Sunday, March 28, 2010

Unity Through Yoga

A group of apparently disconnected bodies moves through a space together for a short time.  When the time is over, the bodies chant the sound of "om" and then bow to one another saying, "namaste."  There is now a discernable connection.  This connection is healing and it feels like peace, power and unity. 

My favorite translation of "namaste" is this: May the light in me respect and reflect the light in you.  My teacher Sinda says this at the close of her classes.  This weekend I attended a class taught by Freddie Wyndham.  When he said "namaste," he also said "shalom."  I was very touched by this.  With Passover and Easter on the horizon, he wished each of us a happy celebration according to our individual faith.  I was inspired by his ability to unite a random group of people with a single purpose: Love.  He reminded us that Love is at the core of our being and Love is our true identity.  I experienced Love during his class. 

Not coincidentally, I have been speaking with a lot of my peers lately about their chosen stress relievers and paths to wholeness.  I am researching a book on grown children of the mentally ill.  Many of us do yoga.  Two people I have interviewed did yoga every day for a month as part of a grieving process.  One woman said that the experience of moving through the asanas in a room with a group of other bodies made her a little stronger each day after losing one of her parents.  Everyone I have spoken with who does yoga regularly benefits from the unity of the practice. 

There is so much divisiveness in our society.  We have red states and blue states.  We have pro-choice and anti-abortion individuals.  We have racial tension.  We have religious differences.  We have economic and social divides.  We have working mothers and stay-at-home mothers, and a new group called "hybrid moms."  We have vegetarians, vegans, meat eaters and people who love fast food.  We have home schoolers, magnet schoolers, Montessori schools and Catholic schools.  We have a news media that is constantly trying to smack labels on people.  It is a wonder that we manage to connect at all. 

Our ability to connect and share Love with others is a miracle.   It is the greatest miracle of humanity.  I wish to focus on this miracle rather than spend my time thinking about all of the issues that divide us.  I experience this miracle through yoga.  I have also experienced this miracle through music. 

How do you experience the miracle of connection with those who are "different" from you?  Do you believe in differences or do you believe in unity?  Do you believe in Love?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Alcohol and the Mind/Body/Spirit Connection

It is common knowledge that the world's major religions do not condone drunkenness.  Nonetheless, the abuse of alcohol continues to thrive in many cultures worldwide, particularly in wealthier nations.  Many people who claim to be, or who indeed are religious or spiritual continue to drink alcohol.  Until recently, I was certainly one of those people. 

For most of my life I was able to tolerate moderately high alcohol consumption.  I started drinking in high school and hadn't really stopped recreational drinking until recently.  I was never abusing alcohol to the point of addiction or damage to my health, but I was a regular social drinker.  When I first met my husband, we spent a great deal of time in bars together.  Most of our family members drink or used to drink recreationally.  In the past, splitting a bottle of wine with my husband at dinner was normal behavior for me, even after having children.  This is no longer true.  Why?  My body simply cannot tolerate more than one glass of wine or beer, and on a rare occasion, one cocktail.  After analyzing this physiological change, I have concluded that my new intolerance of alcohol results from the mind-body-spirit connection. 

As an adolescent and young adult, I was always interested in spirituality but had never undertaken a true spiritual path.  As a working adult and then a new parent, I was more focused on getting through what I perceived to be day-to-day life; spiritual seeking wasn't a real priority for me.  I prayed, but I had no regular spiritual practice. 

Since January of 2009, I have been regularly practicing Buddhist meditation, reading a daily Bible scripture, reading other favorite religious texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and praying daily.  Since September of 2009 I have been regularly practicing yoga 3 to 4 times per week.  Gradually over the past 15 months I have noticed some dramatic changes in not only my thinking and my emotions, but also in my body.  Foremost among these physical changes is my aversion to alcoholic beverages. I still enjoy the taste of wine, but I have to be vigilant about limiting my intake of it or I suffer from crippling physical fallout.  Three glasses of wine at dinner will knock me out physically for the majority of the following day.  I do not attribute this change to aging, because my older relatives and friends can drink me under the table.  I am fairly certain that my body is being transformed in conjunction with my mind and spirit.  Had I heard someone tell me this two years ago, I would have been skeptical.  Now, I understand how spiritual and mental contentment are not compatible with intoxication.  I understand this not only on an intellectual level, but on a basic physical level.  This is a true breakthrough for me. 

