VIDEO: Virtual Rabbi David presents ‘The Jewish Olympics’

Virtual Rabbi (and Olympics fan) David Paskin presents a Shabbat message based on the determination and dedication of Olympic athletes.

David Paskin, or Rabbi David as he is known by his congregants, is an accomplished spiritual leader, singer/songwriter, entertainer and award-winning Jewish educator. For more than a decade, David has served as full-time Spiritual Leader of Temple Beth Abraham in Canton, Massachusetts


Jacob’s Ladders

Every neighborhood has its gathering places.

In my neighborhood, you'll find one if you head west on Pico Boulevard from Robertson Boulevard, past the ethnic aromas of the “center” hood and into the kosher Ice Blended Mochas of the “west” hood, where, right next to an Office Depot, The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf rules.

That's where you're likely to meet a young man named Jacob Katz. Jacob is a happy-go-lucky, kippah-wearing, 23-year-old Jew who mixes ice-blended coffee drinks and takes care of customers at the Coffee Bean. Talk about a neighborhood hangout. When Hillary Clinton wrote the book “It Takes a Village,” she could have started here.

Pop in to the sunny patio on any afternoon and you're likely to see Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky at a corner table giving a private Torah class; a Conservadox aspiring pop star who used to study in a Jerusalem seminary promoting her upcoming live show; a few perfectly coiffed frum supermoms taking a break from the carpooling; a couple of born-again Chasids from the Happy Minyan talking about a Jethro Tull concert; and a retired couple from Palm Springs making their weekly visit to their old neighborhood (“We bought a house on that street for $37,000. You know what it's worth now? I don't know why we got rid of it. Is that your daughter? How old is she? Hey, we have a granddaughter the same age.”).

Late afternoon, the patio gets invaded by YULA high-school students coming to unwind after a long day of Talmud, algebra and Shakespeare. The more eager students lay out their homework next to their lattes. The funny thing is, everyone seems to know Jacob.

You see, Jacob has a unique style and a unique voice. He has Down syndrome, so you have to listen carefully to get everything he says. In fact, to understand Jacob really well, you have to listen as well as he does.

Because Jacob Katz is a human sponge.

Ever since he was a child, he's had a talent for listening, and for absorbing everything around him. But as he got older, this talent morphed into something more universal: “I want this” and “I want that.” As his mother Frieda recalls, Jacob developed this unlimited capacity to want things.

It didn't matter what, Jacob wanted it: I want a computer, I want to learn how to drive, I want to listen to the Beatles, I want to go to college, I want to go to the movies. You name it — if it was cool, Jacob wanted it.

So one day, he looks up at one of the coolest places in Los Angeles, just a few blocks from his house, and he says, “I want to work at Coffee Bean.” And guess what? He gets the job.

Don't think it was a cake walk. He had to fill out a lengthy application, and after meeting with the store manager, he impressed him enough to get an interview with the district manager, a religious Christian woman named Jan. Obviously something clicked. She hired Jacob, and he started training that same week.

That was six months ago. Today, Jacob laughs all the way to the bank every two weeks to deposit his paycheck.

He laughs in other places, too. He laughs when he takes the bus twice a week to Santa Monica College, where he's learning all kinds of things, including how to type 30 words a minute without looking. From what I hear, Jacob's pretty well known around campus.

This week, Jacob is doing research on the Internet for a little dvar Torah he'll be giving at the Etta Israel Shabbaton at Beth Jacob Congregation. Etta Israel is the popular local organization that caters to kids with Down syndrome and other special needs, and it's where Jacob studied Judaism every Sunday for seven years.

Many years ago, Jacob's mother stood up at an Etta Israel dinner and said something that people still talk about. What she said was remarkably simple.

She said that all the things that Jacob did over the years — special classes, speech therapies, life skills training, etc. — were really important, but that one thing in his life was even more important: friendships.

Since he was very young, Jacob has been blessed with friends. Friends of his sister and three brothers are his friends, too. He has friends at Etta Israel, friends where he prays every morning (Young Israel of Century City), friends at the gym where he works out, friends all over the hood.

One reason he has so many friends is that he keeps in touch, and he doesn't ask for much. I love getting his calls: “Heyyy David, it's Jacob” is how he always starts, in his deep baritone voice. A little schmoozing, a few laughs, a few “I love yous,” and we're done. I think he gets a kick that the person at the other end of the line knows who he is.

At the neighborhood Coffee Bean, where he works four hours a day, four days a week, they definitely know who he is. Yet despite being so loved and having so many friends, guess what? Jacob wants more.

