It’s been quite a week. My younger daughter finished preschool and went straight from her graduation ceremony to kindergarten orientation. She’s so ready for the big time, but it’s definitely bittersweet to leave our nursery school. Most of Sara’s classmates were the younger siblings of Kate’s preschool classmates, so we’ve known these families and these teachers since this class was in diapers. Although we’ll keep in good touch (we all live within minutes of one another), and a good number of Sara’s friends will go to her elementary school, it’s going to be strange not to see everyone at drop-off each morning, to be a regular part of one another’s daily lives.
Sending my girls to a preschool affiliated with a synagogue turned out to be really rewarding. I love that they learned about the Jewish holidays and history, and that they know a good bit of Hebrew. My dad was Jewish, so they do have a family connection. And I love the undogmatic aspect of Judaism. It’s okay to ask questions, to discuss.
Endings can be difficult and strange. Sara vacillated between excitement and a little bit of the blues all week. One night after bedtime she ventured back downstairs to say she was feeling sad about preschool ending: “Two tears came out of my eyes, Mama.” But she did great at kindergarten orientation — she happily strode right off with the teachers when they came to relieve us parents of our kids for a bit.
Orientation was also the first event I helped plan as a member of our elementary school’s PTA executive board. At the school fair the next day, I had to wear a PTA T-shirt — it felt a little strange to be singled out by my clothing as “one of them.” It’s a great group of parents, however, and I’m looking forward to getting more involved with the school with both my daughters there.
Also this past week, Emma opened her new yoga studio. It’s spacious and beautiful, with lots of light and completely different acoustics. This is an exciting change, for her and for the rest of us — a true celebration of our ever-expanding kula. But leaving the old studio felt bittersweet, too. It was a place where I laughed and cried and made good friends and sort of recovered myself.
So, change. I used to hate and fear it. Even good change would knock me off-kilter. Every single year on the first day of school, I’d come home and cry because everything was different. Even my senior year of high school, which ended up being a fantastic one, began with a good sob. Don’t even ask about my transition to college. (Or how I handled breakups.)
But here’s the difference. Now I can acknowledge the things I’ll miss about the old situation and look forward to the new with a sense of balance I didn’t used to have. When you can bring your entire, stable self into a new place or situation, you don’t feel lost or without bearings. I didn’t used to feel like “me” in an unfamiliar place, and it would take me some time to find myself again. That doesn’t happen anymore.
So far, it looks like my girls are able to move into new spaces with their heads held high, which makes me so damn proud. And I might even allow myself to take a little bit of credit for their firm foundation.
Our Anusara immersion ended yesterday. Sixteen of us came together with our exceptional teacher Emma Magenta for nine weekends over the course of a year. Altogether, it was 108 hours. It was a big, serious committment of time, money and effort, but one we all felt was important and managed to convince our loved ones was important.
We were all there because Anusara struck a chord with each of us, and we wanted to go deeper. It was a lot more than just a class where we took notes, or a workshop to improve our poses. Though we did learn all about the Universal Principles of Alignment that our style of yoga is based upon and did many hours of tough asana, we also studied the Tantric philosophy that makes Anusara unique. We read and discussed the Bhagavad Gita. We practiced pranayama, meditation, and kirtan. And we got to better understand how yoga touches all parts of our lives — physically, mentally, spiritually. If you’ve been a regular reader of my blog, you know that two of the Universal Principles in particular have made a major emotional impression on me: muscular energy, or creating a strong foundation by contracting and pulling in, and organic energy, or extending and shining out.
We created a kula. We went from a group of strangers — or, at most, people who’d seen one another once or twice in class — to a cohesive community, a circle of love, trust, and safety. We established strong bonds of friendship.
When I started going to South Mountain Yoga about three years ago, I knew almost immediately that Anusara was going to be significant for me. I was feeling so battered and lost, completely foundation-less. I walked in there and it felt like a haven. What I got out of it was just what I needed.
It still feels that way, and I’m a completely different person — because of all kinds of work I’ve done since then, but in large part because of my yoga. I’m as strong as I’ve ever been, physically and emotionally. I’m more comfortable in and confident about my body. I’ve found a language to understand the spiritual ideas that I already had.
