It was not until 1964 that the surgeon general Luther Terry made a bold announcement to a roomful of reporters: “Cigarette smoking causes lung cancer and most likely heart disease.” Interestingly, the press conference was held on a Saturday to minimize the report's effect on the stock market.
Tobacco was an even bigger business during that time and was common as well as fashionable. Although the percentage of Americans who smoke today has declined to 18% (it was 42% at it's peak in 1964,) it still has taken decades to reverse the trend. The show Mad Men was a powerful portrayal of this era and it's addiction to smoking.
Everyone did it. All the time. Everywhere.
People heard things that it might be bad for you, but nothing much changed. Just like many others, my own mother, who was in the field of health care, was not moved enough by the weight of scientific reports and continued to smoke even throughout her pregnancies.
As I was preparing to write this article and researching the effects of cell phone use, it was clear that many out there have become concerned about the negative impact of this relatively new technology. There are countless studies about cell phone usage and although they have many positive advantages, most are now concluding that they are addictive and can be destructive in our daily lives if not used mindfully.
Overall, people say they would like to unplug more often. Nearly two-thirds of people surveyed say they agree that taking an occasional digital detox is good for their mental health. However, less than 30% say they actually do so.
Hmmm. Sounds familiar.
As a yoga teacher in New York City, my awareness button has been on high alert about how much we are all on our phones. As I was on the F train last week for work, I was observing fellow riders on the train. Many seemed exhausted and were trying to get some shut eye between the screeching stops of the subway. The rest were head down, eyes glued to their phones. Even as I was exiting sliding doors, people continued, head down, eyes glued like a zombie apocalypse causing a traffic jam up the cement stairs and out onto the busy streets of New York City.
Along with the cacophony of yellow taxi, car and bus horns, mixes of music blasting from store windows, tourists from all four corners of the globe herding the sidewalks in Time Square, people still remained HDEG (my acronym for head down, eyes glued) to the phone. Eating, driving, walking, biking. You name it. Everyone, everywhere was on their phone. No wonder people are so exhausted. We are distracted, disconnected and connected to an artificial world 24/7. We are reachable 24/7.
We can get almost anything at the touch our fingertips at anytime. Although smart phones are more convenient than ever, they have fractured our attention.
The UC Health Organization reported that the average American unlocks their phone 100-150 times per day to do anything from check the time, the weather report, texts, social media, surf the internet, make phone calls, listen to music, play video games and so on and so on.
The simple math of this study means that if the average person checks their phone 125 times a day and uses it for 60 seconds, this is already around two hours per day. And yes, maybe we open it for less time, but if we are honest, we all know that it's usually much longer.
According to research from RescueTime, one of several apps for iOS and Android created to monitor phone use, people generally spend an average of three hours and 15 minutes on their phones every day, with the top 20% of smartphone users spending upwards of four and a half hours.
This is more than a full day spent on the phone per week.
What I hear the most from people, including myself, is how busy we all are. I am probably gonna get some backlash for this, but are we? Sure, we all have a lot going on, but are we caught in the vacuum of technology and lured into the digital world for more time than we are willing to admit?
If the above average is true, then that means we are on the phone in an artificial social world for an estimated 48 days a year. And no, it's not all artificial, but that's a lot-ta lot-ta screen time.
“It might be said we are addicted to being distracted,” said Victoria Strohmeyer, a registered psychotherapist with UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “When you check your phone or hear an alert, you activate your sympathetic nervous system, the part of your body that’s always scanning the environment. It gives you a little shot of adrenaline for every interaction.”
That adrenaline, which is meant to trigger your body to pay attention, sets off a cascade of chemicals that increases heart rate, pulse and muscle tension, as well as shunts energy from the brain to the muscles.
“It will take five to 30 minutes for your body to get back to baseline after every one of these alarms,” Strohmeyer said. All that stress wreaks havoc on the body and mind, causing or contributing to a range of diseases, from heart disease and depression, to sleep deprivation and chronic fatigue.
As I arrived to the office building where I teach corporate yoga and meditation classes, the phenomenon of HDEG is the way of the world. I see *Charlie zip past me, phone in hand, his short black hair spiked straight up moving a zillion miles per hour. In his blur past me, he says he can't make the twenty minute meditation today. Too busy. Even when he is able to come to a session, one eye is on is phone just in case his boss needs him. He is 24 years old and stressed to the max with chronic back pain.
Charlie is one of the many I work with and each person like him, are not able to disconnect from their smart-phones. He as well as the others feel they must be accessible at all times regarding work. And from my limited understanding of technology, these devices are honed to keep our attention. Even if we are only focusing on work, notifications and pop-ups are built to keep us tuned in and zoned out. An internal Facebook report leaked this year, revealed that the company can identify when someone feels “insecure”, “worthless” and “need a confidence boost”.
I also remember feeling like a Charlie when I used to work in the film business as a wardrobe stylist. It started with the beeper. Yes, it was that long ago and if you would like to snicker more, I can remember the dark ages and my first answering machine. Oh my! How did we survive having to wait for messages until we got home? Then it transitioned to calling in to retrieve them and finally the ultimate- being able to carry your phone with you. All the time. Days were crammed long before this stage at my job and this new technology made what used to be impossible, now possible in shorter amounts of time. And you guessed it, less face time with an actual person as we humans tried to keep up with this ever faster technology.
I don't believe I am the only one feeling disconnected although we are paradoxically connected all the time. We are forgetting how to talk to each other face to face and it's affecting our relationships, our health, our democracies.
Have you noticed friends who cannot put their phone down during a meal together? Or that the phone is the first and last thing you might look at when getting up or going to bed? Or when your partner attends to a phone instead of to you, it feels like rejection—it hurts. Feeling ignored when your partner is on their phone can feel as bad as being shunned.
