Another Check in the “Faith in Humanity” Column


Twist Yoga Hands + LogoLately, I’ve been feeling particularly grateful for Twist Yoga. Like, more than normal.   Although I always feel a sense of gratitude for the studio, but in general, my pragmatic disposition (code words: fear of intimacy) tends to refrain from getting overly gushy and sentimental.

But something’s different these days. Just the other day, I was headed to the studio and I saw a happy dog’s tail wagging in the car in front of me. The sweet simplicity of the scene got me all kumbaya and teary, and I arrived at the studio full of openhearted gratitude for the community of yogis who gathered there.  

And I’m not even premenstrual. What’s up?

(I must admit I’m not feeling this same sense of possibility at my other job as a public school teacher, where we’re on the cusp of weeks of tedious mandatory state testing.   And, I think I speak for all Edmonds teachers when I say I’d rather stab my arm with a fork than sit through yet another endless day of training tomorrow on the district’s fancy new evaluation system, The Danielson Framework.)

But at the yoga studio, the feeling of freedom and gratitude is palpable. Perhaps we can chalk it up to our recent glimpses of spring and the presence of a Shiva-esque regeneration prana floating about. But more likely, I’ve been noticing:  Noticing 1) Twist Yoga’s amazing sangha, 2) the community support that exists exponentially, and 3) generous gestures that allow me to add yet another check the “faith in humanity column.”

  1. Twist Yoga’s Amazing Sangha:  You care. You are supportive. Your presence in the studio allows people to feel. You stay after class to lend a shoulder or helping hand. One specific example is how our community rallied around teacher Yvette when she was unexpectedly widowed. Teachers asked that their pay be given to Yvette instead of keeping it themselves. Alison taught a benefit class where our students gave generously. People are still donating. Beautiful. Thank you.
  2. Community support: There are too many instances to list here, but one that pops into mind is sweet yogini Laura H, who, although she receives nothing in return, volunteers to keep our towels clean and folded – I’m grateful, because she offered to help when she saw I was overwhelmed.
  3. Generous gestures: We are expanding next door…. On a serious budget. When I asked our teachers and support staff to lend a hand in the build out process, most everyone volunteered their time to help. And, when students got wind, some of them asked to come, too. I know weekend time is valuable, and I thank you for supporting the studio. You are truly a check in the faith in humanity column.

Many times over the past 15 years, I’ve asked myself why I love yoga. Everyone’s motivation for their practice is different, but how do I define this peculiar thing I do that entails tying myself in a knot, and watching my breath and my thoughts, and then lying down on the floor to pretend to be dead?

The answers vary depending on where I was in my life, but one thing has remained constant: I began practicing, and I continue practicing, because I am looking for…something.

That “something” has sometimes been ego-based, sometimes been a deep desire to ease my own suffering, but today, now, that something is our community.

That’s what I love best.



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India on my mind.

This month I’m thinking all things India – mainly because at exactly this time next year, Heather and I, along with a group of lovely yogis, will be unwinding on South India’s white sandy beaches.

India is also on my mind because, as of tomorrow, Saturday at 4:30pm, we’ve added a traditional Ashtanga practice to our class offerings.  I first fell in love with Ashtanga, a style of yoga from which today’s vinyasa practices are built, early on in my practice.  After a little haitus, my love of Ashtanga was re-kindled during my India travels last March.

Enter Holly Menzies, who trained at the Jois Institute in India and is one of a handful of instructors in the state  who is authorized by Patthabi Jois himself to teach.  We’re thrilled that she’s joining our Twist Yoga teaching sangha.  Welcome, Holly!

So, in honor of India, please enjoy a newsletter rerun from April, 2102:

Top 10 List:  Pieces of advice, should you be considering a trip to India.

