Monthly Archives: June 2013

Peace, Love, Yoga

Namah Shivaya Gurave
I offer myself to the Light, the Auspicious One,
Who is the True Teacher within and without,
Saccidananda Murtaye
Who assumes the forms of Reality, Consciousness and Bliss,
Nisprapancaya Shantaya
Who is never absent and is full of peace,
Niralambaya Tejase
Independent in existence, the vital essence of illumination
OM- The Anusara invocation done at the beginning of a yoga class

It was 1976 and I thought I would be an English teacher, a social worker or a professional dancer so I sought out classes in each as an undergraduate at Arizona State University. The dance classes were filled but my eye caught a listing for something unusual: yoga. I signed up and went to my first yoga class at the ASU gym.

That choice has led to a life long passion.  Yoga has been, and continues to be, one of the constants in my life. It’s a touchstone throughout my ups and downs; a connection to my life in a way second only to my faith.

I have taken hundreds of classes in every kind of yoga in cities all around the country.  When I traveled to France a few years ago I was unable to find time to fulfill one of my life’s dreams: to take a yoga class in France, in French.  That is still one of the top three of my bucket list.

In the old days I could only find “gym yoga,”which is sort of like drinking wine out of the box when you know there is  a bottle of the good stuff out there somewhere.  Later, as yoga studios popped up, I’d catch some great classes when I was out of town on pleasure or business trips. Often I’d take my yoga clothes to mediations with me and grab a taxi across town to a yoga class I’d found with the help of the hotel concierge. When I was working for several months in California, I had my favorite studios between LA and San Diego, many close to the ocean.

I loved learning the names of the poses in Sanskrit and some classes had music. The music of Deva Premal or Krishna Das touched me deeply. Some instructors played a harmonium, which is a small pump organ. In some classes we would also chant.

When my dad was a hospice patient in my Arizona home for 7 months as he fought his last illness, the yoga was the medicine I took as I administered his.  Slipping out of the house with the hospice volunteer holding down the fort, I’d go to my favorite yoga studio.  Each day brought a different type of yoga.  There was Anusara the body alignment yoga; Ashtanga the physically demanding yoga; Vinyasa or flowing yoga; and Yin where we held poses for what seemed like hours while our bodies melted more deeply into the posture with each breath.

Back then, Anjie was my favorite teacher. She was beautiful, kind and gentle.  When she would offer a chance to move deeper by gently touching my back while I was in a seated forward fold, I could feel her energy and warmth being infused into my spine by telekenisis through her hands.

Debra, a classmate at this regular gathering of yogis and yoginis, went off to yoga training and rose from our ranks to lead us.  Her classes and music were sensual, and when she spoke in Sanskrit her voice was slow and luscious and as your body flowed to her instructions you felt beautiful, sexy and alive.

Over time Debra changed her name to D-heart (symbol), a move reminiscent of “the artist formerly known as Prince.” She paid extra attention to a young studley yogi who was one of the more bendy and supple men I have ever seen in a yoga class. Watching them side by side, moving through a vinyasa in perfect synchronicity, is indelibly etched in my mind in the same manner as a painting I once saw at the Louvre.

I was entranced with all of it: Anjie, D-heart, supple yoga man, the yin yogini who could lay in a twist over a yoga brick  and put her head on the floor and stay there until monsoon season. Yoga served as the escape from my life, my problems, the bedside care of my father and the loneliness of raising my three children while their father traveled 5 days a week with his work.

At the conclusion of every yoga class we lay on our backs in savasana, the corpse pose where the yoga you have done sinks into the marrow. Later, when FP came on the scene, I’d lay in savasana sending invisible gratitude balloons up to God.  I’d thank Him for that post asana life pulsing through every crevice of my body and for the love for my man that was shooting straight out of my heart 24/7.

After the divorce from FP, I switched to hot yoga and enjoyed being in the dark, hoping all of my sadness could be left in the puddle of sweat at my feet at the end of the practice. Tears are easily disguised amidst perspiration and tears flowed as my  body released memories and hurts stored inside it. Sadly the hot yoga teacher turned things into a yoga/exercise boot camp as the 20somethings in class joked about sweating out weekend booze.  I cringed, realizing the essence of yoga was lost on all of them.

Awhile ago, the founder of Anusara yoga was accused of ethical misconduct.  The yogi Bikram who originated a series of poses in a particular order tried to (unsuccessfully) copyright them and was accused of sexually harassing his students.  Suddenly in looking for yoga as my constant it seemed to be mimicking the rest of the world:  lost, moving away from the sacred and turning instead to exploitation and big business, drifting from what I had experienced for over 35 years as a practitioner.

Now, I continue to practice yoga regularly. I’m  content at my current studio where the beautiful owner leads many of the classes and the instructors that support her are loving and generous spirits.  On this past summer solstice I did the yoga tradition of 108 sun salutations and when I laid on my mat at the end, drenched in sweat and happy with the accomplishment, I found that the lesson that bubbled up was humility.  It’s just like yoga to surprise me with the lessons I least expect.

