Yoga for Life

The Teaching Life, Part 1

The Journey Begins

This year I celebrate my 10 year anniversary as a certified yoga teacher.  In April 2015 I became eligible to upgrade my Yoga Alliance registry designation to E-RYT 500 ( Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher 500 hours). I have taught over 6,000 hours of yoga since earning the initial 200-hour yoga teacher certification in Integrative Yoga Therapy in 2005.

But certifications only go but so far in telling the full story of the teaching life. I have invested far more than 500 hours learning, training, and growing as a yoga teacher. The path to yoga opened for me over 40 years ago. I am very proud to acknowledge that I have practiced yoga for most of my life. The teaching life I lead is a reflection of all my life experiences, relationships, education and travel. I search for yoga everywhere I go and have been fortunate to observe the ways of being in diverse people and cultures as well as those at home. My experience as a yoga teacher grows from years of self-study, financial investment, austerities, meditation, discipline and above all, practice.

My journey began at a time when the practice of yoga was obscure compared to how it is today with yoga studios every where and, when anyone with a few dollars and a spare weekend might earn a certification to teach. In 1971 when I first began my practice, there were no yoga studios in Washington, DC where I grew up. On occasion yoga would be offered at the downtown YWCA or in the basement of one of the more progressive ecumenical churches. My regular yoga practice was influenced by Lilias Folan’s PBS program, “Lilias, Yoga and You.” I enjoyed doing yoga with Lilias and especially loved Sarvangasana, the shoulder stand, which reminded me of an aerobic exercise performed in gym class called the “bicycle.” Lilias often transitioned from shoulder stand to Halasana or the plow pose, where the legs are lowered and extended overhead with feet to the floor. I always felt deep relaxation and well-being after releasing this pose. I was hooked!

When Lilias’ yoga program went off the air, my focus moved from hatha yoga to Eastern philosophy. One of my college classmates, DeWitt, an older student recently returned home after serving in Viet Nam, fed my curiosity about the East with conversations and a copy of the Tao de Ching. He also introduced me to Tai Chi. One evening, I accompanied him to the home of our humanities professor for an evening of pot smoking and conversation. Our professor’s beautiful Indonesian wife played Alice Coltrane’s record “Journey in Satchidananda.” The first time I heard it, I was transported on beams of light and sound. I bought every record I could find by Alice Coltrane and saw that many of her compositions reflected aspects of yoga in their titles, such as “Shiva-Loka,” and “Sri Rama Ohnedaruth.” She pays homage to her spiritual guru, Swami Satchidananda, on the album’s liner notes (the time before CDs and digital downloads). She clearly was on a spiritual path and I wondered  whether the other musicians who played with her, as well as her husband John, practiced yoga. Years later this would be confirmed when I learned that Alice Coltrane was, in fact, a Swami and spiritual adept. Through her music and that of musicians like Pharaoh Sanders, John McLaughlin, Charlie Haden and others, jazz and yoga became synonymous for me — both represent freedom, transformation and being present in the experience of Now.

The first book I read on yoga philosophy was The First and Last Freedom, by J. Krishnamurti. The foreward was written by Aldous Huxley, a writer whose work I admired. At the same time, I came across a little Dell paperback called Introduction to Yoga, by Richard Hittleman, published in 1968, that highlighted the most basic of the standing, sitting and reclining yoga postures. Different books flowed into my purview — The Kybalion, The Science of Breath, Kama Sutra, Kama Kalpa and a hardback copy of the Baghavad Gita given to me on the street by a Hare Krishna disciple. All focused on aspects of spiritual life.

