Sunday, October 5, 2008

Across the Universe

July 2007
I grew up in a family of artists, so as a little girl I was fortunate to have made numerous visits to New York’s many art museums. I think I was 10 when I discovered that I shared a birthday with the French impressionist Auguste Renoir. I was thrilled. He was definitely one of my favorites, and I remember thinking that sharing a birthday might have also infused me with some extra special creative powers of my own.

Turns out, I did end up going to art school and, as my journey continued, I was equally thrilled to learn that George Harrison--the quiet Beatle--was in the same birthday club as Renoir and me. It became clear to me that the universe was sending me a message: I was a creative soul.

Of course, now that I have the wisdom of some years, I realized that all of us have the seeds for being creative souls, it’s just that they’re not always nurtured. It may take some people a few extra turns on their particular path to find their artistic nature, and some never do. But there are a few very special souls who are blessed with creative presence right from the start--people like Peter Max.

You may have noticed something beautifully different about this issue’s cover. That’s because Peter brilliantly and generously added his special over-painting technique to yogini Lisa Matkin’s already gorgeous image. Peter, who is also a yogi, reached out to Fit Yoga about a year ago because he wanted to share his compelling story with our readers (page 46).

At that time I met with Peter at his New York studio and listened in wonder as he shared his incredible life’s journey with me. Always a prolific artist, once he found yoga, both his art and his life took on new meaning; and he used meditation to tap into his creative reserves. I was mesmerized by his charm. We later discovered that we both attended the same art school and had the same drawing teacher. I started to feel that same gleeful, artistic connection I felt as a little girl. And then things really got synchronistic. Peter began to talk of his connection to the Beatles (that’s a big deal if you’re a boomer like me) and, in particular, his special connection and friendship with George Harrison. It had all come together.

When I left Peter’s studio that frigid December evening, I barely felt the cold. Everything made sense. I felt completely connected to the universe, body and soul. I knew that no matter how many twists and turns my path had taken, I was in the right place.

And once again, I find myself feeling gratitude on my mat. For it is my yoga practice that allows my creative spirit to soar these days. And it is my practice that introduced me to Peter and enabled me to finally understand that all is one and one is

The Fixer

February 08
Now and then, as I forge ahead with the daily routines of my life, I find myself wondering how it is that I haven’t yet collapsed into an exhausted, pitiful heap. I always have too much on my plate. Also I'm a "fixer." Meaning that I’m always trying to pick up the pieces for everyone. I just want everything to be all right.

This has caused me to muddle through situations with a certain amount of bravado, which I’m sure, helped to create perceptions about me that up until very recently, I felt were completely untrue.

For example, a few months ago my good friend Donna and I were discussing a particularly sticky situation when she said to me, "You are such a strong person Rita, I’m sure you can handle any problem that comes up." I started to laugh a little. "Why are you laughing," asked my always-supportive friend, "don’t you realize how strong you are?"

That wasn’t the first time I had heard that conclusion. Quite a number of people have made some casual and not so casual remarks about my supposed inner-strength as well as my physical stamina. Even after a recent shoulder injury one of my yoga teachers remarked on my speedy recovery. "Well I’m still a little sore," I said weakly. "I’m actually taking it easy today." "Really," he remarked incredulously, "you seem pretty strong to me."

What I’ve always thought about myself is that I’m very good at hiding stuff—probably from years of Catholic school, or growing up in a loud and big Italian family. I also hate being embarrassed, so I over-achieve and over-compensate to avoid any possibility of humiliation. Was my practiced stoicism being misconstrued as strength? Or, could it be that in my muddled haze, I had not been seeing a clear picture of myself? Could they be right? Maybe I wouldn’t end up a pitiful heap after all.

