"Finding Health After Trauma"
by Alyza Moore
I have always prided myself on being health conscious — eating enough leafy greens, sweating once a day, making sure my meals are balanced and most importantly of all, getting enough zzz's. I am a huge nerd about food and exercise, and roaming the city for the best new restaurant and yoga class has become my favorite hobby, and the best way to spend a Saturday morning.
But farmer's markets and hot yoga classes quickly lost their place at the top of my priority list after my family and I experienced a huge loss. My time and energy were totally focused on getting out of bed and making it to class, not on eating well and getting adequate exercise. For the first time in my life, I felt more sick than healthy. A couple of months ago, it all came to a head when I got pneumonia, bronchitis and kidney stones within a matter of two weeks.
Our mental and emotional health directly affects our physical well-being. Proven through the study of epigenetics, we now know that while we are genetically predisposed to certain illnesses and diseases, our environment ultimately pulls the trigger. Stress and overall lifestyle have a huge effect on both our long-term and short-term health. The fact that I got pneumonia, bronchitis, and kidney stones after the most taxing nine months of my life makes a whole lot of sense. At first it was scary to realize how much my health was in my own hands, but it was also very liberating.
I was tired of feeling tired. I was tired of feeling sick and sluggish and not at all my usually bouncy and enthusiastic self. While there certainly was a whole other component of mental health that required care and attention to heal and grieve, I had overlooked my physical well-being, my meat suit.
I armed myself with my trusty cookbooks, journal and worn-down yoga mat, and I slowly returned to a yoga practice and workout routine that complimented my levels of energy and the flow of my day. I made sure to go to Yin classes, and only take class from teachers that made me feel enthusiastic about my practice. I went running or took really challenging classes when I had a lot of energy to burn. I started listening to my body again.
I began to carry that method into my eating and even into my social life. Food is a very loaded topic for most people, especially for women. I wrote a whole book on food and bodies! What I have found is that our bodies know exactly what they need to feel nourished and satiated, and unfortunately we have mostly been taught to completely ignore these signals. What I know about myself and what many friends have echoed is that being able to love food, everything about it, from the preparation to the dinner parties, allows it to play the role that it should: nourishing and enjoyable. I've set out to learn how to shop for food and cook delicious, not-burned casseroles and goodies. (Stay tuned on my little journey with this, and in the meantime, I highly, highly recommend reading Intuitive Eating).
Finally, I set out to expand my social circle to people that I really resonated with — people who were living lives that I admired, people who were driven, honest and most of all, hilarious. And whenever I happen to find myself in the company of someone I don't particularly relate to, I do my very best to listen, learn what I can from them, and find something to laugh about. (There's a joke in pretty much everything).
When life is taxing, and when, God forbid, you find yourself with a shattered heart just trying to get out into the sun once a day, it is hard to focus on much of anything — and that is okay. It took me nine months to realize my health was in a big decline, and it took me nine months to do something about it (let alone want to do something about it). So, while sweating everyday and eating all the veggies and learning how to cook have all made me feel incredibly good, the biggest lesson I've learned is to have a little mercy on myself, and on the journey that I had to go on to get here.
"How I Discovered Yoga"
by Alyza Moore
Picture this: two fourteen year old girls, giggling uncontrollably to an 80’s yoga video led by two gray-haired, waif thin women on top of a mountain, balancing serenely in tree pose. That is how I found yoga. I have absolutely no idea what made me seek out more yoga after this video (that could have so easily been a parody), but after an hour of laughing our hearts out, my bestie Kay and I found ourselves in a public class just a week later.
Back in the day, a local coffee shop called Ruta Maya hosted a Saturday morning class in it’s dimly lit space. The walls were covered in funky local art, the tables were occupied by beautiful Austinites working on some new creative project, the smell of good coffee permeated the air, and in the middle of the room were us yogis, twisting our bodies into strange shapes. It was a very “Austin” scene.
I quickly came to love Saturday mornings—the release after a long week of school (eighth grade is taxing), and the yummy bagel I ordered after every class. The gift of being able to discover my body during the peak of its epic changes to become its adult form is one of the best I have received. From a very crucial age on the floor of Ruta Maya, I was first offered a toolbox full of skills to be able to navigate how my body and mind worked in tandem, what it meant to feel at home in my skin, and how I could nourish and sustain that feeling.
