E-RYT 500, yoga instructor for children and adults

System Overload

If I make shitty

Art, and no one sees it, do

I really exist?

 

According to the WebLogic Server site, “the overload protection features help prevent the negative consequences that can result from . . . continuing to accept requests when the system capacity is reached.” It seems obvious that overloading anything, from computer software to electrical outlets to elevators, can have negative consequences. I wonder why it’s so hard to accept, at least for me, that my body, mind, and spirit cannot continually take heavier and heavier loads without breaking down too.

As per my typical MO, I’ve been pretty busy. I don’t mean to glorify constant activity, it just seems to creep up on me. Picking up extra work here and there, volunteering for my favorite organizations, getting errands and chores done, going to workshops, making time for friends, attending events, social media, watching live music. There’s a lot to do in Dallas and I like to stay active and try new things. But even too much of a good thing is bad when you get so overwhelmed and imbalanced that your system is teetering on the brink of full capacity. Then it only takes one more little thing to initiate automatic shutdown.

That’s exactly where I was two weeks ago. I had just driven to South Louisiana for my cousin’s wedding, which was amazing and it was wonderful to see my family. But like any family, there are issues and challenges that sometimes present themselves. Having lost my mom, it’s always bittersweet when we all come together and she’s not there. On Sunday after the wedding, I drove back to Dallas. An already long trip was much slower and longer due to heavy rain off and on the whole way. Perhaps that should have been foreshadowing that my own storm was brewing inside. I returned late Sunday night, exhausted and drained from highs and the lows of the weekend. I had to be at work early the next morning for the first day of a new teacher training session. I absolutely love my job, but work is work and it can still be stressful even when you enjoy it. I promise you, if your job was cuddling kittens all day, after a while you’d be resenting the fluffy little bastards. Similarly, while I love teaching yoga and leading the trainings, it can still wear me down. As my 50 hour work week dragged on, I could feel my energy ebbing. I tried to be proactive by getting my weekend classes covered. I gave myself permission to rest as much as I needed for two full days. Apparently I needed a lot more rest than I thought because two days turned into four, then a whole week.

During that week I lived mostly in the dark, in every sense of the word. I ordered pizza three times, showered twice, and brushed my teeth once. I barely got online or communicated with anyone. I felt flat, like a Topo Chico that was left sitting out too long. I had no energy, no motivation, no desire. Feeding the cats and cleaning the litter box was a Sisyphean task, and the only thing I managed to do consistently. I didn’t really have a choice, unless I wanted them start to gnawing on my flesh as I slept. Though I have had issues with self-harm in the past, thankfully this time that wasn’t on my mind, which my support group reminded me is a sign of improvement. It didn’t feel like a victory at the time though. True I didn’t want to hurt myself, but I didn’t want to do anything else either. After a few days of total shutdown I began to creep back to life. I started writing and drawing, and wrote the haiku that opens this essay. Obviously I still wasn’t happy, but at least I was moving beyond apathy. Something was stirring inside me again.

Some people describe depression as feeling like a different person or as if someone else takes over their mind and body. When I fall into those holes, I still feel like myself but something is missing. It’s like a light has been blocked, and the dark is so deep I can’t see out. But eventually, slowly, the spark starts to rekindle. Thinking of it in terms of the Ayurvedic elements, my main imbalance is vata which is an excess of wind and space. A little wind stokes a fire, too much puts it out. When my air element goes out of control and I’m taking on too much and running from one thing to another without enough space to rest, eventually my fire gets blown out, the wind dies, and I crash hard into the earth. After slowly working up some motivation, I left my apartment for the first time in a week on Friday to get my mail, and Starbucks. The next day my best friend picked me up and we talked for a while at her place, which definitely helped me to continue to turn on the lights. Systems were slowly coming back online. We went to a wedding reception that evening for some mutual friends who recently got married, and while I was a little anxious at first it did help to be around people, and to dance. By Sunday morning I felt back to baseline.

