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Ironing: a Pathway to Mindfulness?

Stay present as you press

 

Sophie cropped

You want ironin’? Ask Norma Rae. I’m terrible at it, even though I learned from an ironing guru, my grandmother Sophie Pottok. With hands made strong by years in the millinery trade, she would power-iron my father’s shirts, slamming the iron down like a boss while keeping the fabric stretched taught with her free hand. “You have to press hard,” she told me as I watched her work.  

Sophie turned a chore into an art form as she glided, wiggled, and punched iron to fabric. The iron was her paint brush, the board her canvas. I loved to watch as she expertly turned a shirt this way and that with a flourish to better nudge the iron tip into hard-to-reach places. “Don’t forget to use the whole board,” she would remind me as she eased a shirt sleeve over the tapered edge to press the shoulder clean and crisp.

Besides doing most of our family’s ironing, Sophie kept busy at her basement worktable while my sister and I grew up, mending and hemming; sewing curtains and Halloween costumes; embroidering dresser scarves, pillows, and guest towels; and crafting Christmas duck pillow closeupdecorations out of felt that she embellished with sequins and fancy stitches. 

Sometimes Sophie would reminisce about her job at Loeser’s, a luxury Brooklyn department store founded in the late 19th century. At Loeser’s, Sophie copied designer hats that were brought back from Paris by the store’s buyer. She spoke lovingly of those hats, their fine details and their beauty, and I could tell that Sophie would have loved to go to Paris, too.

I never had my grandmother’s skill, didn’t cultivate the patience to iron a perfect button placket. And I never, ever pressed hard enough.

Sophie’s creations are in my home and on my tree at Christmastime, but others recently resurfaced, polishing faded memories to chrome. I was packing my parents’ belongings for their move to assisted living, and during the purge, forgotten treasures emerged, closet-buried, wrinkled, and stained. There was an old favorite of mine, a white linen dresser scarf embroidered at each end with a dainty lady holding a parasol. And pieces that I didn’t recognize, including a plain pink dresser scarf that Sophie appliquéd with a smaller, fancier one, probably to make it look prettier.

Ironing: a pathway to mindfulness

Once my parents were settled, I washed batches of dresser scarves, doilies, and curtains. But the iron loomed. I hadn’t ironed in a couple of years, and dreaded it. I procrastinated (won’t the hot iron damage the old fabrics?) and almost talked myself out of the task (I’ll do a lousy job anyway). Reluctantly, I dragged the ironing board from the bedroom closet and filled the iron with water.

I didn’t get off to a good start. I fumbled to get the board up and set to the right height, and nearly sprayed starch into my eye. But after I struggled through the warmup, the practice became smooth—and surprisingly familiar—as if I’d just stepped onto my yoga mat. 

This wasn’t ironing as I remembered it. My hands were stronger, more capable. From determination? From years of yoga practice? From years of opening jars of tomato sauce? Maybe all of the above, I don’t know. But I never ironed like this in my life. I was mindful, content, rooted in the moment, enjoying it even. 

And, for the first time, I pressed hard enough. I crashed iron to board—smash!—as if banging a gong. In concert, the steaming iron made its own music, hissing the heated breath of ujjayi. 

Did Sophie’s spirit guide me that day? Was it the childhood memories that drove me? Or have I just grown up, and now better understand that no matter how sweet the memories, the best place to be is in the present, where we can find both peace and strength.

Sunday, February 7th, 2016

Breathe, Then Breathe Again

Never underestimate the healing power of your breath

pranayama illustration

In a late July issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Elizabeth Levin shared a transformative journey, both personal and professional, that speaks directly to the heart of the yogi.

In her fourth year of medical school, in a subinternship at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, Dr. Levin worked with a 36-year-old woman, a mom, with metastatic breast cancer. On the final day of her rotation, Dr. Levin visited the patient for the last time. During their conversation, the patient talked about her plans for her young son’s care after her death. As the women spoke, Dr. Levin began to cry. “I could not stop myself,” she wrote in her JAMA article, “Learning to Breath.”

Dr. Levin continued, “As I continued to cry, she cried as well. I knew she was upset with herself, and me, because she felt crying was a sign of weakness. Despite my best efforts, I cried and, in the process, upset my patient even more.”

