Thinking Yogi

The intersection of two loves: yoga and writing.

Lately, when a certain someone pokes my shoulder at 7:01 or 6:23 or 5:45 (it’s a fun little game we like to play at my house – when will the 5 year-old get us up today?), one word pops into my head: Relentless.

 

Before you start playing the world’s tiniest violin for me and my inconsequential complaints, I’ll go on record to say that I realize I’m beyond lucky. I don’t currently have to worry about health, jobs, food, or shelter. Because of the many privileges I carry I’m not subjected to the inequities that so many individuals face. Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. Endlessly.

 

And yet, also….oh my goodness. As I look ahead to an uncertain summer and fall and get a whiff of that special soup of tween/teen moods with some 5 year-old tantrums and stagnant afternoon heat sprinkled in, the pout comes right back. Pretending it's not there isn't going to make me stop feeling it, I'll just feel more ashamed and keep shoving it down as resentment grows.

 

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Though eventually this virus will relent and over time our lives will go back to some semblance of normalcy, in the day-to-day it's hard to trust that. Some days it wears me down, especially when my reserves are low, I’ve had poor sleep the night before, the weather isn’t cooperating, and neither are my children. It's mysterious how one day I can feel optimistic and grateful and ready for anything, and the next I can barely make it until after lunchtime when I "let" my daughter watch her daily marathon of babysitting tv so I can get some work done, or time alone without being needed.

 

Here's the thing: no matter how hard or easy this time is for you, it might also feel relentless. Moreso than anything we've collectively experienced before. Whether you’re struggling to keep your sanity while simultaneously managing a very full household, or you’re feeling lost without your normal social and work structures, schedules, and friend time – this is hard.

 

What can we do?

 

We have to be more relentless.

 

We have to dig our heels in on the things that keep us healthy and safe and sane. Don’t let yourself be worn down when it comes to your personal blend of corona self-care. For me, that means spending time outside every single day, strengthening my body and getting my heart rate up at least a few times a week, making space for quiet practices of reconnecting (yoga, breath, meditation, rest) whenever I can, and carving out both uninterrupted work time and family time where I can fully listen and look into the eyes of my dear husband and kids to share a story or a laugh. It means checking on those I love and showing gratitude in small ways to those essential heroes at the grocery store, in delivery vehicles, hospitals, everyone who is brave enough to work in service of others right now.

 

If you’re feeling the weariness, you’re not alone. It’s okay to be tired from the relentlessness. Just don’t give up.

 

Get up, breathe deeply, and keep showing up for yourself and those you love. 

 

We will get through this.

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Posted by on in Off the Mat
Like so many millions around the country and around the world, I am saddened, fearful, and angry at the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many others before them. My heart goes out to the families of each of these individuals who died senselessly, and in such a brutal way.

I want to acknowledge that whatever I say here will be flawed, but I'm trying to move away from my fear-based default of not saying or doing anything when it comes to matters of racism, towards some sort of action, however small and imperfect.
 
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I often feel hopeless contemplating the impact one person's actions could make on the systemic racism that has been pervasive in our country for hundreds of years. And it's certainly not as easy as following some checklist or action plan - if it was that simple, racism wouldn't exist. But everything I've learned from equity trainings and the reading I've been doing suggests that we don't need to go big to begin. Rather, each of us, and especially those of us who carry the privilege of whiteness, must self-reflect. It's not comfortable to admit to biases, even if unconsciously held, but it's an essential first step before we can hope to change our interactions with others or make an impact on our broader community.

This is svadyaya, self-study. I'm reading books recommended by those who know so much more than I do (see the list of resources below). I'm seeking out knowledgeable and compassionate leaders in the movement and listening. And then my practice is to take baby steps speaking up in small ways rather than staying silent.
What can you do now, right from your own home?

I encourage you to start with educating yourself, as I am.

1. Listen and join the Conversation
Yoga Alliance is hosting a free Community Conversation on Yoga and Race Relations led by Tyrone Beverly (who is amazing) this Friday, June 5th from 2-3:30pm ET. I will be tuning in to listen and learn, and I encourage you to attend. And please spread the word! Register here

2. Talk with your Kids (or explore this great resource yourself)
Chicago Public Schools recently put out a guide to having conversations around race and civil disobedience, but it's not only for children. It contains a ton of links to articles and resources that help facilitate thinking and conversation around key questions surrounding racism, the trauma caused by racial violence, and the impact of media.

3. Explore these Educational Resources & Ways to take Action and Donate

As we teachers like to say, yoga is about self-care. But it can be more than that. Let's use our practice not only to care for ourselves, but also to do the hard work of honestly looking at our own beliefs and actions so that we may first act more consciously and compassionately in our everyday interactions. Only then can any of us hope to contribute to a change in the systemic racism that has taken the lives and liberties of too many.

This starts with each of us as individuals. I encourage you to begin that reflection for yourself, in your own home, right now. More importantly, continue that work once time passes and the media attention surrounding George Floyd's murder fades. My books are stacked up and I'll be joining you - reading, listening, and learning.
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Posted by on in Off the Mat

Anyone else feeling a teensy bit of pressure to be quarantine fabulous these days?

