An Intentional 2017

I love New Year’s. Really, I love any time that symbolizes a fresh start and new hope: births, new moons, the first day of school, weddings, and stepping onto the mat for a new yoga practice. The power of a New Year is that it is a time for collective reflection and intention setting. We’re all in this together.

Many people found 2016 to be cursed, the start of the end of the world even. For me on a personal level, though, it was a whirlwind and truly one of the best years of my life. I traveled internationally four times to teach yoga retreats, renovated and opened a new home for Karma Tribe Yoga, taught the biggest yoga class of my life thus far, welcomed a new baby nephew into the family, traveled multiple times to see family and friends, and made decisions and commitments that are already filling 2017 with potential and excitement.

To be honest, that big bang level of expansion comes at a cost. I’m an introvert, naturally a little disorganized, need time for quiet and digestion, and quietly manage long-term anxiety and depression. In 2016 I dealt with the stress not only with my pals yoga and meditation, but with more unhealthy coping mechanisms of eating and drinking. I gained about 10 pounds and started feeling unhealthy and awkward in my body and unsteady in my mind. I realize to some people, 10 pounds doesn’t seem like that much, but this isn’t about a number, but a feeling.

Being a little disorganized, I let the priority of eating healthy meals at regular times slip. I started eating whatever I could whenever there was time. Traveling made this difficult as well, having to shift from my right-for-me plant-based diet to vegetarian and then carrying that habit home. This made it pretty difficult to regulate my energy. I’d have days where I’m on top of the world, kicking ass, and days where I didn’t want to get out of bed.

I also fell into a habit that I now recognize as unhealthy with drinking alcohol. It became normal to come home several nights a week, watch tv, and have 1-3 drinks while eating something like greasy pizza to relax and prepare for bed or would overdo the drinking with friends socially at times. I realize I shared this habit with many people and that it doesn’t make me a lush or alcoholic. But I started to question why I felt the need to do this. One day, as I was meditating, I asked my higher-self why I drink. The answer was clear: I drink to numb my sensitivity. I didn’t like that answer, but it felt right.

A few years ago, in distress, I found a savior of a book, The Highly Sensitive Person by Dr. Elaine Aron. Through reading it, I learned I am an empath and an HSP (highly sensitive person). I feel other people’s emotions very strongly and at times, mixed with my own emotions, it is quite overwhelming. Through reading this and with self-reflection, I came to realize that being HSP isn’t a curse, but a gift, and that I could harness it into my life’s work. Now it’s time to be brave enough to fully embrace my sensitivity and to truly FEEL.

Like I said before, 2017 is another BIG YEAR full of excitement and potential. I’ll be continuing to grow Karma Tribe Yoga, planning and teaching Pop-Up Yoga KC events, teaching corporate classes and privates, will be traveling around the world to complete my advanced teacher training with Frog Lotus Yoga, leading a yoga retreat in Greece, planning my own teacher training for Karma Tribe Yoga in 2018, and more big, exciting projects I’m not even allowed to talk about yet! On top of that, my wonderful, supportive, amazing husband is soon to open his very own restaurant in KC’s River Market, KC Taco Company! Did I mention it was going to be a BIG YEAR?

A big year, needs solid, clear intentions. My main word is DISCIPLINE and this is how I’ll express it:

1. Get organized!

I began this portion of my intention last year starting with Abbi Miller’s Productivity 101 workshop. That gem of a lady provided strategies on how to manage time (especially for the self-employed) in order to reach clear goals. I implemented her strategies and it’s helped lower stress and anxiety tremendously. I’m also all about planning healthy meals in advance so I don’t have to worry about food and can keep my energy levels stable. Furthermore, I started clearing away clutter in the house and plan on continuing that this year. I just watched the documentary Minimalism on Netflix, and feel re-energized to purge.

2. Tee-Totaling! (Or Tea-Totaling 🙂 )

I’ve decided to give up alcohol for 1 year. I’ll be replacing it with mass quantities of tea. I realized my tendency to want to numb out when feeling overwhelmed with my busy life, and know in my heart that if I let myself truly FEEL, I can be more powerful, more heart-centered, and more rooted than I’ve ever been before. I feel confident that I can still be social and still find loads of FUN without a numbing substance. In one year, I’ll re-examine.

3. Svadhyaya (Self-Study)

This year, I will be reading mass quantities of books! I intend to deepen my practice and teaching and already have a pile of about 10 books to tackle on subjects of mindfulness, yoga history, philosophy, and business. I also intend to take MORE time for my yoga and meditation practice. Have recommendations? Send them over!

