hardly working

Someone posted on Facebook that she being told to have an “easy fast” (on Yom Kippur) does not work for her. “If it’s not hard, it’s not working,” she wrote.

I wonder about that. “Effortless effort” is one of my favorite aphorism by the daddy of modern Yoga, Patanjali. I really get that, that push to make us feel like we are working hard, and the excess energy that it all can be. As if I needed reminders other than fatigue, irritableness, or sore muscles, my girls CONSTANTLY tell me I talk too loudly, or move too quickly or all sorts of other helpful suggestions as I am just trying to live my life as I was taught.

Too much effort can make us too much sick, much too often. Off balance, at the very least (that might be a little foreshadow concept for hubby’s upcoming sermon…) Our organs cannot handle the level of effort that we demand. The adrenals, the spleen, liver, thyroid, you name it, all begin to suffer from this “hard work.” Not to mention JOY. Yes, I am making Joy a vital organ.

Is this a common “no pain no gain” theory? What if things were actually EASY. Not un-hard, done with EASE. Fasting, not fun, but not particularly hard. You just. Don’t. Eat. And you accept the discomfort. And you fill your mind alternately with hatred or anger or impatience, and then desire and cravings, and then confusion for the task itself, if the magical act that this tradition dictates will bear fruit the next day. Literal fruit, as anything now seems good, but the other kind of fruit as well, the result kind. The “if I do this, than that will surely happen,” kind. The DSM, that little book that helps doctors diagnosis their patients, determines that kind of mis-thought as Magical Thinking, and lists it among a set of mental disturbances. I find that very telling. We are so out of ease living under that kind of hard pressure that we can literally disrupt our brain’s functioning.

What if it were all a practice and not a test. We could perhaps work then, truly work, in the present moment, with all the questions and feelings that actually crop up as they will do. What if, that was the task at hand, to fast with ease to bring you deeper into a practice that is surely challenging.

What if….

In peace, and hope-filled gratitude,


We will not meet tomorrow, WEDNESDAY 9/23 but will meet next WEDNESDAY 9/30.

I will bring a sweet treat to share in honor of a collective sort of break fast. And my birthday.

Then we move to our long anticipated… MONDAY MORN  AND WED EVE SCHEDULE!

8:15 OCTOBER 5

6:00 pm OCTOBER 7.

In peace,


shutting up

My doctor told me to shut up last week. Maybe he said it with a teeny bit MORE bedside manner but behind his tired smile, was still the simple message, “Just. Stop. Talking.”

So I did. This is not the first time that my allergy ridden/singer’s/teacher’s all around talker’s vocal chords needed a break, but it was sure a more lesson filled week than I can remember.

First of all, parenting takes much fewer words than I think. The less is more quality REALLY is true in this arena.

Second of all, you do absolutely feel calmer. Kinder. The listening skills perk up so much, that being in service to those around you can’t help but soften your own nervous system- a perk that I had yet to notice until now.

There is much less defense of one’s actions. Being right or understood fully is somewhat impossible when you’re silent, so letting that go from the start is really a great relief.
I highly suggest it as a practice to us all every now and then, just to see what else is in store for you and your communications with your loved ones. And the strangers in your midst who might benefit from your love. My first meditation teacher knew this, as every Tuesday she simply closed her lips for the day.  An idea, an offering? Maybe start with a meal, or who knows, even an hour and half of yoga and meditation? Maybe even…. TOMORROW.

And see what else is in store?



in (shhhh) peace,


wacky moon, wacky schedules

I am writing this under the full moon. An auspicious night to be sure. One to spend time in meditation, inside or out. One to sit in gratitude toward the universe or any divine being you align yourself with, and from that same place of thankfulness, you get an ask. In this tradition of honoring the moon, you formulate a TRUE ask of that which is bigger than us, not to win the lottery per say but the underlying roots of what it MEANS for you to win the lottery. Go ahead. Take stock and try it tonight.
Along with a 24 hour period of celibacy and a vegan diet. And lots of sleep and quiet and rest.

And if you can achieve all, or even some of that, come to class this week and tell me and all your on-your-mat cohorts! Since we are only meeting once a week right now, we will meet at 8:15 for meditation/short discussion, and then practice hard for an hour from 8:30-9:30.

But what day you ask will THESE auspicious practices take place?

Since the Jewish Holiday season is fast approaching and since we meet at a temple, might I suggest we make THURSDAY mornings our morning for at least the month of September? That way, we don’t have to cancel or reschedule. At least not Too often.

We will add a WEDNESDAY EVENING class, just as soon as possible.

If this does not work for you regulars, PLEASE let me know?

