Possibility

Sometimes we have such rigid views of what is possible for us that we stop ourselves from becoming theperson we want to be.

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look what I can do!

I used to say “I have no upper body strength.”  One day during the teacher training I decided this was no longer the story I wanted to tell myself.  So I instead started saying “I’m working on my upper body strength” or “I’m working on getting stronger.”  This did not immediately make me The Hulk.  However, it did change the story that I created.  Once I said I was working on my upper body strength, I did just that.  Instead of not even trying because I didn’t believe it would ever be happen, I let it be a possibility.

The stories we tell ourselves are powerful.  It was completely true that I did not have upper body strength.  It was a fact.  The problem is, as long as I saw the situation that way, I did not give myself permission to change it.  It wasn’t until I came up with a true but positive statement that I could allow myself to progress.

This lesson has been helpful off the mat as well.  Recently I have been working on my issue of envy towards my friends for the great qualities I perceive in them that I would love to have.  The story in my head was “I am a envious person.”  That may be true, but I would rather not be.  I would rather be happy and excited for my friends.  Which I am.  So whenever I feel that little thought of envy, I say to myself “I am happy for my friend.”  And then I examine why it is I might want whatever it is that I’m feeling envious of and frame a sentence around that as well, such as “I am my own person.”

It is not magic.  It sounds outrageous, to just talk yourself into more positivity.  It is outrageous.  It’s outrageous that we tell ourselves such horrible things over and over.  It’s outrageous that instead of creating new stories each and every day, we get stuck in the old ones with seemingly no way out.  It is outrageous we block ourselves from becoming the people we would most like to be.

For me being able to do an arm balance isn’t about impressing my friends (though I do like that little bonus), it is about proving to myself that I have the power to change my outlook and therefore the power to change my life.  It’s not magic, but it is miraculous.

What are you stopping yourself from achieving?  Are the stories in your head helping or hindering the person you would like to become?

 

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In the beginning

Why did I become a yoga teacher?  I don’t really know.

I didn’t really make a choice to become a yoga teacher. It just sort of happened. I didn’t even realize what being a yoga teacher would mean for my life until I became one.  It rocked my world in a good way.

In teacher training we were asked why we chose to become a yoga teacher. I don’t really remember what I said, but I must’ve said something. Something along the lines of: I have been doing yoga for 10 years and really love yoga and I would like to share it with others.  This is true.  But I didn’t really feel that in my heart.  I just wanted something different and I knew that going deeper into yoga was the key.  I’m not sure I had the intention of ever leading a classroom full of yogis.  I’m absolutely sure I didn’t think I could or was qualified to.  Still I went for it anyway.

Since leaving college, my life has felt like a series of trips, literally and metaphorically.  Literally, I have gotten on a plane and flown off into the unknown multiple times.  Figuratively, I feel like objects have been placed on my path that I have had the fortune to stumble upon and trip over, praying that the ground will be soft when I land.  Looking back over the string of choices and decisions I made I can’t help but see now how they all connect.  Then I couldn’t have imagined I would be lucky enough to live this life.

After leaving Africa, I was insanely nervous.  I didn’t have a clue where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do or how I would even find out.  I was lost.  My biggest dreams had already come true and I had to dream up a new one.  I figured learning more about yoga could help pass the time while I figured out my big life plan.

Then yoga training was over.  Still no plan.  Yoga didn’t seem like a good enough plan.  Not for a college-educated world-travelled woman like myself.  Why not?  I have a story to tell.  I have things to teach and things yet to learn.  I resisted it.  I took a job as a Program Director for a camp.  Things didn’t go well and I ran into the open arms of Inner Spirit Studio.  The owner there was kind enough to give me a chance to prove my skills.  I have been proving them and improving them ever since.

Entrance into this world has not been lined with roses.  All paths to dreams worth chasing seem to be lined with potholes and barbed-wire fences.  A few cuts and bruises couldn’t stop me.  A self-starter I was not.  Yet I chose a path that is nothing but self-driven.  In order to be of the highest service I must be able to take care of myself.

One year ago, preparing for this course, I could not have foreseen this outcome.  It is far beyond what I could have dreamt for myself.  I know that I have far to go and I can go so many different places and choose to help so many different people with the skills I am crafting.  I hope to one day create and run programs for teens.  Or maybe run an ashram for autism.  Or maybe organize life-changing retreats.  I want to learn massage and more about nutrition.

