From Palm Trees to Pine Trees

Now I am a serious blogger. I know this because I am posting from Gate D2 at the Charlotte Airport (CLT). I am feeling all bloggerly as I sit cheek by jowl with a whole buncha other people waiting for the (delayed) flight to Philly. 

Left Florida this morning. I liked a lot of what we did there but ultimately I am not a “Florida person.” Too little diversity, too litttle energy, too little friendliness. Florida needs something. It needs a soul, or something. It seems tired. It looks pretty, though. The weather tropical and Hemingway-esque, but the people are wrong. 

And at least 80% of a place is the people.

By 10 PM we will be back in Tioga County. Another place where the people are wrong. (Where are the people right? I don’t know. Possibly nowhere. ) As we flew over Charlotte I saw pine trees. Pine trees are good.

I finished the novel, Euphoria last night. It was okay. I’d give it 3.5 out of 5 stars. It bothered my sleep, so that’s something, right? The story infiltrated my subconscious. I wish I was a storyteller. 

On the plane here to CLT G was crying over her book. I am trying to think of the last novel I read that had me in tears, and I can’t.

Gotta board.


A Rant: A Video on Facebook

The other day I watched a disturbing video on Facebook. It was about two teen kids who take their mother for granted their whole lives, then stand at her grave at the end, learning too late all of the sacrifices she made for them. 

The message was clearly: Don’t take your mother for granted.

But the whole time I was watching this long-suffering mother get shat upon by her bratty kids, the more I wanted to smack her. 

Not the kids, her.  (Well, yes, the kids too, but mostly her.)

Why is she putting up with this? Why is she enabling this behavior? Why doesn’t she say: “Yo ingrates, put down your goddamn phones and listen to me.” 

Why is she allowing herself to be treated so shabbily? Why doesn’t she call them out, school them in empathy, and compassion for her, and by extension all people? Why is she letting these brats get away with this shit?

Isn’t it her job as a parent to teach these lessons? 

It was hard to watch. Are there really parents who let their children get away with abusing them? I don’t think any parents I know would stand for that. 

So why is this video all over FB with thousands of shares? 

Ostensibly, it was aimed to jolt kids awake. To tell them, “Hey wake up before it’s too late and your mother is dead and all you’re left with is this heavy ball of regret you’ll have to shoulder forever.”

But if I could reshoot this video, I’d show the mother commandeering the phones, sitting down and telling these kids that she’s their mother, not their slave. I see them then pitching in, helping out, beginning to understand how it feels to walk in their mother’s shoes.

I’d keep the graveyard scene, but standing next to it would be two adult children who are sad, but better people for having her as a mother. Not those two sniveling pieces of wreckage in the video, who may or may not ever learn how to fix themselves.

The Ultimate Yogi Rescued Me From Impostor Syndrome

My 108th day of the Ultimate Yogi falls on July 6th. Today I decided when I get up on  July 7th, I’m starting over. 

I can’t believe I’m saying this. 

I’ve done nothing but whine since Day 1 that this program takes too much time.

It takes one whole hour a day. 

But on Hard Core days, you have to tack on another half hour. 

Then, every day, there is also a 10, 20 or 30 minute meditation added to that

So by the end, there are days when I’m in my yoga room for a good 2+ hours. Who has time for that??

Not most people. For most people, it’s simply not sustainable. Far better to commit to something doable, like a nice 20 minute practice every day and just be consistent. 

Consistency is really the whole game anyway.

But for me, it’s different. That’s because I teach yoga. And when you teach, you really have to practice or you feel like a fraud. 

I do, at least.

I’ve had times when I’ve let my personal practice slide, and I’ll be okay for a little while, but if too many days or weeks or god forbid months of no-practice go by, I get impostor syndrome really bad.

I feel out of integrity, and that, for me, is the worst. I lose confidence in the teaching room, I feel tentative, weak, stale. I hate feeling that way more than anything. 

 I’m only truly happy when I’m moving closer to being my aspirational self. And teaching and not practicing feels the same as lying to me.

When I decided to do this UY Challenge it was 10 days before the annual April Yoga Challenge at my studio. Since I couldn’t join my own Yoga Challenge, I took on this UY one as my personal April, May and June Yoga Challenge. I did it to find out what the hell was going on with me and yoga. Why was I resisting the mat so much? I was going to to give myself this 108 Days to ask this question. Yeah, it was going to be hard, especially logistically, but who’s the pro here?

Go big or go home.

On Day 50, I sincerely wanted to quit. Nothing was getting any easier. I felt no better or stronger or anything. So I gave up the hope of achieving any physical benefits, like the promised high levels of strength and flexibility. From here on out it it was just going to be a long slog to Day 108. Out of pure stubbornness. I would get to Day 108 by hell or high water. But after that, done.

