Grounded and Growing

Mar 22 2018 by Allison English

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Grounded and Growing

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.

Warrior 2 with Active Feet (Photo Credit: Alain Milotti Photography)

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.

Twisting Table with a Chest Opener (Photo Credit: Alain Milotti Photography)

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.

Standing Balancing Twist
(Photo Credit: Fandl Photography)

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!

 

Playing Small

Jan 20 2018 by Allison English

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Playing Small

At the end of last year I added something to my week that I have been trying to get into for many years: a dance class. Despite years of figure skating competitively (or maybe because of that), I feel like I have a really difficult time expressing myself through movement. I’m shy (even though I am very extroverted). I feel stupid (even though I know myself to be intelligent). Those of you that know me as a yoga teacher might beg to differ about the quality of my movements as you see them in class, but yoga postures like figure skating are carefully calculated in every way. I’ve studied the alignment and feeling of yoga postures in the same way that I memorized the feeling of triple jumps.

Dance is different. Dance for me does not feel calculated even when it is choreographed. Dance feels expressive and more in the moment than anything else I have ever experienced. It has emotion and responsiveness in a way that I do not experience in yoga and that I never experienced in figure skating.

About 8 years ago when I knew I wanted to explore a style of movement through dance so different from anything I had ever done, I researched Hip Hip dance classes. In its powerful moves and sharp lines I feel a really distinct beauty. Hip Hop music sounds like poetry to me. This seemed like a type of dance I would enjoy and that would challenge me as something so different from the gracefulness and stationary nature of yoga and figure skating. I found only one class that I could make with my teaching schedule. It was a beginner level and I was so excited to try it. I anticipated that evening class all week!

It ended up being absolutely awful. I barely made it to the end and was crying on the way home in my car. The teacher did not explain anything. He went super fast through showing the choreography and chose very fast music. He picked on those of us (about 5 including myself in a room full of 40 people) who could not keep up. It was obvious the other 35 people were not beginners. He broke us into groups at the end of class and made us do the choreography in front of everyone. He put the 5 newbies together and laughed when we couldn’t do what he asked. Perhaps worst of all: at the end he told me I had no rhythm and that I shouldn’t come back. My deepest fear confirmed – point blank – I couldn’t dance. I, of course, didn’t go back.

Ever since then I’ve looked every now and then at dance classes and thought about going back to try again. I always found an excuse: I was too busy, the time was too close to one of my classes, it was too expensive, etc. Really I was just scared that I would repeat the terrible experience of my last dance class. This is ironic because I spend most of my days coaching other people through things they are scared of or feel they are not good at (think of being a beginner at a yoga class or any tight yoga pose and you get the idea). I’m also usually really good at approaching things I fear and using that experience to grow. There was something about dance that really got to me from the beginning.

Last Fall something changed. I got an email from the Old Town School of Folk Music – I think I had signed up for their mailing list at a local music event over the summer – and they listed dance classes as one of their class categories. I clicked through and noticed that they had a beginner Hip Hop dance class at a time I could actually do. I called and checked – yes it was for sure a class where beginners and non-dancers were welcomed. “The teacher is amazing,” they said, “You should try it.” I don’t really know why, but I registered as soon as I hung up the phone…for an 8 week course. I justified it as needing something new, fun and non-yoga in my week. Really I think my Spirit knew there was something deep for me here.

I was so nervous when the first class rolled around. My stomach churned. I was also excited and hopeful that this might be different. When I arrived the class was small and the other students were so nice. They talked and chatted with everyone like me who was new. It was a completely different vibe right from the beginning. The teacher came in super low-key and so nice. He led us through a warm up and some choreography. I felt awkward and stiff and out of place. He was supportive and funny. The other students helped and encouraged one another. It was a completely different experience than my last dance class. At the end of every class we got time just to free move and it was so fun. The whole thing was fun – something that had been really lacking in my life.