In the past I would have tried to push myself to get back to work as quickly as possible. This time however I’ve decided to take another week off for self-care. As part of my commitment to authenticity, I realized I need to do a better job of walking my talk. It’s easy to let things pile up, put yourself last, and let those little rituals slide. And it always ends the same way. There’s a saying in the 12 step movement that if you don’t put your recovery first before everything else in your life, you’ll lose not only your recovery but everything else as well. If I’m not prioritizing the things that keep me healthy in mind, body, and spirit then I eventually will get sick or shut down and then nothing gets done and no one benefits. This week I’m doing a lot of introspection, and organizing and prioritizing my time and energy.

After almost two decades of therapy and hard work, my depression is mostly under control. I maintain mental health through yoga, meditation, diet, exercise, writing, talk therapy, and my support system. Most of the time, I feel like a badass, kicking butt and taking names. My program works pretty well, but nothing is 100% effective, my needs are always evolving, and sometimes the perfect storm brews. I tend to be hard on myself and it’s tempting to beat myself up for not being proactive enough, for not being able to manage my illness, for not being strong enough, for not being enough. Then, with a little help, I remember that all that negative self-talk is bullshit and I am a badass. I’m a badass who deals with depression.

 

A microwave

Self loathing

An iPhone

All my exes

Debt

A scale

My mom

Television

Self harm

Debilitating depression

Meat

Organized religion

Netflix

 

And yet I take another breath

Words drip from your lips,

Poisoned honey, sticky and false.

Dishing up what you think you’re supposed to feed me,

Hoping I’ll swallow without question.

I’d rather gulp down the scalding bitter darkness,

Rub my tongue over the rough patch on the roof of my mind,

Than slurp the lukewarm sickly saccharin that goes down easy,

Then sneaks up on my heart, burning a place I can’t touch.

Don’t stroke my ego with a coat of sugar;

Caramelized by fire, it cracks the thin layer of trust between us.

Work Your But Off

Recently I was talking to a student about building strength and was explaining how I found out I can do a pull up, which for most of my life wasn’t possible. “I went out to a spot at White Rock Lake with a friend of mine where they have these pull up bars and some other equipment outside. He goes out there to do, um, stuff, like uh, movement or . . . what would you call that?” “You mean working out?” he laughed in response.  It’s a funny thing for a yoga teacher to say, but I’ve never been a fan of exercise. I’ve always been active, but the activity had to have something else behind it. Sure I knew all the benefits of moving my body. The idea of being healthier and gaining strength, endurance, and flexibility sounded great, but these things weren’t enough to motivate me to get going. When a medication I was prescribed caused me to gain weight, not even my vanity or self consciousness could get me to exercise. I absolutely hated going to the gym. Mindless reps of weights or drills might leave me breathless, but they didn’t take my breath away. I had to have some other goal, a challenge to overcome or technique to master. Over the years I have been interested in dance, gymnastics, volleyball, distance running, Jazzercise, Zumba, and of course yoga. I never participated in these with the intent to “get a work out.” Instead I was hooked by the fun, enjoyment, or challenge of playing.

When I found yoga, I loved the fact that I could use my body to work towards mental and spiritual growth, and considered the physical benefits to be lagniappe. At first I didn’t even like the more physically intense classes,  preferring gentle flows and Ashtanga, which while challenging, is slower and more traditional than most modern yoga styles. Lately though I’ve seen a shift. I’ve become one of those people who loves to go to the hard exercise classes and try the more difficult moves. I’ve started to crave the feeling of sweat pouring off my skin and the soreness of my muscles after a hard workout. I’ve been bouncing around from power yoga to cycling to pilates to kickboxing. On my second visit to the boxing gym, the instructor made a comment that some people don’t like going to his class because it’s too hard. He argued that this is the exact reason why you should attend his class, so you’re as strong as you can be when faced with other challenges. I nodded my head in agreement and also inwardly chuckled that I had unconsciously chosen the hardest teacher. Nothing is random.

