yoga with the big Y

It's not like in the movies

lanterns

These were the words of my 23 year old stepdaughter at lunch last week:

"It's not like it is in the movies!"

She was talking about love.

She continued, "I thought...you meet someone, you move in together and get a dog and everything would be great. But I did all those things and it's hard."

I've known Allie since she was two and a half. She's seen her parents' challenges. She saw the relationship between her dad and me, which ended 14 years later in divorce. She's had the teenage version of boyfriends and the typical escapades of a young adult, all including the standard heartbreak.

So of course she has disillusionment about what a realistic (and successful) long-term relationship looks like!

Oh, sweet pea. I wrapped her up in my arms, equally celebrating this developmental milestone and sad for the angst it was causing her.


The purpose in sharing this isn't to make a point about love.

It's about the ways we all have disillusion and disappointment, the ways we feel wronged and misled.

The conversation with Allie has stuck with me and made me more aware of my own disillusionment. Specifically, the things I know to be true (or untrue) that I hold onto anyway.

Life is so hard. That isn't fair. This shouldn't have happened.

Statements like these are an indicator light that I'm stuck. I'm in a story. I'm resisting the fact of reality, what's actually happening. (Which is a second indicator light that I probably haven't been taking great care of myself.)

As you know, this spiritual path (or whatever you want to call your philosophy/approach/practice) IS hard!

It's often against the current, sometimes rebellious and always courageous.


So if hard things are just a part of life and we're inevitably going to face disappointments, how do we stay free and at peace? Or as the new agers might say, in flow?

The answer under the answer that keeps coming to me is:
Don't be in resistance.

What does resistance look like?
We resist what's happening: I wish this was {some other way}.
We resist life: Why is this happening? It's not right!
We resist our feelings: I'm fine.
We resist our needs, wants and dreams: More I'm fine. I don't need anything.

Sound familiar? (It does to me!)

Some questions I've found helpful in working with this aspect of myself:
Can I be with this?
Can I let this be?


Can I be with this without contracting, without making it more than it actually is?
Can I let this be what it is without making it wrong, without making it about me?

These are not easy questions -- especially when you're 23.

Thankfully, just by being witnessed, getting to tell her story and hearing herself say things she didn't know she knew, Allie came to the best insight I could have hoped for her.

"I just need to let him be who he is and be who I am. And I'm figuring out how to be in a relationship and still take care of myself."

I told her that might be a long lesson ;)


Many of you are parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles -- if you have a story or a comment, please share.

With love,
Michelle

What really matters

Last week's post on creating a bigger container seemed to resonate with many people. Grief and loss touch all our lives and remind us of our togetherness.

Related... for the past couple of months, a friend and I have been sitting together every morning at 7 am. "Together" is a loose term, since we live 15 miles from each other; a text check in lets us know the other is there.

Meditation is something I always mean to do and I've gone in and out of steady practice with it over the years. But getting it to stick again has been hard.

In Gretchen Rubin's Tendencies model, I'm an Obliger -- I stick to commitments best when there's external accountability. (A large part of the population fall in this category.)

Admitting I need accountability is helpful because then I can set myself up to succeed. Like knowing a friend is expecting a text from the meditation cushion.

And, it's more than that.


For me, this text-buddy arrangement is about more than the accountability piece -- it's about knowing that I'm not alone. And knowing I'm not alone helps me stay consistent, it encourages me to go deeper, it reminds me that there are "others" out there who I can call on.

We have hundreds of thousands of years of tribal memory in our DNA and only a couple hundred years of modern life, which has turned into an obsession with individualism. I feel a longing for connection -- and deep relief when I get it -- in my bones.

This is why I continue to put out invitations to you for ways to come together. Where we can share perspectives, question, listen, encourage. It's easy to get caught up in life and forget how essential these moments of deep connection are.

Being together also helps expand the container.

So I ask you, gentle reader...
What are some helpful ways you have set up accountability for yourself?
How can you create support or community in your day/week for the things that *really* matter?


If you are looking for accountability, consistency, a like-minded group for practice, discussion and some time to take care of yourself this fall, consider one of my upcoming offerings.

I'd love to be together, in whatever form that takes.