After a few weeks we had settled into something of a rhythm and while I still felt nervous and awkward, I didn’t ever feel judged or ashamed. Around the 3rd or 4th class our teacher said something that I will never forget. He said, “No small movements! I want to see big movements! Exaggerate it! Make it huge!” as he stepped, moved his arms and shifted his shoulders to the beat of the music in singularly sharp, rhythmic and fantastic ways. When I went through the choreography that day, I felt like for sure I was moving in an equally enormous way.

We recorded ourselves at the end of this class and when a fellow student emailed us the recording I watched in dismay. What had felt to me like huge movements of my arms, hips, shoulders and legs were in fact TINY! I barely moved and most of the time I looked at the floor as if afraid to see myself in the mirror. It was an interesting experience. I suddenly felt inside, “How long have I been playing small?” and “Where else am I playing this small and tiny in my life?”

These simple questions unlocked an enormous amount of wisdom to me. I realized that in so many ways I had been playing small for most of my life. I had worried for so long about other people that I forgot to bring my Self to the the live I’m living. I tamped down my smarts because I was “intimidating.” I stomped out my creativity in skating to please my coaches. I quieted my emotions to assuage my family. I shut my mouth out of fear of retribution from my attackers. I let fear of more hazing and harm keep me from reporting it. I “took it for the team” when attacked by colleagues instead of standing up for myself. I let bosses push me into doing things I didn’t actually support instead of sticking to my beliefs. I sidelined my own ideas to support others in their dreams. In this moment of inquiry I realized I’ve spent most of my life being so much smaller than I actually am. And I have no good reason why. I haven’t found the origin point yet of this pattern, but I realize it has dominated so much of what I do and who I am.

An old picture from my skating days when I trained at the Lake Placid Olympic Arena one summer. I remember feeling stifled and boxed in by my training – my body revolting to the grueling hours on the ice and the relentless coaching.

I’m a planner so as soon as these realizations came to the surface, I made some internal agreements about how to move forward to keep the ball rolling. I made a commitment to start practicing being “big” in my dance class. Even if I felt foolish I challenged myself each week to go a little wild. I watched our video recordings and practiced at home. I started moving to music in front of mirrors at home and actually began to (sometimes) watch myself in the mirror at dance class. From each of these small steps, huge openings started happening elsewhere in my life. I have no idea if my dancing changed at all on the outside or if anyone noticed anything different about me, but on the inside it was like a dam broke open.

Traveling to Australia and looking out at the vastness of the coastline, I remember a glimpse of this quality of Being Big.

I started to feel like I was angry at my coaches in skating for trimming me down all those years. I felt the need to reach out to high school friends that had either hurt me or tried to help me just to reconnect. I wanted to find the people who attacked me so long ago and rip them to shreds (and I am not a violent person). I wanted to talk about how many times I “bit my tongue” out of fear of how my expression would be received. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs about all the “spiritual” people who had verbally maligned me. I had an outpouring of brilliant, creative ideas that have filled pages – book outlines, poems, business plans, website ideas and so much more. I started moving/dancing all over the house. I think the arrival of the #MeToo movement around this time pushed some of my internal dam breakage as well.

This outpouring made me think: how many of us are unintentionally playing small? How many of us regularly avoid the things that make us uncomfortable? How long have we let our conditioning to please others over our self hold us back? How many times have we all ignored the evidence that we are so much greater than someone else would have us believe? I think this happens so much more than we would like to admit. I keep wondering how I missed it in myself for so long. I’m so happy that I came back to a dance class so these triggers could be brought to the surface again – perhaps with better tools and wisdom on my side at this point in my life to approach working through them.

What about you? Could you pick something that scares you – but also excites you? And then do it. Maybe it’s a new job, a new relationship, a new type of exercise, a yoga pose or a place you have always wanted to travel to. Recognize how it makes you feel and all the threads of excuses that keep you tied back from actually doing it. Tell me what you find out about yourself when you take even one step into that great “Bigness” of life. For the love of all things important in this one wild beautiful crazy life you get, please play big for all of us to see.

