December 31, 2011

Finding Balance on New Year's Eve

Since I proclaimed 2011 to be the Year of Balance I found it fitting that I went kayaking this morning on the Oakland Estuary. It was a peaceful reminder of how much balance I have found in 2011.

Balance of life-work
Balance of body in yoga
Balance of breath in pranayama
Balance on the water
Balance in trusting my intuition
Balance in teaching and learning
Balance in loving who I am and loving others
Balance in sharing experiences with friends, family and on my own

My intention is to carry forward this balance as I welcome 2012, The Year of Being Present.

December 30, 2011

Filling in the Blanks in Memory Lane

This evening I'm in a town in which I lived four lifetimes ago. As Ij drive down each street it is like a painting that has faded, being filled in with renewed details and colors. Unexpectedly, the emotions are flooding back too.

Driving past my old apartment I had to stop and catch my breath. My life was so different then. I lived so poor and had no vision for the future. It was a sad time. My life is so much more illuminated now. Thankfully I am fearless about change. Otherwise, what and who would I now be if I continued living that life, or the subsequent others?

December 29, 2011

December 27, 2011

Yoga Mats on a Line

My fellow yogi Lisa and I are washing yoga mats this afternoon and here they are drying on a clothes line. We're having fun in this secret Oakland yard of a Victorian filled with gardens, ceramics and a beautiful black cat. Feels like I'm back on Ithaca.

December 22, 2011

The Year of Being Present

Since 2009 I have set an intention for each year. First it was The Year of Amy, then in 2010 it was The Year of Living My Dreams and this year has been The Year of Balance. For 2012 my intention is The Year of Being Present.

Being Present means using my senses. My default is to think about the past and future, building fantasies. This is essential to who I am because I am a creator, imaginer, facilitator, and teacher. However, my intention for 2012 is to stay grounded in the present by using my senses and experiencing what is happening in the moment. At the same time, I will tap into my strong intuition to Be Present in how each sense contributes to my Being. My habit has been to be lost in ideas, not sensing how I am being impacted in the present, ultimately missing the moment.

Examples of using my senses include:

  • Seeing others and knowing that I am being seen. It has taken me 42.10 years to realize that I think that people do not see me and that I am cautious about making eye contact. 
  • Hearing and knowing that I am being heard. Speaking deliberately, clearly, thoughtfully, and allowing time and space for others to do the same - students, friends, family, and even strangers. 
  • Touching and allowing myself to be touched. For example, when a friend reaches out to tap my forearm to make a point or get my attention. I've started leaning into these touches instead of instinctively pulling away.
  • Tasting and savoring what I eat. This is an inspiration from my sister's blog post: Eating in Sacredness. Slow down, enjoy and honor what I taste and smell. 
  • Feeling and recognizing emotions. Sometimes my emotions can be overwhelming or confusing; Being Present with what I am experiencing and honoring those emotions is my intent. The same is true with others' emotions. I do not have to fix them or take them on, just allow the other person to know that I see them, hear them, respect them, and perhaps I can even reach out and touch them. 
  • Slowing down. I think fast, move fast, act fast, and respond quickly. I wear these actions like a Badge of Honor for Cleverness. This is the perfect ingredient for being wrapped up in me with no room for seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, or feeling what is happening now. As another of my inspired yoga instructors, Vickie Russell Bell, says "Notice, what is happening now?"
My sister's blog post, Eating in Sacredness, has a wonderful statement about my niece Being Present. "Chetana makes the sign for "butterfly" when she sees a beautiful painting for the first time or when she points excitedly in the store at a book on the shelf and says "boon boon" having recognized a-just-like-home copy of "Goodnight Moon," or stands up in her bed first thing in the morning making kissing sounds to let us know she's awake...well, life is full of beautiful details."

How am I going to practice Being Present? In my Advanced Yoga Studies program we learned a 12 breaths exercise to prepare for Pranayama. It sounds deceptively simple, you pause, take 12 natural breaths in and out, and just observe without altering your breathing. This is harder than you can imagine and the result is that the observation of these 12 breaths grounds you in the moment. 

December 21, 2011

Winter Solstice

How ironic that last night at my cousin Diana's Chanukah party we were talking about the winter solstice and today I find myself, completely unexpectedly, at a meridian calendar. To arrive here i had to first show up to do my cleaning of the yoga studio and a find a class in session. So, I ventured out the Berkeley Marina for a walk. I took a path I never before explored, up a little hill to view the Bay, and here I find myself at a meridian calendar. This is exactly what I need to prompt me to look forward as I was becoming a bit sad about the past.

