A student’s story: Real Yoga

What I do.

My work is akin to that of a Medicine Woman. I dose intuitively as any good Medicine Woman does.

What one student has to say, reprinted with permission.

 

red yogini

 

“If talking did shit, we’d all be cured by now.”

“That is a line from one of my favorite movies, Girl Interrupted. It’s a movie about a girl’s struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder, one of the many diagnoses I was branded with throughout my journey of mental illness, in addition to anxiety, psychosis, ADHD, severe depression, suicidal ideation, self-harm tendencies, and bipolar disorder. By age 30 I was hospitalized 7 times on a psych ward, had undergone psychotherapy for nearly 20 years, and was prescribed just about every medication for which they could write a prescription. None worked other than on a temporary basis and a lot of which made matters worse. My life becane a series of crises and interventions with very brief bursts of sanity.

Luckily, through the course of all that madness, I met Linda. When I was 19 I walked into a yoga class at my college to fulfill a PE credit. I took her class every semester after that, every single semester. Over the next 10 years I would periodically look Linda up and drop into a class here and there or just chat with her. I had tried other yoga classes, most of them I would leave before the class was even over. I was blessed that the first yoga I practiced was with Linda, because only real yoga was going to help me. Around my 30th birthday I found myself again inside a chaotic darkness that I had created, so I looked Linda up again to see if she had some wisdom to quiet the demons that were haunting my soul. She was doing private yoga sessions and I scheduled one as soon as I could.

I will never forget that first session with her. Just being in her presence calmed me like it always had. We talked a good long time and the things she said changed the way my brain worked as if she had rewired it.

One of her first bits of wisdom was that “the pain is the cure.” This brought me back to something a counselor had said to me, a lovely woman who taught a spirituality class on the psych ward. She had always said, “depression is ungrieved loss.” Those words hit me every time she said them but when put into the context with what Linda said, it finally clicked.

I had been running from pain for as long as I could remember, pushing it away with drugs, alcohol, boys, shopping sprees, anything so I wouldn’t have to feel the hole that was ripping through my soul. I was conditioned to think by many psychiatrists that I could not trust my emotions because they were so dangerous and so extreme and my brain chemistry was working against me, so they had to be controlled with medication for the rest of my life. But all that did was put a band-aid over a bullet hole, when what I needed to do was dig into it and clear out all the dead tissue that was not serving me anymore. I came to the conclusion that I had to feel in order to deal and Linda explained that I needed to think less and feel more which completely contradicted everything I had ever been told.

She was absolutely right. I needed to radically accept the fear, the hurt, and the anger that were choking my soul.

But it did not stop at words with Linda. She showed me through yoga and breathing techniques how to allow these emotions to surface in a safe place where they would not be judged or labeled or manipulated. They were allowed to run their course no matter what that course was, and I learned what fear and anger felt like in my body, and grieve. I have many memories of being in a state of psychotic breakdown, crying, struggling to breath, and screaming out, “I want to go home,” and I was in my bedroom in my house, but I was not home. I never felt home anywhere until this day with Linda. I found that home I did not know existed. I left that first session in a bit of a daze. I drove home and I sat in my room and all I could think was, “it is so quiet.” All of my life my mind never stopped, I was constantly thinking, analyzing, scheming, or rambling, and now it was quiet. There was nothing, sweet, sweet nothing. For the first time I knew I was going to be okay.

People ask me why I don’t just go to see a “regular” therapist, and the answer is simple and goes back to the first thing I said. If talking did shit, I would have been cured a long time ago. The way I see it, a psychotherapist’s goal is to help you make peace with your past to make you functional in society; a religious therapist’s goal is to get you right with your Creator so that you are happy in the afterlife; but yoga therapy is about finding peace within yourself for yourself right now. Plus, yoga is so much more then talking. It is connecting your mind, body, and breath so that you are empowered and know that you are in control of yourself, the only thing you really can control. It is being able to be Home no matter where you are because home is inside you. You cannot put a price on that.

To be continued….”

Modern American Yoga (TM)

IMG_0334I no longer write as prolifically as I once did.  I started this blog in 2005 and the Yoga Blogosphere as changed tremendously in 10 years.  Modern Yoga Bloggers have forgotten whom their elders are.

What some bloggers write about now I wrote about 3, 5, even 7 years ago: ageism, diversity, “slow yoga.”  “Slow Yoga” is a thing now (Google it) and I’ve been teaching slow since 2005 when I first came back from the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in India.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

But sometimes things scream to be called out and discussed.

