Posts Tagged ‘life’

Do You Still Do Yoga?

16/11/2018

2013-08-04 17.59.18

When I first started practicing yoga in the early 2000s, when I was in high school, I must have realized this practice had so much to offer me. I couldn’t really articulate it but I knew something was happening each time I practiced. Back then, I only had a VHS copy of “MTV Yoga.” Yes, that MTV, the channel that used to play music videos – and this yoga practice was led by Kristin McGee and hosted by Lori from The Real World (the Back to New York season, in case you’re curious). Yoga wasn’t as readily available as it is now, especially in a small town, so this tape was really my only way of starting a yoga practice – but it was my practice and it was helping me cultivate valuable skills in how to cope with the ups and downs of life, which I desperately needed. My astute parents recognized that this yoga thing was helpful to their anxious and easily-stressed out child so a few nights a week they dismissed me early from farm duties (a privilege for any farm kid) so I was able to have the house to myself and practice along with that beloved VHS tape. That display of love was and still is not lost on me. After being released from chores, I set out to my ritual. I’d clean myself up then change into my comfy sweats and loose-fitting t-shirt, fire up the VCR, pop in the VHS, roll out my purple Gaiam yoga mat (still in use more than 15 years later) and would “get to work.”

Following my practice, after a restful savasana, I’d put away my mat and then often would take myself out for a walk down the side road that runs alongside my parent’s farm. This walk gave me time to enjoy the lingering peace I felt from my yoga practice, not to mention give me a break from the anxiety that had a way of quickly overcoming my mind and body. As I was living my final chapter of high school, I was sitting on the edge of transition and before long would be moving away to Minneapolis for college so these walks were also a time for me to take in my home – my roots as my mom always reminds me. The farm, the soybean and corn fields, the woods that was and always will be a sanctuary for me. This 17-year-old wandering up the gravel road was actually pretty wise for taking this time and for taking it all in – but she didn’t entirely realize it.

I’ve come to recall these memories lately as friends and family ask me, “Do you still do yoga?” I assume they mean the physical practice. The short answer is yes. I still do yoga. Of course, I have a more drawn-out answer. After moving to Manhattan over a year ago, I made an intentional decision to not pursue teaching – not right away. For the previous five years in Minneapolis, I had taught a variety of formats at different venues and the problem was that teaching became my priority; not being a student. I craved simply being a student again and not always have lesson planning at the back of my mind. I needed to take a step back and return to my roots. I needed to channel that 17-year-old walking slowly up the country road.

Quite fortunately, I came to find a beautiful studio called Yoga Shanti within a month of moving to Manhattan. I was immediately drawn in by each teacher’s intelligent sequencing, attention to subtle detail and authentic nature. It also helped that the teachers were simply warm and welcoming, a standard that should be easy to meet but unfortunately in today’s commercialized and saturated yoga world, this is harder to come by than you would think – but I digress. Practicing with these teachers helped me land back into the yoga practice I so love and now realize I had lost in my years of teaching – ironically, I was invited to reconnect with the very ideas that I was trying to teach. Releasing the burden I put on myself while teaching brought me back to the healing that is possible in being a student who is learning how to simply connect mind and body. The idea of mind-body connection is so simple we think it’s abstract. This is one of the first lines I heard from my teacher, Matthew Sanford. I think of that often. Especially when I’m thinking too much.

While I don’t exactly have a quiet country road to walk down here in Manhattan, I have different ways to find yoga in my life today. I have come to realize that my yoga practice takes many different shapes and not necessarily ones you make with your body. I found it once talking to a homeless man named Shawn on the corner of 29th and 5th who slept on the church steps. He hoped to clean up his act enough to be permitted to see his adult daughter and grandchild in Baltimore. He didn’t even ask for money or anything from me. I think he just wanted someone to listen to his story. I’m also the weirdo who while standing shoulder to shoulder with the mess of humanity that is the New York City subway, I can’t help but smile that this too in its own way is yoga. We’re united by the struggle and we’re in it together. Most exciting to me is that taking a step back from teaching yoga and allowing myself to be a student has opened space for me to revisit a lifelong yet often ignored passion – my writing practice. For me, this is just another vehicle to connect with the realization, peace, and healing that I discovered was possible back when I first “did yoga.”