In the interviews I am conducting for my book on grown children of severely depressed or mood disordered parents, alcoholism is a constant theme.  I had not expected this.  I am over half way through my interviews, and almost every person I have spoken with has either battled with alcoholism or had an alcoholic parent.  When I was younger a psychologist warned me that I have alcoholic tendencies.  There is certainly a connection between depression and self-medication with alcohol.  I am extremely grateful be to learning about this connection in-depth.  This lesson coincides beautifully with my own progress in this area. 

I would like to leave you with some spiritual teachings on intoxication from three different belief systems: Buddhist, Christian and Yogic.  When I read these words now, they have an entirely different meaning for me than they did when I first encountered them.  May you be richly blessed in your mind, body and soul. 

"Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical
and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.
I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and
in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol
or any other intoxicants, or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain T.V.
programs, magazines, books, films and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body and my
consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future
generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion by practicing a diet for myself
and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation, and for the
transformation of society." (The Five Wonderful Precepts, by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.)
"And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit."  (Ephesians 5:18)
"Yogis do not touch alcohol, since they consider it to lower the vibrations of their subtle body (astral body). This defeats the purpose of yoga, which is to increase the vibrational level so they can gradually unfold their Higher Self.  Yoga also considers alcohol to have an adverse effect on the central nervous system, and in particular the brain. The integrity of the central nervous system is considered very important by the yogis, since one of the goals of yoga is to improve the health of this system, and much of the progress of yoga is achieved via this vital communication system.
Modern science agrees with yoga on this point, since alcohol is known to first stimulate and then shortly afterwards depress the central nervous system.
Alcohol also causes poor sleep. Alcohol cannot compare with the effects of yoga. Yoga produces a natural stimulation without the depressing after-effect. Yoga also produces a general feeling of elation. The increase in life force produced by practicing yoga cannot be duplicated by drugs." (Yoga's View of Nutrition, from

Monday, March 8, 2010

Chick Chalet

Once upon an early March, Gabrielle invited two friends to stay the weekend at her ski chalet.  She was tired from a Wall Street week, yet eagerly anticipating teaching ski lessons and hanging out at night with her girlfriends. 

Gabrielle took the bus to the mountain on Thursday.  She was brusquely greeted by deep and crunchy snow covering the path to the front door.  Once inside, she discovered Jack passed out on the couch with her comforter.  The gall!  Something smelled funny.  "Jack, wake up! My friends are visiting this weekend!  It reeks in here! Can you go air out that comforter?"  Gabrielle busily set about tidying the chalet from a week of male fallout. 

Finally, at 7:15 Anaya arrived with her rolly carry-on bag, pillow and stuffed panda bear.  Gabrielle fielded a series of cell phone calls with questions like, "After I turn into the entrance and go over the bridge what stop sign is the one?"  "OK, now I'm in front of a sign that reads, Lodging and Parking.  Which road is it?"  "Wait, you just saw my headlights?  No, I don't see a black SUV."  Eventually Anaya parked in front of the black SUV.  To her dismay, she realized rolling luggage was an uninformed choice.  Jack and Brennan were leaving with their stuff when Anaya stepped into a giant mound of snow in an attempt to hoist her bag.  Jack: "Whatever you do, don't step off of the path, OK?"  Anaya: "What path? I can't even see."  Jack: "Gabrielle, can you come help her?"  Gabrielle: "Yes, yes, I'm coming! Hi doll!!"  Anaya: "So I see why you chose a duffle bag."  Jack: "Yeah. Umm... have fun, bye." 

