A Catalyst for Change

Looking back at the times I was the most lost, the most broken and damaged I have ever felt, I remember feeling like it would never end. It is so easy to swim in despair and stay there……and more importantly, on some level, want to stay there.

As humans, we are so good at adapting whether we realize it or not. When we experience discomfort, pain, trauma, grief, loss we find ways to cope. That new behavior or story we create to justify what we believe creates a “new normal” that can stick around our whole lives and we forget who we were before or without that experience. We become comfortable with our new patterns and attach to the avoidance of pain and the desire for pleasure.

A child being told in various ways both directly and indirectly that she is not good enough, not smart enough, too fat, too weak, too dark, too ugly, too visible, unworthy, and on, and on…may grow up to prefer to be invisible. Coping strategies she develops may include hiding behind the things, behaviors, and people where she feels the most comfort, the most safe. Maybe she learns to believe and own all of those opinions of others and becomes addicted to the coping strategies she developed over time.

We create patterns in our mind, in our heart, and habits in our lives to protect ourselves. We numb ourselves, or hide, or resist, or run away, or lash out, or project on to those around us. At one extreme, some patterns can be irreparably more damaging to ourselves and others than the deeply buried motivation for the behavior itself. And at the other extreme, some patterns are much more subtle.

Sometimes it is simply denial of what we see happening before us. Sometimes it is withdrawing from the people in our lives or blaming them for our own misery. Sometimes it is the jokes we tell at our own expense to deflect or redirect how we really feel. And sometimes it is the stories we tell ourselves, the beliefs we hold, out of habit that is required to continue the very patterns of behavior we’ve created and so the vicious cycle of self-sabotage continues.

So how do we get off this merry-go-round? Sometimes *life* takes care of it for us and brings us to our knees. Sometimes hitting “rock bottom” is all that it takes for the motivation of a better way of living and trying to be a better person becomes a clear choice regardless of how difficult the process of recovery can seem. And sometimes we need a true catalyst for change.

The element of Tapas in yoga is knows as self-discipline, austerity, and is essential for transformation. It is the consistent effort to see ourselves clearly, honestly, and commit to the work required no matter how uncomfortable or emotionally painful the experience may be.

We will tell ourselves and those around us stories about why we can’t do something or why we have to do things one way versus another. Those patterns are often based in the belief that “good” feelings and positive experiences are the only ones worth having. It is the belief that only the things that we (think) we want can be considered blessings and answered prayers. This belief assumes that gifts of happiness are made only of rainbows and lollipops and any other feelings or experience must be thrown away with the trash, blocked out of our memory, and avoided like the plague. And we wonder why some patterns in our life continue to repeat…

A consistent yoga practice allows us to dedicate that time on our mat to be in our body, to listen to the sensations, thoughts, and feelings that come up. It allows us to address the beliefs that suddenly have no where else to hide, and in order to sustain the effort we learn to detach and continuously come back to our breath instead. As insecurities arise, as our ego becomes challenged, as we are made to feel raw and exposed, this practice of Tapas teaches us to build strength, openness, and resilience through the discomfort. We are taught to choose compassion in order to survive. We learn that without challenges there’s no reason, nor is there the ability, for us to grow.

And so that girl who believed once she was damaged beyond repair, begins to fall in love…with herself and with truly living. She begins to embrace and accept her whole self–her past, her present, and future. She begins to treat herself and others with love rather than react from a place of fear. Through her practice, she discovers the ability to see and stand in her power. She finally begins to understand that living life is not about a superficial sense of feeling “good” because the moments of darkness helped to define her light. And as the journey continues, living a life of gratitude replaces a life once filled with despair.

The Answer is Experience

“What is the point?”

An exasperated student asked herself this when she was first introduced to the Ashtanga method of Yoga Asana (physical postures). Depending on how one is exposed to this method or the expectations of yoga the student already has, it can feel very fast, quite vigorous, and for some unnecessarily challenging.

This question, to me, has many layers and it goes far beyond what method of yoga a student prefers to practice. I also hear this question in those who have a certain belief about themselves, their body, and what yoga is in fact meant to do for the practitioner.

I am certain that every yoga teacher has also heard someone tell them at least one of the following: “I’m not flexible enough.” I’m not strong enough.” “My body doesn’t move that way.” “I have too much/not enough _____________.” “My __________ isn’t ____________ enough for that.” “I will try it when I can _____________ first.” “I can’t do that.”

It dawns on me that those who hold these beliefs before trying is in their own way asking “what is the point?” They have already decided what they’re able to do so why even try.

Here’s the thing though–if we spent our lives avoiding challenges, not allowing ourselves to try new things or give ourselves the opportunity to learn and grow beyond our current abilities, we wouldn’t have the chance to evolve at all. Physically or otherwise. No one goes to school because they know everything already.

In yoga, regardless of the method, what we are given is the opportunity to learn more about ourselves and that is power within itself. When we arrive on the mat we allow ourselves the experience of what it feels like to be in our body. We move and we breathe and with this process alone, whatever it looks like, we open ourselves up to feel not just new physical sensations, but also the emotions we hold back, and the thoughts that dictate our lives.

