Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Snail Mail and the Lost Art of Waiting

When I was a kid growing up in California there was no such thing as email, there was no AOL, and thankfully no “lol”. Side note, I have a thing against lol. Like did they actually just laugh out loud at that? Maybe they did, but I’m skeptical…
There was no Facebook, no Messenger, no Twitter, no Instagram, no text messages, and I’m thankful there was no Snapchat.  If we wanted to get in touch with someone we had three options. 1) Go visit them, 2) call them on the house or pay phone, or 3) write them a letter. I guess telegram could have been an option, but those were “so 1800’s” by that time.
Last night I reminisced to those days as I walked past my local post office and recalled the feelings evoked by opening the mailbox and seeing a handwritten card or letter addressed to me from someone. The USPS mail delivery person was always a treat to see at your house. A personal example I'll share is when 57 letters arrived in the mail with orders for “How to Survive When Mom’s Away, a kids’ cookbook I thought of making when I was 13 years old and needed to earn money to go to the Boy Scout National Jamboree in 1981. That mailbox was full from something that started as an idea that quickly gained regional and even national attention thanks to the Associated Press. We sold 2,000 of those books at $2 a pop which was enough to pay for the trip and the adventure of this 13 year old boy’s lifetime.
Today when I go to the mailbox it’s typically flooded with loads of junk mail - weekly shopping flyers, clothing catalogs, mortgage refinance deals, and credit card offers, all which go directly in the recycle bin. And to make things worse, email far exceeds the junk mail I physically receive. Let’s not even get started on the spam folder. Are you feeling me yet?
With the invention of such things as email, cell phones, and the various digital leashes we have integrated into our lives to make things easier and faster (Hell, I’m writing this from a Macbook), we’ve also let go of some of the things that keep us connected on an organic level. And while nothing can replace face to face interactions, there’s just something special about hand-written cards, postcards, and notes. Our handwriting is like a fingerprint, and I'd venture to say you have people in your lives that you could tell who wrote something just by their handwriting; It’s a piece of ourselves we let go of when we send an email. Sure, email allows us to craft the perfectly worded reply and get a quick response, sometimes, but there’s something exciting about putting pen to paper and seeing what comes out.  The most valuable lifetime skill class I took in high school was Typing 1 on those old school mechanical typewriters. I loved them and the unique way each one would type different letters differently, which also took into account the keystroke of the typist, a signature if you will. When you wanted to emphasize something you might type over the same word twice with heavy fingers, now it’s the press of Control + B. And while typewriters are cool, Tom Hanks has a huge collection of them and a new book about typewriters he spoke about on NPR. I've heard if you send him a letter written with a typewriter he'll reply via typed letter. How cool is that?! One of the beautiful things about sending a handwritten, enveloped, and stamped card or letter to someone is the waiting that goes on between sending and receipt; the anticipation if you will. Knowing you might make someone’s day when they open the mailbox.
Yoga has helped me connect with myself and others in a way I’d not experienced in my life, and it’s been life changing for me in ways I’m only beginning to discover. The more I practice the more I get back. It’s with this spirit I’m going into 2018 with an effort to send more physical cards, postcards, and letters and I invite you to join with me in this if you feel inspired. My address is PO Box 11201, Norfolk, Virginia 23517. ;)
Now who wants to get this card?

Monday, October 16, 2017

In Solidarity With Me Too

As I sat on my patio last night scrolling through my Facebook feed I was deeply saddened by the number of times I read “Me too.” posted by women I know, love, and respect. And while I cannot fix this alone I feel it’s partly my responsibility as a man, son, veteran, father, grandfather, and yoga teacher to share a few thoughts on the subject. If we’re going to make changes, real lasting changes, it has to start with acknowledging the problem and deciding right here and now to own it.

