My Journey Through My Saturn Return

I first heard about Saturn Return when I signed up for a talk about it at the Wanderlust Festival in Squaw Valley. The small description mentioned it being related to astrology, and as as someone who is slightly obsessed with all things tied to the zodiac, I signed right up. As the speaker began to go into what a Saturn Return meant, how to figure out when yours is, and what to even DO with that information, I was instantly hooked on knowing EVERYTHING about my own Saturn Return phase.

But let's back up and start with the basics. What does a Saturn Return even mean? Basically, it's the time in your life when Saturn literally returns to the spot in the sky where it was the moment you were born. On average, this planetary trek takes about 29.5 years, landing your (first) Saturn Return right at about the ages of 28 - 29 years old. But more importantly, what it also signifies is a time of intense challenge, change, and/or transformation. Your Saturn Return is basically a face-down-in-the-dirt kind of teacher, one who doles out her lessons via tough love and hard knocks. During the span of time it takes for us to travel through this phase (on average about 2.5 - 3 years) we may experience some rude awakenings -- be it in our career, love life, or even on a deeper, personal level with ourselves. What they say about Saturn though is that these lessons come with a hefty reward at the end: greater knowledge about life and ourselves, with the opportunity to grow in ways we never thought we could. I love the AstroTwins description of the vibe of the Saturn Return:

"During the Saturn return [...] you will come face to face with your own blocks and be forced to push through them. All the “mistakes” you made in the 28 years leading up to this seem to crystallize. Rather than repeating them on autopilot, you have a chance to turn lemons into lemonade. And if you refuse to heed those lessons, Saturn will bring a drill sergeant style smackdown. Indeed, the Saturn return starts off feeling a bit like boot camp for a lot of people. But drop and give him twenty instead of rebelling against those barking orders.  Three years later, you’ll be General Awesome [...] of your own kick-ass army — at the very least, you’ll be decorated with a star or two."

Sounds fun, doesn't it? I'm joking -- it sounds terrifying, or at the very least like a huge pain in the butt. THREE YEARS of taking it on the chin? No one wants to sign up for that. Well, lucky(?) for me, when I found out about Saturn Return even being a thing, I was already well into mine. According to my birth chart, Saturn was in Sagittarius when I was born, meaning that my Saturn Return would begin once Saturn mosied on over to this sign again. And that began on December 24, 2014. Three days before my ten year high school reunion (which, subsequently would also be where I reconnected with my now soon-to-be husband. Weird, right?). 2014 was also the year I got certified to teach yoga (earlier that February). But at that point, I didn't really feel like I had any sort of experience being a "real" teacher yet, and I definitely hadn't found my true voice. However, once I got deeper into my Saturn Return, let's just say shit started to get real... real quick.

My first BIG moment came a little later into 2015. I started working at the studio I trained with (my home studio) which was a dream come true in and of itself, but obviously carried some big expectations to do my very best as a teacher. I quickly got a job at a second studio I really loved. I then got a second practice site to see if I could increase my reach to clients. I held my very first workshop. I did a training in ACT therapy and a training weekend with Laughing Lotus Yoga. I mean, I was off and RUNNING. I was suddenly doing so much, all at once, and at first it felt incredible. The year prior had been my "slow" year; I didn't really feel super busy or super satisfied with the way I was doing things. I knew I loved yoga, and I knew I loved being a therapist, but things just felt like they were dragging their feet. So, when 2015 hit like a whirlwind of action, I was actually really glad to have the fire lit under my ass, and to be juggling a million things at once. After all, this was what I had always wanted, right?

So I kept chugging along, head-first and at 100 miles per hour. I signed up for a training in Bali with a teacher who had won my heart (and would eventually inspire a lot of my own teaching) -- my amazing mentor Janet Stone. Needless to say, this training, the trip, and my entire experience in Bali was something that shifted my perspective on many things, but especially on who I wanted to be as a yoga teacher. It instilled the values I wanted to bring into each and every class I taught, and set me on my rightful path for how I wanted to hold space for my students. I also got deathly sick on this trip (read more on that in a different blog post) which taught me some MAJOR life lessons in itself. At the exact same time I was supposed to leave to Bali, one of my best friends told me her boss wanted to start a free monthly yoga class to offer to the public. Her boss happened to be a higher-up at the Hyatt Regency. What began as a little idea for a free yoga class blossomed into a giant community gathering of over 100 yogis each month at the Hyatt: Pints and Poses. By and far, this was one of the coolest things that I had the luck of being a part of, and one of the highlights of my teaching career.

So, yeah. I was teaching and learning at full-force now. I felt stronger in my voice as a teacher, but continued to put myself through the paces by teaching as much as I possibly could, and taking more trainings and workshops. I signed up for another training with Janet for the end of 2016, calling it my Year of Yoga. I taught another workshop that year, led several public classes around town, and began to feel like I was becoming a stronger part of the yoga community. Yet, I still felt deeply insecure in some ways. Knowing that I was fresh out of my training just 2 years prior made me feel like a newbie -- like I could never compare with the big (yoga) dogs. But I kept teaching. I kept learning. I kept forcing myself to push through the insecurities, and to connect with people in my field. To ask for help. To ask for advice. And (this is a big one) to teach from a truly authentic place. To be brave enough to teach like ME.

