Rachel

Spring? (Finally)

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As I ran Wednesday morning, I felt that first little hint of spring, that relief, that clarity in the air. I reveled in the splendor of it. (God, doesn’t that sound cheesy? Sometimes when I try to write without too much metaphor, without too much critical distance, I’m stunned at the sentimental/cliche/unoriginal sound of the language. I have to think more about this.) Anyway it felt so amazing not to be pushing myself forward, not to be fighting against the elements.

I listened to the birds chirp, saw the daffodils, couldn’t help smiling as I ran up along the river with that joy contained in the early days of spring. That lightness in the air, the sky, the sweatshirt instead of a jacket. Light, finally.

But then I thought that just because that first hint of spring can make us feel that all is right with the world, global warming is still real, worse than predicted, impossible to reverse—all we can do is try to minimize the effects. So that made me think—maybe you shouldn’t feel so happy about this spring day, because that doesn’t erase the erratic weather of all the other days, the disordered seasons, and all the danger they signal. Maybe I should brace myself against the pleasure of the day. Too much #blessed Instagram* photos on days like this might lure us into what Marx would have called a kind of false consciousness.

And a related thought, less severe, but somehow equally insistent: it wasn’t a particularly cold winter (though it felt like a truly punishing one here in NYC), so therefore I hadn’t earned this day. I had not put in my dues, fully, and therefore wasn’t entitled to a wholehearted embrace of its beauty.

Yes, we need to continue to work to preserve the beauty of spring for many more centuries, need to listen to Rachel Carson’s words so that they will never go silent. But when it comes to earning the beauty of the morning or not, perhaps a lovely beginning of a lovely spring day perhaps simply be what it was and is: a gift.

—Rachel

 

*I didn’t think I was on Instagram, but somebody recently told me I am, and that I have 34 followers. Maybe lack of content is a way to gain attention!

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Rachel

To read, perchance to dream

 

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I have had a lot more time for reading books lately. Not that I am reading luxuriously, curled up for a few hours with tea. Mostly I read on the subway and a little bit at night before going to sleep.

A few years ago we tried something I read about where everyone in the family reads separately. SQUIRT it was called in some magazine or other. Super Quiet Uninterrupted Reading Time. It never really caught on. For me it was important that everyone read books, physical books, not something on a Kindle or Ipad or phone. Why? If one is “legitimately” reading a book on a phone, why doesn’t that feel right to me? I guess I fear the person will be pinged and otherwise interrupted and tempted to scroll around and look at other stuff, won’t be immersed fully in the book. I need to be less controlling about how and what other people choose to read, however. Alex (my partner) likes to scroll around on news sites, particularly Brazilian ones. He claims to like books—and wants to hold on to all his accounts of the Hungarian Empire, counterpoint melodies and Tai Chi—but I rarely ever see him holding one. But anyway it shouldn’t matter to me what someone else chooses to read, or in what format. I need only focus on myself. I have to remind myself of this constantly.

Anyway, the reason I’m getting to read books more often is very simple—I choose them instead of scrolling around, clicking on links, checking various cites. There still are blogs I follow and I almost always read The New York Times digitally, but aimless clicking and scrolling, I am trying to avoid. It brings me so very little satisfaction, and yet for years I willing jumped down into rabbit holes rather than pick up a book. Laziness or a feeling of wanted to be connected, current, “in the know.” Somehow not having the energy to step away from the computer and push through the initial resistance that can attend opening a book. Why should there be so much resistance to something we love doing? I suppose part of it is knowing that we’ll be interrupted, and can’t read the way we want to, so instead we settle for fragmented online reading, a few minutes here, a few minutes there.

It took me a while to realize most books don’t demand so much attention that we can’t read them the same fragmented way.

Mindful decision-making brings clarity to almost every aspect of our lives.

Now step away from the computer.

 

—Rachel

Rachel · Self Care

The now that you have

I started today listening to Krishna Das sing Hanuman Puja. I lit Palo Santo sticks and moved through various yoga poses while the kids half played half practiced beside me. It was the beginning of a centered day, or seemed to be.

