Posts Tagged ‘writing yoga’

Ask and ye shall receive—eventually

May 16, 2014

May 15, 2014

suz10To the best of my recollection, this photo was taken in the early 1970s, in Upper Ojai, at a place called High Winds. At this point in time I had spotted a flyer on the bulletin board of the Gateway Bookstore in the arcade, advertising a nine-month yoga teacher-training program at the Institute for Yoga Teacher Education in San Francisco (now the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco).

To pay for the first semester I needed $500, a fortune that seemed out of reach. I lived with my boyfriend and took care of his two children as well as my own young son—three kids under age six. I also worked part-time at a preschool and  did home health care for elderly people. And I had started teaching my first weekly yoga class at Grey Gables; I think each student paid $3. All my income went for food and for clothes from the thrift shop.

However, I had one card up my sleeve. I had started writing a weekly health column called Living Naturally for the Ojai Valley News. It was popular, and generated quite a bit of controversy when I wrote a series of columns about a possible link between nutrition and cancer. The column generated a flurry of Letters to the Editor in which the American Cancer Society and local doctors called me a quack while other readers, “health food fanatics,” wrote passionate letters defending my views. So it came to me, in a moment of desperation, that maybe one of those like-minded readers might loan me the money I needed to enroll in yoga teacher training.

With great trepidation, I had to approach the editor, Fred Volz, with my idea that I needed to get some yoga teacher training and ask if he would allow me to add a few lines at the end of my next column explaining that I needed a $500 loan. I was thrilled when he agreed. When the next issue of the paper hit the stand I eagerly opened it to see how my appeal looked in print. Much to my delight, Fred Volz had highlighted it by placing it in a box in the center of my column, where no one could possibly miss it.

Somewhere in my archives I have that issue, and I’m curious to see exactly how it was worded to sound professional–something like: “Suza wants to take some formal yoga teacher training in San Francisco and she will come back to the Ojai Valley to teach. The program costs $500 and she is looking for someone to loan her the money, to be paid back when she resumes teaching.”

Somehow I had faith that one of my loyal readers would call the editor and deliver a check on my behalf. Three long weeks went by, and each time I hand- delivered my typed weekly column (always thick with splotches of White-Out and strips of scotch tape from cutting and pasting paragraphs), I would meekly ask if anyone had responded to my ad.

When the fourth week came, just as in a storybook when the heroine has just about given up hope, I delivered my column and Fred Volz stood up from behind his big desk and handed me a slip of paper with a name and phone number; it had come in soon after my appeal appeared, but somehow I hadn’t gotten the message. I raced home on my bicycle and dialed the number. The man on the other end of the line lived in Los Angeles. He had a home here or frequently visited the valley, and he had seen my ad. After asking a few questions, he asked me where to mail the check. I hung up in happy disbelief. My ship had come in!

The irony and absurdity of life never ends, does it?

May 15, 2014

s3The irony and absurdity of life never ends, does it? On Tuesday mornings its my turn to help my mom clean her teeth, eat breakfast (fresh fruit like cut-up papaya or sliced oranges, and later something more substantial like an egg on toast prepared the Dutch way, slathered in organic raw butter; my vegan sensibilities are foreign to her), rinse her mouth after breakfast, and get her out of her comfy pajamas into some fresh underwear, including mandatory undershirt, and also blouse and pants or a favorite dress.
When I question the need for an undershirt on a hot day, she always says, “Ik voel me naakt als ik niets onder me jurk draag,” meaning, “I feel naked without an undershirt or slip under my dress.”
The whole shebang takes about two hours and includes a pleasant interlude of our listening to her favorite classical music station while I sit on the floor stretching in various seated forward bends and hip openers.
s6I noticed this morning that my mother has finally given up on telling me that “sitting like that is not lady like.” While I’m attending to my mom, my old dad is usually outside basking in the early morning sun. I can spy on him through the kitchen window, which gives me ample time to cover my tracks should he rise from his lounge chair and come inside to monitor if I’m using the right cup or the right spoon.
sMost of the time, when my daughterly duties are done I slip away unnoticed. But this morning my dad was sitting inside in my mom’s easy chair by the window, looking out at the mountains. I could feel he was ready to give me some parting words of wisdom before I flew out the door.”Suzan, you are at an age where you should be taking it easy. You should be sitting around with your legs up on a stool and not have all kinds of worries. Isn’t there some man who would like to be your husband? You shouldn’t give up on men . . .”When I laughingly reply that “I’ve chosen the lesser of two evils,” my mom gets it right away, and starts chuckling.”Dad,” I say, “don’t you know by now there’s no such thing as a free lunch? If I was married I might still have to work plus then I’d have to make dinner . . . ”