Sick Day

Aug 09 2017 by Allison English

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Sick Day

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.

What Can I Do?

Jun 20 2017 by Allison English

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What Can I Do?

It’s really easy these days to wake up and feel some sort of despair. There is violence erupting all around the world. Hunger, starvation, illness, conflict, hatred, income inequality and political woes are rampant worldwide. Closer to home in Chicago we are not immune to the divisiveness and brutality of what has seemingly become daily life. And so when another day passes and two more mass shootings pile up on the news like last week or another terrorist attack happens like today, it is not inconceivable that I feel a bit hopeless.

Last week and then again today as the news updates flashed across my phone, I was thinking about my teacher, Ana Forrest, and a really common question she has asked me and hundreds of other students over the the years, “What part of this can you do?” She is usually talking about a complex or challenging yoga pose or emotional moment of practice, but the question could be used anywhere. It brings to the surface of awareness in a moment of overwhelm the reminder to seek out the pieces (however great or small) of an experience we can handle. This particular question has become one of my favorite Forrest Yoga-isms over the years both internally and in my classes, and I find myself this evening reminding my own Spirit of its wisdom.

When I exited class last week, a couple of students were chatting in the locker room and I joined in. In no more than 10 minutes of chatting we covered all the hopeless things happening around the world: religious strife, conflict, war, violence, gun legislation, health care legislation concerns, political questions, international conflict, poverty, hunger, dissociation of human beings from each other and so much more. And we each said something so simple. One said: “Let’s each just be like that Tim McGraw song says, humble and kind.” A second said: “Let’s each continue to connect with one another and other people in person and bring others into that connection.” And a third of us said: “Let’s remember all that we CAN do in the face of what feels lost.”

We need these reminders: there are a myriad number of ways we can help, and it is good to start small with our own lives and communities. We need to ask ourselves each day, “What part of this can I do for the greater good?” What follows is a brief form of one part of a list of my own ideas that I have come up (actually since the election in November when I first thought about writing this blog) in a few areas of life in which I feel particularly passionate. They are my reminders and I hope they get your wheels thinking about what reminders you need in your own life. I encourage you to make your own lists! My values and priorities are not yours. What I find disconcerting these days may not be what you do. The key is to identify what you value and support it with your small daily actions – because that is really many parts of what you can do.

Environment

– Bring a re-usable mug and water bottle everywhere so as never to use a plastic bottle or disposable cup (Check out this infographic on why this is a good idea and a simple switch)

– Always have re-usable bags with you! I have them in my car and in every purse or backpack I carry. I make sure to use cloth bags for produce or to meticulously re-use plastic bags that I clean until they can’t be used anymore and need to be recycled. I do not pick up new plastic bags.

– Consider riding my bike or taking public transportation instead of driving when possible – limit mileage on my car (which is a hybrid and uses less gas and makes fewer emissions)

– Replace bulbs in the house with LED ones to limit consumption of power even further – be cognizant of turning off lights and appliances when not needed

– Take shorter and less frequent showers to conserve on water (we have low flow shower heads and water filters in the showers – all of our appliances are also Energy Star rated or higher)

– Research and select power sources that are 100% renewable energy for the delivery of home electricity

– Make purchases locally for as many goods as possible and support local businesses while also cutting down on shipping

– Purchase carbon offsets for EVERY flight I take this year and moving forward (these offsets can purchase endangered forest land, contribute to projects reducing dangerous greenhouse gas emissions, and develop renewable energy projects around the world with a focus on dramatically reducing future carbon emissions – check out Terrapass for some info on this)

 

My list of causes and ideas is upwards of 12 pages long at this point, and I keep adding to it. I don’t want to put it all here and bore you because you need to go and make your own! Mine has tons of specific charities, articles and research to support what I most want to see in my world. It is an inspirational document. Why do I have these lists? Well every day that I feel hopeless about something (which is everyday!!) I turn to these lists and pick two things – just two things out of 12 pages – and I do them. Start small. Break things down. Do something – anything. Don’t let the cynic inside you or the cynics outside of you tell you your little something doesn’t matter. It does! What part of this can you do?

