The Reluctant Yogi

If someone told me five years ago that I would spend most of my free time in yoga pants, stay a weekend at the ashram, and watch Netflix while in relaxing in supta baddha konasana, I would have laughed. No, I would have rolled my eyes. That is my move.

But all of that is true.

Nearly three years ago, during an intense time for me at work and personally, two friends told me that I should give yoga a try. I knew nothing about the practice of yoga or its philosophy. But I figure if I hear something twice from two different people it’s worth a try.

So, I did what I do, and bought a set of 6 private sessions with the founder, master teacher, and yoga therapist at the local studio. There was no way I was going into a group class, even a basics, without knowing what I was doing. The ego knows no bounds.

Shortly after my first session I knew something was happening. I was reading books and signing up for workshops and within six months I was in yoga teacher training. It was a whirlwind romance.

So what was reluctant about it? I am a Christian of the born again evangelical variety, a fun but pretty rigid lawyer by trade, eatin’ up with common sense, and not very open to woo woo. I had heard other Christians, particularly preachers, criticize yoga as heretical, as though it’s a religion. It’s more common for lawyers to release their stress at the bar, not stretching and Om-ing in bare feet and yoga pants. From the outside yoga seems silly to people like me, you know the people who say that they “aren’t flexible” or don’t need to “just breathe.” I am a sixth generation Appalachian-American we are of the tough-it-out-get-over-it-suck-it-up school of dealing with life. And while I think the woo woo (crazy yoga stuff) speaks for itself – let’s say after three years and nearly 500 hours of training I still don’t know if I believe our bodies are filled with 72,000 nadis (little rivers) that move prana through the body.

But, what I do know is that yoga can make a significant positive change in anyone’s life.

I spent the better part of my thirties becoming a whole person, a real adult, emotionally and mentally. So by the time I met yoga three years ago I thought I had myself together. Turns out I was missing one leg of the stool – having your s&*t together emotionally and mentally is not enough. I had to get out of my head and connect my head to my body – as my teacher says, “our issues are in our tissues.” Yoga is the first practice or activity that allows me to quiet my mind. And not to worry the Christians out there – I don’t quiet my mind to empty it, I quiet my mind so that I can hear what is most important. I have a very active mind – sometimes it crosses from a great problem-solving machine to a worst-case scenario generator. Yoga helps me to keep the mind active and moving toward the positive by focusing and concentrating on what matters – changing my behavior, rather than trying to change my mind. It isn’t magic, it’s work but when something changes it certainly feels magical, productive and, more importantly, healthy.

14469634_10157489365085321_7607067573271721235_nOf course there are physical benefits to a regular yoga practice – I am strong (I can see muscles now), more flexible, balanced, and I can stand on my head. I love all those things, but what I love most is that my regular yoga practice has allowed me to become more calm, quiet (literally and figuratively), and more focused (on the right things).

I figure that if yoga is for me then it is for anyone, anyone who wants these outcomes. Turns outs you don’t have to believe it all, you really can take what you need and leave the rest. Maybe one day I’ll need to believe in the nadis. Until then my yoga romance will continue because I can’t wait to experience the depths of healthy that I now know are within reach.

 

 

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The Oldest Thing I Own

What is the oldest thing you own and why?

I was at a dinner party recently where the hosts used a question game to keep dinner conversation moving. Everyone at the table drew a question from a basket and shared their answer with the group. My question was something about what I do on my days off. But this question – what is the oldest thing you own and why? – has stuck with me.

I thought about it on the drive home and woke up thinking about it the next morning.

I first thought of my grandmother’s ring that I wear everyday. It is old. Then I thought about my Uncle Jim’s turquoise bracelet, it is old too. On my way into the garage to leave for work I saw the oldest thing I own. It was sitting in the garage waiting to be moved into the house.

