Archive for September, 2013

I feel the life force returning

September 21, 2013

With the cooler foggy mornings, my vows to leave hot Ojai evaporate. Still riding on the full moon energy, I follow a trail of coyote droppings and rabbit pellets into the riverbed. While Honey and Nubio snarl and charge at each other, and then run wild, I find a perfect spot for a long, deep Uttanasana, yoga’s restful Standing Forward Bend that brings the head below the level of the heart.

At first I practice with my feet embedded in gravel. After Uttanasana comes Vrkasana, Tree Pose. Outdoors in Nature is the best place for balance poses, where your eyes can sweep the landscape and then focus on a tree. Then I balance on a smooth, flat rock. Now the standing foot is more anchored and steadiness comes.

462701_10150741764309703_1020063683_oThe shapes and surfaces of Nature make the best props. I find a flat stone that has the perfect slope for placing the feet so heels are slightly up, raising the pelvis higher, and a boulder in front of me to help lengthen the spine. I begin to notice more and more coyote droppings on the stones and boulders all around, as if they had a full moon gathering here. Chico wisely sticks close to my heels.

Honey and Nubio settle down beside me. I feel the life force returning. Last night I felt a little lonely and lost so I caved in and turned to YouTube. I felt like I’d reached a new low–opening a can of organic chile beans like the proverbial bachelor who can’t cook for himself. I doctored it up with vegan olive oil spread and Gomasio sesame seed salt . . . and then turned to the screen for comfort.

I stumbled onto a Dateline episode entitled “Married to Mother.” I half expected a segment on being married to a mama’s boy . . . or a domineering mother-in-law. But as I watched the chilling true story of the greedy narcissistic nurse who gave her handsome, altruistic doctor husband a lethal injection and then set their house on fire, it soon became evident that “mother” was a typo. The real title was, “Married to Murder.”

I confess I watched three true-life episodes of unbelievable greed and cold-blooded murder where one of the spouses murdered the other. By the time it was over my life looked so sweet, I stayed up another hour gratefully washing the dishes and mopping the floor. I fell asleep on my old hippie mattress, looking through the window up at the bright full moon . . .

All this I quickly scribbled in my journal, sitting on a rock, enjoying the quiet, cool fog . . . writing yoga . . .

420152_10150741781489703_1319035889_nIt’s a new day –so far, so good!

Recovering my joie de vivre

September 18, 2013

1255472_10151940464299703_1848862452_nLast night when I went to check on my parents, my old dad was sitting barefoot and cross-legged on the seat of his Lazy Boy chair, like a yogi. I don’t think his dark Indonesian frame can get any thinner. My mom was sitting in her usual spot near the front door, reading a new large print edition of Reader’s Digest. The house was completely silent, like a temple.

Lately, when I arrive at around dinner time, my dad greets me with, “Why don’t you come earlier?” He seems not to realize that I’m coming at the same time as always but the days are getting shorter and it’s dark sooner. About the only time he looks at the clock is when he has a doctor appointment.

I had to take a few days off from talking to my dad. On the last visit we got into the taboo subject of the family property located close to town—a property where I could have a huge fenced yard for my dogs, if my dad would allow it. About once a year I remind him that it was my years of elder care for the former property owner that was instrumental in his buying that property—and that he has helped both of my younger sisters build several houses. Every time he proclaims, “I treat all three of my daughters equally,” I keep hoping that he will do the charitable Christian thing and pave the way for me to have a little hut close to town with a big fenced yard. Instead, he now suggests that I solve my housing problems by renting a room in the Santa Paula mansion he and my youngest sister built before the market crashed. This harebrained idea so angered me that I had to take a break to recover my joie de vivre.

