Learning to Breathe

A year ago today I returned from my volunteer work in south Texas. I wouldn’t have remembered the date, except it was the day before Easter and it was a sunny day, nearing 60 degrees, with the beginnings of Spring starting to poke through the mud and small bits of remains snow. Just like today. That’s what I thought I’d be writing about until I went to the breathing workshop with Max Strom, at a yoga studio here in Boulder. I’m going to set Texas and my volunteer work aside for now because the two hours I spent with Max this morning feels like the bigger story today and the one that wants to be told and if I looked at the date on the calendar and not Easter as the date, I realize I still have a few weeks on my return from Texas anniversary.

Five years ago, to the date, I completed my first of three blocks (7 days each, as I recall) of my yoga teacher training with Max Strom, something I signed up for with no more than a whim directing me and serious doubts that I’d actually complete all the sessions, which is neither here nor there, except today also happened to be the day that I signed up for a breath workshop with Max at a yoga studio here in Boulder. I didn’t put the synchronicity of dates together until seated on my mat, front row and to the left, as always, and looking up to the front of the room where a comfortable chair sat on a mat with a small table next to it with a bottle of water and a sound bowl sitting on it. Although the studio wasn’t at all like the one I had spend 200 hours in during the training, seeing the chair on the mat, in the front of the studio, brought a flood of memories back. I was always one of the first ones to class, just like this morning, because I like a gentle entry into things that are new. I like to have the time to settle into the space before the class or the workshop begins. I also want the best seat in the house and my early by nature personality usually confirms that I will have just that. There were six other mats in the room when I got there, making my 25 minutes early look a little less anxious. By the time the workshop began, the studio was as full as it could get, with our mats just inches apart. Max is popular and loved by anyone who has taken his workshops or yoga classes over the years. I heard about it through my daughter, who took some classes at the studio and happened to be on their email list. Otherwise, he would have come and gone and I never would have known.

Sitting on my mat with my journal, a pen, a bottle of water and a bolster to make the two hours of mostly sitting, more comfortable, I was taken back to the very first day of the yoga teacher training, with the same lineup of accoutrements on my mat, but a much different feeling. I was preparing for an 8 hour day with 6 days to follow that 8 hour day and not a 2 hour workshop. I thought back to how nervous I was — filled with apprehension and wondering if I’d really be able to complete what I had signed on for. I was also very proud of myself for having made it that far —from the signing up part to the showing up part and was thankful for the monetary investment that would made my chances of quitting before completion slim. Thoughts of “Seriously? You really think you can do 200 hours of this and for what? You don’t even want to be a yoga teacher, do you?” To “This is the next step in your yoga journey, whether you teach or not and I’m proud of you for showing up,” were in competition in my mind. The loudest one of confidence and pride usually winning until its counterpart of doubt and insecurity would push its way to the front to be heard. Inhale, exhale, I can do this. I want to do this, I thought. I didn’t feel that kind of doubt this morning that had been present the first day of my training, but I did feel anxious. I had never been in the studio before, didn’t know one of the 60 or 70 people whose mats were pushed together almost touching, but I did feel grounded, literally, with the view out the window of the mountains I spend so much time hiking in. That made me feel home. The shades, by the way, were drawn before the workshop began, so no one would have to deal with the sun in their eyes or maybe it was so we would concentrate on what Max was saying and not the view behind him.

Max and I made a visual connection but it wasn’t until the workshop was over that we were able to reconnect and I was able to give him a hug. Max is a big man and I remember thinking “gentle giant” the first time I heard him spoke. His voice quiets a room and his stories are ones that I could sit all day listening to, even on a thin, not very comfortable, yoga mat. He is one of the best teachers and speakers I’ve ever heard and I felt blessed to once again be in his company, absorbing the wisdom he imparts every time he speaks. He was only going to be in a few US cities before going back to his home in the Netherlands, making his time in Boulder even more synchronistic and special. He told me his next stop was Kansas City.

What a gift of reflection today has brought me. I was a much different person when I started that first module of the 200 hour training five years ago (thank you Facebook for all of your historical, “to the date” reminders… they often matter, like today). For starters, the bottom three inches of my hair were still brown. I lived in Leawood, Kansas, had not yet become a grandma, didn’t know that a year and three weeks later, my role of grandma would give me the new name of “Laudie,” a throwback to what some of my friends who I worked with at Kulik Lodge in Alaska used to call me. The name stuck and now three grandchildren have adopted it, soon to be four when the littlest one starts talking.

I had a condo in Frisco, Colorado at that time, but if someone would have told me that three years after that training was completed, I’d buy a home in Boulder and would begin the process of selling my home in Leawood, Kansas, I would not have believed them. I had no idea the physical and emotional pain that would come from moving from the place I had lived most of my life nor did I know the joy that returning to the state where life began for me would bring. All of this came together this morning during Max’s “Learn to Breathe to Heal Yourself and Your Relationships,” to which I’d add, “while finding the gift of such synchronistic timing that no doubt will take you back to a pivotal journey in your life that you’ll most likely want to write about.”

