The practice of remembering

There is life before the Grand Canyon and there is life after the Grand Canyon – and they are not the same.

    There’s no way to know what you will feel once you arrive in the canyon. Despite the countless reinforcements that it is, indeed, the trip of a lifetime, you won’t know this as truth until it’s your trip and your lifetime.

    Once you’ve floated even a small number of river miles you realize that no picture you’ve seen, no description, however vivid, pays true tribute to the entirety of the scene. You can’t encapsulate the color of the sky, rock and river as they play off one another. Nothing can conjure the sentiment and heart swell that takes over as you float the Colorado.

    It may not even sink in until you take off the river (an imaginary event that will never actually happen). At which point you realize that all of your actions are now, if even slightly, weighted by the weeks you spent on the Colorado river.

    It will seem logical to make decisions based on their affiliation to the river and the next time you’ll shove off from Lee’s Ferry. For example, that the size of the guitar you may or may not buy from the flea market – which you don’t know how to play but know is incredibly crucial for future trips – is dictated by its ability to fit inside a dry box. You may find yourself in any other activity suddenly grasped by a brilliant addition to your next trip (waterproof disposable cameras for each boat to be developed and cherished, duh).

    When you’re there, you know this: that when you leave, you will have to actively practice remembering. You will have to summon every creative cell in your body to recreate, in your heart and mind, the image and feeling you had standing at the base of a waterfall or a side canyon. You will have to steep yourself in the turquoise waters of the Little Colorado River or Havasu. You have to crack yourself open to make space in your being for these places while you’re there. Making yourself porous. Asking yourself, “am I feeling this enough?”    

 

OPUS

It’s impossible to watch the sunrise and not believe the world is beautiful.

Every morning at the OPUS hut reminds me of this. In the wee hours, we roll out of bed, don our down booties and quietly gain the stairs to start coffee. Leaving the lights off,  early morning light slowly wakes us. Quiet, not to stir the guests, we grab each other and stand gazing out the windows. The feeling is always the same. Life is so stunning.

I feel so lucky to find myself in a place like this. Sometimes, I have to do the process where you unravel your thoughts, and think backwards to remember how I got here. A girl from Vermont, not often called strong or brave, planted into some of the most rugged mountains. I brought myself here, I remember, skis on, a pack loaded with food. I slogging uphill, and am entrusted to cook and maintain this hut, resting off the grid.

It’s an honor really, and a challenge. When I find myself at the OPUS I think, this is right and this is true. It’s significant to be in a place devoted to the reverence of mountains and nature, that grants solitude and community at the same time. I feel a pull, towards the person I want to be, every time I start up the trail.

The sun also rises.

The sun also rises.

Soul food with  friends.

Soul food with  friends.


Handstands + Miracles

There are teachers that can find the right string of words to enter directly into the heart. Rebecca Butler is one such. As a writer, and she speaks with the same eloquence that she pens. Not just that, but Rebecca gleans the essential gems of other writers – delivering them as she has you laying in pigeon pose for 5 minutes (each side, not kidding).  This method hits hard. Rebecca has such a skill for cadence that you’re with her, every word.

Did I mention she’s wicked strong, too? The woman whose voice lulls you in and out of poses can press up to handstand like it’s cake. The grace, strength and knowingness that makes these poses look effortless is jaw dropping.

I believe her, when she tells stories, because I know you couldn’t speak of miracles and not mean it. You couldn’t move your body this way, and not believe in beauty. You have to live it to teach it. And because her teachings land so true, I know her experiences are too.


Because it’s not all rainbows, and we need contrast, so that which is joyful appears joyful. Teachers who can share tragedy, hardship and the gritty part of life are saying “Hey, it’s okay to feel this”, and “Hey, it can get better”. By feeling our own truths (even the ones that are unpleasant) we allow others the same authenticity. To this I aspire. And it gives me hope – that when I encounter strife and when my heart is breaking – I can remember that I have to live this, so I can teach it.

