This Blog Is Ten Years Old

This blog is 10 years old this month. 

Who knew??

I didn’t even realize it until yesterday.

I was reading through the archives of a blog I just discovered. The author’s archives went back to 2012. 

It made me wonder how far mine went back, so I checked.  

And lo and behold, February of 2009 was my debut here. And I have amassed close to 700 posts. 

When I first started, the idea here was that I would be on the lookout for things that inspired me, and then write about them. Thus the title, Inspiration Location. 

That didn’t last long, though. After a while I just found myself writing about whatever I was obsessing about at the moment, inspiring or not. 

Now the idea is to chronicle my thoughts as I tend my streaks and develop my projects. 

Back in 2016 I self-published a little book called The Project-Driven Life. It’s basically tips and tricks for finding out who you want to be when you grow up. It involves tending streaks and completing projects. 

 My next project is a book called The Yoga of Everything and I have  started maintaining some streaks that will help get it finished: writing 1K words daily, reading, meditating, and blogging here once a week.

But, back to that new-found blog. 

Whenever I find a new blog, the first place I go is to the About page.

I want to know: Who is this person? Where do they live? How old are they? What do they do besides blog? Do I have anything in common with them?

I want to see their picture. I want to know a little of their backstory.

I don’t have an About page currently. I changed WordPress themes recently and forgot to include one. 

Maybe that’s a lie. 

Maybe I didn’t forget. 

Maybe it’s just that I hate writing About pages. They never seems to fit me and they keep going out of date as my life morphs and changes.

For example, if I say I’m a 66 year-old yoga teacher living in northern Pennsylvania, is that an accurate description? It’s true, of course, but is it my true deal? 

I don’t think so. 

What if I say: I’ve been writing every day in personal journals for over 40 years?

 Now, that might be getting closer.

I think it’s because if you’re the kind of person who writes down your thoughts every day, and keeps doing it obsessively for decades, you’re defined by that activity.

We are what we repeatedly do. ~Aristotle

 And you also find out that you’re that weirdo that needs to write down your thoughts every day. 

But seriously, a journal is a place you go to describe yourself, analyze yourself, contemplate yourself. 

In words. 

And then, if you do a strenuous amount of editing, take out all the gibberish, remove the nonsense, and give your words a beat to dance to, voila, you have yourself a post. 

Which is basically what I do here.

And have been doing for 10 years, apparently. 

If you’ve been following along here, for however long. Thank you. It makes me really happy to have readers.  So onward!

Persistently. With reverence. For a long time. ~Patanjali

The Yoga Of Dog Training

Shortly after we got Stella, I had an epiphany watching some corgis on an Instagram account I follow called Alfuku. 

The owners of these corgis are Japanese, and naturally they talk to their corgis in Japanese. 

When I heard them interact with these dogs, I had no idea what they were saying. But these corgis sure did. 

These dogs are beautiful and funny and trained. They know all kinds of tricks. They even dance in competitions with their owners, weaving in and out of them to music. It’s amazing.

But my epiphany watching them respond to commands in Japanese was— and everyone who has ever trained a dog, will go, “Duh” when I say this,— is that these dogs don’t understand the Japanese language, or any other language, for that matter.  They’ve just learned to decode sound patterns.  

They’ve translated what sounds to me like: ichi washi goobahya into: Bring the rubber chicken here, and drop it at my feet.

Once I fully grasped this, I consciously started monitoring my speech for brevity and consistency when I talked to Stella. No color commentary, no reasons, no verbal expressions of exasperation or complicated feelings and needs.  I needed to shut up, keep all that to myself, and just say,  Come! 

Same with body language. No dancing Shiva arm movements, no fancy footwork. If she was trying to decode me, I needed to send as clear a signal as possible.

One thing that makes Stella easy to train is her attentiveness. She makes eye contact. She seems to be trying to read me. 

When I ask her a question, or, more accurately, when my voice goes up at the end: “You wanna go for a walk?” She cocks her head to one side, as if to say, “What?” 

Then, if I put on my shoes and grab her leash, and always repeat those same sounds every time before a walk, “You wanna go for a walk?” is basically ichi washi goobahya except instead of fetching a rubber chicken, she gets to go outside with me.

My latest project is trying to train her to know the distinction between “Stay With” and “Stay Close.”

I want her to understand that when I say, “Stay With” she should stay within a close proximity to me, maybe 30 yards. I should always be able to see her, and she, me. 

I use Stay Close to mean what most dog trainers mean by “Heel.”  I want Stay Close to mean, “keep exact pace with me.”  

This training has been eye-opening. I have to be totally present and aware of what I’m doing in order to be effective.

