How The Grinch Found Yoga (and then found it again!)

Inspired by Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas

PART ONE

Every yogi in Yogaville liked yoga a lot….
But the Grinch, who lived just north of Yogaville, did not!
The Grinch hated yoga! The whole yoga culture!
Now, please don’t ask why. It would only be torture.
It could be his mind was closed a little too tight.
It could be, perhaps, that his breath was too slight.
But I think that the most likely reason could be,
He kept his heart protected, not allowing it to be free.

Whatever the reason, his heart or his mind.
He stood there that evening, not feeling very kind.

Staring into the studio, with the look of displease,
At the warm yoga bodies moving with such ease.
For he knew every yogi was perfecting their pose,
While looking their best in their fancy yoga clothes.
“And they’re standing on their hands,” he said with despair,
“Without a single strand moving, not one! In their hair!”

Their photos, their quotes, their Instagram postings!
The kale and kombucha, the juice cleanse hostings!
And soon, oh so soon, they would be yoga singing!
The sound of their OMs! Well, it would have his ears ringing!

Then he got an idea! A crazy idea!
This “unyogic” Grinch got a crazy idea!
The Grinch held his breath, not knowing what was in store.
He walked up to the studio, and opened the door…

The Grinch came from the outside and found his way in.
Which is often how many of us also begin.
He stepped onto a mat, without expectation.
The evolution was slow, but he found meditation.

And there on the mat, released of all drama.
The Grinch discovered more than only one of the yamas.
It just takes some presence, a trust in the self.
In mindful action, the Grinch found some wealth.

And the Grinch, with his grinch hands touching his toes,
looked around in amazement, thinking, “How could it be so?”

“It came without judgment! It came without goals!”
“It came without challenges, selfies or ‘no’s’!”
And he sat down a few moments, till his breath became longer.
His mind became quiet, his inner voice grew stronger.
“Maybe yoga,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a pose.”
“Maybe yoga… perhaps…is an exercise for the soul.”

And what happened then? Well…in Yogaville they say,
That the Grinch’s trapped heart broke open that day!
And the minute his heart didn’t feel quite such a mess,
His mind opened up too and he found yoga bliss.
And he stepped on his mat. Both feet firmly at home!
And he, he himself! The Grinch sang the last OM!

PART TWO

When last we left off in the Yogaville district,
The Grinch had found yoga; his heart optimistic.
Dedicated yogi he was, trekking to town every day.
Heading straight to the studio, never going astray.
One day in particular as he walked in with his mat,
A new flyer was posted, he stopped in his tracks.
With eyes growing wider, he lost his Grinch cool.
In bold letters, he read: Yoga Teacher School!

Then the teacher strolled in, the breathing started.
The practice began, his effort half-hearted.
His mind so distracted, excitement barely contained.
He remained calm on the outside. The inside he strained.
And the more the Grinch thought of this whole teaching thing,
The more the Grinch knew he must do this TRAINING!
And the longer he pondered, with wheels endlessly turning,
His head grew bigger, his ego mindlessly yearning.
“Why, for two years now I’ve come to this space!
I know I can do it, I can take over this place!
I will be the best teacher this town’s ever known.
From miles they will come, they will build me a throne!”

So with focus and agenda, his journey began.
He studied and practiced, fine-tuned his grinchy plan.
Bought all the books, memorized all the right words.
Practiced the sequence, his goal never deferred.
And the day finally came, his certificate arrived.
He gave his dog a sly smile, and then a high five.
Of course, first on his list, doing what all legit teachers do,
He opened a Twitter account and a Facebook page too.
He took a few selfies; upside down in the snow.
Posted on Instagram with requisite yogic style prose.
He filmed YouTube videos, with his dog Max as his pupil.
It took only one day, and his followers quadrupled!

This was still not enough for his yogi star scheme,
The final touch was added, a completion of his dream.
A new studio he began building on top of Mount Crumpit.
He called it Grinch Yoga. Well, that pretty much summed it.

As he stood on his mountain, looking down at the town.
His shifty eyes landed on his final takedown.
Watching the yogis, the tall and the small,
Bustling to class, this would not do at all!
So just for good measure in the middle of the night,
The Grinch snuck into his old studio and stole everything in sight!
He took all of the mats! The candles for lighting!
The sign on the outside! His emotions delighting!
All the pictures on the wall! All the cubbies in the hall!
All the lights that were hanging! He left nothing installed!
He stole all of the schedules and workshop brochures.
Then he snatched his teacher’s notes, just to be sure!
And then, just in case, all that wasn’t sufficient,
He tweeted cruel words. A clearly grinchish decision.

And before you could say #yogaeverydamnday,
His new home was completed; Grinch Yoga here to stay.
He bounded through the door, new clothes on display.
Prepared to teach his first class, without any delay.
His teacher’s words mastered, his yoga jam cued.
Exuberant and giddy to the utmost magnitude.
With great confidence and ease, he patiently waited.
His ego, of course, ten sizes inflated!

He waited, and waited and waited all day.
But not ONE yoga student came, not ONE,
Through the doorway!
And there the Grinch remained, puzzling for hours.
No sense to be made. Why, he had even planted fake flowers!

As he sat on his mat in deep contemplation,
He heard a soft noise, a humming vibration.
He looked out of his window; eyes followed the sound.
He shook in surprise as he gazed down at the crowd.
And he shook, and he shuddered at this most disturbing of views!
In the yoga studio he had emptied, the yoga class grew!
They twisted and turned and chanted away.
Nothing the Grinch did had ruined their day!

