Category Archives: Psychology

Deeper Into Yoga, part 2

Wings over Dublin
Photo Credit: Steve-h via Compfight

At first I was excited to get down to some crazy yoga shit, to get into handstand, forearm stand and full wheel for more than a few seconds. I grew slightly impatient as the weeks passed and my teachers kept having us do things like downward dog with bent knees, or chaturanga prep. Seriously, at first that just seems like you’re laying there doing nothing. I  questioned my commitment. As much as I had balked at yoga classes that caused aches in my low back and arms from too many pushups, I still thought that’s what yoga was. I thought maybe I was too advanced for the program.

I realized soon enough just how inculcated I was into a Western mindset and approach.

Goal orientation and an acquisitive attitude toward life, however much like living in Pacman it may be, is not easy to give up. It’s not even easy to notice, in all the varieties of ways it filters down into every crevice of the way one does things.

I wasn’t alone. In the second or third week, a student asked when we’d get into to more advanced stuff. Our teacher M. said, with slight exasperation (the most unease I’d ever see in her): “We’re not trying to get anything, we’re here to get rid of things!” That quip aside, she explained more gently.

One of the first things I learned was that there is even an attitude there. And that it (wanting to get through it so I can get to the rest of my day) makes it hard, nay almost impossible, to notice the subtle sensations in the body.

Yoga is about letting go of the biases accumulated in the body. In yoga philosophy this is tantamount to saying that yoga is learning about letting go of the accumulated experience that makes you act the same way over and over, based on old information. Experience leaves its marks on the body, most solidly, and on the mind and in life in general. “How you do one thing is how you do everything,” they say. Yoga is a kind of play area to see what you’re like.

This is true of any discipline that targets the body. It’s hard to change, your limits are not something that you can bullshit, and it pushes your buttons, showing your reactions and attitudes pretty quickly. Henry Rollins agrees. (via Medusa)

The body is in some ways the hardest thing to change because it is the most solid thing we have. Years of habitual behavior shows on the body, has been hardened into solidity, and has become the norm. If focus plus time creates things in this world, the body becomes the most clear map on which the past is drawn.

>>>Check out my yoga website to see our Chicago yoga classes

Though the body is most solid, it is still where we can most easily begin to manifest change. That’s because it is also the most accessible way for us to see change. Change in the body (or anything) happens only over time, with sustained effort. When speaking about any of yoga’s benefits, we are taught to preface it with, “Over time with practice…” This inculcates a different attitude. It teaches how change happens, to teach you how to work on other more subtle aspects of life that need work.

Change starts with awareness. Not will, not even understanding, but awareness. The big idea is that in life you just have to notice things. This orients you to the reality of things rather than wishful thinking. And you need to let go of judgment about what you find. Guilt merely feeds denial. This is how the paradox can be: Acceptance leads to change. Although I’d use the word awareness over acceptance, which has a whiff of resignation and irresponsibility.

Our teachers didn’t seem to mind if we were impatient; they were reassuring, but they also just let us be. They said we’d find most of what could sustain us as teachers in our own practice.

I started to slow down when I practiced, building the pose from the ground up, do simpler poses, and became aware of my body in an entirely new way. Using the breath, I could begin to feel and let tightness go.

It worked. Slowly things did change. We all progressed in a somewhat miraculously systematic way. We lost a few along the way, but most of us became devoted. In the process we have become more supportive of ourselves and each other. As a yoga teacher said on NPR recently, who knows why evening out your weight on your feet, hips, shoulders, or setting an intention, or connecting movement to breath, leads to peace of mind and just generally being a happier person, but somehow it does.

To be continued

Deeper Into Yoga, part 1

I’ve been getting deeper into yoga. I’m in a teacher training program and I graduate in just two months. The program is a rigorous and traditional hatha program, it’s been around since the 60s, was actually one of the first programs for hatha teacher training in the U.S. We have gone steadily through what are called the 8 limbs of yoga, of which asana or postures—that most of us understand to be yoga—are just one part.

