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If I had known about the 5Rhythms® practice back when I was in high school, I’d be all over Lyrical, man.

I was such a Lyrical creature in my adolescent stage. Proof:

(1) My first America Online screen name was derived from Shakespeare’s most renowned romantic tragedy (just call me Juliet204, please).

(2) I borrowed my 10th grade English teacher’s copy of her A Tale of Two Cities video (PBS edition, baby!) to watch at home (at least twice, and that’s not including the in-class viewing) because I was in love with the love that Sydney Carton represented.

(3) I turned an English class assignment about A Separate Peace into an interpretive dance.

(4) Sometimes instead of going out with friends on Friday nights, I’d opt to crank up Yanni in my Acropolis, err living room and play “Reflections of Passion” on repeat.

There were other notes of Lyrical, of course (mostly involving scads of poetry and an obsession with sonnets, haiku, and the novel Rebecca), but perhaps the biggest indicator of my Lyrical tendencies was my love of, well… lyrical.

Lyrical dance, that is.

Back in the 1990s, my dance education in the small-town studios of South Jersey was usually limited to the basic menu of ballet, tap, and jazz styles. The fluid-like, emotion-packed genre of lyrical was just emerging in my area, and my initial experience with it was through watching dance competitions I videotaped on TV.

These girls with their loose, un-bunned hair and long flowy skirts and bare feet! Their songs with words and lyrics that made my heart weep!

I had only learned to stuff my feet into pointe shoes just a few years prior, but about the time I got my first period I was yearning to see what soft marley felt like under my toes instead. I wanted to wear footless tights. I wanted to untie my French braid and let my strawberry-blond locks tumble dramatically past my shoulders.

Most of all, I was interested in expressing my beloved writing medium—poetry—as a dance form.

I loved the power and punch of jazz dancing, but the more classic literature I read in high school (coupled with the sudden onslaught of female hormones), the less interested I became in executing knee-to-nose hitch kicks across the dance studio floor.

I wanted depth. I wanted feeling. I wanted to emote.

I was already kind of an odd bird at my dance studio, the way I was rigidly disciplined with my time and my secret love of a strict ballet teacher that everyone else hated.

So it wasn’t much of a surprise, then, that my senior year of high school, when I was invited to participate in a special performance for graduating students, instead of doing what all the cool kids had done in the past and voting to learn a super-awesome explosive heart-thumping jazz routine in a slinky, sexy, sequined costume, I politely requested that our group of 17- and 18-year-old girls dance a sweet and elegant lyrical routine.

And not just any lyrical routine. I requested that we dance to Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind.”

The year was 1998, and it was only the summer before that Princess Diana had passed away. Her death was a sentimental sensation, especially for tenderhearted Lyrical creatures like myself who responded to the tragedy by crafting poems and prose about the late princess.

To me, my request made so much sense. The theme of the dance recital that year was “international travel,” with each song to represent an area of the world. Elton John + Lady Di + OMG that tearjerker performance at Westminster Abbey = hello, United Kingdom!

And our graduating group of dancers included four young women transitioning from high school to college. Weren’t they too bursting with hormones and notions of romance and an ache to pour their maturing hearts onto the stage?

No, no they weren’t.

They raised their eyebrows at me when I so passionately proposed my suggestion to the dance studio director, and their reactions were even less forgiving when my suggestion was accepted.

I felt bad. The other girls took their distaste out on the dance teacher by coming to rehearsals in baggy sweats and rarely putting any effort into their movement.

I knew they had wanted techno. Pizzazz. Flashy and sassy. If 5Rhythms had been part of our language back then, they would have been Staccato, for sure.

Me in one of my jazz (Staccato) costumes.

Me in one of my jazz (Staccato) costumes.

But we had been served Lyrical, and I lapped it up.

Footless tights? Check. My hair stayed in a bun, but we clipped a red flower to our white satin skirts to represent England’s rose. My mother and grandmother cried during the performance and each time they watched the routine on video, and will probably cry reading this as well.

The most important thing, however, was that I got to dance my poetry. I got my Lyrical.

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I didn’t know it at the time, but I was learning to find my rhythm. No, not just find my rhythm but be it.

My Flowing exploration helped me understand my sensitive nature and navigate why I wanted to dance this piece.

My Staccato energy pushed me to approach the studio director and present my suggestion.

My Chaos was the emotional drama I felt after rehearsals when I knew my peers hated my decision that had cost them their super-cool jazz routine.

My Lyrical was the dance.

And finally, My Stillness was the moment after curtain call when I realized my dance hobby had developed into a true passion.

Sevenoaks...Ahhh

During intermission of a dance concert I attended Friday night, I was asked when I started dancing. I responded that I was 3 years old, but that I did the standard ballet-tap-jazz combo that all little kids do when they first start dancing, as if dismissing my early involvement in the art. Small-town dance studio, nothing too intense. More concerned about what costume you’re going to wear for the summer recital, what cool jazz song your teacher is going to choose for your routine. Turns, splits, smiles, sequins. Ta-da! Jazz hands. Curtain call. Take a bow.

It was just my thing, I said. Some people played rec soccer. Some took piano lessons. I danced. Whatever. It was just an extracurricular to keep me occupied.

That’s what I thought Friday night, that dance was just “a thing.” I mean, it has obviously grown since then from “a thing” to “THE thing,” but why was I so quick to downplay my foundations?

