Masks Off: Models of Empathy and Authenticity

I've struggled at times in my life like so many of us. I shared one of my biggest times of struggle in my life on Instagram yesterday. For a lot of it, though, I've led what would be considered a 'charmed' life by many on this planet. 

My friend Clarence messaged me about a run in with a police officer the day before yesterday. While I've known struggles, I will never know what it is to be biking down the street and be hassled because of the color my skin. For my sex, yes, but I will never know what it is to face that struggle probably most of days of my life. 

I walk outside my condo in the city and am faced with homeless people every day. I have never known what it is to truly struggle to have a roof over my head or food on my plate. 

I had the opportunity to attend college, on the Hope Scholarship here in Georgia, no less. I will never know what it feels like to want to have that opportunity to learn and not be able to partake in it like my mom. Many of her dreams will never be met because of means at the time or her decision of having me. 

I have never known what it is to be physically abused. Verbally yes, but I have never had to face the ferocity of someone else's fists or weapons and to feel the total lack of ability to take back my own physical body and mind. 

But I have the ability to empathize with all these situations. 

I shared my a bit of my life, one struggle, as I said to start to peel away layers of the mask. I did not share for pity or sorry's. I've played with victim mentality for a large majority of my life and frankly it doesn't work for me anymore. I'm unwilling to give my power over that freely anymore. I shared as a reminder to me of my strength. I shared as hopefully a gateway for others to feel safe to share as well. 

I am a yogi, you'll label upon me whatever that means to you. I am a gun owner, again, you'll label upon me whatever that means to you. I was raised my entire life in a home with guns (not the hunting kind). 

Growing up, I was raised as a latchkey kid. Both of my parents worked very hard to provide me with a good material life. We weren't very verbally, emotionally, or physically expressive, or at least my father and I weren't. I was an only child, severely shy and looking back now and knowing the terms, blessed with social anxiety. I had an extreme lack of self worth and self confidence. I was ho-hum normal probably to most, but for me I felt like a total ice queen. I lacked trust in anybody, including my parents. Hell, I didn't trust myself. I don't honestly know if I loved anyone back then. I sure didn't love myself.  I cared for my mom, my friends, my pets, but like, step-up love, I don't think so.

As I got older, found yoga, began practicing self-reflection and did more research, I really began to view myself as a psychopath. Looking at some of the traits, well, they nailed me. 

  • Uncaring, lack of empathy. Yes. I didn't care for myself, how could I do that for another. 
  • Shallow depth of emotions. Yes. I wouldn't allow anyone in to see them and wouldn't express.  
  • Blame externalization. Yes. I was a master of victim mentality. 
  • Selfishness. Yes. An only, spoiled child. My god, yes. 
  • Passive avoidance. Yes. Could run or avoid confrontation at all costs. 
  • Insincere speech. Yes. Measured speech to satisfy others and tall imagination of lies. 

I began to think I was doomed or was just going to have to continue "acting" like everyone else, but on the inside knowing I wasn't the same. 

As I got older and more into yoga, the practice and teachers I choose along the way forced openness, honesty, communication, compassion, community, vulnerability amongst other things. Situations, like the events surrounding my father's death, did the same. As all this began to happen and I did even more work into self-study, I realized I wasn't a psychopath, but that I have never been given strong models of empathy, compassion and connection through modeling, storytelling, communication and time filled relationships. As I began to reclaim a connection with my physical, mental and emotional bodies, I began to redefine a love relationship with myself and through that squelched any notions that I was that bullet list above. I began to trust others and value them as unique individuals. 

I don't have children and I don't have the answers, but I do have my own thoughts on where we are going as a society, especially as we hear more and more reports on large scale and small scale violence. A lot of it stems not from guns, because it really is not the gun jumping into someone's hand creating violence, it is the where the mind of the person is residing that holds the gun. We can take them away, to me, it's no matter, because another weapon will just be found. 

