Loving-kindness

At the beginning of 2016, I felt the need to look and feel dramatically at my life. I was unhappy and confused. I felt “off” nearly everyday. I had nothing specific bothering me: I love my job, my health was good, I was (and am) in a great relationship, I had a huge year of incredible work ahead of me, a roof over my head, food in my belly, a loving family…Why then did I wake up at the beginning of each day in the start of 2016 and just feel blah? I didn’t know the answer. My Spirit had gone silent. I knew I had to find out why.

I embarked on a year long journey of self-discovery guided by my Shaman, Bridget Boland. This incredible woman helped me pick a focus for every month of 2016. She helped me first to see and then to change a huge backlog of beliefs that were holding me back. Better yet, she gave me the tools to rewrite my life in the most beautiful way. We systematically, week by week, through meditations, journaling exercises, conversations and ceremonies, figured out what was at the root of my Spirit’s silence and learned how to bring my voice back. Ironically sending me into periods of deep silence was the only way to help my Spirit speak again.

Part of my yearlong 2016 homework from Bridget was to pick 12 individuals in my entire life with whom I’d had “difficult” interactions or relationships and to bring about an end to what corded or connected me to them so that I could move on from their influence on the arc of my path. A big part of the way I cut the cord with each of these individuals was to say the loving-kindness prayer to them every day for at least 15 minutes for a month. These were people who had wronged me, who I had wronged, who I hated, who sucked so much of my energy because I worried about what they thought of me. These were individuals I’d worked with, been abused by, been friends with, managed and been managed by, taught or learned from. It was a diverse and eclectic list from many eras of my life. Each month I moved from one person to the next and did a month of loving-kindness meditation for each one.

Loving-kindness, or metta meditation, was one of the first meditation practices to which I was introduced. It is the systematic direction of kindness and wellbeing towards oneself or another. Long ago when I started learning about meditation around the age of 13 or 14, I went to a Buddhist meditation center (unbeknownst to my parents – I rode my bike there!). In the little shop at this center was a book called “A Path with Heart” by Jack Kornfield. I bought it – it had a pretty pink cover and something about the “heart” word in the title drew me in. I’ve kept it with me ever since and have read it more times than I can count. The very first chapter is called “Did I Love Well?” At the time I felt very little love for much of anything in my life and I felt a calling from that chapter. Inside I learned about self-love as a ground for spiritual development and the meditation exercise at the end of the chapter is Jack Kornfield’s script for the loving-kindness meditation:

“May I be filled with loving-kindness.

May I be well.

May I be peaceful and at ease.

May I be happy.”

My well-loved and well-worn copy of Jack's book.

My well-loved and well-worn copy of Jack’s book.

For a while back then I did this simple meditation for myself, to build up a reservoir of much needed self-love – of kindness directed at my own Being. That in and of itself was a very powerful stepping stone on my pathway. Somewhere along the way another meditation technique and then another took over as I moved from tradition to tradition. When Bridget gave me this homework, it felt familiar and powerful all at the same time.

The first name on my list was a tough one. The first few days – probably the first week – the words of the prayer felt like ash on my tongue. I physically felt like I was choking on the words to get them out in my mind’s eye. None of this meditation was done out loud – all internally. Still, I had a serious choking sensation as I began this process. It was challenging internally to wish this person well. They hurt me – terribly. I realized I clung to the hurt righteously even though it didn’t serve me in the least to feel any better. Each day it got a little easier to repeat the words over and over again. Slowly, day by day, the 15 minutes no longer felt like an eternity. Even more interesting was the sensation of lightness related to all the experiences of my life tied to this person. I palpably sensed the release of emotions, energy, thoughts, memories and stories related to this person.

A new month would begin and the process would start all over again. The feelings of dry mouth; the gagging on the words of loving-kindness. And each month, no matter the person on the list, the gagging would fade and the lightness would take over. Even for the REALLY rough people on the list – the ones I never thought I would ever wish well – a lightness always prevailed through the simple action of repeating the words of the prayer.

I thought this homework was assigned to me so that I might learn how be kind to those who had hurt me, or I might magically meet each one again and get to hash out our problems and solve everything. That was not the reason Bridget gave me this homework at all. I will likely never see any individual on my 2016 list again. It’s highly unlikely even if I did see these people that we would ever come to some happy resolution or have an epic fight or showdown that would make me feel any better. The purpose of the prayer as I see it now was to help me release all the energy I had unknowingly tied up in hatred, regret, worry, fear, and anxiety towards these people and towards myself in relationship with each one of them. In sending them loving-kindness, I was finally able to forgive myself for the role I played in the relationships I had with each one. At the same time I really wished each one of them well-being and peace and hope that they were able to feel it in some way.

Perhaps you have people you have wronged or feel wronged by in your history. I hope you can use this simple meditation to bring about some lightness to all the ways those wrongs may have tied you up in mind, body and Spirit along the way. There is no reason to stay bound up in misery to someone else – we all want to live happy, prosperous, loved lives. What a waste of our precious life force to remain stuck in old agony – our own or someone else’s.

Does my year of meditation mean these people didn’t wrong me? No, it does not. Some of them committed serious crimes against me. Others stabbed my Spirit with their actions hoping to kill her off. None of the reality of those wrongs goes away with this process, but almost miraculously I no longer feel any tie to the wrongness or my responses to it. I know its truth but I am not tied down by it any longer.

Write your list. Start tonight. Four simple lines. 15 minutes. Are you ready to let them go yet?

In Loving Silence

I am just returning home from a silent meditation retreat – the third one I have done in a few years. I have been meaning to write about my experiences being silent for two years – but it had been difficult before this last retreat to put into words what really happened to me when I went silent. Here is the beginning of a multi-part blog series I want to share with you about why silence is so powerful…and why I think everyone should go into silence at some point in their life.

Two years ago in November of 2014 I went on my first silent meditation retreat – four days with an iRest teacher named Anne Douglas who I didn’t know very well. She was leading a weekend retreat from a Friday evening to a Monday midday in Dayton, Ohio. It was close, a cheap flight, I liked her the one time I met her at an iRest Teacher Training and the retreat was part of the requirements for my five year foray into becoming a Certified iRest Yoga Nidra Teacher. I signed up figuring four days was an easy start, and committed to silence. Inside I felt really nervous about the whole thing.

You see, I’m a talker – a chatter. I come from a long line of mothers, daughters, aunts, sisters, cousins, nieces and grandmothers who have the gift for gab. One of my favorite verbs that I learned while studying abroad in Italy is chiacchierare (to chat). The thought of being silent for four days – not even four full days – really sent me into a spin of internal discomfort. And there is one thing I’ve learned about discomfort over the years: facing it head on has always brought me to amazing places I never knew existed.

