Turnaround

Only in Savannah would you find purebred puppies running loose in the streets.

 We have had a wild ride the last day or so:  one of the city’s many stray dogs literally arrived on our doorstep late yesterday afternoon.

 I had gone out front to sit on the brick steps for five minutes and bask in their accumulated heat, which I often do when it’s cold inside the house (the sun is always shining in Savannah!)

 I hadn’t been there a moment before a scruffy little dog trotted by, sans owner.  I craned my neck down the block, trying to see if someone was with him . . . very soon it was clear he was traveling solo.

 The four-lane highway to the beach (US Route 80) runs one block parallel to us, so whenever I see a loose dog, I make an effort to grab him before he makes his way toward certain doom amidst the fast-moving traffic so nearby.

 This one was no effort at all.  I made one small kissy noise from my stoop, and he was in my lap—not to move from there for the next 24 hours.  (I have always had an image of myself as a big-dog kind of gal.  Indeed, the only dog I ever owned was a German Shepherd-y mutt.)  This little Yorkie showed me the joys of small dog ownership.

 In the car running errands, there he was, standing on short hind legs to peer out the window.  In the back yard he clambered into my chair.  On the couch he was a cuddle monster.

 Sure, he had his vices . . . in spite of our cat’s extremely gracious and tolerant welcome, he behaved like a spastic derp—alienating her at first, only to be given a second (and a third, and a fourth) chance, and blowing it then, too . . .

 An un-neutered male, he developed a disturbing relationship with a treat-filled Kong toy we offered him (I won’t go into detail, lest this post cross over out of G-rating).  He had clearly never learned to walk on a leash.  He smelled strongly doggy (but in that good, maple-syrup sort of way).   His bark earned him the middle name “Chuckles” from my daughter—the high-pitched, breathy yap sounded almost like laughing, even though it was plaintive.

 But he was a total sweetheart.  He adopted our family instantly—barking at passersby that first night.  Jumping for joy when reunited after brief separation . . . everyone who saw him fell in love with him.

 I wanted to keep him.  I had an inkling he might have come from “the wrong side of the tracks,” and I thought it likely that he might vanish into the vast statistics of “strays” here in Savannah . .  . Even though we made sure to do our due diligence (calling Animal Control, Humane Society, posting “Found Dog” flyers all throughout the neighborhood, an ad on Craig’s List, and even in the PennyPincher, a posting on the board at the neighborhood veterinarian’s office), I thought he was likely to slip through the socioeconomic divide . . . and become mine.

 We had two near-miss responses to our postings by noon, and I was growing more and more certain he would be ours, when a terse reply came through via CraigsList:  “I saw your posting and that’s my puppy Ian.  Call me.”  We agreed to meet in the nearby park, and, sure enough, it was a bona fide match.

 Ian (pronounced Ee-on, it turned out, and dubbed by our daughter “Sir Martin Chuckles of Yorkshire”) was not ours, after all.  It was a quick turnaround.

 When his true family pulled up to claim him, Grandma got out of the van and held out her arms, real tears in her eyes.  Ee-on bounded toward her.  Then a daughter, barely 20, and her bi-racial son (who evidently called the dog “Brother”) reunited as well, scooping the little dog into a family hug.  Grandma said, “Oh, thank God, thank God, we didn’t sleep last night.  [Daughter] was crying and crying, and . . . oh, thank God . . . “

 Well.  That was quite the reframe for me, because I too had hardly slept last night, and also on account of Ee-on.  But for me it was because he was barking, or scritching at himself or the bedroom door, or noisily humping his Kong.  Or because I was worried he would pee in my bedroom, the way he had several times in the PetSmart when we went to get him food and a leash (and that Kong) . . .

But that other family—Ee-on’s real family—hadn’t slept because they were frantic with worry.  They were imagining him dead by the side of Highway 80.  They were grieving in advance the loss of this furry angel who had kept them company through a teen pregnancy, a father away in military service, a life of economic scarcity . . .

 That simple sentence:

“We didn’t sleep last night.”

meant such very different things for us, respectively.  We couldn’t sleep because we had the puppy.  They couldn’t sleep because they didn’t.