A long time, old school yoga teacher told me that where she’s from a yoga studio requires newbie teachers to “brand” themselves before finishing a one month yoga teacher training, i.e., make a website, a Facebook page, social media presence, etc., etc. etc.

Do the math.  If a large city has 1000+ YTTs, old school teachers like her and I are doomed.

BRANDING before teaching.

BRANDING before experiencing.

BRANDING before Living Your Yoga.

When I did my first website it took me 6 months to write my yoga bio.  Even after I studied in India the first time I thought that if I wrote too much about myself it would look like I was bragging.

Some people say that social media is the new normal. But I believe in what Buckminster Fuller said:

“In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.”

Believe me, I try. But I’m tired.  Damn tired.  I believe in old school yoga teacher training, mentoring.  But my mentoring page is the loneliest page on my website.  I am not concerned with offering a standard 200 or 300 hour training because I believe in quality, not quantity.  Unfortunately, that’s not good for business because people chase the piece of paper that proclaims them a certified yoga teacher.  I can easily put together a 200 or 300 hour training based on 10 years of notes from the Mandiram alone.  But frankly, no one is interested.  Here.  I believe it takes 10 years of yoga teaching to learn how to teach besides having a dedicated personal yoga and meditation practice.  No one wants to hear that.

Like in real estate, it’s about location, location, location.  All I know is that in my area yoga teachers are a dime a dozen.  With yoga studios cranking out new teachers every week, there is no place for Yoga Elders.  I’m not whining, I’m just being realistic.

So I’m leaving.  Done, baby.  I’m going somewhere where what I teach is valued and appreciated.  One of my students gave me a testimonial:

 “Linda is Yoga. Living, breathing, in every aspect. Caring, supportive, knowledgeable, fun-loving, she walks the talk.”

That’s why I’m leaving.  Because I have too much passion for what I do if that makes any sense.

Goddess willing, I’ll live in Kerala, India by the end of next year and into 2017.  I’ve already started to look at houses to rent with space to teach.  I’ve been asked to do teacher trainings in India.  When I’m in India and I am asked what I do and I say “I’m a yoga teacher” people actually have respect for that.  They ask me who my guru is instead of telling me, “I do Pilates.”  No one asks  me what style of yoga do I teach.  I’m asked not to leave, to stay and teach, to help people.  No one pillories me for using the phrase “real yoga.”

Yeah, I said it.  REAL YOGA.  I’ve always said the real yoga kicks in during a health crisis or dealing with your own mortality. My yoga sadhana helped me through an ovarian cancer scare years ago.  It made me realize that “I am not this body” and it brought me peace.  When my time comes I’ll be chanting and doing pranayama, Goddess willing.  Thanks to my friend Cora Wen for making this beautiful video.

But what Cora talks about in her video, you can’t brand it.  You can’t Instagram it,  You can’t trademark it.

You can only live it.  Because Yoga is Life.

Who are YOU?

original upload by Life Essentials Institute http://lifeessentialsinstitute.com/
original upload by Life Essentials Institute http://lifeessentialsinstitute.com/

“When we cling to an identity, we create rigidity within ourselves that limits our ability to engage spontaneously with the world. We become bonded to images of ourselves that have grown out of this rigidity, and anything that threatens these images has the potential to collapse our sense of self. We fear a loss of face, a loss of self, a loss of identity. Clinging to a set identity keeps us trapped in old patterns and causes needless pain and suffering.”  (Life Essentials Institute)

I’ve been dealing with a shit load of pain and suffering since June 1.

I have a mid-shaft spiral fracture of the 5th metatarsal of my left foot.  I broke my foot dancing, barefoot, something that I love more than Yoga.  For two weeks I was in a cast and was told to absolutely not put any weight on my foot and therefore was given crutches.  Practicing trying to go up and down the bottom step of a staircase, the tip of my crutch stayed in one place and I kept going.  Putting my hand out to save my foot I broke my left radius two weeks after breaking my foot.  After x rays I was told if you’re going to break a wrist, mine was the “perfect fracture” to have — nothing displaced, my metacarpals still sitting perfectly atop my radius and ulna at 12 degrees.

A few days after the wrist I received a second opinion from an orthopedic surgeon on my foot.  The second opinion was on foot surgery that supposedly was the “only thing” that would fix my broken bone according to the first doctor, a podiatrist.  Take it from me, NEVER go to a podiatrist for anything other than cutting your toenails and even then I would think about it.  At the time I had no other choice but to go to this foot doctor.