Hope is, by definition, the faith to meet the moment with belief that things will get better even when EVERY indication is to the opposite. We are, therefore, right now in the midst of a worldwide hope campaign. Every news story and daily event seems to tell us that all is lost, but we know in our hearts to have hope that we can make things better. One small action at a time. Start with a change in your day – something small. Then work your way up to something you can do on your block. Then work your way up to something you can do in your neighborhood. Move up to your city, state, region, country…the world is just around the corner. Start too big and this is overwhelming, but start small with what you honestly can do and change will happen. Humans have amazing capacity for destruction, greed, violence and hatred, but I also have the hope and knowledge that our equally powerful forces of love, compassion, creation and generosity can prevail. Will you join me in this mission?

Should I Stay or Should I Go

Oct 01 2016 by Allison English

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Should I Stay or Should I Go

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.”

Notes from my teacher.

Notes from my teacher.

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.

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My encouraging wisdom keeping team of fellow assistants

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.

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Having fun being our crazy selves – me and my fellow assistants September 2015.

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.

The Company You Keep

Aug 22 2016 by Allison English

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The Company You Keep

While I was away traveling and teaching yoga, I missed a dear friend’s birthday. I was in Peterborough teaching a part of the Forrest Yoga Foundation Teacher Training for a couple of days and then I visited my family in London. One afternoon during my time in London we decided to go to a proper afternoon tea sitting at Fortnum and Mason – a really old, iconic department store with a beautiful tea room. It was an incredible experience – so delicious and so filling. They were even able to accommodate my gluten free diet.

The beautiful tea setting at Fortnum and Mason.

The beautiful tea setting at Fortnum and Mason.

When I got home I asked my friend and another if they wanted to go out to an afternoon tea here in Chicago at the Peninsula Hotel to celebrate Friend #1’s birthday. I’m so happy they agreed! We met up today and sat around for a couple of hours sipping on delicious teas, eating finger sandwiches and tiny cakes. We sang a really quiet happy birthday to our friend so as not to alarm the calm tea room. We talked about our lives and laughed and smiled. I left feeling totally reset and uplifted.

My gluten free tower of tea treats at Peninsula Hotel Chicago. YUM!

My gluten free tower of tea treats at Peninsula Hotel Chicago. YUM!

Here’s the thing: each one of us could have spent those two hours complaining, whining or otherwise reminiscing about some of the really hard, challenging and awful things we are passing through these days (or have passed through). We each have them – really intense things that are the stuff of our life now and before. Instead each one of us spoke about our current wins, our delights and joys, the challenges we have overcome and who helped us. We talked about role models and inspirations that kept us going on days that felt tough. We encouraged one another on current paths that are really uncharted territory. In short, we had our own little empowerment tea meet-up – and it was glorious. We each got to be ourselves full on – vulnerable and raw – and to feel the support of the two others in that open state. We simply and yet very profoundly delighted in each others company. And because of that lovely company, we only have pictures of food!

I came home to see a post from a new Forrest Yoga Teacher who was traveling with a friend and realized she used to be a “misery loves company” kind of gal – and now she couldn’t stand it. I thought back to the many times in the not so distant past that I would dramatically change myself in desperate attempts to get people to like me or commiserate with coworkers complaining endlessly about this or that – our negativity and my inauthenticity fueling a downward spiral. I would hope to find community by fitting in or “doing the right thing” only to feel left out and alone. And I got to thinking about how far I’ve come with the company I keep as a result of my internal practices of inquiry. What a difference it has made in the quality of my life to actively filter the influences around me so they support the person I most want to become. Also how accountable I have become of my own actions in sustaining my energy and purpose.

