Saturday, December 31, 2011


This photo arrived in my inbox this week – I just had to share it!

As I sit down to write something for the end of 2011 and the start of 2012, this picture keeps coming to mind. Out with the old, in with the new.

But for me, this photo also captures something even more powerful. If you’ve ever tried to take a picture and you wanted to get it just right, you know it isn’t easy. It takes work: an idea, a plan, skill, time, and lots of patience.

With this photo, that must be especially true. I imagine that the photographer tried many times to get the perfect shot. And right at the moment when the shutter clicked, things may not have gone quite according to plan. Maybe too much sand was washed away -- oops, there goes all of “2011,” a wee bit too soon: redraw, reshoot. Maybe there was a footprint nobody noticed until just then -- uh oh, that’s a do-over. Maybe droplets from the ocean splashed across the lens -- quick, wipe it off, try again.

And that’s what I wanted to share, this idea that life is like that. We pause at that always-magical moment, as one year slips away and another begins, and we create our dreams and resolutions. Then, life comes along, and things don’t go quite according to plan. We have to regroup, reenvision, recreate our dreams, and reinvent ourselves, over and over again.

And just like in this photo, where the photographer worked to get it right, so can we. We adapt to life’s ups and downs, we tweak our vision, we reinspire ourselves, and we do our inner work, so that we can, hopefully, get it right.

Tonight at midnight, as 2011 is washed away and 2012 arrives, fresh and new, I will take some mindful moments to be grateful for all the things that went right in 2011, and even for some that didn't but taught me valuable lessons along the way; for family and friends, for amazing students, for wonderful, generous teachers, for skilled healers, for the people who inspired me, for all the kindnesses that came my way. I will look ahead with hope and delight, to a new year and all the possibilities it holds.

And I’ll know that it won’t just happen in one shot; it’ll take work to manifest an awesome year. I’m OK with that. It’s worth it. I’m ready! 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Starbucks Refugee

Who knew that “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses” would become the Leitmotif for Starbucks earlier this week? It did, of course, when day after day we piled into the crowded store to warm up and charge our worn-out computers and cellphone batteries.

A refugee camp with latte.

An odd camaraderie arose as we ordered our cappuccinos and politely shared couches and – more to the point -- outlets. We took turns plugging ourselves in, nodding and smiling at each other, strangers thrown together due to the power outage. We became a shape-shifting community of sorts, coming and going, not much in common except the cold houses we had escaped from, and the desire to connect with the world, at least for a little while.

Working b

y candlelight
As challenging as these past few days were, they offered strange comforts, too. Without TV, radio or the internet to lure us into our separate corners, we suddenly had time to talk, to go to sleep early, to settle into a slower, more mindful rhythm. I felt like a pioneer in earlier, simpler times, when fire and food were not so easy to come by, and when being with others was what kept us connected.

Well, the power’s back on in my neighborhood, and life is back to normal, more or less. The classes at the studio are back on track. Most folks have been able to move back home after staying in hotels, or in the homes of friends and family. The trees -- cracked, splintered and wounded -- stand as stark reminders of the storm that whipped through town, but the clean-up is well under way, and the streets are almost passable now. I don’t have to write by candlelight anymore.

My heart goes out to those who are still without electricity, heat, and the comforts of home. And I won’t miss the bone-chilling cold nights curled into a fetal position under mounds of blankets. But I find myself holding onto the sense of shared survivorship I felt at Starbucks. And I feel an enormous sense of gratitude for things I’ve taken for granted: electricity, a hot shower, the internet at my beck and call. It’s easy to forget how fortunate I am. And so, as costly as this recent storm has been on so many levels, the lessons I've learned are priceless.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rosh Hashanah Message of Presence and Peace

As Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, arrives, I feel the way I do when I practice pranayama: for just a moment, I feel suspended between inhale and exhale, between exhale and inhale. Rosh Hashanah invites us to spend time just that way, the old year behind us, the new year just ahead. We hover and pause, and reflect and hope.

What an extraordinary opportunity to be in the here and now!

Should we fully appreciate the blessings of the past year? Of course. Should we learn and grow from our experiences, and seek to manifest a wonder-filled year to come? Absolutely.

But we can also pause in this moment in time, and recognize that this one moment is worthy of our full attention. The truth is that all we really have in this moment IS this one precious moment, rich with sensation, observation, and feeling. It invites us to slow time down into moment-to-moment awareness, cherishing each impression as it offers itself to us: the smiles around a festive table; the warm glow of candles; the fragrances of a festive meal shared with family and friends; the crunch of newly fallen leaves beneath our feet as we walk the dog.