When I arrived at Bergamo Center in Dayton, Ohio for the weekend, we signed in and got our room keys. Everyone around me either knew one another or was getting to know one another. They were all talking loudly in a little lounge area near the front door. As I signed in the woman behind the registration table got me my room key, my map of the building, a schedule, my name tag and noted that I had registered to be silent. She gave me a second tag that said, “In Loving Silence” and told me to wear it so everyone knew I was being silent for the weekend.

The tag that started it all "In Loving Silence."

The tag that started it all “In Loving Silence.”

It was in that moment I realized that not everyone had chosen to do this weekend silent…in fact only two of us had registered to be silent. I felt a ball in my throat start to form. Being quiet when everyone else was also being quiet was bad enough but absolutely do-able. Being quiet when everyone else was talking incessantly?? Not possible.

I made my way to my room and unpacked. I had a bit of time before dinner and the opening session. I made an agreement with myself to stick with my intention of being quiet even if everyone else was talking. I made my way to the loud dining hall and got some food. I sat alone because it felt weird to sit with everyone else who was talking. I’m typically very social so it felt difficult to sit alone with my food. I raced through my meal to avoid the discomfort. It was evident before the retreat sessions even began that being silent set me apart, made other people uncomfortable and was not really understood.

When we settled in to the first evening session and Anne oriented us to the weekend, she talked about why silence is such a beautiful thing – it gives us a break, it brings us up against our internal dialogue, it is a sacred space we rarely get in our everyday life. I think she had noticed during dinner that the two of us with our “In Loving Silence” badges felt a bit out of it. As a result, she decided to make periods of the entire retreat silent. She chose different meal times, different session times and a couple of evenings when EVERYONE was supposed to be silent. This was to help everyone understand the gift of silence.

I found this shift in the retreat really supportive to my endeavor to be quiet. I found it deepened my meditation and made my silence easier. I also found that the rest of the group had a terrible time with being quiet. Every silent meal people would ask for things like, “Can you pass the salt?” Or comment on the food, “Doesn’t this taste amazing?” Invariably they would then say, “Oh shoot, sorry we aren’t supposed to be talking.” As soon as everyone was out of Anne’s watchful eye, they all started talking and complaining about being quiet.

Our daily schedule included pranayama, silent meditation, guided meditation, intuitive movement/body sensing yoga practices and iRest Yoga Nidra practices. There were breaks for meals and naps. It was a steady and nourishing schedule – one that felt so far from the fast paced hectic life I led back home. It was very interesting to be a silent observer of the dynamic of other participants’ responses to the schedule, silent periods, meals and meditations. And because I was quiet, I really got to take in what was going on around me in much deeper ways than when I was normally distracted by the social chitter chatter of daily life.

At one point another participant held the door as I walked into our meditation room with her and when I didn’t say anything she said, “Well you could at least say thank you!” With a huge harrumph she stormed off. At another point in the weekend I was sitting in my room journaling and a group of other students was outside my door lamenting how me and the other woman who was in silence were being so weird and strange. I felt really judged and really unwelcome, but I held my silence and I learned so much from all of the experiences that weekend. During the meditations I noticed how many of the other participants could not sit still in the quiet – they constantly had to be sighing, mumbling, moving props around, slurping water or tea, or apologizing out loud for making noise. My own silence made every other sound around me amplified. It was fascinating!

Here are the TOP 5 of many things I learned on this retreat while being silent.

  1. My silence made others uncomfortable because they had to confront their own loudness. It can be really a challenge to meet and greet our less desirable characteristics so we often use things like talking to gloss over going inside ourselves for self-discovery.
  2. My discomfort at making others uncomfortable was a challenge. I realized I really like to people please and fix things.
  3. When you are silent for extended periods you can really examine your motivations for talking – you feel the urge to speak come up and because you don’t act on it you can study it instead. I found that I always wanted to chime in because I wanted to be viewed as smart, worthy and/or likable. Because I couldn’t chime in all weekend, I had to meet and greet those feelings and stories inside me about being stupid, unworthy and unloveable. A few days of silence gave me more than years of talk therapy in those arenas!
  4. Being alone and silent was also a particular gift of this retreat. Because I wasn’t making social connections, I was often in my room by myself. And without email or internet or social media, I truly felt “cut off” and alone in the best sense of the word. I am almost never alone in my regular life – there is always someone around me or some technology calling me to check in. Spending time silent and alone without technology brought up huge insights into my desires to write again, a longing to ice skate and a feeling of wanting to go back to a spiritual setting each week (like church!!). These were strange longings. I dreamed in poems. I frantically scribbled out nearly a dozen book ideas in those four days. And without having the quiet silence alone, I don’t think I would have gotten back into writing or taken myself ice skating more often or picked up my spiritual practices again.
  5. Being silent makes you a great listener and observer. There is so much more to the minutiae of daily life that gets lost in the hustle and bustle of our noise.

I left my time with Anne feeling inspired and quite rested. I didn’t want to talk. On the plane ride home and for several days after the retreat, I really spoke very little. Silence left me feeling introspective, raw and vulnerable. I loved it and knew that it needed to be a bigger part of my life, but I wasn’t sure how it fit as a piece into my daily schedule and yearly calendar. I let everyone know when I got back just how refreshing silence was, and how much easier it was than I thought it would be. This first foray into silence began a journey that has continued and influenced so much of my life in wider rippling circles. I’m excited for this series of blogs to share that journey with you and hopefully to inspire you to get quiet and experience your Self and the world around you in a profoundly different way.

Start small: 10 minutes of silence (verbally and technologically) starting now. Report back on how it goes!

 

Should I Stay or Should I Go

Last year at this time I was just finishing up assisting a monthlong teacher training course alongside my teacher, Ana Forrest. It was an enlightening and grueling month of 4am mornings, intense learning and inspiring work. I oscillated all month between feeling completely in the “right place” as a yoga teacher and feeling like running away entirely. I felt alternately like a highly skilled instructor and total fraud. At the end of the month, I began a year of questioning whether I should continue being a yoga teacher at all. This wasn’t a matter of whether I “could” be a yoga teacher – I have been a yoga teacher for 14 years and the skills to do so successfully are there for me to grow from. This was more a question of whether I “should” continue being a yoga teacher or whether my Spirit was feeling restless and looking in a different direction.

