Yom Kippur Yogi

Going the “wrong” way might just be what you need.

One grey Yom Kippur morning in September 2007, I awoke early to walk with Mark to our synagogue in Rockville Centre and then I would go on my way to visit a neighbors’ mother who had recently suffered a series of strokes and was in a nursing home right nearby.

Mark and I came from two distinct Jewish backgrounds, his was traditional he had gone to Hebrew School and became a Bar Mitzvah his parents kept kosher. He knew how things worked.

My family was the opposite no formal Jewish education. However,
Mark once said to me about Yom Kippur. “Even the most un-Jewish Jew knows about this day.”  True that.

In the simplest of terms Yom Kippur is a high holy and most solemn day of atonement. It is connected to the Days of Awe known as Rosh Hashanah or the Jewish New Year. During this time of reflection Jews pray to God, looking inward to see what things might need to change On Yom Kippur, even the simplest of acts including eating and drinking , looking in the mirror are not done. We fast. We pray. We ask for forgiveness for our sins and to be given another chance to begin anew to be inscribed in the book of life. At the end of this most solemn day we eat, we share a blessed meal with family and loved ones. Everyone is so glad we made it and gratefully we eat with gusto.

On this particular Yom Kippur morning, I walked Mark the 1.7 miles to Temple B’nai Sholom in Rockville Centre and then left him at the front door. I would be back later to be with him. Right then I was a woman on a mission to visit a person who, not very long after my visit, passed on. The nursing care center was just a block or two away. “You are a wandering Jew, on Yom Kippur. You should be in the “shul” atoning for your sins.” Instead I chose first to go see a person who needed a visit and I hoped I would be forgiven for not going into the synagogue right then.

I turned in what I thought was the right direction to go on my short journey to see Margaret. Somehow I turned wrong and instead of the nursing home, I found myself in front of St. Mark’s Church on Hempstead Avenue in Rockville Centre. On the lawn facing me was a large rectangular purple and golden carved wooden sign that read, “Divine Yoga”, with a phone number.

I had been a yoga practitioner for at least 25 years by then and was looking for a new place to practice.

It was Mark who first suggested that I go find my yoga when we lived Park Slope, Brooklyn in the 1980’s. Back then there wasn’t a yoga studio on every street corner. I had to search around to find a class.
I found yoga to be a bit annoying at first, the strange breathing, weird sounds, the chanting Sanskrit, and worse, looking at someone’s bottom in gray sweatpants almost sent me running for the exits. This was pre-Lululemon yoga wear.

Instead I kept looking for my yoga and eventually found Yoga Zone on the east side of Manhattan across town from my office on 54th street. It was an a oasis of calm a respite from my hectic job.

Living on the south shore of Long Island has it benefits, close to beautiful beaches and 35 minutes into Manhattan on the Long Island Railroad. One big drawback was that in 1989 when we moved to Rockville Centre from Brooklyn, yoga studios on the south shore were non-existent. I either practiced in the city or had to travel to Glen Head on the north shore where there was another Yoga Zone studio.

When Yoga Zone closed in Glen Head closed I was bereft. I tried Bikram yoga a kind of yoga known as hot yoga, that has 26 sequential poses done in a 102 degree room. A Bikram yoga studio opened in town and, at first I was glad it was there even though it wasn’t quite what I was looking for, but, It wasn’t for me, I got bored with the same 26 poses over and over. The sweat and steam made my hair frizz and it caused a skin issue that was dreadful and that I won’t go into detail about here.

So there I stood on that gray Yom Kippur morning in 2007. How odd I thought, “I have never noticed this sign before and I know I have been past St. Mark’s church many times. “

Mark would say to me that things come into view that were always there but went unnoticed or “the teacher can teach when the student is ready to learn.” It was my moment to find Divine Yoga.

As I stood there facing St. Mark’s church a soft but soon steady rain started to fall. Although I love walking in the rain, I did not have an umbrella and my first thought was, “Ooooh- nooo my hair is going to frizz.“ The curly-haired girls lament.