So what's impact of all this on our social fabric, relationships and communities?
-Shorter attention spans.
-Outrage over dialogue.
-Addicting our children.
-Turning life into a competition for likes and shares.
Thankfully, there are people out there recognizing these issues. Some of the top engineers in the field, such as Tristan Harris, former Design Ethicist at Google, have created what you might call an anti-tech start-up called the Center for Humane Technology. (CHT) Their message is that technology is addictive and destructive for individuals, kids, culture and society as a whole. They are working on how to tackle these important issues envisioning a world where technology supports our shared well-being, sense-making, democracy, and ability to address complex global challenges.
Technology will continue to upgrade and smart-phones will inevitably remain part of our lives. But instead of becoming part of the zombie apocalypse, we can push our own awareness button and stop the distraction madness. As a yoga teacher and practitioner, these are five mindfulness tips that have helped me with this issue:
1. Yes! Everyone can meditate. It just takes commitment and practice. If we recognize how much screen time we are logging, perhaps we can find five minutes. Know that it does get
easier and those brief pauses between thoughts will be something you start to look forward to. And yup, I can hear some of your eyes rolling in disbelief, but as someone who hated meditating and had to be forced to do it in teacher training, I understand this feeling. Just like a bicep muscle getting stronger lifting a dumbbell, the mind muscle needs patience and practice as it learns this skill.
>>>>Sit in a comfortable seat.
>>>>Set a timer. Start with 5 minutes.
>>>>Soften your jaw and your forehead.
>>>>Observe one breath at a time.
>>>>Radically accept anything that shows up! Continue to observe.
>>>>Add a minute each day up to what you honestly feel like you can commit to. Better to maintain 15 minutes a day than give up and quit. -Keep showing up for yourself. Sprinkle kindness and gratitude in.
2. Put the device down! Preferably in another room! Or a drawer if you live in a shoebox studio like most of us in NYC. Become aware of the need to check the phone when waking up and going to bed. Practice leaving it alone first thing in the am and last thing in the pm for thirty minutes. If that's too difficult, try fifteen! I personally have turned this into self-care time to read and write in my journal. It has made a significant difference in setting the tone for the day ahead and a better night of sleep. If that's not your jam, then write a love letter to yourself or your cat. Floss! Do twenty pushups! Whatever it's gonna take to wean yourself off your phone heroin fix.
3. Same as number 2! When eating a meal, put IT down. Take the time to savor what's on your plate. Observe whats around you. Have an uninterrupted conversation with a friend. Listen. If alone, luxuriate in silence! Learning to be aware of the present moment is when clarity shines through and true connections to others as well as ourselves happen. Our phones have many positive effects with a wealth of information at our fingertips. Let's use them wisely and not let them use us.
4. Ready to fire up your insight? Creativity? Personal growth?
Make time to do nothing. Yup. That's what I said. Nada. Niksen. (a delightful Dutch concept of doing nothing.) But doing nothing has never really been acceptable, has it? Many of us associate it with irresponsibility, wasting our life and generally being lazy. Most of us feel guilty if we don’t have something to do. Busyness has become a way of being and distraction- inducing behaviors like constantly checking email stimulate the brain to shoot dopamine into the bloodstream. Space triggers creativity and imagination! Just like if a car were crammed with crap up to the ceiling, we would not be able to see anything new out the windows and be stuck aimlessly in the driveway.
5. Move! You know I am going to say yoga because of it's many healing qualities. Learning how to flow with your breath in a kind-hearted way is not only liberating, it activates the para-sympathetic nervous system, regulates cortisol levels, relieves muscle and mind tension. I could go on with its laundry list of it's positive effects, but any movement is good! And instead of watching an app, get your booty to a local class, look someone in the eye and say hi.
There are bound to be some refuseniks out there about the negative effects of phone use. Will it be an epidemic in the way smoking was and is? Nobody knows for sure. But how long will we wait? What kind of proof will we need to combat the break down of human relationships and the impact this has on our children and societies?
The answer is right in front of us now. Be smarter than your smart phone. Use it purposefully. Disconnect more to reconnect.
Four doormat size pieces of plain cheese pizza with extra marinara sauce. Two fudge brownies. And a pint of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. This was my daily go to for comfort only to be vomited up asap. Heaven forbid an ounce might be gained.
It was mortifying to go down to my local New York City pizzeria and bodega next door. It felt like they all knew that I was a closet puker. It was hugely embarrassing to be addicted to food. Somehow, as wrong as it is to say, it seemed much cooler to be addicted to alcohol, or drugs, more rock-n-roll, Keith Richards style.
Being a food purger is done in isolation. Many addictions can end up being solitary, but I am pretty sure nobody ever became a bulimic at a group barf party. Regardless, all are devastating situations.
There are approximately 4.7 million women and 1.5 million men in the United States alone that suffer this disorder. Mostly, bulimia is more common in adolescents, but has been discovered in children as young as six years old. Yikes. 1.5% of all American women will suffer bulimia-nervosa in their lifetime. Yikes again.
I had been playing this deadly routine for years while living in an Upper East Side shoebox with my roommate Paula. She never knew. I was stealth like in my abilities to hide my hideous relationship with food. It became necessary to adjust to softer foods like pasta marinara because it was easier to regurgitate. It was also quieter and caused less choking. Anything too heavy such as a double cheeseburger and a bucket of fries was pretty painful to pull back up.Yeah, I know. Gross.
Hiding the evidence of empty food containers and vomit spots under the toilet seat was of the utmost importance. The cost to continually feed myself as if I were a family of ten was straining my limited finances. My deepest relationship, if you could call it that, never made it past a one night stand. No one including my gray cat Tasha would see me in my undies, let alone naked.
