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20/20

Often times we only appreciate things in hindsight. When I was practicing and learning from my teachers, or meditating in the Matrimandir, or cooling off under a waterfall, or taking a walk through an empty magical forest, or lapsing up a delicious green curry, or teaching in a foreign country, I couldn’t imagine the longing I’d have for those moments weeks later. As they were happening, I couldn’t know how much I would miss them. My trip seemed to be a strange mix of longing for the past and worrying of the future. The times when I was fully immersed in what I was doing right then and there were sprinkled in like bits of candy floating through an ice cream sundae. And like a child when I uncovered those rare morsels of present moment awareness, I devoured and savored them but may not have fully appreciated them until they were gone.

Are time and comparison a requisite for appreciation? How can we possibly comprehend the meaning or depth of something without the context of time? Can we truly recognize the preciousness of a moment, a person, a kiss, a meal without comparison to another person, kiss, or meal? Is it possible to understand the beauty of a moment in the very instant it’s happening?

I don’t have the answer to that. If I did I wouldn’t keep reminding myself to enjoy the present moment. Or reminiscing about my past adventures in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was sitting in a garden oasis in the middle of Luang Prubang, enjoying the most random mix of music – first Billy Joel, then Bob Marley, Sublime and oooo – is that Steve Miller Band I hear?

Anyway, as I sang the first few lines of For the Longest Time, out of nowhere a few tears slid down my face. (In those days, it could have been sweat beads. There was all sorts of liquid coming out of my pores in that heat.) I can’t say for sure, but I believe singing the song aloud conjured up the innocence of my childhood and the carefree days of living without much responsibility for my life. As I continually contemplate, what’s next? I recalled times when I didn’t have to answer that question. Even though the drama and turmoil of my teens seemed important at the time, life didn’t have the weight it does now.

That moment in Laos emphasizes the very thing I’m writing about here. I knew my final week was upon me and that soon, my journey would be considered the past. And maybe I didn’t do all I could to honor my present.

Joni sang it best – you really don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.

May we not wait for time to march on to savor every person, taste, and experience that life offers us or prove to us that the moment we have now is magical. May we truly seize the day and find appreciation without comparison and gratitude without prerequisite.

It is my hope that you and I know what we have while it’s here.

One Of Those Days (It’s a Good Thing)

There have been times on this trip, for any number of reasons, when I’ve wanted to run home. To return to the comforts and stability of my life back in the States. Today was not one of them. Today, I delighted in the new and the undiscovered. Today, I wished I wasn’t leaving this town in 36 hours. As I sit here writing, I wish for more time to sit in the cafes I’m just discovering to be my favorites. More days to learn and practice muy thai. More stimulating and engaging conversations with the man I met over lunch. Today, in all its simplicity, was magic.

We all experience these days. We move effortlessly from one task, one errand, one conversation to another. There seems to be little struggle during the activities and engagements of our day. Even stoplights seem to be conspiring in our favor as we float through a series of green lights. We don’t analyze every minutiae of our day and seem to know exactly what to do next, if anything. Our every motion seems to be at the hand of some benevolent force pushing us along. We are, as the saying goes, in flow. Effortless. Easeful. And content and happy to be just where we are.

I recognize these days by the amount of time I’m pulled to my iPhone and computer. In these days my desire to connect with human beings and be completely present overpowers any desire to be tethered to an electronic device. What’s right in front of me is more engaging than what’s out there in the Never-never Land of space.

Today, lessons and simple pleasures abound. It was as if I could’ve written an entire book about the past 14 hours. I wanted to capture every lesson and observation before they escaped from the weak entrapment of my mind. It was if the world was happening around me and I was simply a witness. Needless to say, memories are fleeting and now, I can only recall a few highlights. I trust the ones I need to remember will remain in my mental databanks, and my heart, for as long as I need them.

I’m seeing a pattern in all my travels. I realized I have a bit of resistance to a new place the first day or two. While experiencing new cultures is wonderful, it means a lot of adjusting and maneuvering to attain some semblance of a routine. You know what it feels like to move to a new town? Imagine doing that every week or even every four or five days. It can be a little unsettling to say the least.

In my first 24-48 hours I usually curse my new accommodations for something not being quite right. I have anxiety about everything I should see or do or buy or taste. (Do you know how many bloody temples there are in Asia? Please.) By day two or three, I relax a bit, find my groove, learn the habits of my new microcosm and settle into contentment. I begin to unearth the hidden gems of a new town or city – it’s people, or it’s food, or it’s culture. I forgive any shortcomings and begin to notice the beauty that surrounds me, no matter what it looks like to the naked eye. And just when I’m really feeling love and appreciation grow, I’m rolling up my clothes and packing to jet off to the next destination. If I had a dollar for every I wish I had another two days here. I may not be a rich woman, but I’d certainly have a nice stash of spare change. I vow that I will try to relax into flow from the get go, but usually find myself once again, pissed off about something or other within moments of touch down in a new town. A mere 48 hours later, I am again, in love with the very place I sent into damnation for the rest of time.