“No, it can’t be! I’ve done everything right!
Photos and followers! Hashtags and websites!
New floors and fresh paint, in the perfect location.
Thousands I spent on this yoga education!”

And then what the Grinch did, without even thinking,
He packed up old Max, crept to town, his pride shrinking.
He walked into the studio, well, some would say slunk.
But all would agree his high hopes had been sunk.
He looked at his teacher, Yogi Lou Who,
With questioning eyes, heavy heart, feeling blue.

And she tilted her head, raised an eyebrow.
Told him to sit and to get rid of his frown.
And with a slight wink, she proceeded to speak:

You can’t steal yoga, within is what you seek.

It’s not a fancy pose. It’s not rhyming prose.
It’s not a personal platform, for a Cirque du Soleil show.
Not matters the location or the color of the walls.
The flowers planted. The track lights installed.

Doesn’t matter the words strategically placed.
What matters are actions executed with grace.
Followers will follow, and likers will like.
But none of this matters if you behave with dislike.

For students to emerge you must teach from your heart.
It’s inside of you too; it just needs a jumpstart.
The only way out is to go through, the only way through is to go in.
You must do the hard work, stop believing your own spin.
Some days will be easy; others will not.
(On those days two words: tequila shot!)
It’s an on ongoing process this self-study thing,
But in the end, will be discovered the best kind of bling.
The glow from the inside will be quite distinct,
When your intentions and actions are completely in sync.

And the knowledge you search for, you already possess.
At this moment it is there, it just needs to be accessed.
Your purpose discovered. Clearly defined.
It is here my Grinch friend, you will find peace of mind.

And this wisdom you have cannot be shanghaied.
No matter what happens. Though, some will surely try.
Oh, they will try! Oh yes! They will TRY, TRY, TRY, TRY!
But when they go low it will teach you instead how to FLY!
Keep the focus on you and others won’t matter.
Silence you will find, trumps the meaningless chatter.

And it won’t be about selfies or how many likes.
Your followers on Facebook or a playlist contrived.
It won’t be something learned in two hundred hours.
Your silent voice inside contains all your power.
And it won’t be what’s trendy or Instagram fame.
Or the RYT letters you attach to your name.
Find the teacher inside, and the students will appear.
Not always an easy task. Trust yourself and don’t compare.

So, back to his mat went the Grinch and his Self.
Old Max snoozing soundly in his bed on the shelf.
His playlist deleted, his pride feeling cheated.
But the worst part of it all, his spirit depleted.
He got out of his head and started to work in.
It didn’t take long for the transformation to begin.
He found his way back to where he began.
And slowly let go of his grinchy yoga plan.
His ego grew weaker, his monkey mind meager.
His compassion expanded, mindfulness was eager.
His goals disappeared, replaced with intention.
And in this still space, he found his connection.

And what happened then? A revelation some say.
The door opened up, students walked in and stayed.
They laid down their mats, spaced barely an inch.
They all stood together, surrounding the Grinch.
And the Grinch looked around, not believing his eyes.
They finally opened up as he slowly realized…
“This teaching it seems doesn’t come from a book,
Not words that are mimicked or how a studio looks.
It’s not perfect alignment or abdominal locks.
Not master playlists or five different props.
It’s not how you speak, or the way that you walk.
It’s in owning your truth and walking the talk.”

Then, the Grinch found his voice, and also his heart.
(A bit shaky at first, but an impressive good start.)
He guided the practice; they breathed and they flowed.
Compassion and honesty always in tow.

In unison, they moved. Together sang the last OM….
And there in his Self, the Grinch finally found home.

Featured on Elephant Journal:
Read Part One and Part Two

Truth Not Trends: Why I Teach


For My Dad

“Teach the truth, whether it fills the room or clears it out.”

As a yoga teacher, I have a choice: to give my students what they want or to give them what they need.

Trends or truth?

As a yoga studio owner, I have to find a balance. The teacher in me will give them what they need. The owner in me will give them just enough of what they want to keep them coming back. Well, maybe it won’t keep everyone coming back.

You see, for me, teaching yoga isn’t about instructing poses from the perspective of physical fitness. It’s about using the poses as a tool toward personal growth. There is a difference between leading a student through movements and exercises with impeccable cuing – a technical skill – and guiding them to use these movements and exercises as a path toward self-study and transformation.

In a nutshell, I use the pose as a tool not to get better on the mat, but to become better off the mat.

And just in case no one ever told you, self-study and transformation are not always fun. Which means, inevitably, it will piss off some people.

Of course, the yoga industry as a whole has changed a lot over the years since I first started my own yoga practice.

With the influx of social media sites, the emphasis is more and more about elevating the physical component and less and less about ethics and philosophy. (See #yogisofinstagram on Instagram.) Classes are often just fitness with “yoga” thrown into the title.

And no, I’m #sorrynotsorry, but posting on social media a thoughtful quote about how yoga is not about the pose while demonstrating a ridiculous pose where you practically have your head up your ass does not count. (See #hypocrisy.)

The philosophy has become downgraded. The pose has become upgraded. It’s what I like to call the dumbing down of yoga.

I guess I should backtrack just a bit. To understand where I am coming from, you need to know, well, where I came from. At least when it comes to my yoga background.

After working in the fitness industry for years, which included teaching aerobics, step, and spin classes and running an average of six miles per day, I started to get burned out. Shocking, I know. I lost my desire to run and my passion for teaching fitness classes. All of those things seemed so very…unsubstantial. And that’s when I stumbled upon yoga. My life changed. Or, I guess you could say, I woke up.

