teaching moment pt 2

So using my martial arts background, I’ve come up with 4 classes I can teach to absolute beginners in a corporate/one-off “let’s just have fun, do something new and healthy” kind of setting. I tested out 2 of the 4 classes on myself this week —breathing/meditation/qi gong and stretching/yoga— and feel confident about my ability to teach them. I also modified my usual beginning tai chi class and today may try out a “kung fu boot camp” type class on myself, which basically just modifies what we did at 108 Heroes Kung Fu and Tai Chi to a more one-off setting.

I’m really digging all this, gotta say. It’s so much fun to think creatively about my various practices and use what I know to make some adjustments so they resonate with specific audiences. I’ve previously felt very dogmatic about martial arts practices and have viewed them as something where I need to not only uphold the forms but also the curriculum of learning and the teaching methods. Now, I’ve figured out a way that I can present that I feel remains true to the lineage, but also gives me room to play and have fun.

I don’t alter the postures or, in certain forms, the sequences of movement, but I have been working with packaging the material into an easy to understand class. There’s certain things I love and enjoy about my personal practice and the practice I’m led through when at a class that I’ve discovered I can’t do when teaching super beginners. I think it’s because the concepts are actually quite complex and if, as a student, you come in with a preconceived notion of what yoga is or kung fu or tai chi or meditation, then in some settings, it’s going to be a steep learning curve for you to get onboard with traditional methods of instruction and thought.

I thought, what if I could present the traditional teachings I know and love, but to people who have a very broad, highly socialized understanding of these concepts so that by the end of the class perhaps they’d be more open to exploring in depth these fascinating practices. Can I be a doorway? Maybe a gateway drug, if you will… ha!

Anyway, it’s pretty fun but as always a challenging balance of being true and respectful of my own teachings while also realizing that I may be able to lighten up on some aspects of the practice as long as I’m retaining what for me is the core. I never would have been in this more exploratory mindset had my own teachers not encouraged this type of approach. I myself was actually surprised that all my teachers had encouraged me to play, explore, and experiment in my personal practice since our bodies, minds, and lives are constantly changing.

Having this freedom has allowed me to not be hard on myself (one of my greatest challenges!) when not being able to do a full practice due to injury or time constraints. I’ve been able to retain and grow my experiences within these practices while being adaptable and not rigidly holding onto the exact same sequence or approach or goal. That being said, the structure of the practices helps me to retain my focus and track my progress on longtime goals. Or if not static goals, just see over time how I’m changing for the better as a result of practicing.

Anyway, creating my own little programs has given me a lot of insight lately and I look forward to seeing what others think too. Fingers crossed that they get something good out of it!

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teaching moments

I taught tai chi to a corporate group the other day and it went really well. People were smiling. I felt great. I think they did too. Such a change from the last couple of times I’ve taught classes and it made me thing, “hey, maybe I’m getting better at this!”

I have to credit teachers I’ve had recently who’ve either displayed or given me feedback when it comes to teaching. I thought about it when speaking with a friend the other day who asked if I’d ever teach yoga. I kinda hemmed and hawed about it, but he pointed out  that at least with beginners, I probably know more than them, so why not?

It’s this same mindset that I’ve become a bit more comfortable with when it comes to martial arts. There’s that old impostor syndrome voice that sneaks up on situations. Coupled with its best friend, Perfectionism, they make a great team of talking you out of anything. There’s a character in my generational punk play who is thrust into being the leader of a scene or movement. She says to a longtime friend coming to visit that she never liked authority and wanted to be an authority figure on anything. This is how I feel a lot of time about teaching.

There’s a side to my open-mindedness that can leave me as indecisive and passive. I think, “Well, I still have a lot to learn. I don’t feel nearly as qualified as my teachers.” I’ve gotten hung up on the idea that I need to somehow manifest the level of experience of those I’ve learned from in order to teach well. I forget what my playwriting teacher used to tell us when in grad school and preparing to teach playwriting and screenwriting the first time, which is that we’ve spent more time digging deep into story dynamics and structure than the students we’d be teaching. And even if that may not be applicable, I do subscribe to the idea that you have something to learn from everyone. Would it be so impossible that sometimes you have something to give others?

Tai Chi Teaching
Giving mini adjustments to my awesome group of students!