In peace, prayer, and plenty of hope,


8:30-9:30 FLOW

Beginning SEPTEMBER 3 @Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills
(room is TBA)

Michelle Azar

bit(e) of Baghdad

The food truck options were plentiful and I was getting confused. Did I want to go clean and combat Portland’s famous Salt and Straw ice cream extravaganza from the night before, or continue down the comfort food road and choose some messy, burrito type paradise?

As I mulled over this choice, complicated by the precious little cash I had in my wallet, my eyes fixed on the happenings at the truck in front of me. A nice looking man, round my age, stood politely waiting his turn. He asked the rather swarthy young man running this gyro truck if there might be any food to spare. The server smiled easily and rounded up a gigantic pita stuffed with every vegetable and falafel ball I imagined were still in his truck, topped it off with some sauces, and handed it to the surprised man with a Sprite and a straw. “Wow, thanks so much,” was the genuine reply of the needy man.

I was so touched by this interchange, by the humanity the request and offering played out. There seemed to be no judgment on the part of the giver and no demand or expectation on the part of the request. I was taking all this in when the handsome worker asked me my order. Well, I thought, my choice was clear. I could not insult this nice man by choosing elsewhere now that I had spent so much time in front of his menu, and I genuinely wanted to spend my money on his stand if only to give back a bit of what he generously gave.

I actually was not crazy about his choices, so I just told him how much money I had, and asked him to make me something tasty. He liked that. And I liked his smile. I asked him suddenly where he was from. “Baghdad,” was his light reply.

And suddenly it became even more clear my attention for him. “My dad is also from Baghdad,” I smiled back. I then muttered all the Arabic phrases I knew from my childhood’s insistence on hearing my Dad speak this seemingly dangerous language, and my new friend’s face burst into a gleeful tornado of giggles and grins.

We kinda stared at each other. He looked just like the pictures of my Dad at that young age. Handsome and dark, with that look of deep confidence that is possessed by a person who just knows himself from birth. Maybe it is that kind of inner contentedness that allows certain people to be so unfailingly generous to others in need.

I took a bite of his concoction. Delicious. A perfect combination of flavors. “Five dollars,” he said. I narrowed my eyes- was it really so cheap I wondered, or did he want to leave me that one dollar in my wallet just in case. But I didn’t ask- I knew pride plays a large role for these Middle Eastern men and I did not want to question his decision. I thanked him, and walked away.

As I sat and ate, I flashed to a time and place that this interchange could NOT have happened. A Jewish woman being served by an Arabic boy. These are the boys we see on the news sometimes, the ones shown throwing rocks at Israeli cars. The ones who get beaten by Jewish fundamentalists. This relationship is fraught with confusion, and for a person like me, a deep familiarity served up with a healthy dose of distrust.

But it happened nonetheless, in this Portland, Oregon alley, and I am better for it. I hold it in my immediate memory bank of forgiveness and gratitude this full week later, and offer it up for peace to us all on this Shabbat.

In gratitude,


To sleep or not to sleep…

I like to sleep. I like to stay under my covers as long as possible, as often as possible, and I do not like to be awoken by the mundane sounds of alarm clocks or children arguing.

Last week, however, I dragged myself out of an early bed to take a friend to the airport and I wound up back in the Ashtanga yoga practice room. It has been a week now, and I have gone back every day since, save for the Moon Day last week which is a rest day for these yogis. The Moon Day acted as an excellent experiment for this revitalized early morning wake up: since I did not have the yoga room dangling its treasures in front of me, I slept in that Wednesday, only to feel rushed and behind and cranky the rest of the day.

I know many of you have discovered this well before me, the joyous secret that the early morning offers a person, and have maintained the practice of it while could not. I have certainly no new information on this practice of using the strange magic of the morning to inspire, to give thanks, to ask your questions, and to move your body. These practices have been offered by all religions and philosophers and plain old exercise folks throughout time. But this week, I offered it to myself again. And I offer it to you, if maybe if you need it. Wake up, even a half hour before you usually do or think you like/need to do. To feel more free with your time, make your time more free. Do nothing in that early morning even, just maybe sit even. Just for a few extra quiet breaths that can be better protected from interruption. Coffee and tea and water with lemon are great companions.

If while I am away FROM JULY 27-AUGUST 10, you DO find yourself awake and curious… Maybe check out OMKAR 108 yoga in Culver City (http://omkar108.com) . You will find yourself in good hands, generously offered by Jörgen Christiansson.

There are other great places to wake up and go to of course as well! For injuries, and /or for a slower paced practice, check out the Iyengar Yoga | Institute of Los Angeles right on La Cienega and Pico. They also have an unlimited special price of $30 for 2 weeks, so the timing should work out perfectly!

