Tag Archives: reflections

The Circus in my Head

A few years ago, I was asking each of my yoga students how they were feeling before I started class. Most people told me something about their body: “my neck is stiff”, “my hips are tight”, “I hurt my knee but I don’t know how (or I know exactly how)”!

This is quite useful, because as a teacher it helped me decide which movements or poses to incorporate, which modifications to offer and to whom, etc.

But I’ll never forget the first time a woman decked out in colorful yoga leggings answered the question in a different way: “I have a circus in my head,” she said in her fabulous Italian accent. So true, my friend, so true.

To me, the goal of yoga isn’t really standing on your head or achieving ultimate pretzel state. Although it’s nice, it’s not even getting stronger or increasing flexibility or balance. The ultimate goal of yoga is to take all the activities my mind is capable of: perceiving, imagining, remembering, etc., directing this mind to a place of my CHOOSING, and holding my attention there as long as I want.

The circus often has other ideas about where attention should be placed.

I recently relocated back to the Boston area from Austin. Talk about chaos, and the need to multi-task. Three days prior to this writing, I was playing “mover delivery bingo”, crossing 188 numbers (in random order) off a sheet while 3 different guys brought things into my apartment, calling out numbers. All while trying to instruct them on which room to put things in, and where. Needless to say, this was all my mind was being instructed to do.

I’ve only been gone 3 years, and some things have changed. I can *sort of* drive on autopilot, but when I do, I often realize that no, this wasn’t the best way to go. I have to be a little more active in my attention when I want to get from point A to point B.

In the new Market Basket the other day, I had a pretty surreal experience. I was unfamiliar with the store — and quite frankly the layout is pretty hokey — but as I was walking through I would “tune in” to a single thing. For example, I was first captured by the woman hollering into her cell phone: “I don’t understand how they found out! They must have overheard me talking or something!!” The irony of that made me smile. An aisle later: listening to the cadence of some produce workers speaking Spanish.

It was as if I had a laser beam of attention that I focused on one particular situation, and everything else got a little hazy. I was feeling a little weird about it until a friend reminded me of what it really was: mindful attention. We’re so not used to it!

Even though I’m no longer in the corporate world, I consider myself a go-go-go kind of person. I’ll always be busy. So I know that sometimes health recommendations are just too.freaking.hard. I don’t sit in meditation — in fact health issues prevent me from being physically able to. My mindfulness, my meditation, my practices have had to be more IN the world than removed from it. And that’s taught me a lot.

In fact, all these upheavals in my life helped me rediscover a practical, easy-to-remember technique I learned years ago in a different context. When practicing it, I’ve greatly increased my ability to be present, especially when the circus wants to play. What’s even better is that each step in the 5-step technique is also independently do-able and useful in and of itself.

I want to share this with more people; while it’s not new, it’s likely a different combination and a new “take” on something that may just change your life.

So my hope is that, regardless of where you are located (and where your mind is) right now, I hope you’ll join me Wednesday evenings starting June 14. Learn more here.

Know Thyself, & Keep Practicing Anyway

One of the “benefits” of consistent yoga practice is that you begin to know yourself. And I mean, really up close and all personal-like.

It might be that you notice some physical thing you’ve done unconsciously before–such as standing with all the weight on one leg, hip jutted out to the side while you’re standing in the line at the grocery store, or how you sit hunched over your laptop, working for hours without taking a break for posture, pee, water or food.

Recognizing such physical habits is useful and good, because it increases the likelihood that you’ll make adjustments throughout your day so you’re less sore or tired at the end of it. In fact, this is one of the things I help my private therapeutic yoga clients and beginner students pay attention to as part of starting a yoga practice. And it is certainly a practice, because no one is perfect at this, and certainly not right away. It takes time, but eventually our patterns show themselves, we notice them, we can change, and then we feel better.

In yoga we call these patterns samskaras, and I think of them as super-industrial strength habits, or such well-worn paths that it’s almost impossible at first to believe there’s even another road or that we can do things differently.

I put “benefit” in quotes above because, at least for me, what’s more challenging is when I notice more subtle mental and emotional patterns in myself. A week or so ago one of my mental/emotional samskaras showed up in two different situations: enough that I was able to finally see it. And of course I didn’t like it!!

The first was–somewhat ironically–in a course where I’m learning to chant the Yoga Sutras. Before I enrolled in this course, I’d been listening to CDs in my car, and had almost completed all 4 chapters. Still, I don’t know much about why I’m making a particular sound beyond whether the note is low or high; I don’t know what’s a syllable or what letters are long sounds and which are short or aspirated. In this class, our teacher chants the particular Sutra in question and then we each (individually!) have to chant it back to him, and he corrects us.

