10 Ways To Make Friends With Your Body During A Hot Yoga Class

(HuffPost, November 2017)

Friends, friends: it’s that time of year.

Every December folks roll into my yoga class ready to sweat out all the canapes and martinis they half-drunkenly inhaled the night before. Sometimes they’re wearing six layers of clothing in a 99-degree room so as to “detox” all the pinot and the feta and the gingerbread, armed with liters of coconut water and a couple of big towels for mopping up the evidence.

This always makes me a little bit sad.

I mean, I totally get it. I remember countless hazy, hungover twentysomething mornings spent rolling into Bikram classes feeling like I needed to do the same thing. Too many yoga practices that felt like atonement for the night (or the week) before.

A decade later, as a heated vinyasa teacher myself, I cringe to think that my class could ever be complicit in my students’ self-abasement.

So here I am to remind you: hot yoga is not a punishment.

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I spent Election Night with Sally Yates. Here’s what I learned.

(HuffPost, November 2017)

Last Tuesday night, while voters across the country were surfing a big blue wave, I settled in for a hot date with Sally Yates. She was in conversation with Associated Press national political writer Lisa Lerer at Harvard’s Kennedy School Institute of Politics, and the room was packed. Security tape wrapped the entrances; police officers stood guard along the walls.

I haven’t been so fangirl-excited in a long time.

We’re talking SALLY YATES, PEOPLE.

She of Muslim-travel-ban-smackdown fame. She who schooled Ted Cruz on the Constitution. She who “nevertheless, persisted” in the face of religious bigotry.

As moderator Lerer quipped, “Sally Yates might be best well known for what she didn’t do — which was defend Trump’s travel ban.”

So what’d I learn?

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Me too. All of us. Yoga is no exception.

(YogaDork, October 2017)

I don’t know a single woman who’s never been sexually harassed, or worse. “Me too,” of course. Duh.

It is a part of growing up female.

You learn to clench your jaw and walk faster and stare straight ahead and just get away as quickly as you can, before the cat-caller or the construction worker or the guy following you can catch up.

And it’s as endemic to the yoga world as it is to the film world, or the political world, or the finance world.

When I teach the history of yoga, in particular the evolution of yoga in the 20th century, it’s a history of sexual predators. (Overwhelmingly) male gurus who employed their social capital for sex, manipulation, emotional abuse, you name it.

The last time I taught it, as I flipped through slide after slide of influential contemporary teachers, Pattabhi Jois and John Friend and Bikram and others whose abuses of power are still less public-knowledge (for now), the students just shook their heads in disbelief.

(“Him, too?” “Yeah, he’s in trouble for sex scandals, too. Next slide. Oh yes, him, too.”).

The shadow is real.

I have seen it myself.

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Buddhist Dance Company The Anata Project’s New Show Premieres Thursday

(Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, October 2017)

How do you have a conversation about “enoughness” in a city that is constantly hustling to create the latest million-dollar app?

San Francisco-based Buddhist choreographer Claudia Anata Hubiak’s latest work, Point of Dissolve, contemplates the tension between effort and ease and counters the idea that working harder leads to greater self-worth.

Hubiak’s dance company, The Anata Project, is a hybrid of Buddhist principles and contemporary movement arts, rooted in mindfulness, groundlessness, and embodiment.

At her company’s core is the concept of anatta, a Pali word that translates as not-self or egolessness. It also happens to be Hubiak’s middle name, given to her by the renowned Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, whom her parents studied with.

Point of Dissolve “addresses the cultivation of joy within a continuum of effort and ease,” examining the existential question of what it means to be “good enough,” to relax into what is without constantly striving.

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A Zen Yoga Teacher Gets Real About Postpartum Depression

(Washington Post, April 2016)

My son was born on my birthday.

February 22: George Washington’s birthday. Drew Barrymore’s birthday. And mine.

My phone pinged with Facebook notifications as I stood over the hospital trash bin and retched. Three times I emptied my stomach of the apples and peanut butter my husband had lovingly sliced a few hours before. Once into the trash can. Again. And then again into the birthing tub laced with lavender essential oils.

Fiercely feminist, I’d always been ambivalent about having children. I’d watched my peers spawn with nary a twinge of jealousy, content with my books and my yoga. I told myself, “If it happens: great. If it doesn’t: great.”

On our first date, I teased my future husband, Robb, that I’d likely go the way of Sylvia Plath, making the kids sandwiches and sticking my head in the oven.

Six months later, drinking champagne on a pier overlooking Tomales Bay, we were engaged.

A year later, I was pregnant. Robb promised parenthood would make me a better yoga teacher. I rolled my eyes and took a swig of my chai, wishing it were vodka. He was right. Motherhood has made me a much better yoga teacher.

But I was unprepared for the shattering.

 

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Preserving Summer

(Yoga Journal, June 2011)

Yoga is often defined as the union of sun and moon elements, a balance between opposites in a marriage of seemingly disparate realities. A yoga practice can bring stillness and sanctuary to scattered urban lives, bridging the gap between cosmopolitan and rural, modern and traditional. Kitchen crafts like making jam can be another way of bringing together what has been separated, honoring natural cycles in the preservation of a season, and reconnecting you with your food through the work of your own hands.

Activities like canning and pickling encourage living simply and sustainably, finding a balance between excess and adequacy. They can be a reminder to practice aparigraha (nongrasping) by encouraging an appreciation for the seasons and a bittersweet respect for the coming and going, the growing and dying, the blooming and fading that are part of being alive in the world. Just as yoga encourages us to pay attention, so urban homesteading teaches us to see the resources that surround us with new eyes.

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Reflections On Michael Stone, Mental Health, And Yoga’s Cult Of Positivity

(YogaDork, August 2017)

It’s over a month now that Michael Stone is gone.

What a strange word that is: gone.

Gone, Gone, Gone beyond Gone utterly beyond

Like many of us, I can’t quite believe it.

Michael’s face keeps popping up on my Facebook feed, and for a split-second my mind thinks it’s a new blog or an unheard podcast or an upcoming retreat, for the briefest moment excited to see what wisdom offering might be around the corner.

