Friday, November 14, 2008

"The name is Bond. James Bond."

“The name is Bond. James Bond.” I don’t think any catch phrase from any movie has had the kind of staying power that those six words--six syllables even---have had. The first James Bond picture, “Dr. No”, premiered in 1962, three and a half years before I was born. And, yet, I could probably recite the script word for word. One of my earliest memories is that of going to the drive in, in my pajamas, while my parents watched “Diamonds are forever”. I remember fixating on the idea of James Bond…whether played by Sean Connery or the newest Bond, Daniel Craig…as being the archetype for the uber cool, dangerously chic Englishman. I realize that every Bond fan has a ‘favorite Bond’, but honestly, I think each actor has made the role his own, and has stepped into the very large shoes of the very large character.

So, what is it about James Bond that makes every woman swoon, and every man want to be him? Is it the impeccable Saville Row wardrobe? Or the extraordinary cars? What about those unbelievably ‘imagineered’ gadgets that Q seems to come up with next? I believe that all of these are true, and yet, there is more to the appeal of James Bond than dapper dinner jackets, witty come backs and the latest Aston-Martin. There is the mythology of a strong man, doing his best to save the world, and coming up against incredible odds. Despite the fact that I’m a particularly “girly girl”, even I’ve always wondered how I would fare pitted some of Bond’s nemeses. I think it’s fun to imagine crossing intellectual paths with Goldfinger or testing my strength against Jaws….or even what holding a Walther PPK would feel like in my hands…and I’m pro-gun control. Because good always does prevail in Bond movies, you know that Bond will always triumph. And, through him, we can envision our own triumphs against unseen, wicked forces. It’s a very powerful feeling to be able to put yourself into a place of complete surrender to a noble cause. And, through James Bond, we can do this in our pajamas with a DVD without ever having to leave the safety of home, thanks to Netflix. Those villains can devise complicated assassinations and challenging scenarios for maximum destruction, and we can defeat them…from the safety of our local movie theatre, or even our own living rooms.

Good against evil has been the earliest told story. The snake appearing in the Garden of Eden. Cain and Abel. Pharoah and Moses. The Romans persecution of the early Christian church. But our Judeo-Christian traditions aren’t our only source for Good Vs. Evil culturally. Almost every civilization has this same theme in its roots. In South America, the ancient god Mayan Guinechen fights the evil god Guecufu in a never ending battle for the enternal safety of the universe. In ancient Persia, the Zoroastrian concept of good and evil came in the form of Ahura Mazda and his twin, Angra Mainyu. According to texts, these brothers fight for the souls, the safety and the very nature of the universe. Globally, we are human beings eager for understanding the conflict, and the concepts of good and evil. We believe that by understanding the conflict, we can overcome it. When it comes right down to it, I am just as afraid of evil as the next woman. But, I have a deep and abiding faith that all will well in the end. I believe this is one reason why James Bond has such a strong appeal. James Bond, as we know, is far from perfect, but he always triumphs, no matter how dire his circumstances appear to be.

In Yoga, one of the reasons I enjoy practicing inversions is the sense of mastery over gravity. Inversions are incredible for your body in many ways: they help improve circulation and the immune system, as well as assist in overcoming sleep disorders. Shoulder stand is an incredibly empowering pose. I try to offer it at least once a week in my classes. In shoulder stand, the yogini is required not to look to either side but straight up, against the flow of nature. One’s core strength is built, as well as one’s sense of accomplishment and confidence. Shoulder stand literally sets one apart from the usual ‘stand on your feet’ posture. It’s an overcoming of the laws of nature, as we know them, and it’s all within our control. I have to admit that the first time I attempted shoulder stand, it was not a pretty sight. My shoulders felt unbalanced, my belly felt weak and my legs began to shake. I was sure the entire class would point and laugh. But, within a very short time, I discovered this was one of my favorite asanas. Not only does it feel great for your back and core, but it always leaves you with a heady feeling of triumph. Although I’ve been practicing Yoga for many years now, I still want to come out of shoulder stand and clap in victory!

Like James Bond, we all have the possibility to accomplish "good" over a wrong in our lives. It’s unlikely we’ll need to speed away in a car chase on the French Riviera, but every day we’re presented with choices. Some are ‘small evils’…such as having that caffeine late in the day. Others are big ones…such as overcoming addiction. But, we are all faced with the inevitable consequences of our actions. How we decide to choose good will be an individual decision. And, goodness, as a choice, is not always easy. But, when you’re pressed to do what’s ‘easy’, as opposed to what’s ‘right’, imagine yourself to be James Bond: strong, powerful and able to overcome all difficult scenarios. Look deep into your character and ask yourself, “Is it right or is it wrong?” before making your decision.

