At first, Ireland looks a lot like northern Pennsylvania, albeit with a few more sheep. But then suddenly, smack-dab in the middle of this sheep field, sits a castle.The brain goes: Wait. Castle?

It’s huge, this thing, and it’s standing here in this sheep meadow, and I’m looking at it from the window of a tour bus with wifi.

Ireland has so much history. Which sounds stupid to say because everything has history, but this history involves Vikings for goddsakes. Vikings, and invasions, and competing god-stories, with the whole mess needing to be fortified and defended and protected.

And rocks are involved. Many rocks. From what I could see, Ireland is basically rocks. Rocks and stones and sheep.
And they’re old, these rocks. And the people of Ireland still have this smell of old on them. Even the millennials with their cigarettes and tight hipster clothes. There’s something sheepy and rocky about them. They seem shy and polite on the outside, but I always thought I could hear something a little edgy, and pointed, and don’t-mess-with-me underneath their lilt.
There’s this constant push-pull of past and present in Ireland. It’s in the road signs in Gaelic, and the narrow medieval streets with their lines of colorful chock-a-block houses, and then out of nowhere, a Tommy Hilfiger store.  Constant reminders of battles, and the urgent need to fortify and moat things, and then: Modernity.
vista
But there’s never getting away from the rocks.
Rocky meadows, and grassy fields defined by them, and cliffs made from them. Abrupt stone castles erupting, without warning, out of the soft grass on top of them. Green grass, soft and sheepy.
Herds of sheep sleeping together, surrounded by low, sharp borders of rocks to keep them in and protected. And maybe to keep other things out? What other things? I don’t know.
So all week, we zoomed around in a big bus with our foreheads against the glass  listening to guides tell us what we were seeing. “Coming up on the left, you will notice a field.” (That was a guide joke.) Many stories of Vikings and invasions. Many cemeteries with graves marked with those ubiquitous rock Celtic crosses.
celtic cross
Whole families buried together. And lots of those graves had new flowers, and signs of recent attention and love and tears and pain, still clinging to them.
sad grave
We toured the ruins of many things made of ancient rocks. There were places where we were asked to imagine that this was the cooking area, and that the latrine.
We went to the castle where the movie Braveheart was filmed.
trim castle

I’ve never seen Braveheart, but it wasn’t hard to imagine that this place would be a casting director’s wet dream. Old. Authentically old. No power lines or any anachronisms to fuck up the scene. You could easily imagine the tips of arrows peeking out of the little slits in the castle wall, or see a right-handed soldier beheading the enemy at the top of a spiral staircase. Blood everywhere. Fires for signals, and cooking, and pyres.

And then, back in town, battle won: whiskey. To toast the dead, to celebrate victory, to numb pain, to douse memories. Memories to be remembered in songs sentimental and dripping with pathos. Songs sung loudly, full-throatedly, drunkenly.

Ireland is old. The food is basic, the sweaters warm, the streets narrow, the vibe friendly. It was pleasant to be a tourist in a place where tourism is the cornerstone of the economy and nobody forgets it.  Tourists are not put up with, they are thanked, desired. Free shipping! Send those bulky sweaters home–on us! We realize you don’t have room in your fancy luggage–no problem!
But in the end, when I remember Ireland, I will remember the rocks most of all.
“And now we are returning to the medieval city of Galway,” announces our tour guide as we roll our ridiculously huge bus down a street that can barely contain it.
I suddenly hear the word “medieval” as if for the first time, and all the images of Ireland I’ve been collecting all week, fit into place in my mind like an ancient puzzle coming together. A puzzle like an ancient stone wall.
stone wall

Ireland Rocks

Posted in yoga

The Spirituality of Whimsicality

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(This is an older post)

As a yoga teacher, the hardest and most terrifying class for me to teach is the first day of Beginner Yoga. The students walk in pale, fat, worried, neurotic, clutching their little bottles of Dasani like they’re some totemic objects that will protect them from weird, patchouli smelling Hindu spirits, and me.

I don’t claim clairvoyance, or clairaudience, but I can hear their thoughts as clearly as if they’re coming through a bullhorn:“I won’t be able to do this because I can’t even touch my toes for goddsakes. What the hell was I thinking??!! What am I doing? I’m sitting in YOGA for cryin out loud ! How do I get OUT of this??”

They don’t understand the activity, or me.

Yet.

At the opposite end of the yoga teacher “fright spectrum” is the day I walk into Day 27 of the April Yoga Challenge. OMG. Soooo easy!

