One effortless way to (finally!) begin meditating — Best Kept Self

Meditation is the simplest thing in the world–nothing more than sitting quietly with yourself. So why is it so dang HARD? It seems complicated. There are so many different techniques, sorting through them can feel overwhelming. But one clearly stands out as the easy way: mantra meditation. Though in English the word mantra…

via One effortless way to (finally!) begin meditating — Best Kept Self

How to surf the wave of uncertainty with ease and grace — Best Kept Self

Well, people…it’s a brand new day. Whether your dream candidate won or your nightmare (or your lesser of two evils), the times they are a-changin’. Some of us are feeling elated, some despondent. Either way, most of us are slightly dizzy in a swirl of the unknown. Uncertainty is the prevailing mood. Even if welcome,…

via How to surf the wave of uncertainty with ease and grace — Best Kept Self

How to make time for what really matters when your plate is way too full — Best Kept Self

Sometimes what is going on in my life feels bigger than me. I am not super into astrology, but it can be illuminating when it just seems like there is “something in the air”—when the challenges I’m experiencing are the very same things that friends and clients say are happening with them, too. Right now…

via How to make time for what really matters when your plate is way too full — Best Kept Self

How To Create Your Zen Den — Best Kept Self

We’ve all mastered time management and Kondo-ized our homes, right? Well, maybe not completely. But even especially when the mail is piling up on the hall table and the schedule is jammed, we need to retreat regularly to a place of calm and inspiration. That’s right, I said need. Because it doesn’t just feel […]

via How To Create Your Zen Den — Best Kept Self

The Pope vs. The Donald

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Why, oh, how did it come to be that the deranged Muppet that is Donald J. Trump is an actual contender for President of the United States?

I have a good friend who has spent the past three years in the Peace Corps, in a bleak post-Soviet country. She has been following the news here at home with flabbergasted dismay. Joking, but not, she has said that this development almost makes her not want to come back now that her term is up.

It’s not so much that Trump is running, but that he has found such a hearty following amongst our countrymen. I mean, honestly, no one thinks he is really going to go the distance. But what he is selling (master businessman that he is) is hate and fear and, God help us, a lot of us want to buy it.

How did it happen? One word: immigration.

The Donald has based his platform on an issue that plays to Americans’ lowest common denominator of xenophobia and knee-jerk defensiveness.  Trump the capitalist maven knows that “hot button marketing” is an actual thing —in other words: appeal to people’s basest fears in order to make them buy what you’re selling. Sadly, this technique has proven effective in the marketplace. (Does the presidential election = the marketplace? This is a question for another day.)

But obviously Trump’s cries have struck a nerve:

Build a wall! Ship ‘em out! Don’t let the “rapists”  come in and take our jobs and use up our services and destroy our country.

It’s not just here, either. The refugee crises abroad that are wrenching our hearts stem from the same sentiment: NIMBY. We don’t want ‘em. Send ‘em back.

This is all very far from the ideals of openness and pluralism that founded our fine nation. What happened to “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free?”  As even schoolchildren know, America is a country of immigrants. Trump himself is a child of immigrants (and don’t even ask about the national status of his numerous wives…)

The Pope gets it: “We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners.

As our growing nation struggled throughout history with these questions, different approaches emerged. John F. Kennedy wrote a whole book about it.

Ronald Reagan had this to say:

“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it and see it still…”

Maybe Trump doesn’t believe a word of what he’s saying and it’s all just a (successful) marketing ploy. Even if so, it is unfortunate that his invective is getting so much airtime.

Now the Pope has come and gone, and he says: “Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart. Although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remain truly convincing.” Amen.

Thank Heaven, the Pope’s is a voice of sanity, humanity and acceptance of the current global reality that evidently a bunch of Americans just can’t grasp. This is the new normal. Ideas, currency, germs, etc. are obviously not constrained by national borders anymore. Neither are bodies–if ever they were.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that it must come from a place of: 1) acceptance; 2) triumph over fear; 3) international co-operation; 4) morality and compassion. Pope Francis is adding these to the conversation when he says things like: “Humanity has the ability to work together in building our common home.

Now, more than ever, it is clear that we indeed have one (global) home, no matter where we were born, have lived, or are moving.

May words like the Pope’s drown out the shrill exclamations of hostility and fear that have found such willing ears. And may our country rise in this strange new landscape like that beacon of tolerance and hope that it was founded to be.

That, Mr. Trump, might even “make America great again.”

Bathtub Yoga

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Yes!  You can do yoga in the bathtub!

Warning:  the tub is not the best place for your standing poses.  In fact, PLEASE do not do any standing poses (or inversions!!) in a full bathtub at all.  And of course you must exercise caution even still; the tub is a slippery spot.

I will confess–there are some days where I don’t even get onto my mat, and I choose instead to do my practice in the bathtub before bed.

First I fill the tub with hot water, epsom salts and baking soda.  After it has filled, I add the essential oil (or mixture) of my choice: lavender and vanilla are favorites.

