Tag: fear

Use Your Glutes… or Stop Hiding Your Strength

Your body is like a Porsche: the engine is in the trunk. Your glutes are the largest and strongest muscles in the body, but how do you harness their power? The magic of Bowspring is in using your glutes.

After creating a Radiant Heart by filling the ribcage, the second instruction of the Bowspring is to mound and lift the base glutes. By engaging the lower fibers of the gluteus maximus, the pelvis goes into anterior tilt (the top of the hips move forward and down, the tail and sit bones moving back and up).

The primary results: a toned, lifted tush; a soft sway in the low back; a long, full, curved belly; and lots and lots of sweat.

[Sidenote: This action cured my hamstring attachment overuse injury in 2 hours. After a year of pain in my hamstring attachment, I had no pain after Two. Hours. And it’s never come back.]

Growing up in the modern fitness industry – including years ballet and yoga – I was encouraged to hug in, pull back, and tighten. That always made intuitive sense: when you hug muscle to bone, it tones. Muscles shorten when they contract. So for years I tucked my “popo” (listening to a favorite ballet teacher), pulled my belly button back and up, and kept as many muscles toned as possible.

And generally, both on and off the mat, I tried to hide my guts and butt. This posture is now the picture of physical beauty: flat, compressed abs, and a tight butt.

Animal wisdom in the body helps unpack the symbol of this tucked tail. My dog only tucks his tail in two circumstances: when he sleeps curled in a ball and relaxed, and when he’s afraid – guarding his sensitive bits from bigger dogs and thunder. (Don’t ask me about the thunder thing.) As humans, we pull our belly back and tuck our tail to brace for impact — whether physical or emotional.

Let’s be clear: the cover of fitness magazines celebrates health and beauty in a tucked tail with a tense body.

Our culture’s picture of beauty is a picture of fear.

I dare you, right now (while sitting) to untuck your tail and let your belly be full, and then lengthen it along a curve from the base of your ribcage all the way down to the pubic bone and hip creases. Notice a few things:

1. How hard is that to do? How many sentences can you read before any habit of “belly back, tail down” sneaks back? (Don’t worry, me too.)

2. What part of your body lets go as you do that? What part hardens?

3. What happens to your breathing?

4. How does it feel? As you get used to the shape, what’s your emotional intuition?

I Want to be Seen.

As a woman who grew up just a little too large — this shape feels radical. In the beginning, it felt wrong. I was terrified someone would see me. For 30 years, I thought I was supposed to get rid of my belly — or at least hide it. Letting it be full and long was terrifying. What if someone saw?

And now I’ve realized, that is what I desperately long for: to be seen. My greatest hope is for someone to see me, exactly as I am, and accept me for that. I do not want to squeeze myself into someone else’s ideal, I don’t want to have to lose or gain or fix or change — but simply to be loved as who I am.

And that, my loves, is radical.

I have to do that for myself first. I have to be willing to use all the gifts of my body, without hiding, without shrinking, and to find the strength that’s already here. Bowspring helps me do just that.

This is the second in a series of posts about the Bowspring practice. Read more here.

If you’d like to experience Bowspring for yourself, join me in class or in Bowspring Immersion beginning August 29.


How To Stop Sitting Yourself To Death

The very first instruction of the Bowspring practice is to create a Radiant Heart. Sound a little “woo-woo?” It’s not. It’s practical and absolutely critical.

Our society sits. We sit when we eat, when we work, when we drive, when we binge on Netflix — we sit so much it affects our posture, our strength, and even our mood. The Harvard Business Review, New York Times, and Huffington Post have all declared: Sitting is the new smoking.

This sedentary lifestyle doesn’t just lead to poor fitness, heart weakness and obesity – if that wasn’t enough – it also hurts. It encourages upper back to round and collapse, shoulders to hunch and curl forward, and the head to hang heavy on top of the neck. Physically, this posture contributes to headaches, jaw clicking and soreness, neck and shoulder pain. The head exerts progressively more pressure on the spine (an extra 10 pound force for every inch forward) making back and shoulder pain worse — and tragically this shape impedes the muscles that support the head.

So if you have headaches, shoulder aches, neck pain, or TMJ, get serious about your sitting habit.

And it gets worse.

The physical pain and soreness are a problem. The health impact is an epidemic. The emotional and spiritual impact are devastating.

This is a dejected posture of depression and sadness. Our head hangs down, our heart heavy. These phrases are idiomatic for a reason — ours is a posture of rejection. It’s the shape we make when our boss yells at us in the staff meeting. It’s the protection our body takes when we finally muster the courage to ask that cute guy out… and he says no. It’s a primal posture that says “Don’t mind me — I’m trying to disappear.”

