Beautiful Heros

I guess we can forever discuss women and body image and never fully be able to navigate through it all. Women often get reduced to very one dimensional view. And are often criticized for our hair, our clothing, and most often our bodies. Our bodies become something society tells us to be ashamed about, as well as our sexuality. When I practice Bikram Yoga, mostly with a room full of barely dressed, sweaty women, I often hear conversations, after class about women feeling uncomfortable about their bodies and how they look. In the 90 minute Bikram Yoga class we are practicing in front of mirrors, forced to look at our bodies, and learning how to accept what we see. Do we see someone that’s beautiful? What makes a woman beautiful?

My father used to tell me, when I was a little girl that I was beautiful. He would say that to me most often when I returned home from playing with my friends, after running around outside, my hair plastered in sweat, clothes rumpled and fingernails dirty. He also said I didn’t need to wear make up to be beautiful. When I obsessed about my hair, wanting every strand to be in the right place, he would say that it looks better natural, not too perfect. I danced as a child and adolescent, and never had any issues with my body image, until a dance teacher, a man, commented when I was in high school that my thighs were “big.” Dance is about freedom of expression and telling a story, and yes dance is beautiful. Dancers are beautiful. I guess what I heard from my dance teacher is that I wasn’t perfect. The message from my father was don’t try to be perfect. What my Dad did instill was that reading and being knowledgable about world events, and being kind to others, that’s beautiful. Not how my hair, clothes, or body looked.

Many young girls struggle with this concept of beauty. They look for heros, women who are beautiful, inside and out to inspire. When I was a child, there weren’t many female literary figures to read about that were heros. The fairy tales had princesses that often seemed a bit helpless to me, I didn’t think being helpless was beautiful and couldn’t identify with these princesses. I was a news junkie at a very young age, since I learned how to read via Time Magazine and the New York Times. One of my greatest heros as a young girl was Margaret Thatcher, and I thought she was beautiful because of what she did, and not because of how she looked. Political figures and leaders were mostly men, until the Iron Lady came along. So I had a woman to follow and look up to and admire because I thought she was beautiful inside and out. She was a leader. She was unlike Cinderella and Snow White in that she didn’t need a man to rescue her. But how people hated her. Tried to take her down. I never understood why that was, she was my hero.

Today, many young girls, find their hero in Katniss Everdeen, the main character in the Hunger Games book series, by Suzanne Collins. Many young girls today also look up to Jennifer Lawrence, who portrays Katniss Everdeen in the films. She’s a fighter, a rebel, a warrior. I find her character most beautiful when she is sweaty and running and standing up for peace and justice. And yes, when she is glorious and spinning in her Mocking Jay Dress, she is applauded, for the beautiful woman she is on the outside, and for what she represents.

So now, what message are the young girls that admire her, that strive to be heros, leaders, beautiful on the inside and out do with the leak of these private photographs. It makes me as angry and hurt as that dance teacher made me. Everything positive and productive and complex about a woman gets reduced to our bodies. I don’t have daughters, I have two sons and we have all read the Hunger Games series and await the film, Mockingjay Part 1. They have heard this story on the news and I talked to them about it. How in life, when someone is a hero, or is striving for good, there will always be someone trying to take them down, to strip them in one way or another.

If I had a daughter, here is what I would say to her. I would tell her that the imperfections in a person, are what makes them beautiful. That caring for your body and your health are a good thing. And there is nothing wrong with princesses, but don’t just limit your dreams in life to be the princess that wears the tiara. You can rock a tiara, but you can also be anything. It is your brain and your creativity and your ability to touch another’s life, that makes you beautiful. Don’t be afraid of beauty. Create it. And to the people that try to bring you down, ignore them, don’t let them strip you, but try to love them anyway. Chin-Ning Chu, in “The Art of War for Women” says: “If you don’t have a righteous objective, eventually you will suffer. When you do the right thing for the right reason, the right result awaits.”

