E-RYT 500, yoga instructor for children and adults

Let’s Get Physic-al

I’ve often joked that not only do I not understand physics, I don’t even know what physics is. I attended an academically rigorous Catholic high school, and I was in the honors program.  The honors physics teacher had a reputation for being tough and fun, and as I remember she was also progressive and outspoken. In previous years her students had created elaborate Rube Goldberg machines, constructed bridges out of toothpicks that held up under a person’s weight, and conducted egg drop experiments from the roof of the convent. I was a little nervous about the difficulty level, but also excited to face the challenge. The summer before my senior year there was a sudden and mysterious change in the teaching staff. The former teacher “left” the school for reasons not explained to us. Conspiracy theories abounded, at least in my head. She was replaced at the last minute by a very sweet woman who had been teaching basic science at a smaller public school. She tried but, as we say in the South, bless her heart, she was seriously unprepared. My friends and I spent most of the semester playing Tetris on our graphing calculators and “borrowing” links from the math department to have competitions. We were such rebels. Fast forward to adulthood and I’m great at packing for a move but clueless when it comes to the workings of the universe. I tried to read Stephen Hawking’s “The Universe in a Nutshell” several times, but never successfully cracked it. I set it all aside for a few years until a recent conversation with a friend made me realize I really don’t know how gravity works, aside from a vague notion about objects exerting force on other objects related somehow to their mass. While perusing my shelf of yet-to-be-read books, I happened upon “The Elegant Universe” by Brian Greene. Published in 2003, which also happens to be the year I finished college, it starts with the work of Newton and Einstein as a foundation, then moves into string theory. I took it as a sign, decided to give my physics self-study another go, and pulled it down for some light bedtime reading.

It didn’t take long to confirm my suspicion that this is an area of knowledge in which I’m severely lacking. The good news is that the writing style is very approachable and it’s helping to fill in the gaps in my understanding. And it’s totally mind blowing. If you, like me, had a tentative grasp on the force that’s keeping us all from floating off into space, then read on for a simplified explanation. You’ll soon find, as I did, that gravity isn’t so much a force as it is a shape. As objects with mass float in the sea of space, space actually bends around the object. The substance in which everything exists is more accurately described as “spacetime” but for ease of communication I’ll stick with just focusing on space in this discussion. The fabric of space is warped by the presence of an object with mass. The analogy commonly given is that of the bowling ball on a rubber membrane. Imagine a rubber sheet suspended horizontally. What happens when you place a bowling ball in the center? The sheet stretches, curving around the mass of the ball. Greene acknowledges in his book that this is an imperfect analogy, since space is three dimensional. I like to think of space as a giant tub of pudding, but that would cost a lot more than $240. It’s very hard for our minds to imagine the qualities of space as there isn’t a perfect comparison in everyday life, so the rubber sheet will have to do for now. Back to the bowling ball suspended on the curved sheet. Picture a much smaller object, say a golf ball, being dropped onto the same sheet. If it is far enough away from the bowling ball, where the sheet is still flat, the ball would roll along its own path undisturbed by the presence of the bowling ball. But if the golf ball landed close enough to the place where the curvature begins, it could start to roll towards the bowling ball. It could potentially begin circling around the curved lip of the depression and spiral into “orbit” around the bowling ball like the earth orbits the sun. Another possibility is that it could “fall” straight in towards the bowling ball and land on the surface, sticking there the way objects stick to the earth. Gravity then is not a force that exerts itself onto objects, but rather the distortion of the medium through which objects move.

