I’ve been home for two months now. For the first time in a VERY long time, I have space to reflect. Life feels peaceful and calm – a major contrast to the whirlwind of a lifestyle I had for the past 15 years. Between having kids, working full-time as a journalist, running a yoga studio (open seven days a week), and then going on tour with Noah, I felt like I didn’t ever have a break. Oh, and I almost forgot: I was sick for two years with a neurological disorder (that I am blessed to have recovered from) and I got divorced, re-married and acquired a step-son along the way. Don’t get me wrong. I am not complaining. I had two successful careers, have an incredible husband, a supportive ex-husband, three wonderful sons, and my health. My future is sprawled out in front of me. I am blessed.
But in order to get to a place where I can look across this huge, spacious field of opportunity, I needed to walk away. Walk away from people, jobs, houses, sticky situations and more. Just walk away. There have been times when I have tried to walk away while others kept trying to drag me back in. There have been times when I have found myself knee-deep in a situation I desperately wanted out of and the only way to break free was to make a choice: walk away and not look back. There have been situations where I know I was right YET my happiness was being sacrificed. So I walked away. There have been times when I wished I had told people my side of a story or situation. Yet, I knew this would cause controversy and instead kept quiet. In those instances, I walked away. I know this is very vague, but there are just too many situations that come to mind. I somehow know that you can all relate.
It all boils down to this: Sometimes the path to peace and happiness in your own life is to pick another path and change your direction. Now, everyone has their own opinions and surely for some, walking away is a cowardly route. Yet, look at the alternative: staying in a toxic situation, place, relationship or job (just to name a few) is simply unhealthy – emotionally and physically.
When leaving a difficult place, you will notice a lot of commotion around you. This makes it even harder to walk away. Some people will support you without asking questions. Others will demand explanations, as if your choice to let go is somehow their business. Others will ignore you because they don’t know what to say. Still others will talk about your decisions and tear you down as a person, leading to rumors and gossip which can become not just untrue, but ugly. These types of people are usually the ones who have nothing better to do then gossip about others rather than deal with their own lives head-on. The truth is: your life is your life and your choices are uniquely yours. No one else, except those you invite in, need to know what led to your decisions. If they insist on knowing or opt to start rumors, they were probably not worth having in your life to begin with. Hmmm – maybe time to walk away.
Walking away is the same as letting go. And this is not easy. How many of you have struggled with leaving behind a love relationship, even when you know it’s a bad one? What about friends? This can be challenging too. Have you ever grappled with ending a friendship because you’re afraid of the ramifications such as mutual other friends walking away from YOU or this so-called friend starting negative rumors? Not all relationships are meant to go on forever. Surround yourself with good, kind people. People that lift you up, not pull you down. When people no longer do this for you, maybe it’s time move on. Ultimately, letting go is very personal. Some of us hang on for way too long and others don’t give things enough time. There is no right or wrong choice. There is only your choice.
A wise yoga teacher once said (and it has stayed with me): Discriminate and eliminate. Plain and simple.
If we all spent more time figuring this out and walking our path instead of involving ourselves in situations which are none of our business, the world would be a more peaceful place.
So here I am in the now. I’m doing the work. Simplifying and letting go. Looking ahead at the vast field and not knowing what’s on the other side. I’m ok with that.
After 15 months away from home, I got in my own car in my own garage and turned on my GPS. As I went to plug in an address, I saw this across the screen:
“A Lot Has Changed. Please Load New Maps.” What? For real? It was as if the past year was flashing before my eyes. I had never seen this message before and this was the same GPS that traveled North America with me. I shut it off and turned it back on. No message. The next day……no message.
For the past several weeks since I’ve been home, I still can’t kick the feeling that the universe was sending me a blatant message: Look around at all that’s changed. Look within at all that’s changed. Look forward and don’t look back. Most importantly, don’t be afraid of the unknown path.
When looking for answers in your life (or even not looking) all you need to do is open your eyes and tune in. Be aware. You will see, you will know. The answers are there. And so it goes with my GPS. I know, some of you may still be thinking: did my GPS really TELL me that things have changed? Well, yes. Did I already know this? Well, yes. BUT, it did help me understand the importance of paying attention to the signs and listening within.