While we were going through the breathing exercises, both standing and seated, I couldn’t help but return to both the physical space and the emotional space of that time. I had two different women stay with me, Laurie (ironically) during the first session and Megan during the last, which was new for me — sharing the upstairs of my home along with coffee at my kitchen table with women I had never met but after a few days, the sharing would also include our histories, our stories and pieces of our hearts.

As the days of the last session of the teacher training progressed, and I knew I would have to get up in front of all the students (maybe 30? 35?) and do a short teaching section, I became nervous. Very nervous. To calm myself, I would come home at the end of class and walk until I felt confident that I could stand up in front of the group, all who I now called friends, and teach. I honestly don’t know why I felt such anxiety about it but I did, and it was real. I remember writing a blog post about it and made the comparison to my irrational fear of mice after having seen one on the sidewalk when I was out walking. It was dead, by the way, which gives even more emphasis to the “irrational” part of my rodent fears.

Today, there was no anxiety about having to teach, something that immediately came to mind when Max walked in, but rather, a deep sense of comfort and knowing. Max looked the exact same as he did five years ago which gave me great comfort, but not being in the studio that felt so much like home to me in KC felt strange. Afterwards, when we had the chance to talk, he asked me if I lived in Boulder or was just visiting, adding that when he saw me he was confused because he wasn’t going to be in KC until the following week. I told him I lived in Boulder and felt a surge of pride with those words as they come out with ease now and I no longer feel the need to annotate with my date of arrival.

The teacher training and what followed for me, most importantly a move, have made for an incredible journey of growth and one that felt good to have the memory nudge today seeing Max, but with very different eyes this time. It feels both important and necessary for me to be able go back in time to see how far I’ve come, but what a rare gift that the opportunity is so real it can be breathed in (literally) and finished off with a big hug when completed. This morning I relearned the breath techniques Max taught our class five years ago but with a grasp that felt easier and more comfortable to hold on to.

Max and I after 200 hours of learning about yoga, breathing, but most of all, life.
One of my favorite gifts that came out of the 200 hours of training – Sara
Middle row, third from the left, or the one with gray hair with brown ends. 2016

Yoga teacher training, 3rd module. It’s a wrap.

With Max Strom, my yoga teacher training teacher.

Home sweet home for 28 days total..

A few weeks ago I completed the final module of my yoga teacher training, 200 hour certification. I’m feeling pretty darn proud of myself for getting to this point as I came very close to not finishing it at all.   I thought seriously about not returning for the final module and had come up with a gamut of excuses to justify what amounted to quitting, although I never could quite use that word.  It wasn’t easy for me to face the truth as to the real reason that I debated “quitting” and that was fear.  I was afraid.  Plain and simple.  I had a pretty good idea that during the 3rd and final module we would have to teach the other 24 students in the class, whether just a few postures or the worst case scenario,  an entire class.  We hadn’t been told what to expect specifically, so my mind took the worst case scenario and began to run a marathon with it.  That’s when the small seed of stage fright developed into a full-sized,  still growing, demon, who clearly thought I would have been better off just cutting my loses and quitting.

As the days passed, Max, our teacher, began to ask for volunteers to teach various postures to the class.  Looking back, my best move would have been to be the one to go first simply to get it over with, but I couldn’t quite get that hand of mine up to volunteer, so instead, I began the process of making myself “invisible” by hunkering down over my notebook with the pretense that I was taking very important and time sensitive notes.  Of course in reality I was working diligently at avoiding any kind of eye contact which could send the false signal of being volunteer ready.  This is an old trick that I learned in junior high algebra, where I seldom had the right answer, or any answer at all,  so would bury my head in my book with hopes of not being noticed.  The system must have had some success as it traveled with me to high school (history class) then onto college (anything related to math).  It’s not all that different from the child who closes his eyes to become invisible, only now I know.  I still show.  Seriously?  I’m still doing that?  What are you, nine???  Those old defense mechanisms that come into play when pushing against doing something that makes you uncomfortable, are pretty darn strong and have a good memory to boot.

Deep down, I knew full well that I could teach a posture or a series of postures after years of practicing yoga and two modules of taking that learning to a far deeper level,  but there was a whisper that kept looping through my mind that said, “Yea, you can, but do you want to??”  Again, my stage fright fears had taken control of the wheel and I just seemed to be along for the ride.