While I am not perfect in any stretch of the imagination I do try my best to live the very best I can each and every day. Over recent years I’ve been surrounded by women who have inspired me beyond words. Because of women I’ve been able to overcome a lifelong struggle with bulimia and I cannot fully express in words my gratitude for every single one of them who supported my heart and provided that safe container for healing to happen. We hold trauma in our physical bodies and yoga has helped me to see and understand this first hand. I’ve received extensive training on how trauma, sexual or otherwise, actually changes our physical self. Our brains actually change as a result of traumatic events, but there is a way to heal.

I was raised to respect women and for that I owe the deepest gratitude to my Mother for teaching me to do the simple things such as holding open doors, respecting women’s space, standing when a women leaves the table....basically things we call “chivalrous”, but truly things we need to call “being a decent fucking man”.  I wasn't allowed to date until I was 16 years old, and even then was only allowed to go on group dates. Young people, and especially young men, need to be taught to own the responsibility of being in the company of women. Period.

Change starts inside, it starts with owning our shit, it starts with stopping. Stopping the behavior that leads to the pain of others, because when others hurt we all hurt. We cannot make lasting changes for the betterment of our world when half of the population feels threatened, fearful, and hurt. An analogy comes to mind - When we hammer a nail into a piece of wood we can remove the nail, patch up the hole, and paint over it, but the wood is never the same. The scars of trauma will be there, but we can learn to overcome the painful memories, or at least rise above the pain to a place of peace. 

It’s time to bring this discussion to the next level. Right now. I want to be part of the solution and I hope other men will continue to speak out and set the example for the next generation of men who will inherit what society has allowed to be the status quo. WE MUST DO BETTER. We owe it to our Mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, girlfriends, co-workers, friends, and neighbors.  It starts at home, it starts in our schools, it starts in our proverbial locker rooms, it starts in places of worship, it starts on our yoga mats, it starts on our meditation cushions, it starts inside our hearts, it starts with you and me. If there are women who are hurting and need a man to listen I’ll be here. If there are men who need mentoring I’ll be here.

I’m humbled today and am sending energy of love, balance, solidarity, acceptance, and support to all the women who have been personally violated. One love.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Breathing Into Turning 50


I was born on a Tuesday 50 years ago today. On this September 26th I have a few thoughts to share on a topic flooding mainstream news, this idea of taking a knee during our national anthem. Whatever side you fall on I support your right to have an opinion on the topic.  A battle over freedom of speech and expression has commenced between the president of our country, a man who never served a day in uniform in his life, and professional athletes and team owners, most of which have also never served in uniform. While I was in the Army it was a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice to speak out against the Commander in Chief, but now that I'm a civilian that doesn't apply. Our president has disrespected women, blacks, Jews, Muslims, veterans, Gold Star families, and a great number of other people, and quite frankly I'm ashamed we put this self-serving disrespectful piece of garbage in office.
Some of the greatest ideals of our nation are based on freedom of speech and expression, and we cannot allow that right to be infringed upon. I've risked my life on many occasions serving our country overseas in wars we are still fighting.  During that time I attended many memorial ceremonies for fallen comrades who lost their lives defending the ideals that make our nation greater than we seem to remember we are sometimes. I’ve participated in funeral details where I've carried caskets containing deceased veterans where we’ve folded and given American flags to surviving next of kin and I can tell you there is nothing more humbling than seeing a weeping spouse being handed a folded piece of red white and blue cloth; the symbol of our nation is given with utmost respect and gratitude. I’ve taken a knee many times at memorial ceremonies during peace and war as a sign of respect and reverence for the sacrifices these individuals and their families have made. For many veterans the war doesn’t stop when they return home; on average 20 veterans commit suicide everyday in our country. Stop and take a knee to ponder that statistic. We cannot forget the individuals who have put their lives on the line, and in many cases lost limbs, suffered massive burns, and an even greater number who are scarred with invisible wounds such as post traumatic stress.  
Since my 40th birthday I have discovered yoga and have done my best to apply the principles of kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity to my own life and to set an example of how yoga can help heal from the painful memories of traumatic times gone by. Yoga has helped me remain more in the present moment and to appreciate the ability to breath, to move, to let go, and to live in the now. Today I take a knee in support of our veterans and in support of freedom of expression and unity of all people. I take a knee in support of what has already made America great, for I've been there on the front lines with these people who have sacrificed so much for so long. I love my country and what we truly stand for as a people, for I truly believe the vast majority of us hold the American ideals written in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence as non waiverable.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”  So support them taking a knee, or not, I’ll be here spreading love, for we cannot forcefully remove darkness, we can only turn on our light and let it shine. One Love.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Things are going so right

