Holding On & Letting Go

Have you ever had a really bad week?  One where everything seems to be going wrong?  I had one last week that knocked me off my feet.  Plumbing problems, landlord problems, tenant problems, family challenges, business problems and a minor car accident to top it all off.  It started to become a bit funny every time something went wrong.

We all have days/weeks/years like this.  What I keep noticing is that each event, each occurrence, good or bad, gives me an opportunity to grow.  While not always pleasant nor easy, I can see how each of those events help me to let go of my attachments a little more each time.  It’s fairly easy for me to let go of material attachments.  However, it is very hard for me to let go of personal attachments and relationships even if it is important for me to do so.

We all have those things that we have a hard time living without, even if we know it is for the best.  When we have a hard time letting go of something, that is a good sign that we are attached to it – and perhaps not in the cleanest way.

I think of it like dessert that is being offered to me.  If I can make a choice about whether or not to eat the dessert out of a clear place with no attachment to it, then I will know what to do. I’m fine if I eat it and find if I don’t. But, if I NEED to have that dessert and won’t be satisfied until I eat it, then it is most likely that I have an addiction or unhealthy need to obtain the object of my ego’s desire.

We all struggle with our attachments, but Yoga gives us an opportunity to be free.  Free from unhealthy attachments and free from being pushed and pulled by the current of life. Yoga teaches us how to achieve more inner peace and to overcome the ego so that we can appreciate life and let go when there is loss.

It is a long, slow road to this place, but well worth the effort.  I can’t say that I am there yet, but I know I am nowhere near where I began.

How has Yoga changed your life so far?  I’d love to hear from you.  Has it been one step at a time or one giant leap?  How do you notice the gifts of Yoga in your daily life?  Have you just stretched your hamstrings or have you found a way to be more flexible and less rigid in the world?

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The Hardest Pose

There is a children’s book that I remember reading to my son called “The Hardest Word”.  It was a book about a colorful bird called The Ziz who had to find the most difficult word in the english language and bring it back to God.  He went all over the world and collected all sorts of complicated and intricate words with many letters and meanings, but to no avail. Until one day when he finally found it out.  The word was, “I’m Sorry.”

This story reminds me of what I consider the hardest Yoga pose of them all.  There are many postures that are complicated and intricate and involve being upside down and balancing on one leg, but out of all of these there is one that is both simple and the hardest thing to do.

This pose is Savasana – Relaxation Pose and it is a challenge for most of my students.

Be honest.  Do you find it more difficult to go to a power Yoga class or to take 30 minutes at home to practice and breath?  In my experience, most of us do not make the time for relaxation and we suffer because of it.  The excuse is that we just “don’t have the time.”

When you allow yourself to let go, you can use your time more effectively and efficiently.  If we do not take care of ourselves and give ourselves time to release tension and calm our nervous system, how available are we really going to be for those around us? A regular restorative practice will help you see that you cannot afford NOT to relax.

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Of Course The Heart is Affected

This month I would like to share something one of my students sent to me.  She has been struggling with infertility for years and is now teaching Yoga to other women who are trying to conceive.  She has really opened my mind and heart to her plight and the deep pain many women share.  This was written as a response to a recent donor’s inability to fund a program for infertility due to the fact that the funds were reserved for conditions of the heart only.

” Of course the heart is affected. When you are told that you can’t have kids- you want to die. It’s like someone ripped your heart out and stomped on it. Of course the heart is affected.

There is an enormous amount of stress involved in fertility treatments. Stress effects every part of the body, especially the heart.

The heart is perched on top of the diaphragm, the main muscle responsible for breathing. Do you know what happens when someone tells you that you’re chances of having children are slim to none? You stop breathing. Which means that the diaphragm which was built to massage the heart (and all the other organs) every time we take a deep breath, well, the heart doesn’t get that built in masseus. The heart weakens, the organs are stressed and we start to die a little every day.

We stop breathing. There’s nothing to breathe for. Of course it affects the heart.

The women who are going through fertility treatments turn to Karen and the Rimon Center for help on a different level. There’s an ear to listen to them, a shoulder to cry on, and there’s someone telling them to breathe. So simple, but they actually forget how to breathe. They are holding their breath for days, weeks, months. Of course it affects the heart.

There’s someone telling them that life is beautiful, that they can find the peace and tranquility that’s inside each and every one of them. Someone tells them to open their heart- the source of love, compassion and loving kindness- to open their hearts up to themselves and to the glorious world; to all the potential that’s out there, to all the good that’s out there.

