A pivotal time when my life-changed directions was when I worked for XXX Healthcare in Consumer Sales back in the late 1990's. The job held some prestige and seemed more fun than it actually was. Taking the train to work and heading out to different sites in various places throughout Chicago had the allure of excitement. One of the ‘fun’ tasks of the job was to plan and host healthfairs. The employees usually were friendly and overall glad to be there away from their desks for a few hours. Occasionally there was a vendor offering free chair massages and healthy lunches for those who attended.
We would bring out our treasure chest with its small (fun) trinkets and a few big prizes. People would approach the table like little kids hopeful to win something big like a gift card to Trader Joe's. It was endearing to see the glee of the winners. Not so much glad for the gift card but more for being special and chosen as winner. They had hopeful smiles before picking the right ticket in the fish bowl. The ones who didn’t win already determined before picking that they wouldn’t—they would say something like ‘I never win anything’. I would try to undo their karma by saying—“the winners are always positive, think positive!”—it was too late though no one with a negative attitude ever won. When they didn’t pick the right ticket they would shrug their shoulders as affirmed, ‘see I was right, I never win.’ Not sure if the losers were just destined to their fate or if their mindset determined this. Even back then I started to realize that putting a thought out there can embody your reality.
We also provided free body fat testing and breast cancer prevention tips as well as other wellness program-offerings. These were educational programs aimed at assisting the consumers on the road to wellness and on our company’s road to lower costs. We didn’t necessarily have the best employee benefits but did have pretty awesome healthfair freebies. Employees especially loved the body fat testing that we did. We had a handheld gadget called a Futrex machine to measure body fat and this was an employee favorite. My boss, *Josephine whose motto was WIIFM--what’s in it for me? was a natural sales woman; she had a talent for making anything sound better than it was. About the same age as I, we were an unlikely pair but actually got along quite well. She had the allure of Chicago sophistication and was rail thin, wore designer clothing and shoes, with French manicured nails and often spoke of the valued added benefits that XXX offered as something much more special than I perceived them to be.
She, the natural saleswoman believed in the corporate rhetoric, and as my husband would say she was drinking the corporate cool aid. A few days before bringing out the machine to the customers we checked to make sure that it was working and practiced on each other. The first time we did this, I was horrified that *Jose’s body fat was a mere 19% and mine close to 30%. Another urbane woman, *Malory a younger version of Josephine who wore less expensive clothing but was still quite chic tested only slightly higher than Jose’s at 23%. Malory was often seen scarfing down McDonald’s at her desk and her low percentage often miffed me every time I walked by her cubicle. I silently would ask, ‘why is she blessed with a better fat percentage than I am?’
One of the patterns I started to notice with the body fat testing was weight didn’t matter. Although Josephine and Malory were both thin and had low percentages many times being thin didn’t make a difference with your overall body fat. You could be a seemingly skinny person who had a high fat percent or conversely a bigger person who was really thin. What I found in interviewing people was the one element that did matter was the intensity of their exercise program.
I had to admit to myself at that time that even though I thought myself “athletic” I really didn’t exercise routinely and needed to start to. It was interesting to try to guess what someone’s fat would be when they approached the table. You’d see a skinny man who didn’t work out and you would guesstimate fat fat fat and sure enough he would test high and then a boxy woman would tentative approach who jogged daily and you got to happily give her the news that she was really lean. Age of course factored in and the younger you were the more it worked against you. Even if your number was low you might still be on the body fat high side. It was enlightening to me to know that pounds were just one factor.
So in some ways this one machine really changed the direction of my life. Getting tested and seeing that I had a high number gave me the momentum to join a local gym and with it, the commitment to working out on a regular basis. At first I started with the treadmill and would just peer into the exercise classes but within the month I was joining them. It took me some time to find the correct rhythm to the aerobic workouts as a leftie, I always want to start from there. With time though I got the hang of starting with the right side and moved to the front of the class. Within the year my body fat percentages did moved in the right direction (but not as much as I hoped).