So be righteous and be beautiful. And be proud of your body.

Namaste.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Origami Yoga

It’s always an adventure and inspiration, when my 9 year old son Aidan practices next to me in the Bikram Yoga room. Sometimes he takes the full 1 1/2 hour sweaty class, and sometimes he takes half of the class. When he comes with me he will bring a book or artwork, if he decides not to practice. I never make him join me in the 105 degree yoga studio, it’s his choice. Here’s what happened this weekend.

 

Aidan decided he would practice the second half of the class, during the floor series. For the first part of the class he worked on creating origami figures. When the teacher called my little yogi into the room while the class enjoyed the 2 minute savasana, I realized not only did he bring his water bottle, but also a red origami rabbit that he just made. My first instinct was to tell him to get that rabbit out of the room, thinking it would be such a distraction. But I had to refocus, remind myself that it’s my practice, and allow the teacher to deal with anything she felt was not appropriate. During most of the poses, Aidan would place the origami figure on his body, challenging himself not only with the asana, but to balance the paper rabbit in the process. When the teacher announced that Camel pose was next, Aidan whispered to me, that he doesn’t like that pose. It’s the deepest backbend of the series, and he’s not alone, for I hear many adults moan about this heart opener. But what I found to be so wonderful, was that during Camel pose, Aidan reached for his red origami rabbit, and placed it on his chest, got back in the pose, and smiled. He was able to find joy in a pose he just said he does not like. He used creativity and art, to change his perception of what he told himself was difficult at first, and transformed this into joy.

 

Think about this, as adults, how many things in life are difficult, challenging and how you deal with this. Distractions of the unhealthy kind can be a way of not dealing with things that are hard. Addictions are often distractions, alcohol, sex, shopping, drugs, etc. These things give us instant gratification, but then we are still left with our lives and things that are unfinished, things that need our attention. What are your healthy distractions? What motivates you when you have to face reality and do things that are difficult? Do you run away and chose to avoid life when it gets challenging? Or can you find a way to create your own version of the red origami rabbit. Find something or someone that makes you smile. Find yourself dealing with difficult things as the person who embraces life not shuts down and hides. Be the 9 year old that remembers how to laugh and play. Find your red origami rabbit and use it to remind yourself you can do anything. And if you practice yoga, you truly can do anything.

 

Namaste!

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Applause

The Final Breathing exercise in the Bikram Yoga series, is Kapalbhati in Vajrasana, or Blowing in Firm. It’s a cleansing breathe in which you inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth 60 times, repeated twice. During the breath, the yoga instructor, will clap their hands, to lead the class in the breath. After sweating for 90 minutes in a room heated to 105 degrees, while looking at your melting self in a mirror, an applause seems appropriate. I’m an actor, so of course I think of the clapping as a well deserved applause. And if the teacher is standing, well than it’s a standing O!

 

Breathing is something we rarely think about, it happens automatically. But breathing fully and deeply is rarely what we do, we are too busy being too busy and rushing through our overloaded lives.

Paying attention to one’s breath, slowing it down, taking fuller, deeper inhales and exhales can be a step towards relaxation and rejuvenation. It’s good to be reminded to breathe.

 

Let’s now talk about the applause. One can say that actors are needy souls. We want to be seen and accepted. According to Roxie Hart in the musical Chicago “ My audience loves me. And I love them. And they love me for lovin’ them and I love them for lovin’ me. And we love each other. And that’s cause none of us got enough love in our childhoods. And that’s showbiz, kid.” As humans we seek approval, validation from those we love, our parents, spouses, significant others. If we do not receive this sense of validation there are voids that are left unfilled. This can leave one feeling empty and rejected. Yes, it’s awesome when someone claps for you. I discovered this in my first leading stage role in the kindergarden Christmas production at age 5. And when there is silence and no one responds, this can be awful.

