On Teachers and Loving Kindness

A teacher is not forever, but their teachings can last forever. The individuals or lessons come and go in your life. Some of them have a greater impact than others and impart infinite wisdom and kindness onto you, while others may never even directly communicate with you. Teachers are everywhere, and I’m grateful for each and every one.

This past Sunday I took an Anusara-inspired yoga class at the Landing, my home base studio, from Joe Taft, an Asheville instructor. He infused his class with allegory, exciting and loving energy, expert physical cues and pacing. It made me feel so vibrant and alive, and it reminded me of my dear teachers in Miami, Carol Garabedian and Peter Barber. I left glowing, excitedly telling my manfriend Charles that it was so similar to my Miami teachings!

The week earlier I felt a calling to more meditation and learning about Buddhist practices, also inspired by Peter. I connected with that urge in Yong’s meditation class. The insights Peter brought to each of his classes—that all beings may be happy, and free from suffering and to move and act with loving kindness—paired with heart-centered asana echoed through me last Wednesday.

During meditation, it occurred to me to send Peter a note—email or written? I thought—but I didn’t do it yet. I wanted to tell him about my Joe Taft experience, and how I’ve been working to incorporate the loving kindness that he sought into my own practice, asana, pranayama and meditation. I wanted to tell him the guidance he gave me through the immersion with Carol still rings true and resonates in my own heart and through my movements on and off the mat. I wanted to tell him that Anusara, his classes and in particular that immersion was a turning point in my life when I realized I could embrace loving practices and a gracious heart as the connection between yoga in practice and life in practice.

Peter was 68. He was a tall, thin-framed man. A former attorney with a lingering New York accent who drove his black BMW like a bat outta hell. He focused on therapeutics and his physical abilities amazed me. He said until recently he did his age in sun salutes for his birthday every year.

Among other things, his humor and intelligent instruction delivered a safe and beautiful practice to those around him. He loved jazz, and he gave an amazing amount of love to his students and peers. He sometimes snored in savasana, farted on occasion when he was teaching, and his OM-ing pitch was often hard for me to match. He was the first teacher I knew who would guide us through a vigorous asana practice—unheated and perfect—with a cup of coffee in hand. He was the FIRST teacher I encountered in Miami, though I only met him before I went into a different class. Little did I know then what a wonderful experience I would end up having with the Anusara community.

Peter died over the past weekend, likely hours before I practiced with Joe and joyfully moved through that Anusara-inspired class. I mentioned him to Joe that morning, who said he’d practiced with Peter before.

I didn’t know Peter extremely well outside of practice, but in the interaction I did have with him, he reassured me that I was moving on my own path, in my own way. He encouraged me to push my physical asana practice forward when I joined his advanced class on Saturday mornings. He told me I would be no doubt an excellent teacher.

What is most significant about Peter and Carol, my other Miami teacher who can’t be overlooked, is that even though I looked up to them so much, and I loved them so much, they are real. Authentic. They have their quirks and oddities, but their hearts and their experience shines so brightly to me. That made the lessons I received from them all the more impactful.

While my heart is heavy for the loss of a wonderful teacher in my life and the lives of so many others, I can’t help but honor his memory with a shiny heart and bright smile today. I can’t help but move with lightness and loving kindness, because that’s what I would imagine Peter would do. That…being able to move forward with dedication and loving kindness no matter the circumstances or suffering in your midst… is what I learned from him.

Peter, you are dearly missed, but your heart still shines.

I Am Not My Hair

That was it. I was all packed. My bags were sitting at the end of the bed, where they are now, my mind and heart feeling the tug, the pull to drive back to Chattanooga after celebrating a college friend’s sweet marriage and union in Memphis.

But Facebook, you get me every time.


I opened it up to see a reminder of a photo from two years ago. I was in Angie’s chair getting my hair buzzed, taking photos of my transformation. When I accepted alopecia areata was a part of my life. Not just a part of my life, but part of who I am. Part of my internal fabric, no matter what the true “cause” is, whether stress or my autoimmune system fighting itself or my diet or whatever. 

I have alopecia. But I hope, and I’d like to think, that I didn’t let it get the best of me.

Really, the truest transformation is now. It was just starting two years ago when I buzzed my head. I’ll never forget how shocked I felt to see how much hair I had lost, these little pieces, chunks missing from my scalp. What’s more exciting is to see how much hair I’ve grown back. Sure, I can feel around in there and find some little spots every now and then. But for the most part, except for one corner in the back left, which some consider my very stylish bald spot, I have a full, gigantic head of hair again.

