Dance, Yoga, Revolution

Some days, you gotta dance.  Dance sets us free when there are no words, and sometimes, it’s just the only thing left to do.  When many of us think of yoga, we think of a similar release. Peter Crowley, a local Boston yoga instructor and inspiration, puts these two practices together every Friday night with Freedom Joy Yoga – a class that combines yoga, a house music playlist, a dark room, a disco ball, and some seriously ecstatic dancing.  The Boston Yoga Blog went to Back Bay Yoga Studio this past Friday to give you a first-hand look into the class that has Boston Yogis kicking up their heels:

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A Spoon in the Road

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How many of us, at some early point in our lives, have stood wide-eyed in a preschool classroom to see some version of the phrase “be yourself” on a bright colored wall? Looking back on my kinder-years, I think this is quite a lofty request to make of a 5 or 6-year-old.  If you ask me, it takes a lot of courage to be yourself.  And, when your version of greatness doesn’t look like everyone else’s – when you have to let go of everyone else’s approval to have your own – well, that takes even more courage.

What happens when it’s not that easy? What happens when “being myself” means walking down a path that no one seems to have been down before, when the perfect song lyrics to match my connundrum just haven’t been written yet? How can I be sure in these moments that I won’t end up traveling my heart’s path with regret as my only companion?

Well, to be honest, I couldn’t be so sure when I woke up this morning.  Tossing and turning at 6:30 a.m. it felt like regret was wagging its tail at my bedside, begging to go on a walk. So, I enlisted a friend for some help.  I told him of my wavering stance on taking a stand for “myself” in the middle of impending decisions and transitions. He shared a great little story with me…

He told me that he used to think of life as a railroad track – his older brother’s train car was the one in front of his, and his brother’s life – his brother’s path – would be the one he would walk.  He felt he could easily predict his future – when he would get married, when he would get a job, when he would get a house – based on where his brother’s life had taken him. Then, in the process of some soul searching, he had a revelation and called a friend to share it:

“I’ve always thought I would have to take my brother’s path,” he told his friend. “Now I’m seeing that there is no one path – there are so many – I can take any of them!”

His friend responded simply: “There are no paths.”

I was awestruck.

With that story, I realized that where faith exists, regret struggles to get enough oxygen. There are no paths. There is no right way.  There is just one way or the other way. However, when we know in our hearts which way is the “right” one for us, it can be darn scary when that means taking the road less traveled … or worse, un-traveled.

Trusting that I’ll be carried down that unpaved road is where I can get really stuck. I think one of the hardest things to do in life is to trust – trust that we won’t end up homeless if we try to make it as a musician, trust that we know more than we think we do when the world is telling us we’re wrong. Perhaps when we’re standing at the fork in road, we can have faith that destiny is not laid out for us, but that wherever we are being led, we will be taken care of.  Perhaps instead of anticipating balancing on one tine of a baffling “fork”, we can expect to be cradled by a big spoon – no matter which path is ours, we will be supported on all sides, with infinite directions to continue walking in.

All the cool kids are doing it.

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If there’s one person in this world who can make millions of people want to start wearing parachute pants again just by wearing them herself, it’s Lady Gaga.  With a previously unmatched power of influence, Gaga, thank goodness, isn’t using it to bring back the questionable fashion trends of the 80s (…at least this time.)  For now, she’s using it to empower youth.

Yesterday, Gaga launched the Born this Way Foundation at Harvard University. Encouraging bullied youth to embrace who they are, Gaga told the audience of plans to spread a message of hope and empowerment for kids and teens who are being bullied both in and out of the classroom.

“This is not an anti-bullying foundation. This is a youth-empowerment foundation,” she told the crowd, according to Boston.com.

According to the National Education Association’s nationwide study of bullying, it was estimated in 2011 that nearly 30 percent of school-aged children suffer the affects of bullying on a monthly basis. According to their study, “the associated negative effects of bullying include a range of academic, social, emotional, physical health, and mental health problems” which all, in conjunction, often lead to academic struggle and possible failure.

