Wednesday, April 22, 2009

changing my mind

For the last month or so I've taken a break from teaching yoga to the teens in the substance abuse treatment program in the juvenile jail where I also work as the school social worker. I was losing interest in teaching yoga where there was resistance and disruption, and there was a lot of resistance and disruption. Pretty much every class. I was spending more time trying to maintain a level of compliance with basic facility rules and keeping the insults and name calling at bay than I was teaching yoga. Compared to my home studio classes, which are positive and energizing, the classes at work were dread filling and demoralizing. It seemed to me that only a few of the kids really liked the classes, and the kids who didn't made it miserable for everyone else. I tried lots of different approaches and plans to increase engagement, but it wasn't improving. It just got too challenging, and, worse, it started to make me feel badly about yoga.

On a deep level I felt ashamed that I couldn't figure out how to engage the uninterested kids, so I did what I usually do when I am unwilling to explore something painful. I took an all-or-nothing approach and just avoided the issue by not teaching any yoga to any of the kids. Over the last month, a few of the kids have occasionally asked about yoga class, but I didn't have the energy (likely based on my unwillingness to look more closely at what was coming up for me) to discuss it much more than saying I was taking a break from teaching.

Then, yesterday, something interesting happened. I was subbing in math class with the kids in my yoga class, and a kid who had just returned to our facility after a few months away asked me if we were still doing yoga. Half the class chimed in with a chorus of, "yeah, we want yoga back", and "why aren't we doing yoga anymore?" Suddenly the time seemed right for me to get honest, and tell the kids that I loved teaching yoga too much to associate it with dread and unhappiness. After some conversation about how they felt, and what they wanted, I asked the group if I offered class again, how many would be interested if it was an option. All but one said they would.

A few things have changed in the last month. A couple of really negative kids left, and a few new kids have come in to our program. The energy of the group feels more positive and functional than it has in the past. More importantly though, something in the discussion yesterday allowed me to delve into my feelings, share them with the group, and make a new plan. I gave myself permission to change my mind, and trust that it could be ok.

This morning I taught yoga class to the group for the first time in over a month. It was a good class. Nothing spectacular--no amazing transformations, blissed out prana energy, or deep meditation. But it was good enough! Plenty good enough for me.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

remembering audrey simon

Following is a letter I sent out to some friends and loved ones who all had their lives touched by the power and love of my beloved friend Audrey Simon, who passed away two years ago today:

I woke up this morning thinking of Audrey, seeing her face in front of me. It's hard for me to believe it has been two years since her death. I think about her nearly everyday, as I know many of you do. I still miss her tons, but what used to feel like a raw wound has healed to become a bittersweet longing for her company.

I missed Audrey's birthday celebration this year-- my daughter Zoe had emergency appendectomy surgery a few days before, and the timing didn't work out. So, today, I'm aiming some love in her direction.

There are many things I like to remember about Audrey. Her fierce loyalty and support, her strong and sometimes wacky ideas, her generousity in all things, her mindblowingly delicious meatloaf that I still make on a regular basis (her generousity included sharing her recipe with me), her healing words and touch, her empathy, her inclusiveness, and her deep care for others are just the beginning of my list.

There were a number of times over the few years before Audrey died when we talked about her, Zoe and I going to Paris together. She knew Zoe and I were saving frequent flyer miles for a trip, and we thought it would be great fun to all go together. I regret that we didn't make it happen.

About 8 months ago, Zoe and I booked our tickets, rented a little apartment in the heart of the Marais district, and last week we went to Paris. On nearly our last night there, Zoe and I decided we would dedicate our evening to the memory of Audrey, with our only firm plan a boat ride on the Siene, some red wine and a rich, gooey pastry. We walked out into the still warm evening, and as we crossed over the river on the Pont Sully towards the Ile St. Louis, we looked out to the east and saw a massive, deep orange, luciously full moon rising over the bumpy silhouette of the Paris skyline; the sky a rich blue hue behind it. We turned and looked to the west and saw the twinkling lights of the Tour Eiffel off in the distance, the sky still pink and lavender behind it. I felt a little shiver down my spine, and laughed with Zoe over the magic of the Parisian moment that was all about Aud.

