Rested

Aptly, today's yoga practice at my local studio was centered around the theme of rest. My teacher implored us to allow space and time for rest, which is especially crucial during this time of mass suffering in so many avenues all around the world. If we do not rest, we cannot be present for the times ahead. Graciously, I am very well rested today. I just spent one week in Oaxaca, Mexico, living in the present with the biggest worry being what Mezcal cocktail to order with dinner. 

I have returned to California feeling rejuvenated. The smoke has been cleared from my lungs quite literally and I am so thankful the fires north are widely contained so the journey upwards can continue for my community, and for myself. 

1. Vacations allow s p a c e: Space to walk slowly. Space to take naps. Space to think. Space to sit. Space to stop and take photos. The Jewish ritual of Shabbat calls for rest from Friday sundown until Saturday sundown. During this time, observant religious Jews will rest so thoroughly that they will not even turn on a light! Although I do not wish to observe Shabbat in this rigid manner, I believe incorporating ritualistic rest into our lives would do us a world of good. I plan to check in with myself and note the quantity, and more importantly, the quality of my rest.

2. Vacation limits online time: I did not carry my phone around with me in Oaxaca. I did not answer text messages. I did not feel any rush to answer an email. And what landed as possibly the most influential action of my vacation, I did not read the news. I now have evidence that the news has been tearing me down. I read it way too much. I am ready to relinquish my false sense of control by not refreshing my New York Times app. several times a day on my phone. Of course it is important to be educated, of course it is important to be up to date on current events, but it is not important to drown oneself in continuous articles with the underlying message of "The world sucks more and more each day and all you can do is read about it and feel more depressed". Enough!

3. Vacation allows time to focus on what is truly important: The last point I will highlight is this theme of aliveness, of spending time on what is important to us individually. For me, it is spending time with my partner, refocusing my time on joys such as water coloring, writing and swimming, paying keen attention to the feeling of cool air on my skin and the tastes of food that fuels my body's journey. Vacation allows space to focus on these things. Not the laundry or the grocery shopping or the gas tank on empty. Not the worries about work or office politics or upcoming plans. Just to be present, in joy, living in authenticity. 

xo J

Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca. Photo by Christian Obermanns. 

Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca. Photo by Christian Obermanns. 

Musings on the Current

Fires. Destruction. Shootings. Deaths. Blood. Hurricanes. Evacuations. Water. Fire. Smoke. 

I have felt for the past few months, or quite possibly the past year (hey, remember January 20th, 2017?) that the world is surely headed towards destruction. Nothing but horrible news. Politically, atrocious. Personally, a friend from my circle was murdered in January. More recently, a friend of a friend was murdered in Vegas. My childhood summer camp burned down to the ground today in Santa Rosa. Patients of mine sharing their loss and sadness, including worry for family in Puerto Rico enduring Hurricane Maria.

My chest is consistently tight. The world is surely ending. The California earthquake is coming! The big one! Are you ready?

But today, I felt different. Today I realized.... sure the world is suffering. Sure it truly is horrible to witness the pain murder has caused those around me, the loss of homes and property, the wiping out of an entire island. The pain I hear every day from my patients, my coworkers, from NPR (I really should limit my NPR listening). BUT, am I focusing on the JOY that life brings too? Living externally, focused on the news, social media feeds, friends of friends of friends... but what about if I slow things down, take a breath, and pay attention to MY life? Sure, we must care for others around us, but we ALSO must notice the joy in our lives. And even notice the good in the greater world! Perhaps I have felt guilty for my good fortune, my privilege, for my own happiness. But, I am tired of living in guilt and in fear.  

Since January, if I stop and reflect, I notice that I have been brought immense gifts from the Universe. Amazing things are happening within me and within the world!

First, me:  I have nurtured my love for my partner which grows deeper and deeper each day -- We went on a gorgeous walk in the redwoods only a short drive from my house just last week -- I have spent beautiful moments with 3 of my living grandparents -- I traveled to Mendocino County, and breathed in the stunning coastline -- I am getting closer and closer to my LCSW -- I have cultivated a lovely and warm home -- I reached my goal of performing in a burlesque show -- I planned a trip to Oaxaca -- I visited friends in Atlanta and Seattle -- I visited the Sierras and spent a relaxing weekend with my parents and my love -- my yoga practice grows deeper -- I spent a beautiful day in the redwoods at a meditation retreat ..... and even the little things: I love my cozy bed, the warm lights in my bedroom, pumpkin treats from Trader Joes, a discovering that shrimp is pretty good, the news that my cat has a UTI, not cancer.

Okay wow. I think I glossed over my personal triumphs and beauty of MY life while being so immersed in the crushing waves of the world's woes. 

