A Silent Exchange

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I think a lot about the day this picture was taken. It was on a cliff at the edge of the sea in Esalen, Big Sur, while doing my 300-hour yoga teacher training this past summer. And the story behind it is one of my favorites.

My friend, photographer, and fellow trainee, Nina, and I were scheduled to do a photo shoot while at Esalen, and Janet (our teacher) surprised us — as she often does — by announcing the day before that the next day would be our 24 hours of silence. I remember Nina and I just looking at each other from across the practice room with wide eyes. How the heck are we going to have a silent photoshoot?? We chatted afterwards, and I have Nina to thank for calming my nerves, saying we’d figure it out, but also making a hard commitment to the silence (since we could’ve cheated a little and talked since no one would’ve been around for the shoot). So I trusted that it would all unfold as it should. I kinda had to.

And with that, the next morning, our day of silence began. We were given a whole free day to do whatever we wanted, which was a huge luxury considering we spent almost every day in training, without much free time to play. The rules were we had to were our “In Silence” lanyard around our necks so other Esalen guests would know not to engage in conversation, and we obviously couldn’t talk at all, to anyone. We were also encouraged to not read or listen to music, and instead take the time to be reflective. So, the next morning I woke up late, relishing in not having to be up at 5:15am. I went down to the dining hall for my usual breakfast of oatmeal, prunes, granola, and a hard boiled egg. A couple of my friends from the group were there, but most had already been up and around. Those who I did see there, we just ate quietly, while shooting little smiles at each other.

I went up to our space to practice my Morning Nine sun salutations, and then went up to the baths to soak in silence, with my sweet friend Ashlee soaking silently next to me. Remember you saw that pelican flock? The beauty of Esalen is that there not only isn’t very much Wifi (only after mealtimes, and we weren’t allowed to be on our phones that day anyway) but there’s also NO signal. Phones become obsolete, useless, and a blockage between you and the beauty of this land and the people it holds. So the options on what to do with yourself are incredibly and wonderfully limited — you do some yoga, you eat, you soak in a tub, you sit on the lawn, you watch the sunset, you talk with your new friends, you read, you go to bed. This truly was probably the biggest gift this place gave me — space to truly connect by peeling away everything that wasn’t part of my present-moment experience.

So then I went to my favorite little spot — the little “dock” on the big lawn, which was just a couple of planks of wood in the middle of the grass. And so I laid in the Big Sur sun, and drew and journaled and thought about life and thought about nothing. It was amazing.

Evening came, and it was time for our shoot. Nina signed to me to follow her and we walked down the winding paths, across the bridge, all the way to a little DO NOT PASS sign (we passed) that led to the rocks by the ocean. We promptly hopped over the fence and made our way down the cliff. As we got onto the rocks and began the shoot, she signed to me to relax, to smile, to breath, to just close my eyes and soften — all the cues I needed to shake off all of the awkwardness I felt taking photos, with the added weirdness of absolutely no talking happening. She wrote down for me to think of my favorite mudra and what it invokes in my heart, and that’s when it all just began to unfold.

We got into the flow. With Nina’s amazing (silent) direction, we got some of my most favorite yoga shots I’ve ever taken. And as we wrapped up, both of us a little damp and salty, we started our quiet trek back to the grounds. I remember feeling so happy on that walk back, knowing those photos would hold something especially magical. That shared silent interaction showed me the huge power of sharing an experience without filler — just raw, pure, clear moments with an incredible soul surrounded by the sounds of the sea. I feel like our friendship grew after that experience, and it’s really funny to think that that happened without one word being exchanged.

The entire day taught me about the power of truly just being with yourself, and how deeply this can calm the heart and open up insights to ourselves we would’ve never accessed amidst the chaos, noise, and one thousand distractions of our everyday lives. Our internal landscape is a beautiful, messy place, and the practice of observing this part of ourselves through silence is powerful, to say the least.

Thank you, Nina, for sharing this experience with me (and the incredible photos). Thank you, Janet, for creating this container of silence, and always encouraging us past our comfort zones. And thank you, Esalen, for making every single day on your grounds a magical one.