A consistent yoga practice allows us to build a foundation of experiencing vulnerability. When I move in this way, how does this feel? What are the sensations in my body? Can I honor those sensations by finding that balance of Sthira (effort or stability) and Sukha (ease) within my physical state but also in my heart and in my mind? Or do I allow the feelings of frustration to take over and fight, resist, or avoid the experience? Do I allow my thoughts to take over and suppress them, deny them, or proclaim them as fact?

What would happen if we let the stories go? The beliefs that we have about who we are and what we can do and the expectations that we hold for what we “should” do or “should” look like. Because here’s the thing: none of those stories are true.

Yoga does not ask us to contort ourselves into shapes beyond our ability. It doesn’t ask us to balance on our hands or stand on our head without first building a strong, safe, stable foundation. Yoga asks to meet us exactly where we are and build the flexibility, strength, and balance from there. The engagement required in each posture is so subtle and it takes time. A consistent practice–of any method that sparks a light within you–is the way to bridge the gap from where you are and where you’d like to go from there.

This is a philosophy that can’t be understood without experience. And the only way to practice changing the stories, changing our habits and creating new ones is to see the ones we already hold as clearly as possible.

Yoga allows us to engage with that intention and helps us on a journey of growth and evolution. The next time you hear yourself speak in a way that is a story disguised as truth, what you can do is practice shifting your perspective. Rather than declare yourself all-knowing you can approach your practice, your body, and yourself with openness and curiosity.

You can instead choose to allow yourself to fully experience each moment. You can let go of past beliefs and abilities, let go of future expectations, surrender to what is, and simply take it one breath at a time.

The Evolution of Self-Discovery

It has been almost two years since my last post and with good reason. The journey that practicing yoga can take us on is immeasurable and one can often feel lost several times before a meaningful path is revealed.

11 years ago I just wanted a shift. I had no idea where this journey would take me. I arrived to this practice the way many practitioners do. I grew up living a sedentary lifestyle and decided it was time to start moving. Yoga was a physical practice that challenged my body….the fact that I could sweat and my heart rate could jump up in under 15 minutes was amazing to me!

Fast forward to the opening of Hamsa and the home of my daily practice. The continuous study of Yoga Asana, Yoga Philosophy, Ayurveda, and the community that comes together to support each other, learn and grow has helped me to discover more of myself than I was ever willing to see before.

True self-discovery is allowing yourself to shift your perspective, to see everything you are as clearly as possible–all aspects of the self. The subtle sensations within the body, the feelings in the heart, the thoughts within the mind all have the ability to come to the surface through the practice of yoga.

At the close of most of my classes I invite my students to reflect on this. I ask them to meet all of those sensations cultivated by their practice with openness, with curiosity, with compassion. Without judgement, we have the opportunity to truly live our truth once we can identify who and where we are right now, in each moment.

We are valid. We are worthy. We are deserving of the effort we put into ourselves to learn who we are so we can direct our path towards where we want to be. This practice is known as Svādhyāya or self-study. This is a hallmark of yoga philosophy and it is integral to the evolution of self-discovery.

A Thought on Avoiding Injury in Fitness

Build a strong foundation by easing your way into any new activity…slowly, with consistency but also with sufficient periods of rest and recovery. Find that place between ease and effort. Challenge yourself to reach your edge but never push past it. Learn your body’s signals of over-exertion and pain and pull back, modify, adjust or stop as necessary. Learn from those of us who had to learn the hard way–do what you can to protect, love and care for the one body you have in this life. Keep it active, keep it fit and keep it safe allowing it to continue to support and care for you through all you continuously ask it to do.


A Thought on Self-Empowerment

Having an internal motivation such as feeling healthy and strong, having enough energy to play and be active, living long enough to see your kids grow up or just feeling good about yourself every day is significantly more impactful than aiming for a goal that sits on the surface. Consider trading in the external focus of how you think you should look or how much you should weigh, etc. for something more meaningful to you on the inside. This approach will soon shift the power and authority you give to a scale or to other people’s opinion, etc. back to where it belongs…to you.



Exploring Transitions

Exploring Transitions

Many of us spend most of our time completely focused on an event, a goal, a challenge or an accomplishment but how often do we pay attention to the time in between those experiences?  Staying focused on an event of any sort can certainly help you achieve your goals while in the process of them, but more often than not we are also holding on to those events long before they happen and long after they have come and gone.  With this habit we miss out on opportunities that are available in the present because we can’t let go of the past or we’re continuously worrying about the future.

On a smaller scale:  Exercise Habits

The next time you’re in a class, a training run or ride or in any sort of practice, consider the way in which you handle yourself in between reps or sets, intervals or postures.  Do you exhale dramatically and flop around like a fish, or do you try to stay composed and transition smoothly in and out of each one?  We all need to relax from time to time, but think about what happens to you mentally as well as physically when you release your composure so much so that you lose focus—your body is no longer fully engaged but neither is your mind.  These are the moments in which negative thoughts and frustration can creep in which can then make you convince yourself that you can’t keep going or you have nothing left.  If we take the time to work on graceful transitions we not only build additional strength by staying physically engaged, we stay focused on the bigger picture of improving our overall fitness or performance in the long term rather than a finite goal for one day.


