Sunrise, Christmas 2007
On Saturday as we began our workshop, we were asked the question: What was your favorite Halloween costume?
The real question was: What was your favorite role that you played for one evening?
Halloween gives people free license to become something they cannot be in their everyday life. Super silly, super sexy, super scary – caricatures of that small voice that often doesn’t express itself. But if you think about it, don’t we play characters everyday?
We dress up in our best business suit and leather soled shoes to go to a meeting, put on a cute halter top and peep toe sandals to go out for a night on the town with our girlfriends, or put on our Lulu wear to go to yoga or relax at home. Really, they are all just costumes.
We can take this analogy one step further, stripping off that costume. Who do you see as your Self? Who is your main character? What is your role?
Pulling from my favorite mystery stories, I identify with Harriet Vane from Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter stories and Tuppence from Agatha Christie’s Tommy & Tuppence stories. Both are strong, independent and intelligent women, with a sharp wit, a great sense of style and flirtatious side.
I have a friend who is convinced that her Self was written by Jane Austen and she is now actually dating an Englishman. Walking onto the sales floor, the Artist sees himself as Archie Goodwin from Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe stories.
What character do you see yourself as?
What role do you play?
Every weekday morning a jungle of well suited zombies emerge from the Metro doors. I admit, some days I also fall into formation - each individual moving indiscriminately through their day. Many of us chasing something, something that we think defines us. Chasing an impression of a dream, that remains illusive until we awaken to our true reality.
Last Thursday I had the opportunity to learn how to fly. In a few short minutes I relearned what it feels like to connect, feel the warmth of joy, to be truly present. My feet didn’t touch the ground for the rest of the evening – and I still don’t think they have found the ground. Yet, I feel more grounded than I have in the last year.
In life we’re presented many opportunities, it’s awakening to the spirit of the moment, to soar far past what our minds immediately perceive to see our true potential.
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This past weekend, Down Dog hosted a workshop in AcroYoga, lead by a woman with boundless energy, intrepid stillness, and a beautiful spirit. In my posts for this week I can only hope to share some of the volumes I learned in 5 short hours.
This evening after work I stopped by the grocery store conveniently located at my metro stop and picked up some essentials for the week. You know, milk, eggs, veggies, some marshmallows. As I was heading to check out, I saw that water was on sale, $1 for 3 liters. Impulse buy, but it’s water, water is good for you, I picked up one bottle.
Going through the check out I remembered that I have to walk approximately one mile up hill to my apartment wearing my 3.5” green suede/croc print stiletto heels today. No problem. If the bus was there, I’d take the bus. I walk out the door and there in the street lamp the glorious L2, stopped right in front of my market. Lumbered with my 3 liters of water and various other groceries I take my time heading to the bus stop, only to arrive as the bus is pulling away. I place my bags on the bench, look at the schedule and much to my chagrin to discover, the next bus is in 35 min (for those of you unfamiliar with the DC Metro bus system, 35 min = 45/50 min).
I made the executive decision to walk. Yes, carrying 3 liters of water and groceries – including eggs. I turned my iPod on and began my methodical and careful trek home. Every step jostling the bag with the eggs. With each jostle, I could feel my jaw clench in fear that I’d have scrambled eggs in the shopping bag by my arrival home.
After maneuvering into my building, up the stairs and into my apartment, I carefully place the bag with my eggs on the counter. I close my eyes as I lift the lid on the egg carton. All eggs are intact.
Every day we are faced with the challenge to live as freely as possible within the constraints we are given. Robert Frost said, "You have freedom when you're easy in your harness." How do we achieve this freedom with the harnesses that society has imposed? What about those we unwittingly impose on ourselves and those around us? Whether it’s our image we present to the world, or our lifestyle choice, or whether we use whitening toothpaste or not.
Part of it I think is acceptance, acceptance that we’re on the path we’re on, heading towards something. And, also, having the willingness to take some action and tread in the face of fear. I could have waited for the bus, but I wouldn’t have had as much time to work on my drawing tonight if I had waited. Another example, the Artist is finally taking steps to focus more time on his photography.
