Top 5 Thing I Learned in My Yoga Trainings

As I am preparing to guest teach Ayurveda, the Indian holistic health care system that was developed together with yoga, in the Teton Yoga Shala’s 300 hour Yoga Teacher Training. I was reflecting on my past trainings and what I have learned through my investments in myself and my health.

5. Yoga is Deep

I don’t just mean deep stretching, getting into your psoas. But depth in it’s teachings, on the philosophy of what it means to be a human; to go through this human experience. Yoga offers many textured layers to guide me through the harder times in my life and there is no way to distill it all down to a one hour class once a week. Being immersed in a training gave me time to soak in more of this wisdom as I began to integrate it into my own life.

4. My Mat is My Science Lab

Every time I step into my laboratory, (aka my mat) I begin to observe what’s going on inside of myself, physically, mentally, emotionally, and with my breath. As I start to study and classify what is going on I am able to learn and figure my patterns and habits. This awareness then allows me to infer, predict and notice when my patterns and habits arise again. Here is where I have a choice, I can choose to communicate or act differently than how I have in past or just go with what I have always done, but it is my choice.

3. To Love Myself Exactly as I Am

It is so easy to compare myself to others in class. I do it all the time. I catch myself feeling smug when I think I have the “best” posture in the room, or berating myself that I’m not doing the pose well. Yoga teaches the practice of ahimsa, non-harm or non-violence towards others and this most definitely includes towards myself. The practice of ahimsa reminds me that we are all in different places in our life and in our bodies, and that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. Just because I am open in one part of my body or my mind, doesn’t mean I will be open in another. During teacher training I was able to look and observe different bodies and learn to appreciate them all. There is no such thing as perfection, it’s all a game our ego loves to play and society supports perfection by buying front row tickets.

2. To Relax in the Pose is More Important Than How It Looks

This seems a little strange at first, especially when so much emphasis can be put on the alignment of the pose. But when I can relax in the face of discomfort, to let go of my racing thoughts, my ego, my jaw even, when I soften, that’s when I learn more about who I am in the moment and who I can be when things are not going my way. It’s a constant reminder to stop look around and not take myself so seriously.

1. Practice Implies Repetition

My teachers Eddie Modestini and Nicki Doane say this often. At first it appears simple, of course practice implies repetition. It’s the doing part that is often hard, the commitment to myself. To honor and listen to my body. To slow down and get quiet and hear my own inner intuition. To step back to the mat day after day, even when I don’t feel like it, to put in the time, sweat, laughter, tears and most of all presence. To show up for all parts of my life.

Want to deepen your yoga practice? Join myself, Adi Amar, Angela Tong, Vanessa Sulzer, Niki Sue Mueller, Amanda Botur, and Heather Franklin for the 300 hour teacher training at the Teton Yoga Shala in Jackson, Wyoming, October 4th-November 6th 2015.

To learn more or sign up click here.

P.S. The early bird pricing ends August 20th!

Small Fights for Big Struggles

My husband and I move between houses twice a year and although I have been doing this for several years, I am even more overwhelmed by the task. The repeated bi-annual chore of packing, moving, and setting up home has not developed into skill set of efficiency. Instead, each year the struggle increases in accordance to my resistance. Why repeatedly resist the task when inevitably it only intensives the struggle? Why do I allow myself to believe ANY other task is more important than moving?

Resistance is common when making changes or trying something new. This is because  the mind and body are trying to keep us safe, comfortable, and in the realm of what we already know. When we try something different, it triggers our amygdala, which processes memory, decision making and emotional reactions. Feelings of risk and fear of the unknown often engage our sympathetic nervous system—the fight, flight or freeze response. The sympathetic nervous system is one half of our autonomic nervous system which controls our body’s involuntary actions. As the stress response is activated our heart rate, respiration and blood pressure increase preparing us for action.  The freeze response instead conserves our energy when we feel there is no hope in trying to fight or flee. Even trying something new that we know will be good for us can elicit these alarms.