I was lost. The perfect storm of growing up with an alcoholic father and overdeveloping at eleven years old started the tailspin. Overdeveloped is an understatement. There was no over the shoulder boulder holder that could contain my gi-normous size boobs that hung low like large pendulums. And I lived in Florida. The land of the bathing suit. Egads.
It was difficult to hide and there was a lot of duct tape involved which only created a large shelf that I could almost set a plate on. Convenient, since food became my closest friend. Some would say how lucky one is to have a “set”. Well, I guess if you consider porn style ta-tas that have deep red stretch marks and point straight down, then sure.
Sorry, no. My eleven year old self did not know how to manage.
I had my secret fetish. It went with me everywhere. It was challenging to vomit quickly and quietly in group bathrooms. Like the one with those awful florescent lights when I worked as a receptionist at MTV, or the overcrowded, smokey ones when I was night time bartending in the East Village. It did not matter where. Flights? One can barely stand straight up inside those miniscule port-o-pottys let alone bend over the bowl. And yes, holidays required extra care in going undetected while the entire extended family cajoled in the festively decorated dining room for Thanksgiving. Or Birthdays. Or anytime.
The guilt. The shame. The embarrassment. It kept me in the closet for over a decade.
But the feeling. The counterfeit comfort of consuming the food was like a love drug, satisfying some deep dark hole that seemed bottomless. It didn't matter that it was reeking havoc with my finances or ruining my skin, or my teeth. How does one stop an addiction that is required to survive? Like a crack cocaine addict using just a wee bit. Kind of a conundrum don't you think.
The Mayo- Clinic lists some risk factors caused by bulimia:
When I finally felt I was bottoming out and told my roommate, she didn't believe me. My secretive skills were that good. Turns out there was another level of bottom. After going back undercover for another year with my vicious food cycle and self loathing, my health started to deteriorate.
I called my mother. This is the single most difficult call of my life so far. It was the most important one and as you can imagine, emotional.
I had a breast reduction surgery. Finally. It was an immeasurable sigh of relief to be able to wear a t-shirt at twenty-five years old. The difference that it made was enormous. But it didn't stop the purge cycle. It was the beginning of the end. Although, I have been recovered for over twenty years, the process to my individual healing was a long one. Until eating disorders are viewed as symptoms instead of the problem, recovery will remain limited in success. Bulimia is beatable and there are no easy answers like “Just stop.”
Perhaps the questions are more important the answers?
1. Why are we afraid to reach out? How bad is it going to have to get before one makes the call for help? This is the hardest part. It takes tremendous courage. No way around it. Just gotta go through. Putting my fears on the page helped push me to take this critical step. And reaching out goes both ways. My mother had a feeling something was wrong and understandably did not want to hurt me. She had her own darkness to deal with and was doing the best that she could. If you suspect someone you love is battling this problem, then be brave and say something. Yup, and it's going to be uncomfortable but you just might help someone open the door to healing. Make the call to a loved one. It can save a life.
2. How are we influencing our children? I cringe anytime I hear an adult say anything about dieting around a child or teen. How about good ole healthy eating? For me, one of the pivotal points for my recovery was to stop dieting. Food is not the enemy. Our relationship with it is the foundation of a healthy body and mind.
3. What are the triggers? The exact cause of bulimia is unknown. Many factors could play a role in the development of eating disorders, including genetics, biology, emotional health, and societal expectations. Learning to identify certain triggers is an integral part of healing. It helped me a lot to deal with this in therapy. Finding a good therapist and/or group is likely to have a profound effect on recovery success.
4. Why are we eating when we are eating? Keeping a journal was and still is a great help in catching my run away feelings. Pouring yourself out on the page is like purging. Except that you don't need to spend any money and risk your health. Back when we used day-planners instead of technical devices to organize our lives, I marked a smiley face (the original old style emoji) each day I made it though without vomiting. X marked the days I didn't. Little by little, there were more of the smiles. As silly and perhaps small as this might seem, tracking my progress was empowering and helped beat the inner critic that drove me to gorge.
5. What messages are we receiving and sending on Social Media? All media? This is the gorilla. It can be a trigger for self doubt and wondering why we all don't look perfect in a dental floss thong. It all looks so smooth, sparkly and fabulous out there! We have the power here to be aware of what we put out on these platforms. How can we be better messengers?
6. And finally: How can we make friends with ourselves? Especially the parts we don't like so much? Maitri. One of the most powerful things we can do for ourselves and be of benefit to others. It means fully embracing all of our qualities. Yes, those parts of us that have mood swings, our internal struggles and yes, our cellulite. I remind myself often that there's strength within my sensitivity which many, including myself, sometimes perceive as weakness. We are not broken. We heal when we practice radical acceptance with ourselves. Sure, there are things that can be worked on. Like one of many times I have had a tantrum when my brother and I disagreed on politics. (That is putting it lightly in the hopes this article won't spark another argument.) When we can meet ourselves with kindness instead of an internal hammer, we can connect better with others.
Bulimia is not beautiful. It's power has affected celebrities like Jane Fonda. Princess Diana. Lady Gaga. Elton John. I know! Rocketman! It's comforting to know we are not alone. Healing from this traumatic disease is absolutely possible. Make the call.
When life is moving along swimmingly, being steady and comfortable seems attainable, even easy. When our jobs, relationships, finances or heaven forbid, all the above go haywire, it's probably not so steady there sweet pea.
We all know these moments. For me, mine came a few years back when it was an all of the above equation. Things did not go as planned (um, do they ever?) for the yoga studio my husband and I built. We were successful and going strong for five years and yet, could not sustain the politics of a small town. My biggest fear was losing this place - my dream, my heart.