 It’s a lot like practicing yoga. I can’t multi-task. I can’t make random, mindless movements or jibber-jabber to her in meaningless paragraphs of mouth noise. 

If I want the signal to be read, I have to reduce the noise. I have to breathe, slow down, make eye contact, be patient, be willing to fail, and try again. And again. I have to make it fun. I have to have treats on me at all times.

Dog training means paying attention to what I’m doing, and what she’s doing, and finding ways to connect.  I have to witness myself and I have to witness her. I have to create a relationship.

When I’m walking alone, without the dog, it’s different. I can and do carry on long conversations with myself, out loud. 

I used to get embarrassed if anyone caught me doing this, but now, in the age of wireless headsets, everyone appears to be talking to themselves as they walk along, anyway.

Yesterday Stella and I were walking on the Hike and Bike trail.  This is where I like to practice stay with, and stay close with her. She had her short, lightweight drag-along leash attached to her collar but I wasn’t holding on to it. 

 It was sunny and warm and I found myself striding along, happily talking to myself about my usual nonsense when I realized I’d lost track of her. And myself.

But thankfully she hadn’t lost track of me. There she was, up ahead, waiting for me to catch up. She was doing a great job of staying with. Whereas I had strayed. I had lost her. And myself. To thought.

Dogs teach us so more than we teach them, if only we would stop thinking and just observe them.

A long time ago I wrote this poem to another dog:

Shasta

My dog knows the universe with his nose,

sips the air for the scent of leaving

after the doorlock clicks.

I spend each day practicing to do

what he does:

Follow my senses,

observe the wind, 

respond to the sense of soil

and not to the flowering of each

fantasy, each upturned rock

of memory.

My pet, 

my guru, 

my teacher on a leash.

From the passing pick-up

it looks as if I am walking you,

but I am the student

following you each morning

from tree

to bush, 

probing the world of gravel

and weed, 

learning the proper response

to air, the infinite 

logarithms of light,

the script of sound

far beyond my range.

The Yoga Of Shoveling

We just got a big dump of snow. Everyone’s buzzing. People here like snow. Especially since it’s only snowed once, back in November. 

Snow days, when the snow is actually falling, are slow days: soup, hot chocolate, movies, naps, games.

But that’s only when the snow is actually falling

When the snow stops falling, and clean-up begins, that’s when a lot of people tend to lose their zen.

Here are some things you might want to keep in mind in the aftermath of a big snow dump.

1. Take your time. There’s no rush. It’s not a race. Do a little bit at a time and focus on your bio-mechanics. Lift with your legs, take a lot of breaks, and do some counter-stretches. Shoveling is a continuous act of forward bending, so you need to counter that. So stop. Take a breath. Look at the sky.  Then take a slow, shallow, little backbend. Do this at regular intervals. 

2. Ta-Da rather than To-Do If you have a lot of snow to shovel it’s easy to get discouraged when you look at what you have left to do. Switch your perspective. Look at what you’ve done thus far instead. Give yourself credit for even a modest effort. Don’t get discouraged. Just keep going, slowly, one shovelful at a time.

3. Become one with the machine.If you’re using equipment, it’s important to pay attention to how your equipment is operating and how you are operating your equipment. Take your time. Pay attention. Don’t get sloppy and go barreling through on momentum. Be deliberate and careful. It’s better that way.

4. Pat yourself on the back.When you’re done, admire your work. Even if it’s not done. Admire what you did. Take some more counter stretches. Then take a hot bath, preferably with epsom salts. Soak away any soreness. 

5. Enjoy a reward. Find some soft clothes to snuggle into and make a nice beverage and get comfortable and do something relaxing: read, watch a little TV, cook, take a nap, look out the window. 

The clean-up after a storm can seem like a daunting task, something you definitely don’t love. But it’s easier to fall in love with your reality if you can find little ways to make your reality easier to love. 

5 Ways To Be A Better Yoga Teacher

Yoga training concept

I’m a sucker for  Advice-driven posts like this. I cannot resist, “3 Ways to Achieve Enlightenment in Your Lifetime,” or “10 ways to Stop Cravings.”. I bite every time. So here’s my own “list post”  giving myself the Yoga Teaching advice I need.

Number 1. Don’t close your eyes when you teach.

This is really hard for me. I see so much clearer when I my eyes are closed.  But when I am a student and I am looking at the teacher and the teacher has her eyes closed I feel disconnected from her. I think (and rightly so) that she is in her own world, and what she’s saying has nothing to do with me. Selfishly, I want the teacher to be there for me. I want the teacher to be present.

When I am teaching and tell the students to close their eyes, that doesn’t give me permission to close MY eyes. I need to remember that. Teachers close their eyes because students are really distracting. Their behavior  can really throw you off.