I began to observe other people. I noticed quite a few who define themselves by the drama that always surrounds them, and then there are those that think being a victim is the way to get people to love you. Some like to belittle in order to feel superior, while others charge into the world with way too much audacity, a sure sign of insecurities ahead. This is not to say that I don’t recognize myself in each and every one of the aforementioned traits. But I do know that my yoga practice has helped with the ongoing task of removing many of my masks. It has also helped me realize that each new day is another opportunity to bravely choose not to define myself, or let myself be defined, by negativity in any form.

And so it is that my perceptions have begun to shift. Maybe it’s not that I’m hiding things, maybe I’m simply handling them. It could very well be that what others perceived about me is reality. And I can certainly deal with that.

Embrace your power…

An Ageless Aura

October 2007
While we were putting this issue together, the staff here at Fit Yoga was also very busy with our very first conference. It was all very exciting and, even though it was a lot of hard work, what became crystal-clear to me was how very fortunate we all are to be a part of this ever-expanding yoga community we call a kula. It was truly remarkable to see the pure joy on the faces of yogis and yoginis as they were able to meet and practice with so many of the yoga world’s luminaries, and to also observe teachers enjoying and supporting each other’s classes.

As I wandered in and out of the classrooms and greeted so many of the participants, I noticed many different shapes and ages, city people and country folks, advanced practitioners and newbies--all happily sharing their love of yoga. And the combination of all their minor and major epiphanies and experiences created an overall vibe of unconditional kindness mixed in with a fair amount of bliss.

What I discovered about the creation of these blissful conditions is that they are always reflected on people’s faces. Chronological age seems to be irrelevant if you’re a yogi, because what comes through is what is purely and authentically you. The number of birthdays you’ve had is just a marker—it’s simply a way for non-practitioners to keep life’s score.

So when the conference ended and I settled back into work, I had a funny little epiphany of my own. I realized that the people pictured on these pages range in age from eight months old to 63. They are boys and girls, and men and women, some are tall, some are short, some are thin, and some are fuller-figured, but all have one thing in common: They are ageless. Each of them radiates their own sparkle of pranic energy.

The happiness that shines from the hearts and minds of these--and all--yogis reminds me that it’s only natural for our kula to continue to expand. Because sooner or later, everyone will discover that it’s fairly easy to shine with an ageless aura, and face each day ready to embrace the endless possibilities…all they have to do is step onto their mats.


Gentle smiles and sweet sunsets

April 08
In another life I was a bona fide gym rat. Aerobics, weight training, step class…also I was a personal trainer and a kickboxing instructor. So round about mid-winter I was fried and usually needed a week or two of beach vegging and absolutely no contact with anything remotely to do with a gym.

But now that I’m a full-time yogi, I don’t have the same feelings. Not to say that I don’t need a break from my usual routine—after all it’s been proven that it’s healthy to take a breather—but I still want and need to practice everyday and even more importantly, I don’t want to stop teaching.

Then last year, my friend Jane Fryer offered me a wonderful opportunity. She asked me, along with my dear friend Bruce, to come and teach on one of her exotic and popular Inward Bound yoga retreats. Having never been on a destination retreat, I didn’t know what to expect but as soon as we arrived at Round Hill on the island of Jamaica, I knew I was in for a very unique experience. I can’t even begin to describe the natural beauty of the country – the clear Caribbean water, the lush plant life, and the friendly faces of the Jamaican people all came together to welcome us with warm smiles.

Our work-weary group was small but ready to be refreshed by the island breezes and restored by daily practice. At the end of our first day together I had already forgotten about how cold it had been back home and for the first time in many months I couldn’t see any need to check email—certainly nothing could be that important.

I looked forward to both teaching and taking class every day. I felt such a deep connection to nature as we practiced together under a fragrant tree canopy. Small lizards darted around our mats and occasionally up an arm or a leg, and at the end of each late afternoon practice we were silently and spectacularly saluted by a luxurious tropical sunset.

Up until that time I had always practiced indoors, with the honking of a busy city clamoring outside the windows. Of course the practice had always helped me find my inner paradise, but there was something about actually being in nature – feeling the breezes, smelling the ocean, watching other forms of life thriving – that helped al of us to see a much bigger picture and experience a bigger connection. We could see for ourselves how we fit into the natural landscape of the universe, and even to understand how the ancient yogis might have been inspired to create these artful shapes we call asana.

