Shit has got to change (if humans are going to have a future)! The way we are living isn’t actually working (it’s killing us!). Seems like everyone can agree with that statement. And then we all get overwhelmed and apathetic.
People often ask me how I’ve made the changes I’ve made in my life and what “secret advice” I have for others that want to do the same. My answer, besides the secret that I’m still a mess and still have plenty of changes to make, is always, Yoga.
People generally loose interest pretty quickly after that… They say, “I’ve done yoga before and it didn’t really do anything for me.” Or, “I’m not really interested in working out surrounded by rich white women in over priced spandex.” And I totally hear that! That is most certainly not what I mean when I say yoga.
There obviously isn’t a one size fits all subscription to happiness or growth and self-improvement. Despite what you heard, it’s not the Keto diet. (Although it may work for you and that’s great!)
But there is mindfulness. There are certain practices we can use to sharpen our focus, build resilience and strengthen our capacity to direct our energy. By that, I mean, to make choices and take action in our everyday lives to create the changes we desire within and around ourselves.
So, what does that have to do with yoga? What is yoga, really, anyway? Can what we do in modern western society even be considered yoga at all? When we say we’re “practicing yoga,” what exactly are we practicing?
I can’t answer this question for everyone, but I can answer it for myself in terms of my own practice and how I show up and what I would like to facilitate for the students I share space with.
And that’s just it. Yoga is a way of carving out space for yourself in your own life. It is movement meditation. It’s the practice of staying present and paying attention. Its the practice of noticing when things are out of balance and making adjustments to restore ourselves (relationships/communities) to center.
In western culture, it begins with the physical body, with showing up, mindfully moving through the same old shapes again and again. We learn to listen to the body, to receive the information it gives us in pain and sensation. We make adjustments to bring more ease, space and freedom into the body, because when we’re in pain, it’s really hard to focus on anything else.
But as we continue to show us, we stretch our awareness to be in many places at once, to honor and hold the true complexity and diversity of our experiences from moment to moment and day to day. We challenge the body, building strength to tolerate discomfort. We begin to sense, from the inside out, when things are out of balance. We continue to practice making adjustments.
We learn to utilize the breath, as a control dial on the awareness. We use it, to create a space within ourselves. We step back to observe and witness our habits and patterns. We notice the way we speak to ourselves when the going gets tough. We begin to see that these are the same ways we speak to the people we love.
By noticing and naming the habits and patterns, we give them a solidity. As they become more tangible, we are able to weed out the ones that aren’t serving us. We plant new seeds. We water the ones we’d like to continue to cultivate with our awareness and intention. The effects of the practice spread out into all aspects of our life. We move towards alignment, not just in the physical body, but between thoughts and words and actions. We develop integrity. So no matter what they world throws at us, how we are tossed around and flipped upside down, we stand strong in our values and purpose.
A big part of it is stamina. Rome wasn’t built in a day. It is a process, that goes on forever and ever, as opposed to a quick little project. We have to continue to show up with our physical bodies and go through the motions, to carve out the space, to create the energetic vortex that takes us deeper and deeper within ourselves to do this work: noticing imbalance and making adjustments.
And as we continue to work, the deeper inside we go, the more far out it gets. The more we begin to see how the patterns and programs of our society have taken root within us. We are reminded of the reflection/projection, conversation between the micro and macro levels of Self and Universe.
This is Yoga – union between individual and cosmic consciousness. We become implicated and invested in making changes not just for ourselves, but for the earth and future generations, to restore balance! We realize that the mindfulness skills we developed through our practice are the same skills required to create social change. But we must use them collectively and in collaboration.
Again, there isn’t one clear cut path towards that creation. But there are many paths converging. We have our bodies and our breath. We have choice and agency in how we show up and how we readjust.
I’ve been developing Teaching to Transform, a 350 Hr Yoga Teacher Training, to facilitate this deeper and more long term yogic practice and vision around justice and change in the world around us. For more information check out my website: http://www.mariposayoganola.com. I’m also available for private yoga sessions, small group and public classes as well as other energy work. Please feel free to reach out if any of this resonates.
My grandmother and I never really saw eye to eye. It was like we were from two different worlds existing in the same time. Hers was strict and rigid with clearly defined roles and mine was free flowing and fun. She often expressed her disapproval for the whimsical way I went through the world, making it up as I went along.
But one of the last things that she ever said to me was: “I’m proud of you. And I envy your freedom.” She was referring to my riding freight trains across the country, relying on the kindness of strangers, and seeing new places everyday. She went on to explain, the only time she really got to travel on her own was as a nurse during world war 2. It wasn’t exactly a light hearted trip.
After the war she was married. She raised 8 children, often alone, while her husband who was a dentist traveled and taught. He retired at 55. But she continued to work, keeping their giant house immaculately clean, doing all their laundry, cooking three amazing meals a day all from scratch and hosting large family gatherings.
