Why a personal practice is the most important practice

imagesI dont cry very often. I can count on one hand the amount of times I have really cried in the past year (and believe me I have had a very challenging year). This is shocking to people. From what I am told, a lot of people cry as much in a week as I do in a year. Sometimes I know I need to cry. I feel it building behind my eyes, pressing into my heart, making my insides feel watery and salty. I will breathe and soften and let my body heave in preparation of the sobs I feel building….and then perhaps three tears will drip out of my eyes. Very often I think “Ok! this is IT! the big one. The UGLY CRY”, but like a tide moving back to sea I feel my tears recede and it’s over.

I used to cry. I loved crying. I was the person who would start crying 20 minutes before the death you knew was coming in the movie, I would cry with friends when they were sad, I would spend hours crying to wring out the last bit of emotion at the end of a sad situation. Maybe we have a little resevoir of tears that I used up too early in my life. Maybe I grew up and put crying away in a box marked “teenage moments”and put it deep into my heart for safe keeping. Though I love these images (they fit in well with the drama of the serial cryer that I was), It was none of these things that dried my tears. It was in fact my personal yoga practice that did that.

When I started practicing yoga, I was in my early twenties.Yoga was still not very mainstream. There was only ONE yoga studio in my then neighborhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I took my first class and was hooked. I am still shocked to this day how quickly and deeply I fell in love with the practice. I was (and full disclosure- still am) the girl who hates to exercise for exercise sake. I would shrink at the thought of exerting any extra physical effort if it could be avoided (ugh, why walk when you can take the subway?). But I found myself going day after day to my local yoga studio and working harder than I had ever worked, sweat rolling down every part of my body. If people talked to me about it or saw my now toned yoga body, they would  say “Wow- you are so athletic. You work out every day!” I still giggle when I hear that because I am strong and athletic sure, but that is a by product of my practice. I started to realize very quickly that my  practice was my church, my therapy, my safe space my heart.

Even with this profound realization, I for many years only practiced at a studio. If I went away, couldn’t fit a class into my schedule, or was too broke to afford yoga classes- my mat went relatively untouched. I would roll it out look at it and listen to the questions that started running through my head “Wait, was it warrior 1 then warrior 2? How many breaths do  take in down dog? Where do I find that yoga music the teacher was playing? Does it count if I only practice for 20 minutes?”. Inevitably I would roll my mat back up and tell myself “Im just a studio kind of girl”. It never mattered all that much however, because I usually found a way to sneak in at least one to two classes a week. It wasn’t until the birth of my first child that my practice at a studio came to a grinding halt. When I had my son of course everything in my world shifted. I became a teacher at a private school, filled my life with playdates and parks, and stopped practicing altogether. I didnt even notice the toll it started to take on the emotional me for months and months. When I finally did realize that I had to find my way back to my practice, it had been almost a year and a half since Id been on my mat.

Being a young couple with a child, not only was money an issue, but so was time. If I could scrape up the money to pay for a class, my husband would be at band practice or work and a babysitter was out of the question for us financially. I had no choice but to figure out how to create a home practice. At first I tried with a tape, but it was super awkward and I got bored (Sorry, Rodney Yee!) after doing it a few times. Then I tried writing a class sequence down and following that….it was very serious work: “Do I have enough twists? When should I backbend? Hmmmmm, how many Surya Namaskar A’s before I move into B’s?” That made me super stressed out and took all of the joy out of yoga for me.

Then one day I couldnt stop crying. It was one of those days where it seemed like there was spigot that had been turned on that I couldnt turn off. I would think I stopped crying and would reach up and feel my face wet with tears. Without thinking I took out my mat and put on the music that spoke to my heart the most and started to move. My tears transformed into sweat as it started to roll off my brow, chest, face, back. With every vinyasa and every breath and every beautiful transition from posture to posture, I felt my tears transfer into sweat. I pounded through the same sequence over and over and over again, listening to the same song, doing the same three postures my body and soul was asking for until they asked for another. At the end of the practice I was transformed. In that one afternoon at home alone on my mat, I dried my tears and replaced them with my breath. I learned what it meant to move not because someone was asking you to move through a sequence, but because my body was begging to work through something so deeply imbedded inside of me that I couldn’t touch it otherwise. I was reborn from my sweat and felt my body in a different way than I ever have. I found my church, my therapy, my deep joy inside myself and my practice that day.