How often do we answer a text, answer a call, or check our phone while driving? We are in a moving weapon. We are putting our text message or social media post above the well-being of the humans on the road around us. We have literally reached a point of apathy that we care so little for the welfare of the people all around us that we are willing to risk their lives for our own ego. And if we have friends or kids in the backseat, well, what behavior do we think we are modeling then? The importance and value of others' lives? No. 

How about when we treat cashier's, baristas, waitresses, etc as if they are nothing more than human-like robots because we cannot put our screens away? Again, what behavior are we modeling to one another about the value of another human. One of high regard? No. 

And that's just the people we don't know. How deep do we think that behavior cuts when we do the same damn thing to our friends and families, the ones we are supposed to care the most about? When we occupy our time with tv shows, video games (many violent), social media, etc and we don't model the value of quality time with each other. What happens to us as a society when we stop modeling connection with one another? Or kindness. Or compassion. 

How about the lack of physical activity in school, after school and after work? What happens in our brain when we stop having a deep connection with our physical body? When it just becomes a shell. What impact does that have on our brain-body connection. If we've become a hull of person, again, do we think we can see value or worth in another human being? How highly do we regard their life? 

I don't see how we cannot connect the dots of us moving further and further into an existence of dis-reality and disconnection, which I believe feed many mental health issues, to increased levels of violence, apathy and increased feelings of alone-ness. 

I can only imagine if when I was feeling like a "psychopath" I had been triggered by violence, by bullying or by the other ways kids and adults are attacked today, both in real life and on-line, how easily things could go differently. And those bullet points up above, guess what, they are observable in large amounts of the population on a daily basis. In small ways and in big ways. 

So, for me, it may be guns or some other weapon. A car. A bomb. A knife. A fire. The list goes on and on. The weapons are arbitrary. It's the underlying issues that we need to be in an uproar about. It's the society we are building that is becoming more and more isolated in human connection. It's the way we adults treat, view, empathize, and connect with another that models to everyone else, including children, truly how important another human living being is. It's creating environments where we feel safe to share without shame. It's creating spaces where people feel heard and understood. It's not one large moment that creates these catastrophes, it's all the small ones that add up along the way. If we each feel important and valuable as we are, then maybe, just maybe, we take a second thought when it comes to thinking another human being's life is so worthless that we can take it. 

I return to the stories at the beginning. If we lose our ability to empathize, to put ourselves in the shoes of another. If we lose our ability to be authentic, to project what is real and not falsities. If we lose our ability to remove the masks. If we lose all this, we lose our ability to relate and connect and then it really does become a big planet full of, well, fuck it all. 

This is a hot topic and I'm sure everyone has an opinion. I'd love any feedback you'd like to give me. If you're lacking connection or feeling really alone right now and need someone to reach out to, please email me. 

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Workshops that challenge our comfort zone.

Instead of a lot of written words I wanted to share why I want to host the workshops I am leading the next few months in Atlanta. I share a little sneak peek into the ones I am super excited to plan for February and March, the ones already planned in January and just a little bit about me. Please watch and let me know what you think or any questions you may have! 

Ashram Life. The journey into.......

‘I am so blissfully at peace’. This was my thought as I sat at the edge of the ashram staring at the rolling waters of the Ganges one last time. Taking in the white caps as the rapids broke over the “turquoise” blue water that was unlike any other blue I had seen before. Turquoise doesn’t aptly describe it. I understood in that moment why some yogis ran off to mountains to live a life of solitude. It is so much easier to create less noise when you have less stuff, when you have less connections. I also understood in that moment that honestly I could live without the connections that I have, but that I don’t want to. I had been too often reminded of the power of sharing energy here.

                                                              Outside room 54

                                                             Outside room 54

Phool Chatti Ashram granted me so much by allowing me to have so very little. Peace of mind, gratitude, appreciation, awareness, understanding of my own inner strength are just a few gifts I received while there. These words will be a little more personal to me, less about trying to share a teaching lesson, but since some of you may wonder like I did what ashram life is like, that is my motivation for sharing.

