Yoga and Spirituality

People will often ask me if my spirituality has changed since becoming a yogi. I was born Catholic, went to catholic school, received the sacraments, raised our kids catholic. I always will be tied to my catholic roots. But when it comes to my connection with God or my “Path”, I would have to say that yoga has definitely changed my perspective.

Yoga allows me to get quiet, become more connected to the sensations, thoughts, emotions and patterns of my body. What I tell them is that my yoga practice has awakened my spiritual path in a way that Catholicism didn’t. In Catholicism, to me it felt like I was told what to read or pray, then it was read to me, and then I was told what it meant. What it didn’t allow for me was the ability to think freely on my own or to consider my purpose.

Although I appreciate the rituals of Catholicism, the rules are a thorn in my side. As I’ve gotten older this type of dogma does not sit well with me. What the path of yoga offered me was the ability to look right into my soul without judgment. Believe it or not, looking deeper takes courage as we may not always like what we see. And by doing so, it allows the opportunity to be more compassionate towards others. This has definitely been the case with me.

Yoga is greatly influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism so if one is going to deepen their practice they will get a lot of exposure to these belief systems.   As I began to look deeper into these other religions and philosophies, I began to see that when you remove the dogma, each philosophy or religion has the same belief systems. Be kind to others. Love everyone. Show compassion for yourself and others. Now that is a path I can follow.

“Is this it?” The beginning of my path to healing

About twenty years ago, after the birth of our third child, a daughter, I remember thinking to myself…”is this it?”   I was thrilled to be a mom, had a great husband, a house, and really cool job but still I felt a deep sense of loneliness, and a sense that this was too good to be true and, like most things I had experienced, it would be short lived.

I had been a keeper of lists.   And as I added things to the list, I was convinced that as I achieved that next item on the list, I would finally be happy. After the birth of my daughter, there really wasn’t anything left to add. And if I’m being honest, I felt guilty that I had this beautiful life but still, deep down, I was not happy not to mention not thriving. I wondered many times what was wrong with me even though most people wouldn’t notice because I was, and still am, as some would say, high functioning.

Shortly after my daughter’s birth, I had what I would call an interruption. A triggering event occurred and it sent me reeling into a downward spiral. I had experienced other triggering incidents before and had been able to get over them, or actually suppress them, and move on. This was different. It could have been that my body had simply had enough of the suppression and that the stressors and traumas in my body had reached capacity. Or it could have been that with three young children under the age of 5, that I was simply exhausted and did have the energy to fight it. Whatever the reason for this breakdown, it was a gift.

I went into therapy for the first time and was diagnosed with PTSD from childhood trauma and anxiety disorder. The diagnosis came as a relief. But the solutions and eventual healing seemed inaccessible, if not overwhelming. The therapy offered to me, was seen as an intervention by my insurance company, meaning I could go for six visits and then after the six visits (so really six hours), in their minds I would be healed. What?? I had a choice after my six visits, which was to go on meds or look to other forms of healing and that is when I found meditation and it was the beginning of my exploration with holistic and alternative modalities. What I discovered isn’t anything profound. And what I found was that the more I connected to my body through stillness (and eventually movement), the better I felt and the more aware I was of my reactions (which there still so were many of) but also I noticed my moments of peace.

My first meditation course was at my local gym, an upscale establishment in an upscale town. I had no idea where to search for such classes so when this one caught my attention, I immediately signed up. “Watch the thoughts like you are watching a movie”, the man presenting the workshop suggested. I had a really hard time with that idea. Then the man suggested using a mantra, which is a word or saying one repeats over and over silently to themselves and can be offered as a prayer or intention, and offered the suggestion, “I am peace”.  This idea I could get my head around. I kept silently repeating it using the breath….. “I am” on the inhale, and “peace” on the exhale.

And I knew right then, that this was the beginning of something beautiful.

Loving Equally

Kiss your Friends’ faces more

Destroy the belief that

Intimacy must be reserved for

Monogamous relationships

Be more loving

Embrace platonic intimacy

Embrace vulnerability

Use emotionality as a radical tactic against a

Society which teaches you

That emotions

Are a sign of weakness

Tell more people you care about them

Hold their hands

Tell others

You are proud of them

Offer support readily

Take care of the people around you

 

This poem came across my facebook newsfeed recently and it was exactly what I needed to see. I thought, wow, what a beautiful, courageous and radical way to look at love (I am so sorry but I do not know the author.   If anyone knows please let me know because I want to hang out with this person).