As if guided by some spiritual guardian, yesterday morning—as I went into my closet to retrieve a shirt to wear for a 5Rhythms class later in the day—I noticed the program from my college graduation sitting on the closet floor; must have fallen when I was retrieving some old yearbooks last week. I picked up the piece of paper, thumbed through it quickly, surprised to see my name. Totally forgot that I had won a creative writing award my senior year. Hmph.

I opened a random box in the closet to return the program, but it was the wrong box. Instead, this one had a portfolio of writings from my past, essays and short stories and poetry from my youth, things I don’t even remember writing or items that I had thought went out with the recycling long ago. I found a myth I wrote in high school, a charming story about the origin of stars that my teacher said had potential as a children’s story. A horror “book” (15 loose-leaf pages stapled together) about a group of teens vacationing on a beach with a homicidal maniac on the loose. Stories I wrote when I wasn’t even an official adult yet that still speak to my 31-year-old self.

But, most important of all, was the handwritten poem I found. It was written when I was in 8th grade, 14 years old, braces on my crooked teeth and awkwardness in my gangly limbs. I may not have been the most graceful or elegant dancer at that stage of life, but—contrary to what I had just expressed last night about not considering my early dance a “passion”—dance meant a lot to me.

This has been tucked in a closet for the past 18 years; today is the day “My Passion” emerges from the dark.

Take me on a wooden floor,
Where I’m not human anymore.
My mind is far away, a distant place,
While my body is dancing in the same space.
My legs are moving; no thinking is involved,
I just keep moving; it helps my problems get solved.
The music is playing, the music I can see,
No one is around; just let me be.
I do all my turns, I stand on my toes,
I am lost in the Land of Sweets, but nobody knows.
Now I’m Odette, flowing along in a river,
And then I’m Aurora (who almost dies); I give a shiver.
My mind is not here, it is far away.
But my passion for dancing will always stay.

In an effort to explore some of the things “stirring” me lately, I have done what all people do when they are petrified of looking to the future: Look at the past, of course.

Source: Allie Brosh (hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com)

Right about this time 5 years ago, I was grappling with the decision to “retire” from teaching yoga after doing it for only half a year, as documented in my old journal:

“My personal practice has suffered greatly because of this new role I’ve placed upon myself. Before I was ‘teacher,’ I was a sponge. I voluntarily soaked up every ounce of yoga knowledge I could find, and I loved it. I loved reading Yoga Journal, I loved reading Iyengar’s books, I loved taking class from master teachers and learning just to learn. But now that I’m ‘teacher,’ doing all of those things feel like work, like I’m preparing from some huge exam.

“I can’t sit back and read Yoga Journal just because…. I read it like I have to download every article into my brain and remember the key points so I can recall them back to future students. It’s like required reading in high school. Remember all those great books we were forced to read that weren’t so ‘great’ at the time because it was required? And then in college, maybe you picked up The Scarlet Letter just for the heck of it, read it at leisure, and then were like, ‘WOW! What a great book! I didn’t want to put it down!’ The practice of reading is wholly different when there are expectations vs. no expectations. And that’s kind of how I feel, in a nutshell.

“Yoga is very complicated… it’s not just about teaching down dog and savasana. There are so many facets of yoga, very deep concepts that even I can’t into words sometimes. I just feel it. I can’t recite it back to anyone. And I had only been practicing yoga for about two years—seriously practicing it—before becoming a teacher. When I signed up for the teacher training, I thought two years was enough. Yoga had changed my life in two years, so obviously I got it and was ready to spread the love. But…I don’t think it’s turning out how I expected.

“I feel so inexperienced, not just compared with other teachers, but I feel like I’m a little girl trying flop around the house in daddy’s huge work boots. I haven’t grown into this role yet.”

However, just days after I declared that I was done with teaching and requested my name be taken off the teacher list at the studio where I worked, I taught one final, last-hurrah Friday night “happy hour” class. It is the class that has haunted me since, not because it marked the poignant end of an era or that it flat-out sucked.

No, quite the contrary. It haunts me because it was possibly one of the best classes I ever taught, and one in which—possibly because I knew it was my last one and all pressure was off—I stood at the front of the room as Me, Jennifer, Lover of Yoga/Movement/Dance, and not a lofty mental fabrication of what I thought a yoga teacher should be. I took what I loved about Kripalu yoga, blended in some of the things I learned during all the DansKinetics classes I took during my month at Kripalu, and topped it off with my own personal touch.

For once, the shoes on my feet were no longer “daddy’s huge work boots”; I was wearing Cinderella’s glass slippers.

Here’s what I wrote after the class:

“I led a really great yoga class tonight for Yoga Happy Hour. It’s after classes like this when I wonder why I ever doubted my abilities and passion. I planned the class last night as I was listening to some tribal drumming music. I was all set to teach one of my regular gentle classes, but then I thought, Hmm, this is Happy Hour yoga! I need to develop something upbeat, incredibly fun, and rockin’!

“So I based my class around specific songs and music styles, using the tribal drumming, of course (KDZ for all you Kripalu folks out there), trippy Peter Gabriel music from Birdy, and hula songs by Iz. I even managed to incorporate some Stage 3 Meditation in Motion elements in there. I found a really hypnotic song, led everyone through some basic sun salutes, and then opened the floor for some prana response. Man, what fun to watch! They did it!

