Grit, grind & gratitude

arrow and bow doodleYou know when you hear something for years, and you don’t quite know if it’s for real ? You hear it so many times, you start to wonder if it just might be true.

At some point, I heard that Mr. Iyengar said something along the lines of this: Yoga teachers learn so much from their students that we should pay them to come to class.

I’m not even sure if I heard it right — it was third-hand or second-hand. But nevermind that…it’s what I thought I heard anyway.

I have scoured my yoga books looking for evidence that he actually said this, but I haven’t found it.  So for now I’m considering it an Iyengar Yoga urban legend – meant for yoga nerds like me.

After this past week of teaching the classes while Tedrah attended a yoga intensive, I didn’t need to know whether Mr. Iyengar said it or not.

Each of you showed me the power of yoga in the most potent ways I’ve seen in my (nearly) 20 years of practice and14 years of teaching.

We practiced some of the most strenuous poses – many of which I rarely teach. Poses like Warrior 1 & 2, Hero, Bow (as in bow-and-arrow), Upward Bow (even more intense than Bow) and a pose actually called Utkatasana (Intense Pose).

At times I have avoided teaching these. They wear me out. And poses named for battle-like behavior perplex my peace-loving self.

The first tenet of yoga is non-violence. How to reconcile a warrior pose with that?

It takes a lot of grit to practice this way and even more oomph to teach these poses.  But as you have seen, practicing the warrior poses builds your strength of will — and can leave you feeling invigorated and satisfied.

You inspired me – demonstrating the Memphis grit and grind of our community spirit. You summoned the focus it takes to keep going when you’re tired. You shifted past some limiting thoughts, and came through.

Many of you accomplished new poses for the first time. I learned what is possible when you are encouraged to expect more from yourselves. And what happens when I let students know that I expect more.

All of these are the qualities of a great warrior.

Your work in class demonstrates the intelligence of your yoga practice on many levels: the physical, mental (how-to), wisdom (including knowing how much to do/not do), emotional and the potency of your will.

It is a joy to see your progress! Thank you for sharing this journey with me and our studio. I learn so much from you.

With love and gratitude,

10 easy steps…

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For me, the keys to any transformative practice are:

Iyengar Yoga appeals to me precisely because it promises no quick fixes & promises that you will face many challenges.

In fact, one of the main ideals espoused in ancient yoga texts speaks right to this:
“The practice of yoga is firmly established when cultivated consistently, with devotion over a prolonged period of time.” (Sutra 1.14 of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali)

Yoga explains the experience of serenity, provides recommendations for overcoming obstacles, and outlines practices to de-clutter your mind.

The ongoing practice of discovery is where I find the benefits of practice.

Through yoga, I remember and re-remember that living the life I want takes time, effort, and a lot of commitment. I learn over and over how I can relate to any obstacles in new ways. I bump up against my stuck places, and yoga practice helps me consider what’s behind the stuck-ness.

Spend just a few minutes on the Internet, and you’ll find 5 easy steps to any intractable problem or diagnosis.  Usually, the faster I move to solve a problem (without seeking to understand) only exacerbates the original problem.

Here’s an antidote to “10 easy steps:”
“[Yoga] aims to map out a path that all may follow. It offers advice, methods, and a philosophical framework at a level that even a newcomer to the practice of yoga may grasp. It does not offer shortcuts or vain promises to the gullible…the light that yoga sheds on life is something special. It is transformative. It does not just change the way we see things; it transforms the person who sees. It brings knowledge and elevates it to wisdom.”
–BKS Iyengar in his book Light on Life.

FAQ: When you are teaching a class, are you also doing your own practice?

The other day a student asked me this question.

He came to yoga after years after hearing about it from his wife, a long-time yoga practitioner.  This man’s relationship to yoga has developed quickly. Immediately after beginning yoga classes, he established a practice of his own. I could see from week-to-week that he practiced the things he was learning in class.

Nearly every week he asks me a question — sometimes about a pose he is challenged by, sometimes about what I said the previous week.

His questions let me know that he is seeking to understand the process of yoga and its promise of transformation.

My answer to his questions? No.

When I am teaching, I am teaching. I am there for the students, not for myself.

There are yoga classes where someone stands up in front of the group and does the poses, expecting you to copy what they are doing. This is the opposite of what an Iyengar Yoga does.

Iyengar yoga teachers are unique in that we guide students to a yoga experience that’s profound, intelligent and transformative.

We practice and train for years in order to individualize our approach for each student.

We provide you clear demonstrations of the postures. You are observed with a teacher’s well-developed eye so that you build your skill and understanding as you progress in your yoga from class to class and from year to year.

So when you come to class, I hope you will trust that I am there to serve you and guide you toward a deeper experience of yourself through yoga.

Although the poses can be quite difficult and require much physical effort, we are not doing gymnastics. What we are doing goes way beyond the physical. If you are interested in developing a yoga practice that sheds light on your whole life, Iyengar Yoga may be for you.

No matter what, you should know that Iyengar Yoga demands a lot from its teachers. Of course there are years of training and practice required. But mostly what is required is that we are able to see each student as they are and individualize our approach to support each person’s progress.

I hope that you will seek out a teacher you can trust. One who is always focused on you, and not just performing his/her own poses.

Getting ready to get ready

Celebrating indecision

yes-no.lowres.istockphotoWe had a brand-new student show up to the morning yoga class a few weeks ago. I asked him if he had any questions before we started.

He said, “I’m a beginner. I’ve seen the sign for a few months now, and finally decided to come.”

He said he and a colleague he works with talked it over and decided to give it a try. He came (and has been coming for a few weeks now). But she hasn’t come…yet.

It makes me wonder what makes some people ready, and others take longer to decide and to take action.

It takes courage to show up for something new. Courage, readiness — and a few other magic ingredients.

No one ever talks about the stages of making a decision to start something new. With so much pressure to “just do it, ” no one extols the virtues of indecision.

But I’m here to tell you are some! (Yep…I’m from that alien anti-just-do-it world of yes-no and stay-go.)

You’re undecided now, and what are you going to do? (yep, that’s how the song goes!)  Or, maybe you’re different…but I spend way more time getting ready to be ready than actually being ready.

I got real tired of the bad rap I was always giving myself for not being ready to go-for-it, bite-the-bullet, and make-stuff-happen.

But my frown turned upside down the day I finally decided to embrace my decidedly indecisive nature.  I felt a lot better, and that was enough for me.

Then I learned there is science to back me up on this.

I have found that trying something new is like that for me. If I change anything, I usually think about it for a long while before I actually do anything.

Change is never really an event. It’s more a process that unfolds over time.

And the indecision period where you are just contemplating doing something is often overlooked. But I think it’s the most important part. You’re undecided now, and what are you going to do?

I thought it was just me, but it turns out…

It turns out, some very smart people have done some research on this very topic, and given it a fancy scientific name: The Transtheoretical Model or TTM (Prochaska, DiClemente, & Norcross)

Here are the stages of change:
Not ready (precontemplation – undecided)
Getting ready (contemplation – a little less undecided)
Ready (preparation – decided but not doing it yet)
Doing it! (action)

I think these stages are more for study and discussion purposes. I never ask myself if I am pre-contemplating or just contemplating something. I just know I’m either battling back and forth between yes and no.

I’m undecided. Or I’m decidedly going to do something.

Some of may be more complicated than this TTM theory allows for.  Like me.

I find myself often not-ready-but-hoping-to-soon-be-getting-ready-to-be-ready. Quite an interesting place to be. This is when I am not rebelling against the idea of taking action, but I am still examining the pros and cons. Yes-no. Stay-go.

(Click here for my favorite song on the subject: Undecided by Ella Fitzgerald. Now there’s a woman who knows that a little scat-singing and a jazz beat goes a long way toward celebrating even the indecision that hurts.)

“Hmmm…maybe I will create a special spot to put my keys when I walk in the front door so I don’t lose them,” I think.

The not-ready-rebellious me says,
No way. That would involve too much work. I would have to find the right spot. I would have to go shopping for a special hook or container or whatever to contain my keys. It would take too much time. It would cost too much money. It would have to match my decor…blah-de-blah.”

My not-ready but getting-ready self says,
“Well, I am tired of losing my keys in my house. It makes me late in the mornings. When I can’t find them I feel anxious. When I finally find them, I jump in my car and drive crazy to get where I’m going. It sure would feel better to start the day knowing where my keys are. Maybe I can find an inexpensive container for my keys.”

The early stages of contemplation are subtle, and maybe not even visible to anyone but me. I haven’t actually done anything about my key-losing problem – yet.

It brings me great comfort to think of my not-readiness as an important part of the change process.

Even if you are resistent, rebellious, umotivated or ambivalent, you could be closer to taking action than you realize.

From my experience, you can’t rush it. It happens when you are ready. (Or getting ready to think about being ready.)

Of course, you can surround yourself with positive support and reminders. You can create logs, schedules, or accountability partners. Things like these help some people. But usually not me.

I do better if I let myself off the hook, and give myself time to just think about what I might do once I’m ready.

Perhaps you’re like me…Just thinking about starting yoga (or flossing daily or eating your vegetables or having more fun…) is an important part of the process.



Good endings make for better beginnings


2014: A love letter

Tonight we will cross the threshold into 2015.  Here are a few ideas for closing the door on 2014, and feeling complete. 

What are you most proud of this year?

Make a list of what you are celebrating.
What did you do well?
What insights did you have — however small?

List any positive changes you made — however small.  Small steps and incremental insights might seem too subtle to name.  But even the tiniest tidbit of progress needs to be celebrated.

By nurturing even the seemingly small seeds of beginnings, they begin to grow and flower and bear fruit.

One small thing I am celebrating this year is that I took good care of my dog, Mr. French. I fed him, walked him, groomed him, and took care of his health needs. I did a good job in this area. (See, nothing is too small or inconsequential to be on this list).

One accomplishment I am naming is that I showed up.  I showed up for my own yoga practice, my work, and my family. I did the best I could.  (I bet you did too!)

But even if you didn’t, there is always forgiveness.

What are you going to forgive this year?

This includes:

What are you going to forgive yourself for?

Forgiveness is a powerful thing — and an act of love. Are you willing to show up for yourself with an attitude of love and cut yourself some slack?

I have put a lot of things on this list.  I forgive myself for the times I was irritable and impatient. And for the times I tried so hard to control things when letting go would have served the situation better.

What are you going to forgive life for?

Can you consider forgiving life (the universe, God, fate, whomever or whatever) for giving you things you do not want?  Can you consider cultivating some small attitude of forgiveness that things did not go the way you wanted them to?

Note: This may be a very short list indeed! This can be deep, tough stuff.  For me, the best I can do with this one is to say that I am willing to consider listing the things I would like to be able to forgive.

What are you letting go of?

List the things from 2014 that you did let go of…or things that you want to leave behind.

For some of you, this might be something as big as a relationship that is ending. Or a job. Or a role you’ve always played, but are no longer wanting to play.

Or it could be something concrete like clearing out the clutter in a room of your house. Or selling your car. Or even just taking down your Christmas tree and putting it on the street.

Or…maybe there are some things you would like to let go of, but you are not ready yet. Take a deep breath, and write it on your list.

As in, “I am willing to be willing to let go of _______, but I know that it is not time yet.”

Trust that you will know when it is time, and you will do it when you are ready.

Be gentle with yourself.
Small steps.
Deep breaths.


What concrete action can you take to close the door on 2014?

This will symbolize your willingness to cross the threshold into the new year.  It does not have to be a huge ceremonial ritual.

Here are a few ideas:
Light a candle.
Burn some incense.
Take a bath or shower — as if you are washing away 2014 and clearing the way for something new.Go for a walk.
Unplug your devices for 10 minutes and sit quietly.

Make up your own end-of-year ritual…it is less about taking a dramatic action and more about doing something simple with intention.

And giving 2014 a good goodbye.

Happy New Year’s Eve!




Thanks to my teacher and mentor Bari Tessler Linden for providing the inspiration for this ritual. Working with Bari in her year-long money school called The Art of Money has inspired and changed my life for the better.

Stay tuned for my next post on starting 2015 well.