The Dharma of Being You: Ain’t That a Kick in the Head?

I went to my Friday a.m. yoga class and it began with the teacher, Susan, invoking the Bhagavad Gita and a podcast she recently listened to from Hetain Patel, who said “every time I fail to become more like my father, I become more like myself.” The gist of it is that we shouldn’t waste our time trying to emulate aspects of other people we admire—we should become more authentically ourselves. The BG says something to the effect of “it is better to do your own dharma imperfectly than to do someone else’s dharma perfectly.” The closer we get trying to emulate someone else, the less like ourselves we become. It’s such a great lifelong lesson, one I wish someone would teach to every adolescent in this country. But that’s another story.

How foretelling this would be, I had no idea when class began. About halfway through, we went to do pincha mayurasana in the middle of the room, with a partner for assistance. We were instructed to do it twice, kicking up with both legs. So I usually swing right and get up easily. Krissy was my expert assist and I was very close to getting up and sustaining it on my own with no wall, no falling. I must pause here for a second. This in and of itself is an accomplishment. Just a few months ago I was feeling the pose approach, puzzling over how a pose that you get into via momentum of leg kicking becomes something you can do with ease, away from the wall. How do you stop yourself? It’s a reminder that yoga is such a feel-it-out practice; it is not a think-it-through endeavor, although afterward I love deconstructing a pose with the best of ‘em. But as a rule, you have to get out of your head and drop totally into your body when you go upside down.

So, when I switched to using the left leg, I overdid it. On the third kick, I was so off kilter that I kicked Krissy in the side of face. I seriously hope she’s okay tomorrow. I came down hard on the left knee. It was so bizarre. Susan said, “What happened, did you have a spaz attack?” And I said, “Yes, that’s a perfect way to describe it.”

Later in the practice, we did some binding, which I don’t typically enjoy because I always need a strap. There are only so many things someone with short arms and a long torso can do in these situations. It’s frustrating to feel your limitations, especially when it comes ladled on top of a weird experiences such as kicking a teacher-classmate in the face. When there are binds with funky transitions to things like compass pose and then a final end in an arm balance, well, you lose me three quarters of the way through. Not my favorite, but it is what it is, and it’s all part of a practice.

We then moved to the wall, and did some more pincha: regular, followed by hollow back, followed by scorpion. Well, I could not get myself up into a sustained pincha to save my life, for either of the first two. I got into child’s pose and just started crying. I tried to stop judging myself;  my practice is my practice, but it just happens to be public right now. And I admonished myself for not practicing enough at home so that this would be effortless every time, like it seems to be for most other people (I know, problem number one—a ridiculous assumption on my part, but there it is, as fleeting as it was.) I wish I had more spare time to tinker with my poses. Way to go, yoga, for pushing all my creaky old buttons, yet again!

Something wacky happened on the third try, with the scorpion feet. I positioned myself without even thinking about it, and my hips magically floated me up. Suddenly, I was airborne, then tops of the feet took the wall, toes facing down. Magically, out of nowhere, Susan emerged to give me a lift under the sacrum and lower back. If I had the energy to do it again, I would have pulled away from the wall; I was a little crunched and didn’t want to aggravate a weird muscle pull I tweaked a couple weeks ago.

So what’s the point of all this? The point is, we can’t compare ourselves to other people. We can’t even compare ourselves to who we were the day before, the hour before, the minute before. This is liberating and frustrating at the same time. I once remember reading Wayne Dyer talk about how our cells are constantly changing, every second, so that the person I was when I sat down ten minutes ago to start this blog post isn’t the same person I am now. Whoa. Kind of heady, right?

In thinking about this and talking about it, I described this as “my pincha broke today.” Just when you think you have a pose, or you know something, or can do something, your head and your body sometimes don’t cooperate and you’re in a different place with it. I’m not back to square one, exactly. But it’s another reminder to drop any expectations and remain a detached observer. I guess today my dharma was to see what happened when I used an unfamiliar route to a familiar pose, and not let it all get stuck in my head. Even if that meant kicking someone else in the head.

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12 2014

Chinese Five-Spice Snickerdoodles, plus nutmeg!

Less chatter, more cookies. Let’s get to it. This cookie came together organically and fast.

This is a riff on John’s grandmother’s snickerdoodle recipe, a reliable crowd pleaser that for some odd reason I only make during the holidays. I received a shipment from Penzey’s right before Thanksgiving containing Chinese five-spice powder. I know you can make this on your own (Penzey’s has cinnamon, star anise, anise seed, cloves and ginger), but the heady aroma coming from that jar was better than any combo I put together on my own.

I also ordered nutmeg and rediscovered my nutmeg grinder, which had become lost in the drawer. My son Desmond has become obsessed with egg nog and nutmeg, reminding me yet again that threads of my mom passed over onto him after she herself passed. (That woman LOVED egg nog and rocked the best spiked nog every Christmas. No doubt.) So I just threw this altogether. I made a crucial change in the amount of fat. The original recipe called for a cup of shortening, so not only did I cut back on the total fat, I redistributed it between butter and Earth Balance shortening (Crisco is far too greasy). I also slightly reduced the amount of sugar, and added vanilla extract where there was none.

Chinese Five-Spice (plus nutmeg!) Snickerdoodles


  • 1/2 cup unsalted organic butter, room temperature
  • 5 T. shortening
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. Chinese five-spice
  • 1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and line two baking sheets with parchment or Silpat, or grease them.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the shortening, butter and  1 1/4 cups sugar at medium speed until it’s fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and combine.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Add the flour to the butter-sugar combo, mixing on low speed just until the flour has been absorbed into the batter.
  4. Combine the 1/4 cup sugar with the spices in a small bowl. Scoop out teaspoon-sized balls of dough and roll them lightly between the palms of your hands. Drop them into the bowl of spices and sugar to coat and load them up onto the cookie sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Note: I fit a dozen apiece on two cookie sheets, baked them together, and then repeated the whole process a second time.
  5. Bake for 8-10 minutes until they’re starting to brown around the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the sheet for a few minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yield: About 4 dozen


12 2014