Yael Flusberg's Blog
September 2, 2014
When I teach, just like in other parts of my life, I tend to talk. When there’s a natural catastrophe, a bomb or nuclear explosion goes off, or someone famous dies of old age or heroin or hanging, I’m likely to talk about it in class. Death (especially) becomes me. So perhaps you’re not surprised to learn that I’m a big believer in the power of yoga during the process of grief.
That said, I was recently asked to write an article about yoga and grief. It’s just been published in the September 2014 issue of the DC edition of Natural Awakenings. You can read it by clicking here and scrolling to page 36.
I’m grateful to all the people who’ve lost loved ones and are willing to talk with me about it — I’ve learned a tremendous amount from watching how people choose to live in the face of death. Though I’ve also had my own experiences, it’s humbling to remember that grief — like anything else — happens in many shades and how I handle things might be vastly different than the next person.
Thank you for reading and sharing any thoughts you have!
May 4, 2014
Meg & Bill Scofield are two delightful (and faithful) members of a weekly therapeutic yoga class I facilitate in downtown DC, close to the George Washington University Hospital. In the wake of what they call “medical upheaval,” they’ve been blogging about their intentional lifestyle — which has meant what most of us would consider radical downsizing and simple living. In fact, next month they will pack it even further down into what fits in a large backpack each, and take off — starting in Mexico, and seeing where life draws them afterwards.
They have an occasional interview series with other DC dwellers who’ve touched their lives. Juan Carlos and I sat down with them over strong Americanos, which might account for the good-natured rambling we did about everything from the Holocaust to how Juan Carlos and I met and got married to what we like about DC. Enjoy!
Therapeutic husband-and-wife team Yael Flusberg and Juan Carlos Enciso (c) Bill Scofield
January 3, 2014
This is a view I want to have more of in the coming years (and with small shifts, this is not just possible but highly likely)
As we start off a new year — some of us with bigger-than-life dreams and plans — I’m reminded to keep it simple.
In my yoga classes and coaching sessions, I often encourage folks to tone down their expectations. Because I think “letting go of expectations or desired outcomes” doesn’t pass the bullsh*t test, I opt to suggest two percent shifts.
If you feel two percent less sh*tty after class than before, then you’ve got something to work with.
If after a few months of practicing (mindfulness or yoga or active listening or what have you), you notice your tolerance for your inner depressive/angry/jealous/self-pitying narrative is two percent less than it used to be, then you’ve got a hell of an excuse to celebrate.
While cold turkey and plunging in can be a good way of shaking things up and trampolining out of ruts, I find something to be said for how seasons shift — gently, one day at a time, with some blizzards and storms and waves, but largely imperceptibly,
About four years ago, I started to do a daily list – of the people and experiences in in my life for which I felt grateful, or the things I did well. There have been many studies on this focus-shifting practice; it’s even been taught to soldiers to help them develop resiliency to the trauma they’re guaranteed to have while on active duty. Because the list serves to document my life, I take time toward the end of the year to review it. (And it does take time: the list averages 100 pages.) From there, I pull out the major lessons, surprises and good times of the year — all the patterns it’s hard to see in a too-busy daily life. (A photo diary or visual journal could serve the same function.)
Somehow, doing this helps me figure out what to keep focusing on. Resolutions don’t work for me, and neither do goals (ironic as I am actually pretty damn good at helping others figure out their goals and devise action plans) — but applying lots of self-compassion, I’ve learned that I can think about two percent shifts in how I feel, first off, then I can prioritize some next steps in different domains of my life and go from there, slowly but surely.
Ironically, committing to moving slowly and deliberately — after all two percent is nothing to be scared of and is so easy, you can’t help but succeed — leads to pretty radical changes. In fact, another word for this slow-motion is “mindfulness.” And getting really clear and confident allows me (and maybe you too?) to make very swift choices when the time is obviously right.
So as January sets in — consider keeping it very simple, something that will just lead to a two-percent shift from what you are doing right now. If it continues to feel good, you can make another two percent shift soon and build something magical, brick by brick, page by page.
May 2014 offer you amazing physical health, psychological well-being and spiritual connectivity.
October 27, 2013
I’ve been entranced this weekend with the yoga of sound – so it’s no surprise that my weekend ended with Sita Sings the Blues, an animated film by Nina Paley made in 2008, which intersperses memoir with a lighthearted, but critical, retelling of the Ramayana.
If you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s trippy, a great use of 82 minutes, and available for free, everywhere, including right here.