For just about 30 minutes each of us was a single cell organism. Think about that for a second. The fact you are reading these words is nothing short of one of the most amazing miracles I can think of.
 In my almost 50 years I’ve met and interacted with countless people on this planet we call home.  For billions of years the Earth has been evolving, doing its’ thing so to speak, to set the perfect conditions for life to abide, breathe, build, eat, drink, touch, play, make love, laugh, cry, taste, smell, dance, sing, and die.
We small, y'all.
A few years ago in July 2014 before I embarked on my yoga teacher training journey down in Costa Rica I was living in Abu Dhabi, UAE. From there I took a vacation with a woman I was dating to Koh Yao Noi, a tiny island off the coast of another small island named Phuket; both are part of the beautiful country of Thailand, and no it’s not pronounced ‘fuk-it...think ‘Poo-khet’. On Koh Yao Noi we stayed at a small budget resort nestled in the jungle along the coast named Island Yoga; it was an amazingly quaint and beautiful backdrop to practice yoga, relax, play, and get away from the world for a spell.  While at Island Yoga I had the absolute pleasure of taking yoga classes from two super cool teachers; Heather Rideout is one of them.  Heather has a unique teaching style honed from many years of trainings with various other amazing teachers combined with adventure and exploration around the world.  It is through Heather I connected the dots and discovered what had been there all along. I realized the heart chakra is my guiding light; it’s tattooed on my left forearm as a reminder to live life guided by purpose for the passion residing within. Not to get all artsy fairy on you, but according to the ancients the heart chakra is right in the middle of our energy flow between the physical and spiritual worlds of our being. Anahata, as it’s called in Sanskrit, allows us to connect our intuition and inspiration with intention, action, and being.
Sunset on Koh Yao Noi, Thailand


Bear with me, I’m going somewhere here.


Fast forward to July 2017, almost exactly three years later, after I’ve been through multiple yoga trainings in Costa Rica and just completed a master of science in yoga therapy, where I find myself in Asheville, North Carolina at their yoga festival.  Guess who serendipitously is also in Asheville?  Heather. It’s really kind of mind blowing to me how small the world really is. I mean compared to our universe it’s already a tiny spec of a place to be, but even still, it’s just so cool how life flows. Since July 2014 Heather has had quite a journey as well; 3000+ miles on foot through some rugged terrain to be more descriptive.  She thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, and as if that wasn’t enough, she popped over to Europe and walked the El Camino De Santiago, all while sporting a super cool rainbow unicorn trucker hat. Yeah, pretty cool, right?!
Heather being Heather
So Heather and I decided to reconnect the human chain of sharing space we did a few years ago and we did what anyone else in their right mind in Asheville would do on a Friday evening...we drank some beer, ate some food, walked the streets, and watched and dance to live music. While we were walking around it came to me how wild of a miracle it was that by all the coincidences two people who with no prior coordination ended up being in the same mountain hippie town in North Carolina. Then I recalled how frequently I read social media posts and hear people talk about how badly things are going not only with their individual lives, but with their relationships with food, their bodies, jobs, lovers, family, others with different ideas than them, and our country as a whole.


How badly things are going?!  C’mon, man.


Rewinding back to how I started this little piece and how we are a tiny spec in the universe and we each started as a tiny cell. We are alive and hopeful. At least I am hopeful you are hopeful, (please call me if you’ve lost hope). The point I’m making here is so many things have gone right in this world and they do every single minute of every single day. The breath moves in filling your lungs with life, the breath moves out as you do your work in this world to offer your light. I’ve attended several classes here at at Asheville Yoga Festival and am uplifted and certain more than ever this practice is the answer to connecting with our essence and for being in that space that allows us to be there with gratitude and awareness. It’s when we we open ourselves to the possibility of the end of suffering we maintain hope.  For that’s the goal you know, the end of our suffering.  One of the yoga sutras states Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah, or more simply the aim of yoga is stilling the fluctuations of the mind.
I went to a practice this afternoon where the teacher, Mark Monford from San Francisco, made the point about how people continually reaffirm one another’s tendency to not “drop in” to present moment awareness.  And it’s true, how often do you hear or say to a friend “I’m just so busy these days.” only to hear the reply “Yeah, me too, it’s crazy I feel like I can’t catch my breath.”  It’s not often we hear someone answer “You know, I’m doing really awesome right now, life is pretty fucking great.”


But.


This should be what we hear back more often.  It should be what we say more often.


No, people, so many things are not going wrong.
So many things have and will continue to keep going right. They will go exactly how they are supposed to. Show up, do the work, shine brightly, and then let everything go.
Our universe and this tiny planet remind us everyday something Lao Tzu wrote  “Nature never hurries, yet everything is accomplished.”  

Quit hurrying, quit being in too many thoughts and expectations of the future, quit hanging out with bad memories of the past. I’ll be here if you want help along the way.

I’ve recently made connections back home in Norfolk that I’m excited and optimistic about, and although I don’t know the answers and can’t predict the future, I’m giving give myself space to allow for what transpires when I show up face to face with them. So much has gone right. So much will keep going right. #ONELOVE

Monday, July 24, 2017

30 Long Weekends and 13,000 Miles

Yep, that's part of what it took to earn a Master of Science in Yoga Therapy over the past two years.  I'm writing this from the cafe where I first met with a friend in 2015 to inquire about what this program was all about; she had just finished up the same degree.  After I returned to Norfolk from Costa Rica at the end of 2014 I started teaching yoga here locally and other than that didn't know what else I was going to do with my life. I knew for sure I wanted to earn a master's degree, but had no idea in what that would be. Once I heard about this opportunity I knew without a doubt the path I should take. Over the course of the past two years so much has happened. 
I've found and lost love. Twice.
My daughter got married and is expecting her first baby in November. 
My son's wife is expecting her first in August. 
I went to an ashram on the beach of Paradise Island in the Bahamas for training in yoga for veterans with PTSD
I've moved three times
I've drank approximately 700 cups of coffee banging out grad school work at the aforementioned cafe.
I've seen roughly 75 movies in the theater (Friday afternoons are my favorite movie day because the new releases come out and the theaters are never crowded).
I went to around 20 concerts
I went to Costa Rica and broke my back jumping off a 40 foot waterfall. This has been a tough one to heal from over the past 11 months and I still wake up with pain everyday.
AARP did a video documentary on me and my journey to yoga therapy and I went to DC to be interviewed on Fox News
I wrote dozens of papers and would shudder to see what the combined word count is
I gave a bedside yoga therapy session to an 80 pound woman with Stage IV intestinal cancer who died two weeks later. Life is real, pain is real, the things we can do to lessen the suffering of others means more than anything else we can do

All these things
and
more...

But the biggest and best part of the past two years have been the relationships forged with the wonderful women in my grad school cohort.  The finest porcelain endures the hottest fire and we burned that shit up!  I love each and every one of these ladies (and Baby Bartley).
MUIH Master of Science in Yoga Therapy Cohort 4



So where to go from here?  Well I believe in the power of positive thinking and when we open ourselves up for opportunity the universe has a way of saying "Hey, I know you, wanna play?"  

Hey, universe, wassup?

Monday, May 15, 2017

Expansion

In conjunction with my graduate school studies I provided a bedside yoga therapy session as a clinical intern at Howard County General Hospital (HCGH) in Maryland yesterday.  My first in a hospital. Untethered. Left alone to help another human who was in the midst of some next level suffering. Big stuff.
Thrust into an acute inpatient clinic I was planning to sit in as an observer of a yoga therapy session for my virgin experience. As you can imagine I was hesitant to jump right in as it was something new for me, and it was a hospital, and those aren't typically fun places, and these are real people with real not so good shit happening in their lives, and I have not so fond memories of my three week stay in Tripler Army Hospital in Hawaii after being seriously burned 20 years ago.  In HCGH nobody (except for my ride or die MUIH yoga therapy crew) had a smile on their face.
Setting the scene I was on campus in the morning and had a session with a client that went super well. Not having a scheduled session in the afternoon I decided it was time to head over to the hospital where roughly eight of my fellow students were since 10am.  So when I arrived at the hospital at 2:30 p.m. I found a seat at the break room table next to my yoga therapy crew and said not much. I wanted to observe what was going on, what the general vibe of the place was and to get my bearings. I learned many of the patients didn’t want yoga therapy and my first instinct was “What?! Who doesn’t want to feel better?  I mean, you’re in a hospital, you need this shit. I need to go talk with them and make this right.”  And guess what folks, you reading this who are outside of the hospital probably need this shit. Let me go out there on a limb and say you definitely need this shit. Feeling me yet?  
So one of my fellow students and dear friends says. “Jeff, there is this guy who I think you’d be a great fit for. None of us have gone in there yet, but we thought you’d be great with him.”  It was then I started to feel pressure from the clinic supervisor that I needed to get in there with this guy.  After a few minutes of deliberation about wanting to first be an observer of a session before being a primary I was like “Screw it, let’s do this. I’m here, I’m good at this, let’s see what happens.”  So I grabbed my clipboard and headed down to his room… knocked on the door and introduced myself with a smile. “Hi, I’m Jeff, a yoga therapist and would love a few minutes with you.” He nodded and granted me entry to the room. He was sitting on a little sofa by the window, the sun was shining and there were beautiful green trees outside. It was a gorgeous day in Maryland.


I walked over, humbled by the whole experience. Poor guy sitting there in his hospital gown holding a crappy styrofoam bowl of “some kind of yellow” soup with a plastic spoon.  Dude had been in there a couple of days and was experiencing an extremely painful condition. He was on a Deluded IV, but still in a lot of pain. He’d slept 3 hours in the last two days and was feeling quite a bit of anxiety about his health and life in general.  So we chatted for a few minutes and I asked him if he would like some yoga. He said he’d love it. Bam, I was in.
I helped him into his bed and put a pillow (makeshift bolster) under his lower spine for support. He hated that bed, and I can’t blame him. The damn thing inflated and deflated on its’ own every couple of minutes.
Over the next 20 or so minutes I led him through a practice with breath, visualization, mudra, and intention that - according this him - blew his mind. When it was over he opened his eyes and said “Wow, that was awesome, you are really good! For a while there I felt no pain. Why don’t I do this more often?” I smiled and started to choke up a little bit with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude of being thankful to be able to help another human in this way. I shed a bit of a tear now just writing about it.  Every time I jump in there I’m reminded this work I’m doing is so needed. Who wants some? Who want’s to help me keep expanding? Who wants to expand themselves? #onelove

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Ready or Not



Yesterday I was chatting with a friend via Messenger, who happens to be a very experienced yoga therapist, about yoga things and she mentioned perhaps I should consider trying to take my work into some pretty well known yoga centers.  My reaction was to pull back and my response was. “I guess I don't consider myself one of those big time teachers who can get into those kind of places.”  Feelings of inadequacy in my abilities started to arise.  I struggle with this on the regular even though I know I am fully capable to take on pretty much any task at hand if I put my mind to it, but still, it’s a struggle. Being a yoga teacher and now a yoga therapist means it’s just a fact of life I have to continue to allow myself to be vulnerable enough to put myself out there to help people who are struggling with sometimes serious and heavy issues, yet doing so without over extending and expending my energy reserves.  


Being an experienced teacher and therapist she sensed exactly where I was coming from and replied...


“Sometimes we are so connected to what feels like our limits, that it is hard to imagine a readiness...OH YES.”  


That really hit home with me, like really. I thought back to all of the hard stuff I had to do in the Army. Like joining and going off to boot camp in what seems like a lifetime ago, going off to war, being responsible for the training, health, welfare, of a hundred Soldiers, being accountable for tens of millions of dollars worth of property and equipment, being handed giant shit sandwiches tasks to "handle" and having no clue as where to start. I handled my duties each and every time, excelled even, but sometimes it feels like I was never completely ready for pretty much any of it when I embarked on whatever it was.  It reminds me of when I used to race competitively; I put in the miles, the speed work, the long runs, the diet, and all the other things you need to do in order to be able to race well and cross the finish line respectably. I knew I’d done the work to prepare, but still, there’s that feeling that comes, and everyone can surely relate. Maybe it’s the night before the race. Maybe it’s when you lace up your shoes. Maybe it’s at mile 21.7. Maybe it’s when you stand up to give that big presentation. Maybe it's during final exams. It's THAT feeling when you sell yourself short and think you aren't ready for what lies ahead. You haven't studied enough, haven't researched enough, haven't put in enough time on the training or studying or whatever. There’s an inkling of doubt, that naysayer telling you you’re not worthy of your dreams or success. Times like these are when we tend to shrink, quit, make excuses, seek external validation to tell us we are good enough, etc. They are also when can choose to rise up and tackle whatever faces us to the best of our abilities and that's enough. Because it is. Enough. I love humor, and I think it’s something I need to gravitate to more often. I’m usually one to see the comedy in a situation or topic; I love laughing, but know when it's time for business. That said, I’m a forever funny finder in things and I hope that never changes. It’s served me well throughout my life; perhaps I need to remember that more often when I’m dealing with personal feelings of inadequacy, but I digress.
My friend went on...

“Rising above it works for me...meet the sense of inadequacy where it is; we don't have to live There.”

Okay...yeah...I like that.  Basically it’s like “Hey there, Mr. NotGoodEnough, how the hell are you? Glad you could stop by for a chat, I’d love to hear what you have to say, let’s have some coffee and conversation, but then I gotta peace out because I have business to take care of. Cool? Cool.”
altar.jpg So I sat down to meditate this morning to have the coffee and conversation with whatever popped up.  I lit the Palo Santo wood and settled in.  Then I noticed my mudra book sitting to the left of my altar; it’s an amazing book by Joseph LePage I would highly recommend those interested in the healing properties of hand gestures. I turned it open to a random page and there is was...Vajra Mudra, which he tells us is primarily used to balance our third chakra - Manipura. Oh how familiar I am with this one, it’s what I struggled with through all those years tackling an eating disorder.
So I started to read the page and, well, here’s what the author tells us about Manipura Chakra:
“The main theme of the third chakra is clarifying our life purpose and manifesting it completely. When the third chakra is balanced, we find a natural harmony between our own needs and our ability to serve the community. When this chakra is out of balance, we may experience a lack of personal power and self-esteem and a subsequent decrease in motivation and energy. Third chakra imbalance can also manifest as an inflated sense of self and a need for success at all costs which is a reflection of a deep sense of insufficiency. Third chakra balance is supported by integrating its essential qualities, including inherent self-esteem, clear life purpose, determination, vitality, conscious action and conservation of energy, resulting in inner and outer harmony.”
Oh. Shit. Ouch.
So yeah, okay.  I’ve found the root of the issue I began this blog with. I’ve indeed found my life’s purpose with being a yoga therapist, but I’m starting later in life than the masters have.  So I’m dealing, again, with that sense of not feeling prepared, not being good enough, a bit of imposter syndrome if you will.  Knowing what our issues are can be the most important step to growth, so yeah, let’s do this, Jeff. Let’s go help people and remember to keep finding the humor in everything. Ready or not...




References: Le Page, J., Le Page, L., Rezek, S., & Barbosa, C. (2013). Mudras (1st ed.). Sebastopol, California: Integrative Yoga Therapy.