But I must train myself to keep my eyes open at all times. And look at them. As individuals. Not as a “class.”

This is really hard.. I am still, after all these years, terrible at it. I need to force myself to do it, especially when I am centering them. I think the reason I close my eyes is that I am trying to center myself at the same time I am centering them. And that’s a mistake.  I need to remember to keep my eyes opened. All the time. Never close your eyes if you are a yoga teacher.

Number 2. Don’t be afraid to touch your students.

I am really bad at this, too. Every yoga teacher is taught how to assist. Some are way better at it than others. The ones who are good usually have had teachers who have assisted them really well.

I am afraid to touch my students because I am afraid that the touch will be wrong. The way to get over this is to just touch lightly at first. Just give a fingertip touch. The very lightest of encouragement or tweak.

This is hard to get over if you don’t know how. And sometimes students will take the touch as a correction rather than a cue. So you think maybe not to touch is just better. That is a mistake.  People are starved for touch. Even the lightest touch is a moment of being seen. That’s why everyone in a class should be touched at least once.

Number 3. Don’t talk too much.

Oh boy. This is what I really need to learn. It is okay to have a lot of silence in a yoga class. You don’t have to fill up all the space with chatter. I have to remember this because I am a very chatty teacher.

A few  well-chosen cues, widely spaced, can go a long way. I need to think of words as spices. You don’t want to over salt the dish, you want to go easy on the cayenne, the cumin, the curry.

Let there be space for emptiness and breathing and contemplation. Don’t talk too much. Err on the side of silence.

Number 4. Don’t forget to smile.

You don’t have to crack jokes or smile the whole time like a ninny, but learn to put a smile in your voice. If your students are deep in their practice, breathing and listening for the next direction, if your voice has a smile in it, it is really wonderful.

In oder to put a smile in your voice you have to have a smile on your face. You need to practice this. You know how nice it is when you’re on the phone with someone in customer service, and they seem to have a smiley voice? When you can hear something friendly in their voice, it makes the whole interaction go much better.

That’s what you should aim for in the yoga room. Not jokes, not inauthenticity, just warm friendliness. This takes some mirror practice. Work on it.

Number 5. Don’t pretend to know what you don’t know.

If you don’t live the yamas and niyamas, if you don’t struggle to live them in your own life, don’t bring them up. If, however, you do try to adhere to them in your non-yoga-class life, then by all means bring them up.  It’s like talking about weight-loss when you’ve never had a weight problem. Just don’t.

If you don’t practice handstands, don’t teach handstands. If you don’t have a daily practice, don’t preach daily practice.  Don’t preach about virtues you don’t aspire to, or struggle with, or have. If you’ve never had a chakra awakening, don’t talk about chakra awakenings. Stay honest. Stay in your lane.

The Yoga of Kettlebells

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I won’t pick up a kettlebell here at home and swing it. I will only swing a kettlebell or do a squat or a push-up or a sit-up if I pay someone to watch me.

Lifting weights and all that jazz is not something I will do here at home, alone. Even though I have weights here at home, and even though it’s good for me.

But once I get into the gym, I’m okay with swinging a kettlebell, but I want to swing it my way: the yogic way.

I want to notice everything. I want to block out distractions:  the babble of my trainer, the bad music he’s blasting.

I want to focus on what’s happening. And not just bodily pain, but the color commentary running through my mind about this pain.

I want to hear myself tell myself the story of how I can’t do this, how much I hate this, how much this barbell stinks.

I want to listen to this whole narrative. And then I don’t. I whine. I  look at the time.

But some days I can drop in. Some days I hit this groove in my brain, and my eyes roll back in my skull and I get this creepy look on my face.  My eyes appear to be looking at you, but I’m not looking at you at all.

Kind of like the Children of the Dammed.

I’m in that gym but not in that gym at all.

I’m on the path to failure, watching myself with a curious detachment.

I know it’s coming, that failure moment, but I don’t know when. My trainer, he’s the one  waiting for the end; me,I’m into the journey.

I’m involved, and not involved. I’m checked in and checked out. I’m watching the movie of me: Me doing squats. Me lifting a 50 pound kettlebell in a “dead.” Me on the rings doing push ups, wondering how many more before I can’t push back up.

I’m watching myself walk the path of failure. Just waiting.

I like that someone witnesses me as I do this. I like to have an audience.

Sometimes he gives me form cues: “Feet wider, sit back into that squat, do just one more.”

He said the other day: “I’m just here to watch you do what you want to do.”

And what I want to do is walk the path to failure. With eyes wide open.

Even though, sometimes, I need to roll them back in my skull to see where I’m really going.