As part of her medical training, Dr. Levin was taking a course in mindfulness-based stress heart in handsreduction (MBSR). On the same day as that painful goodbye, the MBSR class focused on coping with stress encountered during clinical practice. During a meditation segment, the instructor asked the medical students to talk about a difficult time they’d had with a patient. While her classmates shared their experiences, Dr. Levin struggled to relax and breathe. She was losing her focus, her presence in the moment, and she dreaded sharing her experience with her colleagues.

She writes, “ . . . the time came for my turn and I began my story of the day. Crying, I felt the pit in my stomach. I became aware of my breath, the short inspirations and the tightness in my throat. But I felt relief as I told my story to the group.”

Over the following weeks, the doctors-in-training observed and documented how challenging patient interactions affected their own bodies and breath. Dr. Levin noticed that she often held her breath when confronted with sadness or suffering. With practice, she learned to stay present and not be swept away by the rising tide of emotion during stressful encounters. 

A year later, working as a resident in internal medicine, Dr. Levin used the tools of mindfulness, particularly deep breathing, to help support another critically ill patient and her family. She remained compassionate, but in control. She wrote that this pivotal experience, and others that followed, would not have been possible had she not learned how to breathe.

I came across Dr. Levin’s piece while looking for articles about yoga research, and was touched by her experiences and her honesty. Her article reminds us that yoga is not only practiced on the mat, or in a pose. This young doctor is practicing yoga when she uses her breath to steady herself in difficult situations; she’s using yoga when she shows her patients compassion.

Never underestimate the healing power of your breath. As I regularly tell students, observe your breath. Observe it when you rest and as you move. Let your breath calm you, cool you, warm you, serve you. Breathe, then breathe again, before you scream harsh words at a loved one, when someone cuts you off on the road, when you’re pissed at your boss, when you feel like you’re losing your mind. And cherish your breath, because it keeps you strong and alive.

To learn simple yogic breathing techniques, click on the Pranayama tab.  

Lotus Mind illustration: © Antaratma Images | Dreamstime.com; Your heart in my hands photo: © Mitar Gavric | Dreamstime.com 

Saturday, August 8th, 2015

Fly, Robin, Fly!

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Over the past month, our human family has watched a family of robins grow, beginning mid-May with a mated pair building a nest on a support beam beneath our deck. From
stolen peaks at the birds’ precious blue eggs (Mike peered down between the floor DSC02732boards to see them) to the first appearance of a pointy, gaping beak eager for food, we observed the birds whenever we could. It was a privilege, really, to see their story unfold.

As their four nestlings grew, mom and dad robin tolerated my presence near their nest (I babysat while they hunted for worms), occasionally accepting offers of chopped blueberries. One week we could barely see the nestlings’ heads pop up for feedings (it took us a while to count all four); the next week the baby birds had grown so much that they were jostling for nest space. Two were noticeably larger than their siblings. I half-dreaded the soon-to-come empty nest. 

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By early Sunday morning, one of the larger fledglings had gone. The two smaller ones were still in the nest, and the fourth fledgling was perched on the cap rail of our deck, reluctant to move. Mom chirped at him from a branch overhead. I imagined her encouraging him, coaxing him, telling him the world awaited. A few times I saw her land next to him. He would open his beak, eager to receive food, but she didn’t make a deposit. She would linger beside him for a few companionable moments, then duck under the deck to feed the littler ones.

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Later, I went outside to offer deck robin some verbal encouragement. He ignored me.  As the youngster surveyed the world around him, I considered my own reluctance to leave the safety nests of my life. Home, jobs, daily routines, repetitive behaviors: these are the nests that human lives are made of. I don’t make changes easily, often retreating into familiar, and not always beneficial, comfort zones. Silly human, who am I to coax a robin to fly off my deck, when I am still afraid to drive on highways and perform handstands?

Late in the afternoon, deck robin flew, gracelessly and noisily, up to a tree branch. Within ten minutes, the two remaining babies left the nest as well, one after the other, struggling to stay aloft and awkwardly landing in our yard. Both hopped off into hedges, peeping frantically all the way.