“I think my plan of integrating several dance elements throughout the practice really helped, too, because I work really well with good music. I had everyone rolling their shoulders and hips and doing some intense hara moves like Breath of Joy and Pulling Prana. I even threw in a few minutes of walking meditation! I was on a roll!

“The best was hearing some feedback from Joe, a guy from Tuesday night Kundalini, who said the class snapped him out of the depressed/withdrawn funk he’s been in for the past week. And he really appreciated the chance to just sway to the music and hop around to the tribal drums and just get in tune with himself. Dude! That’s my main objective. I just want people to feel free.”

I guess what I’m getting at is that these feelings of “wanting people to feel free” are creeping up on me again, becoming especially intense nowadays since all I do in my spare time is dance. I dance before work, after work, every weekend, even in my dreams. I hardly go to the gym anymore; I wear myself out enough doing a self-led 5Rhythms practice in my living room.

The question is: Does this passion need to be a career? How formal do we need to be about something we love for it to feel validated? I remember back in 2007, I was all set to attend a YogaDance program at Kripalu, but I ended up having to cancel due to my husband’s 10-year high school reunion being the same weekend. At first, I was utterly devastated to miss out on this Very Important Dance Program, but as it turned out, going to the reunion gave me the opportunity to be a dance teacher in a different, real-world context:

“What I loved about this event is that I actually DID, truly, let my yoga dance. The music was pulsing all night and stirring the dancer inside to get up and move. Absolutely no one else, though, was on the dance floor, and I withheld. But the second I saw some random guy approach the floor, bopping with a beer in his hand, I leaped on the opportunity and bounded up there to draw him on the dance floor. It worked, and soon D., D., and I were dancing like crazybirds, just the three of us, in front of a group of classmates.

“It was fabulous music, the stuff I love, so I was totally into the flow. Before I knew it, I really was kicking off my shoes and letting my hair down. The wife of one of Bryan’s friends said that I looked like I was having so much fun that she couldn’t help joining me on the dance floor. She looked like an otherwise stiff person, and I was happy to see her moving and flailing and sweating and shaking. At one point we were even slow dancing together to some R&B song, because everyone else had left the floor. We twirled each other, tangoed, waltzed, me guiding her along the entire time.

“It dawned on me then that what I was doing there was what I would have been doing at Kripalu: dancing with others, being free, helping others let go and let their bodies take over. I didn’t have to be 5 hours away in a Massachusetts yoga ashram to let my yoga dance. I had brought Kripalu here, in the real world. I was exhausted, sweaty, smelly, and had incredibly dirty feet, but I felt so content and happy for following the call of music and dancing. Just dancing.

One of my favorite “in the moment” dance floor photos.

The other day as Bryan and I sat in the new local frozen yogurt shop eating our toppings-heavy desserts, I observed that every one of the employees in the brightly colored building looked to be 18 or younger, which for some reason made me think back to my pre-career days and the ups and downs of working as a teenager/young adult in retail.

With a B.A. in Communications/Writing under my belt since 2002, I’m an editor at a medical publishing company now, and my primary job is transforming peer-reviewed manuscripts into copyedited/proofread/presentable articles worthy of publication. But long before I resided in a cubicle from 8:30 to 5, M to F, I wore several different hats, “uniforms,” and almost never had to sit for 8 hours straight.

First Paid Gig: Choreographer

The summer before my freshman year of high school, the local community children’s summer theater sent out a notice asking for citizens to volunteer with various duties, such as supervision, costume-making, set design, and choreography. I had been choreographing fake shows and recitals in my living room since I was 8, so I jumped on the opportunity to work with live human beings. The show was Annie the Orphan, and not only was I co-choreographer but I was asked to be in the show as an extra orphan. I loved wearing ratty clothes and keeping my hair messy!

I worked with those kids 5 days per week for about a month and a half during the summer, and it was so rewarding to see them memorize the steps and then execute the routines together as a group. I was flattered when the show’s director paid me something like $100 at the end, even when I thought I was solely volunteering. I continued working with the group for a few more years until it was time for the torch to be passed to another eager freshman longing to be a choreographer.

Hanging out with my favorite mice from "Cinderella."

The cutest trio of boys performing the Lollipop Guild routine in "Oz."

Still, I held the title of “choreographer” for several years after leaving the children’s theater. I was asked to choreograph my first high school musical my sophomore year (Pirates of Penzance) and continued until I graduated (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) and then came back a few years after to choreograph Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat for a different high school.

One of my favorite dances, "Coffee Break," from "How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying." That's me on the right.

Every choreography gig I took on had its challenges (people who just couldn’t memorize steps, the difference between recorded music and a live orchestra), but the end result always gave me the goosebumps. I just loved seeing everything come together; no longer were there individual “steps”…everything was a performance.

I got to wear The Best Costume Ever during "Pippin."

First Retail Job: Eckerd Pharmacy

During the latter half of my high school years, I began working after-school/weekend hours as a navy-blue-shirt/khaki-pants-wearing sales associate at the local pharmacy. My primary responsibilities were working the cash register, stocking shelves, and changing price tags. Despite the minimum wage pay and the occasional wacakdoo coming in and kind of scaring me, I actually enjoyed the job, especially when I had a constant stream of customers.

