Turn Down The Volume

October 6, 2013

University of Virginia, October 6, 2013

“Turn down the volume on your day.”

That’s how I start most of my Yoga classes when I teach.

It’s pretty much impossible in our world to turn everything off completely – even for an hour. But, turning down the volume a little, well, that’s a start. If only for that one hour of Yoga.

Turning down the volume is the Yogic path of Pratyahara.

To be Fancy Pants about it, the deal of Pratyahara is this – withdraw the senses inward. Close your eyes and look inside. Close your ears and listen to your breath. Close your touch and just feel the air on your skin.

Just find the quiet inside.

Clearing out the clutter in your brain for a few minutes each day can be as rewarding as cleaning all that forgotten junk out of your garage. (Some of the gunk in your brain can be covered with dust, grease, and mouse nests, too.)

That’s why I love this photo I took.

Hanging out at the batting cage, little kid in the center up there, shows his Pratyahara.

Hey, if the crack of the bat gets too loud, just cover your ears.

The batter in the cage is probably swinging away in his “zone”, oblivious to the rest of us, which is simply his Yoga and Pratyahara without all the Sanskrit.

(And, you thought I would never post about Yoga again!)

“Let’s All Go To The Lobby”


Do you remember how they used to have intermissions when you went to the movies?

Yeh, me neither. But, I’m told they did.

What a brilliant idea!

And, what a wonderful way to spend an intermission – head out to the lobby for something popcorn-y or chocolate-y or chewy or sweet.

Why can’t I get daily intermissions like that?

Don’t we all need a break in our day? Don’t we all need to head out to the lobby for a treat?

Here’s where sports excel. Extremely civilized break time.

Baseball’s Seventh-Inning Stretch … sure, a bit paltry. But, a nice idea. Love “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” (almost as much as I love the “Let’s All Go To The Lobby” jingle). 

But … here’s a random aside, as long as we’re talking baseball.

I may bleed Orange & Black for the Orioles, but I can’t think of a more miserable way of spending my seventh-inning stretch – my delicious break time – then standing around while they play “Thank God I’m a Country Boy”. (I am, for the record, neither “country” nor “boy”, so I’m not sure why they insist I sing it at every game.) 

And, while we’re on the topic of baseball’s seventh-inning stretch, rumor is that the Yankees include a long, ponderous version of “God Bless America” during their stretch just to make the opposing pitcher sit and wait a little longer. I’d like this a lot better if the Orioles had thought of it first.   

Anyway, I hope your team has a better stretch time (and I invite you to tell me all about it in the comments).

Half-time at basketball and football games are ok, but still a bit chintzy.

Hockey does all right. Two luxuriously generous breaks between periods, and nothing to do but watch the Zamboni slide around, suck up the blood, and smooth up the ice. Very Zen.   

So, anyway, I wrote up my to-do list for this past weekend. The stupid thing was three pages long. THREE pages (double-spaced, but still!). That list didn’t even mention Christmas and all the additional things that are expected of one during this “peaceful” season. So, not only did I not decorate, or write cards, or wish anyone “Merry Christmas” … I didn’t even have time to put those tasks on my list.

Needless to say, I got very little on the list accomplished. So, I’m far behind, tired, and yes, a little annoyed by doing too much and achieving too little.

And, that’s what brings me back to the need for daily intermissions.

Yoga is great in that respect. We sit and breathe. Think of it like sitting and watching the Zamboni slide around (but without any hockey bloodshed). 

Sit. Breathe. 

That’s it.

That’s the daily intermission. One minute. Two minutes. Five minutes. Whatever you got.

Breath goes in. Breath goes out.

You can try it now. It’s pretty easy.

Or, you can take the next 39 seconds and watch this video and one of the greatest songs of all time … and, yeh, go get yourself a treat. You deserve it.

Oh, and by the way, writing something for you WAS on my “to-do” list this weekend. I’m a day late, but I’m checking it off the list anyway.

Breath goes in. Breath goes out. Breath goes in. Breath goes out.


One Wild & Precious Life

Oscar is my cat.  He’s 20.

Although he has his share of stiffness and achy joints in recent years, he can still hoist himself up on the barn roof for an afternoon snooze.  Just yesterday, for instance.

I share him with you, because he’s a good reminder of Poet Mary Oliver’s words:

“Tell me what it is you plan to do with your one wild & precious life.”

Oscar came to us about eight or nine years ago.  So, he already was an older cat — nearly elderly.

