Tag Archives: yoga

Sometimes It Hurts When I Breathe

23 Oct

I’ve realized that I live in this cycle of frantic activity followed by total emotional and/or physical collapse. This has been happening a couple of times a year since my late teens, and you would think that by now I would be able to recognize the signs enough to stave off the impending crisis, but no. Apparently not.

My head’s been strangely fuzzy for a few weeks now, and my body’s been aching with the weight of something – my bag on my shoulder, my kid on my hip, all of my stupid anxieties. I kept feeling like I couldn’t catch my breath, and then one morning I woke up and I literally had a hard time breathing. So I called in sick to work, stayed in bed for the morning, and then ran some errands in the afternoon. By the next day I was fine, just tired.

I’ve been so goddamn tired these past few weeks, you guys.

I kept meaning to rest, but it always seemed like I had something pressing that needed to be done. A class to teach. Work email. Regular email. A workshop that I signed up for 6 months ago. Studio paperwork to take care of. Invoices. More invoices.  A band that I’ve been wanting to see live for ages and ages. A blog post that I’ve been putting off writing. Guest lecturing a high school English class. A friend having a crisis. Another friend having another crisis. A friend not having a crisis but that I haven’t seen for months. Matt. My sisters. My mothers. My grandmother in Spain. Housework. More housework.

And then there’s Theo. Because even once I’d checked everything else off my list, there was always Theo. How could I ever justify taking a break when I had Theo who needed my time and attention? Theo, who uncomplainingly let Matt pick him up from daycare and feed him dinner and bathe him nearly every night of the week because I had to work the evening shift at the studio or teach a class or do whatever it is that I do that seems to take up all of my goddamn time. Theo, who makes me feel pangs of guilt just by smiling at me. Theo.

So there was never a question of taking a break, because there was never a way of getting to the end of the list. And even though I will happily berate other people for not practicing proper self-care, I am terrible at it myself. Doing things for the express purpose of feeling good always seems like a terrible self-indulgence. Like, how can I justify spending an hour napping or reading on the patio or going out by myself for a coffee when it meant that all the other things weren’t getting done? How can I especially justify doing any nice stuff for myself when it means taking time away from my kid? My kid who I barely get to see these days anyway?

What I’m trying to say here is that I’m a horrible hypocrite.

I’ve spent the past two and a half weeks pushing myself through this deepening haze, shuttling from one end of town to the other, from Toronto to Kingston for Thanksgiving and then back again, from writing to teaching to mothering to hand-holding to coughing until I couldn’t catch my breath, until I was bent double and thought I might throw up in the gutter and oh god how embarrassing.

I forgot to mention that along with the exhaustion, there was a cough.

Finally, at the end of last week, I had this conversation with Nathan:

Nathan: When are you going to see a doctor?

Me: I’m fine, it’s just a cough.

Nathan: You’ve had this cough for what, two weeks now?

Me: Sometimes these things linger on. You know how it is. I’m fine.

Nathan: You are not fine! You might have pneumonia!

Me: I don’t have pneumonia. If I had pneumonia, I’d have a fever.

Nathan: You do have a fever.

Me: I would have a higher fever. I would be, like, bedridden.

Nathan: Maybe you have walking pneumonia.

Me: NO I DON’T.

Nathan: You know what? If it was me who was coughing like this, you would have forced me to go to the doctor ages ago. You would have even come with me, just to make sure that I went.

Me: Uh, yeah. That’s true. I guess.

Nathan: And you know what the worst part of it is? Your cough is so bad that I can’t even make fun of it anymore. You’ve taken away one of my few joys in life.

So I went to the walk-in clinic yesterday and the doctor sort of nodded his head and jotted down a few notes and said that it sounded like I probably had bronchitis. Then he moved his stethoscope around my back for a while and asked me to breathe deeply a couple of times. He kept bringing his stethoscope back to the same spot and pausing there.

“I think I hear some crackles in your upper left lobe,” he said. “I want you to go for a chest x-ray – you might have walking pneumonia.”

Afterwards, when I texted Nathan with the news, I received this delighted reply:

“Wait, wait, wait … walking pneumonia came up?

If you weren’t sick I would revel in my rightness, but you are, so I won’t.

I could be the first person to receive a doctorate just by watching medical dramas. 7 seasons of House, 8 ER, 3 Chicago Hope …”

I went for the chest x-ray today. Afterwards, I asked the tech when my doctor would have the results, and he told me they would be sent out in three to five business days.

“I just want to know for work,” I said. “Pneumonia just sounds so much more impressive than bronchitis.”

“Where do you work?”

“I manage a yoga studio and I teach yoga classes.”

“Let’s just say,” he said, glancing at the image on the screen, “that you might want to take it easy for a while.”

So I’m trying to take it easy. I’m trying not to think of all the messages in my inbox. I’m trying not to feel guilty about popping a kid-friendly DVD in the machine as soon as Matt and Theo got home. I’m trying to rest, and most of all I’m trying not to feel guilty for resting.

Because most of my to-do list can wait.

Because the best way to be a better mother is to get well.

