yoga teacher

Tidy Your Closet, Cry Your Eyes Out, Find Joy.

Tidy Your Closet, Cry Your Eyes Out, Find Joy.I spent Saturday morning tidying my closet and crying. I’ll explain the crying part later but I’ll start now with why I decided to tidy.

I made the decision to tidy my clothes after reading the book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. She’s a Japanese master of tidying. Her goal for us all is to live in an uncluttered environment where we are surrounded by objects that spark joy in our hearts. Her theory is that when we become accustomed to living only around beautiful, joyful things, we can’t help but change our lives to match this high vibration. This means leaving the crappy job or the painful relationship or finally losing those 10 extra pounds. She says she’s often seen clients completely change their lives and that no one defaults back into clutter after a complete tidying. The identity shifts is too strong to ever go back.

If you want to achieve this state, Marie advises that you lay all of your items from a certain category (clothes, books, papers, mementos, etc) in one room. Once they’ve been assembled you hold each one in your hands and ask yourself if it brings you true joy. If it does it can stay, if it doesn’t you have to let it go. When you are letting something go, you can thank it for doing it’s job--sometimes the job is just teaching you more about what you do really want--and honor all the associated memories. Then you let go, again and again and again.

Obviously I was intrigued after reading about the magical results from this method. I am doing a light spring cleanse (no dairy, caffeine, booze, sugar with lots of plants and cooked grains) and I always enjoy a deep clean of the house when I’m doing the same thing in my body. Falling asleep on Friday night, I was excited to begin and see where the results would lead. As you all know, I love the practice of transformation and this method felt really different than anything I’d heard.

On Saturday I woke up nervous. I was nervous as I took all the clothes out of my closet and laid them out on the bed and the floor and even on Poncho’s bed. At this point Poncho got nervous too and hid out in the kitchen. I sat down to begin the sorting process and promptly burst into tears. A huge wave of fear washed over me. I was afraid of making the wrong choice and that I would have to give away something that I cared about or would keep something that didn’t really make me happy. I was afraid I would offend someone by giving away a gift. Mostly, I was afraid that I wouldn’t feel anything as I clutched my clothes to my chest.

Within the emotion, I knew I was experiencing resistance. From the work I’ve done transforming and helping other people to transform, I now know how to recognize resistance as fear. Resistance comes from the part of ourselves that would rather stay stuck and safe than to grow into awesome but unknown territory. Resistance looks like anger sometimes, excuses others, and definitely houses our compulsive, self-destructive habits. The greater the resistance, the more potential is present to launch you into real change. Now when I experience strong resistance, I get excited because I know there is something really good waiting for me on the other side of the emotion. This gives me the energy I need to push forward when most of me wants to turn back.

So through my tears, I began clutching my shirts to my chest. Right away, I felt things, something different with each item. My newly thrifted white sweater made me light up from the inside. I smiled huge as I held a plaid button-down with shiny snaps from my friend Justin. I sighed relief as I realized I still loved a long knit sweater from Anthropologie that I bought with my mom.

When I held other items, it felt like different. Sometimes ok but nothing close to joy. This difference in emotion told me that it was time to let go. Some things were easy to let go of, like the red flannel shirt from the North Carolina outlet mall that always felt too short. I thanked it for being part of my fun beach weekend with my best girlfriends and tossed it into the bag. There was also a navy sweater from my grandmother that I hadn’t worn once in two years. I felt her spirit say ok, no problem and I added it to the pile as I smiled to her memory.

I held the one of the two pairs of my dad’s flannel pajamas that I took from his hospital room on the night he died. I cried like a baby yet still felt joy in my heart. I held the other pair and felt nothing. Keeping one of them felt like a joyful choice within a sad memory. Discarding the other felt right too.

So it went like that. Through my resistance, I piled up five trash bags of clothes, shoes and accessories. The amount of emotion I felt as I did this really surprised me. After a while realized that I was not just letting go of objects, but I was letting go of a network of memories that held big pieces of my identity. All of those pieces were at one time important but only some of them held the energy I needed to move forward into my most powerful self. Holding onto the others was only holding me back.

It occurs to me that this process is so familiar because it’s my job. Instead of objects, I help people clear away outdated habits in a group coaching setting. We take 10 weeks and work through 10 habits to promote better digestion, better sleep, better care of our bodies. Along the way, a lot of resistance comes up. We look at resistance as a group and together find the strength we need to let go of what no longer serves us. Although the process is physical, it’s quickly becomes clear that it’s much more spiritual than anything. By letting go of our destructive habits on the physical level, we heal the deeply-rooted emotions that cause us to self-sabotage. Once we look down into the roots, it’s honestly not that hard to change and emerge as our most joyful and centered selves. It’s such a cool, effective process and I love it more than I can express in words.

By lunchtime on Saturday, the bags of clothes were all properly thanked and stored in my car. My closet now feels like a sanctuary filled with objects of beauty unique to my own soul. I keep peeking inside my drawers to admire my neat lines of folded t-shirts and leggings. I do feel more joyful and lighter from the inside, like a new level of some goodness has opened up for me. It feels great.

On Sunday I spent a nice day with someone I had been dating. It was good connection in many ways but something in my heart didn’t feel quite settled. In the past, I would have ignored this and hoped that time would make things better. Then it occurred to me that I could see for myself whether it was time to let go. Again the resistance came up and again I knew it would be powerful to take a good look from the inside. As we were saying goodbye, I hugged him, felt into my heart and realized the truth that our time together was not bringing me true joy. So I let go. It wasn’t graceful but it was right. As I drove home, I felt a such a confidence in life itself. Everything comes, stays and eventually serves its purpose. Understanding this brings me such a confidence in myself. It’s not that I can spare myself from the pain of letting go, but I now know that I have a solid system for deciding what to keep and what to release. More than that I know now that I can really trust the wisdom of my heart, the true wisdom of joy to guide me where I need to go.