4. Steady Pacing

I started running last year and found that when I stopped caring about how fast I was going, and slowed my pace, I was able to run much longer without stopping. Through organization, clarity, and svadhyaya, I intend to approach my life from this same slower and steadier paced idea. Last year, I was the hare. This year, a tortoise. I intend to be a little gentler with myself in an effort to be more disciplined on a daily basis. It seems like an oxymoron, but before, I’d hit it so hard that I’d reach a point of exhaustion. This year, I intend to be in more of a flow with my true energy and I believe sobriety will help with that.

Don’t forget, we’re all in this together! What are your intentions for 2017? And how will you achieve them? Comment below!

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How to be GUTSY!

I remember a late February night. It was one of those moments fraught with restlessness and anxiety. Sleep wouldn’t come and every awful imaginary future scenario played through my head. After trying and failing to catch even a little rest, I got out of bed and booted up my computer.

At the time, I was working at a job I absolutely loathed. Money was scarce and I couldn’t figure a way out. I had much to be grateful for in my life: love from my family and partner, a roof over my head, and potential to make a change. But the feeling of being directionless was shifting from an existential crisis to full blown depression. One saving grace at this time was my daily yoga practice. It was the glue holding my life together.

Two things I always wanted to do but didn’t, were travel and become a yoga teacher. In my mind, both seemed so out of reach. In my misspent youth, I worked low paying jobs and mismanaged the money I did have. I also suffered from anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. I failed and flailed over and over. The life of traveling and service through self-realization not only seemed out of reach, but suited for someone more worthy. I had a mindset of fear, scarcity, and lack.

So this restless February night, I booted up my computer and without even thinking about it, started searching for yoga teacher trainings. I happened upon an intensive training retreat in Costa Rica and something inside me lit up. It was seven months away, I’d never heard of the company or teacher, I had no savings, didn’t have a passport, and had never been out of the country. But in my heart and gut was a clear “YES”.  I took a deep breath, got out my wallet, registered, and put down a deposit that very night. Sleep still didn’t come, but I had shifted from anxiety to excitement. I didn’t know how I was going to pull it off, but in that moment, I felt more proud than scared. I moved from powerless to EMPOWERED.

That was one of the first moments of my adult life that I leaned into being GUTSY. I untethered myself from the fear of failing and truly listened to my heart, intuition, and deepest yearnings of my soul. It wasn’t easy, but from what I’ve found, most things worth doing sure as hell aren’t easy.

Since then, my life has been a series of gutsy moves and hard work. I am forever transformed. That initial traveling experience split me right open and I yearned for more. In my heart, I knew that being a world traveler and helping many, many people realize their own worth and potential through yoga was written upon my soul. And I’m doing it. I’m really doing it. AND YOU CAN TOO.

Whether it’s traveling, starting a new business, leaving a relationship, kicking an addiction, or having a baby, you can lean into being gutsy!

5 steps to becoming GUTSY:

1. Make Space.

It is so easy to get caught up in chitta vriti or the constant thoughts, memories, and images that can plague and overtake our minds. Mindfulness practices such as yoga, meditation, spending time in nature, and even turning off the damn smart phone for a little while, help to clear mental space. Without the mental turbulence, you are better able to decipher your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.

2. Listen and Feel.

Now that your mind is clearer, you can ask yourself, “What is truly right for me?” Listen and feel for the butterflies in your stomach and the flutter of your heart. The clear “yes” that isn’t clouded by limiting thoughts and beliefs. That is your soul, your higher-self revealing to you your dharma, your purpose.

3. Go for it!

It’s easy to put yourself in a box. “I could never do that.” YES YOU CAN. It’s like jumping off the high dive for the first time. You may have that initial moment of “oh shit” but then you freaking JUMP LIKE A BOSS! It’s scary, and thrilling, and that act alone kicks off the momentum you need to succeed.

4. Make a plan.

So this thing you’ve decided to do isn’t going to manifest itself! Take action and make a plan. Design your life from a place of mindfulness, of that clear yes, and with the belief that you have what it takes to pull it off. When you feel that familiar fear or limiting belief intruding, acknowledge it and then reject it. That no longer serves you and your mission.

5. Get Support.

You know what keeps you gutsy? Accountability. Share your plan with your most supportive loved ones and they will help lift you up every time the fear creeps back in. Everyone needs and deserves cheerleaders in their life and they will help lift you up to the next level. This “you” free of fear and limiting beliefs? That’s the “you” they’ve always known and loved.

It’s time. If not now, when? Seize the opportunity because you deserve it and you can. Being gutsy not only changes your life, but it changes the world! The world needs your passion, purpose, and potential. The world needs game changers and people willing to go outside their comfort zones. The world needs your limitless light that becomes more and more visible the closer you get to your purpose. What are you waiting for?