What do we need today? Block? Strap? Are you going to kill us? Please don’t kill us? Oh shut up! I want to be killed! Kill us! Kill us! Can we do savasana for an hour?? I’m still aching from yesterday!”

Sometimes I wonder what a person eavesdropping on the other side of the door to my yoga room would think is going on in there. It certainly doesn’t sound very spiritual, that’s for sure.

When students step into my yoga room and encounter my style, which is slightly kooky, oftentimes irreverent, and frequently playful, they might mistake this approach to yoga as “not very spiritual,” when in fact, what I am doing is setting up the yoga room to be spirit’s playground.

I think when you follow your inner promptings, your intuition, your body’s wisdom, that is the act of honoring the spirit, the soul, the non-material part of your nature.

And this is a very hard practice. And a deep practice. And a self-revelatory practice.

When you are allowed, and encouraged, and truly supported in the act of giving yourself over to whimsy in your yoga practice and can throw away the script, ignore the cue cards, and disregard all social conventions that say you should act a certain way because you are “this old” or have “this important responsible job,” you open up a Pandora’s Box of Crazy.

A whimsical approach to yoga does not mean you deliberately set out to defy all conventions or act the rebel. I’m not saying that. It just means that you are permitting something deeper inside to come out. And in letting it out, you are honoring it.

Because this thing is dying to be expressed. It has been repressed and smothered and tramped on and beaten and thrown water on and shoes at. Whimsy has been conditioned the hell out of you.

Outside the yoga room, whimsy is not always well-received. Whimsy blurts. Whimsy can be juvenile, unseemly, and downright silly.

Whimsicality in yoga postures steps away from strict adherence to form or architecture, and may look a bit chaotic from the outside, but that’s just because whimsy has different rules, rules not fully understood from the outside, but completely known and understood from the inside.

The spirituality of whimsicality is the practice of allowing spirit out of the box. It’s the antithesis of liturgy. Liturgy is comfortable, predictable, reproducible, whereas whimsy is like letting a 3-year-old loose in a room full of balloons. Yeah, a few will break. Yeah, there’s going to be moments of startle, and tears, and mess. But man, it’s going to be a blast!

Tragically, whimsicality is one of the first things to get kicked to the curb in the process of maturing. And then, when we get older and realize what serious damage we’ve done, and what a huge a mistake it was, we then spend the rest of our lives trying to CPR some of it back into our lives, with variable success.

But if we can come into the yoga room and have somebody guide us into a whimsical practice, tell us to shake our tail feathers, and make horse sounds with our mouths, and jog in place and let our arms and legs go all loosey-goosey, what would happen?

If we are permitted the uninhibited freedom to snort like pigs, and breathe through alternate nostrils, and pump our stomachs like we’re trying to hork up hairballs, and go into our turtle shells, and kick away all the stuff that’s not serving us, and sigh out all our tension with a big, fat, audible ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh…..

Maybe, just maybe, the dying embers of what little whimsy is left in our bodies, hearts, and lives can be coaxed back to life.

And what if it turns out that this whimsicality is the deepest practice of all?

Posted in April Yoga Challenge

Don’t Let a Yoga Class Hijack Your Yoga

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Tonight there were a few people in Power Yoga that were anxious about it. They signed up for the Yoga Challenge but they were leery about this particular class. One of these people was Liz. So I wrote this post to her, and to anyone who has found themselves in the deep end of the pool in a yoga class.

Dear Liz,

Don’t let the Power hijack your Yoga. Don’t let other people in the class hijack your yoga. In a big class setting, you have to own your practice.

You are responsible for keeping your own attention on your own body. Do not not let a yoga teacher, or that student on the mat in front of you, hijack your power, your brain, your intention.

It’s really hard.

Everyone around you is, or seems to be, rocking it. And you?  You’re falling and sweating and struggling. Everybody else is in the pocket. And you? You’re panting and flailing, and questioning the point of this, and your place in this scene.

Because this IS a scene. This is the “Power Yoga” scene and you are feeling like you are clearly NOT cutting it.

The “Power Yoga” has hijacked your yoga.

But here’s the thing: at any moment in this sweat fest, you can reframe it. You can, if you remember to do it, switch glasses. You can put on those magnifying classes right there on your mat, and focus them inside. You can pause, and put yourself in slo-mo for awhile.

You can work on precision and focus. You can breathe in. You can breathe out.

You can be calm and human.

You can make conscious choices, seek flow, extend your abilities.

Then, when the storm is over, you can restore yourself.

So don’t do what you’re told, do yourself. Your best self. Your perfectly imperfect self. Your alive self.

Anyone can do Power Yoga. As long as they stay in their power.