For a while before assisting this teacher training I had been feeling lackluster. The politics of the “yoga world” were bringing me down. Teachers speaking badly of one another, seeing teachers with the right “look” move ahead even as their students were getting injured, the general competitiveness of a community that outwardly “supported” one another but inwardly exposed a deeply ingrained scarcity complex. I felt unappreciated for my really hard work. I spent (and spend) hours working on sequences, doing my own practice to stay inspired, educating myself to be a better and better teacher and so much more. I was feeling like all that meant nothing. Then festivals and workshop venues started questioning the number of Facebook and Instagram followers I had – as if this was a better litmus test of what kind of instructor I was than my actual teaching skills and training. Falling compensation rates, festivals not paying at all, and potential clients balking at the price of private sessions all compounded my feelings. At this time last year I had come off some comments through the grapevine about how I was getting “old” not in age but in teaching techniques, and fears of being irrelevant in the changing yoga atmosphere toward fast-paced flashy vinyasa sequences were at the forefront of my mind.

Through my work with Ana Forrest last September, each day I questioned what I was doing and why. She pushed my boundaries physically, mentally and emotionally, and questioned me about my ethics and values – not to be mean but to get me to hone in on what I really wanted from my life and to cut out the extraneous. She revealed to me as no one else could these glaring blind spots in my life and in my teaching. She has known me longer than anyone except my family, partner and a few close friends – she knows me inside and out better than I do sometimes. She can see me without the veil of my limiting beliefs and from a lifetime of her own experiences in the deep dark places. She was willing to go with me into those feelings of inadequacy and fear – to understand where they were really coming from. I’m a graceful navigator of life – a fact she reminded me of daily – and she knew better than I did that these feelings of not belonging in the yoga world were merely an indicator of another much deeper Spiritual malady and discomfort.

I was there to assist a teacher training, but she assigned me to write poems and read them out loud in front of everyone with a trembling voice. She sat with me when everyone else had partnered up for an exercise, set a timer and asked me to tell her all the secrets I had kept bottled up for so long. She listened openly about how cramped my Spirit felt in my current life. She threw me in front of the crowds coming to her intensives and encouraged me to speak in ways that I never had. Ana Forrest told me repeatedly in whispers throughout the month to, “Let the Poet speak, she has important things to say.” She left me at the end of the month with the note below: “Please schedule in writing as a daily spiritual responsibility. It’s time. Spiritual Fulfillment.”

Notes from my teacher.

Notes from my teacher.

Because while I have found tremendous fulfillment, delight and financial success as a yoga teacher, it was at the expense of some other really important dreams of my Spirit. I put on hold my ideas for books and the stories that passed by in dreams. I closed off the whispers of poems that passed through my ears while I cued elbow to knee or drove down Lake Shore Drive. I came to believe that the thing I was best at was teaching yoga. I forgot that there was a time not long ago that I did write every day. I remembered a time in my life when I lived in a internal world of magical stories made real on the page. My discomfort with my current career and all the signs around it were simply redirecting me back to the magic of these stories. The stories have been bubbling up louder and louder each year, and the roar could no longer be ignored.

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My encouraging wisdom keeping team of fellow assistants

One of the most fantastic parts of Forrest Yoga is just this: the reclaiming of our whole Self, not just the accepted one. Breath by breath, practice by practice, the tools of Forrest Yoga infiltrate life off the mat to bring about the most amazing epiphanies. From the memory of the magic of those stories I went forward and hired a shaman – Bridget Boland – to help me on the process of calling in my other parts of Spirit that needed attention. We have spent the better part of this year doing the work necessary to clear limiting beliefs, work with past mistakes, forgive myself and move ahead with a guidance from wisdom-keepers beyond my daily life.

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Having fun being our crazy selves – me and my fellow assistants September 2015.

I likely will not have the biggest Instagram following at any time. I don’t teach or sequence “traditionally” – I’m like me. I am still teaching. I decided not to go, but I made an agreement about staying. If I was going to continue teaching it had to be unapologetically on my terms. I re-cultivated my own voice and took some big risks in the topics, sequences and methods I taught from. I included more ceremonial work and anatomical instruction this year publicly than ever before. I talked about my dark spots. I read poems in class (not one of my own yet). I wrote blogs like this and journal entries more frequently than in the previous 10 years of teaching yoga full time. I stopped comparing myself to other yoga teachers and focused on what I was doing. I chose to spend time with those who really inspire me in different areas of my life. Moving into next year I turned down any work that didn’t actually support me in the teacher and person I most want to be. I made space in my schedule for writing. And I am happier for it.

Many students have stay or go questions: marriages, jobs, having children and so much more. I’m not a therapist – I have no training in that arena – but through the practices of Forrest Yoga I can help you listen to the voice of your Spirit more clearly. And through the voice of your Spirit you can feel when it is time to stay, go or simply change the balance of power of elements in your life. So a year later and a lot of reflection from whirlwind experiences over the past 12 months, I’ve decided to stay but, as many of you have noticed, with some big changes in my teaching. I hope that those changes continue so that the pieces of me long held in storage can finally get more air than my Ujjayi breathing.

Getting Lost to Be Found

Earlier this summer I took some vacation with my partner, Eric, after a yoga retreat in Portugal. I had just finished teaching a wonderful week at an eco-property in the southern Algarve region, and now we were headed north to the capital city of Lisbon on the train. The end of a yoga retreat is always a bit hectic: everyone leaving at different times, transportation to coordinate, teary goodbyes after a week of bonding together, hurried packing because we stayed up too late the night before. You get the idea! I ate early in the morning to make sure I got some food before teaching and getting everyone off in their respective taxis. Then it was a rush to return my rental car and get to the train station and on board to Lisbon. There was no gluten free food anywhere near the train station for lunch so I ate a snack bar thinking about how great dinner would be in Lisbon once we arrived.

By the time we got to Lisbon I had not eaten a meal in nearly 12 hours. We arrived in the middle of a teacher’s strike and our host could not get to us to let us into our apartment. Streets were closed and crowds of people were everywhere. We were stuck in a hot square with all our luggage for a couple hours more. I know this to be the adventure side of travel – the unpredictability and the experience of being in a foreign country. I love those aspects of travel, but at this point my blood sugar was high-jacking my sense of reason. All the tables at all the restaurants in the square were taken, so we couldn’t even sit down and have a bite. We were both ravenous by the time we finally got into the apartment. I had another small snack, but I was past snacking at this point. I was turning beyond hangry!

We picked a recommended restaurant nearby us from the guide book and set out to get some dinner. A patron saint festival was going on in the area of the city we were staying – the Alfama district – and everywhere these huge sardine grills were spilling out into the streets. The smell of the smoke and the sounds of a language I didn’t understand would normally intrigue me – but in my fatigued and hungry state, I just felt overwhelmed and as if I might faint. Everyone – I mean EVERYONE – was out and about eating, drinking and making merry. Add in a high profile football game on televisions all over and you had a recipe for overstimulation. We walked, and walked, and walked…and walked some more – searching endlessly for this restaurant.