September 24, 2013
What I thought Peru would be like
It was the first time JC had been to Peru in more than three years, and the first time I had been there in more than 20.
it was a pleasure to meet and hang out with his very large and adoring family. I felt like I knew his kids already from skyping with them, and I had met his mom before, but I got to meet his dad (he cried and told me he loved me), one of his (brilliant and sweet) sisters, and any number of tios, tias and prim(o)(a)s. They were warm and welcoming, and would say things “your Tio Francisco, who you’ll meet on Sunday, had this crazy experience when he was 18….” to make sure I knew all the really important family stories. And, I get as many Peruvian recipes as I want as part of the being-in-the-family deal.
As an only child of a Holocaust-surviving mother (she had only two living cousins that I ever knew about) and a father whose immediate family managed to escape, but much of whose extended family were also killed, I’m a lot more used to small families. 15 people now live in the family house (down from its heyday of about 25.) Tio Agustin, a painter and teacher in an experimental special education school, one day noticed that I was out of sorts. ”You’re not yet used to living in a tribe, eh?”
Nearing the end of week two, I needed to get free of Lima — all the people and pollution, the never-ending traffic and mobile fruit-sellers who announce their wares via megaphone starting at 7 am. We headed to Tumbes, the northernmost department of Peru, which buttresses Ecuador.
The only international border crossing I’ve been to where there’s no officers asking you for ID, just a welcome sign.
JC and his mom bought a place about 18 miles south of Ecuador, in a small fishing village called Caleta Grau.
The village welcome sign
The view of Caleta Grau from the Pan-American Highway
Because it’s winter there (people were positively shivering, what with the only 70 degree weather), the beach itself was pretty deserted, except for the subsistence fishermen, the occasional teenage couple trying to have sex somewhere their family would definitely not be, the Canadian petroleum engineer who lives there two weeks out of every four and goes paddleboarding most afternoons, and me, practicing yoga before coffee as an experimental wake-up method.
The view from our backyard
Idle fishing boats
Fisherman paddle back to shore from a day on their boats
The next biggest town, Zorritos, is a half hour walk down the beach (or ten minutes in a motor-taxi). The Union of Artisan Fishermen has its headquarters there and I cheered them on when I found out they had blocked a busy section of the Pan-american Highway, protesting the larger vessels from Peru and Ecuador that have been over-fishing and making it harder for them to eke out a living wage.
Rice paddies just outside of Tumbes
Other than fishing, and some agriculture, most people are hoping that tourism hits here.
it might take a while. Caleta Grau doesn’t have trash pick up yet, for instance, so the beach is spotted with litter. And in the tradition of land invasion, half the home owners (including the ex-Shining Path Leader who is running for Congress) have built past their property lines, so the road into town can’t actually be paved.
Still, there are lots of things to do in the area that makes me wonder about hosting a yoga trip there. (We could even go up to the Galagopos Islands as an added treat.)
This farm is located on an island in the mangroves and hopes to raise and release 1,000 crocodiles
La Isla de Pajarros
There’s me, always telling the driver where I would like to go
Or we can just drink some pisco sours, and watch the sun go down.
Still, I’m happy to be home — especially to my oh-so-green city and my quaint, quiet apartment. But I find myself holding open the possibility that Peru will be a home away from home.
Or maybe it already is.
September 2, 2013
We owe everything to the natural world
In DC, condos grow like bamboo, each crane feeding on the human-scaled architecture that I fell in love with when I first moved there in the mid-1980s. Here, the pecking order is as clear in the structures rising on the sides of hills.
Land invasions leave no trees, just steep muddy hills that turn to mud with the rain.
There is greatness here, often in surprising places.
The beach in La Punta, Callao
I give thanks to the artists and healers, for always elevating the importance of creating beauty in otherwise somber backgrounds.
A woman draws hot water, which she’ll mix with healing herbs; I’ll soak in this mixture for 20 minutes, then lie still, wrapped in a warm sheet and sweat for another 20.
Guinea pigs who live in the same ground as the spa. When fattened up, they’ll be roasted underground, or used in ceremonies, where their manner of deaths portend how to heal the humans. Here too, nature generous beyond reason.
The more we allow ourselves to play in the world of living energy — testing out what feels right and good to us — the more we’ll naturally be in the flow of things, and when we’re in that place, we naturally release denser energy, and begin to accumulate more lighter energy.