And then I remember he is gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha

Gone from suffering into the liberation from suffering.

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Go To Your High School Reunion, Dammit

(Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, July 2017)

My 20th high school reunion is coming up next week.

How did THAT happen? More importantly: Should I go?

It’s in Nebraska, so I’d have to book a flight (with connections), rent a car, haul my kid across time zones, and find something decent to wear. Not to mention all that torturous small talk once I actually get there. As an introvert, trying to catch up on two decades of relative strangers’ lives over cocktail weenies and cheap wine is perhaps my worst nightmare.

There are a million reasons to just blow it off, not the least of which being that reunions in a post-Facebook world yield fewer surprises than they did before. Most of us are familiar with some version of one another’s lives, even if it’s a glossily curated edition.

But there’s a reason Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion became a cult hit. It articulated something most of us don’t say out loud: it can be so damn hard to go back.

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What Masculinity Looks Like

(On Being, July 2015)

In the yoga world, we use the Sanskrit phrase “Sthira Sukham Asanam” to describe the complementary balance of effort and ease, strength and softness necessary in every pose. Sutra 2.46 lays out the way in which each asana (literally, “seat”) should be a kind of relationship, an ongoing conversation between steady, active presence and yielding, relaxed stillness. The combination of the two qualities creates a yin-yang kind of wholeness that is strongly rooted, firm in foundation, confident and stable — and at the same time malleable, easy to adapt, gentle in spirit and undeniable in the face of transition. …

When I met my husband (unsuspecting, in a yoga class), I fell in love with his finely-tuned practice of Sthira Sukham Asanam. A longtime yogi, he was capable of being at once resolute and confident, tender and gentle. He could throw back a beer in one breath and quote Hafiz in the next. …

The most challenging practice has been finding center, grasping at sattva in the moments of sleeplessness, of relentless, bone-breaking parenting. Fumbling to stay calm at the changing table when the little man wriggles off. Struggling not to yell when he refuses to get into his high chair for the fiftieth time. Trying to be tender with one another when we’re both rundown and under-slept and haven’t showered in four days.

The idea is, of course, not to nail every posture (or every diaper change), but to let go and roll with the punches, to allow the sensations — the fear, the anger, the exhaustion — to move through you and to just get out of the way, exhaling into the quiet that’s always there under the chaos, paying attention to how everything is perpetually changing from day to day, moment to moment, breath to breath.

And then it passes.

 

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8 Tips For Officiating A Wedding

(Washington Post, June 2017)

So you’re officiating a wedding. No pressure, right? It’s only someone’s Biggest Day Ever.

Couples are increasingly choosing to have a friend or family member officiate their wedding ceremonies instead of a religious leader or civil servant. According to a recent study from Pew Research Center, 23 percent of U.S. adults describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or nothing in particular. And millennials, those born from 1981 to 1996, are far less religiously observant than the older cohorts. As these millennial marry and the power of organized religion dwindles, this trend will no doubt continue to grow.

Take a deep breath. You’ve got this. Here are some tips and things I’ve learned after officiating weddings in Thailand, California, New Hampshire and New York:

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What It’s Really Like To Teach Yoga After Kids

(YogaDork, June 2017)

It’s taboo to talk about money + yoga. But this is the REAL TALK about teaching, finances, and childcare that I’d like to share with every pregnant yoga teacher if I could. Yoga teachers who are also parents: this one’s for you.

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The Beauty Of Being An ‘Okay’ Parent, And Five Ways To Get There

(Washington Post, March 2017)

Let’s be honest: Parenting in the 21st century — the age of the curated childhood — is daunting. Parents constantly feel like they should be doing more.

I grew up in South Dakota and Nebraska, the second of four kids, where my parents — a Lutheran pastor and a music teacher — were too busy working and keeping us fed and clothed to hover. We had PBS, a house full of books and music, a big garden, church on Sundays and room to roam. They instilled simple values I’ll always be grateful for and I strive to emulate as a parent. My husband and I moved to Portland, Ore., last year from San Francisco, where parenting felt like an elite competitive sport. I adore the Bay Area, but as a new mother, I wanted to escape the suffocating pressure to produce a privileged champion specimen.

I’m a recovering Type-A perfectionist. As a kid, I was always the best at everything I did. I was anxious about having children because I knew I was at risk of pressuring myself to have perfect little high-achievers. I didn’t want to raise the kind of child who felt like he had to be the best at everything, or start prepping him for college in third grade.

One of my greatest accomplishments as an adult has been chilling the heck out and letting myself be okay with being average. I see no need for personal chauffeurs, overpriced tutors or hardcore chess tournaments. As a child of the heartland, it’s important to me that my son realize that not everybody’s family flies a private plane or uses “summers” as a verb.

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Washing The Dishes, Waiting For Death

(Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, August 2016)

The first time I really “got” meditation, I was standing at my kitchen sink washing dishes.

My father was dying. Cancer.

Hospice bed in the living room-style cancer.

I’d flown back to Nebraska to see him one last time, to hold his hand, say goodbye.

Now, the haunting question of when.

I was 26, living in a 100-year-old flat in San Francisco, bartending my way through grad school, subsisting on coffee and cocktails. Standing there at the sink, I could hear the young couple upstairs vacuuming, the Chinese family across the alley clattering pans, and the cable car clanging one block over on California Street.

My mind was obsessively circling the drain.

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HomeBody: Movement Meets Buddha Nature

(InDance, October 2015)

PICTURE A BUDDHIST. What comes to mind? A red-robed monk or nun sitting patiently on a cushion, lips gently smiling, eyes closed, legs crossed in Lotus Pose?

Or perhaps you picture Tina Turner, or Richard Gere, or another famous pop culture Buddhist?

For most of us, it’s definitely not an athletic, barefoot, nude-leotard-clad dancer bounding elegantly across the floor on a brightly-lit stage.

