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Category Archives: wishes

Tingsha Fairies

What would you wish for?

“Mommy,” Twelve is in the backseat, “it sounds like two fairies are duking it out in the trunk.”

I laugh, “Oh, it’s probably my tingsha. I had them out separately from my yoga mat bag today. They’re chiming with each bump on the road.” I strain to listen. She hears them; I don’t.tingsha

“No,” her will for whimsy makes me happy, “I’m pretty sure it’s two fairies duking it out.”

“Should I stop the car and break up their fight?”

“If you do, maybe they’ll grant you wishes. Two fairies, so six wishes. What would you wish for Mama?”

“Six, huh, that’s an awful lot of wishes.”

“And you can’t share them.” Twelve is so generous, “they’re all for you.” This from the child who’s liable to hand me a twenty when she owes me twelve and say, “keep the change and buy yourself a chai.”

I take a deep breath.

“Okay …”

  1. I wish my book would be published and would be optioned for a lucrative movie deal.

“Wanna go to Hollywood with me?” I am checking for her reaction. “Wait, is that one wish or two?” I don’t want to seem greedy.

“Nope,” she rules. “That’s just one.”

Wow. I still have five to go. I am surprised I can’t just rattle off wishes—I’m taking this whole thing very seriously.

  1. Okay, I wish for a roof and new windows for our house. And new carpet. And new paint.

Later I’ll wonder why I didn’t wish for the addition I’ve always I thought would make my house a pearl. Or why didn’t I wish for the mortgage to be paid off? Or why didn’t I wish for a castle in Scotland, a beach house in Delaware, and a getaway in British Columbia? I’m in practical place today and that practicality merely compounds with wishes three and four.

  1. I’d like new tires for this car. Really good safe-in-all-weather ones. And …
  2. I’d like to do whatever the PT Cruiser needs so it keeps running well for a long time.

She doesn’t remark about these wishes, just waits, hands folded in her lap, looking at the back of my head expectantly from the back seat. I’m stretching now (even though later I’ll think of lots more wishes, like full-ride scholarships to great colleges for both kids—then realize that she would have said those weren’t for me, but of course they are).

  1. I’d like to lose thirty pounds.

This frequently chatty, tangentially minded child barely blinks after this one. She always tells me I look perfect. Now it’s out there and we drive for a few blocks in silence.

“And the sixth,” she says calmly from the backseat, “let me guess, world peace?”

I laugh because she knows me so well. Then I surprise us both:

  1. World Understanding. I wish for world understanding.

In response to the tilt of her head, questioning without asking, I say, “I think maybe understanding needs to come before peace. And maybe we’ll never get entirely to peace, but understanding could go along way to smoothing out a lot of bad situations.”

I pull up in front of her dance studio and she gathers her bag and pointe shoes. “Good wishes, Mama.” She bounces out of the car and waves. “Bye, love you.”

“Love you, too,” I call after her retreating back.

As I drive toward the yoga studio, I sort over my wishes and ponder. One through five are all about me; but, I give myself a break, they’re all about ways to help me be a better me. They are also all within my power to accomplish if I really set my focus and make them my goals. Are these my actual goals? The first one is, to be sure. The others are about living well, pieces of a whole picture that I want to move toward.

I think about how I can do what I want to when I’m not overwhelmed. Overwhelmed, I go toward my worst weaknesses, sliding into bad eating habits, sleeping poorly, not exercising, and spending money thoughtlessly. When I’m not overwhelmed, I’m upbeat, powerful, happy. I’m also content, even without six wishes; I have the strength and determination to take small steps toward fixing the inevitable problems that are a part of every day living. I have patience, knowing maybe even not one thing can be entirely accomplished and put behind me in one move.

And world understanding? I can’t wish that to happen by myself. What I can do is my part. If I figure out how to be my best self, if I teach my children how and live by example, if I learn how to hold tight to center even when the overwhelming wheel spins, then I can look up once in a while from the day-to-day worries. I can reach out to try to understand one other person, one situation, one issue. I can lift the energetic vibration I cast out and know there’s a ripple effect, not unlike the lasting vibration the tingshas make when they ring, purposefully at the end of practice or surprisingly in the trunk of my car.