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On Practice, Surrender, and Discipline

Oftentimes, in a yoga class, you’ll hear a teacher encourage his/her students to “surrender.” As a rule, what they are asking is to release physically into poses such as reclined twist, child’s pose, and savasana… poses where a body free of tension aids in deep relaxation and pratyahara, or introspection and possibly further into meditation. I have often limited myself to this expression of “surrender”, as in “do nothing”, missing a deeply important nuance that both informs and enhances what this truly can mean.

Those who know me would generally describe me as ambitious, busy, and always creating. I have this itch inside me to serve and to grow. When working on a project, I tend to agonize over it’s outcome and that can sometimes take the joy out of the work. This can lead to an overly “playful” monkey-mind, with constant chitter-chatter and subsequent poo-flinging, my ego taking the hit. It’s similar to when I find myself trying too hard in my yoga practice, sucking all of the fun out of something I do with the intention of bringing myself peace and happiness!

Historically, working with wild fervor and agonizing over the outcome has brought me to a place where I have no other choice but to crash. Maybe I get sick, or just really fatigued. I’ll get to the point where only sleep and Netflix binging sound like plausible activities. I “surrender.” And then that binary all-or-nothing attitude leads to self-loathing.

How in the world can this be balanced out? Luckily, my handy yoga toolbox has all the answers! (Thanks to years of meditation, contemplation, and enlightenment achieved by other people 🙂 )

According to the great Patanjali’s yoga sutras, Abhyasa, or practice, must be balanced with Vairagya, or non-attachment. So let’s say I’m trying to hold my handstand for the zillionth time. Ok, I’ve practiced my form, have built strength, mentally understand the mechanics… but I still might fall! What if I still try, but let go of the image of myself having to become a yoga inversion rockstar in my head? What I can choose to do is still practice steadily, but with an intention of tranquility and non-attachment to the outcome. And when I’ve had enough, I stop before my body forces me to. I surrender instead of suffer. Suddenly, this handstand journey is far, far more enjoyable!

Lately, in both my home and professional life, I’ve had to surrender by releasing my attachment to the idea that I’m a “free spirit”… or in other words, completely disorganized. Ambition and hard work mixed with disorganization, I’ve learned, is not the key to a serene mind. It’s a surefire way to the inevitable self-loathing crash. Without necessarily giving up the wild woman within, I’ve surrendered to structure, to discipline, to yoking. To setting clear goals and mapping out a way to achieve them. Along with teaching and managing my businesses, I’ve scheduled in things like “read”, “run”, or “self-care”. To a free spirit, this might sound highly irritating, but for me it’s actually been liberating. I know that if I do everything I can to make something grow, flourish, or come alive, and if it doesn’t, that it truly wasn’t what was in store.

Practice and discipline, combined with non-attachment, are allowing me the freedom of trust and surrender. Goodbye monkey-mind and hello sweet, sweet surrender to the flow!

 

 

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What are you reflecting?

“Breathing in, I see myself as still water. Breathing out, I reflect things as they truly are.”- Thich Nhat Hanh

For over half of my life, I’ve been learning how to deal with anxiety and depression. That, combined with an unhealthy dose of people-pleasing and perfectionism, has taught me a great deal and has spurred my search for mental, spiritual, and emotional peace.

Being a teacher, I’d love to say that I am cured. It’s all in the past and everything is great ALL THE TIME. Those of you who have human brains and live in this world know that’s probably bullshit and anyone who spouts that crap is lying or trying to sell you something. It is ALL a process and even if you practice with steadiness and fervor, life can be circular. You can be on top of the world, measured, equanimous, and powerful. The next day, being a person and all, you may find yourself on the floor, a crumpled and emotional mess.

I will say that my passion for yoga and mindfulness practices is real. When I am teaching or practicing, I feel connected and at peace. I am living my life’s mission and am proud of my work. Sharing the benefits of yoga with my community is often the most rewarding work I could imagine. At times, I feel like a strong, powerful Goddess who cannot, will not be stopped!

It usually goes like this: I feel so inspired to start a new project, whether its an outdoor yoga program, a nonprofit studio, a fundraiser, or a completely unique yoga class. I plan, I sweat, I share share share. The passion, and let’s be honest, anxiety, fuels me. The project comes to fruition and more often than not, it’s a success! People feel happy and connected. How amazing! While it’s happening, I’m on top of the world!

And then there’s this voice… I could have been better. I could have planned more, connected more, shown more gratitude, been more amazing!  This voice drowns out any compliments and praise and focuses on the critiques, self generated or not. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think wanting to improve is a bad thing and constructive criticism is vitally important for growth. But as yoga teaches us, it is all about balance and having these experiences without attaching.