And I did.
It was a slow, painful process. While this wrecked havoc on our finances and our marriage, the worst part was the emotional side. It felt like we were going through a nasty divorce and would never see our kids again. Yes. Dramatic. The soap opera kind that takes us on the emotional roller coaster of life.
But here's the biggest ding. I am forever grateful that it happened. Yup, that's what I said. Grateful.
I would never have learned so many of the valuable life lessons if it did not happen. I am better and wiser for it. The one little thingy I would change was my own internal suffering over the whole debacle. My most feared nightmare was coming true and it was hellish, but the inner torment I put myself through was much worse. This is where all the self-sabotage seeped in. “If I were a better teacher, this would not have happened. If I would have trusted my gut, this could have been avoided. Who did I think I was opening a studio.” And on and on it went.
My poor husband, my friends. I was pretty twisted up and many of my relationships suffered. I was not “embracing the glorious mess that I was” as Elizabeth Gilbert said.
No, I can not change the nightmare of the past. But I can change my response and outlook around it. This is where being effortless in the effort chimes in. Friends, it is a choice. And granted, a hard one when we are in the thick of the sh**t, but a choice nevertheless.
Whaaaaaat? Effortless effort is a paradox!
The dictionary says effort is defined as: a vigorous or determined attempt, the result of an attempt, strenuous physical or mental exertion. The synonyms as: exertion, force, power, energy, work, muscle, application, labor, the sweat of one's brow, striving, endeavor, toil, struggle, slog, strain, stress, trouble, bother.
And effortless as: requiring no physical or mental exertion, achieved with admirable ease. The synonyms: flowing, fluid, fluent, smooth, graceful, elegant, natural, leisurely, easy.
Um. I don't know about you, but being fluid and graceful sound a lot better than struggle and slog.
The key here friends, is that effortless is an adjective while effort is a noun. Yes. That means we get to decide what kind of effort we put out there on the life mat. And yes, effort is required for transformation or growth of any kind.
Now that we have defined the terms, how does this translate onto our yoga mat and more importantly, into our lives? The better question might be, how does it not.
In my book, as a yoga student first and always and a teacher second, life and yoga are the same game. How we act on the mat is a pretty good sign of how we will act off of it. Snap.
As much as we might not like to connect these ideas together, I dare say, it's true dear friends. Perhaps this is an eye-opener or maybe it might be one of absolute rejection of “No. F**king. Way. Not. Nope. Not me. I said this once to a newish friend/student and well, let's just say they pretty much steered clear of me and my classes. Sigh. I agree. It can be scary to face ourselves.
When we see our yoga teachers or fellow students in a difficult pose like pincha mayurasana (forearm handstand) and that they seem like they are floating in air as if they were filled with helium looking effortless, don't assume it is. Most likely, it is taking a whole car load of internal drive and experience. And how can we learn to live in our skin in the moment we want run screaming off and soothe ourselves with chocolate and cold white wine? Can we steady and comfort ourselves when our effort starts to become a slog?
The jewel of “sthira sukham asanam” from the yoga sutras means to teach us that every asana (pose) be 'steady' and 'comfortable' -sthira and sukha. 'Sthira' means steady, stable, grounded, strong and 'sukha' means comfortable, easy (or 'easeful'), peaceful. The paradox is that this is not easy. This is where the true discipline in practice on and off the mat kicks in and discovering how we can make the “effort” to learn, grow, evolve while maintaining a sense of ease remaining “effortless.”
”I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous.”
-Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
So what happens we are on our yoga mat? We get into a chill mood with some sweet lighting and soft music. Maybe the instructor leads us in with a few rounds of calming breath, perhaps an intention starts to form and we might love ourselves a little more in those quiet moments. But. Then things shift. They always do. We start to flow a little bit more, maybe we get a little lost in the sequence while building momentum to a more challenging pose like parsva-bakasana (side crow) and the so-called calm goes right out the window. Our breath gets caught, our jaw locks down, our forehead scrunches and our faces have a look that might scare someone in a dark parking lot.
Does this kind of stress sound familiar? When we fight with our beloved over who's turn it is to scoop the cat poop? Or do the same physical and mental reactions occur with that phone call with our boss about that looming deadline? Yoga. Life. Same game.
Dears, this is why we call it practice, not perfect. There is no endpoint. And no! It's not a contest or a competition. Life is hard a lot of the time. I wish I could say it wasn't. But do we have to become hard in the process? Or can the challenge of being lost, not knowing or whatever scary horror story we have conjured up in our over-imaginative minds be the place to practice. To play. To be steady. Comfortable. Sthira Sukha.
Perhaps the next time life is kicking us in the head or when we are on the yoga mat practicing what seems like an impossible pose, we can can apply these three simple techniques:
1. Notice the breath. This comes first! Is it choppy? Uneven? Held? The most important part is to
catch ourselves in our habitual responses to challenge as well as uncomfortable situations. Nervous before a big meeting or presentation? Lost on how to balance in Vrksasana (Tree pose)? Try inhaling the breath for 4-5 counts and exhaling equally for 4-5 counts. Maintain this for at least ten full cycles and continue this with steady, even breathing as you move. This will help ease the heart and slow down the mind's need to fight or take flight. Taking a child's pose or hitting the pause button for a moment in the day to breathe is advanced yoga and life.
2. Whether on the yoga mat or out in the noise of the day, check your jaw. Is it on lock down? Are the shoulders up to the ears like earrings from 1985? How about the belly? Clenching or being rigid in these areas among others are signs of more strain. Can we catch the moment we start to create strain instead of space? Try softening places like between the eyes for immediate relief. Soften direct points in the body that feel tense.