                                        Just steps from the soothing waters of the Ganga

                                       Just steps from the soothing waters of the Ganga

 

It was uncomfortable. Or at least it was at first for me. I have a lot more than many on this planet and I realized how many of those luxuries I take for granted and how many of them I could do without if I needed to or had no other choice. My new shower and tub was a small bucket and cup, but I was grateful to have hot water. I realized how little space we actually need to shower and how mindlessly I use water. I savored every single drop here because there was not much of it available. How many of us take for granted being able to turn on the tap, get water and actually be able to drink it or brush our teeth with it safely? You can’t do that here and so many places around the world. How ridiculous is that? How often do we forget to recognize what a gift it is that we do? Gratitude. I’ll admit I’m a picky eater. I have the luxury of making choices of what I buy, cook and order. Not here. You can’t run out to the store. You can’t ask them to make something special for you because you think you’re special. I ate things that I will probably never know what they were. Things I have outright refused to in the past and guess what? I learned to like things I never thought I would. Porridge with honey? I almost gagged the first morning. (I’m a weird food texture girl). Day 3, I was going back for second helpings. I realized how in a box my preferences kept me and how much I was limiting myself. And I know that pattern often goes way beyond food for me. How limiting we can be on ourselves with our supposed dislikes and likes. How much we miss out on experiencing because we have the option to say yes or no. Awareness. There were many other things; always damp sheets, a bucket washing machine, scorpions and lizards as roommates, no air conditioning, just to name a few that made me see how damn lucky I am to have what I have. Appreciation.

 

                                                                      My bathtub

                                                                     My bathtub

It was energizing. There was a beautiful connection to earth and to the other humans there that happens in the silence that we lived in. I’m usually a night owl, but there's something satisfying to wake up at 5:30am and slowly rise to life as the sun does and to go all day until 9pm and slowly drift to sleep as the darkness envelops the space around you. There is a beautiful connection to earth as you bathe in the water of the Ganges and she refreshes and soothes the heat and fire you contain. There is a beautiful connection to another human as you sit along side them and eat in silence, as you practice along them in silence, as you meditate along them in silence, as you walk and clean and do everything along them in silence. There was this ability to sit with, share, and absorb their energy and not be uncomfortable. To not have to fill the space like we often try to do. We could all just be. There was a beautiful connection as we joined vibrations and voices with each other while chanting and practicing kirtan for hours. There have been studies that show that we can affect the energy of another human. There was literally a buzz in my body when we shared those times of organized sound. It has happened every time I’ve taken part in chanting and kirtan at festivals or chant groups. I’m often brought to tears, to laughter, to joy and to dance. It can be the weirdest and most self conscious thing to do for the first time or the fiftieth and you may think you aren’t doing it right, but if you can let that go, it can be some of the most profound moments of connection you ever have. And you never have to say a word to anyone else, but you know them. Connection. It is so delicious.

                                                            Connection through silence  

                                                           Connection through silence  

 

It was peaceful. There is something to be said for the removal of noise. Cell phones, television, radio, internet, most of technology in fact. Even books in my case. I did no reading, although I did a lot of journaling. I was so calm when I didn’t fall into my sometime stories of comparing myself to others’ online lives. When I didn’t worry about having to keep a presence so that my students won’t forget who I am and I will still have a job when I get back. When I didn’t mindlessly stare at some screen and create some story about who they are or who I’m not and what I have or don’t have. I was so in the present because there was nothing to distract me away. Tasting each bite of food, seeing each butterfly drift by, hearing the always present gurgle of the Ganges, feeling each asana to the fullest, and smelling the muskiness of the incense. Presence.

                                       Bathing in Ganga waters during an afternoon walk  

                                      Bathing in Ganga waters during an afternoon walk  

 

Finally gratitude. Trust me, I know I am lucky that I got to leave my life back home for this time and dive into this experience and all the experiences that I do. Gratitude that I have the willingness to dive into uncomfortable situations and things. That I don’t shy away anymore. Gratitude that despite break downs and set backs at times in my life, I have an inner strength that gets me through. Gratitude that I have people back home who support and love me while I am doing these silly things that I do, especially my mom, who puts up with and spoils my crazy dogs. Gratitude for things that make life easier; clean drinking water, washer/dryer, heat/air, my local coffee shop, lol. That make life not as sufferable, but yet me and you often still find things to create drama and stir up shit about. Gratitude that I am in now a much more peaceful, content and strong place so that I can say fuck it when need be, that I don’t have to give my control to others to tell me what to do or who to be anymore.