 

At the end of every acting class I teach, I ask my students to take a bow and applaud themselves. How often do we give ourselves credit for the things we do? How often do we applaud ourselves? Another thing I have my acting students do is stand alone on stage, slate their name and say “I am fabulous.” Do you know how difficult this is for most people? We are taught to be humble and not brag about oneself. But how quick are we to put ourselves down, to blame ourselves for everything that goes wrong in the world.

 

You are fabulous. Believe it. Stand up and say it to the world, and give yourself a round of applause. You deserve it! And don’t forget to breathe.

 

Namaste!

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Inspiration

OH MY GOD, IT’S HOT IN HERE! A student new to Bikram Yoga exclaimed this morning as she entered the hot room with a friend, also a first timer. The ladies placed their mats behind me, and the teacher said they were in a good place since they had a good example in front of them. I entered the hot room not feeling good about myself, I didn’t practice over the weekend, so missing two days in a row, blew my goal of practicing 7 days a week, during this 30 day challenge at my yoga studio. I often have emotional releases during yoga, sometimes resulting in tears, and today was one those days. I was aware these ladies were watching me in some of the poses, and that made me even more self aware and critical of every moment of my practice, falling out of a few postures, and the tears that flowed following Camel pose, the deepest backbend of the series that often stirs up emotions, that in me, the actor are already heightened. In a few postures one of the new students, stated a very true fact about the experience, “This is hard.”

After class I congratulated the brave new yogis for completing their first Bikram Yoga class and for staying in the room. I commented on her statement that the practice is hard. I said life is hard, isn’t it? But if you keep coming to yoga, and learn to find patience in yourself, life outside the hot room gets easier to deal with.

The ladies told me they were not aware the room was going to be 105 degrees, they just thought it was yoga, not a very sweaty, hot yoga. The class is 1 ½ hours, the lights are bright, you are forced to look at your amazing self in the mirrors in the room, there are 26 poses and 2 breathing exercises, sweat keeps dripping in your eyes, nose, ugh, yes it is hard. This made me think about life, and things that we avoid because we know they will be difficult. People put themselves in emotional lockdown and avoid relationship and commitment, because let’s face it, love is hard. It’s beautiful, but finding compromise and being honest and vulnerable to another can be hard.

People are afraid to leave a job they hate and pursue a career they may love, because it may be hard. One may have to go back to school, study very diligently to get a degree that may takes years. One may fail if they try something new and unknown. The unknown can be hard.

Admitting you are at fault, or apologizing to another can be extremely difficult. Often times, people avoid doing these things, causing extreme inner conflict or guilt, because it’s hard.

Having children is hard, sacrificing your time, your energies, learning to be selfless and put another’s needs before your own. It’s hard.

I entered the yoga room today, full of self doubt and self criticism in my own head. The beautiful new students behind me reminded me that Bikram Yoga is hard, and simply bringing yourself to that room is giving yourself a gift.

Loving oneself is very, very hard. A regular yoga practice truly can make loving yourself easier. If you can love and accept yourself, all your flaws and mistakes and beautiful humanness, you may find yourself more open and accepting to the world around you. And you may inspire someone else to begin to love themselves.

Life is hard. Do more yoga. Spread the love.

Thank you to the beautiful new yogis that inspired me today. See you in the hot room!

Namaste!

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Lessons from my Children

This weekend I attended the Mid Atlantic USA Yoga Championships this year as a spectator, not a participant, and I brought my children along for the event. We drove an hour and a half to Northern Virginia, and sat over 4 hours watching some amazing yogis. That’s a lot of time sitting around. My boys are 12 and 8 years old and I am sure they would have rather spent their Sunday afternoon doing a variety of other things. I was a yogi before they were born, when I was pregnant I practiced yoga, we did mommy and baby yoga classes, kids classes, now they practice Bikram Yoga with me. So I guess you could say we are a yoga family.