Soul Cycle has also recently stolen my heart, and my favorite teacher there also happens to be known as one of the toughest. I was talking to another yoga teacher about my new love of spin and she mentioned that through a studio swap, we got free classes a different indoor cycling studio. At that studio they show your stats as you ride so you can record your progress. Though I understand why some might like the ability to track their physical goals, this aspect really turned me off, which is why I still pay a hefty fee to attend Soul Cycle rather than going elsewhere for free. I do enjoy pushing myself, but I don’t want to see the numbers. As I pondered the reason behind my costly choice, I realized that when it comes down to it, it’s still not about the physical for me. Sure I’ve gotten stronger, so it takes a more active practice to get me to my edge, but it’s really the mental challenge that I crave. I like taking classes from teachers who help me to be my best, who keep moving the bar a little higher. I like the tough teachers who also motivate and inspire, who help me work through the internal struggles like, “but I’m too old, but I’m too tired, but I can’t do it, but I don’t know how.” The teachers I admire push me physically and mentally. They encourage me to set goals, to explore new things, and to move beyond my comfort zone. They’re positive and kind, not drill sergeants, but they also don’t let me off the hook. They hold me accountable, encourage me to move beyond the limits of my mind, to do more than what I think I’m capable of, and teach me to do the same for myself.

I still love teaching and practicing gentle, restorative yoga. I definitely need the stillness I get in my daily meditation, and I believe in regularly practicing a softer “yin” style to balance the active “yang.” However as a student and a teacher I have grown to appreciate the mental and physical strength that come from a movement practice that really works my “but” off.

The ninth commandment forbids falsifying it. Patanjali considers it a prerequisite to yoga. Witnesses in court swear to it. Yet despite the many exhortations for it, truth is hard to come by. In my own life, I began my search for truth by looking outward. I began to notice when people didn’t seem to be telling the whole story. I became distrustful of others, especially in relationships. Hypocrisy frustrated me more than anything. Tellingly, there have been a few significant times in my life when I have been accused of saying one thing and doing another, or not being open and honest about what I was thinking or feeling. Of course I could always rationalize my own dishonesty as necessary under the circumstances, or as insignificant in the bigger picture. After hearing the old adage “when you spot it, you got it,” I eventually began to turn my gaze inward. I didn’t consider myself to be a dishonest person, at first I thinking it would be easy to commit to authenticity. But like most things that seem simple on the surface, the ramifications ran much deeper than I realized.

I’ve had a history of mental health challenges, suicide attempts, and various unhealthy coping mechanisms. Sometime after college I discovered cutting and soon developed an addiction to this destructive habit. I have many small scars that aren’t prominent, but there is one in particular on my left wrist that was bad enough to require stitches. What started out as a typical ritual of cut, clean, and bandage escalated into something closer to a suicide attempt. Looking back it was a desperate cry for help, though that doesn’t make it any less serious. Big, red, raised and ugly, I used to hide this scar at all times. I had an extensive collection of thick bangles, bracelets and watches and I never left home without wearing one. I even wore sweatbands around my wrist when I worked out. I used every scar treatment product I could find and dreamed of someday getting it removed, or covered up by a tattoo. Around that same time my first marriage was on the rocks, in part due to my mental illness. At one point my husband read my journal, in which I confessed having feelings for someone else, which provided the final impetus for our divorce. After we separated, this emotional affair continued into a full blown relationship and was a major factor in me moving to Dallas. I rarely told anyone the truth about why I moved here. When asked I claimed that it was to start fresh or have more opportunities for work, which was partially true, but not the whole truth. As you may suspect, this doomed relationship didn’t last long. I learned a harsh but necessary lesson when I found out my new partner had not been honest with me about his past, which included dealing with attraction to underage girls. I don’t think of it as a punishment though, karma can only use the raw materials I give her to create the circumstances through which my soul achieves growth. When I could no longer deny the messages I was receiving, I decided to take Gandhi’s advice and sincerely begin to embody the truth which I wanted to see in the world.

Though I’ve been in recovery from cutting for some time, it was only a few years ago that I began to go out in public without hiding my scar. Seeing it reminded me of sitting in the dark on the bathroom floor in that even darker place inside my mind, and I was ashamed and embarrassed that someone else would see that too. At first I was cautious about letting anyone look too closely. Over time I began to realize that not many people even noticed, and that if they did I typically received more compassion than judgment. I finally did decide to get a tattoo on my wrist, but instead of covering up my scar I boldly positioned the design right next to it. My partner at the time questioned whether I wanted it there, knowing how sensitive I was about it. I knew I would want to show off my new tat and that in doing so, I would be showing the scar as well. It scared me, but I felt ready to reveal that part of myself. I had healed enough inside to let my external wound show. Now when I see it, it reminds me of what I have overcome instead of feeling ashamed about where I have been.