San Francisco-based choreographer and dance filmmaker Claudia Anata Hubiak’s contemporary dance company, The Anata Project, suggests an unconventional new Buddhist prototype. Since 2011, inspired by the Tibetan Buddhist concept of anata (“egolessness,” or the notion that there is no such thing as a permanent, unchanging self), The Anata Project has produced dances and dance films that take a genuine and unflinching look into the unguarded mind and heart. Its interdisciplinary conceptual foundation stands at the cutting edge of the meditative melding of body and spirit, seeking to break new ground in the worlds of modern dance, mindful embodiment, and Buddhist art.

 

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15 Things That Lessen The Stress Of Moving With Toddlers

(Parent.Co, June 2017)

So you’re moving. With small kids. Congrats!

My husband’s new job just took our family from Portland, Oregon to Boston, Massachusetts. Schlepping our lives 3000 miles across the country was a big undertaking for us adults – and an even bigger deal for our just-turned-three-year-old son.

We knew we wanted to do this move the right way for him. Here are a few tricks we discovered (some intentionally, some through trial and error) that might help to smooth the process for you and your little ones, too.

1 | When you first share the news, draw pictures of their new room together. What color will they paint the walls? How are they going to decorate? Where will the bed go? Let them share in the excitement as they look forward to making it their own.

2 | Print out a paper calendar of the month leading up to the move and cross off each day as it passes. This can make the few weeks’ worth of “lasts” (e.g. last day of school, last sleep at the old house) and “firsts” (e.g. first airplane flight, first day at their new childcare) feel more manageable.

3 | Check out library books about moving. We found a few favorites that emphasized the adventure and excitement of moving to a new home – try “The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day,” or “The GoodPie Party,” for starters. Keep an eye out for the negative ones, though. Some, like “Little Critter: We Are Moving” or “Alexander, Who’s Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going To Move” introduced feelings of fear, resistance, and dread that our son wasn’t otherwise feeling. No need to go there if they’re not already feeling angst-y.

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9 Yoga & Mindfulness Podcasts That Will Feed Your Soul

(Yoga Trade, February 2017)

Have you heard of “beginner’s mind?”

It’s the Zen Buddhist notion that we should approach the world as novices, childlike, open to learning, no matter how much we know about a certain subject. Beginner’s mind means stepping into our lives with a brand-new, wide-open mind, eager to receive, ready to evolve.

This is how we stay young.

This is how we stay open.

As teachers, one of our most important responsibilities is to keep learning.

In yoga philosophy, we call this svadhyaya, or self-study.

These days, for me, svadhaya means a couple of things: home practice, and podcasts.

For wellness professionals and yogis who are teaching or working overseas, or living in isolated rural areas, these are two essential tools to keep in your self-study toolkit.

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How To Survive Snow Days As An Introvert Parent

(HuffPost, January 2017)

We moved to the Pacific Northwest last year, and for the first time in my adult (read: parenting) life, I’m dealing with snow days.

Snow days were so fun as a kid, right? Growing up on the Great Plains, they were such a rare treat. We were hardcore, man. Fierce pioneers braving the prairie blizzards. I remember going out to recess in South Dakota even when the wind chill was below zero: you just wore your snow pants and hung on for dear life.

But this, friends: this is a different beast. Folks around here aren’t used to snow and ice. Cities don’t have the same kind of infrastructure for dealing. So this winter, when we’ve had an unusual amount of ice and snow (climate change, whaaa?), the school systems are buckling. Buses are stuck and delayed; roads are too icy to get kids home from school. Days off right and left. Which are rad when you’re a kid who can hang out and play all day, or a solo adult who can chill on the sofa in front of the TV. Not so cool when you’re an introverted work-from-home mama trying to figure out what the heck to do with tiny energetic humans all day long.

A few reasons snow days are introvert-parent hell:

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Why Colin Kaepernick Is The Yoga Teacher We Need Right Now

(YogaDork, November 2016)

Colin Kaepernick is a stealth yoga teacher. And it’s got nothing to do with his tight pants.

Kaepernick first declined to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” before the 49ers’ August 26th preseason game against the Green Bay Packers because, as he put it, he couldn’t “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Kaepernick’s move has sparked outrage across the country, eliciting nationalist critiques, burned jerseys, and even death threats. Earlier this month, just prior to the election, Kaepernick quietly launched a Black Panthers-inspired “Know Your Rights” camp empowering black and Latino students in Oakland, CA to combat oppression.

A few weeks after Kaepernick kicked off his peaceful protest, I led a yoga philosophy training for current teachers. We covered philosophy basics from old school yoga texts like the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, and revisited the often-murky history of yoga. Then we dragged yoga philosophy into the 21st century, brainstorming about where to find alternative texts—the kind of postmodern yoga teachers that hide out in unexpected places, like Ferdinand The Bull or Fight Club or (gasp) even Donald Trump.

One student raised her hand. She brought up Colin Kaepernick.

Brilliant, I thought. Yes; this is what yoga looks like in the real world.

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5 Things Fight Club — Yes, Fight Club — Taught Me About Yoga

(Yoga International, May 2016)

Take a look at any mainstream yoga rag, and you might think “yoga” means skinny white ladies lounging around in stretchy pants, talking about probiotics. But yoga is so much more.

Yoga’s smart. Yoga’s radical. Yoga’s counter-cultural.

Yes, really.

The modern yoga scene is at a tipping point. Commodification and “Instagramification” have transformed this profound meditative practice into a trendy, upper-middle-class fitness craze.

It’s time for populist, philosophy-loving yogis to reclaim yoga from its widespread assimilation as a sanitized, fashion-driven workout. Believe it or not, the philosophical tradition’s got much wisdom to offer regarding the messy, sweaty, sacred/profane reality of being alive. Which brings us to…Fight Club. Yep, you heard me right.

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When I’m An Old Lady, I’ll Be Glad I Took This Picture

(Raw Rach & HuffPost, April 2016)

This is a selfie.