What’s most difficult is when I meet people who I haven’t seen since my hair grew back. Maybe old friends, or people I only saw here and there while I was in Florida. They look at me and say, “You’re so beautiful! Your hair is amazing!”

Thank you, I say, it’s fun to have hair again.

But that’s it. That’s the transformation—realizing that this security blanket of hair on my head could come and go. This security blanket of my body, limbs, bones, muscles, skin, guts, heart, WILL come and go. Or rather, in the end, it will just go.

It’s really hard for people to see that, I think, to see that I was the same beautiful person with a shaved head. If not more beautiful because I felt courageous and bold, though scared shitless.

The hair doesn’t make the package, I say. The body doesn’t make the person.

You are not your body. You are not your hair. You are not your made-up face, your clothes, or the way you decorate your skin, do your hair or the glasses you fit on your head.

I am not my glasses, I am not my hair products, I am not my clothes, though I’m the first to admit that I enjoy participating and wearing ALL of those things, and the experiences and people that come along with them.

I am not my hair. I am not my appearance.

That’s the true transformation. It started with a haircut, it took me through a wild ride in South Florida, in a beautiful relationship and space where I learned many lessons about myself and the world, including just how much wonder and beauty there is to appreciate and love in the world, in people and place and in things.

So here I am, ready to go on another mission. Thank baby jesus I was given a gift like alopecia. It’s helped me appreciate my body, my skin, my hair, my self, just as I am. I hope that experience will make me more capable of meeting other people exactly where they are, and shining that light to them.

And in that way, it’s been a gift.

Amen. And welcome back hair. It’s nice to have you around.

Photo on 3-17-15 at 12.06 AM #2

On a Rainy Sunday Morning with a Full Heart

Trying to pull this batch of cookies together in my new apartment is a comedy of errors. Surely there’s an article out there somewhere about the challenges we face as single people living alone. Almost injured myself trying to scoop solid coconut oil out of the jar. Walnuts went flying as I tried to chop them, but I didn’t cut myself. My countertop is so small it’s a constant juggling act to try to make space for pans and cooling racks, all while not tripping over the opened dishwasher door where my pots and pans are drying. Not to mention that this is in fact the third time I’ve attempted to bake these cookies in the past four days. And after all that, I’m out of cinnamon.

But this chaotic kitchen by no means represents the rest of the day. I closed the bar last night with my coworker, only a four-ish hour shift for me, and it was perfect. The feeling I had when we were all standing around the bar, talking and laughing, people were making plans for tomorrow, I felt like I was home. I felt like I was part of something, connected to these people, if only around the bar, sipping beers. No one was rushed, no one pressured, everyone left peacefully, and we shut the bar down. It was a quiet night.

I came home and turned the heat on in my bathroom, creating a steam room effect with a hot shower. I lathered in vetiver and lavender oils afterwards, and even though I tried, I couldn’t keep my eyes open in bed. It was like dropping into a coma, wrapped in grounding and soothing oils and scents. It taps into a part of my brain and body that can’t be accessed with logical thinking. It was amazing. I awoke to the rain, a slight headache and a voice that makes me sound like I’ve been smoking for two nights straight. But I feel fresh, and my heart is light, despite the miserable weather. The kitchen brings chaos and fun, with simple math and an out-of-order pantry, but my soul is filled. I’m sitting in my new chair, looking at my made bed, the open curtains letting some of the gray light in. Music on the stereo, warm light from my lamps. My body is a bit creaky from yoga and work and likely not enough rest, but that is enough. I am enough. I am perfect, this moment is perfect.

I feel comfortable. I created a beautiful space. I’m setting myself up to thrive. I’m starting to feel more like a grown ass woman with a cozy apartment and neat friends. I feel the confidence growing to live my OWN life to the fullest. It will happen seamlessly, without prodding or planning. I can create the life I want to live.

Today I get to spend the day with my family, celebrating Thanksgiving! My brother and his wife are driving down. What’s beautiful is that it really DOES feel like Thanksgiving. My heart is full with gratitude for the support my Mom and Rick have given me, both in the effort to spread my wings and fly and the stability to land again, on solid ground and on my own two feet. She’s a guiding light in the storm, no doubt. It’s incredible, the bond we share. I’m her daughter, she’s my rock and my source. The giver who taught me how to give, how to create and who showed me what love should be.