After one especially frustrating day at work, I had an epiphany that even though I did a decent job there in consumer sales, it really wasn’t want I was meant to do. That day was memorable, I standing at the copier machine reflecting hard on the changes I needed to make in my life. Was the money worth the stress, two-hour commute and time away from my family? Was this what I was meant to do? I picked up the phone and called my husband, ‘honey do you mind if I quit my job?’ With his full support I left the corporate world, and embarked on being a fitness teacher and a stay at home mom.
Not long after that, I received a few AFAA certifications that included kickboxing, my favorite at the time. After getting certified I was gun-hoe to teach and would practice teaching classes to my neighbor Cindy who was from New Jersey. Ever candid, she announced to me in her Jersey accent to keep practicing before I tried to get up in from of a class doing my routines. I guess teaching kickboxing in retrospect wasn’t my forte and soon after exercise segued into yoga and life took on a new shape.
I started practicing yoga in 1999 and teaching almost the same day. My practice might have started first. I am not sure. The beginner yoga tape that had me trembling in warrior two—I recall feeling a pull at my root chakra (pelvis) that I thoughtfully questioned as my thighs trembled with this not too unpleasant sensation. The camel pose that had me struggling with the thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me this is beginner’s material?’ Truly though it was the finale “savasana” or corpse pose this place of rest, that had me hooked.
About the same time that I quit XXX company, the seniors' class at the local Y asked me to take over for their yoga teacher who had left unexpectedly. I joined in as leader trying to preface the class as “stretch” as they waited patiently for me to catch on and learn the poses and figure out what 'pigeon' was.
A short time later I do recall that I started to get in to the groove of teaching “yoga” and found some funky new-age music that started to rock our classes which had them looking on curiously as if in wonder that maybe I was taking this a little too far. About the same time, I was starting to focus on my own yoga practice at the end of morning Spin and Body Pump and found myself dumbfounded when the teacher remarked that some people can even bind their arms around their back in a seated spinal twist, really?
Even before becoming a yogi I had the draping’s of one speaking in terms of karma. “What the hell is Karma?” Cindy my neighbor would ask when I mentioned it. Then one day she was watching Oprah and got it—she called me up and said, “Oh I get it now, Karma is just when you do shit to others then it comes back to you.” (Yeah, Cin that’s it.) Cin must have related to some of the woo woo stuff though. One time I went in for a past life reading at Dreamcatchers and the reader told me that Cin and I had been sister’s in a previous life and that she had been kidnapped. I thought Cindy would laugh when I told her what the psychic had said, but she replied that this didn’t surprise her. That she used to have a reoccurring dream of being chased that stopped the day she met me.
The day they moved to MA is as distinct in my mind as the day they arrived. Out in the front yard, hugging each other tearfully wondering if anything would ever be the same on that tame circle where we lived when they were gone, knowing I'd miss their unique brand of spiciness. Oddly though my grief was lifted that day. I cannot explain how but I was leadened with sadness one moment and the next the sensation of lightness was felt. Like the Universe needed me to see the new beginnings ahead of me and not look back. As, I turned towards my home my sadness evaporated like the dust of their passing car. I can only describe it now as grace. A message was being sent from Spirit,
Endings always portend new beginnings…
I keep thinking of my friend, Cin in Chicago who is now back living in the Midwest. I don’t speak with her but maybe once a year but she’s on my mind. I wonder if her number’s in my phone? I think. Hmm…I don’t think so. I go on Facebook to wish my nephew Conor a happy birthday and she (my friend Cin) instant messages me, “Hey what is going on with you?” she asks. I tell her I have been thinking about her. She says Ken is very unhappy in his job. “He’s miserable.” They are thinking of going back to New Jersey. I tell her that she needs to get a job in Grayslake. She and Ken moved back there a while ago with their two adopted daughters from China. Her daughter Catherine doesn’t want to move. They will adjust to us moving back. She says, “Hell they adjusted to Grayslake from China. I laugh and say, China might be more like Grayslake that New Jersey is. She humorously agrees. I give her my number and she calls me. I start to ‘read’ her and ask why is a library coming up around her? She tells me that she has volunteered in a school library for the last three years. I tell her to contact the library and they can help her. Help her find a teacher’s Aide job in their school. She doesn’t seem surprised by my reading of her or the cards that I draw for her. “What about Jersey?” she asks. I reply back, “ You need to get a job, Cin in Illinois. Call the library.” She seems slightly irked but tells me “I will, I will.” Before we hang up I tell her to visit us here in Asheville. “You will love it here Cin, all the hippies.” She says, “I hate hippies!” I tell her that I am a hippie and she likes me. “No you’re not, you’re just crazy.” We both laugh as we hang up.