As much as I treasure this opportunity for pure awareness, I know that it is not restricted to Rosh Hashanah, or to any one tradition. We all have the current moment, and can embrace it, or let it slip by unnoticed. Whether it's the sound of the Shofar that stirs the soul, the sound of a Conch Shell, or the sound of a fellow student practicing Wave Breath, this I know: that we are all permitted entry; we're all invited to the party of the present moment!

Let's open ourselves to the power of now. Let's slow down and pay attention -- perhaps to our breath as it comes and goes: is there a greater gift? or perhaps to the snap in the air as we move into autumn; or perhaps to the sensation of warmth and joy as we do a good deed.

If there is sadness and challenge, it's good to know that we can experience it in all its raw force ... but that this moment, too, will change; the law of impermanence letting us know that even the moments of greatest difficulty will surely yield to others. Healing is possible.

And so, the message of Rosh Hashanah is one that is relevant for all: we can reflect back and learn; we can look forward and hope; and we can learn to embrace the present moment. We can learn to pay attention -- to an impression, to a friend in intimate conversation, to a thought, to silence, to our lives. 

May we make the most of each precious, present moment and not squander this gift -- be it on feuds or global unrest and war.

May we all have a happy, healthy and sweet New Year, filled with moments of joy, connection, community, friendship and peace.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


I recently wanted to reward myself with a "little something" for a job well done. And so, you might ask: What does a yoga teacher buy herself as a gift? Well, spiritual jewelry, of course!
The Chopard diamond-encrusted OM pendant was out (WAY too blingy). But the red thread Me&Ro bracelet I found, with the tiny silver slider inscribed with “metta” (lovingkindness) fit the bill nicely. Ah yes, a constant reminder to be kind, gentle, compassionate. The perfect spiritual piece of jewelry.
Until, that is, I happened to be in a meeting with a gentleman who is not "into yoga." He noticed my metta bracelet and asked what it was. When I explained, he asked, “How much did you pay for that?” “$90." He laughed and exclaimed, "So you bought a piece of thread with a tiny silver button and a tiny silver doo-dad on it, for $90 bucks?”
That gave me pause. Spiritual jewelry. Hmmm.
I learned something valuable from that exchange: that sometimes, even I, a yoga teacher supposedly inured to such silliness, can fall prey to the marketing of spirituality.
I don't need a wildly overpriced bracelet to remind me to be spiritual. There are myriad opportunities for bringing spirituality into daily life: being a good listener; offering a free yoga class; cultivating gratitude; getting involved in social action for a better world.
No, I don't need a bracelet to remind me to do these things. I do them gladly.
But this little lesson did teach me one thing: to keep things in perspective. And to recognize that spirituality doesn't hinge on a little red string. It resides, quietly and patiently, in our hearts. And we can tap into it anywhere, anytime, for free. No strings attached.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

There IS a Yoga You Can Do

If you’ve ever thought about doing yoga, but were daunted by the glossy magazines showing lanky women baring lots of skin, doing pretzel-like poses that look beautiful, but make you wonder whether you’d have to call the Fire Department to help you get out of them, take heart: there IS a yoga you can do.

Yoga is an ancient discipline from India that is thousands of years old. In yoga’s early days, only men did yoga; it was designed to help them stay healthy so that they could sit in meditation and dedicate their lives to spiritual pursuits. We’ve come a long way since then. Today, men, women and children can enjoy yoga. Freed of the religious underpinnings that originally were a part of this discipline, the yoga now practiced in the West is non-denominational and appropriate for everyone, of any religious denomination or belief system. Many celebrities do yoga to stay fit, and hospitals and the wellness community have embraced yoga for its benefits for the body and mind.

Some of yoga’s many benefits are:

-       enhanced strength and flexibility
-       improved bone strength
-       better health
-       a sense of well-being
-       improved breathing and lung capacity
-       greater stress-hardiness
-       better concentration and focus
-       a quieter, calmer mind
-       reduced feelings of anxiety and depression
-       a better outlook on life, and a more positive way of viewing one’s world

Sadly, many stay away from yoga, thinking they aren’t flexible or fit enough to enjoy this ancient practice. The good news is that nothing could be farther from the truth. Everyone can do yoga – you just have to find the type of yoga that suits you best.

With yoga’s ever-increasing popularity, a plethora of yoga styles have emerged. Many cater to those who want a fitness-oriented workout that sculpts and tones, burns calories, or provides a challenging cardiac workout. However, there are ways to do yoga that are gentle, and that allow people to move at a safe pace, with modifications that make the practice user-friendly and accessible for people of all ages and fitness levels.

Instead of doing complicated, highly choreographed flow sequences, difficult poses that require the flexibility of an Olympic-level gymnast, or yoga done in super-heated studios, one can take sensible classes that offer simple easy-to-follow sequences, or that offer basic poses (called “asanas”) taught with modifications that make each pose safe, easy and fun to do. Adapting yoga for people’s unique needs by making it simpler and less extreme, and by using props and sensible modifications, goes a long way to creating an atmosphere in which each and every student can feel welcome, comfortable and successful. Some studios offer Chair Yoga classes, or classes uniquely suited to seniors, students who are injured, aren’t flexible, or have conditions such as osteoporosis, arthritis, cardiac disease, or other health conditions that require special consideration. Those embarking on a yoga quest would also do well to seek out classes that aren’t too crowded, so that they can receive the attention they need.

Teachers who create an atmosphere of compassionate awareness, and encourage their students to have a non-judgmental, non-competitive attitude, and who take the time to get to know their students so that they can keep them safe, can make the difference between an enjoyable, fun experience and a yoga “nightmare.” Classes that emphasize that “less is more,” and that go beyond just the physical aspects of yoga to create a contemplative atmosphere that includes gentle breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, and meditation, will provide a pleasant yoga experience that leaves students feeling relaxed, refreshed and renewed.

Students can search for qualified teachers specializing in gentle, adaptive, prenatal, children’s, seniors or therapeutic yoga by contacting organizations such as the national Yoga Alliance, International Association of Yoga Therapists, Yoga Journal, and others.

So, don’t let yoga’s daunting image hold you back. If you’re stressed, or a bit out of shape, or just want do some gentle stretching in a non-competitive atmosphere where you can feel at home, know that the right class, and the right teacher, are out there waiting to welcome you. Because there is most definitely a yoga you can do!

© Charlotte Chandler Stone, CYT, E-RYT500; Article written for Inner Realm magazine, July 2011 issue

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Diagnosis: Rushing

I've decided:  I don't have Alzheimers; I have Rushing.

You won't find this diagnosis in a medical search engine. Nor will you find it in a dictionary. Nonetheless, there's no doubt about it: I have the Disease of Rushing.

Here's how I came to this conclusion. I forget conversations I've had with people who truly do matter to me. I forget about emails. I misplace things: Keys. My food diary. My camera. Some important papers. I do find most of these items eventually. But until I do, you don't want to be around me; I'm cranky, impatient, short with others who are unfortunate enough to cross my path ... well, you get the picture. So I wondered -- a bit worried -- am I showing the first dreaded signs of pre-senile dementia? Or, worse: Alzheimers?

I've examined the circumstances when these events occur, and I've concluded that they are not happening because I'm a year older, or menopausal, or feeling blue, or feeling angry, or have one of these diagnoses. They're happening because I'm rushing: to work, to the store, to the bakery, to the post office, to my next gig, to go home and walk the dog, to the airport, the library, a meeting, lunch with a friend.

And, when I'm rushing, and three or four or fourty tasks compete for my attention, things fall through the cracks of my awareness. I don't know where they go, but I've noticed that my mind selects what it will process, and what it will discard. And it is apparently discarding major snippets of my day-to-day life, leaving me to fill in the blanks later, if I can.

It's happening because I'm rushing. Pressed for time, as we all are, I'm zooming through my life, trying to get it all done, fooling myself into thinking that I'm succeeding.

But I'm not succeeding. I'm failing, floundering, flailing about for a handhold, a foothold, something, anything to hold on to as moments are lost to me, skimming along life's slippery surface.

But this doesn't happen to yoga teachers, you might argue. Sorry to disappoint you, but you're wrong. Yes, I am a yoga teacher, and I try to practice yoga on and off the mat. I do try, mightily, to bring mindfulness to each moment. And yet, daily life, with its push-and-pull pace, draws me off course sometimes, and I forget things, and lose things, as I race from Point A to Point B to Point C.

Oh, I know I'm not alone; this happens to lots of people. But that doesn't console me, as I wrack my brain and try to reconstruct just where I was, and where I went, when that key went mysteriously missing, while I was racing through my day.

So, I meditate. And I create the intention to do less, rush less, move more mindfully, pay more attention to each moment.

Right now, it's still a struggle. I watch my hand reaching for my cellphone and placing it, mindfully, in its case. I observe my mind making a mental note of where I placed my keys: safely clipped to my handbag now. I create mental post-its that I place front-and-center in my mind, reminders of who, what, where.

I feel the strain of this new effort at mindfulness. Is this mindfulness or watchfulness? I'm no longer sure; a new hyper-vigilance has become a new unwelcome companion.

Yoga helps. Teaching yoga helps even more; it is magical, how all falls away when I settle onto my yoga mat and slow my breathing, my thoughts, my world. Focus. Teach. Breathe in. Breathe out.

So, I'm aware now of this new Disease of Rushing, that has silently and imperceptibly tiptoed its way into my life. I vow to pick up one phone call less; let voice mail get it. One chore less; everything will still get done. Or it won't. I need to care less.

I vow to pay more attention, though it still feels like a strain, an extra effort.

Anyway, if you catch me rushing by -- a blur of activity in my wake -- do stop me, if you can. Your mindful smile, your friendly greeting, your one breath, your quiet sitting there, might just be the antidote to this, my latest malaise.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Musings from the Mat: A Faceless War

Yoga's first rule is "ahimsa" -- non-harming. A complete absence of violence. A complete renunciation of harm. And so, perhaps this entry today has more to do with yoga than I'd initially thought.

OK, let me share what caught my eye. And almost didn't. And maybe that's what I found so deeply disturbing.

Reading the NY Times yesterday, I noticed -- almost missed it! -- in Section A, Page 7, way at the bottom,  tucked away near the inside crease of the paper, the announcement that two soldiers had died in Afghanistan. In a small box, titled "Names of the Dead," I read, "The Department of Defense has identified 1,451 American service members who have died as part of the Afghan war and related operations. It confirmed the deaths of the following Americans recently:
AMORES, Jason G., 29, ...
SINKLER, Amy R., 23, ... "

I've been reading the NY Times for many years now; how is it that this little box has escaped my notice until now?

Curious now, in a horrified sort of way, I needed to know: was this the standard treatment for soldiers who have died in this awful, senseless war?  I searched, frantic now, through the stack of papers piled up, ready for recycling, and found another entry. Same slender box, "Names of the Dead," again at the bottom of the page, this time at the center, Section A, Page 8, wedged -- apologetically? no, I don't think so -- between "Afghan Official Expects ..." and a travel ad for "Costa Rica, $995: 10 Days Guided Tour ..."  (yes, can you believe that?):

"The Department of Defense has identified ...
BARTLEY, Michael, 23 ...
LAMAR, Martin, 43 ...
TORRE, Jose, 21 ..."

Three people this time, adding more names to the tally of young lives lost forever. A few more searches revealed similarly placed boxes, each listing the Names of the Dead.

I am shocked, stunned, angry, upset, outraged. These were people, human beings just like you and me. A father. A daughter. A son. An uncle. They lived real lives. They had hopes and dreams and people who loved them, cared about them, worried about them. Who sent them off to a war they didn't start, and wouldn't end, and couldn't win. Who fretted when they didn't hear from them, and hoped they'd be home for Easter, or next Christmas. Or at all -- that unthinkable, unspeakable wondering. Who may receive, along with their dearly departed -- arriving home in a simple pine coffin -- a flag of the Unites States of America. And, oh, I'm sure, a representative of our Armed Forces will be there, eyes downcast, expression professionally sad, to express the appreciation of a grateful country, and sincere condolences for this sad loss.

This war machine that swallows whole our young men and women, rages on, and all we can muster is a mumbled apology no one hears? A slender box in the NY Times, lost in the sea of letters marching across an anonymous and ever-changing page of more important news?

How is it that these names aren't headline news? How is it that these young lives lost, are not known to us?

How can we bear, for even one more minute, the violence of this and other wars? How can we bear the disrespect shown those who gave their lives for a conflict they didn't understand, and couldn't possibly hope to heal?

Maybe they signed on with great idealism, with strong feelings about battling the forces of terrorism abroad. Maybe they came from a family with a tradition of service to this country. I do not support this war, but I respect those who enlist and risk their lives, believing they are keeping us safe. I am against war, but I am in awe of their courage.

How terribly sad that they had to die a violent death, far from home and loved ones, in a dusty land where their presence was resented, and they, detested, for who they were, and what they represented.

And, sadder still, that they are, truly, unsung heroes, meriting only those two or three scant lines in the paper; what a terrible, unthinkable second wound to their families, this callous manner of listing their names.

Yoga's ancient wisdom, harking from thousands of years ago, demands that we speak up for non-violence and peace, now. And so do these young soldiers and their grieving families.

We keep trying wars, and we get, in return, more wars.
When will we learn that violence begets only more violence?
When will we learn that we must commit ourselves to peace in this world, in this lifetime?

Bob Dylan said it best when he sang, "How many deaths will it take till we know, that too many people have died?"

Indeed, how many boxes, filled with the names, and the bodies, of unknown dead, will it take till we learn that we must, we must, renounce violence and embrace "ahimsa?"