At that moment, nearly fifteen hours ago, you would have pictured the day unfolding in a calm and orderly way. You would have imagined a short piece here posted on time. Kajal and I have left “on time” vague, but certainly it was intended to be a post for that day—the morning ideally, or at least mid-afternoon, not one posted hours after the daylight was long gone.

Even now, I found myself resisting. I still have work to do, I tell myself. I still have to clean up the kitchen. Forget my plan of cooking over the weekend in preparation for Thanksgiving. I find myself putting it off, even now. I’ll write later. After I finish my work. After I finish cleaning the kitchen, even though the standard for cleaning, like posting, has dropped precipitously, from originally fully cleaning everything, the dishes, the floor, to bringing the dishes to the sink for tomorrow morning and making sure nothing that will rot is left out overnight.

Write now, I tell myself. Now, in the evening. Not the now you imagined, but the now that you have.

Check in with the blog, with yourself. I suppose it also feels like checking in with Kajal, although I don’t know if she’ll read this tonight. I picture her in a meditative pose, surrounded by candles, electronics long since turned off. Then I laugh. She is probably working too.

I open itunes and put back on the song that started the day, Hanuman Puja. There is something so very sad about this song, the sound of it, not the words, which in English I do not know. Mournful. But there is this strength to it too, defiance; it makes me think of Irish music and of Wordsworth’s “faith that looks through death.”

But then I think, forget Wordsworth, forget Krishna Das, who was born on Long Island, whose real name is Jeff. We are smashing the patriarchy now. And I love that when—to try to figure out how to end this piece—I type “smashing the patriarchy” into Google, it auto-fills in for me this: “Smashing the patriarchy is self care.” Yet I let Krishna Das play on, and Wordsworth, I know, will follow me, even into sleep.

 

 

—Rachel

Guest Post

Counting my Beads and my Blessings

Once again, from Sharyn Hahn, Friday words of wisdom!

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From—Full Moon Mantra & Mala Making Workshop ~ 12/3/17

“For 3,000 years, mantras have been used to change the brain and fortunes of millions of people. Believe it or not, the ancient Rishis taught that the Sanskrit language was formulated to have a special effect on the brain, and could literally change the way we think.”

—Yogajournal.com

Just a few days ago, I came home from a long day of teaching, tutoring, and working out. It was dark and cold outside, and I was very tired. But I was really happy to be back at home. I walked into my bedroom, and as I was taking off my coat, I heard a pop and the clatter of many small things hitting the floor. I looked down and saw that my favorite mala bracelet had somehow come apart and the beautiful beads were everywhere. I became frantic. I got down on my hands and knees in an instant to try to find all 29 of them. I was able to locate 28 beads; one is still missing. The mala must have a specific number for it to be authentic. My initial response was to be very upset. I couldn’t continue to pursue my goals without my meditation mala…

As I lovingly placed each bead into a small ceramic dish, I tried to convince myself that this was only an arm “bling” and that I have several more to wear. But I made this mala at a special workshop that included a powerful mantra I meditated on every day in order to manifest a reality that is very important to me.

After being sad and frustrated for a good while, I realized that the mala was special to me because it has helped me to channel positive energy towards creating my intention. I was worried that all of the significant progress that I have been making would dissipate without the mala on my arm. It was a moment of panic because I have felt so much gratitude for the manifestation of my goals and I was afraid to lose that momentum and that feeling.

The good news is that the more we practice gratitude, the more often we experience it and the more we can replace the negative with the positive. So I had used the “power” of my mala to remind myself of what is possible; this positivity kept me diligently sharing my “plan” with everyone that I could, which kept me on my path. So I realize that in reality, the mala is always with me in my heart. Embracing our dreams and not giving up on ourselves and others are central to living each day to its fullest, even when there are obstacles that show up in our way.