On this anniversary of Audrey's passing, I'm sending out prayers of loving kindness to all, with the spirit, love and energy of Audrey shining through. It would be a real pleasure to hear from you sharing a memory, a thought, or an appreciation of Audrey on this day. I know I don't have everyone on my email list who might want to share this message, mostly out of a lack of organization than anything else, so please forward it if you like to anyone I haven't included that you feel would like it. Love and happiness, and a big smooch to Audrey, Lisa

Sometimes when I'm really missing Audrey's voice, I go to this little video from Carisa Walker:

Enjoy this wet spring day, L

paris & home

Still catching my breath and finding my feet after our week in Paris. Lots of photos and commentary soon. In the mean time, be well, be happy, be peaceful.

Friday, April 3, 2009

ok to go

Nearly a year ago my daughter and I began to make plans for a trip to Paris. We turned in our hundred thousand frequent flyer miles, booked an apartment from Craigslist Paris, and then moved into wait-for-April-in-Paris mode.

A lot can happen in a year.

In addition to the economy tanking, and my job suddenly vulnerable to County budget cuts, my daughter had an emergency appendectomy last week (previous post), and my mom has been struggling with health issues. I've been struggling daily with the yes or no of our trip.

Today, it looks like our Paris trip is on. We leave tomorrow night, and return Saturday next. For now, it's ok to go.

Suddenly, now that the adventure seems possible, I'm very excited! A week in Paris in April. Coffee and croissant in the morning, chocolate pastries twice a day, cafes and parks and museums and afternoons wandering around the Marais with no other plans but to enjoy each moment. Evenings watching the street lights come on around the neighborhood, boat rides on the Seine, red wine in a cozy bistro. And some daily sadhana to balance out the lovely richness of Parisian meals.

Have a wonderful, spring-y week, where ever you are. Hugs and Jai!

Monday, March 30, 2009

a week later; an organ lighter

Off the blog grid this last week due to a medical emergency. My daughter had her appendix removed early Wednesday morning. She is recovering beautifully, and we're both hopeful she will be well enough by Saturday to leave for Paris-- a trip we planned 8 months ago. Lots to be grateful for, whether we make it to Paris, or not.

Friday, March 13, 2009

selma cafe

We had our 3rd Selma Cafe this morning, with Jeremy Lopatin cooking up delicious omelettes with michigan mushrooms, cheese and baby spinach, along with Jeff's just smoked diced ham. Waffles with fruit and bacon and my homemade granola rounded out the menu. Over 50 people showed up to eat, chat and build community around local food, farm and garden initiatives. Myra Klarman captured the morning in her usual style of enthusiasm and fun. Catherine Thursby of the very sweet and cool Red Shoes Home Goods came with some lovely friends, and also documented Selma Cafe with some great photos, including some of our backyard chickens. If you are in the neighborhood next Friday between 6:30 and 10am please come by and join us! Have a wonderful weekend, where ever you are.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