There weren’t any yoga studios nearby at the time. At least none teaching ashtanga yoga, which is what I was practicing. Because of this, I had to do a lot of reading and studying on my own, which I now look back on with gratitude. It opened me up to a yoga practice that went beyond the asana (pose). My attitude about everything changed. The way I looked at life, but also how I looked at myself. You know, it helped me be less of an asshole.

For me, teaching was a natural evolution. I figured if yoga helped to make me less of an asshole, it would help others be less of an asshole, too. Fewer assholes in the world make it a better place. #winning.

I didn’t put much thought into it. I just started teaching. I wanted to teach the physical part of yoga while incorporating the life-changing elements of it, too.

So, that’s what I did.

I mean, what’s better than that? You can work on a healthy body at the same time as you gain a healthier mind.

It’s interesting to look back at how it all evolved. I didn’t have a grand master plan. I just taught. Opportunities arose. Doors opened. I never had visions of yogi rock stardom (the fact that this is even a “thing” is what’s partly wrong with the industry right now). And even though I never had a desire to own my own yoga studio, here I am, owning my own yoga studio. (That’s a whole other story. You can read it in my upcoming book called Fuck This Shit: A Guide to Surviving the Yoga Business.)

I made a conscious decision to mold the business plan of my yoga studio on the same foundation and principles from which I teach. Rather than envision my studio as a service-based business, I built it on the concepts of growth and learning…a space where I encourage students to stop looking out for themselves and begin looking into themselves. Which is hard work.

Hard work can be a hard sell. Let’s face it, it’s probably not the most revenue friendly business plan.

Which brings me to this whole positivity movement thing that has seeped into some yoga classes and has contributed to the dumbing-down process.

Listen, I’m all in support of trying to keep a positive attitude. But this idea that to live a fulfilling life, we need to be happy all the time, that we should suppress any negative emotions we might have, and nothing but good things will be in store if we do because our positivity will surely keep all the bad things away is, well, f’ing stupid.

As humans, we have a wide range of emotions. We should be allowed to freely embrace them all and be encouraged to work through them. We shouldn’t be made to feel bad because we feel, well, bad. When we don’t work through them, that’s when the problems start. I mean, when I’ve been sad it was because I cared, when I’ve been angry it was often because I had self-respect and values, when I’ve been heartbroken it was because I had the ability to love. I think we can all agree that those are good things. Things that are never easy. But we eventually do move forward, if we allow ourselves to fully feel them.

To me, it is more about redirecting negative emotions into positive energy. We can’t control how others behave or events that happen around us. We do have the power to control how we respond. So perhaps anger does not become hate, sadness does not become depression, with the understanding that we might not be able to just snap our fingers and “let it go.” Moving through the process of feeling these emotions is important, or they will never be resolved and keep coming back. We might have to do some hard work. Some soul searching. Some self-study.

The only way out is through, right?

So, while offering a 60-minute yoga class (and do not get me started on this new trend of shorter yoga classes!) that includes a rocking playlist for you to tune out to with a guaranteed sweat and good time might be better for my business, well, then I would have to ask myself what business am I actually in. A gym or a yoga studio? Performing exercises or transforming the mind? Am I cheerleader or an educator?

I think there is always a time and a place to put life aside and tune out completely. As a matter of fact, I think it’s necessary that we all make time for that. It’s healthy to take a pause in life, and it serves a purpose. But at some point, you have to hit that play button again. Because reality always has a way of catching up to you.

That’s where a yoga practice comes in. And that’s why I teach. Because yoga is not about tuning out. Yoga, by definition, is about tuning in.

When I look back at all the teachers in my life, the ones that stand out are the ones that made me do the work. They were tough but kind. They didn’t coddle me, but I knew I was in a safe and supportive environment. They often said things I didn’t want to hear…hard truths about myself I was trying to avoid.

My father was a teacher. So maybe that’s why I have such a strong opinion about what teaching means and entails, whether it is physics or yoga. He passed away when I was just 21, long before I had discovered that there was a teacher inside of me, too. I came across a tribute to him in the newspaper at the high school where he taught. One of his students said:

“There are two sides to Mr. Gerfin. There was Mr. Gerfin the teacher, and Mr. Gerfin, the friend. Sometimes one side would show more than the other, but for the most part, the two sides would balance one another. Mr. Gerfin the teacher would push you to do your best, make you understand the material and often test your patience. Mr. Gerfin the friend would reassure you with his wit and mild manner. In a chat outside the class, he would put you at ease by throwing aside the teacher and joke around with you. You always got the impression that he was on your side.”

I know for a fact that I often test my students’ patience and probably on occasion piss them off. I don’t sugarcoat, and I don’t believe in a lot of fluff. Shit, life is hard, and the universe very rarely sugarcoats. But I am also always on their side. Sometimes being supportive means being tough. It also means knowing that sometimes humor is needed to help make it through and lighten the load.

Tuning in is hard work, and I realize there will be those who walk into my class looking for a feel good 60-minute getaway and then walk right back out and never come back. And, that’s ok.

As a yoga teacher, it is my responsibility to create a safe and welcoming environment for my yoga students. But it is also my role to mentally push and challenge them to be their best self. Sometimes it will make them laugh. And sometimes it will make them uncomfortable.

