Tag Archives: economy

Suggestion Box

28 Jul

I’ve been voting a lot with my feet lately—you know, boycotting retailers, service providers, and even entire countries that are accused of illegal, unethical, or just disappointing practices—and, to be honest, I’m not sure it’s such a good thing. You see, this behavior fits with a long-standing pattern of spinning on my heel and leaving sticky situations (jobs, relationships, hair dressers, you name it) at the least provocation. For years I thought the tendency towards snap decisions and abrupt endings was a “grrl power”-thing, but now I’m not so sure.

My teachers often speak about the importance of “going against the grain” in your spiritual practice. They’re absolute masters of this approach: when I’m feeling sleepy, they crack the whip; when I’m feeling over-eager, they slow me way down; and when I want to leave the room for a bathroom break during handstand practice, they ask me to hold my ground—quite literally.

So what’s a girl with a stubborn streak and sore feet to do? Well, part 1 of the plan is to insert a little space between the “oh crap” and the “I’m outta here.” And, to make this a real yogic practice, I’ll do my best to fill that little space with the most lucid, compassionate and constructive communication I can muster. I imagine it might take the form of emails asking for clarification, voice messages expressing my feelings and well-written notes in suggestion boxes, among other things. Part 2 of the plan is to celebrate the good guys and to let them know just how much I appreciate their efforts.

On the topic of suggestion boxes, I am officially hanging my own virtual suggestion box out there. Please send me your questions, comments and any requests for new yoga podcasts—I’m long overdue with my next class and I’d love to hear your ideas…

A 45 minute Beginners’ Class

13 May

A Fresh Start

Not long before I officially traded in my legal career for the life of a yoga teacher, I had one of those pivotal, change-everything-in-the-blink-of-an-eye experiences en route to a dental cleaning. It was a hot August afternoon and I remember cursing the overly air-conditioned office environment I had just left (the one I called home during waking hours) as I sweltered along in skirt suit and nylons. Passing a busy patio, filled with carefree bohemian-types relaxing over pints, I caught myself muttering under my breath: “who exactly are these people who loaf around on patios all day? I mean, don’t they have jobs to go to or something?” Busted—I was already becoming a sour-faced professional, filled with outrage and moral indignation, and I hadn’t even made partner yet.

Now that I’ve retired my suits and crossed over to the other side, I don’t mind admitting the outrage and indignation were probably just envy in disguise. Really, who wouldn’t want to spend less time living for work and more time living it up?

The thing is, most of us assume we don’t have much choice in the matter—we feel bound by honor, familial pressure, and/or our current financial obligations to walk the straight and narrow path to sustenance and stability, if not exactly riches and respect—and so we defer the real stuff till later. Much later. We say, “when I retire, I’ll see the world, write short stories, paint, meditate, do good deeds, spend more time with my loved ones….”

But, in actuality, we just don’t know if and when this will all come about; the moments of this life are fleeting, as one of my teachers likes to point out, and we don’t all have the luxury of growing old before we die.

We also happen to be living at a time when traditional assumptions about the way things work no longer hold true. Author, journalist, editor, and critic, Bruce Sterling brought the point home for me earlier this year in his post on the “State of the World, 2009” when he wrote:

I’m a bohemian type, so I could scarcely be bothered to do anything
“financially sound” in my entire adult life. Last year was the first
year when I’ve felt genuinely sorry for responsible, well-to-do people.
Suddenly they’ve got the precariousness of creatives, of the
underclass, without that gleeful experience of decades spent
living-it-up.

Perhaps the time has come for us to reconsider the terms of both the social contract and the deal we’ve made with our innermost selves. Did you make your career choices freely, unfettered by external forces? Did you fully understand what you were getting yourself into? Did you get what you bargained for? And most importantly, are you happy with the results of your choice today?

No doubt, these are big questions that lead to even bigger questions, but they seem to be front and center for an increasing community of people who are actively re-examining what they want to do and who they want to be.