I spotted a door facing me on the north side of the church, not the main sanctuary door in the front, but another entrance visible from my vantage point… I sprinted toward the door hoping it would be open, I was eager to get out of the rain. It was Yom Kippur and if my hair got ruined I was going to have to live with it until after sundown.

When I pushed the large, heavy wood door, it opened and I was standing in a small vestibule: stairs facing me going up and stairs to my right going down with a mahogany banister

To my left there was a bulletin board decorated in the same colors as the sign on the lawn of the church. Emblazoned with purple and gold letters, the bulletin board was artfully designed with a golden container fastened to the board with the Divine Yoga schedules. I took one down. There was a full schedule of classes including one I had heard of but never tried before: Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan.

‘Kundalini yoga?’ Something I wanted to try though I knew not what it was and I was on the lookout looking for a shift in my yoga practice, I wanted something more, was it possible that Kundalini yoga was it?

At the time I did not know it but when I opened that door I found something deep that I sought but had not found.

My walk in the rain led me to a community of friends that would be more important to me than I could have possibly ever imagined at the time. Mark had always encouraged, no pushed me to have more of my own friends not just “our friends” but ones that are mine.

I did not know on that rainy Yom Kippur day in September 2007 when I found Divine Yoga that Mark’s life and mine was soon going to be turned upside down.

I found friends who would be there for me and for Mark in an as yet unknown future crisis.

All because I took a “wrong” turn.

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Divine Yogis with Mark, me Arlene Lucas, Joan Kremen
Divine Yogis with Mark, me Arlene Lucas, Joan Kremen

After Loss Don’t Skip Steps

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Judi, a psychic I have known for about 30 years, recently told me my Life Purpose was to share my experiences as a wife who became a widow.

At first this felt heavy. I thought, “In some cultures I would be relegated to wearing black clothes in perpetuity,” however being a native New Yorker the majority of my wardrobe is black so no big deal there. It’s the other part, the being the Widow, with a capital “W” that means being in mourning forever.

This being a widow thing is very tricky. It’s been less than two years and I still miss Mark, and I have had to work on myself, my broken heart everyday to get through this. I make a daily choice to be open, grateful and loving especially when I want to feel sorry for myself.

I lived half of my life with Mark. He will always be in my heart. Most times I want him to walk through the door. Often I feel like he is guiding me, some days more than others, I know his energy is there, it’s like a whisper like in the Kundalini yoga chant, SA TA NA MA.

In life Mark was subtle about things.  He did not make big noises he disliked showing off. Mark did things well and quietly on this side so he would not be loud and noisy on the other side.

Oddly, when I gave up the constant longing to have him come back, I could sense him much more. He would come to me in my dreams which until he died, I never remembered. Giving up the longing the wishing, the begging and bargaining to get him back took a lot of work on my part. The truth is I am unable to let go of Mark. He’s my guy, always and forever even though he told me to find another one. Perhaps one day I will but I have realized I cannot skip steps. I must find me all over again first. Who am I now without Mark? He was very specific. He said, “Be happy” The question for me now is what does that mean?

To say I am an expert at this would be untrue but if what I write here helps you that is a good thing. Mark died less than two years ago and it took me a while to scrape myself up off the floor. I have to keep going but the big question is how?

When Mark first died, I wanted to do the same because I wanted to be with him. But that passed. When I went to a bereavement group I discovered that the way I felt, others felt the same way. Being understood does help. It is important to take the time to grieve and go through the mourning. There are no shortcuts and it is okay to be sad for as long as you need to. It’s when it turns to complete depression and you become unable to function, that is a danger sign. Pay attention to how you are

A daily cry is cleansing. Yes, I do have a daily cry. Right after Mark died I couldn’t cry. I felt as if I was a block of frozen peas. I felt nothing except stunned.

People commented on how “calm” and “collected” I was. While I am not one for public displays of tears,  I couldn’t have cried if I wanted to, I was frozen solid.