A while ago my daughter and I were talking about love and she asked me if I thought it was possible to love everyone equally. I told her it’s possible but I’m not there yet. This conversation sent me on a quest of self-inquiry.   I thought about those who I love the “most”. My husband and our children, without a doubt, are the greatest loves of my life. I then thought, well who would fall next in line? Extended family? Friends? Community? Teachers? After thinking about it a while, I came to this conclusion. It is whoever I allow it to be. It’s a choice to love or not love equally. That was a radical realization.

One of my favorite teachers, Ram Dass, suggests that we “love everyone”. He said he loves everyone and everything equally and it’s hard for the people in his immediate circle to understand sometimes why he might love the books on his shelf as much as he loves each of them. How can someone love a book as much as a person? When he and others speak of their Guru, Neem Karoli Baba, they speak of him as if they have never loved or felt love like they did when they were with him. One of the most beautiful things I ever experienced was to listen to these people talk about their Guru in this way. They could care less what others think about this experience because their love is that deep. If sounds very much like the deep feelings of romantic love or parental love but it may be even so much greater it cannot be put into words. Imagine a love that deep.

We can so easily get stuck in a limited belief or a “set of rules” that apply to how we love or who we love for that matter. How can we embark on a mission of love if we have a fear of intimacy or a fear of being vulnerable? They’re counter-intuitive. Trust me for years I tried that approach, and all it does is harden the heart.

It wasn’t until I read this poem that it clicked for me. Why do we place limits on how much we love others unlike how we do so within our immediate family? Now before we go off on a tangent about the need for boundaries etc., let’s just say that for our purposes today that the kind of love that I am referring to is platonic with healthy, appropriate boundaries in place. With that in mind, if there is ever a doubt, it is a very fair question to ask of people with boundary issues.   The answer might come from our limited belief system, our own fears, our life experiences, or how love showed up (or didn’t) in our lives.  No matter what we think the reason is I would bet that it comes from a place of fear; Fear of not being lovable; Fear of intimacy; or Fear of being vulnerable and so on. So we judge others if they love in a way we can’t understand. And maybe, just maybe, we are fearful or unaware of our own limitations around our ability to love ourselves. Radical.

Of course this is a work in progress but this I know for sure. When my heart is open and I am coming from a place of love I am a better person, wife, friend, daughter, sister, mother, teacher, and student. When I’m not, I’m the opposite of that, and quite frankly, I’m a hot mess.   Which would you choose? Today, I send my love to all of you and I eagerly wait for the day when I can say I love everyone equally. And I’m getting closer to that goal every day.

 

 

 

 

Sitting with our emotions….

Over the last week, it’s been necessary to fall back on my Buddhist psychology tools. One of the ideas of Buddhist psychology is to give ourselves permission to feel whatever we are feeling at the moment and meeting that moment and those feelings with complete and total compassion. If you’ve been in my classes lately, you’ve heard me reference Jill Bolte-Taylor, a neuroscientist who had a stroke at a young age and wrote about her experience in her book “A Stroke of Insight “ (as well as spoke about it in a very well received TED talk). In her book, she talks about how our brains only recognize an emotion for 90 seconds. N-I-N-E-T-Y seconds. What allows the emotion to continue is that a story takes root, which continues to validate and reinforce the emotion. And then we suffer. This idea of meeting ourselves exactly where we can be extremely effective and allow us to cope in a way that serves our overall well being. We see the thought/emotion, we recognize and acknowledge it and we move on.

One of my main coping tools over the years has been anger. If I’m being completely honest, I’d say it was an addiction. The adrenaline rush and the wanting to “fight” (albeit somewhat subconsciously which is very common with people who have PTSD) was very stimulating but exhausting emotionally and physically, not to mention depleting to my heart and soul, and often ended up with someone I care about getting hurt and always ended up with me hurting myself as I’d sit with deep regret afterwards. Of course I’m human and I still do get angry but not nearly to the degree that I used to. By meeting myself exactly where I am has allowed me the ability to meet everyone in my life where they are. If I’m doing this right, and it is absolutely a practice, more often than not, I’m doing my best to meet them with love and compassion regardless of whether or not I agree with them. Because the truth is, everyone is entitled to their experience. Being confrontational, judgmental, and self-righteous is a hard samskara to break….trust me as I know this all too well. What would happen if we allowed everyone to have their own experience and not try to convince them to see it our way? That doesn’t mean we condone supporting things that we don’t believe in but we use emotions, feelings, and beliefs to thrust us into action in a way that serves us, our conscious, and inspires others. If we tell people they need to feel a certain way, speak a certain way, or process a certain way….we lose them as well as an opportunity for dialogue…..not convincing them (which something I’m still working on too) but dialogue.