The decade of the 1980s left me very little time to devote to personal pursuits. These were the austere householder years. My marriage had dissolved and had three children to raise. I worked many jobs, wore many hats and did all the jobs required to run a household. I became an ardent student of astrology and studied books by Marcia Moore and Mark Douglas, Grant Lewi, Alan Leo and others. I delved into the esoteric writings that came from the Theosophical movement of the early 20th century and expanded my library to include books by Alice Bailey, Madame H.P. Blavastky, and Edgar Cayce to name a few. I was honing my skills as an intuitive interpreter of horoscopes and had the opportunity to learn from black astrologers Jertha Love and Robert Plummer, neither of whom were famous, but both highly experienced with developed interpretive skills. I had an unquenchable thirst for African-American literature and history, which in a symbiotically unusual way, was contextual to this adjunct focus on yoga. After all, isn’t the journey of yoga  simply to attain self-realization and to seek understanding of the most profound question, “Who am I?

The path of my teaching life widened in 90s. My nest emptied as one-by-one the children left home for college. I regained time for myself and time for my yoga practice. One day while working out at the gym, I noticed a handsome, young black man sitting in one of the studio rooms. His name was Ras Omar and he was the new yoga teacher. Nearly 30 years had passed before I encountered a black yoga teacher. I started attending Ras’ classes. We were kindred spirits who liked to talk about yoga, spirit, transformation, not the usual  topics of conversation I could engage with most friends and family members.  After two years of yoga with Ras, he suggested that I become certified to teach. I was content to be a practitioner, but as I was getting older and thinking of what my life might be like after I retired, the idea of being a yoga teacher was appealing.

Ras Omar also told me about the International Association of Black Yoga Teachers (IABYT). He had attended their annual retreat in 1999 and had joined the organization. Upon his suggestion I joined, too, although not yet a trained yoga teacher.

On a magical night, October 25, 2001, in one cosmic moment, I saw clearly the steps I would need to take to teach yoga. I started writing the business plan for the Power of One Yoga Ministry. The catalyst for this moment of clarity was a two-way talk show called “The Community Health Beat,” on Morgan State University’s radio station. The show was about three culprits that undermine health in the black community — diabetes, obesity and hypertension. As I listened to the callers talk about their health problems, I decided to call in and offer a comment about the benefits of yoga. I can’t recall exactly what I said, but it sounded authoritative because the show’s host asked me to remain on the line.  While I waited, my intuition told me that she was going to invite me to be on the show.  Sure enough, she asked me if I could come on the program to talk about yoga and its benefits. I agreed to do it.  The interview was scheduled for December 8, 2001, which gave me a few weeks to prepare.

The very next day I asked a friend, who was a graphic artist, to design a tri-fold brochure using the content from the business plan I had written the night before. My first order of business was to attain a yoga teacher credential before going on the radio program. An Internet search led me to a distance course offered by the National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association. I ordered their training manual and completed the requirements for the Sport Yoga Certification. I ordered business cards and invested in six yoga mats. I launched Power of Yoga Ministry with an investment of $200. The marketing strategy I used to start teaching was offering yoga parties in people’s homes. The yoga party concept replicated the Tupperware parties that I remembered my mother hosting. The host invited their friends or family members, and I would bring the mats, music, candles and lead them through an hour-long yoga practice in the privacy of their homes.  This concept proved to be quite lucrative and before long I had yoga parties booked every weekend around the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area. Within the first year my yoga parties gained national coverage when featured in USAToday and as a segment on “Back to Basics,” a weekly program on the Style network.

The Sport Yoga Teacher certification was enough for me to say I had a certification, but I wanted to have credentials and teacher training that would be beyond reproach if I were going to take the teaching life to the highest level. I spent a year exploring yoga teacher training programs to find an approach or lineage of yoga for my certification. Ultimately, I decided on Integrative Yoga Therapy for the 200-hour level. I chose this approach because it bridges ancient wisdom with new directions in mind-body health and healing. I wanted a foundation in the therapeutic application of yoga where I could focus on preventive health and disparities in health care.

