In my yoga practice, my favorite thing is Ujjayi Pranayama. This is the breath that sounds like an ocean in my throat and is especially satisfying when I can’t physically be at the beach, looking at the ocean. When time must stand still, in an asana, while showing patience, or while gathering courage, breathing can help. So, in lieu of a mantra, since I’ve never officially been given one, I create my own. I am breathing in, I am breathing out.
Teaching this to children, 5 year-olds, is an enlightenment in itself. Have you ever heard children cheer when told it was time for yoga? Have you ever witnessed the serious face of a small child gazing over his hand in Warrier 2, or smiled secretly as a little girl in triangle pose looked up at her hand and said, “Hello hand!”
Yoga can mean moving into a posture, noticing one’s environment, listening to one’s body or simple quieting the mind long enough to breathe and be calmed by that magical sound.
Gratitude, like yoga, is a practice too. I am grateful to my teachers, to have a beautiful space to practice, to have a special place in my home to continue that practice and to share the gift of calm with 27 rambunctious 5 year-olds, who move through out the day, but who are grateful for the opportunity to slow down, listen to their private ocean and breathe in and out.
I have recently started having “play dates” with two of my mother’s friends. My mother passed away in October of 2008, but luckily for me, I inherited her two wonderful friends, Helen and Libby. These women (both in their 80s) have invited me to cultural events, movies, dinners and lunches and I always include them in our holiday dinners, continuing a tradition started years ago. I have friends of all ages, but these lovely women of my mother’s generation tell me stories of long ago and people from their past. They educate me about early Los Angeles and are more knowledgeable that I am about movies, theater and literature. So I am learning a lot by listening and enjoying experiencing time slowed down, time to sit and listen and time to talk about new subjects. I am making time to include visits in my schedule and my new women friends now join me when I volunteer monthly at a shelter in the city, which happens to be located right in the neighborhood where they spent their childhoods.
Sometimes things come full-circle and just work out. These evolving friendships stem from friendships that my mother (and father) enjoyed for years but I was determined not to lose touch with these women who meant so much to my mother and have been part of our family for so long. Sometimes a little effort goes a long way and the benefits for everyone are simple but special.
Think about someone you know, or have contact with and next time the opportunity presents itself, slow down enough to talk to, and most importantly, to listen to that person for a bit. The good feeling lasts longer than you would expect.
A friend told me recently that we are given packages in life, so I began to think about the concept of our lives being a series of packages and it seems to make sense. We are given these gifts and all are different, some wrapped in seemingly lovely wrapping, but holding something different from our expectation once opened, while others are wrapped in simple butcher paper but hold a treasure inside. Packages range in size and shape and also in content. We sometimes get more than we bargain for and other times open our package to fine it nearly empty, but the truth is that when you accept a gift, it becomes yours and you own it.
Often we don’t realize the gifts we have until they are no longer ours, the packages opened and the contents familiar, then suddenly taken away. Tonight I drew the card: Follow the Scent and I was reminded that the memories of our lives can be evoked by a familiar or long lost scent, which triggered a memory of my mother in her last few years. I think that as we age, our senses are weaker and for my mother, who loved scents of all kinds, it meant a strong dose of perfume so she could smell it beginning with Oscar de la Renta, then later a blend of eucalyptus, Stress Relief, it is called, doused liberally and filling the room with her presence even after she left the room. Now I miss those smells and I find myself inhaling as I stroll through her rooms in the house, or drive in her car, which is now mine. If I take in the remnants of her scent, I actually get choked up and feel a wave of her sweeping over me. It is torture, but I love it.
The thing about packages is that they sometimes arrive when least expected, as a surprise and other times I feel like a child waiting and wishing for the holidays and my package arrives late, slightly torn open on the corners, and not quite as prettily wrapped as I would expect. I open the package up, cautiously, not sure if it will meet my expectations, and then get something I have to keep even though I have no use for it, like a handmade knit sweater that I will never wear. I take out the contents and think, “Great! What am I supposed to do with this?” I am empathetic and don’t want to hurt the gift giver’s feelings, but this package is just not what I pictured, yet here I am stuck with the contents and forced to find a use for them, put them away in the back of a drawer or “re-gift.”
Life is funny that way, delivering surprises and testing us to figure out a use for them. Sometimes a gift card is the best package after all, to be used for what ever you want and saved for a special occasion or just to provide a needed dose of happiness.