Because it’s fine – good, even – to take a break sometimes.

I’m not good at this stuff. Not just because I kind of sort of maybe enjoy having a hectic life, and not just because doing stuff for myself makes me feel pangs of guilt, but also because I’m not great at being taken care of. I’m hardwired to make sure that everyone around me feels safe and happy and healthy, and I will gladly scold friends and family for not going to the doctor as soon as I think they should, or not taking enough time off work, but when it comes to myself it’s a completely different story. I hate having other people care for me; it makes me feel deeply, skin-crawlingly uncomfortable in the way that few things do. In fact, just thinking about it right now makes me want to barf, although that might also be from the super-strong antibiotics that I’m on.

But I’m going to try to be good and lie still and let other people bring me things, because right now, I kind of have to. More than that, I’m going to try, really try, to break out of this cycle that I’ve been in for the past decade. Because this shit’s getting old, this pattern is not sustainable, and I can and will change.

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I can’t do yoga (and other lies people tell me)

21 Nov

I honestly can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation:

Person I Just Met: So, what do you do?

Me: I’m a yoga teacher.

Person I Just Met: Oh, neat! Where do you teach?

Me: Right now I’m mostly just subbing, but I teach a regular weekly class at [local studio]. You should come!

Person I Just Met: Oh, um, yeah, maybe. We’ll see!

Me: It’s pay-what-you-can and all levels. I would love to have you!

Person I Just Met:  I can’t do yoga. I’m just really not flexible. Sorry!

Here’s the thing: anyone can do yoga. I honestly believe that. I have taught a yoga class to a room full of octogenarians who stayed seated in comfy chairs the entire time – if they can do yoga, then so can you. It doesn’t matter how flexible your body is – any and all poses can be modified to meet you where you are. And really, if you want to try yoga but lack of flexibility is your excuse, how will you ever improve your range of motion without first taking up something like a regular yoga practice? Everyone has to start somewhere – why not start now, today, whatever shape your body is in?

Having said all that, I know there are a ton of reasons why people shy away from yoga, and most of them have nothing to do with flexibility. Part of the problem is that the yoga culture in the west is kind of fucked up.

Yoga is an ancient Indian discipline dating back several thousand years. The first definitive text on yoga, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, is estimated to be about 2,000 years old, and the practice itself is even older than that. Yoga is one of the six astika, or orthodox, schools of Hindu philosophy, and in its original form was mainly a mental and spiritual practice with some physical elements.

The second sutra in Patanjali’s book pretty clearly outlines what was, at the time, understood to be the main goal of yoga. This sutra reads, yogah citta vrtti nirodhah, which is typically translated to mean something like, “yoga is the cessation of the movements of the consciousness”. In short, yoga is all about getting your brain to shut the hell up so that you can enjoy a little peace and quiet, for once. Yoga is also about moving past the busy, restless, endlessly nattering part of the brain, the one that Buddhists often refer to as the “monkey mind”, and towards the purusa, which I will loosely define here as a sort of universal consciousness. Yoga is meant to help you see clearly, and one of the things yoga philosophy tells us we need to learn to see is that all beings and all parts of nature are interconnected. We are all part of the same larger pattern, and we are all part of each other. Realizing that is the original, ultimate goal of yoga.

Here in the west, though, we view yoga mainly as a form of physical exercise. Although we chant OM at the beginning and end of every class, and although as part of our practice we often perform surya namaskara (sun salutations), movements whose original intent was to honour the Hindu solar deity Surya, the way we view yoga is pretty much totally secular. Oh sure, some people will tell you that it makes them feel “spiritual”, but most don’t think about the religious aspects of what they’re doing. There’s a lot of cultural appropriation that goes on in western yoga, a lot of white people wearing mala beads and chanting in sanskrit without really understanding what any of it means. In my time in the western yoga world, I’ve seen so many examples of people exoticizing Hinduism and Indian culture, but not many attempts to learn more about what all these words and symbols mean.

I could go on and on about cultural appropriation in yoga, and maybe someday I will. Right now, though, it’s mainly the above-mentioned white people that I want to talk about. See, yoga in the west has, for the most part, become the domain of young, skinny, upper-middle-class, heterosexual white women. I’m not sure how this came about, as, up until just a few generations ago women were forbidden from practicing yoga, but, well, here we are. And I, a young, skinny, white, middle class, heterosexual white woman want to tell you that this is a problem.

The main issue is that people feel intimidated not necessarily by yoga itself, but by the other students in the room. In a worst case scenario, people might feel unwelcome, even unwanted. The message that the yoga community often sends out is that students have to look a certain way, wear certain clothes, have a certain body type and a certain sexual orientation in order to practice yoga. There’s a lot of privilege going on in the western yoga world, and not a lot of yogis who are willing to acknowledge it. And you know what? That’s not cool, because yoga should be for everyone. Yoga is for everyone. Rather than ignoring or dismissing the problem, we in the yoga community need to sit up, take notice, and ask ourselves how do we solve this?

