-haired, 40-something man behind me inventing the story of why he was there. To my defense, it was impossible not to notice his late entry when he rolled out his sticky mat that sounded like a 100 band-aids simultaneously being removed in the midst of our meditative silence.

Is it a novel? A screenplay? A random scene that will remain hidden in the scrawling volumes of my journals? I don’t know and it doesn’t matter. What matters is I want to write and I will write because not writing has been like not fully living.

And that’s what is so beautiful as 2014 comes to an end. I’ve gained and lost so much but I’m right back where I want to be. And the struggle has brought its own gift of knowing that I can always find my way back.

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Meet Elliot

Elliot is my teacher and my test, my reward for coming home and my biggest worry. He’s the fiercely affectionate pit bull who has demanded love I wasn’t sure I was ready to give.

I repeatedly declared that I was never getting another dog after unexpectedly losing my beloved pit bull, Foxy Brown, two and half months ago. But the universe had other plans: a fellow dog lover at work understood my loss and offered to connect me with Elliot’s wonderful rescue mom.

It’s been about a month and a half since the 55-pound pound, tiger-striped and slightly wild guy officially became a member of the family. But there was never any doubt he had a permanent home.

Elliot won me over during our first “meet and greet” when he dashed up to my office and excitedly seized one of Foxy’s toys. And if his joy wasn’t convincing enough, he put his paws on my shoulders and kissed my face until I had to peel him off to breathe. I think he literally chapped my lips and face as our introductory meeting turned into a sleepover.

While he was rescued in a city and loving recuperated on a farm, he’s new to roaming about a home environment and living in a neighborhood where there’s often activity outside. In his first week, he appointed himself chief security officer of our home, planting his paws on the closest windowsill to bark at every passerby even though when strangers actually approach him he has a tendency to hide behind me. Elliot wasted no time in declaring war on every pillow and blanket in the house. He mistook the toilet for an oversized drinking bowl. And he had a hard time differentiating between the many dog toys scattered all over the house and our shoes.

We knew Elliot had quite the learning curve so we bought him a fancy new crate complete with an ultra durable bed so he could be safe when my boyfriend and I weren’t home. But it turned out that Elliot is also a talented escape artist who was smart enough to not rip apart the house after freeing himself during his first Saturday afternoon alone. We figured if he could manage those three hours without damage, we could take a shot in trusting him to do the same during the week. And for the most part he has except for chewing up two paper plates and helping himself to a banana one evening while we were at a wedding.

DSC02034Elliot’s quirks bring new joy to our home. We quickly discovered he’s a peeping pit. He slinks into the bathroom during shower time and pops his head up in between the fabric curtain and plastic shower liner. Sometimes he even pushes the curtains aside and stands on the edge of the bathtub, stretching his snout into the shower. It’s adorable, especially since he never jumps in.

He also loves to snuggle – on the couch, in our bed and even while I’m sitting at my computer. Elliot has no qualms about standing on his hind legs while draping the rest of his body across my lap when I’m typing. If my office chair was bigger, I know he’d just climb on me.

But of all the things Elliot has brought to our life, the most important is the lesson he’s taught me. It all comes down to love. Faced with a strange new situation, he approaches each day with an outpouring of love from bestowing good morning kisses to resting his head or paw on me when he goes to sleep in the evening. He always makes sure we know how much he loves us and we can’t help but follow his example. I couldn’t be more grateful for this incredible pooch who has shown me how much love I have to give even after losing Foxy.

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