When Feeling Groovy Ain’t Happening

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Last night I walked into a yoga class feeling stressed out like crazy. I felt almost nauseous.

For those who know me, I come across as a pretty calm and peaceful type.  Peace and love and all that jazz (and salsa!).

Earlier in the day, I took a walk in the park to settle down. And it was marvelous. There were very few people there, including a group of men playing bocce ball (how come I never see women players?).

But then the fearful chatter in my head came back with a roar when I got home.

Once upon a time, I would have stayed put and just allowed my mind to take over. (And probably watched Big Brother. Yikes!)

But my spiritual and yoga teachings throughout the years have taught me something remarkable and, yep, mind-blowing. Tara Brach, meditation teacher, sums it up like this: “I realized I don’t have to believe my thoughts.” Yes!

So I know it’s time to PAUSE when I find myself going over and over in my head all the horrible things that are going to happen in my life because I didn’t pay a bill on time … or because I decided to follow my own path and forego a 9 to 5 job with a steady paycheck and paid benefits … or because I ate three ice cream sandwiches in one day even though I curtailed my exercise due to a pulled muscle … yada yada yada!

I pause and take the wheel again. (Random thought: Who would ever want a self-driving car? Eeks.)

I wash my face, change, and head over to the yoga studio where I teach, which has a lovely class taught by an amazingly beautiful teacher who lives her yoga off the mat. Her gentle voice guided me through a practice that reminded me why I am a student of yoga and why I love teaching it. I surrendered and let go.

So I want to give props to a beautiful blog called Women Who Hope written by Dawn Onley and Samantha McKenzie. I love their passion and their quest to inspire women. In a recent column (“Fall Down, Get Up”), Samantha wrote: “We should share our getting back up stories. Try putting aside the shame and the need for perfection …”

Those words really resonated. She’s saying it’s okay for me to share that I’m not “feeling groovy” all the time. So there ya have it! Sharing it!

I’m sharing it because I know yoga, mindfulness practices, and such really, really, really can change your life. It did mine.

I’m sharing it because “Life, I love you”!

Namaste!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Let’s Be Gentle, People!

I love writing and always envisioned being described as a writer on my tombstone or box of ashes or whatever. My blog has been unattended for quite some time so (as I say to myself) what’s up with that? Something for me to explore but I digress.

Today I am inspired to take pen to paper (haha) by something I came across yesterday as I was preparing for this week’s yoga classes.

I picked up a book, Enthusiasm by Swami Chidvilasananda, gifted last year by a beloved instructor, and read: “In the time of the Vedas, gentleness was recognized as sacred. It was a blessing to be prayed for, it created an atmosphere you wanted to live in.”

This is not any New Age thinking. The Vedas are sacred scriptures of Hinduism written more than 2000 years ago. Wow. Beautiful. Preach!

Seems to me that our world needs a big heaping of gentleness right at this moment. As the author, known as Gurumayi, writes, “Peace, mutual well-being, auspiciousness, selflessness, love—these are the qualities that accompany gentleness.”

And here’s the beauty of gentleness: “It removes fear.” Yes! Muy bueno!

She continues: “When you are able to convey gentleness, when you are able to exhibit gentleness, when you are able to speak from gentleness, when you are able to act from gentleness, it removes fear. It removes fear in others, and it removes fear from within yourself. It opens your heart … Gentleness relaxes your entire being so that you are able to appreciate the innate goodness of the universe. Gentleness, tenderness, is what you seek in your innermost heart.”

But don’t mistake gentleness for wimpiness! Gurumayi is not the first one who wants you to know this. Here are a couple of other writers who echo this sentiment.

“Oh! That gentleness! How far more potent is it than force!”
― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

“When lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner.”
― William Shakespeare, Henry V

(I googled lenity. It means “the quality or state of being mild or gentle, as toward others.”)

By George, I think we are on to something! So, uh, how do we learn about gentleness? Do we have to take part in an expensive yoga retreat? Or do we have to turn off CNN and NPR and FOX News?  (I always wanted to be someone who could proclaim she doesn’t own a television but that ain’t happening yet.)

Gurumayi says you can just check out nature: clouds, flowers, gentle rain, the moon. You get it. I get it. It’s kind of hard to be fearful and critical of yourself and others when you are experiencing and witnessing such beauty, peace and grace. Perhaps that explains why this apartment dweller loves spending time in my friend Gloria’s amazing garden after our weekly yoga practices at her home.

And, oh yeah, don’t forget to breathe people! Meditate. When you wake up in the morning and open your eyes, be grateful. Join a spiritual community. Have a bunch of chicas who are there 24/7 for you.

Anyhowwwww, how’s about if we all commit to being a little gentler today starting with ourselves? Let’s spread the word. Let’s spread the love. Let’s be Gentle Warriors!

Namaste!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Children Will Listen: Immigration and Sondheim

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When I was little, I would wake up to the sound of the percolating coffee pot and the low voices of my parents in the kitchen reminiscing about their lives in Puerto Rico.