So how does Gaga plan to turn it all around?

The multiplatinum artist and international phenomenon was quoted in an article by Nicholas Kristof yesterday saying that, instead of focusing on a “top-down crackdown” from school administration and other higher-ups, as Kristof put it, she wants to start at the bottom by making kindness what all the cool kids are doing.

“I’m not here today to give you an answer. And I’m not here to tell you I can solve these problems,” Gaga told the audience yesterday. “This is about transformative change in culture over a period of time.”

Olweus, a bullying prevention program, claims that students who bully “play a leader role” in their school’s hierarchy.  Those students who are not directly bullying typically end up behaving as supporters or as “disengaged onlookers”. What the Born this Way Foundation seeks to do is to use the mechanics of the high school food chain in an effort to reverse degrading behavior at the source.

According to its website, The Foundation stresses three pillars which, when combined, are the supposed ingredients for a “braver, kinder world.”  The first pillar, “Safety,” is cited as a necessary dynamic in order for “young people to be able to explore themselves.”  The Foundation offers online forums to ensure that this safe environment is available for youths looking to “celebrate their individuality”.

The second pillar is “skills” – the Born this Way Foundation seeks to provide its audience with the tools they’ll need to become successful leaders once they’ve gotten comfortable in their own skin. “It’s not enough for us to simply tell you about the importance of making change,” its website reads. “We’re going to provide you with the skills, tools and resources you need to feel empowered and lead.”

Lastly, “opportunity” is the third pillar.  Stressing that the effort is only as strong as its supporters, the Foundation gives individuals the resources they’ll need to pass the message on and foster hope in their communities.

According to her representative, Gaga has already donated $1.2 million of her own fortune to the foundation.  To make a donation or learn more about the call to end bullying and empower youth, click here.

”If you have revolutionary potential, you must make the world a better place and use it,” Gaga said, according to Socialitelife.com.  ”This is about transformative change in culture.”

And the net will appear…

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I woke up at 6:15 a.m. this morning. For those of you who know me, you know that this may well be a symbol that the world will, in fact, end in 2012.

I’ve spent the last few mornings … okay, that’s a lie … the last MANY mornings … with one thought screaming over the crowd, decibels louder than the rest:

“You’re late.”

I wake up feeling this way often, like I’ve somehow spent too long sleeping and the world will simply slip out of my hands if I am to rest another minute.  Clearly, I am in control of everything and the world will stop rotating on its axis if I stop moving for longer than necessary…

Ha, ha, ha.

After deliberating over what feels like a life-altering decision for the last couple of days, I woke up this morning in a panic to make a choice over this “pressing” matter  – and make one NOW. One choice in this dilemma seems to provide security, while the other one has no proof of what it will provide at all – just a feeling that it’s the “one.”

After waking up in my self-imposed panic, I was headed to meet several friends for an early morning get-together. I turned around at the last-minute and walked back home thinking that more time spent quieting my head would give me the perspective I need to make a decision.

So, I spent two hours IN my head having a conversation with myself about what I should be doing – clearly, this was greatly beneficial to my process.

As I typically do when I’m feeling bent out of shape, I signed on to Facebook to see if there was someone else’s life story that could take me out of my own for a minute.  All I kept reading was “Leap! Happy leap day everyone!”

Without my needing to think at all, the answer to my dilemma became abundantly clear. There it was – Leap. I realized that, right now, I am reclining on a net that appeared from the last time I took a leap.  When I leaped at that time, I was leaping off of another net. There is so much beauty awaiting in what is not guaranteed.  Mind you, I am not endorsing reckless abandon – I am reflecting on where faith has taken me.  Most importantly, though my head might not believe it, total world destruction and domination will not occur if I trust that these things will be taken care of without my insisting that a solo version of “The Great Debate” take place in my head for two hours each day.