In yoga philosophy there are two main polarities that work together to make up the universe: Shiva and Shakti. Shakti is the active energy of creation, Shiva the pure consciousness that contains the life force energy. Shakti is often described as feminine energy, and Shiva masculine. However it is important to note that all people, regardless of gender identity, possess both Shiva and Shakti energy within themselves. The goal of yoga, which means union, is to join these two different qualities in a balanced way. When I read physicist John Wheeler’s famous quote, “Mass grips space by telling it how to curve, space grips mass by telling it how to move,” I immediately thought of Shiva and Shakti. We know from Einstein’s famous formula E=mc^2 that mass can be transformed into energy and vice versa; they are two different forms of the same substance. Yogis also say that matter and energy are made of the same stuff vibrating at different frequencies to manifest everything we know as reality. Playing with Wheeler’s couplet, we arrive at, “Shakti connects with Shiva by telling him what shape to make, Shiva connects with Shakti by telling her how to move within that shape.” Shakti dictates the shape of the container by virtue of her mass, or energy, causing him to bend around her. Shiva dictates the movement of Shakti by virtue of his space, shaping the path through which she travels. The universe once existed as a densely packed unit containing everything in a single point, which then explosively spread apart. To this day, space and time continue to stretch as matter and energy move farther away from one another. Putting this into yogic terms, Shakti energy caused Shiva space to grow exponentially, creating planets, stars, and everything else in the universe along the way. This phenomenon is aptly known as the Big Bang, though I’m not sure if the yogic pun was intended.

Some people think that science and spirituality are incompatible, or at the very least dissimilar. The more I learn about both topics however, the more overlap I see. The yogis who received these teachings interpreted them through the lens of what they knew about the natural world around them, without the benefit of telescopes and space ships. When Mother Earth hugs us to her breast, Father Sky is the gentle hand that curls around our backs, holding us in place. Shakti creates worlds and Shiva choreographs their cosmic dance. Despite not having the advantage of modern technology, the ancient sages came to many of the same conclusions that our modern scientists do, even if they spoke in different languages.

 

Heart Broken Record

Every word I said that pierced someone’s heart

Plays on repeat in my head.

Sometimes quietly, sometimes

It fills the room and I can barely hear my own heart beating.

Occasionally it skips and scratches,

“you HURT me . . .  HURT me   . . .  HURT me.”

Perhaps it’s a penance or punishment.

“Someday I’ll break that fucking record,”

I say as a hand shakily reaches out and places the needle

Back at the beginning.

Who’s Your BAE?

It’s been almost a year since I separated from my ex. I’m hesitant to dive into anything too soon, that’s my typical MO and I’m intent on creating a new pattern. A pace somewhere between sloth and snail feels appropriate for my dating life right now. So, I don’t want to speak too soon, or jinx it, but there’s sort of something developing. We’ve known each other forever, in fact I can’t remember a time when we weren’t acquainted. I owe everything to them, they’ve been with me through it all. I just never really looked at them this way before. There were even times when I tried to end it, to be done with our rocky relationship forever. Until I woke up and realized its value, that it was worth saving. I realized the bad times coincided with times I wasn’t taking care of myself, and that the way I viewed our connection had more to do with my perspective than with the actual circumstances. They say you get out what you put in, and this relationship is no different. I’ve started appreciating the little things and remembering to be grateful for the small moments instead of expecting grand gestures or waiting around for a miraculous sign. I’m making an effort to spend more quality time without the ever present distractions of modern life. I pay attention, smile more, give compliments freely, accept the little flaws, and laugh at the funny things they do every day, things I used to ignore or even get irritated by. And it’s working. I’ve noticed more little winks lately, and I’ve been finding lots of lucky pennies. I’ve gotten more in touch with myself, my sensuality and what I need. I’ve been more vocal about asking for things and making my intentions clear. I’m learning to balance effort and ease. Relationships take work, but they also can’t take themselves too seriously. That wisdom definitely applies here. I’m focusing on having fun, doing what needs to be done, trusting that the rest will all work out, taking it slow and appreciating every moment I have to spend with my newest/oldest love. So if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to flirting with my biggest crush, my ride or die, my BAE for all time–my life!

“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.

AstroSync

Opening the wheel, web and flower of life

OPERATION YOGA

Helping people who are ready for better