My freeze response was deeply engaged as I lived amongst scores of unpacked boxes crowding almost all livable space. This reaction of being wide eyed and idle did not reduce the pressure I was feeling. Eventually I broke it down into more manageable steps or fights. I engaged in small tussles with the threat—ones which I knew I could win. I set the timer for 15 minute battles and was impressed on how much I could get done. Based on the size of the mess I didn’t think such a short amount of time could make a difference. I longed for immediate gratification but found that smaller steps created the momentum I needed to push past the emotional resistance when facing a challenge. Soon, resistance fell way to a movement which carried me through the stagnant feelings of being overwhelmed.


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Outer Beauty Taboos You Can Break

I spent this last weekend with my Ayurveda teacher and business mentor at her annual summer retreat. It was over the pass in Alta, Wyoming. Around 30 women from across North America gathered together to see what was possible in three days. To meet face to face after connecting virtually through cables and bytes. A fourth day was devoted to my Mastermind group of six, led by our mentor Cate Stillman. As we held space for one another throughout the weekend many concepts, ideas, and thoughts were examined and broken apart. The one that had the biggest impact on me was the concept of beauty; inner and outer beauty. We talked about how when beauty is joined with truth and goodness it creates the evolutionary potential to expand. We discussed that when you let go of that which holds you back in life you are then free to take the next step, and this is when you begin to have impact on those around you.

When making changes in life, whether habits, thought patterns, or ways of being, resistance pops up and tries to keep us safe by leaving things the way they’ve always been. It’s familiar, we’ve lived it before and we know what will happen. Stepping outside of the familiarity is where the danger lies. What might happen? What might go wrong? We have no idea, we are only left with our imagination. My favorite book on this subject is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

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During the retreat we gathered together with a purpose, with a desire to deepen the conversation around awakening to our fullest potential. With the support of the group I looked within at my own beliefs, my thought patterns, as well as where I wanted to go, and in this search many challenges surfaced. My challenges, which I often refer to as my resistance, came out and cause me to hold back, wanting to keep me safe in my old way of being. The resistance begins before I can see the shift, the new habit or pattern, and in feeling this resistance while not seeing the results it is easy to give up. When I am wanting to be somewhere I’m not, all I can see is the end result. My mind fixated on where I want to be rather than what steps I need to take to get there. When I want to forgo the process I know I need to slow down. During this time as the resistance arises, the friction builds. There is a rub, an irritation, something annoying that’s bothering me.

When I allow myself to stay with the feeling, with the rub, it creates heat, in yoga we call this tapas. This heat or fire can burn away or clarify what is really at heart. Not staying held back or trapped in my old pattern, my old belief, but allowing the old, the unnecessary to fall away, to make space, to make room for the new. Nature abhors a vacuum, new space will soon be filled, but this time, (here is the work) with conscious patterns, habits, and thoughts.

I believe that we are all made up of energy. In Ayurveda it is taught that like increases like and opposites decrease. Within this teaching when energy is moving in a particular direction it gains momentum, traction. To stop moving in that direction and change in 180°, can be very challenging. Think about a large barge that has so much weight and energy moving forward, to make a shift will require huge amounts of energy and time. Often it feels easier to stay on the path, doing the comfortable and what feels the most familiar.

At the retreat there was a discussion about lining up your internal beauty with your external beauty. We talked about the potential of who we can become, and while exploring this potential we must look at the balance of good, truth, and beauty. In this triad beauty has often been downplayed.

What would be the consequence of downplaying goodness in society? How about truth? I’m not sure I want to live in a world that doesn’t have those attributes.

But when you look around planet earth there is so much natural beauty, how can it not be included? What are the consequences of not having beauty in our world?

The idea of beauty has come and gone for me over the years. There have been times in my life that I have made an effort to care for my outer beauty and other phases that I haven’t given it much thought. When I lived in San Diego I took Graphic Design classes and loved dressing up for class. Using my creativity to put together an outfit to outwardly reflect how I felt inside. One of my teachers, Candice Lopez, often used to comment on my outfits and the inspiration I would spark. When I moved to Jackson there wasn’t as many occasions to dress up and I’ve slowly slipped back into a rut of not taking the time or care to put forth the effort. At first I told myself this is so I would fit in better and not stand out, so that I would feel more comfortable. But over the weekend I realized it wasn’t just so I would feel more comfortable, it was also so others around me would feel more comfortable.

