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Posts Tagged ‘yoga’

red white blue collage

Summer has (finally) arrived – hot and bright, and fuller than I had expected, at least so far. It’s the slow season at work, since classes are out for the summer, but there’s plenty to catch up on, and meanwhile I am squeezing in time with my people whenever I can.

Here’s what’s saving my life in this season:

  • Mary Oliver’s wonderful collection Blue Iris, in which I have been lingering for weeks. Her flower poems – especially “Sunflowers,” “Poppies” and “Peonies” – have captivated me, and “A Blessing” chokes me up every time.
  • Yoga, whenever and however I can squeeze it in. I particularly love three of the teachers at my studio: sweet, bouncy Erin; warm, wise Gina; and Maeve, whose Irish accent is an extra treat.
  • Several spur-of-the-moment dinners with friends: Tex-Mex food around our kitchen table (with homemade guacamole), tall sweating glasses of lemonade and good talk. Tapas and arepas eaten outside on warm evenings in Brookline and Cambridge, with red wine and so many stories. There’s nothing like being together.
  • The flowers around Cambridge: day lilies in every shade of orange and red, hedges of fragrant jasmine, fences dripping with honeysuckle, the beginnings of hydrangea. And the roses.

red lilies

  • The words I heard coming out of my own mouth as I stood behind the communion table last Sunday: this is a story of love, from the beginning. (I am not sure where that sentence came from, but I needed to hear it.)
  • Long walks around Cambridge, no matter the weather: sometimes alone, sometimes with a dear friend.
  • The fact that my geraniums – which I really thought had given up the ghost after this long, grey winter and spring – are blooming like they mean it.
  • My morning tea, brewed strong in a purple travel mug: currently either MEM Tea ginger peach or Lady Baker’s Blooming Blueberry (from Cambridge and PEI, respectively).
  • New shoes that are making my feet so happy: comfy, stylish black Clarks wedges.

in the shelter book red pants black wedges

  • It would go without saying, except I can’t not mention it: my daily trips to Darwin’s, for nourishment on many levels. Hot tea in the morning, English muffins dripping with butter, iced jasmine tea lemonade, smiles and chitchat with my favorite staff members. They are so good to me there.
  • Talking to the twentysomething at the farm stand who started a student food pantry at her college.
  • A few books that are speaking to my soul in all the best ways: Molly Yeh’s wisecracking, mouthwatering cookbook, Pádraig Ó Tuama’s luminous memoir (above), Mary Oliver and some really fun fiction.

What’s saving your life these days? Please share, if you’d like.

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Heartened

red gold leaves ground

By the brilliant, joyful student performance of In the Heights I saw at Berklee College of Music on Friday night. And the powerful, lovely original song the cast performed after the curtain call (written by Zaid Tabani, who played Usnavi and is wicked talented).

By the wise, thoughtful voices of faculty members at my workplace, who are drawing on their expertise and experience to help make sense of what happened and what is next.

By conversations with friends and strangers, and the quiet sense that we are taking care of each other in small ways.

By the gentle, steadying atmosphere at my local yoga studio, where I have been showing up more frequently this month.

By the conversation I overheard the other day between two young men, one of whom is a playwright, about the responsibility and power of art and artists at a time like this.

By the friendly, supportive, determined conversations on Twitter and elsewhere that have helped me process my feelings and also figure out a few practical things to do. (First and foremost: so much listening.)

By the oak leaves in every shade of gold, red, russet and deep brown. I was afraid we wouldn’t have much color after a dry, hot summer, but the trees this fall are stunning.

By a brief conversation I had with the mayor of Providence, R.I., about the good work being done in government at the local level. (He was visiting campus for a conference, and probably has no idea how much his words encouraged me.)

By the spindly, twinkly “giving trees” on the steps of Memorial Church in Harvard Yard, covered in messages of hope. (And this separate message of hope, below.)

refugees welcome sign trees

Nearly two weeks post-election and it still feels like a new, fragile reality around here. We are heading into the holidays, which I love, but also into the shortest and darkest days of the year, which are hard for me. (I have never been more ready for Advent, which, for me, is a way to look the darkness steadily in the face and then light candles against it.)

I am still sad, frustrated and heartbroken, but I’ve also found myself heartened by the glimmers of hope I shared above. We have – I keep saying – so much work to do. As we move forward together (and head into Thanksgiving week here in the U.S.), I’d love to hear what is bolstering you up, these days.

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Sanctuary

yoga mat leggings

A few weeks ago on a chilly Monday night, I was in my usual Monday-night place: lying on my back on a green yoga mat, in a dim, quiet wood-floored studio with early spring dusk coming in through the windows.