At the end of summer, my Daddy delivered a cabinet to my house that belonged to my grandmother. For as long as I can remember it lived in her bedroom. She kept lots of things in it – VHS tapes, trinkets, or blankets in the windowed shelves. In the drawers were cancelled checks, mementos from trips, scarves, and gloves. I remember waking up as a child in her bedroom and seeing that cabinet first thing in the morning. I know the feeling of the cabinet doors catching as I opened and closed them because the door frames are no longer even. This cabinet was part of her house, part of the experience of living there. It was a fixture. I used this cabinet when I moved into her house in 2006, after she was gone. I used it in the same room and in same ways, minus the cancelled checks, for the next five years.

On the way to work, I called Daddy and asked him about the age of the cabinet? It was older than I thought. It originally belonged to my great-grandmother and according to Daddy it could date back to the 1920s or 1930s.

We talked about what it is made of and whether the glass was original. It is likely that the glass has been replaced and that it wouldn’t stand up to much stress. The back is particle board and it has been stained and painted and repainted many times. He said, “That is why that cabinet is only valuable to you.”

So true.

Attachment-1

The cabinet’s current home in Indiana.

I thought about the why, why do I have it. It wasn’t that it was given to me, I asked for it. I wanted it more than I wanted the darkly stained regal-looking claw-foot cabinet that my sister has in her home. Comparing the two this one is not much. It is the same green color it has been for the last 40 years and lined with the same floral paper my grandmother put in it 20 years ago. And until its arrival in Indiana it probably had never left Buchanan County, Virginia.

It has stood watch in her house for many years and if it talked it could tell many stories – births, deaths, holidays, and everything in between. For many years it was positioned against the wall across from where she knelt every night to pray and was the first thing she saw every morning. It was something she touched nearly everyday and when you open the drawers today it still smells like her house. I can’t look at it and not think of her or her house on the mountain that at one time or another was home to every member of my immediate family. You can’t buy that.

I own it because it is a tangible memory – something to rekindle the memories that fade with time. A precious heirloom. Because, in the words of Hazel Dickens, “there are some things memories can’t bring home.”

My Appalachian Accent: You Aren’t From Here Are You?

This week I met a woman who seemed surprised that I still have an accent after living in Northeast Indiana for nearly five years.

Her surprise made me think about the regular conversations I have about my accent and dialect. The following is an example of a typical exchange that occurs multiple times a week, still, with new colleagues, business people, clerks, tellers, and others I talk to as I go about my life (I talk a lot).

Me: Hi, how’re you?

Midwesterner: Fine. You aren’t from here are you? You sound Southern. (It really comes this quickly.)

Me: No

Midwesterner: Where are you from? (Sometimes they guess and when they do it is most often Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, or Kentucky in that order. The people who guess the last two know accents. The first two are way off).

Me: I am from Virginia.

Midwesterner: Really? What part? (As it turns out, many people do not consider Virginia Southern or Appalachian and are shocked that my accent could come from Virginia.)

Me: Southwestern Virginia in the mountains near Kentucky.

Midwesterner: Oh, yeah, West Virginia.

Me: No, but West Virginia is only about 15 minutes from my Mommy’s house.

Midwesterner (usually looking confused): When did you move?

Me: Four and a half years ago.

Midwesterner: Oh. Really? You’ve been here a while. (Looking shocked).

People assume that after five years I would talk differently, less like me and more like them. Sometimes they say it directly and others just offer a surprised “oh.”

This is the problem when you have a pronounced accent and dialect and you don’t do a lot of code switching. Code switching is defined by dictionary.com as the alternate use of two or more languages or varieties of language, especially within the same discourse. Code switching as it relates to Appalachian dialects and accents is discussed in a delightful post on The Revivalist.