If you have a story, a question or a comment, share it! Always love to hear from you!

With love,
Michelle


P.S. I apologize for the recent faulty link for the Fall Renewal.

When you need a bigger container

yoga anytime yoga for grief

Well, last week we wrapped up the filming of Yoga for Grief, which will air in November on Yoga Anytime. (If you want to check out their top-notch content then or before then, use the code MICHELLE for a 30-day free trial.) I will, of course, let you know when it comes out. I am beyond excited to share it.

Being immersed in this topic for the past couple of weeks make me think of the adage: A spoon of salt in a glass of water makes the water undrinkable. A spoon of salt in a lake is almost unnoticed.

Like in grief, any intense emotion or challenging situation can make our world really small. Everything contracts, shrinks.

It feels like the container gets smaller, which makes the emotion or hardship more potent.

That very thing happened to me last weekend...

Some friends came over for dinner and toward the end of the evening shared the news that they are pregnant. They were excitedly giving details, talking about the timeline and morning sickness and ultrasounds. Having lost a child, situations like this have the potential to shrink my world, which is what happened that night.

I'd been immersed in the topic of grief -- as well as my personal story -- for the video shoot, and I've started working on my book again. So the topic and my emotions were right at the surface. This is a deep wound -- sometimes I'm fine and can talk about pregnancy and babies...and sometimes my world closes in around me.

What helps me in these moments is a bigger container. More space for the emotion, for my experience to be fluid.

How to expand the container? No one thing works all the time. Considering that, here are some ideas.

Move and/or get outside.
That night, I used the dog as a scapegoat and took her outside to potty. Moving around helped expand my sense of space and being outside gave the feelings lots of breathing room.

Give it voice.
Maybe in the moment: "I find myself feeling...." Or later to a friend or therapist or to the trees or in a journal. I can't overemphasize the power of feeling held and validated: "Yes, that hurt; yes, your experience is real; yes, there's space for that here." Just that helps us step back just a tiny bit and see a little more of the landscape.

Sitting practice.
Not much helps us be available to our feelings like sitting with them, quietly and gently. In a world of distraction, the practice of letting things be -- without reaction or even response -- is totally radical. As a visual person, I often use the image of "mind like sky." This gives me the sense that there is unlimited space for my experience/thoughts/feelings to move through like clouds.

Basic self care.
As you can see, some of these are ways we can fortify ourselves in advance, knowing that we will be ambushed from time to time. Getting rest, good food, moving every day -- just taking basic care makes it easier to handle whatever comes your way. In my example, I was tired -- I'd been traveling, so my sleep and eating were out of the ordinary. This made me feel less steady in the moment.

Compassion, forgiveness and love.
For yourself! Because it won't always go well. Maybe you break down (which is ok!). Maybe you lash out. Hurt people hurt people. Having our wounds poked can make us do weird things. Or you might even have judgment about having a reaction at all. "This STILL? I thought I'd moved on!" And Goddess forbid someone else has those judgments of you (give them my number). Compassion, forgiveness and love, gentle reader. Shame has no place in grief.


If this is of interest to you, there are a few different ways we can be together and explore ALL of these things. Check out the workshops page.

If you think this information might be helpful for someone you know, please pass it along.

And tell me what's happening in your world!
How do you expand your container or perspective?

Wishing you more space for all that comes and goes,
Michelle

When yoga isn't fun anymore

It's a common scenario: at some point after consistent yoga practice, a student will make the bewildered comment, "I used to feel so much better after yoga but lately I feel worse."

This is actually good news.

If one of the purposes of Yoga practice is to know ourselves more deeply, it makes sense that at some point we will encounter parts of ourselves that are not so... beloved. What we might call the dark or shadow side of our personality, which just refers to aspects of ourselves that are out of the light of conscious awareness.

This is a sign that the practice is working.

There are aspects in all of us that we'd rather avoid or hide, and we can pretty successfully do so during our regular lives. We have ample distraction, a dizzying pace and endless ways to numb or silence feelings we don't want to feel.

Enter Yoga, which brings us face-to-face with all parts of ourselves.

