Category Archives: yoga

A Lotus Grows in the Mud by Goldie Hawn

I can’t remember where exactly, but Goldie Hawn’s book, A Lotus Grows in the Mud was recommended to me while I was reading some respectable piece of literature, and so I ordered it and set it aside for a month or so. I finally got the chance to read it over spring break, and it was surprisingly delightful–thanks in no small part, I’m sure, to “co-author” Wendy Holden.

Lotus Grows In The Mud

image from powells.com

Hawn has led a fascinating life, and her book really tries to get at some of the wisdom she’s gained in this life. And, you know what? Some of that wisdom was pretty darn inspiring and insightful.

Here’s what impressed me–Hawn follows her purpose, even when it is not obvious, even when she has doubt, even when others criticize her and roadblocks threaten her faith.

When I think about my purpose in life, I often have doubt and uncertainty. However, the predominant narrative one hears about one’s path is that it is easy and clear. But, that hasn’t been the case for me. I was an English major because I liked reading, but that seemed incidental. Now, I’ve made an entire career out this. I love practicing yoga because it is good for me, but a lot of times I phone it in, or have to talk myself into going, and sometimes I don’t go at all. I’m never the most flexible, most enlightened, or coolest person in the class. Still, I trained to teach yoga, and I’ve been teaching it since 2008. Most days when I enter into that classroom to teach, it feels really, really *right*. Same goes for the garden, for writing, for my friendships, for My Love.

So, I loved the message of her book. She was brave. She did hard things. It made me feel like I could be brave. I could do hard things–all while making a living and having Kurt Russell unexpectedly waltz in and save me in the final hour and then stay for the remainder of my decades. Yeah, I’ll have what she’s having.

In perfect timing, just as I finish this book, I see that Hawn is teaming up with Amy Schumer in a new film called Snatched. It looks lovely and hilarious, and I can’t wait to see it. I love seeing mother/daughter duos (that’s in the book too).

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Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

As you know, one of my favorite genres is a memoir from a female comedy writer. It’s like hanging out with a really funny best girlfriend all weekend. Is it weird that I artificially fabricate this experience through reading? Maybe. I don’t care. I read Mindy Kaling’s first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? during a frantic “pleasure reading” phase I went through between the time I submitted my dissertation and the time I graduated.

This time, I am realizing (perhaps late) that Kaling writes, plays, (and maybe is?) just one character. But, like Jack Nicholson and James Franco (maybe I’ve only seen his stoner films?), nobody cares because it’s such a good character. The Office’s Kelly Kapoor, The Mindy Project’s Mindy Lahiri, and the identity Kaling develops in both of her books are all basically the same person. She’s a myopic, worst/best basic bitch kind of person, and it’s hilarious. She’s always simultaneously doing great commentary on gender and femininity. She describes the persona best: “Mindy is…a combination of Carrie Bradshaw and Eric Cartman” (75).

image from books.google.com

Here’s the take away of Why Not Me: First, you will want to eat McDonalds. And yes, there is some filler content. All of these books have filler. Like, okay, I’ll read a script that’s not going anywhere and a commencement speech that you gave. And, yes, the book was probably written by a ghost writer (but that ghost writer does a great job maintaining Kaling’s voice throughout!) And regardless, Kaling writes some grade-A jokes for these books, and even inspires her reader a bit toward the end. I was thinking, “Hey, yeah, why not me?!” Then, laced up my running shoes and achieved my dreams.

Here are some of the lines I loved:

Real Talk

  • “I’m skrilla flush with that dollah-dollah-bill-y’all” (4). This is the single best description of me on payday.
  • “[T]he gulf between a friend and a best friend is enormous and profound” (27).
  • On breakups: “So, the only decent way for him to have broken up with you is to not break up with you and stay with you forever” (39).
  • “As someone who enjoys secrets, exclusivity, and elitism…” (40).
  • People don’t say “Give me your honest opinion” because they want an honest opinion. They say it because it’s rude to say “Please tell me I’m amazing” (125).
  • “[R]ecycling makes America look poor” (139).
  • “[H]ard work must be rewarded with soul-replenishing gossip” (139).
  • “I have a terrible habit of impulsively sending text messages that reveal my true feelings” (140-41).

On Body Image

  • “One of the great things about women’s magazines is that they accept that drinking water and sitting quietly will make your breasts huge and lips plump up to the size of two bratwursts” (10).
  • “I cannot imagine a life more boring and a more time-consuming obsession than being preoccupied with watching what I eat” (194).
  • “But my secret is: even though I wish I could be thin, I don’t wish for it I don’t wish for it with all my heart. with all my heart. Because my is reserved for way more important things” (202).