Oddly enough, when she passed away, I felt closer to her than I ever had before. I felt her presence immediately and I felt like she could finally truly see me for who I am. As the judgements of this world fell away, she was able to recognize that I am a good mother despite the fact that I’m not married to my daughter’s father. And that the work I do is important even if it’s unconventional.
I was also able to see her more clearly. I realized that we’re not actually so different. We both had a deep desire to help people and make the world better. I am not a healer out of no where, but rather, I follow in her footsteps. We come from a long line of strong women who were willing to wear whatever hats would enable them to serve, whether as nurses, teachers or in the church.
In Reiki, theres the concept of generational healing. It’s the idea that the work that we do on ourselves in this moment not only effects the future for the better, but it also heals the suffering and sacrifices of the past. When I first learned about this, it seemed really vague and abstract. But this month, I’m feeling it deep down in my bones.
All the stories that came up around the #me too hashtag felt like a giant purge of our collective societal demons. Women speaking of and releasing the traumas their grandmothers had buried deep inside themselves. It’s the month of scorpio, where as my Kabbalah teacher says, “all our thought forms come back to us and we get to decide if we’ll keep them, or choose something different.”
It’s also Halloween, the time of year when the veils between realms get thin and fall away. I am usually only aware of my grandmother’s energy when I am suddenly overwhelmed with the urge to do something really traditional and out character, like get married or wear a conservative high neck “blouse.”
But lately I can feel her urging me to speak up and out more about the cycles of violence and silence surrounding women’s struggles. She begs me to break it down, to high light all the nuances. She dares me to be the person I claim to be, the person she wanted to be, someone my daughter can be proud of. We’ve come so far and yet theres so much more work to do.
Simply telling our stories is just the beginning. We must trace the underlying assumptions that enable this violence to occur back to their source and weed them out once and for all. We must slay the fear demons of the patriarchy that have kept us silent one by one. We do this by weaving the magic of our words to cut through the double speak of this world (freedom, equality, justice for all) to illustrate and illuminate the issue on all of it’s subtle and not so subtle layers and levels.
For these reasons, in honor of my great-grandmothers and my daughters’ daughters, I’m sharing a letter that I’ve written to a white male colleague. I sent it over a week ago and have received no acknowledgment. What a privilege it is, to be able to opt out of these conversations when it gets difficult. I’m sharing it here in hope that someone will be able to receive it and find it useful.
Originally I was going to keep it anonymous because I am compassionate and I feel bad about making other people uncomfortable. But it was pointed out to me, that protecting anonymity here just reinforces a PATRIARCHIAL power structure. Sometimes we need to be uncomfortable to get motivated to change.
**** This time around, in re-sharing, I’ve taken out the name because last year the man in question threatened to sue me for “libel.” I still don’t think I did anything wrong in sharing my point of view, although the studio made my taking the post down a stipulation of entering into mediation. The man in question then resigned from the studio to avoid having that mediated conversation. When I pressed the owners to continue these conversations around power, privilege and silencing they told me that if I made this “private” conflict “public” my employment would be terminated. In the end, I was forced out of the studio and this man that thinks #me too is just women complaining and that rape culture is never going to change, was invited back to hold space for the many women who have experienced sexual trauma and come to yoga to process it through their bodies.
Being sorry “if you upset me,” isn’t actually taking any responsibility for what you were saying or responding to why I find it problematic.
I care very deeply about these issues which is why I’m taking the time and energy to do this painstaking work of building understanding and solidarity between the women and men in my community.
This is the work that I do constantly with my partner, my daughters father, and my friends. I do it because I actually love men, and women, and people, and see their pain and potential.
It’s called emotional labor and it’s work that women have traditionally done and are expected to do, which is never paid and usually not even acknowledged, which is why it’s problematic in the context of the conversations we’ve been having.
I am very thoughtful about how I respond in situations and conversations like these because I know that they have the potential to shift people’s perspectives, to be a catalyst for change, or to make people defensive in which case they will dig in their heels and shut down.
This is why it takes me days to formulate my responses amidst all the other work that I’m doing as a yoga teacher and student, as a mother and a lover. I try to choose the right words to put my message into a form that you can and will be willing to receive, which is still problematic because I as a woman am still catering to your needs as a man.
I am conscious not to come across as overly emotional or angry because then my experience will be written of as PMS or femi-nazi bullshit.
But despite my best efforts to be in dialogue with you, you repeatedly belittled and dismissed my ideas and experience. You superimposed your interpretation and agenda over mine and acted as if it were absolute. This is how men devalue and silence women all the time.
You never even answered the original question which was: “what will you do to help change this part of our culture (referring to #me too, sexual assault and harassment of women)?”