I used to say that if everyone in the world stretched their hamstrings every day, we’d have world peace. Knowing more about yoga and the body now, I currently believe it’s the quadriceps. Get me the world’s leaders in a room, put ‘em all on yoga mats, and let’s stretch those quads. Boom. World Peace. Until I can teach UN Yoga, I’ll keep working on my little corner of the world. This very day I’m joyfully teaching at the Summer Writing Festival in Iowa City. Thanks for joining me for the journey under the full thunder moon, xoR

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Timed Travel

Why Spain?

My daughter, Eleven, makes and sells Garnet Granola. Packaged in brown craft paper bags with labels listing the contents, the granola sells well at the yoga studio. It’s like an on-going bake sale, an entrepreneurial enterprise I encourage because eleven-year-olds can’t find much work and she wants to earn money. The granola, adapted from a recipe I first encountered pregnant with her and staying in an inn in Eason, Pennsylvania, is studded with nuts and dried cherry and cranberry garnets. It’s delicious. Her client base has been encouraging and a few have asked, “What’s she raising money for?”

The newest batch of Garnet Granola and the granola company's CEO.

The newest batch of Garnet Granola and the granola company’s CEO.

“We’re saving for a trip to Spain.”

Mostly this elicits stories from well-traveled yogis who have trotted many regions of the globe, but last week someone asked, “Why Spain?” There isn’t really a short answer, I want to tell her; it’s this:

The first apartment in Barcelona was a deep green cave, rooms end-to-end with next to no natural light. We only stayed there a few weeks, and then we moved to a sunny place where I had a little room all my own. I wore a tartan skirt to school and stood on the corner of the street every morning playing cat’s cradle with my mother until the van marked Uniroyal in red letters pulled up and drove me to school. I feel like we sat on tires loose in the back, but as I fashion the snapshots of memory into something like a narrative, I don’t really know if the tire part is the story as it was or the story as I want to tell it.

I was eight years old, in third grade in an English-speaking private school in Spain. My father was on sabbatical, working on a novel and getting in touch with his inner Hemingway. The rest of us went along for the adventure. My brother adjusted the best, opting to stay through the end of high school, coming home summers and long holiday breaks. For me Spain was not a good fit—I missed my cat, my friends, my Iowa life. Maybe as a result of never settling in, I have very few solid memories of the time in Spain, a time that was meant to be a whole school year but ending early for my mother and me—we returned to the Iowa farm in January.

What I do remember intrigues me and I like to take the memories out and examine them. I can remember the markets and shopping to make paella. I can remember the vendors who sold tiny figurines for Christmas crèches. I can remember some of the extraordinary Gaudi architecture, sandcastles in bright colors dotting the city. I have an image of the beach in Sitges, a memory of wearing an orange wool poncho and clogs, and I can still taste the charred artichokes that came out of a huge fireplace grill in the restaurant high on a hill where we dined several times. As I remember one item, one smell, one flash, I am gratified when another follows. And even though I know I did not want to be living in that foreign world, the memories are not unhappy ones.

Although my earliest exposure to a foreign language was this immersion, I can manage basics in both French and Italian but speak next to no Spanish. Living there, I got practiced enough at saying, “No hablo español” that Spanish speakers didn’t always believe me and would jabber rapid-fire in my direction. As an adult, I’m disappointed I don’t know Spanish. So I am delighted that Eleven and Fourteen have each been studying Spanish since they were six. This summer they’re off to Spanish language camp, where they can immerse in language and learning. But next summer we’re heading to Spain, or at least I really, really hope we are.

I’ll turn fifty in August 2015, and two years ago when my junior high friends were visiting for a few days, we talked about how we should celebrate fifty together. One woman lives with her family in Marseilles, another in Washington, DC. The fourth comrade is in Hong Kong—Spain seemed like a natural choice. We put a pin in the conversation—let’s try, we said.

Then Fourteen came home last year talking about a school trip that would take him to Spain and France this June. He pondered it, the expense, the realities of being far, far from home. When Fourteen was born, I started setting aside a dollar a day for him. After a couple of months, I put him in his stroller and off we wheeled to the bank where I opened a savings account in his name. Every month I made a deposit and I started to do the same when Eleven arrived. Eventually those savings accounts were turned into CDs with the idea that the money would fund that school trip or similar big-ticket luxury item. So here was the opportunity.