It’s been challenging to navigate my newfound commitment to openness and honesty. Anytime I set a sincere intention, the universe gives me opportunities to practice it. Swinging from one side of the spectrum to the other, I still sometimes catch myself softening my truth, sugar coating or dancing around what I really want to say. I’ve also said some things under the guise of full disclosure that didn’t really need to be said, and I’ve suffered the consequences of hurt feelings and strained relationships. Yet instead of giving up, I’ve worked harder to recognize when not speaking up is a lie of omission versus when it is something I can truly keep to myself. As Wayne Dyer said, you can only be better than you used to be. I’m still walking the path, complete with detours and wrong turns, but I can honestly say I’m moving in a positive direction. A friend of mine and fellow yogi Sarah Lee recently said that she appreciates other teachers who seem real and “wear their shit on their sleeve,” and that she has always experienced authenticity in our relationship. It felt good to be acknowledged, and helped take the sting out of my failures. Much like revealing my scar, the more I open up and show the wounded parts of myself, the more I can heal.

**If you struggle with mental health challenges like cutting, addiction, depression, anxiety, or just need a place you can talk, listen, and be yourself, please join me at Foundation 45’s free weekly support group on Monday nights at 7 PM in the back room of Independent Bar and Kitchen in Deep Ellum. And before you engage in any destructive behavior, please reach out. National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK; Crisis Text: 741-741

How Do You Yoga?

“Why is this so hard? I’m hot. I can’t breathe. I didn’t know yoga could be this hard, I thought I was supposed to feel relaxed. How is that old guy keeping up? Oh dear lord not another chaturanga.” These were likely some of the thoughts running through my mind when I took my first intermediate yoga class. When I began my yoga journey in the early 2000s in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the options were fairly limited. My introduction to yoga was a gentle class offered as an extension course through LSU. All I remember is falling asleep in savasana every time. Something about it made me want to try more, so I sought out a studio, one of only a couple in the city at the time. They offered both kinds of yoga: beginner and intermediate. The beginner class was fairly gentle and mellow, so I formed an assumption based on my limited experience that yoga was a practice of easy stretches and slow movements with deep breaths. Then I attended the intermediate class. In my memory it’s a blur of sweat and humidity and arms and legs and up and down. Since then I’ve had a love/hate relationship with “hard yoga.” For a while I turned my nose up at this exercise based style of practice because it was not traditional enough. But after learning more about the origins and purpose of yoga, I now believe that anything can be a form of yoga. It’s not what it looks like on the outside, but the intention and shift that happens on the inside.

In the West when we say we’re doing yoga, we usually mean a class in which a teacher leads a group of students through a series of poses, or asanas. And there are plenty of different varieties to choose from. Iyengar yoga is vastly different than restorative, which are both worlds apart from Ashtanga. Yet these practices, which are very different physically, must share something in common. In the 2000 year old collection of aphorisms known as the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali defines yoga as the restraint of the fluctuations that disturb our peace of mind. He explains that when the mind is calm, we dwell in our own true nature, or higher self. The word yoga means union, and refers to this merging of the individual self with the higher Self, or the soul with its source. The process of union is also known as enlightenment or awakening, meaning we wake up and shine light on the truth that we are spiritual beings inhabiting material bodies, and we’re all in this together. One of the main obstacles to enlightenment is an out-of-control ego, which causes us to feel separation and fear instead of connection and love. The practice of yoga then is anything that reduces ego and leads to spiritual awakening, peace and equanimity. There are various paths of yoga that focus on different techniques for attaining enlightenment. Yogis on some of these paths may not necessarily perform postures, or if they do they may be secondary to their main practice of service, chanting, or meditation. Raja yoga is known as the path of introspection, and while it too leads to meditation it includes hatha yoga, which is made up of the physical aspects of yoga like postures and breathing that are most familiar to us today. In the sutras, Patanjali gives very little detail on how to perform asana. He says only that it is steady and comfortable and the practitioner is able to release tension and meditate in the pose. The word asana originally simply meant seat, and here Patanjali is probably referring to a seated meditation posture. The other hatha yoga techniques and postures are meant to maintain the health of the physical body, the vessel for the soul, as well as cleanse the energetic body so we can more easily connect to the Self in meditation. The irony that I had judged certain styles of yoga practice as “not traditional” was not lost on me when I learned that almost all the poses we do today are relatively modern compared to this original meaning of asana. As usual, karma likes to give a little humor with her lessons.

