Class Notes, Week 15: Teacher training ‘hiatus’

The Moksha yoga teacher training program requires me to journal once each week about my experience with the poses and assignments + my practice and progress. This is part of that weekly assignment.

It seems like our teacher training classes have been on hiatus forever — even though it’s only been a month.  It’s been slightly depressing.  During this time, I’ve had to maintain some semblance of structure in my teacher training studies, without that weekly touch-point that essentially provided the framework I desired/needed.  It’s required self-discipline during a time when family, friends and holiday spirit tug-and-pull-tug-and-pull at my time.

I’ve been reading and working (slowly) through our take-home midterm — but lacking the same gusto I had when our Sunday all-day sessions were taking place.  I really loved those practice and training classes.  They were the highlight of my week, and provided the inspiration I needed to keep up.  Now, it’s all on me.  And it’s just not the same.  It’s not any “worse.”  It’s just different, less intense.  Perhaps I just miss that intensity.

Where I feel I have thrived is with my personal practice and curiosity in exploring new teachers’ styles.  While on my recent river cruise through Europe, where I practiced each morning in the ship’s public lounge, a few middle-aged female passengers expressed to me a love of yoga.  “At my age,” said one passenger, “it’s just so good for me and my body.”  (I could have quipped back that it’s good for people of all ages, but I held my tongue.)  Hearing this from these women, however, got me curious to explore a new niche of yoga student: the Baby Boomer student.

Just as with pregnant yogis, there are particular considerations to make with this group of yogis.  I’ve attended a few of Erin Cowan’s Saturday morning classes, which is made up of almost all middle-aged men and women.  The pacing is slightly slower and there is more restorative work.  There is also a beautiful camaraderie among her students — something that I haven’t experienced in other Moksha classes.  They are all mothers or fathers and use the time to share their life stories before/after practice.  Sure, they all want to keep their bodies and minds strong, but there’s more going on in that room to complement that intention.  It’s a community that’s comforting to be around.  Like I’m in a room with my parents — 8 or so of them.  I think I’ll continue attending that class, and see what blossoms as a result.

Also looking ahead: I’m eager to begin my apprenticeship with Kim and start anatomy classes with Shanna Linn.  Both start next month.

The lull that came with this little holiday month hiatus is about to end … and I cannot wait.

Making moments count with Mom

The spectacular setting where I had a 30-minute panic attack.

I nearly lost my mother in Vienna last week.  It scared the shit out of me.

One moment, she was by my side as we strolled the Schönbrunn Palace grounds.  A few minutes later, after snapping some pictures of the beautiful setting, I turned around to find her lost in a sea of people swarming the Christmas market stalls surrounding the palace.

What should have been a joyful scene of ornament stalls, sweet-smelling hot wine, winter scarves and twinkling lights turned into a blurry nightmare, fusing itself to my fear, frustration, sadness, guilt, anger and panic.

It was exactly the sort of moment I wanted to avoid — losing my mother while on an overseas tour of Europe’s Christmas markets.  My dad was going to kill me.  My four siblings would join in.

Shit, shit, shit.

This episode wouldn’t have created such a panic seven years ago — before my mom suffered her stroke.  Most daughters would just continue snapping pictures and shopping, and worry about re-connecting with their wandering (and impatient) mother later.  No biggie.  But not me.

My mom cannot speak.  My mom cannot comprehend others’ speech with complete clarity.  My mom walks with a slow, pronounced limp.  These are all permanent disabilities from that stroke.

As a result, traveling with her anywhere — just the two of us, no dad or siblings to help shoulder the responsibility — is quite daunting.  It becomes even more so when visiting a country where the language is foreign.  My mother is an easy target for those with malicious motives.  So I become her 24/7 translator, interpreter, caretaker and attached-at-the-hip chaperone.  It’s an exhausting mother-daughter role reversal — mainly because she still wants to play the role of “mom” and is as stubborn as hell.

But I love our time together.  It’s our time.  Precious time.  Just mom and me.

