How New York City Opened My Heart

Oh New York City!

I was born and raised in New York. My family moved out West when I was 13, and I moved back to NY when I was 27. The moment I landed in Manhattan I felt like I belonged there. I am a New Yorker tried and true. In fact, people used to say these three phrased to me often: "you look like a New Yorker", "you act like a New Yorker", "we stopped you to ask you for directions [out of the thousands of other people around us] because you look like you know where you are going". Oh New York City! How I love thee bustling streets, thee direct people, thee mazes, muses and patterns if one is paying enough attention.

New York is like no other place on earth that I have ever been. The city never sleeps, it is unforgiving, and it is full with people, culture, style, rhythm, beat and life. I had to step up my game with every step I took in NYC. 

NYC opened my heart with its loyal people, tough streets, direct attitude and its raw nature, its attention to the arts, and its rich culture and diversity. I also received my formal training in yoga while I was there which opened my heart in a very real way to the body-centered work I now practice as a therapist. All of these things I bring with me into the course I am offering, Be The Change! If you haven't yet registered do so today. I am leaving the early bird pricing up for one more day for you. Click here, scroll down, click on buy now, and invest in yourself and your life. Please note, early bird pricing is $160 because I am now offering the course as a 5-week course. It is rich with information. Anyone who wants to understand social change concepts and how to be of service and work with communities other than our own in an empowered way should take it.

Below is the E mail I wrote to my friends and family when I left NY for CO in 2006:

New Yorkers,

Just a quick (or actually not so quick) update: it was with true bitter sweet emotions that I bade you and your amazing city a farewell!  After an almost five year romance with the Big Apple, I made the move back to CO safely and soundly.

As most of you know, I spent my years in NY working as a crisis counselor in Harlem which ultimately began my true study of yoga.  It's funny how one thing leads its way to the next.  Had you told me in 1992 that this is what I'd be doing, I certainly would have rolled my eyes, sped off in my car music blaring to some keg party where I probably talked about my next trip to Club Med.  Had you told me in 1996, I definitely would have rolled my eyes, sped off in my car with the music blaring to some bar where I probably talked about how fucked up I thought a lot of stuff was. When I decided to receive my formal training in education and psychology in 1998 and 2000 respectively it was because I thought I was going to help save the world. Very quickly I realized that what the bright eyed idealist in me was up against politically, structurally and emotionally was BIG.  

I worked in the inner city in California, and when I moved to NY I wanted to see for myself what was really going on in our back yards. This is how I ended up in Harlem, and let me tell you it isn't pretty. It was hard as hell every day, and I have not a single moment of regret. I managed to connect with many profound lives very different yet totally the same as me, and most importantly I realized that there is no such thing as being able to save the world. It is noble and courageous to do your part, and even more noble and courageous to know and understand our own limitations. Lifetimes of stories exist with in the seams of Harlem, NY. That knowledge I will take with me forever.

For the most part I have always found myself at least a few steps ahead of myself throughout my entire life. Whether it's what degree I want to get, challenge I want to take on, or eye opening travel adventure I am going to take part in.  When I decided to resign from my job last September, I decided not to get ahead of myself. Instead, I started listening. My cousin Rob had just recently left NYC and joined the rest of my cousins in Colorado. Around November my brother Mike moved back to the Rockies as well, and then this Spring my Mom left Kentucky and also decided to move back to Colorado. As well, I couldn't seem to spend enough time in Central Park.  The connection with my family over time has for many reasons been something I missed greatly, the ability to slow down something I've grown to cherish, and the access to the outdoors something I require.  Not to mention, the only true stories are held in the hands of a mountain, or the mouth of a river. 

I want to give a big shout out to NYC because I learned a hell of a lot while there. I learned not to define myself by what I do, how much I have, who my friends and family are, who I'm dating, how much I'm able to give or take depending on a given day, and what size jeans I can fit into. I learned that success should be defined for you and by you, that possession is not real, that it is really hard to walk with my eyes and heart open at the same time but necessary all the same. I learned how to be in the moment while keeping the ability to stay true to myself, and that standing up for what I believe in is not only okay but highly important. I learned that time is NOT money because money comes and goes, and we can NEVER EVER get back time. I learned that power exists in how it is perceived by the individual and the system, that ego always gets in the way of truth, that very few things should be taken personally, that there are more answers in the silence and massive strength in the surrender of letting go. I learned that we can grow from every experience we have, that nothing is permanent, and that ultimate truth exists with in yourself and with in those you choose to share it with. I learned that anger, sadness, elation, agitation, euphoria, disappointment, frustration, mania, and depression to name a few are all ok as long as we allow them to exist with in compassion.

I've also been reminded that the people we connect with in our lives are, with out question, our biggest teachers. Thank you and I love you all.

Each time I have read this E mail over the past years, it strikes me how much I speak about "the truth". As I stated in the first part of this series, How Africa Opened My Heart, if there is one thing I know to be the truth, we are all in this together. 

Be The Change! friends, its so worth it.



How India Opened My Heart

In the Spring of 1994, I took part in a program called Semester at Sea. We sailed around the world in 100 days. This experience changed my life forever.

I had a challenging start to college. In looking back, the universe was plainly telling me that I needed to spread my wings, and in one way or another she was going to push me out of the nest and demand that I take flight.