December 20, 2011

View From School

I love that our school is located on Market at 7th. One last day of school meetings and then the stay-cation begins. Notice the linearity of the shadows from both the pedestrians and the cars in this sunrise photo.

December 19, 2011

Svadhyaya: Self and Study

Tonight in our final Standing Poses class session, of the yoga Advanced Studies Program, Gay White read portions of our papers out loud as we were in restorative poses. This was a wonderful way to listen and absorb the ideas of our classmates and to reflect on our own writings. Here is my paper.

Svadhyaya is the Niyama I am selecting to explore in relation to the Standing Poses class because it reflects my intention for participating in the Advanced Yoga Studies program. Through the practice of yoga it is my goal to develop a deeper understanding of both myself and of my community. According to B.K.S Iyengar, the meaning of Svadhyaya means self and study or education.

A statement Iyengar makes that resonates with me is, “When people meet for svadhyaya, the speaker and listener are of one mind and have mutual love and respect.” I take this to have two meanings. The first is that you are both teacher and student when learning about yourself. The second is that when you are learning from another, or providing instruction, you should have compassion for the other, and for yourself. This becomes a conversation that can at times be spoken instruction and other times a silent exploration of self.

This dynamic internal and external dialogue has taken place for me in this course because of the challenges of the poses and learning Sanskrit. Standing poses are some of the most difficult because they involve balance, often while rotating. This becomes a mind game at times, where you are both teacher and student, talking yourself into, and sometimes out of, being able to move into a pose.

The benefit of taking this class with a group of people and being instructed, is that we are creating a community of practice. The learning process is highly supported, allowing us to find balance both in our poses and in our student/teacher internal/external dialogues. We are here to support each other in finding balance.

I believe it is essential for us to struggle through the learning of both poses and Sanskrit. Adopting these new movement and language vocabularies are almost a right of passage that must be explored in order to advance our understanding of the Asanas, as well as understanding ourselves. It is not a simple journey.

As Iyengar states, “Philology is not a language but the science of languages…Yoga is not a religion by itself. It is the science of religions, the study of which will enable sadhaka the better to appreciate his own faith.” As students we are on that same journey in the Advanced Studies Program. We are following the path of learning and adopting new movements, new understanding and new languages. At the same time we are teaching and supporting each other as we build our community of practice.

Through this Standing Poses course I have found new understanding of myself. My strength has increased, my understanding of Yoga has improved, and my faith in my teaching and learning has developed. Instead of pushing away from a challenge, I embrace it and look to my peers and my instructor for deeper meaning. It is this combination of being student and teacher that allows me to understand how much there is to learn.

December 18, 2011

Bush Yoga

I am studying for my Sanskrit standing poses test tomorrow and through my research found this very amusing website that has a plastic doll of former President George W. Bush practicing yoga in full fatigues. Here he is in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana - Extended Hand and Big Toe Pose.

Vacation Irony

The glory of it, nearly three weeks of stay-cation and what do I get in the mail? Jury duty notification for January 3. Well, at least I don't have to change any travel plans. Let's hope the court lets me work on my syllabi while sitting in the juror waiting area.

December 15, 2011

Have you married, dated or worked for a Gaslighter?

The following article A Message to Women From a Man: You Are Not Crazy, by Yashar Ali, is copied from Huff Post Women. In it Ali explores the concept of Gasighting - being manipulated to think that you are crazy for reacting to inappropriate behavior. I am learning how to recognize these interactions and am no longer tolerating them. This is hard work, but necessary. I'll be honest, I've had women and certainly students implement these hurtful tactics, likely I have also been a Gaslighter on occasion. I pledge to do it no more.


You're so sensitive. You're so emotional. You're defensive. You're overreacting. Calm down. Relax. Stop freaking out! You're crazy! I was just joking, don't you have a sense of humor? You're so dramatic. Just get over it already!

Sound familiar?

If you're a woman, it probably does.

Do you ever hear any of these comments from your spouse, partner, boss, friends, colleagues, or relatives after you have expressed frustration, sadness, or anger about something they have done or said?