When he realized the Spain trip overlapped with the very much closer Simpson Jazz Camp in Indianola, IA, he hesitated: “I don’t want to miss Jazz camp. I got so much out of it.” I was a little puzzled—six days of trumpet versus seventeen in Europe, but I simply said, “You know, I’d really like it if your first European experience was with me.”

“I want to go to Europe first with you too,” the words tumbled.

“You, Eleven, me. Let’s all three go to Spain together when I turn fifty.”

And just like that the dream trip to Spain became a real goal. We wish to spend a week or so traveling and a week sitting still, ideally in a house somewhere, a grand rendezvous with my friends and their families. I look forward to making new memories with my peeps and wonder if anything I see, hear, smell, eat or experience will refresh my memories of the country where I once lived.

I’m dropping change in jars and we’re saving the profits from Eleven’s growing granola business, any extra bit tucked away. Given the choice between a night out and cooking one more family meal, I’m trying to take the less expensive route so that this dream trip with my darlings can really happen. Thanks, as always, for tuning in! Namaste & much love & happy new March (spring soon!) moon, Rxo

Vertical Hold

What are you reading these days?

[[Author’s note: This is probably more essay than blog post. Posting here anyhow … with thanks to my writing circle who challenged me to write into this more. We’ll see, for now here’s Part II, or thoughts to follow “The Door to Everywhere.”]]

When I was little we had an enormous color television set that stood on the floor. You had to cross the floor to change the channel, adjust the color, or turn the volume up. There were four channels and occasionally reception through an enormous antenna on the roof caused a snowy picture or rapid scrolling, black lines crossing the screen, necessitating adjustment of the vertical hold.

My mother gave my brother and me a television account, seven hours a week each. We had to read the TV Guide and select what we would watch ahead of time. I liked Captain Kangaroo in the mornings and when I snuck a peek in the evening, I thought perhaps he was also Walter Cronkite, no longer dressed in his signature red coat, back to deliver the evening news my parents consumed along with their cocktails every night.

Saturday mornings we must have somehow combined our hours, because I remember settling in with cereal bowls to watch cartoons. I liked the antics of Bugs Bunny the best, but it is the misadventures of Wile E Coyote I remember—how he would freeze in midair, eyes enormous before dropping legions down a canyon or look with sudden awareness at the item he was holding, something explosive, then look at the camera with full knowledge of what was about to happen. His ears might droop a little, but powerless to do anything about it, we’d wait for the inevitable, boom. It always made sense to my trusting mind that in the next frame, or maybe the one after that, he would return unscathed.

There are moments in life that feel just like that. Once I was navigating the overcrowded evening streets of Taipei, a metropolis that truly never sleeps, with a friend who had been living in Asia after college. We started across a street just as a car started barreling toward us. Maybe she was across faster than I was, but I jumped in the air, alarm on my face, my feet peddling while I hovered without moving forward—just like the Coyote right before he would be smacked by an oncoming Mack truck. Somehow I started to move (cue a whoosh sound with a little puff of cartoon smoke behind me) and made it safely to the other side of the busy street. When I got there, breathlessly, I said, “I felt like a character in a cartoon just then.” My friend laughed, “You looked just like one.”

More recently an ice storm coated the streets, sidewalks and trees of our community. I was on my way home from a late meeting, one of the only cars on the road. I got to my street, a one-block suburban circle that leads up the hill to my house, turned, and fifteen feet up the hill stopped, sliding sideways. Backing down and making a run for it netted me a whole twenty feet, and I determined that I wasn’t going to make it up the hill until the city had treated my street.

I slid back onto the more mainly road where traction was somewhat possible and saw a treatment truck go by. I thought to go and see if other circles in the neighborhood were being treated, figuring I could wait until they did mine, and found the truck two streets over. I pulled over to the curb to watch him start up the street and stop, wheels spinning. As soon as the driver took his foot off the gas the truck paused, totally still, and then started to slide at an angle right back down the hill. I watched him try and try again, getting no further than I had in his enormous six-wheeled truck with flashing lights and a bed full of ice melt.