I loved organizing, and beautifying the cold medicine aisle was one of my favorite duties; those skinny little Sudafed and Advil Cold & Sinus and Tylenol boxes were always tipping over like dominoes. A nice night for me was pulling up a plastic tote, sitting in front of the shelf, and getting each and every one of those little boxes on its feet again, stacked straight like soldiers on duty.

Every now and then, I’d work at the back register in the pharmacy department. This became one of my favorite assignments; it was certainly hectic at times, but I enjoyed answering the phone, getting people their prescriptions, and, at times, counting pills. The pharmacists were funny, easy-going, and good people all around. For me, the pharmacy was the VIP club of the store, and it was always my secret desire to get assigned back there.

Retail Experience #2: Old Navy

By the time I started college, I was interested in expanding my retail horizons. I was getting tired of stocking pill bottles and cigarettes, and I sought to work somewhere “cool.” With its pulsing store-wide music, bright colors, and relatively young clientele, Old Navy became my home-for-the-summer employer.

I wore a navy blue company t-shirt and got to sport a headset, which we used mostly to crack jokes about other employees or customers. I was too new to work the register, so I rotated between greeting people at the door, assisting in the fitting room, and maintaining general organization.

The job was kind of like a big party, but gradually it grew a little too big for me. I often felt like the managers were so concerned about pushing sales that the general appearance of the store was being ignored. I liked things spic-and-span, but a few items out of place were nothing if the dollars were rolling in.

That said, my favorite part of the job became “truck night,” those Friday nights when the store closed at 9 and a giant tractor trailer with new inventory rolled up and deposited boxes and boxes of new clothes. We’d lock the front doors, blast the radio, and go to our assigned spots to open boxes, tear off the protective plastic, slide hangers under every shirt collar, and begin the art of organization, arranging by style, color, size.

My OCD tendencies were pleased. Just like stacking those cold medicine boxes, I was happily engaged in the comforting repetition of organization.

Retail Experience #3: Store of Knowledge

Yet another summer between college years, and I did not want to return to the chaos that was Old Navy. My friend had been working at the Store of Knowledge at a different mall, so I applied to one at my local mall. The Store of Knowledge (now bankrupt) was the official retail store of public broadcasting stations across the country; I called it “the channel 12” store. It sold science and dinosaur toys, mind games and puzzles, and merchandise tied to all those PBS specials like The Three Tenors, Riverdance, and the Donny Osmond version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Dressed in my khaki pants and store-assigned denim shirt (::shudder::) and black apron, I worked the register here and there but mostly helped customers as they browsed the store. My favorite assignment was working as the greeter; I’d stand at the front of the store and demonstrate some wacky new toy or gadget to passersby, being generally goofy and silly.

At one point, the store starting selling all of this “princess” merchandise, so I dolled myself up in a tiara, boa, and a magic wand and took on a whole new princess persona, complete with British accent and an air of royalty. I’d guide customers around the store as though they were visiting my kingdom; the kids (and parents!) loved it. It was the closest I’d ever get to being a Disney face character (one of my life-long dreams). (And no pictures from that gig, unfortunately.) 😦

***

After the Store of Knowledge closed, I returned to Eckerd Pharmacy for another semester or two to fill in the gaps before real-life began. I tried never to work during the school season, mostly because I had a pseudo-job as an editor on the university newspaper (we got paid a stipend at the end of the year) and participated in theater and dance events, which took up a lot of my time. I also found a seasonal internship at a local newspaper, which was a great stepping stone to my career.

I got my first big-girl job the day after I graduated from college. Knowing what today’s college kids face, I feel especially lucky that I was hired for a full-time editing/writing position less than 24 hours after being handed my diploma.

What made the job even better was that the office was directly across the street from a birthday party center, and I was hired on an on-call basis to serve as the “Super Cool Dance Teacher” for children’s parties. Sometimes I’d leave the office during my lunch break, dart across the street, teach 8 to 12 kids a fun dance, put on a mock recital for the parents, and then return to the office by 1 to resume writing.

I worked at that office for 5 years before moving on to where I am now. I can’t skip across the street to be an on-call dance teacher anymore, but hey, at least I don’t have to wear a denim shirt.

What did you do before finding your first big-girl/big-boy job?

OK, so the other day I fessed up about my two latest Netflix obsessions. At a quick glance, the obsession with Felicity and Dance Academy may make me seem like a boy-crazy girly girl, but the truth is that my Netflix history is…a bit schizophrenic. It’s one of the reasons I love Netflix–it has everything! Teen dramas! Nature documentaries! Reality TV! Indie films!

If the FBI or CIA or a stalker was trying to pull together a profile of me based on what I’ve recently watched on Netflix, here’s what they’d find (we’ll start with the obvious first):

Girly Girl Nonsense

Felicity, Dance Academy, and…

Blue Crush 2

Do you know I actually own the original Blue Crush on DVD? I’m not sure what’s more embarrassing, that or the fact I sat down to watch this hideous sequel. Any sequel that features zero of the original’s characters is set up for disappointment. Also, I love how the 16-year-old main character runs away from her LA mansion and flies to South Africa on her own, on a whim. I hate how I get so mad at dumb movies.

Picture Me

Yes, this is technically a documentary but it’s one about runway models and the drama that goes on behind the cameras. I felt like I was watching “America’s Next Top Model: The Movie.” Ick.