Oh and also, to the jerk who tells me I’m late every morning – eh, you might be right. Enjoy being a time-obsessed bastard, I’m going to go slowly drink my coffee in that net you swore I wouldn’t be laying in.  Hugs and Kisses.

Oh, you really shouldn’t have…

"Frustrated Gal", Photographer Unknown

Can I just say, for the record, that I think “should” is a swear word.  I do not believe in “should”. I do not promote, endorse, or campaign for “should” and I shudder when someone approaches me starting a sentence with “you should…”  When did we all start “should”ing all over each other?  It’s getting a little smelly in here.

I was talking to a friend after yoga today about one of the most valuable things that yoga teaches me –  self acceptance. This does not come from “should.”  Only out of gentleness can a cycle of “should”ing be broken, only from kindness can we begin to take the steps we feel are necessary within our hearts to take. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve never yelled myself into doing anything productive.  The only thing that subscribing to the shoulds has ever done for me is make me feel less than enough.

It’s a tough cycle for me to break when I walk into a yoga class and immediately notice someone whose butt is higher than mine, thinking that mine “should” be just as upright. Let me tell you, this “should”ing has not yet raised the level of my butt.  I’ll let you know if something changes, but for now, it’s highly doubtful.

I’ve taken about three months off of my favorite thing in the world to do – writing.  I write each day, but you can bet your bottom dollar that I haven’t posted any of it.  Why? Because I’ve had a case of the shoulds. Because it “should” be better, I “should” be doing it more often…so much “should”ing that, three months later, I was alone in a room with a whole bunch of “shoulds” and no materialized writing to be found.

So, this is a virtual toast to those with mid-level butts, to anyone with a severe case of writers block,  or to anyone who would really like to stop drinking so much darn coffee in the morning or chewing that whole pack of gum in a day (yes, I have done this…)   Embrace it. Love it. Hug it.

But, if you can’t, that’s great too – I for one am certainly not going to tell you that you “should.”

 

 

Thoughts on Love.

I recently had a friend describe me as being “a thousand different shades of gray.” I would say he’s absolutely right. Life isn’t black and white – at least for me it isn’t.

And, with that, neither is love.  I find recently that nothing is as it seems, things don’t fit neatly into the metaphorical boxes that I sometimes wish they fit into, and when we start learning and growing, our lives stop looking like a movie on repeat.  Then, it gets even more challenging to try to predict or label our experiences.  But hey, that’s my experience.

How many times in high school (okay, even in college) did I watch an episode of Sex and the City and tell a friend that whichever guy I was dating at the time was “SO my Mr. Big.” I would meet and date men and label them as “my Aidan” if they were wonderful but too wonderful, or “my Aleksandr Petrovsky” if they were exotic and fabulous but not exactly the marrying kind.  As life goes on and people change, or, as I change, I find that this task of trying to figure out who is “who” in my life according to where, how, and when the fictional character Carrie Bradshaw landed her main squeeze is pretty futile.  Things just aren’t that predictable.

However, at one point, I certainly tried to make things that predictable. In so doing, I came to the appalling conclusion that I would have to get all of my ducks in a row before being able to land this “Mr. Big.”  I would have to do some serious soul searching, get to a place of Dalai Lama-esque human perfection, and figure out all of my sh*t (sidebar: NOT happening) before any man or any relationship could be considered…

Right.

One day at a time, I gradually dropped my agenda and decided to allow life to take it’s course.  As a result, I have been handed a beautiful lesson that is actually quite the opposite of what I ever expected to be true of love.