Mortality slapped me in the face when my mom had her stroke.  There’s nothing like almost losing your mother to make you appreciate time with her more — time with everyone you love, really.  That time is so fleeting.  It can be taken away in an instant.  Even the silly arguments and annoyances transform into something precious.  (In hindsight, of course.)

I know it had a similar effect on her, even though she cannot articulate it into words.  After her stroke, this one-time homebody expressed a desire to travel.  I immediately booked us a trip to Paris.  Two years later, it was London.  A few years after that, it was a roadtrip through the Carolinas.  And this winter, it was a cruise on the Danube River to explore Europe’s Christmas markets.

Which brings me back to losing my mother in Vienna.  After involving the Austrian police and spending about 30 minutes swimming in panic and guilt, I had a moment of clarity: My mother, who is stubborn as hell and fiercely independent (even in her disabled body), may have been frustrated with my picture-taking and maybe — just maybe — simply limped back to the tour bus before our designated departure time.

And guess what?  My daughter intuition was right.  Police found her sitting on the bus wearing a smile.

Sigh.

Even the most frustrating moments with my mother can turn humorous — in retrospect.

Class Notes, Week 14: Yoga on the Danube

The Moksha yoga teacher training program requires me to journal once each week about my experience with the poses and assignments + my practice and progress. This is part of that weekly assignment.

Here is where I’ve been practicing yoga each morning for the past week:

It’s part of a common area aboard the Viking Njord — the river cruise ship I’ve been sailing, as it meanders down the Danube River through Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary.

The ship has no private yoga studio or workout facility, much less any yoga mats. Yet, I am making it work. I am proof that you can maintain a yoga practice in some of the most unlikely places!

This also is the first vacation not tethered to a yoga retreat where I’ve maintained a consistent practice. In other words, I am not “taking a vacation” from yoga. It is a part of my routine, and I’m making sure I practice each morning at 6:30 a.m. before other passengers fill up this common area to sip their coffee and watch castles and village Christmas markets pass by. While some passengers have spotted me doing sun salutes and balancing poses such as Eagle and Crow, everyone has given me my space and respect, including the staff. As the servers, bartenders and concierge staff prepare for the day, they keep their physical distance as they buzz around me.

However, there’s really no privacy from having an “early bird” audience pretending to mind their own business. But I don’t mind too much. If my yoga practice piques someone’s curiosity, and perhaps inspires them to give it a try, then I‘ve done something pretty positive. And, there are a lot of middle-aged Americans on this ship that may enjoy it and benefit from it.

In the end, I am happy that I’ve maintained this commitment to myself, even while “on vacation” from the everyday routine of life. Waking up each morning in my cozy cabin … wiping the sleepy crust from the eyes … pulling on my ToeSox … walking up to the second-floor lounge area for my morning practice … it’s become a rewarding routine on this European holiday. I get to start of my day with a clear head and limber body — always a plus when traveling. And, I’ve gotten creative with my sequencing, making sure not to practice the same string of asanas each day. Even with the tiny space I’ve carved out on this ship, I have managed to not repeat the same practice yet.

Just because I’m on vacation, doesn’t mean I am taking a vacation from yoga!

Class Notes, Week 13: The yamas + the boomerang effect

The Moksha yoga teacher training program requires me to journal once each week about my experience with the poses and assignments + my practice and progress. This is part of that weekly assignment.

I spent this past week trying to remain aware of the five yamas, or “great commandments” of yoga: ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brachmacharya (self-restraint) and aparigraha (non-hoarding).

Each day, I focused on a specific yama by re-reading its meaning in “Light on Yoga.”  Then, I did my best to put it into practice throughout the day. 

Some days were “better” than others.

When awareness was in full bloom, I was happier. The world around me was beautiful and harmonious.  Things happened with a graceful fluidity — or perhaps it all just appeared that way because I was in such an open state of mind.  When the shadows of these yamas loomed larger than my yogi awareness, I felt not-so-great.  My psyche was aggravated, and those around me were undeniably affected as a result.  I knew this, even as I was swimming against the current of that particular yama.  Unfortunately, this week — with the exception of work scenarios — my weaker emotions often prevailed.   I accept my flaws, even as I work to improve upon them.

