Last month, in the midst of a warm spell, I slept with the windows open. The air smelled of cold earth and wet wood, and my backyard creek thundered as it moved, constant, continuous, and free in its cracked-open ice-melt state. Soft though the water was, nothing could keep it from forward motion. Boulders. Tree limbs. Snow mounds. It flowed over, under, around, beneath and through, the water doing what water does, steady and clear, originating from a source undivided from itself, and I fell asleep, dreaming that I, too, could emulate such authentic, unapologetic movement.
Two days later I woke to a blizzard. Power out, phone dead, internet down. A forty minute drive from the studio and a class to teach. I stood at the window and watched the snow fall thick and fast, trying to decide if I should go or stay put. One voice, loud and insistent, told me to honor my commitment. Follow through, it ordered. You said you would show up. You can’t cancel a class with no warning. What kind of a person does that? The right thing, the only thing, is to go.
Another voice, quiet and kind, told me to stay put. Relax, it said. This is not under your control. The roads are terrible. Surrender to what’s happening, remain safe, and enjoy a day off. People will understand and forgive your absence.
The snow continued to fall. The ground received it. The trees bent under the weight of it. Divided, I wavered and waffled and suffered. Though I sensed that staying put was the wiser choice, I obeyed the louder voice, got into the car, and made the beautiful but harrowing trek. Stopping and starting and skidding and veering around fallen trees, I arrived with my body in one piece but my mind still fragmented and confused. Why am I doing this? I kept thinking, even as I drove forward. After teaching the three hardy yogis who were shocked to see me there, I drove back, more slowly than before, sharing the road only with emergency vehicles, arriving again in one physical piece but with a mind as messy as the roads themselves, the zap of my self-doubt as brutal as any electrical wire humming against snow.
A woman in harmony with her spirit is like a river flowing, writes Maya Angelou. She goes where she will without pretense and arrives at her destination prepared to be herself and only herself.
A river flowing? Without pretense? I was more like the flushing, swirling eddy of toilet water, clogged with too much paper. Whose voice was I obeying in that situation anyway? Where did such a rigid commitment to following-through at all costs, no matter the circumstances, come from? Why was it so hard for me to make a decision and then act clearly and unapologetically from the heart, from a place of ease and surrender?
From the time you are born, writes the late nomadic lunatic of a philosopher Poppa Neutrino, you are being constantly programmed by outside forces - your parents, teachers, friends and relatives, and the society and culture you live in. Most of these outside forces are acting on you in a mechanical way, giving pretty much the same programming to everybody.
Many of the voices we obey, he goes on to say, are coming from that automatic, generic programming and not from the heart, our seat of authentic integrity. It’s our job to wake up to this truth and practice techniques that help us replace the old programming with the new. Or, in more yogic terms, to quiet the fluctuations of the mind so that we can hear the voice of the heart, to smooth out the mental ruts of habit and genetic inheritance so that we can integrate the disparate parts of ourselves, aligning all those layers of mind, body, heart, spirit, breath, and energy. Then we can act honestly and move forward without pretense or doubt.
Like a Spring creek, melting and moving. Like a strong current, crystal clear and cruising along.
In our few years of acquaintance, I never heard Poppa Neutrino use the river as metaphor, but given that he spent much of his life living on handmade junk rafts, donated barges, and bricolaged houseboats, he surely could have. We met ten years ago at a friend’s art gallery in Chelsea where he was giving a talk about the historic journey he had recently made: the first to have sailed from North America to Europe on a raft made entirely of repurposed trash. Tangled white hair and unkempt beard. Two teeth and crooked smile. Frayed shirt sleeves and buttons bulging over his belly. Poppa looked out of place in this west side art scene, notable in his rough and weathered persona, but there was something so true and smart and captivating in his rawness, something so magnetic in his bright and mischievous intelligence, that a kind of crackling attractiveness consumed any fear or suspicion. With a wink to his voice, he told stories about his failed and successful Atlantic crossings, of raising six kids on a houseboat on the Mississippi, of making a living as a family of street performers, of being the mastermind behind a cherished NFL field strategy, of his comprehensive, partially recorded philosophy, "The Power of Threes" and its promise to change our lives.
"What do you know," he'd ask me suddenly, "about the forces at work behind what you do and why you do them?" Then, getting in my face, he'd say, "Quick! Don't think! What are the three things you are living for right now?"