What I have learned is that real love, for me, today, is accepting myself exactly as I am.  Being loved is being accepted whether or not I’m capable of accepting myself, whether or not my ducks are in a row or one is here and the other is off in an ashram somewhere doing some soul searching of its own. Whether we have the opportunity to share that love with someone else or we share it with ourselves and with the universe, it cannot be taken away. It is infinite. And, sometimes, great love doesn’t end in wedding bells. Relationships work out or they don’t, but it doesn’t necessarily make the other person an “Aidan”, an asshole or a “Mr. Big” that got away. Why? Because life is not that simple, relationships don’t fit into boxes created by sitcoms – they are so much more beautiful when they are allowed to take on their own life.  Love is not black and white.  It is a thousand different shades of gray.  And, just like the rainbow or a spectrum, the colors don’t run out.

Contemplating Tolerance

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When I was about six years old, I still thought boys were gross.  I was projecting into the future one day and getting quite concerned that apparently I was going to have to marry one, so I decided to consider my alternatives.

“Mom, can I marry a girl instead?” I asked in the car on the way to school.

“Well, yes” she replied, “and that would make you a lesbian … but you know that would be totally okay with me right???” she responded urgently.

I wasn’t gay.  I just thought it would be more fun to have a lifelong slumber party than have to spend the rest of time with someone who had cooties. The point is, my mom always emphasized that no matter what my sexuality, I was loved just the same.  I learned this from other parts of my upbringing as well – my parents’ best friends were a gay couple, my mom always outwardly supported gay rights, and when my mom was pregnant, she relied on her psychic gay hairdresser to forcast my entire future …. you know, just in case.

When it comes to politics, I’ve always come from that same perspective of tolerance.  It’s how I was raised.  However, when I saw this ad today, it was made very clear that some people were raised very differently:

I sent this ad to several of my friends, with a subtext of “omg, can you believe this?”  or “holy sh*t.”  I mean, first of all, seriously? Second of all, I don’t even know what a “pew” is.  It wasn’t until a conversation with my boyfriend, Sat, that I got some perspective on my own intolerance.

A little background, Sat has taught me a lot in the way of love and tolerance.  He has a neighbor with some sort of mental disorder who screams (and I mean, SCREAMS) obscenities into the wee hours of the night, nearly 20 of the 24 hours of the day.  Often times, this has woken Sat up, woken me up, and sheerly made me crazy.  Sat, however, insists on regularly praying for his neighbors happiness … while I’m in the corner preparing full-on warfare, obviously. He prays for his neighbor every day.  His neighbor keeps screaming louder and louder, and Sat seems to be getting calmer and calmer.  One time, when I was in Israel, I was putting prayers into the Western Wall, and I asked Sat if he wanted me to write something down and stick it in the wall for him.  He emailed me with a short response –

“Laura, please write: I pray for my neighbors happiness.”

So, today I sent Sat the video above, followed by some version of “watch out America”. After replying “I hope they squash him” he followed up with “I mean that in the most loving way possible.”  Whether or not he was kidding, which I actually don’t think he was, I realized that Rick Perry actually has a conviction, and he’s doing his best to follow through with it.  I personally think that conviction is dangerous for our country, dangerous for human rights … but, Rick Perry might believe that none of us are getting into heaven unless we “take America back,” whatever that means.  My point is, until we can see each other as doing our best with what we have, I don’t think we’ll be able to have any dialogue in this country that enables us to grow and change instead of screaming at each other.  We all come from different places, different perspectives – I doubt that if Rick Perry was raised in my home, he would have come out with these beliefs.  And, since I wasn’t raised in his, I don’t understand his perspective either.

What I do feel is that human beings are good.  We want to be good, we try our best to be good.  Sometimes, especially when we’re in pain, those efforts don’t pan out so well.  Hurtful words from students in a high school hallway can lead people to believe they are unlovable and even take their own lives.  Bigotry perpetuated by government can give ammunition to these bullies. All I see is that it’s not stopping when we are all only listening to our own sides and fighting fire with fire.  Can we look beyond what one another is saying, and instead look at them as being human?  In the midst of hatred, can we love back instead of fight back?