My accent and dialect are pretty standard Central Appalachian. I do not have the thickest accent compared some other people from the mountains of Southwest Virginia, Southern West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky, East Tennessee, and Western North Carolina. My accent and dialect have not changed much since leaving home in 1997. Although I have noticed that occasionally instead of saying r-eye-ght I will say right in a more neutral accent and ain’t slips out far less than it used to. My brother-in-law recently called me out for saying “soda” instead of “coke” or “pop.” Otherwise, my accent is pretty static.

When I moved to the Midwest I assumed that people would take note of my accent as it happens quite often in other places, even in some parts of Central and Northern Virginia. I dealt with this in college at the University of Virginia, as I have traveled through the United States and the world, and most recently and intensely in my time in the Midwest.

Most people are nice about it, even though they sometimes point out my accent as though they are pointing out a pimple or a gray hair. They say that they think it is cute or charming. Sometimes this goes too far when I am asked to “talk some more” as though I am a performer. While others, not realizing how personally I take the way I talk, might crack a joke about my family tree or being a hillbilly or redneck, but they are not the worst. There is a small group that I encounter from time to time who judge me immediately as ignorant, racist, or wrong.

My accent immediately gives people information about me and it is always filtered through the listener’s opinions of Southerners, and more specifically Appalachians. Recently, I’ve heard “maybe if you stay here long enough you’ll learn how to talk.” This Midwesterner was teasing when she said it, but I believe, as it has often been said, that there is an ounce of truth in all teasing. Then there was “it’s because you sound so different,” offered as a reason for the people not being welcoming. Right or wrong, it is clear that people have a hard time ignoring or accepting a different accent without question or comment.

When I moved to the Midwest I realized that I could hear my own accent. Everyone else sounds different and it makes my accent audible to me, which was a first. At home I don’t notice, because everyone sounds similar. So, I know what my accent sounds like and I am okay with it. In fact, I love it. I love it because I hear the mountains in my voice. I hear words and sayings that my parents use and things my grandmother said. There is history, heritage, and culture in my accent and dialect. I think it is interesting and special. As the writer in The Revivalist post noted “Appalachian accents are like no other.”

But I have noticed that I am a bit weary of explaining the way I talk. There is a kind of lonely in living in a place where no one talks the way I do. It certainly draws people in and creates conversation, but not always in a comfortable way. And there is a fear that those that ask about it and some who don’t are assuming the worst about me.

Over the years I have heard friends from home say that they hate our accent. Many of those friends moved away and made a conscious effort to change the way they talk. While I will never consciously change my accent or dialect, I understand better now why others do. I will work hard to keep my accent, but my experience in the last five years makes me empathetic for my Appalachian friends and family who made those changes. I get why they did it.

It can be tough living in a place where no one sounds like you.

What I’ve Learned from the Sun

I have always loved a sunset, but since moving to the Midwest I have fallen in love with the movements of the sky. I have try to watch as many sunsets and sunrises as possible; in four years I have seen hundreds. I make a special effort to watch them on certain days ­– my birthday, the new year, or when I need a reminder of just what a little speck that I am in this universe or how I am part of a large, unknowable plan.

The first thing I did on the first day of this year was get in my car and drive to my spot, a church parking lot at the edge of my subdivision, to watch the sun come up. In the silence I watched the light glow above the horizon and tree line. Then the sun slowly inched across the sky. As I did I made a list of the things I want to do and do better this year (no resolutions, just observations and promises to myself).

New Years Sunrise

When my list was long enough I stopped and put my phone down. I thought about how long I’ve been walking or driving to this spot to observe the sun. What have I learned from it? Is there anything to be taken from watching the two most physically beautiful parts of the day? It did not take long to realize the lessons and reminders that I can take from observing the sun.

The earth, the divine, speaks lessons and reminders, if we will listen. As I sat in the car, window down and seat heater on, a list of these lessons and reminders came quickly to mind.

Always look behind you.