One way to help solve this is to create safer spaces for different types of students. For example, I love Kula Yoga’s Positive Spaces Initiatives, which include classes like “brown girls yoga”, and “queer yoga”. I think that we need more classes like this, more safe spaces catering to the needs of different groups. We already know that some people prefer specialized classes – prenatal yoga, for example, or yoga for seniors – so why not expand this idea? How about yoga for fat chicks, or yoga for trans folk? After all, yoga should be for everybody, not just a select few.

We also need more pay-what-you-can classes, which most studios call “karma” or “community” classes. The average cost for a yoga class in Toronto is between $16 and $20 – paying that amount even just once a week is not manageable for some people. We need to find a way to make sure that yoga is affordable to everyone, not just those with a steady income.

Mostly, what I really think we need is for people to realize that yoga isn’t about how you look, both in terms of poses and clothing, and is really about how you feel. As my (very wise) friend/teacher Charlene recently said, “Yoga isn’t the series of poses and movements that you do during class. Yoga is how you feel after the class.”

The thing is, I honestly believe that yoga has changed my life for the better; that’s why I teach it, so that I can hopefully share that experience with other people. I’m not saying that everyone has to do yoga, or that it’s going to have the same effect on other people as it’s had on me, but I do honestly believe that everyone should have the opportunity to have a regular practice if they want one.

After all, as yoga teaches us, we are all equal and all part of the same greater system.

Goodbye, Old Store

31 Oct

I woke up this morning and logged into Facebook, thinking that I would take a few minutes before work to check and make sure that all of my friends had survived Superstorm Sandy. Instead, I was distracted by the news that the Roots store on Queen West had burned down overnight.

People in neighbouring buildings felt an explosion around 12:30 am, and the force of the blast broke the front windows of the store and forced the back door open. Roots merchandise spilled out onto the streets and, according to witnesses, there were looters grabbing whatever they could get, in spite of the flames pouring out of the second storey windows. Sandy’s winds meant that the fire fighters (over 80 of them) had a hard time controlling the blaze, but by the early hours of the morning they had managed to put the fire out and save the adjacent buildings. Unfortunately, this was all that was left of 369 Queen West:

(c) Torontoist, Ink Truck Media

This Roots store was the site of my first job in Toronto. I’d worked for Roots in Halifax, and when we moved here they offered to transfer me to local store. This Queen street location (there had previously been another one a block down the street) opened not long after I arrived in the city; I loved the Queen West neighbourhood, lived only a short subway ride away, and thought working at a brand new store would be exciting. It seemed like a perfect fit.

I was there to help set up the store, piling sweatshirts on tables and artfully arranging leather bags on shelves that smelled of fresh wood. I was there day they opened, too, a sunny but cold day in the spring of 2007. I worked there for over a year, until, in the summer of 2008, I transferred to the Rosedale store so that I could also work at the Roots Yoga Studio. I’ve been back to visit the old store once or twice, but honestly I haven’t thought about it that much. All day today, though, I’ve been using my spare moments to collect and sift through memories of my time there. It’s almost as if I used to rely on the building itself to hold onto all the things that happened, but now that it’s gone I have to be the one to safeguard my own experiences.

I thought about my old co-workers – there was Kari, the manager and the person I worked with most often, who kept us all entertained and worked her ass off to make sure that things ran smoothly. Elise, an art school student who took amazing photographs. Georgea, the stand-up comedian who taught me how to draw unicorns (the first time I tried I put the horn at the end of the nose, and she explained that it went between the eyes – when I groaned about how stupid I was, she said, well, it’s not really fair because I have a unicorn at home). Lindsay, the smarty-pants U of T student who is now doing her MA in Cinema Studies.

There was Rachel, who became one of my closest friends and played the cello at my wedding. Adam, our token straight male and the dude who explained the “drink and dance” diet to me (hit: it involves drinking a lot of beer and then dancing a lot, and apparently results in losing weight). Sasha, who is now a superstar makeup artist. Alexei, the high school student who had his first real hangover on my watch (he swore that he would never drink again, but pictures on his Facebook prove that he’s a liar). Emily, who was only 16 and was like everyone’s little sister, and now inspires me with her feminist rhetoric and general bad-assery.

I remembered how we used to make candy store runs when summer afternoons dragged on too long, running a block west to Tutti Frutti and returning with giant bags of various gelatine-based sweets for everyone to share. The rickety stairs leading down into the horror movie of a basement. The funny pictures and signs we put up in the staff areas, some of which were still there long after the people who made them had moved on to new jobs:

I remembered staff outings and movie dates, pot lucks and parties. The time we all went to the Ex together and Kari and I ate a million Tiny Tom donuts. The time we went to watch the fireworks down at the Princes Gates and sat in the grass trying to stealthily drink our beer. How we used to hang out in the alley behind the store, sometimes with staff from the Silver Snail next door, soaking up some sunshine on our breaks.

I remembered the time a pipe burst in the basement bathroom, covering the floor with inch-thick black sludge. We had to call a plumber, a little old Asian man who explained that what looked like mud and mulched leaves was actually hundred-year-old poop that had been sitting in the pipe for a century or more. When Kari and I yelled “EW!“, the plumber exclaimed, “No, no, that’s my gold! That’s how I make my money!

