Saturday, December 31, 2016

From Yoga, I Reach

From Yoga, I Reach

My feet.
My feet pressing firmly into my mat,
I know the smooth, the sticky, and the grit.
I know the Earth beneath me.
Pressing firmly into my past,
I know the heartache, the soul-ache, the life-ache.
From my feet, I reach. 

My legs.
I hug in from my skin, to my muscle, to my bones.
The same bones I have, in past, forgotten.
The same bones, from which I have asked too much.
The same bones I have stressed to break.
From my bones, I reach.

My belly.  
With feet grounded and legs strong,
I find the very core of me.
I pull in and up.
I lift my place of first connection to my heart.
From the place where I know things,
when I really know.
From my belly, I reach. 

My lungs.
With my lungs, I breathe 
The breath of life.
I breathe the outside in and inside out.
I am my breath.
Big belly breaths from my feet to my fingers.
From my breath, I reach.

My heart.
Dhakdak, beat. Dhakdhak, beat.
My heart carries the world through my veins
And takes me to the world.
I reach into my heart,
My place of second, and third, and fourth,
And all connections.
From my heart, I reach.

My throat.
I speak here.
I feel words both spoken and unspoken.
I feel the words that strangle me with their urgency.
I feel the words that close off my breath with regret.
Here, now, from yoga, I reach.
My voice feels free and true
Anchored to my feet, bones, belly, and heart.
From my voice. I reach.

My thoughts.
For so long, I thought they were me.
Each one, me.
This me of thoughts floated, struggled.
 Was deeply sculpted and cut by
All of the words.
From yoga, I see thoughts are not mine.
I choose the ones I want to hold.
I free the rest.
From my thoughts, I reach.

My feet.
My bones.
My belly.
My heart.
My lungs.
My voice.
My thoughts.

From yoga, I reach.

My arms extend from my core.
My eyes look upward.

Knowing what is me and what is not me.
Embracing my pains and joy, past and present.
Digging into the beauty and truth of this moment.

From yoga, I reach.

The Yoga Bag
Catherine Cook-Cottone

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Let Go and Be the Soul of It All!

Let Go and Be the Soul of It All!

Catherine Cook-Cottone
The Yoga Bag

The holidays are like ringing bells.

They ring from this present moment, out into the snow, the rain, even the sunshine- depending on where you are. The bells of the holidays also ring foreword and backward into the holidays-yet-to-be and from holidays-past. In this way, the present moment, in its essence, is all places and all times.

A beautiful thought.

In this truth, the holiday bells ring in the memories of all of those we have lost. They are still here; in cookie recipes, songs, traditions, family stories, and memories. I think it is for these reasons that the holidays can be difficult, even triggering for some.

I know for me, it is the first Christmas that I will not be with my family. With the death of my mom in 2015, things have changed. Our home in Lyons Falls is no longer our gathering place, making it hard, even impossible for us all to gather. I find that each song, each baking of a cookie, each flicker of a light from the Christmas tree makes my heart happy and ache in equal measure.

Heartfelt aches, ugh, they hurt deeply. It takes presence, work, and intention to feel and process it all.

In the past few days, within the context of the abundance of love and kindness all around, I have seen and heard stories of people – well - being sort of mean to other people. 

I have a mantra I save for those moments, “hurt (or hurting) people, hurt people.” I use this mantra to bring the compassion to my heart, to steady the moment, and to be the change I want to see in the world (and I thank my yoga practice everyday for making it possible for me to actually pull that off more times than not). Sometimes I wish we could all visually see the pain in each of our hearts so we could understand the why’s. For some, the hurting can be so big that we want those holiday bells- that tug at our hearts- to just stop, “Shhhhhhh, it hurts.”

For some, in the overwhelm- we snap, we push others away, and we hurt people who we don’t know. We even hurt people we love. I know, Lord knows, this work of life is not easy. Most certainly it is not as easy as the holiday songs make it seem.

I was running with my friends this morning- after a wonderful yoga class. We reflected on what might be a worry or hard over the next few days (Thanks Michelle). We acknowledged the possibilities. Then, we each described how we wanted to fill the space of the holidays (the stuff you can actually control). We described our heartfelt intentions. We chose how we might ring this year’s holiday bells.

I remembered Rumi.

 “Wherever you stand, be the soul of that place.”

Even thought I miss my mom and my family, even though my heart literally aches to not see my brother Stephen and the rest of my family this holiday season, I can be the soul of this place—right where I stand.