On a broader scale:  Life

How many times do we overlook our day-to-day experiences because we’re too busy analyzing events that have already passed or anticipating all the things that could go wrong in the future?  If that’s all we’re putting our energy into there’s no part of us focusing on what’s going on right now.  The only way we can appreciate what’s happening in the moment is to be in the moment.  The next time you find yourself complaining about the past or over thinking the future, take a minute to reset yourself and find something to either appreciate or learn from right then and there.  Sometimes it’s just about doing the best you can at everything you do.  Sometimes it’s about accepting the present just as it is in order to move on and move forward.  Other times it’s simply about realizing there actually is something to appreciate in your life.

Whether you’re working through a difficult time, a physical or emotional challenge or you just need to learn to enjoy life more, there’s so much potential in the transitions that we experience and we owe it to ourselves to explore them all.  It’s not just about the big events that come and go, it’s the smaller moments in between that can truly add to the quality of our daily life.



Visualize Your Success

Visualize Your Success

The words in the picture shown above and below were typed out by me two to three years ago.  At the time, nothing written on that piece of paper was true.  I was miserable at work and I knew I didn’t belong there.  I was physically sick more often than not when before that job I only had one or two must-stay-at-home sick days a year.  Something had to change.

The thing is I didn’t want to make the same choices that got me there in the first place.  It’s true, I promote at all times that everything happens for a reason and my very Zen approach to life focuses on the belief that all is at it should be at any given moment no matter what.  Most importantly, however, everything inside me at the time told me I wasn’t supposed to be there anymore.  So what was I supposed to do from there?

Very much like when I grew up unhealthy, overweight, sedentary and almost twice the size I am now, there was always some part of me deep down that knew I wasn’t being me.  I could often picture myself fairly slim and even had dreams of myself healthy and active but when I woke up in the morning and looked in the mirror I was shocked to see what I had ballooned up to or that going up a single flight of stairs would suddenly take the wind out of me.  If I hadn’t stopped obsessing about everything that was “wrong” about me, I wouldn’t have taken the time to start visualizing my potential.

Every thought we have about ourselves, our lives, our relationships our careers creates what we have today—every bit of it.  Not even a year into that job I found myself repeatedly expressing anger, frustration and every instance of agitation which only increased the stress I felt.  I do believe venting is healthy and necessary, but what’s most important is that the worse it became the more it helped me to become aware of where I found myself and that I had to make a change.  I was so miserable, though, that visualizing my life any differently was extremely difficult.  I was angry and depressed all of the time so picturing myself happy was not an easy feat.  That’s when I reverted back to what does work for me— writing.

I enjoy my job.

I call them now “Create My New Reality Journals” but at the time it was just a way for me to describe how I personally wanted to think, feel and act every single day when I couldn’t have been farther from it.  After my last divorce, I did the same thing with a journal describing a “new me” in my romantic life and a month later my now-husband suddenly appeared more clearly than anyone ever before—but that’s a story for another post!

Rather than focusing on thoughts like I should do this or that, I began to visualize through words what “this or that” actually looked like since I couldn’t really picture it in my head.  I wanted to go bigger and broader and just have the ultimate sensation of what mattered to me most—joy, peace, passion, love and sharing that world with others.  When I wrote that new reality, I liked it so much I transferred it from a scratch sheet of paper to writing it out in a formal journal.  Then I knew I needed to read it more often so I typed it up and made three copies:  one was taped up at my desk at work, one at my desk at home and the other was on my side of our bathroom mirror.  Every day I read that entire sheet of paper to myself whenever I was in front of it and I started to see myself through it.  Every day I got closer to stepping away from my reality at the time and today I can say that every single line on that piece of paper is absolutely true.

When I wrote it, I thought I was describing a new job—the career I was “supposed” to have developed for myself by this time in my life…but I could never have imagined or truly pictured that while some lines would refer to my day job now which I LOVE SO much, other lines refer to this life, the life of Healthy Living by V, the part of me who is able to do all of those things that I had hoped for but could never actually see.

It certainly didn’t happen overnight.  In fact, from there I went on to another job that took me SO FAR out of my element that I was not myself at all for an entire year.  But even though in SO many ways I could have seen it as “worse” than I ever had it before, it taught me SO MUCH about me and what I wanted and certainly what I never wanted again.  So I don’t look back at any moment as a terrible time in my life anymore.  In fact, without some of the people I met and worked with along the way no matter where I was, I wouldn’t have grown or appreciate all I do now.  I have amazing friends and know some of the most wonderful people for whom I have the utmost respect, admiration and appreciation.  I am so grateful for them all.

Ultimately, whenever I stopped judging others and myself and my world and my pain and my anger and I finally let it all go, I was able to begin creating the potential, the love, the joy and the happiness that was rightfully mine—as it is for all of us—this whole time.