When I step onto my mat to practice, it’s like going home. Going home to a house that’s usually a bit messy. If I don’t clean it up, the mess keeps getting worse. The clutter keeps piling up. And before I know it, I don’t recognize my home. I’m not always in the mood, but I know if I don’t clean it up, no one else will do it for me. The longer I wait to clean it up, the more likely I am to get lost in the mess.

And I know when my students step onto their mats, I do the best I can to help them clean up their own houses. I won’t be able to find what they are looking for or recommend what to throw out. Or even tell them which mess to clean up first, that’s for them to do. But I’ll be satisfied that if nothing else they find me a worthy guide. I might not always do it perfectly, but hopefully I can help them learn to deal with all of life’s ups and downs with a bit more grace and grit. And not lose themselves in the process.

Like that song says, you might not always get what you want. But if you are open to this practice we call yoga, you just might get what you need. And that, my friends, is substantial.

And from me, well, you will always get truth over trends. Purpose over popularity. Transforming over performing.

You in?

Photo Credit: Matt Dewkett Photography

Edited by Carin Crook

SaveSave

To Serendipity

 

To the telling of the truth.
To stories still untold.
To the uneasiness of honesty. Letting truths slowly unfold.

To the clearing of my closets.
Of people, not just things.
There’s no clarity in clutter, and my house is now scrubbed clean.

To the man behind the curtain,
Manipulating strings.
The ties have since been cut. I’m no longer your plaything.

You worked so hard to bring me down.
My voice you tried to stifle.
But no one tells me who I am. My self is never idle.
These boots have never steered me wrong.
And walking they sure did.
Out the door and far away from bullshit gone unbridled.

To the mess that settled after you.
The debris left in your wake.
I’ve repurposed all the litter. A stronger foundation I have made.

To those that cheered you on.
Kicked when I was down.
Karma is a bitch my friends; tends to slink slowly back around.
Teacher’s just a role you play.
Integrity out of reach.
For character is thinly veiled when you don’t practice what you preach.

To those that mocked my vision.
Popularity your goal.
It’s harder work to look inside and share what’s in one’s soul.

To those that spread the gossip.
The truth you never see.
Your thoughtless words describe you more than ever they will me.

To all the bricks thrown my way.
Mostly from behind.
I turned my bruises into the force that guides my state of mind.

To my fuck it bucket overflowed.
Gifts that kept on giving.
I removed the shackles I freely wore. A new story I have written.

To friends that stood behind me.
Cushioning the fall.
My heart may have been broken, but my spirit never stalled.
To unrelenting loyalty.
To unexpected tribes.
Your faithfulness stood steadfastly with the turning of the tides.

To those that showed me kindness.
No agenda in your thoughts.
My gratitude forever, good vibes cannot be bought.

To the stillness in my practice.
That saw me through the storm.
Embracing transformation over pressure to conform.

To the grace in waiting patiently.
For time to heal all wounds.
Forgiveness never guaranteed, so best to not assume.

To the power in a purpose.
Teaching truth and not the trends.
A harder path to follow when means matter more than ends.

To outcomes not expected.
Misfortunes turned to gifts.
They led me to this home I found; old dramas are not missed.
This story mine to tell.
The ending up to me.
To bridges burned, lessons learned and serendipity.

To the pages not yet written, I look forward to the tales.
To peace uninterrupted when my truth inside prevails.

To old acquaintance now forgotten.
To flames that long since died.
I raise a glass of kindness to moving on and days gone by.

SaveSave

How The Grinch Stole Yoga

img_5930-1

Inspired by Dr. Seuss, a true yogi.
Featured on elephant journal.

When last we left off in the Yogaville district,
The Grinch had found yoga; his heart optimistic.
Dedicated yogi he was, trekking to town every day.
Heading straight to the studio, never going astray.
One day in particular as he walked in with his mat,
A new flyer was posted, he stopped in his tracks.
With eyes growing wider, he lost his Grinch cool.
In bold letters, he read: Yoga Teacher School!

Then the teacher strolled in, the breathing started.
The practice began, his effort half-hearted.
His mind so distracted, excitement barely contained.
He remained calm on the outside. The inside he strained.
And the more the Grinch thought of this whole teaching thing,
The more the Grinch knew he must do this TRAINING!
And the longer he pondered, with wheels endlessly turning,
His head grew bigger, his ego mindlessly yearning.
“Why, for two years now I’ve come to this space!
I know I can do it, I can take over this place!
I will be the best teacher this town’s ever known.
From miles they will come, they will build me a throne!”

So with focus and agenda, his journey began.
He studied and practiced, fine-tuned his grinchy plan.
Bought all the books, memorized all the right words.
Practiced the sequence, his goal never deferred.
And the day finally came, his certificate arrived.
He gave his dog a sly smile, and then a high five.
Of course, first on his list, doing what all legit teachers do,
He opened a Twitter account and a Facebook page too.
He took a few selfies; upside down in the snow.
Posted on Instagram with requisite yogic style prose.
He filmed YouTube videos, with his dog Max as his pupil.
It took only one day, and his followers quadrupled!

This was still not enough for his yogi star scheme,
The final touch was added, a completion of his dream.
A new studio he began building on top of Mount Crumpit.
He called it Grinch Yoga. Well, that pretty much summed it.

As he stood on his mountain, looking down at the town.
His shifty eyes landed on his final takedown.
Watching the yogis, the tall and the small,
Bustling to class, this would not do at all!
So just for good measure in the middle of the night,
The Grinch snuck into his old studio and stole everything in sight!
He took all of the mats! The candles for lighting!
The sign on the outside! His emotions delighting!
All the pictures on the wall! All the cubbies in the hall!
All the lights that were hanging! He left nothing installed!
He stole all of the schedules and workshop brochures.
Then he snatched his teacher’s notes, just to be sure!
And then, just in case, all that wasn’t sufficient,
He tweeted cruel words. A clearly grinchish decision.