  1. Never turn your back on a monkey.
  2. Practice using traditional Indian toilets (AKA a 4” hole in the floor) prior to an urgent call. Try standing (squatting), instead of sitting, on your own throne at home.  First, though, minimize the size of the bowl by 75%.
  3. A Mumbai taxi driver makes NYC cabbies look like they’re driving Miss Daisy.  Make sure he has a shrine to Ganesha, Jesus or Allah on his dash.  You’ll need to pray to all three to make it to your destination alive.
  4. Never smile at an Indian immigration agent.  It makes you look guilty.  (Enough said.)
  5. If you plan on eating street food, pack Imodium AD.
  6. Never, ever, drink the water.  And, by the way, ice is made of water.  And smoothies contain ice.
  7. If you engage in #5 or #6, double down your practice of #2. (no pun intended).
  8. The typical Indian speaking voice is two or three decibels higher than ours.  Do not be alarmed when they yell at each other (or you).
  9. Cows know they’re sacred in India and can (and will) cause the mother of all traffic jams during rush hour in downtown Mumbai.
  10. Never believe a taxi driver when he claims he knows where something is.  Even when he knows your destination (say “La Plage” restaurant in Goa) it’s likely he’ll take you to his brother-in-law’s establishment across town instead.

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Ditch the Resolution. Join the Evolution.

New Year’s Resolution, Jan 1, 1999:  “I resolve to give up cheese.” 

This I discovered, double underlined, in a 14-year-old journal I pulled out of a box last week.

I cannot recall writing this particular statement of genius, but I was 29 (an especially rough year), and since every New Year’s Day in my 20s (and most years since then, if I’m really honest with myself) I resolved I’d be skinny by Valentine’s Day, it’s safe to assume that said resolution was a thinly veiled declaration to lose 10 pounds.

Never mind the fact that when I was 29 I weighed 128 pounds.  And thought I was fat.  Lordy, how we women beat ourselves up.

By Jan 7, 1999, I’m sure my cheese resolution read more like this:  “I resolve to give up cheese, except on pizza.”  By Jan 14?  Add “…unless I’m hungover –or- …. unless there happen to be nachos nearby.” 

It’s safe to say all of my resolutions have undoubtedly evolved into an exercise in failure and self-loathing.

Come to think of it, I have yet to meet one person who has succeeded – and by ‘succeeded’, I mean become a genuinely happier person – at the hands of a typical New Year’s Resolution, because the standard results-driven resolutions (No more smoking, gym every day at 6am) are based upon the ego’s fear or desire. They almost always fail because they are born from the assumption that who we are is not good enough, and reinforce the mistaken belief that we will be happy…. if only I could give up cheese.

Once it’s down on paper, the idea that happiness will come from an absence of a dairy product sounds absurd, no?

Try this? Say this sentence out loud (or better yet, announce it to a friend –or a stranger on the bus, ha!):  “I will be content & happy with my entire life as soon as I (insert your resolution here).”

If it sounds crazy when you say it out loud, here’s an idea: Ditch the resolution(s) you made on Jan 1.  Burn them, toss them, or if you’re from the Pacific Northwest, fold it into the compost pile.

Instead, why not consider the ritual my rock star (metaphoric rock star, not literal) cousin, Bruce Littlefield, completes every January 1?

Upon awaking on the first day of each year, Bruce makes a list of the things his heart wishes for each year. He puts his wish list in an envelope, seals it and sticks it in his unmentionables drawer.

Then, according to Bruce, “I sit in bed every New Year’s Day and open my list from the previous year… I’m always amazed at how the list manifested itself (without the pressure of a “resolution”!)”

For help with your own list, scroll down.

Oh, and here are Bruce’s ALWAYS GO TO secrets for a happy life:

  • Tip 1: Laugh. A lot!
  • Tip 2: Plant a garden.
  • Tip 3: Eat fresh food.
  • Tip 4: Make things look good.
  • Tip 5: Embrace uncertainty.
  • Tip 6: Adopt a best friend.
  • Tip 7: Exercise until you feel good.
  • Tip 8: Figure out your family.
  • Tip 9: Live for the moment.
  • Tip 10: Celebrate the talents of others.