balance: an ancient wisdom tradition in contemporary living

One of the things I appreciate the most about Kripalu yoga is the philosophic clarity that it is possible to bring the ancient wisdom tradition of yoga into our contemporary, and sometimes chaotic lives with balance and grace. What a relief!
I can call asanas by their Sanskrit names or by their English names, or, when I am teaching my classes in the juvenile jail, by whatever name the kids want to call them. (My favorite these days is Utkatasana--in English we call it Standing Squat--my juvie class calls it Thunder Thighs).
I didn't have enough yoga ties in my home studio, so I got some used men's suit ties at the last clothing exchange I attended, and we use those too. I'm big on avoiding fancy yoga clothes, special props, or dedicated spaces. If there is room to throw down a mat, great! No mat handy, no worries, I can do without. My yogini friend Lauren and I have discussed this on numerous occasions, and we both agree that daily sadhana can be an any-time-any-place practice for a minute, or for an hour. No rules frees me up to experience yoga whenever the urge strikes in whatever setting I find myself.
When people ask me about Kripalu yoga, they often want to know how it is different from other, more popular forms of yoga that they may already know. After talking about the importance in Kripalu yoga of warming up the body, connecting with the breath, and supporting a compassionate heart, I like to mention that Kripalu yoga allows each person to find their own way into a yoga practice, honoring where they are in body, mind and spirit, with lots of room to show up however they happen to be that day.
As I have deepened my experience of Kripalu yoga, both in teaching classes and in my practice, I have allowed myself more and more room to find balance in my life across many settings--family, home, workplace and community, and have become happier and more content as a result. What a gift to give ourselves--an ancient wisdom tradition finds its way into our modern lives at a time when we need it most.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

audrey simon's meatloaf

When my women friends are in need of support, and prepared food is on the list of "most helpful", I make Audrey Simon's meatloaf to take over to them.

I've posted about Audrey previously. My oldest and most loyal friend, Audrey passed away nearly 2 years ago, in mid-April. She has been on my mind and in my heart lately, as the year pushes towards the 2nd anniversary.

Over the last year, I've made Audrey's meatloaf, with mashers and peas at least a dozen times. My women friends have complicated lives. For some families, who tend to have more opportunities for support from friends and community than other families, I've made Audrey's meatloaf more than once. Sometimes it is requested specifically.

Let me just clear up one important fact: Audrey Simon's meatloaf recipe makes the best meatloaf in all the land. It's magically delicious. If a sample of Earth's best food was sent to distant solar systems in order to impress and seduce other living creatures, Audrey's meatloaf would be an imperative. Very close in the favorite's running to homemade vanilla cake with caramel frosting (another post, soon), or my husband Jeff's home-cured pancetta (could be a post I suppose), and lobster tails with melted butter (no post necessary).

Earlier today I dropped off a meal of Audrey's meatloaf, mashed potatoes loaded with butter and raw cream, and little green peas that had been frozen in the fall to a dear friend who is recoverying beautifully from a recent surgery. She called a little while ago and left me a message about how much she enjoyed the food. I'll be sure to remind her when I call her back that it's Audrey's meatloaf recipe. And then I'll think again of Audrey, who in addition to giving me full hearted love, appreciation, and acceptance, was generous enough to also give me her meatloaf recipe.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

spring is coming

I was browsing through my favorite local photographer, Myra Klarman's blog and found a photo of my husband Jeff and me that I just love, love, love to pieces. The photo represents to me something essential and deeply valuable about our marriage. We are standing near enough to each other to be held in the same photo, but enough apart from each other for us each to have our very own experience of that moment.

It is, to me, a lovely photographic capture of how we move through our life together-- close enough to nourish and sustain us together as a couple, yet separate enough to have our own opportunities to experience life in our own individual ways. I'm feeling especially lucky these days to be married to a man who supports my endeavors, reassures me when I am feeling lost, gives me space to be fully who I am, and believes in my abilities and creativity.

Seeing Myra's photo this morning took me instantly back to a sun warmed, early April day last year at the annual Festifools extravaganza in downtown Ann Arbor where locals make fabulous, inventive, irreverent and sometimes political costumes to parade up and down Main Street for several hours. What a wonderful rite of spring for our community! Check out their website and join in the fun.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

diner for a day

Our Diner for a Day fundraiser was a huge success. We served breakfast to over 160 people! The food was amazing, the volunteers worked tirelessly, and everyone had a blast. We are already planning our next event!
Check out more photos by Amanda Edmunds of Growing Hope here:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

repasts, present & future

I'm pleased and excited to share that Jeff and I are presenting our second major fundraiser through our organization Repasts, Present and Future . Our first event was a little over a year ago and focused support on the local organization Growing Hope, the Ypsilanti based community garden group. This breakfast fundraiser will support local food activities and Michigan filmaker Chris Bedford.

Check out the website for more information and make a reservation to join us for great eats, wonderful company, and a delicious way to support local food and film.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

the smallness of gossip

I wish that folks would build affiliation, friendship and connection without gossiping mean or private things about others. Hmmm...I wish I would do that! In principle I dislike gossip. It isn't very yogini-like, and it can really hurt a person's feelings.

Someone I know gossiped about something private and personal to other people who didn't need to know the information. This was after that same someone assured me they weren't going to tell anyone about it, too! Sharing the gossip surprised and hurt some people very close to me, which got me pretty worked up. Man, I had to do some deep yoga breathing, and then telephone several people to gossip about it. Hmmm....

Yes, of course, there are plenty of times when the urge for me to gossip with my girlfriends is very appealing, but then after I do it I don't always feel so good. Kind of like eating a bag of potato chips. I wonder if I could stop gossiping. I think it is only fair if I don't like it in others, I might try stopping it myself. OK. here is my new commitment to avoid gossip. I'll let you know my progress. I guess this post fits into the random musings category of my blog.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Hello Selma-ites!

Just a quick post with a shout out to our neighborhood group called SELMA. We're a west side neighborhood organization of adults and kids that shares tools, resources, food, activites, support, ideas and action to build affiliation and local connections.
Check out our website: for more information and to see what we've got going. If you live in the area, join up!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Shiva the transformer & Death the narrator

Growing up in a household at the close of the 1950s, where The Three Stooges was considered way too violent for us kids to watch, I've never developed much of a thick skin against things that are even a little bit scary, gruesome or anxiety provoking. The books I read back then, the tv shows I watched, and the films we occasionally saw at the movie theater were all bland and comfortable. The scariest it got was when Nancy Drew would get into a jam and Ned would have to come help her.

It was different then than it is now-- our exposure to media, and to real life events elsewhere in the world were limited. We lived in a protective bubble where even difficult feelings were pushed aside and ignored. Consequently, I didn't have any practice at feeling even a little fear, horror or revulsion enough to get used to those feelings. I was easily overwhelmed, and made anxious by even little worries.

Eventually, as I grew up, I avoided things that raised my anxiety for the purpose of entertainment. Some people love the rush of being frightened by a scary movie or book. I'm not one of them! I know I've missed some really amazing films and books because of my tendency to be overly affected by their power, but it wasn't enough to convince me. After I saw Sophie's Choice I was so upset I ended up with a bladder infection. After seeing The Sixth Sense I was too freaked out to get up in the middle of the night to pee for at least 2 weeks. I have often disappointed my husband who wants me to see a movie with him that I know is above my capacity to watch.

Joni Mitchell writes beautifully about this in one of her songs, saying that she is "too porous". I can relate-- it's as if, at times, I don't have an ample enough covering to protect me from feeling the pain and suffering of the world.

When I was at the Kripalu Center for my yoga teacher training we studied some Hindu philosophy, and I began to learn more about the Hindu triad of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Maintainer, and Shiva, the Destroyer. Before I studied at Kripalu, I saw Shiva as only representing destruction and death. The end. Nothing after. And, as was my habit, Shiva frightened me and I wanted to avoid thinking or looking at Shiva, or what Shiva might represent. I couldn't see the possibility of something continuing after destruction or death until my reading and studying allowed me to understand that in order to begin again anew, there had to be some ending or destruction.

It happens in cell growth, it happens in the garden as the seasons come and go, it happens in friendships and love affairs and in the birth and death of theories and ideas. By accepting the concept that life and death is a cycle that is universal and all encompassing, I was able to glimpse the beginning understanding of what it means to live in the moment, cherishing every possible beautiful thing, enjoying all that is good, grieving for all that is painful, and knowing those feelings are part of what makes up the world. By practicing staying with the feelings, I am more able to experience the world more fully, and I feel stronger in my ability to cope.

A friend recently gave me a book called The Book Thief to read. It's written by Markus Zusak and it is the story of a vulnerable family during the time of Nazi Germany. In the past, I would have avoided this book like crazy. I wouldn't have wanted to think about the horror of that time and that place. This book is a little different though--the book's narrator is Death. Somehow having Death telling the story and permeating every page of the book allows me to step back somewhat from the story itself, and see it as if from behind a curtain of gauze. And, having been practicing through my yoga sadhana to allow myself to feel more fully, I can breath into my feelings, whatever they may be.

Friday, January 9, 2009

stay in the day

I usually start my yoga classes with some time for centering and meditation. One of my favorite things to say to my students has to do with bringing their attention to their mind's desire to pull them back into the past, ruminating over things that have already happened, or their mind's urge to yank them forward into the future, worrying over things that might yet happen. I'll mention how difficult it is for many of us to ignore the mind's nudging during yoga practice. Then I offer an alternative: Breathe, and use your breath to stay in the moment. Notice the sensations in your body. Notice what you are feeling. And, when the mind wanders, tugs and interrupts, use breath to come back into your body, into your experience.

Like most elements of yoga, what I practice on the mat, I can practice off the mat too. For the last few days my shoulder and left arm have been hurting again, along with some additional constriction and pain in my upper back. Feeling demoralized, I began to get angry at myself for the accident that led to all this pain. I started going down the path of "if only I hadn't" and "how could I be so stupid". From there it was a quick jump to worrying about what was going to happen next. "What if I tore my rotator cuff?", then "What if I need surgery to repair it?, to "How will I teach?", and then "What if I stop teaching to heal myself and my students don't come back?" Ah, my mind in all it's freaked out glory!

After talking myself down from the ledge of the neurotic window, I took some long, slow, deep breaths and decided to stay in the moment, to stay in the day. I'm doing what I can to care for myself each day, which includes asking others to care for me too. Now, when my mind starts to careen back to the upper stories and window ledges of crazy, I use my breath and my logic to bring it gently back to now.

I'll freely admit it doesn't always work. I have a lot of years behind me perfecting the art of rumination and worry. Learning new ways to deal with pain and uncertainty takes some time and practice, and having friends, family and a good doctor around to comfort and support me goes a long way towards healing. So, today it will be more ice, gentle stretching, arnica, pain medicine, breath, and prayers of loving kindness.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

washtenaw county juvenile drug court & new yoga progam

I am happy to share that the Michigan Association of Drug Court Professionals included an article about my school based yoga program in their recent newsletter. Here is the article:

...A newer component of the program is a weekly yoga class.
Since the beginning of this school year, drug court youth in
Washtenaw County have added this new treatment modality
to their bag of tricks to support their sobriety, reduce their anger, improve their impulse control, and give them a sense of control over their own bodies.

Lisa Gottlieb, the program’s full time school social worker and registered yoga teacher says, “We’re not reinventing the wheel here. There are numerous studies showing the value of yoga in substance abuse treatment with both youth and adults, and juvenile drug courts in Colorado have included yoga as a treatment modality for the last 4 years. The organization Y.O.G.A for Youth in Los Angeles has been bringing yoga classes to underprivileged and incarcerated youth in juvenile jails, schools and placement centers around LA for years now. It is very exciting that Washtenaw County is supporting the yoga program for our students.”