I think what went really well the other day was that I had experience under my belt to manage my expectations about what I could pass on in the time given. I had ideas of class structure based on classes I’ve attended and taught. I definitely know what I like. I know what I think is important. And I have a pretty good sense of what I do well. In the classes I taught at 108 Heroes Kung Fu and Tai Chi, I realized that because my main interest with tai chi is internal energy, I was being REALLY ambitious with how I taught people.

It was a lot of convincing people that internal energy is a thing. (It is.) But gah, how discouraging to keep trying to convince people of it day after day. I’ve been lightening up on what I do for my own personal practices and getting great results, so I figured, “Low hanging fruit: let’s just get people moving differently and introduced to the form.”

It’s like, maybe just maybe I don’t HAVE to do that much other than present this digestible chunk to folks. Talk about understanding your audience better! I really think this is why it was fun for me and fun for the group. So, comparatively, we didn’t get super far into the form and I chose to only briefly highlight internal energy cultivation once so that I felt that I was still remaining true to how I see tai chi, but I know I didn’t overwhelm people with a lot of concepts that were hard to leap to right off the bat.

And now a couple other opportunities to teach introduction classes to other mind-body practices I have have popped up and rather than being scared about knowing how to do that, I feel really confident. It gives me a new space to explore concepts and put together little programs/experiences based on what I know.

In the last week or so, I’ve started to brainstorm four different basic classes I could teach in a group setting that would be wellness focused and totally fine as one-off experiences. I’ve had fun creating playlists of music I enjoy and that wouldn’t be overly distracting. I had assembled my notes and past workbooks of concepts, postures, and forms I know and could teach easily. And I’ve figured out ways to put these different ideas together into 15, 30 and 60 minute programs. It’s not super exotic necessarily, but then I remember something my husband told me, which is probably the best teaching advice of all.

“They don’t want your teacher to teach them, they want you. You have to bring you.”

Talking Up Tai Chi
This is probably the one time I talked about internal energy.

 

 

Poetic License

So the challenges do far…

Well, due to life circumstances, I scrapped the screenwriting challenge. I gotta do it one year though. I just have more poetry than narrative story in my head right now.

But the poetry challenge?! If you have been reading, I’m sure you can see the result. The prompts are a lot of fun and definitely help me stay out of my head too much.

Here’s the thing about poetry though that I’m realizing (at least when I write it). I like my poems to be scrappy and less than perfect. I like when they are simple and yet evocative. I like them to use bold, straightforward words that are about complex things. I don’t like them to be too flowery. And I really don’t want them to take a long time to write.

Not that taking your time and going over things is a bad thing. Like have you ever seen a Hawaiian feather cape or lei? So I intricate! I appreciate so much! To make this lei or cape you need feathers from a certain kind of bird. You don’t just go out and kill a bunch of these birds and take their feathers though. No! You let the birds live. You only take one or two so obviously in a cape of a certain size it’s going to take forever to make a cape like this.

It’s not that I don’t have that kind of patience. I just like to do a little bit sometimes and switch gears. One day I will attempt something longer and that takes years to create.

I’m trying to do my poems in order and sometimes the set-up is more involved. Like the one I’m on now involves other people, so it may be a while until I blast through that one.

I used to feel really sheepish about my poetry because I didn’t really ever learn specifically how to write it. I’m just doing it. Sometimes it comes out reasonable. Then I read like straight-up poets and I’m like WHY DID YOU DO THAT THIS IS SO GOOD MY WORDS ARE POLLUTING SPACE.

And then I’m like 🤷‍♀️ well idk

So I’ve decided it’s fine.

I’m sure the folks getting my posts emailed are like, “So why’s Barbara posting like a whole bunch of poems all today?” I finally got a couple minutes to just go. Does anyone ever listen to drum and bass? Because to me, what it feels like to write poetry, or what I strive for it to feel like is a steady beat with atmospheric blends, warm mids and a sometimes haunting baseline that always makes whatever melody comes out so much bigger than it seems. Far off outer space sounds and glitchy sound effects that sound like glitter and feel like deep sighs of relief.

NOW THAT is what poetry should feel like

(if you ask me)

#14

a fox

in a moment of magic

little beams of light

to deeply connect to the world in a way others can’t

asks the question

which way to go

directions

asks itself

there is no fear of choosing the wrong way

the world is an opportunity

yes it walks

stepping into the uncomfortable space

to be resourceful

to figure out a way

all that abounds

is playful laughter

challenge

I started a couple challenges.

