As the New Year ramps up, it is a great time to re-visit the habits you bring to your yoga practice in a group setting. Some of these might also help your home solo practice to thrive. Maybe you are just starting out in yoga, or returning after a break with your mat. Maybe you come to yoga regularly and have gotten into your “routine” a bit too comfortably. I think this time of year is always a good one to remember a few small points of how to be courteous in yoga – to yourself, your instructor and your fellow students. These are my top 5 reminders of some basic yoga etiquette for you, and I hope they make your group yoga experience an even better one.
1. Arrive on time
Give yourself ample time to get to class. Plan to arrive 10-15 minutes before the actual start time of the class. Arrive in time to get your mat, props and self set up in the room comfortably. Remember you might also need time to: get water, go the bathroom, change clothes, stow your coat/bag/shoes and then set up in the studio.
If you are running late, don’t freak out. Come in quietly and sit against a wall on either side of a door – engage your breathing and follow the intention setting. When everyone starts moving, go and grab your yoga stuff and quietly park yourself in an open spot. It’s a bit distracting to the whole room when someone arrives late and stomps (or even quietly waltzes) through the yoga space to quickly set up their yoga mat after class has already started – nobody can quite settle in. If it feels weird to sit down by a doorway after your entry, wait until after the intention setting and pranayama are finished and then enter the room once the more active part of the class has begun. It’s less distracting if someone arrives and is moving about while everyone else in the room is moving about.
If there is a reason you are running late (like you can only make one class per week but you will never be able to make it on time because of kid pick-up or work obligation), pull your teacher aside at the end of class and explain the situation. Most yoga teachers I know are very compassionate and caring individuals who want to make things work for you while also respecting boundaries. I have so many variations of how to work with whenever you can arrive – we’ll find a solution that gets you your yoga comfortably without disrupting the other students.
2. Settle in (and out)
A part of settling in to your practice might be introducing yourself to a new teacher or asking a question about the upcoming class. Giving yourself time to settle in will offer up the opportunity to talk with a teacher about any injuries or health conditions you might need to modify for during the class. You might also have questions about the practice of yoga in general and this extra time is great for that too. Some students love to take a little extra quiet time sitting or resting on their back to prepare for class. Other students enjoy talking with one another and catching up in community. All of this is possible if you give yourself the time and opportunity to settle in. All too often students come in to practice with plenty of time to settle in, but then they sit and stare at their phones for 10 minutes before yoga (but more on that in #5) and begin their practice more stressed out than when they arrived. Suffice it to say that a few extra moments to speak with your teacher or feel your own space before the practice begins can really enhance your practice.
Settling in is also about being friendly and courteous to your fellow practitioners and to your teacher. Make space for other students if they arrive after you. Scoot your mat over if you have room. Organize your props to make space for additional students. Be willing to move if a student needs to have a wall space or high clearance and you’re in that specific spot. I’ve had adult students get in yelling matches over “their spot” in the room, throw blocks at one another, insult one another and so much more over the years. I’ve also had students call me names, push me, threaten me and insult me. Please practice being kind to one another and your teachers – yoga is a great space for stretching this skillfulness as well as your hamstrings.
When class is over, the settling out of the space happens. Please clean up after yourself. Dirty snot rags? Put them in the garbage bin. Mats? Put in them in the to-clean bin. Props? Place them orderly back on the shelves. If you leave early, consider a time to leave when you can stow your used items quietly. No joke: I’ve had to pick up not only dirty tissues but also used band-aids, piles of skin a student peeled off during class, large hair balls and nail clippings (that is not something to do as part of your settling in, please). I’ve also had students regularly take two of every possible piece of equipment in the studio (including hand weights we would never use in a yoga class) and leave class every time after 15 minutes with a pile of stuff left behind for me to put away. If you need my help putting things away for you for any reason, just ask so I know that extra task is coming.
3. Go with the flow (mostly :))
I am the foremost believer in making your practice work for you. Movement patterns are so individually based that what will work for one person, may not work for another. You’ll notice in my classes that I offer a lot of options and variations because of this, and I am open to modifications galore. So this tip is more about moving with the general flow of a group practice and honoring that. If the class is doing a sun salutation but a student is doing a handstand, it can be really distracting to the whole class.
When I take classes myself, I really enjoy “losing” myself in someone else’s sequence because it’s usually a completely different way than I would normally practice. I’ll modify around my injuries or personal movement quirks, but I’ll stick with the basic game plan. This allows me (and you if you find yourself in this situation) to learn new pathways of practice. A bridge could be a wheel or vice versa (they’re both backends). A dolphin pose could sub for a forearm balance pose or vice versa (they’re both inversions). It feels respectful of myself to care for what I need by modifying, but it also feels respectful to the wisdom of the teacher I’m taking with to explore what they are actually teaching through their sequence. And when I need to modify outside of that, I ask what they might recommend to help me with what I’m feeling or experiencing – because I genuinely want to co-create my experience with my teachers (and the students who come to class).
You can ask me any time during any class to help with modifications to help suit what you are looking for in your practice and I will weave them in for you. It’s one of my passions to meet you wherever you are at and to figure out what works. If you feel, on any given day, like you just want to do whatever you want, it might be a good day for a home practice, or a good time to tell your teacher you want to do your own thing and head to a spot in the room where that won’t distract the rest of the class.
4. Stay for savasana
The quiet period at the end of a physical yoga practice is so important (and so wonderful). Called savasana, this long relaxation period is like a marinating time for the gifts of the session. It invites your body, mind, emotional state, energy level and spirit to soak in the effects of the class. It also gives you a restful transition period from the work of the practice to whatever is coming next in your life. Leaving without savasana can be a bit of a jarring transition for your system post-practice.
If you know you need to leave early, just stop, drop and savasana 6 minutes or so before you have to leave. Your body and mind will thank you.
If you find yourself resistant to lying down in savasana or you don’t like to close your eyes, experiment with a supported or upright shape, or taking savasana with your eyes gently open and looking at a specific point. Savasana should be where you feel comfortable, and that can be an infinite number of shapes.
I really thought that savasana was a waste of time when I first started yoga – and you might be feeling that way too. I just wanted to go, go, go. I couldn’t find anything useful in lying around on the ground. It took me a lot time of exploring those feelings as my savasana. Whatever arises for you at the end of a practice, perhaps your savasana is simply giving yourself time to feel and process what is coming up for you.
5. Make boundaries with your tech
I’ve been teaching for 18 years, and the smartphone conundrum gets worse and worse every year. Just this week I’ve had students texting during poses, making purchases on their phones during pranayama, talking into their smartwatches during class, answering phone calls during savasana, leaving their alerts on full blast and so much more. All of this in locations where mobile phones are not even technically allowed in the studios at all. When I ask students to put their phones aside, I often get a lot of attitude (and some hate mail in my social media inboxes).