 The strange, mirror-image nature of this fact reminded me of the yoga idea called pratipaksha bhavanam —or turnaround:

When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite ones should be thought of.  This is pratipaksha bhavana. (Yoga Sutras II.33)

I have always understood this concept to mean substituting positive thoughts for negative ones . . . but maybe it just means to bring our awareness to our perspective of a situation.  And realize that there might be others.  This also makes me think of The Work of Byron Katie.

 Anyway . . . as Grandma hugged me tight and thanked me, still crying from joy, I could see clearly from this more panoramic perspective.  While I honestly mourned “losing” my temporary companion, I was glad at the same time that he was going back home.  I could see both sides of the coin.

 Things sure seem a lot quieter around the house today now that Ee-on has gone.  At least the cat is happy about that.

 

The Influenza Cleanse

A few years ago I was really into juice cleanses.  It has been a while since I have felt motivated to do one, although I do still enjoy drinking vegetable juice (but not the buying, transporting, and prepping of all that produce, not to mention cleaning the juicer) . . .

Today is the first day I am upright and taking nourishment after two days spent completely horizontal.  I got the flu!  This almost never happens, and it caught me by surprise.  I was so, so sick.  I could barely move.  I couldn’t think about food, beyond a few sips of homemade chicken broth.  My aching bones sent me into the detox bath (Epsom salts and baking soda) at least every few hours–my only departure from bed.  Actually, a lot of my symptoms were familiar from some of the cleanses I have done . . .

Now that I am back in the land of the living, I feel quite renewed.  My skin is clearer, my eyes brighter, even my vision is better.  All of the sludge of the holiday season (damn you, pimiento cheese!) has been burned away by fever and washed clean by herbal teas and an involuntary fast.  It was even a sort of emotional cleanse:  I had been a little down in the dumps the last couple of months . . . Well.  There is nothing like a few episodes of struggling for breath to give you an appreciation for life.

And you know what is interesting about this one?  There was no feeling of deprivation.  It was completely organic.  And, coming out of this flu, I find I am craving simple foods and gentle drinks (buh-bye espresso; hello green tea), whereas when I would finish the forced juice cleanses I would always be dying for a cheeseburger and a chocolate chip cookie and an espresso shake at the end . . .

There is so much talk these days of “detox”.  Even lil’ old Savannah has a juice bar  now!  Lord, if we were to believe the hype we might all despair at being hopelessly riddled with “toxins”—in perpetual need of desperate measures like juice fasts and colonics and heaven knows what else.

I think I was pretty toxic come January 1st.  And guess what:  my body knew exactly what to do.  When it was the furthest thing from my conscious mind, she demanded a “cleanse”—deep rest, fasting, fever, expelling mucous (hello goopy cough!).  I heeded her imperative completely.  Not because I thought it was a good idea, but because she did.

Hmm . . . maybe, just maybe, this miraculous physical being of mine is a self-correcting organism.  Maybe I don’t need to beat her into submission, cleanse her of her uncleanliness, or any of that.  Just take good care, and know that when I haven’t been, she will let me know.  She will tell me exactly what is needed.  And I will listen.

Cheers to good health in the new year,

And Namaste,

yogelisa-2

Be the Light

Whole Foods Market just opened in Savannah, right around the time we moved here last summer.

Last night I dreamed I was shopping in some dream-time Whole Foods.  In my dream the store was a big glass box, surrounded by a huge parking lot (not all that different from our day-time WFM.)  Inside I was shopping, along with other people like me, for baked brie and satsumas, avocadoes, pork loin, Prosecco and chocolate truffles.

Outside, on the other side of the four walls of glass (dream WFM), indigent people were camping in the parking lot.  They were not trying to get in. They were just there.  One of them lay sick on the blacktop.  Others were huddled amidst the Christmas tree display under the eaves.  These were people on the edge of subsistence.  No baked brie for them.  Shopping in my dream I felt ill, knowing they were out there, seeing them out there.  But I continued to shop.  I checked out, with the bright-faced, Christmas-bedecked cashier (likely a graduate from the local elite art school).  Walked blindly past the parking lot people to my fancy little car.

