Inner Turbulence

On a recent airplane flight I was seated next to an impeccably dressed woman. She wore high-heeled shoes, elegant jewelry, expertly applied make-up and was well coifed. After I sat down, I said, “Hello, How are you?” I know many people don’t like to talk with their seatmates but I think it’s important to acknowledge the existence of a human being with whom I will be sitting in close proximity for a few hours. She glanced at me quickly, barely nodded and then turned back to her iPhone. I immediately felt a frosty tension and remained quiet the rest of the flight.

I was feeling rather disheveled that day. I was wearing a bright pink sweater, had unkempt hair and was sporting my favorite—but not too fashionable—purple zero-drop sneakers with an extra wide toe box. My bag under the seat was large and lumpy. I felt like I was spilling out all over the place. Her cool glance unleashed an old visceral feeling — I felt that I was being judged for my appearance. Something was wrong with me.

I hadn’t felt that way in decades. As the plane climbed to its altitude I observed myself. Why did this feeling resurface so strongly? After a few more minutes, I took a quick look at my seatmate. I noticed that she was sitting rigid in her chair, her jaw was tightly clenched and she was narrowing her eyes.

Tension is a protective mechanism. It is our brain’s reaction to feeling under threat. When we feel threatened, we either run away or constrict and close down in order to protect ourselves. When something is obviously dangerous, a flight or fight reaction does not take us by surprise; if the plane starts shaking mid-air many of us will tightly grip the seat. However, our unconscious mind can also feel threatened by more subtle cues. When we are in the presence of someone who is tense, we may feel vulnerable. Unbeknownst to our conscious mind, our unconscious experiences a warning sign that something isn’t safe. At this moment, old fears and insecurities may reappear.

As I still had a number of hours on the flight, I felt relieved that I had figured this out. My knowledge of the brain helped me recognize that feeling vulnerable and judged was an unconscious response to my seatmate’s pre-existing level of tension. As a teenager growing up in Minnesota I had felt self-conscious about the shape of my body, especially among my Scandinavian friends. I always felt that my body was expanding beyond acceptable boundaries. At that time, I did not have any inkling of how much advertising and other messages affected my sense of self.

When I sat next to this woman on the plane, this old feeling resurfaced because my unconscious mind read the signals wrong and responded to her level of tension by connecting to old neural pathways. She was not judging my disheveled appearance. It wasn’t about me. She carried tension for reasons I did not know.

With this understanding, I felt empathy for my temporary traveling companion. She had clearly wanted to be left alone. Instead of continuing my ruminations, I chose to relax, enjoy the warmth of my cozy sweater and take in the view.

A Well-Intentioned Intrusion

I was recently walking on the Mahana Ridge Trail, a beautiful windy path in Northwest Maui. About a quarter-mile down the trail I saw a family with a young child who was being carried backpack style by the mom. As I’m interested in how people carry their children, I looked a little closer and noticed that the child’s legs were splayed in an extreme external rotation, and the backpack pushed his legs against his mom’s back so that they were immobilized. He looked like a flattened frog. It was clear to me that this was not a good position for a child—or anyone—to be in for anything other than a very short period of time.

I don’t want to write much right now about the biomechanics of the child’s position. For now, I’ll say that it’s not good for a child to be stuck in an extreme and rigid position. Instead, I would like to share with you more about my reaction. I didn’t want to be an intrusive stranger and tell this young family what to do. At the same time, I had been thinking a lot about hip health as I was hiking with my friend who’s mom had just broken her hip two days earlier when she tripped over an electrical cord.

It’s not uncommon for me to see people with habits of movement that I think don’t serve them well. Usually I say nothing. Once in a while I offer a suggestion but this is usually in an environment where I can be certain that the person would appreciate my help.

In this situation, I was less sure. Parents often receive unsolicited advice from others about the best way to take care of their children and I did not want to be intrusive. However, as I continued walking I could not get the image of the young boys smushed legs and immobilized pelvis out of my mind.