Walking seemed to be a great compliment to the long days on my yoga mat, with both note taking and practicing, and so I began the habit of an early morning walk at dawn,  then again in the evening after class.  It felt good to let go of everything, especially the yoga, and let my mind wander.  I was pretty deep into that wandering one evening when I almost stepped on a small field mouse that had come onto the sidewalk and decided to stop dead center in front of me.  Now for those of you who don’t know me well enough to know some of my personal “quirks,” I must confess…. I am afraid of mice.  Very afraid.  I’d be much happier (maybe “happy” is not the right word…) to find a snake in my basement, rather than a mouse.  That kind of afraid.  So, to see a mouse just inches from my feet was enough to get my heart beating faster! I started to slowly and most cautiously walk around him, but then hesitated and decided that that it was so odd that the lil’ fella had stopped right in front of me, that maybe he had something to teach me and so I stopped.  Seriously?  I was afraid of this tiny fella?  If it came down to fist on fist, I’d win hands down…his 1 1/2 inches of height maybe to my 65 inches, for sure.   IF he could have talked, I’m just sure he would have said, “You’ve got to be kidding…you’re afraid of ME???  Shouldn’t it be the other way around?”  OK, I’m giving this mouse a lot of credit and probably far more brain cells than he actually had, but somehow, there was a message I was supposed to get that evening and the mouse seemed to be the delivery boy.  I also recognized that this was all very timely given what I was facing during the yoga and that there was a lot more going on here than my encounter with a little mouse.

The rest of my walk home I thought about the mouse and although I didn’t magically get over my whopping fear of mice, it did make me realize that so much of what I have come to fear is nothing more than a huge creation of something that may or may not exist….all taking place in my mind.  Kudos for the creativity, mind, but come on… could you slow it down just a little bit?  The fear of my getting up in front of 24 people, who I now call my friends, is the equivalent of my seeing a pack of rats wielding weapons rather than the reality of the little 1 1/2 inch tall field mouse.  My brain had become a fear-growing petri dish and I had given it just the right conditions to flourish – a constant flow of irrational thoughts.  The mouse was simply the metaphor for me to understand that.  Now, I’m still not going to say I like mice or think they’re cute or want anything to do with them, but having one stop in my path and show me his littleness to my bigness had given me a dose of reality.  Maybe the fear is not of the creature itself, but rather its method of a startling  introduction to me while dashing across the floor of a dimly lit kitchen.  Maybe my whole mouse/rodent fear needed to be re-evaluated.

And that’s when it hit me.   What was I really afraid of when it came to putting myself in front of a group of people and teaching them yoga?  I had no idea except to say that I was afraid of the unknown and until I knew what it felt like while in the throes of it, I really didn’t know.  Having made that declaration to myself, the next morning I proudly raised my hand when Max began to solicit  volunteers, and taught not only one posture, but a short series.  I needed to look that fear in the eye, embrace it, and move on.  Better yet, I needed to see that it was small, maybe 1 1/2 inches tall, just like the mouse.

I’ve been honest with my reporting thus far, so need to add that what I so quickly volunteered for was a series of postures that began while on the back, meaning that my audience was on their backs and were staring up at the ceiling rather than at me.  A whole lot easier, but I’ll take it as it still “counted.”  And surprise, surprise, it wasn’t bad at all.  In fact, it was kind of fun.

If I can tell an audience of even one reader at this point that I had a pretend conversation with a mouse while walking down a busy sidewalk then really, standing in front of 24 new friends and teaching a few postures, doesn’t seem the least bit scary or even vulnerable in comparison.  I’ve already covered my bases on that simply by sharing the absurdity of all of this.

Now that the 3rd and final training module is over, I’m feeling very grateful that I didn’t quit and decided to stick it out.  I completed the 200 hours and in the process of learning a lot about alignment, postures,  breath work and spine lengthening,  I learned a heck of a lot about myself, namely that stage fright is alive and well and is more than happy to do the steering, if allowed.  I jokingly told Max one day that yoga teacher training was making me taller, (after taking a long-shadowed photo of myself during one of my evening walks).  I’m beginning to think that there may have been a thread of truth to my joke and that maybe, just maybe,  I grew a little taller during the whole process of this training – one posture at a time.

Getting tall…



One posture at a time…


My tendency in life with things I become passionate about, is to dive in head first then sort myself out on the details later,  often with  hopes of both wings AND a prayer to sort me out if need be.  It’s not the best way to do things, but seems to be the way I naturally lean.  Yoga was an exception to that and  I have no idea why, but I dipped myself into the experience very slowly, and with caution when I began some 20 years ago.   I loved how it made me feel post practice (at the time I was doing Bikram’s 26 poses in a heated room, which I gave up several years ago) but still only had a toe in as I wasn’t quite ready to fully commit.  It was like getting a full body massage but with my coat still on.   As time passed, I’d teeter between serious and shoot, I forgot to do yoga this week, which would roll into forgetting to do it this month and then I really wasn’t doing yoga at all and where was that darn mat anyway?  I was skeptical.  I was not hooked.  I was sampling the goods but not willing to go deep enough to remove my metaphorical coat.  I’m not sure exactly when I made the shift, but shift it did and I began to crave more and more of the goodness I was getting out of the practice.  I took my coat off.  I went deep.  I felt it not only in my body, but in my soul as well, which was another thing – body and soul had now become a team and were working well together.

