11: Slow Flow

I argued my first legal case when I was nineteen. I got a speeding ticket, the night before Christmas Eve, while driving my friends to look at Christmas lights during our first holiday home from college.

I knew what it felt like to soar past the speed limit, heading east on highway fifty, and was certain I hadn’t been doing it, that night. When I asked to see his radar gun, the cop who pulled me over claimed he used his odometer to track my speed. He wrote “80+” on the ticket, an error of imprecision he might have thought twice about if he’d known I would be a lawyer some day. Nothing about his side of the story made sense and I was confident I could evade the fine by fast talking my way through a more accurate account of the events in court.

And so I did.

The judge told me I made an “impressive argument” and reduced what I owed to the minimum amount. I left the courtroom with a sense of pride and accomplishment, peeled out of the parking lot, and sped home.

In three years I racked up three more speeding tickets. Most memorably, Kern County earned 900 hundred of my dad’s dollars after I was pulled over tearing down the grapevine in my ’93 Honda Civic.

I drive fast, like my dad. But with worse luck and less intimidation. My dad is 62 and still without a moving violation. He told me once that he has an “aura” that people “don’t want to fuck with.” “You can drive as fast as you want, Boney, as long as nobody wants to pull you over.”

That was right after the grapevine debacle, and I haven’t been ticketed since.

I do other stuff fast, too.

I talk fast and walk fast and am a hyper-efficient shopper. I get through crowds and lines at Disneyland like I have a superpower for it. I think fast. I read fast and I cook fast, too.

I like to rev it up and “get ‘er done” and get bored if I’m just sitting. My favorite days end with me in a gelatinous blob of fatigue, on my couch, completely spent from at least eight hours of adventure.

In college, I was famous for racing up “Bruinwalk,” with an arm full of supplies for my mentoring program. Bruinwalk is a steep, narrow path that leads to all the humanities classrooms at UCLA. I was always running late and typically tackling it at full speed. It’s common to see people you know on such a crowded stretch of land, and, whenever I did, they told me “you look so busy,” and “can I help you with that?”

“I got it.”

And I’d scamper off to my next, important destination.

I signed up for a beginner’s yoga series during the last quarter of my senior year. At the end of the first class, I wondered when we would get to the exercise.

“I can’t possibly be getting my money’s worth from two or three lunges and a bunch of flopping around on the floor.”

But as I came to my feet and packed up my stuff, I felt undeniably different.

This isn’t my “fell in love with yoga” story, though. I finished out the series, but didn’t pursue it after that. I couldn’t find an hour in my day to just “stretch a little.” There were too many other things to do.

Four months after I graduated, I found Santa Monica Power Yoga. We moved quickly, through many poses, and spent more time on our feet. I sweat, and struggled and had difficulty finding my breath.

By the time I hit savasana, I was a gelatinous blob of fatigue.

I came back to the studio “to get my ass kicked,” and I’ve been a power yogi ever since. The strong, athletic practice, the sweat on my face and heat in the room and burn in my legs when we’re lunging. The swift, endless vinyasas through fluid sun salutations, and, later, a powerful, aggressive flow.

For the last seven years, it’s brought me back to my mat, six days a week.

And for the first five years, my yoga practice mirrored, but never altered, the pace of my life.

Only recently, the impact of seven years of yoga reveals itself to me as the pleasure of slowing down. The beauty of cuddling with my mom’s dogs, on her floor, for twenty minutes at a time. Waking up early to sip coffee and sit in silence, before the fury of the day takes shape. Meditation, time by myself, reading, reflecting, breathing.

The love of a deep, slow, yin practice, after a long day of work.

This morning, I took a power vinyasa class from the teacher of the fiercest, fastest flow in town.

Today, we move slowly, and deliberately, through a mindful, simple sequence with an emphasis on our breath. There are fewer chattarungas and not as many droplets of sweat. In savasana, my whole body relaxes as the room gets completely dark. A sensation of full surrender comes over me and the transformation that first brought me back to my yoga mat is renewed again.

3: “I am enough.” A work in progress

I watched Tina Fey accept an award once by thanking her parents “for giving me disproportionately high self esteem for my looks and talent.”

“Damn, sister” I thought, “preach.”

I am the kid that people are writing all those books and blogs about, lately. The poster child for the “me” generation, a woman in her twenties who sincerely believes I am awesome. Exceptional. Unique.

Destined for greatness.

Entitled to: a fabulous, creative, challenging job where I make loads of money and travel for three months a year; immense personal and global responsibility, a personal voice in local decision-making and a seat in Congress; a book deal, a talk show, and eventually, a movie, of course.

My mom taught me I could be anyone and do anything. No exceptions, no limitations. Begin, excel, master, End.

