Tag: Happiness

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?

Why I Stopped Caring if My Yoga Was Right

Some yoga teachers claim authenticity of their practice because of how old it is. I’ve practiced with teachers who say their yoga is the “real yoga,” because their teacher taught them the “real teachings.”

Why do we need age or exclusivity to authenticate our personal experience in yoga?

I’ve been exploring a new approach to alignment called “The Bowspring.” It flies in the face what many of us were told and have believed for years that a strong core was “the belly pulled back and up,” and that an anatomical neutral pelvis was the safest and healthiest way to work. I have taught hundreds, if not thousands, of students these same principles: keep the tail moving down towards the heels (but don’t tuck it!), pull the belly back to protect the lower back, front shoulders back, shoulder blades flat on your back!

It’s a rigid shape. It feels hard to me, especially now.

The Bowspring alignment echoes an article circulating recently from NPR about why indigenous cultures don’t have back pain. When the base of the buttocks lifts, the belly is full, the lumbar curve is greater than “anatomical neutral,” and the whole ribcage expands out and back. I’ll be the first to say I am not an anatomy expert (just an anatomy nerd) — but in my body, that feels better. It feels stronger, fluid, and dynamic. My body feels soft AND strong at the same time, and not at all rigid.

I was talking to a student about this after my lunchtime class today, and I’m beginning to wonder: Why do we care so much about which yoga practice(s) are “authentic”? Why do we care how old the poses are? Which sequence or alignment is the best? How could we say that anyone (or any country, or any religion) owns yoga? Does it matter that the vinyasa we all love is probably only 150 years old, and was influenced by British calisthenics?

I suddenly realized: Who owns love? Which love is the best? What love is the most authentic?

The answer, of course: none of us, and all of us, all at once. All love is the best, but none is better than another. To paraphrase my teacher’s teacher, “How can you compare infinites?”

That’s the kind of yoga I’m interested in. I want yoga that makes me curious. I want yoga that nurtures change and growth, and doesn’t elevate something static. I want yoga that helps me explore my body, my thought patterns, my emotional hang ups, and leaves me feeling more myself.

So I’ve been practicing the Bowspring. I might teach it in class or online somewhere down the line. But it doesn’t matter.  

If your practice leaves you feeling stifled, restricted, pent up, or somehow less than… I’m curious: what kind of yoga are you interested in?

Commencement — What I Wish Someone Had Told Me at My Graduation

I was invited to give the Commencement Address at Herzing University‘s December graduation last night.  It was one of those opportunities that came to me through a  series of unpredictable events (aka divine providence), but it meant I had just a few days to put together my thoughts for these graduates. I might have said something different if I had been given more time, but instead I just shared with them exactly where I’m living now. Check it out:

Good evening and welcome! I want to thank Jason for inviting me tonight. It is a deep honor for me to be among you, with your family and your friends and your partners and maybe even your children. I share with them deep pride in and inspiration by the dedication that got you here tonight. Please know that your work blazes a trail for everyone you meet – everyone who wants to make themselves better, their work better, and their world better. I want to a share a quote with you from one of my favorite authors, and it’s a quote I try to live my life by. Marianne Williamson says:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”

As you move forward after your time here at Herzing, you have two choices. You can move towards joy, or you can move away from fear.

We all have fears – even fears that we are powerful beyond measure. That power in us can be intimidating, and it encourages us to take risks – and sometimes those risks lead to failure. I don’t know about you, but I’m deeply afraid of failing. I might have been a little afraid to get up here tonight, afraid of what you think of me, afraid I’ll say the wrong thing, or that I’ll let you down.

But I made a choice – not to move away from that fear, but instead towards the deep joy of sharing with you something I believe so strongly. I know each of you were afraid to begin your studies here, I know each of you had moments when you thought, “I can’t do this.” And I know each one of you made a choice, with great courage in the face of that fear, to move forward.

I think you already know what so many people don’t know – you can live a life that you fall more deeply in love with every single day.

A very wise person once told me: if you want to be happy, do things that make you happy.

And you know what I mean by happy – I don’t mean pleasure; I don’t mean sit on the couch eating bon-bons and binge watching “Orange is the New Black.” When I say happy, I mean so excited to get up in the morning that you’re simply thrilled to be alive.

