A little Yogi or a Yogi with a crush – too soon to tell!

Can I get off now?
Can I get off now?

Sometimes when I get excited about something on Zach’s behalf I wait for the first shoe to drop. And that’s where I am now – excited, anxious, and scared I’m going to jinx it.

You see I have been taking Zach to a children’s class at my yoga place for the last month and it has been a really lovely experience . . .so far. I am as nervous writing this as I am every time we go there – I wasn’t sure if he would stay in the room, much less participate. But, as I am loathe to say, and helpless to stop myself, “so far, so good.”

I can be a tad superstitious in these situations – when things are going well in our part of Schmolland, I am looking to get schmutzed. I’m like those athletes who won’t wash their uniform during a winning streak, or those players who don’t shave until after the playoffs. Once, during a family dinner outing, Zach accidentally gobbled up an entire calamari appetizer he had mistaken for chicken nuggets. The next day at school he was so remarkably agreeable and his eye contact so impressive that his teacher called us at home. We fed Zach a lot of calamari after that with never quite the same results.

It was the same way with horseback riding therapy. After the first few weeks it was going so well I was ready to buy Zach a horse farm. It’s not that he didn’t get a lot out of it – he did, but it was not the “door opening” kind of experience I had hoped it would be. That’s the thing about hope – it has fangs. It’s best to let it sniff the back of your hand with a closed fist, before you get too close to it.

The yoga place I go to is beautiful – family-owned and very welcoming (www.elementsyogaspa.com). I am always happy to be there and blessed with bliss when I leave. So, naturally I was hoping for Zach to get a little of that experience as well.

The class, “Sweet Beat and Happy Feet” combines yoga, dance, music and Simon Says. It is geared for kids who are “chronologically” much younger than Zach, but developmentally, it’s exactly his speed. (As that cool tortoise says, slow and steady wins the race) While he loves the poses and getting to wear a jingly scarf around his waist for the dance moves, his favorite part seems to be Simon Says. He will even take a turn leading the class but will only whisper to me what he wishes the other children to do. Tonight he “asked” the other kids to be “Darth Vader.” He started them off with dark-side mask breathing noises which evolved into light saber noises and then he tossed in a few movie lines under his breath. I hope this is just him warming up.

For the Z man, this is pretty unusual behavior – this quiet stuff. Typically, Zach is a very noisy boy with no inside voice who likes to repeat a great many things – we used to lovingly call him “echo-centric.” Equally unusual is how cooperative he is when we get there – helping set up the mats and props for the class (he won’t hang his backpack up for me at home!). Zach has also been completely compliant with any work we do in front of the mirrored walls – which is not so unusual since he is his biggest fan. The drawback there is getting Narcissus to break his gaze when changing activities or poses. With some prompting it was a bit better tonight. And he only used the restroom once during this week’s class (he loves public restrooms!).

When we were finished with class and gathering up our mats and shoes I really tried to get him to talk, say thank you, anything, but he wasn’t going for it. Then on the drive home I asked him if he liked going to the class . . .once . . .twice. . . third time’s a charm . . . I eventually got a grumpy “yeeesss”. Then I said, “What do you think of the teacher? Isn’t Amaris nice?” He looked out the window for a couple of beats and turned to me and said “She’s beautiful.”

For the first time in a while, I was the one who was speechless! I don’t know if this means he likes the class or that he’s got a sweet spot for this wonderful woman who has been kind enough to try drawing him out the last few weeks, but I don’t care. That was the most spontaneous thing I’ve heard him utter in months and I even got some nice eye contact.

So, I am adding this to my gratitude journal for today and hoping for some more gentle time with my little yogi tomorrow – and quietly, carefully, fingers crossed, I am keeping my eye on the tiny creaking of the door – perhaps I will get another glimpse inside . . . . and just for the heck of it, I may celebrate our tiny triumph with a little calamari. Stay tuned . . .


Oy vay, solemn meditation cracks me up – no wonder I can’t keep a straight face at funerals

Yogi Ramesh
Yogi Ramesh
I am one of those people who laughs at funerals – well, not at the funeral per say, but during the funeral. Inappropriate laughing has plagued me my entire life – I seem to lack what my 83-year-old mother calls “decorum.”

Recently though, I have come to find out that all of my cracking up may have been keeping me from cracking up – what a relief to know I’ve been keeping myself emotionally healthy all these years without my knowledge.

