Yoga Class Playlist November 13

Gayaatri by Ravi Shankar and George Harrison

I’m Getting Ready by Michael Kiwanuka

Chillum by Mike ‘Slo-Mo’ Brenner

Thank U by Alanis Morissette

Alone by Ansar (featuring Aisha and the Dum Dum Project)

Tripti by Mike ‘Slo-Mo’ Brenner (featuring Debashish Bhattacharya)

Violin by Amos Lee

Just Breathe by Pearl Jam

Long Time Sun by Snatam Kaur

Closing by Wah!

Safe Passage (Tamuke) by Riley Lee

Soothing Cricket Song (From “Native American Flute”)  by Sleep Tribe

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Are you finding the strawberries in your life?

The internet was abuzz earlier this week about the death of Zach Sobiech.  Diagnosed with cancer four years ago at the age of 14, Zach amazed his family and friends with the way he lived his life and his unwavering positive outlook. Last year when he learned the cancer had spread, Zach poured his energy into making the most of his last days. He wrote a farewell song called “Clouds” and the music video on YouTube went viral. (Watch Zach’s story below.)

After learning about Zach I thought of Pema Chodron’s tale of a woman being chased by tigers. Finding a cliff she climbs down a vine but sees there are tigers below. Looking back up she sees a mouse is chewing through the vine. Tigers above, tigers below and a pesky rodent destroying the thing to which she clings.  The woman looks around and sees luscious strawberries growing on the side of the cliff. She chooses to pluck the berries, place them in her mouth, and savor them much the way Zach did with the good things in his life. Pema Chodron reminds us that we are all somewhere between birth and death. At every moment we have a choice: Worry about the tigers or delight in the strawberries.

For those who focus on the tigers and miss the strawberries altogether, Zach’s story shows us there is another way, even in the most dire situations.  Want to choose the strawberries in the future? Then build the habit of doing so. Like a muscle that can be trained and strengthened, the more times you practice choosing joy over fear and living in the present over worrying about the future, the more easily making the choice becomes.

When we view the asana practice as a microcosm of life, we can see how being on our yoga mat provides opportunities to prepare for making choices in the face of obstacles. When a pose challenges the muscles to the point of shaking, see if the mind can find the ease.  Should the internal temperature rise and the pulse quicken, try to smooth the breath and experience the moment.  When you begin to think you couldn’t possibly spend one more second in your most difficult posture, focus on letting go of the discomfort and expectations for the future and simply…be. Each and every time you are in yoga class, seek to look beyond the tigers and find the strawberries. In time you may find you’re doing so off the mat as well.

Namaste.

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Is preparation overrated? What I learned about the art of improvisation.

I had a panic this morning while teaching a yoga class. When I clicked ‘play’ on my iPod I noticed the songs in the playlist were in a different order from how I had painstakingly placed them!

My mind seized on all that could go wrong and I was certain that the song I planned for savasana would play right when I wanted the quick tempo drum music and vice versa. Dreadful thoughts flooded my mind. Would my class be ruined by the music? Can I fix it? Should I change to a different playlist? Should I forego the music? 

But then I realized that something worse than having a screwed up playlist was occurring I was abandoning my students. Sure, physically I was there in the room, but my attention wasn’t. I was getting caught up in my disappointment that things were not going as I hoped. If I chose to fret over what music was going to play when, then I couldn’t be fully present. At that moment I had to let go of my vision of the “perfect class.”

it's time to let go

In her book, Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up, Patricia Ryan Madson draws on her experiences as a drama teacher and founder of the Stanford Improvisors to share some of the best ideas and tips I’ve read for living life to the fullest by focusing on the present.  I relied on the wisdom of  what she calls the “13 Maxims of Improv” to get back to where I needed to be; such as:

  • Say Yes (#1) – “Say yes to everything. Go along with the plan.”  It might not have been music the way I planned it but it was the program now in front of me. I chose to go with it.
  • Just Show Up (#3) – Giving students my undivided attention was the most important thing I needed to do at that moment.  Any time spent worrying and wondering served nothing except to keep me from being altogether there for them. 
  • Be Average (#5) – I needed to stop focusing on perfection.  My new personal mantra comes from Madson’s tale of the owner of the construction company whose motto”Perfect is close enough” changed during a time he faced challenges in building his own property. The new motto is “Close enough is perfect.”

