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.

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.

Mindful Social Media

How many times have you checked Instagram today? Facebook? How much of that has been just to see if one of your posts has been Liked? Now, don’t get me wrong — I’m not calling anyone out on sneaking a peak to see if the Likes have turned double or (gasp!) triple digit. I’m pretty guilty of that myself. My point is that we do it quite a bit, and that our need for approval via social media has grown exponentially in the last couple of years. This never-ending point system of approval can certainly do a number on our self-confidence, and if we’re not careful, can begin to affect how we feel about ourselves. 

As a yoga teacher, social media has a big influence on my career — and thus my marketing strategies. These days, most teachers promote their classes solely through social media, and their posts will usually have at least some impact in the number of students that stroll into class that evening — especially if the post is interesting, memorable, or just plain nice to look at. When done well, marketing your services (and basically yourself) through social media can be an incredible way to reach out to your community, pique interest in potential students, get people to attend your classes or events, and make important connections with others in your field. 

But when is it too much? How do we stop ourselves from getting wrapped up in this world of Likes and the perfect yoga picture when it all feels so necessary nowadays? For me, it’s important to think about a few key things before posting. I’ve tried hard to develop a more mindful way of interacting with the online world — one that creates a presence that reflects my personality, my beliefs, and is authentic to my voice. I want my posts to show who I am, not only as a yoga teacher, but as a person. Most importantly, I want to attract people who connect with my style, and build relationships with like-minded individuals. 

Here are a few self-reflection strategies that have helped me along my journey to a more mindful and gratifying social media presence. 

 

Ask yourself: why are you posting this?

If the answer is anything close to “I just want to see how many people will like this” or “I’m needing a little external affirmation that I’m prettier / stronger / more skillful than I think I am,” then maybe re-think that post. Don’t get me wrong — there is nothing like a well-Liked picture to make you feel good about yourself. However, the negative side is that the gratification is usually very short-lived. You’ll be looking for more affirmation and approval in no time, leading you to post more for external approval than for whatever message you’re actually trying to convey. 

Post because you want to share a message that is important to you, or because you stumbled over a beautiful poem, or because you are proud of how you nailed handstand and just want to share your joy! Post something that already feels good to you, not something that needs multiple-digit likes before you think it’s worthy. Also, most approval-seeking posts tend to be pretty transparent, causing people to disengage instead of connect with your online presence. In other words, most people know when you’re posting for approval. Think about what you felt last time you saw an overtly self-glorifying post. Did it make you want to engage with that person, or did it make you want to roll your eyes and keep scrolling? 

Post because something feels authentically good to share, and let the approval come from within instead! You’ll be less likely to get that “hooked-on-the-Likes” feeling in the future, and your posts will likely feel way more authentic to your followers and friends, attracting the right people to you. 

 

Does this post have the potential to inspire, bring happiness, or simply make people smile?

If the answer is yes, then post away! There’s no downside to simply spreading those good vibes around. And no, not all posts are going to be super deep or inspiring, but that’s okay. The simplest posts can be the most joy-inducing. Think about how baby animals or a really funny meme make you feel. Pretty good, right? Use your presence to make those around you feel joyful. Even if the Likes are few, you’ll feel great knowing you made someone smile (even if it’s just your sweet grandma who likes everything you’ve ever uploaded). 

 

Follow people who inspire you… and don’t follow those who do the opposite. 

Still have that ex-boyfriend, mean boss, creepy neighbor, or angry, politically-obsessed friend on your feed? WHY? Remove everything and everyone from your timeline who doesn’t make you feel good right now. There is absolutely no reason to have your day flooded with negativity, anger, or anything that doesn’t sit well with you. We oftentimes keep these people around because we feel guilty, or maybe we just forget they even exist (until they post something that makes you want to throw your phone out the window). This is why the Hide button on Facebook is such a great tool. All the clean up of an unfriending, with none of the hurt feelings. Same with Instagram — unfollow any accounts that don’t make you feel positively about your life, job, looks, and Self. And finally, if anyone is being directly aggressive or negative towards you, please do not be afraid to use that Block button.

It can be such a great relief to de-clutter your feed of negative things and people, and I promise it’ll make you look forward that much more to checking your feeds. Knowing you won’t accidentally come across anything that will cause you to feel uncomfortable, angry, or insecure can be very freeing, and can make your time on social media uplifting instead of deflating. Once you’re done purging the yucky stuff, go look up accounts or people that make you smile. Search for those who are conveying positive messages, or even accounts that tickle your funny bone. Create a feed that is full of positivity, and make a concentrated effort to only add people or accounts who are in line with what makes you happy.

And finally, just put the phone down!

Like any habit, social media checking and obsessing are strengthened the more you do it. If you notice you've had a media-heavy day, go take a break. My cue for myself is usually tired eyeballs and a sense of anxiety in my chest from information overload. When you notice you’ve gone a little overboard, put your phone away and go unplug. Play with your pet, have a stretch, take a long walk, listen to some music, or go read that book that’s been sitting on your bedside table for the past month. Treat your brain (and your ego) to a little break. 

And finally, just relax about these made-up symbols of approval! After all, at the end of the day, no one is going to remember you for the Likes you had or the followers you accrued. What will most live on in people’s minds is the memories they had of your joyful presence and your authentic voice — and no amount of Likes is worth more than that.