Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Why I Practice Yoga: I can't, I can't, I can't, I can...

So, the last ten days have been a little rough around here. First of all, I was sick as a dog for most of the last two weeks. Muscle aches, low fever, and just general fatigue all left me feeling like a limp noodle at the end of the day, so, no yoga classes for me because my body was just begging for rest.

Tonight was my first yoga class back at the studio in over two weeks. I couldn't wait to get back there, couldn't wait to smell the familiar smells and just be in the calm of that place.

But there was also a little part of me that was afraid. Again, with the fear and the anxiety. (Because that's what happens to me after not being able to practice yoga for almost 10 days. The anxiety comes back, and it's pretty ugly.)

I was actually a little nervous before class. My brain was saying, "I can't, I can't, I can't..." But a few minutes into asana practice, my body was saying to me, gently, "Yes, you can."

And, well, I did.

Sure, my muscles shook a little bit when we got into Boat pose. Yes, my heart pounded a little when we were doing our vinyasas down to the floor and all the forward bends.

But, I did.

One of the reasons I started practicing yoga again was because I was initially overjoyed at the realization that there were all these things that my body COULD do. After nearly two years of just feeling sick every day, worrying about what the doctor's weren't finding, and having my anxiety running rampant over every reasonable, logical thought about my health, getting into Robin's yoga classes on Sunday afternoons and Tuesday evenings showed me that, yes, indeed, when my brain says "NO", my body will say, "YES".

And another thing...

I was chatting about the fall schedule with Robin tonight. She didn't have the Sunday class on the schedule anymore, and I was feeling a little devastated about that. Those Sunday community classes were where I fell in love with yoga, where I realized that this could be the way out from under the anxiety. So, I did what any completely insane budding yogi would do: I offered to teach them.

Maybe not every single one, mind you, but I offered to do a few, just to keep the classes going.

Am I ready to lead a class? I think so. I've been leading my husband for a few weeks, and if I can get him into yoga, I figure, I can get anyone into yoga...

Friday, August 16, 2013

When Yogis Get Sick...

Ugh, this has been a week of torture for me, mentally and physically. Sunday morning, I came down with muscle aches that made me want to cry. I sucked it up, though, and went on a canoe paddle with Tom and Colden, because it was a beautiful morning, one of the last summer Sundays we'll get to enjoy for a while.

Monday night, I thought I would go to yoga, that maybe it would make me feel better. I got to the studio, then realized that my arms and legs hurt too much to get out of the car. I turned around, got into bed, and cried for 20 minutes because I felt so bad, I thought I was coming down with the flu.

The rest of the week, I've been struggling with congestion, cough, sore throat, and more muscle aches and pains. This "little" infection in my gums under one of my molars was driving me crazy, and even though the dentist said not to take the antibiotics right away, I cracked and started up with the Amoxicillin last night when I just couldn't take it any more. (For the record: I tried salt water rinses and baking soda scrubs for two weeks, and while they've worked in the past on other dental issues, this time, they were pretty much useless.)

Yesterday morning, I found myself thinking about my little boy, and how he's growing up so fast, and starting kindergarten in just a few weeks. It makes me sad to think that the baby stage is over, but excited to be able to keep watching him grow up into an amazing little man. However. Given my physical and emotional state over being frustrated at this illness all week, I just sat down in front of the computer before work and cried for a good half hour.

This morning, my muscles still ache. I'm still tired. I'm still congested, although it's not nearly as bad as it was the other day. I'm frustrated that I haven't been able to do yoga at all this week, because just the thought of working through a single Sun Salutation with these muscle aches is enough to bring me to tears.

And, of course, there's always that little battle with that annoyingly loud part of my brain that says to me, "OhmygodwhatifitsleukemiaorcancerorsomethingreallyawfulandyoujustignoreituntilyouDIE?"

This morning, I realized that the world was pissing me off. People rushing to judge each other in the meanest way possible, violence, ignorance... What's a yogi to do?

Breathe, of course, but sometimes, it just feels to me like if I take one. more. deep. breath. my head is going to explode.

And then I take another breath.

And another.

