Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Looking Up!

After much resistance, I finally joined the club. No, I’m not talking about some pricy fitness center. I’m talking about buying a smartphone. It took me a long time but I finally realized I could not keep up with the pace of the world without it.

So far, I have no regrets. I’m enjoying being able to check my email anywhere, anytime, and it’s great for locating restaurants in unfamiliar neighborhoods, among other things. However, there’s one thing about cell phones of any ilk (and particularly, perhaps, about the mesmerizing smartphone) that bothers me. Yes, you guessed it! It keeps us looking down.

Not that there’s anything wrong with checking out your shoes or the cracks in the sidewalk now and then. But looking up seems a much better, more expansive option in most cases. So along with getting a smartphone, I made myself a vow: Henceforth I’m going to make a concerted effort to look up at the sky, every hour on the hour (or as close to it as possible).

Why would I do such a thing? Well, my first yoga teacher Liz (her name is Jill in my memoir, Yin, Yang, Yogini) once told me that in order to believe all you need to do is look at the sky. And I found that she was right. Whenever I feel separated from the Divine, from nature, from my soul, from my heart, or from my true self, all I need to do is look up. Whether the sky is cloudy, royal blue, filled with seagulls, glowing with stars, dark and grainy, pink with rainbows, doesn’t matter. There’s something about staring into the vastness, the endlessness, the overwhelming ongoing-ness of the sky. Every time, it does the trick.

So while I’m enjoying my new smartphone, I’m going to remember that there’s a lot going on up above, all around, and inside. It’s fine to text, to research, or chat, or do whatever we do on our smartphones, but if we want to be really smart, it makes sense to cast our gaze to the heavens now and then, just to remind ourselves to believe.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Anger Mis-Management

On a flight not long ago, while listening to mellow mantra yoga music on my IPod, I noticed what was playing on the movie screens all around me. Everyone seemed to be watching a film called “Anger!” Whether it was an explosive action movie or a dramatic love story, anger was the main theme. As I witnessed the angry faces and movements on the screens without being able to hear the dialogue, sound effects or music, I wondered what everyone seemed so extraordinarily furious about. It occurred to me then that anger—like happiness—is something we can choose, and by surrounding ourselves with angry images, sounds, and expressions we’re feeding into the choice to be pissed off.
           I will admit there is plenty of disturbing news in the world every day. But anger doesn’t seem to solve problems, and in many cases makes things worse. When my kids were little, the popular advice was to give them a pillow to punch or enroll them in an active sport like football so they could “get their anger out.” Even back then, this seemed unwise to me. Anger and punching just appeared to produce more anger and punching. As the mother of three boys, I was used to anger, even though my kids were not especially out of control. Still, there were balls thrown through windows, the occasional broken bone, and insults and expletives hurled (among other items) when anger exploded. All this was unsettling, to say the least. I’m not against active sports or punching bags (as long as they’re punched with joy!) but I found that reading a story or taking a walk in the woods was just –if not more—effective when tempers flared.
           My kids (now grown) still get angry now and then, and so do I. But as Kundalini yoga master Yogi Bhajan once said (and I’m paraphrasing here) the fire in your heart can be used to make food, or it can burn your house down! Anger and explosive passion can lead to so many types of destruction (including self destruction) and I’ve observed that anger begets anger, just as love produces more love. I’ll stick to my healing mantras and breathing techniques to weather any angry storm; I’d rather let the light in than punch anyone’s lights out. Namaste!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Tis the Season…to "SpOil Your Pet!"

I don’t have a pet, though my son’s goldfish has been living with us for a time, having graduated from college a few years back. I admire my friends who are pet owners (and most of them are) because caring for a pet (even a goldfish) takes time, care, commitment, dedication, money, knowledge, patience and vast quantities of love. In fact, it can be just as much work as having a child-- if not more work these days-- with doggie play dates, obedience school, grooming, and other pet-related activities. So hats off to pet owners, and if you’re looking for a special gift for yourself or a pet-loving pal, SpOil Your Pet: A Practical Guide to Using Essential Oils in Dogs and Cats by Dr. Mia K. Frezzo, DVM and Jan C. Jeremias, MSc is just the ticket.
            I don’t usually write about products on my blog (other than Yin, Yang, Yogini!) but SpOil Your Pet is so special that I felt I needed to make an exception. Jan is a trained clinical research scientist, yoga instructor and reflexologist who has been using essential oils for a decade. Dr. Frezzo is a Veterinarian; the two authors have poured their vast knowledge of essential oils into this guide, which includes more than 50 common ailments and conditions found in dogs and cats, with easy directions on how to use essential oils as a complement to traditional veterinary care.
            Jan and Dr. Frezzo observe that both people and pets can benefit from essential oils, which are the “volatile aromatic compounds found in the seeds, bark, stems, roots, flowers and other parts of plants.” They clearly explain how the oils work to enhance the immune system, and benefit health. They cover such topics as diabetes, cancer, burns, bites, autoimmune disorders, ear infections, seizures, and many other problems and conditions.
You can order the book on Amazon (ISBN 978-1937702236) and it’s my suggestion that you do so soon, especially if you’re planning to give it as a gift, as I am (btw, it’s beautifully designed with adorable pictures and quotes as well as hands-on practical oil information).  
            I guess essential oils won’t benefit our goldfish, but I’m quite sure that if they did Jan and Dr. Frezzo would be the first to know! These awesome animal lovers are doing their very best to make sure all our pets are healthy, hearty, and happy.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Lights: On!


The other day as I was driving to yoga class in a wintry mix of snow and rain, I noticed a van on the highway that was speeding along without lights. Since I could scarcely see the road ahead with my car lights on, I wondered how this individual could be so unaware that he/she had ventured out onto the road without some form of illumination to guide the way (not to mention the hazard this posed to other drivers).
This got me thinking, not surprisingly, about yoga, and the teachings we use to guide our paths, because for me the principles and tenets of yoga are like beams of light that help to illuminate the path I’m on each day, regardless of whether the weather is sunny or bleak.
For instance, if I’m thinking of making a snide remark to someone who has crossed my path, I’m often reminded of the yogic tenet of Ahimsa, to do no harm and to show compassion for all living things. If I’m conjuring up a little white lie (or even a big one!) I’m often held back by Satya, or commitment to truthfulness. The physical postures (or asanas) practiced in yoga keep me physically fit (or at least, headed in that direction), and the mantras and meditations that are used in my practice connect me to the knowledge that there’s a greater energy overseeing the planet (for many, religion may offer some of these same functions, of course).
But for me, yoga is the way of Light, the practice that reminds me to turn on my headlights every day. Being aware and in the present moment ensures that I don’t stray too far off the road I intend to be on, and also ensures that I don’t willingly or knowingly do or say something that might cause harm to another. How many people, I wonder, are navigating their daily lives without even realizing that their headlights aren’t on? Like that van driver, how many are putting others in danger because they’re too preoccupied or disconnected to even realize the hazard they pose to others’ emotional or physical wellbeing?
As I arrived at my yoga center that day and emerged from my car onto the slippery parking lot, I was ten steps away before I realized I’d forgotten to turn my headlights off. I thought that was a rather humorous nod from the Universe, which seemed to be suggesting that once you’ve become “aware” there’s really no turning back to the darkness.
 Still, a car is a car, and I didn’t want to run down the battery!

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Courage of Trees


Trees are resilient. People chop at them, build fences through them, and torture them in various ways; still, they drop their seeds and sprout up again. Every year, on the East Coast, I’m reminded again of how much trees give us; when the hills are shimmering with vibrant color, I’m reminded that trees offer shelter, shade, and beauty every day.
           We’re like trees, as every yogi knows. We can stand straight and tall, our roots planted deeply into the earth even when the wind blows, even when insults are hurled our way, even when we face illness, or the death of a loved one, or any number of tragedies. Like trees, we just keep coming back, asking for more. You can knock us down, but we don’t give up easily. Like the tree, we possess the will to live, the will to grow, and the will to spread our little acorns around.
          Long ago, I wrote a story about some trees that the city chopped down in front of my childhood home. My dad, who was an avid tree-lover, retaliated by planting butternut trees where the maples once had stood. Today, those butternut trees tower into the sky, and their butternuts sprinkle the street, no doubt still a headache for the man who runs the street sweeper (who probably is clueless about my deceased father’s long-ago disagreement with the local government). I’ll never forget the pride in my father’s voice when he told me about his idea; and I’ll never forget the pride I felt, knowing that my father cared enough about trees to conjure up such a scheme.
         As winter grows near and the trees shed their leaves in my neighborhood, I look forward to the still, frozen nights when I’ll gaze out my window and see their bare branches arching against the sky. There is an oak tree not far from my house that has been there for more than l00 years. My neighbor has had it lovingly trimmed and cared for over the years (ironically, her father is a tree man too—the kind who actually climbs high up in trees to clip off dead branches).
        Trees serve as excellent examples. They stand tall every day and hardly ever  say “I can’t” or “I won’t” (except perhaps in a terrible storm, when they might be toppled). They may bend and sway, but rarely do they give up of their own accord. They remind us to open our hearts and spread our arms to embrace the world. They remind us to be brave—and not to slump.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Kicking Breast Cancer's Butt


It’s that month again—Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I don’t need a pink ribbon or balloon to remind me—but I suppose it’s a good idea to give everyone a heads-up now and then so that we all remember this disease is still out there, and that the battle rages on.
            My favorite passage from my recently published memoir, Yin,Yang, Yogini (about my transformation through yoga and fight against breast cancer) speaks to this subject. I write, “Before dinner, I take a walk alone…It’s cold and bright out, and as I’m striding up the avenue, I nearly turn my ankle on a couple of those sticky balls that fall from the sweet gum tree. I gaze down at those damn balls scattered all over the place. Yes, sometimes you stumble on them, and some you avoid altogether. And some you just kick the f*#k out of your way.”
            Okay, so in the book I did write out the F word, because even though I’m not an angry person, there’s something to be said for giving a disease like cancer a kick in the butt. I believe in being grateful for everything in our lives—even for the challenges—but cancer is something I don’t want to make nice-nice with. Yes, it taught me some very important lessons, and I’m thankful that it did not kill me, but I also believe that we can learn these lessons in other ways, and that the toxic world in which we live has a lot to do with why so many women are facing breast cancer, even at younger ages. Each time I learn that another woman has been diagnosed that urge to kick butt rises up again—I just wish that no mother would ever again have to explain to her kids the cruel irony that the very breasts that once nourished them are now threatening her life.
            But getting rid of breast cancer is not so easy as a swift kick, and that’s why I support breast cancer research and such organizations as Dr. Susan Love’s Army of Women, which is working to find a cause and cure. Please join me if you can (anyone can join this “army,” you need not be a breast cancer survivor). You can donate money if you wish, or simply sign up online to participate in one of their research projects.
            Yes, it’s October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a perfect time not only to think and wear pink but also to rise up and kick every form of cancer the f*@k off the planet! (In a yogic way, of course.)