“Ah, no,” he shrugs and waves his arms to emphasize his point, “you’ve got to choose the right one. You just never picked the right one. I know you, Suzan, you picked the wrong ones . . . don’t give up on men, Suzan, don’t give up . . . ”

We’ve had this absurd conversation a hundred times, but I take the bait, mainly to make my mom laugh.

“If I married the right one I’d have to go with him on cruises, or travel to foreign countries, or dress up and accompany him to dinner parties . . . and later I might have to take care of him.”

My mom finds the turn of the conversation hilarious and gets increasingly animated as my dad and I banter back and forth.

I kiss them both good bye but before I leave I check their mailbox. Inside is a single envelope with a red line above the address box proclaiming:

“Your Guide to a 2014 Medical Product Benefit.”

Being that my parents are both so old now, I take the liberty of screening their mail.

The letter says: With confirmed eligibility, dispatch cutting-edge ED treatment
PRIORITY ID: 62056-01890
ATTENTION: We are trying to reach you regarding a safe-highly effective erectile dysfunction therapy covered by Medicare and private insurance. If you suffer from ED, then you may be entitled to a proven product . . . It is the ONLY proven therapy therapy to bring back natural functioning . . . However, your reply is needed within 14 days to ensure availability.
Dr. D. Marshall Levy
CEOFounder, CarePoint Medical.

What kind of shameless charlatan world is this?

Is this all we have to look forward to?

Maybe I wouldn’t mind being married to another writer who doesn’t mind if I ignore him when I walk in the door and run to my writing room . . .

Yesterday one of my students left two presents on the seat of my car: a sampler of four cans of Zhena‘s Gypsy Tea– Chocolate Chai, Coconut Chai, Caramel Chai, and Hazelnut Chai. And a book aptly titled, The Merry Recluse, by Caroline Knapp.

I’m thinking to myself, “I wouldn’t mind marrying a very merry recluse!”


Photo Credit: Cathy Snyder

  — in Ojai, CA.s4

Casting out demons

May 14, 2014
May 12, 2014
During my yoga practice this morning, my mind kept flitting back to the film I saw last night, Philomena. It hit close to home on so many levels. The deep sense of shame and guilt when, at age eighteen, I had to break the terrible news to my Pentecostal Christian father that I was pregnant. At least I didn’t get sent to a convent to work in the laundry and have my child snatched away. But I felt the blow of my father’s rage, and, like untold women before me, tried to escape his wrath by getting married.
Some years ago he apologized to me, his firstborn, for his extreme strictness and failures as a father. I’ve long since forgiven him. Yet the feelings we experience growing up seem to be embedded in our psyche, in our cells.
As I write this, I remember the first time I ever felt deeply ashamed. It was in Holland, and I was probably around age five or six because the memory is very clear. I had been playing with one of my neighborhood friends, and we had either gotten into her mother’s makeup or maybe she had one of those play makeup kits; in any case, I had smeared red lipstick on my lips. And, as luck would have it, I was told that I had to come home. The pastor of our church was visiting, and my dad wanted to show off his beautiful daughters. Back then wearing makeup was against church rules—a serious sin. I still remember my dad furiously scrubbing my mouth with a hot washcloth until my lips burned, trying to get that red lipstick off before the minister saw me. No wonder that, when I’m opening the front of the body in backbends, sometimes it feels like I’m casting out demons!