I won’t be voting for Rick, but some people will because they believe that’s just as “right” of a choice as voting to protect human rights. Personally, I hope that my future children grow up in a world where “gay marriage” is just “marriage.” I hope that they grow up in a world of tolerance for everyone.  Perhaps the first place I can start is with me.

The things I cannot change

I spent the summer in unscheduled bliss, my only requirement being getting to the next airport two hours before my next flight. Before I took off to my first destination of a two month long European adventure, I called a dear friend and told him of my detailed-to-the-minute plans for my trip. He cut me off and gave me some very valuable advice:

“Allow yourself to be surprised,” he said.  “Let a child’s laugh or a bounding puppy remind you of how lovable you are.”

From that moment on, days blended together, mozzerella was abundant, and the small, finer things were finally given the attention they deserved.  My jet lag didn’t cure itself until about 10 days into my trip as I stayed up late, and slept even later – I’m pretty sure my blackberry calendar was dealing with severe abandonment issues. I stayed with a friend whose garden served as my writing sanctuary, and mornings were spent taking artsy photos of my breakfast, walking to my London yoga studio, and writing among the flowers. Time spent alone was delicious, as was time spent reunited with old friends.

My "artsy" breakfast photoshoot

In my return to the academic life, I find myself getting stuck in my head a little more frequently, using my walk home to perfect the final details of my retirement plan. I can get so wrapped up in mentally mapping out the road to professional success that I miss the kid laughing with the dog, or the nice old man who waves hello in the morning (there are several, but I notice I always feel more guilty when I miss the “hellos” of the senior community due to my iPod headphones.)  Or, sometimes, I’m just plainly starring as the “Girl on TV” in the LFO video that plays in my head, which distracts me from the chirping birds.

During my morning reading/writing ritual a few days ago, I stumbled across a passage that reminded me of the value of letting go when all I want to do is hold on.  Nothing seems more challenging than surrendering control when I’m being faced with job hunting and a new level of commitment in my long-term relationship with Sallie Mae.  But, maybe I don’t actually have that much control in the first place:

“…this morning when I awoke, the sun was shining brightly, the sky was a deep and cloudless blue, and the autumn trees radiated gold, bronze, and copper. Without thinking about it, my first reaction to was to exclaim “Wow!”  I was struck by the fact that I had nothing to do with creating such a beautiful morning.  That meant I probably had no effect on the rainy or snowy mornings, either.  In fact, weather was one of the many things completely out of my control.  This perception relieved me of the responsibility for the weather, sunny or cloudy, and reminded me of the many things in life over which I have no control.  I can only let go and let them be.  I felt grateful for this reminder, and I began to count my other blessings as well.  My job was simply to enjoy the morning and be grateful for the experience of beauty.  The day was off to a great start.”

Wherever I am, whatever I do each day, I hope that everyday miracles serve as a reminder of what’s really important … even with retirement plans and job applications and bills in the mail – in the end, we only have today.

A girl’s got to eat

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I’m currently taking a class in personal finance.  The course calls students to take stock of their spending habits and make wiser decisions, insuring present and future financial security.   As I’ve recently begun reworking my monthly budget, I noticed that all of my “liquidity”, or spending money after bills are paid, was going to take-out meals and restaurants.  After weighing my options, I knew it was time to start spending more time in my own kitchen. I realized that if I were to instead start grocery shopping for all of my food needs for the week, I would be able to start saving money for much more important things … like shoes.

Oh, pardon me.  I mean…mutual funds.

Anyways, once I had this realization, there was one small problem:  I have no clue how to cook.  I remember in high school thinking that one skill all girlfriends, fiancés, and wives had in common was that they all seemed to be able to cook.  I recall thinking it would be a skill I would have to learn in order to be more “wifely”, but certainly not because it might save me money.  As a side note, this is definitely not the case. Let the record show that my boyfriend actually finds my lack of culinary skill endearing – one time, I told him I wanted to “get dinner ready” for us before he came home from work.  He seemed to find this so sweet that I knew I had to get us something really delicious.  When he returned to his apartment to find pre-made salads, strawberries, and packaged crème fraiche, he was not surprised.  I believe his response was something along the lines “Oh… you’re so cute.”