Well.  This morning I happened to need a few things from Whole Foods shortly after they opened at 8am.  Holiday madness in full swing, the store was pretty busy, even that early.  When it came time to check out, only one register was open, plus the Express lane.  In the Regular lane was a lady with a towering shopping cart, so I opted for the Express (I think I had less than 15 items).  Only one person was in front of me:  quick.

As I stood there, a gentleman joined the line behind me, tailed by some seemingly managerial Whole Foods employee.  The man was older, black, rather disheveled.  Not the usual clientele.  The manager was speaking rapidly to the man (I couldn’t make out what he was saying), then I heard the older customer loudly proclaim, “I GOT money to pay!”  The man had assembled a modest plate from the hot-food breakfast buffet—his sole purchase–some scrambled eggs, a biscuit, some potatoes . . .

The manager bustled away (presumably in search of higher authority), and it was just me and breakfast man in line.

When my turn came, the checker began scanning my items:  spinach-artichoke dip, dark chocolate, organic toothpaste, Roquefort cheese, hydroponic lettuce . . .

After twenty seconds or so of this, I turned to the man behind me and asked, “Can I buy your breakfast?”

Clutching his five-dollar bill, he gaped at me with surprisingly pale blue (cataracted?) eyes:  “You would do that for me?”

Of course.  Done.  A no-brainer. (The cost of his breakfast was $3.47.)

He was effusive:  “Merry Christmas!”  “God is good!”  “I love you!” “Have a blessed day!”

I do not recount this story just to show y’all what a great good person I am.  I know we all find and act on these little opportunities often.

It just was a pretty interesting confluence—what with my dream the very night before, with Savannah’s many different worlds bumping up against each other, with Christmas . . .

Once again I am struck by the simple ends my spirit seeks—as I have said here before, mostly I just want to be kind—and, in contrast,  the elaborate trappings of a 21-st century “spiritual path”:  expensive outfits, impressive gymnastics, exotic retreats, starvation diets that cost hundreds of dollars . . .

Just be kind.  That was the take-home today.  When faced with a choice to be kind or be blind, be kind.

Now is the time.  Christmas time, all the time.  The world is in darkness.

Be the light.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

Merry Christmas.

And Namaste,

yogelisa-2

Out of Gas

Dear Sunoco Service Station Guy in Devil’s Crotch Virginia:

I’m sorry I was an a**hole.  Let me explain:

We set off Tuesday morning for Georgia, from Brooklyn, with my small family in two cars.  I was driving a rental car with kiddo and kitty cat in the back seat.

The day was warm.  No, the day was already stinkin’ 90-something degrees by 9am.  Immediately it became clear we had made a mistake not to sedate the cat (something we have done every other time she has traveled).   By Metuchen, NJ (35 miles into our 800-mile journey), she had pooped, peed, and passed out in her carrier.  Not to mention she was howling the whole time.

So we stopped and took care of her for an hour or two, then got back on the road.

Due to the earlier delays, we reached Washington D.C. at rush hour.  Traffic was heavy, and inching along at 20 mph for dozens of miles.  I had made the unfortunate choice to have an Oreo McFlurry for lunch.

By 5pm or so, I was dehydrated, glucose-challenged, (oh, and I forgot to say that the total number of hours slept in the 3 days leading up to this journey totaled probably 15).  I was completely out of gas.  And the car had about an eighth of a tank.  So, even though we hadn’t seen one of those easy-off service areas in many miles, I pulled off to fuel up.

The first station we saw was a Sunoco.  Quite crowded, but with a few pumps miraculously empty.  I drove up to one, and saw a sign:

Pump credit card reader does not work.  Please pay inside store or use another pump.

I tried another empty pump.  Same message.  Well, the store was a good 400 yards away across the hot blacktop, and kitty was starting to drool and pant again, so I waited (a LONG time) for a different pump to open up.