In the end I realized that it wasn’t so much about "getting away" as it was about getting reconnected. And even though it was hard to go back to studio practice, in my heart I’m always under the tree canopy in Jamaica, learning my asana from the gentle smiles and sweet sunsets that will forever be in my heart.

Give yourself a break…and enjoy!

Getting what you give

December 07
When my daughter was little it seemed like the holiday season was much more festive and meaningful – we’d bake Christmas cookies, trim the tree and sing along to the ever-classic Johnny Mathis Christmas Album. Then of course there were all the presents – I always took such special care to wrap them in coordinating ribbons and paper. And at the end of Christmas morning we’d sit exhausted amidst the chaos of torn wrappings and boxes, happily wearing our new hats and gloves as we scoffed down a hearty breakfast.

But in recent years it seems like the onset of the holidays has become an intrusion. I’ve found myself wishing that we could somehow skip over the season so that we could get on with what really matters [work?]; or absolutely resenting that I feel so obligated to spend hard-earned cash on gifts that – it seems to me - very often go unappreciated. Or even worse, receiving things you just know you’ll never use. [Note to family: I am, and have always been, severely allergic to wool!] In a way preparing for big holiday events had become a bit of drudgery.

As we were putting this issue together I started to think about my bah-humbug attitude. As a yogi I know that if you put out bad energy, whether it be through words or feelings, you can be pretty sure that’s what’s going to come back to you. I think it has something to do with Karma.

Of course those long-ago Christmas mornings were not very eco-friendly but the intention was about creating a warm and cozy atmosphere and lovely memories. So why, I wondered, have things gotten so un-cozy? Could it be because my gifts were not being given or received with the right intentions? Was my resentment coming through as I cooked Christmas Eve dinner and wrapped yet another present that I bought in too much of a hurry?

So this year, as I prepare for the season of joy, my intention is to approach it with grace and good will and with the utmost respect for the earth. The gifts I have been choosing are not based so much on monetary value. Instead I’m thinking of small useful items that will evoke pleasant memories and meaning. My wrappings are still lovely but now I try to use a beautiful cloth or scarf or at least recycled paper. Reusable string, tree branches, leaves and flowers make a beautiful alternative to manufactured ribbons.

I find myself looking forward to this holiday season for the first time in many years. I feel like I am practicing my yoga with every gift I give. And I have a feeling that I won’t be getting any wool sweaters this year. Karma.

Be joyful!

The eye of the beholder

June 2007

Although I’m certainly not obsessed by celebrity, I’m as curious as the next person when comes to red carpet fashion and beauty secrets of the stars. I mean don’t we all have some small hidden desire to be universally admired? Okay… well maybe not everyone but I admit that sometimes I do wonder what it would be like to wake up in the morning and see Gwyneth Paltrow looking back at me in the mirror. It HAS to be easier…

The thing about being so obviously beautiful is that it does open more than a few doors in life. It’s a fact that good-looking people get better jobs and better salaries and overall better treatment. You may not want to admit it but I’m sure you’ve even been guilty of giving preference to a dazzling persona of some sort. It’s human nature – we’re creatures that are naturally drawn to beauty.

What I love about yoga practice is that it just about always helps you to see, very clearly, certain aspects of yourself. And recently, as I passed another milestone in my life, I realized how caught up I was in my not-so-obvious beauty. Always dissatisfied with this or that, and always disappointed that there wasn’t even a hint of Gwynnie in the mirror. I made up my mind to find a positive path out of my personal disapproval and hopefully find a way into a deeper, more fulfilling and less judgmental consciousness.