At the end of the yoga class, getting ready for relaxation pose, the women get comfortable on the mats, but I notice some with their hands over their hearts- always protecting, defending it against any more pain and suffering. I go over to them, lift one hand ever so gently, place it next to their body, take the other hand and do the same, palms up, in a receptive mode, coaxing them to relax, release and let go. Encouraging them to soften their bodies, to relax the chatter in their mind and surrender to this moment, this exact moment where they can find peace.”

Hopefully they will find their peace, it DOES affect the heart- but it doesn’t have to.

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Today I bought a memorial candle for my father. He died on March 22, 2014, but this is the first candle I lit in his memory. I don’t even know why. I pulled out the scarf that I took while cleaning out his room in the home where he stayed and wore it a few days ago. A little piece of him wrapped around my neck. The scent of a man who was a mystery to me.

Yesterday, as I left my sister’s home, a deep feeling of sadness came over me. I looked at my family, the siblings that were his legacy, and saw in each of us the pain and loneliness that was his. We long to connect to one another and we don’t know how. We run away from difficult feelings that we cannot face. We have each developed ways of coping in the world, to shield us from the hurt we endured. And we are still struggling with these wounds.

I have worked hard to find peace with my father and can accept that he was doing the best he could with the tools that were given to him. But what continues to surprise me is how far reaching the impact of his actions is. I want to mourn and cry over the loss, but the loss of his life is only a small piece. There is a greater loss that remains silent and looming. It is the loss of what a father should have been and the pain of three daughters who never felt good enough.

We are what remains. Beautiful, strong, fragile and weary, we carry on his legacy. We try our best to build ourselves up, to overcome, to love and to laugh. We try to tell the ones we care about how much we love them, even if it hurts. Even if we are afraid that they will leave us. We are a brave and broken bunch.

So today I light a candle for you, Dad. There was a time when you were young and hopeful too.

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Beginner’s Mind

I recently attended the “Yoga Arava,” a beautiful Yoga event hosted by various small communities deep in the Israel desert. I guess I had been looking for something “out of the box” and new which drew me to a workshop with a new teacher and a very different style of Yoga than my familiar Iyengar asana practice.

I was a complete novice which was a beautiful feeling. For once, I wasn’t taking notes, or trying to remember a new instruction. I just allowed myself to experience this practice without expectation and without mind, like I did when I first found Yoga. Somehow in the process of becoming a teacher and therapist, my mind became an important part of my practice as I was learning and retaining new information.

As I progress in my practice and look for classes for advanced practitioners, what I find is a tendency for these classes to be more detail oriented, so much so that my mind is overwhelmed at times with instructions. Along with these instructions, there is a sense of rigidity that is created in the muscles, joints and in the brain as I continue to try harder. This, coupled with strict and harsh teachers, has made me question my reason for practicing altogether.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Yoga. Yoga is my life and my path. But I wonder how much asana, and the intense alignment principles have to do with this?

My question is this. When is it enough? Are we always striving to achieve the next more subtle instruction, conquer the next pose, or hold inversions for another minute?

The truth is, I am a Type A personality. I am very disciplined and rigid and have discovered how much I like a sense of control in my day to day life. (Yes, I am also aware that this is a reaction to a fragile inner world, thanks to Yoga). I just wonder if a Yoga asana practice that pushes for more discipline and control is the right style to balance me out. Perhaps it is ideal for someone who needs more discipline and focus, but is it possible that to find more moderation, I may need a practice that allows for more opening, softening, exploration, acceptance and breath?

In time, with practice, I have come back to embrace all the things that drew me to Purna Yoga and the teachings of my teacher Aadil Palkhivala, who infuses the Heart Center into alignment based asana as the main focus. It is a deep, experiential practice that de-emphasizes performance and rigidity and embraces a sense of ‘coming home’ each time your feet meet the mat.

At the Yoga Arava, I spoke with the teacher about the concept of how Linear Yoga has become. It is true that the body moves in diagonals and spirals and that everything in nature does the same. So why do we find ourselves holding poses in right angles for an extended period of time? Is this natural to the human body? Do some styles of Yoga create more tension and wearing down of the joints because of this? Is there another way?

I am only asking questions here and not proposing any answers. I guess the teacher is becoming the student again. I think the day we think we have all the answers is the day we are no longer practicing Yoga.

So my practice today is to keep my mind open, to explore and honor this gift that I have been fortunate to receive and to approach my mat with beginner’s mind each and every day.

I hope you join me on this journey. I look forward to seeing you when I am back in the US in January and August this year.