How do we fly? By growing up, making hard decisions, taking chances, falling in love? Running in marathons, riding roller coasters, going upside down?

If a baby bird can fly, so can I. Sometimes gracelessly, peeping frantically all the way.

 
Monday, June 15th, 2015

There’s One More Yogi in Heaven

Saying goodbye to a special lady

Yesterday, we said goodbye to Mollie Vogel: yogi, friend, wife, mother, teacher, role model. Nicknamed “the mayor of Mount Vernon,” by the many people whose lives she gently touched, Mollie passed away on Tuesday, a little more than one month after the celebration of her 95th birthday.Yogini Mollie Vogel

I was lucky to know her, luckier still to be one of her  yoga instructors. I was the last teacher she worked with during her 50+ years of dedicated yoga practice. I’m sure I learned more from her than she did from me.

Mollie’s memorial service was held at Riverside Memorial Chapel in Mount Vernon. The rabbi who lead the service described Mollie as “a woman of excellence,” or “eshet chayil” in Hebrew. Loving, smart, and stubborn, she raised four children with her husband, Seymour Vogel. In her 40s, after the couple’s children were grown, Mollie obtained a driver’s license so that she could return to school to earn a college degree.

Mollie worked as a nursery school teacher for many years. Following her retirement in her late 70s, Mollie remained active in every sense of the word: politically, intellectually, spiritually, physically.

While I can tell you tidbits about Mollie–that she volunteered in a local soup kitchen; that, as a yoga ambassador, she accompanied me to a senior home to encourage the residents to practice yoga; that she had an amazing om (click here to read an article about Mollie)–I am not adept enough with words to express all that she meant to me. I see Mollie as a spiritual warrior, a woman who walked a path of peace with strength and dignity.

I hope I can walk a similar path to Mollie’s, and that I can keep up with her. Because I think that somewhere, perhaps on a yoga mat in heaven, she’s doing one awesome downward-facing dog.

 
Friday, April 17th, 2015

Sleep Fat, Walk Thin

Cats do it, so can we

 

Cats are born yogis. Acrobatic and agile, they can gracefully and gleefully eclipse the dazzling moves of a seasoned vinyasa practitioner. Restorative yoga? Cats invented it. Savasana?  Cats live it.

To me, what is more impressive than the cat’s innate physical yogic talent is her curly-clawed grasp of the importance of deep relaxation, a key benefit of yoga practice.  Kitty is the master of pure, peaceful, bony-heavy rest. Unlike many of her two-legged friends, the cat does not need planning, preparation, or convincing to settle down and relax. The four-legged yogi shifts from bristling activity to total stillness in mere minutes, maybe with a bit of kneading foreplay to set the mood. Instant Maui.

Cats “jump in a streak” and “walk thin,” wrote American poet Rosalie Moore in her poem Catalogue, but 

Cats sleep fat.

They spread out comfort underneath them 

Like a good mat . . . 

I frequently share an excerpt from Moore’s poem at the beginning of class as a reminder that our bodies and minds benefit from the balance of movement and stillness. We regularly hear about the importance of physical fitness, but the benefits of mental stillness are not as widely touted. Studies have suggested that yoga, particularly the practice’s breathing, meditative, and restorative aspects, can help support our emotional well-being in many ways: 

Unlike humans, cats are naturally skilled at remaining present, or “in the moment,” an important tool for mental health. Recently, I was talking on the phone with my sweet cat Selene dozing nearby. As I chatted, I gently stroked Selene’s silky tail between my fingers. In conversation, I began recounting the details of a minor car accident I’d had the previous day. (Memo to self: shift to lower gear when driving down Leewood Drive in a snowstorm.) The fear I felt during the event fresh in my mind, I unknowingly tensed my body. A loud hiss from Selene, followed by a sharp-toothed nip, brought me back to the moment.

Inadvertently, I realized, my soft touch on Selene’s tail had hardened to a pinch while I was in the grip of anxiety. I looked sheepishly at Selene, expecting an accusatory scowl, but was met with the face of serenity.  Selene did not haughtily rescind her tail or move away. She had shifted from “fight or flight” to “lie down and light” with flip-a-switch ease, while I, although safe in my armchair, was physically and emotionally reliving my slippery slide down a busy snowy street.