And you know what? Sometimes, it's okay to get mad. Part of being true to ourselves is allowing ourselves the freedom to express our emotions, isn't it? So if you get mad, get mad. Scream, cry, holler, hit something (soft, like a pillow, maybe), and get motivated to do something about whatever is making you mad. If you can't do anything about whatever is making you mad, maybe meditate on it to see how you can allow yourself to accept it. (If you can't do anything about it, then there's no sense in getting mad, right? And if you can do something about it, do it.)

It's okay if you're not in a Zen-like state of pure bliss every second of every hour of every day. We're human. We get mad, and we get sad, and we get happy, but the thing about the yoga is that it brings me back to some sort of equilibrium, time after time.

As for practicing when you're sick, it's all about listening to your body. All this week, my body was telling me to do restorative poses where I would prop myself up in bed with some nice music or a movie and my eye pillow and just REST. My body needed some help in healing (still does, apparently), and a vigorous vinyasa or Ashtanga class wasn't really going to do the trick this week.

Meanwhile, my plan for today is to have a delicious lunch with a wonderful friend and her two kids, get the rest of my writing done, do a little grocery shopping, make a yummy dinner for us all, and try to do a little yoga. Yes, my muscles still hurt, and my mind is still screaming, but today I am going to try to remember that after all, I'm only human.

Four more days of antibiotics to go...

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Using Yoga to Be Your Authentic Self

Some days, the deeper I get into yoga, the more confusing it gets.

Robin tells me that I'm just "soaking it all up", and she's right: the more I learn about yoga, the more I realize that there's a lot I don't know. Yoga goes so much deeper than just the asanas (poses), and when I start thinking about everything else that goes along with the practice, I start to see yoga as a metaphor for, well, life.

So, here's what I'm thinking: Yoga has become big business in the United States. Look around: there are magazines (to which I subscribe), conferences (which I attend now and then), and yoga clothes out there that cost more than my kid's school tuition payments. There are teachers out there who are, undoubtedly good teachers, but who are, at the end of the day, still looking to sell their books, DVDs, audio downloads, etc.

I went through a little bit of an identity crisis when I started going to yoga class four days a week. Everyone around me was wearing these expensive pieces of athletic apparel. They "looked" the part. Oh, I thought, in order to do yoga, I have to buy these really expensive, shiny clothes with a lotus on the butt of my pants. Because, really, I wanted to look just like everyone else in class.

But then I was shopping at the farmer's market a few weeks ago, and I came across this vendor selling the coolest upcycled clothing that I've seen in a long time. It went along with everything that I believe in: small business, recycling clothing, supporting an artist with fair prices. So, I bought a tank top and a hoodie.

And then I realized that, wow, I can do yoga in these clothes! They were comfortable. They fit. So what if they weren't Prana or Lululemon or whatever? They were made by hand, and by purchasing them, I put my money where my beliefs are: in the small business owner who earns her money doing what she loves.

For me, I've started to realize that yoga is a way for me to slow down and think about who I am and how I want to live my life. There's so much more to yoga than just the poses - I mean, anybody can put on a pair of skimpy yoga shorts and push back into Downward Dog and breathe. But does everybody really understand that there's so much more going on when you do that simple asana?

Yoga is all about authenticity. If you want to just do yoga for a physical workout, that's great, but that's all you're going to get from it. But if you start to apply the teachings of yoga and the discipline of yoga to the rest of your life...what might happen?

I'm discovering that instead of spending my money on mail-order clothes that "look" like yoga clothes, I'm frequenting my local thrift shop and resale shop. The money I spend at the thrift shop goes to support the local food pantry for needy families. The resale shop is owned by a friend who is a small business owner. Both are causes that I care about deeply.

And THAT is what yoga is about. It's not about just the poses. It's about being mindful of your body, being mindful of your life, and about living with purpose.

