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Anxiety, Guest Posts, Yoga

Yoga Taught Me I Could Stare Down Fear

April 24, 2017
yoga

By Amy Moore

I grew up as a painfully shy, introverted girl in a family with three brothers.  Like many others, my parents were held hostage by their own demons which left them unable to function in a capacity that a child needs as they’re growing up.  At home, it was best to be quiet, obedient, and almost invisible as an effort to keep the calm among the chaos.

As a kid, I sat on the sidelines observing others living life and unable to get past my anxiety to be able to participate in many activities or make many friends.  My life remained similar as I grew into a teenager.  My emotional pain manifested into numerous unhealthy habits, the most profound was my body image.  In early adolescents, I began my journey with anorexia and bulimia and suffered with it secretly for years. Maybe in a sense I was trying to disappear, to go unnoticed and unseen through life.

Although I was physically and mentally unhealthy I longed to be a healthy strong person. I read and researched everything that sparks my interest, which is exactly how I came to find yoga.  When I started reading about yoga I was fascinated about the stories of health and healing that so many people experienced. However, it didn’t seem possible to me.  How could stretching and breathing change your entire life? Regardless of my reservations, I felt drawn to learning more.  I wanted to know more about the practice peacefully displayed on DVD covers and magazines. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Yoga, Yoga Classes

The Arena

May 27, 2016
yoga

By Anne Falkowski

My car flies at breakneck speed to make a yoga class. The sun spanks my eyes.

Its anonymity I seek. To be a body in a flock of bodies where none have crossed my path before. To be a cut-out swatch, side by side, without being pinned to any other. To complete a pattern. To be random. To fall. To float. To fly. To flutter. To feel.

To fight.

No, I have not come to the yoga mat to fight but I just realized I placed my mat next to someone I used to know. Someone I had a fight with. A public fight. I was left beaten, covered in my own invisible feathers. Maybe time has a way of making us more than we were.

It’s too late to move.

It’s subtle how we recognize the past. I knew it was her because of a curve of her skin and an angle of her cheek. The space she took up and the space she didn’t. The negative space of her. Nothing definite. Each of us carry our imprint of the other.

***

It’s been a few years. Does she know it’s me? Does she see my new tattoo spread across half my back? A blue goddess, covered in teeth and snakes. She holds a dagger.

I look down at my legs, one thigh folded over the other, my feet bare, aware that I haven’t showered in two days. My period is on its way. I smell it like moss, sticks, and bits of feather.

Her eyes are closed. Pretend rapture, I’m sure.

I want my blue goddess to aim her dagger between those eyes.

S. is attractive. Dark hair and eyes, tall and thin. Has six-pack abs. When she used to teach yoga at the studio I own, students would comment on how they wanted a stomach like hers. My hands go down and squeeze the flesh of mine which has been through too many rounds of weight gains and losses. My hands amass silvery webbed flesh with a slit for a belly button. Some would say a trophy.

Shit, I thought I was better than THIS. I had let all THIS go. Maybe old demons need to air their foul breath out of pursed lips to remind us what we have not completely digested. Maybe they need to tongue rattle.

I close my eyes. I draw my breath up to my collarbones where it lingers. I purposely hold it there. I watch the pause and wait for it to right me. It kind of does. On the exhale, the breath floods my belly. A wind sound fills the back of my skull. My jaw bones soften. I am finding my way back to what needs my attention. Back to now. Now is breath and sensation.

A yoga teacher once told me: Feed your demons. A strategy for not having them eat you.

Do you need to know the story between S. and me? Does it matter? Did it ever? Maybe I need to tell it.  Maybe the need is why it matters.

The climax of the fight takes place at my studio, three years ago, in the hallway, among carefully placed pairs of shoes. Mostly flip-flops and sandals. The bodies that go in the shoes are inside the yoga room, on their backs, their knees roll to one side and then the other, in a guided knee-down twist.

S. is my studio’s most popular teacher. She has stepped out of the room she is teaching in, and has grabbed my arm. For a brief moment, I think she is in pain. But no, it’s something else, hot and insistent. Her mouth moves open and shut, open and shut. Words come out and spill on the cork floor. Something about quitting, opening her own yoga studio less than a mile away, and taking with her as many students as possible.

I ask her why. She tells me, “You need to look inside. Do some searching. Ask yourself why no one respects you.”

NO ONE RESPECTS YOU…NO ONE RESPECTS…NO ONE…YOU….YOU…YOU….

Her bobbed black hair swings this way and that and her lips get redder as she speaks. Now the students are on their backs with knees bent, feet on floor. They push into their feet and lift hips and torsos up to the ceiling. Their necks are extensions of their spines. Little spines in neat rows. Up and down they go. An assembly line of ribs expand and contract like the small bodies of birds breathing.

YOU NEED TO LOOK INSIDE….

How fucking dare she?

Seeing red is a real thing.

Red is the color of heat,

the tongue.

I have never been able to speak up to her or anyone at my studio.

She tells whomever will listen I am jealous of the amount of students she draws in.

She says she is the reason my studio is a success.

She tells others not to take yoga from me, that I’m not a real yogi.

I secretly wonder if she’s right.

Red is the color of shame.

Deal with red.

I’ve done yoga with weapons. At a workshop. We were meditating on death, while we flowed through standing poses. A live drum pulsed in the room. The space between hitting the drum and the sound it makes is called Spanda. In Sanskrit, Spanda means pulse of the universe. The beat of your heart is called Anahata. It means unstruck sound.

The teacher put various weapons in our hands. In Warrior One, he gave me a staff. I felt nothing. In Goddess Pose, he changed out the staff for a sword, still nothing. Then a loaded pistol, black and heavy. He curled his slim fingers around my hand. Our wrists touched one another. Still no response. Then the dagger. In my hands in Warrior Two. Front knee bent and my bare feet pushing into the ground. There. There it was. The right weight. Its size surprisingly small. My throat opens and the drum beat burrows deep into my hip sockets. My body electrifies. A familiarity. A knowing.

I’ve killed with a dagger. More than once.

Knife-wield, wing-flap, tongue-dance, bone-beat, heart-beat, drum-beat, red rhythm, ancient ones I have known.

Always known.

We don’t make eye contact, S. and me, as the teacher calls out poses in the heated room, and sweat pours from my hair-line. S. was never one to break a sweat but not because she doesn’t work hard. For a few poses, I forget about S.  It’s only me and the rise and fall of my breath in the forest of others, my body folded in half. A silvery belly I am. A long spine I am, making it expand and contract to lightly cage me, to hold me lover-like.

At the end of class, before final resting period, the teacher brings us onto our backs and talks us up into wheel pose. A pose where you bend your knees, feet on the floor, bring your hands behind your shoulders and press up making a big upside down U shape with your spine. It moves stuck energy.

Out of the corner of my eye, I watch S. She pushes up into wheel with me. For a few breaths we are holding together in sync. We are both strong. But then she pushes herself up off her hands to standing. A move requiring huge amounts of leg and back strength.

I know, right there, she is competing with me. Wanting to show me what she can do, just like I wanted her to see my tattoo. For a moment, I feel nothing but awe.

She does five of these. They are called wheel drop backs. A pose I cannot do, but oddly I do not feel less than. I witness each one while I hold my own, more moderate wheel, the one the teacher is guiding. My legs shake in their own right. My boneless tongue curls and presses up against my soft palate.

The yogis believe emotions are manifestation of energy. They purposely raised animal energy: anger, jealousy, lust, shame, and fear. And then they sat in it. Don’t move, don’t flinch. The more you bring up animal energy, the ones that throw you the most, the more you breathe into them and feel them and face them, the more you will learn to ride bareback.

After wheel, we go into final relaxation.

Ten minutes later, the teacher tells us to slowly awaken our bodies. My ritual is to hold every part of me still except to slowly move my tongue side to side. My red tongue, the color of the earthworm, a creature who can regrow segments of themselves when they need to. In this liminal space after yoga, the parts of me which have been cut off, banished, damaged, or lost, have regenerated. Only now, they are different, not exactly the same. They’ve reinvented.

I sit up and wait for S.

I’m not sure what will happen.

Nothing does.

S. remains on her back, covered in a blanket, a small silky pillow stretched across her eyes. I sit there, with my legs tucked under me, until everyone else is almost gone. It becomes obvious she’s not going to get up. She will stay like this forever, covered and motionless, if she has to.

I don’t want her to have to.

I roll up my mat and walk away.

A dagger inked on my back.

My body feels light and full at the same time.

I could take flight off the ground.

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Anne Falkowski is a yoga teacher/workshop leader and a wannabe writer. She has published numerous articles on yoga and body image.  She can be reached at director@samadhiyogastudio.com

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Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany Sep 17-24, 2016. There are 5 spaces left. This will be her only international retreat in 2016 and is her favorite retreat of the year. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com asap. More info here. Must email first to sign up.

 

Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Binders, Guest Posts, Yoga

The Gift of Breathing

April 4, 2016
yoga

By Kirsten Palladino

Rainy Sunday mornings are right for praising life with yoga. My first session of the season is going resplendently well. My body isn’t arguing with me as I thought it might—a dedicated yoga class hasn’t been on the calendar in 10 years. A twin pregnancy and decadent, indulgent food in a metropolitan city as a restaurant editor have enabled me to eat recklessly.

Through death and abandonment, my original family of four shrank to one in the course of just a few years. I have grief-gobbled myself into a puffy caterpillar form, minus the legs. Finally, I’ve earned the mockery of the high school girls calling me an elephant, a quarter-century too late.

But my body is strong and limber today, giving me what I need. Hips opened wide after delivering two darling boys in one night—finally, I birthed a living child; full healing lungs breathe in deeply instead of screaming and gasping after a 15-year childhood stint of sucking on the cancer sticks (family legacy).

As we move through our positions, I hear my therapist’s words in my head: “Inhale deeply through your nose as if you’re trying to smell freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Then breathe out of your mouth so strongly as if you’re trying to blow out birthday candles across the room.” In. Out. Mindful breathing. Here we go. Continue Reading…

Converse-Station, Guest Posts, Interview, writing, Yoga

THE CONVERSE-STATION: Novelist Stephen Policoff Interviews Poet, Short Story Writer & New York Literary Lion Tim Tomlinson

December 26, 2015

Welcome to The Converse-Station: A dialogue between writers. With the site getting so much traffic (my Facebook page is reaching over 18 million people) I can think of no better way to utilize that traffic than to introduce the readers to writers I love. The dialogues created within this series have stayed with me long after I’ve read them on the page. Enjoy. xo Jen Pastiloff

 

Turnabout is fair play, or so they tell us.  Last November, my friend and colleague Tim Tomlinson interviewed me on the eve of the publication of my 2nd novel, Come Away (Dzanc Books, 2014).  And now, I am returning the favor, letting Tim discourse on his amazing and inspiring work. ~ Stephen Policoff 

 

SP: I have read and loved some of your poems and short stories—which, by the way, always seem to be published in cool and interesting magazines.  Do you have a preference for one form or the other?  Are there certain subjects which evoke one form rather than the other?  Do you work in—or plan to work in—other forms as well? Novel? Memoir? Screenplay?

TT: Many thanks, and yes, I’ve been fortunate to have my work appear in some pretty cool venues: Pank, and Heroin Love Songs, and Down and Dirty Word.  Not quite the same register as The New Yorker, or The Atlantic.  But sometimes the unwashed of today wear tomorrow’s tuxedos (or we know some people who will).

I go back and forth between poems and fiction. If I’m supposed to be doing one, I do the other. This way I get an illicit thrill and simultaneously court disaster—story of my life.  All my subjects—from the pleasures and perils of various forms of inebriation, to the pleasures and perils of the coral reef—appear in both forms.  Sometimes the poems begin as notes toward something. Blueprints, or maps.

There’s “B.A.R.” the poem (Soundings Review), then “B.A.R.” the story (Blue Lyra Review). I wrote the poem first, it got published second, but both uncoil from the same trigger event.  Writing the poem gave me the story.  The story opened up the incident, I built backwards. In an old interview, Denis Johnson talks about the stories that became Jesus’ Son—how they grew out of drafts of poems that, he felt, didn’t fully work.  The first story in that collection, “Car Crash While Hitchhiking,” opens with the lines of the poem from which it springs.

Many of my stories are linked—the ones featuring the protagonist Clifford Foote.  When I reach “the end,” I’ll call the collection a novel-in-stories, with the title Work Until Failure.  At least a dozen of its “chapters” have already been published, and you’ve probably seen one or two.

And in between the poems and the stories, I’ve done something entirely new for me: Yolanda:  An Oral History in Verse, will appear in October, 2015 with Finishing Line Press. It’s a collection of accounts I gathered from survivors of Super Typhoon Yolanda, then reconfigured into poems.  (In November 2013, the islands of Leyte and Samar in the Philippines were devastated by Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda; well over 10,000 died—the official number is lower, but there’s a cynical motivation for that.)

 

SP: I know that you teach writing about music and assume that music has been a tremendous influence in your life.  Could you tell us a little bit about the ways in which music influences/is a presence in your work?   Bonus Question: If you could be a piece of music which would you be?

TT: I take heart from music, and from the stories of musicians. Bob Dylan’s Chronicles I opens with his encounter with prize fighter Jack Dempsey. Obviously, the suggestion is that a career in music (or writing, or painting, any of the arts) is analogous to getting in the ring. You will be hit, you will be knocked down, you will lose. But you have to keep fighting. Chronicles I is structured around a series of walls that Dylan hits, and his accounts of how the walls affected him, and then how he got over or around them. As Tom Waits says, any way’s the only way. With writing, you can get hung up on—I do get hung up on—rules and templates and the way things are supposed to be. But often the thing you need to do is the thing you’re not supposed to do, the thing that breaks the rules. Dylan’s work teaches that, over and over again.  Blood on the Tracks is a great example—the non-linearity of the narratives, the multiple points of view, and the asynchronous events happening simultaneously.

At the moment, I’m reading interviews with Joni Mitchell. She says that she dipped her toes in the lake of jazz, and then Mingus came along and shoved her in all the way. That’s how I feel with poetry. I always wrote it (despite Philip Levine begging me not to), but I was much more committed to fiction. Teaching—the needs of my students—is what pushed me into poetry’s lake (which I should probably call Innisfree). I couldn’t teach without doing, and I couldn’t do without sending out, and suddenly I was having more success placing poems than placing stories. And I thrive on encouragement.

In reference to music itself: I love how certain music induces moods, and I love to write out of moods. Yearning, melancholy, abstract rumination. One morning while we were living in London, I was listening to Erik Satie’s “Gnossiennes” (Pascal Rogé, piano), and two poems emerged, damn near fully-formed.  They were  “Broken Things” (http://www.mandala.uga.edu/recon/poet-broken-recon.php) and “Mescaline”(http://saxifragepress.com/tag/tim-tomlinson/).

SP: Bonus Question: If you could be a piece of music which would you be?

TT: “In a Sentimental Mood,” the Sarah Vaughan version, the Nancy Wilson version, and/or the Ellington/Coltrane version, not all at once.

SP: Travel, too, seems to be a huge factor in your life, especially travel through Asia (?).  Could you tell us a little about how travel/living and working in other countries has affected your life—and your writing especially?

TT: Even as a kid, I wanted to be the boy who ran away and never went back. (I have a story called “Runaway”; it appears in the current issue of Tomas, the literary journal of the University of Santo Tomas, in Manila.) William O. Steele’s Flaming Arrows and Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain planted the seeds. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn cultivated them. On the Road and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test—these led to first, and probably premature, harvests. When I was eighteen, I wound up living on a research vessel in the Bahamas. I say wound up because there was never any plan except to be available for opportunity, the wilder the better. Now I think of my time in the Bahamas as analogous to Percival in the Grail Castle: there I was, in the midst of all that splendor—the islands themselves, the people, the water, the coral reefs. But I was too dazzled to ask the right question. In The Story of the Grail (Chretien’s), Percival flubs his visit to the Grail Castle, and if I remember correctly, he winds up back on his horse staring at drops of blood in the snow. I didn’t have a horse, so I went to college (in some respects, an exchange of one wasteland for another).

Asia came much later. My wife is from the Philippines. We started visiting the Philippines for extended periods pretty much every year since 2003.  I started teaching summers in Thailand.  Then we had two glorious years in China with NYU Shanghai’s Liberal Studies program—the original NYU program in China.  We did a lot of travel in China, and throughout the region—Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok, and up and down the Philippines. We made our first visit to Tacloban, on Leyte, during that period, and then of course the typhoon struck. That wiped out the place where we’d stayed, and we felt we had to give something back to a place that had made us feel so welcome. Out of that comes Yolanda: An Oral History in Verse.

Flannery O’Connor says that a writer has all the experience she needs by the age of seven. That’s true for some work. But all the time I’ve spent in Asia has opened up new material for me. Raymond Carver divided his life into the Bad Raymond years, and the Good Raymond years. And he often took Bad Raymond behaviors into Good Raymond settings. “Cathedral” is an example. I have Pre-Asia Tim, and Asia Tim. I’m putting the one into the other and having fun with the collisions. Pre-Asia Tim isn’t exactly a bull in a China shop, but he is a worm, and a weasel, and a dog, and a monkey.

SP: What about yoga and your relationship to it and how does that connect to your work (if it does)?…that one is a serious question.

TT: Yoga provides a foundation for my life. Without it, I don’t think I’d be doing the writing. Regular practice results in incremental improvements, and not just in executing the asanas. But because the asanas get better (easier to achieve, to hold, to transition in and out of), a more general sense of well-being occurs. I think it’s a lot like learning an instrument, except it’s the body, and the mind, and the life, that’s the instrument.

When I began a regular practice, thirteen years ago, almost everything beyond the simplest basics seemed way beyond my ability. A lot of what seemed impossible then is a part of my daily practice now. Headstand, for example, or some of the binds. The lessons you learn from the practice translate into your everyday life. And when you encounter a yoga problem—and you always do; as one of my teachers used to say, yogis seek discomfort—you find a solution, eventually, through the breath, which can mean the breath literally, or, more figuratively, daily sustained effort (although yoga teachers tend to scold too much effort).

You can see how all of this applies to writing. You fail, you fail better. You don’t nail the headstand, and you don’t nail the sestina, the first time out. But you come back to the problem and you give it your breath—it is your breath—and you don’t experience it as a failure, you experience it as another day in the practice. Then, one day, you’re in headstand in the middle of the room. And the next day, you have a book.  NB: my collection of poems, Requiem for the Tree Fort I Set on Fire, will appear late in 2016, with Winter Goose Publishing.  To me, a collection seemed much more impossible than a headstand in the center of the room.

SP: Tell us a little about New York Writers Workshop, and your role there.  Can you tell us about how The Portable MFA came to be?

TT: New York Writers Workshop is a collective of writers who teach. We’re based primarily in New York City.  We formed in 2000, incorporated in 2001.  Our first slogan was Think Outside the Yellow Box—Gotham was our local “competition.” Now it’s Coming Soon to a Continent Near You—in July 2015, I bring New York Writers Workshop’s Pitch Conference to Australia. We’ve been in China, the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong, Mexico, and in many locations in the US, including Kansas and Alabama.