Historically, my skills have included microwaving veggie patties and putting ketchup on them. Over the years, I’ve also learned how to make stir-frys, honed my pasta-making skills, and perfected a goat-cheese salad … but I needed more options.  I like to eat in a way that supports the environment, and I figured it was a manageable possibility to start purchasing ingredients for lots of salad-making – not only would I have plenty of salad options, but my skill set would also enable me to make them successfully. With this plan, I would look forward to preparing meals that nourish the ground they come from as well as nourishing me.

That’s when a friend told me about the Farmers Market at Northeastern University.  Here, I can get everything I need for the week to make a variety of delicious salads, and other fresh meals that I won’t get bored with, at a very low price.  Not to mention, I’m also doing a lot of good for the environment buying local and/or organic products.  For everything that isn’t salad-related (proteins, treats, oatmeal, etc.) I can stop by Trader Joes and bring in the rest of my groceries, totaling less than $100.00/week for all of my dietary needs.

Now that I’ve done about two big grocery hauls, I find myself looking forward to coming home and …cooking!  I’m no Martha Stewart, but there’s something to be said about taking the time to put good stuff and thought into a meal, and feeding our bodies whole, delicious foods. Bon appétit!

Getting the Message

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They say that when we pray, we talk to God, and when we meditate, we listen.  Given that, let me inform you all that I’ve recently been talking my ass off. It wasn’t until the other day that I had the presence of mind to put this ass of mine on a pillow and see if I might gently take my sock, and insert it into my mouth.  In a brief moment of meditation, I was divinely guided back to this blog.

It started as I explained to God that I was running late to class, and that he or she had just two minutes to give some sort of guidance (of course, God understands that stillness is relative during the school year.)  I spent about 30 seconds of those two minutes continuing to blab about my state: having found myself in a place of formerly unsurpassed abundance in life, I explained that I’ve recently had the same feeling I get when I haven’t gone to yoga in too many days, or haven’t seen dear friends in too long of a time. I felt stuck. It didn’t make any sense to me – I’ve been upside-down pretty regularly since returning from Europe this summer, and it seemed like moments alone and moments spent with those I love have been very well-balanced.  I’m also in my last semester of college, so my course load isn’t exactly taking a toll on my sanity when it includes photography and voice lessons. As I rudely rambled on during God’s alloted time on the stand, I heard my answer.

“What happened to your writing?”

If God is in fact the voice within, which is one belief of several that I subscribe to, then my voice within was screaming for a pen.

I habitually write almost every morning and evening, and throughout the day when I can.  Recently though, after a whirlwind of activity over the summer, writing had fallen off of my radar without my noticing. I’ve just returned from about 4 months of on-and-off traveling, starting my summer adventure in London, making my way through Europe to Spain, Italy, and France, pit stopping in Texas (had to take my big hair, which is currently not so big, back to its roots,) returning to London, and spending my last two weeks of summer in Israel.  After hurricane Irene left me stuck in the land of milk and honey right up until my moving date, I practically jumped right out of the Dead Sea and into a moving frenzy, haphazardly moving everything I own out of my old apartment and up three flights of stairs.  I have spent most of my time since then unpacking, unwinding, and contemplating the integration of my “eat, love, repeat” European spirit with the girl who’s got to get herself a real-life job in about three months.  Somewhere in the mix, my favorite creative outlet got lost in the pile of old winter clothes and dusty picture frames.  I’m happy to now be sipping on my third Pumpkin Spice Latte of fall as I resume writing in the blog that brings me back to life each time I write in it.

After four months off, it’s wonderful to come back to my WordPress dashboard and see that visitors are still frequenting this blog on a regular basis.  I hope to resume writing in it and turning my journey into something tangible as my last semester and first steps into the working world begin to unfold.