Tag: transformation

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.

Coffee and Change

The heat of the summer brings madness. Heat so heavy it seems inescapable. Pressure so intense it’s suffocating.

This summer is no different. The world is a little upside down lately. The political situation in the US is the most watched reality show in history. The Brexit vote signaled a dismantling of the European Union, based entirely on ignorance and xenophobia. And truly unfathomable acts of violence have torn spirits from Orlando to Minneapolis, Turkey to Taipei, Bangladesh to South Sudan.


I love coffee.

Iced, drip, cappuccino, latte, mocha, cortado. I’ll drink it brewed with dishwater, tamped into espresso machines that cost more than fine cars, or cold brewed overnight. I love coffee so much that even when I give up caffeine, I still drink decaf. There’s something about the warm, nutty flavor of coffee, subtle bitterness, coating of crema, slight buzz — it makes me feel like myself again.

Coffee beans are seeds that grow inside a cherry-like berry. They grow on the sides of mountains in subtropical climates. The berries are hand-picked, seeds separated and soaked, then dried. The beans are roasted, rested, ground, tamped, heated, soaked, steamed, brewed.

It takes a lot of hot, hard work to make me feel like myself again.

Perhaps the heat of summer is bringing us to a boiling point. Perhaps this steam is whistling to us as shouts of “Black Lives Matter,” “Obama can’t take my guns,” and “No Bigots, No Borders.” Perhaps the pressure of violence is pushing us closer to each other. Perhaps we’re about to be transformed into ourselves again.

Compassion and empathy ask us to see ourselves in others. It asks us to see ourselves in young men so angry they take the innocent lives of 48. To feel the overflowing frustration of an Army vet whom snipers men in blue. To feel the fear of men in uniform, facing violence every day, make assumptions based on the color of someone’s skin. To witness the ill-advised votes of people so afraid of someone encroaching on our homes.

We are all angry. We all make assumptions. We are all afraid.

Until we see our own anger, until we humble our assumptions, until we can sit with our own fear, nothing will change. If we can’t see ourselves in the faces of others, hear our voices in their shouts for justice, feel their hearts breaking inside our own chests: we will never be transformed.

The heat of this summer is bringing us to a boiling point: heat rises, bringing everything to the surface. Under the right heat and the right pressure, we transform simple green seeds into rich coffee beans, tiny beans to grounds rich like soil, add heat and pressure: coffee.

The heat of this summer – the pressure in our system – has the potential to transform us. With wisdom, with patience, and with artistry — let’s use the heat of this summer to make something beautiful. Let’s become ourselves again.


Why Do Yoga Every Damn Day

I’ll be honest, I didn’t intend to become a yoga teacher. I enrolled in teacher training very selfishly because I loved yoga, and I wanted to do more of it, and more deeply. I had no interest in sharing that with any of you, thank you very much.

Then, much to my surprise, it turns out that nothing makes me happier than teaching yoga.

I teach yoga because it changed me. It changed my body, but it also changed my perspective, my worldview, my understanding of myself, my concept of God, and my general opinion of wearing tights in public. With very, very few exceptions, my yoga practice has vastly changed my life for the better.

Now, let me clear: I don’t believe that I can change you, your perspective, or your worldview. In fact, I try to live and work under the assumption that I can’t do any of those things. But I do feel a great privilege of sharing the practice that has been shared with me, exploring and explaining it in a way that I hope is useful to you.

Because I do believe that yoga will change you.

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In January 2014 — after I quit my “real” job — I knew I needed structure so I signed up for an Iyengar Yoga Intensive at Yoga Bywater. All my favorite yoga friends raved about Heide, her teaching, and the practice. They also warned me how much it sucked. How much they hated waking up that early, and how hard it was.

I’ve come to believe that often the best things are also the worst things – so that seemingly mixed endorsement was exactly what I needed to be sold.