Being only human after all, my instincts and abilities are very different from Selene’s. But through a yoga practice that soothes body, breath, and mind, I continually work to overcome my innate two-legged foolishness. On my yoga mat, I can sleep fat, spread out the comfort, and bask in it. 

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

If Cinderella Practiced Yoga

In her own little corner, on her own little mat . . .

What is your favorite Cinderella story? I really enjoyed Russell Crowe’s Cinderella Man from 2005, but when I was kid, I was crazy about the 1965 television version of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, which introduced a swan-necked Lesley Ann Warren as the title wench.

I was reminded of my childhood favorite last weekend, when my husband attended the Chiller Theatre Expo in Parsippany, New Jersey. The biannual Chiller event is ComicCon-like geekfest that celebrates B horror films, sci-fi legends, classic 70s television, punk rock, and porn stars with equal zeal. For Mike and his college buddies, it’s a chance to hang out, reminisce, and get pictures and autographs from an eclectic group of celebrities. 

Lesley Ann Warren at Chiller Expo with her charming prince.

 

Also a child of the sixties (and a romantic), Mike was psyched that Lesley Ann Warren (sans glass slippers) was in the Chiller house this year. He had his picture taken with her, posted the shot on his Facebook page, and told me several times how dainty and lovely Ms. Warren was in person. When I joked that the actress “looks a lot like me, only way prettier,” Mike didn’t even notice my bid for false flattery: he was completely enchanted by Cinderella, even when dressed in her modern-day civvies.

From the moment our home was infused with Cinderella’s magic, I began thinking about the vintage Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, particularly its brilliant score. I remembered the start of my favorite tune, “In My Own Little Chair,” by heart: 

 

In my own little corner, in my own little chair, 

I can be whatever I want to be. 

On the wings of my fancy I can fly anywhere,

and the world will open its arms to me.

Cinderella sings this number while resigned to her dingy place by the hearth. To escape the reality of her sad existence, she imagines herself a grand lady, beautifully dressed.  For days I kept mind-singing the lyrics I remembered, finding comfort in sharing Cinderella’s peaceful little chair, and because all things relate to yoga, I contemplated her idea of “being”.  

Cinderella uses her quiet place as a launch pad from the present into fantasy. (I remembered her imagining grand adventures, like fighting dragons, but when I checked the lyrics prior to writing this blog, I was disappointed to see that her daydreams were all stereotypically girly, but that’s another story.) Cinderella wants more than she has, and who can blame her? Having to deal with a meanie stepmother and jerk stepsisters, even without the tedious chores, can ruin anyone’s day. 

In our yoga practice, we sing a different song. With our days brimming with the adventure of living even an ordinary life, we long to eschew the more, and welcome the less. In our own little corner, on our own little mat, we can be . . . forget about the rest of lyric. Simply be. Let go of the desire to do anything, go anywhere, or wish for something different. Particularly during Savasana, our final pose of rest, we can be content with nothing but the reality of our unique self.

All week long, I reminded my yoga students of this key learning of yoga. That we are complete just as we are. We don’t need fairy godmothers or bejeweled ball gowns to experience beauty. In our own little corner, on our own little mat, we can find a few moments of paradise. And what can be more magical than that?

Saturday, November 1st, 2014

Vacation Fever

If you feel the burn, it could be catching

I heard the coyotes our first night in Montauk. It was more of a thin, reedy whine than a full-on howl, but I have no idea what a coyote call sounds like, so it seemed a good guess. I thought the sound was coming from the trees behind the yard of our rented house in Hither Hills. I shifted position: perhaps my ear, which was hurting, was causing the sound? Nope, I heard the cry again, except perhaps from a different direction. Was there more than one critter calling? 

Mike was softly sleep-breathing beside me. I was tempted to poke him awake so he could hear the coyotes too. Assuming there really was a sound at all: Albus and Selene, deadweight donuts against my feet, were deep asleep, not an ear was twitching. I’d had fever a few days before we left home: was I now delirious?

