Thursday, August 25, 2011

On Top of the World

Schroon Lake is a wide part of the Schroon River, which snakes through a valley in the Adirondack mountains. One of the things I love about living here is the view of the mountains all around. I like to be in the midst of the solidness and stability of the mountains, where I feel safe and grounded.

While looking up at the mountains is grounding, looking out from their tops is breathtaking. If you've read my Wednesday Adventures post, you know that my son and I have been heading to the mountaintops every Wednesday when the yoga studio is closed. Each week we have taken more challenging hikes onto taller peaks. We visited the fire tower on top of Hurricane Mountain, explored the balanced rocks on Pitchoff and, last week, sat at the top of Noonmark looking out at most of the 46 High Peaks. The longing to visit the hiker's Mecca in the Adirondacks was too much.

We started with the smallest and easiest of the 46, Cascade Mountain. "Smallest" and "easiest" are, of course, relative terms as even the runt is over 4,000 feet. The hike up is fairly benign; the trail is so well worn and packed down that parts seem like sidewalk. The rocky bits are almost stairs. It was not until we neared the bald summit that the climb got challenging, but scrambling up the dome wasn't as hard as standing up in the wind once on the top.

Completely open, the summit is exposed to the wind from any direction and yesterday was a breezy day. At the summit the wind was strong and steady and worked hard to knock over anyone who got to their feet. We love to eat our lunch on the summits, but yesterday we had to retreat down the mountain a bit to find a sheltered spot where we could hang onto our food.

A short way from the top is a col between Cascade and Porter Mountain, its closest High Peak neighbor. Less than a mile was too easy to pass up, so we found Porter's summit yesterday as well. And now we have two High Peaks under our belts.

I find immense pleasure in sitting on top of a mountain, no matter how big, looking out at the beauty of nature and the sometimes less than beautiful human creations below. Being closer to the sky makes me feel closer to the source of inspiration and power. But the greatest joy from this summer's hikes has come from watching my now eight-year-old son gain strength and confidence as he tackled each peak. He has a knack for following even poorly marked trails and scales boulders so easily that more than one person we've met on the trail has likened him to a mountain goat. We have had some amazing conversations on the trail, his input varying from the kind of robot he'd like to build to questioning why there are so many songs about women. (Try explaining that to an eight-year-old while trying not to trip over a stone.)

And, after all the maturity and confidence he shows on the mountain, he still reaches for my hand when we step off the trail and onto the roadside. And then this mom is on top of the world.

In the wind on the summit of Cascade.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


I have a confession to make. In a very unyogic and self-absorbed way, I have been going around thinking you could never relate to what I feel in my body when I practice, because my body is so uniquely f*cked up you'd never feel what I feel. I'd been teaching asana the way the books say to teach it. And I honestly couldn't figure out why, despite repeating my well-rehearsed script over and over, some of you didn't do what I was asking you to do.

Then one day I had a breakthrough. Bored of listening to myself tell you not to lift your shoulders to your ears when you extend your arms in Warrior II, I demonstrated. You still didn't get it, but as I was demonstrating I got annoyed at my deltoids, those muscles at the very top of my arms, for starting to ache. I can feel them working in Warrior II every time I lower my shoulders. I assumed it was because my arms are weak or malformed and nobody else's arms ever ached holding Warrior II. But on breakthrough day I said "what the heck" and told you to relax your shoulders until you could feel the tops of your arms take over. And ten sets of shoulders relaxed down.

And the yoga teacher learned that humility is not only not thinking her body's better than everyone else's body. It's also not thinking that her body is worse.

So now I know that if I can feel it, you can probably feel it too. And I know you better than I did before, even if you've never said a word to me. Don't worry. I'll only use that knowledge for good.

I have another confession, too. Even though I keep using pictures of me standing on my head to illustrate my blog posts, when I practice I spend much more time in childs pose than I do in headstand. Much, much more.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Upside Down after Two Years

It wasn't planned, but perhaps it was fitting that I led an inversion workshop at the True North Yoga studio yesterday. Two years ago, on July 31st, car packed with clothes, house plants and my yoga mat, bike strapped on the back, I walked out of the corporate accounting department for the last time and drove north. That was it. No more job. No more suburban house minutes from Whole Foods and P.F. Chang's. No more yoga studios, except the one I was going to create.

On August 1, 2009, I taught my first class as a self-employed yoga teacher in the basement of the Schroon Lake Community Church. One person showed up. I taught the class anyway.

I was scared. I wasn't going to cover the rent and insurance with one student. But I kept going and classes got bigger, slowly. They are still growing. The business survived.

I survived, even without decent Chinese food.

It's okay to be scared. Scared is what makes you hesitate before you walk into traffic and keeps you from leaning really far over the cliff. Of course with a well-anchored rope and a sturdy harness you can go right over that cliff. All it takes is trust and the right tools to work through scared.

Many people are scared of inversions. It's understandable. You are relying on body parts that don't normally support all of your weight to keep your head from hitting the floor. But the inverted asanas are also very liberating. Once upside down you are open to a brand new perspective.You discover how powerful you are. And you learn to trust yourself.

Now that's something to take off your mat.

The next time life throws something scary at you, whether it's a cliff or a career change, you can trust yourself. You've got what it takes to work through it.

My daughter and I are celebrating our second anniversary of life in the Adirondacks by tackling that scary cliff. Next week we're going rock climbing.
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