Smart Comedy

Parks and Recreation

Sit down and talk to each during dinner? Bah! Bryan and I settle back in our IKEA chairs and watch 24 minutes of rib-busting comedy. Any time Ron Swanson says anything about meat or bacon or breakfast food, there is a good chance my living room companion is going to laugh so hard that the cushion falls off the chair with him.

30 Rock

The pre-Parks and Recreation joint TV series that I always thought was the funniest show on the planet…until I met Leslie Knope et al. Still, I’m not going to deny the award-winning dynamics between Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin.

Portlandia

I may not live in Portland, but I’m at Whole Foods and yoga studios and farmers markets enough that I totally get the hippie humor.

Nostalgia

Santa Claus: The Movie

This movie defined my childhood Christmases, and oh!, I had such a love-hate relationship with Dudley Moore as Patch, the traitor elf. I always envisioned the guy who played Santa in this movie to be the REAL Santa, ’cause he was just so perfect in the role. Every other movie Santa is just a fraud.

Giorgio Moroder presents Metropolis

As a kid, I remember seeing my dad watch this at home and it kind of freaked me out. What’s with the olde tyme film? The lack of sound? That robot lady is creepy! So when I found it on Netflix, of course I had to watch it. I’ve never seen the original film, but this 1980s presentation of a German silent movie from the 20s–complete with Pat Benetar and Freddy Mercury soundtrack–is just as creepy now as it was for me as an 8-year-old.

Twin Peaks

Again, this is something I remember my dad being very interested in, but at the time it was on TV I was at no age to be watching such a creepy/messed up/whacked out/WTF show. We whipped through the series late last year, and I can safely say it is the weirdest show we’ve ever watched. But…I kind of loved it too? Or maybe I just loved Kyle MacLachlan. And finally–FINALLY!–I understand the Red Room dream sequence in the “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” episode of The Simpsons. Burns suit, burns suit…Burns’ suit!!

Disturbing Documentaries/Real-Life TV

The Sun Behind the Clouds

I’ve been to Tibet and know the situation. The Dalai Lama’s escape, the influx of Chinese, the loss of culture, the threat of imprisonment for standing up for Buddhist beliefs. Watching this documentary was a bit masochistic, because I know there is no happy ending for Tibet. I kind of lost it when they starting showing footage of monks being beaten.

Frontline–Facing Death

Hey, so nothing is more depressing than a PBS special about end-of-life decisions. But one of the publications I edit is about geriatric care, and since I’m always reading about these difficult situations I thought that watching a true-life documentary about them may give me a new perspective when working with such material. Also, unfortunately, I have a few friends with family members who are approaching end of life, and I thought it may be beneficial to at least be familiar with their situation.

Waiting for “Superman”

I have a lot of friends who work in education, and I remember there being quite a buzz on Facebook when this movie came out in theaters, because, basically, it slams the current state of public schools. This movie did what every documentary does to me…leaves me feeling helpless and crying, “It’s not fairrrrrrr!!!!!!”

30 Days

What happens when an atheist has to live in a Christian household for 30 days? Or a redneck moves in with a Muslim family? OK, so perhaps this show is a bit like Wife Swap, but what I like about 30 Days is that it’s much more realistic. People actually know what they’re getting into and don’t act “surprised” or angry when they have to do something outside of their comfort zone. The angle isn’t so confrontational, there aren’t any “rules changing” ceremonies, and the participants actually seem open to learning about something new.

Life In a Day

A collection of YouTube videos from all over the world documenting 24 hours from one day, from people brushing their teeth to sheep farming to a family dealing with cancer. The concept is so simple, the result a captivating movie about how “any old day” is anything but.

Miscellaneous

Fireplace For Your Home

So I made fun of this when I first saw it was available on Netflix, but I ended up using for real when I needed something calming to accompany a cold-night home yoga practice. Dude, sometimes a candle just isn’t enough, OK?!

What surprising things are on your Recently Watched list?

Aahh, so the first work week of 2012 is over! It was only four days long but it still felt like an eternity. There’s just something about coming back to the office in January that is so blah. Kids are back in school again so the commute is slower (I live two blocks from an elementary school…think crossing guards, buses, cars stacked on either side of the street), colorful Christmas decorations are gradually being removed from people’s porches, and Starbucks has said goodbye to the red cups and returned to its default, ho-hum white and green (Is it just me, or do gingerbread lattes taste more gingerbready when served in a red cup?!).

I couldn’t have asked for a better New Year’s, though. My friends from high school, Emma and Peter, re-instituted their annual New Year’s get-together (read: a laid back dinner, moderate drinking, male shenanigans [2008: cat versus laser pointer; 2011: coffee table football], Scattergories) after a two-year hiatus. This was the reason for the hiatus:

Hi, I’m Gabriella!

I love this little bugger. When I entered the house, she came scampering over to me, arms outstretched, for a hug. Then I gave her a fake pizza kit, and she named all the toppings for me, even the mushrooms and olives! When I went to pretend eat the pretend pizza, she wrinkled her nose and reminded me, “That’s not real! You can’t eat that.” She was fascinated with my handbag and kept creeping up to it to look inside. I finally let her take out my camera, and we made silly faces.

Then she insisted she be the photographer. I showed her the safe way to hold the camera, and she diligently followed my instructions.

Not bad for a 2-year-old!

Shortly thereafter, as the adults were all gathered in the kitchen–and things were eerily quiet in the living room–I surmised, “I betcha she’s going through my handbag.” We sneaked up on her and caught her red-handed; her guilty-as-charged expression was priceless. In return, I made her show me her handbag.