The first time I heard the phrase “I am enough” in a yoga class, I thought, “Damn right I am.”

“Where’s the work in that?”

Like everything else in my yoga-life, and not like everything else in my other-than-yoga-life, the learning came slowly. With difficulty, and resistance.

At first, I paid attention to the whispers of self-judgment that play on repeat in the back of my mind, each day:I don’t date enough and I don’t eat healthy enough and I don’t brush my hair enough, either. I don’t make enough money and I don’t have enough travel miles, and someone my age should have a bigger retirement account than I do, right now. I haven’t been to Europe and I still hate airplanes and I’ve never driven a car my dad didn’t buy me.

I’m likely the biggest failure among the high achievers in my graduating class.

Then, the bigger stories seeped in: Like straight A’s on all of my report cards or a week of nausea and years of shame as a consequence. Like the experience of feeling paralyzed by even the thought of failure, and playing it safe to avoid messing it up. Like no matter how good I was at everything, for my dad, it was never enough.

Quitting my job as an attorney was a gigantic spiritual leap towards “I am enough.”

Who will I be without the fancy degree and the impressive job and the ability to showcase how brilliant and special I am by casually slipping in what I do for a living? Who will I be when I give up my sophisticated apartment with the granite counters and stainless steel? What will I tell the people who expect more from me, who know I’m better than this?

How will I make it clear to them, to myself, that “I am enough.”

Some days when people ask me what I do for a living I tell them “I used to be an attorney.”

It sounds better than refusing to answer the question.

Other days, I wake up completely satisfied with my income and occupation and relationship status and the contents of my Roth IRA. I beam with pride and love for myself, standing in the truth of what I know is real for me.

I thank my mom for my confidence and swagger, and my yoga practice for “I am enough.”

Body Talk

I first hated my body when I was eight years old. It wasn’t long enough, or strong enough. All I wanted was to be a little more muscular, with broader shoulders, and more powerful legs.

I am small and scrawny and struggling to stay at the top of my age group on my swim team. There’s a girl who keeps setting league records and getting the majority of the coach’s praise. We are the same age, but side by side, I look like her underfed, adopted little sister. There’s my friend Sara, who is already taller than my mom. As soon as we dive in the pool, she’s two body lengths ahead of everyone else. Especially me.

When I’m 13, I resent being short again. I’m angry at my parents for passing on the wrong genes. I watch Tara Crossbattle hit for the U.S. Olympic team and dream of playing volleyball like her some day. I stare across the net during my club games and see girls who are 6 foot 2 and 6 foot 3. In junior high.

I feel hopeless. and frustrated. Like I’ll never be good enough.

In high school, I experience a brief period of body confidence. “Skinny” is suddenly desirable, and highly revered. I still feel like an unworthy athlete, but my friends express envy about how my butt looks in my jeans. A boy, who relies on copying my homework to pass French 1, tells me one morning that, “my boobs are big for my size.”

I take it as a compliment, I think.

At 16, my body changes. There are curves in womanly places and my belly peeks out over the waistband of my pants. For a while, I appreciate feeling sturdier on the soccer field and barely notice the difference in how I look. Eventually, something somebody says, or does, or how I feel, or what’s going on in my life, or a combination of these and so many other things, trigger dissatisfaction.

And I resolve to be “skinny” again.

I stick to eating regular meals and a few, healthy snacks. I get a gym membership and occasionally run outside. My shape is narrower and my muscles are better defined. I observe the connection between my behavior and my body and feel fueled by the power of it.

The importance of my health is quickly overshadowed by the intoxicating sensation of controlling my weight. Suddenly, I feel stability and have leverage in a life that has otherwise been ruled by chaos, for the last three years.

I shrink around the middle and my collarbones are exposed. I can almost squeeze my fingers together when I place my hands on my hips. I run six or eight miles on the bike trail after school. When it’s too cold or too dark, I spend an hour and a half on the treadmill, trotting at my top speed.

I go to birthday parties and dinner dates prepared with an excuse about why I can’t eat. I am poised and believable. I limit myself to a single subway sandwich, then one bowl of cereal, then  just a single protein bar, for the whole day.

When I fall asleep at night I tell myself I’m not hungry, and I salivate thinking about the seven inches of “Kashi GOLEAN” that awaits me in the morning.

“I can make it until then.”

My mom is worried and takes me to the doctor, several times. I smile confidently and answer all of her questions, with lies. “I started running to get in shape for soccer.” “I eat ‘more than a salad’ for dinner.” “I got my period last week.”

At rock bottom I binge on five or six mini powdered donuts while my friends and I are hanging out in my kitchen. I disappear upstairs, turn on the faucet in my mom’s bathroom, and force myself to throw up.

Starving myself felt normal, compared to this.