I told my husband about the message. He had never seen this on his Garmin GPS before. I saw it as a metaphor for my life in the moment: A lot HAD changed. A lot IS changing. I need to load new maps, that’s for sure. The answers aren’t always THIS black and while, at least not for most people. Maybe it’s because I am tuned in, but typically my signs are pretty darned blatant. You see, we all have an inner GPS — something that helps us to determine our direction in life. It’s usually a gut feeling, an inner voice. Sometimes someone might even suggest something in conversation that you have been ruminating for a while and suddenly you have clarity. Or, maybe you are trying to figure something out when a song comes on the radio, and the lyrics pretty much offer a solution. Whatever it is: Listen. More often than not, we ignore it and keep barreling down the same road we’ve always traveled. But if we ignore that inner GPS, that road will become more and more difficult to travel. Road blocks will appear and you will have to either knock yourself out to jump over them OR you can plug in and turn around now.
I am happily settling back into life at home in Massachusetts yet nothing is the same. I’m not talking about things that have changed around us, on the surface – things like new restaurants in town, new neighbors etc. (although that makes you really realize that time doesn’t stand still). The Billy Elliot experience transformed all of our lives from the inside, not just Noah’s. There were good times, there were bad. It wasn’t just about a show. It was about growing, changing and learning. I learned how to handle some pretty tough situations. I made choices I never thought I’d have to make and then had to accept those choices (I listened to the signs, by the way). My family banded together so that we could have this experience. Everyone helped and I mean everyone: my husband, my ex-husband, my parents, my in-laws, my other children. I had been married for less than two years when we left to go on tour. But I feel closer to my husband now than ever before.
Today has been a day of deep reflection, perhaps in part because the tour ends for good tonight and I know many of our friends will have to turn on their inner GPS’ starting now. When you’ve traveled one particular road for a long time, it’s not easy to find a new path. I’m still loading maps myself.
Talking about new maps, I’m not sure which direction I will take in the next couple of months. I have some different roads before me. Some choices to make. But something tells me things will keep changing and moving and I’ll have to travel right along as well. I know one thing for sure: I am about to embark on a new path. I’m listening for the signs. I’m following my inner GPS.
Oh, and, see ya Billy! Thanks for the journey!
Noah had to write a “memoir” essay for school back in September 2012. He chose to write about his audition for “Billy Elliot the Musical.” As we are heading into our final week with the Billy Elliot tour, I felt it was appropriate to publish this essay now. I will still be blogging, in fact maybe more frequently when we are off this tour. Yet, the future is unknown, vast and exciting for both of us. Looking back over this past 14 months (we joined the tour for in Los Angeles for training back in mid April 2012!) so much has happened that has changed both of our perspectives on the world and humanity. We are both blessed to have had this experience and I am so proud that Noah has remained the same sweet, kind and humble boy that he was when this whole journey began.
As I write this today, I am home and just returned from a college campus visit with my older son, who performed last night with his Improv Comedy troupe, ImprovSoup. As a mother, I couldn’t be more proud of my boys: Ethan, Noah and Jacob. They are growing up to be caring, considerate human beings. And no amount of talent can hold a candle to that! Until I write again, here’s Noah in his own words……..feel free to share this post. It’s a good one!
MY FIRST AUDITION
There we were, dad and I, on a rainy Friday morning in mid-September trucking along into the Big Apple for my audition for “Billy Elliot the Musical”. This also happened to be my ﬁrst audition ever. I was a dancer, and I had never sung or acted in front of anyone. Scared and nervous were both words that I could say were understatements. I had non-stop butterﬂies in my stomach.
Walking into the street, an umbrella overhead, we search for the correct towering skyscraper, the one at 500 8th Avenue. However, I’m not really a veteran of ﬁnding my way around this city, so I was panicking, thinking we would never find it.
“What number is it again?” I said in a rushed tone.
“It’s 500. It’s just up ahead on the right”, Dad said, making sure I’m calm.
Then, there it was — seeming to stand taller than any other building in New York City as I looked up at it, 500 8th Avenue. We walked through the big glass doors that were almost too heavy for me to open and the receptionist asked who we were and where we were headed in the building. Then, slowly but surely, the elevator went up too many ﬂoors for me to count. We stepped out of the elevator and I turned to my dad and said “Wow, well this is it”. That’s all that I could get out of my mouth. I marveled at the great big dance rooms and knew that all the huge auditions happened in this building. I thought that a Broadway star would walk out of any of these rooms any second.
