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#RadiantOmYoga

#RadiantOmYoga

How do you know when it’s the end?

Kurt Vonnegut opined in his play Happy Birthday Wanda June that heaven is a giant shuffleboard game. I think of my father sending a disc gliding down the court and then leaning on his cue, sipping a heavenly cocktail, and gazing down at us periodically. He would be especially proud of his grandchildren, two Harvard men (my nephews), Fourteen, a budding novelist, and Seventeen, who shows every indication of moving toward finance but who has been writing front-page articles for his school newspaper since the first week of school (Grinnell’s newspaper is The Scarlet and Black).

Seventeen’s grandfather found his early writing roots in journalism. His father, Seventeen’s great grandfather, was a newspaperman. My brother is an editor for Field and Stream. My grandmother wrote children’s stories and women’s fiction before there was chicklit. Writing is in our blood. From his early journalism exposure, my father never finished a manuscript without centering at least one # at the end. I can still see his desk, which is now mine, covered with piles of thin bond, Xs crossing out the mistakes, his unmistakable handwriting annotating his drafts. Somehow, my father always knew when he was at the end. It must have been such a victory to type those pound/number/hashtag signs at the bottom of the page.

I mean to ask Seventeen if he submits his electronic stories replete with ### at the end or if there is a new convention now that submissions present in digital form. It was less conventional for my father to end his novels that way, but he never typed “the end.” For years I copied him, until one of my college professors circled the ### on the last page of my paper and swirled them away as unnecessary with a delete symbol. Curious, I do a little searching. According to the Internet, it was all the way back in 2007 when the # got repurposed by the tech world. It wasn’t on my radar in its hashtag capacity until much more recently, and while I’ve been known to “hashtag” a phrase or two, I’m enough of a traditionalist that I still think of it as the number or pound sign first.

“Punctuation,” I tell my writing mentee, “makes meaning.” I am incredibly fond of punctuation for this reason. Beyond knowing when and how to employ the squiggles and dots that pepper the keyboard, I marvel how in each unique application punctuation eases the workload for words, adding just the right finish to a polished sentence.

Period. The end. But how do you know?

To finish something, we have to anticipate the end. Early this year I met with my accountant: “I don’t think I’m going to renew the studio lease,” I told her. “After five years, this is going to be it.” And after five years of cheering me on, meeting with me at every turn, soothing and comforting me when obstacles threatened to derail my progress, my accountant simply agreed, “It’s time.”

Full of the promise of possibilities, eager to show my children that their mother could create something amazing, ready to give up the life of a road yogi teaching at as many as seven different places in a given week, it was six years ago when I started writing the chapter that would become Radiant Om Yoga. There were lots of firsts on the journey—from legal explorations like becoming the proud owner of an LLC and a trademark to learning QuickBooks and small-business banking to getting the key to my first leased commercial space. What I didn’t know when I started about running a business, in spite of being self-employed for much of my adult life, I learned to the best of my abilities, marveling at just how different each day could be.

On the fifth anniversary of the very first class I ever taught at Radiant Om Yoga, with the help of three women I am lucky to count as friends and supporters of my yoga journey, we picked up the floor, the last big task to closing the space. That night, Wednesday, I taught my first class in a new space, a yoga cooperative where my community kindly followed me, and the yoga that night reminded us that the practice allows us to adapt.

Thursday it took two car trips to load the tiles into my garage. I made a pile so high that, as Fourteen said, “The floor reaches the ceiling.” The rest of my garage looks very much like a jumble sale; somehow the contents of the studio will find new purpose in my house or move on to new homes.

With nothing left but the garbage cans and a couple of resin chairs I was leaving behind (they were there when I got there), the studio felt like a shell. For five years I was the self-appointed steward of the space. Sitting on the floor one last time, I could see vast improvement to the interior of the building in spite of how hard as it often was: how many times did I curse my leasing company (indeed, at one point when they were fully in breach of contract I was one chess move away from rolling up my mat and taking them to court); how often did I arrive to find leakage from the roof, pest infestations, freezing temps because the furnace was out, snow under the door, broken plumbing, or humidity buckling my flooring; how frequently did my heart sink because just as I struggled to keep the place afloat another yoga studio would announce their grand opening in town? But then again, how many times did I teach in that sanctuary and find ease and joy in my whole being?