In August 2002, I attended my first IABYT conference. There were about 50 yoga teachers and enthusiasts who had come to Chicago for the five-day event. I met Krishna Kaur, who was the president of the organization, Maya Breuer, who would later become my friend and business associate, Caroline Shola Arewa, Walter Beckley, Robin Downes, Heather Greaves, Chris Hoskins, Teresa Kay Aba Kennedy, Dinndayal Morgan, Harold Rose and many other black yoga teachers from all corners of the globe. I took a yoga class with Becky Love, who at the time was 86 years old and the only woman bold enough to teach in a leotard! Swami Kuruananda/Bonnie Bunch, also in his 80s, was there and I was able to photograph the two of them. It was an uplifting experience and a powerful asset to engage with the IABYT community.

After the conference, I attended an open house at the Yama School for Yoga, Ayurveda and the Meditative Arts in Baltimore City and met the lead teacher, Diane Finlayson. I instantly connected with her and decided I would enroll in her training program for the 200-hour certification in Integrative Yoga Therapy to begin in September 2003. However, the path forked when it was time to pay the fees. IABYT was organizing a trip to Ghana in November and I wanted to go. It was important to have a foundation for my teaching life based on roots and practices of yoga in Africa, particularly West Africa, where many African-Americans have ancestral lineage. After much consternation, I decided to put off the yoga teacher training for the next year and take the trip to Ghana with the black yoga teachers.

The trip to Africa brought new perspectives to yoga that would inform my teaching for years to come. It also unveiled ways and approaches to Ayurveda that incorporate West African concepts of health and spirituality. The practices I learned from the spiritual teachers I encountered on the trip would become a core component of my teaching life. My focus on hatha yoga, or physical postures, shifted slightly to equally include practices of mind and spirit. The journey to West Africa brought clarity to the importance of Spirit and ways to work with and heal the subtle body and the ethereal self. Africa gave me a foundation and filter for all my future trainings. I had made the right decision to begin my teaching life there. I was ready for the yoga teacher training in Integrative Yoga Therapy. I paid the $1,995 and started the 9-month weekend program in September 2004.

Coming soon . . . The Teaching Life, Part 2, Finding The Way

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The Teaching Life

Focus, Discipline, Expansion, Transformation

I am not big on making New Year’s resolutions. In the past, I’ve made many declarations of intention at the beginning of the year only to find them morphing, changing or all together disappearing by March. Instead, I decided I would choose four words whose actions I can apply to every aspect and all levels of life — mind, body, spirit, work, play and relationships.  The first two words — focus and discipline — were contributed by my partner. To his words I added two more that spoke to the direction I’d like my life to take in 2015 — expansion and transformation.

FOCUS is difficult to sustain. So much to do, so little time. I release myself from the delusion of multi-tasking. Instead, I will apply my full attention to one action or activity at a time. In staying focused, I hope to finish what I start. As I look around, there’s the unfinished knitting project, the shirt I started last summer still pinned to the dress form, a stack of books by the bed each bookmarked, none completed. I could go on and on listing the incomplete projects started in earnest now languishing in corners and piles around my house. It seems I’ve acquired a serious case of attention deficit disorder for which I blame computer technology. However, the computer is a reality in today’s world. I must call on the practices of vipassana and japa meditation to tame my internal restlessness. Vipassana meditation brings forth keen and heightened awareness of ordinary experiences and activities, like breathing, bodily sensations, external sounds and more, that transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. Take something as mundane as, say washing dishes, and make it an experience to savor and enjoy.  Japa meditation helps to quiet the constant chatter of internal mental conversation, often at the root of much of my stress. A mantra or the repetition of a simple word or phrase gives the mind something to hold that can offer calm and quiet. This type of focus brings about full awareness of the present moment and that’s where I want to be — present.

