because i said you can…that’s why….

it’s funny. i mean not ha-ha funny, but funny nonetheless.

i work with a lot of special needs yoga students (that’s not the funny part), of every age and every challenge, be it mental, physical, or emotional. most of the time, i make tremendous strides. i’ve had a student come to me in a wheelchair because he didn’t feel comfortable walking…and we got him out of the chair. for good. i had a girl with add/adhd who could not get through ten seconds of meditation when we started…but eventually got up to a full hour. i had a mentally disabled woman who could only walk on the balls of her feet learn to balance on one foot…flat. and then–now here’s the funny part–i worked with a textbook.

well, he wasn’t literally a textbook, but his mother and entourage thought he was.

he had therapists and nutritionists and shadows galore…and a yoga teacher. and all but one treated him like a textbook.

although he was already in his late 20s, everyone coddled him because that’s what the textbooks said to do. despite struggling with his weight, his nutritionist thought that replacing his soda with fruit juice and sparkling water would be too jarring for him. so he stuck with big gulps and doritos as his snacks of choice. his therapist thought that challenge was too disruptive for him, so he kept him in his comfort zone…always. and then there was me. i don’t believe in comfort zones and i don’t believe in limitations.

even though this young man was fully physically capacitated, he suffered from asperger’s syndrome, which caused him to mentally function differently than most. every pose i offered him, he would back off, telling me he couldn’t do it. simple poses like cat/cow or tree with his hand on the wall. but i don’t allow the word “can’t”…just “i’ll try.” and i pressed on and guess what? he could do the poses. in fact, he could do every pose i asked him to. after i asked a few times.

first down dog i asked him to do, his mother jumped in to intervene that he absolutely can’t do that one! wonder where he got his ideas from. ’cause, guess what. he could do down dog, too. and he could do it for ten breaths. and through all the poses i gave him, nothing ever broke, nothing ever tore. we just worked on frustration tolerance. because with people with asperger’s, the real work in life is learning to work through life without stressing out. actually…i guess that’s everyone’s work, really…

anyway, as my student got more proficient, i challenged him more…and, by golly, he got stronger. and stronger.

but his team didn’t want him strong. they wanted their textbook. the book said that he is not capable of working beyond his comfort zone and he is not capable of change. his psychologist came down on me for pushing him too hard and said that i would need to cut out all challenging poses…which, according to my student, was every pose. and let me state an aside that this student loved coming to yoga and called it his “happy place”. so it wasn’t that he didn’t want to practice yoga. he just didn’t want to practice frustration tolerance.

anyway, despite what the textbooks may say, i disagree. i think that everyone grows through challenge. i’ve seen remarkable transformations through challenge. and i believe that without challenge we would all just die on the vine.

yes…the student quit yoga because his psychologist didn’t like my approach. and that’s the funny thing. my approach is that i push people because i believe in people. i believe people are capable of amazing things. i believe they can break boundaries and expectations and move beyond the studies and the means. i believe that all people of all needs can be remarkable. but they have to believe it, too.

funny, huh?

about last night…

so…about last night.

it wasn’t a great night.

as some of you know, i am pretty active in pro-israel politics (“pretty active” as in: it’s the single most important thing in my life) and the recent events in israel have been quite unsettling, to say the least.

it’s been a few days of conference call after conference call, punctuated with trying to get ahold of my little sister who lives in tel aviv and generally worrying about her and the whole country.

needless to say, there hasn’t been a lot of sleep involved.

and i am someone who needs her sleep.

but instead of catching my much needed zzzzzz’s last night, i found myself teaching my wednesday night class. and as my first teacher, bryan kest, would say “you bring your shit into yoga, you turn your yoga into shit.”

okay…so i did that.

my usually funny, fun, funky class was transformed into the yoga boot camp from hell. my smile was transformed into a scowl. and i felt like i was dying inside. not just because i had become so angry and upset (isn’t yoga supposed to be about non-reactivity? i said that about a hundred times during the class, so i hope it is…), but because even as i felt the anger creeping in, i felt helpless against its encroachment.

i guess, as a yoga teacher, i’m not supposed to succumb to such pedestrian emotions. but ultimately, yogis and yoginis do get angry…just like normal people. and, man, last night’s class was just shit.

oh…and yogis and yoginis cuss, too.

a universal sorry all around…

the spiritual handstand

So, here I am minding my own business, taking advantage of the awesome summer sun, practicing on the cliffs in Santa Monica. Runners run by, bikers bike, strollers stroll…and then there’s this one random guy who feels it is very important to take it upon himself, come over to me, yell that “That’s not yoga, you know!” and then continue along his merry way.

Now, I don’t know who this maharishi thought he was, interrupting my personal practice on one hand, and thinking himself the ultimate authority on yoga on the other, but on the off-chance that he is reading this post, let me set the record straight.

