Yoga Wisdom for Summer Vacation: Balance and Breathe


“Identify your right arm from your left and don’t mix them up!” The instruction is clear. I’m relieved someone is telling me what to do, especially so early in the morning. “Swing your right arm underneath your left, cross at the wrists.” With varying degrees of effort and success, we do as she says.

It was the chaos of the beginning of the school year that motivated me to seek strength and mindfulness in the very hot yoga studio, where the only sounds are the instructor’s voice and my own breathing as I struggle to stand on one foot with the other wrapped around my calf and my arms twisted like ropes in front of my face. Somehow this is easier than figuring out afternoon carpool or getting my kids to school on time every morning. These things still need to happen, but once you’ve made even small progress in eagle pose, even the impossible seems possible!

A full school year later, I’m still here on my yoga mat, trying to balance and breathe and focus on nothing except those two things. If only for the duration of the class.

We move from eagle to standing bow. I try to stretch my leg above my head and lower my upper body toward the floor, at the same time. My breath comes in short gasps, and my heart races. The cardiovascular part of class they call this, like it’s a good thing. I feel that I need to lie down immediately. The posture is over before I know it, and I take a deep breath and listen for the next instruction.

“Be in it,” I hear the wise instructor say, above the deep inhales and exhales around me. “Really be in the posture when you’re in it. Don’t hang out, waiting for it to be over.” I think she’s talking directly to me.

Summer is here, and I think about the truths I’ve discovered while breathing and balancing in that hot room. Gentle prompts that remind me how to get the most out of every day, every experience, every moment. Small reminders perfect for a bunch of kids on summer vacation. What’s true in the yoga studio is usually true outside of it too.

“If you can, you must,” is my favorite yoga teacher’s mantra. If you are physically able to touch your forehead to your knees, do it! If your spine is able to bend backwards, bend! If there are new friends to make and new foods to try, go for it! Wonderful and exciting opportunities may present themselves to you this summer. If your body and heart are able, seize them. Your life will be fuller, richer, brighter. If you can, you must.

All yoga instructors teach: “Where your eyes go, your body will follow.” This is for you, my often cautious daughter, as you stand at the edge of the pool wondering if you’ll clear a good distance when you dive. It’s for you, my fearless son, as you descend the half pipe on your skateboard: don’t forget to look up! And it’s for you, my youngest and oldest, as you embark on new adventures – your first time at sleep away camp, your first time as a CIT (counselor in training): look ahead, look beyond, look for something new. Where your eyes go, your body will follow.

As we stand on our mats in the yoga studio we are always reminded to be considerate to our fellow yogis. To make sure the people behind us can see themselves in the mirror. To not enter or exit the class during a pose, as it is distracting. To take care of others. As we head into summer, look out for each other. Look out for your friends. Offer help, a hug or a high five! Share your food, your water, your bug spray and sunscreen. Share your love and yourself. Be kind. Take care.

The summer promises to be as busy as the school year. There will be fun adventures and new experiences for all of us. And I will continue to practice yoga. Because if I can balance and breathe inside the yoga studio, I can probably do the same outside of it too.


This piece originally appeared on J. The Jewish News of Northern California.

Hot and Spicy

“Haaaa,” we all exhale, like dragons breathing out fiery breath. Heads tipped back, hands clasped tight together, elbows touch… breathe out every last drop. Inhale.

We move as one. Breathe as one. Eyes fixed straight ahead. It’s quiet, except for the sounds of our inhales and exhales. And the instructor’s soft, predictable directions. Quiet. Deliberate. Meditative.

And hot as hell. And kinda smelly. And is that guy really wearing nothing but tighty-whiteys to a sweaty yoga class?

“Inhale 1, 2, 3… suck your belly in, see your ribcage in the mirror, take in one last sip of air, and exhale… haaaa.”

Shit. It’s hot.

Bikram yoga is hot yoga. That’s the point. The room is heated to 100 degrees fahrenheit (or so they say), and the heat keeps turning on and off, on and off throughout class. Which is 90 minutes long. The sweat drips off your nose even if you just sit on your towel and don’t move. Which is not the point. The point is to move your body in this furnace, through a fiery series of 26 poses all of which have been carefully choreographed to positively affect your organs and systems and bones and muscles, and to thus change your body and the way it works (or so they say).

The room is hot. It smells. People wear far too little and make funny noises. The sweat pours out of every crevice on every body. No drinking is allowed for the first 30 minutes, and after that only very small sips. It’s definitely some kind of torture. And every class is full. Everywhere.

I’ve been doing Bikram yoga on and off for about 15 years. More off than on. Because it really takes a particular mindset to get myself over that hot and spicy threshold. And women can’t do it if pregnant – internal body temperature rises much higher than is healthy for a developing fetus (that should tell you something right there!) – so that was three years of no Bikram. But really I must add at least two years per child onto the no-Bikram period (the mindset thing), which brings it to 11 years off. So then I guess I’ve been sweating it out intermittently for a grand total of four years. Doesn’t sound as impressive.

But anyway – I’m back on. Desperate times like aging, achy joints and a stiff back call for desperate measures. And today I thought I really must be quite desperate.

It was hot. Inside and outside. The room was full of spicy smells and spicy sounds and spicy costumes. The instructor was okay, not great. People seemed unfocused – including me – and the energy was erratic.

The woman on the mat next to me had a lot of hair, held back by a bandana. She was wearing brown yoga pants, a faded black long-sleeve hooded sweatshirt, and SOCKS. She’ll take those and that sweatshirt off soon, I thought. I hoped.

But nope. I couldn’t look to my left for fear I’d get even hotter than I already and uncomfortably was, just by looking at her.

I couldn’t keep my arms and legs kicking and stretching in equal and opposite directions during Standing Bow pose. “If you kick and stretch equally you can stay like this forever,” they say… not me! I couldn’t do two sets of Triangle, and I couldn’t do Toe Stand. It hurt to twist my arms and legs like ropes during Eagle. But I managed to stay in Cobra. And in Full Locust. I kept my back bent the entire duration of Camel. And even Rabbit felt good today.

There’s no judgment in yoga, of anyone else and definitely not of oneself. It’s time to let it all go. To just breathe (through the nose – don’t gulp air or you’re feel sick). To empty the mind. To let the heat and the postures work their magic. And they are magical. My back aches less, just since last week. I encouraged myself to stay focused today. To not push it, but to do what I can. And to not look to my left – her sweatshirt is her business. (I did notice that in a head-to-knee pose the hood of her sweatshirt was all the way over her head and she looked very cozy. And happy). Namaste.

Hot and Spicy by OPI

Hot and Spicy by OPI

*This post was written as part of the April A to Z Challenge. To read more of my A to Z posts click here.