It was no more successful when he turned around and tried backing up the hill, spreading his treatment mixture ahead of his own back tires. I couldn’t see the driver’s face, but the whole truck, each time momentum stopped and before it started to slide, had that Coyote-like expression, in the dark, the icy rain still falling and freezing all around us.

That night I ended up parking my car a solid half-mile from my house and navigating the icy pavements by walking on yoga blankets I had in my trunk. I’d put one down, walk across it, spread the second one as best I could, step onto it, turn around pick up the last one, and inch forward. I could walk safely on the grassy surfaces, but my trek crossed a parking lot, a slew of driveways, and one major street. By the time I reached the bottom of my circle, I had ice coated on my glasses and in my hair and I was exhausted. I thought, if I’m going to fall, it’s going to happen up this hill close to home. I tried to redouble my care.

Years of yoga and I fall well. That night one tiny misstep, my foot half on the blanket half on the icy pavement, and I went down fast—no time to look helplessly at the camera—curling into myself and landing on my right hip and shoulder. Normally I would stay down after a fall, allowing the adrenaline to subside, but heart pumping I got up knowing it was too cold to stay on the ground. I was two driveways away from my own safe house.

The next day’s weather wasn’t much better. Eleven and Fourteen had delayed openings at school, the people I was supposed to meet with opted to stay home, and I inched my way downtown to see my chiropractor who brought mobility to my stiffening shoulder. That evening, on the sofa enjoying a fire and the surety of having everyone at home, I thought it might be nice to read a book.

I don’t remember learning to read, but I remember reading just about every book in my junior high’s library, some of them many times. I consumed books, like my children do, opting to read over just about any other activity, even sometimes those seven hours of television. My appetite continued through college, when I would use reading to relax, especially during finals week. Then in graduate school I spent three years not finishing books because there was always more to read. But I regained my reading pace as a professor, surrounded in various English departments by colleagues who always were reading and recommending something new.

Novels, memoirs, and academic treatises gave way to Moo, Baa, La La La and Goodnight Gorilla when Fourteen was born. I read to him constantly and it wasn’t long before he would toddle his way to me, a book offered with a beseeching look. We would stop everything and read, one book over and over or a stack that seemed to appear as he crawled into my lap. My own reading pace slowed considerably, not to a dead stop but to an agonizingly slow pace, maybe a book every month or two. Television and Internet screen time took over as my drugs of choice.

Today I read a lot—editing materials and email messages and business-related items—and I don’t read much at all. I still have the habit of buying books—I’m rarely able to finish a library book in the three weeks allotted for me—and starting them. They tend to lie around with a torn scrap of paper marking the first chapter or, worse, open, their spines creasing to keep my place. Momentum lost, I’ll clean them up two or three or eight weeks after I’ve started reading them and put them on the shelf next to all of the other “must reads.”

The hankering to read that started on the sofa the day I was resting has turned into a full-blown impetus. As a part of this year’s visualization process, I kept coming up against this image of books not just organized and waiting to be read, although that’s a part of it, but actually reading books, consuming them like I used to, like I watch my children do every day after school, without a thought.

At the same time, I kept seeing explosions and fireworks, alarm and beauty, cartoon character style. Cartoon characters have a plan, often foolhardy, but they set about it with resolve. I drew a picture—order written in the cursive fuse of a rocket, a stick-person rendering of me hanging onto the rocket called chaos, the ascent, explosion, and subsequent fireworks lighting up the sky. Such events can be beautiful, breathtaking, and damaging; there’s a chance of getting scalded by falling embers or dirtied by ashes as they tumble, not to mention the perilous fall back to earth. When I looked at my drawing, what I could see was an image of me coping through the ups and downs. It’s a start but not ultimately a good visualization because it doesn’t promote the life that I want.