We had just finished an hour of yoga practice: warrior poses and sun salutations and deep breaths in downward facing dog. Meredith’s usual class playlist – acoustic guitar and mellow peace-on-earth lyrics mixed with a little rock ‘n’ roll – thrummed through our muscles and our eardrums. As we lay there, breathing in savasana (the final resting pose), a new song came over the speakers, a song I hadn’t heard in years.

Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary
Pure and holy, tried and true…

The singer’s voice slid over the familiar words, eliding the “l” in “Lord” until the word became a simple “o” sound. I knew what was coming next:

With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living
Sanctuary for you.

We talk a lot in yoga class about being present in our bodies, about making space for breath and peace and good things. About letting go of tension and worry and the unhelpful stories we tell ourselves. I have never heard the word “sanctuary” used explicitly in a yoga context, but the concept is definitely there. I couldn’t help smiling, though: my memories of the song “Sanctuary” come from a very different place.

I was one of those Jesus-freak kids in high school: the ones who wore WWJD bracelets and T-shirts emblazoned with catchy Christianese, who led Bible studies before school and knew all the words to the latest DC Talk and Newsboys albums. In small-town West Texas, this did not make me a total outsider, but it did make me a little odd. And, on Thursdays during lunchtime, it meant that I wolfed down taquitos and Bagel Bites with other students in a church gymnasium down the street from my high school, and then got up on a makeshift stage to lead a few praise songs.

Most people, I realized, came for the free food, instead of the spiritual enrichment offered by a prayer and a handful of worship choruses. The songs with goofy hand motions – “Peace Like a River,” for example – were the most popular. But during my senior year, “Sanctuary” became the sleeper hit. We usually sang a song or two and then took requests, and a few kids I knew slightly from marching band would shout, “Sanctuary! Sanctuary!” from their seats at the back of the room.

Maybe they liked the sound of the word (or were channeling Quasimodo). Maybe they liked the melody, played on guitar – different from the piano or the organ that accompanied the hymns they heard on Sundays when their parents dragged them to church. Maybe they just wanted to see if we’d actually sing the same song every single week. I never asked them, so I don’t know. But I stood up there and sang it every time, hoping that somehow it would bring them a little peace or light or whatever they needed. Because I understood even then that we can sometimes be sanctuary for each other.

I never expected to hear that song in a non-religious yoga studio south of Boston. I don’t know if Meredith, my instructor, is a Christian, or if she came across the song and liked the way it sounded. But that studio, with its leaf-green walls and smooth wood floors, has become a kind of sanctuary for me. And it is true that what we do on our mats – those deep breaths and stretches and difficult-but-empowering poses – prepares us for what we do out in the wider world.

Meredith’s playlist varies from week to week, so I don’t know when “Sanctuary” will come up again. But I like both the word and the idea (not to mention the song’s soothing melody). I like the thought of both finding a safe place for ourselves and being one for those who need it. Because heaven knows we could all use a little sanctuary in our lives.

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bare feet green yoga mat

I mentioned last week that this is the summer of yoga in the morning – a short (15- or 30-minute) session with my Yoga Studio app almost every day. I get up (after hitting snooze a time or two), put in my contacts, get a drink of water, and unroll my green yoga mat in my dining room, often stepping onto it still in my pajamas.

I am about the farthest thing from a gym rat. I don’t love to sweat and I don’t care for most exercise classes, the exception being the yoga class I attend at a local studio almost every Monday night. But I’ve long thought that I should cultivate a habit of exercising more often than once a week. As Gretchen Rubin says, “What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.”

Yoga (at least the way I do it) is a gentle form of exercise that still gives me a chance to push myself. I like trying new poses, and I’m not as terrified of them as I once was. (This is largely due to my instructor, Meredith, and her gentle, no-nonsense encouragement as we bend and stretch and attempt new poses together.) I nearly killed myself attempting a quad stretch during pigeon pose last month – but I can now hold a crow pose (!) for a few seconds without falling. Progress.

I also like the way yoga makes me feel: stretchy, like a rubber band; strong, when I’m able to hold a lunge or a squat or a push-up (also known as warrior, chair and chaturanga poses). I like the way it helps to clear my head, the way it gently nudges me to focus on my body, here in the moment, and breathe. And when Ali Edwards mentioned this app on her blog back in January, I thought I’d give it a go.

The key for me with morning yoga (as in so many areas of my life) is progress, not perfection. Or, alternatively, it’s simply showing up, and doing the work. I tend to beat myself up for not doing “enough” or not doing things “the right way,” but the wise words of my first yoga instructor, McKay, still reverberate in my head: There is no judgment or competition in yoga. It is difficult, but vital, to remember for a perfectionist like me.