One of the observations my new friend and I made was how we seem to always turn towards writing or analyzing our thoughts when times are shitty. My journal is filled with scribbles of discomfort, anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. What does this mean? What lesson can I learn? How do I grow from this? Hell, all you have to do is take a look at my blogs. Many of them originate from pain or suffering. It seems we only ask why when we wish to alter our current situation.

That’s not a bad thing. I always say pain, be it physical, mental or spiritual, is there for a reason. Pain, if we have a desire to end it, can force us to look at our habits and patterns and notice where we have become complacent in our lives. Pain can move us to change, learn, and evolve. Some of us choose to stay in it because it’s what we know. As agonizing as it may be, our pain is comfortable. And it’s preferable to the misery of change.

So it’s a good thing if we observe the times we are sad, angry, anxious, and fearful. It’s healthy to spend time questioning the source of those emotions – especially if they are consistent and pervasive.

But what about chronicling our moments of delight? How often do we write about the awesome day we had? The beautiful sunset we had the privilege to witness. The heartfelt conversation we shared with a dear, far away friend. The laughter shared with a nearby, new friend. The giddy, tummy-turning possibility of new love. The smile we share with a stranger. The five-minute time out dance session in our living room or office. (Nicole Taylor, I’m thinking of you here!) Or the one-hour exhilarating sweat fest at the gym. How about finding a cafe that serves dairy free, coconut ice cream in the middle of nowhere Thailand. WITH chocolate sauce? We may drift into a blissful slumber with a smile on our face. We most certainly will make sure it’s documented on social media. But rarely do we write about it.

I think it’s high time we investigate and honor when we’re happy because honestly, more and more of us seem to be less and less so. When we experience those rare moments of simple pleasure we should understand what brought us to that place of ease and joy. Revel in radiance, for it is temporary, as all things are. Hopefully we don’t have to dig too deep to see that when we change our internal landscape, the outer world begins to look very different. This is what I try to remember before I board my flight tomorrow and when the next stamp bears down on my passport.

The Greatest Lesson Of All

I’ve done my fair share of bitching and moaning these past couple weeks. It’s right time I share some sunshine.

Through all of my frustrations and inner messy dialogues, it’s evident the biggest treasure of Sri Lanka is its people.

One moment I’m cursing the taxi driver for not knowing what, to me, should be a well known destination in the city. Not seconds later, the very same misdirected guide turns to me to thank me, tells me I’ve given him too much money, and places change in my palm. In that moment my hard “city girl” exterior melts and I continue to let this country soften me. And my expectations. (On that note, however, do not take your NYC and other metropolitan city cab drivers for granted – they may seem grumpy and disenchanted at times, but they know where to go and how to get you there. STAT.)

Once we finally arrive at my destination, the Sri Lankan post office, it seems no one is willing to help me send my package home. (For those of you who advised me to leave with an all but empty suitcase, you win. Lesson learned.) I get shuffled to another building down the road and then from there another office. And another. And another. Part of this is due to the language barrier and inability to communicate explicit directions making multiple questioning and directing attempts necessary. I am told the office closes at 3:30pm. It’s pushing 3:26 and the tough girl exterior returns, my impatience surges and I am, once again, exasperated.

Once I arrive at the right desk, a gentleman steps up and communicates very clearly the steps I need to relieve myself of this 10 pound load. Since I’m in no hurry to receive yet another pair of elephant plants and multiple sarongs I’ve collected in the past 7 weeks,to save $50, I decide to send my package via “sea mail” relinquishing any expectation of its return in Austin. At least in one piece. Until my mate starts securing this flimsy box of cardboard. He goes to town with some industrial packing tape and with every crisp tear of tape, my faith in the safe arrival of my contents blossoms. My trinkets and treasures are as secure as if they’d been locked in Fort Knox. The only reason I won’t see my treasured elephant pants again is if this box gets thrown overboard.

The kind sir doesn’t charge me a dime for tape, using a pen, or his explicit direction. The box itself was about $1.00. Try finding a USPS office that will offer free tape, much less that kind of service and assistance.