I remembered the tiny baby tree that grew through the crack in the wall of the staff room. I remembered the giant centipedes that lived in the basement, terrifying creatures who liked to hide under the boxes we stored down there (RIP giant centipedes).  I thought about how we used to hang bells inside the drawers where we kept the leather bags in an attempt to prevent shoplifting.

I remembered doing good-cop-bad-cop interviews when we were hiring new staff (one potential employee asked to use our microwave at the end of the interview – that’s weird, right?).

I remembered eating a thousand Swiss Chalet meals with Kari, who swore that she would have her wedding dinner there.

I remembered the time Elise got a giant tattoo of geese (or was it ducks?) on her side. The time Emily’s hair turned pink and she had to make an emergency appointment to fix it. The time the owner of the building wanted to sell it and hired a building inspector who showed me the knob and tube wiring in the basement. The day there was a giant snowstorm and we took Kari to see the Nutcracker ballet and Matt fell asleep.

I remembered the time Samantha Bee came into our store, and Kari and I tried SO HARD to be funny but she didn’t even laugh once. When Audra came in, before we were even really friends, and I was like, hey, I think I know you from the internet, and then sold her a red purse. I thought about the many times Emily broke up with (and inevitably got back together with) her boyfriend, each instance a mini drama requiring ice cream and an in-depth analysis of their relationship.

What happens when a building is destroyed or torn down or otherwise ceases to be? What occupies the space where it used to exist, other than open air and the occasional bird passing through? It’s strange to look at that giant hole two storeys in the air and think about how that used to be a place where people lived. A place where they slept, and cooked, and laughed, and made love, and cried, and did all the other little things that make up our lives. What happens to all of those experiences once their physical remainders, all the scuff marks and scratched paint and cracked plaster, literally go up in smoke?

I’ve been wondering why this fire has affected me so much. Am I going to get this nostalgic over every former workplace? I mean, yeah, I’m great at being nostalgic, but this seemed a bit much, even for me. Then I realized that my time at that store has had a huge impact on the shape my life in Toronto has taken. The people I worked with helped me learn to navigate the city, and introduced me to places and events that I might not have discovered on my own. Some of the friends I made there are still a part of my life, and have certainly helped influence choices that I’ve made. Perhaps most importantly of all, working at this store indirectly lead to me becoming a yoga teacher. See, the Roots Yoga Studio offers free classes to all of its employees. If I hadn’t been able to take free classes, I doubt that I would have started a regular practice; knowing me, I would have given up early on due to laziness or being a cheapskate. But the fact that they were free, and that I’d shaped my work schedule around the classes I took, meant that I didn’t have much of an excuse to quit. So I persevered, and I grew to love yoga and, well, here I am.

I haven’t been in the Queen West store in years. Mostly I’m just not hip enough to spend much time in that part of town anymore, and when I am there I prefer to go to stores that I can’t find anywhere else in the city. I haven’t seen many of my former coworkers in a long time either; after we stopped working together, our paths diverged, and now most of us are in totally different places in our lives. We keep up with each other on Facebook, and promise to get together soon, but never do.

I miss them, though. And I know I’ll miss the store, too. Just not the centipedes.

Failure Is Easy (And Sometimes Success Fucking Sucks)

4 Oct

I did a teaching demo today for the owners of a local yoga studio. It was an amazing opportunity – their space is beautiful, they have a ton of teachers that I love and respect on their schedule, and it’s walking distance from my house. I’ve known the two owners for nearly a year, and they’re wonderful women – both are amazing instructors who have a quiet, gentle presence that would put anyone at ease.

Needless to say, I was fucking petrified.

I started out by nervously giggling my way through a short interview, and then spent a few minutes fumbling around with the audio system, trying to get my music to play and hoping that the trembling in my hands wasn’t obvious. I’d planned and reviewed the sequence that I was going to teach, so fortunately I didn’t forget it or anything, but my voice had gone strangely squeaky, and I could tell that my breathing was shallow. After a few minutes, though, I hit my stride and started to feel more confident. After all, I teach several times a week, right? I know how to do this.

Right?

Afterwards, they smiled at me, and told me what a lovely teaching voice and style I had, mentioned that I’d given excellent cues and had clearly been well-trained, and finally said that I had a beautiful practice.

Even a three-year-old could have heard this but coming a mile away.

But, one of them said gently, we noticed that you didn’t look at us. Do you ever walk around the room while you teach? Do you ever offer adjustments?

I do, I do, I stammered, I mean, maybe not as many adjustments as some other teachers, but I can do them. I mean, we learned how to. And I can walk around the room while I teach. We did focus on that in our training. Walking, that is, around the room, and not just demonstrating the poses to the students. It was something my teachers talked a lot about.

It must have been hard to teach to us, said the other, it was probably overwhelming to teach to the two owners of the studio.

I was totally nervous, I said. Didn’t you hear my voice shaking?

It was the sort of thing I knew I shouldn’t have said even before I said it, but then it came out anyway.