The coyotes only existed in my middle-of-the-night imagination, Mike gently insisted come morning. Reluctantly, I figured it probably was fever-induced. I’d brought a painful, slightly swollen neck with me to Montauk (diagnosed as thyroiditis, via ultrasound, the day before we left home), and felt depleted. Favorite vacation pastimes–long walks around the quiet neighborhood, practicing yoga at Yoga Lila studio, and cruising the town’s shops–eluded me. I slept late, tired after minimal activity, and took hours-long naps. 

Four nights after our arrival, my fever spiked, bringing chills, severe throat pain, and more coyotes. The next morning we headed to an exciting vacation hot spot, a new one for us: East Hampton Urgent Care. I was given a powerful steroid shot, a prescription for broad-spectrum antibiotics, and advised to buy a big hat to protect my skin from antibiotic-induced sun sensitivity. 

Later that morning, at White’s in Montauk (one of my favorite places to shop for on-sale summer clothes), the friendly pharmacist provided a vivid rundown as he processed my script: “Don’t drink milk or have any milk product two hours before and two hours after taking this medicine. That includes ice cream, the milk in your coffee. Take the medicine with food. Not milk food; food food.”

Glancing at my pale arms, he continued: “Stay out of the sun. Cover yourself–get a shawl–or you will burn. Not a regular sunburn. You’ll feel yourself burning, and you will get blisters.” 

Selene enjoys kitty chair yoga

Clearly, I was turning into a vampire. (Which explained the neck pain and the nighttime howling.) The beach was out, at least during daylight. Sunset beach picnics were fine, though (Mike and Harrison wore garlic around their necks, just in case), as were short late-day walks in the shade (with pals Lestat, Vlad, and the sparkly guy from Twilight). Resting indoors with the comforting sound of the nearby ocean (the ultimate Savasana soundtrack), I enjoyed piecing together the 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle I’d brought with me (a favorite evening vacation pastime that, this time, occupied daytime hours as well).

Sickness can lead to frustration and self-pity, but can also help us remain present in the moment, savoring everyday joys: the chirps of birds and crickets, a breath of fresh air, the velvet-soft paws of a loving cat.

The meds did their job: the fever was banished, and I regained strength. I wasn’t ready for the high-energy class I usually enjoy at Yoga Lila, and so practiced on my own. Below is an outline of my got-no-pep practice, which you might find helpful when you feel depleted but crave some gentle healing movement.

Now at the end of our vacation, I’m done with the antibiotics. I’ve put aside my big hat and am eating cheese with reckless abandon. I kind of miss the mysterious midnight howling, but I spied a deer walking toward me on an evening neighborhood stroll yesterday, and she’s probably pleased that the coyotes have left town.

Got-No-Pep Yoga Practice 

This following routine runs about 30 minutes. Customize to suit your needs, skipping the doggie poses, for example, if you are super pooped, or adding in Plank if you’re up to it. (I added a lot of neck stretches to help soothe aching muscles.) Remember to pause, breathe, and remain present as you shift orientations.

  • Lay on the mat, focus on breath, relax areas of pain/tension (allow 5 min)
  • Apanasana; leg & ankle stretches; full body stretches
  • Pelvic tilts
  • Simple bent-knee twist

Rest on your side, then:

  • Come to all-fours for Table; Cat/Cow
  • Downward Facing Dog; rest in Child’s pose
  • Downward Facing Dog; step to Uttanasana; rise to Tadasana (pause) 
  • Fold to Uttanasana; slide up to flat back (repeat 1-2x)
  • Flow: Downward Facing Dog; Warrior 2 both sides; Downward Facing Dog; Uttanasana; lower to Table and to your belly
  • Cobra (1-3x)
  • Child’s pose with wide knees
  • Seated Twist 
  • Savasana (5 to 10 min)
Friday, August 29th, 2014

Hocus Crocus

Celebrating the magic of springtime 

 

After this endlessly woeful winter, seeing a long-forgotten piece of sidewalk emerge from the snow was a welcome first sign of spring. Even patches of plain old New York dirt were starting to look pretty darn festive.

Here on the East Coast, the season has finally taken a firm hold. Not only can we see veritable expanses of cement, but flowers–that quaint, old-fashioned sign of spring–are beginning to bloom. In our front yard, dainty golden and purple crocuses are showing their true colors, while tulips are preparing to follow the lead of their little buddies. 

Already the slim crocus stirs the snow,

And soon yon blanched fields will bloom again

                                                           – Oscar Wilde

At our feeders, year-round backyard regulars, including cardinals and black-capped chickadees, are increasing in both number and cheery sounds. Some of the birds we haven’t seen much of this winter–robins, house finches, and white-breasted nuthatches–are making more regular appearances. For our pet kitties, this means nonstop windowsill entertainment, with “Cat TV” airing on all channels, all day long.

A time of renewal in both physical and spiritual realms, the season of life and light can inspire us to rejuvenate inside and out.  To freshen our homes, we open windows and invite the fresh air in. We spruce up weather-beaten yards, planting new flowers and purging fallen branches.  To perk up our aching winter-weary bodies, we might carve out more time for walking and other outdoor exercise, or renew our commitment to our yoga practice. 

How do you spell springtime? I am fortunate to be married to a constant gardener. Mike recently returned from a local nursery with boxed crops of baby lettuce that he’ll plant when the weather is a bit warmer. In the meantime, while I taught yoga this morning, Mike planted a small tree in our front yard. An Eastern redbud, it will offer a springtime crown of pretty-in-pink blooms when it grows up. (And if we’re lucky, it might attract some hummingbirds.)

Farmer Mike and his baby tree

As you go through the days ahead, take some time to savor the sights and sounds of the season. Admire a flower, listen to (and maybe learn) the cardinal’s sweet song or the chickadee’s cheeky call. Just a few minutes of quiet contemplation can help freshen the mind and make your day–and your outlook–a bit brighter. 

Namaste. 

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Resolution Shmesolution!

Hard to say, and even harder not to break

 

When I was a preteen, I made New Year’s resolutions by rote. “I will lose 5 pounds” was an annual staple (even though I wasn’t overweight). Being nicer to my family made the list as well. I approached Confession much the same way. In the confessional I would recite a bulleted list of naughtiness: “Forgive me, father . . . I was rude to my mother and father, I used bad language, and I had bad thoughts.” Same sins, same resolutions, same guilt.

By the time I was keeping a diary, I’d ditched the regularity of resolutions. Instead, I would wrap up the highlights of the  year in a late-night December 31 entry and, if I didn’t fall asleep first, I’d include hopes and wishes for the new year and beyond.  A high point of 1973 was my becoming an Osmonds fan:  “I changed from a hater to a lover!” the 13-year-old me wrote. “I have 5 albums, watched them on Mike Douglas, Action ’73 (’74 now!), American Bandstand, Here’s Lucy, and Bob Hope, have 2 singles, buy loads of magazines, and most of all went to their concert. I hope I never forget it.” (Later in the entry I wrote that I hoped to marry Donny Osmond, wisely adding “in a way I’m kidding.”)

As the years progressed, I became more introspective (growing up, as well as having pen and paper, will do that), but also more judgmental. At the end of  1974, I wrote that I’d hoped I’d changed for the better during the year. Unfortunately, the weight thing was back: “I am still about five feet tall, and I weigh ninety-seven pounds. I weighted ninety-three just a week ago, but I ate like a pig this vacation,” I wrote. I concluded by thanking God for all my blessings and for the Osmonds. 

By the time I’d turned 17, the year-end wrap up had morphed into a “crap-up” (oops, a bad word!) filled with laments about my appearance and my perpetual boyfriend-less state. No resolutions here, but not much sign of hope or direction either: “I don’t know what is in store for me; all I know is that I’m too exhausted to try for anything,” I wrote that year. (Unfortunately, the Donny thing hadn’t worked out.)

We often joke that resolutions are “made to be broken.” It’s true: unlike yoga, New Year’s resolutions don’t encourage flexibility. You either lose or gain, pass or fail, make or break. 

This year, my resolution solution was to focus on intention. To me, resolutions are rigid and unyielding, hopes undefined and frail. But intentions are like baby plants born in a peaceful garden of introspection, encouraged to grow (and sometimes sprout in surprising directions) by nurturing and care. 