We were hiking much faster than they were and quickly lost sight of them. But as I charged up the trail, my head was full of bouncing thoughts. Would it be helpful to tell them something? Would they find me obnoxious and get angry? Would saying something make a difference in this child’s life? How many other people are using what they think are good tools — myself included — without knowing that they are actually causing harm? Was I just afraid of angering or annoying someone? How much is it my responsibility to offer advice?

With my head still full of these ruminations, it was time to turn back. A few minutes later the family came back into our line of vision and I decided to say something.

I received a mixed response. The parents thanked me for my concern but then became defensive. They wanted to be seen as good parents and began to tell me how they have a much better backpack at home that they didn’t bring with them to Hawaii. I quickly realized that they probably did not want to hear my opinion that even high-quality sturdy backpacks designed for kids limit their movement and just because something is advertised as having great ergonomics, doesn’t mean it’s great for a sustained period of time.

I walked away at first feeling a bit of shame. I had intruded on their beautiful hike. However, if I had not said anything I would have felt regret.

I experience shame as a devastating visceral feeling in the moment when it happens. Fortunately, that intensity passes. Regret, however, tends to linger on in my mind, sometimes for years. I’m glad I decided to take the risk and share my thoughts. I have no regrets and the shame has passed. In the past year, I have known many people who have had hip replacement surgery and I also know many people who have broken their hips. I guess this is my way of trying to “fix” something that I really have no control over.

I’ll never know the outcome of this particular situation. At worst the parents were temporarily annoyed, but perhaps I planted a seed. I do know that I will continue to encounter situations like this. My guess is that I will deal with each situation differently but eventually, just like I see patterns in movement, I’ll be able to see patterns in my approach as well as in people’s response to my well-intentioned intrusions.

Not All Walking Is The Same

Walking near a body of water on a warm day exhilarates me. I especially enjoy walking barefoot on grass or sand. I love breathing in the fresh air and feeling my ribs expand and contract.  I treasure the opportunity to gaze off into the horizon and challenge my eyes to look even further.

A few weeks ago, I went for a walk at Baby Beach in Northern Maui. On my way home I saw a sign at a gym advertising a yoga class. After being under the beautiful clear sky and imbibing the fresh open air I was feeling a great sense of vitality. I was excited about the possibility of trying a new class.

I took one step into the gym and my body immediately clenched into a protective mode. The expansiveness I had felt a moment before vanished as my eyes had to narrow to protect themselves from the harsh artificial light. My breath became shallow in response to the toxic scent of offgassing from the thick black mats. When I saw all the movement machines – treadmills, ellipticals and stairwalkers – I just wanted to run away as fast as possible. After stretching my legs on the beach, I couldn’t imagine choosing to put myself on a machine that would force me into a limited range of movement where I couldn’t look up at the sky or even stop to pick up a pebble.

After noting my visceral reaction, I decided that it was important to share my understanding of how walking on a treadmill is a very different experience than walking on stable ground. I understand that not everyone can go for a walk near a beautiful body of water. Not everyone has the option of going for a walk outside at all. I grew up in Minnesota and remember those days when it was so cold that it was dangerous to go outside. If one is living in a concrete jungle or there is a lot of outdoor pollution, I can understand why someone would stay indoors. However, I think it’s good to be informed and have an understanding of how all walking is not the same.

Here are a few simple examples:
To create a base-level healthy gait, one needs to extend one leg backwards and then push off with that foot to propel the leg forward. This pushing off creates a cascade effect throughout the entire body that optimally loads the joints and massages the spine. Treadmills eliminate this all-important movement and instead force us to throw the leg forward and then pull (rather than push-off) it backward in order to stay on the device. This constant flexion of the leg increases tension in the diaphragm and abdomen as well as tightens the front of the thighs all of which can lead to pelvic floor dysfunction.

This flexion of the leg also impacts arm movement.  In a healthy gait the backward swing of the arm happens automatically.  This tones the triceps, opens the chest and helps lymph to flow.  On a treadmill, the forward action becomes the driving movement.  This movement closes down the front of the chest much like our daily habits of keyboarding and driving.

Treadmills also have less visible effects.  As we walk, our brain expects the terrain to change.  When we continue to look at the same spot on a wall or stare at a screen, our brain becomes confused and experiences sensory mismatch; our visual and proprioceptive systems become out of sync with each other. For some this experience is subtle and may go unnoticed. For others it can cause dizziness, nausea and an overall feeling of discomfort.

