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.

Ahimsa

Ahimsa is one of the Yamas in yoga and it means non-harming. To me Ahimsa is about making sure that whatever I am doing, thinking, or saying isn’t harmful to others or myself. It is especially important that over the next 60 days that we are checking in to make sure we are practicing in a manner that serves us and doesn’t hurt us. If on any day we feel like our body needs a rest (and our bodies will need rest), then it makes sense to take a therapeutic or restorative class. That part for me is the most simple. Where it gets tricky is when I am practicing, and maybe I cannot do what I did yesterday or last week (and I may not know why), or I am just tired, then self judging can step in which is harmful, or we look at the person next to us who seems to have the most perfect practice, or we begin to wonder or become annoyed at the teacher because we don’t feel like doing what they are asking. All of this is harmful to ourselves, and potentially others as whatever we are even thinking gets put out energetically to the universe. At the beginning of class, consider creating a mantra or a thought pattern that you quietly say to yourself…something like “I will do my best today without judgment or criticism of others or myself”. Because the root of what Ahimsa means to me is compassion. And you must start with compassion towards yourself, if you hope to be compassionate towards others.

And then, settle in, and enjoy the ride. Know that I am hear to help you in any way that I can.

Stress and the nervous system

What happens to our nervous system, brain, and body during stressful times?

Not every challenging event becomes traumatic because we are pretty resilient. We can be confronted with difficulty but maybe we have support, we’re feeling good about ourselves and we may move through something somewhat unaffected.

When it becomes too much (financial or ongoing stressful or traumatic situations) the nervous system deregulates, things shut down, and the brain can’t manage what’s taking place. When the nervous system deregulates the brain’s threat response is stuck on a constant high alert. We are not designed to stay on high alert all the time. We are supposed to, ideally, respond to the “threat” when it happens, do what we need to do about it and then come back into a relaxation response.

From a physiological perspective, the body remembers everything. So tension from these events are absorbed into the body’s tissues. In order for the nervous system and the body to regulate, the stress (which becomes tension when absorbed) needs to be released.

Yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and TRE can help to re-regulate the nervous system so that is stays in a normal or “baseline” range allowing to sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system to be activated as needed allowing us to make our way back to the relaxation response as it was designed to do. Releasing tension in the body also can reduce pain, and, by discharging tension energetically, create a shift in negative muscle patterns.

A Day at the VA

People often arrive in mental health facilities during the holidays for a number of reasons. They are either hurting themselves, others, taking too many intoxicants to numb their pain, their families can’t handle their disruptive behavior during the holidays etc., etc. I often see people over and over (meaning they had been discharged, only to return at a later date). Some of their stories as to why they return are heart breaking. I always tell them, “it’s good to see you” and I mean it. Because if they weren’t back in the hospital, they’d either be in jail or dead…..not to be a downer, but this much I know is true.

Today was one of those crazy days. I had one man scream at me because I thought he was telling me his name was Jerry and it was Gary. After me trying to get clarity on his name a second time, he stormed out of the room. Another guy (who told me his name was batman) kept ignoring the boundaries we set in there, to see if I would react. I kept gently reminding him…asking him, “would you please not do that, it’s really difficult to teach when you are walking around the room, touching my things and walking in front of others”. I handle it in this way because I know one wrong word will trigger them. He apologized. He really just wanted to be in that energy in the room and I get that. But it can be a balancing act.

So that left me with one young man, who was really engaged and kept asking me questions. I’d seen him before and thought we really connected so I asked him (at this point, all bets were off)….”do you wanna really play a bit?”. He said sure, and we then went info a beautiful flow…Warrior 1, Warrior 3, Warrior 2, triangle, HALF MOON (mind you this guy is totally medicated), several variations of tree and more. He was awesome and so happy that he could do all of it. If only I could show you his face….priceless. People began looking through the windows outside of the room, and starting practicing in the corridor. It was beautiful!

If I’ve learned one thing teaching here (and it’s what we already know), is that what people really want is connection, they want to feel heard, they want to be seen, they want to feel that others care. And what was really cool about this encounter, is when others saw us connecting in the room, they wanted some of that too. It’s human nature and we can’t help it (like batman wanting to be in that energy). And, a bit of compassion/kindness/love can change someones day.

As I was leaving, “Gary”, said “thanks for coming”. I said “you’re welcome sir” and he screamed, “I’m not sir, I’m Gary”. And I said, “yes..you’re welcome Gary and I hope you have a wonderful day”. That’s all he wanted…to be seen, heard, and to know someone cared (even if it was just saying his name).

I have the best job in the world. May all beings be happy and free.

Gratitude Day 11

Last September I was leading a retreat near Tahoe and after the last session I taught there, a group of us went on a hike. During the hike, we came across a man who was wearing a Vietnam veterans hat. I thanked him for his service and we chatted quite a bit. He told me how great it feels when people thank him for his service because it wasn’t that way when he returned from Vietnam in the 70s, when people who were against that war took their frustrations out on returning veterans.

I told him I was co-leading a retreat to Vietnam next spring and he said he is ready to go back and see that country in a different light. We discussed my work with veterans and I suggested he try yoga which, surprisingly, he seemed open to the idea. He said he was grateful to the VA for all they did to help him with his PTSD. His wife was with him and I told her he was lucky to have her to support him through his healing. He and I had a connection and we probably could have talked much longer.

Two weeks ago, I went to an art show for veterans. The art these vets created is part of their treatment. I was surprised at how talented they are. And , of course, I was humbled by their brutal, raw honesty reflecting their process. Grateful for our veterans and their sacrifices, grateful for chance encounters, grateful to the VA and all they do to help our vets, and grateful that I get to have a tiny part in all of it. ‪#‎breathefirst‬ ‪#‎breathelosgatos‬‪#‎thankyouthankyouthankyou‬ ‪#‎veteransyoga‬ ‪#‎veteran‬ ‪#‎yogalife‬ ‪#‎yoga‬

Gratitude Day 2

Center for Survivors of Torture

Center for Survivors of Torture

I’m grateful for these people at the Center for Survivors of Torture. I’ve been volunteering for the last two years here and I look forward to this class every Monday. These three are from Bosnia, Syria, and Iraq. Some of the people who come to class take two buses and it can take up to an hour and a half each way to get to and from class. We have fun and laugh a lot, especially when the instruction gets lost in translation. They are surprisingly fit, as their cultures generally move more than Americans and they’ll try anything I throw their way. I adore these people and am grateful that I get to serve them once a week. ‪#‎thankyouthankyouthankyou‬ ‪#‎breathefirst‬ ‪#‎livinthedream‬‪ #‎gratitude‬ ‪#‎weareallthesame‬