Sitting on the cruddy subfloor, I lit the candle and some sage and thanked the building, out loud, for the many, many gifts. Beyond everything I learned about business, beyond all of the yoga delights and revelations, beyond all of the healing, beyond the professional approbations and the personal friendships, the space was my sanctuary too, my healing place as I made the transition out of married life, as I forged ahead into and then out of an intense romance, as friendships deepened and I became ever clearer about who I am and what’s important to me. To mark the end, I rang the tingsha, three times, blew out the candle and knew … it was time to go. For the last time ever, I locked the door, patted the building, and got into my car. So much of the good continues with me, but the chapter, the chapter is truly and really over.img_7361

 

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With a new moon, new beginnings. Looking forward to writing the next chapter, xoR

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The keeper of the keys no more … later today I’ll drop this pile at the leasing office. 

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Zen & the Art of Litter Box Maintenance

Did you ever watch Dr. Who?

Fourteen is a fan girl. She hunches (in cringe-inducing posture) over her laptop watching episode after episode of Dr. Who. With her friends she discusses episode features and the different doctors, speculating on who might assume the role next. Recently she produced a “cosplay” outfit from her closet, prancing off to school as Rose, the Doctor’s associate. Knowing full well I am not a science fiction fan, she asks anyway, maybe hoping to uncover some affinity to my past. I can only offer that my friend in junior high was an intrepid fan of the Doctor with the scarf. “Ah, the Fourth Doctor,” she nods with absolute certainty.

As I ferry Fourteen from point A to point B, she often talks dreamily about the wonders of time travel, outer space, and swift saves for the planet. Her talk challenges the notion of staying present, something I teach as a part of yoga practice. Our breath and our bodies are in the present moment; our minds are time travelers. The mind’s abilities to race ahead—anticipating the worst or stressing about events to come—and linger behind in hurtful past happenings lead to tension and stress. On the mat we can call the mind to be present, staying with the breath and connecting through movement, relaxation and meditation with the body here and now.

But naturally it’s more complicated than that. While time may be a construct of the rational brain, life’s progressions imprint throughout the body. Our bodies carry the stories within of everything they’ve experienced and—I would suggest—anticipate changes to come. But what I want to tell Fourteen is that we do travel through time; however, it happens in one continuous narrative rather than dramatic leaps into the future and back to the past.

What, then, do time travel and yoga have to do with cleaning the litter box? How is a task so mundane but vital to life with felines in any way a practice, let alone an art?

Cats have been a part of my whole life. Our farm cats went in and out freely, and I can’t remember if we ever had a litter box inside, perhaps a little-used one in the basement. But ever since petite, longhaired Tillie adopted me in graduate school, I’ve had at least one cat and one or more litter boxes under my roof. That’s about thirty years of cleaning up litter.

The most significant break came when Seventeen was around Ten and started cleaning the cat boxes for a dime a day. Later, the cats would subscribe to Time magazine for him, a satisfactory arrangement for all. So when he left last month for college, I was dismayed to find that the task reverted to me. At first I dreaded it, the clay dust, the scooping, the carrying … if you’ve ever done it, you know. I still can’t say that I like it, but I have learned a few things.

The first is obvious: once it’s done for the day, it’s done. But less obvious is that I can tell myself, in the morning for example, that if I take five minutes to clean the litter boxes (there are two in the basement and one upstairs), then the afternoon me won’t have to anticipate the unpleasant task. The present me takes care of the future me. And, inversely, later in the day when the job is already completed, the present me thinks back fondly on the actions of the past me—and it feels like a kind of time traveling, even if it has little to do with saving the world.

Cleaning the boxes takes little more time than walking down the stairs to the basement, up two flights to the laundry room, and out to the garage. In that short time, I ponder this notion of caring for my future self. It makes putting money away for a rainy day, for example, or making a phone call right now that I’ve been dreading, a bit easier. More logical. Sweet, even. It makes me feel a little bit braver in the present moment, knowing some unpleasantness may be avoided in the future.

And then there’s this. Regular litter box maintenance is having another interesting effect. Seventeen wasn’t as habitual about the task as I am, meaning the boxes sometimes got, shall we say, over-filled. When that happened, the cats were known to “think outside the box” or at best leave the boxes messy. I determined to clean them nearly daily and in doing so, I’ve been feeling—this sounds almost ridiculous as I write these words—a bit of pride. But here’s the most remarkable part—the litter box users seem to have noticed. They aren’t throwing litter out of the box, using the sides or even the outside, or leaving their eliminations uncovered. It’s a behavior change I never could have anticipated, but one that leaves our present selves purring.

Shine on Harvest Moon! And Shine on YOU, in whatever present self you find yourself. Thanks for witnessing my journey, Rxo

String Theory

String Theory

Did you sleep?