Magick—Drop what you know…go back to the beginner’s mind…
(Ode to Ken August 2016) Why is grief so draining? Why does it make me want to sleep? Why does it encourage me to eat so many sweets? My body calling for serotonin? I took Theanine serene last night but it didn’t seem to help. My heart was pounding as I kept thinking of Cindy and Ken. Cin how she will miss Ken. They did everything together. Ken and how when I knew him he had a twinkly smile and how in recent picture on Facebook his smile is there but the twinkle in his eyes dimmer. His skin color pale.
I wonder how much of his life force was taken at work? Cin described to me over the phone the abuse he felt at his last job a year ago and how much he hated it. “That job is going to kill him!” I think those were her words and they turned out to be true, not dramatically said. In the end he did die way too young, ironically at a new job that he loved. How much of his dying young had to do with a father who died young too? How much of both of their dying young had to do with drinking too much alcohol? Being overweight? How much of it was just fate and the way his life was constructed to be? Maybe we are here for as long, as we need to to get what we came for?
It is hard to believe this though when you think of him leaving his wife that he very much loved and his two beautiful adopted daughters that you know will miss him tremendously. I am sadder than I thought I would be and more surprised than I should be. It was just so unbelievable to look at her text that her ‘Kenny is gone.’ How could he be here and then gone and I didn’t even get the chance to say goodbye. As I write this though the goodbye comes as I see him smiling down, his twinkly eyes looking at me, “Goodbye, Kristin.” Ommm..jai bhagwan my friend I say silently with my hands in Namaste and laughing and crying, hello and goodbye.
We moved not long after Cindy and her family did, but before we did we had a kitchen fire with my witch’s ball (the one Cindy had given to me) being the only thing to survive. My husband had just accepted a position back East and we had a planned move after the Christmas holiday. We had found a home in a suburb of Philadelphia and had a non contingent contract on it and an offer on our place in the Chicago suburb where we lived.
New beginnings were upon us and I had a moment of gratitude for ‘my life is perfect’ right before the bread went in the toaster and I went upstairs to shower. After 10 minutes in the shower it seemed strange to me that I was just then starting to smell burnt toast. As I wrapped myself in a towel and approached the stairs the billowing smoke welcomed me midway and when I enter the kitchen the toaster and cupboards were in flames. I tried to put the fire out with my wet towel to no avail and when I couldn’t find the extinguisher, I used baking soda. This had no effect on the fire and even though I wanted badly to control the situation I was unable to. I thought that maybe if I unplugged the toaster the electricity would stop feeding the fire. I stared mesmerized by the cord that had burned to the wire.
Just about then, I had an existential moment then a voice said--if you touch that cord all wet from your shower you will die. Then this voice said-you need to get out of the house now. I raced up the stairs realizing that the situation was out of my control. I remember it as a crisp cold December day. I ran up the stairs and was fumbling with a bra and then threw it aside talking to no one in particular—“I don’t need a bra!” I grabbed shorts and a t-shirt and ran across the street to Debbie and Mark’s shouting my kitchen is on fire, call 911. I sat on their stairs facing their own kitchen numb, my hair wet, in workout clothes, cold and shivering. Debbie looked over and said, what’s the number?” I looked at her like ‘do I need to make this call myself?' Repeating slowly 9 -1 -1. She giggled nervously and said no your house number?”