When I first started yoga, l was focused on its physicality and how it was going to benefit my body in a jeans fitting better kind of way.  As I became more dedicated to the practice,  the inseams no longer rubbing when I walked paled when compared to what was really happening in my body.  I had crossed a line.  I had gone deeper.  Yoga seemed to be giving me exactly what I needed and with impeccable timing.  My kids commented on my peaceful nature and was I never going to lose my temper again??   It was as if I had been handed the road map to myself.  Or better yet, I had been handed the ability to read the road map that has been in my possession all along.  My strong flexibility and weak balance in the poses mimicked my own life during those early yoga years,  giving me insight into the areas that needed more focus and healing.  My mat had became the mirror to my life. THIS… this unrolling of my mat several times a week and moving with my breath, was what kept me upright during a time when I was constantly fighting falling into an emotional heap because it felt far more natural.  I’m no longer that person but do remember her and hold her in my heart and am continually grateful for those early lessons on my mat, namely the ones that after holding a difficult posture seemed to whisper to me that I was going to be OK because I was strong and getting stronger.

Fast forward 15 years and I decided to go deeper into my yoga practice,  and signed up for Max Strom’s yoga teacher training, held in 3 modules, 9 days each.  I just finished the 2nd module and although exhausted, I’m trying to hold onto the post-glow as long as I can, while trying to absorb and make sense of everything I just learned. Besides a lot of posture perfecting, and anatomy that extended far beyond my rudimentary knowledge of… well “the knee bone connecting to the thigh bone” song comes to mind,  I came away with a much deeper understanding of exactly who this person is that I carry around with me every day, both on and off the mat, hyper-extended joints and all.

Yoga has become my nudge to slow down, go deeper, stop and simply be, not because someone is telling me to do that, but because it simply feels better to live life that way.   I still day dream in class and more than once have come out of a thought only to find myself a few postures behind the class and oh well.  Perfection is not the goal – a thought that was reinforced when an almond fell out of my top during a down dog recently.   Reality.  I recently started following a Facebook page called “Yoga for Humans” that demystifies the practice with humor and real life stuff and reminds us of who we are…human… humans doing yoga to become better humans.  I’m a proud human doing yoga who has food drop out of her shirt, daydreams during poses, and will no doubt continue to make a fool of herself while trying to unravel out of a posture that she never should have tried in the first place.  A human doing yoga, mistakes and mishaps included  (thanks, Amy Rader, it’s brilliant).

I’d like to say that I unroll my mat every morning and do sun salutations to greet the dawn of a new day, but I don’t.  I cobble together some postures that feel right and if one or two postures hit the mark and feels like enough, then so be it.  My at home yoga always looks better in its pre-practice presentation in my mind than what actually transpires in real life.  I watched a video several months  ago that showed an accomplished yogi’s morning practice, beginning with her putting the kettle on for morning tea then proceeding to go through a lovely, while at the same time very strong practice until the kettle whistled.  She then leaves her mat and paces to the kitchen to pour the tea with such grace and elegance that it seems like a posture in its own right. That’s where my mind goes when I think about a morning practice, but instead I will spot a missing sock under the couch during a forward bend, which has to immediately be retrieved and as I make my way back to the mat, I notice a painting that is crooked.   I once rearranged my entire living room during my “yoga practice,”  which probably says more about my focus than anything else and my need to go to a class where I find my community and my focus.  The other thing that yoga has taught me is to listen to what I need at the moment, like right now for instance.  I’m in my yoga clothes, have a filled water bottle and my rolled up mat next to my feet and had every intention of going to class until an hour ago when sitting down and writing about yoga seemed more important than actually doing it.  Creativity is fleeting and often will out run me so I have to seize the opportunity when it arises.  I’m discovering the art of awareness and listening without judgment and those two combined will take me far, even if right now my far is not inching from my couch with a laptop perched on my strong, but getting stronger quads, while typing about yoga.

I’ve got 4 months until I head back to the final training module and will regroup with 24 other students under the guidance of the extraordinary teacher, Max Strom.   The people I’ve met have become one of the greatest gifts to me during this process and it has been an honor to surround myself with such gracious, open and truly lovely people, all sharing the common thread of a passion for yoga. I feel like I’m standing just a tiny bit taller and with a whole lot more joy because of them.   Until then, I will stumble my way in and out of postures, will daydream my way right off of my mat and onto mountaintops and Italian villages and will sit and type instead of going to class because I’m   learning to listen and act accordingly….one posture at a time.