Cosmic theories befuddle my brain. My son, Sixteen, likes to think about time travel and the edges of the universe and life on other planets. And he likes to talk about them, too. Such considerations are my mental undoing. Even a concept like our national debt doesn’t truly resonate because I don’t have a clear way of imagining what that amount of money looks like.

But it is not these things that disturb my sleep. If there are concentric rings of thought, moving from the immediate to the theoretical, I’m most-often lodged in those inner rings, trying to figure out my own realities, fiscal and otherwise. Sure, I’ll look up to consider the news, wonder about the political race, or feel dismay about foreign affairs. I love to think about the meaning punctuation makes in a sentence and challenge myself to read thought-provoking books. I might tackle a new recipe with fearlessness or a toilet repair with considerably more trepidation, but generally speaking these aren’t the things that wake me either.

In spite of all of the yoga I practice and teach, I’m a worrier. And when I wake up in the wee hours, it’s to worry—did I make the right decision? Will there be enough money? Is my roof going to hold? What shall I do about the basement leak? What can I do about it? Will there be enough money? Why don’t my cats get along? If I get rid of the landline, what’s the best means to fax in my editing work? What’s not done for tomorrow? What do Sixteen and Thirteen need tomorrow? What day will tomorrow be? Will there be enough money? If I go back to sleep, will I be groggy in the morning?

That last one is rooted in solid experience. If there aren’t at least 90 minutes between the worry block and my alarm clock, I’m liable to go back to sleep and wake sluggish, hitting the snooze alarm more than once. If I hit it too many times on a school day morning, I’ve got two choices: stumble downstairs and get the morning going for everyone else, skipping my treadmill/Sun Salutation routine that invariably gets my brain on track for the day, or head to the treadmill in spite of the time and guarantee a morning that is at best hurry-hurry-hurry and at worse a dash for the first school bell.

It’s pretty much a given that I’m going to wake up sometime during the night. But when the timing works right or—in the best-case scenario—I’ve had a short afternoon nap, my brain doesn’t spin up and I turn over and get more comfortable. Deep sleep, then, takes me to a place where I remember my dreams.

And so it was the other morning that I woke from a dream that seemed to be a fuzzy memory of my mother’s last car, a sleek black Lincoln we called the “mafia staff car.” I didn’t know when I woke up why I was dreaming about the car—just woke up thinking about it and realized that I was relaxed, not worried, the sign of a good night’s sleep.

That very night, nearly asleep, curled up in my bed on the floor after a day when my activities flowed easily from one thing to another, it occurred to me that the stitch that lingers post-op in my hand had come out. I replayed the moment in my mind, my hand raw but opening up to release the string, a black suture I tugged out gently with my other hand. I woke up then and felt my left hand with my right. The hard spot was still there, the puffy, sore spot to the inside of my knuckle not obviously better. And I realized that while falling to sleep I had flashed back to the dream about the Lincoln, a dream in which the suture was poking right out of my hand and I had tugged on it, removing it. My dream was so real, but only a dream.

Once I had sorted out that the image was a dream memory, I found it could play over and again in my head. Living in a body with a track record of rejecting stitches, was I visualizing what may eventually come to pass? That was enough to wake me fully and bring on the slew of worries that accompany not having a completely functioning and comfortable hand.

Erma Bombeck is credited with the first version of the quote I learned as, Worry is like a rocking chair: both give you something to do and get you nowhere. My worry is a naughty magic carpet, rocking me out of sleep, skidding into dreams and occasionally settling me down gently. My yoga mat feels like a better magic carpet to me, a place where I find serenity and a break from the worry. And I wonder, as I often do, how it is I have so much cause to worry when I practice and teach so much yoga. I am invariably stopped by the enormity of the potential answer to the next question: how much would I worry if I didn’t practice yoga?

A mudra, or hand gesture, that inspires knowledge and concentration. This is one of my favorites, and I've just learned it's also good for insomnia. See you at 3:23am Gyan Mudra.

A mudra, or hand gesture, that inspires knowledge and concentration. This is one of my favorites, and I’ve just learned it’s also good for insomnia. See you at 3:23am Gyan Mudra.

With the New Moon of 9.13.15 and Mercury cruising into retrograde on 9.17.15, we’re in a period of taking great care. The best-laid plans may go awry, even as the urge to make them is strong. Whatever your practice, hang in there & thank you for witnessing mine. Namaste, Rxo

Birthday Mala

Birthday Mala
What's better than a question mark!?

What’s better than a question mark!?

Who’s sending you all of these?