Our hosts served us the most delicious dinner: butternut squash lasagna, bread, and salad–all homemade, of course, even the lasagna noodles. Homemade cookies and gourmet cupcakes followed, plus some snazzy gingersnap liquor to spice up our coffee. Gabriella went to bed around 9, crying as Emma scooped her up to take her upstairs. “Aww, it’s OK honey,” she said. “Say ‘night-night’ to Bryan.” And through her sniffles and tears and pouty lips, Gabriella leaned over to him and whimpered the cutest-ever “night-night,” giving him a little kiss on the cheek.

Hands-down, cutest moment of the evening.

The adults stayed up an excruciating five hours longer. As mentioned earlier, there was dancing.

As I padded down the steps at 8 the next morning, I heard Gabriella inquire, “Who’s that?” and run to the stairs. She was excited to see me, I to see her, and we nestled on the living room floor for morning storytime.


She attempted to join me in my morning yoga stretches but gave up after 20 seconds. “OK, I’m done,” she said and stood up from tabletop pose.

After everyone showered and dressed, we headed to our traditional New Year’s Day breakfast hangout: Cracker Barrel. It was the first time in two years we needed to request a high-chair! Gabriella reminded us that a little experimentation is needed to make food interesting.

Cherry pancakes, minutes before she added the ketchup.

Somewhere between the sobbing “night-night” and pajama storytime in the morning, I got a bit misty-eyed myself as I grew into this pseudo-Aunt Jen role. I was reminded of my own childhood, when I was the little one in the footie pajamas and a curiosity about others’ handbags, and the person I ran to with excitement was my Aunt Adzia.

Adzia was my “cool aunt,” the one who understood my obsession with Barbie dolls, coloring books, and, well, more Barbie dolls. For a moment that New Year’s morning, the first day of 2012, I finally understood how rewarding it must have been to be in that aunt role, when a child shows you complete attention and engagement in a mutual activity, the overwhelming warmth in your heart when the child’s eyes light up after realizing that you slept over and are still here the next morning to play with; heading out of the house to go to Cracker Barrel and hearing a hopeful, “Is Jen coming with?”

It reminded me of weekends when Adzia would spend the night at my grandparents’ house, and, like, the coolest thing ever was when she’d go out to breakfast with us, sometimes even the mall, and then maybe even out to lunch! The “Adzia” component made everything 10 times more exciting as a kid; it was like having your BFF with you at all times, only this adult BFF bought you candy and toys.

It reminded me of when I was 8 years old and was out of school for a month with pneumonia. Adzia had come to live with us for a week to take care of me during the day when my parents were at work, and one day we spent the entire afternoon dressing my 50-some Barbie dolls in new outfits and displaying them along my bedroom wall. I remember the moment because at the time it was SO COOL to have a GROWN-UP show such interest in my Barbie obsession for hours on end; now, 23 years later with Gabriella at my side, I see the adult perspective: the heart-bursting, soul-nourishing sense of love and connection of having a child completely engaged with you in a single act, whether it’s dressing Barbie dolls, making fake pizzas, or sitting in storytime. The child isn’t playing with you just to fill time, and the adult isn’t following along just to be nice. It’s done with intention and 100% devotion.

The instant when the need for each other becomes equal–when the scales are balanced so that you need the child as much as she needs you–the heart fills with love.

It feels like it was forever and a day ago, but last month I had the opportunity to take a 2-day yoga workshop with one of my main facilitators from my Kripalu yoga teacher training, Rudy Peirce.

During my month at Kripalu, we were introduced to a wide range of teachers and variations on the Kripalu style, but it was always after Rudy’s classes that I felt the most content, still, and focused. We meditated a lot during those 28 days, but I felt like I always sunk just a little deeper when Rudy was at the front of the room. Rudy is also a master at offering modifications and adjustments, and although I jotted them down in my notebook during my training, their importance was never a great as they are now, when I am constantly looking for ways to make certain postures accessible in light of my hip limitations.

Five years after my training, I consulted with the universe in perhaps meeting up again with Rudy, and the universe answered by bringing Rudy to a yoga studio 45 minutes from my house.

It was a Big Deal for me to attend the workshop, because it meant I’d have to drive–by myself–out of my comfort zone, on unfamiliar roads and highways that kind of scare me (for no reason). This is usually the dealbreaker for me and out-of-town events, but there was no way I could ignore this awesome act of synchronicity. I printed out directions from Google Maps, slapped my husband’s GPS on my dashboard, and set out on the road. My first commute on Saturday was a bit hairy, because my directions led me through a not-so-nice part of Philadelphia. Fortunately, before I went home that evening, the ever-so-gracious owner of The Yoga Garden studio sat down with me and mapped out a way-friendlier route, which I used the following day and arrived without a hitch. Thank you x 1,000,000, Mark!

(By the way? The Yoga Garden is such a fantastic place! I wish I lived closer because I would love to have it as my “home base” studio. Everything from the entranceway to the bathrooms to the lobby was so perfectly zen and aesthetically pleasing. It definitely helped to walk into such a pleasant environment after sweating through a nervewracking drive.)

I saw Rudy in the lobby before class, and he swore that he remembered me from back in 2006 (apparently my last name runs in his family as well). In case he forgot what cohort I was with, I brought along this photo of all the teachers/assistants from Fall 2006:


He kept the photo alongside his notes for the whole class, which I found so endearing!