What I crave right now is ordered space, a concept that in my mind means I’ll be able to pick up those waiting books and read, put them down to attend to the next thing—or hold on as the inevitable chaos explodes, like I did just this week when the hydraulic system in my car’s transmission failed—but come back to the books sooner and read some more. Ordered space means that although life is chaotic and sometimes explosive, there will be a firmament that’s truly firm for me to stand on, manage the chaos, shelter through the explosions, and settle back without too much lingering ash or danger from falling embers. Ordered space is my visualization for this new year, represented by a line-drawing box, the inside a place to find order, the outside chaos held mostly at bay. Ordered space equals organized time and organized time includes time in my account to indulge in activities that give me joy, like reading on the sofa with my peeps.visualization

Makes sense, doesn’t it, that I’m reading Everything That Remains, a memoir by Minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus. Happy New Moon, Happy Wood Horse Year (Eleven’s year), Happy Groundhog Day, a day that marks my eighth anniversary as a yoga teacher. Wishing you warmth and the solid belief that spring will spring wherever you may be. With love, as always, Rxo

The Door to Everywhere

The Door to Everywhere

What will my visualization be for this year?

A few years ago I would have been panicked when January First arrived before I’d had opportunity to evaluate my world and make New Year’s Resolutions. That’s no longer a problem and not simply because I’ve given up resolutions in favor of visualizations. It’s no longer a problem because I now see the time from the Solstice to the Chinese New Year as a period of transition, an easing through the end of one period and the beginning of new energies.

This year, as happens once every nineteen years, the first of January was also a new moon. The new moon is an auspicious time for beginning anew. This January will lengthen under two new moons, and not just any two new moons, two supermoons.

Supermoons, my friends at Earth & Sky explain patiently, are the moments when the moon in its orbit is closest to the earth. There will be three full supermoons this year in June, July and August, and two new supermoons, both in January. The scientific name is perigee new or full moon, with perigee meaning “near earth.” To the gentle observer, supermoons look really big and close and, as with all moons, that’s true wherever on our planet you are.

In wonderful contrast, the full moon this month, falling on January 15, will be a micro moon, as far away in its orbit as it can be.

Bringing the question back to earth, what shall be done with this whoosh of new beginnings energy?

I’m just starting to see. Of course, there are the standards: lose-weight-exercise-more-eat-better-save-money-cultivate-less-stress-be-an-attentive-mommy-shrewd-business-owner-happy-yogini. I might add that sleeping regular hours would help immeasurably. Each of these is a given alongside writing more and worrying less. Still I know better than to make resolutions around basic quality of life improvements most of us can embrace.

Last’s year’s visualization was an open door. Most days I drew the icon in the steam on my shower door before I stepped through into the towel waiting on the other side. That my shower door swings both ways is a perfect metaphor for the door I visualized—sometimes it opened to the way home, sometimes into my business, sometimes into the world.

Doors ended up being a very big part of 2013: in January, I financed my house in my own name, so for the very first time I now own some 54 interior and exterior doors and doorways, including garage, pantry, and closets. A short while later I added a four-door car to my fleet, making Eleven and Fourteen more independent as they leap from the car to head off to the bus, dance, or Taekwondo.

Some interesting personal and professional doors opened for me as well, but the one that is most significant for me came along sometime in mid-December. It started with a very real need to invent a door—an interior door that could be closed to cats but open at the same time. I considered a basic screen door, but at least one of my cats climbs screens and would ruin a screen door in record time. The problem lies in wanting to keep the cats out of my bedroom—there is a mysterious spot on the carpet only in my room where they seem to feel they need to pee—but wanting cool air in summer and warm air in winter to circulate through the door. With the solid door closed, my room rarely gets above 60 degrees in winter and is often colder.

I found metal cutouts at Menards, on sale in the garden department and thought—if I could build a door, I could use those as panels. Then I thought of my friend David, a creative carpenter, and challenged him to the task.

I also asked him if he could solve a problem with my oven, and he gave me the name of a talented electrician. As is so often the case, I had a laundry list of small chores for an electrician, so we met and went through the list and he gave me a most reasonable estimate and we set a date for the work.