My last tip is actually a dare. I dare you to leave your phone outside of the yoga studio locked up somewhere far from you. I dare you to not look at your phone for 20 minutes before your practice and another 20 minutes after your practice. I dare you to experience the anxiety that arises when you don’t have access to your phone and all its bells and whistles, and to breathe through those feelings. Staring at a screen, scrolling through emails and social media feeds has proven, detrimental effects on attention span, brain-wave changes, nervous system stimulation and sleep patterns. Distancing yourself from your mobile phone may be one of the best things you can do for your mental well-being and for experiencing the gifts of your yoga practice more fully.
Here’s to a bit more courteous and conscious habits in your practice in 2020!
Yesterday was the Spring Equinox and the official start of this new season…I don’t think Chicago got the memo 🙂 There is a still a blustery, coldness to the air here today, and a huge winter snowstorm on the East Coast. We all know the wild oscillations in the weather are probable in the upcoming weeks of this new season. We can also feel the changing light levels: the sun rises earlier and sets later giving an expanding quality to each day. The first green things are just starting to show themselves out of the brittle soil even with the cold temperatures.
These are precisely the qualities that are so prevalent in Spring: a mutability of temperatures, a broadening growth of all things and a sort of beautiful chaos as nature remembers how to move again after the Winter – clumsy and slow at first, but then gathering steam. It is essential because of these qualities that we turn to our grounding practices and feel the ways we are growing in new directions too so as not to get swept up in the chaos or lost in the fast expansion of energy in the environment.
My yoga practice come springtime takes on a whole new energy. I find myself lingering in long standing sequences, opening my hips and exploring balance poses. I am drawn to deep almost vigorous breathing exercises that help me remember my own expansion into this new season. My quiet, restful stretches of long, bundled up winter savasana give way to a certain eagerness to spread out at the end of my practice. I awaken at the end of my savasana these days completely splayed out with arms and legs wide as if to say with my whole body, “I’m ready to move and grow again!”
As a result of these tendencies of springtime energy, it is so easy to feel anxious, fidgety and even a bit spacey and lost. Energy around us is expanding rapidly and without a proper ground, that expansion dissipates or confuses. Consider a seed. It really needs to root itself down into the ground in order to grow up into a plant. You, your energy and your new directions of growth are no different!
So how can you bring a grounded growth into your springtime routine? Here are 5 simple practices to stay balanced all throughout the dynamic nature of Spring.
1. Practice the variations of the breathing technique Sama Vritti
Sama Vritti is a name given to many variations of breathing exercises that cultivate even, steady breath patterns. The most basic of these techniques is to inhale and count your inhalation and then to exhale for the same count. If you inhale for 5 seconds, exhale for 5 seconds. The next round of breath might be inhalation 8 and exhalation 8. The number is not important and need not stay the same for each round of breath, just balance the inhalation length to the exhalation length. The result is a certain steadiness – neither totally relaxed nor stressed out but somewhere at the equilibrium point.
Another variation of this technique is commonly called 4 Part Breathing and involves an inhalation for 4 seconds, holding the inhalation for 4 seconds, exhalation for 4 seconds, and holding the exhalation out for 4 seconds. It works with breath retention to deepen feelings of balance and equilibrium.
Both of these breathing techniques are great at revealing where you may be out of balance. Let’s say that simply cannot lengthen your exhalation to match your inhalation – you run out of breath too soon. This lets you know that you are holding on to a lot very tightly and having some difficulty releasing it. Similarly if you can exhale for hours but have difficulty inhaling you may be in a period of releasing a lot and re-learning how to nourish yourself. Either tidbit of information can tell how what to focus on more in your own practice to balance yourself out.
2. Incorporate longer, slower holds of standing postures in your yoga practice
Standing poses are wonderful physical mediums for grounded energy. They help you connect with your feet, your legs and the way the ground feels underneath you. Consider adding in longer holds of simple standing poses like Warrior 1, Lunge, Warrior 2 and Triangle to your home practice. Take your time to really feel the alignment of your feet and the strength of your legs. Put your energy into your legs – feel them as your root system. Get a sense of how you can grow up and out of your legs and hips when you are more grounded through your feet. Slower practices and standing poses also help you face what can feel chaotic about Spring and all the rapid changes it brings to the world around you.
3. Open your chest, your shoulders and your lungs!
The cold, dry winter air can make our chest so tight and our posture so slouchy. To practice that expansive quality of Spring, bring in more chest openers and shoulder work to your practice. I love Extended Warrior variations, Chest Opener at the Wall, Shoulder Shrugs, Eagle Arms, Twisting Table
and so many others to pick up my posture. When our posture is supported and upright, it is so much easier to take a deep, full, refreshing breath which helps us feel more energized entering Spring.
4. Bring in balance poses to your daily life.
Everyone loves to hate on balance poses like Tree Pose, Standing Leg Reach, Standing Pigeon (or as some of you like to call it: Falling Pigeon Pile) in my classes. They ARE challenging, but they are also physically, mentally and emotionally beneficial. Physical balance requires focus, grounding through the standing leg, core engagement, hip strength and the ability to respond to small movements without getting totally knocked over. All of those lessons apply to Spring! Standing in Tree Pose even if your foot is shifting from inner to outer edge demands that you adapt in the moment and respond. The same thing happens when perhaps it is warm in the afternoon and then an evening cold front comes through and you have on a light jacket – you need to grab your scarf, put on an extra layer and stay warm without cursing the return of the cold. Even if you fall out of standing balance poses in your practice, keep putting them into your routine. You won’t learn how to balance by avoiding. Be like a baby and when you fall, give a good little chuckle and crawl back up to try again. These poses will build your resiliency and balance in the midst of the mutability Spring often brings.
5. Write down your action steps for your dreams and how to make them reality.
Winter for me is a dreamtime – it’s when I reach into the vastness of the dark and pull out a few bright morsels. But I know that as my energy is in hibernation and recharge mode in Winter, I don’t have the juice to act on those bright morsels yet. When Spring arrives, the energy is finally free and moving to take action on things I’ve been dreaming about. This is why I don’t set New Year’s resolutions anymore – I just use Winter to rest and dream. Now when Spring arrives I have a huge amount of ideas to pare down and select from. Write down a list of your dreams and wishes and desires. Pick the ones that feel the most important. Identify steps you can now start taking to making those dreams a reality. This will also help you harness the expanding energy of Spring to carry you into what you want in your life path.
If you are in class with me regularly, you will probably notice that these themes and techniques are coming back around! Some of you have already commented that we have been doing too much Tree Pose 🙂 Expect that and the balanced breathing techniques, standing poses and rootedness of the practice to continue to help you through Spring.
May you also remember at this wonderful and at times confusing junction of the year the wisdom of one of my favorite quotes from author Cynthia Occelli, “For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out, and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” Just when you think everything has gone to hell in a hand-basket, consider that maybe your life needed to be upended to feed your next growth. Stay grounded in your own body and energy and the chaotic expansion of the Spring season can be exciting, beautiful growth rather than angst over warmth not arriving fast enough for you. One person sees growth and another destruction – you get to choose what you see and what you connect with in this season. I hope these ideas give you some guidance into a fresh view this season! Happy Spring!