3. Remember that challenges are necessary for growth and effort is necessary. If everything were easy, would we gain any wisdom? And sure, I agree. Easy sounds nice. But after a while, how would we measure happiness and what would our ability be to evolve? If we really think back on a difficult part of our lives, would we be able to see we most likely learned something from it? Practice, not perfect. Let yourself step out and do something that's outside the comfort zone. Got an idea for work that's perhaps requires thinking outside the box? Practice number 1 & 2 and move forward. Something unexpected happening like losing a job or relationship? Repeat the above and remember, sometimes what we think is a storm is trying to be a blessing. Let the effort be without internal struggle and know that everything will shift with time.
Yes. It. Is. Hard. But we do not have to become hard along with it.
Nope. I did not do these things while lost in my inner turmoil. While I do believe it is important to acknowledge one's feelings, I continually tore myself to pieces and blamed myself. It's the easy way out and keeps us stuck in the mud. With continued practice, I am happy to say that these three simple practices have been powerful beyond measure in my life. On and off the mat. Is it comfortable? A lot of times, no. But then I remind myself that it's up to me to be okay when things are not okay, to be comfortable when things are not comfortable and to be imperfect when things are not perfect. We get to choose grace with effortless effort.
It was Summer time on the island of Koh Samui, Thailand. I was immersed in a scorching hot teacher training for thirty days straight. It was about a 105 degrees outside and 105 degrees in. Talk about throwing yourself in the fire.
During the first “dialogue” exercise and learning to teach, I bawled my eyes out in front of thirty three other trainees from around the globe. We sweat buckets with daily practice from early am to late pm. It was a rigorous schedule that pushed the limits of not only our bodies, but our minds. We had embarked on the journey of finding our true voices. This entails shining a bright light on all those things we all desperately try to hide.
What's the big deal about teaching a yoga class. How hard can it be?
Well, for starters, it asks you to get honest with yourself in front of an audience. No filters here. No making it perfect for social media.
Finding your voice whether teaching it out loud, writing a book or any one of the myriad of other ways to stretch our creative muscles, all seem to bring up the same stuff. Whether it be jitters, butterflies or a full on internal shredding of any confidence we might have, taking steps outside our comfort zone can bring up the inner voice that is not our personal cheerleader.
While teaching yoga can be immensely rewarding, it can also be one of the more frightening jobs out there. It is not a performance (although, I see that a lot). It is not reading from a script (although, I see that a lot). It's definitely not trying to be like your favorite teacher. It's you. And no, it's not about you. Sure there's going to be some natural nervousness. But to be a genuine yoga teacher, it requires not only a vast amount of knowledge, but authenticity. You gotta just be you, as you are, warts and all. It's like getting on a horse. If you are afraid or not sure, the horse is gonna throw you off in a second. Trust me, I know. I have been thrown. And great news. Being bucked is a wonderful way to learn.
Back in the heat of the jungle in Thailand, my first day of teaching in training did not go well. It didn't go at all since I couldn't get a word out past my blubbering. As my peers and teachers observed me have an absolute meltdown, my internal voice was whispering “Who was going to listen to what I had to say? Why would they want to?” I was completely unnerved and unraveled.
Well, somehow I got past it. The studies and physical practice came easier. But speaking
it? Out loud? In front of live humans? Not so much.
Cut to a few more trainings and opening my own studio through the years, somehow, I obviously managed to get some words out and was now in the director seat of teacher trainings. Many students have come through these programs and cried much like I did. Oh, how I empathized with these moments and the steps in getting to know yourself. Like me, they never believed they would get through it.
But we all did. Maybe some of it was not a pretty process but what transformation is? Why do we expect things to be easy and neat? Has anything lastly or worthwhile come without challenges? I remember as a child riding my cherry red two-wheeler for the first time and wiping out. I still have the scar on my right elbow. How many of us got on and rode perfectly the first time? The tenth time?
So here I sit, dipping a toe into unchartered waters and trying my hand at writing. It's a dream that I have had for a long time. And while I am not crying (not yet anyway,) the same kind of feelings are popping up from that first day of teaching. Why would people want to hear what I say? Why would they want to? Yeesh, there was that cheerleader of drama and self-doubt.
“The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.” Steven Pressfield
A fellow teacher trainer shared a jewel with me. She named her confidence killing voice Brenda. Whenever this voice reared its ugly head raising all kinds of havoc and self doubt, she simply says:
F**k you Brenda.
We have all met Brenda at one time or another. She's loud, obnoxious and will do anything to squash our true voice.
Whether we are teaching, writing, singing, painting or a thousand other things that ask us to trust ourselves, it takes guts to stand up to Brenda. Here's 10 ideas that helped me get her out of the house:
1. Imagine speaking to your younger self ten or twenty years ago? Yeah, you know the cliches. I won't mention them here but most us can agree that many of the challenges were necessary to learn. Perhaps they might now even be considered blessings when looking back?
2. Fear and fire are not always bad things. It means we care and there is possibility inside the challenge if we are willing to look instead of running like hell.
3. Ask yourself what would happen if you decided to let go of the doubt? Would there be more space instead of strain if you gave yourself some room around the fear?
4. Read a book. Steven Pressfield, author of the War of Art, has so many wise
words for those of us that are stuck in our muck. “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance".
5. Meet yourself where you are and give yourself a good dose of love. Make friends with yourself. All of yourself, especially the parts you don't like so much. In Buddhism, it's called Maitri. Read more: (https://www.elephantjournal.com/a-month-of-maitri-beyond-self-care/)
6. Meditate.Yes.We are busy. Yes there is time. Sit down. Set a timer. Take a deep breath. Yes, it's okay that your mind wanders. Sit anyway.