As we open the body...
as we get quiet and start to notice...
as we un-learn patterns of restriction and experience a feeling of freedom in the breath.

All those unowned aspects of our personality are Right There. Parts that have been rejected or shamed by ourselves or others, suddenly looking us in the eyes. We're bringing those "dark" parts out of their cozy hiding places and into the light.

How great is that?!

Because you're reading this, odds are you are a person who values the deep work of self-knowing and the radical practice of self-love. It's easy to lose sight of how much intentional and ongoing effort is required to live in that space.

This isn't a "make you feel better"
technique; it's liberation. ~Jon Kabat-Zinn 



The magic of Yoga is that it works on us behind the scenes, like an anti-virus program running in the background.

Although we may not feel "better" right away, owning all parts of our personalities, biases and projections is the only path to wholeness.

I'm curious about your thoughts and experiences. Leave a comment and let me know.

With love,
Michelle

Let's do better than right and wrong

Is there a right way to do Warrior I?

One of the things we've been exploring in class on Sunday mornings is how tempting it is to buy into the paradigm of Right and Wrong.

Even in Teacher Training, students will ask, after an hour of exploring the many dimensions of a pose, "Ok, but what's the right way to do it?"

There might be a right way for you...right now. But it makes no sense to believe that there's one right way to do...well, anything.

It can seem to be almost built into us -- this desire to get it right, to do it right. Which seems equally about not getting it wrong. As one student pointed out, we're trained from our earliest education to get The Right Answer. We're not celebrated for a creative answer, or questioning the answer. Just the one we were told.

This sets up some challenges for us as we navigate the world:

  • We might learn to value someone else's opinion or experience over our own.

  • We might learn to go to others for direction, advice or validation, be it a teacher or therapist or friend.

  • We might go against our own nudges or knowing, to the point of eventually cutting off access to our intuition.

  • We might lose touch with our curiosity, creativity and wonder.

  • We might think there's no point in doing "it" if we aren't doing it right.

  • We might forget that things -- including our needs -- change, so nothing stays right forever.

All of these can show up in Yoga practice. I know, because I used to practice this way.

Yep, I am a Good Student if there ever was one, and I wanted all the gold stars.
* Validation came from getting praise.
* I would push myself for someone else's idea of The Perfect Pose.
* I took great pride in following the rules.
* I sustained injuries from hands on "corrections" when I didn't speak up about my limits.
* Eventually I became pretty numb to my own knowing and insight.

It took years to unlearn this programming and it still shows up sometimes in my tendency to be linear, in the ways I question my own wisdom.

What helped?

Foremost: Being around people who modeled a different way, a belief system based on kindness and self-discovery. And then a whole lot of conditioning deconstruction.

What I learned is there are better ways than right/wrong to measure or assess our choices, actions and circumstances. Here are a few to consider:

  • useful / not useful

  • spacious / contracted

  • pleasant / unpleasant

  • empowering / disempowering

  • regulating / dysregulating

  • kind / unkind


Of course, nothing exists solely at the extremes -- all of these qualities live on a continuum. Something can be mostly useful or a little more pleasant than unpleasant. That's part of the limitation of right/wrong -- it doesn't leave space for the full spectrum of life's colors.

How about you? What continuums do you rely on? How are your insecurities soothed by the illusion of "rightness"? I'd love to hear.

With love,
Michelle

TLDR (too long, didn't read): The paradigm of right/wrong doesn't work -- in asana or in life. Find another axis to assess the value or usefulness of your choices, actions and circumstances. I used to be The Good Student pushing for The Perfect Pose and found my way back to kindness and wonder through others on the same path. Because there's no one right way to do...anything.

P.S. The Fall Yoga Immersion is a great place to unravel right/wrong, tap into your own deep knowing and be with kindred spirits.

Bear It or Bare It?

Hard to believe we're into the seventh month of the year. And what a year it's been!

As I've been hearing from many of you as well, this year has been a doozy for me. Health issue after health issue, carefully crafted plans getting demolished, a lot of personal de/re-construction, all on top of family/ancestral wounds in need of healing.

Through it all, there's one story from earlier in the year that sticks with me.