Instead you chose to reiterate and emphasize the limitations that you perceive/project on the possibilities and potential for meaningful change to occur.
So I ask again, how is that useful or strategic? How does it serve your interests? How does it serve mine and that of all women?
I’m not suggesting that we “pretend” that everything is great and moving along in the right direction. But i am suggesting that we begin to have these difficult conversations. If you would like to be an ally, you can bring them into your predominately male spaces and begin to have them with other men.
I am also saying that we connect to the histories of resistance that go back way more than just three of four generations. And that we get into the mindset that a different world is possible.
Isn’t that what yoga is all about? Union: yoking our individual awareness to cosmic consciousness. Recognition that we are all in this together, that we are effecting one another, that we are actually creating our reality by what we choose to do and believe collectively.
In this context, your defeatist attitude that rape culture and toxic masculinity will never change has dire consequences. As a man who teachers yoga to rooms full of women everyday, it becomes dangerous, detrimental to our collective liberation.
The yoga practice is neutral on it’s own and we all infuse it with our own energy, intentions, biases and assumptions. So how do you use the practice and your teaching platform to empower people? Or, if you don’t like that language, how do you facilitate their illumination from within? How do you help them to recognize the agency they have to change their lives and the world around them? Do you think that’s important?
I definitely think it’s important, for both men and women. I am not denying the patriarchy’s detrimental effects on people that identify as men. But i also refuse to give it precedent because the desires, needs and judgments of that segment of the population have been given precedent for centuries and that why our culture and society is out of balance.
I think it was a really interesting strategy to spout off all this negative, discouraging shit very publicly, and then when women started to push back, you deleted your posts (which also deleted our posts) and then took your “apology” to the private sphere. Where, instead of taking any accountability, you made more justifications. This continues to play into traditional gender dynamics where the women are expected to keep things (like abuse and assault) quiet and private so the men aren’t exposed and their egos don’t hurt about it.
But I’m willing to play along for a little bit, if you’re actually willing to look at your shit. The original question remains, “What will you do (actions taken in your own life) to change this part of our culture?
No one can afford to sit back and pat themselves on the back for doing such a good job and being so aware. There is always more work to be done on deeper and deeper and more and more subtle layers and levels. This problem hasn’t been solved, it has just gone underground. So we must be more skillful and vigilant about weeding it out.
I don’t have the answers. I just know it begins with having these difficult conversations, in all of their inconvenience and discomfort, until everything has been exposed and the energy is free to shift, the world is able to change.
I would love to have continued dialogue about these topics.
In conclusion, theres just more work to be done and difficult conversations to have until we get it all figured out. If anyone has questions, please ask them. Or if you would like to share stories or strategies for doing this work, I would love to hear them. May we heal together and become stronger.
Shakti and Shiva: The Balance of Opposing Forces
(Swan River Focus of the Month October 2017)
I have always walked the shadow edge between worlds of darkness and light. Before I was a yogi, I was a punk. Now a days, I take the seat of teacher, here in the light filled Mandir. I guide students to connect to their bodies, their breath and the universe. I encourage them to sweat, chant and wring out the habits and patterns that aren’t serving them. We do this work to make space for new energy, ideas and opportunities to come through our bodies and into manifestation in our lives.
But I came to New Orleans traveling, with nothing but a back pack. It was just another stop on a circuit I was making, hitch hiking and riding trains around the country. I specifically chose that path because I wanted to live with less stuff, to exist outside society, to truly be free. People always imagine that this was a dark and difficult time in my life. But actually despite the struggle and uncertainty, I experience so much magic, syncronicity, kindness and support from strangers.
When I first began to practice yoga, I felt very conflicted about this dichotomy between being a punk and a yogi. I honestly wondered if the two could co-exist, what I would have to give up to make it work. I was skeptical of the perfect women in their expensive outfits that bought and sold this ancient practice. It seemed a bit too bright and shiny for me. I came up in a subculture that sort of worships the darkness, yet within that context I experienced so much depth, beauty, creativity and community support.
As I began to deepen my practice and study yogic philosophy, I discovered the tools that would help me reconcile this dichotomy. Yoga is actually all about union, finding balance between the seemingly opposing forces within and around us: the light and dark, the male and the female, the individual and the collective consciousness. As Patanjali states in Yoga Sutra Book 2.46.
Sthira (steady) Sukham (sweet) Asanam (seat).
The connection to the earth should be steady and joyful. (Jivamukti)
The postures should balance effort and ease. (Iyengar)
Our culture and society try to convince us that we live in a world of either/or: white/black, good/bad, right/ wrong. The powers that be want us to over simplify, to choose a side. This tactic divides us. It dumbs down our awareness and drains our energy. It leaves us with definitions and positions that don’t express our true complexity. It pits us against one another and keeps us from being aware of what’s actually there. The good and the bad, the right and the wrong are within each one of us. We must acknowledge that if we’re going to continue to work on it.
