Sometimes, just when you need it…

Friends, I have not been enjoying anything approaching good health. For three days, I ran a fever, compounded by chills, severe, bone-crushing body aches, and nausea. It also felt like an elephant sat on my chest.

Generally, I get asthma like symptoms after a severe cold and have special medicine I take to get through it and enjoy happy and healthy lungs the rest of the year. Because of our incredible blessing of an overabundance of rain this year in California, all those long-dormant seeds came blooming into glorious life all at once, and I am wheezing and out of breath. I couldn’t even teach my class this morning, I’ve been whistling and rattling so much from my chest.

I hate the sensation of not being able to breathe. It makes me feel like I am going to panic, or cry, or freak out and die. (Literally…I imagine freaking out, running out of breath, falling over and hitting my head on the sharp corners of our coffee table and bleeding out before the kids get home from school).

So, there I am sitting on the couch, listening to my rattling and laboring breath, trying to meditate, but spazzing myself out instead. I feel demoralized after so much illness this week, totally out of it and anxious. So, I got online to try to give myself something else, anything else to think about it since even focusing on a book was beyond my reach. And there it was, from the wonderful and erudite B.K.S. Iyengar. I almost cried.

Do not think of yourself as a small, compressed, suffering thing. Think of yourself as graceful and expanding, no matter how unlikely it may seem at the time.

Then I got rewarded with one full breath. It will have to be enough for now. I am thankful.


Inspiration of the Week

From time to time, I come across something truly extraordinary. Last week’s inspiration was so timely and sweet, it’s been with me this week too. This was printed in this month’s issue of The Sun, and it’s a poem by David Budbill from the collection Moment to Moment: Poems of a Mountain Recluse.

Bugs In A Bowl

Han Shan, that great and crazy, wonder-filled

Chinese poet of a thousand years ago said:

We’re just like bugs in a bowl,

All day going around

never leaving their bowl.

I say: That’s right! Every day

climbing up the steep sides,

sliding back. Over and over again.

Around and around.

Up and back down.

Sit in the bottom of the bowl,

head in your hands, cry, moan,

feel sorry for yourself.


Look around.

See your fellow bugs.

Walk around. Say,

Hey, how you doing?

Say, Nice bowl!


If you’ve got a poem that has just landed in your heart and set down some roots there, share it with me in the comments. Nice bowl!

Clairvoyant, I’m not

I have many excellent qualities, but clairvoyance isn’t one of them.  But no matter how many times I tell myself I don’t know the future, well, I think I know what is going to happen.  For many years, I’ve told myself, prepare for the worst, so I can be pleasantly surprised.  This, I’ve realized, is just one more way for me to justify my tendency toward catastrophic thinking.

Being a worst case scenario thinker isn’t all bad.  One benefit is that I tend to adjust to difficult situations quickly.  I don’t lose my head when something legitimately awful takes place.

What’s the flip side of that though?  Perhaps a tendency to give up too easily.  Because I don’t stretch myself as hard as I could, maybe I achieve success too readily, like a hurdle jumper hopping over uncooked spaghetti, conveniently distanced 2 feet apart.

When something is hard, if something isn’t working out, are you too quick to drop the thing you are working on?  Acceptance is good, but if you are flinging yourself into the lap of failure, calling it “being realistic”, are you doing the best thing there, or are you doing yourself a disservice?

I often fall back on the “realism”, on the worst-case scenario, into the status of someone who gracefully settles into failure.  And, I do it all because the first thing to pop into my head is where I think something is going.  Oh well, it must not be meant to be.  Sometimes that’s true, and you don’t want throw energy at everything.  You only have a finite supply of energy and time.  But, perhaps, acknowledge and accept that you don’t know the future.  A bad day is just a bad day.  One day, everything is crap.  The next day, the world has opened up.  A phone call, a good cup of tea, a hot shower, a walk, even just a good night’s rest could be all that is standing between you and progress.  Sometimes, it’s just your mind.

I am reading Perfectly Imperfect by Baron Baptiste, and I love it.  He says:

Every student has his or her no pose…But you actually don’t know for sure that you can’t do that pose.  What you’ve come up against isn’t necessarily a physical limitation.  Resistance can be very deceiving behind the many masks it wears.  Maybe you haven’t been able to do that pose in the past, but what about today?  The yogis say you can never step into the same river twice, because the current is always shifting and changing.  You’ve never stepped into this exact river before today…

How many of us know people who act as if their assessments, personal opinions, and judgments are truth and fact?  This is a common phenomenon.  It is no surprise that people who view life as if their subjective assessments are The Truth have difficulty forming an empowering relationship with the practice and with life.  There’s no room for new possibility or perception if you are locked within your perception, holding it as the cold, objective, unmovable truth.

Today, there was something that I perceived as hard in a yoga class, and I didn’t want to even try.  I could see that a bunch of people around me didn’t want to try either.  But then I remembered this good reading I’ve been doing, and I decided to think, YES.  I will try.  And I did it.  And it was awesome.