I didn’t know it coming in, but Saturday’s class was a backbend workshop. I thought it was going to be a general yoga class, and when I found out I got nervous–but for all the reasons why such a class would benefit me: I feel stiffness in my thoracic region, standing backbends don’t come so easily to me anymore, my lumbar spine aches at times. But Rudy’s approach to exploring backbends is slow, simple, and mindful, meaning no Wheel or anything crazy within the first hour of class. We did a lot of warm-ups, several forward bends followed by rising to standing via a straight spine, rather than rolling up. Rudy’s instruction was to “bend the knees, take the curve out of the spine, and come up straight,” as he noted that “rolling up” and stacking the vertebrae can cause strain over time and sometimes is just plain old dangerous for older people with aging spines.

We rose up from every forward bend by either rising the arms overhead or elongating them in a T position out to our sides, palms up, lifting sternum, pressing pubic bone forward, and tilting the head back while gazing to the ceiling in a slight backbend. The first time I did this I felt so stiff, but after several rounds, this move felt delicious. I found myself wanting to hold the backbend for just a little longer, plus I was actually breathing in the bend, something that is usually difficult for me. No longer did my inhalations stop once I dropped the head back.

We did some work with Eagle arms too, which I think really helped work some kinks out of my trapezius and neck. Even though most of us could wrap the arms in Eagle without assistance, we used a yoga strap to hold the arms, which took away any excess strain and helped us focus on our backbends. Pressing the hands to forehead, we went from a backbend to a forward bend, while still holding the arms in Eagle. Have I ever done a forward bend with Eagle arms?? I don’t even know, but it felt great. (Side note: Since this workshop, I’ve incorporated some Eagle arm stretches into my post-swim workouts.)

I knew Camel was coming eventually. When I think of Camel, my mind goes back to Bikram class, when Camel kinda feels like sh*t. But here, we did a lot of prep work leading up to the full pose, including a “Camel dance” (bring right hand to right heel, rise, left hand to left heel, rocking back and forth with breath) and then a one-sided Camel during which the right hand comes to right heel, opposite arm extended up, pubic bone pressing forward, slight backbend. Repeat on opposite side, and continue side to side in your own flow. I tried some prop assistance during this pose, including placing a cushion on my calves instead of reaching all the way down to my heels and then placing a blanket under my feet to raise the heels closer to my hands. Of course, there’s also the option of placing blocks between your feet, but I really liked the cushion-on-the-calves modification. By the time we got to the full expression of the pose, I was fully alive. Gone are my visions of puke-inducing Camel!

Some other modification pointers I took home with me were really, really simple (like, Why didn’t I think of that on my own?!). One is placing a folded blanket under the hands during table pose. I’ve seen the folded-mat variation of this before, but I like this option because it doesn’t shorten your mat. Another was placing a rolled-up yoga mat long-ways across your knees during seated meditation to allow the hands to rest comfortably on the knees. I especially liked this one because I generally sit in hero pose for meditation, and I’ve found it difficult to find a comfortable/natural place for my hands to lie. The yoga-mat option allows my hands to rest beyond my knees as though I were sitting in sukhasana.

As expected with any Kripalu class, we ended with pranayama. I was so excited to be led through kapalabhati with retention, something I learned at Kripalu and never saw after that. Yet it is so invigorating! Rudy also led single-nostril kapalabhati, in which we did 20 expulsions on one side, 20 on the other, and then alternating-nostril kapalabhati. Yowzas! My brain felt cleared of any junk, and my body tingled with oxygenation.

Rudy closed class with his usual “Hari Om, shanti, shanti, peace, peace,” which brought a smile to my lips. I hadn’t heard his voice utter those words since 2006, and it reminded me of Kripalu and the time when one of my classmates asked him what “hari” meant, to which Rudy had replied, “It means Yay!” 🙂

After class, I hung around to talk with Rudy’s wife, Joyce, who had tagged along as his assistant/sidekick. She is a dancer herself, and we spent some time talking about the challenges of being trained in dance/flexibility yet never in strength, as well as the challenges of carrying the “teacher” label and finding a balance between being a student and leader. It was comforting to learn that Joyce also struggled in adapting to being a “teacher” and how it tarnished the innocent love and fascination of yoga that came along with just being a student. And why is there always a tug to become a teacher? Can’t one just be a lifelong student? Why is there a guilt that comes along with practicing yoga for oneself? My husband runs four times a week but is not going out to become a track coach or personal trainer. Is it something about being a woman that makes us feel guilty for being just a tad selfish? Or perhaps it’s the huge sense of responsibility that Kripalu places on its trainees, that Here is this gift. Now it’s your mission to spread it to others. It is something Joyce and I both still struggle with, but it was so reassuring to talk with someone who understands. (This all reminds me of a woman who led belly dance classes at my gym. She always said, “I don’t like to say that I ‘teach.’ I’m not a guru or anything. I prefer to say that I ‘share.’ I just take what I love to do and share it with others.” I love that mentality! It feels so much less burdensome to say “I’m going to share some yoga with others” rather than “teach.”)