Musings on bending backwards

May 14, 2014

May 10, 2014

46133_10152230754909703_660897958_nAbout twenty years ago I recall one of my teachers,Judith Hanson Lasater, reminding us to practice three Urdhva Dhanurasanas (Upward Facing Bow Pose) every day (or maybe it was twice a week). At the time, backbends were easy for me and I took them for granted. Even two years ago I could press up from the floor fairly easily.Somewhere along the way, this past year (2013), my backbend practice grew increasingly sporadic. I gained weight, and the stiffness of sitting at the computer converged with the stiffness of aging.Last year and at the beginning of this year, when I tried to press up from the floor, my body felt like dead weight. If I had forced lifting up into the pose I risked injuring my shoulders. But this week, after five weeks of not perfect but fairly steady practice, I was thrilled to find myself lifting up into Upward Facing Bow Pose again—and holding the pose for many breaths—over a minute.This morning, for the first time in a long time, I pressed up from the floor lying back over two stacked bolsters secured with a strap.In my classes, students in my age range (65) press up by holding onto my ankles with me giving some support as needed, under their shoulders. But I also want them to practice independent of a teacher. And a yoga chair, a backbender, or stack of bolsters, makes this possible.

The way I’m practicing now is with the chair on a firm, non slippery mat, the seat of the chair facing a wall, about a foot away from the wall, depending on your height and flexibility.

I warm up with the chair backbend shown here, and then (still lying back over the chair seat) I place my feet flat on the floor and extend my arms overhead so that my palms are flattened against the wall behind my head, fingertips touching the floor (or palms higher up the wall).

After I anchor my feet, turning the feet and the thighs inward, and after I stretch my arms to the maximum, opening the shoulders and arm pits, I press my feet into the floor, anchoring the four corners of the feet, and, voila, I lift the spine higher and higher off the chair, chest moving toward the wall . . . until my chin touches the wall.

It’s totally rejuvenating. “You are as young as your spine is flexible!”

Yoga teacher Betsy MacKinnon writes: “I love this supported backbend too and it is still totally accessible at 68. Some people need to support the head though. Mr Iyengar says we need more backbends with long holdings at this time of life and from now on.”

Click here for Yoga with a Chair:

* * *
February 17, 2014
First yoga practice inside my new hippie writing yoga pad, which is about the same amount of space as a “Tiny House.” With two dogs, a cat and her deluxe cat carrier, to make space for my yoga mat, I have to get Honey off the floor–she gladly jumps on top of the bed. There’s just enough room to practice all the Standing Poses, including Half Moon Pose and Warrior III–the two Standing Poses that take the most space.

While it’s true that you can practice yoga anywhere, anytime, I have to say again that it makes a huge difference motivating me to practice early in the morning now that I again have a bird’s eye view of the pre dawn sky above the majestic mountains, and, a little later, the blazing bright rising sun.

This morning, after the Standing Poses, I folded up my sticky mat to pad the edge of the seat of the chair, as shown here, and enjoyed a long stay in a Supported Backbend, including the variation shown here.

* * *
January 19, 2014
Time to practice on the great yoga chair. This photo, from my book, Yoga and the Wisdom of Menopause, was taken about 15 years ago. I’m no longer this slender, but, thankfully, my spine is still flexible and my mind is in a much better place.

 — in Ojai, CA.



“If there was something wrong with my mind, don’t you think I’d be the first to know it?”

April 19, 2014

I woke up at 2 a.m. thinking about a friend who, like millions of other elders, was forcibly removed from her home and placed in a long-term-care facility.

In the weeks before she was whisked away, I tried to warn her that she was getting forgetful, even delusional, and that if she didn’t move herself out of her two-story apartment with the worrisome stairs in favor of a safer living situation, someone else would likely step in and do it for her.

