Yogi Log: Day 49

2/18/2020 – #LaterGram. Still catching up on publishing!

WHEEL POSE: I’m too big. I’m too heavy. I’m not strong enough. I’m not flexible enough. It’s not for me. All stories I told myself about this pose. Maybe stories you’ve told yourself about yoga. See also: LIES.

Do the work. Today, Day 49, I tried again to press up into wheel, just like every day before. Barely got to the crown of my head, as usual. Gave up. Laid down. Went into bridge. Went down. Wheel. Press up – and in the thought of “this is all my body and I can do”… disruption!!! “Fuck that!” I’m tired of feeling broken and weak and accepting the limitations handed to me by others, keeping me stuck on the top of my head and out of my fullest expression on the mat and in life. Root down. Press up. Push through… and space! Holy shit!! Actual air below my head and lots of it! Full extension. All 230 pounds of me in a full back bend, above the mat, busted shoulder and all.

So – there you have it. Yoga isn’t just for the Instagram, thin, bendy chick in Lululemon tights with 0 body fat – It’s for me. It’s for you. Be careful about believing the lies others tell you to keep you small, out of their way, and away from exactly what you need to realize your power.

Let go. Push up. Push through. Go for it. You are ready now. 

Yogi Log: Day 28 – Messengers

Yoga is the journey of the self, to the self, through the self.
– The Bagavad Ghita

1/28/2020

Yogi Log: Day 28

Ahimsa: the practice of non-violence in all aspects of life, from the physical to the mental and emotional.  Non-violence is defined by honest compassion and true love. You can achieve this by embracing love: learn to love deeply, and also to be loved. However, this is impossible to do if you choose to ignore or escape from certain traits held in yourself.”

Admittedly, as someone who completed a 200 hour yoga teacher training, I should have probably identified “ahimsa” as one of the five yamas of yoga and recalled its definition, but when the concept was presented to me mid at-home yoga practice by the guru Baron Baptiste on my laptop, it tickled my curiosity. Today, a week later when we used that same recording to practice again, I recognized the moment in which it was mentioned and tuned in.  

“Ahimsa does not just apply to people who are far away, it applies to the people closest to you.  And the closest to you is you. Ahimsa starts with yourself. You know yourself before and better than anyone else. Those that are far are here. And so are those closest to you.”

I don’t even know if that’s what was said, but it’s what I heard, which is really what matters. I wasn’t even sure what he meant by “ahimsa”, but as I laid on my back with feet lifted high over my head in waterfall pose, images of the people in my life who showed me love and compassion rushed down from my toes through the passageway of my legs, and, by the time we came in to shavasana, they had joined hands in a protective circle around my head and my heart like patronus providing a respite from the dementors I’ve called to do violence against myself. 

The face of my grandmother floating through the line of sight of my gently closed eyes and her voice, “Hi honey!” swirling like a passing summer breeze in my mind, coming to rest softly, as a blanket covering me.  No. It can’t be. She’s gone… But she’s here now…

“Hey kiddo.” Another familiar voice that holds residency in the deepest crevices of my brain traveling into the present. Andrea. My coach. My hero. My friend. Her firm hug wrapping around me like no other. Gina’s small hand reaching across her yoga mat during a practice years ago and now onto mine in the here and now.  A sense of Stacey’s loyal presence beside me and the nerves canvassing my skin alerting me to Mo’s pinky wrapping tightly in mine, reaching up from the yellow sheets of her safe bunk below. Her voice. “I promise. Won’t leave you.”

The notes of my Pop-pop’s Old Spice cologne dance in my nose letting me know he’s always near. My parents… a warm memory, fleeting, joining the crowd. My high school soccer coaches sitting at the head of our pre-game huddle circle, reading Dr. Seuss, speaking to the knots of nerves and doubt taking up residence in my stomach with an unwavering confidence in my strength, transcending time and space. “You’ve got this, Clark. C’mon.”

My K-8 gym and music teachers. My basketball coaches. My high school best friend’s mom. A teammate, Dawn, placing her hand on my back as I sat doubled over in church, praying for God to heal my shattered heart.  Edward’s fingers intertwined with mine in the darkness, holding tight as I drift off to sleep. My road dawg Sarah, sitting across from me in a kitchy diner somewhere near Tombstone, Arizona. The connection shared hangs like a soothing cloud of mist, full of memories reminding me she’s still here. My dear friend Jessica, nodding in encouragement from her seat in the audience of the magical boathouse suspended over Lake George, but overlooking me now. And little me, slipping her nine-year-old hand in mine, nestling up beside me on my yoga mat. 