Thinking back to my gym experience, I began to wonder: Even if someone did not know the disadvantages of treadmill walking why would they choose to put themself on a machine when it was gorgeous outside? In my quest to not be judgmental, I racked my brain for plausible explanations. Perhaps the treadmill walkers want the alone time or like the controlled temperature? Maybe they don’t want to have to think about where they are going or want to avoid waiting at traffic lights?

While there are a small number of people for whom these explanations are accurate, I think the true answer is more insidious. We have become accustomed to walking on machines because we have been told that’s what we are supposed to do. We are supposed to “get exercise.” We are supposed to measure our steps and our heart rate.  And then, if we get the right numbers, we’ll be healthy. It’s hard to think that a treadmill may not be an optimal choice for movement if that contradicts what we’ve been told. I used to walk on them too.

A few weeks after my experience at the gym I was sitting at home and feeling very antsy.  It has been pouring rain for over two weeks straight. I wanted to go for a long walk but was put off by the powerful wind that would blow water sideways onto my face and didn’t want to walk under the fluorescent lights in the mall. I realized that if I wanted to move, it was time to be creative. I found the most spacious indoor place available and cleared away all the furniture except for a table and chair. I spent the next 45 minutes walking around on a twisting path of my own making. As someone for whom movement is essential for my emotional well-being, I was ecstatic to have a new way to take care of myself. The cold and wet days of winter will never be the same.

Being Home

A few days ago, I celebrated Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year on the island of Maui. As I listened to the familiar words that were being chanted in synagogues around the world, my heart pined for the presence of my loved ones who are one or many oceans away.

The Rabbi’s 16 year-old son participated in the leadership of the service. This in itself was nothing unusual. It’s expected for a rabbi’s son to be well versed in Jewish liturgy. What was unusual is that the Rabbi’s son, having been born in Hawaii and also having indigenous Hawaiian roots on his mother’s side of the family, is as proficient in Hebrew as he is in Hawaiian pidgin. The rabbi himself was born in LA but comes from an old Jerusalem family. This year, the rabbi chose to visit his family in Israel and asked his Israeli-born nephew to serve as the cantorial soloist. As I listened to the ancient Hebrew words being sung by a native Hawaiian and an Israeli-born man of European and Middle Eastern heritage, the anthropologist in me reflected on the transnational nature of modern society and how identities that were once solely place-based have transitioned into something more ethereal. However, as the chanting of familiar tunes continued, this intellectual voice was soon subsumed by a larger, more powerful feeling that rumbled from within my chest: A feeling of “home.”

There are three places in the world where I have lived long enough to know the shortcuts through the side streets, the best places to look out onto the horizon and the gardens with the most fragrant the roses. I can call each of these places “home,” but doing so feels like an incomplete definition.

I used to think home was a place where I knew my way around, knew a lot of people and felt completely grounded, centered and complete. However, once I had travelled and lived in a number of places, I began to think of home as a state of being where I could feel these same sensations without being anchored in my concrete surroundings. But today, as the ancient words stirred my heart I had a different experience. I simultaneously felt a vibrant, unsettled yearning for people and places that were far away, and I felt at home.

A new definition of “home” is taking shape for me. It is no longer a static place. It’s also not a place where the fluctuations of the mind are calm or where everything is safe. Home has now come to mean a state of being where it’s ok to simultaneously feel longing and belonging, where memories flow through me with joy and sadness, where it’s safe to sit with heartwarming feelings as well as discomforting ones. Home has come to mean being present with the wholeness of my being while living in a uncertain, disjointed yet wonderous transnational world.

What are you going to be when you grow up?


Do you remember being asked the question, “What are you going to be when you grow up?”

I have noticed that many people are enamored by watching babies – little people who are far away from being ‘grown up.’ For babies, everything is new; sights, sounds, smells, touch. Babies continuously explore the things around them while experimenting with how their bodies can move. When we watch babies we get to partake in their curiosity and joy of continuous discovery in the present moment.