After laughing at my cast the ortho surgeon told me he NEVER casts or does surgery on a break like mine.  He told his assistant to remove my cast.  Like yesterday.  I now wear an air boot and can walk, besides having the brace on my wrist.

The thing is, had I not had the cast I would not have had the crutches and therefore would not have fallen off my step and broke my wrist.  Unfortunately, according to an attorney, my broken wrist is not large enough money- and aggravation-wise to warrant a lawsuit against the podiatrist for professional negligence.

Life changes in a second.

I have no income this summer because I can not teach.  But I have lots of time to think and what I began thinking about — after the first 10 days of anxiety attacks which I never experienced before in my life coupled with deep depression — was identity.

So much came up during the first two weeks of basically being bed ridden with a cast because I was warned off walking (although I used a knee walker to get around): teaching yoga, cancelling my classes for the summer, having to cancel a weekend teacher training I was going to give, possibly cancelling my trip to India at the end of August (which is more than a personal trip, it is a tour I am being paid to do), how my body has changed, how soon can I get back to MY NORMAL LIFE.

Of course I know that a broken foot and wrist are nothing in the grand scheme of things because I…

did not lose a limb
did not suffer traumatic brain injury
did not become paralyzed
was not diagnosed with cancer or another catastrophic disease
am not going blind
and no one died.

But it still changed my life.

For moi, a very active woman of a certain age, to come to such a screeching halt, is a mind-fuck.

I thought:
WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING AND WHO THE HELL AM I?

It dawned on me:
I am not a yoga teacher, it is only what I do.

Even with all my training in India, the thousands of hours I’ve put in, If I stopped completely, never taught again, how important is all that, really?  As Grace Slick used to sing, it doesn’t mean shit to a tree.  Life goes on and people move on.

No standing asana but sitting and supine and lots of pranayama and meditation.  And that got me thinking as it did here 7 years ago:

If you are in your 40s or 50s or 60s, why are you still doing a yoga practice as if you were in your 20s? get real. be authentic.

“I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.”

I thought about all the yoga selfies out there — handstands, sick arm balances, crazy back bends, acro yoga, poses on top of a cliff during a sunrise or sunset, always looking for the newest Yoga Thing.

I don’t give a rat’s ass if I ever do another headstand or chatarunga again.  

Yeah, I said that.

How does modern American yoga become someone’s identity?

Because one day you won’t be able to accomplish a handstand, an arm balance, a pretzel back bend, or maybe might not be able to walk outside to pose on a clifftop.  You might not be able to even see a sunset or sunrise.  Old eyes get glaucoma.

Writer and long time yoga teacher Charlotte Bell commented on this blog’s Facebook page: “Yoga was never intended to keep you from aging, getting sick or injured, or dying. Aging is not a mistake. It is written into our DNA. Anyone who thinks yoga will keep them from aging is in for a big disappointment. What yoga can do is to help us navigate reality with love and grace.”

Love and Grace.  I learned long ago that I can only get that from me not from any outside source.  So why am I freaking out about my so-called NORMAL LIFE being ripped away from me?  That’s why the words in the first quote hit me in the gut (to paraphrase):

became bonded to the image of myself as a dancer/yoga teacher/yoga student.  My broken bones threatened those images and collapsed my sense of self.  I feared a loss of face, a loss of self, a loss of identity. Clinging to a set identity kept me trapped in an old pattern and caused needless pain and suffering.

WHO ARE YOU?  REALLY?

not a yogi

Whether you are a teacher, massage therapist, healer, paralegal, lawyer, business owner, whatever it is that you DO…

if you could not do THAT anymore, WHO ARE YOU, REALLY?  You can always change that identity of what you do like you can change one blanket for another.  But when you are laid bare, WHO ARE YOU?

The best thing I can do for myself right now is to take care of ME.  To NOT worry about my classes or about whether my students will return after such a long hiatus or about teaching ever again.  All that is not worth it because I AM WORTH SO MUCH MORE THAN ANY OF THAT.  

Earlier this year a wise woman told me that 2015 will be the YEAR OF ME, that my word for 2015 is DONE, that I have put myself out there for so long for other people via learning and teaching, that now it’s my turn.  I finally get it.

And whatever you do, PLEASE don’t tell me ALL THINGS HAPPEN FOR A REASON, that I broke my bones because it’s a “training.”  Bullshit.  