My first Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog) in nearly three months was Sunday, July 12, eight weeks after hand surgery on the index finger knuckle of my left hand (please see https://overneathitall.com/2015/05/07/hand-le-this/ and https://overneathitall.com/2015/05/18/my-ten-cents/). I was warm from thirty easy minutes on my treadmill, my hand tender and still puffy. I took myself through Surya Namaskar (a salute to the sun), ten straightforward poses that might be taught in an intro to yoga class. I took myself through a second. When I completed the third, I thought of BKS Iyengar, who told my teacher: three poses make a practice. Three rounds of Surya Namaskar. In spite of the uncertainty and pain in my hand, I felt really good, ready for my day.

(In English, a basic sun salutation starts standing tall. Lift your arms and fold all the way forward, lift your torso to a flat back, your hands sliding up your shins, bring your hands back to the floor and step or hop back to plank (top of a pushup), then lower your heart to the floor. Lift that heart in a small backbend. Soften out and lift your hips to an upside down V, that’s downward facing dog, the pose from which I was restricted both pre- and post surgery (no weight-bearing on my hand). Step or hop forward, create the half lift, soften back to forward fold and sweep your hands to the sky, coming back to mountain pose standing straight and tall, hands at your sides.)

The next day, I walked again on my treadmill, and then again I did three more sun salutations. And three more the day after that. I was feeling shaky in my plank, lowering my heart to the floor meant dropping to my knees first, and I could barely hold downward facing dog, the pain making my hand wobble. But I couldn’t get over how good this simple practice made me feel—centered and thoughtful, able to scoop my cat onto my shoulders (she waits for me right outside the door of the room where my treadmill is) and head up to cheerfully greet the day.

I consulted the calendar and realized I had gotten lucky. By the time I had started it was less than fifty days before my fiftieth birthday, so I couldn’t complete a challenge like fifty yoga poses in fifty days. But with the right math, there was enough time for a Mala. Mala is the Sanskrit for garland, and the traditional practice is 108 rounds of Surya Namaskar (albeit with more jumping and ramped up versions of my plank and backbend). My calendar showed that three-per-day six-days-a-week would get me to the Friday before my birthday. It seemed an auspicious way to move toward that big five-oh and rehabilitate my hand all at the same time.

What started out choppy and challenging became smoother. I added in a hop. I lowered down more easily each day. I was re-gathering strength and flexibility. I started to practice more fully with my yoga classes, too, encouraging my body to move in ways that were at once familiar and refreshing. I felt, too, some of the benefits of the “yoga marathon,” what we sometimes call the 108 practice when it’s performed all at once time. My daily practice was connecting my days, which often feel disjointed, giving them a comforting unity. The challenge to complete the Mala was all that kept me going at first, but soon I found the practice so compelling that the few times I did not get up and go right to my treadmill, I made the time later in the day.

At the end of the fourth week, four postcards arrived in my mailbox. They were each different, colorful and wonderful art, each addressed in lively different colored markers, each decorated in the part where you’d write a note with a two-inch letter. H, A, P, and P arrived all in a clump, and I set them next to my bed with an unconfirmed suspicion about who the sender might be.

The next day came Y, and it was time to share the goodness. I arrayed the postcards, picture side up, for each of my family members. Then I flipped them one by one, spelling out H-A-P-P-Y. Indeed, this gift was making me exceedingly happy. I posed with the Y for my Facebook profile picture, sharing my excitement with my online world.

When 5 and –th appeared next, Thirteen helped me put up a string in our kitchen where I attached the letters that had come so far. Each day I got excited about checking the mail; each day there was a new delight or a new mystery—where was T, what would come after the comma—unfolded.

In the basement in the mornings, I kept to my Mala; upstairs in the afternoons I hung more postcards on my garland.

The last week of my Surya Namaskar practice I started counting down in my head—only eighteen more, then fifteen, twelve, nine … I thought at nine about polishing them off in one go—I have done 108 in one session a number of times—but decided it was more important to stick to the pattern I had set for myself. After not quite six weeks I could reliably lower down from my toes, jump into plank, and lift from my backbend to downward facing dog without lowering through the middle. Still, three sun salutations felt measured and right, a practice I had and could sustain, even if afterwards I sometimes worked in another pose.

The final N of my name arrived two days before my birthday. A package came, too, from the number one suspect. The N postcard announced that it wasn’t the end, in tiny letters scrunched to the side of my address. What could be left?

My fiftieth birthday was a Sunday. I woke at nearly my normal too-early time; the house was dark and quiet. I thought about turning over and going back to sleep, but something urged me out of bed. I soft-footed my way down to the treadmill, realized that I couldn’t lie to it and punched in 50 when it asked my age, walked for 35 minutes at 3.8 mph and a 1.5% grade, walked my cool down, peeled off my socks and stepped onto my mat. Lifting my hands over my head, I folded to the earth. Three rounds of Surya Namaskar and I was on my way upstairs, a new garland and a new half-century ahead of me.