They talked to me a bit longer about the importance of connecting with your students, of having a relationship with them, and of maintaining an awareness of what’s happening in the room at all times. I said a few thing that probably sounded like feeble excuses. They thanked me for coming in, said that they had no immediate spots available on the schedule, but would keep me in mind for the future. I thanked them a little too profusely for having me in to demo for them (because it’s an honour to even be asked, right?) and then rushed out the door.

I don’t know which reaction to criticism is worse: to tell yourself that what other people see is wrong, that they just don’t understand what you’re trying to do, that they’re the ones with the ones with the problem, not you, or to do what I did, which was to tell myself that I’d flat out failed.

The thing is, they were right. I didn’t look at them while I was teaching. I probably don’t connect with and engage with my students enough. I do need to get up off the mat and walk around the room more often.

I could have said to myself that I would work harder, that I would take workshops on how to give adjustments, that I would get better and be the best teacher possible. The problem with that line of thought is that it seemed overwhelming and exhausting. I was tired just thinking about it.

It was easier to tell myself that I’d failed, that I was a bad teacher, that I should just give up and move on. It was easier to blame myself for not being prepared enough, for not thinking to look at them often enough, or even for scheduling a demo like this before I felt fully confident in my skills.

Failure is easy. Failure means that I get to give up, relax, not be so hard on myself. Failure means that I get to spend more time at home with my husband and son, and less time improving myself. Failure, somehow, means less anxiety.

Success, on the other hand, can be totally scary. With every success comes the idea that you need to build on it, keep the momentum going, continue to grow bigger and better every day. And success, of course, makes every little failure seem all the more bitter.

Every time I write something on here that elicits a reaction from people, that ends up being passed around on Facebook, or generates a lot of comments, I feel like my next post has to be even better. And then if I go a few days without posting anything that gets a big response, I feel like I’ve lost it, whatever it is: the ability to write, maybe, or to communicate effectively, to touch people.

A few things, though:

1. Every post I write doesn’t have to win the Nobel Fucking Prize for Bloggers

2. I am still just getting started as a writer who is writing things for other people, and not just scrawling messy feelings in my diary.

3. I am still a novice teacher; I just graduated in June for Pete’s sake

4. Who the hell is Pete, anyway? Is it Peter like the apostle Peter, the one who became the first Pope?

5. I really hate that dude.

I am a good teacher; I am also a good writer. I have innate talent in both of those areas (I mean, if I do say so myself). BUT (did you see that but coming?), innate talent will only get you so far. The rest of the way to success is hard fucking work. It’s hard work, and the road is never smooth – every time I succeed, it will likely be followed by a few failures, and it will be a while before I get to the point where I feel like everything is settling down and working out the way I want to. Maybe I never will. See? Fucking scary.

People like to say that failure is not an option, except that it totally is. I could totally pack up my yoga mat and go home. And I could justify that decision a million ways: teaching was wearing me out (true!), I felt like I wasn’t seeing my family enough (also true!), I wasn’t sure how to improve or move forward (double true!). Failing would be easy.

But I don’t want to fail.

I don’t want that to be the lesson that I teach Theo.

I don’t want that to be the lesson that I teach myself.

So if you’ll excuse me, I will take my lovely voice, my excellent cues and my beautiful practice and go work on learning how to properly walk around the room. It’s going to suck at first, and I’ll probably screw it up the first few times I try it, but I’ll ride that out and see it through until I get better. And I will get better, because I am a smart lady who can figure this shit out.

My child, even though I am a stupid misogynist and it’s totally my fault women can’t be priests, I will pray for you.

Writing, Yoga and Doing What You Love

1 Oct

When you first start writing, chances are you’re not doing it for anyone other than yourself. You might begin by keeping a journal, or producing badly illustrated, yarn-bound books about anthropomorphic cats named Stubby, or else writing raw, angst-written teenage poetry by moonlight while the rest of your family (who, by the way, don’t understand you) are asleep. I mean, maybe. It’s not like I’m drawing examples from my personal life here or anything.

It might be that writing for yourself is all you want to do, and that’s great. That means that you can write whatever you want, edit as much (or as little) as you want, and basically be able to not give a fuck about, well, anything. JD Salinger (the king of giving no fucks) said,

There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. … It’s peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I live to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure. … I don’t necessarily intend to publish posthumously, but I do like to write for myself. … I pay for this kind of attitude. I’m known as a strange, aloof kind of man. But all I’m doing is trying to protect myself and my work.

If you want any kind of commercial success, though, you need to start thinking about other people. In a best case scenario, you could write exactly what you want to write, and, due to some crazy alignment of the stars or a perfect moment of cultural zeitgeist, it would make the New York Times bestseller list. For example, you could write smutty Twilight fan fiction, change a few names, and have it become a wildly successful work of erotica. However, if that business model isn’t working for you (and don’t worry, you’re not alone), you need to figure out who your audience is and what the hell they want to read.

I feel like this is kind of where I am right now, not just with writing but also with yoga.