Think: baking photogenic bread, creating cute craft projects, sewing adorable masks, learning the ukelele / spanish / how to ride a unicycle / and on and on and on....

I'm as competitive as anyone. No, MORE competitive.

Despite my 20+ year yoga and meditation practice I've still been known to taunt my kids with a "YESSSS!" and a fist pump when I beat them at a board game. All in good fun, of course. At least for me. Not sure what the losers think :)

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Asmita alert! In yoga philosophy, asmita is one of the kleshas, or afflictions of the mind. It's often referred to as "I-Am-Ness," the ego asserting itself for fear that if it doesn't we will not be good enough, liked, or valued by the outside world.

My competitive, comparing spirit follows me everywhere I go if I let it. This is the #1 reason I got off social media a few years ago: it consistently made me feel sad and less-than any time I got a glimpse of someone's beautifully filtered life and compared it with my own present circumstances that usually included children arguing and on at least one occasion involved a smoke alarm going off because the new plant-forward recipe I was making had burned while I scrolled my way to a Facebook jealousy stupor.

But right now my professional self is necessarily in research mode. I'm on webinar after webinar learning the best ways to offer online yoga. To get a sense of the landscape I quickly drain 30 minutes bopping from one online yoga site to another, and afterwards I feel something not unlike that post social media depression that used to plague me.

This is the thing that always bugged me in yoga philosophy class: in theory it sounds nice to not compete or compare. But how can I be a responsible, relevant business owner without doing that research? How can you find fun ways to occupy yourself during quarantine without looking at what everyone else is doing?

The answer is subtle, as it usually is in yoga. That's what I love about it.

Yes, do the research and planning (abhyasa, practice). Just don't latch onto that info to compare or judge yourself against what you find (vairagya, non-attachment).

My other tips? Pick a day (or even just an hour) when you can turn off email, work, social media, all of it. Then show yourself some compassion and head to the mat for simplicity practices - not fancy, Instagram-worthy asanas, but something that changes how you feel on a nervous system level. Today I enjoyed a lying-down practice of sama vrtti (even inhale, even exhale) that was nothing to brag about, but I felt so balanced, smooth, and connected afterwards.

No matter how competitive you are, you get to decide how you play the game.

You don't need to impress, compare, or judge yourself, especially right now. Here's to showing yourself a little more love, and to leaving the spirit of competition to the Monopoly board.

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My husband Zach and I found ourselves with unexpected early morning childcare last Friday, and while my first instinct was to cram in some work time, I thankfully shoved that nonsense aside.

We grabbed our bikes and pedaled through an unseasonably warm November day to our favorite brunch spot.

As is so often the way with parents of young children when given solo time, Zach and I spent a while just sighing over our scrambles and celebrating the fact that no small people were arguing in high-pitched voices over the fairness of maple syrup distribution.

Then I scanned the restaurant for cute babies I could drool over to quell that nauseating feeling of delight and heartache over being away from our own sweet little miss.

But after a few minutes, it hit me. What are all these people doing here on a regular Friday morning?

We were there on a lark, cashing in on a childcare jackpot. But these Friday morning brunchers all looked so comfortable, so guilt-free, so self-possessed in their decision to take time out of a plain old weekday to do something for themselves.

I wanted desperately to just enjoy my scramble in an uncomplicated, non-analytical way. Wished I could stop questioning the smiling faces of my fellow dining companions, and just accept this blissful time out of my normal routine. But along came judgement nonetheless, and I was incredulous: “Who do these people think they are, just going to brunch because they feel like it on a Friday morning?”

I snapped out of it pretty quickly, but the judgy unease lingered for the rest of the day like that brunchy smell on my coat.

It’s time to just come out and admit it:

Hi, I’m Kerry. I’m tired, and I struggle to make time for myself. And it’s been that way for a long, long time.

Some of that is my kids’ fault (love you, kiddos!). But mostly it’s my own.

My kids aren’t the ones who decide it’s a great idea to cram five activities into a day that should probably accommodate three, max. They don’t tell me I should prioritize answering emails over yoga, that the overflowing basket of clean laundry trumps the need to book my monthly maintenance massage. Heck, my 8-year old daughter used to come into the living room while I was practicing yoga and insist upon giving me a “masshage” (after which she’d ask for one back!).

To my fellow tired, burned out, overextended friends: b2ap3_thumbnail_Reclining-Bound-Angle-Pose-Supta-Baddha-Konasana-Supported-Restorative-29.jpg

You don’t need anyone’s permission to take good care of yourself.

That means:

Your kids, your partner, your parents, your friend, your dog, your boss, your co-worker, etc.

No one.

And while we’re at it:

No one – not even the people on the above list who love you dearly, not even those who give you massage gift cards for your birthday or offer to watch your kids so you can go to yoga – can make time for self-care but you.

No one can make time for self-care but you.

You can wait for it to happen, you can even fume over the fact that it still hasn’t (“……and how can he or she or they not know how much I desperately need time for myself??????”). But if I were you, I’d take a completely different approach. A radical step in the much-needed right direction.

Decide you’re worthy, embrace the fact that self-care makes you a happier and more pleasant person to be around, and don’t make any room for excuses. Be as self-possessed as a Friday morning bruncher and just make that business happen.

It doesn’t take much of an investment in the self-care bank to do the trick, but you do need to consistently deposit. After our quick morning escape into the world of child-free dining, I had the most lovely day! I felt carefree, light, and better prepared to tackle whatever our three rascals threw at us over an action-packed weekend.

 

Self-care only works if you do it, and you’ll only do it if you stop making excuses and accept the fact that this is something no one else can do for you. So seriously. Isn’t it time you got to it?

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Until recently, we hadn’t bought a single piece of furniture in over 15 years. Zach and I picked up a bunch of “firsts” shortly after we were married: first coffee table (which after a few years got a huge crack down the middle due to being too close to the fireplace), first couch (the beastly convertible sleeper sofa that our movers later hated us for), first dresser (a steal from a San Francisco Salvation Army store). Then we just lived with them. First because we couldn’t coordinate a cross-country move AND new furniture purchases, then because we were sure our kids would wreck everything, then because we knew we’d be moving twice in a year as part of our home renovation process.

We decided upon moving back in that it was time for an upgrade. But I wasn’t prepared for the anxiety of:

1. Picking out new furniture, or

2. Allowing our 3 children to touch, breathe on, or look at said new furniture.

When the gray gunmetal barstools arrived, they looked as new furniture should: pristine, almost buzzing with their newness. These stools weren’t over the top fancy or expensive, and I had picked them out in large part because of their stain-resistant fabric. But only hours after taking them out of their protective shrink wrap I had to allow actual children to sit on them while eating. Picture two big kids who mostly remember to put napkins in their laps while eating pasta with red sauce, and a one-year old in a highchair next to said barstools who eats as much as most adults, gets equal amounts of food in her mouth as on her face, hair, and hands, and has incredible reach and quicker hands than you would think possible for a baby, and you’ll have a hint of the nervousness I felt.

Before allowing this dangerous situation to unfold, I read the cleaning instructions with a seriousness bordering on piety. I instructed my big kids what to do if something spilled on the stools with the same seriousness as the talks I’ve given them on what to do if a stranger approaches them in the park.

In the first few weeks we owned the stools, it’s probably most accurate to describe my behavior around them as insane. The kids and their friends would sidle up to the counter for a nice, friendly snack during a playdate, and I’d snarl if I saw any arms drop below the counter top. “Hey! Are your hands clean?” The kids guiltily showed me their paws and I’d make them dismount the stools so I could perform an inspection, only to find that there were just a few crumbs, or perhaps a small drop of milk that I could easily wipe up.b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_20161001_150109.jpg

Then one lovely afternoon while the big kids were in school and the baby was sleeping, I found myself hungry and gloriously alone, so I pulled up to the counter with some chips and salsa. I steered a heaping, salsa-coated chip towards my mouth, and then proceeded to drop the entire thing face-down on the chair. I gasped and stared for a moment, as if maybe it would jump back into my hand and the whole thing would end up being some sort of anxiety dream, but it sat there, heavy and tomato-y on the gray gunmetal fabric.

While racing to get my white clean-up towel I reflexively felt the urge to yell at someone for being so careless. But as I dabbed the salsa, turning my white clean-up towel red, all at once I knew how stressful this stool situation must have been for my kids.

Irritated as I was at my carelessness, the day I spilled salsa on our brand new chairs (no more than three weeks into owning them), was a great day. It was the day that the stress of perfection flew out the window, that pristine became well-loved, and my craziness was revealed for what it was so I could stop being such a freak about the chairs.

This doesn’t mean I’m so zen that you can wipe your PB&J hands all over our barstools, but I won’t ruin your meal by hovering over you with my white clean-up towel. If you spill I’ll know that I can probably get the stain out, and even if I can’t, it’s okay. Some of the best stories involve the accidents that leave a memorable impression.

There’s a name for this. It’s called Wabi-Sabi, and you can see it as an extension of yoga practice.

(Bloom insider secret – our front desk has its own Wabi-Sabi story. Ask the managers to fill you in if you’re interested. Here’s the cliff notes version: it involves my elbow, an enthusiastic jump, and a huge crack in our countertop.)

Wabi-Sabi is a commitment to the beauty of imperfection. It’s cultivating contentment (santosha) rather than wishing for things to be different or better. On your mat, Wabi-Sabi is acknowledging that the external expression of a pose may look completely different from right to left side, it’s smiling when you can’t stop wobbling in a balance pose, and it’s being kind to yourself when your mind refuses to slow down as you’re attempting to practice meditation.

 

Bringing the concept of Wabi-Sabi into your daily life is a great way to reframe life’s spills and take some of the pressure off yourself. Celebrate the woops moments in your own life and on your mat, knowing that the stains, dings, and dents are part of what makes life well-loved and beautiful.

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