The other day, while sipping a pomegranate ice tea, and after singing his favorite Beatles tune (“Ticket to Ride”), he confided that there is one friend he still doesn't have — his lifetime soulmate. Like millions of single Jews, Jacob wants a great Jewish shidduch.

When you look at his track record with the things that he wants, and how single women in this town go crazy for Ice Blended Mochas, I wouldn't count him out.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and He can be reached at

There’s A Message in the Sounds of the Shofar

The approach of Rosh Hashanah always takes me back in memory to my bar mitzvah, which took place on Shabbat Shuvah — the Sabbath of Repentance that comes
between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Two weighty questions preoccupied me that day in 1964. One: what did it mean that God called Jews and the world to “repent” or “return,” because all of us had “stumbled in sin?” The prophet Hosea, whose words I chanted that morning, insisted in God’s name that God cared about how we treated one another, and that we could all do better.

He promised that God would help us do better if we turned to the task. I marveled at this promise. It was and remains a great mystery to me.

The other big question on my mind that September day in Philadelphia was whether the Phillies, under manager Gene Mauch, could hold on to their position atop the National League and win the pennant for the first time in my life.

The optimists among my friends took victory as a near-certainty. The Phillies were six games ahead. Things looked really promising.

The pessimists warned that the team would blow it. It turned out that they were right. The Phillies lost 13 of the next 20 games.

This, too, was a mystery to me. Was it bad pitching, bad managing, bad luck? Maybe it was fate.

I bring up the connection between Rosh Hashanah and the Phillies because it gets to the heart of what the Jewish holidays mean to me each fall. In a word: it’s not fate. How things go is largely up to us, even if we do not control the circumstances of our lives.

The New Year is a time at once joyful and solemn for Jews, because it marks a new beginning for each of us. It carries the assurance that we all do get a second chance and urges us to seize hold of it.

The world, too, can be better than it is — a hope desperately needed this year. We have witnessed so much suffering in the Middle East and elsewhere — so little peace for Israel or Iraq, Darfur or the Congo.

I can still chant by heart, thanks to months of practice for my bar mitzvah, Hosea’s promise that we can change this: “The person who is wise will consider these words. The person who is prudent will take note of them. For the paths of the Lord are smooth. The righteous can walk on them.”

Hosea urged Jews more than 2,500 years ago to “blow a shofar in Zion” so as to call the people to turn and return. Jews still blow a ram’s horn at Rosh Hashanah for exactly the same reason. We need to hear loud and clear, again and again, the message to which it summons us.

Many interpretations have been given to the notes struck by the horn, but the one that means the most to me is this. The shofar’s first sound, tekiah, is a wake-up call. It calls us to attention. Look around, it says. Things are not OK. Your work is needed to set them — and yourself — right.

The second sound made by the shofar is called shevarim, or “breaks.” The world is broken. The horn imitates its cries, preventing us from stopping up our ears or our heart.

Teruah, a series of short blasts one after another, gives us marching orders. Change requires small steps that each of us has to take modestly but with determination. Overreaching will not work.

The shofar-blowing ends with a return to the first notes, longer this time — a “great tekiah.” It lets us know what victory sounds like. We can change our ways. So can the world.

Honesty compels each of us to concede that we’ve tried before to turn things around and haven’t managed it. Experiences of failure haunt all of us, not just fans of the 1964 Phillies. That’s why we need Rosh Hashanah each year to remind us that this beginning can be different.

May we all heed the shofar’s call this year and prove that the world, which so needs fixing right now, can be made better — and that we can make it so.

Professor Arnold M. Eisen is chancellor-elect of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

You can listen the

Fit L.A. – Let’s Take a ‘J-Walk’ Around the Block

I enjoy walking if it’s through a store during a sale or to show off a grandchild. But walking for the pure fun of it isn’t fun for me. The last time I exercised was when Ed Sullivan introduced the Beatles, and I jumped up and down in the living room as they played.

Enter the Neshoma Orchestra and their two CDs to walk by, “J-Walking” and the recently released “J-Walking the Next Step.”

After schlepping 40 years in the desert, it’s hard to imagine a CD to exercise by coming from a people who have harbored a subconscious distrust of walking. But with my daughter’s upcoming nuptials, my unending kvetch about fitting into the dress won out over my skepticism.

Tuesday, 8 p.m.

I dusted off the portable CD player, stuck an earphone in my ear, put on as flattering an outfit as I could conjure up and hit the open road, one foot in front of the other.