WOW. Just looking around. This apartment! Wow! I have outdone myself. What an incredible space! What a space, just for me, to savor and enjoy. What a perfect light, what a perfect color combination. I know it’s just stuff, but damn does it feel good to look around and see MY stuff. MY belongings, my bedspread, my well-loved and used quilt, a gift from my Mom. My mountain of pillows, where I snuggle up at night. My laptop full of planned and heart-lifting playlists. My artwork. My lamps, my old LJ suitcase. My table, where I’ll break bread and share memories, like of the first time I attempted to bake cookies in my house and walnuts went flying. My altar of statues, from Argentina, from Miami, from past loves. My pots that hold more heartbreak, heartache and memory, but also give me inspiration and grounding. These things, they are all mine. The memories and experiences that these objects hold and represent, every single one of them is mine. They make up my fabric, the fabric and threads of my little existence here in the Universe.

I have been building and creating this existence since I was born. Who knew I could decorate it so colorfully, with such inspiration and warmth, such love and so many gifts from the solid network of people in my life. I am so, so lucky to embark on this new journey, on this continued path, right where I left off, at the end of the last breath. I’ll find the missing ingredients, or they’ll find me, so it goes. And I’m sure, of course, the cookies will come out just right.

On Remembering to Smile

If there’s one thing I learned from working at the Bakery, it’s to keep smiling. I learned a lot about making and selling bread, and what kosher means, and devouring pastries, and of course customer service. I can sum it up in one emotion: a smile.

Today was my official last day at Zak the Baker’s. It was a busy Sunday, but things seemed to be running smoothly. I managed to expedite and run orders by myself for most of the day, and I did OK. I remember when I started working there, it was my least favorite task. Taking orders? No problem. But calling out folks’ names, coordinating orders, delivering food and try to clear tables, all under the watchful (or disapproving) eyes of customers is a tough order for most people. I’m the first to admit I have a hard time keeping my cool when orders get backed up, or someone claims the wrong sandwiches, or a bag of trash splits open behind the counter. Or we oversell an item. Or a customer is bossy or impatient, or looks at me like I’m from the moon.

Mixin and movin dough at Zak the Baker's

Mixin and movin dough at Zak the Baker’s (or on Saturdays, the “Drakery,” as we call it)

What I’ve realized, over time, though, is that (almost) no matter the circumstances, a sweet smile goes a long way. Being attentive and courteous does too, but humility and a smile seem to translate most simply.

It’s fantastic, too. Almost like a trick or secret. Smiling not only helps customers see that I’m trying, I care, and I want to make sure they’re taken care of…but it helps me stay calm. I can avoid dumping a bowl of soup on someone who’s being rude.

A smile has the ability to transform. It alters the state of the recipient, the giver, and the mood of almost any situation.

One of my favorite customers came in today. I didn’t expect to see her again. She’s someone I could sit and talk with for hours, I’m sure, about yoga, life, food and people. Situations. From the day I met her, talking across the counter over loaves of bread, I knew we just connected. Only a month or so later when we talked more did we realize our connections went beyond the cafe. We had mutual acquaintances in common. We both appreciate (and LOVE) alignment-based yoga—she prefers Iyengar, I’m head over heels for Anusara. We enjoy the same somewhat scandalous beach.

But beyond those connections, talking to her is like talking to a dear old friend. How many times I’ve wanted to sit with a cup of tea and enjoy lunch with her, right there in the cafe.

She gave me many gifts—mostly of someone sweet to chat with, while I swept tickets around on Sundays, about bread and people and life. But today she left me with a parting gift. A tiny laughing Buddha statue that she’d had for many years and that accompanied her on her own travels. “It reminded me of you! A beautiful bald head and your smile!” she quipped.

I laughed, then, and of course smiled. I saved the tears for now, though. To meet someone, just by chance, in a bakery, who recognizes a hint of buddha in you…is the greatest gift of all. Thank you for giving me the reassurance and reminder that my smile is the light that I share, no matter where I go. This little buddha will stay with me for a long time.

On Sticky Sweet Memories and Fresh Mangoes

I ate my first fresh mango when I was 16 or 17 years old. (No, that’s not code.) It was the summer before my senior year in high school, and I worked as a cashier at Greenlife, the formerly hip and somewhat local health food store in Chattanooga. Working there served as a passageway (gateway drug?) for so many opportunities and experiences in my life. Not only did I meet incredible people whom I still call friends, but I also actively took an interest, or became more conscious of healthy, delicious foods, including the mango.

The produce section remains one of my favorite departments to wander through, poking grapes and fondling avocados. At the time, a woman named Carole worked in produce. She showed me how to choose and cut up a mango. Slice off the halves, cube, and flip the skin inside out.

It’s easy for me to write off high school experiences, but the memories I have of those years working at Greenlife stick out to me more than any school friends or stories. I was always interested in moving on, doing something else, getting in to whatever was next, which at the time was figuring out who I was and how to take care of myself.