I decided to write some blogs about the real life problems of being a yoga teacher as a career. We face a lot of issues and because we are in a wellness profession, things are often glossed over in favor of making everything about our lives and work appear shiny even if it’s fake. I want you to know the inside scoop about being a teacher and I have a whole series of posts about the good and challenging aspects of being a yoga instructor as a career. These are meant to be illuminating and compassion provoking posts for your yoga teachers – so you have some insights into the complexity of their jobs – not so you can attack the places they work at. And fellow yoga teachers, I hope these posts help support you in navigating an even better lifestyle and career for yourself! I also recognize that yoga teachers are not the only people who face these challenges and although I do not know all industries, I can imagine that what I’m writing about also impacts many freelancers and even “regular” employees in the current corporate environment and culture.
This post idea began not long ago when I got violently and suddenly sick in front of my students. I was fine one second and completely sick to my stomach and near passing out from dizziness the next. It was a scary experience. The students were amazing – they brought me water, checked in on me, made sure I had a ride home and even started up my iTunes app so they could keep practicing as I sat in the corner nearly fainting. To make matters more intense, I could only think of one person who worked nearby my class who might be able to come and pick me up (with my car I couldn’t drive in my vertigo state). This person is a student and it was really hard to call her. As a teacher I’m used to doing the helping and it was hard to be the one asking for help. She of course came to help me without even a second thought and I’m so thankful she drove my sick self home! It was a real reminder in our common human vulnerability and the need to care for one another.
I also had to reach out to my manager at another club where I was scheduled to teach in less than an hour and tell her I was sick. Stressful! Classes don’t get canceled and certainly not without penalty. One place I used to teach at would bill you if you missed a class. Other places write you up and you can be terminated from your employment after three write ups. Stressful part two! Luckily in this instance the teacher before me was able to stay for the class I taught and everything worked out. Also the manager on the other end of that line was incredibly compassionate and helpful in every way possible – even checking in on me through the evening hours once I got home to make sure I was ok. Even with that, it weighs on me each time I have an emergency situation that I might lose one or several of my jobs because of an illness.
You might be asking why I’m writing about this. Well, I’m not sure people know how hard it is to be a yoga instructor and deal with something “simple” like getting sick – especially when it comes on suddenly. We have to find coverage for our classes which means reaching out to a large substitute instructor list, getting approval for our subs from managers and doing so in a timely manner. Up until a month ago, I never had ANY sick time. A new Chicago city ordinance has enabled me, for the first time in 15 years of teaching, to accrue a small amount of sick time for every hour I work (1 hour sick time for every 40 hours work). That meant every time I missed a class for any health related issue before this ordinance, I didn’t get paid and had no way to recoup income. When I contracted pneumonia over the winter and missed over a week of work, I lost more than 25% of my monthly earnings. When I had a serious surgery and was told by my medical professional to take at least a week off of any work that involved talking or moving my body (ahem my whole job involves talking and moving my body), I took 3 days because that was all I could afford and came back to teaching with a mouth full of stitches.
Even with an egg of savings, what if I am injured or seriously ill and unable to teach for months? Most disability insurance is extremely expensive and does not cover all situations. In fact many situations that would regularly take me out of work were not covered by the disability insurance plans I looked at. It also can take two weeks or more to even begin paying. I simply can’t afford to buy both disability insurance and health insurance – I had to pick one and chose to keep my health insurance. There is always a lingering worry in the back of my head that I will be physically unable to teach and my savings will run out and perhaps even worse that I will have no job to return to when I get better.
I’m ashamed to say that I’ve had to teach with a cold, the flu virus and a stomach bug because coverage could not be found for my class in time and “a class can’t be canceled.” I’m not the only one. If you knew how many of your fitness and yoga teachers come to teach their classes deathly ill and fake being “ok,” you would be shocked and dismayed. Without paid sick time to cover outages, we are really in a bind when we get sick. Take the time off if you can get a sub, but miss out on necessary income. Or teach while you are sick and potentially get everyone around you sick. Neither one a great option. There is also often the feeling of letting the students down if you don’t come in and teach. The new city ordinance helps somewhat, but consider that some of your yoga teachers may only be employed 4 or 6 hours a week and it could take them 8-10 weeks of work to accrue just one hour of sick time. And they are only accruing sick time at places where they are employees. Most yoga studios hire all their teachers as contractors and therefore this ordinance would not apply to any of those classes. Crazy, I know!
I’ve also been told in the past that I “get sick too much,” as if that is something under my control. I am never away from work unless absolutely necessary. I not only love my job but also care deeply for the student experience and consistency in my teaching. I am exposed to nearly 100 people a day in close proximity and I work in locations considered community health settings where germs and bugs flourish. Just Google some of the swab tests that have been done on yoga mats in studios and gyms. You will 1. forever bring your own mat to props to class and 2. understand the onslaught my immune system is under every day. It’s almost like being a school teacher! To add to this, teaching private clients in their homes when children are potentially sick or have been sick exposes me to even more opportunities to pick up illnesses. Who gets to determine how many times I get sick or need health procedures done? Before this city ordinance, I worried every single time I took a sick day that I would lose my jobs. I only have one day off per week and all of my health related appointments had to be scheduled on that day which is also hard. I still feel on tenuous ground even though I am now legally accruing sick time. If I am already perceived as “sick too much” does that mean another sick day will put me out of a job?
There is also a student perception here. Yoga teachers are often seen as bastions of “health” and “vitality.” When I had this recent sick day emergency, I came back to several students saying things like, “But you’re a yoga teacher, you aren’t supposed to get sick” and “Isn’t yoga supposed to heal all that illness stuff?” Ummmm…no. Yoga teachers are human beings with immune systems susceptible to viruses and bacteria just like regular humans. Yes, practicing yoga has been shown to improve immune system response, but that doesn’t make your teachers infallible. Yoga is not a cure all! We are not superheroes! It feels really awful when we are judged for getting sick – as if that is something that doesn’t happen to “spiritual” or “good” yoga teachers.
I wish there was an easy answer here, but alas I think that many working professionals in many disciplines have similar issues. The freelance economy that many industries are increasingly moving towards suffer from many of the same problems. I believe that many employees in corporate environments feel similar pressures even if they do have a bank of sick time. Don’t even get me started on true mental health days. Some of your yoga teachers have worked 40 and 50 day periods straight without ever having a day off. One local teacher recently bragged about 100 straight days of teaching nearly 12 hour days with commutes and free special events alongside regular classes and clients. The next post put up on their page was about the physical crash that followed and a serious bout of illness. Yoga teachers need to learn to take sick days when they are sick and to better balance their schedules to allow for down time and self-care. One of my next posts addresses why in the heck that is SO HARD to do when you work in this field (Hint: it’s often financial tied in with the strong tendency to want to give to others).