If you’ve ever sat for meditation, you know it can be challenging. Feelings of anger or sadness can arise, seemingly out of nowhere. I often feel bored or frustrated, especially if my mind is very active. But I always remind myself that there’s no such thing as a bad meditation. Every time I sit I get a little more clear, a little more focused. It doesn’t always feel peaceful and calm doing it, but it has lead to an overall increase of peace in my life. Literally sitting in the mental discomfort helps me to increase my equanimity, almost like strengthening a muscle. I think the physical component of yoga can be the same way. If our asana practice is always relaxed and happy and easy, we never get the opportunity to practice staying centered when faced with a challenge. Life isn’t always calm, and we have to learn to deal with the uncomfortable feelings, the challenging people, the difficult moments. A challenging yoga practice can be a safe space where you observe your reaction to things. Challenging of course means different things to different people, and the various paths of yoga show us that this is not only acceptable, but necessary. Sometimes I need to push myself in a physically active way to get to my mental edge. And sometimes the challenge is to lie still in a restorative class or keep my mind present during savasana. Since the original meaning of asana was just a seat, and the other physical expressions of yoga were born out of necessity to cleanse and challenge the physical body, then I believe anything can be yoga when done mindfully. Walking, skating, kickboxing, cycling, running, jazzercise, swimming, dancing—all these can work with the body to get to the mind, and eventually beyond both.

I like to remind my students that we don’t do yoga to get better at yoga, we do yoga to get better at life. Our yoga practice can certainly be our refuge at times, but if we only use yoga to feel good then it can become just another escape. I believe that our practice has to challenge us in some way in order for us to grow. Ultimately we must face our physical, mental, and spiritual limits in order to transcend them.

Karm’ Again?

As of this week I’ve made 36 trips around the sun in this lifetime. Sometime last year a friend said that when you turn 36, you’ve been raising yourself as long as your parents did, so you can’t blame them anymore. Although I had a pretty great childhood, this statement still resonated and has been on my mind in the months leading up to this birthday. Besides parents, karma tends to be the second most popular thing to blame for undesirable circumstances. If I plan to take responsibility for my life, I also need to address my karma and what I can learn from it.

I spent many years looking to external factors to determine my happiness. I looked to other people to validate my worth. I depended on my accomplishments to feel successful. In high school I was valedictorian and voted “most likely to succeed.” I called it the kiss of death and joked that I was sure to end up in a gutter somewhere. Admittedly it boosted my ego to be thought well of by my peers, although secretly I wished I had been voted onto homecoming court instead. And despite not literally ending up in a gutter, there were times when it felt like I had been cursed. Even though I would call my life successful now, in a way I was right about not living up to the expectations of my youth. My life now is nothing like the picture of success I imagined back then. And for that I’m eternally grateful.

According to tradition karma accumulates over the course of many lives. But even considering only what we know for sure within this lifetime, we can still see the workings of karma in our own bodies and minds. Prarabdha karma is what we come into this life with. I could say that my DNA, bone structure, family of origin and country of birth are this type of karma. These can’t really be changed. Sure I could get plastic surgery or move, but the impact those things had on me is still there, and they’re largely fixed. I simply have to accept the reality of the situation. Sanchita karma is what we’ve created from the moment of birth up to the present. All of the choices I’ve made throughout my life have affected how it has turned out. Everything from the way I’ve treated my body, to the people I’ve developed relationships with, to the work I’ve chosen to do have shaped what my life looks like now. I can’t go back and change the past, so in this way it’s similar to prarabdha karma. However since this karma has been shaped by my conscious choices in this life, I can change how it continues to unfold. Which leads to agami karma, which is what we’re creating in this very moment.  The choices I am making now are affecting what happens in my future. I can’t control all the people and circumstances around me, but I can control my own words, thoughts, and actions.