Dad and I walked up to the receptionist and asked where we should go for the Billy Elliot audition and it turned out we were super early. They hadn’t even set up the holding room yet. It was only 12 o’clock and the audition didn’t start until 2. The waiting began…
So, the staff of the studios gave us two chairs to sit in and wait. I stretched, sat, talked a bit, stretched more, and saw George Hamilton.
“That’s George Hamilton!” my dad said.
“Who’s that?” I said, as I had never heard of him before.
Soon after that, the holding room was prepared for us. There were chairs and mirrors lining the walls, a registration table at the front of the room, and a piano in the corner. Then, I slipped my ballet shoes on and started jumping and turning to get warmed up. My dad also gave the woman behind the registration table my photo, information, and resumé (which my mom just wrote). Soon, each of the other boys trickled into the holding room one by one. Each boy had a different background, look, and came from somewhere different.
Then a lady came into the room. Her presence was almost daunting as she was much taller than I. I was nervous. She had all of the boys follow her into a separate room, leaving all of our parents behind. She also took our resumés and headshots with her.
We ended up in a room identical to the one we left behind. We started with hip-hop and we learned a short combination in that style. We did it over and over again until we felt comfortable with the steps, but hip-hop has never been something I’m completely conﬁdent about.
Two at a time we performed this combination for the panel of three “judges”.Although they never introduced themselves as judges, we knew that was what they were. They were three intimidating people that I hoped liked my dancing. We did it over and over again for what seemed like an hour or two.
Next, we did ballet. I put on my ballet shoes and immediately I was slipping and sliding all over the place and then they told us that we could wear jazz shoes for a bit more traction. I was surprised by the small amount of ballet we did. At the most we did twenty minutes of ballet. We did a few basic exercises, including turning and jumping. We went across the ﬂoor one at a time doing jumps and turns, but out of the corner of my eye all I saw were the “judges” observing me super closely, never taking their eyes off of me.
After that, it was time for tap. We did very simple tap exercises like shufﬂes and ﬂaps and not much else because of the slippery ﬂoor. I was caught off guard that many of the boys in the audition had never tapped before.
Before we ﬁnished up the dancing, they told us we could improvise a dance. We did just that two at a time. I did some turns and jumps that I thought I had remembered from seeing the show. Also, I tried to throw in the limited acrobatics I knew because I knew Billy had to do that in the show as well.
We also did one acting exercise. The casting woman brought us over to the window in the room and said, while pointing to the ﬂoor below, “Imagine there was a ﬁre on the ﬂoor below us. I want you to warn the three of us (judges) that there is a ﬁre in the building only using the words ‘There’s a ﬁre in the building’”. That is exactly what we did: we would run one at a time from the window up to the judges table and warn them that there is a ﬁre in the building, but only using that one sentence. They explained that we could only use that one sentence because, like in a play, we can only use the lines that were given. Therefore we couldn’t stray from those few words.
Lastly, we sang for the casting people. The pianist in the room quickly taught us the ﬁrst verse of the big dance/song in act two of the show which is called “Electricity”. It’s also the climax of the musical. We had maybe two or three minutes to practice and then they went around having us sing the song, two lines each. For this section of the audition however, there was somebody recording our singing, which made it more nerve-wracking for me.
After that, the “judges” said thank you for coming and that was it. The boys and I walked back to the waiting room where our parents were waiting and packed up and left.
“How’d it go?”my dad asked.
“Good, I think.” I said, although I wasn’t really sure how it went or if I did a good job.
Overall, I believe my ﬁrst ever audition was a success and deﬁnitely a huge learning experience as it was my ﬁrst one ever. And here I am with Billy Elliot — all because of that one, ﬁrst audition.
Yeah, I know. The saying is “Think Outside the Box.” But sometimes, you need to turn things inside out and take a look inside because what you think is going on around you isn’t what it appears to be. Huh?
Let’s back up a bit. I am now home. This marked my biggest stretch of time away from home since going out on tour with Noah. I was gone for two solid months, a bit more. The last time I was home was for only a few days in mid-March when we came back for Noah’s state exams. He was in testing and I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to get a months’ worth of appointments crammed into four days’ time.
So now we are home for a couple of weeks. Although I still have tons of appointments and organizing to do (including opening mail, sorting files, paying bills, etc.) this time at home also includes time for introspection. It’s necessary. It’s about time. You see, living on the road leaves little time for contemplation of any kind. My meditation practice has been kicked to the curb, I hardly have time for an asana practice anymore and I feel lost in the shuffle of an odd sort of reality show.