As I begin my yoga teacher training in October, I'm going to be holding on to these ideas, and using them to shape what kind of yoga teacher I will be.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Yoga Toys: Gaiam Audio Yoga Mat

Yes, even yogis enjoying playing with toys now and then. When I was browsing the sale section of the Gaiam website, I saw this interesting mat described as an "audio" yoga mat. Well, isn't that interesting, I thought. (Back when I was in high school and aspiring to be a writer or musician or whatever, I had always thought that books should come with a soundtrack that you could play while you were reading it. So I've always been conscious of the "soundtrack" for my life.)

The Gaiam audio yoga mat has a speaker built in to one corner with a little cord for hooking it up to your iPod or iPhone or MP3 player so that you can take your tunes anywhere you take your yoga. Sounds like a great idea, right?

Anyway, I tried to buy one from the Gaiam website (at $14.99, it seemed like a good deal for what might be a fun toy), but it turned out that there were no more available. Bummer. Still intrigued with the idea of an audio yoga mat, I checked over on Amazon and found one for around $12. Okay, now we were talking.

Overall, I think this is a fun mat to have in your collection, but be aware of the following pros and cons:

1. The speaker. Yep, this is a yoga mat that you can use to listen to your iPod, iPhone, or MP3 player anywhere, anytime. The speaker doesn't require batteries, so you just have to make sure your music player is all charged up and ready to go. The speaker quality isn't superb, but for the price, I'll take it.

2. The thickness. Now, this could be a pro or a con. The mat is made from your typical sticky-mat material, but a little thinner than my first 4mm thick mat. It's about the same thickness as my beloved Jade Harmony mat, but I slip around a little more on this one.

That said, this mat folds up very easily to tuck into a suitcase for travel. But I'd be careful about that speaker - you know how luggage gets thrown around during air travel, and I don't know how the speaker would hold up.

3. The price. I believe that this item is no longer available directing from Gaiam, but if you check on Amazon (or maybe eBay?), you'll find several options, ranging from about $12 - $23, + shipping. For around $20, it's not a bad deal for this fun yoga toy.

1. The speaker. If you were expecting Bose-quality sound from a yoga mat/speaker combination for less than $20, yeah, you're gonna be disappointed. On the other hand, I tossed this mat out on my back porch, in the living room, and out in the backyard under the box elder tree, and with a little adjustment of volume on my iPhone, I could hear my music perfectly while I practiced. Not bad!

2. The thickness. Again, this is a thinner mat than the usual sticky mat, and it only comes in one color - green with a koi fish design. However, I did chuck it on top of my Jade mat, and it made a nice, spongy surface for practicing. But...

3. The length. I like my yoga mats long. I know, I'm only 5' 3", so I shouldn't take up that much space, but I like my nice, 74" long yoga mats so that I can scootch back into Downward Dog or whatever without feeling like I'm gonna fall off the back edge. I like to be able to dance around, forward and back, during my Sun Salutations, but with this is a more typical 68" yoga mat. So, if you like 'em long, you might feel a little limited using this mat during practice.

The Last Word
If you love practicing yoga to music or even to an audio guide, this is a great mat to have handy. I can see myself using it in hotel rooms when there's no music available, or out in the backyard, or anywhere that there isn't a handy place to plug in my iPod. The Gaiam audio yoga mat is a fun way to motivate yourself to practice, and if it gets you on the mat, it can't be all bad.

Monday, August 5, 2013

7 Things I Learned About Treating Anxiety with Yoga and Meditation

My last morning at Kripalu, I made it to the 6:00 a.m. yoga practice. I was nervous, but I made it through the practice just fine. I used all of the microadjustments that we had practiced the previous day, and truly, by the end of the practice, I felt all that good energy flowing through me.

I was nervous, however, about driving home. For some reason, I always seem to get the nerves and anxiety when it comes time to leave and go back home. But I went and had another filling, light breakfast, chatting with another classmate, and then I went back to my room to pack so that I could check out at noon.

We did some movement in that last morning of class, but we also did a review of what we had learned, and a review of the tools we now had to help us deal with our anxiety and depression. I had a journal full of insight and things to work on, and if you're curious as to what I learned that weekend, here it is:

1. There is no quick-fix for healing anxiety and depression. You didn't develop anxiety and depression overnight, and you won't cure it overnight. But with steady, thoughtful work, you can heal yourself and live the life you love. You might think that prescription pharmaceuticals are the way to go for your quick fix, but...