When someone says these things to you, it's not an example of inconsiderate behavior. When your spouse shows up half an hour late to dinner without calling -- that's inconsiderate behavior. A remark intended to shut you down like, "Calm down, you're overreacting," after you just addressed someone else's bad behavior, is emotional manipulation, pure and simple.

And this is the sort of emotional manipulation that feeds an epidemic in our country, an epidemic that defines women as crazy, irrational, overly sensitive, unhinged. This epidemic helps fuel the idea that women need only the slightest provocation to unleash their (crazy) emotions. It's patently false and unfair.

I think it's time to separate inconsiderate behavior from emotional manipulation, and we need to use a word not found in our normal vocabulary.

I want to introduce a helpful term to identify these reactions: gaslighting.

Gaslighting is a term often used by mental health professionals (I am not one) to describe manipulative behavior used to confuse people into thinking their reactions are so far off base that they're crazy.

The term comes from the 1944 MGM film, Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman. Bergman's husband in the film, played by Charles Boyer, wants to get his hands on her jewelry. He realizes he can accomplish this by having her certified as insane and hauled off to a mental institution. To pull of this task, he intentionally sets the gaslights in their home to flicker off and on, and every time Bergman's character reacts to it, he tells her she's just seeing things. In this setting, a gaslighter is someone who presents false information to alter the victim's perception of him or herself.
Today, when the term is referenced, it's usually because the perpetrator says things like, "You're so stupid," or "No one will ever want you," to the victim. This is an intentional, pre-meditated form of gaslighting, much like the actions of Charles Boyer's character in Gaslight, where he strategically plots to confuse Ingrid Bergman's character into believing herself unhinged.
The form of gaslighting I'm addressing is not always pre-mediated or intentional, which makes it worse, because it means all of us, especially women, have dealt with it at one time or another.
Those who engage in gaslighting create a reaction -- whether it's anger, frustration, sadness -- in the person they are dealing with. Then, when that person reacts, the gaslighter makes them feel uncomfortable and insecure by behaving as if their feelings aren't rational or normal.
My friend Anna (all names changed to protect privacy) is married to a man who feels it necessary to make random and unprompted comments about her weight. Whenever she gets upset or frustrated with his insensitive comments, he responds in the same, defeating way, "You're so sensitive. I'm just joking."

My friend Abbie works for a man who finds a way, almost daily, to unnecessarily shoot down her performance and her work product. Comments like, "Can't you do something right?" or "Why did I hire you?" are regular occurrences for her. Her boss has no problem firing people (he does it regularly), so you wouldn't know from these comments that Abbie has worked for him for six years. But every time she stands up for herself and says, "It doesn't help me when you say these things," she gets the same reaction: "Relax; you're overreacting."

Abbie thinks her boss is just being a jerk in these moments, but the truth is, he is making those comments to manipulate her into thinking her reactions are out of whack. And it's exactly that kind manipulation that has left her feeling guilty about being sensitive, and as a result, she has not left her job.

But gaslighting can be as simple as someone smiling and saying something like, "You're so sensitive," to somebody else. Such a comment may seem innocuous enough, but in that moment, the speaker is making a judgment about how someone else should feel.

While dealing with gaslighting isn't a universal truth for women, we all certainly know plenty of women who encounter it at work, home, or in personal relationships.

And the act of gaslighting does not simply affect women who are not quite sure of themselves. Even vocal, confident, assertive women are vulnerable to gaslighting.


Because women bare the brunt of our neurosis. It is much easier for us to place our emotional burdens on the shoulders of our wives, our female friends, our girlfriends, our female employees, our female colleagues, than for us to impose them on the shoulders of men.

It's a whole lot easier to emotionally manipulate someone who has been conditioned by our society to accept it. We continue to burden women because they don't refuse our burdens as easily. It's the ultimate cowardice.
Whether gaslighting is conscious or not, it produces the same result: It renders some women emotionally mute.

These women aren't able to clearly express to their spouses that what is said or done to them is hurtful. They can't tell their boss that his behavior is disrespectful and prevents them from doing their best work. They can't tell their parents that, when they are being critical, they are doing more harm than good.

When these women receive any sort of push back to their reactions, they often brush it off by saying, "Forget it, it's okay."

That "forget it" isn't just about dismissing a thought, it is about self-dismissal. It's heartbreaking.
No wonder some women are unconsciously passive aggressive when expressing anger, sadness, or frustration. For years, they have been subjected to so much gaslighting that they can no longer express themselves in a way that feels authentic to them.
They say, "I'm sorry," before giving their opinion. In an email or text message, they place a smiley face next to a serious question or concern, thereby reducing the impact of having to express their true feelings.