When I first started practicing yoga, it was (obviously) something I only did for myself. I remember my first class vividly; I struggled through it, but afterwards I was so relaxed that I felt high. It was love at first downward dog.

In the beginning it was just a physical practice, but later it became something more. I’m hesitant to describe it as “spiritual”, but the way I practice now certainly goes deeper than just my body. There have been times when yoga has triggered unexpected emotions in me; I laughed the first time I went into urdhva dhanurasana (full wheel), and kicking up into handstand still makes me insanely happy. There have been poses that have made me feel irrationally angry, and, much to my embarrassment, I’ve cried in class once or twice. Luckily, the lights were dim, and I was able to slink out the door without anyone noticing that something was amiss.

The feeling that I associate the most with yoga, though, is what I like to refer to as the “bell jar” feeling. I call it that because of the way Sylvia Plath describes feeling after her first shock treatment:

All the heat and fear had purged itself. I felt surprisingly at peace. The bell jar hung, suspended, a few feet above my head. I was open to the circulating air.

The bell jar, of course, is the metaphor she uses to describe her depression:

If Mrs. Guinea had given me a ticket to Europe, or a round-the-world cruise, it wouldn’t have made one scrap of difference to me, because wherever I sat – on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok – I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.

I mean, let’s face it, we all have bell jars of one sort or another, though some may be lighter and clearer than others. For me, yoga, both the physical practice and the philosophy, was the best way of lifting mine for a little while.

Then I started teaching yoga, and it went from being this beautiful, deeply personal thing to being, well, a business. When you’re teaching, you can’t just do whatever you want. You can’t just teach your favourite poses over and over, or have a 20 minute savasana. I mean, sure, if you’re some kind of yoga superstar and you’re having to turn people away from your overcrowded classes, then maybe. But I’m still working my way up the ladder, and for now I have to figure out what the people want and how to give it to them.

It’s been a tough lesson to learn, especially since people in the yoga world aren’t always exactly, well, yogic. They can get angry if a class isn’t exactly what they wanted, or if they think you’ve made a mistake, or if you go five minutes too long or too short. You, the teacher, are providing a service, and the student, your customer, is always right. Or, rather, they are if you want them to ever come back to your class. Which, by the way, you probably do.

And then there’s the fact that you, as a teacher, should maintain a personal practice. It’s hard, though, to convince myself to roll out my mat when I get home from a day that’s been nothing but yoga: teaching yoga, doing yoga studio admin, writing emails about yoga. By the time I make it back to my apartment, all I want to do is snuggle Theo, hang out with Matt, and write.

So yeah, I’m feeling a little burned out on yoga these days. And then I feel guilty for feeling burned out, because it seems unfair to my students that their teacher is kind of tired of yoga. And then I think about how everyone always tells you to try to find work doing what you love, and I wonder if the natural consequence of doing what you love is that instead of loving your job, you end up feeling resentful about something that used to bring you so much joy.

Today, though, I cracked Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras for the first time in months. Reading through the second sutra, I caught myself thinking, oh yes, I do love this. Later, when I went to teach my class, I ended by talking a little bit about what I’d read in the sutras that day, and that felt good. Afterwards one of my students came up to me and told me how much she’d enjoyed the class, especially the bit at the end. And that felt really good.

I guess that what I’ve realized is that there has to be balance between what you love and what you give out to other people. Yes, you need to offer something that people want, at least if you want to make any money doing whatever it is you’re doing, but you need to inject some of yourself into your work as well. Being yourself when you teach or when you write is what makes your work authentic, and people can sense that. Have you ever read a book that was written specifically to appeal to a certain demographic? Usually they’re pretty terrible. By the same token, a book that’s just the author nattering on and on about whatever their pet subject is can often be just as bad.

So if you can find that perfect sweet spot of sharing what you love and giving what people need, then you’re probably golden. If you can find a way of separating thing-that-I-love-doing from thing-that-I-get-paid-for while at the same time acknowledging that, to a certain degree, they are the same thing, then you’re probably way ahead of the curve. And if you can find a way to admit that it’s okay to feel burned out on the places, people and leisure activities in your life, and that you can come back to them when you feel ready, then you get a thousand high fives.

And that, my friend, is a lot of high fives.

Check out all the fucks I’m giving. Oh wait, there are none.

Just (or, an insidious little word that I use too often)

27 Sep

I teach a regular yoga class on Sunday evenings. My friend Charlene, who is an amazing teacher that I respect like whoa, teaches the class right before mine. For a few weeks now she’s been threatening promising to take my class, the thought of which was basically vomit-inducing.

I mean, imagine this: you, a neophyte in your field, suddenly have someone with years of experience and training under their belt, someone who has been inspiring you with their amazingness for quite some time now, who wants to be your student. Pretty nerve-wracking, right?

Anyway, I was nervous, my voice quavered a little when giving instructions, and every time I looked at her I forgot everything I’d ever learned, but other than that it went pretty well. Afterwards she thanked me for the class and said she’d enjoyed it, so I asked if she would email me with some feedback and constructive criticism.