2. Medications don't work. If you don't believe me, read any major study of pharmaceutical antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications: they work for approximately 1/3 of the patients that take them. Of the remaining 2/3, half of those see no improvement, and half of them worsen.

Even the psychiatrist I saw earlier this year agreed with me: medication should only be a long-term solution for very serious cases. Medication does nothing to solve the underlying problems that are causing the anxiety and depression - it's just covering up the symptoms without doing anything to address the cause - and it can create a host of new problems, mostly side effects. Medication doesn't teach you how to cope with the anxiety and depression when it arises, and the psychiatrist that I saw told me that he believed the real way to cure anxiety was to learn how to recognize the symptoms for what they are, and learn how to deal with them in a healthy way.

The last time I saw that psychiatrist, we were discussing how I am now able to recognize when an anxiety attack is imminent. Sometimes it's hard to be able to pull back and say to myself, hey, this is just my anxiety-brain kicking in, and here's what I need to do about it. But after practicing yoga daily for 7+ months now, I can recognize an anxiety attack for what it is 99% of the time, and I know how to get through it.

A huge part of successfully treating anxiety and depression, he said, was also major lifestyle changes. If you keep doing the same things over and over, repeating the same patterns, thinking the same thoughts, would you really expect anything to change?

3. Your brain can change for the better through yoga and meditation. Yes, neuroplasticity is a big word, but it's important to understand. You CAN change the way your brain works through simple yoga, pranayama (breathing), and meditation. These practices basically hit the "reset" button on your nervous system, and allow you to feel a state of relaxed awareness. Once your brain has that experience, it remembers it, and can create new neural pathways to relieve your symptoms of anxiety and depression.

It really works - remember, back in February, I couldn't leave the house to go grocery shopping or get my hair cut without getting nauseous and getting the dry heaves.

But as I followed my therapist's advice and got myself out of the house every single day, I created those new neural pathways that told me brain it was okay to get my hair cut. Going to the grocery store wasn't a threatening experience. My brain changed - it didn't react to these situations as a flight-or-flight experience after a while. And now, I'm working on being able to get out and travel in the bigger world, too.

4. A little yoga every day is better than nothing at all. We're all busy. We have jobs, kids, friends, responsibilities. We can't always make the time for a 90-minute vinyasa or restorative practice every single day. But even taking just 10 minutes a day to rest in a supported restorative pose or to do 5 Sun Salutations with a few minutes of Savasana can go a long way towards creating those new neural pathways that can help relieve your anxiety.

Finding those ten minutes is another important way to treat anxiety and depression: self-care. Very often, we put off finding time for ourselves because someone else needs us, or we feel obligated to our jobs or other responsibilities. One of the most important things I've learned from my battles with anxiety is that taking the time for self-care (things like yoga, massage therapy, relaxation, meditation) actually makes us stronger and better able to cope with whatever life throws at you every day.

5.  Slower is better. Sure, when I'm feeling really anxious some days, I love a good, long Ashtanga or vinyasa class to help me burn off some extra energy. But a nice, slow-paced Hatha class or even a good session of restorative yoga also give me the same feeling of well-being and peace at the end of the day. They can even leave me feeling energized!

It might seem counterintuitive, but slowing down is probably the best thing someone with anxiety and depression can do to relieve their symptoms. When you slow down, you become more aware. You can sense what's going on in your body, and you can take steps to help yourself. When you allow yourself to slow down, you give yourself a chance to acknowledge the thoughts going through your head and to approach them with a more rational, relaxed mind.

Think about it: You're highly agitated. You walk into your favorite coffee shop and are informed that they are completely out of your favorite kind of coffee. If your anxiety and depression has kicked in, you might freak out, yell at someone, and storm out of there feeling like your whole day is ruined. You might even get angry thinking that you won't have any of your favorite coffee to drink the next morning.

But if you give yourself a chance to step back and look at the situation calmly, you'll just say, oh well, and move on with your day.