It’s like living in a traveling college dorm. You live, eat, travel, work, exercise, and socialize with the same people for months on end. You grow to understand each other and know each other – sometimes a bit too well and sometimes not really at all. The “not really at all” part is when things tend to go awry in a social experiment like a touring musical. You see, rumors can run rampant and people often get sucked into believing things about their travel mates that can be, well, let’s say not nice and untrue. Usually I just try to be the best mother I can be to my son and stay away from the fray. It can be isolating at times but mostly, it feels safe. Most of the people I live with do not know me very well. With this said, I can say I have some tried and true tour friends – some people I hope will be my friends for life. They are good, kind and honest people – people I know I could go to for any kind of help. But in order to really know me, or anyone you live with, you have to look inside the box and not just at what’s going on outside. This means forming your own opinions of people and not listening to what others may say. It seems easy but it isn’t. It’s hard enough in the “real world” when you go to work every day and come home to the sanctity of your own home and family. It’s even harder on tour.
Yesterday I enjoyed something I haven’t had time for in a while: reflection. I delved into my Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, an ancient and brilliant sage. For those of you unfamiliar with the Sutras, they are a collection (sutra can be translated to mean “thread”) of kick-ass advice on how to live a more compassionate and fulfilling life. I immediately gravitated to Sutra 1:33:
“By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness” – Sutra translation by Sri Swami Satchidananda.
The first three parts of this all-important sutra come easy to me but the last part is where I struggle. I’m going to paraphrase a couple of pages from Satchidananda’s book so you all can understand what I’m talking about here. After that, we’ll discuss and hopefully you will all weigh in as well.
“Whether you are interested in reaching Samadhi (enlightenment) or plan to ignore yoga entirely, I would advise you to remember at least this one Sutra. In my own experience, this Sutra became my guiding light to keep my mind serene always.
Who would not like serenity of mind always? Who would not like to be happy always? Everyone wants that. So Patanjali gives four keys: friendliness, compassion, delight and disregard. There are only four kinds of locks in the world. Keep these four keys with you and when you come across any one of these four locks you will have the proper key to open it. What are these four locks? Sukha, duhka, punya and apunya – the happy people, unhappy people, the virtuous and the wicked. At any given moment, you can fit any person into one of these four categories.
When you see a happy person, use the friendliness key. Why would Patanjali say this? Because even four thousand years ago there must have been people who were not happy at seeing others happy. It is still the same way. Suppose somebody drives up in a big car, parks in front of her huge palatial home and gets out. Some other people are standing on the pavement in the hot sun getting tired. How many of those people will be happy. Not many. They will be saying, “See that big car? She is sucking the blood of the laborers.” We come across people like that: they are always jealous. When a person gets name, fame or a higher position, they try to criticize that person. They will never admit that she might have gone up by her own merit. By that jealousy, you will not disturb her but you disturb your own serenity. She simply got out of her car and walked into the house, but you are burning up inside. Instead, think, “Oh, such a fortunate person. If everybody were like that how happy the world would be. May God bless everybody to have such comfort. I will also get that one day.” Make that person your friend. That response is missed in many cases, not only between individuals but even among nations.
And what of the next lock, the unhappy people? We should have compassion. If you can lend a helping hand, do it. If you can share half of your loaf, share it. Be merciful always. Remember, our goal is to keep the serenity of our minds. Whether our mercy is going to help that person or not, by our feeling of mercy, at least we are helped.
Then comes the third kind, the virtuous people. When you see a virtuous man, feel delighted. “Oh, how great he is.” Don’t envy him; don’t try to pull him down. Appreciate the virtuous qualities in him and try to cultivate them in your own life.
And, lastly, the wicked. We come across wicked people sometimes. We can’t deny that. So what should be our attitude? Indifference. Don’t try to advise wicked people because wicked people seldom take advice. If you try to advise them you will lose your peace. I remember a small story from the Pancha Tantra which I was told as a small child.