And before you could say #yogaeverydamnday,
His new home was completed; Grinch Yoga here to stay.
He bounded through the door, new clothes on display.
Prepared to teach his first class, without any delay.
His teacher’s words mastered, his yoga jam cued.
Exuberant and giddy to the utmost magnitude.
With great confidence and ease, he patiently waited.
His ego, of course, ten sizes inflated!

He waited, and waited and waited all day.
But not ONE yoga student came, not ONE,
Through the doorway!
And there the Grinch remained, puzzling for hours.
No sense to be made. Why, he had even planted fake flowers!

As he sat on his mat in deep contemplation,
He heard a soft noise, a humming vibration.
He looked out of his window; eyes followed the sound.
He shook in surprise as he gazed down at the crowd.
And he shook, and he shuddered at this most disturbing of views!
In the yoga studio he had emptied, the yoga class grew!
They twisted and turned and chanted away.
Nothing the Grinch did had ruined their day!

“No, it can’t be! I’ve done everything right!
Photos and followers! Hashtags and websites!
New floors and fresh paint, in perfect location.
Thousands I spent on this yoga education!”

And then what the Grinch did, without even thinking,
He packed up old Max, crept to town, his pride shrinking.
He walked into the studio, well, some would say slunk.
But all would agree his high hopes had been sunk.
He looked at his teacher, Yogi Lou Who,
With questioning eyes, heavy heart, feeling blue.

And she tilted her head, raised an eyebrow.
Told him to sit and to get rid of his frown.
And with a slight wink, she proceeded to speak:

You can’t steal yoga, within is what you seek.

It’s not a fancy pose. It’s not rhyming prose.
It’s not a personal platform, for a Cirque du Soleil show.
Not matters the location or the color of the walls.
The flowers planted. The track lights installed.

Doesn’t matter the words strategically placed.
What matters are actions executed with grace.
Followers will follow, and likers will like.
But none of this matters if you behave with dislike.

For students to emerge you must teach from your heart.
It’s inside of you too; it just needs a jumpstart.
The only way out is to go through, the only way through is to go in.
You must do the hard work, stop believing your own spin.
Some days will be easy; others will not.
(On those days two words: tequila shot!)
It’s an on ongoing process this self-study thing,
But in the end, will be discovered the best kind of bling.
The glow from the inside will be quite distinct,
When your intentions and actions are completely in sync.

And the knowledge you search for, you already possess.
At this moment it is there, it just needs to be accessed.
Your purpose discovered. Clearly defined.
It is here my Grinch friend, you will find peace of mind.

And this wisdom you have cannot be shanghaied.
No matter what happens. Though, some will surely try.
Oh, they will try! Oh yes! They will TRY, TRY, TRY, TRY!
But when they go low it will teach you instead how to FLY!
Keep the focus on you and others won’t matter.
Silence you will find, trumps the meaningless chatter.

And it won’t be about selfies or how many likes.
Your followers on Facebook or a playlist contrived.
It won’t be something learned in two hundred hours.
Your silent voice inside contains all your power.
And it won’t be what’s trendy or Instagram fame.
Or the RYT letters you attach to your name.
Find the teacher inside, and the students will appear.
Not always an easy task. Trust yourself and don’t compare.

So, back to his mat went the Grinch and his Self.
Old Max snoozing soundly in his bed on the shelf.
His playlist deleted, his pride feeling cheated.
But the worst part of it all, his spirit depleted.
He got out of his head and started to work in.
It didn’t take long for the transformation to begin.
He found his way back to where he began.
And slowly let go of his grinchy yoga plan.
His ego grew weaker, his monkey mind meager.
His compassion expanded, mindfulness was eager.
His goals disappeared, replaced with intention.
And in this still space, he found his connection.

And what happened then? A revelation some say.
The door opened up, students walked in and stayed.
They laid down their mats, spaced barely an inch.
They all stood together, surrounding the Grinch.
And the Grinch looked around, not believing his eyes.
They finally opened up as he slowly realized…
“This teaching it seems doesn’t come from a book,
Not words that are mimicked or how a studio looks.
It’s not perfect alignment or abdominal locks.
Not master playlists or five different props.
It’s not how you speak, or the way that you walk.
It’s in owning your truth and walking the talk.”

Then, the Grinch found his voice, and also his heart.
(A bit shaky at first, but an impressive good start.)
He guided the practice; they breathed and they flowed.
Compassion and honesty always in tow.

In unison, they moved. Together sang the last OM….
And there in his Self, the Grinch finally found home.

I Believe In: turning pages and closing books

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I believe in turning the page.

I believe under bus thrown leads to true colors shown.
And better to have known.
I believe the deepest despair can turn into the greatest hope.

I believe in the power of a pause. And the surrender of a flow.
I believe jumping to conclusions serves no one.
And there is wisdom in stepping back.

I believe in walking away tall. In preference to talking to a wall.
I believe in speaking truth to power.
Sometimes my greatest accomplishment is saying nothing at all.

I believe in fuck its instead of buckets.
I believe that pushed down does not mean pushover.

I believe in risking failure alone and not riding coattails with others.
I believe in closing a door not meant for me. So I can open one that is.
I believe that letting go means letting things be.