Many of our friends participated in the Regional Championship. Among then is Eddie Hall, who took first place for Maryland in the Men’s Division, and will be going to the National Championship in New York this year. My son Aidan who is 8, met Eddie a few months ago at a holiday pot luck at the Bikram Yoga studio in Hampden, where my boys were the only kids in attendance. Aidan took to Eddie immediately and they started contorting their bodies into some crazy advanced poses. Eddie can put his leg behind his head as easily as some people can yawn. Aidan is working on this and with glee was trying to contort his little body into the pose. The day of the Championship, when Eddie completed his routine Aidan cheered and clapped so hard I thought his hands would fall off! We saw so many amazing yogis, but I could tell the very long day of sitting, was wearing on the boys, but they never complained or asked, when are we leaving. I even thought to myself, maybe I shouldn’t have brought them. Just this weekend, while talking to a mom friend about some art events in our city and she said, her children weren’t interested in going to water ballet performance in Patterson Park so she didn’t take them. I actually took my boys to see Fluid Movement a few years ago. They said it was weird, but they liked it. As a single mother, who doesn’t like to sit around at home, my boys often do not have a choice, we do, we try, we experience. How do you know you won’t like something unless you try it? Green Eggs and Ham, anyone?

There were three children, all girls who participated in the USA Yoga Regional Championship this weekend. One did a demonstration and the other two are off to the Nationals in NYC! My boys have been encouraged by many of my yoga teachers friends to think about participating in the Regional Championships. The night after our long day of sitting and watching yoga, my son Aidan and I spent some times practicing the asanas we saw at the Championship. Most of the poses, Aidan would comment, that’s easy! Kids are so flexible and bendy, they don’t have arthritis, back pain, and most of all they have no fear. Funny, I often hear adults comment on some advanced poses, I’ll never be able to do that, or I can’t do that. Even the poses that Aidan is not able to do, he tries and with enthusiasm often falls out of the pose, while laughing. When I fall out of a pose, I sometimes mutter a curse word to myself. I am grateful my son reminds me to fall and laugh, what a wonderful lesson for adults. Falling can be a gift, when you fall, do so with grace. Laugh it off and try again.

I’m so proud that my children embrace the idea of trying new things. New foods, new experiences, going places that are not just typical fun zone made for kids places. I hope this contributes to an open mind and heart in the way they see the world as adults. Being a yogi isn’t just about contorting your body in crazy positions, or meditating. Being a yogi means being open and accepting to the world around you. It’s about loving and respecting yourself and everyone you meet.

So be open, try something new and have fun in the process!

Namaste!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Balance

If you kick hard enough, you can balance forever. 

This is part of the Bikram Yoga dialogue during the Standing Bow Pulling Pose. I love this statement, it reinforces so much determination in the asana and in myself. Such a wonderful metaphor for life, if you try and work hard enough, you will find success forever. “Electric word life, it means 4ver and that’s a mighty long time” (according to Prince). That statement also leads me in my head to the purple Rain soundtrack. Wow, balancing forever, I often wonder how possible that is, and if kicking hard enough is the only way to achieve this balance.

Once during Awkward Pose, a teacher of mine said that sometimes you have to lose your balance in order to find it. 

Well it was very fitting for me a few months ago when I suffered an attack of Vertigo. It started as a busy Monday morning, getting up at 6am and preparing lunches / clothes for the boys for school. Driving them to school, going to yoga, volunteering for lunch duty for my son’s 1st grade class, seeing a patient, running a group at the hospital, picking my boys up from school to take them to a doctor’s appointment, homework, dinner, getting my son to his baseball game, organizing the evening with my babysitter for game pick up for I had another patient and group at the hospital in the evening until 9pm.  Wait, that’s a lot in one day… and as I left the hospital in the afternoon, a bit rushed and stressed to get to school on time, in order to get to the doctor’s appointment on time, I was driving my car and began to feel extremely dizzy and my vision began to blur. My heart was racing, my thoughts were racing about the busy day without a moment to simply sit down and rest. I pulled my car over, and realized I was not breathing, so I did some diaphragmatic breathing and had some water, maintained my composure and felt able to drive and carry on with the day. That was until my boys and I were leaving the pediatrician’s office, as I began to feel dizzy again, to the point I was not able to walk or see very much. I sat down on a bench and the elderly couple sitting on the other end, in my eyes, were doing flips, like they were Cirque du Soliel performers. They and everything around me was spinning. The rest of the afternoon was spent in Patient First vomiting and being tested and monitored for possible cardiac issues. The diagnosis was Vertigo, that I believe was triggered by the anxiety of trying to do it all.

