Beautifully Imperfect

Sometimes I look in the mirror and think I am fat. I know I am not, but I am a woman, and that is how most women feel. Not that all women have body dysmorphic disorder, but the photoshopped world of fashion models and movie stars that have been lifted, tucked and Botoxed can make a girl feel inferior, less than perfect. In my Bikram yoga practice, for 90 minutes, I look at myself in the mirror, my sweaty, less than perfect self, and have learned over time to be kind to my mirrored reflection. Perhaps looking at my worst, but this practice makes me feels my strongest, calmest and fiercest, dealing with each challenging posture. It is difficult sometimes not to compare myself to the bendy person whose mat is in my peripheral vision. I am not supposed to be focusing on anyone else but myself, but eyes wander.

 My eyes did wander yesterday when I practiced in a studio in New York while on vacation. I noticed a few of the women in the room had plastic surgery. No wrinkles, no lines, there were a few size zeros with DD breasts. That is not an act of nature. The woman behind me had the most flawless skin I have ever seen, she must have been in her mid 60’s, her body as Tom Wolfe would describe such a woman was an xray. Lips were puffy with collagen and she had that pulled back cat-eye like face with not a line on her forehead. I think that removing wrinkles from one’s face takes away our experiences. Our lines represent the life we have led, the pain, joy and sorrow. Creating this neutral canvas, void of feeling. What struck me and distracted me from my practice was her sadness. Her lack of expression and her avoidance of looking at her flawless face in the mirror. Her gaze was down toward the floor. Maybe she was having a bad day. But I know many women like this, they are never happy, they have a lot of money, they spend their day working out, getting plucked, coiffed, dressed to the nines, but do not like themselves. Happiness really starts from the inside.

 Beautiful images are everywhere. Beautiful faces, beautiful bodies. I think the human body should be celebrated, and as an artist, I can’t get enough beauty. I honestly find the most beauty in the things about people that are flawed. Because we all are flawed, that is what makes us human. But we are a culture that strives to be perfect, in particular woman. The perfect body, face, hair, etc. One of my favorite actresses, Cate Blanchette recently was on the cover on a British magazine, Intelligent Life, and made some waves by not having any part of her 43 years old face photoshopped. In my opinion, her face is luminous. But in this photo, she looks REAL… she looks that way she is… yes a few, very few lines in her face, that are easily photoshopped out of the picture, to give her a flawless look. But who is flawless? After looking at this photo, I looked in the mirror at my own 42 year old face, and thought, not bad… yes a few wrinkles and lines, but that means I smile, use my face to show my emotion, I’m alive! I didn’t see “I am old.”

 No one has a perfect face or body, and no one has a perfect yoga practice. Isn’t the point of yoga, to be in the moment? Accept where you are. There is no ideal yoga pose, it’s not the final expression of the pose, that matters, but the journey of getting there. It is so inspiring to see a photo, or practice next to a yogi that has that almost perfect final expression of a pose. But it can also be frustrating, may seem almost impossible. Everyone is on a journey in their life and in their yoga practice. You may have no idea where they began, how they struggled to get there.

 So the next time you place your mat next to super flexible bendy girl, appreciate her grace and beauty, then bring your focus back to yourself. Your beautiful self in the mirror in front of you and smile! Smiling may give you lines over time, but I think those are the most beautiful lines of all.


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Mamma Give Me Money

Standing Bow Pulling Pose or Dandayamana Dhanurasana, is one of my favorite balancing asanas in the Bikram Yoga series. It’s a very graceful, beautiful pose that helps me connect with my strength and belief in myself. The physical benefit of the pose include an increase in circulation to the heart and lungs. The pose compresses the spine and improves elasticity. It helps relieve lower back pain and opens the diaphragm and lungs.

In the dialogue setting up the pose, the yoga teacher instructs you to take your right hand in front of you, with your elbow bent at your waist, and bring it out to the side. Then they ask you repeat the following phrase: “Momma give me money.” You are told to not to drop the money, and pick up your right ankle with your right hand. You then proceed to kick your right leg back and behind you, until you see your right foot coming over the top of your head. Your left hand reaching toward the mirror, your left shoulder touching your chin, with your chest parallel to the floor. And tada… one day in the future, splits in the air.