Fortunately, these classes are recorded. And what I notice when I go back to the recordings is that when I’m live on the class, I don’t seem to actually hear the corrections that are given to me in a way that I understand, process, and integrate them. I’m too focused on making whatever change is being asked of me and “getting it right” in that very moment. When I do that, I have a very hard time remembering the change later, and can’t apply it well to new instances. Hearing him and me on the recorded version, I realize I didn’t take in what was said. It seems to click in my brain in an altogether different way when I have more time and am feeling more at ease.

The second example came to me in a more pronounced way within a few days. I have been trying to learn Spanish for what feels like a really long time, and I struggle a lot with it. I’m fine “studying” on my own. I’ve used all the nice online apps and videos and I have a grammar book that kicks my ass (pardon my language but it’s true) almost every week. Recently I found a lovely woman from Spain (one of my favorite countries!) who tutors people in Spanish, and so I meet her at a coffee shop sometimes on Fridays.

Toward the end of my last lesson, we took a detour to talk about which letters are accented vs. not. “It’s easy,” she said, while quickly saying and illegibly scribbling down three Spanish words I’d never heard before and the rules associated with them. First as a teacher you never want to tell someone that something is easy, because odds are it isn’t easy for them, but anyway…I tried to ignore the category names even though I felt myself being pulled to wondering what they were…and did seem to understand the first rule (even if I couldn’t write/say what the category of words were called. For the curious, they are here.)

When she got to the second rule though, I heard it incorrectly and thus the example she was using didn’t make any sense to me. (In yoga we call this viparyaya–wrong perception.) And instead of assuming my understanding was incorrect, I kept incredulously repeating my incorrect view to her, assuming that she must have said something inconsistent and not realized it. This went on for some time, with me increasingly feeling stupid and hopeless over this “easy” thing, until something happened where I realized my mistake (which was really a stupid mistake). Then everything suddenly became clear. (In yoga we call this pramana–correct perception.) I can’t tell you what happened to make me suddenly “get it”. I think I might have just stopped fighting her!

These two circumstances were not only exhausting but were not pleasant to notice about myself. So what happened? First, I felt overwhelmed. Too much information was coming at me too quickly (especially in the case of the Spanish lesson). I’d felt this before while working in high-tech. We used to call it a “fire-hose” of information. I was tired because my brain couldn’t keep up. I was also frustrated because my brain couldn’t keep up. (Forget about the fact that I’m studying Sanskrit and Spanish on back-to-back days for the moment. 😉 )

Second, I’m too worried about pleasing my teachers. I’m too worried about being right: or more appropriately, about being wrong. This has a lot of ties to my childhood experiences that I won’t go into here, but it’s sufficient to say that it feels dangerous and unsafe for me to be wrong.

Now in the case of the Spanish lesson I can certainly ask my teacher to go slower. In the case of the Sutras class (where I’m on a call with other people), that’s not feasible. And it’s certainly possible that even if I asked my Spanish tutor nicely, she’d forget and go back to teaching the way she teaches. So, the only way I can see to change this is to change ME.

How do I change me? Consistent yoga practice.

This is frustrating and fascinating and motivating all at the same time!

My Yoga Origin Story*

34664951_s1. How did you start yoga? Why do you still practice? How has your practice changed?

I started yoga with my “Journey into Power” Baron Baptiste DVD, and by going to a small group class with my colleague Renee. At the time (1999 or so), I worked at a start up software company as a Technical Writer. Like most beginners, yoga was exercise to me: it was about my body becoming more flexible. (I didn’t even have the “strength” bit in mind back then!) I still remember the first time the instructor led “eagle arms”. I remember looking at Renee in horror and her putting her thumb to her nose and waving her other fingers at me, while all twisted up, a smile on her face. I still practice because I feel better when I do. (One of my teachers passed along what her teacher used to say: “practice yoga on the days you want to feel good.”) My practice is much less intensely physical, and much more breath- and mentally-focused—I practice movements and breathing patterns that hold my attention, help me stay out of (a newly developed chronic pain condition), and feel more at ease.

2. Why do you teach yoga? Why did you start and why do you stay? How has your teaching evolved?

I teach yoga because it makes me feel good, and I love making other people feel better too. I started teaching because I discovered a different person underneath the one I thought I was (in the corporate world), and I liked her much better! She seemed much less uptight, a little more relaxed, a little more confident and dare I say “goofy”.  I have also always loved movement (I used to dance a lot), and when I added the breath it was just so calming. Why I stay is a good question, because in many ways yoga systematically dismantled my life, and has made some things harder. I stay because I can’t imagine going back to that other world. I feel like I’m doing something meaningful with my life now. I know something I didn’t know before, and there’s no going back! My teaching has evolved the way my personal practice and training have. Always compassionate but even more gentle, therapeutic, and mind-focused now. I study way more philosophy (e.g. Yoga Sutras, the Gita, etc.) now; these have captured my attention and interest and sometimes I feel better just reading about yogic concepts.

stretching_in_yoga_class3. What do you know to be true about yoga and what could this mean? How has yoga impacted your life in ways large and small?