Upon entering the chalet, Gabrielle showed Anaya a cozy little room with a skylight and a painting of "Paris By Night".  Anaya liked the room, but then noticed another one with a framed tapestry of a knight on the door.  That room had serious appeal.  Anaya asked if she could bunk there.  Gabrielle: "That's Brennan's room.  He doesn't like anyone else to take it."  Anaya: "That's OK.  He'll never know.  I'll put everything exactly in the spot where it was when I leave."  Gabrielle: "OK! You're brave! Go for it!"  Thursday night was catch-up time for the girls, and Gabrielle showed Anaya her photos from Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Thailand.  Anaya was moved by the beautiful photos of lotus flowers, long boats, reclining Buddhas and wat temples.  She had heard stories of Gabrielle's time volunteering in two orphanages, but the photos of the children cemented these stories in her heart.  After some homemade pasta, tea and hot chocolate, it was bedtime. 

Friday morning, this was the view from Brennan's window. 

Anaya asked a question to no one in particular: "Does Superman live here?" Gabrielle was out the door with her gear before Anaya could make coffee.  Anaya wandered around in her pajamas, started a fire and drank some mochachino.  She climbed up to the loft and completed a transcription for her book.  Before she knew it, the day was done and Gabrielle showed up at the chalet with Nathan and some beers.  After one beer, Anaya went out for candles and more firewood.  Gabrielle was ready for dinner at 7:00, so two old friends went out in Tannersville to feast on champagne, cheese fondue and rotisserie chicken.

Young boys stalked their table repeatedly shouting, "stinky cheese! stinky cheese!"  Anaya said, "This is my future, Gabrielle.  I should miss my boys right now but I don't."  After bedtime tea by the fireside, Gabrielle and Anaya retired to their rooms in anticipation of another fun day with a new guest.

Adina arrived right after lunch.  To Anaya's surpise, she had a broken hand!  No skiing for Adina.  Nonetheless, a new friendship was forged and the two went up the mountain to meet Gabrielle for apres-ski.  Even though Anaya's Alma Mater lost a bastketball game to the dreaded Jayhawks, she was consoled by a free Goose and Juice from a sympathetic bartender.  A seat next to this fire pit dissipated her bad mood.

Because of texting mishaps, Gabrielle could never find her girlfriends when lessons were over.  Adina and and Anaya tried another bar, then left to escape Wayne.  In spite of his good intentions, Wayne's uninvited physical contact and repeated invitations for dinner and cocktails at his house were creepy. 

Gabrielle was waiting back at the chalet when her skeeved friends showed up.  Adina: "What should we do now?" Anaya: "Let's go out!" Gabrielle: "Ugh! My legs are so tired.  I need to change out of these clothes and relax a bit." Anaya: "Shall we order in and then go out later?" Unanimous: "Yeah."  The order was placed, picked up and brought back.  To everyone's surprise, the Sesame Chicken was identical to the General Tso's other than the sesame seeds sprinkled on top.  Adina: "Why would they do that?  Do they think we're complete idiots?"  The Lemon Chicken went over a bit better.  Still, the food didn't really sit right with anyone.  A beer didn't help.  Tea didn't help much either.  The fire felt nice.  No one really wanted to go out anymore.  Adina had brought up a Netflix DVD, Bend It Like Beckham.  The group decision was to watch this film together.  There was one problem.  The DVD player was disconnected from the television since the male ski instructors had been using their Wii and another playstation during the week.  Adina and Gabrielle attempted to rectify the problem with little success.  Gabrielle: "This is what men are supposed to do!" Anaya: "I'm sure I could figure it out if that was my motivation, but I just don't want to get up."  Adina: "If I had a flashlight I could see which color of cord plugs into this hole."  Anaya: "If this is what men are for, what are we supposed to do?"  Adina: "Look good! We show up and look good.  That's why the men have to pay for the dates.  We have to pay for yoga and pilates classes, highlights, facials, the time we're ready for a date we've already spent $500 to look like that.  That's why they pay."  Gabrielle: "Well, screw this.  Let's just watch TV."  Adina: "Oh good, Boston Legal's on!" Gabrielle: "I hate that show.  There are already so many bad stereotypes about lawyers."  Anaya: "But they're all true! That's why I avoid law firms." 