I use my yoga practices to let it move through me and to move on. But sometimes, the spiral of depression, shame, and self-criticism sets in. That feeling of “not enough” bleeds into a belief that I’m dropping the ball at home, with friends, with family, my health, other aspects of my business, my body, etc. A veritable shitstorm of unhelpful thoughts take over. In a cartoon world, I’d be walking around with a tornado for a head labeled with the word “EGO”. In bold black lettering, of course.

In the past, this feeling from whatever source (school, dance, work, relationships) has frozen me in my tracks. Or made me give up. Now, I am blessed with a big yoga toolbox and plenty of support to “pull my head out of my ass” (one of  my dad’s favorite sayings) and move on!

Last Sunday, I hosted a Yoga in the Pool event that was a total blast! It was a totally new modality for me, but ended up being a really fun experiment in yoga, mindfulness, and water! We had an amazing group of brave students.

In preparation for the event, I pulled a couple helpful tools to tie into the class: a quote from the great BKS Iyengar, “The still waters of a lake reflect the beauty around it. When the mind is still, the beauty of the Self is reflected.”

I also utilized a meditation along the same vein from the wise monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. “Breathing in, I see myself as still water. Breathing out, I reflect things as they truly are.”

After the class, my dubious shame spiral set in. “It could have been better.” “Did people really have a good time?” “Am I an idiot and a total failure??” Unproductive, I know.

That day, I started using the Thich Nhat Hanh meditation, and found great wisdom in it. I imagined my negative thoughts as giant boulders dropping into the lake, creating great waves and distorting the reflection of the surrounding trees into something grotesque. Every kind thought or compliment a pebble completely insignificant in the wavy boulder storm. Through breath and repetition, I was able to see less and less boulders descending. Eventually, the water was placid. The reflection of the trees (or reality) a perfect mirror image. Each kind thought or compliment pebble creating ripples that expanded ever so slowly to every inch of the surface. The stillness gave me clarity that my perception has been distorted. That the reality is that everything is potential and that I am limitless.

The only thing in my way is me.

 

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A Dream Awakened

I’m in a very unique position right now to live my dream. With the success of Pop-Up Yoga KC I began imagining a permanent home for donation-based yoga in Kansas City. With the help of many others, this dream is now becoming a reality. I realize that it is both a tremendous honor and responsibility to provide people with a safe, accessible, and beautiful space for learning, exploration, and transformation.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my job as a yoga teacher is when students reach out to me with their stories. Whether it’s a teary hug in-person, or a Facebook message, I have the privilege of learning about how yoga has changed these individual’s lives.  I see people excavating years of pain, digging deep enough and being brave enough to face their own hearts and discover the treasure living within. Every time I witness this, it not only fills me with gratitude, but helps me along my own journey of self-love.

Through my late teenage years and most of my twenties, I struggled with depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder. To say I struggled with loving myself is an understatement. I was introduced to yoga at age 17 while staying at an ED treatment facility and really fell in love. However, besides doing the occasional yoga video over the next few years, I wasn’t able to make yoga a regular part of my life due to the high cost of training. I struggled so much to create a life I could be proud of. It wasn’t until my late twenties, with the support of my family and now husband, that I was able to study yoga in a studio setting with great teachers. It completely transformed the course of my life, I went to yoga teacher training, and the rest is history.

As I am gearing up to open Karma Tribe Yoga, Kansas City’s premier donation-based yoga studio, I am dealing with so many details on a day-to-day basis. Forming the business, hiring teachers, marketing, making schedules, etc, are all very important part of the process. When it becomes overwhelming, I think about my younger self. I know in my heart that it would have been tremendously helpful if a  place like KTY was available then, if I was able to connect with teachers, if I was able to immerse myself in yoga, if I was given the tools to love my body and myself. In those stressful moments, I dedicate this space to her. I dedicate this time, this effort, this energy to that lost girl and to all the individuals living with their own unique struggle. It brings me so much gratitude to know that I am now in the privileged position to help others, regardless of income-level, to discover and love themselves. I think about all the students who have reached out to me with gratitude in one way or another and I thank you for illuminating my path and keeping me on course.

If you have a unique yoga story and connect with this project, please consider contributing to Karma Tribe Yoga’s Indiegogo campaign. I can not bring this dream to life completely on my own and am seeking help generous individuals who see the value in a space like this for our community.