It took me a long time to get around to doing this program. I started researching similar trainings four years ago when I was in New York. It seems inevitable how, looking back, that I would eventually do something like this. I’ve always been seeking some deeper understanding of life that seemed elusive.

I didn’t realize how much tension I had accumulated in my body over the years at my office job, doing “knowledge work” and just generally thinking, reading, and talking for most of the day. It seemed normal. Most of the yoga I took then just compounded the problem. The quick, strenuous, movements of traditional exercisedone with the kind of haste with which you make up for lost timeoften encourages habitual overuse of stronger muscles, making them stronger, and tighter, while making weaker muscles still more inaccessible.

>>>Check out my yoga website to see our Chicago yoga classes

Yoga, as I’ve learned, is used to correct imbalances in the body and biases in our posture so that the skeleton easily bears the weight of the body, and the muscles don’t have to overwork. And, what came to be over time can only be changed over time.

The aches in my body also reflected the tension underlying my fairly hard-driving nature, something I didn’t even recognize for a long time because it didn’t gel with my laid-back manner. When I was in college, I told a friend I wanted to do yoga to help relax, and she said, “Jeez, Em, If you were any more relaxed, you’d be unconscious!”

It confused me, how others saw me, because even then I felt dissatisfied and tense, despite (or because of) my passive demeanor. Through the years my obsessive habit of overthinking hardened into feelings of stuckness that pervaded my life, and my body… stuck in an eddying whirlpool, not going anywhere, for all the energy I was expending.

Even when I tried to find a solution, I was just using the same techniquesoverthinking, a critical problem-solving attitudethat got me into the predicament. Friends used to say to me, “You think too much,” and I’d say: “That’s interesting, I’ll think about that.”

It was only in yoga that I began to learn a different way, and to understand why my approach didn’t work to begin with.

To be continued

Photo Attribution: By Robert Bejil Photography

Road Rules: Traveling over the holidays

My latest for Industry’s Nov/Dec issue. Road Rules: Or, how to holiday travel together without driving each other crazy.

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 3.15.09 PM

It’s the time of year when opportunities to travel together come up for both new and more seasoned couples. From Thanksgiving through December, Hannukkah, Ramadan, and Christmas come in fast succession. The whole yawning month of frenzied activity ramps up as the year comes to a close. For new couples this can be a trial by fire, as it can involve not just travel (a natural stressor for some) but also possibly meeting family, seeing childhood homes and friends, exes, etc. Here are a few things to think about when making your first trip as a couple.

Keep reading on Industry’s website here.

I had some real burnout this year writing about relationships, and, let’s be honest, even being involved in relationships. Is it a relief, a comfort, that we feel so perpetually renewed by the feeling of love, that we open our hearts again and again, that we build someone up, that we’re completely fascinated and want everything? I don’t know. I thought it was about time I just grew up and got over my romantic notions and got with reality. Relationships will disappoint you if you let them remain part of some watery province of melodrama. This year’s writing largely reflects my attempts to be more hard-nosed about it, but I can’t pretend I didn’t cross over into cynicism and bitterness occasionally. The more reality you let in, though, the more of a case is made for it, and the less it makes sense to cherry-pick experiences, feelings, people, moods. Suddenly it doesn’t matter what (or who) you do, but how you do it, how you respond.

See you in the new year, and thanks for everyone’s support. In 2014, I bought a house, started to feel truly autonomous and savvy, then got really busy, and now I’m back. I’m looking forward to much more content going up here, meaning more yoga, more publishing, and in general, more quirky, serious fun in 2015.

Happy holidays!

The Dark Side

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 3.14.18 PMIn Industry’s summer issue, I take a walk through the bar scene and ask if the experiences of sexual contest and conquest are really worth the bother (especially for women), or if our jollies are mostly in our mind anyway.