Kay and I quickly recruited our friends to join us, and as I entered high school, I’d formed a good little group that joined me for yoga everyday after school. Eventually Ruta Maya shut down, but my practice only grew, and I made Black Swan my home studio. The hot room and challenging classes were a change of pace, but a welcome one. I swear I cried and sweat out all of the pain of being a sixteen year old girl learning who she was and how to deal with the curveballs life threw at her within those four walls. Sometimes I cried next to strangers, and sometimes my friends cried along with me. We were so, so lucky to have this outlet that could have so easily been something far less healthy and desirable. My friends’ interest in yoga came and went, but that studio remained my sanctuary, and despite months abroad on a couple occasions, I always found myself back on my mat on that concrete floor in the OG Black Swan.
Over the years, my home studio has changed and my practice has grown immensely, but Kay and I still get together to practice when we find ourselves in the same city. Yoga has been a constant in my constantly changing life. Every new friend I meet I drag to a yoga class. Some stick around and some don’t, but I’m such a firm believer in what yoga can offer and I wish that everyone could experience it in the off chance that it influences them in the way that it did me.
This world is a lot of things, one of which is hard. Yoga taught me that the only thing I can control about my life are my actions and my reactions. It taught me that I can be resilient, collected, strong and patient. I know that a whole lot of people are skeptical of yoga, especially as it seems to be growing into more and more of a “trend”. The first time I tried yoga, I laughed for the entire hour. But, somewhere among the giggles I found something worthwhile in the practice, and here I am, seven years later: physically stronger, but also mentally and emotionally stronger. I firmly believe that yoga has a million and one gifts to offer nearly everyone on this crazy planet, and if you have yet to find yourself on a mat, just try it. You can laugh your way through the whole class if you have to. (The teacher might not encourage it, but I do.)
"A Power Yoga Addict's Journey into Yin"
by Alyza Moore
"I live my life at 100mph, and I love it. I've always been that way: constantly filling my time with something to do, someone to see, or somewhere to go. Even on days when I have nothing planned, there's always somewhere I can be. Living this way makes me feel alive, energetic, and engaged with the world.
But this past winter, when my brother passed away unexpectedly in a horrible accident, my life came to a screeching halt. No matter how desperately I tried to fill the empty moments with people or something to do, the grief was inescapable. It made time move at a grueling pace--both excruciatingly slow and way too fast. The more time that passed, the faster I tried to run and the harder it became. Following through with appointments, making it to work, having a regular Yoga practice and keeping up with friends and relationships all felt like way too much. I just needed to make it out of bed. If there was ever a time during the day when I knew I would be spending an extended amount of time alone, I panicked. I just couldn't do it. I couldn't sit still with myself.
My anxiety eventually became so apparent that one day I sat down with my therapist and told him I was worried about my blood pressure. He smiled, reminded me of my young age and the unlikelihood of high blood pressure being an issue, and suggested, once again, that I try meditation. Over the past six months my Yoga practice has been my savior, but something that I couldn't have predicted is that it has also been a place of huge burnout for me. There's nothing like sweat and pure physical exhaustion to calm my brain and racing heart, but something was missing, and I realized that after skipping my practice six days in a row, something was definitely off-kilter. I've always been drawn to the challenge of heated power vinyasa. The rigor of the practice keeps me on my toes physically and mentally, and the flow of a creative sequence and the heat of the room bring me home to my body in a way that nothing else can. I am completely and madly in love with power yoga. But yoga is effective on the mental plane only if you are able to breathe, and I had completely lost my breath during my practice. I churned out the postures in perfect form, but my breathing was short and labored, my heart was always pounding, and I left the studio in just as much of an anxious wreck as when I walked in.
And then I remembered this thing called yin yoga.
About two years ago, after taking a vinyasa class at Sukha Yoga, I decided I'd stay for the yin class right after. I didn't stay because I particularly wanted to try yin, but actually because the teacher of the class, Liz, offhandedly offered a challenge to me. She said, "I can guarantee you that yinis a whole lot harder for people than vinyasa. Holding a posture for that amount of time and being completely with yourself can be way more difficult than flowing through a beautiful sequence." Well hell, I thought. I'll give it a whirl. I left that yin class and I haven't been back to one since. Liz was right--yin is hard. Which is why, almost two years later, anxious and high-strung, I've decided to give it a second chance. Why? Because I like a good challenge, and my palpitating heart and I could really use a change of pace.