Babsi and I in a partner baddha konasana, as taught by Rebecca Butler. Photo by Ryan Bonneau

Forward fold and downward dog on the hips - that's for this sweet one, too RB.  Photo by Ryan Bonneau

Allison English

We choose our teachers, whether we realize it or not. They may be the most iconic, wise figures you’ve ever met – or the person you struggle with the most. I love teachers, I love learning from someone who knows things I don’t. I like to be led.

Allison English is one of the most genius and skillful teachers I’ve ever met. She can put together a yoga sequence that leaves you like a puddle. She’s smart, successful and funny.

I first met Allison when she taught the business component of my Forrest Yoga Foundation Teacher Training. I was blown away. She didn’t sound like any yogi I’d ever met, she was real. She left me captivated and inspired by business.

Only a few months later I reached out to Allison to see if she wanted an assistant for the Telluride Yoga Festival. She took me under her wing, a generous and brave move on her part, we hardly knew each other.

Last weekend, two years later, I dropped Allison off at the airport after a weekend of workshops in Telluride. She taught on yoga nidra, standing strong, arm balances, inversions and backbends (without one single wheel pose). As I drove away I started thinking about why the weekend had been so fulfilling. What keeps me so engaged with certain teachers? What about studying yoga is so compelling that I return again and again?

I think it all comes down to truth. To learning the truth of my body, of my own practice, as student. It has to do with being lead skillfully and safely through a practice that sheds light on corners of myself I’d otherwise avoid. I want to know things I don’t know yet. It doesn’t hurt that any time I have a question about a pose or a part of my body Allison has a genius level anatomical answer.

And so for me it comes to willingness. Are you willing to learn from the lessons of your life and from the teachers that present them? My best advice is to find the teachers that make it fun, that fill you up, and let yourself be led.

Allison and Naani in Telluride, 2013.

Allison and Naani in Telluride, 2013.

Thank you, 2014

This writing is classically, nine days late. These are not my resolutions. I am not going on a diet. My aspirations for the coming year revolve around truth and authenticity, commitment and prayer time. I spent a lot of time thinking about the new year transition and these three lessons stood out in a loud way. What are yours? Can you hear them?  

1. Don’t rush.

The universe will catch up with you. Every single time I rushed, compromised myself or my practices, there was no one there waiting for me, they were late, or I wasn’t needed. Every. Single. Time.

When I was little my teachers always wrote that I made mistakes by going too fast. My boyfriend calls me “patience” because I’m constantly chomping at the bit. I want to do it all, I want my time to be perfectly scheduled.

This, I know, I have to let go. I have to learn to operate at a pace that meets my needs. To schedule the appropriate amount of time to do the things I need to do, and have the ability to roll with it when my schedule goes awry. Because it will. It always does.  Do what you can to protect what is sacred in your day and and roll with the rest.

2. Don’t feed the fear.

You know when it’s coming, it creeps into your belly and spreads through your core. That gut feeling of fear or anxiety. I haven’t learned how to avoid this happening yet. What I have learned is that it will pass. If you can notice it, feel it and breath into it. Then let it pass. My brilliant step-father gives me this advice any time I call (and I always call) in crisis. He says "OK, so sit with that for twenty minutes and then get over it". That's it? That's it.

I want to promise you that the feeling will pass, that the quality will change. And more often than not, the other side will be better than where you started.

3. You are capable.  

2014 was a big year for this realization. Again and again I caught myself living or doing the very things I’d dreamed of. I am a yoga teacher, we taught our first RE:treat, I rode my mountain bike 215 miles to Moab, chasing my big sister. I wake up at the OPUS Hut where I get to work with my dear friends in some of the most beautiful terrain in the world AND I hauled my ass up there. I work for companies and organizations that I believe in. When I lay it all out and see the growth in the last year (or four) I feel quite blessed and proud. I chose this course, I set my intents, I strive for things and I arrived there (sometimes) without even realizing it along the way. What could we accomplish if we believed in our own possibility? The thought of possibilities gives me tingles.

 

Flex yer Face

A few weeks ago I got one of those -out-of-the-blue-blast-from-the-past calls from a guy I’d grown up with, his name is Ryan Esbjerg – I want to share his story with you.