Yoga teachers take care of their students in physical, mental, emotional and spiritual ways. We are (and I know this is going to be a controversial statement) integrative health care professionals. As such we need to be supported in working fair hours (see my upcoming post about how our working hours are not just in-studio teaching time) and in getting well when we get sick. The next time your yoga teacher is out sick, love up their sub and tell the managers how thrilled you are that your yoga teacher got time off. Ask if they are getting paid for getting well. You pay a lot of money for your yoga classes, gym memberships and the studio packages. Why not make sure more of that is shared as a benefit to your teachers? Thanks to all the beautiful students who text me, call me, check in on me, delight in the subs who cover my classes and generally rock being caring and compassionate humans in this regard when I am not well. Thanks to all the managers who do help out and are supportive when I have been sick or needed help in the past. Thanks to all the colleagues who have stepped in when I needed to cover a class to get well – your help does not go unnoticed or unappreciated. I wouldn’t be doing what I love for this many years (going on 15!!) without all of you and your support.
In the summer of 2015 I unexpectedly found myself in one of the most magical and spiritual places I have ever visited: Assisi, Italy. I had no preconceived notion that I would feel this way about this place. Eric and I decided to visit this city because we had never been to Umbria and we were hosting a yoga retreat nearby the week before. We try and visit a new part of the country we travel to each year. Recently I was reminded of just how magical this trip was when scanning through the television channels and coming upon a Rick Steves episode all about Assisi.
As soon as we arrived in Assisi and checked into our quaint and quiet little apartment, we felt different. Settled. It was a searingly hot summer with temperatures in the high 90s up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit the whole time we were there. There was no air conditioning and absolutely no breeze, just the pink stones covering the winding walkways of this mystical old city and hours of blistering sunlight. We wandered from church to church, each one a dark and cool respite from the heat. Many of the churches did not allow any photography or talking. This too felt soothing to the mental and emotional heat I had to adjust to after coming down off leading an intense retreat experience.
Assisi is the city where Saint Francis was born and founded the Franciscan religious order in the early 1200s. This order was (and is) dedicated to helping the poor, to seeing the joyous nature of life on Earth, to social justice and to living simply. All throughout our walks we would see friars, visiting priests and nuns walking amongst the tourists and residents – many of them emanating a kind and peaceful presence of Being. With such a historical significance, Assisi is equal parts Catholic churches and silent monasteries (and tourist shops!). We went in every one to explore this energy we felt all through the town.
We hiked up to the hermitage rooms and caves in Eremo delle Carceri used by many a monk to commune with Self and God. We hiked down into the catacombs of many churches and visited the resting places of Santa Clara and other historical figures. We even visited Portiuncula – a tiny, ancient and powerful feeling church with a huge Basilica built around it on the outskirts of Assisi. We spent hours in the two main churches of Assisi – collectively called the Basilica di San Francesco d’Assisi – scouring the intricate artwork and appreciating the dark and light shapes of the lower and upper churches.
In each of these holy places, Eric and I (who are not necessarily “religious” people) could feel a pull of something deep and silent. Thousands upon thousands of people had prayed, convened, made pilgrimages to and worked from these spaces for many years. They left an imprint. The tiny little hermitage rooms with their one small bench felt soothing even though there was nothing about their physical shape to soothe us. The cool quiet tombs had a certain whisper of wisdom in their old air even though physically they only contained bones. The churches covered in beautiful paintings and tile work inspired our hearts even if we didn’t know who the artists were. One church even had this incredible tile mural of Saint Francis preaching to a sea of fishes – all handpainted – that we will never forget! (Saint Francis is sometimes called a patron saint of animals.)
Perhaps what struck both of us so much was that most of these churches and tombs had signs in nearly a dozen languages with two simple directives: No Photos and Silence. (Hence the no pictures of any of these sites in this blog.) Seems easy enough, and yet in every site we went and felt such a pull of silence, everyone else ignored these two simple rules and proceeded to talk loudly, point at and remark about things they saw, touch painted surfaces, photograph every little detail and disregard what felt natural to us in these places – to simply be quiet, observe, absorb and be with the experience of the space. Periodically over the loudspeaker as the din of people talking grew louder, a kind but exasperated deep voice would say, “Silenzio SHH!” or “Silence SHH!” and for a few moments a hush would come over the crowds. (Eric said it sounded like Sister Mary Elephant from Cheech and Chong – the reference is lost on me.) Not long after, the talking and photographing would start up again and the frustrated friars would look on with dismay. This repeated all day every day.
At times I wish I could be the voice over the loudspeaker saying a simple “Silenzio, SHH” reminder in many a circumstance of modern life. To the person talking to their neighbor during savasana. To the people having loud conversations in public spaces on speaker phone. To the person blasting music loud enough for all to hear through their headphones as they run around the beautiful corner of Chicago’s lakefront path. To the people taking a million selfies on the beach but missing the beautiful waves just before them. It is so easy for us to be distracted and to give in to the urge to busily log everything in picture form on our phones to share on social media instead of actually experiencing the place we are in, to speak about everything out loud instead of listening to another person or the energy of a space fully, to wrap ourselves in music/television/internet instead of sitting with the world around us.
Every place in the world from your home city to a remote island in the Pacific has its own energy and special feeling. Assisi is not alone in this! It just happened to be a powerful place where I could really find a connection to this principle of being absorbed in the unique energy of a location through quietude. Could you take the time to put your phone away, to sit or stand quietly, and to listen with all your Being to what is around you? You might be surprised at the Beauty that wells up from the silence.
Last year at this time I was just finishing up assisting a monthlong teacher training course alongside my teacher, Ana Forrest. It was an enlightening and grueling month of 4am mornings, intense learning and inspiring work. I oscillated all month between feeling completely in the “right place” as a yoga teacher and feeling like running away entirely. I felt alternately like a highly skilled instructor and total fraud. At the end of the month, I began a year of questioning whether I should continue being a yoga teacher at all. This wasn’t a matter of whether I “could” be a yoga teacher – I have been a yoga teacher for 14 years and the skills to do so successfully are there for me to grow from. This was more a question of whether I “should” continue being a yoga teacher or whether my Spirit was feeling restless and looking in a different direction.
For a while before assisting this teacher training I had been feeling lackluster. The politics of the “yoga world” were bringing me down. Teachers speaking badly of one another, seeing teachers with the right “look” move ahead even as their students were getting injured, the general competitiveness of a community that outwardly “supported” one another but inwardly exposed a deeply ingrained scarcity complex. I felt unappreciated for my really hard work. I spent (and spend) hours working on sequences, doing my own practice to stay inspired, educating myself to be a better and better teacher and so much more. I was feeling like all that meant nothing. Then festivals and workshop venues started questioning the number of Facebook and Instagram followers I had – as if this was a better litmus test of what kind of instructor I was than my actual teaching skills and training. Falling compensation rates, festivals not paying at all, and potential clients balking at the price of private sessions all compounded my feelings. At this time last year I had come off some comments through the grapevine about how I was getting “old” not in age but in teaching techniques, and fears of being irrelevant in the changing yoga atmosphere toward fast-paced flashy vinyasa sequences were at the forefront of my mind.
