Starting Again

How many of us set the same resolution year after year?  How many years have you made a commitment to lose 10 pounds or get back to the gym?  How many times have you promised yourself you really WOULD start sticking to that budget?  How often do you recommit to starting again?

You may not think of this way, but when you practice yoga, you start over ever week.  Every time you walk into the studio, come to your mat, sit in Sukhasana and chant that opening Om – you start again.

At the beginning of this year, I have found myself in a similar position that I have found myself in other years: 15 or 20 pounds heavier than I would like to be, not doing exactly what I want to be doing at work, single.  I have been struggling lately with the fact that this is not the first time I have found myself here.  The committee in my head tells me I’m a failure because I have faced this same struggles, similar challenges, over and over again – if not my whole life.  There must be something “wrong” with me if I haven’t figured this out by now, right?

What I’ve just given myself is an excuse to feel lousy, feel sorry for myself, and give up before I’ve even started.  I don’t know about you, but I’m an expert at this.  As one of my yoga teachers says: you get good at what you show up for.

But my asana practice offers me an alternative.  How often have I come to a mat, knowing that the practice wouldn’t be “perfect?”  How many times have I tried to hop up into handstand and failed?  And fallen from Bakasana right onto my face?

Every time you start your practice, you do the same thing over again.  Your Sun Salutations are exactly the same every single time.  You follow the same ritual every time and find something new.  Perhaps your practice has evolved over time; you’ve tried inhaling in different or opposite poses.  Your practice is just that.  An experiment.  A constant rehearsal, with no final performance.  And yet it doesn’t seem anti-climactic, does it?

Today, use your practice as the standard for your life off the mat.  Use your yoga as a mirror.  Come to this life –  with all its challenges, frustrations, setbacks, repeated failures – with the same childlike enthusiasm that you bring to your practice.

After 10+ years, I still can’t hop into handstand. That doesn’t mean I stop trying with the same enthusiasm, light-heartedness, and spirit of “practice not perfection.”  Why don’t I approach these 15 pounds the same way?


In the beginning of things – a new year, a new job, a new relationship – we find ourselves anticipating the middle and the end.  We crave an outcome, and develop expectations, hopes and desires for those results.  We begin to live in next week, next month, next year.

So often we are told by “self-help” media: stay in the moment. Release expectation. That’s easier said than done – I often experience the exact opposite of this when I try to “let go.” My mind instead focuses on “what am I holding onto?”

So perhaps, in the beginning of this new year — with all its hopes, expectations and desires — you can begin to cherish that hope and desire. Nurture this deep craving, not for outside things to come to you, but for what happens when you bring your inside out to meet them.

Instead of holding on so tightly to this desired outcome, cling to the desire itself — swim in it. Bathe yourself in this deep longing. In the anusara tradition, it is believed the universe created itself out deep desire for its own delight and wonder. If pure creation is the result of deep desire, how can we tell ourselves that desire is bad?

The attachment to the object of desire is where the downward spiral begins — we focus then on what we are missing. Instead, dive deep into this feeling of wanting, and let it enliven you, empassion you, and empower you.


“Just as a desire leaps up,
And you perceive the flash, the sparkle,
Quit from its play,
And maintain awareness
In that clear and shining place
From which all desire springs.”

– 73. The Radiance Sutras
A new translation of the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra by Lorin Roche.

The Challenge of a yogi

Nearly a year ago, almost to the day, I started my yoga teacher training. “Soul School” at Wild Lotus Yoga, in New Orleans.

Yes, it’s really called Soul School.  I’m not making that up.  Yes, you’re allowed to make fun of me.

I make fun of me, and laugh a lot about being “woo-woo,” and am self-conscious and self-aware, and simultaneously feel the pressure of being an evolved spiritual being.  Twice a week (or more, if I’m lucky) a handful of trusting folks sit in a room with me while I tell them to contort their bodies into odd shapes, and try to inspire them to live their lives in ways that make them the most fulfilled.

No pressure.

The past year has been the best and hardest and most inspiring year of my life.  But let me begin at the beginning:

I’m a smart cookie.  As a kid, I realized that if I couldn’t be pretty I could be smart.  As I got older, I hid behind “smart” — using it as protection from relationships, vulnerability, and other parts of life.  The trick about “smart” is that spirituality and smart don’t really go well together.  It’s tough to think about god, you can’t reason your way into faith.  God isn’t logical.  Faith doesn’t make sense.

I was a militant atheist in high school.  My lack of faith was a point of pride.  Nothing annoyed me more than the smug self-confidence of Believers.

In college, I found my depression.  Two years of sitting on the couch watching reruns of Law & Order when I wasn’t in class or at work finally sent me to therapy.  I had always been happy, cheerful, loved life.  Depression is an illness that strips away your joy — but that’s another topic of another entry.

I lucked out and found an amazing therapist who trained at the Jung Institute.  Over five years, I had the joy of being guided through reconnecting with all the aspects of myself — discovering that I didn’t have to be just “smart.”

About the same time, I started practicing yoga.  First, it was just “exercise.”  It was a good way to sweat, and I had a knack for it — I was naturally flexible, expressive, and introspective.  I was not interested in all the woo-woo Atman nonsense.

And then The Thing happened.  Everything I had believed about the way things work (governments, families, disasters, life…) was undermined in one fell swoop when the levees breached and my city flooded.  Faith is mandatory in situations like that.  Faith is what’s left when your beliefs are stripped away.

My practice continued.  I began hearing my teachers talk about things like “non-violence” and “lovingkindness.”  I learned sanskrit mantras and sang at kirtans.  My practice continued.  And after some length of time, I realized my practice was stalled.  I was stuck.  I knew I needed a boost, and I hoped that Soul School would do it.

Over eight months, I learned about my physical practice, I learned about my breathing, but I also learned about grace.  I learned some pretty simple ways to engage with my own spiritual side.  I learned about my faith.

I didn’t know what faith looked like, for me.  I still don’t know what god is, to me.  But now, I get to explore it, for myself, for the rest of my life.

Yoga means “to yoke.” It’s connection. Relationship.

Soul School taught me to yoke myself to faith, and to discover my spirituality.  It asked me questions about what’s really important, what brought me joy, where my power was.

This is not an essay about how you should go take a yoga class, or why God is good.  This is an essay about self-discovery.  And learning about yourself is the hardest and most inspiring thing you get to do in your life.  The best part?  You get to do it for the rest of your life.