My downward spiral comes to an unexpected, but life-saving halt when my mom and I watch “Behind the Music: Karen Carpenter.” The same week, I see a picture of myself from the most recent school dance. I look like a skeleton, or a ghost, or a bobble-head.

Like the walking dead.

The eating comes slowly and not without set-backs. I sometimes still stuff down a Luna bar before going out to dinner and claim “I already ate.”

In the twelve years since then, I am not anorexic. I am sometimes a binger, but only a regretter, not a purger, anymore. I stop running in college and find my way to a yoga mat. I feel my body strengthen and watch my arms and abs take shape. The more I can do, and the better I feel, the more gratitude and admiration I have for what my body can do for me. What it’s always done for me.

Yoga helps me learn to nourish my body with healthy, whole foods and be aware of the sensations of being too full or too hungry. My relationship to my body changes.

But it’s never perfect.

I’m still married to a size 26 in my fancy jeans and a J.Crew double zero. I still panic a little when the folds of my tummy look extra juicy when I come into plow pose, at the end of class. I still think “I better stay thin” because I’m almost thirty, and still single, and how I look on a first date still matters, maybe more than anything else.

This is my story, some of it at least. And if you’re a woman, you have a story, or many, about your body, too. You have hated it and loved it and resented it. You’ve starved it and shamed it and celebrated it. You’ve wanted it to look different, or like it used to, or like you know it never will again. You’ve looked at other women and compared theirs, to yours. You’ve wanted to be a size two or squeezed into a size six or desperately prayed for bigger boobs.

I typically don’t like to draw hard lines, but ours is a uniquely female struggle.

When the founder of lululemon tells an interviewer, among other things, that “the pants don’t work for some women’s bodies,” the media, and maybe some of you, react. There are interpretations and misquotations and evaluations. I read one article where Chip Wilson “blames women’s bodies for defective pants.”

The thing is, he’s right. Women all over the world take all shapes and sizes and certainly not all of them are compatible with lululemon pants, size two through twelve. It’s a technical brand and if you’ve ever worn an oversized wet-suit, or too-tight ski boots, you know technical gear needs to be a perfect fit to be effective, and comfortable. And the perfect fit across the spectrum of shapes and features in a woman’s figure is, I would imagine, a logistical impossibility. It’s gotta be.

The other thing is, the man who founded a company that makes pants that look sensational on almost any woman’s body is hardly a villain in our story. Because if we set aside the flashy headline and the cleverly edited soundbytes, he sparks a discussion, I think, is worth having.

About all of the other things that don’t work with every woman’s body.

Like not eating carbs, or only drinking juice or giving up eating altogether. Like muscular arms and chiseled abs and the same waistline you had when you were a teenager. Like not gaining baby weight or not going out in public until you lose it. Like baking in the sun, or in a tanning bed because you like yourself better with “a nice, even glow.” Like judging yourself when you don’t “work-out” or finally feeling worthy when you do. Like looking in the mirror with a scowl, or a fast, deep, exhale, that signals disapproval. Like a wedding diet or a 21-day cleanse. Like every time we push food away and say “I can’t” in front of our daughters. Like when we look at other women and mentally scold them for being whatever thing we don’t want to acknowledge in ourselves.

Like every, single, message, every, single, day, that tells us how we should look and act and feel and express ourselves. How we should dress and shave and raise our kids. How we should be in the world, without taking into account who we are, already.

lululemon isn’t spreading these messages. In my experience, both as a long time consumer and user of the products, and as a new employee of the company, the message is one women actually need to hear.

One of self-empowerment and a purpose-driven life. One of possibility and courage and community and love. One of get out and sweat because it makes you feel good, not because of the pressure related to how you look.

Put these clothes on your perfect body, no matter the shape, and go out and kick some ass in this world.

It’s a message that is already uplifting my experience of being a woman. And a human.

And even if the pants don’t work for every body, the message is a perfect fit.

“Sharing the deep stuff.”

Spring is beautiful in Southern California.

Even more so because it starts in January.

There are beach days and long bike rides; Ambitious hikes and lunchtime picnics; Occasionally, there’s a sweater, on the patio, during early brunch.

I am choosing between a beachfront cruise on a rented cycle, and playing soccer for the first time in 9 years.

I throw on some cotton shorts with a questionably small in-seam, and head to the field.

I play thirty seconds of intense defense at our makeshift goal line and feel like I’m going to pass out. When, after five minutes, I haven’t caught my breath, I wonder if I’m really going out like this. Because it doesn’t seem as epic, or heroic, as it should be.

I survive the near-death encounter and, by the ninth or tenth minute, I start to get the hang of it. I’m winded and my legs feel heavy but my body remembers the movements, the touch of the ball. I experience the familiar surge of adrenaline in a 50/50 tackle with someone twice my size. It’s hot. And sweaty. And awesome.