Much like Coyote, that character of native folklore whose crude appetites and actions serve to stir up strong feelings, sudden frustrations, and surprising insights, Poppa Neutrino had the innate ability to shock both himself and those around him out of sluggish, toilet-water eddies of non-movement. Often fascinating, sometimes ethically questionable, always eccentric, he was like the creek moving steadily forward, undivided and unapologetic about his choices. And he wanted the same for everyone. Action that comes from intention, not imitation. Choices that are authentic, not apologetic. Movement that is purposeful, not pretentious.
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke writes,
I want to know my own will
and to move with it...
I want to unfold.
Let no place in me hold itself closed, for where I am closed, I am false.
But how? How to become so true and wholly ourselves in word and deed?
Poppa, until his death in 2011, preached it as self-knowledge, urging me to understand my programming and then work to refine it towards what is real. The yogis call it svadhyaya, - self-study - encouraging yoga students to gaze inward with a precise and curious eye, so that we familiarize ourselves with both our limitations as well as our potential.
And once we're familiar with our inherited or outdated programming (our samskaras) we can then choose to act, sometimes countering what's comfortable or known in order to obey a quieter, gentler voice within us. And that's where the courage comes in... to choose to do things in a way that's different than how we generally do them. To be still when we usually fidget. To be active when we usually rest. To surrender to, and breathe into, those forces over which we usually seek control.
Forces like snowstorms and power outages and terrible roads. Like time passing too slowly or too quickly. Like our bodies changing with age or illness. Like other people living around us, walking their own authentic paths, intersecting with, impacting, frustrating, supporting ours.
I'm not saying this self-study and reprogramming is easy. Maybe we have to experience an adjustment period where we don't feel clear and undivided even though we're following this new/ancient voice. Maybe the adjustment period is our whole life itself. Maybe we're always in practice mode, never actually arriving at a place of perfect integration or alignment. Maybe we can just be like Poppa Neutrino and that old character Coyote and laugh too loud and fart at the wrong time and change our names in midlife and wear the weirdest thing at the party and not show up to work and do what's wild and unexpected because it's true and heartfelt. Maybe those acts, done with integrity, will spontaneously create a new universe. Or maybe not.
The point is we can try things out that rock the boat and let others try things out that rock the boat, and as humans we don't have to become exactly like the creek or the river, a perfect harmonious flowing current, but we can bumble and burble along, sometimes swiftly, sometimes in a swirl, but always in a constant state of practice and exploration - listening, noticing and doing, listening, noticing, and doing - refining our awareness and seeking that softness, that opening up, that unfolding, that surrender.
After my second drive, I eased into the snowstorm and accepted its impact, shutting down the studio for the weekend, playing, resting, and eating good food. Forward motion of a measurable productive manner ceased, but rather than feel anxious I settled into what was happening and released my grip. (Of course one week later, when the work pile was sky-high I felt anxious and controlling again! But what could I do? I laughed too loudly. I listened to the creek. I kept on practicing.)
Early Spring in the Catskills: it's as hard to know what to make of it as it is to know ourselves. Snow on the ground but a thaw in the air. Light and dark in contest, almost perfectly matched. The body waking up to warmth yet the chill of winter still stiff in the bones. So, we do the best we can do: by taking it slow and easy and without force and by letting our actions arise from a place of self-knowledge, care, and gentle listening, by moving from right where we are and not from where we wish we could be.
Ourselves. Only ourselves.
From an ever unfolding place of ease, laughter, and surrender, I am yours in authentic movement (and rest),
Spring Gong Bath with Ricarda O'Conner
Saturday, April 7th * 4-5:30
$20 Pre-Reg / $25 Same Day
Kick off your Spring season with a deeply renewing bath of sound. Healer, teacher, and musician Ricarda O'Conner will guide you on a journey to reset and recalibrate your nervous system... something we could all use after the long winter! A gong bath meditation restores the harmonic field of the body. The sound waves emanating from the gongs come in through your ears, but also move through your body, gently guiding you into deep relaxation. The gongs recalibrate and rebalance the body, mind and spirit, raising your vibration and returning you to your essential resonance.
For this event you will lie down on a yoga mat, close your eyes, and simply let the sound wash over you. Please bring a yoga mat and a pillow and/or a blanket and eye covering if you wish. The more comfortable your body can be, the more beneficial the experience. For more about Ricarda, please see www.ricardaoconner.com.
Reserve your spot here!
