Fun with Hubs in the Pack-En-Dub

Quick trivia lesson: The Pacific Northwest (the region comprised of the states of Washington, Idaho, and Oregon, along with the province of British Columbia) is sometimes abbreviated to simply "Pac NW" and pronounced "Pack- En-Dub". Maybe you already knew this, but I just learned of it because my husband and I recently returned from a trip up there. Our ten year wedding anniversary is this month, so we decided we were going to take a trip somewhere to commemorate the occasion. We first thought of going on a cool couples adventure retreat, where we could mountain bike, trail run, do yoga and eat organic meals for days on end. We also considered taking a spa getaway somewhere secluded to indulge a bit and rekindle our romance.

Then reality hit us. Realizing we had to fit a trip in during the kids' spring break three weeks before our actual anniversary and accepting that we better do it somewhere close so we didn't waste too much time on travel, we resolved to stay on the west coast. And who are we kidding, our youngest is still only four and I wasn't jazzed at the thought of being too far from him for too many days in a row. Mama has separation issues, I admit.

So we settled on the "pack en dub" and dropped the kids at the grandparents' house in central California before heading up for a short six day jaunt. Not the grand anniversary trip I had pictured in my head months before, but it was time away nevertheless. Any break from the norm is therapeutic, and spending time essentially masquerading around as a carefree, autonomous couple, one unhindered by school schedules or bath and bedtime rituals, was a pleasant departure. We galavanted around cities we had never seen and explored places we had never been with the freedom and abandon of teens without a curfew... or at least that's what I envisioned we were doing. In reality, it probably didn't look quite like that. 

    

To start, I had a terrible cough, so bad that we seriously considered canceling the trip just a few days before we left. Although it seemed to get progressively better as the days rolled on, it still put a damper on enjoying an anniversary trip during which your husband apprehensively kissed you between hacking coughs for fear of catching it himself. Wildly romantic, I know.

Second, as we have such different ideas of what constitutes fun these days, we were hard pressed to find activities we both were equally excited to participate in. While I am the art museum type of tourist, a seeker of local culture and historical landmarks, curious and excited to explore the sights, sounds, eats, and haunts a locale is known for; my husband likes to exist on the fringes, be the anti-tourist, and runs in the opposite direction of the traps that attract most visitors, looking to forge a new trail off the beaten path, usually somewhere in nature and outdoors, with no plan or idea if the direction he is going will be worth the effort or will be a complete waste of time. The planner in me found this very unsettling, and the adventurer in him felt my desire to stay in the city and not explore the unknown (and risk wasting any of the limited time we had on this trip!) was confining and made him very restless.

We went to Seattle first, and both loved it more than expected. We arrived there early in the morning, like 8am early, after waking at 4am to catch our plane, and our first stop was inevitably Pike Place Market where we happily discovered The Crumpet Shop, proceeding to stand in a crazy long line out the door for a well worth it breakfast. Walking the market was amazing, with all its levels and hollows, and impossible to explore in its entirety. We strolled by the original Starbucks and found the sidewalk in front of it was so crowded with lookie-loos and the inside of it was so packed with tourists that we both agreed (yay!) that that was one place we could live without experiencing. Instead, we got coffee at Storyville Coffee Pike Place - a cozy nook we loved so much that we went there twice in our short two days in Seattle. Yes, the coffee was yum, but what sold us was sinking into the comfy, cognac leather chairs in front of a warm fireplace while sipping it. Heaven. I also met up with a dear college friend of mine at Storyville, whom I hadn't seen for over twenty years, for a coffee, a sweet, and an hour long chat. That lovely hour was nowhere near long enough for us to fully catch up, but seeing her was a wonderful perk to the trip.

At night, the market emptied out and the streets were wet and glistening after being hosed down from a day full of visitors, fresh fish and floral sales. It was peacefully quiet when we finally wandered into Matt's in the Market for a late dinner and were the last to be seated for the night. Looking out the restaurant's huge arched windows at the looming Public Market Center clock and sign lit up in bright red neon, we thoroughly enjoyed this quaint yet classy eatery, dining on the most incredible halibut and sea scallops we had ever tasted.

The final attraction of this first city in our two-city romp was the Space Needle, despite his trepidation and resistance to visiting it. Once we were at the top, watching the sun set over the water and looking out at that spectacular view, he was slow to admit that I was right and it may have just been worth the trouble of behaving like a tourist and waiting in a line to experience it.

We then took a three hour train ride from Seattle down to Portland and stayed in the Southwest section of the city, smack in the middle of the bustling downtown. Walking around amidst intermittent rain showers, where I swear no one carries an umbrella, we gazed up from below the colossal Portlandia statue, stood in the long line of hipsters and vagrants at VooDoo Donuts to sample pastries covered in Oreos and Butterfingers, witnessed the fire and flair of a theatrical Spanish Coffee order at Huber's Cafe, and enjoyed an extravagant Peruvian dinner at Andina in the hip Pearl District. But above all, one of the greatest treats during our three days in Portland was visiting with two of my oldest and dearest childhood friends who have both lived there for over twenty five years. They were kind enough to give us the grand tour of their city, and we were grateful they took the time out of their daily schedules to be such gracious hosts.

Most unexpectedly, we next found ourselves bearing the freezing cold temps (i.e. freezing cold to this wimpy So. Cal. girl) and spraying mist of Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge. We had to rent a car and drive thirty miles outside the city of Portland to do this, and that took some convincing on his part to get me to agree to it. As we're in the car so much at home, I was looking forward to a week solely on foot and not having to ride in a car at all, other than an Uber lift from the airport. But despite the bit of driving, it was now my turn to concede that his detour out of the city - with its fresh air and lush green scenery - was a welcome reprieve from the grit and noise of the downtown cityscape.

    

My nagging cough be damned, I was determined to get in at least one yoga class while in each place, and before we left home, I had already picked the very studios I wanted to visit. In Seattle, hubs and I took a power flow class with Chandra at Yoga to the People, a donation-based yoga studio that originated in New York City and has expanded to Seattle, Berkeley, and San Francisco. The class was full and Chandra was a kind, effective instructor. After class, our appetites guided us to look for food right away, and we were fortunate to find a fantastic lunch at Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe. Then in PortIand, I alone took a power yoga class at Yoga on Yamhill, a small, donation-based studio in the heart of downtown, right next to the MAX Blue Line light rail. Studio owner Paul Terrell and I have a common bond as students of Bryan Kest, and it was lovely to attend his class and enjoy the familiarity of a kindred yoga practitioner.

All in all, it was a short, yet fun, excursion; and being able to recapture a bit of that pre-kiddo vibe and enjoy a somewhat carefree vacation was well worth the weeks of pre-planning and incessantly hacking and coughing my way through the Pac NW. Truth be told, it was not a trip free of conflict, as we had a few arguments that I could have done without. Nevertheless, we put forth our best efforts to make it special, and to celebrate still being married after ten years of, well, marriage. It seems six days in two bustling cities full of attractions and distractions was inevitably not going to be a magic pill that transformed us back into the starry-eyed newlyweds we were on our ten day honeymoon. It was, however, a welcome reprieve from the whirlwind that is parenthood - of PTA meetings, little league games, spelling tests, toddler potty mishaps and early morning wake ups.

It was also a lovely introduction to the Pacific Northwest, and what I know is only the tip of the iceberg as far as seeing this beautiful region. We can't wait for our next trip up there and take the opportunity to explore the Oregon coast, Washington's Orcas/San Juan Islands, and maybe even the Canadian cities of Victoria and Vancouver. Now that will be a trip the kids won't want to miss.

Bryan Kest: The Man Behind the Power of Yoga

 photo ©Bryan kest power yoga

photo ©Bryan kest power yoga

So I decided I was going to write about Power Yoga innovator Bryan Kest... and then, I couldn't.