Twist Yoga Wishes all of us peace and joy… and to you and yours a magnificent 2013.

Revise Your Resolution:  Create your own Wish List.

When making your list, use the yogic practice of sankalpa – a practice that starts from the radical premise that you already are who you need to be.  You’re perfect the way you are; you need only (oh, is that all?) to figure out your most heartfelt desires to channel the divine energy within.

Contemplate how you would like to feel during the coming year. Is there any way you can reframe your results-oriented resolutions into something that will make this year’s journey more joyful?

To separate the ego from the heart’s desires, consider these examples:

  • The weight-based example:  Say you’ve set the common masochistic goal resolution of losing 10 pounds. Imagine how life will be, and how you think you will feel, as a result of losing weight. Is it a sense of self-love, physical well-being, or freedom? What is the feeling you are striving for? What is the longing in your heart that is pointing you in this direction?
  • The deprivation-based example:  Perhaps you’ve decided to quit something.  Smoking?  A toxic relationship?  To investigate the heartfelt desire behind this kind of intention, ask yourself what desire that behavior is currently trying to satisfy. Are you seeking peace of mind, freedom from pain, or the feeling of being accepted? What’s asking to be nourished here?

Create a short sentence(s) for your sankalpa. Be careful not to set limitations based on fear. For example, instead of “May life bring me only happiness and joy this year” consider “May I be happy and open to what life brings me.”

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Jen’s Favorite Things. Like Oprah’s, only cheaper.

It’s smack dab in the middle of the holidays, and things have been a little hectic lately, so I’ll just leave you with some of my favorite things:

– I feel like I’ve finally made it!  Here’s why:

– Who ISN’T writing a yoga memoir? But this one is a sweet little gem: accessible, honest and down to earth:

– Portlandia. Meditation. (No explanation needed.)  Ha!:

–  Twist Yoga’s name must come up on a Google search for yoga retail, because I get a fair amount of email from vendors who want to sell me their crap exciting new yoga products.  Normally I delete, but I couldn’t resist this little Hennaed Ganesha number, which we now carry at the studio:

Lately on the mat, I’ve been noticing my tendency to back away from poses that challenge me.  This is known in the yoga scriptures as dvesha, or aversion, and also one of the tendencies that keeps us suffering.  I think my new boyfriend  Wesley Schultz from The Lumineers said it best (at minute 1:10): “It’s better to feel pain.”  (Sitting with emotional pain, of course, not a sharp sensation in, say, your knee).

Be well, be safe, be loved.  Happy Season, Yogis.


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Symptoms of Busyness Syndrome

I recently dated a guy; let’s call him Guy*,  who reacted with a certain level of alarm when I described a book I was currently reading. 

 He exclaimed, “You read?!”  

I laughed, thinking he was joking.  He was not.  “What?  READ?  Who has TIME?” 

It was that disappointing moment on a date where, in an instant, you go from excited to “meh”.   As an avid reader, I enjoyed that banter that exists in the company of another bibliophile.  It was if he announced, between bites of his prime rib, that both of “The Bush Boys” were fantastic presidents.  (True story.  Different guy.)

Despite the knowledge that Guy* wasn’t for me (there were other clues – it wasn’t just about the books), our relationship limped along for several more months.  During that time, every time I suggested a “do nothing” activity like a day at the beach or restorative yoga, I might as well have handed him a crack pipe.

Like so many of us (myself included), I suspect Guy* suffers from Busyness Syndrome. (Albeit with a touch of ADD – once I caught him playing on the escalator at the Seattle Art Museum; 20 minutes after he excused himself to the men’s room.)

Busyness Syndrome Self Quiz. 

Carefully read each statement and answer yes/no to each. Yes to 3 or more answers indicates chronic busyness syndrome.  Seek help from your yoga instructor immediately.