Yoga Beginner's Series with Christie Scheele
Four Sundays in April * 12-1 PM
People often tell me they don't come to yoga class because the studio classes are intimidating or move too quickly or would be too much of a stretch (haha) for said person's abilities and/or knowledge regarding yoga. No more excuses! Starting Sunday, April 8th, the amazing Christie Scheele will guide brand new students (or those who have had injuries or been away from yoga for some time) through a 4 week series intended to familiarize students with basic poses and soften their landing into future group classes. The classes will focus on gently building strength and flexibility, incorporating simple breathwork to reduce stress and fuel movement. The emphasis will be on clear instruction and modifying poses to meet students where they are.
This class is truly designed for those who are brand new to yoga, but will also work well for any student who is looking for a measured, gentle class with lots of individual attention. Commit to all four classes for a discount (and for a more impactful overall experience) or drop-in and try it out. With enough sustained interest, we'll add it to our weekly schedule.
Write with questions and/or reserve your spot here.
Mat/Pilates with Jennifer Kjos
Starting April 13th!
Fridays, 12:30-1:30 * $16 drop-in or class card
In this weekly ongoing mat class we will use time-tested Pilates principles to become attuned to the functions of the core and the joints, and how they work together to create strength, ease, and grace in the body. A well-rounded class that addresses all of the body, with a focus on good hip and core function, students will leave feeling gathered, longer through the limbs, steadier, clearer, and more centered overall.
About: Jennifer Kjos is a movement teacher with a strong foundation in Pilates that started over 25 years ago. Jennifer is also certified in Gyrotonic and brings many modalities and years of somatic investigation to her teaching practice. Her early years of ballet training led her to Pilates, and she has practiced it herself without interruption since her early teens because it works. With a focus on neuromuscular training, fine attention to detail, and plenty of positive reinforcement, Jennifer moves her students toward a rich relationship with their structures, into good function, and away from pain. As a professional dancer she is continuously fascinated with movement at all levels. Current goals for her students include better hip joint function, overall circulation, and empowerment around chronic injury. After teaching in New York City for 20 years, she is excited to bring her skill set to Catskills Yoga House.
Who wants a regularly scheduled Wednesday afternoon class with the amazing Aaron Dias?!
With enough commitments, we'll add an open level Wednesday class with Aaron from 4:30-6 PM with a monthly meditation offering following the class. We hope to get started by mid-April! Write firstname.lastname@example.org if you're interested and/or willing to commit.
The Way of Embodied Soul:
A Weekend Immersion with Elizabeth Andes Bell and Bruce Bell
April 13-15 * $97 (special pricing)
Are you missing weekly classes and workshops with Elizabeth Andes Bell? Join Elizabeth and Bruce for a fun, exploratory weekend immersion experience at their home studio (read: a beautiful converted church!) in Chichester, just up the road from Catskills Yoga House. Write her here for more info.
Sacred Sound Ritual with Jessica Caplan and Sean Hoots
Saturday, May 12th * 4-6 PM * 35 (pre-reg) $40 (same day)
Join us for a powerful afternoon of ceremonial healing and joy. Jessica and Sean co-facilitate this vibrational healing through sound and music, weaving together meditative sound with sacred chants, medicine melodies and original songs crafted with intention and spontaneity to guide participants on a journey that brings them home to their hearts. We are all beings of sound - our cells vibrate and our hearts beat rhythmically. Sound is thus a potent tool that helps us to reset, nourish and stimulate transformation in mind, body and spirit. The soundscape blends a wide range of instruments, including Himalayan and crystal bowls, voice, shrutti, gong, tuning forks, guitar, charango, drum, and rattles. I am not exaggerating when I tell you you will be deeply moved, transported, and restored. Come melt into the waves of vibration!
No experience necessary. A desire to lie down and rest and receive is all that is required. Dress comfortably and bring any extra props or blankets you might need to be at ease.
Reserve your spot here.
THIS AND THAT
Kid's Movement and Dance Classes, restarting in late Spring.
For more information on clyde forth and Lokasparśa Dance Projects, please see www.lokasparsadance.org.
Please email email@example.com with questions.
Registration available here.
Looking for a beautiful, quiet place to practice your healing art, meet with a client, rehearse, have a dance party, give a performance, practice an instrument, host a class or...? Catskills Yoga House is available for hourly rentals! Please write for more details.
Class cards and Private classes make great gifts... for yourself or another!
$80 for 5 classes, $150 for 10 classes, and $280 for 20 classes. $160 for unlimited monthly and $650 for six month unlimited passes. Custom-made and designed gift certificates available. Private or semi-private classes allow students to deepen and customize a practice, work through an injury or limitation, create a home-practice, celebrate a birthday or anniversary or have a beautiful, personal experience with a friend or partner. Please email for more information. Classes in the studio or on site in your home.