Calculated risks are almost always better than the haphazard.
So, the eggs?
After opening the lid, the phone rang, leaping across the kitchen to answer it, I knocked the carton to the floor, breaking each and every egg. My kitchen is now spotless, giving me space to work on jewelry and drawing.
I don’t mind trading a dozen eggs for that.
Yes, it has been a while since my last post. That’s not to say that a lot of thoughts have not been percolating and developing in my mind – or that a lot hasn’t been going on these past couple weeks. I got stuck a in cycle of running on autopilot and couldn’t quite get out of it. Even my co-workers have noticed that I’ve been wearing the same couple pairs of shoes, maybe out of comfort, maybe out of a feeling of implied safety in a time where we’re all transitioning. You can imagine their surprise when I wore my hair down to work today.
Many of us are not only attempting to move from one season to another – here in DC we’ve been enjoying 80 + degree weather on a fairly regular basis – but trying to find something to propel us further, out of our cycles and ruts, to find our edge again. Something to help find our smile again. When teaching Calculus, the Mathematician sometimes likes to call this rut a Blue Funk.
Tonight in class our teacher told two similar stories, one we’ve all probably heard, the one about the girl standing on the shore, joyously throwing the starfish back into the ocean with a smile on her face. There is a man by her just watching, wondering of what good the girl’s actions are, given the plethora of starfish littering the coastline. The second parable was that of a forest fire. All the animals ran out of the forest to safety and the humming bird stayed behind, fetching water drop by drop, working to bring the fire to a halt.
What do I take from these?
From the starfish story, it’s the daunting prospect of all these starfish littering the coastline and the girl just starts with one. She doesn’t try to save them all at once. Each single starfish she picks up gets her full attention as she hurls it to the heavens and back into the ocean. She doesn’t dwell on that last starfish she saved; she picks up and moves onto the next one as if it were her first.
I initially had some issues with the second story, but after letting it float around for a couple of hours, I think I may have found something more in this parable. The humming bird is pressing on in adversity; not running for safety, not running from the obstacle presented him. He’s meeting the challenge, giving his heart to something he believes in. Maybe others will join in, maybe they won’t, but at the end of the day he’ll know he did what he could and maybe even more than he would have expected.
It’s easy to be swept up into the spin cycle of life, relying on those things we find safe and easy. Maybe some days you have to step out in those new shoes, wear your hair a little differently, go somewhere you haven’t before. Take a step to where you can joyously follow your passions and your heart.
But the key is that you need to take some action.
What am I going to wear to work with those shoes tomorrow?…Do I have shoes to wear to her wedding?...Am I going to have time to go out shopping before going away this weekend?....What should I cook for dinner?…Is the milk still good?...Why did I buy that book that hasn’t been opened and is sitting on my bookshelf?... Shoot, I left my book at work…Did I finish everything I needed to at work today?...
We all need a moment of pause in our day, something to balance ourselves. Every day life demands an immediacy that spins us out of control and forces us to learn to spin slightly off kilter. How do we maintain our sense of balance? How do we return to center? One of the easiest ways to do this is through mantras.
There are many types of mantras. Probably the simplest, yet most enigmatic modern mantras are: Who am I? and I am.
It’s very easy to get caught up in the image that we have generated for the outside world. This past weekend, I continued going through my shoes, pulling out those pairs that no longer fit quite right. I had worn one of these pairs to work last week, black suede pumps. Whenever I wear them I always receive complements on them. As far as my memory will permit, they used to fit wonderfully, but now, they are not comfortable in the least, the sides rubbing against my outer heels, blistering and tiring my feet.
Each day we present to the world a reflection of who we are at that moment, by how we respond to outside factors and on a superficial level how we dress. Do we meet that research project for work head on or do everything in our power to get around to it? Do we eschew that beautiful pair of fall boots in favor of purchasing the supplies to cook dinner for friends?
How often do we really reflect on who we truly are, once we peel back all the layers?
While running errands on Saturday, I came across a pair of black leather pumps at Banana Republic, as soon as I put them on, they felt just right, this is who I am…
…at least for right now.