Ryan has built a business called Flex Your Face. Which, literally, means to smile. What started as a tag line has turned into a movement. { If you want to read more about Flex your Face, check out their website here - http://www.flexyourface.com }

Ryan used this as a phrase with his friends, like “hey, turn it around”. It reminds me this bookmark my mom and I used to give back and forth to each other when either one of us was being particularly salty – it read “snap out of it”.

Ryan is a few years older than me, but I had spent a lot of time around his family where we grew up in Vermont. His younger sister and I were friends. I had a vague idea of what was going on over the last eight years of so, mostly because there had been a tough time for his family. Ryan had moved West and then disappeared. There was a lot of concern throughout our small Vermont town, posts to keep a look out, the remarks of sheer shock from his family to have no idea where their son/brother was.  And then Ryan was back. And a few years later I notice he was not just back, he was healthy and thriving.

Ryan and I spoke a few days ago, again, and I asked for his story. What happened is less important to me than what caused the changed. Ryan calls his disappearance his dark days, and it was his personal experience of rock bottom. Mostly alcohol, some loss and general ill health culminated in Ryan’s second hospital visit. This is where the turning point happened. Ryan calls it his “aha moment”. I asked him, what was it? What really turned it around?

The realization was that he could breath. That there was air in his lungs – and that was enough.

And for several months that was it. Ryan pulled himself out of this hole by waking up every morning with the simple appreciation of breath (hello, yoga!). And in this he realized where he had gone wrong. Ryan realized he had always overcomplicated and under appreciated everything in his life.

From this, Flex Your Face was born. What matters to Ryan now are the little things, small moments and gentle gratitudes. A reason to smile, to talk about what makes you happy and to spark a conversation with others.

I’m honored to say Ryan has asked me to be a Brand Ambassador for Flex Your Face. I really wanted to sit with this for a while, to see what I had to offer to this company and movement.

Here’s what resonated with me:

Flex Your Face is all about finding the small moments in the day to celebrate, to bring your focus back to the positive. This rings true with me and my yoga practices. Ana Forrest always said if we can find one thing a day to focus on, or bring to breath to, that's a win. It always starts with one step. You point your feet in the direction of your dreams and you go.

So yes, Ryan. I gladly accept the invitation to wear this brand. Because I need reminders too. We all do. There are things to be grateful for (thousands of them) and everything is going to be okay.

on having teachers

Growing up is hard, I'll say it, it simply is not that easy. And I want someone else to say that too. I need teachers and leaders and healers. I am seeking them and craving their gems.  I want them to say, “it’s okay” and “you’re doing fine” and “you’re not supposed to know”. 

I love that I have found teachers who use humor, tough love, compassion, wisdom and fun. I'm grateful for the days that I can show up to a yoga class and be fully led by a teacher, whose own life and experiences has shaped their practice and from which I can glean learning. As a young teacher myself, this is special.

Because this is the truth: we need community and family and circles and teachers and friends. We are not meant to do this thing alone.

And so I urge you to find teachers, everywhere. In friends and lovers and parents. In healers and bosses and community figures. In writers and poets and artists. Find those beings that have glinting wisdom and use it to brighten up when you need it. And here's the kicker, some days, you're that person, too.

Here's one of my favorites, a piece of poetry that soothes me. Take something from it, or not.

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

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having what you want

After my yoga teacher training I was a gentle mess. The transition back to the big, wide-open world felt large and scary. I was protective of myself and my practice. I didn’t know how to share it, integrate it into life and work around it. I fled to the safe haven of a dear friend in Santa Cruz. Bless her. Here I was given an ocean front home to use as a half-way house. Here I stayed, and slept and breathed. And barely left the house.

I practiced. I read my books. I called loved ones I’d neglected for the month. I told them I didn’t know where to go. I fueled up on dreams of what I wanted and how it would look. I imagined a quaint home with a large kitchen, a dirt road, a garden, a barn. I saw myself cooking and healing and sharing.

An afternoon jaunt to the  grocery store in Santa Cruz left me feeling displaced. I had no home, no plan, only a faint idea of a direction, North.