Karma isn’t about right and wrong, just choice and consequences. Being my father’s daughter is prarabdha karma. He had been a runner for a long time and I looked up to that as a kid. Every year when we went on vacation with some family friends he and the other dads and their sons would do a 5 mile run to the Florida/Alabama state line and the moms and daughters would drive to pick them up at the finish. Ever the defiant spirit, I decided that I wanted to be the first girl to join them on the run, which kicked off my own love of running that continued through high school and college. When I started my yoga teacher training I was running long distances, intending to train for a marathon. My teacher said that yoga is great for running, but running isn’t great for yoga. He meant that running would tighten up some areas of my body that would make it more challenging to do certain yoga poses. However if running was important to me, yoga would be great for my body while I was training. He didn’t tell me not to run, instead to recognize the impact that running made on me and decide what my priority was. I didn’t have to judge it, just acknowledge that every decision has a different result. Cause and effect, action and reaction, choice and consequences. In the process of training I injured my foot, a combination of not replacing my shoes soon enough and building up mileage too quickly. The injury has sidelined me from running for a couple years, but it has also helped me to deepen my yoga and meditation practice. I realized that running had been a form of meditation for me and I needed something to replace it. Eventually I developed my own daily seated practice. Just recently I have been getting the urge to run again, and I’ve been looking into doctors and options. All of those decisions, from the one to begin running, to joining the high school cross country team, to deciding not to get new shoes quite yet, to seeking out a doctor who can help me heal, those have all brought me to this point. They represent my sanchita karma. Although I would rather not have been hurt, instead of wallowing in “why me,” I can see the ways in which karma has weaved its lessons throughout this experience and learn from it. I don’t think “everything happens for a reason,” so much as I can make meaning out of everything that happens. That’s agami karma, what I choose to do with the current reality that is presenting itself in this moment.

Karma may be a bitch sometimes, but she sure has a good sense of humor, albeit sometimes a dark one. Laughing along with her can help take the edge off of otherwise depressing situations. When I got married for the first time, I remember being so excited to go to my ten year high school reunion. I had everything right on paper: a husband, mortgage, dog, cat, and a “real” job. Things are not always as they appear however, and despite looking successful from the outside, I was miserable inside. My first divorce happened in the midst of my mental breakdown and subsequent recovery after my mom’s death. I had moved to a healing farm in North Carolina for intense therapy and my husband was left alone in the condo we had bought together. When it became clear that our marriage was over, we decided to sell it. He wanted to get it over with, which I understand, but because I wasn’t ready to come home yet he was stuck with the task of packing up all our stuff. Mine went into storage and he took the essentials and started a new life in  New York. Fast forward about a decade and once again I’m in the process of ending a marriage. This time my wife was the one struggling with mental health issues. Upon realizing that our marriage was over, she decided to move to Oregon. She packed what she could fit in her car and left the majority of her furniture and household items in the apartment that we had moved into together. I didn’t miss the bitter irony of this fact as I took on the task of packing all her stuff so it could be shipped to her in her new residence. Instead of getting bitter myself though, I chose to be grateful for the opportunity to absolve my own past karma and to cultivate more compassion for my first spouse and what he went through. The icing on the karmic cake is that I’ve been drawn to minimalism for a while, and with my ex’s stuff gone I’m well on my way to a tiny house someday. File that under be careful what you wish for, cross referenced with the universe works in mysterious ways.

Looking at karma as a useful teacher and guide helps me to change my perspective when faced with challenges and suffering. It encourages me to get clear on what I want, to be the change I wish to see in the world, to keep my side of the street clean, and take responsibility for myself. It empowers me to create what I want in my life, not by controlling other people or events around me, but by fully owning the energy I bring. My parents raised me for 18 years, my ego for 18. Let’s see what happens when I let my soul take the reins.

AstroSync

Opening the wheel, web and flower of life

OPERATION YOGA

Helping people who are ready for better