In finding balance it is important to have a focus. I lost my balance in life… too much to do with too much pressure on myself to do it all and no time for rest. A very bad combination.  Too many women are faced with this challenge, to raise a family, to find happiness within themselves as a woman.  Even women with a partner have difficulty with all this.  I am doing it all by myself, no family to help, just some amazing friends that are always there when I need an extra hand.

Thank God, the Vertigo has not returned, but the balancing act continues in my life. I believe in the notion of “Yes and…” (a phrase used in improv, you accept whatever your partner on stage throws your way. If you say no, the scene is dead). And live my life that way saying “Yes and…” to many challenges. Sometimes in life you have to say, no thank you, recognizing you may be taking on so much that your balance, no matter how strong and limber you may be, may be compromised.

Balancing requires the ability to recognize where your limits are… how many plates can you balance before they all come crashing down around you? Give yourself a break in life, a savasannah, a time to refocus, to breathe, a space to recharge. Ask for help if you need if, this is something I am learning to do more and more.

Find your focus. Find your balance. Focus on too many things at once, your balance will be compromised.

Be good to yourself. Find others that are good to you. Allow them to help you.

Namaste!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Faith

I usually compare my yoga practice to a variety of experiences: a chiropractic adjustment, psychotherapy session, meditation, and often describe it as a religious experience. Last Sunday when attending a church service, the minister also described her yoga practice in the same way.

I was raised in the Catholic faith, my children attend Catholic School. Throughout my life I explore other religions and often attend services of different faiths: Quaker, Judaism, Russian Orthodox, Baptist, and find so much wisdom in Buddhism.

For me, religion is something that I personally need to enrich my life. There is a comfort in knowing there is something greater than me, somewhere I can go, when life is overwhelming. My yoga practice is also that place. My yoga mat becomes my temple, my cathedral. It’s where I can bring my failures, my sins, my negative thoughts and let them melt away. I am surrounded by other beautiful souls, all flawed like me, but all finding the time and space to heal themselves, to forgive themselves. They are the angels, the congregation. The Bible say the singing is 7 times prayer. I feel yoga has a similar power, even if the practice is silent. The community of yogi angels, provide a support. They are kind, generous, positive people that make my life better. We breathe together, we struggle together, we search for peace together.

When I attend a church service, I often cry. The tears are for loved one who have died, for the mistakes I have made. But it allows me to have a release, a safe space to allow my humanness to simply be, and I leave feeling renewed. The same thing happens to me in the yoga room. I often enter with the weight of the world on my shoulders, I am a single mother, work mostly as an artist. I worry about my children and providing for them, and finding success as an artist. There is enormous pressure I put on myself to be the best I can be.

Yoga allows me simply to be. I guess it helps me restore faith in myself. It’s very easy to not believe in yourself, to blame yourself and others for things in your life. My yoga practice helps me find the solutions to problems. It teaches me to learn to see the problems as gifts. If I feel pain or suffering, that means I am alive. Yoga teaches me to not judge or compare myself to others.

So next time you enter the yoga room, enter with respect, in silence. Remember others may also be struggling with life’s frustrations. We are there in that yoga room to learn to find patience with ourselves and others. To be healthier, to heal physical and emotional pain. Its really is kind of a miracle what my yoga practice gives to me. I hope you find a little miracle yourself!

Amen and Namaste 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment