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Productivity In The Time Of The Coronavirus?

Anger, boredom, gratitude, despair, hope, nostalgia, hatred, stagnation, emptiness, comfort, discomfort, sadness, listlessness, loneliness, uncertainty, safety, anxiety, numbness…

All these feelings and more came to mind when I sat down to do  the same Covid-19 related assignment that my second graders completed. They were asked to describe how they’ve been feeling during the pandemic, as part of a “Coronavirus Time Capsule” project. Many of their responses were thoughtful and honest, and they reminded me that, despite our age, background, or life circumstances, we are all experiencing a wide array of emotions that can change drastically from day to day or even moment to moment.

In the early days of social distancing, when the bleak reality of daily life in the time of Covid-19 hadn’t quite set in, I was excited to do lots of things with the endless amount of free time I had suddenly been gifted. I wanted to read all of the books that had been sitting on my shelf for years. I reveled at the thought that I would finally sit down and explore Spotify for hours on end, to acquaint myself with all the new music that had been released since Trump’s inauguration (a date I use to mark time for lots of things, including my waning interest in new releases in the arts and entertainment world). I promised myself I would actually dig out that set of acrylic paints that had been buried at the bottom of a drawer since maybe 2014. I would also try out all the recipes I had bookmarked in my small collection of vegetarian cookbooks. And, I would actually start using those mediation and language learning apps that had been sitting there neglected in a folder on my iphone for god knows how long.

None of those things listed above were goals, and I never viewed this period of isolation as a time to “be productive.” In fact, on one of the last days before all nonessential business shut down, I purchased Jenny Odell’s How To Do Nothing at one of my favorite local bookstores. I was excited to read her thoughts on resisting the 24/7 productivity culture we’re bombarded with, especially now that I had been given this weird sort of permission from the universe to stop being productive. So I sat in a cafe just down the street from the bookstore, and I made it through about 50 pages before the cafe closed for the evening. I was feeling inspired to start “resisting the attention economy” and hopeful that I would start finding joy and solace in simple practices that I had ignored or shelved because of productivity culture and burnout. 

Those feelings quickly vanished when I panic bought a bunch of groceries at CVS because there wasn’t a parking spot in sight at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. And as I carried three heavy bags filled with mostly junky snacks and frozen food down a scarily empty and lifeless main street in Cambridge, MA, a wave of dread washed over me. I put the book on my coffee table after I put away all the groceries, and I’ve felt its eye catching, floral cover stare at me for weeks, taunting me with a sick kind of irony to do something productive and finish it already.

It’s been more than seven weeks since I purchased Jenny Odell’s  manifesto on productivity and personal liberation, although it sometimes feels like it’s been more than a year, depending on my mood or perspective when I look back. And in the time that has elapsed, waves of confusing and conflicting emotions have continued to crash into me. On any given day I can go from feeling perfectly calm and at ease with the world around me as I enjoy my morning coffee in bed while I watch some “comfort TV” (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Sex And The City, Are You Being Served? etc.) to suddenly feeling overcome by an onslaught of dread and anxiety as I count down the minutes to my next painfully awkward Zoom meeting. I can vacillate between feeling lonely and isolated because my friends and family members haven’t texted me back, to feeling reassured and connected when we exchange even the most trivial messages, like bits of Coronavirus humor or anti-Trump memes (both of which are never in short supply these days). There are also moments when I want to either turn off my phone or throw it across the room, screaming, “Leave me the fuck alone!” because I’m overwhelmed with people invading my space and making demands on my time and energy. And sometimes I just don’t have a single ounce of the energy, attention, or concern it takes to be a thoughtful, empathetic friend, or to even be a social human being at all.

While I may not have reignited my passion for fine arts,  kept up with my daily goals on that Spanish app, finished even one goddamned book on my shelves, or had one Zoom meeting that was purely social instead of a mind numbing cacophony of voices from kids or colleagues who still don’t seem to know how to mute themselves, I have found some simple, enjoyable practices that have allowed me to distance myself from the attention economy. I’ve walked many local trails, some of which are familiar and evocative of childhood walks with my dad, and some of which are brand new to me. I’ve observed the turkeys that hang out in my large backyard and the wooded slope directly across the street from my house. I’ve taken a handful of short road trips to the small seaside town where I lived a few years ago. It’s easier to be socially distant there, and today I was able to walk through the town’s eighteenth century era cemetery without being self-conscious or anxious about busting out that dreaded face mask. I’ve had short but lovely conversations from six feet apart with a local author and dogsitting client who I’ve delivered groceries to. I’ve been listening to music more mindfully and critically and falling back in love with albums I haven’t listened to in years (this week’s big rediscovery was Fiona Apple’s When The Pawn…) And I’ve cleaned and reorganized my apartment in small ways that feel refreshing. 

Sure, I might spend more time than usual glued to a screen. My sleep schedule might be more erratic than ever. I may be consuming more alcohol and salty, processed snack foods than I usually allow myself to eat. And, aside from completing my minimal work from home requirements, I might not be very “productive” at all by society’s standards. I’m certainly not “crushing” any goals or planning for the future. But honestly, are any of these things truly relevant ot important right now? Life is on pause, so can’t we just put productivity culture on pause as well? I will continue to do what my jobs ask of me, but I will also make time to be blissfully unproductive. And that includes closing my laptop, pouring a second cup of coffee,  and cracking open that Jenny Odell book while I listen to the turkeys in the backyard.