DISCIPLINE is a dirty word. Discipline and desire are pitted one against the other in a race to see which will win. When and where I need discipline is directly parallel to my desires. For example, I need to lose weight but I rationalize why can’t get on the treadmill today, worst yet, I feel a strong desire to eat ice cream in bed. I should rise with the sun in order to get a head start on the day’s work, but the bed feels so soft and warm in winter so I doze off only to awaken in a panicked rush to get on with the day. I need to work on my book project, but instead I watch a few hours of trash TV and put off for tomorrow what I should do today.  As a result, I’m always behind the curve, running to catch up and doubling down to meet my deadlines. I tell myself I work well under pressure, but that’s a lie. I once had a teacher who shared a motto I’ve retained since college. Discipline requires that I “do what I need to do, when I need to do it, whether I feel like it or not.” There’s only one way to discipline, “just do it!”

EXPANSION in all things and in all ways. Expansion represents the connection to the creative drive. It opens the way for new possibilities and opportunities Expansion elevates and leads to new pathways to learn and grow. Expansion requires openness and flexibility. There must be a reexamination of my beliefs and habits, or it may require the release of things that no longer serve or further who and how I want to live in this world. Every day and in every way, it means examining whether or not it is time to make a different choice. Expansion is primordial and in synchronicity with the ever-expanding creation.

TRANSFORMATION is the result of focus, discipline and expansion and each is dependent on the other. It’s a  new year and I want to be better, do better, feel better, look better! I wanna take it higher. Flight time!

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The Teaching Life

Turning the Corner, Taking a New Path

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It has  taken five years to purge my closets of my corporate wardrobe. When I was on the hamster wheel of the 40hour plus work week, I prided myself on showing up for business dressed for success. Once a former colleague commented, “you never wear the same outfit twice in a month.” It was true. I owned a small boutique of clothes that filled every closet of my four bedroom house. In fact, one of those bedrooms was turned into a closet! I’ve finally turned the corner, purging the closets, eliminating much of the old corporate wardrobe in favor of the more comfortable clothes I wear to teach yoga.

Turning the corner means that I have successfully reinvented myself. Like many over-50 Americans, I was let go. It was called a “voluntary retirement,” offered to employees who had reached  the age of undesirability to remain in the workforce during the corporate retrenchment and economic recession. The penalty of not accepting the “buyout” when it was offered meant being left behind in a changing workplace where the expansion of technology undermined the value of human labor. I knew it would only be a matter of time before I was tapped on the shoulder as whole departments where I worked were decimated. When it happened, I thought I was ready. As getting let go goes, my former employer was beneficent. There was no golden parachute, but at least a whoopee cushion, consisting of a monthly pension and paid health benefits until the I reach the age of eligibility for Medicare, was provided to soften the transition to the next stage of life.

I was lucky. One of my friends was dismissed from her job just before lunchtime. She was summoned to human resources at the law firm where she worked and informed that her services were no longer needed, her job terminated, effective immediately. She was then escorted to her desk where she found a box was waiting to hold her personnel belongings which she packed under the watchful eye of a security guard. Once done, the guard chaperoned her on the elevator ride down to the lobby. There she stood on the sidewalk with her box of photos and memorabilia.  No goodbyes to colleagues. No time to cancel the lunch date she’d made with one of her coworkers.  She later told me, “After 20 years, I was treated like a criminal getting released after serving a sentence.” She was given three months severance, cut off from all medical benefits and her email account was deleted by the time she arrived home.

I was also lucky that I had already had begun to build the foundation for my next career as a yoga teacher and integrative health practitioner while I was still employed. This new career presented me with an opportunity to  express my innate talents, skills, education and experience in a more complete way than anything else I’d done prior. It fulfilled me and brought joy and renewed meaning to my life. It kept me conscious of doing good in the world and sharing it with others.  I had found the work I love, but the fork in the road to this new path would not be an easy transition.

The reluctance to rid my closets of the business clothes was the clinging to a life once lived. I wasn’t wearing them, in fact, I outgrew many of them, but I kept them in the event I returned to workplace as a part-time, semi-retired worker while I transitioned yoga from an avocation into a viable business.  Initially, I sought part-time work based on the job skills acquired during my 30 plus years work experience, but those years counted for naught in the downward spiraling job market.  There were no takers for an experienced 60-year woman. Posting resumes and cover letters to online job sites proved futile and time consuming. The new reality was job creation was in my hands, not the corporation.