Join me today for restorative at 4:15 and Core Release and Restore at 7:30. We will practice sitting with our emotions and then we’ll just see what happens. As I learned in the silent retreat a couple of weeks ago…the physical practice brings ease into the body but the sitting brings clarity. We will be doing some metta again today as I think it’s necessary and can be extremely helpful in shifting our frame of mind. I hope to see you.

In the meantime, be kind, loving and compassionate to yourself and others. Peace on Earth.

Election Blues

So many of us awoke in disbelief and with a heavy heart. Some of us awoke with hope that this change is what is necessary for our country.

For those of us that practice yoga, this is a great time to use our practice to help us navigate through the disappointment, fear and disbelief. For those of us who don’t practice, now is a great time to start. One thing that can never be taken away from us during difficult times is our willingness and ability to love and show compassion for everyone. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. As difficult as today might be, the sun is still shining, the sky is still blue, and like trees in a grove, we have community (and a wonderful community it is). 

Please join me tonight for a different kind of practice. We will open our hearts, participate in Metta meditation, practice, and of course, release. Join me whether you are a Trump, Hillary, or 3rd party supporter. Let’s heal together so we can move forward towards acceptance of what has been presented in front of us and begin to mend our broken hearts. Know that I am sending so much love to all of you

Veterans Day

“The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” – Douglas MacArthur

A couple of weeks ago while teaching at the VA, I ran into a vet who had attended my yoga classes at the in-patient building. From time to time, I run into men and women who attended my classes on the “outside” but it usually takes me a second to recognize them, as they usually appear very different to me, because when I see them in the hospital, they are in crisis mode so they don’t look like themselves. I initially didn’t recognize him because the last time I saw him, he had just made his third attempt at suicide. So I was delighted to see such a big smile on his face. He looked so grounded, happy, excited, as well as proud (a funny word to used here but that is the word that comes to mind). He said, “do you remember me? I went to your yoga class!”. And I said, “of course I do, it’s so good to see you. How are you?”. And he told me that after some very dark times, he was doing much, much better. And it showed. I couldn’t help but notice that he was wearing a VA hospital employee badge so I asked him if he was working at the VA. He told me that he was indeed working at the VA now, and that he was hoping to do peer counseling at some point. I couldn’t help but smile at him as it was so humbling to witness how far he had come. I told him how incredibly courageous he was to be able to face his wounds, trauma, and fears and now be able to come out on the other side so that he can help his fellow vets. He agreed. I ended with, “I’m so glad you are here, by the grace of God”. And he nodded and said, “yes, me too”.

I want to mention how fortunate I am to work at the VA hospital where they do an amazing job trying to provide support for our vets when they return. I have to give a special shout out the to WRIISC program who embrace alternative modalities like yoga and meditation and put a great amount of effort into providing these (even though is often really isn’t a part of their job). But they believe in this movement (not sure what else to call it).

Happy Veterans Day to all of our courageous vets, who work on the front lines and then come home and try to put their lives back together. Thank you for your service and sacrifices. Sending you thoughts of love, peace, and healing today and every day.

Creating an altar

altar

I often talk about creating a special place to meditate in my classes, workshops, and immersions. Having a special place that one can go to at any time can create huge shifts or simply bring you back to the present moment if you are having one of those days where the mind is extremely busy. So, I’ve been wanting to blog about my altar for some time. In many ways, it’s extremely personal. But I think it will be helpful to those of you seeking something similar for yourself.

This is my altar. Almost everyday, you can find me here meditating, chanting, or offering thanks and prayers (or asking for guidance). It’s usually before and/or after I practice, but I will also sit here on some evenings. This is my sanctuary. I sit in front of this altar and my body immediately feels at home. The items on my altar change from time to time and I’d say right now, my altar has a “busyness” about it.