At halftime, I pass around a batch of my homemade granola and some fresh oranges I sliced before the game. On the walk back to my apartment, I describe the afternoon to my best friend.  I yell and wave my hands as if my gestures will enhance his understanding of my enthusiasm. With anyone else it wouldn’t, but with him, it does.

We make plans to cap off my perfect “Spring” day with dinner and “The Descendants.” I typically resist the local pressure to see deep, moving films, but agree to do just about anything if Nick suggests it. Early in our friendship, without protest or hesitation, I paid eighteen dollars to see Jackass 3D in the middle of the day.

Jackass. 3. D.

Dinner is airy and entertaining. Nick’s sister and her husband are visiting, they join us with two of their friends. We exchange perspectives on the virtues and vices of living in Los Angeles. The female friend announces, and elaborates on, her detest for Dyson hand dryers. She gives an impassioned speech entitled, “long live the paper towel.”

Later, she discloses that she works for a paper distribution company.

Nick and I are still giggling about the finer points of public restroom hand drying when the movie starts.

I proceed to cry for two hours straight.

I need a pile of paper towels to soak up the tears.

I manage to pull myself together just as we step into the light of the lobby. I wonder if the severity of my pink, swollen eyes is magnified by the reflection of fluorescent lights on red carpet.

Nick graciously guides me through the “good nights” and hurries me out to the car. He senses an impending emotional explosion, any minute.

Without a lot of dialogue he drives to the coast. We park ourselves on a bench in Northern Santa Monica, overlooking the Ocean. With little probing, it comes pouring out. At first, I don’t know why I’m impacted so much by a George Clooney performance, but as the words come,  they make sense when I hear them.

I talk about the pain in the movie and the pain in my life. How our pain connects us. It’s something deep we all share. Pain has the potential to bring understanding, and love and compassion, but we hide it and shame it away. We fear being vulnerable and exposing our darkness to others. We answer, “I’m fine” to the question, “how are you?” and put on a happy face. We do our best to make it invisible, and irrelevant, in our every day lives.

There’s that scene with George Clooney and the annoying teenage boyfriend of his daughter, in the middle of the night. The boyfriend shares that he lost his mother in a car accident. Even in the dim lighting, through a flat screen, you can feel the transformation. George Clooney looks down at this greasy, punkish kid, who he’s resented for half the movie, and realizes, their pain is the same.

That they are the same.

And the rest of us are too.

I tell Nick about all the times and ways and reasons I’ve hid my pain. How the tears I cried in the movie theater were some of the ones I saved up during six years of never crying. About anything. Certainly not during some stupid movie.

Definitely not in public.

There’s a moment, in the crying and sharing, where I witness my courage. My own transformation. I realize that my “unwillingness to be vulnerable” and my “inability to open up” are old stories that no longer rule my life. That it’s me, standing there, in the crisp night air, balling. Revealing my deepest, darkest stuff to someone who’s opinion of me I hold in high regard.

Maybe the highest.

For the last four years, I’d been battling pretty hard to escape the idea of myself as closed up and unemotional. To shed the self-imposed identity, I had a feeling, was holding me back.

I started teaching yoga when I was 25. I approached it like everything else in my life: A task to study, then master, then be the best at.  I studied my favorite teachers to identify what made them “good” at teaching. I practiced constantly and held myself to a rigid standard of perfection. The sequence, the music, my voice, the message. All perfect.

But my no-fail formula for success didn’t work as well as applied to yoga teaching as it did to everything else.

And over and over again I kept hearing, “I want to see more of you.” and “open up your heart.”

The truth is, at the time, I didn’t even know what that meant.

I struggled through it for a while and eventually quit teaching. With all of the achieving I was doing, I didn’t have time to tackle the seemingly unsolvable spiritual mysteries of my soul.

I made my yoga teaching comeback leading classes for high school kids in the San Fernando valley. It was the same month I saw “The Descendants.” In fact, it might have been the same week. Then, about a year later, I mustered the courage to teach adults again. At my home studio, in my home town.

Last weekend I stood in the back of the same studio where I taught my first class. Standing near the stereo, where I’d told so many light-hearted stories about other people’s lives, I watched a thin white guy struggle through a two-minute warrior two. He had a miserable look on his face, like he’d gone for a 10 mile run at sunrise and took my class as a way to unwind on a Sunday morning. His knees were wobbling and the space between his eyebrows steadily decreased as the tension in his face spread to his shoulders, and rippled down his spine.

“Oh god. he hates this.”

As my students hit the floor and land in a deep hip opener, I cringe as I watch the poor guy struggle to get “comfortable” hovering over his right shin.

I close my eyes, and feel my feet, and just like that night on the Ocean, my mouth is moving and my heart is speaking. And the words make sense when I hear them.