Gratitude and love,

Lauren Leduc

 

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The Vulnerability of Heart-Opening

image via godanautiobiography.com

image via godanautiobiography.com

In my opinion, backbends are the scariest of yoga asanas. Not only are they physically challenging, but they require faith in oneself and a healthy dose of vulnerability. Through yoga we learn that the body, mind, and emotions are intrinsically linked… in fact, they are considered illusions that veil our true selves. For me, heart-opening effectively pierces my deep emotional and bliss layers, sometimes revealing my deepest fears, loves, and spiritual connections. This can result in messy tears, smiles, and overwhelming jubilation. That must be why they are so scary!

The other day, I was lost in my mind, deeply missing a dear teacher and friend. My heart ached and ached, as I knew it would be quite awhile before I’d see her again. I took a deep breath, meditated on the feeling, then felt a subtle but powerful shift. Suddenly, my focus shifted from loss to love. In a fearful moment of attachment, I was able to call forth pure love for this person. This brought about feelings of gratitude for the opportunity to experience love and deep connection. Suddenly, it wasn’t so painful and I knew that I can experience love without the powerful attachment that loss can bring.

Again, heart-opening (physical or emotional) can be scary. But when you take a breath, trust yourself, and find gratitude, it can reveal what’s truly in your heart: pure, unapologetic, always-present love. There is so much beauty in vulnerability, if only we allow ourselves to truly feel it, breathe with it, see past the illusion of pain, and allow the sparkling currency of love to flow through.

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Meditation and Mindgames

BbluebrainLately, I’ve been feeling very frustrated with my formal meditation practice. In other aspects of my daily life, I find it fairly easy to be mindful, meaning: I try to keep my thoughts directed toward whatever I am actually doing at the time. “I am washing the dishes. I am writing an article. I am trying not to fall in handstand.”… You get the picture. But when I sit down and decide to focus on nothing, my monkey brain goes off every which way!

This Thanksgiving, in an effort of total leisure, I decided to download some mind and puzzle games onto my Kindle. I don’t usually play games, but it seemed like a chilled out thing to do while my Tofurkey roasted in the oven and the rest of my family watched football. I quickly became enchanted, perhaps obsessed with a word game called 7 Little Words. After an hour whizzed by, I came out of my game haze and realized I was completely focused on the task at hand. I didn’t think about the past or future. I was fully focused in on those 7 Little Words. I felt calm and focused: very similar to how I feel after a successful meditation session. So now I wonder, are there any correlations between gaming and meditation?

Both logic games and meditation have been shown to improve cognitive functioning, specifically in focus and memory. While solving a crossword puzzle may not help one find his or herself spiritually, it’s positive effects on the brain and on mood and temperament  can be a positive step in the right direction.

Let me be clear, I’m not promoting swapping a meditation practice for games, but when your meditation cushion becomes more of a source of frustration than enlightenment, a round of Bonza can be a nice alternative to calm the nerves and focus the mind, maybe better preparing you for your next meditation sesh.

Other brain games I recommend:

Red Herring

Cross Me

Flow Free

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30 Before 30 Challenge: Wrapping it Up

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“It used to leave me feeling like two different people, but now I see myself for who I truly am.”

I wrapped up my 30 Day Challenge last week, and although I’ve been planning on a blog post to share my experience, I needed a little distance from the situation first and allow it to marinate. So again, in an effort of satya, or truth, I’ll attempt to report everything with brutal honesty. I’ll break down the different aspects of the challenge as I did in the first post and then paint a picture as to how each aspect went.

1. Start a morning routine. This consisted of: “getting up at 5:30 am (gasp), writing 3 pages, doing my morning yoga practice, meditating for 20 minutes, and drinking some yummy and caffeinated tea.” I woke up between 5am and 6am all but 2 of the days of the challenge. It wasn’t as difficult as I had anticipated, but now that I’m not technically in the “challenge” anymore, it’s feeling more like a chore. However, early rising is something I would very much like to continue, but I need a new way to find myself accountable. There’s something very sacred about those dark, early, quiet hours. You can really feel the day’s potential while getting to know your true self better. I need to remember that when I want to hit “snooze.”

Morning yoga practice was definitely an experience of growth for me. The practices varied a lot in intensity and duration, but were helpful either way. I highly recommend at least a few stretches, especially anything that gets the spine moving and gentle backbends, to awaken and refresh for the day. Morning practice helped me set my ego aside, since I generally couldn’t balance as well or stretch as deeply as usual. It was both humbling and refreshing to work through the challenges that the variances of day-to-day life bring. This, I will definitely continue. Meditation was a challenge for me… I didn’t stick to the 20 minute rule as mentioned here, which ended up being very helpful, but I know there is so much depth I’ve yet to encounter via meditation. Instead of feeling frustrated, I choose to feel excited to chart new territory. On top of meditation, this challenge helped me feel more mindful in general. Focusing on the present moment during all activities helps clear the cobwebs of vritti, or whirling thoughts, and brings clarity, focus, and joy into everyday activity.