Here’s what’s currently on my altar and I’ll tell you why these items are on there. I have a stature of Mother Mary. One of the things I have great appreciation for growing up Catholic, is that the Church holds Mary in such a high regard and I’ve always felt close to her. To me she represents courage and beautiful grace. Next to Her, I have a picture of Buddha and Jesus in a drawing called “Lords of the dance”. This picture reminds me that all spiritual practices and religions, at their purest, are the same…”love one another and show compassion and kindness”. Hanging from that picture is a rosary from the Vatican blessed by the Pope. The other is a red Buddhist knot blessed by HH that I was given on my first trip to India. Ganesha, sits in the middle and reminds me of the obstacles I have overcome, of the obstacles I still face, and reminds me that we all have our obstacles and to act with compassion and kindness to those I encounter. The picture of Neem Karoli Baba reminds me that there truly are Saints walking among us, and that Guru’s do exist and can create huge shifts in the people they encounter. Hanuman reminds me that I am simply a servant to God and that God exists in all who I encounter, so I serve them as well. Green Tara represents enlightened or compassionate action (my dharma, I believe) and reminds me that when I work with those who are hurting and working on their healing, that I can meet them where they are whether is just eye contact, one breath together, teaching yoga or even a smile.

I have three Malas on my altar. One rests on Ganesha and was given to me on my first trip to India (made by Tibetan children in Clement town India.). The second mala made of mostly turquoise, I had made on my first trip to Nepal and spent a great deal of time selecting each and every stone. The third mala (with a thread from Neem Karoli Baba’s blanket and infused with Maharaji’s love) was given to me by Ram Dass at the retreat I went to in December. I have a brass container of water from the Ganges given to me by someone who is very special to me and reminds me that life is like a river…constantly moving and changing and it’s best to just ride it out than fight what I don’t appreciate.

Every color of the chakras is represented on my altar. Right now the two crystals are amethyst and lapis to help with the energy in my 5th, 6th, and 7th chakras. I have three candles. I use one strictly to meditate on and the others just to clear the energy in the room. I swear the purple and blue candle’s flame shows up like a heart. And, finally I have a Ganesha incense holder.

My altar started out really simple and has evolved to this over time. So if you create one, it can be one item, can rest on an already existing countertop, or you can create a place specifically for you. It doesn’t matter. Sitting, quiet, and connecting even for a few minutes…that’s what matters. I hope you get the chance to sit today.

On religion, love, and acceptance

When I was at a retreat recently, I had an interesting recollection of my childhood while I was growing up Catholic in Queens, New York. At that time, everyone I knew was Catholic. All of my friends, neighbors, family…everyone was Catholic. And since I wasn’t exposed to anything different, I simply grew up thinking that this was the way most people were and people who weren’t like “us” were different and on the outside of what was right and acceptable.

In the 70s, there was great fear surrounding cults because, at that time, cults (like Charles Manson) did horrible things. Or, like in the Patty Hearst situation, she became a willing member of her kidnappers (suspected brainwashing or her simply trying to survive was the reason). After those and other instances, anything that resembled a cult was scary. I recall seeing what we called the “Hare Krishna’s” usually in the city, in subways, or at the airports. These groups would wear white, with their heads shaved and would dance and sing and give out flowers. My mother told me that if I got too close, they would kidnap and brainwash me. They looked harmless enough, but I didn’t dare get too close. That said I was fascinated.

When I was 13 an older boy who lived in the neighborhood either joined or was “taken” by the Hare Krishna’s. His name was James and he was gone for a few months. When he returned, he was different. My neighbor went to high school with him, and I would ask him about James, as I was extremely curious about what had happened to him while he was gone. My neighbor told me that James would sit on the front lawn of the school with his shaved head, pray and eat herbs and led a very quiet, peaceful, and happy existence.

That was my exposure to anything I would call “eastern” during my childhood. As I got older, either intentionally or unintentionally, I married a Catholic man, raised our children Catholic and was an active member of the Catholic Church until the sexual abuse scandal really took hold. As I transitioned away from a religious practice, I moved into a more spiritual practice and started doing more yoga (and the rest is history). With the help of a very good teacher, and in addition to the practices of yoga, I was exposed to places, experiences, and new teachers that not only exposed me to the “other side” but allowed me to go deeper and do a great deal of healing, heart opening and introspective work. Over time, I have become more and more open in my heart, my way of thinking, and my ability to practice the art of devotion. My love and devotion to my teachers and God are well documented and, in my opinion, are beautiful and pure, not unlike the love of a parent to a child, which is selfless, unconditional and of the purest intentions. I understand that some people have a limited way of thinking, not unlike I did as a child (which I was taught) and may not understand this type of devotion as it is different to what I was exposed to in my youth. But those relationships have laid the foundation for who I have become and I am extremely grateful (and lucky) to have had them.