One rainy day, a monkey was sitting on a tree branch getting completely drenched. Right opposite on another branch of the same tree there was a small sparrow sitting in its hanging nest. Normally a sparrow builds its nest on the edge of a branch so it can hang down and swing around gently in the breeze…it was warm and cozy inside its nest and the sparrow just peeped out and, seeing the poor monkey, said ‘Oh, my dear friend, I am so small; I don’t even have hands like you, only a small beak. But with only that I built a nice house, expecting this rainy day. Even if the rain continues for days and days, I will be warm inside. I heard Darwin saying that you are the forefather of the human beings, so why don’t you use your brain? Build a nice, small hut somewhere to protect yourself during the rain.’ You should have seen the face of that monkey. It was terrible! ‘Oh, you little devil! How dare you try to advise me? Because you are warm and cozy in your nest you are teasing me. Wait, you will see where you are!’ The monkey proceeded to tear the nest to pieces, and the poor bird had to fly out and get drenched like the monkey.
This is a story I was told when I was quite young and I still remember it. Sometimes we come across such monkeys, and if you advise them they take it as an insult. They think you are proud of your position. If you sense even a little of that tendency in somebody, stay away.
So have these four attitudes: friendliness, compassion, gladness and indifference. These four keys should always be with you in your pocket. If you use the right key with the right person you will retain your peace. Nothing in the world can upset you then.
Okay, discuss or think…but take it all in.
I am sure that some of you who know me personally might be thinking, she wrote this about me. If so, check the egos with your baggage and get real. I am writing about me and you and everyone who is human. And remember, the sage Patanjali said the words above, oh, about 4,000 years ago. This means that WE, as human beings, have not changed much in thousands of years. We have the same issues, the same problems, the same struggles that our ancestors had. The reason I brought up my current situation (being on tour) is because living in a bubble gives me a unique perspective. Once I stepped out of the bubble, it became much clearer to see where my own struggles lie. It’s also evident that Sutra 1:33 can be applied to everybody and every life circumstance in some way, shape or form. It’s like taking a good, hard look in the mirror and then placing the same mirror in front of everyone you live and associate with. Most of us can relate to one or more of the four character types outlined in Sutra 1:33. Maybe you’ve even associated with all of them at some point or another in your life, as life is constantly changing.
We have ALL also encountered happy, unhappy, virtuous and wicked people and have probably handled these folks quite differently depending on our world views and life experiences. Again, for me, the toughest type to deal with is the fourth. Wicked is a pretty strong word, I know. But it was not my word choice, it was Satchidananda’s. And, wicked, as I interpreted it through my readings of various Sutra translations over the years, doesn’t have to mean wicked as in “Wicked Witch of the East.” Sometimes it’s difficult to see “wicked” on the surface and again, this is why we need to look “inside” the box.
Patanjali says there are four keys. My struggle, again, lies in finding and accessing the key to number four. You see, it’s hard for me to be “indifferent.” Usually I internalize things for a while and take everything personally. Slowly, I am learning to let go and go about my own business. I know I need to try harder still just to disregard and ignore these types of people. If I can do this successfully, anyone with a wicked nature can’t affect or hurt me. Again, this fuels my resolve to work towards letting go through yoga, meditation, breath work and whatever other means are useful to me.
What keys are challenging for you? Have you taken a good hard look in the mirror lately? What type of person do you see: happy, unhappy, virtuous or wicked or a combination of more than one? How do you best deal with each of these types of people? Do you hold the keys?
Life is not easy. The best we can do is be friendly to the happy, compassionate to the unhappy, delighted for the virtuous and indifferent to the wicked. Amen Patanjali.
On December 31, 2012, I woke up in my own bed, put my feet on the floor, stood up, and sat right back down again. I thought I was imagining things, but it hurt to stand. And not just a little bit. A lot.
I stood up again on my hard wood floor and walked to the bathroom. Each step was more painful than the previous one. What the hell was going on? It wasn’t just one foot. It was both. Every time I rocked forward on the balls of my feet to propel into the next step, it felt like I was stepping on sharp objects.
I couldn’t imagine what I did to my feet or why I was experiencing this pain. I had been on the road with my son for months and just arrived home the night before (mind you, after a snow storm delayed our trip home by 24 hours. We had to stay at yet another hotel). Maybe it was the stress of the storm or having to walk on ice to get from the hotel to the diner across the street? Maybe it was from wearing bad shoes to walk all over Baltimore the week before in icy conditions?
All I know is that I was experiencing searing pain every time I stood up and walked. That day I bought cushy insoles for my running shoes but that didn’t help. I took Motrin. That didn’t help. I just hoped it would get better. I couldn’t teach yoga, let alone practice standing asanas as it was just too painful. Meanwhile, my week home was spent stressing about what to do with my studio (keep it going, close it, etc. – see my last post here). I chose to ignore making any major decisions….again.