My father used to tell me: Don't sweat the small stuff - and it's all small stuff.

6. The mind-body connection is real. For years and years and years, physicians and mental health practitioners have been taught to separate the body from the mind. Physicians can only treat the body. Psychiatrists and therapists can only treat the mind.

But, really, that makes no sense when you're trying to heal the whole patient. Your mind is just as much a part of your body as your heart, your lungs, your liver... Your brain is where emotions, sensations, and feelings originate, so why should we ignore it when we're treating an illness that shows up somewhere else in the body? And for that matter, why do we ignore the rest of the body when we're treating anxiety and depression?

Not to be too crude, but the easiest way to prove the mind-body connection is sexual arousal. Thinking a certain way can cause physical sensations and reactions in the body - right? So why should that not be true with other thoughts and sensations?

Another example is something that I learned during my hypnobirthing class. The instructor had us all lay down and relax and did a visualization exercise with us. She told us to picture a lemon. Think about the color of that lemon - bright yellow. Think about what the thick skin of a lemon feels like. Picture yourself putting that lemon right under your nose, and inhale deeply. Next, picture yourself cutting that lemon into wedges. Pick up one of the wedges and squeeze it gently on your tongue. What does it taste like?

By the time you got to the end of that last paragraph, your mouth was salivating a bit, wasn't it? THAT'S the power of the mind-body connection. And yoga, so far, is one of the best ways I've found to address what happens to me during an anxiety attack. Calm the mind, and you heal the body.

7. Learn to listen to your body. Now, this one ain't so easy. I don't know where we learned it, but for most of us, the only time we really listen to our body is when we have to use the bathroom, or get hungry, or get tired. And even then, we push ourselves beyond our limits - we work when we should be sleeping, we skip meals because we don't have "time" to eat, we make ourselves wait for a toilet break. This makes it really hard for us to know what our body wants so that it can function optimally, and probably a huge part of what causes the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

As I went through this weekend at Kripalu, I realized that most of the time, I have absolutely no idea what my body wants. I've learned somewhere that my body is not to be trusted, that it will betray me, that it will make me feel bad - none of which is true, of course.

For me, a big part of this is being able to tell the difference between self-care and laziness. Sure, it might feel GREAT, or at least, I would think it would feel great, to stay in bed until 10 a.m. every day. But that's not necessarily what I need. Part of self-care means self-discipline, which for me, means getting myself to the yoga studio at the end of a busy day, or taking the time for a healthy lunch after a crazy morning.

One of the things that we practiced during the weekend program at Kripalu was listening to our body to see what it was asking for. It's not easy. It takes practice to recognize what we need. But that's how you heal anxiety and depression - by treating yourself carefully and compassionately, and learning to give your body what it wants.

So...what now?

Now, with all this knowledge and experience in the yoga "practice lab" at Kripalu, I'm ready to move forward. I continue to do my daily yoga practice, I'm working on doing more restorative yoga (at least once a week, either in class or at home), and I'm preparing for my yoga teacher training that begins in October.

I continue to explore different styles of yoga with different teachers at different studios, and I continue to practice self-compassion and self-care whenever appropriate.

What would you do if you knew that you could not fail?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Kripalu: Yoga for Healing Anxiety and Depression Day 2

I woke up the next morning after about four and a half hours of sleep. There was a 6:00 a.m. yoga practice scheduled as part of this workshop, but between the heat and the lack of sleep, there was just no way that I was going to be functional enough to participate. So after my roommate left (she was in the same program as me), I went back to sleep and slept until about 8:00 a.m.

The cafeteria was just one floor down from my room, so I went down there, still feeling a little shaky and a little nervous about eating breakfast. As I walked up and down the lines, I realized that there were plenty of options for me to have a light, nourishing breakfast before heading into the day's sessions.

I wound up filling a cereal bowl with organic raspberry yogurt and topping it with a healthy handful of crispy quinoa cereal. I grabbed a piece of fruit, and then spread some peanut butter and jelly on two rice cakes. I couldn't finish all of it, but my stomach was surprisingly cooperative, and I felt pretty good, if not still a little tired, as I headed back down to the session.