What’s true about yoga is you get what you put into it. For years I had the tools (including a pain-free, mobile body!) but didn’t use them. I’m not sure whether it was laziness, forgetfulness, or simply a disbelief that they would work for me. I remember seeing all these healthy yogis and wondering why I didn’t “get it” (especially the spiritual stuff). I liked the physical aspect, but I knew there was something more and I suppose my mind/heart just weren’t ready for it. I think we all let things in on our own time. Yoga totally ruined my life. Said more positively it completely and utterly transformed it, and I’ve no doubt that it will continue to. Sometimes the uncertainty is what’s scary. Yoga has changed my location, career, name, mindset about health, eating habits, relationships, the ways I speak to myself, how I sleep, what “balance” looks like, what “health” means to me, and so on. It shows me daily where I fall short, giving me opportunities to be kinder to myself and/or make different decisions.

Note: This blog was prompted by a blog from Kate Connell Potts at You & The Yoga Mat, so props to her for making me consider these questions!

Thumbs up or thumbs down = balanced mood

If you put yourself out there on social media, whether it’s in a blog, a video, or even a simple Facebook post, you’re likely to get, well…feedback.

Several months ago out of curiosity, I went to the “A Journey Into Health” YouTube Channel and sorted my video posts by “most popular”. The most popular video is (and continues to be) the Yoga for Mind-body Balance one. I remember being a bit surprised since this is a longer video than I usually publish. But what caught my attention next was the “thumbs up/down” indicator next to the video:


My mind went something like this: “three thumbs up! Awesome!” “Wait, what??! Two thumbs down? Why would anyone give this video a thumbs down? And TWO people!?” I could feel my smile turning upside down (you know, in alignment with the thumbs). Fortunately soon after noticing that sensation in my body, and those thoughts in my mind, I realized that I had a choice. And that in this moment, a simple image carried some potential to affect my mood.

In Erroneous Zones, Dr. Wayne Dyer suggests that we live in an “approval seeking” culture. He also suggests that it’s OK to want to please someone else; what’s not is when we need to please someone else in order to feel good about ourselves. If we have this need, it means that we need external validation as a way of masking a lack of internal trust.

As in my example above, social media has added an interesting dimension to this approval-seeking behavior, and likely increased it. Fortunately, once I noticed myself going in this direction, I asked, “does it really matter to me if two people on the Internet don’t like my video?” I smiled. Of course not. Everyone has different tastes, different styles, different expectations. It made sense that of the almost 3 BILLION people on the Internet, maybe a few of them wouldn’t like something I published! Although I used a logical argument to address my initial reaction, I did truly feel content with that, and captured just enough to write this post down the road. In the yogic lens, I didn’t feel attached to the thumbs up, and I didn’t feel averse to the thumbs down. We all know when we truly feel this contentment, and when we are really averse to something but tell ourselves otherwise. (“I don’t care. Whatever s/he does is perfectly fine with me. Including {insert_thing_here}.” Pffft.”–is not usually real contentment. 🙂 )

The other thing about being content with this up or down social media feedback is that it ceases to have any POWER over me. I said above that this image of thumbs had the “potential to affect my mood.” BUT…only if I allowed it to. When we are truly trusting of ourselves, when we approve of ourselves, we don’t need “other”, outside approval. Therefore, we’re not giving our power away to anyone else. We’re maintaining our own personal power.

approvalThe same can be said for a lot of external feedback we get, and not just on social media. When a bathroom scale gives you a certain number for your weight, do you feel better or worse about yourself? (Better yet, do you not have a scale?!) Does a teacher telling you that you’re doing well in your studies boost your confidence, when you already had a hunch that you knew the material and were applying it well? Does a frown from your boss automatically mean you’ve screwed up?

Regardless of our Internet habits, I believe we all should start noticing how often we seek approval outside of ourselves. I say we take back our power. I say we reconnect, and be the very approval we seek.

Why do we enjoy what we enjoy?

I had an interesting experience in my teacher training this weekend. As is sometimes the case–because of a different topic that had been nagging me–I started the day in a resistant mood.

37229201_sEarly into the morning, I couldn’t contain my frustration and said to our teacher, Chase: “what is the point of all this [therapeutic yoga] if we can’t return to the things we enjoy after, if we have to keep “babying” our bodies to prevent re-injury?! If all I get to do is inhale and move my arm over my head, exhale and bring it down–when what I ENJOY and want to do is go to Barre class–what is the POINT of living for heaven’s sake!? My question was 100% serious, and also tinged with anger. What WAS the point, after all? Barre class (and many other less strenuous things) are physical activities I used to enjoy very much. I’ve always been a “mover”! Without being able to do these things, it’s not just my physical form that suffers, because everything is related. My mind gets really agitated too. I feel like I can’t easily release stress and tension (at least not in a healthy way), I feel flabby and unattractive, I don’t feel like i can eat whatever I want, etc. etc.