I talk a lot of shit about selfies. Have for a long time. You know, that they’re narcissistic and precious and self-conscious and misguided and pretty much the downfall of the yoga world these days. All about “The Gaze,” all about “being seen” rather than just “being.” The practice lost to the performance. No small thing.

But, shit. That’s a goddamned selfie.

And you know what?

I fucking love it.

Do you know how people take yoga selfies? There’s not a single graceful thing about it.

That effortless Handstand-on-the-beach? She took 62 shots of that and they were all sandy and shitty. That relaxed Pigeon in the park? He ran back and forth to the camera 17 times before he could actually get into the pose in time. That Natarajasana on the mountain top? She about lost her shit and fell into the Grand Canyon.

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The Joy of Baking

(Yoga Journal, December 2009)

As an adult, I rediscovered the practice of baking heartfelt gifts in my new community in San Francisco. At one point, I decided to devote a year to baking cakes as offerings. Every Saturday morning I’d roll out of bed bleary-eyed, fill an empty bundt cake pan with batter, and give the resulting cake to someone in need of comfort or a little celebration. As I listened to the city wake up, I counted and chopped, mixed and measured. And in the process, my mind became still, my breath slowed, my body felt balanced and at peace. What I experienced was more than mixing butter and eggs — it was a practice in baking and giving from the heart.

Some 60 cakes later, I see now how my “bundt cake Saturdays” have given me a creative outlet that, among other things, reminds me that compassion can transcend urban boundaries. Strangers on the street soften at the sight of my cake caddy, asking if that’s a cat I have hiding in there. Even the bus driver will wait patiently for “the cake lady,” going out of his way to drop me off at work, where my colleagues light up like children at the prospect of a new flavor to sample.

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11 Things You Didn’t Know About The History Of Yoga

(Yoga Trade, November 2016)

I’ve spent the last year fine-tuning and teaching a History of Yoga workshop curriculum. It’s meant listening to endless history podcasts, combing through interviews with senior teachers like Judith Hanson Lasater and Richard Rosen, reading arresting new scholarship from academics like Mark Singleton and James Mallinson, and thumbing through primary texts like Light on Yoga and the Bhagavad Gita.

You know that old cliché about how if you really want to learn something, you should teach it? It’s true. I’ll never look at my yoga practice the same way again. And after reading this, you may not, either.

Here are a few unexpected revelations:

 

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What To Do When You’re Teaching In 15 Minutes & You’ve Got Nothing To Give

(Yoga Trade, October 2016)

Teachers, does this sound familiar?

You’re drained, running on empty, burning the candle at both ends. You’ve taught 12 classes already this week, and with four to go, you wonder what you have left to give anyone.

You haven’t gotten much sleep. You’ve not eaten all day and you’re super low-blood-sugar. Or maybe you’re just feeling kind of quiet and blue; your dog just went in for surgery to remove a lump, or your grandmother is ailing, or you just found out you didn’t get that job (or that date) you really, really wanted.

Whatever the case — your gas tank is empty, and you’re feeling decidedly short on the kind of chutzpah required to power through being an inspiring yoga-guru for the next 90 minutes. How are you supposed to emcee a dance party when you’d rather curl up under the covers and hibernate?

I’ve been mentoring a few [awesome] teachers lately as they study for their 500hr certifications, and this is one of the topics that has repeatedly come up. Most of us wellness professionals can relate to this, yeah? If you teach long enough, you’ll surely experience burnout at some point. It’s the nature of the biz. (And the nature of being human, to be honest.)

For newer teachers especially, who are often hustling from location to location teaching 10-15 classes a week, it’s not an option to cut back to a more reasonable number. Add in urbanity, commuting, and a high cost of living, and you need to keep teaching a robust regular schedule to afford to pay your rent and eat a decent meal now and then, too. The luxury of cutting back to just a few inspired classes a week is one that’s often only available to established teachers with large followings, or folks with another full-time job that takes the financial pressure off yoga teaching.

Wellness professionals — whether yoga teachers, Pilates teachers, massage therapists, acupuncturists, you name it — well, we give a lot. The very nature of our craft is that you put yourself out there, physically AND emotionally. You can’t just hide in a cubicle with your headphones on and fritter the workday away online waiting for the clock to hit 5pm so you can escape to your sofa. You need to show up, in every way — whether you’re feeling en fuego or exhausted.

The upside for those of us who really love teaching is that so much comes back to us, too. How lucky are we to do the kind of work that makes us feel MORE alive when we finish? Many times over the years I’ve walked into a class feeling kind of neutral (shall we say sattvic, or quietly balanced, to keep it Ayurvedic?), and walked out feeling buzzingly-alive, connected, inspired. How cool is it that we get to do that kind of work? It really is a blessing.

Here are a few things to remember on the days when you might struggle for inspiration:

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4 Ways To Find More Santosha In Your Everyday

(Yoga Trade, September 2016)

In yogic philosophy, the word Santosha basically translates as “contentment.”

This isn’t contentment as in, Hey, let’s get stoned and sit on the couch eating donuts and bingeing on Netflix for the next five hours.

It’s not contentment as in Eh, my life is pretty decent as it is, so why bother learning a new language or playing piano or planting a garden or traveling to Greece?

This is contentment, as in looking around at your perfectly-imperfect life, waking up to the little graces, and being ok with it, instead of constantly seeing happiness over there, once you get that body or that car or that job or that partner or that kid.

Buddhist scholar David Loy calls this grass-is-always-greener phenomenon LACK. It’s the ubiquitous, unsettling sense that there’s something intrinsically missing, a perpetual void, always the experience of not enough.

You see this everywhere. Capitalism stokes the fire. Our economy is fueled by the message that YOU ARE NOT ENOUGH. That if you just buy this moisturizer or that Tesla or that pair of sneakers, you’ll be lovable, you’ll be popular, you’ll be complete.

BULLSH*T.

We all know that’s not true.

Because as soon as you get the Tesla, you’ll want the newer model. And as soon as you get the McMansion, you’ll want the one with the pool next door. And as soon as you get the trophy wife, there’ll be a younger one with fewer wrinkles and better boobs around the corner.