Because sometimes shit just happens.

Yoga as Commodity

om visa

Much has been written in this blog and others about the material things of Yoga. Look over the last 10 years of Yoga Journal (or any other recent yoga magazine) to see how many ads there are to get yoga dudettes and dudes (although mostly the dudettes) to buy/consume things that we are supposed to let go of.  That is, all the accoutrements of yoga such as $100 pants, detox and cleansing rituals, $200 malas to help you get deeper into meditation (as if the Rs 50 ones I get in India don’t work), and Swarovski crystal chakra necklaces to help you balance your chakras.

Since I’ve been writing this blog for the last 10 years, it amuses me to no end on how the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Same yoga shit, different day.  I wrote on the commercialization of yoga a good 7 years ago at least.

So when a new reader who has recently discovered this blog wrote me, I had to smile.  YES!  This old blog is still appreciated and that does this Krazy Old Yogini’s heart good.  The new reader nailed it: YOGA AS COMMODITY.  I remember the words of a long ago student who believed that the way yoga is taught in the West serves to reinforce negative patterns (of speed, busy-ness, mindLESSness) instead of creating new ones (slowing down, stillness, mindFULLness.)  The addictions are fed, not lessened.

“It’s funny because I came to the practice in order to alleviate hardcore issues with insomnia which I eventually learned was hardcore anxiety. Then, like so many, I became obsessed with the superficial and physical aspects of yoga and thought the mental part was only meditation.  

In the US it seems we define yoga as just the physical practice and how it can be “used” (weight loss, “enlightenment”, calming, better sex.)  Sigh. I wanted to be a yoga expert and I read all of the literature and bought all of the clothes and took all the types of classes and it wasn’t until a life event smacked me right in the face that I realized – all I need to do is practice. And through practice I have shed so much that was so unnecessary, both material things and ideas or feelings that I was attached to.  

There are many vessels through which people learn this lesson but for me it was Ashtanga that taught me. The heavy emphasis on practice made me show up consistently and didn’t let me analyze the practice.  In practice nothing matters but whether or not you showed up and did what you can do. Through that I feel the real journey has begun for me and things are starting to unravel both beautifully and painfully at times (emotionally, not physically.)

I devoured the Babarazzi’s blog because it was another smack in the face that made me realize – why do I buy Lululemon, why do I want to do cool backbends, why is my subscription to Yoga Journal so important to me? Because it’s been shoved in my face and I have been told that it’s necessary.  I’ve since realized that these things actually have nothing to do with yoga.  It’s very refreshing.

I’m sad to hear that you do not continue to create new posts, but I have subscribed anyway. I appreciate your honest take on the subject and wish there were bloggers doing what you’re doing.  There’s so much Yoga Journal and elephant journal and we don’t even realize how toxic they are!”

I stated writing this blog BYS — Before Yoga Selfies. Now there are yoga dudettes almost killing themselves on electrified rail tracks for likes on Facebook and retweets on Twitter.

“The stream of wishy washy spirituality and body-insane yoga culture streams into my world every single day. I catch myself, sometimes, and wonder how with a shred of honesty I can associate myself with this stuff; how do I teach when most teaching is such a sham? How do I ask people to connect with their own flesh when ‘flesh’ is a loaded word? I pause, often, when I’m writing and when I’m standing in front of a class; the words I most want to say are so bloody, so honest, so scary I’m not sure I should.”

Yeah, it really IS that simple that it comes down to a bare soul and a sharp truth.

I’m tired of the noise and it’s why I’m moving to a place, outside the West, where what I teach is valued.

Yoga for Emotional Balance — Chicago Training, May 1-3, 2015

survivor“Trauma sensitive” or “trauma informed” Yoga is the new buzzword in Yoga training.

Whether for domestic violence survivors, sexual assault survivors, or military vets with PTSD, Yoga for trauma survivors seems to be all over the place and that’s a good thing.

If you’re in the Chicago area you can take my training at Ganesha Yoga and Adventures in Fitness at 3113 North Lincon Avenue.  I originally planned to offer this training in my shala in the far western suburbs but received no interest whatsoever and frankly, that astounds me.  I am grateful to the studio owner in Chicago for hosting me and I am excited to teach in Chicago again!  You can read some of my blog posts on trauma sensitive Yoga here. 

Here are the details:

 YOGA FOR EMOTIONAL  BALANCE

This ground-breaking weekend training utilizes Trauma Sensitive Yoga and Yin Yoga therapeutics.  Each day includes lecture and discussion and body awareness practice via Yoga and guided meditations.