In the end, the lesson learned is something that I already instinctively knew: It just feels better to be a compassionate soul than a nasty bitch.  And, that compassionate state benefits everyone and everything I touch.  We’re all interconnected through the vibrations and intentions we toss out into the world — good, bad and everything in between.

Plus, the positive vibes thrown into the world can serve as a boomerang, which come back to serve you.  This I truly believe, without any tangible “evidence.”  Take today for instance: I am traveling through a part of Europe foreign to me and my English-speaking tongue — and with my mother, who is handicapped, cannot speak (due to post-stroke aphasia) and packed half of her massive wardrobe into a gigantic blue suitcase.  It’s been incredibly stressful trying to navigate transportation from Munich to Passau with all of this baggage, literally and figuratively.  I’m doing my best to stay true to tempering non-violence of thought and action when her inability to assist (through no fault of her own) rattles me. 

But three angels or Good Samaritans or whatever you wish to call them appeared along today’s journey.  A friendly bellhop who walked us a block to the train station with our luggage.  A sweet German woman who helped us through a train hiccup.  A helpful Floridian who carried some of our heavy baggage when we arrived in Passau.  It was a beautiful study in the kindness of strangers — how good it feels to be on that receiving end, and a reminder to spead the love on the giving end.  I believe it’s cyclical.  Akin to karma. 

I call it a yama boomerang: I practice the loving compassion that springs from the five yamas, and it will be bestowed upon me in time.  I shouldn’t seek this “reward”: instead, just know that my positive actions will result in more positive actions.

What can be misconstrued with an eye roll as “hippie-kumbaya-mumbo-jumbo” has tremendous merit.  Take it from this obsessive intellectual who straddles Western and Eastern philosophies.

P.S.  I’ve been practicing a great deal of restraint and aparigraha at these European Christmas markets!  When someTHING catches my eye, I ask myself, “Do I want it?  Or need it?”

A wonderful legacy

My father’s retirement dinner.

My father ends his career as a practicing physician this week.  This, after nearly 40 years of delivering babies and impacting so many people as a healer.

Between my mother and father, both obstetricians, thousands and thousands and thousands of babies were brought into the world.  It’s probably safe to say they delivered a large chunk of the population in Chicago’s southwest suburbs.  Think about it: They were present for countless life-changing miracles!

Yet, even as their beepers went off at odd hours of the night (hey, babies don’t wait for a “good time” to be born!) and they were busy building their individual practices, my four siblings and I were clueless to the amount of juggling that transpired behind the scenes.  We had absolutely no clue.  Mainly, because my parents always made it to our important childhood events: gymnastics meets, tennis matches, soccer games, school award ceremonies, etc.  They always made time for us, even as the demands of career — and obstetrics is no easy career — tugged and pulled, tugged and pulled.  As my siblings and I grow older, we recognize the incredible endurance and love that this illustrates.

But tonight was a celebration of my father.  And I couldn’t have been prouder.  Many people from his career stood up to say a few words, each speech filled with so much love and gratitude.  My father leaves behind such an incredible legacy.  Because he was kind.  Because he was fair.  Because he was compassionate.  Because he never veered from his moral compass.  Because he made time for people.  And everyone who came into contact with him recognized this, and respected him for it.  Still do.

I am proud to be his daughter, especially on a night such as tonight — where the tapestry of his life and legacy is highlighted so beautifully.  It evoked that final scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” where George Bailey is showered with gratitude from all of the people whose lives he touched, whether he realized it or not.  This is the type of legacy I hope to cultivate through my words, actions and thoughts.

Fancy awards, financial riches and worldwide fame — they don’t hold a candle to what I experienced in that banquet hall in honor of my father tonight.  It was love.

Class Notes, Week 12: Sugar high

The Moksha yoga teacher training program requires me to journal once each week about my experience with the poses and assignments + my practice and progress. This is part of that weekly assignment.

Tonight I attended a sattvic nutrition lecture called, “Are you a sugar junkie?”

On the way to the lecture, I ate a giant chocolate chip cookie.