So let me go back to the “momma give me money” phrase. WHAT???? What does money have anything to do with your yoga practice? Often times when money is a person’s primary objective in life, greed and corruption can come of it. Why do we say momma give me money? A few weeks ago, during an early morning class, I had a teacher say before standing bow pose, instead of money today, ask momma for what you really want. And I responded, “Momma give me Love.” Tears followed my response and I went into the pose with a very open heart.

Earning money, gives us freedom, a sense or purpose, puts food on the table, a roof over our heads, an education, opportunities and other perks in life. Finding a way to earn money doing something you love to do is not a gift everyone has been able to find in their life. Not having enough money to pay your bills and feed your children can lead to stress, depression and in extreme cases homelessness. We live in a society, where money matters.

Here is something else I have heard Bikram say in his CD: when you have a healthy spine, you don’t have to chase the gods, the gods will chase you. You don’t have to chase money, money will chase you. You don’t have to chase love, love will chase you. All this from doing yoga? Well what this sweaty practice gives you is the ability to focus on yourself, and to have a higher awareness of distractions to your goals in life and the ability to not let disappointments or setbacks get in your way. If you fall out of a pose, you get back in, without hesitation. So you spend less time in life, complaining, or wallowing in what’s not going your way and finding ways to shape your life in the direction you want it to be going.

As a therapist, I listen to people complain. And I am often surprised how long people hold on to negativity and mourn the things that don’t go right. People don’t seem to expect setbacks, or failures. But that is what links us all as humans, things go wrong, our life, our path gets screwed up. If you wake up everyday thinking that the world will revolve around you and everything will go your way, you are setting yourself up for tremendous disappointment. The more open you are to life being a challenge and having the flexibility to adapt to situations, the more focused your journey will be.

Now back to the money. If you are able to focus on your goals clearly, know yourself, put 100% of your effort into every moment of building your dreams, success will come, money will come. I have had this happen to me. I have been lucky enough to structure my life and work schedule to fit in my yoga practice 5 to 7 days per week. And I do this because my life is better because of it. I don’t waste as much time in life on things that distract me from my goals. And I work hard, so very hard, I create my own sweat outside of that 105 degree yoga studio to produce results. I have a clear self awareness, I know who I am, and what I want. And am drawn to people that exude positive vibes, people that are successful, selfless, healthy and happy.

So what do you want in life? Do you know who you are? Start giving your spine some love and see what happens next.


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Second Chance

The Bikram Yoga series is very different that most forms of yoga. It is the same 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises, in a heated room. But what is truly different than most other yoga practices, in Bikram Yoga, each pose is repeated, twice. The first pose is sustained for usually one minute, the second time, for 30 seconds. Yoga is not about perfecting the final expression of the pose, but more the discovery of the journey of the pose. It may only be simply a thought, if your body doesn’t seem to be able to get even close to balancing on one leg, or sustaining a full back bend. Yoga is a practice, it’s more about trying, then getting.

I often think this to myself when I am struggling with a balancing pose, if I fall out, I tell myself, to get back in, but also find a joy, knowing that I will get another chance to try again. And If I come back tomorrow, I again will have yet another chance. I hear many people say they are embarrassed if they fall, they are not doing it right. Well, how can you balance with never falling?

In life this can be difficult. Trying again after falling. As humans, we make mistakes, we are rejected, but find a way to allow ourselves to face the same challenge and try again. To try, I think is the greatest effort we can ask of ourselves. It means being patient with yourself. Having patience with yourself to realize what you think you want right now, may not be what you need, or perhaps it’s not the right time.

Consider this, Steve Jobs was fired from Apple, a company he co-created. He was young and brilliant, but had no management experience. But he later came back. Imagine if he never went back, imagine a world without the iPhone, iPod, iTunes, MacBook Pro… no I could not imagine.

J. K. Rowling’s novel about a boy named Harry was rejected a dozen times by publishers. Imagine a world without Harry Potter? Imagine if she gave up the first time she was rejected, thinking she must not be a good writer, since they didn’t like her story??

Falling is how you learn, being rejected is how you find your strength. My yoga practice helps reinforce this learning process. And recently, what is helpful when I fall, is laughing at myself. Not to get angry or curse, which I have done so often in the past. But to be patient and kind to myself, to fall with grace, knowing that I have another chance. You will have a whole lifetime of second chances, if only you allow yourself to fall in the first place.