I’m grateful that I fell into yoga teaching.  I am glad that I “had nothing else to do.”  It seems strange to say it that way, but that is how it feels.  It was nothing more than a happy accident, or perhaps a plan of greater design than my own mind.  Either way, here I am… and HERE I GO!

What Makes Me Beautiful.

Why I think every girl should know she is beautiful.  And why I don’t think One Direction is helping.

I don’t usually use the word hate.  I find it hateful.  However, I really do have a passionate dislike, for One Direction. I’m not a 14 year old girl anymore, but I know they are adorable and swoon worthy.  However, I wish young girls had some better lyrics to swoon to.

Their first song “What Makes You Beautiful” sent me into a rage the first time I heard it.  I have probably ranted to way too many strangers about how terrible I find the message of these lyrics.

You’re insecure,
Don’t know what for,
You’re turning heads when you walk through the door,
Don’t need make-up,
To cover up,
Being the way that you are is enough

In the first chorus, it seems like it will be a sweet song, teaching girls that boys will usually love you no matter how grungy you look.  I remember swooning the first time I heard “Comfortable.”  John Mayer sang “I loved you, grey sweat pants, no makeup.”  This was around the time that the I-just-rolled-out-of-bed look became popular.  Girls spent hours in the bathroom scrunching hair and applying makeup so that it looked like they had done nothing.  Still, it is a positive message to send to girls.  Though I didn’t really know how to translate that comfortable look by just being comfortable with myself, I got the message that make-up and high heels didn’t necessarily make you any sexier than you already were.  Sexy was who you are, not what you wear.  So kudos to 1D for starting off strong.

My beef is with the chorus of the song.

If only you saw what I can see,
You’d understand why I want you so desperately,
Right now I’m looking at you and I can’t believe,
You don’t know,
You don’t know you’re beautiful

This sounds positive and I am one hundred percent sure that someone meant it to be that way.  In reality, it is a subversive message to girls that they should not own their beauty, but instead let it be reflected through the eyes of the men around them.  It is true that girls receive a lot of messages about their worth through the men around them as they grow up.  So why are these messages always you need men to tell you you are beautiful, your physical worth is men’s decision.

I know that the thousands of girls out there learning the lyrics to these songs and screaming them at concerts are not analyzing these lyrics too deeply.  I also know that as a teen I heard similar messages in my songs, movies and tv shows.  I knew I was not supposed to think myself attractive, let alone believe I actually was.  I was not supposed to think myself beautiful until someone (a man) told me.  If I thought myself beautiful no man would love me.  Boys loved girls like Joey Potter who were gorgeous but didn’t know it.  So I pretended I was beautiful but didn’t know it.  Even though I didn’t even have the capacity to think myself beautiful.  So in reality I was just messed up, putting on masks over masks over masks.

It wasn’t until later that I realized that I could think I was beautiful.  It wasn’t until later that I realized that boys, especially the boys I was interested in, were interested in me when I felt confident.  And I felt confident when I felt beautiful.  Regardless of whether I actually was or not.  Feeling beautiful allowed me to rely on myself, I did not need approval from the boy, I approved of myself.  When I wasn’t focused on being some coy version of myself who could play the shy girl, I could be myself.  People seemed to like that just fine.

I recently read a blog entitled Unapologetically Narcissistic.  Cassandra posits,

Women are almost supposed to hate the way they look. That’s honestly how I feel sometimes.

I agree.  I can relate to the body bitching sessions she describes where everyone is complaining about some part of their body.  This is perfectly portrayed in the movie Mean Girls.  The Plastics (popular clique) are hanging out at one of the girl’s houses.  Each girl stands in front of the mirror declaring which part of their body they hate the most.  Cady (played by Lindsay Lohan) doesn’t offer a sacrifice quickly enough.  The girls all look in her direction and she blurts out “I have bad breath in the morning,” not quite understanding the exercise in self-loathing.  It is a wonderful portrayal of how normal we feel this behavior is, yet how completely foreign and abnormal it is as a behavior to those outside of Western culture.

Cassandra concludes her article saying,

I want my readers to know that it’s okay to think you’re damn hot. It’s okay not to belittle yourself to fit in.And guess what, it’s okay to try to stop your friends from hating the way they look.We need to change the conversation on self love and self pride, and guess what, making fun of people who are maybe a little vain isn’t going to help.