I was so compelled to comment on my eighteen years as a student of his classes in Santa Monica and online, as well as on my recent experience completing his Power Yoga Teacher Training Intensive, that I thought the words would just pour out of me; so much so that I would have a hard time editing them all down to an approachable, readable post.

But when I sat down and put fingers to keyboard, no cohesive thoughts came out.

How could this be? How could writing about this man, whom I often jokingly, but actually quite seriously, refer to as my guru, elicit a loss for words? I already wrote a blog post on equanimity last year (The Most Important Word You Don't Know) that was inspired by him and his teachings, so I didn't think writing this one would be any different.

But it was. I felt overwhelmed with so many ideas and feelings and stories that I didn't know where to begin. I wanted to do him, and the impact he has had on my life, justice; but I didn't know what I could say about him or his philosophy on yoga that wouldn't just be parroting him or that hadn't already been said or written by dozens of others before me.

Then I stopped. I smiled. I recognized the judgment and the comparing and competing I was doing in regard to me writing this piece. I realized I had to let go and accept "what is" - to find my equanimity - and just let the words flow, unburdened by expectation of a specific end result and unhindered by worry of how it would be received.

And that was it. That was all I needed... the yoga of writing. That was the lesson that all of those classes, all of my training, all of the years of personal practice has taught me. Ironically, Bryan's teachings came through as I was struggling to write about those very teachings.

I let go of my notion of what I thought a written piece about him, his classes, or his teacher training should be like. I began to write without judgement or criticism of what I was writing, without comparing what I was writing to other articles I had read on him, and without competing with them to make mine as good, or as resonate of him, as they did.

This is what came out; but what it says about him doesn't compare to what the journey of writing it says about him.

Bryan Kest is a unique human being in that he is a man who is totally honest, exposed, and vulnerable; yet still retains his masculinity, charm, strength of character, and self-confidence. In my experience, this is not something many men are willing or able to do. It's an amazing and rare combination not often seen... someone who loves deeply, is authentic and open, is wholly present and fully committed to connecting with others without guise or image saving façade; yet still maintains an aura of strength, mystery, conviction, and undeniable likability.

I believe Bryan is such an effective and well-respected yoga instructor, and has been for the last thirty years, because his philosophy on the goal of yoga is completely void of any pretense, convolution or self-importance. He simply shares what he knows to be true, and presents it in such a clear and logical way that anyone can grasp it. His raw and straightforward delivery washes over you like a wave of truth, and resonates so deeply within; not only because it's a truth you don't often hear, but also because it's the one you need to hear the most.

He is extremely passionate about his yoga practice and generously disseminates to his students all he has learned over his own thirty-eight years of practice; as well as what he continues to learn with each passing day. Essentially, Bryan walks the walk of the talk he talks in his classes. He knows that yoga works because he does it, practices it and lives it, every day, on and off the yoga mat.

When I attend Bryan's class, I go to attain and maintain overall mental and physical wellness - to quiet my mind, to keep my body alive and toned, and to practice non-reactiveness. Bryan likes to say, "This is all such simple stuff, but that doesn't mean it is necessarily easy." And he's right, it's not... not the poses, not the mindset, not the yoga practice in general. It challenges, confronts, shines a mirror on and exposes so much of the crap that we carry around and perpetuate on a daily basis... our reactiveness, our competitiveness, our penchant for comparing ourselves to others or to former versions of ourselves. Bryan's gift is his ability to empower us (or as he would reframe it, to inspire us to empower ourselves) in our ongoing effort to eradicate these tendencies in our lives, to make the goal of doing so more approachable and attainable, and to guide the way for us to also live a less stressful, more benevolent existence, on and off the yoga mat.

For more information on Bryan Kest, visit PowerYoga.com.

The Most Important Word You Don't Know

Every day, we all are confronted with situations that have the potential to unhinge us and render us temporarily crazed in the heat of the moment... 

Like driving your daughter twenty miles down the coast highway to her ballet class, only to discover that it was canceled without warning or notification; or realizing your son just pooped in the last clean diaper you had available while you are miles from either a store that sells them or your home where you have a case of them; or discovering your three-year-old just emptied the new tube of safe to swallow toddler toothpaste into his mouth like it was a fruit squeeze, without a toothbrush in sight.