One is a 30 day poetry challenge with the Escapery. Myself and other writers get a prompt a day to spark some inspiration for a raw, unedited, unfiltered poem. Ooh! My favorite kind to write! I don’t know why or how, but a couple years ago, I started this thing where I was like, “hey I’m just going to do some creative writing every day and post the uncut version.” And it really opened up this new fascination with poetry for me. Though I studied literature in college, I just feel like I have no clue what good poetry is or if I’m doing it. But like most things, I figured, “oh what the heck, it’s kinda fun.” After a while, I felt like the conceit was getting stale and I felt too much pressure to produce something every day, so I stopped. This challenge has been a refreshing welcome back so far. The prompts help me to not overly think about what to write about and do what I think I do well, which is to just roll with it. Like I tend to write a lot about nature, music, and energy and the prompts are things like writing about who sees you when you get the invisible award (yesterday) or describing a table and a feast. I mean, really stuff I’m not gravitating towards usually but something about it helps me to tap into other topics that I wouldn’t know how to enter if not for having that email prompt in front of me. So, I hope folks enjoy that. There’ll probably still be a lot of poems created using what I usually go to, but perhaps it’ll be interesting to see how it evolves.

I signed up for a screenwriting challenge the other day too but so far have been stumped on this exercise about voice on the FIRST DAY!! There’s this exercise which I think is meant to show you the points in your own life where you were pointed down the path to being the person and character you are now. All to show you about character and story. I find it extremely difficult to analyze myself in this way however. I’m like, well “who am I really?” Because the guy who does the challenge is using this example of A list talent who know exactly who they are and what roles they play. I don’t think I know quite what stories I write. I guess they are kind of ethereal comedies that have a mysterious/dark tinge? Would that be accurate?! Gah, no clue. Maybe that’s more wishful thinking and I’m just a goofball or really procedural. Not that those would be bad things either… anyway, more to come on that front. I think it’s also the reason I can’t decide on which type of story to tell. I was thinking maybe something about yoga or healing with a female protagonist because I haven’t seen a lot of those stories and I enjoy those spaces. I always think it’s a good idea to REALLY love the space or world you are writing about for long form projects since you’re going to spend a lot of time thinking about those places and people. And I figured, well I already spend a lot of time thinking about this stuff anyway so two birds, really. We’ll see how it all pans out.

And then the other areas I’ve been trying to focus in on is yoga and internal energy. I’ve had sporadic practices lately compared to my past and do I’m trying to hunker down. I was looking at things that distract me and one was social media. I spent way too much time there and then with the whole Facebook data breach, I’m like, “you know maybe this is a time to get creative on how I’m using these tools, etc. etc.” So I deleted the app for now. Didn’t deactivate but figured I’d just see what comes up from not being on it and curating down who I follow and am influenced by on other spaces. I’m trying to blog more (as you can see) and trying to not worry about who reads it, what they think about it, if it’s self-indulgent (isn’t everything?!), etc.

I’ve said this before and honestly I don’t know why I have had (have?) a hang up with it but I have been trying to find ways to talk about my yoga and internal energy practices for a while now and am like stopping myself. Why? No clue except that I feel like the best way to talk about it is by describing my own personal experience and progress. I think I figured “oh well if I’m writing a blog about this then I gotta be an expert or write from a place of this high leveled experience.” And then it’s like well how high do you want to go since progression is endless? So obviously that didn’t work.

I guess my view was that no one would want to read the perspective of this girl who doesn’t know Mandarin or Sanskrit. I’m not even Chinese or Indian. So like talk about cultural appropriation, right? But then I really enjoy and spend like SO MUCH (too much?) of my day thinking of all this stuff that the best I can come up with is maybe that there’s a way to honor and practice something that values and respects where something comes from and maybe by practicing more I’ll figure out more stuff??

Anyway, this post is getting long and trying to cover way too much already. Point is, I decided to get over it and start writing about it.

At one point in time, I made the most significant progress in my internal energy practice by committing to a short practice that I did every day and then writing exactly what I experienced whether it was emotions, physical, whatever. I wrote about it all because that’s the only way I could see over time what was changing and where I could focus. That worked, so I figured I’d do that again.

I’m just really trying to get to a point in yoga where I’m not constantly thinking about non-yoga stuff as I’m practicing. I know, BIG GOALS! Maybe it’s not the point of yoga, but I don’t care. That’s where I’m at. It’s so hard too. Even with all this other stuff to think about like how to position my body or if I’m breathing right or enough or too fast and where I’m supposed to be fixing my gaze. I can’t stop (yet!). It’s like an addiction. Anyway, goal #1 in yoga these days. That and just trying to stay consistent.

My internal energy practice is a whole mother animal. Because I’ve been spotty with practicing consistently my experience is just not what it was at certain high points. It’s like if I was this skateboarder that could do a ton of tricks and then didn’t do it for a while so can barely ollie. Ugh. So I mean ultimate goal? Feel it all, a lot!! But more immediate goal is to “get back to where I was”, which I’ll know when I feel. Actually I came up with a way to have fun with it. I’m going to see how long it takes me. I *kinda* predict a month just given how stuff like this has gone in the past, but I know what’s going to happen. I’m going to get in the flow of practicing and then have some big experience in a couple days.

So, anyway, if anyone’s curious I’m doing Ashtanga for the yoga practice. I’m at bhuja pidasana. Look at me go! I had to look up how to spell that, but I think it’s a lot better than saying “the one where you wrap your legs around your arms”. I’m so sore. I can barely walk. But other than looking forward to seeing what changes. I was surprised to see that I could more or less eek my way through the postures, except for the deep twists here and there (which have been hard for me since being introduced o them). You know one cool thing is some postures that I was like “borrrrrring who cares?” and just did because they were in between the other stuff I liked doing and you know ws generally positive like “oh I’m sure they are good for you” in the way that asparagus is good for you. Anyway! A couple of these postures, I feel like I’m making progress on and you get all those little linkage points too like, “oh duh this one posture totally helps me do this other thing that I need to do in order to go deeper”. So little things like that are my jam.

On the internal side, I’ve committed to doing a mini practice a day at least. Gotta feel something. So lately, I’m doing what I call “2*7”. It’s 2 minutes of 7 different exercises structured like a pyramid. I didn’t make it, my teacher did for some other dude on this group on Facebook I used to frequent when I was on fb. Anyway, it’s:

  • Quiet standing
  • Constant bear
  • Shiko A
  • Shiko B
  • Shiko A
  • Constant Bear
  • Quiet standing

If you’re actually interested in background on all this, I’d recommend Aiki Singularity. It’s very good and if you are consistent, will be effective.

Anyway, after a couple of years of practicing using this approach, I feel a charge somewhere the instant I begin. Doesn’t matter if I practice every day or have taken a break for a month. It’s there. But it’s such a let down that I’m not feeling what I was! Hence my immediate goal. But that’s ok, the process is fun too. It’s like when you’re on a road trip and come across this really bad ass mountain or something beautiful and you go, “no way! This is a thing apparently!” When you’ve been there before it’s still cool like, “hey! It’s that mountain again! Look at you go!”

So when I get to the second Constant Bear, that’s usually when I feel something big. I guess because you’re just more relaxed and focused by then so you can feel more. Don’t know. Today was interesting. Not because I felt a lot more. It was actually kinda tough because I decided to visit my husband at work since he claimed he’d found a really good chai and my chai that I got sucked (too sweet). Anyway, turns out it was a good chai and his new work is in a really cute part of town I wanted to explore. I had plans with myself to practice though so he suggested a nearby park. I really enjoy practicing outside but it can get easy to get distracted (see yoga goals). So I did my thing in a quietish spot and decided the spot itself could work. So noted for the future.

But whether I try something a little different than my norm, I have more tension and can’t feel as much. I just get worried about who’s watching (no one) and what they think (they are not thinking about me) and if anyone is behind me (I don’t know why I get paranoid about that). So I felt more or less The Usual during practice then I was like, no wait I want to try some other stuff since I have a bunch of time.

I then did this santi (see xingyi and Aiki book referenced) drill and didn’t get much BUT THEN I remembered how my teacher posted about snake (one of the xingyi animals) and was feeling like “hey I gotta try something with more movement, more dynamics”. So I did snake for a couple lines up and down, which was actually another good challenge for me to do while not worrying about passersby. And towards the end I was like, well that was dumb, I feel stupid, probably looked stupid, my teacher would laugh at how shittily I did this, like bad karate, but I went into quiet standing anyway and BLAM! Just like a wash of energy up the front side of my body but particularly in my torso and strangely my neck and chin. So just as mentioned in my goals before. But you really can’t get too excited about what happens because it’s always different and sometimes it builds and sometimes it doesn’t it just does it’s own thing.

All good. Gah, if anyone read this far, I’m like going to give you a cookie or something because I just feel like I had to get all that out. But if not that’s all right too. Just a little note for my future self.

my adventure

begins with a long road

i picture myself lifted up floating

i know i can do this now!

and my vision pierces through light and dark

like an arrow that doesn’t land

there is no end

Writing Progress

All right, so yesterday I finished a draft of my latest play, NANNA-SIN, inspired by the Ancient Sumerian myths of the god of the moon.

The story goes that two teens are the sole survivors of a village attack decimating their village. They make a pact to travel to the city capital to the temple of Nanna-Sin. One has a connection to the divine and the other seeks revenge. They cross paths with a priest in the House of Nanna-Sin, a lead orchestrator, who sees the potential to use their skill to make a political upheaval. The high priestess of Nanna-Sin is the one with the power, however misuses it to gain control over the people.

Anyway, without giving away the whole of it, which is what the reading on 10-14-17 at the EXIT Theatre is for (mark your calendars! 😉), I'm reflecting on a couple things I did differently this time around that I want to remember and perhaps expand on for next time.

You see, previously, my process of writing mostly involved swirling down the drain of imposter syndrome while simultaneously self-flagellating until the deed was done enough. After a recovery period of varying length, I'd say, "hmm there must be an easier way." But then, I'd return to the same old process and shrug that, "it must just be my process."

Well, how wrong I was about that! Here's some things I did differently this time:

1) Outline

Instead of diving into this good idea I had, I held myself to completing the outline. Well, at least 90-95% of it. The last 5-10% I was okay with coming up with in the process of writing out the script.

This helped SO much because when it came time to write, I didn't have to hold two different things "what happens next" and "what specifically they do or say in each moment" in my brain. I could get to the big story points and color in the details along the way.

The other thing was that if I discovered a new direction that didn't match up with a story point in the outline, it was easier to make a decision about what was the right way to go because I had choices. Not "this is the only thing at can think of"

Way more relaxing. Gotta do that again.

2) Collaboration and Constraints

I spoke with my director truthfully about where I was in the process and told her the story as I saw it.

A screenwriter friend recommended telling more stories as practice in… telling stories. I know, right? Like why did someone have to tell me this? But all I can say is that it wasn't obvious to me that doing this would have any positive impact on my storytelling abilities. Now it seems like a "duh" moment. Oh well, live and let learn.

So two aspects — talking through the story made me realize right away where I needed to work out some story holes and other challenges. For instance, one thing we acknowledged right away was that this story was way bigger than I had time allotted. So constraint #1, tell this epic story in 30 minutes and hit all the points. We talked through some ideas of how this could be possible. The story turns and transitions may be quick. I had it on my radar. Constraint #2, out of respect of my director's timeline and when she wanted to initiate rehearsals, it was going to be best if I finished by a certain date. Deadlines are always a good thing for me at least — though I am not nearly as good with self- imposed deadlines as when a deadline comes from someone else — especially if I'd be letting down another person or group by not fulfilling my end of the duty. Being on deadline gave me the ability to get it out despite it not being perfect. It made me make decisions that I couldn't worry too much about — should I really bring this element in or will people think that's hokey? Nope, gotta move on and get done.

3) Bring Yourself (Play to Your Strengths)

When you get into the nitty gritty of the story — this is where I shine once I'm in the flow. I knew I would be fine and could go for as long as I wanted once I got there. The outline and the deadline helped put a slight bit of pressure and narrowed the focus. Then, worries about what to say or how to transition from one thing to the next? Nah! I'm in the flow!

Flow Time!

And then everything is just calibrated to keep me up. Music helps me with my pace and to keep going. I personally prefer atmospheric dance music that doesn't have a lot of lyrics. Sounds strange, I'm sure, but there's something about moving my body to the beat that every so often helps me get back into it full force.

This story has a lot of ancient elements that I didn't know about — so research helped. Cool things that I learned like how the first author was a high priestess of Nanna-Sin. She wrote poetry and hymns. So interesting because when you read them, I was expecting more sort of exaltations of mystery but really there was a lot about being victorious in battle against their political enemies? Whoa, that could be useful. File that away for later.

And then there was the part where I had to just give myself creative freedom and say, ok I may not get this right the first time and that's ok. Like is it historically accurate? No, but if I invent something based on what I know, it will take less time. And then there were other elements I knew I were going to incorporate like the characters have metaphysical powers so it's like a parallel world where these kinds of powers were not thought possible but are.