Who knows what’s next?  I don’t know, and you don’t know.  We never step into the same river twice.  Even if the water was the same, we wouldn’t be.

A Watched Pot…

So, I was making steel-cut oats the other morning (yes, very hippy…I even add chia as a topping) and I had one of those thoughts that seemed ridiculous on the surface, but became more interesting to me the more I thought about it.  I was waiting for my water to boil, and I turn to my husband and intone “a watched pot never boils”.  Nothing new there, right?  But then I said, “Well, maybe if you are a Zen master, the pot is always boiling.”

Silly, right?  And, I promise you, I wasn’t hitting the Mary Jane.  Here’s the thing.  Watching the pot and anxiously waiting for it to boil and get to the next stage is agonizing, because all you are thinking of is the next stage.  But, if someone is truly in the moment, there’s no attachment.  So, when the pot boils, it’s a delightful surprise.  And I suppose (although believe me, I have no experience with this level of mindfulness or patience) that at some level of enlightenment, there is no difference between a boiling pot, and a non-boiling one.

When I was in teacher training with the esteemable Noell Clark, she gave a piece of advice that had to do with protecting our necks.  As cell phones have become a near constant of our lives, our necks have taken the burden.  She offered a piece of advice–use the headrest in our vehicles.  I took that to heart.  I use it all the time.  Not only is it good for my neck, but it’s kind of like I’ve surrendered to being in the car.  My aggravation level visibly decreases when I just relax, and rest my head.  It takes my monkey mind away from living in the destination, and brings me into the present, which allows me to find contentment in what I’m doing.

Making oatmeal, driving a car.  What else can you just surrender to so that the end result is a pleasant surprise?  Let me know in the comments.

Misery on the Mat

Not so long ago, I was having what was known as a bad day.  I was under pressure from a lot of directions, and feeling overwhelmed, and irritable, and all those things that happen to constitute a bad day.  The next morning, I woke up early, as I do, and headed off to my yoga class.  I had some extra time, so I took it.  What happened was magical.  Each movement was languid, and I absolutely luxuriated in it.  My breath was long and slow.  I held every pose for double the length.  It almost felt like I was moving in warm soup, with slow pressure and easy movement.  At a certain juncture, I realized that in a sense, my mat had become my magic carpet and had lifted me a bit above from my despair.  And further, I realized that all of those situations that were distressing me were already ghosts.  It had already happened!  It wasn’t still happening.  And then I was able to live in the moment, there in my practice.

At the end of all of that, I realized that my yoga practice has never been so good as when I am a mess.  The more miserable I am, the more I can show up to my mat, push everything aside and really be present in my practice.  Happiness rarely gravitates me conscientiously to the mat, not without a lot of effort at least.  My mind wanders, and I have to wrestle it back in.  I’m thinking about all the fun to be had, and my balance suffers.

This is where yoga truly becomes a discipline.  I can always make it to the mat miserable.  Making it when I’m happy takes commitment.  I’m happy to say that over the last three years, I’ve kept my commitment, but it’s taken me years of doing yoga to finally build that consistency.  Because of the steady practice, this time, I had the skills and the focus to have an almost out of body experience, which gave me true wisdom in my situation.

When do you practice yoga?  Can you find your pattern?  Let me know how it goes for you in the comments.

Breathing Myself to Sleep

Yesterday I had the disconcerting experience of having a sleep study.  I am an insomniac, and working through getting to the bottom of frequent migraines, so my neurologist, leaving no stone unturned, sent me for a sleep study.

Due to my insomnia, and being just a wee bit claustrophobic, I found this experience awful.  When the neurologist explained the procedure initially, I pictured about a half dozen wires just sproinging out from various locations on my head and body.  The reality was a little more like Pinhead from the 90’s Hellraiser film series.  It took more than an hour to hook me up to everything.  I had fifteen wires attached to my scalp, easily a dozen on my face (including tubes in my nose), wires attached to my chest, down my pants, and one to my index finger.  The wires were so plentiful, that they actually had weight.  Whenever I moved, I had to tug my albatross along with me.

To make matters worse, I had a filter-free technician who shared with me the sleeping habits of he and his girlfriend (naked), his remedy for helping me sleep (a knuckle sandwich), and creepiest woodland creatures (between possums and raccoons, raccoons won, as he has been bit by a raccoon).  All of this was making me ready to freak out.  However, thanks to yoga, without even realizing it, I slipped into my ujjayi breath, each one becoming longer and slower than the last.  I breathed myself all the way into sleep, even though what I really wanted to do was cry (but that wasn’t a great option, as the technician had reminded me several times that he would be watching everything I did via the in-room camera).  If you haven’t found your breath as a coping mechanism, start looking some things up.  There are many different kinds of pranayama, and while less subtly employed in public, nadi shodhan (alternate nostril breathing) is one of my favorites.  If you take a deep breath, you can survive that pose, that bad day at work, and even being caged by wires and watched by a nude sleeping technician.