 

Yoga has been my spiritual path. It’s not a religion the way I practice it since I don’t prescribe to any and never have, but it became much less about asana or doing anything the right way a long time ago. It has and still is my path to be a better person, a stronger person, a more content person and more at peace. My experience in India just helped solidify that I always have work to be done, but damn, I am in a much more solid place than the almost 7 years ago I began this new journey.

 

So, that’s it. A little narrative about me and my own experience with ashram life. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment here or email me. If you have any thoughts, critiques or criticisms, do the same. I am forever a student. If you ever wanna meet and chat about life, or yoga or anything, let’s do that. Let’s connect and much gratitude if you got this far.

                                                        Beauty arises from the muck  

                                                       Beauty arises from the muck  

 

I'll have more of my pictures from India, Rishikesh, Thailand and Bali on my Facebook page. Link is here on my site. Go check them out if you'd like :) 

Presence. A gift more valuable than money.

It is time for shavasana. The room begins to still and quiet and I take my final glances across the space. I observe to make sure that everyone seems settled and comfortable and safe. I find my seat and make myself comfortable and begin systematically relaxing my own muscles and breath. I then put my focus on holding space. 

It is in the final minutes of the yoga practice that I wholly focus on sending out my energy, gratitude, and love to the students who showed up to share their space and time with. I literally try to burst from sending it out. It is in the final minutes that I reflect on the practice and watch my thoughts flow. After shavasana, I shared some thoughts in class on Friday and had such an overwhelmingly supportive response from my students how touching they were and some asking me to share that I will try and remember what all came pouring out in that moment. 

I’ve been reflecting on presence a lot lately. How I can be more present and how I can integrate it as a teaching lesson. So to paraphrase….

“Our time is finite. In the big scheme of things it is fleeting and presents just small blip on the radar. I did a post today on social media about being more present in different aspects. As silly as it sounds to talk about social media here, I’ve made a choice to practice presence there so that action will translate to all aspects of my life that need attention. If I like or comment or your post, it means I took the time to read your words, not just look at your picture. I want you to know I find your content much more compelling than your image. We all probably know people who cannot even sit through a dinner without scrolling through a phone right? We’ve become addicted to swiping left or right and up or down and cannot focus for more than 5 seconds at a time. We cannot seem to manage reading past 120 characters, or whatever Twitter limits it to. I used to love to read. I would consume a book in a night, but now I find it hard to focus and finish one a month. I am trying to change my ability to focus and be present on social media so that I can show up everywhere else as well. 

As a student, each time you share your practice with me, know that you are sharing your time, your energy, and your presence. It is a gift you bestow upon me and every other teacher you show up for, not the other way around. Your time is your most precious gift and it is one whose value is limitless. It is more valuable than any amount of money. So, I invite you to start to reflect upon who and what you spend your time on? When you are showing up for others, giving them your most precious gift, is your worth being reflected back? Are you spending your time on those who may not be appreciating it? Are there others who might appreciate it more? What about the activities you are spending your time on. Are you rushing your way through or completing them with distraction? Is that translating to other areas of your life?

It can be easy and catch-phrasey to say “Be Present”, but the reality of it is not easy. Is there one place in your life where you find yourself not practicing presence and is there one literal, non-esoteric way that you can find to bring more awareness to it. We have amazing philosophy in yoga and some wonderful ideals, like that of dharana, which crudely defined is working towards honing our concentration. But they can be hard to practice in our day to day Western world. How can we make them more literal and real and work for us? 