I devised a very private practice: For one week my task was find something that was truly beautiful about every person I came in contact with. Here’s what I discovered: the check-out girl at the market has the most beautiful green eyes underneath the heavy make-up and overdone hair; the gentleman in dirty overalls who pumps my gas has the kindest smile and always reminds me to drive safely; my daughter looks spectacular in periwinkle blue; the security guard in my office building happily greets everyone by name and keeps diligent count till the weekend; my yoga teacher has the most amazing ability to explain the subtleties of asana with melodious ease; the faces of my students smiling back at me fill me with joy; my grandmother’s hands are fragile and lovely; the woman practicing next to me has really gorgeous feet… and so on and on.

What I discovered is that beauty comes in all forms. Some of it is obvious and some of it requires a little more insight. But it IS all around us and each one of us has it in one form or another. Discovering true beauty usually requires more than simply looking in the mirror – the real beauty is in our hearts. And when we give from our hearts, whether it be a kind word or a warm smile or a gentle touch, we can open a hundred doors, because that’s when we’re truly, absolutely, radiantly gorgeous.

Be your beautiful self!

Blissful thinking

April 2007
This is the time of year I usually dedicate a fairly good portion of my days complaining about the long, and dreary winter. But this year those of us who reside in the northeast have very little to gripe about. Thanks to El Nino [and unfortunately maybe a little global warming] we’ve had quite a mild season. So no complaints from me…okay well maybe just one: since it was so relatively mild, there was very little opportunity to hibernate -- which means not very many obvious opportunities for quiet reflection or meditation.

Those of us who do yoga certainly realize the value of this very necessary component of our practice but we often don’t make the time for a regular meditation practice. Speaking for myself, if I’m not forced into quiet, snowed-in moments I will rarely make the time to meditate even when that’s exactly what I need the most. It’s just easier to do asana or get involved in some other activity – meditating can be a difficult practice – at least it is for me.

But as this gentle winter comes to a close, I’ve slowly come to understand the need to become a clearer, calmer yogi. So I search for ways to meditate within my busy-ness. I don’t have the time to escape to a solitary beach or lonely mountaintop. I can’t run away from the honking horns or the screaming sirens of this big city I live in. I’m learning to find the quiet space within myself.

Admittedly it’s not so easy but I’m progressing. And it has made me realize that all of us have to function in the world and within our own particular chaotic lives. We all must learn to deal with our particulars as best we can. As yogis we try to live with as much grace and lovingkindness as possible but sometimes—because we’re human---we find ourselves melting into the chaos. And that’s when and why we need our meditation practice the most.

So the next time you react with anger or self-pity or jealousy, take a few minutes to journey inward. Look for that quiet, lovely, solitary space. Fill up with the goodness that is inherently in you. Let the horns honk and the chaos swirl. Then, when you feel the calmness and the clarity washing away the darkness, return to your busy-ness and shine your light. You’ll be amazed at how much people will appreciate the glow.

The True Yogi

February 2007

"Yoga can be a rough sport," said a good friend of mine as I whined to him about yet another yoga-related injury. In recent months I had found myself visiting yoga therapists and various other body-workers almost as much as I was practicing. And while I can blame the inevitable aging process for part of the problem, there seemed to be more to it than additional birthday candles…

What was going on?

So on my next visit to the yoga therapist [who by now, is also a friend], I asked him precisely that. "What exactly are you doing in your practice?" he asked. I began to relate all the classes and workshops I had been attending – the very least of them intermediate but most of them advanced. I had been determined to get a solid grasp on some poses that had thus far eluded me: intricate arm balances and inversions that took their names from the insect world. "And why do you feel the need to master these asanas?" he asked politely. "Well to become a better yogi – to be an advanced yogi," I replied. "So your interpretation of an advanced yogi is someone who can do Scorpion Pose?"


My very wise friend – who has spent a good deal of time studying and living in India -- set me straight that day. In fact, I had a bit of an epiphany.

"A true yogi," he explained, "is someone who approaches his or her entire life with an open heart and mind. They are kind and loving, and they strive to do good work in the world. It seems to me, that you are doing just that. You are a dedicated teacher, and you share knowledge with the world through your magazine. So you see, you are already an advanced yogi."

