E-RYT 500, yoga instructor for children and adults

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but can you put some of the bags back under my eyes?” I joked with the photographer as, with the click of a mouse, he removed spots, smoothed creases and erased shadows. I asked him if this program is what the pros use too. “Oh no,” he said, “for the big time stuff they go even more detailed. It’s almost pore by pore.” “Well no wonder we all have fucked up body images!” I laughed. I’m used to seeing my face without makeup now, but something about putting that same face under professional lighting and presenting it as art made me notice every tiny flaw. eb17-94-2eb17-94

We are so used to seeing altered photos that the real thing is startling. My face provides a map of my past, every emotion that has flashed across its features tells the story of what I’ve been through. Years of experience, smiles, screams and ugly cries all shaped the contours of my skin. Do I want my history erased?  Maybe I don’t want my shadows removed. I worked hard to finally face them, to accept them, and I’m working on embracing them. Then again, I did look damn good in some of those after pics… Don’t get me wrong, I’m generally happy with how I look. We all have our insecurities of course, and over the last ten years I feel I’ve been going through a slow and steady journey towards self-acceptance. It started long ago, perhaps many lifetimes, and was re-ignited in this life when my mom died. She was my cheerleader, my comfort, my coach. After she left her body, I had to find all that within myself. At first I gave up and built more walls and shields around me. Little by little, I’ve been uncovering myself again. In doing so, I’ve often wondered what was covering it all up in the first place. The yoga tradition gives us an answer: Maya. You often hear that Karma’s a bitch, but she just gives you back what you dish out. Maya is the real trickster. This veil of illusion causes us to mistake a false projection for our true inner self. The more we identify with these external constructions—our possessions, our bodies, our thoughts, our egos—the further away we get from our Truth, Soul, Divinity, Inner ‘Badass Just the Way We Are’ Self. Maya comes in forms large and small, overt and subtle. Some say the entire universe of which we are aware is Maya. I realized I needed to make friends with Karma’s prettier, and more insidious, sister.eb17-199eb17-199-2

I used to wear make up every day. I worked in a corporate environment and felt somewhat obligated to put my ‘best face forward.’ More than that though, I was going through a season of insecurity, doubt and questioning. My inner world felt confusing and chaotic. I was the black sheep of the office, the weird liberal vegan girl who does yoga and pilates at lunch. Make up was the mask I painted on every day to fit in and hide myself. I want to be clear that I’m not dissing anyone who chooses to wear makeup. I’m just saying that for me at that time, it wasn’t a fun, healthy way to express myself. I didn’t enjoy doing it and I did it to appease other people, not myself. After quitting my desk job and transitioning into teaching yoga, I wore less make up but still felt the need to wear some. I can remember the day when my most recent ex told me sincerely, “You don’t need make up. You’re beautiful without it.” I’m sure I’d heard those words before, but partly because of the work I had done in therapy, partly because of yoga, partly because of her love for me (which I’m grateful for, even though the relationship is no longer) I finally believed it. And I started leaving the house naked. At least, that’s how it felt at first to expose my bare skin to the world with no barrier.  The funny thing is, I don’t think anyone even noticed.  I realized that I hadn’t really been hiding from anyone else, I had been hiding from myself. The sleepless nights couldn’t be covered up anymore. I couldn’t ignore too much wine, too much sugar, too much stress. It was all there written on my face. Instead of plastering over it with concealer, I opted to reveal. I shone light into the darkness that was causing me to abuse myself in those ways. I owned up to the fact that the relationship I was in wasn’t right. I owned up to the fact that these microaggressions against myself were a subtle form of self-harm, even though I hadn’t put a razor blade to my skin in years. I’ve started to own up to the fact that I am not always nice, that not everyone will like me, and that those are both ok. It’s been interesting getting used to the idea of being single again. At first there was a knee jerk reaction to start wearing the mask again, put the make up back on, act in a certain way so I would be attractive to a mate. Thankfully I’m aware of Maya’s little tricks and I’m better equipped to ignore them. Sure, there are days when I feel like wearing make up, and I do. There are times it’s fun to dress up and play a part, as long as I’m aware that it is just that–a part of me, not all of who I am. Deep down I know who I really am, and no concealer or digital brush will change that.

 

My body lies heavy, sinking into the ground,

Muscles settling over bones like rich, wet earth hugging the roots of a tree.

I feel my heart beat slowing, the rush of my pulse quieting,

As mighty rivers give way to streams, creeks, trickles of water.

Warmth radiates from the surface of my skin, fed by a fire stoked deep in my belly,

Like the molten core cradled in the planet’s center.

I allow myself to breathe gently, as air is invited into my lungs,

Then surrendered again into the wind.

Time slows down, the space between—

Movements, heartbeats, breaths, thoughts—

Stretches out as I float into the ether.

Ode to the moon upon waking

I sat with the moon last night and she shared her secrets with me

She said she feels like her emotions are constantly changing, they ebb and flow, pulled in all different directions

I said, yes I get that way too

She said she doesn’t always feel complete, sometimes it seems like no one can even see her, and people only pay attention to her when she’s happy and bright

I said, same here

She said she gets lonely, feels isolated sometimes, and it seems like forever since a man caressed her skin

I said, tell me about it sister

But, she said, I have noticed, over these many years, that even through the darkest times, eventually the sun shines on my face again

True, I said

And no matter what happens on the surface, the world keeps turning, she said

I’ve noticed that too, I said

And I enjoy seeing people smile at me, I like making people happy, she said

Me too, I said

I sat with the moon last night, turns out we have more in common that I thought

An Invisible Illness

“But you don’t look depressed…you’re so cheerful…I bet you never get upset…it’s hard to imagine you having a bad day…easy for you to say, you’re always happy…”

I’ve heard many variations of these well-intentioned statements. They don’t bother me much anymore, and I know people mean them as compliments, but there are times when they feel like a knife in my heart. “If only they knew. What is wrong with me? How can I be such a happy person most of the time, yet still succumb to crippling sadness so severe it puts me in bed for days, even weeks? Shouldn’t I be able to prevent this by now?” After many years of research, therapy, yoga, meditation, and self-inquiry, I’ve not so much arrived at an answer as I have become better at accepting the reality: I am a happy, optimistic person who sometimes experiences depression.

I think there are many misunderstandings out there about what depression is. It’s not the same as being in a bad mood, having a negative attitude, being a pessimistic person, feeling sad from time to time, or getting discouraged by the inevitable challenges of life. Depression is a mental illness with physical components that is a mixture of nature and nurture. There are biological factors such as genetics, hormones, and neuro-chemistry; mental and emotional factors such as stress, negative thought patterns, sensitivity; and also circumstantial factors such as traumatic events, loss, or abuse. Science doesn’t fully understand it yet, but there has been much more study about it over the last few decades. Often people who have not experienced depression don’t understand why those who do can’t “just get over it” or “shake it off” or even one I sometimes say myself, “choose happiness.” If I’m just in a shitty mood over something small or I catch myself in a negative thought pattern, I can certainly turn it around through gratitude or affirmations or meditation. I’m not saying that these practices can’t be helpful to someone with depression also, there are many things you can do to help manage the symptoms of depression. The key word is manage, depression can’t always be prevented or snapped out of so easily.

Think of depression as a latent virus that lives in some people, similar to a cold sore. Just like a cold sore, the potential is always there, even if the evidence isn’t on the surface. You can do some things to help prevent an outbreak, but you can’t necessarily prevent one from ever happening again. And once an outbreak happens, it takes some time to heal. There are no quick fixes.

Similarly, depression can stay dormant for months or even years, then suddenly get triggered to express itself. Eating a healthy balanced diet, getting exercise and fresh air, talking about your problems with trusted friends, going to regular therapy sessions, practicing yoga and meditation–these things all help to manage depression. But sometimes these aren’t enough. Sometimes a major stressor comes along, like a death, divorce, job loss, or trauma. Sometimes brain chemistry gets a bit off, or hormone levels fluctuate. Sometimes people even fall into cyclical patterns of depression with no specific trigger. Whatever the cause, the once latent disease now manifests in the body and mind as a full blown episode.