The Dark Side | Tales from late-night hookups, near misses, and the end of night wildlife in action.

Summer is upon us, and with it endless opportunities to drink in the hot sun and watch our potential attractive mate scenarios get both more fluid and plentiful. With greater potential for getting caught up in potentially embarrassing morning situations, maybe we can pick apart the anatomy of the sexual conquest and see if it’s worth the trouble.

Keep reading on Industry’s site here.

I know, I know, this is summer piece is right on time for winter. Will re-post next summer, but maybe the clash will make it interesting to read in a different way. This piece came out better than I thought it would, though my editor thought that it wasn’t really a “relationship” article. I had to defend it a bit. Some times you have to take the roundabout way of inquiry when something doesn’t really want to be looked at. Still, I think it’s one of my most accomplished in terms of delicacy of thought. When I satisfy myself, things start to look heaps brighter!

Happy holidays!

Games Worth Playing

Screenshot 2013-12-17 18.09.37

My latest column for Industry is up! Games Worth Playing: How a ritual based upon the I Ching can change the way we think about life and love


Perhaps readers are aware of the concept of the filter bubble: that with more and more tools to personalize online offerings, we are more in danger of seeing only the news we want to see. The term, while a nice coinage for the internet and indebted age, is not new. In relationships, too, we see what we want to see.

The bubble first grows in our heads, a fact I learned from a 3,000-year-old book
of divination called the I Ching, or the “Book of Changes.”

I’ll risk my reputation as a serious individual here to admit that, when it comes to relationship deciphering, I’m addicted to what could be considered a tool for magical thinking.

Read more here.

The New Girl: How Does Change Happen?

Chinese new year seems more suitable for making resolutions (or setting intentions, in the parlance of our time) than Jan. 1, post-holiday, when we are tired and overfed. In Industry‘s Jan/Feb issue (and its first Brooklyn edition!), I try to sort out how change actually happens.

The new year is a time for turning over a new leaf, they say. We all know how that goes, though. Some years are better than others. In real time, the future is a promise and the past a memory. Around this time of year, we do have a moment’s pause, a sense of the last year being over and the next not quite here. This moment in between may last only a day or two, as we scramble to tease the disparate strands of experience, integrating them into a larger story, “My Life,” (with chapters “My Love Life” and “My Career”) and reorient ourselves. Then, the portal closes up, and we are left in the middle again to muddle through.

Read the rest here: The New Girl: On the Thrill and Terror of a New Year

Red Flags

My latest column for Industry Nov/Dec. 2012 issue:

Red Flags …and all the things we’re worried about in relationships that are really not that big of a deal

An excerpt:

Maybe the writers of these one-size-fits-all relationship articles are trying to be helpful, but they are little better than hucksters selling us a panacea, that holy grail of the “right relationship.” We chase apocryphal fantasies, that outlier couple who knew each other only a short time before getting married, and who are happy thirty years later. But these ideas have little personal meaning for us. We haven’t earned those insights. As much as we’d like to be able to make rational decisions based on unbiased observations, relationships and our perceptions of them are pretty much the opposite of that: they are emotional, partial, and incomplete, and our love flows from some intangible source while our knowledge lags behind.

Read the rest here. Thanks!

The Good Fight

Also in this month’s Industry, in my latest relationship column I continue to parse out the things that test relationships, including those that lead to its strengthening as well as dissolution. Ain’t life a bitch that way, sometimes? Can’t always separate the experience.

from the article:

What we fight about, over and over, comes to define the outlines of the relationship, the bigger themes, and the irreconcilable differences. But so often we end up on one end of a binary that seems to offer no middle ground. Yes or no. Hold your ground or give way. You are being selfish, or they are asking too much.

So, when the fighting breaks down, what to do?

Read it here: The Good Fight Industry July/Aug 2012.

Thanks for the eyeballs and to all the good ideas, keep em coming!


