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New interview series, and a practical questionnaire for your personal yoga practice

Morning, friends!

Though I've lived in D.C. for 12 years now, I just recently explored a gorgeous old building, the Library of Congress. Inside completely transports you. It's covered in quotes from writers throughout the ages (unattributed here), colorful murals and intricate architectural elements. It's also so beautiful.
We visited the main reading room, a sublime, quiet space with neat rows of desks, columns and book shelves. Without a pass you can watch from a vantage point over the room to take in its scale, symmetry and beauty. But when you enter the reading room, you see what's obscured from the spectator's landing. There's a painting on the dome of a female figure and two cherubs: it's called Human Understanding. The scene reminds me of that quote from Teddy Roosevelt about "The Man in the Arena":
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt
I love the notion of this painting watching over a sacred space for those who dare to put in the work. It makes me think about how personal our yoga practices can be, whether they're our creative outlets, movement, or some carved out time to connect with ourselves.
This year I plan to feature a monthly series of interviews with people who inspire me who have found practices aside from asana or meditation. If yoga means union, I see the practice being about connecting with ourselves so we can best connect with others. It doesn't have to be a fancy pose, or breath work, or a profound meditation moment. I find that this representation is rarely made, and I want us to share those stories and ideas with each other!

Today you'll hear from long-time Om Weekly reader and Internet friend, Lauren Kasman. We recently exchanged messages on Instagram when she shared all the books she'd read in 2018 and my mouth fell to the floor. In a world where there are so many forms of media vying for our attention, she makes the choice to do her reading because...well, I'll let her tell you more.

🙏
Kelly

You should meet this yogi, Lauren📚

Tell us a little bit about how and when you got into reading as a practice/routine.
I completely attribute my reading routine to my mom - she's always been an avid reader and encouraged my sister and I to pick up the habit as well. Where she really instituted it as a routine was at bedtime - we weren't allowed to have TVs or phones in our rooms, but we were allowed to stay up reading or writing, which cultivated a calming evening atmosphere.

What's your current practice like?
Currently, I still read at night - I try to put my phone away an hour before bed, wash my face and brush my teeth, and then read in bed until I turn off the lights to sleep. Sometimes on the weekends, if I have free time, I'll relax on the couch with a book and a cup of tea as a way to unwind after a busy week, but generally I try to read nightly (which doesn't always happen) and I have a goal of at least 52 books a year. The goal isn't driven by a need to just arbitrarily cram books in; it's more of a check in I use - am I maintaining a regular practice? If it's July and I've read 4 books, I know I haven't been making time for something I really care about. Goals aside, I read because I genuinely enjoy it - it's my chance to just have some quiet, peaceful time to myself and let my mind go elsewhere for a bit.

How do you feel while you're reading? This could be physically, mentally or emotionally. 
Reading is one of the few times that I feel I really relax. My mind focuses on the book (and stops churning over to-do lists or something that I'm worried about), which allows me to slow down and breathe a bit. This is huge for me because on a day to day basis I struggle with anxiety and reading has become my outlet to put that aside for a bit and get out of my own head. Physically, I feel like my body knows that when the book comes out, we're winding down and my muscles release from the day and ease back into the pillows in preparation for reading and then sleep. I also see a significant change in the quality of my sleep on nights where I take this time for myself instead of just getting in bed and trying to immediately fall asleep.

What do you find to be most challenging about this practice?
Honestly, just carving out the time. It's always tempting to hit "play" on yet another Netflix episode or to start scrolling through Instagram. For me, it's similar to working out - I know I should do it and I'll feel better after, but there are just so many mindless activities that I can get sucked into instead.

Has your practice changed your relationships with other people at all? If so, in what ways?
Oh absolutely. Bonding over books or recommending a good read has been a cornerstone in a lot of my relationships. One of the biggest ways it has changed recently is that a coworker and I realized that we had similar reading "tastes" and started swapping books/exchanging recommendations regularly. Some of our colleagues noticed and started to ask to be included - and then more people asked - and now we have a book club at my office with over 60 people (!) that meets monthly. It allows us to get to know each other personally, have great discussions, and build real relationships that go beyond the job. It's honestly something I cherish and am so proud of being able to share. I think reading is a common ground for a lot of people - it doesn't matter what your background is or how "good" you are at it (which I don't even know what that means in the context of reading) - it's a practice that is oriented entirely around your perspective on the words in front of you. Sharing that perspective allows you to convey an opinion without being "right" or "wrong" - it's just what you feel and think.

Do you relate at all to the notion of a "flow state" and do you think this practice at all has been that for you?
100% this is exactly what I would describe my reading routine as. I completely engage with my reading and tune everything out (even my phone is on do not disturb and in a different room). There are a lot of nights I end up going to sleep later than I intended because I get wrapped up in my reading and don't even realize what time it is. 

Do you feel that having a regular reading practice has helped you connect more deeply with yourself? If so, can you share in what ways?
I do, mainly because it's the primary way I nurture myself. That time of quiet and focus slows me down and by the time I put the book down for the night, I feel like I am more capable of processing my day and taking a more rational outlook. It's almost a "brain break" that helps me take a step back from everything and then when I reengage, I'm better able to filter through the noise, understand what is on my mind and why, and organize my thoughts. Just as we need physical rest, I think in an increasingly connected world we really need the mental rest as well. If I come home still in "work mode" and quickly make dinner while watching TV and then start scrolling through Instagram as I get into bed, I've taken exactly zero time to connect with myself. Reading reestablishes that boundary - it's time to shut the world out a bit and make time for myself.

Do you already have a yoga or meditation practice? If so, do you find these activities related or similar in any way, or not at all?
While not as consistent as I'd like it to be, I try to do yoga 3 times a week and meditate 2-3 times a week as well. Yoga for me is very similar - I can focus on my movement and breath and not allow space for my mind to wander. When I finish a yoga practice, I know I've taken time for myself and the "brain break" allows me to refocus on my life from a calmer perspective. Meditation for me is a bit of a challenge to find the focus that yoga and reading bring about so easily - I'm still learning how to do it in a way that works for me and enables me to reach that "flow state".

Anything else you care to share?
Developing (and cultivating) a reading practice begins with finding a book you love - whether it's a crazy sci fi alien book or a dark murder mystery or a book written for teenagers, who cares? If you enjoy the topic, you'll enjoy reading about it - it's really as simple as that.

Try this at home.

Consider the definition of a yoga practice as the following: Activities that help us more deeply internally understand ourself and therefore, be kinder and more compassionate externally to others. What is that practice for you? Feel free to use the questions above to "check in" on how it's working and just generally reflect, and if you do I would love to read if you care to share!

Quote of the week

"The fact is, all of us are living with the invisible wounds of some kind of war. Yoga helps you to let go of the things that don't serve you anymore.” - Dan Nevins
He lost his legs after an attack in Iraq. Now he’s an international yoga instructor.

Tunes

Loving this song from Cass McCombs, That's That:
"So I got a job / Cleaning toilets / At a nightclub in Baltimore / And I guess that's that / Almost shorter than a dream / And definitely of less noise / Old playthings are all laid to waste / Thrown out to make better space."

Check it out and more on the playlist! Also, this is the revolving playlist that I'm using as inspiration/soundtrack for writing, always there for the mutual moodiness.
If you like reading this newsletter and find it some form of joy, you can support it by forwarding to a friend. Appreciate you 🙏Also, you better believe I have Thoughts on the newest wave of Konmari craze, particularly with regard to books. More on that next week.

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