Once that switch gets flipped and I’m in the midst of a depression, the catch is I don’t have the energy to do the things that I know would help me get out of the depression. It’s not just mental energy or will power that is lacking. There are actual physical symptoms that can affect motor coordination, muscle strength, sleep patterns, and appetite among other things. It simply feels impossible to get up, function, and be around people, even to do fun things that I typically enjoy. It’s hard for anyone, and especially as a yoga teacher it’s very easy to beat myself up for not being the perfect example of health and happiness, which only adds to the stress and frustration.

Not every depressive episode is the same. In my experience, staying healthy and on top of my self-care has helped to reduce the number of episodes, lengthen the time between them, and reduce the severity when they do hit. In the past my major depressive episodes lasted for weeks and months, often including suicidal thoughts and harmful behavior. In between major episodes I would feel mildly depressed the majority of the time. There were a few rays of light, but they battled heavy clouds. These days I tend to experience mild depression for a few weeks or months at a time. In these phases I can function at a basic level but there’s an underlying discomfort that lingers without a known cause. I only have a few major depressive episodes a year, and they usually only last a few days. I’m better at noticing them coming on and better at taking care of myself when they do. The majority of the time I feel good with no major symptoms of depression. Often I feel great and go long periods without feeling depressed at all. That doesn’t mean I’m happy and ecstatic every day during the good times, just that I’m flowing with the natural ups and downs of life without getting pulled under. It’s still an ongoing learning process and I still beat myself up from time to time. It’s hard to accept that I may have to deal with this in one form or another for my whole life, but I’ve worked hard to get where I am today and by the grace of the divine and a little help from my friends, I’ll keep working. I have created a life worth the effort. I am worth the effort. And so are you.

  • If you’d like to learn a little more about depression and it’s many bio-chemical factors, I recommend this video from Dr. Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University. It’s long, but the first 15 minutes cover the basics.
  • If you or someone you know is suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts, please reach out:
    • Text 741-741     – This service is run by CrisisText.org, a nationwide organization that connects people in need with trained crisis counselors any time at no cost.
    • Call 1-800-273-TALK        – The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides confidential and free services from skilled counselors at a crisis center in your area.

If you’re local to Dallas, join me for FREE group therapy courtesy of Foundation45. This support group is led by a licensed counselor and meets every Monday night at 7 PM in the back room of Independent Bar and Kitchen at Main and Crowdus in Deep Ellum. We also do a short seated yoga/meditation session after group.

You aren’t alone. There are others who understand. Come, sit, talk or don’t talk. We love you.

Celebrate with Yoga!

Yoga can happen anywhere, not just in a studio. It can be a great addition to any celebration, kicking off your party by raising the vibration and putting everyone in a great mood. No special clothing or mats required, unless you want them! I can create a simple yoga and meditation practice that anyone can enjoy comfortably. Contact me if you’d like me to help you incorporate yoga into your next:

  • Birthday Party (adults or kids!)
  • Engagement Party
  • Wedding Shower
  • Wedding Day Morning
  • Baby Shower
  • Girls Night
  • Book Club
  • Tea Party
  • Fundraiser
  • Housewarming
  • Family Reunion
  • Holiday Celebration