Just the beginning of the Alfama street festival crowds

Just the beginning of the Alfama street festival crowds

If you have never been to the Alfama in Lisbon, it is not flat. Up and down staircases; weaving in and out of crowds, we searched. We trudged all the way up a long staircase to the top of the Alfama district, only to find…nothing. No restaurant, no store, nothing. After what seemed like hours of walking (probably in reality 1 hour) I felt near collapse and was a real nightmare to be around. We were lost and didn’t even quite know the way back to our place. And we still hadn’t eaten a meal in a very long time.

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Lost in the narrow stairways of the Alfama District of Lisbon. Which way is that restaurant?

We gave up after bickering in the middle of a Portuguese street, and decided just to go home hungry. We made the long walk down towards where we thought our apartment was. Suddenly we passed a small cafe on a much quieter street away from the crowds. It had just a few small tables inside with quiet groups of diners. It was very mellow in comparison to the loud places we had seen everywhere else. We wandered in to ask if they had a table. It was a fixed menu restaurant and the chef said he didn’t know if he had enough food to feed another table of two. I stormed out and held on to a stone wall dramatically as if I might pass out right there and then and never take another step. Eric came out moments later and said that they found enough food to feed us and we could sit down. I’ve never been so happy to sit down in my life!

Our tiny table was just in front of the chef’s station. There was one man cooking and another man serving. It was the coolest food experience I’ve ever had. The menu was written up on a chalk board. I was so hungry I had not thought about what we might be eating. Up on the board were foods like clams and shrimp that I was not really happy about, and other dishes like salad that I was not “supposed” to be eating due to some health concerns. I get scared around seafood because of some bad past experiences, and I had been taking my eating restrictions really seriously of late. Eric gave me one look as if to say, “Eat whatever shows up.” And I did just that. I was so tired, hungry and out of it from the travel day that I just ate.

Suspicious foods I was nervous about!

Suspicious foods I was nervous about!

We enjoyed one of the best meals we have ever eaten. This chef was truly amazing. Every dish from start to finish was simple but exquisite and made with the most loving attention and care. We ate every bite off every plate. I’d never had clams before and loved them. The shrimp were delicious. The salad had all sorts of fun little additions and a delicious cheese. The dessert even had gluten and I ate that too (I have celiac disease and this is usually a huge no no). I figured if I was going to get sick, at least I was on vacation and had no where to be. I didn’t get sick at all – I’ve never felt better after a meal. Maybe because I was so hungry. Maybe because the food was so incredibly fresh. Maybe because I just let go for once.

Our incredible chef - made the most memorable and delicious meal for us.

Our incredible chef – made the most memorable and delicious meal for us.

I like to be found. I like to know where I am going when and what I’m doing once I get there. I like to preview the menu before I go to a restaurant and make sure it “fits” with how I’m eating. As I’ve blogged about before, I’m kind of a control freak! Years of such structured training and education in figure skating and in school left me with an almost compulsive need to know, understand and plan. Getting lost in Lisbon was an epic reminder of what you find when you go with the flow. It’s so important to let yourself get lost. Just when we think we are at our most lost, we actually really start to find things out. They don’t call it found treasure – it’s lost treasure – and that’s what I found when we got lost.

Without experiences like this that push my boundaries, I don’t think I would be constantly out-growing my control freak nature. Without putting myself in difficult situations, not just this travel experience, but many others where I don’t know what is happening, I would not be moving in the directions I am. It’s so important to let go of our clinging nature to what is comfortable and to let ourselves get lost in the world around us.

The original restaurant we were trying to eat at was called St. Antonio de Alfama. The restaurant we found while lost this fateful night was called Os Gazeteiros and I hope you will check it out if you are in Lisbon – call ahead to reserve your table. It took us the rest of the week to finally find St. Antonio de Alfama and by that time I was so relaxed from the Portuguese hospitality and pace of life that I had prawns, whole fish and a lotta garlic vegetables all in one meal.

We finally found - and ate at - the original restaurant we were looking for!

We finally found – and ate at – the original restaurant we were looking for!

The next time you feel lost, I hope you can recall this story. I know I will! We need reminders about how important it is to lose our way from time to time so the real treasures can rise up from the depths of experience for us to delight in.

Body of Memory

I can recall quite clearly that I got up late on Tuesday September 11, 2001. My roommate was still asleep in the loft bed and I quietly grabbed a quick bagel and snuck out the door to get to my 8am lecture. I was exhausted and went to class in my pajamas – the bottoms had stars on them. I rolled into the huge lecture hall at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and took a seat on the left hand aisle all the way at the top. I was always nervous in big lectures – I wanted to make sure if anything happened I had a way out. At the time I was deep in the throws of panic and anxiety attacks, and that morning was particularly bad. I fidgeted all through class.

The lecture was East Asian Languages and Cultures: Hindu Mythology. I studied the philosophical underpinnings of yoga before I became a teacher and this class fascinated me from the first day. The professor spoke almost always in the metaphors of the myths we were studying and September 11 was no different. That day she was lecturing about the Yuga Cycles in Hinduism – the idea that there are four ages in the cycle of humanity. She spoke about the current cycle – Kali Yuga – and about its qualities of death and destruction, ignorance and hatred. She gave examples of the escalating violence around the world and humankind’s dissolution into the most base states of being – attacking one another as different and breaking harmony at any chance. As we got towards the 9am end point of the lecture she said, “And today is just another example: myth made real. It was no accident that plane crashed into that building in New York City.”

When I left my room at 7:30am CST, it was 8:30am EST. When I reached the lecture hall at 8am CST, it was 9am EST and the first plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. My professor knew about the first plane – I did not. I had rushed to class without looking at anything – no email, no television, no internet.

When I got home the house I lived in with nearly 100 other people was in shambles. Every television was on blaring. Everyone sat staring into the television screens with tears in their eyes. My panic felt real. My heart went out to all the people dying in New York. Despite what the news anchors were saying to reassure that this was a freak accident, I knew that many people were dying senselessly as the towers fell. Later we all found out just how many.

I had never heard of Al-Qaeda. I honestly knew little about what was going on in the world. I lived in a bubble. That day I purposefully popped the bubble I was living in and took a real look at the world around me and what I could do to live in it better. It was because of these events that I took a liking to forensic anthropology – my professor was an identifier at Ground Zero and her service was a tremendous inspiration to the power of what I was learning to bring closure to grieving families. It was because of this event that I moved to Italy for a summer semester despite having no money and having never been outside the country before because I needed to understand how much bigger the world was than my small corner of it. It was because of this event that I studied harder, became kinder and worked to know my world and its inhabitants more fully in all their messy glory.