Gottlieb also offers a lunch hour yoga class for staff at the center to support their own health. “In this line of work, self care for stress reduction and well-being benefits everyone. The staff who take part in yoga report feeling more calm and physically stronger, and their participation in yoga class models healthy life style choices for the youth,” Gottlieb shares. Yoga, which translates as ‘yoke’, or ‘union’ in English, works to join together specific physical movements, conscious, intentional breathing and a calm state of mind to improve overall health and emotional stability. The combination of yoga postures, breath control, and meditation practice has been proven to lower high blood pressure, reduce stress and frustration, and support calm and serenity. Gottlieb adds, “The beauty of yoga is it can be simply a physical practice to build strength, balance and poise, or it can be a more emotional and spiritual practice, encouraging honesty, compassion, tolerance, and hope, similar to the 12-step programs currently used by most treatment facilities.”
Embracing the philosophy of yoga supports students in practicing what they are learning, both on the yoga mat, and off the mat as well. Students carry the lessons of yoga into their daily lives at school, in their homes and in the community. Each person can decide for themselves what they want to take away from their yoga practice. A person doesn’t have to be slim, fit, or flexible to start a yoga practice. The yoga postures are all modified in each class so that everyone can take part and benefit, however they ‘show up.’

For more information about the style of yoga taught at the center, follow the link to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health: or contact Lisa Gottlieb directly at

Sunday, January 4, 2009

my left shoulder

It's been a bit o' time since my last post, and in my last few musings I made no mention of the accident I had nearly two months ago that injured my left shoulder. Thinking back, I realized that I was in some serious denial about my injury. I didn't want to think about what I did (fell off a tall chair I was standing on in our basement, landing on the cement floor in a way that jerked my shoulder back), how I could be so dumb (idiotic, reckless, boneheaded) to stand on a chair to reach something too tall for me (I'm still fighting the harsh self talk, can you tell?), really embarrassed that I would be so out of my body that I would lose my balance and fall (I'm a yogini after all! I'm supposed to have a high level of body awareness!) and that I didn't want to talk about it (except when I couldn't help but compulsively talk about it to anyone who would listen), write about it, or, hardest of all, admit that I had hurt myself. I couldn't lift my left arm above my shoulder, to the front or to the side, and I couldn't reach my left arm across my body to unhook my seat belt or wash my hair. AND it hurt. Pretty consistently when I tried to lift or turn my arm. Never the less, I continued to practice my daily sadhana (one armed) and teach my yoga classes (one armed).

Incidentally, one thing I learned was that in general, my students watch me more than they listen to me -- I would say, "inhale your arms up to the sky." I would only raise my right arm, and then, looking at my students, they would all raise their left arm! (They were mirroring me.) Then I would say, "Raise BOTH your arms up to the sky". They would continue to raise one arm, until I reminded them that I couldn't raise both my arms, but they could and they should. Good to know that my language skills may be less important than I thought.

Back to my shoulder saga, if you are still awake (yawn. Isn't it boring to hear about someone elses injury?) I eventually went to see a doc with a syringe, and he gave me a big ol' shot full of cortisone, and within 24 hours I was mostly better. That was nearly two weeks ago, and though I still have some twinges after too much practice, I am profoundly relieved and appreciative that I am healing without the necessity of more invasive intervention.

One thing that I realized while I was in pain and restricted in my ability to use my arm was that I could practice yoga one armed and still find plenty to practice. Was I worried, angry at myself, resentful and freaked out that I might have really done it this time? Yes, sometimes. But there were plenty of other times when I simply accepted that this was how I was showing up on my mat, and I found I was able to be gentle and accepting with myself, both physically and emotionally.

Another thing I realized was that learning to practice yoga with restrictions and limitations gives me more insight into how others with restrictions and limitations can also practice yoga. I think this will help me be a more inclusive and supportive teacher, and though I may have liked to learn this lesson without falling off a chair, I'm not one to reject a gift, however it makes its way to me. In the words of Bill Murray in Caddyshack, as he discusses his reaction to the Dali Lama wishing him, on his deathbed, total consciousness: "So I got that goin' for me, which is nice!"

On that note, happy happy new year to you. I wish you health, happiness, peace, and many opportunities in 2009 to be of service to others, and to devote a little time each and every day to notice the beauty around you.