But, he was unhappy with his people up the road, I guess.  And, so he packed up and moseyed through the fields.  A half-mile.  He just showed up one day.  Moved in.  And, never left.

We always joke that he saw our place as a retirement home.

But, in fact, he didn’t retire.  Instead, Oscar found a second chance and a new life — rich, rewarding, active, and comfortable.

And, his decision to make a fresh start … at an age when he should have been winding down … is a daily inspiration to me.

It’s never too late to start again.

So …

“Tell me, what it is YOU plan to do with your one wild & precious life.”

P.S. Oscar would be delighted, I’m sure, if you would share his photo, and message, with your friends and loved ones.  Because he carries Mary Oliver’s inspiring words.  And, they are very good reminders that we all should live our lives to their fullest.

Cheaters Never Prosper (except when they do)

Et tú, Melky?

In 2005, I fell out of love with baseball.  That was the year that Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for anabolic steroids after swearing – under oath – that he never used them.

I was probably more betrayed by the lying, than by whatever it is he actually did or took.   And, so I began a complete baseball boycott that lasted five seasons.

Here’s what Palmeiro said to Congress – under oath — in March 2005:

“Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids, period. I don’t know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never.”

Five months later, Palmeiro was suspended for failing a drug test.

ESPN: Palmeiro Docked 10 Days For Steroids

And, so I fell out of love with baseball.  Not because Rafael Palmeiro was my favorite player.  He wasn’t, although I loved him as an Oriole.  Still, I was angry enough to quit baseball.

I don’t know how to say it any more clearly than this … I’m quite conflicted over performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).

Here’s the Yogic view.  Yoga includes the Yamas and Niyamas, limbs governing personal behavior and lifestyle.   One of the rules is Purity – often defined as not abusing the body with unhealthy food, drugs, or activities.  Clearly, Purity is at risk when you’re taking PEDs.  Another rule is Truthfulness.

From a Yogic perspective, PEDs destroy the body (and we already know that the body can be severely and permanently damaged by the use of many of these drugs).   Lying about it just compounds things.

Even Stevie, my cat, knows about my own Performance Enhancing Drug — my daily Diet Mountain Dew habit.

OK, full disclosure from me.  I use PEDs.   I’m using right now.  I have caffeine every day, even though I know it’s not good for my body.   Is it a PED?  You bet it is.  It makes me a better massage therapist and a better Yoga instructor.  It ensures that I can teach a Yoga class late in the evening and still be “on” and bright-eyed.

Maybe it’s just a mild stimulant.  But, it’s still a stimulant.  It’s a drug.  I use it.  And, I’m not the only one.  So, you see how quickly this issue can become complicated.

Many of us are guilty of using something that “enhances” our work or our play.  Maybe there are some in baseball who see their PEDs as simply their version of caffeine.

The difference is that in baseball – and other sports – the use of these drugs is forbidden.

And, some people get caught.

The more I read, the more people whisper, the more I hear that everyone in baseball is doing it; only the unlucky few get caught.

I guess I would argue that, if it is going to be banned, then Major League Baseball has a responsibility to work a little harder to find and punish as many “cheaters” as possible.

And, why are some of these drugs banned when others like cortisone – also a steroid – are not only approved, but, from my perspective, downright abused by pro sports?

My husband argues that PEDs skew baseball records – and part of what makes baseball so special is its love for tradition and statistics.  But, even before PEDs, there were amphetamines and who knows what kind of snake oil they were using before that. If Roger Maris deserved an asterisk on his homerun season (an asterisk that actually never existed), then shouldn’t those who broke records under the cloud of steroids?  (Although, to be fair, none of them actually tested positive for anything.  So, who’s to know?)

And, what about spitballs, pine tar, phantom tags, and myriad other forms of cheating?

(By the way, the Giants’ Melky Cabrera could even still win the NL batting title this year, despite his suspension this month.  I like the Giants and all, but still, that seems a bit unfair.)

I don’t like steroids.  I don’t like cheaters.  And, I don’t like liars.

I’m just trying to figure out why Melky Cabrera — or anyone — would risk it.  Maybe I need to look at it from another perspective.

When ballplayers hit .300 they’re considered superstars.  (My husband and I joke that the Orioles are unaware that batting averages are allowed to go that high.)

But, think about it, these guys who are batting .300 are “out” two out of three at bats.   And, they’re the BEST in the game.  In their world, taking a chance on a PED, knowing that you might — might — get caught, but probably won’t, is way better odds than their regular day at the plate.