She looked at me like I was crazy and, with all the authority of her 94 years, flat-out told me, “If there were something wrong with my mind, don’t you think I’d be the first to know it?”

She had no recollection of falling and landing in the hospital for five days. When I went to pick her up, she thought she was checking out of a hotel.

She saw my spending the night at her house as an invasion of her privacy.

The night that it hit her that she had lost control of her bladder and had to wear “diaper pants,” she screamed and asked me to shoot her.

But, by the light of day, the agonizing nighttime scenes were forgotten. She was immaculately groomed, drove herself everywhere, and could carry on the most interesting and astute conversations. Anyone casually stopping by would be impressed by her pleasant apartment, her yoga practice, her ongoing art projects, and her ability to take care of her own daily needs.

Like so many other fiercely independent creative elders whom I’ve assisted over the years, she found the possibility that someone could actually force her out of her home to be unthinkable.

Yet it happened.

Yesterday it was my turn to help my mom with her ADLs (Activities of Daily Living). Were it not for my dad’s presence in the home, and the care of all three of her daughters and her four granddaughters, my 93-year- old mother would require 24-hour care, either at home or in an institution.

A few days ago, in spite of our concerted efforts to keep walkers strategically placed in the front and back of the house, my mom again slipped and fell. My dad, unable to help her get back up, walked over to summon one of the neighbors, who picked up my light weight, skeletal mother and carried her to bed.

My mom’s eyesight and hearing is perfect. She still plays the piano beautifully, with vigor and enthusiasm, and speaks six languages. She catches all my jokes and is quick to poke fun at life. But her memory is slipping day by day. Yesterday she wondered who my parents were.

My dad is losing his eyesight. He can no longer read or write. In his own way, he’s doing a life review, dictating letters and making phone calls to relatives and old acquaintances while he still can. Yesterday he asked me to track down the phone number of a friend he worked with fifty years ago, someone he has not spoken to in many years.

I found the number and dialed it. As luck would have it, the man he was seeking answered the phone.

After identifying himself, my dad didn’t mince words but cut right to the chase. “I’m about to die, and I want to set the record straight.” He then launched into a story concerning an incident that happened at work that evidently had been smoldering on his conscience for all those years.

Much to my dad’s astonishment, the former colleague on the other end of the line claimed to have no recollection of what he was talking about. Undaunted, my dad described several more times what, in his mind, had taken place so long ago, and told his friend why, now that he’s about to die, he was making it his final mission to correct this mistake.

From my perspective as I overheard the conversation, it was nothing that a man in his final days needed to worry about. No criminal activity had taken place. But in my dad’s mind it was “important to set the record straight.”

From what I gathered, his friend still maintained that he didn’t remember the incident, which confounded my dad to no end.

“But you were there. Surely you remember!”

After more bantering back and forth, whatever this colleague said on the other end of the line seemed to be easing my dad’s mind. Toward the end of the conversation, he was laughing and enjoying the camaraderie of reconnecting with a friend from the past. But right after they hung up he turned to me and said, “Suzan, can you imagine such a thing! He was there, he gave the orders, but he doesn’t remember anything about it!”

“There’s one thing I want you to know, Suzan,” he went on, as if for the first time. “I believe in the day of judgement. One day you will stand alone in front of your maker. When I stand before my maker, I want to have a clean slate . . . Every day I commune with my heavenly father . . . ”

I’m happy for my dad that he has found peace.

On page 17 of the book “Veteran’s Stories of Ventura County,” there are two photographs of my Dutch Indonesian father as a teenager newly inducted in the Royal Dutch Navy. These photos were taken before he was a prisoner of war and saw the atomic bomb annihilate Nagasaki. In these two photos, his face looks just like mine when I was his age. He’s happy-go-lucky, smiling with youthful optimism, unaware of the horrors to come.