Here's what my flight looked like. The Semester at Sea program set sail in the Bahamas and ended up in Hong Kong. We sailed from the Bahamas -> Brazil -> Venezuela -> South Africa -> Kenya -> India -> Singapore -> Japan -> China -> Hong Kong.

The person I was in the Bahamas was not the same person I was in Hong Kong. The first place that broke my wide heart open was Africa.

The second place was India.

First off, I remember being told by someone who was prepping us on the safety of India that if a mother threw her baby at us, we shouldn't catch the baby because the mom was headed for our pockets. If the baby was thrown and we lifted our hands to catch it, the mother would take the opportunity to steal from us. Excuse me, you want me to let the baby drop? There is famine, death and a kind of poverty on the streets in India that you are unable to fathom...this sentiment was told to me kindly, and I still wondered every day before we got there what I would do if a baby was thrown at me. So, my heart started opening before we even got to India. I was fully planning to catch the baby.

Second, there is no point A to point Z in India, there is only what is in between. We call it the journey. I remember most mornings we'd wake up happy and excited after researching where to spend out time. We would head out for the day towards a specific temple or area to visit. We would hail (I use this word lightly and solely because I am a New Yorker) a rickshaw, and ask the driver to take us where we wanted to go. Thirty minutes later, we would end up at the rickshaw drivers friend's store. After a long visit with the friend, we would provide a reminder to the driver of where we were headed. Thirty minutes later, we would end up at a loved and admired temple - not the one we requested. After a lengthy visit and another reminder, we were at a favorite restaurant. We never ever got where we were trying to go and yet the places we went were determined by the heart and soul of the driver trying to take care of his friends and the desire to share the love of home. One driver took us to his actual home for lunch with his family. I started to let go of agendas, trust someone else's impulse and heart, and I wished every day that this was the way we operated at home.

Lastly, India is the definition of chaotic flow and you can visibly see their reverent, overt and deep connection to the divine. People in India pay homage to their gods and goddesses in every step and every breath they take, they are literally adorned with jewels, colors and prayers. There is a kind of creativity that lives there that I have never seen anywhere else. Everywhere you look, there are rickshaws, bikers, trucks, cars, people and cows (sacred animals). There are a lot of all of them, and yet they all move together in a sort of chaotic flow that I have only witnessed in India. India opened my heart to devotion in the open, chaotic flow and a true flavor of color and expressive creativity. I'm realizing just now as I write this that the way I decorate my home space is fully inspired by my time in India.

When I envision who takes part in the upcoming online course I am offering, Be The Change!, I continue to envision community leaders, movement professionals, people who care about the world, and people longing for a better world for their children. The course I designed is in service to a more accepting world, and I am brining my experiences in India along with me. There is room for creativity, devotion, honor, love, the ability to veer from the path most traveled, and a very healthy dose of responsibility.

Please learn more about Be The Change! here. Early-bird pricing is still available.

 


How Africa Opened My Heart

In the Spring of 1994, I took part in a program called Semester at Sea. We sailed around the world in 100 days. This experience changed my life forever.

I had a challenging start to college. In looking back, the universe was plainly telling me that I needed to spread my wings and in one way or another she was going to push me out of the nest and demand that I take flight.

Here's what my flight looked like. The Semester at Sea program set sail in the Bahamas and ended up in Hong Kong. We sailed from the Bahamas -> Brazil -> Venezuela -> South Africa -> Kenya -> India -> Singapore -> Japan -> China -> Hong Kong.

The person I was in the Bahamas was not the same person I was in Hong Kong. The first place that broke my wide heart open was Africa.

When I bid farewell to South America, little did I know that the course of my life was about to be changed. Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa in May of 1994. I feel blessed to have witnessed history in the making.

Apartheid legislation demands physical separation of people based on their color. It is a system of racial segregation, and until Mandela was elected president Apartheid was legislated by the National Party. South Africa was a vibrant, thriving, party centered metropolis. Money, drinks, and food flowed from the restaurants and bars into the hands of those who were white. Not very far off, only a short ride on a bus, were the townships. Areas where black South Africans lived. No money, no restaurants, no metropolis. Barbed wire surrounding. Barbed fucking wire.

Being who I am, I jumped at the opportunity to visit a township. People in townships, at that time, were being shown how to vote for the very first time in their lives. Government volunteers were teaching people with mock ballots and booths, and they were literally dancing with joy for the promise of a new tomorrow. They were finally being given the privilege - the one we often take for granted - to vote, and I was watching it happen. I still get chills. I was 19 at the time and my heart was opening more fully than I can ever remember it opening prior.

I cried for weeks after we left South Africa. I had never been exposed to that much visible oppression and that much hope all at once. It spoke to me. The movement that was unfolding in South Africa truly moved an unfolding in me.

As we set sail from South Africa to Kenya, little did I know my heart was about to be cranked open yet again. While in Kenya, I visited the Masai Mara. I saw lions, giraffes, elephants, gazelles, people roaming free on their land. The Masai is wild, untamed, unleashed, and primal. Yes, I could relate. The people who live there are private in their reverence to the land. Yes, I could relate. Of course, I had never seen this much land stretch on forever with wild animals running, playing, killing, breeding, living in their element. It was breathtaking. I was moved by the beauty and the freedom, and the connection I felt to my soul and my essence there was palpable. 