You. Are. Safe. You. Are. Loved. The silent messengers repeating, over and over again.

“Let go of your rope. Drop below your surface experience.” The guru Baron’s voice in the present, coaxing me to go deeper still.

What started as slow-drip exploration of ahimsa became a steady, flooding rush of honest compassion and true love living on beyond their moments in time. Ever-present, my friend, the wearer of so many hats, their gatekeeper, Suzanne, laying on her mat next to me. Her steady, audible ujjayi breath, a pillar of Baptiste yoga, rooting me in the present moment and carrying the unspoken message, “I’m here with you.”  I wondered if she sensed the suspension of air traveling to my lungs, an effort keep my inaudible sobs under control, or if she detected the heavy tears hitting my mat after burning silently down the side of my face. I decided it didn’t matter what she heard or what she knew – she was there. I was safe. I could give myself what I needed. I rolled gently onto my side into the fetal position and let the tidal wave of emotion crash violently over me. I hugged myself tightly, trying to duck under and escape the blow while still desperately needing to hold on to my patronus’ to keep away the dementors, and to protect and accept myself in my state of complete vulnerability. 

It turns out, I guess, that there is no “escape” that leads to a life of non-violence, of ahimsa. To deprive myself the gift of these messengers is a direct contradiction – a denial of love and compassion.

The lesson: The only way out is through, and the way through is yoga.

Hope is Real. Help is Real. I’m Taking Flight.






Note to Self:
Your Story Is Still Imporant

Real Life: I curate inspirational content that lands in the inboxes of thousands with the hopes of helping them on their path to wellness. Also real life: I struggle with episodes of depression, and right now I’m crawling my way out of one. One moment, one day, one conversation, one therapy session, one hug, one workout, one yoga practice, one mindfulness meditation at a time. Sometimes, life throws a lot at me all at once, and though I try to stay afloat, my brain connects too much of the here and now with the there and then, and my worlds swirl together, past and present, and I start believing the lies that trauma created for me which I’ve fought so hard to rewrite for myself.

This poster, with a message that I’ve tried to instill in the hundreds of people I lead, and which I have believed at a time applied to me, too, has been sitting tucked away and out of sight because of the stories I’ve been making up about myself. You see, when I’m struggling, I can believe its message of “Your Story Is Important” for everyone else except for me.

These are the lies depression tells us: You don’t matter. You’re not good enough. You are hopeless. You are a burden. You are not lovable. You are powerless. You are alone. You are weak… and sometimes, if the lies go on long enough… it may start to tell us the most dangerous lie, that our life isn’t worth living.

These are the stories wired into the neural pathways of my brain by my past experience. These are the lies so many people believe to be true, yet only true about themselves, when they are suffering with mental illness. These lies try to keep us from reaching out. They try to keep us from hope. They try to keep us in silence, in the darkness, suffering, alone, and believing there’s nothing we can do to help ourselves.

If I – surrounded by people who have time and time again proven they love me to the ends of the earth, I, the preacher of hope and positivity, I, the badass bearer of Team RWB “Eagle Fire”, can be fooled into isolation and secrecy by the lies of depression, so can your strongest friend, your stoic coworker, your smiling neighbor, your powerful marathon-running teammate… and you.

My loving husband and I hung this poster in my office last night, on my 13th wedding anniversary, after working another late night, and ordering takeout because I was too mentally and physically exhausted to do anything or go anywhere to celebrate with the man who has ridden the ups and downs of marriage and life with me. With his support, consistent therapy, daily physical activity, and my incredible circle of chosen family and friends, I’m trying, once again, to believe the mantra that now hangs on my wall and exists at the center of all that I stand for.

I’m working to believe, again, that I am neither too much or not enough for those that have demonstrated their love for me. That I possess something in my spirit and in my story that the world needs. That my impact is real and my dreams, big and small, still have a chance to come true, but that I have to both work hard and give myself time and grace to see them through.

Most importantly, I was able to hang this poster in my office last night because recently I found myself in an all too familiar and scary place, and I reached out for help that I am leaning fully into. I started taking small actions to help myself, supported by my family, friends, and teammates. Because, I told myself, the mere existence of this poster, of this mantra, of the organization that I acquired it from, To Write Love On Her Arms., and the organization I belong to and work for, Team Red, White & Blue, means that I’m not alone in any of this. That the noise in my head and the familiar pain in my scarred heart can and will once again be healed – that I can live in the present, in this body, in this place of support, love, and hope, and not where the pathways of my brain have been wired to go. Even if on some days someone has to hold my hand and help me turn the pages, I can keep writing my own ending. And if this resonates with you at all, so can you… but we don’t have to do it alone. We were never meant to.