Most of the damage from the fire was a result of water that needed to put it out, the kitchen floor buckled, the air smelled of burned wood, we kept the heat off to stop the smell from circulating. When the fireman asked me what happened I had to wonder this myself. That day we move out and left for good and headed to Philadelphia to start our new life. My final words before putting the toast into the toaster was, “Thank you for my blessed life.” I had plans to go out to lunch with Jose, my former boss that afternoon. Her husband had been hired as a pilot by American Airlines just before 9/11, and had lost his job just days before when the airlines had a massive layoff. I was counting my blessing before putting the toast in the toaster as I stood over the witches ball hanging from a thin string overhead that my friend had sent from Salem. It has been said that out of the ashes the phoenix rises.
(The fire was later determined to have been caused by a faulty toaster. Allstate won the lawsuit against the maker of the toaster and the new owners were gifted with a beautiful new kitchen.)
When we moved to Philly in late 2001, I decided I would teach yoga and Pilates on a full time basis and immerse myself into the lifestyle. At the start of the New Year when we had gotten through the holidays, and out of temporary housing which we lived in for a month into our newer home outside of Philadelphia, I was soon hired to teach a combined Pilates/yoga class at the gym that I was a new member at.
New Year resolution in hand, I took a few certification through YogaFit in mid to late 2002 and was hired on by a few more gyms to teach hatha yoga (a gentler style of yoga). I remember attending my first power yoga class like it was yesterday. There was another yoga teacher who taught classes on my days off there. I decided to venture to one of hers one morning and was introduced to the concept of power yoga. I liked yoga but power yoga was something I fell totally in love with. It gave ‘yoga’ the charge that I was looking for.
She introduced me to crow pose and what vinyasa yoga was and I fell madly and deeply in love with this competitive style of fun. As a natural in yoga, I soon caught on to some of the arm balances that Erica, the young teacher was demonstrating. She was rather impressed and desperate enough to hire me on at her new studio in Lansdale.
My job was to start by teaching Pilates which promised decent pay as well as free classes. Donette a fellow teacher was teaching Bikram yoga, not quite as fun to me but I was curious on what the heating bill was given it was cracked up to over 100 degrees for that class. Erica was beautiful—long full dark blond hair with an alluring mystique, her body was curvy and she was blessed with even facial features. Slightly detached, her focus almost obsessively committed to the practice. She couldn’t have been more than 23 years old and was newly married. She had a slightly estranged relationship with her parents for religious reasons. She saw them as extremist in their beliefs—in retrospect she was extreme too but just in a different way.
She ate only raw food and I think she was one of the sole supporters of Arnold’s raw food bar in town. One day I went with her for a raw lunch and I felt like I floated home, not necessarily in a good way. I have dabbled in raw from time to time since, but guess I am too flighty to get the true benefits.
I don’t remember many students except Erica’s mom at the studio who liked my Pilates class, I suspect that she liked it because unlike yoga, Pilates didn’t have any religious tag associated with it. I often felt guilty taking her money as she was Erica’s mom, but she seemed fine with it. She was a friendly woman and Jehovah Witness and was just about the only student that I remember showing up.
The fun of that studio was I got to take classes for free and tried not to miss the Saturday advanced class that Erica offered. The class was comprised of mainly competitive athletic woman who had fun with poses like Bird of Paradise. A few of them went to a bar one Saturday night and were practicing different poses—later they reporting back on how well they perfected the bird or should I say how well they ‘planted’ it in the parking lot.
It was fun and exciting going to this hot “advanced” class on Saturday’s and learning new poses that Erica would introduce. One time we watched how she jumped into crow and another how to bind in crescent lunge twists. Once I took my teacher, friend Tom to class to introduce him to her, thinking he would be as enchanted by her inventiveness and genius as I - he left class speechless but in a different way after watching her demo jumping into crow but instead she jumped (that day) right through into the stereo system. Kind of like watching someone hit their head during a backflip on the diving board. Frightening to watch but at the same time mesmerizing.