E-RYT 500, yoga instructor for children and adults

Offering

She snatches the tablecloth out from under my perfectly positioned place settings. Deep red wine runs in rivers down the table legs. “No use crying over spilled blood!” she cackles, lapping up the liquid from between my thighs. I vacillate between awe and terror, wild laughter and crazy tears. Everything feels like it’s fucking falling apart, together.

In the shadow of the new moon, the end and the beginning, the goddess is rising in the form of alpha dog and omega man. As my body recognizes another missed opportunity to procreate, it sloughs off the old to make way for the new. Each month throwing a fit in red waves of blood and pain, before wiping away one last tear and cheerfully beginning to once again paper the walls of the nursery. What naïve optimism, what unwavering faith. And I continue to thwart its plans, nipping in the bud any new growth; I can barely keep myself alive sometimes.

She cracks open my ribcage, delicately cups my still beating heart in her rough hands and holds it up to my face. “Look!” she laughs. “Listen!” she insists. “This is all that matters. THIS IS ALL THAT REALLY FUCKING MATTERS!”

If you forsake your heart the world will forsake you, will always feel empty, cruel, void of love and meaning and purpose. But forsake the world for your heart and she will open herself up before you, lay herself down in front of you, and beckon you to have your way with her.

“Why oh why,” she continues, her words hissing in my hear, “do you question the only thing that is true, real, and honest? Dark clouds gather in your mind, heavy rains of worry and fear drowning your precious heart. Clear away the clouds of uncertainty, connect to what is real in me, which is what is real in you.”

Her words caress my soul as her many arms bless every inch of my skin, washing away the debris of many lifetimes, many lovers, many deaths, many joys, many sorrows. Layer after layer she strips me bare until I tremble and surrender, until I lay naked and vulnerable, until I have no choice but to let go. I asked for this, I remind myself.

“I am ready,” I whisper with quiet ferocity as she plunges her hand, still holding my heart, back into my awaiting chest.

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Change is in the air, and it’s not just the leaves. My fall schedule is still evolving, so stay tuned for updates. For now you can catch me at the following studios this autumn:

Mondays and Tuesdays at Namah Shivaya from 9:30 – 10:30 AM for All Levels vinyasa flow

Tuesdays at Namah Shivaya from 4:15 – 5 PM for Kids Yoga

Wednesdays and Fridays at Namah Shivaya from 9:30 – 10:30 AM for Gentle yoga

Wednesdays from 6 – 7 PM at We Yogis Lakewood for Deep Stretch and Mindful Meditation

Thursdays from 6 – 7 AM at Sync for Led Half Primary Ashtanga

Thursdays from 9:30 – 10 AM at Mastermind for Authenticity themed guided meditation

And as always I’m available for private lessons either at your home or at a studio convenient to you. I can also come to your workplace for lunchtime yoga. Contact me at brandao.erin@gmail.com to schedule!

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

AstroSync

Opening the wheel, web and flower of life

OPERATION YOGA

Helping people who are ready for better