I’m delighted to have friends who are brave enough to make a fresh start (I’m thinking of the corporate manager who moved to Australia and started teachers’ college in her forties, the seasoned IT professional who recently enrolled in massage school, and the CEO who left his corner office to work in the public interest); I’m delighted to have friends who wholeheartedly pursue their artistic and spiritual callings; and I’m delighted to have friends who keep checking in with themselves as they continue to run their businesses and go to their day jobs.

There was a time when the decision to follow my passion, rather than a pension, felt like a big deal. I’m happy to say I don’t feel so special anymore—the tribe is growing day-by-day and I’m in good company. Great company, actually. Why not pull up a patio chair and join us?

An Economical 45 minute Practice

14 Jan

Shopping for our Souls

If there’s a silver lining to the dark cloud of the global financial crisis, for me, it’s that I’ve become a choosier consumer as of late. Sure, the years of yogic living went a long way towards curing me of the belief that I could shop my way to the good life, but the bottom had to fall out of the economy before I eased up on the spiritual materialism.

You know what I’m talking about: spiritual materialism is, at it’s most obvious, a fascination with mala beads, statuettes of Ganesh, eco-friendly yoga mats, and designer yoga togs; it’s the impulse to continually expand an already sizable library of spiritual reading material, CDs, and DVDs; and it’s the burning desire to be at every workshop, yoga conference and retreat in the hopes of gleaning some practical wisdom. I know I’m not alone in this because American yogis are estimated to spend almost $3 billion USD annually on classes and products.

Spiritual materialism probably goes hand-in-hand with an increase in spiritual choice—which is a good thing in and of itself. Yoga practitioners today have an unprecedented range of options available to them: there are more brands of yoga than ever before; many North American cities now have a yoga studio on every corner, while places like New York have two, three or more per block; saints and sages can be seen at stops on their world tours or accessed online; and book stores everywhere have entire shelves devoted to yoga and meditation. It’s all right there at our fingertips, and that’s a real blessing.

Don’t forget, widespread access to yoga is a relatively recent phenomenon. Eastern spirituality and the practices of yoga really came into the North American consciousness less than 40 years ago when India became both pilgrimage site and playground for throngs of hippies seeking mind-expansion and a good time. Ram Dass wrote his landmark bestseller, Be Here Now, in 1971 after meeting his guru, the Indian saint Neem Karoli Baba. David Williams, the first non-Indian to be taught the Ashtanga Yoga system of asanas from K. Pattabhi Jois, brought the first vinyasa yoga practice to America in 1975. Still considered a part of the counterculture, yoga only moved fully into the mainstream in the 1990s.

The thing is, too much choice can be a curse, and easy access to abundant options can give rise to a number of pitfalls. These include:

■ apathy (“I’ll start yoga, painting, and gardening when I retire.”)

■ indecision (“Iyengar, Ashtanga, Kripalu… where to begin?”)

■ over-ambition (“I’m just starting my fourth yoga teacher training.”)

■ superficiality (“Been there, done that, got the chakra T-shirt.”)

In this age of almost infinite choice, the art of choosing wisely is a practice unto itself.

In the Yoga Sutras, the sage Patanjali recommends we cultivate viveka, or discriminative wisdom, as a way to end the pain and suffering caused by our inability to see what is real and our tendency to look for comfort in the unreal or disposable (II.26). In short, you’ve got it made if you can discern the difference between the real and the unreal. Easy enough, right?

Perhaps not. As Swami Satchidananda explains, the exercise of discriminative wisdom goes beyond simply distinguishing between sugar and salt . However, we can start to cultivate viveka by taking our time, doing our research and looking honestly at our own motivations as we make mindful choices in our lives.

In a way, we’re fortunate to live at a time when it’s all up for grabs. During times like this, the implications of our actions are thrown into high relief. Everything matters. Everything counts. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty excited about voting with my dollars and shopping—or choosing not to shop—for the sake of my soul.