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If You Hesitate, It’s Over…

In the Bikram Yoga, the Balancing Stick Pose or Tuladandasana, blood flow is increased all over the body at once. It is a true cardiac pose, it is said like running 10 miles in 10 seconds. The yoga teacher prepares you by saying you have 10 seconds to do this pose, make up your mind and do it, and if you hesitate, it’s over. Then they clap their hands, and you go into the asana. Right foot stepping forward, knee locked, arms over head, hands clasped, index fingers released. Left leg will balance behind you, and your body will look like a “T.” This is also referred to as the heart attack pose. It gets your heart pumping very fast. Bikram says it is like having a mini heart attack for 10 seconds, better than having a real heart attack one day.

Balancing is a risk, you may fall, but it is a wonderful metaphor for life.

Many times in life, we are given one chance and only one to make decisions, changes, to make things happen. If we hesitate, mull it over too long, the opportunity may be lost, forever. Career opportunities, relationships, getting your hands on the last pair of size 6 1/2 Italian boots that are on sale. You can’t think twice, or the thing you want and hope for will be out of your reach. Someone will be faster or more daring.

If you do something, take a chance and fail, you will know at least you tried. But if you don’t take a risk and avoid doing something, all you will have is regret. And you can never get a moment back in life. Ever.

Just like in Tuladandasasa, your heart may beat faster, you may feel a bit out of your element, putting yourself on the line. If you think too much about doing things that are risky, you would find hundreds of ways to talk yourself out of them. And you would stand still, stagnant, having a very safe existence.  Safe, to me sounds really, really boring.

So get your heart pumping, by pushing yourself physically and finding ways to seize opportunities, take some risks. Don’t miss out on a better life.


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Bending Forward

In Bikram Yoga, Rabbit Pose or Sasangasana is my least favorite and most challenging posture. In the series it follows Camel Pose, or Ustrasana, which is the deepest backbend. I LOVE Camel, but most people do not. This backbend it is a deep emotional release and a sense of vulnerability and letting go is experienced. I am an actor, of course I like to expose my emotions, and actually receive a bit of a high when I do so. But Rabbit pose, the deepest forward bend, usually makes me nauseous and dizzy. The physical benefits of Sasangasana, include:

Maximum stretch of the spine allowing nervous system to receive proper nutrition

Maintains mobility and elasticity of spine

Nurtures the nervous system, helps with depression

Improves digestion

Helps cure sinus problems, colds and chronic tonsillitis

Strengthens and firms abdomen

Stretches back muscles

Removes tension from upper back and neck

Improves posture

Stimulates thymus gland, improving function of the immune system

As a therapist, I always am searching for  the emotional benefits of a yoga pose. If Camel is a heart opener, perhaps Rabbit is a heart healer. In life, being open with one’s emotions is a huge risk. And if you are open and giving towards someone, but they are not open and have a wall around their heart, for protection, this love you are giving will not be received. I have always been frustrated when people don’t feel. In the therapy setting I work with people to help them let down these walls around their heart, and find ways to heal and trust. On stage, I long to work with actors that are fearless, vulnerable and open to anything, people that embrace risk.

I often feel rejected if someone is not able to open up to me. What I have been learning is it is not about me, but simply they are not ready. Or able to be open. It’s hard. It can hurt. Not everyone wants to take a risk. 

Perhaps Rabbit pose can help cope with this irrational feeling of rejection, and literally look inside one’s own heart, and help it remain open. In the pose you are in a kneeling position, and tuck your head and roll it down to the floor to touch your forehead to your knees. You then roll your hips up to the ceiling with your knees remaining touching your forehead. Your eyes are looking at your heart. Perhaps looking into your heart, for patience, self love and courage to keep it open.

I still struggle with this pose, but I will continue the struggle. After all, Tennessee Williams said that life is a struggle, and you know for sure once you stop struggling, you are dead. 

So find ways to take risks, open your heart and find the joy in the struggle, if anything, it will make you stronger. 


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Pure Joy!

You will fall in love like you never have experienced before in your life. This is what I tell friends expecting their first baby. It is an overwhelming kind of love. As a parent of two beautiful boys, I would do anything for the well being of my children. I also try to provide for them a balance of experiences in life including exposure to a variety of cuisine, art and culture. As a single mom I often have to bring my children to my psychotherapy office where I see patients, to the theatre for rehearsals and lately to the hot Bikram room. We are not just doing “kid stuff.”

I typically like to use the space of my yoga practice as a way to recharge, it is a place of quiet and peace. Eleven and seven year old boys are not usually very peaceful or very quiet for that matter. I practiced yoga before, during and after both pregnancies. Both boys took children’s yoga classes throughout their lives. Since Bikram is practiced in a room heated to over 105 degrees, I was a bit concerned that they would not be interested in this more extreme yoga practice. We had a few attempts at the hot room, but they both exclaimed the room was “burning” and did not participate.

Summer break has been upon us, and my boys only participated in 2 weeks of camp the entire season. So “camp Mom” was on the agenda. This included coming to yoga with me on a daily basis. One day my 11 year old decided he wanted to try a class. He was amazingly focused, did not sit out one pose, and remained in the hot room the entire class. This is more than I can say for some adults trying Bikram for the first time. My 7 year old soon joined in, but only participating in the floor series of the class, since at his age one’s sweat glands have not fully developed, and 1 ½ hours in that intense heat may not be safe.

My seven year old is not as focused or quiet during the class as his older brother. I think he does and mutters what most of us adults hold in. “This is too hard” “I can’t do that” “OHHHHHH”… and so on. Savasannah or corpse pose seems to be his most challenging pose, harder than any back bend. This is where you lay flat on your back with legs together, heels touching, arms out straight by your side, eyes opened and focused on one point on the ceiling. The challenge of the pose is to stay still… completely still. Seven year old are not famous for their ability to stay still, they squirm and wiggle and giggle.

My boys typically practice with their mats side by side, and as of late I had to separate them, as my 7 year old son was doing his job as a younger brother and annoying his older brother. I placed his mat next to mine to keep him in check. Here is what I learned: it’s only yoga… lighten up Mom! My son’s pure joy and honesty in every moment was so refreshing. I thought of tickling his little flexible body throughout most of the class. He made me smile over and over, just by being next to me. Yes… as I said LOVE… pure… sweet… beautiful LOVE!

So remember, it is only yoga… find the joy in the moments and smile! 


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Don’t Mix Them Up

One of my favorite asanas in the Bikram Yoga series is Eagle Pose or Garurasana. It can be described as a full body pretzel twist where you wrap your arms together and wrap your legs over each other until one ankle is wrapped around the other leg. It is the only posture that opens up the 14 largest joints in the skeletal system.
”Beyond improving flexibility in the hips, knees and ankles, Eagle Pose also supplies fresh blood to the reproductive system and sex organs, plus the kidneys, which increases sexual vitality and helps clear up reproductive problems.”

In the Bikram dialogue there is a phase the yoga teacher prefaces Eagle pose with… “identify your right hand from you left hand and don’t mix them up.” This seems a rather silly instruction, as if the adults in the yoga room do not know the difference between their left and right. Today I thought about this and how it applies to life… identify the people and situations that are healthy, supportive… and don’t mix them up with those that are negative. That is sometimes very difficult to for people to do.

I am sure everyone can identify the people in their life that make them laugh. People that are genuine and kind. We want to be around people that make us feel good, that treat us with respect. But what happens if we have a relative or long time friend, that whenever we are around them, they bring us down, or are downright disrespectful or rude. You may even be in a relationship with someone that does not treat you well or insults you, leaving you feeling inadequate. It may seem just as simple as not mixing up your right hand from you left hand, but quite often other people can cause much discontent within ourselves, and we need to learn how to be aware of this, and perhaps make them aware of their actions. Or perhaps not associate with them.

I find myself a very patient and forgiving person. As a therapist, I spend so much time trying to understand human behavior and emotions. I often find myself perhaps too forgiving of others in my personal life when they are uncaring or even rude. I am very aware that everyone has bad days… or perhaps are suffering from deep emotional pain. But I have to remind myself to not mix up the fact that being in pain is no excuse for not simply being nice to others.

So make a list of the people that make your life better… those that make you laugh. Then make a list of people that constantly disappoint you or even make you cry.   Surround yourself with positive, loving people… and don’t allow yourself to get mixed up.


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