And then there’s the driver from the hotel to the train station this morning. I revert to my all to familiar panicked rushed travel behavior and am concerned about making it to Colombo Fort in time for a 7am departure. This guy asks me if I mind if he goes fast. Now we’re talking my language! As his foot accumulates lead and he weaves in and out of motor bikes, tut-tuts, and  busses, even the NYC girl in me gets a little concerned. I tell him to be safe above all and he assures me he is a great driver. He gets me there in less than 5 minutes and in that short time shares his dreams of coming to the US to open a restaurant. He tells me he is a great chef. I surprise myself and encourage him to establish a Sri Lankan eatery in the States. This after complaining about the food. My smile is proof I’m embracing this new culture. I hope his dreams become a reality.

I could go on and on with stories of generosity and graciousness during my almost three weeks in this country. But I trust any of my beneficiaries during my time in Sri Lanka know who they are if they read this. To you, I bow with gratitude. I need no visits to temples or shrines or tours to prove to me the divine resides in all of your hearts and to experience the best part of your country.

While I may not have experienced deep epiphanies here in Sri Lanka, I have seen the kindness and compassion of the human spirit.

There is no greater teaching than that.

Oil Meltdown

Lest you think it’s all fun and games here at Somatheeram Ayurvedic Spa in India, allow me to tell today’s tale.

My day started quite lovely. After three meals consisting of little more than rice gruel, I was able to eat enough veggies last night to feel somewhat nourished this morning. I awoke before 6am, got dressed and attempted to chant along with my morning prayers. While the words are still a mosh of jumbled Hindi, I found myself humming the tune throughout the day. I’m on the right track.

I practiced some self-massage with my Yoga Tune Up balls followed by some asana. It felt good to move my body after 24 hours of having barely enough energy to put one foot in front of the other.

At 7am I attended a pranayama and meditation session. I was happy to join along with some of the chanting including Gayatri, one of my faves. (Yes, I’ve become one of those yogis who randomly hums mantras throughout the day. Annoying to some, I find it rather soothing. A reminder of my connection to something greater than myself.) If they ever create a mantra greatest hits album, Gayatri should be on it. While I prefer my melodic version over the teacher’s, the meaning and soul of the mantra remained in my heart as I floated back to my room for my personal meditation.

I emerged at about 8:45am for breakfast, one of my favorite times of the day. Mostly because I get some protein in the form of egg whites. Apparently it’s only the yolks that are potentially toxic on an Ayurvedic cleanse so, much to my dismay, I’ve made the concession to eliminate them. I even decided to back off of my coffee intake taking only a small cup of the resort’s brewed coffee, which tastes like water. Up until now I’ve relied on my one-a-day Starbucks Via which is more akin to rocket fuel. And then there’s daily papaya. That just makes me happy.

After an hour or so on the computer for necessary travel arrangements, blog posts and requisite social media posts to advertise posts, I notice myself getting sucked into the irretrievable void that is the Internet. I forcefully cut myself off and bounce myself to the beach. I’m finding improved habits at every turn as I slather SPF 35 all over my body and 50 on my face! Did I mention I think I’m getting wiser with age?

I took a walk on the beach and did some strengthening exercises for my hips and booty. While I’m fine with my decreased exercise regime here in India, what I’m not okay with is a bum knee and low back. When I don’t do squats, lunges and other exercises prescribed by my physical therapist, these areas pay the price. I tired easily and feel my body not as strong as when I left. I’m okay with that, truly. But I don’t want to be in pain.

I braved the pull of the tide and cut through shallow waves to eventually swim out to somewhat calmer waters. I enjoyed a few sets of strokes back and forth, but my intuition told me it was a little too rough to swim with abandon, so I heed caution and paddle into shore… with a suit full of sand thanks to my first failed ocean entry attempt .

I followed this with a little more exercise and yoga. I’ve become quite fond of doing Pilates on my beach chair in addition to yoga and pranayama. A short meditation and chanting brought me to lunch. I’m delighted by fresh veggies and fish and am accompanied by a wonderful book by my grand teacher Pandit Rajmani Tigunait called The Power Of Mantra and The Mystery Of Initiation.

After digesting a bit, I read a little more and rested for my 4 o’clock treatment, pleased by my day and just tired enough to thoroughly look forward to my daily oil rubdown and whatever else was in store for me. The “whatever else” abruptly put an end to my sweet, idyllic day.

The treatment started dreamy as not one, but two, therapists massaged me with what else? A liberal dose of oil. Unfortunately that was the last bit of bliss to be found in the next two hours. My main therapist, Sulu, who I’ve come to adore, directed me to sit up on the wood table as both women continuously poured hot thick oil all over my body. They repeated this process for what seemed like forever – on my back, on both sides. I sloshed around in large pools of oil. When Sulu would abruptly tell me to flip over, I would slip and slide like a fish flopping when pulled from its natural habitat. Keep in mind it is 95* outside so while I may have welcomed the treatment on a wintry day in NYC, in this heat and humidity, it felt suffocating.

The room felt so stifling I had to sit outside. The barely existent breeze dropped the temperature by a degree. I found little relief. Next thing I knew there was a large metal instrument against my ear blowing “medicated” smoke. Apparently to clean out my ear canal. Not convinced of this method. It seemed toxic to me, but I trust these Ayurvedic peeps know what they’re doing. The procedure itself was relatively harmless, however I was silently suffering from heat exhaustion.

Just when I thought it was safe to breathe, I was thrown back on the table for a traditional Shirodhara treatment. I usually love some hot oil poured over my forehead for 30 minutes but after the events of the past 40 minutes, I was certain I would spontaneously combust.

The remaining treatments ensured every other orifice in my body other than my mouth (we covered that one the other night) had something put in it. Yes, EVERY orifice. Except the one that men don’t have. But I hear there is a treatment for that too. It was a little unsettling to say the least.

I slid back to my room feeling woozy and slightly traumatized. Despite several attempts with different shampoos, I’m pretty sure I’ll never get all of this oil out of my hair. (Jamie Boone, you’ll have your work cut out for you when I return to Los Angeles!) I spent a restless night sweating and woke at 3am to take a cool-ish shower. I greeted the morning weary and dehydrated.

I suppose this takes some getting used to. I forget that I am purifying my body of toxins – physical, mental and emotional – on a deep level and that’s no joyride. I also had the thought that the rough ending to my day was possibly payback for my flat tummy pride from the previous post. Karma certainly can be a bitch. Rest assured, I had no ego left this morning.

Post Purge

After four days of rubdowns in enough oil to put Houston out of business and “massages” of pounding bags of hot rice on my body I had reached the moment of truth in my Ayurvedic treatments – what’s known here as “purgation”. Last night I downed a small bottle of oil with a chaser of warm water. A far cry from a tequila shot with lime, but the results were somewhat the same had I had 10 of those. After a somewhat sleepless night and several trips to the bathroom later, it was fair to say by 9am I was empty.

I’m not going to lie. I looked and felt awesome (never mind the fact it felt as if someone had siphoned every last drop of energy from my body.) The 28 year old in me loved how flat my belly was! I indulged my ego and stood in front of my mirror checking all angles. More than once. And yes. I took photos. To say I enjoyed this moment would be an understatement. Where were the cameras when you wanted them? I’d shoot a cover or video like this any day!

But this was also the look and behavior of a girl who constantly struggled and was always looking for acceptance based on this perfect appearance. It was a hard show to maintain. This girl was deprived of love, joy, and inner peace.

This 42 year old woman is dying for above referenced margarita, guac and chips and some fresh grilled fish. This wiser (I can only hope) more mature (this I know) woman still struggles from time to time with loving this body just as it is – bloated or flat, toned or flabby, tired or energized. But thoughts of weight and size don’t consume her minutes hours and days as they used to nor do they prevent her from sucking the joy out of life. I know I still have ways to go – evidenced by my need to document my fabulous figure post purge. But I do know I will not sacrifice my life to maintain this shape. For now, I’ll accept myself where I am and end this blog. Dinner is about to start.

Going Solo

It’s my first day truly on my own here in India. Up until today, I’ve been surrounded by friends or fellow yogis with a common language. People I could turn to to help me process and lighten the load a bit. Those who understand and support me.

Today I feel my journey starts anew after 2 ½ weeks in India. I love that I’m here by myself now. I truly enjoy meeting new people, making friends and connecting with new cultures. I’m good at it and it’s how I’ve come to experience some of my most memorable adventures all over the world. But now I’m feeling drawn to something very different. The bliss of solitude. A newfound love of being with myself. While there is little agenda here at Somatheeram other than my 4-6pm treatment time, somehow my days feel very full. With writing and walks on the beach. Swims in the ocean and pages of books. Returning to my mat only to find my practice anew after time in Khujarho. A new reverence for my practice – and myself. Some days include research and planning for the next destination and even that seems to impose on my time as I truly savor the present moment and not being attached to itinerary. Planning places me in the future. While I know it’s a logical must do, for now, I’m relishing in throwing logic aside. Which means not worrying about money and paying a little extra to get from one place to the next with the help of my travel agent in the States instead of wasting my time Googling ‘best hotels in Sri Lanka.’ Or deciding on a plane ticket instead of a 10 hour overnight bus.