Being thankful is a choice we can make in any given moment. Although it is cliché, it is true that we can decide to go through the day from the perspective of a glass half-full or half-empty. The circumstances do not change, but rather it is our attitude that colors our experience. Love, gratitude, and a connection to the universe are vital to a healthy existence. Yoga is an ancient practice that has taught these values for many centuries. In our sedentary modern lives, this practice is invaluable. It turns out that the physical poses that prepare us for quiet introspection and meditation also release endorphins that make us feel satisfied and happy. Being flexible and feeling strong result in a sense of well-being and significantly impact our mood. Learning to quiet our minds and meditate on the positive eventually replaces the negative energy and circular self-talk that drags us down.

Research by Rick Hansen, PhD has shown that practicing gratitude actually changes the brain chemistry. Hansen maintains that as your mind changes your brain changes. “Neurons that fire together wire together,” Hansen says. Gratitude practices have been proven to strengthen existing synapses and actually thicken the frontal cortex, building new synapses. Directing attention skillfully is a fundamental way to shape the brain over time.

Meditating daily is a powerful action that we can take to embrace gratitude. I have felt a shift in my outlook and the way in which I interact with my family, friends, colleagues, and even strangers by affirming my mantras every day. It took many months for it to become an integral part of my psyche, but I have been stronger when others needed my support, less frazzled by challenges, and generally more optimistic.

When we send out positive energy and gratitude, it has an effect on the people whose paths we cross. It is absorbed by them and then they pass it on. Think about a time when you have walked into a room and someone that you care about was in a negative mood. Were you immediately aware of your own feelings being shifted to that plane? Have you had experiences when a group of family members was emanating negative vibes all together? This creates a wall of emotions that is hard to get past. It has been proven that the negative and positive energies are shared and passed on to everyone else that we meet. What power we all have to create a beautiful and positive vibration if we actively pursue this outcome.

Studies have shown that when we actively focus on positive thoughts and acts, our brains accept this outlook more readily. Using writing to support this process is also very helpful.  Charles M. Shelton, Ph.D. suggests a written, daily examination of the gifts and blessings in our lives. Writing encodes positive experiences in our memory. This practice helps us to become more aware of our blessings. He suggests taking note, literally, of what we are grateful for on a daily basis. I have always told my language students that they need to write out their verb conjugations in addition to reciting them, because the connection from the hand to the mind is really significant, a fact that pedagogical research has demonstrated in various disciplines. This is also a powerful method to incorporate into our mantra and meditation practice. When I teach my Yoga-Journaling classes, the goal is to observe our sensations in our bodies as we move through the poses, and write down how we were feeling during and after the physical practice. I also have my students set an intention that they record in their journals along with their mantra.

During this season especially, we tend to start thinking about what we are thankful for, especially during the actual day of Thanksgiving. However, our mental health, relationships, and impact in the world will all benefit from practicing GRATITUDE every day.

Yoga and mindful breathing can help you to relax and connect with yourself, allowing any stress and negativity to leave your body. This will make room for gratitude to enter. As you move inward, you begin to experience the present moment, as thoughts about your day or what you are going to do about dinner begin to disappear. In the present moment you are able to experience gratitude simply by BEING.

I would like to share an exercise that you can try on your own to get this process started for yourself:

  1. Find a quiet and comfortable place to lie down and close your eyes. Place your hands on your belly and feel yourself breathe.
  2. As you inhale, be aware of the prana- the life force of your breath- filling you up and causing your tummy to pooch out.
  3. As you exhale, gently press your belly button towards your spine. Inhale and exhale like this for ten breaths at a comfortable pace.
  4. Begin to chant in your mind “I AM” as you inhale.
  5. As you exhale, open your heart to whatever comes to you; it may take a few minutes. Do not force the mind to choose something. Whatever word arrives for you is something that your BEING wants and needs to manifest. (My first experience with this several years ago resulted in “courage”, which I held on to for two years. It has since shifted to “perseverance”.)
  6. Once you have your mantra, inhale “I AM’ and exhale your mantra. Continue this for as long as you feel that you would like to for this first exercise.
  7. I invite you to start your day with this meditation and feel the positive space that will be created for you. A sense of gratitude will be an additional gift from this practice.