When the class is over I see the guy with the  well-defined calf muscles approach me. I squeeze my eyebrows together and prepare for the worst. I fear I’m too vulnerable right now to hear whatever scathing feedback is coming my way.

Before I can duck out of the studio, we’re face to face.

“I just wanted to thank you for sharing all that deep stuff.” “It hit me pretty hard and I really appreciate it.” “I know that’s not easy to do, but it means a lot.”

Pain is something we all share. A place where we can really connect. Where we find understanding. Compassion. And love. When we let go of fear and shame and resist the temptation to bury it, we give other people permission to do the same.

Thanks for sharing the deep stuff.

Black Pumps

Last night I wrote an entire blog while sweating and pretending to breathe in a yoga class.

Not my proudest 75 minutes of attention and awareness.

Blogging is not yoga.

The story in my mind went like this:

I’m devastated. Yesterday I left my favorite black pumps at the yoga studio and this afternoon they were donated to the Salvation Army.

I don’t know how to recover.

I find a mantra and keep repeating it: “It’s just a pair of shoes. Just an ordinary, everyday, totally replaceable, pair of black pumps.”

It’s not working.

I fight the new mantra creeping in: “It’s not just a pair of shoes. It’s my favorite pair of shoes. Not just ordinary black pumps. The perfect, most exquisite pair of heeled footwear I’ve ever owned. My go-to pumps. My run with the grace of a gazelle up the courthouse stairs pumps. My look sophisticated in a suit but feel like I’m wearing sweatpants pumps. My ‘damn it, I’ll never find another pair like them,’ pumps.”

It’s still not working.

My mind says, “let them go.” But I all over my body I can feel myself clinging. Tight.

I try a different approach.

I make a list of all my other well-loved shoes. The ones I didn’t absent-mindedly abandon in the Zuda lobby. The brave foot soldiers who will take up the battle of lady lawyer wardrobing without their humble, fearless leader.

The red patent leather pumps. The ones I always put on with my slim-fitting black dress pants. The ones I always take off before I make it out the door in them. “Red patent, leather? Most of my clients still poop their pants for god’s sake!”

The purple stilletos. The most recent purchase in a long line of vibrant wardrobe additions I’ve acquired since losing Heather. Damn could she rock a hot pair of shoes!

The snake skin peep-toes my dad bought me. I’m pretty sure my underwear is still stained from the moment he picked them out.

The five inch black ones. The ones I put on to experience what it feels like to be tall and beautiful. The ones that make it hard to feel grateful for the body I was born with. The ones I take off or risk serious bodily injury after my second drink.

My new black flats with the big bow, the shoes I danced in at Barrister’s Ball the night Whitney Houston died, the cream colored Mona Pumps and their natural leather counterparts.

It becomes clear the list is practically endless. Immediately I feel greedy, spoiled, and humiliated.

My frustrated edginess starts to soften into gratitude and a sense of abundance.

The softness brings acceptance.

“Goodbye my loyal servants, I wish you a long and prosperous second life of stylish comfort and killer job interviews.”

When I emerge triumphant from the studio, my black pumps are staring at me from the front desk. My incredible yoga friends rescued them from the back of a mini-van en route to the donation center.

So many lessons in a single night.

I grab them between my fingers and kiss the top of the pointy, leather toes.

I make one, final, mental note:

I owe myself a yoga class.

 

Love in Southeast Asia: At home on the Indian Ocean

Maybe it’s jet lag. Or anxiety. Or excitement. But on our fourth travel day I’m wide awake at sunrise.

I brush my teeth and slink out of our quiet, dark room.

I step softly over the sand to the concrete cabana. I unroll my yoga mat with a view of the Indian Ocean.

I drop into child’s pose and find my breath.

With my eyes closed, it feels and smells like home. Like rubber and sweat. Like my sinking hips on my heels. Like a wave of relaxation coming over my body. Like a calm mind.

The sensations of familiarity fill me with joy.

Right now my yoga mat is blowing my mind.  Seventy inches of pure magic.

I take myself through a detox flow. Later, I try to convince my skeptical travel partner that my yoga mat is the solution to all of his current, travel-induced issues. Maybe a few of his ordinary issues, too.

He is resistant to my persuasion.

My body needs no convincing. I feel open and radiant. I feel light and fluid.

I feel like I feel when I get off my yoga mat, every time. Only better.

Today it feels extra special. It feels like I’ve tapped into some secret resource for weary travelers. I want to bottle it, sell it, and retire from lawyering before I even start.

In savasana, I listen to the waves of the Indian Ocean.

I’m having one of those moments that I judge people for when I read about them on Elephant Journal.

One of those moments yoga bloggers describe using words like divine and awakening.