Respect Your Digestion, Change Everything

Gracy 415Thank you all for replying to my blog post topic poll last week! It’s fun for me to hear from so many of you on what you’re thinking and feeling. The big winner was--ALL OF THEM! Well, there were a few more votes for topic #3 on Agni and sugar cravings so I am doing that one first. Look for topics #1 (how to disappoint someone with love) and #2 (what to do with your heart full of desire) in the coming weeks. So without further ado, let’s talk about Agni!

Let’s start with Easter dinner a couple of weeks ago. Let’s start by saying that I ate too much during said Easter dinner. It was particularly interesting scene because I ate too much during a 4pm Easter dinner in a Kurdish restaurant in an almost-suburb of Nashville, with my best friend from the Peace Corps seated across from me.

Over the past year we had both lost our parents in a timeline that felt too quick to be fair. The only way we could find to confront the inherent shittiness of certain parts of life was to spend Easter together. Between meals and cruising around and a decent outing on the downtown strip, little bits of conversation would pour forth in the space between us. We talked about the the things we regretted saying to our parents, honest conversations we still really wished for, and all those funny little memories that stick to the insides of your ears and eyelids. They were the kind of conversations that took a pressure-less weekend to unfold and where nothing at all got resolved. It just felt good to say it all out loud to a person who could understand.

During this weekend I was also preparing a presentation on the Ayurvedic concepts of digestion--called Agni in sanskrit--for my continuity program. According to Ayurveda, paying attention to your digestion is the single most important way to take care of your health. This is because in Ayurveda our physical, belly-centered digestion is completely linked to our mental, emotional and spiritual digestions. If we aren’t paying attention to what we are putting in our bellies, it’s probably going to show up as unexplained anxiety or a bad attitude or general stuckness in life.

You may wonder how you can respect your Agni more. Can you handle it if I give you the least sexy advice ever? The secret to great Agni is that you have to eat with awareness. More specifically you have to wait to eat until you are truly hungry, nourish yourself mindfully, and then stop when you are full. Extra bonus points if you can do this on a set schedule, not skip meals, and eat a lot of plants, good fats and healthy proteins.

I know this sounds so simple. It is and it isn’t. Every part of that brings up so much fear and resistance in me. I get anxious wondering if I am really hungry (tip--if you aren’t sure then you probably aren’t), think of my to-do list instead of being present while I eat, and then push those last few bites of food into my mouth even though I know I am full.

Which brings us back to Easter. I sat down the meal hungry and ready to be nourished. We split plates of grilled eggplant dip, juicy chicken kabobs and some of the best falafel I’ve had in a while. At a point my body let me know know I was totally full. Sitting with this knowledge, I made the decision to order rosewater saffron ice cream. I love this particular kind of ice cream but there was something deeper than that that made me order it. For me, there’s so much wrapped up in ice cream. It’s what my dad brought me when I was sick, what got served up to us after summertime play in my grandparents pool, what I ate to comfort myself after a hard day at school. For me, food is always way more than food.

I felt good to eat it and so I did. I ate until the bowl was gone and of course regretted it. I went from feeling clear and open to conversation to pretty checked out. There is such a unique fuzzy headspace that come when I numb out with food. It makes me want to crawl under my covers and hide from all that life shittiness. It was what I did when my parents got divorced when I was five and I felt alone and what I did when my college boyfriend and I broke up and my self-esteem plummeted. It’s a familiar pattern and increasingly ineffective. I missed my dad in that moment and the ice cream took the edge off.

My upset stomach and my fuzzy headspace went away eventually. Luckily what has stayed is my respect for my Agni. Looking back at my life, I see that every coherent period of work/life/social balance comes when I am not eating emotionally. It also comes when I am not using alcohol or relationships destructively and when I am journaling and doing yoga and making art and all the other things that make me feel like me.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve made the decision to stop eating when I am full and skip the dessert at the end of the meal. (I got really into desserts again when my dad passed--no big surprise). Honestly, it hasn’t been that hard. I’m craving a good relationship with my Agni way more than a bowl of ice cream. What has been hard is dealing with the sadness and loneliness that I’ve been tamping down with food. It’s a lot of sadness about my dad and probably a lot of other emotions that go back way longer than that. It’s uncomfortable but since I know how to practice, I practice being with it. I breath and journal and cry and watch it transform. I feel love for all of it and then it returns in another harsh wave and I practice again. I’m not sure if it’s a constant companion but I’m open to that. I feel alive and in touch with a vital pulse within my chest that isn’t there when I eat emotionally. I’ll take it because it feels real and clear.

You know what? I love that eat emotionally. I love it because I don’t think I was strong enough to deal with these feelings until that weekend in Nashville when I was so deeply bolstered by shared experience with my friend. All of those desserts this winter kept my feeling intensity at a level three. This helped me go through the motions of daily life and get through the first part of my grief. It’s so wise and interesting to me that a part of me knew how to do this.

I see compulsive behavior as covering up something deeper and being compulsive is like putting on the emotional breaks until we are strong enough to face that something. I don’t think we should use this as an excuse not to get stronger. We can and should get stronger because that is why we are here. But understanding this about ourselves can stop us from beating up on ourselves when we do eat the bowl of ice cream or drink too much or go back again to that relationship we know isn’t right.