I encourage you to practice breathing and simply watching your thoughts go by as you relax and inhale and exhale. Use this link below as a tool to help with your breath.

 

Take the time to relish and savor the gifts in your life this holiday season.

(By the way, my missing bead found me yesterday morning as I was leaving to go to work. Once I was able to stop feeling sad and replace that emotion with positive affirmations, it appeared! Lesson learned! Now I can put it back together and wear it on my arm again.)

Namaste.

 

 

 

Sharyn Hahn has been a teacher to students of all ages for 33 years, with a focus on teaching French at a private school in NYC. During the past eight years she has added a new dimension to passion for teaching and is now an ACE certified Personal Trainer (FitWomaNow!), and a YogaFit instructor with a 200-hour RYT certification in Mind-Body Balancing from the Deep Yoga Center in San Diego, California. She is currently pursuing a certification in Yoga for Traumaas she continues to broaden her understanding of the significance of yoga, meditation, and breath in her students’ lives. Sharyn holds a Master’s degree in French literature and language and runs Tutorcise.com.

 

 

 

Guest Post

Mindful Social Media

My younger child and Andrea’s oldest were born a day apart and spent three years together in the most wonderful NYC daycares first in Soho and later in Chelsea. I noticed Andrea bouncing down the stairs and gliding off into a Soho morning looking lighter than air just a month or so after she’d had a second baby. We have tried so hard during the past three years to meet up talk about yoga and writing and life—post-drop off coffee? pre-pick-up happy hour? river jog with running strollers?—and other than big-group get togethers haven’t to this day been able to arrange it. Meanwhile I’ve watched her light-filled, lovely social media posts and, eager to offer a counterpoint to my frequent bouts of irritation and frustration about social media, I asked Andrea she’d be willing to write about her approach to sharing her life and her practices online. Happily she said yes. Here she is in the photo on the left and below, her words. xo, r

Photo Credit: Yui Holbrook

I struggled with the concept of social media for years, and still do. I will never get used to the blatant self-absorption that it illuminates. It makes me sad when I walk through NYC’s famous landmarks and watch hordes of tourists taking selfies during their entire visit, parents posing and directing their kids before snapping the perfect social media shot while the kids look irritated and frustrated. Of course cameras have long been a part of vacations and life, but there is a frenzy now that was not there before. As a mother, I could spend an entire outing taking social media pictures of my kids and that kind of self-absorption takes me away from them, my husband, and the beautiful family moment that is happening. My husband and I have a rule of maximum three photo moments during any outing.

One of my favorite examples is of my friend whose kids wanted to do a lemonade stand. She spent two hours building and staging the perfect social media “lemonade stand set” and while she was perfectly posing her perfect kids they said, “Mom, we really just wanted to have a lemonade stand. This is not fun at all.” After that my friend quit all social media, realizing that she was unable post “imperfect” pictures and understanding that her life would be too controlled by it.

When I was pregnant with kids 13 months apart, my body and life went through so many changes and there were periods when I felt very isolated, unmotivated and lost. During that time, I enjoyed looking at Instagram and Facebook, keeping up on friends and family, but I was reluctant to post on my own. I felt too exposed and anything I thought to post felt cliché, especially since I was not feeling inspired.

Something shifted when I started to realize the incredibly inspiring, positive and encouraging social media posts that were positively affecting me. Seeing what other yoga teachers, writers, artists, mothers, women and entrepreneurs were doing motivated me to share my practice and my life. I knew that if I had gotten to the other side of some difficult moment with kids, work, life, that posting about it honestly could be a positive addition to the social media world.

My yoga teaching focuses a great deal on personal practice and self-study. I have great respect for the ritual of self care and am committed to reminding myself and others that we have the ability, every day, to choose to check in, take care, breathe, stay present, be mindful, be kind, communicate, listen, acknowledge the choices we are making and strive to be the most authentic version of ourselves. I work with my sister and we have a joyful, respectful, honest working relationship and an incredible sisterhood. We realize this is unique, inspiring and something to be grateful for and so we are inspired to share that with others.