I don’t recall the actual stories but I would hear my father talking about his mamá and papá, and my mother about her mamita (she never mentioned her father and I regret to this day that I never asked her why.)

I felt safe and cozy on those mornings, and I would drift back to sleep. Those are happy memories from my childhood in Plainfield, New Jersey. We moved to the mainland about a year after I was born in Puerto Rico.

I’ve been thinking of those long-ago mornings as I read the political headlines about immigration and how some people would “solve” the “problem.” I’m not going into specifics in this blog because you just have to pick up the paper, turn on the TV or radio, or go online to get the latest info.

But four words keep popping into my head: “What about the children?”

What about the children who are hearing their parents in their kitchens talking about their fears for their family? For their future?

What are these boys and girls thinking as they hear the anguish and the anger in the voices of the ones who are there to protect them?

This summer, when I taught a yoga class to a group of elementary school kids in Paterson, I asked them if they ever are afraid, and what they do when they feel afraid. One student said she just goes to sleep. Another one said he always feels like someone is following him. Speaking in Spanish and English, we talked about ways to deal with fear including using our breath. Smooth inhales. Smooth long exhales.

There’s a song by my beloved Stephen Sondheim that goes like this:

How do you say to your child in the night?
Nothing’s all black, but then nothing’s all white
How do you say it will all be all right
When you know that it might not be true?
What do you do?
Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say “Listen to me”
Children will listen.

Here’s a link to a rendition by the one-and-only Bernadette Peters. Tip: Have tissues ready when you listen to just about any Sondheim song. I always do.

Namaste.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gey1PtXYwLI

Obits, Fear and Fairway Coffee

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Folks often tell me that I seem so calm and peaceful and, for the most part, I am. It took many years to figure out that I can create my own heaven or hell … and, man, do I prefer the heaven part. Who knew?

But there are those moments when fear strikes at my heart. Usually in the middle of the night when dawn and a couple of strong cups of coffee are still a few hours away. (Benny’s Blend from Fairway Supermarket is the best! Get a pound and have them grind it up. Sweet.)

I start to think about mortgage payments and such, and question some life decisions like leaving a solid corporate job (before I even vested) for what I considered a dream job in the political world (and in many ways it was even with the 24/7 stress levels). I’m sure even Suze Orman would hang up on me.

We all come to many forks in our roads. One of my earliest ones was when I quit my first post-college job. A federal government gig. My oh-so-wise mother, who had a third-grade education like so many other Puerto Rican women, and others said I was making a huge mistake.

But several months later, I started as a reporter for a small newspaper in Paterson, New Jersey. Such a glamorous job. When funeral homes called in, someone would yell out “obit!” and suddenly we would busy ourselves working on our Pulitzer Prize 10-inch stories about the three-alarm fire that left a bunch of families in the street.

However, when I did take the calls from the local funeral directors, I knew the families and friends of those who had just taken their last breaths may be reading whatever I typed. So I remember being careful with the spelling of their names and such.

Yesterday, I sat outside and started reading a beautiful collection of stories written by Latinas put out by an organization called Las Comadres Para Las Americas. It’s called Count on Me, Tales of Sisterhoods and Fierce Friendships.

In one story, Carolina de Robertis writes about her Lebanese-American friend Leila who became very sick with cancer and passed away at age 47 before she could complete her novel. So Carolina and others finished it up.

Right before she died, Leila wrote the following passage on her blog. I plan to carry these words in my heart so I can take them out and read them in those moments before the sun rises and the caffeine rushes through my veins.

“So please, friend, bless what you have and let go of fear for the future. Today is the only day you have got. You are breathing. Enjoy your breath. You are alive. Enjoy your life. Bless everybody who comes across your path. And the work? Bless your work, too. Bless your town, your bills, your possessions. You are lucky to be here for all of it. If some of it gets taken away, fine, something else will take its place. You are an amazing confluence of billions of variables and nobody else is having your life right this minute. And don’t worry about hope. Just breathe and appreciate your breath. Everything arises from that.”

Namaste.

A Fountain, a Trip and a Cat Named Matt Damon

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There is a fountain in the back of my building that was just turned on after a couple of years or so of being out of service, so to speak.  The building had major renovations on the outside walls (and I spent several months with boards on my windows! Ugh.).

So I just meditated by the fountain as I listened to the wind blowing in the trees and the hypnotic sound of the water.

I kinda feel like that fountain … alive after being somewhat dormant for so long.  Water looking clear. (eeks, that sounds kinda corny/trite, says the editor in me but I am ignoring that voice because it has stifled my voice for way too long…)

As I travel my spiritual path and as I’m breaking down/removing obstacles that no longer serve me (oh geez, says the editor), I find myself making and considering big changes.

So I am working on non-attachment, if you will.  Getting rid of material things, old ideas, and checking out how it feels (kinda good/exciting/scary).