  1. Your days are packed: from the time you wake up until the time you go to sleep 
  2. You have a constant breathless, stress-addicted feeling of having way too much to do and way too little time to do it
  3. Zero ability to sit still and relax 
  4. Agitation at the least little thing
  5. You have difficulty focu—OOH SQUIRREL!!!

Where was I? ….Let’s start over. 

  1. You have an overwhelming sense that something is wrong or missing but everything appears to be in order
  2. You NEVER enough time
  3. Your feelings of inadequacy increase as your laundry list of things to do grows longer by the second
  4. You realize you’re muttering to yourself only when your children ask you what you’re saying.

About two years ago I begun to sense the toll busyness was taking on my own life.  Back then I shared my stress concerns with my internist and she suggested a Xanax prescription and a nightly glass of red wine.  Nice.

As I said to my doctor, I have two speeds:  On and Off.  When I’m “on”,  I’m VERY productive:  I work and work until I am ready to drop.  And then I do.  Drop. By crashing into bed, or getting sick, or pushing myself to the brink of a nervous breakdown. 

See:  On.  Or Off.   Where is the balance there? 

My busyness symptoms started early in life: I recall, with a certain amount of pride, that my elementary school teachers noted “JENNY USES TIME WISELY” on my report card. 

Proud little multi-tasker I was.  Yessiree. 

Even at that time, I was confusing (as so many do) busyness with meaning.  Constant busyness was my attempt at approval; it meant I was successful and good.

The current level of stress in our culture is unrelenting – and causes a host of physical and emotional illnesses.  To balance that level of stress, we need space to feel; we need to rest.  And by rest, I don’t mean sleep.  Rest & sleep are two distinct psychological states and we need both of them.  And we’re not getting enough of either.

Restorative Yoga is a great place to begin slowing down.  During the supported postures of restorative yoga, your nervous system says, “you’re safe.” When you’re safe, your body and brain relax. 

And in those moments of relaxation, our thoughts no longer take over our bodies and minds – then comes the release of tension, anxiety and stress.

It can be a slow, difficult process to let go of our attachment to be busyness.  But I invite you to take the first step:  Drop in to a Restorative Class on Friday evenings at Twist. 

Or better yet, join us for our Restorative Immersion Training at Twist Yoga from Nov 9-11.  This 20 hour intensive study of restorative, yin yoga and yoga nidra will give you the tools and information to cultivate your own set of rest and renew yoga practices. Then, you can share the practice with your family and loved ones.

See our website for additional information on our immersion:

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Fall. The most chaotic season

Teaching a class the other day, I found myself completely butchering my lefts and rights:

“Now inhale and step your left foot between your hands.  No, I mean your RIGHT foot. Is it left? Are we on our right or left? Did we do this side? Wait a minute. I meant step your right foot in front of your left FOOT. Not between your hands! Okay.  Where were we?”

Gah! My confusion comes from the attempts to mirror – a maddening technique where a teacher will demonstrate on their right, but call it left in order to create less confusion in your audience.  Right.  Quite simply, it blows my mind.

I struggle with the practice of mirroring on a normal day, but even more so as we transition to fall – a time of year that leaves me feeling agitated and have always met with mixed emotions.

(Of course, attempts to mirror in job #1 (yoga teacher) comes with a permanent sense of confusion in job #2 (high school teacher) when it comes to left and right.  The other day, I was talking a teenaged student through a spreadsheet, all the while barking, “scroll to the left, scroll to your left, scroll to your OTHER left.”)  

The transition into fall has a tendency to call our attention to chaos and lack of equanimity in our lives. We shift into different routines, our diet & sleep habits change with the temperatures, the passing of Autumnal Equinox has the days getting shorter…. The uncertainty of which tends to throw us off our game.

Being a lover of the summer, (and a school teacher) fall always meant summer was over and that was NOT a good thing.  I’ve always loved the light, the heat, the food, and the overall spirit of summer.  Growing up, I always felt a sense of loss as autumn rolled in because the darkness of winter has always been my most challenging season.

