In the 10 years we have been open, there have been hundreds of students and a number of teachers in and out of our doors. Some have moved away and some have moved beyond, but throughout there has always been a constant: a sense of community. This community has become a big, beautiful tapestry that has been sewn together with the thread of our love of the practice and philosophy of yoga.
It takes so much to run a yoga studio, or any small business for that matter. It takes patience and perseverance. It takes sweat and tears. It takes LOTS of people to keep it going. I would like to thank my family, Dean, Rachel, and Trevor for their patience with me as I have tried to grow a small business that made no financial $ense whatsoever, but all the sense in the world, spiritually. I would like to thank all of the teachers who made our 10-year celebration possible, and this includes some that are no longer teaching at the studio, but nonetheless were part of its creation at some point.
Thank you, Patricia Jacobs for the love you give to your students and for the myriad things you do to keep the studio running: promotion, event organization, and so much more. We would not still be here without you. Patty does all that she does for the studio on top of a full time job and the care and nurturing of so many other people.
Thank you, Pat McKeon, Katie Brodie, Michael Kahn (www.michaelkahn.com) , Margaret Bodine, Anne Marie Lysle, Karen McKenica, Cybil Housh, Gwen Fancy, Sarah Martin, Tina Skinner, Mary Garrett, Katie Foltin, Cosmia Weinerth, Kate Simmons, Mitch Goldfarb, and Stacy Walker for your gifts of teaching and for all you do for the studio.
Thank you to Christine Yurick for her brilliance with studio promotion. For those of you who have not yet been to one of her many fundraisers for the studio in which she shares her love of healthful food and cooking, snag the opportunity when one comes up! Along with her many creative talents, she is an amazing yogini and cook.
All of these teachers go above and beyond. They clean; they do paperwork that needs done. They cheerlead, make flyers, offer workshops, do private lessons for Unite for HER (www.uniteforHER.org),present yoga at community events, AND they teach great yoga classes outside of the fact that almost all of them also have full time jobs. How fortunate we are to have them all at TLW.
Thank you to Susan Weldon, founder of Unite for HER, for what you have done and continue to do for so many people, and for trusting TLW to support that in so many ways.
Thank you to our amazing accountant, Michele Cyron (Cyron CPA) for numerous rescues.
Thank you to Sal Testa for renting us this lovely space. Thank you to the lovely family (Eddie, Jasmine, Dior, Chloe, Bella and Hannah) above our space for your patience with the sounds from below (AAAAAAUUUUUUUMMMMMMMM).
Thank you to A.G. and Indra Mohan for your recent inspiration and guidance and thank you to Therese Jornlin for the same. Thank you to the many amazing teachers I have been privileged to study with: A. G. and Indra Mohan, Richard Freeman, Tim Miller, Beryl Bender-Birch, David Swenson, Jon Kabat-Zinn, to name a few.
Thank you, Carol Murray, Erin McKeon, Kristen Moore, and Shannon Boyd for teaching with us at TLW in the past. Thank you, Seth Botkin for your brief teaching stint before moving and for your inspiration. Thank you, Robyn and Quinn Botkin for the same. We miss you all and wish you the best.
Lastly, thank you to all of the students who attend classes, teacher trainings and workshops and purchase the fair trade products we offer at the studio. Without this support, we cannot continue to operate, of course. We are delighted to continue to teach you and to learn from you.
In a blog I posted last year, I included a part of the research on Community that one of our former teachers, Seth Botkin (who now lives in Kauai) did for his 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training. I will end this post with it:
Yoga and Community Part I
Yoga is a state of consciousness in which mind, body, and spirit are unified.
Community can be defined as “a group of two or more people who, regardless of the diversity of their backgrounds, have been able to accept and transcend their differences. They are able to communicate openly and effectively; and to work together toward common goals, while having a sense of unusual safety with one another.” From http://fce-community.org/
One of the assignments that each yoga teacher in training at The Light Within Yoga Studio must complete in the process of his or her 200 hours of study is a yoga-related project to be shared with the group. In this year’s training, Seth Botkin offered a beautiful glimpse into the power of our humble little yoga community:
“Shortly after I started coming to the studio (The Light Within) I realized that there was a direct connection between yoga and the work that I have done over the last ten years or so in self-exploration in relation to community and community leadership. It is my core belief that it is through community and our relationship with others that we grow and thrive as individuals. Yet I have found a nearly inexplicable relationship between the work I have done around community and my newfound love of yoga. Yoga is allowing me to grow from the inside out and leading me to a new level of non-judgment of self and of others and a letting go of ego.”
Seth’s presentation brought tears to the eyes of all of us who were there to hear it. Thank you, Seth, for affirming what we all feel in our hearts when we practice together at TLW.
People come to this practice of yoga from diverse backgrounds and for a multitude of reasons. It is pure joy to witness and experience what we (the teachers and students) all create there: safe (and sacred) space for love and acceptance to grow within ourselves and each other.
Thank you to all of you who are a part of this commUNITY.
With love and light,
The sights, sounds, tastes, textures and smells of fall are all around us.
Taking a moment or two (or more if you can) to stop, breath and pay attention can dramatically increase your appreciation of all of these “gifts”.
I invite you to step outside, find a comfortable and safe spot to sit quietly and take five deep mindful and full breaths. As you are breathing, pay close attention to all of the beautiful colors around you. Soak them in, with a soft smile on your face. If time allows, continue your slow steady breathing and shift your attention to another sense. Perhaps you can focus on the sounds (leaves rustling, geese honking, wind blowing, etc). Continue this centering and slowing down experience for as long as you choose. When you finish, bring your hands together to your heart space, and finish with the sound of OM, or simply a thank you. I am certain that you will be glad that you gave yourself this little break, and encourage you to take more.