The next week took me to Montreal. The pain in the balls of my feet intensified. The next week took me to East Lansing, Michigan. The pain was yet worse AND I caught the flu. I dragged myself fever and all to a podiatrist, who diagnosed me with severely inflamed metatarsal joints. He made me special inserts for my shoes, I bought super expensive “nurse” shoes at an orthopedic shoe store, and I started taking heavy duty doses of Aleve. Meanwhile, a standing yoga practice was out of the question as was walking more than a couple of blocks.
I spent the week in East Lansing sick and depressed.
The next month took me to mainly warmer climates. My feet were nowhere near made for walking, but at least I could drive around in a convertible and catch some rays while sporting my nurse shoes.
In February, I went home again for a few days and this time I went to see a recommended podiatrist in the Boston area. He diagnosed me with nerve damage AND severely inflamed metatarsal joints. He crafted another round of inserts and I continued the Aleve.
Still, no one could figure out why this odd injury occurred in the first place. I mean, of all people…to me? I live much of my life barefoot teaching and practicing yoga on hard wood floors. I almost NEVER wear high heels. I’ve NEVER had a foot problem or foot injury in my life.
As strange as this injury is, it happened to me for a reason. It was sort of like a wake-up call. I was saddled with indecision. Indecision about what to do with my yoga studio. This was causing stress. And, emotional stress manifests itself as physical pain.
Backing up, let’s take a look at the location of the pain: MY FEET. The soles of my feet. The balls of my feet to be more specific. The EXACT area where weight bears down when you need to stand and walk forward. The pain was immobilizing. I couldn’t practice standing asana or teach. I was stuck. The universe was sending me a very strong message to the exact spot where it knew I would eventually need to stand up (ironically) and take notice.
My first chakra (root chakra) was completely stagnant. I know, I know. You’re probably thinking that this post was interesting until I went and got all New Age on you. But let’s be real here. The first chakra has everything to do with security and stability. It’s about feeling grounded, centered, safe, comfortable in your surroundings and with your decisions. It’s about being financially secure and rooted in family and community. Deciding whether to close my business – my sense of financial security AND community for almost a decade – was throwing my root chakra out of whack. I finally knew how to heal myself. It was time to close down.
I picked a date: April 1. I would close on April 1. Now I knew my feet would start to feel better but I also knew that they would not heal completely until the studio actually closed.
In that transition phase, my feet had their good days and bad days. I started practicing yoga again – slow, modified poses. I gave up worrying about fashionable footwear (not that it was ever something I thought much about anyway). I wore my “nurse shoes” everywhere. Slowly, walking became easier.
In March, I went home again and dealt with closing the studio head on. We arranged to move some classes to the community center and I worked on a transition strategy.
On April 1, we closed the doors. One day in mid-April, not too long after the closure, I woke up in California, put both feet on the ground and walked pain-free for the first time in 2013. I began to roll out my mat regularly. I took the inserts out of my running shoes.
I sent my “nurse shoes” home.
I can stand on my own two feet (even one) once again.
Breaking Up is Hard to Do………….
But so is hanging on. Trust me on this one. It’s sort of like standing in quick sand, not that I have ever actually done this. Nonetheless, I imagine this is what it feels like. You want to leave or set yourself free. In some instances, you want to run, fast. But you can’t. You’re stuck. Every time you try to free yourself, you seem to sink in even deeper.
Hypothetically, if you are in this type of situation, what do you do? You either stay stuck and keep sinking OR you find some way to break free. Sometimes it’s easier to remain stuck. You know the environment and your little spot is familiar and comfy. What’s the alternative? The unknown. Yet somehow, you KNOW you need to cut yourself loose. But this takes courage and it’s scary to venture beyond your comfort zone.
Still with me? I’m going somewhere here, I promise. Let’s back up a bit. You haven’t heard a peep from me in oh, almost three months. You could say I’ve been stuck in the quick sand and it’s not too far from the truth, metaphorically speaking. I’ve had some big decisions to make and opted to simply not make them for months. All the while, I sunk in deeper and while this was going on, my life became more and more stressful. I knew what I needed to do, yet I couldn’t do it.
I needed to close a door — at least for a while — in order for others to open. To simplify: I needed to stop running Breathe Joy Yoga, the business I opened nine years ago and have been operating from the road for almost a year. It was becoming insurmountable. What seemed like a simple business to outsiders was way more complicated than it looked.