I pushed my shopping cart out of the store feeling dejected. All I want is a kitchen to cook beautiful food in, I thought. And then I stopped. My shopping cart halfway to the car. And laughed, out loud, at myself. I HAD what I wanted. I was pushing a cart full of beautiful, hearty, local food out to my car where I would drive back to a stunning beach home, with a sun-lit kitchen to cook myself a delicious meal. I smiled at the irony. At how oblivious a young yogi I could be.

That if I can step back and really realize what my life looks like, I often already have what I want. Sometimes it looks different, but it feels the same.

 

re:treat in Telluride

If you haven't visited me (or Telluride) yet, here's your excuse. Re:treat, elevated lifestyle adventures. What is this, you ask? Re:treat is a crafted blend of yoga, play and relaxation in beautiful places, including Telluride. Why here? Telluride is stunning. The mountains are epic, the sun shines and the people are lovely. There is a palpable energy of possibility.

Three very smart and wonderful women recognized that we have something really special going on here and they wanted to share it. Babsi, Georgie and Nicole are the founders of Re:treat.

This is why I love re:treat. It is built of experience and authenticity. Nicole, Georgie and Babsi are yoga practitioners, teachers, hikers, guides, mothers, sisters and friends. They know what makes life beautiful and full and have created an experience that offers this to their guests. Bonus! I’m honored to be teaching for this organization.

What's it like? I’ve been enough lucky to experience a day with re:treat as a guest and it was a total, you guessed it, treat. A warming and inspiring yoga class, a fun and delicious brunch and a day of skiing awesome terrain and apres. It's all the good stuff put into one experience, just for you.

Re:treat has three awesome trips planned for this summer. I'll be teaching on both a hiking and yoga re:treat here in Telluride and a glamping (galmerous-camping) trip planned for September in southwestern Colorado. If you’re feeling international, you can join Babsi in Austria for an Endless Summer re:treat in September.

I truly believe in the quality of experience of re:treat and wish you all would come play and practice with us.

Nicole, Georgie and Babsi

why yoga?

"Awareness Creates Change" this is what my body worker tells me as I'm lying on his table explaining the myriad of strange sensations in my body. Awareness creates change, I think as I feel into my feet, how they are flatter and more balanced. I think about my feet more now as I walk and stand, after having the fascia (connective tissue) on the sole of my feet worked through. I'm more aware of my muscles, how they articulate and work together. This is where I am now in my practice, but not where I started.

I came to yoga in college. As I remember, it was as a result of stressful academics and the challenges of transitioning. We had the most incredible yoga teacher at the University of Vermont who taught huge classes to the undergraduate community. She was a goddess. Her name was Kerri. She had the ability to hold space for hundreds of us to come, move, and feel. I left her classes feeling a little more capable. Like I could handle the workload, the uncertainty of early twenties. In her classes I was mostly learning to feel into my heart. I was not thinking about the fascia on my feet. 

Over the years I tried many styles of yoga, mostly craving that same soulful sensation Kerri created. Slowly, I started to observe what different styles did to my body, how my muscles felt when I left, mostly in my shoulders.

After I graduated I knew I wanted to explore my practice deeper. I wanted to be my own teacher, was my thought. I wanted to know how to use yoga to heal my body and the places inside of me that ached. I started to look around for trainings and was overwhelmed. How would I know? Which style, which teacher, which location? How do you pick?

A fairy godmother of mine (also known as an Aunt) asked if I had read a book by Ana Forrest, Fierce Medicine. I hadn't. I did. I took the book with me on vacation to Maine. I sat on the beach eating potato chips and reading about Ana's life and experiences and the evolution of Forrest Yoga. I put the potato chips down. They weren't feeding my spirit.

I found Ana's closest teaching offering. I went, I breathed, I sweated, I thought holy shit this is way different. I was intrigued, and kind of scared. Ana was different than any other teacher I'd met. She was so real. Realness is one of my favorite qualities in humans, and everything. She talked about  the real shit that comes up in life. She said fuck. She talked about sex. She also asked me to stay in a Warrior II longer than my little legs had ever stood. My body delighted and my soul was brighter.