Like many people, my dad dismisses the drain on my finances from the never-ending responsibility of feeding, walking, grooming, and cleaning up after five animals with three words: “That’s your choice.” The implication being that there are other viable choices. Surely I can find another home for at least one of the dogs. Or return my oldest cat, Ginger, to the Humane Society. I score no points for keeping my animals floating along with me on my precarious raft. Deep inside, my dad thinks I’m too attached, sentimental, soft-hearted, and stubborn. He speculates that I’m lonely and neurotic, that I love animals more than humans, and that maybe I’m too far gone to make the more practical, logical choice.

I love my dad, but if I want to outlive him I have to get these things off my chest. And of course, the whole time I’m thinking about all this I’m surrounded by books, articles, and spiritual teachers insisting that we create our own reality and that our thoughts can change everything.

“The universe always mirrors back to us the conditions of our dreaming. So if we’re fearful that money won’t come to us, it won’t. However, if we experience abundance with what we have today, even if we don’t actually have money right now, we will have abundance and we can be sure that further riches are on their way to us. So when our life isn’t working for us, the most effective solution isn’t to change our career, spouse, exercise routine, or community, but to work on the purity of our dreaming.”

I want to tell the popular teacher who wrote this, Alberto Villoldo, PhD, that this line of magical thinking only works under favorable conditions. I’m sure many a prisoner of war, many a child slave laborer dreams of a new life . . . but their dreams are extinguished by circumstances, not for lack of mental powers.

How can any thinking person look at the state of the whole world, the millions of people living in extreme poverty, and believe this: “The universe always mirrors back to us the conditions of our dreaming. So if we’re fearful that money won’t come to us, it won’t.” Does that mean that all the people starving to death were fearful that their next meal wasn’t coming?

I question the implication that the homeless woman I saw early Sunday morning in Ventura, riding her bicycle down Main Street with two large black garbage bags dangling from the handlebars and two leashed dogs running alongside the bike, somehow brought her life situation solely on herself.  Yes, we have to take responsibility and do our best, but we don’t know the chain of events that brought her to this point in time. Maybe her son was murdered and she lost heart. Maybe she had a relative who took what was rightfully hers. I think we all have to face the fact that, no matter how pure our dreams, life can still come crashing down on us.

“We all know, deep down, that most of what we have is good fortune. No matter how hard we work, we did not earn our functioning brains or the families into which we were born. We live in cities others created for us, organized by a government and protected by a military shaped by our predecessors. Yet we still point to our accomplishments and proudly proclaim, ‘I did this!’ The well-off salve their consciences by assuring themselves that it is hard work and merit that brought them success, which also leads them to conclude that it is lack of merit that keeps others from succeeding.” —Rabbi David Wolpe

Are Seniors the Vanguard of American Yoga?

September 14, 2013

Picture 010A great review in CounterPunch Weekend Edition September 13-15, 2013

Wisdom of the Aged
Are Seniors the Vanguard of American Yoga?
It’s one of the paradoxes of today’s youth- and beauty-obsessed yoga culture that one of the oldest and most established yoga styles has become one of the least known: Iyengar Yoga, named for its legendary founder B.K.S. Iyengar, isn’t complicated or exotic. Its practitioners aren’t likely to burn incense or to chant Sanskrit prayers in class. Known for its heavy reliance on props, including ropes and blocks, to ease practitioners in and out of the more difficult yoga poses, the practice is decidedly non-competitive. It’s also distinctly unglamorous. You won’t see many Iyengar teachers featured in a Lululemon clothing ad, or asked to participate in a sexy magazine photo shoot. For one thing, the practitioner could well be in her 70s.

Which is why Suza Francina’s wonderful book, The New Yoga for Healthy Aging, is such a welcome addition to the sprawling American literature on yoga. Francina, author of three previous best-selling books and one of the original founders of the industry trade magazine Yoga Journal, isn’t a yoga pop celebrity like Tara Stiles or a Shiva Rea, and she’s far less well known than other prominent Iyengar teachers like Judith Lasater and John Schumacher. And she seems to like it that way. Now in her early 60s, she’s been practicing yoga since 1972, and almost from the start, as a fresh-faced 22-year old “hippie chick” living in California, she’s been drawn to working with seniors. It’s clearly given her a grounded humble insight into what yoga can do to heal and rejuvenate the human body and spirit, and has kept her focused on the practice’s simple unadorned truths, free of the esoteric jargon and new Age pop-philosophizing that can be off-putting to yoga outsiders and newbies.

