There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
— Maya Angelou
I AM A MOTHER.
It’s hard not to start with this, because a lot of what I write toward or how I might see, observe and notice life cannot help but come from the lens of being a mother.
I had my first child when I was 26 years old and sometimes I think my own children’s coming of age was intertwined with my own. It still is, in many ways.
I have three sons. Two from a previous marriage age 22 and 19. (Twenty by the time you are reading this) and one from my current marriage age 10.
"We are not what we know but what we are willing to learn."
— Mary Catherine Bateson
I AM A TEACHER.
Parker Palmer, a distant mentor, refers to teaching as a vocation, the word itself, means a calling. When I graduated college, having only a tiny grasp on what it was I wanted to do, I applied to Teacher’s College to earn a Masters Degree in teaching secondary English Education. Teaching high school gave me a chance to hang out with my favorite books, with authors who shaped my thinking. Teaching high school delivered a culture to me that forced me to be real, listen up, and to learn that good teaching required I get out of my own way. Ironically, these lessons were hard earned on my yoga mat which bolstered a vision to turn school teaching into yoga teaching. I have taught yoga in long-time studios, exotic retreat locations, in my living room, in other people’s living room, to numbers great and small, to every kind of body, age, political view. The constant has always what it means to hold a lot of space in real time. And to trust that the words will come when I believe whole heartedly in myself.
I AM A WRITER.
a mom walks into a yoga studio...
There were two times in my life I said to myself that I wanted to be a yoga teacher. The first time I was on a retreat in Tulum, Mexico — a trip I threw myself into during a tumultuous time. I was thirty years old, married for seven years, a mother of two, and questioning everything about my life. A retreat was foreign, exotic, rebellious. It was maybe 2001. Pre-Instagram. Pre-200, 300, 500, 1000 hour trainings, and there I was on my yoga mat sweating under a thatched roof hut with twenty or so other bodies and sobbing in savasana.
The second time I said it, I was on the phone with my best friend, pacing the aisles of a Barnes and Noble in my hometown of Westport, Connecticut. Yoga was a steady force in my life. I made great efforts to find classes and travel to workshops. “Mommy is so much better after she does yoga,” I said to my kids. I am not sure they thought so as I walked to my car with my yoga mat around my shoulder. I am not sure my first husband thought so either as yoga didn’t just breeze into my life as exercise, but infiltrated my entire mindset. I was experimenting with a new identity replete with pictures of Guru’s on the refrigerator and buying statues of Indian gods, and getting divorced.“I want to build a community,” I told my friend eyeing the magazine section, my stomach under a constant adrenalized seize.
"You should do it,"
Or maybe she said,
"You will totally do it"
It referred to the yoga studio I eventually opened. I had no business experience. I had only an idea. A feeling. I was a full-time English teacher and on the side had been dabbling in teaching yoga out of the free standing barn on my property. I handed out flyers to moms in my playgroups and hung posters on the walls of fitness studios around town. I switched on the heat and hung tapestries of the Buddha on the front window of the barn and people came. The barn classes became a culture. I even made tee-shirts and served homemade chai post class from my kitchen counter.
The barn yoga paved the way for my first yoga studio. I had a partner and signed a lease and built out a sweet gem of a space a few miles from my hometown. In retrospect, the whole opening a studio still felt like a quasi-hobby. I knew I loved to teach. I did not yet know anything about what owning or starting a business really meant. The only thing I knew for sure, was that I stopped teaching school and teaching yoga became my full time job. Many years later in the bios I wrote for myself as a yoga instructor, I would say that I had an opportunity to merge my love of yoga with my passion for teaching. Though I did miss teaching literature and I found ways to share favorite poems and readings in my yoga classes. To this day I carry journals full of quotes and I set them on the ground in front of me when I begin class. When I think back to the feedback and remarks made about my classes from students it’s always something about the conversation. “I love your words,” they often shared. “It feels like you are talking to me in class,” I heard more than once. My first studio laid the groundwork for bigger things. Two years later, I had a unique opportunity to create something new. Following my instincts, I walked away from my partner and a sizable security deposit to open what evolved into a thriving, beloved yoga school that I owned for the next decade. I had a new partner, a woman whom at the time I considered a sister and we would learn our lessons together as we grew community and a reputable brand.
When I look back on this time, I remember it as mostly beautiful, transformative, blessed really. And amidst that I endured some of the darkest moments of my life. Familial issues. Crisis. Addictions. The studio sailed on until my heart called me elsewhere. I would eventually go on to start another studio with my husband and build a vision that was born out of great heartbreak and a desire to heal.
I have referred to yoga many times not so much as a path but as a current, a strong surge that pushed me along to some of the most unexpected places. Places where I learned unshakable leadership, resounding forgiveness, and purifying humility. I keep learning and unlearning things about myself. A process that has brought me closer and closer to what feels like trust… something I think lives at the heart of all yoga.
Trust after all is faith.
In Chicago, where I live now, I pushed the pause button. Or I didn’t so much push it, as life continued to teach me that slowing down and getting quiet was not only inevitable, it was essential. I hunkered down. There were moments I had no idea who I was or what it was I was supposed to do. I often refer to this time, nearing 50, as a carry the water, chop the wood phase. I stayed home. I reconciled a lot of past messes. I worked on forgiveness. And, I completed a book about my son who suffered with an extreme anxiety disorder. A period of my life that took me to the depths of discomfort that I never thought I would recover from. And yet, when I look back at the words that I wrote, the memories recalled, a survivorship that sits at the center of this work, I see it less of a story about my son and his illness, but more about me failing and succeeding and failing and succeeding at taking the helm of my own life as a mother, a teacher, and a writer.
I learned to put the old stories aside and I live other stories that have yet to be told. Many of these stories live within the words I share when I teach. Words that I have come to know and live from every day — or at least I try.