Try as I might I cannot walk in ballet flats to save my life. I stumble, I trip, I stub my toes – all in all it’s not a pretty sight. Give me a pair of 4” heeled shoes with beautiful leather soles, I can polka all night long. Trust me. CoffeeShop Girl, VespaBoy, Sophisticate, & Mr. Trivia can all attest to the polka statement from Friday night’s celebration of CoffeeShop Girl’s birthday.
In our lives we all look for a way to balance. Pondering this, I’ve come to realize that a lot of this balance comes in threes, implying a triangle. Think about it:
Green Pepper, Celery, Onion
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
Work, Family, & Friends
Mind, Body, Soul
Our triangles are always in flux, ever evolving and shifting. Sure, it would be great if our lives were a perfect equilateral triangle.
I wonder then, would life be stagnant?
* * *
During my brief hiatus from writing I’ve been pondering a way to give structure to this blog while examining my own various triangles.
Please bear with me through this process.
I welcome any comments or questions you might have about shoes, yoga, or life in general and will address them in due course.
CoffeeShop Girl emailed me today and suggested we meet up for an ice cream date. Her words, “Ice cream makes the world better.” I recommended meeting up at Gifford’s - I had vanilla ice cream (with chocolate jimmies) for dinner.
A week has almost passed since my last post and there has been so much. Possibly, too much. My mind has been a cacophony of thoughts and I have been filled with a broad gamut of emotion.
I have multiple drafts of posts and comments and observations - all leading down paths that just don’t connect naturally or express all that I have to say. Going back to the concept of Satya, not posting was a way for me to give Truth - to be honest, I was lost.
When we boldly walk down a path, relishing the the sound of our own footsteps, we sometimes forget to listen for the steps of others or to look behind us or to look forward. There’s a delicate balance to be had in looking forward with strength and determination (as in Virabhadrasana II) and looking behind (as in Matsyasana) while remaining in the present.
Concurrent with looking forward and back and being in the present, we try to reach out to each other to help ease the burdens carried by our Loves and Friends. Through this, we gain some further insight to our own beings and garner deeper strength to conquer our own lives. In class last night I did my first shoulder stand (Salamba Sarvangasana), assisted by our instructor. I had spoken with her last week about my fear of full inversions; last night she gently guided me past that edge.
Due to the nature of the pose, it is imperative that you are fully present and focused on the pose itself or the likelihood of injury is heightened – pretty much like the rest of life. But at the same time, there is no better way to live, than focused and awake.
In Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar writes about the pose:
“It is no over statement to say that if a person regularly practices Sarvangasana he will feel new vigor and strength, and will be happy and confident. New life will flow into him, his mind will be at peace and he will feel the joy of life.”*
In a way, it’s very much like having vanilla ice cream for dinner on a mid-August night.
* Iyengar, B.K.S. Light On Yoga. New York: Schocken Books, rev. ed. 1979, p. 213.
This morning I looked at my shoes and I honestly had no clue which pair I was going to wear. I have 43 pairs of shoes, and still, I had no clue. Finally after ten or so minutes of deliberation, I settled on my suede Cole Haans. They are familiar and easy, but they were oh so uncomfortable today, I couldn't wait to get home, peel them off and soak my feet.
Similar to how you can tell my mood by the shoes I wear, breath in yoga acts as a gauge and a moving force, carrying one through their asanas.
Back in December and January, people would tell to me that I seemed calm for all that was going on, I would say, "Well, I've been doing a lot of yoga breathing." Without knowing it, I wasn't that far off - breathing was a way for me to exercise some control. Prana, literally translated as life/breath, is the external manifestation of life; Pranayama is control of prana. In my practice, my breath is my marker. If I'm not breathing, I'm straining and pushing past where I should be. You breathe into a pose to move deeper, to open up the spaces that are tight, deepening your existence and focus on the present.
Breathing is just one of those things we do without thought. When we monitor our breathing, we have the opportunity to pause, assess, and savor life.