Thank U, Next, Next…

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Last month I took a hiatus from teaching my Sunday yoga classes, and I knew it would lead to me giving them up permanently. Teaching yoga for 11 years has certainly been a long, strange trip, and the 10 year mark honestly would have been the best time for me to walk away. The last half of 2018 and most of 2019 was a tough time for me personally, and I found myself in the unfortunate place where I depended on the income I was making from teaching to support myself through some personal and financial difficulties. I’ve gotten to the light at the end of the tunnel, and I’m grateful that I now have a new full time job that makes me happy and a personal life that feels less hectic. Now I can enjoy a proper weekend after almost 11 years of running around like a crazy person teaching yoga on Saturdays and Sundays.

Yoga teaching burnout is real, and it hit me hard. But instead of dwelling in the negativity and disillusion I’ve felt about the industry and the darker side of the local yoga community, I’ll say that I’m truly grateful for the personal connections I’ve made through my many years of practicing and teaching. The friendships I’ve sustained with fellow teachers and students over the years are infinitely more important than my ability to do side crow (or any asana) or my ability to recall the four muscles that make up the hamstrings (or any anatomical/biomechanical knowledge). I’m honestly at a point where I really don’t care if I ever do another warrior 2 or upward facing dog. But I do care about the many people who have regularly attended my classes over the years, the old, familiar faces who drop in and surprise me every once in a while, and the teachers who have helped me learn and grow or just held space for me in their classes (even if I haven’t seen them or practiced with them in ages).

I’ve taught for some lovely studio owners who have nurtured me, supported me, cut me some slack, and given me the freedom and gentle guidance to thrive as a teacher. And I’ve taught for some less than stellar ones who have either micromanaged, ruled by intimidation and fear, or who were just lackadaisical and detached. I’ve made $5-10 per class and I’ve made $75-90. I’ve experienced the joy and simplicity of practicing and teaching yoga before social media was even a thing, and I’ve tried to hold my tongue or at least ignore some of the narcissism, preachiness, and vapid or sycophantic BS that Instagram yogis have unfortunately tried to shove down our throats in recent years. I’ve taught slow, gentle, quiet classes, as well as ones set to blaring hip hop music, laden with ridiculously profane lyrics. I’ve taught in tiny rooms that were a comfy 72° and huge spaces that required teachers to crank the heat to nearly 100°. It’s fascinating to look back on how the practice and business of yoga has evolved and how I’ve evolved as a person since I first unrolled my mat.

Of course I still have my flaws and fixations. And yoga has them as well. But I’ve come a hell of a long way from that reclusive, closeted, terrified 22 year old who reluctantly went to yoga for the first time at a community farm, dressed in bulky sweatpants and a baggy long sleeved shirt. My yoga will probably consist more of walks in nature, moments of pure focus on my writing, or anything else in my daily life that I can do mindfully and appreciatively. There probably won’t be very many Warrior 2s or down dogs, and I’m okay with that. My body and (to use one of those overused yoga words I hate) my “spirit” are just tired from the relentless execution and instruction of those postures for so many years. I want to explore other things that make my mind and body happy, and I want to focus on the career I sort of put on the back burner when I started teaching yoga.

I’m several chapters into writing a memoir that’s largely focused on my experiences as a yoga teacher, and I’ll go on here from time to time to post updates about that.
But until then, I just want to say thank you to anyone who has ever taken my class, whether it was when I was a newbie teaching a scripted Baptiste flow, an overzealous 28 year old who discovered hip hop yoga for the first time and taught insane sequences to deafening music, or during any steadier, more grounded point in my career. Seeing your faces and chatting with you before or after class has brought me so much happiness and has made all the irritating bullshit in yogaland way easier to deal with. You are all loved and I’m sure our paths will cross- maybe not in a studio (although I might sub here and there) but definitely at some other point and in some other place in this crazy, beautiful, enigmatic world.

Righteous Anger & Real Gratitude

I firmly believe that I’m hard wired to be a bit of a “glass half empty” person, and I’m totally okay with it. While I wouldn’t go so far as to liken myself to Rachel Dratch’s legendary Saturday Night Live character, “Debbie Downer,” I’m fully aware that my mind does tend to gravitate pretty quickly toward things I find problematic or unjust. And it absolutely loves to create some fantastic worst-case scenarios when stress and anxiety creep in. I’m self-aware enough to know that I need to just sit with my own feelings of righteous anger, anxiety or resentment and vent them to someone who will listen and validate these feelings before I can move on. Telling me to see the positive side of the situation or focus on what I’m grateful for will only serve to make me more pissed off and fired up.

I have a lot of issues with the practice of gratitude, particularly when it feels forced or weaponized. I recognize my own privilege, and I know I have a lot in my life to be grateful for, but when I’m told to think of a list of things that evoke this feeling in me, my mind tends to go blank or just zone out. Year after year, my mom would insist that we all go around the table on Thanksgiving and say what we’re grateful for. And year after year, my brother and I would sigh, roll our eyes, and then proceed to make sarcastic remarks when it was our turn to share. She gave up on trying to force us to participate in this cliche ritual shortly after I turned 35.

The forced practice of gratitude has even found its way into my new teaching job. The entire school where I teach pauses to take a “mindful moment” each morning, during which time the students are led on a very brief, guided meditation or mindfulness activity. There’s a different theme for each day of the week, and I always kind of dread Thursdays because, you guessed it, that’s gratitude day! I realize that there are some benefits to teaching and practicing gratitude, particularly with children, but there has to be a better, more organic way than simply instructing them to stop what they’re doing, close their eyes, and think of things they’re thankful for. Nine times out of ten, my mind either does the Homer Simpson monkey-with-cymbals thing, or it regurgitates the same canned list of basic things that a person should feel grateful for: my parents, my friends, the fact that I have a roof over my head and a job that I mostly like… If the intention of this activity is to make me feel all warm, fuzzy and ready to start my day on a super positive note, then it really misses the mark. Because all I usually feel is slightly numb and pretty annoyed that I had to run my mind through that same old list again.

And don’t even get me started on yoga studio owners and managers who weaponize gratitude in order to control or manipulate their teachers. I’ve seen this heinous practice take place in the form of emails from studio owners that seem to shame teachers for complaining about having to show up 30 minutes early for classes and stay late to mop floors or do other cleaning tasks. I received such an email several years ago (it was addressed to the entire staff), and the owner had the audacity not only to say “you should be grateful to even teach here” but also that “there are plenty of other teachers who would be eager to take your place.” The subtext was, “shut up, go above and beyond for us for no extra pay. And don’t you dare complain, or we’ll find some other eager people-pleaser to take your place.”

These same studio owners made every member of their teaching staff do something called a dana each month, which they said was Sanskrit for “an act of selfless service.” These so called danas ranged from hauling the studio’s recyclables to the town dump; to purchasing multiple boxes of cleaning and paper supplies online with the company credit card, getting said boxes delivered to your home address (because the owners were too cheap to adequately staff the studio to receive packages) and delivering all the supplies to the studio. They linked these “acts of selfless service” (a.k.a. unpaid forms of labor that may or may not have been illegal) to the practice of gratitude for being part of their yoga studio “family.” And the subtle message they sent here was that if we complained about our dana or felt resentful about doing it, we were “ungrateful” family members.

I’ve received a good handful of other messages over the years from studio owners and managers on social media or email, some subtle and some more overt, about how grateful we should all feel to be able to do the amazing, “selfless,” work of teaching yoga. And while I do appreciate the numerous positive aspects of this unique type of work, I call bullshit on two major underlying messages that these statements carry. One is the misconception and delusion that teaching yoga is some kind of act of selfless service. I’m sorry, but it’s just not. Yoga teachers are most certainly providing a service that is helpful to others, and in many ways they are giving from a loving and vulnerable place within themselves. But to call it “selfless” almost implies that it’s charitable work, and that any monetary gains from this act of service are merely a nice bonus. And unless we’re talking about karma yoga, the reality is that, like every other job in the world, teaching yoga is an exchange of one’s time and labor for money. Yoga teachers need to pay rent and put food on the table, and they need to be compensated fairly for their services. This leads me to the second underlying message, which is “be grateful for any money you make from teaching, and don’t rock the boat or make any waves about fair pay, getting a raise, etc.” I’ve been in at least a few uncomfortable situations in which studio owners used gratitude and other “yogic” or “spiritual” concepts/cliches to try to justify why they paid teachers a pittance for their dedication, time, effort, and skill. And I spent a couple of years of my teaching career accepting pitifully low wages for hours upon hours of time planning, teaching, building community, working at the desk, mopping the floor, until I realized that I was worth way more than what these yoga misers were willing to cough up.

I’ve spent lots of time ruminating and fuming over these imbalances and injustices in the yoga world, and I’ve felt a lot of indignation toward certain duplicitous studio owners over the years. But as much as my mind loves to spend time in a place of deep anger and resentment, it eventually shifts to a place of gratitude and appreciation. I felt that shift happen when I was driving home from a recent Sunday morning class, listening to a particularly angry Joni Mitchell album called Dog Eat Dog, that happens to end with an uplifting, appreciative love song called “Lucky Girl.” The bulk of the album is full of venom, and Mitchell uses it as a vehicle to express a deep disdain for the greed, corruption and social injustices that truly reared their ugly heads during the Reagan years. Her tone slowly changes to let in a bit of hope and idealism in the penultimate track, “Impossible Dreamer,” and she ends this otherwise dark album on an especially sweet note with “Lucky Girl.” When that last track came on and the lyrics set in, I started to think of all the ways in which teaching yoga made me feel lucky. I was actually making a list in my head, motivated by feelings of gratitude, and it felt good and genuine because I was doing it spontaneously and for myself. It wasn’t prompted by an instruction on the morning announcements at school, or by an activity from a self-help book or a 30- day gratitude challenge. It came from me, and it also came from a pure moment of connection with music and art, which feels infinitely more real to me than the dime a dozen “spiritual gurus” or “yoga influencers” out there on social media land who sell gratitude as part of their brand.

I’m lucky I got to teach yoga for 11 years.

I’m lucky I was able to try it out as a full time career for a short while, even though the burnout and financial woes were real.

I’m lucky I managed to balance a part time career in my original field with a part time yoga teaching career for so many years and didn’t totally lose my sanity or my ability to pay the bills.

I’m lucky I met so many awesome people through teaching and practicing yoga, and I’m lucky I’ve been able to maintain a good number of these friendships despite major career and life transitions.

I’m lucky I was able to take time off when I wanted to, so I could do things like follow bands and artists on tour through the New England/New York area, or take fun road tips with my best friend.

I’m lucky I was able to go back home in the afternoons and binge watch TV or nap in between classes when I taught full time.

I’m lucky I found a job that (for the most part) allowed me to be a creative, uncensored, unscripted version of myself.

And most of all, I’m lucky to have gained access to some helpful tools and insights through practicing and teaching that have had a pretty powerful impact on my relationship with myself and others and how I live my (often messy, far from perfect) life.

It’s worth noting that zero items on this gratitude list have anything to do with the physical poses. While I derived some short-lived joy from being able to get into complex arm balances at one point in my practice, and while I still appreciate the feelings of comfort and ease I find from restorative poses, the poses were never the point.

That spontaneous practice of gratitude in the car wasn’t a cure-all that would wash away or negate my still valid feelings of righteous anger about the business of yoga. Hell, if I had any ounce of musical talent, I could probably write my own yoga-themed Dog Eat Dog type of album (minus the cheesy mid-80’s synths) that expresses all the vitriol I’ve felt like I had to hold back for so many years. But it did help me put these past 11 years into perspective and see the bigger, slightly more positive picture of my long, strange, and sometimes arduous trip through yogaland. There is greed and lust, vanity and artifice, struggle and despair in the world of yoga, as there is in just about any business or profession. But if you look past all that darkness for just a minute, you can remember what you truly love and appreciate, and maybe you’ll feel just a little lucky…

From Child’s Pose in Church Basements to Handstands on Instagram: How Social Media and an Exploding Industry Have Changed My Experience as a Yogi

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The first yoga class I ever attended was at a community farm, in a small room with a linoleum floor that they used mostly for kids’ education classes, and the second class I attended was in a huge, lofty, multipurpose room at a Unitarian Church. Soon after those initial yoga experiences, I was lured in to the two chains of hot power yoga studios that were all the rage in the Boston area at the time. Throwing down chaturanga after chaturanga and grunting my way into big backbends I wasn’t ready for, in a 95 plus degree room with upwards of 40 other yogis was quite a shock to my system, after only having experienced hatha yoga in intimate settings. But my 23 year old body could handle it, and I loved the euphoric rush that accompanied the practice. So, it served me for a while, and it felt authentic to me in my early days as a yogi.

Fast forward a few years to when I had just started teaching yoga, and studios were starting to spring up like Starbucks. While there wasn’t quite one on every block, my options for taking classes outside of my home base studio where I did my training were plentiful, and my options for places to teach were starting to expand. My relationship with yoga had changed significantly from those first few classes on the farm and at the church; and with the onslaught of new studios popping up in almost every urban and suburban neighborhood, as well as the rise of social media, it would only continue to change.

I didn’t have a Facebook account for the first several months of my teaching career–I’m a late adopter to all things technology. I just jumped on board the Snapchat train this year, and you still won’t catch me giving commands to “Alexa” on one of those Amazon Echoes–and in many ways, I was happier without it, both as a practitioner and a teacher. And also as a human being in general. I was less distracted, more focused, and less competitive with others and with myself. When I finally caved to the pressures of social media, I found it, like many people, to be a double-edged sword. I could connect with a broad network of yoga teachers and students and feel like part of a bigger community. I could reach out to other teachers and ask them questions or just see when they were teaching special classes, workshops, or trainings. I could forge more personal connections with my students, which felt great, strengthened my teaching, and led to some great friendships over the years. The benefits of using social media as a yoga teacher were many, but I also let the drawbacks and pitfalls make a not-so-positive impact on me.

For a while, I became bogged down by feelings of jealousy and inadequacy when I compared myself to other teachers. I got sucked in by the gossip machine that social media often generates (yes, there can be just as much gossip and drama at yoga studios as there can at any other workplace), and I felt mentally and emotionally unhealthy as a yogi. Thankfully, I’ve gotten to a place where I can enjoy the benefits of social media without going too far down that spiral of envy, criticism, and negativity. Much like a practice of asana or meditation, it took a fair amount of self-reflection and discipline to get to where I am in terms of my relationship with social media as a yogi and as a person, and it’s still very much a work in progress. This almost constant state of interconnectedness and being plugged in to the thoughts, joys, hardships, political views, selfies, and rants of fellow teachers and students has radically changed my experience as a yogi. But rather than fighting it or abandoning it altogether, I’ve decided to go mindfully with the current; because, love it or hate it, social media is here to stay.

In addition to the rise of social media, I’ve witnessed the rise of “yoga as group fitness” and the “corporatization” of yoga over the years- another far cry from my early days of yoga at the farm. Like social media, this was something I allowed to get under my skin, and it’s something that doesn’t bother me nearly as much anymore. Yoga is a business, just like anything else that involves the exchange of money. There will always be studios that compensate teachers fairly and generously for the work they do, just like there will always be studios that take advantage of their teaching staff with unfair pay, cutting classes, micromanagement, and even instituting things like “mandatory” unpaid staff meetings. I’ve been around long enough to have seen a slew of injustices in the world of yoga teaching, and at this point I just say “no thank you” to studios that start teachers at $30 per class, or that pay $5 per student, or that find other means to make teaching a more laborious, stressful, and less rewarding experience. I’m grateful to have found a few studios who treat me well, pay me generously, and value my contributions to the community, and that’s what matters.

I also say “no thank you” to studios that seem to place an emphasis on “yoga as group fitness.” I practice yoga mostly for its healing, grounding, and meditative benefits, and while I love to strengthen my core and pop up into the occasional crow or forearm balance, I don’t practice or teach with things like “fitness” or, god forbid, “cardio” in mind. While I personally cringe at “yoga” class descriptions that include the use of weights or “cardio” work and at studios that seem to value the “harder, faster, more” philosophy of vinyasa yoga, I say, ”to each their own.” If you like flowing through sun salutations with weights, adding burpees to your sequences, and cramming in as many poses as possible to a 60 minute class, then rock on with your bad self. I’ve just decided that those types of classes and studios are not for me. Yoga means something different to each one of the millions of people around the world who practice it, and now that it has largely moved away from being taught in intimate settings like church basements and has exploded into a multimillion dollar industry, it’s up to us to be smart consumers, practitioners, and teachers, and connect with yoga in a way that feels real to us.

“It’s Gotta Be Sunny Somewhere:” a Review of Juliana Hatfield’s “Pussycat”

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I didn’t expect Donald Trump to win the 2016 election, and I didn’t expect Juliana Hatfield, one of my all-time favorite musicians, to release an intensely politically-fueled album, just as Trump neared the end of his first 100 days in office. While Hatfield’s songs have always been deeply introspective and pretty provocative–she’s never been one to shy away from uncomfortable topics such as gender oppression, body image, and drug abuse, just to name a few–and while she’s also no stranger to railing against the establishment in general, I was still surprised that she decided to go full-throttle anti-Trump on this latest collection of 14 songs, her first proper solo album in six years.

I got my first taste of these songs when she performed a few of them for the first time at the benefit concert, “Boston Stands for the ACLU” in March. My ears immediately perked up as she lit into her scathing attacks on the president for his animalistic, sexually assaultive ways in “When You’re A Star,” whose chorus, “You can do what you want/Whatever you want to do, when you’re a star,” references the infamous Billy Bush tapes. She also debuted another of the album’s standout tracks that night, “Touch You Again,” a straight up, post-punk-style rocker in the vein of early Pretenders that fires off lines like “He’s never gonna show you off/Like a shiny object that he bought,” that seem to be aimed directly at a certain real estate mogul/reality show host turned president. And then, of course, there was the highly anticipated track I had recently read about, whose name says it all, “Kellyanne.” It beautifully captures the shock, disgust and dismay this alternative fact-slinging woman seems to have on Hatfield, along with many other like-minded and truth-seeking Americans.

Almost every one of the 14 tracks on the aptly named “Pussycat” appears to be a direct response to Trump’s divisive, controversial campaign and his unexpected rise to power. But among all the rage, revolt, and confusion that colors her lyrics, Hatfield offers listeners a couple of hopeful moments and a nostalgic look back at simpler times. “Impossible Song” tackles the seemingly impossible notion that an especially divided America can work to find at least some common ground, and “Sunny Somewhere” yearns for bright spots and a breath of fresh air in the murky political and environmental landscape we’re living in. The sweetly nostalgic “Wonder Why,” which appears shortly after the halfway point in the album, is its most palpable and enjoyable moment of reprieve from all the lyrical heaviness. It showcases Hatfield’s full vocal range, soaring harmonic choruses and synthesized strings, and it finds her wistfully looking back upon various features of her childhood home (“I wonder why the kitchen was an avocado green/And the upstairs bathroom was peach) and fond childhood memories (“The Northern Lights/We saw them in Vermont one night from a car”). In a world that seems to bombard us with the latest flare up in the raging dumpster-fire that is the Trump presidency, it can feel truly therapeutic to retreat to the naive, wondrous, and largely apolitical mindset of childhood. So thanks for this moment of escapism, Juliana. And thanks for putting this brave body of work out there into a world that needs this kind of art more than ever.

Confessions of a Jaded Yoga Teacher (or, Why I Quit The Full Time Yoga Game)

(originally published in 2014)

Somewhere amid the endless stream of asana selfies, the preachy social media posts about self-care, ahimsa, and various other “yogic principles,” the desperate pleas to get someone to sub one of my weekend classes when I was ill or had an important family event to attend, the hours spent in traffic, praying I’d make it to the studio on time for class, and the uncertainty of whether my next paycheck from X studio would actually cover this month’s rent, I came to realize that this career I had chosen and had relied upon as a source of stability and purpose would ultimately lead me toward burnout and frustration if I kept it going the way it was. Almost six years after I began teaching my first public class, teaching yoga full time was not only no longer paying the bills; it was also no longer fulfilling me on a personal level like it did during the first few years. When you have to teach more than 14 classes a week and put countless miles on the odometer to make ends meet, it starts to wear on you and leads you to question whether you can keep doing this at 35, 40…or, god forbid, 50.

Don’t get me wrong, I still sincerely love teaching yoga. Like any job, some days and some classes feel better than others, but I love the overall sense of spontaneity and variety that’s inherent to the job. As much as I’ve bitched and moaned about having to drive 20 miles in rush hour traffic to teach some of my weekly classes, I deeply appreciate the diverse communities of strong, interesting people that I’ve been lucky enough to meet by teaching at many different studios throughout the greater Boston area. I also appreciate the downtime that my job has given me over the years. It’s pretty awesome to be able to enjoy a leisurely lunch or coffee talk session midday with a friend, to take a yoga class at noon during the week, go for a midday run, or even better, take a midday nap, which is something I became a real pro at. These are all things that I would definitely not have the luxury to enjoy if I worked a traditional 9-5 type of job.

But with great freedom comes great responsibility. And responsibility is something I’ve always struggled with. It became challenging for me to remain consistent with my class schedule. Certain time slots and studios just didn’t work out, and I’d find myself subbing out or dropping classes, and in many cases leaving studios altogether. As yoga teachers we definitely have a responsibility to our students who show up faithfully, and this can honestly be hard to uphold when you commute 45 minutes each way into the city to teach a 90 minute class with 3 students that ends up paying you $15. Yes, we can spend our time, energy and money marketing ourselves, taking countless trainings to improve and refine our teaching, and be patient, faithful lapdogs, hoping that studio owners will notice our loyalty and reward us with more classes on the schedule, or better yet, that coveted, ever elusive “full time” status at their elite, big city studio. But frankly, I didn’t have that kind of patience, loyalty, or desire, and I realized I was never going to be that skinny, effervescent, but slightly icy, fancy fashionista prototype of a teacher that sadly seems to prevail at those elite studios at which I tried to teach. Full disclosure: I did sort of have a full time gig at an “assembly line” chain of studios for about two years and I quit before they could fire me because it didn’t feel authentic for me to teach in a formulaic way or to uphold their shiny, fluffy, new age BS agenda.

It shocks many of my non-yoga friends that the evils of the corporate world definitely still permeate the yoga world and the business of yoga; they’re just oftentimes hidden beneath a thin veneer of new agey bullshit and “yoga speak,” which I feel is worse in some ways. I wish I could find a career that’s completely free from bullshit, but alas, unless I’m missing out on some kind of miracle out there, such a job doesn’t really exist. And if I’m gonna have to ingest bullshit, I’d rather have it served to me in a no-frills, upfront manner, instead of hidden in some kind of kombucha, kale smoothie concoction in a mason jar that has the word namaste printed on it over the image of a lotus flower. Don’t tell me to “be myself and shine my light and teach from my heart” and then tear apart my class because I “talked too much” or didn’t teach the “required” number of sun salutations. And don’t talk to me about yogic principles like speaking with integrity, avoiding gossip, and being humble when you’re a studio owner who exudes the bitterness, pettiness and competition of a middle school girl with all your social media posts. Talk about not practicing what you preach. If I knew I was going to end up work with a bunch of catty, bitter women in a gossip mill of a studio I would have kept my job as a teacher’s aide at an elementary school, where at least the bullshit was served in more of a tell-it-like-it-is kind of way.

I do realize that it’s possible to move beyond the drudgery and drama that accompanies a full time schedule of studio classes by “advancing” or branching out in the field of yoga teaching, just as it is in pretty much every career path. I’ve had friends and colleagues go on to open studios, start successful teacher training and mentorship programs, or broaden their horizons to incorporate teaching practices like ayurveda. Those are all lovely, lucrative directions that I’m sure I could venture into if I had the passion or inclination, but the truth is, I just don’t. I’m not a super spiritual, philosophical person, I’m not an “anatomy geek,” a “health freak” or an entrepreneurial type. I’m more of a bookish, music and pop culture geek, writer type who was drawn to teaching yoga after a rather failed attempt at elementary school classroom teaching. I love the art of teaching, whether it’s leading an art lesson to a group of third graders, teaching a workshop to a group of after school professionals about how to bring yoga into the classroom, or teaching a group of 15-30 adults a 60 minute vinyasa yoga class at a local studio. I think I will always maintain a love of teaching no matter what the discipline or where life takes me, but I think it’s time to drop to part time status with the vinyasa yoga after having led a group of type-A, high energy suburbanites in an overheated room through the 10,000th sun salutation of my career. Teaching warrior 1 and warrior 2 over and over again, day after day, just doesn’t have the same allure it did a few years ago.

I love deconstructing the warrior postures just as much as the next yoga teacher, and I love speaking to the benefits of the practice that extend beyond the physical postures in ways that aren’t super technical or esoteric. The practice of yoga asana has been invaluable in helping my legit ADD self to slow down and find ways to ground, calm, and be still. It has also helped my sometimes over analytical self connect to a more light hearted, carefree way of being. Perhaps most importantly, it has allowed my shy, reticent, uncertain self to find a little more human connection and confidence. But that’s about as far as it’s gone. I’ve barely even dabbled in meditation, yogic philosophy, or ayurveda, and quite frankly, I’m not finding those things to be interesting or relevant right now. I haven’t done a lot of work to market or sell myself as a yoga teacher or to carve out a niche that makes me “stand out” and gets droves of students to flock to my “sold out” classes. I don’t wear lululemon (I don’t even like the company and can’t justify spending upwards of $100 on fancy yoga pants, but that’s a whole other article), and I don’t feel the need to cram my instagram account with pictures of me in such fancy clothes, or worse, in my undies, doing scorpion pose and crazy contorted backbends (shapes my body can’t really assume safely at this point anyway). Those sorts of things just aren’t my cup of caffeine free organic green tea. And I prefer a strong cup of black coffee to be completely honest.

I guess my point is that I don’t really enjoy “selling” the so called yogic lifestyle, either in a superficial or a super serious way. I like teaching group classes on a part time basis, I love the feeling of taking a nice deep, slow, challenging flow class as a student, but I don’t like having to walk the walk and talk the talk in all its different ways in order to market myself as a yoga teacher. My sense of humor is often sarcastic and sophomoric, I have a penchant for the dark side (as opposed to a bunch of love, light, namastes, and flowery emoticons), and I love to indulge in a fair amount of unhealthy foods, alcoholic beverages, loud rock concerts and trashy TV. I realize those things are considered to be rather out of alignment with the yogic lifestyle, and I’m also okay with their presence in my life. For me, it’s not a “guilty pleasure” to have a glass of red wine late at night, to see a band play until 1AM, or to polish off half a bag of chips while watching back to back episodes of “Supernatural.” It’s a normal part of my everyday life that I accept. I also realize that it’s not a requirement that all “serious” yoga teachers exist on a steady diet of quinoa, kale and green smoothies, along with daily mediation, readings of hindu texts, and instagram posts of themselves in a bra and panties doing fancy handstands in their kitchen. I just realize that after years of trying to embrace a more so called modern yogic lifestyle, it just wasn’t something that was resonating with me or something that I could do with integrity. I’d rather have a slightly more 9 to 5-y type of job that actually pays the bills, teach a few classes a week as more of a hobby, and go home and enjoy my TV watching, junk food eating, wine drinking, pop culture, punk rock lifestyle in a carefree, unattached way.

Prius Owner Purchases 23rd Bumper Sticker

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-Somerville, MA

As soon as 38-year-old farmer’s market enthusiast Becky Newman laid eyes upon a clever kale-themed bumper sticker for sale at her favorite booth, she knew she had to purchase it. She simply couldn’t resist the sticker’s playful pun, “Oh, Kale Yeah!” and the clever way in which the letters were formed with kale leaves. But upon leaving the booth and heading back to the parking lot to pack the trunk of her 2007 Prius with the 5 bags of organic produce she had just purchased, she began to experience a bit of buyer’s remorse. “Well, I already have bumper stickers that say: ‘Eat More Kale’ and ‘Under The Influence of Kale,” but this one was just too punny to pass up (get it?) And besides, if there are two things you can never have enough of, it’s leafy greens and cute bumper stickers, right?” she said with a wink.

Then, as Newman began to search for an empty spot on the tail end of her hybrid hatchback to strategically place the sticker, she started to think that maybe you can indeed have enough bumper stickers. And at whopping total of 22, she had way more than enough. “I remember it all started with an Obama ’08 sticker, right on the lower left corner of the bumper, then an NPR one on the other side to balance it out, and I guess I kinda went a little crazy after that. Oh, well,” she said with a giggle.

Her colorful display of stickers ranges from the spiritual, “Coexist” and “Namaste,” to the feminist, “In Goddess We Trust,” to the occasional piece of cutesy humor, “Don’t Like My Cattitude? Call 1-800-Get-A-Dog.” And since finally giving up dairy products and eggs 6 months ago after many failed attempts, Newman has started to build upon the newest subsection of her sticker collection: veganism. “Yeah, I guess people already get the point that I’m a vegan and an animal rights advocate when they see my other kale stickers and my personal favorite that says ‘Eat Your Veggies, Not Your Friends,” but seriously, how badass would my little Prius look if it said ‘Oh, Kale Yeah!’?” Newman asked. “So to answer your question, am I really gonna put this bumper sticker on my car? Oh, kale yeah, I am!” she snickered, as she proceeded to stuff a handful of raw goji berries in her mouth.

After arriving home and stocking the fridge in her studio apartment with enough organic fruits and veggies to feed a family of five for two weeks, Newman was spotted trying to peel off her “Obama ’08” sticker. “I did seriously consider just slapping the new one somewhere near the gas tank, but I didn’t want to become one of those people who covers their entire car with stickers,” she said. “So to compromise, I decided that the old Obama one can go. I mean, I do have an Obama 2012, and I got a Hilary 2016 one as soon as they were released. So, out with the old, in with the new, I guess!”

Fifth Grader Unsure Of Which Bubble To Fill In On Standardized Test

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Springtime brings an air of excitement and wonder to students at the Jackson Elementary School. Recess is typically a little warmer and longer, there’s more space to play after all the snow melts, and there are more exciting field trips and outdoor events for students of all ages. Unfortunately, springtime also brings on a soul-crushing series of statewide standardized tests for all students in grades 3-5. And on this particular Wednesday morning, a fifth grader named Abigail Williams was currently frozen with anxiety and self-doubt as she struggled to determine which bubble to fill in for question 5 on the multiple choice reading comprehension session.

“I know it can’t be A) because that’s just obviously, like, SO wrong. I mean, even my sister who’s in second grade would know that,” she said as she erased a stray mark she had mistakenly made in the bubble. “And I guess it could be B) or C) cause they both kind of express the main character’s feelings. It’s just, like SO hard to choose between them. So now I’m thinking it must be D) which says “Both B) and C).” She sighed. “But seriously, this crap shouldn’t be this hard for me. I mean, I read at a tenth grade level, I’ve gotten perfect scores on my report card every semester since Kindergarten, and I just passed my private middle school test and interview with flying colors. UGH.”

As Williams started to shade in the D) bubble with an intensity and ferocity she usually saves for swimming the 50 meter backstroke for her town’s swim team, where she proudly holds the record for fastest girl in her age group, she became plagued by sharp pangs of doubt and mistrust and immediately put down her pencil.

“The idiots who made this test are probably trying to trick us into thinking it’s both B) and C). They want us to choose D). Well, I’ve got news for you, test makers, I’m on to your little tricks and I won’t let one silly question fool me into running my perfect academic record. I’m going to Harvard just like my dad did, and I refuse to let a wrong answer on this dumb fifth grade test jinx me into getting A-Minuses now instead of straight A’s, ” Williams said with a self-righteous smirk as she thoroughly erased her previous answer and carefully shaded every last square millimeter of the previous bubble.

After re-reading the passage for the third time, Williams determined that the main character of the story was more “hopeful” than “optimistic,” and after quadruple-checking her answer, she handed her test to her teacher, Ms. Silverstein, with a smile that exuded perhaps a bit too much confidence and self-assuredness.

As Williams then took her seat and pulled out the latest 800 page novel she was in the middle of reading, she began to rethink her answer. “Dammit. The character was totally both hopeful and optimistic. Maybe they weren’t really trying to trick us after all.” She then asked Ms. Silverstein if she could have her test back to fix one of her answers but was met with a firm “No” from the especially stern, veteran fifth grade teacher of 13 years.

“I just hope that my new private middle school doesn’t see the results of this meaningless little public school test,” Williams muttered as she began worrying about how this one small question might impact her PSAT/SAT scores, her chance at being named a National Merit Scholar in 2021, and her dreams of running for president some time in the 2050’s.

Area Man Haunted By Image Of Ugly Baby

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As 26-year-old Seth Martin idly scrolled through his Facebook newsfeed during a moment of procrastination at work last Friday, he saw something frightening enough to elicit a gasp that could be heard throughout the surrounding cubicles. It wasn’t a hideous selfie or an especially scandalous piece of news, but rather a picture of what Martin was sure was hands down the ugliest baby he had ever laid eyes on. And it wasn’t just any random child from one of his 1,157 “friends”, it was his cousin Stacy’s firstborn son, Kiefer. “Picture the scariest looking cast member of American Horror Story: Freakshow, put their face on a baby’s body, and you kind of get the idea,” he replied when asked to describe his new first cousin, once-removed.