It started about a month ago when I was experimenting with a new kind of meditation (new to me that is), called Tratak. In Tratak meditation you use steady eye gazing – you sit in front of a candle and focus on the flame, then you close your eyes and concentrate on holding that image of the candle flame in your head. The toughest part ( I thought) was not blinking. You stare until your eyes start to water then you close them again visualizing the object in your mind’s eye. The practice is designed to put the brakes on your wandering mind and focus your attention so that wherever the eyes go, the mind follows.

With your gaze fixed on a single point, your mind is supposed to become “one pointed” as well. My mind isn’t the sharpest, so I was pretty gung-ho to give this a try. I even went shopping for some special candles to fit in this small brass candlestick my husband had gotten me on a trip to Bahrain.

The only candles I could find that would fit my petite candlestick were some leftover Chanukah candles on sale at Bed, Bath and Beyond – 36 candles for $9.99 was too good a deal to pass up. Plus they were all different colors and I thought, ever the multi-tasker, that I could get in some bonus work on my charkas at the same time. You know how well multi-tasking and meditation go together – like beer and chocolate!

So, I set my alarm extra early for my first try at this – I was up at 6 a.m. before the rest of the house was awake. I was so psyched to get started and set myself up on the floor on a comfy pillow with my candle on an ottoman, at eye level, per the Tantrak guidelines I had read. While opening the “Rite Lites” Chanukah box I had a silent chuckle over the irony of placing a candle intended for Jews to celebrate regaining control over Jerusalem into a candlestick that was more than likely made by Muslim hands. But, remembering that these were candles intended for a reflective purpose, I returned soberly to my task and lit the candle.

Now, being a firm believer in not taking myself too seriously at any time (even funerals) I was already quite proud of myself for my decorum – I was hell bent on doing this right. Three minutes into staring at the candle flame I started to feel like I was going cross-eyed. I then began picturing this in my mind’s eye instead and my decorum started to unravel. Instead of finding a sharper focus and a centered inner calm I was seeing images of the wacky-eyed comedian Marty Feldman in my head and wondering if his eyes got that way from meditating. I was laughing out loud now and decided it was time to put the candles away for another day and work on getting my four munchkins off to school. After pairing up socks out of the dryer, finding my eldest son’s misplaced German textbook and retrieving the intact half of a poptart the dog had stolen from my 3-year-old, I was still in a great mood, which was odd. I decided my early morning self-improvement exercise wasn’t a total wash. Just an hour or two later, with the boys out the door and all creatures great and small properly fed and watered, I sat down to the computer. I googled “inner peace” and ” laughing” to see what I would find. And what I found was a whom, rather than a what – Mahatma Anand Guru Yogi Ramesh – The Laughing Yogi. He’s been teaching for more than 40 years and has a temple in Los Angeles, California. His website is http://www.universalyoga.org/.

From that sight I linked to a You Tube clip of him practicing his craft – I was busting a gut before the clip was even finished! The world of Yoga never ceases to delight and amaze me and it gave me “that feeling.” Now, I wouldn’t call it an “aha” feeling exactly, but more of a pinch on the buttocks from the warm hand of synchronicity. I had no idea I could giggle my way to wholeness or guffaw myself to serenity. Just the absurdity of it made me laugh some more!

I proceeded to spend a few mindful hours (not mindless, mind you) web surfing this new territory – the healthy benefits of hilarity and yoga.

I’m still amazed and amused by my discovery! One of the places I bookmarked is the Laughter Yoga International website, http://www.laughteryoga.org/ where I was able to find a bit of history about laughing yoga. An Indian doctor by the name of Dr. Madan Kataria decided back in the 50s to get some students together at a park and test a theory of his he dubbed “laughter theory.” They tried jokes at first and then moved on to chants of HO HO HO and HA HA HA and not surprisingly found that real laughter ensued. He also mixed in a little breathing and stretching.

Now, more than 50 years later, “laughter clubs” are cropping up all over the place . . .well all over California anyhow – none in Virginia. After some more digging though, I came upon the Centre In Favour Of Laughter in Duivendrecht, the Netherlands and found actual instructions on “laughter meditation.”

You can check out the specifics at their website:  http://www.universal-tao.com/article/laughter.html . You’ll have to overlook a lot of the spelling and grammar since the translation into English gets a bit sloppy. 