Yogas Citta Vritti Nirodhah

(Yoga is the cessation of the modifications of the mind; yoga is the cessation of thought forms in the field on consciousness; yoga is to still the patterns of consciouness) ~Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, 1.2

I returned to The Yoga Garden on Sunday for Rudy’s meditation workshop. The first half of class was a lot of yoga philosophy and talk, much of which I learned at Kripalu. However, Rudy has such a mellow voice that just listening to him induces a peaceful, meditative state. I swear, he could be talking about burgers and I could drift into a wonderful meditation.

Rudy summed up the act of meditation like this: The mind is a media center–movies, slides, songs, photos, memories, books–more channels than cable. Meditation is stepping back and seeing that it’s all just a movie, that you don’t have to be actively engaged in all these media swirling around your neural circuits.

We reviewed the three main components of meditation:
Dharana: Concentration on one point.
Dhyana: Witnessing (dropping preferences, evaluation, and identification with thoughts).
Samadhi: No differentiation of pain and pleasure (non-dual awareness).

Unfortunately, Samadhi was nowhere to be found for me that afternoon. I made the mistake of starting my meditation sit in sukhasana, which my hips were not pleased with. By the time I made the effort to shift positions, my entire left leg from my sacrum down to the toes was asleep and tingling in pain. I tried to breathe through the discomfort, and by the time I settled into a space of ease, our time was up and we emerged out of meditation. Needless to say, my mind never really escaped the “media center” mentality; however, I did learn that just because everyone else in the class is sitting in one position does not mean I have to do the same, especially when I know that it will eventually cause pain! I totally, totally knew this going into the sit, but I succumbed to “peer pressure,” just wanting to be like everyone else.

So, not the best meditation ever, but I still left the studio feeling pretty mellow and chill, a perfect way to commemorate the anniversary of my training with Rudy on the same weekend I graduated from the program 5 years ago.

2006

2011, Super Serious

2011, Smiles!

(And yes, the head scarf I’m wearing in 2006 is the one I’m wearing around my neck in 2011. I bought it during my YTT, so I consider it my “Kripalu scarf”!)

The other day as I was driving to work on a particularly cloudy, drizzly, and ho-hum morning, I experimented with flipping the car radio to one of the local stations that’s currently broadcasting Christmas carols around the clock. I do not normally condone such pre-season holly jolly activities, but I figured that since Christmas songs are associated with mirth and merriment, perhaps just a song or two about Santa Claus and a few merry gentlemen would stir up enough warm and fuzzy feelings to get me into the office with a smile on my face.

What's cuter than Grandmom playing with the train set?

However, after just a few seconds of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” I had switch back to the traditional hits of the ’80s, ’90s, and today. The holiday music felt wrong, so out of place for that early November morning, like someone singing “Happy Birthday” to me on June 10 instead of July 30. Yet, in a way, I was disappointed about not being receptive to the music. I spend so much energy resisting this early onslaught of Christmas in stores, in TV commercials, and in people’s homes (walked by a house on November 14 with a tree already set up), that I thought to myself, Why resist, Jen? Just welcome it in, let the Christmas spirit flow through you as it is elsewhere around the country. Don’t wrinkle your nose at the fact that Santa made his debut at the mall on November 5, giving out candy canes even though pumpkins filled with candy corn and bite-size Three Musketeers are still sitting on the kitchen counters of every American household. That’s not a good attitude.

But as soon as I tried to welcome it in, the door slammed shut. I just did not want to hear about one’s experience rockin’ round the Christmas tree on November 14. And as much as I love Starbucks, I do not love getting my pumpkin spice latte served in a red cup. The resistance returns.

But there’s a reason for the resistance, and it all has to do with nostalgia. I can thank Kathy O’Connell from WXPN’s Kids Corner for this realization (yes, it’s true that I sometimes listen to the made-for-kids radio show), as she pointed out that, for her, the Christmas spirit is not allowed to creep into her system until Santa arrives at the conclusion of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Only then will she begin listening to Christmas songs, consider dressing in red and green, and pick out greeting cards, because that’s the way it used to be growing up.

Dress appropriately for Thanksgiving...

...and then for Christmas.

Now, Kathy is much older than me, but even back when I was a kid in the ’80s, the same theory applied. There was never any talk of Christmas before Thanksgiving, and even then I remember being confused why Santa Claus participated in the Thanksgiving parade. My hometown had a holiday parade the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and for me, that‘s when Christmas could begin. The turkey was carved, pumpkin pie consumed, Black Friday shopping done. That’s the way it used to be. Those were the good ol’ days, when Santa’s Village at the mall didn’t open until after Thanksgiving ended, when candy canes were handed out only after all of your Halloween peanut butter cups were fully digested and eliminated.

So it seems that as great of a holiday Christmas is, most of us are programmed remembering the way it used to be, and that’s the way we can’t tolerate Bing Crosby when the trees are still covered in yellow and orange leaves. Perhaps the younger generations of today will be A-OK with mistletoe and fake cobwebs being sold side-by-side on the same shelves when they become adults, but for most of us right now, we’re just trying to hold onto a little magic from our youth, upholding tradition, and doing everything in our power to prevent orange and black M&Ms from ever mingling with the red and green ones.

Creepy dead Haunted Mansion flowers first...

...then the Christmas tree may follow.

About the Author

Name: Jennifer

Location: Greater Philadelphia Area

Blog Mission:
SHARE my practice experience in conscious dance and yoga,

EXPAND my network of like-minded individuals,

FULFILL my desire to work with words in a more creative and community-building capacity;

FLOW and GROW with the world around me!

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