7. Go outside just like Mom said. Getting a fresh breath of air can give us a fresh perspective. Walking, biking or any outdoor activity helps to create space around a crowded mind.
8. Perhaps it's time to name your nemesis and give them the boot. Articulating the internal voice that shows up when stepping outside what we know is a powerful tool. Once we are able catch the moment we start to get stuck by a Brenda voice, we can shift our habitual thoughts and create a possibility instead of a stop sign.
9. Recognize that we have a choice in how to respond to the inner voice that questions. The key is to catch the moment when we are reacting out of habit, emotions and memories. We choose whether to nourish our inner angels or demons.
10. Most of all be patient with your process. It takes time and a whole lot of love.
As I perch in front of the empty white page and the blue hue of my computer, my mind is everywhere else but thoughts on writing an article due later today....The daily noise of life seems loud and I feel like an empty shell.
I wonder what happens to us when we set out on a creative endeavor and any idea we might have had, seems to have packed and left the planet. What is that exact moment that cuts us off at the neck in trusting ourselves to write, paint, sing, dance, teach or do any other thing that asks us to go beyond what we know?
So I sit.
Note. This takes a whole lotta patience wrapped with love when one is trying to downshift from running around all week like a headless chicken. Hmmm, another neck reference which makes me think of how mine is sadly sagging and maybe I do need to spend a gazillion dollars on that miracle cream I saw online. I digress.
I set the meditation timer. I prop myself up with more than the usual pillows under my hips as I feel I need more support. Not just physically. But emotionally. Like I need to be held.
Sitting in my happy place outside on my deck, I immediately notice the melodies of the birds. High and low notes, some clipped chirps and some longer like a violin. I wonder if one is the the cherry red cardinal and his Mrs. that I see around our wooden bird feeder. And maybe some are the plump, round chickadees?
The hushed sounds of far away traffic off Route 87 remind me of what you hear when you put your ear up close to conch shell. How I love the ocean. It makes me exhale a little bit easier.
The color behind the curtains of my eyelids is vibrant. Pulsating hues of orange and blues. The aroma of the lavender lilac I planted last week wakes up my sense of smell. My mind wanders about the over flow of laundry in the wicker hamper. It also manages to completely veer off and worry about what class it will plan for later today. Instead of scolding myself for drifting, I gently remind myself to come back to my seat as if I were guiding a distracted child away from a shiny new toy. This is an improvement over how I occasionally hit myself in the head with a
verbal hammer when noticing that the mind has run off somewhere to fix and frolic.
As I sit, the sun is shifting and I can feel the warmth on the back of my hand and spreading to shine across the span of my back. The front side of my body is shaded and I sense how the moon must feel when it's face lights up from the axis of the sun. The darker side more reflective, cooler, internal. My mind pings about how I forgot to go to the bank. The barren refrigerator that needs attention. I have a moment of wanting to give in. Okay, many moments. But I don't. I just sit and become internally watchful. Shedding the layers of internal noise. Little by little. I start to settle into this one moment. The one that cannot live in regrets of the past or worry of the future.
The taste in my mouth has remnants of strong coffee. Overly aware that I need to brush my teeth. Instead, I soften my jaw and rest my tongue at the soft tip of the palate as if you were going to say the word love. How can I be gentler with myself? How can I lean into the moments of feeling like I don't know. I sigh a deeper exhale.
The soft wind is brushing my skin almost like a caress from a lover. The sound travels through the lush, green oak and ash trees behind our log cabin. I hear the ocean again. Like waves, I simply keep coming back to my seat. A breath comes in and a breath comes out. For a moment, there is a brief pause between thoughts. That space. That space where I don't know where I am, except that it feels peaceful. Present. Possible.
The gong of the timer echoes and I linger a little longer swimming in the stew of nothingness. It feels as if a new door and my eyes open at the same time. Do I know what's on the other side of the door? No. But I do know there is no way to know, grow, or learn for that matter, without stepping through the door. Write the first word. Dance the first step.
I tell myself: Let yourself not know how. Just start.
Is this my life?
Am I breathing underwater?
Lyrics by Metric.
Breathing underwater. That's what I feel like sometimes.
I think I have a little understanding now of how people can become paralyzed and not know what to do when life is transitioning, shifting and throwing fast, hard curve balls. Not being at the studio that I founded almost 5 years ago since last July has kept my mind in contemplation about what to do next. It has been challenging to get a grip on how to move forward and instead feel stuck in place. I see glimmers of ah ha! I see clear moments of things I needed to learn and am thankful for, yet have been slow moving in applying it. If the tortoise is the hero in the race with the hare, then I am winning!
In the process of re-discovering my inner voice, my true voice, I feel like I have had to dump the truck of stuff I thought I knew, and start over. Completely over. Yup, and right on cue comes that inner voice that shouts what's your problem? Get on with it already! I remind myself of treasure, diamonds, gold, pearls and that they are not found at the surface- they are found by digging deep and searching.
Oh this power of yoga, the power of life. I will always love it, although it often asks us to look where you don't want to. To take a good look at what happens inside the asana- because it is the same as what happens outside at work and in our relationships. What habits and reactions do we practice with? The work is to catch yourself before you get stuck in that thought that does not serve and make you feel like you are breathing underwater. I believe to uncover the treasure deep inside, one has to be a spiritual ninja about what thoughts you are allowing in that bury your luminous light. The true light which is you. Which is me.
