My flamenco lesson: “Everyone of us hides a poet’s dream inside”

Flamenco begins in the hands. Quietly, at first. Softly.

The scene of my flamenco lesson (downstairs), and where Matthew and I watched the show afterward. (Interestingly, it is near the bullring, and a fight was going on that night.) That’s my teacher, Juan Ramirez, in the doorway at left. Bless his heart.

The scene of my flamenco lesson (downstairs), and where Matthew and I watched the show afterward. (Interestingly, it is near the bullring, and a fight was going on that night.) That’s my teacher, Juan Ramirez, in the doorway at left. Bless his heart.

My instructor, Juan Ramirez, and I stood in front of a wall of mirrors in a studio below the stage at Tablao Flamenco Cafetín La Quimera in Madrid, where he would be dancing in a little more than an hour. After he showed me a video that explained the origins and styles of flamenco and introduced the masters of the form, we entered the dance. Or at least “a” dance.

The outer expression begins in the wrists and fingers. Don’t use the whole arm, he said; it’s too tiring. Roll the wrists and fan the fingers, from the pinkies to the thumbs. Then, while expressing the hands, add the arms ~ take them out to the sides, overhead and back down; then do the same in front of the body.

The inner dance also begins in the hands, with clapping. From the performances I’ve seen, it isn’t clear who initiates the dance ~ the dancer, singer or guitarist ~ but the dancer holds the rhythm in her hands. There are two basic kinds of clapping, Juan explained. In soft clapping, the palms meet and embrace each other while leaving a little space between them, moving in a caress. As I learned a little bit later, soft clapping is matched in the feet with toe taps. Hard clapping is like a sharp applause and is matched by heel digs.

This is not me. This is Leticia Gomez, with my instructor, Juan, in the show at La Quimera, which was amazing.

This is not me. This is Leticia Gomez, with my instructor, Juan, in the show at La Quimera, which was amazing.

From there, Juan showed me basic foot positions and steps that are, I imagine, not unlike techniques in tap dancing and the clogging that I watched while growing up in the North Carolina mountains. He added music from his phone plugged in on a nearby shelf, and we started to put it all together: intention, sound, movement. Before we had started the lesson, he asked me what I knew about flamenco. Very little, I answered, apart from the fact that I love it and want to learn more about it ~ the passion, the pride in the lines of the body, the apparent spontaneity. This felt anything but spontaneous.

He led me through a basic tango rhythm, which has a four-count “accent.” Through his layered teaching, he helped me put it all together: wrists, fingers, arms; feet, legs, hips. Clap, move. Oh, if only it were that simple. He made it look so smooth and effortless.

Then we added props, oh my. First we played with shawls, which added an element of seduction and, for me, yet more awkwardness. We made vertical figure 8s and turned them sideways for an infinity sign or “fantasy,” as he called it. I’ve always thought that flamenco and bullfighting had a lot in common, and the shawls absolutely mimic matadors’ flags. (Although flamenco, I hope, typically doesn’t end in a death.) Next, Juan introduced me to the fan. He snapped his open like the pro that he is, while I struggled with mine like Julia Roberts in the opera scene from “Pretty Woman.” (For a short clip, click here.)

It really is all in the wrist.

The last prop: castanets. I remember having a pair of red ones as a little girl, along with a small flamenco doll in a purple dress. Juan helped me slip them on to each thumb and showed me where the two parts of the thick black string need to be securely in place. Playing the castanets, or attempting to, is like playing scales on a piano or stretching your fingers to find a chord on the neck of a guitar. The right hand strums the castanet one finger at a time, while the left adds bass notes. Brrrrrrrrump (right) ump-ump (left). Each hand tells its own story.

Somehow, dancing is still supposed to happen with each of these props. Thankfully we used only one at a time. As with anything, once you master the basics, you can improvise and add in aspects of your personality to make the dance your own.

(Click on the link below for a very amateur, dark and at times blurry one-minute iPhone video of Juan dancing during the show.)


But the dance begins in the hands, the outermost feathers of the arms ~ which are the wings of the heart, as my yoga teacher Catharine Eberhart says. The parts of us that give and receive, release and hold. The parts of us that reach out and embrace others and let go when it’s time. The parts of us that seek connection, whether through physical touch or the kind of touch that can be established through the things we can create with our hands, in what we offer from our hearts.

My one-hour lesson seemed to stretch the boundaries of time. I was grateful for the private class and Juan’s patience and clear guidance, in English. I’ve wanted to take flamenco classes for ages but have not been able to find any at home. It was a miracle to be able to get such special treatment while on vacation in the home of the form.

I now have a better understanding of flamenco but still don’t know what it’s all about. I speak a tiny bit of Spanish, but I can never understand the singers. And mystery is okay. It’s essential in any art form. A natural dancer, I am not, but there is something about flamenco that stirs unnamed places in me. When an artist’s body, heart and spirit unite, it’s transcendent, and that can be conveyed only in feeling, not words. As flashy as flamenco can be, it’s not about what’s on the outside.

“This dance emerges from the soul, from the depths of the inner being, from the place where passion, emotion and creation breathe. Chakras must be opened, like budhists say. We must surrender to the force of mastery, refine our taste, sharpen our perception, awaken our curiosity. Everyone of us hides a poet’s dream inside. … We must paint canvases with castanets, fans, drum boxes, shawls, guitars and feet.” ~ Tablao Flamenco Cafetín La Quimera

Thank you, Juan, and thank you, Jennifer Yglesias of Letango Tours, for setting up the lesson.



Adventures in Teaching: The Endless Chapter

I had two new students in my Level 1-2 class the other day, a young man and a woman who arrived together. It was their first yoga class ever. I welcomed them, got them situated and took them to the upstairs studio. I showed them the props and helped them get set up for class. “This is a little intimidating,” the woman said, as I handed her a strap. I asked her why. “Because I’m not sure what I’m doing.”

Her frank honesty reminded me of what it can be like for a total beginner to step into a yoga studio. I didn’t tell her that I often feel just as intimidated as a teacher and am often not sure what I’m doing, either. I reassured her that she would be fine and that we’d take good care of her.

Donna Farhi says that teaching yoga is like “holding a heart in our hands.” If I thought about this too long, I’d probably never teach. But students like this young woman remind me why I do. I’m grateful to receive the grace of her bravery and trust, and hope to live up to them.


When words fail us, there’s poetry

My nine surya namaskars for Day 27 of the Kiss My Asana yogathon for Mind Body Solutions are dedicated to poetry. The fundraiser for adaptive yoga ends April 30, and although my fundraising goal of $1,000 has been exceeded, more is always welcome. Read more about why here.


Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. ~ Robert Frost

I knew that Purna Yoga was truly the path for me when I discovered that we study poetry. Poetry, as Robert Frost alludes to, comes from the unspeakable, as does yoga ~ from a deep inner silence that hums, from the soul’s yearning for answers and to be heard ~ a yearning that is also at home with the mystery of the unanswerable. Poetry is the art of expressing the inexpressible.

In other words, when words fail us, there’s poetry.

The Mind Body Solutions yogathon has been taking place throughout April, which also happens to be National Poetry Month, courtesy of the Academy of American Poets. How did T.S. Eliot ever think it was the “cruellest month”? (Actually, dissertations have probably been written on that, but never mind.)

It seems fitting to dedicate a day of the yogathon to poetry, especially a day near the end of it. I can look back on how the sun salutations have gotten more fluid and rhythmic with repetitions yet how they can be fresh each time, like a favorite poem, especially if I slow down. If my mind wanders and I lose track of which leg I’m on or which number I’m on, I start fresh with the next round, much as I might reread a line or a verse in a dense poem.

I’ve often turned to poetry the way an agnostic might turn to religion: In the depths of heartbreak and despair, when all hope has felt lost. Of course, there is also plenty of joy in poetry, too (see: Mary Oliver). I still feel connected to poems that I ran across in high school, some of which I copied into my journal. They clearly illustrate that, as a poetry teacher of mine would say three decades later, poetry is about two themes: Love and Death.

Exhibit A ~ the opening lines of the poem I wrote on the inside cover of my mid-1980s journal, by Ben Johnson:

Though I am young, and cannot tell
Either what Death or Love is well
Yet I have heard they both bear darts
And both do aim at human hearts.

There’s no angst like teenage angst. Except maybe middle-age angst, and all those in between, before and beyond.

Also in my woe-is-me chronicle: “Dreams” by Langston Hughes (poor bird), “Apology for Understatement” by John Wain (which ends with this killer line: (“It is not words could pay you what I owe”), “If You Should Go” by Countee Cullen, and others by Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost and Juan Ramon Jimenez.

Poetry: Love and Death.

Ayurvedic practitioners and yogic sages say the universe is about Love and Math.

So what’s between Death and Math, besides “The Matrix“?

Life and all its mysteries.


In Purna Yoga we study poetry for many reasons. Horrifyingly, during trainings we have to read poems to our fellow classmates and receive feedback on our delivery. (For the girl who used to hyperventilate while giving oral book reports in AP English, this is quite a stretch. As is teaching yoga.) We do this partly to get used to communicating out loud, to a group, in imagery and to putting emotions behind words ~ to convey the feelings behind “contract your quadriceps and lengthen your hamstrings.” We want to get to the why of what we do. (Open hamstrings help you move forward in life, for starters.) We also recite poems to practice voice modulation, metering and pacing.

Themes in poems also hold a lot of yogic lessons. In my 200-hour training last year at Purna Yoga East, we had to memorize and recite “If” by Rudyard Kipling, one of most yogic poems in the English language: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you …”  That pretty much sums up Patanjali’s definition of yoga (the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind) and one of the main messages of the Bhagavad Gita (find, accept and live your dharma, your life’s purpose, with equanimity).

Many of my yoga teachers, including Aadil Palkhivala, the founder of Purna Yoga, have recited poems or lines from poems in classes. I vividly remember the moments in a workshop about 10 years ago when he beautifully quoted from Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from recollections of Early Childhood” …

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar.

… and from another Wordsworth poem

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.

I’ll also never forget when Matthew Sanford quoted this line from Galway Kinnell’s “Wait”:

Trust the hours. Haven’t they carried you everywhere, up to now?

There is as much power in poetry as in yoga. I don’t fully remember the contexts for these utterances, but I remember how I felt: Absolutely still and quiet, grounded wherever I was sitting or standing ~ but my heart and bones were vibrating. My chest hummed in the silence that fell around the words. It’s the sensation that Matthew would later describe when he said that the energy in restorative poses is the heart of yoga. It’s the energy of dawning light, of transformation and of connectivity ~ the energy that helps us feel less alone.

Matthew explains the hum behind silence, the very hum of om, in his stunning memoir, “Waking,” and in this article here.

Jane Hirshfield has a great yogic poem about dualities and what I think of as the hum, “Late Prayer”:

Tenderness does not choose its own uses.
It goes out to everything equally,
circling rabbit and hawk.
Look: in the iron bucket,
a single nail, a single ruby ~
all the heavens and hells.
They rattle in the heart and make one sound.

Poetry is yoga, yoga is poetry ~ of the heart, bones and soul. The are both embodied experiences. Both arts can last a lifetime, even help to sustain a life. They can be profoundly healing. They offer opportunities for endless explorations of what it means to be human, to try to make sense of a life that doesn’t come with an instruction manual. Both seek to unite the unseen with the seen, to make the unheard heard. They aim to unite all of our scattered parts and to lift and destroy the veil of separateness that divides our Self from ourself and from the Other.


Now that I’ve been teaching for a few years while also dabbling in poetry (attending workshops and writing my own scribbles), I can see how much yoga and poetry have in common from a technical perspective. The effort to write a poem is a lot like planning a class. Poetry is built from a vocabulary of words; a yoga class, from a vocabulary of poses. The language of poetry gets its structure from the rules of grammar, but also from the freedom of breaking them (see: e.e. cummings); the language of yoga gets its structure from the rules within a particular form, such as Purna, and experimenting within them.

Both practices often involve brainstorming, a physical, heated purging of words and ideas onto paper, and then editing for craft and presentation. The private and public processes each have a place in the overall practices. Editing either a poem or a sequence helps to bring clarity and eliminate the fluff of unnecessary words so that the reader (or listener, since poetry is meant to be recited) and students don’t get bogged down in details, distracted or confused. (This is easier said than done.)

There are parallels for the creative process in poetry in the ashtanga or eight-fold path of yoga laid out in Patanjali’s sutras. Limbs five through seven are especially useful for figuring out how to silence the mind-chatter and go inward, toward the heart: pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (sublimation of the mind) and dhyana (sublimation of consciousness).

What holds us back from fully expressing ourselves, from achieving the eighth limb of samadhi, divine bliss? For starters …

Obstacles to mastery of the self are disease, inertia, doubt, heedlessness, laziness, indiscipline of the senses, erroneous views, lack of perseverance, and backsliding. (Sutra I:30)

What writer isn’t familiar with these? And …

Sorrow, despair, unsteadiness of the body and irregular breathing further distract the mind. (I:31)

Luckily …

Adherence to single-minded effort prevents these impediments. (I.32)

Mastery of contemplation brings the power to extend from the finest particle to the greatest. (I.40).

I love that last one. Like yoga, poetry aims to make the personal universal ~ to go inward to go outward, but with room for specificity, subjectivity and adaptability. In both, we have to get quiet within ourselves and eliminate distractions to be able to explore our depths ~ the best and the worst layers, our correct and incorrect memories. How, when and even if we bring those shadows into light is a matter of choice.

Pratyahara is withdrawing the senses, mind and consciousness from contact with external objects and then drawing them inward. (II.54)

To take that a step further, Purna Yoga encourages us to:

Concentrate in the heart. Enter into it; go within and deep and far, as far as you can. Gather all the strings of your consciousness that are spread abroad, roll them up and take a plunge and sink down. A fire is burning there, in the deep quietude of the heart. It is the divinity in you — your true being. Hear its voice, follow its dictates. ~ The Mother of Sri Aurobindo’s ashram


But back to the nitty-gritty: In a sense, poetry is a type of vinyasa, the art of linking words in a meaningful way. A class might be built around a particular “peak” pose or set of poses in the way a poem is built around an image or emotion. Each word or pose is a stepping stone to the next. Each piece is discrete, but they all fit together to form a meaningful puzzle.

Memorizing “If” was helpful for craft as well. The task seemed daunting at the outset ~ it is not a short poem ~ but we did it and recited it as a group at our graduation. Learning it simply took repetition and focus, like learning how to do (never mind teach) yoga poses or any other skill. Memorizing and reciting a poem is not unlike trying to memorize a class sequence, even if the poem is not yours but the sequence is. Having a good plan for a class allows for it to flow well, ideally, but it also allows for spontaneity if the plan needs to be edited or scrapped altogether based on who shows up. As Aadil reminded us, there is a great deal of freedom within structure. And as Matthew Sanford says, boundaries create a safe container from which to expand and express ourselves. A poem in itself can help to organize a class around a theme, and I often draw on some of my favorites to illustrate a point of yogic philosophy. 

In poetry and in yoga, the discipline of the mind and body meets the ineffability of the heart. Poetry comes from the body just as much as yoga does. The body remembers everything that happens to it. The mind warps and misremembers and makes stuff up. The heart has a mind of its own, thank goodness, and that’s what we’re after ~ the real truth, the light behind the veil.


Our lessons on poetry in Purna Yoga trainings are also lessons in listening, which is an art in itself. Without the words in front of you, can you key in to what the person is saying, to the emotion behind the words? It’s also good practice for being a yoga student, especially in a precise, alignment-based form such as Purna. Can you take in what the teacher is saying and translate the instructions for yourself, into your own body, and really experience the meaning of the pose? Off the mat, as Aadil has encouraged us, can you actively listen to another person without reloading what you want to say? And as Matthew says, can you sit with someone else’s pain and suffering and listen them into speech?

To that end, poetry and yoga are about the art of paying attention ~ of being awake, noticing, processing and trying to wring meaning out of emotions and experience. In the way that “all life is yoga,” as Sri Aurobindo says, all life is poetry. Sometimes this comes true quite literally. Public yoga isn’t about documenting yourself doing sexy pretzel poses in exotic locales (but if that’s your thing, more power to ya); it’s about how you relate to other people and show up in your life. I’m cheered to see poetry writ large in public places, however, like psychic selfies for the masses. Some cities put poems on buses, and I’ve seen poems in hospital hallways.


The Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge in Minneapolis, April 2013. The John Ashbery poem runs along the upper beams on the left.

When I went to Minneapolis for Mind Body Solutions’ Level I training in adaptive yoga in April 2013, I took some time to wander around the downtown area by myself the day before the workshop started. It had snowed that week, so it was quite a slushy tour, but peaceful. Snow makes everything just a little quieter, even in a big city. As I left the Walker Art Center and crossed the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge over Hennepin Avenue, I noticed some writing in black block letters inside the top beams. I took some pictures and made some notes. Later, through Googling, I found out that it’s a poem by John Ashbery about motion, stillness and place ~ very yogic concepts.

And now I cannot remember how I would
have had it. It is not a conduit (confluence?) but a place.
The place, of movement and an order.
The place of old order.
But the tail end of the movement is new.
Driving us to say what we are thinking.
It is so much like a beach after all, where you stand
and think of going no further.
And it is good when you get to no further.
It is like a reason that picks you up and
places you where you always wanted to be.
This far, it is fair to be crossing, to have crossed.
Then there is no promise in the other.
Here it is. Steel and air, a mottled presence,
small panacea
and lucky for us.
And then it got very cool.

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 4.02.46 PM

The cobbled-from-snapshots visual of the John Ashbery poem on the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge.

Matthew talks about having the grace to land the gifts that yoga can bring, about mining your stories and clearing space within yourself from which to heal and grow and help others, about keying into the silence that can make us whole again and connect us to each other. I was grateful to have been graced with such a curious poem in such an unexpected place ahead of a weekend full of exploration in territories that were new to me ~ the terrain of a city I’d never visited and the interior landscapes and revolutionary teaching techniques that we swam through in the training. I was glad I crossed those bridges.

On the first afternoon of that training, I looked out the windows of the Mind Body Solutions studio and over a pile of dirty snow into the parking lot of the shopping center across the street. The red letters of a True Value hardware store stared back as Matthew rolled in and started to speak. “Minnesota winters are tough,” he said, “and so is this work.”

“Trust what you feel in your body. Don’t be afraid of your heart.”

The next thing I wrote:

“I already want to come back.”

I’m so glad that I returned to poetry and keep returning to yoga. They continue to shower me with gifts that I hope to share with others.

The art of adjustments

My nine surya namaskars for Day 25 of the Kiss My Asana yogathon for Mind Body Solutions are dedicated to the art of adjustments. The fundraiser ends April 30, and although my fundraising goal of $1,000 has been exceeded, more is always welcome. Read more about why here.

“You reveal the inner body, you don’t fix it.” ~ Matthew Sanford

This simple profundity is one of the keys to understanding the role of adjustments in yoga, particularly for adaptive students, those with substantial mobility impairments.

As I move this year through a 300-hour teacher training course in Purna Yoga, I’m realizing just how much I’ve learned from Matthew about the art of touching and assisting students. In the first four years of my teaching, I’ve not been hugely confident about giving strong hands-on adjustments, mostly because I don’t have much experience, and I have been taught that firm adjustments are last resorts if a student isn’t quite “getting” it. When you move in to touch someone who is trying to figure out a pose for himself, you better know what you’re doing and why. Intention is everything. But, like anything else, the practice gets better with practice.

As I start to write this while sitting at my desk, our 1-year-old kitten is clamoring for my attention, my touch. He is clawing at my leg and climbing up into my lap. I can’t type like this, however, so I have to pick him up and let him go. He pulls one of the cat beds closer to my chair, turns it over and settles himself onto it. He sleeps.

Last month, during the first of three two-week TT stints I’ll attend at the Alive and Shine Center near Seattle, we learned a five-part adjustment for shavasana, the corpse pose of final relaxation. I have been practicing it in my classes back home, with nice results. Students have told me that they really appreciate the extra sensations, which allowed them to relax even more. One student asked me after class if she was crooked and needed adjusting (certainly one reason to do the movements) ~ in other words, why did I do it? No, I said. There was nothing to fix, nothing wrong with her. I just wanted to help her get more out of shavasana, from within her own body.

Aadil said this last month during a discussion about integrity and respect for the practice and each other and our duty as teachers to cultivate a vigilant sense of awareness: Remember that “what is in front of you is a whole life, not just a body full of pain.”

Matthew’s teachings helped me greatly when I taught young people (ages 10 to early twenties) in treatment for eating disorders. Almost all of them loved receiving adjustments in shavasana (their favorite pose anyway) and frequently asked me for them. I was surprised that they wanted to be touched at all, so this was a huge lesson for me in how a fractured mind-body connection often wants to heal: by being seen, heard, acknowledged, cared for, held. They loved simple leg traction and neck massages, along with just being allowed to lie still and quiet in the dark for a while. Since this was not a typical yoga teaching situation, I would ask if anyone didn’t want to be touched. The one time ~ the one time! ~ during a class (not in shavasana) that I didn’t ask a patient before offering a light adjustment in child’s pose, she turned out to not want to be touched. She very politely told me so the next time I saw her. I have to say, I was really proud of her. Mortified for myself, but proud of her for voicing her needs and creating a boundary.

Yoga teachers don’t ~ or shouldn’t ~ give instructions or offer props and adjustments to fix anyone or force a movement or a cookie-cutter shape. In alignment-based yoga, yes: For able folks, we work to align bones and joints through the use of muscular actions. This creates vitality in the spine and, by extension (literally and figuratively), throughout the whole body. Bringing the spine into the body brings us into the present moment and more into our true ourselves. It pushes our heart forward and up and out. If we can learn how to reveal our personal Self to ourself, then we can share it with others. This is a deeply healing approach to profound trauma and, as the Buddhists call it, the trauma of everyday life.

Mind Body Solutions photo.

Mind Body Solutions photo.

Several adjustments that I’ve learned from Matthew emphasize that point. One is in tadasana, the basic standing or mountain pose: The “giver” places her right hand between the “receiver’s” shoulder blades, the back of the energetic heart center. This helps to teach awareness of the back body ~ which we can’t really see or access very well ourselves ~ with a sense of deep support. With help, we can let go. This translates into a softening of the upper shoulders (the trapezius muscles) and a lift in the front chest ~ the heart center. The release of unnecessary tension frees up energy for creative and constructive use elsewhere. At a workshop with Matthew in August 2014, he gave these instructions for tadasana:

“Balance rolling the traps back and down. Lift the chest. Lengthen the neck. Charge the legs. Reveal who you are.”

The techniques that Matthew teaches for adaptive yoga are tectonically subtle, more subtle than adjustments common in traditional classes. Sometimes a nail just needs a hammer. But for folks with disabilities, it’s crucial to “move in to move out,” he says, because that layer of subtlety is more accessible for them. I would say that is a key element of yoga, for anyone who practices, regardless of ability. Work in, not out.

Matthew talks about teaching the experience of a pose, not simply the shape. Because how would you teach triangle pose to someone who is paralyzed from the chest down? We assist people ~ and sometimes each other, student to student ~ to uncover sensations, to cultivate attention and awareness, not to fix or force. To feel and to heal. However, although adjustments from other human hands and bodies can leave marvelous imprints and uncover long-buried truths,  the real work is still personal and individual.

Matthew also talks a lot about not making an adjustment about you, the giver ~ don’t whip around and bore into the receiver’s eyes, asking, “How’d I do, huh-huh-huh?” Of course, both parties need to communicate to some degree. But adjusting is “about the universe, not ego,” Matthew says. An adjustment or an assist is an energetic exchange. There may be a doer or a giver and a somewhat passive receiver, but there’s nothing passive about the dynamic. If the student is receptive to the touch ~ which is more often than not offered without words ~ the giver receives the sensation of release as well.

One way to feel this is to sit spine to spine in sukhasana (cross-legged) or dandasana (staff pose). Work the basic actions of the poses, but feel the warmth and support coming from your partner’s back while letting the groins soften. Then move away from each other and feel the effects of gravity. Parting is such sweet sorrow! Keep doing the actions but try to re-create the sense of relief. Then try to translate this into every pose, into any challenging situation in your life in which you feel unsupported or ungrounded. A supported spine, Matthew says, helps the mind open and relax. “Support the spine, ease the mind.” With that sense of relief and focus can come even more expansion into a pose, into yourself, the space around you and your life. Safe structure creates freedom.

“The spine is more connected to the universe than your mind.” ~ MS

Whether an adjustment is energetically asymmetrical (one person’s hand to another’s back) or symmetrical (two people sit spine to spine), the main ingredient for “success” is safety. Props and assists can help create physical boundaries that help us locate ourselves in space. Boundaries create structure and add to our foundation or base in a pose, connecting us more deeply to the essential sense of grounding, to the Earth ~ to the silence that reveals the deep inner hum shared by all humanity, as Matthew describes it. From that sense of security, we can feel safe to be vulnerable.

“Our minds are afraid of how connected we are. It only sees absence.” ~ MS

At the heart of the matter, as yoga teachers it’s our job to cultivate and create conditions of safety so that students can explore themselves, not to impose a system of shapes, especially shapes that some folks will never achieve. As such, all yoga is fundamentally about adaptability, about being open to transformational, sometimes painful but liberating and hearth-opening truths.

“Yoga brings hope at an unspoken level that precedes all trauma, loss and disability. At this level, yoga is not taught, but only shared.” ~ MS

Kiss My Surya Namaskar

Today, April 1, is the first day of the Kiss My Asana yogathon to raise money for Mind Body Solutions, a nonprofit that seeks to heal trauma, loss and disability through yoga. I am participating by bumping up my yoga practice to include nine rounds of sun salutations (surya namaskar, in Sanskrit) each day.

I just did my first round, dedicated to all of my amazing donors. Here is my fundraising page:

I love it when I get a clearer answer about the choices I’ve made in retrospect. I had decided when I set up my fundraising page a few weeks ago to fire up my home practice with more sun salutations, knowing that they would tie in nicely with an intense 300-hour training course in Purna Yoga with Aadil Palkhivala that I have since begun. Two bumps in one! Yesterday in class, Aadil went over surya namaskar in some detail. I am so grateful for the refinements that this course is bringing, along with tons of new information.

So here is what Aadil had to say about the classical surya namaskar that we practice in Purna Yoga (no chaturanga dandasana!):

* “It is the most important yoga sequence in the human race.”

* It is the only such series that has stood the test of time: It’s about 5,000 years old.

* Research is being done on how the brain entrains with the body during this sequence. It takes nine daily rounds, practiced consistently for quite some time, to shift into this alignment. (And nine is a cosmically magic number for reasons I can’t explain here just now.)

* With mastery of surya namaskar, the ability to move forward in life becomes easier and clearer.

* Surya namaskar helps us move from the past and the future into the present. The movement throughout ~ in the temporal plane ~ is simply up and down, backward and forward, and always back to the center. Never out to the sides. The linking element between the parts in the sequence is the breath.

Who doesn’t want more of all that?

And here is why the work that MBS founder Matthew Sanford dovetails so nicely with my plans for surya namaskar and my bumped-up training in Purna Yoga. Words from Matthew, during the All Humanity Class that he led on March 22 in Minneapolis to kick off the yogathon (thanks for the video, MBS!)

* “In life, in yoga, you are rising and falling in every moment of every day of your life. An asana is a reflection of this existential truth.”

* “Our work is humanity disguised as yoga. It’s humanity connecting.” And: “You share yoga, you don’t do yoga as much as you think.”

* Surya namaskar incorporates the four principles that Mind Body Solutions focuses on in teaching adaptive yoga: Grounding, Balance, Expansion (or Extension, in sun salutations) and Rhythm.

* In terms of our temporal and spatial relationships to ourselves and each other: “This is the fundamental insight of yoga: That you’re supposed to complicate your movement and stay connected to the greater whole.”


* “Complexity is worthless if the simplicity that’s inside of complexity isn’t realized. That’s why more complicated yoga poses don’t mean more yoga.”

Yay, yoga. More anon.

Namaste and thank you.

The shortest distance between two people is a story


kissmyasana badgeFor the month of April, I’ll be participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon sponsored by the Minnesota-based nonprofit Mind Body Solutions, helping to raise money to support their efforts to teach adaptive yoga. If you’d like to donate, please visit my fundraising page here. I’ll be posting updates and thoughts here as the spirit moves my asana.

In the first workshop I took with adaptive yoga teacher Matthew Sanford, in Raleigh in October 2012, I met a woman who told me a story that ended with this: “He will change your practice.” Whatever my practice was at the time, I believed her, and she was right. Profoundly right. He didn’t just change my yoga; he changed my DNA.

This woman, Ann Richardson Stevens, was the first person I met that Friday afternoon at the studio. I set my mat down next to hers and we started chatting. She had come down from her studio in Virginia Beach to help Matthew during the weekend. She told me about the work she does with wounded veterans, helping them cope with massive physical wounds and PTSD. I asked her a little about what to expect from the workshop. She looked right at me and said those words: “He will change your practice.” I believed her because I’d read Matthew’s own beautifully expressed story in his memoir “Waking.” In it, he shares how “healing stories” helped him after he became paralyzed:

“A healing story is my term for the stories we have come to believe that shape how we think about the world, ourselves, and our place in it. … Healing stories guide us through good and bad times; they can be both constructive and destructive, and are often in need of change.”

What are your stories?

I’m still working on mine. The next chapter will begin this month, when I embark on a 300-hour teacher training course in Purna Yoga in Seattle. The program will unfold throughout the year in three two-week immersions. I’m not especially nervous or anxious (okay, maybe a little), just curious. I worry that I’ll come back asking everyone I’ve taught in the past four years for a Mulligan: “I’m sorry. I’ve been doing this all wrong!”

I am already homesick (present moment awareness!) for my husband, family, friends, students and kitties but am boundlessly grateful for the support that is carrying me to this next stepping stone on my circuitous path. I’m excited for the chance to study in depth with Purna Yoga founder Aadil Palkhivala and his wife, Savitri ~ to drink at the source, as it were.

In the Purna tradition, stories are very important. Aadil is a master storyteller. In the 200-hour training that I completed in 2014 with Catharine Eberhart and Bob Maiers at Purna Yoga East in Clayton, N.C., we talked about the importance of incorporating storytelling into our teaching, as a way to inspire or educate our students, or both.

For me, this is “an area of growth.” I tell a lot of stories to myself, in my journal or in my head. Some are too private to share, and others just seem meh. I enjoy social media as a platform for sharing small stories but try to be selective about how I use them. As a lifelong lover of words, I am a sponge for other people’s stories ~ and everyone has them.

Just the other day, I received a short story from a man in line in front of me at a McDonald’s. (Don’t judge. I was on a four-hour drive. Just try getting a green smoothie along a rural interstate.). We’d both ordered and were waiting with a few other people for our food (Egg White Delight McMuffin for me). He was about six feet tall, wearing a red flannel shirt and jeans.

“How’s your day going so far?” he asked me. He seemed a little tired.

“Oh, fine,” I said. “Are you having a Monday?” It was a Monday.

“Well, it really started on Saturday, but yes.”

He told me that he works in construction but that over the weekend he had gone with his daughter on a wedding dress outing. “She’s getting married,” he said. He was working on a $30,000 kitchen somewhere, and one of his guys had just torn up the recently laid linoleum floor while installing a fridge, so his crew was having to backtrack a bit. “I hate having to do things twice,” he said. And: “I wish I could afford a kitchen that nice.” Well, I said, you are contributing your part to it. We wished each other a good day and went our separate ways.

It’s a gift to receive other people’s stories, especially the unsolicited ones, which means being a listener. This can be difficult, because in our attempt to connect with others, we often “reload” while the other person is speaking, to use Aadil’s phrase, and don’t fully hear what is being said. I’m certainly guilty of this. In his workshops, Aadil teaches us how to cultivate the skills of listening and receiving stories. After he spends ten, twenty or thirty minutes telling stories ~ about his decades of study with B.K.S. Iyengar, about the latest findings in neuroscience and yoga, about a conversation he had with his wife or daughter ~ he asks us to find a partner and summarize what he has said, taking turns for just a few minutes. Whoever goes second is not to repeat what the first person said but must fill in the blanks, adding anything that was left out.

Matthew Sanford, an Iyengar teacher, is also a great storyteller and encourages his students, many of whom are yoga teachers and health-care professionals, to mine their lives for their own stories. “Wake up and see your story,” he has said. “Come home to yourself so you can help others do the same.”

Sidebar: Many of the Mind Body Solutions students in the Minneapolis area share their stories during teacher trainings at the studio and volunteer to be students in our training classes. You can read more about them in their own words in the Adapt This blog here.

In a recent public forum filmed for Twin Cities Public Television, Matthew and fellow panelist Kevin Kling talked about the power of stories as healing tools. “People don’t recognize their own stories,” Matthew said. Part of the goal of that discussion and of his work, he said, is to encourage folks to “think about your life in terms of a narrative.”


“You have to know your own story to serve others,” Matthew said during the forum. “If you don’t know your own story you’ll get consumed. You’ll get eaten up by the wind by giving yourself away. The need for your own story and your own narrative is a boundary, and the world needs you to know your story, because it needs you.”

Matthew also frequently talks about the power of being a good listener, which, for a yoga teacher, is as important a skill as seeing bodies and tuning in to what is not seen or heard. Absence can be a profound presence ~ anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one or a loss of any kind knows this (which, eventually, is all of us). “How do you sit in the presence of suffering without trying to fix or be consumed by it?” Matthew often asks. “Do you know how to support someone else’s silence? To sit and listen someone into speech?” He attributes the idea in that last line to Parker Palmer, who attributes the idea to theologian Nelle Morton, who once wrote of “hearing human beings to speech.”

Sidebar: Do you see the lineage with attribution, which is also a key aspect of yoga traditions? That’s another great thing about great words and stories: The respected and timeless ones never die.

Receiving stories is an act of grace, the kind of grace that Matthew talks about being open to in yoga poses. The practice is to pay attention to what’s going on in your body, so that when alignment or inspiration or a bolt of truth or an authentic connection occurs, you have the grace to land it. So why tell stories? As Matthew said during the forum (which is also available in audio format here), healing stories can forge compassion and underscore our shared humanity. But “every story needs a listener,” he said.

“A good story is when the reader or the audience recognizes their struggle in your struggle. So you tell a story not for catharsis for yourself, not to brag, not to boast, but to offer an invitation for another person to participate.” In the way that a skilled yoga teacher helps people along their own paths ~ not the teacher’s path ~ “a good listener helps people recognize their own stories.”


Writing can of course be incredibly cathartic, therapeutic and healing in the privacy of one’s own head and heart or a journal, but sharing a story publicly requires crossing what can be a deep and wide crevasse. There should be a point and an illustration of a transformation. The decision to share is entirely personal and requires careful word choice and discernment. In either case, the exploration requires a great deal of often difficult svadhyaya, the yogic principle of self-study.

As a journalist, I have read thousands and thousands of stories over the years, many inspirational, many more horrific. As a copy editor, I have helped to shepherd stories about other people, crafted by other people, into light. I was paid to be a neutral witness for a long time, ensuring that the questions of What-Who-Why-Where-How-When were answered fairly and accurately, but I couldn’t help but ingest the content of what I was reading. Over time, it became harder and harder to metabolize the horrific parts, to borrow a concept expressed by Eve Ensler. Yoga is helping me delve into my own stories, and my time studying with Matthew and Aadil has been invaluable in supporting me in that work.

The body receives and creates, holds and tells stories. It remembers everything that ever happens to it, the good and the bad, even if we think the mind does not. Some stories fester, get stuck and hold us back, causing dis-ease. These are the ones that especially need to be stretched, expanded and released ~ owned, as Anne Lamott says: We own everything that ever happens to us. By rewiring ourselves through unraveling such stories, it’s possible to begin to heal a fractured mind-body connection.

But here’s the thing, a big thing: It’s one thing to identify and study your own stories; it’s another to get stuck in them, to stay in the same grooves or yogic samskaras and remain in perhaps unnecessary agony (See: “Groundhog Day“). Years ago I took a workshop with senior Iyengar teacher Manouso Manos, who was suffering with chronic back and hip pain. He was trying to cope and heal himself to avoid surgery. In so many words, he said, according to my notes, “So I’m the guy with the bad back. That’s my story.” But don’t get attached to your own stories, he said. “Watch to see how upset you get about things. Change your perspective. Every day we practice is an experiment, and some days are failed experiments. Keep mining the little kid in you as you grow older and resistant to change.”

Yoga provides a toolbox for not just identifying your stories but changing them. I’m still figuring out how to do that for myself, how to get my right sacroiliac joint and left trapezius out of their seriously irritating and soul-sucking co-dependent relationship. Many of us are drawn to yoga first as a way to experience the outer body, the physical self. I certainly was. But over time, if you are paying attention, your body starts to tell you stories. Your quadriceps and hamstrings might talk to each other. Your neck might scream at you. Your lower back might ache. You might notice areas that are dull and lifeless, areas that lack intelligence, as Iyengar teachers would say. On the plus side, your upper chest might blossom. Your heart might crack wide open. It’s a process not so much of learning but unlearning, of uncoiling stories that might not even be true anymore, if they ever were. Matthew’s mission and that of his nonprofit is to transform trauma, loss and disability into hope and potential. That has universal application, and yoga is one way to explore that level of healing. Sharing stories is one of yoga’s many tools.

Sidebar: To learn more about Matthew’s story and why he is working toward “a health-care system where it didn’t take me 12 years to reconnect my mind to my body,” watch this five-minute video.

Some stories surface immediately through blunt triggers. Others take time to excavate. The oldest and deepest ones often require silence and space, a retreat from noise and our data-overloaded world. The second of Patanjali’s yoga sutras is an invitation to this journey: Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. But there are 194 sutras after that! Part of the practice involves tuning in to your own silence, a subject that Matthew talks about with poetic artistry in his memoir. By allowing ourselves to sit in quietude from time to time with our silence, our stories can bubble up in the pauses ~ the gaps between breaths, between heartbeats. (Although I often find that they bubble up while I’m doing dishes, walking around a lake, driving or lying awake at 4 a.m., wondering what I’m going to teach that day.) Yoga is in large part the art of paying attention. In my experience, this journey inward ~ even if it begins by studying your legs in supta padangusthasana ~ unavoidably requires listening to the heart. That is where the mind-body connection is ultimately healed. It is where we often really need to get unstuck, where the silence can sing. As Matthew once said, “Trust what you feel in your body. Don’t be afraid of your heart.”

I really don’t know where my teaching will lead me, or how much of my story I will continue to share. But I know that I must continue to keep digging for it and moving forward so that I can help others do the same.

 “Concentrate in the heart. Enter into it; go within and deep and far, as far as you can. Gather all the strings of your consciousness that are spread abroad, roll them up and take a plunge and sink down. A fire is burning there, in the deep quietude of the heart. It is the divinity in you — your true being. Hear its voice, follow its dictates.” ~ The Mother of Sri Aurobindo’s ashram



“Lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice … ”

My husband and I saw Fleetwood Mac in concert on Saturday. We’d never seen them before, and, truth be told, they probably aren’t on my list of my Top 5 All-Time Favorite Bands (no offense). But I figured they’d put on a great show, and I’ve enjoyed many of their songs well enough, so we got tickets for the Charlotte concert. The band is on a sort of reunion tour, since Christine McVie decided to rejoin them after doing her own thing for 16 years.

They didn’t disappoint. It is a glorious thing to see artists (or anyone) in their element ~ to watch people who are apparently aligned with what they were put on this Earth to do, and loving it. Living their dharma, in the yogic sense. Cynics would say that Bands of a Certain Age often reunite simply for money, but that’s another story ~ and I doubt it’s the story of the 2015 version of Fleetwood Mac. They didn’t have an opening act and played ~ intensely ~ for nearly three hours. As Stevie Nicks said, the show on Saturday was the 62nd of this tour. It’s hard to fake committed artistry 62 times (and counting), never mind for 40 years.

With four decades of well-documented up-and-down history, the band has plenty of stories, and Stevie Nicks shared several on Saturday night. One had to do with the genesis of the song “Gypsy.” A YouTube and Google search shows that she has told versions of this story many times, including to Entertainment Weekly in 2009, but here’s the essence of the one she told in Charlotte:

In the mid-1960s, when she was a young and parent-subsidized college student in California, she became romantically and musically involved with Lindsey Buckingham. Their band accelerated quickly, opening for some of the biggest acts of the day ~ Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Santana. Stevie said she’d heard about this great store in San Francisco where the big rock stars shopped called the Velvet Underground. She saved up money she was making in the band and made a pilgrimage.

Once she arrived, she realized she couldn’t afford a single thread. But she had a Moment: Standing on the floor in the store, she realized that she might have been in the very spot where Janis Joplin had stood. Or Grace Slick. Or Joni Mitchell. Or any of her female idols.

“I don’t really know what happened in there,” she told the Charlotte crowd, “but I was a different woman after that.” She knew that her fate as an artist was sealed.

Vintage poster for the Velvet Underground shop in San Francisco.

I love that she let go of her quest for shiny hippie objects and absorbed the energy of the lineage around her. (Of course, some folks in that lineage met some pretty horrible ends, but these were the earlier, halcyon days.) When she wrote “Gypsy” about a decade later in the fully formed Fleetwood Mac, she was looking back on those more innocent, budding-artist days.

Her point on Saturday: When you realize you are standing on your path, don’t let anyone try to pull you off it. If you have a dream and believe in it, don’t let anybody stand in your way. If you don’t stick with it, she said, you’ll regret it.

My takeaway: Hold on to your own Velvet Underground moments. Have the grace to land those flashes of lightning and follow them, with gratitude and joy. Put yourself on your own path.

[Sidebar, true story: I was a fan of the band the Velvet Underground in college, because it seemed compulsory, and I liked the Andy Warhol banana album cover. During one of my fall breaks, I made a pilgrimage to the punk mecca shop Commander Salamander in Georgetown. Bought a T-shirt. Did not become a rock star.]


So I’m back to the velvet underground
Back to the floor that I love
To a room with some lace and paper flowers
Back to the gypsy that I was, to the gypsy that I was

And it all comes down to you, well, you know that it does
Well, lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice
Ah, and it lights up the night
And you see your gypsy, you see your gypsy

To the gypsy that remains faces freedom with a little fear
I have no fear, I have only love
And if I was a child and the child was enough
Enough for me to love, enough to love

She is dancing away from me now
She was just a wish, she was just a wish
And a memory is all that is left for you now
You see your gypsy, you see your gypsy

Lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice
And it all comes down to you and it all comes down to you
Lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice
And it all comes down to you

I still see your bright eyes, bright eyes
And it all comes down to you
I still see your bright eyes, bright eyes
And it all comes down to you

I still see your bright eyes, bright eyes
(She was just a wish, she was just a wish)
And it all comes down to you
Lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice
And it all comes down to you

Thank you, B.K.S. Iyengar

A gratitude map:

Thank you, Jane Barrett, for firmly grounding me in detailed alignment and for giving me an early teaching nest.

Thank you, Jan Campbell, for your cheerfulness and eureka! instructions in urdhva hastasana.

Thank you, Rodney Yee, for your mystical exploration of padmasana.

Thank you, Erich Schiffmann, for a groovy partner foot adjustment in ustrasana, for hosting my first adult attempt at a handstand, and for the invitation to cultivate interest with passionate calm.

Thank you, Roger Cole, for cradling and adjusting my neck in utthita trikonasana.

Thank you, Cindy Dollar, for the rolled-up mat behind the knees and under the feet in virasana and for being so welcoming when I randomly drop in to your studio.

Thank you, Julie Gudmestad, for your humor, unhurried instruction and fun tricks with shoulder straps.

Thank you, Bryan Legere, for the Great Yoga Wall and your love of the sutras.

Thank you, Manouso Manos, for your five layers of instructions for lower-back therapeutics in a chair version of ardha chandrasana.

Thank you, Ray Long, for an introduction to the popliteus muscle and for your willingness to explain why it’s worth going deeper.

Thank you, John Schumacher and Unity Woods teachers, for sharing your collective decades of wisdom and reverence for your beloved Guruji.

Thank you, Kim Weeks, for cittavrtti nirodhah on Day One and for holding the spaces for my first 200-hour training.

Thank you, Kristen Krash, for your spunky dedication and for telling us to move our skin.

Thank you, Liana Brooks-Rubin, for your warm kindness and encouragement.

Thank you, Lois Steinberg, for your frequent laughter and engaged and engaging presence.

Thank you, Patricia Walden, for your crisp and joyful guidance in standing poses.

Thank you, Joan White, for having eyes in the back of your head and seeing my wonky hip in upavishta konasana from 50 feet away in a crowded room.

Thank you, Bobby Goldin, for suggesting that I take your teacher training course, for your book about perky groins and jokes about jewels, for Raleigh and Sanibel, for bhramari, for helping me find a non-bug-eyed setup for salamba sarvangasana, and for telling me to just keep doing what I’m doing.

Thank you, Aadil Palkhivala, for sharing your three decades of study with Mr. Iyengar and for developing and transmitting Purna Yoga. Thank you, Catharine Eberhart and Bob Maiers, for growing Purna Yoga in North Carolina.

Thank you, Matthew Sanford, for sharing your huge heart, your embracing wingspan, your self and your stories, and for adapting Mr. Iyengar’s teachings in a transcendent, transformational way. You have seismically changed my life.

♥ ♥ ♥

bksiyengarThese are some of the clearest moments and feelings I cherish from years of studying with people close to the teachings B.K.S. Iyengar, who died August 20, 2014. Yoga can be a lonely and isolating pursuit ~ but of course, it is meant to be shared. Yoga is an endeavor that connects us and shows us that we are already connected. Thank you to all of my teachers for sharing and connecting many dots for me. In doing so, they embody, honor and sustain an indelible lineage.

♥ ♥ ♥

That time I met B.K.S. Iyengar … 






14 Words for Love

Little morsels I wrote (and am still writing) for a brilliant poetry project created by Jodi Barnes at Fun for Valentine’s Day, and the other 364.

Through an open window,
I exhale my stories.
You catch them,
the curtains sigh.

The gift of your embrace,
folding me into
the sanctuary
of your velvet shadows.

I don’t want
to just fall in.
I want to be caught,
held forever.

It is always Now —
every second a cusp
of goodbye,
the beginning
of unbecoming.

Spring shoots us with possibility.
Leaves lick the sky ~
so many flavors of green.

Words reach out
like hands
hugging my heart.
Our shared language
of sustainable losses.

Her cupped hands
cradle hearts
with a butterfly’s grace ~
steward of words with wings.

Later I learned
where you’d gone.
You’d found your passion ~
it just wasn’t me.

I’ve devoured Barcelona
licked Rome
kissed Paris ~
yet I’ll always be hungry
for you.

Not on yellow bricks
but hills slick
with panic ~
many pilgrims, one path:

Diamonds collecting dust,
Chanel turning acrid ~
Wear them.
each day,
a special occasion.

my bleached bones buried deep,
my dreaming marrow stirs
under your vermilion kiss.

Rose sea ~
red, yellow, orange ~
waves of frangipani, honeysuckle, gardenia ~
you, every sweet petal.

Your smile ~
dawn sun mirrored off the barn’s tin door ~
outshines the shadowed eaves.

Like walking across Spain ~
strictly forward ~
with less ~
when you have all you need.

From farthest arteries you resurface,
tourniquet around my heart.
The bind that unties me.

She collects him from preschool,
face bright as night on the Fourth of July.

Crystal goblet clatters to the floor.
Into how many pieces can the heart shatter?

I digest Lucille Clifton while stirring oatmeal for two.
Attention split, the poems burn.

Scarlet berries bleed against the snow.
The course of passion streams hot and cold.

A true test:
She reaches for the horse’s muzzle.
He nods in velvety assent.

“The Mikado,” 1993.
We met in the wings,
a quiet play outside the play.

Inadequate alphabet:
Twenty-six letters,
yet none can spell
what you are to me.

Saffron beads of pollen coat the tulip bowl.
I nose in, voyeur to life.

This close:
You note yellow flecks
in my blue irises,
seeing what I cannot.

Even when we’re apart
you’re with me,
I wear from my insides out.

From snails to stars,
every grain of sand to Mars,
you are my universe.

I wake up
with the answer
to every question
you’ll ever ask me:

See the sky in you, she said,
not the clouds: clear, infinite, divine, whole.

Not middle C or a major key ~
the grace notes, the silences in between.

Sunny Saturday, Bob Marley knocks from within.
I open my throat, belt him out.

“Apaga si quieres tu luz.”
My Spanish teacher’s lesson,
Tagore inked on a napkin.

In us, a room of Rothkos.
Endless reds, the feverish work of a lifetime.

Bécquer whispered your gift to me,
una perdida estrella.
I never felt so found.

Still a child herself:
“I’m getting a puppy tomorrow!”
One angel to receive another.

I know you’re a hot stove,
know I’ll get burned.
I lean in anyway.

I chase your image,
stealing light and time.
Failing, I shoot at the sun.

I’ll sit with your suffering,
try not to fix it.
I, broken; you, whole.

Light floods the path I
Often turn away from.
Voracious need
Entwines me still.

Birds peck for leftovers on the snowy deck.
Before eggs, he fills the feeder.

Him: Let’s see the world together.
Me: Fine, because wherever you are is home.

My rock, my cushion:
He’s always there for me,
even when I’m not looking.

I whimper for dessert.
With flour, eggs, milk,
he wraps me in sweetness.

Newlywed decisions:
Expanded lives, aquarium store.
“What kind of fish?”
My prince: “Happy fish.”

Sealed, stamped:
Her card, inky swirls of
“dearest,” “friendship,” “gratitude.”
Held close from afar.

Our “I do”:
Sealed not with a band, a spiral:
You twist, I turn.

Neighbor’s garage-door banner:
“You’re The Man
Family hero.

With a surgeon’s finesse,
you scale the fish.
it is I who am deboned.

The six tastes ~
sweet sour salty bitter pungent astringent ~
our geography on my tongue.

In the folds of my ventricles and atria,
You: pulsing in a hidden chamber.

A bee will drink from any flower,
too busy to grieve the sweet forever.

Heal my wounds, I said.
No, he said: The light makes your scars shine.

My soul likes to wander.
When I can’t find it, I look for you.

Open secret:
Each of us thinks
the other one
is getting the better deal.

The piece of chocolate cake you brought me,
the one I never asked for.

the middle of my seesaw,
hold me steady while I soar and sink.

As innocent as a sunrise,
my nephew asks:
What did you dream last night?

That time I met B.K.S. Iyengar …

Happy 95th birthday to B.K.S. Iyengar, born Dec. 14, 1918, in Bellur, India.

I met B.K.S. Iyengar in October 2005. “Met” might be a stretch, although I did stand in front of him for a few seconds, and I’m pretty sure he touched my forehead.

B.K.S. Iyengar, the "lion of Pune."

B.K.S. Iyengar, the “lion of Pune.”

My brush with yoga greatness occurred at a Barnes & Noble in downtown Washington, D.C., just a few blocks from the arena where I would see U2 a few hours later. (Sorry, Bono, but B.K.S. was ~ and still is ~ the bigger rock star.) I lived near Raleigh at the time. I was in D.C. not only for the concert but also for final interviews for a copy-editing job with the Washington Post, which I would later be offered and accept. Mr. Iyengar was touring the United States and making an appearance at the store in conjunction with the release of his book “Light on Life,” so I went and stood in line with others of my tribe, some of whom I recognized from other workshops, even my own home state. (For a WaPo article on Mr. Iyengar’s appearance, click here.)

Ground to extend.

The several dozen of us who had gathered well ahead of the appointed hour, in typical D.C.~Type A~Iyengar fashion, quietly and calmly formed a line that went around the block and up a slight hill outside the bookstore. It was a crisp and clear afternoon, and we were on the shady side of the building. We had to get a (free) ticket to stand in line to be able to meet and greet Mr. Iyengar, although he had already signed a bunch of books ahead of time. In typical Iyengar fashion, this made efficient and businesslike sense, although it created a somewhat awkward situation. Since he wouldn’t be signing each book individually, how could we fawn without that built-in ritual? With what would we prostrate ourselves?

As the line began to move, we snaked our way inside the warm store. Mr. Iyengar, then 86, was sitting in a chair off to the left as we came in, near the children’s section. As best I remember, he was wearing a flowing, linen-like ivory outfit. His silver hair draped down to his shoulders, and his bristly salt-and-pepper eyebrows poked out every which way. To his right stood John Schumacher, his local host, longtime student, hugely influential teacher in his own right and owner of the Unity Woods studio where I would take classes and workshops after moving to the area. (To read a Yoga Journal interview that John did with B.K.S., click here.)

Root to rise.

When it was my turn, I walked into the clearing around B.K.S. and John as if to kneel for Communion. I approached Mr. Iyengar and mumbled something incomprehensible that was meant to sound like “Thank you for being such an inspiration.” I think I might have actually chirped. I smiled at him, and he smiled back, very broadly, with his whole face. He rubbed the center of my forehead with his thumb, like a priest marking me on Ash Wednesday, or perhaps as if to give me a Hindu bindi dot. We had a moment, or at least I did. I felt a surge, a warmth, as if I’d received his blessing ~ but for what, I didn’t know. And then it was over. I exited stage right to make way for the next devotee and to buy my signed book. On to U2’s “Vertigo” show, with “Light on Life” in my hands.

That’s how I remember coming face to face with Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar, the man credited with bringing yoga to the Western world five decades ago.

I’ve never taken a class with B.K.S., but over the years I have studied with many senior Iyengar teachers, several of whom earned their certifications in the early 1970s. Many continue to make pilgrimages to his thriving institute in Pune (which has a waiting list for students) and bring back the latest teachings from the oracle and his family (Mr. Iyengar’s children and grandchildren are also teachers). Such is his global influence that a documentary film about him is in the works, and there is a movement to nominate him for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Becoming Iyengar-certified is anything but trivial: It takes years of study and mastery of a hierarchical assessment process, a system that is both prohibitive and excellent. According to the Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States, there are just seven Iyengar-certified teachers in North Carolina. SEVEN.

I have no intention of going down that rigorous path, but I implicitly have a baseline of trust in any Iyengar-certified teacher. Mr. Iyengar’s individualized and inherently therapeutic approach to the ancient art of yoga (some of which is not so ancient) is the bedrock of my practice and teachings and always will be. And if you have ever used a block, a strap or even a wall in a yoga class, you have Mr. Iyengar to thank. The attention to detail, to alignment, to paying attention simply to what is happening ~ that is what yoga is all about: yoking, uniting.

Press down to go up.

Iyengar yoga has been hugely influential for me as a student and teacher, although I have taken classes in many other styles. Starting in January 2014, I will be continuing my unofficial doctoral studies in yoga with a 200-hour teacher training at Purna Yoga East, a sweet studio in Clayton, N.C., where I have been fortunate to teach for the past year.

Aadil Palkhivala

Aadil Palkhivala

Purna Yoga is the tradition of Aadil Palkhivala, who began studying with Mr. Iyengar at the age of 7 and continued to do so for three decades. Aadil still clearly honors B.K.S. in his asana instruction, and he credits Mr. Iyengar for his very existence. In his book “Fire of Love,” Aadil writes:

“His powerful and authoritative teaching, balanced by his compassionate caring when I had crippling spinal injuries, taught me that love has many forms. With his teaching, he laid not only the foundation for the physical aspect of Purna Yoga, but also the physical foundation of me! His guidance enabled my parents to conceive after seven years of unsuccessful attempts. … Yoga gave me life, and I am blessed to be able to pass on this gift.”

I am grateful to be able to continue studying the endlessly educational practice that is yoga and to have found a style that incorporates but also expands on the revolutionary approach that Mr. Iyengar developed. The Sanskrit word “purna” means complete or whole, and the method is based on the integral yoga taught by Sri Aurobindo. As Aadil says, by incorporating instruction in asana/anatomy/pranayama, meditation, applied philosophy and nutrition (and poetry!!! yes, poetry!!!), Purna Yoga is designed partly to help students “surrender the intellectual and analytical abilities of their brain to the inner quest that takes place in the heart.”

I’ve studied with Aadil twice and am excited that one of our TT weekends will be a workshop with him at Purna Yoga East. He is magical teacher, a savant in many fields, and genuinely hilarious. On his center’s Web site, this is how he describes his approach:

“Through disciplined exploration of the mind-body connection, heart-centered meditation and a focus on abundant living, Purna Yoga students magnify the power of yoga in their lives and achieve more of the life-changing benefits that they are seeking.”

(Plus, in workshops he quotes Wordsworth and any number of other poets. I mean, how can I NOT study more of this stuff?!)

The lineage ~ so important, so crucial to understand and respect in any classical tradition ~ is essentially this: from Sri T. Krishnamacharya to B.K.S. Iyengar to Aadil Palkhivala to Catharine Eberhart and Bob Maiers and the community at Purna Yoga East. I’m excited to delve more deeply into the parts of yoga that have nothing to do (yet everything to do) with what happens on a mat and to learn how to share them. As Aadil says, “Yoga helps us discover our life purpose and then grow into it. The more comprehensive our approach, the more we can heal and grow.”

Can’t wait.