I have been spending time cleaning up my inner body and thoughts, and I have been neglecting my outer body. By not expressing myself creatively with joy as I decide what to wear, I am not expressing my truth. I am allowing my thoughts to subconsciously tell myself I don’t look good, I’m not worth it to dress how I want. I’ve created a chasm between this inner and outer version of myself.

Through the discussion this weekend I realized I have been hiding out behind this story for a while. Allowing it to pull my energy in a direction that is not aligned with how I want to see and feel about myself. As a female there is often cultural and religious shame in the area of beauty. There is so much judgement, objectification, and rejection all based on how you look on the outside. I have often felt and have been told that it is selfish and shallow to spend time making myself feel beautiful. I have judged other women based on how much time it looked like they took, or mentioned it took to get ready. As I struggle and notice the resistance arise around cultivating my outer beauty I reflect back on the impact it’s had on my lack of confidence.

When I show up just having thrown on what was most comfortable at home, I feel uncomfortable around others who have taken time on themselves. When I tell myself it doesn’t matter how I look, I tell myself it doesn’t matter how I feel. I am not saying this as a way to judge myself or others, but I say this as I look at the lies I have told myself over the years. That I am not important or valuable enough to care for. I don’t believe your value can be derived from anyone else, it has to come from within. For if you don’t believe this yourself it doesn’t really matter what anyone else says. As I begin to care and love myself for who I am today, I can begin to express that love by taking care of the only person I truly can, myself.


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Why Decisions are Afraid of the Truth

Much of my life I have believed there is a right way and a wrong way, and of course, my way is the right way. This has been the cause of many problems in my adult life, especially with those that I am closest with. This black/white, good/bad, right/wrong doesn’t leave much room for what’s in the middle. The older I get, the more I realize and see the in between. It is, it seems, what make up most of life. Is my belief system affected, programed by such binary thoughts, patterns?

Often I have been angry and frustrated, feeling that others weren’t listening to me, not doing something my way. In general, I struggle with deciding. Decisions are hard for me. I worry if I am going to choose the right way or wrong way, and what others will think of me, of my choice?

The word decide means a conclusion or resolution reached after consideration. The suffix of decide -cide is the same as in insecticide or homicide, denoting a person or substance that kills. In Latin the suffix means to cut. To choose one idea, path, or action all other options have to be cut away or killed.

When I am making a decision I am so concerned on making the right choice, on how I will be viewed, that I do not feel resolute. Instead, I flip flop back and forth worried I’ll mess up and choose the worst option. This brings up feelings of insecurity, of wanting to be decisive but knowing I am not. I want to be sure, to be committed to what I decided but more than that I don’t want to be wrong. I don’t want to be told that I chose poorly. So I grip tight  to my way and hope that I won’t be found out. But what if there isn’t a wrong or right for every decision?

As I begin to examine my beliefs more questions started to come up. What if it’s right for me now, and not tomorrow? Or what if it’s right to everyone involved? Or what if I’m just exploring and will learn from either choice I make? What if at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if I took option A or option B as long as I listened to my heart?

Maybe it’s more about listening to myself, trusting myself to make the best decision in the moment, not to labor back and forth on every little point. I want to be proud of the decision I make, to stand behind what I want in my life and be able to say this made the most sense to me in the moment. This is what I decided right now and it doesn’t mean that everyone has to follow along with my choice. It doesn’t mean others need to confirm my choice, they have their own path to follow, they have their own decisions to make. Maybe I don’t need their approval to feel okay with my decision.


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Why Sprouts Are the New Black

I just returned home to full on spring. The transitions between the seasons remind me to pause and observe what shifts in my environment. It’s the time when I can still remember and even feel the last season, yet I get glimpses of what is around the corner. When I first moved to San Diego I loved the moderate climate and lack of seasons year round. But after a few years, I began to miss these transitions, these markers throughout the year. When I moved to Wyoming and experienced the annual cycle once again I was so drawn to the change that has a consistent feel to it as it circles around.