I continued to work at building my yoga business, but growth was slow.  I used my retirement savings to supplement my expenses.  When feelings of despair or  desperation arose,  I would, once again, begin the search for full or part-time work. At peak panic, I thought about taking any job before the money ran out. I sensed something within me had shifted because my heart sank and clouds of depression darkened my mood at the prospect of taking a job just for a paycheck. I realized my metamorphosis was complete, I was fully transformed into a teacher of yoga, spirit and wellness. Yet, thoughts around money or the lack of it continued to haunt me. Every time I was caught in the emotional vortex of fear, I reaffirmed my faith in the path I had chosen and committed to work harder to make the business work for me.  My mantra was, “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

One day, the search for a particular blouse ignited the desire to purge. Having no luck finding it, a wild possession took hold and I began stripping hangers of my old business clothes. Spreading like an infection, I moved from room to room emptying closets and drawers, leaving behind piles of clothes, shoes, handbags, coats, sweaters and accessories on the floors. I thought about all the money I had spent acquiring and maintaining what was no more than rubbish and vowed, “never again.” The purging done, the closets were rearranged to accommodate what I needed, no excess. I’ve regained a bedroom that can now be used when my little grandsons come to  sleep over.

The life of a yoga teacher is rewarding, but not necessarily lucrative. I pray for the day that will change and this new career will support my lifestyle. If it doesn’t change, I will have to face my biggest fear–what will happen if and when I  have no money. Bankruptcy? Foreclosure? Or, the daunting task of starting over again in my senior years.  When the “what if” fear monster arises in my mind, I face it head on knowing that I will do what is in my power to cross those bridges and weather the storms as they arise.

I recalled something I learned from a teacher, a swami from New Zealand, during my yoga studies in India.  He warned us Westerners to “be careful of your relationship to the material.” When I contemplated his advice, I was reminded of the path of yoga called “aparigraha” or non-possessiveness. The practice of aparigraha cultivates the flexibility in mind and spirit that yoga practice develops within us so that we see more clearly any tendencies of greed and hoarding. We learn to let go of excess and to release the people or things that no longer serve us. It can be very difficult to let go, not just of the material things, but also our self perceptions, emotional conditioning, and habitual patterns of thought and behavior. It leads us to the truth that everything in the physical realm is temporary, and ultimately we must let go of this finite life. This is all the more reason, I fully embrace and commit to do the work I love; time is no longer on my side. Now more than ever is the time to live a fulfilled life. I have chosen a new path; the old road has dead-ended.

They say “do what you love and the money will come.” I hope They know what they’re talking about. I have found work that gives my life purpose and to share with others what is uniquely mine to give. I hope one day it will sustain me. What if the money doesn’t come? This is how I know I’ve turned the corner and taken a new path because I  am willing to risk it all to do what I love.

How’s your life as a yoga teacher? Share your experience.

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The Self-Care Guru

Are You Vedic? Ayurveda, the Path to Health, Wealth and Wisdom

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Benjamin Franklin is quoted to have said “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Anyone over the age of 50 may have learned this in primary school and summarily dismissed the inherent wisdom.  Perhaps Ben Franklin knew a little about the ancient system of Ayurveda when he so eloquently created this proverb.

Ayurveda is India’s 5,000 year-old “science of life” and is the companion or sister of yoga. Ayurveda is steadily growing in practice throughout the U.S. and moving toward a partnership with modern health care. Ayurveda can provide an expanded approach to health with its practices in self-care to support preventive health which puts the individual in the driver’s seat as their primary health care provider. Moving forward, Ayurveda has the potential to positively impact some of the misdirections and wayward costs inherent in our current health care system.

In the ancient Sanskrit language, “ayur” means life and “veda” means knowledge. Ayurveda as life knowledge is the study and practice of knowing the self in relationship with the greater cosmos. Put another way, it is a way of aligning ourselves with the natural rhythms of the universe, the energetics of food, breath and sound and seeking synchronization rather than opposition to the elements and cycles of life.  As the Bible says, Ecclesiastes 3:1-11,”to everything there is a season.”