I want to say some more about the body image stuff. So, I can work to get the sick body, the one with that weird vein between your lower ab and hipbone, but it does require me to think about what I’m eating and get regular exercise. It takes time and mental energy–time and mental energy I’m not always willing to give. Take graduate school, for example. I knew I would take four years and focus my energy on learning. And, so I didn’t think much about what I ate, and I taught and practiced yoga several times a week. I gained weight. I felt fine. This lasted four years.

Now, I can focus more time and energy on my body. Most people I know who pour 100% into looking good look great, but aren’t very interesting to talk to. Additionally, I simply have the kind of brain that requires me to spend time thinking about the meaninglessness of life and experiencing existential angst. I simply can’t/don’t want to transfer that energy into diet and exercise. I liked when Kaling wrote, “I don’t wish for it I don’t wish for it with all my heart. with all my heart” (202), and I think that’s a healthy approach. Anyway, I certainly haven’t found a balance, and I sort of don’t think a balance is possible (for women), and that sucks…is the way I’m going to end this post.

thank you, thank you, I love

I was going to do an “I love” post because I love. Now it’s the month for giving thanks. The other day, a yoga teacher sang a very lovely, open-throated, thank you song in savasana. She massaged our feet between poses. She sang, “Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you body. Thank you mind. Thank you spirit. Thank you yoga. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” And so on. Tears streamed down my cheeks, but I’ve had tears in yoga a lot these days. Thank you yoga.

And so here is my list of loves:

My day job. My students. The people I work with. The way I feel on my way to work. My cozy office. The scholarship I do there. I just wrote this lovely, difficult, and very good proposal for a thing, and felt like I was doing something difficult and good in this world.

My home. The way I feel when I wake up in the morning. The new incense and the new candle and the back patio and the zucchini plant, all of the indoor plants. They are living, and I keep them that way. The fresh bouquet of lilies and the warm mug in my hands as I pad around in my slippers.

My piano lessons. My keyboard. Reading notes. The difficulty. The ease. The meditation. Losing time to it.

Conversations on the phone. My parents. Their (accidentally?) brilliant advice. Texting with friends. Putting my hands up as I jump to live music, and the people who will go there with me.

Weirdly accurate intuition. The snake that rode down the trail on the shoulder of its owner. The elaborate tattoo on the little boy’s arm. The keen matchmaking.

Yoga. Teaching yoga. My yoga students. Allowing myself to take the energy that they offer me when needed.

Doula work. Doula people. There is some kind of secret magic with these people that is unfolding before me. The laying on of hands.

My love. The love.

witchy

It started with the doula work, or maybe the yoga. Actually, it was probably much earlier in reading and solitude. Or, maybe it started with my mother, and grandmother, and great grandmother—as far back as I can remember. Lavender, roses, crystals, plums, fire.

photo credit unavailable

photo credit unavailable (but found here.) 

Recently, I got the best haircut I’ve had in years. I found the woman by happenchance. When she found out that I was a doula, she said, “That’s weird. All of the doulas come to me.” Evidently, without knowing about each other, we all routinely find our way to her chair to get our hair cut. We know of each other in the doula community, but none of us came to her aware of this doula connection. It’s sort of witchy, we agree.

There are other things. Small things. Music. Poetry. Submission. Yoga. There is aloneness that forces the issue.

Birth, Breath, and Death: Meditations on Motherhood, Chaplaincy, and Life as a Doula by Amy Wright Glenn

Since I began the doula certification process through DONA International, I have had to read myriad required books on labor and the work of being a labor companion. My favorite book by far has been Ina May Gaskin’s Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. I pretty much love everything she does, but that book was has been the best so far.

image from Amazon

image from Amazon

As I’ve completed the required reading for the doula certification, I’ve been able to branch out and read some related works that are not on the list. While I’ve browsed through a few other titles, Birth, Breath, and Death: Meditations on Motherhood, Chaplaincy, and Life as a Doula by Amy Wright Glenn has been the standout. It’s a really interesting book that (perhaps controversially) makes the connection between doula work and chaplaincy.

Let me get my criticisms out of the way first (because that’s always the worst part). Organization. This book has an organization problem. It appears to be a mash up of personal reflection (that is wonderful!) and what reads like long excerpts from a recycled academic paper on spirituality, love, philosophy (which is fine, but less wonderful). I sometimes found myself wanting her to get back to her stories, lovely insights, and self-reflection.