I can light candles; bake cookies; cuddle; smush my nose into our dog snowball's fur and remind him how much I love him; tell Chloe, Maya, and Jerry how much I love them (way too many times); and stop to facetime my family and pause to talk to mom- cause I know if there is anyway she could stop by for a visit with any one of us, she will.

With that, the echoes of ringing bells from 2016, when they are heard decades from now, will be bells filled with the sounds and memories of presence, love, and peace—because I chose to be the soul of that place.

With much holiday love,

The Yoga Bag

Thursday, March 31, 2016

What is Holding you Back? (or Little Frog, Me, and Lots of Love and Yoga at the White House)

What is Holding you Back? 
(or Little Frog, Me, and Lots of Love and Yoga at the White House)

Catherine Cook-Cottone
The Yoga Bag

What is holding you back?


First things first. What do you want out of this one beautiful and precious life that you have? This is your I WILL list.

Answer fully. Grab a pen and a piece of paper. Make a list.

Now. What is holding you back? This is your list of WHY NOTS. It is very important.

Answer fully. Make a list.

Now, take your WHY NOT list. Crumple it up and throw it away.


You are ready NOW. Take your I WILL list and begin! NOW!

When I was in my 20s, I noticed that those who were up to big, gigantic things spent more time making their dreams happen than making lists of why they couldn’t make things happen. We all have WHY NOT lists. And- you have a choice. You can walk around with your WHY NOT list as your guiding set of principles or you can lift your head and look your I WILL list right in the eyes and make things happen.

This might sound morbid, but I am not leaving this Earth with a list of WHY NOTS in my hands. Nope, like my daughter told me a few months ago, “Mom, when you die, you are going to drop the mic!” It was one of the biggest compliments I have ever received! She is 100% correct.

I had the tremendous honor to live Bucket List Dreams on Monday, March 28th, 2016.

I was one among a group of fabulous, inspirational, fun, and full-of-love yoga teachers that taught yoga at the White House for the White House Easter Egg Roll (called WHEER). We yoga-partied for 13 hours straight. It was one of the best days of my life. And- it all happened because I took my list of WHY NOTS, crumpled it up, and said, “YES!” about 100 different times, to 100 different things, that led to that moment. 

When I think back to the stuff that has held me back, my WHY NOTS, the periods of self-sabotage and self-destruction, I know the root cause- FEAR.

My WHY NOTS represent all kinds of fear. I have been afraid that I was not good enough, funny enough, pretty enough, talented enough, smart enough, cool enough, loveable enough, kind enough, --- all of the enoughs. I could never measure up. So- the good life, the living your dreams life- that was for someone else- someone who was enough. I thought.

I found the anecdote to my WHY NOTS, self doubt, and fear. It is in the pages of one of my mother’s favorite books, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. 

“Jonathan,” he said, and these were the last word he spoke, “keep working on love.” 

Those words are my guideposts. Whenever I get in my WHY NOTS of doubt and fear, I say, “Catherine, keep working on love.” Then I look up, and I WILL myself. I will myself into the moment.  I will myself to be present. I will myself to be curious. I will myself to be in effort. And most of all, I will myself to be in the work of love.

You see, in my fears I was somewhat correct. There was a not-enough in there. There was not-enough love. 

Now! That, I could change. That was on me. And so I did. To this very day, I keep working on love which takes me to all of my I WILLS and away from all of my WHY NOTS.

I wanted the children I taught on the White House to know about love and fear and being enough. So, I taught this sequence. It is a story of a little frog Tadasana, who was afraid to love. 

Little Frog Sequence

You see there is a lake in the Adirondacks called Brantingham Lake.

There are big beautiful mountains!

- Mountain Pose

There are trees!

- Tree Pose

 And the sun shines over the lake! And it feels so good to do my morning stretches and feel the sun!

- Stretch Up Reach for the Sky
- Sun As

At the lake we like to Swim and Canoe.

- Boat Pose with Paddling
- Rock and Roll to Stand Up

There are dragon flies that hover over the water.

- Airplane- Both Sides

And frogs!

- Squat and Hop All Around

Stand up and feel your heart. Feel all of the love in there? I want you to meet Tadasana Frog. She has love in her heart too, but she is struggling to make friends because she is afraid. She is so afraid, that her love doesn’t show. No one can see it. Has anyone here ever been afraid? Raise your hands? Will you guys go with Tadasana to warrior school so she can learn how to love without fear? (Thanks Corrie for being my Tadasana).  

Let’s go! Hop like a frog to warrior frog school.

