A "Bad" Yogi. (or . . . a story of human inquiry)

Today, I bought a bag of skittles from a street vendor instead of giving money to a homeless woman.

The homeless woman with her cup was crouched on the same block, maybe 15 steps before the vendor. I paused my train of thought to consider giving the woman a dollar. I knew I had 2 dollars in my wallet. But that meant I had to stop, pull out my wallet, open the wallet to find the dollar and face the woman in front of me whose life is harder than I have the ability to imagine.  I would have to place the dollar in the cup and wonder why I didn’t put both dollars. I’d have to place the dollar in the cup and see what was in the cup. If the cup looked full, I would have the thought, “My she’s had a successful day.” If the cup was empty, I’d have returned to my moment earlier thought, “Why didn’t I give her both my dollars?” 

I resumed my original train of thought as I kept walking passed her.  I had been thinking about fancy yoga poses on Instagram and what it is about them I hate so much.  Is it because I truly believe they’re devaluing the practice? Or is it just because I can’t do them? 

15 steps later, I walked passed a street vendor. I kept walking. Then I stopped, turned around and walked back to the street vendor. I pulled out my wallet. I opened the wallet and found a dollar. I continued to dig through all my coins for a quarter. The skittles were $1.25. 

I threw the skittles in my bag, immediately disappointed in myself for having so quickly given in to my drug that I give into when I feel weak inside—sugar.

5 steps later, it hits me.  I can’t believe what I had just done. How quickly I forgot about the woman.  The irony of the entire situation. 

The icing on the cake was that one of my resolutions for the year was to always carry a dollar in my bag, and as long as I had a single dollar, I would give it away to the first person who asked me for it. 

Why do I always hesitate? What exactly am I afraid to confront?

I had to write this down. And here, in my notes section on my phone, on the subway, I began to write. Halfway through my story, a homeless man walks through the subway car, offering up a cup. I immediately pause my train of thought, stop typing, pull out my wallet, open it up and find the dollar, drop it in the cup.  There was already some change in there.  “God bless.” He didn’t look at me. I felt ok with that. 



I Hate That I Love What I Do

I’ve spent a solid one third of my life being told by friends/family/society, that the only way to get on with things is to know what I want to DO.  I strongly believe the whole conversation and the questions and answers surrounding it should be geared to whom do we want to BE, but that’s a whole separate blog post.

After many years of confusion and sadness, really high highs and really low lows, life coaches and self help books, cries to sleep and binge eating, I finally discovered a passion that I wanted to develop into a career.  Teaching yoga.  Yayy!! I figured it out!! (for now)  Well that was pretty exciting until I realized that the hard work and the stress and the uncertainty doesn’t magically disappear.  It doesn’t even become easier.  It becomes harder . . .WTF?

Apparently, becoming more invested in something changes things.  Now, I actually care.  Not just enough to do really well, but I care way beyond that, beyond what is required of solid performance because I’m now invested in myself.  Even though I barely know what I’m doing, even though I’m confused as much of the time as I’m sure, something continues to propel me forward.  Of all the interests I’ve tried to develop and all the jobs I’ve had, this is the only one where the idea of quitting doesn’t provide a sense of relief.  When I’m nervous as hell or shit does NOT go well, bailing on teaching yoga still isn’t on the table.  I used to quit a job like the drop of a hat and never look back.  Not so anymore.  

So.  This, I’ve discovered, is what it truly feels like to be on the right track, to feel wholly committed to something you believe in.  This, I’ve discovered, is what it truly feels like to always be behind, to always want to be better than I am, to have no choice but to continue moving forward past doubt and failure.

Over the past year and half, I have heightened and sustained a “butterflies-in-stomach” nervousness from the very first class I taught my friends at a neighborhood coffee shop to the audition at a studio on the Upper East Side I just attended today.  I have never so consistently pushed my envelope. One of the many valuable lessons my life coach taught me several years ago was to do something at least once a week that made me uncomfortable.  Well, I’m blowing that lesson through the roof.  That doesn’t mean things go well every time.  

My audition today was extremely challenging.  It was actually my first one.  I had no idea what to expect, I was made to feel incredibly small for a variety of reasons (unintentional on their parts), and what they were asking of me was clearly reflective of a studio looking for another instructor rather than a teacher.  But the whole experience is forcing me to evaluate myself, forcing me to define what I’m doing, what I have to offer, and why I’m doing any of it.  Aren’t those all the yoga questions anyway?? No matter where we are in life, whether we practice the physical aspects of yoga or not, regardless of where we live in the world or how old we are, aren’t we all always asking ourselves those very basic questions?  And if we’re not, shouldn’t we be?  

So maybe I shouldn’t save it for another blog post, maybe this IS the blog post.