The rewards far outweigh the risks.

Last night on ESPN, Orel Hershiser argued that until MLB takes the PED situation seriously – by making the penalty severe enough that a player would be foolish to risk it – then the problem will continue.

Major League Baseball will continue to nab the unfortunate few careless or unlucky enough to get caught and everyone else will breathe a sigh of relief that it wasn’t them … and go back to what they were doing.

So, are we fans angry because they used drugs?   Or, because they got caught?

Are Giants’ and A’s fans angry because Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon used drugs or because they got caught leaving their pennant-chasing teams in the lurch?   (On the other hand, are Dodgers’ and Angels’ fans secretly gleeful?)

Are we sitting smug and self-righteous, secretly happy to see a rich superstar have a run of bad luck?  Or, are we hypocrites because we cut corners in our own lives, maybe even cheat from time to time, and take our own forms of performance enhancing drugs?

So, here I sit, my Diet Mountain Dew – my own PED — right next to me, trying to make sense of it all.  And, all I come back to is this.  I don’t know how to feel.  Betrayed?  Angry?  Or, just resigned to the fact that as long as a game offers such enormous rewards, it will be worth the risk for a player to be all he, or she, can be.

I just don’t know.


Slumpasana.  That’s what I call the droopy pose I sometimes see my Yoga students in.  They’re sitting at the start of class, but clearly the day has worn them down.  They’re stooped over, scrunched up.  Their muscles have abandoned them and their posture curls.   Their heart sinks into their belly.  Their spine collapses.

I can’t even make eye contact, because they’re all curled down.  They look so sad — a deflated body where a person used to be.

I’ll step behind them and adjust them by drawing their spine up and shoulders open.  It’s about getting the heart to widen.  Sometimes they stay up.  Sometimes … they slump right back down … or as soon as they think I’m not looking.

Without strong, healthy muscles, the body loses its structure.  Without energy, the body loses its structure.  And, when the world weighs heavy on you – physically, mentally, emotionally – you hang down your head and slump.  It just seems easier to be curled down.

Orioles catcher Matt Wieters is in a slump.  If my math is correct (and it is sometimes) he is 1 for 27 over the past week.  Wait, scratch that.  Since I’ve tinkered so long on this, he is now 1 for 30.  Sigh.  I better post this before I have to update again.

I don’t mean to pile on here.  I know it’s only temporary … slumps always are. Aren’t they?

It’s painful to watch a batter or a pitcher in a slump as they grimace in frustration, drop their head down, stoop their shoulders and shuffle off … out of the batter’s box or off the mound.  It can just break your heart.

I endure slumps on my Yoga mat.  Unrolling my mat can feel like an invitation to fail.   Fortunately, I don’t have 30,000 people staring at me as it unfolds.

Sometimes the failure is physical.  Really?  I’m a Yoga instructor and I can’t hold this pose for a minute?  I am weak and old and horrible.    Sometimes the failure is mental.  Dammit, where is this bliss they keep talking about?  Why am I the only one who sucks at this?  Heaven knows I’m miserable now.  Really? You, too, Morrissey?  And, sometimes I just lose energy.  I slump because all the energy has been sucked right out of my bones.

Sometimes I just lie down and wonder if that can be “good enough” for my practice.  And, that slump affects every other aspect of my life.  I sigh and my body sighs and everything seems harder and heavier and more annoying.

By the way, I’m actually rocking the Yoga mat like Buster Posey right now (he’s had a good couple weeks).  I feel strong and inspired and every once in awhile I see that magical bliss sitting out there and I can just about reach out and … nearly … nearly … nearly  touch it.  I vibrate from the inside out, and things are fun and the birds sing and my heart is wide and my spine is long and my body feels strong. Everything seems so effortless.

The next slump seems so far away … although I know it’s out there, just waiting for me to get cocky and a little too comfortable.

Not too long ago, I told one of my Yoga teachers about a struggle I was having with my practice.  He sent back a brief email.  It read: “Persistence is success.”


Just unroll the mat.  Just do it again, even if it really seems to not be getting better.  Because sometimes it’s the doing that is the most important part.  And, how will you know if a slump is gone, unless you keep at it?

So, what’s the point?  No point.  This is a blog afterall that is only a week old and really had no point at the start.  But, we all slump.  And, we unslump.  And, we slump again.

I hope Matt Wieters unslumps.  I hope that I don’t slump soon.  And, I wish non-slumps to you.