In my bereavement group we looked at what are commonly known as “grief triggers” and to find ways to avoid them. For some people this may work but I think it is just kicking the can down the road.

My point of view is different. I come down on the side of running right at the grief. That by facing the intense sorrow I can go on for another moment, and then another and another. This is not an easy thing to do. What I discovered was the deeper I stepped into the places that hurt, my heart heals just a teeny  bit. I sought the tears. I sought the hurt and pain of missing Mark. I remember how lucky having been married to Mark. How blessed to be  in  a family that cares about me. How fortunate to have many loving friends. And to have my beautiful dog Clinton by my side, he makes me go out and take long walks.

Some people never get any of that. Still I wanted him back.

Another thing I learned in bereavement group was about his “stuff” Some of the women in the group said, “Get rid of his clothes right away they will remind you of him.”

I am pretty sure they were sorry later. My way of looking at his belongings was “please remind me of him,” and  I spent many hours sitting on the floor of his closet in tears.

While this may sound a bit dramatic, I felt a connection to him and to the memories that went along with each article of clothing. The grey chalk stripe suit from Barney’s reminded me of the day we went to Barney’s big warehouse sale. I could see his handsome face, his shiny black hair and how good he looked in that suit. On the shelf above my head, his perfectly polished black Frye dress boots, his well worn jeans with the ripped knee, the nearly threadbare Maverick denim jacket he used as a pillow on the cross-country trip he took in his tan Volkswagen square-back, his freshly washed hoodies that he wore to warm up after roller skating.

How could I let them go?

One day after a year had passed I donated some of his best suits, blazers, dress pants and shirts to a charity that helps men get interview ready. Mark’s suits were like new because he was very particular, bordering on fussy, about his clothes. Mark’s impeccably good-looking suits would help someone to possibly get the job they wanted and in some way Mark’s generosity and kindness would live on.

One item Mark’s soft, green terry cloth bathrobe that I bought him for his birthday so many years ago is a cherished possession. I wear it as my own, softened to just the right degree of cozy comfort, his spicy vanilla scent still lingers ever so slightly so that I can catch a gentle whiff of him.

When I was in the frozen food state, I thought, “Something has to be done about this, it just cannot be healthy to live this way” I was concerned I would get sick if I didn’t start to release the pain in some way. This widow thing was not easy.

I began watching movies. I couldn’t sleep anyway, I didn’t want to. Sleeping was too sad, without Mark.  I settled into my cozy couch with my soft, fleecy, blanket armed with a box of tissues and a glass of chardonnay. My best buddy Clinton my big sweet gentle, handsome,  brown rescue dog was at my feet. I flicked on the television. I started my search for just the right film to begin the big defrost. My gut told me that if I could start to cry, I would eventually be okay. Here are just a few that were good for a cry.

It started with “The Notebook” with Rachel McAdams, Ryan Gosling, James Garner and Gena Rowlands. One night I turned to STARZ romance and I hit pay dirt: the ultimate tear-jerker, chick flick, heart-breaking love story. I could not believe my good fortune. Corny,yes. Trite, for sure but it helped. From there, I began my daily, nightly search for movies to help me mourn, to be as miserable and tearful as possible. The movies made me face what my life as it is now, sad, tearful feeling a little lost. They were also transporting.

Next up was “Hope Springs” with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones. Mark and I had our struggles in our marriage and like the couple in the movie we overcame them.    When Tommy Lee Jones plays Al Green’s version of “Let’s Stay Together”, I fall to pieces, crying loudly.

Loved it! I downloaded the song from  iTunes so I could access that sadness again and let it rip when I need to. Music is on the grief trigger hit list so I made it my business to create a playlist that would get me started. I just had to make sure I wasn’t driving or I would have to pull over. Now, when I hear a song that helps me to get access to my grief I add it to my playlist. Movies and music: a perfect combination for getting through the sorrow and finding a way to little moments of happiness again.