Through my work with Ana Forrest last September, each day I questioned what I was doing and why. She pushed my boundaries physically, mentally and emotionally, and questioned me about my ethics and values – not to be mean but to get me to hone in on what I really wanted from my life and to cut out the extraneous. She revealed to me as no one else could these glaring blind spots in my life and in my teaching. She has known me longer than anyone except my family, partner and a few close friends – she knows me inside and out better than I do sometimes. She can see me without the veil of my limiting beliefs and from a lifetime of her own experiences in the deep dark places. She was willing to go with me into those feelings of inadequacy and fear – to understand where they were really coming from. I’m a graceful navigator of life – a fact she reminded me of daily – and she knew better than I did that these feelings of not belonging in the yoga world were merely an indicator of another much deeper Spiritual malady and discomfort.
I was there to assist a teacher training, but she assigned me to write poems and read them out loud in front of everyone with a trembling voice. She sat with me when everyone else had partnered up for an exercise, set a timer and asked me to tell her all the secrets I had kept bottled up for so long. She listened openly about how cramped my Spirit felt in my current life. She threw me in front of the crowds coming to her intensives and encouraged me to speak in ways that I never had. Ana Forrest told me repeatedly in whispers throughout the month to, “Let the Poet speak, she has important things to say.” She left me at the end of the month with the note below: “Please schedule in writing as a daily spiritual responsibility. It’s time. Spiritual Fulfillment.”
Because while I have found tremendous fulfillment, delight and financial success as a yoga teacher, it was at the expense of some other really important dreams of my Spirit. I put on hold my ideas for books and the stories that passed by in dreams. I closed off the whispers of poems that passed through my ears while I cued elbow to knee or drove down Lake Shore Drive. I came to believe that the thing I was best at was teaching yoga. I forgot that there was a time not long ago that I did write every day. I remembered a time in my life when I lived in a internal world of magical stories made real on the page. My discomfort with my current career and all the signs around it were simply redirecting me back to the magic of these stories. The stories have been bubbling up louder and louder each year, and the roar could no longer be ignored.
One of the most fantastic parts of Forrest Yoga is just this: the reclaiming of our whole Self, not just the accepted one. Breath by breath, practice by practice, the tools of Forrest Yoga infiltrate life off the mat to bring about the most amazing epiphanies. From the memory of the magic of those stories I went forward and hired a shaman – Bridget Boland – to help me on the process of calling in my other parts of Spirit that needed attention. We have spent the better part of this year doing the work necessary to clear limiting beliefs, work with past mistakes, forgive myself and move ahead with a guidance from wisdom-keepers beyond my daily life.
I likely will not have the biggest Instagram following at any time. I don’t teach or sequence “traditionally” – I’m like me. I am still teaching. I decided not to go, but I made an agreement about staying. If I was going to continue teaching it had to be unapologetically on my terms. I re-cultivated my own voice and took some big risks in the topics, sequences and methods I taught from. I included more ceremonial work and anatomical instruction this year publicly than ever before. I talked about my dark spots. I read poems in class (not one of my own yet). I wrote blogs like this and journal entries more frequently than in the previous 10 years of teaching yoga full time. I stopped comparing myself to other yoga teachers and focused on what I was doing. I chose to spend time with those who really inspire me in different areas of my life. Moving into next year I turned down any work that didn’t actually support me in the teacher and person I most want to be. I made space in my schedule for writing. And I am happier for it.
Many students have stay or go questions: marriages, jobs, having children and so much more. I’m not a therapist – I have no training in that arena – but through the practices of Forrest Yoga I can help you listen to the voice of your Spirit more clearly. And through the voice of your Spirit you can feel when it is time to stay, go or simply change the balance of power of elements in your life. So a year later and a lot of reflection from whirlwind experiences over the past 12 months, I’ve decided to stay but, as many of you have noticed, with some big changes in my teaching. I hope that those changes continue so that the pieces of me long held in storage can finally get more air than my Ujjayi breathing.
As part of my birthday celebration, a dear student and friend gifted me a ticket to see the incredible Adele perform at the United Center last Monday. I’ve lived in the Chicagoland area my whole life, and I love music, but I had never been to the United Center nor had I ever seen a “big” show like this one. I was excited and nervous all at the same time! Walking into that huge space surrounded by so many excited people was overwhelming and beautiful.
I love Adele’s music and I have all her albums, but I wouldn’t say that I am a superfan or anything. I don’t know the words to every song. I don’t know her whole story. I guess I should say, “I didn’t” because now I am a superfan, have been binge listening to her songs all week and have tried to learn more about her.
To say I left her concert inspired is a gross understatement – I left her concert moved very deeply into my very core. From the glorious first moment when her voice suddenly said a melodic “Hello” to us as she rose from the floor to the stage to the final lyrics of a third encore and an explosion of confetti spilled out over the crowds, I was struck by her raw passion. This is a woman who not only wrote and performed incredible music, but also relayed to us between songs the humanity of her experience raising her son, losing and finding her creativity again after taking a “break” to be a Mum, and her trials with love over the years. She joked about how she only has two happy songs and the rest were there for us to cry together about. She told us about how she loved our city and what she did while here. She pulled people up from the crowd and sang with them, hugged them and took selfies with them.
In short, she spoke to a crowd of thousands – and me – as if we were close friends catching up over dinner at the end of the week. With every song, the richness and emotion of every note came pouring out of her. Just thinking about it again, I get goosebumps. She was an example of passion made into real life. Adele never downplayed the hard work or the challenges it took to get where she is today – she spoke about them eloquently. Behind every story you could hear a determination, an open heart and a strong Spirit, and that passion comes through in her music – it’s probably one of the reasons we love her so much! For myself and so many others, I think that living a life on our path of passion can be such a challenge and we need people like Adele to remind us how much energy is released and uplifted when we let our passions move through our lives.
I’ve spent the better part of the past 14 years teaching my students through Forrest Yoga to follow their passions – to play on their long hidden talents, strengths and desires both on and off the mat. I’ve helped people to completely change their life paths to more passionate and fulfilling ones – whether their yoga practice has helped with a job change, relationship change or the birth of a new child. It is such rewarding work and so beautiful to see Spirit unfold as students really listen and feel their inner heartfelt desires for their lives come forth. All the while, I’ve been able to do something that I love: teach. I have a really full and rewarding career teaching yoga.
But somewhere along the way, I buried some of my other passions. I have let myself get consumed with teaching and with helping others to find their life paths. My busyness helped me cope with the “messy side” of some of my passions. If I just kept looking outside to the work I was doing with others, I thought I could just move through my life without having to work through the unpredictability that my creative side embodied. The science-brain, Type A, perfectionist side of my personality really likes predictable schedules, sequences, order and answers. My passionately creative side honors no schedule (she usually chimes in late at night when I like to sleep), does not give me things in any order or sequence (line 20 of the poem arrives before line 1), and usually offers up very cryptic answers if any at all.