Sutra 2.52 Tatah kshiyate prakasha- avaranam
As its result, the veil over the inner Light is destroyed
Usually, I love going to practice with one of main mentors, Nikki C. Last Wednesday, I had to use every ounce of willpower to convince myself to go. As I approach the ripe age 51 this week, it seems every inch of my body is confused and thinks it's more like 95. Everything is yelping and is so thankful for savasana when it arrives. Yup, been to the doctor and aside from a strangely low blood pressure of 80/50, I am fine. Inside of last years financial and emotional upheaval, blend in a shifting of the hormones and you have a perfect storm. I am woman hear me roar!
After only minutes into class, I knew that I was meant to be there. Just returning from India- Nikki was so profoundly human in a raw and vulnerable way- this is part of what makes her such a powerful teacher – this ability to help you feel connected, that you are not alone in your quest for the true Self. The discussion circled around why would we want to be empty? There are no right or wrong answers to this- but my idea is when the mind is like a jam packed car with so much stuff inside of it, you can't see out the windows. How can you possibly get any where if you only have a small view? How the crap we pick up in our daily travels build up and we end up being locked in a traffic jam inside of ourselves with stuff, our stories of the past and the idea that we are what we do, should do, have to do, and the dreaded what ifs and if onlys. How limited our perceptions are when we can only see what we have crowded ourselves with.
Her next couple of thoughts stripped the essence of yoga down to the core and have stayed with me since. What is the thought that you carry around that does not serve you? The one that is engraved in you, embossed in your skin, that rears it's head in all areas of your life? That would be the inner foe that is running around and wrecking havoc on your dreams. She next asked to consider an opposite statement that is clear, succinct and supportive of yourself. It is a simple sentence that is not easy to say to yourself. I know I hit the nail on the head when my statement made me twitch. This is the work to be done.
Makes sense. Now let's turn some lights on.
p.s. as for the body aches... they are slowly subsiding now that I am listening to the voice that serves me and is teaching me to be okay slowing down, to hear that my body needs gentleness right now, to treat myself as my best friend and not fit any square pegs in round holes.
Big breath in. H-A haaaaaaa. Home from Morocco. What a gift to have taught there for a month. A fabulous trip for so many reasons.
One of which I suppose was because I was in a nice little bubble safe from reality. Safe from having to face the aftermath of losing my business. Of a financial crisis. Of the void left from the studio that was my dream.
Although I know moving forward is the only way, it has not been easy. I hear the words in my ears “You have to let go” and in fact it has turned into a constant, very loud ringing. I hear loved ones around me “You have to let it go”. I KNOW. How much do I talk about this when teaching class? The art of surrender and the jewel of Ishvara Pranidhana. Yes folks, I have as much to learn and practice as you my fellow students do.
The philosophy is very clear to me. Practicing it is quite another and man, have I fallen off the horse again and again. When I witness friends around me going through their own catastrophes and troubles, I feel very small being stuck in my little mud puddle. Everyone has troubles, some mammoth, some minuscule, all valid. For some reason, I have trouble giving myself permission to be sad, upset, turned upside down.
Turns out, my little stint in the emergency room that I wrote about in the first post was.......drum roll please.....a nervous breakdown. Whaaaaat?? Yup, it's official, I am a member of one flew over the cuckoo's nest. I saw my doctor upon returning home (mandatory after ER visits) with my novel size stack of paper work and tests. He said that after all the strain from the last few years that my body gave up when I finally decided to relax, let go, that my trip to Morocco was such a relief of carrying the weight that my body said “Enough”. Wow.
Part of me feels better to know that it really was a lot to handle and the other part feels extremely vulnerable admitting this. Like my dirty little secret is out of the closet. This was a dream that my husband I put all our money and soul's into. A state of the art yoga studio that cost roughly $9-$10,000 per month to operate and it did well from day one. It was a mission to offer a beautiful space that was financially and physically accessible to all.
The cherry on top was that it was built to make difference in people's lives. 10% of all proceeds always went to my dear friend Molly's orphanage in Africa- Springs of Hope Kenya. Since the time we were open, almost $15,000 was sent directly to this life saving place as well as to local charities like Family of New Paltz. The reasons behind the studios struggles has it's own story that involves others. I have always chosen to remain quiet on this as I would not want to hurt someone the way we have been. Instead, I am more interested in how I co-created what has happened and how to move forward. The studio always paid for itself which is no small feat for a small town. The thing it did not pay for was me working around the clock to keep it a float. After 4 years of this and as much as I loved the studio and it's community like a child, I realized this was not a sustainable way to live.
So how are we going to deal with ourselves? The situation of losing the yoga studio hit us hard in the pocket but it's the emotions that are harder to deal with. The love and care we put into creating this place from the ground up- from the blue-stone floor my husband cut by hand, to the paint color right down to the kind door knobs installed were part of the vision, but it's the relationships with students and community that has left the biggest hole.
There's the teacher's voice in my head again yelling so maybe I can finally hear- “This is attachment! You have to let go! We are not our situations, or job or debt, or material things! The obstacle is here to teach us. Surrender!” Blah, blah, blah. Oooooh I get it- yet it's been a rough ride and I keep falling off the horse.
The crush of finances left from the studio and me wondering if I somehow were a better teacher or worked harder, I could have saved the business has kept me in the murky mud puddle. Ding! There it is! The voice of the inner enemy.... a killer for many of us. How long I have battled that inner foe thinking that If I were better..... And never mind that thinking this way probably did in the end shadow me in classes.
I felt so transparent trying to keep this face of strength on for the past couple of years. It did not matter how many emails or testimonials that said the opposite of my internal thoughts. I could only hear my own tiny voice. It drove me to be almost fanatical in my own training, study and growth. This part I am thankful for, as I am better all the way around for it, but funny when my therapist (Oh God, I really am a walking soap opera!) said “No more yoga!!!!!' No more reading about yoga!” He said something key- that I also heard from my mentor Nikki- To trust myself. To know I had the light inside me and that I already know. It's just me that's in the way.