I remember calling everyone I loved and making sure they were ok that day. A high school contact was working for the Pentagon at the time and he was the hardest to track down. Everyone was safe and sound. But on that day even though everyone I knew was safe, nothing was safe. I will never forget the details of that day. I’ve probably written about them many times and not just this year. The details flood back to me every year and I feel the fidgety Allison that sat in that lecture hall over again.

Our memory – it is one of the greatest strengths of being human. Our lives are written in memories upon our body. The food we ate becomes a memory of molecules in our tissue. Our workout becomes a memory in our muscles. Our sadness becomes a memory of our heart. The very fiber of our being is seemingly made up of the memories of life. And long after our mind may forget, our body does not.

So today, to honor those who passed, those we knew and those we did not, to honor those who searched and risked their lives and health to find survivors, to honor those who helped all over New York City, the United States and the world – for all of them and for all of us – we remembered today. On the mat, in my classes we set a simple intent to feel how memory lives through us. Feel all the thoughts, emotions, energies and sensations brought through the body as we breathed and moved. And in this daring act of feeling, we remember – each in our own way – and hold sacred to a belief that in our vulnerability to be humans who feel we are so strong. We can, we will and we must move forward to help create a better world, but we do so because we remember deep within our bones the tragedy of this day and too many others like it.

The Company You Keep

While I was away traveling and teaching yoga, I missed a dear friend’s birthday. I was in Peterborough teaching a part of the Forrest Yoga Foundation Teacher Training for a couple of days and then I visited my family in London. One afternoon during my time in London we decided to go to a proper afternoon tea sitting at Fortnum and Mason – a really old, iconic department store with a beautiful tea room. It was an incredible experience – so delicious and so filling. They were even able to accommodate my gluten free diet.

The beautiful tea setting at Fortnum and Mason.

The beautiful tea setting at Fortnum and Mason.

When I got home I asked my friend and another if they wanted to go out to an afternoon tea here in Chicago at the Peninsula Hotel to celebrate Friend #1’s birthday. I’m so happy they agreed! We met up today and sat around for a couple of hours sipping on delicious teas, eating finger sandwiches and tiny cakes. We sang a really quiet happy birthday to our friend so as not to alarm the calm tea room. We talked about our lives and laughed and smiled. I left feeling totally reset and uplifted.

My gluten free tower of tea treats at Peninsula Hotel Chicago. YUM!

My gluten free tower of tea treats at Peninsula Hotel Chicago. YUM!

Here’s the thing: each one of us could have spent those two hours complaining, whining or otherwise reminiscing about some of the really hard, challenging and awful things we are passing through these days (or have passed through). We each have them – really intense things that are the stuff of our life now and before. Instead each one of us spoke about our current wins, our delights and joys, the challenges we have overcome and who helped us. We talked about role models and inspirations that kept us going on days that felt tough. We encouraged one another on current paths that are really uncharted territory. In short, we had our own little empowerment tea meet-up – and it was glorious. We each got to be ourselves full on – vulnerable and raw – and to feel the support of the two others in that open state. We simply and yet very profoundly delighted in each others company. And because of that lovely company, we only have pictures of food!

I came home to see a post from a new Forrest Yoga Teacher who was traveling with a friend and realized she used to be a “misery loves company” kind of gal – and now she couldn’t stand it. I thought back to the many times in the not so distant past that I would dramatically change myself in desperate attempts to get people to like me or commiserate with coworkers complaining endlessly about this or that – our negativity and my inauthenticity fueling a downward spiral. I would hope to find community by fitting in or “doing the right thing” only to feel left out and alone. And I got to thinking about how far I’ve come with the company I keep as a result of my internal practices of inquiry. What a difference it has made in the quality of my life to actively filter the influences around me so they support the person I most want to become. Also how accountable I have become of my own actions in sustaining my energy and purpose.

There were many times in my life when I had little choice about the company I kept. As a figure skater I was placed around other figure skaters who trained at my same level. We were all so competitive with one another that nothing ever felt friendly or real. As a really nerdy high school student I never felt like I fit in anywhere so I didn’t really keep much company – I moved around between many groups never really staying long enough for anyone to get to know me. In college I received a scholarship contingent upon me living in a house full of other scholarship recipients and I didn’t even get to choose a roommate. It constantly felt like house full of strangers with a few exceptions. It was not until recently that I made the company I keep a conscious act.

The people we are surrounded by day in and day out have a real affect on how we feel. We have some choices about who we spend the majority of our time around. I know that we can’t always choose family situations or work colleagues, but we can profoundly support ourselves by monitoring who we let “in.” I used to think I had to let everyone in. As a result, I put forth a really diluted version of myself – I think one of my fellow Forrest Yoga colleagues called it my vanilla version! When I made it an active endeavor to fill my life with the kind of people I most wanted to be in my field of energy and in my heart, I felt different. Suddenly it was as if the world was in color again and the energy of life around me was on fire.

To be vulnerable, open and authentic around people and to feel their love and support is a magical gift. I decided that I wanted to surround myself with those kind of people – the ones who saw me just as I am: a perfectly imperfect human and love me anyway. The people who I can talk to about major screw ups without feeling like I’ll lose them. The people who inspire me to be a better version of myself, who help me on the days I lose my path, who remind me of my inherent goodness. And these people are the ones that I can also love as perfectly imperfect beings and reciprocate back to.

One of my favorite poems, “The Invitation,” by Oriah Mountain Dreamer has a line: “I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.” And each and every time I reach into the question if I’m keeping the best company that will propel me forward, I ask internally if this person would stand with me in my own personal fire of life. If the answer is yes, I know I’ve found my person. If the answer is no, I move on now.

I’m thankful for the presence of really supportive people in my life these days. I send prayers and blessings of lovingkindness to those I had to let go of or part ways with over the years for various reasons. The process has made me more comfortable in my own skin and stronger in my life path. So now I ask you, do you like the company you keep? And if not, where is it time to make a change? And if yes, can you say a thank you for those that bolster you up just for being you? I’m thanking my two friends for not only a glorious tea date, but also just the inspiration I needed in a laughter, cake-filled, conversational afternoon.

The Path of Passion

As part of my birthday celebration, a dear student and friend gifted me a ticket to see the incredible Adele perform at the United Center last Monday. I’ve lived in the Chicagoland area my whole life, and I love music, but I had never been to the United Center nor had I ever seen a “big” show like this one. I was excited and nervous all at the same time! Walking into that huge space surrounded by so many excited people was overwhelming and beautiful.

I love Adele’s music and I have all her albums, but I wouldn’t say that I am a superfan or anything. I don’t know the words to every song. I don’t know her whole story. I guess I should say, “I didn’t” because now I am a superfan, have been binge listening to her songs all week and have tried to learn more about her.

