January 24, 2012

Place Your Guru in the Fridge and Other Lessons from My Yoga Practice. ~Nick Krieger.

At the beginning of last year, one of my friends suggested that I consider a life coach. I’d always pictured this as a profession for failed real estate agents in velour track suits, but I casually knew the guy she recommended and called him for some support. I had a lot to do this year. I intended to leave behind my dayjob and start cobbling together a career based on my passions.

I focused our early sessions on my potential business endeavors—writing, manuscript consultation, teaching, yoga, transgender advocacy, and public speaking. In between our calls, I knocked out to-do lists, checked off action items, and pushed myself even harder than usual.

“What do you want to coach on today?” he began our fifth call.

“Wellll…“ I started, exhausted by the thought of more tasks. “I’m not sure we can coach on this, but sometimes, most of the time, actually, I forget to breathe. Deeply, I mean.”

He responded with extreme enthusiasm. “What would your yoga practice say to this?” My coach had never spent any time on the mat, but he knew from our discovery call that yoga and my value of “connection” were very important to me.

“My yoga teachers remind me to breathe, constantly, all class,” I said.

My homework was simple. I set dozens of random calendar appointments on my iPhone as breathing reminders. Every time my phone buzzed, I’d whip it out of my pocket, hoping for something exciting—a flirtatious text or a message honoring my recently published book—but often I found only one word: Breathe.

And so I did, again and again and again. Eventually, my breathing appointments obscured my actual appointments, and I cleared most of them away. Instead, I started to use the alerts from real messages as cues. Before I read the text or email, I’d take three long inhales and exhales. I kept one reminder appointment, just in case. On Tuesday at 5:10 p.m., I’ll never forget to breathe.

I still worked on my to-do lists on my own and occasionally brought a special situation into coaching, but more often than not, when asked for the session topic, I’d say, “Wellll…” as I thought to myself, are you really going to spend a hundred dollars on this? Then I’d take a leap. “I want to be nicer to people in my thoughts.”


After working through the morals angle together, I discovered something that really resonated, these thoughts blocked me from connection. My coach did not have a revolutionary strategy. He simply led me back to my values and my practice, which always involved breathing as a return to presence.

“Sometimes I feel greedy about money.” I said to my coach a few weeks later and my gratitude practice emerged. “Sometimes I feel out of control with pot,” I tried the next time. “Sometimes I feel out of control with porn” he replied and after we both laughed, my mindfulness practice emerged. I’d continue to hone these, eventually integrating them with my asana and meditation practice.

Soon, we were getting physical together. The excruciating knot in my left shoulder that visits me regularly said hello before one of our calls. “What else is it saying?” he asked.

“Don’t let go! Hold on! Or you will die!” There was a little white-knuckled bastard, Egor Egostein let’s call him, gripping on to a ledge in my shoulder.

“What if he just let go?” my coach asked. My yoga teachers often encouraged the same thing, but wearing comfy clothes, squatting in malasana, with the soothing sounds of Krishna Das, I was primed to let go. Here, I was in an office conference room, my back to a thin glass window.

But why couldn’t I get into tadasana? I planted my feet, took a deep breath, and shifted into a space so large it subsumed the clingon in my shoulder. The pain vanished.

It was then that I realized my life coach was actually my yoga coach. “If only I could remember everything my teachers say in class at home,” I said.

“How about Post-it notes?” my coach replied.

This was too much—too self-helpy, too extreme. It reminded me of the time an old therapist had me talk to pillows named “mom” and “dad. I was certainly self-conscious, but it sure did feel good to sit on them.

Did it really matter if someone saw my notes? My only guests were my brother who reveres me and a friend who’d once placed an “energy condom” around me and tried to cure my headache with a pink crystal.

It took several weeks but, eventually I filled a whole stack of Post-its and strategically decorated. Next to my bathroom mirror, I placed, “This is bigger than you”—a vanity check for when I’m distracted by my handsome face; next to my bed, “What are you grateful for?”—a question I always answer on my front door, “Be kind”—borrowed from my favorite yoga studio, and which I like to touch on my way out like I’m a Notre Dame football player slapping a four-leaf clover in the locker-room tunnel before a big game.

Some of my notes weren’t working. “Be foolish” was too prominent, so I switched the placement with “Choose hope.” I needed levity so, under “Give yourself a hug” I added, “Give yourself a kiss (not French).” Then the project expanded, single words arrived on smaller Post-its—compassion and metta (loving-kindness)—words I’d scrawled on leaves and dropped off the Golden Gate Bridge and sent out to sea on the Mexican Riviera in rituals with my sangha.

Every time a meaningful phrase or word or trigger for remembrance showed up, I placed it on a Post-it until my apartment had turned into a collage of purple, blue, yellow, and pink squares of varying sizes.

One teacher in particular inspired many of my notes, and the other day at our studio, I was inspecting her new flyer, a sepia-toned picture of her on a mountain, the sun beaming from her open heart. “Put it in your refrigerator,” she said. If I recollect correctly, she was joking rather than imparting obvious wisdom, which she all too often does. But why the heck not, I thought, it’d be the least ridiculous decoration in my house.

Now, early in the morning, when I open the fridge for my Neti-pot water, the day’s first light dawns from the minibulb as if radiating from my teacher’s heart. I find myself looking forward to this moment, like I actively look for the notes on my walls, as inspiration, a reminder that my teacher is awake and practicing, that across the city and the world others are practicing, that I am not alone in this practice.

With the year behind me, I can say that I accomplished my goal of leaving my dayjob, and that I probably would have done so without my coach. What he offered was not an outcome, but the opportunity to be present for the experience that led up to it by helping me bring the yoga I’d dedicated myself to inside the studio into my life.

It was a surprise that the support came through my phone and Post-it notes rather than Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita. But the guru really can show up in unexpected places, maybe even in the refrigerator.


Nick Krieger is a writer, speaker, queer activist, and student of yoga. When Post-it notes are no longer required, he may even consider teaching yoga. His first book, the memoir Nina Here Nor There: My Journey Beyond Gender, was released by Beacon Press in 2011.
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