I set up an experiment for myself. For one week, I would take at least one yin class, one meditation class, and one slower-passed vinyasa class. The rest of the days I could have my beloved power vinyasa. Ideally, this would continue to be the format for my practice--balancing the yin and the yang: the rigorous and the restorative. This past Sunday my experiment began, and in true Alyza fashion, I ran out the door after my power class and drove as fast as I could in a sweaty mess to Sukha Yoga, praying I'd make it in time for the 7:30 yin, the same class and the same Liz who taught my very first yin class. The whole scene, I thought, was very ironic: laying, sports bra and yoga pants soaking with sweat, on no less than three bolsters trying to be calm and take deep breaths. But oh my gosh I needed that class, and I knew I needed it when I walked into Sukha and the overwhelming emotion was fear. I was terrified to sit in silence and stillness. I'd had a great day, was feeling good, and I just knew that if I had to sit with myself it would turn dark pretty quickly. For parts of the class, I did feel really sad. Memories and waves of grief washed over me. I was antsy and occasionally considered picking up those three bolsters and the million other props I was reclining on, and walking the hell out. My only intention was to consistently breathe through it, and this strong breath connected me to my body and made me aware of the most minute sensations, almost forcing me into the present.
I walked out of class still sweaty from power, but present in my skin in a way that I haven't been in quite some time. It wasn't necessarily comfortable, but it felt like a good thing, so I went with that.
Throughout the week I continued to incorporate slower paced vinyasa classes into my practice. I'll admit that walking out of the studio after an hour of practice and not being soaked in sweat was slightly disconcerting. After a glow class with Erinn Lewis at Sukha and a candlelit vinyasa class with Ferny herself at Wanderlust, I left the studio both times with nothing but a glisten of sweat on my body, yet I was aware of my breath and my body, and I felt like I was on Yoga cloud nine for the first time in way too long. There was something about the slow yet steady pace of these classes that I found to be extremely conducive for creating a space in which I could really connect back to myself. I was able to notice how I was feeling not only physically but emotionally and mentally as well, and the slower pace allowed me to create a moving meditation focused on the state of my own being in its entirety, not just my body. I felt like I was coming back home, and practicing in this mindful way with the exquisite sequencing of these teachers felt like heaven in my body. On Wednesday I had to drag myself to a meditation class that Erika Kluthe teaches once a week at Sukha. I am terrified of meditation, but making it to one of these classes was part of the deal that I made with myself when I constructed this experiment, so I put on some comfy clothes and walked myself out of the door. Guys. While I definitely didn't meditate "perfectly", and my mind wandered a million and one times, the intention of sitting with nothing but my breath, my heartbeat and my sometimes racing thoughts was very, very needed. I realized that meditation is not necessarily about what happens or how many thoughts you do or do not have during those forty minutes, but rather, it's about the skills that we develop from the practice of meditation. These are skills that are transferable to real life; things like patience, presence, and really deep breathing. Those forty minutes were hard, but I absolutely loved them. After this week-long experiment of incorporating yin, meditation and slower vinyasa classes into my practice, I ironically found myself looking at my calendar and realizing that it looked like I was the mother of five children who worked three jobs. With a big birthday that weekend, training for a new position at work, and a fast approaching trip, I got caught in a crazy whirl wind and didn't practice for several days.
This is where the real lessons I've learned from Yin and from slowing down, thus far at least, come into play. I learned that it really isn't about perfection. It isn't about making it to a thousand yin classes, meditating like a Buddhist monk, or having the perfect balance all the damn time. It's about awareness, and it's about intention. The goal is to become in-tune with our bodies and the innate intuition that we have as a sentient beings to know what we crave physically, what our minds are asking for, and striving to support those needs to the best of our ability.
What I've discovered is that a little goes a long way. While I will definitely aim to make it to a yin, meditation and slow vinyasa class in addition to my regular high-energy power classes each week, I'll be just fine if all I can do is find a little bit of time to meditate. Yin Yoga and meditation are about sitting with imperfection and discomfort. These practices teach us how to be with ourselves and our breath no matter the circumstance. They are powerful tools that I think are incredibly valuable both to my crazy, fast-beating heart and me, and also to our fast-paced, pleasure-seeking society as a whole.
There is an immense amount of joy in being active, engaged, and participatory in our lives, but there is even more joy to be found when we have the tools to be fully present within the whirl wind of it all."
Creating a Morning Ritual
by Alyza Moore
I used to have a very consistent morning routine that I adhered to pretty religiously. But I have to be honest here and say that with the craziness of school and work and keeping up with friends, it’s easily been put on the back burner. And, as with most things in life, when you notice the absence of something, you tend to appreciate its value a little bit more. Such is the case with morning routines. With finals over and a lot more free time on my hands, I’ve refocused on creating a routine that is realistic and that helps set me up to be more grounded and present for the rest of my day. Below are a few of the things I’ve been doing that I’ve noticed have helped me feel more ready for the day ahead. I’ve kept it pretty simple and straightforward.