Yoga is the practice of expanding our awareness to be in many places within the physical body at once. We spread the toes and ground down through the four corners of the feet, while simultaneously drawing the abdomen into the back body, and lifting through the crown of the head and tips of the ears. This physical practice teaches us to hold space, to honor the true complexity of our experiences and the intricacies of building collective reality. Hindu Mythology recognizes that diversity is important and necessary (why do you think they have so many different gods and goddesses?). It is this dance between dichotomies, embodied by the primordial forces of Shakti and Shiva, that creates the movement that compels the universe forward into new growth and evolution.
Shakti represents the divine feminine, pure energy that moves towards creation, transformation and form. She is born of the darkness; intuitive, playful and powerfully expressive. Shiva represents the divine masculine; pure consciousness, Being and essence. He is born of the light, steady, stable and unchanging. As Dr. David Frawley explains in his book, “Shiva, Lord of Yoga:”
Shiva is reality, that which is ever enduring, while Shakti is relativity, that which is ever fluctuating, arising and returning to the real. Shiva is unitary reality or common ground of being while Shakti is the web of multiplicity, relativity, relations, or interdependence that arises from its manifestation. Every aspect of the universe has a complementary duality of Being and its Power of Becoming.
Take the element water, for example: its essence or Shiva aspect is wetness and fluidity. Whatever form it assumes in a given moment, as rain, a wave, a river, or a tear, is it’s Shakti aspect; its action; its power of becoming or expressing itself. Both aspects are required to animate and direct the universe. Shiva without Shakti is a corpse, as they say. And Shakti without Shiva is an explosive disaster with no direction.
In truth, they are two sides of the same coin and they compliment one another. Shakti breaths life force and energy into consciousness and ideas so they can be born into and have an effect on the world. Shiva harnesses this energy with big picture vision of where we’re going both individually and collectively. With both energies working together we have the capacity to consciously create a reality that takes into account the happiness and freedom of all beings.
Just to be clear, divine masculine and divine feminine are not actually in reference to fixed genders or gender roles. These forces exist and are at play within each one of us. We all have our Higher Selves, our connection to pure cosmic consciousness. We also all have our unique and particular paths, purposes and ways of expressing ourselves as we walk though the world. The Shiva aspect, the all knowing awareness provides direction and intention for the Shakti energy of creation and manifestation.
Yoga is the practice of honoring and bringing these opposing forces into balance. We want to become beings that can do both. Being that aren’t afraid to exist in the dank dark murkiness of the root chakra where Kundalini Shakti resides. Nor are we afraid to work and travel and grow towards the light. We must be able to connect to that pure, cosmic Shiva consciousness that pours in from the universe through the crown of the head, reminding us to honor our connection to all things. But we cannot stop there. We must draw this Shiva consciousness down through the body, to direct our energy with the intention of its expansive perspective to build and create the reality we want to see, the world we want to be in.
We must remember that balance is never static. Even when poses look still on the surface, there is always a dynamic negotiation between opposing forces happening beneath it. In Vrksasana, tree pose, for example, we ground down through the standing leg to lift and lengthen through the heart and crown. We begin with the hands in prayer and press the foot and the leg together to find the stability between opposing forces at the midline of our bodies. Then from that hugging in, we shine out, extending in all directions, just like a real tree. The natural world provides us with many examples of this ebb and flow. Through the cycles and the seasons we experience the balance of light and dark, hot and cold, sunshine and rain that enables our world to both endure and grow and change.
There’s no right or wrong, good or bad in nature, only movement towards and dance around balance. Both light and dark, Shiva and Shakti have their strengths and their purposes. They also have consequences when they’re out of balance. Within our society as a whole and yoga culture in particular, there’s a tendency to devalue the darkness, the body, the feminine Shakti aspect. The underlying assumption seems to be that the body is a burden just a means to an end, to attain the light, that the consciousness, the Shiva aspect is somehow better or more important. These consequences play out on all layers and levels of our selves and our world.
When we deny fear, pain, and suffering, when we turn a blind eye to these things within and around ourselves, they take root and grow in our subconscious. They become aspects of our shadow selves. They create the unconscious patterns that seem out of our control in our lives, whether it’s reactionary outbursts of anger on an individual level or deeply engrained misogynist and racist structures and beliefs on a collective level. When we refuse to face our demons, they grow stronger. They become black holes of denial and unconsciousness that syphon our energy away from the things we actually desire to create.
In truth, these individual and collective traumas are our greatest assets. They provide us with a lot of information. They show us exactly where our work lies, exactly where our energy is being diverted to build walls and create separation. Our yoga practice can and should take us into the deepest darkest parts of ourselves where we can face our fears, break down our walls and consolidate our power. When we reclaim this energy it revitalizes our bodies and brings new inspiration into our minds.
