Tag Archives: Yoga

My Yellow Crested Firebird

I recently read The Wisdom of Yoga: A Seeker’s Guide to Extraordinary Living by Stephen Cope for my book club. This was my second time to read it. I read it once before when we first moved to California about six and a half years ago. That was a pivotal time in my life as I moved away from practicing law and politics and began to move more towards my current role as a mom and a maker of home coziness. As I read it again and discussed it last night with the book club parts of it keep going round in my head as I think more and more about them and how they apply to me and my life.

The one thing that really sticks out to me is the story the author tells of the quest for the firebird and how:

“our unconsicious ideals cause us to sacrifice our true lives to a beautiful chimera, a haunting dream, a compelling
illusion. Imagine a bird hunter on the loose in a magnificent rain forest, searching for the mythical Yellow-Crested Firebird. The hunter is relentless in his search for this bird, a mythic bird that, unfortunately, exists only in pictures, and in our own supercharged imaginations.”

For as long as I can remember I wanted to have a successful career. When I was younger, I wanted that career to be in politics or law. I felt that there was something inside me that was wonderful and that I could save the world just a bit with it. I went to law school, hated it, but endured it anyway because I thought it would give me a leg up in the political world. After law school, I worked on the Kerry campaign and then moved to DC. I knew only a handful of people when I arrived, but I networked and managed to keep myself mostly employed for the three and a half years I was there. But every job ended and I just couldn’t seem to excel in whatever I was doing. There was always something tripping me up. It didn’t seem to matter how hard I worked or what I did, it was wrong. I was miserable. I kept hitting my head against a wall, but I would pick myself up and keep trying and trying.

While I was in DC, I also met someone else, Alex. He supported me through my many job searches emotionally and paid all the rent when I couldn’t pay my share. Then he got a wonderful opportunity: move to California and work for Google. He wasn’t sure he wanted to go, to leave his family and his friends, but I knew it was what he needed and we went. I left my law job happily assuming that I would take the bar in California and eventually start practicing again.

Before I took the bar that first time, I had a unique opportunity, several months to do whatever I wanted. I was a bit nervous about what to do with all that free time and worried that I would become bored and lonely. I didn’t really though. I took the chance to do more yoga, to run more, to learn to garden, to cook ridiculously, and generally do things that made Alex and my life nice. It turned out I was good at these activities and I felt happy in them.

Then I entered a phase of almost a year where I studied for and took the California bar twice. It was horrendous. In the end I failed it both times just barely. It messed with my self-esteem terribly and I felt embarrassed that I couldn’t pass it. However, it also gave me some freedom, I didn’t have to continue along the same path that I had in DC because I couldn’t. I had to do something else. So I got a retail job at Lucy and sold yoga clothes for a year. It was retail, it wasn’t always fun, but it wasn’t horrible either. The upside was that I had a great closet full of yoga clothes! During that time, I got pregnant with Walter and standing on your feet all day does not work with being pregnant so I quit and became a mother.

While I was pregnant, I did my 200 hour yoga teacher training. After Walter was born, I started teaching a class of mom and baby yoga and then I started teaching just a vinyasa flow class. I taught that class all the way up til the week before Ella was born. I enjoyed teaching it and delighted in watching my students progress in their practice. However, yet again, it was not meant to be and I lost the class during my maternity leave with Ella because my subs numbers were better than mine. So it got me thinking about me and me working again and wondering why I keep trying to do it. Then I read this book and realized it was my yellow crested firebird. I have this wonderful idea of what it would be like to have a successful career and how it would make me feel. However, it just doesn’t match my reality of what working looks like for me. While I am spending all this time and energy chasing after my firebird, I am missing what is right in front of me. What I am actually quite good at doing. I am good at running our household. I like to cook and I like to feed people. It warms me. I like to make our house a home.

So now I think my challenge is to let go my quest for my firebird and realize what is right in front of me that is quite lovely. I also need to mourn my ideal of career and let it go as it no longer serves me.  Please let the universe grant me the ability to do this!

A Traveling Practice

Our family recently spent the month traveling to see family. It was a wonderful trip. It was also a change in pace for my daily yoga practice. I practice 6 days a week and I am one of those people that does moderation badly. In order to maintain my practice I really enjoy doing it all the way. That means I get up and practice every morning at 5 a.m. pretty much regardless of what is going on in my life at that moment. I really enjoy the continuity of the practice and the chance to greet the day on my own terms. It is a chance for me to center and achieve a sense of calm before the chaos of the day descends on me.

This daily practice becomes particularly tricky when I travel. Throw in the current requirement that I pump before I practice so my breasts aren’t uncomfortable and you have quite a bit of a quandry.