You know how it looks: "You're late :)"

These are the same women who stay in relationships they don't belong in, who don't follow their dreams, who withdraw from the kind of life they want to live.

Since I have embarked on this feminist self-exploration in my life and in the lives of the women I know, this concept of women as "crazy" has really emerged as a major issue in society at large and an equally major frustration for the women in my life, in general.

From the way women are portrayed on reality shows, to how we condition boys and girls to see women, we have come to accept the idea that women are unbalanced, irrational individuals, especially in times of anger and frustration.

Just the other day, on a flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles, a flight attendant who had come to recognize me from my many trips asked me what I did for a living. When I told her that I write mainly about women, she immediately laughed and asked, "Oh, about how crazy we are?"
Her gut reaction to my work made me really depressed. While she made her response in jest, her question nonetheless makes visible a pattern of sexist commentary that travels through all facets of society on how men view women, which also greatly impacts how women may view themselves.
As far as I am concerned, the epidemic of gaslighting is part of the struggle against the obstacles of inequality that women constantly face. Acts of gaslighting steal their most powerful tool: their voice. This is something we do to women every day, in many different ways.

I don't think this idea that women are "crazy," is based in some sort of massive conspiracy. Rather, I believe it's connected to the slow and steady drumbeat of women being undermined and dismissed, on a daily basis. And gaslighting is one of many reasons why we are dealing with this public construction of women as "crazy."

I recognize that I've been guilty of gaslighting my women friends in the past (but never my male friends--surprise, surprise). It's shameful, but I'm glad I realized that I did it on occasion and put a stop to it.

While I take total responsibility for my actions, I do believe that I, along with many men, am a byproduct of our conditioning. It's about the general insight our conditioning gives us into admitting fault and exposing any emotion.

When we are discouraged in our youth and early adulthood from expressing emotion, it causes many of us to remain steadfast in our refusal to express regret when we see someone in pain from our actions.

When I was writing this piece, I was reminded of one of my favorite Gloria Steinem quotes, "The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn."
So for many of us, it's first about unlearning how to flicker those gaslights and learning how to acknowledge and understand the feelings, opinions, and positions of the women in our lives.

But isn't the issue of gaslighting ultimately about whether we are conditioned to believe that women's opinions don't hold as much weight as ours? That what women have to say, what they feel, isn't quite as legitimate?

This piece originally appeared on The Current Conscience.

Follow Yashar Ali on Twitter:

December 14, 2011

The End of Marriage?

NPR states that, "When it Comes to Marriage, May Say, 'I don't'" in this radio podcast which shares the findings of a Pew report. "Half a century ago, nearly 60 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds were married. Today, it's just 20 percent. But the Pew report finds fewer married people across all age groups. In their place: more singles, single parents, couples living together — many having children without marrying. In fact, some 40 percent of all U.S. births are now to unmarried mothers. But the driving force in the dropping marriage rate? People who do tie the knot are waiting longer than ever."

"The Pew report finds the median age when people finally walk down the aisle is at an all-time high — 26 for women and nearly 29 for men. And it's higher still for the college educated. On the other hand, for those who do marry, there's an upside to waiting, at least for women. Coontz says for every year a woman delays marriage — into her early 30s — she reduces her risk of divorce."

I'm constantly pondering this question and it feels good to know that I am not alone in questioning the longevity of marriage, especially for GenXers.

December 4, 2011

Back in Oakland

I'm always so happy to return to my apartment filled with all things Amy.

Snow in Denver

But I can only see it from the airport terminal window. My first snow of the season.

Hottest Guys on the London Tube

The New York Times pointed me to this fantastic blog called TubeCrush which has photos of hot guys who are riding the London Tube. The photos are secretly snapped and posted by women. Bring this to BART!

December 3, 2011

This is What I Really Look Like

Mandeep took this photo of me after I had a momentary meltdown seeing a photo of me that made me look 50. Hello, I am still 42 for three more months.

December 2, 2011

Arrived in DC

After a very productive and fun set of meetings in Atlanta. Met some amazing colleagues and feel inspired.

December 1, 2011

Self-Portrait Atlanta

Me in the hotel lobby waiting for my aunt and uncle to meet in Atlanta.