Ayurveda provides us with a comprehensive system that involves nutrition, the knowledge and uses of plants, physical activity, meditation, and synchronicity of daily, monthly and annual biological cycles to offer a framework for a multi-dimensional modality of preventive medicine. It provides a user friendly, inexpensive and non-pharmacological method of managing acute and chronic diseases and a complement to allopathic therapies. Ayurveda is on a trajectory to finding its way into the mainstream as a physicians, health providers and practitioners  embrace its tenets and practices.

A significant portion of my early training in Integrative Yoga Therapy focused on Ayurveda and led me to become a practitioner.  Every subsequent yoga teacher training has had a component that focused on varying aspects of  Ayurveda. There is even a component of Ayurveda directly related to astrology! Just a short time ago, both Ayurveda and yoga were considered practices on the “fringe” of mainstream culture. However, the efficacy of these modalities for  supporting health and wellness are quickly coming to the forefront.

This year, for the first time, I’ve received more bookings for workshops and presentations on the daily Ayurvedic self-care practices, or dinacharya, than requests to teach yoga classes. Ayurveda has its historical etymological roots is Sanskrit from which it derives its unique medical terminology.  In the beginning learning these new linguistics can seem daunting, but once understood the information and practices are simple and the Sanskrit terminology  is no more complicated than the Latin-based medical terminology of Western medicine. Just as there is the eight-limbed system of yoga commonly practiced in the U.S., Ayurveda, as a medical system, also has eight branches.  They are:

  • General medicine (Kāya-chikitsā)  – cure of diseases affecting the body
  • Pediatrics (Kaumāra-bhṛtya) – treatment of children
  • Surgery (Śhalya-chikitsā) – removal of any substance which has entered the body, i.e.,  extraction of bullets, splinters, etc
  • Ophthalmology/ENT) (Śālākya-tantra) – cure of diseases of the eye, ear, nose and throat
  • Demonology/exorcism/psychiatry (Bhūta-vidyā) – treatment of mental disorders rooted in past experiences and trauma
  • Toxicology (Agada-tantra) – doctrine of antidotes
  • Elixirs (Rasayana-tantra) – doctrine of Rasayana or practices for lengthening lifespan
  • Aphrodisiacs (Vājīkaraṇa tantra)

Some of these branches may seem antiquated, perhaps superstitious but keep in mind many of us are completely invested in a Western view of the world in which the field of “science” has replaced our connection to indigenous and spirit-based ways of understanding ourselves and the world around us.

My journey as an Ayurvedic practitioner began with looking into my own family. I was fortunate to have spent a good deal of my early childhood with a maternal grandmother who was born and raised in a small rural town in northern Alabama. She was very resourceful and skillful in many endeavors that support basic needs.  She taught me not be wasteful and how to save and recycle.  I learned to sew, quilt, cook, garden and make simple remedies to help cure common illnesses like colds, fevers and insect bites. Old clothes were cut into patches and sewn into beautiful quilts. No matter how small the plot of land, there was always a kitchen or backyard garden.  Sweet potatoes and avocado seeds were rooted in jars and turned into beautiful leafy green houseplants. She made her own yogurt, baked bread and cakes from scratch.  Nothing was wasted and our diet was more plant based than meat driven.  I was given cod liver oil with an orange juice chaser on a regular basis.  She soaked her feet in Epsom salts and made decoctions which she administered at the onset of cold or fever.

I am grateful for these early references and they are the foundation of my approach to Ayurveda. Many of us have indigenous and traditional healing practices that have stood the test of time and been passed down from previous generations. My exploration began by looking into my family’s history and the ways of my elders — what they ate and how they prepared it, the use of foods, herbs and spices for balancing and sustaining health, and their practices of spirit –prayer and meditation.  Look into your family and see if you can uncover and bring to light the health practices of your ancestors into your modern-day life.