I received her (extremely lovely and thoughtful) email the other night, and one paragraph really jumped out at me:

I noticed that you say “just _________”  a lot, as in, “just reach your arm up, just step forward”.  I catch myself doing this as well sometimes and realise that it detracts from the impact of the practice and my presence. There are no “justs” in yoga, since every movement and breath should be linked with some degree of awareness and attention- everything we do matters. Saying “just” a lot also makes the class seem more casual than perhaps we want it to be, since after all, people come to class to learn….they need to trust that we are confident in our capabilities to guide them.

Having read this, I’ve been carefully monitoring my speech for the last few days, and I’ve come to the following conclusion: I say just a lot.

I don’t just say it in a yoga context, either. I use it quite often when I’m talking about myself, and about my accomplishments. This morning I was sitting in the cafe across the street from the studio, and a woman asked me what I did for a living. Oh, I just manage a yoga studio, I replied without thinking. The real kicker is, it’s NOT EVEN TRUE. I don’t just manage a yoga studio – for one thing, phrasing it that way makes it sound lesser or inferior to other jobs, and for another thing, I also teach yoga and write, but for some reason I never think to mention those.

I mean, I say some reason, but I totally know the reason. It’s because I am a woman and, as such, it makes my life easier to constantly diminish my own accomplishments and make myself appear less threatening.

Every time I say just, what I’m really saying is, This isn’t important. I’m not important. Please don’t question me on this.

Every time I say I think when I really mean I know, what I’m actually saying is, Please don’t think that I’m trying to show you how smart I am or how accomplished, I’m sure you’re very smart and accomplished too.

The dangerous thing is that I keep telling myself that if I just teach more often, or get more stuff published, or accumulate more successes, then I will stop feeling this way. I tell myself that I use this kind of demeaning language against myself because I’m just not good enough yet, but someday I’ll get there. Really, though, the truth is that if I don’t think I’m there yet, then I will never get there and I will never be good enough, because my desire to self-deprecate will continue to push my goals just out of reach.

Let’s go back to the basics here:

Men feel threatened by women, especially powerful, successful women. This is ground that’s been covered over and over, but it bears revisiting.

Women also feel threatened by the success of other women, because we’ve been set up by society to compete against each other. There’s some jealousy in there, of course, but I also get the feeling that women often feel like success is something finite, and if one woman uses up a big chunk of success, then there will be less for everyone else. And maybe that’s a even a bit true, because while society seems to tolerate plenty of successful men, it doesn’t seem to have a lot of room for women at the top.

So how do you react when you’re challenged by someone on your success? Do you get defensive, grow angry and maybe start to lose your temper as you try to prove your point? Some people do, and that’s not necessarily a bad or wrong reaction – but it is one that’s certainly far more accepted from men than it is from women. If a man becomes righteously angry, he’s often lauded for it. If a woman does the same thing, it’s frequently blamed on her menstrual cycle, or her lack of sex, or because, you know, ladies.

So what’s one way around this problem? To be nice and reasonable, because you catch more flies with honey? To be nice enough that you can convince men that sure, you’re smart and well-educated, but you’re not one of those women. To be reasonable enough to prove that not all feminists are hysterical and crazy, some are totally kind and thoughtful and soft-spoken.

To be so fucking nice and reasonable that you start to undermine yourself, to diminish yourself because you don’t want to cause conflict. To be so respectful of other people’s opinions, so concerned about not offending them, that it starts to become hard to stand up for what you yourself believe in.

I’m not saying don’t be nice and respectful, but what I am saying is that these are qualities that men have come to expect from what they think of as “reasonable” women. And every time you describe yourself as just being whatever, every time you back away from an argument by conceding that everyone’s allowed an opinion even though what the other person is saying is totally wrong and offensive to you, you are playing right into that expectation.

I’ve written here about being careful about the words we use when talking about other women, but we also need to watch the words we use when talking about ourselves. In order to be successful, we need to learn to talk ourselves up, to speak positively about our accomplishments, and not be afraid of a little conflict. We need to learn to be assertive, because society isn’t going to begin tolerating assertive until more women are comfortable in that role.

So I challenge you to spend a few days watching what you say, and taking stock of how often you use words like just or think or only when you’re talking about yourself or your opinions. Ask yourself what your speech would sound like without those words. Finally, try to make a few statements about yourself every day that celebrate your work, your life, or your accomplishments instead of demeaning them.

Because if you don’t take yourself seriously, probably no one else will.

A Few Meditations On Being a Feminist Parent

25 Sep

My kid has a tractor obsession. Like, he goes bananas any time he sees one of the damn things. This bit of information will, hopefully, help explain why I found myself at the International Plowing Match And Expo on Friday with Theo and my mother.

The plowing match was held not far from where I grew up in Kitchener, Ontario, and was filled with men who looked like this:

The pipe is my FAVOURITE PART

It was basically a whole day of mingling with old white farmer dudes, watching people use old-timey plows and admiring farming equipment. In a way, it was oddly comforting, or at least comfortingly familiar – I feel like a lot of my Kitchener childhood was spent around old white farmer dudes, so seeing their mutton chop beards and dingy overalls definitely gave me the warm glow of home.