Measure Your Life In Love

“Joy comes to us in moments – ordinary moments. We risk missing out on joy when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary.”

~ Brene Brown

I turned 38 years old today. At 10:30 pm, after a long day of work, school, band practice, and everything else in between, these humans arrived at my door unexpectedly with flowers, a cake, a card, and most importantly, their love.

One of my favorite show tunes, Seasons of Love from the musical RENT asks and answers, “How do you measure a year in a life? Measure in love.” Exactly one year ago, we all settled in together under the same roof while Edward and I awaited closing and renovation on our new home which was less than a quarter mile away. I don’t think it’s at all coincidental that my birthday aligned with the day that this new chapter of our lives began. It will always be a day to remember new life, new beginning, new possibilities.

The “ordinary moments” of this year have been filled with extraordinary amounts of love. So much so that I’ve rarely attempted to truly share what this experience has been like for me because doing so feels so incredibly vulnerable. Love has snuck up in ways I didn’t anticipate it, at times leaving me speechless and choking back tears of gratitude in less than convenient moments! Love has come in the nooks and crannies of carved out time for a cup of coffee in the morning or late night catch-up and glass of wine after a long day of work. It’s come in tea time and homework help, in the rare movie night, in special deliveries of treats and thoughtful presents, in living room yoga practices, in weekend dinners, dance-offs, and singalongs. Love has come in Donkey Kong marathons, guitar jam sessions, endless tokens at the batting cage and cheering sections at orchestra concerts, piano recitals, and marching band performances. Love has come in seemingly bottomless chili pots, in bathroom floor doggie blow-dry treatments on stormy nights, laundry stain removal tips and bathroom design services. It’s come in moving two offices and one home (twice), in antique silver lessons, in tech support, in pulling carpet staples from hardwood floors and road trips to and from doctors visits. It’s come from just being together, in the absence of judgement, and allowing each other to be – in the laughter on good and bad days, in difficult and honest conversations, in the sharing of fears and doubts, in words of gentle guidance and encouragement. Love is in the long hugs that say “I see you. I love you. I believe in you. You are enough. You are safe here” and it’s in the frequent moments of pause and deep listening for each other that say the same.

In the 525,600 minutes of the past year, I’ve come to experience joy, belonging, and love to its fullest extent – beyond measure. It’s both incredibly scary and incredibly wonderful all at the very same time. I’ve found moments of contentment and peace that I’ve searched for for so long. What I haven’t found yet are the words or labels that to appropriately capture what this all really means or how to tell the world who my people are to me. Maybe I’ll find them by next year. ❤

My Valentines

“To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees – these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. But, I’m learning that recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude and grace.” ~ Brené Brown

BeFunky Collage

Saturdays are my favorite days.  They always start and end with love.  Seconds after the door to his crate swings open, Jamie, our furry four-legged son, leaps on to the bed and plows through the fluffy white comforter, his tiny nub of a tail a blur of motion.  He is so full of joy and eager to deliver his endless supply of love that he seems barely able to contain himself.  With the crown of his tiny salt-and-pepper colored head he creates his pathway between my husband Edward and I, and when satisfied, proceeds to attack us with a barrage of cuddles and kisses firmly pressing his little fifteen pound frame against us as if he knows exactly what receiving a hug feels like.  Once he feels his humans have received adequate affection, Jamie finds his place snuggled up between us with his head inevitably resting on one of our shoulders.  I breathe in these moments and thank God for our little man and his expression of unconditional love because the truth is, most of the time loving and being loved isn’t this simple. It’s a vulnerable experience and comes with much greater risk.  It’s the remainder of my typical Saturdays which, through sweaty yoga sessions, brunches with best friends,  long conversations, backyard catches, endless laughs, family time around the dinner table, impromptu dance parties, and all of the small gestures that say “I see you. I appreciate you. I value you. You are important to me… I love you” that have changed the entire story around love, worthiness, and belonging for me.

So on a day like Valentine’s Day, I celebrate the ones who give me the courage to love, be loved, and to truly love myself – which is the greatest gift of all.

Arrival

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I’ve waited for these words

Like waiting to roll out my mat

And sink in to child’s pose

Planting my forehead firm against the earth

As if I’m returning to it, the earth, and my body after somehow having floated away

And filling my lungs for the first time deliberately with a breath that I can feel

That’s full

And intentional

As if to say, “I deserve this air.”