The Portable MFA in Creative Writing is our craft book. It covers fiction (the chapter I wrote), poetry, drama, and a few different forms of non-fiction. It’s enormously flexible—it’s on high school creative writing syllabi, college syllabi, and grad school/MFA syllabi—and it’s moderately successful—4th printing, over 20,000 copies. We’re very proud of it. I’m a co-founder of the organization, and I’ve been the president since day one, basically because I’m the only one who read Robert’s Rules of Order. Our mission is to help writers, at whatever stage of their game.  So we do community outreach in programs for inner city youth in trouble with the law, and we do pitch conferences for writers with manuscripts but without publishers.

We have a phenomenal staff—poets Loren Kleinman, Hermine Meinhard, Mary Stewart Hammond, writers in dramatic forms such as Emma Goldman-Sherman, Ross Klavan, Neal Rowland, novelists Yvonne Cassidy, Sally Koslow, Manreet Sodhi Someshwar, graphic novelists Laurence Klavan and Alissa Torres, multi-genre writers like Charles Salzberg who’s got almost as many books as Joyce Carol Oates, and Jacqueline Bishop, who paints, quilts, and photographs in her spare time away from novels, short stories, poems, and oral histories. If you can’t tell, I’m very proud of this group. We’re the little not-for-profit that could.  Ah, and I should mention our two other divisions:  Greenpoint Press, run by Charles Salzberg, publisher of fine fiction and non-fiction, and recently featured in PW, and Ducts, the literary webzine of New York Writers Workshop, with an archive that’s starting to rival the Paris Review.

Stephen Policoff

Stephen Policoff

 

*Featured image is author Tim Tomlinson

cancer, courage, Guest Posts, healing, Yoga

My Love Letter To My Yoga Teachers

October 30, 2015

By Alexa Shore

At 44 years old, I never thought I would get cancer. I never ever thought I would get it twice.  I never thought my yoga practice would save my life.

I knew something was wrong. I felt nauseous, had food cravings, felt as if my hair was falling out— was I pregnant? I went to the doctor to get a blood test and physical examination. I was handed a slip for a mammogram the following week.  That weekend, I went for a hike. I felt a lump. I went back to the doctor.

My oncologist said I was “lucky” after being diagnosed with “early detection” aggressive HER2+ breast cancer. Lucky?  That I have cancer? The second time I got breast cancer, I heard the words again. I finally got it. Both times, yoga had taught me to be so aware of my body, that I knew something was wrong. The second time around, I had the voice to speak up and say something was wrong – again. I caught my own breast cancer, twice, before it could metastasize to my brain, bones, liver and lungs.

I was healthy and I practiced yoga. I was not immune to cancer. People asked me questions about diet, environment, and personal habits to try to understand why I got cancer, and then, why it came back. I wanted to understand too.  I was told by one doctor “cancer creates change” I began to think …

I am a single mom, love my children, my family, my friends, my work, yoga, sunsets, and dancing. Change what? My body was strong; my mind positive and optimistic. So I sat and thought. How is Alexa? Did I truly have balance? Did I make time for me while juggling everything I did for everyone else?  Was I stressed? Did I feel resentment that I did not have time for myself? I bought gifts for myself and traveled to amazing places, but what about me? My spirit? Is this why I got sick? Could I have actually enabled cancer to grow? Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Yoga

My Spiritual Gangster’s Gone Rogue

September 24, 2015

By Alana Downey

I was living in a 2-bedroom rent control for $1900/month in West Hollywood. I quit a job after a tireless effort of me trying to wave a huge red flag in front of the owners of a well-known residential rehab.  “Pay attention, these are peoples lives we are dealing with- your staff needs to know CPR YO”.  A month later a client OD’d on my day off- the same day the love of my life decided to move out. That was a bad day.

My friend Janice knew what I had just gone through.  She was beaming with the Golden White Light from her new found passion- Power Yoga.  She nudged me to come, dangling a week’s free pass.  Without thinking I was in a C2 Power yoga class on Hollywood Blvd finding my lost Downward Dog.  I had been an on/off again Yogi for years. I knew the basic poses so I could keep up with Power Jones’s next to me. This time, yoga pulled me like never before.

Here I am an ex punker, tattooed since the 80s “finding myself “jumping into Chataranga with just as much rage as I did jumping into the pit of a Dead Kennedy’s show, only this time my Doc’s were in the locker and by now, my inner child had been educated on the streets with enough experience strength and hope to knew how to separate the two.

By the end of my week’s pass I was hooked and ready to sign up for a monthly pass.  The enlightened being behind the counter, that was just teaching the class, who minutes ago, was swaying me to let my heart burst open by bending my back and opening my arms wide, instantly brought me back to the pit with “would you like the black tag special of $150/month”? Are you f**ing kidding me, Black Flag what??….. I was a single mother on food stamps and by the look on his face; my punker must have shown, as with his next Ujahee breath, he offered me YFT-  (that’s Yoga For Trade, not a new punk band).  I could clean the studio’s 3 hours a week for unlimited yoga. My inner punker heart burst open… SOLD. Continue Reading…

Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts, Yoga

A Fat Girl Does Warrior Two

August 24, 2015

By Anne Falkowski

Anyone can do Warrior Two pose. Anyone who can stand on their legs. Even fat girls.

The first time I held Warrior Two, and I mean really held it, till sweat beaded on my bare back and shoulders like jewelry and heat rose up from my toes and lapped my insides with fire, I felt so beautiful for one slice of brief moment. I imagined I glistened like a night star soaked with moonlight. I was not fat.

But I thought I was.

My whole life, I thought I was fat. Sometimes I was, squeezing my sausage flesh into size 18’s and sometimes I wasn’t, with size 8 Gap jeans falling down on my hips.

But to a girl, who has a long time been a woman, with body hatred that stained her before age 12, true size is irrelevant. Those of us who obsess on the appearance of our body are a secret club of sisters (and brothers) who have become kin to Alice. We have been down in the hole for so long, we no longer know what is real. More importantly we don’t know ourselves, where we begin or end, and how to climb out. We only know how to measure our own sense of worth, black and white, good and bad, with broken rulers.

We are piles of flesh, food and shame.

Some will read this and say I am being overly dramatic. Focus on something more important like starving children. They are much more worthy of our attention. I agree.

But you cant focus on things more worthy when you are stuck in the pit of your own unworthiness at the most primal level.

There is nothing more primal then our own body. Our bodies get sick, heal, taste, smell, see, hear, fight, love and feel. They feel anger, joy, lust and fear. When we don’t pay attention to our bodies, we disconnect from what is happening in the present moment and live in the limits of our mind.

A yoga teacher once said the only thing we know for certain in each moment is the rise and fall of our breath and the sensation we feel in our bodies.