Trial By Fire: How to Get to Know Each Other Better, Better

Summer is a season tailor-made to help you get to know each other…for better or worse. In Industry magazine’s May/June 2012 issue, Trial by Fire, I talk about the ways you can get to know your new love. People tend to be on best behavior at the beginning, and while it’s understandable and most of us act this way, it also makes it hard to tell if you really complement each other. So I advise to put the relationship through certain stress tests, and early. It can help you head off any problems, or see irreconcilable differences early on, before you commit.

Read it here: Trial by Fire.

If spring is the time of beginnings, renewal, and nurturing young growth, then summer is the duration, the maturing of youthfulness, with all the results–and trade-offs–implicit when infinite possibility actually chooses.

Summertime also contains within it a sense of the future. Gather ye rosebuds while you may; enjoy the summer (while it lasts). The blooming world seems to hold a certain nostalgia, both for other summers (too short, always), for childhood (and summers off school), and for the dread and anticipation of its end, of harvest time, when we finally can see what we’ve been growing all year.

Let me know what you think. Maybe this is playing with fire? (ha, see what i did there?)


Personal Cliché

It is interesting tendency I notice that when I come to some profound change in life, I often resort to cliché in talking about it. Even when I make it up, finding the right way to say something, it has the force and compact quality of cliché.

“You can do a lot of things in life, but you can only do them one at a time.” This was a lesson I needed to learn, as I flitted from one thing to another and had grown frustrated with having so little sense of accomplishment. This single sentence boils it down to the essential point, though the story’s colors are lost along the way.

I have an impatient need to just move onto the next thing. But this also reflects the nature of our minds, showing the structure we necessarily impose on our thinking and memory.

After we’ve learned, the whole story is compacted, filed away. But, there’s a short liminal period when for a time we can see what has happened, how the changes took place.

This is why, incidentally, in business research it’s been found that it is better for someone who just learned something to teach others, than someone who mastered it long ago. Because you forget how you got there.

After the change is complete, in other words, we no longer have access to the mind that solved the problem. We may not even have much insight into the change, really. (It’s not necessary to understand change in order to progress.)

I’m reminded not only of Einstein’s inspiring quote, “You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.” But also of a corollary, this time from Oliver Wendell Holmes: “The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.”

After that window is closed, explaining it to someone else can be an exercise in futility. We usually end up with a lifeless cliché, like that most despised by young people—Be yourself. I remember thinking, when well-meaning adults would say this to me, it seemed almost perversely naive. As if it’s so easy.

But at a certain point in life you just become more yourself, mostly because you can no longer put the energy into being something else. It’s pretty simple. Your self is actually an aggregate of all your choices, habits, and opinions, that reaches a sort of density that has more momentum than any of your projects to be something different, better, more enlightened, more glamorous, or whatever. This is why history seems inexorable in hindsight.

So, “be yourself” is just a conceptual marker of accomplishment, an acknowledgement rather than an injunction. Having found the circuitous path to it in our lives, we’ve earned that shorthand. But, each person must earn it themselves. This is why it is so hard to talk about this stuff with other people. You use tedious abstractions, trying to get at whatever it is. Conversation is a way of reaching for something, finding the words for something is like summoning it to you. And once you’ve reached it, it seems almost beside the point to talk about it with others who understand you. You just look at each other and say, “Yeah.” “Yeah.” And move on.

A goal of writing is to to preserve a moment in time, so that by some magic we can convey the richness of life to those reading it. It becomes an experience in and of itself. This is way beyond cliche, it is communication. It can help forge connections and lead you on the right path.

This makes me think of an old story. One night years ago I was hanging out with my friend Sarah. We were sitting right next to the stereo speakers, in our very first apartment, in Portland, Maine, listening to Pink Floyd’s Wish U Were Here.

How I wish you were here.
We’re just two lost souls
swimming in a fish bowl
year after year.
Running over the same old ground
What have we found
The same old fears?
Wish u were here

We looked at each other, stoned, all of nineteen, and said, “So true.”