It’s no surprise that the one item on the list that wasn’t truly a repair, but rather an opportunity to fix a gross mistake in the original wiring of my house, had to do with doors. Both three-way switches for the dining room light were behind dining room doors. That meant to turn the lights on or off or to access the dimmer, you had to walk all the way into the dining room, swing the door away from the wall, and activate the switch. The talented electrician moved the switches to the stairwells that hug either side of the dining room, and now the lights can be accessed without hassle. It’s one of those things that has bugged me since the day I moved in here (nine—gasp—years ago), and now every time I need to turn on or off a light, it is with both ease and the total delight of having fixed something that was all wrong.

The novelty of the accessible switches hasn’t worn off one morning when we are hustling out the door to the bus and the world beckoning beyond. I reach over Eleven, sprawled on the stairs to put on her shoes, to click the switch for the dining room light off and smile to myself, “I made that happen. I did that.” Surveying the out-the-door-to-the-day scene in front of me, I find the thought expanding, “I am doing this, all of it.” I look up at my new door, a piece of art that makes me smile every time I see it, and the feeling deepens, “I can do this …  yes, not always perfectly, but I can do this. I can do precisely what I’m doing.” Peeps in tow, I walk through the door to contentment, ready for the everywhere that lies beyond.

The micro full moon rises over us tomorrow, 1.15. I hope you are warm and enjoying cozy winter activities. Part II of this post, along soon, aims to answer the question about my visualization for 2014. See you soon, with much love, Rxo

ps. I’m so enamored of my new door, I can’t stop adding pictures of it. It’s hard to photograph well, but it’s beautiful!

Electronic Gift

What do you want for your birthday?

Honestly, I can’t imagine any better gift than this column, a gorgeous response to my July post entitled “Dear Abbie.”

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/news-opinion/facebook-no-substitute-airmail-says-5758020

With love and happy dances under the full August moon … see you when I’m 48. Namaste, Rxo

The Art of Possibility

So, you are now a yoga studio owner?

In Gayle’s 9 a.m. Thursday morning Vinyasa class the volume within and without was building. Gayle plays stirring music, some traditional yoga music, some surprises. I might find my fingers drumming along to Bobbi McFerrin singing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” in a hip-opener or interrupt the steady flow of inhale and exhale singing out loud to “Brighter than the Sun.” Plenty of the music isn’t so familiar; Gayle’s practice is guaranteed to pull me in, heat me up, and wring me out.

A Vinyasa practice links breath to movement and usually features any number of demanding poses, and repetitions of four-pointed staff pose (Chataranga Dandasana), upward-facing dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) and downward-facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). These three poses work the shoulders in a way that until recently my shoulder had been unwilling to accommodate. For the last month or so, I’ve been moving into a more demanding flow and experiencing the rich rewards associated with hard work.

We were really warm Thursday morning and Gayle called for three-legged downward facing dog. Right legs lifted behind us all around the room and Gayle asked us to draw our right knees in tight to our chests, coiled like panthers about to spring. “Place your knee between your hands, back toes walk back, Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, one-legged pigeon pose.” Pigeon is a hip-opening pose, the front leg traditionally bent so that the shin rests parallel to the front edge of the yoga mat, the back leg extending all the way back, toes untucked. If you melt your heart forward, it becomes almost restorative and certainly is easier to hold. I lifted my heart instead. Next I lifted my back foot, reaching back for it with my left hand. The foot nestled in the crook of my elbow and I breathed into the sweet quadriceps stretch. Then I surprised myself. I tried something I had never tried before. Releasing the handhold, I squeezed my foot in toward my back with my hamstring, I turned my hand over, found my foot again, and grasped the slippery big toe with my hand, rotating my elbow toward the ceiling. The next move was to lift up through my core, extend my heart upward and ease my head back toward my foot. For the first time ever, I could feel my hair with my foot. I squeezed everything a little more and grazed my head with my toe. It was awkward and wobbly, but I brought my head to my foot in full Eka Pada Rajakapotasana or Crown Pigeon. The experiment was similarly, inelegantly successful on the left side.

Some poses I work for and at forty-seven, I can move my body into positions that weren’t remotely possible at thirty-seven or even twenty-seven. But closing the energy circuit in pigeon, bringing that foot to my head—it’s not a pose I’ve been pondering, looking for or working toward. It’s not a bucket-list pose like handstand or crow; it wasn’t even a twinkle in my eye. And I was so surprised that I didn’t  fully register what had happened until later in the day, teaching again, doing a fully propped version of pigeon with my restorative class. I tentatively drew my back leg up and regarded  the miles of space between foot and head—it hardly seemed possible they had come together earlier that same day.