Chase pointed out that we enjoy what we do because of the specific FEELING that the activity creates. (This made sense to me, as it’s the same with Eating Psychology Coaching and why we turn to certain foods/drinks at certain times. Oddly I hadn’t really looked at my exercising that way.) Anyway, Chase said that if we can identify what feeling we are truly after, then we can use a meditation practice to link to that experience, instead of having to look outside ourselves. This concept naturally requires that one figure out what feeling the experience of going to Barre class, for example, evokes.

A bit later on, a fellow classmate Pam said something about power, and my light-bulb instantly went on. For me, physical activities like Barre class make me feel strong and powerful. Sure I’m little, but I could kick your butt (surprise!!). Kickboxing (when I used to do that) would definitely give me that feeling too. Even certain moves in Tai Chi, where we’re moving slow, fluidly, and with the Chi energy that I can feel will evoke this feeling of power in me. If I’m honest, Barre also sometimes make me feel “better” than the other women around me (because I can stay in an exercise longer, or do it with better form, or without my legs shaking like a leaf even though I feel that burn, etc.). But that really just boils down to power too.

I also pretty quickly recognized that most of my childhood and early adult life I felt pretty powerless. As a child I was terrorized at home and lived in utter fear of my raging father, with mom doing her best to keep me from pissing him off. As if other kids could sense my lack of power, I was mercilessly picked on at school too. I spent a lot of time alone, trying not to get noticed because getting noticed was sure to bring trouble. In private Catholic school, the teachers didn’t give students much personal power either. In college, I spent a lot of time and felt completely stressed trying to please my mom, staying with a degree and a field that never truly resonated with me. Again, powerless.

My subsequent thoughts from this realization went something like this:

  1. OK, so I can create a feeling of power and strength in my meditation practice (i.e. without NEEDING to go to Barre, which I can’t). Cool!
  2. Hmmm…do I really need to feel that way…now?

I’m still in the pondering stages, but the last question threw me a bit. Maybe I do still need a way to feel strong and powerful (at least for the time being–like I “need” to make/buy the coffee that soon after I don’t have any urge to drink anymore). But maybe my circumstances are different now. Maybe I’m SAFE, and I don’t need to feel overly strong or powerful. Vacillating between extremes is what I’ve done in many circumstances, when what I always seem to be seeking is balance. I wouldn’t want to just become a doormat–I want to live “in” my personal power, rather than feel a compulsion toward outside activities to provide that.

Getting there is the hard part!

Does your personal power come from within or without? Do you exercise too little personal power, or too much? Talk to me.

Becoming Aware of Habitual Patterns

For about 20 years, I’ve spent a great deal of time and energy trying to notice and change the mental/emotional patterns that I know don’t serve me. However, yoga therapy training and my own physical issues of late have made me start to look more closely at the habitual patterns in my body and in the way I move.

I wrote in a prior blog about a few of these, and as the weeks have gone by, I’ve found many more! For example, after helping a client figure out how to more safely get in and out of his car to avoid straining his back, I noticed that my own way of entering and exiting my vehicle was terrible! (We teach what we need to learn, right?!)

Here’s what I noticed. Whenever I went to leave my car, I’d start by swinging my left leg to the ground. I’d leave my right leg where it was, then twist my upper body to reach whatever was resting on my passenger seat that I needed to take with me (purse, books, etc.) . Then I’d put all my weight on my left leg, and swing my right side (with the extra weight of whatever I was carrying) toward the door, placing my right foot on the ground. If you can imagine this, I’m pretty much doing a twisted split! Ouch. Since I’ve had a recurrence of pain in my sacrum (and right hip) lately, this really struck me as being an unhelpful pattern of physical movement for my body. Given how many times a day I get in and out of my car, it’s amazing I’m not in more pain.

The first few times I tried to address this, it became clear how habitual the pattern of movement was. I’d catch myself after it was too late. But over a day or two, I’d start to catch myself a little earlier. Now I’m using the technique I taught my client: put legs together (as if wearing a skirt), swing both legs out, then stand. Walk around to passenger side to get bag, books, etc. This definitely takes more conscious effort (and time) as I’m still not enough in the new pattern to do it automatically. But I do believe it’s ensuring my pain isn’t getting worse.

Another interesting pattern: putting on pants. Yes, seriously. Most of the time I’m in yoga pants. Sometimes they’re loose, sometimes they’re stretchy, like tights. Guess what happened when I tried to put pants onto my left side first? I nearly fell on my caboose! I had NO IDEA that I’d been so right-leg dominant.

Last one, back to the car. Guess which side of my body I’m always using to close the trunk of my car? Yup, you guessed it, the right. I reach up with my right hand, stretching up through my right side (I’m short you know), and then use the right side of my body to pull the trunk down. Hmmm…in side stretches my right side is always tighter, and my right QL has been known to have issues. I wonder why! I haven’t gotten to the point with this one where I start using my left side (yet). But I know that the awareness will get me there, and will help me even out some of these imbalances in my body. At the very least, these changes will keep my pain from getting worse, and they may even help resolve it.

Yoga is great in terms of alleviating pain, stretching, and strengthening weak areas. But, if one continues to put stresses on the body in an imbalanced way multiple times a day, a yoga practice a few times a week (or even one a day) isn’t going to be as effective as it would be if one’s habitual patterns were also identified and modified.

I’m continuing to explore this in my own body, and I hope that this post encourages you to pay closer attention to how you move in your daily life. Just notice for example how you enter/exit your car. Are there things you might change? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you.

Effective Communication (Yogi Style)

I’ve been in several situations lately where I’m being re-exposed to learning, communication, and behavioral styles, and it got me into an interesting conversation with a friend earlier today.

Regardless of where you live or what you do, it’s likely that at some point someone has given you advice or feedback that sounded harsh, maybe even judgmental or critical. And maybe you’ve even been on the flip side: you had something important to say, but when you delivered it to the recipient they didn’t take it the way you’d expected or hoped. Maybe your request or advice was met with defensiveness, or maybe the person felt wounded when that’s not what you’d intended.

Personally I like people to be very direct with me. If I ask someone how they’re doing, I really want to know. If they ask me, I want to be able to say more than a polite “fine, thank you” like my mama taught me. My preference and my expectation is to be able to hear and receive truth.

Others might prefer a softer, less blunt style of feedback and communication in general. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t “get” these styles as much, and that’s OK. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t come across them in life, and that I don’t need to learn to communicate effectively with them. I would like to give clients/students advice or instruction in a way they could hear and incorporate so their lives will be improved, more than I want to be wedded to my particular style. I also like to be able to communicate with my partner, who has an opposite style to mine. That said, learning to do what doesn’t come naturally or what one prefers themselves can be challenging!

Three things come to mind when I consider this challenge.

  1. We all exist somewhere on a continuum, or spectrum, when it comes to how directly we’d like to deliver information and how we’d like to receive information. Maybe that’s the same point for both (i.e. I like being blunt and I like people to be blunt with me), or maybe it’s seemingly contradictory (i.e. I like being direct but when someone communicates with me I prefer they warm me up to the point a little first).spectrum_colors_directnessIn the same way, there’s a spectrum for how the message is delivered (i.e. the “tone”). As my friend pointed out, one could be direct in the words one chooses, but the way the words are said can reflect more or less thoughtfulness, regardless of how much care is actually felt deep inside in the person delivering the message. In other words, I may really care for you, but that doesn’t come through in my tone as I tell you something directly. Someone might also be indirect but very thoughtful. Is it even possible to be indirect and tactless? “Bless your heart,”, I think I recently had this experience at a Texas spa where my appointment time got confused.
    Anyway, let’s say you wanted to make a request that I change some behavior. And let’s say that I’m the type of person who’s direct and a little more toward the tactless ends of these spectra in how I deliver requests for others to change their behavior. If I prefer the same levels of delivery, and you’re indirect and super sweet to me, I will not understand what you’re trying to say. I will likely also get frustrated and annoyed. If you prefer indirect and more loving deliveries, and I try and ask you do to something, you will likely feel wounded and hurt. And that’s assuming that the way we prefer to deliver and receive information is the same. If we each differ on those points, then it becomes an even trickier puzzle to solve! Isn’t it a wonder we communicate as well as we do?? And no wonder we have problems!tightrope
  2. So whether or not you followed me on all that spectrum stuff, here’s the deal. I think we’re all just looking to level out. I (generally) need to learn to be a little more chatty before I go to my point, and I need to be a little more tactful in how I deliver it. I also need to be able to hear or pull messages out of indirect deliveries, and accept a little more sweetness. You might need to be a little less circuitous and a little more powerful. There’s nothing wrong with either; it’s just where each of us need to grow, and if we’re rubbing each other the wrong way, it’s because we are giving each other this opportunity to grow! Isn’t it beautiful? 😉 What’s more is that we must learn to adjust to different people we encounter as partners, workers, bosses, parents, children, etc. Every person in our lives can be viewed as someone who helps us continuously fine tune our language, kind of like a tight-rope walker uses a balancing tool to keep their movements from going too far to one side or the other. Sometimes we’ll “fall” and the relationship will end. Sometimes we’ll find ways to recover And we’ll learn from each of those experiences.


  3. Hey, is there any help out here?? Do we just keep going back and forth without any guidance until we all figure it out for ourselves? Yes. The yogi’s call it Satya. It means being truthful in one’s thoughts, speech, and actions. What you think about a person can have a profound affect on how you say it even if you’re trying for it not to. For example: if I think my partner’s an idiot for not taking out the trash, when I ask him, “honey, could you please take out the trash?” it will have what you know is that tone laced with judgment and frustration, which he”ll pick up more strongly than my words. The words are direct and polite, but the person on the receiving end will feel that lack of tact. It’s not likely, but if I were to think loving thoughts of my partner while saying the same words and throwing up my hands and shaking them (an action), that is also likely to be received poorly. Thoughts, speech, and action must match, or else confusion registers in our systems–and from confusion comes misunderstandings and complications.

Does this make sense? Do you know where you are on these spectra when it comes to delivering and receiving messages from loved ones? Do your thoughts, actions, and speech align? Where might you practice today?

Trusting Your Path

I love the movie Office Space. Back in the days when I was in high-tech, it was funny for so many of it’s detailed accuracies about my work life. But today I found myself thinking back to the opening scene, when Peter (played by Ron Livingston) was trapped in traffic on his way to work. When he saw that another lane was moving faster, he’d change to that lane thinking he could get ahead. But then that lane would stop, the lane he was just in would open up. He’d change back to that, and what do you know, he’d get stuck there again. What he wanted was to move forward, but traffic wasn’t letting him go any faster regardless of which lane he was in. It was frustrating to say the least, and I’m sure we could all relate to the traffic scenario, especially in Austin, TX!

The thing about this scene that strikes me differently today is that a lot of us (myself included) look for the “fast lane”–the quick fix for whatever ails us physically, mentally, or emotionally. The pill that will let us sleep or take our pain away. The move across the country that will make us into a different person, that will make us feel like we “belong”. We aren’t content with where we are in the moment, or with our present circumstances. Even if we’re in a good place, a lot of us want to “continuously improve”. We often don’t understand that where we are might be exactly where we’re meant to be, and that despite all our attempts and energies at changing, the Universe has a grander plan for us. We try our hardest to get “out” when anything starts to become uncomfortable, and we often have little trust. We won’t recognize that we may not be moving forward as fast as we’d like to because there is some other lesson we’re meant to learn first. We’re so busy trying to get out of our present situation that we’re not looking at the value of where we are.

So maybe Peter was supposed to be stuck in traffic that day. Maybe the delay stopped him from becoming part of a devastating accident. Maybe it would have allowed him to collect his thoughts about an upcoming, important meeting. Maybe it would have been a great opportunity to practice patience and compassion for others. Or maybe the time could have been used to deepen his breath.

I’m working on trusting that despite feeling lost a good portion of the time, the circumstances I find myself in, the people I meet, and the experiences I have (whether I label them as “pleasant” or “unpleasant”) are for my greater good. I’m trying to be “in” that space, the space of the present moment, the here and now, and to trust my life and my path. Finally.

I won’t say I’m very good at it, but I’m trying to create some space, some allowing, that there is a greater purpose for everything I’ve gone through and will go through in this lifetime. What about you? Do you sometimes find it challenging to trust too? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Can a calling be selfish and selfless at the same time?

As a yoga instructor, I teach numerous classes in studios and gyms and work privately with folks like you who are looking to create unique, individualized practices. As an eating psychology coach I can also teach you how to uncover and process deeper issues with relationships, body image, depression, anxiety, and trauma that often underlie your emotional eating behaviors. I teach people like you how to breathe, how to relax, how to meditate, how to make time to be healthier and happier in the context of their crazy lives. I teach you because I truly want to help you, and would like to make a difference in the world. But I also teach for completely selfish reasons: I teach YOU to keep myself sane.

There, I said it.

After teaching a yoga class at one of my gyms the other day, I had a lovely exchange with a new student. She told me how much she liked her second ever class; in particular, how soothing and calming my voice was.

I thanked her and smiled at her comment, although maybe not for the reasons you’d think.

My “non-yoga” voice is typically high pitched and squeaky. I talk fast, and sometimes two words mush together in bizarre ways as they make their way out of my mouth at the same time; other times I can’t think of the word at all and sound like a babbling idiot. If I’m honest with myself, I’m often overly critical and sound like one or both of my parents (not a good thing). And all too often I give voice to the abundance of automatic negative thoughts that run rampant in my mind.