Our conversation continued for the rest of the session, and I slowly began to realize the wisdom of his words. It made me think about why I have been equating being an advanced yogi with the degree-of-difficulty of my practice. Was it just my Western mind convoluting Eastern sensibility? I thought I needed tangible proof of an advanced practice, but for whom? And why? The end result of all this self-imposed pushing was that I was hurting myself. Surely, I wasn’t practicing ahimsa. And if I’m not paying attention to the yamas and niyamas, how could I ever call myself "advanced"?

Since that day, I’ve come to realize that people in the West – especially in America – often define ourselves by the goals we set. And many of us get so caught up in reaching those goals that we miss out on the process that took us there. But yoga IS a process. There is no end goal – it just simply is.

And so I continue to learn to be in my process, and when I find myself in an "advanced" class, I happily opt to skip the Scorpion whenever I can.

Stay healthy!

Finding Peace

August 2006
Those of us who practice regularly eventually come to understand what a comfort yoga can be. Whether it’s at the end of a stressful day or the beginning of a new one, coming to the mat has the ability to wipe away the anxiety of missed deadlines, or open the heart to accept whatever gifts might be coming our way. For people living busy lives in a whirling world, yoga surely is the perfect elixir for body and soul.

Then just the other day I received an email from an unusual source – a naval aviator named LT Jason Payne. Along with his short note was a picture of two American soldiers practicing yoga on the deck of an aircraft carrier. At first it seemed a little shocking – soldiers practicing such a peaceful art – but a closer look made me smile. Appropriately enough they are standing very enthusiastically in Warrior II – flight suits, heavy boots and all. And on their faces their serene smiles relay a sense of inner calm that only yogis can truly understand. I began to think about their situation – that any minute they could be called into action and possibly face horrific consequences. Certainly that’s more stress and anxiety than most of us will ever have to deal with in our "busy" lives. But thankfully yoga is there on board that ship, halfway around the world, for these young warriors.

Surely we can all agree that war is a tragedy for all of us who live on this earth but it is especially heartbreaking for those young men and women and their families, who are putting their lives on the line day after day. I’m not sure that there could ever be a good enough reason for this to be happening in the 21st Century, but it is. And it makes me feel a little bit better to know that these brave young people might be able to find some solace on the mat.

I often think about the soldiers in this picture. I don’t know who they are or how they are but I do know that as I lay my head down in Child’s Pose, they may be doing the same thing. And somehow our consciousness is connecting and we are able to send good intentions via this connection and I am able to say silently, thank you for being so brave--please stay safe, and perhaps they are saying thank you for keeping us in your hearts. I don’t know but I like to think that this is so.

And I am so very grateful for the practice. And as I step into Warrior II, I make a conscious effort to be enthusiastically courageous in my relatively safe existence.

Om Shanti
Rita Trieger

The Company You Keep

August 2008
As a younger woman I never really had a lot of girlfriends. A prepubescent, rather nasty snub from the sixth grade female "in-crowd" had soured me on the trustworthiness of other women that lasted well into my third decade. And although I had one or two or three very fine "best" male friends along the way, I never could seem to cozy up to the idea of confiding in another woman, which by the way, was fine with me.

Then few years ago I started to form a friendship with a group of women at work. There were five of us in all and we came from very different paths. That didn’t seem to matter though; and even as we scattered to other jobs, we regularly planned get-togethers and always had way too much fun. [Kind of like a more cerebral, creative Sex and The City without the expensive shoes.]

It was at this point that I realized what I had been missing. All those years of shutting out female companionship had left a hole in my heart that was becoming joyously filled with female camaraderie, when, suddenly, my beautiful, womanly world collapsed. The details require a few hours and some good red wine but the end result was me with a broken heart and no best girlfriend[s]. Sixth grade redux.