I respect how the God of his faith has helped him to bear the shock of war and burden of life. In my youth we argued . . . now I understand.

As for me, the longer I live, the more I see that the human mind is capable of inventing the most astonishing beliefs. And we all tend to assume, just like my elderly friend: “If there was something wrong with my mind, don’t you think I’d be the first to know it?” — in Ojai, CA.


Fifty four years ago in the small town of Ojai

April 9, 2014

Picture (1)On this day, April 8, 2024, my son Bo was born in the Ojai hospital. I was 18 years old, totally unprepared for the shocks of life, and had not even thought about buying diapers and baby clothes.
 We lived on the upper end of Canada Street in a cozy cottage that stood at the back of the property. The front of the property, where a large house now stands, was a field of weeds and wildflowers. My bearded, bushy-haired hippie husband at the time did gardening at Krotona and other places to pay the $65 rent. Our landlady was a friendly, gray-haired artist named Celeste Dominique.

I was painfully shy at the time, with low self-esteem, and perhaps that’s why I remember the time I was sitting outside nursing my baby, with my just-washed hair wrapped in a towel like a turban. Celeste looked me over and told me how beautiful I looked with that towel atop my head and that she wanted to come back and make a painting of me and my baby. Now I’m sorry that I pooh-poohed her offer; I was probably too impatient to sit still, and didn’t think I looked beautiful with an old towel on top of my head.

Living up the street, in the house where Doug Adrianson lives now, was a woman named Ursula van der Veen, with her husband and two little boys named Jack van der Veen (the older one) and Marc van der Veen (a toddler). Ursula was, like me, a vegetarian and health food “fanatic” with European roots, so we quickly became friends. She must have noticed me washing diapers by hand and hanging them in the sun to dry, because she offered to take each bucket of dirty diapers up the street to her washing machine. What a relief that was! These are the random acts of kindness that tired mothers don’t soon forget.

Forty Six Years Ago in the Small Town of Ojai

There’s nothing else like it in this world!

April 8, 2014

April 7, 2014

Babies are sweet, dogs are divine, and men can be delicious, but a cat purring away on your chest, or nestling all night under the covers in the crook of your arm, its heart beating next to yours, its dear little cat head tucked under your chin, its sharp claws occasionally digging into your flesh–reminding you that you are cuddling with a wild creature–is bliss on Earth! There’s nothing else like it in this world!


We are thrown willy nilly into the stream of life

April 8, 2014

The universe keeps dropping the most illuminating memoirs in my lap, reminding me time and time again that for the most part, we are thrown willy nilly into the stream of life and the only thing in our control is our perspective. As the Foreword of The Life of an Ordinary Woman points out, “Anne Ellis was the perfect taker for Plato’s wonderful maxim that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living.'” If you love memoirs like I do, then this author’s clear-sightedness and unique voice as she recalls the unrelenting challenges of her daily life is not to be missed!

The Life of an Ordinary Woman

“Who would you be without your story?”

April 7, 2014

April 6, 2014

Spiritual teachers of our era often ask the question, “Who would you be without your story?” I’m not sure what they have in mind when they pose this question, often to someone in the midst of a painful event like a death, divorce, or betrayal who is seeking a way to relieve their suffering. All I know is that life seems to be one never-ending story–each episode leading into the next. And, from a cosmic perspective, we human beings must seem like a broken record–the needle stuck in the same groove, playing the same part of the song over and over again.

The trick seems to be to get to a level where you no longer identify with these stories–easier to do with the passage of time than in the heat of the moment. The stories of our life are embedded in our consciousness. And by “consciousness” I mean the whole gamut–body/mind–everything we’ve absorbed in this lifetime, from the womb (including ancestral memories and possibly past lives) to the present moment.