Tons of solutions to try to figure out but ultimately I used what I had closest to me as a tool. So, in this story I brought in my influences from yoga, internal martial arts, and Hawaiian healing. Like there are healing chants/songs, a power that one can feel, physical protocols and methods. Is it representational of those things? Oh god no. My teachers or staunch practitioners of these systems would probably frown upon me if I did that. But look, I'm just playing. I can play with stuff and also practice it more traditionally too. No biggie. It made it fun to play in the world of the play.

4) Technique

There were things I did to negotiate between the largeness of the story and the amount of time allotted. For instance, there are some moments where I had to represent a complex idea — like simultaneous time with different space/characters or advancing one character's arch with not a lot of pages. And through the magic of the form, I remembered that I can run both at the same time. I can have two places represented at once on a stage. People have the ability to listen to a story being told by one character and understand another person on stage as a character in that story. There's a point later on that I'm particularly proud of too for its low-budget, high impact way of representing multiple worlds. I use what I know is available in most theater spaces to make the relationship representational in a 3D way.

All sounds conceptual, I know, and whether I was actually successful in clearly articulating what I meant remains to be seen, though at least I tried. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work and we can come up with something else.

It's All Been Done Before
And yet at the end of the day, it's all been done before. Someone else has written thousands maybe millions of stories with these elements. So it's not being created purely from scratch. Not when you think of it like that. Epic fantasy story that needs to be told in 30 minutes? A lot of cartoons do that successfully for multiple seasons!

There's something about the idea that if someone else figured out something remotely similar to what you're working on, it makes you (or me at least) feel like, ok well I can probably figure it out. At least an aspect of it! I mean I'm not trying to be a super amazing great writer all in one go, but, you know, occasionally people laugh at my jokes, think I represented a particular scene or moment in life well, or opened their eyes to a new perspective. Those things are all things that not just my mom and dad have told me.

😊

Commitment

I took a trip to Minnesota recently that came with a lot of unexpected detours. I went to celebrate my grandmother's 90th birthday and as the second stop on the Jwanouskos Ramos Wedding Celebration Tour.

We had an amazing time seeing the beautiful lakes and forest areas. So green compared to California! However, the time was sadly overshadowed by my grandmother's decline in health.

She was a strong woman with a huge heart — one that unfortunately was born with a defect. Her breathing became more and more difficult during the time we arrived such that she was admitted to the hospital the day after we flew in.

She knew. We all knew what was next. Though I tried to avoid the conversations and the subtle shifts, she was dying. In my head, her death was something that would happen way far off. Not when I was there. As time went on, it was clear she wasn't leaving the hospital. So the best we could do is make her comfortable.

Maybe it's the wrong segue, but I depended on my practices during this time. I have her and my weary family members lomi lomi massage. As the pain medications wore off, I sang her Ka Lei Aloha I Na Kupuna – a Hawaiian chant and lullaby that Brent and I sang for the new expectant mothers preparing for birth. It is a song about being surrounded by the love of the ancestors and understanding that you too are part of that love. I talked to her about my tai chi practice and the book on Russian breathing systems I was reading. I read her my poetry. I talked to her about the business Brent and I hope to create. I talked to her about my step daughter — who she told me to give the beanie babies in her basement. And I practiced yoga in the early hours of the morning to the rhythm of her strong yet forced breathing. I even was able to bind in Marichasana D on my tight side. I think it was even the day or day before she transitioned on.

My Grandma taught me so much about pain, death, and family during this time. I tried my best as a visitor from California to be there and be grounded, be compassionate for my family. And it was hard to do that. It was hard to see them come apart at the scenes and feel like though you wanted to, you couldn't. As if something kept you from it.

I was named after my Grandma and she was one of the strongest ladies I knew, who got things done. She didn't fuss or make a big deal about it. She was a nurse and she was used to long hard hours and endless self sacrifice. At the same time, she was fun and laughed a lot while she called you on your shit. Up until the last days she was talking, she was cracking jokes and speaking her mind.

She transitioned on surrounded by her family and so much love. I knew by the end of the week I was in the exact spot I needed to be and I was giving what I was meant to give.

In the days that followed, I didn't know what to do or how to help. So I began my day with yoga and tai chi. I figured that maybe if I could keep steady, my family could keep steady.