From the lens of truth, gratitude, inspiration and honesty, I now feel good about social media. I stay present with each post, making sure it feels authentic and honest before posting. I try not to get hooked into the numbers of Likes and comments, which is difficult, and requires me to stay mindful. I appreciate the way people are using social media as a positive platform. It is something that we will have to coach our children towards as well. As with everything in life, authenticity and honesty are important;  social media is no different. We are all inspiring in our own ways and if we show our true selves it can a beautiful way for us to connect.

Andrea Curry is a yoga teacher based and teaching in NYC. She teaches retreats around the world with her sister, Christina Curry, also a yoga teacher, who is based in Milan, Italy. You can find her at www.andreacurryyoga.com Instagram: @andreacurryyoga and
Facebook: andreacurryyoga
Garden · Rachel

A Single Day

Our radishes started out so promising this year.

WP_20170524_08_00_01_Pro.jpgThere’s no sign of them now.

Five years ago on my main blog (Last American Childhood), I wrote these Lessons from Seeds.

  1. Take your time.
  2. There’s a lot of potential stored up inside you.
  3. You’ll have a better chance of growing if you separate yourself from the pack.
  4. Protect yourself.
  5. Don’t be afraid to travel far from home, but once you land, make the best of where you are.
  6. Put down roots.
  7. Drink water everyday.
  8. No matter what happens in life, ask yourself, “Am I growing?” That is the one essential thing.
  9.  Use whatever resources you have on hand.
  10. Head toward the light.

As I begin this blog, the second official week, I wonder which of these lessons I’ve managed to learn, even a little bit.

Number three about separating yourself from the pack jumps out at me as I struggle and kvetch and circle around social media unproductively, sometimes participating, often criticizing, unsure if I can stay in “the” conversation or any conversation without it, then wondering if that kind of bite-size, fleeting, uncomfortably public conversation is I one I want to have. I stormed off Facebook, returned five years later, (just recently), can’t decide whether I should post these posts there and Twitter, or let them simply live here and hope others will find them.

I don’t know. But in this is space I’ve allowed myself not to know. Am I growing? Yes. Can I take my time? I find that hard. But the task is a post for today. In mindfulness training, today—right now—is everything. But today is a single day.

Kajal reassured me over email last night when we discussed the logistics of the schedule and reviewing the Guests Posts and other effluvium of running even a very simple site. “We’ll find and set into a rhythm,” Kajal wrote, “And it will be good!”

Something mysterious took over most of the garden. I thought it was a zucchini plant with no zucchinis but then I realized it was maybe Morning Glory. See it hear, with the pink flowers closed? And I don’t know if the orange and yellow are Mums or what. They all came from a packet of mixed wildflower seeds my friend sent from California.

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My mistake—one I’m sure of many—was not giving the radishes enough space. You can’t just plant them and hope for the best. And you especially cannot do that if you are going to let young children sprinkle wildflower seeds anywhere they like.

But it depends on what you are seeking from the garden. Are you focused on the harvest? On the process? On the chance for something to grow? On impressive presentation? On experimentation?

As a student of yoga, I would be asked merely to observe the garden as it is, not what it could be.

Those early radishes are gone now, like a first draft that’s been all but destroyed by revision. But the garden is a palimpsest, as we are too. Perhaps if I dug through the tangle of maybe-Mums and maybe-Morning Glories, I’d find traces of the early radish days.

I have never seen a Morning Glory—or any flower—open or close. “It’s very rare to see them,” my nine-year-old Wally whispers in my ear one late summer evening in the garden.

Through a simple Google search I learn the flowers open only and close only once. Other flowers replace them the next glorious morning, but each flower on its own lives only a single day.

—Rachel

Begin · Rachel

How to begin

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In June last year, I began taking yoga once a week at 7 o’clock on Monday nights.

The classroom faces West. Throughout the year, I’ve watched the light change. Moving slowly between Warrior I, Locust and Child’s pose, we pause long enough to watch the seasons come and go.