“I am worthy of breathing.”

“I am worthy of holding on, of being held on to…”

And of slowly letting go.

These words, like that breath, created in the moments that came before

Yet not knowing what they’d look like, feel like, sound like.

Not existing until I gave them purpose. Meaning.

Rooting me in the moment

Tethering me to reality

Preparing me to stand tall, to rise up and reach

To have my heart cracked open and, in savasana, be receptive to the possibility of peace.

But we can’t skip Act II, or the asanas that make the sweaty, messy middle in the practice of life.

We must live in acceptance of the moments of painful challenges

When all we have is our breath

And the breath of those surrounding us, supporting us,

Giving us permission to stay, and be present

Assuring us that we’ll keep breathing together… that we are all worthy of breathing.

There’s relief in the surrender.

The forward folding, again and again.

When we’re ready and when we think we’re not

When we’d like to stay in our power or be released from our struggle.

Surrendering to what is, making room for what could be, creating space for possibility.

Waiting.  Breathing. Staying or leaving.

We aren’t in control.  There is no arrival. Yet we are here.

In these words

In this breath

In each asana of life

Together.

Rooted in the earth – in all of the lessons of the practices that came before.

Lit by love – a love of forgiveness, grace, and gratitude that lives in our hearts.

The growth, the peace, and the life is in the surrender. In the mess. In the sweat.

I don’t know where I am, or where I’ll be, but I am here. And I am not alone.

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“The key to working through resistance is always a radical inner surrender, a calm determination, and a commitment to letting go.” ~Baron Baptiste

 

A Year Of Grace: Part I

 

IMG_4774-e1448495541772“I am an athlete.  I don’t do that hippie sissy yoga shit.”  Something the voice in my head had repeated several dozen times in response to my best friend’s regular invitation to join her at her yoga practice over the course of at least a year.  Yet, there I stood in an incense filled lobby, shaking hands, introducing my Team RWB teammates to the staff and putting my favorite red Nikes in the tiny little boxes that lined the wall under the pine bench that ran the length of the entryway.  My life was slowly unraveling, though few knew.  I was trying to juggle the pressures of a 70+ hour a week job, leading my chapter of Team RWB, and outrun the emotional tsunami that was about two months from reaching the shoreline of my life.  A week before, after a few margaritas and an exhausting day at work, I finally accepted Gina’s offer to attend yoga class although my master plan was only to attend so that I could get the ball rolling, get it added to our weekly Team RWB event calendar, then pass it back off to her to be the point of contact at which time I would conveniently find myself unavailable and unable to cut my workday short to make the 50 minute drive during rush hour every Monday in order to arrive at the studio before the doors locked.

Now barefoot, as I waited for the rest of my teammates to arrive, I worked on fortifying my mind against whatever version of spirituality they would surely start preaching once they had us all trapped in that room without a method for discrete exit.  I wondered, as a Christian, what practicing yoga meant for me.  The night before I had googled “Should Christians practice yoga?” and got mixed responses.  The jury was out.  Luckily, I told myself, I wouldn’t need to come back again.  I just needed to get through the next 75 minutes of what I was convinced would be an assault on my faith and some lame stretching and then I could go grab a drink and some Mexican food with my teammates.   I opened the door and the wall of heat knocked the list of potential taco eateries right out of my thought bubble.  “Hmmm… okay.  Well, this is going to suck!”  I surveyed the room and its exposed brick walls and old wooden beams overhead.  The industrial yet warm vibe drew me one step further in.  My eyes found the quote on the chalk poster in the front of the room. “All of the glory comes from daring to begin.”  I took a reflexive deep breath in.  The words hung in my mind as the humidity hung thick in the air making it feel like there was no oxygen with which to fill my lungs.  In the four months preceding, my life had been turned upside down after spending a weekend with Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly, and deciding that after a lifetime of running from my story, I would own it and commit to living my bravest life by daring in all aspects of it.  The room reached out to me and called, “Come in.  I’ve been waiting.”  Not being a believer in coincidence, my mind started to churn.  “How could God meet me here, in this place?  I am certain I saw a Buddha bust and mala beads in the lobby!”   My gaze drifted down the wall to the next chalk word art.  “I do not understand the mystery of grace.  Only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”  What if that grace, God’s grace, is the same grace spoken of in Grace & Glory Yoga?grace