Let the Light Shine

Today is Ash Wednesday. For many Christians, this day marks the first day of Lent, a period of contemplation and prayer echoing Jesus’ 40 days in the desert as he prepared for his death and resurrection. Often known as the Light of the World, Jesus is a fascinating figure for both religious and secular reasons alike. Although I don’t personally belong to any one religious group, I was raised Catholic and I appreciate many different beliefs and find Truth in many different places. I see this period of Lent as an opportunity to remind myself of the cyclical nature of reality and the fact that the Light can never be fully extinguished, that it always rises again in our hearts and minds if we let it.
I always read quotes at the end of my yoga classes, and last week I chose a series of quotes from different religions about helping others. Then I got sick and couldn’t teach, so I recycled them for this week. Fittingly, the quote I read today came from the New Testament of the Bible. I’ve heard this passage so many times, but today as I read it I felt the words more deeply than ever before. Christian or not, I invite you to read these words also and be open to see Truth in them:
Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
One way to commemorate this time of year, or anytime, is to make a commitment to give back, donating time, money, or energy to a worthy cause. There are many worthy causes that deserve our attention, and social media is often a way for people to spread awareness about these causes. Funny thing about people though, we often aren’t content to simply support and share about causes we find worthy. Too often we feel the need to disparage someone else’s cause or beliefs in order to bolster our own. I find myself getting caught up in the latest controversy, feeling the need to throw in “my two cents.” I have to remind myself to take a step back, and that those two cents could be put to a better use. The energy that could be put to use helping someone instead is wasted arguing over who and how we should help. Time and money are spent on tearing down instead of building up, criticism instead of compassion, and arguing instead of acting. In the name of good, we do bad, and no one wins. I can’t imagine that’s what Jesus or any other teacher of Truth would want.
I invite you to join me in making a renewed commitment to see God, Love, and Light in all beings and to treat them accordingly. Ram Dass said to treat everyone you meet as God in drag. Swami Sivananda said to bow humbly to beggars as they too are the image of the Lord. Jesus taught us to provide basic needs and kindness to those without. He didn’t say to ask whether the hungry are working hard enough, whether the stranger is Christian or Muslim, whether the sick person is liberal or conservative, or whether the prisoner deserves the sentence they are serving. He taught us to help others, and in doing so we allow the Light to shine through us.

Practice What You Practice

People are drawn to the practice of yoga for a multitude of reasons. There’s plenty of evidence showing it can help improve strength, flexibility, and physical health. Meditation is also becoming popular, mainly for its ability to relieve stress. These and other benefits to the body and mind, though wonderful, are still not the ultimate purpose of this ancient philosophy. In Louisiana we’d call these benefits lagniappe, a little something extra we can enjoy, but not to be mistaken for the main event. Yoga is a spiritual practice meant to lead the aspirant to enlightenment. In the West we often think of our being as two-fold, mind and body. In this dichotomy the body is external and the mind is internal. In Eastern philosophy however there are 3 parts to us: mind, body, and spirit. The spirit is the real deal, and the mind is just as unreal and external as the body. This is why our own mind can be such a mystery, seemingly controlling our thoughts, words, and actions. Through the practice of yoga we use the body and mind as tools to transcend both, getting in touch with the true nature of our inner being, our spirit.
In the yoga sutras, Patanjali says yoga is the calming of the mind. He chooses to mention friendliness, kindness, joy, and equanimity/non-judgment (1:33) as the four qualities to cultivate within ourselves in order to have a calm mind. Later he describes the 8 limbed path that includes the restraints, observances, postures, breathing, introspection, concentration, and meditation that will lead us to enlightenment. But before all of that he chooses to call attention to these four practices that anyone, regardless of ability to stretch or sit, can begin to practice and therefore get more clarity of mind.
I often tell my students, we don’t do yoga to get better at yoga…we do yoga to get better at life. I believe one reason we call it “practicing” yoga is because the things we do on the mat or while meditating are practice for the main event, which is life. Whatever we do on the mat or cushion is helping us to learn the principles of yoga which we then apply in our lives. And we must take our practice off the mat, we must be able to translate those lessons to our experiences in this life. That’s why we were given this incarnation, to learn and experience until we return to our Source. It’s great if we can practice being kind to ourselves when we can’t perform a challenging asana, but if we don’t take that lesson with us and speak kindly to ourselves when we’re stressed about money, or to our co-workers in a tense meeting, then we’ve missed the real benefit, and perhaps even the purpose, of yoga. It’s wonderful to find that state of peace while in meditation, but if we leave the meditation hall, get in our car, and get angry and yell at the drivers around us, again we’ve blown it. To be clear, I’m not saying we have to be perfect people. As Wayne Dyer said, you can only be better than the person you used to be. An effective yoga practice supports us in being our best self in each moment, evolving along the way.
Your thoughts, words, and actions are the results of what you practice. By practicing these principles when we do yoga postures, sit for meditation, or breathe deeply we are strengthening our ability to be friendly to a difficult person, kind to someone who has hurt us, to find joy even in the midst of challenges, and to remain even and non-judgmental through the ups and downs of life. The true measure of a yogi is not just our ability to be present during our practice; it’s in how we treat ourselves and others during the moments between practices.

AstroSync

Opening the wheel, web and flower of life

OPERATION YOGA

Helping people who are ready for better