The tragic irony of this should not be lost on us: our sedentary lifestyle reinforces the creeping feeling that we don’t matter. We could just disappear, and maybe we should.

Just as that feeling creates this posture, the posture reinforces the feelings of rejection, collapse, worthlessness. And to avoid the pain of those feelings, we eat (sitting at a table), drink (sitting at a bar), and scarf down 13 hours of Orange is the New Black — stuffed as far back into our sofas as we can possibly get.

What if creating a feeling of worthiness was as simple as changing the way you stand?

Bowspring teaches us to fill ourselves up from the inside – not from the outside. We learn to fill up from the center of us – from the place in us that’s always there, the place yogis have called on for millennia. You may have heard “namaste” translated as “The light in me sees the light in you.” That’s a poetic translation, but the message is clear: don’t forget the light that lives inside you. I don’t forget it. And in remembering your lightness, I remember my own.

That light radiates into the Radiant Heart. When you fill your ribcage, you remind yourself physically and experientially: I’m bigger than this. I have enough. I’m brave enough to take up space.

I’m full enough to share, to help, and make new space.

You take a stand and say: I am worthy.

Come learn Bowspring with me in five playful mornings starting August 29 at Wild Lotus Yoga.

Confessions of a Size 12 Yoga Teacher

I’m a yoga teacher and I have a dirty little secret. I’m a size 12. The last time I weighed myself, it was in the 180s. (Ugh. It hurts just to write.)

I’ve been practicing yoga for 15 years, and teaching for four. I’m in the lucky 10% of yoga teachers who teaches full-time – it’s not just a hobby.

I practice four to six hours a week. I teach ten to twelve hours a week. I eat whole, healthy foods.

I am a size 12 yoga teacher.

I have an almost schizophrenic attitude about my body and my weight. On one hand, I’m proud to sit at the front of the room, reinforcing that yoga is for everyone – for every body. On the other hand, I’m terrified that students walk in and think, “What is she doing teaching?” or worse: “If practicing yoga will make me look like that, I’m going for a run.”

I’m proud my body can do things that some skinny bodies can’t do. And I’m ashamed there are poses I don’t do because my body gets in the way or makes balance impossible.

I’ve been overweight my whole life. When I graduated from high school, I weighed 215 pounds. I was muffin-topping out of size 18s. I was miserable. I was embarrassed. I was deeply ashamed. I lived in denial.

I was hiding inside my body. I desperately wanted to be seen, and yet I was terrified of being seen.

After years of dieting and… not dieting, I joined Weight Watchers in my early 20s. I lost 40+ pounds, and at my lightest I was a size 6, weighing somewhere in the 150s.  I was running half-marathons, going to the gym, and writing down everything that went in my mouth. After I hit my goal weight, I went on a cruise. I ate so much in Puerto Vallarta that I literally made myself sick. I promised myself I would never do that again.

Shortly afterwards, Hurricane Katrina hit. I went from whole foods to fast foods in about 24 hours. In the grand scheme of things, gaining 20 pounds did not seem like a big deal. And honestly? In the grand scheme of things? It wasn’t.

For me, becoming a yoga teacher has been a process of self-acceptance. I had to accept how much I loved teaching — and that I was pretty good at it. I had to accept that I hated my day job — and I was getting worse at it by the day. I stopped telling myself there were poses I couldn’t do because of my body — and just started trying to do them. I began to accept that my body is shaped the way its shaped.

I try to make food choices that are healthy for me, without disrespecting my environment or fellow beings. I eat as little processed and packaged food as possible. I eat meat, but aim for sustainably and locally sourced options. I consume full-fat dairy, and if I could get raw milk I would. I drink way too much coffee, but choose locally owned, fair-trade when I can.

I am a size 12 yoga teacher.

I recently started writing down everything I was eating again — but for a completely different reason. I have found my energy to be stagnant and heavy, my brain not as clear as I need it to be. To be a yoga teacher my brain must be sharp. My energy is critical to the quality of my work. After 20 years of dieting and… not dieting, I finally found a loving reason to keep track of what I was eating.

Finally, I feel ready to start looking at what’s really going on — what are the consequences of my habits, and what am I willing to change? And how much difference does a difference make?

Yoga taught me a lot. It taught me how to get comfortable being uncomfortable. It taught me that I am not my body, although this body is the only one I’ll get (so I take care of it). It gave me the physical strength to do hand stands, and the emotional strength to survive disasters — from hurricanes to heartbreaks.

I teach yoga because I want other people to feel the way I feel: strong, flexible, balanced, and grateful for every day.