For nearly eight months, I woke up to practice from 7:30-9:30 am, five days a week. Ten hours a week of yoga changed my body, and quickly. I knelt with wooden wedges pushed into my knee creases, did backbends over wooden blocks, through metal folding chairs, and in ropes tied to a wall. I did handstands every single morning. I held downward facing dog for five straight minutes (eventually). I did 153,000 leg lifts. I did most of it without complaining, griping, or whining. Mostly.

The level of precision required in Iyengar practice is immense and impressive. After ten years of vinyasa yoga, and two years of teaching, I thought I knew some things about my body and alignment. In those eight months, my alignment was fine tuned — it was like before I was only spinning the Big Radio Dial to get into the general vicinity. Now I was spinning the Little Dial, getting clearer and clearer and clearer.

“My right hip is tight,” became “My anterior inner left groin is restricted, my posterior inner right groin is stuck, my right sacrum pulls to the left, and my piriformis is hypertonic.”  I can differentiate between the heads of all three hamstrings, and know which one is being pulled by my hyper-lordotic pelvis, and which one makes my knee hurt. I became acutely aware of which ribs were moving and which weren’t. I can now feel exactly where my 7th rib pulls away from my spine. My body awareness skyrocketed.

I learned the first four lines of the yoga sutras by heart. I chanted the invocation to Patanjali. I began to understand the value of this text by putting it into practice in my body.

But perhaps most important? Where I used to think I didn’t even enough “will power,” I now know my tendency is to work so hard that I injure myself. I never think what I’m doing is enough. I’m a show-off. And I hate how I look when I walk.

I learned that a teacher who sees me every morning learns what I can see about myself – and what I can’t see. She lovingly reminds me that “you think you’re doing it, but you’re not doing it.” She’s my accountability. She’s a balanced view of my practice. She shows me when to work harder and when to ease up.

And the difference between how she sees me and how I see myself is a direct measure of how much I still have to learn.

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A year ago, I started offering the same kind of short-form, intense practice in my own bhakti-infused vinyasa style. And I discovered how magical it is to watch people change in such a short period of time. To push people harder than they think they can be pushed, and also to empower them go easier on themselves. I do my best to see people lovingly yet honestly, and share what I see.

I cannot change you and I cannot make you see about yourself what you don’t see yet. But I can share what I see, lovingly and honestly. I can be a witness to your transformation. Sometimes, when I’m lucky, I can offer useful feedback that will enable you to change yourself. And I will always learn from you, I will always be inspired when you show up every morning at 6:30am, and I will always be grateful that you let me share the beauty of this privilege of teaching you. Every. Single. Morning.

If you have questions about practicing this way, send me an email.  Or bite the bullet and try it. We start Monday, January 4th at 6:30am.

I dare you.


What Hurricane Katrina taught me about yoga

“Purification, Refinement, Surrender. These are the practical steps on the path of yoga.”

– Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra II.1, (trans. by Alistair Shearer)

I’ve gone back to basics lately with my practice, my teaching, and even my thinking about yoga. With over 1,000 hours of teaching, I keep coming back to the same question in my writing and conversation with other teachers: What is yoga, anyway?

My recent study with Doug Keller only underlined that question in my mind. He has a lovely overview of the history of yoga in his book about yoga philosophy Heart of the Yogi. He traces the long history of yoga – philosophy, practice, posture – to reveal there are only a few things that tie them all together: mindfulness and action.

Yoga is sometimes defined as Skill in Action. I like that.

I stayed with my mom over the weekend that I studied with Doug. She doesn’t ‘do’ yoga, so in many ways she’s my best audience. How can I explain yoga to someone who doesn’t already know what it is? I said to her, “It’s kinda like what they say about pornography: you know it when you see it.”

“That is not a good answer,” mom replied.

And she’s right.

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I have been avoiding the anniversary of The Thing this weekend. My teacher Mitchel is in town, and I’m looking forward to his Bowspring workshops and vinyasa classes. I would like very much to go on about my business, and not get sucked in to the ten-year anniversary. But yoga won’t let me.