You chose to spend your Friday night with me, you gifted me with your attention and your time, your presence, and your energy and for that I am beyond grateful. Thank you” 

I never know if my words make an impact or if I am just rambling. My words at the end of practice are never planned and they often come rushing out a little jumbled, imperfect, but they are always backed by the voracity of my heart and passion. I want to share my appreciativeness for those of you who approached me and let me know you were touched. You let me know that I am on the right path.

I never regret being present for sunsets! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Budokon and Cameron Shayne?....

Why Budokon and Cameron Shayne? 

I’ll admit I’ve rewritten this post over 20 times now. There were so many directions I felt pulled because it was such a transformative training experience for me even though it was only a smaller 50 hour one. I knew nothing about Cameron or Melayne before this training except for what I’d read on the internet or impressions from other yogis who may or may not have met them. And we all know how accurate that can be. 

Let’s start before the training with me sticking my foot in my mouth. In person, especially in new circumstances or with people I don’t know, except when I’m meeting students or teaching, I have social anxiety. I’m shy and a bit awkward. In general, I’m pretty quiet and I’m more often listening and observing. When I do muster the courage to speak up, there are times when I wonder how the Southern gene missed me? I often wish for a spoonful of Mary Poppins sugar so that my words come out a bit sweeter. People down here are so good at it.  So when asked before leaving for this training to read “The Dance of the Lion and the Unicorn” and provide commentary, well, for good or bad, I put me onto the paper. I more or less started off by saying I wondered why the hell I had to read a relationship book for this training? Was Cameron trying to work out his own relationship issues on us? Yep, I know? I’m cringing myself right now as I write the words again. 

I kind of thought maybe Cameron was so busy that he wouldn’t actually read all the essays he had us write. Or let’s be honest, I was hoping he wouldn’t. I got a lovely and honest response from Melayne, but still held onto the hope that the words would stop with her eyes. I’m a stubborn mule and have always bucked against authority, but oddly avoid confrontation whenever possible. 

Well, all of my hopes of him not reading it were crushed the first day of training, when after he placed us in a circle for introductions, he spoke of my essay. Thank god he didn’t point and say she wrote this, but I can only imagine that my beet red face was like a huge arrow alerting everyone to the guilty party. Thankfully he didn’t chastise me, he didn’t kick me out of the training, but he did basically question how anyone could ever think he was in that space to do anything other than serve as a teacher. 

I ate lunch at a sushi bar by myself that first day just hoping I would make it through the next five days unscathed. I had not been so lucky in my first 200 hour training. Many of my fellow trainees were eating together at the same restaurant and I was back again to wishing I wasn’t so awkward and could muster the nerve to join them. Cameron walked by, stopped and asked if I was going to eat by myself? I mumbled some excuse, but after he left, I realized yet again, my fear of rejection had shut me off from making connections. I knew he had picked up on that.

The first night of the training I walked from my hotel to the grocery and ended up passing Cameron, Melayne and a group enjoying the sunny weather sitting outside. I tried to make eye contact to say hi, but they were deep in conversation with one another and me being me, I didn’t want to interrupt. So I walked by. In the background hearing Cameron ask, “Did she really just walk by and not say anything?” And all I could think was “Fuck”. I didn’t even have to say anything to stick my foot in my mouth again. On the way back, I had two choices. I could cross the opposite side of the street where they couldn’t see me and skulk back to my hotel. A pretty common choice for me, especially back in the day when I was less self aware and before I had been tested over and over by the yoga practice. One that I knew ultimately would make me feel like shit. The other choice was to walk the same path I had come, maybe into a fire, maybe not. So I did the latter, made eye contact, said “Hi” and battered my defenses against the onslaught I thought I was going to get (because of who I read he was on the internet). 