Cue the end of 2016. I'm making my way towards the final part of my Saturn Return -- about one year left of this knuckle-grinding work, right? By this point, I'm working non-stop. My caseload at my therapist practice is close to full, I'm teaching and subbing a ton, I'm beginning to birth some ideas around my website and a potential newsletter, and my brain is filled to the brim with all the new knowledge I've gained in the past year. I am running on all six cylinders. So, can you guess what happens next, friends?

Yep. Complete burnout.

At the time I wouldn't admit that that's what it was. I would convince myself I was just tired, or that the anxiety was from not getting enough sleep (which was semi-true). I tried to tell myself that my horrible stomach issues were just "always a thing" anyway, and that it wasn't related to having become so busy, that I was making zero time for myself. I continued to push through, to say yes to everything, until I literally couldn't physically do it anymore.

My anxiety was worse than ever -- I had never felt this shitty. I was falling asleep every chance I could, but never felt rested. My stomach and digestive system were a complete mess. My yoga practice dwindled to maybe practicing once per week, and my meditation practice was a goner. All I wanted to do was sleep, cry, or hide from everyone (or a lovely combo of all three). I knew that something had to change. That this was no longer sustainable. That the the person I actually WANTED to be was dying away slowly... ironically enough at the hands of an agenda I thought would lead me to be better at all of these things.

Enter 2017. And slowly, I started saying no more.

No to taking on more classes than I knew I could adequately teach. No to clients who wanted to schedule at inconvenient times. No to talking on the phone when I was dead tired at the end of the day. Even no to seeing my friends sometimes (which was really hard). And at the same time I started saying YES -- to more rest, less things on my agenda, and concentrating my efforts on finding BALANCE rather than SUCCESS.

And holy shit, did it liberate me.

I started trying to eat better, I started to be more conscious of my schedule, and I basically started to practice what I preached every day to my students and clients: THAT SELF CARE EFFING MATTERS.

So, here we are in 2017. And what's my first workshop of the new year? A self-care workshop for women! (I clearly apply my own life lessons to my work quickly, don't I? LOL.) I chugged into 2017 with this newfound resolution to watch myself and my schedule, and make sure I didn't let the part of me that wanted to do ALL THE THINGS lead. And guess what? I got offered some of the most beautiful and fun opportunities of my career. I did a training with my original teacher (who I missed dearly), I got to go to Marfa to speak about relationships from a therapist's viewpoint, I did a meditation meetup for SXSW, and a mindfulness training for a group of teachers in the fitness community. Deeper into 2017, I felt like myself again -- the anxiety had dwindled and I felt in control of my life. 

Then more beautiful things started to happen.

My fiance proposed (which was like yay! and what?! and now I have to plan a WEDDING??), which was one of the best moments in my life. Then I got the news every therapist intern anxiously awaits once that 3,000th hour is signed off on -- my hours were approved and I was a fully licensed therapist! This was a huge, huge accomplishment for me, and almost 4 years of hard work in the making. So many good things were happening to me, and it wasn't because I was stressing MORE. It was because I was trying my hardest to live in a VALUE-DRIVEN way. I was aligning myself more often with things that felt right, saying no to things that felt wrong, and accepting that certain things were just going to be out of my control. The shitstorm finally felt like it had passed -- and it had made room for an incredible set of prizes at the end of the tunnel. 

So, my Saturn Return ends this December -- not officially, but that'll be the 3 year mark, which is the longest it can go. Maybe it's already over? Who knows. But what I do know is that taking time to reflect on this era of my life made me feel super connected with my own personal journey. It showed me where I've grown, what I've learned, and all the ways in which I've overcome the obstacles set in front of me (including my own ego). These past three years molded me into the yoga teacher and therapist I always wanted to be (and yes, we're still molding!). It brought the love of my life back into my world, and committed us to each other as partners for life. It taught me that my undying urge to DO IT ALL sometimes gets me the complete opposite: so tired that I can't do ANYTHING. I learned how to take better care of myself and thus how to take care of my work, my friends, my partner, my family, my clients, my students and everyone who is affected by my energy in a more loving and authentic way. But the most important lesson I learned is to show gratitude for the things I have right here, right now (because I worked hard on them, dammit!) and to reflect on my wins just as often as I muddle in my losses.

So whether you're about to be in your own Saturn Return, just left it, or are coming back to it (it happens again in your late fifties -- eek!) I hope that my own story of the lessons garnered through this time inspire you to focus on the knowledge that is brought forth through your own challenges. Go ahead and take some time to reflect on all of the successes you've earned in the past few years. I hope it inspires you to see every fall as a chance to heal. I deeply wish that you begin to see every wound as an intrinsic and beautiful part of your life story. And that whether or not you believe that some giant, ringed planet is having any sort of effect on your life, we can look to our hardships as our greatest teachers of all. 

~

Many thanks to the AstroTwins website, which guided me with lots of helpful information on the mystical story behind the Saturn Return. You can visit it by clicking here to see when your Saturn Return starts, and all about the significance of what it means for you.

Happy stargazing!