In June it still feels like late afternoon when we begin. When class ends, we step out into twilight, air buzzing with cicadas and the first sign of fireflies. Toward the end of summer, the class itself feels like a sunset ritual. Daylight leaves us during that quiet hour and by Shavasana—final relaxation pose—it is fully gone. It is mid-September now. Tonight is the eve of Rosh Hashanah. At sundown, the blowing of the shofar will signal a new year. With its sound we dedicate ourselves to ten days of introspection. A month from now, it will be fully dark again before we even begin, the Himalayan salt lamps and candles twinkling in the windows to welcome us in.

During these months, I’ve thought about the influence yoga has had on my writing practice, the way it helps me focus and leads me inward.

Writing helps with yoga, too. Journaling helps me commit to practicing yoga, gives me a space to consider the way I stretch myself on the page and on the mat, increasing flexibility in both places.

Both practices allow me the pause I need to figure out where I am in the swirl of days.

Coming to the mat. Facing the blank page. Yoga and writing. As I continued my own writing practice, and tried incorporating yoga poses into my day here and there on my own, I kept thinking I had to do something to bring these two practices together in a more structured way. Maybe a book?

I reached out to my friend Kajal to pitch my idea. We had become close friends in college and worked on papers side by side, dreaming our writing dreams in a little coffee shop in Hanover called Rosey Jekes. Kajal is a trained yoga teacher and also a writer by trade. “What do you think about doing a project about using yoga to activate your writing?” I asked her. She loved the idea. Emailing back and forth, we put together our Author Bios. Drafted a Sell Sheet. Talked about what yoga could help writers do: release tension, find clarity, harness creativity.

Using yoga as a tool for writing seemed a great way to position the book, to “market” it and convince others of its worth. It lent itself to an effective elevator pitch, unlike many of my more nebulous book ideas. But as I sketched notes in a Google doc I began to feel the “pitch” was limiting. Framing yoga simply as a tool for writing devalued it. I wanted a way to explore the relationship between yoga and writing with energy and light and insight flowing in both directions.

But the problem was I didn’t know enough about yoga. Although Kajal is a super-successful corporate communications executive, she has not focused as much attention as I have on a personal writing practice. So perhaps it is fair to say, outside of a professional context, she did not know enough about writing. Her personal writing practice—in terms of time—looks more like my yoga practice. Where I’ve committed to the page, she’s committed to the mat. That meant we had complimentary skills, but it also meant that we perhaps could not write a book on how each practice enhanced the other until we both went deeper into the merged experience ourselves.

I am a daily writer trying to make yoga a daily practice. Kajal is a daily yogi trying to make her personal writing a daily practice. We are going in opposite directions (toward each other?).

Trying to write a book guiding others was getting ahead of ourselves. We were both experts and beginners, but neither of us had the expertise to lead with authority in the places where these fields overlapped.

This felt like a big obstacle. An “ugh.” The advice from a wet-blanket friend who points out all the ways your latest idea will fail. I wrote about it. I tried to meditate on it. Other thoughts pushed their way in. I tried to push them out. This is not meditating! I berated myself. Well that isn’t either! came another voice, just as strident.

And then, all at once, with a candle lit and incense going and Snatam Kaur music playing as I looked outside—not trying to meditate, not trying to do anything—I realized the wonderful Zen saying, “The obstacle is the path” had proved to be true once again.

It is not an obstacle to avoid that I am a beginner when it comes to yoga. That too is the path. It is not an obstacle that Kajal is a beginner when it comes to writing daily outside of work. That is the path.

We needed only to see the path opening up right in front of us. As the Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

We have many possibilities, beginners that we are, and one is to acknowledge, accept and even embrace that beginning. That beginning gives us everything we need.

I can, starting now, commit to trying to develop my yoga practice, building on my writing practice. Kajal can do the same, the other way around. We can begin where we are. We can be where we are.

When I presented the idea to Kajal, she answered full to the brim with the happy openness and joy I hoped she might. She too agreed this was a better way to approach the idea.

We would blog about it, we decided, alternating days.

Here is the first day, today.

Mid-September of 2017. Here is where we begin.

 

—Rachel