People often ask me, are you still Catholic? And I say yes, but I don’t practice the same way other Catholics do. I would say my relationship to Mary and Jesus is stronger now than ever because I have seen Christianity from a different view (I highly recommend reading books by non-Christians about Christ…..fascinating). I have also studied Buddhism and Hinduism but don’t see myself being able to fully embrace either because I think it’s extremely difficult to do that, as so much of it is cultural. That said, there are westerners who have had success in doing so. I actually see, not only similarities within these different practices, but true practices I can call upon as needed from all of them (and I do). It’s like I have all of my bases covered.

Around the third night of the retreat, I had a flash back to the Hare Krishna’s and thought, even though these people don’t look like the people I remember at the airport, there was a joy and love that looked and felt so familiar. Here I was in the thick of it….and I liked it! I remember thinking, how unfortunate it was that I had that fear instilled in me, at such a young age, and how limiting beliefs have prevented me from opening my heart in ways that are so pure and authentic. As I have become more and more aware of this, I try to have as much of an open mind as possible and hold those in my heart who are unable to see my behavior and me in a way that they can relate too…and dare I say, judge me accordingly. At this point in my life, however, it becomes less about who understands or even likes me, and more about who I am in my heart (which is not and cannot be my ego). The heart has to win all battles. There is no longer a choice.

I am surrounded by amazing people in an amazing community (both within and outside of my yoga family) who are so supportive and love and accept me as I am. I’m so lucky and grateful to them but I’m especially grateful to those who may challenge my intentions. Those are the ones that I hold dearest in my heart. And to all of you….I thank you.

Namaste.

On being a mom…

on being a mom

Being a mom…..

How do you know when it’s the right time to start something? For me, I think it’s something I have to feel. For the most part I am a very logical thinker, which is a skill that often serves me well. It’s when I need a more intuitive look at something, where the end result isn’t so cut and dry, that I have gotten myself in trouble. Doubt creeps in, fear creeps in and those feelings can dilute my ability to know what’s right.

Sometimes I have to throw logic into the wind and trust my instincts. This is a new practice for me and one I started a number of years ago. I think it started when our oldest became a teenager. Here was kid who was perfect in every way (at least according to my definition, at the time, of what perfect was). As he asserted himself to gain more independence, and I lost more control, I had to revisit what my role was as his mother. I mean, really, do we want to orchestrate their every move? There comes a point where a shift needs to occur and they have to learn life’s lessons for themselves. Some kids will do this without having to experience it. Others need that live it to determine if some things are right for them or not. And, this is where we need to let go as painful at times as that may feel.

It was this experience that put me on a different journey. I needed to reconnect with myself so that I wasn’t focusing on everyone else. Quite honestly, it was driving me crazy and I was miserable. It’s funny how life can hand us a situation that may seem painful, but is really meant to help us grow. So, I’ve been getting to know myself, which has been great. It’s kind of like reconnecting with an old friend, you know the kind you really like, but then don’t know why you didn’t keep in contact. It’s also like finding an old piece of silver that, with a little buffing, can be shiny again.

In doing so, I have a new clarity on what I want to do. I’m throwing caution to the wind and putting my energy where I think it needs to be which is helping myself and others heal. The thought of failure doesn’t occur to me, I think, because I probably don’t have the same definition of success and failure as others do (like my engineer husband–but my discussion on the benefits of marrying an engineer will have to come at another time). I now focus on enjoying the experience instead of judging it. I’m a yoga teacher, I’m creating support groups for sexually abused women and I am finding it to be very rewarding. It’s changed my perspective on so many levels.

Now, as I look at my children becoming young adults, I look at them as individuals creating their future and I just get to watch for the most part. It’s really freeing and so much more enjoyable. Honestly, they have as much to teach us as we do them. Recently, I thanked my oldest son. I said, “you know if it wasn’t’ for you I wouldn’t be doing what I’m dong right now. And I just want to thank you”. He looked at me, like a deer in headlights, not quite knowing what to say, and finally said, “uh, you’re welcome?” Two years prior to this moment, that would have been an entirely different conversation. So, I guess timing is everything.

Inspiration from Maui

mauipic

I just got back from a very beautiful retreat in Maui. One didn’t have to look very far for inspiration, whether it be listening to the brilliantly inspiring speakers or watching the beautiful sunsets (sunsets are my favorite…sunrises are pretty great too). A favorite take away for me, was from the Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg. This particular quote, goes something like this, “we all want to feel connected to one another and in order to connect, we need to see everyone as equal and believe that everyone matters. We cannot connect through hatred and anger. We can only attain this through love…love of oneself and love of others”.

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