Wednesday, January 3, 2018

2017: By the Numbers

For the second year in a row, my son and I took some time during New Year's to talk about the year we just finished, and the year ahead. We discussed surprises, high points, disappointments, new achievements, and what we would like to do again in the coming year. Last year's conversation inspired this post. This year was no different. And I will be honoring tradition #3 from 2016 by finding a new perspective ... on numbers.

Oh, numbers! What can I say about you? There are the numbers we don't like to discuss, like age and weight. Some numbers we try to avoid, like cholesterol levels. And others we only discuss when it shines a nice light on us, like money. It got me thinking about the numbers in my life. They are up and down the scale, but they played an important part in my life in 2017.

  1. 3/17: March 17th we brought Benny home from the shelter. It was a long road to adding a dog to our family. My son had been asking for one for 4 years, but I didn't think he was ready for the responsibility. Also, it had been 11 years (to the day) since my husband's dog, Bugsy, had passed. I had long been resistant to opening myself up to that kind of heartache again. But it had been 11 years, the longest my husband had ever been without a dog, and he was ready. I was ready too, but sometimes I need my husband to point that out. I didn't know our family was missing a member until we brought this guy home. He is such a cuddle bug and always right by my side. Adopting him from the shelter just might be the best decision this family made in 2017.

  2. Nine: My son turned 9 on May 12th. The last year of single digits! Motherhood is something that continues to inspire, overwhelm, and frustrate me -- and I don't anticipate that changing anytime soon! It's a privilege to watch this little boy grow up. (Well, he's not really little anymore. He stands at 5'1" now!) It's also an amazing and scary time to raise a man. But, I hope, that I am showing my son that gender is simply biology and boys and girls don't have any set roles. Their place is wherever the choose to be.

  3. 200: On May 21st I graduated from the 200-hour yoga teacher training program at Boundless Yoga Studio. One weekend a month for 10 months I was at the studio with 10 other trainees, immersed in the world of yoga. It is the hardest thing I have done to date. I wasn't sure if I would want to teach after completing the program. (I did.) I wasn't sure anyone would hire me to teach a class. (They did.) I wasn't sure anyone would want to take one of my classes. (They do.) There was a lot of uncertainty, and I make a habit of not getting involved in uncertainty. I like to know the outcome before I start the work. But with the continued support of my family, teachers, and fellow trainees, I made it through the program. Now I can't believe I was ever unsure about it, and am forever grateful to my husband for pushing me to follow a dream.

  4. Two: Remember when I said I wasn't sure anyone would hire me to teach yoga? Well, they did. And I didn't just get one class. I teach two -- Mind Body Meditation at Boundless Yoga Studio and Beginners Yoga at Yoga House. An embarrassment of riches for someone who also works almost 50 hours a week at her full-time job. It's a blessing to be able to roll out my mat in front of the studio every Thursday and Saturday.

  5. 13: On October 10th my husband and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary. For some, 13 is an unlucky number. (Beware Friday the 13th!) But teacher training started the month before our anniversary in 2016, and honestly, I could not have embarked on and completed this portion of my yoga journey without the love and support of my husband. He's my husband and partner. He's my son's father. And he's also my best friend. I can't image this crazy thing called life without him.

  6. 40: I turned the dreaded 4-0 on November 20th. And let me tell you, dreading it I was! I didn't want to talk about it. I didn't want to acknowledge it. And heaven forbid anyone should say the number aloud! But the thing is, right now 40 doesn't feel all that different than 39. But, I have to admit, it becomes a bit overwhelming to think that I am now in my 5th decade of life. My 5th decade! It's a blessing not everyone gets to experience. And here I am at 40, doing something completely new. This birthday has been a lesson that when something ends, it just made room for something else to begin.

  7. 58: Fifty-eight is the number of hours of yoga classes I have taught. I know! Say what? I am so grateful for the opportunities that have come my way -- teaching my own classes, subbing others' classes, and even leading my first guided meditation class. And as proud and excited and surprised I am not have my own classes, and I can honestly say I am truly honored and humbled when I am asked to sub classes. I sub the occasional class here and there, but I have also been fortunate enough to sub a class for an extended period of time (3-4 weeks in a row). To know that my fellow teachers trust me and have faith in me to guide their students, to be able to hold that space for them ... it's a moving experience.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Sanctuary

I led my first guided meditation last night. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. I have guided short meditations here and there, but a whole class?? For an hour?? What had I agreed to?? Part of me was even secretly (now not-so-secretly) hoping no one would come. (I am still learning to be brave, take risks, and sit in my own discomfort.)