The young medical records assistant expressed great dismay for his decision to even open up Facebook, “I mean, I hadn’t gone on in weeks or posted anything since, like Christmas. I was thinking of just deleting the damn thing cause all I ever see these days are complaints about the weather, stupid memes and political rants from people I hated in high school. And I can kind of stomach those things, but this…this is a whole new level of vomit-inducing.”

To make matters worse, Martin accidentally clicked “like” below the photo, blaming it on a moment of absent-mindedness. “I don’t know, I was just distracted or something. Or I did it out of habit. I didn’t really mean to “like” it,” he said. And perhaps out of familial obligation or guilt for not having congratulated his cousin earlier on this momentous event in her life, he then proceeded to comment on the photo, writing something about how “adorable” little Kiefer is and how he “can’t wait to meet him.” “Those things couldn’t be further from the truth. Good thing Stacy lives on the opposite coast and my mom and aunt don’t really get along. I hope to God I never have to lay eyes on that hideous thing. I don’t know how I’d react,” Martin said, shaking his head.

The last time Martin recalls seeing Stacy was at their grandfather’s funeral, six years ago, when they were both sophomores in college. Because they were never close as children and hadn’t really spoken since a rather disastrous family reunion in 2004, they exchanged condolences and a few awkward words, and that was the extent of their interaction. “I’m pretty sure the next time I see her will probably be when Grandma dies, which I’m sure won’t be for a while, and by that point, maybe Kiefer will have outgrown his ugliness?” he said with just a touch of skepticism.

Until then, Martin has decided to deactivate his Facebook page; he has decided to stick with Twitter as his singular social media platform because he knows none of his family members have accounts, at least for now. “Dealing with annoying comments from my mom and getting millions of invitations to events I never want to go to was one thing, but dealing with the possibility of ugly babies haunting my dreams is where I draw the line,” Martin said as he live tweeted a co-worker’s comical struggle with the copy machine.

What Makes Work Worth Doing

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The most poignant moment on the recently-aired series finale of NBC’s Parks and Recreation was when the show’s protagonist, Leslie Knope, reflected on her career at the Pawnee Parks department by saying, “What makes work worth doing is getting to do it with people that you love.” Her words resonated strongly with me and led me to reflect a little deeper on the career I’ve tried to build for myself and the many people who have drifted in and out of my working life.

I’ve taught at a public afterschool program for the past five years alongside an eclectic cast of characters who have always reminded me just a bit of the cast of Parks and Recreation. There many not be anyone among us who’s nearly as materialistic and image conscious as Tom Haverford or as lovingly simple-minded and childlike as Andy Dwyer, but nonetheless, we are a quirky bunch who have remained a close knit team. We’ve even formed some unlikely but delightful friendships, some that I would have never thought possible. I had originally envisioned my position there as temporary, a stepping stone to whatever might be next. But I think it was my deep appreciation for my coworkers, some of whom became my friends and some of whom I clashed with at times, that kept me coming back year after year.

We all combine our strengths and personalities to deliver a program of activities to a diverse population of children ranging from 5 to 11 years old. And while none of us are quite as amazing or as magical as Johnny Karate, the children’s television character played so masterfully by Chris Pratt on the show’s final season, I like to think that we’re a pretty talented bunch. We’ve organized everything from an annual talent show that includes breakdancing and drumming acts to an arts and crafts sale to raise money to build a brand new playground. These huge efforts were successful only because each staff member was able to contribute meaningful, valuable work to provide for the greater good of the team and the children.

Unfortunately, the work we do is not always so valued by the larger community. Various shifts in school budgets and staffing have left us scrambling for adequate space and time to plan and run our program. And the part-time nature of the job, coupled with an hourly wage that, while generous compared to many similar programs, leaves a little to be desired, leads to high staff turnover. Over the past five years, we’ve had to weather a few major changes in staffing and have been forced to spread ourselves a little thinner. Our core staff; the Leslie, Ron, Tom, Donna and April of the program; if you will, has mostly stayed intact. But we’ve seen several major and minor characters come and go; some departures have been especially bittersweet, while others have been a huge sigh of relief.

This particular school year has been the most challenging one yet for the program. Aside from a record number of school cancellations due to an especially snowy winter, there has been a general decline in staff morale and teamwork that has left the program feeling frayed and tattered. We lost four especially talented, enthusiastic, hard-working staff members at the end of the last academic year, and their replacements have been lackluster to say the least. A program like ours can only run successfully if everyone on the team is willing to work together and to demonstrate passion, creativity, and consistency on a daily basis. We’ve thrived on these things for the past several years, but I feel like I’m part of a crumbling empire or a coldly dysfunctional family these days. Our invaluable former teachers who had the work ethic and heart of Ann Perkins and Chris Traeger have been replaced by newbies who sometimes display behaviors as challenging and counterproductive as Jean-Ralphio Saperstein and Jeremy Jamm, and it can be frustrating to see eye to eye with them or to get them to pull their weight. Adding to the problem is the fact that our “deputy director,” or our male version of Leslie Knope, is not always getting the support or the creative freedom he needs from our female Ron Swanson of a director in order to make changes, unify the staff, and make his vision a reality. In short, I know in my heart that the work I do matters, but it doesn’t feel as worth doing anymore because I’m no longer working with a team of people I love.

So, while it saddens me to say this, I’ve decided that the last day of this school year will be the series finale for my career at this program. Just as TV series should bow out before they become stale, I feel that I should close the curtain on this part of my career before I allow myself to become stagnant, frustrated, or bitter. I’ll always look back on the days I spent working with my friends with almost the same fondness I feel when I re-watch old episodes of Parks and Recreation. And I can only hope that wherever I land next, I’ll find another group of co-workers worthy of comparisons to my favorite citizens of Pawnee, Indiana.