Which is why, if you’ve practiced with me lately, you might’ve noticed my preoccupation with balance.

Because, whether I liked it or not, I’ve learned through my yoga practice that it’s much easier to live in harmony with the seasons instead of fighting them.

Fall can be a beautiful time of year with the very special purpose of balancing out the summer with the coming winter.  It is the stabilizing force that allows all of nature (including us) to prepare for and adapt to the colder, darker months ahead.  Through my practice, I’ve learned to more fully appreciate the need for balance in nature which, just like us, is always changing.  So, in that, I am working toward appreciating this time of year for what it is rather than what I wish it could be.

As we move into fall, it is a good time go inward – to notice where we feel uneasy, unbalanced, as well as to reflect on all that we are grateful for and to transition into this cycle just as nature does, with ease and grace.


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The DOGA Sutras: What your Dog Can Teach You About Yoga

Lucy the dog was sentenced to wear a plastic Elizabethan cone by our vet for a month, a time frame which she has pointed out –by the look in her soft, brown retriever eyes-   is like 7 months in dog years.  

As I write she’s sitting across the room in front of the floor lamp.  They appear to be identical twins, separated at birth. 

The ‘Cone of Shame,’ (aptly named from the movie “Up” as a torture device worn by Dug, a golden retriever with about the same amount of intelligence as my Lucy) has been a regular fixture in our household for the past 30 days. Although we’ve (and by “we” I mean the dog) all learned to adapt, it hasn’t always been easy.

As we left the vet’s office wearing our new accessory, we encountered a canine contemporary in the lobby. Lucy growled uncharacteristically, then hung her head.  I imagined her capitulating: “Listen, I know I look absurd now, but believe-you-me, I am considerably more intimidating without the cone.”

In the beginning, she wasn’t good with the new spacial boundaries and was constantly crashing into stuff.  Like the back of my legs, which is why I have 25 moon-shaped bruises on my calves.  She was also getting stuck on things. Like drywall and doorways.    

I laughed at her and despite her low IQ, I think she knew it.  She was not pleased.

Then, on day two – coincidentally during one of my especially premenstrual days- I caught that ASPCA commercial where Sarah McLachlan sings “I will remember you” and sobbing, curled apologetically around Lucy on the floor.

Soon after, she simply got over the cone.  And moved on with her life.

Incredible.  I challenge you to name one human whose cone-sentence wouldn’t ruin their year.  Because, unlike our canine friends, our resistance to circumstances that we cannot change creates suffering.

But dogs, now, they are another story.  They would make amazing yoga teachers, for they are the picture of adaptability and contentment. (Otherwise known as Santosha, one of the Niyamas in the 8 Limbs of Yoga.) 

Dogs come by the 8 Limbs naturally.  (Have you ever seen the pointed focus of a dog stalking a squirrel? Dharana, anyone?) Our dog friends could teach us a lot about yoga, so in honor of them I’ve compiled the following list:  I call it “The DOGA (get it?!  “Doga.”  Instead of Yoga.) Sutras.”

The Doga Sutras

  1. Love unconditionally
  2. Live in the moment
  3. Be humble
  4. Say you’re sorry and forgive easily (including yourself)
  5. Stand by & comfort those who need it
  6. Wag your tail at everyone, even if they yelled at you 10 minutes ago
  7. Put your loved ones before yourself
  8. Protect your family
  9. Show your true feelings & be with them
  10. Know that walks outside are the most exciting thing in the world

Finally, as a dog owner, when you come home to a 90 pound, wagging mass of I-AM-SO-GLAD-YOU’RE-HOME, it’s the ultimate reminder that just us, the literal fact that we are who we are, is good enough.

It reminds me of one of the lines from one of my favorite poems:

Even after all this time

The sun never says to the earth,
 “You owe Me.”

Look what happens
with a love like that.

It lights the whole sky.

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