I guess a photo is worth a thousand words, even one taken in silence.

Old Habits Die Hard

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Samskara is a Sanskrit word for our old, well-known grooves, loops, cycles or mental patterns that reinforce different behaviors in our lives, both positive and negative.

They can be responsible for holding us hostage to a way of being that is harmful to our mental and physical health. Our samskaras feel familiar, like old friends, and because of this we resist letting them go — even if we see with undeniably clarity that what we are doing isn’t serving us (and even potentially harming those around us).

As a therapist, I see that these samskaras are what clients feel like they are constantly battling against; the old and well-worn way of being vs. the new, uncomfortable, and very foreign change lying in front of them. What can we arm ourselves with as we begin such an uphill battle? One of my favorite authors, and fellow combination yoga teacher + psychologist, Bo Forbes, writes on a seven-step process we can commit to if we are wanting to reevaluate and release ourselves from old, detrimental cycles:

Intention: be clear on what you want

  • create daily or weekly intentions. Remain clear on how you want to live your life, even for just today. Enter each new situation feeling clear about what you value, so that your actions and decisions can reflect that.

Tapas: dedication and commitment to the daily work

  • stick to it, even when (and ESPECIALLY) when it gets difficult. Trust that you are resilient, strong, and that fearful thoughts are a whole lot of bark without much bite. Show up every single day, in big or little ways. And remember that even a small step is still better than none.

Shani: slowing down, pausing, and creating a chance to look inward

  • take time to check in with yourself, be it through meditation, journaling, or a simple 5 minute walk outside alone. Without this, we can't expect ourselves to know how to approach our emotions. We need to know what we're dealing with first in order to know how to make it better. How can you create space for you to look inward in a regular basis?

Vidya: awareness of both mind and body

  • Yoga is a create channel for this. Create practices that build awareness. Get in touch with your emotions through therapy, journaling, meditation, or vulnerable conversations with people you trust. Start to notice your patterns, write them down, and get familiar with the way you work. Also, move your body in a way that connects you with it. Drop out of your thinking mind often through physicality. 

Abhaya: fearlessness, diving into the unknown by letting go of the familiar

  • TAKE. THE LEAP. Stop debating. Your heart knows already what is good for you, what you need. So stop doubting your capabilities to persevere through it. The best day to start anything is TODAY.

Darshana: vision; visualization of the new pattern we want to create

  • Do regular visualizations of the life you want to create. See yourself in that place. What are you wearing? Who is around you? Where are you doing it? Get clear with every little detail, and do this often. 

Abhyasa: practice, practice, practice — so as to strengthen our new way of being

  • Stick with the practices. The more you commit, the quicker you will feel a shift. This one is the easiest concept to grasp, but the hardest to follow through with. Be gentle with yourself on the days you fail, but remind yourself sweetly to step BACK on the path tomorrow.

Pretty simple stuff, right? I’m kidding. But the path is there. Oftentimes, when faced with the reality that we can no longer continue living life in a particular way, we say, “But I don’t KNOW how to be any other way.” It’s not that you don’t know how, it’s that you’re choosing to not explore the unknown. You’ve let fear chain you down by the ankles, not realizing that you actually have the key that sets you free in your hands. With the chains loose, where will you go? Yes, this can be a scary question. But it can also be incredibly liberating. The path is yours to forge, and that first step will always be the most difficult. But committing to action (even the tiniest one) can get the machine moving in a direction we had never even dreamed of being available for us. One that is freeing, authentic, and totally aligned with who we actually WANT to be.

The choice to change is ALWAYS yours. No, it’s definitely not easy. Yes, it can be incredibly challenging and terrifying at times. But will it be worth it once you emerge on the other side?

Well, you already know the answer to that.