Now I own a yoga studio and I go to classes and teach classes all week long. I don’t find a lot of time for my personal practice. But when I need to work through something deep and challenging I make the time to find myself on my mat again.  I found myself there today, as a matter of fact. I let three hot tears baptize my mat, and then my sweat did the rest. A personal practice is the greatest gift you can give yourself, as it is the truest expression of who you are. I included a little bit of that practice today…I am doing the postures that are like my yoga comfort food. There don’t need to be fancy tricks or a varied postures like a traditional class, just the practice you need and crave. So put down your mat, move and bathe in your sweat. I promise, you wont miss the tears one bit.

The Cherry Tree

ist2_396513-cherry-blossom-drawing

It was too quiet the other night.

I opened my mouth to let a single note into the air

but nothing could push past the silence

I remember as a little girl laying in the darkness with the katydids

the smell of green tinged with  the sweetness of decay

I would hold my hand in front of my face touching my palm to my nose

eyes searching to see what had been swallowed by the velvet blackness

I was pulled under by the terror of what I could not see

letting  fear cradle me until I could not move


Cutting through the stillness I heard the blood

moving through the vessels and the veins

And remembered the time that I wore my magenta shirt and it was so cold

but the cherry trees were in bloom across my chest

and nothing else mattered but your smile


For a moment I held my hand up to my face

and touched my palm to my nose

But when I saw the shadow of my hand  

with its lines and delicate moons

I knew I would never again have the moment of freedom that comes

with the terror of what I could not see cradle me until I could not move

Instead  I looked up and saw in the silvery glow

through the lines and delicate moons

the cherry trees in bloom

Screaming at the moon. Loving a wild woman

fcf048d5da3afaaf6760f894d9cd3e04

The other night I screamed at the moon. I fell to my knees and felt the earth dig into my skin. I looked at mother moon who’s cycles drive and move me like the beat of my own heart, I opened my mouth and let my scream rip the air. For a moment the cicadas stopped their chatter and everything grew still as if to make space for the sound I was sending into the sky. And when my scream was heard, the cicadas breathed a sigh of relief and began to drone into the heat again.

I am a wild creature… sometimes mother, sometimes warrior Kali, sometimes maiden, sometimes crone. There are a lot of us out there, us fierce creatures. You have seen us rattling cages, healing wounds, dancing naked in the rain, running screaming through our lives wearing combat boots and ball gowns, ingesting life in huge primal bites as the blood of our ancestors runs from our mouths. We make love to our divine selves and to others as we wrap our legs around our lovers waists throw our head back and howl at the moon. We live our power by owning our femininity and celebrating the fact that we bleed and that our wombs ache and create all life.

I was not always a wild creature. Once I was domesticated. I lived in a beautiful house with shiny things and made the bed in the morning. I always said please and thank you and always did what my owners wanted me to. I lived in fear of making them angry, and made sure that whenever my natural wildness started to ooze through the cracks, that  I would run into the woods climb trees and cry on the rough bark. But I couldn’t hide the way I danced a little too hard, sang a little too loud and played with the moss in the thickets of trees while I talked to the sky and made teacups from acorns. My owners saw these things and knew and tried to domesticate me even further. Like most domesticated creatures, I didn’t understand that I could just let my wildness overtake me. Like most domesticated creatures, the only way I could remember  my essence  was to be thrown out into the wild. For my house to burn down to the ground. For my owners to let me know that I would never be domesticated enough no matter how hard I tried to do what was expected of me.