I spend the rest of the day connected to my body. It feels easy to laugh and swim and relax. I am present with my friends.

I am reminded why I fell in love with yoga. So simple. So accessible. So powerful.

Here, there, and everywhere else.

Love in Southeast Asia: Sacred Space

I was 22 when I first stepped on a yoga mat. I was an atheist gym-junkie who was too busy to stretch and had little interest in OM-ing about anything. I used to read, listen to my Ipod AND watch TV on the treadmill.

Back then, I had most of the world figured out. I knew for sure that sitting still and silence were waste-of-time activities that should be reserved for the elderly and boring people. I was far too young, vibrant and interesting to stop moving between waking up and (barely) sleeping.

I liked power yoga. I could get a vigorous workout without having to poach a cardio machine from a sorority girl at the John Wooden Center.

6 years and seventeen billion sun salutations later, I’m in the Royal Palace in Bangkok, Thailand.

It’s a labyrinth of exquisite temples. Each one has an ornate gold roof. They are adorned in shimmering stones, meticulously placed and impossibly well-maintained.

I’m in awe of everything, everywhere I look.

Hoards of noisy, bustling tourists obediently remove their shoes, cover their shoulders and enter each temple.

Inside, our collective energy is calm and meditative. We are quiet, reflective, introspective. We pray, we listen, we pay attention.

There is something magical about sacred space. Space reserved for worship, devotion, prayer, humility, kindness, compassion. Space that transforms each of us, as soon as we enter it. I look around and see people of all ages, cultures, religions, nationalities. Each of them has a look of serenity and appreciation.

We are not all Buddhists, but each of us is filled with respect and reverence.

I wonder what it would feel like if more space was sacred. If Starbucks, the freeway, the Santa Monica parking garages, were all areas in which we spoke softly, tread with awareness and honored each other. How it would feel if in ordinary places, we honored the silence.

I sit in meditation and gratitude. I feel myself get calm and still. I think about how far I’ve come. How many miles from home, how many lessons in letting go, how many breaths, how many yoga practices, how much work it’s taken to get to this moment. To be in this space.

To share it with my friends and the strangers around me.

I feel indescribably blessed.

I judge too fast

I went to this yoga workshop once called “Slow Burn.” We started seated in a circle. The teacher said we would go around the circle and each person would say I ____ too fast. We were all supposed to fill in the blank according to where in our life we need to slow down. When my turn came, I proudly declared, without hesitation, “I drive too fast.”

The circle ended with the teacher (one of my all time favorite mentors) proclaiming, “I judge too fast.”

What? That’s an option?

I need to change my answer.

A couple of months ago, while mindlessly perusing Facebook, I had a memory of that moment. I spend more time on Facebook than I’d like to admit. It’s a weird anomaly in my otherwise non-digital life. I recognize how much of a life-waste it is, yet sometimes, after a long day, I spend more than thirty or forty minutes sifting through electronic pages of people’s lives. Nowhere in my life do I judge more quickly than on Facebook. In fact, if I’m not actually writing/responding to a friend, I spend my time passing judgments on people I barely know. “Damn that bridesmaid up-do is hideous, poor thing, I wonder if she realized?” “Wow, I can’t believe she’s dating that guy, she is way too good looking for him.” “I can’t believe that’s what that girl did with her life!”

They say, in yoga, “we resist what we need the most.” In five years of practicing yoga, I haven’t so much as scratched the surface of my judgmental behavior. I don’t even make excuses for avoiding it. I’ve never felt compelled to deal with judgment because I’d never really witnessed it come up on my mat.

Until recently when I made an important connection. I started to observe the way in which judgment interferes with what I’m trying to cultivate on my mat, the higher order stuff I want to take out of the studio and into the world. Specifically, I’ve noticed how judgment interferes with my desire to be a loving and compassionate person in my everyday life. As soon as I judge someone, I cut off the channel connecting us. I can no longer see their light and love, or, our similarities, or, the meaning of our interaction. All I experience is the judgment.

I’m a firm believer that as I am judging others, I am really judging myself. I am comparing myself either to an end of “at least I’m not like that” or “ugh, I wish I was more like that.” Either way, I am generating internal negativity. In the first instance, I have immediate guilt and shame for being compassionless and critical; in the second instance, I am denigrating my own value and failing to see the truth of my full beauty and wholeness. I’m undoing all the serenity and open-heartedness I sweat my butt off for.

It’s a lose, lose. Over and over again.

Once I could see how judgment blocked my other intentions, I started dedicating my yoga practice to non-judgment. Slowly, I could see the way in which my practice helped manifest my off-the-mat intentions.

I found myself judging about the same amount, but observing it more. The observation helped me slow down the process of disconnecting. Sometimes I’d recover just in time to balance out the judgment with a positive affirmation. “but damn that wedding is beautiful.” “He must make her so happy.” “Good for her for following her dreams.”

