Today I saw a new acupuncturist.  I’ve been getting acupuncture off and on for the past five years, but wanted to try someone new.  Little did I know that he wouldn’t be the only “new” component to my visit.

He asked me if I’d like to try cupping after my acupuncture session.  I said “sure.”  I knew the basics, and I’d never tried it before.  It’s often more fun to say “yes” in situations like this.

Below is the result, on a very, very, very superficial level.  (The process wasn’t painful, and those lingering marks aren’t either.)

The session included my acupuncturist heating up small glass cups with fire before placing them on my back, where the heat created a suction on my skin.  He said it would help increase circulation and release toxins.  He also said that the coloring of the marks helps him diagnose problems in my digestion, with specific regard to the liver, kidneys and stomach.

That’s great and all … I’m just wondering how long these circular souvenirs on my back will last?

Thank goodness it isn’t tank top season.

Class Notes, Week 16: Beginning my winter apprenticeship

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 sounds so much cooler to say you’re a 33-year-old apprentice, as opposed to a 33-year-old intern.

Not to mention, when it comes to “interning” in yoga – studying a philosophy and practice dating back thousands and thousands of years – the term “apprenticeship” fits much more beautifully.  I love tossing around that word.  It’s basically an old-world synonym for “internship.”  However, the connotation of “apprenticeship” evokes an intimate master/student dynamic versus the corporate, still-in-college connotation attached to “internship.”  It’s a word not used enough in these modern times, perhaps because we aren’t as tethered to old-world ways …

Last night, I began my yoga teaching apprenticeship with Kim Wilcox, one of my favorite teachers in Chicago.  Under her mentorship, I’ll be observing/working with her Friday evening Level 1-2 Vinyasa class for the next eight weeks.  I’m thrilled to have this unique opportunity to learn from her, and her students.  I asked Kim to take me on as an apprentice because I admire the thoughtful, ego-less way she structures her classes; the special attention she gives each student; and the fact that she goes beyond simply cueing or demonstrating poses.  She explains why we’re doing them, what the benefit is physically and emotionally.  Not every yoga teacher does this, or is able to integrate these valuable tidbits so seamlessly into a vinyasa class.  Kim knows her stuff.  I aspire to that.

This was my first time simply observing a class – neither participating nor leading – and it was extremely interesting to be a 100-percent spectator.  It’s a clear window you simply cannot access when you’re in the student or teacher role.  For nearly two hours, through a combination or sitting and standing – depending on what was appropriate at the time – I watched and took notes.

Some general observations that stand out with the students:

  • The energy level and collective mindfulness off the 21 students was wonderful.  (Kim mentioned to me after class that this isn’t always the case, it always varies.)
  • When Kim tossed out cues of encouragement, i.e. “Lift your chest a little higher,” the class performed it in unison.  That was pretty incredible ballet to witness, and a reminder that those little lines can add a special spark in the individual, gently nudging students to their limit.
  • Not all of the students participated in opening chant of AUM three times.  To each their own.
  • A fair number of students didn’t lead with the heart when lifting up from uttanasana.
  • A male student near me had limited flexibility, and was relying heavily on props and modifications.  He is a good reminder that not everyone has the same range as me, and to always provide different modifications for each asana.
  • Savasana was the most beautiful part of the class.  It was amazing to witness that.  I wanted to participate, it was so lovely and peaceful.  Like a painting.

Some general observations that stand out with Kim’s teaching methods:

  • She began the class by reading a few of Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras, reminding students that “asana is necessary, but not very important to yoga.”  She explained the balance we should seek between steady/stable and ease/comfort.  She came back to this duality throughout the practice.  I appreciated her beginning the class with a theme/lesson — and one so basic, yet critical, to yoga.
  • She also reminded students that there is “no such thing as a bad or good way to do a pose” – to practice at their own pace, and view the practice as a “moving meditation.”  These are simple, yet effective reminders, even for long-time yogis, as ego can easily wiggle its way into a class where you’re surrounded by 20 other students.
  • She did a slow progression of baby back-bending that led up to upward dog.  I liked this slow-build approach.
  • She made a special effort to assist each student during the course of the practice.  When she gave an adjustment to a student on one side, she always came back to the same student in order to give the same adjustment on the opposite side.