My family on my mom's side is a range personalities and A LOT of feminine energy. For some reason, people look at me and they go, "well of course Barbara does this crazy artistic thing that we couldn't think of or do." And I just am so adamant that the answer to that is, "yes! You can do it. You are capable of more that how you see yourself!" I probably get to be a little airy fairy for people if I start talking about it, so I try to just hold my tongue and not say anything unless people ask me.

But then the strangest thing happened… People started asking me about meditation, tai chi, yoga, eating vegetarian, art, music, storytelling, social justice, keeping in shape, martial arts and breathing. What? Me?

"I just do what I do."

So I started connecting more with my cousins, aunts, and uncles and on Instagram and Facebook, I'd post snippets of my practice. Mostly because without regular access to my teachers, I wanted to see and understand for myself what I needed to work on.

I even watched a yoga practice session with my brother who lightly chided me for moving too fast. He said to take my time with it.

"Yeah, see, when I was practicing, I loved up dog, you should take your time with it more. You're missing out on that stretch."

My cousin would ask me advice about breathing in yoga and how to get started at home because she wasn't ready to start going to a class. Another two cousins and I bonded over plants and essential oils. She is growing the Oxheart tomatoes that come from my Italian great grandfather (my Grandma Barbara's dad), who loved these tomatoes for sauce and just everything. In fact, my Grandma still has two living older sisters (96 & 106) and she said that the secret to her longevity was to eat tomatoes and have a little brandy every so often.

Here I'd been so secret about these holistic and artistic practices, considering myself to be the family anomaly and just like most things, I was looking myopically. My family was so supportive of me. Not who I tried to be or wanted to become, just everything I was at that moment, they saw as valuable and worth emulating. For that I am eternally grateful.

Part of me wonders about the synchronicity of this experience and wonders what my Grandma may have been trying to say. While I haven't always called or been able to visit, I never doubted for a second that she loved me deeply and truly saw me for who I am.

A couple hours after she passed, I was sitting in the family lounge with my relatives enjoying the memory of her and what she gave us. I was going through my email trying to find something about her ancestry to give to my cousins and I came across a lot of forwards of prayers and wishes and beautiful pictures from her. Then, I came on a direct message from her to me. She saw an email I sent about my upcoming play production and was sending me some money and wishing me luck. Matter of fact, supportive, and loving. I read it and it was a confirmation of everything I already knew.

So, "my practice" has taken a turn because I can longer see it as just for me and a source for my comfort solely. I see my family, my friends watching me and taking something from the one thing I do think I'm okay at — continuing to show up. This has made all the difference to me and propels me forward in dark times so that I can see those faces saying to me that they saw what I did and tried it for themselves.

Thank you and thank you to my beautiful Grandma for showing me how to continue day after day through the hardship with only love to guide you.

❤️

ok fine i’ll write about martial arts and stuff 

You got me, Universe or whatever. I’ll write about it. Mainly because I need to get it out of my brain. I can only talk about it outloud so much before people’s eyes glaze over. No, you don’t understand! I really need an outlet, so you are it, blog.

It really shouldn’t be so hard to just throw this stuff onto a page, but I have worked myself into knots thinking I’d be capable of just shutting up and silently doing my own thing. But I can’t, okay? I am not capable of that. I’ll freak out. This stuff is just so endlessly fascinating. I could talk about it for DAYSSSSSSS 😍. 

And if you want to know the truth, I’m kinda constantly thinking about my various practices. It’s always on my mind.

Sometimes it’s how they work together. Sometimes it’s just sheer confusion of how can I get better at this thing I’m still not good at? Sometimes it’s the surprise I feel when I lost something I had down. And sometimes it’s the ease with which I’m able to jump back into it and beyond. It changes.

But I guess I’ll just start by starting…

THESE THOUGHTS ARE FREEFORM RAMBLINGS BY AN AMATEUR!! I’m just gonna go off but like I can’t be thinking every two seconds about how someone is going to evaluate me on how or what I say so anyway… the grammar and my terminology and all this stuff probably needs work thanks

So, I do Ashtanga now. I remember reading this comment on instagram by Sharath Jois (head of the main school, grandson of the founder) who was {paraphrasing here} saying how sometimes you can do a certain really hard posture and sometimes you can’t. He was saying how your practice morphs and changes.