{ Read more on the seven steps for transforming samskaras by Bo Forbes in the article linked here. }

Insecurities & Finding Freedom

 Photograph by nina konjini

Photograph by nina konjini

When I think about the times I feel like I’m embodying my most authentic self, I immediately think of when I've led a large yoga class. Even though I usually still feel nervous beforehand, once the class begins, this big burst of joy washes over me and I step right into confidence. It may be seeing so many people participating in a practice that has changed my life. It might be that I feel like I’m living my dharma of spreading healing to the masses. It may be the thought that at least a few people will come out feeling better than when they first walked in (and I want to think that it’s more than a few!) It’s likely a combination of all of that, but for me, it holds a deeper significance...

~

When I was in middle school I was the most insecure little girl you’d ever met. I was really small, thin as a rail, had giant teeth, with a spacer that gave me a lisp and a huge gap tooth for months. I had really nasty experiences with girls who constantly excluded me, either through not inviting me to things or saying secrets I couldn't hear right in front of my face. I got teased for being flat-chested — by boys, which just reconfirmed my belief that I was completely unattractive to the opposite sex. I even had one boy tell me the only reason he dated me was because of a bet with his friends (ouch). I went from being an energetic, outspoken little girl, who at one point had been told she was TOO talkative in school, to one who’d hide in her room reading or drawing to try and drown out the deep insecurity she was feeling. At family gatherings, I’d never want to talk to people, much less dance or sing (and with a giant Mexican family, you can guess how that went over with everyone). I receded into myself, and was silenced by my peers and a culture that kept telling me that who I was was not even close to worthy. I was lucky enough to have a family who always encouraged me to be me, but it wasn't enough to break through the other messages I kept receiving every time I walked into the classroom or the party or the girl's bathroom.

I found my voice again in high school, thanks to an incredible group of female friends. We were each other’s biggest supporters, always by each other’s sides. We laughed hard, knew how to have the MOST fun, yet also held each other during our times of pain, heartache, boy troubles, and even really intense loss. I was made to feel like I was valued again for who I actually was, and I re-found my voice. These girls encouraged me to be myself (they still do!) and so I slid back to that original Me -- the big, loud version of myself. 

Only this time she was fueled by a lot of bottled-up anger.

Yes, I was bubbly and opinionated again. I was super-social and unafraid to speak my truth (I was voted Most Spirited in high school, and wasn't even a cheerleader, if that's any indicator to my energy levels at the time lol).  I was the first one to plan the parties, make the playlists, and mix up the vodka Gatorades. But I also had no idea how to moderate it. My temper would explode out of nowhere, usually with those I loved the most, like my father or my boyfriends at the time. And when it wasn't anger, it was hysterical sadness. Giant fits of crying that would make my mom think her daughter was losing it, and that would sometimes end in fruitless attempts at self-harm (thankfully). Every emotion was BIG. And I had no clue how to reel it in.

So, as one does, I kept growing up. I naturally matured out of some of this, but for the most part, still had an incredibly difficult time managing my anger and my insecurity. I would still believe that I wasn't pretty, smart, or cool enough, and then that would make me angry. It was a volatile cycle that reared up any time I'd feel less than great or my capabilities were questioned -- which in your twenties, you can imagine that's quite often.

Enter yoga. This won't be my "How Yoga Changed My Life" story, that's another blog post, but needless to say, the practice (and I mean much more than just the asana) began to give me new perspective and insight on how to find self-acceptance. Coupled with the education I was receiving in my counseling program, I began to find tools to help find the REAL me:

Self-inquiry and exploration of my patterns.

Questioning my belief system (especially the negative ones).

Writing my feelings so I could transmute them into something healing.

Treating my body in a way that reconnected me to its power and beauty.

Practicing self-love every single time I looked in the mirror. Practicing it more when I least believed it.

Spending time with people who loved me, valued me, and who taught me how to better myself.

Cutting away those who didn't.

Reading books that reconnected me to my dharma.

Praying. Meditating. Singing. Dancing. Chanting mantra.

Silence.

Being of service to others.

Trusting that I am capable.

And countering the self-critic with self-compassion as often as humanly possible.