We started the back bending series this last class. Physically, the chest is opened and exposed, just as a foot in the graceful arch created by a Manolo Blahnik shoe. Philosophically, we bend into the past, honoring all that we have experienced, bringing us to our present. Breath acts as the bridge linking past and present and helping us step forward, into a new present.
Even though I feel a little as though I settled on my Cole Haans, looking at my closet, there are no other shoes I would have rather worn today.
Try as I might, I have never owned a pair of standard, classic black pumps. I've looked, I've searched, I've tried black pumps of varying heights and toe shapes. To this day, I have not found that perfect pair. There is always something wrong with the various "plain" black pumps I've come across. Today, I reached back into the bottom of my closet and my pair of Black NYLA d'Orsay pumps - purchased from Nordstrom’s at the beginning of April 2005. They might not be the “classic” black pump, but they are still some great black shoes.
I had forgotten how comfortable these shoes are - not to mention how cute, with the light pink stitching and slim 2.5" stiletto. I lived in these shoes for a little over a year, wearing them with a charcoal pencil skirt or khaki linen slacks. Wearing these today was like coming home on a long, cold and rainy day, to a loved one and to a bowl of hot tomato soup with homemade mac & cheese.
They were actually almost thrown out when moving back in September; however, I couldn’t part with the joy these shoes brought me and who I am when I wear them.
In a way, this is related to the focus of tonight's class, Satya – Truth.
Truth – a sentiment and quality echoed through the ages, by Socrates, in all religions, and even resonating in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. There are so many levels of Truth – personal, inter-personal, global, etc. In our days we carry ourselves through a vision of what we want to portray to the world. But does this image reflect our own personal Truth?
At the foundation of Truth is the need to let go, dig down deep into ourselves, acknowledge, and accept who we are as individuals and as a community. The way to grow into Truth is to wholeheartedly embrace who you are, inclusive of your history and your limitations. History is the one thing we each own and can only hold ourselves to – we can share it and also learn from others, but we cannot change it. In history we can learn more about the Truth of ourselves and those limitations.
In my practice I'm noticing that there are poses that come easier to me than others and there are some I cannot fully express. But, again I come back to Bakasana. Although my Crow is more of a baby Crow and I still have a tendency to topple forward – with every practice the pose is becoming stronger for me. I'm learning where my balance is, what did not work and what did.
Ultimately, it's still about embracing the entirety of the path you’ve walked on and where it takes you – knowing that you can either change the path or the shoes that you’re walking in, or both. Mindful of the past and the future, but knowing that Truth lies within the present as that is the only thing we can control.
I know that one day I will find my classic round toed black pumps – I can’t rush it, until then I don't mind continuing to search. Until then, I’ll continue to enjoy my black NYLA d’Orsays.
The weekend is a time for pause and where we can begin to celebrate the week that has past and focus on our own worlds. To forget about putting our work shoes on and to pad around in socked feet or barefooted!
My weekend yoga practice is centered around the community - Saturday at City Fitness and benefiting various local charities; Sunday at the Lululemon store in
Saturday's practice was interesting in that the Instructor had us arrange our mats in a circle and the flow was very different from what I have become accustomed to. After the class, as Bauhaus would attest, I was fairly critical. Upon further reflection, I did get something huge out of it.
I *almost* held Crow - Bakasana.
I've read the section on Crow multiple times in yogajournal.com and pp 315 to 317 in B.K.S. Iyengar's Light on Yoga are well read, flagged and dog-eared. Not to mention the fact that Baron Baptiste taunts me on a daily basis in his Crow pose on the cover of his book Journey into Power.
Seeing the instructor on Saturday next to me beautifully holding Crow with ease was awe inspiring. Too often we try to fight ourselves into something, fighting against a zipper or a shoe that's just a smidge too small. In a moment I could see where both the balance point and the weight of the pose were located. Her feet were beautifully pointed into each other and neck gracefully extended.
As much as we read about something, sometimes you actually have to go out and practice, step a little to the side, and gain a new perspective. In my late-20-some-odd years, I’ve begun to notice that it’s the little things that make a world of difference.