To read the rest:

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“Everything else was a piece of cake”

September 10, 2013

Whenever my dad takes to his bed for several days, hardly eating, mostly sleeping, I think the end is near. “Naked we come, and naked we go, Suzanne,” he always likes to remind me during these deathbed talks, where I sit on the edge of his bed, one hand resting on the top of his skull, the other hand gently massaging his bony spine. “You have healing hands, Suzanne. The Lord gave you magnetic hands . . .”

While my mom sits in the living room, reading over and over again in the large print Reader’s Digest the same article about the assassination of JFK (last night she asked me, “Was this man shot in Ojai?”), my dad launches into another life review, often repeating things I’ve heard before, but almost always adding another precious detail, giving me new insight on how his life, and thus my life, was formed.

My father always reminds me that he survived the worst of the worst life has to offer. “After what I saw, Suzanne . . . can you imagine, a civilized country like America dropping two atomic bombs, which are like firecrackers compared to what we have now? After what I saw, Suzanne, I compare the rest of my life to those horrible days and everything else was a piece of cake.”

My dad believes in God and the devil, that there will be a day of judgment, that we will have a great reunion with all our loved ones in heaven, and that God will intervene at the last minute, before the devil blows the Earth to smithereens.

As he reviews the course of his life, he says, “It really is like looking at a movie, Suzanne, a long movie that flashes by in the twinkling of an eye.”

He agrees with me that the Earth is a loony bin and that it doesn’t make sense.

For me, it’s revealing to hear my dad describe the ways he’s failed me. His exact words: “I’ve failed you, Suzanne. I was not there when you needed me. I was working. I was preoccupied.” He confesses again to the times he intervened behind my back, like the time my son’s biological father came to visit us and he took him aside and ordered him to leave town. Last night he told me, “He was dressed so neatly, Suzanne; maybe he had good intentions coming to see you. Maybe I shouldn’t have said what I said . . .”

Part of me is a detached writer, a witness anthropologist, when my dad reveals how he sees the past. Part of me is the rejected, fed-up, wounded oldest daughter who wishes that for once he would be fair and straighten things out, and do right by me while he still has a chance. But, alas, he won’t even let my dogs into the house, although that act alone would make my life so much easier.


I have only four months left to get the first draft of my next Writing Yoga Memoir done

September 8, 2013

September 1, 2013

Scan_Pic0018  I have only four months left to get the first draft of my next Writing Yoga Memoir done. If I could lock myself up in my writing hut and do nothing but write, and if someone delivered fresh vegan meals to my doorstep and a mysterious benefactor channelled a river of funds into my bank account—if all I had to do was walk my dogs at sunrise and sunset—that would give me ample time. For nothing has gone as planned. Real life hits me in the face the moment I wake up. I’m always scrambling to be somewhere on time and running out of cat food and clean towels. So I tell myself that these thousand excuses for why this book almost didn’t get written will only make the story more exciting. Imagine what a dud Cheryl Strayed’s memoir WILD would have been if her hike on the Pacific Crest Trail had been just a walk in the park!

* * *
August 9, 2013
The wheel of life keeps turning. There’s nothing I can do to stop it, but I’d like to jump off, disappear, take a nature writing break, and then jump back on . . . without dying.
I don’t feel right unless I write. How many more days will it take before I fully admit this?
* * *
July 18, 2013
As life gets more expensive, it gets harder and harder to find time to write. Old cats cost more than young ones. Houses with yards for dogs cost more . . . everything costs more. But once I find a free morning, the writing gets easier and easier. . .
* * *
July 4, 2013
Writing is the road to independence–a long, strange, and bumpy road. I see myself still going ’round in circles and taking side trips. I’m tired. I want to lie down by the side of the road and rest. But then I pick myself up to clear away all the obstacles, all the road blocks — and set my writing spirit free!
* * *
May 14, 2013
Ten days till my 64th birthday. All I want for my birthday are free days to finish the first draft of my second Writing Yoga Memoir. So right now I’m setting the intention that May 20th is my last teaching day, and May 21, 22, 23, 24 (the full moon), 25 and 26 are all mine. . . .
* * *
January, 2013: The Year of Writing Yoga Memoir

On this cold tenth day of January, 2013, I am setting my intention to make this the year of Writing Yoga Memoirs.