Many people experience a traumatic event and develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  The number of diagnosed military PTSD cases has jumped 50% and many go unreported.  According to the American Medical Association sexual violence is the most under-reported crime.  People have been in car accidents, have witnessed violence in abusive households, or have lost a loved one and experience traumatic grief.  Yoga combined with talk therapy can be doubly effective in lessening traumatic responses.

THESE ARE OUR STUDENTS.  Because trauma is held in the body I believe every Yoga teacher should be informed about trauma phenomena — odds are that there is a trauma survivor in class.  This training is designed for Yoga teachers, Yoga teacher trainees, and clinicians who work with trauma survivors.  Required reading is Linda’s article “Compassionate Presence: Teaching Trauma Sensitive Yoga” in Yoga Therapy Today: https://mettayoga.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/ytt-summer-insight.pdf

Some of the topics included in this weekend training are:

  • What is PTSD?
  • Yoga as therapy for PTSD
  • How to teach yoga to trauma survivors using asana, pranayama, and mantra
  • Trauma triggers, using props, inclusive language, adjustments
  • Taking Mindfulness to the mat
  • Liver (anger) and Kidney (fear) Meridian theory in Yin Yoga practice
  • Metta (loving-kindness) meditation practice

MAY 1-3, 2015
Friday night, 6-9 pm
Saturday and Sunday, 10-1 pm and 3-6 pm
Early bird pricing $395.00 before April 1, 2015, $450 after April 1, 2015

$150 deposit holds your space and is refundable until April 15, 2015 minus $75 cancellation fee
No refunds after April 15, 2015 

GANESHA YOGA AND ADVENTURES IN FITNESS
3113 NORTH LINCOLN AVE., CHICAGO, IL

773-904-7870

YOGA ALLIANCE CEUs AVAILABLE

“Linda has been called a maverick, an innovator, and a facilitator of deep healing.  Seeking a paradigm shift in the local Yoga scene, she takes students beyond asana into the deeper dimensions of traditional Yoga.  Linda trained for 9 years in the Krishnamacharya Yoga tradition in Vinyasa Krama and Yoga Therapy both here and in India.  She has taught in Africa and India, was one of the first Yin Yoga teachers in the Chicago area, and is certified by The Trauma Center in Massachusetts in Trauma Sensitive Yoga.  She is humbled and honored to be featured in the 2014 book “Conversations with Modern Yogis.””

Me and Anne Lamott: Happy Birthday to Me

I officially enter Yoga Cronedom next weekend.  This Ageless Hippie Chick — who was not supposed to see the age of 17 because I tried to kill myself when I was 16 — hits the big 6-0.  What a long, strange trip it’s been, and I’m not even talking about the yoga.  I am grateful for every damn thing that has come my way, good and bad.

When I saw this Anne Lamott quote on someone’s Facebook page, it resonated with me.  Apparently everyone has read Anne Lamott except me so I looked her up.  The blurb on her agent’s page says that “she writes about what most of us don’t like to think about” and that she “tells her stories with honesty, compassion and a pureness of voice.”   I thought, hmmmm…interesting, people used to say that about me and my yoga rants and musings, I should check her out.

So I decided to take some of her lines and do my own spin on my upcoming birthday.

AL: “This is the last Saturday of my fifties. The needle isn’t moving to the left or to the right. I don’t feel or look 60. I don’t feel any age. I have a near-perfect life.  However, I grew up on tennis courts and beaches in California during the sixties, where we put baby oil on our skin to deepen the tan, and we got hundreds of sunburns. So maybe that was not ideal. I drank a lot and took a lot of drugs and smoked two packs of Camels (unfiltered) a day until I was 32….  My heart is not any age. It is a baby, an elder, a dog, a cat, divine.  My feet, however, frequently hurt.”

Next weekend is the last weekend of my fifties.  I also do not look or feel 60 and I certainly don’t move like I am 60.  What is that supposed to look like anymore?  When I grew up in the ’60s when people hit 60 they looked damn old.  Most people don’t know I smoked for 30 years, less than a pack a day, and I gave it up just like that when I became a yoga teacher at 48.  When I was in my early 20s I weighed 200 pounds, another thing that no one believes.  I lost about 60 pounds when I was in my early 20s but I still see a 200 pound face in the mirror.  You want to talk about Yoga and Body Image?  Just ask me.