This daily yoga isn’t magic: there are some mornings I don’t want to get on the mat, and some mornings I skip altogether. It doesn’t always defuse my tension or calm my racing brain. But it frequently does. And that pocket of peace in the early morning – as the sunshine slants in across the wood floor, amid the crowded bookshelves in the center of our apartment – is enough.

Do you practice yoga, or another form of exercise? How do you find it benefits you?

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bare feet green yoga mat

Bare feet – one of my favorite things about summer.

Last week’s pedicure (in a color called She’s Pampered).

Morning yoga. Sandal tan lines. Sunshine.

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2015 favorite books

I read a lot, as y’all know – I’m almost at 100 books for the year. And we are (somehow) halfway through the year already, so here are the books I have loved the most over the last six months:

Frothiest, Sauciest, Most Fun Chick Lit: The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan. Oxford, true love, tightly knit sibling bonds and a gaggle of quirky, loyal friends – what more could I ask for?

Most Insightful Memoir on Work & Life: Hammer Head by Nina MacLaughlin. A thoughtful, sensitive exploration of writing, carpentry and building a good life.

Best New Installment in a Beloved Series: A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear. Classic Maisie Dobbs in a fresh new setting, with new challenges. I will follow Maisie to the ends of the earth.

Smart, Witty, Utterly Delightful Sherlockiana: The Great Detective by Zach Dundas. A fantastic exploration of the Holmes phenomenon (past and present).

Best Book on Yoga & Life: Do Your Om Thing by Rebecca Pacheco.

Cheeriest British Fictional Companion: Mrs. Tim, aka Hester Christie. I enjoyed every page of the four books about her.

Most Evocative Travel Memoir: Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr. So many beautiful sentences.

Best Retelling of a Legend I Thought I Knew: Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen, which made me fall in love with Robin Hood all over again. (I still have a crush on the handsome fox from the Disney movie.)

Most Delicious Memoir of Food & Marriage: Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard, which I reviewed at Great New Books.

Snarkiest, Most Entertaining YA Novel: Lois Lane: Fallout by Gwenda Bond.

Spunkiest Cozy Mystery Series: the adventures of Daisy Dalrymple.

Loveliest Story of a Quiet Life Well Lived: Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse by Faith Sullivan (out in September).

What are the best books you’ve read so far this year? I’d love to hear about them.

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april books red orange

Apparently I’m following a color scheme with my books lately. (Even the tulips match.)

I know April isn’t quite over, but here’s what I have been reading:

Things You Won’t Say, Sarah Pekkanen
Jamie Anderson knows the risks of being a cop’s wife: her husband Mike faces danger on the job, every day. But when Mike is involved in two shootings just months apart, their family’s whole life changes. A gutsy, timely book, but not my favorite of Pekkanen’s novels. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 26).

Do Your Om Thing: Bending Yoga Tradition to Fit Your Modern Life, Rebecca Pacheco
I bought this book after reading Lindsey’s enthusiastic review. Pacheco demystifies yoga philosophy (chakras, koshas, deities) and gives practical suggestions for integrating yoga into your life on and off the mat. Warmhearted, wise and down-to-earth. Loved it.

Murder at the Breakers, Alyssa Maxwell
Society reporter Emma Cross may be “just” a poor cousin of the wealthy Vanderbilts, but that doesn’t stop her from investigating when their financial secretary is murdered – and her brother is the prime suspect. A so-so mystery plot, but the setting (Gilded Age Newport, RI) is really fun.

The Precious One, Marisa de los Santos
Taisy Cleary hasn’t seen her autocratic father, Wilson, in 17 years. But when he calls asking her to come home, she says yes – and forms a surprising bond with her teenage stepsister, Willow. I love de los Santos’ lyrical writing and her sensitive explorations of family, and this one is just lovely.

Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter, Nina MacLaughlin
After spending her twenties staring at a computer screen, MacLaughlin longed for more tangible work – so she dove headfirst into the world of carpentry. A stunningly written, wise memoir about work and identity and building a meaningful life. Recommended by Kerry.

Murder at Marble House, Alyssa Maxwell
Emma Cross’s second adventure finds her investigating the death of a fortune teller and her cousin Consuelo Vanderbilt’s sudden disappearance – which may or may not be connected. Fun to see these characters again (and the mystery was better this time).

The World on a Plate: 40 Cuisines, 100 Recipes and the Stories Behind Them, Mina Holland
Holland gives readers a quick tour of 40 regional cuisines, mixing culinary history with recipes and a little memoir. Fun; best suited for flipping through. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 26).

Fatal Reservations, Lucy Burdette
Hayley Snow, Key West food critic and amateur sleuth, investigates the death of a local juggler (hoping to exonerate a friend of hers who’s implicated). I like this series, but this entry felt disjointed. Out July 7 (I received a copy from the publisher).

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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