I set myself up in the back of the room and listened carefully as the instructor presented her material. When she started talking about the mind/body connection and how anxiety manifests itself through physical symptoms, particularly in the enteric nervous system (the stomach, intestines, gallbladder, etc.), I was hooked. Of COURSE it all made sense! All those years that doctors have just been trying to treat either the mind or the body were just setting me up for failure - I'm one of those people that needs to address both equally.

As I listened and participated in the day's activities, I found myself frequenting the ice stations set up around the room to help us deal with the insane heat. Unfortunately, the ice cold wash cloths didn't last too long - after about five minutes, they were hot and useless.

I found myself journaling through most of the day. Whenever the instructor would say something that was particularly interesting or that resonated with me, I wrote something else down in my journal. I wrote and wrote and wrote - and in the process, I felt as though I were releasing my demons. I got everything down on paper, and then it was just gone.

Late in the morning after our first break, I looked up to the windows high at the top of the walls. They were open, and a breeze was coming in, blowing the curtains around. My gaze found the top of the ceiling, and I suddenly realized that the giant room we were gathered in was formerly the chapel or sanctuary at this former Jesuit compound.

Excitedly, my eyes found all of the typical characteristics of a Catholic sanctuary: the high ceilings, the windows, the altar - the altar! I realized with a shock and a thrill that the former altar had been covered with a beautiful, brown, sparkling cloth, and sitting right on it was a larger-than-life brass statue of Shiva, dancing on the head of ignorance. Whatever stained glass design had been in the doors at the rear of the room had been replaced with beautiful bright red Ohm symbols.

I was looking forward to lunch, and I filled up a tray with curried vegetables, quinoa with cilantro and lime, a giant piece of cornbread, a salad, and another piece of fruit.

Since the temperatures had cooled off a bit, I decided to go sit outside at one of the picnic tables under a canopy. There was a table where two older women were sitting, and I asked if they minded if I took up a seat at the opposite end. They invited me to sit with them, and we started chatting. After a few minutes, several of my workshop-mates arrived at the table, and we all began talking openly about our experiences with anxiety and our symptoms and what we hoped to take away from this weekend at Kripalu.

One woman in particular struck me as being a kindred spirit - she suffered from nearly the exact same kind of food anxiety that I've been dealing with, and she had a wonderful quality to her laugh that made me feel at ease with her.

When we had all finished lunch, I took my tray back inside, and since the rumor was that the gift shop was nicely air conditioned, I decided to check it out.

I walked into the gift shop thinking that I would look for a small statue of Tara to take home with me, after my last experience with her just before I went to Cleveland in June. But Tara didn't speak to me that day. Instead, it was Lakshmi who was looking for my attention.

If you're unfamiliar with the Hindu deities, Lakshmi is the Goddess of wealth, prosperity, fortune, and the embodiment of beauty. The little information card behind this tiny green resin Lakshmi said that she would help me cleanse the heart and spirit of hatred, ignorance, and desires, and that it was appropriate to place her on my altar or office desk to overcome any negative mental tendencies. I mean, hey, what else is anxiety, if not a whole bunch of negative mental tendencies?

The woman I had connected with at lunch also turned up in the gift shop, and we found ourselves planted in front of an entire huge shelf of books about yoga practice, including volumes about how to use yoga to heal the mental and physical bodies. I enjoyed myself so much, looking through books, picking out a small stack to take home with me, chatting with her. I started to feel like my old self again, sitting in front of a giant book shelf at Barnes & Noble for hours and losing myself in the pages of a book...

The afternoon session was more practice, which was great, and went by pretty quickly. I alternated between looking through my new books and listening to the instructor, continuing my journal entries when something struck me as being important.

The air now definitely felt much cooler than it had that morning, and dinner outside was beautiful. I filled up a plate full of mushroom risotto, more salad, roasted vegetables, and a lovely piece of vegan vanilla cake with strawberries and homemade cashew cream. No stomach problems or anxiety now - I ate heartily and chatted with a few more people. Complete strangers, but we all enjoyed each others company, and pretty soon, I found myself thinking about changing clothes and going for a little walk.