And, then, hop into your Alfa Romeo and drive away into the sunset…or better yet, to see the “Quantum of Solace”.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Food ! Glorious Food !

"Food, like a loving touch or a glimpse of divine power, has that ability to comfort." Norman Kolpas

There is something about this time of year that begs to mind the idea of comfort food. We all want to curl up with a plate of something warm, something inviting, something simple and something nourishing. We want to taste, smell and remember foods that we ate as children. We hope those foods will bring back that simplicity and sense of safety. On gray November days, we crave those tastes that made us pause, as children, and take in the aroma of a meal we knew would make us happy. Although my father used to joke that my mom made one meal per month, and was a magician about stretching out the leftovers into ‘new choices’, I can’t help but smell Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls, Meatloaf or Pot Roast without thinking of “home”. Additionally, as we think ahead to the holidays, we can’t help but remember our extended families. To this day, when I have turkey and stuffing, I think of my cousins, and of the hijinks from the “kids’ table” at my Aunt Toots’ house every Thanksgiving. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun, or have laughed as hard, as I did during the “old days” of creating havoc in a house full of relatives. We were awful ! We would climb the stairs from the outside of the railing and jump down. We ran wild like banshees until it was time to be called in to the most delicious meal of the year.

So, it’s safe to ask, is it the food itself that makes us reminisce about carefree times ? Or is it the memories that go along with the way our sense are effected ? It’s common knowledge that smell is the most powerful of all of our senses. When times get tough, or even just the days grow shorter, we crave things that will evoke positive experiences and happier times. Since many of us love food, it’s only reasonable that comfort foods should make us feel better. Now that my daughter is away at school, even with a good cafeteria, the one thing she expresses missing is “home cooking”. So, when she’s home on break, I make sure to make her favorites; chicken pot pie, spaghetti and meatballs and Beef Stroganoff. These are the foods she thinks of as meaning “home” to her. We may all have different experiences as to what we crave when we’re feeling blue, but we know them because they have a special place in our hearts…and in our stomachs.

In Yoga, many people have a “comfort pose”. My friend, Tammie, could do the “Crow” pose with ease, and I envied her talent. But, to her, it felt good and she was able to feel that “sweet spot” in which you feel completely at ease in an asana. While this wasn’t my personal comfort pose, I found it profound to watch her in her own element. Yoga not only brings us comfort poses for ourselves, but if you practice with friends, you will learn about their specialties too…in much the same way we learn about one another’s comfort foods. When I think of specific dishes, I often think of friends and family who love them, and I smile in remembrance. In the same way, if we practice Yoga with friends, we can be reminded of them when we practice a specific pose.

Since I’m a believer in “all things in moderation”, I don’t have a problem with comfort foods. But, the “diet police” often frown upon many foods we all want as comfort. If you live a well balanced lifestyle, full of fresh air, good nutrition, healthy exercise and lots of water, I can’t see why a reasonable sized piece of your Grandma’s recipe for chocolate fudge cake is going to hurt. Life is too short to deny ourselves the good memories…and the good tastes that go with them.
"Food is not about impressing people. It's about making them feel comfortable." Ina Garten, 'The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook'

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Hakuna Matata, metaphorically speaking

The first Broadway show I took my children to see was the “Lion King”. Because they had seen the movie version, and they knew all the music, I thought that it would be much easier for them to sit through the theatrical production. We went to New York with our dearest friends, and bookending the children in between us, we were prepared for any eventuality of meltdown behavior. What happened was amazing! Our children, at the time 6 and 4, were mesmerized by the show. The sang along to “Hakuna Matata”, and they waived their toy Pumbas and Timons over their heads…like lighters at a rock concert. All in all, it was an extraordinary first Broadway for them.

One confusing thing that did happen was not to my children, but rather, to me. In the beginning of the 2nd act, trapeze artists were cavorting, twirling and swinging above the heads of the actors playing Simba and Nala. Lush green “stage” vines came from the ceiling and the acrobats flew through the airs on them, always in pairs. It simply didn’t fit with what I knew of the story. So, loudly whispering (despite my reminding my children to be quiet in the theater) to my friend, Debra, I said, “I don’t get it ! What are they doing ?”. Deb whispered back, just as loudly, “Love is in the air ! It’s a METAPHOR !” I’m sure we were on the receiving end up some ugly glances from the people behind us, but I was so shocked that I “missed” what was, quite literally, flying over my head.