-Hop Like a Frog

We have to paddle over the lake!

-Boat and Paddle

Past the fireflies!

-Airplane Both Sides

Here we are!

Do warrior one! And say, “I am strong!”

Same other side, “I am strong!”

Do warrior one! And say, “I am brave!”
Same other side, “I am brave!”

Do warrior one! And say, “I am love!”
Same other side, “I am love!”

Breath in strong and breathe out worries.
Breathe in brave and breathe out worries.
Breathe in love and breathe out worries.

Now, Let's go with Tadasana with her big strong courageous heart and head back to the lake.

-Hop Like a Frog!

We have to paddle over the lake!

-Boat and Paddle

Past the fireflies!

-Airplane Both Sides

And let’s have a giant frog celebration! Join hands and make a tunnel!

All the graduates of Warrior School run thought the tunnel!

(And we all danced, and danced, and danced)….

So thank you Leah Cullis for organizing this wonderful day! Thank you lululemon for supporting this venture!

Thank you LOVE and I WILL for being bigger than my FEAR and my WHY NOTS.

And thank you wonderful life, I love you!


Catherine Cook-Cottone
The Yoga Bag

Monday, January 11, 2016

Preparing for Your 108 Sun Salutations (1/23/2016) YOGIS IN SERVICE 4th ANNUAL SUNS

Preparing for Your 108 Sun Salutations
Written by Steve Procknal & Catherine Cook-Cottone

Yogis in Service, 2016

What to expect:

  • A room full of happy yogis
  • Between 2 and 2 and 1/2 hours of Sun Salutations
  • The suns will start slow, expand to a challenging set of salutations, and then slow down at the end. 
  • A lot of fun. 
  • A raffle
  • T-shirt sales
  • Finishing card!

What to bring:

  • Water bottle- bring between 20 and 40 ounces of water. You can refill at the 1/2 break
  • Electrolyte drink
  • Yoga mat
  • Hand towel
  • Mat towel
  • Cash, credit card, or checks for raffle/t-shirts
  • Your love of yoga!

To prepare for a 2+hour  practice/exercise (e.g., 108 Sun Sals): 

   Just eat normally leading up to that day, maybe increase your calories a bit but nothing major. 
   You do not need to eat some massive carb meal the night before, that will only hurt you the next day because your body will still be breaking that down and trying to eliminate it. 
   Trying to drink excessive water leading up to that day to hydrate won't be additionally beneficial. 
   Add a bit more fluids each day, a bit more than normal and a bit more calories/carbs and you will be fine. 

What to do the day of the Suns:

   The day of: I would eat a nice balanced full breakfast, get fats, carbs and protein. Examples. Oatmeal and fruit. Nut butter and toast with a banana. A green smoothie. Eggs, toast and fruit. Something along the lines of that. Keep it on the lighter side. 
   Start increasing your water a bit early on in the day. Something like 2 water bottles before noon. Have another done before 3pm.
   Have a snack late morning. Greek Yogurt, some almonds or brasil nuts or dried fruit, or fruit. 
   Then, the key is to eat your next meal before 1:30, whatever you normally eat for lunch that works for you.  
   Have a small snack about an 60-90 min before 4:30 PM. Dates are great. A handful of granola. 1/2 an Avocado with a little bit of salt. Celery is a great natural electrolyte (e.g., maybe celery and a touch of hummus). 

During the Suns: 

   During practice make sure you have a water bottle to hold enough water, either choose an electrolyte drink you always use or grab another brand, Vega products are  good. Coconut water. Water is fine for at least an hour, your body doesn't really need to get any extra calories until after an hour of strenuous exercise. So even if you brought a Date or two, an energy gel, half a banana and took that half way through you will be fine. Depending on how long you have been doing yoga you may not need anything. Our bodies become efficient when we do the same exercises and we don't need as much. 

After the Suns:

   Post work out your most important thing is to replenish the carbs you lost, not protein. About 4 Grams carbs to every 1 Gram of protein. Or you can grab whatever makes you feel good. Get some carbs first and then add some protein. 
   Drink plenty of fluids later and you will be fine. You can add a touch more salt to your food to replenish your salts lost. (I know this sounds serious, I am just giving you the broad facts so you can take what you need for you). 

Mostly, HAVE FUN and eat and drink enough. You can always take a break in child's pose and grab a drink at the water fountain. We will be pausing at 1/2 for raffle, drink, and bathrooms. 

Can't wait to see you there!

The Sun Salutation Team, 

Catherine, Steve, and Candice