Before I knew it, I had gone a block, then two, humming along with the familiar Yiddish melodies that played faster and more upbeat than I ever remembered. Strains of “Chabibi” coursed through my veins.

My mother’s Yiddish musical selections ran more toward, “My Yiddish Mama” and “Make Mir a Bisala Yingala” from The Barry Sisters. “Sob Your Heart Out Greatest Hits.”

So there I am, walking along at a jaunty pace, humming and moving without my usual stops to check the time, but actually enjoying the pace.

At three blocks I began forcing myself to ignore the objections of my feet and focus on the beat.

I had made it through four songs and I was feeling empowered. Suddenly, the old anti-exercise gene kicked in and my body began to rebel and slow the pace. I fought valiantly and luckily, the next selection was more upbeat. I kicked into overdrive to “Reb Shlomo’s Niggun.”

I was feeling good, and a bit shocked that I had just absorbed five Yiddish songs without shedding a tear.

I decided to push my luck, so I kept walking, farther than I had planned. I wasn’t sure if it was endorphins or the music, but I was feeling good; so good in fact, I pressed forward, another street, another, until I had gone farther than ever before.

I was pretty sure that by now, my pushy Jewish genes had taken hold, awakened by the chemicals released in my brain to combine with more than 5,700 years of feistiness.

Whatever it was, it was working, so I tested myself even more and attempted an uphill walk. This was major since the flat terrain was enough of a challenge.

I looked up toward Sunset Boulevard. It could’ve been Mount Sinai. Oy, that’s steep, I thought. But I was pumped with Yiddishkayt and defeat was not an option. I began the ascent. Gevalt, could I be this out of shape?

The songs had gotten to me and Yiddish was flowing out of my mouth now like lies from a politician. “Hodu” suddenly kicked in, and so did I. Breathing heavily, I climbed ever upward, inspired, pumped, lungs aching, feet screaming obscenities. I could not be stopped. I was a Jewish walking machine, sucking in air as I ascended higher and higher toward Sunset Boulevard. Mouthing silent oys as I schlepped, the beat growing faster and more upbeat, I was inspired and — oy, was I tired. Could I reach the promised land of Sunset Boulevard? I knew I would pay for this the next morning, but I didn’t care. I refused to look upward and focused on my feet so as not to notice how high I was climbing. I wondered how long I might lie on the street if keeled over before someone would find me.

I could be lying there, Yiddish music blasting from my unconscious ears, my headband covering my eyes, just another exercise victim who had crossed a threshold of pain.

This daydream diverted my attention long enough to get my second wind and I was off. Huffing and puffing nearing the top, almost there, thousands of years of Jewish determination pounding in my veins, two feet more, one, I was there. I stood on Sunset Boulevard and peered downward like Moses glimpsing the River Jordan.

The beat compelled me onward, so I walked along Sunset, so filled with accomplishment I thought I would burst.

I walked toward home until I found a downhill street on which to begin my descent. Whoa, this downhill was almost as hard. I fought to keep the rhythm, until I reached Santa Monica Boulevard. I trudged up the steps and tore my shoes off, the music still filling my ears, joyous, upbeat. I had done three miles and walked uphill. There was no talking to me now. I was filled with hope. Tomorrow I could do this again. I felt it; I knew it.

Wednesday, 8 a.m.

I opened my eyes, and flush with optimism I stepped out of bed. Oy, flush with pain.

But there was no stopping me. I was a Jew with her music and a worthy goal of fitting into the dress for her daughter’s wedding.


Got Baby Weight? Try Pilates


Too many “When are you due?” comments that came weeks after I gave birth to my second child were all the motivation I needed to reclaim my body. I had gained 60 pounds with my first child, but I bounced back into shape with little effort. Now I was five years older, recovering from a difficult pregnancy and a cesarean delivery. I knew I was going to need determination, patience and willpower if I wanted to put on my favorite pair of jeans again.

My main goal in the first few months was to keep moving. At first I began brisk daily walks with my daughter, Stella, in her stroller. I walked up to 45 minutes at a time (if she would allow it), and fast enough to lose my breath. Then I began integrating exercises I could do while she was with me outdoors: modified push-ups (on my knees), dips (with my hands on a park bench), lunges (holding the stroller in front of me) and some standing stretches (sidebends and hamstring stretches). Doing all of this while caring for my newborn baby meant that on some days I had to be content with just 20 minutes of exercise. Having a good video at home to squeeze in a workout while the baby was napping was also key to my exercise program.