I have over another week more here being pampered and cared for. The only thing preventing that is me taking care of myself. I feel I’m on the right track.

DONE (With Diets And A Few Other Things)

I have been in the fitness business for over 15 years. From being in front of the camera to being behind it, teaching weekly classes from New York to Los Angeles and places in between. I’ve seen the rise of Zumba, the Shake Weight (I even lead some of their ancillary DVD workouts – feel free, laugh. I do.) Jillian Michaels, Hip Hop Abs and Insanity, Crossfit, P90X, Soul Cycle, TaeBo, CoreFusion, CorePower, Bikram, and heaven help me, the plexiglass parade of yoga on a bed in NYC.

I’ve been around for, and participated in, the no-carb, lo-carb, sugar free, no fat, some fat, lots of fat, raw, Paleo, Hunter-Gatherer, Gluten free, and everyone’s favorite, the Grapefruit Diet.

I’ve watched how every single fad, trend and celebrity quick fix have single handedly whipped not only women, but more increasingly, men, into a food and fitness frenzy. The health and fitness space is so filled with opinions, guidelines and Instagram butt photos, I don’t know whether to down dog or tap back.

And I’m done.

While this industry has been very good to me, I struggle with what us ‘experts’ are doing to others. Can we please take a touch step and box jump back and objectively look at the culture we are creating? We have become an obsessed society. Obsessed with working out. Obsessed with gluten free. Obsessed with the front row. Obsessed with Instagram yoga.

Maybe I’m slightly hypersensitive as body dysmorphia and eating disorders have plagued me since high school. Or maybe, at the ripe old age of 41, I’m beginning to grow into my own and realize it’s time to be done with temporary weight loss, fads and fanatical approaches to health. Finally, my desire to be happy is greater than my desire to be thin.

So here is a short list (trust me, there is a long list) of my done’s. (Yes, it is a list but ya’ll read those!)

  1. I’m done with food rules. Do you mean to tell me if found yourself in an episode of LOST and happened to cross paths with a turkey and cheddar on whole wheat with mayo you would turn your nose up because you’re a gluten free, vegan Paleo? It’s whole wheat for crying out loud.
  2. I’m done with ‘hacking’ – bio, mind, internet or any other shortcut to ‘figure things out’. I understand we all want to feel our best and perform at optimal levels, but life is messy and in case you haven’t noticed, you have no control. So give it up, embrace the slop, and enjoy the ride a bit.
  3. I’m done with yoga. You heard me. I may get on my mat every day for some down dogs and forward folds, but I’m done with yoga as exercise. You want some cardio? Go for a damn run.
  4. Speaking of, I’m done with running. From my fears, my insecurities and my own dysfunction. No amount of hours I spend on the treadmill make these disappear. In fact, it probably heightens them.
  5. I’m done with looking in the mirror and criticizing every inch, millimeter and line. I’m actually shocked that, with as much disgust and judgment I’ve placed on this amazing machine known as my body, it continues to show up day after day without some sort of temper tantrum.
  6. I’m done comparing myself to my 29 year old cover girl self. Or any 29 year old for that matter. Or 40 year. Or 50 year old. This one is so much easier said than done.
  7. I’m done with hearing excuses. And I’ve heard a lot in my twenty odd years of teaching. My favorite? “I can’t meditate.” Yes. You can. Just like I did. By sitting my ass down with slumped shoulders day after day, year after year, enduring discomfort, distractions, numb legs, and a bat shit crazy mind until eventually I found stability and ease.
  8. I’m done with reading about solutions, no matter how valid, to my problems, whether perceived or real. This is not to say I will stop learning – or teaching – but when will enough be enough?

When will we stop looking to the latest YouTube or Instagram celebrity and start following the best expert of all? YOU.

You created your source of discontent, whether it be obesity, anxiety, unhappiness, or dis-ease on any level. Only you have the solution. Take responsibility and stop seeking answers outside yourself. Know that the answer isn’t in a photo of a pretty yogi in a beautifully contorted position or a top ten list, but your own inner wisdom and light. Figure out how to get there more (which may mean getting to the gym less) for all the answers you truly need are inside.

At the end of the day, the enemy is not sugar, juice cleanses, Turbo Jam, or Tara Stiles. It’s not Facebook or People magazine. The enemy is our minds. If we can figure out how to tame that unruly, defiant and petulant son of a gun, we’ll have made more peace with all of this faster than you can say front row.

I’d love to hear what you’re DONE with! Send out a Tweet with #DONE!

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