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The only constant is change

2014-08-31 15.16.37Two weeks ago, we welcomed a new member of the family into our lives. His name is Buzz and we adopted him from the shelter in Tel Aviv. He is two and a half years old, and has the sweetest eyes I have ever seen.

Being a new dog owner, I was concerned when Buzz didn’t eat for the first few days at our house. I would often come home and find him under the bed and he would gaze up at me with sad and sorrowful eyes as I coaxed him to come out and say hello.

After consulting with other dog owners, I learned that it may take a while for Buzz to acclimate to his new environment and it is normal for him to be depressed and not to eat. After all, he is going through major changes, even if they are for the better.

This made me think as I have been struggling with reintegrating into my life in Israel after 2 months traveling and teaching in Canada and the US. I feel tired, irritable and occasionally anxious for no apparent reason. Something just feels off and I can’t explain it. While my first move out here was filled with excitement and enthusiasm, this time around I was faced with weeks of mail, bills to pay and errands to run. Not to mention a couple of trips to the bomb shelter the week I returned.

Yet, somehow, I expect everything to be normal right away, even though I have been through many changes this summer. Why do I give my dog more time to acclimate and have more compassion for him than for myself? After all, we are all animals and share a common nervous system. Change is a form of trauma, for better or for worse.

I think it is important for us to remember this especially when we are going through changes or transitions in life. If we understand that our nervous system needs time to adapt, we can be more patient and less reactive to the emotions that sometimes come over us unexpectedly. We can’t avoid the feelings, but we can avoid suffering. We can allow any uncomfortable feelings to move through us and know that it is a normal response to change. And we can be kind and give ourselves a break. Just like we would to any pet or loved one in the same situation.

So thanks Buzz, for the lesson in compassion. I’m sure it is the first of many more to come.

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Coming Full Circle

It is my birthday today. I am 43 years old. I wake up early this morning to walk along the white sands of the beach in Ogunquit, Maine. There is a field with lush, green grass along a river and a couple of rowboats perfectly placed as if waiting to be painted. I stand on the bridge and look out at the view and take a deep breath, appreciating the quiet beauty that surrounds me. Then I walk over the bridge to the beach that has just awoken. In an hour or two it will be swollen with lawn chairs, tourists, umbrellas and strollers. But this morning, at this hour, it is me, the seagulls and a few other early morning risers who grace its shore.

 It is a perfect day. I feel something that is nice and unfamiliar. I think back to the days leading up to this one and a smile arises in my heart. I wonder if it is possible. I wonder if this is what it feels like to be happy inside.


 It was 20 years ago that I lay on this very same beach. I was in physical therapy school and came to visit a classmate of mine who was visiting Maine with her family. She was my first non-Jewish friend and it was certainly unconventional that a nice, young, married girl from Cote St Luc would choose to drive down, alone, to spend the weekend with a French Canadian family.

 But I needed a break. My mind was spinning at the time and filled with doubt and confusion. In the months leading up to the trip, I had been struggling with ambivalence about my way of life, my religion and my marriage. My father had been arrested that year and my ideas of family had fallen apart. The community that was my haven for so long became a hostile and silent judge and jury. There was no escape from the shame and disillusionment, only an occasional reprieve when I was in school.

I drove to Ogunquit to see Genevieve, the first friend who seemed to accept me as I was without any expectations. She was genuinely interested in the stories of my strict, orthodox upbringing and my customs that were unusual and a bit archaic in her opinion. Her family was warm and accepting and I was happy to be away from home for a change.

It was that weekend that things started to move from an internal shift to an outward show of dissidence. At 23, in this small town in Maine, I bought my first pair of jeans. I ate lobster for the first time. And I smoked my first joint on the beach with a new friend that would turn out to be a lifelong one.

We still laugh about that weekend. How awkward I was wearing pants for the first time in 23 years, and how I didn’t know how to inhale. And now, 20 years later I find myself, fortuitously, in the same place where things began to change for me, except this time it is very different.

This time, I am a woman and not a scared little girl. This time, I know what it feels like to trust my heart and to listen to it. This time, I feel full and peaceful inside.


I am crying a little bit. My tears are not sad ones though. They feel more like a release. Like I can allow the pain of years gone by to wash through me and acknowledge all the hard work I have done to get here. It has been a bumpy road, laden with evenings filled with guilt, loneliness and sadness. But also a road that has led me back home.

Somehow my mind wanders to a phrase that my Yoga teacher had inscribed in my copy of his book years ago, along with his signature. It reads, “Dearest Rachel. Know that your soul’s love for you is the only love you will ever, ever need. Affectionately, Aadil.”

I think I get it now.



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