I agree.  Ladies, we need to own our beauty and do everything we can to help other women own theirs.  Starting with our friends, sisters, nieces, nephews and every little girl we come across.  Though, physical beauty should not be the only thing a woman is judged on (a conversation for another day), it is ok to own one’s beauty and body with pride.  Men may be the mirror through which little girls see their beauty, but women are the voice in our head that tells us we are not good enough.  Most girls learn self-hatred through the mouths of the female role models that surround them.

Start small.  When someone says they hate their calves, don’t answer back with a “Oh, girl, my thighs are like rolling thunder.”  Tell them how beautiful their calves are for holding them up each day.  Or be a little less schmaltzy and find another part to compliment.  Break the cycle.  When you find yourself staring at your thighs, look into your eyes and find your beauty.

Yoga has taught me to be totally in touch with my body so I can try to see every part with love.  I see my strengths and my vulnerabilities.  I see them all as beautiful.  I may not be going out for any model casting calls, but I see my beauty and I own it.  I let it shine and I hope that I can encourage others to do the same.

 

Getting Personal: Spectrum Yoga Training

This weekend I attended Level 1 of Spectrum Yoga run and developed by Sharon Manner and Margabandhu of Ashrams for Autism.  This is yoga specifically adapted and designed for the challenges that face those on the Autism spectrum.  This course is a 20 hour Continuing Education course through Samadhi Sun Teacher Training school.  Teaching this community has become a passion and one that has been growing since childhood.

My history of working with autistic and other populations with learning differences is long and varied.  In middle school, there was a special education teacher name Mrs. Kaplan in our school to help the students who were being mainstreamed.  Twice a year or so, she would run trips to a school for children with Cerebral Palsy.  I can still vividly picture making s’mores with the kids there, some my age, some probably much older.  They had this awesome machine with a small bucket where we placed our marshmallows and then pushed a button.  Slowly the bucket would turn over and dump the marshmallow on the graham cracker.  A few seconds in the microwave and all of us were enjoying a gooey sticky mess!

After college, I was a substitute teachers’ aide at a school for children with varied and multiple learning disabilities.  The children there range in age from 5-21.  Each class had its quirks and there were a few times I did not feel able to handle certain situations.  However, most of the time I spent there was a blast.  Although I do understand how teachers can burn out so fast and become frustrated within the system.

Now I work for Ashrams for Autism.  A lot of my work is behind the scenes, editing the training manuals and creating the newsletters.  All of this I do to support and spread the word of this wonderful program.  What I most love and look forward to are the classes I teach in schools and the community.  I started teaching these classes a few months ago and never have I had such a goofy smile glued to my face for so long, or danced with such abandon in front of other people.

Sharon Manner, the founder of Ashrams, took me under her wing and helped me learn the structure of the classes through an apprenticeship of sort.  I was honored to help out, but glad I got to finally attend the formal training to learn the more nuanced aspects of the program and where she hopes to take Ashrams in the future.

In the training we learned about diet and nutrition from a well-respected Integral Yoga teacher and master herbalist, Margabandhu, Director of Integral Yoga Institute in Fair Lawn NJ.  Margabandhu has studied the effects of the diet on children on the spectrum.  He shared his extensive knowledge with us and answered as many questions as time allowed.

There were also speakers there informing us on behavior and the current theories out there.  We had time to speak with a teacher of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) learning style.  The woman was kind and obviously had a wealth of knowledge and a depth of patience I can only hope to develop.  It was interesting to learn, but at times rubbed me the wrong way.  I have no doubt that ABA is a useful tool when working with children with learning differences.  I am sure there are cases where it has worked wonders with children, where it has helped them grow a relationship with the world around them.  I have difficultly believing that ABA is a cure-all.  Nothing is a cure-all in education.  What works for one may not work for the next.  And speaking from my experience teaching in Namibia, this type of conditioned response has the tendency to stifle creativity.  Children with autism can be as creative or possibly more creative than an average child, if given the chance.

