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.

I Did It

Once upon a time I was a runner.


If runner means that I woke up every morning when the sun was just lighting the African sky. If runner means my sneakers hit the sidewalk in time to spring birds chirping, or summer raindrops falling, or followed the heady smell of burning woodsmoke on the dry winter air down quiet suburban streets. If runner means a breathless goodmorning, a hand raised in quick hello, as I passed a fellow crack-of-dawn runner. And if runner means a few 10k’s, a couple 15k’s, and one half marathon. Before I kinda, sorta, definitely quit.

That half marathon kicked me in the ass.

I trained. I carbo-loaded. I ran up hills and down hills and on the flattest roads I could find. I lifted (very light) weights to pretend I knew how to train build strength. I took a rest-day the day before.

My dad was my running partner in those younger and fitter days, and we ran the 10k’s together. They were short(ish) and mostly on a Sunday, so they didn’t interfere with his Saturday work schedule. He has far greater endurance and perseverance than I do, and was the perfect runner-in-arms. A regular half-marathoner, he would coach me gently, remind me to pace myself, encourage me up the hills, and he never let me finish a race alone.

This, my first half marathon, was a much bigger deal than the races we’d run before, in distance, time and emotional investment.

He couldn’t do it with me. He had to work.

So there I stood at the start. Feeling pretty much alone in the muted crowd of anticipation. Every muscle trembled with excitement and nerves, and I thought I would throw up before the gun even fired. I knew once I started, once my legs were moving and my arms were pumping, I’d be okay. Maybe even cruise a little. The endorphins would kick in and I’d actually feel good.

I’d never run a 21k before. It was brutal.

I did okay until about 15 kilometers, at which point the endorphins decided it was time for a beer. They abandoned me and my aching hip right at the bottom of an incline. I was left with my dragging Saucony’s, chaffing thighs, and seven more never ending kilometers to go.

But I wasn’t alone.

A guy I knew from high school rescued me from my marathon of misery. We’d never run together before, and certainly didn’t plan to run this race together. In fact, had he known that running with me would mean his personal worst time ever, he probably would’ve sprinted right by without so much as a goodmorning. He was a decent runner, a good runner. Definitely a serious runner. Twenty one kilometers was more than doable for him, and that race could well have been one that he was clocking for a full marathon or longer.

He did not leave my side. He slowed his pace. He wouldn’t let me give up. He coaxed me up every goddamn hill, sprayed cold water on my burning hip, and crossed the finish line with me at the very bitter end. He even let me limp ahead so that I wasn’t the absolute last.

They had stopped giving out medals by the time we made it, but he fished one out of the long abandoned box and gave it to me. For finishing. For doing it.

Exhausted, aching and disappointed in myself, I tossed my running shoes to the back of my closet. I swam, tried aerobics, and took up yoga and barre classes.

But the other day I stood on the path surrounding beautiful Lake Merritt. The water shimmered in the light, misty air and the buildings of Oakland stretched their gleaming, precise reflections right across the lake. “Good morning,” people smiled as they passed.

Two decades more wrinkled and wiser, I didn’t care how fast I ran, how long it took, or if I was slowing anyone down. I only wanted to run all the way around, without stopping. To finish right back where I started.

So I did. I did it.

And that’s what runner means.

This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, inspired by the prompt, “When I think Epic Fail, I think…” Hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, and guest hosts Allie from The Latchkey Mom and April from 100lb Countdown.