When I am asked to “go inside” I often close my eyes and flash through the list of those in my yoga story.  Anjie who I am told married a widower with young children and raised them as her own.  Debra/D-heart who vanished from class the same time the supple yogi did and to the best of my knowledge neither has been seen since.  Tattooed and pierced practitioners in Chicago, midlifers at a class near my daughter’s college campus, Orange County housewives in Laguna Beach and even the 20- somethings who are trying to lose weight and detox with yoga and are missing it altogether. I bless them all.

My life would not have been the same without yoga. Wanting to bring me this joy, I am certain God closed the dance class at ASU to open the door to my yoga path.

And I will someday get that yoga class done in France, in French.  And at the end, despite the language barrier, I will hear the sound that brings me home.


Dr. J

photo-1When the Dalai Lama was asked what surprised him most about humanity, he replied: “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money.
Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”-Dalai Lama XIV

One evening I was working late at my law office when the phone rang. A former client, a woman physician, was on the line. She explained that her friend and female colleague, Dr. J, was in the middle of a divorce and wanted to change lawyers. She hooked her into the call, we talked briefly and scheduled an appointment.

When I met with Dr. J we discussed her case and also her medical practice. I was impressed with her professional accomplishments, and her innovative approach to medicine and health. Dr. J and I discovered many commonalities. Even our divorce stories had common threads. She transitioned her case to my office.

About six weeks before trial on the case, I took a long trip to Northern California to vacation and spend time with my good friend Prof. I had taken Dr. J’s file with me to California.

One day during my visit Prof was extremely busy with work, so I had the day to myself. After taking a great yoga class in Napa, I chose to work on Dr. J’s case. Shortly after I started working, a horrible frightening heaviness come over me. I felt like I was suffocating in the dark hotel room so I went out into the fresh California air to breathe. When I went back inside it began to happen all over again. I brushed it off and didn’t mention it to Prof that evening when he picked me up for dinner. I forgot about it when I flew home.

As Dr. J’s trial date approached my paralegal and I began to put the large volumes of documents together, and agreed to work on a Saturday. That day at home in my favorite chair, needing to go to the office, I felt physically paralyzed. I was stuck to the chair like glue. I burst into tears and ultimately got up.

The trial went well. A few weeks later, I called Dr. J to share the judge’s ruling with her. After our discussion, I asked her for an appointment to come to see her professionally.

Dr. J’s intake physical with every patient is two hours long. She sat right across from me as we talked, taking brief notes. I loved her approach. I felt calm, like she had all the time in the world for me. She asked about things in addition to my physical history: nutrition, sleep, stress and spirituality.

I gave myself an A plus in the spirituality department. But I was hardly sleeping. I’d skipped meals and over-exercised my whole life to try to stay trim. I had also been immersed in stress, both personally and professionally, for years until I started my path to healing post-divorce.

In the intake interview, I confided to her the strange experiences I’d had while working on her case.  She sat back in her chair and had a worried look on her face.

“What you are describing is not surprising. Lawyers are some of the unhealthiest people I treat,” she said. “They have so much stress and bad health habits that their bodies are shot. I want to do some blood work, but based on what you have told me if you don’t change your life soon it is only a matter of time before you end up sick, or worse. What you described during the trial preparation was your body trying to get your attention while you were in stress.”

I’d never imagined my physical body was part of the healing equation. The blood work showed some minor reversible irregularities. I began to work with Dr. J in learning to care for myself physically.

“When a pilot charts a plane’s course, if they made only a 1% change in the instrument calibration, the plane would end up way off the mark. You have to start with a 1% change to your health habits. That alone could save your life by preventing disease and further damage to your immune system which is where you are currently headed.”

Dr. J had me take Epsom salts baths before bed to relax and also suggested magnesium tablets for sleep. I removed the television from my bedroom. I began to sleep soundly ultimately not being satisfied with less than eight hours because it made me feel so wonderfully rested to have such quality sleep.

She invited me to lunch at her farm to breathe country air. As we ate our healthy foods she reminded me to go outdoors connecting mindfully with nature more regularly.

We examined my diet and I was embarrassed to admit to skipping meals and having cereal or popcorn for dinner most nights. She took me shopping at a healthy grocery store going up and down each aisle while she showed me how to read labels, and educated me on nutrition, “clean eating,”  and organic cooking.

My refrigerator became a habitat for green leafy things that I had never previously met. I started packing my lunch every day and having a constant supply of nuts, protein powder and fruits at the office. Convincing me that soda pop was poison, I stopped even serving it to clients. I ate throughout the day every few hours and drank lots of water. I began to feel full of energy and clear headed.

Most importantly Dr. J reminded me that my body was God’s temple, and I needed to keep it strong in order to serve Him and to fulfill His mission for my life. She told me something that has fundamentally changed my life’s view. She reminded me that doctors and lawyers are the same: we are healers.

In the book Every Body Matters: Strengthening Your Body to Strengthen Your Soul, author Gary Thomas reminds us “We are not angels, pursuing God without physical covering, and if we try to pretend that we are—living as though the state of our bodies has no effect on the condition of our souls—all the proper doctrine in the world can’t save us from eating away our sensitivity to God’s presence or throwing away years of potential ministry if we wreck our heart’s physical home.”

God had taken people out of my life and he’d moved this amazing doctor in. I had assisted her in her legal journey and she was my guide to honoring my physical body and health. She has since become one of my closest friends.

Isn’t it just like God to know we could help each other and to have us cross paths?

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