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 dream, 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.