There were many times in my life when I had little choice about the company I kept. As a figure skater I was placed around other figure skaters who trained at my same level. We were all so competitive with one another that nothing ever felt friendly or real. As a really nerdy high school student I never felt like I fit in anywhere so I didn’t really keep much company – I moved around between many groups never really staying long enough for anyone to get to know me. In college I received a scholarship contingent upon me living in a house full of other scholarship recipients and I didn’t even get to choose a roommate. It constantly felt like house full of strangers with a few exceptions. It was not until recently that I made the company I keep a conscious act.

The people we are surrounded by day in and day out have a real affect on how we feel. We have some choices about who we spend the majority of our time around. I know that we can’t always choose family situations or work colleagues, but we can profoundly support ourselves by monitoring who we let “in.” I used to think I had to let everyone in. As a result, I put forth a really diluted version of myself – I think one of my fellow Forrest Yoga colleagues called it my vanilla version! When I made it an active endeavor to fill my life with the kind of people I most wanted to be in my field of energy and in my heart, I felt different. Suddenly it was as if the world was in color again and the energy of life around me was on fire.

To be vulnerable, open and authentic around people and to feel their love and support is a magical gift. I decided that I wanted to surround myself with those kind of people – the ones who saw me just as I am: a perfectly imperfect human and love me anyway. The people who I can talk to about major screw ups without feeling like I’ll lose them. The people who inspire me to be a better version of myself, who help me on the days I lose my path, who remind me of my inherent goodness. And these people are the ones that I can also love as perfectly imperfect beings and reciprocate back to.

One of my favorite poems, “The Invitation,” by Oriah Mountain Dreamer has a line: “I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.” And each and every time I reach into the question if I’m keeping the best company that will propel me forward, I ask internally if this person would stand with me in my own personal fire of life. If the answer is yes, I know I’ve found my person. If the answer is no, I move on now.

I’m thankful for the presence of really supportive people in my life these days. I send prayers and blessings of lovingkindness to those I had to let go of or part ways with over the years for various reasons. The process has made me more comfortable in my own skin and stronger in my life path. So now I ask you, do you like the company you keep? And if not, where is it time to make a change? And if yes, can you say a thank you for those that bolster you up just for being you? I’m thanking my two friends for not only a glorious tea date, but also just the inspiration I needed in a laughter, cake-filled, conversational afternoon.

The Path of Passion

Jul 16 2016 by Allison English

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The Path of Passion

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.

Rising up from below the stage as she sang "Hello" - the one and only Adele.

Rising up from below the stage as she sang “Hello” – the one and only Adele.

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.

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Seeing the emotion in her every facial expression on the big screen during the concert was incredible.

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.

Confetti from the concert - copies of handwritten lyrics and sayings from Adele

Confetti from the concert – copies of handwritten lyrics and sayings from Adele

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.

Weaving Our Web

Jul 07 2016 by Allison English

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Weaving Our Web

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:

  1. Meditate, Pray, Do Yoga, Take Tai Chi or Qi Gong, Go for a Long Walk in Quiet – feel how contemplative practices of all varieties connect you back into yourself
  2. Volunteer in your community – spend an afternoon at a food pantry or soup kitchen, visit a senior citizen’s home, read books to kids
  3. Make a donation of time, gently used items or money that benefits a different community outside of your own – remember that even the smallest ripples spread out far and wide so don’t worry about “how much” you donate or give
  4. Write your government representatives about what is important to you and the changes you would like to see supported
  5. Get a pen pal – you can sign up for programs where you write letters to armed service personnel on overseas deployment, you can also write to students who are learning in English in other countries
  6. Go travel – whether it is within your local area or beyond, learn how other people live outside of your regular daily life
  7. Read sources of news and information from other countries – this might lend you different lenses for understanding similar stories
  8. Remind yourself to stay open in the midst of people who have vastly different ways of life or belief

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!

The Stories We Tell

Jun 06 2016 by Allison English

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The Stories We Tell

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.

The Warrior’s Heart

May 31 2016 by Allison English

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The Warrior’s Heart

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.

Grandpa, Austria 1945

Grandpa, Austria 1945

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.