All of the exercise was great, but if I wanted to return to my former size I couldn’t continue to eat as if I was still pregnant. Focusing on a strict diet had never worked for me in the past, so I chose instead to watch what I ate and how much I needed to eat so that I wasn’t hungry. This meant cutting my portions down considerably and restricting dessert to something low-cal once a week. I also kept water bottles with me at all times to make sure I was drinking enough.

After I began to shed pounds, I knew I needed to tackle two other problems: my doughy stomach and my achy back. Who would have thought that caring for a 9-pound infant could wreak such havoc on the body?

This is where my Pilates background really helped. Since Pilates focuses so much on alignment while strengthening and stretching, it took care of both problems. It’s the muscles in our midsection that enable us to stand up tall and take the weight and strain off our backs. All Pilates exercises focus on these core muscles.

Although I’ve owned my Pilates studio for more than 10 years and have been training for over 20, I still had to begin slowly with the simplest of abdominal exercises. Just curling my head and shoulders off the ground was too much at first. Fundamental exercises like knee folds, where the head and shoulders stay down and the abdominals stabilize the lumbar spine, was a better way to start. I had to focus on scooping my abdominals to protect my back.

It was humbling to watch my body quiver as I performed these basic exercises. It’s tempting to just do crunches all day when your stomach is this out of shape. However, listen to your body. Overworking the abdominals at this stage can put you at risk for a hernia. Using Pilates equipment like the reformer, the trap table and even a basic workout ball made these movements a lot easier for me to perform properly. When I couldn’t make it into my studio, I would do matwork at home using a Thera-Band to add resistance.

Although 30 pounds fell off of me almost immediately, the last 15 were reluctant to budge. It was a bit discouraging when my body didn’t meet the deadline I had set for it. It took 14 weeks of hard work before I could perform a roll-up without assistance.

I practiced moderation with my eating over the holidays and resumed my regime with the beginning of the New Year. My workout schedule now consists of a Pilates session two to three times a week and a variety of aerobic exercises one to four times a week.

Stella is 4 months old, and intent on learning to roll over. Her mom is beginning to see those muscles again, but still struggling to lose her last 6 pounds. We are both determined and progressing nicely.

Maria Leone is the owner of Bodyline Fitness Studio in Beverly Hills. For more information, visit

Taking a Leap

No one asked me to my senior prom. Jon asked Liz, Steve asked Jen, Brian asked me how to ask Kim, but my dance card remained empty. I sulked, I cried, I listened to Monster Ballads.

I swore my life was over. Then I found inspiration in an article on famous women who never went to their prom — I was inspired to keep my name from ever appearing on a list of powerful chicks who missed their big dance. This Cinderella was going to the ball. I picked up the phone, called Dave Rosenberg, and invited him to Prom ’92.

This weekend, you can do the same. Well, not exactly the same. I mean you shouldn’t ask out an 18-year-old football player or call Dave Rosenberg. But dial a guy and ask him out. Or ask him to marry you.

Don’t drop your jaw at me. Popular tradition says Feb. 29 is one day it’s appropriate for a woman to propose to a man. Women can get down on one knee and pop the question on leap year day. It sounds risky, but let’s be honest, guys never say "no" to a girl on her knees. So in this Sunday’s performance of "Love Life," the role of "pushing things forward" will be played by a woman.

Leap year fixes a flaw in the calendar and a glitch in our culture. We women constantly complain about our position on the dating food chain. We have to wait for men to ask us out, make the first move and call the next day. Well now we can stop waiting and start dating. This leap year weekend, don’t wait for him to give you a ring, don’t wait for the phone to ring, don’t wait for anything or anyone involving any sort of ring. Throw out the outdated dating rules, find your inner chutzpah and go for the gold. Or platinum. Or princess cut.

We’ve all heard that aggressive women can scare men off. But maybe it’s women who are really scared. We feel safe in our dating role; we’re comfortable waiting. But at times in relationships, you can’t just wait. There’s some assembly required.

I know, I know, what about tradition? If the girl asks the guy, does she call his parents for permission? Who pays for the ring? Who throws the bouquet? Who gets the sheep and the 200 zuzim? And what about the dream proposal you’ve always imagined? Not that I’ve fantasized about my engagement; I’m not the type of girl who daydreams. I almost never picture my name on the Jumbotron, him saying he loves me as I choke on the diamond ring he hid in my Bud Light. OK, maybe I’ve thought about it a few (100) times and hopefully, it will happen — minus the choking. Hopefully, I’ll meet a man who likes the Sprite in me, falls in love with me and proposes to me. But what if that doesn’t happen? What if I’m not asked? Most of my friends have already walked the aisle, but I’m far from buying a big white dress.