No one talks about why wild women become wild. No one talks about how these exotic creatures come into being. No one talks about it especially the wild creatures themselves; because it is far too painful.  But I will now tell you the truth  of how we learned to howl at the moon and dig in the earth and dance with our souls. A lot of us came into being because we created ourselves from the ashes of our lives. When we were turned into the wild because we weren’t quite good enough, domesticated enough, when our houses burned to ground….we were left with nothing. That moment in a wild woman’s life is when the awakened creature rises up out of the ruins.That is when our wildness emerges, and we learn to stand, dance, sing, dress, cry…on our own. We realize that it’s ok if its in our nature to rattle cages, run naked in the rain, grow our hair long and love our bodies. We give ourselves permission to feel our wombs move in tune with the cycles of the moon, to reach out with compassion and love all other creatures with abandon, to hold our head up with pride at the things we have made with our will, our aliveness and our deep connection with all things around us. We know our power and we start to recognize our ancestors. We remember songs and stories told in secret to other wild women around the fire, and we tell them to each other. We know in our hearts that “we are the granddaughters of the witches they could not burn.” We hold others like us close, stroke their hair and speak our secret language to them to soothe their sad hearts. For though we are beautiful, exotic creatures that seem to be made of stardust, blood, sex and magic, we are very often sad, very often scared.

Why are we sad? Because building yourself from the ashes of your life does not come without a price. We remember that we had houses once, before they burned to the ground. We remember that we were not what we were supposed to be, and that we were told that we weren’t good enough…and though we would never change who we are now and how loud we scream and how much we love….we still built our new houses on the ashes of the old.

A wild women is like a stallion. It is the stallions power,exotic beauty and pride that make it so astounding, but it is and will always be wild. You need to approach it gently and show it with infinite patience, love and kindness that you are safe….and that you will never, ever, try to tame it. It will make up its own mind to do what it needs to do and in payment when it loves you and trusts you it will be forever. Wild women are like that as well. Once we trust you, we will love you with the full extent of our soul. Once we love you, we will hold your hand when you need to stay on the ground and clap our hands and laugh with joy when you need to let go to fly. We will never try to put you in a cage, because we know what it feels like to be domesticated against one’s will. We will howl at the moon and make love with you with abandon- moving your body into spaces with ours that can not be defined with words. We will see your divinity and lovingly remind you of it when you have forgotten. But you need to be patient with us, know that we may break free and run before we trust you enough to stay, to know you are safe, to give you our world, before we lay our head on your chest and let you stroke our hair and speak our secret language to us to soothe our sad hearts.

There will still be times when our wildness becomes too much and we will run into the woods, climb trees and cry onto the rough bark. There will still be times when we fall onto our knees and scream at the moon, making the cicadas stop and listen. There will still be times when our eyes grow distant and we become sad because we remember that once our houses burned to the ground. Just wrap your arms around us, pick us up and tell us you love us. Turn on the music and dance too hard and sing too loud with us. Remind us that we are not alone in our wildness. We will always make sure that you know that you are not alone in yours….and that wildness is freedom, joy, life.

Cleaning House

imgres

A few months ago I started to clean out parts of my life. I have been experiencing a lot of shifting and changing in my world and clearing out and cleaning house has been very cathartic for me. We rented a huge dumpster and I started to literally clear the debris of my life away. Papers, old books, broken chairs, items “to be fixed” that were never fixed, old rugs, the huge “potential yard sale pile” that I never got to that sat in the garage and became destroyed by the elements- all of this went into the dumpster. Then I started on clothes asking myself, ” Does this shirt serve me any more? Do I really need this skirt?”. The more I asked the more I realized that NOPE, I didn’t need most of it. All of this stuff was creating clutter in my life. I was done with it. The more I released, the easier it became. I started to look at the really hard things “I know I have had this dress for 20 years and I have so many good memories in it- but it no longer fits me. Do I really need this dress? Nope, I’m done with it.” The lightness that I felt from getting rid of all of the things I no longer needed was exhilarating.

I now realize that the next step has to be decluttering the internal me. I need to let go of what no longer serves me (and perhaps never did), and I have to accept the fact that like holding onto the physical junk in my house, holding onto many things in the attic of my mind is just creating clutter. I am making a commitment to myself to stop emotionally hoarding things due to fear. So here it is- I am throwing it all away. I am done.