In Ayurveda it is believed that what is going on in the outer environment has an effect on our inner environment. We are a part of the world around us. One of the major tenants in Ayurveda is like increases like and opposites decrease. For example, if I am hot and I go into a hot room I will only get hotter, but if I am hot and put a cool towel on the back of my neck I will cool down. While this may seem obvious, it can be more subtle. If I feel spacey and ungrounded and eat light, airy foods such a popcorn or crackers that will increase the spacey airy qualities that I am feeling. Where as if I eat grounding, heavy foods such as roasted beets or avocado I will bring myself back into balance. Ignoring this fact will make life more challenging, as it can push people out of balance.

In todays modern world it is possible to get almost all types of food any time of the year, regardless if it is in season. For thousands of years humans were only able to eat that which was in season and mostly local. I think it’s so cool that nature offers us the foods that will help keep us in balance every season. In the summer, the hottest time the year, we have cooling foods such as berries, cucumbers, mint, greens and other wonderful vegetables. In the fall when the weather is dry and windy we have heavier root vegetables and squashes to help keep us grounded and prepare for the winter to come.

Growing up in Alaska, spring was not my favorite season. We called it breakup. When the snow and ice started to melt and breakup during the day and refreeze at night. This back and forth seemed to go on forever, and with it mixed the lovely odor of defrosting dog poop left out all winter. Spring wasn’t what I saw in pictures of the Lower 48 with flowers coming out and green grass.

But spring is a season of rebirth, renewal and growth, shaking off the heaviness of winter as all the birds return and leaves begin to bud. I wish to shed the layers that kept me cocooned throughout the darkest portion of the year and observe what is beginning to happen around me. This is the time of the year my taste buds crave the light, crisp and even bitter flavors of greens, and my new favorite, sprouts.

Sprouts, a seemingly simple food can have huge impacts on how I feel. Sprouts with their crunchy texture and plethora of flavors can be added to salads, on top of soups or in green smoothies. It’s super easy to sprout at home. When eating sprouts you are getting the full intelligence and life force of the entire plant in an easy to digest form. If you are growing them yourself you are saving on shipping and packing, and eating very locally. Sprouts are very alkalizing to your body, helping to reduce acidity which has been linked to illness and cancer. Sprouts have a very high fiber and vitamin content. When you sprout you take a small amount of seeds and create a huge amount of food in comparison. This means that sprouts are very inexpensive way to get some amazing nutrients.

There are lots of different ways to sprout, the simplest is a mason jar with a mesh lid screwed on top. You can also get a easy sprout sprourter from the folks at Sprout People.

I would love to hear from you, let me know if you have ever sprouted before and if so what was your favorite method.

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How Oil Helped Me to Befriend My Body

Growing up I was often told that I was selfish and only thought about myself. And while that may have been very true, I some how missed the boat when it came to caring for myself. I learned not to trust my body, my thoughts and my emotions as so much of the feedback I received from the outside world seemed to contradict what was going on in my inside world. I eventually began to mistrust myself and disregard any of my internal intelligence. I have spent too much time looking outside of myself for the answers. I needed to learn to listen to and honor my body instead of beating myself up and denying what was going on inside.

I first started studying Ayurveda in 2011. Ayur means life and veda means knowledge or wisdom. It is a returning to earth based rhythms and is often referred to as kitchen medicine. Ayurveda believes that health and wellness is based on the balance of mind, body and spirit. At that time I was learning so many new self care techniques and one of them was self-massage with oil. I remember when I first heard about it I was so resistant to this practice. It wasn’t so much about the oil (my skin is incredibly parched and actually loves the oil) but it was the extra time the practice would add to my day. At that point, I viewed any extra time I spent on caring for myself as being selfish. I thought that I needed to be strict and stern with myself or these selfish desires would crop up and people would know how awful I was as a person.

When I began to befriend my body and treat myself as I would my best friend, fears, emotions, and thoughts of unworthiness came out of hiding. For me, it’s taken many little steps to move in the direction of looking at myself with compassion, understanding, and self-love. Self-love, which as a child I viewed as evil. I was supposed to love others, not myself, since that would be a sign of the selfish, awful, no good person that really lived inside of me.