We must be willing to occupy all the places and spaces within ourselves and our society. As yogis, we’re always talking about “being the light,” but we must be willing to be the darkness as well. We must bring the wisdom of Shakti, the receptive, intuitive, innovative energy of the instinctual body to breath new life into our logical and analytical minds. We need both to out create this matrix, to make something different, to save the world. When both aspects are present, in alignment and union, they create magic, the synchronistic unfolding of the exact lessons and blessings that are required in each moment to promote growth and evolution.
As fall progresses and we move deeper into darkness, Halloween offers us an opportunity to do just that, to call on the gods and goddesses to restore balance. We call on them, not with the seriousness of academic rigor, but with the embodied playfulness of children. We get to dabble in the darkness a little bit. We honor Shakti as we uncover our shadow selves. We dress up, act out and, in doing so, are receptive to the new ideas that emerge as we balance and reintegrate our energies.
We can take this playfulness from the streets to the mat, by being in the flow of our practice. The movement and dance of our vinyasas, creating and shifting shapes with our bodies, honors the Shakti aspect within us. We cultivate a balance with Shiva through the practice of holding the poses, finding stillness and steadiness. Within each breath there is opportunity to access this balance as well. As we inhale we draw the energy in and up, to the calm center of ourselves in honor of Shiva. And as we exhale, we extend energetically from the core to the periphery, shining out in all directions in an expression of Shakti. In this way, with each breath, we are a dynamic part of this cosmic dance that creates balance between opposing forces.
My daughter is 8. The news is full of conversations about sexual assault and rape. She asks questions and I answer them in all honesty without being overly graphic. It’s just a matter of fact.
She is beautiful and vibrant. I know it is both a blessing and a curse. I wasn’t much older than her, when unspeakable things started happening…. I don’t need to know the details of every single case. I believe you, because I’ve been there myself in so many different brutal and more subtle ways.
As a kid, I tried to ask for help. But the burden was too much. Grown ups I thought I could trust, cut me off, changed the subject, avoided eye contact. I hadn’t even begun to tell them the worst of it.
But I got the hint. It was my fault. I shut up. I took the hurt and buried it deep down inside of myself. I cut that part off, from feeling, from awareness, from the story I told about who I was. I refused to look at it. I expended so much energy building walls around walls around walls to block it out. That burden became heavier and heavier and I dragged it around, trying desperately not to let anyone see this defect at the core of me. And I wondered why I couldn’t have healthy relationships…
I did such a good job that it took me 20 years to begin to remember, to rediscover bits and pieces of that nightmare. Despite the daily onslaught of harassment, and the numerous times I had to literally fight a drunk dude off of me and run out the house, or down the street, or through the crowd, I had always considered myself one of the lucky ones.
Then the memories started to come back in disorientating flashes in the middle of a yoga class, while getting a massage, in my most intimate moments. At first, I doubted that they were even mine. I withdrew. I drank more. But still details came through that whispered the times and places.
It was almost worse the second time around. I was an adult, with a small child. I was supposed to be getting my shit together. Instead, everything began to unravel. My daughters father waited patiently for a while. But the process, the unfolding, just kept going and I had to go it alone. I couldn’t stand to be touched by a man, especially the father of my child, especially someone I trusted. So we eventually broke up.
And I did the work of breaking down those walls, of reliving every moment. This is how the body stores trauma until you’re ready to process it. I had to face my fears and the demons living there, the ones that would rear their ugly heads in defense whenever anyone got too close, when ever anything became too intimate. I had to slay those demons to begin healing, to reconsolidate my power, to reintegrate all aspects of myself. It is the hardest, most exhausting work I’ve ever done. And it just keeps going…
If I had one wish it would be to spare my daughter such experiences. I am hyper vigilant. I will fight for her with my every breath. But I also have to be realistic. Shelter can not protect her from the sickness of the society that we’re immersed in. So I have to give her all the tools, the language and the awareness to be ready to navigate what we’re up against.
We are having these difficult conversations with our little girls, because we must. Just like black parents have to talk to their kids about race, because it’s a matter of life or death. But I wonder, are we having these difficult conversations with our little boys as well? Or do they get to revel in the innocence of childhood without ever having to really feel uncomfortable? Are we grooming them for entitlement?
I’m sure some parents are doing the work and I thank you! I would like to urge every parent (and every person!) to do it more, with your little boys and your big boys, with your brothers and husbands and fathers. Talk to them! This is the work that has the potential to change the world and effect the future.
And sure, it’s awkward and exhausting, but not nearly as much as being implicated in raising or turning a blind eye to a rapist. And lets be realistic, boys are receiving messages from the society around us that they are entitled to women’s bodies, that rape is their birth right. It is up to us (all of us that give a fuck) to teach them something different.