Tonight after a simple dinner, the 20 mangoes from a dear friend were calling me. I’ve been in South Florida for just over a year, and I must say the newness of tropical fruits and vegetables has yet to wear off. I processed 14 mangoes for freezing, each one taking me back to some sweet memory of years past, of firsts, and of the difficulty of transition.

Plantains, also popular in SoFla, are great for conference calls.

Plantains, also popular in SoFla, are great for conference calls.

Sure, I can reminisce and think back to the Greenlife years with rose-colored glasses. But the truth was I struggled to identify with kids my own age. I felt like the oddball out at school and found solace with a group of friends older than me. Sure, I can reminisce about the last year of moving to a totally new city and environment and see it with rose-colored glasses, full of fun trips and new experiences. But the truth is I struggled 85% of the time to find the confidence and courage to face my fears of reaching out to new people, making friends, or going to new places.

Someone posted an emotionally driven article on social media today—breaking news. Why you should move in your 20s to a city where no one knows you. I read it, intrigued and smiling, feeling somewhat self satisfied, but also reflecting that no, Ms. Author, moving to a new place isn’t all shits and giggles, or filled with going to parties by yourself. It’s also full of desperation and doubt. But she was right, and I do agree, that moving away helps you realize the ability to conquer your fears.

Mangoes somehow represent a luxury and gift I appreciate about this place, and they remind me of the beauty and grace that comes with transitions. I’m finally feeling more local in Miami, in part due to this bounty of mangoes and the rash decision to cut them all up, but mostly because of the great support of friends, the bearers of mangoes, who make such a big sunburnt city feel like home.

How Underfiring Glutes Saved My Sanity and My Yoga Practice

For most of my adult life, I have struggled with hip, butt and leg pain. It started I don’t know how long ago—probably late teen years—and radiated straight through to today, going on age 28. It comes and goes, on both legs. Sometimes it prevents me from standing and squatting on one leg to put on a pair of pants. Other times I limp straight off my bed in the morning, feeling far too young to be moving this way.

I’ve categorized it as sciatic pain, when in its earlier years I experienced pain down through my calves and feet. Recently, and since I made the transition from circuit training and kettlebells to full-time yoga, I’ve called it piriformis pain.

What I’m finally learning is that these episodes almost directly correlate to some sort of emotional instability or disruption. It goes more deeply than emotions though: the legs, butt, etc. are related to the root chakra, the glowing red energy center at the base of the body that represents stability and our most basic needs: food, shelter, care, and, well, finances.

During teacher training, I was set out to heal my piriformis. I knew deep lunges and twisting lunges, or any split-leg moves, would crank up the pain. I got massages. I rolled on the foam roller and medicine ball. When I found anusara and did an immersion, I found that lots of inner spiral and muscular energy could save me temporarily, especially in the poses that gave me trouble. I rolled on a tennis ball. I made Jeff release the muscle with his elbow. It seemed to take…

This time, anusara wasn’t helping. Really, I wasn’t helping. Going through the motions of my practice wasn’t clearing my mind OR my body. After a near mental and emotional breakdown, Jeff suggested I take his planned session with our neighbor, a holistic trainer of sorts. It wasn’t just the yoga that was falling apart: I was falling apart. My relationship and household seemed to be crumbling in front of my eyes.

Three magical days later, three days of 90-second interval squats to retrain my body to fire my gluteal muscles instead of relying on the fine support muscles around my glutes (like the piriformis), I feel prana in my legs. The syndrome that has left me limping, uncomfortable and uneasy…is fading. It’s fading not because of someone doing something to me, but because I’m relearning how to move my body, how to fire the right muscles. How to breathe.

Every time we think we know something for sure, like practicing yoga, basic asanas, simple things like deep breathing and lower abdominal engagement, we often fall off. We struggle. We hurt. We need inspiration, training and grace, even if it’s something we think we’re good at.

By opening myself to an outside assessment, and asking for inspiration and guidance to set goals, I’m reminded that revisiting the basics—like movements to engage major muscle groups, breathing exercises, and basic (REALLY BASIC) goal setting—can reset a solid foundation for change.

For me, focusing on the physical aspects of my imbalance has helped me align my psychological imbalance. Fifteen minutes daily of physical work, paired with revisited and therapeutic yoga poses (great alignment and maximum weight-bearing), has enabled me to do other things that have greatly improved my life. I’ve found a part-time job where I’ll get to engage with PEOPLE, something I’m totally deprived of working from home. I’m planning a trip to St. Pete, a place I’ve wanted to explore since I started liking South Florida. My relationship is mending, healing and growing. I’m mending, healing and growing. Did I mention my handstand practice is taking off, too?!

