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.

This is my practice.

Three of the greatest gifts I have received as an Ashtanga practitioner and Ashtanga teacher are these amazing human beings I am standing with here. I treasure each of them tremendously. It is Taylor Hunt who ultimately brought us all together and I am and will be forever grateful.
Taylor Hunt is my teacher.
Before Taylor, I had been practicing Ashtanga for years without ever understanding how powerful this practice could truly be. I loved practicing Ashtanga but it wasn’t until Taylor had me glimpse into my own potential that I was able to truly love myself within this practice.
Here’s the thing…I stayed comfortable for years with my practice, not really understanding the method, not realizing the true purpose for what I was doing and why. I practiced just enough to feel good about being physical, gaining just enough strength to do what was fun, what felt good, and I skipped over the stuff that required real WORK…but I truly had NO idea that I was doing that, nor did I know why.
And then a year and a half ago, Taylor finds his way into our town and turns everything upside down in the best way possible. Everything I had been doing was either wrong or misunderstood and I completely underestimated what this would mean for me from here on out.
Since that first visit to San Antonio, I’ve been collecting my series of personal “Taylorisms” that I value so much and I carry with me through my practice as I continue to grow. The first was “Be careful how you talk to yourself” and this changed my life. I was almost shocked because I thought I was really good at being positive because I was good at teaching this to others but he called me out so big and stopped an entire workshop to address my subtle self-deprecation that the reality check I got was as real as they come.
I apparently ruminated on this for a year without any growth in my practice and Taylorism #2 was “…..still??” as he discovered in my second mysore class ever with him that I was exactly where he left me a year before. So here is where the work truly began…
I took that next lesson and I applied it. I chose to dive in, to move forward and to “own it” as Taylor had told me I needed to if I was going to teach it. He’s right, and I do not teach anything I don’t work very hard at doing myself on a daily basis. With this work came a LOT of tears, a LOT of physical pain, a LOT of breaking down and breaking through beliefs I had about myself that were and are simply NOT true.
With this work I had discovered that I didn’t like myself much at all. That I excused my limitations because I believed myself to be too weak, too fat, my belly too big and in the way–because once being over 210 lbs and wearing a size 20, I still believed to be that girl and I hated her. This reality of how I felt and saw myself was stopping me from moving forward, from seeing my potential, from growing in any way. I needed to face it head on, deal with it, bring everything to light no matter how painful if I was ever going to evolve further from where I was.
The next Taylorism was given to me 4 months after my work began at a workshop in Dallas where I met even more amazing people. “You’ve GOT to get this…what are you waiting for??” I saw in Taylor a certainty he had about me that I was still not able to own myself. Weeks after, I worked and I worked and then there it was…guilt, shame, and so much ugliness that I was still holding onto, being in the dark, hiding decades of living with an eating disorder, so much self-hatred keeping me from owning true self-love, compassion, and self-acceptance.
When I broke through, it all came to light and I’m finally shedding those layers…finally replacing hate with love, holding space of compassion and gratitude for myself where self-doubt and shame once lived.
It is here that I continue my journey with an infinite amount of humble gratitude for every second, every lesson, every amazing soul I meet and, of course, for my teacher and every Taylorism he has to give. The most recent ones I was given just a couple of weeks ago were “Why are you giving up, V?” and “There’s more walking to do…”
Yes, there most certainly is, and I’m going to have to open my heart even more to do so.
Thank you, Taylor, from the bottom of my heart…for the light, for the practice as I know it today, for bringing us together, for helping us establish our community so we can continue to grow and share it with others.
#studentdiaries
#ashtangayogasanantonio
#hamsayogaschool
#healthylivingbyv

This week with V…

We’re kicking off Full Primary Led at Hamsa School of Yoga and Ayurveda this Saturday, the 29th with the final installment of our Beginners Ashtanga Series from 9am – 11am…only $35 to join us!!!

Beginning the following Saturday, May 6th from 8am to 930am, join V for Primary Led every weekend!!! Check out hamsayogaschool.com/classes for details.

Discover yourself and join V on the mat. 💜🙏💜

HLbV Schedule at 5 Points Local

HLbV Schedule at 5 Points Local


Join me every week at 5 Points Local during the following times:

Ashtanga Yoga on Tuesdays from 6pm – 715pm & Saturdays from 8am – 930am
*$15 Drop-in or buy any one of the studio’s class passes ($65 for 5 Classes, $100 for 10 Classes or $200 for 20 Classes and Unlimited Monthly classes also available)

Private Sessions which may include Yoga, Pranayama (Breathing Exercises), Guided Meditation or general wellness consulting are available typically on Sundays.
*$50 for 1 Hour Sessions and $75 for 1 1/2 Hour Sessions (1st session is $50 up to 2 hours)

Contact me for availability or with any further questions or comments.

Cheers to healthy living and I’ll see you on the mat!!!

~V~

Photo Credit: Atom Van Doos

Be Careful of Your Words

  
Too important not to share…

“Be careful of how you talk to yourself.” -Taylor Hunt

Marichyasana C (and all super deep twisting postures) was a posture I didn’t ever really try to find. Thoughts about my body’s ability (or inability) to do certain things kept me in very comfortable modifications for years. Taylor blew all of our minds yesterday with a new understanding of this beautiful practice and called me out for the words I used to describe myself before even attempting the posture with his guidance.

Like a miracle that isn’t really a miracle because the potential was always there, he guided me into the full expression of this posture with ease. I felt strong, safe and fully protected the entire time.
Taylor reminded me of a fundamental truth that I thought I was living because I know I’ve been teaching it to others:

Be careful of the words you use when you talk to yourself. Be careful of how you describe yourself to others. Be careful of how you think of yourself in the quiet of your own stillness. Be careful of the stories you tell and your version of the “truth.”

Even in jest, even in the innocence of subtle comments made in passing, pay attention to the words you use…they will create your reality.

Love & Light,

~V~

*Picture taken at Southtown Yoga Loft in San Anyonio TX during an Ashtanga Immersion Weekend Workshop with Taylor Hunt