Here I am, traveling full-time with my son AND trying to balance the books, schedule classes, manage a staff, communicate with customers, handle payroll, send out marketing e-blasts, keep up our social media sites and more. I wanted to give it a try. I thought I could do it all. But I couldn’t. It was exhausting me. Stressing me out. Stressing my family out. Stressing my manager out. Not only that but I started to resent the studio and yoga in general. I wanted to devote my time to my son and the show but there was always something else that I had to handle. It was just too much. But yet I could not let go. Not for six months. I knew in September that I needed to give it up. But it took me six months to do it. Tomorrow (April 1) is our last class at Breathe Joy Yoga. At least for a while. Ironically, I will be home this summer. So why couldn’t I keep the doors open for another few months until I return?
It was time. Time to let go. Period.
It’s hard to let go of anything you care about. We’ve all been there. How many of you have held onto something or someone for way too long? When you finally make the decision to break away, you instantly feel relief — if for no other reason than you simply made a decision despite how difficult it was. Tomorrow I will be free. It doesn’t mean I won’t be sad. It took me nine years to build my business from the ground up. But I feel good about this decision. I have no regrets because it was the right choice.
So now, when I get home this summer, I won’t have a yoga studio anymore. Maybe I will teach yoga classes elsewhere. Maybe I will teach in my studio once again. Maybe I won’t teach at all. Maybe I will sell my studio, my business, my house. Maybe I will tour again (I know, my tour friends are laughing now!) Maybe I will write a blog post every day. Maybe I will do nothing for a while. Maybe I will relish in spending more time with my kids, husband and dog. Maybe I will travel. Maybe I will move to another city or state or country. Maybe I will learn to bask in the complete unknown. Maybe — no, certainly — I will feel grateful that I can make choices and have the complete support of my family.
There is one thing, however, that I know for sure. Doors that had been shut tight will now open because I was brave enough to set myself free. This is how it works. I’m ready to see what’s on the other side.
Yoga Sutra 1.8: “Misconception occurs when knowledge of something is not based upon its true form.”
As Sri Swami Satchidananda explains it: “In the twilight you see a coiled rope and mistake it for a snake. You get frightened. There is no snake there in reality; there is a false understanding. But still it created a terror in your mind. It is not only valid knowledge that creates thought waves, but erroneous impressions also.”
We all have things we think to be real or true. Our relationships, our careers, whatever it may be that defines us. But what happens when your truth isn’t quite as you thought it was or should be. What then is the truth? What is real?
I’m going out on a limb here and I will probably piss off some yogis and yoga teachers in the process. But I don’t care. Gotta speak my truth.
And I know, I’ve probably already lost about half of you already…..but stick with me here. It will all make sense in a moment.
I left home in April 2012 and have been touring the US (soon Canada) ever since. Pretty much the only thing that’s kept me somewhat grounded in this tour de force is my yoga practice. Not the sweating, twist-yourself-in-knots type of practice that many Americans consider yoga, but the breathing and simplicity of the practice. Sometimes I just stand in mountain pose so that I can truly feel my feet on the ground. Other times I roll out my mat and do what feels good. And still other times I go to a yoga class. That’s where the truth starts to become fuzzy.
In every city I go to, I search for a yoga class that isn’t hot or power or rock ‘n roll or in a sling shot. I look for the studio that’s been in town the longest or has a teacher older than 19. I’ve been to studios from Los Angeles to New York City and many places in-between including, in no particular order: Wisconsin, Michigan, Tennessee, Texas, Arkansas, Indiana, Vermont, Minnesota, and Nebraska. Some of the studios have been chains, others just small spaces. I can tell you this for sure: yoga ain’t what it used to be. Everyone has a gimmick and everything is FAST. Yup, that’s right: FAST. In all but a couple instances, the classes have been crammed with as many poses as the teacher can think up in an hour, regardless of whether he or she knows how to safely get students from one posture to the next. Music is usually blaring (not that I have anything against loud music, but sometimes it hinders the ability to quiet the mind). The students look like they are competing in a yoga fashion contest hosted by lululemon (sorry, it’s true). Teachers talk incessantly even when they have nothing to say. Most classes have next to no warm-ups or cool-downs. They usually don’t mention the breath or the mind. One had no savasana at all.
Here’s the thing: This is what people want or at least think they want. This is how teachers are learning to practice and instruct.