But lucky for me this time around I had yoga to turn to, and I did. I stepped onto my mat as a pitiful victim and pouted my way through a few weeks worth of practice before I began to realize that I had choices in this whole scenario-- and also responsibilities. Situations, both good and bad, don’t happen to you unless you let them. Slowly I began to realize that I had certainly had a part in the collapse, and I also realized that I could choose to forgive them--and myself--and choose to remember the lesson learned instead of harboring bitterness and blame.

That realization helped me to make better choices about the company I keep, and today I am regularly astonished at the breadth of my female companions. They are each of them warm and loving and full of grace and I adore them with all my heart.

As for my former friends…well, I’ll always be grateful. Because I do have some wonderful memories, and because what happened between us made me examine my own intentions and actions, and at long last allowed me to have the strong female companionship I always craved.

Love you girlfriends,
[You know who you are!]

Every Single Second…

August 2007
I can still remember the first time I walked into the Wednesday evening class I now teach regularly. I was incredibly nervous and not feeling very confident. I opened the door and exchanged furtive glances with about six equally nervous beings, all in various stages of cancer treatment. The hospital where I teach yoga had just received a grant to start an Integrated Medicine program specifically for cancer patients. Everyone involved was feeling equal parts excited and cautiously expectant. I had only ever taught vigorous Vinyasa flow. I had no idea what to expect. And adding to my fear was my resistance to dealing with cancer on any level, even though it wasn’t happening to me.

As the weeks turned into months and then years (four-and-a-half so far), I learned a lot about cancer and the often-terrible toll it takes on an individual and his or her family, but I also learned much more about how to live authentically and compassionately—and how truly wonderful and magical yoga can be.

Throughout these many Wednesday nights, students have come in and out of practice. Some have gone into remission and back into the world, while sadly, others have passed on. But many remain—not because they’re sick, but because they have come to depend upon our weekly sadhana as a way to maintain a healthy body and mind.

Cancer, they tell me, has taught them to stop racing through life – it’s made them understand and appreciate every single second in a way that only something this devastating can. And the love and support that flows between us all in every class is like a cushion of light. And this light is able to shine because of yoga – each mat serving as a laboratory for self–realization and discovery— a serene and loving space to investigate our bodies and quiet our minds.

We’ve shared many, many life experiences – birthdays, retirements, a clean bill of health —and these days I often find myself looking forward to Wednesdays so that I can figure out how to illuminate some personal situation. Because my friends are wise. Cancer has shown them how to comfort, and how to laugh, and most of all, how to really LIVE. And yoga continues to provide a path for further transformation.

This issue of Fit Yoga is dedicated to each of them: Joan, Susan, Ned, Norma, Robin, Janet, Donna, Janet K., and all the others who have shared our practice. Thank you all for helping me find my truest self and shining your lights in my heart.

And to all our Fit Yoga readers, I urge you to stop, take a moment to breathe, then send out into the universe an intention of gratitude. We are so lucky to be yogis.



March 2006
Winter always seems longer than the other seasons, doesn’t it? When you look at a calendar, it’s obvious that the blustery days last approximately the same length of time as the sublime summer ones, but somehow—maybe it’s the inclement weather or the longer nights—winter seems to drag.

But I’ve been approaching winter in a different way lately. And even as the golden light of spring perches on the horizon, I’m thinking that carrying over some remnants of the long hibernation might not be a bad idea.

As yogis, we’re always reminded about looking inward, and winter is the perfect environment for introspection in both asana and meditation practice. It’s an ideal opportunity to work on that vast internal universe, and look for the seeds of authenticity in ourselves.

By coming onto our mats and allowing ourselves to be wrapped in the warm cocoon of positive yogic energy, we’re able to get a good look at our true essence—and to set intentions for change. We use our asanas to melt physical obstacles, and we use meditation to see and understand more clearly.

Now that a new season is ready to debut, we can take all these self-realizations up to a new level of awareness. And as we emerge from our winter cocoons with a new self-perspective, perhaps our outward perspective will take on a new and improved view. Perhaps we’ll be able to approach life with more forgiveness, a lot more love, and a lot less judgment.