And then, a baby reaches an age when she is considered to be a child. Adults in her life begin to think about her long-term future. Invariably she is asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Up until now life had been a continuous exploration of new things but this question suggests an endpoint- a time when we are all done, all grown up; when we’ve got it all figured out. I wonder, how does asking this question or thinking this way, shape one’s sense of self? I know for me, it created a sense that at some point in time, I would be ‘grown up’ and would have it all figured out.

I think many of us bring this same attitude of being ‘grown up’ to how we live in and with our bodies. As babies and young children we run and play and explore in all sorts of directions. We don’t even really think about it. And then, we begin our steps towards being grown up. We wear shoes, we sit in chairs often, we wear restrictive clothes. Instead of enjoying our natural movement throughout the day, we schedule specific times for exercise and often choose movements or use machines that restrict our range of motion. In our quest to be ‘grown up,’ we unconsciously limit how we move and experience the world.

The cultural norms that prevail in the society that I, along with most of us who read this blog reside, encourage us to turn our bodies and our being into a product –something that looks a specific way and produces specific results. This time of year we are especially bombarded with these messages. We are supposed to buy products that will make us look a certain way and at the same time we must be productive so that we can reach an elusive endpoint that the smiling faces in the advertisements tell us is happiness.

But there is no endpoint – except perhaps death. Our bodies and our minds are continuously changing and I think these changes are endlessly fascinating. At different stages of life we have different abilities that we can continue to explore with delight and curiosity. We continually have the opportunity to grow and move in new ways.

There is a well-known dialogue in the biblical book of Exodus where two characters in the story – Elohim (God) and Moshe (Moses) – have an intense and direct conversation:

Moshe asks Elohim how he should answer when the Israelites ask what is Elohim’s name. Elohim replies, “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh.”

Most English renditions of the bible translate God’s reply as, “I am what I am.” However, verb tenses in Hebrew don’t always correlate directly to English and I think a more accurate translation is “I am becoming what I am becoming.”

I like to consider how life could be if we embrace the second translation.

One Large Ball of Twine. One Tiny Bite.


I was recently in the town of Darwin, Minnesota, which is world famous for having the largest ball of twine. The twine museum was closed that day and I discovered that I was not the only one disappointed by the lack of access to the twine. I heard a steady meowing sound, followed my ears and soon found a tiny black-and-white kitten. The kitten was clearly hungry and didn’t seem to a home, so I decided to take it upon myself to rescue it. I was in a hurry to pick up a friend from the airport so I did what I should not have done; I reached down and tried to pick up the cat. While the cat had been willing to stand a foot away from me while I chatted with him, he was not willing to be picked up by me and bit my hand.

It didn’t hurt much but it did break the skin. I spent the next hour trying to catch the kitten and after asking my waiting friend to bide her time by taking the light rail to the Mall of America.

I then decided upon new tactic. I tried to throw a blanket over the kitten but he was too quick. As it was Sunday afternoon in a small rural town, I couldn’t locate a box. Finally, I left and went to pick up my friend.

I felt bad about leaving the kitten. With regard to the bite, I wanted to forget about it. I thought I would be all right because it was so tiny. But the possibility of rabies or infection still nagged at me. Rabies is almost, if not always, always fatal.

To be on the safe side I went to the local urgent care. The doctor was very concerned and immediately called the CDC and verified that antibiotics and rabies shots were absolutely necessary. (I can now attest to the fact that the rabies shot series is not as bad as the stories I have heard. It’s four brief shots in the arm spaced out over a period of two weeks.)

Once I started on my medical care, I kept thinking about the little kitten. I kept feeling that I could have done more to help him. He didn’t have the resources to walk into an urgent care center, and the harsh mid-western winter was coming.

I kept questioning myself. What could I have done differently? I should have done this…I should have done that… I definitely could have done something different. Did I fail as a yoga practitioner because I wasn’t ‘mindful’ enough in the process?

A few days later, I decided to return to Darwin, which is about a 75 minute drive from Minneapolis. My mom came with me and we enjoyed driving past the brown drying cornfields under a beautiful blue sky. The air was fresh and crisp. We had a nice time chatting together in the car.