When I was younger, even when I first started teaching yoga, I thought that self-improvement was a straight line. We could progress and build upon our progression and finally get to the top. I’m not sure what was supposed to happen there but it felt appealing. Now I see it all as wildness and shadows. Life doesn’t want a straight line. It wants our deepest emotions to smoulder and rise up in perfect formation so we can’t look away from them. It asks us to choose them. When we choose them then we get to let go for real. Choosing them, letting go isn’t a thought in our head. It’s a place of feeling in our bodies. It’s wrapped in silence down in the hollows. It sings with the truth that there is nothing about ourselves or this whole beautiful shitty world of life and death that isn’t fit for our love. I’ll take that over anything.

Five Untrue Stories I’m Ready to Ditch

IMG_1810 My identity has shifted so much in these past two years. I’ve gone from being in a sweet but stuck relationship to being freely and (mostly) contently single. I shifted from considering myself a yoga teacher making an hourly wage to running my own prosperous health coaching business. Emotionally, I’ve gone from seeing my inner life as slightly anxious and defensive to one that is as strong as it is vulnerable.

This last year in particular has taught me in no uncertain terms that change is possible. Change is available to us when we are willing to tell the truth, be open to possibility, and take big scary risks. The risk part is necessary. We will stay stuck in fanciful state of possibility forever unless we decide leverage our hope into tangible action. For whatever reason, this has never been too hard for me. I say “yes” all the time. This hurts me sometimes (overcommitment) but mostly it’s a good thing. It means that I value growth over comfort, especially when I am willing to learn from my mistakes.

Seeing this real change in myself and my clients has got me thinking about what else is ready to shift in my life. Here’s a list of what I think is ready to move (as long as I keep facing my fear and taking action):

1. Old, outdated belief: There isn’t enough success and prosperity to go around. Deep in the back of my mind, I still feel the kernel of threat when someone else gets something they want. This leads to weird jealous feelings and constriction in my chest. I’m ready to let go of that fear-based mentality and step into this truth: there is enough for everybody. I know  that the happier I get for someone else’s good fortune, the more good fortune will come my way. My heart has known this forever. Now it’s time for my head to get in on it too.

2. Old, outdated belief: I’m valuable because I help people. Working with my clients teaches me that so many women believe this! We equate our self worth with being of service to others. Although service is a beautiful thing, it’s not who we really are as people. When we continual put the needs of others above own self care it leads to angry, resentful feelings. Who does that serve? The truth is that I am valuable because I exist.  When I treat myself like I’m valuable (read: practice good self care) then serving others is a joy. It can’t work the other way around.

3. Old, outdated belief: My words aren’t important.  Wow, how untrue is that! Of course my words are important (you’re reading them right now, right?). Yet I’ve grown up with this story in my head that I’m not intelligent, cool, etc enough for my opinion to really matter. I think behind all of that is really just a fear of rejection. Starting this business has shown me that I can be rejected and survive (although it does sting sometimes) but when I let rejection run the show I shut down. When I shut down, I run the risk of not connecting with the folks out there who may need to hear my words. I need the inspiration and wisdom of many people’s words. If those people told themselves that their words weren’t valuable, then I wouldn’t have that needed inspiration. My new truth is that my words are pretty darn powerful, so I best use them well. I’m curious how many of you out there also share this belief. I think it keeps us from creating the work that is ours to create. What would you write/say/express if you knew for sure it was valuable? Write it, say it, make it and watch how it shifts your identity.

4. Old, outdated belief: If I let myself get too happy, I’m setting myself up for disappointment. One of the truest realizations I’ve had of late is that I am the ONLY person who really gets in my own way. From past experience, I’d say it’s true that my very happy moments can quickly crash down with disappointment. I used to think that this was just how the universe worked humbling me when I got too high on my horse. What feels truer to me right now is that I am the one taking myself down. I’m learning that I have a pattern of self-sabotage. When I’m getting too happy, I pick a fight or overeat or get down on myself. I have an “upper limit” of how much good stuff I think is allowed to happen to me. When I get too close to that limit, I take myself down. (Read Gay Hendricks book “The Big Leap if you want to know more about this). My new truth is that I can be as happy as I allow myself to be. Simplistic? Yes. Still true? Hell yes.

5. Old, outdated belief: I’m not supported by the people around me. Man, I’ve had such a story in my life around support. This story comes out when I am stressed and going through a hard time. During these hardest life moments the shitty voice in my head starts talking. It tells me that out of their sheer jerk-faced insensitivity, the people in my life are denying me the oddles of love that are rightfully mine. Ugh and ugh! This belief has caused me and my loved ones SO much suffering it hurts to even write about it here. From the grounded place I’m in right now, I could write you papers about how untrue it is. I have wonderful loved ones who support me all of the time. The problem is that when I go through a hard time, I stop supporting myself. I beat up on myself and default on my self care which makes me feel isolated and prickly. Then I take it out on the people that I love. Yikes! I’ve gotten way better at this and still am working on it. The great thing about practicing yoga and Ayurveda is that now I have an arsenal of self care techniques that allow me to support myself. My new truth is that I can take extra good care of myself during hard moments, ask for help when I need it, and appreciate all the love I have in my life. Amen.

Wow, it’s both super vulnerable and really powerful to share all of that with you. I have a sense that I am not alone in some of these beliefs. Also, saying it aloud to you all (the gracious, supportive community that you are) will keep me accountable to actually shifting these stories. Untrue beliefs cannot survive under the lens of consciousness. That’s why telling the truth is always the first and most important step to creating change.

And what are stories? They are just patterns of repetitive thoughts and beliefs. So many of our thoughts/beliefs are handed down to us from our families and imprinted in us by modern media. So often, we never think to question them. The truest work of yoga is teach us that we are so much more than the temporal matter of thoughts. It teaches that we are the connective tissue of deep wisdom that can use thoughts creatively and with discretion. Thus absolutely in the driver’s seat of how we experience life.

