musings about life…from a boat

hope floats…and the mind wanders

In the warmer month of September, my salty wannabe partner and I bought a sailboat. This wasn’t quite a whim as much as it was a compromise: a boat could be cheaper than therapy and it’s something we could do together or with friends and family (once we re-learn the fine art of sailing). And, in fact, having the boat has been a lovely blend of wonderful and challenging, which is exactly like therapy, right?

Our little (24 foot) boat’s name is Esther (named after the grandmother of the Episcopal Priest who owned her before). She’s not spectacular or fancy, and she needs a bit of work and tender loving care, but she floats beautifully and her sails get us moving (when the wind cooperates). Being on her makes me happy, and in the few times we’ve taken her out onto the lake, I’ve noticed so many different things about myself and the ways I navigate the world. So, as is my tendency, I made a list and I named it:

a yogi boater’s manifesto for life:

  • Plans are a nice start, but be ready to ditch or alter them to account for weather conditions, things that don’t work, things that go missing, or things that get broken. Crazy mix-ups happen. Be prepared for the crazy. Which leads me to;
  • Look around and know your surroundings. It’s as important to know the workings of the boat and the rules of the road water as it is to have a sense of what is happening outside of the boat. Obstacles could lie underneath the surface of the water, tides could shift, and wind conditions can change at any time. Be aware and be prepared. And then;
  • Let go of control. You aren’t in it. (Also known as the “Aparigraha” or “non- grasping” principal). It’s far more enjoyable to stay in the moment and recognize that I can’t control the wind or the experience of the other people on the boat. I can only be here now. And that’s really enough. In fact, it’s better than enough- when I let go and open up to the moment and what’s happening in it, it can be really fabulous. Worrying about what could happen only takes away from appreciating what is happening.
  • Not only is the world changing, but you are, too. I have to remind myself on a daily basis that I’m getting older (which means my body might not always do the things I’d like it to do). Despite the fact that I ride my bike to work, practice yoga on a regular basis, and feel relatively spry and flexible, getting on and off a boat isn’t as easy as it was when we lived aboard in our twenties. This is humbling, to say the least. And it’s a good reminder to continue to do the things that keep me moving as well as to slow down and pay attention.
  • The need for order (Shaucha, people). Just because it’s a small boat doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be shipshape. As much as I crave and actually prefer smaller spaces, I go insane with chaos. And chaos is easier to spot in tighter quarters. Besides aesthetics, it’s also extraordinarily important to be able to find that thingamajig or the whatsamawho at a moment’s notice.
  • Being barefoot on a boat is as good as being barefoot on the earth. I have a friend who once told me that he could tell if I had gone more than a reasonable period of time without letting my feet touch the earth. I will now add the surface of a boat to that statement. If the sun is shining, I prefer to let my feet breathe in the air (even when it’s cold). This is why I keep wooly socks on board.
  • The body holds memory of movement. After being on a boat all day, one might notice the sensation of movement when standing still. A good reminder that what we do stays with us- so be thoughtful of how you treat your body (and mind, for that matter).

Yamas and Niyamas- Bicycle Style


bicycle at Fisherman's Terminal

shifting light & changing gears

The quality of light has shifted in the past couple of weeks, reminding me that summer is coming to an end soon. There are fewer birds in the trees on my morning bike ride and the geese that I’ve witnessed turn from chartreuse gosling to awkward adolescent have finally made it to full-fledged goose.  I’ve planted winter crops in the p-patch, begun to empty my closet of summer wear and pulled out my socks and boots in preparation for fall and winter. And just as the trees are beginning to change color, my wardrobe is beginning to move back toward my basic black.

Usually this time of year makes me a bit wistful about what I’ve missed out on during the long, lazy days of summer, but with the overwhelming events of the summer, I’m feeling ready to hunker down for the dark days. That is, except for my bike commute to work…I’ve been riding my bike to work regularly since early spring of this year, and I’m not quite used to riding in the dark or the rain. I’ll be damned if I’ll be a fair weather rider again, and so I wanted to inspire myself to take my cycling journey more seriously. I realized I needed to pull out the big guns. I decided to look at my cycling through a yogic lens of the Yamas and Niyamas.

my journey of bicycle riding through the first two limbs of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga

Yamas: Moral principles and social behaviors (some call these the “restraints”). If followed, these five precepts can help anyone to find balance- which is always good when one is riding a bike.