This time I brought proper supplies; food, gloves, two cat carriers. Unfortunately, we could not find the kitten.

Now is the part of the blog where I feel I am supposed to share some profound and amazing revelation or analysis. I admit to being influenced by the plethora of social media postings that testify to how to overcome adversity; amazing stories about how breathing or yoga or meditation can change one’s life. However, that wasn’t my experience. With all the tools I have, I still don’t know what I should have done. I just wanted to share the story.

Returning to Darwin did alleviate some of my guilt. However, I will always wonder what happened to the kitten. I hope that someone else found him and will provide a good home. I also feel more appreciative of life-saving vaccines and happy that I can tell my friends that rabies shots are not that bad. From now on, I will keep a pair of thick gloves along with a blanket in my car.

On the way back to Minneapolis, my mom and I stopped at Dairy Queen for ice cream. My mom surprised me by ordering a large cone along with french fries. Perhaps there is a profound way to interpret that!

I welcome your thoughts.



Today is the 23rd of the month and it’s also the end of Yom Kippur, a Jewish observance of contemplation and reflection. Last night I stood in front of over 1000 people and guided them in silent meditation. Today, I had the honor of leading a healing gathering. On both occasions I invited everyone to cultivate a connection with our bodies as a way to enter into a contemplative healing space.

In my understanding, healing does not meaning “fixing.” It’s about coming to know ourselves as whole, even in the midst of brokenness.

While we may yearn or pray for particular outcomes and movement in our lives, healing can also be about opening to the resources within us and around us, that help us experience greater equanimity with what IS. (this doesn’t mean that we accept injustice)

Some of us are deeply aware of what kind of healing we want or need. We know that we are seeking more wholeness in body, mind, heart, or spirit, or any combination of those, Others may feel some kind of brokenness, disconnection or dis-ease that is hard to define or articulate. Still others may be focused on gratitude for how our journey towards healing is unfolding. Some of us need to just cry or turn inwards. Sometimes dancing with wild abandon is what we need. Some of us may not feel the need or desire for healing or may have difficulty with this term. Sometimes we may need to take some time to not feel our bodies. However, I have found that taking a moment to cultivate a loving connection with our bodies is often very healing. Whatever discomfort or frustration we may experience in our relationship with our bodies, it IS the vessel that houses our soul; the vehicle from which we experience life.

I share with you a few simple instructions to enter into a healing space:

Sitting or standing, sway a little bit and feel your body move and flow in space.

Lift your toes, leaving the ball of your toes and your heels on the ground. Take a moment to notice how the lifting of your toes encourages your feet to take root; helps us to ground down and connect with the earth.

As an alternative, you may do this with your hands – place your palm on a surface and lift your fingers so the base edges of your palms ground down.

From this sense of grounding, encourage your spine to lengthen upwards so that you become the connection between earth and sky.

Then take your legs wide apart, lift your arms shoulder height and reach them wide away from each other.

Inhale gently and deeply. Let your heart open expansively in all directions as you breathe in the sustenance of life.

As you exhale, let go of one layer that you don’t need to hold onto. Let your eyes soften and be here for a few breaths.

May we all to find ways to honor our bodies and our entire being. May we all experience the feeling of wholeness that is our birthright.

Habits and a Bench by the Lake


I recently walked past a park bench that I remember sitting on about 25 years ago. The wood is a little worn but the bench is still sturdy and the neighboring tree has grown into a lush protective canopy that exudes stable magnificent splendor.

I didn’t feel like sitting on the bench. Instead I chose to let my mind wander as I walked around the lake – a habit that is also one of my all-time favorite things to do.

As I walked around the big circle of water I began to contemplate how our habits shape our lives. I also pondered how common it is to view our accomplishments (or lack thereof) as a measure of our value in the world and the harbinger of who we are becoming.

How does this relate to yoga?

It is a fact that no matter what patterns and habits we choose, what asanas we practice and ‘accomplish,’ our bodies are going to change as our biological age increases. How our bodies will change is not as clear.

For the past few years, I’ve been really curious to see what a long-term study of the physical effects of different kinds of yoga asana would reveal. At present, evidence-based research is scarce. Perhaps 20 or 30 years from now there will be some sound longitudinal studies on the effects of inversions such as headstand and shoulderstand, as well as extreme hip openers, deep backbends and repetitive chaturangas and lunges.