The rest of the journey continued to crack me open. I will write about India next so please stay tuned.

When I returned home from Semester at Sea, I changed my major from Communications to Sociology and Education. I went on to get a Masters degree in Education and one in Counseling Psychology. These decisions were deeply informed by my desire to work with people in breaking through old stories and beliefs and connecting more fully to their essence. 

I went on to teach and practice counseling in the inner cities of San Francisco and NYC throughout my twenties and early thirties. My heart never ceased to open to the deep work, the oppression and the hope that exists there as well. Africa deeply informed the choices I made about where and why I choose the work I do now and why I chose to spend the remainder of my thirties bringing and implementing social justice trainings to the service office I lead. 

When I envision who takes part in the new online course I am offering, Be The Change!, I continue to envision community leaders, movement professionals, people who care about the world, and people longing for a better world for their children. The course I designed is in service to a more accepting world, and I will bring the brimming hopes of South African's and the vast, reverent, primal landscape of Kenya along with me every step of the way.

If there is one thing I know to be the truth, we are all in this together.

Register for Be The Change! Early-bird until May 8th.


The Job of a Superhero

A while back, I dreamt that I was offered a job as a super hero.

It was very sexy. The job title was vague and the costume was shiny, blue and full length. There were knee high boots and of course a long cape that I got to wear as part of the gig. I wasn't really sure I wanted the job, but I took it because it was offered to me. Who says no to being a super hero? Plus, I wanted the outfit.

My first assignment was to chase down a large, heavy truck on the freeway. The task was to run alongside it, jump into the back and save the people who were trapped inside. Did you know that if you google large truck there is an article titled "Why You Should Never Drive Alongside a Large Truck"? Did I mention I was to RUN alongside the truck.

I put on my outfit and off I went. Super Jen. Saved the people, saved the day and all was well in superhero world.

When I woke up the next morning I could feel the sensation of emptiness in my stomach and cloudiness in my head. Vapid confusion.

As women in this society, we are urged to be super-heroes, and what does this lead to? Vapid confusion, fear, disconnect, anxiety and a variety of other ailments not in line with our true divine essence.

We are persuaded by trends, make-up, diets, colleagues, family and friends to work hard, not to say no, to apologize often, and to make sure it's all coming from a size 4, nicely lipsticked mouth, and well manicured hand. I've never been that girl. I am wild, untamed, unapologetic, loud, not afraid and secure, and until my mid-thirties, I thought there was something wrong with me.

The real question is, what has gone wrong around us and how do we re-claim our own power?

I'm going to let you in on my secrets and give you the ingredients for how I moved through the external bullshit and into the empowered truth of who I am:

Body Awareness - our bodies speak louder than any system out there and learning about your own map and how to track your body sensations (not emotions) is the most valuable information you can have. This provides you with the blue-print of you.

Nature - there are so many rich messages in nature, try having a dialogue with her.

Mythology - here we have stories that give us the ability to write our own stories. Brilliantly gorgeous.

Travel - immersing ourselves into other cultures provides us with a direct in about how many different ways there are to be. It also gives us permission on how people across the world celebrate size, knowledge, communication, differently than the western world.

Meditation - our own answers exist in stillness. 

Self-Care - honoring ourselves, learning how to say no, and learning how to relate from a place of grounded and receptive strength is our responsibility as women to owning our own liberation and helping others own theirs.

Being a super-hero may look sexy but it comes at a heavy price of disconnection to our own sense of power. The above list are things I practice every day. There is not a day that goes by now that I don't give thanks that I am a wild, untamed, unapologetic woman who is here in this body and living the truth of who I am.

The 4 Steps To Letting Go

How do we let go?

This is the question I've been asked most throughout my career. Clients, yoga students, junior high-schoolers, high-schoolers, college students, adults. You catch my drift. Everyone wants to know, how do we let go. 

I once heard someone demonstrate it to a group of inquiring minds this way. "Hold onto this banana, and they handed the person a banana. Ok, let it go, and the person let go. That's how you let go." Everyone clapped and for a while after that I suppose I believed that there wasn't a formula. I realize that's bull-shit, there is totally a formula.

Here is the formula:

I bought a necklace ~ or really a piece of art ~ six years ago and wore around my neck every time I stepped into the realms of forgiveness, leadership, grief, fear, etc. The stones are a translucent blue color like the ocean and they symbolize an empty vessel. When I bought the necklace I was certain it was my job (I am a Capricorn rising for those of you that follow astrology) to fill the necklace up, and fill it up I did.

Last summer I was enrolled in an expansive, life transforming rites of passage program, similar from one's I have done in the past. As I got ready on the first evening of the program, I reached for the necklace, secured it around my neck and off I went. It broke with in the first hour of being on this journey. Part of me was sad and disappointed but the larger part in me knew its time was over so I put it away in a closet in my home and that was that.

About 3 weeks ago, I came across it and felt compelled to throw it away...those memories are not the ones I want to live anymore. The stones are filled with old stories and beliefs...of grief and fear, a lot of stuff from my childhood, and a lot of things that no longer serve me, all things that are not a part of my daily day to day life. Yep, I was going to throw it away.