 

 

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. 

The Basics of Mindfulness Meditation

What is mindfulness and why is it useful?

“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” - Jon Kabat-Zinn. 

This definition encapsulates all of the important tenets of mindfulness, which is intention and a neutral reaction to — and thus acceptance of — our reality. Mindfulness is a way to connect to the present moment, and through this awareness we can gain more insight on both our emotional state and our physical body. We can then use this information to address issues like stress, anxiety, or depression by figuring out what needs to be healed or explored further.

What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?

Mindfulness is a state we can enter through meditation. In other words, meditation can be a vehicle towards mindfulness. But you don’t need to meditate to be mindful. You can mindfully walk, eat, and brush your teeth, among other things! Being mindful simply requires your full attention on the task at hand, and softening your mind to be nonjudgmental about the process. We take away the labeling of “good” or “bad” and just accept what is. This, of course, takes practice!

Self-Compassion: The Essential Element

In order to cultivate non-judgement and acceptance in our lives, it is important to have a strong sense of self-compassion. Why? Because as humans, we are naturally inclined to criticize and be hard on ourselves, especially when we fail or things go wrong. Without self-compassion, we have nothing to counter the inner critic with. This may worsen already negative experiences, and dim the light on positive ones.

“But isn’t my inner critic motivating?”

The short answer? NO! Would you "motivate" a friend or loved one by being hard, mean, or critical of them? Probably not. We know that reacting to them in this way would likely make them feel worse, thus less motivated. If we approach ourselves with kindness, support, and reassurance, we are more likely to progress and move forward.

Think of two different coaches and you're the athlete. Imagine being a complete newbie at whatever sport you're playing, and already feeling fear, insecurity, and intimidation. Coach #1 is harsh and aggressive; he yells at you to BE BETTER, DO BETTER, DON'T MESS UP OR ELSE. YOU'RE A FAILURE IF YOU DON'T GET IT RIGHT. He is constantly breathing down your neck, making you feel even more nervous than you already are -- which causes you to stress out. And what happens when you're stress level is high? You mess up.

Coach #2 is motivating, but compassionate. He reaffirms that you're human, and when you mess up, he acknowledges it as normal and part of the process. He also builds you up, highlighting your successes (however small they may be) and reassures you that all of it is part of the process -- it's all practice, so it's all good! 

Now, which coach would you rather have? Pretty easy to choose, huh? Coach #2 is what it sounds like to approach yourself with self-compassion. Not only does it feel better, but it's actually leads to greater productivity!

Now, let's get down to mediation basics:

Meditation 101

The following is a very simple form of meditating, and a good one if you are just starting the practice:

Sit up tall, crown of the head reaching towards the ceiling. Lean back and align your spine and head right over your pelvis. Let your hands relax on your legs (palms down on knees or folded in lap), let your shoulders soften, and your face and jaw be soft. Close your eyes, and take three clearing breaths, sighing out audibly with each one.

As you move through the first part of this exercise, notice when your mind begins to drift away or “gets hooked” by a thought. When this happens, gently acknowledge that it has (you can simply say “that's a thought” to yourself) and bring your awareness back to the breath and body.

Begin first by noticing your body through your senses:

What does your seat feel like on the chair/cushion? What does the texture of your clothes feel like on your skin? Does the temperature of your skin feel cold or warm? How do your feet feel inside your shoes? Continue this way throughout the whole body.

Now, what sounds do you hear? Can you hear all the different ones in the room, even the most subtle? What about the sounds outside of the room? Can you hear your own breath?

Notice any smells in the room. How many can you notice? Without labeling them as pleasant or unpleasant, just notice. If there’s no smells you recognize right away, can you feel the coolness of the clean air as you inhale?

Finally, notice what you see on the screen of your eyelids. What colors, shapes, lights, or splotches appear, if any? If it is just dark, can you notice that? 

Now that you are relaxed and focused on the present moment, you can start your meditation. Begin to breathe deeply and rhythmically, trying to even out the inhales and exhales to about equal in length (4-5 seconds is a good place to start). Focus all of your awareness on your breath — how it travels into the body, the sensations as it moves past the nostrils, down the throat, expands the lungs and ribs, lifts the chest. Then follow it back out; notice the stomach softening, the ribs and lungs relaxing, the shoulders soften, and the warm temperature of the air as it exits the nose. 

REMEMBER: Keep the focus on your breath, and again, if the mind wanders (which it will) simply acknowledge that it has, and gently bring your focus back to the breathe (even if you do this 1,000 times!) This is the key. Having a “blank mind” is impossible, so don’t make that your goal. Let yourself come back again and again to your point of focus (in this case the breath) and eventually, the span of time in which you leave your focus will slowly begin to shorten. There is no right way to meditate — like everything else, practice will make your experience with it a more fruitful one!

Counting and Mantra Meditation

Everyone finds different ways to drop deeper into their meditation. For some of us, counting the breath works well to keep our minds on track. Simply count the duration of your inhale in your head as you draw in (e.g. “one...two...three...four...”) then pause at the top for 1-2 seconds, counting those as well. Then exhale for the same amount that you inhaled, counting that out too. When you reach the bottom of your exhale, pause again for 1-2 seconds. We call this “box breathing,” and it can be useful not only in centering your focus, but in calming the nervous system and alleviating symptoms of anxiety.