Love you,

Kath

Posted in April Yoga Challenge

Manatee Yoga

It’s not that I don’t like Yin, I do. I like it too much. But I feel like a manatee when I do Yin.

I’m an unrepentant flow-hacker and there is no way to get into flow for me during Yin. Yin is like therapy, or a massage.

Yin is for an off day.

I understand that there is a time and place for passivity, but only when the body is broken down from activity. And that’s not where I’m at now. Or yet.

I think once my challengers have a whole week of yang under their belts, then the yin will be welcome.

Posted in April Yoga Challenge

It’s on. Bring it.

Today is April fool’s day. The first day of the Yoga Challenge. A rainy, cold, and crappy day.

I had to get up and get going. I had to be “on.”  Lots of “on.” First-day- of-Yoga-Challenge “on.”

Class started slow, then amped up.  With lots of breathing.

Breathing is hard. Harder than it should be, given that we do it all day long and should be experts at it by now.

But we’re not. It’s exhausting. It’s exhilarating.

After class I sat at my table in the window at Night and Day and played with my Feelings and Needs cards. From the Feelings Deck I picked: Calm, Comfortable, Hopeful, Relaxed, and Open.

From the Needs deck I picked: Authenticity, To Be Seen for Who I Am, Freedom, Balance and Power in My World. Those were the needs that were met, resulting in Calm, Comfortable, Hopeful, etc.

I have a pretty good life. I know it. I appreciate it. I designed it this way. I protect it.

It’s not like it just fell in my lap. It comes fairly easily now, and I get a lot of support to sustain it, but at the same time, I designed it this way. I made certain choices: Partner (huge), and friends, primarily. But also the choice to care, to give a shit, and to support the people around me who are doing good things in the world.

So I sat at my table and felt mellow. And grateful.

And then went home and took a nap.

Because of all the “on.”

Posted in yoga

The Yoga Teacher As Skunk

Skunk in Backyard Patio

I walk around the yoga room and everyone I come close to kinda freezes, like they’d do if a skunk walked by them unexpectedly.

Breaths and bodies become refined as I patrol the room. They are either happy or relieved if I touch them. But they are always keenly aware that the skunk is watching them.

When I practice by myself or with a video, I miss having a skunk in the room.  The screen teacher is too predictable, and when it’s just me, I won’t spray myself so there’s no risk, no danger. I have no skin in the game. 

When there’s no skunk ominously parading by to snap me to attention, my mind logs off. With no one watching me I become a test pattern: steady but boring. I have no incentive to make subtle refinements in breath or body, and therefore I have no shot at flow.

And getting into flow is the reason I  practice.  

For me, yoga doesn’t mean “to yoke,” it means “to get into flow.” Flow is a mental state so focused, so grounded in the present moment, so locked and loaded into reality, that nothing else matters, nothing else really exists. 

It’s super-hard to pull off. Mostly impossible, unless you’re into extreme sports.  

But if you ever get a taste of it, you want it. All. The. Time.

You want the “yoga” of running, the “yoga” of skiing, the “yoga” of biking, the “yoga” of mountain climbing, the “yoga” of doing the dishes, the “yoga” of folding the laundry, the “yoga” of doing the taxes, walking the dog, changing the litter. 

 That’s why you come into the room with the skunk.  You come because you want to learn how to make the “secret sauce,” the “yoga,” so that you can stir it into everything else you do.

The skunk in the room may not know a single thing about skiing or mountain climbing or federal tax laws, but the skunk knows the recipe for flow. She’ll scare you a little, make you take a risk, and then goad you to stay in that scary place and wallow in it. She’ll encourage you to watch your never ending brain/ biofeedback loop. She’ll cue this “watching” over and over and over.

She’ll tell you, “Stay still, right there, and let yourself marinate in this a while.”

She’ll say,“Breathe fast.” And then she’ll say, “Breathe slowly.” 

She’ll tell you to breathe long, and then tell you to breathe short. She’ll tell you to hold your breath until you practically pass out.  And then, at the last moment, she’ll say, “Breeeeathe.” 

And you will. 

And you’ll start to notice stuff you never saw before: Mental movies will play out in epic grandiosity in your crazy brain; you’re bodily systems will cook, then braise, then saute, and then transform. 

And if you persist at this long enough and eventually learn this exquisite art of attention; if you don’t flake out,….

Flow will show up.

 Right there. 

In the next breath.

  The room will suddenly drop away. And so will the skunk. 

You’ll find yourself there. Calm and focused. Locked and loaded. In the only place you ever wanted to be:

Here.