I also have a near-perfect life considering some of the things I’ve experienced:  child abuse, domestic violence, attempted suicide, sexual assault, a lot of drugs and rock n roll as they say (don’t you wonder who the hell “they” are?)

Like Lamott, my heart is not any age.  Oh yeah, it will stop pumping one of these days.  But I am an energy body and energy is neither created nor destroyed, I will morph into something else somewhere.  And it’s not my feet, but damn, I have a tweaky back sometimes.  

AL: “My great blessing is the capacity for radical silliness and self-care.”

My greatest blessing is surviving and radical self-care.  The older I get, the more powerful I become.  I have not even begun to reach my full potential.  When a lot of people my age are thinking about retirement, I feel like I am just getting started….funny, when I’ve been teaching for a dozen years now.

I always tell my students, “ask yourselves, if not now, when?”  But I’ve known too many women who put themselves last after everything else in their lives, behind husband, partner, children, even in this time of post-Women’s Liberation Movement.  

AL: “I’m pretty spaced out.” 

Over the years I’ve noticed many times how still my mind is, like a still pond.  Many people tell me their minds are rarely quiet in spite of being long time yoga practitioners and practicing meditation.  I catch myself on how often I am not thinking but standing in pure awareness, at least that is what I call it.  Maybe it is my mind observing itself and it sees emptiness, a clarity, and then when it notices the emptiness it yells “hey, where are the thoughts?!” and that’s when I get distracted.  

“The tranquil state of mind when it rests constantly upon the contemplation of the goal after having again and again detached itself from myriad sense objects through a process of continuous observation of their defects, is called Sama.” Vivekachudamani, Adi Shankara, 8th century.

AL: “Mentally, the same old character defects resurface again and again. I thought I’d be all well by now.  Maybe I’m 40% better, calmer, less reactive than I used to be, but the victimized self-righteousness remains strong, and my default response to most problems is still to try and figure out who to blame; whose fault it is, and how to correct his or her behavior, so I can be more comfortable.  …Spiritually, I have the sophistication of a bright ten year old. My motley crew and my pets are my life. They are why I believe so ferociously in God.”

During my last yoga therapy training we discussed the concept of equanimity.  Many believe that when we finally reach the ultimate state of equanimity we become like Ramana Maharshi where we can sit in meditation and allow the ants to bite us without reaction.  I thought about that after our discussion and thought that if I can not feel passion about something or experience compassionate rage then you can keep enlightenment. 

AL: “Forgiveness remains a challenge, as does letting go. When people say cheerfully, “Just let go and let God,” I still want to stab them in the head with a fork, like a baked potato.  This business of being a human being is infinitely more fraught than I was led to believe.”

I learned a long time ago that forgiveness is for me not for the one who treated me badly.  Forgiveness is to relieve my own suffering.

In the last 6 months I received confirmation via three DNA tests that I am Native American with Spanish and Southeastern European thrown in.  I grew up believing I was 50/50 German and Polish.  Surprise!  Not a drop of German and the Polish is iffy.  That is what I was always told.  My life was based on lies and deceptions.  Imagine finding that out when you are thisclose to 60. 

Anyone who can tell me the truth of my birth is dead.  I came up with three possible scenarios:  I was the product of an affair; my sister (who was 19 years older than me) was my mother because she got pregnant with me before she married when I was four and had given me to the people I thought were my parents but were really my grandparents; or, someone gave me away to the people who raised me because in the mid-1950s my parents would have been considered too old (41 and 48) for an official adoption.

Follow?

I had always intuited that I was something other than what I grew up believing.  A friend who also found out she is Native said that Native Americans have blood memory of their heritage — so that’s what that feeling was all these years.

Do you want to talk to me about forgiveness?  When I found out I am Native, I was ecstatic because I have always felt a kinship with anything Native American even as a young girl.  Then I sank into a morass of despair — it explained why I was treated the way I was until I moved out when I was 18.  It explained why my sister wanted nothing to do with me and rarely had any contact with me.  Then I became enraged at the lies and deceptions.  I created scenes in my mind that if I could go back in time to confront the liars and abusers I would destroy them.  But then I said….

JUST STOP.  

What difference does it make now, in this present moment?  Why should I create my own suffering over something that happened 60 years ago?  My life is NOW.  Not in the past, not in the future.  Just this, just here, just now.

I saw my astrologer yesterday and told her the story.  I asked, what if my birthday is not what is on my birth certificate since it was obviously altered.  No problem, I have the same akashic records of my birth that makes me ME.  The akasha is beyond any date on a calendar.