Im done feeling bad about the fact that I think all.the.time and that I have things to say all.the.time.. It doesn’t make me better or worse than anyone else that I have a super active inner life, but for some reason in my life I decided that this part of who I am is something that is bad. I am letting go of making excuses, dumbing down, dismantling my natural inclination to be a voice, to continuously ask questions, to challenge. I am no longer making excuses for any of  the subversive bullshit that a woman still has to deal with in our society…. (wage inequality, horrible maternity leave policies, gaslighting, double standards for dress codes etc). It doesn’t matter how much of a wage earner a woman is, what kind of mother a woman is, what kind of lover,friend,spouse,teacher,human a woman is….so many of us  find ourselves apologizing for our perceived inequities. I am done feeling bad for saying  thousands of words because I think ALL THE TIME about 10 things at once. I like that, and I dont want to change it.  I am not longer going to dim my light. I am no longer going to feel inadequate. I am no longer going to apologize for the way that my existence just seems to push people’s buttons and trigger them (and that bums me out more than anyone could ever know because I would never intentionally do that). I’m done feeling silly for not writing in paragraph form, the way I speak to people, my horrible punctuation skills or the way I have a fondness for drinking wine, dancing and making really deliciously crass comments. I am no longer secretly going to feel that I cant be beautiful, sexy, AND smart. I am no longer going to act like more of a man to be more of a woman…..and I am never, EVER, going to apologize or explain myself for loving myself,being my biggest fucking fan and putting myself first. (Yep, I know that’s hard for some of us to digest, but before you get upset read this ). I am not going to be afraid of my shadow side, because my darkness is as much a part of me as my light. I am done with telling a man who hits on me  that “I’m married”, as a way to turn him down instead of just saying “no”.  I am throwing away my insecurity that I still like to wear a bikini after having two kids and being over the age of 40. I am finally letting go of the last little souvenirs of a 3/4 of a lifetime of needing to be liked, (but I am holding onto my understanding that sometimes people don’t like me, and that’s ok). I am done with resentment and finger-pointing.

So dear amazing people in my life, since I am making this commitment to myself, I will make a commitment to you. I will try my best to listen to all of your words (and that’s a hard one that I am really working on every single day), marvel in your beauty, (yep sweet brothers I mean you as well…) celebrate your strengths, hold you up when you are in pain, sit in awe in the YOU that is you and when I can’t do that due to my history and story, try to find the enough self love to look at you and to never ask you to be any different than you are because the essence of you is hard for me. I promise that because I honor myself and take care of who I am and what I need, I will try to never let my fear eclipse your happiness. I promise that I will never ask you to change, and that I will see that asking you to change is a sign of MY unhappiness with myself. I will promise to  try never forget that your voice is different from mine and just as important. I promise to love you….and I promise to let you know that when I can no longer keep that promise and accept that it is something I need to look at inside myself. I promise that I will take responsibility for the moments I don’t honor you because I am no longer taking care of myself. NO matter how hard it is- Im never going to ask you to dim your light or for you to deny your shadow side, because your darkness is as much a part of you as your light. I promise to be a mirror for all that is wonderful in you. I promise that I will be present with you and when I cant, let you know that. I promise that I will hold your hand when we can walk together and not judge you when you need to walk away, no matter how much it hurts me. I promise to never hand you my junk and ask that you hold onto it for me in the attic of your heart, and I ask that if you are holding some of it there because I asked you to so long ago- that you give it back to me….It’s ok. I’ve been cleaning house. I have some extra room now.

tumblr_laq4ndDLtH1qcb94go1_500

Love Is Our Essence

quote-love-is-our-true-essence-love-has-no-limitations-of-caste-religion-race-or-nationality-mata-amritanandamayi-78-54-62So true confession…I have a hard time with love. I know that sounds mental to the people who know me as I really do try to live in a space of clarity and love (though the people closest to me just did a spit take if they were drinking anything and reading that last statement). Ok, so let me clarify things…I really have a hard time fully feeling comfortable with love. This is because it is the most mutable emotion in the pantheon of emotions. It’s painful, expansive, subjective, powerful, small, selfless, selfish, passionate, fleeting,enduring,timeless, terrifying (this is a big one in my love dictionary)….With this kind of complexity how can any of us really understand what drives the heart of most conscious beings? In my job I have realized the importance of helping people understand the idea of love (as when working with people it is what everyone is struggling with ),  and to hopefully demystify the seemingly undefinable ,most sought after state of being in our existence. If we can hold it to the light and see what it really is it no longer controls us. It is exactly what it needs to be.