It is up to us to engage them emotionally, to model behaviors of vulnerability and accountability so they can see and be full human beings. This means that we talk to them about consent and we practice it with them. When we make a mistake, when our feelings get hurt and we act out, we have to own it. We have to apologize and explain that we understand what we did wrong. We also must follow up with action that restores balance and justice to the relationship.
Boys need men to model this behavior for them as well, which means as mothers, daughters, wives and friends, we have to walk the men in our lives through these processes, explain their importance and be relentless in our standards. This work builds trust. So that if little boys are being inappropriately touched, they’ll tell us as well. This is another part of the problem: most perpetrators have also been the victim (I know its true in my case). They’ve repressed the memory and it creates a demon.
As a society, we are in the stage of the memories resurfacing. It’s overwhelming and disorientating. But we can’t stop here. I pray that we follow this healing process through to completion or rather to the next layer. I promise, as we build momentum, as we gather experience and build confidence, it’ll get a little bit easier. If we stick with it, we’ll begin to see the little baby results of change taking place. We can’t get distracted by it. We must keep working. May our daughter’s daughter never know the injustice we’ve experienced!
I’ve suffered from anxiety for as long as I can remember. After my daughter was born, it got so bad, that I refused to drive my car or go anywhere by myself. I knew that I needed some kind of help. But the thought of speaking to a stranger was completely out of the question. I wanted to go to yoga because I’d really enjoyed it in the past, but just the thought of being in a room with other people made my skin crawl.
It’s funny because it’s not that I don’t like people (well…most people). Despite my anxiety, I’ve always kind of been a people person. I’m friendly. I can make conversation. I wasn’t under the delusion that everyone else was awful. I knew there was something wrong with me. And that fed my anxiety.
It seemed impossible. But I was determined to face it. For the first year, my daughter’s father dropped me off at every yoga class. And I fought myself not to turn around and run back out the door as soon as I walked in. Over time, I got to know people and feel comfortable in the yoga studio. My anxiety dissipated there. But it was still a struggle to walk my dogs down the street or go to the grocery store.
I stumbled upon my first Access Consciousness Bars class a few years later. I walked through the door, feeling really frazzled and anxious, as usual. I sat down, and everyone began to introduce themselves. They all seemed really mature and put together. I was having a full on panic attack below the surface. When it was my turn to say hello, everyone looked at me, and I almost started crying.
Then the facilitator, Monica, said, “What is that?” I had no idea what she was talking about, so I felt put on the spot. I didn’t know the “right answer” so my face got red. My breath got short. My heart started pounding out of my chest even more. She kept on, “That energy, right there, what is it?” I began to stutter, “I..I..I..don’t know.”
Then she said, “Is it even yours?” And with those words, a weight was lifted off my chest. She continued, “Are you anxious to be here now? Or are you just aware of the all thoughts and feelings of all of the people that you’ve passed on the street on your way to get here today? Or maybe even all of the thoughts and feelings of all of the people who have ever occupied the space of this street?
Suddenly, my whole life made more sense. Even as a child, I was always hyper aware of everyone else’s thoughts and feelings, as well as their judgements and expectations. So much so that I would often confuse them with my own. Who was I if not the daughter my father wanted me to be?
Monica interrupted my stream of consciousness. “Now for the fun part. All awareness is just information. So…what are you going to do with it?!?” And then I got excited like, “Ooooh, I have options…” “Would you like to return it to sender with consciousness attached? Or to receive the energy without judgement?”
These are just two options. The possibilities are infinite. The more you’re willing to be aware, the more you’re able to receive. If this story resonates with you, if you’d like to play with your awareness to transform your anxiety, come to the Access Consciousness Bars class I’m teaching on Saturday September 15th! It’s an all day event (10-6). Message me for more details!
Sweet Baby Jay and I were friends for a while before we started dating. He would come to my yoga classes a lot. I’d run into him out and about town. We always had really good conversations about really far out shit: energy, aliens, generational healing.
One day after class we decided to get a beer together. After talking for a while, it came up that I was pretty upset with my partner and feeling really under appreciated in the relationship I was in at the time. John had to run off and take care of something, but when he got up to go, he put his sunglasses on, flashed me a big smile and said, “Call me when you’re ready for a real man.”
I nearly spit beer all over the table. I just laughed and rolled my eyes, like whatever, dude… I’m six years older than him!! And I had been explicitly warmed that he had no follow through. He lifted his sunglasses up for a second, looked me dead in the eye and said, “I’ve been listening to you complain for a really long time now, I think I know what you want.” That left me speechless for the first time in my life…
The next time he came over, it was to cook diner for my daughter and I. And I realized that he did in fact have an idea of what I would like. I decided to give it a shot. After our first kiss, he let me know that he actually had no intention of dating me. And I let him know, that that was too bad because as far as I was concerned, we were already together. The rest is history. We’ve been bickering ever since.