She was my teacher. In April of 2013 I left Colorado for San Francisco to study under Ana. My two goals were: A. Learn to be my own teacher and B. Get my ass kicked.

Well, many things happened. Through the training I realized I love teaching, not just for myself but others. I realized I need teachers and I always will. I did get my ass kicked and realized I could take it, that there is a reservoir of strength available. I found a practice that I feel deeply committed to. I realized that there are things in my body that I need help with, that there are skillful healers who can offer wisdom (and untie the knots in my shoulders).

Over the years what I've wanted from yoga has changed, and what I have received has changed. Awareness creates change. As I learn to listen to my body and my spirit my practice evolves. It is limitless. It is a place to explore and cultivate. To intimately fascinate on what my spirit wants. To feed that to my body. It tests my ethics. It shows me where I am still learning. It has given me a passion, a life-long relationship to develop. It has taught me how to breath. It has illuminated truths that have long gone hidden. It has put me back into the center of my heart. This is why I practice.

why mountains ?

During my college years in Vermont I took a hiatus and spent 4 months in India, living in the bustling city of Pune. I chose India for a challenge, for an experience and because I saw it as an investment in my yoga practice. I thought that India would lend itself to me, to a spiritual experience.

In my pre-departure vision I was happy, thin and beautiful. Etherial, like the Indian women whose long dark hair fell down their backs. Instead, India kicked my ass. In a really good way. My skin broke out, I gained weight and the yoga I found there challenged everything I had come to believe was yoga.

When my academic program ended in April friends and I ventured up North into the Himalayas. Leaving the 90 degree heat and 90 % humidity of Pune, it was hard to conceive of the cold the mountains held for us. My boyfriend at the time flew over from Vermont to join us on our trek. He was the most prepared by a long-haul and he probably fared better for it.

Tobias and I spent our weeks in Uttarakhand at an Eco-Lodge up north of Uttarkashi. The owner of the lodge an Indian man name Anil took a strong liking to Tobias and on one particularly late night he offered to drive us up to Gangotri, the mouth of the Ganga, the holy Ganges. We had been contemplating a trek that started from this little town and delivered you deep into the mountains. Anil would even do the hike with us.

The next day we piled into his old white truck. Anil, Tobias, my friend Alex who had wandered down from a village he was doing some anthropological “hanging out” in. The windy mountain road that took us to Gangotri was exhilarating (read: terrifying). Not long into the drive we hit traffic, and then we stopped moving. The roads were packed, bumper to bumper, cars, buses and Sadhus all sharing the one lane.

We had picked the most popular week of the year to visit Gangotri; it was opening weekend of the pilgrimage seasons. Hindus from all over the county (the HUGE country) were traveling to the Ganga to bathe themselves, to seek purification and salvation in the cold rapids.

The drive that could have taken 2 hours took us 10. Anil’s regret was visible on his face. At long last, we arrived to a bustling little town. Families, wanderers, women in saris all pushing and shoving, making the way to their hotels, hostels or small space of sidewalk.

We woke at dawn to start our hike. In the cold, crisp morning women were already submerging themselves in the frigid waters.

I remember standing on the balcony wrapped in every layer I had packed: a button down shirt of Tobias’s, the Patagonia fleece my dad had sent along from Vermont, a wool hat and a cotton scarf.

I felt so envious of these women. That they had something that pulled them from their villages to this very distant and remote part of the world, to worship and pray. To connect to the Gods and themselves. I remember a sadness seeping in as I thought to myself “is there anything in this world that is as important to me as religion is to these women?”

And then the simplicity of it all hit me. I had flown across the world. I had driven the same roads. I was cold and tired and yet I had hauled myself here. But for us it was different. We were seeking the salvation of the mountains. The beauty and wisdom and humility that jagged peaks offer. The reverence, respect and contemplation they demand. Magic and god live in mountains and that is my religion. It was one of those quick and undeniable realizations. The one that took root in my heart and has propelled me forward, bringing me west and deep into the mountains.

Special thanks to Alexander Tobias Green for enduring endless whining, and also, editing.