To say I left her concert inspired is a gross understatement – I left her concert moved very deeply into my very core. From the glorious first moment when her voice suddenly said a melodic “Hello” to us as she rose from the floor to the stage to the final lyrics of a third encore and an explosion of confetti spilled out over the crowds, I was struck by her raw passion. This is a woman who not only wrote and performed incredible music, but also relayed to us between songs the humanity of her experience raising her son, losing and finding her creativity again after taking a “break” to be a Mum, and her trials with love over the years. She joked about how she only has two happy songs and the rest were there for us to cry together about. She told us about how she loved our city and what she did while here. She pulled people up from the crowd and sang with them, hugged them and took selfies with them.

Rising up from below the stage as she sang "Hello" - the one and only Adele.

Rising up from below the stage as she sang “Hello” – the one and only Adele.

In short, she spoke to a crowd of thousands – and me – as if we were close friends catching up over dinner at the end of the week. With every song, the richness and emotion of every note came pouring out of her. Just thinking about it again, I get goosebumps. She was an example of passion made into real life. Adele never downplayed the hard work or the challenges it took to get where she is today – she spoke about them eloquently. Behind every story you could hear a determination, an open heart and a strong Spirit, and that passion comes through in her music – it’s probably one of the reasons we love her so much! For myself and so many others, I think that living a life on our path of passion can be such a challenge and we need people like Adele to remind us how much energy is released and uplifted when we let our passions move through our lives.

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Seeing the emotion in her every facial expression on the big screen during the concert was incredible.

I’ve spent the better part of the past 14 years teaching my students through Forrest Yoga to follow their passions – to play on their long hidden talents, strengths and desires both on and off the mat. I’ve helped people to completely change their life paths to more passionate and fulfilling ones – whether their yoga practice has helped with a job change, relationship change or the birth of a new child. It is such rewarding work and so beautiful to see Spirit unfold as students really listen and feel their inner heartfelt desires for their lives come forth. All the while, I’ve been able to do something that I love: teach. I have a really full and rewarding career teaching yoga.

But somewhere along the way, I buried some of my other passions. I have let myself get consumed with teaching and with helping others to find their life paths. My busyness helped me cope with the “messy side” of some of my passions. If I just kept looking outside to the work I was doing with others, I thought I could just move through my life without having to work through the unpredictability that my creative side embodied. The science-brain, Type A, perfectionist side of my personality really likes predictable schedules, sequences, order and answers. My passionately creative side honors no schedule (she usually chimes in late at night when I like to sleep), does not give me things in any order or sequence (line 20 of the poem arrives before line 1), and usually offers up very cryptic answers if any at all.

So all the while the poems, stories, characters and books kept knocking inside my head. For many years now – probably since I was about 14 and started doing yoga – I would find myself scribbling words on scratch paper while sitting in class or more recently at a stoplight. I would wake up at night having had conversations with characters who don’t exist yet. I dreamed during long savasanas at Ana Forrest workshops in rhymes, only to have the words leave me as soon as I woke up. I would go through periods after buying my first Kindle of devouring books every couple of days – completely absorbed in the stories I was reading. When I was younger I would spend the summers reading more than 50 books in three months.

You see, one of my paths to passion is through words. I have kept journals since I was really young. The old ones have stories and poems throughout them. I wrote for contests all the way up into high school. And then when I was injured figure skating, and that whole part of my life was abruptly taken away from me – something changed. I lost my passion. I channeled myself into AP classes, working as a caddie, going to college – I channeled myself into what I thought success was. I finished two Bachelor’s degrees and a whole lot of engineering curriculum (without a degree) in just four years. I studied and taught yoga. I worked at the Field Museum after college. I then threw myself into teaching yoga full time, managing at a gym, working on teacher training and building an incredible life with my partner (and pets). I started a blog because “that’s what yoga teachers do.” Really, I essentially stopped writing for my creative heart after my skating injury. Skating had been a huge path of passion and it was so unceremoniously destroyed by a big fall. Deep inside I think I worried that would happen with my other passions if I kept letting them out to play so why not lock them away? Surely my writing would never be “good enough” anyway…

I’ve written about this in my newsletter and mentioned it in a few blogs, but I have spent the past 6 months working in depth with a shaman. My shaman is also a published author and all around incredible woman (you are Bridget Boland). We opened up a bunch of old boxes inside me full of lots of things to work on: limiting beliefs, tendencies towards overworking, old emotions I hadn’t processed…And once out of the box I started to realize that one of the biggest things missing in my life was my creative side. One of the biggest things I boxed away was a huge passion of my heart.

I’ve taken up writing in my journal again. I’ve been blogging more regularly (and with more vulnerability). I’ve been writing poems again. I started to write down those characters that come to me at night in my dreams. It’s messy. It’s scary. It will ask of me – and is asking of me – that I change a lot about how I have set up my life. I feel a whole host of strange shifts happening. And when my shaman said to me on a phone check up today, “What is the priority now?” There were a whole jumble of answers yelling back and forth between my heart and my brain to that question.

Confetti from the concert - copies of handwritten lyrics and sayings from Adele

Confetti from the concert – copies of handwritten lyrics and sayings from Adele

So I’m thinking of Adele, and her stories about the risks and tribulations she passed through to be this force of nature with her music. I’m thinking of her stage fright, her inner critic, the messiness she expressed about her own life path – and how she went after her passion anyways. Even when it made other people uncomfortable (she talked about her ex not being able to handle her success), even when she thought she had lost her way (she talked about her post-partum feelings affecting her music writing), even when she thought no one might like her new music (and then she sold a bag-gillion albums). I feel more inspired to go after mine. Not that I’ll be anything near an Adele-force, but something passionate is brewing and I need to walk its path to see where it leads. There are too many “what ifs” if I don’t. I hope that you will risk taking your passions out into the open too and making them a part of your life. The more we each bring of our whole Self to this world, the better and more beautiful it becomes.

Weaving Our Web

This summer the spiders outside our home have been busily weaving the most beautiful webs all over our deck and windows. I don’t actually like spiders – they scare me a little bit! But their glistening, strong webs have had me thinking lately about the weaving of the web of humanity – and its strength and fragility of late.

When I came to practice Forrest Yoga, Ana Forrest spoke often about the mission of her methodology of yoga to teach in a way that helped “Mend the Hoop of the People.” At the time, I was a teenager and I didn’t understand much of what she meant when she used that phrase. As I practiced with her longer, I came to more clearly comprehend her deep personal commitment to help heal the broken connections between individuals, cultures, countries and inside each person’s own Spirit as a way of strengthening the web of humanity – one person, one class, one yoga pose, one breath at a time. The depth of this mission has never felt so pressing to me as of late.