Glenn’s experience and her perspective is absolutely rich. It felt like an indulgence, and I wanted more. Since I began this work, I have often thought of the close connection between doula work and chaplaincy—although I haven’t thought chaplaincy was the right word—it makes me think of religion. Like yoga, doula work is more than spirituality. It also deals with the emotional and very much the physical. In fact, I imagine that chaplaincy work would do well to take a lead from the female-centric way that doulas have of guiding new life on to Earth (no big deal).

At a recent doula gathering, a new friend, still very emotional, shared that her father had recently passed away. As doulas, we discussed the way that doulas might facilitate a more peaceful, less medicalized passing, just like we are often asking questions and making plans in advance to help facilitating a more peaceful, empowered, and oftentimes a less medicalized birth.

It appears that Glenn has made that connection between birth and death in her own life’s work. A highlight of her book is her birth story. It’s one of the best I’ve ever read (though I have read [and witnessed!] many beautiful birth stories). Like all births, Glenn’s labor is unpredictable, and she is skilled at reflecting and sharing insights from the experience. More generally, I loved her insights on motherhood. I wanted to know even more about her thoughts on her own mother. I loved reading about the way she loves her son and the hesitations she had at becoming a mother in the first place.

If you find deep complexity in doula work, motherhood, childhood, life, and death, you’ll like this book. You might have to forgive it for lacking some of the polish (and organization) of other books, but if you’re like me, that forgiveness will be easy for the insight she offers.

meditation and the new year

I’ve practiced yoga since around 2005. I was curious about it and loved it immediately when I started practicing. I’ve also been teaching yoga since 2008, which I absolutely love. After I first began teaching yoga, I also started teaching a 30-minute meditation class that started right after my hour-long yoga class. I jumped at the opportunity because I’ve always enjoyed the meditative aspects of yoga. I ended up teaching meditation for a few years, but haven’t had the chance to start up again since moving to Utah.

image by Alesa Dam

Now, it is said that all good yogis have their own personal practice, but that has never really been true for me. I prefer to practice yoga in a group, whether that be at a gym, Bikram yoga, in an Iyengar or Yogafit training, or even in the classes that I teach. While it is easier to be accountable when you’re meeting with another group of people to practice, on some sort of metaphysical level, I also appreciate moving through the asanas with others. Intangible and indescribable as it sometimes seems, I draw strength and connection that I crave when I practice yoga with other people.

That said, I’ve also never really had my own meditation practice either. I know that Transcendental Meditation (TM) is all the rage, but I have to admit that I recently heard an interview about TM that sort of made my hair stand on end (in a good way). It was the kind of energetic response that makes me take notice. Turns out, there are some TM practitioners around here, and I’m looking in to possible taking an intro class with them. In the meantime, I’ve decided to use the New Year to start meditating on my own.

Let me be honest, the thought of meditating sort of makes my skin crawl. It seems irritating, agitating. It seems like an epic, annoying waste of time. However, yoga has taught me that because I have such a strong response, it’s probably something that I really need. In yoga, I tend to hate poses that I need the most (i.e. camel pose/ustrasana).

So, I’m using the New year to implement meditation. I’m not sure what I’ll get out of it, but I’m going to meditate for 10 minutes every morning and 20 minutes every evening, and I might eventually up that to 20 minutes in the morning. I’m going to do if for 31 days–the entire month of January. I hope that the practice will help me use my time more wisely and purposefully. Of course, I also hope I’ll gain some deeper insight about my life’s path. More than anything, this is an experiment. I have no idea what it will be like, and that’s why I’m going to give it a try.

women, love, doulas

Last weekend I attended a doula retreat, and it was absolutely energizing and inspiring. People have been noticing my henna tattoo all week, and I tell them that I got it sitting around in a circle of women, while we painted each other’s hands. The only thing missing was hair braiding.

I love women.

We brought herbs, spices, and other goodies to add to the salt bowl.

The doula retreat, sponsored by the Utah Doula Association, created this lovely space (under a red tent, no less) for women to gather and talk about everything under the sun and all of it relating back to the female condition.

Let me tell you a secret. There is a large group of women out there, who love other women, who support them during their labor and delivery, who encourage women to find strength they didn’t know they had, women who facilitate and demystify breastfeeding—women who have knowledge about how to maneuver the physical and spiritual realm of being a woman, knowledge that women have a hard time finding anywhere else. They are doulas.