It’s hard to articulate what Anusara is and why it’s special without sounding like some sort of cult member, so I try not to proselytize when my friends show an interest. I tell them that yoga is like anything else — you find the studio, teacher, and style that work for you. Of course I want them all to come do Anusara with me. But I’d love for them to come to it organically, like I did.
There’s the possibility of teacher training in the fall, and though I’ve never considered myself teacher material, I’m starting to rethink that. Good teachers are passionate about their subject. I don’t think I have the amazing gift that Emma does (that’s her front and center in the picture, in the bright blue jacket). But I’d love to help other people see what I see in Anusara, to get what I’ve gotten out of it. Whether I’m a good prospect for such an important job remains to be seen. But I’d love to learn more. So I’m thinking about it.
But I’m really going to miss having immersion weekend to look forward to. It was always so nice to know one was coming up, that I’d get to spend the weekend talking and thinking about something I love, with people I love, and doing something soothing and healing for myself. This last one was a week after my father’s memorial service, and the timing could not have been better.
One of my classmates put it this way: When we began, it was like we were in the lobby of a museum, and we were there to see an exhibit we were interested in. But it turned out the museum was huge, cavernous in fact, and there was more and more to explore. So now we’re wandering through the infinite museum of Anusara yoga.
The nicest thing about this metaphor is that even if we’re in different rooms or focusing on different exhibits, we can still meet up in the cafe. See you all there.
As my “fun” reading this past week, while I slogged through Henry James’ novel The Golden Bowl (as exhausting as I always find him, I loved it — but I’ll tell you about my love-hate relationship with Mr. James another time), I enjoyed Jane Austen’s Heroines: Intimacy in Human Relationships, written by an academic named John Hardy. I picked up this lovely little tome at the South Orange dump. I know, hard to believe someone was throwing it away!
Seriously, though, I adore Jane Austen. Everyone gets what they deserve in her books, good or bad. And I love her clever, heartfelt heroines, especially Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice — she’s such a badass, and she really knows how to handle that Mr. Darcy. The sweet orphan Fanny Price from Mansfield Park, which may be my favorite Austen novel. And Emma Woodhouse from Emma, the most adorable and sympathetic busybody you ever met. The scene where she finally gets together with Mr. Knightley is one of my favorites in any book.
I hadn’t ever thought as much of Elinor Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility until I read the essay about her in Jane Austen’s Heroines. The adjectives in the title have to do with Elinor — who uses her “sense,” in this context her reserve and her intellect, over her feelings — and her younger sister, Marianne — who uses her “sensibility,” or raw emotion — to operate in the world. As an open wound-type emotional person myself, I always related more to Marianne, even though she’s kind of clueless and screws a lot of things up. I viewed Elinor’s reserve as coldness, or a lack of ability to truly feel. Poor her.
But as the essay helped me to see, Elinor is no cold fish. She may not be in everyone’s face emotionally; she may even hide her more intense feelings from most of those around her. But she’s quite self-aware. She interacts with people carefully, from a position of comfort and ease in who she is and what she wants out of her relationships. Her “sense” translates into self-possession, versus the self-absorption of her little sis, who indulges her every emotion and rushes into “intimacy” with a man who isn’t really appropriate or able.
According to Hardy, “Elinor realizes that intimacy can only result from a privacy capable of being shared.” Elinor isn’t incapable of intimacy; she simply takes time to deliberate when it comes to her emotions and interactions. She’s discriminating, and that’s not a bad thing. Her experience of intimacy is more refined for it. It’s more valuable. In the end, she’s the one who enters into a successful, lasting relationship.
As much as I appreciate rules, plans and structure, it only recently occurred to me that emotional structure might be useful to me as a feeling person. Setting boundaries for your children is an act of love, so it follows that setting some for yourself would be loving as well. Like creating structure and foundation in yoga (you knew I was going to bring this back to yoga) allows you more freedom, creating emotional structure actually allows you to be more genuinely intimate.
Perhaps this is one reason I often felt frustrated with my emotional connections, or believed that others couldn’t go as deeply as I could. I held that as a point of pride, even though it didn’t necessarily bring me much satisfaction.
I think at some point, when I felt really emotionally burned, I thought that protecting myself was actually going to mean shutting down, closing myself off. And I didn’t have any idea how to do that. So I figured I was just destined to go through life as an emotional mess. What a relief to find that creating boundaries and becoming more self-possessed has actually opened me up.