Puppy love = celebration

Puppy love = celebration

I have no doubt I will have to remind myself of this post, of these moves and of these turn-around, aha moments again and again, year after year. But in the moment, I’m thrilled to say I’m walking without pain. I’ve overcome one of my hurdles, and it’s not the pain: it’s asking for help.

There is much more work to do…but for now, a little celebration.

From FreeWillAstrology, Leo for the week of June 5:

Declare victory, Leo. Even if victory is not quite won yet. Even if your success is imperfect and still a bit messy around the edges. Raise your arms up in elated triumph and shout, “I am the purified champion! I am the righteous conqueror! I have outsmarted my adversaries and outmaneuvered my obstacles, and now I am ready to claim my rightful rewards!” Do this even if you’re not 100-percent confident, even if there is still some scraping or clawing ahead of you. Celebrate your growing mastery. Congratulate yourself for how far you’ve come. In this way, you will summon what’s needed to complete your mission and achieve final, total victory.

On Dancing with the Divine and Paddling with Manatees

I paddled with a manatee and got so close I cried.

Jeff and I took the kayak out this morning heading east from the Canoe Outpost, our new home in Little Haiti. We’ve been here for only a few days, but the change in my outlook and day-to-day life has improved 10 fold. Surrounded by nature, encircled by palms and native trees, the Outpost is right on the Little River, a canal that runs from Lake Okeechobee in the Everglades to the bay.

I’ve been laughing and smiling in amazement at the transition I’ve witnessed in myself. It’s as if a window has been opened to let the light and breeze inside my heart. Where our warehouse was dark and windowless, our new apartment is bright, sunny and full of windows. Where our warehouse was loud from the CrossFit neighbor’s terrible music and weights, the Outpost is quiet. We have more privacy. Tropical-sounding birds chirp, occasionally mascovy ducks walk into the yard, and Max and Sparks, the neighbor’s Australian Shepherds, wander over for a belly rub every now and then.

Instead of being surrounded by development, malls, strip malls and the busy highway demeanor of U.S. 1, the outpost is surrounded by mixed residential and urban business spaces. Whereas weekend warriors and folks out to exercise were out on bikes in Pinecrest, people walking to work, to school, to the grocery fill the streets in Little Haiti.

But the dance comes in the balance. Each place has its downfalls, its dangers, as well as its benefits and perks. I don’t regret the year we spent in the warehouse and on the bus, as it showed me how to live with a lot fewer amenities, like a shower (the hose), kitchen sink (the spigot), oven or stovetop (toaster oven and hot plate). In a twist of fate, the hot water at the new house is being fixed as I write.

Just as I left behind challenges, I will face new ones. I’ll have new neighbors who I might have to accommodate. The traffic is different; getting to friends and places south of downtown may prove challenging. Biking here is different. I will have to orient myself to an entirely different neighborhood and part of town. But we’re closer to different friends, some of our favorite restaurants, and—how could I forget!—the BEACH. Already, in three days, it feels like home.

We paddled east. Jeff pointed out the bridge that was I-95 and at first I didn’t believe him. Could I really be here, in a kayak, floating on the most tranquil canal with so many different birds, iguanas falling from the trees, fish swimming in the murky depths, right under the busiest interstate in Miami-Dade?

As part of our landlord and friend’s mission, each canoe-r or kayaker picks up trash while paddling. This morning Jeff and I had collected three plastic bottles, a beer bottle, two bags, some Styrofoam and a child’s toy before he spotted it.

When we turned around to paddle home, there he was! We spotted a manatee, likely two, but one we followed all the way home. We steered toward the circular ripples its tail left behind, pausing to see where he came up. The first time he surfaced I cried.

There among the murky floating seaweed, dotted with human trash, there under I-95, between two dramatically different neighborhoods, I was filled with divine splendor watching this peaceful creature float downstream with us. It was a game, a balance of watching and paddling and waiting, to see where he would come up next. Was he following us? Was this real? Right here, in an urban neighborhood, in Miami, I was paddling with a manatee?

The dance of watching and following a manatee is just like the dance and play of seeing and revealing our own true nature. Through these glimpses of real beauty and truth, we realize that we ARE the divine, the absolute spirit. Not separate but one in the same, connected to all beings and creation.

I’ll never forget my first paddle with the manatees. For this area, it’s not necessarily a unique or uncommon occurrence. But to me, it represents so much more, about this transition and balance as I move through life.