To get started they recommend 5 minutes of stretching, followed by 5 minutes of laughing (and or crying) and ending with 5 minutes of silence. I decided to modify this by trying it out in the car – seriously! Trying to stretch in the car is a pretty funny task all by itself (my only relevant experience in this arena was in the backseat of cars 😉 ) but you can do some neck and arm stretches. Then just start the HO, HO, HOs – I like to picture myself as a Santa in the off season trying to stay in shape.

Then move into the HA, HA, HAs – after a few stop lights, there will be enough strangers staring at you, and then these HA, HAs should become fairly authentic. I find it helpful to have a three-year-old in the backseat – My little Colin is very supportive of Mommy and will imitate just about anything I do. With his help, he and I are laughing ourselves centered all over town!

I don’t think this meditation was intended for the car, but it’s really working for me. What would really be awesome is if Colin and I could do some of this serious meditation in a convertible – I’m sure it would further our experience and maybe get us pulled over! It makes me laugh just thinking about it.

Where will all this laughing take me? I have no clue, but I am giving it a good try. What the hell? I spend at least 15 minutes in my car every day anyhow, I might as well laugh about it.

It’s been said that a journey of a 1,000 miles begins with one step – man doesn’t that sound serious? I’ve decided to begin my journey, with one laugh instead . . . I’m just gonna put one foot in front of the other and imagine giant red clown shoes while I’m at it!!


Tenderfoot Yogi Chronicles – It Ain’t Easy Being Mindful

prayerI’ve been practicing yoga for the last six months and while I would like to say I’ve gotten better at it I really can’t. What I can say is that I am finally getting “it.” That is to say, that there is no room for struggling, competing, hurrying, or worrying in yoga.

The goal, the prize is serenity – to unify your body, mind and spirit – to transform.  It makes me think of the chubby caterpillar, Heinrich,  in the children’s movie “Bugs Life” who knows that someday he will be a “beautiful butterfly.” But, like Heinrich, there are layers of conditioned thought I must shed if I am to experience a new dimension of self.  In a nutshell, it’s all about letting go.

Applying that while on the mat is where the “practicing” comes in.  I am able to let go for a few moments here and there, concentrate on my breath, be in the moment.  But, I still catch my mind wandering off to grocery lists during “downward facing dog”, or wondering if my “camel” looks as graceful as the woman’s on my left. I have wished for a fresh pedicure more than once while gandering at my hooves during “dolphin” pose, but I am finding that letting go of the image I have of my feet and my body is a challenge that gets easier the longer I practice.  Who cares what my butt looks like in forward fold? Everyone is facing their own knees anyhow! And when I fall out of a pose, which happens nearly every class, it is not as defeating as it used to be – I just try, try again.

As a tenderfoot entering into some of the more complex movements yoga has to offer I often think of my 3-year-old son, Colin, when he was learning to walk. He was quite determined, no matter how many times he landed on his bum, and every fall elicited a gleeful giggle. He approached walking with good humor and curiousity and was always forgiving of his own mistakes. So, I too am trying to approach yoga with the fresh eyes and passion of a child. I am letting my yoga experience free me, from, well, me.  And I am finding many of life’s stale platitudes echoing anew in my ears, like: “Attitude is everything,” “pride goeth before a fall,” “practice makes perfect,” “wherever you go there you are.” And strangely, “don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.”

I say echo, because the lessons are learned over and over and over. Yoga for a novice can turn on a dime, from deep understanding to self-congratulation and right back to frustration. But, with gentle compassion, I nudge my little engine back on the track and think “I can.”

Why, just yesterday I managed to relax into a twist.  Accomplishing such contradictory movements is par for the mat – for instance,  staying grounded in your sitting bones  while lifting up toward the ceiling from the base of your skull actually is possible. Yoga is full of such opposing actions and when achieved – even for an “aha” moment it is a taste of bliss. So I press forward, while being patient – another contradiction conquered!

The awakening is slow, but it keeps me coming back to my mat.  I love the joy that comes after such demanding concentration, the layers of understanding that peel away with every session. I love the deep enigmatic metaphor that is yoga. I have come along enough with my practice to uncover the best kept secret of  yoga – that life is best lived slowly, mindfully, focused in the moment and unencumbered by the small stuff.  It will take many backbends, inversions and sun salutations for me to keep this lesson fresh in my mind, but a moment of unshakeable peace is worth the many moments of practice to get there.