The complete garland--so beautiful I can't bear to take it down!

The complete garland–so beautiful I can’t bear to take it down!

The day after my birthday, the final postcard, an exclamation mark composed of books, arrived. In tiny print on two of the books, the masterpiece is signed, “Love from, Diana.” Thank you, thank you to the Lady with the Magic Van—your magic extends far beyond your vehicle. I love the way my birthday Malas linked the time before and the time after. Just like the phases of the moon bring me back to you, dear reader, at the same time they move us all forward. Happy full sturgeon moon, Rxo

Sit-n-Reach

Have you always been so flexible?

In yoga practice we fold forward, standing feet together or wide in a straddle to reach toward the floor, seated to reach toward our toes, drawing legs and torso toward each other in a seated balance pose that is frequently featured as a cover photo for Yoga Journal, a smiling, nimble yoga model making a difficult pose look easy, and even rolling over onto our backs, drawing the legs over our heads toward the floor. Energetically, forward folds invite the practitioner to go within, to cool a heated body or calm a flustered mind. Not everyone is a fan.

Forward folds tax tight hamstrings and hips. For people with low back pain, a forward fold may be appealing but it could be counter-indicated before, at least, the person is fully warmed up and has done a series of back extensions. Nonetheless, forward folds are such a standard measure of “flexibility” that they are included in the twice-yearly presidential physical fitness tests run in our public schools. In conversation with people who are telling me why they think they want to practice yoga, I often hear, “I’m not flexible; I can’t even touch my toes.”

At the studio I’ll encourage a class to take the first few forward folds of a practice with knees bent to avoid over stretching the hamstrings. If we lengthen and release from the bottoms of the feet along the entire back body and all the way to the crown of the head, we move from a dedicated hamstring stretch (and potential injury) to a full body experience that recognizes the connected nature of all of our parts.

That said, touching one’s toes is both an admirable goal and a reasonable expectation to arrive with on the mat. It is not, however, so accurately a measure of flexibility as range of motion.

I have in most of my joints noteworthy range of motion. Even following childbirth, it only took a few yoga classes after Twelve was born for me to give up arm-lengthening blocks and place my hand directly on the floor in poses like Triangle and Lateral Angle. When I talk about compression—the point at which a joint can move no further because of the way it’s built—in class, I invariably hear a gasp if I use my own wrist or even ankle to demonstrate. And when the inevitable question arrives, about whether I’ve been flexible my whole life, I smile and quip that I wouldn’t be a good advertisement for yoga if I weren’t flexible.

As ever, yoga offers me the metaphors that I need. When I first started practicing regularly in 1998, I believed I was flexible. I have never not been able to touch the floor. In just a few classes I found I could fold my body in half, laying the length of my torso along my legs. I can interlace my fingers behind me and drawing my hands over my head in a standing straddle, bring my arms parallel to the ground. What I have, naturally, are joints with significant range of motion. Yoga keeps my soft tissues limber, preventing tension that can constrict a joint. But like anyone, my joints stop moving where bone finds bone, what Paul Grilley calls “compression.” Compression doesn’t hurt, when you reach that point with all tension gone. But most of us find muscular tension restricting mobility before we reach joint compression. Still, range of motion isn’t the same thing as flexibility—one is physical, the other is much more about how we adjust.

A few Thursdays ago I was driving east, early in the day. Grateful I don’t normally have to flow with the rush hour traffic downtown, I figured out where I needed to be, parked, and thought to put money in the meter even though enforcement doesn’t begin until 8. The quarter jammed. I hopped into my car and maneuvered one space over. This meter swallowed my coins but gave me the appropriate time in return. I bounded up the stairs, not really late but arriving just overneath the wire as so often happens. The appointment, passports for Twelve and Fifteen, went smoothly and we were back in the car and heading to school just a little later. I’d already called in my daughter’s late arrival, so we dropped Fifteen first. On the way from his high school to her middle school, I mused that I would take my editing (due later that afternoon) out for breakfast, and then I head to my entrepreneurial buddy’s house for the morning. Twelve said, “That sounds like a nice day,” as she collected her belongings and stepped out of the car. I watched her to the door.

On my way to breakfast I realized that I only had with me the first four pages of a twelve-page newsletter, so I switched lanes and navigated toward home. I got out a pan to make my own breakfast and checked my phone—a message from my entrepreneurial friend revealed she was ill and in bed. I finished making my plate and told my mother, “I’m going to take my breakfast back to bed.” It’s one of my favorite treats and I had a book I was almost finished reading.