RainbowsThe sun rises in the east and it does amazing things. But, that is not where all the action is. Look west. There is often something just as beautiful behind me. During a sunrise it is a pale pink glow on a clear day, other times the reflection of the sun’s glow on clouds, and if I am lucky, it’s a rainbow inspired by the morning dew. At sunset it’s the ombre of blue to purple to black layered from west to east. In the morning and night I look to the north and south and see more of that pink glow, carbon trails drawing pictures in sky reflecting the light in different ways, or long flat clouds that seem to go on forever.

I spend so much time looking in one direction – what I want, need, or where I am going down the road. If I’m not careful my laser focus causes me to miss things just as lovely, and important, that are happening in and around me. It is never just about what is in front of me. Situations look different depending on the point of view; sometimes I have to change my perspective to get to where I’m going.

Be patient.

Stalking sunsets and sunrises takes effort. It also takes practice. I can’t just show up at the exact time the weather channel says that the sun will set. I’ll miss it. This is especially true of ocean sunsets, if I look away for a second or stop watching for a moment to mess with my camera I’ll miss it. I have to find my spot and get there early. This might mean getting up early or staying late. It makes me work for it.

Pacific

Don’t all things worth having, seeing, or keeping take a little (or a lot) of work? The sun might be free, but it isn’t easy.

Embrace silence.

I like to talk. Frankly, I need to talk (my poor mother used to pray for 5 minutes of silence when I was a child).  If I am not talking I am playing music or running the television in the background. The sun, though, does all its work silently. Most of the year it does its work when the world is quiet – no traffic, little work, and before or after most people have gone inside.

The sun in some ways demands silence. I have watched sunsets with people and 100% of the time everyone becomes quiet as we watch. No one says, be quiet or shhhh. Your spirit just knows to quiet itself – to embrace the peace of it, to stand in awe and reverence of the divine.

It is a lovely time – a new day or the end of one – to think, pray, reflect, or whatever I need to do. A time to be quiet and still. A time to listen to that still small voice.

Summer Sunset

I can’t always see what is next, but I trust it will be good.

Recently a friend died unexpectedly. I found out on a Friday. As it goes with these things, I spent much of the day trying to understand and thinking about my life and its fragility. Understanding did not come, nor did I expect it. That understanding will only come, as Dolly would sing, “farther along.” But the lack of understanding hung there reminding me that I am not in control and I don’t know what will happen tomorrow.

LorinThe next morning I woke up, threw on my slippers and a jacket over my night-clothes. I drove to my spot to watch the sunrise. It was late fall and the sun had shifted behind a cluster of trees. I would not be able to see the sun itself until it was up and clear of the woods, a quarter of the way up. I waited and watched the light start to glow through and then above the trees. I knew what was coming but I couldn’t see it yet. As I waited I was reminded that just because I can’t see what’s next doesn’t mean it isn’t going to be wonderful. It is so easy to feel like things are not moving fast enough or going where I want them to go. But no matter how I feel, I believe there is something good ahead, just beyond what I can see. I believe it because I’ve seen it before.

Sometimes a memory is all I get to take with me.

My sister is great fun. Once when I was a teenager and she was living at home we had a particularly fun weekend. The following week I told her that I’d like to do it again. She told me it was fun but “those times are like bubbles, they last for a little while and then they pop. You can’t repeat them.” She was right.

Sunset and sunrises are beautiful, sometimes so much so that I can’t capture them in a picture. Even when I try the picture is so disappointing that I just delete it. There is a level of pretty that just doesn’t translate (at least not with an iPhone camera).

There are some things that so are beautiful that I can’t capture with anything but my mind, my memories. I get frustrated with the limits of my equipment and ability to share what I have seen, but that reminds me that some things, people, and experiences are meant just for me, not to be shared. The things that I keep for myself are the most precious.

Pink

I try to find something beautiful in every day. On days when I can’t accept beauty in myself, in others, or in the events of the day, I can find it in the sky. Even on a cloudy day. So, as the sun demands, I will stop and listen to what it has to say in its beautiful silence.