Long story short, that pump also couldn’t read my card, and neither could the next one (even though neither had the out-of-order card on them), and I was in and out of that store six times while the kid and the cat baked in the car, and after pump number two didn’t work (by this time it had been almost an hour since we had left the freeway for a fuel stop that would ordinarily have taken a few minutes), and you behind the counter were trying to say something, in a pretty hard to understand accent, about did I lift the nozzle, I just lost it.

I didn’t swear at you or call names or anything, but I was . . . well, an a**hole.  The three people I cut in line who were buying cigarettes, or Slim Jims, or 42-ounce sodas (Mayor Bloomberg would NOT approve) looked at me with disgust as I demanded you return my credit card, stomped out of there, got in the car, and drove off without my gas.

Now it is two days later, and I am thinking of you, working in that convenience store, in that godforsaken Virginia town.  You probably have a family, too.  Probably a kid, or maybe a bunch.  Pets.  Problems.  Likely a good deal worse than mine.  I am sure you encounter many rude people every day.

I didn’t want to be one of them!!  I kinda think it doesn’t matter how many hours I spend in my pretty yoga room doing poses, if I charge ungracefully through the social interactions (large and small) that make up the rest of my life.

There was a video circulating on the internet a while back.  It showed people acting like jerks, then it went back and showed all that was really going on in the backgrounds of their lives.   The guy who cut you off in traffic?  Maybe he was rushing to the hospital to get to his sick wife.  The woman who scowled at you in Starbucks?  Maybe she just had eye surgery.  I think the point was:  never assume that someone is just an a**hole.  Maybe there is another explanation.

Obviously you didn’t know, sir, what was going on in the background for me, and neither is it an excuse for my bad behavior.  Maybe what I need is not your compassion, but self-compassion.   I think that day I just needed to get back to basics–enough sleep, proper food, and that would have been a start . . . 

In that moment of complete nervous system overwhelm, I could not even remember any more sophisticated tools.  Did I stop and breathe consciously?  Did I pray?  Chant OM?  Did I use any of the helpful tips Yoga Journal sends me in emails?

I did not.  Instead I cried and cursed to myself and jumped up and down like Rumplestiltskin on the steaming asphalt.

Forget about advanced pranayama, awakening energy centers, pretzel-y postures, or any of it.

I just would like to be able to be a kind human being most of the time.

And to you, man behind the counter at that Sunoco station in Virginia, I was not.

I would like to have met you, whom I know as a soul with fears, needs, struggles, joys, just like my own, from a different, clearer, more peaceful part of me.

Tuesday afternoon, I could not.

My sincere apologies,

and Namaste,

yogelisa-2

Are You Getting Too Big For Your Britches?

britches

Bazinga!  This will not be about how yoga makes you lose weight, because I don’t believe it necessarily does (see last week’s post on yoga as adaptogen).

I have had more meat on my bones than ever before since I started practicing yoga.  Maybe that’s the yoga; maybe it’s just because I am over 40 and you know what They Say about that.  Dunno.  Anyway, what I am really thinking about this week is comments like:

“Who does she think she is?”  . . . “He’s gotten too big for his britches!” . . .

What makes people say things like this?

When someone thinks just a little too much of herself, it makes the rest of us uncomfortable.  It’s like we are all working under some unspoken compact that we will not change too much or rock the boat.  We will stay small for (our own and) others’ comfort.

Comments like the above act as a sort of cattle prod we (unconsciously?) bust out to keep the herd in line.

Now, I am not saying that nobody ever gets out of line or acts truly arrogant.  They (we) do sometimes.  I am just saying that if we could get a little big for our own britches once in a while, with the understanding and the hope that others, too, might free themselves from the boxes in which they are hiding from their greatness, that might be a good thing.

Why am I writing about this on my yoga blog?  Well, yoga is all about transformation.  When we begin the journey, we really have no idea where it might take us.

But it WILL, almost certainly, take us out of our own comfort zone.  It will show us we can do things we never imagined we could.  And as we stretch (ha!) beyond these confines, we will have to develop a new concept of self.  An expanded concept, which allows for the possibility that we can be, do, and (yes, even) have more than we previously thought possible.  More than other people have come to expect for and of us.

So, have you gotten too big for your britches?  Good.  Get yourself a new pair of britches.