A half-hour later I got up for the second time and decided that since my day had shifted, I now had time to change my bed and put my laundry away before diving into the editing. It felt good to leave my room tidier than I found it. Downstairs I filled my water bottle and spread my editing out on my desk when an email arrived from a woman with whom I’d been corresponding—could we meet at the yoga studio at 11:35? I fired back that I’d see her there and in no time at all I was back on the road. The studio meeting and a few work items attended to, I decided to go over to the coffee shop, where I greeted my friend who telecommutes and sat down to attend to the editing pressing hard against the deadline as morning had become afternoon.

It was almost time to pick up Twelve when a mother and son hailed me as I was getting into my car—did I know the way to a specific address? I started to show them on my phone and when they looked concerned, like they couldn’t possibly find it on their own, I invited them to follow me and lead them to where they were going. They honked happily as I waved, tore back to collect my daughter, and we drove home to fax in my work, start homework and dinner, and regroup for a private session and a class. I couldn’t help but think about how differently my day had gone from the way I said it was going when I dropped her off. Not bad, just different.

Indeed, every day is interesting—a blend of different types of work, parenting, and socializing. Like so many, I move from one to another, sometimes smoothly, sometimes in fits and starts, often derailed by a fire to put out or a phone call to answer. Am I flexible? Sometimes. When I can decide en route to change my plan and decide to change again in response to a request or someone in need, that feels like flexibility to me. When I cope with my car breaking or my mother’s computer having a sticky q key, that, too, feels like flexibility. When I feel overwhelmed trying to get everyone fed and my son announces that he needs to be at school early in the morning for a guest speaker, in comes the tension. When I know there’s something big that needs to be attended to, it can feel impossible, in a way that makes me feel paralyzed and powerless. My mind whirls and often creates a block against any action, like a computer screen frozen mid-sentence or a stiff, swollen joint that doesn’t move through its full design.

paschi

Hinge forward, feet flexed, extend torso along legs. Interlace or bind the fingers around the feet to close the energy circuits. Breathe.

That’s the physical; yoga definitely keeps my physical tensions at a minimum. So, yes, I don’t often get tight or sore or lose much in the way of full range of motion. On a good day, it is quite a different muscle, my brain, that yoga is tasked with keeping flexible. Some days are more successful than others.

A post catching me up to the full moon, the spring temperatures, and the greening and budding and nest building that are happening all around us. Happy spring & thank you, as ever, for being a part of my journey. Namaste & big love, Rxo

Feet First

Whose footprints are those?

In December 1983 I bought a pair of high heels in a tiny alcove of a store on Wisconsin Avenue, the Georgetown shopping district steps from my university. I was a freshman, out selecting Christmas gifts with money I had earned in my work-study job driving a bus to take home to my family. The shoes, grey and navy blue, incidentally my school colors, were not leather—I couldn’t afford leather—but they were the highest heels I had ever owned. I paired them with a grey wool skirt, a cream silk shirt, stockings, my dark blue wool dress coat, the cashmere muffler I swiped from my father, and mirrored aviator sunglasses—it was the eighties after all.

I felt remarkably grown up flying home and perhaps was disproportionately ridiculous wobbling off the plane in Iowa, where we still walked down stairs and across the tarmac, in those heels on two inches of ice in temperatures sixteen below before the wind chill. But of course, the airline misdirected my luggage for several days. To stay warm, my brother loaned me a V-neck sweater and I wore my mother’s boots.

The most amazing part of that memory to me, all these years later, is that I stayed upright in a pair of shoes that were nothing like the shape of my feet and pinching horribly. I have wide, flat feet—the feet of a platypus. For years I bemoaned my feet—without arches I couldn’t run fast or comfortably or jump well at all. Most shoes were not designed to fit me. Dress shoes were even less available. I was never able to be a shoe girl—generally speaking I’ve owned at any one time: a pair of sneakers, perhaps some boot for staying warm, a pair of flats, and a pair of impractical shoes that seemed like just maybe they fit in the store.

When I started practicing yoga it was a toss-up whether my teachers would zero in on my feet or my knees first (they hyperextend). Iyengar yoga teachers are renown for their observations of their students’ body parts and not necessarily in a way that makes the student feel blessed. What they will do is help you overcome your irregular parts, propping you this way and that way, cautioning you to lift your inner ankles or otherwise adjust the realities of your body for comfort and integration in yoga poses.