Who do we want to be?  Why?


keep practicing . . .



Change, change

Last week I listened to a TED Radio Hour episode about our perception of time.  Harvard psychology professor Dan Gilbert shares a study--this is the rough summation:  there are two groups of people from all age categories.  One group is asked, “How do you think you will change in ten years?” and the second group is asked, “How have you changed in the past ten years?”  The group members who were asked to forecast their change assumed very little change in their lives, circumstances, personality, friends, etc.  The group members asked to reflect on their change described a lot of change from who they were ten years ago, even those who were older in age.

Time and time again I’ve heard people say about themselves, “Well that’s just the way I am.”  

Is it?  

What if that was a cop out?  What if that was an excuse out of having to work to better ourselves because transforming ourselves to overcome challenging aspects about our character/personality/life is hard?  What if we KNEW we would could be totally different in ten years, who would we choose to be?  What would we choose to do and how would we choose to live?  We create barriers for ourselves on purpose because staying contained is easy.  It also helps us make sense of the world around us and organize the chaos that is this life.  There’s nothing wrong with that!  It’s amazing that we have tools inherent within us to comprehend this universe and keep us feeling secure and safe in an existence that’s scary and unpredictable.  But that’s why change is so hard.  That’s why we don’t predict ourselves changing all that much--we’ve structured our entire lives around who we are now.

One example.  A couple of years ago, I had to admit something to myself.  I was no longer an “extrovert.”  I no longer felt the need to be constantly social, I felt increasingly awkward around new people, and I LOVED hanging out with myself.  Quiet time for me, myself, and I.  I fell way behind on social media platforms, I required more quiet and more sleep, and I began to dread constant social engagements.  All of it was so weird!!  And I put myself down for it.  I wasn’t making enough new friends, I wasn’t taking advantage of all the big city had to offer, I cringed at dating apps and so was bound to be alone forever.  And then, I turned 30.  I finally had the balls to admit, I changed.  A huge part of my identity for almost 30 years had morphed into something new, and it was AMAZING.  As soon as I accepted it, I was able to take full advantage of who I’ve become, to nurture it, to find balance, to stop fighting it, to structure a whole new environment based on my new self--including different friends, the right job, the right partner.

Then there’s when we don’t anticipate change in others.  How many friendships, intimate relationships, families have you seen fall apart due to change?  When we don’t expect it, we have a hard time accepting it in ourselves but also in others.  Or even when people don’t change the way we think they should, shit falls apart.  We can’t handle it!  What if...knowing that change is inevitable, knowing that fully evolving into our change can help us learn our lessons? Can help us accept one another, can help us understand one another, can help us remain compassionate when change doesn’t work in our favor?  If we stop fighting it, and work with it, we’ll find that it actually does always have a way of working in our favor if we let it.

keep practicing . . .



Gratitude 365 Days a Year

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday.  Everyone in the country celebrates food and family, no one religion dominates, and we are all permitted to do nothing but eat, sleep, and watch football.  Maybe take a walk, but no pressure.  On Thanksgiving Day, my social media feeds multiply by the thousands as people post their thanks to food, family, and other loved ones and things.  This is wonderful.  But even more wonderful is the opportunity to use this awareness of what we have and the positive tones surrounding the holiday as a launching date for a full on, daily gratitude practice because being grateful is not a once a year deal.  

Within the research of positive psychology over the last 30 years, the effects of gratitude have been tested and studied with pretty amazing results.  A regular practice of gratitude is proven to increase optimism, decrease depression, strengthen the heart, increase the likelihood to exercise, boost the immune system, heighten emotional intelligence, increase ability to perceive something bigger than ourselves, increase our capacity for compassion, and the list goes on.  

Gratitude is about being grateful, not just occasional lip service.  However, while verbalizing gratitude is not the same as living or being it, using words to remind us what we're grateful for quickly lends to a more positive perspective, more meaningful and compassionate interactions, and therefore a changed lifestyle where we can truly say we're living in the way of gratitude.  One of my favorite stories comes from a TED Talk in NPR's TED Radio Hour.  The episode is called Amateur Hour.  One of the interviewees, A.J. Jacobs, has created a successful writing career by choosing topics he's interested in but literally knows nothing about, delving into them and living them, and then writing about his personal experiences.  One of Jacobs's ventures was The Bible, and for a whole entire year, he lived by every rule of The Bible to best of his ability in the context of New York City in the 21st century.  One of his greatest takeaways was the rule of gratitude.  (Disclaimer: that I am not religious, nor am I endorsing Christianity or the act of living by the rules of The Bible) 