Yoga, literally translated, means yoke. To yoke together. As in, yoke together your mind, your body and your spirit.

Yoga does not have to take any particular form. It doesn’t have to be asana, or meditation, or sava/selfless service. Yoga can be running, writing, eating. Honestly, yoga can be picking your nose.

Any time your mind, body, and spirit are aligned with a singular intention, you are practicing yoga.

But let’s take it out of the esoteric and into the concrete. Let’s assume that this guru of yoga knowledge and spirituality was right…and only asana qualifies as real yoga.

First of all, I will concede that the ancient robed monks who invented this practice were not doing so in adho mukha vrksasana (Downward Facing Tree, i.e. Handstand). In fact, most accounts point to the fact that handstands are a relatively modern-day yoga practice borrowed from gymnasts perhaps around the turn of the 20th century.

But…here’s why I will defend my beloved yoga handstands to the death….

When someone is practicing handstands (or any truly challenging posture, really), his or her mind is 100% focused on the task at hand. If it isn’t, the pose will fail, the practitioner will fall, and the practice will completely fall apart.

And for those who believe that easier and simpler hatha yoga is the only truly spiritual yoga because of its slower pace and non-physically challenging focus, let me posit this…What happens if your mind drifts off in a stretching posture, in a mountain pose, or even in that warrior that you’ve done so many millions of times that you can do it in your sleep? The answer: nothing. In fact, the mind is much more likely to drift off when it is not being fully challenged than when it is.

Working on a handstand is to work in fully aligned intention. Your mind, your body, and your spirit all conspire to accomplish your goal. You are in your yoga.

Call it what you will, but these handstands are yoga in their purest and most literal form.

my million dollar baby moment

okay…i’ll admit it’s not the easiest transition in yoga, but honestly, it’s not the hardest one either. in fact, it’s pretty manageable…albeit perhaps a tad bit scary.

i’m talking about vrschikasana in adho mukha vrksasana to gandha behrundasana, silly! but of course!

oh…sound like sanskrit to you? basically, it’s going from scorpion in a handstand to scorpion on your chin (or, i guess, my chin, to be more exact).

i was able to do it the first time i tried it (it’s really not as hard as it looks)…and the 99 times after that. but that’s where this story begins.

so, i’m in a class working on this particular transition. mind you, again, i have done this 100 times before (give or take) without issues. but not this time. i had just arrived in chin-ville when i realized that my legs were too far over & beyond my head and i was going to flip.

now, flipping in handstand is one thing. you land in urdhva danurasana (upward bow) and all is okay in the world.

flipping in gandha behrundasana is a whole ‘nother story. your chin is on the floor, so you are basically rolling over your head with your neck fully extended, face first.

at that moment, everything got really slow and clear and i truly believed “this is where it all ends.” either i was going to die or be permanently paralyzed by severing my spine. if you’re old enough to know the movie, it was my “million dollar baby” moment…time stopped.

after the dramatic flip, i did a quick check in to see if i was still alive. unless i am writing to you right now from heaven unbeknownst to me (god, i hope this isn’t heaven!), i’m still alive. check.

and then…

i got up and i was fine. didn’t even hurt my neck or anything. like fine, as in perfectly fine.

not very dramatic, i know. no ambulances, no life-saving operations, in fact, i don’t even think a single person in the class even noticed. and class–and life–went on as usual.

but…i pretty much became petrified of this transition. never mind that it was old hat up until that moment…or that i didn’t even hurt myself when i fell…the possibility was there and it scared the crap out of me.

for the next few years, i avoided this transition and if someone asked me to do it, i would cheat my legs so far in front of me that not only was there no chance of my flipping over, but very little chance i would actually land the pose either.

it took a long time for me to finally buck up and put this transition back into my practice. i don’t have a lot of fears when it comes to yoga, but fear had definitely kidnapped this from my repertoire.

i’m a big believer that one of the biggest benefits of yoga is learning to face your fears…calmly. eventually, i did add this back into my practice. and even if it scared me, even if i had a deep and visceral reaction to it, i was determined not to let this silly challenge beat me.

now, it’s a part of my daily practice again. and every time i land it, i have to think…hey, i’m still alive and turns out, life is good!

om sweet om

so it took me a little while to foster a consistent home practice. a few years really…well, let’s be honest, a decade…

for the first few years, i would hunker down for a home practice, do a few sun salutations, a couple of poses, and ten minutes later, i was done. that was the end of the practice, i did everything i felt like doing. ten minutes.

it was a bit of a barrier for me, that ten minute mark. somehow, it was all i could muster before wandering off in boredom.