When it comes to everything else in my life — my career, my education, my writing — I go after my goals with every ounce of intelligence, determination and spunk I possess. I don’t wait for success to come my way — I make it happen. I’m a take-charge, woman-on-top kind of gal. But with something as important as marriage, I’m supposed to wait for someone else to decide when and if it’s going to happen? I don’t even like waiting for my car at the valet.

Now asking a man to get married is a whole different groove than asking him to prom — sure they both involve tuxedos, slow dancing and an alleged "first time," but one lasts a nighttime, the other a lifetime. And since I don’t have a groom-worthy boyfriend, or any boyfriend for that matter, I’m not going to propose to anyone just yet. But in the leap year spirit, I will kick-start my love life. On Sunday, I’ll call my crush, won’t hang up when he answers and ask him out for next week. Hey, it’s a start. One small step for Carin, one giant leap for womankind.

Carin Davis is a freelance writer
and can be reached at

Sharon Loses Some Influence With Bush

After President Bush’s late July meetings with the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers, one thing is clear: Ariel Sharon no longer will have things all his own way in Washington.

Bush pointedly expressed admiration and respect for Mahmoud Abbas, the new Palestinian Authority prime minister, whom he called "a leader of vision and courage and determination."

Still, Sharon was able to deflect U.S. pressure on Israel over the security fence it is building along the border with the West Bank and to underline Israel’s insistence that the Palestinians must crack down on terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The fact that Bush was effusive in his praise of Abbas — despite Abbas’ refusal to dismantle terrorist groups — worries the Israelis.

In his meetings with Bush and Condoleezza Rice, the White House national security adviser, Sharon made it clear that unless the Palestinians dismantle terrorist groups — as they are obliged to do in the first phase of the "road map" peace plan — Israel will not move on to the second phase. Sharon added that he doubts that the Palestinians will act without considerable U.S. pressure.

So far, such pressure has not been forthcoming. Israeli analysts believe that Bush went easy on Abbas, because, having invested so much in Middle East peacemaking, he wants to show the Palestinians that the United States is an "honest broker" that can deliver a fair deal.

Bush also hopes his overt show of support will shore up Abbas’ shaky status among the Palestinian public, analysts say. Ironically, Abbas’ weakness on the Palestinian street is proving to be his strength: Against the backdrop of that weakness, he has been able press for U.S. support and Israeli gestures of compromise.

Nowhere has the new U.S. "even-handedness" been more apparent than on the issue of the security fence. After his meeting with Abbas, Bush even adopted Palestinian terminology, calling the fence a "wall" and saying he would speak to Sharon about the route, urging changes wherever it causes hardship for Palestinians or cuts too deeply into the West Bank.

Sharon went to his meeting with Bush armed with aerial photographs showing that only 10 percent of the security barrier actually is a wall, in areas where snipers in Palestinian cities along the West Bank border could fire at drivers on a major Israeli highway. The rest of the barrier consists of an electronic fence, barbed wire obstacles and patrol roads, like the security fences along Israel’s borders with Lebanon and Jordan.

For weeks, Israeli officials at all levels have been trying to convince their U.S. counterparts of the need for a barrier to stop terrorists from infiltrating Israeli cities. In almost three years of the terrorist intifada, they note, not a single suicide bomber has successfully infiltrated from the Gaza Strip — which is fenced off — while more than 250 have entered Israel from the West Bank.

In their meetings with Sharon, Bush and Rice raised two concerns: That the fence creates political facts on the ground in advance of a territorial settlement with the Palestinians, and that it encompasses too much Palestinian land.

Sharon has said that the fence is not meant to have any political significance, and in the future, it could be moved, depending on where the final borders are drawn. Moreover, he said, the most controversial segment — a sizable bulge into the West Bank to include the city of Ariel, one of Israel’s largest in the West Bank — is not scheduled for construction until early next year, leaving time for disagreements to be resolved.

Bush did not pressure Sharon to stop construction of the fence or move it back to the Green Line — the pre- 1967 border between Israel and Jordan’s West Bank — but the two sides agreed to hold further consultations on the route, with the aim of minimizing hardship to Palestinians.

The U.S. intervention on the fence may not have stopped its construction, but it certainly ended any notion Sharon might have entertained of building a second fence along the Jordan Valley to protect Jewish settlements there.

