Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Choosing A "Path of Fire"

Lela and Nick Beem, both 27, spent ten days of their honeymoon at a silent meditation retreat in Thailand. They slept on concrete slabs, rose each morning at 4 a.m., meditated eight times a day, practiced yoga, and didn’t speak a word to each other – or to anyone else. There was no reading or writing or listening to music. And there was no intermingling of the sexes.

Sound crazy? Maybe for most of us unenlightened mortals. But for Nick and Lela, Chicago-area yoga instructors who met when he was finishing a degree in computer science at Brown University and she was an AmeriCorps teacher, it made perfect sense. “What better way to start a marriage,” said Lela. “The commitment we made to each other was through Buddhist ideas, and we vowed to move forward in mindfulness.” Loose – very loose - translation: To be nice to each other.

So, are the Beems an oddity in today’s goal-oriented, get-rich-quick world? Or do they represent a trend among younger yogis and yoginis who are choosing to make a positive difference rather than a steady paycheck?

There is no quibbling with the facts: The number of registered yoga teachers in the U.S. has increased six fold to 15,329 in 2006, up from 2,521 in 2001. According to Yoga Alliance (YA), 17 million Americans of all ages now practice yoga regularly. And there are no signs of a slowdown. Americans spend some $2.95 billion a year on yoga classes, equipment, clothing, vacations, videos and more, according to a study commissioned by Yoga Journal.

There are no statistics on yoga teachers’ ages, but a 2007 New York Times article reported that representatives of more than a half-dozen top training programs said interest from recent college grads is strong. “Teaching yoga is wonderful, satisfying, sometimes blissful,” said Nick Beem. “But it is not easy.” It is, according to one of Nick’s teachers, “a path of fire.” Class attendance, which determines income, can vary wildly. Many new teachers travel long distances. It can take months, sometimes years, for classes to build.

Given the obstacles, what’s the draw? And what are the challenges of being a young trying to live a yoga lifestyle? Is this a group of mystical misfits comparable to the hari krisnas of the 1960s? Or are they seekers truly interested in spreading a path to personal growth? And does their age matter in the eyes of older practitioners?

As one of the "older practitioners," I can tell you that a yoga instructor's age pales in importance to his or her ability to teach, support, and inspire. I'm interested in how the breath can take my mind off of screaming hamstrings. I'm focused on how meditation can calm my over-active mind. I'm dedicated to strengthening my weak and all-too-flabby arms. And, oh, yeah - I'm trying not to compare myself to the woman next to me who can balance on one leg for days and stand on her head. Hell, as long as an instructor doesn't try to use the podium to tell me how to live my life, I could care less about age.

Friday, January 25, 2008


You stare in the mirror and confront the laugh lines that stay put when life's no longer a laughing matter. Or you zip up a pair of jeans, tugging a bit too hard over the soft, rounded belly that refuses to respond to sit-ups, crunches, or diets.

The lines on your chest from too much sun conjure up horror images of leather-skinned ladies from Miami Beach. Or the lines circling your neck like an umbilical chord make you want to strangle yourself.

It's a challenge to accept these physical badges of experience and wisdom and not see them as flashing neon signs that scream out, "You ain't no spring chicken anymore!"

These moments when you see yet another sign of aging have been dubbed by some as "age jumps." Just when you've settled down and accepted whatever the pull of gravity, the ravages of a not-so-healthy lifestyle and/or the insults hurled by Father Time, there's yet another one of the "age jumps" that makes you want to don a paper bag over your head and tear ass to the nearest cosmetic surgeon.

It doesn't matter that you've vowed to age with grace. That was some Ernest Hemingway deal about "grace under pressure." What the hell did he know? During an "age jump," you feel ugly and old and, most of all, you begin to feel invisible.

So, how can you survive? Here are a few suggestions. Mind you, I recommend that you take my advice because I'm not using it:
  • Grieve for the loss of your youth. But not for too long.
  • Complain a little. Your friends are bound to tell you that you look great.
  • Focus of what you CAN do make yourself look and feel better.
  • Find older women who look terrific. Hold them as role models.
  • Take a page from Al Franken's "Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley" bit on Saturday Night Live. Stand in front of a mirror and, as often as necessary, repeat the following: "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, I'm beautiful enough and, doggone it, people like me and I like myself."

Thursday, January 24, 2008


I've been wrecking my husband's sleep for years - probably decades. I snore just like 24% of adult American women. Not every night. Sometimes, not more than heavy breathing. But when I get going I apparently sound like an old geezer honking away.
I've tried lubricating mouth spray, Breathe Right Strips ( a barely more humane form of close pins on the nose), special pillows, a snore guard, and herbs. Nothing worked. (In full disclosure, I did lose the snore guard about a year or so ago.)
With the odds of nights spent in my own bed with my husband less and less favorable than nights alone with my cat in the guest bedroom, I gave in to the possibility that sleep apnea might be the culprit and agreed to do a sleep test.
For the same outrageously-high fee of $2300 (before hoped-for insurance reimbursement), I was given the choice of doing the sleep test in a hospital room or in a new Crowne Plaza Hotel. That's like asking a kid whether she wants gruel or pancakes with eggs and bacon for breakfast. I opted for the hotel room.
I packed my fluffy sheepskin slippers and my Nick and Nora pajamas covered in sheep. Once settled into my room, I tried to relax and get sleepy by reading the business section of The New York Times. Exactly at 9 p.m., my phone rang. It was Frank, the technician, who was headed my way.
In all of my sheep-pajama glory, I shuffled to the door and opened it. Frank from Nigeria, all 6 feet 2 inches of him, smiled and entered. Once unpacked, he settled me down in a chair and began to hook me up.
The process of hooking me up took almost an hour. He wadded
gobs of sticky gunk into my hair into which he attached sensors to measure brain waves. He connected multi-colored wires to my leg, my chest, and to my forehead. He gently pushed tubes up both nostrils to register my breathing patterns. He taped another sensor to my throat. And then he asked me if I had to "use the facilities."
What happens if I have to go in the middle of the night?" I asked, realizing for the first time that I would be a virtual prisoner. "You'll have to call me," he said. Right then and there, I decided that I'd whet my bed rather than call Frank. The humility of it . . . Not to mention that I already looked like Phyllis Diller on a good day.
I had trouble falling asleep. Who wouldn't attached to so many wires like a marionette controlled by a puppeteer on crack? Finally, I dozed off, sleeping fitfully and waking up on and off all night. The phone next to my bed rang at 5 a.m. It was Frank. He was on his way from his all-night observation room down the hall.
The freedom of getting unhooked was like escaping from a Houdini trap. I tried to get Frank to tell me if I'd snored or tossed and turned like those guinea pigs for bad mattress ads on TV. But he wasn't the doctor, he said. I'd have to wait for the results.
I'm still waiting. It should be another day or two. But funny thing: I haven't snored since.