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A Yogi-Mama’s Favorite Gluten-Free & Vegan Oatmeal Cookies

(Yoga International, July 2016)

Baking has always been a kind of yoga for me. Being in the kitchen takes me out of my chattering mind and into the task at hand. So after my son was born, I scoured the Internet in search of the perfect healthy oatmeal cookie recipe. Breastfeeding meant I was constantly starving (nursing burns between 800 and 1,200 extra calories a day—crazy, right?), and I wanted to find a vegan, gluten-free, (mostly) sugar-free, and superfood-heavy snack that would satisfy my new-mama hunger and give my body tons of nutrition.

My son is now a toddler, and we’ve taste-tested a lot of oatmeal cookies since he was born, though none was quite right. I’ve spent the last two years tinkering to come up with a recipe that meets my criteria. I think it’s pretty perfect now.

The great news? You can eat this cookie for breakfast. Seriously. It’s protein-rich, whole-foods-based, and packed with powerhouse nutrients.

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The Word “Namaste” Is Overexposed. Played Out. But Here’s Why We Need It.

(Yoga Trade, July 2016)

The word “Namaste” is pretty played out these days, isn’t it?

You can find it everywhere: on yoga mats, on bumper stickers, on water bottles. You can buy a “Namaste In Bed” t-shirt on Amazon. You can pick up Namaste bracelets and handbags and trucker hats on Etsy. You can dig into Namaste-brand gluten-free pizza crust and chicken noodle soup. You can walk into Namaste-branded pilates studios and wellness centers.(Not to mention the hilarious yoga-world-skewering web series Namaste, Bitches.)

The word itself has taken on a certain cultural significance. It’s become a brand, recognizable even to someone who’s never stepped foot on a yoga mat.

Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche called this phenomenon spiritual materialism. Spiritual materialism occurs when a spiritual concept or practice is turned into a product for the purpose of making money. It’s rooted in the idea that you can buy and sell spiritual qualities like peace, grace, or transcendence.

Namastizzle, baby.

There’s no going back now.

*

I’m having a hard time writing about yoga lately.

There’s such a cruel juxtaposition of things going on in the world.

It’s summer yoga festival season. My FB feed is packed with photos of half-naked tan bendy people decorated with henna tattoos and patterned leggings doing yoga poses on mountains everywhere I look. And they are having so much FUN and sweating and chanting and living and doing their thang, you know? And I’ve been there and done that myself, and oh man yes, is it so fun. Right on, people! Namaste! Jai Ma!

But those yogis-gone-wild posts are bookended with videos of awful shootings in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis and Dallas and heartbreaking massacres on the French Riviera and hand-wringing from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where fiery speakers are calling for gun rights and white supremacists are offering prayers.

How are we supposed to even reconcile the two?

It feels crass, doesn’t it? To share happy-pretty-shiny yoga pictures on Instagram when the world feels like it is, quite literally, devolving into chaos?

I’ve only got one word…

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Get Lost, Start Over: Why Yoga Starts When Things Fall Apart

(Yoga Trade, July 2016)

It’s a cool, grey Saturday morning in Portland.

7:45am.

I’m on the road, cruising along about 45 mph, pleasantly caffeinated, smoothie in hand, headed to teach my 8:15am class.

Life is calm and quiet and good. (The caffeine helps).

Good, that is, until, out of nowhere, smack in the middle of the road, surrounded by other metal deathboxes zooming along at 45 mph, my car just dies.

Shuts off. Loses all power. Sayonara, baby.

The dashboard lights flash once, ominously, and then they die, too. All of them.

Holy shit. What’s going on?! What am I gonna do?!

I shift the weirdly-energyless car into neutral. There’s a parking lot just a few hundred feet ahead to my right, if I can just manage to get there. Deliberately, clenchedly, I steer that lifeless monstrosity of glass and leather and steel into the parking lot, shove it awkwardly into Park, sit for a breathless moment hoping nothing explodes, and turn the ignition off.

Exhaling, I think to myself:

This is why we do yoga.

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What Death Taught Me About Living Fully

(Yoga International, May 2016)

On a pristine Sunday evening in late spring, we memorialized the life of my old friend Greg.

It was a perfectly Aloha party, an anti-funeral on the rooftop deck of a restaurant under the Bay Bridge, complete with Hawaiian shirts and rollicking toasts and great seafood. The weather even behaved on behalf of the celebration: no fog in sight.

At the request of Greg’s friends and family, I’d agreed to officiate the memorial.

This left me anxious as hell.

The morning of the service, I woke up with an unnameable knot in my belly. The pressure to sum up a beloved friend’s life in a few brief words completely trumps the pressure of doing, well, pretty much anything else.

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7 Tips For Teaching A Kick-Ass Vinyasa Class

(Yoga International, April 2016)

Let’s be honest: there are tons of vinyasa classes out there these days.

What can you do to ensure yours is terrific? What are the essentials for designing a really solid class, beyond the basics (like safe sequencing, cueing the breath, and making sure no one passes out)? And how can you make your class the kind of can’t-miss experience that keeps students coming back for more?

Here are seven keys:

1. Be yourself.

Don’t get your “yoga-voice” on. I’ve taken classes from a number of rad, funny, cool yoga teacher friends who, once they step in front of a class, totally lose their personalities and become yoga automatons. Don’t be afraid to be real—to speak in your normal tone, like you would in everyday conversation, and maybe even (gasp!) swear once or twice (if that’s normally how you’d talk). People are more relaxed in the presence of a confident leader, and your students will feel at home when you’re at ease. That said…

2. Don’t talk too much. For real.

This is the feedback I hear most often from students who have negative class experiences. Have you ever taken a class where the teacher’s so eager to fill all the silent spaces that they jabber the whole way through? Honor the introverted, meditative nature of the practice. Nonstop chatter makes it really tough to settle into a meditative flow, and it can be, quite frankly, invasive, unhelpful, and really annoying. So step back. Don’t feel like you need to explain everything you’ve ever learned about a pose or a philosophical topic in the span of five breaths. Offer the basic instructions necessary, count out a few breaths as you go along, and then STFU. Your students will thank you.