I woke up at 3 a.m. and started writing about how sweet my life is now, and how in January, 1967, I was living in the Haight Ashbury. It was the winter before the Summer of Love, I was totally naive, and I had my whole life ahead of me. I had no idea there would be only four short seasons with only myself to take care of. I could not foresee the lessons Life had in store for me.

It’s a curious thing to sit very still, to meditate and watch how the mind works. The brain and all the cells of the body are like a computer that stores everything. You can try to delete and let it all go, but you cannot will yourself to have a clean slate, as it was on the day you were born. (Some people speculate it is not a clean slate even at birth.) Our memories travel with us until the physical body dissolves — and possibly beyond.

At 7 a.m. it is barely light out here in the river bottom. The sky is foggy white. The tall pine trees outside my window look black. It is a stark, cold winter landscape.

I don’t feel right unless I write. How many more years will it take before I fully admit this? The more I try to focus on work that pays and push aside the urge to write, the more the muse pesters me and pulls me by the hair out of bed. If I don’t grab an hour during the day, I lie awake at 2 a.m. and wonder if I should risk the lack of sleep to write. If I try to deny it and bury myself under the covers, sleep eludes me. I have no choice. I must surrender to my fate.


Sunday Sunrise Over the Valley of the Moon

September 8, 2013
For just a few moments, the ashen clouds are on fire, surrounded by waves of gold. The sky is radiant in all directions. The Earth is alive with early morning coolness. The cactus blossoms, the white and yellow squash blossoms, all the flower blossoms are abuzz with bees—brown honey bees, and big, black, fuzzy bumble bees. With every breath the Earth is more illuminated. In these moments of happiness, the anger and outrage I feel over all the injustices in the world fades away. We all have to find a way to make the shock of life bearable—and this Church of Nature, with the celestial sky above, is there for those who have eyes to see.

You don’t have to be flexible to create alignment

September 8, 2013

September 6, 2013

Yesterday, while walking along the Ventura beach promenade with my dogs, I watched a very fit, flexible young woman trying to teach her very fit, muscular, stiff boyfriend how to stretch. First he tried to follow along with her moves, and she would laughingly try to correct him. The poor guy was in a hopeless battle between his tight hamstrings, pelvis, and lower back! He kept unconsciously bending his knees, because his typically tight hamstrings made moving his pelvis and bending forward or stretching sideways from his hip hinge virtually impossible.

His well-meaning girlfriend kept reminding him to straighten his legs, and then she would briefly hover over him, trying to get him to lengthen his spine. Then she would give up and go back to her own stretching. They noticed me smiling, and smiled back. I picked up that they had an accent, German or Russian (later they told me they spoke both languages). So finally, when I could bear his suffering no longer and I worried he might wake up with a backache, I stepped closer and suggested he try the same stretches with his hands on the nice, sturdy metal railing that faces the ocean.

Voila! In a matter of minutes, with his outstretched hands supported on the railing instead of dangling in mid air, the tug of war between his hamstrings, pelvis, and lower back was over. His spinal column was nicely lengthening instead of being increasingly distorted.

Moral of the story: You don’t have to be flexible to create healthy, healing alignment. If you look with X-ray eyes at this photo of a beginner in his seventies, you’ll see that his skeletal structure in the classic Extended Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana) is beautifully aligned.

Photo credit: Jim Jacobs, from The New Yoga for Healthy Aging


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