Once upon a time, I could fill up my car with my possessions and take off to a new town, relationship, job, whatever. I’m kinda yearning for those days … except now I have a gato named Matt Damon and a yoga mat.

Not sure what road I’m taking or even want to take. May be just down the street or to a faraway land (Asbury Park! South America!).

So lately, thanks to guidance from an amazing teacher, I’ve been asking myself “What do I need to know?” as I go into meditation. And I am hearing a voice that is sounding clearer and clearer.

It’s already an amazing trip.

Namaste.

Hablamos Yoga Here!

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We stood on our yoga mats preparing to do the tree pose. Eight kids and me.

How do you say ankle in Spanish?

Tobillo!”

Ah, yes! That’s right. I smiled my thanks and we continued our yoga class at a Paterson elementary school. Eight kids and me. Speaking often in Spanish and sometimes in English.

After hearing some chattering away in Spanish before we started the class, I asked if they wanted me to teach in Spanish or English. Several confidently said they could speak both languages. But they pointed to one boy and said he spoke only Spanish.  I understood what they were saying. They wanted to make sure he wasn’t excluded in any way.

We did a community tree. That’s where you stand in a circle and position your palms so you connect with your neighbor to the right and to the left.  You support your fellow yogis and together you grow  your branches and reach for the sky.

They giggled and we all swayed as they first placed a foot on their tobillos, then their shins and then their upper thighs.  And they were all triumphant in their very own individual ways.

The yoga classes at the school are now over for the summer.  I’ve had the amazing opportunity to teach there through the Kula for Karma program, a nonprofit organization of volunteer yoga instructors.

And the kids weren’t the only ones who were getting lessons that will hopefully be used off the mat.

I met a 90-plus guru last year. In my nervousness, I sought common ground by telling him I was a yoga teacher. He paused and smiled at me with kind eyes. “You say you are a yoga teacher. I am a student of yoga,” he quietly said.

Yes. A student. That is what we all are.

I am so grateful for the children who so briefly shared their yoga practices with me this summer. Through them, I learned about their fears, their joys, and even a pet horse that one student left behind in the Dominican Republic.

We finished our yoga class with a loving-kindess practice. May I be filled with love. May I be happy. And such. Then I asked them to direct those words to someone they loved, and then finally to someone they may not be feeling so good about. May you be filled be love. May you be happy.

“I like yoga,” said the littlest one in the class who lingered after the others had run off to get their lunches.

This joyful little boy, who had sat next to me for an hour, sometimes quietly joining me on my mat when I had my eyes closed and then erupting into giggles when I noticed him behind me, then said something I will never forget: “You’re a good teacher.”

Ditto.

Namaste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kids, Poverty and a Namaste

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I’ve been patiently waiting for the right moment to write my first “a silver latina on the mat” blog. One thing I’ve learned in recent years is to chill out a bit when it comes to life decisions. Instead of holding my breath and then mindlessly dashing or plunging into a situation, I now take a breath, pause and then carry on. (It usually works.)

In future blogs, I’ll talk about how and why I ended up being a yoga instructor after working in numerous arenas including journalism and politics. And why I am now all about mindfulness practices, being present, and so on. But that’s not important now.

This morning I read about a new Pew Research Center study that touched my heart and soul. It detailed the high percentages of black and Latino children who live in poverty. You can go to the organization’s website and get all of the cold statistics. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/07/14/black-child-poverty-rate-holds-steady-even-as-other-groups-see-declines/

A few hours later, I sat in a circle of yoga mats on a gym floor with about a dozen boys and girls at an urban elementary school. I was there as a volunteer to teach yoga through Kula for Karma, a marvelous nonprofit group.

Right before our practice started, as I sat waiting for the students to assemble, a pair of sisters, who had been in my very first class the prior week, ran up to me and hugged me.

“Namaste,” said the older one with the beautiful halo of bouncing curls before the girls ran to another activity.

Namaste. The light in me sees the light in you. That was our lesson a week earlier. My heart overflowed with joy.

As we sat in the circle, I asked the children if they ever felt sad, or scared, or angry and what they did when they felt that way. I then suggested alternatives that they can use by tapping into their own breath. They can just lie down and breathe in and breathe out. (They were amazed to learn we breathe an average of about 21,000 times a day!)

We ended our class with three enthusiastic Oms and Namastes. As the children rolled up their mats and started to leave the gym, I smiled as I heard them continue to bid friendly Namastes to each other.

So what does yoga have to do with the disturbing poverty rates affecting children throughout our country?

I often say I wish I had the tools I’ve learned through yoga and my spiritual journey when I was growing up. We all have fears in our lives, sometimes real but often just imagined. We all get angry and we all get sad.

So if there is any possible way we can help children navigate this life, whether it’s through a breath practice or a grammar schoolteacher who listens to them, or a friendly Namaste, this Silver Latina on the Mat wants to be part of that movement. Now.

Namaste!