Closing the space between my head and my foot, with a little help from the wall

Closing the space between my head and my foot, with a little help from the wall

I’ve been talking about possibilities all week in class. Springtime, even our wet, cold, late spring this year, is a moment all about possibilities. But contrary to the new energy of spring around us, it’s our very human nature to set limits, lower expectations, and cut things out all together. One morning before class three different yoga students came by my desk and our separate conversations ended with the same mantra, “never say ‘never,’” I told each of them.

One woman is new to yoga, recently retired. She’s enjoying the practice and brings a delighted energy to the studio. In light of a question she asked about the body, I said, “you’ll learn all of that when you go through yoga teacher training.” It was a gentle nudge, not because I think she should teach yoga but because her question showed the kind of intense curiosity that makes a good teacher. She laughed, hard. “I’m never going to be a yoga instructor.”

The next conversation happened with a woman who worked hard for some time to get into headstand and now performs the pose regularly and easily. When I suggested handstand next, she said, “No way, never.”

The third woman stopped by the desk to tell me she had missed class the week before for a medical appointment. She’s old enough, now, that her doctor is telling her she no longer has to have certain tests—she’s had her last colonoscopy, her last pap test. With a sly wink she whispered, “unless I have sex again.” In her regular voice she quickly added, “but that’s not going to happen.”

Asking the women to sit tall at the start of our practice together, I made them laugh when I mentioned the impossible trio: becoming a yoga instructor as a post-retirement job, handstand, and sex after 70. And then I asked them to close their eyes and ask why those seem like funny ideas instead of real possibilities.

Sixteen years ago I left my first professional full time job at Suffolk County Community College on Long Island. I reconnected recently with one of my former office mates, and it was he who asked, with some surprise, about my status as a yoga studio owner. “It surprises me, too,” I told him. Then again, ten years ago putting my foot on my head in pigeon, living in Des Moines, IA, owning a yoga studio, and keeping a blog weren’t even remote inklings in my imagination.

What about ten years from now? I might imagine what I think I’ll be doing; I can set and act upon long-term goals; I can count on certain realities. What I can’t do, what none of us can do, is truly see the future. Nor can we predict the full range of possibilities in that future—the delights, disappointments, frustrations, and surprises, the spontaneous performance of stunts we weren’t even trying for, the relief we’ll feel when efforts toward something we thought we wanted don’t pan out. But if we sit with life knowing that it IS limitless, if we truly excise never from our vocabulary, then we get to live fully and openly in possibility.

The new moon has given way to the full pink moon, brightening the sky overnight. The cold spring seems finally to be opening to the possibilities of warmer temperatures, budding trees and blooming flowers. May the loveliness of spring open each of us a little more. xoR

Tea, Tree & Me

What can you do to have a good, happy, fulfilling, and meaningful life?

Usually, I navigate my way toward answers in prose, and often poses, but this question is both asked and answered by the talented and brilliant Jonathan Haidt in his book, in which I have been dwelling for nearly three months, The Happiness Hypothesis. Haidt explains: …happiness comes from between. Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait.

Haidt’s selling, and I’m buying. Here’s why.

My mother, Eighty-eight, is an irrepressible gift-giver. Do something nice for her, she’ll send you a present. Christmas is in ten months? She’s starting to consider her gift list now. My children’s birthdays approach? What’s her shopping budget? Giving the right gift makes her very happy, and she thinks long and hard about presents and their recipients.

She’s also not good at waiting, once the gift is in hand. Thus, I got my Christmas present, purchased in early October, a few weeks later when I was skidding on a rough patch and she felt I needed cheering up. She wasn’t wrong and I loved wearing the garnet necklace right up to and on Christmas.

Christmas Eve 2012 will be remembered in my family as the year Eighty-eight was in the hospital. She had been in the cardiac unit at the hospital for nearly a week, she was rounding the bend toward recovery, but the doctors still weren’t satisfied with her numbers, so we learned she wouldn’t be released until after Christmas. Ten, Thirteen and I took Christmas to her: a tiny tree, a lit sign that reads “joy,” a stocking hastily assembled at Walgreens. Under her direction, I also wrapped and ferried over all of the gifts she had for our extended family.