As we spent a weekend celebrating our country’s Independence Day this 4th of July, I kept thinking of one of the oldest motto’s of the United States – E pluribus unum – Out of many, one. If my AP US History still serves me, this original motto was a description of the colonies joining together to become one nation and how much stronger they were as a united front. I understand that their bonding together pitted them against other nations in wars and violence, but I still feel there is an importance foreshadowed by these words – an importance bigger than just our country.

This is time when divisiveness is at an all time high: socially, politically, economically and even individually. We are many faiths, political systems, economies, communities and people – and yet we make up one country here in the US and one world if you take this post to a global level. Our human people are not only divided against each other, but also can carry within their own minds and hearts deep personal disconnects. Our web – our hoop of people – feels broken and fractured. In her book, Fierce Medicine, that is exactly how Ana describes the story of Black Elk – a Lakota medicine man who spoke of a vision of the hoop of the people – as inspiring her personal mission. I understand my teacher’s urgency to help people learn how to breathe deeply, to meditate, to connect with their Spirit’s wisdom and to live a life according to the delicate balance and harmony of everything’s interconnectedness. There are lights in the darkness when I see children being raised differently and more openly, when I see my yoga students developing new insights and connections to their own Spirits, when I see other humans providing random acts of kindness and gratitude, and when I focus on the people who are doing really healing things for humanity all over the globe.

I have friends, colleagues and even family members of many different religions, political parties, socioeconomic groups and corners of the world. As someone who has the absolute privilege to travel and see different parts of the world, I often marvel at how similar we are despite vast differences in food, religion, political opinions and ways of life. For some reason I can see and feel the similarities more strongly than the differences. When I studied anthropology and worked for several years as a museum anthropologist, I felt this curiosity for other ways of life continue to grow. I would look at a basket woven in North America and see the same shape in some pottery from Asia, all the while thinking about how really different expressions had common bases. Sometimes I am overcome with the feeling that not everyone is as curious or as able to see similarities in the midst of difference.

Lately I have been sensing a deeply held cynicism in many news reports and social media postings about the state of the world – it is really easy to be beat down by what I hear and what I read. Countries oppressing their people or worse torturing them. Wars around the globe. Vast income inequality growing by the day. Racism. Distrust. Terrorism. Disease. Hunger. Suffering on so many levels. There are a lot of things to be concerned about. But each day that I’ve been meditating recently, all that comes up is this feeling of “Out of many, we are one.” This is, in addition to a national motto, also a foundational yogic principle in several non-dual philosophical lineages. Where yogic philosophy might have spoken about breath, mind and body relating together as one, or the Witness and the Witnessed as one, today it feels like what happens in Turkey, the United Kingdom, Iraq, Bangladesh and the United States is all connected. Where one part of our human web is suffering, the whole is suffering.

The opposite also arises as true: as one of us learns to be understanding, it ripples out along the web of humanity. As another of us chooses love over hatred, it sends a signal out to others to choose love. When we choose to live the life of our deepest wisdom – our Spirit – and not our fear – we inspire others to seek out their deepest wisdom and Spirit. If we can feel and see each person on this planet as an integral part of a bigger picture – if we can all start to see out of the many, we are one – then the ripples get a little bigger and things start to change. Does this mean our differences go away? No – absolutely it does not. It means that we find a deep sense of peace in connecting to one another profoundly in spite of our differences.

If I worry about having an effect half a world away, but I ignore my own health or the issues of my community – my worry doesn’t do much. When I choose to take action in my own life and in the communities I am a part of, the impact can be tremendous. So here is my suggestion: let’s take inspiration from our forefathers and put back into action the idea that out of many, we are one people. Start small. Pick one action in your daily life that makes a difference in how you openly and clearly experience the world around. Pick an issue that a community you are a part of is facing and take some action related to it. As your interconnectedness with your own Self and the world you live in grows, expand your reach outside your state or outside your country.

Here are some ideas for yourself, your community, your state, your country and your world:

  1. Meditate, Pray, Do Yoga, Take Tai Chi or Qi Gong, Go for a Long Walk in Quiet – feel how contemplative practices of all varieties connect you back into yourself
  2. Volunteer in your community – spend an afternoon at a food pantry or soup kitchen, visit a senior citizen’s home, read books to kids
  3. Make a donation of time, gently used items or money that benefits a different community outside of your own – remember that even the smallest ripples spread out far and wide so don’t worry about “how much” you donate or give
  4. Write your government representatives about what is important to you and the changes you would like to see supported
  5. Get a pen pal – you can sign up for programs where you write letters to armed service personnel on overseas deployment, you can also write to students who are learning in English in other countries
  6. Go travel – whether it is within your local area or beyond, learn how other people live outside of your regular daily life
  7. Read sources of news and information from other countries – this might lend you different lenses for understanding similar stories
  8. Remind yourself to stay open in the midst of people who have vastly different ways of life or belief

This week as I am celebrating my country, I’m also reminding myself of a greater community I’m a part of – humanity. I’m looking for ways big and small, daily and beyond to help feel more connected and strong as a part of this web of human beings. I’m recommitting myself to a vision of a world where there is a more supportive and woven web throughout humanity across borders and differences – and I hope I can inspire you to come with me in that vision!

The Stories We Tell

This weekend I taught a Forrest Yoga class themed around internal dialogue. Our internal dialogue is the running speech going on inside our heads all the time – and often it’s quite a harsh monologue! This intention for class struck a cord with the students and many realized that behind the scenes a litany of devastating stories were passing by at any given moment. If left unconscious, the stories we tell our selves can be detrimental to our well-being. Once brought to light, there is often an uncomfortable period of acknowledging the havoc these stories have wreaked on our life choices and path. So what are we to do about the stories we tell ourselves internally?

I’m no stranger to storytelling! One of the first things that brought me into the practice of Forrest Yoga was Ana Forrest asking me the simple questions, “Do you believe your injury can heal?” “What can you do in this moment?” and “Who is the person you most want to become?” My answers when I met her were something along the lines of: my injury cannot heal this is just how it will be for me forever, I can’t do anything in this moment or any other moment because I am totally and completely incompetent, and I don’t want to be anyone because there is nothing noteworthy about me that matters. WHOA! Holy harsh internal dialogue! Ana could sense this tendency in me from the get-go. None of these stories were true and she had seemingly magical methods to get me to the truth: healing is always a possibility, there is always a choice we can make in each moment to move towards our own path of healing, and Spirit can help us to uncover the person we most want to become through an exciting and fascinating journey into our Self.

Perhaps you too are currently plagued by a nasty internal dialogue of stories like mine. Here are the tools I’ve learned through Forrest Yoga and through my other teacher, Bridget Boland, to rewrite the stories running inside so that they are supportive of the person I most want to become.