I'd been dealing with kidney stone issues for a couple of months. Lots of questions, uncertainty and discomfort. I was on the phone again with the advice nurse -- asking about medication, wondering if I should go in, wanting any kind of reassurance that there was rhyme or reason to what I was going through.

After I explained my plight, the woman on the phone plainly stated: "Honey, with a kidney stone, you just have to bear it."

I was a little stunned.

She wasn't being unkind, she was just being honest. I could make myself as comfortable as possible, I could care for myself in the ways I was able, I could get the support I needed... and at the end of the day, I still had to go through it.

You know these situations. The ones no one else can do for you. The ones that can't be fixed. Divorce, death of a loved one, physical and emotional recovery, a kidney stone.

Bearing something also has qualities of being bare, as in unconcealed, undisguised, revealed, unadorned. Like we've been peeled back.

When life asks us to withstand pain, uncertainty or difficulty, to endure a situation with tolerance and patience, we can feel stripped, naked, bare.

Which then requires more bearing because that's also uncomfortable!

The alternative is to button up, brace and attempt to manage every detail. While tempting, we all have stories about how that ends. Makes me think of the phrase, "Let go or be dragged."

So here I am, feeling a little more bare to life. Exposed, divulged. And with that, wonderfully more sensitive (which is such a lovely, alive quality) and aware.

I'm excited to be posting a few new offerings for fall. Check out my workshops page.

What's happening in your world? Are you bearing or baring or....? Would love to hear.

Wishing you a lovely week,
Michelle

What's better than a new year intention?

new york city

Happy January!

How is your year going so far (non-rhetorical question)?

Usually I do a word or motto of the year. This year I'm thinking about intentions that are more seasonal. Something that feels right at the beginning of the year when it's cold and dark might not be where I am at the peak of summer or the dryness of autumn.

When I think seasonally, I can work with where I want to focus in the short-term and how that is supported by the energy of the season.

For example, even though I have big dreams for this year, the next couple of months are about getting some structure and routine in place, as well as staying quieter and restful for the big work ahead.

I can imagine, as the days lengthen, that that will shift into more action, more outward expression. But I'm not there yet.

If you like thinking seasonally, here are a few questions to consider:

Where do I want to focus my energy for the next 2-3 months?

What does my body, mind, spirit need right now (knowing you don't have to stay with that answer all year)?

Is there a short-term goal that wants my attention this season?

If there is a long-term goal this year, what are three things I can do to prepare or move toward it in the next few months?

How do I relate to this season? Do I have a story about this time of year that is positive (or not)? How that might affect me/my dreams?

You can revisit these questions as you feel the seasons (of nature or inside you) shift.

As you know, our work as humans is generally slower and more circular than we prefer. Stay gentle with yourself.

Wishing you health and love,
Michelle


Just back from New York City (photo above). We watched the ball drop (on TV!) and saw the now-famous Mandarin duck (see below).

The energetic snow globe

snow globe

The holidays can be particularly challenging for introverts and empaths.

If you are exhausted by large groups or tend to pick up other people’s energy easily, parties can be a real drag.

Especially in the winter, most gatherings take place inside and it’s harder to justify stepping out for a few minutes if it’s 55 degrees.

As both an introvert and an empath, I am careful with my energy this time of year.

In case it’s helpful to you, here are my three best practices.

No more than two
Rule number one, I schedule no more than two high-social situations in a week. This doesn’t include one-on-ones (though I do limit those per week as well) or other general outings like the grocery store or eating out. This refers to parties and gatherings. Preferably the two are spread out over the week and I have downtime/recovery planned for afterward.

This also supports my practice of “increasing my tolerance for other people’s disappointment” when I have to decline social offers.

The bathroom is your friend
If you get overwhelmed in a party situation (or preferably before you get there), a 2 minute trip to the bathroom can be a life-saver. It might sound silly, but a quick break from the chatter, crowd, questions, awkward silence, etc. can make a huge difference. It moves your energy, and can be a great way to excuse yourself from, say, a political conversation (unless that’s your thing).

This goes nicely with the last tip…

Snow globe happy place
If you sense, intuit, take on or get wrapped up in other people’s energy easily, it’s really important to create an energetic boundary.