I’m still on Facebook and the judgments keep coming. But the awareness gives me the opportunity to witness the effects of judgment and resolve to do better.

Confessions of a Would-Be School Teacher

When I was eight years old, I wanted to go to Stanford. The world was like that for me: Overly abundant, incredibly privileged and wide open with infinite possibility. I had all of the opportunities in the world to explore who I was, what I was good at, and who I wanted to be. My dad is a surgeon. My friend’s parents were professionals and professors. We lived in a fancy neighborhood where the public schools won awards for everything from theater to academics. The only expectation in sight was tremendous success. Be the best, the brightest. Accept nothing less than perfection.

I always had different answers to the question: what do you want to be when you grow up?

My first answer was “Lawyer,” It was filmed for my first grade video (a revolutionary technology in 1991). Lawyer sounded fancy and important, and I liked that. As I grew up, a lot of adults told me I would make a good attorney. “You’re so articulate for your age.”

The older I got the more I wanted to be a teacher. My elementary school teachers were all extraordinary educators. They were creative, compassionate, energetic and incredibly effective. My most vivid memories are still the years between 3rd and 6th grade. Each of them had a tremendous impact on me, personally and academically.

My teenage years were kind of a blur of achievement, adolescent angst and family crisis. I had two priorities: Survive high school. Get to UCLA. I don’t think I ever considered what I wanted after that.

I went to college, found a passion for young people and community service, and felt what it’s like to impact someone else’s life. I learned my early education was exceptional, not typical. I learned that while I read Shakespeare and built “Poly-hedraville” in 5th grade, most elementary school kids did math problems on worksheets and read short stories edited by Houghton Mifflin. I just knew that if elementary school looked and felt like it did for me, every kid on the planet could love learning and thrive in the school environment. I knew if they loved learning they could empower themselves and their communities. I knew that education was the key to change. I wanted to change the world and I was convinced teaching was how I could do it.

I graduated from college almost 5 years ago and I’m a second year law student. Most days I wonder how it turned out that way.

I had my reasons. I wrote them in five different “personal statements” for my law school applications. I had to tell my boss at the job I left. I told my friends, my parents and anyone else who asked (an over-achiever’s favorite question), “what are you doing with your life?”

I told every one a different version of the story I’d made up for myself: I wanted to be challenged. I wanted to be an advocate for the under-served. I was tired of being powerless against systems and institutions I couldn’t control or penetrate. I wanted to do something meaningful, influential, important, etc.

Everything I said was true. Those ideas I had about law school persist, even today, as I write this, 2 years later.

The issue was never my dishonesty of expression, it was, and still is, my inability (unwillingness?) to be honest about everything I left UNexpressed: Fear that I wouldn’t live up to the imaginary expectation I’d created about what it meant to be successful in the world; A misguided sense of my purpose on the planet as an ambassador of an alternative female identity; A false impression that I had a responsibility to do something high-powered and hyper-intellectual with my life, as if all the privilege and opportunity (not to mention support and motivation) would go to waste if I did anything else.

The voice that wrote my personal statements and spoke eloquently about my ambitions was deep and strong, powerful and convincing. I cried the day I left my job at a high school, but assertively assured myself that it was all for a good cause. It was all part of the best story I ever told.

Up to a year and a half into law school I still hadn’t dropped the story. Depending on who wanted to know, I’d still rattle off one or more of the compelling and heroic reasons I went to law school. I’d tell some people “to advocate for young people”, others would get the domestic violence speech. In particularly vulnerable moments, I’d candidly say, “I have no idea” or “I want to help people, I just don’t know how, yet.” In the privacy of my most intimate relationships I’d confess my anxiety about being a lawyer, how I was “worried I lose my spunk and creativity” or that I’d never fit in.

And then about a month ago I had a breakdown, or what we sometimes call in yoga, a breakthrough.

I burst into tears while eating a peanut butter sandwich on the bottom floor of the building where I intern two days a week. I pulled myself together for about three hours and starting crying again as soon as I closed my car door. I cried and cried and cried. I cried all the way down wilshire blvd. I cried in my bedroom changing into my lululemon, and I cried again until I parked my car in santa monica for a friday evening yoga class. I hadn’t cried that much in years.

I cried because I’m sad and lonely and dislocated here in L.A. I cried because I’ve invested a lot of money, time, energy, etc, into an education I don’t ever want to use. I cried because I felt hopeless, and ashamed, and overwhelmed. I cried for all the other times I had refused to cry.

And when the tears dried up I felt vulnerable, honest and expressive.

I called my mom and talked for twenty minutes straight about everything from childhood expectations to grown-up responsibility. Pressure, excitement, fear, anxiety, resentment, hope.