Many of us, myself included, don’t need an evidence-based study to tell us the short-term positive effects of asana: pain reduction and injury prevention; mood enhancement; increased range of movement, strength, and energy, etc. A sense of accomplishment is another important factor to include in this list. However, I wonder how short-term accomplishments in asana serve us if we are concurrently developing or reinforcing habitual movements that could lead to long-term harm?

For example, if we habitually move into a backbend by creating an extreme movement in the lower lumbar spine, we may feel momentary exhilaration. But over time, that habit of movement may lead to injury and pain.

At the same time, this sense of immediate accomplishment can give us a boost of confidence that may guide us to take on challenges in other aspects of our lives that may serve us well long-term. Do the short-term positive effects of accomplishment override the possible negative long-term effects of developing physical habits that are harmful? Do we want to do a cost-benefit analysis of our yoga practice? These are questions I continue to explore.

Many of us practice yoga asana because it makes us feel better and we believe that it will serve us well in the present and over the long-term. As we practice, we explore habits and patterns. We toss some aside, reinforce others and create new ones. Ideally, we do this with an increasing sense of awareness and consciousness. I believe that both our current habits and how we view our accomplishments shape our experience of the moment and guide our future much more than the actual accomplishments.

In my work as a synagogue leader, I have the honor of sharing blessings, and I’d like to share one now:
As we continue on our paths, may we maintain and develop habits that serve us well. May we reflect with tenderness on past actions and habits that may have caused harm or are no longer needed. May we revel with appreciation and gratitude for those habits which have enhanced and continue to enhance or lives.

I don’t remember thinking about my habits and patterns when I sat on that bench 25 years ago. If I have the good fortune to be able to sit there 25 years from now, I wonder if it will be my habit to do so.

Why Flexibility?

I’ve been thinking a lot about flexibility lately and thought I’d share some of my preliminary musings. I’ve been randomly asking people the question, “Why are we so often awed by flexibility? Why do so many asana practitioners want to be more and more flexible?”

Often, the first response is a moment of silence or an upturned eyebrow. Sometimes – especially when it’s early in the morning – that silence is followed by more silence.

Other responses include:
It looks cool.
I think would feel good to be able to do it.
It’s a beautiful aspect of the human form.
It connotes a sense of freedom.
I want to be flexible so my body is not in the way.

A response I found especially interesting was from an athletic person who has practiced yoga for a long time. She suggested that because becoming flexible feels good, becoming more flexible would feel even better.*

But is more flexibility always better?

Lately I’ve been feeling rather negative about the emphasis on flexibility that I see and hear in social media. There are so many Instagram pictures of people in performative pretzel poses that many people I speak with are adverse to yoga because they simply think they are not flexible enough to do it.

But the real reason that I’ve been critical about the focus on flexibility is that I’m seeing how it hurts people. Along with the damage it can do to one’s body image, the emphasis on flexibility can cause bodily harm.

Feeling tightness is not necessarily a bad thing. Often it is our body giving a signal that we have reached the limits of our range of motion and perhaps should not go further. Sometimes it’s tricky to determine when we should accept these limits. If we didn’t have the sensation of tightness in our bodies we would be able to walk as well as a wet noodle.

Everyone I know has places in their body where they are more flexible and places where they are less flexible. For example, it’s very common for people to have extreme flexibility in the lower lumbar spine and very little in the upper thoracic spine. Without conscious awareness or training, our body movements often follow the path of least resistance. Without careful attention it is easy to feel that one is going deeper into a pose, but instead one may actually be creating greater imbalances by increasing the range of movement in the most flexible places and while stagnating in the other places. This pattern is especially common in backward bending positions. Over time, this kind of imbalance often leads to instability dysfunction, and pain.

Instead of trying to get one’s nose to one’s toes or one’s heels behind one’s head, I think it’s useful to consider what are the true benefits of developing and maintaining a certain level of flexibility.

It can be incredibly frustrating to not be able to sit on the floor, bend over to tie one’s shoes, or reach for a can of soup in an overhead cupboard.