So all the while the poems, stories, characters and books kept knocking inside my head. For many years now – probably since I was about 14 and started doing yoga – I would find myself scribbling words on scratch paper while sitting in class or more recently at a stoplight. I would wake up at night having had conversations with characters who don’t exist yet. I dreamed during long savasanas at Ana Forrest workshops in rhymes, only to have the words leave me as soon as I woke up. I would go through periods after buying my first Kindle of devouring books every couple of days – completely absorbed in the stories I was reading. When I was younger I would spend the summers reading more than 50 books in three months.
You see, one of my paths to passion is through words. I have kept journals since I was really young. The old ones have stories and poems throughout them. I wrote for contests all the way up into high school. And then when I was injured figure skating, and that whole part of my life was abruptly taken away from me – something changed. I lost my passion. I channeled myself into AP classes, working as a caddie, going to college – I channeled myself into what I thought success was. I finished two Bachelor’s degrees and a whole lot of engineering curriculum (without a degree) in just four years. I studied and taught yoga. I worked at the Field Museum after college. I then threw myself into teaching yoga full time, managing at a gym, working on teacher training and building an incredible life with my partner (and pets). I started a blog because “that’s what yoga teachers do.” Really, I essentially stopped writing for my creative heart after my skating injury. Skating had been a huge path of passion and it was so unceremoniously destroyed by a big fall. Deep inside I think I worried that would happen with my other passions if I kept letting them out to play so why not lock them away? Surely my writing would never be “good enough” anyway…
I’ve written about this in my newsletter and mentioned it in a few blogs, but I have spent the past 6 months working in depth with a shaman. My shaman is also a published author and all around incredible woman (you are Bridget Boland). We opened up a bunch of old boxes inside me full of lots of things to work on: limiting beliefs, tendencies towards overworking, old emotions I hadn’t processed…And once out of the box I started to realize that one of the biggest things missing in my life was my creative side. One of the biggest things I boxed away was a huge passion of my heart.
I’ve taken up writing in my journal again. I’ve been blogging more regularly (and with more vulnerability). I’ve been writing poems again. I started to write down those characters that come to me at night in my dreams. It’s messy. It’s scary. It will ask of me – and is asking of me – that I change a lot about how I have set up my life. I feel a whole host of strange shifts happening. And when my shaman said to me on a phone check up today, “What is the priority now?” There were a whole jumble of answers yelling back and forth between my heart and my brain to that question.
So I’m thinking of Adele, and her stories about the risks and tribulations she passed through to be this force of nature with her music. I’m thinking of her stage fright, her inner critic, the messiness she expressed about her own life path – and how she went after her passion anyways. Even when it made other people uncomfortable (she talked about her ex not being able to handle her success), even when she thought she had lost her way (she talked about her post-partum feelings affecting her music writing), even when she thought no one might like her new music (and then she sold a bag-gillion albums). I feel more inspired to go after mine. Not that I’ll be anything near an Adele-force, but something passionate is brewing and I need to walk its path to see where it leads. There are too many “what ifs” if I don’t. I hope that you will risk taking your passions out into the open too and making them a part of your life. The more we each bring of our whole Self to this world, the better and more beautiful it becomes.
This summer the spiders outside our home have been busily weaving the most beautiful webs all over our deck and windows. I don’t actually like spiders – they scare me a little bit! But their glistening, strong webs have had me thinking lately about the weaving of the web of humanity – and its strength and fragility of late.
When I came to practice Forrest Yoga, Ana Forrest spoke often about the mission of her methodology of yoga to teach in a way that helped “Mend the Hoop of the People.” At the time, I was a teenager and I didn’t understand much of what she meant when she used that phrase. As I practiced with her longer, I came to more clearly comprehend her deep personal commitment to help heal the broken connections between individuals, cultures, countries and inside each person’s own Spirit as a way of strengthening the web of humanity – one person, one class, one yoga pose, one breath at a time. The depth of this mission has never felt so pressing to me as of late.
As we spent a weekend celebrating our country’s Independence Day this 4th of July, I kept thinking of one of the oldest motto’s of the United States – E pluribus unum – Out of many, one. If my AP US History still serves me, this original motto was a description of the colonies joining together to become one nation and how much stronger they were as a united front. I understand that their bonding together pitted them against other nations in wars and violence, but I still feel there is an importance foreshadowed by these words – an importance bigger than just our country.
This is time when divisiveness is at an all time high: socially, politically, economically and even individually. We are many faiths, political systems, economies, communities and people – and yet we make up one country here in the US and one world if you take this post to a global level. Our human people are not only divided against each other, but also can carry within their own minds and hearts deep personal disconnects. Our web – our hoop of people – feels broken and fractured. In her book, Fierce Medicine, that is exactly how Ana describes the story of Black Elk – a Lakota medicine man who spoke of a vision of the hoop of the people – as inspiring her personal mission. I understand my teacher’s urgency to help people learn how to breathe deeply, to meditate, to connect with their Spirit’s wisdom and to live a life according to the delicate balance and harmony of everything’s interconnectedness. There are lights in the darkness when I see children being raised differently and more openly, when I see my yoga students developing new insights and connections to their own Spirits, when I see other humans providing random acts of kindness and gratitude, and when I focus on the people who are doing really healing things for humanity all over the globe.
I have friends, colleagues and even family members of many different religions, political parties, socioeconomic groups and corners of the world. As someone who has the absolute privilege to travel and see different parts of the world, I often marvel at how similar we are despite vast differences in food, religion, political opinions and ways of life. For some reason I can see and feel the similarities more strongly than the differences. When I studied anthropology and worked for several years as a museum anthropologist, I felt this curiosity for other ways of life continue to grow. I would look at a basket woven in North America and see the same shape in some pottery from Asia, all the while thinking about how really different expressions had common bases. Sometimes I am overcome with the feeling that not everyone is as curious or as able to see similarities in the midst of difference.
Lately I have been sensing a deeply held cynicism in many news reports and social media postings about the state of the world – it is really easy to be beat down by what I hear and what I read. Countries oppressing their people or worse torturing them. Wars around the globe. Vast income inequality growing by the day. Racism. Distrust. Terrorism. Disease. Hunger. Suffering on so many levels. There are a lot of things to be concerned about. But each day that I’ve been meditating recently, all that comes up is this feeling of “Out of many, we are one.” This is, in addition to a national motto, also a foundational yogic principle in several non-dual philosophical lineages. Where yogic philosophy might have spoken about breath, mind and body relating together as one, or the Witness and the Witnessed as one, today it feels like what happens in Turkey, the United Kingdom, Iraq, Bangladesh and the United States is all connected. Where one part of our human web is suffering, the whole is suffering.
The opposite also arises as true: as one of us learns to be understanding, it ripples out along the web of humanity. As another of us chooses love over hatred, it sends a signal out to others to choose love. When we choose to live the life of our deepest wisdom – our Spirit – and not our fear – we inspire others to seek out their deepest wisdom and Spirit. If we can feel and see each person on this planet as an integral part of a bigger picture – if we can all start to see out of the many, we are one – then the ripples get a little bigger and things start to change. Does this mean our differences go away? No – absolutely it does not. It means that we find a deep sense of peace in connecting to one another profoundly in spite of our differences.