It didn’t take me long to start to crave the feeling of self-massage, using my hands to appreciate my body, my physical form. A month or two later a friend asked what I had learned that was creating the biggest impact. Without a doubt the oil self-massage was the most most life changing. It may sound a little odd, but the word for oil in sanskrit, the ancient Indian language that yoga and Ayurveda use, is snigdha which is also the world for love! Oil creates a smoothness (much needed for my dry, rough skin) lubrication and vigor. It’s as if I am rubbing my whole body with love and nourishment, something that was lacking from my life. I am taking time to be with myself, to listen, observe and notice what I may have missed during the busyness of my day.

There are so many different types of oil you can use for self-massage. First off you want a high quality organic oil. Your skin is your body’s largest organ. Whatever you put on your skin is absorbed directly into your blood stream. Unlike food and IMG_4571webbeverages, that you ingest through your mouth, which first travel through your liver before entering your bloodstream, the skin gives you direct access. In fact lotion, created mostly from oil and water (which if you remember from school don’t mix) are emulsified. Separately oil and water are fine, but once you’ve combined the two they can go rancid, which is why preservatives and other chemicals are needed to increase the shelf life. When you use a high quality organic oil that would be safe to ingest you don’t have to worry about what other chemicals and toxins you could be adding to your body. My favorite is sesame oil from Banyan Botanical. You don’t use the toasted sesame oil sold in the grocery store. You can also use coconut oil, sunflower oil, almond oil or even olive oil. Be sure to avoid vegetable oil, canola oil or any cheap blended oil found in the supermarket. I also add a few drops of essential oils to my sesame oil, lavender and ylang ylang being my favorite mix.

Self-massage was one of my first steps to befriending my body. From this one habit I began to set the action in motion of taking better care of myself. Instead being so harsh, rough and critical towards myself, I was learning to soften and listen.

I need to remind myself almost daily that there is no such thing as perfection and even if there was, it would be boring. As you look for the next step you can take, start small. Often we want things yesterday, and in todays modern digital age where things happen instantaneously we often want the big change overnight. But it’s the smaller step by step changes that have more of a lasting effect. Most days my self-massage adds a few extra minutes to my routine. If I have it, it is luxurious to take time and really rub the oil in. What’s one area in your life that you could take a small step towards being kind to your body?

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People Who Keep Me Small

Water and sunset

Someone recommended that I write a list of the people who keep me small and people who can support me. As I sat down, what really struck me is that at the top of the list, and the only name that made the list, was myself. I allow my ego, my fear, my trepidation to hold me back in a pattern of not feeling free to express myself. To not allow others around me, which most definitely includes myself, know what I truly want or desire. Why is this? Because I don’t want to rock the boat? Because I don’t want to be known as someone who might change their mind down the road? Because I might make the wrong choice, the wrong decision? Because I might be judged, not liked and rejected. Because I may be left on my own and not survive? Because I’m not sure if I really do belong, if I really do matter and I don’t really want to find out? Because what if it really is true? What if I really am as horrible as I imagine myself to be? What would that mean? How would I feel about it being true? I want to get over this so I can move past the fear the keeps me stuck — that which keeps me from living my brilliance. I want to explore how to live the truth in my life.

Playing small in my life keeps me from stating my wants and desires, from giving myself a voice. In doing this, I allow others to make choices and decisions for me. I have allowed myself not to take responsibility for what happens, but given myself a way to complain and blame everyone else for how unhappy I am. It gives me the false sense of feeling better about myself since I wouldn’t have done this to myself. But really, shouldn’t I be the one in the driver’s seat of my life? Aren’t I the one responsible for myself and what goes on regardless?

I don’t feel that I have this figured out by any means. But that last sentence I wrote struck me, I am the one responsible for myself, my life, and how I feel. Hiding behind my fear and insecurities is only harming myself. With the possibility of eventually wearing on the patience of those who are on the receiving end of unhappiness and criticism. Sitting out in hopes that I don’t have to make a decision and then I can attack someone else for what I’m not happy with doesn’t make much sense. Stay tuned to see where this process will take me next.


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