Identify where you hold the story physically. Every story in your internal dialogue lives in your body. When you come across a story you’ve been running with, FEEL where it lives. Take the first area that shows up in your awareness when you repeat this story. You must feel where it lives in your body – you can’t think about this one! Once you find the home of your story in your physical body, do things that reach that area and shift its perspective. Take deep breaths that stir the energy of this spot. Do poses that affect the spaciousness this area holds. Flip yourself upside down and sense what happens to this house of your story. Changing the physical home of your troubling story changes how you are able to see, feel, understand and rewrite an inner tale you’ve been telling yourself.

Align with your wisdom centers. Our head is only one of many wisdom centers in our toolbox – and it’s the one that gets too much stage time! Practicing physical postures where you align your head with your heart and gut can help you glean insight from the wise cave of your heart and the intuition of your gut. Experimenting with simple breathing exercises and traditional pranayama can help you draw on the wisdom of your breath. Meditating on the areas of the 7 major chakras – pelvic floor, pelvic bowl, middle abdomen, heart center, throat, middle brain and top of head – can help you pull in understanding from your sources of emotion, creation, digestion, relationship and so much more! As you get more information, the old story begins to feel small and you realize it doesn’t actually fit you anymore.

Ask someone you trust outside of your mind. Sometimes a trusted ally or friend can be the light that pierces through a damaging story. I trust my shaman, Bridget, a lot. I’ve known her since I was 21 and she assisted Ana in my Forrest Yoga Foundation Teacher Training course. When I get stuck on a story that I think is true, but feel is limiting me – she is an ally who can reflect to me how kooky some of my internal dialogues are. It’s important to have these mirrors outside of yourself to remind you of what is helping you forward and what is holding you back. A trusted outside source can help you to become conscious of the stories you tell yourself that are not, in fact, true. The same sources can then inspire you to see the actual. We have a practice in Forrest Yoga that is similar whereby two teachers sit together and tell each other “what’s great about you.” There’s never a dry eye! Again and again our stories have limited our ability to see our own Beauty – we just need to be reminded of it now and then!

See all the possibilities. Oftentimes when we get stuck in our lives it is because a limiting story has taken up roots inside us. Our limiting stories may relate to our physical abilities, our career paths, financial situation, relationships and so much more. We get accustomed to seeing only what we think we know and excluding all the other possibilities. Ana was able to model to me through her injury journey the possibility of recovery from my own injury. When I would ask her questions about her injuries and how she worked to promote healing in her own body, her answers would inspire a curiosity in me to seek out how I might also experience healing. Seeing another possibility and being curious about it reminds our mind that there is not only one way things can go. This reminder sets us up for re-crafting the visions we have about our Self.

Write them and read them out loud. This is perhaps the most difficult tool I’ve used to help rewrite my internal stories: I physically wrote them out on a piece of paper and read them out loud to myself. Feeling the downtrodden, sad, depressed or angry feelings that arose in me when I read my internal dialogue out loud helped me to understand how damaging these stories were to my physical, mental, emotional, energetic and spiritual well-being. I started writing out what I wanted to believe about myself, what I wanted to foster in myself and the way I intended things to happen. Reading these statements, while also very uncomfortable in a different way, brought on feelings of hope, happiness and excitement. Now I know that when a thought comes up that heavily weighs me down, I have to return to the drawing board to find a new one that helps to lift me up.

Take the time to explore what your internal dialogue is talking about inside you all the time. Feel, do you like the conversation that is being spoken? If not, take the time to bring in these tools so that you can build up your own inner champion and experience your life from a place of truthful affirmations. I know that some of you may worry that without your negative internal critic, you’ll never get anywhere in life. The truth is that you will evolve beyond your wildest imagination as you let go of that critic and tell yourself some more truthful and compelling stories.

The Warrior’s Heart

This morning in my Memorial Day yoga class at Equinox, the intent was to practice from a Forrest Yoga concept called “Building Your Warrior’s Heart.” This practice relates to using backbending poses to release hardening in the areas of the chest, shoulders, upper back and ribs – bringing in a fresh new energy and resiliency to the area around the heart. When the backlog of hardness around the heart is opened there is an ability for deep breaths to penetrate long held layers of emotion and release long dormant waves of feeling. As these energies release there is a clearing of emotional stuckness and a meeting of the experiences of life from a distinct softness, freshness and strength. The purpose of building a warrior’s heart is to remind Spirit of the counsel of heart energy in life decisions and actions – to help give the energy of the heart a strong set of legs, a clear head and wide reaching pair of wings so that it can fly through all avenues of the life path. When your Spirit feels the freedom of your heart to experience life, you are able to more readily absorb the sweetness and Beauty around you, and to take action from the preciousness of the life by which you are surrounded. This practice felt important on this day when we pause to honor and remember the warriors in our culture who have died so that we may live out our lives in freedom.

Both of the lineages that I work in – Forrest Yoga and iRest Yoga Nidra – have made strong headways into working with veterans, and lately I have been feeling a call in similar directions. I’ve been thinking a lot these days about veterans in general and specifically about a Grandfather that I never met. I’ve been curious about the stories of the lives of veterans after they come home from serving our country, and recently I came across some rather remarkable information related to this particular Grandfather I never knew. His story has been fascinating me – I think in part because I have been thinking so much about how cycles in history seem to repeat themselves. Our time right now feels like certain aspects of his time are being repeated – tragically. Genocide, repression, fear, power struggles. He was a celebrated World War II veteran and did some extraordinary things overseas…and then he quietly returned home to raise his family and support them through their lives without really ever talking about the remarkable things he did during the war. His service was tremendous – as was that of thousands of other servicemen and women in that war and countless others – and then coming home it feels like part of that incredible service is forgotten or unknown. Our country and so many others are built upon the belief, conviction and service of these members of our military. At times I think we forget or misunderstand their incredible sacrifice that has brought about our way of life. I feel drawn to know more about their stories and to play a part in remembering them not just one day a year, but each and every day I get to live a life in a free country.

Grandpa, Austria 1945

Grandpa, Austria 1945

So today as I am thinking of him and so many others like him past and present, I’m also feeling the importance of developing our own warrior’s heart as a way of honoring the gift their service has given us – as a way of honoring our own freedom. When we sit in counsel with the wisdom of our heart, we know our own values, we can process our life experiences better and we can move into the world in a really powerful way without being bound by our old emotions or our troublesome experiences. We each have the power and responsibility not only to honor those who have fought to protect and serve our country, but also to develop within ourselves the strength and suppleness of heart to move forward in the world with compassion, self-awareness, softness and strength. We have an incredible capacity as humans to care and tend for things – this is the wisdom I hope we bring forth from our warrior’s heart. May we care for each other, tend to the garden of humanity and grow a world we can be really proud of.