Here's what I did instead and as I did this I realized that THIS is what it looks like to let go. I took the necklace apart. One by one, I took the stones off. I held them in my hand and thanked them for holding the huge-ness of what is my life. I set them out gently and methodically on my outside table to clear in the sun and I let them be. Later that evening, I got them from outside, brought them inside, ran them under water and put them into a glass. I'm not sure what I am going to do with them yet, but I am definitely not throwing them away. The stones hold stories and beliefs that I am ready to be done with, but they are not meant to be cast away, they simply need to be made into something new. 

I boiled it down to 4 quick and dirty points for you all. 

In order to let go:

1. You need to give thanks for the past - There is a textural component here. First off, the charge around whatever you need to let go of needs to neutralize in order to alchemize. So you do need to get to a place where you are able to name it and take a deep breath in as you do so. You need to have done enough work with it so that it's not like you are ripping a baby from it's mother because in many cases when we are letting go, we are letting go of something that served us deeply. There are many brilliant ways to metabolize our past so that we can hold gratitude for it.

2. You need to let go with reverence and ritual - Unless you take some space and time around this step, it stays with you. There are many ways to take something apart with reverence and with ritual. In the example above, I simply held each crystal in my hand and thanked it and then let it clear, washed it with water and put it into a new container. 

3. You need to acknowledge what it is that you want to let go of - With out the acknowledgement and the naming there is no real release that is going to happen, it stays inside. By saying it out loud we give it breath and allow it to become part of the bigger story, not just our own story. We need to throw it into the fire, release it into the earth. In different cultures and healing modalities there are different ways to do this. They are, in fact, endless.

4. You need to let it move through and then allow it to exist in its new form - We become attached to how it feels or looks in its old form - whether this be a necklace, a person, an aspect of ourselves, a pattern in a partnership or friendship. Memories are stored in the cells of the body and areas of the brain, and you need to allow it to be, to move, and to exist as something new. That last part takes some training of the mind. There is heart, body and mind in this step.

Lastly and most importantly, be gentle and active with yourself in the process of letting go. Reach out for guidance and support, dance, love, be in nature, surround yourself with people and things that nurture you and realize that you are shifting so that you can become more full, more free, and more of yourself.

Equity vs. Equality

Recently I was asked by a dear friend to expand upon something I responded to on a Facebook post of hers. So here we go:

Her post: so if yoga is about creating equity in the body, you would think we would be able to emanate that into other realms.
My response:  i think part of the issue is that yoga is not fundamentally designed with equity at the forefront...
Next response: me thinks you need to work at a deeper level than the body….
My response: both/and...
Her request: jen...more please?!

Here's the thing, historically, yoga wasn't designed for curvy women, people with different abilities, elders, or a myriad of others. We have taken an ancienct practice designed to train warriors and still the mind and we've morphed it. Of course now there's another topic at hand here that the same friend was also asking me about, which is appropriation. My quick and dirty answer to that question is to ask yourself how much reverence is in your practice. Where do you practice? Who are you buying this ancient form of expression from? How preserved is it? How are you wearing it and representing it in your life? We can go deeper if anyone wants to around this topic, just leave me a comment about it please.

For now, back to equity vs. equality ~

Equity can most easily be described as fairness where equality can most easily be described as sameness. Here in lies where my first response came from. Yoga was not designed with fairness in mind, it was designed with sameness in mind. Have you noticed that there are certain body types that have an easier time with poses than others. Have you noticed that almost all of the posters hanging on yoga studio walls that show a series of poses in a system are represented by thin men. Here's the thing, for someone with a 'yoga body', yoga asana is more accessible and when we attach 'good' or 'correct' to a pose that is part of a system that we believe is inherently equitable, a lot of us are going to be physically, emotionally, mentally injuring ourselves a lot of the time. Sound familiar? This shouldn't diminish the precision of yoga. Precise is not the same as accurate. 

In my experience, equality is the main jam of yoga asana. What we do on one side, we are encouraged do on another side. If you use a block on one side, you will likely be advised to use it on the other. There are blueprints for sale of how you get into this pose or that pose. Crooked is often used to make a point not be the example. Balance is pushed. 

I've also taught and been in classes where there is recognition that the practitioner may need a block on one side and not on the other, that someone may not be able to do what the other is doing, that there is no blue-print, that crooked is the norm, and that balance is not necessarily always accessible ~ equity.

We should also remember that the way yoga has been packaged costs a fair amount of money and that by way of this, the access to the system is not open to all.

Equality only works when everyone is the exactly the same. Equity is the generating force of bringing things into fairness.

Think of this as an example: I have two dogs. One is shy and reserved and the other is, well, let's just say he's not. The way I trained them was different, based on their needs and who they are. One sleeps in a crate, the other in my bed - for example. I'd love for them both to sleep in my bed, but the one who is less reserved, he'll go to the bathroom in my house if he needs to during the night. The other one won't. If I were practicing equality they both would sleep in crates or in my bed. Most of the western culture operates in this way. Dogs = crates OR dogs = beds. Let's try this...some dogs = crates and some dogs = beds.