How often in life do we miss something that’s right in front of our faces ? How many times does a deeper meaning just pass right over us ? How often do we simply not notice the details of other peoples’ lives ? How many times do we skip right over a person’s response, when we say “How are you ?” In Yoga, we choose to look deeper into life; in body, mind & spirit. We make a conscious effort to look beyond the surface meanings of an action, and move into the next level. We attempt to work through physical asanas, as we find the next layer of ourselves hidden beneath. In short, we’re looking for the metaphors in our lives. We hope and choose to discover what each symbol in our life choices has made for us, and looking back, we can reflect on the trail of breadcrumbs, metaphorically speaking, we have left behind. As we gain insight into our own understanding of ourselves, why we are the way we are, and who we could be, we can also grow in our understanding of others, especially those most dear to us. As we practice “Lion Pose”, we are called to look inward, as we release tension outwardly. This juxtaposition of gazing inward, and exhaling out, helps us to gain insight into our body/mind connection.

That isn’t to say that every comment a loved one makes is on multiple levels. Nothing annoys my husband and teenage son more than when I say “But, how do you REALLY feel ?”, when asking them about how an activity, a day or a game went. I understand that, at times, I do tend to look under rocks where there aren’t any. That is to say “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”, and sometimes “It was fine” is an appropriate answer. So, while digging under the surface is good, at the end of the day, we just have to remember Hakuna Matata…no worries….and open our eyes to see what we are meant to see. But, it's always good to look up and notice if love is in the air.
"Oh yes, the past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or... learn from it. " ~ Rafiki, from "The Lion King"

Monday, November 10, 2008


Adoption is a topic that many families experience, and most of us know a friend who was, herself, adopted, or who has adopted a child. For most families, this is an enriching, wonderful and miraculous experience. My husband and I know nearly as many couples who have chosen to adopt, as we do couples with their own biological children. Many families encompass a mixture of the two. In the families we know, with both adopted and biological children, all of the children are siblings. There are no favorites. There is no gold ring or first prize for coming into a family one way or another. Adoptive families are just like biological ones. We all have our good days and our bad days with our children. We love them, and we want what’s best for them. Children of the heart come into our lives through many ways, and every adoptive mother I know has said that the pain of infertility showed her that it was meant to be…otherwise she would not have the children she does. . Regardless of the circumstances of the adoption, I believe most, if not all, families find a sense of miracle in their new children, and in their new family lives.

None of our friends have had children curious, or ask, about their biological parents to the point of searching for them. But, I do know that many children will, eventually, have a desire to know where they came from originally. I believe this is an extremely natural reaction, especially as children grow up and are in search of their own identities. However, what do you do if your searching, adult child runs into a mystery surrounding her origins ? Most adoptive parents have some vague idea of their child’s birth parents, or at the very least, the town in which the child was born. But, often, especially with international adoption, it’s frustrating and difficult to track down much more information, beyond what the families were initially given.

Because adoption has touched our lives, through our friends, so deeply, I read “The Singing Bird” by Roisin McCauely so closely. This isn’t a run of the mill, heart warming reunion story. It’s a mystery, and it’s a thriller, with the Catholic church poised center stage. The protagonist, Lena Malloy, was born in Ireland, and was adopted by American parents. In her search to truly understand who she is, and where she came from, Lena unwittingly opens a can of sinful worms, as she discovers the truth about her past. The Catholic adoption agency her family used created a smoke screen, and very little trail to follow, as Lena uncovers one sad, but unpredictable fact after another. The journey is both spine-tingling and deeply intriguing. Because I adore novels in which the twists and turns the plot takes are not predictable, this book kept me on the edge of my seat. At the same time, I grew as curious as Lena to find out the truth behind her adoption. Additionally, this novel is set in Ireland, which is one of the dream trips I hope to take someday, and each new location makes me want to add that spot to my list of “must visits”. This novel is most certainly a work of fiction, but begs questions to be asked and answered. Even if adoption hasn’t touched your life, you may find the search for truth, at the very heart of the book, to provide a compelling tale.

In Yoga, we use the term “adopt” a great deal. We speak of “adopting” poses, attitudes or mindfulness. These semantics take nothing away from the adoption of a child, or the creation of a new family. But, in a sense, we hope to embrace the same effect of ‘newness’ in the way in which we approach each practice time on the mat. In “Bird of Paradise” pose, we have to adopt a completely new sense of balance and flexibility. Ironically, these are two terms I’ve heard new adoptive mothers use as well: being able to balance their new child’s needs and being flexible to her schedule. However, in “Bird of Paradise”, our hips are opened in a completely new way, and it may be painful initially in both the knee joint and hip flexors. However, after a short time, it’s an asana that many people begin to request more frequently in my classes. In short, it shares adjectives with adoption: scary, new, opening, and finally, relaxing.

Adoption is a wonderful gift to many families. Additionally, the adoption of new practices in our lives, as well as wonderful books, can bring an awful lot of joy. Nothing is ever easy. But, with patience, persistence and a great deal of love, it’s amazing what one can accomplish.