Mantra meditation (some people may call it transcendental meditation) is similar to counting, but instead of numbers, we repeat a word or phrase to ourselves as we breath. It is useful to pick two words that compliment each other, to use on the inhale and exhale. For example, you can say “in” on the inhale, and “out” on the exhale. If you want a word or phrase with deeper meaning, feel free to come up with something more personal. One of my favorites is the Sanskrit mantra of “Soham,” which translates into “I am.” As you inhale, you’ll say “so” and as you exhale, ham.” Play with different variations and find one that works best for you!

Mindful meditation can be explored and practiced in many different ways. Using a few or maybe all of the above techniques, you can begin to incorporate small bits of this practice into your daily life. Start small — maybe 5 minutes of seated meditation in the morning right when you wake up, and see how that feels. Set a short term goal, and write down how you feel after each try. Even the smallest steps towards mindfulness can cultivate big results!

Good luck & happy meditating!

Three Ways to be Sweeter to Yourself

With the new year, comes lots of change. Maybe you made resolutions to change your eating or your health routine, and are potentially on track to make some positive adjustments in your life. But with the challenge of change can come self-criticism, doubt, and frustration. Our inner critic can be the loudest during times of transition, when the potential to fail is high and the work feels never-ending. To stay on track and not lose motivation, we need a strong sense of self-compassion. Basically, we need to be our own biggest cheerleader! Here are some ways to quiet down that little self-deprecator in our heads, and access more self-compassion.

1. Notice when you tend to criticize

Is it when you lose your temper, make a mistake, or embarrass yourself? Maybe it’s all of the above. Just noticing when this tends to happen is important; it’s the first step in unsticking yourself from the pattern of just allowing the criticism to happen. When you begin to notice the self-criticism happening, this awareness can open up the potential to stop and change the negative train of thought arising. The mental exchange would go a little like this:

“Dammit! I am so lazy! Why didn’t I just get up off my butt and go to the gym today? I’m never going to lose any weight at this rate.”

[pause and notice the criticism]

“Whoa. I was just really hard on myself.”

[the pause that comes after this is where you can choose to continue being self-critical or instead switch it to something more compassionate]

“Well, I was lazy today because I didn’t sleep much last night. And beating myself up isn’t going to change anything. I’ll go to the gym tomorrow morning and stay for a bit longer since I missed today.”

The pausing and redirection will take practice, but eventually you can train the reactions to perceived failures to be more self-compassionate, leading to more self-worth and less stress around what you feel you did “wrong.” You’re also more likely to reach your goals if you approach yourself more like a loving friend than an aggressive bully.

2. Stop comparing and start being grateful

One of the most common ways we self-criticize is around body image stuff. We are constantly calling ourselves too skinny, too fat, shaming our skin, hair, clothing, and everything in between. A lot of the time, we do this in conjunction to comparing ourselves with someone who does have the perfect hair, skin, or body. Comparing ourselves to others will always make you feel bad. It is a sure-fire way to make your life look unappealing, and it sucks the joy out of your own success. Someone will always have a better looking life, and the sooner we realize that this doesn’t affect the value of our own life, the better. 

Stop looking outwards and turn towards the positive aspects of your own life — the harder you look, the more beautiful things you will find. You might not have a supermodel’s body, but are you in good health? Can you walk, talk, breathe, and think? If you can, you’ve already got a leg up on many people. Do you have people who love you and support you? It may not be a huge squad, but that doesn’t make these people any less important or valuable. Cherish that which you already have, and take stock of how lucky you are — even in little ways. Some of the loveliest moments in life is when we quietly enjoy the present, and look around at the tiny, beautiful things: a warm, clear day, a good book, a hug from a friend, a pet next to our feet. Soak this in rather than glide past it, and I promise the own beauty of your life will begin to shine brighter than ever.

3. Self-care is absolutely necessary

Life can become heavy and stressful, no matter how well you are handling things. Like seasons, our lives will naturally ebb and flow into good and bad phases. One way of making sure we are strong enough to make it through the tougher times is investing in self-care. When we begin to notice that we are run-down, stressed, and not acting like ourselves, that is usually a big ol’ red flag that we may need to slow down and ask ourselves what we need to feel better.

The answer can be as easy as “more sleep” (and I’m willing to bet that every single one of us could do with more of that!) But the more we pay attention, the clearer the answers will be. Sit quietly with yourself for a few minutes and ask yourself “what do I need right now?” Be patient — the answer may not be immediate. Even if it takes a little while, usually an answer will arise. Maybe you’re tired because you are working longer hours and don’t know how to set boundaries at work. Or it could be that you’ve been eating poorly because of how rushed you are, and this is affecting your energy levels and mood. Maybe your stress is so high, you’ve forgotten what it’s like to not be running around all day, and you have taken this as the norm. And maybe this wasn’t even clear until you actually stopped and thought about how crappy it’s making you feel. Taking time to check in through a chat with friends, some journaling, or even just quiet reflection before bed is ultimately what will give us the answer as to what we need to feel happier, calmer, and more fulfilled. Once you determine what’s wrong, you can begin to make changes to feel better. Things like eating better, cutting out toxic people, going to the doctor, not taking your work home, or finally scheduling that massage — the list of self-care options can go on forever! But you’ll never know what your personal remedy will be unless you stop and ask.