Yes, it’s safe to say that I am a sugar junkie.  I love sweets.  Cookies, cakes, cupcakes, chocolate bars, you name it.  It’s something I’m not willing to sacrifice because it’s a wonderful life pleasure.  In moderation.  Most of the time anyway.

But this lecture, given by resident Moksha yogi Lance Hoagland, went beyond decadent desserts.  We took a deep dive into the sugar that exists in everything.  EV. ER. Y. THING.

Lance opened his lecture by holding up a one-pound bag of sugar and asking us, “Do you think you consume this much sugar in a year?”  As we each internally mulled it over, he startled us with this troubling statistic: The average American consumes 150 lbs. of sugar each year.  That is the equivalent of 150 of that very bag he held up!  In 1850, this average was more like 10 lbs.

Yikes.  No wonder childhood obesity and Type II Diabetes are on the increase.  Sugar, sugar and more sugar leads to weight gain and all sorts of health problems.  Even scarier, Lance splashed across the screen this quote from the book The Blood Sugar Solution:

“We are raising the first generation of Americans to live sicker and die younger than their parents.  Life expectancy is actually declining for the first time in history.”

The reason for this, among other factors, is diet.  It’s terrible, especially in America.  I think everyone can agree with that.  Processed foods and genetically modified foods are readily available, cheap and often make time in the kitchen “quick” and “easy.”  Sugar, caffeine and salt — the trifecta of addictive ingredients that food businesses know will keep people coming back and spending money — are foodie staples in this country.  I’m certainly guilty of indulging in all three, especially with my Starbucks latte order.

Frightening stats and quotes aside, Lance provided basic knowledge that will empower me next time I’m shopping at the Whole Foods or Jewel.  The biggest culprit is high fructose corn syrup — it’s cheap, it’s addictive and it’s injected into so much we buy.  I’m going to be more vigilant about this ingredient specifically.  Even Whole Foods, which at one point had a mantra of not selling food with corn syrup, now sells it.  Sigh.  However, just because it’s unavoidable at even the “healthiest” of grocery stores doesn’t mean I have to stuff my shopping basket with foods that contain it.  I just need to be smarter.

Lance’s most practical piece of advice: Read the ingredients.  If your grandma doesn’t understand what they are, it’s probably best to leave it on the shelf.

I’ll spend a few extra minutes doing just that next time I go grocery shopping, and see how it impacts my purchases.  It will be an interesting exercise, as I usually blow through my grocery list without much thought to ingredients.  I trust labels, especially at Whole Foods.  But, I want to fuel my body with good stuff, not ingredients that can trigger illness, weight gain, etc.  If I truly want this to be my diet mantra, I need to be a smarter consumer.  A fellow teacher trainee likened this approach to buying a car: If you have the ability to buy a safe luxury car versus a beat-up clunker with questionable brakes, which would you opt to invest in?  Why can’t we invest in our food as we do purchases such as cars?  (It’s a thorny question, especially when we get into the socio-economics of class and food deserts, but she had a valid point.)

Oh, another thing I’ll start: Ask the Starbucks barista to cut the syrup pump count in half with my latte order.

But I won’t be giving up the cookies, cakes and sweets just yet.

Simply raising my own awareness to sugar, and ingredients in my food overall, is a noble start to a healthier diet.

A misunderstood symbol

On the recommendation of a fellow teacher trainee, I downloaded an app for Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.  I figured it would be a good way to spend my 30-minute L ride to work — studying the Sutras on my smartphone.

The app graphic has me a bit self-conscious, however.

Here’s how it looks:

For those who don’t know any better, I might be pegged as a Nazi riding the L.  It’s a shame.  And it’s a shame that I’m so apprehensive about it — the judgment of ignorant people who are quick to judge.

Adolf Hitler took a beloved, ancient symbol of India and tarnished it.   Hitler gave this symbol a 45-degree turn, and called it his own.  Since then, the swastika symbol has become associated with evil — genocide, racism, persecution, anti-semitism.

Its original meaning, however, is anything but.  In Sanskrit, swastika means “good fortune” or “well being.”  It’s one of the 108 symbols of the Hindu god Vishnu.  It’s auspicious.

But, when I whip out my smartphone aboard the L … will that person looking over my shoulder know that?