Most types of yoga teachers will talk about the four corners of your feet, the inner and outer heel, the big toe mound and the little toe mound. They may talk about three bindi, or light points, a triumvirate from which we lift upwards. They may remind practicing yogis that there are 26 bones in each foot, 250,000 sweat glands, and toes that take half the body’s weight when we step forward. They will—or at least I will—invariably remind you to lift those toes, root down through the four corners of your feet, even when the feet or foot may not be on solid ground, and spread the toes wide and enthusiastically.

I had been studying yoga for about four years when a family vacation took us to the Delaware shore. While everyone slept, I tiptoed out for a sunrise walk on the beach. I walked along the deserted shoreline, the waves curling at my toes, the sun glinting up over the horizon. When I had walked as far down the beach as I dared, I turned around and started back, crisscrossing footprints headed in the other direction. The footprints puzzled me because I was alone on the beach and yet they didn’t look like mine. These footprints reflected feet that had shape and an arch even, not the ovals my feet marked in the sand. And then I looked behind me: to my astonishment the footprints that lead right up to my feet were the same. For the first time I could remember, I had made foot-shaped prints. They were mine!

One of my early teachers had sparked fear in me when she opined: Will yoga make your feet wider? Yes, but you’ll also learn to wear more comfortable shoes. When I heard that, I worried. I didn’t want wider feet. To be fair, in my case I don’t know that yoga has made my feet any larger than, say, two pregnancies did, but yoga has given my feet two things: arches and love. Sixteen years of practice have taught me to love my improbable feet.

I still have, in my closet, one pair of ridiculously high heels that “fit” in the store. They were five dollars. I have two pair with more realistic heels that I wear for dressy occasions, one pair of professional clogs, one pair of winter Merrills, and a pair of fancy ergonomic flip-flops. I keep my sneakers in the basement next to the treadmill, and I have a pair of winter boots I wear for shoveling snow. I’m not a fan of socks because I end up peeling them off all day long, but I like legwarmers. And now I look forward during yoga practice to seeing my feet.

My toes lift and move in many directions, somewhat independently from one another. My feet are still technically flat, but I can draw arches into them at will and propel myself forward reliably. I can stand on one foot more easily than the other, but my balance continues to get steadier, not worse. My feet are capable and I connect easily to both the four grounding corners and three lift-off points of light. They rarely hurt and tire long after my brain is begging for sleep. Yoga offers many gifts, not the least of which is how it changes your relationship with your body. I haven’t learned unequivocal love for all of my body’s quirky parts, but those platypus feet are two of my all-time favorites.

My feet, toes spread enthusiastically, on one of my favorite yoga mats.

My feet, toes spread enthusiastically, on one of my favorite yoga mats.

The new moon ushers in the Chinese New Year of the Wood Sheep. It’s another super moon, too, close to the earth in its orbit. The universe keeps offering us opportunities to get clear and ride the energy to whatever’s next. Feeling grounded by these feet of mine and flying high on the sales of my book (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/516628), I’m excited for whatever the next chapter might be. Thank you for traveling along with me, Rxo

Owner-(of the)-Ship

Whose rights are they, anyway?

The chair of my graduate school thesis, Professor Paul Diehl, opined in class one day that if he were ever to be some sort of lawyer or legal expert, he would take up copyright law. It was the end of the eighties, a decade that has come to be both celebrated and castigated in a way I find unnerving since it was the decade in which I became an adult. By the time I was enrolled in Professor Diehl’s class, big hair and leg warmers had given way to rolled-up jeans and rap music, a genre that left me behind, and I was studying creative nonfiction.

Copyright law was changing with the infiltration of computers and the “publish or perish” mentality at research universities. Under the construct of “educational fair use,” my fellow graduate instructors and I all-too frequently created dittos of favorite essays and foisted them upon our students. We were admonished by our department and textbook publishers, and many of us worked around the issue by customizing print-on-demand style reading packets available from some of the major textbook publishers.

Ever since, I have tried to walk a careful line and give credit whenever it’s due; I insisted my children learn MLA-style citations long before their teachers required them to include their source notes in school projects. As an editor I check carefully my client’s footnotes, endnotes and works cited lists, sometimes following hyperlinks for many pages and other times querying “indicate source?” in the margins of their work. I’m aware that when a play is performed, even by a group of high schoolers, or when the artistic director of the local ballet company chooses music for his dancers, the producers must secure permissions if tickets to the performance will be sold.

Nonetheless, I was startled awake by a recent article sent out by Yoga Alliance. Yoga Alliance is the governing body through which yoga instructors register; their newsletter is usually full of information about their business of yoga conference and partnership deals for discounts on yoga pants.

