Tag Archives: yoga

A Yawn is Better than a Gasp

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A Yawn is Better than a Gasp

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Don’t Compare

It’s hard not to notice that many in my yoga class are more limber or better balanced than I am. Some can bend at the waist and touch the floor with their palms, their knees only slightly bent. Others can stand on one leg seemingly forever. Not me.

“Don’t look around,” Mana intuitively instructs the class. “This isn’t a competition. Honor your own body and your unique abilities. You’re perfect just as you are. Don’t compare yourself to others.”

Don’t compare myself to others. Easy to say, hard to do in this ego-ravaged world.  So the lesson keeps presenting itself to me. Prior to a cranial-sacral session with Mana, I tell her of a friend who is not conscientious about his health habits yet is seemingly healthier than I am. Where he definitely has the edge over me in healthful lifestyle is that he doesn’t worry. And that makes me wonder if my stress and anxiety are canceling out my good health habits.

I tell Mana that I want to be more like him, that I need to change.  She immediately responds, “Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Neither is better than the other. You’re just different.”

I nod, not fully embracing the again-repeated lesson. My blood pressure is high; his isn’t.

She continues, “Self-compassion is important. Otherwise, you can end up feeling guilty for who you are.”

Feeling guilty for who I am. When seen in that light, what a shame, and how debilitating, to carry such guilt around. Of course I could do better. But I don’t need to be like anyone else.

Later that night, I have an unexpected good cry. And then fall into a wonderful night’s sleep. Thanks to the wisdom of my 82 year old yogi.


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Would You Really Have Helped Me?

Leaving my yoga class in the dark last winter, I was hesitant to proceed through the walkway to the parking lot with what looked like a homeless man walking his bicycle in 20 degree weather. I was relieved when a young woman fell in step behind me.

We were headed toward two sets of stairs, and the man continued to walk his bike toward them.  When we reached the bottom of the first set, he hesitated.

“Do you want me to help you carry your bike up the stairs?” I asked.

He ignored me while easily picking up his bike and ascending the stairs. I felt embarrassed, mostly because the young woman was witness to my naïve offer that he blew off.

We climbed the stairs in silence, side by side. “That’s a lot of stairs,” I mumbled audibly to myself, primarily for self-redemption and justification.

When we reached the top of the stairs, he put his bike down and turned toward me. “Would you really have helped me?” he asked.

“Yes,” I responded. “I just got out of yoga class, and I’m feeling nice.”

What a stupid answer – no wonder he ignored that too! Feeling “nice?” Does that equate with taking pity? Does it suggest I’m not typically “nice?” Does it accentuate my bourgeois life style (attending yoga) versus his poverty (riding a bike over ice-lined streets)?

I headed toward my car; he just seemed to vanish. But he lingers in my consciousness as a lesson yet to be examined.


The following week, I read this story to my yoga class. Mana followed up with a phone call to say that the word for how I felt after yoga wasn’t “nice;” it was “spacious.” She told me I was feeling larger than myself after yoga, willing and able to give to another. I felt open, and that felt “nice.” She pointed out that my self-recrimination was undeserved; rather than focusing on my generous offer, I had criticized myself for the words I chose.

“You set something in motion,” she said. “That bicyclist had to process that someone offered to help him. And that someone was you! Feel good about that!”

Now that Mana is gone, I will have to listen harder for that voice of loving kindness. But I’ll still hear it.

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Precious Moments

“Precious moments. Wonderful moments,” she sings out to us in a sweet, clear voice as we lie on our mats during cool down.

I’ve always thought of it as a generic construct, encouraging her yoga students to stay present as she quietly walks around covering us with blankets. But tonight, it feels different. Tonight it signifies for me, and I sense for others as well, how precious time is with this 81-year-old yogi. Due to her ethereal nature, I’ve never sensed her mortality before: There will always be Mana, just like there has always been Mana.

Although it’s true that Mana will always be in my soul because she’s taught me so much, I still have much more to learn from this wise woman. Moments with her do indeed feel precious now.

I’ve been paying class-by-class, never sure if I can make it from one week to the next. Tonight I pay for eight classes, both to signify my commitment to the practice and as a way to obligate Mana to stay on this plane for me, as crazy as that may seem.

I will not take for granted precious moments spent with this precious woman.

– Journal entry, March 2013

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Let Go

“Stop struggling,” she told me. “Let go. Relax.”

The same advice I’ve been given – and have given myself – for years. But today it sounded different. Her soft hands gently touched my tense, stiff neck. “Soft neck, soft face,” she coached. And later, “Soft fingers.”

“What should I do when I feel all tense doing these position?” I asked her. For even I knew it made no sense to be stiff as a board while stretching.

“Back off,” her reply. “Just back off. Slowly begin to let go.”

She didn’t necessarily say it gently; she had a no-nonsense approach to yoga instruction. And there was nothing magical about her words. But today, from her lips, they fell on open ears. Perhaps it was her style; perhaps it was my increased awareness. But today, I could conceive of actually letting go.

“Use this day wisely,” she advised at the end. “And forgive yourself if you do not.” She asked us to reflect on one thing that we were grateful for.

I chose this wise woman. And now it is her I must let go of.


As presented in 2011 to Mana Behan, my yoga instructor and friend. The last sentence was added upon her recent passing.

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She is Not Holy

She is not holy.
She laughs.
She is not holy.
She swears.
She is not holy.
She makes mistakes.
She is not holy.
She doubts.
She is not holy.
She worries.
She is not holy.
She is sensual.

Such contradictions exist in us all. Yet, I feel her grace when I am in her presence. She emanates goodness and great compassion for all those around her, extending even to inanimate objects. While she struggles with her own humanity, she openly embraces ours.

She is human – and oh, so very holy.


In memory of Mana Behan, my friend and yoga instructor, with deep reverence.


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