The older parts of Lima display a beautiful sense of balance with the elements
The flow is part of the secret to growing into who you’re supposed to be, You have to know what helps you get to that flow place. Sometimes, it’s hard to find. Others, as easy as breathing in an ion-rich breeze or appreciating a mural you can only see in the rear-view mirror.
Pamela, demonstrating cobra. (Yoga doesn’t help everything, but done right, it usually doesn’t hurt.)
Earlier this week, from the bus I spotted a large spray-painted sign that read ”Eres el beso que jamas salio de mis labios” (you are the kiss that never left my lips). It was simply signed “Accion Poetica de Lima” (Poetic Action of Lima). It felt like a direct message, not for its saccharine quality so much as the reminder of how possible — and powerful — it is for us to create brief moments of unexpected beauty for those we love, and for those we’ll never personally meet.
With any luck, we’ll be able to travel up north this week, so that we can spend the Jewish New Year in a quieter place along the Pacific. Before long,we’ll head home, back to our normal schedule of moving through the world. I hope that I can carry with me the profound way of being in the world, that beneath the long rivers of ever-moving cars and mountains of concrete residences, the energy is as alive and flowing as anywhere else. I’ll try to remember to keep searching for beauty in unexpected places.
August 26, 2013
Since we’ve been in Lima, I’ve been reading up on the energy practices of the region, playing a bit of that compare-and-contrast game we all learned so well in school.
In Andean Shamanism, there is no positive or negative energy per se, but rather a heavier, disordered energy (called hucha) that is produced by humans, and the more refined energy (Sami ) that suffuses the natural world.
The family dog, Sam (who i think is pure Sami, of course)
The world is said to be composed entirely of living energy, kawsay pacha, which involves different degrees of these fundamental frequencies of hucha and sami. By tuning into our own energy bodies (kawsay poq’po), we can learn to dance with these energies by a principle known as ayni, or reciprocity.
Paulina and I under the image of Saint Martin of Porres, the Saint of Interracial Harmony and Public Health workers
We’re staying with JC’s family in San Martin de Porres, a working class community that it one of Lima’s oldest pueblos jovenes. Like many Latin American cities, Lima didn’t develop organically or neatly. Since the 1940s, poverty has pushed families from the provincias to the capital. Land invasions were (and are) common; parks and other recreational facilities are few and far between.
Taking advantage of a sunny day to wash clothes
A day care has operated in the back half of the family house for many years.
Though I grew up in a working-class neighborhood full of factories, hour motels, and more resting places for the deceased than the living, I’m reminded of what I’ve grown accustomed to every time I go out for a stroll. The leaves of the few trees here are dulled by monoxide fumes. The cars are My breath here is labored. I’ve been balancing my environmental sensitivity by eating extremely well, doing yoga daily, trying to be around plants, and overall enjoying myself whenever possible.
If only we could get fresh and delicious fruit from vendors back home….
First sirsana, during a very special sleepover
Huachipa, just outside of Lima. Nearby is a naturopathic clinic where I soaked in a hot tub until I broke a temporary fever.
Downtown, at the Magical Water Circuit, trying to make D., 15, smile. (I made my best effort, he claimed).
Hucha is not bad. The earth, whose feminine energy is known as pachamama, thrives on offerings of hucha.
How adorable would I look in DC driving around one of these??????
A meditative practice for those who wish to work with energy is to go into the qosco, the chakra-like energy belt that is close to the physical belly, and offer the denser energy down deep into the earth, while drawing down sami from the spirits of the cosmos down into the purple energy center that is by your third eye so that we become more like the natural world.
Yet, to be free means tasting all the flavors of energy. You might not vibe with some varieties, but, according to the teachings, there’s no need to close yourself off to them. Protecting yourself from them is like living in a gated community; you’ve got nobody to blame for your glamorous prison but yourself.
I try to remember this as I work to transform how I engage with the legacy of colonialism, intentional deforestation and underdevelopment, the unrelenting belief that a miracle lies waiting around the corner.
I try to listen more and connect to that pissed-off part of me less.
Plaza de Armas
Santa Rosa de Lima’s garden
And though my lungs don’t always play along, I simply try to breathe.
August 21, 2013
I’m happy to be able to accompany JC back to his home after years of living abroad — first in Rome, now in DC, the city which the Founding Fathers referred to as “Rome on the Potomac.” We met in Lima in 1992 and I haven’t been back since.
We had a layover in Miami, and ever wanting to show JC just how diverse these United States are, a stop in South Beach seemed necessary.
JC making sure we can figure out how to get to the beach and back in time
We dipped our feet in its warmth, and watched the other kids play until a storm blew in.
The next day, we were in Lima, in a honeymoon suite in the family home. (Only 15 relatives live there now. Yes, only.)
Tia Casi showing me how she uses the flesh of chirimoya to keep her skin soft
A girl’s godsend
Hanging out at the market
And with my sweet sister-in-law, Carlita
We walked for ten miles, through posh neighborhoods and coastlines, before returning home in a packed combi.
Where the old piano was waiting for the right waltz
Speaking of rocks, I’ll leave you with a poem I wrote after our memorable drive home from the airport. Until next time!
– Sunday August 19th, 2013, 7:00 am, Avenida Peru, San Martin de Porres
Bleeding from the throat
the shirtless man was one
of many who hadn’t yet
slept. Others headed
to early mass, ever
thankful for prodigal
sons who ended up
far from this street –
with new tiny trees
planted in the median
between here, there –
into foreign tongues
the way the ones
who stayed behind hurled
rocks meant to maim.
The comeback kid rode
through flying stones
in a van filled with gifts –
pistachios and peanut butter,
guitar tuners and neti pots,
monster high backpacks
and soaps that smelled
of sweet and nutty and pure.
And a woman from far away
with a ring marked by its silver
feather, which matched his own
wings. While he delighted
in floating close to the firmament,
in this homecoming, he found
himself again, suspended
in the thick fog of the morning,
ready to drop onto soft ground.
June 20, 2013
This time of year, I love the parts of the day that feel like night, but with lighter skies. Mid-days (even late mornings, later in the afternoons) are often too harsh; my breath constricts in my chest before it can nourish my own furthest reaches. I go into a sleepy sort of survival mode, reserving energy for when the sun is closer to setting, and I can come back to life.
June 21st marks six months since I wed, and 29 years since my mother died. Without meaning to, I’ve somehow married the yin and yang, the longest darkness with unhurried company, the brightest day with a bittersweetness like the the coffee ice cream with dark chocolate I’ll enjoy in my mother’s honor. Is it a surprise that the class I’ve taught for years is the way I live my life? And it feels very much like a rich life: complicated, inconvenient at times, challenging, indelicate, and utterly delighted with itself.
Here’s a poem I wrote when I began to understand more about my mother’s life and how her decision to die reflected what I at least think I deeply desire, and what I try to make even a teeny bit of headway in getting toward each turning of the season: freedom. ”Discharge” first aired on NPR’s Latino USA as part of the kick-off to their immigrant series in 2009. May this solstice be a tipping point in your own life as you chase the last rays deep into the night.
My mother’s cloud followed
her like gum on shoe, through
decades of singing Gershwin.
The living wasn’t easy.
It hovered over friends floating
in heated pools, water licking
aging locks, creating shadows
of light that could recede faraway
looks. Try as she might, the cliff
called, its voice promising
what the stratus couldn’t offer:
to become a nova, shooting
substance into mist, letting
her luminosity out
of its cage.
June 9, 2013
I learned from Kim, 40, whose car flipped
five times before her back broke
the day after she turned twenty.
Two decades have flown by
and she still remembers the clock — 3:45
on a fall afternoon – and I wonder if now
she prefers twilight, what kind of life
her companion led to have fallen
asleep in motion, how she holds
herself in chair pose, infinitely.
When she smiles, I decide I would like
built-in speed sensors, planted
just above the mount of Venus
letting me see when I let
the present runs away
in my palm.
How else could I be forced
into automatic breaks
but integrated bearings?
Like Kim, my movement is severely
confined to a rotational force
on a circular plane. But here she is,
coolly circumnavigating the metro
with three teens, when 19 elevators
are down, and all five lines are being single-
tracked for at least two stops, somewhere
in this system that lies largely underground.
Three days before, to visually remind myself
to take it slow, I snuck in a quick trip
to a pet store, pictured myself
on a hamster wheel. I printed online images
of adrenal glands for cooling meditations,
gazed at shifting cloud formations
between yoga poses.
At 17, I thought if I could draw in
enough smoke, I wouldn’t disappear
in the frenetic back beats. I suppose
I wanted to become the deep base
looping over and over again.
How do you interpret that I felt most alive
this week leaning back in a dental chair,
my jaw pried open for 120 minutes –
only five of them unbearable –
the rest possible thanks to a river and a raft
and rapids that turned into a calm wide
neck I found myself dreaming up while
Say what you will about strangers
spilling stories between stations.
Or see it a sign, of how to circle
around the truth of being trapped
and having all the space you’ll ever need.