I once read an interesting metaphor on how we try to escape our “baggage.” It likened our emotional baggage to actual travel baggage, and how even though we forget it sometimes (purposely or not), it will always eventually be at the carousal waiting for us. In other words, claim your baggage, instead of running from it. Then accept it and do your best to work with it. Only this way, can you free yourself from the heaviness it brings.

Putting your self-worth in the hands of others can be like putting all of your eggs in a very shaky, very unstable basket. Instead, practice cultivating your own value through treating yourself with loving kindness and being your own best friend. This way, you always have a strong fountain of love to dip into when things get rocky, and you are always in charge of how full that pool will be. 

 

“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” – Buddha

What Bali Taught Me.

I’m writing this now having been home for a little over a month from my adventure in the beautiful jungle island that is Bali. I still have people coming up to me from time to time, asking me how it was. And I still struggle to answer that question — just like I did when I first got home and I was bombarded with the endless amounts of “how was it?!”

Most people who know me (or follow me on social media) knew that I got really sick over there. They asked me about the whole ordeal, and I could immediately sense the internal cringe when they knew I had been sick for a good chunk of my trip. And my response was always the same, easy quip back: “it didn’t ruin anything for me!” That was the short answer to reassure them that yes, I am aware that being sick halfway across the world, during a yoga training I paid a lot of money for, very much sucks. But the long answer is that it didn’t just not ruin my trip, it made it exactly what I was hoping it would be — a perspective-shifting experience that taught me something extremely important about my Self and my approach to life. 

I work with mindfulness every day. I am a therapist who is constantly reminding her clients to let go of their past, not dwell on what is to come, and try to live as completely in the present moment as possible. I meditate and do yoga and practice rituals each day to do the same. I focus a whole lot on trying to be as here as I can be. And yes, all of these practices have served me incredibly well; I don’t know how much of an anxious mess I’d be if I didn’t have these things to ground me. But none if it sinks as deep or hits home as hard as when life throws you a massive curveball, knocking you to the ground before you even knew what hit you. This is when the practice of mindfulness is most essential, but it’s also when it is the most difficult to access. 

~

I arrived in Bali incredibly excited to be set free of my routine, of answering emails and phone calls, knowing I didn’t have to help anyone, or teach a class, or hear someone’s problems. I was ecstatic to be able to set all that down for eighteen days, while I played and did yoga and met interesting people in one of the most beautiful settings on the planet. My sweet driver (who’s name I forgot, but was kind and extremely helpful to a newcomer) picked me up at the airport and off we drove to Ubud, where I would be staying for the rest of my trip. We arrived at my first stop, a secluded villa where I would be staying for the night on my own, before moving on to the retreat grounds. Once there, I unpacked, took off those godforsaken leggings I had been wearing for what felt like close to 48 hours, and went outside to soak it all in. I pretty much had the place to myself and promptly took advantage of the pool, which faced the raw, dense jungle. I spent the whole day in that lounge chair — reading, taking pictures, writing, thinking, swimming. I got so lost in the Bhagavad Gita that I got a sunburn. 

The next day, a new driver sped us through the thick afternoon rainstorm (a weather pattern I’d grow familiar and fond of during my stay) towards the Bagus Jati resort grounds. We weaved through tiny roads, past rice fields, zooming by dozens of mopeds, their passengers stacked in two’s and three’s, with babies usually riding shotgun. When we arrived at the main entrance, I couldn’t believe where I was; it felt like a combination of Jurassic Park and a five-star tropical hotel. I was surrounded on every side by jungle and greenery, with big, circular rooms with thatched roofs dotting the horizon. The people there greeted me with such warmth (and with the most delicious ginger virgin mojito ever) that I felt instantly welcomed. As I rode the golf cart over to what would be my room for the next ten days, vibrant colors enveloping me, I couldn’t contain my huge smile. I knew I was meant to be here. I met my soon-to-be friends at dinner that night, everyone clamoring to introduce themselves. Lots of hugging and name-exchanging and repeating of the names since most of us promptly forgot them. Then Janet came in to talk to us about what the next week and a half held. Her warm presence and gentle demeanor instantly made me feel drawn to her, magnetized to that mother-like energy that all of the yogi women who have most inspired me evoke. 

Practice began at 6am the next morning, with seated meditation to start. As a widely proclaimed non-morning person, just the wake-up time was hard enough. But looking back now, I miss those long walks in the crisp morning air, as the pink and orange sunrise began to peek through the palm trees. I miss never knowing which winding stone path would take you to the yoga room the fastest, and I miss walking past species of flowers and butterflies I had never seen before. I miss the quiet and contained space of the yoga room that housed what would become my sangha, it’s floor-to-ceiling windows framing the jungle in the horizon. We would sit and meditate, and at the same time keep our ears perked up for the sound of Janet’s soft footsteps entering the room — our signal that asana practice would soon begin. 