If I worry about having an effect half a world away, but I ignore my own health or the issues of my community – my worry doesn’t do much. When I choose to take action in my own life and in the communities I am a part of, the impact can be tremendous. So here is my suggestion: let’s take inspiration from our forefathers and put back into action the idea that out of many, we are one people. Start small. Pick one action in your daily life that makes a difference in how you openly and clearly experience the world around. Pick an issue that a community you are a part of is facing and take some action related to it. As your interconnectedness with your own Self and the world you live in grows, expand your reach outside your state or outside your country.
Here are some ideas for yourself, your community, your state, your country and your world:
This week as I am celebrating my country, I’m also reminding myself of a greater community I’m a part of – humanity. I’m looking for ways big and small, daily and beyond to help feel more connected and strong as a part of this web of human beings. I’m recommitting myself to a vision of a world where there is a more supportive and woven web throughout humanity across borders and differences – and I hope I can inspire you to come with me in that vision!
This weekend I taught a Forrest Yoga class themed around internal dialogue. Our internal dialogue is the running speech going on inside our heads all the time – and often it’s quite a harsh monologue! This intention for class struck a cord with the students and many realized that behind the scenes a litany of devastating stories were passing by at any given moment. If left unconscious, the stories we tell our selves can be detrimental to our well-being. Once brought to light, there is often an uncomfortable period of acknowledging the havoc these stories have wreaked on our life choices and path. So what are we to do about the stories we tell ourselves internally?
I’m no stranger to storytelling! One of the first things that brought me into the practice of Forrest Yoga was Ana Forrest asking me the simple questions, “Do you believe your injury can heal?” “What can you do in this moment?” and “Who is the person you most want to become?” My answers when I met her were something along the lines of: my injury cannot heal this is just how it will be for me forever, I can’t do anything in this moment or any other moment because I am totally and completely incompetent, and I don’t want to be anyone because there is nothing noteworthy about me that matters. WHOA! Holy harsh internal dialogue! Ana could sense this tendency in me from the get-go. None of these stories were true and she had seemingly magical methods to get me to the truth: healing is always a possibility, there is always a choice we can make in each moment to move towards our own path of healing, and Spirit can help us to uncover the person we most want to become through an exciting and fascinating journey into our Self.
Perhaps you too are currently plagued by a nasty internal dialogue of stories like mine. Here are the tools I’ve learned through Forrest Yoga and through my other teacher, Bridget Boland, to rewrite the stories running inside so that they are supportive of the person I most want to become.
Identify where you hold the story physically. Every story in your internal dialogue lives in your body. When you come across a story you’ve been running with, FEEL where it lives. Take the first area that shows up in your awareness when you repeat this story. You must feel where it lives in your body – you can’t think about this one! Once you find the home of your story in your physical body, do things that reach that area and shift its perspective. Take deep breaths that stir the energy of this spot. Do poses that affect the spaciousness this area holds. Flip yourself upside down and sense what happens to this house of your story. Changing the physical home of your troubling story changes how you are able to see, feel, understand and rewrite an inner tale you’ve been telling yourself.
Align with your wisdom centers. Our head is only one of many wisdom centers in our toolbox – and it’s the one that gets too much stage time! Practicing physical postures where you align your head with your heart and gut can help you glean insight from the wise cave of your heart and the intuition of your gut. Experimenting with simple breathing exercises and traditional pranayama can help you draw on the wisdom of your breath. Meditating on the areas of the 7 major chakras – pelvic floor, pelvic bowl, middle abdomen, heart center, throat, middle brain and top of head – can help you pull in understanding from your sources of emotion, creation, digestion, relationship and so much more! As you get more information, the old story begins to feel small and you realize it doesn’t actually fit you anymore.
Ask someone you trust outside of your mind. Sometimes a trusted ally or friend can be the light that pierces through a damaging story. I trust my shaman, Bridget, a lot. I’ve known her since I was 21 and she assisted Ana in my Forrest Yoga Foundation Teacher Training course. When I get stuck on a story that I think is true, but feel is limiting me – she is an ally who can reflect to me how kooky some of my internal dialogues are. It’s important to have these mirrors outside of yourself to remind you of what is helping you forward and what is holding you back. A trusted outside source can help you to become conscious of the stories you tell yourself that are not, in fact, true. The same sources can then inspire you to see the actual. We have a practice in Forrest Yoga that is similar whereby two teachers sit together and tell each other “what’s great about you.” There’s never a dry eye! Again and again our stories have limited our ability to see our own Beauty – we just need to be reminded of it now and then!
See all the possibilities. Oftentimes when we get stuck in our lives it is because a limiting story has taken up roots inside us. Our limiting stories may relate to our physical abilities, our career paths, financial situation, relationships and so much more. We get accustomed to seeing only what we think we know and excluding all the other possibilities. Ana was able to model to me through her injury journey the possibility of recovery from my own injury. When I would ask her questions about her injuries and how she worked to promote healing in her own body, her answers would inspire a curiosity in me to seek out how I might also experience healing. Seeing another possibility and being curious about it reminds our mind that there is not only one way things can go. This reminder sets us up for re-crafting the visions we have about our Self.
Write them and read them out loud. This is perhaps the most difficult tool I’ve used to help rewrite my internal stories: I physically wrote them out on a piece of paper and read them out loud to myself. Feeling the downtrodden, sad, depressed or angry feelings that arose in me when I read my internal dialogue out loud helped me to understand how damaging these stories were to my physical, mental, emotional, energetic and spiritual well-being. I started writing out what I wanted to believe about myself, what I wanted to foster in myself and the way I intended things to happen. Reading these statements, while also very uncomfortable in a different way, brought on feelings of hope, happiness and excitement. Now I know that when a thought comes up that heavily weighs me down, I have to return to the drawing board to find a new one that helps to lift me up.
Take the time to explore what your internal dialogue is talking about inside you all the time. Feel, do you like the conversation that is being spoken? If not, take the time to bring in these tools so that you can build up your own inner champion and experience your life from a place of truthful affirmations. I know that some of you may worry that without your negative internal critic, you’ll never get anywhere in life. The truth is that you will evolve beyond your wildest imagination as you let go of that critic and tell yourself some more truthful and compelling stories.
This morning in my Memorial Day yoga class at Equinox, the intent was to practice from a Forrest Yoga concept called “Building Your Warrior’s Heart.” This practice relates to using backbending poses to release hardening in the areas of the chest, shoulders, upper back and ribs – bringing in a fresh new energy and resiliency to the area around the heart. When the backlog of hardness around the heart is opened there is an ability for deep breaths to penetrate long held layers of emotion and release long dormant waves of feeling. As these energies release there is a clearing of emotional stuckness and a meeting of the experiences of life from a distinct softness, freshness and strength. The purpose of building a warrior’s heart is to remind Spirit of the counsel of heart energy in life decisions and actions – to help give the energy of the heart a strong set of legs, a clear head and wide reaching pair of wings so that it can fly through all avenues of the life path. When your Spirit feels the freedom of your heart to experience life, you are able to more readily absorb the sweetness and Beauty around you, and to take action from the preciousness of the life by which you are surrounded. This practice felt important on this day when we pause to honor and remember the warriors in our culture who have died so that we may live out our lives in freedom.