As far as the tea goes, I found myself switching to coffee. I used it to help fatigue, but do feel I relied on it too heavily during the challenge. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with coffee, but I wanted the clarity of total sobriety in this challenge and do I feel I cheated a bit with the coffee buzz. Toward the end of the challenge, I had to give it up as it was inducing anxiety, so I ended up feeling headachey and fatigued the last few days as I was detoxing from it. Something that came unexpectedly with this challenge was an increased sensitivity. I’m already a HSP and cleansing my body increased it quite a bit. I felt extra sensitive to food and caffeine and had one particularly bad panic attack after 2 cups of coffee. Now I’m just drinking caffeine sparingly and paying close attention to how the things I ingest effect my system.

2. Give up alcohol. This was way easier than expected. As my mind started feeling sharper, my desire to drink practically vanished. I had an extremely busy 30 days and I didn’t want to be slowed down. After this challenge, and on my birthday, I had a couple mimosas while out to brunch with friends and they hit me super hard. My increased sensitivity mixed with a lowered tolerance for alcohol didn’t mix well. I felt tipsy really fast and felt a bit disappointed that I didn’t feel as engaged as I could have been. My desire from now on is to stay sober except for in select celebrations or situations. It’s all about moderation.

3. Study the Yoga Sutras. This became one of my favorite parts of each day. The wisdom within Patanjali’s work is vast and I’ve enjoyed taking my time, drinking in each one. They provide such an interesting and monumentally life-changing way of living. I’m sure I’ll be studying, contemplating, and integrating this into my life for years to come. The  March Meet-up was very cool and I look forward to future meetings discussing yoga philosophy with fellow local yoga-enthusiasts. 

4. Take on 5 Day Challenges. This was a part of the challenge I greatly neglected. I did 5 days with no tv and 5 days of cleaning/organizing (which I didn’t finish), but other than that, this aspect fell by the wayside. However, I don’t feel guilty about it, since I was very busy during this time putting most of my energy into a major passion, my business! I launched my online clothing shop VeganYogiUnicorn.com on March 20th and have really put my heart and soul into it. It combines all my passions and talents (design, veganism, yoga, marketing, and community-building) and has been such a joy to oversee and give birth to. Check it out… it’s an accumulation of a ton of passion and many many hours that I think we’re made more focused and creative by adhering to (most of) the tenants of this challenge.

5. Truthfully report how it all goes. I’ve tried my best to do this, although it took me quite a while to gather the courage and energy to write this last post. I’ve been dealing with cycles of high energy/depression for a very long time. It’s called cyclothymia, and although I’ve evened out quite a bit since I’ve committed to yoga and through an amazing therapy called neurofeedback, it’s still something I deal with and have to be aware of. I went through a depressive cycle for the last 2 weeks. These used to come with deep despair, but now it’s more of a lack of energy/enthusiasm. I’m able to function (sometimes at bare-minimum) but it takes a lot of effort to not hide under the covers for days at a time. I’m feeling evened out right now, but I also go through phases where I feel invincibley positive with major rushes of energy. It used to leave me feeling like two different people, but now I see myself for who I truly am and know these are just aspects of this mind and body I’m blessed with right now. My true self is purusha., infinite and unaffected by the ups and downs of material life. Cycling moods/energy levels is part of my karma and I’m willing to work through it. I debated whether or not to discuss this publicly on the blog. What will my students and peers think? However, like all people, yoga teachers have their struggles and we all do our best to get through them while improving our situations. Besides, even when I’m “depressed” it is an honor and a pleasure to teach, and a big highlight in my day. At 30, I’m miles from where I was at 20, or 25 and hope to help others with similar plights make progress in their journeys.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Inside the Yoga Sutras, by Reverend Jaganath Carrera that’s been a huge inspiration during this time:

Change, even if it is beneficial, can be stressful. Yogis need to be prepared to let go of any conceptions of who they are and what life is about. They need to be primed for the transformation that results from the yogic life. They are like snakes constantly shedding their skins, being reborn as new and better beings.

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30 Day Challenge: Update #2

1896991_248214148684326_1962941997_nSo, today is day #16 of my 30 Day Challenge and I think I’m finally hitting my stride. The last two mornings I have woken up without any issues, fully ready to go and excited for my morning practice. It’s truly been a challenge. Again, in the name of satya (truth) I’ll give you an honest run-down of how it’s gone.