My best friend unrolled her mat next to mine, handed me a block (“What the heck is this thing for?”), and sat down.  And so it began.  As a catcher, a goalie, a forward in basketball, a Spartan Race finisher, and as in much of everything in my life – I powered through my first power yoga.  My team and I giggled our way through the first set of “Ohms” and through the beginning awkward moments that inevitably come from being the only ones who had no idea what they were doing in a room full of people all moving and breathing loudly in synch.  I looked around searching for Darth Vader, as I swore he was in that room somewhere.  Ten minutes in the urge to giggle stopped.  My shoulders, arms, and legs quivered and burned.  I clinched my jaw tighter the more I felt the fire in my muscles build.  I sweated more than I ever had in all of my years of sports, even more than when crouching behind the plate in full catchers gear in the baking 95 degree summer heat for 14 innings of a double header.  The sweat stung my eyes and turned my mat into a slip and slide.  As I slipped around and struggled not face plant during down dog I watched my neighbors out of my peripheral as they moved with ease through their vinyasa.  (Note to self: Bring a larger towel!)  Twenty minutes in I began wondering if I had done something to upset my friend.  It was the only explanation for her invitation: she was seeking revenge on me for something.  Thirty minutes in I cursed myself for not wearing a watch and wondered how the hell I was going to survive the rest of God-only-knows-how-much-time-left, and by the 70th minute I laid on my back completely exhausted and drenched in sweat thinking about how I needed to go home and practice so I could perfect this yoga thing and do it better than the girl in the first row in the blue Lululemon pants, who, during dancer pose, I had dubbed my yoga rival.  Up until the time I joined Team RWB my brain functioned in a linear fashion with one goal when it came to athletics, exercise, and just about everything else in life: win.  Though much of that was thankfully rewired when I found acceptance by wearing the Eagle and was able to unhitch my self-worth from my trophy collection, being in unfamiliar territory and underestimating my opponent (the “hippie sissy yoga shit”) lead me back to my old familiar friends: competition and comparison.

Throughout that first practice, Gina, in seeing me struggle, occasionally motioned to suggest a modification or whispered a word of encouragement.  She was next to me on her mat and also had been next to me throughout life for the past 14 years.  She had been “a stand” for me, a yogi term I would come to know, long before I understood what that phrase meant.  We have seen each other through our darkest days and shared our greatest moments together; in doing so I had come to know her presence.  I knew it so well in fact that a few weeks into my yoga practice as that emotional tsunami drew closer to shore, when we laid in shavasana (final resting pose) with our eyes closed and the lights dimmed, as the hot tears burned down my cheeks and the invisible weight resting on my chest was crushing and suffocating me, I could sense her hand several feet away reaching out for mine in the dark. I reached back in faith, eyes closed, feeling around, hoping that I had sensed correctly, and in finding her hand, grasped it as if it was the only thing keeping me from drifting away.  My thoughts were filled remembering the pivotal moment three months earlier sitting at my parents’ kitchen table, completely vulnerable and incredibly brave, after twenty four years unlocking the truth of my past to people who were unwilling to acknowledge or accept it.  I thought of the afternoon a few weeks after that as I sat at my desk, trying to find space in my mind to complete my tasks for work, and hearing the my friend’s voice on the phone, a friend who had seen me through the aftermath of that painful disclosure now telling me she was being deployed to the Middle East.  While concerns for her safety swirled in my head I found myself forced to read the texts that were flooding in and take the incessant incoming call which would not stop interrupting us.  It was the last thing I wanted to do.  After weeks of not speaking with my parents, it was my dad, and I didn’t want to see his name on the caller ID let alone hear his voice.  He was calling to tell me my mom was diagnosed with advanced stage breast cancer and was asking for the support and empathy that they found impossible to provide to me.  Staring up at the wooden ceiling, trying to bring myself back to being present in the studio, I thought of the sod fields rushing past the car window as a friend, who I had completely exposed my unarmored heart to by revealing all of who I was to her, spoke sharpened words to me that conjured the darkest most awful things I had lived my life believing about myself: that there was something so wrong with me that made me unlovable.  I thought of my mom, somewhere in a hospital recovering from her first chemo treatment while at the same time I was laying on my yoga mat just trying to keep breathing.  All of the voices that I had worked so hard to keep silent had, in the stillness of the practice and in my exhaustion, come at me with a megaphone.  But the love in the squeeze of Gina’s small hand and the long, tight embrace that followed was louder.  It said, “Hold on. I’m still here.”  The same protective walls which crumbled during my 75 minutes of practice which allowed in the voices of shame also let in something else: Love. Grace.

Maybe this yoga thing wasn’t going to be about competing with the girl wearing the blue pants in the front row after all.