A pathway of intention allows for flexibility, even failure, without the need for resolution-induced self-shaming. If an intention is not fulfilled, we can consider why. Was the intention worthy? Then perhaps it needs more time to bloom. Was the intention realistic? If not, maybe it needs pruning. Or maybe we’re better off planting a different intention, one with more promise. Nothing needs to get broken. 

“A pathway of intention allows for flexibility, even failure, without the need for resolution-induced self-shaming.”

Perhaps you prefer the hard-core language of resolution. Intention works better for me because a gentler approach makes it harder for me to give up.  I set an intention to publish two blogs a month this year, with the first appearing in early January. I missed my deadline, but had I labeled myself a failure, I would probably have scrapped the piece. Instead, I followed a new path that had sprouted during the writing process (delving into diaries was not part of my plan), kept revising, and finished the blog.

Unlike resolution, intention allows for the unexpected. When we walk the path of intention in our yoga practice and in our lives, we may not secure a desired goal, but we are sure to receive other boons–deeper awareness and understanding–during the journey.

Whether you are a resoluter, an intender, or neither, I hope that the path you walk in 2014 is a peaceful one. Namaste.

 

 

Saturday, January 18th, 2014

Good Vibrations

It ain’t summer until the fat bug Oms

For me, summer doesn’t truly arrive until the cicadas do. I don’t mean the deluxe 17-year models that were feted, photographed, and feared back in May. I’m talking about the annual no-frills bugs that emerge from their underground nursery in the dog days of summer and hold their buzzy kirtan in the treetops, proving that mere insects easily best humans in the art of call and repeat. 

Caught up in the hype, my husband and I had waited for the 17-year cicadas to appear in Yonkers. As they emerged along the East Coast, billions strong, we heard tales of terror and woe from friends in New Jersey. Swarms of cicadas were scaling fences and houses like the zombies in World War Z. Rogue cicadas got into homes, grossing out the humans but delighting pet dogs and cats. Mike and I joked that we might need to don pith helmets just to gather lettuce from the garden, and pull on boots to wade through the mounds of crunchy cicada carcasses that were shown all over the Internet. But the onslaught never arrived. 

Harmless cicadas, or a zombie hoard?

Out first cicada sighting–or, rather, cicada hearing–came on the last day in May at Mohonk Mountain House near New Paltz. We were on an early morning guided nature hike, and Mike noticed a distant but deep whirring sound. It didn’t sound quite like the familiar cicada crescendo, but Mike was sure it was the bugs. No, that was a motor sound, one hiker said. Even the naturalist  leading our group thought the sound was mechanical–maybe from a construction site, he suggested. But when we found a cicada carcass, we were  certain: the 17-year cicadas were here.

As a child, I thought the cicada’s song was made by birds that came to Queens every August. While walking in Ozone Park one day with a friend, a creature zipped over our heads, making the familiar buzz. It wasn’t a bird, we realized: it was huge bug! That flew! We did the logical thing–ran for it. After that, I was afraid of cicadas for a time, even after learning that they did not bite or sting. One summer a cicada emerged from a hedge at eye level, flying awkwardly and seemingly at me, increasing my fear. What if one landed in my big Queens hair and buzzed around in there?

But despite being grossed out by the cicada’s looks, I continued to savor their sound. There was nothing else quite like that increasingly loud, vibrating hum; it was a seasonal hymn sung only in summer, a harbinger of slow, lazy days and jaunts to Rockaway Beach. One day (I think I was in my twenties by then), I came across a dying cicada on the sidewalk, ants already scuttling around its chunky dark body and glistening wings. Sickened, I toed the cicada away from the ants, squashing some in the process. I couldn’t stand the idea of ants swarming over the body of a childhood foe that had become a familiar friend. 

Earlier this month, I was in my kitchen when I thought I heard a cicada. I alerted Mike, and we listened together, waiting. It was just one hum, low and distant, but we were certain that the annual cicadas has surfaced in Yonkers. Within a week, their song was in full bloom, even as our garden began to wilt from the heat. Now I delight in the full-throttled cicada chorus every morning and the soothing serenade in evening. To me, the big bugs’ buzzy hum, like the familiar chant of  Om, resonates with the tune of the universe, rich in beauty and mystery. 

Cicada photo: © David Lloyd | Dreamstime.com

Monday, July 22nd, 2013
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