So, do I still do yoga? Yes. In more ways than you can even know – and probably in even more ways that I have yet to realize.

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Unravel

20/07/2018
Photo by Terra Evans on Unsplash

Photo by Terra Evans on Unsplash

A little while ago I was speaking to one of my dear friends in Australia. She is what I would describe as a touchstone, term for someone who restores faith in the goodness of humanity. This person helps unwrap and untangle any knots around my heart and mind, and I always walk away from our conversations feeling lighter and inspired. Every time I speak to her, I can’t help but feel like I’ve shifted and grown in some way.

During one of our phone calls, we spoke of our current events and news in our respective corners of the earth. In this conversation, I shared that I recently felt a sense of ‘unraveling’ happening within me. This sensation is exciting, yet a bit unsettling. As I explained, this internal unraveling made me feel like I was on the cusp of some change or realization. I rambled for a bit about this feeling and of course, didn’t really think I made much sense at all. But that’s the great thing about this friend; she’s patient and a champion listener. (Like, if listening were an Olympic sport, she’d most certainly qualify and probably get to stand on the podium). Once I had finished spilling fragments of thoughts, there was a pause. I could hear my friend contemplating from 10,000 miles away. Then she mused, “When you were using the word unraveling, I couldn’t help but think about a thread when you’re knitting. When a thread unravels, you use that bit to create something new.”

Wow. Once again my touchstone leaves me with such a simple image but one that I keep returning to on days when I feel like I’m coming undone. Sometimes this feeling of coming undone is exciting because something is about to change. Just like it can be unsettling because something is about to change. Unsettling or exciting, the unraveled thread can be used to create something new and beautiful. One of my yoga teachers, Matthew Sanford, once told me that unraveling is part of the process of realization and growth but warned that the trick is to not become too attached or concerned with the feeling of unraveling; allow it to be part of the experience without it becoming the focus. So, therein lies the practice. We’re all going to experience a sense of coming apart as we grow. The practice is to remain aware and even grateful for the unraveling but to stay loose because if you pull or hold too tight, you might unravel the whole sweater.

Improvasana

18/07/2018

yes and improv

Once upon a time I was inspired to step out of my comfort zone and try something completely different. So I said YES to Improv! Not only was I looking for a different extra-curricular activity than what I would normally sign up for, I also hoped to cultivate more confidence with speaking in front of others and thinking on the spot. As the weeks went on I began to realize that what we were learning in improv isn’t far off from what I’ve learned in yoga and meditation practices…

– In Improv, they encourage you to pause before you respond to a prompt. So if someone says, ‘What’s in the box?’ rather than panic and react (which can lead to funny outcomes), they advise to take a breath and respond. This sounds suspiciously like something I’ve learnt in my meditation practice. We learn to sit with whatever comes up, including difficult feelings or emotions. We learn to lean into these feelings, get comfortable and maybe even become friends with them. This skill that we learn in improv and in yoga can help us respond more thoughtfully to the ebbs and flows of life.

– Sometimes in improv you just can’t think what to say next… so you just say something. Anything. Then later on you say to yourself ‘Oh man! Why didn’t I say *this*. That would have been so good. But no, I’m terrible at improv.’ (Or was this just my thought process?). This cycle of negativity and self-criticism isn’t great for us. Besides, wasn’t the whole point of taking improv to have fun, do something different and learn a few things? Let go of the negative self-talk and be kind to yourself. Hmm… I feel like this has come up in yoga classes for me. “Handstand? Man, I won’t ever be able to do that. I suck at life because I can’t pop up into a handstand.” Wait? Why am I practicing yoga again? Oh, that’s right. Because it’s fun and I learn things. Sounds like improv.”

Breathing. As mentioned before, when it’s your turn to talk in improv, take a breath. In yoga if you’re in a challenging posture, take a breath. In meditation, when the mind starts to wander, re-align your focus and take a breath. Actually, if you’re doing anything, take a breath.

– As one of my peers so wisely observed in the final class, improv is really more than just thinking of the right thing to say. It’s important to actually bring your mind AND body into the experience. When we become more mindful of our body and how we’re holding it in space, we tend to feel more connected to ourselves, those around us and heck, even the world. When the link between our mind and body is awakened in such a way, we’ll bring more of ourselves into the improv scene/yoga class/meditation session. And maybe, just maybe this will teach us to include more of ourselves into the world. Whether that’s to be brave and try something new or to stand up for something you believe in. Or perhaps it helps you cultivate compassion for yourself and others. As a yoga student and teacher, I have long reflected on what it means to have an active connection between mind and body and will continue to ask the question.

So, it would seem that improv is actually meditation and yoga in disguise. Who would have thought? (By the way, I took the Improv series at Brave New Workshop. They’re awesome. Check them out if you’re in the Twin Cities.)

 

Joy in the Mess

17/07/2018

Friday night in New York City. My husband and I are kindly invited by my dear friend, David, and new friend, Cassandra, to a dinner party at their home. All day I was overcome with anxiety – both the good, excited kind but also the “I won’t be good enough” kind. David and Cassandra are insightful, well-traveled, and quite successful at what they do. As my mind tends to do in times like these, it reminds me that my accomplishments don’t stack up to theirs or those of their guests. Yeah, my brain can be a real jerk.

Fortunately, when we arrive my nerves quickly subside and I feel more at ease as we are warmly greeted and led inside. Everyone who is there already is kind and immediately welcoming. Introductions are made. Drinks are poured. Laughs are had. Then, it’s time for dinner.

Conversation is flowing as we’re lapping up our soup, sucking on the hearts of artichokes, pouring more wine, and then the main course is served. We’re enjoying this stunning feast when the generous and warm-hearted hostess asks for everyone’s attention as she has an idea.

With a mere 14 of us gathered around the table, she suggests that the group is intimate enough that we could go around to talk about and share our passions. In the middle of a bite of chicken, I immediately feel my hands go clammy, my skin flush, my stomach clamp up… Oh no… That dreaded question.

Before I go further, let me clarify that there is absolutely nothing wrong with this question. In fact, I love this question. I love listening to what other people have to say. But, you see, when asked to talk about what I’m passionate about, I get overwhelmed. All at once, my mind somehow shuts down and goes into overdrive. I can’t really easily explain what it is that I’m passionate about. There are things I care deeply about and for. I have plenty of hobbies and interests, I could tell you about. But ask me about my passion and I get all like…

giphy-downsized

I’m not sure why this question triggers such anxiety for me. I suspect part of it is that my passion is a moving target. I have a habit of quickly and easily becoming enthralled by new ideas and topics – which I seem to encounter all the time, especially living in NYC! As I listen with admiration to everyone’s stories, passions, and achievements, I experience simultaneous sensations of hope and connection… and kind of needing to vomit. I have issues, man.

Eventually, I have to speak. Cassandra, who I’ve met only twice, turns towards me and gives an insightful and warm introduction. One I wish I had recorded because she pretty much hit the nail on the head, describing how I seemed to be seeking my place and there’s a sense of discomfort – which pretty much confirms what I’ve always feared to be true… I am awkward. Anyway, I barely remember what I cobbled together for my response. I quickly and nervously said something about how everything I do seems to go back to stories  – which I absolutely believe to be true. Stories matter. Everyone was perfectly kind and supportive of what I had to say. Then, the spotlight went onto the next guest. Relief. Phew.

While I can’t say with any confidence that I intrigued anyone that evening, I am thankful for the night, the company and this question. It prompted me to reflect. Since that dinner, I have come to a conclusion (for now) that I am passionate about three things: stories, creativity, and humanity. The hobbies and interests I collect like Pokemon (is that even a relevant reference anymore?) like yoga, hand lettering, reading, tech, and so on, are vehicles to help me study stories, the creative process, and the connection of humanity. And, the vehicles will likely change over time. Maybe even tomorrow. And, I’m OK with that… like the perfect comeback or quip, it’s too bad I didn’t think to say all of this around the table – but I am grateful to at least recognize and become content with the joy that is found in the mess of figuring this all out.

Comedy & Humanity

14/07/2018
Photo by Kane Reinholdtsen on Unsplash

Photo by Kane Reinholdtsen on Unsplash

Comedy has been a lifelong fascination for me. Between Saturday Night Live, Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, countless movies, and far too many others to name, I’ve always felt a deeper connection to the world of comedy beyond the laughs. For the last couple of years, I have been asking myself why comedy strikes me so deeply. It feels like there’s more happening than we realize. But what is it exactly, and why does it matter to humanity?

As a personal project and just for fun, I’ve decided to dig deeper and start exploring these questions. Of all people, I have to give credit to Jeff Ross, probably best known for his role as “The Roastmaster General.” On the first night of Hanukkah last year, my friend and I attended An Evening with Judd Apatow at 92Y where he performed new bits, shared videos from projects and told stories. Near the end, he brought up Jeff Ross for a conversation, during which they talked about the HBO show “Crashing” starring Pete Holmes and Jeff said something to the effect of “Even though it’s a half-hour comedy, I find myself crying. It hits me right in the heart… So what is that?” Yes, Jeff Ross. What is that?

Not unlike other forms of expression such as music, dance, or theatre, comedy creates a bond between humans. Even the most divided can find commonality in a poop joke (Sarah Silverman makes this important point in her latest Netflix special “Speck of Dust.”) Poop joke or not, when people share laughter it’s a beautiful sound and feeling. When a comedian executes their craft with precision and the result “kills” it’s not uncommon for me to not only laugh but blink away some tears from the beauty of when everyone is on common ground, even if only for just a moment.

I’ve read several great books that invite you into the world of comedy and humanity, among them being “Sick in the Head” by Judd Apatow, “And Here’s the Kicker” by  Mike Sacks, and “The Improv: An Oral History” by Budd Friedman and Tripp Whetsell. Common threads I see in all of these are community, connection, vulnerability, passion, support, levity, and well, laughter, of course. All I can safely conclude for the moment is that comedy is a gift to humanity and I’m going to have a good time figuring out why – even if I never find the answer. Which I highly suspect to be the outcome. Because there’s always more happening than we can know. Dammit.

Ordinary, Beautiful Moments

13/07/2018
Scene in Manhattan - photo by Katie Kohlbeck

A beautiful, ordinary Manhattan moment

I often find myself in such an ordinary moment that it’s very ordinariness stops me in my tracks because I am in awe of its beauty. There was a yoga class I went to and it was a perfectly fine but nothing terribly special until the teacher uttered these words: “Be with the beauty this moment has to offer.” That was years ago yet it still strikes me at the most seemingly random times…

Like the time I’m reading a book, opened on the kitchen counter, while I stir the lamb ragu. This is contentment…

Or the time I’m sitting at Black Press Coffee on 27th and Lex with my hot latte, a journal, and surrounded by warm and friendly Aussie accents. It makes me miss homesick for Australia…

Oh, and I especially love when a piece of comedy is delivered so well that it makes me laugh, think and weep all at once. It really makes me feel what it is to be human…

And, of course, the space between awake and sleep that seems to always invite thoughts to flow. I have started to keep a notebook on my bedside so to catch as many of these thoughts and ideas before they fall into the pit of sleep and lost dreams…

These are just a few of those ordinary moments. Yet they are powerful. There is something happening in these spaces – more than we can ever know.