Then I began to think how truly lucky I am.  Because I have the power to create a new Me, at age 60  I shed my past like a snakeskin.  I am a blank slate and how many people can say that at my age?  Because my early life was not about integrity, I can now claim the integrity of my New Consciousness.  I separate myself from the betrayals that went before.  Maybe that is why people have branded me “fiercely authentic” and why my astrologer always told me I can not be anywhere near any thing or person is that is less than true.     

AL: “So we do what we can. Today, I will visit a cherished friend post surgery, and goof around with her kids. I will try to help one person stay clean and sober, just for today.  I will loudly celebrate my own sobriety, and also the fact that my writing has not been a total nightmare lately. I am going to go for a hike on these sore feet, and remember Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”  Charged, electrical with life’s beauty and light!  Wow.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

I have experienced things in 60 years that would have made a weaker person crazy or dead.

I facilitate personal transformations via Yoga and meditation.  I teach people how to breathe to save their lives.  I help them regain mobility or peace of mind.  I will never own a studio and I will never again teach to a large group of people unless someone invites me.  I do not see that happening in the foreseeable future because what I do and how I am is not everyone’s cup of chai.  I am too masala for many.  I am not the modern yoga status quo and I am happy now to stay in my little yoga cave.  But I am honored and humbled to be in a book with some famous yoga teachers….and then there’s me.

I do what I can every day to live the idea of “I will not die an unlived life.”  Or sometimes I do nothing at all.  I have always said that life is a vinyasa. 

I celebrate ME, my surviving, my ups and down of my entire life thus far because every day is a blessing.  I have become so detached from the identity of “yoga teacher” that sometimes it frightens me.  That’s because true freedom can be frightening.  Think about that one.  If I never taught another class I would be happy.

Because I am so much more.  I am everything that is contained in this Universe, good, bad, and indifferent.  I caught a glimpse of that as I did energy work on a student this week.  The Native American shaman that is buried in my DNA is raising her head.  At the risk of sounding foo-foo and woo-woo, those things that I disdain in the New Age scene, we are stardust.   

And I thank the Universe that I am capable of such Joy.

 

I’m not dead. Or, how the yoga rubber meets the road.

me in India, only half dead
only half dead in India, 2008

Miss me?

I used to be a prolific yoga blogger.  I used to be a well-known yoga blogger, once called a fierce voice in the yoga blogosphere, and was even quoted in the New York Times during the Tara Stiles controversy.  But everything has its expiration date.

I got tired.  I got tired of writing about Yoga in OMerika because I thought, “what else can I write about?”  I read this excellent piece today and it addresses issues that I wrote about years ago.  Bottom line, same shit, different day.  Not much has changed since I started writing this blog in 2005, almost 10 years ago.  The funny thing is, you know how each generation thinks they’re original, like they’re the first ones to come up with an idea?  Kinda sorta how I feel when I read a yoga blog nowadays, like, been there, done that, you young whipper-snapper, ’cause back in my day….

It has also appeared for quite some time that the yoga blogosphere has become a tad cliquey, all rah rah, kiss kiss, pat each other on the back.  OK, a lot cliquey.  When I first started this blog the yoga blogosphere was a bit more outlaw-ish, the voices were of different tones, not so scholarly.  Not that there is anything wrong with scholarly (hey, I went to grad school), but I remember being called “anti-intellectual” by a well-known yoga blogger because I dared to question the overanalysis and didacticism.  I knew I was no longer in the top echelon of yoga bloggers (my tongue is firmly in cheek) when this post only received 5 comments where in the past I know it would have generated many more.  One has to be one of the Kool Kids now, someone who is Someone to continue to get your blog posts Facebooked, tweeted, or interviewed or asked to review books. You know what Groucho Marx said about being a member of a club.   Another photo of the latest celeb du jour walking into a yoga studio?  Really?

Over the past year I have had some major epiphanies that rocked my energy body.  Last March I dealt with two very problematic people on my yoga retreat in India who I realized later were my teachers.  Of course I did not realize it at the time because then I only wanted to kick their ungrateful asses into the Arabian Sea, but they taught me much about how to deal with people of their types so I thank them.  They were a lesson in how everyone can be your teacher and the more difficult ones more so.