First things first – you have to pack properly in order to practice. I always pack three changes of yoga clothes, any less and you are constantly worrying about doing laundry, a travel mat (Manduka makes one that fits nicely in a suitcase even if it is a bit thin) and my super special rug from Mysore that has KPJAYI on it so if I drop into a studio people know that I am for super serious! 😉

We were gone for a month and stayed in 4 different places while we were gone. This meant that I needed to develop 4 different morning routines to ensure that my practice happened in the morning. The basic requirements were: a place to pump that was not in the same room as where people were sleeping (waking up Ella or Walter would just be bad), a place to put out my mat where I had enough room to move about it and extend my arms outside the perimeter of the mat, additionally this room needed to be hopefully somewhere I could turn on music on my phone because solo practice is more fun to the tunes of MC Yogi, bonus points can be won if the room has an adjustable termastat that I can change to make it warm, and finally I tend to prefer wood floors to concrete because my travel mat is rather thin.

First stop was Berekely Springs, WV. We were meeting up with some friends at a cabin in the woods. I scouted out the cabin and there was an extra room that I could pump in the mornings. However, the room was carpeted and carpet is a no go for practicing on. Luckily there was a huge living room with floor to ceiling windows and hardwood floors. The drawbacks were that the room was cold and it was close to other bedrooms so no music. The pluses were the beautiful trees outside those big windows that I was able to watch the sun rise through. Gives actual meaning to sun salutations.

Second stop was my in-laws just outside of Washington DC. They have a lovely huge house there with a basement which seemed the natural place to practice. The furnance was downstairs so it was nice and toasty in the morning. The drawback was that it was concrete flooring so it was a bit hard, but it didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. One day my sister even came down and did some of her practice with me which was wonderful!

Third stop was my parents place in Blanco, Texas which is about an hour outside of Austin. They have 10 acres out in the Hill Country there and impressively live in a very small one bedroom cabin. They have built another structure that has two rooms on top of each other and an overhang to park their travel trailer. We stayed in the bottom room so the top room was a natural place for me to pump and practice. It had concrete floors, but a thermostat I could control myself! I had my most ridiculous practice there of the trip. We arrive quite late and so I didn’t have anything unpacked when I woke up the next morning to practice. So I just grabbed my mat and practiced in the bathroom in my underwear and a long sleeve shirt. It was a bit close quarters! Also bras are nice.

Our fourth stop was a hotel in Houston, Texas to visit one of my best friends from college and her family. I hadn’t seen her in forever so I was quite excited to see them! I have to say that I was pretty impressed with my sheer determination and ability to find a place here. The first day we were there, Walter went down for a nap and Alex fell asleep too. However, Ella had no intention of sleeping. So I took her and decided to scout out practice places. The most obvious place would be the workout room or by the pool. However, the workout room didn’t have enough clear floor for a mat to go down and the pool had very bumpy looking tile around it. So I resigned myself to a not very comfortable practice by the pool and took Ella to find a place to lay her down so she could kick. I found a nice empty hallway by some conference rooms, laid out a blanket and put her down. As I played with her, I began to wonder if maybe the conference rooms might serve as a practice space. I wandered in and low and behold there was one of those movable dance floors set up for a wedding – bingo! I was set. I ended up pumping on the floor of the bathroom in our room and then going down to practice. It was a bit cold and I think I freaked out the kitchen staff, but it worked!

After all that, it was so lovely to come home and walk into the studio lay down my nice cushy mat and practice in a warm room with a teacher who would help me with my difficult poses.

Two practices and two kids: a lesson in routines

I find comfort in routines.  I enjoy knowing what will happen next in my day.  On the days that I am just completely zonked, I like being able to just ride the flow of my routines and know that thinking really isn’t required.  Morning routines are especially important in our family.  On a good day, we have two yoga practices to accomplish, a Walter to get to school, an Alex to get to work and a mommy and Ella to get back home before Ella just can’t deal with the car one minute more.  Before Ella was born the routine had been honed to a fine art of perfection.

My alarm goes off at 5 a.m.  I jump out of bed (jumping is quite a helpful tactic that early in the morning to assure that you don’t just roll over and go back to sleep!), get dressed and bike to the yoga studio.  I practice between 6-7:30 a.m. and then about 7:35 a.m. Alex and Walter would show up in the car and Alex and I would swap.  He would start his practice and Walter and I would either head to take him to school or home to begin our day.  Alex finishes practice around 9ish and bikes to work to begin his day around 10 a.m.

There are two things that have thrown a wrench into this perfectly orchestrated dance: Ella and Alex’s early morning meetings.  Ella does not like the car nor does she like to drink from a bottle.  Both of these cause large problems when trying to get everyone out the door in the morning.  Alex is working with a team in London and because of lovely time changes, the best time for them to meet is 9 a.m. – double yuck!  Between the two of these, we are having a really hard time of settling into a routine which is driving me a wee bit crazy.

We keep trying new things (switching off practice days, me practicing at home, different feeding times and ways to convince Ella that bottles aren’t the end of the world), but nothing really seems to be taking hold and working.  Logically, I know that eventually this all will pass, but right now it is hard to be constantly trying to change things and make something else work. In the chaos that is having a newborn, I long for the routines of life before.  I miss being able to schedule something and know that I could get there on time. I miss the simple ability of getting in the car and going somewhere without bracing myself for the continual crying that is sure to occur.