Going forward, practicing 20 minutes a day, consistently, would be just fine. 

But then Day 60 happened.

I noticed on Day 60 the 5 Yogi-Style push-ups were getting easier. 

I noticed on Day 60 I wasn’t saying “fuck” under my breath as much.

I noticed on Day 60 that it really did take a whole hour to break me open to the point where the yoga “medicine” could penetrate.

 I noticed on Day 60 that nothing short of an hour would get me to the puddle zone, what Mary Oliver describes as “that porous line where my own body was done with” and the outside world began.

Now it’s Day 75. I don’t feel like a hypocrite or a fraud anymore in the teaching room. I feel stronger in my body, too, but not only that, all the bandwidth in my brain, formally occupied with feeling ashamed and shitty, is now freed up to focus on what I’m doing in the teaching room.  

I feel more relaxed. I know I don’t have to be perfect. My own mat practice that day has shown me that, mostly by humbling me, but also for giving me time to reflect. To experiment. 

  When I practice UY it’s mostly for myself, but I also practice like a teacher. I can’t help it. I’m constantly wondering: How would/could I describe this feeling/headspace? What word or image captures best what this experience is like?

On Day 75 I feel like I’m walking my talk. I feel in integrity. And all it took was an hour a day on my mat.

 Very high ROI.

So here, in case you’re thinking of doing this program, is my review of Travis Elliot’s The Ultimate Yogi:

The Pros:

1. It’s a program. 108 Days. “Less than a season.” I like having a defined ending date.

2. It has a nice variety of classes. Strength, Balance, Vitality, Yin, etc

3. The sequences are really good, well thought-out, sane, effective.

4. Travis isn’t weird or obnoxious. Sometimes his stories and rants get a little repetitive, and his word choice and pronunciation is a tad off and even a little bizarre: “Open up both of your eyes.” (Uh, they kinda open up together by default, Travis.) But he means well.

The Cons:

1. It’s a big time commitment. If you have a lot of obligations or travel a lot, this won’t work.

2. It’s not for Beginners. It’s medium-to-hard in terms of yoga levels.

3. It’s not good if you are nursing injuries or dealing with anything chronic. You have to be in relatively good health to do it.

But if you’ve let your practice get stale, or need a jump start or a strong reset, this is great. 

If you’ve plateaued or want to power-up to the next level, this is the ticket.

If you’re overdue for a megaboost self-confidence and self-respect, completing these logistically as well as physically hard 108 Days will restore that, no question.  

So for me it’s just onward. I trust I’ll know when I’ve sucked all the juice I can get out of this program. But until then, as Travis says, “It’s just another day on planet Earth.” Another day of The Ultimate Yogi.

Slow Gardening

My streaks are starting to become hard and wearying. I am struggling with the yoga and I am struggling with what to write each week on the blog. 

The yoga is hard because of the time commitment and also because a lot of the practices are physically hard to do, and continue to be hard to do even after more than 60 days of consistently doing them.

I did the Strength practice the other day and thought: When will this ever get easier?? I have to approach the Balance practice with a sense of humor because it is all but impossible, and if I don’t find a way to laugh, and go easy on myself, I will just quit. 

This blog is hard for other reasons. Mainly because, until lately, I’ve not been reading anything except for newspapers. I’ve also not been consistently doing my 1K a day word dump in Scrivener. I need to develop more consistency in those two things. I need to put the iPad away and read. 

 I’m deathly sick of Facebook but find myself looking at it anyway. I’m actively resisting any urge to engage with anything or anybody. I’ve even stopped happy birthday-ing people. I want to quit it and if I didn’t have the studio I would in a heartbeat. I never leave Facebook feeling informed or uplifted. 

I’ve been feeling this really strong pull toward detachment and solitude. I keep flashing back on my yearly, sometimes more than yearly, retreats at Springwater, how I’d come home from them centered and aligned and inspired. It’s been too long. I almost have a fear of doing that now, not that I have the time for it. And I don’t know why.

I’ve been having escapist fantasies of doing yoga on the beach during my hour of practice each day, imagining lifting up into crescent lunge, opening my arms out wide, gathering it all in… 

In reality, yoga in the sand is crappy and messy and my form falls apart, but if I could find a flat stable piece of ground, that would be so nice, and then afterward, to sit and meditate there? Ahhhh….

My list of household things to do is long and my desire to do any of it is short. I just want to sit and read and write and then read again. The other day we moved the hammock stand into place in the side yard but I haven’t hung the hammock on it yet. I have some idea in my mind that I have to deserve my hammock time. That I have to fall into the hammock in a heap of exhaustion either from doing housework or yard work. There is some bug in my brain that says that lying around is self-indulgent and must be earned. 