Parvati in candle form.

At the retreat, I gained a clearer idea of who I could be as a grown, adult woman. The group is incredibly diverse. I do not relate to everyone, but doulas need to be diverse because they serve a diverse population: all women.

5 Ways to Love Your Breasts

Why love your breasts? Some people believe that positive feelings correlate to good health. Beyond that, we live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with negative, false, or impossible messages about breasts. This post is intended to help women (and men) love breasts (and the rest of their bodies too). My hope is that the increased self love and acceptance will lead to happier people, less violence, more successful breastfeeding, and, eventually, world peace.

image by kidicarus222

1)  Stop wearing a bra. I realize this is not applicable for everyone (you ladies with huge breasts who suffer back pain etc., my hat goes off to you), but everyone can still try this and see how it feels. For some women, an unconventional, loose and loving “bra” might work too. Basically, it is tight and restrictive, you don’t have to wear it! I think most women would be surprised by how realistic (and pleasant) the switch to bralessness can be.

Sagging is the first counterargument to bralessness. Few studies have been done on whether or not bras are good for sagging boobs. Some schools of thought say that bras are better because they hold up breasts and keep them from sagging. Others say that bras weaken breast tissue and cause them to sag even more than they otherwise would. I think that genetics are such a factor here that it is difficult to say for sure how boob saggage is impacted by a bra. But, vanity aside, are bras good for breasts?

There are very few things written about women going braless. What is written is from sort of an über hippy perspective. Mostly, this is also a women’s rights issue. As I mentioned earlier, stigma around the breast has a lot to do with horrifying cultural expectations about women’s breasts. We have such a strange relationship with breasts. Going without a bra is incredibly controversial. Nipples are considered pornographic. Breastfeeding in public is sometimes illegal. This puts women in a very difficult situation because most of us are walking around with breasts hanging off the front of our bodies. Whether we boost them up in a padded underwire bra or strap them down under three sports bras, there they are. In so many ways, it feels like there is no right way to have breasts.

Note: I still wear bras sometimes. First, I have not yet fully converted my wardrobe to clothes that are bra-free-friendly. Second, sometimes, for short periods of time, I still like to wear a bra. I also always wear them when I run. Because of the culture and situation we live in, women can still be discriminated against if they choose not to wear a bra in some circumstances. Yes, discriminated against. Personally, I try to avoid wearing a bra whenever possible and work toward buying clothes and underwear that allow for more freedom of movement in my breasts, and I feel much better.

2)  Avoid antiperspirants and deodorants. I stopped wearing antiperspirants years ago–right before I began my Masters program, I think. It was a new and empowering time for me when I took more control over my body than ever before. Society was sending me a strong message that I shouldn’t sweat and I shouldn’t smell, but new research was coming out that the aluminum in antiperspirant was not good for the body. I thought really critically about it for the first time ever. I threw out my antiperspirant and never looked back. They never really worked for me anyway. I have a healthy, functioning body, and so I sweat. Toward the end of my relationship with antiperspirants, Dove had just come out with the “clinical” strength antiperspirant, and that stuff really worked if applied correctly. I didn’t sweat when I used it, but I felt weird and sort of pent up all day.

I still wear deodorant, Tom’s of Maine, but I’m thinking about avoiding that all together based on a conversation that I had with a pro-breast health woman last weekend. I am realizing that I am clean. I shower. It’s fine.

3)  Practice yoga. Yoga stretches the body, releases toxins, massages fascia, and helps pump the lymphatic system. Breasts produce hormones. It makes sense that they need to circulate so the body can effectively use, process, and eliminate. One can imagine how disease could manifest in a situation where this system is disrupted–by a bra or inactivity.

I even started teaching and practicing yoga without a bra! I usually wear an undershirt with a larger t-shirt over the top, and this has worked perfectly. I’ve had the urge to practice yoga without a bra for years. This urge is especially strong in Bikram (hot) yoga, where I, like most women, wear only a sports bra and short shorts. The heat in hot yoga is so purifying and detoxifying that the bra feels incredibly stifling. Bras feel so terrible in yoga because the lymphatic system is restricted. So, while a yoga practice stretches and cleanses, the bra is simultaneously impeding that process.

image by TipsTimes

4)  Massage your breasts. I’ll admit, this is a hard habit to start. I’ve practiced it on an off for a few weeks at a time, but it is a ritual that I would like to implement daily. It’s about lovingly massaging the breasts (which is easiest to do when not wearing a bra, by the way). This too helps move and release hormones and other stuff that is in the (mostly stationary) breasts. In pornography and in popular culture, we are often exposed to a “grabby” approach to breasts. Breastfeeding children grab at the breasts. Men (and women) grab at the breasts in sex. Breast massage is different–it’s an open palm circular rubdown. This is less about fingers and more about the palms of the hands.

Women are taught to do monthly self-exams of the breasts, but it is incredibly difficult to get in the habit of doing something if you’re only doing it once a month.  As an aside, nearly all similar posts about loving breasts are about cancer and not about loving breasts for the sake of love and acceptance. The whole process is fear based. It’s about looking for something that’s wrong. Instead, massage is about feeling good and loving the breasts, which, let’s be honest, loving breasts is innate for nearly all mammals—male or female.

5)  Love your breasts by changing the story (and the rest of your body too). Ok, I understand that women opt for surgeries to alter their breasts for lots of reasons. That’s okay. Once you’re done with all that, start loving what you have. Foster feelings of gratitude toward your breasts. For the vast majority of women, their breasts are absolutely perfect and wonderful and should be celebrated for the life-giving, sustenance-giving, lovely goodness that they are. Some breasts are enormous. Some are very small. Some are soft and some are hard. Some have plastic shoved inside them. Some have been cut off. Nipples can all look very different. Most breasts produce milk, but some do not.

As a culture, we idolize the breast, but women are also taught that their breasts are never really okay. They’re either too small or too large, or too sexy (inappropriate), or not sexy enough, or strange in some way. You’ve got to change the story because your society will never tell you that your breasts are okay as they are. After all, if you loved your breasts, you wouldn’t spend lots of money hiding, lifting, padding, or otherwise changing them. Love and self-acceptance is never going to be a part of the capitalist society we live in because there is more money to be made in insecurity and uncertainty. Society won’t do it for you, so it’s your job to think critically about what serves you. Find a way to love your breasts (and/or the breasts in your life), and your body, and go from there.

hard times, yoga, and exercise

Last year I practiced Bikram yoga almost every day, and I was really, really happy. I was also in the first months of “round two” with my boyfriend. The year was fairly low-key, and I focused most of my energy on developing a routine, spending time with my guy, and figuring out my new, first full-time teaching position. It was a good year. I remember it fondly.

In the last few months, I’ve written several times (here and here) about some general malaise I’ve been dealing with, followed by a delightfully productive “manic” phase. I’m not sure where I’m at now–a little moody, happy, productive, impatient–and I am starting to wonder just how directly some of my upheaval relates to the fact that I’m no longer practicing Bikram yoga on a daily basis.

For exercise, I now teach yoga twice a week, run a mile or two in the park, and practice Bikram yoga every other week or so. I’m starting to wonder if Bikram is what made me so happy/healthy last year. While I’m still exercising, I’m definitely not getting that nice, hot sweat from Bikram and the high that comes afterwards.

The thing is, Bikram yoga is really time intensive. It takes at least two hours. *At least.* If you count all of the necessary extra showering and laundry, it’s even more. It is also expensive. For those reasons, I don’t want to practice Bikram with the same intensity of last year. I want to have time for other things this year (in addition to moderate exercise), but I’m also starting to wonder if the super-happy-high from Bikram is worth the time and money that it costs.

last year and this year

I’m going to spend the winter skiing. Last winter, I went to Bikram yoga almost every day, which is obviously a very, very hot experience. This winter, I want to spend at least two days a week skiing (avoiding the weekends as much as possible), and that will be a very, very cold experience. There were many Bikram yogis who skied all day and came back to a hot yoga class. They and I are kindred spirits. I’m not sure why everything has to be so extreme with me–why the intensity of hot and cold resonate. Truly, I think I need that kind of intensity to feel alive, so that life doesn’t feel like it’s escaping me.

I spent last weekend with one of my favorite people in the world. I came away with some insights about relationships, language, and I laughed really hard a few times–some big, ugly laughs that were captured on camera. She explained that she is frequently, uncomfortably aware of how short life is. That’s why she needs to know a lot of people and do different things and generally have freedom to move around the world. That way, she can get a sense of other ways of living and thinking, which she may never get to fully indulge in her own life. I really like that idea. It has given me permission to explore and indulge in different ways of living and being. Last year I practiced yoga. This year I ski. And whatever I do, I don’t buy a house.