Days 6-10:

I’ve taught a 6am Sunrise Yoga class at Westport Yoga several times in the last couple of weeks and I’m really starting to apply my experience and newly-found wisdom into the class to provide a gentle, yet invigorating experience for my students. The biggest thing that has hit home for me is that most people’s bodies take a lot more warming up than they do later in the day, and something that feels moderate in other practices feels quite deep in the morning. That heightened awareness is also extremely helpful in getting to know our most sensitive selves better. This also allows us to practice ahimsa (non-harm) toward ourselves by modifying our practice for the present moment and showing gratitude for where we are right now. Lastly, this has helped me appreciate my morning student’s tapas (disciplined use of energy) in getting up and dedicating their early morning to practice instead of extra sleep.

Full disclosure, I skipped day 8 in this block of my challenge. My body was feeling quite exhausted and I consciously let that day go and chose to sleep an extra 2 hours. I felt a mixture of guilt and relief, but ultimately, I think I made the right choice. I know my practice starts to really suffer when I don’t listen to my body and give myself the occasional break, so I feel it was the right choice. I’ll chalk this one up in the name of svadhyaya (self-study) which means self-awareness in all of our efforts, even to the point of accepting our limitations.

The no tv challenge was fine… My husband and I both work at home during the day and many times we’ll leave the tv on as background noise, so cutting that out and replacing it with Bach has been a very welcome change. I actually really missed it at night, though. When I thought this would open up the door to more quality time with my husband, I was wrong. I didn’t take into account that when we do do watch tv at night, one or both of us is usually still working! At least working on the couch together with a little distraction makes it seem like we’re hanging out and winding down. We have both chosen the life of entrepreneurs and working super long, focused days on many occasions comes with the territory. This might sound a bit depressing to some, but we are both doing what we love and are very supportive of each other. Anyway, it was nice to take tv for awhile, but I think the lesson learned is to approach it with moderation and high-selectivity in what we watch. Truth time: we watched all of True Detective in the next five days and it was fabulous!

Days 11-15:

I’ll be honest, these days were a bit of a blur. We “sprung forward” on day 11 and it took a few days getting used to waking up an hour earlier. I also was fighting off a cold my lovely husband brought home. Lastly, I’m working on a super-secret project right now (I will announce soon!), so most of my time and energy has been devoted to that on top of yoga, so I didn’t take on a 5 day challenge for this period. Excuses, excuses, I know… but I did get up every morning, practice, meditate, write, and have a mindful day, despite some major fatigue.

My dosha (Ayurvedic body constitution) is Vata all the way. One of the vata qualities is periods of hyperactivity followed by periods of exhaustion… this sounds about right and has caused problems for me in different areas of my life. I’m basically a cat. But, the remedy for this is implementing a daily routine, so I’m feeling this challenge is helping to mellow that out a bit and help me push through when I’m wanting to just lay low. The weather has started to improve here immensely in the last few days, so I’ve gotten some great play-time outside and am feeling revitalized and so stoked for the rest of this challenge. My energy is back up and I’m ready to go!

I made a change in my meditation during this period that has seriously helped me quite a bit. I’m not sure if I recommend this for everyone, but I stopped following a time limit. I was becoming hyper-focused on getting that 20 minutes in, to the point of feeling preoccupied with the time. Now I just meditate with no regard to time and I have felt freed to go much, much deeper. I don’t care if I do 5 minutes, or an hour, as long as I feel that connection with myself and the world that comes with diving into internal stillness. Hopefully, I’ll naturally be able to stay in meditation longer and longer. This also comes from svadhyaya and being respectful and mindful of my limitations. So, goodbye alarms and hello intuition!

The next 5 days:

The next 5 days, I’m adding the challenge of deep cleaning/organizing one room of my house/day. Like I said, my husband and I work a lot and we have a tendency to let things go when we’re busy. It’s feeling like spring and its time to clean, purge, and organize. This will also give me the opportunity to practice mindfulness while taking care of our home and things. I’m not a naturally organized person, so I’m hoping this will be a good lesson in tapas off the mat. I’ll let you know how it goes!

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Learning to Breathe- My First Yoga Class

BreatheGrowing up, I was a speed addict. No, I wasn’t addicted to amphetamines, but I was drawn to a very full life. I was constantly busy, with little chance to rest, and driven by a gnawing sense of perfectionism. My ego was a mule and the proverbial carrot was a merciless drive to succeed. During high school I had to have the best grades, be the best dancer, keep two jobs, a car, a boyfriend, and an active social life. This is the American way, of course, but we aren’t all built for such a lifestyle. I am and always have been a highly sensitive person and over time, this overwhelming existence did not resonate with my inner self. I started looking for outside sources to cope. Not understanding what was going on, I started to believe that I hated myself. I had no idea how to “fix” what felt so broken. My senior year, I crashed and burned, landing myself in the hospital for four weeks getting treatment for a nasty eating disorder. I hadn’t yet discovered the keys to my happiness, but this stay would give me a glimpse of what I needed to survive and find the inner peace I hadn’t slowed down enough to discover.