Our relationship is not perfect. We’re both stubborn and explosive at the same time. Mistakes, huge mistakes, have been made on both sides. But I’ve never met a person so willing to step up, to receive feedback (after first flipping out) and (slowly with your Kapha ass) work to create change. Shit, we built a house together this year. Happy Anniversary, John Baleine! Cheers to many more projects, houses, and fist fights! Just Kiddin….
Have y’all seen Kitchen Nightmares?
I honestly hadn’t until recently. I’d always seen clips of Gordon Ramsey flipping out on people and screaming in their faces. My initial reaction was like, “That’s so mean! I don’t like it at all.”
But… My partner has been on a bit of a binge watching Kitchen Nightmares bender. He has developed a serious fondness for Chef Ramsey. I actually started to get kind of jealous. Like, “You’d rather hang out with him than me?!?!?”
In an attempt to comfort me and to convince me to watch the show, John said, “You’re actually a lot like Gordon Ramsey. You’d be surprised.” I was immediately offended, got defensive and started yelling. “See,” he said.
Now that I’ve seen a few episodes, (or more than a few…) I’ve realized that it’s literally always the same story. Gordon goes into a struggling restaurant that is about to go under. He’s there to use his expertise to make changes, to get the business back on track, and put the family back on the road towards success, happiness and prosperity. But there is always at least one member of the team, usually an owner or a chef, that is in complete denial about their part in and responsibility for why the restaurant is failing.
Chef Ramsey tries the food. It’s usually “dreadful,” old, frozen crap. He gives the owner the feed back, and they almost always say, “You’re wrong! My food is good!” And so… the intensity of Gordon Ramsey ensues. “Are you out of your mind!?!?” “Have you completely given up?!?!”
When these clips are taken out of context, Chef Ramsey may come across as a belligerent psychopath. But if you continue to watch the show, you’ll see that he’s actually a very kind, caring and compassionate person. He wants these family owned businesses to succeed and he knows that they can’t unless everyone is accountable for their piece of the puzzle, unless everyone makes their best contribution.
We can’t heal or change what we refuse to acknowledge. But denial runs deep. We think it’s protecting us (from having to face something really horrible) but… It’s actually enabling and holding that thing in place. We’ve all been there.
I was there with an ex boyfriend. I knew that he had a history of drug addiction. And when he relapsed it was so in my face obvious. But I refused to see it. I was blinded by the love and affection that I had for him. But there was also an ego aspect to it. How could I be a yoga teacher and do all this personal work and have my boyfriend be a drug addict? Oh no, I didn’t like that. So I decided to just put up a wall and refuse to acknowledge it.
Close friends confronted me and I got defensive. “You’re wrong! He’s good!” It wasn’t until he lied to me about getting into a hit and run with my car that I finally realized he was lying about everything. And that still took two calls from the insurance company. The first time, I asked him, and he denied it. The second time, the woman on the other end of the line got New Orleans on my ass. “Girl, he’s lying to you!” It was so strange, coming from a complete stranger, suddenly it clicked. Suddenly I saw everything crystal clear and it was horrible!
Needless to say, we broke up. And what I’ve realized since is that denial runs deep in my family, generationally, and within our society as a whole. We have some pretty heinous shit in our collective closet. This country is founded on slavery, rape and genocide. It has been conducted, condoned and then covered up by our (rich, white, male) government and religious institutions. (I mention both because they are clearly so separate.)
Denial of these facts is glaringly apparent and has real consequences in the present. As white folks, we never acknowledge our race and we love to pretend it’s because “people are just people” and “we don’t see color.” But really it’s so we can avoid being accountable for the ways in which we benefit from a racist system and continue to perpetuate white supremacy by refusing to name and/or question it. In doing so, we dismiss and erase the experiences of People of Color, who do want to acknowledge and talk about race because it has very real effects on their health (infant mortality), safety (murder by police) and prosperity (rates of incarceration) in this society.
So I’m gonna go a little Gordon Ramsey on your asses. Hey white people! This is our restaurant! Our denial of our racism is that rotten smell coming from the walk-in. It attracts rats and roaches. It breeds disease. It tarnishes all the food that comes out of the kitchen. And only you can initiate the process of first acknowledging it and then beginning to clean it out!
If you are looking for ways to deeply engage in this work, there are so many! Learn Black History!! Read “White Fragility,” by Robin Diangelo and check out the work of Rachel Cargle and Layla F. Saad, two black women who are generously taking the time to call white women into conversations around white supremacy and accountability.
I seriously stepped up my yoga game after my daughter was born; one, to get back into shape, and two, to help manage my anger. I didn’t want to repeat cycles of violence I’d experienced as a child. But being a new parent was stressful and I realized I had no skills to cope. Moving my body regularly immediately took the edge off, reduced stress, and gave me space to process.