I came to yoga for a physical workout. I got that, but I also got something better: Peace of mind. Self-acceptance. Both a willingness and a curiosity for whatever happens next.

I am a size 12 yoga teacher.

Lately I’m experimenting with avoiding all added sugars. So far, I wake up easier and my energy feels steadier — but I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t hoping to lose a few pounds. Because who trusts a size 12 yoga teacher?

Never Without Fear

Nataraja’s Abhaya Mudra

One of the more common mudras in the yoga tradition is the Abhaya mudra.  Bhaya is often translated as fear, and a- is the negative modifier, so the abhaya means literally “No Fear.”  The gesture means “be not afraid,” or “have no fear.” It’s a welcoming, inviting mudra, and we often see the murtis (statues of hindu gods) with one of their hands in this position.

One of my teachers, Douglas Brooks, has a fascinating translation that may appear counterintuitive for this word – but I truly love it.

“While the raised open palm may appear to us a signal of caution or even warning, it is also an invitation and an opportunity to approach, then come closer, open the heart, and accept the journey of self-inquiry. Fearlessness is the beginning of all such journeys, not just the end. Fearlessness is never without fear but rather that way in which we step into our courage and bring the heart, mind, and body into a deeper appreciation of each and every situation.”

Douglas also suggests that a hero does the thing we are afraid to do, so that we don’t have to watch him do it.  In the oldest sense of this, we don’t want to watch the warrior defeat the enemy — we know without thinking that witnessing slaughter of another human would be traumatic — but we understand this is a “necessary evil,” and we’ll even throw him a parade when he returns.  Once we have matured past a certain age, we know that heroes are human, and if fact we want human heroes, since those who find joy in the slaughter are monsters, not heroes.

So is it possible that what makes a hero is her fear?  One who knows the power of her action, who steps strongly the direction of the task at hand although they may be terrified of each step.  The hero must understand the gravity of her action, and be aware of the inherent conflict of taking such a step.  The true hero is never without fear.

So for us, today — who hopefully have no experience of armed combat — what are our fears?  And how can we walk both fearlessly and never without fear into the things that frighten us the most?

What’s it like to walk into a room of people you haven’t seen in over ten years?  Or to start a new job or business?  How does it feel to walk into a first date with someone you don’t know well?  Or to ask someone on that first date?  How does it feel to ask for a raise? To stand up to your parents (or your partner, or your best friend, or your children) when you make a decision that they don’t like? To tell your partner you’ve been fired?  To end a relationship when you know it will devastate the other?

Instead of repressing that feeling, that anxiety, that fear, can you lean into it?  Can you be never without fear, instead using your fear as a guidepost, accepting it for what it is, and allowing it to inform your actions without ruling you?  Fear can only paralyze us if we resist it.  Next time, can you instead raise your hand, abhaya — fearless and never without fear, breathe, and take steady steps forward into and through it?

This playlist invokes Kali – that fierce quality in all of us that defends the ones we love – and Nataraja, the dancing face of Shiva who’s abhaya mudra invites into the dance of life, both through and despite our fears.

Martin Luther King, Jr. – The Original Spiritual Gangster

My teacher wears an array of clever yoga t-shirts.  One says Spiritual Gangster.  I’ve often wondered what that actually means. Does he intimidate with his vast spirituality?  Takes karma as payment for not yoga-ing you to death? Or that being spiritual doesn’t automatically mean being well-behaved?

In the frame of Sankalpa, I have been meditating today on Rev. King and the work he did.  Sankalpa is a deep intention – if your dharma could talk, it would be a sankalpa.  If you’re a yoga nerd, that may make sense to you; but how many yoga nerds are really out there?

Each of us has a deep seated belief about who we are and what we are here to do.  It’s specific and unique to each of us, although on the surface it may seem similar.  Sometimes it’s possible to ferret out that purpose (or dharma), and to explain it in words.  Sometimes it’s so deep that we cannot find a way to express it verbally, and it only comes out in our actions and our values and the decisions we make.

One of the things that made MLK so very special was his ability to simply yet eloquently express his Sankalpa: “I have a dream.”  His dream, his belief, of black children and white children playing together with no knowledge of race was so important and so central to his own existence that he pursued it mercilessly.  

Marianne Williamson says, “as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”  Dr. King was liberated.  He was liberated from any fear by this deep desire, this deep intention, his Sankalpa.  And by simply living, he liberated each of us — he inspires us to follow the deep knowledge we have about what is right and what is just.


So today, in his honor, ask yourself: What do I believe so deeply?  What is this deep desire that is so central to my existence?  And how can I use it to liberate myself from the fear of pursuing it?