The fun thing about this time of year is you can throw a little holiday spirit into it! When I’m feeling a little leaky or I need to check in with myself, I’ll imagine that I’m in my own extra-special snow globe. Yes, it’s often in Central Park. And it’s snowing glitter. And it’s cozy and contained. Nothing unwanted is getting in!

Try it! The next time you need a stronger boundary in a situation, imagine yourself in your own personal snow globe. You get to decide who and what is in there with you :)

Wishing you all the things that make you happy this season.

Artwork by Cara Gregor, @caraemiliadesigns on IG

Compassion Fatigue

compassion fatigue

You may have heard of compassion fatigue as a condition used to describe the stress associated with working with people who are in crisis, trauma or suffering. Think of people in caregiving or helping professions like nurses, doctors, therapists, veterinarians and animal welfare, child protection workers, journalists, EMTs, police officers and anyone who works with people in trauma or crisis, like natural disasters or crisis workers.

Compassion fatigue can also be called secondary traumatic stress, secondary victimization, vicarious traumatization and "the cost of caring." 

The symptoms of compassion fatigue are similar to that of chronic stress -- sleeplessness or nightmares, lower immunity or other physical issues like GI or heart problems, isolation, lack of focus and concentration, negativity and pessimism, unhealthy outlets for emotions, like addictions. The overall effect of compassion fatigue is a lessening of compassion.

The interesting thing is, because of news and social media and the barrage of stories and images of intense pain and suffering, “compassion fatigue” is now being expanded to include the general public.

We are bombarded with graphic images, videos and interviews of trauma and tragedy every day -- and when they are replayed over and over, we can experience a helplessness...or hopelessness.

We talked about this in class on Sunday, and many people were eager to share their experience.

Some were most concerned about numbness and what happens when we protectively become apathetic. When we try to care about all it and we hit overload, a natural protective response is to shut down.

Others talked about the helplessness that comes with overwhelm of feeling the pain of so many. Highly sensitive and empathetic people are most susceptible to compassion fatigue as they truly take on the suffering of other people, animals and the planet.

One woman shared her concern for the teen and early 20s population as they are often engrossed in social media and don't have the same mental capacities for discernment that adults have.

So what to do?

The first step is realizing you feel overwhelmed, whether your response is helplessness or hopelessness. If you have compassion fatigue, you know you're a caring, compassionate person!

The second step is taking better care of yourself. It doesn't mean shutting out the world and all current events. It does mean setting boundaries.

  • Are you watching video interviews of a crisis on a loop? Stop.

  • Do you check your phone, computer or the newspaper first thing in the morning? Stop.

  • Do you take your phone to bed? Even if you're watching cat videos, Stop.

  • Do you ruminate and worry about things out of your control? Stop.


DO:

  • Take good, basic care of yourself. Eat good food, get enough sleep, move every day.

  • Have times when you check the news — set a time limit.

  • Help in the ways you can. Maybe volunteering isn't right for you, but you can send a small donation of items or money. (See below for fire relief organizations.)


One student in class said he'd been listening to music CDs in the car rather than NPR. It is a way to take a break from the news he's already heard and recharge.

Mother Theresa knew the importance of caring for ourselves so we can care for others: she required her nuns to take a full year off every 3-4 years. 

We can’t give from an empty well — we know this. Each of us have a unique capacity for holding suffering, as well as ways to be of service. Care for and appreciate yourself and

California Fire Relief Donation Ideas
Caring Choices
Butte Humane Society (they also have an Amazon wish list)
Humane Society of Ventura County
California Community Foundation
California Fire Foundation

Recommitting to Quiet

buddha

Apparently I have a hard time keeping quiet.

Back at the beginning of summer, I said I'd be stepping back to work on my writing project. And while I have been working on that project, I've also been doing a bunch of other stuff -- fun stuff! -- and engaging, busy, social stuff. 

As an introvert -- maybe even borderline hermit at heart -- the wholehearted work of writing comes from a quiet space that has to be cultivated. It's vulnerable and often lonely work (thus, hard time keeping quiet).

So for realsies this time, I'm stepping back from the newsletter and website. 

Walking the path and talking about walking the path are not the same, right? I need to walk the path.