The fear of being left with a minuscule Palestine, enclosed by fences on all sides, was one reason Abbas sought an American-led peace process. Preempting a two-fence plan is the first major achievement of the new Abbas strategy — though Sharon also can claim that the fence galvanized the Palestinians into choosing diplomacy over war.

For Sharon, though, it’s not the fence or its route that is likely to undermine the peace process. It is the Palestinians’ failure to disband terrorist groups. Getting that point across was the main objective of Sharon’s Washington visit. He told Bush that he believed the peace process would collapse in a matter of months if Abbas failed to act against the terrorist groups.

"We are concerned that this welcome quiet will be shattered any minute as a result of the continued existence of terror organizations, which the Palestinian Authority is doing nothing to eliminate or dismantle," Sharon said at a news conference.

In the news conference, Bush demanded that the Palestinian Authority undertake "sustained, targeted and effective operations to confront those engaged in terror and to dismantle terrorist capabilities and infrastructure."

However, Israeli analysts point out that, in his meeting with Abbas, Bush did not lay down a timetable for such action, nor did he specify how the terrorists should be confronted.

The question is whether, in the wake of the meetings, Bush will find ways to persuade both sides to do what is needed to advance the diplomatic process and rebuild mutual trust.

Fierce Determination

I admit, it doesn’t sound pleasant. You enter a room that’s been heated to above 100 degrees. The heat isn’t as suffocating as the odor, a wall of smell that hits you like a thousand stinky shoes.

You inhale the scent of sweaty armpits and groins, of excreted toxins, byproducts of fast food and fast living.

Once you get past the stench, it only gets worse. Sweat beads on the fronts of your shins before you even begin to move. Your lungs are drinking in air like too-hot tea. Though it seems like the last place you’d want to work out, the teacher comes in, covered with Zodiac-inspired tattoos and leads you through an hour and half of poses during which you bargain with your maker to let you live through your 10-class series.

Welcome to Bikram yoga, an exercise regimen where you can gauge your success by answering two simple questions: "Did I pass out?" and "Did I throw up?"

The first time my friend took me to a Bikram class in Pasadena, there was every reason to see that his car be keyed and his e-mails blocked. Instead, I wanted to hug him (which would have been pretty gross considering I was dripping with sweat and basically marinating in my own filth). Instead, we walked to the car together in a Bikram haze, limbs stretched like taffy, endorphins seeping into all the cellular crevices, eyes bright white.

My friend, who had to leave class in the middle to splash himself with cold water, said simply, "I thought I was going to die. Every moment of life from here on in is gravy. Speaking of gravy, let’s eat. I just burned off 9,000 calories."

That was several weeks ago and I’ve just about used up that 10-class series without suffering any lasting heart damage. I keep going back. Imagine jogging in a sauna for 90 minutes, voluntarily. That’s what I’ve been doing without really knowing why.

I dragged my girlfriend to class last week. After class, she said, "I don’t like you very much. In fact, I hate you. Excuse me, but I have to cry now." She sobbed, like you do from physical exhaustion sometimes, eyes puffy and red, sweat matting her bangs to her forehead. She was back at Bikram the next day. She brought a friend and now that friend says she’s hooked. She hates it, but she’s hooked.

Now, we’ve taken to carpooling to Pasadena together in a car filled with towels and bottles of water and trepidation about our very survival. On the ride home, we break it all down: whether we could regulate our own heartbeat, whether we liked the teacher, what students around us were showing off or making weird bodily noises.

Yesterday, the teacher had one of those hard-to-place, maybe her dad was in the-military, Kathleen Turner kind of accents. She said, like most teachers do, "Look at your own eyes in the mirror." She added something new, saying, "You are here for yourself today, to heal yourself from the inside." I looked at myself and a little tiny door opened in my head. Other than in yoga class, I wasn’t working very hard for that person in the mirror. I pictured the three library books on how to write a book proposal that I had checked out but hadn’t read, the calls not made on my own behalf, the lazy way I was looking out for myself.

A few poses later, I knew why I was there. "To do this practice requires fierce determination," said the teacher, sounding both Canadian and Irish. That’s what I had come to hear. I was doing every pose, in the sweltering, swamp-like atmosphere, to the very best of my ability. I wasn’t judging myself against the other students. I was pushing myself, taking risks, not giving up, stretching — all of the things I could be doing more of in my life.

Fierce determination. I think I got it. You try your hardest, and if you fall off-balance, or have to sit out some poses so you don’t die, you don’t sweat it. You just grab your towel and water and keep heading back into the fray.