The picture below was taken in Soule Park, with the Topa Topas in the background. I’m 19 years old, a single hippie mom who’s never been to a beauty salon for a haircut, wearing a shapeless, green homemade sundress (basically a sack dress with straps) and no makeup, holding my young son, Bo, born April 8, 1968. My head is filled with stories and myths of how life is supposed to be; already I’ve gone through many shocks and disillusionments and cried many tears, but the stories (beliefs) have so firmly shaped my reality that I will spend the next 45 years (my life so far) trying to break free.

(A related story: Forty Five Years Ago in the Small Town of Ojai)

Picture (1)

Playing House

April 5, 2014

April 3, 2014

A close friend asked me, “How are you doing?”

I blurted, “I think I’m shell-shocked. I’ve gone from euphoria to ‘Now reality has hit.'”

She laughed and said, “I hate when that happens.”

I’m at that moment in the process of moving when my brain is completely on overload. I feel paralyzed as I survey all the stuff that needs to be put away (plus all the stuff still in storage) and all the cleaning, sweeping, and painting still to be done—plus the unreturned emails and phone calls piling up as we speak. And I can’t find anything. After spending a good half hour looking for my Day-Timer, I began to have this vague recollection that I took it with me to Rainbow Bridge last night. For some odd reason, instead of making a list on scrap paper I made hasty notes on the April 2 page–just to make sure that in the chaos of moving I wouldn’t lose the list. So ironic! I must have left it at the checkout counter.

Last night, even with fresh breezes blowing through all afternoon, and with all the windows still open, the back of the house had a somewhat musty smell. As part of the ritual of moving in, I wanted to have my own smell the first night I slept here. While animals mark their turf the practical way, I got some citrus air freshener, some honeysuckle incense, a bundle of sage, and a vanilla-scented candle. And I was so excited to have a working oven again that I also got a supply of sweet potatoes–not just to eat, but expressly for the sweet, homey baking aroma.

Late last night, after five years of house sharing, renting rooms, and my one-room cabin/writing-hut lifestyle, the ancient rituals of homemaking felt for all the world like playing house. Unpacking clothes, making my bed, lighting candles, scrubbing sweet potatoes, taking a bath . . . everything was fun-fun-fun! I was well aware that this basking and reveling in finally having a whole house to myself once more might never again feel this intensely enjoyable.

When I woke at dawn, the spirit was still willing but the flesh was dragging. Had it not been for the Time Warner guy scheduled to show up at 8 a.m., I’d have closed my weary eyes and gone back to dreamland. Instead, as soon as it was light I drove to my storage unit to look for my phone. A half hour later, my fingers were frozen but there it was, sitting in a box of kitchen stuff. When the phone man had finished wiring, installing, programing, testing, etc., I noticed that the only outlet in my soon-to-be office needed one of those adapters . . . and so the day of endless moving-day tasks, errands, and unforeseen glitches went on and on and on . . .

When you’re bone-tired, all the stuff that felt like child’s play yesterday suddenly feels like a lot of work. You start to wonder if all this effort to keep the mortal body going is worth it. Even the effort to remind yourself that it will all look different after a nap, after some supported inverted poses, feels like a great exertion.

These thoughts were whirling in my head as I wheeled my flat-tired, too-long-unridden bicycle and spider-infested bike cart around to the back of the house. I reminded myself that one of the main reasons I’m moving back to town is so I can again live a mostly car-free existence.

After cleaning my bike, installing a new garden hose, unpacking the industrial-strength broom, and placing the new “Wipe Your Paws” doormat by the front door, I noticed an older couple walking up the driveway toward me. I heard the woman say, “Hello, we’re your neighbors!” I had met the man briefly earlier in the day, and now apparently he’d told his wife that someone new was moving in next door. And even though I’d hastened to add that I wasn’t new to Ojai, here she was giving me a welcoming hug and handing me a promising bottle of red wine . . . such a nice gesture!

The post office bells are singing a happy tune. Already this new old house feels like home. The pressure to get everything done today has dissipated. Time for yoga. Time to walk the dogs. And time to go to bed early. — in Ojai, CA.


%d bloggers like this: