The first few years of parenthood, “falling back” felt like a cruel joke. I commiserated, red-eyed, with comrades whose children also rose perkily with the dawn while the rest of the world luxuriated in an extra hour of sleep. When other parents would tell me their little angels slept until 8:30 a.m. the morning our clocks fell back, I seethed, invisible smoke steaming out of my ears.
But this year, something has changed. Not in his waking time, but in me and my attempt to find a way to live with it.
I’ve been a yoga teacher for a decade and practiced Buddhist meditation and vinyasa yoga for 20 years. Sure, after all those sweaty hours in the studio, my body is strong and flexible, and that’s nice. But in potentially frustrating day-to-day moments like this — exhausted and resentful as I roll over to see the clock flashing 4:45 a.m. — yoga and meditation have taught me several immeasurable lessons.
In my early 20s, I dated a man who, when asked whether he believed in God, said: ‘I believe in me.’ He was a good, kind, smart man; the type who grew herbs on his windowsill and played trombone in a jazz band and coached a kids’ soccer team. Total marriage material. But I knew in that instant it would never work between us.
I am a person of deep faith: a preacher’s kid, a yoga teacher, and a meditation geek with a master’s degree in systematic theology. I’ve spent my whole life belly-deep in the spiritual world. So raising a tiny person of faith shouldn’t be so hard.
But, dammit; it is.
I don’t know what to do about church for my kid. Studies show I’m not alone. Youth are fleeing the organized church in droves. Millennials are increasingly raising their children as “nones.” Self-identified atheism has doubled among Generation Z. And mainline Protestant denominations are famously flailing.
Spiritual trauma and toxic theology run rampant. Between the United Methodist Church’s recent upholding of the ban on same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ ministers, the Catholic Church’s ongoing revelations of pedophilia horror, and the Southern Baptists’ February unveiling of vast child abuse, why would any reasonably progressive parent choose to send their child (alone!) into a church basement?
There’s no question that I want to raise my son with a deep spiritual practice and a reverence for mystery. But where to find a religious upbringing he doesn’t have to unlearn?
Change is the one constant of life as a yoga teacher. Very few of us teach in the same place throughout the duration of our careers. In any given year we may teach for local schools, nonprofits, corporate offices, gyms, and in several different studios.
One of the best things we can do for ourselves as teachers is to maintain graceful relationships with students as well as with the people who employ us. Operating with respect, truthfulness, and candor sets us up for success and allows us to honor the yogic ethics that are the foundation of our work.
Think about it this way:
In every yoga pose, there’s a creation, preservation, and a dissolution. Take bow pose (dhanurasana), for instance: You set it up, mindfully preparing the breath and the body; you hold the full expression for five breaths; and then, finally, you dissolve it, resting on your belly when the pose is complete. Ideally, every step of the process will be just as mindful and intentional as “being in the pose” itself.
A teaching relationship with a yoga studio is no different. You want your entrance and exit to be just as conscious and elegant as the classes you offer while you’re there.
Most of us don’t come to the mat because life is peachy. We’re drawn to yoga because of an ache in our hearts or our bones, or a mind that won’t quite stop racing. We come and just practice staying; staying and not reacting, staying and realizing the chaos is not us, staying and realizing we are clear blue sky.
(As Pema Chodron says: Everything else is just the weather.)
It was suffering that brought me to the mat and kept me there, too.
It’s 2002. I am 23, standing at a payphone on the beach in Malaga, Spain when I get the call that will change my life forever.
February 22: George Washington’s birthday. Drew Barrymore’s birthday. And mine.
My phone pinged with Facebook notifications as I stood over the hospital trash bin and retched. Three times I emptied my stomach of the apples and peanut butter my husband had lovingly sliced a few hours before. Once into the trash can. Again. And then again into the birthing tub laced with lavender essential oils.
Fiercely feminist, I’d always been ambivalent about having children. I’d watched my peers spawn with nary a twinge of jealousy, content with my books and my yoga. I told myself, “If it happens: great. If it doesn’t: great.”
On our first date, I teased my future husband, Robb, that I’d likely go the way of Sylvia Plath, making the kids sandwiches and sticking my head in the oven.
Six months later, drinking champagne on a pier overlooking Tomales Bay, we were engaged.
A year later, I was pregnant. Robb promised parenthood would make me a better yoga teacher. I rolled my eyes and took a swig of my chai, wishing it were vodka. He was right. Motherhood has made me a much better yoga teacher.
Every December folks roll into my yoga class ready to sweat out all the canapes and martinis they half-drunkenly inhaled the night before. Sometimes they’re wearing six layers of clothing in a 99-degree room so as to “detox” all the pinot and the feta and the gingerbread, armed with liters of coconut water and a couple of big towels for mopping up the evidence.
This always makes me a little bit sad.
I mean, I totally get it. I remember countless hazy, hungover twentysomething mornings spent rolling into Bikram classes feeling like I needed to do the same thing. Too many yoga practices that felt like atonement for the night (or the week) before.
A decade later, as a heated vinyasa teacher myself, I cringe to think that my class could ever be complicit in my students’ self-abasement.
So here I am to remind you: hot yoga is not a punishment.
I don’t know a single woman who’s never been sexually harassed, or worse. “Me too,” of course. Duh.
It is a part of growing up female.
You learn to clench your jaw and walk faster and stare straight ahead and just get away as quickly as you can, before the cat-caller or the construction worker or the guy following you can catch up.
And it’s as endemic to the yoga world as it is to the film world, or the political world, or the finance world.
When I teach the history of yoga, in particular the evolution of yoga in the 20th century, it’s a history of sexual predators. (Overwhelmingly) male gurus who employed their social capital for sex, manipulation, emotional abuse, you name it.
The last time I taught it, as I flipped through slide after slide of influential contemporary teachers, Pattabhi Jois and John Friend and Bikram and others whose abuses of power are still less public-knowledge (for now), the students just shook their heads in disbelief.
(“Him, too?” “Yeah, he’s in trouble for sex scandals, too. Next slide. Oh yes, him, too.”).
How do you have a conversation about “enoughness” in a city that is constantly hustling to create the latest million-dollar app?
San Francisco-based Buddhist choreographer Claudia Anata Hubiak’s latest work, Point of Dissolve, contemplates the tension between effort and ease and counters the idea that working harder leads to greater self-worth.
Hubiak’s dance company, The Anata Project, is a hybrid of Buddhist principles and contemporary movement arts, rooted in mindfulness, groundlessness, and embodiment.
At her company’s core is the concept of anatta, a Pali word that translates as not-self or egolessness. It also happens to be Hubiak’s middle name, given to her by the renowned Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, whom her parents studied with.
Point of Dissolve “addresses the cultivation of joy within a continuum of effort and ease,” examining the existential question of what it means to be “good enough,” to relax into what is without constantly striving.
Yoga is often defined as the union of sun and moon elements, a balance between opposites in a marriage of seemingly disparate realities. A yoga practice can bring stillness and sanctuary to scattered urban lives, bridging the gap between cosmopolitan and rural, modern and traditional. Kitchen crafts like making jam can be another way of bringing together what has been separated, honoring natural cycles in the preservation of a season, and reconnecting you with your food through the work of your own hands.
Activities like canning and pickling encourage living simply and sustainably, finding a balance between excess and adequacy. They can be a reminder to practice aparigraha (nongrasping) by encouraging an appreciation for the seasons and a bittersweet respect for the coming and going, the growing and dying, the blooming and fading that are part of being alive in the world. Just as yoga encourages us to pay attention, so urban homesteading teaches us to see the resources that surround us with new eyes.