How he responded in that moment and for the next five days is the reason I’m choosing to train more with Cameron and Melayne. He asked me to sit down and calmly asked why I had walked by. They listened when I answered that I didn’t think I was worth the interruption. He asked me why I had sat alone at lunch? They listened when again I explained how my self confidence was lacking in that moment and how awkward I felt in new situations like this. His answer boiled down to this- That I was being extremely selfish. I was robbing all of these people from me and everything I have to offer. (I kept the tears inside at that moment). Then the question I was really dreading. Why my response in my essay? There are a lot of teachers who would have peacocked up against my response or held offense. But again, they calmly listened as I explained my past experiences in training with previous teachers. How, like all of us, my past experience had colored this one. Had colored the truth. If he hadn’t stopped me and called me out, I think the next five days would have gone differently, but it was a huge wake up call. I was again letting the past me and all of her insecurities color me of this present moment. Letting her color the people I was learning from and training with. 

So that’s why Budokon and Cameron Shayne. All of the following are my opinion of course. He doesn’t put up with bullshit and he’s very up front about it. He owns who he is. He’s willing to share about the times he’s still working on himself. He is passionate about what he does and it radiates from him. He will give every ounce of himself and show up if you are willing to do the same. He is real. 

I am always willing to try any style of practice or teacher. I may have heard rumors or read opinions, but I try to always walk into a practice space with an open mind. I urge you all to do the same. Find out for yourself. Cameron is not the right teacher for everyone. I’m not the right teacher for everyone. But you will only know that for yourself if you choose not to shut off and experience it for yourself. I am so grateful I have found another teacher who recognized my nature to do that and called me out on it. I am grateful that even though I am a teacher, I still revel in being a student. And I am grateful I found this wonderful community. I cannot wait to see where this next adventure will take me. 

Side note: “The Dance of the Lion and Unicorn’ is an amazing book. I was meant to read it when I did and I highly recommend it to everyone. 

Header Image by Virgin Aperture. Edited by iCreateLife. 

Footer Image by iCreateLife. 

 

 

Yoga and Tattoos: Helping to guide me on my path towards truth.

I remember opening a message on Facebook when I used to have a personal account and seeing this message from someone I had considered a friend “I used to think you were very pretty, I’m surprised you chose to cover that up.” One, I was shocked he had the audacity to write that to me as it seemed a very backhanded compliment and was mildly insulting. Two, I was shocked that he, or honestly anyone, had ever found me pretty. I never saw myself that way. 

What sparked this random admission? I had posted a picture of my first tattoo for my friends on FB to see. I, of course, had opened myself up to opinions and scrutiny by posting on social media in the first place, but was not seeking the approval of anyone at the time. I’ve gone on from that first tattoo to get more, as many of you may know. I get asked all the time from friends, acquaintances, strangers; “Does it hurt?”, “Are you getting more?”, “What do they mean?”, but until I was presented with the idea for this blog post (thank you Kristina), I realized I never get asked “Why do I get them?”

What drives someone to endure hours of pain (I have logged over 60 hours in the chair at this point), especially someone who cries like a baby (me) at the sight of a needle at the doctor’s office? I don’t know if I even had a full grasping of why until I started to write the first draft of this blog post. I started to look at who I was as a child; a painfully shy only child who would retreat into the world of my vivid imagination for entertainment. I learned to be a small adult very quickly. I thought when I was out, I was to be seen, but not heard. I started to look at who I was as a teenager; a painfully shy, awkward, insecure girl who covered all my pain with a tough exterior so that no one would attempt to crack it and see the truth. I started to look at who I was as an adult; a pharmacist doing all the status quo things that I thought a good suburban girl was supposed to grow up and do. Then it started to make sense. I had always been stubborn and no longer wanted to live in the suffocating box I had trapped myself in.

I was tough but I needed to prove to myself that I was mentally strong enough to face my fear. I felt like I had been expressionless for years, and all of that creativity I had squelched for years for fear of judgement and abandonment needed a voice. At that time I wasn’t quite ready for the verbal roar of “Here I am, this is me!!”, instead choosing my ink to be my war cry.