The headline, “Legal Risks of Playing Music in Yoga Class” (Yoga Alliance e-newsletter, August 28, 2014), caught my attention. As a studio owner, I am so often taken aback by a legal risk or wrinkle about which I knew nothing that I should be used to it by now. Not only am I not, but I tend to freak out when I see things like:

You have a few choices for legally playing music in your classes:

Pay the licensing fee to the PRO [Performing Rights Organization] that is requesting payment. You could also decide not to pay the fee, but that would entail a significant risk. While it is rare for the PROs to actually bring an action for infringing on a copyright owner’s public performance right, … the fine under the Copyright Act for a public performance violation can be as high as $150,000 per occurrence (i.e., per song played). (https://www.yogaalliance.org/music-licensing-information, accessed 10.21.14)

With concern, I read the article, clicked and followed the links and thought about which of my trusted advisors I might consult. Since I had a meeting already set up with my accountant, I started with her. It made sense to me, since at bottom line—whether or not Radiant Om Yoga should pay for music licensing—was in part a financial consideration. I thought she might help. She’s amazingly versatile and promised she would share the issue with a copyright attorney/friend. His reply was instructive if not precisely definitive:

It is advisable for your client to get licenses from ASCAP and/or BMI. Those are the two biggest licensing associations. Unfortunately, there are overlapping artists in both associations, so getting a license for both may be somewhat duplicative; but getting a license for only one would mean there are some artists your client would technically not be able to play on a CD or MP3.

For a small business owner it is difficult to determine just what songs you can play in your studio (although there are radio licenses too), so I find that a lot of people are not as concerned as your client is; they just decide to bet on the proposition that ASCAP or BMI would not approach them for licensing royalties. The problem with doing this is that ASCAP and BMI end up wanting past royalties, which can be expensive for a small business.

Generally, ASCAP or BMI is more likely to pursue your client based on the number of customers she has, but they have a bad reputation for being pretty ruthless when it comes to seeking royalties. If there are not many people in her yoga classes, then she might not even be “publicly performing” the work, and in such a case it might not make business sense for her to obtain licenses. (personal email, 9.23.14)

How small is small for class size? Who are these organizations? How do I know what’s playable? If I pay them, how do the musicians actually get their piece of the pie? Radiant Om Yoga’s third birthday came along and I put aside the music quandary for a bit. Then I had an appointment to discuss all things yoga with a trusted friend who is also a teacher and a studio owner, and I pulled together my online research to show her and discuss our options.

As I understood it, my options were: shut up and pay the license fees, move to some sort of music provider like Sirius that has a legal avenue for business to play music at their locations, wholesale with license to play a few CDs, or take the stereo out of the studio and cease playing music all together.

That was on a Friday. The very next Tuesday I got an unsolicited email from ASCAP (The American Society for Composers, Authors, and Publishers) offering to save me tremendous time and effort if I would just please sign the contract to license music-playing in my studio and send them a check.

I remain suspicious that Big Brother Internet somehow reported my searching, but the ASCAP rep I spoke to on the phone, after more consultations with the lawyer, insisted that they are researching and contacting every yoga studio, that her region was Des Moines. Okay, I asked her, just how do the musicians make money from the sum I’m paying you?

“I don’t really know that,” she answered. “I do know you’re paying the reduced rate for yoga studios,” this negotiated on our behalf by Yoga Alliance. I asked for a few other changes in the contract, corrected their spelling of Windsor Heights, and asked her to send me a new file. Radiant Om Yoga would toe inside this particular legal line, alongside taking the fire extinguisher to be officially tagged each year and having an ADA-compliant ramp, the engineering of which nearly drove the landlord’s central contractor insane.

Writing the check, signing and copying the contract, and putting the whole mess in the mail (and to bed), I couldn’t help thinking about how many knotty problems I deal with on a regular but never routine basis—all of the issues that come up when you’re the captain of your own small business. Some days I handle it with ease; far more often I struggle through the nuts and bolts and work hard to come down on just the right decision. At those moments, I think it might be a huge relief to let someone else take on the burdens—just have a job where I show up, work and leave. Then again, at that fantasy workplace I might not be able to get away with wearing legwarmers and the silver hoop earrings I bought in the eighties.

Legwarmers and hoop earrings, ready to wear

Legwarmers and hoop earrings, ready to wear

Wherever you are and whatever you’re wrestling with, the new moon plus a partial solar eclipse give us new inspiration. Maybe hunt up your favorite wardrobe embellishment and toss it on, connecting your past self with your present enthusiasms and future creative energies. And thank you, as always, for coming along with me on my journey. In gratitude and with love, Rxo

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