A friend posted this on Facebook, and it coincidentally fell in so beautifully with my idea for this blog post. It is titled What Went Right? July to September 2017 . Apparently, in the midst of my fretting that the world was truly going to end, not in my lifetime, but possibly the one after, some pretty cool things were happening: Women in leadership positions in parliament has gone up, 10 countries offer gender neutral identities on passports, the UK elected the first female president of the Supreme Court, protection for rape victims have implemented across the Middle East, and puffins in the UK are now protected, 

I invite you to take a moment and notice your life. How do you strike a balance between holding the weight of the world, and tuning in to your own life's triumphs and moments of love and joy? Are you able to internalize the good in the world, not just the bad? I am learning to, for one thing. 

xo J

Xena enjoying a snooze. Photo by George Fogelson. 

Xena enjoying a snooze. Photo by George Fogelson. 

Yoga for Every Body: My Journey

"The extreme and reckless pruning of this tree of life by a culture...where people are not loved for their depth, but for their thinness." - Martin Prechtel

Breathing in, fill your belly with air. Breathing out, draw your naval to your spine. Exhale. Ahhhh.

It wasn't always easy to drop into full breath awareness centered around my stomach. I continued my journey into my yoga practice after college in Los Angeles in my early 20s, which was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, as L.A. is the hub of amazingly talented and smart yoga teachers and countless classes. A curse, because it is also the center of yoga fashion, juice cleanses, "clean" eating and Lululemon pants. 

My 200-hour teacher training was at a trendy studio one block from the beach in Venice, California. I was a good few years younger than most of the women (and only a few men) in the training. During breaks, the women would march to the local juice shop and sip their juice for the rest of the day, impressed with their "healthy" lifestyle and lack of food consumption. Everyone wore the trendiest yoga pants, and the most troubling of all for me was that the majority of the yogis bodies looked the same too: slender, lean and muscular (and don't forget-- white!).

I felt enormous pressure from within myself to look like these other women. I also drank the juices and shopped for nice spandex. But I was hungry. And I felt badly about my body. 

"The act of eating pure food begins to carry pseudo-spiritual connotations.  As orthorexia progresses, a day filled with sprouts, umeboshi plums and amaranth biscuits comes to feel as holy as one spent serving the poor and homeless," writes Steven Bratman, MD*. Bratman originally introduced the term "orthorexia" to the world in the 1997 issue of Yoga Journal. It doesn't take a researching genius to make the sad connection between orthorexia, or the militant obsession with healthy eating, and yoga. Westernized yoga often attract and commend those who "treat their body as a temple" with nods to "purity", "clean" and "simple". Just think of yoga studios involved with cleanses, fasting and juicing. I recall with sadness the day I was so hungry before a yoga class that I ate a peanut and chocolate Kind bar before class, only to spend the rest of class beating myself up for the weight gain I was convinced would occur only minutes later. 

Through therapy and close examination of what I had begun to believe about my body as a result of yoga and symptoms of orthorexia, I woke up. I realized that it is fruitless, terribly damaging and an absolute waste of time to try to fit my body into a cookie cutter of the yoga model we see posted everywhere. I am so thankful for emerging yoga leaders like Jassamyn Stanley** who show that every body can do yoga. When we lose track of the true roots of yoga, to yoke the body, mind and soul/spirit, we have lost yoga. When we lose the breath and try to complete as many chaturanga push ups as possible, we have lost yoga.

I have centered so much deeper into my body and true spirit when I vowed to leave behind the thin, depthless Los Angeles yoga habits that I had once fallen into. 

 

References:

* http://www.orthorexia.com/original-orthorexia-essay/

**https://www.instagram.com/mynameisjessamyn/?hl=en

 

Relax – A Poem by Ellen Bass

In light of the recent horrors of the election, the deep sadness I know my friends, family, my community, and myself feel, I wanted to share a poem recently emailed to me. Ellen got it right... amidst all the messiness and darkness of life on earth, we can still savor that one tiny seed of light that crosses our path:

Bad things are going to happen.

Your tomatoes will grow a fungus

and your cat will get run over.

Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream

melting in the car and throw

your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.

Your husband will sleep

with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling

out of her blouse. Or your wife

will remember she’s a lesbian

and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat–

the one you never really liked–will contract a disease

that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth

every four hours. Your parents will die.

No matter how many vitamins you take,

how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,

your hair and your memory. If your daughter

doesn’t plug her heart

into every live socket she passes,

you’ll come home to find your son has emptied

the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,

and called the used appliance store for a pick up–drug money.

There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.

When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine

and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.

And two mice–one white, one black–scurry out

and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point

she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.

She looks up, down, at the mice.

Then she eats the strawberry.

So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse

in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,

slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel

and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.

Oh taste how sweet and tart

the red juice is, how the tiny seeds

crunch between your teeth.