By far my largest and one of my favorites is my cherry blossom tree, not only for what it signifies in Japanese culture, but also how its meaning relates to my path with yoga and mindfulness. It was a collaboration with an amazing artist who took my general idea and a sharpie and ran with it. It was a couple of months after I completed my first yoga teacher training and about ten months after the death of my father. It had been quite a year; of losing myself in an abyss, but climbing back out again, of big changes, and of transformation and I had an enormous desire to mark it. Go big or go home and so now my entire back is a work of art (not covering any pretty, but only adding to it) that I hope embodies everything the real life tree and blossom does. Cherry blossoms are arrestingly beautiful, if you’ve ever been lucky enough to see them in person, stopping you in your tracks in wonderment and awe of the power of Mother Nature.

Their beauty is short-lived though, only lasting about 2 weeks each bloom, so they serve as a visible reminder that life is short. Beauty is fleeting, our lives are fleeting and death and change are inevitable. They remind us to stop, be present, look up and around and appreciate what is there in front of you. They have been referenced along with the samurai of Japan, warriors who were taught not to fear death, as we cannot avoid it, and to live their lives with values of integrity, discipline, and respect. Values that I try and use each day to shape the person I will be that day. Values that I think we can all use as a guide. 

I am so grateful for one of the ways, tattooing, that I have to learned to use as a beautiful method to self express. Without tattoos as part of my journey of finding my voice and my courage, I’m not sure I would have been confident enough to travel solo to New York to take part of a weekend yoga workshop, to approach the talented photographer whose pictures I had seen of that teacher, and lucky enough for her to agree to meet with me and photograph me among the gorgeous cherry blossom trees of her neighborhood when they were in full bloom. Life, if you choose to be present with it, certainly has a way of making connections, doesn’t it?

I would love to hear from you. How did you find your voice? What ways allow you to express you?

Photos by Kristina Kashtanova http://www.icreatelife.photography/

I. Don't. Breathe.

I. Don’t. Breathe.

When I am trying to suck in my stomach to look skinnier. When I am immersed in listening to the words of another. When I am trying to formulate a well thought out answer to a question. When I am attempting to quell a rising wave of anger. When I am deep in concentration. And these are just some of the times I consciously know that I do it. Am I alone in this? I do not believe so. Well, maybe in the personal reasons of why, but I believe the dysfunction of breath is a common phenomenon. As I have started to research, learn, and explore more the patterns of my own inhales and exhales, I have been reminded of their immense power. It is literally our life force, but how many times a day do you and I take it for granted or do not even give it a second thought?

As I am being called to different destinations along my journey right now, I have begun work on my 500 hour training, and it was there recently in a small town in Pennsylvania that I was asked to simply lie on my belly and breathe and watch. Multiple times a day, over and over again, so much so that at times I wanted to run out of the room and scream. Seems a bit dramatic, right? I wasn’t being asked to undertake some hugely challenging physical feat. I was being asked something far more challenging in my opinion. I was being asked to explore and confront deep reactionary patterns that I was again realizing were no longer serving me and had probably never been healthy. As a student, I know how hard the explorations that are being asked of you can be. As a teacher and student, I know how mind blowing the awareness can be that comes from those same explorations if you are willing to machete your path so that it starts to become clearer as you forge ahead. Later on, I will give one breath awareness and strengthening exercise I have come to love and appreciate. It is quite powerful in its simplicity. Until then, take a pause, in your reading, not your breath and watch yours. Was it the rise or fall of the belly or chest or ribs you noticed most? Was it the inhale that was smoother to take in or the exhale that was easier to let go? Were they even? Was there a struggle for one? Did the rhythm of inhales and exhales ever pause unnecessarily? What might those answers mean?