Over the next few months, I intend to continue observing the class as a whole — but hope to hone in on a handful of regular students, to monitor their progress and provide whatever additional guidance I can.  I’m not ready to “jump in” just yet, but trust that Kim will let me know when it’s time.

Quote: Jan. 2, 2013

“maitri karuna mudita upekshanam sukha duhka punya apunya vishayanam bhavanatah chitta prasadanam”

The mind becomes quiet when it cultivates friendliness in the presence of happiness, active compassion in the presence of unhappiness, joy in the presence of virtue and indifference toward error.

~ Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

Graffiti art I photographed in the West Bank in 2009.

The New Year: reflections + an intention

Last night, before ringing in the New Year at a downtown Chicago soiree, I made time for  quiet reflection in front of my fireplace.  In this cozy ambiance — no makeup, no heels, no fancy balloon drop — I contemplated the remarkable events in my life over this past year.

This has been a pretty amazing year.  It hasn’t been “perfect,” but it’s nonetheless been amazing.  Perhaps my best year to date.  I wanted to harness this amazement by documenting my favorite memories — the stuff they say bubbles up just before we die to remind us of what’s truly important.  So I jotted down the memories and accomplishments for which I am most grateful in a stream-of-conscious recall.

There was a consistent theme in this exercise: moments with family and friends, and travel experiences, dominated my list.

A few include:

  • The pilgrimage to India that inspired me to commit to a yogic path, and start my yoga teacher training certification …
  • The road trip through New Mexico with Scott, a colorful journey that brought us closer as adult siblings …
  • Hosting a series of “Girls Nights” with my closest Chicago girlfriends, which taught me the importance of friendship and the sweet rewards of revealing myself …
  • Being an aunt to Audrey, awed by her innocence and wonder, showering her with love, learning about motherhood by observing my sister …
  • Spending time with my parents over Labor Day weekend at our family cottage in Michigan, having them all to myself and feeling like their daughter from the Strawberry Lane days of my childhood …
  • Enjoying a fairytale vacation through Europe with my mother, sampling the Christmas markets and watching my mom laugh and smile like I’ve never seen before when she purchased a pair of colorful boots in Budapest …

Interesting to note: Work accomplishments didn’t even factor into this list, although my career has certainly afforded me (financially and via time off) the opportunity to carve out so many of this special moments.  In hindsight, that is something for which I am very grateful.

But an even more significant something was missing from this list: being in love.  As in, receiving love and reciprocating that love.  Being willing to take that risk.  Putting myself in a position to take that risk.

While I closed myself off from the possibility of a relationship in 2012, I’ve actually had this “ban” instituted for the past two-plus years.  “I don’t have time,” has been my mechanical mantra.  But there’s a much deeper MO: fear of getting hurt, fear of losing my independence, fear of losing myself in the other person.  Fear.

Nevertheless, secretly — although not so secretly anymore — this is my greatest life aspiration, to fall in love and create a family.  To do this, however, I need to remain open to it, make time for it, not be scared of it.  I don’t want to turn into one of those career-obsessed women whom I used to pity as a twenty-something intern.  I remember a high-powered television news anchor complaining to me that she “didn’t have time” for relationships, and that always stuck with me.  I’m certainly not that woman; but to an outsider looking in, perhaps I am …

So in 2013, I am setting an intention to keep my heart open, to embrace the risk associated with falling in love, should the invitation present itself.  I am saying “yes” to that uncertain adventure.  My heart is ready … and I’m going to integrate more heart openers into my yoga practice to make sure of it.  Let’s see what happens.