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.