If you want to be happy, do things that make you happy.

Sometimes when I say this, people argue. They always say some variation of these two things: One, “I don’t know what makes me happy,” and two, “I’m not sure I can be happy.”

I think you graduates know – I think you already have an inkling of what makes you happy. And it’s what got you to this chair tonight. It’s what got you through all those tough assignments, group projects, and the moments when you thought you couldn’t do it.

And if you’re still not completely sure – keep trying. Keep trying things on in your life; take risks. Get curious about the things that make you happy. Don’t be afraid to find things that don’t make you happy – but for heaven’s sake stop doing those things!

If you want to be happy, do the things that make you happy.

If any of you, any of you, fall into that second group, with a deep doubt that it is possible to be that happy – to be in love with your own life – trust me when I say it’s possible.  It’s not just possible for some of us.  It’s possible for each of you.

I learned too late in life that I had a choice to believe this. I could change what I thought about myself and my life. I was not a prisoner of my past, and I could instead embrace my future. And that’s what got each of you here tonight. If you can’t quite believe now, let me believe it for you: You can have a life and work where you are rewarded for being your complete, authentic self, and you fall in love with your life a little more every day.

Just like any other lifelong relationship, you will have doubts. You will wake up some mornings and think: “I’m just not sure I can do this.” That’s normal. It’s actually a great sign – because it’s a sign you’re about to grow. And you already know that because of how many times you maybe thought it in the last few years.

My mom went to medical school when she was 40 years old and I was 6. She once said, “the amount you learn is directly proportional to how uncomfortable you are.” Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

And I know you already know something about this. You know what helps you. I want to share what helps me, and what helps the people I work with every day:

Breathe. They kick me out of yoga teaching if I don’t remind everybody to breathe. Your breath can’t lie – when you get nervous it gets short, quick, and hard. When you’re content or relaxed it’s slow, steady and expansive. So when you’re scared or nervous, slow your breath down. It will trick your brain into thinking you’re content and relaxed. Trust me, it works.

Pray. Americans have a lot of baggage around the word God, so I try not to say it very much. I encourage you to find a deep, abiding connection with a power greater than yourself. Connect to the mystery and the miracle that your heart continues to beat every minute of every day. Don’t be afraid to get quiet. That leads me to the next one:

Be Grateful. Give thanks for the good things in your life, focus on the things that you have, instead of focusing on what you don’t have yet. Your attention is one of the most valuable currencies you have: what you focus on grows. Remember and give thanks for the things that bring you joy. You might just find those things growing.

Be Kind. Be kind to people. Be kind to everyone. Even the people it’s hard to be kind to. I work with homeless drug addicts, corporate executives, and everyone in between. If I’ve learned anything it’s this: it doesn’t matter the circumstances of life, everyone is suffering. Be kind to the people you meet – everyone you meet. And please remember to be kind to yourself.

Laugh & Have Fun. Do things that make you laugh, just because they make you laugh. If you want to be happy, do things that make you happy. Laughter is like nature’s medicine – it’s also great ab work. Laugh as often as you can, and whenever possible, laugh with other people. Because the folks near you are struggling with all the same demons you are, and they need a laugh just as much as you do: maybe even more.

In closing, I want to say thank you. Thank you to your friends and your families for everything they did that got you here tonight. And thank each of you for not giving up when it got tough, but instead moving a little closer to your dreams every day.

The end of that Marianne Williamson quote I started with tonight is this:

“As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Congratulations. I can’t wait to see how each of you makes the world a little brighter.

Thank you, and good night.

What Ingress Taught Me About Yoga: A Confession

Ingress has been my dirty little secret for the last four months. Ingress is a mobile, geolocation capture-the-flag style game. Anyone with a cell phone anywhere in the world can play, capturing real-world locations on behalf of their team, and creating imaginary links between those locations (called portals.) When you link three portals together, you create a field for your team. There are only two teams – and you pick which one the day you sign up. No takebacks.

It’s a drastically simple game — as a player, you build a score based on how many places you go, capture on behalf of your team, how many you link together, and how many fields. The team is scored on how large all current fields are, based on population density and not geographical area. There are a number of things you can only do with a team of 8 players (or more) – which mandates teamwork, especially the further you progress.