The best part of the weekend had to be participating in a typical Spectrum Class.  Sharon asked us all to channel our best autistic self and try to manage a class with all these different distractions, from our own bodies and mouths as well as from our neighbor.  It was fun to see everyone get into their role and realize that deep down inside of us we all have these oddities that we have suppressed through years of being socially acceptable.  I am by no means implying that we know or can know the deep frustration that those with learning disabilities face on a daily basis, however we are often too quick to separate ourselves from any similarities.  I felt this was a golden exercise.  It was heartwarming to see the level of compassion the exercise brought out.

Tomorrow I will post on why we bring yoga to children on the spectrum and how it helps.  In the meantime, check out Ashrams for Autism for more information or if you would like to attend a future training.  If you are in New Jersey and know someone who has a child with autism, direct them here for special parent workshops.  Please feel free to post any questions or comments you have about the program and I will try to address them in future posts or through comment reply.

Getting Personal: The weight of it all

Loving my body has been a long journey, but well worth the struggle. There’s so much I want to say on this subject, forgive me for any ramblings.

It’s hard to love your body in America. Everything about American culture makes it an uphill battle. And it’s not only about women. Sure the many ways in which women are objectified and tortured into feeling inadequate are awful. But it exists for males as well. There is as much emphasis on being masculine and athletic in modern media as there are pressures to be thin and desirable for women. It is different. But it is also the same. I can only speak for my gender, or more accurately, myself, here.

As a woman I see thousands of messages about how I should look, feel and act. I am supposed to be thin, but not too thin. Strong, but not jacked. I should love cupcakes with abandon but never eat them. And these are only the messages about my weight. There is just as much “advice” on how I should act on dates and who I should let touch me and when, that is all for a post another day.

Often, we are instructed through popular media to find the ability to love our reflection in an outside source. A diet, a man, envy of women, these are all suggested sources of self-love. They work, temporarily. Then the jealousy fades or the man leaves or the diet fails and we are left once again inside a body we loathe.

I actually believe that there are outside sources that are valuable in helping to build self-esteem and self-love. For girls older females who love and accept themselves is important in providing a model for self-love, the most crucial being the mother. A daughter who watches her mother eat herself up in front of the mirror or make negative remarks about her body is learning in subtle and not so subtle ways that there are acceptable and unacceptable ways of being.

When I was a teen, I hated my body right alongside most of my peers. I don’t remember voicing my displeasure often, but I knew I could be thinner. I originally embarked on my yoga journey at this time to help lose weight. It worked. By the end of my senior year I had lost 20 pounds or so. I was happy with this change and buy it had come at a cost. In order to assure that I lost the weight and kept it off I would go days without eating anything until dinner or just snacking on saltine crackers.

Though I never suffered from a sever eating disorder, I did suffer from disordered eating. Throughout college I continued using this as a way of losing a few pounds when I was unhappy with the number on the scale. I also did strange workouts in the living room while watching MTV videos. It never really helped much but I felt like I was doing something, burning the calories.

When i moved to Mexico to au pair, i lost weight without trying. I realize now that I was busy and active and HAPPY. I was working and concentrating on living and being healthy rather than concentrating on my weight.

I gained it back when I came back to the US. Even though I swam each day and ate healthy I couldn’t keep the weight off. I often drank too much coffee to keep my appetite down.

The weight loss happened again when I was in Namibia. Despite the stresses of life there, the weight melted off. Despite the fact that I was eating the least healthy I ever had in my life (pasta very night!) I felt healthy. The key again was that I was active all day and I was HAPPY.

Upon return I gained some weight,but I still fit nicely in my clothes. When I started my journey into yoga I tried again to lose weight through quick fixes such as not eating or working out extra. Then I found a peace in yoga and in teaching that reminds of the peace I felt in those foreign lands. I found HAPPINESS. And I see the weight going back down.

It is when I am paying the least attention, caring the least that my weight drops. When it is not all about weight but about feeling good. I am healthy. And I am happy. And the more I accept my body the happier I am. There are still things I’d like to change, but before I change them I accept them the way they are. I choose each day to love and accept myself, curves and all.

I have much more to say on the topic of actual body acceptance and hope to share more of it in the future and how I came to love myself, mostly.

 

Getting Personal: Humility

Once I fell flat on my face.  I literally tripped over nothing and landed on my stomach.  I don’t know why my hands weren’t there to catch me.  This was pretty humiliating.  This post is about my struggles with humility, not the kind imposed on you by embarrassment  but rather the more subtle need to be the best.  