It is not acceptance that I needed for the issue- it was and is acceptance for myself. This is the truth of surrender. It is not giving up and turning into a marshmallow on the couch watching 18 episodes of Game of Thrones in a row (although, I admit enjoy especially on a rainy day). The surrender is to stop the internal fight. To recognize the situation so that a fresh perspective can enter our tiny pea brains. It means putting a halt to the inner enemy, the questioning self and get back up on the damned horse to embrace new possibilities.
I love Hafiz's quote -”We have all the ingredients to make our lives joyful and all the ingredients to make it a nightmare.” I have been making mud soup at times through this process-Sorry to my friends and family who had to endured me! - but I think part of the problem is not giving ourselves time to grieve, time to not be perfect. The guilt I had from feeling this way only fed the beast to make it worse. Tearing ourselves apart for how we feel does not help with the healing.
Ah. Can I finally learn? Can I finally understand that it took something this massive to reach my true inner voice- the one that is a divine light that each and every one of us has?
Time to pull up the boot straps and ride.
“Resistance is Universal. We're wrong if we think we're the only ones struggling with resistance. Everyone who has a body has resistance.” -Steven Pressfield in the The War on Art
Resistance meaning self doubt, fear and all those thoughts of I'm not sure, what if I fail, maybe i'm not good enough....
I have been saying I want to write a book for while. Starting with a blog although not sure where to begin. So much has happened I feel slow doing all things. Even figuring out a name for the blog seems daunting. Hmmmmm, maybe some of that resistance thang happening. What I can say, is that I am full of gratitude.
SO, no thinking, just writing and we will see what flows. Here I sit in Morocco. Must say, it's quite nice and surreal at the same time. Hard to believe I was sitting in the ER at NYU a week ago from today. Have to admit, that was scary in big letters. For the 1st real time in my life, I felt grateful for all the things my body could do (at that moment, it could not do much/scratch that, more like nothing much). The slightest movement seemed to send a searing pain in my chest which made it harder to breath. The pain I can take, the weird fuzzing in and almost out of consciousness, not so much. I kept repeating to myself, slowly breathe in, slowly breathe out and thank you God for all my blessings with a good dose of Help! Please! p.s. If you have not read Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott you must! When they shuttled my hubs out and the cardiac and neuro docs flocked into the party with a few nurses, it excelled to uh-oh serious. Hours later, too many blood tests to name, spell or heaven forbid, pronounce, eccas, echos, cat scans and a fuzzy, few dizzy spells later, I was admitted for observation. They said it could be anywhere from 2 hours to 2 days to....kind of a bummer since my flight for Morocco was scheduled to depart at 10pm that night. Was not looking good. Needless to say, I could almost hear my Mother from Florida screaming: “absolutely not” and my brother saying this once again might be God trying to get my attention about going away for a month. Maybe I was not suppose to go. Even I at this point was having doubts. Especially, if I am not interested in eating, then we know there's some kind of issue.
I am a pretty head strong person and have been told by family members that there's a pretty big slab of concrete across my forehead housing my brain and my ideas. My idea that morning when I got up and could not move was to go to a hot yoga class. I was really sure this would help! But after not being able to hold or sip a cup of coffee (which is mandatory upon waking), I started to think maybe not. It elevated to a loud no when the first dizzy spell came and I felt like I was on a really bad drug leaving star trek style to go somewhere else. It did not feel very exciting like I am sure it was when they said “Beam me up Scotty” on the show. It felt downright terrifying. I was not sure if I was having a heart attack...well, I did hit the big 5-0 this year. And well yes, there's been a little strain lately.... My husband John was having his own heart attack watching me come unplugged. Before I was going to fuzz out Jimi Hendrix style and made it to my hands and knees, I squeaked out to call 911. And I HATE hospitals. No offense! But I can't get blood drawn without turning into a hot, clammy mess. After I came back to planet earth (kind of) we decided walking to the ER was faster than an ambulance (especially in NYC) since we live right around the corner. Somehow I got it together- well, as much as someone can be together like this with my shirt on inside out and at that point, thank God I had pj pants on because I don't think I could have managed that part. So we hobbled sloooooooooooowly to the NYU Emergency. The good news was they took me right away. The bad news was I looked that frightening that they took me right away. Scarier still, that after a little while, they gave me a second EKG because I looked worse than when I had arrived. Oh boy.
Checked in 8am. Cleared and checked out 5pm. Two doctors declaring there were no problems with my plumbing, many more Thank you Gods and I was on my way to the airport. I was pumped with a bit of valium and was feeling slightly strange, yet slightly wonderful. A little concerned what would happen when the dose would ware off in the middle of the night on a trans-Atlantic flight. Am i bullheaded to be going? All tests clear and had it in the back of my mind that I am replacing a teacher in Morocco and what happens if I did not show up? I was responsible for taking over someone's business and not likely I can be replaced at the 11th hour......Ate a huge tasteless sandwich the size of a small log to load up on a mega dose of motrin, ativan and off I went. This is where the “Wow” comes in regarding Anne Lamott's book. I woke up feeling.... fine. Argh! Fine is a non-word! I could breath! I could move! Yes! Hallelujah! Sore like I had been beaten in the back with a bat, but GREAT.
So, Wow! So here I sit with camels out my window trying to figure out the next phase of life. . The pit-stop in the ER certainly kicked off my soul-search with a good dose of gratitude. There have been painful things leading to this phase but I believe they happened exactly as they were meant to so that i can learn to get out of my own way. As one of my favorite poets Mary Oliver said- "What will we do with this precious life?" Hmmmm. Time to kick resistance in the arse and shine bright.