When all these thought begin to overwhelm me, Ella will just start smiling at me and chatting in her little baby way (also referred to as dispensing the baby crack in our household) and I will find myself smiling back and the horribleness is held at bay for just a bit longer.

Yoga in Unusual Places

Galveston, Texas: Flattened in 1905 by a massive hurricane, home to the University of Texas Medical Branch and your basic south Texas beach town.  Not the type of place you would look for yoga.

But I was in Galveston and I found myself wandering around downtown towards my favorite coffee shop, Mod. I found myself at loose ends because I was there to visit my sister and she was at lab working on finishing up her thesis.  I noticed that right next to Mod was a new place that looked oddly like a yoga studio.  I knocked on the door and a lady opened the door.

“Are you Sharon?”

“Nope, I am not, but do you offer yoga in addition to pilates?”

“I am afraid not, but just down the street at Market is Yoga Haven and they have the best yoga on the island. If you would like a schedule Mod has them.”

I walked off to get my coffee with a big smile on my face.  I grabbed the flyer at Mod and ordered my coffee and sat down to study the schedule.  There was a class at 10 a.m. the next day.  The next morning it was pouring.  As I drove to yoga, I have to say, I wasn’t expecting much.  I was just hoping for a chance to stretch out and just be at bit. As I waited in my car for a break in the rain, I peered through the rain to study the building in front of me.  Galveston was once a very prosperous port town, but since the big hurricane of 1905 it has been a bit empty.  In certain parts of the island, I always feel like I am wandering through a ghost town of empty buildings where people once lived and dreamed.  The yoga studio was on one of these such empty blocks with many big building lined up side by side.

The rain finally broke and I ran out of the car and across the street.  I opened the door and the scent of incense met my nose.  I stepped further in and looked around.  The inside was warm and inviting with high ceilings and a large expanse of wood floor beckoned from the studio further in. An older gentleman came up to me,

“Are you new here?”

“Yes,” I replied.  “I am in town for the week and saw your flyer at Mod.”

“How you have a regular yoga practice at home?”

I told him that I did and we talked more about where I was in developing my yoga practice and previous injuries.  He was warm and genuinely seemed to want to know my yoga related history so that he could help me with the class he would lead.  As I talked to him and the other students, I remembered just what can be good about Texas and Texans: they lack the need to be “busy and important” as so many on the East Coast do, but instead are straight forward, honest and are just enjoying the here and now of what this particular moment in life has to offer.  I went into class feeling warm inside and protected.  The teacher led us through a class that seemed to just fit what I needed that particular day.  I left with that lovely calm grounding feeling that yoga leaves in me: that there was good in the world and that I had a piece in it.

Yoga always keeps my ego in check

I felt strong.  As I flowed through the vinyasa I could feel my muscles supporting my body and moving into each new pose with a grace I didn’t quite realize I possessed.  My true goal of whatever particular exercise I do has always been to be strong.  For that brief moment I felt very capable like maybe I could actually do this yoga stuff.  My arms held my body up as I lowered my body to the ground for chaturanga dandasana. I hovered briefly above the ground while I moved my feet from being flexed to supporting my weight on pointed toes.  I had been working on this transition.  I wanted to be able to go into upward dog from chaturanga dandasana without flopping on the ground as I normally did.  My feet moved and I pushed upward with my arms as they shook from the weight of my body.  I reached the point where my arms normally collapse and just decided that somehow I was going to push through it.  My arms wobbled and I pushed.  My arms wobbled some more and I lectured them on not collapsing.  Finally I was in upward dog – I had done it!  My arms fairly hummed as I stretched into the pose.  I paused briefly and then flowed into down dog and paused there catching my breath and feeling proud of myself.

“Come forward to plank.” my yoga teacher called out.  I went forward.

“Now with grace and compassion move into side plank.”  Side plank is hard. There are just no two ways about it.  However, I had done this pose in the past and in my new strong state felt I must be capable of it today.  For the pose, you have to hold yourself up on one arm while balancing on the side of your foot on your side and reaching your other arm up into the air.

“You can do this,” I told myself.  I moved into side plank.  Then all at once my arm started shaking and my sweaty foot started sliding and in the next moment, I went face first onto the floor.

“Are you ok?”  my yoga teacher said with a concerned look on her face.

“I am just fine, just lost my balance.”  I replied.  I pulled myself off the ground and back into side plank, except this time I put my knee down for support.

I often find this in yoga.  I will have a wonderful moment of accomplishing something I couldn’t do before and then collapsing in some way in something else.  My yoga teacher teacher says that part of yoga is letting go of your ego and just honoring where you body is at that particular point in time regardless of what other people are doing or where you think you “should” be.  I am sure some wise yogi was gently laughing at me yesterday.