I’m kind of obsessed with certain things like tai chi. But you know really I should say internal martial arts because I practice more than tai chi. I guess I could say energy centric practice like my teacher. I just like to say “tai chi” because I think most folks have a close enough reference point. Oh, but they don’t know… 

If they only knew!

That’s so annoying to say because everyone who is new to something has no idea. Gah, where do I get off? The experience of practicing tai chi tho, it’s like… It’s just really really cool. Really eye opening like whaaat? Like this whole time this is available to us? Why? How? Wtf? Yes, I think about this hourly. Ah, if only I got paid for these thoughts I’d be like Scrooge McDuck swimming in my gold coin swimmimg pool. 

Anyway, today I was really getting down on myself because I’ve sorta been lazy and not practicing as diligently as I usually do. I get this way with writing too. I think about it all the time and then if you don’t have a project you kind of scare yourself into thinking that writing is hard and onerous and you don’t have enough time to do what you want to do with it. All true. So so so very true… 😭

I had an “ohhhhhhhh THIS is why teachers tell you to never stop practicing do something everyday even if it’s a little bit” kind of realization (not new, I have these once a month if not more frequently). Man, it sure does takes a second to get back to where you were. I think you gotta be really diligent and humble and nonexpectant about it when you jump back in.

When I went off to school for a dramatic writing program I’d been doing martial arts for a year and some change. It didn’t happen overnight, but slowly my skill, my athleticism, physique, etc., etc., began to shift because my priorities changed. I had to focus on writing and recovering from the writing. In retrospect, being more disciplined about my practice might have helped me roll with writing shit that comes up and school stuff, but ah well so it goes. I didn’t do that then.

When I moved back, I expected to jump back in with all my skill in tact like hey! READY! Nope. Did not work that way. It took months and maybe YEARS to get and surpass where I was when I left. Gah! Never again!

Things are shifting again. I no longer have a school or even a regular time that I practice at. This is a problem. I am worried about losing what I have gained through focused yet short practice. So I must get it back.

What I thought about today is how with writing whenever I feel like shit this is not working, how just doing something that I truly love –like have so much fun doing, brings me back. Recallibrates me. Today, I was like no, i HAVE to do tai chi during my lunch hour. Say what you like, but I can take at least 20-30 minutes and do a couple things with that. 

I did some of the stuff I usually do like I often start with a timed quiet standing. I time it so I don’t have to think about whether I’ve done it long enough. But really I do it so I can make sure I can still feel something when I do energy centric practice. I do 2 minutes though I feel something instantly in my forearms. Cool, checkmark. Then I just see if I can extend the feeling beyond my forearms. I try that until I figure out that my timer is going off and I’m not paying attention to it. I move on to something harder to do after this. Well, harder for me to do at least…

I ran through the whole Zheng Manqing 37 form. I usually don’t do that. I pick out a section or postures. Sometimes a sequence. I don’t always do the form as a whole because I feel more of a sustained stronger charge when I do postures or drills. When I do the whole thing, there are parts that are somewhat physically challenging while trying to do what I’m trying to do. At those points, I can lose my charge and literally be going through the motions. Not fun. I am less interested in that. It’s just not my thing to go through choreography. Which is why I do smaller sized movements and try to go deeper with them. 

So here was the learning today– I can get trapped into thinking that because I usually get what I’m looking for from the shorter practices that I should just concentrate that for my practice. Like when I’m really diligent with a certain drill or sequence, I can get a lot out of it. It’s not beginner’s luck, this happens every time I practice. Then, I go through a form and get overly critical about the parts that I’m not that great at. Like in this ZMQ37, I’m really not good at the whole Weaving Lady part AND IT PISSES ME OFF!! Okay, well, maybe it’s not that serious, but I don’t get much there energy wise as I do in other parts of the form. Which is totally fine except that I’m a perfectionist, haha… No but, going through the whole form was interesting. It got me thinking about different aspects I hadn’t considered and ways I could revamp my training.

Then I did some xingyi and so that is always been hardest for me, but I like to see where I can get with it. I did this drill from one of my teacher’s recent books and I’m like huh, I think I’m getting better at this! I feel more of what I think I’m supposed to be feeling. 

The thing is that today, while not necessarily a sort of omg I made such amazing discoveries!! 😍sort of moment, it was nice to just do the form and experience what popped up as I tried my best.

All this to say, that sometimes with getting back into practice, it’s good to just do it and pick something you either really enjoy doing or you know gets you results. 

Okay, I can pause here… For now.