Having the flexibility in our pelvis to sit on the front edge of our sit bones on the floor or on a chair gives us the ability to sit in a way that brings the natural curves of our spine into an alignment where our head is supported, our organs have space to function, we can breathe more deeply, and we can sit comfortably for the duration of a luxurious dinner or movie.

Having the flexibility to hinge at our hips and straighten our legs in downward facing dog gives us the ability to lengthen our spines and create more space between the vertebrae, which feels great after a long day or work or after a night of fitful sleep.

Having the flexibility to hinge at the hips in a standing or seated forward bend, gives us the flexibility to release our spine forward, which can enhance deep relaxation.

Having flexibility in our shoulders, wrists, rib cage and quadriceps, allows us to transition safely from being in a reclined position on the floor to lifting up into a backward bending position that opens the front of the spine – a movement that can be very energizing and often exhilarating.

All of these examples share a common theme: flexibility gives access to the spine and the opportunity to safely move it in a multitude of directions.

Whenever I see someone lengthen their spine after a long day of sitting, their eyes light up, the breath flows more freely and they often smile.

I suggest that asana practice should not focus on getting rid of feelings of tightness but rather on developing mobility so we can more easily access our spine. And since ‘flexibility’ is such a loaded term, perhaps substituting the term ‘mobility’ in its place will help guide this process.

One of my goals for teaching and practicing modern asana is to explore habits of movement as a way to cultivate balance. I am especially interested in the balance of strength and flexibility, and the balance of suppleness and stability. My belief is that these kinds of explorations can help us experience moments of comfort, ease and freedom in our bodies, which can permeate our entire being.

*There were a few responses that suggested a socio-political critique of modern yoga such as, “It’s a symbol of the privilege and power of the leisure class” and “it’s a sign of success.” I might discuss these comments at a later time.

The Joy and Shame of Double Dipping

Recently, while at a brunch I saw a delightful sight. A young boy with a big spoon reached into a big tub of creamy white yogurt and with utter glee brought the yogurt to his mouth and licked the spoon clean. His smile was wider than his face. His eyes brightened as he prepared to launch in for a second time. Just as his spoon was about to reach the container, a woman near him exclaimed in a commanding voice, “Stop! You can’t do that! That’s double dipping.”

All of a sudden his wide eyes constricted, his shoulders sagged and his chest caved in. He slumped towards the floor and turned his back away from the yogurt tub with what seemed to me to be a look of confusion. My own heart shriveled a bit as I saw what seemed to be shame – new and unfamiliar- began to creep in.

The boy’s mother, seeing his facial expression, quickly gave him a hug, spooned some of the yogurt into a bowl and gently explained to him what had happened. He cautiously spooned up some more yogurt and brought it to his mouth. She may have protected him from internalizing the shame and he may have enjoyed the taste, but the moment of utter joyful abandon was gone.

As I watched this young boy, I had been sharing his delight and enthusiasm. I was with him in that wonderful moment of anticipation as he dived in for that second spoonful of yogurt. I reveled in the beauty of his simple joy. And then it was all taken away. His mother’s attempt to retrieve it, albeit thoughtful, could not make up for the violent loss.

At first I was angry at the woman who cried out “double dipping.” I wanted to make a pithy retort but words failed me. Later, I realized I wasn’t really angry at her. I was angry for all those moments when wonder is squelched–whether intentional or not.

And then I reflected about how quickly and often do we do this to ourselves? How quickly do we turn a moment of joy into an aeon of judgment? How many of us no longer need an adult to wipe away our wonder because we do it to ourselves?

Sometimes in asana we may experience freedom, joy and delight but then suddenly a voice in our mind cries out, “You should be more flexible! You should be stronger! You should know how to do it right!” When I hear this voice, I do tell it to stop but that voice is stubborn. Silencing it just pushes it to another place. I need to acknowledge it’s there but also recognize that it’s just one of many voices.

So I continue to practice asana amidst chattering voices. Eventually, my mind quiets as I feel the different parts of my body become more integrated. And once in a while in triangle pose, I enjoy a heaping spoon of creamy yogurt.