This week, our practice remains in tact, with CHILDCARE if you let me know the night before.




Wishing you courage and space to ignite your own freedom,


present tense

I’ve been surprised by how tense I have felt in this beginning of summer. I suppose there is a lot going on. There have been lives suddenly cut short. There have been other endings, and the ironing out of questions for the new beginnings, trips towards friends who are suffering, family worries and accidents, decisions to be made, choices to ponder, and more driving in somehow worse traffic.

I decided to try listening again, rather than teaching on yoga as a way to investigate my tension.  The Shift Network aired some messages given on National Yoga Day (which yes, was June 21, but better late than never on this one). I heard H.H. Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji from Rishikesh, India say:

See less pieces, and more peace. Start living yoga and not just doing yoga.

I thought that was a pretty perfect sound bite.

Perhaps being in preparation mode for all the moving pieces was making me feel too fragmented. Once life separates itself like this, it can be difficult to see how those same pieces that come out of your experience in the first place can peace themselves together.

Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word for yoke, or union. There are 8 limbs to practicing yoga, and the asana, posture practice, is only one of them, a teeny little limb off the great yoga tree trunk. Another blog entry will be on these other limbs, but I was thinking what could we further find from this limb of posture practice that we share in our morning classes. Perhaps to find the new perspective on whatever stress you might be perceiving, we could choose a posture, any posture, and truly just be in it. Sounds far too simple. For instance, if you are in one of the warrior asanas, notice for yourself what are all the pieces to it-how does your body feel in it, how does your breath sound, and where is it located, does it change your mood at all? And of course, if you are fully present in this observation, judgement will not infiltrate, but rather, purely,  information. This would not be a magic formula, just an offering to your body and mind.

We all know by now that being in the present moment is the best advice. It helps mitigate stress, and offers perspective so that our emotions can be more easily felt and thus allow us to choose our actions rather than be trapped by our changing feelings and sometimes act unconsciously. The artful practice of truly living in the moment IS the practice of yoga itself.

I will be there to practice with you this week and next, and then I am away for several weeks. So DO come NOW, and if you are new or have not been with us for a while, I will offer these next two weeks unlimited for $36 dollars! An offer you can’t refuse…. Well, you can, but why? Worst is, you feel good!

In appreciation, Michelle

MONDAYS   8:30-9:30 am

TUESDAYS   9:15-10:15 am

THURSDAYS 8:30-9:30 am

why speak

Sometimes, for weeks, all I can manage are observations and what I think are extremely cute titles for my blog. I have always liked titles, always liked introductions but the fleshing out of story proves, of course, to be less delightful a task at times!

Not only does time management thwart the creative juices here, but confidence as well. When I first set up this blog, or when my dear husband set it up for me to be more accurate, I was hoping to use it as a place for thoughts that popped into my mind either while practicing or teaching yoga, and a more interesting way to post the weekly schedule. I promised myself I would never ask, “Are people really reading this?” Yet, I became human somewhere in this process and began to wonder…. What’s it all for, who am I reaching, and does any of it really matter anyway?

Last night, I got a lovely and unexpected answer. I was at a small dinner party for a friend’s birthday. One of the guests who I had not spent time with in years, told me he owed me a thank you. It seems he was to give the address at a large dinner for UNICEF some months ago. As he was trying to find the hook for his speech, he stumbled upon my recent blog post on Facebook, and used my simple thoughts to harness his own. This is a man who I would never have imagined would be reading the thoughts of little ole me, and yet here he was, reading and telling me it helped him.

His story to me last night of course makes me feel good, gives me a momentary answer to the WHY part of the question above, and yet, it also reminds me of the initial reason to share my thoughts. Just like with anything in life, we must work at what we love, must nurture our creativity, in whatever arena or pocket of time we have between chores and necessitates. We simply must put blinders on to who might be reading or watching or what will be the next “better” thing. This last play I did showed me that again as well. I went into it, terribly insecure about the topic, and promised myself that I was in it only to learn and stretch as an actress. I didn’t invite anyone publicly until the end when it was already sold out. I realize now that Because I was so dedicated to my creative intention, it would of course be a product that I would be proud to let others see.

Insecurity is normal, healthy maybe at times, but it can really act as a barrier toward openness. Who knows what more lies within you when you just go for it, when you find a place, public or private, to create. I felt so grateful to hear this man’s accounting of how my story sparked his own freedom to write. I hope it helps me, and you today, to step further into your quiet place of doing for yourself, for the simple act of expression, and let that be enough of a guiding force.

In peace,





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