“Love Actually” starring Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Laura Linney Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, Bill Nighy Liam Neeson that has many moments in it for a good cry, especially the closing scene over-dubbed with the Beach Boys, “God Only Knows What I’d be Without You” The song went on my playlist.

Here’s what I have learned. Don’t skip steps. Get help with the grief and the mourning. If you think you can do it alone, you cannot. Find help, that really helps you.  I practice yoga, I meditate and often cry my way through to feeling okay again. When I meditate I can connect with Mark and let him know I am okay. And I am in a community of people I care about who knew Mark and know me.

I went to two rounds of a bereavement group, worked with a bereavement counselor on the phone and met with the same therapist that Mark and I went to when we hit some rough patches along the way. Seeing our shrink from years ago has been a real gift for me mostly because she knew him and I could talk about him once a week for 50 minutes non-stop if I needed to, how else was I going to move through this?

Mark was relatively young, handsome, vibrant, never sick and then diagnosed with a nasty cancer and now dead.

No amount of anything is preparation for that. But the sun will come out tomorrow. I might as well be ready for it.

Love and light to you. Nancy

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Cleansing body, mind spirit

Today is day one of the Divine Yoga team cleanse. How we at Divine Yoga do this is working with coach Judy Griffin of Nourishing solutions 4 Life we cook one meal each over the course of the 7 days for the 14 participants.
I was up first and made a Fall Root Vegetable Soup with organic turnips, parsnips, carrots pearls onions and quinoa in organic vegetable broth.

As I prepare my meal I clear my mind of extraneous negative thought and read aloud a prayer from Guru Nam found in The Chakra Mantra Cookbook along with this very hearty, healthy recipe.

The prayer is for healing, grace and good energy being sent to my cleanse teammates by way of the meal I share as my contribution to our journey.

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Holy Shift! Kundalini to the rescue

Shift Happens!Sometimes in big piles.

John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” (As it happens he is not the first but probably the most famous to say that and boy is it true)

About two years ago shifts happened all over my life. On the very same day (March 12, 2008) my handsome vibrant  husband Mark was diagnosed with a rare  very- difficult- to -treat cancer and my mother died.

No joke all on the same day.

And then about a month later, my beautiful german shepherd Lucy was diagnosed with a rare untreatable cancer and we had to put her down or she would just bleed to death.

It was like an earthquake in my life without all the destruction and debris, except for one thing, I practice Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan at Divine Yoga in Rockville Centre, NY. My teacher, Arlene Lucas brought me through this so that I could be in a place of grace and calm rather than upset, fear and worry.

Really what is the point? Who is it for? The person in distress does not need my upset do they?

What  Kundalini yoga gives me is a technology to clear out fear, anger pain, blame and upset. It helps me to be a wizard and warrior in my life no matter what is happening.

Forget positive thinking this yoga works on the a cellular level that actually has helped me to stay sane, stay loving, compassionate and peaceful without even trying. Sometimes I blow it but mostly I am free from the madness that this storm that came swirling into my life could possibly cause.  And believe you me a friend or two thought I was  a cold, unfeeling bitch ( a few still do) because I am not running around wringing my hands.

Who exactly does that help?  If I want to be there for my husband it’s up to me to hold the space of loving kindness for him. Coming from a place of “I am so worried” makes it all about me, no?

And by the way I do cry. After my yoga class I get into my car and sit there for a few minutes and cry just like Holly Hunter in Broadcast News. And then, poof, like magic I am free to be the best me I can be for my handsome generous husband who has always been there for me.

Shift does indeed happen. Just glad it’s not really an earthquake.

So how do you get some of that energy?

If you are in NY or coming for a visit come to Divine Yoga in Rockville Centre. We have had visitors from near and far including Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles.

And special note:  there is a Wednesday class called “Living with Cancer” with all proceeds going to the American Cancer Society.  If you live on Long Island or know someone there who is fighting cancer or you are a caregiver who needs some TLC,  go to this class. It is an hour of restoration and healing and yogi tea.

Check it out http://www.divineyogany. com