But sometimes the universe knows better than we do, and when I arrived at the studio there was already a car in the parking lot. No turning back now.

It was the night before the winter solstice and the theme I had chosen was self-acceptance. In a show of good faith, after the first meditation I confided that this was my first time leading others in such a class. It was a beautiful and humbling moment. It was also a moment of release, because I was no longer carrying the expectation that they class, the meditation, had to be perfect.

When class had ended I felt this thing in my chest. My heart was not just beating, but expanding with love and gratitude for those who came. Together we experienced something much more intimate than an asana class. We created a safe space for each other, a space we could be vulnerable in, a space of trust, a sanctuary.

I am honored to have had this opportunity. I am a better teacher and woman for it.

Monday, August 21, 2017

From 'Household' to 'Yoga Household'

A yoga practice is very personal. Even when we are in classes or workshops, we are focused on what's happening on our own mats. (I've even had a yoga teacher refer to one's mat as his/her own private island.) No one's practice is the same, and no one's experience is the same.

So I had the same expectation when I started teacher training almost a year ago, that it would be a very personal experience. Initially encouraged by one of my teachers, it was my husband who told me "you're doing this" and insisted I sign up for the training. Despite his support, I was hesitant. He was coming off a back injury (I actually filled out the training application in the waiting room of one of his doctor appointments) and for one weekend a month for the next 9 months I would be unavailable to help with the care of our 8-year-old son. And yet, a part of me knew that if I didn't take the opportunity, I might always find a reason, an excuse, that it wasn't the right time. So I went for it.

And from day one it was clear I was not on this journey alone. Sure, I had my teachers and fellow trainees, but my husband and my son were on this journey, too. My husband was our son's only caregiver during training weekends. He took on extra household duties while I was in training, at classes, and completing homework assignments. And my son, who had always come to me first with his wants and needs had to turn to Dad more often than he was used to. They were my guinea pigs for postural assessments. They listened to my playlists and endless discussions and explanations of what I heard. What had previously been a personal practice had morphed into a yoga household.

They were in for the ride, like it for not.

It was an adjustment, and some days were easier than others. Many days I felt guilty about not spending enough time with my son. As teacher training moved into spring, I missed baseball practices, and I even missed the season's opening day parade and game. That was tough. But it became clear that I wasn't the only one learning lessons during this training. My husband told me on the way to the parade my son said, "It's sad Mommy's not here, but it's okay. She always supports me and now it's my turn to support her." That certainly turned on my waterworks.


Me and my son Vincent, who turned 9-years-old 9 days before graduation

I wish I could say that was the only time I cried during training, but it wasn't. The November weekend fell on my birthday and in class during savasana I went into the full-on ugly cry. And there were many nights at home, sorting through my insecurities and everything I was learning about myself, that brought on tears. Many nights, when it all just became too much, my husband held me and let me cry. During those 9 months of training he was my safe space. I couldn't have done it without him. He never wavered. He never faltered. He never once said he regretted encouraging me to take the training. He would just give me a hug and a kiss and say, "Go do what you've gotta do." How did I get so lucky?

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Me and my husband, Peter

And now, every time an opportunity to teach comes my way, every time I add another class to the family calendar, he simply smiles and points to his cheek. We are way past "I told you so," so I give him a kiss in thanks and prepare for the next class.

Because even though training has ended, the journey has not. And we are a yoga household, traveling this road together.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

An Unexpected First

As a work-from-home mom, I've witnessed my son's many firsts: first word, first steps, first time he dressed himself, you name it. On Saturday, I was a part of another of Vincent's firsts: his first asana practice.

Vincent is familiar with yoga. He knows some poses by name, has watched me practice some poses at home, and even had a kids' practice last year at summer camp. All of that was very kid-friendly and playful. He had never experienced a more serious practice, and considering he just turned 9 in May, you wouldn't expect that of him. But Saturday was Underground Yoga Studio's grand opening and I had Vin in tow. We had a talk on the ride from his grandparents' house in Jersey to manage expectations: no talking, stay on your mat, if you become tired or there's something you can't do sit quietly or take a child's pose.