I soak and relax for a few minutes, a big glass of water at hand, then begin a sequence something like the following:

1cow2cat3lunge

4twistlunge5runnersstretch6januskfjbakjbfcka

7twist8boat9boatarms

10virasaasas11cowface12fb

1. & 2.  Cat & Cow poses:  inhaling deeply as you arch, and exhaling as your spine rounds

3.  Lunges:  front knee touches the front of the tub (my little tub, anyway), and reach through the big toe side of back leg, pressing it against the back of the tub.  Throw in a little crescent/back bend if you’re moved to.  You can hold on in front for security

4.  Twisted Lunge:  hands on the sides of the tub for leverage in your twist

5.  Runner’s Stretch:  bend one knee and stretch other leg straight in front; square hips; lean forward over straight leg, keeping a flat back

6.  Janu Sirsana:  sit back with one leg folded to the side as in Virasana (Hero Pose, step #10 above); twist torso to face straight leg and lean over straight leg; can use side of tub for leverage if twisting

7.  Marichyasana–seated twist:  from a seated position, bend one leg in front and cross the other one over (see photo above).  Inhale, raise opposite arm from lifted knee, and cross it over.  Use sides of tub for leverage.  Inhale and lengthen the spine, exhale and deepen the twist

8. & 9.  Navasana–boat pose:  from a seated position, lift both legs up in front of you, forming a V shape with your body.  You can rest your feet against the wall, reaching through the inner feet and pressing them against the wall.  To test your core strength, lift both arms straight overhead as in photo above

10.  Virasana–Hero Pose:  from kneeling, allow seat to sink between the knees and touch the bottom of the tub.  If this strains your knees, spread them as far apart as the tub will allow–but keep drawing your inner heels toward the sides of your buttocks; don’t let them splay out

11.  Gomukhasana (“cow face”) arms:  inhale and lift both arms overhead.  Bend one elbow around behind your back and reach for midpoint between shoulder blades.  Bend other arm from lifted over head and reach down back, trying to grasp the hand that’s between the shoulder blades (see photo above)

12.  Seated Forward Bend:  stretch both legs out in front of you.  Inhale and lift arms overhead.  Exhale, and fold forward from the hips with a flat back.  You can grasp the faucet with both hands, as shown above, then bend elbows out to the sides as you exhale and deepen the forward bend.  Try not to round your spine too much

Final Pose–  Legs Up the Wall (headline photo):  turn around so your head faces the faucet. Scoot your hips as close as they’ll get to the back of the tub.  Raise both legs and rest them against the wall, releasing all effort.  Clasp your hands behind your head and cradle it, elbows resting on sides of tub, such that it can sink as low as possible without you drowning (ears are submerged; nose and mouth are not).  Breathe deeply and savor this slight inversion.

Then turn back around, put your feet up (lower) on the front edge.  Relax completely.

Enjoy your yoga bath, and take care!

P.S. For more on bathtub yoga, visit tubyoga.com by Susan Atkinson

Nature vs. Nurture

About 3 weeks ago, a mockingbird family took up residence in the jasmine arbor that surrounds our front stoop. We looked on with delight as Mama flew back and forth between the nest and the crepe myrtle trees along the steps, and listened to the little nestlings’ funny cries right outside our front windows—like a squeaky swingset: EE-aw EE-aw . . .

We cleared out fast when she seemed to think we might be lingering a minute too long on the step . . . her (or were they Dad’s?) threatening displays of chest-puffing, wing-beating, and strident vocalizing were clues that were hard to miss.

Today the birdbabies reached a milestone: instead of the wobbly beaks we’d been seeing wavering up from the nest as we passed by, we saw actual feathered birds, perched on the edge…

I was grateful the nest hung over our soft green lawn—having witnessed some less forgiving fledgling situations in Brooklyn. Like . . . Fledgling Situations—with poor, puny birdlings lurching across the sidewalk while hungry dogs looked on . . .

Good Lord these babies on our porch were cute—they had this funny, wispy hairdo I’ve never seen on a bird before . . .

For a couple of days we marinated in joy and dread in equal measure: would there be a Fledgling Situation?

I tried to practice isvara pranidhanam—total surrender of my individual will to some greater Will (see Yoga Sutras, II:45)

I repeated the mantra:It is not up to me to raise these birds. Thy will be done.”

But I knew from experience it was likely there would be a few hiccups before the little guys were successfully launched from their nest . . .

The days passed without incident. No attempted launchings. No need for me to do anything about them . . . until:

Tonight I was leaving the house around 7pm, when something caught my eye on the corner of the bottom step–

OH NO!!!

A dead birdbaby. Flattened against the bricks, on its side, scrawny, scaly legs pulled in, eyes closed . . .

Setting aside my evening plans, I went back inside for a soft cloth, planning to wrap the poor thing and bury it in the back yard But when I picked it up, I felt life–

Warmth,

A tiny silent pulsating.

Its mouth opened and closed noiselessly (no more squeaky swing set.)

I held it to my breast, whispering soothing nothings (even singing, at one point, the same poignant lullaby I had sung to my daughter when she, too, was a scrawny newborn teetering on the precipice of life) until I could find the key to the garage and bring out the tall ladder.

I put the baby back in the nest (inciting no small degree of distress amongst its birdbrothers and sisters) And . . . hoped for the best.

I know nature does its own thing, and I know better (usually) than to interfere.

But, damn it, nature is not always kind. In fact, nature can be kind of a heartless bitch.

What was I going to do? Just walk on past the sad little pile of feathers on my very own doorstep and pretend I hadn’t seen it? Clearly not.

So, in spite of my mantra, I got involved.

I pray the critter is okay in there tonight, nestled back with its maybe-not-so-friendly siblings (I read somewhere that the stronger baby birds will sometimes push the runt out of the nest. Ya know, Darwin and all . . .but, Darwin be darned, I was there and I saw that little runt on the bricks and I could not un-see it.)

These birds, God love them, did not choose to build their nest off in the forest somewhere. They chose to build it in my front doorway, right here in one of the more urban areas of Savannah. So if nasty old nature was going to take her course, I was going to be part of that course.

Isvara pranidhanam. Thy will be done.

I, too, as the birds, am part of the fabric of nature. And if it is indeed true that only we humans enjoy free will, not to mention opposable thumbs (not sure how Mama Bird would have lifted her kid back into the nest . . . )

Let’s use it. Not to contravene nature, but maybe, once in a while, to be the deus ex machina—perhaps even the agents of miracle? where we see that we might.

Goodnight.

And Namaste,

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