I don’t teach yoga because I don’t have issues. I teach yoga because when I do, I become more of the person I’d prefer to be all the time: calm, grounded, peaceful, content, grateful. And I sound like her too! No matter what’s happening in my life or no matter how I feel personally before teaching, I have to put these things aside, and give you the safe, soothing experience YOU need. And as a result, I change for the better.

Similarly, a few weeks ago, a feisty coaching client (who had made great progress over several weeks and whose energy showed it!) used part of her session to turn the tables. She asked some pointed questions about me which I answered honestly. She seemed surprised that I still shared many of her struggles. It’s true that I know how to get deep into the muck, and various techniques to make things a little better. I know that it’s not always about what it seems to be about (i.e. the food). I know that it’s hard to do things differently. I know what it’s like to feel like you’ve failed.

Believe it or not, I’m not at home eating healthy, practicing yoga, and meditating all the time.

I’ve been through (and continue to go through) a lot. There are still (many) days when I feel lost and alone, like I’m an alien creature who doesn’t quite belong in any human circle. I still fumble my relationships. I eat entire bags of chips or cookies or popcorn sometimes too. I still struggle with anxiety and depression and some days when it’s really bad, I want to crawl into a hole and not do anything.

And, when you come to me with a health concern or challenge, know that it’s most often because we are more similar than you might imagine! We likely resonate with each other because I’m like you. And I can help you because I’m like you–because I understand. I’ve just been working on this stuff for a LONG LONG time. And like anything else, the more time, energy, and effort you put into something, the more you learn, the more you know, and the more you can share with others.

I am a teacher, a coach, and a real person. Sometimes what keeps me going is knowing that I can help you experience your body differently, or that I can help you make new connections and see things a little differently.

So, maybe it’s selfless or selfish, or a bit of both. Shall we keep helping each other through this journey called life? I hope so.

My psoastic journey: 5 lessons I learned from my hips

Lesson #0: My “Freak” Hips are Really My Teachers

For a long time, I’ve had an extreme imbalance in my pelvis and hips, and have encountered many life situations where it became apparent.

  • “One of your legs is longer than the other,” said my college boyfriend’s sister in their parents living room, checking me out as she was studying to become a PT (1998).
  • “Wow, come feel this!!” yelled one overly excited Pilates instructor to another with her hands on my hip bones (2000).
  • “Do two stretches (of half wind-relieving pose) on one side and one on the other, every 10 minutes throughout your day,” said a neuromuscular massage therapist, with whom I obviously could not comply (2009-ish).
  • Whenever I practiced yoga, eye of the needle pose on my left would be cake; on the right it was an eternal struggle to get any external rotation in my hip (and therefore always a challenge in protecting my knee). This became more apparent when I started teaching yoga and had to demonstrate postures (2012).

In 2014 I started seeing a chiropractor to adjust me on a regular basis so that when I sat on the edge of something and my legs dangled (which they often do because I’m short), I wouldn’t feel as though my right hip was hiked up and one foot almost 2 inches shorter than the other (2014).

Following a trip to New Zealand that had me doing more walking than yoga and over 25 hours of sitting in my 500-hour Yoga Therapy Teacher training one weekend, I developed sciatica and low back pain for the New Year. The numbness down one leg (it alternated sides) and the almost constant pressure in my low back kept me awake at night, to the point where the only rest I could get was a few hours on my Reiki (massage) table. This sent me on a quest to heal. And ASAP!

Lesson #1: How to Manage My Mind & Care for Myself with Less Movement

Over the next few weeks I had to come to terms with the fact that I could barely teach yoga, much less be as active as I’m used to. No ballet Barre class, no running, no weight-lifting. Sometimes I thought I might go crazy if I couldn’t get up and do something, so I started ChiWalking. It was a real mental and emotional challenge seeing that I could barely walk 30 minutes at a snail’s pace. How could I manage my crazy mind if I couldn’t exercise? If I couldn’t do the physical things I enjoyed the most? Depression knocked on my door.

And of course this is the real practice of yoga. So I explored. I Reiki’d myself. I tried being more gentle and compassionate to my body. (I even wrote it a letter.) I experimented more with cooking. I sat down and relaxed and rested more, even when only doing simple chores. I made tea and ate biscuits. I allowed myself to watch TV and read books. And, it was still hard.

Lesson #2: Don’t Throw Out the Baby with the Bath Water

During this time I was also pretty busy visiting different holistic professionals, including my chiropractor, and now a yoga / physical / massage therapist. The chiropractor helped the acute pain (as did more ice packs than I could count). The 3-in-1 therapist gave me yoga postures I could do therapeutically, which made me feel as though I could take a more active part in my own recovery (and helped me see what Yoga Therapy was like from a patient’s perspective).

My condition improved, but given all I was learning about the spine, I was still curious about whether an x-ray would show anything more serious. I visited with my PCP (who happens to also be an acupuncturist). He referred me for the x-ray and encouraged me to take Aleve for 5 days to relieve the inflammation in my sacroiliac joint.