For the practice I set us up in the back corner, rolling out my older (and non-pink!) mat for my son next to mine, a little concerned about how this might go down. But as we sat down on our mats and he flashed me an excited smile my concerns dissipated. It was an amazing experience, sharing my practice with my son! Prior to Saturday, to him, yoga was this abstract thing, a place I went to a few nights a week and one weekend a month during teacher training. This time I was able to share the energy and joy I experience on the mat in real time with him. There were times during the practice when we held hands or had our hands on each other's shoulders -- sometimes because we were instructed to and other times because it was a way to express our joy and excitement to each other.

He did the whole practice.

He did the whole practice.

It doesn't matter how many times I write it or say it, I'm still amazed by it. This tall, lanky, 9-year-old boy who trips over his own limbs did the entire practice with a room full of adults. And as I held his hand in mine during Savasana, tears welled in my eyes and I thought my heart might explode from all the love and admiration I have for this not-so-little boy who took a chance on something new and spent an afternoon with his mother. We shared something so special and I hope I never ever forget it, even in my oldest of age.

The next day I showed him the picture above taken during the practice and posted on social media. He said, "yeah, I wasn't really sure how to move through those poses. Can you show me?" We moved through Warrior II and Peaceful Warrior, then we moved into Warrior I. Vincent looked at his father and said, "this may look easy, but it's actually hard work." Spoken like a seasoned yogi.

Thank you Underground Yoga Studio, for allowing my son and I to be a part of your special day. You will always hold a special place in our hearts. You'll forever be the space where Vincent and I shared our first practice together, where he saw the light in me that yoga allows to shine and I experienced an amazing first with my son.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"Just Where You Are -- That's the Place to Start."

When it was time to promote my donation-based classes for my 200-hour teacher training, I used the image above. It's not an image of me, and while peaceful, it's not particularly eye-catching. However, I was teaching a beginner series and not in the studio where I regularly practice. I wasn't sure who -- if anyone -- would show up. So I wanted to convey the message that you didn't have to be an advanced yogi who could wrap a leg around your neck to attend my class. Wherever you are in your practice -- rocking a handstand or just learning what downward facing dog is -- is exactly where you start. And that's okay. It was also a message for me. Wherever I am in my own practice, wherever I am in guiding students through a class, that is okay and exactly where I should start as well.

Teaching those four classes was rewarding and amazing experience! I learned so much about who I am as a teacher, about my practice, and even gained some insight as to what the experience is like for my own teachers. I was so nervous that first class! And while I definitely experienced some nerves with each subsequent class, I felt more and more confident in front of the room, and with my voice as a teacher.

I am now a graduate of the 200-hour teacher training program from Boundless Yoga Studio. But once I had finished teaching my classes and as test day grew near, I became nervous for a different reason. I began to wonder if there was a place in the yoga community for me as a teacher, and if not, what would the past 9 months have all been for? I find the yoga community can be a tricky one to navigate. It can be welcoming, yet exclusive. It can feel large, yet be a small part of your area's population. It can feel friendly with so many familiar faces, and crowded like there is no room for you outside of "student." Who would I be upon graduation?

I've since realized that it doesn't matter. It doesn't need a label. If your intention is pure, there will always be a place for you, and students will feel a connection and want to learn from and practice with you. There is always room for one more.

At the very end of my last class, I read a poem. Now, while I enjoy these types of readings in the classes I take, it doesn't feel natural for me as a teacher. I am not really a fan of poetry, and most of the novels I read don't really lend themselves to passages for reading at the end of a yoga class. And yet, I read this poem. I thought it had a wonderful message -- a message for students, particularly those just starting their practice and a message for the new teacher, me.

Maybe Not

Begin somewhere.

Take one deep breath
and dive.

Plunge into the core
of your most
persistent fear,
or your greatest joy.

Grown comfortable
with the act of
exploration.

Well, maybe not
comfortable,
but confident of
your ability to be
sure footed
on slick rocks,
steady while the
winds gust.

Well, maybe not
entirely confident,
but willing to set out
despite persistent
doubts, breathing
your way into
whatever you are facing.

Well, maybe not even
all that willing,
but you take it
anyway, that first step
into the unknown.

Courage is starting
where there is
no secure outcome,
no sure result.

The secret is you can
begin again at any time.

Take one deep breath,
and dive.