I dealt with betrayal.  Lots and lots of meditation helped me with that one.  I am here to tell you that if someone fucks with you, just sit and meditate daily on their sorry ass until the vision of them no longer brings up feelings of attachment or aversion, until you can see them and feel neutrality.  It works and it’s wonderful.  Very freeing.  I learned to finally love myself completely.  Not a bad lesson to learn as I enter my 6th decade of this incarnation.

I dealt with trust issues I have with women and also (again) in my local yoga world.  The resolution to that is that I am damn fine with being alone and a loner.  Well, I was already, but I truly came into my own in 2013.  Probably because I finally owned what I do.  I’ve been teaching since 2002 and it took me all this time to realize that yes, I AM a damn good teacher, I am unique in what I do and fuck outside validation, I don’t need it.  My yoga is outside the box and I own the fact that what I offer is not found elsewhere.  I have studied with direct students of Krishnamacharya both here and in India and am damn proud of that.  Never mistake my confidence for arrogance.  Yes I do say I teach Real Yoga and don’t care if someone takes offense.  Mine is a bold statement and people like J.Brown who puts it out there when he says that he “seeks to change the dialog and direction of yoga practice in the west” inspire me.  You bet your asana I do the same in my little corner of the yoga world, one body at a time (“…you taught me more about Yoga in five minutes than anyone I’ve ever met in a yoga class, teacher or otherwise,” said a satisfied Yoga customer.)

I also finally came into my own as an energy worker.  That was a huge energetic shift for me in 2013, so much so the shift was also physical.  It is no coincidence that I learned I am part Native American (more on that below) in the same year I decided to make known the energy healing work I have practiced for over 10 years — because my work is akin to that of a Medicine Woman.  Energy healing is a deep, spiritual practice for me.  It feels natural.  I finally own that I am a facilitator of profound change.

I am happy to reside in my little yoga cave of my home studio with only two or three students in class.  If all my students suddenly disappeared, I am fine with that.  Bottom line, if I never taught another class in my life, I’m good.  The thought of never teaching again for whatever reason used to freak me out.  “Yoga teacher” used to be my identity but no longer.  I have peeled my onion layers down to the core.  Yoga is life, but Life is more than Yoga.  DING DING DING!  EPIPHANY TIME.  I am not This or That because I am so much more.

The biggest revelation of 2013 came to me in the form of genetic testing and discovering my true ancestry.  I grew up believing I was 50/50 German-Polish, but I also always intuited that I wasn’t.  I am part Native American, enough that I can self-identify as a Native American; unfortunately, a genetic test can not determine tribe.  Either I was the product of an affair or my sister was really my mother.  My nephew who is only 7 years younger is probably my half-brother.  How would you handle that if you found out in your late 50s that you were lied to about your heritage and parentage?

As for handling things, after planning my 8th trip to India (departure in 9 days) for yoga study, my yoga therapy course was cancelled just last week.  This affected my entire trip because my trips are a tax write-off — no yoga study, no tax write-off.  Plans I had made almost a year ago and reservations on planes and trains all had to be changed when I got the news.  I cancelled the last 7 weeks of my trip and I would have cancelled the entire trip but I would have lost too much money in airfare and other fees so my trip changed in one day from almost 3 months to one month.  Dharma 101: How Life Changes in a Second.

The day I received the news of the course cancellation I was more than a little freaked but by evening I was at peace.  A deep peace and I was surprised at how deep that peace was — because YOGA ISN’T REAL YOGA UNLESS IT HELPS YOU DEAL WITH HOW LIFE CAN CHANGE IN A SECOND.  

Knowing how I love India (in reality it’s a love-hate relationship), my friends thought I’d be more upset than I was about cutting my trip by more than half.  Nope, not really.  Because that’s where the yoga rubber hits the road.  What good is your yoga if you can’t deal effectively with life’s major and minor ups and downs?

As for Ma India Herself, if this upcoming trip is my last I am good with that.  Finally.  Because in the past the thought of never returning to India created such angst I would shake.  Even cry.  India is in my bones and always will be and each time I am there I know I am Home.  I know I will die there but just like Yoga Teacher became a piece of my identity, so did India.     DING DING DING!  EPIPHANY TIME.  I am not This or That because I am so much more.

Real Yoga sure as hell ain’t about the asana but I already knew that.  108 Sun Salutations or a sick arm balance would not have helped me when I learned that the woman I thought was my mother was probably really my grandmother.  Or maybe my sister is really my mother.  I will never know.  Made up yoga, as A. G. Mohan calls what passes for yoga nowadays, could never help me with that.

Real Yoga is so much more.  It’s Freedom.