Now, one of the things we learned in this workshop was that it's very important to listen to your body to see what it wants. Especially for those of us with anxiety, healing that anxiety requires that we be able to recognize what the anxiety feels like in our bodies. In one of my favorite books, Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi, yogi Brian Leaf talks about how we need to learn to trust our bodies and our instincts.

That's not as easy as it sounds. Yes, you can pretty much tell when you need to eat and sleep and use the bathroom, but listening to your body's innate wisdom and needs can be tricky. So, I decided to try an experiment that evening, and I decided to "go with my gut".

The first thing my gut told me was that I was to head back down to the gift shop and see if I could find a book about Ayurveda, the ancient art of healing that is considered the sister science to yoga.

Okay, easy enough, and I was enjoying the cool air of the gift shop. I found my book, paid for it just as the shop was closing, and tried to figure out what to do next.

I walked out of the gift shop, and right out the back door through which I had entered the day before. There was a concert going on in the yoga room, and the doors were open so that the music floated out into the warm summer evening. I stood for a second, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath, feeling the music floating in and out of me.

I walked around the building, coming to the impressive front lawn, and saw that there were benches under some of the trees. I followed myself down the lawn, searching for an empty bench where I could park myself for a little while and read my new book.

And then...

I walked right down the huge, sloping front lawn. I crossed the driveway, and spying a bench under some kind of arbor, I headed in that direction.

There were people sprawled on blankets on the lawn. A group of students training to be yoga teachers were practicing handstands.

I walked past them all towards the bench, and then...

I saw another, smaller arbor. There were two Ohm symbols carved into the sides, and a huge clump of my favorite day lilies right next to it. Beneath the lilies was a heavy, brass zodiac sundial. It appeared to be the entrance to a labyrinth.

Okay, still following my gut, I entered the labyrinth, clutching my book.

The path was much narrower than I had expected - barely wider than my foot. And it was heavily vegetated, so heavily, in fact, that there were places where I had to literally raise my arms and push through clumps of grass taller than me. There were patches of dried lupines that rattled when I brushed them with my leg.

After a few feet, I caught a glimpse of some kind of shrine at the center of the labyrinth, and a woman standing there.

I kept walking. I walked around, then doubled back, then walked around some more.

As I walked, I found myself doubting the path I was on. But something said to me: trust the path; follow the path; trust the path.

So, I kept walking.

Eventually, the woman left and started her way back out of the labyrinth, and she and I passed each other on the narrow path.

Finally, I came to the center of the labyrinth, and sitting there was a ceramic Buddha. The same Buddha, as a matter of fact, as one that was given to me 13 years ago when I left my job working at the pharmacy in northern New Jersey before I moved here to the Adirondacks. But this Buddha had been exposed to the elements, and the copper finish had worn off. But it still looked like a happy Buddha.

There were large dishes full of water and coins near this Buddha; people had left rings, jewelry, and scarves. Someone had put a large, beautiful chunk of turquoise between two Bali silver beads, strung it on leather, and placed it lovingly around the Buddha's neck.

Behind the Buddha was a large, square wooden stake that had prayer flags wrapped around it, and prayers and words of prayer from all faiths written on it.

I walked around that little shrine, absorbing it from all angles, and then finally settled myself down in front of the Buddha. I got down into my yogi squat, a yoga pose where you squat down sort of like a frog, and place your hands in prayer at your heart's center. It just felt like the right thing to do.

Little Buddha, I thought, I have no idea why you brought me here, but I will trust this path, and I will find out.

Then I chanted a brief Ohm, stood up, and walked out of the labyrinth, and back up across the front lawn.

As I walked up the hill towards the building, I looked to my left and saw a bright orange and blue sunset blazing across the sky. I heard the music. I felt my breath, and smelled the summer evening as the moon and the stars began to appear in the sky.

Back in my room, I chatted with my roommate, who was also completely worn out from the heat and the stress, and then started to read my new books. I finally made myself lay down to sleep around 10:30, being determined to make the 6:00 a.m. yoga practice the next morning...