From Root to Bloom: Yoga Poems and Other Writings by Danna Faulds

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Many Hats of Karen

We all wear many hats in life. My professional hat is overseeing the production team for a business-to-business medical news website (our primary audience is healthcare professionals). The month of May is one of the business times of the year for us. It feels like every medical association under the sun is presenting scientific sessions. And while I am blessed to be recognized for my work, to work in this field since I've graduated college, to be rewarded with overseeing my own team, I don't feel particularly blessed right now.

I just feel overwhelmed.

This past year I decided to add another hat to my already large collection: yoga teacher. And as work is busy, my son plays baseball, my husband coaches him, Mother's Day looms, I am finding my head is not big enough for all of these hats. And I experience guilt and regret when I have to remove one from my head to make room for something else. And now, a week from Saturday, I will be taking a test to complete my teacher training.

And I just feel overwhelmed.

And unprepared.

It's been a LONG time since I've taken a test -- 17 years to be exact. To say I am out of practice is a bit of an understatement. Throughout my academic career I always worried about the first test. But there were more and as I got to know the teacher I knew what to expect on the test. I don't feel that way now, though. Yes, we had a big review session and I have been writing up note cards until my hand cramps, but still, I feel totally in the dark and unprepared. And despite assurances from my instructors and my husband, I just can't seem to shake this feeling.

It's weighing me down.

I am too into my head.

And so, as I enter this last week of studying, I realize I need to take a step back, breathe, and recognize that all I can I do is my best. The rest is out of my control.

Do they make a hat for that?

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

To Teacher With Love

I knew it was going to happen. It wasn’t a surprise. When you sign up for a yoga teaching training program, the time will come when you teach a class of your own. Most of what I was feeling in the day and hours leading up to that first class wasn’t a surprise either. I was nervous, so the butterflies and the constant feeling of the need to pee were normal. I spent my formative years on a stage performing for judges and audiences. It may have been over 10 years since I’ve performed, but they were symptoms I was all-too familiar with.

The feeling that I needed to cry, the tears that would form behind my eyes and the lump in my throat that I would try to swallow around … well, that was a completely new feeling. And I couldn’t find the words to describe why I felt that way. Nerves? Sure. Maybe a little bit of fear? Definitely. I am not a risk-taker by nature. I plan everything out and I don’t plan for failure, and there was a distinct possibility that my first class would be a failure, that it wouldn’t go as planned.

So, maybe that was it.

Or, maybe it was something else.

All in all, I felt my first class went well. I didn’t pee, throw up, or crying during it, so success! I felt my voice was low at first and I stumbled over some words with nerves. For some strange reason my brain wanted to merge the phrases “big toe” and “ball mound” and I kept saying “big toe mound.” (No, you won’t find my name on any anatomy or physiology textbooks anytime soon.) But I just kept going and I felt I found a groove, a rhythm, and I even felt comfortable up at the front of the room, like I belonged there.

And yet, on the drive home, I found that release my body had been craving for the past 24 hours. The tears came. I couldn’t stop them. And with those tears came a sensation of my heart bursting open, not with pain, but with love and gratitude.

Yeah, it was definitely something else.

I felt adrenaline rushing through my body, a feeling of excitement from having taken a risk. I had put myself out there, taken a chance by trying something new, and also sharing a side of myself that, prior to that class, had been completely private. My first teacher referred to students’ mats as “their own private island.” And sure, as a brand-spanking new beginner I would peek over to my left or right to see what other students were doing and make sure I was on the correct side or in the correct pose. But with time and practice I stopped peeking, and though my eyes may be open when I am on my mat, my mat is my safe space and I mentally shut out everything but the teacher’s cues, my practice, and what I am feeling in my body that day.

But when you teach a class, your practice is no longer private. You are sharing what you’ve learned not only in training and from books, but you are sharing your personal experiences from the mat. You are sharing a very private part of yourself in a very raw way. There is no setting up your mat in the back row. There is no looking to your right or left at the students next to you to follow along. There is just you on your mat, what you’re feeling that day, and sharing that with your students to guide them through their own practice, just like your teachers have guided you.

And what I felt with those tears, with my heart bursting open, was love and gratitude for every teacher who had stood in the front of the room the past five years and guided me through a practice. I am grateful for my teachers, that they’ve had the courage to stand at the front of the room and share their own practice. I now realize that I am just as much a part of their practice as they are of mine. It’s an honor to unroll my mat out in front of them each week, an opportunity and experience that now has a whole new meaning.