I believe in focusing on my own shit rather than spreading other’s bullshit.
I believe that denial is a dish best served when dining alone.
I believe a shot of reality feels like bourbon going down smooth and slow.

I believe in talking to you. Instead of about you.

I believe in fucking up, owning up and making up.
I believe messy and beautiful are one and the same.
I believe in silent voices and loud actions.
I believe words matter.

I believe in taming the raging war inside of me so that I can feed my fiery purpose that is meant to be.
I believe that negativity can’t touch this.
And Frankie was onto something when he said relax.

I believe in creating my destiny, but trusting the universe.
I believe I would rather miss the boat than jump on the bandwagon.

I believe I am one with the world.
And all alone at the same time.
I believe in killing with kindness.
And surviving by thriving.

I believe in waking up so that I can shake it up.
I believe if it feels right do it. If it seems wrong screw it.

I believe vulnerability requires courage.
I believe strength requires vulnerability.
I believe in baring my soul to wear my truth.

I believe in cleaning out closets.
I believe in ending relationships, to save myself.
I believe friendships might end but the confidences we shared do not.

I believe in friendships that last forever.
I believe old friends can become new loves.
I believe a lost love can be found. An old one rediscovered.

I believe in “you had me at hello”. But I complete myself.
I believe in a last kiss that feels like a first kiss.
I believe in a first kiss that feels like home.

I believe in unsubscribing from anger.
I believe in employing indifference and resigning hate.
I believe in a lifelong membership to love.
For as long as we both shall live.

I believe forgiving is not always the answer.
But moving on without holding on is.

I believe we are all a little bit broken.
We come undone, and we piece it back together.
Some fragments get lost in the wreckage.
Some never fit like they once did.

I believe in letting the light seep through the cracks.
And not allowing the dark to dim the glow.

I believe each year will bring new tears.
I believe tears are a mix of opportunity and possibility.
I believe in daydreams, lost dreams and the dreams that keep you up at night.

I believe what does not defeat us, grows us.
I believe what breaks us, frees us…
to close the book.

It’s Just Yoga

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Many are doing it. Oodles are practicing it. Plenty are teaching it.

Yoga is far trendier today than when I started practicing almost 20 years ago. Though, I would argue that the part of yoga I found to be so life-changing is not necessarily the same part of yoga that is attracting the masses today. I sometimes think that in this ginormous industry yoga has evolved into over the years, that particular component has some how lost its way. But that’s just me.

Just to clarify, this is not another article about what real yoga is, isn’t or should be.

I honestly believe that only we can determine for ourselves what we want to gain from it. And in turn, that will ultimately determine what we get out of it. And if a person chooses to approach yoga as just exercise, then that’s their decision.

But isn’t it possible to still do both? What if we not only used yoga as a path towards fitness but also used it as a doorway towards mindfulness…

What if when we stepped on our yoga mat we understood that touching our toes is about more than whether we can touch our toes.

What if we questioned more often why we do a pose, and worried less often why we can’t.

What if how we get into a pose is more important than how far we can go once we are there.

What if we paid more attention to how our movements affect others than how are movements look to others.

What if we killed ourselves with kindness rather than insensibly beat up our bodies.

What if we spent just as much time on healing the pain when our heart has been stabbed as we do straining our muscles so we can feel the burn.

What if we didn’t just practice yoga on the mat, but off the mat too.

What if we ceased defining our yoga practice by how we appear, and instead by how we behave.

What if we discontinued all the empty talk, and started to lead by example with a meaningful walk.

What if we put more importance on aligning our heart with our actions than we do with stacking our knees over our heels.

What if instead of repeating words because they sound good, we speak words because they are true.

What if we put an end to believing in our own bullshit so that we can start to clearly see the facts.

What if we accepted that we will all fuck up and sometimes act like an asshole. But we don’t have to be a fucked up asshole.

We can be this: strong and confident.
Without being this: arrogant and callous.

What if we understood that it’s no one else’s responsibility to make us happy, and instead worked on cultivating our own contentment.

What if our beliefs and truths were in sync with our actions and words.

What if we agreed that not all relationships were meant to last forever and it is possible to move on gracefully, rather than spitefully.

What if we appreciated that what is best for someone else might not be best for us, and there is no one to blame.

What if telling others what they feel and need was less important than listening closely to what we say and why.

We used these words less: authentic and unyogic.
We lived these words more: real and raw.

What if we discerned and didn’t judge.

What if we made a pact that when my purpose and your purpose are not in tune we can dance to our own rhythm and still share the floor.

What if a prerequisite for balancing on two hands was being able to stand grounded in our own true self.

What if we didn’t just do yoga, but actually tried to practice too.

What if we preferred a yoga mind over a beach body.
What if we practiced a soul search rather than just a seated twist.
What if we meditated on life rather than fixated on things.
What if our intention was in how we go rather than in what we get.

What if we transformed the world rather than performed a pose.

It’s how we think.
The words we choose.
It’s how we act.
Trusting our internal cues.

It’s a discipline not an art.
It’s an attitude from the heart.

It’s just mindfulness.
It’s just yoga.

No Longer and Not Yet: the power in a pause

143395001321719Practice mindfulness in action, rather than rushing with distraction.
How we get into a pose is just as important as being in the pose.
How we get out of a pose is more important than racing to the next pose.
Find the sacred in each movement.
Find the power in each pause.
Find how we get is more important than what we get.
No movement too small. No pause too insignificant.