Yes, we all have our challenges. Often times we find it difficult to refrain from adversely and visibly reacting to the negative things that happen to us; and old habit patterns will get the best of us. It's sometimes so hard to help ourselves... we're pissed and everyone around us has got to know it. 

Why shouldn't we let out the anger, frustration and hostility manifesting inside us? It's natural, right?

Not exactly.

Even though indulging deliberately in these thoughts and feelings seems to briefly relieve stress, this practice can cause even more stress, pain and misery in the long run. Since stress is the number one underlying factor in the onset of disease in our bodies, there is a very real possibility that these negative reactions could literally kill you.

So what's the alternative? What can we do instead?

We can find our equanimity. Equanimity just might be the most important word for us to know; yet most people have not heard it before. 

equanimity.jpg

I was first introduced to the concept of equanimity by my yoga instructor of many years, Bryan Kest. He aptly describes equanimity as "the ability to keep your mind balanced through the vicissitudes of your life." In the context of a yoga class, it's the quality or a state of calmness and non-reactiveness you strive to achieve in the face of difficulty while attempting to keep your mind focused and move through a series of physical poses that may be challenging. Bryan asserts that consistently striving to maintain this quality in your yoga practice can help you do the same in your every day life.

Yet equanimity is not an esoteric idea reserved just for yogis. Even if you don't practice yoga, the concept of equanimity is equally viable and vital to your health and wellbeing. It is a universal concept, one whose literal definition is "mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation... a state of psychological stability and composure which is undisturbed by experience of or exposure to emotions, pain, or other phenomena that may cause others to lose the balance of their mind."

More succinctly put, equanimity is being ok with "what is".

Simple concept, not so simple execution. As a wife, a mother, a human... I find my life is full of challenging situations - some days more than others, but it seems every day has at least one hurdle to clear, even if it originates from within. In the past and still sometimes presently, when not mindful, I have allowed and will allow these obstacles to take me over and get the best of me, stealing away my calmness and often, what feels like my sanity. 

But in those times that I am able to tune in and defeat the ingrained habit patterns of the past, I can hone in on what is best for me and others in that moment, and am left better equipped to react (or rather, not react) to the situation at hand. Then, I am free to simply choose a perspective. The goal being to find the one that I can live the most peacefully with and that most benefits not only those involved, but also my overall health and welfare.

After all, isn’t everything just perspective? Aren’t all things that happen to us viewed and handled by us in our own individual and unique way according to our personal history and experiences? So why not strive to choose the perspective that uplifts you and maintains the peace rather than depresses you and breeds conflict?

How we simply deal with it (with setbacks, disappointments, and toddlers run amuck) sets us apart and maps the course for our overall health, happiness and well-being. I know that trying to maintain a calm and balanced mind through the turmoil and mess of motherhood is a worthy venture, and really quite helpful when you've just discovered your toddler has taken a red ink stamp to your ivory suede bedroom curtains.

The choice is ours, always, to adopt the approach and attitude that will keep us calm and help us to carry on. We just need to be strong enough, mindful enough, and equanimous enough to remember to choose it. When I do succeed in making the right choice, it is the most empowering feeling in the world. In that moment, I am the mom I've always wanted to be.

So in that spirit, I'm gonna adopt an alternate perspective on my three-year-old’s love for sucking down his toddler toothpaste (or biting off chunks of sunblock stick, or chewing on chalk and crayons, or eating handfuls of sand at the beach). It is the choice of acceptance. Acceptance of his penchant for unusual and interesting tastes and textures. Who knows, maybe it's the beginning of an adventurous and sophisticated palate taking root at an early age. Let's hope.

I also will choose to be mindful and keep my calm the next time my son ingests one of these foreign, non-food substances; and remind myself that he is growing and changing every day and this will soon all be over. As for now, just breathe, smile, and accept what is.