Make my bed. Everyone says it: making your bed first thing in the morning makes you feel strangely accomplished. It’s a simple task that takes no more than a minute, and makes you feel pretty good about yourself. Plus, there’s nothing like getting into fresh sheets at the end of a busy day.
Shower. I take a quick shower to wake me up and to face the day feeling fresh and clean. I use Dr. Bronner’s to wash, and a dry brush to stimulate the lymph nodes all over my bod. I wash my face with a cleanser from a local esthetician in Austin, who founded the company Porespective, (Alissa is amazing).
Gratitude practice. I list a couple of things I’m grateful for. I had to get over the feeling of being cliché on that one, but being grateful really does help you gain perspective and feel happier about the life you have, which is inarguably a good place to start your day from.
Brush my teeth with charcoal. I know it’s weird, and it’s black color looks a bit terrifying, but powdered activated charcoal is a natural teeth whitener that works wonders. Also, my favorite Yoga celebrity if you will, Kathryn Budig, swears by it. I rinse off the charcoal and brush my teeth with normal toothpaste, and carry on with my day.
Makeup, hair and clothes. I put on some makeup and do my hair, and pick out an outfit that’s conducive to my day and makes me feel badass. I’m known for matching my style to my mood.
Breakfast, coffee, goal setting. I eat a breakfast that has some protein in it, and drink a generous cup of coffee, but I don’t let myself on social media until the coffee’s gone. I write down a few goals for the day and the gratitudes I thought of in the shower, or if I’m with my boyfriend or friends, we grab a latte at my favorite coffee stop Patika, (they have an unbeatable vanilla latte.)
These are some simple things that nearly everyone does to get ready in the morning, but the little moments of gratitude, journaling, and time without social media have made a big difference in allowing me to be more present, grounded and grateful, and they’re simple enough to adhere to, even on a busy day.
Alyza is a Psychology student at St. Edwards, a student / teacher / lover of yoga, and a bright spirit that we are super excited to have as a contributor to Six Elephants Wellness. Read a bit more about her here.
Neurosculpting Practice & Finding Motivation
by Ferny Barceló
I came across Lisa Wimberger's book New Beliefs, New Brain: Free Yourself from Stress and Fear the way most great books come into your life -- completely by accident. I was exploring an eclectic little shop in Denver, Colorado and stumbled upon their small book section. I saw this book and its title immediately drew me in -- who doesn't want freedom from stress and fear? It quickly became one of my favorite books to use during my guided meditation classes, as it offers many different meditations to help the reader with everything from making emotional space to grounding through powerful imagery. Curious to learn more about the author, I went on Lisa's website to read more on her technique. She is the creator of a type of meditation called Neurosculpting, inspired by her over thirty years of practice. She has gone on to become the founder of the Neurosculpting Institute and has written several books on the process, spreading the word of finding healing and freedom from changing our thought patterns. She works to re-write old, unproductive mental scripts which may be limiting our happiness and quality of life, calling it "a fusion of brain science and mindfulness." Sign me up, please!
Lisa also has a YouTube channel with videos that guide viewers through simple, short exercises in the Neuroplasticity practice. Here, I've featured one on motivation, and how to discover what motivates us in order to make our dreams a reality.
Diagnosing the "Disease of More"
by Ferny Barceló
I had heard about the book "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck" a couple of months ago. And with a name like that, how could you not pay attention? At first, I thought it was some kind of a joke, and it wasn't until a few months after I had heard the title that I got sent this article by the same author. Mark Manson is no-nonsense in his delivery (as you might have already guessed), but he's also really good at making acute and intelligent observations about human behavior. This article was forwarded over to me by a client, one who I have been seeing for a few years now. We talk a lot about never feeling like she can quiet the part of her that needs to keep self-improving, and that this constant push to be "better" causes her intense anxiety, stress, low self-worth, and of course, exhaustion. I can relate fully to this, and I'm sure you can too, seeing as it is such an intrinsic part of our culture to keep doing better. What we expect of ourselves is endless: be a good child, a good partner, a good parent, a hard worker, financially responsible, physically fit, mentally stable, witty, sensitive, but commanding, talkative, social, intelligent, etc., etc. I could go on. But I won't. Instead, read this article and let me know if it hits home. It did for me, and I for one am okay with putting the checklist down for a while.