Madson’s book is a little 160-page gem filled with great advice. “Instead of preparing an outcome, ready yourself for whatever may come,” she writes. “Open your eyes, breathe fully and attend to just this moment. Focusing attention on the present puts you in touch with a kind of natural wisdom. When you enter the moment with heightened awareness, what you need to do becomes obvious. You discover that you already have the answers.”

So I eased up on my plans for the class and while the music played in its newly found order, I refocused on what mattered most: teaching my students about yoga and leading them in the practice. As a result, maybe they too are now better prepared to improvise when needed.

Remembering Keith: A Magical Moment

Five years ago today my brother Keith died.  That same year the radio station where I work did a programming stunt where they were collecting the public’s most memorable musical moments. This is what I submitted as my moment:

It was January 20, 2007. I was in a room on the oncology floor at HUP where my two younger sisters and I had spent nearly every minute of the past two weeks. We were vigilantly watching over our younger brother Keith, desperate to keep him from losing his five-month battle with stage-four lymphoma.

Over his 38 years, anyone who ever knew Keith discovered he had a passion for “his music.” It wasn’t just that he had a vast collection of songs and artists he favored. It was about how he interacted with his music. He assembled it in ways that were meaningful to him, creating and recording song compilations to chronicle his life events. He consulted it daily quoting from 70s pop lyrics as his way of commenting on what was going on around him. He depended on it finding strength in songs as he did in Olivia Newton John’s “Never Gonna Give In To It” which he knew she wrote battling her own illness.

The iPod next to Keith’s bed was his constant companion throughout his lengthy hospital stays. This week we kept it on nonstop to ensure that his music would be playing during those occasional periods, either night or day, when he was lucid. Bored with the current song, I took the iPod out of the docking station and began searching the menus. Keith was resting and my sisters were entertaining themselves with their “Lucy and Ethel-esqe” banter and occasional (but always off-key) outburst of song.

After glancing at the player in my hand, Kelly decidedly turned to Keith and asked, “Is there a favorite song you’ve always liked to sing to?” Keith replied by simply reaching for the iPod. Since Christmas, his voice had been constantly hoarse and he had to strain to keep it above a whisper. I placed the device in his hand. He deftly navigated the click wheel, maneuvering through the playlists guided only by a sliver of his left eye, the right one swollen shut from the latest infection. It wasn’t long before a look of satisfaction fell over him. He handed back the iPod gesturing to have me return it to its cradle. What would it be? Was it that Donna Summer tune he knew made Kelly cringe whenever she heard the breathy “oh, love to love you baby?” Something from Madonna? He owned everything but favored her less popular late ’90s period. Or maybe it was an Elvis tune, like the ones we could sing to for hours more than 30 years ago during our Saturday morning cleanings with mom.

As the opening line of ABBA’s “Knowing Me, Knowing You” filled the room, I was startled by what I also heard. It was my brother. He was singing. His voice was clear. It was strong. And it was magic. Eyeing each other acknowledging the awe we each felt, Kelly, Kay and I instinctively joined him. Through the tears, we belted out the haunting fourth line “Here is where the story ends, this is goodbye.”

The Four Ks circa 1978

As close as we had been all our lives, for the next three and a half minutes we were united more tightly than ever in my brother’s swan song. With each note, we confronted what we feared most. Little time remained for us to be “The Four K’s”, a title that had banded us since childhood. The baby of our family who we fawned over since birth, the kid who amazed us with his encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture and music, the young man who brought us sidesplitting laughter, and the grown brother who brought levity to every family crisis including his own illness, would leave us forever only two weeks later. Keith’s final gift to his sisters will forever remain my most cherished musical moment.

“No more carefree laughter
Silence ever after
Walking through an empty house, tears in my eyes
Here is where the story ends, this is goodbye”
 
See the Memorial Book for Keith with photos and select lyrics.