Embrace the space between no longer and not yet…

Bliss-ings in Disguise: smoke, a mirror and a few lost shoes

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In a pool of water a lotus seed plants its roots in the murky, muddy floor. From that a long, flexible stem grows to the surface where the lotus flower blooms above…

No mud, no lotus. My mantra of late.

The concept is that no matter how hard or bad the experience, the mud, within that is a lesson. Lessons are really gifts. Gifts that give the opportunity for growth. Growth doesn’t come when things are easy. Growth comes when things are hard. The real challenge is discovering what the lesson is from each individual experience. Finding the gift. The lotus.

And then sending a thank you note. (Everyone knows it’s proper etiquette. Even for the gifts we don’t like.)

You see, a lot of that has to do with how we look at things. Our attitude.

I figure when mud starts being slung we have a choice. We can be a big, brittle stick in the yoga mud. Or, we can make a slide and learn to play in it. And when the mud settles, be like the lotus flower. Turn that mud into an enlightening foundation from which to grow.

Personally, I have learned to embrace the mud. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish for it. Sometimes it’s been so deep that I’ve lost shoes – no woman likes to lose shoes. But I’ve learned that sometimes the thicker the mud, the deeper the roots, the greater the growth. And from that, a more firmly planted, flexible me.

Now when the rain comes and I get a little mud in my eye, I just tilt my face up and let the rain wash the mud out. Because I know when the rain leaves, the clarity arrives.

From solitude, I have found self-reflection.
From disrespect, I have found confidence.
From betrayal, I know the real meaning of loyalty.
From my own mistakes and screw-ups, I have found humility and self-acceptance.
Compassion now trumps judgment a bit more often.

From my patience being challenged and behavior that’s been more than tactless,
‘holdmytongueasana’ is now officially a part of my daily yoga practice.

From doubt, I found my voice.
From other’s untruths, I found my truth.

Shoes that have been lost, I now realize I didn’t need. Some hurt my feet anyway. Now, I hold tag sales to get rid of things that are toxic in my life a bit more often. Which frees up a lot of good space in my energy closet.

Purchase policy: no returns, use at your own risk.

From all the fuckery, animosity and just downright hypocrisy.
I have learned to embrace life’s insanity, irony and sometimes hard to get comedy.
(If you can’t change a situation, change the way you think about it, right?)

From the imitators and posers who hid behind a thin layer of mud.
I learned to walk on a little faster, no need to be a part of that flash flood.

Keeping it brutally real is better than living in calm denial.
The smoke never lasts, the truth always makes a grand appearance.
We can run but cannot hide behind what we face in our own mirror.

And in the murky, muddy waters where sadness is so deep there is no light,
I found a bliss-ing in disguise by allowing the feeling over flight.

In the mud, obstacles became opportunities.
Mountains became possibilities.
Negatives became positives.
Looking out for myself, became looking into myself.

I’ve learned to sling a little less and sing a little more.

There will always be rain. New mud and new challenges. And some mud will take a little longer to wade through than others. But as the saying goes, if the mud ain’t flyin’, you ain’t tryin’. But we each get to decide whether to get stuck in it, or to slide through it.

And whether it’s mud that’s being thrown at me, or mud that I fall into all on my own, it’s a gift that just keeps on giving.

But you know what? The lotus is pretty damn fine.

So, thank you.

“…Without mud, you cannot have a lotus flower.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh

(you can find the “No Mud No Lotus” tee at www.superlovetees.com)

A Sweaty Mess with Bryan Kest: putting the yoga back into yoga

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“Yoga is a lot more than what we do on the mat. Actually, if what we do on the mat doesn’t help us off the mat, then it’s worthless; it’s absolutely worthless.”
-Bryan Kest, 2006

Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic about the early days of my yoga practice.

I rediscovered my ashtanga practice that started 20 years ago. Each breath takes me back to my old family room above the garage where I spent many hours on my mat.

I pulled out and organized old class notes from almost just as many years ago. Some are scribbled on letterhead from Pepsi, the first place I ever taught a yoga class was at their employee wellness center. Scribble that I couldn’t read then and can’t read now. (Note to self: work on that handwriting!)

Well, they say everything comes in threes. My “three” was Bryan Kest teaching a master class at my studio this past week. Talk about full circle.

I can say without an ounce of doubt that 20 years ago when I purchased his what are now probably collector’s items VHS tapes (Power Yoga 1, 2, and 3), I never imagined this guy with the long curly hair and cut-off shorts would be teaching a class at my yoga studio. Mostly because I never even imagined having my own studio. But there I was. Driving this guy back and forth from his hotel and my studio in my little Honda Fit, dents and all.

They also say (well, at least I say) that you get things when you most need them. And maybe it was turning 50 last year, that has been causing me to reflect more lately. Maybe it’s been how running my own business has forced my eyes to be open even wider in a combination of amazement and dismay at human nature. Or maybe it’s my sometimes frustration at how I feel that the actual yoga has somehow lost its way and now seems to be just about the poses to so many. (Instagram Yoga Challenges. Need I say more?)

The point is, I could not have timed his visit better.

So, let me say this first. This is not going to be about his class as far as the physical practice goes. If you have never experienced his class, let’s just say that no matter what class it is, where it is or how long it is, when the class is over one word will most likely come to mind: holyfuckingshit. And if you have experienced his class, you know exactly what I mean. You will never do something so challenging yet so simple at the same time.

You see, while his class is amazing, one of the first things Bryan will tell us is that we can do all the poses we want but if we are not doing them with presence, calm and with the intention to be gentle, then all poses are just “stupid”. Of course, the challenge is to be guided by our wisdom, rather than dominated by our ego.