We practiced on the hard wood floors of the yoga room, mats being discouraged because of the space they took up. This also took some getting used to, but eventually the smell of the earthy planks of wood would become familiar and comforting. One of my favorite poses would end up being full prostration, where we’d lie belly-down on the floor, with our forehead heavy on the wood, our hands stretched out in prayer. This posture, symbolic of complete surrender, would come full circle for me.

I won’t dive into every detail of our day-to-day for two reasons: it would take me one thousand pages to write about every emotion and experience, but also because it was a sacred time that can only really be properly remembered via the vibrant memories in my head. I met some incredible people, who all had stories so deep and interesting that it reminded me of how cohesive this planet is. We all connected through yoga, obviously, but became incredibly close because of the daily moments we shared. We laughed big belly laughs over wine and Bintang at dinner, teasing each other like brothers and sisters. We roamed the city, helping each other find the best deals by haggling with the locals, and tried on $7.00 t-shirts in the back of hot, sticky market shops. We helped each other up Mount Batur, clamoring up unstable pieces of rock in the dark, while checking to make sure our group was always together. We chanted mantra and kirtan, and also danced to Beyoncé together. In the mornings, we discussed how achey our bodies were (and how amazing our massages later that day would be) over slices of fresh, cold fruit and mini-pancakes. We shared stories of our experiences with yoga, and how we all felt equally indebted to this practice that had healed us all, in one way or another. It was the perfect petri dish of people, place, and spirit that turned us from strangers to dear friends in a matter of days. 

Then one morning, at about 5am, I woke up to my stomach making noises it had never made before; somewhere along the lines of what a really clogged pipe sounds like when its being drained. You can imagine what came next. I’ll skip the details, but basically I had to be ensured I was near a toilet at all times. I skipped practice that first morning, and by the afternoon felt okay enough to put some clothes on and join my group at the pool. I laid down on the floor as Janet lectured, my sweet friends stroking my hair or giving me squeezes of encouragement as I laid there, useless and bedraggled. Luckily, the Ayurvedic doctor was there that day, and I asked her what could help stop my bowels from turning themselves inside-out. She recommended a spoonful of honey and nutmeg, twice a day. It worked to plug me up, but looking back, my body was trying to rid itself of everything inside of it for a reason, and keeping it contained probably wasn’t the best idea. The trips to the bathroom stopped, but the fevers started. I woke up two nights in a row, drenched in sweat, burning up. I lied in bed wondering if my temperature was high enough to warrant waking up my poor roommates who had a 5:45am wake-up call. I would tiptoe to the mini fridge and take out a Coke can or water bottle, place it against my sternum, and curl back into bed with a wet towel on my forehead, praying that I wouldn’t pass out and hoping that the Advil (the only medicine I brought with me) would work to reduce my fever. The fear of not knowing where the nearest hospital was kept me up most of those nights, but eventually I’d fall asleep again, drenched in a mixture of sweat and water condensing on my shirt.

I don’t know which benevolent entity decided to grant me pardon from my disgusting state, but on the night of our final closing ceremony, I felt pretty good. I showered, put my white dress on, and went out to meet my friends, who gathered in an excited group by the restaurant. Maybe it was that we sang karaoke and danced and ate and drank and did all my favorites things that kept the sickness at bay. Maybe it was the high from the amount of sheer joy I felt being around these people. I don’t know, and probably never will know why that night it was like I was never sick, but I was able to dance the night away with these incredible beings who were now my close friends. And I thank the universe for the chance to enjoy that very special night.

The next day however was a different story. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I began getting a fever as soon as I woke up that morning, and refusing to miss our final practice, I laid out my mat in the back of the room, hoping I could trudge through a few Surya A’s. Ten seconds into my downward dog, my arms began to shake and I dropped to my shins and into child’s pose, where I stayed for a good ten minutes. I then dragged myself to the back of the room and made myself a comfy nest with bolsters and pillows and blankets, careful not to burn my hair on the candles that lined the outside rim of the room. Did I mention that actually happened to me earlier that week? Filling the room with the smell of your burnt hair, all while being grossly sick, was pretty miserable. Although now looking back, it was pretty hilarious too. 

In my prop nest is where I sat and watched these amazing souls flow to the gentle cuing of Janet’s voice. When time came for the on-the-ground stuff, I made my way back to my mat. We were in some type of forward fold, my forehead pressed onto the ground. That’s when it all came flooding out. A song that Janet had played most mornings came on — one that has a sad, but beautiful melody. I began to cry and cry, my tears pooling underneath me on my mat. I stayed in the fold, letting my tears drain into the ground. I was sad my body was betraying me, but I was even more upset about it all being over. These new friends of mine would now part ways, jumping on planes that would take them back to their respective homes on different continents. Our unified energy would soon begin to dissipate, and this broke my heart more than anything. As we sat singing and chanting in our final morning circle, we all welled up with tears. We all knew that magic had taken place over those ten days. We knew this wasn’t something that just happened — the connections that we had created held a very special meaning to them. We all had a collective knowledge that this group was unique, that the energy we had created was something to be reckoned with. We all knew that the love we had created within this circle was something that only came from pure love, joy, and raw vulnerability. As we parted ways, we promised to keep in touch, taking pictures and giving deep, long-held hugs. I thanked Janet for all she had given us, for the knowledge she had imparted, the space she had held, and for bringing us all together in a place so incredibly beautiful that pictures will never do it justice. She joked that my sickness was a “natural cleanse” and even though she said it light-heartedly, I knew she meant it with some truth — that this was more than just me being sick at a bad time. And slowly, I began to catch glimpses of understanding as to why this was part of my journey.