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Yoga for Life

By Age 12

As a child, I always felt different and out of sync with my friends and classmates. The things that were popular or considered fun, never resonated with me and what I liked and enjoyed was strange to them.  I was an old soul in a child’s body.  I was a precocious child who, by four and five years old, had insight and understanding of the people, circumstances and the topics of most adult conversation I was privy to hear. I worked hard at being a child and did my best to blend in.

An only child until the age of nine, I was mostly in the company of grown folks, primarily my maternal grandmother, great-grandfather and their friends.  I was expert at being seen but not heard and I was a damn good listener.  Adults were open and candid in speech when I was around because I was good at feigning preoccupation. I could be so quiet as to render myself practically invisible. I listened and learned and understood the majority of what they said.  I learned to read and write before I ever attended school. I felt things instead of thinking them. An intuition that enabled me to see beneath the surface of things was under development.  This kind of intuition has a powerful inner voice that is impossible to ignore. It has been a guiding source in my life and has served me well, more so, than rational thought.

By age 12, I had experienced 4 different religious expressions — the fire and brimstone of the sanctified church and the foundations of the Pentecostals, the rites and rituals of Catholicism, backwoods Baptists  and the modicum of moderation of the Methodists, but none of these helped me with the answers to the questions that burned within my young mind– Who am I, and why am I here?

Like many black girls with parents or grandparents whose roots were in the deep South, I was raised in the church — all day Sunday, a meeting on Tuesday, a service on Thursday and back again all day on Sunday.   By age 12, my parents began to send me off  to church alone with money to tithe. I asked questions that my Sunday school teachers just didn’t like and they often exhibited frustration at their inability to give credible answers. I really wondered and asked “Is God white?  All the depictions in the black churches I attended in 1950s and 60s depicted him as such. It seemed a logical question. When I wanted to understand the concept of an immaculate conception and the role and relationship of Joseph to Jesus, if God was his father, I was shot down and made to feel as if I’d done something wrong for simply asking. And, what about the Holy Trinity? I understood the father and the son, but who or what was the Holy Ghost? I genuinely wanted to understand but there were no clear answers, at least none that made sense to me.

I liked to sing in church and on occasion sang solo. One of my favorite songs was, “Yes, Jesus Loves Me.”  While in church one hot summer day I picked up a fan that had a picture of Jesus on the back.  There he was like a matinee idol, flowing blond locks cascading around broad shoulders, his dreamy ice blue eyes giving me a sexy come hither look. The caption read, “Come unto me.”  Something just didn’t seem right about it.

I began to play hooky from church services opting to spend my tithe on candy.  Until . . . I was discovered!  To my utter surprise, my parents did not punish me for absconding, nor was I forced to return.  Although I willingly and willfully left the church, I credit those early experiences to opening me to spirit. Once left to my own devices, I began to seek a deeper connection to my soul and to God. The field was wide open to explore.

I floundered during the early days of this newfound freedom and release from weekly services.  I hung out at the newsstand at my neighborhood drugstore for hours perusing issues of fashion and teen magazines.  Sometimes, I’d slip in for the triple feature matinee at the neighborhood movie house. Next to home and school, my favorite place was the public library.  I loved books (and still do), especially the plays of Tennessee Williams, Paddy Chayefsky and Eugene O’Neill. None of my 5th and 6th grade classmates had a clue about these writers.  I was truly in my own little world.

I was 12 when the Beatles first came to the U.S. and was immersed in the music of my youth — Motown, the British invasion, pop, rock and R&B and I listened to jazz.  I discovered my sun sign and began to explore astrology. I read Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha,” which introduced me to Buddhism.  I discovered there were many religions in the world and I wanted to know more about all them.  It was all great fun, but the spirit of the church was deeply embedded.  I often recalled my earliest experiences of preachers, musicians, songs and spirit dances.  I had witnessed the intangible power of spirit capture the unsuspecting in its grasp to make them talk in tongues, foam at the mouth, or pass out. I missed the testimonials of transformation shared in congregation for others to bear witness. There were times when I was young and had no filters to jade my perception that I, too,  sensed spirit moving like an ominous presence that swirled around and through me. Rising up from the bowels and belly, it swelled into an orgasmic eruption forcing me to let go, lose control and feel space and freedom beyond my body and mind. I felt it. It was real.