I woke up this morning in a haze, feeling off balance.
My morning rituals were all the same, nothing different, but even they felt off.
Having pulled my left middle quad during softball last night, I decided to wear my flip-flops into work. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I almost always wear my work shoes on my walk and commute into work. You could say that when I do this, I’m setting my intention for my work day.
I hobbled out of my apartment and headed down CT Ave to the metro. Half way there, I realized I left my inhaler in my kitchen. So, back I went, set my water bottle on the counter and placed my inhaler in my purse. Walk to the door head back on my way to work. I was having difficulty carrying, my gym bag, purse, and yoga mat – things I have carried together before with no difficulty. I must have been quite a sight heading down the street.
I ran into Bauhaus and my thoughts were confirmed - I was off balance, I truly was flipping and flopping.
Work was a flurry pulling together documents in prep for this afternoon. I felt like I was wheeling and teetering on the precipice, still having difficulty finding my balance. I panicked as I realized I left my water bottle sitting on the counter. I thought, “Maybe I shouldn’t go.” No, I had set my intention to go. I was going.
On my way over to the studio I began to think about my intention for my practice today, consciously attempting to slow my mind. As I tripped up on the curb and strained my quad a little more, I found my intention:
Center and listen to your body. Don't go further than your body wants to go. Push the edge a little, but listen to your body.
The "power hour" passed in what seemed like minutes. The phrase, be here now is so true. The only time I became cognizant of the external was the one time I didn't listen to my body and rushed into a pose. The teacher spoke to the class, "If you're in wheel, start to walk your hands and feet closer together..." I thought to myself, "Heh, I can do that. No prob..."*crash* Think running down the cobblestone streets of
I broke my concentration and was listening more to the teacher than myself, not listening to where my body wanted to be.
That was on the 3d of 4 Urdhva Dhanurasana or Wheel Pose. For the remainder of that pose, I slipped into Bridge. There was one more repetition to go. On that 4th and final wheel pose (!!!!) all I can say is watch out US Olympic Gymnastics Team! Okay, maybe I'm slightly over selling myself - but for that final wheel, I pushed my hips up on high and I managed to walk my feet and hands much closer together than I was ever able to.
I went back to work more centered and focused. If you're curious, on my commute home, I carried my purse, gym bag, and yoga mat with great ease - wearing my Charles David pumps.
Coincidentally, the shoe style is called "Joyous."
Today’s lessons are as follows:
I immediately check out the pumps, there are two absolutely fantastic pairs. [See?] I email Courtroom Cowboy - maybe he'll enable me to make another shoe purchase.
Back to work preparing exhibits for an upcoming deposition. Saved.
Over dinner tonight I was telling CoffeeShop Girl about these shoes. Her comment to me, "some people wear lots of different hats. If you think about it, you wear lots of different shoes. Aren't you trying to pare down, do you need to add more?"
I looked at her, took a sip of my PBR, and I blinked a couple times.
CoffeeShop Girl was right.
In the book Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life, Judith Lasater ends each chapter with a series of modern day mantras. These are not the long chanting mantras of Sanskrit. Lasater’s mantras do, however, reach to the core of the philosophy of a Mantra.
My understanding of a mantra is that it is a short phrase that brings a depth of thought and emotion, leading to focus, lending itself to clarity, comfort, and healing.
I have a feeling that the true meaning of a mantra has been pretty much lost on the majority of our society. How many of us have begun and ended a yoga class with a resonating "
The "Om!" is a unifying force, bringing teacher and students together.
“I’m fine” is not a mantra. This statement purely suppresses and crams a blistered and hammer-toed foot back into the same uncomfortable shoe. It might look good, but it will eventually hurt like hell, if it doesn’t already.
“I have many shoes… I have enough.” I would consider this something of a modern mantra. I am content with what I have and all the different shoes I try to wear. I now think of those beautiful red suede Stewart Weitzmans, purchased at the end of last July, that I could wear all day and long into the night.
How often have I worn those?
What shoes am I wearing tomorrow?