By this point in time, I was doing pretty badly. I was out of Advil and everyone was leaving to their respective rentals in Ubud or back home. I caught a ride with some friends to my rental house, and was lucky enough to have very kind hosts who told me about a good clinic to visit. Everyone kept telling me I should go see someone, so I caved and went that day to talk to the doctor. They took blood and stool samples, and promised me results by the end of the day. I asked the doctor, a well-dressed, young Balinese woman, what she suspected it was. Without pausing, she said, “I think it’s dengue, but hopefully not.” That was all it took to take me into a tailspin of worry. I called my parents, knowing I would freak them out, but not being able to keep it a secret anymore. Also, I just wanted my mom and dad to tell me it would be okay. They comforted me, telling me they would be there in a heartbeat if it got worse, and to try to not jump to conclusions until the tests came back. 

That night, waiting for the results, I cried again. But this time, it was out of anger. How dare the universe do this to me now? Why did I have to get this sick? What did I do to deserve this? Why me? I asked all of the desperate questions one asks in times like this. I was so angry at fate for sending me this sickness. I didn’t get why this needed to happen, or why now I had to suffer alone through the worst of it. I sat by myself, in this room in a house in the middle of a village in Bali, thousands of miles from everyone I loved, and I cried hot, angry tears. I cursed the universe for making me miss out on nights on the town with my new yogi friends, for condemning me to this bed, with no one to even FaceTime with because the time difference was so big. And to top things off, the clinic never emailed me back. I was pissed. I emailed my host, asking him to please call them and ask what the results were so I could get on the proper meds. He got back to me almost immediately, and when I read the header of his email, I breathed a giant sigh of relief. “Luckily it’s not dengue. Just a bacterial infection in your GI tract. They said they will give you antibiotics tomorrow, which should take care of it.” He made it sound so minor. Laughable, even. I sat there, imagining what this bacteria that had taken hold of my body looked liked. I pictured a giant, green worm with pointy teeth, munching away at my intestines, eating up my insides. I fell asleep feeling slightly more at ease, knowing that at least there would be a cure for all this mess. And that maybe I could get back to normal, and not spend my last days in Bali bedridden under tear-soaked sheets. 

The next day, I woke up feeling the worst I had the entire time I’d been sick. I hadn’t eaten more than a few spoonfuls of rice in about 36 hours, and it was all I could do to muster up the energy to put a dress over my head and call my driver. When I arrived at the doctor, they took me to the back and asked how I was, expecting to hear I had had some type of recovery. I shook my head and said I felt worse, that I could barely stand up and hadn’t eaten in almost two days. The doctor’s face fell and he said I likely needed to get an IV drip because from the looks of things, I was severely dehydrated. I agreed, knowing this would probably help me regain some strength and hopefully my appetite. They took me to another room, clean and simply decorated, with a small bed and blanket, and readied my hand for the IV. I am not scared of needles, and I give blood like a champ, but at that point my body was in so much pain, and so incredibly weak and tired of hurting, that when the nurse inserted the needle, I yelped in pain and immediately started crying. I was so over my body hurting, I just wanted this to be over. They left me there with a call button, and the promise that in a few hours I’d feel much better. I called my parents again, but not before calling my boyfriend to weep about how miserable this all was. I reassured my family that the IV would surely help, even though I myself was beginning to doubt I’d ever feel well again.

I drifted in and out of sleep, glancing periodically at the drip to see how much was left as I wrapped myself in the wooly, yellow blanket. After about three hours, the IV was almost done.  The nurse came in, and asked me how I was doing. I told her I felt better, still weak, but slightly hungry (obviously, a good sign). I had some strength back, and was beginning to see the light at the end of this tunnel. They sent me off with a pack of antibiotics, recommendations to drink a ton of water, and a surprisingly small bill (side note: America, please get your health care costs in order, for God’s sake). I asked the driver to take me to a supermarket, where I loaded up on bread, peanut butter, juice, bananas, and some chocolate cookies. I went home and snacked a little, careful to not eat too much. I went out to the pool and swam around quietly, thinking about the whole thing. I showered and messaged my friends, letting them know I was alive and excitedly made plans to meet up with them that night. We had dinner and caught up over what I had missed, and as I sipped my Sprite, I felt overjoyed that I was almost back to normal. 

My final day in Ubud was spent shopping, of course. I hurried around town, popping in and out of shops, trying to remember everyone who I was supposed to bring back a souvenir for. Towards the end of the day, I felt myself getting weak again, and rather than risking it, went home and rested. I was leaving the next day and did not want to push my luck before getting on three flights back around the world. Luckily, the following morning I woke up feeling great and like I was back to my normal self. I got picked up early by my driver, and we stopped at a big garment shop on the way to the airport. I told him I had time to kill, and he said he did too. So, we shopped and walked around. When it was time to go, we got back on the road to the airport, my driver blasting American pop songs on the way. As I stared out the window at the stone sculptures lining the streets and the moped families racing by, I mentally said my goodbyes to this magical island, knowing I probably wouldn’t be back for a long time.