3. Keep a nice rhythmic pace, as though you’re playing an instrument.

And I don’t mean choreographing your routines to the Skrillex song playing in the background. Let your vinyasa pulse like a heartbeat.
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How Bernie Sanders Taught Me Yoga

(Yoga Dork & HuffPost, March 2016)

I’m a yoga teacher. It’s a weird time to be a yoga teacher.

Ted Cruz is hollering at Donald Trump to “breathe, Donald; breathe.” Marco Rubio’s jabbing him about doing yoga onstage at debates. And both are selling yoga products on their campaign websites.

Since watching that Republican debate, I can’t tell my students to breathe without feeling uncomfortable, like Ted Cruz in leggings and a ponytail.

Some of my colleagues are ignoring the election completely. They think politics is crass, negative, not spiritually relevant. They’d rather be in the studio meditating or chanting loving prayers toward all the candidates. That’s super nice, too, and I’m totally on board with sending some peace and ease to all of those folks, even the ones who make my blood boil, because damn, this election season is a bitch.

But I’m hooked. Hardcore. Can’t get enough.

I rush home after teaching to catch the tail-end of the debates. I spend Saturday nights in front of the TV cringe-watching Donald Trump’s bizarro meandering victory speeches. I troll Twitter in the wee hours of the morning for the latest analysis on who’s projected to win Ohio and Florida.

I haven’t felt this politically invested in years.

I am a progressive Democrat. I am also a lifelong feminist and will support Hillary Clinton tooth-and-nail, should she end up as the Democratic nominee. At first I figured she’d be my candidate all the way. I mean, go first woman President! and all. And who’s more qualified, right?

But, very quickly, very easily, Bernie won me over. His authenticity, his passion, his commitment to economic justice? Well, geez: he’s a total yogi.

Here’s why:
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Why My Butt Dimples Just Unsubscribed From Yoga Journal

(Recovering Yogi, August 2014)

Yesterday I sat with my kid in my lap and leafed through the latest Yoga Journal. There was a fashion supplement, a celebrity profile of a pretty teacher who married a famous actor, and a whole feature on how to dress to hide your figure flaws and look thinner on the mat (“How can I conceal my butt dimples?”).

I cancelled my subscription.

I felt sad. And dejected. And not good enough, especially since I’m a butt-dimpled new mom with a muffin top and it’s been awhile since I’ve done Natarajasana in high heels on a rooftop like Hilaria Baldwin. But mostly, I felt disappointed, because I’ve written a few pieces for YJ in the past and have always felt proud of finding a market for intelligent mindful writing amidst the glossy rags.

Today I’m sitting on the floor with my kid in my lap and he’s chewing on a soft fabric car with wheels that spin across the three sheet-covered yoga mats that we’ve laid out across the living room floor as a playmat. We’re making frozen toaster waffles (nope, not organic) with maple syrup and reading Where The Wild Things Are, which, incidentally, includes no fashion supplements. He’s learning how to sit by himself, and falling forward into Paschimottanasana every time. I’m wearing old black tutu-leggings with a hole in the crotch; my peeling, calloused feet haven’t had a pedicure since January; I ate 27 dark-chocolate-covered almonds from Trader Joe’s for breakfast (after finishing the peanut butter cups first), and my bare face is blotchy with postpartum rosacea.

It doesn’t look anything like a Yoga Journal spread. There are no high heels or probiotics to be found. And yet, it feels very much like yoga.

 

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7 Things I Didn’t Know About Life Until I Had A Baby

(MindBodyGreen, April 2015)

Ten weeks after my son was born, I returned to teaching yoga. Between diaper changes and feedings, I hadn’t had much (OK, any) time to do asana. I’d barely done a full 90-minute practice. But I’d had a helluva lot of time to do yoga: the kind of practice that looked like chanting lullabies at 3 am whilst bouncing on a blue exercise ball for hours on end, crying babe in arms, trying to stay calm.

It was the hardest yoga I’d ever done. Way harder than Kapotasana. And it was also the most rewarding.

Having a baby has been tremendously educational, for my body, mind and spirit. With that, here are seven things having a baby has taught me about yoga:

 

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An Insider’s Guide To The Definition Of Yoga

(beYogi, April 2016)

Anyone who tells you yoga is about aerobics is full of it. Yoga is not gymnastics. It’s not aesthetics. It’s certainly not about stretchy pants. It’s about the mind. Patanjali implies this in his very deliberate layout of the Yoga Sutra.

The first sutra is simple: Atha Yoga Anushanam. You might interpret this as: Here we are, you’ve got everything you need, so let’s get it on. Patanjali then moves to the real heart of the matter, the second sutra, where he defines yoga: Yogash chitta vritti nirodhah. Patanjali mentions nothing here about touching your forehead to your toes or the fact that your sports bra should match your headband.

Instead, we learn that yoga is stillness. It’s the calming of incessant mental chatter. It’s the reality that you are not your thoughts or your feelings. You are not the sudden angry desire to punch the obnoxious dude in front of you in line at the bank.

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20 Things I’m Really Thinking At The Children’s Museum

(Mom.me, June 2016)

My toddler son and I spend a lot of time at the children’s museum. It’s an oasis — that rare place where a rambling, fired-up little guy can run freely, a sanctuary of rounded corners and rubbery surfaces where I can sit down and exhale for a minute or two without worrying that he’s going to dart into the street or careen down a staircase.

But every time we go, I find myself stealthily scoping out the other mothers (or fathers or nannies or grandparents) and wondering what they’re thinking. Are they, too, relieved and exhausted and under-showered and over-caffeinated? Do they look at me and see a cool, calm mama?

If only they knew …

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Four Months, Awake

(Mamalode, May 2016)

He’s fallen asleep, finally, finally.

His teething mouth is clamped onto the Ergo strap.

Is he breathing?

I check.

Yes, phew, breathing.