So, I slowly began to find the Real Me. Not the quiet, shutdown me. Not the giant-ball-of-fire me. But the one that lived somewhere in-between, that didn't allow insecurities to sway her like a tiny boat in the ocean. Yoga and therapy (my own work, and my work with others) helped me figure out what my most authentic Self is. It also has taught me how to work on peeling away the old layers that no longer served in my journey to connect with her. This version of me did have something to say, but oftentimes the middle school part still felt terrified to share it. Or the angry part of me wanted to blow people away with it.

Now knowing this, I learn every day that stepping into this work of finding the sweet spot between the two is the only way I am going to set myself free from these old stories, and from identifying myself to one or the other. 

I know my work is to stay in this place of letting myself be seen for ALL THAT I AM: energetic, opinionated, outspoken, and yes, sometimes loud. But also, kind, knowledgable, peaceful, and definitely fallible.

Because living the opposite of that would be living at my very lowest vibration. One full of fear and insecurity and self-deprecation and squeezing myself into a box that wasn’t designed for me. And who the hell wants that? 

~

So how does this tie into teaching a big yoga class? Because I want my middle school Me to see current Me doing what I do now, and to be proud. To see how I am putting myself in a position where I am FULLY seen and heard by hundreds at a time, and that I’m not scared anymore. I want her to see how far we’ve come. That she doesn’t need to be afraid anymore. That our worth doesn’t come from external validation or how other people see us. That she can breathe easy knowing that I will keep being strong for the both of us. That the only way to tear apart those old stories is to step into the fire of discomfort with courage and trust in myself.

I want to tell her, "Look! I'm doing it!"

I still get really, really insecure. That little girl is still there, worried we’re going to be judged or excluded. But doing more of the things that push me to be courageous, to be seen and heard, to trust my own knowledge and talents, and to know it’ll always be okay no matter what, is how I've learned to move through that fear.

It’s daily work. It’s hard work. Its overwhelming and messy and sometimes makes me want to go hide in my room and cry, just like when I was eleven. And sometimes I do. But with every time I choose to meet this insecurity with understanding rather than criticism, I have a little win. 

So my goal isn’t to be a person free from insecurity — I’m human after all. My goal is to have as many little wins a day as possible. To step into my authentic self, even when I’m terrified. To meet that fear with compassion, then step into courage. 

And to make sure that little girl knows every day how incredibly valued and deeply, deeply loved she is.

The Beast vs. Your Compassionate Self

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Last weekend, I had the lovely opportunity to lead a yoga + women’s circle for @hellomytribe and an incredible group of women, many of whom were new moms.  Our night was themed around self-care, and thus intrinsically, self-compassion. 

Before yoga, I had the women answer three questions:

What are you ready to let go of?

What are you ready to make room for / cultivate?

How is this in service to loving yourself more?

After a fluid vinyasa practice, we settled in to ask ourselves some questions about how we approached self-care. We addressed the issue everyone (especially a women trying to do everything) faces: tackling The Beast. The Beast is the part of you that criticizes everything — your decision to spend money on a massage, to leave your kid while you go to yoga, the one who says you’re never going to be as good as that perfectly put-together mom you follow on Instagram. The Beast is mean; it is the part of you that squashes your attempts to follow your gut and do what you know is best. So how do we fight the Beast?

This is where your Compassionate Self comes in. Your Compassionate Self is the part of you that encourages taking good care of your body, mind, and soul, through practices you know you need and plenty of rest. Your Compassionate Self loves you unconditionally; she never criticizes, but instead tells you to stop being so hard on yourself. To be grateful for all you have. And that you deserve that extra hour of sleep or that session with your therapist that you’ve been putting off (regardless of who it inconveniences). 

Through guided imagery, I had the women envision their Compassionate Self, and what they would say when their current self told them about the problems they’ve been struggling with. What would this loving, kind, and patient part of you say? How would she encourage you to embody self-love? How would she remind you that you’re beautiful, worthy, and deserve all the best? After a quiet moment with their Compassionate Self, the women wrote down what this part had told them. And all the answers were somewhat similar:

“This problem won’t matter at all in the long run.”

