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.

Reading The Brothers Karamazov (and other grinds)

I have been struggling with The Bros K. but today, today I may have broken through.

Things started to shift in Part 1, Book 3 for me.

I couldn’t get past the whining and the histrionics of the beginning chapters, not to mention all the impossible-to-keep-track-of Russian names. When I can’t hear a name in my mind, but have to rely on just the graphical pattern of letters, I get lost.

I went to book group having slogged through just about 100 pages, and hoped the others who had read farther could assure me that there was light and ease and joy coming in the future.

That didn’t really happen, but I was inspired to keep slogging, just because.

Because it was Dostoevsky.

Because it was a classic.

Because I’ve read longer and more turgid books and god dammit I would read the Bros K. Even if it killed me. And if Linda R could do it, so could I.

It seems like so many things I’m doing these days are like this: grinds.

The Yoga Challenge, The Ultimate Yogi, the Bros K.

But when I got home from book group, bound and determined, I experimented with reading some of it out loud, hoping I could tune my ear to it, hoping I could find a way in.

And it worked! And I did! I started laughing because the way his characters narrate their lives sounds so much like modern conversations. These language patterns sounded so natural, I could hear myself talking exactly this way.

Is this the wonder of this particular translation?

I don’t know, but I am happily reading the Bros K. now, and really digging it.

Today was Day 27 of the Ultimate Yogi. Only 81 more days to go. I decided to just do the damn thing. No expectations. I don’t have to like it, I just have to do it.

But the last few days, I’ve been getting into it.

The Strength sequence is still a problem. Even when I think I’m doing okay and hanging in there, there it comes: that long hold in plank with alternate knees at the biceps. When that part comes, it’s nothing but oh fuck, oh god.

So hard.

All the other sequences I pretty much cruise through without a lot of suffering.

I’m starting to tire of his stories, though: the elephant sculpture one, and Hollow Bone.

 Enough.

Note to Self: Kath, if you ever put a program or video online and you want it to stay evergreen?

Don’t talk too much. 

Don’t tell stories. 

Just instruct the yoga and the breathing with as few words as possible, no jokes. 

Never make a joke. Because in all the world there is nothing staler than a joke on video. Especially on a video you want people to watch every day, or at least somewhat frequently.

The Yoga Challenge is 17 days in as of today, and though it’s going okay, there’s not the commitment that there was in the past. No, I shouldn’t say that. There’s the commitment, but things keep happening. Like Jury Duty happened to one person, and a medical problem flared for another one.

I don’t think there are too many people who can do something like this without a miss. Some things like jury duty can’t be helped. Some things like heart issues flaring, can’t be predicted, some things like college graduations can’t be missed. I get it, I do, but still.

So this will be it. I will really work hard to put it online next year. That way more people can do it. It’s not the daily yoga that’s the problem or the challenge, it’s the coming to class. So online might be the answer, I think.

The season is unlocking. Grass is greening, daffodil foliage is breaking through. I’m enjoying my long walks at the Hike and Bike with Stella everyday. That time spent with her is becoming an important and wonderful part of my day. She’s really a great little dog.

It’s feels good not to grind so much and just enjoy: the yoga, the reading, the season. Hallelujah.

The Personal Touch at Wegmans

Lolly is my favorite checker at Wegmans. She speaks in a friendly, conspiratorial tone, kind of out-of-the-side-of-her-mouth. Her voice has a very peculiar timbre, too. Something between foghorn and an oboe. It intrigues me.

But the thing I really like about her, and why I will wait in her line even if there’s a faster one, …well, there are a few things.

First, she’s is just a great checker. She looks down the belt and checks out the lay of the land, quickly assesses my stuff, and then starts to mentally group things for bagging.

Bagging is a fine art. Lolly knows how to sort and how to bag. She’s one of those Tetris kinds of baggers, but she will never sacrifice fragility for spatial symmetry. 

For example, she would never just shove my loaf of raisin bread into the corner of a bag, even if the space seemed custom designed for it. Oh no. Food before form. Always.

She’s not particularly chatty. But I feel she’s there for me. She sees me. 

Today a group of three women were in line ahead of me. I overheard them talking to Lolly about how hard it was to raise 3 kids as a single parent. Lolly said she understood because she had been a single parent, too.

When they finished and it was my turn, Lolly said to me: “It’s a lot like being a bartender here. People tell you everything.” And laughed.

I corrected her. “No,” I said. They tell YOU everything. It’s because of how you are.”

She just shrugged and went back to efficiently scanning and weighing and bagging my stuff.

All the way home I tried to nail down just what it is about Lolly that makes me cruise all the checkers first, to see if she’s working, and then stand in her line even when there are way faster ones.

She’s not particularly smiley or chatty.  That’s not it.

She’s just present

She seems to care about my groceries, yes, but I also feel she she sees me as a person, too. I’m not just the next customer to process. I feel a human connection with her, and apparently, I’m not the only one. People tell her things. Intimate things about their lives.

As more and more grocery chains add self-scanners, the human checkers are going to be phased out, I’m afraid, and for the most part, good riddance to them, because frankly, most of them they act like robots now, anyway.

But it makes me sad to think that someday there won’t be any more people like Lolly; people who you don’t know personally, but who make you feel more like a person for having interacted with them.

I Hate That Progress Takes Time

I hate that things take time.

Not things. Progress.

I hate that progress takes time.

Especially the visible, tangible signs of progress. That’s what I really hate. 

I feel so impatient. I want a sign: something, anything, that will encourage me to keep going. 

I am attached to outcomes. I am a very bad yogi and a very bad Buddhist. 

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna that he must not fight to win the battle. No.

Arjuna must fight because it’s his dharma. He must fight because it’s his nature as a warrior to fight. 

So here’s what I’m telling myself these days: 

Put your head down, Kath, and grind.

So what if you’re not any stronger.

So what if you’re not any lighter.

So what if you’re measurements are still the same. 

So what if you’re a little sore. And tired. And grouchy. And your words aren’t getting written everyday and you don’t have time to cook, or even shop regularly. 

It’s only been 2 weeks of this Ultimate Yogi thing. What did you expect?

Answer?

 I expected more than nothing. I expected a little something. Some small little something. 

And why?

 Because it’s been TWO WHOLE WEEKS.

Every dieter I’ve ever known has had to fight this battle. Every person who has trained for a marathon has had to fight this battle. Every person who has committed to writing a dissertation, or tried to quit smoking, or any other addiction, knows what I’m talking about here. 

It’s a daily slog. A daily recommitment without any seeming progress. 

It’s the daily sky-gaze where you beg for a sign, for something, anything that will reassure you that, yes, it will all be worth it in the end.

(I feel like I’m getting melodramatic here, but everybody knows this at some level.)

So I really do have to find a way to just unattach from outcomes. To just do the thing for its own sake. 

And trust. 

Or not trust. Just keep going.