This is the only truth and everything else is a story. Everything else. My fat girl doesn’t live in the truth of her body. She lives in the drama of her story. But to climb out of story she has to relearn how to live in her body in a truthful and compassionate way.

Warrior Two is a foundational pose.

Foundational because you are standing on your own two legs. Anyone can do it. Its not just for the uber-flexible or the advanced yogi. No matter who you are and how much yoga you have done, this pose will become challenging when held for longer than a few breaths.

Warrior Two is a grounding pose.

Yoga poses are done in bare feet for a reason. To feel the ground which is always underneath us and to remind us that we are a part of it. Plus bare feet make it easier to stay in place and not slip or fall. Although falling would not be the end of the world. Everyone has to fall sometime.

Hold Warrior Two and eventually you will feel heat in your inner legs and thighs. Maybe just a little at first, but wait, more will come. The warmth will seem to come up from the ground and swell throughout your whole body and will eventually lead to sweat.

Heat and sweat are desirable in yoga. Don’t bail. Stay on the mat. By staying, you are mixing your discipline with inner brilliance. Pressure and heat. This is how diamonds are made.

Warrior Two is not a pose for the weak.

It requires grounding, stamina and hugging muscle to the bone. It demands strong quads and arms and a connection to our bellies. It requires the breath. The breath with a capital B, not a meager small one. Without full deep breaths, Warrior Two deadens. It is no longer a fighter. Its weary.

But the thing about Warrior Two is it cannot be all strength and stabilization, or it becomes rigid and inflexible. It will drain you. It requires an openness. A willingness to let in ease and comfort.

The poet Jane Kenyon wrote, “God will not leave you comfortless.”

Maybe it is only ourselves who leave us comfortless.

Patanjali, the father of yoga, said the poses should be both steady and comfortable. That is the only thing he wrote about the physicality of the poses out of hundreds of verses on how to do yoga. So it must be crucial. Steady meaning rock the pose. Hold it firmly. No one can push you over. You look out over your third finger and you are fierce. A don’t mess with me attitude. Don’t fuck with me. I can handle what ever life brings my way. I have to. But if I want to be a yogi, I can’t just push my way through the hard stuff.

What about the comfort? It is true, we are directly responsible for our own comfort. To find it, the yogi has to listen. She has to have the courage to let go of being in charge of everything that is happening in her life at each moment and trust. She has to let go of being perfect and blaming herself or others when things don’t go her way. She has to stop hiding behind whatever tale of woe she has spent her life cultivating and trust that she will be found.

The interior battle is to have faith that if she lets go of the edge of what is known, she will not come crashing down. She must believe that no matter what is happening, it is okay to be both strong and soft. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, healing, Yoga

The Girl I Meet on the Yoga Mat

June 16, 2015
Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

By Janna Marlies Maron

Plank pose. I hold myself up with arms and feet. Blood pulsing through my biceps and I feel strong. Pull belly in and I feel healthy. Holding in plank pose I breathe in; I breathe out. I remember how hard it used to be for me to hold this pose. Just 15 seconds and I started to shake. I could not hold it the entire time and had to lower knees down for support. Today I do not shake. I hold until the teacher instructs us to release.

I pull hips up and back into downward facing dog and stretch heels down to the mat. Hands press the mat away; spine stretches. Again I recall what it was like when I first started practicing yoga. In downward dog, knees bent and heels up. Holding that position and I lost my breath.

I move through the poses and watch myself as if I am not me but another student in the class. I watch and remember what she was like when she first started to practice yoga. Not even when she first started, but when she was the most depressed after her diagnosis nearly three years ago. She felt weak and unhealthy. She spent half the class or more resting in child’s pose. She wondered why she was even there. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love, Yoga

On Being Fat, Yoga Teacher Training, and the Right To Be Happy

May 22, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Anna Falkowski

In the back of Yoga Journal, lodged between ads for Himalayan salts and yoga retreats, was a photo of Ana Forrest, a yoga teacher famous in the yoga community. She was in handstand, naked from the waist up. The photo was a back view. Her muscled arms and opened hands pressed into rock ledge. Her bare legs stretched wide in a straddle and spread toes reached to an endless sky. A single black braid fell forward and touched the ground.

When I saw the photo, I felt a pang of longing. I too wanted a body that could do this. A body strong with each muscle defined. Even more, I wanted to be fearless and trusting.

In my head, I say, I have the right to be fat. I have the right to be fat.

I am a full-bodied yoga teacher. I take comfort in the fact there are others out there, luscious like me. In the yoga world, the majority of teachers are lean. On bad days, I look out at the students in the yoga class I am about to teach, and ask myself, Dont they see how fat I am? Why are they taking yoga from me?

Yoga is practiced primarily by women, yet it has strong patriarchal roots and leanings, which means holding up thinness as a measurement of yogic aptitude and success. It’s the order of things.
Sometimes I wonder if being a fat yoga teacher is silently scoffed at. A suspicion that he or she is not doing the work. We must be lazy or sneaking processed foods. Most likely both. Yoga tops can not contain us. We fill out our lycra pants with hips and asses, yet we teach respectable and popular classes despite the fact we’re not skinny.
There are days I love my curves. Each one a chunk of wondrous love and an expression of my sexiness, aliveness and my ability to get down and dirty with a cheeseburger and glass of wine.
As far as skinny goes, I have been down there, in the palace, once or twice in my life, but only because of diet pills, smoking, over-exercising or sticking my finger down my throat. I cut out my risky behavior once I became a mom. But my thin moments are full- color photographs in my memory catalogued between power and acceptance. The truth is I was only ever skinny for a few hours at a time, and then my weight would creep back up again.

Catching a glimpse of Ana Forrest in the back of the glossy trade magazine sent sparks through my nervous system, so I signed up to take her thirty day course, even though I already held advanced yoga teaching certifications. I craved change.

I sat with my therapist a few weeks before the training was to begin and told her I hoped to let go of my body image problems once and for all. Maybe this training would do it. And then I regressed. “If I just didn’t have this belly, I could be happy.” My mid-section had become a bundle of permanent stretch marks, scar tissue and loose skin due to all the times I gained and lost large amounts of fat.

“It’s so unfair.” I hated the way I sounded. Whiny and superficial. Even to me. Especially to me.
I would have preferred to be swallowed by the therapist’s soft couch. Instead I clutched a trendy printed pillow on my lap.

My therapist, a PhD, who never wore the same outfit twice, nodded her head in agreement. “Maybe this would be a good time to get the tummy tuck you keep mentioning. Just get it done and over with. Right after the training. Then you can move on.”

That’s how I ended up in the upscale office of a plastic surgeon, with a brand new visa card with a zero-balance and a $10,000 limit hidden in my wallet. My insides were whirling. The wall-to-ceiling mirrors reflected back a woman with a rounded belly in jeans and a red flowered top. My flip-flops were noisy as I made my way across the marble floor.

In my head, I say, I have the right to be skinny. I have the right to be skinny.

The plastic surgeon was a tall man with big teeth and a spring-time tan. He held a red permanent magic marker in his strong yet manicured hands and waved the marker around as he spoke. As he drew a dotted line along my belly, hips, and even across the top of my ass, to show me where he would remove the fat from, he told me the incision would be tiny.

“In a couple of months, once you heal, you will be able to wear a bikini. Of course how good you will look depends on whether you are a cadillac or a chevy. It all depends on what model you are underneath. I can only do so much.”

I looked down at my recently painted and pedicured toes the color of cruises and cotton candy. When I had gotten them done the day before, I hoped he would notice I appreciated details and pretty things. Now I felt my own foolishness slap my face.
“You are going to love the results,” he said as he put the cap back on the marker. He was giddy with himself. “All my clients do.”

Later that evening, sitting with my husband, I told him I thought the plastic surgeon was an ass. “But he does really good work, so I think I’m gonna go for it. After the training.” I looked at Matt for approval.

Then he said the thing my husband always says. “If you need to do this, I support you all the way. But Annie, I could care less what your belly looks like. Just make sure that whatever you do, you continue to have sex with me.”
He leaned over and kissed me while his hands groped under my shirt for my belly. “God, you’re hot.” he said.

Acutely aware of the red lines that would not wash off and delineated my muffin top, it took everything not to pull away from the man who loved me.

In my head, I say, Stay. Stay.

The first day of Ana Forrest’s yoga teacher training was as I suspected. I was the largest women in the room. It’s not that I’m obese, but I carry rolls and padding in a crowd that had nothing extra to spare. It was a significant difference. This did not stop me from walking past every single size-two yogi and plunking my yoga mat down right in front of the teacher. Ana Forrest looked directly at me. I made eye contact back. For the next 30 days I would put my mat down in the same exact spot and every day we would greet each other with our eyes. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, motherhood, Yoga

The Impulse To Breathe

April 2, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Wendy Fontaine.

As soon as one contraction ended, another began. The pain erupted from beneath my hip bones and a twisting, angry heat spread in all directions: up into my hardened belly, down to my bare legs, and out through my arms to my fingers, which were clenched into fists at my chin.

I asked the midwife, Renata, when I could have something, anything, for the pain. I had always expected that, when the time came, there would be some kind of medication. But labor rarely goes as planned, and in the moment – that wretched, unbearable moment – there was nothing safe for me to take. My baby girl was lying on her umbilical cord, and every time I had a contraction, her body and my body squeezed against the cord in a deadly embrace that pinched her only connection to oxygen. Drugs might have slowed, or even stopped, her natural impulse to breathe on her own once she was born.

Renata held my hand and rubbed my back. She pressed a cool cloth to my forehead, while I wondered if my child would survive. With each spasm, I filled my lungs and exhaled, over and over, like a surfer riding wave after wave.

I had learned how to breathe five years earlier, in a yoga class I signed up for after the World Trade Center towers burned and crumbled before our collective eyes. I had been a newspaper reporter then, writing stories about the people who died and the spouses and children they left behind. Quickly, the stories of loss had all become too much to bear. The images of people jumping from burning skyscrapers had taken my breath away. I wanted to go inward, to shut my eyes for a while. So I found a yoga studio, where the walls were the color of Nantucket hydrangeas and the candles smelled like lavender.

The teacher, Karen, was a petite woman with a soft voice and a graceful manner. She moved deliberately, with more awareness than I had ever seen in one person. Near the front of the studio classroom, I unrolled my mat alongside the other students and sat cross-legged, waiting for something I couldn’t name. Inner peace. Serenity. I didn’t know what.

The first thing Karen showed us was how to slow our breath by matching the lengths of our inhalations and our exhalations. Pranayama, she called it. Controlling the life force. It felt unnatural at first, but after a few moments, breathing seemed more like undulating – smooth and rhythmic, circular and endless. I could feel it and hear it. I could trust it.

I went back every Saturday, settled onto my mat and found that familiar pattern. We moved through the asanas, or poses. Some were challenging; others seemed nearly impossible. Just breathe, Karen reminded us. The trick was to keep a steady breath even when things got tough – when the room was hot, when our muscles were tired, when our minds were telling us to quit. Breathe in and out. Be full, then empty. Take it in and let it go. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, healing, Self Image, Self Love, Yoga

Teaching Yoga To Teen Girls With Sexual Trauma and The Connection To Us All

March 26, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Anne Falkowski.

 

I had my own sexual trauma at thirteen. It took only a few minutes. I can’t remember it all, but can still feel the pebbles and grit embedded in my opened-up palms, see my ripped jeans, and taste the blood inside my mouth from where my face was shoved into the ground. I can still smell their boozed-up breath on my neck and feel their thick hands and fingers. It was a one time event, but my perpetrators went to school with me. I had to face all three of them for the next five years in classrooms and even at parties. I had no one to talk to, no therapy, no coping strategy.

I begged my parents and the male police officer, who spoke with me about it immediately afterwards, to drop it. I gave no details. Details would have made me cry.

I’ll be fine.” I said.

What I wanted to say was, “Shut up. Shut up.

And like a miracle, they did. My parents and the cop, they shut up. In a span of less than fifteen minutes, they were gone.

I was left alone with the sound of my body hitting the pavement hard and the boys laughing and squealing in my head. It was like taking a deep inhale, closing off your ears, eyes, nose and mouth, and never exhaling again. I failed to mention “the event” again until I was 30 and in therapy for self-hatred so thick, I could stir it. Thanks God for the panic attacks that led me to the office of a persistent and wise therapist. I had no idea my low self-esteem and carefully hidden self-destructive behaviors were linked to what happened at thirteen.  All I knew was I had spiraled to a black bottom and couldn’t find my way back up. Continue Reading…

depression, Guest Posts, Yoga

Guidance.

September 26, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black

By David Henault.

Things in my life were coming to a boil. I had a dead end job with no clear direction in sight. I was drinking a lot to numb the harsh reality that I was finally at a loss and I was chest deep in depression. I knew I was at a turning point in my life but didn’t know which way to go. I could stay on a self destructive path or beat the odds and become something. I just didn’t know how to do it.

With every step, I watched my breath as it exhaled from chapped lips while I made my way up the half snow covered concrete stairs and to the weathered screen door that lead in to her apartment building. At the top of the porch, I looked over my shoulder for the third time just to make sure her beat up blue car was still parked on the street, as if somehow she could slip out and away without my noticing and be gone again.

I pulled the screen door open and turned the knob on the freshly painted wooden interior door. The hallway was dimly lit and musty, reminding me immediately of our basement on Normandy Road where I grew up. The old woman that lived on the first floor opened her door to see what the noise was and shut it again quickly, sheltering herself from the interruption in her day. I made my way up the creaky wooden stairs and stood in front of her apartment, watching for a moment the playful shadows from under the door that were cast by the lamps inside.

I took another breath and knocked quickly on the center of the door with my knuckles, which immediately started to sting from the cold.

I watched as the shadows from under the door stop moving. Silence.

My heart began to sink a little at the thought of missing her again and then out of nowhere, the door swung open.

She immediately smiled a big smile which comforted me and all was suddenly okay.

“Hi Davey!”, my mother said, letting the door to finish swinging open on its own as she walked straight back down the dark hallway in front of me and past three rooms to the bathroom where the light was coming from.

I had never seen her look more beautiful. The soft glow of the lighting behind her made her look soft and young. Her eyes bright, full of life and reminiscent of someone in their mid-
twenties. Her hair was full with bouncy locks styled like those in old yearbook pictures of people you see in the boxes your parents keep in the attic. When she smiled, I felt warm and calm. Safe.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Yoga

Things Don’t Happen To You- They Happen For You.

July 29, 2014

By Karen Salmansohn.

If you want to be happy, you have to embrace your Karma and Dharma! If you don’t know how, here’s a helpful Legos analogy  - inspired from my Yoga Teacher Training at Ishta Yoga! Read on…

poster-karma-med-297x300

My 3 ½ year old son Ari has a passion for Legos – even bigger than his passion for pizza. I know this -  because when Ari’s busy with his Legos, not even pizza can pry him away.

Although Ari loves building Lego structures from boxed sets, he gets an even bigger kick out of taking huge scoopfuls of old Legos (which we keep in plastic buckets) then building the pieces into “One-of-A-Kind Creations.” I call Ari a Master Builder – a term swiped from the most recent Lego movie to describe someone who’s innovative – who thinks outside of the (Lego) box.

So – what’s this have to do with Karma and Dharma? An interesting synchronicity united these concepts for me this week.

On Monday, I started yoga teacher training at the amazing Ishta Yoga. It’s a 5 week intensive program  - which starts daily at 8am. As a result, my normal morning ritual with my son Ari is now disrupted.  No more waking up and leisurely dancing to fun music. I now have to be at Ishta on the mat by 8am.

Every day this week as I made my early departure, my son Ari made it clear that he was not a happy camper about my new yoga camp schedule.  Come Thursday morning, Ari was in total tears. In my efforts to calm him, I came up with a quirky Lego analogy – a playful metaphor I thought would help Ari to embrace going with the flow of this surprise change in our morning routine.

karma

“Life is like a scoopful of Legos,” I told Ari. “You never know what pieces you’re going to get handed to you – but whatever pieces life gives you in a day – it’s up to you to make something really awesome with these pieces.”

“For example,” I continued, “in today’s scoopful of a morning, I’m not taking you to school – but your favorite babysitter Belinda is.  You didn’t get the “mommy morning piece” today – but you did get the “Belinda morning piece” – and you can make something cool out of that piece. Each day you get all kinds of assorted pieces. You might not get all the pieces you want. You might even get some pieces you totally do not want.  But you are the Master Builder of your day! It’s up to you to take the pieces you are given  – and make a happy, beautiful day out of these pieces!”

My son Ari contemplated this. “So, I’m the Master Builder of my day?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, encouraged by his question. “Yes, you are the Master Builder of your day!”

Ari’s tears at that moment vanished. I’m not sure if it’s because he understood my Lego analogy. I admit it’s quite possible that I had simply distracted him with the mention of Legos, Legos, Legos! No matter.  When I was done with this Lego analogy, Ari was done with his crying.

Sigh. Relief.

Later that day in yoga teacher training,  the inspiring Alan Finger spoke to our class about Karma and Dharma –their differences -  and how they relate.

“Karma is the situation you are born into.  Dharma is how you choose to act on what you are given   – your free will in how you choose to deal with your Karma.” Alan explained. “In Tantric philosophy, Karma is why you’re here. You’re here in order to work out the seeds of action you carry within you for this lifetime.”

What Alan said reminded me of the Lego analogy I’d given Ari that morning. Karma represents the random scoopful of Legos you are born with at the start of your life. There will be some pieces you’re born with which are totally terrific. And there will be some pieces you might not know what the heck to do with. And there will be some pieces you truly wish you were born with – but are completely missing from your particular scoopful of Life Legos.  It’s up to you to build something awesome out of the “Life Lego Pieces” you were given. And Dharma represents your “Free Will Choice “ in how and what you choose to build out of your particular “Lego Inheritance.”

mediate  salmansohn

Alan went on to explain how “Vidya” is the clarity you are meant to achieve so you can see your Karma for what it is – without ego or judgment.  Both yoga and meditation are wonderful at giving you the clarity you need to help you view your “Karmic Fingerprint” without judgment -  as something which makes you unique. Both yoga and meditation help you to go from a “restless mind” to a “still mind” – to help you to clear away your limiting beliefs, your illusions, and your negative habits – all of which limit your day to day awareness.

Basically, both yoga and meditation are great blockage cleansers which allow you take a happier, calmer gaze at that Big Pile of Life Legos which you were given at birth (plus also all those random Lego pieces which keep coming at you each day – which are also part of your Karma).  With the clarity of “Vidya”  you can better see how to build something truly magnificent with your “Life Lego Loot.”

Alan then went on to explain how according to Tantra, whatever life throws your way is worthy of worship and appreciation. Every circumstance has within it the opportunity to work out your Karma.

Meaning?

WRONG Thinking: Life DOES stuff to you.

RIGHT Thinking: Life GIVES stuff to you.

Basically, things don’t happen TO you – they happen FOR you. Every little piece of your life is there for a reason – to be there as something you can use in some way-  to help you to build your beautiful One-Of-A-Kind Life!

Although you might not see it right away,  every “Life Lego Piece” given to you will come in handy at some point – even if you don’t know what the heck to do with this “Life Piece” right away. Eventually you will find something useful for this seemingly random “Life Piece.” Even those “Seemingly Wonky Life Pieces” will come in handy at some point – perhaps even to serve as a powerful foundation for something else to be built upon it!

The more clear you can get (with the help of yoga and meditation) the faster you’ll be at figuring out how to build something truly beautiful with your “Life Lego Loot.”

Your Life Mission According to Karma, Dharma and Legos:

Look at each piece of your life lovingly! Stop whining about the pieces you don’t get.  Get curious about the pieces you’ve been given.  And be patient in your search to find just-the-right pieces to complete the beautiful life you alone are meant to build – your One-of-A-Kind Creation Of A Life. Each day when you awake,  it helps if you do yoga or meditate, so you can get clear on knowing what to do with any random, surprise Lego pieces flung your way – because you will know for certainty in your heart, that you are the Master Builder Of Your Life.

Oh – and I’ll leave you with this awesome quote about Karma to contemplate:

When in the middle of a difficult situation and I can feel myself provoked and the heat of anger rising, I actually say to myself this would not be happening if I didn’t have a karmic debt. And the way I relate to this right now can erase the karmic debt or make the debt deeper. And this type of situation is going to keep manifesting itself in my life until I erase this debt and now is my opportunity. And that is my motivation for being patient in the moment and not responding with my own irritation. -Pema Chödrön

I’d love to hear your insights on the comment section below! What’s something which comes to your mind and heart when you read about karma and dharma?  Share your personal story! I LOVE it when you share – because I love to find out about my community! his inspirational blog- so, what you share could be a helpful inspiration for someone else! xo Karen

Jen and Karen in NYC October 2013.

Karen Salmansohn is an ex-Senior VP award winning ad writer/creative director (at age 27) who left her successful advertising career (having worked as a writer/creative director/image consultant for J. Walter Thompson, McCann Erickson, Young + Rubicam, Averett, Free + Ginsberg, MTV, VH-1, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, Lifetime, E!, CNBC, NBC, Oxygen, Lee Hunt Associates, L’Oreal, Revlon, Avon, Blue Q, etc) to pursue her passion of writing.

She is now a best selling author and book packager with over 1 million books sold – known for creating a new breed of books – “self help for people who would never be caught dead reading self help.” Or: “self help books you can give as a gift — and not get slapped, because they look kinda cool.” Some titles: How to Be Happy Dammit; Prince Harming SyndromeThe Bounce Back Book; – and many more. Journalists call Salmansohn “Deepak Chopra Meets Carrie Bradshaw” because of how she merges empowering psychology/philosophy tips with edgy humor and stylish graphics.

Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. She has been featured on Good Morning America, NY Magazine, Oprah.com. Her writing has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, and more. Jen leads her signature Manifestation Retreats & Workshops all over the world. The next retreat is to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day/New Years. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: Seattle, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Miami, Tucson & The Berkshires (guest speaker Canyon Ranch.) She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

Send submissions for The Manifest-Station to melissa at jenniferpastiloff dot com.

Guest Posts, writing, Yoga

Strong & Fragile Parts. By Arielle Bernstein.

August 18, 2013

Strong and Fragile Parts by Arielle Bernstein.

 

I first started doing yoga two years ago, when my ex was offered a temporary position in Mongolia. I had the apartment we had shared at the time to myself and for the first time in a pretty long time I was living alone. I was looking for anything to distract myself from the pain of separation and found a 50-dollar all you can do month long yoga deal. I thought even if I hated it, 50 dollars was worth a few classes. Before then I had been one of those people who gently chided yoga aficionados, always running about with their yoga mats in tow, wearing their Lululemon and eating salad.

I have spent my twenties forcing myself to try new things, but I still tend to give up on things I’m not naturally good at quickly.

I’ll travel the world, but I’m afraid of diving in and learning a language, knowing I won’t be as proficient in it, at least immediately, as I am in my mother tongue.

All this is a long way of saying I love yoga, but I still kind of suck at it. My body resists a lot of poses I try to get into and whenever I take a class there are a bunch of people surrounding me who are doing things better than I am. I don’t know if I will ever be one of those people who effortlessly and elegantly goes into headstand. I do find complete comfort in a quiet room, the scent of nag champa and patchouli everywhere, the peacefulness of bare wood floors and my body not trying to do anything but be in one place.

Yoga is the one place I give myself permission to smile when I fuck something up, to not be competitive with the people sitting across or next to me.  

In a goal-oriented culture this type of space is actually relatively rare. We are taught to feel guilty about unstructured time. Yoga like most things popularized in American culture, is often sold as a status item for consumers. We have magazines that feature young, healthy blonde women looking seamlessly sexy and peacefully poised. What separates appropriation of a tradition and appreciation for it? Probably, for the outside onlooker, very little. When I walk around with my cutely designed yoga mat and yoga pants, I probably look a lot like the middle class white people who popularize yoga magazines. Lucky for me, in yoga class I don’t look graceful- I’m a little ball of sweat, trying at things I often can’t quite reach, until falling, relieved, into child’s pose.

When I was 16, I had a close friend with a degenerative illness who had just gone through surgery. The town where I went to high school was small and we were all very sad for our friend, but at the time I was going through a lot of other things too- typical 16 year old angsty things, as well as an, at the time, undiagnosed eating disorder that made a lot of my anxiety and depression a heck of a lot worse.

During this time period I remember my father driving me to school and mentioning to me that I really was lucky to have the body that I had and that I should be good to it- that in life no one is guaranteed anything and we need to be grateful for the things we have all the time because we are so incredibly lucky every single day we are here alive, breathing and experiencing the world around us.

I didn’t understand what he was telling me at all at the time and, in fact, I thought his comments initially were insensitive to just how different our culture views female bodies from male ones. Today, I think about the advice my father gave me often, probably daily, especially when I finish up a yoga class and I have time to reflect on the things I did right and also the positions or poses I didn’t quite reach.

Since I was a little girl I craved equal parts privacy and connection.

I still love the blood rush of intimacy about as often as I push it away. Two years ago yoga equipped me with the strength to be alone and a year after, when my ex and I broke up, yoga helped me grieve that loss, to manage my sadness and anger and to make choices that were the best ones for me to make.

I love writing because it helps me to distill my feelings and impressions of the world around me- it helps me value my experiences more; it keeps me conscious of my heart. Yoga is a physical manifestation of this same attitude: It not only keeps me conscious of my body, it also nurtures it. It not only makes me better aware of my breath, it makes me grateful, truly grateful for both my strong and fragile parts.

 

arielleimage

ARIELLE BERNSTEIN is a writer living in Washington, D.C. She teaches at American University and also freelances. Her work has been published in The Millions, The Rumpus, St. Petersburg Review, South Loop Review, The Ilanot Review and Press Play (Indie Wire). She has been listed three times as a finalist in Glimmer Train short story contests. She is currently writing her first book.