The logistics of the game are the same over and over and over again: go to a place, claim it for your team (maybe after taking it from the other team), link, field. Capture, link, field. Repeat. Over and over and over. The game is always being played. Always. Everywhere. The official slogan of the game? Ingress: The World is Not What It Seems.

*   *   *   *   *

For the last four months, I have played an embarrassing number of hours of this game.  Sometimes it was just stopping in between appointments (‘let me just capture this portal on my way to work’), sometimes it was hours at a time (linking and fielding all 54 sculptures at City Park’s outdoor garden), sometimes driving long distances through the night with fellow players to reclaim key portals from the other team. I’ve been a little ashamed of it, to be honest — it didn’t seem like something a yoga teacher “should” be doing. I never crossed the line into secretive, but I could see how this could become a compulsive addictive hobby for even well-intentioned players. It got too close for comfort for me.

On November 15th, Ingress came to New Orleans for a special event called an “Anomaly.” These monthly events have special rules over a period of 4-5 hours, and players come from all over. All told, we probably had nearly 800 people on both sides playing in New Orleans.

As the host city, our local team pulled out all the stops — coordinating hotel blocks, events, tours, as well as the on-the-ground strategy for gameday. We had help from other teammates from across the country for weeks leading up and over 400 “agents” from out team played. And we won.

Perhaps the strangest irony is that this series of events is called Darsana. In yoga, darsan is what we receive from our teachers when we sit with them. It means “audience,” being able to sit in the presence of the guru. Nothing about Darasana felt like darsan to me.

This event was just like every event I’ve ever been involved in producing in many ways — the core team was stressed to our breaking point, regardless of how much we tried to prepare in advance. Teammates disagreed over strategy, tactics, coordination… and as everyone got more tired, tempers grew short and feelings got hurt. At the end of the event we all were happy to win, and yet… we were also just a little sad. Friendships and romantic relationships are permanent changed, and our team will never be the same.

As we came to the big day, I fell into my old patterns of caretaking while putting my own feelings and experience on the back burner. I ignored my own needs, because it was easier to pay attention to others’. I told myself I wouldn’t do it again, that I could set boundaries this time. But old habits die hard. We all learn the same precious lessons over and over and over again.

*   *   *   *   *

The morning of the Anomaly, I ran into a yoga teaching colleague and mentor and told her I was going to “the opposite of yoga.”

This had become my narrative about Ingress: it was the antithesis of everything I was doing in my life. It was decidedly un-yogic. In some ways, it became an outlet, an escape from the intensity of my day-to-day life. Everytime I played, I felt like I was cheating on yoga, breaking some unspoken rule for yoga teachers. Shouldn’t I be meditating somewhere? Or planning a class? Or practicing myself? Instead, I snuck around “hacking portals” and “blocking links” and “destroying fields.”

I spoke exactly that way about yoga – and still do, sometimes – for the first year of my teaching. Yoga was frivolous, “woo-woo,” a thing relegated to ditzy hippies. Three years ago, every time I told someone at my old suit-wearing job that I was training to be a yoga teacher, I apologized. To my surprise, everyone I told was curious, interested, and impressed. After three years, I’ve finally begun to accept that yoga is more than I imagined, and being a yoga teacher is a more significant job than could have I expected. I might still snicker to myself when my Reiki teacher says things like “auric field” — but I’ve begun to recognize that hint of doubt as the signal of somewhere I need to grow.

When I told my friend I was going to the “opposite of yoga,” she smiled knowingly. “It’s all yoga,” she said. What a pat, trite thing to say, I thought. Lightbulb: it’s where I need to grow.

My doubts, my self-doubts especially, are the shining light where there is work to be done.

Through this whole process, I thought “these poor people who spend all their lives on Ingress. Don’t they have anything truly meaningful in their lives? What are they running away from?” Such sneaky self-righteousness. Ingress taught me just what my yoga practice teaches me: humility and compassion. Because now I’m asking myself: “Don’t I have anything meaningful in my life? What am I running away from?”

Aren’t we all running from something? Don’t we all look for an escape sometimes?

We can use yoga as an escape from the real world, or an opportunity to see it more clearly. We can imagine the yoga studio is a retreat from our daily grind, or we can see it as a place to reveal our lives to us more clearly. Every medicine can be poison if taken in the wrong doses.

I thought Ingress was an escape. In fact, it gave me an opportunity to see myself more clearly.

Now I need a new hobby.

On Happiness

Yesterday evening, I was sitting with a dear friend at one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants, Café Degas. It’s a little french restaurant with killer french onion soup and a great bartender. Uncle Nick makes the best Sazerac in town, and gracious lords over a bar of just four stools — and it may be my favorite bar in town.

Chez Degas, as we call this little corner of Faubourg St. John, is host to the best character study in New Orleans. I have sat there many a night, whether with friends or alone, and met the most incredible residents and visitors and exchanged stories and always learned something. The first night I visited it was almost at closing: I had my first sazerac ever (and after many, many more, I stand by my prior endorsement) and met a horse trainer who makes his living at the track nearby and the Commodore of the Southern Yacht Club. I have sat in one of those few stools discussing crime in New Orleans with a staff photographer of the Times-Picayune, and the joys of dining alone with an art director in the burgeoning local film industry.

But last night, I sat with an old friend and a new friend, and we met Mohsen. A slight man, with wire-framed glasses that are always a little tinted, Mohsen has a palpable accent despite immigrating here from Iran 33 years ago. He came to the U.S. alone at the age of 17, and has created his own life, which now involves working seven days a week at a coffeeshop he owns, that I happen to love.

Mohsed overheard us talking to Uncle Nick about the recent catastrophe in Norway. We all hypothesized on why someone would kill 80 (or 90+, from varying reports) innocent young people — regardless of your political beliefs. The rumor is that he was afraid of an Islamic takeover of Europe.  It was at this point Mohsed made an ironic comment about “those muslims – never trust them” – which is clearly a joke – and that set us out on a conversation about how many people are killed every day, every year, in every country in the world.  He referred to hundreds of thousands killed in Iraq, I thought about Sudan and a missing generation.

He made an apt point: at least 16,000 are killed in the U.S. every year.  He feels safer walking the streets of Tehran than the streets of New Orleans.  He may be right.  His underlying message – we all live in danger, and killing happens everywhere.  We are not told about all of the fear-making things because they aren’t always good news (as in, news that interests people – not new that is good) – so it’s easy to have a skewed perspective on our own reality, let alone foreign reality.

My friend Erica changed the subject to Mohsed’s life – in the typical way I think that U.S.-born Americans are fascinated with the American Dream we have never really had to pursue.  He is impressive – building his own business out of nothing, and now about to close for a month and travel to see family all over the country.

Erica asked the question: “Are you happy?”

Mohsed, without hesitation: “What is happiness?”  It seemed a useless question to him, unnecessary. “Define Happiness.  Tell me what this ‘happiness’ is?”

This has been a constant challenge for me, especially of late.  How much happiness is about fulfillment?  How much happiness comes from a decision to be happy?  Is it about being content with what we have, and striving towards a Buddhist idea of non-attachment?  Does our capitalist-commericialist society constantly telling us (via advertising) that we are missing something, do not have enough, and are not enough set us all up for constant discontent?

Is that discontent the secret to happiness?  Is working to overcome challenges the secret to being happy?

Or, as Mohsed went on to imply, is Happiness a figment? Is it some imaginary concept we have all been promised to give us something to do?

There’s a lot of philosophy written about this, and I don’t pretend to be well read in all of it.  But it is something we all constantly mull over, I believe.

As someone who manages her depression, this is a particularly fascinating question to me.  I’ve talked some about my depression publicly, and would like to talk more about it.  I am especially fascinated by the growing proportion of people who are diagnosed with some variety of mood disorder (depression, anxiety, and so forth) – and with the suggested reasons why.

Part of my depression comes from a feeling of paralysis about how to be happy.  And that being happy is the “correct” state — so when one is unhappy, one is incorrect.  Where did this come from?  When did this start?

There is no easy way to wrap up this thought.  I am thankful for Mohsed, for asking this question: “What is this ‘happiness’?”