Even more recently, I laid on my side on a massage table, riding the waves of sobs that battered my psyche like the waves of a stormy sea battering the hull of a ship. I had not been consistent enough with my breath work since I left training and the universe was showing me once again how important it was, how needed it was. Has that happened to you before? The same lesson showing up again and again cloaked in just slightly different garb to see if you learn from it this time. Well, for me, this time it was dressed in the strong hands of a body worker.  The universe had decided it was going to beat it out of me or into me depending on how you look at it. As he dug deep into knot after knot, hammered into tight muscle after tight muscle, broke into a lifetime web of gripping and holding it was as if I was a guard of Castle Black (if they had allowed women) watching the White Walkers batter the castle door, knowing that something life changing was about to happen and to resist would be futile. Of course, I would not be doomed to a horrendous immortality, but graced with visions of my own wisdom that I had been blind to see if willing to surrender. I began to see pictures of things in my past I thought I was finally over, but obviously I had not been able to let go of. So much holding, gripping, tightness. Me as a little girl praying for a dad that would just give me one hug or say I love you. Me as the shy, only child thinking I had to figure out everything on my own, handle it on my own. Me as the insecure teenager and college student hiding under a shield of bitchiness creating a mask of false confidence. Me as a women sucking in my gut to look skinnier and in my head more attractive thinking that was all I had to offer. As my body and breath seized up against his hands, a pattern of unconscious defense I had adopted, I was confronted with two paths. I could be my same stubborn self, continue to battle once more against this same fight or I could try something different, give in, trust and surrender. As the tears came, they became the waves that broke down the dam holding back my shame and pain. As the breath came, it became the tool of release. My inhales became fuller. My exhales became smoother, less raw and jagged. Oxygen is pulled in as we inhale and with that we are nourished from the universe. Carbon dioxide is released as we exhale, we let go of waste and cleanse the body. So, I invite you to take another pause and watch your breath without need to change. What are your inhales and exhales saying about you? Your patterns? Your easier ability to either nourish or cleanse yourself?

So, for former students, current, and future, these are just a few of the reasons why I preach the power of the breath. Why I harp on the importance of it. Why I believe it is possibly the most important part of our practice. It is the gateway. Our first gasping one is the gateway to life in this body. Our last gasping one is our gateway to whatever lies next after this body. And all the in betweens, they are our gateways, our clues, to discovering more about ourselves, to getting to know ourselves, and to healing ourselves.

How can you cultivate more awareness of your patterns of inhales and exhales and more? I would like to share with you a fairly simple technique I think can be really profound. It is a way of strengthening the diaphragm, the muscle and tendon system that is our primary tool of breath. Diaphragmatic breathing can take us into a pattern of breathing that shifts us out of our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight and all the chemicals that come along for the ride) and into our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). Far too often we hang out in the stressful world of the sympathetic nervous system needlessly. In this technique you can watch your breath, the fullness, the depth, the continuity, the evenness. From that knowledge, what doors of wisdom open up to you? It can also allow you to start to change your pattern a breath into a healthier one if needed which can translate to the physical body as well. 

1. Lie on your belly in crocodile pose (Makarasana).

a. Your legs will be about shoulder width apart and at first try turning your toes out away from one another, heels in, setting the femur bones into a bit of external rotation. If this is any way uncomfortable, adjust the positioning of toes in a way that will allow you to be comfortable.

b. Cross your arms, hands placed on opposite elbows, allowing the shoulders and chest to be lifted off the floor a bit. Allow your forehead to relax on your forearms. If this is any way uncomfortable, trying rolling a blanket into a log. Form a horseshoe shape and place the log under you to support underneath the fronts of your shoulders, your chest, the sides of the blanket hugging the sides of your torso. Relax the forehead on a small pillow or another blanket and allow the arms to come out to the sides from the shoulders with elbows bent like cactus arms or field goal posts.

2. Allow the belly to relax on the floor, and begin to breath in and out through your nose and notice the work of the diaphragm. As it contracts, the lungs fill with air, the belly expands into the floor into resistance and the breath expands into the back and ribs. As it relaxes, the lungs expel air and the belly retracts and the back and ribs sink.

3. Allow the rest of the body to relax and sink into the support of the floor.

4. Allow the breath to become deeper, smoother, even out, stay continuous and become quiet.

5. Carve out 10 minutes every day if you can or a however often you can spare to  practice this technique of diaphragmatically breathing and of breath awareness. See what lessons lie in the awareness of breath and body for you.

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments and insights. Let me know if you have any questions about the breathing technique. Thank you sharing your time with me.

Photo by Kristina Kashtanova http://www.icreatelife.photography/