It’s his words that have guided and helped steer me all these years.

And so, as I sat there on my mat, in my studio, listening to him talk, I realized how all these years later while so much has changed and been experienced, some things don’t change. And though Bryan’s message has become stronger and more evolved, it was still the same.
It’s gratifying in a way, seeing the growth and expansion of someone you call your teacher. Someone whose words have greatly influenced your life. It also reminded me why I connected with him in the first place, and how I came to be doing what I am doing. And, reinforced why I continue to do it. At the time I needed it most.

Ah, the universe working it’s magic once again.

Let me jump ahead for a moment. He ended the class talking about being grateful. Something that might seem so obvious and basic to take time to do, but probably many of us don’t. And I am sure if hard pressed, no matter what kind of day we are having, we can probably come up with at least one thing to be thankful for without having to think about it so deeply. I think we can all probably also admit that it is quite easy to get caught up with the continuous cycle of complaining. To the point that sometimes we don’t even notice we are doing it. As a result of being so disconnected, finding things to dig up to be grateful for can become even more challenging. If we don’t use the muscles of gratitude, we lose them.

And so you see, yoga helps to stop that cycle. Yoga wakes us up.

But, before Bryan spoke of gratitude, he took us through the harder work.

Bryan likes to say, and I have quoted this before, “We bring our shit into yoga, and we turn our yoga into shit.”

Things like judgment, competitiveness, comparison, distraction. Things we have all probably at some point struggled with. Now, rather than continuing to reinforce these things when we practice on the mat, he challenges us to try instead to approach our practice with more compassion, gentleness, acceptance, and presence. Less reaction, less ego, less force.

And you see, Bryan doesn’t just “lecture” us about these things. He talks about them, but he will also display some interesting behavior, include colorful language, while doing so. Which gives everyone a perfect opportunity to be judgmental, distracted, critical….and then he calls us out on it. He’s sneaky like that.

And, he doesn’t stop calling us out on our shit once we start practicing on the mat either.

During class, he gives us the opportunity to be gentle. And when we aren’t, he asks why the fuck we would be doing anything that hurts.

He gives us the opportunity to practice presence and focus. Then he asks what the hell we are doing when we jump ahead or let our eyes wander around the room.

Because you see, however we act or react on the mat is really just going to reinforce how we act and react off the mat. And our yoga mat is the safest place to start working through all that crap we carry around. So the choice is we can either reinforce that crap and turn it into even more crap, or we can start flushing that crap down the toilet.

But, more importantly, he explains that NONE of this is about trying be perfect, changing or fixing anything. It’s not even about right or wrong. It’s about awareness. Taking the first steps to perhaps noticing habits and actions that we have never noticed before. Be it small, silly physical habits or catching bigger, more harmful critical thoughts that run through our mind. The point is that we begin acting and reacting with less distraction. Moving with mindfulness begins to set in. It’s all on the path toward a more conscious way of living.

We begin to wake up.

Now, the belief is that when we work toward this greater awareness, we begin to make better choices. Decisions that will result in the least amount of harm. Not just to ourselves, but to others as well.

As Bryan explained, if we choose to push and force when we practice on the mat and the result is getting hurt, then we have no one to blame but ourselves. We should never give anyone else control over deciding what truly feels right. And if we push too hard, then we need to own up to whatever the outcome.

And the same goes for off the mat. We are in control of our own decisions. And while we can’t control others’ actions or reactions, we can control ours. Hopefully, we try to always make decisions based on good intentions. But we are human. And not perfect. The most we can do is just to try our best. And our best with awareness. Mindfulness in action. That also means that whatever the outcome of our decisions, and especially when things don’t turn out as we hoped or a negative response occurs, we need to step up and own our own shit. We can’t ask anyone else to own our actions.

There’s our hard work. There’s our yoga. There’s our challenge.

We don’t need Instagram for that.

And now you see, four hours later, Bryan has set us up for what I call the “deeper gratitude”. Because after all that, we are literally a sweaty mess not just on the outside, but on the inside, too. And when he asks us to sit and mediate on what we have to be thankful for, there is no way the larger stuff doesn’t come up. Thinking has gone, clarity has arrived. The things we have to be grateful for that might not be so obvious before start to appear more clearly. Gratitude for the hard times that made us stronger, the sad times that taught us to be more compassionate, the challenges that helped us to grow. Gratitude for what we can give and not just what we can receive.

Welcome to Power Yoga.

Now, there is one point I disagree with him on. Bryan says he is not a teacher but an instructor. We are our own teachers. Well, yes, I agree with that. We are our own teachers. Only we know what is right for us. No one can tell us that. And hopefully through this practice of yoga we can tap into that internal wisdom and begin to listen to it.

But only a teacher can help guide us there. You see, anyone can instruct. Memorize asana sequences and cue alignment. Instructing comes from the head. But teaching comes from the heart. And that’s not something you can memorize. That’s Bryan.

And, with all his great success and ‘fame’, he still finds a way to be the most humble, kind and grounded being I had the privilege of meeting. That’s a yogi.

As a teacher I also know that our job is to try our best to share the message, the ideas, the concepts in the best way we can. Understanding that students will hear what they are ready to hear. Take away with them what they are ready to take away.

So, I can only speak for myself as to what I have heard and taken away from Bryan over the years. But perhaps we can all work on waking the hell up, owning our own shit and not looking the fuck around during yoga class.

Put the yoga back into yoga.

And maybe we will all be a little more grateful for it.