Purification. That’s what fire does, and it’s why fire is often used as a metaphor to describe the yoga practice. Purification is not a pleasant process, and it usually requires tremendous hard work and a decent amount of discomfort – if not pain. Fire burns away everything that isn’t real.

Water also washes away everything that isn’t real. Water washed away everything that wasn’t permanent, that wasn’t deeply rooted, that wasn’t fully committed.

Refinement. Once the heat of the practice has built, then the true work begins. It’s in the tiny movements in our body that real change happens. We want to find a showy pincha mayurasana to post on Instagram, but we know that’s just the shell. The real work happens on the inside, when we feel those small adjustments starting to reveal huge change. Looking strong doesn’t hold a candle to feeling strong.

The last ten years have been a constant process of refinement. That has meant looking at the things we were doing – as individuals, community, leadership – thing things that were working, and the things that weren’t. Being brave and ruthless about our choices, doing our best to keep the heart of  our city along the way.

As my teacher Heide says: “You don’t learn perfectly. It’s not a straight line forward.”

Surrender. Everybody knows the best yoga pose is Savasana – after 60 or 90 minutes of working, you get to rest. Just rest. And no rest comes easier than the rest after hard, challenging work. Honestly, I MUST work that hard to truly surrender. Because surrender is the hardest part.

Surrender means accepting things as they are, even if they aren’t where you want them to be. Yet. It means yielding to the wisdom the pose has to offer you – letting the pose do you, instead of you doing the pose.

Surrender means being willing to let your life be molded by a power beyond your imagination. It’s a willingness to be humble, to make mistakes, to fail, to learn, and to grow. That is my understanding of yoga.

Yoga is a willingness to be humble, to make mistakes, to fail, to learn, and to grow.

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I want to avoid the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The tenth anniversary of a 17 hour drive to Houston; the tenth anniversary of watching helplessly while my city flooded and idiots on CNN called Elysian Fields Avenue “Elephant Farms Road”; the tenth anniversary of sharing a twin bed in a stranger’s Baton Rouge apartment; the tenth anniversary of a six-week exile from my home; the tenth anniversary of One Dead In Attic; the tenth anniversary of Superdome rapes; the tenth anniversary of watching my city-family being abandoned by a government I had trusted until that moment; the tenth anniversary of deep sense of uncertainty, foreboding, and tremendous loss.

I am not interested in reliving it. It purified me, and for that I will be forever grateful, in a strange, perverted way.

Today, I’m working on eternal refinement – and most importantly, surrender.

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I’ll be at K10 on the Levee on Saturday morning representing Wild Lotus, and the rest of the weekend I’ll be practicing with Mitchel. Come give me a hug. And do some yoga. It helps, I promise.

Die in a Fire: Kali, Full Moons, and Transformations

“Go die in a fire.” It’s one of my favorite off-the-cuff, half-joking missives. I try not to use them so much anymore, especially in mixed company, but my Edward Gorey-loving self still holds on tight to those passive aggressive idioms.

Kali, by Raja Ravi Varma [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This morning was a “blood moon eclipse” – which even if you aren’t superstitious sounds pretty foreboding.  According to astrology experts on the internet, any eclipse is a sign of transformation — a changing from one thing to the next.  Add blood to that.  Woof.

Sometimes transformation happens gradually, like the unfolding of a beautiful flower. Usually, however, it’s uncomfortable, frustrating, and downright terrifying.  Fire is a central element in most pujas (Hindu religious ceremonies) — and not by accident.  We offer things to the fire to be devoured, destroyed, permanently transformed.  What do want to be transformed, to be burned up, to be completely dissolved in order to make way for something new?

That’s Kali. She is fierce, transformative. She is the darkness — that we can’t quite see, the fire in our belly we don’t quite understand. She is nearly uncontrollable, as we see in the end of her myth, which goes a little like this:

A long time ago, in a land far, far away, a band of demons had taken over the earth.  They were pillaging towns, taunting yogis, and tipping cows.  The humans on earth grew very frightened, and began to pray to the gods above to rescue them.