Our monthly Family Yoga Night is Friday, October 24, 6:30-7:30 pm. The fun filled hour will be all "treats" and no "tricks". We will be focusing on treating ourselves and each other with kindness and compassion. Other plans for the evening include having the children (and adults) create their own October inspired yoga poses. Perhaps we will breath and smile our way into spider, pumpkin, bat, and… who knows what else asanas. Yoga always helps to inspire our imaginations. :>) This summer, after a Family yoga event, a little girl told her mommy, “I wish I could start this day all over again so I could go to that yoga class again. Maybe I could grab the sun and pull it down!”. We sincerely hope that you and your family enjoy our classes as much!
Of course, this month’s Family Yoga class will also include relaxation and music. And all are invited to stay a bit later to enjoy apple cider and organic ginger snaps, afterwards. Hope to see you and your family there. No prior Yoga experience is needed and all are welcome. Simply come with an open heart and playful spirit.
As always, this class in "donation only" , meaning pay as you are able. Registrations online are very much appreciated, so that we may be best prepared to welcome you.
Patricia “Patty” Jacobs, RYT 200
After ten months of developing a consistent yoga practice, I'm starting to realize that:
a) I'm inclined to say things to people such as: "Yoga has changed my life!" and
b) Yoga hasn't actually changed my life.
Wait-- what's that?
Yes-- my life has in fact changed since I started practicing yoga on a regular basis, making it a true priority rather than something I do for a few days here and there with months of no yoga in between.
However, I need to be clear: It's not yoga that has changed my life-- it's me that has changed my life.
True, the change happened in great part due to the catalyst of my now-almost-daily practice.
But it wasn't "yoga" who did the actual changing.
Yoga allowed me the space and time on my mat to reflect what in my life needed changing, and the consistent repetition of my sometimes-rigorous practice helped me strengthen my mind and body to the point where I felt confident in-- and capable of-- my ability to make those changes.
At the end of the day, though, I myself had to make some hard choices about what to put into my body, and what thoughts I'd allow to linger in my mind.
I had to convince myself to go to sleep at what I'd previously have considered an unreasonable hour, in order to wake up at what I'd previously considered an unreasonable hour, in order to complete my practice before my day got hectic.
I had to will myself to follow through with projects I might otherwise have abandoned or not pursued in the first place; I had to catch myself before the act of speaking harshly towards people who annoy me.
And so on.
It wasn't "yoga" who did any of this things.
It wasn't "yoga" who made any of these choices and changes.
It was me.
Would I have made any of these choices or changes without yoga?
So, then, perhaps it would be most accurate for me to say: "Yoga has proved invaluable in assisting me to change my life."
Because yoga is not a person. It's a powerful tool.
Consider: just as the task of hammering a nail into a wall with my fist is a seemingly hopeless endeavor without an actual hammer (or something similar), the task of changing my life for the better without a consistent Mind-Body-Spirit practice probably isn't going to happen without my yoga.
But changing behaviors and thought patterns is not like making a cup of packaged instant soup-- "Add yoga and stir. Presto!"-- it's like making a fresh, homemade soup from scratch.
Even if you have all of the raw ingredients sitting on your countertop, you've got to do the chopping, the peeling, the seasoning, and so on.
If you want a bland, mediocre soup (at best), I guess you could just throw everything "as is" into the pot with some water and hope for the best.
Or-- you could put in the work and maybe come up with something delicious.
So, who actually does the work?
The knives? The pot? The vegetables?
The cook does the work, with the help of his/her (admittedly essential) tools.
So, yes-- I'm grateful for my new set of tools.
After ten months of developing a consistent yoga practice, I'm starting to realize that-- with the help of these tools-- I'm able to change my life.
(All it takes is practice.)
The thing about a summer camp staff orientation that lasts for ten days before the kids arrive is-- somewhere around day three-- you start to forget that the kids are actually coming. You get used to the rhythm of "summer camp for adults," and your mandatory participation in those hour-or-two here, hour-or-two there sessions on camp policy and procedures, etc. seems a small price to pay for what amounts to a free vacation in the Hudson Highlands with eighty of your new closest friends.
It was under the spell of this leisurely orientation that I came to perfect the "Art of the Perfect Morning," which involved waking up around 7 am, drinking a cup of green tea, and facilitating a "short form" Ashtanga yoga practice for my fellow co-staffers on the dock overlooking our forrest-framed lake.
Due to the range of experience amongst those who showed up at this early hour (and due to the fact that I wasn't actually hired to teach yoga at camp), I treated this morning practice as a somewhat-guided meditation, in which I was also a participant. If and when there were newbies present, I would walk them through the basics of a sequence (e.g. Sun Salutation A), demonstrate relevant modifications, and then invite them to follow along as I progressed through my own routine (while the yoga vets with their own practices either followed along or did their own thing). During the first few days, I would call out detailed instructions throughout the whole practice; as we began to gel as a group, I found that silence and breath did most of the "teaching."
Anyway, it was a pretty fabulous pre-breakfast ritual.
Did I mention that this was an environmental- and social justice-themed camp centered around an organic farm, with a kitchen staff that prepared three mostly-organic, made-from-scratch meals per day? Yes, we were living the good life, day after day after day.
Until-- one day--
Staff-as-Camper life came to an end.
And Staff-as-Staffer life changed everything.
Counselors-to-Be were suddenly Actual Counselors, and, as such, they were unable to get away from their bunks to meet on the dock before breakfast. (In fact, their workdays were already in full-swing.)
As I was part of a "special ops" Camper Care team tasked with resolving issues of campers having a tough time (for whatever reason, and there were many), I had a bit more flexibility (so to speak) in my mornings. I was still able to practice before my first meeting of the day (at 8:05 a.m.), although I had to relocate from the dock to the theater balcony (with a view of the lake), lest campers see me at the water's edge without a lifeguard present.
