As I look forward to attending the annual IYNAUS convention (Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States) next week in Dallas, Texas, I want to share how I first became involved with this style of yoga and what it means to me. Simply put, the practice of Iyengar Yoga changed my life. I took my first class in 1984 and I continue to be so very grateful I got on that particular mat.
Initially, I began yoga as a physical exercise, like running or swimming. Immediately, though, there was something different about how I felt after that first yoga class. I felt settled. That experience stayed with me during my job as a pharmacist. I began to see life from a different perspective, perhaps an effect from those twisting poses or inversions. I slowed down. I became a better listener. I had fun! I hated savasana.
Asana was the way in for me. Paying attention to the physical aspects of my body led me to experience aspects of my body-mind that I couldn’t see, although I could feel them. Who knew that strength, endurance, and flexibility were more than physical attributes?
I wanted others to feel as good as I did. I wanted to tell strangers on the street that Iyengar Yoga opened doors of understanding to other layers of existence—to the Great Mystery. That didn’t seem like a very smart idea! The compassionate self-discipline of yoga had already taught me to stay put and watch my impulses before acting on them.
The world became my mat. Using blocks and straps on the mat taught me how to use problems and challenges of life as support for growth rather than as obstacles to happiness. I learned that everything changes—the weather, my body, and especially my mind. I learned that I have no control over external circumstances, although I do have at least some control over how I respond to them. I credit this understanding to the ongoing practice of yoga, to the determination of staying put in a difficult pose, like savasana. Who knew that corpse pose entailed dropping the ego as much as dropping the body?
An ongoing practice brings me “from the periphery to the core to the periphery”—to borrow the theme of the 2016 IYNAUS convention. Although I first attended yoga classes for the exercise, I stayed for the other benefits I received beyond the physical. These benefits are hard to put into words, but I suspect as yoga students that you experience them, too. As a teacher, I witness the changes in energy that flow through students during class. I see the transformation! Students also share with me how yoga off the mat has given them valuable tools for engaging with life’s challenges.
The theme of the IYNAUS convention is “Exploring the Path of Practice,” and that about sums it up. I practice Iyengar Yoga because the practice itself—especially in savasana—is an exploration into uncharted territories of the self.
While I’m away from April 11 to April 18, please explore your practice with the wise and generous instructors who are teaching my classes (see Schedule). I’ll see you when I return, full of new ways to be on the mat together.
Walking on the malecón this morning alongside a calm, blue ocean, I was roused by waves of memory. As I raised my cell phone to call my sister, Jennie, on her birthday, I remembered the many times I have called her over the years from this same Mexican island. Instantly, I pictured the various phones I have used in my life—from a bag phone that plugged into the car cigarette lighter to a rotary dial landline and back to a party line in Granny’s house in Mt. Airy.
Memories are part of the transient nature of thoughts. As yogis we practice staying in the moment as we learn to be attentive to our experience as it arises. We strive to notice when we are ambushed by emotions or wander off on a tangent of thoughts. At that very moment of noticing, we become conscious of our current mind state. Then we can utilize our memory in a different manner—to use the yogic teachings.
I’m fascinated by how memories show up either spontaneously or when prompted by a sight, sound, smell, or story. Because I’ve vacationed on Isla Mujeres, Mexico, yearly for decades, memories frequently arise about events that occurred on previous visits. The other night as I watched the sunset over the ocean with my husband and our cherished Canadian friends, one of them remarked, “Remember last year when we saw that guy drop down on his knee on the beach and ask his girlfriend to marry him?” I’d forgotten all about that until Shelley mentioned it. We had shared the experience and I didn’t recall it until prompted.
I’m not suggesting that memories are bad or that we shouldn’t reflect on the past or write a memoir. Stories connect us with one another. Shared experiences bond us. It’s important to notice, however, if we are so caught up in the stories that memory archives that we are inattentive to the present-moment connections that occur with every encounter.
On a day-to day-basis, having a sharp memory allows us to remember where we placed our glasses and what to buy at the store (especially if we forgot to take the list). We can recall the names of our friends and how to get back home. We’re able to bring to mind the wisdom gleaned from prior experiences. Each moment of existence includes the past. The mind becomes our servant rather than our master. There’s less thinking and more awareness.
Taking this concept to the mat, each Warrior Pose has its own life. Recalling the basics of the pose, I’m able to move into the Warrior-Pose-of the Day with joyful readiness—not attached to a memory of when I “did the pose better.” If I’m pondering the past, I’m not in the pose. I’m in my head. When I wake up to that idea, I turn my attention to physical sensations. I feel my feet. I lift my chest. I remember to be present.
Taking this into daily life, tomorrow, as I sally forth on my morning walk on the malecón, my intention is to be present to the sunrise of that day without comparing it to another one. I want to feel the warm ocean breeze, hear the low roar of the waves. I recognize that memories of today or expectations of the next day may color that precious moment. I’ll take a breath. Maybe I’ll simply sit down and be. I don’t want to miss a moment of this life.
As most of you know, I will be in Mexico with my husband for our annual month in the sun from February 1 to March 1. Randy and I have enjoyed this month of renewal, relaxation, and fun for more than 20 years. While I’m away, you’ll be in good hands with seven skilled, dedicated, and delightful teachers, to whom I am very grateful. Please continue to come to class! It’s YOUR practice, after all, and you’ll receive ALL the benefits!
(See location information to the right.)