It’s a sad but honest reflection of our culture. As a society, we don’t know how to slow down but yet we want to do things that are good for us. So we do yoga. Even if we don’t know what that is. We also teach yoga even if we don’t know how or even have an inkling of an idea of the centuries old healing practice that we are passing down.
Let me back up here for a moment. I opened my yoga studio nine years ago. At the time, I was pretty much the only Hatha studio around. Since then, there are now studios within 10 minutes of mine IN EVERY DIRECTION. All but one offer strictly hot, power yoga classes. I’m not even counting the gyms and YMCAs which all also offer yoga. In order for all these studios and classes to serve all those students, there have to be enough teachers. So almost all studios now offer training courses, many of which are franchised or canned (but the students don’t know this). I am not saying these programs are bad or that all teachers don’t know what they are doing. I am just trying to lay it all out there. Teachers are being pumped out faster than you can say Patanjali and students are coming to classes in droves regardless of whether the class is good or bad. They hang on the teacher’s every word even if the teacher has no idea what he is doing or saying. Students think that if they do enough chaturangas, they are doing yoga. Heck, they might even think that 20 chaturanga push-ups will quiet the mind. Skip it, they probably don’t know that stilling the mind and yoga are one and the same.
It’s not just happening in studios. Look at yoga conferences and festivals. Students flock to these big events where the classes are taught by those I now call rock star yoga teachers. These are teachers who have become “famous” in the yoga world and have large followings of students. Some of these teachers are actually very good at teaching yoga. But most are just overwhelmed with their own egos and the large base of students who seek them out in a convention center packed with 150 other adoring students. Most of these teachers are under 35 years old and many have been teaching this ancient healing art for less than eight years (that’s my unscientific poll but I betcha I’m right on the money here). I’ll admit it: there was a time when I aspired to teach at these big conferences. When people pay money to come to your classes or workshops, even if the money goes to charity, it feeds the ego. No getting around it. But after witnessing what I have over the past eight months, I want none of this.
It all hit home in Austin, Texas. Michelle, one of my closest friends, lives there. We did our yoga teacher training together at Maha Yoga Center with a gifted and wise teacher. For the past four years Michelle has been whining about the yoga scene in Austin. I keep encouraging her to teach because, well, she’s the real deal. She has tried but can’t seem to find a studio to teach at — somewhere she can keep it real. She said all the studios are hot or power or fast or gimmicky. She said all the studio directors and teachers don’t know a thing about anatomy and sure as heck can’t teach a breathing technique. I didn’t believe her. I mean, really, Austin? It’s a pretty progressive city with lots of yogis. Since I try to take a class in every city I visit, I was determined to hit a studio in Austin with my yogini friend Michelle. We picked a studio named after its famous circuit of yoga festivals: Wanderlust. It looked hip and fun. Let’s just stop there….We walked into a noontime class and had to restrain ourselves from laughing out loud. The skinny teacher in perfect yoga clothes had us rolling on the floor, literally. We rolled and then jumped up. Rolled and jumped up. Rolled and jumped up. We did a few fast poses in-between the rolling and jumping and then she bid us adieu. No rest for the weary. No savasana.”That wasn’t even on the top five worst classes in Austin,” said Michelle as we walked out. I raced back to my hotel to roll out my yoga mat. My nervous system was completely out of whack.
I know, I know. To each their own. But really, call that what you want, but don’t call it yoga. To me (and you are welcome to disagree) yoga was and is about quieting the mind, breathing, finding stillness, feeling grounded and balanced. It’s about moving in a way that makes sense and is rooted in anatomy and yogic science. It’s about being honest with yourself and your students. It’s about knowing your limitations. It’s about slowing down so that you can listen and hear your own inner voice: the voice of intuition. It’s about finding stillness amid the activity. Try doing 20 poses on both sides in an hour. There’s simply no time for stillness. Police give fast drivers speeding tickets. Who is going to slow you down in life? Just you.
Witnessing the yoga scene around the country has caused me to consider closing my studio on several occasions. I’ve become skeptical of myself. I mean, what is my purpose for being here when I’m losing the battle to hot yoga studios, fast classes, and DVDs/podcasts that promise results in 20 minutes? I have often wondered if perhaps I’ve got it all wrong. But then I come home and realize that what we are doing here is worth it. Regardless of whether we’ve got five students or 500.
This is real.