In any case-- somewhere between my first and seventh-consecutive, twelve-to-fourteen hour day-- I realized that my morning yoga practice was actually the glue that held my camp life together.
This job was unlike anything I'd ever done before.
Essentially, I was functioning as an "EMT of the spirit"-- and my days were filled with non-stop intensity involving frazzled counselors and staff, concerned parents, and, of course, all manner of disaffected campers who needed the right kind of attention (in exactly the right way at the right time) in order to get themselves back on track to happy camper-hood.
Turns out, this isn't the easiest thing in the world to accomplish.
Not with the campers, not with the parents, not with the counselors, not with the staff.
My entire job depended on my ability to remain calm in any situation, and to communicate clearly and effectively in conditions ranging from "a disturbance in the atmosphere" to "a whirlwind of chaos."
Any behavioral slip-up on my part would result in an escalation of situation, a breach of trust, or-- perhaps worst of all-- a lack of faith in my ability to get the job done.
It's a good thing I knew exactly what I had to do, and how (thanks to my teachers, of course):
I had to practice yoga on my mat each morning, and I had to practice yoga off of my mat, all day long.
All summer long.
And I did.
In fact, I received a great many compliments throughout the summer on my ability to perform this job with grace and skill, and people would come to me whenever they needed a calm person who could get a difficult job done.
Which always made me laugh a little on the inside and think: If only these people had seen me before yoga...
So, there you have it.
If I was an "EMT of the spirit" this summer, yoga was my CPR.
Thanks to my practice on and off the mat, we were all able to breathe a little easier at camp.
One of the reasons that Swami Rama's words jumped out to inspire the name of the studio was that when I was a young child, I loved the song "This Little Light of Mine". One Sunday many years ago, I requested that we sing it (again). In fairness to the Sunday school teacher, it was likely my 150th request. Her reply: "We are NOT taking song requests today, Alison!"
Truth be told, I am still that child in a bigger body and...I still love that song.
Thank you for singing it with me.
With great BIG LOVE and gratitude,
So I go to take a shower this morning, and there’s this bug in my tub.
It’s one of those long, gross, creepy-crawly things with a lot of long, gross legs– a fairly common occurrence in the Pennsylvania countryside.
[Note: these bugs are apparently so common that if you Google "bug in bathroom Pennsylvania long legs" you will see exactly what I'm talking about.]
I’ll be honest with you:
I’ve flushed a number of these bugs down the drain in my day.
I don’t know how they get into the house.
I don’t know how they get into the tub.
But I do know how they’re leaving: Water slide.
While it’s not exactly the same as crushing it to death my shoe-clad foot, I’m pretty sure the toilet or shower “water slide” is a one way ticket to the Great Bug Beyond.
Anyway, back to the shower.
This was the first one of these things that I’ve seen all year (according to the internet, they come out in the spring), and my immediate (conditioned) response (after the initial startle and sense of revulsion) was: Time for the water slide! Enjoy the ride, sucker!
But, for some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Maybe it was that chapter on “Ahimsa” (nonviolence) that I read in the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali last night for my teacher training homework.
Or maybe it was the sight of this pathetic creature desperately trying and failing to climb the steep bathtub wall, seemingly in order to avoid the hot shower stream– over and over and over again.
In any case, the Truth of the situation caught me off guard.
I am that frantic bug, driving myself crazy, trying to scale an unscalable wall.
I mean, look–
I don’t know how this fellow got into the tub in the first place, but I know that he can’t achieve whatever his purpose in life is, so long as he’s stuck in there.
How often have I been that fellow utterly stuck in the tub (so to speak), unable to accomplish my life’s purpose?
(Often enough to know that said situation sucks.)
Furthermore, who am I to cut another creature’s life short, simply because I don’t like the fact that it happened to find its way into the wrong tub?
The fact of the matter is, what this bug needed more than anything else at that moment was a friend– an actual ally who has the power to literally save him from a bad situation (i.e., the water slide, i.e. the worst situation).
Yes, what this bug needed was me.
And I have known what it feels like to need an ally in a time of panic and despair.
So, I scooped the crawly thing up in a Dixie cup and set him free on the back lawn, to do whatever it is that creepy crawlies are here to do.
(For all I know, their mission in life is to find their way back into the plumbing system.)
I also needed him.
To teach me a life lesson in the way only nature can.
Did I do the right thing?
I’d like to think so.
What if it had been a poisonous spider or scorpion?
Certainly, the question is valid and vexing.
Is it my duty to kill that which can hurt me, before it has the chance?
This is one of those profound questions that has challenged the minds of philosophers for millennia.
I just don’t know.
I’ll have to think about it in the shower.
Last week I was at a Passover Seder with a bunch of twentysomethings.
As we enjoyed a delicious and nutritious potluck meal, the topic of “getting older” came up.
Everyone agreed– we weren’t teenagers anymore.
Proper food, sleep, exercise, and stress reduction were big on everyone’s list of “stuff that matters.”
At a certain point, I casually mentioned that I’ve been experimenting with various diets, workout plans, mindfulness practices, etc. over the past twenty years or so, and– after a lot of trial and error– I’m feeling healthier than ever at “almost 38.”
This was, I must tell you, a conversation stopper.
“Wait…” said this one girl, after a lot of silence and staring. “You’re how old?”
“I’m turning 38 on July 1.”
Someone else chimed in: “I would have said 29, max.”
The original girl said: “I would have guessed 23.”
The guy sitting next to me actually reached over and– prodding my tricep with his index finger– confided to the rest of the group: “He’s real.”
While some variation of this conversation actually transpires fairly often when meeting people for the first time, only recently has it occurred to me to ask the following question in response (which I actually asked my dinner mates):
“What did you expect a 37-year-old to look like?”
* * *
We live in a society that worships youth and places an inordinate amount of importance/ judgement on how people “look.” Everyone (except an underage teenager trying to buy alcohol) wants to look younger.
Why don’t we just want to look the age that we actually are?
Anyway, whether or not people think I “look my age” is not the question.
The question is, why are people surprised when I tell them that I am the age that I am?
Why do they (inevitably) imagine that a 37-year-old should look “older” than I look?
* * *
I know that there are people in the world who experience something akin to “premature aging” due to any number of factors ranging from severe malnutrition to relentless stress to extreme exposure to the elements to excessive drug and alcohol abuse.
Not everyone has the luxury to “age gracefully.”
For those of us who do have the luxury to make “healthy” lifestyle choices (which is pretty much everyone who’s able to read these words on their electronic media device of choice), how we look is very much a product of how we act, and how we feel.
Now, you can say that I have “young genes,” or “a fast metabolism,” but I know for a fact that neither of these are the primary reason I look “younger” than my age.
Yeah, my metabolism was fast when I was 21 and I could eat anything I wanted and not gain weight.
These days, if I’m not careful with my food choices and diligent in my yoga practice and walking (the only two “fitness” practices I currently engage in), I will pack on fat around my middle like anyone else “my age.”
The fact of the matter is, though– I’ve cut my processed foods intake and my refined sugar intake by probably 80 – 90% of what it was a few years ago (when I also used to regularly lift weights at the gym, cycle, and swim laps), and my jeans fit looser now than they did then. (Incidentally, my skin is also clearer and my vital stats are all excellent for my age bracket.)
So, yes. I make it a priority to take care of myself in the ways I know I need to.
The other main reason that I look “younger than my age” is that I have, over the years, consistently refrained from casual consumption of intoxicating substances in their various forms.
Let’s be honest. Excessive alcohol, drugs, and the drug we call cigarettes will age you.
I look like a 37-year-old who treats himself the way that I treat myself– “Body as Temple of the Soul,” and all that mystical jazz.
* * *
But there’s still that other thing:
A person tends to look as old as they feel.
(I know there’s probably no hard science behind this statement, but I’m sticking with it.)
When I “feel” old and crappy, I tend to look that way, also.
The girl at the Seder table who would have guessed that I was 23 offered the following justification for her reasoning: “You just seem so… youthful!”
And, to be fair to my peers, maybe that’s because I’m not a “responsible adult” with a mortgage and a high-pressure job and a newborn and/or a kid or three running around the house, etc., etc.
But there’s something to be said for the fact that I refuse to consider myself “old.”
Not that I consider myself “young,” either.
I consider myself my age– and my experience.
I might look 23 or 29, but I feel 37.
And to be honest with you– I feel better at 37 than I did at 23 or 29, when I might have still been in pretty good physical condition, but a mess inside of my head.
Yeah, it might be nice to actually be those ages again with the hard-won wisdom that I’ve acquired in the past decade or so– but that sort of thinking comes from a place of feeling “old and regretful,” and I try not to go there if I can help it.
Truth is, 47-year-old Evan is probably gonna look back with another decade of wisdom and shake his head at the “naive youngster” writing these words.
Who knows, maybe he’ll be sitting around the Seder table and people won’t be able to get over the fact that he’s not 37, as they might have guessed.
* * *
Look, all I know is, I’m way closer to 40 now than I am to 20– and that potentially has the power to mess with my head a bit.
I don’t feel like someone on the cusp of “middle age” (whatever the heck that’s supposed to feel like), but I also don’t feel like a kid anymore.
I’ve reached the point where I’m starting to realize that it wouldn’t be such a horrible thing if adulthood started to catch up with me a bit; I kinda would like to meet “that special someone” already, and, well– if not exactly “settle down”– then “go steady” and adventure together with an eye towards marriage.
I’d also like to have kids one day, but (looking at my almost-mid-life bank account) I get the feeling that they’re not going to grow up with the same creature comforts that I grew up with in late 20th century suburban America. (Though, I have to say, I’m pretty much OK with that.)
* * *
You want to know something funny?
This wasn’t at all what I planned to write about when I started writing this post.
(I was going to write about yoga.)
I guess I ended up writing what I needed to write.
Come to think of it, though--
It's all yoga, isn't it?
As I discussed in my last post, I didn't intend to enroll in Yoga Teacher Training at The Light Within Studio.
In my mind, I'd always imagined myself in one of those 30 day intensives on a mountaintop overlooking the ocean in Costa Rica or Hawaii-- sun-kissed and blissed out-- far, far away from Southeastern Pennsylvania.
And yet-- here I saw a challenge.
Anyone could claim enlightenment after 30 straight days of yoga in a tropical paradise.
But what about here, in regular old, freezing cold Pennsylvania?
How would the freshly-minted yoga teacher-- fresh out of the retreat setting-- fare in less-than-tropical, everyday life back in the "real" world?
Knowing myself, I had to admit:
I probably couldn't handle the shock.
Certainly not after a mere month of yoga. (After ten years, maybe.)
On the other hand-- if I were somehow able to survive six months of winter while growing on the yogic path-- well-- after that, I could probably handle anything.
And so I decided to put this theory to the test.
I would enroll in the teacher training at The Light Within, and forge a hardier character in the crucible of focused yoga over the course of many more months than I'd initially wanted to spend "in training."
As it turned out, I was right about one thing:
Pennsylvania is not a tropical paradise.
This past winter was especially brutal (for me, at least), and I spent much of it in total isolation from my friends in other places or any sort of social scene.
During the first few months of training, I wasn't sure I'd make it.
Because I was living at home (again, a less-than-ideal challenge) and, shall we say, seriously underemployed (the challenge on top of ever other challenge), I found myself struggling with profound anxiety and depression-- exactly the things I'd been hoping to eradicate (or at least circumvent) with my yoga practice.
I admit, there was a certain irony in my mother having to almost literally drag me out of bed in order to make it to the studio-- an hour away-- first thing in the morning-- usually two or three times a week (that is, when we weren't snowed in. Which was often.)
I'll never forget those long drives to West Grove-- my mom, impossibly chipper and full of energy; me, hating the world and my own spinelessness for having chosen Pennsylvania over Hawaii.
Of course, everything would change once I finally got on the mat.
For the hour and a half that I'd spend on the mat-- even if my mind was racing-- my body found some sort of peace in conscious moment.
On the days when we take two classes, back to back, I'd often reach a certain state of awareness in precisely what I physically could and couldn't handle that day. There was precious little room for spacing out-- not paying attention to my body's signals would likely result in injury (as it had so often in the past).
Eventually-- after, say, month three-- I found myself getting stronger; not hating the ride to West Grove quite so much. I was looking and feeling healthier-- -planning once again for the future-- starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel where I might one day actually become a teacher of this practice to other people who might be going through what I'd been going through-- or worse.
And then, one day (I don't recall exactly when, but probably four or so months into the program), it occurred to me:
I have a yoga practice.
And my life is better with it, than without it.
Where would I be now, had I gone to the 30 day intensive in Paradise?
Would my practice have "stuck"? Would a month have been long enough to forge a certain stick-to-itiveness in the face of persistent challenges in a sub-zero climate?
I don't know.
All I can say is:
I'm glad I stayed in Pennsylvania.
(True, I did take a ten-day-long trip to Hawaii, in order to attend the Wanderlust "Yoga, Music, and Surfing" Festival in February, but that's a different story.)
And now that my teacher training is coming to an end, I see that my yoga journey is only truly just beginning.
For years I associated these words with my mother’s forefinger jabbing the center of my back. It didn’t feel like affection. Or a friendly reminder. It felt like a critique of my appearance, and one I stubbornly refused to acknowledge.
“I have more important things to think about than my posture,” I thought. In fact, I think I may have actually said those words out loud to a few friends over the years when complaining about my mother’s “encouragement,” which extended long beyond my awkward teen years when I lived in her home. The admonition was repeated well into my thirties when I’d visit.
It’s so ironic now, as a yoga teacher, to find myself repeating, over and over again in each yoga session, directives like, “roll your shoulders back and down” and “encourage your shoulder blades toward each other.” And if I could, I’d help my students wipe away all those other “more important, intellectual thoughts” and think of nothing else but their shoulders.
Why? Besides a better physical appearance, why worry our pretty little (or great big) heads about shoulder placement? Why do yogis sit so erect? What’s the point? It’s a really important point, actually. So I have to start filling my yogi and yoginis' heads with all the reasons why they should focus on those shoulders. I need them to see that it makes sense.
It seems funny, at first, to mimic the stereotypes of ramrod-straight yogis sitting cross-legged, hands extended past knees with forefingers touching thumbs in peace-sign gestures. It’s a hippy archetype, right? An artifice of peace copped from an ancient mystical culture.
What was up with that culture? The yogis who invented this posture had no modern science, no scalpels, X-rays, or ultra-sound imaging to tell them what was best for human health. They got all their information from sitting like this and paying attention. What they deduced was that the human body is a vessel that conducts energy. It has a massive channel of energy that runs from the crown of head to the root of the spine, complemented by side channels and swirling vortexes. Pretty far out and cool, if you’re a hippy.
If you are a member of Western society, what relevance does this have in your life? Well, think central nervous system. We know that our hollow spine is a conduit for a huge cable of nerves that run from our brains to our tailbone, with a network of smaller nerves throughout the body, funneling information to this central telephone line. It wasn’t until the late 18th century that scientists discovered electricity (qi, or prana) and realized that nerves weren’t hollow tubes but rather acted as electrical conduits. Increasingly sophisticated technology is helping to unravel the mysterious complexity of nerves and neurons in our brains and bodies. This work is watched closely by the meditation community, which applauds the “proof” with what the ancient sages discovered by sitting quietly, ramrod straight.
So back to why “ramrod straight.” There are three reasons, I tell my students:
For one, it only makes sense. Water flows faster through a straight hose. It’s important to maintain strength and straightness in the spine so the precious conduit remains clear, strong, and healthy for the central nerves.
Two, when the back is straight, when the shoulders are back and down, it opens the chest. The chest is home to essential organs that don’t like to be cramped, especially the lungs. An open chest allows us to fill the lungs fully with air. Why use our full capacity for air? Well, energy is fire, and it takes oxygen to make that combustion take place. Full inhalations equal more energy. Full exhalations expel the resultant waste, or carbon dioxide and pollutants. Keeping our chest open maintains our capacity for creating maximum energy.
Finally, even though we all tend to slump over the dinner table, hunch over our desk, and grip the steering wheel, we can consciously undo the damage these tendencies have to weaken our spine and diminish our breathing capacity. We can consciously remember to put those shoulders back and breathe deeply. And we can notice right away that we feel better! That our energy level rises. We can be “conscious” of this effect, and consciousness is the ultimate goal of our practice.
My mother is a sweet person who meant her reminder in the best spirit. Sadly, she never had a loving guru to teach her in the gentle ways of Eastern traditions, so she could only share her wisdom as she learned it, in a chin up, “A-TTEN-TION” culture that values toughness and militant discipline.
I am so lucky to have had teachers on the mat, who were trained in a tradition of loving kindness passed down for centuries from nations considered entirely foreign to our own. We yogis will help spread kind words, encourage deeper breathing, and watch in amusement as science works to “discover” the magic that unfolds as we assume an “easy pose.” We’re not 1960s burnouts, we are the ones lighting the fire, Shoulders back, chests proudly thrust forward. And, incidentally, we look great!
Tina Skinner, RYT-200, will offer a yoga/meditation class on Tuesday, May 6th at 7:30 p.m. Regular class fees apply.
Yoga for Anger & Frustration
By Alison Donley
Anger and frustration are emotions that most of us deal with in our lives. They may even seem to be inevitable side effects of the human condition. Throughout history, philosophers and theologians have speculated about the dilemma of the “human condition.” An interestingly painful, yet comical, definition of this term comes from Elizabeth Gilbert in her book, Eat, Pray, Love. Ms. Gilbert refers to the human condition as “the heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment.”
The late author, mystic, philosopher, and clergyman Alan Watts spoke about the human condition in the following quote:
“Under these circumstances, the life that we live is a contradiction and a conflict. Because consciousness must involve both pleasure and pain, to strive for pleasure to the exclusion of pain is, in effect, to strive for the loss of consciousness.”
As Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer in the field of mind/body medicine, so thoughtfully observed in his book titled, Full Catastrophe Living, life is made up of the good and the bad. The lovely and the not-so-lovely. The joyful and the dreadful. The “stuff” of life. How we choose to react to our circumstances will indeed either create or destroy our opportunity for inner peace.
A daily yoga or mindfulness-based practice of any sort can be an amazing way to navigate these fluctuations in our lives with clarity and compassion. Through the lens of yogic philosophy, anger is energy. Frustration is energy. The intensity of these emotions will vary immensely depending on the circumstances. Even a weed trying to push through the concrete possesses the anger-like energy needed to fulfill its destiny…to reach the light.
While there are probably hundreds of articles about how yoga can help, please keep in mind that not all breathing exercises and yoga postures may be appropriate for you. Below is 3-step fury-tamer to try the next time you find yourself letting your anger get the best of you:
1. Close your eyes (if you can do so safely) or find something pleasant to gaze at.
2. Smile softly. It is hard to feel angry with a smile on your face. Don’t want to smile? Fake it for a few minutes. You can do it!
3. Make a fist with each hand as you inhale deeply. On the exhale, feel your muscles relax as your hands begin to open. Continue closing hands with each inhale and opening your hands with each exhale. Take 5-10 slow, mindful breaths in this manner. Feel the breath as pure sensation by focusing your awareness where you most easily feel your breath-the nostrils or the belly. Let inner tension go with each opening of your hand.
“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralyzed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds' wings.” ~Rumi
Going With the Flow
by Evan Joblin
Just over five months ago, I decided to enroll in a six-month-long Yoga Teacher Training at The Light Within Studio, in West Grove, Pennsylvania.
This was not planned.
First of all, I don't live in West Grove, Pennsylvania.
In fact, I don't even live near West Grove, Pennsylvania.
And-- at least in my mind-- I don't even live near Pennsylvania.
Having technically set up residence in Israel the year before, I was merely "passing through" after working a summer camp job in New York State and somehow failing to return to the Middle East (or anywhere else) at the conclusion of the summer.
For reasons unknown to anyone but my subconscious mind, I ended up settling into an "extended visit" with my family in Birchrunville, PA (about 35 miles northeast of the studio), as I literally could not figure out what I wanted to do (or what I should do) next.
To be fair, this was neither the first time I'd had trouble making an important life decision, nor was it the first time I'd considered enrolling in a yoga teacher training.
But the idea of staying in Pennsylvania, far from any social scene in Philadelphia-- and commuting almost an hour each way for weekly classes and once- or twice-monthly, intensive training weekends-- never even crossed my mind.
That is, until I came to attend an open house at The Light Within with my mother, who had (seemingly randomly) discovered the studio from a listing in the phone book, taken an immediate liking to owner/lead teacher Alison Donley, and enrolled in the teacher training, herself.
When my mom first asked me if I wanted to go with her to the open house, I politely declined.
I'm not going to be around here much longer, anyway, I figured, So what's the point?
When the day came, however, I felt bad about my mom having to drive an hour each way by herself, just to watch other people do yoga.
So I agreed to join her, and in the car marveled at what seemed like an endless ride even further out into the middle of nowhere than where my parents actually lived.
Little did I know, we were heading to the heart of "The Mushroom Capital of the World." (Had I known, I probably wouldn't have been so alarmed by that unidentifiable yet nevertheless troubling smell in the air.)
The good news was (upon finally reaching the studio), there were snacks. Some health-conscious options, like fruit and raw veggie, but also-- more importantly-- homemade cookies. (When I get nervous, my sugar-craving reflex automatically assumes leadership over all other brain functioning.)
And why shouldn't I be nervous? I'm about to spend the next few hours (otherwise, why make the trip) attempting to make small-talk with a bunch of people who I don't know, but who all (in this small town) most likely know each other. And who all-- unlike me-- are dressed for yoga.
But this was now my mom's yoga studio of choice, and I figured it would be better to smile and try than to sit in the corner by myself with an ample stack of homemade cookies.
As it turned out, we had arrived just in time to watch an "Ashtanga Yoga" demonstration as "performed" by current students under the instruction of a teacher named Shannon. This was, we we told, merely a "taste" of what a full Ashtanga practice would look like.
And so I hunkered down in a chair along the perimeter of the (admittedly pleasant) yoga room, wondering (in my head) why I hadn't just saved myself the two hour round trip and practiced in my bedroom with my favorite Baron Baptiste DVD, instead.
Just a few minutes into the demonstration, however, I had to admit (in my head): this is some serious yoga.
Before now, I thought I knew what "Ashtanga" meant, because-- having spent the past ten or so years as a perpetual beginner with an on again, off again "vinyasa flow" practice-- I was no stranger to repetitive sun salutations and copious upward dog/downward dogs situated between other (and, if I'm being honest) more enjoyable poses.
I was so familiar with this "flowing" athletic style of yoga, in fact, that my wrists had suffered a great deal over the years from overuse injuries, undoubted from pushing too hard in order to keep up with the other Type-A overachievers in class.
Though, whereas I had come to equate sun salutations (and, specifically, my nemesis, the downward-facing dog) with struggle and pain, what I was witnessing in this Ashtanga demonstration flat-out astounded me.
Everyone appeared to be utterly focused and calm-- breathing in, breathing out-- while somehow simultaneously managing to perform a series of graceful, gravity-defying feats which I was certain required the strength of a well-trained gymnast. (Later, I would learn this is called "floating." Back in the comfort of my own bedroom, I would discover that "floating" with the grace of Shannon's students is much, much harder than it looks. "Flailing"/ "floundering"-- not so hard.)
In any case, during that Ashtanga demonstration, I soon found myself completely under the spell of Shannon's hypnotic instruction and her students' profound dedication to and solidarity in the practice.
And yet-- as I continued to watch them-- I could tell that all of these students were not all practicing at the same "level." While each one certainly seemed to "flow" with the instructions given, some people seemed to mirror Shannon's postures perfectly, while other people were clearly performing modifications that seemed appropriate to their body type, flexibility, and physical strength. Others seemed to know when to leave out a particular movement in the sequence, or take rest when they needed it. Whereas everyone may have appeared to the casual observer to be on the same page, after a while I could tell that each student was truly working through his or her own custom-tailored practice.
By the time the students were a sweaty mess of glistening bodies lying motionless on the floor in savansa (corpse pose), I knew I had just witnessed something special and unexpected-- something that, try as I may, I couldn't ignore.
In the brief moment of meditation that preceded Shannon's bringing the class to a close, I considered my own somewhat-less-than-optimally-
While my historical tendency had always been to run as far from Pennsylvania as possible in my perpetual quest for enlightenment, it occurred to me that perhaps the Universe was offering me an intriguing challenge.
Instead of running...
Study and practice yoga with these folks in West Grove?
Five months of yoga teacher training later, I think I'm almost ready to answer that question...
TO BE CONTINUED
[Note to the Reader: This post falls into the category of "Middle of the Night, Stream-of-Consciousness Ramblings." You have been warned.]. By Evan Joblin, Yoga Teacher in training
Back in 1991– while traveling from New York to California and back with 40 other high school kids on a bus as part of this (in retrospect) ridiculous thing called a “Teen Tour”– I happened to randomly meet my (at the time) absolute rock n’ roll hero Axl Rose (of Guns N’ Roses, in case you honestly didn’t know) at the checkout counter in the Hammacher Schlemmer store on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.
(Aside from his trademark red hair, his G N’R cross tattoo and “AXL”-branded high top sneakers gave him away.)
Starstruck though I was, I managed to strike up a conversation with Mr. Rose and ask him (no joke) why G N’R kept pushing back the release date of their allegedly epic new double album (Use Your Illusion I and II, for those who remember).
That sort of foolishness (i.e. delaying a long-awaited album) was causing die-hard fans such as myself to do inexplicable things, like buying a Skid Row t-shirt instead of a Guns N’ Roses t-shirt at Pier 39 in San Francisco the day before.
Yes, like the very one I happened to be wearing at that very moment, and which– in a moment of sheer awkwardness rivaled only by (now that I think of it) pretty much every other moment of my teenage years and well beyond– I asked the lead singer of Guns N’ Roses to autograph.
There he was– the singer of literally the biggest rock band in the ENTIRE WORLD– signing another band’s t-shirt.
All because of me.
All right, here’s the deal.
Last week I uploaded a bunch of pictures from my recent Hawaii trip onto my Facebook page (not sure why I haven’t posted anything here yet, but, whatever).
Hey, check out this awesome segue!
(Oh, man. That could have come two lines earlier. Oh well. Not breaking the flow to change it.)
So, I uploaded all of these photos, but I purposely left one out.
[Ed. Note: Unexpected return to previous storyline to follow.]
See, after the Axl Rose incident, I returned to boring old Pennsylvania and vowed to move to Los Angeles– where all my famous heroes lived– where I belonged.
Because one day I would be one of them, and some awkward high school kid from the middle of Nowhere Important would be asking me for my autograph.
(By the way, I even bought this absurdly oversized UCLA sweatshirt immediately after meeting Axl Rose to remind me of my goal– which it did– every single, horrible, winter day for the next two years.)
Well, I didn’t end up in L.A. right after high school. I ended up in NYC, where I interned for massive entertainment industry companies (Columbia Records, MTV) and famous people were, I guess, more routine than I’d expected.
The winter weather still sucked in NYC, however, and so I did end up moving to Los Angeles in 1995, after I was accepted into the Film Production program at USC.
[Note: I've written extensively about all of this in The Memoir Series, in case you care.]
Needless to say, I continued interning for big entertainment industry companies (e.g. Columbia Pictures), and by 1999 I scored a paying gig at Carsey-Werner Television, where I saw famous people every day.
Why am I telling you all of this?
Because– after four years of living in Los Angeles and the almost fourteen years that have elapsed since I chose to abandon my Hollywood dreams in the summer of 2000 (another long story that you can find in the memoir series)– I haven’t experienced anything remotely close to that feeling of awe in the presence of true celebrity that I felt when I met Axl Rose in the summer of 1991.
And I say this having worked on a film in 1998 with George Clooney and Jennifer Aniston.
(OK, I take it back. I had a conversation in an elevator on the set with Jennifer Aniston. I was slightly flustered.)
Until two weeks ago.
(I’m talking about experiencing that feeling of awe– not being in a continual state of flusterment since 1998. Sorry if it’s hard to keep up. It’s really late, I’m really tired, and you wouldn’t care if it were Kerouac.)
See, in Hawaii, two weeks ago– over two decades after randomly meeting my rock god in a retail store– I (quasi-randomly) walked past my yoga hero (heroine?) in a hotel hallway.
I mean, I knew she was going to be teaching at Wanderlust. That’s half the reason I went to Hawaii. (The other half should be self-explanatory.)
But I was still caught off guard.
Anyway, it was like one of those slow-motion Matrix moments.
We made eye contact.
For like an hour.
(I don’t know, it was Matrix time. Hard to tell.)
She kept walking.
(Because, really, why wouldn’t she?)
I had to sit down.
(Not in the middle of the hallway. I went outside first.)
You probably don’t get it.
I’m talking about Seane Corn.
(Just Google her, in case you don’t know.)
I’m not the same person that I was in 1991.
(Thank God, contact lenses, and more kale than you can possibly imagine.)
Though I do occasionally find myself rocking out to Appetite for Destruction (which, I maintain, is one of the non-negotiable, top five albums ever recorded– you can argue about the other four and their rankings, but “Appetite” will always remain in the mix), I can’t quite imagine what would have happened had I modeled my own life after Axl Rose and the hair metal scene on the Sunset Strip.
See, back in those hard-rockin’ days, Seane Corn (who’s ten years old than me) had also just moved from New York to L.A.– where she ultimately fell in with a different crowd.
From what I gather online, we probably discovered yoga within a few years of each other– though she apparently took it seriously while I completely ignored it.
Over the years, she would go on to become not just an internationally renowned yoga teacher, but one of the greatest and most admired global social justice activists in the yoga world today.
And I– while many of my friends would go on to forge respectable careers in Hollywood (or in any number of other fields)– well– I would go on to become… um… me.
(i.e. Someone who just doesn’t translate on a resumé.)
So, here our paths cross at the Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore of O’ahu.
I’m literally shaking with excitement, because Seane Corn is 37-year-old-Evan’s Axl Rose.
(I know, it’s turning into a long story– bear with me–)
And then I take class with her.
And I realize that I’ve somehow underestimated how amazing this person actually is.
Forget Guns N’ Roses.
Seane Corn is a rock star.
She travels all around the world, inspiring people to live heroic lives.
She’s not afraid to be herself– to dream and achieve the impossible– and she’s not afraid to put herself in the vulnerable position of speaking her truth and helping other people to do the same.
(Or, if she is afraid, she doesn’t let that stop her.)
I’m still maybe just a little starstruck.
And I’m still maybe just finally realizing that– three weeks from now– I will be participating in a week-long yoga activism and leadership training with Seane Corn and her Off the Mat, Into the World organization in Seattle.
(Yeah, I applied and received a scholarship. Before I actually went to Hawaii. Oh, did I not mention that part earlier? You can’t trust me to be linear at 2 am.)
After the first (utterly superb) class I took with her, I decided it was time to say hello.
So I stood in line with a handful of the two hundred other people who had just taken the class, and when it was my turn, I introduced myself, and thanked her for not just this class, but for being such an inspiration to me over the past several years… and I told her that I’d actually be training with her in Seattle… and she told me that it was going to be awesome… and challenging… and it’s so great that I’m doing it, because they need more guys to get involved… and then I asked the person behind me if they wouldn’t mind taking a picture of us.
[Because everyone else in line was doing it, and because it was better than asking her to sign my Ana Forrest t-shirt. (Note: that was a yoga joke. I don't actually have an Ana Forrest t-shirt.]
Here’s the picture.
What can I tell you?
I didn’t grow up to become a rock star, like I thought I would.
(Hell, I didn’t even grow up to become a grown up, like I thought I would.)
Everything’s all taking a lot longer than I thought it would.
And playing out in ways that I never could have possibly imagined as a seventeen year old dreaming of Los Angeles, with visions of Hollywood fame and fortune.
(And playing out in ways that I never could have possibly imagined as a twenty-seven year old, Orthodox yeshiva student in Jerusalem… but that’s a whole different story.)
Nevertheless– at thirty-seven years of age–
The journey continues.
And it’s only just beginning.
Today my Dad would be 96. He died in 1996 and I miss him every day. He was such a positive force in the world, and taught by example...so many yogic lessons.
~He treated negativity with positivity. When myself or one of my siblings would say anything unkind about another person, his response would be along the lines of: "Oh, but he (or she) always speaks so well of you!" Or..."that is a shame sweetie, because I know she (or he) really likes you!" or... "but he is SO nice to his mother!" What a great example of how to live! Thank you, Dad.
~He worked hard. In high school he took a 3rd part time job (during the depression) to help his sister, Lucile, buy a prom dress. Occasionally he would eat saltines mashed up with milk or water to remind him of the times when that was all there was to eat. He taught himself 3 languages and read the Dictionary regularly to find new words. This would haunt me and my siblings in High School as pronunciation and enunciation were of utmost importance. He could often be heard telling us,"You will do what you will to do". Thank you, Dad.
~He served our country as a Captain in WWII. I broke his heart when I chose not to take the final step ( a physical that I would have passed) to go to West Point in 1979. He handled the disappointment with incredible grace, allowing me to find my own Path. Thank you, Dad.
~He made sure to thank the people in his life who made a difference. During the last few months of his life, my siblings and I helped him construct many letters of gratitude, call people he needed to speak to, and visit (or be visited by) countless friends who admired him.
~He almost died many times: Severe burns from falling in scalding water as a toddler, malaria (2 times), a quadruple bypass, and a fall from a horse that broke 7 ribs, and...stomach cancer that metastasized...everywhere. I do not remember hearing him complain. When his pain was too intense during his final battle (cancer), he had enough pride to ask for help with his physical pain, AND his emotional pain. What a great example of how to let go. Thank you, Dad.
Happy Birthday, Dad. I love and miss you and strive to live in a way that would make you happy and proud.