Seeking Balance

The yoga literature discusses the interplay between steadiness (sthira) and ease (sukham).  When we practice the physical postures (asana), we seek to experience both.

Often we assume that people begin to do yoga because they are stiff (steady) and want to become flexible (easy).  In fact, there are many different body types.  Flexibility and strength are to some extent determined by constitution.  I, for one,  am a loose-limbed person and always have been, no matter whether I am exercising or not.  This is at least as much a liability as it is an asset; my joints and muscles are weak and vulnerable to injury.  When I practice asana, many times I am striving more to find steadiness than maximum range of motion.  Dramatic displays of stretching are enjoyable, but risky.  What I need to do when I practice asana is spend more time on poses that demand strength and endurance (even though they are difficult and I sort of hate them), as these qualities are what I lack, and what will protect me from injury and ensure that my body continues to function well for the long haul.

I have a friend who is trained as an addiction recovery counselor, and she once told me something fascinating:  evidently, people who become drug addicts gravitate toward the drugs that make them more of what they (constitutionally) are.  That is to say, a naturally nervous, excitable person will become a speed freak.  A couch potato type will become a heroin addict.  Rather than seeking her opposite (seeking balance?) the drug addict seeks more of her extreme.  Hm.

In herbal medicine, different plants are classified according to their medicinal effects.  Obvious examples are stimulants and sedatives.  There are also carminatives (relieve gas), expectorants (expel mucous), emmenagogues (increase menstrual flow), and many more.  One special class of herbs is called adaptogens.  These are pinch-hitters, stepping in to do whatever is needed in the moment.  If the body is exhausted, they will revive; if over-excited, they will calm.

I don’t believe it is classified as an adaptogen, but this is what I always loved about nicotine– a drug I have indulged in more frequently and more recently than I would like to admit (not to worry, yoga purists:  I am not currently a filthy smoker).  It always seemed like a cigarette could magically provide whatever effect I might need–lifting me when I was tired or down, mellowing me when I was tense, or anything in between.

I think yoga acts as an adaptogen.

Where we are weak, it can make us strong.  Where we are stiff, it will loosen us up.  When we are stressed, it will calm us, and when we are tired, it will energize us.  If it is to do this, however, we must take a different approach than the drug addict does.  Instead of moving farther in the direction of our natural extreme tendencies, we must head in the opposite direction.  This often means doing exactly that which isn’t easy, or what we don’t feel like doing.

And it is not a quick fix.  Maintaining a yoga practice takes considerably more time and effort than, say, lighting a cigarette or popping open a bottle of wine.  But, rather than leading us farther down the path of extremes, it can lead us away from our inherent imbalances and toward wholeness and true well-being.

To the question of how do we live in these human bodies, with their aches and pains, their desires and limitations, their frailties and also their unexplored capabilities, yoga practice offers an answer.  Not the answer, perhaps.  But an answer.

Learning How to Fall

falling

In martial arts there is a concept called ukemiwhich literally means “receiving”, but is often loosely translated as “the art of falling.”  When I wrote my post last week, I didn’t even remember this, although I must have learned it years ago when I briefly studied aikido.  I remember how hard it was for me, with the ingrained muscle memory of a former gymnast, to learn those asymmetric aikido rolls.

Of course, it makes a lot more sense than a gymnastics roll, diverting impact at an oblique across the spine rather than clattering down each vertebra in a straight line.  As martial arts are express forms of energy work, and a lot more kinetic than the yoga that I practice, it is informative to note how they approach working with gravity.  It is not to be feared, not a linear force from Point A (up high) to Point B (down low), but rather a fluid trajectory that can almost pass through the body rather than slamming it to the ground, if you let it flow in the right way.

Stiff and unbending is the principle of death.
Gentle and yielding is the principle of life.
Thus an army without flexibility never wins a battle.
A tree that is unbending is easily broken.
The hard and strong will fall.
The soft and weak will overcome
.  (Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching)

Inspired by Amos Rendao, of APEX Movement, Boulder, who created this video, I am working with gravity this week, as well as against it.

Tune into the video to watch me fall!