So as you get ready to step into spring, by all means shed the negative vibes that may be hanging around—just make sure you keep the good stuff safely tucked inside.


No Fear

Why in the world are we here_
Surely not to live in pain and fear

Instant Karma
John Lennon

The world can be a scary place. For some, who are trying to survive in war zones, there is a real danger to face, while others may be dealing with a different kind of destruction, such as a life-threatening illness in themselves or a loved one. The rest of us lucky beings simply have to deal with life’s daily wrenches—some of them legitimately scary, while other stuff that we perceive as frightening could actually be a blessing in disguise, like losing a job or ending a relationship.

Of course, if you’re lucky enough to have a thriving yoga practice, you’re likely to find yourself facing your fears and learning to deal with them on an almost daily basis—whether you want to or not. Every time we step onto the mat, we have an opportunity to study our innate reactions to difficult situations. How we handle problems on the mat is like gazing into our own personal looking glass and seeing the truth about our innermost feelings. And, sometimes, it’s not very pretty.

I remember when I first began a serious practice, I used to find the most hidden spot in the room because I didn’t want anyone to see me struggling or, heaven forbid, failing. When it came time for inversions, I always headed for the bathroom—I’d rather run away than face the embarrassment of not succeeding. As I became more involved in the philosophy of yoga, I began to make the inevitable connection between my actions on the mat and my actions in life. I realized that I had been spending a lot of time and energy running away from problems rather than confronting them. It was never my fault—it was always because someone else didn’t understand me.

Eventually, my asana practice gave me the insight and courage to be a better human being. Certainly, I still have plenty of personal dilemmas to work through, but I find that I’ve become much kinder and much more forthright. And although I may still look for a less obvious position to place my mat in class I rarely, if ever, choose to leave the room.

Shine On,

The Good in All of Us

Not long ago I was enjoying a lovely al fresco lunch with one of my dearest friends. We were having a great time people watching [it’s a sport here in NYC] when she suddenly remarked, “Look at that girl – she has the quintessential yoga body.” I followed her gaze and found myself staring at a lithe, long-legged beauty. And while it was true that this lovely creature did have a yoga mat stylishly slung over one shoulder, if her figure was the yoga-body barometer where did that leave the thousands of women who are more…let’s say…shapely, and not quite so lithe? In other words—where did it leave me?

My heart sank a little as I watched this graceful beauty casually stroll away. It’s not like I hadn’t had a similar thought from time to time. For me there have been many wistful moments in yoga class—when longer arms would have made a twisting lunge less of a struggle, and a little less flesh might have enabled a more graceful arm balance. And even as I try to find balance in every area my life, maintaining a healthy attitude about my body is always a high priority. Because although I may be ultimately striving for higher consciousness, I am, after all, an American woman, living in a youth-obsessed culture, in the middle of the fashion capital [read: model central] of the world.

Of course studying yoga and practicing asana does help put things in perspective and while I do have glimpses of self-acceptance I still feel the pressure—I freak-out if I go up a size in jeans, I’m on a perennial diet, and always feel just a little disappointed when I see myself in the mirror.

But when I feel myself spiraling into this world of pitiful self-despair I try to remember what a yoga teacher once told me when I complained about my too-short arms. He said, “in a way you’re really lucky that binds and twists don‘t come so easily – it means that you have to really think about your whole body getting involved in the pose, and you need to figure out how you can use all of your tools – your breath, your awareness—to find a way in…and that’s the yoga. Those people that have a natural ability because of long limbs or a thinner physique may spend years doing asana before they discover the truth of their practice.”

I think of his words in almost every class just as I though of them during that lunch. And as I found myself reconnecting to the ground and climbing out of self-pityland, I heard my friend saying, “but you know Rita, you have one of the best chattaranga’s I’ve ever seen --- I wish I had your upper-body strength.” “Oh yeah,” I thought, “that’s one of my good points.”