Monday at Cindy’s Home Studio 2:00-3:00pm, Slow Yoga with Rachel Fagan 4:00-5:30pm, All Levels Feb. 4, 18, 25 with Laura Stone Feb. 11 with Gea Skeens
Tuesday at Cindy’s Home Studio 9:30-11:00am, Level 1-2 with Rachel Fagan
at Iyengar Yoga Asheville 4:00-5:30pm, Level 1 Feb. 5 & 26 with Jayne Alenier Feb 12 & 19 with Lynn Patton
Wednesday at Iyengar Yoga Asheville 12-1:30pm with Cathy Eising
at Cindy’s Home Studio 6:00-7:30pm, Level 1-2 with Tanya Neplioueva
For days, I’ve been writing in my head and on paper. When the time to write a blog post approaches, I watch my mind try to think of something wise to impart. The truth is, my mind (“the” mind) isn’t that wise. The heart holds the wisdom. So today as I write, I’m doing my best to let the heart speak.
My heart is full. Since my sister Carrie, died on December 5, 2018, I’ve received an outpouring of love in the form of letters, cards, texts, and calls. I received a small toy stuffed owl, a white feather, a silver butterfly pin, and a special origami crane. And hugs… oh, my goodness. I’ve received hugs by the dozens. I give them right back.
When I mentioned these kindnesses to a close friend, she remarked that she was happy to be reminded that human beings are kind; that they are loving. I agree: loving-kindness stands along with compassion, joy, and equanimity as one of the four “immeasurables” inherent in each of us. However, sometimes we confuse these pure qualities with what are called their “near enemies”—attachment, pity, indulgence, and indifference.
Wise ones say that even the non-virtuous carry the four immeasurables, although greed, doubt, ill will, or plain old laziness can block their expression. I suspect that each of us has experienced confusion at some time due to these hindrances. I know that I have.
Right now, though, I’m experiencing the kindness, generosity, and open-heartedness of people on a daily basis. Family friends from childhood have reached out to my sister, Jennie, and me with stories of playing board games with us while drinking Mom’s iced tea. Mom’s childhood friend, Anne, came to Carrie’s Thing, reminiscing about birthday parties and watching the Dollar girls grow up. I rejoice in these memories.
At the same time, I stay present and I move on. I get on the yoga mat and move my body. I sit still in meditation. I cry. I laugh. I hug. I carry on. I remind myself to look for kindness and goodness in all beings, not only the ones who reach out to me. I look especially closely if I don’t see those qualities at first. Like clouds covering the sun, obstacles may obscure our inherent traits for a time. May we each stay present and keep looking—inside and out. Like the sun, the four immeasurables can shine through each of us.
My sister Carrie died eight days ago. I knew her from the get-go. I was eight years old when she was born. Even before that, I remember feeling her move in Mom’s belly. That was weird. After Carrie was born, Daddy came home from the hospital and a day later drove me and my sisters Amy and Jennie to pick up Mom and Carrie. I wasn’t that impressed. Carrie was scrawny. She didn’t do much. I already had two sisters.
I know about impermanence. I’ve watched my own skin change texture. I’ve held on to t-shirts until they were threadbare. Everything changes. All formations are transient. But my youngest sister? Her, too? Overall, I’m okay. I’m tired. I’m grieving. I went out to eat at Marco’s (now 828 Family Pizzeria) last night. I was feeling fine. Then, a tube of lip balm ambushed me. To explain: my family is addicted to Chapstick. Even if it’s Bert’s Bees brand, we call it Chapstick. Mom had some by her deathbed. So did my sister, Amy, who died in 2017. So did Carrie. Sitting in the pizzeria I was ambushed by Chapstick memories as I brought the tube to my lips. I took some deep breaths. I tonglened my way though the moment—breathing in wet, moist, grey grief for myself and for all who are grieving right now. I breathed out bright, expansive, sunshiny joy to all who need that relief.
I warmed up to her over the years. I helped brush out her hair when we’d get ready for school. Every single morning, she’d have a rats’ nest of hair scrunched up the back of her head. As a toddler she had a way of making a “V” shape with her mouth. She made this shape every time we asked, even a week before she passed. She was a funny, happy little girl who once wrote a story about Colorfus the Rooster. Carrie loved our cat, Smokey, who slept in her bed. She was generous and would bring little treasures to me when I was a teenager. She laughed easily when she turned cartwheels in the back yard. I drove her to swim lessons, dance lessons, and cheerleading practice. She wasn’t particularly good at these sports—although she had a good time! I bought beer for her. She bought her own pot. Mom never knew about the beer.
Sadness and grief are essential to the process of letting go. Letting the whelms of emotion cover me physically, mentally, and emotionally allows me to be present to what’s happening now. I miss Carrie. That’s true. I’m happy she’s not in pain. That’s true. I’m grateful to all who have reached out in love. That’s true, too. I still miss Amy at times and now Carrie is gone. We all wore the same size shoe. All of us Dollar Girls had the same size ponytail. Now Jennie and I are the only two Dollar sisters left. The only two with tiny, thin ponytails. They, too, will go. I hope not for a long, long time.
Carrie died at home with her dear friend Dave, Jennie, and me close by. A van came to pick up her body to take to Bowman Grey School of Medicine. In her generous way, she donated her body to science. As the van drove away, I stood in the street and waved until I could no longer see the vehicle, the circle of coming and going completed.
In the meantime, while I’m here on the planet, I will be present to those I love. I will tell them that I love them. I will cherish my time with each person I’m with, knowing that each life is precious and fleeting. I invite you to do the same.