Which, for me, includes rejuvenating breaks like baking, nature walks, herbal tea, sitting, movement and organizing cupboards (I'm not the only one who finds that rewarding, am I?). What are you doing this season to care for yourself?

Because you deserve your own care.


Side note: I've updated my Sunday teaching schedule through the rest of the year.

Please say hello when you think of it. I'll be here and there and will check back in soon.

With love and the gentle release of autumn (because my orthopedic surgeon said not to say "fall"),
Michelle

Pitta Project

Summer Solstice

Here we are at the peak of summer -- the summer solstice! It's the longest day of the year, and the official first day of Summer.

For many people, there's a felt difference in their energy, urges, even physical and mental states in the different seasons. Summer has long been revered as a time of increased creativity and stamina as well as maturation and manifestation of ideas and projects that may have begun this winter or spring.

In Ayurveda, summer is associated with PItta, which consists of the fire and water elements and governs transformation. Similar to the energetic qualities and beliefs about summer and fire, pitta is related to drive, intensity, precision, passion, intelligence and a desire for things to be orderly.

When untamed, pitta can veer into irritability, judgment, criticism, resentment and excessive perfectionism.  Think of the stereotypical "type A" personality and you've got a deranged (the Ayurvedic term for "out of balance") pitta.

This is not to say that pitta is a bad -- on the contrary. We all contain multitudes and are naturally combinations of many qualities. In Ayurveda the approach is often about finding counter-balance to help support harmony among the systems.

In fact, as a generally cold and dry person (my constitution is predominately Vata, associated with air and ether), a little fire under me can be a good thing.

My Pitta Project

Somewhere in the past week I saw/heard (it's very vata of me to not remember) of someone doing 100 squats a day for 30 days. I wondered if this might not be a fun project for my little twig legs, which are strong, but not that shapely. (I even took "before" pictures!)

I started my 100 squats with perhaps too much vigor, throwing in some lunge dips in the park last Friday. Pearl and I took a long, hot walk and my legs were pretty spent afterward.

Saturday I figured out that I can do 50 squats in the two minutes of my timed toothbrush. Bonus that I can see myself in the mirror and make posture adjustments in the shoulders and spine as necessary.

By my class on Sunday morning I was 250 squats in and unable to go up or down our stairs without sounding like a wounded animal. I shared my new goal with the class, and one person wisely responded that muscles need a day off for recovery. Ah, yes, moderation! Guess I have a little pitta in me after all.

This week another student wrote and said she might come up with her own Pitta Project, which inspired this post.

Maybe you, too, have a reasonable summer goal that can be supported by all this bright energy.

To call a senator every day.
To drink a half gallon of water every day.
To eat only plant-based food four days a week.
To walk a mile every morning.

Make it measurable and give it an end date. Your inner pitta will like that specificity. :)

Let me know if you come up with one and we'll do them together.

 

Unsupportive Resources

If you recognize that your main resources are unhealthy or harmful, like social media, video games, alcohol or other substances, here are a few things to consider.

First, know that it's totally normal to self-regulate! You aren't bad because you utilize a way of regulating that also isn't good for you. It's working in some way or you wouldn't do it. 

windows

The good news is there's something to be learned from the activity or substance. There's an effect of self regulation that is important and useful.

What are the qualities of that?
How do you feel when engaging with that "resource"?
Do you feel relaxed?
Present?
Engaged?

Start to notice, even look for, times and activities where you feel that quality outside of that activity/substance. You can even practice feeling that quality without the "thing."

Take the effect of the self regulation attempt and practice it separate from the unhealthy or harmful activity or substance. 

It's quite simplistic to talk about replacing an unhealthy resource just by noticing what it gives you or inserting a more helpful resource. However, when we do this with complete awareness of the body and what's happening in the physiology, the effects can be profound. 

Of course, substitutions probably won't feel exactly the same and making any kind of habit change takes work. But bringing in the body aspect and tracking the felt-sense experience will help make that shift with more honestly, awareness and nervous system support.

If you haven't already, check the post on ideas on identifying more positive resources.

 

*If you have an addiction or need clinical support, please seek out a therapist or treatment program for support and loving care.