I realize that this is a bit of a elementary example with my dogs, but when we are looking at the world, its resources, who has access to what and the concepts of power privilege and oppression, plus how to treat everyone with respect and dignity we are looking at equity. We are looking at who has access to what and based on that, who needs what in order to have the same advantages. We are taking differences into consideration and we are not saying, 'this person or this group of people should because we all...'

Equity inherently dismantles the idea of egoic feats. It says this person can and will do what you can do because they too have access to it. Equity begs us to say, let's give everyone equal access. I believe strongly that this is why we have such a hard time with it. Our egos are alive and well and yes, while we need our egos to understand that we are of form, we likely can shed far more of them than we hold onto. Please don't mistake egoic feats with gifts. 

So that's pretty much it. Except that I want to talk a bit further about how this manifests itself in the body because here I am, marrying my work as a counselor with my work as an educator with my work as an embodiment practitioner and teacher, with my work as a social justice educator and activist.

Take a minute and scan your inner system and and notice its differences, its nuances, its abilities. Take a quick inventory. Now ask yourself what you can do for those parts of yourself that are not being served, not being met in the way other parts are. The question to hold is how can you provide your system with equity ~ fairness... not equality ~ sameness.

Map this onto our educational system for instance. Students who qualify as ADD (although I would very much like that label to go away as I believe that those with ADD actually just simply have a different set of operating skills - not bad - different) need to get up and move around or run or explore or scream or bang a drum in order to be expected to perform anywhere near their counterparts who don't hold the label of ADD. 

How do we start to create more equity in our systems you ask...? With a lot of inquiry, more knowledge of ourselves, more knowledge of the world, an understanding of what is going where, who and what holds more access compared to who and what, more compassion for ourselves and others, radical acceptance of what is, a clear course of action, and more knowledge about how all of these interplay. To start.



What you can do right NOW to leverage your privilege!

Right now, stop. 

I want to be clear that if you are reading this, you hold a level of privilege. You may not hold white privilege which is very much up right now, but there are other types of privilege, and you have some if you are reading this on a computer, I pad, phone, etc.

You probably know about the tragic racial inequities, institutionalized racism, rioting and human rights issues currently making headlines. Let's not forget that these systemic racial inequities have always been there. You also likely know on some level how you are responding is to this situation. If not, you should do some research. Please google 'Ferguson, Missouri', 'Michael Brown', 'Black lives matter" or any combo of those and then come back here. It's important and a privilege to understand how current goings on are affecting you. 

Now, step away from Facebook, your phone, the media, stop reading all the news out there for a minute, and in doing this stop worrying about what your friends are or are not posting. Note, you can and should go back to the news in order to stay educated, not obsessed...and the judgements about your friends can be healthy if it helps inform you, but not if it stands in your way, shuts you down or moves you to compete. I want to discourage you from getting trapped by too much information or emotional overload. It's a fine line. Stay engaged enough and don't get trapped. 

Make space to ask yourself two questions about your relationship to the world. Ideally, bring the questions into your meditation, dance, your yoga practice, surfing, hiking...wherever and whenever you feel most connected to you. Note, this is bypass only when it stops here and is used solely as a mechanism for your own self advancement. There could also be a bypass if you were to answer 'there are no problems'. 

This is actually your first step to action.

2 questions to start:

1. What makes your heart swell and your body want to move and act...? 

2. What matters to you and move you, from the belly (mulha, root, pelvis) up...?

**this second question is harder for most, is it what lies beneath the current situation**

Think social and environmental justice and issues here. Think big and think specific.

Pay attention to your feelings, your breath and your imagery...all are powerful informants. Your answers may or may not have to do with institutionalized racism. 

BE AS SPECIFIC AS POSSIBLE WITH YOUR ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS!!!! 

Listen closely to the detailed call of your heart.

Heart language is lovely and beautiful and it is fiery, and holds capacity for large scale righteous anger and action. Action for the sake of renewal begs you to be clear, conscious and systematic.

If you cannot connect to anything, it's okay. Make it a practice. Keep going. Stop again tomorrow and the next day and the day after, connect to yourself, and ask yourself...what moves you from the belly up?

It is key to remember to be as specific as possible with your answers.

How is this leveraging your privilege? If you can read this, if you have the capacity to think critically and you have the space to consider something other than where and when your next meal is coming from or when and if you are going to receive a bullet to the head, whether or not you will have clean water to drink tomorrow, and if you had a family to spend thanksgiving with, you have privilege. Leverage it. Give thanks for it and do something with it.

Using your privilege to to move one step at a time is intelligent and finding ground, empathy and clarity are all crucial when you are working with a large scale issues. Facebook, the media...they all do a good job of isolating one incident.

So, right now stop.

And start with those 2 questions. Just start here.

There is no quick fix to institutionalized oppression and there is no article that is going to make it stop. The epidemic is deeply rooted and long standing.

You must start from this place. Your own root. Deep within. Listen to what calls you.

AND, if you feel crystal clear about your cause (though I would challenge you that there is always more depth here), can't get specific enough or still enough to receive any answers, and/or this doesn't make sense to you but you are committed, that's perfect. You have landscape to work with and should stay tuned! 

One step at a time equals sustainable and thoughtful change.

Leverage your privilege and stop.

WITH LOVE AND GRATITUDE...