I was happy about the x-ray, which showed nothing horrible, but allowed me to see that I’ve been walking around with mild scoliosis.  Since I’d been following the side-plank scoliosis study, I knew there was something I could try there too. I wasn’t sold on the Aleve. I’m generally against taking OTCs because I believe they do more harm than good and cover up the root causes. Plus I have unpleasant reactions to some (like acetaminophen). But, I needed to get this issue under control, so despite the nausea for 5 days, I took half the dose my doctor prescribed and noticed a difference in my low back pressure.

Lesson #3: Physical Traumas Must be Processed on an Emotional Level

This is a big one.

In my attempts to understand and explain my issues–in other words, to answer the question “WHY!???”, I came up with many theories.

One memory that came to me during this time was of an accident I had when I was about 12 years old. My family had just moved from the middle of nowhere to a little suburb with other children, and although I was the oldest kid on the block, I didn’t act it. After being taunted over the fact that I still rode a little pink Strawberry Shortcake bike (sans training wheels) my dad bought me a blue 3-speed, which would still be too large for me.

I didn’t understand how to use the breaks very well (I was used to just back-pedaling) and one day I was cruising down a steep blacktopped hill that was my friend’s driveway. I couldn’t stop, and I panicked and tried to leap off the bike on one side. Well, I missed, and the metal bar that ran down the center ended up squarely in my crotch. The pain was excruciating. I still don’t remember how I got home, and it wasn’t until I was in my 20s that my mother reminded me of the incident, which clarified why I didn’t bleed during my first sexual encounter. I hope the bike enjoyed the experience more than I did.

Given my current situation and what I’ve learned about trauma over the years, I started putting two and two together. Yes, this was physical trauma to my pelvis at an early age. How couldn’t it have affected me? What’s more, who ever took me to a doctor? Who ever reassured me when I was urinating blood? No one. Hmmm. I started opening up to my family about this, only to be dismissed. I was outraged. I was scared. I was sad. I was lonely. For the first time in my life, I really *felt* my emotions over this experience. And when three friends and healers agreed this had to play a role in what was happening to me now, I finally took care of and was able to release it.

Later when I was doing an assigned yoga therapy exercise on my right hip, I felt this completely irrational fear envelop my body. My mind was gently yelling in the background, “no, no, you can’t open up that way. You CAN’T!!” I was pretty surprised at this–after all it was me stretching myself. I replied, “that’s not true, of course I can,” and continued gently.

In my second 3-in-1 therapy session, I was told to completely let go of my leg, and I relayed my success in finally being able to float in a pool this past summer. (Never in my life have I been able to relax enough to do that.) The therapist told me about Watsu (Water-Shiatsu) and I thought: “this is exactly what I need to do.” Forced swim lessons twice, at least three people dropping or throwing me in water when I was young, scared, and trusted them…yeah, this would be healing. (Stay tuned!)

Lesson #4: Embrace Square One & Beginner’s Mind, Even in Your 40th Year

ChiWalking is interesting because it teaches you to walk properly, which is something one might assume we all do perfectly fine without training (kinda of like breathing, heh). You’re super conscious of your posture, your core, and how you move your limbs. Between this and the yoga therapy exercises (and my trainings in this field), I’m realizing more and more that some important muscles in my body really need attention.

Rectus and transversus abdominis, for example, aren’t used nearly enough to stabilize my pelvis when my hips move. Working hunched over a computer under stress for 15+ years created my head-forward posture, which means I need to strengthen the neck muscles that pull my head back and stretch the ones that push it forward. To address issues with my hips I need to stretch my hip flexors (specifically pectineus) more, and do some hip mobilization on my right. For the scoliosis, the side plank.

Whenever I sit, stand, or move now, I’m paying close attention to how I carry, hold, and transition parts of my body. I’m learning how to use it better throughout my daily life. Sometimes I feel like a baby. I’m asking questions and continuously adjusting. Better late than never!

Lesson #5: Gently Seek Out & Massage the Root Cause

Oh, and then…there’s the psoas.

The psoas is an important muscle physically, but also stores emotional trauma and has to be dealt with delicately. Mine is chronically, incredibly tight. Yesterday my 3-in-1 therapist gently massaged it for a little while, and I couldn’t believe how I felt. During, it was clearly very sensitive, all the way down into my groin. On the drive home I felt that my right and left sides were completely balanced. Later, all the muscles in my legs ached as if I’d run a marathon. When I slept (especially on my belly), I could just feel the presence of the muscle, letting me know it was there.

I have a hunch that the psoas is the key to unlocking many doors for me, both physically and mentally / emotionally. For the first time in my life i feel like healing my body and my heart might truly be possible.