I am so tired. He is so tired.

He’s been up every hour the last two nights.

Out of the blue, after settling into a nice pattern of sleeping for 6-7 hour chunks, followed by a quick 3am feeding, then cuddling in the big bed til 7am. It had become a lovely routine.

We took it for granted.

He hates to nap. He needs to nap.

I need for him to nap. Desperately.

Those naps save me.

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The Geography of Prana

(OM Yoga Magazine, May 2012)

Buddhists talk about learning to cultivate spaciousness: an internal boundlessness, a softness, a room free of excess thought and clutter that lets the tumbleweeds of changing thoughts and moods blow right by, a certain openness to what is, unreliant upon what was or what is to come. Geographies of prana – be they the big Utah sky over the salt flats, or your backyard garden, or a quiet detour off the Appalachian Trail, or a roadside rest stop off the Great Highway overlooking the Pacific Ocean – cultivate this spaciousness, open it up, crack open our chests and allow room for breath and life and a connection with the buzzing kind of material realness that we can only find in nature.

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Why Yoga’s Not a Workout

(elephantjournal)

As a teacher, am I shepherding those students well, am I really doing my job — ahimsa, baby — if I pummel them with some robotic core workout routine that’s devoid of purpose beyond sculpting a six-pack, that fails to connect the breath or slow their minds or bring them more deeply into their bodies?

Because, guess what? Your six-pack will pass. One day it’ll be there. The next day, it won’t. Things change. Bodies change. You’ll eat Cheetos. You’ll find a new lover and stay in bed and skip yoga. You’ll have a baby. You’ll get old — if you’re lucky.

Skin stretches. Skin roughens. Skin slips away.

This body will be a corpse.

Your breath stays. Your breath rises. It falls. That’s yoga. Nothing else.

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Looking Past Your Own Schnoz

(elephantjournal, July 2011)

The idea of a drishti, that soft gazing point that grounds and centers the practice, is really quite parallel to that of dharana,the sixth limb of Ashtanga yoga, the notion of one-pointed concentration that is part and parcel of meditation. If we truly aspire to live our lives in a dedicated fashion, mindfully, consciously directing our energies, our prana, toward that which is life-giving, life-creating, removing-of-suffering, we can find this meditative drishti in everything we do.

My mother used to sit in church, all of us lined up like ducks in the back pew, and make her Sunday shopping lists while my pastor father preached. I think of that sometimes when I strive to be present in a yoga practice or even in a conversation. Put the list down. Put the phone down. Be there. Listen. Guide all your attention to that gazing point. Let your drishti—whether it’s another person, your teacher, the play you’re watching, the book you’re reading, the music you’re playing—really receive all of your attention.

I like to practice this when I’m folding laundry. I do a lot of laundry, you see, what with teaching yoga, and most days there’s something to be folded. It’s tempting to multi-task, to knock out some phone calls while I fold, to listen to music while I hurriedly stuff socks into drawers. And part of the practice of really finding that one-pointed concentration is to sit down in Hero Pose, or Half-Lotus, and slow my breath, turn off the music, and turn the folding into a seated moving meditation. The drishti goes to the leggings, the long-sleeved t-shirt, the yoga skirts. And before I know it, the swirling thoughts and to-do lists and fears have all slowed down, assuaged, softened, there at the hands of fresh yoga tanks smelling of mountain air detergent and maybe a little laundry softener.

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The Uphill Battle With Impermanence

(BeYogi, April 2016)

I’ve been taking more care with my words these days. Having learned from my yoga and meditation practices over the years not to identify with my thoughts, I try hard to no longer say I’m tired, I’m furious, or I’m over it.

Yoga philosophy teaches us that the world is in perpetual motion and that all realities are always changing, whether they’re our bodies, relationships, or thoughts. That underlying notion of a permanent me? Simply an illusion. That’s impermanence for you.

With that in mind, rather than saying I’m exhausted, I’m angry or I’m sick of this, I decided to consciously practice saying I feel exhausted, I feel angry, or I feel sick of this.

I am mortified became I feel mortified.

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Sweat and Sorrow: How I Learned To Swing a Hammer, Build a House and Let It Go

(Raw Rach, April 2010)

I sit on the roof and soak up the great sunyata, the vast rich empty void that is the night sky, knowing, knowing that I am not this house; I am not this heat; I am not these scarred ankles; I am not this sorrow; I am not this ache of knowing I have let down my poor dead father, who placed so much trust in our ability to hold on to his baby in the years to come.

Neti-neti; not this, not that.

And sitting there drowning in that vast sunyata sky, it is all stars, it is all pine, the air is rich with lush green forest and hope and new growth and creeping Spanish moss. And I lean over and try to pick up a few of the piles of pine needles that have fallen on the roof, threatening it with their heavy wetness; I gather them in my arms, clear the sap, but the needles keep falling, falling, and we keep going, going, and at some point you realize those needles will continue to collect on that precipice whether you are there to gather them or not.

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I Am Thinking About Love

(Raw Rach, January 2012)

I am thinking that love changes all the time, our loving and the colors it takes on and the shapes it shifts into and the names and faces it swells into and that is perfect, that is good, that is so very much all as it should be.

I am thinking about leaning across the bar tonight across from F and talking with him long after close as the bar languished in disarray and I didn’t care because there were his accented stories of love and loss and the one love that ended and the other that bloomed and now its subsequent dissolution and the seeds that were planted in both which have since blossomed into one very incredible gift and a few weeds and several very interesting flashes of tangled and twisted glory and pain. And I am thinking of the beauty of how easy it is to connect with a stranger standing there behind the bar open and listening and just offering space wherein he can tell his authentic and true story, sans masks, and to listen to him and really see his pain and sorrow and regret and yet in the very same breath, with the very same eyes, see his relief and his sensibility and his reason and his oh-so-honest and accurate sense that things are as they should be.