If you want to change your beliefs then the first step is to get conscious. If a thought makes you suffer then question it. Ask yourself if it’s really true. Is it true to your ego or true to your heart? Ask yourself if it’s adding more love or more suffering to your life. Is it making the people around you suffer? Ask yourself if there is a kinder, truer thought available to you. Yes, there always is!

Then practice those kinder, truer thoughts. This is yoga. Practicing this kind of yoga will empower you and your life will change. As your life changes, you will help the people around you in ways you can’t even imagine. It will help the world evolve into the kinder, more humane place we wish it could be. We are very much a part of that process. This is our work here as human beings.

Where Forgiveness Can Take You

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Last weekend, despite the slicks of freezing rain, I had the most magical getaway. Eighteen ladies who just graduated from my last course--Balanced & Beautiful--retreated to the fields of West Virginia to celebrate the completion of a powerful ten week journey. Our retreat center was simple--good heating in the bedrooms, a big practice space with shiny wood floors and lunches of stuffed peppers and guacamole.  (Also we got to hang out under a 400 year old grandma oak tree--see above photo)

So what do so many ladies do on retreat? Well, we meditated in the early morning, sweated during vinyasa flow yoga, and spent an afternoon making vision boards (a personal collage of cut-up magazine images to represent where we want to go in our lives).

And we spent a lot of time processing all the ways we’ve grown during our time together. We talked about these changes in the opening circle, kept it going on crunchy walks through the snow and went deeper while lingering over one more cup of tea after our dinner. A lot had changed for each of us which meant we needed a lot of conversation to process.

One theme that kept coming up was forgiveness.  Many of these ladies said that practicing better health habits in a supportive group had given them the awareness and strength to finally forgive themselves for all the achy wrongs of the pasts they been carrying deep inside.  These shadows were effecting their marriages, work, and mostly their self-esteem.  They knew something needed to change but they weren't sure what.  They took a risk, signed up for this course and their hearts opened up in a new way.  Armed with self forgiveness, life changed quickly. These ladies are repairing their marriages, restarting their PHDs, finally saying yes to motherhood, and experiencing deep bouts of gratitude after years of fogginess.

This forgiveness thing honestly was a surprise for me.  I teach a group of dynamic women how to improve their health based on yogic and ayurvedic principles. We use self awareness and habit change science to practice these habits in a highly-supportive environment. From my own experience, I know this process creates the space for authentic inner and outer change. I expected people to lose weight, sleep deeper, feel better about themselves and make some great new friends.

But forgiveness? That’s really big. With forgiveness everything changes.

So many people stay angry and blocked their entire lives because they can’t bear the pain of letting go that comes from forgiveness. It’s one of the most threatening things to our egos. We hold onto our stories that keep us small and trapped because it feels oddly safe. We yearn for things to change but won’t budge our deepest attitudes.  So many great spiritual leaders talk about forgiveness because they know if you want to change your life, you must start with forgiveness.

On the retreat I wanted to know more. I wanted to know how forgiveness arises out of going to bed earlier and meditating in the mornings. The answer that kept coming up was self awareness. I asked these ladies to start paying attention to how they actually felt. It turns out that the same self awareness we use to know where we are getting stuck in our body also shows us the sticky parts of our souls. Once we see it and have the tools to change it, I don’t think we can really stay stuck anymore.

One of the retreat participants said she realized that if she could forgive herself she could forgive anyone. Isn’t that so deeply profound? She was the same one who said she was finally ready to be a mother. Don’t you want someone like that to have kids?  I really really do.

Hearing their stories made me remember that forgiveness is a practice.  We forgive when we notice we are fighting with life and realize the futility of that battle because life is as it is.  We forgive when drop the battle to make ourselves or someone else perfect.  Forgiveness is a step back that says, I kinda really love you exactly as you are, warts and all.  We forgive when we think we know the best plan and then get humbled but a much richer, truer plan.  We lose our clever words, quick defenses, anything but the ability to say "thank you."

I don't know about you all but I have to practice this superpower of forgiveness on a daily basis.  If I think I have moved past having to practice forgiveness then I probably need it more than ever.

You see, that shitty voice in your head loves it when you stuff down your sadness, anger and regret.  It oddly makes us feel special.  But what I've learned is that many of us think our suffering is unique but it really isn't.  Our suffering, though necessary for growth, is the most boring part of any of us because it all looks the same.  "I was wronged," "My mother didn't help me," "He's selfish,"  blah blah blah.   Isn't it boring when someone goes into all that?  Sometimes I even bore myself with my victim mentality.

However, what is on the other side of suffering, what stays blocked when we can't forgive, is our brightest truest self.  It's our dreams, our possibility, our capacity for connection.  I believe this is the most interesting part of us all.  My view is that we all deeply yearn to live out what is on the other side of staying stuck but most of us don't let ourselves.  We put other people's needs, financial anxiety, and professional success at all costs in between us and our glory.  It would be one thing if we could make it go away by shutting the door but it doesn't work that way.  Our unlived, beautiful life will always beckon to us, shining light into all the cracks until the tension gets to be too much. We change or we crack deeper.

Perhaps the discontent we build while staying stuck actually becomes the energy we need to someday catapult ourselves forward.  In Chinese medicine, the energy of late winter into spring is the energy of anger.  Only with that jolt can the buds burst forth and sprouts shoot up.  I like this view because it means everything in good time.  We can even forgive ourselves for staying stuck, because we didn't have what we needed in that moment to move forward.

But when you are ready, oh my.  It's glorious and scary all in one to forgive, let go, and go flying into a new vision of reality.  I've done it myself quiet a few times and now I get to facilitate others through the process.   The process has taken me a long time and it's amazing that my lived knowledge makes it quicker and easier for others.  Hurray!  I carry that with me and despite all that is left undone in this world, I still feel like the luckiest of ducks most days.  This gives me a quiet kind of smile as I dramatically trudge through these last soppy days of winter.

How to Actually Practice Self Care

Listen to this hour-long free talk I gave on real self care and why we don't do what we know is good for us.  It will call you out on a few of your excuses and teach you tangible ways to move through them.  I know an hour is a long time investment but listening to this talk and practicing what you learn will help you to create more time in your life.   When we don't take the time to change, nothing will change.  That is reality.

Write me at selfcarewithgracy@gmail.com and let me know where you get stuck in your own self care.  I'll get back to you and help you move through your blocks so you can begin enjoying your beautiful life.

Expert Advice on Becoming a Genius

Expert Advice on Becoming a GeniusHi everyone, I’m so inspired by the response to last week’s video series, What Gets in the Way of Your Self Care. You guys have stellar self-awareness and a collective great sense of humor. I’m also comforted because it means that I am not the only one with a shitty voice in my head or destabilizing FOMO (fear of missing out). It’s a funny thing to call myself a self care expert. It makes the shitty voice in my head say that if I really understood self care then I wouldn’t check my email first thing in the morning or watch Downton Abby some nights right before sleeping (blue screen light and sleep...eeek). If I was an expert, I wouldn’t take second helpings when I’m more emotionally than physically hungry or get anxious about what I’m doing next Saturday night. But I do! Oh do I. A man I teach outreach yoga to on Wednesday mornings is obsessed with being an expert. He wears a name tag that says “DC EXPERT” and only agreed to do yoga with me when I promised I was an expert as well. He is full of human flaws and I find his willingness to own his strengths very refreshing in our false modesty society. So for this guy, I’m going to say that I am a SELF CARE EXPERT and I still struggle to find the right balance of self care. For me, the hardest thing about self care is that I am a constantly changing being and my self care needs to keep up with that evolution. I love investing in myself and now understand that with every investment, I evolve into a 2.0 version of myself. With each uplevel of my communication skills, my work mission, my self-confidence, I need to also upgrade my habits. For example, I used to eat dinner at 6:30pm and now I eat by 5pm. I sleep better when I do and I need the deep recharge of sleep now more than ever. I used to enjoy a glass of wine a few times a week and now one glass makes me uncomfortably foggy. I’m actually losing my desire to drink which I never thought possible (although I still do love half of a hoppy IPA). Oh and the low level of anxiety I used to live with now feels deeply uncomfortable to my nervous system although it still likes to visit me from time to time. Habits that worked beautifully last year aren’t cutting it now. This means throwing perfectionism out the window and declaring there isn’t a magic formula, just the daily, beautiful grind of self-awareness matched with inspired action. This means feeling great some days and off others and learning from that constant humility. Do you want to hear my big ole theory on why this is? I believe in universal energy--called prana in the yoga world--and that this big, bold energy REALLY wants to live through us and evolve through us. I feel this energy when I am teaching a yoga class and know exactly what needs to be said without much thought. Or when a blog post suddenly opens up and ideas much wiser than me pour forth (like right in this moment). Others experience this when they play the piano or teach children or say the names of trees under their breath. It’s genius at work and it makes us stop in awe when we get the scent of it. We may think we get excited about the producers of the work but I think we really worship this big energy that makes us remember our connection to the larger whole. How does this relate to self care? Like I mentioned, this energy is powerful and has to run through our systems. I think we are all desperate for that feeling and terribly afraid of it. If we are sensitive--which creative people are--it can all feel overwhelming, especially when we don’t pay attention to our evolving our self care. We numb ourselves with bad habits so we don’t have to feel so much. It causes us to shrink back when we want to step forward and to live our life in a state of mild to extreme anxiety. Think of so many famous, brilliant people who hurt themselves because they can’t match their self care practices to their growing success. Many of my outreach yoga students are terrifically energetic and don’t practice the healthy boundaries of self care. This makes for a hard life. So one more time, I’ll take the expert role and say the opposite is also true. When we practice self care and keep our systems running cleanly, then that energy can really move. It’s like anything electrical--we get the wiring right and bam, we have light! Let’s say there is something really great you want to achieve in your life and you are confused and kinda miserable because you still haven’t done it. My advice is to forget about that thing for a while. Instead focus on building great self care habits and practicing them until you have a solid routine. Get scientific and impersonal about it and notice what makes you feel wired together correctly and how that can evolve. Make studying and practicing self care your way of life. Once that happens then the genius stuff is easy, natural and I’ll even say, unavoidable. It’s exciting and scary to think about it in this way right? Writing it down makes me feel so in awe of our capacity to do amazing work in this world. We don’t have to make it up, we just have to harness the energy of life through our delicately loved systems and stay grounded through the ride. With the right self care, maybe we even get to enjoy it.

Peek into My Morning Routine

Peak Into My Morning Routine

My friend and fellow teacher Kelly recently gave me a sweet shout out in her great yoga newsletter asking if I would share my morning routine. It’s funny to me that I’m getting known for teaching people how to upgrade their mornings. When I was a kid I remember wanting to throw my pillow at my mom when she would throw open the blinds. In my past relationship I was the sleepy one who needed to be coaxed out of bed with a cup of coffee.

So how did I become a morning person? 

First, I started eating an earlier lighter dinner. This is a huge teaching in Ayurveda. Basically we have no digestive power after the sun goes down and if we cram in a bunch of latenight calories then we are going to sleep like crap and wake up feeling like our head is full of sand. This teaching made a lot of sense to me  so I decide to make dinner by 6pm a priority, which meant skip the 8pm glass of wine or ice cream for dessert.   

Suddenly a 10pm bedtime didn’t feel so hard. I began waking up earlier, ready to live another day. Also, I lost over 20lbs and my eyes got a lot brighter and I stopped feeling anxious all of the time. Eating earlier and lighter is a hard habit to ground in our dinner-friendly culture but give it a try if you want to see real results.

The second thing is that I finally started to face my FOMO. I’ve written about this in other articles but for a long time in my life I squeezed as much into my weekly schedule as possible. On some level, I thought if I said yes to everything that was offered to me I would save myself from feelings of alienation and loneliness. Guess what? It didn’t work. It only put a weird kind of plastic wrap over those feelings and the over-extension left me tired and disconnected.  

Now I spent most weekday evenings--the ones when I don’t teach--at home, hanging with Poncho and writing in my journal and reading so many good books. The feelings of loneliness show up sometimes. They tell me that I should be out and that I’m missing out on my real life. I acknowledge their presence but the more I listen to them, the less I believe. I’m alive and vital and need time to rest. So I ask the lonely feelings what kind of tea they want--chamomile or sweet rose? They choose the rose usually and settle into bed next to me. Being ferocious takes a lot of work and when offered they welcome the rest too.

With those two things cleared up, the morning part is easy. This is how it usually goes…

5:45am  My alarm goes off if I am not already awake. I stumble to the kitchen, put on a kettle of water and crawl back into bed (the best snooze button ever). Poncho is still asleep.

5:53am  Kettle whistles. I jump up to turn it out off. Then I scrape my tongue, do a forward fold, scan my email from my phone, read a page in the awesome daily reader my friend Justin gifted me for 2015. I drink hot water from a quart jar until I am ready to poop.

6:05am  I poop and appreciate that my body has learned this habit so nicely.

6:10am  Brush teeth, wash face, spritz on rose water, massage jojoba oil into my skin, snort nasaya oil.

6:15am  Meditate, feel the big and small of the universe and my place in it (in the present moment). Then breath work--alternate nostril breathing and breath of fire. Poncho is still asleep but starting to rouse himself.

6:30am  Exercise! Sometimes yoga where I fire up Spotify, start with sun salutations and then see where it takes me. Sometimes jogging with the dog and then stretching in my kitchen while I make breakfast.

7am  Light breakfast while I listen to NPR. Lately I’ve been making myself a hot chocolate with cocoa from my Guatemala trip and turmeric and cayenne and cream and maple syrup. Note, make sure you vitamix your hot chocolate if you want it to be frothy and the most delicious ever.

7:15am  Feed Poncho. He’s grateful, I think. Then shower and do a quick massage with sesame oil + whatever essential oils I’m feeling (right now it’s jasmine and vanilla). I put on something cute, blow-dry my hair, and apply a little sparkly eyeshadow.

7:30am  Get online and start my work day! I’m usually in a great mood by this point so the exclamation point is warranted.

And that’s it. But please understand this doesn’t happen every day. On Tuesdays I call my mom at 7am and take Poncho for a long walk around the Basilica. On Thursdays I meet my friend Erin for 6:30am yoga and chai tea after. On Fridays I give myself an oil massage, water all of my plants and then head to a meditation group.  

But while it’s not perfect I do have a daily and weekly structure to my mornings that gives me energy. I replicate it the best I can when I travel and modify it when I have house guests.  When I compromise it too much I notice. I begin losing my sense of control over time and start feeling like I have to prove myself to the world, which drains out more energy.

I’ve been working little by little to have a better morning routine over the past couple of years so please don’t fret if yours is more like Poncho’s or if you just want to throw a shoe at your alarm clock. You can always try eating earlier, lighter dinners for a week and notice how your mornings might get easier. Or play with a little light exercise before breakfast and check in with your mood.  Something tells me it'll be better than with no exercise.

Remember that small and consistent changes are effective. Remember that time is more elastic than we think (thanks Einstein!) and that if we take charge of it right away, the quality of our days will shift. Remember that you are worth taking care of from the moment you wake until the minute you fall asleep. If you ever doubt this then just imagine me and Poncho offering you a cup of tea, throwing open the blinds, and nodding our heads with the trueness of it all.

Where you are you stuck in your morning routine?  Maybe I can offer some advice.  Let me know!

How the Powerful Start Their Days

I know your bad morning habits. You grope for the snooze button once, then twice, then again until you finally jump out of bed already running late. No matter how sincerely you promised yourself you’d go to that early morning yoga class, your desperate need for extra sleep always wins. Since coffee is the only thing that gets you out of bed, you drink it right away, even though you feel a bit dehydrated. You check your work email before your eyes can focus and then wonder why you feel so anxious all of a sudden. I know your habits because they were mine too. Two years ago, my mornings began groggy after not enough sleep and then turned anxious with too much coffee and running late. I was stuck in a cycle of bad habits but was pretty good at justifying it to myself. I had a gone to bed too late so needed to sleep in. I would exercise later in the day (even though I rarely did). And my favorite: coffee is mostly water...right?

As a yoga teacher, I knew the answers to these questions. I could tell you why ancient yogis meditated in the still morning hours and how important it is to move our spine on a daily basis, preferably first thing in the day. But the problem with knowing something is that it doesn’t equate practice. It’s lovely to talk about a dynamic morning routine but practicing it is the only way to receive the benefit.

Two years ago, after a life-changing break-up, I made the decision to get more out of my life. I knew that in order to do this, I had to practice what I preached. I dove deeper into my study of yoga and Ayurveda and followed it’s ancient wisdom on how to cash into those early morning hours. What I discovered upgraded my energy throughout the entire day and helped me to launch a new business teaching others to do the same with wonderful results. Here are five important lessons that guided the way:

1. To have a great morning, you first need a great night...

It’s almost impossible to create a solid morning routine without discussing what happens the night before. Waking up with intention is so much easier when you have seven to nine hours of solid sleep in you system. We know this, but why doesn’t this happen? Probably because you aren’t going to bed by 10 p.m.  10 p.m.? Yup.  I know it may seem incredible early to you, because it really did for me. It made me feel unsexy and like I was missing out on everything that was ever fun. However, once I learned the many physical and energetic reasons to be asleep by 10 p.m. I know I had no choice if I wanted to take care of my body. This compelling argument is one of them:

“Typically, if you miss the 10 p.m. bedtime, it will take much longer to fall asleep. The quality of sleep will also be less refreshing and there will still be a sense of fatigue in the morning. Even adjusting your bedtime from 11 p.m. to 10 p.m. will make an enormous difference in the quality of your sleep and enhance your feeling of wakefulness the following day. The reason for this is that you are taking advantage of the natural wave of neurochemistry that is already well on its way before 10 p.m. and you get the added support of the metabolic changes that occur at the 10 p.m. mark.” --Kulreet Chaudhary, MD in this awesome article on sleep and longevity

2. Soon you’ll get into a schedule...

It turns out that when I go to sleep at 10 p.m., my body loves waking up by 6 a.m. But this only works when I keep the same schedule most days. A morning person is defined as someone who wakes up at roughly the same time on the weekends as the weekdays. This means that your body knows the schedule and will cooperate by giving you healing, delicious sleep. This means no more “catching up” on sleep on the weekends (which is a myth anyway), but rather giving it to yourself every single night. Ayurveda teaches that our bodies are happiest when they are in touch with the daily and seasonal rhythms around us, like the rising and the setting of the sun. Learning that I wasn’t separate from these cycles has given me a beautiful feeling of connection to the world around me and reduced feelings of angst and overwhelm. Plus I love taking my dog jogging in my neighborhood by 7:30 a.m. on a Sunday. The normally-crowded streets are empty and I feel like a superhero, my furry sidekick at my heels, our hair flying as we breath in all that fresh morning air like it was created just for us.

 3. Which gives you higher quality “me” time...

It’s really easy to convince yourself that a nightly glass of Sauvignon Blanc and a Netflix binge is your self care. Again, I’ve been there. We all have busy days and when we are tired, zoning out seems like the best way to reset. But it doesn’t work that way. I’ve learned that true self care has to feel like self care the next day too. As delicious as they were in the moment, wine and “Orange is the New Black” made me feel fuzzy the next morning. Through some experimentation, I found that my real-deal self care is time to meditate, exercise, and cook nourishing food, in that order. The combination makes me feel great in the moment and for the rest of the day. Bingo--self care! Once I discovered real self care, the other stuff didn’t feel as good. It’s like the difference between eating the sticky margarine substitute and creamy grass fed butter. Plus practicing this routine over and over has made it a choice less habit. I don’t have to waste any mental energy deciding if I will meditate or feeling guilty because I didn’t exercise. It’s just what I do every morning--simple, consistent, effective.

4. Then you get more done, but not in a stressful way...

Remember how I said my life came into focus when I began getting up early? I went from starting the day with my to-do list breathing down my neck to a much more relaxed attitude about time. I use my daily meditation practice to center myself in self love. I tell myself that no matter what gets done, I will still be kind to myself and enjoy my time. It’s not a perfect process but it helps me to relax and this frees up an amazing amount of mental energy. The result is that I tend to get much more done with a lot less effort. My to-do list has shrunk because I am actually able to check off those boxes.

I’m not alone in this. Many powerful women, the kind that do it all and make it look easy, have figured out that the first hours of the day are when they can tap into their own power in. Laura Vanderkam, author of the e-book, “What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast,” found that the most successful people were those who devoted chunks of time in the morning to things (or people) that they loved. Vogue editor Anna Wintour starts each day at 5:45 a.m. with an hour-long tennis match and designer Stacy Bendet wakes up before 5 a.m. to do ashtanga yoga. Others read newspapers or cuddle with their kids. Regardless of what they do, successful people have a morning routine that ensures their self care before heading out the door to inspire the rest of us.

5.  Which helps you enjoy your life more...

Does reading this inspire you but are you afraid you won’t actually do it? If so, you are probably thinking you need to change everything tomorrow. That would be great but my guess is that isn’t going to work very well. What has actually worked for me is the practice of Kaizen, a Japanese word that means “good change.” It teaches that if we keep looking for little, continual ways to improve and shift, then eventually we will reach and then surpass our goals. Slow and steady progress saves our energy to create real change without burning ourselves out and reverting to bad habits. So think about the little steps you could take. Could you trade one round of snooze for five minutes of yoga? Could you get the greens for your smoothie ready the night before? I began shifting my morning routine by meditating for 10 minutes while my then-partner walked the dog. It was a tiny investment of time but when I did it for just a few weeks I felt like I was making progress. It inspired me enough to cut back on my coffee and eventually add in 20 minutes of exercise. Each month I notice more ways to shift in the right direction. It's a life-long process that I enjoy because I see the benefits and feel fully invested in the process of my personal evolution.

So are you ready to upgrade your morning routine and see what is possible for your days? If so, I’d love to listen to you and help you brainstorm the next small step to greater energy. Schedule a free 30 minute phone chat with me and learn to experience authentic, sustainable self care that feeds you every day of your beautiful life, from start to finish.

Rethink your Resolutions

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Rethink your Resolutions Happiest of New Years! I was all set to write a post on why I don't really believe in New Year's resolutions and then I realized, I already wrote one! It's from 2012 and a few things have changed. I'm 33 now, single as the day is long, and have switched out my morning pages ritual for a steady meditation practice. I still have great friends, a lovely home and love my work. More than ever, I believe in practice for the sake of practice and the benefits of micromovements. It makes me so happy to say that I appreciate the process of my life more than ever which leads me to believe THIS STUFF REALLY WORKS. So read along, enjoy, and reframe your lofty New Years resolution mindset into the practical steps that will produce the best version of your life. Because we aren't getting any younger and with wisdom and surrender, getting older means we get to have way more fun. Make 2015 stellar my loves!

From the archives:

The No-Resolution Resolution

In mid-December, I celebrated my 30th birthday at a little Scandinavian restaurant in a quickly-changing part of DC. I was surrounded by great artwork, brightly colored vats of aquavit, and the people I loved most. Throughout the cocktails and the courses of heavy winter food, I kept looking around to marvel at all I have to appreciate in my life. Professionally, I am a decently busy photographer and yoga teacher. I just marked a year and half with my boyfriend (we’re an OKCupid success story). I have lovely friends and a great home and opportunities to travel. Most importantly, though, I feel good in my own skin and confident in my ability to handle the hard times.

It wasn't always this way. Five years ago, I was going through some serious soul-searching. I was just back in the States after living abroad. Confused about what I wanted to do, I took a job at a dysfunctional non-profit, where I soon felt trapped. I had been single for a while and thought this meant something big about me. I tried to be myself, but each date I went on only confirmed how far I was from having the kind of relationship I wanted. There was nothing really wrong in my life, but nothing felt like it fit.

It took a lot of change to get to where I am now. I got a therapist and a life coach. I got serious about my yoga practice, sat for 10 days on an intense meditation retreat, visited with shaman in the Peruvian Amazon. I took a lot of risks and was super honest about what I wanted—and what I was willing to do to get there. These days, I still feel fear, anger, anxiety, and shame. But I see these as temporary moods within the larger framework of a life I love.

I want this for us all. Although I am skeptical about most New Year's resolutions—my brother says we just use them to make ourselves feel better after overindulging in the holidays—I think now is as good a time as any to make the changes you've been thinking about. These are five ideas that have helped me on my quest to be happier.  

1. Put the cart before the horse. The most important—and at times perhaps the most annoying—piece of advice that I've gotten is just to straight out be happier. We get so caught up in trying to look perfect, get promoted, be cool, find a partner. All of that stuff is awesome, but it's not going to feel good for long without a certain base of personal contentment. You’re just going to want more and more. If you really think about it, we seek things because we think we will feel better once we have them. So why not just feel better and then see what comes?

2. Dream big and challenge yourself. To me, making a "resolution" feels like a punishment and a chore. I’ve always preferred to think of these goals as "dreams," which stirs up the feeling of possibility for me. There is a special energy and real power that comes from talking about your dreams, even when they sound totally crazy. Around this time of year, I like to make a list of what I really want to see happen in my life. I may not get to everything on that list this year (or even in my lifetime), but at least I can understand what direction I want to be moving in. If dreams don't appeal to you, think about your change as more of a challenge. In 2011 I challenged myself to take and post a photograph every day. Taking 365 pictures was fun at times and annoying at others, but in the end I learned that living an artistic life is about doing a little work every day, not just the occasional inspiration.

3. Act small. "Micromovements" is a term used by the inspirational author and dreaming advocate SARK. Twenty-eight years ago she was an unemployed artist in San Francisco who suffered from chronic procrastination. What changed her into the author of 16 bestselling books was learning how to take the first step. Her advice is that if your dream is to write a novel, then your first micromovement could be to turn on your computer. After that you can decide whether or not you want to keep going. If you do, from there you can open and name a Word document. If you decide to go further, then you can write a bad sentence and then maybe another will come. I've also heard this used as a way to motivate yourself to exercise: If you don’t feel like going for a run, just put on your shoes and see what happens. The key is to alleviate any pressure to do everything at once. Every project is made up of dozens of small steps that are all pretty doable.

4. Practice. “Practice and all is coming.” This is my favorite quote from Patabi Jois, the father of Ashtanga Yoga. His students—who were mostly Western—would come to him seeking help to escape their neuroses and destructive behavior. He would flash his beatific smile and tell them to go do their practice and everything would be OK. Of course, your practice doesn't have to be yoga. It can be biking or painting or anything that challenges and centers you. My boyfriend spends his weekends experimenting with new baking recipes, pushing himself to get the right consistency and trying again when his cakes fall. The simple act of baking makes him feel good. So what is your practice? Once you figure out what that thing is for you, make a point of doing it a few times a week and notice how you feel within the consistency. Bigger goals and dramatic changes are very real, but I've come to see that daily routines are really what sustain me. The best creative work often happens within the stability of practice.

5. Take refuge in yourself. The most incredible practice I've found is free-writing for 30 minutes each morning. I learned this from The Artist's Way (another great tool for tapping into your creative talents). I've done "morning pages" as consistently for over two years, and they have made such a big difference in my attitude about life. I grew up in a family where I was discouraged from talking too much about myself, especially when I was complaining. To me, there is no comfort that can compare to the privilege of being able to sit down for 30 minutes to write about whatever is going on inside. This writing practice has made me my own best friend. It has shown me that I have infinite amounts of strength and humor if I look for it, and that I deserve all of all of good things that happen to me once I make the decision to get out of my own way. So I just do it. I wake up and write until I feel clear. Then I close my notebook and make a bowl of oatmeal and enjoy my day.