The other day I was doing a little gardening, my first spate of gardening of the year.

I warmed up by just walking the yard, taking the measure of the season, noticing how things had survived the winter, or not.  The thing G wanted me to do was plant some marigolds in a planter in the back, but first there was some cleaning and weeding to be done. I took my weeder bucket and trake and started carefully cleaning out dead leaves and weeds, sweeping the flagstones, standing back and admiring things. I swept under the little Buddha statue and then took one of the marigolds, planted it in a little blue ceramic pot, and placed it in front of the statue, kind of like an offering. 

I am not a Buddhist. I am not a person who bows to statues. But I think what these little garden Buddhas represent, with their closed eyes and their meditative stillness is the me who wants to do that, and be like that. I want to be the one who goes into the yard to observe, and appreciate, and weed, and sweep, and call that “gardening.” Or “meditating.”

G is getting the garden done.

G opening the hot tub for the season

She is making great strides with planting and mulching and digging and doing. Whereas I take a different approach. I am more concerned with doing it in a way that slows me down, makes me pay attention to the plant I am weeding around in this moment, watching as it becomes visible as a result of my making a  weedless space around it. I prefer to garden slowly. I don’t care how long it takes. I like taking my time. 

Not a lot will get done at this pace, though. By the time I’m through, the leaves will need to be raked and the hammock again, stored for the winter. 

A Real Find

Yesterday was a cold damp day. I’d been reading Where the Crawdads Sing and thinking about abandonment. 

I wasn’t abandoned like Kya, the protagonist in that book, but I was abandoned psychologically. My mother was checked out, and always in some feud with her own family: her mother, her twin sister, her brothers. I didn’t know any of them. Or their children, my cousins.

When my mother died in ’95, a lot of my cousins came to the funeral home. So did my uncles. So did my grandmother. So did my aunt. I had to introduce myself to all my cousins. I didn’t introduce myself to my uncles, but I hardly recognized them. We went to a local diner afterwards and they said, “We should keep in touch now that we’ve found each other again.”

We didn’t. 

I knew we wouldn’t. 

A few years later, when my grandmother died, nobody called me. 

A long time ago I moved up here to the wilds of northern PA to go to college, to start a new life, to find myself.

I was lost. I was alienated. I felt misunderstood and emotionally abandoned by my family.

 I started a little yoga community here. 

And now my old life is starting to find me. I don’t look for it, I don’t ask for it. It just walks in, rolls out a mat, does a few sun salutations and before it leaves it says, “My name is Greg Simkiss.” 

And I think to myself: “I used to have a crush on a kid in first grade  named Simkiss.” 

And I say this to the Simkiss that has just done sun salutations in my studio. This handsome boy in his 20s on his way to California to work on a pot farm. This boy who is going to sleep in his car after yoga and continue west in the morning.

 I say to him: I used to have a crush on a kid named Simkiss when I was in first grade. 

Turns out this is the son of my crush.

I let him sleep in the studio under yoga blankets, instead of in his cold car. 

I grew up in Levittown. I didn’t like it there. Called it “Leave-it-town.” My one goal as a teenager was to do just that. 

One day a few years after I opened my studio a woman came in to practice yoga and I noticed she said “wudder” not “water.” 

I said to her, “Where are you from?” She said, “Levittown.”

 I said, “Where in Levittown?” She said, “Cobalt Ridge.” 

Turns out I rode my bike past her house a million times.

A woman with the last name of Lackey has just started practicing yoga with me. My grandmother used to say my sister looked like a Lackey. 

I had no idea what that meant. I had no idea what a Lackey was or what one looked like. It was just something I heard a lot when I was a little. 

 I told this to the woman with the last name of Lackey who is doing yoga with me now. 

When I told her my mother’s maiden name, it sounded familiar she said, a name her husband’s family mentioned.  She’s going to ask him about it. 

The people who stumble upon this studio sometimes call my place “a find.” They like the vibe here, they say. They are surprised to find it up here in Nowheres-ville, a place they’ve come to vacation, or are passing through on their way to somewhere else.

 I came here to find myself so many years ago.  I came here to lose my inherited burden of alienation, and to create a new life. And now it seems like my past is trying to find me, connect me, sew me back into itself.

Just like Kya, in my youth I feared connection. I found comfort and cover in alienation. But then I opened my studio. I hung out my sign. I opened myself up to connection, and over the years it’s been happening. People walk in to practice sun salutations and end up moving and breathing me back to that life I abandoned so long ago, and to show me I was connected all along.

