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Thoughts on branching out / how i'm like a tomato plant


Quick recap if I didn’t see you last week: A few months ago, I got a tomato seedling – this was a big deal, as I haven’t even been able to keep succulents alive in the past and the only other greenery in my apartment is a picture of a plant that I stuck in the pot of the last plant that I killed. I became very invested in watering it, occasionally singing to it, and turning it every so often so that it would grow up straight as it grew towards the sunlight.

This worked for a while – the seedling sprouted more leaves, its stem thickened to the point of woodiness at the base, and it got much taller. But at about six weeks, the amount of growth seemed to overwhelm the plant – I thought it might snap off at the middle. So I acquired a garden stake, and tied it to the stem in a few places. It looked a lot happier, and this week, voila! Little tomato flowers, and then little tiny tomatoes began to appear!

If only the support we needed to become steady, blossom and bear fruit could be acquired for a buck at the hardware store. But what I hope this story shows is that sometimes we need to look outside our immediate environment for support. A few years ago, my yoga practice seemed to provide for so many of my needs. I gleaned so much from it - greater peace around body image and perfectionism, friendships, party trick poses that I never thought I'd be able to do. I wanted to do it more than I wanted to run or lift anything, so I relegated my sneakers to the occasional hike and stayed away from the dumbbells, because I was getting enough strength from all my chatarangas, right? I also started teaching more – a lot more, and for the most part stopped applying to non-yoga jobs. I even stopped applying to yoga jobs that didn’t fit a fairly narrow definition of how I myself wanted to practice. I felt very loose and free in my body, and I was given a lot of latitude in how I wanted to teach by mainly working with independent studios and schools and offering free classes at shelters, but I also felt unsteady in a lot of ways. I believed that I would never ever hold a handstand or a 9-to-5 job – that was just not how I thought my body or my brain worked.

As I learned more about functional movement and what’s missing in vinyasa-land, including some research about longtime yogis who have become injured possibly because of an over-emphasis on flexibility and resisting pain messages among other matters, I snuck in more non-traditional movements. (Have you been in a class where we in between some vinyasas, we worked our glutes, inner thighs, or core in a way that felt more pilates-esque or old-school gym class than old-school yoga? Sometimes I worry that you’re annoyed and are thinking “THIS ISN’T YOGA!!” But mostly I think that you’ll feel stronger and more stable, so, you’re welcome.) I lace up my sneakers more often to walk and occasionally jog around my neighborhood, I hike, I march in the streets for protests, I dance to music that is too loud and fast to end up in a yoga playlist, and sometimes I even pick up my dumbbells. Classical yoga asana (both active and restorative) and meditation is still a bigger part of my daily life than any other practice, and I credit it for most of my wellbeing. But I don’t depend on it solely to keep me upright and productive, because the reality for me is that it isn’t enough right now. I feel so, so much stronger when my stretchy-flowy-sweet yoga practice is in balance with other movement practices.

For better or worse, the same is true of my professional life. A few years ago, my teaching schedule spanned from 6:30 am to 10 p.m. on some days, I taught every day, I taught 3 year olds to seniors, beginners to longtime practitioners. I learned how to approach this practice in a multitude of ways, and got to see how lots and lots of different bodies moved and responded to my cues and sequences (and games for the younger crowd). For the most part, I think it made me a better teacher. But I also felt exhausted frequently and worried about how I’d keep it up as I got older. So I gave up some group classes as I started to teach more students one-on-one and at work to help sustain me financially and energetically. This gave me more space to stay up to date on movement research, sleep, and develop Calmaraderie, our collective of service-minded yogis. I felt better about my direction, but the same fears about being self-employed and whether I was doing enough to live my values surfaced. I’m generally of the opinion that we can’t really push away our thoughts in meditation – they’re there for a reason. We can look at them, accept them, and see what’s underneath them. Take action surrounding the thoughts that repeatedly come up. This is hard work – there have been times in my life where I feel myself avoiding meditation and slower-paced yoga because I don’t want to face the fears that rise to the surface when I become still.

So this fall, I’m going outside my familiar container and starting a part-time masters program in social work. I’m telling myself that I’m taking baby steps – seeing how the first semester goes before I commit myself to the second year of the program – and staying open to all the possibilities that present themselves as I move through it. I might discover that I’m best off returning to teaching full time. But I think it’s more likely that by taking on purposeful study and work that isn’t directly tied to my teaching, I’ll be more focused in how, why and what I teach, and more grounded and stable in other areas of my life.

I hope that as you too dive deep into your mindfulness practice, it will reveal the things outside of it that you need to support yourself, grow, and affect change inside and outside your life. There’s a mythic, up-by-your bootstraps way of thinking in some spheres of yogaland that tells us that if we practice enough, all other things will fall into place. I hope that we can recognize that that isn’t true for most people – the less affluent, the stigmatized, the disenfranchised – but that our practice can lead us towards action that can realign the world, not just our spines.

with abundant hope,