Body Shaming

I didn't witness body shaming in its height until I moved to Boulder, Colorado.

Boulder, per se, takes the title of one of the 'Fittest' Places in the World. 

This is certainly part of Boulder's culture. People come to Boulder to train at high altitudes, extreme ski in the Rockies, hike 14'ers, and bike to Estes Park and back all in a mellow afternoon.  

As someone who views each system as a whole, I'm more concerned that the word fit equate to the mind and sprit along with the body. So while yes, there are more people with less body fat here than...maybe anywhere, it doesn't necessarily mean that the whole being is fit nor does it mean that this person is healthy or thriving. 

What I do know is this: there is a lack of inclusivity around body image, and we are not living in a world where all forms have equity.

Shame is an emotion that arises in response to having done something wrong. The act of shaming, consequently, arises when someone makes someone else feel badly about something. You know that picture of the finger wagging person, 'tisk, tisk, tisk'? That provides a visual of shaming. 

Body shaming is a form of oppression.

Let's get clear that it is a privilege to eat fresh, healthy and clean foods. Obesity rates are higher amongst those who are living on food stamps, out of food pantries and in under developed areas.

When we engage in body shaming it means that we believe that someone is wrong or lesser somehow by having the body they have. 

I often wonder why we are obsessed as a culture with trimming something down if it's healthy, We have, sadly, been trained to believe that someone's status is relevant to their body weight. Amongst many many other things, and yes, there is overlap.

I don't know the etymology of the stories of our bodies, but what I do know is that somewhere along the way we decided thin is better. When I look at pictures of archetypes or god and goddesses, older periods of art and current cultural standards, it has become clear that thin is in and we have epitomized the human body to be that in our perception of its highest form. 

Here's a list of words I've heard used to body shame: unmotivated, undisciplined, un-embodied and ugly. There's also inspiring, courageous, and bold - did you see the Mindy Kaling clip on Jimmy Fallon talking about this. Check it out if you haven't: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9nAJ1xNLms. The latter implies that the person should be feeling something other than self-worth. Sneaky shaming. Other examples are the group fitness class where the instructor says, "cellulite is gross", and the person who body shames themselves by putting themselves down, which is pervasive and very much accepted (I'd even go as far as to say encouraged) in our culture. 

I've witnessed body shaming more times in the last eight years living in Boulder than I can wrap my head and heart around, and I remain hopeful that someday we may be able to let go of this story and understand that healthy does not need to be trimmed down. In the meantime, I plan to celebrate my curvaceous womanly beautiful body. I hope you will celebrate your own form because,

Healthy is diverse.

And beautiful.

And royal.

And expressive.

Let's stop torturing ourselves and each other for the sake of impermanence.

PSSST...the body is only temporary.

Yoga, the practice of a practice.

Breath. Body. Alignment. Mat.

I can hear my breath again. 

No music. No mirrors. No added heat. No extra talking.

I have found my way back home.

I started yoga in 1998 when I lived in San Francisco. There was a studio at the end of my street.  Less than half a block away. As if that wasn't divine intervention.

One of my girlfriends who also lived in the neighborhood asked me to go with her to a class. "I am really not into to yoga", I said. "I want to sweat". All I can say to that comment looking back is, hahaha, you thought you weren't going to sweat eh?

I reluctantly went to a class with her. I cried the entire Savasana. That was 17 years ago. 

The studio on the street I lived on in San Francisco was called San Francisco Astanga Yoga Studio. Appropriate. It is that simple. No mirrors. No music. No bells. No whistles. It was and still is a one room studio. No hard wood floors. Meir Leshem is the owner and the only teacher. I am forever grateful that this was my introduction to this practice.

It is simply your breath and body. 

I practiced Astanga Yoga seriously until I left SF in '02. It was disciplined, formatted and intense and it pushed me to my limits and sometimes beyond them. I needed to know that my body and mind were internally strong. Oh yes, my Astanga practice gave me that and then some.

When I moved to NYC in '02  I looked for an Astanga studio and found one in the East Village, where I lived at the time, but wasn't feeling drawn take a class there. I found myself seeking something different from the environment. Perhaps the intensity of NYC provoked a desire with in me for something softer.

One day when I was in midtown I stumbled upon a studio called "Be Yoga". Feeling drawn to it, I walked in the building, got on the elevator to go to the studio and on the ride up, I knew immediately that this was my next home. The tone and the texture of 'Be Yoga' was familiar in an unfamiliar and very exciting city. I probably cried.

I spent a handful of years committed to this practice. Enough to receive my 500 hour teacher training certificate and much more. ISHTA yoga is the Integrated Science of Hatha Tantra and Ayurveda. This practice introduced me to a new way of seeing yoga and seeing myself as a part of it. Each body is different. Each body can and will do different things. Alan Finger, the founder of ISHTA, studied with all the 'bigs' and formed an integrated practice from there. I was given a phenomenal education. Looking back it feels large in it's scope and forgiving in its essence. It was definitely the right one at the right time. I learned how to meditate and how to use my breath to benefit my mind, how to incorporate the practices of ayurveda - the science of life - into my own life, and I was given a taste of tantric philosophy, which upon my next endeavor would be the creme de la creme or the cherry on top of it all so to speak. I'll get there in a minute. ISHTA was and still is a big part of who I am.