~

Once I had been back home for a few days, and started to tell my story to family and friends, I began to gain a different perspective. When I was sick, I obviously didn’t see the lesson. I was angry and sad and hated the whole world for turning against me. I was trapped behind my lens of resentment towards fate. But then, as I started to integrate the experience more and more, I remembered a very special experience I had in Bali, and all the pieces began to make sense. One day (before I got sick) we were taken to a water temple, which is a sacred place with multiple fountains spurting water out of the side of a wall. Our guide explained to us that this temple was used for a very special cleansing ritual: people asked the gods to let the water cleanse them of what they no longer wanted to have burdening them. We entered the cold water, fully dressed in our clothes and traditional sarongs, and shivered as we waited in line to go under the fountains. As I approached the first of about twelve fountains, I repeated in my head what I wanted to let go of. I created a mantra that basically strung together all of the parts of my personality that I wanted to be released from: my anger, my need for approval, my unsureness in my abilities, etc. And as I dunked my head under the first rushing stream of water, I was completely caught off guard by how cold it was. Shivering and unsure, I cupped and splashed the water over my head seven times, like we were taught, bowed in reverence, and moved to the next one. Again, repeating my mantra, I dunked my head a second time, this one less surprising, but just as cold. By the time I approached the third fountain, I was already soaking wet. At this point, I stopped caring and went into a repetitive state: dunk head, splash seven times, repeat mantra, bow, move on. Repeat 10 or so more times. As I neared the final fountain, I had been completely taken over by the rhythm of the process. When I emerged from the pool, my friends helping me to step out, I started to tear up. Something in me had shifted. I wasn’t sure what, but I felt different. I felt raw, like a layer of skin had been peeled off. One of my friends hugged me and as I silently cried in her arms, I’ll never forget her saying to me, “It’s okay. You are fully supported.”

Looking back. I realized I had asked to be purged clean. Not just asked, but I had basically pleaded, multiple times in a row, to be cleansed of all of the internal muck I was holding. I had asked the gods to help rid me of the unwanted, the parts of me that no longer served my purpose in life. And looking back now, I think I got exactly what I asked for. To put it a bit further into perspective, I have a notoriously bad relationship with my stomach. My guts used to always be upset over one thing or another, and it is only until recently (and through the help of a lot of probiotics and a better diet) that I have some semblance of a normal digestive system. But that was always my “problem area,” and I had even jokingly told one of my yogi friends earlier in the trip that, upon my return to Austin, I was going to sign up for a colonic. Well, you can see how that wasn’t going to be necessary anymore after my experience. But not only was the purging/cleansing connection there, I also gained another incredibly important lesson from all of it. I learned how truly fleeting our health can be, and how one moment we can be climbing the top of an active volcano at sunrise, and the next be unable to pull your pajamas over your head. Or be able to eat anything other than white rice. I realized how incredibly precious life is, and everything that I had ever learned about mindfulness made actual, concrete sense thanks to this in-vivo experience with the non-permeance of life. Not only did I learn the value of being present with what I have now, but I also felt an inexplicable amount of gratitude for the fact that I only felt this pain for maybe five days. I cannot fathom the experience of those who are dealing with an illness everyday of their lives. I began to empathize ten thousand times more with those who cannot eat a solid meal, or put their shoes on by themselves, or have the energy to lift themselves up in bed. My heart burst open when I thought of all of those people who have to live this struggle 100% of the time, and I was able to touch into a type of gratitude and compassion I never had before. I wasn’t just thankful for the obvious things anymore, like a nice place to live or money to buy expensive yoga leggings with. I was thankful to be able to put food in my mouth and swallow it. I was thankful that the water I drank on a daily basis was clean. I was thankful that my legs could take me across the street. I was thankful to go to the bathroom normally! The gratitude rushed through me like a monsoon, and I was able to see all of the unseen things that surrounded and blessed me on a daily basis. And for that, I wouldn’t trade my experience for the world. I wouldn’t change a damn thing. 

No one learns from the easy stuff. No one gains a life lesson from living comfortably. We have to be lifted up and then, when we least expect it, be knocked down and shattered. Only knowing the depths of pain can we appreciate the immense light of happiness. So thank you Bali, for all of it. For the highs and the lows, and for stretching my heart in ways I couldn't have imagined. You taught me more than I expected, and I got way more than I bargained for from your magical island. My ability to see the gifts wrapped beneath really ugly wrapping paper has been broadened. I understand now much more than ever before that it is all supposed to happen, that it is all meant to be placed in your path. Because if it is your rightful path, then it all happens for a good reason. All the pain, the tears, the wounds, the bloodshed — it is all a part of your story. And as long as we can trust that the tribulations are just a chapter in your book that supplements the overall story, then the road forward can be a little less scary.

Om Namah Shivaya