  • Ahimsa (Non-Violence):  Donna Farhi describes Ahimsa as “a state of living free from fear”, which is the perfect reminder for my bicycle riding. It’s impossible for me to ride a bike without experiencing some amount of healthy fear, but I can’t allow this to impact the entire experience. I have to trust that I will not necessarily fly over my handlebars or be slammed into by a texting driver. As regularly as riding a bike brings me in touch with my mortality, I have to understand that nobody is out to hurt me intentionally. And riding a bike subsequently causes less harm to the planet than my driving a car- which makes me (and my body) happy.
  • Satya (Truthfulness): Honesty is moral and good, and so is following rules. So, to be completely truthful here, there are times when I run red lights or blow through stop signs on my bike (like at 5:40 in the morning when there’s no traffic at all). The important thing is to have a commitment to being an upright person in thought, action and speech. This means being honest with myself and others as well as living as impeccably as I possibly can. Sort of like confession- I speak my truth to you about being a morning stop sign runner and now I am forgiven (ok…not really).
  • Asteya (Non-Stealing): Asteya has as much to do with not taking from others as it does not stealing from ourselves. It could relate to not cutting someone off or riding too close- stealing space. It can also be an opportunity to practice being generous- welcoming another biker to take the lead, offering assistance to someone who is broken down or offering up an extra bike to someone who needs one (this is really generous and builds up positive biking karma).
  • Brahmacharya (Celibacy/ Self Control): It’s important to hold back sometimes to conserve some much needed energy and to notice the small things that might have seemed insignificant before. If we’re only going full speed ahead searching for that biking orgasm, we aren’t going to notice the little thrills along the way. And isn’t noticing the small sensory details one of the best things about biking?
  • Aparigraha (Non-Grasping): Be here now. This moment matters, and if you’re grasping onto what just happened or where you need to get to, you’re potentially missing out. You’re also likely distracted from paying attention to things like cars, other bikers, pedestrians, rodents, potholes, etc.  Another perspective is this: riding a bike is just about riding a bike. All of the gear in the world doesn’t take that away. Your bike just needs to get you from point A to point B. Everything else, my gear-head friends, is icing on the bicycle cake. I may want the Linus bike, but do I really need it? Probably not (but don’t tell Santa…).

Niyamas: Personal observances that focus on inner discipline and responsibility (connecting with the self) in order to cultivate a connection to the Whole.

  • Shaucha (Cleanliness): Wash up, people. And that means not only your body but your mind, too. Clutter creates chaos, so it’s just as important to clear your mind as it is to clean out that pannier. I like to take a few minutes before getting on my bike to think about my ride and to prepare for entering the world. If I have everything ready the night before, I have the time to setting before setting out in the world.  That way, my ride itself can be meditative. And that’s really a lovely experience.
  • Santosha (Contentment): Contentment doesn’t mean “happy”. It means equanimity- not placing “good” or “bad” on the situation. Traffic is just traffic. Rain is just rain. Sunshine is just sunshine. A flat tire is just flat. And all of this shall pass- the good, the bad and the ugly.
  • Tapas (Fire/Austerity): The amount of energy you put into anything is what you’ll get out of it. I like to think about the idea of alchemy: burning away those things that don’t matter to make room for the things that do. Riding my bike at the end of the day allows me to forget the things that I was freaking out about just minutes before (refer back to Santosha). It also helps me to decide what it is I want to spend my energy and attention on.
  • Svadhyaya (Self-Study): Svadhyaya refers most specifically to study of scripture and ancient texts. In bicycling, this doesn’t exist as far as I know- but might I suggest reading Pedal, Stretch, Breathe by Kelli Refer. It’s a small little book that takes up very little space and costs just a few bucks. It’s sweet and honest and has incredibly simple suggestions for ways to move your body before, during and after riding. And if this doesn’t appeal to you, I would propose that most spiritual texts are meant for you to take the teachings into the world- why not read the Bhagavad Gita and explore the ways riding a bike in the city can make you feel a bit like Arjuna preparing for a battle (and then go deeper into the concept of dharma, morals, ethics and spiritual connection).
  • Ishvarapranidhana (Devotion): When I open up my heart to God, the Divine, that which is greater than me, I see the world with new eyes. My ride becomes less about where I am going and more about the experience of being connected with everything around me. I develop a greater peace and I soften to the subtleties that occur when I’m on my bike.  I notice my heart beat, the resonance of the birds along the canal, the rhythm of the tires on the pavement and the sound of other bikers breathing as they pedal to pass me. When I pay attention, my interconnectedness with everything feels like a great comfort- and this is really what draws me to riding my bike in the first place.

dropping “f” bombs in yoga class

I dropped the “f” bomb in yoga class just a few days ago. As the teacher, no less (student teacher, true, but still the person in the class who was leading that section and who was supposed to be all yogic and calm and in charge).

The scene of the crime: I had just confidently led the Surya Namaskara B and was moving into a warrior flow series when my lefts and rights got all mixed up. The faces in the room were looking at me with what can only be described as expectant confusion, so I moved to the side back of the room in hopes of regaining a sense of direction. Quickly, I realized I was awkwardly teetering on the edge of some poor man’s mat, and I had somehow wedged myself in the corner where nobody but that unfortunate man could see me properly. I scurried over his mat and into the center of the back of the room, forcing everyone to turn around, when I realized I had lost it, and the naughty, naughty word came sailing out of my mouth as smooth as my own name. I was mortified. As if I needed another reminder of my imperfections, my potty mouth decided to wreak havoc on the poor students who registered for an intro series class.  Ok- admittedly, it wasn’t my mouth as much as it was me; I wreaked the havoc.

For all I know, people who had never taken a yoga class before now have some vision of me as some version of a long haul trucker in yoga pants. When they see me sitting serenely in the front of the class, they’ll likely have an unsettled feeling that I could lose it at any moment. And the really frightening thing is, I just might. I don’t know how much control I really have over this irresistible urge to break into a frenzy at any given moment. I’m like a bottle of Kombucha that’s just been on the Tilt-a-Whirl and is ready to explode in tangy elation. It’s downright petrifying.

Deep breath. I know this isn’t the entire truth. I realize that I have control over what comes out of my mouth. What upsets me most, actually, is not the fact that I cursed like a sailor in yoga class (as displeasing as that actuality is), but rather that I continue to play the story out as though it is the only one I have. As if I am actually this out of control beast ala Where the Wild Things Are instead of a complex and imperfectly perfect human being on this life journey (which is why I’ve always had an affinity for this particular children’s book).

I know intellectually that the very kind and intelligent people in this intro series class do not fear me or my cursing tendencies. I also know that these lovely individuals are most likely not replaying this scene over and over again in their minds and that they do not judge me or think that this way that I acted in class is the only way I act in the world. But this bumbling and awkward way that I acted in class is the way I often see myself. It’s the narrow view I’ve had of myself for much of my life, and it’s terrifying when I can see the mirror reflecting off of those faces onto myself.

The yogic philosophy that has been on my mind lately, and that relates so perfectly to this struggle, is the yama (observances and codes for living according to Patangali’s eight limbs of yoga) Aparigraha. Literally translated, Aparigraha means “not grasping”. In my own mind, Aparigraha stands for (among other things) the work that it takes to abandon control over images, ideas, labels, hopes, dreams, and expectations. It’s about taking that deep breath and realizing that this moment is just this moment, and I am just who I am in this moment. In other words- I can let go of the idea that I will always be awkward (though it kind of makes me sad to think of ever losing my potential for dorkiness for good). I don’t have to hold tightly to the expectation that this is who I am. So as an individual or, in this case, as a yoga teacher-in-training, I can every now and then curse or laugh or do something wildly inappropriate, and I can honor each as merely experiences and/or expressions of my humanness.

I need yoga camp

Right now, my bedside table holds a dozen or so books. I’ve started most of them, but the two that are most dog-eared are the ones I’m currently reading for book groups; The Bhagavad Gita According to Gandhi and Yoga Bitch by Suzanne Morrison.  How perfect for me right now. I’m fighting between wanting to be a spiritually grounded and dedicated yogi and the reality of being an irreverent and feisty yogi wannabe who is critical of the whole yoga as a means to becoming a better person craze (ok- maybe it’s not a “craze”, but lately yoga talk seems to smack of “self help”). I guess I should go back to yoga camp.

“Yoga Camp” is what a few of my fellow yoga teachers-in-training affectionately call our 2-week experience at a yoga teacher training intensive this past fall. Well, at least a few of us who stayed in the dorm room. We were the yogis who couldn’t afford the bit of extra money to stay in a private or smaller shared room close to the space where we practiced every morning and studied in the afternoon. And I like to think we dorm “orphans” all had a more truly “campy” experience because of it, complete with a ritual of chanting Pūrnam at the end of each day from our Annie-esque beds. I loved it. And I believed wholeheartedly that I was changed forever because of it. I was going to leave yoga camp a true yogi who was prepared to radiate yogi love to all who desired the yoga glow! And then….I returned home and to reality.

My reality is that I live in a tiny condo with a partner who is a blunt New Englander with a strong distaste for all things “woo woo” (and I was filled to the brim with what she would consider “woo”) and a 17 or so year old dog who is sweeter than pie but who has Cushing’s Disease, which leaves her prone to peeing. Anywhere. My yoga bliss dissolved faster than an Emergen-C packet, and within days I was back to my edgy self, silent screaming for any possible moment to sneak off to yoga class or, alternatively, to curl up in a messy ball with a book about yoga. I was driving to yoga class at warp speed after work and raging at anyone who was in my way. My yoga glow had turned into a hot yoga mess.

Enter my Yogi Sangha Sisterhood and the idea of a yoga book club. As luck would have it (or would this be the Universe?), I found out near the end of yoga camp that I lived just a short distance from two of my dorm room sisters. Even more precious was finding out that we all have free time on Fridays and we all have a love for sugar, tea, and all things irreverent. Yoga book club was born. A two to three-hour period on Fridays when we gather to talk about yoga, life, food, partners, hopes and dreams and, most importantly, set space for unconditional love. It’s better than any yoga class, and I am a better person for having my yoga camp dorm orphan sisters.

 Maybe living between a sacred yoga text and an irreverent book of laugh out loud yoga stories is perfect. It’s Aparigraha– non-grasping. Or, as Donna Farhi describes it, “the state that comes spontaneously as the mind begins to experience the effortless Being of the Self; viewing the world in a more generous perspective”. And I’m nothing if not generous. So, here I am; the imperfectly irreverent yogi wannabe yoga camp orphan who now and then breaks into a case of the giggles in the middle of yoga class or hides in the bathroom to finish one more chapter of a deliciously cheeky yoga memoir. No need to grasp. Because, as we learned at yoga camp, “I am perfect and whole exactly as I am”.