I wanted more of it, so I decided to do the 350 hr. teacher training at Swan River Yoga. Making that choice, opened quite a can of worms in my life! The path towards Self realization, growth and transformation is a messy one. There are all kinds of obstacles in the road and detours that must be made…
Initially, increasing the regularity and intensity of my practice aggravated all of my old injuries. I had been a gymnast. I was proud and sure I was doing everything right. I didn’t want anyone to know I was hurt, so I explored the pain on my own. I began to put my attention on my lower back and SI joint while I practiced. And I started asking questions, “Why does this hurt?” “What am I doing wrong?” (P.s. I’m learning not to think in terms of wrongness and judgement anymore.)
As I began to dig deeper into my hips and pelvis, strange bits and pieces of dark memory began to surface. At first I literally wondered if it was mine. But then a more detailed story line began to emerge… All I can say is: the human psyche/ mind:body connection is complex and fascinating. We are so innovative in the ways we cope and protect ourselves. It’s amazing how the mind can create walls and the body can store information to be processed at a later date when we’re safe.
This was the first time that any of the “woo woo” shit I’d heard about chakras actually made tangible sense. I read “Wheels of Life” and “Eastern Body Western Mind” by Anodea Judith. I began to see the body as an expression of our “converging histories,” physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. There is a blueprint for optimal alignment of the body that enables the energy to flow smoothly bringing health and vitality to all parts. When we create walls and cut off pieces of ourselves, the energy gets stagnant and stuck, literally creating dis-ease in the body.
I became obsessed with the idea of working with and realigning the physical body as a way to access and heal these energetic blocks. I took the Alignment and Therapeutics Course with Kelly Haas in 2013 and again in 2015. I shadowed and assisted her in a Beginners Yoga Class for a year. This enabled me to witness and apply the “universal principles of alignment” to many different bodies, body types, and injuries, all the while, going through the healing process myself.
Around this time, I also began to practice Iyengar Yoga with Heidi Grace at Yoga Bywater. It was very different from the flow based practice I was accustomed to. Lots of props, long holds, and really precise alignment instructions that I’d never heard before in my life. It was agonizing, mostly on my ego. I felt like I knew nothing, like I was back at the beginning after 12 years of practice.
And what a wonderful place to be! I began to learn, grow and build strength rapidly. I had a vision of how my yoga teaching and practice could be more balanced, directed and effective in the long run. I began to design 7 Week Series that work from the ground up to realign the body physically and energetically. These series work to integrate all aspects of Self, with the earth and the universe. So that we can connect more deeply, channel more energy, and direct it more intentionally towards building the lives, relationships and communities that we desire to be a part of.
New students, clients and opportunities began to show up for me. One huge blessing came in the form of Jena Mastronardi-Frederick, the founder of the Schema Therapy Center. She stumbled upon one of my classes and saw value in it. She hired me to design private and small group series for her clients, to compliment the work they were doing in therapy. (It may all just have been an elaborate plan to get me into therapy myself, but…) It was an amazing opportunity to gain hands on experience, to apply these ideas and do really deep work with folks over a long period of time.
So many of my new students were experiencing or recovering from low back pain/surgery and/or SI joint injury. So many of them had experienced childhood trauma similar to mine. Was this a coincidence? Jena encouraged me to use my intuition with clients and get creative with integrating all the tools I had to serve them. Restorative Yoga, Thai Yoga Massage and, later, The Bars proved to be extremely effective in complimenting a more vigorous practice and/or therapy. (For more information, check out the descriptions of the offerings on my website http://www.mariposayoganola.com)
Now a days, I continue to practice and teach in seven week alignment series, always returning to the foundation to reset my intentions, to check in with the trajectory of my evolution, to refine my skills of creation and manifestation. I teach a regular public class every week at Yoga Bywater (Alignment based Flow M. 12:30). I also offer private and small group classes at my home studio, where I continue to creatively combine my repertoire of tools to create space to process, facilitate release, and empower folks to choose the next right step in their journeys of healing, growth and evolution.
Recently, I have become obsessed with the question of how to make these individual healing practices relevant to and effective for the collective. If we aren’t making adjustments to restore balance, to create freedom and justice for the earth and all beings, are we really doing yoga? I don’t pretend to have all the answers here. But I know it begins with digging deep; unpacking white supremacy, patriarchy and spiritual bypassing. We must own our short comings, our ignorance and complacency. And then choose to do something different. If you are interested in collaborating or would just like to continue with this conversation please feel free to reach out to me.
I’ve been collaborating with a solidarity coach to create, Teaching to Transform, a 350 hr. yoga teacher training that will dig deep to address these topics, and train teachers to utilize the practice to confront these social justice issues. You can get more details about it on my website, http://www.mariposayoganola.com ❤ ❤ ❤