Scribbling my instructions on a scrap of paper, I looked up surprised when she said, “And don’t forget yours—I’m sure you’ve guessed it by now—it’s around the corner in my closet. It’s already wrapped.”

“Um, Mom, you gave me my Christmas present.” I fingered the garnets at my throat, “Remember?”

She smiled. “Yes, I remember. Don’t forget to bring the bag from my closet. I’m sorry it’s so heavy.”

Like a kid on Christmas does only an adequate job of describing how I felt when I peeked around the corner in her closet and saw a large shopping bag from Williams-Sonoma. It took me a while to work out that she had gone there in November with my brother. I tried very hard not to think about what could be inside.

In my mind, a perfect Christmas present is something you would never purchase for yourself, is a little bit lavish, and when it comes right down to it you can’t understand how you ever lived without it. When I tore the paper off the box in my lap at the hospital, my mother had scored on my behalf the most essential, lavish purpose-based tool I have ever owned. It brews tea—just that—the perfect cup of tea every single time.

Now, every morning, I fill the magnetically propelled basket with organic Darjeeling. I add 1000 ml of water and set the pot on its electric base. Black tea, 212-degree water, 3.5 minutes brewing time. The machine takes tea seriously. Two months out from Christmas, it’s still a delight when I push the shiny silver button labeled “tea.” Boiling time plus 3.5 minutes later, Eighty-eight, Thirteen and I enjoy perfectly brewed tea.

I think about this machine as I work my healing shoulder back into handstand. Adho Mukha Vrksasana, downward facing tree pose, is never easy for me. The first time I stood on my hands without assistance was in my basement, January 2007. I had been practicing yoga for eight years. I was so excited that I did it again. But ever after it’s a pose that takes determination and preparation—it takes the right conditions. If I’m too tired, it’s not going to happen. If I’m being watched, it’s questionable. If I weigh more than I do right now, it’s too hard to kick up. If my shoulder is injured, I don’t risk it.

So it was with some surprise a week or so ago that I found myself in my favorite handstand spot in my basement, fingertips four inches from the wall, lifting my hips into downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Getting ready for handstand I spend a lot of time measuring—the distance between my hands, the distance from my head to the wall, the sense of lift as I come off of my knees and into dog. Walk forward—one leg long and ready to swing, one leg drawn in close and coiled, ready to spring. I adjust my hands and focus on breathing—a deep inhale and an exhale that will help with the lift. Adjust the hands, press into the first finger mounds, check the distance from head to wall again. The first hop is another measure—how’s my kick today? Does it have any umph? The second comes directly after, more force and I try to connect my heel to the wall above my head. Now I’m closing in on ready, more breath, more adjusting of hands, more coiling and lifting, then—sometimes—conditions are right and I lift off and stick the pose.

And it makes me so happy.

I never have any doubt when I’m upside down—headstand, handstand, elbow balance—that our bodies are designed to invert. Working through the

Upside-down and all is right with the world

Upside-down and all is right with the world

preparation for handstand, and my own particular shifting, breathing, and kicking ritual, I feel the rightness of it all. Our bodies are purpose-built tools, like the most incredible tea-maker that glistens on the kitchen counter, and yoga poses create purpose. When we find our purpose—be it pose, vocation, avocation, parenthood, creative milieu—and pursue the conditions that maximize our abilities, and strive to get better at what we do, we kick and lift off. We soar.

Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, Haidt writes, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger. It is worth striving to get the right relationships between yourself and others, between yourself and your work, and between yourself and something larger than yourself. If you get these relationships right, a sense of purpose and meaning will emerge.

I know what he means: Cradled in purpose and meaning, we find our way to happy.

The full February moon—the appropriately named Snow Moon—is in Virgo. Someone who knows astrology tells me that this moon, for me with a double Virgo in my chart, creates particularly large energy centered around releasing, letting go, and balancing in order to move forward. Sounds like a handstand to me. May the light shine on you and yours, Rxo

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