Anyway, Theo basically had the time of his life. There were so many dang tractors at the show; there was even a tractor square dance. I kid you not. I bought Theo a toy tractor, which he promptly named Go and hasn’t put down since.

That night, after we got back to Toronto, I went over to my friend Caitlin’s place to help her pack for an upcoming move. Afterwards, I texted Matt to let him know that I was on my way home, and asked how Theo was doing.

The response I received was less than encouraging:

Bad. He just threw up.

Theo spent the rest of the night throwing up, and part of Saturday. Weirdly, he seemed totally fine in between bouts of vomiting – he would get ‘er done without much fuss, then run off and go about his business. He was fine all day Sunday, so we brought him to daycare this morning.

Unfortunately, Theo-the-puke-machine turned into Theo-the-poop-machine this afternoon. Which means that one of us has to stay home with him tomorrow.

So here’s where things get tricky: as Theo’s mother, and the person who has been his primary caregiver for, oh, pretty much his entire life, I feel like I should be the one to stay home. But I won’t be, because, as a person who has recently joined Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Club Of Serious Grown Ups And For-Real Feminists, I have to, you know, go to work. Matt’s job is in some ways more flexible than mine, and it was easier for him, in this particular instance, to take the time off.

This made me feel guilty. Because, really, doesn’t a sick baby need their mother most of all?

I’ve been feeling a lot of guilt lately. Granted, we’re only about two and half weeks into Theo’s daycare career, but I’m frustrated that I’m having so much trouble ironing out the bugs in our schedules. The hardest part is that I feel like I barely see him.

In a perfect world, I would only have to work two evenings a week, and would be able to pick him up mid-afternoon most days. In the real world, I’ve had to jump at a few subbing opportunities that have come my way (the first rule for new yoga teachers being Make Yourself Available), and I often find myself coming home before going to pick my kid up so that I can get a bit of housework done before Hurricane Theo returns.

I guess that what it boils down to is, what’s most important to me right now: being with my kid every moment that I’m not managing the studio, or trying to balance my Theo time with my building my career as a yoga teacher time? More and more often, I’m finding that building my career is winning out.

Why? Well, I spent the first nineteen months of Theo’s life devoting the vast majority of my time and energy to his well-being. I’m glad that I did, because that was what worked best for me and my family. But now that Theo is older, and really beginning to assert himself as his own person, daycare seems to be a really good fit for him. He’s excited to go, and he often talks about his friends there: Ella, Anand and Eliana have all come up recently in conversation. Oh, and my favourite, Jonah, which Theo pronounces “Gonad”.

It’s not that Theo and I didn’t have fun when we were home together, but I’ve realized something: this is a tough age for me. I don’t mean that Theo is difficult to be around, or that he’s throwing terrible tantrums (not yet, anyway), but I often find myself unsure of what he needs from me as a mother these days. When he was a tiny baby, it was easy to know what he wanted: me, and plenty of it. When he’s older, and we’re able to have proper conversations, I think I’ll find that easier, too. But this stage, this in-between I-need-you-but-don’t-need-you stage, is tough.

I have a hard time knowing when to inundate him with talking and singing and general in-your-faceness, and when to just let him play quietly. I feel like I spend so much of our time together chasing him away from things he’s not supposed to be touching, and trying to convince him to do whatever it is I want him to do. Maybe I’m kidding myself, but I think that being in daycare for a good chunk of the day makes him more eager to listen to me when he does get home. And instead of spending my time half-assing my way through housework while he desperately tries to get my attention (or dragging myself through it late at night, after he’s gone to bed), I can get it done quickly and easily while he’s not there.

And then there’s the whole work thing: these early days are important for networking, and I need to build a reputation as someone who is eager to work, and able to pick up classes on short notice. I’m creating a foundation for what will hopefully be a solid career. This is something that will, someday, benefit not just me, but Theo, and Matt, and any of our future kids too.

And, finally, it’s becoming increasingly important for Theo to learn that it’s not just mom who’s the solution to all of his problems. As Matt spends more and more time with him, Theo is learning that his father can be just as much of a source of tenderness and comfort as his mother can. He is learning that the world is much bigger than just one person and her boobs, and that people other than mama can be relied on to fulfill his wants and needs. The more time he spends apart from me, the better Theo is becoming at communicating just what those wants and needs are.

You guys, Theo is growing up.

I guess that what I ultimately want to say here is that being a feminist parent is about balance: learning to balance your kid’s needs with your own, and figuring out how that will shape your life. It’s about realizing that you, as a mother, do not need to be the be-all-end-all of your child’s life. You can learn to share the responsibility. You can figure out when to step back and say, I’m going to focus on myself for, like, five minutes and my kid will be just fine.

Most of all, it’s about accepting the fact that you have needs, too, and your kid does not always trump those needs, no matter what some magazine or parenting blog or conservative politician wants you to think.

Now, if only I could beef up Theo’s immune system and get him to stop bringing home these daycare bugs, I would be totally set.