I remember being on floor eight, the “ED” ward of Baptist medical Center. My new private room was tiny, but after two weeks with a chatty roommate, I was able to have some time to myself in my own space. I remember having so many feelings, but they were overshadowed by an all pervasive sense of numbness. There was this thick cloud around my firing neurons and broken heart. It was partially formed by the previous months of starvation, but mostly formed from the heavy doses of medication I was administered daily. I already had a very shaky sense of autonomy, being a teenager, but in the hospital I was to give up every sense of control I had so clumsily put together in my life. It was at once freeing and suffocating. I was cold, lonely, and not allowed any exercise. In my heart, through the fog, I knew I was there to get better and find healing. I was to replace my ill-formed coping mechanisms of starvation and exercise with ones that didn’t threaten to ravage my mind and body as well as hurt those who loved me. I enjoyed those few moments of relative peace, after the morning weigh-in and before our daily routine of self-exploration and therapy.

That day, a Sunday, I was first exposed to yoga. Everyday was a strict routine, but Sundays were just a little more lighthearted. I clung to my withering faith and attended chapel on Sunday mornings. Then we would have arts and crafts, followed by a special class or treat. Sometimes it was dog therapy, where we got to play with therapy dogs dressed in silly costumes, but this Sunday it was yoga. I felt a small twinge of excitement. Prior to my hospitalization, I danced seven days a week. I had a focused yearning to be a professional dancer and I was so close, but I unfortunately wanted it too badly. The driving hammer of perfection banged on my mind and body until I believed I had to hurt myself to get better. My mind and body became twisted and weak, preventing me from doing the one thing I believed that I truly loved. Maybe yoga was a chance to test those waters again.

We met in the multi-purpose room. Drab and clinical, its grey walls were tacked with the occasional yellowing motivational poster. It had a few comfy old chairs and a pile of old board games in the corner. This place was constantly taking on new meaning. It housed activities ranging anywhere from tear-filled group therapy sessions to the occasional game night. Two things remained constant: the air was always filled with the stale scent that seems especially reserved for clinical settings and the walls absorbed all sounds, annihilating every hint of an echo, bringing forth the undeniable feeling that yes, you are stuck in this present moment. However, the energy room felt vastly different as I stepped in on this Sunday. Candles lit and lights dimmed, it seemed almost ethereal and inviting.

My favorite nurse, Joanna, also happened to be a certified yoga instructor. She sat at the front of the room in her grey scrubs with a serene smile on her face. She asked us to be seated in a cross-legged position, close our eyes, and just breathe. Following her simple request, I started taking long inhales and exhales. I was a classically trained singer, so breathing exercises were nothing new to me, but this was the first time I had ever just sat and focused solely on the beauty of my own breath. For so many months prior, I was intent on slowly killing myself, but at this moment, I felt the exhilaration of life within me. The breath was the essence and every inhale and exhale an urge to live. We went through some very basic asanas, or poses, with a heavy emphasis on mindfulness of the breath. There are many different types of yoga, but I would come to know this gentle, relaxing, and slow form as “restorative.” Breathing and stretching, I felt more free and alive than I had in months. I let my mind go and for that moment, gave up the nagging, repulsive feelings that had taken over for so long. I didn’t know it at the time, but every yoga class ends with savasana, or corpse pose, where you lay on your back and breathe. Nothing else is expected of you but to be in the moment. Suddenly, I wasn’t stuck in the present, but free to enjoy the delightful now-ness. Although subtle, I felt my perspective change and felt a sense of peace that was authentic. As we ended class and said “namaste”, I knew this was something healthy I’d seek in my life again.

Twelve years later, after a very long road to recovery, Yoga has become an anchor in my life. It’s more than a coping mechanism, but a compassionate way of life that bleeds into everything I think and do. Learning to take the time to stretch, breathe, and be mindful in the present has saved me from self-destruction. Although my life is still quite full, I no longer approach it with attachment to perfectionism. This has freed me to pursue my passion of teaching yoga and I am now beyond happy that I am now able to share this gift with others. I know that the experience of yoga is different for everyone and we all approach it for different reasons and under a myriad of circumstances, but knowing I can be a catalyst for change in others, as Joanna was in my life, makes my own suffering worth it. We can all change ourselves, and gradually change the world, one breath at a time.

 

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