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Enter The Yoga Grammar Nazi

(Recovering Yogi, February 2012)

Yogis and fitness pros, I’ve gotta tell you: I’ve been trying reaalllllly hard of late to be forgiving and turn the other cheek and all that schtuff about this ongoing big THING in the yoga world.  But I can’t take it anymore.  That carefully-cultivated yogi non-reactivity is flying out the window, and the thwarted Type A copy editor in me is blazing to growl.

Because: really, kids.  Get your 8th grade English skills together.

 

It’s already tough to be taken seriously as a legitimate intellect when you’re spending most days bouncing up and down in unitards and ponytails.  Everybody assumes we’re flaky to begin with.  So those of us who’ve found refuge from the Real World by creating careers somewhat outside the corporate ladder need to band together and put our [bare] feet down already.

This fitness-world abuse of the English language has got to stop.

 
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Bartendasana: The Yoga of Bartending

(Raw Rach, February 2010)

Bartendasana: the huffing-puffing, bending-twisting, sweating-flirting, laughing-cursing embodied moving meditation that is shaking cocktails in a dimly-lit, jazz-infused, oak-scented bar. See also: bhakti ninja.

Buddha in a microbrew? Meditation in a martini? Santosha in a Stella? It’s more plausible than you might think.

Most of you know me as a yogi, or a writer, or a teacher, or maybe a baker; but for a few hours a few nights a week, I’m a bartender. Find me black-clad and spinning circles inside a horseshoe-shaped bar while straining cocktails at warp-speed on any given Friday night, and I think you’ll agree: a bartender is a bhakti ninja.

Suspend disbelief for a few minutes here, and consider the possibility that bartending might be a rich source of yoga, embodied meditation, and a kind of active “practice mat” for yogic values like compassion, patience, and peace. Sure, it can often look like just a lot of broken glasses and spilled wine, tipsy blondes and belligerent drunks, but tending bar can also provide a rare opportunity for prana-rich, fulfilling work (what Marx deliciously called “sensuous labor”), nourishing sangha, energizing physicality, and open-hearted karma yoga. My gig shaking martinis gifts me with a living, breathing space in which to practice listening, observation, mental quietude, living well in the body, and balancing the yin of my yogi/writer’s life with the yang of a bartender’s fast-paced flow. And in that practice comes the softening, the unraveling and the dharma of work that fulfills in unexpected ways.

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Why Wanderlust is Like Cheerleading Camp

(RecoveringYogi, August 2011)

Some strange sense of deja vu hung over me that whole weekend, and I couldn’t figure it out.  It was like I’d been there before.  And that’s when I realized.  Wanderlust was cheerleading camp for grown-ups.

It’s dangerous, though, you know?  Practicing in the sun for hours, concrete under your mat, knees ripped up and feet filthy, you get so lost in the contrived removal from the Real World, this Yoga Disneyland of sorts.  It’s tempting, a total tease; after all, who wouldn’t want to leave the day-to-day sludge of the work world behind to just hang out half-naked in a perpetual Savasana, listening to music under the stars, punch-drunk on Parivrtta Parsvakonasana?

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The Yoga of the Prairie

(Raw Rach, January 2012)

The roots of yogic theory, the roots of Zen, the roots of an appreciation for all that is simple and clear and populist and no-bullshit and impermanent and expansive and wide in its emptiness?

Right there on the prairie. For which I will always give thanks.

For making desolation feel normal. For making space seem fundamental. For making stillness appear friendly. And for making the constantly churning, impermanent, suffering-laden reality of life seem, well, so very natural.

Fiercely so.

SO here’s an ode to the under-appreciated land of my youth. Here’s a shout-out to the Willa Cathers and the Laura Ingalls Wilders and the Harvey Dunns who taught me, growing up there, how rich, how rare, how rolling-around-in-art is this spare, bleak, empty, sunyata place. Here’s to the scrappy pioneer spirit that infuses my own urban reality now: this understanding that only the sitting with what is difficult, and the staying with what is terrifying, and the breathing through what is grotesque and inhumane and so vastly impossibly huge that you’re reminded again and again how very tiny you are, truly a flash on the landscape of being alive, well, it all matters. And it makes us who we are.

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Happy F*cking Holidays

(Raw Rach, December 2011)

One day you’ll feel joyful again; not fake-joyful, or joyful-for-someone-else’s sake, or joyful-because-you-just-poured-two-shots-of-bourbon-in-your-morning-coffee, but joyful, really truly grounded-in-the-awareness-of-the-transience-of-life-joyful, and this new normal will not hurt so much, and this indescribably devastating shift will feel ok.

And it will be your teacher. Your lasagna-eating, cheap red wine-drinking, Yule Log-watching teacher.

And it will lend you grace.

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Tender

(Raw Rach, March 2009)

Sternum cracking open in camel, in the wake of a good backbend (ergh, too-tender lower back) and all that anahata energy (unstruck) rushes out

just in time

because

then there is N sitting across the bar from you in someone else’s hair (eyes welling, yours) where she is staring down the barrel of the gun of the heretofore-unknown but creepingly menacing advanced ovarian cancer (there is so much suffering in the world), and the heart tends to swell and the hand instinctively reaches across the bar to clasp the one it shouldn’t clasp because of a too-tender immune system weakened by chemo (careful, so fragile), this now-delicate little bird across the great chasm (damn bar) pretending at levity, swimming in tender looks from the man at her side whose physical size belies the softness inside, betrayed by the weary eyes you’d not yet seen before that day

the haunting sorrow of knowing this is how she will die

now it is just when

no longer how

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My Sweaty Love Affair with Mr. B

(RecoveringYogi, July 2011)

I spent six years entwined in a sweaty love affair with Mr. B.

B was challenging; he was athletic; he was intense and confident, a wildly charismatic jackass, and he cracked me open.  He was addictive the way the most toxic affairs are: I’d drag myself out of bed at 5 a.m. just to be with him; I’d save my nights for us, rushing out early from happy hour, tequila-buzzed and ready for action.  B was a drug, a fix. He stretched me and shot me down, and yet every day, I came crawling back to him for more, because the high was so good, the rush so great, the shattering so profound.

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