In the end, I felt a sense of clarity wash over me, a feeling of “it’s going to be o.k,” “everything will work out,” and the echo of my yoga teacher’s most famous line: “you’re exactly where you should be.”

When the raw outpouring of emotion subsided, it was clear to me that my tears, my feelings and the accompanying realizations were little victories in an on-going battle I have with myself: My struggle to be soft and sensitive in a world that seems harsh and demanding, the struggle to be open and transparent, the struggle to be myself.

I face all of these things, every day, on my mat.

Most of the time, the combat is subtle and layered. It is nearly invisible beneath the experience of sensation, challenge and sweat. It sometimes masquerades as intense pressure in the hips, achy arms in warrior two or an inability to steady my mind.

I rarely begin a yoga class thinking: “today I will tackle my unwillingness to let people in” I rarely leave thinking, “heart: 3, ego: 2.”

But sure enough, in five years of practicing, the changes have come. I am a nicer person. I am less reactive in my daily life. Compared to my life before yoga, my anxiety-level is extremely low. And today, I can credit my yoga practice with allowing me to tap into the spaces between who I am and who I think I should be. It is in that space that I search for my true self.

They say in yoga “we are on a journey to become who we already are.” Lawyer, teacher, or something else entirely, I get on my mat every day to get explore the possibilities: societal, familial, cultural pressure aside. Just trying to figure it out, breath by breath. Knowing in the end, it’s not what I become, but who I am to myself and to others, that matters.

Love, Loss and Law School Finals

I started teaching yoga the same month I started law school. I remember the first time someone asked me what I do for a living in my “real life.” I’ll never forget the look on her face when I told her I was a first year law student. She looked confused and disoriented, like I had just told her I commute to the yoga studio from my palace on the moon, or something.

I made my life a priority. My friends, my yoga practice, teaching, learning, loving. For the most part, it was a wild success.

In late April my law school fantasy was interrupted by the most intellectually brutal fifteen days of my academic life: law school finals.

I studied for ten hours a day, barely ate, and hardly communicated with anyone who wasn’t also drowning in a spiritually sterile abyss of note cards and outlines. I had my mind on a single intention: get A’s. Worry about everything else later. My mom saw me in person, sometime around the half-way point, and was completely horrified by my appearance and demeanor.

After so many months of self-indulgent (mostly ego-driven) pride about my light-hearted and easy-going take on “1L,” I felt embarrassed and defeated.

The weirdest part of the experience was walking back into my life two weeks after I’d left it. I had a realization that I’d spent the last fifteen days occupying the planet with a beating heart and working lungs, without taking a single breath. How could I just skip through two entire weeks of my own life? How could I give up so much time in an experience (human) that only guarantees a limited amount of it?

This year, as fall semester finals lingered on the horizon, I hunkered down and prepared to turn off the world.

But the Universe had a different lesson this year. The mom of a close high school friend of mine was killed in a car accident a week before finals. It turned our entire community upside down. It broke my heart. I cried every time I thought of my dear friend and this horrible tragedy. In the days following the accident I heard incredible, beautiful stories: People reaching out from all over to comfort my friend, heartfelt messages posted to the obituary in the Sacramento Bee, endless offerings of love, support and compassion. It was remarkable. It reminded me how wonderful we all are. How when the worst, most unimaginable things happen, we shine as our purest, most radiant selves.

And it reminded me of something else: It’s so easy to get lost in the demands of the every day and miss opportunities to spread joy, love and happiness. For me, finals exemplifies the mindlessness that can sometimes overwhelm our sensitivity to the life we’re living. It highlights the ways in which our to-do lists, deadlines and endless stream of obligations can blur the line between existing and living. We can get so caught up in all that we have to accomplish, we lose our connection to what’s really important: the people, things and moments that fill us up. This fall, I found plenty of time to send loving thoughts, a hand written card and facebook messages to my friend. I found time to call my own mom to tell her I love and miss her. I found time to cherish the people I love most in my life.

I realized that even in the most demanding weeks of my life, I can make time to let my human self shine through my law student self. I realized that, no matter how busy we are, it is how we direct our attention that creates our experience. With a to do list three pages long, we can still make a choice to focus our energy on positivity, light, love.

Yoga taught me about the power of my attention. Yoga taught me that the world is coming from me, not at me, and that even in the midst of stress, anxiety and tremendous academic pressure, I am still in charge of my reactions. I can choose to shut down, disconnect and run away. And with only slightly more effort and a little conscious awareness, I can choose to be present, committed to happiness (even when it’s hard) and to ground myself in love instead of burying my heart in fear. Because each moment is too precious, and life is too indefinite, to sacrifice two whole weeks of living for a couple of lousy law school finals.