The gods looked down from their celestial mountain tops, and saw all the devastation happening on earth.  They gathered a group of their greatest warriors to go down to defeat the demons.  They were gods, after all – what could go wrong?

The gods descended to earth and began to fight the demons – chopping off heads with long sabers, skewering torsos with tridents – but something went wrong.  The enemy only seemed to get more plentiful as they fought.  Finally Shiva, one of the most powerful gods, realized every time a drop of the demon blood hit the earth a new demon sprang up.  They were Raktabijas — literally “blood seed” demons.

Once the gods realized their usual methods were useless against this opponent, they retreat back to their mountaintops. They gather in heaven, a little panicked and afraid themselves.  After much discussion, they finally turn to Durga – the chief goddess – and plea for her help.

After much urging, Durga transforms into Kali – the black one – and descends to earth. Kali is vicious, ferocious, with her near-black skin and long tongue. She begins not just to fight the raktabijas, but to devour them whole.  She continues fearlessly, fiercely, until she has consumed all of the enemy.  She’s like a whirlwind of destruction.

The gods and humans are grateful for her victory, but then something terrifying happens: just like a fire that spreads through a forest, uncontrollable, Kali has developed a blood lust. She begins searching the countryside for more demons, becoming almost as terrible as the demons.  She’s not

Shiva, Kali’s consort, descends to earth trying to snap her out of it — but she even doesn’t know him, she is so singly focused.  Unable to get her attention, Shiva literally stands in her way, and allows himself to be trampled by her fierce dance.  Once he is under her feet, she realizes what she’s done — and her rage settles.  Shiva and Kali return to heaven, and the villagers on earth begin to return to their lives.

Yoga is traditionally a practice of transformation.  We use tapas (heat) in our practice to burn up the things we don’t need anymore.  My favorite translation of yoga sutra 2.1: “Purification, Refinement, Surrender: these are the practical steps on the path of yoga.” Some days the purification is a slow burn: allowing our practice to work gradually but inevitably in our bodies and minds.  And some days we need to light a firecracker in the middle of the TNT in our spirits, and watch the sparks fly.

That’s Kali.  Kali is the beast unleashed.  She’s in each of us, waiting, ready to pounce.

Sometimes by lighting that match and putting it to the proverbial fuse, we break through the barriers that won’t be eroded by the gentle, gradual process.  Let me clear: this is not comfortable.  It’s usually not fun.  But sometimes, Kali is necessary.

Kali’s blackness is relevant. Even as children, what we fear the most is that which we can’t see. It’s the sound in the darkness that starts our overactive imaginations building giant monsters on their way to devour us — at least when we’re kids they give us night lights. In my own life, it’s the things that are just beyond my vision or grasp that are the most frightening. That amorphous foreboding feeling that I can’t quite wrangle. Like my finances. Or my future.  In fact, sometimes Kali is translated as “time.”

I encourage you to own the darkness in your life that is growing like a monster in your childhood bedroom.  Recognize the thing that you’ve been avoiding, that has morphed in the background into a giant demon before you knew it.  And then give it to the flames.  Tell it to go die in a fire.

And then just wait.  Let the fire do its work.  After the last ember burns out, see what’s left in the ashes — it might just surprise you.

An important post script:

“Purification, Refinement, Surrender: these are the practical steps on the path of yoga.”  Yoga doesn’t end with the purification — Kali cannot be left to run wild.  We can’t live in Kali energy all the time.  As Nietzsche says, “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.”

Shiva, Kali’s lover, descends to earth, to stand in her way.  He represents pure love in that moment, willing to sacrifice his self, his ego entirely to rescue Kali from herself.  I wouldn’t be a yoga teacher if I didn’t add: Love is the antidote for transforming permanently into the monster.