When I left NYC for Boulder in '06, I once again stepped into new terrain. Anusara was to be my next home. I don't want to go into the shadow of this practice, but I will just say there was one - the system as I knew it has since disintegrated. That was hard to watch. I felt the shadow immediately, and so I stayed peripheral with it, however I soaked in the raw knowledge of this system like a sponge. Because it spoke to me. Loudly. Yes, my body mind and heart were ready for this. The Anusara system is a direct hit to nature. Body performs like nature does because body is nature. My reverence for the natural world grew stronger as I started to intellectually understand on top of already knowing deeply how connected we are.

Anusara also sent me right into the hands of Rajanaka, and am forever grateful that this path led me here. Rajanaka is a form of tantric philosophy. There are no poses. There are millions of stories. Rajanaka goes something like this, 'I am not you, I am something like you, I am nothing but you'. All three at the same time. To say that my mind was not blown open after the first time I sat with Douglas Brooks would be a colossal lie. My mind was BLOWN OPEN. To say that the understanding of living in a fractal world that is that much more rich and flavorful knowing how ancient hindu myths and the order of the universe lend their stories to the various truths of who we are, would be like saying I have never stepped into the rabbit hole, which I totally did when I started studying this stuff. This is THE stuff. I definitely cried the first time I heard Douglas speak. This information is more expansive than anything I did prior to try and expand. Yes, ANYTHING

What I started to understand, is that yoga truly is body poetry. Yoga is story in motion. One yoga pose holds about one trillion different ways to see ourselves. Yoga IS the rabbit hole. 

Somewhere along the way, as I stepped more fully into dance, I stopped doing a lot yoga asana (the poses). I dropped in from time to time to a class here or there but I was, for the most part, uninspired by the way the poses were taught. I was uninspired by the really loud music. I was uninspired by the pedestals. I was uninspired by the mirrors. When I could feel my body needing the practice I knew so deeply, I set up shop in the back of a room and did my own thing. I was asked to leave some classes along the way and given enough dirty looks and snide comments that I stopped counting.

But, yoga IS my home, and it was okay that I wasn't doing adho mukha savasana every day anymore. It was and is infused into my cells. Forever.

Yoga is home. Yoga is union. Yoga is the moment in between. The one with no noise. The one that has no label. The pause. The place where in breath marries out breath and the place where they come together and dance. It is the place of entanglement. The place of beauty. The place of messiness. The place of discovery. The place where there is nothing to know.

I remember I was asked once how I got into a really tough pose in front of a class and I said, 'my breath'. That was not the answer the asker was looking for. They wanted to know what i DID to get there. Nothing, that's the point. Of course, I know the alignment. I especially know it on a larger scale after studying many systems, and for my body specifically, after studying it for so long. And I can also help you find it in yours. Those really tough poses though...the ones 99.9% of the population can't get into, there's a reason why. It's because there are no words to explain how to go there. There is breath and there is body obeying breath deeply, which is called faith and surrender. Together. Not blind faith. Not limp surrender. This is active surrender folks. It's not easy. It is the razors edge.

For a couple of years now, probably the same amount of time I knew I needed to leave my job for, I have known I needed to return back to Astanga. No mirrors. No music. One room. Astanga with a twist here in Boulder,  just as I like it.

This week, I started going back. I returned back to the practice that started my practice seventeen years ago.

So here I am, back in THAT practice with these deep stories of the poses (Rajanaka) and the knowledge of the natural world and how it translates into my body (Anusara) and an understanding of my own body constitution (ISHTA). This allows me to step back to the practice in a new way. I am not seduced by all of the jump backs that make my vata mind go bonkers anymore, and I am not anxious about getting the poses 'right'.  I don't care if I can get into a bind or grab my feet with my hands twisted behind my back.

I care that I know how to use my tailbone to protect my back now.

I care that I understand that twisting is going to be detoxifying to my mind, body and heart.

I care that I know what it actually means to fold my hands in front of my heart.

I also care deeply that this practice is ancient.

It is revered. It is important. It is not bells and it is not whistles.

It is my body. It is my breath. It is my mat.

It is my practice of a practice. 

Breath. Body. Alignment. Mat.

I can hear my breath again.

AMEN.

In Order With: Authenticity vs Abandonment

Deep with in the rattlings of my bones I know that I need push the pause button.

What does that mean:

Seeing as I have never intentionally pushed the pause button on life, it is not generally something that our society subscribes to, definitely not something that my typical 'make shit happen' self is used to, and it is certainly not something that everyone has the privilege to do, I seem to be making it up as I go. 

For the record, I thought I was talking about the kind of pause where I leave my job and I travel around the US for a couple of months with my dogs, living in different places along the way in order to check things out. I own a home, I can house swap. I was making a plan. It was sexy. It would be like the "Two Month Europe Tour Post College", which I did.

This is not what was in store for me: there is to be no 'in order to' right now.

Only 'in order with'. 

Check. 

The first step to pausing as I said above, and when I made this decision I was unaware that I was being called towards 'in order with', was to let go of a job that I had been at for the past six years. Over the past couple of years I began to feel shackled to my desk, shackled to the whims of an entitled population, and shackled to a hypocritical hierarchy. I was living largely out of alignment with my beliefs by staying in a system of fear and a system invested primarily in the pursuit of answers (in order to). I no longer felt like I was able to share a wide enough net of what I knew and what I know. My body heart and soul started to get very clear with me - I was abandoning myself.

The next thing I started to recognized, and the space in which I currently find myself residing, is that it is time to find my own rhythmic authenticity amidst a life that greeted me with a primal need to abandon my own rhythm for survival. In such, the only rhythm I really understood was a jacked up, fast pace version of myself. In fact, I believe I have poses as a quick paced extrovert for most of my life.  I've also always had a certain zest for life in me that manifests itself in a variety of ways - the way I choose to dress myself, decorate my body, speak and laugh, entertain myself and others, dance with my dogs...the list goes on from there. My authenticity is wildly colorful and very grounded. Abandoning my authenticity has always been particularly painful for my colorful self. Abandoning my rhythmic self, well, I honestly didn't know any better.

This brings me to today:

While having breakfast with one of my dearest's, we begin to talk about 'new age' language, how much of a total turn off it is, and how we often see a large amount of bypassing via the use of this language. My girlfriend is authentic in her ability to be smooshy and mushy in showing her love to everyone and we were speaking about the curiosity that exists in being mis-identified as a 'new-ager' as opposed to oneself, or in her case, as opposed to a lover of people in whatever form it comes forth.

The juxtaposition, and at times the road to abandoning oneself in and of itself can be just that. How many times have we all thought to ourselves, am I doing this right/what will everyone think of me/will they like me/what am I supposed to do in this situation/what should I say etc.

This conversation led me to consider another more basic question based on survival:

What do we do or say to stay safe (I'm talking about the feelings that trigger our basic needs for safety - to be fed, to be clothed, to have shelter; essentially, not to die).

As young ones or old ones, if we were around trauma, lack of safety, ridicule, disfunction, hardship etc (which most of us were on some level or another), we very well learned to stay safe by abandoning some part of ourselves. Whether it was or is our way of being, way of speaking, way of listening, way of moving. On top of that, every magazine we picked up or newspaper we opened or channel we flipped to or store we walked into thereafter was filled with more tokens of possible confusion. More ways to fit in. More ways to self abandon.

Here's where I'm going with all of this:

When we are authentic it can look like anything and everything. That can be scary. It is not formulated around control or what anyone else says or does. It is formulated around heart, desire, expression, an innate and cosmic 'in order with'. I believe that to be in sync with the natural order of something much bigger than ourselves and authentically with in ourselves is one the same. I am currently in the pursuit of my rhythm. Perhaps for you it is your purpose, your style, your voice... or, or, or...

The beautiful thing is, is that authenticity is limitless. Isn't that cool. I would offer that in order to live and function in this world we probably want to employ the ability to discern. We have to be able to see ourselves as an individual as well as a member of a community or relationship, we need to be able to weigh things out in order to make decisions. We have to get serious about syncing our minds to our hearts. In the sentiments of Douglas Brooks, when we have clear boundaries, we have no limits.

It's all a razors edge, of course. Of course.

Circling back around to my conversation this morning. Throughout the pursuit of authenticity vs abandonment, there may be times when we are accused of sounding like or going along with the grain because in that particular situation, we are. AND, there may be times when we are accused of sounding like or going against the grain because in that particular situation, we are. It's not an either or. When we are authentic, we act and speak from a place where we are 'in order with' , and this can appear in a myriad of ways. This is not necessarily what has been rolled out in front of us. And sometimes it is just that.

This is, simply stated, whatever feels real to us:

Notice I don't say what feels good. I believe that a natural authentic order is much more elemental than that. It involves a full spectrum and is not emotionally based. It can be felt. Period. 

I have to admit, I don't declare to have a lot of answers. I do declare to have gathered a lot of knowledge in this life thus far though. Personally, I have tried to excavate my my own authenticity through ways that have felt genuine to my own growth - namely: education, adventure, movement, travel, culture and love - all from a relational standpoint. I.e., I prefer to be learning and growing with you and along side you as opposed to with out you. I've come to recognize that transformational growth is my gig. Kali-esque in the post modern world. That said, I've always been committed to sharing what I know. 

There's a verse in a song called "Stubborn Love" by The Lumineers that goes: It's better to feel pain, than nothing it all. The opposite of love's indifference. So pay attention now, I'm standing on your porch screaming out. And I won't leave until you come downstairs.

If you can take these verses in the metaphorical and bigger picture sense, it makes a lot of sense. Don't attach it to a person, that will really mess you up. I read it as the person is standing on the porch screaming out for something (love) and won't leave until it comes. It likely has nothing to do with stubborn love or a particular person's porch.

So, my palms are in the air, my feet are on the ground, and my heart is open to what is coming in. I am screaming and not leaving until you come downstairs. And, I'm talking to you, my authentic and rhythmic in order with.

I am pausing for the sake of authenticity. For the sake of rhythm. For the sake of not self abandoning. For the sake of feeling. For the sake of knowing. For the sake of what is real. For the sake of transformation. For the sake of growth. For the sake of those that cannot. For the sake of sharing.

And for the sake of IN ORDER WITH!