By age 12, I intuitively understood a great truth – I Am That. That I Am. The path had opened and a life long journey into Self, Soul and Spirit had begun.

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Yoga Therapeutics for Seniors

Biting the Dust: Yoga and Upper Body Strength in Seniors

My sweetheart surprised me with a brand new treadmill for Christmas, a gift that was right on time!  I love to cook,  especially comfort foods–casseroles, hearty soups and stews, seafood bisques, homemade breads and desserts–in the fall and winter.  Add to that football season, which in my house means eating salty and cheesy snacks, creamy dips and drinking lots of wine and beer and well, need I say more?  I just gained another pound reading what I just wrote! No doubt the treadmill was his gentle way of hinting that it was time to move from expansion to contraction. No need to deny what the mirror reflected, I needed to lose weight and a treadmill would be a great way to workout. I made a commitment  to use the treadmill regularly and without delay.  Isn’t that what we all do when a piece of new exercise equipment comes into our lives?

On this particular January morning, I got the bright idea to multi-task on the treadmill. I was reading a good book, “How to Find the Work You Love,”  so I decided I would try reading during my workout.  I’ve seen many people do it.  I selected a pre-set workout, clipped on the pedometer (another gift from the sweetheart), laid my reading material on the console and hit “Start.”  Unfortunately, I missed one important workout prep step.  My treadmill uses a  key/clip.  The magnetized key starts the treadmill and a long cord with a clip on the opposite end should be attached to the body. When the key is disconnected, the treadmill automatically stops.  I usually clip it to the waistband of my sweatpants, but this time I didn’t.

I discovered walking and reading at the same time is not easy.  My glasses kept slipping down as my face got sweaty and I kept losing my place in the book with all the moving.  As the speed of the treadmill increased from three to four miles per hour, the vibration caused my reading material to fall onto the lower platform near the moving belt. Thus begins the “what was I thinking?” moment.  Instead of stepping off the treadmill or at best stepping onto the side rails in order to bend and pick up the book, I thought I was flexible and dextrous enough to walk and bend down at the same time. Crouching and stretching,  I reached for the book, the belt of the treadmill moving under my feet.  In a flash, my workout turned into a Keystone cops movie.  Flailing my arms and legs, I reached for the bar, but grabbed only air. Unable to regain my balance, I took a tumble and  landed face down with my upper body on the treadmill and my legs underneath the shelving in my basement.  My face was just inches from the moving belt and it took all the strength I could muster to keep my head up.  My body stung in places where the moving belt had scraped the skin from my shoulder, arms and hands.  Careful not to let my head or face touch the moving belt — lest I end up with a mohawk — I placed my hands on the side rails of the treadmill and with a deep breath and a thrust I  pushed up and lifted my torso. Once my upper body was off the treadmill, I maneuvered my legs so that I could come to my knees and from there stand up.  Once up, I picked up the book, turned off the treadmill and abandoned the workout to go tend to my wounds.

I was lucky that I had the upper body strength to push up, but many seniors have lost this capability. Upper body strength can dissipate with age, especially when we allow the muscles of the arms, chest, back and shoulder girdle to atrophy. This weakness, in practical terms, can make it difficult to get up from a seated position and is one of the major reasons many seniors practice yoga on chairs rather than the yoga mat.  Maintaining upper body strength as we age is important, should we  find that we have fallen and can’t get up.

So teaching from my life’s experience, I decided to begin the new year with a series of yoga classes focused on developing and regaining upper body strength in seniors.

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