Both of the lineages that I work in – Forrest Yoga and iRest Yoga Nidra – have made strong headways into working with veterans, and lately I have been feeling a call in similar directions. I’ve been thinking a lot these days about veterans in general and specifically about a Grandfather that I never met. I’ve been curious about the stories of the lives of veterans after they come home from serving our country, and recently I came across some rather remarkable information related to this particular Grandfather I never knew. His story has been fascinating me – I think in part because I have been thinking so much about how cycles in history seem to repeat themselves. Our time right now feels like certain aspects of his time are being repeated – tragically. Genocide, repression, fear, power struggles. He was a celebrated World War II veteran and did some extraordinary things overseas…and then he quietly returned home to raise his family and support them through their lives without really ever talking about the remarkable things he did during the war. His service was tremendous – as was that of thousands of other servicemen and women in that war and countless others – and then coming home it feels like part of that incredible service is forgotten or unknown. Our country and so many others are built upon the belief, conviction and service of these members of our military. At times I think we forget or misunderstand their incredible sacrifice that has brought about our way of life. I feel drawn to know more about their stories and to play a part in remembering them not just one day a year, but each and every day I get to live a life in a free country.
So today as I am thinking of him and so many others like him past and present, I’m also feeling the importance of developing our own warrior’s heart as a way of honoring the gift their service has given us – as a way of honoring our own freedom. When we sit in counsel with the wisdom of our heart, we know our own values, we can process our life experiences better and we can move into the world in a really powerful way without being bound by our old emotions or our troublesome experiences. We each have the power and responsibility not only to honor those who have fought to protect and serve our country, but also to develop within ourselves the strength and suppleness of heart to move forward in the world with compassion, self-awareness, softness and strength. We have an incredible capacity as humans to care and tend for things – this is the wisdom I hope we bring forth from our warrior’s heart. May we care for each other, tend to the garden of humanity and grow a world we can be really proud of.
Many years ago a best friend gave me a small journal as a gift. I decided to use it as a quote journal, and I wrote within its pages the many small words and longer passages that felt inspiring along the pathways my life has taken. I still write in it when something strikes me – although I must admit its pages are dwindling and I’m writing smaller and smaller to cram things into its margins. I’m not sure what I’ll do once it’s full! Written upon one of first several pages is a small and simple quote from Anais Nin: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
I’ve looked upon those words so many times, but recently they have been ringing ever more true for me. I’m in the midst of a yearlong mentoring process as a part of my training through the lineage of Forrest Yoga. This mentorship program has been a course of study under a Forrest Yoga Guardian named Sandra Robinson – owner of Equilibrium Yoga Studio in Peterborough, England. She was absolutely the best choice for me: encouraging, wise, kind and insightful in all the ways I needed at this point in my journey. Through the weekends of work with her guidance and in a small group of other mentees, I realized that my life has made me see the world around me and within me in quite a critical way. As a result of this practiced critical world view, I don’t see things as they really are, I see them as I can criticize them or pick them apart for being imperfect.
From a young age I was a figure skater. I’ve written about my skating before and what a huge part of my life it was up until about age 16. It was a marvelous and challenging sport to grow up in. It cultivated in me great physical and mental discipline, strength, focus and perseverance. It also planted the seeds of perfectionism, ruthless pursuit of achievement, isolationism and severe physical injury. I can distinctly remember so many of the private coaching sessions being a list of every single thing I did incorrectly and directions to repeat movements over and over again until they were “perfect.” One coach in particular chose one element each session and I just repeated it over and over again for a whole hour – each repetition a new error was found. There was never a time I did the movement well enough – there was always something wrong with it. There was little praise – even as a young child. I learned to pick apart every edge, every glance and every turn, searching for any minute problem that would lose me points or bring the criticism of my coaches upon me. Competitive programs were recorded, dissected and then compared to fellow students. I felt pitted against the other students my coaches worked with, and they against me – we were all pitted against all the other skaters. This was supposed to foster some sort of healthy advancement, but really it just made all of us see the world as broken, imperfect, hostile in some way and with success and achievement always just beyond our reach because someone always skated better or because something always needed more work. Even when I won first place, a competition would end with details on what needed to be improved for next time.
I remember watching a random figure skating competition on television many years after I left skating myself. I was sitting with my partner and as each performer took to the ice my partner would say things like, “Wow! How graceful!” “That was an amazing jump” “Look at how fast she is spinning!” To these comments I would reply, “Her coaches told her to smile there. It’s not real” “She actually cheated the rotation of that jump and won’t get credit for it” “That spin traveled” (‘traveled’ is figure skater speak for a spin that doesn’t balance well on the blade). He noted long before I really understood it how totally and completely crazy it is that I could not appreciate the beauty in any of their movements – I could only see what they had done “incorrectly” or “not well enough.”
So we don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are. And I have for a very long time seen the world through the eyes of that child who could never do any movement “right” and who had to remain hyper-vigilant about where the next criticism was coming from. I’ve built years into a habit of being hyper-critical of myself and those around me. I’ve held myself to standards that are unreachable and downright unhealthy both in my careers and in my personal life. All of this because my early world view was one of extraordinary criticism, rigidity and perfectionism.
I like to say nowadays that I’m a recovering perfectionist. I’m learning how to soften my inner critic (and some days just plain steal her megaphone and shut her up). I’ve spent a long time coming to an understanding of why I saw the world as such a harsh place where good things couldn’t happen. Working with Sandra peeled back another layer for me – a layer of forgiveness. I couldn’t know how to see the world any other way, and allowing myself to acknowledge I’ve done the best I could with what I was given has brought a playful lightness to my continued exploration out of the old way I saw things. Our teacher, Ana Forrest, has a funny and very true saying, “We don’t evolve by punishment. If we did, we’d all be fucking enlightened.” If I punish myself for the way I’ve seen the world, for being “stupid enough” to follow my coaches, I get stuck back in that perfectionist-“I’m not enough”-nothing ever works out mentality. When I offer up to myself a forgiveness and really deep compassion for where I am now and what I have been through, change happens so much more effortlessly! I become a person who is enough just as I am. Now I can see the world as an inviting place, mistakes as realms of growth and discovery, and the beautiful things happening in and around me.
This journey into my own different world views also helps me to understand those around me with so much more compassion. A person may be seeing the world around them through a really tough pair of glasses. I feel more understanding of that now than ever before. When you read these words, what do you feel about the way you see the world? And is that the pair of glasses you want to see everything through? What if you decided it was time to try on a new pair? I leave you with some final words from Sandra that I’ve been silently repeating inside my head with every person I meet and that has been imbibing the way I see things these days, “We don’t love you for being perfect; we love you for being you!”