"One thing that really struck me was this idea of gratitude because The Bible says you should give thanks for everything in your life.  And I took that literally.  So I would press the elevator button and I would be thankful the elevator came.  I would get in the elevator, and I would be thankful it didn't plummet to the basement and break my collar bone.  It was a strange way to live, but it was also quite beautiful because you realize there are hundreds of things that go right every day that we totally take for granted, and we focus on the three or four that go wrong.  I've tried to keep this perspective, and it's made my life better."   A.J. Jacobs

Obviously this is an extreme situation.  But, I began my personal gratitude practice about 9 months ago by listing only three things I'm grateful for as I sit down to meditate.  Just bringing my attention to those three things a few times a week before my meditations brightened and widened my perspective, and I found myself feeling grateful for random things throughout my day much more often.  It seems too insignificant to make a difference, but I guarantee you will notice a shift after a few practices, because if you're truly experiencing the positive energy that comes from a thought of gratitude, you cannot simultaneously focus on something negative.  And energies are contagious, so the more time you spend in the positive realm, the more you will find to be thankful for, and the cycle continues.

The practice can literally take less than 20 seconds, listing 3 things (obviously feel free to bring more to mind but not less than 3) that you're grateful for in that very moment.  Nothing is too small or insignificant to be part of the practice.  In fact, the larger things in life such as homes, loved ones, and careers are the easy things for which to be grateful.  But as A.J. Jacobs mentioned above, the small things are the ones we take for granted and can truly reside in the heart of the practice.  If you find yourself stuck, you can always find gratitude in the fact that you are still breathing!

To solidify a gratitude practice, the key is to attach the practice to something you already do regularly.  If you attend a physical yoga practice regularly, you can add your gratitude practice during Savasana.  If you meditate you can add it during the beginning of the meditation right before you begin.  You can do it while brushing your teeth!  If you make a cup of coffee every morning, do it then.   

Stay tuned for a short guided gratitude meditation soon.  And, keep practicing.




Being a "Yes" Person

“Life cannot be lived through no.  And those who try to live life through no simply go on missing life.”   Zorba the Buddha

We can be so quick to say no.  And there are a million ways to say no without actually uttering the word itself.  We say no to ourselves when we’re convinced we can’t run a half marathon or try any new physical activity.  We say no every time we think we’re too busy to accommodate a change to our schedule like preparing food or meditating.  We say no every time we choose not to connect with new people because we feel secure in our social circle.  We say no every time we list all the obstacles in any given situation before we even consider the possibilities of success.  

Sometimes, we’re genuinely disinterested in something.  “Hey, do you want to take some real estate classes with me?”  No, as a matter of fact, I have no desire to do that.  

Sometimes, it’s a safety precaution.  “Hey, do you want to go to a yoga class tomorrow?”  No, I think I injured my wrist a few days ago and I need to stay off of it for a while.   

But many times, it’s just a bunch of excuses.  “Cultivating a morning meditation practice could really ease your stress.”  I’m not a morning person and can’t wake up any earlier than I already do.  “Try bringing a homemade lunch to work one day a week.”  I don’t have any extra  time to prepare food.  “Let’s take Spanish classes together!”  I’m not good at learning languages.  “Please consider this job offer that pays twice as much as you make now.”  I don’t have enough experience for that job, and it’s a 10 minute longer commute anyway.  Aaaaaand on and on and on.

It’s easy to isolate all the situations or instances in which we say no and justify each one individually.  But the truth is, we all inevitably get stuck in our habits and our patterns, we get very comfortable with our fears so that saying yes becomes exceedingly difficult.  Trying new things and expanding our repertoire of experiences requires more effort.   So if we look at it from a big picture perspective and start to really be honest about the tendencies in our approach to life as a whole, we begin to understand our patterns, how they affect us, why we’re holding on to them, and how we can begin to change them.  

The quote from above continues to read “Just to say [yes] is so relaxing.  Let it become your very lifestyle.”  The very act of saying yes allows your brain to process the possibilities, whether you’re going to venture into those possibilities or not.  Picasso said, “Everything you can imagine is real.”  When you say no, you shut down your brain from even being able to imagine it.  So it will never materialize.  If I were to ask you, “Do you want to climb Mt. Everest?”  What if you said yes, right now, in your mind?  Can you picture it? Imagine it?  Just for a few moments experience it in your mind?  You have just created the possibility.  

The more you bring yourself to say yes, the easier and easier it becomes, and I can stand by that statement 100% from my own experiences.   It becomes a lifestyle shift.  

We all say no sometimes and saying no serves a purpose.  No is a reflection of our boundaries which we all have and need.  But learning how to say yes allows us to truly explore the limits of those boundaries.  Being a yes person isn’t easy.  We face challenges, we willingly place ourselves in uncomfortable situations, and we spend a lot of time in the unknown.  But then . . . we grow.  


Keep practicing.