Earlier today I posted a prayer I like to say to myself before class.  This prayer is all about humility, about humbling myself to a power greater than myself. I must put my ego aside and let the ancient knowledge speak and breathe through me.  Because yoga is a service provided through me by a power greater than myself. This is what I believe.

Believing this is easy.  Living this, opening up and surrendering myself to this service, is much more difficult.  It is terrifying to my ego, that tiny mad voice inside all of us that usually does not speak very kindly, that I give up control.  Should I choose to do this, should I choose to surrender, “I” cannot take credit for the class.  “I” cannot take credit for anything.  That is terrifying because the ego lives off of praise and adoration.

However, what this ego of mine does not understand is that I don’t need credit for the class.  Each and every time someone says “I loved your class.” or “You are a great teacher.”  it is an affirmation of this higher service.  It is the ruler by which I can measure my effectiveness.  It lets me know that I helped someone, or rather God helped them through me.

I fully admit that I am not able to enter my class with humility each and every day.  Today I was proud to hear some of the clients were excited I would be teaching.  When it turned out I was not, that a new teacher would be taking the class for the day I was worried.  Then I became a bit angry when the class went well.  I felt out-shined, unneeded.  I didn’t want them to like her better.  When in reality it is what is best for the people.  For them to experience new teachers and new styles of yoga.  Still there was a twinge of “I want to be liked.”

Often, I take a class from a fantastic teacher and I am jealous of their ability to string together a fresh and different sequence.  I berate myself for not having the creativity.  There are other times when I become too focused on making the clients happy.  I see a woman who could compete in the yoga olympics and I am intimidated into randomly adding compass pose or trying to “kick everyone’s ass”.

In all these instances I move away from my authenticity.  I get caught up in being what someone else wants, or worse in just wanting to be someone else. Humility is all about authenticity.  When we are able to get past the ego and dig deep into our heart-mind, that is when we achieve humility.  That is when we allow our soul, the soul given us by God and shared with each and every living being, to shine.  I know that when I show up with the intention to serve, everyone will get the class they NEED, regardless of what they thought they wanted.

So everyday I say this prayer.  Every day I work towards letting go and just being myself.  Everyday I work to share this being with the rest of the world.  Each one of us has a beautiful teacher inside, including me!

Namaste!

Nothing is more humbling than rolling out of headstand.  And having it captured on camera!
Nothing is more humbling than rolling out of headstand. And having it captured on camera!

Getting Personal: Ready to Dance Again

*(featured image) me dancing in traditional wear in Namibia

One theme of most personal blogs is to get personal with the audience.  So here goes.

 

I don’t like to get too personal.  It has always been hard for me to share what I am truly thinking and feeling.  The closest I come to opening up is when my soul is bleeding out onto a page through my writing.  Even then it is vague.  Case and point, halfway through the first sentence of this blog I switched screens and spent an hour creating a playlist for tomorrow’s class.

I am able to share with close friends and at camp on the last day.   I am able to share in my journal.  It is scary to share.  It means someone might see you, all of you.  Even those dark and stormy parts.  The ones you’d rather let pass by like a hurricane, covering up the damage best you can when gaping holes are ripped into your heart.

I used to be good at tearing myself open and letting people see.  But gradually all those padded rooms keeping the crazy in have been wrapped and rewrapped in caution tape.  I don’t know why this is.  Experience I’m sure.  One person or another told me to keep my mouth shut, another called me crazy.  I saw others get ridiculed for their sensitivity and watched movies where I was shown it is “cool” to be mysterious and coy.

Years ago my friends and I were in the city (New York City for all those who endearingly call some lesser city “the city”) waiting for a light to change.  A little boy was dancing next to his parent, excited for a pretzel.  Overwhelmed by his cuteness we all stared and laughed with joy, maybe remembering how it felt to be so unburdened by the need to be “appropriate” and “grown-up.”  One of my friends let out a laugh that could have been heard around the world, or at least to the next block.  The little boy looked up, startled, stopped dancing and ran behind his parent.

That’s what happens to us all.  We dance and sing and squirm and cry.  Until someone tells us not to.  I’m ready to dance again.

(I realize that this doesn’t really get that personal, but I’m on my way.  Baby steps.)

Share your feelings about getting personal.  Is there a moment that you recall that made it not ok?