Taking Inventory

I just watched Lavendaire. She’s really cute. She’s living a life I think a lot of people of her generation dream of: YouTube star. She dispenses wisdom, and makes that wisdom look trendy and cool. Her wisdom is legit, though. This is not a diss. 

Today she was talking about 5 habits that you must cultivate if you want to be happy. 

1. Don’t blame other people for your problems.

2. Read.

3. Daily Gratitude.

4. Meditate.

5. Don’t take yourself so seriously.

It made me pause and take inventory.

1. I don’t blame anyone for my problems. At least not anymore. I used to when I was younger, but I don’t anymore. Forgiveness has a much higher ROI.

2. Reading. Reading has taken a hit lately because I’m resisting picking up anything new because I think I should be reading The Bros K, so I wind up reading nothing. That has to stop. Emily recommended Where the Crawdads Sing. I usually don’t like any kind of story where crawdads are involved, but I’ve been hearing chatter about this one. The nature writing is supposed to be gorgeous. And it’s set in North Carolina and I have family there, so I think I’ll pick that up today and give up, formally, on The Bros K

3. Gratitude. I’ve gotten out of the habit of sending notes. I want to start that up again. In today’s mail there was a clipping and a postcard from Zee. I feel so loved by and connected to her because of this lovely habit she has of mailing things. 

And I cannot lie: I also love how weirdly anachronistic a letter looks sitting amidst all the bills on the dining room table. Almost as out of place as a Starbucks cup in a Game of Thrones scene.

4. Meditate. I’ve been skipping a lot of days lately and I can’t figure out why. I absolutely love the Waking Up Course with Sam Harris. Why am I not fitting it in? It’s only 10 minutes. 

Begin again, Kath. Today.

5. Don’t take self seriously. I need to remember this as I embark on this video adventure. I need to mess around and have fun and accept that my first video will suck, but my 50th one will be a lot better.

In other news:

Today is Day 48 of The Ultimate Yogi. I’m going strong. Feeling strong. I don’t know if this hour-a-day+ thing is sustainable forever, but it does lay a solid habit foundation.  My feeling is that a 20 minutes-a-day practice, done consistently, with maybe one longer practice thrown in every week for kicks, is a more do-able-for-life thing.

Spring has sprung. Tulips are ruling everyone’s garden at the moment. Stellabella was deeply involved in them at MU the other day. But I can’t tell if it was the tulips, or the fresh mulch she loved more. Happy Spring!

My Definition of Gentle Yoga

The Yoga Challenge is over and I just put out my May calendar. I have two days back-to-back off from teaching this month. I am reclaiming my old  Wednesdays off, and Jessie is teaching Core Yoga on Thursdays for the month. Not only do I get to take a class (!!!!) but I’ll get some time to make a few videos, which I’ve been wanting, yet deeply resisting, doing.

I want to make some YouTube videos of classes so people who want to practice with me at home can do so. I’m really hoping having this time off this month is going to incentivize me to do this. And I am mentioning it here to keep me accountable, too.

G is home now for a few days, but leaves Tuesday for a week at her Mom’s. While she is gone I want to set up the office/her room for videoing, and start messing around. I don’t really know what I’m doing so this will be interesting.

But one thing I definitely have to decide up front is what kind of classes I want to offer. My instinct is to go Gentle, but what does that really mean?

I’ve been to Gentle yoga classes that were more like Restorative yoga. I think every teacher has to decide what that word “Gentle” means for herself, and make sure her students know what to expect, too.

So here’s a stab at what I mean by Gentle Yoga.

No vinyasa, for one thing. No high push-up, low push-up, cobra, down dog. None of that stuff. . 

Also the tempo is slow. Gentle, for me, describes the speed of the class more than anything else. Gentle Yoga’s speed limit is like 35-45 mph.

The practice itself might not feel all that gentle, though.

That’s because even though there aren’t any flowing sequences that require being strong, this yoga nevertheless requires attention. And the ability adjust. And to be on high alert. And to be attentive to your body. And to how you’re feeling.

Also, you have to be a good listener. And that’s not easy because most of us are crappy listeners to both other people and our own bodies.

And this is especially true for me when I’ve been revving around all day, multi-tasking, doing, doing, doing.

Think of how it feels to suddenly decelerate to 45mph after cruising on the interstate at 70 mph+ for a few hours.

That’s exactly how it feels like to do Gentle yoga.

To me, at least.

It can feel a little jarring at first. Even unnatural. Especially when a pose shows up that requires I be careful, slow down, and make some important decisions. Gentle Yoga requires some very deep attention to do what seems ridiculously simple, on the surface. It’s a practice that demands deep attention.

That’s the kind of Gentle class I want to make.

So how about you? What makes a class Gentle for you? I’d love to know.

Use the comments.