Real love is so much more complex than the types of love we have been told about in fairy tales by Disney, “Motherhood”(Fatherhood), “Childhood”,(as seen through the eyes of hollywood, books and stories). These are the narrow definitions of love we think we understand.  These paradigms of love have already been digested and explained to us. What is a deeply personal experience has been defined, stripped down and often controlled  by an external source. None of this is real. All the complex real love we feel is never addressed. In reality, love is so many things combined…including anger and fear. A lot of love is not easy. A lot of love is complicated. When we are never told that what is the equivalent of the ultimate good in the universe and our awareness also holds within in our shadow sides – all of the things that we spend our lifetime trying to  (unsuccessfully) avoid, we have a very two dimensional view of love. That limited understanding of what really creates the complexity and the enormity of love leaves many of us confused. Since our definition of love is so narrow we often don’t even see that the emotion we are often sitting in IS love, just not in a way that we have been taught to understand it .

The first thing people do when I speak to them about the complexity of the emotion of love is defend love, as if it is a person that I have insulted; “but LOVE would never feel like that! it is pure and selfless! LOVE asks for nothing in return! LOVE is eternal. LOVE has no expectations attached to it.” My response to them always is: “Why are you making love impossible?” The idea that love is all of these things is beautiful for sure, but not attainable….for love is not something that exists outside of ourselves that we pluck from the universe like an apple off a tree- love exists inside of us because it IS us. Love is who we are- what we create, what we have the capacity to understand- and therefore it is flawed. It is in those flaws that we are presented with the most powerful essence of what love is. Love is mutable, love is angry, love is vulnerable,love is painful, love is often finite, love is lonely, love is scary. Why then, is this the powerful part of love? Its the powerful part of love because even though love can be all of these things, we still have faith in it. These flaws create the need for faith (we wouldn’t need to have faith in something that was perfect). Faith is the magic that is love. With every breath breathed with love, every moment we allow ourselves to be ALL of us- which includes the fear, the vulnerability, the unknowing -and give those parts to others as well as ourselves to hold, we have faith that our love will be taken care of. The most amazing part is that we know that it’s impossible to always take care of this expression of our true selves and yet the faith that is love allows us to continue to give it away, no matter how many times it is dropped, forgotten, unseen, unappreciated. The way we present love may shift and change when it is dropped and dented over the years; we may try to wrap it in cotton wool and put it in a box, we may try to bang out the sides to make the edges hard so people hold it with caution, we may open it up, take out the softest most tender bits, spin it into a blanket and wrap it around our children, but our love will always be our love. It will always be the essence of who we are, a  profound expression of our true selves. It is faith in ourselves and the boundless power of our existence that allows us to give this gift, this expression of ourselves.

So the true power of love is not its perfection- it’s its flaws, persistence and its faith. When we accept that, we are in essence accepting ourselves. We can judge the way we love, we can judge the way others love, we can look at the way it has been wrapped because of the dents and dings it has received and call it something less than it is because we don’t understand it, but at the end of the day it is all the same thing- the offering up to ourselves or others our essence. It is the offering up of our understanding of the world and our place in it. It is the offering up of all of most fundamental spaces that make us who we are. As we are all part of this universe, when we offer our essence we can start to understand our connection with the universe and our divinity.  “Love is our true essence. Love has no limitations of caste, religion, race, or nationality. We are all beads strung together on the same thread of love. To awaken this unity–and to spread to others the love that is our inherent nature–is the true goal of human life.” ~ Amma