After a few minutes of Boston Legal, Anaya got restless, jumped up and walked away with purpose.  She indavertently ran into a wall, bruising her hip.  "Oww!!"  Gabrielle: "Are you OK? What's wrong with you all of a sudden?"  Anaya: "Well, I just thought we were going to do something.  You know, I came up here, arranged for babysitting, left my husband with my kids all weekend and now we are just sitting around watching Boston Legal! This is a little disappointing to me."  Gabrielle: "Well, thanks for making me feel like shit."  Anaya: "That wasn't my intention.  I'm just annoyed."  At that comment, Gabrielle, exhausted from a day of teaching four year olds how to to ski, retreated to her room making sure to drop off Anaya's broken hairbrush on her way.  For some reason, Adina and Gabrielle both forgot their hairbrushes so everyone shared Anaya's.  As Murphy's law would dictate, the handle fell off the brush on Friday morning.  Somehow no one had a bad hair day and the broken brush sufficed.  It's hard to ruin pretty hair. 

Adina wasn't tired and still planned to watch a movie; any movie.  As it happened, We Were Soldiers was airing on a major network.  Anaya settled onto the couch to watch with her.  Following the scenes of soldiers' wives receiving death announcements via telegrams, a tearful Anaya went to bed.  Adina was a trooper and watched to the end.

Sunday got off to a great start.  Gabrielle got front door pick-up service from her fellow instructors.  Adina and Anaya slept in a little.  Anaya surprised Adina with homemade pancakes and coffee.  After a leisurely morning chat, the two cleaned up the house for Gabrielle and the guys.  Then they went for a drive to refresh some supplies.  There were no hairbrushes to be found.  This was of no consequence.  Up the mountain they went, in search of sun, food and company.  None of these were in short supply. 

The mountain was full of happy skiers coming off the slopes and chilling on the deck.  Saranac and Coors Light were on tap.  Pizza and burgers were available.  While waiting for Gabrielle, the women enjoyed beer and pizza and met some fun characters.  Eventually they moved inside and found Gabrielle at the bar with some other people.  Doc, the Vietnam War Vet with piercing blue eyes and a passion for the Catskills; Mark, the hypnotist with a winning personality and esoteric insight; Glen, the MD and former NYPD cop with an adorable five year old daughter.  It was a fun crowd, so much so that Anaya lost track of time and forgot to leave on schedule for her boys' bedtime.  When they looked at their watches, Adina and Gabrielle realized they had missed the bus. 

A departure plan was devised.  Anaya would drive them all back and get them on the 9:46 to Grand Central from Tarrytown.  Dinner?  A quck drive-thru at the McDonald's in Saugerties.  Adina and Gabrielle went for the Big Macs but Anaya can only eat the Quarter Pounders.  Keeping a steady speed of 80 miles per hour and listening to Michael Jackson, OMD, and Country music, the women just made it to Tarrytown in time.  Gabrielle sat in a child safety seat the entire drive.  Upon arrival at the train station, she was worried about leaving trash in the car.  Adina: "Come on! I see the train! We still have to cross the platform!" Anaya: "Go now!! Screw the trash, I'll take care of it! Run!!"  They made it on as the doors were closing.  Anaya headed straight to Stop and Shop to buy milk and juice for her little boys.  The store had just closed.  Along with another man trying to buy Pepto-Bismol for his wife, Anaya begged the employees to open the doors.  At long last, the good people of Stop and Shop caved and let them in.  Milk and juice were purchased.  Anaya made it home and kissed two sleeping boys in their beds.  One man who was wide awake got some kisses, too.  A great finish to a perfect Catskills weekend!