“You’re stronger than you think, and you’re going to be okay.”

“You don’t need to be the perfect version of a woman — what you are right now is pretty damn good.”

“I love you. No matter what.”

Not only were we all encouraged by the messages given to us by our Compassionate Self, but we realized that this part of us ALWAYS EXISTS. It’s not some made up part of you because you did an exercise; that’s just how we tap into it. It’s a part of you that has always lived within you, and always will. We just need to call on her more often. We need to pay attention to her quiet and kind voice. We need to listen to what she has to say, when the Beast is loudly beating us down. We need to pause for long enough for her to come through. Because her message has the potential to not just make us feel better, but to save us.

As with most things, tapping into compassion is a practice. And when it comes to fighting self-criticism, it will likely be a practice that you’ll be doing for the rest of your life. But it’s a practice that is strengthened with each time we do it. And slowly, but surely, we can make our Compassionate Self become just as strong as our Beast… or maybe, just maybe, even stronger.

So, like I told the women that night, as we all bonded over the human condition of always striving to be our best selves: The Beast might always have the first word, but he doesn’t need to have the last.

Want to do this meditation for yourself? Click here for the guided imagery audio for tapping into your Compassionate Self.

 

Yoga: A Force to be Reckoned With

As yoga teachers, we’re incredibly lucky to connect personally with so many people through our classes. We get to hear stories and be witnesses of how yoga literally and emotionally moves others, and how the practice can shift their lives. Recently, I had a student come up to me at the end of class, thanking me for a great practice. She was also on the brink of tears. She felt embarrassed to be crying, exclaiming she wasn’t even sure why she was so emotional. So, I gave her a long hug, reassuring her that it was normal and good and human to feel this way after practicing. And the tears rushed forward. This wasn't the first time I've seen people have an emotional moment during or after class, or had a student come up to me and say that something I mentioned had resonated with them. And I don't mention this to toot my own yoga teacher horn. I bring attention to it because what I share isn't something intensely wise or deep -- it's normal human stories from my normal human life. And even these simple shares can have a huge affect on how people approach their practices, but more importantly, how they hold space for themselves. Being a teacher isn't just leading a class through a couple of sequences -- it's an opportunity to be vulnerable in hopes you'll inspire someone else to do the same. Yoga encourages us to shed old skins. To show our wounds and scars, no matter how fresh, in hopes that they inspire others to look at theirs with more compassion. In hopes that they'll look at their "failures" and recognize the tender humanity in them.

One of my other students just returned from India, fresh off of his teacher training. He brought me back some sweet little gifts, and told me about his future plans, excited to stretch his wings as a new teacher and to spread the message and power of yoga because of how much it has served him. I remember him chatting with me one day, right after he had made the decision to go to India for his training, and the sparkle in his eyes and how he told me how excited he was to embark on this adventure. It took me back to my own decision to become a teacher, and like a sped-up movie, my subsequent journey to where I am today. I was so happy for him. Not just because he was following such a BIG dream, but because of the anticipatory excitement I had for how this process would change his entire life... like it had mine.

This practice is not just breathing and stretching. And we are so much more than yoga students or teachers. We are conduits of a thousands-of-years-old ritual that has the power to CHANGE EVERYTHING. From peeling away emotional layers so we can finally release some tears, to traveling across the globe because we feel so pulled to spread this message, yoga is an undeniable FORCE — a force that drives us towards something much greater and much bigger than ourselves. It has the power to help us reconnect with our bodies, understand our minds, work past our emotional blockages, and find a deeper connection to our Higher Selves. Yoga is like boarding an old ship towards paradise. The journey may be slow, rocky, and even scary at times. We might get frustrated at the process, wishing we had chosen a speedier vessel or curse how the journey tests our patience. But once we have arrived -- once we've seen where this ship has taken us -- we know that every single wave that knocked us about was one hundred percent worth it.

Bowing deeply everyday to this practice.