eventually, i bought a home with a dedicated yoga studio in it. certainly, that would provide the motivation i needed to practice at home. no more wedging between the bed and the bathroom looking for a space to put my mat. i’d have nice hardwood floors, empty walls, and plenty of room to experiment….but i didn’t.

it was just about two years ago when my favorite teacher skipped town and i decided at least on the two days a week i used to practice with her, i would home practice. it was like pulling teeth.

and once i was nothing but gums, it was do or die and i finally found my way. and here it is.

if you want to start  home practice of your own, maybe try this.

start with a fixed series of postures. now, let me be clear that i am not an ashtangi, but i personally recommend the ashtanga primary series. why? simply because it’s long. one-and-a-half to two hours, depending on how deeply you breathe. and one-and-a-half is the magic number.

only problem, there are no handstands in the series. :(

so, after a while, i started adding them in. i’m a non-conformist anyway.

and little by little, i started deleting the things i didn’t care for in the primary series and adding in the things that i did…until eventually, there was no way to discern that the ashtanga primary series ever existed in this room at all.

now, my practice is exactly what i want it to be. every day, i pick and choose whatever i’m in the mood for. i still have my sun salutations (kill me before i take those out!), but even those have certain deviations from the norm. no one has ever called me normal.

and the coolest thing? by working on what i want to work on when i want to work on it, my practice has soared to new levels. i’ve taught myself awesome things that were never taught to me in classes and, honestly, i can’t see myself ever returning to a studio practice. turns out, the best teacher was inside of me the whole time (cue some whitney houston song here)…

there’s no business like yoga business…and i mean that literally…

i’ll admit, i’ve been called a lot of things in my day–mostly behind my back–but the one thing that kills me every time is when people (let’s call them yoga instructors) accuse me of being (brace yourself) a businesswoman. usually in the form of “you think this is a business! it’s not! it’s yoga!” oh, and the reason it kills me is not as in “i die a little death each time i hear it”, but rather “i almost die laughing when it’s said.”

okay, i’ll put my cards on the table. yoga is my practice. yoga is my love. yoga is my life.

and yoga is my business.

it never ceases to amaze me the lack of business sense i encounter throughout this industry that you can’t dare to call a business.

here’s the thing that my accusers don’t understand:

business (yoga or otherwise) is rooted in the concept of integrity, responsibility and respect for oneself and for others. that means among other things: showing up on time, returning all phone calls, emails, and texts, and upholding contracts and obligations.

a yogi/ni is a businessperson because s/he respects other people’s time. if someone sets an appointment or wants a response at a certain time, the yogi/ni is there. s/he is not telling others to “just chill” and “everything is fine…i’ll get to it when i get to it.”

a yogi/ni is a businessperson because s/he respects other people’s needs. if someone tries to call, email or text, it’s because that person would like the courtesy of a response. it is disrespectful not to respond to other people’s inquiries…in a timely fashion and without having to be asked twice. cereal is meant to be flaky. yogi/nis aren’t.

a yogi/ni is a businessperson because s/he upholds all contracts and obligations…period. if it’s in writing, in a handshake, or in a namaste, an agreement is not only legally binding, it’s morally binding, as well. “oh…i didn’t actually read it” is not an acceptable excuse.

so, you can accuse me of my business-y ways as much as you want. bottom line is, i respect all people at all times, i immediately respond to 100% of the messages i receive, i uphold all schedules, contracts, and obligations, i am 100% honest and transparent in the way i conduct my yoga business, and ultimately, the thing i’m called the most is still “yogini”.

now, that’s the yoga spirit!

so…here’s a challenge…find the spirituality in a yoga class…in los angeles.

i’ll wait…


still waiting…

sort of hard to find, huh? lodged somewhere deep between the guy with the turban who molests women and the naked girl who does a really nice split…it’s there…i promise you.

and it’s there in every class.

preposterous, i know! but true nonetheless. because spirituality isn’t something that’s given to you, it’s something that you bring to the party.

not a very spiritual person yourself? well, let me posit this:

did you know that the words “spirit” and “respiration” come from the same latin root, spiritus? you don’t have to be the pope to decode that one (i don’t know latin either…).

you see, it’s very clear when you are practicing yoga what the “body” element is. it’s, well, all the stuff you do with your body, the asanas.

it’s also pretty clear what the “mind” element is. your mind must stay present to control the actions of the body. if your mind is all monkeying around, your postures will suck.

okay…so now that we have mind and body in place…let’s get back to our latin lesson.

the single greatest indicator of a “perfect practice” has nothing to do with whether you can stand on your hands or touch your toes, but rather whether you can get through an entire practice without a single breath passing through your body unnoticed.

of course, the deep, fluid, mindful breath is a function of the body, controlled by the mind. i might go so far as to say that it is the tie that actually binds body and mind together.

and…respiration = spirit. tell that to your high school latin teacher. she’ll be so superbus.


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